Jojo Rabbit (dir. Taika Waititi, 2019) – Ten-year-old Johannes, who serves in the Hitler Youth, discovers a Jewish girl hiding behind the walls of his home.
Fictionalising real life tragedies has its risks. The slightest bit of fantasy can seem misplaced or at worst, irreverent. Even dramatised versions of the truth, like The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, have been called exploitative. What more for those who attempt humour against the backdrop of a towering death toll?
That in mind, Jojo Rabbit comes off as the work of a madman. It opens with a ten-year-old boy Johannes (Roman Griffin Davis), shouting on about his allegiance to Adolf Hitler. Taika Waititi responds with exaggerated impressions and funny faces, decked up in full Nazi wear as Hitler himself and imaginary friend to the young nationalist.
Is it ever okay to joke about the Nazis? It feels just a little inappropriate to smile. Somehow, the satire manages to find a way to balance dark humour and difficult sensitivities. Every bit of mockery is aimed at the people, behaviour, and ideology who deserve it the most. The result is absurd, charming, sad, and moving all at once.
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As the decade comes to a close, so do many major film franchises that have ignited ten good years of fanfare and keyboard wars. Between the epic Endgame and divisive Rise of Skywalker, Glass ended the twenty-year wait for cinephiles who loved Unbreakable, while Dark Phoenix managed to disappoint legions of mutant fans.
Several original studio productions have rightfully shone in their own light, too, and it is on these that this list is based on. In order of personal preference, here are ten of my favourite movies that I have seen and enjoyed in 2019. Until I get to see the late releases, including Monos and Jojo Rabbit. Damn you, licensing agreements!
10. Mirage / Durante la tormenta (dir. Oriol Paulo)
When Vera finds a way to save a young child in the past, she never imagined that she would have to lose her own in the present. Made to doubt her own sanity, all she can do is hold onto her memories as she tries to find her way back into the life that she knew before.
This is the story of Mirage, a time-bending mystery that thrills with its every turn. Though not entirely unpredictable, the emotional core is what does cement director Oriol Paulo as one of the best genre writers today. (review)
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Marriage Story (dir. Noah Baumbach, 2019) – A successful theatre director and actress go through the trials of divorce.
Charlie (Adam Driver) rarely gets defeated, in the ways that Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) feels like she always does. He keeps things in order where she does not, and she pushes him when he gets stuck in his ways. The warm montage that celebrates their love’s little moments is, minutes later, achingly revealed to be the start of their separation.
Sitting before a stranger mediating their divorce, they look back at the little things that they love each other for and wonder how they let them slip. In the same vein of Blue Valentine, Marriage Story is a romance movie after the happily-ever-afters, reminding us of how we never truly know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.
Inspired by his experiences and that of the cast, Noah Baumbach writes with honesty that comes from the heart. He lays bare the emotional fault lines that are often left unspoken about in relationships. Barring Jennifer Jason Leigh’s side of the story, his deeply personal work remains an incisive take on love found and lost.
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Terminator: Dark Fate (dir. Tim Miller, 2019) – A newly modified Terminator hunts down Dani Ramos, whose survival may just depend on a cyborg from the future and a familiar saviour.
Should Genisys have been the final nail in the coffin, fans would have revelled. But that would only be gravely underestimating the resilience of the T-800, who has over and again promised us otherwise. And so The Terminator is back once more in Dark Fate, which wisely ignores the subpar Rise of the Machines, mildly entertaining Salvation, and the unwatchable Genisys.
For a while, the supposed threequel looks promising. James Cameron’s best works will finally get their due proper end… Or so we were led to believe. Instead, T1 and T2 proved to be for naught as the Terminator succeeds in killing off John Connor, right in the very first act. Easily. Without so much as a scuffle. Just like that, the arduous journey of Sarah and Kyle Reese comes to mean nothing in this new, altered timeline.
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In the Shadow of the Moon (dir. Jim Mickle, 2019) – Officer Thomas Lockhart spends decades tracking down a mysterious serial killer, who resurfaces every nine years.
In 1988, several strangers die gruesome deaths across the country at the same time, and the police are no closer to a motive. That is until one victim’s dying words points to an unidentified suspect – a young black woman in a hoodie (Cleopatra Coleman).
Officers Lockhart (Boyd Holbrook) and Maddox (Bokeem Woodbine) manage to track down the alleged serial killer at the train station, only to witness her fatal accident. Not before she calls Lockhart by name and predicts the birth of his daughter.
The incident, followed by the shock of his personal tragedy, sends him spiralling down a dark rabbit hole as he goes on an obsessive hunt for elusive answers. A glimmer of hope comes in the return of the killer nine years later, alive and unaged.
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Midsommar (dir. Ari Aster, 2019) – A visit to Swedish village’s midsummer festival gradually devolves into a series of chilling rituals.
Dani (Florence Pugh) is in a bad place. She has just lost her whole family to a horrific murder-suicide, and the only relationship she has left is with her estranged boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor). She holds fast to the tenuous connection for fear of being alone, joining him and his friends on their midsummer vacation in Sweden.
There, Christian’s friends make clear their disdain for her presence, adding to Dani’s grief. Her anxiety heightens as she tries to hide it. But her emotional dependence on an unappreciative partner leaves her visibly vulnerable, as though without him, she may fall.
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