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LFF REVIEW – JOJO RABBIT (2019) – SPOILER FREE

LFF REVIEW – JOJO RABBIT (2019)

Written and Directed by: Taika Waititi

Based on: Caging Skies by Christine Leunens

Produced by: Carthew Neal, Taika Waititi, Chelsea Winstanley

Cast: Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin McKenzie, Taika Waititi, Sam Rockwell, Scarlett Johansson, Rebel Wilson, Alfie Allen etc.

***SPOILER FREE***



After watching the astounding Joker (2019) earlier in the day, and having my psyche shook by that descent into hell, I needed something lighter to watch afterwards. A comedy about the Nazis, World War II and Hitler himself, therefore, probably wasn’t the ideal choice. Nonetheless, I really enjoyed Taika Waititi’s furiously funny war satire.

Essentially, JoJo Rabbit (2019), is a rites-of-passage comedy with a heavy dose of pathos, tragedy and combat thrown in. The story concerns JoJo Betzler (Roman Griffin Davis), a young German boy who has a staunch commitment to the Hitler Youth and the Nazi Party. So much so he conjures up a vision of Hitler (Taika Waititi), to act as a kind of spirit guide through his everyday life. Safe to say, Hitler isn’t the best teacher, especially with Waititi’s mischievous and ridiculous representation.

JoJo Rabbit (2019) has a wonderful character arc for the lead protagonist, who benefits from an empathetic performance by sterling young actor, Roman Griffin Davis. JoJo, through his wartime experiences slowly learns the horrors of Nazi propaganda and the real truth about the Jewish people. It’s a heartwarming and touching story which advocates love over hate, even in the face of such dark terror.


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While Waititi’s comedic turn as Hitler threatens to plunge the film into tonal chaos, Scarlet Johansson and Thomasin McKenzie ground the film in emotional depth with moving acting portrayals. Sam Rockwell also contributes brilliantly as a German Captain, charged with training JoJo and other Hitler Youth members. Stephen Merchant is also ideally cast as a fastidious Gestapo Officer. The scene where he and his Nazi cohorts search JoJo’s house is one of many memorable scenes throughout the film.

Overall, Jojo Rabbit (2019), takes an incredible risk creating humour out of such tragic events as war and the Holocaust. But, by ridiculing Hitler and the Nazis, there is a sense that Waititi is taking back power through rapid humour. Conversely, the jokes come thick and fast. There are sight gags, physical humour, puns, cartoon violence, illustrations, slapstick and so many zinging one-liners in the irreverent screenplay.

At times it was like ‘Monty Python’s Flying Germans’, such was fast pace, sketchy and surreal nature of the jokes. One could argue that the jokes undermines the more tragic elements of the story. It’s a tough thing to do, to make you laugh AND cry; as the bombs fall and bullets fly. Nevertheless, by the end, Waititi manages to just about retain the balance between parody and pathos.

Mark: 9 out of 11


FILMS THAT GOT AWAY #2 – REVIEW – OVERLORD (2018)

OVERLORD (2018)

Directed by: Julius Avery

Produced by: J.J. Abrams, Lindsay Weber

Screenplay by: Billy Ray and Mark L. Smith

Cast: Jovan Adepo, Wyatt Russell, Mathilde Ollivier, John Magaro, Pilou Asbæk, Bokeem Woodbine etc.

Cinematography: Laurie Rose and Fabian Wagner

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

Inglourious Basterds anyone? More like inglorious mutants!

I love a good B-movie horror film and I love a good B-movie war film! So, I’m still confused as to why I missed this one at the cinema first time round. It was released in November 2018 in the UK, so perhaps I was still in London Film Festival mode? Perhaps it fell through the cracks after a busy October cinema-going? Perhaps the marketing wasn’t strong enough over here? Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps?

Anyway, I caught up with it on Sky Cinema via the television box and I immediately regretted not seeing it on the big screen. The film is set in June 1944 during the Allied invasion of Normandy. The operation was called Overlord and part of the WWII D-Day push to defeat the dastardly Nazis. It opens superbly, in mid-flight, as a fighter bomber carries American soldiers about to parachute into enemy territory. Safe to say aeroplane food, crying children and lack of leg room are the least of their worries.

The explosive, noisy and destructive opening sequence sets an incredible pace. Also, the body count starts to stack up too as we land in occupied France. Not so much a dirty dozen as a filthy four remain after the landing carnage. The ragtag quartet consisting of nervous rookie, Private Boyce (Jovan Adepo), tough-guy Corporal Ford (Wyatt Russell), mouthy Private Tibbet (John Magaro), and war photographer Private Chase (Iain De Caestecker), are joined by French civilian fighter, Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier) in battling the Nazi hordes. Their mission is to take out a Nazi radio tower, but we get a whole lot more than the usual WWII battle sequences. Something horrific is lurking in the church where the radio tower is.

While the film essentially deals in genre archetypes the narrative pace, action and suspense really get the heart racing. Moreover, the cast commit to the action and bloodshed with impressive abandon. What I liked was, with relatively unknown actors cast, it meant there was suspense in who would or wouldn’t survive. So, in a film full of surprises this added another layer of tension you wouldn’t get in a star-driven film. Nonetheless, the real asset of the film is the monstrous soldiers born out of the sinister minds of the Nazi Doctors. These are some real nasty pieces of work! Indeed, director Julius Avery revels in representing the bloody carnage these experimental creatures bring. You can’t beat a good old Nazi monster baddie! Well, you can! In all sorts of fleshy, fiery and visceral ways!

I recognised Wyatt Russell from other films and TV shows, and he was great. Russell exuded all the tough qualities his father Kurt has shown down the years, but he gave Corporal Ford a steely edge all of his own. Jovan Adepo and John Magaro impressed as chalk and cheese soldiers, initially clashing but subsequent gaining respect for each other. Adepo’s Private Boyce grows from frightened rabbit to resilient hero over the course of the film. Meanwhile, Game of Thrones scenery-chewer, Pilou Asbæk, begins with quite a subtle portrayal of SS Captain Wafner. Yet, by the end he is on gloriously over-the-top form as the most mutated of all the Nazis.

Ultimately, this is a mid-budget B-movie genre gem. It has lashings of action, blood and gore. It also combined war and horror genres really impressively. I would have liked even more gore and a bit more backstory regarding the Nazi experiments, but that would have probably ruined the surprises. Also, it’s definitely not one of the most original films you will see as there are major echoes of many soldiers-on-a-mission war films, the video-game Wolfenstein and also From Dusk Til Dawn (1995) too. But, with Wyatt Russell, Mathilde Ollivier and Jovan Adepo impressing in the cast and Avery directing the hell out of the explosive action and bloody fighting, I had a great time watching Overlord (2018). It’s just a damn shame I missed it on the big screen when first released.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11

CLASSIC MOVIE SCENES #6 – ‘TOMORROW BELONGS TO ME’ – CABARET (1972)

CLASSIC MOVIE SCENES #6 – ‘TOMORROW BELONGS TO ME’ – CABARET (1972)

Directed by: Bob Fosse

Produced by: Cy Feuer

Screenplay by Jay Allen – Based on Cabaret by Joe Masteroff

Starring: Liza Minnelli, Michael York, Helmut Griem, Joel Grey, Fritz Wepper, Marisa Berenson

Songs: John Kander & Fred Ebb (Lyrics) – Score: Ralph Burns

Cinematography: Geoffrey Unsworth

**CONTAINS PLOT AND THEME SPOILERS**

Cabaret (1972) was that strange thing: a dark, satirical, sexual, explicit and cynical musical. I only actually watched it for the first time last year and thought it was a true classic; and I don’t usually enjoy musicals as a rule. Not only is the direction, writing, choreography and performance brilliant but from a thematic perspective it was took risks in regard to gender and sexual representations. Moreover, the historical themes are very compelling too. The film would garner many Oscars and was a critical and commercial smash, sending Liza Minnelli to super-stardom at the same time.

Set in Berlin, the narrative concerns a variety of characters that appear at, or attend the infamous Kit Kat Club. Episodic in structure the main stories focus on the loves and losses of the likes of singer Sally Bowles (Minnelli), writer, Brian Roberts (Michael York) and German playoy, Baron Max Von Heune (Helmut Griem). Interspersed within the drama are the songs from the stage of the Kit Kat Club, introduced by the seedy Master of Ceremonies, portrayed by Joel Grey. Furthermore, the film charts the movement from the bohemian freedom of the Weimar Republic to the threat of the looming National Socialist Party as it insidiously bleeds into the German political landscape.

This change is seen to chilling effect in the only song featured outside the club, namely, ‘Tomorrow Belongs to Me’. In this classic scene we begin innocently enough with the angelic singing of a teenage boy. As he continues to sing we cut to the crowd listening intently. Then the camera pans down and it’s revealed the boy is a member of the Hitler Youth. Suddenly, the portentous horror of the situation is all too apparent and the song becomes an unsettling reminder of grim future events. As members of the crowd join in fervently with the song, we know, we just know it’s the end of innocence for the German people and the world.

Gary Oldman shines in DARKEST HOUR (2017) – Cinema Review

DARKEST HOUR (2017) – CINEMA REVIEW

Directed by: Joe Wright

Produced by: Tim Bevan, Lisa Bruce, Eric Fellner, Anthony McCarten, Douglas

Written by: Anthony McCarten

Starring: Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas, Lily James, Stephen Dillane, Ben Mendelsohn

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What makes human beings want to go to war?  What is it that determines thoughts and actions which will lead to the death of another human being? Is it: a genetic trait; a tribal desire; a psychological defect; financial gain; jealousy; boredom; passion; political chicanery; religion; greed; anger; revenge; or quite simply madness. Taking a life is something I have never understood. I mean, unless you are forced to defend yourself against a foe hell-bent on your destruction why would you wish to harm anyone else?

So, Adolf Hitler has a lot to answer for because, even accepting the political and social reasons for the rise of the Nazi party and his desire to repair national pride after the first World War, what the hell gives a nation the right to invade and conquer other countries. If you choose to go down that road you are signing the death certificate of a generation men and women and children. It’s not just Germany either. The British Empire, Roman Empire, Vikings, Mongols, United States of America, France and many more have waged war against humanity down the years. Will it ever stop? Sadly, I doubt it.

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In times of war what is needed is obviously bravery, steel, fight, intelligence and more than a little luck. You need hearty human beings to stand and be counted and to die on the battlefields and in the air and in the sea. You also need leaders; figureheads who can rally the troops and galvanise that last ounce of fight in order to repel the enemy. During World War II, with the country on its knees and backs to the walls we had many leaders, but Winston Churchill, above all else, became synonymous with victory.

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As portrayed in Joe Wright’s beautifully shot microcosmic epic, Darkest Hour, Churchill is presented as a flawed-pink-pyjama’d-cigar-chuffing-blustering-iconoclastic-functioning-alcholic prone to fits of rage, melancholy and depression. He also happens to be devilishly intelligent, full of energy, with a wicked tongue and talent for brilliant oration. Much of the plaudits must go to Gary Oldman, and his make-up team, for creating such a wonderfully human portrait. Indeed, Oldman owns the screen with his damned-near perfect impression.

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Anthony McCarten’s fine script centres on a finite number of days during World War II when Churchill became Prime Minister. Aside from one emotionally effective yet historically grating symbolic scene on the London underground, is it well written with fantastic one-liners and Churchill’s greatest verbal ‘hits’. Joe Wright is a talented director (the mis-guided Pan (2015) aside) and he evocatively conveys the shadow of looming defeat. Wright traps Churchill and ensemble in cars, lifts and in underground chambers. Shafts of light also pin the characters to the corners of the screen; pushing them toward the darkness. But through the spirit of Churchill’s never-say-die attitude we fought back against the Nazis and eventually stole victory from the jaws of defeat. War is hell. War is madness. But sometimes it is unfortunately a necessity to prevent the bullies from winning.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11

FIX FILMS RETROSPECTIVE #2 – A FAR CRY (2006) By PAUL LAIGHT

FIX FILMS RETROSPECTIVE #2 – A FAR CRY (2006) By PAUL LAIGHT

And thus I continue my look back to the past short film projects I have made with Gary O’Brien under the Fix Films umbrella.

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A FAR CRY (2006)

A FAR CRY (2006) was our second short film.  It was also our most expensive.  I admit I got myself into some debt on a credit card/overdraft for this film.  I’d finished my Master’s Degree a couple of years before.  I had hope that if I made a great short film I could possibly ignite a career as a writer or producer or both within the British Film Industry. At the very least I had hope I would have a show reel piece and even if I started at the bottom I could work my way up within a reputable production company.  I was wrong. But I was naïve and ambitious and that drove the whole production. I have no regrets though as A Far Cry   is — despite its many faults — is a brilliant short film.

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It all started one drunken evening in Ascot somewhere and myself and Gary had enjoyed the process of making our first short film — the revenge comedy Getting Back Mr Hunt (2005) which you can read about HERE — SO much we crazily thought let’s do another one.  What followed was a crazy, stupid and wholly memorable experience as we put A FAR CRY into pre-production. I cannot quite recall why we chose to do a war film. I guess because we both love war films; and didn’t think it through properly in regard to the amount of work that it would entail.

I know we definitely wanted to do something involving a moral dilemma where the main protagonist had an impossible decision to make.  We wanted the audience to ask themselves: “WHAT WOULD I DO IN THAT SITUATION?!”  Moreover, as it’s a war film it obviously had to be bad. Really terrible. A decision that would haunt the character and the audience.  I think with THAT ending we achieved that.  So, eventually we spent months on the screenplay batting it back and forth until we’d moulded something we were happy with. Only then did we dip our toe into the casting and crew side.

This, for a small group of creative and deluded fools, was a massive undertaking.  We were making a 15 minute short film set in World War II which involved:  a big opening battle scene; a baby; marauding German soldiers hunting down our protagonist; AND it was set in FRANCE!!    To put it in perspective the budget for Saving Private Ryan (1998) was $70 million; ours was a one-hundred-thousandth of that.  Did that stop us?  No!   We managed to source a baby via Gary’s great mate Toby and to him I will be eternally grateful as we could not have made the film otherwise.  Likewise, we needed a massive location somewhere in the middle of nowhere where we could recreate the big opening battle scene and others.  Sometimes in life opportunity just comes knocking and we were at a party on a farm in Watlington, Oxfordshire and the owner — who I only ever knew as Murray — said we could use his land for a bottle of booze.  So, for free we had a baby and for some scotch we had a farm and a few acres with which to continue this creative folly.

Next stop was sourcing some Germans.  I was sure the whole venture would collapse. But DID YOU KNOW there are groups who recreate WWII battles as a hobby!  I didn’t but we met some cracking guys from the WW2 Re-enactors Group led by Mark Craig and Jason Lavene and they were incredible.  They loved dressing up as Germans and rather cheaply gave us the use of all their guns, uniforms, props and most importantly themselves and their time to make it happen.  We had some ups and downs while making A Far Cry but when I look back I think that through sheer will and hard work everything went amazingly well. The WW2 Re-enactors were brilliant and I had to laugh on the first day of shooting when they woke up in the morning expecting their to be a Catering Truck serving hot food only to be told that there wasn’t a budget for that. Did they complain?  Not at all. We had a laugh about it; well me and Gary did.  While I imagine they were cursing us they soldiered on and gave their all in the production.

Filming of A Far Cry was done over a couple of weekends.  One in Watlington, Oxfordshire.  The other in Ascot, Berkshire.  We shot quickly and economically and looking back at the film now I have to say Gary did a brilliant job of crafting some very memorable set-pieces throughout. As the producer it was my job to keep things steady and moving along and manoeuvre all the units into place. Oh, and I made A LOT of sandwiches. I think the whole project worked because everyone was pulling in the same direction and enjoying the experience.  The opening battle was a lot to take on and we did overrun in regard to timing but due to Gary’s excellent storyboards and a script we knew back to front we were able to keep on track on the whole. 


The pouring rain on the Sunday, I think, really put us back but we managed to pick up the scenes we lost during the first weekend when we shot in Ascot. Often we had to improvise and compromise but we did it inventively to make the story work. I recall the filming process being one of very long days and buzzing urgency with all manner of friends and family helping out on different days. It was incredible feat to make this film for so little money. Even stuff like recreating the barn in a garage in Ascot came off; Gary actually hired bales of hay from some random rural folk who then came and collected them the Monday after shooting.  Of course, our cast were awesome and special mention for our lead actor Phil Delancy who gave a great performance and anchored the film with gravitas, physicality and emotional depth.  Without him the film would be nothing.

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Once the shoot was over we had a hell of a lot of sweat, time and insanity in the can and it was down to Gary to edit it into a cogent whole. That he did with tremendous endeavour as the film flows brilliantly with a fine combination of action and suspense. We had a great script in our view with a brutal subject matter and even darker ending.  I was very happy with what we had and when I started seeing the footage I was elated.  I was, by day, an office clock-puncher with a dead-end job but over those two weekends I had lived the dream of being a filmmaker. I WAS a filmmaker; albeit on a budget that wouldn’t pay for Robert Downey Jnr’s on-set beard stylist.

I re-watched the film again yesterday for this little piece and it stands up very well as a story. I also think Jasper Drew’s score is wonderful. I think we clearly aimed high with this production and it’s the lack of budget shows, however, everybody involved with this film worked REALLY hard to make it work and I think we did the script justice in the time we had.  I thank everyone who assisted in making the film become a reality.  What started on a crazy, drunken night in Ascot became one of the biggest projects I’ve worked on.  You may say I’m and idiot for following a dream. But I’m a very proud idiot. No one can take that or this film away.

EPILOGUE

The film was very well received by many of those who saw it.  A lot of people were shocked by the ending but in terms of the war-is-hell theme we feel we were justified and while it is heart-wrenching I think it is in context and not gratuitous.  The film was screened at many film festivals and short film nights and on the whole we got some great feedback online and by word-of-mouth. For a list of screenings and film details please visit my website:  http://www.fixfilms.co.uk/a-far-cry