Hello! Although I've been on vacation for the past little while, I've still managed to make an effort to watch most every movie I've been wanting to watch. Today's review roundup is a quadruple header featuring a mix of (supposed) Academy Award heavy-hitters, political satire, and a good ol' fashioned popcorn flick. I said I wouldn't make this review format a trend, and so far, I'm not making a good case for that. Regardless, here are my general (non-spoiler) thoughts on Parasite, The Lighthouse, Zombieland: Double Tap, and Jojo Rabbit!
Strangely, Parasite is the film that I wanted Us (from earlier this year) to be. Stick with me.
Upon giving it quite a bit a thought, the two films share a myriad of similarities, the most prominent being the use of (fairly) straightforward premises that serve as entry points to tackling underlying societal issues. Where I feel that Parasite ends up being closer to a resounding success as opposed to 'just' an exceptional piece of technical film-making is its focus on character development first, while gradually introducing viewers to its macro ideas. In doing so, Parasite's lasting bit of social commentary feels less hamfisted, and more of a natural progression. Along the way, we're also treated to copious amounts of sharp dialogue, surprisingly dark (yet effective) humor, and a wealth of character development. Quieter moments are met with wide and scenic landscapes, whereas intensity ramps up rapidly in a claustrophobic whirlwind of close-quartered chaos. While the film's primary climactic set piece will likely have your eyes wide open, what eventually follows can feel like too hard of an effort to neatly tidy up every loose thread. Had the film stuck with the messiness of what it eventually proposes in its harrowing third act, we might've had ourselves one of the greatest film commentaries of the decade. Instead, we're left with a flirtatious effort that checks off most every box for a great film, but leaves some to be desired of what some would consider masterful.
The Lighthouse: 9.5/10
Although billed as a horror film by most media outlets, The Lighthouse, I feel, can't be so cleanly categorized. To do so would be to overlook one of the most impressive feats in filmmaking that the year has presented thus far. If ever there was a case for there to be room for two lead actors, in a single film, this would undoubtedly be the prime example. The Lighthouse stars Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe as the sole watchers of, well, a lighthouse. As their time near the raging sea begins to pass, each respective person start exhibiting symptoms of being driven closer and closer to madness.
While this all certainly sounds like a fairly simplistic setup, it's in the execution in which The Lighthouse displays its prowess. To start, Pattinson and Dafoe give performances that each sit comfortably in the upper echelon of acting supremacy, and a case for either actor taking top honors by year's end should be met with little, if any, resistance. The film has a deliberate, slow, pacing about it that may deter some viewers if they're seeking something a bit more 'traditional' by way of horror. Large spouts of the film can feel mundane, and outright monotonous at times. But it's in these sequences we're treated to exceptional cinematography, a masterful control over contrast and spacial awareness, and a visual moodiness that casts a dreadful sense of impending doom. As the two leads begin to come unhinged while tension runs high, I couldn't help but feel uncomfortably, yet acutely engaged to everything that was taking place on screen. To say much more, I feel, would be revealing too much about what the film has by way of surprise. If you're up for watching something that's maybe a bit quirky in terms of visuals (4:3 aspect ratio, black and white), your reward is a near uncontested display in acting skill (times two), and a trip into the human psyche that may leave you buzzing until long after the credits roll.
Zombieland: Double Tap: 7.5/10
Do you remember Zombieland? Yes, 2009's Zombieland. Because that was a long time ago. I don't mean it to sound condescending in any way, but Double Tap does feel exactly like what you'd expect from a film that's a direct sequel to something that came out 10 years ago.
It may be hard to imagine, but the zombie landscape back then didn't have a metric fuck ton of The Walking Dead, and the times were, in a good way, quite a bit less complex. Double Tap feels right at home in the 2012-2014 range, yet it's, strangely, coming out in this day and age. The sequel to the surprise hit of yesteryear comes off as fairly safe, but at the same time, feels a bit refreshing. Like visiting home after a long time away, it's easy to remember how good things used to be, but as soon as you cross the line of overstaying your welcome, the feeling immediately sours. Double Tap doesn't try to butter up a sequel to a 2009 movie with the murkiness of today's film landscape, and the end result feels like an honest and entertaining return to simpler times. If you remember liking the original, and wouldn't mind a harmless, no frills return to the zombie wasteland, it'd be hard not to recommend seeing this one. Plus, you get to see how ridiculous it is that a film of this genre managed to retain (and add to) a primary cast that has an absurd bevy of film accolades, plenty of which has been acquired since we last saw them all those years ago. (I honestly can't tell if Emma Stone acted in this film, or she's just that perfect for the role. Actually, the same can be said for all four leads. Huh.)
Jojo Rabbit: 8.5/10
Jojo Rabbit is a fascinating dichotomy that showcases wacky satire on a backdrop of historical fervor. For all intents and purposes, this shouldn't have worked out nearly as well as it did, but for some reason Taiki Waititi prancing around as a fictional caricature of Adolf Hitler ended up being one of the less oddball things that the film brought to the table. I hadn't heard of Roman Griffin Davis or Thomasin McKenzie prior to the film, but the two main leads play a metaphorical game of song and dance throughout the film that's as whimsical as it is heartbreaking. In support, the film also brings forth an audaciously star-studded cast consisting of the likes of Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell, Rebel Wilson, Alfie Allen, Stephen Merchant, amongst others. Despite having such a large ensemble of actors that could've very well individually held their own as leads, the pacing and usage of each feels both appropriate and satisfyingly sufficient. Archie Yates is also one of the many stand-outs of the film, almost echoing exactly what I'd imagine the relationship of a young Simon Pegg and Nick Frost would be like—that is to say, their childish banter coupled with youthful innocence acts as a periodic veil that distracts the mind from the atrocities that often take place parallel to their shenanigans.
From a presentation standpoint, Jojo Rabbit has some surprisingly beautiful and quiet moments throughout. Once the layer of comedy is peeled back, you'll find that the film brings forth a wealth of genuine heart. Balance that with imagery of terror, laugh-out-loud teary-eyed exchanges, and somber instances of silence, the film does not hold back when taking viewers on a ride through their own spectrum of emotions. From a traditional filmmaking (and storytelling) standpoint, Jojo Rabbit is closer to that of a two-act structure, rather than three which can, at times, come off as a bit jarring. The sudden flip of the switch to act 2 can very well be see as a deliberate tool to stifle viewers out of their once stagnant, yet comfortable state, but if I'm being picky, it does throw off the pacing by just a touch. Aside from that, you've got a film that does a whole lot of things very well, makes few mistakes, but also doesn't dare (too hard) to be bold. Unless you're strangely heading into the film expecting a near-flawless masterpiece, it's hard to image walking away from it any less than succinctly satisfied.
1-2: Horrendous, wouldn’t recommend watching even if free of charge.
3-4: Potentially has some good ideas, but overall still lackluster.
5-6: Average, a decently good time; go see it if it's free.
7-8: A solid recommendation, and well-rounded film; warrants a purchase after home release.
9: No glaring flaws; deserves to be watched multiple times.
10: Masterful, must-see; filmmaking at its finest.