JoJo Rabbit: An Overly Frosted Carrot Cake

JoJo Rabbit directed and adapted to screenplay by Taika Waititi is like a good friend who you love dearly, but always goes too far with a joke. Charlie Chaplin knew the fine art of subtlety in the Great Dictator. Sure, mock the Fuhrer, but do so in such a way that it doesn’t make mockery of the cause and pathos.

Like an overly frosted carrot cake, it also frosts my onions when you mix heinous true life death (in this film hanging bodies) with hilarity. They don’t mix, ever.

But it’s a generational divide, considering the millennials on either side of me were gaga, and I almost mean that literally, with the ‘AWWWW” and “OOOOHS’. The difference is, I was protected from media violence as a kid (mom was home and had boundaries for us AND this was pre-computers). Hence, I get the difference between comedy and violence.
Either Waititi should have played all of Germany’s stain as an outright farce or tone it down a notch.

Ok, but it wasn’t all bad. I liked his clever use of comparing Beatles mania with Hitler mania. I looooooved Sam Rockwell, back in the silly, comic department I feel he does his best. The lead little boys (Roman Griffin Davis and Archie Yates) were terrific as was the Anne Frank like young lady (Leave No Trace’s Thomasin McKenzie). Scarlett Johansson, while I like her a lot, was wasted in JoJo, her character wasn’t developed enough for me to really understand her, but I totally get she was needed as a plot device. I could have lived without Rebel Wilson, who just stuck out like a sore thumb. As was Taikia as the Hitler character, again, stop with yourself! He was too dopey and too frequent, the too much frosting part of this carrot cake.

“Saint Frances” Blesses Us On Many Levels

As satisfyingly ‘fun’ Parasite was, what a refreshing change Saint Frances is to the violence of current cinema. St. Frances is also a shining light in a predominately moody selection currently showing at the Cine-World Film Fest (not counting A Faithful Man, but sorry Frenchies, you’re silly, not moving).

Saint Frances written by its star Kelly O’Sullivan (think younger Amy Schumer in humor or younger Kate McKinnon in looks) works on many levels. Pro-choice, pro-you-don’t-have-to-be-a-parent-to-be-a-great- life-contributor, pro-nebulous relationship status and anti-religion (on the latter, Catholicism’s the target, due to its self-shaming dogma).

The film’s subject matter in a nutshell: a woman ambiguous about children becomes nanny and forms a bond with the child of whom she’s in charge.

Poolling two men afterward, Vince, an astute lawyer from Canada and Robert (?) a local cinemaphile, both men confirmed that Saint Frances is not just a chick flick and enjoyed the film as much as me. Vince even wowed me by naming, without my prodding, I cross my heart, PEANUT BUTTER FALCON as his favorite movie of the year.

I know, FIRST: Willem Dafoe Best Actor, THEN: Peanut Butter Falcon Best Original Screenplay.

But back to Saint Frances…if it comes back for a longer run, go see this. And while O’Sullivan goes for dialogue and scene shock value with menstrual and abortion talk and blood (clearly redundant, and a bit insensitive and too frank at times), no one around me seemed offended in the slightest.

So what they hey, it’s an anything goes culture. Go see Saint Frances, directed by, in his first attempt at feature length, Alex Thompson, with cutie Kate Sullivan as lead, and super adorable and amazingly steady little 5 year old Ramona Edith-Williams.

A Worthy Contemplative Afternoon: The Chambermid

I can’t imagine being first time full length film director Lila Aviles, when she realized The Chambermaid was in competition with Roma. Both movies follow the life of a servant; the former domestic, the latter, hotel. A tennis analogy might be best: like Coco playing Venus this year, yet with the opposite ending result. As you all know Cuaron’s Roma TKO’d any chance of The Chambermaid even making the radar.

Now, reality check: The Chambermaid isn’t Roma, BUT is worthy of a contemplative hour and 45 minute seating. Aviles took a beautifully quiet look at a hotel housekeeper’s daily existence. The film’s narrative line is simple, yet the complexity of Gabriel Cartol’s lead performance was stunning.

Anyone that has worked a menial or underappreciated job will appreciate the frustrating workplace dynamics where schmoozers who blow their own horn sometimes get ahead of quiet hardworking people. The actress Teresa Sanchez did a fantastic job playing that brown noser we’ve all met.

In addition the filmmaker’s symbolism of red and white shown in parallel construction was also striking.
Summary: An Important Seating With Another’s Humanity

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Motherless Brooklyn; an orphan in this year’s films

I love Ed Norton. My admiration began in 1996 with “Primal Fear”, where his performance and shockingly cool twist ending made me say, ‘Wow’. From there, in Spike Lee’s super hip “25th Hour” with Philip Seymour Hoffman, moving on to his many Wes Anderson film performances.

But the real affection began watching his roast speech for Bruce Willis, when after many funny jokes, he teared up thanking him for his help in financing Motherless Brooklyn. On recent podcast appearances, I wanted to jump through my lap top and give him a hug for his sincere commentary of the giant harm cell phone distraction does to humanistic values.

So I skipped into Motherless Brooklyn, loving Ed, though somewhat warily having been non-plussed with the trailer I had seen.

Here’s the deal: Motherless Brooklyn is a good movie and is validation or should I say incrimination of Robert Moses’s hand (and shovels) in tearing down African-American residences to build his sanitized white people parks and highways. Bravo for that indictment.

And a usual, Ed Norton as the Tourette’s syndrome lackey turned private eye was perfection. As was his stellar cast: Alec Baldwin as “Moses”, my G.O.A.T. Willem Dafoe, and a Sarasota grad Dallas Roberts who had strong presence as one of the other lackeys. To round out the cast: two fine women: a newbie actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Cherry Jones all contributing to a solid story.

The cinematography was amazing in certain sections: jazz club, pool scenes, Brooklyn Bridge scenes.

You’re waiting for my ‘but’ and here it is: BUT, the movie overall was too dark and bleak both in color and tone. I hate to be the one to say, the book is better, but there, I said it. Only because in the novel by Jonathan Lethem, the Ed’s Tourette’s sufferer has a beautiful back story of being taken in as a tormented orphan by Bruce Willis (not in the movie long enough to stand out) AND in a related novel subplot point, Ed attempts painstakingly to call all the names in the 1950’s phone book thinking he wants to reconnect with the parents who abandoned him. If these two super poignant parts plus another which would have involved more Leslie Mann into nearly seducing Ed’s vulnerable character would have added light and spice to the film.

Instead we are left with a neo-noir which is just too flat and run of the mill. I still love Ed Norton and totally understand his need to make this more historical fiction. Not a failure in any measure.

“Leaving Home, Coming Home” Doc: Tribute to Robert Frank

Another find at the Cine-World Film Fest at the Sarasota Film Society’s Burns Court Theater was the rare gem (as far as big screen showings) from 2004 “Leaving Home, Coming Home”. While the doc seemed on the home made side, cinema verite the fancier terminology, the depth of the doc really shone in its second half.

And this makes perfect sense, since like a stereotypical artist, Robert Frank is a bit guarded and quite eccentric demanding a film maker, in this case Gerald Fox, do his time to build trust. In at least two instances in the doc, Frank lectures the vidoegraphers that he is not going to perform and that he must be allowed to be natural. Only for his sweet second wife June, is he cajoled into ‘performing his scream’.

I loved the way Fox played with black and white vs. color. In some of the ‘current’ 2004 scenes, Fox chose black and white, proving that people, in a general sense, do not change with time. On Coney Island, Robert explains his original photographs were done with ordinary people in a natural environment and that the same photos could be taken now. People as a subject matter, remain fascinating, a status quo we have over our burgeoning android competition.

His stories about horrible 1950’s and 60’s racism experienced secondhand (in one case Robert was reprimanded for giving a ride to a black man) and then firsthand in Arkansas, when he was thrown in jail merely because the police found him suspicious, details how mean spirited our former years in the U. S. really were.

In another scene, Robert seems to get upset in modern day Coney Island at first, trying to ask people where the setting of one of his past photos was since the landscape had changed so. A few folks blow him off and you see him start to wilt, until he speaks to a black man in his 40’s who takes interest in Robert’s pursuit and helps his fellow man locate a former train station pictured in the print. As they say goodbye, Robert shakes the black man’s hand and the former, hugs his arm in a beautiful humanizing moment.

Frank’s home in Nova Scotia where the second half of the film takes place, was a refuge away from the busy streets of NYC. Here we discover life facts about his son’s schizophrenia diagnosis in the 70’s and 80’s leading to his ultimate early death and equally tragic, his daughter dying in a plane crash.

The doc is saved from being too sad due to his gorgeous marriage to his wife June, also an eccentric artist (her medium is metal figurines). I’m just guessing, but without this bond, I wonder if Frank could have made it through the death of his children.

My main disappointment was that the doc did not bother to update and put a card at the end explaining that Robert passed away in September 2019. I had to look that information up, not a hardship, but ti would have given the audience pertinent information. And if Robert was somewhat miserable in ‘old age’ already in 2004, I can’t imagine what he was like in 2019. While he seemed ok with aging (is anyone a fan really?), you could tell he was not pleased with the physical setbacks.

A secondary quibble is my preference to front loaded the doc Robert made with Mick Jagger called “Cocksucker Blues” rather than tacking that on at the end. It seemed to be more fitting with the Jack Kerouac parts, celebrity with celebrity as it were.

In the end the doc is a peaceful piece on aging and a message that you need to find solace where you can. For Robert Frank, that home was ultimately in his art.

“Parasite”: Impressive Korean New Wave But Will it Be Oscar’s Fave?

Bong Joon Ho, is part of the Korean New Wave and writer and director of what some say is ‘Picture of the Year”. But what makes a film worthy of such a moniker? It all comes down to story (and scene moments), acting and cinematography.

Let’s take story first. Like Joker, Parasite tackles class and wage discrepancy, but this time set in Bong Joon Ho’s South Korea rather than the good ol’ USA.

Parasite, at its center, contains genius story telling, yet Bong Joon Ho still needs to par the story down in order to make a movie that moves me, or if I may be so bold to say, for ‘the audience’ in general.

Story and Acting: The film seemed promising. Bong Joon Ho’s premise that the son, played by Woo-sik Choi, be the redemptive character did indeed have pivotal incremental stages demonstrating this shift.

Yet since the son is an apathetic kid, as is his family (is this jaded mentality due to their financial circumstances or part of a South Korean mentality?) we don’t see him as the supposed main character ever hurt emotionally or psychologically. In addition, his subsequent infiltration of the upper class is far too easy lessening any impactful empathy.

Moments/Scenes: There were four meaningful moments for me which I’ll merely mention in brief as to not spoil anything:

*the scene where the original housekeeper and her husband reminisce about their more genuine appreciation for the upper class family’s house.

*gymnasium shelter talk about planning where is father tells his nihilistic philosophy that life is too chaotic to even try to plan.

*his make out scene with his student where he begins to realize he does not fit in to the aristocratic culture or that he doesn’t want to since it seems more shallow and plastic.

*the ending which I loved.

Missing for me was a hot of the son as he, his father and sister were hiding under the coffee table. Here, Joon-Ho switches to focus on the father, played by Kang-ho Song who definitely showed the biggest acting range in the movie’s totality.

So perhaps moments are truly what make a movie. While Joker was a lesser movie in story (psychopath rather than Parasite’s family of grifters), I actually had more empathy for Arthur Fleck, because the writers helped me empathize with him.

Unfortunately, Parasite, like another of Bong Joon Ho’s films, Snowpiercer, contains so many extraneous and intricate plot details, my view became too clouded to care enough about the son. Hence, I fatigued and while still enjoying Bong Joon Ho’s ideas, the film is not evocative to me.

Another example of lost opportunity is the scene early on where the son tutors the high schooler seemingly laying the foundation for the word ‘vigor’ which he certainly employed in helping his family get jobs at the same house. But this was not tied back to have the impact it could have at the movie’s end. Again, the son has the upperhand in this scene, and without suffering, he is not a useful main character.

One more point about the actors: While the father figure was definitely the stand out performer, a second impressive performance was carried out by the wealthy mother played by Yeo-jeong Jo, who I ended up feeling almost as much for as the supposed main character, the son.

Addendum-I wrote this before hearing that Bong Joon Ho built his own sets. And the creepy basement was a feat. Hence a tie in this area.

While I still think Joker set Unfortunately, Parasite is also lesser than Joker in its cinematography. Without the flood scene, and the housekeeper reminiscing scene, the only amazing visual is the gorgeous house of the wealthy family. Even “The Farewell” ‘wore cinematography better’ in giving us a glimpse into the sad urban changes to the Chinese landscape.

So I may need to be convinced by fellow podcast reviewers that Parasite is not simply a close, but no cigar.

A Faithful Man, More Passivity Proof

I’m wringing my hands together like Columbo did when he was on the brink of cracking a case, because if A Faithful Man does not prove my theory* that men stay too long in dysfunctional relationships, then I’ll eat my NFL hat (see the Columbo NFL hat trivia at *I’ve written an essay detailing my theory called “High Time for a Male Self-Contentment Revival”, ask me I’ll share it with you. Request the essay pitch at my email:

While a bit uneven in mood, A Faithful Man was entertaining and surprising. Concerned by the movie poster’s depiction of two women kissing one man, basically the story of my second marriage (well, he had about 5 others after him), would memories I’d like to keep in the Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind category bubble to the surface? Mais non, c’est not what happened…sorry slipped back into English.

Louis Garrel wrote, directed and starred in this short movie (hour and fifteen) and was impressive as the lead. Louis does a fine job with a story that I can’t say much about without spoilers. I will say while I worried it was a film about silly men dependent on women, it may actually be a film about silly men dependent on women…AND it didn’t incense me, meaning the writing and acting were pleasant enough to make the sadness of men who stay with manipulative women not seem quite so tragic.

And speaking of women, the two leads were a mixed bag: Laetitia Casta, drop dead gorgeous (may I have her chest? instead of my pancakes?) was terrific. Lily Rose-Depp (Johnny’s daughter) seemed a bit transparent and cloying as the other woman.

Garrel’s story telling shone in his depction of the young boy (Joseph Engel) who to tie back to my Columbo reference is a bit of a sleuth himself. Engel was fantastic and probably has a big film future ahead of him.

A Faithful Man was a nice kick off for my first film in the Cine-World Film Fest.