Set in the boondocks of the Star Wars universe, at a time that becomes established over the course of its eight episodes, “The Mandelorian” is a flagship Disney+ project that is immensely entertaining. The hero is The Mandelorian (actually one of a clan of such), a bounty hunter clad in dark shiny armour and bedecked with weapons. This is Shane meets Star Wars, and the early episodes, mostly standalone stories involving specific bounty targets, are the most satisfying. Pedro Pascal plays the lead role with a satisfying deep metallic voice. Only gradually does the overall arc of the plot, involving a baby creature, reveal itself, and how “The Mandelorian” meshes into the Star Wars story then emerges. The action scenes and the gritty flight scenes on varied planets are beautifully orchestrated. I savored the “slow plot” development of the Mandelorian’s character. All is not perfect. The old-style orchestral soundtrack, while consistent with the Star Wars music I recall (I’m a much lapsed ex-fan) is irritatingly shallow. And the more complicated plot over the second half of the series loses some momentum. But if you love the Western cowboy ethos on screen, “The Mandelorian” will delight.
“Mixing Colours” is an additional chapter to the occasional joint works of Brian Eno, the more famous musician/producer, and ambient pianist Roger Eno. Comprising a double album of eighteen gentle medium-length tracks, it immediately strikes one as perfect for lockdown. Roger’s slow, melodic-but-ambient-and-almost-forgettable piano figures are mixed and treated by Brian to produce a sonically spaced-out feel that floats in the background. Played as background, tracks blend into one another with pleasing cohesiveness, the pallid tone offset by occasional striking almost-choruses. Played in the living room with a glass of wine, the album stimulates meditation. Not a single tune seems surplus. How does this add to Brian Eno’s foundational work on ambient music? I have to say I’m unsure, because by definition very little sticks in memory, but right now, in April 2020, “Mixing Colours” is, despite its glacial speed and sombre tone, just the uplifting mind music we need.
The first noticeable aspect of the eight-part animated series “Undone” is its animation technique, somehow slightly “off” but capable of more emotion than Pixar’s perfection. It turns out this is “rotoscoping,” in which the actors perform their scenes and animators draw over them. All I can say is that it is stunning and grips ones attention. “Undone” is a science fiction tale of a disillusioned, possibly schizophrenic young woman who survives a terrible car crash and subsequently embarks on a quest to solve the mystery of her father’s death many years ago. And get this: her father now visits her in visions. The plot involves drama but also many small-scale subplots that combine into a most intriguing tale. Each short episode, around twenty minutes, works well, and the overall arc is gripping. Rosa Salazar stuns in the lead role and Bob Odenkirk does a star turn as the father. Who would have thought an animated sci-fi head trip movie would be one of 2019’s stronger offerings?
Dan Bejar of Destroyer is one of the quirkiest, most intriguing indie rock artists making music. His thirteenth album in a quarter century, “Have We Met” is a kaleidoscope of electronic and guitars, smoothed out by strong bass beats, constructed around free-form abstract poetry. One of the last “I enunciate like Bowie” vocalists around, here Bejar’s lovely voice is often hushed, close to talking. The lyrics are impressionistic oddments that compel attention. The songs brood or swoop or fester, forming a whole that is equally at home on the car radio and in a candlelit living room. Occasional frittery is easily forgiven. Best tracks include the unusually dirty, funky, slow “Cue synthesiser”; the altogether different, ambient “The television music supervisor,” with its hushed voicing and wacko lyrics; and the moody, drifting, winding-up melodies in “The Raven,” which kicks off with lovely lyrics: “Just look at the world around, actually, don’t look.” If you’re not familiar with Destroyer, exercise some caution, but “Have We Met” is a fine, idiosyncratic introduction.
When I read “Six Degrees,” Mark Lynas’s blistering warning, way back in the good old days of 2007, the experience scared the shit out of me. I needed that fright and since then I’ve strived to keep on top of our future in a globally warmed world by reading as much as I can in the popular, and sometimes scientific, press. Some brilliant works have ensued over the thirteen years since “Six Degrees,” but none of them had quite the same sensible framing. So Lynas’s complete remake of that classic, just released, “Our Final Warning: Six Degrees of Climate Emergency,” had to jump to the top of my reading pile. We are now in a one degree world, as Lynas opens the book with, and over the course of this sober, stunning book, he takes us through what the latest science says two degrees, three degrees, four degrees. five degrees, or even six degrees would look like, plus how soon or likely each of these outcomes looms. Lynas is a robustly fair analyst: in a couple of cases, the prognosis is slightly improved from 2007 but mostly matters are worse. “Our Final Warning” is brilliantly organized and the writing is clear and elegant. If you read one global warming book in 2020, this should be it. As for me, I’m more than shit scared now, I’m bereft. Unless we act, I’ll see in two degrees in a decade-plus and maybe three degrees before I die; my grandchildren face four degrees and human civilization under threat.