JOJO RABBIT: weak satire almost saved by a surfeit of heart

At a time when being a Nazi for many does not seem like a terrible proposition, Jojo Rabbit should have been a film to tear at the satirical jugular of recent history’s worst fanatical movement.

Taika Waititi on paper was surely the right writer-director to make this happen too. He has taken a hilarious, incisive scalpel to the traditionally serious supernatural tropes of vampirism and lycanthropy in What We Do in the Shadows and parlayed that eccentricity into his colourful sojourn into the Marvel Cinematic Universe with Thor: Ragnarok, so you can imagine him looking at Nazism and understanding what he needed to take aim at for comedic purposes. The trailers suggest that to be the case; promoting Jojo Rabbit as a perky, plucky zany, ‘Allo ‘Allo-style comic adventure with Waititi hamming it up as an imaginary Adolf Hitler. Only… that’s not really what we get.

Jojo Rabbit is a surprisingly melancholy, somber affair, particularly after an opening first half an hour which establishes the life of young Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis), a ten year old member of the Hitler Youth toward the end of World War Two who finds himself tormented by older boys who question his strength as a budding Nazi, especially given he’s doted on by his mother Rosie (an accented Scarlett Johansson). There are japes. There is dancing. There is a lightness of touch. Then he finds Jewish girl Elsa Korr (Thomasin McKenzie) being hidden at his home by his mother behind a wall and Waititi moves away from the Nazi lampooning into different, altogether more difficult tonal territory.

It’s that second act that causes Jojo Rabbit to collapse in on itself, losing its initial inertia as it attempts to use Jojo as a prism to explore difference, extremist thought, and naturally how, as Jojo’s friend Yorki (Archie Yates) puts it “definitely not a good time to be a Nazi”.

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Alias (Series Overview + Reviews)

Alias arrived at a fascinating point when it came to television.

The year was 2001 and a lot was changing in the ether around it. JJ Abrams, at this point best known as the writer of Harrison Ford weepie Regarding Henry, Michael Bay blockbuster Armageddon and show-runner of late 90’s teen hit drama Felicity, was nowhere near the producing and directing Hollywood totem he would become. His production house, Bad Robot, had not yet become the nascent Amblin of its generation. And, just nineteen days before the pilot, ‘Truth Be Told’, aired… 9/11 happened.

Abrams’ spy series already had some interesting cache behind it. Alias was a show that emerged on ABC with the intention of riding into the 21st century with a fresh storytelling model. The most successful and important TV shows of the 1990’s had almost all built their success on an episodic, network model of storytelling; 22-26 episode seasons with plenty of stand-alone stories which would serve the show well in syndication. In everything from Quantum Leap through to The X-Files, show-runners moving from the 1980’s into more of a Golden Age of television, in which some of the most key writers in both TV and cinema of the next few decades would emerge, had cleaved to the way it had been done for years.

Not Alias.

It would immediately strive for an aesthetic which would tap into a deep reservoir of retro-futurism, both aesthetically and in terms of production. Abrams and his staff came out of the gate leaning heavily into the kind of serialisation most shows in the 1990’s just didn’t do, bar a few trend-setting exception we’ll return to. The concept was both high and complex – female super-spy Sydney Bristow would find herself learning the covert CIA branch she had been working for, SD-6, was in truth the arm of a worldwide crime syndicate, and would work as a double-agent to bring down the enemy from within. Episodes would end on a cliffhanger every week and fold into each other. A surfeit of character and narrative mysteries would propel Syd’s journey along, not to mention a curious central, underlying occult and arcane mythology which tipped the show away from action-thriller and more toward science-fiction.

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Tomb Raider (2018)

If ever a cinematic franchise in the making deserved the reboot treatment, it was probably Tomb Raider. The adventures of British Lady, Lara Croft, she of pixelated bosom, cut glass accent and frightening wealth, who so entranced video gamers in the late 1990’s, have not to date had the most auspicious history on the big screen.

For half a generation, Lara Croft was epitomised by Angelina Jolie. The bosom came naturally, the accent less so, but she certainly gave it her best shot in two pictures adapting Eidos’ massively successful female replica of the Indiana Jones series – firstly 2001’s slick, hollow Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, in which Jolie-Lara fought Ser Jorah Mormont who went looking for a magical triangle to stop time (or something) and later in 2003’s slick and, yes, hollow Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life, in which Jolie-Lara again teamed up with (bellow it) GERARD BUTLER! to stop Mance Rayder (in yet another Game of Thrones connection) from unleashing Pandora’s Box. Not figuratively, you understand, but literally. *The* Pandora and her Box.

Suffice to say, despite fairly decent box office, neither of these films did anything to successfully lift the long-held ‘video game to movie’ curse which has swirled around adaptations of computer games to the big screen since their inception in the 1980’s. The rot undoubtedly started with the fetid 1993 take on Super Mario Bros (arguably the biggest game of the 80’s) and has festered ever since through a cornucopia of cinematic versions of beloved games, some of which were tackled by half-decent directors with fairly strong casts. Assassin’s Creed last year, helmed by Justin Kurzel and starring Michael Fassbender (both fresh off a great new take on Macbeth), was considered the Great Video Game Hope but, alas, it was critically panned. Mind you, I think that film is seriously underrated. But that’s another story. Back to Lara and her tombs…

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