Tuesday, December 31, 2019
Time once again to list my top five Blu-rays of the year (no DVDs this time).
This is the eighth year in a row I have done a list like this, so, if you are a regular reader of this blog, you know the drill. All the entries in this list had to have been released in the calendar year, and they are all ones I have purchased.
There's no point in going into my annual "I spend way too much money on movies" rant. There were a number of notable releases I did not get, such as the Criterion Godzilla set and the Shout Factory Abbott & Costello set.
Speaking of Shout Factory, I bought so much of their product this year they should just give me the Abbott & Costello set. In my last post I mentioned how many of the company's Hammer releases I bought, and they had a number of enticing Universal products as well. Shout Factory makes this list with a non-Hammer title.
1. WAR AND PEACE from Criterion
A mammoth, four-part, 422 minute Soviet epic based on the Leo Tolstoy novel. Sergei Bondarchuk's grand combination of the majestic and the intimate was one I had never seen before. I wrote a full post on it in July.
2. HERCULES IN THE HAUNTED WORLD from Kino
It seems like every year a Mario Bava release winds up on this list. Kino does justice to Bava's phantasmagorical adventure by providing three different versions of the film, all based on a gorgeous looking print. I wrote a post on it in October.
3. L'ARGENT from Flicker Alley
A stupendous 1928 silent production from France, this is a film I literally had no knowledge of. It's a sweeping tale of greed and power, with the added bonus of a wonderfully sultry performance from the mysterious beauty of METROPOLIS, Brigitte Helm. I extensively covered it in September.
4. THE TIGER OF ESCHNAPUR and THE INDIAN TOMB from Film Movement
I didn't get around to writing a full post on this, but I should have. It's a two-film colorful action adventure story set in a fantastical version of India. The films were made in the late 1950s, and they were directed by Fritz Lang. They are sort of a throwback to the large-scale super productions Lang made in Germany during the silent era. I had never seen these, and both films are entertaining, if a bit on the slow side (they also have no humor whatsoever). Both films look spectacular on this release (star Debra Paget in particular looks unbelievably stunning). Film Movement went all out to provide a proper showcase for this pair of films.
5. THIS ISLAND EARTH from Shout Factory
There are any number of Shout Factory releases I could have put on this list, but I chose this one, simply because this science-fiction classic deserved the special treatment it got on this release. I wrote a full post on it in July.
Sunday, December 29, 2019
Looking over my blog posts for 2019, I noticed that I wrote nine different reviews for Hammer movies on Blu-ray released by Shout Factory. That still doesn't even cover all of the Hammer Shout Factory releases I bought this year.
I didn't buy every Hammer movie released by Shout Factory. I didn't get THE VENGEANCE OF SHE, or LUST FOR A VAMPIRE, or SCARS OF DRACULA. Ironically all three of those titles wound up on a post I wrote in 2018 listing my least favorite Hammer films. I also have not purchased TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER.
Among the Hammer Shout Factory Blu-rays I did not get around to writing reviews on are QUATERMASS AND THE PIT and THE DEVIL RIDES OUT. The latter is one of the best Hammer films ever made, while the former is one of the best ever science-fiction films, period. These two movies are held in such high esteem that I seriously wondered what more I could say about them.
The Shout Factory Blu-rays for each look fantastic, and they are filled with extras, especially QUATERMASS AND THE PIT. THE DEVIL RIDES OUT has a bonus version of the film with "updated" special effects that were added a few years ago. I had never seen this version, and I have to admit that the new FX (which were quite minor) were not as annoying as I thought they would be. (I still prefer the original version, hands down.)
DR. JEKYLL AND SISTER HYDE is one of the best Hammer films from the early 1970s, due to Brian Clemens' witty & stylish script, and what I consider to be Martine Bestwicke's best screen performance. The movie looks great on this Blu-ray, and among the extras is a new interview with Martine. (I wrote a full post on this movie in September of 2017.)
All the movies I have mentioned here have reverse cover sleeve artwork, and brand new commentaries. Most of the new talks on the Shout Factory Hammer Blu-rays feature some sort of combination of Ted Newsom, Constantine Nasr, and Steve Haberman, or one of them individually. (Bruce Hallenbeck does the commentary for DR. JEKYLL AND SISTER HYDE.) It would be nice if Shout Factory got some other genre experts involved in these talks (there's plenty of Hammer fanatics out there). This series of Hammer releases also contain vintage commentaries, and these are very important, since they usually feature artists who actually worked on these productions. (Sadly, many of these artists have passed away since their commentaries were recorded.)
Shout Factory has more Hammer releases in store for the future, and that's great news for those who own Region A Blu-ray players. When one also takes into account the company's Universal and Val Lewton releases, it must be said that they have cornered the market when it comes to classic horror on home video in 2019.
Wednesday, December 25, 2019
WARNING: If you have not seen THE RISE OF SKYWALKER yet, you shouldn't read this.
The cinematic Star Wars Skywalker saga has apparently reached its end. I say "apparently" because, didn't we think that after RETURN OF THE JEDI, and then after REVENGE OF THE SITH?
There's no way Disney is going to let the classic Star Wars characters go unused--no matter what the public or critical reception is to the company's product, they've all made a ton of money. There is a sense of Star Wars fatigue going around, but that isn't stopping anyone from viewing new product. But it does seem that now it's almost an obligation to watch new Star Wars titles, an idea that has been covered by an excellent article on the Flickering Myth website.
I have very mixed overall feelings about the Disney Star Wars trilogy. I have far more appreciation for the company's other Star Wars output. I loved ROGUE ONE, and I liked SOLO. STAR WARS: REBELS and THE MANDALORIAN are excellent shows, the latter in particular.
Notice, however, that the non-trilogy titles fit into the established Star Wars Universe, rather than define it. The non-trilogy titles are effective additions to what I know and love about Star Wars overall.
When it comes to the Star Wars Universe, my affection for the Original Trilogy is going to override everything else. I saw these films at a certain age and point in my life that can never be recaptured. The three films of the Original Trilogy are more important to me than any other filmed entertainment. Whatever is branded as "Star Wars" is going to have to hold up against my feelings for the Original Trilogy, and I make no apologies for that.
When I heard the news that Disney had acquired Lucasfilm, and that they were planning to make new Star Wars movies, I felt a bit uneasy about the prospect. Essentially, whatever they were going to come up with was never going to live up to my personal idea of what Star Wars is, or what it should be.
Timothy Zahn's "Heir to the Empire" novels, released in the early 1990s, cover a lot of the same ground that the Disney Star Wars Trilogy does. The problems of the galaxy after the fall of the Empire, Han and Leia having children, Luke's doubts about continuing the Jedi Order, a possible resurrection of the Emperor--all these elements are in the books. I started reading theses novels, but I never finished the series, because it just didn't seem like "real" Star Wars to me.
That's basically how I feel about the Disney Star Wars Trilogy--it just doesn't feel like real Star Wars to me. I understand that's a very simplistic line of reasoning, but there it is.
The biggest problem I have with the Disney Trilogy is that it brings back the "rag-tag group of rebels versus powerful evil regime" narrative of the Original Trilogy. We've been down that road before, and we saw it to the end--but now, it didn't really end, because we've got the same type of conflict, with X-Wings, TIE fighters, even planet-destroying devices.
This is a war that was fought already in the Original Trilogy, but now we have to go through it again. I'm well aware that people will say, "That's what Star Wars is all about!!" Okay, maybe....but when you are dealing within the genres of science-fiction and fantasy, your have unlimited access to ideas and concepts. Why do something that has been done before? I understand that when it comes to a Star Wars film, people expect space battles, and blaster shootouts, and dramatic conflict, but there's untold ways of doing it.
The Disney Star Wars Trilogy also shows that Han and Leia had a bad marriage, and had a son who went to the Dark Side, while Luke has become a grumpy old man who has decided to hide out on a backwater planet. That's not exactly how I wanted my heroes to wind up. The Disney Trilogy also shows Han, Luke, and Leia dying onscreen--that's not exactly something I wanted to see either.
THE FORCE AWAKENS is basically a remake of the very first STAR WARS. I know that Disney wanted to give the fans something familiar--but in my mind it was too familiar. If I wanted to see a story that reminded me of my favorite movie of all time--I'd go and watch my favorite movie of all time.
THE LAST JEDI is one of the most weirdly constructed films I have ever seen. It's as if Rian Johnson decided to spend all of his time setting up the audience and pulling the rug out from under them over and over again. If you want to show off that way while making a low-budget independent film, fine, but I don't believe that works in the context of a Star Wars story.
THE RISE OF SKYWALKER has the "everything but the kitchen sink" attitude of most big-budget 21st Century franchise films. About 30 minutes of the movie could have been cut without affecting the main plot. It has my favorite scene in the entire Disney Trilogy--the lightsaber duel between Rey and Kylo on the Death Star ruins. But the revelation that Rey is the Emperor's granddaughter brings up all sorts of questions. It explains why she has so much power (something that I felt needed to be addressed), but the very idea of the Emperor having offspring is a huge plot point that needs to be fully explained, and you can bet it will, in a future Disney production.
Is there anything I like about the Disney Trilogy? Well, John Williams' music is still great....actually, Adam Driver is very good as Kylo Ren (although I still can't help but think of him as Han Solo's punk kid).
Most of the other new characters in the Disney Trilogy didn't make that much of an impact on me. Daisy Ridley is okay as Rey, but because her character spends most of the trilogy as a total mystery, it's hard to have a connection with her. (I think that if we knew that she was a Palpatine all along, her character would have been more interesting.)
Poe, Finn, Rose, all the other ancillary characters of the trilogy--they never seemed all that important to me. Each film in the trilogy strains to give them something to do, because their characters are not very interesting.
When it comes to the villains, the First Order may be an offshoot of the Galactic Empire, but they come off as a rather lame organization. They are constantly derided and made fun of throughout the entire Disney Trilogy, to the point where they are almost on the same level as the Trade Federation in the Star Wars prequels. (Having THE LAST JEDI start off with General Hux being the victim of a prank phone call doesn't do much to help define the villains as a viable threat.) Characters like Hux and Captain Phasma attempt to act sinister, but they never really accomplish anything. The Galactic Empire certainly had its issues (such as the average stormtrooper not being able to hit the broadside of a barn with a laser blast), but you believed they were dangerous....the First Order seems silly in comparison.
By now I'm sure you all get how I feel about the Disney Trilogy. Instead of going on and on, I'll wrap things up by making one more point.
Disney is a billion-dollar corporation, and as a corporation their main goal is not to make Star Wars fans happy--it is to get as much value as they can out of the Star Wars brand. There's plenty of individual artists involved in the Disney Trilogy, such as J.J. Abrams, Kathleen Kennedy, and Lawrence Kasdan, but in the end these films were created by a corporation.
Before Disney took over Lucasfilm, everything involved with Star Wars had to go through George Lucas. You can say what you want about George--heaven knows I certainly have--but no matter what, it was his universe, he was the boss, the creator.
With Disney controlling Star Wars, there is no overall creator. We see this in the fact that many of the Disney Star Wars productions have dealt with reshoots, replaced directors, etc. These films seem to be made by a committee, with the result that the Disney Trilogy, at least, has a haphazard overall feel to it.
As I mentioned earlier in this post, Disney has made some great Star Wars product. But I think it would be in their best interest to focus all their Star Wars efforts on one single project at a time, and not worry about having to meet a certain schedule.
And forget about future trilogies...and let the Skywalker family rest.
Saturday, December 21, 2019
Earlier this year Shout Factory began issuing Blu-ray sets of various classic Universal horror films. One movie that they decided to give an individual release to is the 1932 version of Edgar Allan Poe's famous tale, MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE.
Universal's MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE has for the most part been looked upon as a stepchild to the studio's more celebrated original 1931 versions of DRACULA and FRANKENSTEIN. Director Robert Florey and actor Bela Lugosi had both been attached to FRANKENSTEIN during its pre-production, but they wound up being assigned to the adaptation of the Poe story instead. MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE went through several rewrites and even some re-shoots, and the result is a rather disjointed affair.
Robert Florey and his cinematographer, the legendary Karl Freund, do give plenty of expressionist atmosphere to the film's 1845 Paris setting. But they also spend way too much time on romantic leads Sidney Fox (who is billed above Lugosi on the opening main credits) and Leon Waycoff (known later in his acting career as Leon Ames). Fox and Ames make one pine for David Manners and Helen Chandler.
Far and away the major highlight of MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE is Bela Lugosi, who literally is a show in himself as the mad Dr. Mirakle. Sporting a dark frock coat, high hat, unibrow, and wild perm, Bela gives one of his most magnificent performances. Sadly, the script does not take full advantage of this--Bela is killed off before the final scenes. Lugosi's Mirakle is not only a proponent of evolutionary theory, he's also determined to mate his gorilla, Erik, with a woman. Charles Gemora plays Erik in an ape costume, but the effect is ruined by many closeups of an actual chimpanzee which are haphazardly inserted throughout the story.
MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE is definitely a product of the Pre-Code era, with such elements as evolution, cross-breeding, and Parisian women of the streets ("Profession?" "Yes.") Lugosi's Mirakle isn't so much turned on by the leading lady as by the fact that his gorilla is turned on by her. The production is a strange combination of the sordid and silly, with Bela being its saving grace.
MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE has been released several times before on home video, but this transfer on the new Blu-ray is stunning, with very sharp and distinct black & white picture quality. The sound is sharp and distinct as well.
The extras are a rather murky re-release trailer and two brand new commentaries. Esteemed classic horror film historian Greg Mank gives a thorough and entertainingly informative discussion on the film in his own inimitable way. Lugosi expert Gary D. Rhodes spends most of his talk on the film's various antecedents, such as the work of Edgar Allan Poe, the evolution debate in early 20th Century American society, and the uses of gorilla characters in silent cinema. The reverse of the disc cover features an alternate poster for the film.
I wouldn't rank MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE among the best of the Universal horror classics, but it deserves a place in American Gothic cinema history simply due to Bela Lugosi. I think Shout Factory recognized this, and that is why they just didn't put it out as part of a box set.
Friday, December 20, 2019
There really isn't much I can say about this movie without giving out major spoilers, so this is going to be short.
My first impression of THE RISE OF SKYWALKER is that I think it is a better film than THE LAST JEDI (which isn't saying much). I would even say that it's probably the best of the Disney Star Wars trilogy, but I'm not exactly giving it a ringing endorsement.
It has a very inconsistent tone, it's overlong, it has about ten different climaxes, and there are times when it moves so fast you can't tell what is going on. In other words, it's a typical 21st Century action/sci-fi/adventure/fantasy movie.
There are some good moments mixed in, which I don't want to delve into for those who have not seen it yet. The film makes plenty of references to the sacred Original Trilogy (maybe too many). There's almost as many dead characters in the movie as live ones.
The question is, how will I feel about it after I've seen it a couple more times? Whenever I see a new Star Wars movie the day it opens, I'm always caught up in the excitement surrounding it. The questions this movie answers actually lead to even more questions...every part of this script is going to be hashed over again and again on the internet for years to come.
I wish I could go into more detail about how I feel about it right now, but I will be writing a more advanced analysis of my thoughts in about a week or so. I will also be writing a future post on my feelings on the Disney Star Wars Trilogy overall.
Saturday, December 14, 2019
Martin Scorsese's preoccupation with American corruption continues with THE IRISHMAN.
I had the fortuitous opportunity to watch this film in an actual theater, the Browning Cinema on the campus of the University of Notre Dame. I was glad that I was able to see it in this way--Martin Scorsese is one of the greatest filmmakers of all time, and his movies should be seen on the big screen.
THE IRISHMAN is a very long, very involved tale of organized crime and violence in post-WWII America. As such, it is being compared with other Scorsese gangster epics like GOODFELLAS and CASINO. THE IRISHMAN, however, is a very different picture. It has more nuance and subtlety--it's not a movie that hits you upside the head. There's plenty of horrific acts, but they are presented in a matter-of-fact, almost banal, manner.
Robert De Niro plays the title character, a Teamster truck driver named Frank Sheeran, who almost by chance becomes involved with organized crime. Frank's abilities enable him to become a bodyguard/confidant of powerful Teamster Union boss Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino).
Al Pacino has the showier role as Hoffa, and he's excellent, but Robert De Niro brilliantly carries the film (he's in nearly every single scene, and when he isn't, you hear his voice narrating what is going on.)
Some may say that this is the type of role Robert De Niro has played many times before, but his Frank, as opposed to most of the other gangster characters the actor has portrayed, isn't particularly ambitious, nor does he thirst for power. As is made clear by references to his military service in WWII, Frank is a "good soldier", a man whose main talent is doing what his bosses tell him to do. The last part of the film shows just how far Frank is willing to take orders, and the price he pays for doing so.
THE IRISHMAN is not a slam-bang crime thriller--it's more a melancholy observation on modern American history. There's an overall sadness to this film, since it shows how corruption and fraud have permeated nearly all facets of American life--commerce, big business, labor, and of course politics. We see organized crime figures fight for power, die violently, or grow old in jail...and the movie asks, "What was it all for? What was gained in the end??"
Some have complained about the length of the movie, which is about three and a half hours (during the screening I attended a number of what was obviously Notre Dame students kept checking their phones). The story does lose a little steam at the end, but I think this was Scorsese's intention. This is a film that isn't lengthy just on purpose--there's a huge story here to tell, and Scorsese takes his time in telling it. Steven Zaillian's magnificent script is one in which what isn't said is as important as what is. (This so-called "controversy" over the lack of dialogue for Anna Paquin's character is absolutely ridiculous.) Mention must also be made of Thelma Schoonmaker's bravura editing and Rodrigo Prieto's cinematography. It's very easy to lose focus during a overlong superhero epic, but THE IRISHMAN demands the viewer's attention all the way through.
I have a feeling that THE IRISHMAN will be even more appreciated as years go by and people are able to see it multiple times. It is the best new film I have seen in a theater in 2019.
Sunday, December 8, 2019
MALTA STORY is a 1953 British WWII drama, dealing with a campaign during the conflict that many may not be familiar with.
The small island of Malta in the Mediterranean was the subject of unrelenting bombing attacks by the Axis powers, due to its serving as a base for British military forces. The story opens in 1942, with a Royal Air Force transport plane landing on the island in the middle of a heavy bombing raid. One of the passengers, a photo-reconnaissance pilot named Peter Ross (Alec Guinness), is supposed to go on to Cairo on the same plane, but the craft is destroyed while on the runway. The air commander of the island (Jack Hawkins) decides to use Ross to help Malta's beleaguered forces. The bombing of the island becomes more and more intense, and rumors begin of an upcoming invasion by Axis forces. The island's population gets some relief from a few convoys of supplies that barely make it through, while Ross falls for a beautiful Maltese girl (Muriel Pavlov) who works in a RAF operations room.
MALTA STORY is very much a "stiff upper lip" type of war tale that British filmmakers do so well. It is in black & white, and director Brian Desmond Hurst uses a semi-documentary style. There's plenty of real WWII footage spliced into the action, and the production is helped by location shooting on Malta, along with the use of real Spitfires (despite the fact that they are types made after 1942). The movie makes extensive use of models during the air battle sequences, and while these shots do not look realistic today, one must make allowances that this is a 65-year old film.
The movie's low-key, realistic tone extends to the actors and the storyline. Alec Guinness isn't a hot-shot flyboy--he's a soft-spoken photo-recon pilot (and archaeologist in civilian life) who never engages anyone in combat. If MALTA STORY had been a Hollywood film, Guinness' character would have been complaining about being stranded on the island, or he would have been arguing with his superiors, or he would have developed a rivalry with another pilot. None of that happens here--Guinness accepts his fate and gets on with the job, no matter what the circumstances. The only subplot in the movie that seems contrived is one involving Guinness' girlfriend's brother (but according to my research even this character was based on a historical one).
The script takes great pains to show the resiliency and courage of the Maltese people. It does this in a manner that avoids overly dramatic histrionics (although there are times where it seems the civilians are a bit too adjusted to being under a months-long siege). History buffs will appreciate how the movie relates the actual incidents involving the island in the Mediterranean theater of war in a clear and concise manner. (When Guinness has his first meeting with his new CO, Jack Hawkins goes to a map of the area and explains the situation, allowing the audience to understand as well).
Movie buffs will appreciate the supporting acting talent in MALTA STORY. Flora Robson plays the mother of Guinness' girlfriend, and several renowned character actors have very small roles, including Maurice Denham, Gordon Jackson, Geoffrey Keen, Sam Kydd, and Noel Willman.
MALTA STORY is a very good--and very British--WWII tale that doesn't have big moments that factor into other major war epics. The main character isn't a larger-than-life action hero who accomplishes things on his own--he's a quiet professional who is part of a team. The movie also goes against the grain in that it features an unexpectedly downbeat ending.
Tuesday, December 3, 2019
ASSIGNMENT TERROR (1969) is a truly wild & wacky slice of Euro Gothic, a movie that is something of a cross between HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN and INVASION OF ASTRO-MONSTER. I first saw it on "Son of Svengoolie" back in the 1980s. It's a mad movie monster romp, and now the film has been given an official Blu-ray release courtesy of Ronin Flix and Scorpion Releasing.
This production was known as LOS MONSTRUOS DEL TERROR in Spain, and that country was the birthplace of the film's writer and star, Paul Naschy. Horror film legend Naschy first played his signature role of Waldemar Daninsky, El Hombre Lobo, in the 1968 movie LA MARCA DEL HOMBRE LOBO, better known in the U.S. as FRANKENSTEIN'S BLOODY TERROR. ASSIGNMENT TERROR was meant to be a follow up to Naschy's werewolf debut.
Naschy (who wrote the script under his real name, Jacinto Molina) not only brought back the werewolf Daninsky, he also included a vampire, a mummy, and a sort-of Frankenstein Monster. He also decided to bring aliens into the plot as well. A group of beings from the planet Ummo are attempting to take over Earth by using legendary supernatural creatures. The small group of aliens, in human form, are led by Michael Rennie (who doesn't have Gort to help him this time around). As expected, the plan goes awry, due to the aliens being influenced by human emotions and the monsters being uncontrollable.
Naschy's script for ASSIGNMENT TERROR was quite ambitious, and the result is that the movie bites off more than it can chew. The production was beset by several difficulties, with multiple directors, budget problems, etc. Naschy sets up a number of promising ideas, but they are never properly carried out. The grey-faced vampire (who is not Dracula--he's referred to here as "Count Janos") isn't particularly threatening, and the green-faced Farancksalan Monster looks like something somebody whipped up for a comedy skit. This film's mummy is actually rather impressive, and he's blessed with the best makeup job out of all the creatures. Naschy is his usual energetic self as Waldemar the werewolf, and he gets to have a tragic romance with a lovely blonde played by Diana Sorel. Naschy also gets to fight both the mummy and the Farancksalan Monster (his battle with the undead Egyptian is very well done).
ASSIGNMENT TERROR featured an international cast--along with Michael Rennie, there's German-born cult actress Karin Dor, and Americans Patty Shepard and Craig Hill. The film should have turned out much better than it did, but it never seems to come together. It has abrupt changes in tone, and the characters discuss incidents that are not shown (one assumes that parts of the script were not filmed to save money). Despite all of its problems, I can't help but have a certain affection for it. It is goofy as all get out, but it's endearingly goofy. Paul Naschy truly loved classic horror cinema, and his enthusiasm for the genre cannot be questioned, even though circumstances many times went against him when he tried to pay tribute to it onscreen. ASSIGNMENT TERROR is a perfect Saturday afternoon or late night monster flick, and it should be judged in that manner. (Naschy's later horror films would be far more brutal and explicit.)
ASSIGNMENT TERROR is getting its official American widescreen home video debut with this Blu-ray (which is listed as Region A). The movie is uncut, and presented in a 2.40:1 anamorphic aspect ratio. This title has had several unlicensed releases, and there's many versions of it on YouTube, but this glorious transfer tops them all. It's quite colorful, and it also brings out the inherent weaknesses of the monster makeups. The Spanish dialogue track is provided in stereo, with English subtitles, along with the English dub track in mono.
There's many extras here, such as multiple alternate opening title sequences, and different trailers (including some from other Paul Naschy horror films). There's an extensive stills gallery, which showcases the many other titles the movie was known as in various countries. The reverse of the cover sleeve features an examination of the film's production history written by Mirek Lipinski.
The most important extra is an audio commentary by Euro Gothic expert Troy Howarth, who is the author of a book on Paul Naschy and his films. Howarth has a lot of ground to cover here, and he does it very effectively. He details the making of the film, the multinational cast, and he even covers Paul Naschy's overall film career. Howarth appreciates the film for what it is, but he also mentions the film's shortcomings without being too critical or sarcastic.
This is a fabulous release, giving an offbeat cult film the prime treatment it deserves. I ordered this Blu-ray direct from Ronin Flix, and I must mention their great service--I received the disc only a few days after I purchased it from the company's website.
Monday, December 2, 2019
I finally got to see the first four episodes of the Disney+ series THE MANDALORIAN over Thanksgiving weekend, courtesy of my brother Robert. (For those of you who are wondering, I have not subscribed to Disney+--if any of you would like to purchase it for me, go right ahead.)
THE MANDALORIAN is set in the Star Wars Universe, a few years after the events of RETURN OF THE JEDI. The series concerns the adventures of a galactic bounty hunter only known as--you guessed it--the Mandalorian (played by Pedro Pascal). The title character is a mysterious, taciturn fellow, and during the first four episodes the viewer is given almost no backstory about him (or her?), except for a few snippets here and there. The show was created by Jon Favreau, and he is the main writer on the early episodes.
Many have compared THE MANDALORIAN to a Western, and while that is apt, I would go further and compare it to a Spaghetti Western. The Mandalorian operates on dry, sparsely populated backwater planets that reminded me of the locations used in many a Euro Western. The title character, while laconic, is also deadly proficient in all sorts of weaponry. He's also quick witted, and the audience never really knows what he's all about--he's definitely influenced by Clint Eastwood's Man With No Name. Reinforcing the Spaghetti Western vibe are the many quirky characters the Mandalorian encounters. The eclectic music score for the show, credited to Ludwig Goransson, is more Morricone than John Williams.
I'm not going to get into any plot details of the individual episodes, because I am sure that there will be those reading this post who have not seen the show yet. (If you've been on the internet at all during the past week or so, chances are you know way too much about it already.) I will say that THE MANDALORIAN has plenty of references to Star Wars lore--some obvious, some quite geeky. Episode Four is basically a retelling of the plot of SEVEN SAMURAI, with a bit of SHANE thrown in.
What I most appreciate about THE MANDALORIAN is that it avoids the rushed, overly-edited attitude of today's sci-fi/fantasy blockbusters. The multi-part format allows the show to take time to tell its story (so far the episodes have run about 35-40 minutes each). The more traditional editing style means the viewer also gets a chance to revel in the many impressive visual compositions each show has. While I was on Google looking up a image for this blog post, I saw a headline from The Hollywood Reporter that asked, "Why Is The Mandalorian So Slow?" My response to that is "Why are certain people so dumb?"
The show (so far) has a very "used universe" look and feel to it. This is a galaxy that has just been through a major war between the Empire and the Rebel Alliance, and things are still very much in flux. There is some CGI, but the show doesn't wallow in it--you never feel as if you are watching a video game.
I'm an original Star Wars fan--I have been obsessed with it since the very first film came out in 1977. THE MANDALORIAN, in my opinion, is a proper Star Wars entry. I'll even come right out and say it has more of a real Star Wars feel to me that either THE FORCE AWAKENS or THE LAST JEDI. When I first heard about the show I thought the main character was going to be nothing more than a Boba Fett clone, but this bounty hunter is much more than that.