TV Review: The Mandalorian (2019- )

Original Run: November 12th, 2019 – current
Created by: Jon Favreau
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: Star Wars by George Lucas
Music by: Ludwig Göransson
Cast: Pedro Pascal, Carl Weathers, Werner Herzog, Nick Nolte (voice), Taika Waititi (voice), Gina Carano, Ming-Na Wen, Mark Boone Junior, Bill Burr, Clancy Brown, Natalia Tena, Richard Ayoade (voice), Giancarlo Esposito, Emily Swallow, Jason Sudeikis

Lucasfilm, Walt Disney Studios, Disney+, 8 Episodes (so far), 31-46 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

While I haven’t been too happy with Disney’s handling of Star Wars, this was still one of the television shows that I was anticipating the most.

I assumed that after the Boba Fett movie was cancelled, following the lackluster performance of Solo, that this show would end up taking some of that planned film’s ideas, reworking them into a new character and story. I’m not a hundred percent sure that’s what they did but this feels close to what Boba Fett could’ve been.

The first few episodes of this show were mostly okay but they didn’t blow me away, if I’m being honest. However, it did feel good to have someone seemingly taking Star Wars seriously once again, which I didn’t feel was the case since Rogue One, the only Disney Star Wars film I actually liked.

The middle few episodes were low points but everything really started to pickup with episode six. Episodes seven and eight were then quite awesome and they brought everything that happened over the course of the season together in a way that justified the episodes that felt more like filler than part of the larger story.

Season one of The Mandalorian was more about world building and introducing the audience to these new characters. In that regard, it succeeds greatly. But ultimately, it feels like the first act of a much larger story and not necessarily its own self-contained arc.

In any event, I’m more excited for season two than I was season one and I hope that the momentum continues to build and that this stays on the right trajectory, especially after the terrible sequel films just concluded, leaving most people with a really bad taste in their mouth. I still haven’t seen The Rise of Skywalker and I’m really not that enthused about taking time out of my schedule to go see it in theaters.

I used to be a massive Star Wars fan: massive. But until this show mostly impressed me, this gigantic force in my life was dwindling away. Granted, The Mandalorian alone isn’t enough to bring me back and, at this point, I don’t think I’ll ever have a love for Star Wars like I once did.

But so far, so good. Don’t fuck this up.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: any Mandalorian heavy Star Wars Expanded Universe books, comics and video games.

Film Review: Action Jackson (1988)

Release Date: February 12th, 1988
Directed by: Craig R. Baxley
Written by: Robert Reneau
Music by: Herbie Hancock, Michael Kamen
Cast: Carl Weathers, Craig T. Nelson, Vanity, Sharon Stone, Thomas F. Wilson, Robert Davi, Bill Duke, Jack Thibeau, Chino ‘Fats’ Williams, De’Voreaux White, Miguel Nunez, Al Leong, Sonny Landham, Mary Ellen Trainor

Lorimar Film Entertainment, Silver Pictures, 96 Minutes

Review:

“[turning a flamethrower on a bad guy] How do you like your ribs?” – Action Jackson

This was a film that was supposed to be the first in a franchise. That never happened and that could be due to the film being critically panned and for it being absolutely ridiculous and the type of cheese that induces a wee bit of cringe. But I still dig the hell out of Carl Weathers in this and it was cool seeing him step out from behind more famous action stars Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

But this also was born from Weathers’ involvement in the Schwarzenegger starring Predator, as he and producer Joel Silver loved blaxploitation flicks. Silver told Weathers to come up with something and its that idea that became the basis for this film.

The plot is pretty simple, Jericho “Action” Jackson is a no nonsense cop that loves the ladies and hates yuppie scum that kills and destroys for their own selfish, greedy means. In this film, the scum is played by Coach star Craig T. Nelson. And we even get to see Coach do some kung fu trickery.

Similar to a Bond film and other films with macho gun wielding heroes, there are two hot chicks. In this we get a very young Sharon Stone, just before she reached superstardom, as well as Vanity, who was super popular at the time due to her relationship with Prince. We also get boobage from both, which from my perspective, is a strong plus.

But this film is also like a who’s who of cool character actors from the era. We get Bill Duke, De’Voreaux White, Miguel Nunez, Robert Davi, Thomas F. Wilson, Sonny Landham, Chino “Fats” Williams and ’80s action star/stuntman Al Leong.

Add in a sweet score by Herbie Hancock and you’ve just got a cool motion picture.

Overall, this is an action heavy film but it was the ’80s and all we really wanted back then was good, high octane, power fantasy escapism. You know, back in the day before that stuff was frowned upon and deemed as toxic masculinity, politically incorrect and insensitive. You know, back when people were happier and most of us got along regardless of political or social affiliation.

I really do enjoy the action in this and while it can be an ’80s cheeseball extravaganza in parts, who really gives a shit? Action Jackson actually drives a Ferrari-like supercar into Coach’s mansion, up the stairs and then smashes it through his bedroom door for the big final fight. Is that dumb? Of course it is! But that’s the appeal, people!

I can’t say that this has aged well but it might not have aged well in its current year. It’s noticeably more corny than similar films but I do like the humor, its lightheartedness and its insanity.

Action Jackson isn’t an ’80s action magnum opus by any means but it was a pretty enthralling and amusing flick with Carl Weathers being a badass, Craig T. Nelson being an evil shithead and lots of other actors that were at the height of cool at the time.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: Cobra, Lethal Weapon, The Last Dragon, Showdown In Little Tokyo, Firewalker and Hurricane Smith.

Film Review: Bucktown (1975)

Also known as: Bucktown, USA (alternate title)
Release Date: July 2nd, 1975
Directed by: Arthur Marks
Written by: Bob Ellison
Music by: Johnny Pate
Cast: Fred Williamson, Pam Grier, Thalmus Rasulala, Tony King, Carl Weathers

Essaness Pictures, Plitt Theaters, American International Pictures, 94 Minutes

Review:

“You’re not going to kill me. News travels fast. It’s bound to get to the state troopers. If they ask any questions, you’re gonna tell your black mayor to tell them that you’re holding the chief of police for breaking thew law. No, you’re gonna keep me alive. ‘Cause I’m gonna keep you black asses from burning in hell! ” – Chief Patterson

This is probably my favorite Fred Williamson movie after Black Caesar. Plus, it also has the always dynamite Pam Grier, Thalmus Rasulala, who I enjoyed in Blacula, as well as a small role for a young Carl Weathers, just before he’d go on to be immortalized as Apollo Creed, a year later, in Rocky.

The plot for Bucktown isn’t wholly original but that doesn’t mean that it’s a bad one either. Fred Williamson comes to town after his brother’s death in order to bury him and settle his estate. He learns of the deep corruption in the town, which was instrumental in his brothers death. He decides to call in some friends to help him clean up the town from the dirty cops and politicians. While they succeed, these friends decide to rule the town themselves, making things even worse than they were to begin with.

The narrative has a lot in common with several westerns, which I know Williamson was a fan of and he even went on to make a few. This just had the blaxploitation twist to it, where the corrupt officials were bigoted racists and the people being oppressed were black. But it is clever in how it shows that the immediate solution, having a town run by their own people, faces the same challenges when it comes to power, greed and control.

Fred Williamson really commanded the screen in this. Not that that has ever been a challenge for him but his presence here is powerful just like in Black Caesar and Boss Nigger. Pam Grier obviously carries her own and adds a level of gravitas that enhances the badass nature of this motion picture. Man, I love Grier and Williamson and seeing them come together, being on the same page, fighting for the same thing is a real treat.

The finale of the picture sees Williamson take on his former friends in a S.W.A.T. tank. He blows up a car by smashing into it, crashes through the enemy’s stronghold wall and unloads bullets into the thugs that he was responsible for bringing to town.

While not the greatest film in the blaxploitation genre, Bucktown is still a high octane affair that felt tailor made for all of Williamson’s strengths and none of his weaknesses.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: Black CaesarHell Up In HarlemCoffy and Foxy Brown.

Film Review: Predator (1987)

Also known as: Alien Hunter, Hunter, Primeval (working titles)
Release Date: June 12th, 1987
Directed by: John McTiernan
Written by: Jim Thomas, John Thomas, Shane Black (uncredited)
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weather, Elpidia Carrillo, Bill Duke, Richard Chaves, Jesse Ventura, Sonny Landham, Shane Black, Kevin Peter Hall

Lawrence Gordon Productions, Silver Pictures, Davis Entertainment, 20th Century Fox, 107 Minutes

Review:

“Run! Get to the chopper!” – Dutch

Outside of the first two Terminator movies, this is the best thing that Schwarzenegger has ever done. In all honesty, I hold it in the same regards as the first two Terminator films because it is that damn good and it still works really well today.

Predator is one of those films that you assume every red blooded American male has watched, memorized and has the same appreciation for it as the other real red blooded American males. When you meet a guy that hasn’t seen it, you have to suspect if they are a communist or if they grew up “winning” a bunch of participation trophies for a pottery competition. Any red blooded American male that has seen this 107 minute masterpiece of majestic masculinity knows that Schwarzenegger is the second coming of the Jesus and that his mercenary crew are his apostles while Carl Weathers is his Judas.

This is a damn near perfect movie if all you’re looking for is chiseled beast men with massive guns (literally and figuratively), stomping through a jungle, spitting tobacco, making pussy jokes and murdering the everliving crap out of whatever they’re paid to murder the everliving crap out of. Throw in a giant beast alien with high tech gadgetry, stealth camouflage and a penchant for skinning its victims and you’ve got the cinema’s equivalent to the Holy Bible for dudes. Although, I also know several ladies who have been captivated by the Holy Word of John McTiernan with this and his other Holy work called Die Hard.

Apart from the reasons I’ve already talked about, this film also benefits from the incredible theme and score by Alan Silvestri. It is still one of the best scores he has ever done and it is simply badass.

The film also makes incredible use of its environment. You feel the heat and the discomfort, as these beefy men traverse through a thick jungle in Central America. The jungle is really the main character of this film and it overshadows the cast, despite the incredible lineup of talent that is in this: Schwarzenegger, Weathers, Jesse Ventura, Bill Duke, the Predator itself, etc. The film was actually filmed in Hawaii, for the record.

The one thing that could’ve really been the “make or break” moment of the film ended up being one of the most memorable scenes of the entire 1980s. That was the reveal of the monster. The Predator creature design was handled by the maestro, Stan Winston. The look of the creature is friggin’ incredible and it is still one of the coolest and most badass movie monsters going today.

The problem with this film and its monster being so damn great and iconic, is that no sequel will ever live up to this film. And so far, no sequel has. People seem to have a sort of disdain for Predator 2 but fuck those people. It’s also damned good, not a classic as this one is, but it is true to the spirit of the original. Also, Predators was a good experience as well. I think it is the weakest of the three Predator films but it is still a lot of fun and has some big iron balls like the other two films. Then there are those Alien Vs. Predator movies. While the concept works great in comic books and video games, it wasn’t very good on the big screen, sadly.

On a side note, Jean-Claude Van Damme was originally in this, as another alien creature, but the whole thing got cut from the film. Just saying, if Van Damme made it into this picture too, even if he was obscured by his costume, the testosterone levels in this movie would have run over and flooded whatever village this was filmed near.

Predator is one of my all-time favorite films. It will always be one of my all-time favorites. If you don’t feel the same way, you’re probably a hippie communist that writes poetry for your plants.

Rating: 9.75/10
Pairs well with: Predator 2 and Predators. Ignoring those AvP movies is probably best for everyone.

Film Review: Rocky IV (1985)

Release Date: November 27th, 1985
Directed by: Sylvester Stallone
Written by: Sylvester Stallone
Music by: Vince DiCola, Bill Conti (Rocky themes)
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Carl Weathers, Tony Burton, Dolph Lundgren, Brigitte Nielsen, James Brown

United Artists, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 90 Minutes

Review:

“Going in one more round when you don’t think you can – that’s what makes all the difference in your life.” – Rocky

For some reason, Sylvester Stallone felt compelled to keep making Rocky movies. I’m glad that he did though, as the character still lives on today in the Creed film series, which was a spin off after giving Rocky Balboa six of his own movies from 1976 to 2006.

Rocky IV was the first Rocky movie that I saw in the theater. I was six at the time and I had seen Rocky III but the experience with this one blew my mind. Plus, it had a Cold War twist, which was something I was just starting to understand at the time, thanks to a plethora of ’80s movies that dealt with it.

This film also introduced me to Dolph Lundgren, who would become on of my favorite action stars of the era and really, I still love Dolph today. In a lot of ways, he was also the glue of the picture, even if his Ivan Drago character had no personality here. That was sort of the point though, he was a literal killing machine, emphasis on machine. He was like a Terminator with boxing gloves that was propped up by his country as their hero but all he wanted to do was to crush his opponents, regardless of patriotism and Cold War propaganda.

The real villain, as far as being the mouthpiece anyway, was Drago’s wife, played by Brigitte Nielsen, who was on the cusp of marrying Stallone in real life. She would also appear with her then husband in 1986’s Cobra. I liked Nielsen in the ’80s, even if her career was partially propelled by her marriage. I wish she would have stayed in the right groove and continued to be a presence in action pictures but she didn’t do much of anything memorable after 1987’s Beverly Hills Cop II and that could very well be due to her marriage with Stallone ending so quickly. But I’m not going to get all celebrity gossipy like TMZ.

For fans of the series, this film starts off with a solid blow to the gut, as within the first half hour, you get to see the aging Apollo Creed sign on for an exhibition with the Soviet boxer, leading to his death after being pummeled in the ring. The rest of the film deals with Rocky needing to defeat the monster that murdered his friend for sport.

It’s easy to chop this up as a revenge flick but I think it is more about a boxer seeking out justice in the only way he knows how and about climbing an impossible mountain, which is made obvious by a scene where Rocky literally conquers a mountain. However, it is also a critique on the senseless nature of the Cold War which had Americans and Soviets uneasy and paranoid for decades.

Many people have called this a propaganda picture, it isn’t. Does it beat you over the head with Americana? Sure. But it uses its platform and its political context to deliver a message of peace and hope. By the time you get to the end, Rocky’s big speech in the final scene isn’t pro-American or anti-Soviet, it’s pro-human and anti-war. It was also fairly prophetic considering the massive changes that happened in the world and the Cold War finally coming to an end just a few years later. Hey, maybe Rocky Balboa helped in tearing down the Berlin Wall.

Rocky IV is the most important film in the series because it carries a message bigger than the film itself. While the first is the best motion picture and the most inspiring, Rocky IV is the one that made me see the world differently. Granted, I was a six year-old clutching his G.I. Joe figures but it may have been instrumental in making me who I am today, someone who doesn’t buy into propaganda or nationalism and who only practices tribalism when it’s associated with the Chicago Cubs and Chicago Blackhawks.

Rating: 7.75/10

Film Review: Rocky III (1982)

Release Date: May 28th, 1982
Directed by: Sylvester Stallone
Written by: Sylvester Stallone
Music by: Bill Conti
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Carl Weathers, Burgess Meredith, Tony Burton, Mr. T, Hulk Hogan, Chino ‘Fats’ Williams

United Artists, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 100 Minutes

Review:

“No, I don’t hate Balboa. I pity the fool, and I will destroy any man who tries to take what I got!” – Clubber Lang

Rocky III is the first sequel to kind of dip in quality. Regardless, it is still an enjoyable film that is actually a bit more entertaining than the previous two pictures. It’s shorter, it’s more fun overall and both Mr. T and Hulk Hogan make the fights in this film more exciting and definitely more colorful.

This film fast forwards a bit from the events of Rocky and Rocky II. Here, Rocky Balboa has been the world champion for a little while. We get a nice vignette of him conquering a myriad of challengers along the way. Plus, the beginning of this film is greatly enhanced by its theme song “Eye of the Tiger” by Survior.

The reason why I like Rocky III so much, even though it isn’t of the same quality of the first two pictures, is that it has so much energy. Hulk Hogan plays Thunderlips, a giant wrestler that Balboa fights for charity. He is a massive brute that is overly ostentatious. Then you have the real villain of the story, Mr. T’s intimidating and jacked Clubber Lang. The guy literally looks like a killing machine in boxing gloves.

This chapter also adds some serious emotional baggage that treads new territory for Rocky. He loses his trainer, loses his title and feels like he’s hit rock bottom. Then Apollo, his greatest rival, shows him how to pick himself up and find his edge. Apollo knows that Balboa is greater than Clubber Lang and his respect for Rocky pushes him into helping the fallen fighter right the ship.

I love Rocky III. It really evolved the series into a new decade, the ’80s. And like that decade, it feels more carefree, entertaining and opulent. We enter a world of excess, where Balboa is beyond poverty but with these changes, come new challenges and life isn’t a cakewalk for the warrior.

Rating: 8/10

Film Review: Rocky II (1979)

Release Date: June 15th, 1979
Directed by: Sylvester Stallone
Written by: Sylvester Stallone
Music by: Bill Conti
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Carl Weathers, Burgess Meredith, Tony Burton, Joe Spinell, Frank McRae, Chino ‘Fats’ Williams (uncredited)

United Artists, 120 Minutes

Review:

“I feel like a Kentucky Fried idiot.” – Rocky Balboa

Rocky II picks up right where Rocky left off but that was how most of these sequels worked and why all of the original five Rocky films seem like a long continuing narrative. This is the only one though, that feels like a true continuation but that’s mainly because of its quality and its similarity to the first. Plus, Rocky goes head-to-head with Apollo Creed, one more time.

And not to take anything away from the other sequels, I like them all, but it is necessary to point out that this one is almost as good as the first and it really feels like the second half of one larger story.

The premise sees Apollo questioning himself, after a nobody went the distance with him for fifteen rounds. He is the world champ and he let some bum come in and nearly usurp him as the top dog in the sport. While Rocky wants to live a life after fighting, Apollo constantly baits him and berates him publicly until Rocky decides to take the rematch and see if he has what it takes to defeat Apollo and become the world champion.

John G. Avildsen didn’t return to direct this chapter, so Stallone took the directorial reins himself and he did a pretty fine job. This was his second time behind the camera after 1978’s wrestling film Paradise Alley and it is a much better film than that one.

The majority of the cast returns and it’s actually great seeing them back. I love all these characters and getting to spend more time with them is great, even Joe Spinell’s Gazzo, the neighborhood loan shark.

The film explores the life of a fighter after fighting. Sadly, Rocky can’t find his place in the world and ultimately goes back to what he knows best. But all the while, he marries his love, has a son and rises to the challenge put before him.

Rocky II might not be as good as the original but it’s damn close. I love how Bill Conti’s score evolved for this film and I love the banter between Rocky and Apollo. You see their admiration and respect for one another start to blossom, which would lead to a solid friendship in the films after this one.

Rating: 9/10