Jojo Rabbit (2019): A Masterpiece of Satire and Heart

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     Taika Waititi is brilliant. “Jojo Rabbit” is one of the best satires I have ever seen as it mixes the feel of a Wes Anderson film with the biting edge of a Mel Brooks comedy. This film has so much heart and the powerful message alone are reason enough to see it. This might be my favorite film from Taika and will most likely make my Top 5 Films at the end of the year.

The film was directed and written by Taika Waititi and based off the story Caging Skies by Christine Leunens.

The story follows “Jojo” Betzler (Roman Griffin Davis), a German child at the end of World War 2. He’s fully bought into the Nazi propaganda and has an imaginary friend Hitler (Taika Waititi). His world is soon changed when he finds his mother (Scarlett Johansson) is sheltering a Jewish girl named Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) in their home.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Characters and Performances – The main characters are wonderful. You have the naive Jojo who grows out of the fascist propaganda over the course of the film. You have his mother Rosie who is fighting against the Nazis trying to spread the word of resistance through Berlin, this is one of the best performances I’ve seen Scarlett Johansson do. Elsa is the heart of the film as the Jewish refugee who forms a friendship with Jojo over the course of the film.

The Satire – The satire is brilliant. Like Mel Brooks mocked Hitler in “The Producers,” Taika does this hear with a cartoonish Hitler who acts like a child that is eventually seen by Jojo to be the insane man he is. It is gradual but we see how it is from made up mythological stories that Hitler built his brand on in the lies told about what it means to be German and the lies about anyone considered an enemy of Germany. Be they Jewish, Romani, Russian, etc. Over the film you see this revealed in the people fed up with the lie or those embracing it even as it ruins their lives and those of the people around them.

Dangers of Fascism – One of the strongest themes of the film is the danger of fascism. In it you see how the populace suffers and only a very small group of the delusional are those who profit from the status quo they create. A women’s role becomes to bear children for the Empire, minorities are killed off and anyone who is injured or damaged is cast aside and forgotten about. Any difference from the ideal has no place and it is this ideal that is used to blind enough people to fulfill the will of those in power. This film illustrates all this beautifully and it is part of what gives the film so much power.

The Emotional Core – The emotional core of the film is in witnessing everything Nazism has destroyed and our heroes finding life at the end. Elsa lost her betrothed and family to the Nazis. Jojo goes from “Othering” Elsa to becoming her friend and it is powerful seeing him go through deprogramming himself from all the fascist propaganda. Jojo’s mother is hung for fighting against the Nazis and in the end one of the Nazi soldiers who protects Elsa risks his life to save Jojo. These moments lend the film so much power. It is this heart that makes it more than simply a brilliant dark satire.

The Cons:

Ending Length – This was a film that could have gotten to the final scene faster. The last third of the film drags at times, which does a good job of putting you into Jojo’s mindset but also hurts the narrative flow, since before this I never noticed pacing at all. This is the only con I could find though, which says a lot for how great this film is.

This is a powerful film that is well worth your time. The message of fascism’s danger and the evil in “Othering” people is relevant as ever now. I hope more people see this film and that the message is taken to heart. This film is a masterpiece and I can’t wait to see what other films Taika Waititi makes in the future.

Final Score: 9.8 / 10 Near perfect.

 

Galaxy Quest (1999): A Comedy that Celebrates Sci. Fi. and Nerd Culture

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   “Galaxy Quest” is one of the greatest honoring of sci. fi. and nerd culture to come out of cinema. It works because it’s characters are mostly fully fleshed out and the situations are comedic without doing away with tension, and the main cast is a lot of fun. As someone who is a huge Trekkie you can see the inspiration drawn from “Star Trek” in the characters and situations the characters are in, as well as the sci. fi. convention where a lot of the story takes place. These are just some of the elements I really enjoyed about the film, I’ll get into more depth later.

    The film was directed by Dean Parisot and written by David Howard and Robert Gordon while being produced by Mark Johnson and Charles Newirth.

     The story is about a cast of a once famous sci. fi. television show called “Galaxy Quest.” They soon find themselves in over their head when Jason Nesmith (Tim Allen) the Commander on the show makes a deal that they will help a group of aliens called the Thermians who are being hunted to an extinction by an evil alien warlord called Sarris.

The Pros: The Convention – The convention felt like many of the ones I’d been to as a child and do hope to visit again. There is an excitement and celebration of characters and story that make a great convention great. The ending entrance into the largest convention was awesome too.

Brandon – Is the convention goer who cosplays being a captain in the “Galaxy Quest” universe. He and his friends know the ins and outs of all the missions and episodes which leads to him helping the Commander through the situations he is under.

The Missions – Take place after the crew have been taken in by the Thermians. From getting another Sphere, to repairing the ship and using the mines in the minefield against Sarris. Most of the crew get to use their skills to their greatest ability.

The Thermians – The Thermians are a naive octopus like people who can give themselves the illusion of human form. They have

Mathesar – Mathesar is the Thermian leader and is a kind and good officer. He rises to the challenge and defends himself (his species is a peaceful one) showing how they’ve grown beyond that and can defend themselves when they need to.

The Crew – The crew is largely fantastic and has arcs that are greater than themselves. Alan Rickman (R.I.P.) as Dr. Lazarus is my favorite of them.

Guy Fleegman – Sam Rocwell is great as the character was a redshirt (side crew who dies on an away mission, there are many throughout “Star Trek” and other sci. fi. shows). Luckily he is able to subvert this trope and his awareness helps save them and he ends up becoming the security chief on the rebooted show. His story is awesome.

Tommy Webber / Lt. Laredo – Mitchell plays the Wesley Crusher wiz kid who didn’t get scarred by being on the show. He’s pretty down to Earth as a character and we see him get involved with helping where he can as well as learning how to actually fly the ship properly so that they can defeat Sarris.

Fred Kwan / Tech. St. Chen -Tony Shalhoub is awesome! He is the only character who is fine when meeting the Thermians and ends up hooking up with one of them. For him the strange is normal and it leads to some great interactions as he takes over as Engineer on the ship without a second thought while the rest of the crew is panicking and torn between their roles as actors versus those on the show.

Jason Nesmith / Commander Taggart – Nesmith is a Shatner type narcissist whose arc involves him getting pride in his work and not looking down on himself as well as appreciating his crew. He goes from only caring about being the star to knowing that they only survived because of the roles all his crewmembers played. Allen does alright.

Alexander Dane / Dr. Lazarus – Rickman does amazing as the actor who was into drama before his role as Dr. Lazarus ruined his career. His arc is making peace with the fact that people see him this way (as Nimoy had to do with Spock) and when he sees his famous quote bring hope to people fights for them and helps the Thermians rise up against their enemies. He mellows out a lot by the end too as before he is really wound up and anxious at the conventions and when he’s with the cast.

Celebrating Science Fiction – This film celebrates sci. fi. from beginning to end. From “Galaxy Quest” having a rich lore and people who celebrate it’s fandom…the the actual lore of the Thermians taking inspiration from the show.

Celebrating the Fans – The film also celebrates the fans. Brandon saves the crew with his friends as it is their knowledge of past episodes that helps them rescue the Thermians and stop Sarris. At the end Nesmith thanks them all as well and in the end they what they wanted…a rebooted “Galaxy Quest.”

Okay: Gwen DeMarco / Lt. Madison – She is sadly sidelined and her arc is her love story with Nesmith. On the show she just says what the computer says and is sexed up and it’s done even more-so in the reboot. This is an issue with television that could have been addressed but never is. Everything she does is in Nesmith’s shadow versus the other crewmembers who each get their own individual chance to shine.

Cons: Sarris – He’s a one-dimensional baddy who tortures for the sake of torture and doesn’t even seem to conquer since he only has one ship. This character had no motivations and even though he had a cool insect like design, that does not make a compelling villain.

    This is a solidly good comedy outing that pays tribute to science fiction while celebrating some of the best aspects of it and the passion that has come to surround the shows. It also is one of Alan Rickman’s greatest performances and my friends and I watched this show to honor him. This is a show that manages to work both as a comedy, a sci. fi. show and even on some level a drama with the only cons being the villain and how Sigourney Weaver’s character. Suffice to say, I highly recommend this film.

Final Score: 8.4 / 10

Moon (2009): A Sci. Fi. Exploration of Self and Identity

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This is a great film, which is saying something considering that it is mostly a one person performance with the only real addition being Kevin Spacey as the voice of the robot GERDY. In that way this film could have easily been a flop. It takes an amazing actor, of which I discovered Sam Rockwell is, to carry a film beyond cinematography and music.

“Moon” was directed by Duncan Jones, who also wrote the story. The screenplay was by Nathan Parker and the producers were Stuart Fenegan and Trudie Styler.

This review does contain SPOILERS, so be warned. The point of this movie is in the twist and the reveal so I can’t review this movie and do it justice without talking about that reveal.

The story involves the character of Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) who has been living for years on the Lunar Base run by the corporation of Lunar Industries who provides an alternate fuel source of Helium-3 which is mined from the base that Sam and the robot GERDY run. Sam’s contract is almost up and he can return home to his wife and daughter. The story unfolds from there as all is not as it appears to be on the station.

The Pros: The Premise – The idea of a man alone with a robot mining resources on the Moon is very cool and very high concept science fiction. It gets even more high concept when we learn this has been going on for years and that the person who we think is just one person is in fact many and has been many clones of the same individual, with slight different genetic variations.

The Tone – The tone of the film is dark and introspective, you can feel claustrophobic sometimes in certain scenes and and Sam Rockwell’s performance is so subtle that it’s easy to see the things from the characters’ points of view and what each of them is going through and what it means on an individual level as well as the societal level of some of the messages explored.

The Soundtrack – The Soundtrack is also very introspective and does a great job capturing the desolation of the moon, and the hope or despair characters feel. It’s Clint Mansell so I wouldn’t expect any less. The guy is a genius and one of my favorite composers.

The Cinematography – Visually, this film is stunning. It feels like one is actually on the moon during it and the base feels lived in and real, with an element threat to it and leaves you guessing at certain times as the mystery unfolds.

Sam1 – I’m going to call the first Sam we meet, Sam1, he is similar to the past Sam’s but some of the things that set him apart are an extreme attachment to the family he believes he has, a love of life as seen by his caring and talking his plants and in how when he is sick he chooses to help Sam2 escape, partially because he knows he himself is dying but also because he’s grown fond of the one other connection on the station who isn’t GERTY or false memories. He is the most attached to those memories and breaks down after GERTY tells him the memories are implanted and when he talks to “his” daughter and hear’s his own voice, the voice of the original Sam calling to her on the other line. It is at that point he gives up, knowing he is already dying and wants to give Sam2 a chance. He has Sam2 bring him back to where he crashed which is what happened when Sam2 was activated since Sam1 was believed to be dead.

Sam2 – Sam2 is more of a jock in personality. He’s more aggressive, is usually working out and active and is less likely to take GERTY’s advice to rest. He is also more suspicious as he is the one who discovers Sam1 trapped and learns that central is sending a team to kill them so that word doesn’t get out about the Clone program. He is also empathetic though and he is the one trying to help Sam1 get out until Sam1 convinces him to let him die and that he should be the one who escapes and tells the world what’s going on.

GERTY – GERTY is a pretty awesome AI voiced by Kevin Spacey. His whole programming is to protect Sam until Sam fulfills his contract. We learn that his applies to all Sams that are created and he even goes as far as to let Sam2 who escapes to wipe his memory so that he can escape the Moon safely without being killed by the forces Lunar Corporation sent. We never know if he makes choices beyond his programming or if he is just like Baymax fulfilling his programming but his letting Sam2 wipe his memory when he didn’t have to showed that there was more going on. He chose, even if it was within the parameters of his programming to save Sam and help him escape. If that doesn’t make him sentient, than he is at least getting there or near sentient. Also, he has a great design as he has a screen that moves around the station and communicates in emoticon faces as well as having lots of arms to help with the work the station needs or helping the Sams recover and do tasks.

Sam Rockwell – Sam Rockwell plays so many different versions of Sam Bell in this film, and in all he does a great job. Sam1 and Sam2 get the most exploration but we see others when Sam1 pulls up the video of the past clones and history on the station after GERTY accesses the memory banks with the password. Sam is truly a master at the craft as every person he was felt like a unique individual, yet similar enough that you knew they were clones. This is something that very few actors can pull off and after this film I have to consider Rockwell to be one of the best.

The Message – The core point that this film captures is that we are more than our memories. We are our choices and personality and as long as we are aware of our own existance and striving for survival we are worthy of life. The movie ends with Sam2 revealing the Lunar Corporations wrongs to the world (all the past Sams who have died and been used to the Corporations own ends) and it ends with people having the discussion the movie begins. Is a clone as much of a human being worthy of rights as any other human being? I believe and the movie believes that the answer is, “Yes.” No human should be used like a slave, we see the human cost of people getting cheap energy.

Okay: Sam’s Wife and Daughter – These two never felt like wholly realized characters. I think part of this might be purposeful as the Clones are having old memories related to the wife and we don’t have enough time to talk with the daughter to really get to know her. I’m not putting this as a con as it helps the clones separate themselves from the original person they were cloned from. It is the fact that they can’t connect that helps them create their own identity beyond the memories of another.

This is an amazing film and one of my favorites. Clint Mansell’s soundtrack and the cinematography create beautiful scenes and Kevin Spacey’s and especially Sam Rockwell’s performances are so deep and layered that it is hard not appreciate how great they are as actors. Their characters are real and the struggles matter as well as giving us a great “So what?” No one deserves to be slave and we shouldn’t create slaves through cloning. If sentient life is created it deserves just as much respect as us, as it is us, just born different. If you like a dark film, that ends with hope and has an amazing point…check this film out. I know this film has me interested in any other work Duncan Jones has done.

Final Score: 9.7 / 10. Near perfect, only thing that brings it down are the side human characters who don’t feel like real people.