Showing posts with label Ear. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ear. Show all posts

Friday, February 21, 2020

"Jojo Rabbit" and "The Week in Reviews

[I review the Oscar nominated movie "Jojo Rabbit" as well as DVDs "Motherless Brooklyn" and "Harriet."  The Book of the Week is "If You Tell: A True Story of Murder, Family Secrets, and the Unbreakable Bond of Sisterhood" by Gregg Olsen.  I also bring you up-to-date with "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with "The Ear (Ucho)."]

Jojo Rabbit

A young boy growing up in WW II Germany loves Hitler and believes the Nazi party line, so is confused when he discovers that his mother is hiding a young Jewish girl in their home.

This was the last film I needed to see in order to have seen all of the films nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, and though I didn't love it as much as a couple of other nominated films, it was certainly deserving because of its originality, humor and charm. And yes, it's also controversial.  I mean, can you make a funny, charming film about Hitler?

Ten-year-old Johannes, AKA, Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) is a little Nazi who lives with his mother, Rosie (Scarlett Johansson).  He has been totally indoctrinated into the anti-Jewish world of National Socialism, believing that Jews have horns and eat babies and all kinds of other Nazi nonsense.  However, Jojo doesn't quite have enough of a bloodthirsty side as demonstrated at a Nazi youth camp where he is instructed to break a rabbit's neck. When he can't do it, he is made fun of and the older boys give him a nickname: Jojo Rabbit.

Arriving home one day, Jojo discovers a young girl hiding in the wall.  His mother has taken her in and is hiding her.  "You do what you can."  So there's Jojo trying to toe the party line and his mother is working with the Resistance. He eventually befriends the young girl, Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie), and his prejudice is eventually dashed as he gets to know her, which is the main anti-hate message in the film. We see inside the mind of a ten-year-old boy whose indoctrination of hatred is challenged and changed.

Now here is the controversial part of this film. 

Adolf Hitler (Taika Waititi, who also adapted the screenplay from the book "Caging Skies" by Christine Leunen and directed the film) is Jojo's imaginary friend.  He is always there being understanding and supportive. And zany. And funny. Hitler, zany? Hitler, funny? But thankfully he is also portrayed as a jerkish moron as are the other Nazis. One scene where they all sieg heil each other over and over is very funny. I mean if someone says sieg heil, you have to say it back right?  And then say it back and then say it back... It's absurdist, dark humor of the highest order.  The film is funny and absurd... and then it's not. And that's where the film falters a bit at times. When the film takes some dramatic turns after all of the absurdity, it is jarring.

But young Davis is about as cute as a kid can get, but better than that, he is not obnoxious.  Kids in films are often portrayed as precocious little smart asses with sassy lines, but that is not the case here.  Writer/director/actor Waititi doesn't go that route with the easy laughs.  He makes you care about the soul of young Jojo.  And speaking of Waititi, his over-the-top version of Hitler is fun to watch, and if you like that kind of humor, and you haven't seen his 2014 vampire film "What We Do in the Shadows," it's a must see.  It's one of the funniest movies I have ever a dark and absurd way, of course.

However, not sure what Rebel Wilson was doing in this.  Glad to see her not doing any fat jokes or pratfalls followed by skidding across the floor, which she has turned into a comic signature, because I'm not a fan, but sadly she has little to do here. And Sam Rockwell was almost unrecognizable as a drunken Nazi officer. In a good way.  But Scarlett Johansson?  This has certainly been her year.  She received a Best Actress Oscar nomination for "Marriage Story (on my list of Best Films of 2019)" AND a Best Supporting Actress nomination for this, both well-deserved and both showing her acting range.

Rosy the Reviewer Oscar winning coming-of-age story like no other.

***Some Movies You Might Have Missed***
(And Some You Will Be Glad You Did)!


Motherless Brooklyn (2019)

In 1950's New York, a private detective with Tourette's Syndrome and OCD tries to solve the murder of his mentor and best friend.

Edward Norton adapted, directed and stars in this very original take on film noir.  I mean a PI with Tourette Syndrome and OCD?  Loosely based on the novel by Jonathan Lethem (Norton has change the time frame from the 80's to the 1950's), this is the story of Lionel Essrog (Norton), a guy who grew up in an orphanage, but who, along with Gilbert (Ethan Suplee), Danny (Dallas Roberts) and Tony (Bobby Cannavale), was rescued from there by Frank Mina (Bruce Willis, in what amounts to a cameo), a private investigator.  Now they all work for Frank. But when Frank is murdered, Lionel vows to find out why.  His investigation leads him on a long and winding road of racial discrimination, city corruption and evil.

Lionel has to deal with his Tourette's and his OCD as he goes from one pitfall to another to try to solve Frank's murder. However, he also has the uncanny ability to listen and remember everything he hears.  

As he works on the crime, Lionel wears Frank's coat and hat and finds a matchbook in the hat, a matchbook from an African American jazz club.  There he encounters a beautiful African American woman, Laura Rose (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), who is fighting urban renewal and who somehow figures in the murder.  Lionel has to find out how, so he befriends her. Yes, befriends her, because our Lionel has not had much experience with women.  But there is a bit of romance ahead.  

Likewise, Lionel unearths the corruption in the city under the leadership of Moses Randolph (Alec Baldwin), a character who is certainly modeled after the real life NYC developer, Robert Moses.  Randolph gets away with everything, even though publicly he is only the commissioner of several city agencies, but he seems to control the Burrough Authority, which appears to be the governing body of the city, and his hands are in the money pot and he who controls the money has the power. He is also a proponent of urban renewal, buying up property in poor areas and forcing the residents out.  Lionel meets Paul, an architect and engineer, who is in a sort of war with his brother and his brother is - wait for it - Moses Randolph. But why would Randolph want Frank Mina killed?  What did Frank know?

All of these plotlines and characters come together in a twist at the end in this stylish and mesmerizing film that is very reminiscent of Roman Polanski's "Chinatown."

Edward Norton is one of those actors who is easy to take for granted.  He is a handsome guy but he's no Brad Pitt.  He is a wonderful actor but he's not flashy like a Daniel Day-Lewis or a Christian Bale who go to great lengths to inhabit their roles.  It would have been very easy for Norton to overdo it with the Tourette's part of his character, but he doesn't.  It's very much there but it does not overshadow the character and his mission. I think Norton should have had a Best Actor Oscar nod for this film.  He deserved a nomination because it was a two and a half hour film (and you know how I feel about overlong films), he was in practically every scene, and I couldn't take my eyes off of him.

That actually leads me to my only criticism.  As I said, Norton was in almost every scene, giving the film a first person feel.  We are experiencing the film from Essrog's point of view.  But then there are just a couple of scenes where he isn't there, and we see things from another character's point of view, and because there were only a couple of those thrown in, it was distracting, going from a first person point of view to an omniscient one (you can tell I learned my literary stuff in school).

But that's a minor criticism of a film that is certainly fresh and original.

A private eye with Tourette's Syndrome is an intriguing character.  What might he blurt out at a crucial time in his investigation?  Believe it or not, I actually think about Tourette's from time to time, especially when I am thinking bad thoughts (yes, I do occasionally have bad thoughts, I must admit). What if I couldn't control what I said and said everything I thought, like "What an ugly sweater" or "Geez, who did your hair? Medusa?"  So, I am quite empathetic about the challenges that having Tourette's must pose for someone, not only the physical challenge, but the huge psychological one as well, constantly having to worry about saying something wrong or insulting.  Lionel is continually apologizing for his outbursts, and let me tell you, they are nothing like what I imagine a person could say.  What a terrible burden to carry.  But the film does a good job of showing us someone who is able to operate with Tourette's without turning the character into a stereotype or a joke. Oh, and in Lionel's case, it turns out a certain amount of booze and weed seems to help!

The film also does a good job of showing how the poor are taken advantage of in the interests of "the greater good," the "greater good" being rich white people, something that doesn't seem to have improved much since the 50's.  Perhaps that is part of the message and a metaphor for the Trump era.

Rosy the Reviewer says...if you like film noir, not to be missed!

Harriet  (2019)

Harriet Tubman's escape from slavery and her transformation into one of America's greatest heroes.

Going into this film, I was thinking this was going to be one of those earnest, do-gooder biopics about an American hero that I thought I already knew everything about and to say anything bad about the film would be...well, bad.  

But I was wrong. Yes, this film is earnest, but it's also exciting and inspiring, because it sheds light on one of the most important women in United States history, and, shockingly, this is the first major film about her.  We have all heard of Harriet Tubman, but few of us know all of what she managed to accomplish. In addition to participating in the Underground Railroad and making 13 missions to rescue slaves, she was also a scout and spy for the Union Army during the Civil War, and after the war, was an activist for women's suffrage. She lived to be 91 and was quite a woman and this film does her justice.

Cynthia Erivo plays Harriet, and likewise, even though Erivo's performance as Harriet earned her a Best Actress Oscar nomination, you probably don't know much about her either.  I know I didn't.  But now she seems to be everywhere. She made a big splash at the Academy Awards on the Red Carpet and sang the nominated song "Stand Up (from this film)," which she wrote, and I am currently watching her on the HBO series "The Outsider," playing a role decidedly different from Harriet.  She is a British actress, singer and songwriter, best known for her performance as Celie in the Broadway revival of "The Color Purple" for which she won a Tony.  She also has an Emmy and a Grammy, so she is three-quarters of the way to being an EGOT!  So like Harriet Tubman, she is quite a woman and like the film she did Harriet justice!

As for the film itself, it's a straight forward linear depiction starting with Tubman's escape to freedom, an exciting early part of the film when she jumps off a bridge into a raging river and then goes on a perilous 100 mile journey, helped along the way by a Quaker and others, and by talking to God, and eventually making it to Philadelphia where she meets abolishionist William Still (Leslie Odom Jr.) and the prosperous free black woman, Marie Buchanan (Janelle Monae), who gives Harriet a place to stay in her boarding house. Once free, Harriet feels a responsibility for those left behind, not just her husband, sister and parents, but also others, so she becomes a "conductor" on the Underground Railroad.

Every time I watch a movie like this, I get angrier and angrier contemplating how it is possible for humans to enslave other humans and feel superior to them based on the color of their skin, or in the case of the Holocaust, their religion.  Slavery is sick, sick, sick and a terrible stain on American history.  Sadly, racism and white privilege still exists today so a movie like this is am important reminder of what can happen.

Yes, the film written by Gregory Allen Howard and Kasi Lemmons and directed by Lemmons, is earnest and reverential and the ending is overdramatic and, I dare say, some poetic license was at play there, but that aside, the film is also scary and exciting and inspiring. Harriet Tubman gets the tribute here that she deserves. 

When Harriet Tubman died at the age of 91, her last words were "I go to prepare a place for you."  Even in death, she still wanted to save people.

Rosy the Reviewer appropriate and exciting homage to an inspiring American woman hero. 

***My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project***

42 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?

The Ear (1970 but not released until 1990)

A Czech official must deal with not only his political problems but the turmoil in his marriage.

Ludvik (Radoslav Brzobohaty) is a senior official in Prague's ruling Communist Party.  Anna (Jirina Bohdalova) is his alcoholic wife.  They have a young son and live a comfortable life, but it becomes clear early on that these two are not happy together, nor are they particularly happy living in a world where they are listened to, as in bugged, and spied upon. 

The film takes place over one long evening where the two encounter some strange occurrences - a gate left open, keys missing, a power outage, dead phone lines - and they start to wonder if they are under surveillance and in danger of arrest.  As Ludvik tries to cover his tracks and burn any evidence that could incriminate him, Anna is ragging him about their relationship until at dawn the two realize that Ludvik may be taken away and just what they mean to each other. 

It's not difficult to be paranoid in a totalitarian government where it's taken for granted that rooms are bugged and you are being spied upon. Anna and Ludvik even make love in the kitchen so "the ear" won't hear them. The film was produced in 1970 but banned in Czechoslovakia and not released until 1989. As someone once said, "Even paranoids have enemies." And nothing like a bit of paranoia to bring a couple together!

Why it's a Must See: "Although [this film's] direct criticism of the rule of right-wing party leader Gustav Husak distinguishes [director Karel] Kachyna from other former New Wave Czech directors, the film's back-to-basics look and hardwon insights into the no-so-private life of a passionate yet embittered married couple are the two main reasons for its enduring interest."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"

Rosy the Reviewer says...a sort of Czech Communist version of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf." And just as compelling.
(B & W and in Czech with English subtitles)

***The Book of the Week***

If You Tell: A True Story of Murder, Family Secrets, and the Unbreakable Bond of Sisterhood by Gregg Olsen (2019)

We never know what is going on behind closed doors in our neighbors' homes. Sometimes there is some crazy, evil stuff going on.

I consider myself a bit of a true crime aficionado.  I love reading true crime books and never miss an episode of Dateline, you know, the TV show where the killer is almost always the husband!  I am fascinated by the evil that men and women do and want to understand why.  

Gregg Olsen lives in the Pacific Northwest and is one of our premiere writers of true crime stories, mostly which take place in the Pacific Northwest. He has written about Susan Powell ("If I Can't Have You"), missing for many years and whose husband, the prime suspect, ended up killing himself and their two sons; Mary Kay Letourneau ("If Loving You is Wrong"), the teacher who fell in love and eventually married one of her very young students; Munchausen by Proxy mom Tanya Reid ("Cruel Deception"), and more - and here he tells the engrossing story of Shelley Knotek and her long-time abuse of her three daughters and murder of two of her friends.

Shelley was one of those people who just didn't seem to have a conscience.  Borderline Personality at the least, Narcissism most likely, or both, but her particular penchant was torturing people.  If you crossed her, even if you didn't even know what you had, you paid the price. She also had a penchant for lying and had to have control at all times. You can blame it on her upbringing if you want - she was abandoned by her drug-using mother and raised by a grandmother who was also a "my way or the highway" kind of person, but there had to be more than that, because she was also raised by a family member who was kind and tried to show her the right path. 

So what turned Shelley into this monster who seemed to derive pleasure in making her children work outside in their underwear or, worse, naked, or lock them outside in the cold for hours or make them "wallow" in the mud while turning a cold hose on them?  We may never find out. Perhaps some people are just evil. But what we do find out is what happens to her and her children. 

Will she get what's coming to her? What happened to her three daughters after a life of unimaginable abuse? What happened to her two friends who disappeared under suspicious circumstances?

Some of the torture I have described is only a sampling of the kind of abuse Shelly rained on her three daughters, Nikki, Sami and Tori, who helped Olsen with this book. Despite their horrible and traumatic childhoods, where their mother tried to break them apart, they were able to band together and appear to be living relatively happy, normal lives. But do you ever really get over a childhood of unimaginable abuse? 

Olsen's book celebrates the bond of sisterhood and the resiliance of the human spirit.  But this book is not for the faint of heart. The torture Shelley Knotek put her children and friends through was disgusting and relentless and the book recounts it all in torturous detail.  But Olsen's writing is powerful and engrossing.  It's not melodramatic and it's not dry.  It reads like a well-written novel, except sadly, it's all true.  

Rosy the Reviewer says...if you are into true crime and have a strong stomach, you will like this book that is one of the best pieces of true crime nonfiction of 2019.

Thanks for reading!

See you next Friday


"Fantasy Island"


The Week in Reviews
(What To See and What To Avoid)

as well as

the latest on

"My 1001 Movies I Must See

Before I Die Project"

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Go to, find the movie you are interested in.  Scroll down below the synopsis and the listings for the director, writer and main stars to where it says "Reviews" and click on "Critics" - If I have reviewed that film, you will find Rosy the Reviewer alphabetically on the list.