Here’s a quick moviebriefs roundup of what new at local theaters this week.
“Jojo Rabbit” is the standout new film of the week and both very funny and a film that makes you worry on occasion whether you should be laughing at all. Young Jojo is due to attend a Hitler Youth camp towards the end of World War II and may not be the only boy there with an imaginary friend, but is most likely the only boy whose imaginary friend is Adolph Hitler. The key factor in “Jojo Rabbit” is that this is war, and also Hitler, seen through the guileless eyes of an innocent child who’s taken a war’s worth of homeland propaganda at face value. That child’s perspective is much like John Boorman’s semi-autobiographical “Hope and Glory,” about a boy growing up during the bombing of London, and for whom a blown up school isn’t a cause for immediate regret. Mixed with the well known circumstance of “The Diary of Anne Frank” and other accounts of people rescuing Jews (unbeknownst to Jojo, his mother is hiding a young Jewish girl in the eaves of their house), the film is then told through the surreal lens of screenwriter/director (and Hitler stand-in) Taika Waititi, in a manner that’s reminiscent of a Wes Anderson work, such as “Moonrise Kingdom.” The result seems surreal or absurd, and broadly comedic, but largely because we’re adults and we can see that absurdity. And while the film tackles death and loss, it remains at Jojo’s microcosmic scale – this isn’t some grand rumination on war in general, or that war in particular, it’s Jojo’s war and his experience discovering the duplicity of the world of adults.
“Terminator: Dark Fate” essentially promises two basic things: An older Sarah Conner, still played by Linda Hamilton in jacked and take-on-the-world mode, and an even older and more jacked Arnold Schwarzenegger returning as apparently a naturally aged futuristic Terminator cyborg with whom she has a certain ill-fated history (he killed her son). To some extent, nothing else matters very much and most of the film is just a vehicle to reach an obvious and inevitable climax for their combined star power. But to summarize: A newer Terminator has come back from an altered future to kill a new target, this time a young woman (Natalia Reyes), and a futuristic enhanced human soldier (McKenzie Davis) has also come back to protect her. There’s more “girl power” here than in previous films of this nature, and the film sets up a clearly misogynistic assumption only to later shoot it down, but it’s not an overall package that’s likely to attract all that much attention from audiences of either gender unless they’re in it for the nostalgia-fest – and the most nostalgic fans are likely to be older guys. So it may be an exercise in search of an uncertain audience, likely to perform reasonable well at the box office largely because of a lack of clear competition.
“Motherless Brooklyn” is a lengthy and slow adaptation of a novel by Jonathan Lethem, adapted for the screen and directed by Edward Norton. I haven’t read that book but I have read about it. It was a story about a small private detective agency where the boss gets killed and one of his employees, a smart guy with Tourette’s syndrome (not identified as such in the film – but as a “condition”), one of several employees who all grew up in the same boys home, investigates his boss and mentor’s murder. That much is also true of the film. But the screenplay attempts to lay that story, as a period drama, over another story that’s obviously intended to draw parallels to more recent history. Perhaps the novel did something similar 20 years ago, but the film’s topical analogy is a plot about a New York developer Moses Randolph (based on real life Robert Moses) and played by Alec Baldwin in a manner that sounds almost identical to his portrayal of Donald Trump on NBC’s Saturday Night Live. The result seems a little overcomplicated – not in a manner that’s difficult to follow, but in a manner that just seems to be attempting a little too much. It felt forced enough to make me research the book because it simply felt too busy – which is a shame, because I think I would have enjoyed watching Norton as the lead character solve almost any other crime. The film has some awkwardly staged set pieces, some of which seems more photographic than cinematic, with a few that feel more like a stage play than a film. But the basic premise of the lead character is interesting, and it has a sympathetic take on disability as both a blessing and a curse – with the “condition” as described both causing him to be dismissed and yet also causing him to be somebody who should never be dismissed, as likely the smartest or at least the most observant person in any room. I just wish he had been in different rooms.
“The Current War: Director’s Cut” feels a little like a highly dramatized re-enactment on something like The History Channel. There’s more wattage in the star power here than in the story of the competition to electrify cities, between Thomas Edison (Benedict Cumberbatch) and George Westinghouse (Michael Shannon), with Tom Holland playing Edison’s secretary Samuel Insull and Nicholas Hoult as Nikola Tesla. If you don’t know much about direct versus alternating current, or even which of those we rely on most in modern applications, “The Current War” is not going to help you much. Nor is it going to tell you an enormous amount about any of the characters being depicted, except through this relatively short window of time and their interactions during it. In short, it seems to assume the cast will be enough of a draw, even if you don’t care or don’t care whether or not you learn which of Edison or Tesla should get more credit for the lights in the theater, the moving pictures on the screen, the motor turning the hotdogs, or the power grid that brings the electricity into the building. This is a film that could have used a few more illuminating end-title information slides.