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Granger at the Movies: ‘The Mandalorian,’ ‘The Artist’s Wife,’ ‘The Devil All the Time’

By Susan Granger
Special to WestportNow

The second season of Jon Favreau’s blockbuster live-action Disney+ series, “The Mandalorian,” a sci-fi spin-off from George Lucas’ “Star Wars,” begins on October 30, so you have plenty of time to stream the first season.

Susan Granger at the Movies

Set five years after “Return of the Jedi”—meaning the Empire has fallen and the New Republic is in its ascendancy—this intergalactic adventure revolves around the mysterious, perpetually helmeted bounty hunter Din Djarin (Pedro Pascal), an orphan who was rescued and raised by Mandalorian warriors.

When he refuses to relinquish a mysterious prize, the powerful infant known as The Child (Baby Yoda), to The Client (Werner Herzog), Mando becomes its protector, aided by a pig-faced Ugnaught (voiced by Nick Nolte).

Mando’s principal adversary is The Empire’s Warlord Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito), who possesses the Darksaber, a weapon popularized on the franchise’s animated incarnation, along with the droid assassin IG-11 (voiced by “Jojo Rabbit” director Taika Waititi) and tricky Fennec Shand (Ming Na Wen).

In the second season, Mando launches a search for The Child’s origin and species, perhaps with the help of “loner” mercenary Cara Dune (former MMA fighter Gina Carano).

Meanwhile, there are eight episodes in season #1, each a separate encounter, tied together by Carl Weathers (Apollo Creed in the “Rocky” franchise), who plays Bounty Hunter Guild Chief Greef Karga.

Showrunner Jon Favreau was determined to create a saga steeped in the lore of the past while introducing entirely new characters, much as he did directing the first “Iron Man” (2008), launching the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Filming utilizes the new LED video wall technology, first introduced in last year’s “The Lion King.” Instead of navigating strict social-distancing requirements while shooting with a full cast and crew, each scene is captured visually by effects supervisor Robert Legato, a three-time Oscar winner.

Unlike the traditional “green-screen,” actors can now see the background and cinematographers can match perspectives and camera parallax to look like they’re on location.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Mandalorian” is an action-packed, exciting 8, streaming on Disney+.

“Why do we paint?” celebrated abstract artist Richard Smythson (Bruce Dern) asks in “The Artist’s Wife.” “We paint because we have no choice.”

But his much younger wife Claire Smythson (Lena Olin) is faced with a different choice. How will she support her elderly husband now that he’s been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s/dementia?

“I’ve given up on many things in my life,” she tells Angela (Juliet Rylance), Richard’s long-estranged lesbian daughter from a previous marriage. “But I never gave up on your father.”

Devoted Claire has put aside her own painting career to serve as her husband’s caregiver/muse. In an interview, he acknowledges: “I create the art. She creates the rest of our lives.”

Yet their serenity will never be the same. Claire is helping Richard prepare for his final show as his memory deteriorates and his behavior becomes more boorish, particularly when Claire invites Angela and her six year-old son Gogo (Ravi Cabot-Conyers) to celebrate Christmas with them in the Hamptons, along with the Danny (Avan Jogia), the young musician who serves as Gogo’s babysitter.

As Claire tries to connect with her own creativity and reclaim her identity, she’s encouraged by fellow artist Ada Risi (Stefanie Powers), who strips for a graphically nude “fashion shoot.”

Swedish actress Lena Olin delivers a graceful, sensual performance, not unlike her turn as a free-spirited painter in “The Unbearable Lightness Of Being” (1988). Olin has collaborated with her husband Lasse Hallstrom on “Chocolat” (2000) and “Casanova (2005) and will star in his upcoming biopic of little-known Swedish artist Hilma af Klint, who died in 1944.

Written by director Tom Dolby, along with Nicole Brending and Abdi Nazemian, the pulpy plot’s not only predictable but somewhat similar to the Glenn Close/Jonathan Pryce 2018 drama “The Wife.” Although it evokes memories of the relationship between Lee Krasner & Jackson Pollack, it was apparently inspired by events experienced by Dolby’s parents; his father was famed sound engineer Ray Dolby.

On the Granger Gauge, “The Artist’s Wife” is a submissive 7, streaming on iTunes and Amazon Prime.

If the dreary dirge “The Devil All the Time” didn’t have an all-star cast, it would never have been green-lit—and, sadly, the actors cannot save it.

Set in the 1950s and ‘60s in the rural Appalachian towns of Knockemstiff, Ohio, and Coal Creek, West Virginia, it’s a cruel, domestic drama, featuring some really sick, sadistic families affected by two sin-soaked, Bible-thumping preachers.

Their sorry saga begins as rage-filled Willard Russell (Bill Skarsgard) returns from W.W.II and falls in love with diner waitress Charlotte (Hayley Bennett); she subsequently dies of cancer, leaving him with nine year-old Arvin (Michael Banks Repeta), who’s sent to live in his Grandma Emma (Kristin Griffith).

Emma’s already caring for another orphan, Leonora (Eliza Scanlen), whose crazy preacher father (Harry Melling) killed her mother (Mia Wasikowska) in a religious fervor, believing that he would be able to resurrect her.

As a teenager, anguish-filled Leonora is often bullied, making her an easy mark for sleazy Rev. Preston Teagardin (Robert Pattison), who takes advantage of her naïve innocence, infuriating now-grown Arvin Russell (Tom Holland), who wreaks revenge.

Meanwhile, a crooked sheriff (Sebastian Stan) is tracking an amateur photographer (Jason Clarke) and his wife (Riley Keough). She’s the sheriff’s sister who worked in that diner with Charlotte. Their diversion is to pick up hitchhikers and force them to engage in sex rituals which lead to their violent demise.

Based on the novel by Donald Ray Pollock, who laconically narrates the sprawling, convoluted noir plot, it’s adapted by director Antonio Compos and his brother, Paulo Campos, with too many confusing, intertwined flashbacks/vignettes, wallowing in lurid, demented depravity.

The Gothic backwoods characters are so superficial that they fail to elicit sympathy or even empathy on the part of the audience. While Bill Skarsgard (best known as Pennywise the Clown in “It”) and Tom Holland (best known as “Spider-Man”) deliver credible performances, Robert Pattinson’s nasal whine barely passes for a Southern accent.

On the Granger Gauge, “The Devil All the Time” is a grimly voyeuristic, futile 4, not worth your time.


Susan Granger

(Editor’s Note: Westport resident Susan Granger grew up in Hollywood, studied journalism with Pierre Salinger at Mills College, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with highest honors in journalism. In addition to writing for newspapers and magazines, she has been on radio/television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic for many years. See her reviews at www.susangranger.com.)

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