Archive | March 2016

Episode Review: My Little Pony, Friendship is Magic (Season 6, Episodes 1 & 2) – The Crystalling

Since it began in 2010, the fourth generation of the My Little Pony cartoon series, has become probably even more popular than in its early incarnation in the 1980’s.

Not only has the show succeeded in finding fans outside of its intended age group, but has spawned numerous fan conventions around the world, a wide-range of toys outside the standard brushable plastic horses, and most surprising: the animated series has just started its 6th season…something that is very rare in this world where most animated series have a shelf-life of around 3-4 seasons before the company pulls the plug.

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Following the events of Season 5’s closer, Starlight Glimmer has agreed to Twilight Sparkle’s offer, to be taught about friendship.

Soon, word comes that Shining Armor and Princess Cadance have had their foal, and Twilight and the group head off to the Crystal Empire, to take part in the little one’s “Crystalling” ceremony.

Twilight also decides to use the trip for Starlight to work through a friendship lesson. Her childhood friend Sunburst is also located in the Crystal Empire, and Twilight wishes Starlight to get reacquainted with him.

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Season openers for the series have often been about introducing us to new characters or places. Much like the last few seasons, the previous season’s ending, ties into the next season’s opener.

Starlight Glimmer is one of the first characters we see, and given where she has come from in Season 5, she seems to have given herself over wholly, to being schooled by Twilight and her friends.

Watching her nervous reactions to what others might think of her, I was quickly put in mind of another pony/human whose name meant light at the end of the day: Sunset Shimmer.

Those who have seen the Equestria Girls film trilogy, may definitely get some similar vibes of a character who thought she knew her path, but then finds another way…but also has the jitters regarding what she’s done with herself prior to the reformation.

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Another notable item is that from the start of the season premiere, it looked like Spike might once again be sidelined in the story (he was out-of-action for season 5’s opener), but he is worked in as a guide for Starlight at times.

This use of Spike put me in mind of some of his early series appearances, when he served as a helper to Twilight during her early studies. This does make me wonder, given how most stories with the ‘Mane 6’ are not quite sure what to do with him, maybe Spike will end up working more with Starlight in the coming episodes.

This 2-parter also delves a bit into the character of Sunburst, whom we saw was a young colt that shaped what Starlight did with her life. Sunburst’s appearance is probably one of the more interesting parts of the story, given that they don’t play all their cards regarding just what his capacities are in regards to magic, and it quickly shows that he isn’t one to spill all his secrets right away.

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Of course, the story is also about the “Crystalling” of Shining Armor and Princess Cadance’s baby.

Much like the norm for an an episode with Twilight’s brother and sister-in-law, the two are once again in a state of mental panic, but this time over some additional elements to their little baby.

The show attempts to have some cute fun with this little bundle of joy, but it may remind some of a more out-of-control version of the Cake twins, from Season 2’s episode, Baby Cakes.

Even some of the added accoutrements, may drive a wedge into  how far people are willing to believe certain lineages and birthrights, when it comes to babies in this world.

As well, the debate about babies born with big black dotted eyes, or eyes with big pupils, will continue to rage on.

Unlike some of the more familiar names attached to a Season opener, this two-parter is credited as being written by Josh Haber.

Since Season 4, Haber has written 6 episodes over the last few seasons, as well as been the main writer on the last Equestria Girls film, Friendship Games.

Much like Friendship Games, the 2-part Crystalling episode feels like it is telling a big story, but while it tries to be weighty and funny, it feels like it just isn’t able to balance itself in a wholly pleasing way. When it comes to season openers, it doesn’t pack quite the same balance or punch, as Season 2’s Return of Harmony, or Season 5’s The Cutie Map.

Also when it comes to crystal-based environments, Haber doesn’t do much to make the Crystal Empire anymore impressive, than what was done with Crystal Prep Academy and its students in the Friendship Games.

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Much like Friendship Games as well, several of the ‘Mane 6’ feel like they’re here just to give lip-service to their characters.

We also get a small appearance by Princesses Celestia and Luna, and for those fans of Luna, we do get to see her doing some stuff…well, for a little bit, anyway. If you are a Luna fan, you’ll most likely savor the moment, and wish it was more substantial.

And lastly, I have an issue with the locale of The Crystal Empire. This cityscape has been touted as a grand new environment in the land of Equestria ever since its introduction in Season 3. Several plotlines have taken place within its boundaries, but even with it appearing in several stories, it has never struck me as interesting a place as Ponyville, or Canterlot (or even Manehattan).

Even when it was utilized as the backdrop for The Equestria Games, it just never struck me as an exciting place, as we only focused on a little area with the sports events.

Maybe in the future, if they can utilize some stories that are on the scale of Rarity Takes Manehattan or Sweet and Elite, I might take the place more seriously. Both of the episodes I just mentioned, gave a little more of a slice-of-life feel to these non-Ponyville locations, and it just feels like it would work perfectly to elevate the Empire in my eyes.

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Final Grade: C+ (Final Thoughts: “The Crystalling” continues to add more characters to the show’s roster, while also attempting to expand on the lore of the show. Josh Haber attempts a juggling act that introduces new characters, while bringing familiar faces back into the mix, but produces a 2-part opener that just doesn’t feel balanced overall. The episode feels average in its execution. It doesn’t deliver when it wants us to laugh, and in coming up with some of the more dramatic moments, they never really feel like they have the kind of weight one would expect from them. The one shining spot might be the sub-story in regards to Starlight Glimmer meeting her childhood friend Starburst…but even here, it feels like that story could have been its own self-contained episode)

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Movie Musings: Thoughts on Johnny Depp’s portrayal of Willy Wonka

It seems there are some things that will never die, largely thanks to the internet.

One controversy that started in 2004 and has never truly abated, came about with the first previews and information regarding Tim Burton’s film adaptation, of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

(Note: I mention the above as a footnote to much of the internet, that claims that Burton was remaking the 1971 film. I once again remind any who think this, that the 1971 film is not the be-all/end-all starting point for this story).

DeppWonka1While many were more used to their Willy Wonka being a small, squiggly-bearded man with a cane, or a tall, wild-haired eccentric who seemed to waffle on just what he meant, many were shocked at the first images of Johnny Depp as the fabled chocolatier.

Clad in red and black, this Wonka sported a pale complexion, a ‘Prince Valiant’ haircut, and a slightly high voice.

No sooner had the images been made available, then many quickly started spouting vitriol at Burton’s “bastardization”of the character.

The biggest claim? That this Wonka, a pale-faced weirdo, inviting a group of children to his factory, was 2 degrees shy of being a film version, of popstar Michael Jackson.

I read that almost everywhere when the film was released, and even a decade later, many largely claim the film is ‘terrible’ for remaking the 1971 film, little realizing the true intent of what Tim Burton and Johnny Depp set out to do.

In looking around online, I was surprised that noone had looked into Depp’s take on the character, and tried to decipher just what was being conveyed in his quirks and vocals.

So, like many of my little diatribes, I felt I would shed a little light on a character most seemed to write off as a child-obsessed, pale weirdo.

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-Pale Rider-

First, let’s start by addressing the elephant in the room: Depp’s pale appearance. It was this light pigmentation that caused many to point and proclaim “Depp is playing Michael Jackson.” However, it should be noted that Wonka was not always this pale.

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In several brief scenes in the beginning, as well as a small flashback, we’re shown that Willy Wonka was not always as pale as he appeared on promotional images.

His early days running a small chocolate shop, and up through his going to the fabled Loompaland, show his complexion seeming to be pretty regular.

If one looks at this evidence, they can surmise that the pale complexion largely came about, after he closed off his factory when spies were found in his workforce.

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It’s never stated exactly when Wonka went to Loompaland, but one has to figure that maybe once he stopped production, the candymaking itch got to him, and that eventually led him to his current workers.

With little need for contact, and having the aboriginal Oompas to work and do things for him, Wonka was able to pretty much continue to work sight-unseen, doing what he loved best. This also kept him out of the sun, accounting for the paleness of his skintone, when we see him on the tour.

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-Talking funny-

Tying into Wonka’s complexion, is also the way in which he talks to, and addresses people.

Early on when we seen him in the film, he only says a few sentences, but upon meeting the winners and their parents, his speech patterns get a little odd.

It is left rather vague as to when Willy cut himself off from human interaction, but it feels like the script gives us little clues, from the following lines of dialogue:

“Good morning, starshine! The earth, says, hello!”

“It’s in the fridge, daddy-o! Are you hip to the jive, can you dig what I’m layin’ down, I knew that you could, slide me some skin, soul brother!”

“Well, let’s keep on truckin!”

Most of these phrases sound like gibberish to most young people, but much of what Willy is saying, comes from phrases from the late 60’s/early 70’s.

My feelings were that it was sometime around the mid-70’s, when Wonka finally shut down his factory to the outside world. Most likely, he had not been seen for some 30 years, if we take the 2005 year of the film’s release to be the modern day (of course, this is also speculative, since the film never really gives us a clear year/date of when it takes place).

One feature some will be quick to notice about Wonka, is that he often has little cards that he reads from at certain areas of the tour. Also, most of what he mentions regarding parts of his factory, is very to-the-point.

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In several interviews, Burton and Depp claimed they found inspiration for their Wonka, in thinking back on old TV shows, and their live-action hosts.

Most people in this day and age don’t recall, but long ago, there would often be children’s shows run by local networks all across the country. These adult hosts would maybe have puppets to interact with, run cartoons, or even have a live studio audience to interact with.

Oftentimes, when one looked back on those hosts, they often seemed really crazy and a little off-kilter, and that seemed to be what Depp was trying to put into his performance.

One can definitely see a few traces of the informative children’s show host, in how Wonka would often try to intersperse little bits of knowledge and information here and there.

As to the cards he carries around, my theory is that not really having had to worry about showing people around his factory, Wonka had a number of cards prepared for certain occasions, to help him interact with his guests.

Though even at times around his guests, he almost isn’t sure just how to react.

When some of his words are contradicted, Wonka is seen to “lash out” in a rather immature way.

When Veruca Salt points out he is repeating something he already said, he grows quiet for a few moments, before making fun of how short the children are.

When Mike TeeVee tries to find fault with his reasoning, Wonka just mentions how he can’t understand Mike because of his “mumbling.”

If one considers it, this could be a side-effect of not really having persons to converse with for several decades. When one has the full-run of their own empire without anyone contradicting their ideas, it can definitely push one to get a bit egotistical.

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“You’re really weird!”

In one interview, Burton did compare Wonka’s isolationist attitude, to the likes of Howard Hughes, and Charles Foster Kane, the antagonist of Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane film.

Hughes was known for having germaphobic tendencies, and would often be exacting about certain processes, and making contact with others.

Wonka from the start, is seen largely covered up, with only his face and neck exposed. His hands are clad in purple latex gloves, and several times when it comes to human contact, he doesn’t seem at all willing to return the favor.

Citizen Kane’s influence can be seen in the way that Wonka isolated himself within his candy palace, not that different than what Kane did with his unfinished estate, known as Xanadu.

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-Family Matters-

One of the strangest moments for some viewers, was Wonka being unable to say the word “parents,” stumbling through its pronunciation as if he is tongue-tied.

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Unlike the original book or 1971 film, the 2005 film included a small backstory regarding Wonka.

Most film adaptations in this day and age, tend to embellish some children’s stories, with added backstory.

In Ron Howard’s The Grinch, a backstory is given as to just how the Grinch ended up as he did (throwing the book’s line noone quite knows the reason for a loop).

In the film adaptation of Where The Wild Things Are, more information is given regarding Max’s family/home-life, and what leads him to sail to the land of the Wild Things.

In the case of this film, the backstory of Willy’s father Wilbur Wonka being a dentist who shunned candy, seemed a good foil for a man who could cause Willy to shun the notion of family.

At the end of the film, Willy offers Charlie the chance to run his factory, but (unlike the book or the 1971 film), Wonka’s offer comes with the caveat, that Charlie has to leave his family behind.

“A chocolatier has to run free, and solo,” says Willy. “He has to follow his dreams, gosh-darn the consequences. Look at me: I had no family, and I’m a giant success!”

Of course, Charlie’s family unit was much different from Wonka’s. Though the Buckets have nothing, they still stick together through thick-and-thin. Even with the promise to inherit one of the most famous factories in the world, Charlie’s morals and ethics allow him to rescind Wonka’s offer.

Here, the best laid plans of Oompas and Men, goes awry. Wonka’s thinking that finding an heir would be simple, is cut down, and he grows quiet, calling what has happened, “unexpected, and …weird.”

He leaves in a quiet mood, and afterwards, hits a block in his usual candymaking.

Apparently, Charlie’s refusal has driven a wedge into his thought-process, and in a weird scene (to most audiences), he goes out as an average person getting a shoe-shine, to talk to Charlie.

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It may seem odd that someone like Wonka would address Charlie, but maybe it’s the thought process that because Charlie somehow caused these emotions to surface…maybe he can solve the problem.

Of course, Charlie’s solution to when he feels terrible, is to go to his family, which is given an eye-rolling sigh by Wonka, causing Charlie to get a little upset.

“What do you have against my family?” he asks, most likely thinking of the stipulation, and the sigh meaning Willy is singling out the Buckets.

Willy then claims that it isn’t about the Buckets, but the whole idea of parents, claiming that they hinder creativity, by telling you what to do, and what not to do.

Being an obedient child with decent parents, Charlie’s point-of-view is that parents mainly do those things because they care about their children. When Wonka doesn’t seem to believe this, Charlie suggests he should talk to his Father about it.

Wonka at first claims he doesn’t want to, but when Charlie offers to go with him for support, he sparks to the idea.

The two then take the Great Glass Elevator to Wilbur’s home. One has to wonder just how/where Wonka knew where his Father was. My guess in his off-time, he had someone seek out the information, but never acted on it (but then again, we never know where Loompaland is, so this could be another bit of Dahl-ish storytelling, left to our imagination).

Charlie also is able to get Willy into the house, claiming he is bringing him for a dentist appointment.

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Though once inside, we also see that Wilbur has been following his son’s career, though maybe also out of a sense of pride, he never reached out.

Some would probably claim it seems ridiculous that Wilbur wouldn’t recognize his own son, but I feel it works.

The last time the two were face-to-face was when Willy was a little boy. Plus, of the few pictures that are seen in some of the news articles, most of Willy’s face is covered up.

Of course, the one thing Wilbur knows is teeth, and this is how he realizes the strange man in his chair, is his son.

Though both are men of few words when it cones to emotions, they quietly reconcile.

Willy Wonka then offers the factory to Charlie a second time, and rescinds his “no family” clause. This time, Charlie accepts.

The final scene we see of the family allowing Willy in for dinner, shows a little growth in pushing the character forward.

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Wonka decides to stay for dinner, and talks to a few members of the household. The Buckets have usually been a very positive family, and it feels like here, they have accepted Willy as an additional member of the Bucket family.

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Unlike many who grew up watching live-action musicals in their childhood, my family was not as attuned to them. So while most people I know have fond memories of growing up with films like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, The Wizard of Oz, or The Sound of Music, I just don’t have the same connection.

My early childhood was moreso encompassing regarding animated films by Disney, with only a select few live action films introduced at an early age, like Star Wars, and The Neverending Story.

While many who grew up with the 1971 film just claimed the 2005 was remaking that film, I knew enough from the start of production, that Tim Burton and writer John August, were going back to the source material of Roald Dahl’s book.

In the last 10 years, I hear a lot of people just throw words around like “horrible,” “insulting,” and “terrible” when it comes to this film. It seems every other post on IMDB.com includes one of those words for every other new post that is made.

Maybe if one is measuring the 2005 film against the 1971 film as their Holy Bible, I could see that line of thought, but I feel if people call Burton’s film terrible, they clearly have never seen terrible films like Monster-a-Go-G0, or The Beast of Yucca Flats.

However, I’m of the opinion that the 2005 film is probably one of Burton’s most entertaining films in the last decade.

DeppWonka10Yes, Depp’s take isn’t at all like what Wilder’s was, but Burton’s take on adapted material, can often steer a character down different paths.

Another example of this, is 1999’s Sleepy Hollow, in which the character of Ichabod Crane was changed from a school teacher, to that of a forensics scientist trying to factually explain several murders in the town, using science, to combat local superstition.

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Of course, this post will probably change nothing regarding how people see Depp’s portrayal of Wonka.

But even so, I’ve always found the internet to be a place where people could find information on almost everything. And oftentimes, when I don’t find said information, and if I feel I have something to say that noone else has, it usually ends up in these posts.

Well, let’s keep on truckin’!

A Peanuts Prospectus: Politics is for the Birds (and Beagles)

During its almost 50-year run in the newspaper, Charles Schulz’ Peanuts comic strips would delve into thoughts on politics, quite a few times.

One that was most well-known in the series (and eventually became the basis for a Peanuts TV Special in the 1970’s), was Linus Van Pelt running for School President at his school. Lucy agreed to be Linus’ campaign manager (and tolerated his choice of Charlie Brown for Vice-President!), and it looked like they were going to win…until Linus decided to tell the student body about the Great Pumpkin, which ended up costing him the election!

Unknown to quite a few people, Schulz soon found a lesser-used group in the comics, to get across some of his thoughts on politics: birds.

One of the strip’s most famous birds named Woodstock, wouldn’t find his way into becoming a series regular until the early 1970’s. But prior to Woodstock, several bird characters began to be seen around the neighborhood.

A number of stories had Snoopy interacting with a few of them, but in September of 1964, they soon came into light regarding Politics.

It all began when Snoopy noticed one bird walking by, carrying a sign.

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This same bird would be seen over the next few days, showing his support for “!,” but on September 3rd…an altercation occurred.

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It soon seemed that the world of bird politics, was not as simple as one would assume, as the field began to grow a little more crowded.

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Not being a bird, Snoopy was fine sitting on the sidelines, witness to the Politics of the feathered few. Of course, he couldn’t help but get in a little jab or two.

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Before long, a number of other groups began to join the circus.

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There was even an additional skirmish between some more “!” and “?” supporters, but the day after, Snoopy soon saw that the Political struggle was a little crazier than what he had originally thought.

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Eventually after 2 weeks, the Bird’s political storyline came to an end, with an unlikely victor.

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It’s impossible to know just what may have triggered Schulz to consider this storyline, but most likely, it was in response to the impending Presidential election of 1964, between Lyndon B Johnson, and Barry Goldwater.

In truth, I never saw any of these strips in the collected volumes I read from the library as a kid. I had no idea they existed, until Fantagraphic Books’ publishing of The Complete Peanuts volumes some time ago.

Of the many strips that had not been reprinted in previous years, I was most impressed by these two weeks.

But it wasn’t over just yet. The Political birds would get a small return 4 years later, during July of 1968.

Schulz’s design of the birds had also changed over the 4 years. Instead of being a little bigger and bird-like, the ones shown in the 1968 segments showed the evolution to the smaller, big-beaked look that would soon encompass Woodstock and his friends.

Much like 1964, a number of birds were seen carrying signs for different ‘candidates.

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This time, the political bird antics only lasted a week. However, at the end of the story, Schulz took the story in a different direction.

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The bird supporter with the paw-print, added a fun little gag to the standard symbols Schulz had been using, but it also segued into a new story, starting on July 8th.

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Yes, Snoopy decided to run for office…with a very odd campaign strategy.

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This additional political segment, lasted for a few days more than the latest bird candidacy storyline. We got a peek into Snoopy’s campaign headquarters, as well as a few other bits regarding what he’d need to do to stay relevant in the political race.

Finally after a few weeks, on July 16th, 1968, Snoopy’s campaign ended…or as we see here:

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Though his campaign dwindled out on the printed page, Snoopy’s momentum would permeate the public’s subconscious for many years.

From the 60’s on into today, there have often bit bits of promotional imagery calling for the famed Beagle to throw his hat into the ring as a Presidential candidate. Though this is nothing new, as several other comic and famous characters have had little jibes to take on the big job. Characters like Pogo, and Winnie the Pooh, have also been named over the years.

Eventually, Snoopy would get a more venerated position in the dog world of the comics, when in February of 1970, he was promoted to the most important of positions: Head Beagle!

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After being sworn into office, Snoopy soon found the position to be one of numerous decisions and complaints from constituents. Finally after 3 weeks, he abandoned his post, and was replaced.

One figures that in the end, it was easier for Snoopy to just be an average Joe, relaxing on his doghouse, and assuming his numerous flights of fancy.

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When I do pieces regarding the Peanuts comics, I do like to give a shout-out to the Charles M Schulz Museum, up in Santa Rosa, CA. Keepers and retainers of a number of items pertaining to the comics and its creator, I strongly recommend giving them a look if you’re in Northern California. You can find out more about them by checking out their Facebook page.

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Movie Review: 10 Cloverfield Lane

(Rated PG-13 for thematic material including frightening sequences of threat with some violence, and brief language)

Ever since he came on the scene, writer/producer/director JJ Abrams has strongly made it clear to the public, of his love of “Mystery Box” films.

At a TED Talk in 2008, Abrams explained that his thought process, was the concept of making the audience “think” they know what they’re getting, but it isn’t “exactly” what they’re getting.

Abrams’ Bad Robot production company has produced only a handful of films since its inception, though one stood out in 2008: Cloverfield, which took the concept of “found footage” beyond the typical Blair Witch Project retreads, and tried to throw its audience into the midst of a real-time disaster scenario.

Since it came out, many had wondered if we’d ever have anymore to do with the world and events we saw on the screen. Rumors persisted for years, but Abrams and his guys weren’t saying anything.

And then in February of this year, a mysterious trailer hit, and after a quick succession of images (accompanied by the song I Think We’re Alone Now), a familiar word appeared on the screen, along with a few others…and a release date, less than a month away!

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After leaving her home, a young woman named Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) experiences a car crash out in the countryside.

When she comes to, she finds herself in a fallout shelter, with two men.

One of them is Howard (John Goodman), who tells her that dire circumstances above, have led him to taking her into his shelter.

The other is Emmett (John Gallagher, Jr), who happens to know John, and came to him when he witnessed something he cannot quite describe.

Michelle is eager to get out of the shelter, but Howard claims it’s no use: noone is alive outside, and his radio has picked up no signals. Just what could have caused this to happen, Howard has his theories, but nothing concrete…just the assurance that staying where they are, is for the best.

However, as time continues, Michelle begins to question her surroundings, as well as her new “friends.”

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Within the first minutes of 10 Cloverfield Lane, it becomes pretty apparent that the film is ‘a different beast’ than the 2008 film that shares part of its name.

The shaky-cam is pretty much gone, and in its place, is a film…well, shot like an actual film!

Very quickly, Winstead’s Michelle becomes our eyes and ears, and as soon as she awakens from her accident, it feels like we’re unsure of just what we’ve stumbled into.

Winstead it often feels, is more memorable in her supporting roles than main ones. Unlike some actresses, she has a sense of ‘ordinariness’ that often helps make her seem believable, and it definitely helps in a film of this scale.

The situation and story of Lane could very well have fallen into low-budget, B-movie mediocrity, but strangely enough, the film manages to hold itself together quite well.

Director Dan Trachtenberg, seems to find his inspiration for much of the film’s storytelling devices, harkening back to the era of the 50’s and 60’s.

There’s definitely hints of Alfred Hitchcock here, but for me, the majority of the film felt like an extended episode of The Twilight Zone.

It wasn’t uncommon for Rod Serling’s anthology series to throw people together into unexplained circumstances, and Lane very quickly reminded me of episodes such as The Monsters are Due on Maple Street, and Five Characters Searching For an Exit.

Even the film’s title sequence gets in on the retro bandwagon, as portions of the white-on-black text, begin to stretch and expand, just like in the grand tradition of Saul Bass’ title sequences.

Of all the actors in the film, the one that will surely stand out for many, is John Goodman’s portrayal of Howard. Many of us can recall Goodman playing characters that may be a little gruff, a little funny, maybe a little bit of both…but Howard is a whole different ballgame.

A man who speaks only when necessary, this character is one that will make you question just what is going on behind those eyes most of the time. Howard isn’t big on speeches, and his silence makes for some of the film’s tensest moments.

Jake Gallagher Jr’s Emmett is pretty much the third-wheel of the group, but he manages to waver between seeming like a bumpkin, and also having some smarts. In a way, he’ll probably remind a few people of Donny from The Big Lebowski, given the way Goodman eyes him a few times.

Where the movie falls short, is somewhere in its third act. It is here that the film gives its audience a choice, and how you choose, will decide fully on how far down the rabbit hole you’ve chosen to go. Some will take the blue pill for sure, while others, will go for the red pill.

After seeing the film, it almost feels like Cloverfield-related films, could be seen as Abrams’ testing ground for up-and-coming filmmakers. The first film was directed by Matt Reeves, and since then, Reeves has directed films like Let Me In, and the follow-ups to the recent Planet of the Apes series.

Even with proven directors out there, in the past few years, we’ve been seeing a lot of “young” directors beginning to climb the ladder to bigger pictures (such as Colin Trevorrow, and Rian Johnson). Given what unspooled with this film, it wouldn’t come as a surprise if 10 Cloverfield Lane served as a calling card for director Dan Trachtenberg, to take him onto bigger projects in the future (though hopefully, nothing like what was wrought on Josh Trank with Fantastic Four).

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Final Grade: B (Final Thoughts: “10 Cloverfield Lane” is less about handheld filmmaking, and more about framing and tension, in the grand style of situational storytelling from the past. The minimal cast manages to keep the film from getting boring, with John Goodman and Mary Elizabeth Winstead as the main casting highlights. The film allows the audience to use their brains and draw their own conclusions quite a few times, but it may test the limits on how much the audience is willing to believe)

Episode Review: Gravity Falls (Season 2, Episode 19) – Weirdmageddon, Part 2

*WARNING: MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD*

Throughout the series Gravity Falls, the main focus has often been on Dipper and Mabel Pines, the 12-year-old twins who are sent to the small Oregon town, to visit their Great Uncle (aka “Grunkle”) Stan Pines.

What they thought was going to be a boring Summer in the Pacific Northwest, soon turned into a strange and wondrous journey, as they met new friends, encountered strange creatures, and uncovered a mystery that would have serious ramifications on our whole world!

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Following the events of Weirdmageddon Part 1, Dipper, Wendy, and Soos have made it to the edge of Gravity Falls, and find a suspended sphere, with Mabel’s ‘shooting star’ sweater image on it! Obtaining a key from Gideon Gleeful, the three make their way inside, and find a perfect world (seemingly) created by Mabel, and like the good-hearted girl she is, she’s eager for them to partake in what Mabel Land has to offer!

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Meanwhile, Bill Cypher has grown upset that though he has managed to bring Weirdmageddon to Gravity Falls, he and his minions are for some reason, unable to escape, or spread their chaos beyond the borders of the town!

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With Mabel being relatively absent from the first part of Weirdmageddon, getting to see the alternate world that Bill Cypher created inside her bubble, is definitely a contrast to the fire and chaos on the outside.

Speaking of Bill, he and his henchmaniacs only have a few minutes worth of screen-time this episode, as the majority of the plot takes place inside Mabel’s bubble. Though one hoped that maybe there could be more information about Bill’s plans, it feels like we’ll have to wait until Part 3 to see more about them.

The world that Mabel has created inside her bubble, seems like a combination of the world of Toontown from Who Framed Roger Rabbit, as well as The Other World from Coraline.

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That concept of Mabel Land is played up in quite a big way, as Mabel tells Dipper, Wendy, and Soos, “Mabel Land knows just what you want, and always provides!”

One fun little bit, is seeing that Mabel has also created ‘a back-up Dipper,’ to inhabit Mabel Land, who is almost on the same level of over-the-top positivity as her animated dreamboys, Xyler and Craz (who also inhabit the world!). The few moments that “Dippy Fresh” is onscreen, are great for an old-school 90’s laugh (and Dipper’s reactions to his colorfully-positive doppleganger, are the highlight of the episode).

While Dipper does play the role of ‘splash of cold water’ in this episode, it is also feels like the story focuses on a turning point for Mabel.

As we saw in the episode Dipper and Mabel vs The Future, Mabel is afraid to turn 13, and has come to the realization that growing up and going into high school one day, may not be as happy and joyous as movies and television have led her to believe (in some respects, I could relate to this so much).

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She also grew even more downtrodden in that episode, hearing that Dipper might stay in Gravity Falls, and become Stanford Pines’ apprentice, in investigating more of the town’s weirdness.

That feeling of being separated from her twin, is a little reminiscent of the relationship shown between Stanley and Stanford Pines, in the episode A Tale of Two Stans, in which Stanley grew downtrodden that his smarter twin brother would leave, and go off to study far away.

That fear of growing up, and life maybe not turning how you wish it could be, is the underlying theme of the episode. It definitely bubbles to the surface during the final third of the episode, when Dipper has to appeal to Mabel, and convince her to break free from Bill’s illusive world.

We do get a few bits leading into moments of the twin’s past, that show how each of the twins saw certain moments in their lives, and the results may remind a few of a scene or two, from PIXAR’s Inside Out.

The biggest feeling in regards to the episode, is that it’s almost like the last chance to get a 300% dose of Mabel’s crazy personality in a bright and sparkly world, to offput us to the dark and horrific machinations outside of the bubble. So much of what we see, feels like a curtain call of cameos and easter eggs, for the sharp-eyed Gravity Falls fans.

Much like part 1 of Weirdmageddon, the episode doesn’t feel super-emotional, but there’s enough going on in it, that it still manages to stand out as entertaining, as well as being informative.

Also, stay for the credits, to show probably one of the ‘deepest’ reflections in the show’s history.

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Best line in the episode (said by Dipper Pines): “You stay out of this, Dippy Fresh!”

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Final episode grade: B+ (Final Thoughts: Much like “The Empire Strikes Back,” Part 2 of Weirdmageddon focuses on some of the deeper storytelling of the trilogy of stories being told. The episode gives Mabel the chance to have a happy world the likes of which she could probably only dream of, but gives Dipper the chance to finally have a heart-to-heart with his sister, that it feels the series desperately needed before its big finale. The episode acts as a fun overly-bright contrast to the nightmarish colorations of the outside world, and helps to also act as a way to try and convince the audience that sometimes, you may need to move on, even if you have no idea what the future may bring )

   

Movie Review: Zootopia

(Rated PG for some thematic elements, rude humor and action)

Throughout the history of animation, one of the most common traits since its early days, has been to exaggerate animals, by making them anthropomorphic (also known as, ‘giving them human characteristics’).

We can name a number of such animals that have these traits: Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny, Droopy the Dog, the list goes on and on. And in the annals of Walt Disney Feature Animation, there have been instances where we saw animals not only walk and talk, but also inhabit their own world.

One film that many are familiar with, is the 1973 animated feature, Robin Hood. Unlike talking and thinking animals that populated a largely human world, this one would be devoid of humans, as the animals assumed the major roles in the famous story.

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Concept art from “Zootopia’s” development

Robin Hood was one of the films that co-director Byron Howard mentioned, when I first heard him talk of Zootopia, at the Anaheim Convention Center, in 2013. The D23 Expo’s animation presentation, gave us a taste of what was to come in the next few years, and though all we had were a few pieces of conceptual art (like the one above), what Howard was proposing, had me excited.

That day, I walked out of the presentation eager to see what the studio would come up with in the next few years. Zootopia was 3 years away, but I had bookmarked the film in my head, eager to see where it would go.

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In a world in which predators and prey have learned to live side-by-side, the story follows a young rabbit named Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin).

Unlike her family that runs a small farm, Judy has big city dreams of going to the megalopolis of Zootopia, and becoming a Police Officer, hoping to do good…of course, she’s also the first rabbit to ever consider law enforcement as a career!

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Eventually, Judy makes it to the City, but finds that her utopian dreams, are a little more pie-in-the-sky than she expected. Wanting to make a difference, she soon ends up coming across a fox named Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), whose species is one Judy has been told over the years, is not to be trusted.

Judy is willing to just write off her encounter with Nick, until she encounters something else, that might require his help…

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From the start, Judy’s story sounded like the typical “little girl in the big city” plotline…but in truth, there’s a bit more to it than that.

Many look at what Judy is doing, as attempting the impossible (even her parents request that she do something ‘safer’), but she is willing to prove herself, and doesn’t back down from a challenge when it’s thrown in her face.

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This is a bunny that I could definitely see resonating with viewers, much in the same way that Elsa and Vanellope von Schweetz did. Ginnifer Goodwin brings such a great voice to the character, playing someone who is sweet at times, but definitely believes in the seriousness of some situations, and wants to get the job done.

Running almost counterpoint to Judy, is Nick Wilde, a smarmy-looking fox in a hawaiian shirt.

Jason Bateman’s voice just seems to fit perfectly with this character, who sounds like he could talk his way out of anything. Though the story is largely Judy’s, Nick does end up getting in some nice moments…and one that might sting a bit.

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The film also boasts a decent-sized ring of supporting characters here as well. Idris Elba voices one of the more memorable, playing the gruff Waterbuffalo Chief Bogo, of the ZPD. JK Simmons lends a pompous regality to Mayor Lionheart, and Jenny Slate provides a nice beat as Bellwether, his small lamb assistant.

And don’t worry fans of the lovable sloth named Flash…he’s here too…and even though many of you have seen him in the film’s previews, his scene here elicited one of the biggest laughs from the audience.

Oh, and Shakira is in this too (why she’s all over this film, I have no clue!).

Also of note in regards to the film’s animal cast, is that they come in many different shapes and sizes. The world of Zootopia shows a world in which their cultures and climates are sometimes right next to each other…which leads to quite a diverse palette of colors and environments to explore. When I first heard this idea of a multi-sized microcosm in 2013, it made me excited to see how a mouse would share the road with a giant elephant, or even a long-necked giraffe.

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One of the things I lamented in regards to 2014’s Big Hero 6, was that there was so little time to properly explore the gleaming cityscape of San Fransokyo. Fortunately within the world of Zootopia, it feels like we really get the chance to become immersed in this environment, and just zip in and around its numerous set pieces in a satisfying way.

Directors Rich Moore (Wreck-it-Ralph) and Byron Howard (Tangled) teamed up to bring the film to life, and it seems like they succeeded pretty well in giving us an entertaining product…however, while it succeeded in entertaining me moreso than Big Hero 6, I will admit it isn’t perfect.

Much like several of Disney’s films in the last decade, there are a few set-up/pay-off areas in the story, and a few times, I swear I had an inkling on which direction a few of them were going (if you’ve been watching Disney‘s film releases over the last decade, you can almost layout a Mad Libs-style template to most of them).

When it was all over, I actually took stock of my emotions during the film. I didn’t do a lot of laughing. I didn’t shed any tears. Heck, I made more noise watching Deadpool…but I actually found the film entertaining!

My original thought when watching any film, is demanding that it “rip my heart out,” but I also welcome a film that attempts to be “smarter,” and I think that’s about the best thing Zootopia has going for it.

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It might not look like it, but Zootopia deals with something one doesn’t normally find in animation: prejudice…and it can get a bit tense in a few places.

One could see this story taking a lot of ‘lighter’ tones in regards to the predator/prey buddy-cop idea going on here, but the story department and personnel at Walt Disney Feature Animation, show that in the last 10 years, they have come a long way from the horribly staid, and unfunny Chicken Little.

Zootopia, while not perfect, still stands as a grand achievement in showing how the last 10 years of Walt Disney Feature Animation has risen to once again be a leader in their field, and show that animation can be a medium that can cater to both children, AND adults.

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Final Grade: B+ (Final Thoughts: “Zootopia” is another notch in the Sorcerer’s hat, showing that the Burbank-based Disney Studios, continues to excel in giving us an entertaining story, and memorable characters. Judy Hopps’ story is the main focal point of the film, but it also intersperses several other threads, notably in terms of prejudice, and how our perceptions may cloud our judgement at times. The world of Zootopia is also one of the most expansive, engaging places we’ve seen in a long time, and helps the narrative weave through numerous environments and moody situations, pulling us into one of their most original story ideas in awhile)