Jodhi May

The Witcher (2019) s01e07 – Before a Fall

“The Witcher” never expressly says “we’ve been Westworlding you” but this episode is where they show how they’ve been Westworlding the viewer. It’s Freya Allan’s part of the pilot, only with Henry Cavill mixed in. It’s been twelve years since Cavill was last in Jodhi May’s kingdom, which means Allan is like eleven and a half or something. Okay. Fine. She seems a little older, really doesn’t matter.

So while the show’s revealing how Cavill didn’t actually forget about his responsibility to Allan (which they still haven’t explained other than he feels responsible) and tried to save her in the first episode, May being a tyrannical warlord grandma blinded her to the better choices for Allan’s safety. Again, fine, whatever. If “The Witcher” were confident enough in its story, it wouldn’t have needed the fractured timeline because the show gets nothing out of the fracturing other than some momentary surprises. Lacking momentary surprises.

But while Cavill’s Back to the Future II adventures in the first episode are twelve years after he was last in the castle, there’s also Anya Chalotra’s arc. She’s visiting old boyfriend Royce Pierreson, who’s doing some Planet of the Apes-style archeology to discover the world before the three worlds converged or whatever. He’s basically just a cameo to set Chalotra up for going back to the mage training castle where she spent episodes two and three. There, she avoids mentor MyAnna Buring until the most dramatically effective moment while corrupting the current crop of students. And has flashbacks. Flashbacks to episodes two and three. In case anyone forgot, even though it was only four episodes ago and it’s a Netflix show so the episodes were intended to be binged.

Maybe if Chalotra had been introduced in the first episode instead of second, the flashbacks would… no, they’re just pointless. Worse, they take away from Chalotra getting to act in the present. Because she’s presumably had some character development between this episode and last, only… we don’t get to see it and we don’t get to infer it from her actions because her actions are mostly setups for exposition or flashback.

This episode is the season’s shortest at forty-five and change and it feels like at least ten minutes is reused footage.

The ending has Freya Allan revealing she’s got a different superpower than we knew about before—she’s got some arc about trying to survive among war refugees or whatever, doesn’t matter until the cliffhanger. Only it seems like her time in the magical forest was really important so it’s too bad the show didn’t use that time better.

Also, there’s a big exposition dump from Buring about the bad guys, who are basically medieval fundamentalist Christian Nazis.

But, hey, at least the timelines are all synced? And the “Destiny” drinking game rules are in full effect here as well.

The Witcher (2019) s01e04 – Of Banquets, Bastards and Burials

Is tricking a viewer with time periods called a Westworlding it yet? “The Witcher” does a soft Westworld this episode; initially I thought they were just cheap with the CGI establishing shots—Henry Cavill and returning sidekick Joey Batey go to a royal wedding auction (we get a little about the gender politics, but not a whole bunch) and it’s the same city as from the first episode. The one princess on the run Freya Allan runs away from. Because it turns out Cavill’s story is in the past from Allan. How far in the past depends on Allan’s age, which hasn’t been discussed, but it appears to be at least fifteen years after Cavill’s timeline.

It’s not so much a narrative trick as a way to simultaneously introduce characters regardless of time period… if they’d announced the time difference with onscreen titles, it’d be perfectly fine. They don’t and it’s a bit of an eye-roll but still basically fine. Because Cavill and Batey hanging out with Jodhi May and Björn Hlynur Haraldsson is pretty good. May’s great. Björn’s great. May’s particularly fun giving Cavill crap. They talk a bit about how the aforementioned gender politics work. There’s something called “male tradition,” which is pomp and circumstance and the women who rule would rather just go out and kill their enemies and not have silly traditions. What’s so weird about the gender politics is they still seem to be weighed towards patriarchy—May’s daughter (Gaia Mondadori, who’s not good but also doesn’t have enough material to be good) is being married off at this ceremony. Mom May doesn’t like the situation but it’s (male) tradition so her hands are tied. She also really doesn’t like Mondadori’s true love, Ossian Perret, for some obvious but bad reasons.

There are a lot of exposition dumps, some better than others. The multiple ramblings about “destiny,” which is basically the Force in “The Witcher,” comes up multiple times. Then there’s a Quickening scene straight out of Highlander but it turns out not to have anything to do with Destiny or the Force or magic and is just filler before May gets more to do. So long and kind of tedious, but May’s great so it doesn’t really matter.

It’s so much, of course, I haven’t even gotten to Allan or Anya Chalotra yet. Allan goes into this hidden forest place—basically a de facto Amazon (if there are dudes, they rarely get screen time) Green Place—where she can drink a magic potion to forget her past and live a magical future in Ferngully or whatever. It’s fairly disappointing stuff as the Allan stuff was the best part of the first episodes.

Chalotra’s story is about her miserable life in the present; thirty years have passed since she became a mage last episode and basically all she does is nursemaid idiot royals. The idiot royal in this episode is Isobel Laidler, who’s not as good as she ought to be. Chalotra’s completely passive until the end of the episode—odd move considering they’re reestablishing the series’s strongest character basically from scratch—and she still manages to occupy her scenes with Laidler. “Witcher”’s casting is either good or ineffectual, with Cavill basically being the only in-between. He’s got undeniable presence, but mostly a physical one. Though he’s a lot more fun playing civil at the wedding than monster hunting.

As for the “Witcher” drinking game, any time Adam Levy says “Destiny,” you drink. Levy’s May’s mage who’ll go on to be Allan’s pal in the present. What we now know is the present. Or whatever.

It ought to be a lot more uneven thanks to the Westworlding and Allan’s back to nature arc being lackluster, not to mention Chalotra’s entirely different character, but May’s performance is strong enough in the A plot to hold it all up.

Oh, and the episode finally ties at least two of the first episode’s outstanding threads together… with exposition obviously, not scene. Because “Witcher”’s all about that exposition.

The Witcher (2019) s01e01 – The End’s Beginning

There are so many names to learn in this episode. There are at least seven principals and then there’s a bunch of supporting cast and then everyone they’re information dumping about. “Witcher” is all about the exposition. Except when it’s not and then so long as it’s not about titular character but definitely not protagonist Henry Cavill, it’s fairly solid stuff. Let me see if I can recap without running out of breath.

Cavill’s an enhanced human who has video game powers—he’s strong, can heal, is an accomplished swords man, and can force push people when the meter’s charged enough. During the opening action sequence, with Cavill versus a monster (he’s a monster hunter, all witchers are apparently monster hunters), isn’t particularly good. Iffy CG and not great choreography. But the scene where Cavill takes on a bunch of regular guys? Pretty good stuff. Not super exciting, but far more competent than the battle scenes.

Anyway, humans hate witchers and can tell them by sight. Because of the blond wig? It’s unclear. So while townspeople are being mean to Cavill, Emma Appleton is nice to him. Then a little kid, Mia McKenna-Bruce, takes Cavill to meet the town wizard (Lars Mikkelsen, who ought to be stunt casting and is instead bland White man casting—discount Liam Cunningham in “Game of Thrones” terms). Mikkelsen tells Cavill a story about mutant girls born during an eclipse. Bonus points if you don’t just follow what Mikkelsen’s blathering about but can figure out why writer (and series creator, based on Andrzej Sapkowski’s novel series and its subsequent video game adaptations) Lauren Schmidt wants to do so much exposition since Mikkelsen’s not good at saying it and Cavill’s not good at listening to it. Though at least Cavill’s supposed to be ignoring it.

Long story short, Mikkelsen wants Cavill to kill Appleton. Cavill refuses, leaves town, where Appleton tracks him and tries to convince him to kill Mikkelsen for her. What is a witcher to do, especially since Appleton’s willing to up the ante with some seducing.

Meanwhile, completely unconnected to Cavill, Mikkelsen, and Appleton is princess Freya Allen. Who looks different from McKenna-Bruce after a while but not initially. Especially since Allen’s one of the characters with the funky eyes. Various people in “Witcher” have funky eyes. It usually means they have superpowers.

Allen lives with queen grandma Jodhi May (who’s technically old enough to be a grandma but not realistically) and king grandpa Björn Hlynur Haraldsson—of the Nordic cast, he’s far and away the best). Björn’s the fun one, May’s the badass warrior queen (“Witcher” doesn’t explain the differences in the fantasy world’s gender politics but there’s definitely something). They’re preparing Allen to rule, she just wants to goof off. Little does she know she’s got superpowers and her destiny is to hang out with Cavill.

Once we hear it’s her destiny, the episode makes a little more sense—at least from her perspective—but otherwise it’s weak as both pilot and prologue. Cavill’s not important to the story yet because it’s Allen’s story and they haven’t met yet.

It’s well-acted enough from May, Appleton, and Allen, but the fantasy land is nowhere near compelling enough with the way they set it up. Nonsense names and exposition dumps and no monsters after the first scene.

The Last of the Mohicans (1992, Michael Mann)

One of the particularly amazing parts of The Last of the Mohicans is how quietly director Mann lays out big pieces of the film. The relationship between Daniel Day-Lewis, Russell Means and Eric Schweig–Day-Lewis as adopted son to Means and adopted brother to Schweig–is complex and moving and Mann spends almost no time establishing it in dialogue. Certainly not the heavy lifting. The heavy lifting is the choreography of how the men hunt together in the first scene. Later, when they're battling the French or their Native American allies, their movements show the relationship.

For the romance between Day-Lewis and Madeleine Stowe, however, Mann goes the other route. The directness moves Stowe from third tier–behind Steven Waddington as her suitor and Day-Lewis's annoyance–to first. Hers is the film's most difficult role because she's the only one in the film making a huge journey. Mann establishes her character through dialogue in quiet scenes and in louder ones, it's all Stowe. Expressions, movements. It's a phenomenal performance.

And it needs to be to go up against Day-Lewis. He's transfixing.

Great supporting work from Means, Schweig, Wes Studi, Maurice Roëves and Patrice Chéreau. Jodhi May's good too, but doesn't have the same depth of material. Though she handles the implications of hers well.

The editing–from Dov Hoenig and Arthur Schmidt–the music–from Randy Edelman and Trevor Jones–and the photography–from Dante Spinotti–are all magnificent. Spinotti and Mann create expressive moments out of still shots of the scenery.

Mohicans is a truly wondrous piece of work.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Mann; screenplay by Mann and Christopher Crowe, based on the novel by James Fenimore Cooper and a screenplay by Philip Dunne, John L. Balderston, Paul Perez and Daniel Moore; director of photography, Dante Spinotti; edited by Dov Hoenig and Arthur Schmidt; music by Randy Edelman and Trevor Jones; production designer, Wolf Kroeger; produced by Mann and Hunt Lowry; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Daniel Day-Lewis (Hawkeye), Madeleine Stowe (Cora Munro), Russell Means (Chingachgook), Eric Schweig (Uncas), Jodhi May (Alice Munro), Steven Waddington (Maj. Duncan Heyward), Maurice Roëves (Col. Edmund Munro), Patrice Chéreau (Gen Montcalm), Edward Blatchford (Jack Winthrop), Terry Kinney (John Cameron) and Wes Studi (Magua).


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