Tag Archives: Stephen Merchant

Jojo Rabbit (2019) Review

Time: 108 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Violence & content that may disturb
Cast:
Roman Griffin Davis as Jojo “Rabbit” Betzler
Thomasin McKenzie as Elsa Korr
Taika Waititi as Adolf Hitler
Rebel Wilson as Fräulein Rahm
Stephen Merchant as Captain Deertz
Alfie Allen as Finkel
Sam Rockwell as Captain Klenzendorf
Scarlett Johansson as Rosie Betzler
Archie Yates as Yorki
Director: Taika Waititi

Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) is a lonely German boy who discovers that his single mother is hiding a Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie) in their attic. Aided only by his imaginary friend — Adolf Hitler (Taika Waititi) — Jojo must confront his blind nationalism as World War II continues to rage on.

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Jojo Rabbit was one of my most anticipated movies of 2019. I like Taika Waititi’s movies and so I’m always interested in what he’d do next, even with a premise as strange as this one (of course it definitely seemed like something he’d be able to pull off). The cast is also great with the likes of Waititi, Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell and more involved, so naturally I was looking forward to it. I really liked Jojo Rabbit, and so far I’d say that it’s my favourite of Waititi’s movies.

Jojo Rabbit is a mix of comedy and drama, mostly the former. It’s also a coming of age movie, albeit a very unconventional one. Taika wrote the script, and you can definitely tell that this is one of his movies, so it’s his type of unique comedy throughout. If you’ve watched his other movies (and I mean Boy, What we Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople, not just Thor Ragnarok) and you really like them, I’m pretty sure you’ll vibe with Jojo Rabbit as well. If you just can’t get into them however, you’re probably not going to be able to get into his latest movie either. Personally, it worked for me, and basically all the jokes hit for me. On top of that, a lot of the movie is absurd and it’s meant to be that, with this movie being a satire after all. With that said, when the does movie gets serious and emotional, it does deliver. It doesn’t shy away from the seriousness of it at points, especially towards the last third of the movie. With it being a movie about Nazis and Hitler, there’s no way it’s going to stay funny all the way through. Despite being hilarious and over the top, Jojo Rabbit doesn’t forget what it is, a anti-war and anti-hate satire, and there’s a lot of heart behind the movie. Honestly for a movie that could be incredibly absurd, it really is an achievement that Taika managed to pull this off because it’s no easy task balancing it all out. I know that some people might be complaining that for whatever reason it’s not a scathing enough condemnation of fascism, I can assure you that the movie makes it clear that Nazis are bad.

The cast all bring their A game to their performances. I believe this is Roman Griffin Davis’s first performance, and for a big screen debut, he’s great in the lead role. He’s very convincing as this 10 year old boy who also just really wants to be a Nazi, who of course goes through some changes over the course of the movie. So much of this movie is riding on the actor working, and he’s in almost all of the scenes of the movie. He brings the emotion, comedy, self seriousness and innocence that this character needed to have, and Griffin Davis definitely delivered that perfectly. Honestly one of the best child performances I’ve seen. Equally as great was Thomasin McKenzie, the Jewish girl hiding in the attic, she really was outstanding and a highlight from the cast. She and Davis share great chemistry together. Of course when it comes to performances of the movie (and the movie in general), a lot of people will be talking about Taika Waititi as Jojo’s imaginary friend version of Adolf Hitler, played here as a complete buffoon and is hilarious. He’s not really the focus of the movie but he definitely steals the scenes whenever he’s present. Scarlett Johansson gives one of her best performances in a while as Jojo’s mother, Sam Rockwell as usual is great whenever he’s on screen. Other actors like Alfie Allen, Rebel Wilson and Stephen Merchant play their roles well. Archie Yates also deserves a mention as Jojo’s friend who’s hilarious whenever he’s on screen.

Taika Waititi’s direction is great as usual. The cinematography is stunning, and at a lot of points feels very much like a Moonrise Kingdom/Wes Anderson movie. Like with the script, the direction for the dramatic and comedic scenes are both played out very well. It has stylistically some larger than life moments straight from a child’s perspective, as well as a couple moments appropriately planted in realism.

With a fantastic cast, and Taika Waititi’s great writing and direction, Jojo Rabbit is one of my favourite movies of the year. It’s a hilarious and entertaining yet emotional and heartfelt movie that successfully balances its tone out well, managing to pull off its absurd premise. Definitely worth a watch.

The Girl in the Spider’s Web (2018) Review

Time: 115 Minutes
Age Rating: 860949[1] Violence, cruelty & content that may disturb
Cast:
Claire Foy as Lisbeth Salander
Sverrir Gudnason as Mikael Blomkvist
LaKeith Stanfield as Edwin Needham
Sylvia Hoeks as Camilla Salander
Stephen Merchant as Frans Balder
Vicky Krieps as Erika Berger
Claes Bang as Jan Holtser
Director: Fede Álvarez

Fired from the National Security Agency, Frans Balder (Stephen Merchant) recruits hacker Lisbeth Salander (Claire Foy) to steal FireFall, a computer program that can access codes for nuclear weapons worldwide. The download soon draws attention from an NSA agent who traces the activity to Stockholm. Further problems arise when Russian thugs take Lisbeth’s laptop and kidnap a math whiz who can make FireFall work. Now, Lisbeth and an unlikely ally must race against time to save the boy and recover the codes to avert disaster.

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Let’s just say that I had some very mixed feelings going into The Girl in the Spider’s Web. I loved David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, it was so well put together and Rooney Mara was a perfect Lisbeth Salander. I haven’t watched the Swedish trilogy but I’m sure it’s great as well. Let’s just say that I was a little ticked off that not only was Sony skipping the adaptations of the second and third books, none of the cast or Fincher would be returning to be a part of it, really a wasted opportunity. But despite this, I decided to give this newer movie a chance, I decided to treat it like it’s the own thing. It still had some talented people involved, with Claire Foy and Sylvia Hoeks starring and Evil Dead remake and Don’t Breathe director Fede Alvarez helming the movie. Even when I put Fincher’s version out of my mind, things still weren’t looking all that great from the trailers, seeming more like a generic action thriller and looked like it was turning Lisbeth Salander into a superhero or a spy. I just had a really bad feeling about it but I still decided to check it out for myself. Long story short it ended up being better and worse than I thought it would be, with much of my fears of the movie coming true. The Girl in the Spider’s web definitely has some good parts to it and is entertaining but it is held back by a script and story which is trying too hard to be an action spy movie. Ultimately it doesn’t work as a Lisbeth Salander movie and it doesn’t work that much better as its own movie either.

The Girl in the Spider’s Web is better when seen on its own, in that when it comes to the plot/writing, I’m going to talk separately about it as a sequel/reboot, and then as a movie. First of all, it is based off of The Girl in the Spider’s Web book, I know that they changed some things but I haven’t read the book so I can’t exactly comment on how much was changed and whether it was for the better or worse. Sony was really trying to push the movie as a sequel to the Fincher film, to the point where the title is really ‘The Girl in the Spider’s Web: A New Dragon Tattoo Story’ (no way anyone is calling it that), which is a terrible idea because it’s a reboot with a completely different tone and takes on characters. Let’s just say for this movie, I’m glad that none of the original cast returned for it, because they would be completely out of place with this story and what’s being done with the characters. Whereas the Fincher film, presumably the Swedish movies and the previous 3 books were more dark mystery thrillers, this is a straight up action spy thriller. This movie all surrounds FireFall, a computer program that can access all nuclear weapons ever (and I mean like worldwide). This is far removed from the gritty and grim stories from the books, and is an attempt at being an espionage spy movie. Though to be fair, part of that falls on the writer of The Girl in the Spider’s Web book, David Lagercrantz (not written by the original trilogy of novels Stieg Larsson). Where Stieg Larsson explored trauma and the emotional pain that Lisbeth Salander suffered from, Lagercrantz pretty much tried to make a spy story with Lisbeth Salander, so it’s not all the screenwriters’ fault, it’s just they leaned in heavy with the spy aspect, maybe a little too much. Thankfully there isn’t a sequence where Lisbeth has a limited amount of time to press a button to stop all nuclear weapons from launching or anything like that, but it nonetheless feels a little silly. The silliness doesn’t just stop at the plot though, the movie itself has some pretty silly moments. I mean like at the end of the first act, you see Lisbeth drive a motorcycle off a bridge onto a frozen pond and drive to the other side on ice (which has no friction by the way) without the ice completely breaking under the weight of the motorcycle. The other stories are usually set in some form of reality but Lisbeth here is pretty much flawless with everything, especially hacking anything, doing impossible things. As for Lisbeth herself… I’ll address that when I talk about Claire Foy’s performance, because there’s a lot to talk about. The story is really sanitised as well. I don’t need to have like 5 graphic rape scenes or anything, but the general vibe of the story and scenes doesn’t feel right. It feels like they were trying to make it as accessible as possible for the general audience, while it certainly is more accessible, I don’t think it was really worth it. Honestly if you tone down some of the blood, violence and language, The Girl in the Spider’s Web could easily pass as a PG-13/M rating movie. Again, graphic content doesn’t guarantee that it will be good, but sanitising it to make it more into a conventional blockbuster removes a lot of the series’ identity.

Treating the movie on its own, I’ll say that you’ll enjoy the movie much more if you haven’t watched the other movies or read the books. There aren’t any references to the previous movies or stories, so its not like you’re missing a lot. With that being said, since this movie doesn’t really explore or develop Lisbeth and Mikael, you’ll feel like you are missing some bits of story with them. I will admit that the first act started off okay, it had some silly moments and issues but I was enjoying it and I was on board with what was going on. After Lisbeth manages to survive an explosion however, from that point onwards the movie started sinking in quality, with occasional brief sparks of potential and solid moments. I was personally entertained throughout but it’s not because of the story by any means, the story itself is not really interesting, the writing is very messy and given Fede Alvarez and Steven Knight’s prior work, I’m not sure what happened here. The movie feels very repetitive, Lisbeth achieves something, there’s a convenient set back, rinse and repeat. There’s also nothing particularly compelling in the movie, the characters aren’t interesting and don’t progress or change at all(not even Lisbeth), the story is really predictable (there really weren’t any surprises at all) and you just don’t care about what’s going on with the characters or the story. Every time they start to add some emotional weight to the story, they cut it off too quickly by either moving on with the plot or jumping to an action scene. This is a movie that is all plot and no characters, the movie merely uses the characters to progress the story forward and that’s it. It’s almost like what we have here is an adaptation of a pretty decent first draft of the actual script that needed more revisions with depth before filming. By the end of the movie, you don’t care who ends up with FireFall, you’re just watching what’s happening with no investment in the story or the characters. There are a lot of conveniences as well, whether that being everything somehow working in favour for Lisbeth (or she’s superhuman, that seems equally likely) or things that could’ve been easily stopped holding her back from sorting out all her problems quickly. It’s worth noting that every character outside of Lisbeth is not smart at all, and there are many moments showing all of this. One of the most unintentional funny moments was when Mikael makes a breakthrough in his investigation… because he’s told by someone that a word that he found out is Russian. In fact there are many moments which are unintentionally funny. One of them was in the third act that involves a car crash, which is so absurd and anti-climatic that I couldn’t believe that the writers actually did that (you’ll know what I mean when you see it). Then there’s a bag scene that takes place in a hospital that’s so… bizarrely convoluted and randomly hilarious. I will say to the movie’s credit, some of its absurd moments did at least make the experience more entertaining. Thankfully this movie moves at a fast enough pace that it doesn’t give you a chance to be bored. Even when seen as its own movie, The Girl in the Spider’s Web still has a bunch of issues but it’s slightly less frustrating than when you consider it a part of the Lisbeth Salander series.

Claire Foy is one of the two main reasons this movie still manages to be somewhat okay. She does give a good performance as Lisbeth Salander, and she really does elevate her character. Now I say this, but it really is a bad sign when an actress playing Lisbeth Salander has to elevate the character, because it means that she wasn’t well written, which is the case here. There is problems with her character and it has nothing to do with Foy, again she elevated the writing of her character, giving it more than it deserved. This version of Lisbeth Salander is like people saw a brief summary of her, reading about how she rides a motorcycle, she’s a hacker, wears black and has a bit of a dark past and most of all that she’s ‘cool’ and they just ran with that. It’s such a shallow interpretation of this very unique character. I knew there was cause for concern when Fede Alvarez compared Lisbeth Salander to Batman, aside from the fact that one doesn’t compare Lisbeth to other characters (you compare other characters to Lisbeth Salander rather), but she is her own character and thing, and they shouldn’t be trying to make her like a superhero. Despite it delving into her past (for like the second half of the movie) we don’t really get to learn much more about Salander, and we don’t see her develop over the course of the story. Like with the story, they really did hold back with the disturbing aspects about her. By lessening the darker aspects and making her easier to like, you remove much of her uniqueness and you make her into a 2 dimensional ‘strong female character’ (and by that I mean the almost most generic version of a ‘strong female character’ that you could come up with). All the complex and disturbing aspects of Salander have been trimmed down so that she would appear as a rigid, selfless and more heroic character, and a result this made her a more boring character. Like I mentioned earlier, she fares better when not seen as Lisbeth Salander and rather as another character entirely, but she still feels lacking in some interesting aspects for other audiences to really latch onto her completely. She doesn’t really become one with the character of Salander, seeming to more imitate the persona more than anything. This is the only time I’m going to compare the other Lisbeths to Foy’s but the other versions seemed really intimidating and you don’t see the actress but rather the character they are being. Claire Foy’s version looks punk and ‘badass’ and all that but there’s not really a big presence with her it, not really intimidating, and you just see Foy playing the character more than actually being her. Claire Foy deserved a lot better than this, in a better written role, she could’ve been even better. I will say that Claire Foy is believable in the physical and action sections, she handled these scenes greatly. Foy’s performance thankfully elevates the character and movie quite a bit, on the whole though, this new interpretation of Lisbeth doesn’t add anything new or interesting, aside from doing more action and being more funny I guess…? (if you classify making a program flip the bird after hacking something or filling a bag full of dildos funny, no really, that happens in the movie as well).

The rest of the cast just didn’t work as well as Foy, it’s not their fault however, its more so the writing of their characters and how they were utilised in the story. Mikael Blomkvist is an important character in the books and the prior movies, with him pretty much being the secondary lead along with Lisbeth. In The Girl in the Spider’s Web however, he’s more of a supporting player. He actually did more in the plot than other reviews of this movie have implied, but it still feels weird for him not to do much. Him ‘doing stuff’ in the movie is him basically doing research and investigating certain things, though it’s so small and easy for him to do that you could’ve almost given the scenes to Lisbeth and just cut him out of the movie entirely. It’s like he’s only here because he’s an important character in the books and they had to come up with some things for him to do. I guess there wasn’t a huge problem with him being in a supporting role (outside of it being jarring), but outside of his first scene, it’s like he’s not nothing going on in his life at all, like Lisbeth and what she’s doing is the only thing he’s really focussed on throughout the movie (as I said ago with this movie, all plot, no characters). What is a bit of a problem is that the whole Lisbeth/Mikael dynamic doesn’t feel real or genuine at all. It’s mentioned a few times in the story that they had history together but the way they act it’s like they only just met, there’s no chemistry between them whatsoever, so the scenes when they interact with each other just fall flat. With that said, actor Sverrir Gudnason still does his best with this role, he’s definitely not the problem here. LaKeith Stanfield plays an NSA agent tracking Lisbeth after she steals FireFall. Stanfield does a good job with his performance but his character for like half the movie feels rather pointless, he’s trying to get to Lisbeth but not even getting anywhere close, constantly failing and so you’re left to wonder why he’s even in the movie if he adds nothing to it. The only reason he’s even in the first half is to set him up for being somewhat involved with the plot in the second half, which is when he actually does things. Stephen Merchant doesn’t get to do a lot of anything here but he’s good with the scenes he’s in. Fresh off her excellent performance in Phantom Thread (one of the best performances of 2017 in fact), Vicky Krieps is in this movie… playing a supporting character’s (Mikael) love interest for like 4-5 scenes, with 3 of them actually having her talking, ultimately not really serving anything to the plot at all. One thing that I was looking forward to was the villain played by Sylvia Hoeks. I would refrain from spoilers but since the trailers have already spoiled it plenty of times (and it’s easy to figure out anyway in the movie) I won’t hide it either, she plays Camilla Salander, Lisbeth’s sister. Though I didn’t read the book, Hoeks sounded like a great pick for her character, especially after her scene stealing villainous performance in Blade Runner 2049. However, she is so incredibly underutilised in the movie. She shows up halfway into the movie, and for a character who shares such a history with Lisbeth, they needed more scenes together. Even flashbacks with the character in childhood would’ve added something. Camilla is not interesting, and is really just a ‘burn the world’ villain, all dressed up in bright red and all around she feels like a mid tier Bond villain, specifically like Christoph Waltz’s Blofeld from Spectre. The two have a lot of similarities, and just know that when I say that I mean that in a bad way (if you’ve seen Spectre, you know what I’m talking about). With some of the confrontation scenes between her and Lisbeth, you can tell that the movie wants you to care about what’s going on but there aren’t enough scenes with them together that you just don’t, so it falls flat. Particularly the most annoying scene is the final scene with them together, because had we cared about the two of them up to that point, it really could’ve been a very impactful scene but it wasn’t at all, I felt nothing. Sylvia Hoeks does play up the role and is good with what little she has, she may be a little over the top at times but at least she’s trying her best. I’m not sure how it’s possible for one film to mishandle absolutely every character they had (not to mention the very talented cast they had), but The Girl in the Spider’s Web somehow manages to achieve that.

Fede Alvarez was the other reason this movie manages to be okay. He was an interesting pick for the movies, known for his horrors with Don’t Breathe and the Evil Dead remake. I was a tad worried cos from the trailers the movie seemed to look like it Fincher-lite direction. However, he actually did a good job, though it does feel like he was held back a little. Earlier I was saying about how I was always entertained and that was because of Alvarez’s direction, he injects every scene with energy that has you paying enough attention to what’s going on. The cinematography by Pedro Luque looks beautiful as well. I will say thought that I’m a little disappointed that despite Alvarez’s previous films, we don’t really get much horror elements, except for maybe a couple moments in the third act. With that said, there are still some well directed moments, one of which is of Lisbeth directly after a fight in the second act. As much as I dislike that there is action in the movie (and a considerable amount of these scenes), the action scenes are generally filmed pretty well. With that said, there are some fight scenes which are a little hard to follow what’s going on sometimes, with some shaky cam and a bunch of cuts, and it can be frustrating.

The Girl in the Spider’s Web is such a mixed bag. On one hand, Claire Foy gives a good performance (despite being held back quite a bit by the writing) and Fede Alvarez does add a lot to the movie with his directing. On the other hand, without them the movie would’ve just been rather average and forgettable (or at least more forgettable than it is already). And all my problems don’t come from this the fact that it doesn’t have Rooney Mara, or David Fincher, or any of the 2011 film’s cast and crew, these are all issues that I have with it as a Lisbeth Salander movie and as a movie on its own. I know I’ve gone on about a lot of problems that I had (this review is definitely way longer than I initially intended it to be), mainly with it as a Lisbeth Salander movie, though I am aware that if you aren’t such a fan of the character or stories, this probably won’t bother you that much. With all that said, despite its many issues I wouldn’t say that it’s a bad movie per se, I was entertained more than I thought I would be and there are some legitimately good parts to is. If you haven’t read the books or watched the other movies but like how The Girl in the Spider’s Web looks, I’d say give it a watch, though it’s still got a lot of issues. I’m not quite sure what to say if you liked the other movies, except that if you are die hard fans of the books, you are probably going to have a ton of issues with the movie. I’ll just say that it’s not bad but not good either, and not the Lisbeth Salander or story that you know and love. If Sony tries to make another live action Lisbeth Salander story adaptation, I can say with certainty that it won’t be a film sequel to The Girl in the Spider’s Web.

Logan (2017) Review

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Time: 137 Minutes
Age Rating: 860949[1] Graphic violence, offensive language & cruelty
Cast
Hugh Jackman as James “Logan” Howlett/Wolverine
Patrick Stewart as Charles Xavier/Professor X
Richard E. Grant as Zander Rice
Boyd Holbrook as Donald Pierce
Stephen Merchant as Caliban
Dafne Keen as Laura/X-23
Director: James Mangold

In the near future, a weary Logan (Hugh Jackman) cares for an ailing Professor X (Patrick Stewart) in a hide out on the Mexican border. But Logan’s attempts to hide from the world and his legacy are up-ended when a young mutant (Dafne Keen) arrives, being pursued by dark forces.

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Logan was one of my most anticipated films of 2017. At the same time though, I was incredibly nervous. This film was going to send off Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart as Wolverine and Professor X respectively. This film needed to be perfect, or at least perfect in the way that it ended their stories. I am not exaggerating when I say that this is one of the best comic book movies I’ve seen. I know that I say this with many comic book movies, but this is like top 5 level. Logan truly blew me away.

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Make no mistake, although Logan is set in the X-Men universe, tonally it doesn’t feel like the previous X-Men films, or really any other superhero movie you’ve ever seen. It’s quite bleak, dark and much more smaller and personal, it’s not an end of the world type of story. It actually does have many themes of a Western. Now this movie is R rated, and it’s not just for the violence (which I’ll get into later), it’s also so that it can allow the filmmakers to tell a darker story, and I’m glad they did that. Don’t also go into this movie expecting a comic accurate movie. I won’t spoil anything but there are some differences from the comics, I was completely fine with it but I just know that some people won’t be. Comic accuracy is not the most important thing everything however. I can’t really find a fault in the story. I guess the second act is slower (at least compared to the first and third act) but I still liked it, and it allowed for some more character developing moments. As for whether Logan and Professor X and sent off well, I’ll just say yes, they pulled it off. The ending of the movie was perfect.

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Both Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart give magnificent final performances as their iconic characters. Both characters have clearly been through a lot and aren’t as optimistic as they were in previous movies. Their arcs were done incredibly well, especially Logan’s, it was the perfect arc to end his story. There’s a great new addition to the X-Men series with X-23/Laura, played by Dafne Keen. She’s definitely a showstealer, just in the way she acts, looks at people (she doesn’t even need to say any lines and we can tell what she’s thinking), and of course the action scenes. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing more of her in future movies. This is a character driven movie, and these three characters are done so incredibly well. Boyd Holbrook plays one of the Reavers hunting Laura down. He is really effective and quite entertaining but as the film progresses he sort of gets pushed more into the background. Other supporting actors like Stephen Merchant and Richard E. Grant are also good in their roles.

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The action is brutal and unrelenting and it is excellent. While the violence is bloody, it never felt excessive, it felt appropriate for the story that was being told. Unlike most comic book movies, Logan tries to make it’s action as realistic and smaller as possible and it pays off, don’t expect big explosions or planes falling from the sky. In terms of the stand out action sequence, I’ll just say that it’s in the third act. The cinematography I also should mention was also beautiful.

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Logan is truly a magnificent movie. Along with the brutal action and the great performances, the story works so perfectly. I haven’t seen a comic book movie like this, one that is willing to risk everything and deciding to create this story. I’m being vague because I want you to experience this movie for yourself without knowing too much about it. So yes, definitely check it out. Even though I’m praising this highly (like everyone else), I must emplore you to lower your expectations (high expectations usually result in disappointment). I will say though that no matter what you think of the overall movie, there would be no denying that Wolverine was given a perfect sendoff.