Taika Waititi

Jojo Rabbit

16/12/19

After the massive success of Thor Ragnarok, Taika Waititi could probably have directed any film he fancied. But he decided to stick with Jojo Rabbit, a long-cherished project, based on a novel by Christine Leunens and written for the screen by Waititi himself. Before Thor, no studio wanted to touch ‘a coming of age comedy featuring the Hitler youth,’ and it’s really not difficult to understand why. On paper, it sounds batshit crazy and on the screen, it looks… well, pretty deranged. But mostly in a good way.

Ten-year-old Johannes (Roman Griffith Davis) is doing his best to fit in with the other kids in the local Hitler youth, and he’s helped along by his imaginary friend, Adolf (Taika Waititi), for whom Johannes has an unquestioning adoration. But a bullying incident soon earns Johannes the titular nickname of Jojo Rabbit. Meanwhile, he tries to figure out what’s going on with his secretive mother, Rosie (Scarlett Johansson), who clearly tolerates her son belonging to an organisation she detests, while taking every opportunity to instill in him the kind of worldview that the Nazis would certainly not approve of. And then, a chance discovery up in the attic leads Johannes to Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie), a Jewish girl, whom Rosie has given refuge to. Should he inform his sympathetic troop leader, Captain Klenzendorf (Sam Rockwell)? Or should he try to learn as much as he can about this mysterious creature whom he had been taught to believe is some kind of evil monster?

The film lurches audaciously between moments of slapstick humour and scenes of outright horror. Of course, this is all seen from a ten year old’s perspective, which accounts for the cartoonish feel of the film, but there’s sometimes the impression that characters are being brought on as added comic relief – Stephen Merchant’s chilling turn as a member of the Gestapo is a good case in point, great while he’s on, but then we barely see him again. Rebel Wilson, an actor whose popularity I struggle to understand, has a cameo role as Fräulein Rahm, occasionally dropping in to shout obscenities and burn books. Johanssen is delightful as Rosie, while Johannes’ interraction with his doleful best friend, Yorki (Archie Yates) is one of the film’s strongest suits. I love too that Elsa is depicted not as a victim, but as a strong, resourceful survivor.

It’s also true that, in a world that is increasingly drifting to the right, Jojo Rabbit has an added prescience. Here, the antics of fascists are held up for ridicule. If only what’s happening in the real world right now were anything like as funny.

4.4 stars

Philip Caveney

Film Bouquets 2016

 

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It was an interesting year for film. Here, in order of release, rather than stature – and with the benefit of hindsight – are our favourite movies of 2016.

Room

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This superb adaptation of Emma Donoghue’s novel got 2016 off to a cracking start. There were powerful performances from Brie Larson and young Jacob Tremblay as the central characters in a tragic yet oddly inspirational story.

The Revenant

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Alejandro Gonzalez Inaritu delivered another dazzling movie, this one as savage and untamed as the grizzly bear that mauled Leonardo Di Caprio half to death – but made up for it by helping him win his first Oscar.

Anomalisa

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Writer/director Charlie Kaufman gave us a quirky (and deeply disturbing) animation that was a Kafkaesque meditation on identity and the bleak nature of the human condition.

Dheepan

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Jacques Audiard’s fascinating study of the lives of refugees never fell into cliche. There was violence here, but it felt horribly real and totally devastating. There were affecting performances from a cast of newcomers.

Victoria

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Sebastian Schipper’s film really shouldn’t have worked. Delivered in one continuous take, the fact that it hooked us in so brilliantly was just the icing on the cake – a real ensemble piece but plaudits must go to Laia Costa as the eponymous heroine.

Sing Street

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John Carney may have only one plot but when it was delivered as beautifully as it was in Sing Street, we were happy to indulge him. This was a beautiful, heartwarming film with appeal to anybody who has ever dreamed about pop stardom.

The Neon Demon

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The fashion industry as seen by Nicolas Winding Refn is a hell hole and here, Elle Fanning as Jesse, was the latest recruit. A weird mash-up of sex, violence and extreme voyeurism, this was the director’s most assured effort yet.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

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New Zealand director Taika Waititi offered up this delightfully quirky story about a troubled teenager (Julian Dennison) and his friendship with crusty curmudgeon, Hec (Sam Neill). This film reeled us in and kept us hooked to the end credits.

The Girl with all the Gifts

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Just when we thought the zombie movie had stumbled as far as it could go, Colm McCarthy’s film gave the genre a hefty kick up the backside – and there was a star-making performance from young Senna Nanua in the lead role.

Under the Shadow

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Babek Abvari’s film had all the tropes of the contemporary horror movie and a powerful political message as well. Set in post war Tehran, young mother Shideh (Narges Rashidi) struggled to keep her daughter safe from the forces of darkness.

I, Daniel Blake

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Ken Loach’s return to the screen resulted in one of the most powerful and affecting films of the year – a searing look at ‘benefits Britain’ that would have the most stony-hearted viewer in floods of tears. Should be required viewing for Tory politicians.

Train to Busan

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Another day, another zombie movie – but what a zombie movie! Korean director Sang ho Yeon gave us a galloping ‘zombies on a train’ thriller that nearly left us breathless. There were some incredible set pieces here and a nerve-shredding conclusion.

Paterson

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Jim Jarmusch presented a charming and quirky tale about a would-be poet living in a town that had the same name as him. Not very much happened, but it didn’t happen in an entirely watchable way. A delightful celebration of the creative spirit.

Life, Animated

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This compelling documentary squeaked in right at the end of the year – the true life tale of Owen Suskind, an autistic boy, initially unable to speak a word, but rescued by his love of Disney movies. It was funny, uplifting and educational – and our final pick of 2016.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

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17/09/16

New Zealander Taika Waititi’s last film, What We Do In The Shadows, offered (against all the odds) a refreshingly original take on vampirism – and the oddly titled Hunt for the Wilderpeople is another quirky and unusual film, set in the writer/director’s homeland. It tells the story of Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison), a troubled teenager in care whose unruly behaviour has pretty much exhausted the list of foster families prepared to give him a chance. In a last-gasp effort to find him a suitable home, he is placed with Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and her curmudgeonly husband, Hec (Sam Neill), who live in a shotgun shack in the middle of nowhere.

After initial teething troubles, Ricky takes a shine to Bella and, for the first time ever, his future looks promising – but then she dies unexpectedly and Hec isn’t slow to point out that having Ricky here was all his wife’s idea. Plans are set in motion to take Ricky back into care, whereupon, he heads off into the outback, determined to fend for himself – and Hec has little option but to go after him. After an accident obliges Hec to lay up for several weeks to recuperate, Ricky and Hec finally begin to bond…

The interplay between Neil and Dennison is a winning combination, delightful and often hilarious – while the succession of eccentric characters they encounter throughout the film adds to the fun, particularly Rhys Derby’s ‘Psycho Sam,’ a deranged hermit who spends much of his time disguised as a bush. Rachel House also shines as child services official Paula, determined to find Ricky and throw him back into care.

Okay, the film isn’t perfect – you can’t help wondering how Ricky can spend five months in the outback, living only on what he and Hec can forage, without losing so much as a pound in weight, for example –  but the New Zealand locations are absolutely ravishing and there’s no denying that the tale is enough to reel you in and keep you hooked right up until the epilogue. Waititi’s  decision to present the film as a series of chapters is also a nice touch. If you’re looking for something different from the usual Hollywood fare, this is a sure bet and the 12A rating means it’s suitable for family viewing.

4.5 stars

Philip Caveney

What We Do In The Shadows

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26/11/14

You might have thought that as a genre, the vampire movie was pretty much played out. But then along comes a low budget gem like What We Do In The Shadows and you realise that there’s still a few drops of fresh blood left in the old corpse. Set in Wellington, New Zealand and brought to you by the team that gave the world, Flight Of The Conchords, this clever little moc-doc follows the lives of three flatmates who just happen to be vampires.

Vladislav (Jemain Clement), Deacon (Jonathan Brugh) and Viago (Taika Waititi), spend as much time arguing about the washing-up rota as they do harvesting the blood of virgins (a running gag exploits the impossibility of ever finding such a thing in Wellington.)  The vampire gang also keep Nosferatu lookalike Petyr in the cellar (he’s actually quite scary) and have occasional run-ins with a bunch of werewolves, led by alpha male Rhys Derby, who are going to extraordinary lengths to control their anger management issues. ‘We’re werewolves not swear wolves!’ But when new recruit, Nick (Cori Gonzalez Macuer) gets ‘turned’ and starts telling everyone he meets what has happened to him, including his perplexed best friend, Stu (Stuart Rutherford), things are bound to go a bit wrong…

This movie delights from the very first shot, as a hand comes groping out of a coffin to switch off a noisy alarm clock, and it maintains its momentum throughout, so that when you’re not laughing out loud, you’re sniggering and when you’re not sniggering, you’re smiling as you anticipate the next joke. Film buffs will enjoy the occasional movie reference and the three leads give likeable performances. At just 86 minutes, it doesn’t outstay its welcome and given that it’s ultimately a piece of throwaway fluff, it ticks all the boxes for a fun night out. Anyone looking for an antidote to Twilight – the series comes in for a fair bit of stick here – would be well advised to check this one out before it flaps away into the night.

4.1 stars

Philip Caveney