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Sam Rockwell

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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Mute (2018)

The tagline for Mute is “he doesn’t need words”. Honestly, the same can’t be said for the audience watching Duncan Jones’ latest picture.

Mute is either surprising or possibly to be expected, depending on where you stand on Jones as a filmmaker. Removing the interesting fact that he’s the son of David Bowie, Jones comes across as a nice guy of cinema. He’s active on social media and welcoming and friendly to his audience, often sharing storyboards and nuggets of detail about his upcoming movies. Yet he’s been on something of a downward curve over the past couple of years. Warcraft, his take on the world-renowned MMORPG World of Warcraft, was a painfully dull mess of an adaptation. Mute takes him back to his original screenplay roots but, sadly, said dullness appears to have followed him from the unsuccessful swords and sorcery blockbuster.

There is almost certainly a reason why filmmakers don’t traditionally set movies around protagonists who don’t talk, and Mute exemplifies that singular problem. Alexander Skarsgard is Leo, a bartender in a ‘future-punk’ Berlin who also happens to be mute following a boating accident as a child, falls in love with Naadirah, an exotic young woman who works at the same club. When she disappears, so begins a hunt across the skyscraper-filled metropolis by Leo to track her down, facing a range of eccentrics, weirdos, gangsters (such as Paul Rudd’s Cactus Bill) and paedophiles (his brother Duck, played by Justin Theroux) along the way. Such a synopsis makes Mute sound, however, much more engaging than Jones’ meandering, listless and unformed script delivers in reality. From early on, Mute doesn’t seem to have any idea of its own identity.