You are here

8 stars

Jojo Rabbit

Jojo Rabbit

Genocidal fun for the whole family

dir: Taika Waititi

2019

I know that there are a lot of people for whom stories and movies like this are too much, that it’s disrespectful to those who were persecuted and murdered by the Nazis, that it minimises the sheer enormity of what happened. Similar criticisms were aimed at Roberto Benigni for making Life is Beautiful; a comedy about a Jewish father trying to playfully shield his son from the fact that they’re in a concentration camp.

How did they get away with that one? I also remember people bleating similar crap about the book and the film of The Book Thief, which also was seen as not treating the Holocaust with enough reverence, or centring the narrative on non-Jewish characters at the expense of the worst affected by the genocide.

And here, in Jojo Rabbit, a ten-year-old boy has Hitler as his best, imaginary friend, and wants to do nothing more than make his Fuhrer proud by killing Jews.

If I walked into the offices of Fox Searchlight, and said any of the above, I’d probably not only get arrested, I’d get the shit kicked out of me in an alley somewhere for good measure.

But I’m not Taika Waititi, so when he says it, people listen and take him seriously, and they think “this might work” and not “Security, get this bum out of here.”

Taika has been making his absurdist masterpieces for a while now, so I would hope that he and the people he works with have a good enough idea of how to balance the various elements one needs to in order to make something like this work. This isn’t, on the surface, that complicated a story – young boy indoctrinated by Nazi propaganda hates the Jews, but slowly learns to not hate at least one of them. We often see these kinds of stories with adult characters, and it’s a redemption story in those contexts. But Jojo, or Johannes (Roman Griffin Davis) as he’s more commonly known, isn’t looking at redemption, he’s a kid who believes vile Nazi propaganda because he doesn’t know any better, and he doesn’t realise how close Germany is to losing the war. His path, since he’s only ten, is to realise some of the stuff he thought was true, isn’t.

Rating:

Atlantics

Atlantique

Who ever thought dancing in a disco could be so sad...

(French title: Atlantique)

dir: Mati Diop

2019

Atlantics is a slow, strange, moody piece; a supernatural slice-of-life covering a few days in the life of a Senegalese girl called Ada (Mame Bineta Sane), living her best life. But before we get to her, we watch a bunch of young Senegalese chaps working at a building site, working for a long time.

A real long time. And at the end of their shift, the guys are like “where is our pay from the last three months?” and no satisfying answers are offered. The tower they are working on looks like something for the Avengers, as their new Senegalese headquarters, maybe, and yet these workers live in tiny homes made of breeze blocks with no windows, and haven’t gotten paid for months. One of them, Souleiman (Ibrahima Traoré) yells that he’s in so much debt with not getting paid by their bastard boss, that he avoids going home until it’s dark, so he doesn’t get chased by creditors.

Souleiman rides home in the back of a truck with his mates, and though we don’t know it yet, they have hatched a plan. He visits his girlfriend Ada, and they try to get it on but are interrupted, and she tells him to cool his boots, as they will be meeting again later that night.

When she sees some of her girlfriends, they taunt her about a few things, but she has friends from different walks of life, it appears, and not all of them are trash. She has a religious friend Mariama (Mariama Gassama), always wearing the hijab, who scolds her for her wicked ways and reminds her that God is testing her with temptation, since she’s meant to be marrying some jerk called Omar in a number of days, and not swanning about with the far more handsome and likable Souleiman.

Her other friends, who Mariama doesn’t like, routinely give her the kind of bad advice that good friends who don’t care if you fuck up all the time would give. They’re materialist and selfish, but they’re not wrong. Like Ada, many of them have boyfriends or brothers who worked at the construction site with Souleiman.

But, that same night, when Ada goes to their local bar on the beach, looking out as it does across the Atlantic Ocean (Senegal is a West African country), all of the girls are there, but neither Souleiman nor any of the other guys are present. They have, apparently, commandeered a boat and decided to sail to Spain, to Europe and towards the promise of a better life.

Rating:

The Platform

El Hoyo

Trickledown economics in its purest and prettiest form

(Spanish title: El Hoyo)

dir: Galder Gaztelu-Urrutria

2019

There’s…there’s never going to be a more obvious film about capitalism, the distribution of wealth, and the pressures involved in keeping people fearful, selfish and in conflict with those around them. And you thought Animal Farm as an allegory for the Russian Revolution was over the top with its pig called Napoleon, and its “all animals being equal, but some animals being more equal than others” line.

Orwell would probably hurl in disgust watching The Platform, but he’d nod his head in recognition.

What The Platform lacks in subtlety it more than makes up for with horrific depictions of how selfish the system needs to keep people, and that’s not even just to keep it functioning. The system works completely independently of what the people trapped on the many levels of the Vertical Self-Management Centre do to themselves or each other. And that the cruelty is very much the point.

The people trapped here are situated two to a level. The rooms cannot be escaped from. There is a hole in the centre of the room. Once a day, a platform lowers, and on it is food. It is the only source of food these prisoners can have. They can only eat what’s in front of them, not being allowed to hoard any of the food for later, which is enforced with lethal temperature controls. But whether there is any food on the platform depends on two mains factors: what floor you happen to be on, and the generosity of the people above you.

A high floor (as in 1 to 10) means you get heaps of untainted food. Floors below the 20s mean you’re eating scraps, plus the people above have no qualms about tainting the food for no good reason. 50 and beyond, well, it’s barely the aroma of food remaining.

Thing is, there’s hundreds of floors.

Further thing is, each month the prisoners are seemingly randomly moved from floor to floor.

When our main character awakes, he has the rules of the place, the lethal schematics explained to him by someone who has obviously been there a while. So our main guy Goreng (Ivàn Massagué) clutching his book (Don Quixote, naturally) needs to be schooled. He’s awakened on level 48, and when the platform arrives, mid explanation from Trimagasi (Zorion Eguileor) there are slim pickings.

Turns out that Goreng volunteered to enter this bizarre place deliberately. Like, he chose to be there, for six months, at the end of which he’ll have some kind of degree. How prestigious, to have graduated from the Vertical Self-Management Centre Academy. That’s Ivy League shit right there. Would open a lot of doors for you, doubtless. All entrants are allowed to bring one thing with them, and this guy chose Cervantes's epic about a lunatic who tilts at windmills.

Rating:

1917

1917

Nine nine nine nineteen. Seventeen. Nineteen Seventeen.
Should catch on

dir: Sam Mendes

2019

1917 is a well-choreographed, well-shot film about that minor skirmish that used to be called The Great War, until the unending War on Christmas began. It says nothing new about war, or new about anything other than on the technical level (of what’s achievable with a massive budget and the latest in filming tech), because we already knew war sucked.

But for the director, Sam Mendes, who based this movie on a story his grandfather told him, it’s personal. It’s not biographical, but it’s possibly about the images imagined and the feelings engendered within a young Sam upon hearing his pop talk about what it was like to live through such a hell and survive.

World War II flicks are usually about, at least the American ones, how war is hell but at least the Americans won, because they were the toughest and the bravest. World War I flicks, because of the nature of the pointlessness of it all, with its imagery of trenches, mustard gas, barren no man’s lands surrounded by walls of barbed wire, mud and corpses, of soldiers going over the top and dying in their droves, aren’t as conducive to the idea of visceral, exciting cinema that is the cinematic ideal for action set pieces. What might have worked with a goddess in Wonder Woman, where she fights against the very embodiment of War, doesn’t work as neatly with mere mortals when it’s treated realistically. The very nature of it not only obliterated so many people, it obliterated the illusion that any one individual could make a difference. Films depend on that illusion. A lot of films don’t work without that illusion.

Not to say that any of this is realistic, but it is meant to give us a taste for what it might have been like over two crazy days in April of 1917 for two desperate soldiers. Or at least how a child listening to his granddad talk about the war imagined what he was hearing. No matter how much of it was bullshit.

Two mere mortals, or more accurately, two British lance corporals, are tasked with running across an area that until that very morning was controlled by the Germans, in the French countryside. They carry orders to a specific Colonel, who thinks the Germans are retreating, even though he’s planning a counterattack with which to cover himself with glory.

Rating:

Queen & Slim

Queen and Slim

Two films he's been in, both times outshone by Amazons, and
he's okay with that. I like that a lot.

dir: Melina Matsoukas

2019

Queen & Slim aims high. How do you encompass all of America’s issues with race, crime, justice, relationships in the Tinder age and parental difficulties in a two-hour film?

Well, you select two very attractive people and you make them the face of contemporary African-American Man and African-American Woman, then you put them through the ringer, and see if sexy results ensue.

Except…I dunno, I find it weird that neither of the leads is actually American. Both Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith as the Queen and Slim of the title, grew up in Britain, with Ugandan parent’s in Daniel’s case and Jamaican in Jodie’s case. It kind of implies no-one else in America could have filled the roles, and I can think of at least four, maybe five people.

I guess it’s not really that relevant a point. Having grown up in Britain, on a council estate, there’s no doubt Daniel knows a lot about casual racism and the institutional variety, and Jodie has lived in LA for over a decade after doing uni in Pennsylvania, which is the most racist of the Northern states, as everyone knows (I’m just kidding even though I know it’s not funny in the slightest). Plus Daniel stared in Jordan Peel’s flick Get Out and in Black Panther as one of T’Challa’s friends from childhood, so I think he’s earned his place at the table.

Speaking of Black Panther, they couldn’t even resist making a Black Panther reference, though at least they didn’t say Wakanda Forever at any point. That would have broken the fragile tension keeping this contemporary story current and believable. There’s nothing funny about what’s they’re living through, though there is a bit of humour to leaven the dread.

A lot of the flick seems to be about the tensions surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement, since the precipitating event involves a police officer. It expands out broadly to encompass issues to do with the justice system’s inherent biases against African-Americans, but also tries to capitalise on the status of the protagonists as proud counterculture symbols, which is a bit problematic. They become symbols to others, which obscures that they are people, with hopes and aspirations, as opposed to hollow Bonnie & Clyde surrogates, which is less than human.

It’s also about the growing relationship between the protagonists, who are unnamed for the majority of the flick. And because most scenes between them involve just the two of them, and that they’re mostly on what in any other context would be considered a road trip, they are getting to know each other as we’re getting to know them as well.

Rating:

Swallow

Swallow

This is going to hurt her more than it's going to hurt our eyeballs

dir: Carlo Mirabella-Davis

2020

This film. Was deeply disturbing. To watch. And harrowing, too!

I warn you now, it’s not for the squeamish, oh no.

Haley Bennett, who probably to her professional detriment looks a lot like Jennifer Lawrence, puts in a performance for the ages in this gutting, in many senses of the word, character study.

In the beginning she is the very image of the perfect 1950s Stepford wife so we already know something terrible is going to happen (it’s not set in the 50s). Her perfect coiffure, her perfect clothing, the overly fussy nature of that multi-million dollar house that overlooks the Hudson River, the perfect hunky husband with his mega-wealthy parents, it’s like, what do you get the woman that seemingly has everything?

Well, you give her a crippling compulsion to eat stuff that is inedible. I’m not talking McDonalds or the fried chicken in bain maries at roadside truck stops.

No, Hunter, as she is known, swallows things. At first, or at least the first thing we see her swallow, is a marble. You’d think, well, that’s a bad idea.

And you would be right. In the times leading up to this, we see Hunter being belittled, minimised, mocked and generally disregarded. It’s not loudly dramatic, it’s just in virtually everything her parents-in-law do and say, and her husband’s jerky self-centredness. We get the strong sense that Hunter is striving mightily to be the perfect wife that these rich bastards demand, but that level of struggle is too much for everyone in general, and not just her.

Lest you think this is going to be anything like the Maggie Gyllenhaal flick from ages ago called Secretary, about a woman who compulsively self-mutilates until she gets her happily ever after in a sadomasochistic relationship with James fucking Spader, it’s nothing like that. No, Hunter’s compulsion to mutilate her insides is not played for sexy laughs at all.

It’s taken very seriously, and it’s also not meant to be a coincidence that this compulsion is escalating just as Hunter finds she is pregnant.

This is a very discrete kind of body horror. Generally in horror flicks we’re worried on behalf of characters (if we care about them at all, which is not a given) that are threatened with torment or death because we either feel for them or imagine ourselves in their place. If this is a kind of horror flick, which I’m not completely convinced it falls into the category of, the horror perhaps is imagining either what these increasingly dangerous objects are doing to her insides, or imagine how it would feel if it was happening to us.

Rating:

The Rise of Skywalker

The Rise of Skywalker

Let's take a few years off before making the exact same movie again,
Okay?

dir: J.J. Abrams

2019

Skywalkers rise and Skywalkers fall. All we know for sure is that, like the waves on any ocean, they’ll keep rising and falling as long as there’s money in it. And since this still made over a billion dollars for Disney, it’s pretty clear they’ll never stop the Skywalkers.

Where something will always happen very similar to before, doo doo doo de doo.

Even with all the rancour and acrimony out there in the fandom, still angry about female characters getting too much agency, screen-time and dialogue in these latest three films, they still went to the cinemas late last year and early this year in order to make this succeed, gazing angrily through their tears of hatewatching.

The Rise of Skywalker pretty much could have started off where Return of the Jedi ended, because it kinda makes it seem like the other films really weren’t that necessary. Right off the bat, they bring Palpatine back (Ian McDiarmid), who admits he’s been pulling the strings of the First Order after all these years, and that Snoke was a puppet (does anyone fondly remember and miss Snoke?) He tells the moody Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) that he’ll get all the candy he ever wanted as long as he kills Rey (Daisy Ridley).

Let’s not skip over the insanity of where Palpatine is: I could be all sorts of wrong about this because maybe the imagery was a bit confusing, but after flying through a storm cloud that’s on fire, Kylo Ren walks in this dark place that has like this evil Sith pyramid or something suspended above the ground by the power of, evil, I guess, and then there’s the even creepier than before Emperor, who promises him a bunch of stuff just like the evillest Santa imaginable.

Rating:

The Invisible Man

The Invisible Man

We all now know what it's like being afraid of something
invisible in 2020.

dir: Leigh Whannell

2020

The Invisible Man is a pretty great film about something terrible, being intimate partner violence, or domestic violence, as it used to be more commonly known. Domestic violence, a horror of a concept and a reality for those who live through it (even worse from those who die from it), almost sounds so quaint: the “domestic” part of it binds it to the house, but the sadism, the control, the unwillingness to allow someone to leave a relationship means this form of terrorism extends to anywhere.

Cecilia (the almost always great in absolutely everything she does Elizabeth Moss) wakes up in the middle of the night, someone slumbers next to her. She looks afraid but determined to do something. Since she’s got things packed, and she’s being extra careful, we know she can’t afford to wake up the sleeping jerk. With how afraid she appears we sense that this isn’t someone reluctantly leaving someone she cares about for…reasons and such: We sense that she is terrified of him, to the point where she had to drug him to make sure he doesn’t wake up, with the terrible repercussions that could follow.

The best laid plans of mice, men and women trying to flee abusive, controlling relationships always have to confront the random events that cause everything to fall over, but Cecilia barely gets away regardless. There is no long, drawn out sigh of relief. She pretty much holds her breath for the rest of the film, and only breaths out in the way that I mean at the very end.

Because, you see, some people cannot tolerate being left by someone. Their narcissistic egos won’t allow it, their absolute need for control won’t allow it, and the jerk here, Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) will spend his every waking moment trying to force Cecilia to change her mind and come back to him.

The method, you would think, considering the title, would involve some kind of magic, technology or, I dunno, malicious prayers answered by a vengeful patriarchal god. But the tack that this film takes is to apply something out of the ordinary (invisibility) to an all too common purpose; that of tormenting and isolating Cecilia while making everyone else think she’s nuts. And also, the classic, making her doubt her own sanity.

Rating:

Hereditary

Hereditary

According to Tolstoy, happy families are all alike;
every doomed family however is doomed in its own way

dir: Ari Aster

2018

That. Was. Utterly. Horrifying.

Since I sat through / endured Midsommar, and thought it was a crafty little flick, I thought I’d go back and check out Ari Aster’s first flick Hereditary, which I’d heard a lot about but declined to watch, figuring nothing good would come of it. But since I tricked myself into watching something as out there as Midsommar, by telling myself it was a documentary about the Midsummer festival Melbourne’s been having since the 1990s to celebrate our LGBTIQ brothers, sisters and non-binary identifying everythings in between, I tricked myself into watching Hereditary by telling myself it was a documentary about DNA and hereditable traits, you know, phylogenetic and epigenetic expression to the max!!!

Imagine my surprise when this turned out to be two of the most terrifying hours I’ve spent watching Toni Collette react to stuff.

I’ve read a few reviews since watching the flick, and I have to say I saw a movie very different from the one many of the detractors saw. What they saw was a weird flick that doesn’t make any sense and is very slow, and doesn’t have enough gore or jump scares or something.

What I saw was a horrifying story about a doomed family. The thing about doom is, it is inescapable, and generally to make you commit to watching something to the end, you have to at least be made to care about the people involved. That’s not where this is coming from. The Graham family doesn’t earn our sympathy or our compassion, but at least every few minutes I was alternating between “Oh my god, poor Charlie” to “ohmygod poor Peter” to “ohmygod poor everyone”.

When Hereditary begins, a family prepares to bury an unloved matriarch. During the eulogy, the deceased’s daughter Annie (Toni Collette) delivers a eulogy that, on one level, could have more succinctly be put as “Fuck you, mom, burn in hell” but which instead tries to ground us in the disturbed reality of what Annie comes from: a family where severe mental illness has destroyed almost everyone. Severe dissociative disorders, severe psychosis, hell for the people with it, hell for the people around them. We are sure Annie is not sad to see her go, but when she relates how she lost her own sibling and her father, you might think now she and her ‘normal’ family can grieve, take some time, and eventually grow closer.

But this flick is called Hereditary

Which means the problems of previous generations are carried through to the next, and the next, and the next.

Rating:

Searching

Searching

Nothing good comes from sitting in a dark room on the internet...

dir: Aneesh Chaganty

2018

This is a really keen film that transcends its gimmick (of almost entirely transpiring on the screens of multiple computers, phones, security cam footage and police interviews), to be more a story about the lengths one parent will go to save their child than about the technology it uses.

That sounds like a simple premise, and, in American hands, it seems to, at least recently, involve Liam Neeson killing a bunch of foreigners in order to save his daughter / ex-wife from multiculturalism. Those of us who are parents (and who, on average, like being parents) are compelled by stories like this to wonder about the lengths we would go to in order to protect or save our kids. Rarely do we see it as a negative.

Searching stars the great John Cho, world renowned as the Harold from Harold and Kumar Do Some Dumb Shit while on Drugs trilogy, for taking over the Sulu role in Star Trek from the equally legendary George Takei, and scrambling for decades as a tv guy in a million blink and you'll miss them roles.

He's pretty memorable, though. He's got a certain amount of presence. In this he's not playing an avenging vigilante parent or some kind of action hero. He's mostly just an American guy who works in Northern California and lives with his family, wife and daughter, and would probably prefer not to have to endure such a hideous drama.

The first ten minutes of the film are a study in how you can rip off the accelerated storytelling of a scene like the beginning of Pixar's Up, make it your own, make it work, and not be accused of abject plagiarism. Really, it’s a (banal) master class, it truly is. Even with its montage-like effect, it still gives you enough reasons to care about the family and what happens to them, even if you’ve barely spent any time with them yet.

We meet David (John Cho), Pam (Sara Sohn) and Margot Kim (eventually played by Michelle La) through the various milestones and home video-type stuff that accompanies modern life in the so-called Western world. 1st day's at school, Father's Day, first piano recitals, all that stuff. In between the various elements of a family's lives are the unavoidable hints that something is terribly medically wrong with Pam, and it just keeps getting worse as she battles with, and eventually succumbs to, lymphoma.

Some time passes, and we get to watch the interactions, via phones and chat apps, between a father and daughter that have lost an incredibly important person in their lives, and who are unsure how to carry on. David is, like a typical guy, all "let's just keep moving forward like that person I never mention is just in the other room and never talk about it", and poor Margot, who your heart breaks for, clearly is yearning to talk about the person who’s no longer there, but just doesn’t feel like she can with her dad.

Rating:

Pages

Subscribe to 8 stars