Friday, January 24, 2020

Jojo Rabbit

Jojo Rabbit
seen @ Kew Gardens Cinemas, Kew Gardens, Queens, NY

Last month I had said I didn’t find Knives Out as funny as other people did and I questioned whether seeing it with an audience made a difference or not. Now I’ve seen another comedy film, Jojo Rabbit, a movie I found hilarious, as did the audience I saw it with—one woman behind me was laughing her head off for most of the movie—and irony of ironies, the first time I looked it up online after seeing it, I encountered all these reviews saying how unfunny it is. (Its overall Rotten Tomatoes score, however, is a “certified fresh” 80, which is very positive.)

Granted, director Taika Waititi, who also adapted the screenplay from the book Caging Skies, walks a tightrope, attempting to find humor in a story taking place in Nazi Germany with Adolf Hitler (sort of) as a supporting character. I was reminded of the 2018 Cold War comedy The Death of Stalin, which also balanced humor with the realities of life within a fascist regime—and, of course, older comedies like Life is Beautiful, The Producers, To Be or Not To Be and The Great Dictator.

Jojo deals with a young Hitler Youth recruit, one so devoted to the Nazi cause he imagines Hitler himself as his best friend, and what happens when he learns his mother is secretly hiding a Jew in their house. Why is the movie funny? For one thing, the dialogue feels almost contemporary, which is incongruous with the time and place. The Nazi characters are depicted broadly; the situations they’re put in ridiculous. Hitler especially, played by director Waititi, is practically a cartoon—and yet there are moments that remind you these are Nazis and if you’re a dissenter, or a Jew, you trifle with them at your risk. And there’s an overall message of tolerance that’s heartfelt and welcome, particularly in this time where anti-Semitism is making a comeback.

The child actor, Roman Griffin Davis, carries the bulk of the movie. He gives Jojo a naive fanaticism that almost makes him endearing. Jojo doesn’t quite measure up to his peers, most of whom bully him, but he’ll do anything to be a true soldier like his absent father, off fighting in the war. His idealized version of Hitler acts as a kind of surrogate father, but none of this is as frightening as it sounds because of the goofy tone of the movie.

And then Jojo discovers the teenage Jewish girl and things change for him; that which he’s believed in all his life about German superiority is called into question. It was good to see Thomasin McKenzie from Leave No Trace again; she plays the Jewish girl and I think she’s even better here.

Jojo is pretty different from Knives; both are satirical, but to different degrees, and Jojo, by nature of its subject matter, is more risqué and “out there.” Did that make it easier to laugh at? Could be. Knives was an ensemble; we saw the story through different perspectives, some of which were funnier than others and all of whom were adults. Jojo is told from the angle of a ten-year-old with a very specific worldview, one we wouldn’t normally laugh at, but here it’s purposely exaggerated to a bizarre extent.

Laughing helped us, the audience, approach the premise more easily, whereas with Knives, there was no trepidation of the premise to overcome. It was easier to accept at face value, and while it was entertaining, I don’t think I felt the need to laugh as much as I did with Jojo. From the first scene and the opening credits—yes, this was a rare film with opening credits, set to the tune of the Beatles’ “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” in German—it gave us permission to laugh at it... and we did. Knives wasn’t quite like that, at least not for me, but that’s okay.

Friday, January 17, 2020


seen @ Kew Gardens Cinemas, Kew Gardens, Queens, NY

When I began WSW over nine years ago (!), I was more up on new releases than I am now. You could say I believed it was part of my responsibility as a film blogger. Hanging around classic film bloggers over time made me think otherwise, and now I no longer pay as close attention to things like who’s getting cast in what movie, what project a given director is eyeing, or what the weekend box office take for the latest franchise movie was.

So when I saw that this foreign movie I had only recently heard of called Parasite was nominated for the Best Picture Oscar, it took me completely by surprise—but if I had been following the Oscar race year-round, like I used to, chances are I could’ve seen it coming. This was the Palme d’Or winner at Cannes. It has a score of 99 at Rotten Tomatoes. It won the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film and has been nominated for a ton of other awards around the world.

This film is a huge hit. I had thought the Academy was being enlightened and progressive by nominating it for its top honor, and they kind of are, but I think in this case, it might have been simply too big for them to ignore.

Still getting used to the name Bong Joon Ho, the director and co-writer (I keep saying “Boon Jong” instead). He’s been around awhile—months ago I saw his SF movie Snowpiercer on Netflix. I thought about doing a post on it, but never did. No real reason.

I’ve watched quite a few movies on Netflix I haven’t blogged about. That might be another way WSW has evolved: used to be I felt I needed constant content to stay visible, so I would blog four to six times a week, on everything I saw, but a pace like that was unsustainable for me. Some bloggers can do it. I can’t.

Snowpiercer had Western stars like Chris Evans and Tilda Swinton in it (a sign of how well known he is already), but Parasite was made in his native South Korea, with Korean actors. The premise is original and delightfully subversive: a dirt-poor, unemployed family figures out a way to infiltrate the household of a rich family by posing as strangers and secretly getting the established staff out, one by one, which leads to different problems. There are plans for an HBO miniseries that will expand the original story further.

Once I figured out the basic premise, I really got into the story. It’s funny in places, and the climax is a gory bloodbath, so it’s hard to classify this movie. I’ve seen it described both as a black comedy and a thriller; I lean more toward the latter but really, it’s its own thing. The class struggle is obviously a major theme, but it’s not like it preaches. Every character is unsympathetic to one degree or another, and the friction between the two families produces the movie’s memorable moments. I’m reminded of the work of Luis Bunuel, or to a lesser extent, Mike Leigh, crossed with Tarantino. I’d have to see more of Bong’s work to know whether or not this is typical of him.

Not much more to say. Good acting, good set design—the contrast between the families’ homes is sharp—great screenplay, obviously, good score. This is everything you would want in a movie.

Monday, January 13, 2020

It’s all about Oscar

For Best Picture:

Ford v Ferrari
The Irishman 
Jojo Rabbit
Little Women
Marriage Story
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood 

The rest.

Wow, I missed the boat on a lot of movies this year, didn’t I?

When I say I can’t see every Oscar-caliber new release that comes out every year, I’m not just playing around. I really can’t—and I no longer try. It’s too stressful, too expensive, and some movies just don’t interest me, at least at first. Plus, in recent years, I’ve lost interest in the whole Oscar horse race anyway—but I can’t deny the Oscar imprimatur on a film is worth something.

Especially these days. I’m still not used to this new Academy, that takes indie movies like Jojo Rabbit and foreign films like Parasite seriously in the Best Picture race instead of going for the usual awards bait every year. It’s exciting, and makes for a more interesting race, to be sure.

That said, my money is still on 1917 for the top prize. A thrilling story with breathtaking cinematography and assured direction by Sam Mendes, who should get Best Director too, it deserves to be the last film standing—though that’s now conditional on whether or not I see the ones I haven’t seen yet.

In the acting races: Antonio Banderas getting a Best Actor nod for a foreign language role isn’t terribly surprising; every once in awhile such roles break through, and the Academy loves Pedro Almodovar... Harriet was a film I was on the fence about whether to see it or not; nice to see newcomer Cynthia Erivo get the call for Best Actress... Hanks in Supporting Actor? The Academy actually gauged his role in Neighborhood correctly? Amazing... ScarJo in Lead and Supporting. Could she win both?... Yay Adam Driver; I kinda hope he wins Best Actor. Yay Saoirse Ronan; maybe she should keep making movies with Greta Gerwig. Yay Anthony Hopkins and Kathy Bates, even though I didn’t see their movies. I just like them.

No Adam Sandler or Eddie Murphy for Best Actor, boo hoo. Whatever. That would’ve gotten a serious amount of buzz... I thought Noah Baumbach deserved a Director nod for Marriage Story, but at least his original screenplay is in the mix, as is Rian Johnson’s for Knives Out. That’s good... Kinda surprised Gerwig wasn’t caught up in all the love for Little Women... Really disappointed in the lack of love for Rocketman in general and Taron Egerton for Best Actor. I genuinely thought he had a legitimate shot because he was terrific... I had thought 1917 would easily take the two sound categories, but I think Ford v Ferrari will provide some stiff competition there... If The Lion King wins Visual Effects, that would be bittersweet indeed since its FX house, MPC, recently closed its doors... And no love for Cats? Awww...

Which films might I try to see? I believe The Two Popes is on Netflix. I remember seeing the trailer for it, but it didn’t interest me at the time... Little Women is still playing in theaters; I know Virginia saw it with Ann last weekend. I didn’t think anything new could be said about this story; I had already seen the Hepburn and the Ryder versions. Guess I was wrong... Parasite might still be playing in the city, a movie I had never even heard of until a few weeks ago... I hope Jojo Rabbit gets re-released. I remember reading a capsule description of it and initially  thinking it was silly.

Uncut Gems

Uncut Gems
seen @ Kew Gardens Cinemas, Kew Gardens, Queens NY

Adam Sandler, like many comedians before him, wants to be taken seriously as an Actor. That’s okay by me; I like seeing actors of all stripes try new things. They should. Sometimes when a comedian switches to drama, though, they never switch back, and that disappoints me, but it’s their career, after all, to go in whatever direction they choose.

I was never a huge Sandler fan. I think the only comedy of his I can honestly say I liked was The Wedding Singer, which had Drew Barrymore in it too. His comedy music is pretty good, though—and his Hanukkah song kicks ass.

Sandler has ventured into dramatic films before. I never saw Spanglish, but I did see Punch-Drunk Love, a romance with Emily Watson (no relation), directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. I was lukewarm to it at the time, but now I’m thinking perhaps I should revisit it. Still, I doubt any of his past work prepared us for Uncut Gems, his latest film, which has people mentioning his name and Oscar in the same breath—and who could’ve predicted that?

Full disclosure: I saw this film on January 2, still recovering from New Year’s Eve. Not that I had a hangover—the drinks at the bar Virginia and me and our friends were in were way too expensive for more than one beer—but I didn’t get home until sometime after three. At the theater my sleep cycle was still off, plus the beginnings of a cold stirred. Bottom line: it’s possible I was in the wrong frame of mind to watch any movie...

...much less one like this. Sandler plays a New York jeweler addicted to gambling, particularly on NBA basketball. There’s a subplot about an Ethiopian rock with all sorts of precious jewels embedded in it that attracts the attention of a Boston Celtics star, there’s Sandler having an affair with his co-worker, there’s some leg-breakers Sandler owes money to—and the dialogue comes and goes at a rapid clip, with Altmanesque overlapping, and Sandler being very manic and high-strung, schmoozing with everyone he talks to in a sleazy and profane fashion.

On Twitter, I compared Sandler’s performance to Dustin Hoffman, which I still stand by. He’s got a little Pacino mixed in as well. This is a movie which could have been made in the 70s: its milieu, its character-driven plot, its antihero lead all scream “New Hollywood” era. In fact, Scorsese is an executive producer on Gems. That said, the whole thing gave me a headache. Sandler, good as he was, felt shrill and one-note after awhile, though I’m not sure if that was because of where my head was at or not—and I’m in no great hurry to see the movie again.

Garnett (left) was convincing in his supporting role. Don’t know
if he had any prior acting experience, but I doubt he had to stretch.
Gems was directed and co-written (with Ronald Bronstein) by brothers Josh & Benny Safdie, indie filmmakers who had done some stuff before this. Sandler’s character Howard is a Shylock, but the Safdies immerse the film in Jewish culture; it’s a big aspect of its identity. Mostly, though, it’s New York hustle: Howard haggling with NBA star Kevin Garnett (as himself) over the Ethiopian rock, Howard haggling with the goons over money, Howard haggling with his wife and his lover, and all at a go-go pace.

Like I said, I may not have been in the right mood to see such a movie, but at the least I can appreciate its craft. The score was good, so was the cinematography, and this was Sandler in a different context, if nothing else. How much you’ll like this depends on how you feel about Sandler. I never hated him, but a little always went a long way with him. In Gems, he is the movie, he dominates it, and you may not be willing to spend two hours with him in a non-comedic manner. It’s enough to give you tsuris, know what I mean, bubbeleh?

Friday, January 10, 2020

Eating Raoul

The Beyond Star Trek Blogathon is an event which spotlights Star Trek cast members, from all the shows, in different roles. It is hosted by The Midnite Drive-In and Hamlette’s Soliloquy. For a complete list of participating bloggers, visit the lists at the host sites.

Eating Raoul
YouTube viewing

On Star Trek: Voyager, Robert Beltran played Commander Chakotay, the first officer to Kate Mulgrew’s Captain Janeway. He was part of a group of renegades called the Maquis, Starfleet officers and ordinary citizens pissed off at the Federation for signing an unfavorable peace treaty with a former enemy. The Maquis expressed  their anger through terrorist attacks. Janeway was hunting down Chakotay’s group when they both ran afoul of a powerful alien being who sucked them into a distant part of space. To get back home, the Starfleet and Maquis crews must set aside their differences and work together.

BBC America reruns Voyager episodes, so I’ve watched it again in another attempt to find the good in the show, and I have kinda warmed up to it overall. Chakotay originally struck me as dull and little more than Janeway’s lapdog, and he has had his moments, but honestly, little has changed my mind on that score. A large section of the Voyager fandom have ’shipped him and Janeway, and there were moments where it looked like sparks might have flown between them in a Sam-and-Diane, will-they-or-won’t-they fashion, but of course, nothing came of it because the writers were adverse to permanent change. Don’t get me started on that.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

The Master cordially invites you to the Butlers & Maids Blogathon

Ladies and gentlemen, the Master of this web log extends his greetings to you all and hopes you will join him on 22-23 February for what promises to be a rather dashing soirée, if I may be so bold. The only requirement for admittance is a post from you on the subject of butlers and maids in cinema and television history. Although that is the theme, rest assured, posts on other domestic servants—chauffeurs, cooks, gardeners, what have you—shall also be accepted.

The Master is aided in this endeavor by Madame Caftan Woman who, I am told, will provide a preview of her spring fashions in caftanwear from Paris. Her post will be about the film Personal Maid’s Secret, starring Ruth Donnelly.

Champagne and hors d’oeuvres will be served promptly at six, with dinner and dancing to follow—oh, and the Master wishes to add that he has learned his lesson from last time and promises to leave the mashed potatoes on the plate where they belong.

Please accept one of these invitations. There are more on the end table out on the veranda as you leave.

((Thanks to Ruth for the banner assist.))

Second Sight Cinema
Ruggles of Red Gap

Movie Movie Blog Blog II
Another Fine Mess

Strictly Vintage Hollywood
Sunset Boulevard

Maddy Loves Her Classic Films
If You Could Only Cook

A Shroud of Thoughts
Our Man Godfrey

Old Hollywood Films
The Fallen Idol

Hometowns to Hollywood
Higher and Higher

The Midnite Drive-In

Citizen Screen

Taking Up Room
Benny and Joon

Grand Old Movies
Thank You, Jeeves!
Step Lively, Jeeves!

Pale Writer
Cluny Brown

Critica Retro
Murder By Death

Another Old Movie Blog
Sullivan’s Travels

The Story Enthusiast
Imitation of Life (1934)

RealWeegieMidget Reviews
The Others

Tuesday, January 7, 2020


seen @ AMC Lincoln Square 13, New York NY

Shooting a film in one shot, or at least making it appear like one shot, might be the greatest challenge a director can undertake, yet when I wrote about the last movie I saw to attempt this feat, Best Picture winner Birdman, I didn’t write about that aspect much because the movie as a whole befuddled me more than I expected it would, but that had more to do with the screenplay than the camerawork... which was not an issue with 1917, a World War 1 film by American Beauty and Skyfall director Sam Mendes that puts the viewer in the trenches and battlefields of France with the protagonists, a pair of soldiers who must warn a battalion cross country of an impending attack, and it doesn’t take long before you stop thinking about how cinematographer Roger Deakins kept the visual flow so consistent and how editor Lee Smith made every cut so seamless and invisible and you get caught up in the story because the cumulative result bonds you with Blake and Scofield; you feel their pain when they get hurt and your heart races when they crawl across a battlefield anticipating enemy fire and you fear their mission may not succeed in time because we stick with them through everything, every step they take, every friend and foe they encounter, every obstacle that slows them down; a lifetime spent watching movies and TV has conditioned us to anticipate cuts in the action but we don’t get that here, and one has to adjust one’s thinking to compensate, but it’s worth the effort because I’m convinced this is one of the best war movies ever made—and Mendes discusses most of the nuts and bolts behind it here.

Monday, January 6, 2020

New year’s links

This Chaplin GIF is submitted in an attempt
to lighten all our spirits.
It’s not too late to reboot 2020 so we can start over, is it?

The holiday season, at least, was a good one. Virginia took me to a Cirque du Soleil show at Madison Square Garden, and in turn, I took her to a performance of Messiah at Carnegie Hall. These were our Christmas gifts to each other. It was the first time I had seen either one. On Christmas night we had dinner with friends—I made a salad—and on New Year’s Eve she and Sandi were once again part of the annual free choral recital in midtown Manhattan. Ann was part of it too, for the first time. It was kinda funny how many people I knew in the chorus this year. Our after-party was a tad smaller than last year, but that was okay.


Last month was a sad one for Trekkies. On the heels of the death of popular Deep Space Nine supporting player Aron Eisenberg, we lost more stars, from both sides of the camera. I’ve talked about DC Fontana here before; not too much more to add. As a woman writer, she was an inspiration to many who came after her, whether they were professionals in the industry or fans writing for SF zines. As for Rene Auberjonois, I remember feeling good about him joining the cast of DS9 because of his TV and film work elsewhere, and his was a tremendous contribution. His interpretation of Odo was as a multi-faceted character, loaded with contradictions, yet with a human touch underneath his brusque exterior. His relationships with Kira and Quark were fascinating to watch unfold and they brought so much depth to the overall story. Great artists who gave us much to be thankful for as fans.


On a somewhat happier Trek-related note: I had made peace with the belief I would never get to see Star Trek: Discovery, but Ann acquired CBS All Access last month and she was kind enough to invite me to her house so we could binge-watch it. No, I did not expect to do that quite so soon after my little experiment, but life, y’know?

We watched the first twelve or so episodes of Season 1, over two nights. I won’t go into specific details here, but while some things were impressive—Michael Burnham is a unique character in Trek lore, with her own set of morals, and I like the premise of a disgraced Starfleet officer seeking redemption—there was a lot more I didn’t care for. The technology which clearly is superior to that of Kirk’s era; the profanity, which wasn’t Scorsese-level but served no purpose I could tell; the gee-whiz shots of outside the Discovery and then zooming inside; the stronger-than-usual emphasis on action; the unnecessary redesign of the Klingons; the de-emphasis on Starfleet values; the generic American crew; the lack of humor, THE CONSTANT GODDAMN CUTS.

If you wanna get into specifics, let’s talk in the comments. For now, I’ll just say: I understand this is set during a time of war, but even during the Dominion War, DS9 placed a greater emphasis on character and plots tailored around each character than what I’ve seen from Discovery so far. That may change, but I’m not convinced yet. Here’s hoping Picard will be better.


Let’s go straight to the links:

Le uses All Quiet on the Western Front to address violence in war movies.

Jacqueline on Lionel Barrymore and Christmas.

Cats is gonna lose a ton of money.

Sam Mendes on how his grandfather inspired 1917.

The animation studio behind the Lion King remake shut down.

Could Adam Sandler win an Oscar? If he doesn’t, he’ll unleash a bomb of a movie on us.

Former DS9 star Nana Visitor on Rene Auberjonois.

CBS All Access is expanding Star Trek in many directions.

This post sums up my feelings about the whole CGI James Dean thing.

The struggle to preserve film backdrops.

Spotlight on former NBA star Kevin Garnett in Uncut Gems.

And then there was that time the US government thought Wakanda was a real country.