“The Mandalorian: Chapter 5” Review!

After four episodes of waiting impatiently for Ming-Na Wen to arrive onscreen in The Mandalorian, she’s finally here – in a big way. This episode is her’s just as much as it is Baby Yoda’s. In fact, even old Mando himself manages to make a decent case for why he should still be considered the protagonist of the show named after himself. I know, it’s all a bit shocking.

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The fifth chapter of the hit streaming show, fittingly titled The Gunslinger, brings Mando and Baby Yoda to the familiar planet of Tatooine after their ship is damaged in a shootout at the beginning of the episode. Amateur bounty hunter Toro Calican (Jake Cannavale) enlists Mando’s help on a difficult mission while mechanic Peli Motto (Amy Sedaris) humorously parents the intergalactic infant superstar Baby Yoda. While I went into this episode more than slightly worried about the show’s slow-pacing and meandering storyline, I emerged with a renewed optimism regarding the final three episodes. Chapter 5 still goes off on a tangent and leads our heroes into a side-quest, but it also introduces a couple of new concepts and characters that, hopefully, are destined to stick around for a while longer and have some purpose in the plot (the pilot episode’s killer droid IG-11 and last week’s kind-hearted mercenary Cara Dune, while heavily promoted in the show’s marketing, have still only appeared in one episode each).

This episode also leans heavily on fanservice and callbacks – from the sparkly, unrealistic explosions in the opening dogfight, strongly reminiscent of A New Hope‘s pyrotechnics; to the setting on the iconic desert planet of Tatooine, and the appearance of Tusken Raiders, the Mos Eisley cantina, and pit droids. But director Dave Filoni has put a fun new spin on each of these elements (with the exception of the cantina, which is underutilized: we’ve seen so many space pubs in Star Wars by this point that the darkly-lit lair is hardly unique anymore, especially without Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes providing alien jazz). Toro Calican even dresses like Han Solo and sits in the very same booth as him, with his legs stretched across the table in Solo’s classic style – but don’t fear: Calican, despite also being a Corellian mercenary, proves himself to be a radically different character in the episode’s final minutes.

Speaking of which, we now have to talk about SPOILERS. You’ve been warned!

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The big surprise in this episode is Ming-Na Wen’s appearance as fearsome assassin and former Hutt employee Fennec Shand, who is on the run in the deserts of Tatooine. Considering the way that the locals seem to have dealt with the stormtrooper threat, by mounting their heads on pikes in the streets of Mos Eisley, it’s understandable why she’d want to make a getaway. But she’s not able to escape before Calican and The Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal) come after her: Calican for fame, Mando for money. Though they capture her after a brief fight (which is, unfortunately, set in the middle of the night, making it hard to appreciate Wen’s real martial arts prowess), it’s not the end of her story. After trying to get Calican to free her from her shackles in exchange for her help in killing Mando and stealing his expensive suit of beskar steel armor, and then getting shot for her efforts, Shand is left supposedly dead in the desert, while Calican takes her advice and lays a trap for Mando, even going so far as to try and kidnap Baby Yoda in a heart-wrenching moment of terror. But while Calican is now dead dead (don’t ever mess with the enraged single father of a celebrity baby), Shand is possibly alive to fight another day: The Gunslinger‘s final scene shows a mysterious, cloaked character wearing metal spurs approaching her body. Who is it? We have no idea yet, but this mystery will hopefully be explained soon: as for whether Shand is still alive, we can only hope and pray. Her character, and Wen’s excellent performance, is already a series highlight.

And the Mandalorian himself? You know the drill by this point: he fixes his ship, and takes off for a destination to be determined next week. Baby Yoda is unharmed after the…sixth? seventh?…attempt on his life, but continues to be absolutely adorable. But for whatever reason, I’m willing to excuse the fact that this is the fourth episode in a row to end this way – Filoni’s direction, and the subtle hints and teases of another emerging storyline, have me feeling intrigued about Mando’s next destination, and what host of enemies and one-and-off allies he’ll find there. I think it’s about time we caught another glimpse of Werner Herzog’s antagonistic character, or ran into some Imperial survivors who might know something about Baby Yoda’s true identity, and why the Empire wants him so badly. Remember, that story was supposed to be this show’s throughline, once upon a time. We’ve all been so distracted by Baby Yoda memes, I think we’ve forgotten this thing has a plot.

As long as it has Ming-Na Wen, though, I’m happy.

What did you think of the episode? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!

Episode Rating: 8/10

“Charlie’s Angels” Trailer Review!

Months ago, when we got our first look at Charlie’s Angels, as reimagined for modern audiences by director Elizabeth Banks, I had no idea what to expect, no idea what to critique, and what to compliment. I had never watched a single second of footage from the two previous Charlie’s Angels movies, or the 1970’s TV show that started it all. Well, I’m proud to say today that that has changed, and that, thanks to Netflix, who always seem to conveniently release older movies just when they’re relevant again, I have watched both of the original films. They’re bad movies: they’re cheesy, ridiculous, and laughable – they’ve got sexist and racist overtones, and are unabashedly and sometimes even uncomfortably intended for the male gaze: so it comes as no surprise that, unburdened by a male director, the modern Charlie’s Angels is quite the opposite of the two films that precede it.

I completely agree with what Banks is trying to do with the franchise, bringing in more diversity, focusing significantly more on the women themselves rather than their relationships with men, and shaking things up in the general premise of the plot.

Now, on the flip-side, Banks also seems to have gotten rid of one of the more unproblematic elements of the first two films: the crazy, over-the-top action that made those movies actually watchable – there were some iconic and clever fight scenes in those films, made possible through CGI wizardry and a lot of wire-work: the Angels repeatedly verged on becoming superhero ninjas, even defying the laws of gravity – the fact that there are not one, but two scenes in those films where the Angels successfully climb onto a helicopter in mid-air, is proof of that. And yes, it’s so hilariously implausible that it’s hard not to laugh, but isn’t that what made the series fun? But Banks has chosen to focus less on cool action-sequences than on “party vibes”, which is an okay route to go, I guess, but doesn’t compare to the sword-fights, race-car duels and motorbike murder from the first two films. And with actresses like Kristen Stewart and Naomi Scott in this movie, is Banks seriously going to rob us of any cool fight sequences with the two?

And at the same time that the film is straying dangerously far from its roots into uncharted territory, the trailers are also extremely confusing: for one thing, Ariana Grande, Miley Cyrus and Lana Del Rey all show up in this new trailer – except, their footage appears to be taken straight from the music video they did for the film’s hit song, “Don’t Call Me Angel”. So, um, are they in the movie…or not? I mean, I guess it makes sense, since the song is pretty much the only thing that has so far captured the public’s attention, so capitalizing on that is a surefire win…but also kind of perplexing, since audiences who haven’t watched the music video are now going to think that those three, popular singers are in the movie – or maybe they are! Who knows?

So, the trailers are almost definitely going to be a miss for many people, and long-range box-office tracking predicts that Charlie’s Angels itself will be a miss: I mean, honestly, it looks decent. What it lacks is brand recognition, action, and cohesion. What do you think? Are you going to see the film, or will this angel’s wings be broken at the box-office?

Trailer Rating: 5.9/10

“1917” First Trailer!

It’s shaping up to be a good year for World War I dramas – between this grim, harrowing account of two men racing against time to prevent a massacre on the battlefield, to The King’s Man, which seems to present a more romanticized view of British spies and assassins weaving through early 20th Century politics, pretty much all your bases are covered. So let’s talk about the first trailer for Sam Mendes’ 1917, which has just dropped today.

First up, the fact that it’s a joint Universal Studios/DreamWorks Pictures release stunned me right off the bat – I’m just not used to seeing the DreamWorks logo before a trailer filled with mustard gas, military chaos and the horrors of war: but here we are, and that’s what we’ve got. The trailer is masterfully edited to reflect the claustrophobia of the trenches on the front lines: it opens with a man running across an open field, being peppered with bullets and bombs, but the camera frame shrinks tighter and tighter around him, quickly becoming the second 1 in 1917, while the man himself is lost in a cloud of smoke. That’s quickly followed by darkly-lit shots of soldiers creeping through an abandoned building, guns at the ready – the shadows encroach around them oppressively before being abruptly shredded by a bomb exploding in their midst. As the air rings around the survivors, their voices are muffled and distant, their figures merely dark silhouettes in a fog. There are haunting shots of men wading through rivers clogged with dead bodies, or staring into the ever more rapidly shrinking title cards as if they’re caught in the enemy’s crosshairs, while the music beats in time to their gunfire.

And then, of course, there’s Benedict Cumberbatch: no decent British historical fiction would feel right without him. The cast also includes Colin Firth, Mark Strong and Richard Madden – as of right now, the film looks very (as in, entirely) male-driven: there’s only a single female character credited on IMDb, and since she doesn’t have a name except for “Mother”, I’ll bet she’s very unimportant to the story. That’s not necessarily a mark against the film, but plenty of war dramas can and do find enough time for at least one named female character to appear: though they’re typically little more than plot devices who inspire the soldiers to invoke their name as they charge into battle, or who can cry over said soldiers when their dead bodies are returned home for burial.

All in all, though, the film looks very good: with the market currently wanting more war dramas, I hope 1917 has enough appeal to win out over bigger, more mainstream releases like Roland Emmerich’s Midway, or The King’s Man.

Trailer Rating: 5/10

“Indiana Jones 5” Begins Filming Next Year!

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All the way back in 2008, it seemed like Harrison Ford was finally going to pass on the mantle (or, rather, fedora) of Indiana Jones to Shia LaBeouf, who played Indy’s long-lost son, “Mutt” Williams, in Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull. Eleven years later, the fifth and presumably final installment in the franchise has yet to be released, and continues to get pushed further and further back, while Ford himself continues to get older and older, and…well, nobody even knows what Shia LaBeouf is up to these days, but most sources agree that he’s not planning on returning for the fifth film (which is fine, because he was one of the worst things about Crystal Skull), leaving the door open for a newer, fresher actor (or actress?) to enter the franchise at this late stage, and possibly even continue after Ford has exited. Then again, Ford himself is understandably upset with the idea that anyone could replace him: “When I’m gone, he’s gone”, the actor proclaimed in a recent interview, before telling Chris Pratt that, as long as he has any say in the matter, the franchise will die with him.

The possibility of the franchise ever having a satisfying “death”, however, is seemingly almost unlikely at this point, though. Indiana Jones 5 was originally set to release…a week ago. Obviously, that didn’t pan out, and the film is currently suspected to be aiming for a 2021 release date. News has just broken today that Harrison Ford will start filming in London, in April of 2020, giving the movie just enough time to become a summer blockbuster the year after. But the film’s success largely depends on how good a movie it is, and right now we simply don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes: Steven Spielberg will direct, but he’s been vague about whether or not George Lucas will be helping him in bringing almost forty years of tomb-raiding and whip-cracking to an end. Meanwhile, writers on the project have come and gone, with Jon Kasdan’s original script (which apparently brought the story back to its roots of Nazi-defying adventures in a late thirties environment) being scrapped in favor of a new, completely mysterious one by Dan Fogelman.

Personally, I’d love to see Indy go back to fighting Nazis, as much as I loved Cate Blanchett’s portrayal of a Soviet psychic in Crystal Skull (though she never actually got to show off said psychic powers, so that was a bit of a letdown). But the franchise definitely needs to change its tune – the aliens and atom bombs from the last installment felt very out of place in a series that’s supposed to be rather old-fashioned (though, we could probably do without some of the original films’ old-fashioned racism and sexism). But with Harrison Ford nearing eighty, it perhaps makes sense to have him in a slightly more modernistic setting – probably the late sixties or early seventies: in which case, we could still have him fight Nazis, but they would have to be rogue former scientists or generals living in hiding. There could be a pretty interesting story there, actually, if it was done well.

Since I just recently binge-watched all four movies and still loved them (Last Crusade is the best of the franchise; prove me wrong), I’m very excited to see what Spielberg and Ford have to offer for Indy’s final adventure. And if the fedora absolutely has to be passed on, I hope it’s to someone worthy of that honor (i.e, not Shia LaBeouf).

The “Broken Women” Of “Black Widow”.

Last night, I began my coverage of Marvel’s San Diego Comic-Con panel with a brief post about what had been revealed at the Black Widow presentation; there seemed to be very little at first – it was a prequel, Florence Pugh would play Yelena Belova, and the film’s villain would be Taskmaster. And that seemed to be it. Boy, was I wrong.

Since then, there’s been a bunch of interviews with the cast of Black Widow (who are about to head back to London for more filming): a lot has been revealed, and we’re going to have to go over it all. Forget basically everything in my initial post. There’s a lot to talk about now.

The big thing about the film, apparently, is that it’s a drama: what with Black Widow herself being something of a small-scale superhero, it makes sense to focus on finding creative ways to make this film stand out, since, honestly, in a universe where Captain Marvel can punch spaceships out of the sky with her bare hands and Thor can harness the power of a dead star, Black Widow’s skills with a baton just aren’t gonna cut it. Scarlett Johansson has revealed that this film is much more intellectual than other Marvel movies: she gets to “talk more” than ever before, and says that there’s a lot of dialogue. It’s an introspective movie that will explore Black Widow’s mental and emotional state during a very interesting period of her life, when she was a fugitive in between Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War. It looks like, during this time, Black Widow is on her own and trying to figure out her purpose in life when her past suddenly catches up with her and takes her on a wild ride back to places she remembers from her youth – the Red Room and Budapest, for example. The Black Widow we see here is someone who’s a little out of her element, and more than a little scared of what’s happening all around her: but we know from Avengers: Endgame that Widow will eventually pull herself back together and find her moral compass once again, only to have to sacrifice everything she’s won to save the world. Prediction: this film will prove, once and for all, that Black Widow is the most tragic character in the entire MCU.

What she finds on her journey will surprise her: first up, we have Florence Pugh’s character, Yelena Belova. We have a few new details on this elusive Russian assassin – she’s got a complicated history with Black Widow. The footage shown to the crowds at Comic-Con depicted Belova first attempting to murder Widow by strangling her with a curtain before sitting down with her to share a drink. Pugh says that Belova is very strong, but is dealing with her own issues – I think we’ll see Belova struggling between sticking with the Red Room that she’s known for her entire life, or leaving to follow Natasha Romanoff, the Black Widow, into the great unknown. It’s becoming more and more likely that Belova chooses to take on the mantle of “Black Widow”, when she learns of Romanoff’s self-sacrifice. Can you imagine how shocked the remaining Avengers will be when Belova arrives and introduces herself as Black Widow?

Now, we have a tidbit of information that has me flabbergasted: there’s no Taskmaster in this movie, apparently. Turns out, the footage shown at Comic-Con did not show the hooded villain as was previously reported – no, the character seen in that footage (footage which has not been released online) was a woman, Melina, who becomes the Iron Maiden character from the comics – the footage apparently showed Melina and Black Widow fighting in the wreckage of a fiery car crash. This character will be portrayed by Rachel Weisz, who says of Melina that she is an embittered woman who has been cycled and recycled through the Red Room program five times already, but had never been able to match the skill and prowess of her antagonist, Black Widow. She also mentioned that Melina is part of some scientific project which she couldn’t describe in any detail.

It looks like these three women will be at the center of the film: just as Captain Marvel explored the power of female friendships, Black Widow will probe deep into even more complex relationships of hatred, fear and resentment, as all three are trying to survive in a dangerous world.

But the two confirmed male characters both have interesting storylines as well – David Harbour confirmed that he is playing Alexei, the Red Guardian, a superhuman character born from Cold War conflicts; basically, the Soviet Union’s answer to Captain America. Considering that the Soviet Union disbanded quite some time ago, it would be interesting if Red Guardian was a relic of bygone days, someone who isn’t quite sure what he’s meant to do in a post-Cold War world: rather like Black Widow herself. Harbour promised that his character is very complex, which sounds awesome.

O.T. Fagbenle, meanwhile, is apparently not playing the villain, as previously speculated: instead, he’s a self-described “fixer” named Mason, who helps Natasha because of his romantic feelings for her. He’s a shady guy, who operates an extensive underworld of secret contacts and is always ready to help out his highest-paying customers by giving them emergency backup. He sounds like an interesting fellow, but we don’t know very much else about him yet.

So, now that we’ve gotten all this additional information; what do you think? Are you excited for Black Widow? Do you like the thought of it being a drama? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

“The King’s Man” First Trailer!

No offense to director Matthew Vaughn, but now was probably the worst possible time to release this trailer. At least for me – probably only for me.

You see, I have only recently finished watching The Last Czars on Netflix: a semi-dramatized documentary about the final days of the Russian Czar Nicholas and his entire family, who were brutally murdered in 1918 during the Bolshevik Revolution. Their story was very closely linked with that of the highly mysterious monk and spiritual healer Grigori Rasputin. Now, I went into this six-episode series knowing full well what happened to each and every one of these people, and how they died horrific deaths: what I did not know was how the series would choose to depict each and every one in the most awful ways imaginable – from Rasputin’s terrifying ability to defy death several times even while he was poisoned and brutally injured, to the slow and agonizing deaths of the Czar’s four daughters, who were probably the last of the family to perish since they were wearing diamonds sewn into their clothes, granting them a temporary immunity to their murderers’ bullets. I was expecting the deaths to happen off-screen, preferably with a minimum amount of anguished screaming. I watched it at night (could it get any worse?), and I couldn’t sleep for hours afterward. The next morning I tried as hard as I could to forget what I had just witnessed.

And who shows up in today’s first trailer for the upcoming spy thriller The King’s Man? That’s right – the bearded monk Rasputin, looking rather more fictionalized, and showing an impressive skill at wielding…glass ornaments? Teapots? I’m not entirely sure what he’s holding at the 1:18 mark, but it’s also very difficult to focus on anything other than those wide eyes, eyes which supposedly hypnotized and enchanted the Czarina of Russia, to the point where she was unable to break free of his spell. I suspect we even see the Czarina in the trailer: one of the two women clinging to Rasputin’s arm as he strides through an elegant ballroom. Then again, the characters in this film are clearly only loosed based on their historical counterparts, since the IMDb page reveals that the fabled spy Mata Hari will also be in this movie, played by Gemma Arterton (who’s been getting her fair share of spy thrillers recently, coming off the unexpected success of Murder Mystery on Netflix), alongside characters like Field Marshall Haig; U.S. President Woodrow Wilson; the Kaiser Wilhelm II, Czar Nicholas II, and King George V of England, all played by Tom Hollander, which makes me suggest that somehow all three warring heads of state are going to be revealed to be the same man; and…and Rasputin’s real-life killer, the Russian prince Felix Yusupov (played by Daniel Brühl, Marvel’s “Baron Zemo”).

And this is what has me slightly upset. Not the fact that Rasputin is actually as terrifying as all get-out, and his portrayal in this film by Rhys Ifans looks even freakier (well, okay, that too), but the knowledge that this film is going to necessarily fictionalize a whole bunch of this part of history. Now, don’t get me wrong: I like historical fiction. Usually, seeing Mata Hari cross paths with Rasputin wouldn’t be a problem for me – but coming at this time, just after I’ve watched the most grim, grisly, realistic depiction of this very intense period of human history…well, it’s just coming at a bad time. Especially because this has so much potential: it could do so many things – it could, for instance, seek to capitalize on the very popular myths of the “escape” of Russian princess Anastasia Romanov. Let me stress that those are myths: trust me, I’ve just watched the documentary – the bodies of all seven Romanovs have been found as of this writing, and Anastasia is among them. She did not escape, no matter how much we may want to believe that she did. I’m going to make myself cry just writing this, because I loved imagining all the creative ways in which she could have made her daring escape from the House of Special Purpose. But, sadly, none of it’s true.

Anyway…that’s all I’m trying to say. At this moment, watching this trailer, my emotions on the subject are very raw, and I’m not currently relishing the idea of watching our British protagonists smuggle the princess out of Russia before the Bolsheviks (or Mata Hari?) can catch her. I don’t even know if that’s one of the film’s plot points – but if it is, I’d rather not know about it for a little while.

Moving on. The rest of the trailer looks really good, though I do have one other complaint. Namely, that this film already looks like it’s trying to copy certain aspects of my all-time favorite World War 1 film, Wonder Woman. Like, literally, right down to some of the shots in the trailer, such as when Ralph Fiennes (I think it’s him, at any rate) gets thrown through a wall by an explosion, while holding what looks to be a Germanic shield of some sort: it’s basically this shot:

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But with a lot less dimension: seriously, if you’re going to throw a guy through a wall, have him…I don’t know, fall from a height or something? Instead the man in question just falls onto a really barren patch of gray dirt. Not very visually interesting, if you ask me.

Aside from probably coincidental similarities (such as the scene of British soldiers going up over the trenches), we also have the peculiar appearance of a very familiar name in the cast: that of General Ludendorff, whom Wonder Woman fans will remember for his large role in that film, where he was…a glowing superhuman possessed by the Greek god Ares. I know, I was just complaining about fictionalization.

But leaving all that aside, I’m still a sucker for anything set during the Great War; I like Ralph Fiennes as an actor; and I think this film definitely has potential. It’s got elegance, wit, and a good dose of classic British daring-do. Let’s see how it is – and whether it’s got Mata Hari smuggling Anastasia out of a Russian empire controlled by King George – before we make any assumptions.

Trailer Rating: 6/10