‘Jojo Rabbit’ Never Met Any Tonal Disparity It Wouldn’t Embrace

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CREDIT: Fox Searchlight

Starring: Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin McKenzie, Taika Waititi, Sam Rockwell, Scarlett Johansson, Archie Yates, Rebel Wilson, Alfie Allen, Stephen Merchant

Director: Taika Waititi

Running Time: 108 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Children Getting in the Line of Fire and Witnessing Victims of Public Hanging

Release Date: October 18, 2019 (Limited)

If a ten-year-old boy declared that his best friend is Adolf Hitler, would his story be embraced by the masses? Apparently so, apparently especially if he hangs out with an imaginary version of the Fuhrer played by Taika Waititi, seeing as Jojo Rabbit won the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival. When I first heard the premise of Jojo, I thought, “Wow, really? Okay.” Now, that initial bit of shock is by no means a dismissal. I encourage all filmmakers (and indeed, all people in any profession) to embrace a challenge, and this is certainly A CHALLENGE. The potential pitfalls go beyond the difficulty of trying to make a mockery out of the Nazis. That really isn’t a problem, as there have been numerous memorable spoofs of Hitler over the decades, from Charlie Chaplin to Mel Brooks, and comedy can be one of our most potent weapons against hate. Ultimately, the possibility for trouble comes in the form of the whimsical tone, which does not promise to mix so easily with the deadliness of the wartime setting.

My verdict is that Jojo Rabbit does not fully overcome its inherent tonal disparity, though I appreciate its audacity. There is something to be said for the value of presenting a violent world through a child’s perspective. However, it’s a little harder to justify constantly placing preteen characters in the path of gunfire and explosions (while insisting on drawing out consistent guffaws), which Jojo Rabbit does a distressing number of times. And on top of that, the adult actors are so uniformly goofy. Their performances indicate that this is a straight-up parody, while the effects work counter that no, this is actually supposed to be harrowing and realistic.

I’m almost willing to forgive, or at least overlook, that tonal whiplash, because the inner conflicts at the heart of this film are actually rather affecting despite the tightrope they must walk. Young Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) fully embraces Nazism, though he does not really grasp what that means. He buys into the nastiest stereotypes of Jews, believing that they are horned, scaly creatures who hang upside-down like bats. But it turns out that while his mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) has enthusiastically been sending him to a Hitler Youth camp, that’s all a ruse, as she’s secretly been working against the Nazis, even hiding a Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie) in her house. Jojo discovers her and naturally develops a crush, as he gradually realizes that his anti-Semitism is not sincere but rather based on some fanciful lies that were attractive to a kid with an active imagination. If Jojo Rabbit is trying to teach us that hate can be cured if the disease is detected early enough, and especially if the antidote is love, well, that’s true, but no great revelation. But if it’s trying to remind us that a childlike perspective of the world is chaotic, but also somehow fun, and weirdly revelatory, well, that’s a useful reminder. Although, maybe sometimes movies should be less messy than real life.

Jojo Rabbit is Recommended If You Like: Life is Beautiful, Monty Python crossed with Schindler’s List

Grade: 3 out of 5 Grenade Explosions

This Is a Movie Review: Shane Black’s Version of ‘The Predator’ Has Some Interesting Ideas, But It Could Have Benefited From a Few More Drafts

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CREDIT: Kimberley French/Twentieth Century Fox

This review was originally posted on News Cult in September 2018.

Starring: Boyd Holbrook, Olivia Munn, Sterling K. Brown, Jacob Tremblay, Trevante Rhodes, Keegan-Michael Key, Thomas Jane, Alfie Allen, Augusto Aguilera, Yvonne Strahovski

Director: Shane Black

Running Time: 107 Minutes

Rating: R for Plenty of Blood and Even More Guts, Tourette’s-Style Profanity, and Predator Sex References

Release Date: September 14, 2018

The Predators from Predator aren’t really predators. They’re sportsmen, hunting for the thrill of it instead of for sustenance. If there’s one thing that The Predator wants you to know, it’s this. And also that “The Predator” is a cool name, so it doesn’t really matter that it’s not accurate. This edition is filled with ideas, most of them more high-minded than the title character’s etymology. That is to be expected, considering that writer/director Shane Black (who acted in the 1987 original) has made his career on somewhat self-aware and slightly askew takes on the action genre. But by his standards, the ideas on display here are a little undercooked.

It turns out that some Predators may not be entirely motivated by killing. In fact, there is now at least one rogue Predator who is interested in helping earthlings survive. That is the idea driving the plot, as Army Ranger sniper Quinn (Boyd Holbrook) procures some valuable Predator tech that multiple parties are interested in retrieving. But this film’s most compelling idea is its definitive stance that spectrum disorder is the next step in human evolution. Boyd’s son Rory (Jacob Tremblay), who gets his hands on his dad’s discovery, is somewhere on the spectrum. His condition is not especially debilitating; it mainly manifests itself in an aversion to loud noises and an aptitude towards accurately interpreting alien devices. He becomes a person of interest to all sides in this struggle, and it is a fairly rewarding avenue for this story to take.

But the issue is, for as much as The Predator wants to grapple with these weighty concepts, the majority of its substance consists of cheeky jokes and action set pieces, which are only sporadically satisfying. There is plenty of energy from a motley crew of military prisoners, like Keegan-Michael Key’s aficionado of “Yo momma” jokes and Thomas Jane’s Tourette’s spouter. But getting in the way of it all are inconsistent explanations about how to dispatch Predators. Do you shoot them in the head? Wear them down with multiple hits until they finally start to fall? Do you need to get their armor off? Sometimes each of those options works, but other times they don’t. Also, there are these Predator dogs that are actually kind of cute but I’m not sure what their purpose is. And that’s pretty much how this whole film goes: it’s pretty cool, but I’m not entirely sure what its purpose is.

The Predator is Recommended If You Like: The Hulk Dogs from Ang Lee’s Hulk

Grade: 2.75 out of 5 Predator-Human Hybrids