IR TV Review: STAR WARS – CLONE WARS – FINAL SEASON – EPISODE 4 (“Unfinished Business”) [Disney+]

The continual force of The Bad Batch is based within the idea of whether or not a certain member of the group can be trusted. The idea is sticking to orders but also thinking outside the box. In this 4th episode: “Unfinished Business”, the question becomes one of trust or betrayal, either internally or externally within certain characters. Having rescued Echo, there is a possibility for dealing a blow for The Republic because of the information within this detached trooper’s head. The idea of what dictates loyalty is one that comes to bear for more than one character. Anakin’s forward momentum, especially in how he sees his path within the Jedi, seems to waver a little in this episode. However, the tendency and what it is occurring at this specific time is another issue entirely. We are also seeing in a flip tendency much more of Mace Windu’s hubris in terms of how he is approaching his mission. Whereas in earlier seasons of Clone Wars, his actions might have been seen as tongue-in-cheek, there is almost a vindictiveness here which is interesting to behold. The resolution also speaks to a division of sorts, not necessarily in idealism but ideology which is separate. It closes the door to a point on one possibility but opens up possibilities of internal strife to another.

B-

By Tim Wassberg

IR Film Review: ONWARD [Pixar/Disney]

The creation of new stories especially from the talent at Pixar is an interesting evolving evolution. The new iterations of IP are the first per se of originals after the departure of John Lasseter. Even though his removal was warranted, and despite the presence of so many of the original creative people, there is a slight hole, however miniscule within the structure. “Onward” works well and bring in textures of mythology but within the context of a modern world. It is intrinsic but, despite the quest motif, almost seems smaller than one would expect. The story works well though maybe a slight more complicated that the usual Pixar but as always deals with some sort of loss that must be regained through the transformation and path of a character.

The story follows the texture of two brothers, one of which Ian (played by Tom Holland) is becoming a man. He lost his father before he ever knew him. Barley, his brother, (played by Chris Pratt) is a fun-loving almost D&D outsider who teases his brother but loves him in his way nonetheless. This is not our world. This is a magical world where winged horses fight over garbage like dogs and cats and homes are sometimes made of mushroom. But modernism has taken the place of magic…which of course is an apt metaphor. The brothers discover a spell that will bring their father back for one day but the initial try (because Ian hasn’t ever tried to use magic) makes it so that only the bottom half of their father is there. In order to restore them they have to find another crystal that goes in a wand to conjure up the other half. Only problem is that the resurrection spell for their father only lasts for a day.

The quest itself is fun but mostly bittersweet. Small gestures by the bottom half of the dad are so small but mean so much which is why Pixar has always been able to translate to multiple languages. Holland plays a variation on his characters that start off meek but find a small degree of confidence by the end. Pratt’s Barney seems much closer to him as a person, even with his van Guinevere, which is an ode to Pratt’s life in his early 20s when he lived in his van in Hawaii. Pratt seems to go off script a little which is great but it seems maybe the animators tried to bridge it at times.

The true magic of the quest and the connection is almost a circle as the film ends in an interesting conundrum of a loop which actually works quite well and is quite existential in a way that “Finding Nemo” was in a way. But the realization in the final moments is handled exceptionally and with poignancy that, despite any shenanigans with the brothers, comes out truly 3-dimensional and formed. “Onward” is a evolving perspective of Pixar in staying with its true mission of stories of redemption while still making it undeniably heartfelt and accessible.

A-

By Tim Wassberg

IR TV Review: STAR WARS – CLONE WARS – FINAL SEASON – EPISODE 2 (“A Distant Echo”) [Disney+]

The progression of “The Clone Wars”, even in its original incarnation, was revealing deeper mythology-based arcs within the greater story. What this new iteration seems to be doing is adding in some interesting character moments in between the plot. The 2nd episode entitled “A Distinct Echo” works on a couple different levels though the progression of where these series of episodes is going seems to be moving towards a certain path…or seemingly might be trying to introduce the world to new viewers. That said, the story is still pretty densely populated to those who have seen the previous seasons of the series from a couple years back. What the beginning of this episode tends to do is speak to inherent natures, whether it be a clone or a Jedi. In a scene that might not have happened a few years ago before “Rebels”, Anakin speaks almost in secret to Padme with Rex, who undergoes a crisis of self doubt in this episode, protecting him. It speaks to a deeper friendship but also the essence of privacy, one which through one line Obi Wan says shows a breathe of knowledge. It is a small element of perspective but one that adds immense layers to later stories and also lends credence or at least weight to doing a live action Vader series showing doubt within Hayden Christensen’s portrayal of Anakin.

The story continues in this episode to follow The Bad Batch as they seek to find Echo both to protect Republic strategy but also unearthing what might be an algorithm at the center of the identity of the Clones which again speaks back to the eventual General Order. Without giving too much away, the team led by Anakin integrates with local aliens who attack because they don’t want the war brought to them. The resolution speaks more to guilt than a sense of redemption. The animation continues to add different angles including close up and fluidity of lightsaber moves. Before this might have been done extremely quickly but now the scenes seem to take their time to give a sense of pace beneath the moves. In earlier animation, it might have been done quickly to cover up frame jumps per se. It is a small technical thing but one that makes all the difference. “A Distant Echo” also speaks to the shortcomings of the past but without understanding those consequences for these characters in the future.

B

By Tim Wassberg

IR Film Review: THE CALL OF THE WILD [20th Century Studios/Disney]

The aspect of making a book into film has to come from perspective of authenticity to the voice but also the focus from which it came. “Call Of The Wild” is an interesting conundrum since It is told from the perspective of the dog for the most part. Many movies of this sort overplay the ideal for schmaltz or have the dogs actually speak what they are thinking. This has become a progression of sorts in futility (though “My Dog Skip” still retains its intentions). “The Call Of The Wild” does it differently and, as a result, benefits from what would be seen as a more natural performance of the dog. The dog of course is not a dog at all but motion captured but the way it is done seems undeniable. There likely isn’t even a dog there but that illusion is fairly complete especially with the actors selling it, especially Harrison Ford. Now granted like Ryan Gosling who approaches acting the same way, Ford says much without doing a lot of things on screen and yet he conveys so much. What is interesting is that Ford’s character doesn’t enter fully until more than halfway through the movie.

As a result the audience connects with Buck as he is not just defined by one master but is by extension an elevated being of consciousness. Buck makes dynamic decisions with emotional resonance. His first owner shows his teenage years, his dogsledding days are his 20s and his time with Ford become his formative years where he can explore his own existence but also settle down. The scenery is beautiful and one understands why this appealed to Ford since this is more his scene. He feels perfectly at ease.  Despite his want to try to bursh off the metaphors, the idea of existentialism and the nature of being does resonate with him. One only has to look at his filmography to see this. He brings in those other characters we know without calling attention to them. A lot of the words he says in solitary about his son and wife in this movie eerily reflect at times Han Solo and his son Ben. And of course we will always see a grizzled Indiana Jones especially in his countenance but also in his reservation. But his performance especially the addendum enhances the story and doesn’t dominate it. The dog in fact saved his soul even if life for him is only fleeting. Buck as a character is fully formed and the subtleties of his emotions are perfectly rendered with both heart, humor and betrayal so it wonderfully works in context. This movie of course couldn’t have been made even 5 years ago. But this is a distinct step forward in terms of realistic portrayal with borderline natural behavior. It used the tech to  exceptional use for story purposes without losing the sense of the idea. “The Call Of The Wild” is not about spectacle. It is about the journey within that just happens to take place on a much larger mileau.

A-

By Tim Wassberg

IR TV Review: THE MANDALORIAN – EPISODE 4 (“Sanctuary”) [Disney+]

The essence of “The Mandalorian” resides in being able to identify in some way shape or form with the journey he or she is on. Whether it is Neo or Luke Skywalker, a character needs something to fight for, even if it is evil in some way. The structure of this episode: “Sanctuary” takes it into a more intimate setting but gives it a sense more of the familial which might be necessary because of its structure. The episode is also directed by Bryce Dallas Howard, daughter of Ron Howard. The episode in many ways feels like “Willow” in its aspect of romanticism but also sense of protection and defense. The episode is not overly dependent on special effects which might have been on purpose since Bryce has not directed much before per se. But what ends up happening is that the episode feels more in the arc of character structure especially what The Mandalorian has lost and gained but what he is willing to give up. The texture of the final moments plays for this with a certain character becoming almost a MacGuffin for the aspect of hope. Ultimately that aspect of trust or protection is brought into imbalance which causes the need for the plot to move forward. However the underlying texture of what path this bounty hunter/myth may be on continues to be murky as the best journeys are.

B

By Tim Wassberg

IR TV Review: THE MANDALORIAN (“Episode 1”) [Disney+]

The tricky aspect about exploring a universe and living within it is a sense of expectation. In making the huge Star Wars films, sometimes the texture of the smaller character work like what “A New Hope” gets lost since that was essentially an independent film. Unfortunately as much as creativity can be a spark point among writers creating a bigger structure with such as large company such as Disney can be formidable. What “The Mandalorian” understands in its first episode is that everything doesn’t need to be rushed. While the series boasts more high end effects than most series, it gets what it needs to be. In a way that “The Gunslinger” should be done, it establishes The Mandalorian as a gun toting bounty hunter of old. The setting is basically for crime: The Wild West after the fall of the Empire which while essential has eliminated a certain order, however dictatorial to the Republic.

The first episode sets up a quest without seemingly like a quest. What director David Filoni and, by extension, show runner Jon Favreau has realized is by creating smaller scenes, even if it leads into a bigger showdown it makes the points more specialized. The Mandalorian does that two times after he sets down on planet. The humor is undeniable created in a gunfight of sorts that brings to mind “Way Of The Gun” as an influence…and if Chris McQuarrie ever finds his way into the Star Wars universe… But that said the first episode works because it tempers expectations while also give you enough tidbits of the original IP to engage which is what made “Rogue One” the best Star Wars movie of the new generation but also “Clone Wars” which helped show small character based episodes while balancing with the space opera which people expect.

B+

By TIm Wassberg