Ludwig Göransson

The Mandalorian (2019) s01e08 – Redemption

It’s a good thing series creator and episode writer Jon Favreau has seen Terminator 2, otherwise this episode wouldn’t have an ending.

It’s not clear who decided they ought to straight rip off the flashback sequence from For a Few Dollars More, Favreau or episode director Taika Waititi (who’s better than the worst directors on the series but nowhere near the best ones), but suffice to say… Waititi’s not Sergio Leone and composer Ludwig Göransson is definitely not Ennis Morricone. Unlike George Lucas, who synthesized Ford and Kurosawa with movie serials and special effects… “The Mandalorian”’s Western homages are forced, desperate. And, based on the flashback sequence here, a waste of time.

But… hey… maybe that one’s Boba Fett?

Speaking of movie serials, “The Mandalorian: Season One” does successfully mimic movie serial plotting. You can lop off two or three of the episodes from the middle and run the rest together for a complete narrative. This episode, which spends its first five or six minutes (after ripping off Troops to the point Kevin Rubio ought to try to sue, I mean, it’s Disney, why not) dialing back all of last episode’s cliffhanger’s impact, not just involving the danger to Baby Yoda but also for the heroes. Going to be a returning villain in Season Two new villain Giancarlo Esposito is supposed to be maniacally murderous but he’s more than willing to go for a coffee break to pad out the run time and give our beseiged heroes a chance to come up with an escape plan.

It’s a dreadfully predictable episode, especially since Favreau gives the characters lots and lots of dialogue about their situation. They have to argue and plead with one another over and over so their course of action is never a surprise. There aren’t any surprises in the episode.

Unless you count the special Kenner mail-away R2 unit with legs and maybe how no one in the main cast has ever heard of the Jedi (despite Luke Skywalker saving the universe with it and, really, at least Carl Weathers being old enough to be alive when there were Jedi around—the Star Wars timeline is kind of weird how an entire galaxy managed to forget space wizards in, what, eighteen years). Oh, and the “May the Force Be With You” saying.

Emily Swallow’s back as the Mandalorian armorer. She ought to be a series regular. She’s at least fun. She also has zero problem with droids and, no spoiler, the lesson of “The Mandalorian: Season One” is droids are all right. And Baby Yoda is cute.

Is Baby Yoda cute this episode? Definitely. Favreau and Waititi try hard to make lead Pedro Pascal seem protagonist-y enough to shoulder the series burden but… a) there’s not much to shoulder (the show ends up aiming about as high as the unable to hit anything stormtroopers, which is a really weird trope to bring up considering the heroes are supposed to be in so much danger) and b) Baby Yoda. There’s no reason to watch this show except for Baby Yoda. And Baby Yoda delivers.

Also… Favreau’s got some obvious eighties action TV mentalities someone ought to edit out of the scripts (like he’s got an editor)—no explosion means survival, duh. It’s Disney Star Wars, it’s not going to be challenging but… come on. It’s got to be smarter than “Knight Rider.” Or it’s got to have a lot more Baby Yoda per episode.

The Mandalorian (2019) s01e07 – The Reckoning

This episode feels like old home week—even though “The Mandalorian” is only on episode seven, it’s been in the weeds for three episodes so even the promise of Carl Weathers (who’s no better than before, though also no worse) at least reminds of when the show didn’t disappoint.

Better, though kind of pointlessly, Gina Carano is back. Weathers shows up at the beginning in a hologram message to tell Pedro Pascal if he comes back they’ll kill Werner Herzog together and Pascal can stop worrying about bounty hunters going after Baby Yoda. It’s peculiar how trusting Pascal is about Weathers—even though Pascal tells Carano he doesn’t trust Weathers, there’s no indication Pascal behaves any differently (other than bringing along Nick Nolte’s also returning ugnaught for “backup”) than he would otherwise.

Jon Favreau’s not the… smartest writer. It’s actually kind of amazing how far he’s gotten with the show given he’s never really on the ball, characterization-wise. It’s like he’s intentionally leveraging “Star Wars shallow,” which is fine as it compensates for Favreau’s lack of ability.

Really this episode gets away with it all—Carano and Nolte being shoe-horned back in, Weathers being awful, Pascal being strangely naive given his almost weekly betrayals up to this point—because, well, Baby Yoda, but also director Deborah Chow. The show hasn’t just been in the weeds narrative-wise the last three, the direction stunk. Chow’s direction is good.

The droid bounty hunter also comes back, pointlessly but presumably setup for next episode—the episode ends on a very, very, very hard cliffhanger—so hopefully Chow’s back directing next week too.

There’s some super Baby Yoda powers going on in the episode—I’m not up enough on my current Star Wars lore to know if the power showed up in the prequels or post-quels but it seems to be the first time this Force power has gotten any use.

Outside Favreau’s Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game campaigns.

Herzog’s also back and eye-rolling bad. Giancarlo Esposito finally shows up and he’s all right but just as much of a stunt cast as Herzog. Ludwig Göransson’s music hits the godawful time and again.

The episode does feel a little like it could’ve been at least the fifth episode, maybe fourth, depending on how important you want to pretend Carano’s been to the show’s development.

Oh, but wait—what’s the deal with the creature makeup on Weather’s three sidekicks? It’s so cheap. Two of them are obviously in big helmets to keep the makeup budget down. “The Mandalorian” isn’t supposed to run out of money. It’s a tacit Disney+ promise.

The Mandalorian (2019) s01e06 – The Prisoner

It is a dark time for “The Adventures of Baby Yoda.” Second lackluster episode in as many weeks, with the show creators really thinking anyone cares about the adventures of “Mando the Mandalorian” Pedro Pascal when he’s not being an adorable dad with Baby Yoda. This episode’s director, Rick Famuyiwa, isn’t much better than last episode’s director—and as far as the use of wipes to move between characters, in real-time, meaning a wipe every minute and a half, is the worst creative decision in “The Mandalorian” so far. Whether it’s Famuyiwa or editor Jeff Seibenick’s idea, it’s a terrible device and kills any suspense in the scenes. Though it’s unclear if there’d be suspense in the scenes given the middling Ludwig Göransson music and the ineffectual sound design.

What’s so bewildering about “Mandalorian”’s recent fails is how obvious they’ve been. This episode has Pascal teaming up with some space mercenaries to do a heist. There’s humanoid leader Bill Burr, who manages to give one of the episode’s better performances just because he’s not awkwardly bad. There’s Richard Ayoade voicing a really boring insect-headed droid (I think I had the figure). Then there’s Clancy Brown as a devil alien with horns. He’s terrible. And it seems like he’s terrible because his makeup is done in such a way he can move his facial muscles. As for other aliens Natalia Tena and Ismael Cruz Cordova, whether they’re bad because of the makeup or the performances, it doesn’t matter. Famuyiwa and company’s lack of interest in having good performances is aggravating, especially since there’s so little Baby Yoda and so many minutes (at forty-three minutes, The Prisoner is the longest episode so far).

Mark Boone Junior shows up as the heist planner. He’s okay, though completely phoning it in. They also credit him as “Mark Boone Jr.,” which isn’t his name but whatever. They don’t have to be accurate or even good. They know if you’re hooked on Baby Yoda, you’ll keep showing up.

Actually, when you think about it, they didn’t know everyone would be hooked on Baby Yoda because Jon Favreau really thought people wanted to watch him play with his classic Kenner Star Wars figures.

But it’s concerning bad Famuyiwa does with the direction. It’s a kind of intensely pedestrian and makes me want to avoid his other work. Very different from the previous directors (oh, wait, the women), whose direction encouraged interest.

Venom (2018, Ruben Fleischer)

For most of the movie, Venom’s greatest strength is its potential. It certainly seems like lead Tom Hardy can do anything but as things progress, it becomes more and more obvious the potential is an illusion. Director Fleischer just hasn’t done a big action sequence yet, so the movie hasn’t shown its hand–Fleischer’s action sequences are awful–and there’s literally nothing Hardy can do. He’s along for the ride down the proverbial drain.

Of course, even when Venom seems like it might go well–and for a while, it’s shockingly all right–there’s the problem of the villain. Riz Ahmed is a billionaire super-genius who’s funding space exploration to bring organisms back to Earth to try to cure cancer. All of his experiments involve killing San Francisco’s homeless population and Ahmed has one of the worst written god complexes in motion picture history. Venom’s script is frequently bad, but the better actors work through it, as they get no help from Fleischer who’s concentrating on… something. Nothing good, nothing relevant, but presumably something. Ahmed’s terrible though. He’s the worst performance until the “surprise”–but credited–end credits cameo. And Ahmed’s quite bad throughout, so for the surprise cameo to be worse? Well, it’s an achievement of sorts.

The movie starts with a private spaceship crashing in Malaysia. Ahmed’s spaceship. It picked up some alien lifeforms–symbiotes, which are kind of like CGI slime but never green–and one of them escapes. Meanwhile, Hardy is an investigative reporter with his own TV show, which has opening titles where Hardy rides his motorcycle around San Francisco looking tough.

This opening is not where Venom shows potential. It’s all quite awkward and flat, also introducing Michelle Williams as the fiancée Hardy will betray to get dirt of Ahmed and Jenny Slate as one of Ahmed’s scientists. Once Hardy betrays Williams–for nothing, his network fires him for not brown-nosing Ahmed–Venom skips ahead six months. Hardy is now unemployable, broke, living in a bad neighborhood and a gorgeous, enormous San Francisco apartment, and feeling sorry for himself. And even though he says he’s given up on helping people, he’s really nice to his new supporting cast, primarily homeless lady Melora Walters and convenience store owner Peggy Lu.

It has somehow taken that escaped alien in Malaysia six months to get to an airport, but it’s finally on its way to Frisco to confront Ahmed, which has been its plan since… the second or third scene in the movie. Again, bad script.

Like when Hardy meets up again with Williams, who has moved on and is now dating nice guy surgeon Reid Scott. Though she apparently hasn’t gotten a new job. Because in Venom’s San Francisco, you can apparently just not pay rent.

Eventually Hardy breaks into Ahmed’s brodinagian research facility and picks up a symbiote of his own. Shockingly light security–including no security cameras–and the safety protocols for the hostile alien life forms are rather lax as well. Hardy and the alien talk to each other–Hardy, with some modification, also voices the alien (Venom, who comes from a planet where all the creatures were named by eight year-old boys)–before Ahmed sends his private security force (led by paper thin Scott Haze) after the new partners.

There’s also some stuff where Hardy gets help from Scott and Williams for his alien problem, which is where the film’s best. The character drama isn’t well-written or well-directed, but Hardy, Williams, and Scott all give good performances. So they get it through. They’re all likable, all sympathetic, all wasted.

The movie’s got three big action set pieces, four if you count a motorcycle and drone chase through San Francisco. Incidentally, that chase sequence is where it becomes obvious Fleischer’s never going to deliver good action. It just gets worse after that one. When it’s the alien in control–when the alien takes over, he’s like seven feet-tall and eats people’s heads–the film loses the Hardy grounding, which does help it. It can’t save it, but it does help it. Including Hardy’s voiceover talking to the alien always feels forced. Though the talking between Hardy and the alien always feels forced. Even when Hardy’s good. Crappy dialogue. Again, bad script.

Technically, Venom’s perfectly competent. It’s got no personality, but it’s competent. Well, some of the digital mattes are really bad; the digital effects are never great. Fleischer actually seems to get that shortfall. Even after the movie’s done hiding the shark and Venom is out of the water, the alien is a special effect not a character. He’s always turning back into Hardy in between action requirements.

For the first forty-five minutes, I was surprised how… mediocre it seemed like Venom was going to turn out. Then it started getting bad and just kept getting worse.

Given its subject matter and artistic ambitions (wokka wokka), Venom shouldn’t be a disappointment. But thanks to Fleischer and–to a lesser extent Ahmed)–it sure manages to be one.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Ruben Fleischer; screenplay by Jeff Pinkner, Scott Rosenberg, and Kelly Marcel, based on a story by Pinkner and Rosenberg and the Marvel Comics character created by David Michelinie and Todd McFarlane; director of photography, Matthew Libatique; edited by Alan Baumgarten and Maryann Brandon; music by Ludwig Göransson; production designer, Oliver Scholl; produced by Avi Arad, Amy Pascal, and Matt Tolmach; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Tom Hardy (Eddie Brock), Riz Ahmed (Carlton Drake), Michelle Williams (Anne Weying), Jenny Slate (Dr. Dora Skirth), Reid Scott (Dr. Dan Lewis), Peggy Lu (Mrs. Chen), Scott Haze (Treece), and Melora Walters (Maria).


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