Join us as we take in the sights, sounds and smells of Jojo Rabbit, The Gentlemen, Uncut Gems, and The Personal History of David Copperfield. Will we find them pleasing to one or more of our senses? You simply must listen in to find out!
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If you’re familiar with Sky’s comedy Moone Boy then I could describe Jojo Rabbit as very like that, but with Chris O’Dowd’s Seán Murphy replaced by Taiki Waititi’s Adolf Hitler, and you’d have a pretty good understanding of the setup (even some of the drawings look the same). For those not familiar I suppose I better explain it a little more fully.
Based on Christine Leunen’s definitely-not-a-comedy book Caging Skies, Taiki Waititi’s film tells the story of 10-year-old Johannes “Jojo” Betzler, a member of the “Deutsches Jungvolk in der Hitler Jugend”, or Hitler Youth, during the last winter and spring of World War II. So fanatical about and brainwashed by the cult is he that his imaginary friend, played by director Waititi, is der Führer himself.
The fervent young Nazi is therefore presented with a bit of a problem when he discovers a young Jewish girl, Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie), living in the walls of his house. They come to an arrangement, though, where he won’t tell the Gestapo about her, and she won’t cut off his Nazi head. S’all good.
As Jojo interrogates Elsa about Jews for research into his book, Yoo-hoo, Jew! (suggested as a useful text by his Hitler Youth commander, Sam Rockwell’s Captain Klenzendorf), he begins to think of her as a friend, and less of a mind-controlling, egg-laying, bat-wing-having monster (Jojo Rabbit featuring more of your Borat view of Jews). And because Jojo is ten, not evil, he begins to question the Nazi propaganda. Maybe Hitler just made a mistake?
Jojo Rabbit has been criticised in many places as being toothless and unnecessary. I will give some weight to this first point: a lot of the bad stuff that happened during the Third Reich is merely alluded to: it’s certainly not The Death of Stalin. But as to the second? I politely request such commenters to get bent: “Nazis are bad” and “hating others because they’re others is bad” are seemingly obvious truths that, as a society, we seem to keep having to relearn, over and over, especially in recent years.
In time-honoured tradition the Nazis here are treated as buffoons, which I am sure is the reason for the conspicuously bad and inconsistent German accents (it’s not quite ’Allo, ‘Allo, but it’s heading that way), and Stephen Merchant’s ludicrous Gestapo officer. Making light of the atrocities of the Nazi regime is an entirely valid way to approach it: just look at another film by a Jewish director, Mel Brooks’ The Producers, and its magnificent “Springtime for Hitler”. Mockery helps rob evil of its power. For all that, though, the Nazis in Jojo still carry a threat, the menace of which is brought home to bear in a rather shocking moment at the end of the second act.
It’s certainly not immune to criticism, however: for me the biggest problem is the fact that visually it feels like a Wes Anderson knock-off (and not just the particularly obvious comparison to Moonrise Kingdom), and Waititi’s Hitler sometimes is trying too hard to be kooky.
But mostly it’s bloody funny. Watch it. Then watch it again.
There was a time, maybe a decade ago, where saying “A Guy Ritchie film” was pretty much a review in and of itself. Of course, now that particular church has been broadened to include the likes of the Sherlock Holmes films, and, of all things, Aladdin, further description is required. Although, if you simply pretend the last ten years didn’t happen, this is very much a straight line continuation of the Lock Stock and Snatch bloodline.
The Gentlemen is a story told in large part by Hugh Grant’s sleazy tabloid journalist Fletcher, relating the rise, and potential fall, of drug kingpin Mickey Pearson, played by Matthew McConaughey, to Fletcher’s lieutenant, Charlie Hunnam’s Raymond. And, well, that pulls in a whole lot of other characters and plot strands that, in classic Ritchie fashion, snowball together into a big old mess of convenience and coincidence which is fun to watch, but sounds like a cross between madness and nonsense if repeated.
Some of those characters include Michelle Dockery as Rosalind Pearson, Mickey’s partner and equal in the business and personal senses, Eddie Marsan as Big Dave, the rabid tabloid editor seeking Mickey’s downfall, Colin Farrell as Coach, a gym trainer with unsettlingly efficient grasp of gangland mechanics trying to get his young charges out of trouble with Mickey caused by the machinations of Henry Golding’s Dry Eye, a Triad rival who’s trying to muscle in on Mickey’s operations.
Now, popular opinion would be that Guy Ritchie very much lost his mojo after going back to the well of knockabout London gangland crime comedies too often. To be honest, even if Revolver isn’t a patch on Lock Stock, given that the market was not otherwise saturated with similar outings I could have gladly watched a mediocre Ritchie outing every two years without complaining, but his time away from the cockney coalface has certainly built up an anticipation for this. And, to be honest, I’m as surprised as you are to report that it’s pretty much delivered on all fronts.
Now, it’s not high art, of course, and no, it’s not as good as Snatch or Lock Stock, but it’s much closer to them than Revolver or Rocknroller. Of all things, it’s probably Hugh Grant that’s stealing the show here, playing wildly and hilariously against type. The rest of the cast are dependably excellent, and it has the usual Ritchie punchy pacing and funny, excessively sweary dialogue. I think he’s been saving up his cussing budget over the last decade and spent it all on this film.
It’s not perfect, but largely in ways that don’t matter – the narrative doesn’t hold a lot of water, but it’s a bucket wide enough to contain the characters and bounce them off each other in funny ways. And, well, it’s a comedy, what more do you want from it? It’s so good it even survives the most ludicrous piece of product placement I’ve ever seen. To my surprise, well worth watching.
It seems like Netflix wants to make certain films a real challenge to watch. Firstly, Uncut Gems is an Adam Sandler film. Secondly, it’s an Adam Sandler film on Netflix. Thirdly, they purchased an Adam Sandler film with an opening ten minutes that is so ear-bleedingly scored and discordant that I found it a genuine struggle not to end the film there and then. I don’t think I’ve suffered such an aural assault since Philip Glass’s “score” for Notes on a Scandal.
The film begins with a Chinese-run mine in Ethiopia, where Ethiopian Jews have unearthed a rare conglomeration of black opals. A close up of the opal then transitions into the inside of Adam Sandler’s arse as we see footage of his character’s (New York jeweller Howard Rather) colonoscopy. Through some never-explained “connections”, Howard has obtained the rare, uncut gems and hopes to sell them for a million dollars to pay off his debts. Those debts are substantial, and are to bookies and loan sharks who aren’t the type to send a demanding letter. Complicating this is the fact that one of them is even an in-law.
Howard may have a successful jewellery business in the diamond district, catering to rich customers, such as NBA star Kevin Garnett (here playing himself as a superstitious and untrustworthy asshat, for some reason), but he’s not exactly wise, regularly borrowing from Peter to pay Paul. (Or, more accurately, borrowing from Peter to place a bet with Simon, and also with the money he got pawning his friends’ jewellery, in the hopes of winning enough money to stop Paul breaking his kneecaps, though probably he’ll end up also owing Simon, and even if he wins he’ll brush off Paul and his friends because he can maybe bet again, with Simon, or Trevor, and get some more, and he definitely won’t lose and it won’t all go tits-up because he’s Howie he’s a smart man with a plan what could possibly go wrong?)
And while this is happening he has to pretend his marriage to Dinah (Adele Dazeem) is just peachy, for the kids, while trying not to blow his relationship with girlfriend Julia (Julia Fox). Howard lives in a dream world, where everything, despite all previous evidence, will go according to plan, and instead of considering being punched in the throat or locked in a boot by a debt collector a problem, he shrugs it off as no biggie.
It seems that we are supposed to see Howie and his indefatigable optimism as resilient, charming and sympathetic, and if he even once acknowledged that he had a gambling problem then at least the latter might be possible, but no, he’s a pillock and deserves everything that’s coming to him.
Adam Sandler is actually pretty good in Uncut Gems: it has been described by many as a career-best performance (a low bar, but still), and technically it may well be. But it’s largely to no avail. Neither his character nor any other in the film is likeable or interesting. I did care about what happened to Howard, but only because he was an absolute plank that I wanted to see suffer.
Add to that numerous scenes with the terrible synth score and twenty people talking at once and phones ringing and doors buzzing and… If you want a headache, go ahead and watch Uncut Gems. If not, avoid.
The Personal History of David Copperfield
I suppose I should feel ashamed that I’ve not read David Copperfield, or, to be honest, much of Dicken’s works, but life is short and I feel I’ve got the gist – being poor is awful and rich people are awful. That’s pretty much the gist of his output, right? It’s certainly one of the central themes of Armando Iannucci’s adaptation
Dev Patel’s David Copperfield narrates his own journey through life in Victorian times, growing up happily, played as a nipper by Jairaj Varsani, in a well off family until his widowed mother, Morfydd Clark’s Clara Copperfield, marries the outright evil Mr. Murdstone (Darren Boyd), who before long packs him off to London to toil in his bottling factory under, well, Dickensian conditions. There he toils for years, lodging with the somewhat sketchy Mr. Micawber (Peter Capaldi) and his family, before making a break for freedom after being informed, some weeks after the funeral, that his mother has passed away.
He heads cross-country to his only surviving relative’s gaff, his Aunt Betsey Trotwood (Tilda Swinton), meeting her lodger, the “eccentric” Mr. Dick (Hugh Laurie). “Eccentric” in the ways that would have poorer people lobotomised, but that can largely be solved, as it happens, by some prescription kite-flying. Betsey eventually agrees to fund David’s education, so he’s sent to a boarding school where he’ll become friends with the dashing, yet troubled James Steerforth (Aneurin Barnard). However, their taunting of Ben Whishaw’s Uriah Heep will come back to bite them as he goes on to make Copperfield’s later young adult life miserable, as he plots to take over Betsey’s lawyer’s practise and swindle them out of their money, leveraging Benedict Wong’s Mr. Wickfield’s alcoholism, and move in on Copperfield’s ultimate love interest Agnes Wickfield (Rosalind Eleazar).
That’s, well, maybe the half of it, and half of the important characters, and from what I can gather the entirety of the film is maybe the half of the novel, and there’s more than a few changes in locations, timing, and ultimate character fate. That may perhaps annoy purists, and I’m sure the colour-blind casting will annoy the usual knuckle-draggers, but for a more general audience there’s an awful lot to like here.
It’s a beautiful looking period drama, in the way that they all tend to be, but the real attraction here is the comedy, which this delivers bigly. It has the best words, all the best words, and dear lord, these performances. It seems unfair to single any one out as it’s such a great ensemble performance, but if you don’t come out of this thinking Peter Capaldi is the best thing since sliced bread there is something wrong with you, although, to be fair, you should have had that opinion going in to it. Do try to keep up. Dev Patel does a great job of anchoring things and where required providing a straight man for the more outlandish characters to bounce off, and, well, everyone else is pretty great too.
I don’t think there’s a great deal more value in my prattling on much more about it, other than to say I found it a very funny, very touching story, that’s immaculately produced and therefore very highly recommended.
Thanks to everyone who has got in touch with us on this, or said kind words about the show – it’s all very much appreciated.
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