Fantastic Fest 2019 Review – Jojo Rabbit

September 21, 2019 by  
Filed under CineBlog

Starring: Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin McKenzie, Scarlett Johnasson
Directed by: Taika Waititi (“Hunt for the Wilderpeople”)
Written by: Taika Waititi (“Hunt for the Wilderpeople”)

In these perilous times when hatred and white supremacy have emerged as a prominent, dangerous voice in the United States, it could be seen as a dicey prospect to create a satire heavily involving the presence of Nazis and Adolf Hitler. Leave it to comedic mastermind Taika Waititi to expertly skewer hatred the most successful of ways.

In the midst of World War II, young outcast Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) fully absorbs Nazi propaganda, wanting to be a good soldier. When he discovers that his mom Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a young Jewish girl Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) in their walls, Jojo must decide whether he will help the new discovery, or give into the advice given by his imaginary friend, Adolf Hitler (Taika Waititi).

Throughout his filmmaking career thus far, Waititi has established himself as a unique and special comedic voice. Even when taking control of a Marvel film, Waititi’s blend of clever witticisms and dumb silliness is unmistakable and unlike anyone else working in comedy today. With his latest output like “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” and now “Jojo Rabbit,” however, each gut busting moment is matched beat for beat with a surprising level of emotionality. Though it may not get its hands completely dirty, there’s no doubt that there’s a level of respect attached to the film, where Waititi’s acknowledges the atrocities while making it okay to laugh at the more ridiculous parts of both blind hatred and loyalty.

As an actor, Waititi chooses to play Hitler as a complete boob and with a sense of idocy that leaves no room for interpretation other than to laugh at his expense. While the cast is littered with strong, funny performances from veteran actors like Johansson and Sam Rockwell, the show truly belongs to the youngsters Davis and McKenzie. Davis plays Jojo with a level of sweetness and conflict beyond his years and watching McKenzie make a meal out of mentally torturing Jojo is a delight to watch.

As a complete master class of tone, “Jojo Rabbit” is an expertly crafted satire that is equal parts funny and sweet. Though its through the eyes of a child and set in the 1940s, the commentary on blindly and ignorantly hating that which is different is a theme that, unfortunately, remains relevant. There’s likely to be audiences that believe the film should go harder at its subject matter, but fans of Waititi’s special sense of humor and audiences who are willing to go along for the ride are in for a treat. Make no mistake, “Jojo Rabbit” is the work of a singular filmmaker at the top of his game and one of the years best films thus far.

Ep. 116 – Venom, A Star is Born

October 7, 2018 by  
Filed under Podcast

The CineSnob Podcast returns from its summer abroad, with reviews of “Venom” and “A Star is Born.” Cody also gives us a recap of Fantastic Fest, and we remind you to go download our friend Greg Sestero’s movie “Best F(r)iends: Vol. 1.”

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Fantastic Fest 2018 Review – Mid90s

September 25, 2018 by  
Filed under Cody

Starring: Sunny Suljic, Katherine Waterston, Lucas Hedges
Directed by: Jonah Hill (debut)
Written by: Jonah Hill (“21 Jump Street”)

Few actors can weave in and out of genres as seamlessly as Jonah Hill has done it within the last few years. Known mostly as a comedic actor that has grown from the Judd Apatow family tree, Hill has had massive success in serious roles, nabbing 2 Oscar nominations for dramatic turns. With Mid90’s, Hill adds another facet to his nuanced repertoire, stepping behind the camera for the first time in his directorial debut.

In 1996 Los Angeles, 13-year-old Stevie (Sunny Suljic) navigates a summer filled with new experiences, a questionable new group of friends, and a troubling home life.

Perhaps it’s the use of a lot of natural non-actors, but there’s a certain raw edge to the film that feels homemade and small. As a coming-of-age movie, Hill’s debut feels Linklater-esque, being more slice-of-life than narrative driven. Perhaps because of this, the film occasionally feels a little bit aimless and meandering.

What it does accomplish well is tackle and capture the feeling of angsty adolescence. Stevie is young, impressionable, and desperately seeking something new as a form of escapism. The films best moments are watching Stevie take good hearted innocence and mix it up with some very real and intense situations, along with various shenanigans.

Though his performance is good, Suljic’s casting falls victim to an issue sometimes seen in coming-of-age movie, which is that he looks really, really young. There’s a bit of dissonance watching a middle schooler do very adult things and though perhaps by design, is occasionally distracting and odd.

As a “hang out” film, Mid90’s scratches the nostalgia of its titular era, especially those who grew up in skateboarding culture. It would be nice to have a little more narrative heft, but it’s a solid if unspectacular debut for Hill as a filmmaker.

 

Fantastic Fest 2018 Review – Lords of Chaos

September 21, 2018 by  
Filed under Cody

Starring: Rory Culkin, Emory Cohen, Jack Kilmer
Directed by: Jonas Akerlund (“Horsemen”)
Written by: Dennis Magnusson (“King of Devil’s Island”) and Jonas Akerlund (debut)

For metal fans across the world, the stories about Norwegian black metal culture are infamous. Church burnings, murder, violence…and that’s not even scratching the surface of the famously abrasive music. Based on stories from the book of the same name “Lords of Chaos,” centers on the story of the band Mayhem, and how they lived up to their name.

In 1980’s Norway, a guitarist going by the name of Euronymous (Rory Culkin) forms a new sub-genre of metal dubbed Black Metal. With a focus on intensity, violence, and church burnings, Euronymous and new bandmade Varg (Emory Cohen) at first try to push the popularity of the band until they eventually disagree on just how far to take it all.

In terms of black metal folklore, “Lords of Chaos” strives for authenticity and manages to get it. Stories that have been circled around for years are told with graphic detail, something that director Jonas Akerlund does not shy from.

With as much graphic violence as there is in the film, its biggest flaw is its internal tug of war for tone. Akerlund alternates between treating his subjects as extremely violent and dangerous individuals and as Beavis and Butthead style idiots. As a result, they danger and severity of their crimes is severely undercut by the notion that they are harmless posers trying to make a name for themselves.

The tone struggle ultimately can’t be overcome, especially considering how grating and intensified the rest of the film is. It may accurately tell the story of a bizarre and wild corner of music history, but “Lords of Chaos” doesn’t ever seem to hit the right notes.

Ep. 106 – American Made, Battle of the Sexes, Gerald’s Game, Fantastic Fest recap, and home video reviews of Wonder Woman, The Big Sick and A Ghost Story

October 8, 2017 by  
Filed under Podcast

After some technical difficulties, The CineSnob Podcast is back for the 106th time with reviews of “American Made,” “Battle of the Sexes” and “Gerald’s Game.” Cody also fills us in on his time at Fantastic Fest, and reviews home video releases of “Wonder Woman,” “The Big Sick” and “A Ghost Story.”

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Fantastic Fest Review: Zoology

October 3, 2016 by  
Filed under CineBlog

Ivan I. Tverdovskiy’s “Zoology” is certainly one of the tamer features I’ve ever seen at Fantastic Fest. There isn’t a single drop of blood, no deadly creatures, no body mutilation, no gross-out humor, or anything of the kind onscreen that can often be associated with this Drafthouse-based film festival. But it’s that lack of such content that makes Tverdovskiy’s second feature film such an incredible feat of storytelling. It may not feature the usual characteristics of genre films that play the festival, but it is reaches cathartic depths that other films of its type never even dream of.

“Zoology” tells the story of Natasha, a middle-aged Russian woman of few words still living at home with her mother. Natasha makes her living at the local zoo, where when she isn’t spending time interacting with the animals, she’s working hard at making sure the right kinds and amounts of food are being ordered to keep the animals fed. She loves the animals (they’re arguably the only people that give her the time of day) and needs the money, which is perhaps why she puts up with the abhorrent treatment her coworkers subject her to daily.

Natasha continues through her mundane and repetitive life until one day she wakes up to find that she has grown a tail. What makes “Zoology” such an enthralling and unique experience is how it portrays the tail. Natasha isn’t shocked or scared at all. If she is, she doesn’t let on. She reacts very matter-of-factly to the discovery, keeping its existence to herself and visiting doctors in hopes of uncovering some sort of explanation and solution. The doctors don’t seem shocked either, treating her new appendage as if it was an everyday problem like a splinter or dislocated shoulder. To make matters worse, townsfolk including Natasha’s own mother tell tales of a monstrous beast wandering the streets. How they first discovered this is never really explained, though some textual hints could provide one or two solutions.

Natalya Pavelenkova is a revelation as Natasha, delivering a sympathetic and captivating performance that elevates the entire film to a fascinating character study. Working from his own script, Tverdovskiy takes an observational approach to shooting his story, making the film feel even more real and the deadpan humor land so very well. He doesn’t seem intent on punishing his characters, a facet that combined Pavlenkova’s wonderful performance makes it impossible not to fall in love with this film’s main character.

We watch on with glee as Natasha comes in to her own, shedding her drabby looks for a new haircut and clothing style. Like her, we are cautiously optimistic when a man takes notice of her and begins taking her out on dates. We laugh at the stories that circulate about the tailed beast, and relish in the irony when Natasha adds details of her own. It’s a hard for something so character-driven to remain interesting, but Tverdovskiy conjures up palpable emotions and takes us down so many interesting narrative roads. “Zoology” announces the arrival of a filmmaker with a wholly unique point of view. I’m eager to see where he turns his camera next.

Fantastic Fest Days 1 & 2 Recap: Turtles, Creepy Elevators & Everything in Between

September 28, 2016 by  
Filed under CineBlog

A Creepy Elevator and a Korean Masterpiece

After a one-year absence, I finally ventured north was again to Austin for Fantastic Fest. Honestly, those 365 days felt much longer. I missed the people, the sense of community, and the celebration of all things film. I had to bow out of attending 2015’s Fantastic Fest since I was busy planning my wedding. Not that I’m complaining. Not really. Besides, this year I get to bring my favorite movie buddy and new bride with me, and I’m definitely not complaining about that.

My first film this year was Chan-wook Park’s “The Handmaiden,” a period piece set in 1930’s Korea about a scheming conman pretending to be a Japanese count, his niece posing as a handmaiden, the Japanese heiress she serves, and the endless double crossings that go on between the three of them. Park, who has easily solidified himself through films like “Oldboy,” “Stoker,” and “Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance” as a master of the medium, has crafted something both visually breathtaking and emotionally heart-stopping.

The production design from Seong-hie Ryu and costumes designed by Sang-gyeong Jo are next level in their design and beauty, doubly effective because they enhance and add to the story. Yeong-wook Jo’s sweeping, achingly beautiful score makes everything on screen exponentially more effective. Diving his film into three chapters, Park draws us into a story brimming with Hitchcockian twists, dark humor, steamy sexuality, and just the right amount of bloody gore. This is a truly wonderful, emotionally resonant film.

After scarfing down some delicious Indian food, catching up with an array of wonderful, wickedly smart and incredibly kind people, I called it an early night to get rested up for my first full day of movies. But not before I made it past the creepiest hotel elevator in history. It was hard to tell which part my wife was the most terrified of: the elevator ride itself or my unbridled enjoyment (complete with cackling) of the whole ride.

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The Red Turtle

Male Nudity and Turtles

Fantastic Fest Day 2 began with a failed attempt at bringing the wife breakfast in bed. As devilishly creepy as their elevator was, the Orangewood Suites in North Austin had a frustratingly ridiculous ban on taking any food from the continental breakfast up to the room. Luckily, the damp smell of mold and occasional faint smell of bleach used to attack said had suppressed her desire to eat. This hunger would again return to be quenched by Drafthouse food and store-bought Pringles. Meanwhile, the husband drank beer.

One of the fun things that happens during a festival like Fantastic Fest is that themes and common factors begin to surface in a majority of the films you watch. Most infamously in 2014, dead dogs was a prominent theme, making Fantastic Fest the perfect place for Chad Staheleski and David Leitch to premiere their directorial debut, “John Wick.” Now, the jury is still out for 2016’s grand theme, but the selection of films for our first full day couldn’t help offer the options of male nudity and turtles (separately, for now, though that could very well change in the coming days).

Saturday was a day bookended with turtles, and the first film in that set was Michael Dudok de Wit’s “The Red Turtle,” a gorgeously animated and achingly emotional film. De Wit’s background has been primarily in shorts (he won an Oscar for his 2001 short “Father and Daughter”), but his feature debut here displays an incredible mastery of the medium.

There isn’t a single spoken word for any of the film’s lean 80-minute run time, but “The Red Turtle” packs more of a punch than dialogue-filled films twice that length. The film starts with a man crashing on a deserted island and follows his attempts to escape back to civilization, and ultimately transforms itself through a wildly inventive but successful twist to become an allegory about love, raising a child, and growing old. The metaphor doesn’t always work, but “The Red Turtle” is a powerful experience not to be missed.

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American Honey

The second film in the turtle-themed double feature was my most anticipated film of Fantastic Fest: Andrea Arnold’s sprawling epic, “American Honey.” Andrea’s third film has some surface-level parallels with “Fish Tank,” but this is an entirely different film. Newcomer Sasha Lane stars as Star, an 18-year-old dumpster diver eager to break free of her broken home and find a better life for herself. That opportunity comes in the form of a van packed with a group of rambunctious chain-smoking and alcohol-chugging youth. Jake, the leader of the group played by Shia LaBeouf in a career-best performance, offers Star a spot in their business, which consists of going door-to-door across the country selling magazine subscriptions.

“American Honey” charts Star’s series of adventures through places like Kansas City and Oklahoma. We don’t really associate these places with America, but they do exist, and to Star they are incredibly exciting places bursting with excitement and opportunity. There’s no real through line to a film like this, and I imagine many people will respond differently to the film given its daunting 163-minute running time. But there is so much to love here.

The film paints a picture of America where danger and violence lurk in every opportunity, every interaction. If the characters are daunted by said danger, they don’t let on. We the audience wouldn’t want to be caught in these types of situations, but to the group of misfits these are stories that will be recounted fondly at the next bonfire. We may not even agree with how characters handle certain situations, but we understand why they do it.

I did feel like the film may have lost some steam and opportunities to flesh out Sasha’s motivations a tad, but I’m going to chalk that up to this being my first viewing of the film. A recent viewing of “Fish Tank” remedied the same complaint I had offered upon first viewing. Andrea is a master storyteller, and this incredible film is her boldest work yet.

Oh, and a turtle shows up for a few minutes!

Look, I didn’t say that the thematic thing was set in stone. Just that it was a possibility.

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Toni Erdmann

What about Male Nudity?

There were plenty of things that had more screen time than the turtle in “American Honey,” chief among them was the penis of the one of Star’s colleagues. At the moment I can’t remember the character’s name, but I do remember his affection for stripping nagging or flashing people every opportunity he had. It was rather amusing to me that I watched two nearly three-hour films back-to-back that featured male nudity, the second (though watched first) of the duo being “Toni Erdmann.”

Where “American Honey” feels like a three-hour film (not a complaint about the film at all), Maren Ades’ running time breezes by. Peter Simonischek stars in the title role as a man who is constantly pretending to be other people for the amusement of himself. Toni Edermann examines loneliness and unrealized dreams, pairing Simonischek’s wonderful performance with Sandra Hüller’s equally fabulous work. The two play an estranged father and daughter, and Ades’ screenplay follows Toni’s attempts to bring happiness back into his daughter’s life.

This is an incredibly strange film with several side-splitting laugh-out-loud moments, including one of the most bizarre birthday parties ever put to film (this is one of the instances where a penis shows up in this film). It is a bit strange that the film follows Huller’s character quite a bit, letting us watch extensive business conversations and such. But for the most part, it works. The film does become a tad bit understated at times as well, but this is truly a singular film that deserves an audience. Both characters and their journeys become interesting, and the attempts to elicit an emotional response succeed by the time the film reaches an end.

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24:36: A Movie About Movie Posters

Did I Mention I Watched a Documentary?

Snowfort Pictures has a long tradition of giving exciting new filmmakers a chance to practice their craft, and they continue to be one of my favorite studios working in the business today. You get the sense that everyone there has a passion for the filmmaking process. That passion was clear in 2013’s “Jodorowsky’s Dune” and it is clear again in “24:36: A Movie About Movie Posters.”

Director Kevin Burke has assembled a wonderful oral history about the origins of the movie poster, the potential death of the industry that reared its head, and its ultimate resurgence as an art form. Burke interviews a wide array of experts, each providing fascinating insight on movie posters. Anecdotes, some horrifying, others hilarious, still others illuminating, chart the course for a fascinating look into one of the most exciting things about films.

Fantastic Fest was the perfect place to play this film. I’m so happy there are people like those at Snowfort that can make sure a film like this not only get to see an audience, but is made in the first place.

When we got back to the hotel Friday night, my wife made us take the stairs. There were already two other people waiting for it, and she wasn’t sure the elevator could have handled more than two people. To be honest, neither was I. I would have loved to have found out though.

Ep. 64 – The Martian, Sicario, Fantastic Fest & MondoCon recaps, what Cody and Jerrod thought of The Iron Giant: Signature Edition, Rifftrax Live: Miami Connection, and the lowdown on how our Ferris Bueller’s Day Off screening went

October 9, 2015 by  
Filed under Podcast

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Click here to download the episode!

In this week’s episode of The CineSnob Podcast, the guys from CineSnob.net review “The Martian” and “Sicario.” They also discuss a busy week with recaps of Fantastic Fest, MondoCon, “The Iron Giant: Signature Edition,” “RiffTrax Live: Miami Connection,” and their Alamo Drafthouse screening of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”

[0:00-51:05] Intro, Ferris Bueller’s Day off, Fantastic Fest, MondoCon, The Iron Giant and RiffTrax Live: Miami Connection recaps
[51:05-1:08:32] The Martian
[1:08:32-1:24:20] Sicario
[1:24:20-1:27:19] Teases for next week and close