Jojo Rabbit (2019) – Film Review

From Taika Waititi, the now-esteemed comedy director behind: ‘What We Do in the Shadows,’ ‘Hunt for the Wilderpeople’ and ‘Thor: Ragnarok,’ comes a beautifully-crafted war film with a strangely pleasant sense of humour. As ‘Jojo Rabbit’ really stands-out within the war genre for being one of the first films set during World War II to be an anti-hate satire, telling it’s heart-warming and optimistic story in an amusing yet respectful fashion, soon cementing itself as one of the most noteworthy releases of 2019.

Plot Summary: Nearing the end of the Second World War, a lonely German boy named: ‘Jojo’ aspires to be a Nazi, hoping to one day fight on the front-line. But ‘Jojo’ soon finds his world-view turned upside-down when he discovers his mother is hiding a young Jewish girl in their attic. Aided only by his idiotic imaginary friend: ‘Adolf Hitler,’ ‘Jojo’ must confront the girl, and in doing so, confront his blind nationalism.

Originally based on the novel: ‘Caging Skies’ by Christine Leunens, the screenplay for: ‘Jojo Rabbit’ was actually written back in 2011. Putting it in between ‘Boy’ released in 2010, and ‘What We Do in the Shadows’ released in 2014 in the chronology of Taika Waititi-penned films. And while ‘Jojo Rabbit’ is certainly one of Waititi’s finest films to date, it is also one of his most controversial. As whilst I personally feel the film goes about its comedy in a tasteful manner, never undercutting the story’s message and mostly just poking-fun at ridiculous Nazi protocols and beliefs. ‘Jojo Rabbit’ did receive plenty of flack from critics as soon as it was even announced the film would contain any-kind of humour, which I find quite unfair on behalf of the film.

The young and impressive Roman Griffin Davis leads the cast excellently as ‘Jojo,’ portraying the young boy as simply a regular kid who has a fascination with this ideology the Nazis are fighting for, even though he has little understanding of it nor its horrific consequences. Then there is Thomasin McKenzie, who portrays the opposite side of this, as her character: ‘Elsa’ is a resourceful and intelligent Jewish girl who attempts to open ‘Jojo’s eyes to the real-world, rather than the warped-reality his fellow Nazis have burned-into him. Scarlett Johansson is also fantastic in the film as ‘Jojo’s mother: ‘Rosie,’ having the most consistent German accent of the cast by far. But it’s the director himself, Taika Waititi, who takes the short-straw portraying the infamous Adolf Hitler, or at least ‘Jojo’s imaginary interpretation of him. As ‘Hitler’ is always presented in a very discriminating way, with Waititi portraying the dictator like a complete tool, only ever having as much information/maturity as ‘Jojo’ does, and occasionally, even less so.

Oppose to many other war films, ‘Jojo Rabbit’ features a very vibrant colour palette, as Waititi actually discovered through much of his research that Germany during World War II was both colourful and fashionable, and was interested in shying away from war films only ever displaying World War II as dark and dreary. So through this, as well as the fairly creative cinematography by Mihai Malaimare, ‘Jojo’s small town is presented as a seemingly celebratory place with stylishly-dressed citizens. Almost as if the town is attempting to ignore the impending threat, only semi-aware that the Third Reich is crumbling beneath them.

The film’s original score by Michael Giacchino is another wonderful effort from the composer, as the score features a number of memorable tracks, from ‘Jojo’s Theme’ to ‘A Butterfly’s Wings’ and ‘Rosie’s Nocturne.’ In many ways, the score for: ‘Jojo Rabbit’ almost sounds as if it’s a military march composed by a group of children, which works perfectly considering the film’s story is told through a child’s perspective. Furthermore, the original score also utilises German vocals to more accurately fit with the story’s setting.

Although the supporting cast of Archie Yates, Rebel Wilson, Stephen Merchant and Alfie Allen are all brilliant within the film, I really do wish their characters were featured more throughout the narrative. As aside from Sam Rockwell’s ‘Captain Klenzendorf,’ who receives a respectable amount of screen-time. Many of the story’s side characters are seemingly only in the film for the sake of a couple of humorous scenes, which is unfortunate, as every member of the cast portrays their Nazi characters as hilariously over-the-top as possible.

Altogether, ‘Jojo Rabbit’ isn’t only another extraordinary entry into Taika Waititi’s catalogue of comedy flicks. But I’d argue it’s his best project thus far, a daring and charming film that simultaneously explores the horrors of war, yet also the compassion in people. And while the film may not be for everyone, with many reviews clearly indicating how divisive the film is with its implementation of comedy, I feel the film juggles its humour and emotional moments immensely well, with its remarkable original score and bright colour palette only helping the film stand further out from the crowd. Final Rating: 8/10.

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Hacksaw Ridge (2016) – Film Review

Serving as both an intense war film as well as the real-life biography of Desmon T. Dos, ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ is a respected Oscar-nominated film which deserves much of the praise it receives. As through the stand-out performance by Andrew Garfield alongside the attractive cinematography by Simon Duggan and array of tense moments, ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ soon becomes a very emotional and memorable experience for any viewer, whether overly familiar with the war genre or not.

Plot Summary: World War II American Army Medic Desmon T. Doss, who served during the Battle of Okinawa, refused to kill a single living person despite push-back from his superiors. Doss soon became the first man in American history to receive the Medal of Honor without firing a single shot on the battlefield.

Directed by Mel Gibson (Braveheart, The Passion of the Christ, Apocalypto), ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ is most effective when displaying war at it’s most brutal, never turning away from displaying the graphic violence and horrific destruction World War II inflicted on many people’s lives, and while the film can sometimes go a little too far when it comes to its gore (feeling a little tasteless and over-the-top at points). I did find ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ more engaging than many similar films within the war genre, and the grim atmosphere the film presents is sure to keep any audience member constantly on the edge-of-their-seat.

The main cast of Andrew Garfield, Teresa Palmer, Hugo Weaving, Rachel Griffiths and Luke Bracey are all phenomenal, with Andrew Garfield in particular, giving a fantastic performance as Desmon T. Dos. Never failing to portray him as a likeable and brave man thrown-into the dark world of war, despite a huge amount of scenes being left on the cutting-room floor as a result of time, which I feel is a shame, as the film isn’t overly long and could’ve benefitted from a few more moments of characterisation. However, ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ also features some extremely peculiar choices when it comes to the supporting cast, as Vince Vaughn and Sam Worthington both portray strict war-camp generals early on in the story, which in spite of them both giving fairly decent performances within their roles, I couldn’t help but feel their characters could’ve been better cast.

Although the cinematography by Simon Duggan isn’t anything overly incredible throughout the runtime, the film does have a number of visually pleasing shots, in addition to the film utilising an array of hand-held shots to further the film’s presentation of the uncontrollable chaos of war. Unfortunately, despite not being used very heavily throughout the film, the shots involving CGI that we do see could definitely do with some improvement. As the CG effects for the film’s enormous battleships and fiery explosions do look a little unusual when compared to the film’s time-period accurate battlefront.

The original score by Rupert Gregson-Williams is one of the stronger elements of the film however, as the soundtrack helps to build tension throughout the story in addition to being surprisingly memorable. Although in my opinion, I always felt the score never quite managed to build tension as well as the score for: ‘Dunkirk,’ or had the huge emotional impact as the original score from one of the definitive war films: ‘Saving Private Ryan,’ which stopped the soundtrack from reaching the heights it truly could. That being said, the late James Horner was initially attached to the film after being the composer for much of Gibson’s other work. But after Horner’s untimely death, another composer was brought on before Rupert Gregson-Williams was eventually finalised on, so the film’s soundtrack has been through a very rough-road of development.

One area of the film I feel is fairly underappreciated is the make-up and costume design, as every horrific injury seen throughout the film always appears realistic and looks extremely painful, whilst every costume also feels very accurate to the film’s time-period, almost making the film appear as if the production actually took-place during World War II itself. These elements also help make-up for some of the weak writing early-on in the film. As whilst the film’s writing isn’t awful by any means, a large amount of the dialogue could be seen as a little cheesy/cliché when it comes to developing the film’s characters.

‘Hacksaw Ridge’ is one of those rare films that is both entertaining and distressing, whilst it isn’t quite perfect in its execution, mostly due to its few small issues in regards to its writing, excessive violence and supporting cast. I still feel all of these problems are mostly minor when compared to the remainder of the film. As ‘Hacksaw Ridge’s brilliant war-torn visuals and tense atmosphere on-top of the memorable and charismatic performance by Andrew Garfield, leave ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ a film I feel many should see at least once. Final Rating: 8/10.

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Kong: Skull Island (2017) – Film Review

Jordan Vogt-Roberts directs his first major film with ‘Kong: Skull Island,’ another reboot of the iconic monster this time set within a different time-period and featuring plenty of vibrant visuals. Resulting in ‘Kong: Skull Island’ being a pretty entertaining monster flick overall, despite the film still being plagued with a range of issues throughout its two-hour runtime.

Plot Summary: Shortly after the Vietnam war in 1973, a team of scientists explore an uncharted island in the Pacific, without knowing it, they soon venture into the domain of the mighty: ‘King Kong,’ and must fight their way through an onslaught of dangerous creatures to escape the deadly: ‘Skull Island.’

Just from a quick glance at the film, it’s obvious that the film takes heavy inspiration from the war epic: ‘Apocalypse Now’ when it comes to its visuals, which is by no means a bad thing, as ‘Kong: Skull Island’ really embraces its 1970s time-period. Making every set, costume and piece of military equipment fit well within the world the film builds on, which really gives some style to what could’ve just been your standard action blockbuster.

The all-star cast of Thomas Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, Corey Hawkins, Tian Jing, Thomas Mann, Toby Kebbell and my personal favourite, John C. Reilly, are all decent in their respective roles despite their characters not being given much depth beyond a few short scenes, as due to the enormous size of the cast, many characters end-up becoming nothing more than clichés through their rushed introductions. Aside from Samuel L. Jackson and John C. Reilly as ‘Preston Packard’ and ‘Hank Marlow’ however, as both of their characters receive the most development and play into the film’s main theme of the damage war can have on the mind, which I personally found very interesting and wish the film explored further. Rather than focusing so much on many of the awful comedic moments the film crams into the story, which aside from a few improvised lines from John C. Reilly, fall mostly flat.

The cinematography by Larry Fong is fairly creative throughout the film, as in addition the film’s very ranged colour palette. ‘Kong: Skull Island’ does have an array of visually interesting shots, many of which contain plenty of movement and give the viewer some stunning views of: ‘Skull Island.’ The cinematography also lacks many of the shots that made the ‘Godzilla’ remake from 2014 so impressive as a creature-feature, that being shots that display the true scale of: ‘Kong,’ yet the lack of these shots may also be due to the ‘Kong’s ever-changing size, which did begin to irritate me after a while, despite ‘Kong’ still managing to feel pretty imposing and powerful throughout the film.

The original score by Henry Jackman does help to make-up for this however, it being of his better scores in my opinion. As throughout the narrative, the soundtrack always adds to the adventurous tone of the film, utilising large tribal drums to give each character’s confrontation with ‘Kong’ genuine weight. The film also uses a number of classic songs from the 70s to further push the film’s time-period, and whilst this does sometimes work effectively, with an early helicopter scene featuring the iconic: ‘Fortunate Son’ being the most memorable. It can also feel very forced at points, mostly due to the sheer amount of songs featured within the film.

One of the film’s best aspects, and most likely the main thing most viewers will gravitate towards when it comes to ‘Kong: Skull Island,’ is its action scenes. As throughout the story, the film constantly throws its characters into plenty of intense encounters with the terrifying (and equalling unique) creatures of the island, and whilst the film does have a few too many scenes which feel overly-cheesy due to an overreliance on slow-motion. Each action set-piece is entertaining in its own way, usually making effective use of each monster’s various abilities and their surrounding locations. My personal favourite definitely being the sinister and brilliantly designed: ‘Skullcrawlers,’ ‘Kong’s main adversaries. All of these creatures are obviously displayed through the film’s CG effects, which are decent enough throughout the runtime, yet certainly aren’t flawless.

Overall, ‘Kong Skull Island’ is pretty enjoyable, as whilst filled with a variety of problems, mainly in regards to the film’s weak characterisation and fairly simplistic story, the film still manages to be exciting through its fantastic use of CG effects and thrilling action scenes, all backed-up by a great original score and a constructive use of the 1970s time-period. So although its undeniably in need of some improvement, I feel you can still get something out of this creature-feature. Final Rating: low 7/10.

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