Journeys Through Life: Pixar Putt

Thanks to my parents, miniature golf has been something I’m always willing to play.

I’ve played all manner of mini-golf courses. I’ve encountered motorized windmills, water hazards, the dreaded “slopes,” and even some courses that were meant to be as challenge-less as possible for the kiddies (I’m looking at you, Navy Pier!).

Also in the last 15+ years, I’ve had a number of experiences related to PIXAR Animation Studios. From speaking with a number of persons who worked on their films to even setting foot on their campus in Emeryville, California, the studio has been a high-point of quality for me when it comes to this country’s animation output.

A few years ago when I heard Rockefeller Productions was partnering with PIXAR for a pop-up mini-golf game, I grew excited when Chicago was mentioned as a future city for the course to appear in, and couldn’t wait to see what it had to offer.

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For the Summer of 2022, Pixar Putt is located in Polk Bros Park, adjacent to Navy Pier in Chicago, IL.

The entrance to Pixar Putt at Navy Pier in Chicago, IL.

Unlike a typical mini golf course, you can’t just show up to play. Instead, you need to go to the official site (https://pixarputt.com/), and purchase tickets in advance for specific times that are available. However, inclement weather like rain may cause the course to close. As expected, weekends and holidays fill up quickly.

What may make some people balk right away, is the admission price. Adults prices are $31-33 and kids are $26-28 (the higher price-points are weekend rates). They also offer a two-parent/two-kid Family package for $99. (note: there was a point a few weeks ago when adult prices on the weekend were $35).

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Earlier in the summer, I went to see how people handled the 18 holes on the course. I couldn’t help but feel some of the excitement I had for this did dry up a little, seeing a number of people appear to struggle through several of the holes. Even so, I knew that I would at least give it a go to see what it was like.

Now that I’ve experienced Pixar Putt…I must unfortunately say that my overall experience was pretty much what I had viewed earlier in the summer.

Unlike a general mini-golf course, every hole for Pixar Putt is created from a fold-out platform, with various accoutrements added in for the design purposes. Unfortunately, the design aesthetics on a number of the holes created an issue that I have rarely ever encountered in playing mini-golf.

A hole inspired by Pixar’s film, Coco.

A good example is the Coco hole, where one is supposed to putt their ball up a small incline and down the strings of the film’s signature guitar. Then, curve the ball around at the far end and over the marigold bridge, and then into the hole.

The course gives the hole as a par 3, but it’s one of several holes that have course mechanics that make the par numbers practically impossible.

That seems to be the biggest issue I have with Pixar Putt. There are a number the holes that look fine as a design that tries to capture the essence of the films the studio has done, but someone didn’t think through or even test to see how well the mechanics would work on each hole.

A hole inspired by Pixar’s film, Onward.

There are some that also use “ricochet mechanics” in very tight or confined areas where they can’t be utilized properly. A good example is on a hole for the film Onward (see above). This is classified as a par 2 hole, but there is no way to possibly ricochet the ball off the left side and up that ramp, given how low the wood sections are. Maybe if the hole had been built in an “L-shape” design (where one could putt the ball right up the ramp), I could see the par being feasible. As it is, I’d like to shake the hand of anyone who could clear this in two strokes.

The set-up for some holes is also not very inviting to those of us who are “lefties.” On quite a few occasions, I found myself balancing precariously just to make my opening putt.

A hole inspired by Pixar’s film, Inside Out.

There are several times where the course does try to get creative in it’s design-work. The hole dedicated to Inside Out (see above) for example, has you drop your ball into one of five different holes (each color-coordinated to each emotion), and a Plinko-style setup inside the “memory wall” randomly determines out of which four holes your ball will come out of. Plus, the balls empty out onto a course that is in the shape of Riley’s head, where the emotions in the film reside.

A hole inspired by Pixar’s film, Up.

The highlight of the course is the final hole, based around the film Up. It’s a creative little endeavor (that with the help of one of the course’s staff), sends Carl and Ellie’s house flying out of their yard, and over to Paradise Falls where golf balls plunge down into the final part of the course.

Even with artistry and creativity put into Pixar Putt, this is one of the few endeavors with PIXAR’s name on it that left me disappointed. If you do find yourself out by Navy Pier this summer, you’re better off just to view the course from outside it’s perimeter fencing, no matter how much your kids/friends plead and beg to have a go. Who knows? You might get to see someone achieve the impossible, and actually hit one of the archery target holes for the Brave-inspired hole.

Along with the rather frustrating experience of the way almost every other hole is set-up, the price-point feels highly exorbitant for what is offered here. If the game was somewhere in the range of $12-18, it might not have stung as much (I believe average mini-golf prices are around $10-14?). Heck, the City Mini Golf course in Maggie Daley Park not too far away, has some pretty decent set-ups, and a family of four could experience it for under $50.

Show Review: Stranger Things, Season 4 (Part 2)

After three years, I did wonder if there was enough fandom left to still drum up enthusiasm for the fourth season of Netflix’s Stranger Things.

As it turned out, there apparently is.

From breaking a number of viewing records to giving a song from the 80’s a second life on music charts around the world, the first part of the latest season ran seven episodes long, and reintroduced us to a number of familiar faces, a few new ones, and a villain the likes of which the series hadn’t encountered before.

Now with it’s final two episodes, the latest season draws to a close.

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With additional information revealed about the creature from the Upside-Down known as Vecna (Jamie Campbell Bower), Steve Harrington (Joe Keery), Nancy Wheeler (Natalia Dyer), Robin Buckley (Maya Hawke), Eddie Munson (Joseph Quinn), Dustin Henderson (Gaten Matarazzo), Max Mayfield (Sadie Sink), Lucas Sinclair (Caleb Mclaughlin), and his sister Erica (Priah Ferguson), hatch a plan to end the nightmarish entity that has been plaguing the town of Hawkins, Indiana.

Over in Russia, Jim Hopper (David Harbour) is reunited with Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder). The reunion leads to some startling revelations, as well as a struggle to get back to the US to save their children.

Eleven (Mille Bobby Brown), Martin “Papa” Brenner (Matthew Modine)

Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) has gotten her powers back and has regained her knowledge of a traumatic event in her past, but now once again in the presence of Martin “Papa” Brenner (Matthew Modine), she finds herself struggling with the emotional sway he has over her.

Meanwhile, Mike Wheeler (Finn Wllfhard), Will Byers (Noah Schnapp), Jonathan Byers (Charlie Heaton), and their friend Argyle (Eduardo Franco) attempt to figure out just where Eleven is.

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With part two of the season containing only two episodes, they serve almost like a yin-yang effect. Episode 8 (Papa) is almost 1 1/2 hours of setting us up, before Episode 9 (The Piggyback), pushes its characters into battle with the series’ longest runtime for an episode, at 2 1/2 hours.

Past battles have usually resulted in everyone converging into one central area, but this season, the battle takes place across multiple locations. Miraculously, all events are taking place at the same time (with one party not even in-the-know regarding what their efforts are doing).

L to R: Nancy Wheeler (Natalia Dyer), Dustin Henderson (Gaten Matarazzo), Steve Harrington (Joe Keery), Eddie Munson (Joseph Quinn), Robin Buckley (Maya Hawke), Erica Sinclair (Priah Ferguson), Max Mayfield (Sadie Sink), Lucas Sinclair (Caleb Mclaughlin)

One of the more fascinating things about the season for me, has been Vecna. The tail-end of part 1 revealed revelations about him, and part 2 carries on with more reveals, including connections to previous seasons of the show.

Speaking of newer characters, Eddie Munson continues to get better with every episode, while Argyle still kind of meanders along (he almost becomes to this season, what Suzie Bingham was to the last one).

Surprisingly, some of the storylines that I felt were rather slow in the first part of the season, get a little extra “oomph” in the second part.

For the final episode in Part 2 (The Piggyback), it does feel like the showrunners really did find themselves in a bind: one of the longest episodes in the show’s history, but one that they claimed they couldn’t figure out how to shorten, or find a proper way to split it into two episodes. In a sense, it almost becomes their equivalent of Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (though in one instance, the Duffers do something that Peter Jackson seemed unable to do).

L to R: Argyle (Eduardo Franco), Wll Byers (Noah Schnapp), Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard), Jonathan Byers (Charlie Heaton)

This could very well lead to an issue that I feel is quite apparent in the show, which is that it seems to juggle a very large cast of characters. There is some thinning of the ranks that is to be had in this season, but it still feels like it is not enough.

Part 2 also has some issues with pacing in some cases, and it feels like that is also due to how many characters have to be juggled here as we move across the different groups.

Much like previous seasons, there are still a few mysteries left unsolved, but surprisingly, this season ends on a cliffhanger.

The Duffer Brothers had said in previous interviews that they could see the series lasting up to five seasons, and by the sounds of how well this one was received and has been talked about over the last month, Netflix will probably give them whatever they need to conclude this series in the right way.

L to R: Yuri Ismaylov (Nikola Duricko), Murray Bauman (Brett Gelman), Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder), Jim Hopper (David Harbour)

It still feels surprising that this season was able to weave together the story that it did. I felt there were some pacing hiccups and story issues with Season 3 of the series, making it feel somewhat like an over-bloated Summer movie in places. Season 4 has a somewhat better focus storywise, but does struggle with the juggling act of keeping them all active and interesting for the audience (though I am hoping that one of the subplots that was part of seasons 3 and 4, is now successfully closed).

I was very entertained by this season moreso than season 3, despite some of the storylines faltering at times. At least there is still a decent amount of enthusiasm built up for anticipating what may come next.

Final Grade for Season 4, Part 2: B

Final Grade for Season 4 overall: B+

Movie Review: Jurassic World – Dominion

Since Steven Spielberg adapted Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park novel over three decades ago, several generations have grown up with tales of a world in which dinosaurs and man walked the earth (with the help of computer-generated imagery, and full-size robotics).

In 2015, Colin Trevorrow took the helm of a new series based on Crichton and Spielberg’s work. However, the last entry in the series (Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom) attempted to take the dinosaur experience beyond a confined island, and let the creatures loose in our world.

And now after 4 years, Trevorrow returns to conclude his trilogy, with Jurassic World: Dominion.

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Since the events of Fallen Kingdom, dinosaurs have become part of the human world. While some like former Jurassic World employees Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) and Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) try to help them, dinosaurs are soon being treated like other animals in our world. From illegal breeding to underground fighting matches, humanity has found a way to profit off these creations.

On a corporate level, the company Biosyn led by Lewis Dodgson (Campbell Scott) announces that they have created a sanctuary in Italy, where numerous captured dinosaurs can live in peace, and be studied for future medical advancements.

A Dreadnoughtus in Biosyn’s sanctuary

However, a new threat to humanity arises, when giant locusts suddenly begin to decimate crops across the Midwestern United States. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) is studying these events, and feels the key to understanding what is going on may lie within the walls of Biosyn. She then enlists the help of Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) to further investigate.

Meanwhile, Owen and Claire also have their hands full protecting Maisie Lockwood (Isabella Sermon), an illegally-created human clone made by John Hammond’s former partner, Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell). The teenage girl feels stifled by their rules, but also is struggling with the feeling that she is simply a “copy” of someone else.

The three also get an unexpected surprise, when the raptor Owen trained named Blue, shows up near their residence, with a young raptor of her own.

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Was that summary a lot to take in? Well, welcome to Jurassic World: Dominion.

There’s no doubt that audiences are a lot more sophisticated than they were three decades ago, but Trevorrow along with screenwriter Emily Carmichael seem determined to fill the film with as much stuff as possible (maybe out of fear that audiences will get bored?).

Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) encounters some Parasaurolophuses

After the end of the last film, along with a short called Battle at Big Rock, it felt like we were really going to plunge into what a world with dinosaurs would be like. The film does give us some of this imagery…for about 10 minutes, before it then pulls it’s characters into other subplots to occupy their (and our) time!

The locust subplot that sends Ellie to Biosyn feels like it could have come from an unproduced Crichton script, but it just feels like the filmmakers’ way to get Alan Grant, Ellie Sattler, and Ian Malcolm back together, let alone send several of them sneaking around in a Mission: Impossible-style way.

While Malcolm has a slightly more substantial role here, the film seems to love teasing the audience with Grant and Sattler (who is separated from the husband we saw in Jurassic Park III!). Of the two, it feels like the writers also really wanted to give Dern more to do here than in her first appearance.

In terms of World characters, Pratt just feels like the film is having him do more of what we know him for from the previous films. For Howard as Dearing, I was very surprised when the film really tried to push her into action territory during the last 2/3rds of the film. We’ve seen her do some stuff previously, but several moves definitely surprised me.

In terms of new characters, probably the most interesting is a pilot named Kayla Watts (DeWanda Wise). I could have seen this role written for a man, but Wise plays her character like a smuggler who has come to a questionable crossroads in her life.

A dinosaur fighting ring in Malta

Where the film somewhat manages to do something unexpected, is when Owen and Claire find themselves in Malta. We get everything from poachers, along with a femme fatale and fghting rings, and even a dino black marketplace that feels almost like something out of a Star Wars film. One almost wonders why the film couldn’t have pulled more focus around this part of the storyline, rather than making it’s inclusion feel a bit like the Canto Bight casino scene from The Last Jedi.

In the case of the company Biosyn, it is basically Apple for the genetics industry. From it’s facility that resembles the circular Apple Campus, to Dodgson eerily resembling current CEO Tim Cook, it really feels like how they figure into the story was almost like an afterthought.

And when it comes to the dinosaurs…well…there are dinosaurs in our dinosaur movie. The downside is that they don’t really do much to really stand out in our minds. Even when it comes to the Giganotosaurus who is supposed to be the film’s big T-Rex adversary, I almost pined for what was done with the Spinosaur in Jurassic Park III!

Strangely, the film seems to have a very “Raptors R Us” style when it comes to dinosaurs in this film. Along with Blue, we get a few different types of raptors, from some Indoraptor-like hybrids, to one with feathers. However, they don’t do much more than fulfill the Raptor time-quotient for the film.

Even how Blue and her baby figure into the plot, it feels like they could have just been written it out completely.

Of course, this isn’t the only trilogy continuation we’ve had over the last decade. George Lucas’ Star Wars films also were given a new lease on life, continuing on in a world that seemed familiar but shiny-and-new given more recent advancements. But the Jurassic World trilogy seemed to share some of the same thought processes as that series, such as building your first entry on a template of that previous trilogy’s audience-awing first film, and then…just not really seeming to have much of a plan on where the whole thing will go, but making sure to throw plenty of nostalgia at the audience in hopes you can lull them into a state of nostalgic bliss (even the recent sequel Ghostbusters: Afterlife utilized this technique).

Kayla Watts (DeWanda Wise) and Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), encounter one of Biosyn’s newly-created genetic marvels

Dominion doesn’t get quite as reverent towards its past as The Rise of Skywalker. The callbacks are somewhat tempered, but it does get a bit ridiculous when it seems every other person in the main cast seems to know who everyone else is. There’s also a very odd item cameo that had me asking more questions than it should (for those well-versed in Jurassic films, you’ll probably know what it is).

Plus, after the last film talked about moving the dinosaurs to a special sanctuary before they were just let loose on humanity, what do we have with this film? A special sanctuary where Biosyn and several parties are moving dinosaurs to!

The film’s 2 1/2 hour running time just seems to plod on as Trevorrow seems to think we’re so taken by everything, but it feels like the film needed to cut out a few storylines, and tighten itself up by 30 minutes.

The latest entry feels like it could have gone somewhere with the “dinosaurs living among us” setup we got with Fallen Kingdom, but it feels like the film’s creators just got distracted with some new ideas while rehashing some familiar touchstones.

Basically in Dominion, a lot of stuff happens, some scenes may catch our attention, but in the end, it feels like a lot of hollow spectacle, with very little heart.

Final Grade: C+

Show Review: Stranger Things, Season 4 (Part I)

Since it’s debut in 2016, the Stranger Things series is still one of the most popular brands the Netflix streaming service has to offer.

Buried under the small-town facade of Hawkins, Indiana, we soon found out about alternate dimensions, hellish creatures, girls with psychic abilities, and even the nefarious machinations of the USSR.

And now, after a 3 year wait, the series returns for it’s fourth season, separated into two parts (Episodes one through seven debuted on May 27th, and episodes eight and nine will debut on July 1st).

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After the events of the Summer of 1985, a number of our characters lives have changed.

Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), along with Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) and her family, have been relocated to California, which has caused some long-distance issues for several characters.

Back in Hawkins, Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard) and Dustin Henderson (Gaten Matarazzo) struggle with losing Lucas Sinclair (Caleb McLaughlin) to the school basketball team, while Max Mayfield (Sadie Sink) is still coping with the loss of her brother, Billy (Dacre Montgomery).

L to R: Steve Harrington (Joe Keery), Robin Buckley (Maya Hawke), Max Mayfield (Sadie Sink), Dustin Henderson (Gaten Matarazzo)

Events are set in motion, when several high school students are found murdered in a horrifying manner. While some in the town are quick to blame Satanists or a curse, our young cast of characters suspect that these deaths might tie into what they have been fighting over the last few years.

Plus, Joyce receives a shock when she gets a package from the USSR.

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If there is a theme for season 4, I’d dub it “secrets and lies.”

The majority of characters this season seem to be struggling with something under the surface. Whether it be Eleven lying to Mike about her new life, Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) struggling to tell Mike something important, or Jonathan Byers (Charlie Heaton) being unable to relay some news to his long-distance girlfriend, Nancy Wheeler (Natalia Dyer), it seems everyone has a secret.

The secrets naturally, are what fuel this season, notably in regards to the supernatural element Stranger Things is known for.

This time, a new threat has emerged from the Upside-Down. Unlike the multi-fanged Demogorgon or a monstrous Mind Flayer, evil comes in the form of a somewhat humanoid creature the characters have dubbed Vecna (based on another creature’s name from Dungeons and Dragons).

Vecna

There is definitely something akin to Freddy Kreuger about him (including some rather stomach-churning makeup work), let alone elements that are rather fascinating to try and unravel. Most notable, is that he is causing chaos from the Upside-Down, but there are no open portals for him to use…so, how is he doing this?

Trying to unravel the mystery of Vecna has so far been one of the highlights of this new season. One of the downsides, is that the storylines can get a bit unwieldy given how many people there are in the cast, leading to at least four different sub-stories vying for attention.

Out of all of these, the one revolving around Joyce and her package from the USSR, felt the weakest to me. Even bringing in investigative crackpot Murray Bauman (Brett Gelman) for her to bounce ideas and talk off of is good for some laughs, but just didn’t do enough for me.

Even so, the balancing act of keeping all the storylines in the air is rather commendable. The flow-through for this season surprisingly, feels like it works better than what we got in Season 3. Maybe that could be because the comedy gets toned down a bit, and the more serious tones bubble to the surface here.

L to R: Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard), Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), Will Byers (Noah Schnapp)

The season also pushes Eleven to the forefront, as she struggles with the loss of her powers, and trying to resolve some issues from her past. This leads us to some flashbacks prior to the events of the first season, including the introduction of a character named Peter Ballard (Jamie Campbell Bower), an assistant to El’s “Papa” (played again by Matthew Modine) at Hawkins National Laboratories. This definitely adds some more history to Eleven, and even embellishes information about her that we thought we knew.

Each new season also takes a newly-introduced character from the previous one, and gives them more to do. In this case, that distinction falls on Robin Buckley (Maya Hawke). Much like Eleven and Max got some girl time in Season 3, Robin and Nancy have the chance to ditch the boys a little while, and we get some more insight into Robin’s “mindset.”

With Robin gaining some more time in the spotlight, this somewhat short-shrifts fan-favorite Steve Harrington (Joe Keery), who seems to be frustrated that he’s striking out on the dating circuit, and is stuck taking care of the younger characters, even with Dustin being his best bud. Steve to me has an inordinate amount of frustration this season that is milked for comedy, but makes me wonder if he’ll make it out of Season 4 alive.

Will Byers is also a character that feels like he has also sunk further and further into the background. Season 3 was the first time he was able to not be chased or possessed by dark forces, and he just wanted to hang with his friends again. For quite a bit of this season, it just feels like he’s there just to be included, and I do wish they could do more with him.

Even with our current roster of characters (several of whom I haven’t name-dropped), the series still finds time to squeeze in some new ones. From a pot-smoking pizza dude named Argyle (Eduardo Franco), to D&D club leader Eddie Munson (Joseph Quinn), the guys have their moments, though as the season goes on, Eddie is probably going to be the one that most people find themselves warming up to.

The show also gets a taste of 80’s horror “royalty,” in the form of Robert Englund as Victor Creel. Though his role is brief, he manages to also tie into the history of Hawkins. Almost every town has something horrible in their past, and Victor is tied into one such incident here.

Surprisingly, I was of the thought that the series would stumble about now, after taking some major story risks with the third season (a secret Russian facility built miles below a mall in Indiana!?). Here, they manage to inject some new life and information into the story, that had me wanting to know more.

Sure, the drawback feels like the show is a bit too overloaded with characters and some of the story points drag at times, but there’s more good than bad about the season so far. As it stands now, we’ll have to wait and see what kind of payoff we’ll get when Part 2 drops at the beginning of July.

Final Grade: B+

Episode Review: The Owl House (Season 2, Episode 15) – Them’s the Breaks, Kid

In the first season of The Owl House, Eda made it clear on a number of occasions that she was not at all enamored with The Emperor’s Coven, let alone the idea of Luz taking an interest in studying at Hexside School of Magic and Demonics. However, Eda softened on her feelings when she saw how the school might be good for Luz in some respects.

Eda already had a reputation at the school, but we never did see much about her during those days…until now.

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To get Luz’s mind off of what Emperor Belos has planned for The Day of Unity, Eda offers to tell her a story.

Soon, she is reminiscing about her days at Hexside, and how a deal with the former Principal Faust, pushed her and then Vice-Principal Bump, to attend an academic event presided over by Plant Coven head, Terra Snapdragon.

Eda finds the entire event a waste of time, until she meets a student from St Epiderm, named Raine Whispers.

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When it comes to flashback episodes, I can be a bit judgmental, unless they have something to add to a character’s backstory. And in that respect, this episode opens up some doors in regards to Eda, as well as Raine.

What really helps this episode succeed, is that much like the episode Hunting Palismen, this story focuses on just one event, and is stronger for going this route (it feels like they could have cheapened out and had something where Eda’s sister Lily kept attempting to prove her worth to being in this event, but the narrowed focus really helps this story).

We’ve heard actress Natalie Palamides previously voicing teenage Eda, but it feels with this episode, she really gets the chance to own the role. There are certain little inflections she does that really makes it feel like she is channeling Wendie Malick.

A little element that I wished there had been more of, was Eda and her sister Lily interacting. The episode gives us a few examples here-and-there, but alas, Lily is quickly sidelined.

I think this might also be the most invested I’ve felt in regards to Raine. The character really gets a chance to feel more grounded, and there are some areas where it feels like one can totally see why Eda became enchanted by them.

The episode also includes some fun little easter eggs showing a number of the show’s adult cast as kids, let alone how even back then, Bump seemed to try and be a voice of reason and order, as the less-abrasive Vice-Principal.

There are some areas where I felt certain story elements were a bit flimsy. Notable is how Bump seems rather oblivious to knowing of Eda’s trouble-making reputation, given in a season 1 episode, he was witness to some of her handiwork. One would assume with the evidence Principal Faust has, Bump would definitely be more informed.

Even the appearance of Terra Snapdragon has some faults too. It is nice to see some additional elements to her character, but how they resolve her tests at the academic event, feels like the writers trying to wriggle out of a corner they wrote themselves into.

Episodes of the show that have one definite focus just push my buttons, and this story so far is one of the season’s highlights. It’s informative and fun, and tells a full story about Eda and Raine that makes me wish there was more about their time growing up.

The story does get a little flimsy near the end as it tries to resolve some things, but there’s enough good stuff here to push through to a satisfying conclusion, let alone a coda on the end that ties into the larger story for Season 2.

Best line in episode (said by squeak toy): “SQUEEEEEEEE-”

Final Grade: B+

Episode Review: The Owl House (Season 2, Episode 14) – Reaching Out

When The Owl House returned for it’s second season, it didn’t take long before the show introduced us to the parents of Amity Blight: her mother Odalia, and her father, Alador.

However, after their introductory episode, the Blight parents have been largely absent (with the last information we had, being that the Emperor’s Coven had purchased their whole supply of Abomaton figures).

With Reaching Out, the episode seems intent to give us some information on Alador, along with several members of the Blight family.

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Something is bothering Luz, as her phone keeps buzzing about a reminder for the day.

Intent on finding something else to focus on, she attempts to help Amity win the Bonesborough Brawl, an event that Amity’s father Alador won many years before.

Meanwhile, Eda still suspects something is up with her friend Raine Whispers, and attempts to get information out of Warden Wrath, who has also come to the Brawl. Eda soon gets some unexpected help, in the form of Amity’s older brother, Edric.

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When he was first introduced, Alador was mostly kept in the background. With this episode, the writers attempt to expand on his character, as well as give some more insight into his role as Amity’s father.

We can see Amity trying to make a connection with him, but it’s another case of “a father being too busy to connect with his kid(s).” Not a bad plot-point per se, but I would have liked to have had something a bit stronger regarding Alador and Amity.

The stronger emotional connection within the episode, comes from Luz’s dilemma. Her story point hits a number of emotional chords, as she struggles to ignore her phone, but continues to be distracted by it as she tries to help Amity.

The appearance of Edric and Emira in this episode, acts almost like a bridge between the “A” and “B” plots.

Most notable is we get some more insight into Edric, who seems to have some self-confidence issues. It was hinted at in some previous episodes that Edric seems to be the less serious of the Blight twins, but this episode seeks to show that Edric does have some skills. It is also notable to see him get interaction time with Eda and King.

Emira can be a bit more serious and learned, and it is here that we see her being the one helping out her sister (and at times, Luz) during the Brawl.

Overall, the story points revolving around the Brawl and Eda making her potion just feel like ways to keep the story “busy,” while there are story points that tie into emotional family connections, that probably could have developed into a much better storyline overall.

Like the previous episode, this is another one where certain emotional elements pushed the final grade a notch higher.

Best line in episode (said by Emira): “I want a t-shirt too!”

Final Grade: B

Episode Review: The Owl House (Season 2, Episode 13) – Any Sport in a Storm

When he was announced as a cast addition for Season 2, The Golden Guard gained quite a bit of fan-gushing from the online Owl House community.

While there has been scant information learned about Hunter (aka The Golden Guard), it has usually been while in his service to Emperor Belos. This latest episode release, looks to throw him into an area that he hasn’t had much experience with: other persons around his own age.

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After being questioned by the Abomination Coven head Darius on his strength of character, Hunter sets out to prove himself worthy of the Golden Guard title. At Hexside, he attempts to recruit students into the Emperor’s coven and happens to come across Willow starting up a Flyer Derby club, which he decides to use as a cover for recruiting “the best and the brightest.”

Meanwhile, Amity informs Luz that the author of The Good Witch Azura books is holding a signing in town, and the two eagerly go off to meet her.

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After her interactions with Amity in episode 11, it was nice to see Willow getting some additional character development in this story. We’ve seen her grow into a competent witch with her plant magic, but it is nice to see her stepping up to take on a leadership position in a school program.

Even so, the issues Willow faces with starting her club at Hexside feels a little flimsy, given one of the school’s professors hangs the fate of the club on whether her team can beat his at a Flyer Derby match (feeling like a small callback to season 1’s Wing It Like Witches).

Getting to see Hunter out of his element is a nice touch, let alone reminds us that he’s around the same age as some of the school students, but doesn’t seem to know how to really interact with them. In a real world comparison, his recruitment methods feel like Armed Forces recruiters going to high schools, to convince kids that their skills can greatly benefit their country.

There also is some new information, that the title of The Golden Guard is older than Hunter himself. Up until this point, I had assumed this was a title Belos had bestowed exclusively on Hunter.

We also get the return of background characters Skara and Viney, and Gus even shows how supportive he can be towards Willow, though one scene makes it possible that maybe he harbors feelings for her.

The return of Darius is rather quick, but surprising. His last appearance in Eda’s Requiem went by like a blur to me, but recently we’ve been learning a bit more about the different Coven heads. With what we see here, it does make me wonder just how loyal most of the heads are to the Emperor.

While Willow and Hunter’s interaction is the “A” story of the episode, Luz and Amity encompass the “B” story, dealing with their love of the Azura books, and their attempt to meet author Mildred Featherwhyle.

We had a slight blip in the relationship arc between these two with the last episode, and it is nice to see a subplot about something that they share a common love over. Plus, we do get to see somewhat of a payoff from Luz in Season 1, wanting to start an Azura book club at Hexside.

Unfortunately, the “B” story starts out with an intriguing premise as the two question the author’s heritage (Luz purchased her books in the human realm, but is the author from the demon realm?), but feels like a bit of a “mystery box” distraction as the girls try to find answers for the questions they have.

The episode overall has some strong moments, but shows some flimsiness at times as the stories make their way to the end. Even one moment in the resolution of Hunter’s story arc made me question the “logic” that was used. However, after the last episode felt like a tease for things to come, getting an episode that brought about some character development for both Willow and Hunter was quite enjoyable, and some of these moments helped raise the rating on this episode just a bit more for me.

Luz and Amity’s plotline did feel a bit pointless, though a saving grace was getting to see the two off on a little quest, bouncing ideas and theories off of each other.

Best line in episode (said by Luz): “She’s had a name this whole time!?”

Final Grade: B

Episode Review: The Owl House (Season 2, Episode 12) – Elsewhere and Elsewhen

When it comes to The Owl House, the show can surprise us with where character development can go.

In the first season, Amity Blight character arc proved to be an unexpected treat as the season went on. For the second season, the character that gained notoriety was Eda’s sister, Lilith “Lilly” Clawthorne.

It’s been awhile since we saw her, but the latest episode will surely entertain a number of her fans (and maybe even enthrall some new ones).

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Eda throws her sister a party, for her new role as assistant curator for the Supernatural Museum of History. However, Lilith grows upset in trying to figure out what to do for her first exhibition, wanting to prove herself to a former mentor who still works under Emperor Belos.

Meanwhile, Luz is still struggling to understand more about how Philip Wittebane made his portal door that allowed access between the human and demon realms. When Eda mentions that Lilith dabbled in trying to find time pools (holes in reality that can transport one back to various times), Luz teams up with Eda’s sister to find one that can lead them back to the Deadwardian Era, when Philip was alive.

The party also brings around an unexpected visitor, when the witches’ father shows up. Though he requests to see Eda, she is apprehensive given something that happened between them in the past.

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Season 2 episodes with Lilith have grown rather interesting, and here, we see the writers continuing to have some fun with her. Her interaction is largely with Luz, and it’s really the first time they both have done something together.

Earlier in the season, we saw how Luz had taken to teaching the Clawthorne sisters “glyph magic,” and Lilith was most enthralled. Here, we get a bit more character development, in seeing that she also has a special affinity for the history of the Boiling Isles, with some of that information rubbing off on Luz.

When it comes to interacting with Philip Wittebane, I was expecting a bit more than what we got. However, it does feels like for those “keeping score,” his true identity is hinted at in a pretty major way. Plus, Lilith and Luz’s interactions may have contributed in what happens to the Boiling Isles in the future, on a level they probably cannot comprehend at this time.

The time pool concept in the episode felt a bit too convenient for me, but given my fascination regarding the space time continuum in shows, I was intrigued to see where the concept could go. Plus, the episode did remind me a bit of the time-hopping in an episode of Gravity Falls.

While Luz and Lilith’s adventure takes up a story-heavy “A” plot, the “B” plot about Eda nervously avoiding her father feels rather flimsy. This isn’t the first time this season we’ve had a “B” plot feel like it could have been excised altogether. The show has a thing for often trying to juggle two separate plot strands, but this is another case where I wish we could have just focused on Luz and Lilith (even if there are some possible future revelations in Eda’s story, regarding where things might go with her).

Seeing Luz and Lilith together was definitely a highlight, but the episode left me wanting to see more about Philip, let alone more of Bonesboro from the past. Eda’s story about dealing with her past and her father, really made me wish it was a stronger, better structured story point that could have given us much more than what we got here (it feels like it could have worked better as an “A” plot story in another episode).

This was an episode that I was really hoping would open up some major revelations, but it felt like it was moreso about providing scant hints about things that will probably be paid off in future episodes.

Best line in episode (said by Luz): “*gasps* Snorses!”

Final Grade: B-

Episode Review: The Owl House (Season 2, Episode 11) – Follies at the Coven Day Parade

The last seven months was almost sheer agony as many waited for the remaining Season 2 episodes of The Owl House to hit. Speculation ran wild on a number of fronts, and the slightest of possible release dates led to some social media sites causing the show to trend again.

Now with the episodes officially coming out, we are continuing on our journey for the final full season of the show.

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After returning from her brief visit to the Human Realm, Luz struggles with wanting to stay in the Demon Realm, while also dealing with her promise to her Mother that she would come back.

After encountering Emperor Belos’ assistant Kikimora struggling to bridge issues between her family and work life, Luz thinks she may have found a way to figure out how to have things both ways, if she helps the little demon out in regards to Coven Day Parade duties.

Luz also learns that Eda has been following up on information regarding Raine Whispers (her ex-partner), and tries to set up a rendezvous with them during the parade as well.

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With this episode, the show wastes little time in jumping into the action. Stuff seems to fly at us pretty quickly in regards to information, but surprisingly, the action stays moving at a good clip as we bounce around a number of elements happening during the parade.

One of the more unexpected elements is Kikimora being willing to be part of a plan to help Luz and Eda. Given what we’ve seen in the past, I had assumed Kiki would be much more ruthless of a character, but the episode seeks to cast her in a grey area. It is a little flimsy in Luz’s logic that she thinks that Belos’ assistant can help her resolve her own dilemma, but then again, Luz is just hoping her plan works.

The episode also introduces another Coven head, in the form of the Plant Coven’s Terra Snapdragon. Unlike some of the other coven head introductions, her use here manages to make her both intriguing and terrifying (she has somewhat of a “Big Brother” vibe given how she tends to pop up unexpectedly). Plus, given her powers, one has to wonder if Willow and her might meet up in the future.

Earlier in the season, Raine Whispers was an intriguing addition to Eda’s past, though events after his last appearance have affected him in unexpected ways. We get some hints that something is going on, though the scenes between him and Eda feel moreso like they may have a bigger encounter in the future. As it is, it almost feels like this part of the story could have been jettisoned, and repurposed as something a bit stronger in another episode.

We also get some interesting dilemmas when it comes to Luz and Amity’s relationship. Luz has been tight-lipped about her “attempt” to visit the Human Realm, and upon finding Luz’s phone, Amity is curious regarding what it contains, but struggles with her thoughts that she may be invading her girlfriend’s privacy. The issue is also helped by her going to Willow for advice, leading to a short-and-sweet scene between the two.

When I sat down and thought about it, it felt like this episode ended up juggling quite a number of elements to it. However, unlike some of the earlier Season 2 episodes that had balancing issues, I think what saves Follies is that the different elements actually have time to transition from one to the other, without feeling like they are cramming 2-3 episodes into a 22-minute time-frame.

The episode balances a bit precariously at times with it’s storytelling, but it has enough going for it that it manages to be entertaining, while also opening up some extra questions that need resolution (hopefully before the season ends, and we have to wait for the multiple specials that will conclude the series).

Best line in episode (said by Hootie as Belos parade float): “I AM YOUR GOD!!!”

Final Grade: B

Movie Review: Ghostbusters – Afterlife

Rated PG-13 for supernatural action and some suggestive references

Up until 2015, I knew that there were fans of the Ghostbusters films, but I never thought some could be on the same level of obsessive behavior like fans of the Star Wars and Indiana Jones series.

Even though the original film’s cast seemed fine with director Paul Feig’s 2016 Ghostbusters film, (set in an alternate universe where four women go into the ghostbusting business) it was hounded as soon as it was announced, and the vitriol still hasn’t subsided after 5 years, with some still acting as if the film’s creation was a crime against humanity.

When it came to an actual sequel to the 1980’s films, rumors had swirled around for years, but with the death of Harold Ramis (aka Egon Spengler) in 2014, it looked like that was the end…until Jason Reitman announced in 2019 that a sequel was in the works.

After the Covid-19 pandemic delayed release of the film for over a year, Ghostbusters: Afterlife has finally been unleashed upon the world.

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When a woman named Callie (Carrie Coon) has learned that her reclusive father has died, she packs up her kids Phoebe (McKenna Grace) and Trevor (Finn Wolfhard), and heads to Summerville, Oklahoma.

While Callie finds nothing but a dilapidated old farm, her kids find a number of items, that begin to clue them into their unknown Grandfather’s past life.

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Right from the start, the mood of the film is different from the typical atmosphere of a Ghostbusters film. Summerville is a far cry from New York, with its expanses of farmland and small-town main street. Aside from Callie’s reclusive father, the only thing more mysterious are seismic tremors that rattle the town on a daily basis. The tone of most scenes almost seems to invoke the mood of retro fare like Stranger Things and Super 8, mixed in with the mise en scene of films made under Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment production banner (like E.T. and The Goonies).

L to R: Lucky (Celeste O’Connor), Trevor (Finn Wolfhard), Podcast (Logan Kim), Phoebe (McKenna Grace)

Once the family is situated, the focus of the film largely shifts over to Phoebe. Grace’s performance is the highlight of the film, as her character bounces between scientific interests, and trying to be more “normal” (usually in the form of her telling numerous hit-or-miss jokes).

Aside from Phoebe, the rest of the films characters barely register beyond just basic, one-note personality traits.

Callie just goes on and on about her hatred towards her absent father, while Trevor is the smart-mouthed, resident mechanic of the family who happens to find a familiar (to us) vehicle, and just decides to fix it. The film also attempts to shoehorn in a minor “thing” between him and a girl named Lucky (Celeste O’Connor), but the story never seems willing to properly develop anything resembling a relationship.

Mr Grooberson (Paul Rudd)

A highlight for some is most likely going to be the inclusion of Paul Rudd as local teacher Mr Grooberson, but even his time in the film is fleeting. At the most, he’s the avatar for the major film fans, notably once some familiar technology begins to show up.

With the screenplay co-written by Jason Reitman and Gil Kenan (director of Monster House and the 2015 Poltergeist remake), there are times it feels like the film is at odds with itself. It’s a tug-of-war situation between doing something different, and falling into repetition based around some major elements from the first film (in case you were wondering, the film quietly retcons the existence of Ghostbusters II).

There are times where I felt like I was watching someone’s adapted Ghostbusters fanfiction come to life. This was most prevalent when the film lingers on familiar iconography, or shoehorns in references that don’t make much sense. Jason Reitman has made films I’ve enjoyed before (such as Juno and Thank You For Smoking), but the overall tone of this film feels a bit amateurish at times. Some sequences feel like they were hacked down in an attempt to get to “the good stuff,” let alone the lack of much meaningful character development beyond just Phoebe.

That isn’t to say this film is bereft of involving scenes. I did find myself getting excited during a high-speed chase using the Ecto-1 vehicle. Seeing it skid around corners with the young actors working together, felt like the most exciting “new” thing in the film, but later scenes never quite captured the camaraderie of those few minutes.

Also rather odd, is the musical tone of the piece. Composer Rob Simonsen utilizes a number of musical flourishes from the 1984 film, but they don’t seem to fit naturally in a number of places. There’s some familiar tones that will surely cue some audience members into where this film is going, while a piano melody that sounds just perfect amidst bustling street traffic, seems an odd choice when it pops up several times in the film.

There also is a rather non-chalant way in which some people react to spirits. Not that one would expect someone to run off screaming, but when one event happens to Phoebe (and later her mother), they treat the happening with no emotion at all. Heck, when Phoebe begins having a chess game with a spectral opponent, she just keeps it to herself like this is just an everyday occurrence!

Aside from McKenna Grace’s performance and a few choice moments, Afterlife just ends up puttering along on nostalgia, willing to play it safe and please its fans, rather than go down new roads and take risks. My big question is in regards to those who are looking at this film as some sort of masterpiece: once the “nostalgic anesthetic” wears off, will they look back on this film in 5 years, and still feel the same?

Final Grade: C