by Alan Yudman

On my list of great disappointments of the past 30 years (and there are many) one is that Eddie Murphy has not worked more. Oh, he’s done stuff. Donkey in the Shrek movies. The Nutty Professor showed off his ability to create characters (better than Tyler Perry). Other middling comedies here and there. Dramas like Mr. Church, that no one remembers (at least I don’t). Murphy’s last role that seared into my brain was his Oscar nominated performance as James “Thunder” Early in DREAMGIRLS. That is a void in our lives because Murphy is so incredibly good and versatile. I was pleasantly reminded of how much I’ve missed Murphy while watching DOLEMITE IS MY NAME.

This is the story about entertainer Rudy Ray Moore. A struggling comic who discovered success when he created the character Dolemite… a raunchy, rhyming, pimp-dressing spectacle. He’d swagger onto the stage and deliver jokes in a rhythmic patter that is obviously a forbear of rap. That launched a string of successful comedy albums, but Moore wanted something bigger. He saw a market for his brand of comedy in movies. So, he decided to make a one that would sort of fall in the “blaxploitaion” genre, but really was its own thing.

DOLEMITE IS MY NAME is Moore’s story of success… how he created the character, then through sheer force of will got a movie made. Or maybe it was stubbornness. Genius has a tendency toward blind faith. He borrows against future record royalties. It’s an arrangement that would leave him beholden to his record company for eternity. He begged, borrowed, schemed and lied to get his movie made and it was more successful than anyone could have imagined.

The script by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewki is good. The Craig Brewer’s direction is solid because it’s barely noticeable. He knows Murphy is the star and sets up a few “hero” shots that show off his star’s incredible presence.

This would have been a decent movie without Eddie Murphy. With him, it’s great. Murphy is simply a fabulous actor. The projects he chooses may not show that often enough, but when he has material equal to his gift he is a big bright shining star. His timing is impeccable (not surprising considering he is a fabulous comedian). He knows when he needs to “put his weight behind it” (an instruction he gives a drummer and several others in the movie). He is empathetic. You cannot help but root for the man he has brought to life. In case I haven’t made it clear yet, I absolutely loved this performance.

Everyone fills their supporting roles well. Wesley Snipes turn as the exasperated actor/director D’Urville Martin is nothing but fun. One quibble is with Keegan-Michael Key, who plays the screenwriter Rudy employs to write the film. I got the distinct impression he was acting. That is not usual for Key. While FRIENDS FROM COLLEGE was meh, he was very good in it. So this was a little disappointing.

Biopics can be a mess. Racing from event to event, feeling more like a chronicle than an actual story. DOLEMITE IS MY NAME does not suffer from that problem at all. This is a compelling story about a unique character. It doesn’t dwell on unnecessary back story. You get just enough of Rudy’s history to get what he’s about. It’s great to see Eddie Murphy in a great, meaty role. I hope we see more of him in films like this. It’s certainly is an early holiday present.


by Alan Yudman

One of the most unique voices in Hollywood belongs to Taika Waititi. WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS, BOY, HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE. And I believe he actually saved Marvel’s Thor franchise by making the Norse God comically self-serious and lightening the character’s tone. So a comedy about Nazi’s? Sure, why not? Well, apparently a lot of people said no. Waititi says it has taken years to get this made. But it so worth the wait.

JOJO RABBIT is a masterful look at one boy’s life in Berlin as World War II is coming to an end and the Nazi regime of Adolph Hitler is being torn down. JoJo (Roman Griffin Davis) is a 10-year-old wannabe Nazi. He says all the right things and wears the right clothes. But as one character points out in the film Jojo isn’t a Nazi, he dresses up in a funny uniform because he wants to be part of a club. His brain says Nazi.. his heart isn’t in it. Jojo lives alone with his mother (Scarlet Johansson). At the start of the film he is off to Nazi youth camp where it is proven that he is more frightened rabbit than killer wolf. He is wounded by a grenade and while at home recovering, he discovers his mother is hiding a young Jewish girl named Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) in the walls of their house.

That is where the story really takes off. Jojo is faced with having to get to know a Jew and his only frame of reference is the stereotypes he has learned from Nazi propaganda. His mother tries to teach him that life is about more than Hitler’s hate filled rhetoric. You have to dance, listen to music and live. But it is through his relationship with Elsa that he learns the Nazi philosophy is complete bull.

Now that sounds pretty rote. The basic themes are certainly, well, basic. But it is way Waititi tells the story that makes this an absolutely wonderful journey. One reviewer said this is very silly until it isn’t. I think that is correct. Waititi’s humor is big and broad. The opening credit sequence is done to a German version of The Beatles “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” and is shot and edited of a piece with A HARD DAYS NIGHT. Madcap wouldn’t be a wrong description. Waititi himself plays Jojo’s imaginary friend Adolph… as in Hitler. His performance is pure comic genius. I couldn’t stop laughing at everything he says and does. But Adolph is the evil voice on Jojo’s shoulder. His worst angel. When Jojo wavers on his beliefs, Adolph drags him back.

That is just one of several marvelous performances. Sam Rockwell as a German Captain who is in charge of the Hitler Youth camp is just fantastic. His welcome speech should earn him a supporting actor nomination. Rebel Wilson is genius as female camp counselor. Johansson is touching in the role of Jojo’s mother. And Stephen Merchant as an SS officer is spectacular.

But the two people who have to carry this movie are Davis and McKenzie. And they are both absolutely stellar. McKenzie proved her bona fides in last year’s marvelous LEAVE NO TRACE. So she knows how to command a scene and a movie. The 11-year-old Davis is remarkable. He is in just about every scene and you cannot take your eyes off of him. It’s an incredible performance. Subtly human, funny and heartfelt at the right moments.

The film takes a sad and dark turn near the end, but it is not shocking or out of left field. It is one of several times while watching where you may pull out a handkerchief to dab your eyes. Speaking of eyes… Waititi uses the eaves of homes in a town square where “traitors” are hanged to simulate eyes. Like the town is watching the wrong that is being done. Shoes are also big in the movie. Johansson has very unique footwear that Waititi trains his camera on several times because it will be important later. Jojo hasn’t learned to tie his own shoes and while it could be bit of an eye roll, you know he’s come to the end of a journey because he ties someone else’s shoes. It all worked on me.

History has taught us Hitler and his followers were foolish, evil men. So, every Nazi in is portrayed as a fool. Is Waititi commenting on the growth of Neo Nazis in 2019? Maybe. They are dangerous fools. But JOJO RABBIT is about more than that. It’s about friendship, growth and a young boy learning what life is really all about.


by Alan Yudman

One of the big themes of the Democratic Presidential primary is the income or wealth gap. Candidates like Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Andrew Yank point out that it continues to grow wider. A few billionaires control an inordinate amount of wealth in the United States. It is an idea that started with the Occupy movement and has now gone mainstream. It has also been the subject of some art but none more successfully connects the issue with entertainment than Bong Joon Ho’s PARASITE.

A family living in Seoul is so poor their phones and internet get turned off. They resort to anything to make money, including folding pizza boxes for a nearby restaurant. The parents seem beaten down by failure. The son is too nice. The daughter always seems to be looking for an angle to play. They seem to be four lost souls looking for an opportunity to make easy money. Then it comes their way. A friend of the son gets him a tutoring job for a wealthy family even though he’s not really qualified. They counterfeit papers and he lies to get the job. The son sees it may be possible to bring in the rest of his family. He lies to get his sister in as an art tutor for the wealthy family’s younger son. They set up the family’s chauffeur to get him fired and move the father into that job. Then they scheme to get the family maid fired and create an opening for the mother. But that’s where it all goes sideways.

That’s about all I’m willing to reveal about the plot. Anything else would spoil the surprises that make this movie so special. Bong has told this story of those with less fighting against the establishment (see Snowpiercer). But this isn’t a bleak vision of a dystopian future. This is a plausible portrayal of a family struggling against the class structure. It’s not like they aren’t trying. They have had jobs that have gone away. They cannot catch a break. Failure begets failure. Society is structured to prevent them from becoming successful. Now before you think this is a sullen, depressing slog… it’s not. This is a very funny movie. Bong uses humor to create empathy with the central characters. The wealthy family is portrayed as pleasantly clueless about their place in the world. PARASITE is at times a raucous farce of a film. Kind of a Korean version of Charlie Chaplain.

The movie is subtitled. I feared the humor would be lost by having to read the jokes, but it works. The actors are fantastic. Bong’s script is smart, funny and moving. The cinematography is fabulous. The camera placement is everything and where Bong places the actors in those scenes is just brilliant.

But when it all goes to shit, it becomes disturbingly and surprisingly violent. The violence fits. You can see how the desperation escalates into a bloodbath. In the end, no one is really happy. Some aren’t even alive. Initially I believed the title PARASITE referred to the central family since they worm their way into the wealthy family’s lives. But after giving it some thought I believe income inequality is the PARASITE Bong is talking about. If you have a society built on a wage gap, it is a PARASITE festering that either needs to be eliminated or it will wind up killing things you love.



by Alan Yudman

JOKER is either the best movie ever made, or an overrated piece of crap. As usual, the truth lies somewhere in between. It is a film that starts dark and just keeps getting darker. It is unrelentingly bleak. Every time you believe that maybe, just maybe Arthur Fleck has found a way out from under his own mental illness, the world turns on him.

There are undeniable parallels to KING OF COMEDY. A struggling comedian becomes obsessed with a beloved pro. As the fandom turns to obsession the main character falls prey to his own psychosis. To further the parallel in King of Comedy Robert De Niro is the fan… in JOKER he is the target.

The commentary on society is undeniable. The mentally ill are ignored or given the least amount of attention possible. The wealthy present themselves as entitled jerks who don’t care a whit about most people. In interviews around the release of the movie Director Todd Phillips commented he no longer can make comedies because of “woke culture”, people are too easily offended. Explaining how silly that is seems beside the point. Phillips just can’t make the bro comedies (The Hangover movies for example) that he did when he was younger. Whatever Todd. But he seems to be taking a shot at all the wokeness. De Niro’s Murray Franklin makes fun of Arthur which sends him spiraling deeper into madness. A sort of, “see what happens when people become too offended, they go nuts!” Again, whatever Todd.

Joaquin Phoenix is unbelievable. As an actor he is willing to transform himself emotionally and physically, much like his co-star De Niro. He lost a ton of weight for this role. He is emaciated and gaunt. His physicality as an actor is something to behold. He just doesn’t “act” crazy, he moves crazy. Watching him run you think to yourself, “yup… dude is not well.” It’s such a wonderful performance that at points you really feel for Arthur even as he falls deeper into madness. Is what we are seeing real? Or are we so deep inside Arthur’s insanity that even the audience can’t even tell what is real or what is not. The audience is on board the crazy train right next to your main character. It’s a powerful and unique way to build a connection with your main character.

The music cues are either on point or eye rolling. I’ll leave that to you to decide but I didn’t even notice it. The visuals of the movie are mostly grey and dirty which adds to the bleakness. The only real color enters when Arthur fully embraces his transformation to Joker.

This is a depressing take on an origin story. Some have lumped it into the Superhero genre. While that is clearly what Phillips is counting on that connection to draw you in, it is not at all of a piece with a Marvel or DC film. This is a drama about someone losing their mind. It is powerful and disturbing. It took me weeks to come to terms with its themes and now that I have, I am all in. JOKER is definitely worth your time.