Werner Herzog

TV REVIEW: The Mandalorian (2019 Disney+)

“Look outside. Is the world more peaceful since the revolution? I see nothing but death and chaos.” — The Client

THE MANDALORIAN (2019 Disney+ series)

2019 might have been the biggest year ever in the history of the Star Wars franchise.  Not only did the original Saga finally come to an end after 42 years of wondering if it would ever happen, but even the very first Star Wars live action TV series came to be.  This comes a full 15 years after its aborted predecessor, Star Wars Underworld was announced.  Headed up by Jon Favreau, The Mandalorian Season One was a commercial and critical success.

But was it as good as its hype?

Pedro Pascal headlines as the mysterious Mandalorian, a bounty hunter trying to make ends meet about five years after the battle of Endor.  The New Republic rules the roost and times are lean, but the Empire is not gone.  Not yet.  The Imperial Client (Werner Herzog) needs a very important asset.  The Client leads a run down, rag-tag Imperial force in hiding on a backwater world.  Via Greef Karga (Carl Weathers), the Client acquires Mando’s services.  Deliver the package alive, but dead will suffice if necessary.  Bounty hunting, after all, is a complicated profession.

Today in 2020, the entire world knows what came as a tremendous surprise back when the pilot episode first aired.  There are no spoilers.  The asset, though claimed to be 50 years old, is just a child.  An alien child with a familiar green hue and large, pointed ears.  The internet quickly dubbed it “Baby Yoda”.

Through the course of eight episodes, we learn that Mandalorians are almost extinct, “purged” by the Empire like the Jedi were.  Those remaining live in secret.  We also discover that the Child the Empire wants so badly can use the Force; powerfully so.  Instinctively with no training.  The implication here is that Yoda’s species are uniquely strong in the Force.  The only other members of the species that we have seen were on the Jedi council.  The Child can do things that only one Jedi in the entire history of the Saga (Rey) has been shown to do.  What isn’t clear is what the Empire wants with the Child.  The Client is just as happy if it ends up dead.  Dr. Pershing, a scientist under his protection with cloning insignia on his uniform, clearly wants it alive.

The Mandalorian is not the average bounty hunter.  Though hard on the outside, he has a soft spot for “foundlings” (orphans), since he was orphaned by a droid army during the Clone Wars.  This also left him with a strong distrust for droids.

Mando’s quest takes him, in his gleaming pre-Empire ship the Razor Crest, all the way to planet Nostalgia in the Fan Service sector.  Every alien species and reference from Saga and spin-off films will await you.  The animated series are likewise plundered for references and threads to pull.  Don’t ask yourself how the scavenging Jawas managed to spread through the galaxy, ask how they brought a sandcrawler with them.  Also ask how the Mandalorian, who lived through both the Clone Wars and the Galactic Civil War, has never heard of anything resembling the Force in his life.  Not impossible, true, not impossible.  But certainly unlikely?

To the show’s strength, Mando surrounds himself with allies including the wise Ugnaught Kuill (Nick Nolte) and the former Rebel shock trooper Cara Dune (Gina Carano).  He even reluctantly forms an alliance with bounty hunter droid IG-11 (Taika Waititi).  Each one of these bring out another aspect of Mando’s disguised personality.

Unfortunately, the show’s weaknesses are apparent by the second episode.  It lacks a consistent tone and even the soundtrack is all over the board.  Mando’s path is too twisted by side missions and quests, like a video game biding its time before you’re back to your main story.  A few episodes play out like actual video games, particularly the sixth. Some such as the fourth suffer from substandard acting and poor direction (which came as a surprise, being directed by Bryce Dallas Howard).  While there is nothing low-budget about the Mandalorian, some of the performances are pretty cut-rate.

The meandering season finally returns to form when Mando and the Child encounter the Imperials once again.  And guess what — they’re not as poorly equipped as we were led to believe.  Giancarlo Esposito, who was unforgettable on Breaking Bad as drug kingpin Gus Fring, menaces our heroes one more time as Moff Gideon.  With a squadron of crack Imperial Death Troopers and a custom TIE Fighter, Moff Gideon is willing to sacrifice his own men to get the Child back.

The show is a hit.  “This is the way” is a phrase that has entered our modern lexicon, along with “I have spoken” and “I can bring you in warm or I can bring you in cold.”  To say that season one was successful is an understatement.  Season two is already locked and loaded, bringing in Rosario Dawson to the fold playing former Jedi Ahsoka Tano.  She will likely be the first protagonist on the show to understand who the Child is and what Moff Gideon wants it for.

Hopefully season two will cut down on the obvious fan service.  (Did Bill Burr really have to do a Gungan impression in episode six?)  With one season down, we look forward to a tighter story with fewer episodes where nothing really happens.  And we certainly anticipate what Pedro Pascal will bring to the role next time.  His performance, limited to voice and body language, was without flaw.  The set must have been electric any time he was together with Werner Herzog.

Episode highlights of the season:  four out of of eight great episodes.

  • 1. “The Mandalorian” directed by Dave Filoni
  • 3. “The Sin” by Deborah Chow
  • 7. “The Reckoning” by Deborah Chow
  • 8. “Redemption” by Taika Waititi

The rest don’t bring much to the story and can be skipped with little lost except most of the fan service.

3/5 stars

MOVIE REVIEW: Incident at Loch Ness (2004)

“I’ve always been interested in the difference between fact and truth, and I would call it the ecstatic truth.” — Werner Herzog

 

INCIDENT AT LOCH NESS (2004 20th Century Fox)

Directed by Zak Penn, written and produced by Zak Penn and Werner Herzog

Joe has a knack for recommending movies that I end up liking.  We have a very similar sense of humour, we both find amusement in the absurd.  Joe got me to buy Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man as well as Incident at Loch Ness, both from his bargain bin at the price of $5.99 each.  While Incident at Loch Ness has all the appearances of a Herzog film, it’s actually a documentary within a documentary within a mockumentary directed by Zak Penn (The Grand).   Incident At Loch Ness is a wry, smart rib-tickler that many just won’t get.  But I do, and I have watched it a couple dozen times over the years.

Here’s the setup: A camera crew is filming a documentary on noted filmmaker Werner Herzog called Herzog in Wonderland. At the same time, Herzog is embarking on own documentary film called Enigma of Loch Ness.   He will be shooting on location on the loch itself, and he plans to investigate the mythos surrounding it. Herzog is more interested in why people want to believe in monsters, rather than the monster itself. His producer, Zak Penn (Penn, as himself) has different ideas, and will resort to unethical trickery in order to get the blockbuster film he envisions.  The pair travel to Scotland with a film crew, but Herzog is unaware of Penn’s duplicity.

Penn hires a sexy sonar operator (Kitana Baker, as herself) with no sonar experience, and a strange cryptozologist (Michael Karnow, as himself) for comedic relief. Penn makes absurd demands of the crew, such as having the engines on the boat replaced by significantly weaker ones in order to get better sound coverage.  Through the chaos, Herzog just wants to make his movie, but the project is doomed to fail.

Incident At Loch Ness doesn’t try to be profound. Herzog (the character) never finds out just why people want to believe in a modern dinosaur. Herzog (the actor) plays it straight while Penn and Karnow play it for laughs.  The style is largely improvised, and I would rate Incident at Loch Ness equal to some of the better Christopher Guest films.

I also loved the DVD bonus features, which shed a little light (but not too much) on the making of the film. There is a comedic audio commentary track with Zak Penn that takes the gag even further as well, before cutting out abruptly mid-movie. Incident at Loch Ness is a low budget classic that I hope will appeal to those who are sick and tired and the same old comedies. It will especially appeal to fans of Herzog.  As the straight man, he’s absolutely perfect.

5/5  stars

Werner Herzog … Himself/Writer/Producer
Kitana Baker … Herself
Gabriel Beristain … Himself
Russell Williams II … Himself
David A. Davidson … Himself
Michael Karnow … Himself
Robert O’Meara … Himself
Zak Penn … Himself/Writer/Producer/Director
Steven Gardner … Himself

NSS

MOVIE REVIEW: Grizzly Man (2005)

This is by unofficial request of the mighty Heavy Metal OverloRd.  Click and kneel before his blog of steel!

Grizzly Man has some powerful music so it totally fits LeBrain’s Record Store Tales and Reviews.

GRIZZLY MAN (2005, directed by Werner Herzog)

Wernor Herzog in his inimitable fashion constructed an intriguing portrait of a unusual subject: A man named Timothy Treadwell. Treadwell spent 13 seasons all but alone in Alaska, with the grizzly bears in their habitat.  He filmed them (getting unprecented footage), played with them, and “protected” them from their enemies (man). He got really close to the bears, making physical contact. He befriended them as much as you can befriend an animal in the wild.  He played with them, got amazing footage, but forgot the boundaries that exist between man and beast.  Especially when that beast weighs several times what you weigh, and comes equipped with sharp claws, teeth, and raw strength.  A fatal error of profound misjudgment at the end of Treadwell’s 13th season reminds us all that there are immutable boundaries that are never meant to be crossed. To do so is universally pure folly.

Herzog utilizes Treadwell’s own remarkable footage extensively through the film. Nobody had ever gotten so close to these bears in their natural habitat, and observed and learned their behaviors this extensively. Treadwell knew their individual personalities and habits, but he got too comfortable. Watching these videos of his is both profound and tragic. While documenting his own expeditions, Treadwell sometimes lapses into hysterical rants regarding society and authority, and anyone who he sees as an impediment to his way of living. Clearly, a deeply distressed individual lurks beneath the beatnik exterior of the animal lover and protector.

Treadwell’s undeniably unique passion for bears results in some special moments. I bought this DVD from Joe (I paid $5.99).  He recommended it to me, saying it was “unintentionally hilarious,” and that I would know what he meant when I saw it.

Maybe an hour into the film, I watched Treadwell admiring a pile of bear poop, and I understood.

“There’s your poop!  It just came out of her butt.  I can feel it.  I can feel the poop.  It’s warm.  It just came from her butt.  This was just inside of her.”

A fascinating glimpse at a singular, one of a kind persona, Grizzly Man is another unique Werner Herzog film that looks at his subject with a focused curiosity. Herzog conveys a childlike sense of wonder, tempered by the practical wisdom of a modern adult. As such, despite its dark subject matter and ominous aura, Grizzly Man is entertaining, educational and re-watchable. Herzog wisely avoided any graphic imagery or sounds. An audio tape of Treadwell’s final moments is only discussed and never heard in the film. Once hearing it himself, Herzog is visibly distressed and gravely advises destroying the tape.

I think Grizzly Man is among the best Herzog documentaries.  I watch it a couple times a year.

5/5 stars

Also included on this DVD is a nice feature on the music of Grizzly Man, an important part of its emotional makeup.  In particular the use of the excellent Don Edwards song “Coyotes” is unforgettable.