Tag Archives: Thor

Jojo Rabbit

26 Oct

‘Jojo Rabbit’: Hitler Youth’s imaginary friend, true enemy battle for territory in his affections

 

Image result for jojo rabbit

“Jojo Rabbit” is something you’re not likely prepared to see – and that’s a good thing. The best way I can lay it down: It’s as if Wes Anderson did Hitler. That’s accurate but not entirely fair, because it’s written and directed by by Taika Waititi, a creative stylist in his own right with the vampire comedy “What We Do in the Shadows” (2014) and the grand uber-hero crackup, “Thor: Ragnarok” (2017) – probably the only Marvel film Scorsese and Coppola might tolerate – to his credits. “Jojo Rabbit” takes place in Germany on the eve of major turns at the end of the war, and Hitler, played with grand, goofy gaiety and menace by Waititi himself, factors large into the dark satire about a 10-year-old boy coming of age during complicated times (to put it mildly).

We catch up with Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) as he heads off to a Hitler Youth boot camp for a weekend. He’s a proud loyalist and, because dad’s gone missing, his male surrogate is the führer himself. Talk about an unholy and unhealthy imaginary friend, but Waititi, who is half Maori and half Jewish, plays the part with a deft, humorous touch, giving Hitler a warm, avuncular sheen while not letting him off the hook for, well, everything.

The leporine tag of the title comes from that boot camp, where the undersized Jojo botches a test of manhood and is tagged a “scared little rabbit.” The best part about the camp is that we get Sam Rockwell as a snarky, demoted officer running things and Rebel Wilson as his chortling assistant – “Get your things together, kids, it’s time to burn some books!” Back at home, Jojo’s mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) doesn’t quite share her son’s all-things-Aryan zeal. Then there’s that someone hiding in the walls: Turns out mom and dad are anti-Nazi propagandists, and the older girl living in a secret compartment upstairs is Jewish, and being sheltered by mom. Jojo discovers Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) and begins to study her (keeping a science journal detailing “the Jewish beast,” which, while shocking and telling, also becomes a major turning point in the film). As the interviews progress, a friendship begins to take seed. They never let Rosie know that Jojo knows, but in passing Jojo tells his pal Yorki (Archie Yates, whose round-faced exuberance makes him an infectious scene stealer) he’s “captured one,” and even Rockwell’s officer. But no one really believes him or cares, as the Third Reich has begun to crumble.

Beyond the wide-eyed  transformation of its young protagonist, the heart and humanity of “Jojo Rabbit” radiates through its women. Since she’s donned Lycra in the Marvel Universe and teamed up for freaky times with Luc Besson (“Lucy”), filmgoers might have forgotten ScarJo’s emotive resonate from past immersions into nuanced roles of cold alien bait (“Under the Skin”) or a dislocated American in Japan (“Lost in Translation”). She carries the part of a conflicted mother fully. You know her Rosie detests sending her son off to boot camp, but does so not only because of the bigger forces at play, but because she’s an adoring mother trying to support her progeny as best she can. McKenzie, who gave such a mature and central performance in the off-the-grid drama “Leave No Trace” (2017), ups her stock here. Her character’s somber reflectiveness and innate compassion go a long way in disarming Jojo’s regime-first reactiveness. The scenes of the two communicating indirectly while connecting on a personal level build subtly and effectively, offsetting the mad world outside.

I’m not sure if there’s such adroit, slapstick skewering in “Caging Skies,” the book by Christin Leunens on which the film is based, but in Waititi’s World War II universe, shouts of “Heil Hitler” – initially shocking – ultimately become something of a comic refrain, like, say, in a Mel Brooks movie, and Rockwell, Wilson and Waititi play their deplorables with over-the-top, nod-and-wink perfection. The material is equal parts grim and hysterical (especially the debate over which of the Allied forces are worse to humans and dogs – Americans, Russians or the British), and folk will likely seize on comparisons with “The Death of Stalin” (2017) due to the era, comedic style and subject. It’s only natural, but “Jojo Rabbit” delivers a palpable human story that touches as we laugh and the world around explodes. And somehow David Bowie and the Beatles find their way in.

Avengers: Endgame

25 Apr

‘Avengers: Endgame’ was a long time coming, and it’s another exceptionally long time going

 

And so it begins, or ends, and no matter how you see it, it’s a long one. “Avengers: Endgame,” the de facto part two of “Avengers: Infinity War,” clocks in at more than three hours – 30 minutes longer than “Infinity” and chock full of maudlin eddies that should have been pared back. That said, “Endgame” gets the job done, passing the baton as it closes out a long-running chapter with some sentimental eye rubs. Where Disney’s Marvel Universe goes from here is likely a focus on new blood such as Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and Captain Marvel (Brie Larson). They’re both in “Endgame,” tossed in as inert garnish.

In case you need a rewind: At the end of “Infinity War,” Thanos (Josh Brolin), blessed with the unholy alignment of all six infinity stones (the power of a god to create and destroy), has eradicated half the life in the universe and, with that, half of the Avengers crew. We catch up with Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) floating near-dead in space, Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) searching desperately for his wife and children and Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) spit out unceremoniously of a five-year time warp – in a beat-up Ford Econoline or the like, to boot. The film moves along sluggishly for the first half-hour, and I’d be wrong to tell you fully how it flies, but the simple answer is: The remaining Avengers crew need to somehow turn back the clock. Given that this is Marvel, and a superhero fantasy (the opening with Traffic’s “Dear Mr. Fantasy” is nearly as ingenious as the use of “Mr. Blue Sky” in “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” – is there some mandate for classic rock songs with “Mr.” in the title in the Marvel Uni?) that time travel quest – with semi-hilarious film references to “Back to the Future” – happens sure enough, and the “Infinity War” with Thanos gets something of a do-over.

Before that the film notches some of its greatest self-deprecating wins, namely in that the buff god of thunder, Thor (Chris Hemsworth), some five years after Thanos’ win in Wakanda, is now a potbellied booze bag looking like the portly Val Kilmer, “large mammal” portrayal of the latter-years Jim Morrison in Oliver Stone’s “The Doors.” Or take the Hulk/Bruce Banner, (Mark Ruffalo) who has gotten his raging greenness and mild manner intellect to come to terms. And then there’s Hawkeye, who’s been bestowed the worst hairstyle imaginable – an unholy marriage of a mullet and a mohawk. How and why this choice was ever made is never explained and demands a film of its own, but yes, it’s a weird alternate reality out there, and not necessarily a bad one. As one observant Avenger points out, with half as many humans on the planet the water in the Hudson is now so clean, pods of a resurgent whale populations are hanging out where there were once toxically polluted slurries.

Ultimately “Endgame,” like “Infinity War,” both directed by the brothers Russo (Anthony and Joe, who made the far cheekier and superior “Civil War”) turns into a major CGI boggle of superheroes battling a herd of creepy-crawly things from another planet. Amid all the chaos there’s one gratuitous yet neat scene where an all-female phalanx of supers try to get the final wold-saving run done, and yes, Captain America (Chris Evans, with the requisite square-jawed woodenness)  is there to anchor the whole shebang; in very (too) small metes, we also get Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Redford and Tilda Swinton. It’s a very crowded affair.  Some big names and friends move on and out with a tear or two to be shed, but I was more struck by other matters looming at the edges of the frame, including nature’s resurgence in a less populated world, curiosity for how far Brie Larson and the “Captain Marvel” franchise can realistically go and, most of all, that haircut Renner is saddled with. It’s indelible and unshakable. If his Hawkeye could travel back in time to the 1990s there would be NHL hockey teams north of the border that would surely inject him in the first line based on hair alone.

Bad Time at the El Royale

13 Oct

‘Bad Times at the El Royale’: You can check in, then suspect no one in this noir gets out alive

 

“Bad Times at the El Royale” is a knuckleball-noir, a den of thieves stuffed with double agendas. The star of the film, besides the ripped abs of Chris Hemsworth or sexy boot-wearing waif Cailee Spaeny, is the remote resort of the title, once a grand casino straddling California and Nevada (there’s a red line down the middle of the lobby, and you can drink only on the California side). It’s seen better days, but lost its gambling license. Needless to say, few people check in; by the time the movie is over, even fewer check out.

The time is the Nixon-tainted ’70s, so cellphones are not a thing, but wiretapping and one-way mirrors are. An amiable reverend (Jeff Bridges) and a backup soul singer (Cynthia Erivo) check in first. Then there’s Jon Hamm, right out of “Mad Men” as a vacuum cleaner salesman, and Dakota Johnson, who zips in Tarantino-hip in a mod model muscle car with a bound bundle in the trunk. Not everyone’s whom they pretend to be, and the skittish hotel manager (Lewis Pullman, son of Bill, excellent in a role that seems designed for the late Anton Yelchin) bears the weight of past horrors in the hotel and has demanding owners to answer to. The inn has a few secrets as well.

As the sands shift and the mother of all storms descends, the tension rises. What’s buried under the hotel? Who is the mysterious being fled by Johnson’s Emily Summerspring and her sister Ruth (Spaeny)? Plus there’s the gruesome murder of a couple nearby that we hear about over and over on TV, with the killer still on the loose. Deep Purple and some lesser-known Motown kick up the scene – something that’s needed, because at almost two and a half hours “El Royale” is nearly an hour too long (but stylish nonetheless). And though directed by Drew Goddard, whose debut, “Cabin in the Woods” (2012) was a breath of fresh air to the horror genre, the film overplays moments. The plot, which in premise bears much in common with James Mangold’s 2003 Nevada hotel thriller “Identity,” loses its enigmatic edge a little over halfway in, and many of the more likable souls perish far too soon. But fear not, everyone gets a flashback, and certain scenes get replayed from multiple POVs. They’re neat devices, but not every character comes out feeling fully sketched. 

Hemsworth, who played beautifully against his Thor persona in “Cabin in the Woods,” isn’t given much to do here as a Cali-sun god and cult leader – Jim Morrison infused with the cocky cold-bloodedness of Charles Manson. It’s a big, hammy bone, and it gets well gnawed. The camp mostly works, while Bridges and Johnson hold the fort, Spaeny and Pullman add flourishes of manic quirk and Erivo adds soul, social context and glorious chops. The Watergate fiasco and a MacGuffin that could be tied to JFK loom at the corners, but they’re mostly distractions; the film is best when characters sit and banter over whisky, even if their hands are tied and a gun is to their head.

Avengers: Infinity War

27 Apr

‘Avengers: Infinity War’: Marvel’s universe has built to a climax, which isn’t this movie

 

Some might find this a bit of a spoiler, but it’s really more of a public service announcement: If you go into “Avengers: Infinity War” thinking it’s a neat, trim chapter like “Avengers: Age of Ultron” or “Captain America: Civil War” let me set you and the record straight – this is a “Part One.” Somewhere around the two-hour mark of the two-and-a-half-hour running time, I thought to myself, “How that heck are they going to tie this all up in less than 30 minutes?” They do, kind of, with a massive smackdown on the grassy plains of Wakanda pitting warriors and superheroes against a limitless pack of mutant space dogs, but how it ends isn’t an ending. It’s not even like Han Solo getting frozen in “Empire Strikes Back”; the last scene simply ends. You expect another scene, but the credits roll.

“Wah!” you might think, but a quick walk through IMDB shows myriad actors employed by the Marvel universe have signed up for a mysterious “Untitled Avengers Movie.” I can help all the people at Disney and Marvel: Your untitled film’s title is “Infinity Wars, Part Deux.” Continue reading

Critical Ban

9 Nov

Boston Film Critic Head Explains Solidarity With LA Peers After Disney’s Strike Against Press

Visitors walk through Disneyland in Anaheim, California, in January 2015.
(Jae C. Hong/AP)closemore

Tom Meek, a film critic for The ARTery, is the president of the Boston Society of Film Critics.


Update:

On Tuesday afternoon, Disney told the New York Timesthat the company “agreed to restore access to advance screenings” for Los Angeles Times critics.


Our original post: 

A recent retaliatory measure enacted by the Walt Disney Company triggered a rapid solidarity response by film critics groups, including ours in Boston, over the weekend.

On Tuesday morning, four critics groups announced they would drop Disney-produced films from award consideration until the company rescinds its blackout of the Los Angeles Times.

The Boston Society of Film Critics joined the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, the New York Film Critics Circle and the National Society of Film Critics in speaking out against Disney’s systematic blackballing of the Times from its press screenings, interview opportunities and other media access.

The situation erupted last week when the LA Times film critics were barred from attending the press screening of the Disney-produced Marvel adventure “Thor: Ragnarok.” The studio was upset by the paper’s Sept. 24 report about the company and its financial arrangements with — and political influence in — the city of Anaheim (where Disneyland is nestled). Disney cited the paper’s “disregard for basic journalistic standards” as the basis for the move. (The company did not respond to my requests for information.)

Given the course of events, there’s a grave irony that arises in that a company, so effusive in its pursuit to maintain a wholesome, “family-friendly” image, is the hand behind such Machiavellian manipulation tactics. Continue reading

Thor: Ragnarok

4 Nov

The “Ragnarok” of the title may have you scratching your head some, but early enough in the latest “Thor” installment we learn it’s the term for the apocalypse about to hit to Asgard, home of the Norse gods and heralded heroes. Can gods actually be terminated by mass extinction, you might wonder, once the prophecy is told. The answer to that comes in the form of fiery giant demon that typically lurks in the lower abyss of a Medieval-themed video game.

It’s probably best to forget your learned lore; this is the Marvel Comic universe, and a goofy, fun one at that. The handsome and hulking Chris Hemsworth again reprises his God of Thunder role with manly man bravado that’s comically undercut with a devilish dash of cheeky nod-and-wink deprecation. This deity is just as happy to solve a disagreement over a beer as he is to smite the opposition with his mighty hammer. His good-natured, turn-the-other-cheek-first attitude, rounded out with hangdog friendliness, endears. It’s a winning combination that makes the “Thor” series more engaging than, say, a “Captain America” chapter. Levity may be more essential to saving the universe than teeth-grinding grit – just look to the original “Guardians of the Galaxy,” which won audiences on so many levels.

Of course Thor, in his defense of the realm, has one heck of a backup team: the Hulk (a CGI image, and Mark Ruffalo when in human form), his double-crossing brother Loki (Tom Hiddelston) – what else would you expect from the god of mischief? – and boozed-up warrior Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson). Also in the mix as papa Odin we have the estimable Anthony Hopkins and, as Thor and Loki’s sister who’s been sent to the corner for a near-eternal timeout, Cate Blanchett as Hela (she’s absolute Hell), the goddess of death who looks like Maleficent on steroids.

The intoxicatingly strange brew – the third “Thor” flick, and fifth Marvel film that the Norse god has appeared in – gets nicely stirred by quirky New Zealand auteur Taika Waititi, who’s helmed such idiosyncratic ditties as “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” (2016) and “What we do in the Shadows” (2014). And if that’s not enough, Doctor Strange(Benedict Cumberbatch) pops in briefly to pull Loki and Thor through a portal in Manhattan. The reality-bending interaction between the three is so pickled and pleasing it nearly sets the rest of the film up for failure. The best, however, is Jeff Goldblum as an entity referred to as the Grandmaster, an omni-powerful being on par with Hela, but one who takes far greater joy in his station, hoisting gladiator contest on a trash heap of a planet called Sakaar. Thor and the Hulk get pitted in the ultimate fight contest. It’s a juicy role akin to Stanley Tucci’s Caesar Flickerman in “The Hunger Games” and he bites in deep. Blanchett does too, and Hemsworth cements it all together in a rollicking good time that, predictably and somewhat sadly so, ends in a CGI slugfest.