The building of “The Mandalorian,” taking into effect expectation but also traversing the character beats, is an interesting quandary. The continuation of what Jon Favreau and crew are trying to create takes into account each director and certain writers capabilities within each episode. In having Taika Waititi direct the final episode of the season, there is a different balance in comparison to earlier episodes. Episode 8 is meant to resolve a lot of the questions of the season. And while it does and gives firmer focus, it does open up the door to more ideas but it gives the coming season a very specific trajectory. What works in this specific episode is the fact that it has more stakes than perhaps was there before.
Without giving too much away, it strives for a sense of meaning within what the characters want and what drives them. Giancarlo Esposito’s character in particular does this well while speaking to a connection to Mandalore lore with the use of a single item. Strategy also plays a significant part. Whether this is in the visual texture of Waititi or just the general bent of the narrative, it closes the loop with much greater agility. The audience gets to see briefly into The Mandalorian’s psyche and a bit of where he comes from. Another interesting dichotomy is that the show continues to show the connection between the film world and the impact of the animated series (specifically “Rebels”) which is directly referenced here. There are many iconic images and perhaps some humor that was a bit too dry earlier in the season that has found its groove here, helped in part by Waititi’s sensibilities. All in all, a very fitting end to the season while both managing expectations but also not overextending its possibilities or production expenditure.
The resolution of creating something updated out of something nostalgic reflects in the idea of what the abstract idea the original created. When it is an expansion, it can work to a point (think “Tron: Legacy”) or some slight distinction in between (think the remake of “Aladdin”). This is the structure that makes it palpable for the current audience.
The new “Lion King” works in the same ideal yet from a different point of view. The aspect of animation compounded in the original reflected in a certain color palette where not everything can be perfect. Edges were impressionistic and not personified human traits. Whereas some of the intentions of the human performers here can be perceived (specifically at times with Seth Rogen’s Pumba) in this retelling, many of the performances are simply in between because of the backdrop. There is nothing inherently wrong with the production of the film but it is a straight remake of the animated film but with photorealism. Director Jon Favreau showed his adeptness with “The Jungle Book” but again it was more of structured retelling on the Kipling story versus the more nuanced per se approach of Andy Serkis with “Mowgli” for Netflix. Granted the build of certain iconic imagery really comes to bear in certain sequences.
The stampede sequence is undeniably effective and emotional when needed and the lair of the hyenas plays much darker than the original. The assimilation of Simba into the vegetarian collective has a different connotation in a way than when the original came out mainly because of current social consciousness. The one tendency of the original is that it keyed to the times whereas the new telling in an ironic way seems like a throwback despite the very diverse casting.
While the themes are universal, there seems a lack of spontaneity in the performances which is the paradoxical approach of what is essentially a photorealistic animation film. Here it seems more about the fact of what they could achieve beyond the aspect of whether they should which keys into an irony (which is the “Jurassic Park” paradox). With this approach, there is not really a way to shake it up from the script. One of the only times it happens is quite stark. It happens in a shot where the camera is placed way behind Timon, Pumba and Simba while they are walking away into their jungle hangout, Rogen gets a zinger or two in because the face didn’t need to be tracked.
The one steadying influence is that of James Earl Jones as Mufasa while Scar even though menacing doesn’t have the inherent irony of Jeremy Irons’ performance in the original. The climactic fire sequence plays well but the vision again has been perceived before. While certain remakes may work in terms of how they are captured live action (as with the aforementioned “Aladdin), this new iteration of “The Lion King” is both an achievement and yet feels normal.
The texture of a superhero is the essence of decision making. The interesting progression of “Spiderman: Far From Home” operates in the realm of naivete. Having done interviews for the original Spiderman films from Sam Raimi but never really watching Andrew Garfield’s version, Tom Holland’s approach is one almost of innocent bewilderment which in turn gives him a sense of awe. One of the most affecting moments in an earlier “Avengers” film is when Holland looks at Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark as he is disappearing with a questioning line. But that establishes such a structure that perhaps earlier Spiderman films didn’t have: a connection to others and a larger world. This is likely what will fuel the Black Widow film with Scarlet Johannson since it will bring that essence of story and time to that film. Here the idiom that perpetrated the entire Sam Raimi film is pushed in the background but still rings clear: “with great power comes great responsibility. In trying not to give too much away, Tony Stark, not Iron Man, looms heavily over decisions here…and even perceptions. It is an interesting approach especially when decisions involve “Edith” and aspects of instinct and conscience.
The basic plot without giving too much away is that Peter Parker just wants to be a regular guy and go on a class trip to Europe to tell MJ (played by Zendaya) that he really likes her. While the banter between him and her and, by extension, his best friend and his perspective girlfriend for the trip works in a comic romantic comedy way, the stakes are not that thick, which is alright. The realization is that “Far From Home” nicely plays much lighter than, of course, the “Avengers” films which within their structure have a very dark core while still playing to mainstream structure. Here the threat is paradoxical in a way but one that is unexpected in one way but not in another. During an interview I did with Jake Gyllenhaal for “Stronger” a couple years back, he referenced that he always found it hard to play a superhero (and it seems he had been offered others) that weren’t real per se. That is why the progression here is an interesting exercise (which is all I can say). Any other discussions of heartbreak, destruction, expectation, subversion or transcendence will give away too much but the film does include all of these without becoming too, in a word, tragic. And that is a good thing. Especially when Jon Favreau can bring some fun comic relief without impacting or altering what the story is truly about.
The necessity of “I Love You Man”, which I did not see during its theatrical run, is that it takes an uncomfortable subject and literally makes it more uncomfortable. Now this is done in no way in part to the presence of Paul Rudd, who has become the unlikely anti-hero of the Judd Apatow sect. Now granted Seth Rogen has the underdog situation down pat but he has a brother-in-arms in the form of Jason Segel who takes on a much more engaging role than his feature starring debut in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”. The essence of the story revolves around the fact that Rudd’s character is getting married to a girl whom he seems good with but the odd thing is that he doesn’t have any guy friends. He has always related more to women. Now while usually when this happens, it simply speaks to a simple emotional situation of being only able to relate to one person at a time (the ability not to multi-task if you will), here it is played for laughs in the texture that Rudd’s character goes on “Man Dates” to find some guy friends.
All sorts of shenanigans ensue (including many involving Lou Ferrigno) but ultimately things work out nice and soft after much carnage including lewd billboards of Rudd’s real estate character. The comedy is brisk but is never as funny as it thinks it is. The girls in “Spring Breakdown” (in terms of a recent comparison) went much more out on a limb. But the key here is that the filmmakers are also trying to appeal to a female audience which this picture definitely admits to.
The commentary by Rudd, Segel and director John Hamburg is self reflexive in its ability even pointing to the fact that Rudd gave everyone gifts on set but Segel didn’t give him one back until months later. It was a good one though: a signed bass from rock band Rush who figures prominently into the movie’s storyline. As the commentary continues, the aspect of what their humor is actually becomes self effacing which at times sort of throws off the aspect of whether the comedy elements are thought out or even funny in the first place. The aspect of not being able to stop laughing when shooting does happen as the extra improvs later in the disc show. This team however seem to have played these element out to the point of beating a dead horse. However they seem to understand that the movie that they are making needs to be loose but still have its heart focused.
“The Making Of I Love You Man” paints in this direction as well. The self effacing humor plays through everyone, even J.K. Simmons who gets into a little bashing. Jon Favreau is the best because he is playing Mr. Big Shot which is not him in person truly. His fellow actors play up the whole “Iron Man” thing but Fav still plays his angle. In the Extras section with all the improv, it is actually his and Jamie Pressly’s pieces that are fun to watch because they are so cruel. He outpowers her to a point at which she just goes quiet and almost starts laughing. It is interesting.
Paul Rudd’s two improv heavy scenes: on the phone in the office and in bed with his fiance show the amount of different permeations the guy goes through when the thinking is steady. But it is the Vespa riding sequence, especially with the “Facts Of Life” theme song, that goes a little long. In terms of extended and deleted scenes, the “ladies night” piece gets in a tad more with how graphic the girls get but by comparison the Johnny Depp elements at the wedding go on way too long. The deleted scenes don’t really add anything to the mix although the groomsmen photos are amusing. However it slows down the story.
The red band trailer adds some bits and lets the “fucks” fly but it is Jon Favreau’s last line that isn’t in the movie that has the most punch. The gag reel is usually used for the wrap party and highlights the fact that Paul Rudd finds himself funny sometimes more than anyone else and likes to laugh although the rubbing scene in Segel’s apartment set is a little much. But that is the movie through and through. Out of 5, I give it a 2 1/2.