Hello and welcome to the movie blog of author John DeFrank - FilmZ and Guy Sobriquet Malone - Researcher

Brief Reviews: JoJo Rabbit and Parasite

Well, Gang, we got to see two small films that should garner big awards in early 2020.  First, Don Swedanya, Capt. HE Albano, Guy S. Malone, Researcher, and I saw JoJo Rabbit.  Yesterday, unable to coax either family or the few friends I have to see it, I paid GSM, R overtime and bought him popcorn as an enticement to see Parasite.  Here are our reviews:

JoJo Rabbit -- a review by Guy S. Malone, Researcher

All right, I will come out and say it since I'll have to stand by it later: JoJo Rabbit is the best film we have seen so far this year, and it should push Taika Waititi (Hunt for the Wilderpeople, What We Do in the Shadows, Thor: Ragnarok) into the upper echelon of writer/directors.  OK, we get it, we understand that directors known most for their comedy don't garner the same respect as the "serious" ones and neither do their films; we know that Waititi's brand of filmmaking isn't for everyone; we've seen the reviews ranging from hate to love with all of the PITA politically correct squawkers who have homogenized moral complexity and thus bravery out of American films.  But Waititi has adapted Christine Leunens 2008 novel, Caging Skies, into a film that is much more than one would glean from the trailers.

Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) is a 10-year-old Nazi fanatic who can't wait for his first weekend camping/training with the "Jungvolk" (Hitler Youth--think angry Cub Scouts).  The camp, led by Capt. Klenzendorf (Sam Rockwell) with Freulein Rahm (Rebel Wilson) heading the ladies auxiliary is as silly as it is sinister, and it's not a good experience for Jojo.  He fails a test of his sociopathy, resulting in his "Rabbit" nickname, and when he tries to reassert his ruthlessness, the attempt goes comically wrong.  Sent home to his mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson), he sulks, seeking consolation from his imaginary friend, Adolph Hitler (Waititi himself), who gives nothing but bad advice.  Just when he thinks he has hit bottom, a new horror reveals itself, he finds that his mother is harboring a 16-year-old Jewish girl, Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie).  What is a good Jungvolk to do?  Turn Elsa in, and his mother dies for harboring a Jew; hide Elsa, and he becomes complicit in the crime.  What would Adolph do?  Study the Jew and publish his research, it seems, which leads JoJo to cognitive dissonance that only he can resolve.

To say that JoJo Rabbit is original is an understatement.  But what is more important, Waititi--whose father is Maori and whose mother is of Ashkenazi Jewish, Irish, Scottish, and English descent--imbues this satire with understanding and heart.  Yes, the Nazis are painted as preposterous, but only those who question the Fuhrer are given any sympathy.  Their hatred of Jews and their illusion of Aryan supremacy is turned on its head with touching grace, and the horrors of war come home with surprising power.  Credit Waititi with masterfully walking the delicate balance, and bringing a satire with sensitivity and a comedy with heart.
9.0 out of 10

Parasite -- a review by FilmZ

Two disclaimers: 1 - foreign language films are usually no fun for me, 2 - Cannes Film Festival entries are often too hoity-toity for me, and those that win the Palme d'Or (Best Picture) are like salt in the wound of my artistic Achilles heel.  Parasite fits both categories.  But I do like Bong Joon Ho (Snowpiercer, Okja, The Host), who co-wrote and directed.  Those familiar with his films know they are difficult to classify.  Let's call the genre Bong.  OK, if you need a classification, we'll call them social satire, and if so, this film satirizes class struggle.  Many say his films are highly metaphorical, and Bong may be satirizing himself (or us) when several times he has one of his characters observe how metaphorical a very unmetaphorical situation is.

Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho) and his family are underemployed, folding pizza boxes for a pittance as they live in a basement urban hovel in Korea.  Their dubious skills include pirating wi-fi signals, forgery, and scheming.  One day, Ki-taek's college-age son Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik) gets a visit from a friend who brings a good luck rock and an offer to take over his English tutoring job for Da-hye (Ji-so Jung), the daughter of the wealthy Park family who live in a fabulously cold architectural masterpiece on a hill high above town.  Indeed, the family's luck is changing, for soon, Ki-woo schemes to get his sister Ki-jung (Park So-dam), a computer whiz, hired as an art therapist for the Park's troubled 8-year-old son Da-song (Hyun-jun Jung).  Then, through cruel but hilarious chicanery, Ki-jung conspires to get her father Ki-taek hired as Mr. Park's (Sun-kyun Lee) driver, and they all work toward getting mother, Chung-soon (Chang Hyae-jin) hired as the housekeeper for the sweet but gullible Mrs. Park (Yeo-jeong Jo).  The trick is, to pull off the coincidental nature of the hiring, every member of the family has to pretend they have just met the others.

That's the set-up, and it's a comic high-wire act until hidden rooms, surprise characters, and unwitting class distinctions enter.  Then, in typical Bong fashion,  Parasite effortlessly moves from comedy to drama to thriller to tragedy and its tone from farce to moral relativity to righteous anger until it reaches its trancelike ending. Kyung-pyo Hong's cinematography captures the stench of the city and the sterile chill of life on the mountain, even as it tilts askew at the characters that inhabit both realms.  The score by Jaeil Jung is immersive, most effective when it tours the Park mansion.  I'll leave it to others to hail this as Bong's best film to date (I haven't seen enough of his oeuvre to judge), but it is a true original, quite self-aware, and if Roma deserved a Best Picture nod last year, then Parasite does in spades.
8.5 out of 10

Motherless Brooklyn

Motherless Brooklyn -- a review by FilmZ

If you love film noir, then Motherless Brooklyn is for you, though it's not typical of the genre's tidy, slim stories.  MB's convolutions and complications bulge into a 144-minute runtime.   Based on Jonathan Lethem’s 1999 novel, which we admit we haven't read, its strongest points are the sense of time and place--we have the costumes, the cars, classic club jazz, and the cinemagic that recreates late 1950s New York and the smoky backroom smell of urban political corruption and crime.  As screenwriter and director, Edward Norton acquits himself well; as the eponymous star (whose real name is Lionel Essrog), he reminds us of his dynamic big-screen debut in 1996's Primal Fear.  We're happy to see a stand-alone film with a terrific cast and high production values, but without knowing the source material, it seems like Norton tried to honor it while adding both historical and present-day relevance and that attempt, though admirable, might have overstuffed the suitcase.

Lionel, our protagonist, is a private eye dealing with Tourette’s Syndrome and a touch of obsessive-compulsiveness.  He is the protege of Frank Minna (Bruce Willis), a hard-bitten WWII vet-turned shamus. When the film begins, Lionel and fellow junior partner Gilbert (Ethan Suplee) are backing Frank up from a distance as he meets with some gangland types.  The meeting becomes tense, and the mobsters take Frank for a ride, losing Lionel and Gilbert.  When they finally catch up, Frank has been shot, and he dies leaving only the vaguest of clues: "Formosa" and something about a "colored girl."  Fellow partner Danny (Dallas Roberts) follows a lead and gets beaten to a pulp, so he begs off of the investigation, and another gumshoe, Tony (Bobby Cannavale). seems more interested in Franks' widow (Leslie Mann) than getting justice for his deceased colleague. Meanwhile, at City Hall, we find Moses "Moe" Randolph (Alec Baldwin), a power broker whose only interest is more power as chief of several city-planning departments.  Opposing him is community activist Gabby Horowitz (Cherry Jones) and her assistant Laura Rose (Gugu Mbatha Raw). Other Characters include Paul (Willem Dafoe), a down on his luck architectural engineer; William Lieberman (Josh Pais), Moses' fixer; Lou (Fisher Stevens), a shady thug; and Trumpet Man (Michael Kenneth Williams) a friend of Laura.  Lionel's job is to wend his way through corruption and sift clues while remaining alive long enough to avenge his fallen mentor.

As we said above, the casting is excellent. Of particular note are Baldwin, bombastic and as serious as a heart attack; Dafoe, twitchy and intense; Jones brings an  Elizabeth Warren vibe; Williams, ever cool but dangerous; and, of course, Norton, who raises afflictions to high art.  His mannerisms are at once unpredictable, humorous, and sensitive, and they are wrapped into a performance that should garner Oscar consideration.  Dick Pope's cinematography and Daniel Pemberton's music made the experience immersive.

We were informed by our resident historian Captain HE Albano that Moe was inspired by real-life New Yorker Robert Moses, who inspired Robert Caro's book The Power Broker.  Plot points parallel Moses projects where he displaced viable Black neighborhoods by labeling them "slums" and replaced them with parks, making him a folk hero among White citizens.  Then he built bridges with low overhangs so that buses carrying minorities could not access those parks.  The omniscient observer of our group, Don Swedanya, said the film is reminiscent of Chinatown, and though he enjoyed it, he noted, through that prism, Motherless Brooklyn pales in comparison.  It's not fair to demean this film by comparing it to an all-time classic because it is a good movie.  But Norton's efforts in blending the source material with Moses' biography and a touch of Trumpism might have been a bridge too far.
7.5 out of 10

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