STARS: Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin McKenzie, Scarlett Johaansson, Taika Waititi
DIRECTOR: Taika Waititi
GENRE: Dark Comedy/Drama
Imagine that your imaginary playmate is Adolf Hitler. Not that difficult if you're a white supremacist these days, I'd guess, though more plausible if you're a young Nazi wannabe in Germany during the last stages of the big war--on his way to a Hitler youth camp, where the fun activities are not swimming and volleyball, but killing and blowing stuff up.
Such is life for ten year-old JoJo Betzler (Roman Griffin Davis) as he tries to cope with conflicting existential emotions. Because things are not exactly as they seem. His mother, Rosie (Scarlett Johannson), is harboring a young Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie). JoJo reels back in shock when he discovers her in their home. What is this--a Jew? Some kind of monster? After all that's what he's been brainwashed to believe. Fear leads to falling under the older girl's spell, and JoJo will soon realize that he's not cut out to be a Nazi. Because he's still in touch with his own sense of humanity.
From the get-go, all subtlety is lacking in JoJo Rabbit, switching from its elements of Monty Python-esque black humor to serious drama, like a fighter setting you up with the left jab and then delivering the knockout punch. 1-2...boom! (The bodies of men and women hang in the public square throughout the film, and people just go on about their business.)
As I watched, I wondered why it would be necessary to make this film late in the year 2019, as cinematically inventive as it is--flailing away like Captain Obvious on colossal evils now fading into the whirlpool of the distant past--as if to say: And remember kids, we must never forget that evil is bad! (There is shock value for anyone who doesn't remember Mel Brooks' "Nazi humor" from his 1967 film The Producers.)
And then I thought maybe it's intended to be a response to what is perceived as a growing culture of hate emanating from the far right, as evidenced by white supremacists who now feel more emboldened to come out of the woodwork. Perhaps director Taika Waititi felt that some of us needed to be jolted out of our sense of complacency that fascism could never rear its ugly head again on a such a grand scale.
JoJo Rabbit is nominated in four Oscar categories: Best Picture, Supporting Actress, Film Editing, and Costume Design.
Grade: B +
STARS: Song Kang Ho, Park So dam, Choi Woo-sik, Yeo Jeong Jo
DIRECTOR Bong Joon Ho
GENRE: Dark Comedy/Drama
Our second feature is also a dark comedy (it seems to be the year for them at the Oscars). Wafting in on a refreshing breeze from Korea is Parasite--a film about class divisions and what happens when some folk living in a bug infested basement apartment in Seoul worm their way into the lives of an upper class family, gaining their trust through deception and misrepresentation. Just when the con artists--the Kim family--think they've boarded the gravy train by fast talking their way into lucrative jobs with the Park family (tutor, art instructor, cook, driver), the apple cart is upended when the presence of an intruder who has been there all along is suddenly revealed. (Have you taken a good look around your basement lately to see who might be living down there?)
The Kim family members are so brashly clever in their deception that the Park family matriarch, Yeon-kyo (Jo yeo Jeong), who is totally gullible and naive, doesn't know they're all part of the same clan. It makes for some implausibly comic moments as the ruse plays out day by day. All the while we sense that the crap is about to hit the fan somewhere along the way, and when it does the film kicks into a shocking and disturbing new gear.
Director Bong Joon Ho seems to be using basements metaphorically--how you can ascend from the darkness of that subterranean world into the light for a time, but if you're a cockroach at heart, there's a reason why that may not be the best place for you long term.
When what we get out of Hollywood these days is a lot of the same old shoot-em-up formulaic crap, a film as clever and inventive as Parasite shows that we can still go to the movies and be surprised.
Nominated for six Oscars: Best Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Best International Feature Film, Film Editing, and Production Design.
Grade: B +