November movie roundup

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Due to a few much-needed days off work and further COVID-19 related restrictions in the UK, I was able to find the time to see lots of movies in November. I already covered the first half of this month’s movies in this post – November midpoint movie roundup. Here’s the other half:

Jojo Rabbit (2019) is a Taika Waititi (The Mandalorian, Thor: Ragnarok, What We Do In The Shadows) film based on the international bestselling novel Caging Skies by Christine Leunens. As well as directing and screenwriting, Waititi stars as the imaginary friend of the naïve titular character played wonderfully well by Roman Griffin Davis.

Jojo’s imaginary friend is Adolf Hitler. If you don’t like the idea of a Wes Anderson style comedy based on the story of a misguided Hitler Youth member during WWII you’ll need to look elsewhere for your giggles. However, if the subject matter and the grim luggage you know this film is going to try and handle is your bag then strap in for a really well-balanced comedy that seems to come from the same kind of satirical universe as The Death of Stalin.

Sam Rockwell, Scarlett Johansson, Stephen Merchant, Rebel Wilson and Game of Thrones‘ Alfie Allen also star in various quantities as supporting cast members, but it is the young cast who get most screen time and really make this film a treat. As well Roman Griffin Davis, Archie Yates is brilliantly funny as Jojo’s podgy, bespectacled and indoctrinated friend, and waiflike Thomasin McKenzie provides the right amount of gravity playing the demonized Jewish girl hiding in Jojo’s house. I think it goes without saying that Waititi is also excellent playing a sometimes edgy Hitler caricature Charlie Chaplin would have approved of, and the grim baggage is handled very well. It’s my favourite film in this batch.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016) is another Taika Waititi film based on the book Wild Pork and Watercress written by Barry Crump. Rima Te Wiata plays a foster mother who takes in the young Julian Dennison (Deadpool 2). Living with her on her New Zealand farm on the edge of the bush is a misanthropic hunter played by Sam Neill. Tragedy leads both the boy and the hunter to go into the bush, but a national manhunt is soon in full swing to find them.

This comedy drama is enjoyable not only because of Te Wiata and Neill’s performances, but because of the number of fun characters they come across during their adventure and the few that are chasing them. Most notable for Flight of the Chonchords fans is the unhinged but generally harmless half-man half-bush Psycho Sam played by Rhys Darby. This is a satisfying feel-good comedy which is a lot better than the trailer would have you think, demonstrating once again Waititi’s knack for balancing pathos with comedy, and is currently available to subscribers on Amazon Prime video.

Angels & Demons (2009) is the sequel to The Da Vinci Code, currently available on Netflix, and is based on a book by Dan Brown actually wrote before his breakthrough best-selling Code. I remember enjoying the book a whole lot better than any of the other three Dan Brown books I have read, but unfortunately the film is just as bad as the first one in the ‘Robert Langdon’ series. In the film we find Brown’s Indiana Jones, the Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks), with a reputation for solving crime based on the events of the last film, teamed up with a nuclear physicist (Ayelet Zurer) who knows a whole lot of stuff about a whole lot of things so she can provide a whole lot of exposition whenever its required.

They are trying to to solve a typically cryptic Rome-based riddle laid down by someone intent on murdering a bunch of Vatican priests and blowing up with Vatican City with a capsule of antimatter and a low battery. Yes it is as ludicrous as it sounds. If you put your brain aside for the duration of the film then I guess there are some Bondesque / Indiana Jones-esque antics to enjoy, but even then you have to wonder what Ron Howard was doing getting involved again with this sequel.

Inferno (2016) kind of seals my thoughts that Ron Howard is perhaps just in it for the money because after two Dan Brown adaptations he comes back to direct a third. Tom Hanks is back too, so obviously these films were popular. I haven’t read Inferno and I’m glad I haven’t if this film is anything to go by. It is perhaps the most stupid of the three ‘Robert Langdon’ movies. If you take a step back and think about how complicated the terrorists have made it for themselves to unleash a virus on the world then the whole film crashes down around the screenwriter’s ears.

It’s nice to see the city of Florence in all its glory, but perhaps the only saving grace in this film – like the other two in fact – is that Langdon gets another beautiful sidekick – this time in the form of Rogue One‘s Felicity Jones. That said, in this day and age, isn’t this type of film where the heroic male gets a sassy female assistant a rather uncomfortable formula? I guess what we can say to Howard’s credit is that, unlike James Bond or Indiana Jones, Robert Langdon never ends up bedding any of them.

Juliet, Naked (2018) is another book adaptation, this time from the novel by Nick Hornby. I’ve read some of his earlier novels but stopped before I got to this one, so the story wasn’t known to me. Rose Byrne (Bridesmaids) plays a woman who has kind of lost her way. She manages a museum in the small English seaside town she lives in with her boyfriend (Chris O’Dowd) who seems to love indie rock legend and now mysterious recluse Tucker Crowe (Ethan Hawke) more than he does her. When she strikes up an online relationship with Crowe her life begins to change.

This is a good hearted romcom and the type of film we’ve come to expect from Nick Hornby adaptations like High Fidelity and About a Boy. The three main actors are very good and the story is plausible enough without descending into the farcical. The film was directed by a guy called Jesse Perez who I’ve never heard of before and he does a fine job of handling scenes shot both in the US and UK. He’s best known as director of the Paul Rudd film Our Idiot Brother, but I’ve yet to see it.

The Judge (2014) is a courtroom / family drama in which Robert Downey Jr. plays the role of a smart-ass city lawyer defending his estranged and aged father (Robert Duvall) who is accused of murder, back in his childhood home town. I was busy doing a jigsaw when we watched it, so wasn’t totally immersed and experienced it perhaps more as a radio play than a visual thing. That said it was pretty enjoyable, although rather predictable. Prodigal son returns, builds bridges with family members and ex-girlfriend, does some courtroom stuff.

Personally while Downey Jr. was good in this, I’d rather have seen more of Billy Bob Thorton who plays his courtroom rival, because I think he is a much more interesting and nuanced actor. But it was pretty much all about Downey Jr’s character and his relationship mending with those about him. Also don’t expect any particularly strong female characters in this film. Yes his ex-girlfriend has been quite the entrepreneur while he’s been away in the big city, but she still seems to be simpering after him, her daughter too, his brother’s wife hardly appears and his mother is dead – thus drawing him back for her funeral in his home town.

Stretch (2014) was a bit of a surprise. It found itself onto my watchlist for some reason and Siggy and I chose to watch it recently because it had a short runtime. Shot in 21 days, it contains a bizarre uncredited bearded performance by Star Trek and Wonder Woman star Chris Pine in a larger than life role as a rich coked-up fraudster on the run from the FBI, Patrick Wilson (Watchmen) as a struggling actor now working as a limo driver, Jessica Alba as the limo office controller and Ed Helms (The Office) in a bit part as the ghost of his dead colleague. It’s a messy film akin on a level with The Hangover but it was actually very entertaining watching Wilson’s character get deeper and deeper into ridiculous situations.

There are a couple of fun cameos from Ray Liotta and David Hasselhoff (playing themselves) as limo passengers and some well-paced action. It’s what you’d expect from director Joe Carnahan who directed the also surprisingly not-as-shit-as-people-expected A-Team film and stylishbut not so great Smokin’ Aces. Again, there are no strong female roles in this film, unless you’re dumb enough to count the three S&M hookers who do some bizarre sex stuff off-screen to Chris Pine’s character. I don’t know how much of Pine’s character came from Pine himself just letting go and how much was scripted, but it’s odd he’s not got a credit.

Last and unfortunately by every conceivable means least, Holmes & Watson (2018) is a badly executed and ill-conceived comedy which reunites Step Brothers co-stars Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly. Obviously it is based on the tales of Sherlock Holmes and in fact more than anything seems to be a parody of the Guy Ritchie films starring Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law. I love the source material, and Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly’s work, so to say I was disappointed with this film is an understatement.

Instead of it being the instant comedy classic Sony executives were probably expecting it to be, it was just a really poor film with jokes that fail to land and some curiously bad dubbing on Ferrell’s lines. It makes you think that he wasn’t happy with his original performance and went back into the sound booth to try again, but actually compounded the problem instead of fixing it. Take it from me, unless you have exhausted every other option, then please don’t bother with this film – even for die-hard Will Ferrell or John C. Reilly fans, this is an embarrassment. Every other film listed here is a whole lot better.

Image by David Mark from Pixabay

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