Jojo Rabbit (PG-13)
This is a very quirky film, but it constantly pulls at your heart with great humor and humanity and ends up being a fantastic experience. Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) is a 10-year-old German boy living in a village as the war starts. His imaginary best friend turns out to be Adolf Hitler, played by the writer of the film, Taika Waititi. His second-best friend, the pudgy Archie Yates (Yorki), can’t quite figure out his friend, even as they suffer the tortures of the Hitler Youth program.
Jojo is an enthusiastic dresser but somewhat skeptical ideologue and, when asked to choke a rabbit to death, prefers to flee, thus picking up his nickname. His inept Youth leader, Capt. Klenzendorf (Sam Rockwell), can’t cheer him up, and Jojo descends into somewhat of a depression until Elsa (Thomasin Mackenzie) is discovered hiding in his house. She is a Jew, and mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) has been hiding her for some time.
Elsa is the “Jew in the Wall,” Hitler stumbles around Jojo’s house, totally irresponsible for the war and clueless as to its progress. A very funny scene involves the hugely tall Stephen Merchant (Deertz) who leads a troupe of “Heiling” Gestapo agents into the house for a search. Elsa surprises everyone by appearing—which leads to another round of “Heils.”
The plot speeds to its conclusion, as does the war with decimation all around the village, but Elsa has said that the first thing she wants when she is freed is to dance―and so she does with the adoring Jojo, who has grudgingly accepted his role as “little brother.” The acting is superb, especially among the kids, the scenery (in the Czech Republic) is stunning and the plot bizarre but charming as well as scary. For reasons perhaps unknown or unrecognized, I loved this film. Jojo is a mensch even though he doesn’t know it, and he comes to a realization of Hitler’s general lack of character in a resoundingly effective scene. This film may be hard to find even though it is now in general release. Find it and treasure it!
Motherless Brooklyn (R)
Written, directed and starring Edward Norton, this is, indeed, a startling film, if for no other reason than that it stars a character who suffers severely from Tourette’s Syndrome. Norton as Lionel Essrog (or “Brooklyn”) turns out to be the sharpest detective in a four-man crew of detectives, led by Bruce Willis as Frank Minna. He gets bumped off early, and Lionel goes into a tic-filled rage, calmed only by some pot.
Eventually he is calmed by the radiant Laura Rose (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), though generally women throw him into a spell of tics and blurted (odd for Tourette’s) non-obscene bursts of language. Lionel’s form of Tourette’s also involves the ability to remember everything that happens to him, spoken, seen and heard. This makes note-taking unnecessary and allows him more easily to pass as a journalist who needs no notebook.
Covering as a reporter, Lionel gets close to the Boss of the town named Moses Randolph who has dominated the town (New York) for years, posing as a building developer while all the time scamming the contracts, playing favorites and assembling an essential mob around himself. Of course, it turns out that Moses and Frank Minna were working together, in a way, but we discover this first from suspicion and then from Lionel’s facts.
In the meantime, he falls in love with Laura Rose and his character changes. Especially effective is a scene in which Lionel starts dancing with Laura and, just as the scene seems a bit long, we notice that he has calmed down completely.
There is an often-impressive jazz score for the film, as well as many breathtaking scenes of New York in the ‘50s. The script is fascinating, as is the acting. A bit long, perhaps, but effective.
Harriet is played totally believably by Cynthia Erivo, and her supporting cast, led by Leslie Odom Jr. as William Still, is superb. As historical biographies go, this one is timely, since most Americans only know that her name is affiliated with the Underground Railroad.
Tubman, born Araminta Rose (“Minty), selected her own new name once she achieved freedom in Philadelphia. Her trip there was harrowing, even though “only” 100 miles from her Dorchester, Maryland, plantation―but her later service, when she went back to free more slaves and help establish the Underground Railroad, was even more rugged.
She was also known as “Moses” when the white Southerners put a price on her head, thinking she was a male. The story has a spiritual significance in that she insisted that she talked with God and he responded, guiding her away from trouble on her journeys north.
Joe Alwyn is effective as the villainous son of Tubman’s owner, and Janelle Monáe is radiant as the socialite Marie Buchanan, a fictional character. The accomplishments of Tubman are made manifest in this film, and the fact that she kept returning to free as many slaves as possible adds to her glory as an American. Despite some doubt about the feasibility of the whole enterprise, especially the moments with Marie, this film is a good introduction to an American historical character of great merit and bravery.
Terminator: Dark Fate (R)
Oh, deliver me from another Schwarzenegger picture! Maybe with the death of T800 Carl, we can actually say he’s retired. To the end, he could not act. His robot character was so appropriate.
The same cannot be said of Mackenzie Davis, who actually stars in the film as Grace. She claims to be human, but she is, in fact, a “hybrid cyborg.” OK. Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) is distinctly human, on a vengeance tear for the man who killed her son, John. (Thoughtful of the producers for giving her a chance to avenge him.) Also human is Natalia Reyes (Dani Ramos), who is plucked out of her Mexican neighborhood by forces beyond her comprehension.
This fact matches with the plot that is mostly a chase of Dani & Company by Gabriel Rev 9 (Gabriel Luna), who has numerous abilities, among them the ability to bleed a little tar and turn into himself again after being shot up or into an alter-ego that looks like a skeleton-in-tar. Lots of cyborgs are decimated in the film, lots of buildings and, most incredible of all, two large cargo planes that collide and allow the most bizarre of Zero-Gravity fight scenes ever filmed. It goes on and on and, given the interior lighting of a cargo jet in flames, it’s a bit murky as to who wins, especially when the planes crash into water and the fight continues there!
Thousands will love the “special effects” that are hardly special anymore, and realize that the women in the cast, who can all act and look the part, are pressuring Arnold to leave the screen forever. His “Dark Fate” indeed!