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Three Names and Two Movies to Know - A Short Essay

Guy S. Malone, Researcher, Searches and Researches

Three names to know: Debra Granik, Taika Waititi, and a young lady named Thomasin McKenzie, who ties them together through the films Leave No Trace and JoJoRabbit

Debra Granik should already be well-known, but we can understand if you don't recognize her.  On June 29, the director/screenwriter's Leave No Trace goes into limited release.  It is the story of Will (Ben Foster) and his 13-year-old daughter Tom (Thomasin McKenzie) living off the grid in state game lands near Portland, Oregon.  Theirs is an idyllic life, Will teaching Tom survival skills, Tom learning from an encyclopedia, both free.  When they are caught and brought into social services, they rebel at the alien "civilization," and Will's war-related PTSD kicks up.  Father and daughter become determined to return to the wild, no matter the obstacles that arise.

Leave No Trace is only the third feature film by the 55-year old Granik, unfortunate for us because she has a finger on the pulse of the rural poor, and no one brings noir verisimilitude like her.  She also has a knack for discovering female talent.  In her first film, Down to the Bone (2004), she discovered Vera Farmiga; her second, the slow-burn suspense classic Winter's Bone (2010), was nominated for four Academy Awards, including a Best Actress nomination for then 18-year-old newcomer Jennifer Lawrence.  We don't understand why Granik doesn't make more films because she seems to have a golden touch.

So, you can see why we believe you will be hearing a lot from 17-year old New Zealander Thomasin McKenzie, maybe as soon as next Oscar season.  If not then, it will surely come with her next movie, an exciting gem we found while researching the young actress: JoJo Rabbit, a World War II satire, filming now in Prague. It's based on a novel by Christine Leunens, but here is what ramps up our anticipation: it has been adapted for the screen and directed by Taika Waititi.  If you have seen Flight of the Conchords, What We Do in the Shadows, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, or Thor: Ragnarok, you know why FilmZ and I are pumped for a new effort by the half-Maori, half-European Jewish auteur. 

About Waititi's film: JoJo Betzler (Roman Griffin Davis) is a na├»ve ten-year-old German boy who doesn't fit in.  Bullied by peers, misunderstood by his mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson), JoJo feels increasingly isolated.  And then he finds out Mom is harboring a Jewish boy in their home.  As he struggles to cope, he resorts to an imaginary friend, Adolph Hitler (Taika Waititi), who offers advice and solace.  Hitler also tries to instill a fanatic nationalism in JoJo, who begins to go down a nasty rabbit hole until a young girl named Elsa (McKenzie) befriends him and changes everything. The dark comedy also stars Sam Rockwell, Rebel Wilson, and Stephen Merchant.  


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