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Film and drama

Screen Themes: Jojo Rabbit vs 1917 vs Parasite

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With the recent announcement of the 2020 Academy Award nominees, entertainment editor John Turnbull checks out three of the contenders for best picture.

Jojo Rabbit

Directed by Taika Waititi

There has been a lot of talk over the last week about Oscar snubs. From Greta Gerwig and Lulu Wang, to Eddie Murphy and Lupita Nyong’o. This year, the Academy is being accused (again) of ignoring diversity in favour of old white males. While this is a more complex topic than commentators are willing to admit, I’m adding Taika Waititi to the list of non-white directors who have been robbed by the Academy this year.

From his early days directing "Kiwi indie" movies, like Eagle vs Shark, to now his near ubiquitous presence across both Marvel and Disney universes, he has established himself as a director and actor with a unique and hilarious view of the world. True, his new anti-hate satire Jojo Rabbit has been nominated for Best Picture and five other awards, but it’s baffling that Waititi missed out on nominations for both directing and acting for his remarkable portrayal of Adolf Hitler as a small child’s imaginary friend.

Skirting a fine line between comedy and tragedy, Jojo Rabbit tells the story of Johannes "Jojo" (Roman Griffin Davis), a lonely German boy growing up in the latter days of World War II. Aspiring to join the Hitler youth, Jojo’s plans are derailed by his inherent good nature and a chance encounter with a young Jewish girl named Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) hiding in his attic. The movie features amazing performances from Scarlett Johansson as Jojo’s mother Rosie, Sam Rockwell as the disillusioned Captain Klenzendorf and Rebel Wilson as a Nazi functionary Fraulein Rahm.

Delightful and moving in equal measures.

Verdict: 9/10

1917

Directed by Sam Mendes

Make no mistake, 1917 is an amazing film with a propulsive narrative, spectacular cinematography and a cast packed with British A-list actors. Unfortunately, it has the emotional resonance of a video game (and not a good one). The generic main characters laboriously make their way from point A to point B without getting blown up, captured or shot. It’s a bit like a Call of Duty campaign, although without the ability to get the characters to "teabag" their fallen opponents.

Set in the final days of World War I (obviously), 1917 tells the story of Lance Corporals, Blake and Schofield (Dean-Charles Chapman and George McKay), charged with the mission of delivering a message to the front line, stopping a hopeless charge against a far superior German force. If you’re thinking: that sounds a little bit like the plot of Aussie classic Gallipoli, then you’d be right — but it takes the last 20 minutes of that movie and stretches it out to two hours.

Much like George Miller’s recent Mad Max reboot, 1917 isn’t necessarily about plot, but the journey and the sacrifices that must be made to get there. There is no doubt this will be enough to entertain many cinemagoers, but I found myself wanting a little more. On the upside, it’s fun to think about how Mendes (perhaps unintentionally) cast classically trained British actors according to their career achievements; Colin Firth plays a general, Benedict Cumberbatch plays a colonel, Mark Strong plays a captain and so forth.

Visually spectacular but emotionally unengaging.

Verdict:  7/10

Parasite

Directed by Bong Joon Ho

Despite half a dozen Oscar nominations, Korean movie Parasite is almost impossible to find on a movie screen in Australia, requiring a trip to your local Palace or Dendy cinemas. This is a crying shame, because Parasite is one of the funniest satires I’ve ever seen, telling a universal tale of class struggle against the backdrop of two Korean families from opposite ends of the economic social spectrum.

Director Bong Joon Ho has experimented with multiple genres across his 25 year career — from horror in The Host, to the slow-burn action of Snowpiercer and to the heart-rending family drama Okja — usually accompanied by everyman actor Kang-ho Song. In Parasite, Kang-ho Song plays father Kim Ki-taek, struggling to keep his family together in the relentless gig economy of modern Korea. When son Ki-woo (Woo-sik Choi) finds a job tutoring the daughter of the mega-rich Park family, Ki-taek and the rest of the Kim family slowly ingratiate themselves, with unexpected and eventually tragic results.

Social satire in film can be a tricky business, but Parasite manages the task flawlessly. It introduces sympathetic characters who go to increasingly extremes to chase their fantasies of wealth and power. The movie also avoids the temptation to paint the wealthy Park family as deliberately malicious, portraying them instead as disconnected from normal people after a lifetime of privilege.

A must-see; Parasite is my pick for best picture.

Verdict: 10/10

Books by John Turnbull are available on Amazon and Kindle, including supernatural thriller Damnation’s Flame; action/romance Reaper, black comedy City Boy and travel guidebook Bar Trek: EuropeDamnation's Flame by John Turnbull is also available in paperback in the IA store HERE (free postage).

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