Taika Waititi

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 besieged 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) s01e01

“The Mandalorian” is either like reading seventeen year-old Jon Favreau fall 1983 post-Return of the Jedi fan fic or it’s like playing his intricate, verbose Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game campaign–oh, wait, SWTRPG didn’t come out until 1987. So, no, it’s more like watching Jon Favreau play with his Jedi toys. A lot. But the toys play into how the story unfolds—Favreau, who wrote the episode in addition to creating the show, reaches into the toy bin, pulls out a figure, somehow makes it fit into the story. There’s a way too articulate ugnaught, a figure from Empire, pointlessly voiced by Nick Nolte. Most of the figures and vehicles are from Jedi. I think one of the guns is from Empire. You could sit with an old Hasbro catalog and check off items in the episode.

Visually, it looks like a bunch of Ralph McQuarrie paintings. Dave Filoni does an okay job with the direction. He tries hard to make it look like Star Wars: The Original Trilogy as far as his composition—outside when you’re pretty sure it’s a direct lift off a McQuarrie concept painting—but there are shot homages to Jedi the most, maybe Star Wars. Watching “The Mandalorian,” Disney has fully put on its big boy pants and figured out how to market to males age four through forty-four. I’m not sure Werner Herzog is going to attract the fifty-four year-olds. But if you grew up with Star Wars, “The Mandalorian” is for you. It’s how you could keep playing with your Boba Fett toys even after he died in Empire.

Oh, all the mythology on the Mandalorian culture? Metallurgy, female Mandalorians—“Mandalorian” is aimed at the OG Empire Boba Fett fanboys. I wonder if they’re going to release special toys.

Is it a good show? It’s not a bad show. It’s technically flawless except the Ludwig Göransson music, which isn’t bad just a bad idea for the show. Quirky Western. Eh. But it looks great. The acting’s… eh. Herzog’s in a scene, he’s quirky. Carl Weathers is in a scene. He’s not quirky. Lead Pedro Pascal is fine but the more he talks the more you realize you’re watching a cartoon turned live action through CGI.

Will I watch more of it? Sure. It’s never going to be challenging, but will always be mildly engaging and look great; besides, I like pointing out the toys I had as a kid too.

Two Cars, One Night (2004, Taika Waititi)

Trying to describe Two Cars, One Night without getting schmaltzy might be difficult. It’s sublime, gentle, tender, funny, brilliant, inspired, exceptional. Director Waititi’s just as phenomenal directing his young actors as he is at composing the shots to emphasize their experiences; specifically, how they perceive those experiences. The short starts with these two boys sitting in a car in front of a bar. They’re presumably waiting for a parent or two to get done hanging out in the bar. The little brother, Te Ahiwaru Ngamoki-Richards, is quietly reading a book in the passenger seat. The older brother, Rangi Ngamoki, is sitting behind the wheel and watching the adults outside the car.

Waititi does an amazing job subtly implying all these things going on around the boys, which they know are going on but don’t exactly understand. They also don’t understand they don’t exactly understand. Waititi sets up all these known unknowns before there’s the second car. Because amid this situation, where the boys are waiting outside a bar, in this isolated island surrounded by adults adulting, Waikato is going to unknowingly take the first steps towards adulthood.

And here’s why it’s hard to talk about the short without getting schmaltzy. While Waititi avoids sentimentality and instead focuses on his actors and how they convey the action, Two Cars, One Night is about Waikato teasing a girl, Rangi Ngamoki—who arrives in the second car, her parents also going in for drinks (there’s a whole other silent, subtle implication thing regarding the parents who come out first)—but it’s about these two adorable kids flirting. They go from tween and pre-tween (Ngamoki is nine, Waikato is twelve) fighting and teasing to—again—understanding their similar situations on a deeper level than they’re able to consciously recognize. Waititi’s real quiet about it too; he focuses on Ngamoki realizing he wants to talk to Waikato and not really understanding why. Because he’s nine. And she goes from being a grody girl to being worth trying to impress.

Little brother Ngamoki-Richards proves an intentionally bad, more intelligent and thoughtful, hilarious wingman.

Perfect performances from Waikato and Ngamoki. Waititi’s direction, on all levels, just gets more and more impressive throughout. The black and white photography, from Adam Clark, is great. So’s Owen Ferrier-Kerr’s editing. Both Clark and Ferrier-Kerr’s fine work contributes to the sublimeness.

It’s wondrous.

3/3Highly Recommended

CREDITS

Written and directed by Taika Waititi; director of photography, Adam Clark; edited by Owen Ferrier-Kerr; music by Craig Sengelow; produced by Catherine Fitzgerald and Ainsley Gardiner; released by the New Zealand Film Commission.

Starring Rangi Ngamoki (Romeo), Hutini Waikato (Polly), and Te Ahiwaru Ngamoki-Richards (Ed).


What We Do in the Shadows (2014, Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi)

What We Do in the Shadows is strong from the first scene. An alarm clock goes off at six. A hand reaches over to hit snooze. Only it’s six at night and the hand is reaching from a coffin. Shadows’s a mockumentary (though I sort of want to start calling them docucomedies after this one); the unseen documentary crew’s subjects are four Wellington, New Zealand vampire flatmates—directors Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement, Jonny Brugh, and Ben Fransham. The vampires have promised not to eat their documenters.

But there’s a lot of eating. Shadows is straight comedy. It’s funny when Waititi can’t figure out how to properly eat a victim, even though he’s almost four hundred years old. See, Waititi (as Clement tells the camera during the first act setup) was a dandy. Waititi is Interview with the Vampire, Clement is London After Midnight in terms of look while Vlad the Impaler (actually poker) in backstory. Brugh’s just a vampire. Fransham is Nosferatu, in some great makeup.

Waititi is the Felix, Brugh’s the Oscar, Clement’s in between. He does his chores, but he thinks Waititi is too much. Fransham is in a cement crypt in the basement and basically just eats people. He never cleans up either; his hallway is strewn with spinal cords and bones. It’d probably bother Waititi more if Brugh weren’t causing such problems upstairs. Plus, neither Brugh or Clement want to take the time to cover furniture before killing their victims. The blood’s getting on the nice furniture.

The first act sets up the life of modern Wellington vampires. How they get their victims—either seduction or Brugh having his familiar, Jackie van Beek, procure them—and how they socialize (they can’t get into many night spots because they need to be invited in). van Beek ends up introducing Cori Gonzalez-Macuer to the fellows, giving the film its main narrative. Gonzalez-Macuer becomes a vampire and, for about three minutes, it seems like the film might move to his perspective but no. Young know-it-all vampires are dopes; Gonzalez-Macuer is a dope and the film’s more about how the flatmates deal with having him around.

It’s not too bad, however, because he’s got a really cool friend (Stu Rutherford) who comes along. Rutherford’s human, but he’s so cool nobody’s going to eat him. Especially not after he shows the vampires how to use the Internet.

The film’s got a built-in structure—the documentary is about this annual undead ball and they’re going with the vampires. The ball shows up late in the film and, while it functions as the climax (or immediate precursor to it), it never feels that heavy. The “documentary” doesn’t change in tone. There’s no added emphases. Action just plays out like action plays out the rest of the time. The film’s meticulously edited, with this occasional asides to subplots. The asides are so successful you want the documentary filmmakers to show up just because they’ve got such an interesting take on their subjects. They’d be interesting characters. And not just because they’re so dispassionate about all the killing.

The killing is incidental.

All of the performances are great. Directors (and writers) Clement and Waititi are the best. Clement’s got something of a less showy role (though a more showy wardrobe) but gets to have some subtext while Waititi plays for more obvious laughs. He’s got his own subplot, but it doesn’t do anything until the end, when it’s just for a great laugh or two. Lots of great laughs in Shadows. Meanwhile, Clement’s subplot turns out to be tied to the main narrative. It’s complicated for the narrative but not so much for Clement, who instead has to imply a bunch in his performance. It all works out just right, of course, because Clement and Waititi do a fantastic job with Shadows. They’ve always got the right tone, the right joke, the right plot development.

Brugh, Gonzalez-Macuer, and van Beek all give strong performances. Brugh’s Oscar Madison so he’s mostly for a certain kind of laughs, but he’s also got great quirks. Gonzalez-Macuer is a sincere doofus. van Beek quietly suffers (she wants to be a vampire but Brugh keeps putting it off because vampires are shitty to their familiars).

There are a lot of vampire movie references in the film, including ones you might miss even if you’ve seen the movie. It’s more important to get the reference being a reference than to actually get the reference. The film leverages obvious genre tropes for humor, not specific references. Shadows is exceptionally well-executed.

And the special effects are perfect too.

Also—superb supporting performances all around, particularly Karen O’Leary as one of the cops who gets called out to check on the vampire house; superb supporting performances are no surprise because everything in What We Do in the Shadows succeeds.

Clement and Waititi, their costars, their crew—everyone does spectacular work.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi; directors of photography, Richard Bluck and D.J. Stipsen; edited by Tom Eagles, Yana Gorskaya, and Jonathan Woodford-Robinson; music by Plan 9; production designer, Ra Vincent; produced by Emanuel Michael, Waititi, and Chelsea Winstanley; released by Madman Entertainment.

Starring Jemaine Clement (Vladislav), Taika Waititi (Viago), Jonny Brugh (Deacon), Cori Gonzalez-Macuer (Nick), Stu Rutherford (Stu), Ben Fransham (Petyr), Jackie van Beek (Jackie), and Elena Stejko (The Beast).


Green Lantern (2011, Martin Campbell), the extended cut

The saddest thing about Green Lantern has to be the editing. Stuart Baird, amazing action editor of the last twenty or so years, cut together this malarky. It’s not Baird’s fault, exactly, how ugly Lantern plays—cinematographer Dion Beebe’s responsible for the shots not matching in lighting and Campbell composed them. But Baird’s always had a grace about his cutting. None of it is present here.

Or maybe James Newton Howard’s godawful score distracts from it.

The problem is Campbell and not because he can’t somehow make the shoddy CG work (though the fighter jets look okay… not real, but better than the space stuff). He isn’t directing his actors. If Campbell’s not taking the time to try to turn the crappy script into something good, why should anyone bother to see what he does with it….

I’m not talking about Ryan Reynolds. He’s terrible, sure, but there are a lot worse performances here. Blake Lively is atrocious, so is Mark Strong. Well, he’s more laughable than atrocious. Gattlin Griffith, as a young Reynolds, is hilariously bad.

More shocking than Reynolds is Campbell getting a phoned-in performance from Tim Robbins. I’ve never seen Robbins waste his time like he does here. Even Jay O. Sanders is bad, in what should be an easy role.

There’s no way Green Lantern would have been good with this script, but it could have been better. I hate blaming Campbell, who’s done excellent work; he should’ve taken an Alan Smithee on this garbage.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Martin Campbell; screenplay by Greg Berlanti, Michael Green, Marc Guggenheim and Michael Goldenberg, based on a story by Berlanti, Green and Guggenheim and a character created by John Broome and Gil Kane; director of photography, Dion Beebe; edited by Stuart Baird; music by James Newton Howard; production designer, Grant Major; produced by Berlanti and Donald De Line; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Ryan Reynolds (Hal Jordan), Blake Lively (Carol Ferris), Peter Sarsgaard (Hector Hammond), Mark Strong (Sinestro), Angela Bassett (Doctor Waller), Tim Robbins (Robert Hammond), Temuera Morrison (Abin Sur), Jay O. Sanders (Carl Ferris), Taika Waititi (Tom Kalmaku), Geoffrey Rush (Tomar-Re), Michael Clarke Duncan (Kilowog), Jon Tenney (Martin Jordan) and Clancy Brown (Parallax).


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