Films of the fortnight

Films of the fortnight

Jojo Rabbit
The war is not going well for Nazi Germany, but for ten year old Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) it’s the most exciting time of his life: Hitler Youth Camp! Unfortunately all the other Nazis bully him and even his imaginary friend Adolf Hitler (director Taika Waititi) isn’t much help. At least his mother (Scarlett Johannsen) is kind and loving – though worryingly anti-authority – and while his dad is off fighting the war, the one-eyed and extremely cynical officer (Sam Rockwell) in charge of the city’s defences against the oncoming Russians and Americans is usually around to dispense some advice. But what’s with the scratching noises coming from his dead sister’s bedroom? Turns out his mother is hiding a teenage Jew (Thomasin McKenzie), and Jojo’s world is about to be turned upside down. This is much closer to a smart, funny version of the endless stream of “kids under the Nazis” movies (The Book Thief, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, Life is Beautiful, etc) than a film trying to say anything about today’s world, which means it often comes off as a little toothless satire-wise. But it’s funny and charming, and the performances are great; it’ll be seen as a classic if people take it for what it is.

Little Women
To get the obvious out of the way: Little Women is a delight from starting to finish, and endlessly loveable and heart-warming (in the best way) look at life and finding your way in it that’s thoroughly feel-good without being sappy or one-dimensional. The performances are spot-on across the board from Saoirse Ronan as Jo to Bob Odenkirk as the dad, the teen angst is both heartfelt and funny, the girl’s adventures are thrilling yet down-to-earth, and the whole thing is a must-see whatever your taste or mood. And all that needs to go up the front of the review, because is Little Women really much of thing in Australia? In the US it’s this much-loved classic that’s part of the culture; everyone knows at least the bare bones of the story of Jo March and her three sisters growing up during the Civil War without their father, falling in love and trying to figure out how to stay true to themselves. So much of the publicity is basically “it’s the return of a much loved classic”, only if it’s not that much-loved here it might fall through the cracks. Which would be a real shame, as director Greta Gerwig has done an excellent job, and Little Women is a joy.

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Portrait of a Lady on Fire
On an isolated island off the coast of France, Héloïse (Adèle Haenel) refuses to have her portrait painted. She is promised to be married to a man who has never seen her; if he likes her portrait, then they will be wed, and that is not what she wants. The first painter sent to the island left in failure. Now her family are taking a different approach, sending Marianne (Noémie Merlant) to the island. There she’ll pretend to be a companion for her on walks, secretly observing her to paint her portrait in private later. A relationship soon forms; the course that relationship takes is both predictable and startling. A love story, an exploration of the relationship between subject and artist, an examination of the (often buried or supressed) place of women’s art in the world; there’s a lot to take in here. But wirter-director Céline Sciamma centres all this on her two leads, keeping things deeply personal even as the ideas explored spread wide. It’s no dispassionate discussion of high art; the passion that builds – but can’t be openly expressed – between these women is as intense and scorching as any love story. It’s a love story about how art can send love out into the world; don’t miss it.

Jumanji: The Next Level
It’s been a few years since the events of Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, and while everyone else has bloomed after the chance to stretch their personalities in the video game world of Jumanji, Spencer (Alex Wolff) is struggling with the feeling he’s going nowhere. So what better place to reconnect with being the cool dude he knows he is than by going back? When his friends find out they follow – there’s no way he can defeat the game on his own – only to find Spencer’s grandfather (Danny DiVito) and his former best friend (Danny Glover) get drawn in as well. Which means in the video game world Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart and Jack Black get to pretend they’re being controlled by different people this time (Hart does well; Johnson, not so much), while Karen Gillen is the one who knows what she’s doing. The first film worked because it was a solid action adventure with some interesting character twists; the twists here aren’t as satisfying or as straightforward, but the action remains decent (a moving maze involving mandrills and rope bridges is pretty impressive). The same old jokes still get laughs a second time around too; if you liked the first, this won’t disappoint.

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The Wild Goose Lake
Gangster Zenong Zhou (Chinese television star Hu Ge) is on the run from the law. Laying low, his path crosses that of the seemingly innocent Liu Aiai (Lun-Mei Kwei), who has a secret of her own: she’s a sex worker who’s one chance at freedom is to bring him in. What follows moves back and forth in time, as flashbacks fill in the details of Zhou’s underworld past and how he got into this predicament, while in the present the pair are hunted along the shores of (you guessed it) Wild Goose Lake. Writer-director Diao Yi’nan follows up his critically acclaimed and award-winning Black Coal with another look at the dark side of China’s economic growth, mixing memorable violence and an intricate gangster plot filled with double crosses and payback to create an elegant neo-noir where the style is the substance.
This film is screening at the Pivotonian Cinema in Geelong

Films reviewed by Anthony Morris