REVIEW: THE MANDALORIAN – SEASON 1

Pedro Pascal in The Mandalorian (2019)

Starring

Pedro Pascal (Wonder Woman 1984)

Recurring / Notable Guest Stars

Carl Weathers (Predator)
Werner Herzog (Jack Reacher)
Omid Abtahi (American Gods)
Nick Nolte (Hulk)
Taika Waititi (Thor: Ragnarok)
Gina Carano (Deadpool)
Amy Sedaris (CHef)
Jake Cannavale (Fish In The Dark)
Ming-Na Wen (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.)
Mark Boone Junior (Halloween II)
Bill Burr (Zombeavers)
Natalia Tena (Game of Thrones)
Clancy Brown (Highlander)
Richard Ayoade (The Watch)
Ismael Cruz Cordova (Mary Queen of Scots)
Giancarlo Esposito (Breaking Bad)
Emily Swallow (The Odds)
Horatio Sanz (Bachelorette)
Julia Jones (Jonah Hex)
Matt Lanter (Vampires Suck)
Brian Posehn (The Big Bang Theory)
Jon Favreau (Iron Man)
Adam Pally (Dirty Grandpa)
Jason sudeikis (Son of Zorn)

The Mandalorian (2019)From its opening frame The Mandalorian, written by Jon Favreau and directed by Dave Filoni, is a compelling piece of television: small screen, but richly cinematic. It is thrilling, packed with obscure nods to the 1977 film Star Wars, its much-maligned 1978 spin-off The Star Wars Holiday Special and the larger Star Wars saga. It also breaks rules, not least of which is that in Star Wars only the villains wear masks.At a macro level The Mandalorian is a study of all things peak TV, from its complexity of story detail to its running time. On the latter point, the episode durations – the first two episodes are just 40 and 33 minutes long – sit in stark contrast to the bloated episodes of the final season of Game of Thrones. Not only is less more, but too often more tries to pass off a hectic mess as complex art.Pedro Pascal and Gina Carano in The Mandalorian (2019)Instead, The Mandalorian moves with breathtaking economy. The camera doesn’t linger and yet it still somehow finds its long silences, much in the same way Netflix’s flagship drama The Crown does. At no point do you check your watch. Each episode leaves you full and contemplative, despite the comparatively shorter running times.Pedro Pascal and Gina Carano in The Mandalorian (2019)Even the show’s handling of the “expanded universe” – a storytelling notion that Star Wars gave us but that other story spaces, notably Marvel and DC Comics, have replicated – is done with great precision. The superficial touches that will make fans smile – scavenging Jawas, Mandalorian temples, stormtroopers and subtitled Huttese, the preferred language of space gangsters – are there aplenty.The Mandalorian (2019)On the cinema screen Star Wars has struggled to produce clear non-Skywalker family narratives. But in spite of its relative infancy, as Disney’s first standalone foray into live-action Star Wars storytelling for television, The Mandalorian somehow manages to deliver something more structurally cohesive and emotionally thoughtful than all of the sequels, prequels and cinematic minutiae which have come in between the original Star Wars trilogy and the present day.Pedro Pascal in The Mandalorian (2019)Favreau is as brilliant a fanboy writer as he is a fanboy director, and in Filoni, a true padawan to Star Wars creator George Lucas, he has found a great collaborator. Between them they might have simply made a great TV show. And yet, here, there is something more. In its fine print – Werner Herzog as “the client”, “Baby Yoda” as the internet has dubbed it, the Crusade-like complexities of the Mandalorian faith, Ludwig Goransson’s compelling soundscape – The Mandalorian is both unexpectedly fresh and edge-of-your-seat thrilling.Star Wars is a hard nut to crack open. Getting it right means dancing along a perilous algorithm, first created in our childhood, when our judgment was dulled by spectacular space dogfights and the clash of duelling lightsabers, replicated in the world’s backyard using broom and mop handles. It is likely nothing will ever match that. But The Mandalorian comes stunningly, unexpectedly, brilliantly close.

 

25 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS REVIEW: ELF

CAST
Will Ferrell (Anchorman)
James Caan (Misery)
Bob Newhart (The Big Bang Theory)
Edward Asner (The Crazy Ones)
Mary Steenburgen (The Proposal)
Zooey Deschanel (New Girl)
Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones)
Andy Richter (Semi-Pro)
Amy Sedaris (Puss In Boots)
Michael Lerner (Kingdom Hospital)
Kyle Gass (The Cable Guy)
Artie Lange (Old School)
Jon Favreau (Iron Man)
Michael Roberds (The NEw Addams Family)
Mark Acheson (Alone In The Dark)
Robin Mossley (Staragte SG.1)
Matt Walsh (Ted)
Maurice LaMarche (Futurama)
One Christmas Eve, during a stop at an orphanage, a baby boy, captivated by the sight of a teddy bear, crawls into Santa Claus’s (Ed Asner) sack of toys. Santa unknowingly takes the boy back to the North Pole, and when discovered, is named Buddy because of his “Little Buddy” branded diaper. Papa Elf (Bob Newhart) volunteers to raise him. Buddy (Will Ferrell) grows up at the North Pole and is unaware of his humanity. Papa Elf makes him his apprentice and explains that he repairs the “Kringle 3000, 500 Reindeer-Power” jet engine on Santa’s sleigh, which he invented in the 1960’s when the Christmas spirit that powers the sleigh started declining after people started to stop believing in Santa Claus, forcing him to build the engine to assist Santa. Due to his being a human in an environment designed for the North Pole elves, Buddy is uncomfortably bigger than the elves, and is unable to use the items utilized by them. His toy making skills are comparatively inferior and he is unable to keep up with the elves’ high quotas, and despite the elves’ assurances that he’s just “special”, is demoted to a demeaning job testing toys. While working, he overhears a conversation in which one of the elves mentions that Buddy is in fact a human. Papa Elf reveals that Buddy was born to Walter Hobbs (James Caan) and Susan Wells and given up for adoption, and that Walter never knew of his existence. He explains how Susan later died and that Walter now works at a children’s book company in New York City. Buddy is convinced by Leon the Snowman (Leon Redbone) to go to New York to find his father. Prior to leaving, Santa informs him that his father, Walter, is on the naughty list due to his greed and selfishness. This is a huge shock and upset to Buddy.
Upon arriving in New York City, Buddy fails to comprehend several aspects of the human world, crossing the street at the wrong time, chewing discarded gum from a subway banister (despite Santa’s warning), and taking a coffee shop’s claim to have the “world’s best cup of coffee” literally and running inside to congratulate them. Eventually, he finds his father in his office in the Empire State Building. Walter initially lets him in, thinking Buddy is sending him a Christmas gram but when Buddy tells him about Susan Wells, an incredulous Walter has him removed by security. Taking the guards’ sarcastic advice, Buddy goes to Gimbels, where the manager (Faizon Love), mistakes him for a store employee. In the store’s Santa Land, Buddy sees Jovie (Zooey Deschanel), a Gimbels employee to whom he is instantly attracted. Upon learning that Santa will be arriving the next day, Buddy sneaks into the store after hours and spends the night giving Santa Land a makeover, complete with Lego models, pillow stuffing as snow, fancy decorations, and a giant LED sign.
When the store Santa (Artie Lange) arrives, Buddy is shocked to discover that it is not the real Santa Claus, and the two have a destructive brawl after Buddy rips off the man’s fake beard to expose him as an impostor. As a result, Buddy is banned from the store and sentenced to 24 hours in jail. Walter gets a call from the police and, after reluctantly bailing Buddy out, takes him to a pediatrician (Jon Favreau) for a DNA test, which confirms that Buddy is Walter’s biological son. Although Walter is still incredulous seeing Buddy as insane, he is pressured by the doctor into taking him home to meet his stepmother, Emily (Mary Steenburgen) and 12-year-old half-brother Michael (Daniel Tay). Walter and Michael are put off by Buddy’s childlike behavior (such as slathering his spaghetti in maple syrup and M&Ms and not seeming to understand that neither of them are interested in playing with him), but Emily insists that they take care of him until he “recovers”.
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Buddy eventually befriends Michael after single-handedly helping him defeat a gang of bullies in a snowball fight, and Michael encourages Buddy to ask Jovie out. Meanwhile, Walter learns from his boss Mr. Greenway (Michael Lerner) that his company is failing after publishing the flop “The Puppy and the Pigeon” with two missing pages, after Walter had refused to reprint the book citing the high cost of doing so. His boss said that the next big pitch for a next book idea will be taking place on Christmas Eve and expects Walter to be there or he will be fired. Although not wanting to, he accepts. The next day, after some pressure from Emily, Walter reluctantly takes Buddy to work with him and sends him down to the mailroom so he cannot be disturbed. However, he accidentally becomes drunk after mistaking a co-worker’s whiskey for syrup and throws an outrageous party, which causes the mailroom supervisor to interrupt a phone conversation between Walter and best-selling children’s author Miles Finch (Peter Dinklage), whom Walter wants to hire in order to save his company.
Buddy goes on a date with Jovie and manages to win her over with his child-like personality. Meanwhile, Miles Finch arrives at Walter’s company and begins to share some of his suggestions for book covers, but Buddy interrupts the meeting to tell his dad about his newfound love and believes the vertically challenged Finch to be an elf. Miles brushes it off at first, but becomes increasingly annoyed with Buddy’s attempts to find out how he had managed to leave Santa’s Workshop, to which Buddy remarks that Miles is an “angry elf”. Finch loses his temper and attacks Buddy before storming out, despite Walter’s attempt to explain Buddy’s misunderstanding. Furious that the one chance of saving his company has been ruined, Walter yells at Buddy, saying even though he is his son, he wants him out of his life. Deeply saddened and hurt, Buddy returns home and, after writing a message on an etch-a-sketch apologizing for ruining everyone’s lives, leaves Walter’s apartment.
Back at the office, Walter’s associates reveal a notebook Finch left behind in the conference room. Discovering that it is filled with excellent ideas for children’s books, Walter excitedly tells them to get a storyboard ready. Meanwhile, Michael finds Buddy’s note, and bursts in on Walter’s meeting with Greenway to frantically tell him that Buddy is gone. After Michael points out that Walter seems to care more about himself than his family, Walter asks Greenway to reschedule, but when he callously refuses, Walter and Michael tell him “up yours” before leaving. As a result, Greenway fires Walter. Buddy, while lamenting his situation, sees Santa’s sleigh crash in Central Park, which attracts the attention of various news stations, the NYPD, and fellow New Yorkers. When Buddy finds Santa, he explains that the sleigh’s engine had broken off, and that the last bit of Christmas spirit which powers the sleigh has faded as well. Walter apologizes for having hurt Buddy and accepts him as his son. Buddy then takes them to meet Santa, who reveals to them that believing in him can make his sleigh fly. Getting an idea, Michael steals Santa’s list and reads it in front of the TV cameras set up outside the park so that people all over New York City can believe in him, while the Central Park Rangers, who never forgave Santa for putting them on the naughty list, chase his sleigh as Buddy tries to reattach the engine.
Jovie, who was in the crowd after seeing the events on TV, manages to overcome her shyness and gets the sleigh back in the air by the power of Christmas spirit when she leads the crowd of people in singing “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” on live TV, recalling Buddy’s statement; “The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.” However, Santa is still unable to fully power the sleigh. Walter, who was mouthing the words, is convinced by Michael to overcome his lack of Christmas spirit and starts singing for real. This allows the sleigh to fly higher without the engine, as the Christmas Spirit has been restored. The TV cameras are unable to capture Santa’s sleigh as the news lady is in shock, so the world’s collective Christmas Spirit is safe. By the next Christmas, Walter has started his own publishing company with the first best-selling book released titled Elf, an account of Buddy’s adventures written and illustrated by Buddy himself. Sometime later, Buddy and Jovie have a daughter named Susie, named after Buddy’s now-deceased biological mother. During the film’s closure, the family visits Papa Elf at the North Pole.A wonderful family film, this is one the most delighful Christmas films ever made!

HALLOWEEN OF HORROR REVIEW: JENNIFER’S BODY

CAST

Megan Fox (New Girl)
Amanda Seyfried (Ted 2)
Johnny Simmons (The Spirit)
Adam Brody (Scream 4)
Christ Pratt (Jurassic World)
Kyle Gallner (Verronica Mars)
J.K Simmons (Terminator Genisys)
Cynthia Stevenson (Dead Like Me)
Lance Henriksen (Legends of Tomorrow)
Amy Sedaris (Elf)
Eve Harlow (Heroes Reborn)
Genevieve Buechner (Caprica)
Adrian Hough (The Fog)
Gabrielle Rose (If I Stay)
Bill Fagerbakke (How I Met Your Mother)
Joel Swetow (The Orville)
Valerie Tian (Izombie)

Anita “Needy” Lesnicki, once an insecure and bookish teenager living near Devil’s Kettle, Minnesota, is now a violent mental inmate who narrates the story as a flashback while in solitary confinement. She has been friends with a selfish and popular cheerleader, Jennifer Check, since childhood, despite having little in common. One night, Jennifer takes Needy to a local dive bar to attend a concert by indie rock band Low Shoulder. A suspicious fire engulfs the bar, killing several people, and Jennifer, who is in shock, agrees to leave with the band despite Needy’s protests. Later that evening, Jennifer, covered in blood, appears in Needy’s kitchen and proceeds to eat food from the refrigerator. Unable to digest the matter, she vomits a trail of black, spiny fluid and then leaves in a hurry as Needy calls after her.

The next morning at school, Jennifer appears fine and shrugs off Needy’s concerns. While the whole town is devastated by the deaths caused by the fire, Jennifer seduces the school’s football captain in the woods and then kills him; his disemboweled corpse is later found. Meanwhile, the members of Low Shoulder gain popularity due to their rumored heroism during the fire and offer to make a charity appearance at the school’s spring formal.
A month later, Jennifer is beginning to look pale, and accepts a date with school goth/emo Colin, whom she brutally kills that night. While Needy and her boyfriend, Chip, have sex, Needy senses something dreadful has happened. She leaves in a panic and almost runs over Jennifer, drenched in blood. She rushes home and finds Jennifer in her bedroom. Jennifer kisses her, initiating a brief makeout session, and soon explains what happened after the fire: Low Shoulder took her into the woods and offered her as a virgin sacrifice to Satan in exchange for fame and fortune. Although the sacrifice and greedy exchange were a success, Jennifer was in fact not a virgin, and when the lead singer Nikolai murdered her, the ritual backfired and a demonic spirit took over her body. Unbeknownst to Needy, Jennifer also encountered the Indian exchange student Ahmet after the fire and, upon hearing that no one knew he had survived, took him into the woods and ate him, rendering him her first victim. Jennifer states that she can withstand virtually any injury without pain and is rather difficult to kill.
The next day at school, as the town is stunned by Colin’s death, Needy goes to the school library’s occult section and surmises that Jennifer is a succubus; she is weakest when she is hungry, and must feed on flesh in order to sustain her life and appearance. Needy tells Chip about her discoveries and warns him not to attend the school dance. He does not believe her and she subsequently breaks up with him in order to protect him. Chip goes to the dance, hoping to meet with Needy, but is instead intercepted by Jennifer, who seduces him and takes him to an abandoned pool house. Needy arrives there and finds Jennifer feeding on Chip. Needy tries to drown Jennifer but Jennifer, hovering in the air, attacks her. She is then stabbed by Chip with a pool skimmer. Jennifer escapes while Needy watches her boyfriend die.

Needy decides she must kill Jennifer for the common good. She goes to Jennifer’s home and sees Jennifer picking out her next victims in her yearbook. Crashing through the window, Needy engages in a fight with Jennifer wielding a box cutter. Culminating with a stab to the heart, Needy finally destroys the demon and kills her. Jennifer’s mother enters and finds Needy with the box cutter on top of her daughter’s body. Soon after, Needy is brought to an asylum. Since she was bitten non-fatally by Jennifer, she has obtained some of Jennifer’s supernatural powers, such as the ability to hover in the air. Set upon revenge for what was done to Jennifer and her, she escapes the mental facility and hitchhikes a ride to the hotel where Low Shoulder are staying; there, she slaughters the members, whose killings are later discovered by local authorities.

A fun quirky film that is greatly underrated

 

REVIEW: ROMANCE & CIGARETTES

CAST

Kate Winslet (Divergent)
James Gandolfini (8mm)
Susan Sarandon (Tammy)
Steve Buscemi (Fargo)
Bobby Cannavale (Ant-Man)
Mandy Moore (A Walk To Remember)
Mary-Louise Parker (Red)
Christopher Walken (The Prophecy)
Elaine Stritch (3rd Rock From The Sun)
Eddie Izzard (Mystery Men)
Amy Sedaris (Elf)
Jake Cannavale (Nurse Jackie)
Aida Turturro (Deep Blue Sea)
Tonya Pinkins (Gotham)
John Turturro (Transformers)
Tony Goldwyn (Ghost)

This film is fresh and original and, when at its best, extremely and surprisingly funny.  Gandolfini plays Nick Murder, a man who loves his wife Kitty (Sarandon), but can’t seem to lay off the women on the side – the one He’s now with, Tula (Winslet) – is a fiery redhead. Right at the start there’s an argument and a near fight, and the rest of the film becomes a rumination and celebration of love and lust and other crazy things involved with the human heart, leading up to redemption.

There’s a certain quality to Romance and Cigarettes that marks it as a pop-marked must-see, a picture with terrific songs. There’s an exuberance that Tuturro reaches for that he achieves like few who’ve made musicals in the past several years; his actors, however much they do or don’t seem to be singing with the songs playing on during the numbers, are into the groove, the abstract/surreal quality that at times makes it like a whacked out extended dream sequence on the Sopranos. Kate Winslet and James Gandolfini in Romance & Cigarettes (2005)

Kate Winslet is astoundingly good here in a part that requires her to be tart-tongued but not a floozy, sophisticated in a manner of speaking even if the ‘girl on the side’. She gives it her all.A brilliant film that takes you unawares with it’s originality and energy. Terrific soundtrack and wonderful, hysterically funny, dance sequences.

REVIEW: BEWITCHED (2005)

CAST

Nicole Kidman (Batman Forever)
Will Ferrell (Elf)
Shirley MacLaine (Terms of Endearment)
Michael Caine (Batman Begins)
Jason Schwartzman (Scott Pilgram vs. The World)
Kristin Chenoweth (Pushing Daisies)
Heather Burns (Miss Congeniality)
Stephen Colbert (Strangers With Candy)
David Alan Grier (Jumanji)
Steve Carell (Anchorman)
Katie Finneran (Wonderfalls)
Amy Sedaris (Puss In Boots)
Alison MacInnis (Power Rangers Lightspeed Rescue)
Valerie Azlynn (Julia X)
Richard Kind (Gotham)
P.J. Byrne (Rampage)
Jason George (Fallen)
Wendi McLendon-Covey (Bridesmaids)
Kate Walsh (13 Reasons Why)

Jack Wyatt is a narcissistic actor who is approached to play the role of Darrin in a remake of the 1960s sitcom Bewitched, but insists that an unknown play Samantha. Isabel Bigelow is an actual witch who decides she wants to be normal and moves to Los Angeles to start a new life and becomes friends with her neighbor Maria. She goes to a bookstore to learn how to get a job after seeing an advertisement of Ed McMahon on TV. Jack happens to be at the same bookstore after attending some failed Samantha auditions. Jack spots Isabel and persuades her to audition. At the same time, while she’s trying to settle into her new life, Isabel’s intrusive father Nigel keeps appearing to convince her to return home, despite several rejections from Isabel.

After Isabel impresses the show’s producers and writers, Jack finally convinces Isabel to join the show. Also joining the show is legendary actress Iris Smythson as Endora. After a successful taping of the pilot, Isabel happens to overhear a conversation Jack is having with his agent Ritchie. They are talking about how they tricked Isabel to appear without having any lines. Furious, Isabel storms off with Maria and new friend Nina close behind. She decides she only has three choices: quit, get mad, or live with it. Instead, Isabel’s Aunt Clara visits and aids Isabel in casting a spell on Jack in order to make him fall in love with her. At the same time, Nigel is introduced to Iris and becomes infatuated with her.

The hex works and Jack becomes love struck by Isabel, insisting on several script changes to give her some dialogue and jokes, ignoring statements from test groups preferring Isabel over him. Jack’s affection for Isabel grows and he asks her out on a date, making Isabel forget about the hex. But when he brings her home, she remembers and reverses it back to when she and Aunt Clara cast it. The next day, rather than the events the hex presented, Jack is outraged by the scores he received and takes his anger out on Isabel, who lashes back at him. Ritchie fires her, and she storms off. Rather than be angry at her, Jack is fascinated with Isabel and chases after her, taking all her comments into thought. So, after another great taping (with Isabel getting dialogue), a romance blossoms between the two. But the next day, Jack’s ex-wife Sheila arrives, determined to woo Jack back. Isabel sees this and casts a spell on her making her sign the divorce papers and have her decide to move to Iceland. Jack, thrilled, announces he will be throwing a party at his house celebrating the divorce.

Nigel attends the party with Iris and when Nigel begins flirting with much younger guests, Iris reveals that she is also a witch and casts a spell on each girl. When Jack makes a toast stating truth will be revealed with everyone, Isabel decides to tell Jack she’s a witch. At first thinking she’s simply an amateur magician, Jack officially believes her when she levitates him with her broom. Jack becomes frightened and shoos her away with a stick. Offended, Isabel flies off.

Jack takes this hard, being brought to the studios by the police and becoming disenchanted with the project. Isabel decides to return home as she no longer wishes to stay. Jack, imagining himself on the Conan O’Brien Show, is visited by Uncle Arthur. Arthur convinces Jack not to let Isabel leave, because Jack still loves her and wouldn’t be able to return for 100 years (which is later proven to be a lie Arthur made up to inspire Jack). Arthur drives him to the studio where he finds Isabel at the set. Jack apologizes to her and tells her he wants to marry her. They do and move into their new neighborhood (which resembles the neighborhood in the series).The beginning is slow, I have to admit, and at times the storyline does drag a little but if you stick with it I think you’ll be pleased and amused towards the end. But if you are expecting a movie remake of the Bewitched television series, this, sadly, isn’t.