“Mega Review- Ford vs Ferrari, Jojo Rabbit & Knives Out”

I’ll admit, it’s been a busy couple of weeks for me. Between work, apartment-hunting, and working on a short story, it’s been tricky to set aside enough time to see every new release each weekend and write thorough reviews about them. So for the next few weeks, I’ll be putting out reviews in clusters, probably two or three per set. I’ve got a lot of catching up to do, let’s not waste any time! 

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First up is a film centered around a sport that I know nothing- and could care less- about. Ford vs Ferrari is a sports drama directed by James Mangold, and tells the true story of a group of American designers and engineers determined to build the world’s fastest racecar. Led by automotive visionary Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) and hot-tempered driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale), the team races against the clock to produce a car with enough horsepower to beat the unbeatable Italian motor racing team, Ferrari, at the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Although I don’t care about sports in real life, I admittedly have a soft spot for good sports movies. And Ford vs Ferrari is a good sports movie. The acting is strong (especially from Damon and Bale), the cinematography is beautiful, and the racing sequences are enthralling. Though it does suffer from a pacing issue. The film gets off to a slow start, gains momentum during the second act, then concludes on a touching, albeit random note. Something pretty significant happens to one of the characters at the end, but instead of being given enough time to allow the event to resonate with the audience, it only makes up the last 10-minutes or so of the movie. Despite the unevenness, Ford vs Ferrari offers an interesting glimpse into a lesser-known part of the past. The film succeeds in pulling you into the world of motor racing and keeping you invested in the characters that inhabit it. And it’s cinematic quality makes the story seem all the more important. What else can I say? It’s a fun ride.

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If you’re not in the mood for drama, a comedy about Nazis might do the trick. Not sold by that sentence alone? Let me explain. Based on the novel Caging Skies by Christine Leunen,  Jojo Rabbit stars Roman Griffin Davis as Jojo Betzler, a young boy who lives with his quirky mother (played by Scarlett Johanssen) in Nazi Germany during the final stretch of World War II. Jojo is a devout Hitler Youth, so much so that he often speaks with an imaginary, childish version of Adolf Hitler (Taika Watiti). Complications arise one day when he discovers his mother is hiding a Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie) in the attic. As the two get to know one another, little Jojo begins to realize that everything he’s been conditioned to believe in may not be so true after all.

Jojo Rabbit is by far one of the most original war movies I’ve ever seen. Director Taika Watiti manages to walk a very thin line between the light and the dark. He embraces a lighthearted tone and yet doesn’t shy away from the harsh realities of war. The acting matches both tones very well. Roman Griffin Davis, Scarlett Johanssen and Thomasin McKenzie especially deliver endearing performances. The film cleverly uses dark comedy to highlight the absurdities of prejudice, blind fanaticism and child indoctrination. The jokes themselves aren’t knee-slappers, nor did the majority land for me. But they’re so clever that even when a joke didn’t stir a laugh out of me, I appreciated how well-written it was. Certain plot points- one involving Jojo’s older sister- aren’t as developed as they could’ve been, but again, the writing is solid enough that it was only a mild distraction. Overall, Jojo Rabbit is a unique war film with a lot of heart and a lot to say. If you have the time, I highly suggest you take the time to listen. 

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Last but not least is modern whodunnit from the beloved director of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Rian Johnson. Knives Out revolves around the death of world-renowned author Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer). As his combative family fights over who will inherit his fortunes and estate, a Kentucky-fried detective named Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), arrives on the scene. Although Harlan’s death was ruled a suicide, Blanc firmly believes there’s more to the story. In his eyes, everyone is a suspect, everyone has a motive, and he is determined to uncover the truth behind the Thrombey patriarch’s murder. 

At first glance, Knives Out seems like your typical Clue-esque murder mystery: a filthy-rich mogul is murdered, a group of colorful characters with various backstories come together under one roof, a detective fishes out the lone killer, blah, blah, blah. But a few minutes into it, you realize it’s anything but ordinary. The film is ingeniously executed. Everything about Johnson’s direction, writing and attention to detail is masterfully good. From beginning to end you feel like you’re being strung through an elaborate puzzle. Sometimes you’re let in on certain truths, other times you’re left wondering what was going on. The story constantly shifts from past to present, and each time it happens you learn something new about the characters or the situation. The best part is that it all unfolds at a steady pace, thus the film never feels too slow or too quick. The strength of the narrative is supported by a stellar ensemble cast (Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collete, and so on) and a great lead performance by Daniel Craig. Needless to say, Knives Out is an awesome movie. Its flaws are few and far between. If I had to nitpick, I’d say Craig’s southern drawl takes a little getting used to at the beginning, and a few of the family members could’ve used a bit more screen time and dialogue. But the elements that are good are so good that the weaker aspects seem minute. If you and your family find yourselves with nothing to do on a chilly autumn evening, I implore you check out this modern mystery. 

Cosmic Grades

Ford vs Ferrari: 4/5 stars

Jojo Rabbit: 3.8/5 Stars

Knives Out: 4.8/5 Stars

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