JoJo Rabbit, and six more movies



Dec. 1, 2022

Today's movies are about the horrors of ordinary life, pirate radio, Adolf Hitler as a child's imaginary friend, boxing in outer space, sci-fi in suburbia, a firefighter who does nothing interesting, and a horror movie that's run from an office.

Arena (1989)
The Boat that Rocked (2009)
The Cabin in the Woods (2011)
Gremloids (1984)
Harvey Middleman, Fireman (1965)
JoJo Rabbit (2019)
Sorry We Missed You (2019)

The best of these is JoJo Rabbit, and the surprise outta nowhere is Arena.

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Arena (1989)

From schlock maestro Charles Band, this is a mishmash of two elements never before mishmashed: science fiction and boxing.

In the sport of inter-species boxing, it's been fifty years since a human has held the championship, but Steve Armstrong shows promise, and Claudia Christian (The Hidden) is a boxing manager who takes him under her wing. 

Armin Shimerman plays "Weezil," and Hamilton Camp, a lightly comedic actor I've always lightly liked, has fun playing the hero's scoundrelly sidekick who has four arms. The space aliens are an all-star collection of cheap but effective rubber masks and prosthetics. The training and fights are sort of a batty parody of Rocky stuff., and everything stops for a futuristic pop song that's so strange it works. This movie is not afraid to be weird.

The leading man (Paul Satterfield) is kinda hollow, but the inter-species boxing scenes are rollicking, the ending seems about right, and it's refreshing that Arena never pretends to be about anything but its silly sport and the people and bug-eyed-monsters who perform or profit from it.

Arena is totally a B-movie, but it's a knockout B-movie.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

The Boat that Rocked (2009)
a/k/a Pirate Radio

In the UK, BBC used to have a monopoly on broadcasting, and since the network was (and still is) run by stodgy old farts, BBC radio didn't play much rock'n'roll in the '60s. Britain is an island, though, so intrepid capitalists set up radio stations on ships at sea, targeting the island with pop music (and advertising).

That's what this movie is about, and I'd hoped for some feel for what that era was like, but accuracy was not on the moviemakers' agenda. I don't believe a single thing that happens here happened, except that there were illegal broadcasts from ship to shore. 

That said, it's good-natured and often funny, with several actors I like, none of whom get enough screen time, because it's a crowded ensemble flick.

The principal cast includes Nick Frost, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rhys Ifans, Bill Nighy, and Kenneth Branagh. Branagh plays a diabolical BBC executive who hires a sidekick — named Twat — to do whatever it takes to get the pirates off the air. 

Everyone on screen seems to be having a fine time, and Branagh is especially good, but the movie barely stays afloat, and seems mighty shallow for a story set at sea. It plays like a lowbrow college comedy without the college, but these characters are mostly in their 30s, 40s, and 50s, which tends to make their zany antics kinda sad. My guess is that the actual pirate broadcasters the movie is sorta paying tribute to were mostly in their 20s.

Also, a movie about rock'n'roll actually can have too many terrific rock'n'roll songs, especially when we only get to hear twenty seconds of most of them.

The Boat that Rocked was written and directed by the king of British feel-good movies, Richard Curtis (About Time, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Love Actually). Every moment is wacky and loud or fake sentimental, and it becomes exhausting.

It's a comedy with lots of laughs, so it gets a thumbs up from me, but I wanted a life preserver before it was over. 

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦  

The Cabin in the Woods (2011) 

A handful of college students are headed to a cabin in the woods, for a weekend of dope and horniness. If you've ever seen a horror movie, you know these kids — the tramp, the shy girl, the oh-so-cool guy, the stoner, and the token black guy who's always doomed.

So they think they're getting away to a cabin in the woods, but soon they're trying to get away from it.

The movie has all the screaming and bloody killings you'd expect, but it's from Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard, so there's an extra layer. Turns out that a couple of ordinary corporate suits — Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford — are remote-controlling events from their drab command center, and what that's all about is the actual horror here.

The story gets better as it goes along, and it would have to, because the first third, the standard horror stuff, is played so clichéd that it's a yawn. All the killing finally comes to life when we leave the cabin in the woods, and after that the movie plays for higher stakes.

Like almost any modern horror movie, there's far too much blood and gore, and none of the more subtle horrors that requires anything beyond your reptile mind. But the concept is clever, and there are some great moments and lines after the boring beginning.

It's good enough to earn a YES, but this could've been so much better if any of the five college kids had packed a personality for the trip.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Gremloids (1984)
a/k/a Hyperspace

This is a belated parody of Star Wars, but it's not set in outer space; that would be too expensive. It's set in suburban America, mostly, with some allegedly lovable hicks thrown in, and Lord Buckethead as Darth Vader.

I can forgive a lot in a movie, but if you're going to make a comedy, even a cheap comedy, something about it ought to be funny. There's one laugh in the entire film, and I'll admit it was a loud laugh lasting about fifteen seconds, but that's about it.

Writer-director Todd Durham later created the Hotel Transylvania cartoon franchise, which I've never seen a moment of. Is it as dumb and dull as this?

Paula Poundstone in a bikini stars, and Chris Elliott has a supporting role. The music by Don Davis is good enough to be in a much better movie.

Verdict: NO.

♦ ♦ ♦  

Harvey Middleman, Fireman (1965)

This is an odd movie with an independent vibe, but it's from Columbia Pictures, so I guess it's major league.

Harvey the fireman gets kissed by a woman he's rescued from a burning building, and fixates on her, pursues her, despite having a wife and kids at home.

Harvey comes home from work, finds his wife kissing another man, and she calls him Daddy. 

Harvey wants to be a mentor to a rookie firefighter (Charles Durning, in his first role) who wants to be a priest.

Harvey had a crush on the librarian when he was in school, he says, and maybe they kissed, or maybe that flashback is Harvey's imagination. 

Harvey wishes several times that his wife would make baby pork chops for dinner, so I Googled and couldn’t figure out what baby pork chops are, or once were. 

None of this is played realistically, but it's also not played comedically. Harvey is simply a simple man, mildly unhappy, mildly lightheaded, who talks to the camera as much as he talks to the other characters. Even in his therapy sessions, he never says anything revealing, or particularly interesting.

If this is a drama, it's lighter than cheese puffs. If it's a comedy, I smiled once. If it's a metaphor, I missed it. 

Verdict: NO.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

JoJo Rabbit (2019)

What if Anne Frank had been a few years older and a major babe, hiding in a house in the heart of Nazi Germany, down the hall from a preteen boy who's in the Nazi Youth?

Well, it would be pretty damn funny if written and directed by Taika Waititi, and then it would gradually get less funny and more moving and as tragic as the history demands. And then it would end optimistically, while still playing fair with what actually happened (not like Inglourious Basterds).

The boy is 10, and his imaginary friend is Adolf Hitler (Waititi again), but his best friend is the Jewish girl in the attic. 

Nazis have been movie bad guys for eighty years now, so saying "Nazis are bad" in a fresh way — and making me laugh so hard at Nazis — is a remarkable achievement.

Let everything happen to you
Beauty and terror
Just keep going
No feeling is final.

—Rainer Maria Milke

The film is very loosely adapted from a stark and serious novel, Caging Skies, by Christine Leunens, which tells a similar story but without Waititi's hilarious imaginary Hitler, and with several elements ignored or altered by the movie. I do wonder what Leunens thinks of the liberties taken with her book, but mostly I wonder at the marvelous movie that's been made of it.

"Dancing is for people who are free. It's an escape from all this."

Verdict: BIG YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Sorry We Missed You (2019)

Ricky takes a job as a delivery driver, but it's not really a job — he's not an employee, he's an independent contractor.

Still, he has to be on time, drive an assigned route, make deliveries within a one-hour time window, and follow every company rule and regulation, or he'll be fined. And there's no sick leave, and no time off for any reason unless he can arrange a replacement driver.

Welcome to the modern hell of gig work.

His wife Abby's job is almost as awful. She's a home care provider for the disabled, but she's not paid any additional wage if she has to stay longer for a particular client, and if she responds to an emergency call it's an entirely unpaid visit. 

Their son is a good kid, but he gets into trouble sometimes, and needs his parents to show up for parent-teacher meetings, which costs lost wages the family desperately needs.

This is a British movie, but it could've been filmed on location anywhere, with hardly a word of dialogue altered. It's relentlessly sad, and reminds me a bit of Upton Simclair's The Jungle, without the meat.

The movie can't offer a happy ending, of course. No solution exists, until there's a government willing to outlaw such inhuman working conditions. 

Directed by Ken Loach. It's a very good movie, but too painfully real for me. 

Verdict: YES.

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Coming attractions: 

The Abominable Snowman (1957)
Charley Varrick (1973)
The Gardener (1973)
The Green Slime (1968)
The Handmaid's Tale (1990)
One Way Pendulum (1965)
Tuff Turf (1985) 


There are so many good movies out there — old movies, odd or artsy, foreign or forgotten movies, or do-it-yourself movies made just for the joy of making them — that if you only watch whatever's on Netflix or playing at the twentyplex, you're missing out.

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Top illustration by Jeff Meyer. No talking once the lights dim. Real butter, not that fake crap, on the popcorn. I try to make these reviews spoiler-free, but sometimes screw up, sorry. Piracy is not a victimless crime. Click any image to enlarge. Comments & conversations invited.   



  1. Sorry We Missed You would be worse in the USA because at least those English folks have their medical covered. Here, they likely would make just a bit too much money to have things covered, especially if they live in one of those red states that refused to expand Medicaid. I love Ken Loach because he does keep it real, but can also understand why that might not be the kind of entertainment people enjoy. -- Arden.

    1. Glad he made it, glad I saw it, glad to recommend it, Love Loach, and hope everyone sees that movie, but yeah, 'enjoyed' it seems like the wrong word.

      You do have me looking at his IMDB, though, and I'm adding a few Loaches to my list.


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