Jojo Rabbit

BLU-RAY REVIEW: 

Fox;
Comedy;
Box Office $33.31 million;
$29.99 DVD, $37.99 Blu-ray, $45.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for mature thematic content, some disturbing images, violence, and language.
Stars Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin McKenzie, Scarlett Johansson, Taika Waititi, Sam Rockwell, Rebel Wilson, Alfie Allen, Stephen Merchant, Archie Yates.

Writer-director Taiki Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit delivers what may be the most concise cinematic spoof of the Nazis since Mel Brooks’ The Producers.

The film has drawn some controversy for its flippant portrayal of the Nazi regime, but its dark humor succeeds mostly in demonstrating how irrational Hitler’s racial philosophies were. At its core, Jojo Rabbit is a screed against idolizing charismatic government figures who demonize others for personal power.

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Based on Christine Leunens’s book Caging Skies, the film tells the story of a 10-year-old German boy named Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis), who wants nothing more than to serve the Third Reich. Jojo has an imaginary friend in the form of Hitler (played with over-the-top aplomb by Waititi himself in the tradition of Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator), who constantly spouts Nazi talking points as motivation. At a Hitler youth camp, however, Jojo ends up accidentally blowing himself up with a grenade, scaring his face and rendering him unsuitable for most military duties other than running errands around the city as it prepares for the coming Allied invasion.

As Jojo recovers, he hears strange noises in his home and discovers a Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie) hiding in the attic, though he comes to realize he can’t turn her in for fear of the trouble it would bring his mother (Scarlett Johansson), though she is fervently anti-Nazi and a supporter of the resistance.

Inspired by an offhand comment by his youth squad’s commander (Sam Rockwell), Jojo studies the girl, hoping to write a book to help Nazi officers better recognize Jews in their mission to remove them from Germany. Some of the tropes spouted by Jojo and the officers in his company rival Borat in their absurdity. Over time, of course, Jojo ends up developing an affection for the girl.

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Focusing the film through Jojo’s perspective allows Waititi, who ended up winning the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay, to maintain a lighter tone for most of the story while veering into the more serious aspects of the subject matter when necessary, leading to a film that is both funny and emotionally affecting.

Waititi’s offbeat brand of comedy carries over into the Blu-ray’s bonus materials, particularly a very funny commentary track in which he starts off discussing the film by himself, but tires of that so he begins calling members of the cast to talk to about their experiences in making the film. It ends up being an interesting spin on the typical template for dispersing information in a commentary.

For a more traditional glimpse behind the scenes, there’s a half-hour featurette that delves a lot into the performances, sets and costumes.

The Blu-ray also includes nine minutes of deleted scenes, which is mostly extra footage of Waititi doing his shtick as Hitler, plus a three-and-a-half-minute outtakes reel.

Vudu, as it tends to do, offers a two-minute “Taika Talk” featurette with footage culled from other videos.

 

Game of Thrones: Season 8

DIGITAL REVIEW:

HBO;
Fantasy;
$19.99 SD; $26.99 HD;
Not Rated.
Stars Peter Dinklage, Emilia Clarke, Kit Harington, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Lena Headey, Sophie Turner, Maisie Williams, Liam Cunningham, Nathalie Emmanuel, Alfie Allen, John Bradley, Isaac Hempstead Wright, Gwendoline Christie, Conleth Hill, Rory McCann, Jerome Flynn, Kristofer Hivju, Joe Dempsie, Jacob Anderson, Iain Glen.

The eighth and final season of “Game of Thrones” is certainly its most divisive, setting off a wave of Internet debates as to whether the final run of episodes was worthy of the extensive storytelling that had been laid out before.

Much of the ire seems to be focused on the creative decisions made by showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss in mapping out the final story arcs of the various characters once they no longer draw from the “Song of Ice and Fire” novels by George R.R. Martin, which formed the basis of the first five seasons.

A noticeable shift in the show’s pacing occurred in season six, once it was clear they had to create their own after reportedly receiving outlines from Martin about how he envisioned the saga more or less ending up. After season six, it was announced the show would wrap up in 13 episodes split into two seasons, with seven in season seven and six in season eight.

In hindsight, the argument goes, this timeline was insufficient in setting up the character development needed for the plot twists of the final episodes, leaving the final storylines feeling rushed while retroactively weakening the earlier seasons by both devaluing their story development and making it clear (particularly to readers of the novels) where the show missed opportunities to lay the foundation for the plot points the writers eventually decided to pursue.

The series has spent seven seasons seemingly maneuvering every character into two factions. One is the army gathering at Winterfell to fight the Night King and the White Walkers. This is the faction commanded by Daenerys Targaryen and Jon Snow, who joined forces last season. However, their truce may be complicated by the lingering truth of Jon’s true heritage, which could present an obstacle to Dany’s claim to the Iron Throne.

Meanwhile. Queen Cersei has fortified her hold on King’s Landing through an alliance with Euron Greyjoy’s fleet and a mercenary army.

The first two episodes deal largely with various characters reuniting, setting the stage for the battle against the Night King, which takes place in the third episode. The final episodes involve the battle for King’s Landing and its aftermath.

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So, is the final season as problematic as the darkest corners of the Internet would make it out to be? Well, mostly no, but a little bit yes.

The ire seems to fall into two categories. The first, as mentioned, is the show rushing to get to the end. The second is the specific outcomes for some of the characters, which may have differed a bit from what some of the more entitled fans envisioned in their heads.

As to the second point, such is often the refrain of toxic fandom, and seems misguided. The character arcs themselves are fine and completely understandable, particularly when it comes to the most divisive of the individual stories, that of Queen Daenerys and her quest to reclaim the Iron Throne on behalf of her family.

The show has always been an examination of the dangers of tyranny and absolutism, even when the results of such governance may seem beneficial. The cycle of inherited power is itself the problem, not the potential for harm a new ruler may bring.

That being said, it’s hard to disagree that the final march to the end was a bit rushed, and perhaps could have used a few episodes to show events for the characters to experience that might reinforce their motivations in the final battles.

The final season is fine as it is, as easy as it is for fans to pick it apart, and will likely come to be better regarded once absorbed into the bulk of the show as fodder for binge viewing. While the asinine suggestion of fan petitions to “remake the season with competent writers” is beyond the realm of credibility, it’s hard not to at least entertain the idea of filming a few more episodes of material to expand on the character development, then re-editing them into the final couple of seasons (though, realistically, that ain’t happening either).

The show’s critics are also quick to overlook the many strengths of the final season, which offers some of the most stunning visuals of the series. This includes the purposefully dark and moody third episode, which uses its nighttime setting to great effect give viewers the same sense of unseen dread the characters would experience in fighting off wave after wave of undead armies.

There was some concern about the cinematography being too dark upon its initial airing, but this isn’t much of a problem with the digital HD presentation.

The other aspect of concern in fan circles were all the memes pointing out Starbucks cups and plastic water bottles left on the set for key scenes. The prominent coffee cup was subsequently digitally erased from episode four, but a few water bottles spotted under the chairs in the “Council of Lords” scene in the finale were still visible in the digital copy of the episode, at least within the first few days of its digital release. It will certainly be something to keep an eye out for in the eventual Blu-ray release that should arrive in a few months.

The digital package of the final season also includes a four-minute production featurette, a 17-minute profile of a key season from the third-episode battle, and The Last Watch, the feature-length documentary chronicling the making of the show’s final season that provides an enlightening look at the filmmakers and craftsman who brought it all together.