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.

 

The Mandalorian: Chapter 1

STREAMING REVIEW:

Disney+;
Sci-Fi;
Stars Pedro Pascal, Carl Weathers, Nick Nolte, Werner Herzog, Omid Abtahi, Taika Waititi, Horatio Sanz, Brian Posehn.

This is a great start for a series that promises to inject some of the old-school excitement back into the “Star Wars” brand that seems to have leaked out a bit from fan reactions to Disney’s movie efforts.

Executive producers Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni are throwbacks to the pre-Disney days of Lucasfilm, having worked on the “Clone Wars” animated series, and have a solid grasp on “Star Wars” canon. So much so that many fans believe they should have been given the reins to the continuing movie franchise instead of the divisive J.J. Abrams and his penchant for mystery-box storytelling and visual splendor over substance.

The first episode comes rife with references to classic “Star Wars,” including a few nods to the infamously bad 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special.

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With its focus on the seedy underbelly of the “Star Wars” universe and the bounty hunters who operate within it, the show feels a bit like a Clint Eastwood Western, centered on the mysterious, masked and unnamed Mandalorian, who is just trying to make ends meet with the meager bounties that come his way. The “space Western” vibe brings to mind Joss Whedon’s “Firefly,” itself heavily influenced by “Star Wars.”

For those who don’t know, the Mandalorians in canon are a proud warrior race whose planet has been hit hard by war over the centuries. Set shortly after the fall of the Empire in Return of the Jedi, the show implies that clusters of downtrodden Mandos have spread like refugees across the galaxy seeking to reclaim their heritage where they can.

As such, for his latest job the Mandalorian takes a payment of rare Beskar steel, the powerful alloy used to construct the legendary Mandalorian armor (which fans will recognize as similar to the armor worn by Boba Fett).

The Mandalorian’s mission here, after being hired by a former Imperial functionary (played by Werner Herzog), is to recover someone from a mercenary stronghold. The identity of the target is but one of many surprises this show no doubt has in store for us.

Along the way, he encountered the bounty hunting droid IG-11 (voiced by Taika Waititi), and the pair join forces for a fantastic fight sequence that most fans will equate to an approximation of a team-up of classic trilogy characters Boba Fett and IG-88). And for longtime fans with any familiarity with the expanded “Star Wars” universe, it’s just great to see the bounty hunters in action.

 

Thor: Ragnarok

BLU-RAY REVIEW: 

Street 3/6/18;
Disney/Marvel;
Action;
Box Office $314.97 million;
$29.99 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray, $39.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief suggestive material.
Stars Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Idris Elba, Jeff Goldblum, Tessa Thompson, Karl Urban, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Hopkins, Benedict Cumberbatch.

As with any movie franchise, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has become adept and finding formulas that work and sticking to them.

As a case in point, the first two standalone “Thor” movies are generally regarded as among the weaker of the Marvel films. It’s not that they’re bad per se, it’s just that they really didn’t establish themselves much beyond a general space-fantasy epic that connected to elements of the larger Marvel films. As a character, Thor worked better in the “Avengers” films, when he had other heroes to play off of and the films could take advantage of his other-worldly nature for moments of levity and comic relief.

Over the course of 10 years, the MCU as a whole has tended to take itself less seriously, embracing the sense of fun that a comic book movie franchise should have without sacrificing the emotional connection the audience needs to have with its characters.

One of the major contributors to this change in attitude since the second “Thor” movie landed in 2013 was the arrival of two “Guardians of the Galaxy” movies, which are not only the most comedy-driven of the Marvel films, but they also tread in the cosmic setting that should have been Thor’s bread and butter. Ant-Man and Spider-Man: Homecoming further demonstrated that the MCU could embrace a lighter tone while still remaining true to the source material and the overarching storylines being established for the crossover films.

So, it should really come as no surprise to see Thor: Ragnarok really deconstruct the elements of the MCU’s success, what has worked for Thor in the past, and let director Taika Waititi throw them into a blender to whip up his own unique cocktail for a hilarious big screen comic book thrill ride.

The secret ingredient, as far as Waititi is concerned, it seems, is a healthy pinch of 1970s and 1980s nostalgia, as Thor is essentially re-imagined as a Saturday morning cartoon hero akin to “He-Man” accompanied by a rockin’ techno-synth soundtrack, (from Mark Mothersbaugh, whose name popping up in the credits as the composer certainly elicits a “yeah, that makes sense” reaction).

Waititi does a masterful job of re-focusing the efforts of the “Thor” films while both wrapping up previous storylines (without much fuss) and positioning the characters for the next big crossover, Avengers: Infinity War, which arrives April 27.

Thor himself is now much more irreverent, with the script playing to Chris Hemsworth’s natural comedic talents. As for finding others for Thor to play with, this film offers a brief encounter with Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange, but really hits a home run by pairing Thor with Hulk, taking advantage of a long-running rivalry between the two characters. A battle between Thor and Hulk in the gladiator pit of an alien world (inspired by the popular “Planet Hulk” comic book storyline) perfectly positions this film as a counterpoint to Captain America: Civil War, in which neither character appeared (as they were off conducting adventures in space, it would appear).

Thor’s only fighting Hulk, though, in order to escape from confinement and recruit a team to take back Asgard from his sister, Hela, the goddess of death. Hela (Cate Blanchett in a juicy performance that borders between menacing and sexy) had been imprisoned by Odin (Anthony Hopkins) for being too cruel, but manages to escape to claim her father’s throne.

The setting of the gladiator planet lets the filmmakers indulge themselves in the colorful renderings of legendary comic book artist Jack Kirby’s designs, and also provide an excuse to just insert Jeff Goldblum into the film (as the Grandmaster of the games) and allow him to just be his zany self, much to the delight of the audience.

The film is a visual spectacle, reminiscent of cult favorites such as Flash Gordon or Heavy Metal, and would be a spectacular showcase for home theater 3D effects were the format not being phased out (at least in the United States. All-region 3D Blu-rays are available from overseas markets such as Europe and Australia).

The home video offers extensive bonus materials, with some exclusive to the digital versions.

The highlight of the presentation on all platforms is probably the six-minute “Team Darryl” short film, the third installment in a spoof series about Thor’s roommate on Earth. This time, with Thor off the planet, Darryl’s new roommate is the Grandmaster, and any excuse for more Goldblum in any setting is a good one.

Also included are about 40 minutes of behind the scenes featurettes, with a three-minute video about the Thor-Hulk relationship presented as a digital exclusive. Other featurettes profile the new female characters, and look at many of the new elements this film brings to the franchise. There’s also a five-minute appreciation of the 10th anniversary of the MCU.

Offering digital exclusives is fine in this case, since the disc comes with access to the digital copies, but the extras are structured differently depending on where you try to watch them, particularly where the deleted scenes are concerned.

On disc, the deleted scenes are pretty straightforward, offered one at a time. Many of them are extended sequences from an earlier conception of the film before story elements were streamlined. So the glimpse of that alternate version is fascinating on its own. The deleted scenes run about 15 minutes, compared with less than six minutes on the disc.

Note that Vudu presents the deleted scenes as a single featurette with them strung together, ending with the fun Easter Egg reference to another Marvel movie that has created some online buzz.

Lastly, there’s an introduction and solo commentary by Waititi, in which he offers a few insights about the making of the film, but mostly maintains the jokey nature he often displays in public. He describes many scenes with tongue-in-cheek hyperbole, hypes up his own skills as both a director and actor, and spends considerable time allowing his young daughter onto the microphone and reacting to her rather than what’s on the screen. No doubt fans of Waititi’s brand of performance art will eat this up, but for general MCU fans, it seems like a missed opportunity to offer a good, in depth discussion about the film.