Unorthodox (Netflix series) directed by Maria Schrader. 2020.

With Shira Haas, Amit Rahav, Jeff Wilbusch.

the book

the movie

Esty does not know her mother, only the stories about her abandoning her to live outside the Hasidic community she grows up in. Esty lives with her grandmother and aunt, and at age 17 is mated in an arranged marriage to a boy named Yanky whose side curls are luxuriously long. Yanky looks terrified half the time. This lack of confidence lets his domineering mother take charge of him, including his sex life.

Williamsburg Brooklyn may as well be medieval Russia. The community is tightly bound to each other, dedicated to replacing the 6 million souls lost during the Holocaust. Esty’s job, once she is married, is to create one of these children.

Throughout the course of four episodes, we watch Esty grow up. Barely educated, she longs to learn music which is forbidden to women. She is indoctrinated in the highly restrictive, deeply misogynistic practices of Hasidim. Watching her learn how to think for herself is one of the pleasures of the series. The script, sets, and costumes not to mention the wigs and hair styles of the Hasidim have a feeling of authenticity. From what I read of the original basis of the novel the series is based on, the TV series improves on the narrative arc.

Music stands in for the freedom Esty craves as she runs away from Williamsburg and goes to Berlin in search of her mother.

Esty finds a group of musicians including this
attractive man to hang around with

Even though this is Shira Haas (Esty)’s series, the male actors match the skill of the leading actress. Esty’s husband is played by Amit Rahav whose sensitive face shows his duty to do what he is told, while wanting to please his wife. As Yanky searches for Esty in Berlin, he is accompanied by Moishe (Jeff Wilbusch), a raffish gambling addict who adds a secular flair to the cast.

The final scene of episode four hints at what is to come. I look forward to seeing more from this crew and cast.

Maria Schrader directed.

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The Bookshop directed by Isabel Coixet, 2017.

The Bookshop.png

with Emily Mortimer, Patricia Clarkson, Bill Nighy, Honor Kneafsey.

In a small British seaside town in 1959, an attractive widow named Florence Green (Mortimer) is determined to open a bookshop. Invited to tea by an upper class queen bee, Violet Gamart (Clarkson), Florence learns that Violet doesn’t want the old house turned into a bookshop, claiming that is too fast a transition from what it was, even though it has stood empty for six years. Later Violet claims she has designs on the house becoming an arts center.

The Bookshop 2017

Christine Gipping (Honor Kneafsey), twelve years old, a girl with an overgrown mop of curly red hair, begins the movie, as well she should, being one of the main characters. who comes to work in the shop.

A power struggle ensues between Florence the innovator– , and the stick in the mud –Violet , alleviated by the graceful ministrations of Mr. Brundish, an older widower/outcast, serious reader in the town (Bill Nighy). One of the pleasures of the movie is watching Florence tend to Brundish’s reading tastes, discreetly sending him new books to try, which he thoroughly enjoys.

The Bookshop | Movie review – The Upcoming

Watching the movie while holed up during the Coronavirus gave me book store lust. The images of people gathered around piles of books they could actually paw over should not have made me drool. Isn’t drooling for things you eat?

The books are the stars. They carry weight as flawed people, stuck in their imperfections and prejudices too deep to uproot, do not.

Bill Nighy plays the recluse whose presence necessarily brightens the dour unfolding of the plot. But just when you think the sad defeat of our heroine is over, just when she is on a boat pulling away from shore, there is victory. Wait for it. I’m not sure if it is the way the Penelope Fitzgerald book the movie was based on ends, but it is very satisfying to the viewer.

The Bookshop Lacks Real Conflict and Overlooks the Positive Impact ...

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The Half of It, directed by Alice Wu, 2020.

With Leah Lewis, Daniel Diemer, Alexxis Lemire.

The setting–  rural town with railroad station — plays an important role in the story. Who belongs and who doesn’t often figures into love stories. Isn’t that the whole point of Romeo and Juliet? The Capulets cannot accept the Montagues and vice versa.

in The Half of It (2020)

Leah Lewis and Daniel Diemer as Ellie who is constantly biking uphill and Paul who runs to catch up

Ellie Chu is  the only Asian in her school in a rural community.   Smarter than anyone else, she makes money on the side doing homework for her classmates.  When Paul, an oafish senior boy, hires her to write letters to his crush– the elusive Aster — it becomes clear that this version of Cyrano de Bergerac will veer from the straight sexuality of its predecessors.  The script features quotes from ancient philosophers, Camus and Sartre, giving it an intellectual polish; the adults are also intelligent unlike so many teen romances where the young people are the only ones who can figures things out.

in The Half of It (2020)

Leah Lewis as Ellie

Becky Ann Baker plays Ellie’s teacher who catches the female Cyrano in the act of writing a note

Sometimes friendship trumps romance and lends more poignancy to the proceedings.  The acting is subtle and subdued even with one very melodramatic scene in a church.  The movie made me think, an excellent sign. I was also severely entertained by the tone of the two leads who are direct opposites but yearning for the same love.  There is a sense of place, especially the shots of Ellie in the engineer’s booth at the railroad depot, that show how trapped she is in her responsibility to her father.  Her father moved to this small town as an engineer but found it difficult to manage because he was not fluent in English.  Ellie stands in for him,  and looks comfortable in her isolation as a mature, independent thinker and wage earner.  What a pleasure to watch a new talent — Leah Lewis — being directed by someone — Alice Wu– whose movies I will continue to follow.

in The Half of It (2020)

Leah Lewis and Alexxis Lemire beautifully photographed

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Badehotellet (Seaside Hotel) TV series (2013-2020). In Danish with subtitles.

Season One

Four or five families arrive for the season at a North Sea Danish hotel, returning patrons with a mix of personalities.  A young but confident woman named Fie, newly hired,  works in the kitchen.  Julius and Molly Andersen own the place, with Molly running the kitchen, and managing the four women who prepare the food, wait on table, clean and decorate the rooms, etc.  Julius, grumpy and enormous, drinks beer at all hours of the day, and pretends to know something about electricity which has fatal results.

Fie dominates from the beginning. Even though she is only 18, she proves precociously competent in managing all matters to do with the hotel.  Morten, a local fisherman,  is the local heart throb,  whose chickens get run over by Madsen, an arrogant businessman staying at the hotel, setting off a feud.

Other main plot points have one of the guests who belongs to the nobility being blackmailed, though his snobby parents erroneously think his debt is due to gambling problems.

Several deaths set future seasons in motion, leaving the ownership of the hotel in limbo, and Morten’s whereabouts unknown.

The show is beautifully photographed, including both the natural landscape with long horizons and heavenly light, and the interiors, especially meal preparations which put some of the current cooking shows to shame.

My favorite character is Edward Weyse, a tall, handsome, talented actor, sort of a combination of John Cleese and Raul Julia.  When he plays the piano and croons those hits from the 1920s, the period the show takes place, like “Making Whoopie,” life seems perfect.  Edward and Helene, another guest,  have chemistry that sends them in and out of each others’ bedrooms in farcical ways.  The series has an upstairs downstairs feeling to it, leavened by ironic dialogue, some comic situations.

Helene’s husband, Hjalmar, remains clueless, as he sits by the radio listening to reports of the worsening situation in Germany.   These historical tidbits weave themselves into the show, and keep the story grounded in its time.

A list of characters follows

The Madsens, led by Georg,  vulgar businessman with competitive streak, Theresa his wife, Amanda, aged 19, his daughter, tired of her virginity, and Vera, his younger daughter, perhaps 12, with a keen eye for observing things, and a taste for the macabre in literature

The Weyses, Edward, a renowned actor, and his pregnant (third) wife , Sibylle

The Frighs, led by Otto, another boorish businessman, and his neglected wife Alice and twin children, trailed by an incompetent nanny

The Aurlands, Hjalmar an older undersecretary in government, and his beautiful vegan wife, Helene

Olga Fjeldsoe, an inveterate bridge player, whose son, Adam, a naturalist, she is hoping to find a wife for

Count Ditmar, a nobleman with snobby parents who are in debt, and soon become beholden to the Madsens, who practically arrange the marriage of Amanda and Ditmar, even though he does not like women

Max, an architect hired by Georg to develop the land on the sea

Philip, an advertising man roped into the business scheme

The hotel workers include

Morten, a local fisherman who also happens to keep chickens

Martha, the cook

Edith, one of the maids with a lively tongue

Otilia, a maid jealous of Fie’s skills

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Week Six of Quarantine 2020: What to Watch

Everyone asks  what to watch, even more than what to read.  It’s curious how now that we have to stay inside, it is more difficult to decide what to watch while stuck there. There are so many choices, and ways to get at them.   You have probably seen all of these recommendations already.  But here goes.

At first, I lamented the last episode I had watched of the Great British Bake Off, but then remembered how much I didn’t like Prue, Mary Berry’s replacement as foil to the overly aggressive, negative Paul Hollywood.

The Great British Bake Off' as We Know It Is Over. What Comes Next ...

Paul Hollywood, Sandi Toksvig, Noel Fielding, Prue Leith



The Great British Bake Off - BBC One

Much prefer this cast, with Mel Giedroyc, Paul Hollywood, Mary Berry and Sue Perkins

When I read that Prue had left the show, I realized it was wishful thinking, and Sandi Toksvig, the female side of the comedian duo, is the one who has called it a day.  No announcements of when a new season might air.  But we have gone back and watched the early seasons, labeled on my Netflix account as “The Beginnings,” and I highly recommend them.  The baking show gives the contestants almost enough time (as opposed to cooking contests like Chopped where they have to run just to get the ingredients sorted) and a spirit of camaraderie rules over not just those competing for “star baker” but with the comedians who crack wise throughout.

Other shows I have been watching on Netflix:


Johnny Flynn, Antonia Thomas, Daniel Ings

Lovesick, 2016-2018, three seasons.

When Dylan learns he has chlamydia, he seeks previous sex partners to tell them, and in the process, a narrative of his romantic life, along with that of his roommates — Evie and Luke– unfolds.  I have been watching this because of my crush on Johnny Flynn, who played Knightley in the recent adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma.  It is a very silly show, but it is warm-hearted.

Kim’s Convenience 2016-present. With Paul Sun Hyung Lee, Jean Yoon, Andrea Bang.  The Korean-Canadian Kim family runs a convenience store in Toronto, headed by Appa and Amma.  Janet (Bang) is an aspiring photographer who helps out her parents, but Jung, an estranged son,  works at a car rental where some amusing supporting characters add to the humor.

Shows already finished, but that I enjoyed:



Derry Girls, with Saoirse Monica Jackson, created by Lisa McGee, two seasons beginning in 2018.  Catholic school girls in Derry Ireland try not to be outdone by a very witty nun in charge. Somehow they are able to admit a male cousin in the all girls school.  This show mixes  teen humor with the Troubles.  I grew up a Catholic school girl, even if not in North Ireland in the 1990s, and love its treatment of the nuns.

Ted Danson, Kristen Bell, Marc Evan Jackson, William Jackson Harper, Manny Jacinto, Jameela Jamil, and D'Arcy Carden in The Good Place (2016)The Good Place, 2016-2020, created by Michael Schur, with Kristen Bell, William Jackson Harper, Jameela Jamil, D’Arcy Carden, Manny Jacinto, and Ted Danson.

When mistakes are made concerning the afterlife, some less than good people are sent to the Good Place, and have to reckon with the consequences.  I especially enjoyed the early seasons when metaphysical questions were explored with Chidi, a philosophy professor. Whenever Maya Rudolph shows up, things improve as well.

Schitts Creek, 2016-2020. With Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara as Johnny and Moira Rose, parents of adult children David and Alexis played by Daniel Levy and Annie Murphy.  The Roses are down on their luck, having been bilked by their accountants in Los Angeles, and left with nothing but the deed to a motel in the middle of nowhere.  The four of them move in, and learn to adapt to the ways of normal people, even though Moira, the mother, has a wardrobe and wigs enough to fill an airplane hangar.  The dialog, supporting cast (including Bob Elliott as the mayor, Schitt) twist what could have been a smarmy tonally deaf satire into something almost sweet.  Eugene Levy and his son Daniel are the brains behind the show and that they can act out their roles seamlessly is part of the fun of watching.  But Catherine O’Hara’s accent and attitudes are what keep the laughs coming.

On Amazon Prime

Prime Video: The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel - Season 1

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, 2017- present.  Brought to you by Amy Sherman-Palladino’s  team, the one that made The Gilmore Girls such a hit, with the same sly wit and female centered stories.    A newly divorced woman comedian ala Joan Rivers (Rachel Brosnahan) breaks through in the early 1960s– with the help of her dogged agent, and a occasional boost from Lenny Bruce.  This show has amazing production values, and sometimes wants to become an all American musical.  With solid work from Tony Shaloub as Mrs. Maisel’s father.

Fleabag, created and starring Phoebe Waller Bridge who makes a pact with the viewer and dares you not to look away.  Two series, from 2016 and 2019.  A young woman living in London tries to keep up the coffee shop begun by her and her best friend who is no longer among the living.  The humor is dark and serious, and features the rivalry that can occur between sisters. The cast includes Olivia Colman as Fleabag’s father’s new wife.

Through PBS Masterpiece Watch Seaside Hotel: Season 1 | Prime Video

Seaside Hotel (1920s-1930s series set in a hotel on the North Sea with regularly returning guests from the upper classes, whose problems are those of the rich, but there is an upstairs downstairs feel to it with the maid service and kitchen staff having more complex lives than the guests– the reason we got addicted is the photography of the sea, the northern light that hits the sea in that part of the world during summer).  In Danish.

Also try this:

The New York Times is hosting something called weekend watch where viewers are invited to post comments on an old movie worth re-watching.  They began with Top Gun, followed by  His Gal Friday, and last Friday it was Groundhog Day‘s turn.  One thing I learned from the movie critic, Manohla Dargis, is that all streaming services are not carrying the same quality film.  Criterion Collection‘s (which provides  historically significant films in mint condition)  copy of His Gal Friday is far superior to that available on Amazon Prime.

Click on link to read comments on Groundhog Day.



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The Booksellers directed by D. W. Young, 2019.

Streaming at Film Forum’s Website

The Booksellers (2019)

Every documentary has a built in audience based on its subject.   I have always loved books.  Sitting in the theater with me as I watched The Booksellers were many others, including, I would guess, some who, like the people shown in the movie, make their living buying and selling books.  The movie profiles sellers, scouts, writers, archivists, and auctioneers.  The action begins with the Antiquarian Book Fair which takes place in the New York Armory every March.  Book scouts and dealers explain how their profession depends on those who still value the printed word as an object with a beautiful binding. In some cases, a book jacket can exponentially increase the value of a book.  Sadly, the internet has rendered many scouts jobless. The search engine has replaced the human on the hunt.

But just as pessimists seem convinced that their way of life has ended, young optimists crop up, opening shops like Honey and Wax in Brooklyn.  Fran Lebowitz declares that the only people she sees reading books on the subway are in their twenties.  Others proclaim the importance of diversity in the book trade and show collections of hip hop magazines and artifacts.  Kevin Young, director of The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, demonstrates the value of books and artifacts as a kind of discovery.

Headshot of Kevin Young. Young, with short hair and a beard, smiles at the camera; he wears a blue shirt and round glasses.

Kevin Young

Louis Cohen founded Argosy Books, which continues with his three daughters;  Ben Bass’ Strand Bookstore lives on under the direction of his granddaughter Nancy.  These two examples of family run book stores are not uncommon.

The Booksellers (2019)

Adina Cohen, Judith Lowry, Naomi Hample of Argosy

Rebecca Romney, a frequent guest on Pawn Stars, continues the tradition with her business, Type Punch Matrix.  There is nothing old school about what she does.  Feminists are taking the business on as well, and Caroline Schimmel has donated her collection of books and artifacts about American women in the wilderness to University of Pennsylvania.

Unfortunately, the movie does not identify who is speaking on screen.  I recognized Gay Talese as he appeared briefly at the beginning of the movie, but it would have been very courteous to us older folk, who probably comprise the main audience, if the filmmakers had dispensed with the new way of identifying everyone by first name only, and actually let us know who William Reese was before we saw the movie’s dedication to him (in a flash!) at the very end of the picture.  Thankfully, there is a website for the movie where you can find out the first and last names of all those featured, and locate their businesses and specialties.

The Booksellers (2019)

Fran Lebovitz is always worth listening to.

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Emma. Directed by Autumn de Wilde. 2020.

With Anya Taylor-Joy, Johnny Flynn, Bill Nighy.


It is hard to mess up Jane Austen’s good will toward her characters.  They mean well, and have back bone, and a support system that consists of either a loving sister or father, a close knit community of busy bodies, and at least one over reaching snobbish clergyman.

Emma is not nearly as charming as Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice. She has a domineering side that wants to control people’s behavior.  But her neighbor, Knightley ( so well named, as a chivalrous truth teller), sets her straight when she becomes meddlesome or vain.  The story of Emma, as she adjusts to life after her confidant/ governess/friend moves out of her household to get married, is one of of several matches, despite Emma’s misguided attempts, made without her interference.  Love reigns supreme.

Johnny Flynn plays Knightley

Mr. and Mrs. Elton, world class hypocrites

The settings are glorious, complete with manor houses in full regalia, including specialty cakes that are a foot high, several ball room dances, with many tables set for a six course meal, and exteriors with gorgeous trees set down in green landscapes.  One chestnut tree in particular seemed to deserve  its own cast credit.

The casting and acting are very good and so is the music. Knightley (Johnny Flynn) and Jane Fairfax (Amber Anderson) sing a touching duet together that moves the story along.  It turns out that Johnny Flynn is primarily a musician, so his turn at the violin is fairly convincing.  Music is carefully selected for maximum effect.

Bill Nighy is superb as the doddering father character, Mr. Woodhouse, a reliable comic foil.   Choreography perfectly captures the romance that begins to brew between the two principal characters.

The most affecting scenes occur without words, for instance, when the characters are dancing.  Even when Knightley lashes out at Emma for a terrible mistake she makes, it is her behavior afterward, silently, just when she is sitting on a window sill, and her father joins her, without saying anything, that speaks the volumes perhaps written by Austen on the page.

The ringlets adorning the women’s hair seem excessively fussy, and the high collars worn by the men threaten to choke them but these are both historically correct.  It makes me glad to live in a more easygoing time, fashion wise.  Still,  the costumes are absolutely exquisite.

very high collar, don’t you think?

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Portrait of a lady on fire (Portrait d’une jeune fille en feu) directed by Celine Sciamma, 2019.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire.jpg

With Adele Haenel, Luana Bajrami, and Noemie Merlant.

In 18th century France, Marianne is hired by Valeria, an aristocratic woman, to paint her daughter Heloise’s portrait.  Heloise has just returned from the convent, and her sister has just died.  Her mother seems eager to marry Heloise off to an Italian nobleman, and the painting will show the man what he is bargaining for.

Noémie Merlant in Portrait de la jeune fille en feu (2019)Marianne, first seen teaching a group of young women how to draw, has self confidence and poise as she instructs them.  As she is rowed to the island off the Atlantic coast of France,  her canvases fall in the water, but she has the strength and persistence to retrieve the box by jumping in herself, and swimming it back.  As the men exit and leave her on shore, she asks them where she is supposed to go, a rare bit of dialogue.  Marianne, hungry when she arrives, finds something to eat on her own without a word being spoken. Is a minimalism of dialogue taking hold of cinema?  Is it part of the post-literate age I associate with emojis and a lack of attention to detail in writing?

The movie is beautifully shot and costumes are not just there for effect, they speak volumes about the people who wear them.  When Marianne arrives at the mansion where she is to paint the portrait, she has only one dress, so sits naked, waiting for it to dry from her swim to retrieve her canvases.  The subject of Marianne’s commission — Heloise — had at one time worn a green gown, but refused to let the previous painter see her face.  So Marianne has to find the expressions by stealth, by posing as her companion.

The wild beach off the coast of Brittany has a character all its own, and breathes real life into all the scenes that take place there.  Heloise would like to swim and join in the beautiful motion of the waves, but the question of whether she actually can is fraught.

Since we are seeing everything through the painter’s eyes, it makes you observe very closely.  The cinematographer shoots many striking profiles of each woman’s face, how their ears attached to their chins, as Marianne had instructed her students.  A third major character, Sophie, is a friendly servant.  Sophie’s dilemma of needing to end an unwanted pregnancy dominates the middle of the film, and shows the women’s solidarity.

Noémie Merlant and Luàna Bajrami in Portrait de la jeune fille en feu (2019)

The movie focuses on indelible images formed in intimacy as the women fall in love with each other. The lighting is often fire-lit, by candles, and fires in the fireplaces that occupy every room of the house.  Music plays an essential role as well.  It expresses dramatically through Vivaldi’s “Summer” violin concerto the feelings of the protagonists.  Sophie seeks a solution to her problem during a wildly emotional recital of a capella voices at night, around a bonfire. It is at the bonfire that the title image occurs, when Heloise’s dress catches fire, an ambiguous moment.  Did it actually happen, or was it the culmination of a passionate feeling?

Adèle Haenel in Portrait de la jeune fille en feu (2019)

The image that haunts Marianne is of Heloise in her wedding dress

Movies are so often shot from men’s point of view, the male gaze.  It is refreshing to have a movie completely about the female gaze.  There isn’t a man in sight, but when I saw the movie, it was with a man, and he enjoyed it as much as I did, perhaps more, because as an artist, he appreciated the other thing the movie does very well: show the process of painting a portrait.

Valeria Golino and Adèle Haenel in Portrait de la jeune fille en feu (2019)

Heloise says good bye to her mother in gestures

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The Assistant directed by Kitty Green, 2019.

with Julia Garner, Matthew Macfadyen.

There are so many good things about this movie:  its clean narrative structure following a day in the life of a newly hatched college graduate starting a servant-like job in the film industry; the need for the audience to fill in the blanks when doors are closed and we have to decide what is going on on the other side; the attention to detail of an office in lower Manhattan with its kitchen brewing coffee, and male workers seeming to have automatic advantages over the female help.

Best of all is the casting of Julia Garner as Jane, her face betraying just enough of what is going on with her sleazy boss.  The camera dwells on how she has learned not to change expression,  her barely made up lips twisting just a bit as she is drafting apology notes about her behavior which clearly does not warrant apology, yet is necessary for her to keep her job.  The males in the office egg her on in the groveling tone of the notes, standing over her as she leans into her desktop computer in yet another self abnegating act.

Jane is dressed like a novitiate in a convent more than like an office worker, her virginal pink blouse showing the outline of her undergarment in the most discreet way.  She wraps her scarf around her neck as if to ward off sin.  After a while, we wonder if she really does need to be so self effacing, if her efforts to get along in the office really work.  She does the dishes people leave in the office sink, when  in plain view is a dishwasher, unopened.

All through the movie I wanted Jane to explode with righteous indignation at the menial labor she was doing: not just picking up the earring left behind by the latest casting couch victim, but cleaning the actual couch where the assignation took place.  That couch comes in for a laugh by the exclusively male producers who are allowed into the inner chamber of the directing executive to do something besides satisfy the sexual whims of the executive who occupies it.

The movie demonstrates  the injustice young women face in the  sexist enterprise of film making.  How little power this peon has as she tries to serve the industry.  The filmmaker stresses her careful behavior by showing how she keeps out of everyone’s way, especially while getting on and off elevators.  Jane always lets everyone else go first.

But overall, the experience of watching the movie, with its pathetic fallacy of demonstrating boring office life by making us suffer through so much tedium, did not make use of film’s great tools.  The  photography, editing, and overall treatment of this young woman’s day made me wonder when I could go home and have dinner.

When Jane actually is given something to say, the movie picks up momentum.  Concerned about a newly hired assistant — who quickly is tucked away into a high end hotel room– presumably with the never seen boss, who goes missing in action–  Jane visits Human Resources.  Here she hints at the suspected sexual abuse of the green newbie.  This scene has dramatic tension unlike anything else, partly through the excellent sparring with Matthew Macfadyen.

But soon Jane is back at her desk,  suffering through her day.  So too do we suffer by sitting through a dull and dutiful duplicate copy.  Her phone conversations with her parents in some distant place are pathetic.  Living in Astoria and taking an Uber to her job are not enough back story for us to learn anything about this young woman making the supreme sacrifice of self-respect to break into the business.  The movie made me reflect about what it was trying to say, and is worthy, and effective, and even ground breaking, but I did not enjoy it.

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Jojo Rabbit, directed by Taika Waititi, 2019.

With Roman Griffin Davis, Scarlett Johansson, Taika Waititi, Thomasin McKenzie, Sam Rockwell, Rebel Wilson

A mash up of farce, coming of age story, historical Holocaust fiction, love story, the movie made me feel so many things I was spent and exhilarated at the same time when I came out of the theater.

Waititi presents a Wes Anderson palate of picture book tableaux in the beginning as we get to know the protagonist– JoJo — a ten year old German boy who idolizes Adolf Hitler in 1945, just as Germany is about to lose the war.

JoJo narrates the story, whose passion for his hero is so intense, the infamous dictator appears next to him as an imaginary friend and speaks to him in broad comic tones that remind me a little of Dick Shawn’s over the top performance as an aggrieved Hitler in Mel Brooks’ The Producers. Waititi’s acting is not like anything I’ve seen before.  It reflects the dreams of a ten year old boy’s imagination, or is it just the brilliant creation of the man who wrote and directed the movie?

It holds the comic threads together, that and the burst of energy erupting from the peerless Rebel Wilson, whose every appearance is most welcome, as is the slyness of Sam Rockwell’s performance.

The story centers on JoJo’s joining Hitler Youth.  As soon as he begins training, he is injured in his attempt to throw a grenade, so he is relegated to posting signs and collecting metal for the war effort.  JoJo lives with his mother, Rosie (Scarlett Johansson), who urges him to have courage.   Rosie marches through the streets of her German town, head erect, “looking the tiger in the eye,” something she urges her timid son to do.  The screenplay has wonderful lines like that, as well as visual images that recur throughout the movie, — coming back to haunt you with an ironic sadness.

Each relationship JoJo has is beautifully drawn: the boy and his mother, JoJo and his best friend, Yorki, JoJo and Hitler.  Sam Rockwell plays Captain Klenzendorf, trainer of the Hitler Youth group, who has a tender relationship with his underling, Finkel,  and lends JoJo assistance when he most needs it.

Sam Rockwell plays a secondary but important role in the movie

A plot twist has a Jewish girl hiding in the attic, who lends JoJo a hand in making a book about the evils of the Jews.  She draws the pictures to illustrate things like the horned devils, the satanic creatures writhing, etc.  JoJo’s relationship with Elsa builds his character, and adds an element of pathos not existent in any of the others.

Echoes of Anne Frank, hiding in the attic

When the reality of the war finally arrives, beginning with the menacing Gestapo who snoop around the boy and his mother’s house, we know things will not end happily.  The farce switches gears, and the boy’s terror looms front and center.

The lead Gestapo is over 6 feet tall, and dressed more like a Baptist minister than a regulation Nazi

From the opening scenes that blur Beatlemania with Hitler- mania, to the conclusion when JoJo gets up the courage to leave the safety of his own house, all of the photography, music, casting, dialogue, pull together at the end to land the audience in a thoughtful mood.  JoJo can finally replace his imaginary friends with a living breathing one.  JoJo has looked the tiger in the eye, and gathered the strength to cast out demons less imaginary than the ones invented by Nazis.  Special praise goes to the young actor, Roman Griffin Davis, who is in practically every scene, and carries the picture.


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