JoJo Rabbit

Posted on October 24, 2019 at 5:46 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for mature thematic content, some disturbing images, violence, and language
Profanity: Strong and offensive language including anti-Semitic insults
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Intense and disturbing peril and violence including a child injured in an explosion, wartime violence, bombs. guns, tragic deaths
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: October 25, 2019
Date Released to DVD: February 17, 2020
Copyright Fox Searchlight 2019

The first thing you need to know is that writer/director Taika Waititi does not play HItler in “JoJo Rabbit,” and it does not portray the real Adolf Hitler as a comic figure. Waititi plays a child’s imaginary version of Hitler. He has more in common with Chris O’Dowd’s imaginary friend character in his very funny and endearing Moone Boy. In both, the adult male figure is a child’s idea of what a man is, or what he would like to be when he grows up. In the case of Jojo Rabbit, the nickname for the 10-year-old Austrian boy at the center of the film, he is especially in need of a role model because of the uncertainty in his own life and the upheavals that are all around him. So it makes sense that he would respond by clinging to something that seems strong and structured and certain. And that is why when we first see him, he is looking in the mirror to admire himself in his Hitler Youth uniform, very excited to learn all about becoming an active member of the Nazi party. His imaginary friend represents what he would like to be, but JoJo is a child, so to us, his version of Hitler is ten-year-old’s fantasy. Which means he is very silly.

I tell you all this because for the first half hour or so of “JoJo Rabbit” you might think you’re watching some sort of “Springtime for Hitler,” from “The Producers.” But it turns out that while “JoJo Rabbit” does portray the Nazis in a heightened, satiric, silly manner, this is not an insensitive or superficial film. But by the end, it wants to pack a wallop, as it should, and it does.

JoJo (Roman Griffin Davis, in a knockout of a performance) lives with his mother, Rosie (a career-best Scarlett Johansson, warm and witty). His father is off in the war but has not been heard from for a long while. JoJo and his best friend Yorki (Archie Yates) go off to Hitler Youth camp, led by Captain Klenzendorf (Sam Rockwell), assisted by Fraulein Rahm (Rebel Wilson). The other boys laugh at him when he cannot bring himself to kill a rabbit (prompting his derisive nickname), and so to prove his courage, urged on by the imaginary Hitler, he takes a risk that leads to his being injured in an explosion, leaving scars on his face. He cannot return to school, so Rosie takes him to the Hitler Youth office and insists that Klenzdorf give him a job.

And then something happens that turns JoJo’s ideas about strength, courage, and power upside down. His ideas about Jews, too, though that takes a while. Waititi handles the tonal shift with great skill, and by the end of the film, the heightened tone blends seamlessly with the surreal absurdity of war, making the conclusion as meaningful to us as it is to the characters.

Parents should know that this movie is set in the last months of WWII and has wartime violence including guns and bombs, portrayal of virulent and systemic anti-Semitism. A child is injured in an explosion and a parent is murdered. Characters use strong language, drink alcohol, and smoke.

Family discussion: Why did JoJo imagine Hitler as an imaginary friend? What made him change his mind about Elsa? Why didn’t Elsa tell him what she knew about the letters?

If you like this, try: Hunt for the Wilderpeople and What We Do in the Shadows from the same writer/director. You may also enjoy satiric takes on war like “Oh, What a Lovely War,” “M*A*S*H,” and “King of Hearts.”

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Isn’t It Romantic

Posted on February 13, 2019 at 8:28 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for language, some sexual material, and a brief drug reference
Profanity: Strong language, some bleeped but still evident
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drug dealer, drinking to deal with stress, joke about getting drunk
Violence/ Scariness: Comic peril, mugging, injury
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: February 14, 2019

Copyright New Line 2019
As they say, it’s not a bug; it’s a feature. Yes, romantic comedies keep relying on the same elements. All the Jessicas and Jennifers who star, all the quippy best friends, all the cute apartments and makeover montages, all the strolls through the farmers markets, looking through the mounds of fruit, coming home with grocery bags filled with bottles of wine and baguettes, the kisses in the rain, the misunderstandings, the initial antagonism that turns to love, the race to the wedding (to stop it) or to the airport (to keep that special someone from flying away), and all those bouncy pop songs on the soundtrack to make up for the absence of actual lines of dialogue. Why should we hear what people say to each other when they are falling in love when we can imagine it as we bounce along to the music and watch them stroll on the beach and ride bicycles and playfully toss soap bubbles or autumn leaves or pillows at each other?

We don’t go to see romantic comedies in spite of this repetition; we go because of it. Just like we play the same songs over and over, it is the very predictability we find so satisfying. So “Isn’t it Romantic,” starring Rebel Wilson, is as much an affectionate tribute to the romantic comedy as it is a parody of it. In the first scene, the mother (“AbFab’s Jennifer Saunders) of a young Australian girl is telling her that the movie she is watching, “Pretty Woman,” is unrealistic, like all romantic comedies, and, in fact, she says that there is no such thing as love. “In real life, girls like us can’t get that.” (If this reminds you of the “monogamy isn’t realistic” flashback of the romantic comedy “Trainwreck,” buckle up, because the call-outs of other movies are non-stop.)

Twenty-five years later, that girl has grown up to be Natalie (Rebel Wilson) is an architect in New York, cynical about romance and shy about standing up for herself at work. She has an assistant (a terrific Betty Gilpin of “Glow”) who spends all day watching romantic comedies instead of doing her job and a friend zone buddy named Josh (Wilson’s “Pitch Perfect” love interest Adam Devine). When she bangs her head after a mugging in the subway station, she wakes up in the hospital — and the world has been transformed to a romantic comedy, wisecracking gay best friend, meet cute dreamboat, her apartment quintupled in size, her neighborhood all bright colors, flower shops, and cupcakes, “as though a beauty filter had been applied to all of New York.”

At first she resists, but then she decides the best way to get back to real life is to create a happy ending, at first with a handsome millionaire who finds her “beguiling” (fellow Aussie Liam Hemsworth), and then with Josh, who by this time is caught up in his own romantic comedy with swimsuit model/yoga ambassador Isabella (Priyanka Chopra). The film manages to pay tribute to/make gentle fun of films like “My Best Friend’s Wedding,” “Notting Hill,” and “13 Going on 30” while folding in some female empowerment, too. It mostly escapes the failures of the silly “Scary Movie” franchises by recognizing that it is not enough to refer to something; you have to have something to say about it. At a brisk 88 minutes, “Isn’t It Romantic” manages to have something to say, and by the time the happy ending and yet another musical number it will have achieved what all good romantic comedies do — it will leave you smiling, and maybe a little bit hopeful about romance.

Parents should know that this film includes strong and crude language, sexual references and non-explicit situations, crude humor, brief nudity, drinking, a drug dealer, comic mayhem and violence and a mugging.

Family discussion: What is your favorite romantic comedy and how does this movie compare to it and comment on it? Why are romantic comedies so popular?

If you like this, try: “Notting Hill,” “27 Dresses,” and “Pitch Perfect”

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How to be Single

Posted on February 11, 2016 at 5:40 pm

Drew Barrymore — you know I love you but how does your Flower Films production company produce a film about female friendship and empowerment that barely passes the Bechdel test? how to be single

And did we really need a thinly disguised remake of “He’s Just Not That Into You?” I know it’s Valentine’s Day and the time feels right for a girls’ night out movie, but despite its entertaining moments, I’d go for “Star Wars” again over this.

Now, on to the entertaining moments. This is one of those “three girls looking for love” or “three girls looking for love or its close equivalent” stories with cute guys, cute clothes, cute apartments, cute problems, and cute pop songs on the soundtrack. Yes, get ready for “Worth It.” Again. It’s the new “I Feel Good.”

Alice (adorable Dakota Johnson) breaks up with her college boyfriend Josh (Nicholas Braun). She loves him, but they’ve been together four years and she does not know who she really is anymore. She needs to be on her own for a while, she tells him. It’s not a break-up; it’s just a break. Her new friend Robin (Rebel Wilson doing her usual shtick) reminds her that “Hey, Season Three Ross, there’s no such thing as being on a break.” Robin encourages her to drink, dance, and have meaningless sex with a cute bartender named Tom (Anders Holm of “The Intern”) who is the master of the one-night stand.

Alice has an older sister, Meg (Leslie Mann), an obstetrician who wants to have a baby. And then there is Lucy (Alison Brie), who lives above Tom’s bar and goes there to use his wi-fi to scroll through endless dating site profiles and complain about how DIFFICULT it is to find a presentable man who will COMMIT. This entire section is pretty much ripped off from the Justin Long/Ginnifer Goodwin part of “He’s Just Not That Into You” by the same screenwriters.

Johnson and Brie are adorable, and up-and-comer Jake Lacy (“Carol,” “Obvious Child”) is very appealing as one of Alice’s co-workers who likes Meg. But it is disappointing that it claims to be about the importance of taking responsibility for your own life and your own dreams, and apparently it is written by and very loosely based on a novel by women who are capable in jobs they find satisfying. But Alice seems to have no interest in her job as a paralegal and is as clueless about what it takes to be a professional as she is about even the most basic of daily tasks. She literally cannot dress herself. And learning to do so is portrayed as a major life achievement. Her romance with a handsome widower (an underused Damon Wayans, Jr.) makes little sense and her BFF relationship with Robin makes even less. In fact, there isn’t one relationship in the movie that makes us think they could have an actual conversation or even have much fun together.

“How to be Single” is more like a series of skits at a sorority slumber party than a story with characters. If Alice, Robin, Meg, and Lucy went out for a girls’ night at the movies, they’d choose something else.

Parents should know that this film includes very strong sexual content with many casual encounters, explicit sexual humor and sexual situations, and brief nudity, very strong and crude language, drinking and drugs.

Family discussion: What was the most important lesson Alice learned from each of the men she dated? Why did she listen to Robin?

If you like this, try: “He’s Just Not That Into You,” “Bridget Jones’ Diary,” and “Think Like a Man”

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Comedy Romance

Pitch Perfect 2

Posted on May 14, 2015 at 5:48 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for innuendo and language
Profanity: Some strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Comic peril and violence, no one hurt
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: May 15, 2015
Date Released to DVD: September 21, 2015 ASIN: B00NYC3SG4
Copyright 2015 Universal
Copyright 2015 Universal

“Pitch Perfect 2” is — bear with me — the musical comedy variation on the “Furious 7” recipe for success.  The sequel jettisons any pretense of seriousness of purpose, structural logic, or psychological authenticity, joyfully tosses off any pretense of taking itself, its heartwarmingly diverse characters, or its storyline seriously.  And both, unexpectedly but utterly deservedly, will make you teary-eyed.  Substitute exquisitely harmonized snippets of popular songs for cars flying out of planes, and it’s basically the same movie.  And there’s nothing wrong with that.  “Pitch Perfect 2” is even more fun than the first.

Beca (Anna Kendrick) was just starting college in the first film, about her reluctant agreement to join the all-girl acapella group called The Barden Bellas, led by Aubrey (Anna Camp) and her loyal lieutenant Chloe (Brittany Snow).  Now Aubrey has graduated but Chloe is still there, deliberately flunking so she will not have to leave the now-three-time national champion Bellas.  Beca is a senior, hoping she can take on a dream internship with a musical producer (Keegan-Michael Key, the “angry Obama”) without disrupting the group.

But the group has been disrupted.  The Bellas performed at the President’s birthday celebration (footage of the Obamas is inserted to make it look like they were really there), with Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) coming in like a wrecking ball on a trapeze.  It was a triumph until it became a disaster when Fat Amy’s skin-tight jumpsuit split open and she wasn’t wearing underwear.

The Bellas are banned from collegiate competition, and are not even allowed to conduct auditions. Too bad for those hoping for a reprise of one of the first film’s most entertaining scenes, but there is simply no time. We hardly get a chance to hear Barden’s male acapella group, the Treblemakers, either. This is all about the Bellas fighting their way back with the only option left to them — an international competition, up against the world champions, Germany’s Das Sound Machine, a group so terrifyingly huge and technically perfect it is a kind of acapella Triumph of the Will.

But we’re not here for the plot; we’re here for the music, and there is a ton of it, all so good and so varied that it is frustrating to get it in such short snippets. Songs made popular by the Andrews Sisters, Hansen, Taylor Swift, En Vogue, Mika, Montell Jordan, and Carrie Underwood zip by, most hilariously in a sing-off that tops the original’s. Categories include “Songs About Butts” (one character points out that’s pretty much everything on the radio) and “I Dated John Mayer.” Hilariously, one of the competing acapella groups is the Green Bay Packers. And Snoop Dogg shows up to sing a Christmas song.

There is one new addition to the Bellas, though, “True Grit’s” Hailee Steinfeld as Emily, an eager but shy freshman whose mom (Katey Sagal) was a Bella, so she’s a legacy. She also writes songs.

Will the Bellas get their mojo back? Will Beca impress her boss? Will Aubrey show up for a pep talk? Will there be some delicious silliness along the way? Will Emily’s new songs be game-changers when the long-standing tradition is covers only? How about some romance (a bit) and some comedy (a lot)?  But what’s the deal with the false eyelashes on everyone?  Did Elizabeth Banks bring on her Effie Trinket makeup team?  Fat Amy’s no/yes from Fat Amy when Bumper (Adam Devine of “Modern Family”) says he wants to have sex with her is ooky and just plain off.

But first time director Banks, who co-produced the first film and the sequel, and returns, this time as both commentator on acapella competitions and as head of the organization, manages a very large cast and an even larger set list.  She keeps the tone light and breezy, balancing the outrageous (hate mail from Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor?) with the touching.  A call-back to the first film’s breakout hit “Cups,” is simply lovely.  If some elements of what we can barely dignify by terming a storyline are pat and predictable, the song choices are not. From the very first moment, with an a capella rendition of the Universal” logo music, we are in mash-up heaven. It is worth the price of admission to hear “MmmBop” acapella, and then, icing on the cake and cherry on the sundae, we get some Kris Kross “Jump” action as well. Acca-heaven.

Parents should know that this film includes some crude sexual and bodily function humor, some strong language, and comic violence (no one hurt). There is a joke that seems to imply that a woman’s “no” to an invitation to have sex is not to be taken seriously, but it later turns out that this is part of a consensual relationship.

Family discussion: What makes you special?  What makes your friends and family special? How do you find your voice to express who you are?

If you like this, try: the first “Pitch Perfect” and the television show “The Sing-Off”

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