Sunday, October 4, 2020

JoJo Rabbit Delivers Laughs Through Tears

Taika Waititi as Hitler and Roman Griffin Davis as Jojo in Jojo Rabbit
    Disney / 20th Century Fox

JoJo Rabbit Delivers Laughs Through Tears    

I really wanted to tear this movie apart in my review. Looking forward to collecting as much ammunition as possible, I went into the theater expecting to be thoroughly disgusted with JoJo Rabbit. But instead, Taika Waititi's take on a German ten-year old boy's experience of the waning days of World War 2 actually struck the right balance of satire and drama. The main character Johannes Betzler, nicknamed JoJo Rabbit, was perfectly played by Roman Griffin Davis as a naive kid drawn into the Nazi Hitler Youth ideology. Oh, and by the way, JoJo Rabbit has an imaginary best friend - Adolf Hitler himself, played by Taika Waititi.

The imaginary Fuhrer actually represents the image of a Hitler Youth mentality, as perceived ideally by JoJo Rabbit. In reality, all this imaginary friend does is get JoJo in trouble. The movie is full of colorful characters, not the least of which is JoJo's mom - Rosie Betzler, masterfully portrayed by Scarlett Johansson. Rosie sees her son as an indoctrinated follower of a falling regime, unwilling to fully share her understanding and all that she does with him. But she is protective of her son and often clashes with Captain Klenzendorf, played by Sam Rockwell, when her son's well being is threatened.   

A large component of JoJo Rabbit's raison d'ĂȘtre is the deconstruction of Nazi ideology regarding how Jewish people are perceived. More specifically, how JoJo perceives Jewish people before and after he comes face to face with one. He accidentally discovers that his mother Rosie, is sheltering a Jewish girl in their attic. Elsa, played by Thomasin McKenzie, was a friend of JoJo's late sister Inga, and Rosie just couldn't let her fall victim to the Nazi regime. Here, the perfectly incendiary screenplay of how a kid's first real belief in the regime, and in his mother, crumble to transform him into a better human being is undeniably one of this movie's greatest attributes.

Important Meaning Within JoJo Rabbit

There is a plethora of meaning within JoJo Rabbit, which I will not divulge entirely. I will leave a lot of it to be discovered by those readers who will go and see the movie. But, I will give some potent highlights here. When Rosie and JoJo come up to city's center square, they see several people that have been hanged. At this point JoJo asks his mom "What did they do?", to which she replies "What they could do". Here we see a ten year old boy confronted with death, and his mother's explanation offers no solace. It is an important departure from the regime, which labeled the condemned as traitors, deserving of death. Rosie attempts to show her son that war and violence are temporary, and love is important - it perseveres, and all she wants to do after the violence subsides is dance. 

The fact that we are watching the story of a ten year old kid, is conveyed very clearly. JoJo Rabbit cannot even tie his own shoelaces, requiring assistance from his mother. This symbolism is indicative of sharing with the audience that this kid's beliefs are not fully developed yet and not to judge him harshly. Most importantly the movie challenges the audience, young and old, to get in touch with their ten year old selves and be open to challenge their existing beliefs to confirm that they are humane - to be able to grow as human beings. JoJo is only able to tie shoelaces much later in the movie, when he is grown as a human being and actually cares.

The propaganda machine is also clearly represented in this movie. JoJo Rabbit first shows this at the Hitler Youth camp, where boys are encouraged to be trained in combat related activities, while the girls are coached for child birth. The mob mentality is so well crafted, that you see swarms of youths following through with training, even when it doesn't make any logical or practical sense. Here Fraulein Rahm, played by Rebel Wilson, plays a crucial role in disseminating the ridiculous. Frauline Rahm is also instrumental at other times, including the follow-up at the Hitler Youth headquarters, where she instructs JoJo should walk the 'clones'. The satirical absurdity of walking the clones refers to the propaganda machine of keeping the morale up despite an unwinnable situation.   

Tragedy, Love, and Dancing 

As young JoJo finds himself challenging his Nazi beliefs, he begins to experience the very emotions Rosie told him about. He finds that he's not beyond ability to love another person. JoJo also confronts the Gestapo who search his parents' house thoroughly, despite his father being an army man and himself being a devoted Hitler Youth member. I urge the viewer from the opening scenes of JoJo Rabbit to pay attention to the shoes and shoelaces, because the big gasp moment in this movie is downright heartbreaking and hits a powerful tone regarding what a person believes and whom a person follows.

Having experienced these new emotions, JoJo Rabbit is no longer the child we see at the beginning of the movie. He is now an emotionally driven, if still somewhat immature, person who understands love, loss, and the value of life. And that imaginary friend, who has gotten him in so much trouble through all the bad advice, JoJo finally stands up to him in a big way. The erosion of the kid's belief system coincides with the Allied assault on the heart of Nazi Germany, where JoJo witnesses the futility and sheer madness of the last gasp Volksturm defense of the city. Unwilling to follow the Nazi instructions, he flees the scene of the battle.

After all of the fighting, JoJo has a very important choice to make - to lie or not to lie. If JoJo Rabbit will tell the truth, there's a good chance that he will not see his love again. But if he lies, the girl he loves may never forgive him. It is a situation that displays the kid's youth and inexperience, but also his ability to defy his own beliefs and care for what's truly important to him. The silver lining in all of the events happening around him is that he gets to experience the very thing his mother looked forward to all this time - something that JoJo didn't understand, until he finally experienced for himself.  

JoJo Rabbit to Johannes Betzler

The quick progression, and forced transformation, of a naive kid into a more cognizant adolescent is very well scripted and executed here. All the characters in the timeline of this movie provide important, if not always large, nuances in JoJo's development. By the very end, you can see the main character as a stand up individual who doesn't need his imaginary friend anymore to make key decisions in his life. Despite his wrong decisions, JoJo Rabbit is fortunate to have the people around him recognize his youth and inexperience, giving him significant leniency and help. This good fortune, allows our main character to become the man his mother always wished he would become.  

As far as risky topic satire is concerned, JoJo Rabbit shines and entertains at every corner. The movie as a coming of age story of a child who is indoctrinated in hateful ideology, but develops beyond it with the help of his mother and others along his journey. Rotten Tomatoes' critics have given this movie a certified fresh grade of 79% approval, while Metacritic has given it a mixed score of 58 so far. I will have to give it a better score than the latter. Despite the one crude joke, indicative of a ten year old boy, this original movie entertains and draws tears from its audience. Here Taika Waititi was able to successfully combine historical satire through the lens of a ten year old boy and provide important message on hate and intolerance. I give it a top score of 4.5 out of 5.0 stars.

Until next time, grab your popcorn, milk duds, turn off the phone, and enjoy the movie.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Movie Review of Zombieland Double Tap

Zombieland Double Tap
    Columbia Pictures

Zombieland Double Tap Brings Back The Dead    

Just when we thought that any chance of a Zombieland sequel has long been buried, arise the zombies of decade past. In Zombieland Double Tap, director Ruben Fleischer brings back our favorite zombie slayers of Columbus as Jesse Eisenberg, Tallahassee as Woody Harrelson, Wichita as Emma Stone, and Little Rock as Abigail Breslin. The movie continues the original's story of our pack of heroes surviving the onslaught of zombies. But time has past, and the zombies have evolved into new subspecies with frightening, and sometimes hilarious, capabilities.

In this edition, our heroes also get reinforcements as well. But we will come back to that part a little later. The focal point of Zombieland Double Tap are the relationship between Columbus and Wichita and father-adopted daughter relationship between Tallahassee and Little Rock. All seems to be well after our heroes storm the White House in the opening scene to the sound of Metallica's Master of Puppets, and the following time is referred to as the best days of their story by the narration of Columbus. 

Of course, not everyone is satisfied with the status quo at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Little Rock is slowly growing resentment toward Tallahassee exercising his unique parental style. She craves companionship with another man, but has no options within current quarters. The situation is further aggravated when Columbus decides to propose to Wichita, which violates his own Zombieland survival rule #5: no attachments. That was the straw that pushed Wichita and Little Rock to hit the road yet again, leaving Tallahassee and Columbus with one of Wichita's notes.

Evolution Of Zombieland And New Friends

As our male heroes duo ponder their predicament, they decide to re-stock their supplies. It is at this point that Columbus stumbles upon, and nearly kills, a new friend - Madison, played by Zoey Deutch. What can be said about Madison is best said through a lyric by the Bloodhound Gang - "She was hotter than the sun, she just wasn't that bright". She serves as the comic relief in Zombieland Double Tap and does not disappoint in this pun-filled sarcastic joy ride. Still devastated by Wichita's sudden departure Columbus is assaulted by Madison, because a girl got needs. The movie takes another turn when Wichita all of a sudden shows up again.

Wichita reveals that Little Rock met a man in the form of Berkeley, played by Avan Jogia. Little Rock was already looking for companionship, being the reason she left, and seizes the presented opportunity, taking the car with Berkeley and leaving Wichita on her own. Seeing that this is Zombieland and functioning male humans are hard to come by, beggars can't be choosers. Remembering talks of Graceland and the king of rock n' roll, Elvis Presley, the revamped pack sets out for Memphis Tennessee. Along with the dumb zombie, the smart zombie, and the stealthy zombie, our heroes discover a new evolved type of zombie - the hardest one to kill yet.

Seeing Double in Zombieland 

As the story of Zombieland Double Tap progresses, our friends finally arrive at what once was Graceland. While initially disappointed, they discover a nearby hotel ran by Nevada, played by Rosario Dawson. The morning after their arrival, they are greeted by two characters who act suspiciously similar to our longtime male heroes. Albuquerque, played by Luke Wilson, is a carbon copy of Tallahassee and Flagstaff, played by Thomas Middleditch, is a carbon copy of Columbus. Despite the chemistry Tallahassee finds with Nevada, the group is forced to carry on to find Little Rock. 

As our heroes approach the hippie community where Little Rock and Berkeley are staying, there is no doubt you can draw a parallel to the original Zombieland. A lot of the same exact predicaments are confronting the pack and they handle them in just the same ridiculous way. The movie rehashes a lot of the same puns and dynamics, which is satisfying to the fans of the original, but does little to add to any originality in this edition. As they ponder their predicament, a friend they have just recently met will come to the rescue and provide a much needed boost in their fight for survival. 

Zombieland All Tapped Out

Nobody can call Zombieland Double Tap a good horror movie. If anything, this movie is more of a comedy full of puns and sarcasm. In that regard, it succeeds just as much as the original. However, this edition offers barely anything new. There are new characters introduced with flare and bewilderment, but outside of Madison, they serve little purpose. The newly evolved zombies are a nice touch, but in the grand scheme of things they add nothing significant to the story. As mentioned before, the movie does offer a nice cinematic fast food meal for fans of puns and sarcasm. But, that meal is rather stale, circa 2009. 

As far as Zombieland is concerned, Zombieland Double Tap is an entertaining but unoriginal sequel. The movie is a satiric reflection of relationships of fathers and daughters, as well relationships of lovers who are close to being the last men and women on earth. Rotten Tomatoes' critics have given this movie a grade of 68% approval, while Metacritic has given it a mixed score of 56 so far. I will have to agree with these results. I really enjoyed the original movie, because ten years ago it was quite original entertainment. But Ruben Fleischer failed to innovate and inject any significant originality into the formula, choosing to drive the same exact thing into the ground and likely applying the double tap rule to any chances of a third installment. I give it a top score of 3.0 out of 5.0 stars.

Until next time, grab your popcorn, milk duds, turn off the phone, and enjoy the movie.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Movie Review of Us

Lupita Nyong'o as Adelaide Wilson's doppelganger Red in Jordan Peele's Us
    Claudette Barius / Universal

Us Is Jordan Peele's Horror Masterpiece    

When it comes to horror movie genre, just two movies into his directorial career Jordan Peele is already an Oscar-winning highly acclaimed Master of Horror. His follow-up to the widely acclaimed Get Out, is a no holds barred suspenseful and shocking horror film Us. The story line is highly original with plenty of twists and turns, where just when the audience believe they have a handle of what's going on, the movie blindsides them yet again. It would be good enough to have a horror movie of this caliber have its core elements of suspense, shock, disguised plot twists, and gore. But this movie isn't just good enough, it resides firmly in cinematic greatness territory.

Beyond the horror, Jordan Peele also carries Us on a dark satire of a journey of how we, as different classes of society, treat each other. Where sometimes the different classes don't see each other at all, at other times one class completely ignores the others' existence. Despite all that, the film leads the audience to realize that we as people regardless of class are still the same. Finally when pushed beyond the breaking point, the abandonment of one class of a society can have dire consequences for everyone. 

The movie Us centers around the story of Adelaide Wilson, played by Lupita Nyong'o. We first see her as a little girl who disobeyed her parents and ran off into the carnival house of mirrors having a frightful experience, then as an adult fearing for the safety of her own family. All the while the feeling of the fright night as a child horrifies her, as though she expects a reckoning yet to come. Her worst fears come to life, as a red-clad foursome invade her family's summer getaway. But that is only the beginning of the horror yet to come.

Us... And Us In Red

When we first see Adelaide as an adult, she is now vacationing with her family on a beachfront resort. She and her husband Gabe, played by Winston Duke, meet up with another couple they have been casual friends through the years as they spend time on the beach. The aforementioned sense of reckoning is disturbing her, and Adelaide is unable to relax. Her tension overflows when her son Jason, played by Evan Alex, wanders off near a familiar house of mirrors. Us is very heavy on foreshadowing, as the audience see the same biblical reference that the young Adelaide first saw as a little girl - Jeremiah 11:11. 

To spare everyone a refresher course on the Old Testament, that verse basically means that bad things are going to happen and God will ignore all prayers. Sure enough, at 11:11pm, Us turns up the stakes as the mysterious foursome shows up as silent silhouettes on the Wilsons' driveway. They soon discover that the four red-clad jumpsuit wearing people are a doppelganger set of Adelaide, Gabe, Zora, and Jason - the Wilson family. Peele perfectly shocks the audience with these silent assailants, and the tension continues, as only Adelaide's doppelganger Red can speak, albeit in a raspy limited voice. 

Us In A Fight For Survival 

As Red begins to explain to Adelaide, she refers to the doppelganger family as the 'tethered', as if the Wilsons and their doppelgangers are actually tied to each other in some way. This goes well along the lines of Jordan Peele's social commentary in Us, of a class struggle - where one group of people prospers, while the other is dismissed and struggles in the dark. All that pent up resentment that the doppelganger family feels has boiled over, and they have come carrying scissors to achieve the freedom they crave via 'untethering'. At this point in the movie, the family members and their doppelgangers pair off, and an individual fights for survival ensue. 

As the fights progress, the real Us of Wilson family gains the upper hand and choose to escape to their friends' house. This is where the Wilsons realize that the struggle they are experiencing is not limited to them alone. I will cut off all the reveals here, as there's still a lot left to digest. But there are still a few twists for you, the viewer, left to discover on your own. Let's just say that the movie Us is a dark satire of discontent and, in some respects, a warning to all people that we must all fight to eradicate the scale of inequality in our society, or we are all doomed. In that sense, Us is a fitting title to this movie, as that word in itself doesn't distinguish class - it is all inclusive. 

Jordan Peele's Crowning Achievement

In the end after all the masterfully crafted horror, tension, and gore, Us actually symbolizes a hopeful message. It leaves the viewer understanding that we are all people, the same in every respect and desire. Given the chance to eradicate class barriers, we can all stand together with no need for violence. But it also provides a warning that we cannot take each other for granted and cast each other off, expecting the status quo to continue. It very clearly states, that there is a reckoning to be had, if inequality continues to spiral out of hand.

In Us, Jordan Peele combines all the traditional pieces of the horror genre, while carefully weaving dark satire in the form of social commentary. It is a master class in both entertaining his audience, while at the same time, making them think. Rotten Tomatoes' critics have given this movie a certified fresh grade of 93% approval, while Metacritic has given it a must-see score of 81 so far. I will have to agree on this one. As far as horror movies go, Us contains a highly original quality story, it is able to keep the audience terrified with its shocking plot twists and gore, and it provides a very poignant thought-provoking social commentary - something that most horror movies never approach. I give it a top score of 5.0 out of 5.0 stars.

Until next time, grab your popcorn, milk duds, turn off the phone, and enjoy the movie.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Movie Review of Midsommar

Midsommar Swedish Pagan Cult Ritual
    Csaba Aknay / A24

Midsommar Is An Original Daytime Horror   

There is nothing like a good horror movie to spice up the Halloween season. Here I will review the eyes wide open, because most of it happens in continuous daylight, horror film Midsommar. The director Ari Aster takes the audience on a drug-induced dangerous trip to a far away Pagan cult. If there is a moral message within this movie that the viewers can take away it is to is stay away from toxic relationships and carefully screen your perceived friends.

The movie centers on a fragile relationship between its two leading characters, Dani who is played by Florence Pugh and Christian who is played by Jack Reynor. Christian personifies the self-absorbed boyfriend who wanted to break-up with Dani, but for some reason has not. Dani is a mentally unstable individual who takes copious amounts of medication and regularly sees a psychiatrist. The situation is further exacerbated by Dani suffering a terrible family tragedy. At this point, we see where the movie Midsommar takes its name from.

Unbeknownst to Dani, Christian and his friends have planned a getaway to participate in one of his friends' "commune" festival in Sweden. At the last minute, she decides to join the group in this adventure. The holiday itself appears to be a midsummer solstice festival of Pagan origin. While the pageantry, rituals, and feasts are inviting, they're also very odd and begin to wear and shock the outsiders who endure them. The symbolism with all the etched figurines and cloth paintings are striking and foreshadow the path the group embarks upon.

Horror Runs Through Females in Midsommar

Despite Christian being the foremost egotistic character in this movie, it is Dani, Maja, and a slew of other female characters in the story that are portrayed in the most awful way. It is most anti-feminine, bordering on misogynistic, right from the onset as we see how Dani wears Christian down from the very opening scenes. Her pills symbolize mental instability, her tragedy adds self-harm to family history, and the consistent nagging with which she wears Christian down truly does make it seem that she is what's wrong with the relationship.

When the audience find themselves in the commune during Midsommar, the role of the female is even more pronounced. Constantly scheming and attempting to sway the men into the role of the servant, be it to the commune's somewhat bizarre traditions, or for the purposes of ritual target. Regardless of the scenario shown in this movie, the women always tend to run the show attracting and discarding men as they see fit. Even the focal point of this commune/cult at the height of the festival, the enlightened one, cannot be replaced without the explicit instructions of the elder woman.

Take Flight Only With Trusted Friends 

If someone ever invites you to a festival in an isolated commune in the middle of nowhere in a foreign land, make sure you know that someone very well. Also, trust but verify by research all details of the said isolated commune. The Midsommar invitation to the commune comes casually as a great summer escape from Christian's Swedish acquaintance Pelle, played by Vilhelm Blomgren. Each of the friends are so fixated on their own selfish goals, that they never bother to suspect anything sinister. As the group lands and begins to acclimate to the people around them, they soon begin to realize that this is more of a cult than a harmless commune.

The true measures of a great horror movie are the quality of the story line, whether or not it has enough terror for the audience, and how well disguised is that terror. The story line here, is above average with most of the points earned for originality. Ari Aster is able to seamlessly transition his camerawork from a harmless exchange between friends to a shocking and bizarre ritual that the Pagan cult performs. It is a very contrasting set of emotions that the audience are taken through in this movie, and as far as traditional horror it doesn't disappoint. However the signs, or in the case of Midsommar the symbols, are rather easy to read. And if you are a veteran of horror movie genre, the suspense and disguise of what will happen next is just not there.

Midsommar Unveils Cathartic Conclusion

The journey of our group of travelers gradually comes to an abrupt end for each, as they realize all too late that their intended fates have been written the moment they boarded the plane. Everyone that is, except for Dani. Here we will remind the audience that she was not originally intended to take the trip for Midsommar, and was a last minute addition to this adventure gone wrong. The final casserole of horror involves mind control, betrayal, vengeance, and catharsis. The relationship between Dani and Christian was never meant to last, but the severity with which it is finally exorcised will leave the audience in shock.

Rotten Tomatoes' critics have given this movie a certified fresh grade of 83% approval, while Metacritic has given it a good score of 72 so far. I will have to agree on this one. As far as horror movies go, Midsommar contains a good story, is able to keep the audience terrified with its change of pace and gore, and provides plenty of original imagery. While it comes up short in the suspense, or in the case of horror movies fails to completely disguise what is to come, I still cannot give it a bad score. I give it 4.0 out of 5 stars.

Until next time, grab your popcorn, milk duds, turn off the phone, and enjoy the movie.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Movie Review of Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood
    Andrew Cooper / Sony Pictures

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood delivers   

When it comes to Quentin Tarantino, audience know that they will get a fair dose of retro culture, crude humor, and murder. The question with his most recent movie, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, does it deliver a story that we have come to expect of his greatest works of art? And I am happy to say that the answer is a resounding yes.

The story line follows the unremarkable career of the fictional duo of leading actor Rick Dalton, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, and his stuntman Cliff Booth, played by Brad Pitt. This movie tackles self-doubt, vanity, hippie culture of the late 1960s, life long friendship, and gives the viewer a retro glimpse into the Hollywood of yesteryear.

Spaghetti Western Way

The movie opens up with Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth giving an interview, regarding their current paying gig, Bounty Law. It is quite obvious that this is just a cookie cutter show, with a following, albeit worth nothing more than a steady paycheck. Leonardo DiCaprio characters' confidence is further shaken by his meeting with a Hollywood power player, played by Al Pacino, when he analyzes his career path and encourages him to pursue making westerns in Italy.

The music, the wardrobe, the cars, and color schemes all scream 1969 to the viewers. To further this nostalgic joyride, Quentin Tarantino introduces a group of hippies into this movie. And this group plays their respective parts masterfully with respect to the period in time they are portraying. To his credit, Brad Pitt character's integrity is unshaken throughout this adventure. Cliff Booth here represents the sane moral fiber of Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, albeit underappreciated. Brad Pitt is the Sancho Panza to Leonardo DiCaprio's Don Quixote in this movie.

Time Portal Into 1969 Hollywood 

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood also masterfully weaves into the story line the representations of silver screen legends of Roman Polanski, Steve McQueen (played by Damian Lewis), and Sharon Tate (Played by Margot Robbie). Steve McQueen is shown debating his ego and vanity, with respect to relationships and fame. Margot Robbie's Sharon Tate is most often shown throughout the movie, with respect to her relationship with Roman Polanski, but also on her own, appreciating herself as an actress. Not to be forgotten is an appearance of an infamous murderer Charles Manson, to whom we know.

One of the most dynamic scenes in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood occur on set, between Brad Pitt's character and a fictional representation of Bruce Lee. Neither willing to back down, you can feel an explosion of testosterone emanating from the screen. All the characters in this movie, the parties, the roles, and ultimately the well off neighborhood of Hollywood elite, that Leonardo DiCaprio finds himself among, all put pressure on the actor to perform beyond his ability to keep his status. In the end, he takes the advice of the Hollywood elder and goes to a place where he can still perform and be worshiped as an elite actor.

I the movie's last climactic sequence, Rick Dalton is as aloof and oblivious as ever, attempting to relax. All the while, leaving Cliff Booth alone to save the day. The best friends theme here rings hollow to me, as Leonardo DiCaprio's character isn't willing to sacrifice his lavish lifestyle to help his friend Brad Pitt, who saved his bacon numerous times. However, this is the only criticism I really have of this movie. Outside of this lapse in directorial judgment, it is a testament that Quentin Tarantino still got it.

Nothing Like The Wave Goodbye

A lot like the Western style, as the primary acting type-cast of Leonardo DiCaprio's character, the movie follows the same succinct silences, with drawn out scenery and set-up of the movie's dynamic spots that hit the audience perfectly with the change of pace. It is not your typical in your face smash up that we have gotten used to of Quentin Tarantino's other marquee movies. But Once Upon A Time In Hollywood should be considered one of his finest. He is able to weave so much into this story line, and make it ultimately work. Even the wave goodbye between friends at the end is emblematic of the most legendary Westerns of the era.

Rotten Tomatoes' critics have given this movie a certified fresh grade of 85% approval, while Metacritic has given it an acclaimed score of 83 so far. I will have to agree on this one. Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is a movie that should be celebrated, as it masterfully crafted multiple stories together to give the audience a multifaceted and quite entertaining glimpse into the waning moments of Hollywood's heyday. While the friendship aspect is a dent in this otherwise masterful film, this movie is among the best in 2019 and worthy of having to purchase a movie ticket. I give it 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Until next time, grab your popcorn, milk duds, turn off the phone, and enjoy the movie.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Movie Review of Joker

Joker Joaquin Phoenix
    Joker Warner Bros.

Dark troubled Joker sends a modern message   

As a fresh interpretation of the origins of DC Comics infamous villain, the Joker, a new movie of the same name has hit the screens all over the world. Let me warn potential viewers - it is not for the faint of heart. This film brutally tackles mental illness, disability, child abuse, bullying, backstabbing, assault, and income inequality. All the issues that are front and center in today's world like never before.

Joaquin Phoenix, as the Joker, transcends the character as well as any of his predecessors. His performance throughout the film is sublime and draws empathy for the anti-hero from the audience despite the darkest paths he takes. Unlike prior movie interpretations of the clown-faced villain, this one starts out with a fairly mild mannered good, albeit mentally unwell, individual named Arthur Fleck. Through a series of unfortunate events and family history revelations, he gradually transforms into an image of a clown, out for justice. In this pursuit of justice he ultimately loses his humanity and becomes the criminal we know as Joker.

How a mild mannered man becomes Joker 

The movie opens up with Arthur Fleck trying to force a smile onto his face, as he prepares for a day of promoting a sale for a store that's going out of business. He is initially bullied and then heavily beaten by teenagers who ridicule his appearance - an example of bullying at its finest. He doesn't lash out, but misfortunes do not end. In his journey to try to make people laugh as an unsuccessful comedian, he is ridiculed, humiliated, and betrayed; all the while taking care of his mother in the poorest neighborhood of Gotham. Meanwhile the city's well off residents belittle its poorest inhabitants, with the city's mayoral candidate Thomas Wayne calling the poor 'clowns'.

The trademark laugh of Joker in this movie is a condition Arthur Fleck suffers from - a random uncontrollable laughter that is not connected to the actual emotions he is experiencing. That condition finally triggers a confrontation with bullies, where he snaps and exacts bloody revenge. But the transformation is still not complete as he sees that encounter to be justice not just for him, but for the city's 'other' poor inhabitants. His sanity is completely shattered and he loses all grip with it, when a series of family history revelations come to pass. Here, his confrontation with a youngster named Bruce Wayne is very well executed by the director Todd Phillips.

Chaos in Gotham 

The movie swings to the city which is now on the brink with protests, using the image of the 'clown' as its mark of resistance by the poorer inhabitants against the better off upper class. There is nothing remaining of the mild mannered and kind Arthur Fleck at this point. Instead, now there is only maniacal homicidal Joker who has no hesitation exacting his brand of 'justice' against those whom he deems to be not good people. In the end, we see fire, rubble, angry men, and Joker as their ringleader. At this point, nobody is safe - no television personality and no rich man.

Joker is a commentary on our current state

Much like with Quentin Tarantino's Inglorious Bastards, there is a commentary to be extracted from Todd Phillips' Joker. This movie serves as a warning regarding the problems our country is facing today. After all it was a combination of income inequality, bullying, child abuse, and discrimination that drove well mannered kind man to become the homicidal maniac known as Joker removed from all humanity. It is these very factors that we see on the rise in our country today. And unless we address them and get in touch with our humanity, our cities risk suffering the same fate as Gotham.

Rotten Tomatoes' critics have given this movie a passing grade of 68% approval, while Metacritic has given it a borderline score of 59 so far. Respectfully, I see it differently. Joker is a movie worthy of praise, as it discovers a hauntingly plausible origin story of one of the most iconic Comic book villains, while sending a real life message to its audience regarding the kind of treatment a man receives that can drive him to such savagery. While there are certainly things that could have been better, this movie is worthy of having to purchase a movie ticket and I give it 4 out of 5 stars.

Until next time, grab your popcorn, milk duds, turn off the phone, and enjoy the movie.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Movie Review of Anna 2019

Anna movie 2019
    Shanna Besson / Lionsgate

Anna is a Spy Thriller in Luc Besson's mold 

If you have seen enough Luc Besson movies, by now you have a good idea of what to expect. Just like Lucy, the Fifth Element, and La Femme Nikita, this writer crafts a specific image of resilient female characters. Anna follows the tried a true formula of his past projects, where a woman finding herself in an unfortunate situation has no choice but do the organization's bidding. The difference is, this time that organization is KGB.

The movie is set in the last years of Soviet Union's existence of late 1980s through 1991. Before we ever meet Anna, the opening scenes are incredibly exciting and dynamic as they follow a spy sweep of CIA assets in Russia by KGB in 1985. As a result, a brutal new KGB director sends a message to CIA, received by agent Lenny Miller played by the talented Cillian Murphy.

Multiple Time Jumps make Anna predictable 

If there's one thing that Luc Besson does, is repeat the same formula over and over again. A time jump in story telling can be a powerful tool. However when this tool is used more than twice and the reveals in each are uniform, the viewers lose all sense of suspense as the movie plot becomes predictable. This is sadly the case with Anna, where five time jumps remove all suspense from the last forty minutes of this movie.

We first see the main character Anna, played by the attractive newcomer Sasha Luss, as a matryoshka nesting nesting doll seller at a market in Moscow, when she is recruited by a French talent scout to become a model in Paris. I must admit, that I absolutely love Luc Besson's visuals of Paris in all of his movies. However, the quick ascent of an unknown girl from Moscow to becoming a top model in Paris overnight is less than believable.

The first person we see Anna execute in this movie is a big surprise to the viewers, and the time jump following is masterful in revealing her background story to the audience. However, the subsequent time jumps only condition the viewers to anticipate the next step, and just past the midway point of this plot the veil of suspense is reduced, if not lifted altogether.

Anna the Trained Assassin 

The main character's background is well introduced, as well as her recruitment by Alex Tchenkov, played by Luke Evans, follows closely with the old script of La Femme Nikita. The person who trains her is Olga, masterfully played by Helen Mirren. This training sequence is one of the best parts of the movie and deserves a lot of credit. Subsequently, Olga guides her apprentice through various missions, until on one occasion, she decides to give Anna a tropical vacation after spotting something out of the ordinary in her.

As a result of multiple exposure during her missions, Anna is put into a difficult situation between the CIA agent Lenny Miller and the KGB agent Alex Tchenkov. Here we see the acting chops of Cillian Murphy and Luke Evans on full display. While the viewer is left in the dark in this movie for the last time, the deadly assassin is able execute a tremendous gamble that brings this movie to its final climax. In its final act, Helen Mirren is sensational and plays her role to perfection. The only real disappointment in terms of acting performances here is Sasha Luss. She is good enough to pull off the model early on, but with the exception of a couple of key moments, her performance is rather bland.

The movie falls short of great Cinema

Anna is a Spy Thriller and not an Action movie. While there are two really well choreographed prolonged action scenes, the majority of the movie plot is a spy versus spy puzzle, a mystery, that is along the lines of the greatest spy films of all time. Unfortunately, that mystery and the film's execution are greatly diminished by the aforementioned choppy time jumps that make the latter sequences of the movie rather predictable. While the ending is a white-knuckle edge of your seat suspense, it is solely attributed to the performances of the supporting cast in Helen Mirren, Cillian Murphy, and Luke Evans.

The movie also loses in its attention to historical detail. The characters use modern cars, advanced laptop computers, USB drives, and the like. Someone forgot that this was 1990 in Soviet Union where such things were at least fifteen years from becoming reality. This kind of a gaffe, put together with the lackluster performance by the leading lady and the time jumps, brings this movie down a notch from the greatest spy films.

Rotten Tomatoes' critics have given this movie a failing grade of 36% approval, while Metacritic has given it a score of 40 so far. I'm not going to be quite as harsh in my review of Anna. The story line is good, the screenplay is dynamic, and the cast overall does a good job of keeping the audience entertained. While it falls short of Great Cinema, it is worthy of a rental and I give it 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Until next time, grab your popcorn, milk duds, turn off the phone, and enjoy the movie.