THE MANDALORIAN

(lotsa spoilers)

Back in the day, when I was a new member of SFWA, we issued the SFWA Handbook, and in it we advised all SF writers to avoid the “space western.” It might be popular on TV (Star Trek was called “Wagon Train in space”) but the genre’s print editors weren’t interested.

It’s still popular on TV as evidenced by the acclaim for The Mandalorian on Disney+.  John Favreau, the writer and showrunner, has dipped into both the western bounty-hunter genre and the Japanese ronin films for inspiration.  The title character is a masked bounty hunter who does a good imitation of Clint Eastwood’s voice and wears a cape instead of a serape.

In the first three of the eight episodes we’re treated to a saloon shootout, some alien bronco busting, a desert town shootout, and the successful capture of the objective: a fifty year-old alien child you have no recourse but to call “Baby Yoda” (he’s not) who is terminally cute.  By the end of chapter 3 the Mandalorian has decided to take the child under his wing, which lands a price on his head and sets all the other bounty hunters after him.  (John Wick, anyone?)  I watched him stride along with the floating basinet beside him and said, “Lone Wolf and Cub.”  My daughter and grandson were watching with me but had no idea what I was talking about.

Episode 4 is a cut-down version of The Magnificent 7 (or Seven Samurai).  I say “cut down” because there are only two gunslingers (The Magnificent Duo?) – the Mandalorian and the hot but very scary Gina Carano.  I could go on but I won’t.  I must, however, mention the arrival of Gus Fring in the guise of Mof Gideon, and the very cool salute to the finale of The Wild Bunch in episode 8.

I’m not complaining about the homages (?) because I had fun identifying them, but going forward I hope for more original plotting.  I do see a problem with the Mandalorian religion forbidding him to show his face to another human being.  It’s a big drawback in that it’s so distancing.  This character is carrying the series but the helmet makes it very difficult to engage with him.  Even old Mount Rushmore Eastwood gave us something as the Man with No Name (he could do a lot with a squint).

 

 

 

 

THE ENDLESS

This is a lesson on how to convey cosmic horror, which needs to be experienced rather than explained. Most attempts at cosmic horror fail because of the human need for an explanation. You can’t explain the unknowable. Once you concretize and categorize a thing, it loses its ability to spark awe and wonder. No Cthulhus and Yog Sothoths wandering through here. The Endless stumbles toward the end when we learn the destiny of the cult, but it’s a small stumble that doesn’t mitigate the the pervasive, growing unease that permeates most of the film. This is the kind of film that frustrates hidebound imaginations because it doesn’t lay everything out for you tied up in a pretty ribbon. The viewer’s need to infer helps create the horror and is what makes it work. (As opposed to works that never really knew where they were going in the first place.) I’m hardly an elitist. I like jump scares and gross-outs as much as the next guy, but if you need those to define a horror film, skip this. It’s not for you.

CADILLAC RECORDS

I watched this blues docudrama for the 2nd time and loved it all over again. It’s the story of Chess Records, founded by the Chess brothers, two Polish immigrants who introduced Delta Blues and the original rock n’ roll to the airwaves, and thereby to the Rolling Stones who brought it to the masses. (Ever hear the instrumental “2120 South Michigan Avenue”? That’s the Chicago address of Chess Records.) The film mainly concerns only one of the Chess brothers: Leonard. Phil is barely there. (I don’t know why.) Jeffrey Wright is good as Muddy Waters but doesn’t look much like him. Mos Def and Eamonn Walker nail Chuck Berry and Howlin’ Wolf. And Beyonce owns Etta James. It’s narrated by Cedric the Entertainer as the great Willie Dixon. If you’ve ever liked a Delta blues or Chicago blues song (and who hasn’t?), you owe it to yourself to see this film.

THE AMERICAN SIDE

Tell me of a lost, secret, world-changing technology hidden within mystery inside an enigma wrapped in a riddle at the center of a vast, murderous conspiracy and I’m there. Adding the name Tesla is just icing on the cake. Written by and starring Greg Stuhr (I’ve never heard of him either), it involves a sleazy PI and (you guessed it) a beautiful mystery woman who gets him involved in the conspiracy. A poorly crafted screenplay and a poor choice to play the PI who needs more than Stuhr brings to the role to carry the film. Still, it managed to engage me despite the coincidences and improbabilities. (You might not be so lucky.) The script could have cut the foot chases and spent more time tightening the plot.

THE VAST OF NIGHT

I love this kind of film. It’s a microbudget sci-fi period piece (1958 New Mexico) that breaks no new ground but the dialog and acting and camera work are topnotch. Echoes of “Twilight Zone” and Pontypool abound but not to its detriment. Not to everyone’s taste, I’m sure, but I found this a pure pleasure to watch, to sit back and drink it in. On Prime Video. Do not miss.

UNCUT GEMS

A very unpleasant film about some very unpleasant people. Yeah, maybe Adam Sandler was effective playing against type, but I watch the closing credits asking why did I watch this? Psychopath vs psychopath. Which is okay if there’s some sense of style or humor or irony. I like noir – a lot – but I didn’t like this.

NOTORIOUS (1946)

I can’t believe it took me so long to see this. All the rear projection looks hokey to the modern eye, and Ben Hecht’s script is a bit preposterous, but the cast (Grant, Bergman, Rains) carries it off with aplomb and the lighting and camera angles are jaw-dropping. Hitch was really hitting his stride here.

JAMAICA INN (1939)

Hitch’s last film before leaving for the States. This costume thriller takes place on the Cornish coast, with a porcine Charles Laughton, a beautiful Maureen O’Hara, and Robert Newton, the guy who a decade later would totally own Long John Silver in Disney’s Treasure Island. Not a fave, though. Never came together for me.

CHARLIE’S ANGELS (2019)

I rented this because, really, it couldn’t be as bad as they say, right? And if it is, I should see it because I liked the 2000 version and, why not? Well, it’s not good, but it’s better than Cats. The script is credited solely to Elizabeth banks (her first and only) and goes heavy on the wokeness. This is the first time I’ve ever seen Kristen Stewart. I’ve heard terrible things about her acting but I thought she was pretty good. Definitely seemed to be enjoying herself, despite having to mouth horrible dialogue. Side note: She must be amazingly strong because she can’t weight more than 98 pounds, yet she manages to toss these 200+-pound thugs all over the set. Wow.

CATS

I rented this because, really, it couldn’t be as bad as they say, right? And if it is, I should see it because, well, I like bad movies. I remember seeing the play on Broadway when it opened and found it dull and dumb. The film is duller and dumber – way dumber — and kinda creepy. I lasted 10, maybe 15 minutes. Which earns it a very high FF rating.