Like Jojo Rabbit this film has been somewhat polarizing in the critic world. With a 50% rating on Rottentomatoes one would think this is not worth seeing but I would beg to differ. The reviews of the critics are either very pro or very con and not much in between. I found the same to be true of the critical response to Jojo Rabbit. The division comes down to whether or not you feel satire is an okay response to events that have caused great harm or are undeniably evil. Fair comment but I think one needs to be more nuanced about the message. While the Nazis who are mocked in Jojo Rabbit might rightly be called the epitome of evil the film was intended as a warning to us all about how easily populist movements like Nazism and leaders like Hitler can rise to power. In the case of The Laundromat Soderbergh has taken a satirical approach to the release of the Panama Papers that exposed a small part of the international financial structures that allow the very rich to hide their wealth and avoid taxes. The ease by which money laundering is done and tolerated was well known but the Panama Papers made it very transparent for a brief time and represented only a small part of the overall problem. I am not sure how else one can take on this story without being satirical. The docudrama approach is narrated by Jurgen Mossack and Ramon Fonseca of the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca and played by Gary Oldman and Antonio Banderas. Meryl Streep is a recurring character who has been impacted by the international money laundering scheme after she is denied an insurance settlement after her husband is killed in a boating accident. She continues to pursue the people behind the scam.
The reality is that this scheme has had impact on ordinary people but the real crime is tax avoidance and the impact that has on the those of us who do pay our fair share. The people who fall with the release of the Panama Papers are very wealthy or well connected politically. The film uses a series of stories about individuals to highlight the nature of the financial scams but the point at the end is that despite the revelations nothing has really been done to resolve the problem and only a handful of very wealthy people were forced to resign their jobs or suffered financial ruin. Mossack and Fonseca themselves spent only 3 months in prison for their actions and continue to do the work they always did. I thought Oldman and Banderas did a great job of putting it in our faces. The scene where they are released from prison is great satire as they mock the viewer. Personally I would take issue with the critics that say the crimes were treated lightly by this film. Satire is all we have left when nothing of substance as been done to address the issues and I was definitely left angry at the lack of reform but got to at least cheer Meryl Streep at the end. I can’t tell you why I cheered or I would spoil the end but I will put myself in the positive column and urge you to see this film. It’s a Netflix production so should show up on your app soon.
Jojo is the name of a young German boy growing up in Nazi
Germany near the end of World War II. In order not to cause any trouble his mother
has allowed him to join the Hitler Youth and he in on the surface a proud Nazi
and keen to get better. He has an invisible friend in a caricature Adolf Hitler
(played by the director Waititi) who visits him in times of crisis to encourage
his devotion to the fatherland. However, Jojo is not really into the whole Nazi
thing. He is asked to prove his devotion by killing a rabbit during a Hitler
Youth training day and he can’t bring himself to do it earning him the name Jojo
Rabbit. While home alone one day he learns that his mother, played by Scarlett Johansson,
is actually part of the resistance and is hiding a young Jewish woman in their
house. Jojo is conflicted as he grows to be friends with the young woman and
realizes that Jews are not the monsters he has been led to believe. All this
sounds very dramatic and serious but Waititi is a great satirist and the film manages
to be very funny while wrestling with very serious issues. It successfully makes
mockery of Hitler, Nazis and anti-Semitism while not minimizing the destructiveness
of the kind of populist politics that led to the rise of the Nazis. The
audience at the Elgin gave the film a huge standing ovation and the Q and A was
excellent. When asked about the theme and his satirical approach, Waititi said
that the he felt it was important that the issues of populism and anti-Semitism
needed to be brought forward again and again because as a society we very
quickly and easily forget the horrors that come with this kind of politics. He noted
a recent survey that found over 60% of millennials in the US could not say what
Auschwitz was or what happened there. That in itself is frightening. I thought
the film was a huge success and it is interesting how it is being received.
While the audience was clearly loving it and making it a challenger for the People’s
Choice Award, many reviewers have panned it. A quick look at rottentomatoes.com
gives it a 55% rating based on 11 reviews: 6 loving it and 5 not so much.
Clearly it is a controversial way to take on the issues but my bottom line is
that it does it very well.
I was not expecting the turn this film took but I thoroughly
enjoyed my time. In what I took to be a police procedural is in fact a tribute
film to classic whodunits from Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot to Columbo. The
cast is amazing including Christopher Plummer as the victim, Daniel Craig as
the detective and suspects including Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Jamie Lee Curtis
and Chris Evans among others. A crime novelist is found dead in his study. Police
arrive with private detective Craig to investigate if it was suicide or…..
murder. Craig is convinced he was murdered and knows someone in the family is
guilty but as the investigation proceeds the twists and possible motives spin
out. The script is hilarious, and nothing is taken too seriously by the writers
so we are all laughing along as we try to piece together the clues. We get flashbacks
to the night of the murder with Christopher Plummer playing the victim as he gives
all family members a reason to kill him. I confess the dialogue was rapid fire
and I really need to see it again to fully appreciate the whole story. We had a
great Q and A with insightful questions that led to some great insight into how
the film was made, what was scripted and what was ad lib and directorial
decisions. Finally it included a great story from Jamie Lee Curtis about one of
her very first on screen appearances with Peter Falk in Columbo. If you see me I
will tell you the story. Its hilarious. In conclusion I think this movie has a
good chance to make the People’s Choice Award but if not you should still try
to see it. Rian Johnson was asked if Craig would be back in a sequel and his
answer was to shrug and recommend we tell all our friends and acquaintances to
go see the movie when it is released and … we will see. So since Craig needs a
new job after 007 lets support this new direction.
I confess this movie was not exactly what I expected from Michael
Winterbottom and Steve Coogan. My favourite film collaboration these two have
done is The Trip which is a very funny road trip movie that all should see if
you haven’t. Greed, although full of absurdity and humour has a very serious
message. Basically the message is that its time to cut capitalism and
capitalists off at the knees. The sooner the better. Steve Coogan plays a
hugely successful High Street billionaire who has made his fortune in the
fashion industry but also by taking advantage of all the lack of rules and
regulations that favour the rich. The main plot line is about his plans to celebrate
his 60th birthday with a huge Roman Empire themed party on a beach
in Greece including building a fake amphitheatre to host a gladiator fight with
a real lion. Everyone is to dress up as Roman aristocrats or slaves and party
all day and night. As preparations proceed over the days leading up to the
party flashbacks take us back to his origins as a student in private school,
his initial start financing of various fashion start ups and his realization
that the way to make money in fashion is to take advantage of the poverty level
wages and horrendous working conditions in countries like Bangladesh and Myanmar.
We have scenes of Coogan facing down a parliamentary enquiry showing the
impotence of our politicians to stop the abuse and we watch as Coogan abuses
everyone around him as he marches relentlessly forward. David Mitchell of the
Mitchell and Webb Look plays a writer who has been hired to write a sympathetic
biography of Coogan’s character but who becomes increasingly horrified at what
he learns about this ruthless capitalist ripping off everyone around him for
his personal gain. Nonetheless like many others around Coogan he proceeds to do
his job and paint a sympathetic picture of the man.
I know all this sounds extremely serious and scary but in
fact Winterbottom manages to do all this with a brilliantly satirical script
that keeps you laughing as you watch in horror at what is unfolding and it may
be needless to say, but the lion who we visit several times in his cage during
the film plays a key and cathartic role in the climactic scene. The closing credits
include a series of statistics about the incredible inequality between the
greedy rich and the very poor that the system we live in maintains and
encourages. It helps give perspective to what you just watched. We were lucky
to have Winterbottom and Coogan at the showing for a brief Q and A during which
they emphasized the message of the film. Coogan and Michell were my two
favourite actors in the film. I was particularly impressed by Mitchell who I have
only seen in sketch comedy before but who showed some really acting depth. The
rest of the cast are also great including a group of actual Syrian refugees who
now settled in Greece were playing the role of recently arrived refugees occupying
the beach where the party was to be held and really annoying Coogan by their
This is movie I will watch again because the dialogue is
rapid and full of wit. I missed some of it that I dearly want to catch on a
second viewing. Great fun and a great message. I highly recommend this one to
I really liked this film which managed only a visual effects nomination despite its charming storyline and writing. The story is about Christopher Robin all grown up with a wife and daughter and who is totally lost in his work and increasingly isolated. He is still a good man who, charged with coming up with a way find efficiencies at his firm, sends his family away for the weekend while he works. Luckily he is found by an old friend. Winnie-the-Pooh crawls into his isolation and calls him back to the 100-acre wood to save his old friends from a rampaging Heffalump. The encounter results in Christopher’s redemption as he returns to the real world and reengages with his daughter and wife. He also finds a way to save his firm from downsizing and instead grow and find new direction to the dismay of some of his superiors. If you are entranced by A. A. Milne’s old stories I think you will find this movie captures the language and the characters very well. That said I am disappointed that this film did not get nominations for animation, writing, or even Best Picture. I note that on most film websites it is highly rated and much more highly rated than other films like Bohemian Rhapsody for example. I suspect that the film awards need to rethink some of the categories. There may need to be one for films aimed at children for example. I think this may require me to write a blog post about this issue and it will be forthcoming. The other point to be made here relates to my review of Incredibles 2. There I was critical of Disney studios for milking old franchises with mediocre sequels. While this is true of the Incredibles and some Star Wars sequels, this time they scored with a quality product.
Netflix is becoming one of the better producers of film and television and have worked with the Coen brothers to produce a fascinating film that is really a tribute to the American tradition of Westerns. In a series of short films it looks at the Western with humour and respect. Whether or not you are a fan of Westerns you will be hooked by the first episode in the film called The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. It is a brilliant take off of the singing cowboy. It hooked me and while the following episodes are up and down in quality and are all very different from one another and I have already re-watched it a few times. The other good thing about the film is that it can be watched in doses since each episode stands on its own. The film is also all about the script which is excellent and the acting is good but not the reason to see this movie. So the final word from me is that this movie is a refreshing distraction and worth seeing – especially part one. It has received critical praise (8/10 on Rotten Tomatoes) but because of its format I think many were not sure about how to rank it. Its too bad some of the segments could not be nominated in the category of Live Action Shorts. However, it has received a nomination for Best Song, Screenplay and Costumes. You can find “When A Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings” on YouTube – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K91etXNIkaY
Have a listen but remember that this song is the conclusion of the first episode and needs context so take the time to watch Part 1: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.
I am a big Spike Lee fan and BlacKkKlansman did not disappoint.
This film joins several other movies from 2018 and 2017 that look at being
black in America. Set in different eras and touching genres like horror and sci-fi,
this film, Green Book, If Beale Street Could Talk, Sorry to Bother You and Get
Out are all worth seeing and all deserve awards although Sorry To Bother You has
yet to get the recognition it deserved. BlacKkKlansman is based on the true story
of the first black detective to join a Colorado police department. Coinciding
with his appointment, the Ku Klux Klan attempts to open a chapter in the town
and sanitize its profile. Our hero played by John David Washington (son of Denzel),
decides to take them down and using the phone (and his white voice) convinces
the Klan to invite him as a member. That done he needs to find someone white to
sit in for him. Enter Adam Driver a fellow detective who takes on the role. One
twist is that Driver’s character is Jewish and no more welcome than Washington
would be if exposed. The story combines comedy and thriller to tell a very entertaining
story that at the same time does not shirk from the racism in the Klan but also
in the police department. Driver and Washington are excellent although Washington
failed to get an acting nomination from the Academy. He did get one from the
Golden Globes however. Also six Academy Award nominations for 2018 and well
deserved. An entertaining and eye-opening film.
This was the best movie of the week and I do not expect it to be surpassed in the remaining days. I was with the second audience to see the film and apparently the most enthusiastic. We were at the Elgin, so a huge crowd, and as the director and cast came on stage for a Q and A after the final credits they received a standing ovation that lasted it seemed at least 5 minutes. They were clearly stunned and did not know how to respond when we just kept clapping and cheering. So why?, I hear you ask.
The film is a classic road trip film but based on real events. A black jazz pianist (and very well to do gentleman) from New York City, Dr. Don Shirley, decides to take his trio on a tour through the southern US in 1964 at a time when segregation and Jim Crow laws and customs were still very much in place. He knew he was going into difficult places so he decides to hire a driver/protector to accompany him on the 8 week trip. Enter Viggo Mortensen in maybe his best acting performance ever. Mortensen plays a third generation Italian New Yorker, working class background, who has recently been laid off from his job as a bouncer for the Copacabana Club which is undergoing “renovations” following a “fire”. The mob is a part of Mortensen’s community shall we say. Mortensen’s character is also not exactly comfortable with those not of Italian extraction shall we say although he is clearly at heart a good guy. He takes the job a bit reluctantly because he needs the money. The two leave in a car rented by Shirley’s recording studio and we are taken through the 8 week trip during which we learn much about Don Shirley’s and Mortensen’s characters as they slowly bond into good friends. The film is funny, heart warming, does not shy away from the racism of the time and is brilliantly scripted and acted. I can’t say too much more except to tell you this movie comes out in November, is headed to the Oscars and if Viggo doesn’t get a nomination and even a Best Acting Oscar there is no justice in the world. The title is from an actual guide for black travelers in the deep south. It was called The Green Book and listed all the hotels and restaurants where blacks were allowed to eat and sleep while in the south.
Peter Farelly, the director is maybe best known as the director of Dumb and Dumber among other comic classics but this film goes far beyond his other work. The actors all praised his talents and dedication to the film. During the Q and A the actors were asked to tell stories about their time working on the film and how they all came to bond with each other as well. There were several good stories but I liked best the one told by Mahershala Ali who plays Don Shirley. One day while filming at one of the Green Book hotels that still exists, an elderly black man who was watching and lived across the street asked about the film. When he learned it was about Don Shirley he got excited and told them he had lived there for decades and remembered that not only did Don Shirley stay there but also Little Richard, Nat King Cole, Ray Charles and Sam Cooke among many others. He knew them all it seems and partied with them. Ali say it lent a reality for him as to what the film was about, how sad those times were and how accurate this film was in documenting that time.
I want Oscar nominations for the writing, the director, Viggo and Ali, and for the music. I did not know Don Shirley’s music and went home to listen to some more. It is superb jazz. The film has a great music score and features many examples including a great set in a blues bar near the end of the film. Look him up. See the film.
After a series of films with political overtones it was really relaxing to see this one that just tells a very nice story about three old guys robbing banks. That is a bit unfair. The cast is great with Robert Redford, Danny Glover and Tom Waits as the Over the Hill Gang, Sissey Spacek as the love interest and Casey Affleck as the cop who is reluctantly chasing them down. Not really a comedy and not really a romance but just a nice telling of a mostly true story of life long bank robber Forrest Tucker and his last run after escaping San Quentin prison. The story is understated, no violence, great subtle acting and really relaxing. Not sure I can say a great deal more about it. I suspect it will not show up at the Academy Awards but this is not a reason for you not to track it down when it is released at the end of the September. With all the evil news we deal with every day it seems take an hour and a half to just calm down with Redford and gang.
This was my first film of the 2018 TIFF festival and it proved to be a great way to start. Denys Arcand is an Oscar winning Canadian director probably best known for his films Decline of the American Empire and The Barbarian Invasions. I was not sure what to expect from this film but it proved bitingly satirical while being light and entertaining at the same time. There are few movies where I don’t look at my watch at some point but this time my attention was kept the whole way through the two hours. The connection to the American Empire was explained by Arcand in the Q and A when he was asked about the title. He said his working title was The Triumph of Money but he didn’t like it in the end and since his first big film was The Decline of the American Empire which he took from the classic The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire he thought “Why not The Fall of the American Empire”. He figured that 400 years from now if anyone looked at the film they would say “Oh yeah, that was made at the time of the fall of the American Empire”. Cute. At any rate what I really liked about the film was an incredible ensemble cast, and brilliant scene after scene that were all perfectly crafted. The opening scene has our hero, who had a Ph.D. in philosophy, telling his girlfriend that what held him back in life was being so intelligent. Intelligence he argued was the greatest obstacle to success anyone can have. He was currently employed as a delivery man. It was simply brilliant, and I am now convinced very true. There were many other scenes as equally well crafted. After the opening scene our hero is witness to a robbery of several millions of dollars in cash during which all the perpetrators and those trying to stop them are killed leaving the money lying in the road. Our hero grabs the loot on an impulse and the rest of the film is about how he tries to cope, evade being killed by the original criminal owners of the cash, the police and government taxes. All very funny, poking fun at all kinds of social issues and institutions. Definitely worth your time to see this film.