On DVD & Blu-Ray: February 18, 2020

Jojo Rabbit is a creative and rather elaborate way of teaching a very basic lesson in morality. That said, Taika Waititi's satirical take on Nazis and the idiotic führer that persuaded an entire idiotic sect of the human race to follow him with blind fanaticism prove to be ripe targets for mocking and would no doubt have been so during the time of the war were the horrors they committed not so atrocious. Not to equate Waititi with Adolf Hitler (though he does play the dictator via the imagination of a young boy here) as he seems to be a more than pleasant human being, but his entire brand has seemed to inspire a "blind fanaticism" of its own; fans ascribing to the idea that anything the writer/director/actor touches will turn to gold out of little more than an appreciation for his general quirkiness. What We Do In The Shadows is still my favorite film of his whereas it seemed Hunt for the Wilderpeople and especially Thor: Ragnarok were quickly granted bragging rights for their presumed weirdness even though, when it came to the final products, the weirdness was present, but not pushed far enough.

Jojo Rabbit is the filmmaker's best work since 2014's WWDITS and this is largely due to the fact it basically dares us to like its protagonist, a young boy who is excitedly part of the Hitler youth and is completely indoctrinated into the ideas of the Nazi movement. This is, as weird as it sounds, a child you kind of want to hate making the objective of the film then to peel back the layers of the mentality applied to the child while using humor to show the absurdity of said mentality. Roman Griffin Davis, in his first feature, is rather outstanding as his Jojo naturally has the greatest arc in the film going from an impressionable young man to being taught that bravery, strength and being able to outwit others are virtues worthy of the führer's army, but only if utilized as he commands to coming face to face with a young lady he's inherently supposed to hate, but who seems to make more sense than any of the nonsensical rules he and his fellow soldiers are meant to follow (there are a few Nazi salute moments that couldn't hammer this point home any better). Speaking of the young lady who begins to turn the tide, Leave No Trace's Thomasin McKenzie is the real star of the film as this young woman who's experienced a lifetime worth of hardships, but has yet to experience life in any real sense thus far. McKenzie's Elsa is someone we expect to possess a certain mindset having seemed to always been the victim, but instead Elsa is very much in control of what she's able to control; she is not defined by the circumstances of her being a victim and it is through the views of these children that Waititi is able to so nicely balance the difficult task of tone and straddling the line between "making fun of" and "making light of".

To this point, there is a single moment-and beyond what is happening in this moment, it is how Waititi chooses to execute said moment-that elevates Jojo Rabbit from a brazen comedy that takes the boldest of lessons from the past to teach us in the softest of ways that being kind and being gracious aren't difficult acts, but are indicative of actions that can make huge differences. It is in this moment that Waititi confirms he, despite all the jokes and despite even his own performance as a caricature of Hitler, means business. This moment not only endears us to this child we started out kind of hating while lending the character his own realizations, but it also serves to grant that main objective of the film a powerful conclusion. Waititi's film might largely be classified as "fantastical", but despite the period setting it is a film more for younger viewers who are able to access the story through the comedy and the perspectives of the two leads as they are welcomed into and included in this conversation about the difference in what hate and kindness can lead to rather than being told to listen to said conversation because someone else said it was important. Video review here. B

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is not so much about Mr. Rogers as it is about how the ideas and values Mr. Rogers taught permeated through unto others. Fred Rogers was, among many things, the host of a children’s television show, but he was seemingly first and foremost a psychologist who just so happened to practice through the veil of a children’s TV show. He used this platform to help children better understand the world around them, but as director Marielle Heller (Can You Ever Forgive Me?) conveys in her new film it wasn’t just the children who could gain something from Mr. Rogers' lessons in grace and humility. The movie works as well as it does not only because it takes a unique approach to the profiling of a very famous person, but because viewers are immediately endowed with the weight of Lloyd Voegle’s (Matthew Rhys) situation and quickly become invested in the complicated relationship he has with his father and how that fractured relationship has affected him in recently becoming a father himself. There is nothing that is necessarily revelatory or even terribly unique about Voegle's story (based on journalist Tom Junod's 1998 Esquire cover story), but Heller and screenwriters Noah Harpster and Micah Fitzerman-Blue pull us into the inherent drama of Voegle’s situation with the idea this could be anyone in any situation, but given the nature of his job it is someone like Voegle who was allowed the opportunity and access to Mr. Rogers needed in order to tell this type of story. This is Voegle's movie, make no mistake, as he is our lead whereas Tom Hanks' Mr. Rogers is merely a supporting player, but the arc that Voegle experiences is that of someone who's become a cynical and relentlessly gloomy adult into someone who believes in the authenticity of Fred Rogers and therefore hopes to heal and better himself because of it. It is through his encounters with Mr. Rogers that Voegle is reminded of a childhood he could care less to remember, but Rogers doesn't so much care to remind him of his own childhood as he does encourage him to remember what it felt like to be a kid in the first place. We were all children once. This is Rogers’ mantra and something he reiterates time and time again in the rare moments he does return the favor and speak. And though A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood might not be the faithful adaptation of Fred Rogers' life it was purported to be in the marketing it very much captures the essence of who this man was and how the way he conducted his own life helped countless people navigate theirs. Video review here. B

It’s been so long since I’ve subscribed to a CBS Friday night procedural or even since I’ve seen a genre film so comfortable with being this routine and generic that 21 Bridges is almost refreshing. Brian Kirk’s feature big screen debut (though he’s been directing television since ‘02) knows exactly what it is and plays all of its well-worn elements to expert effect as the talent is very much present and the direction is both sleek and intense to the point it almost feels as if it might rise above its stock plot. Of course, the movie eventually settles into itself and then goes on for about three scenes too long souring the aftertaste, but for more of the running time than not 21 Bridges is perfectly average in the most satisfying of ways.

Also, Stephan James ladies and gentlemen. C

Midway is the Valentine’s Day of war movies. D+

Disturbing the Peace, not the Ludacris label, stars Guy Pearce as a small-town marshal who hasn't carried a gun since he left the Texas Rangers after a tragic shooting, must pick up his gun again — this time to do battle with a gang of outlaw bikers that have invaded the town to pull off a brazen and violent heist. In other words, the epitome of the kind of movie you see promoted heavily at your local redbox.  

1 comment:

  1. It will be exciting to watch a new series of films you are introducing here. Thank you very much for the published news.