Episode Review: My Little Pony, Friendship is Magic (Season 6, Episode 13) – Stranger Than Fanfiction
At the start of the 21st century, the internet allowed fandoms from many different mediums and walks of life, to thrive in a way, that had never been seen before.
Suddenly, you weren’t just a smalltown boy with a few friends who knew what you were talking about, when you mentioned something obscure from a film…you could find like-minded persons on the world wide web…and feel like you were a part of something greater!
Of course, the internet has also reared up a dark side to fandoms. Messageboards would often have threads go on for many posts, while various fans argued over who was right or wrong, regarding some little detail. Something you considered okay, might then be thrown back in your face as being ‘the worst thing ever,’ and let’s not get started on persons who consider themselves, ‘True Fans.’
Even the series My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic has seen its fair share of different walks of (fandom) life. While some like myself watch the show and purchase a few things here or there, there are also some fans who go all-out, writing fanfiction, and even critiquing the show and its characterizations, down to the minutest detail.
Such fan machinations, seem to have been the basis behind this week’s episode, Stranger Than Fanfiction.
Rainbow Dash eagerly attends a Daring Do Convention, where an appearance by author A.K. Yearling (also secretly Daring Do in real-life!), is scheduled to take place.
While walking around the convention floor, Dash meets up with another fan of the series, named Quibble Pants (voiced by Patton Oswalt). At first hitting it off with their deep knowledge of fandom details, the two soon come to an impasse, when Quibble claims that the first books were the best, and everything beyond is badly written. Of course, Dash can’t reveal that she knows how Yearling writes her books, so she finds it difficult to explain why she feels Quibble is incorrect.
Of course, it doesn’t help that Daring Do’s arch-nemesis Dr Caballeron, shows up at the convention looking for Daring, and a relic she has recently acquired. This then leads to Rainbow and Quibble getting caught up in the madness, with Quibble ‘quibbling’ along, every step of the way.
So far, it seems we have been given a Daring Do-based episode, every other Season.
At the start, Daring Do was simply a character in a book (as seen in the Season 2 episode, Read it and Weep). It served as a great motivator to get Rainbow Dash to consider reading as something positive.
Then came Season 4’s episode, Daring Don’t, in which we found out that author A.K. Yearling, IS Daring Do, and all her stories are based on actual adventures she’s gone on!
While some were willing to accept this, I was with those who felt this was a bit too far of a stretch to accept.
And that, brings us to this Season 6 episode.
Writers Josh Haber and Michael Vogel do tag-team duty on the episode’s writing chores, but it feels like this leads to a tug-of-war on where the story should go. They want it to combine storytelling in regards to fandoms, but also bring forth another Daring Do adventure. This is very similar to how Daring Don’t brought fiction and reality into a head-on collision, but it never comes to a point where I could fully accept the circumstances here.
They even throw in a few references to the past episodes (mention of the Ring of Destiny, which was the artifact Daring was looking for in her last show appearance), as well as some references related to other films or series (I had to chuckle at one related to a film about a certain, ‘Last Crusade’).
Overall, the episode almost feels like some crazed mish-mash of the episodes Look Before You Sleep, and Slice of Life. The theme is to find common-ground amidst what may seem to be irreconcilable differences, but even Look Before You Sleep still seemed a more entertaining episode to me, despite its own cliches.
For me, one of the highlights in anticipation for this episode, was hearing that Patton Oswalt was guest-voicing as Quibble Pants. Oswalt is like a ‘friend of geeks’ within many fandoms (he’s guest-voiced and appeared on a number of shows like Gravity Falls, and Doc McStuffins), and I’m always eager to see him when he comes to town to perform stand-up comedy.
However, it feels like Quibble Pants might not get the same kind of fan-love as we’ve seen for other guest-voiced characters, like Cheese Sandwich, or Coloratura. Quibble’s constant need to verbally be right so much of the time, is a double-edged sword for much of the episode. While he may prattle on at times and be a bit too full of his fan-based knowledge, there are some times where that knowledge actually does come in handy. However, maybe scaling back a bit of his know-it-all personality, might have made him a bit more palatable.
The story also intends to combine fantasy with reality, when Quibble and Dash encounter the real Dr Caballeron, one of Daring’s old foes. However, Quibble’s encounter with him falls into that story plot of the doubting-thomas character, not realizing they’re in danger…until something comes along later that gives them a wake-up call.
One positive, was seeing A.K. Yearling having softened a bit from her rather non-plussed attitude in Daring Don’t (her ‘I work alone’ attitude in that episode was one of the factors that kept me from liking her). Here, she’s a bit more toned down, and seems more willing to accept other’s help in certain, dire situations.
One thing I did find myself questioning, was just how big of a fandom there is, to have a Daring Do Convention. There appears to be a lot of effort put into different booths and attractions on the convention room floor, but it feels like the world of Daring Do is largely confined to the book series.
One can see that it surely is meant to be a parody of the likes of the many different fan conventions for Friendship is Magic, but FIM has the TV show, an upcoming movie, the Equestria Girls spinoff, comic books, toy lines, and a number of different items to justify such conventions.
If anything, given the range of what the Daring Do fandom is given in Equestria, one could more easily see local book nights, where fans can meet in small groups.
Another small nitpick, is that Rainbow Dash ended up being included in a Daring Do story (along with being on the cover of the book, Daring Do and the Ring of Destiny), and noone on the convention floor calls Rainbow out on this (like maybe thinking she’s a Rainbow Dash/Daring Do character mash-up with her costume). Then again, many also rarely go ga-ga when they see that Twilight Sparkle is an alicorn, or that the show’s ‘Mane 6’ have saved Equestria several times over.
Overall, Stranger Than Fanfiction feels like an episode that was intended to be built with the best of (fan) intentions, but in the end, just feels like a hodge-podge of action, with not enough material to guide it to a satisfying conclusion.
Final Grade: B- (Final Thoughts: “Stranger Than Fanfiction” wants to act as an ode to the rigors of being part of a major fandom, but it never end up feeling wholly satisfying. It relies a bit on meta humor in the form of Quibble Pants, while also trying to squeeze in a new adventure, and send Quibble off on a wild ride with Rainbow Dash, into the real world of Daring Do. In the end, it comes off as a tale, where style, trumps substance. )
The first two episodes of Star vs The Forces of Evil’s Season 2 premiere, brought back some familiar characters from Season 1, and embellished their rather limp backstories. This seemed to hint that this new Season, with its 22 episodes, was going to further open up the world/dimensions, that we had only gotten a taste of last year.
As we move into the third episode, we get two segments that largely deal with Star Butterfly, as she continues to learn a bit more about the planet Earth, regarding its customs, and inhabitants.
After Star continuously enjoys riding on the back of Marco’s bicycle, Marco thinks it’s time she learned how to ride one on her own.
However, his attempts to bolster’s Star’s confidence backfires, when he lets go of the bicycle seat, and she careens through town, unable to stop!
Fortunately, Oskar Greason (whom Star has a crush on!), is available to lend his driving services, to help chase Star down. We also get a return from Glossaryck of Terms, who as usual, provides little(-to-no) help regarding the situation at hand.
The episode does play around with not giving us the easy way out, in regards to Star’s emotions, and ‘dimensional naivete.’ There are plenty of opportunities for her to end the ride early, but the writers play with Star’s other-worldly mindset (not to mention her being upset at Marco for breaking a promise). This is where the humor can wear a little thin. A few times, it seemed like the writers were struggling to even carry the events out to the final conclusion.
Much like Marco’s Sensei in last week’s episode, this segment also gives over more screentime to a lesser-known supporting character, in the form of Oskar. Star’s schoolyard crush and keytar player (voiced by actor Jon Heder), gets a bit more time to interact with Marco, as well as Glossaryck of Terms (voiced by actor Jeffrey Tambor).
It feels like Oskar and Glossaryck could become future best buds, given the way they chat about foodstuffs, and break it down to some tunes in one scene (never thought I’d hear Heder and Tambor ‘gettin down’ with some mad rhymes).
Throughout the episode, Marco is largely the voice of reason, amidst a madhouse of other characters that don’t seem to see things in more serious terms like he does. Of course, Marco soon has to learn more about letting go of his more structured thought process, in order to help Star in the end (it culminates in a scene that I definitely did not see coming).
A decent episode, even if it does feel like they overdo the runaway bicycle plot. Then again, it’s no different than the story The Berenstain Bears Go Fly a Kite, where an event also goes horribly wrong, and the characters could easily end it, but it lasts the entire length of that storybook.
Final Segment Grade: B-
While taking the laser-puppies to the local dog park with Marco, Star decides to use her wand in a game of fetch, and soon finds it firmly lodged in the jaws of a rather aggressive-looking dog.
For much of the episode, Star attempts to get her wand back, but soon finds herself just carrying the dog everywhere she goes, trying to find a peaceful solution to her problem.
This serves as the main gag through much of the segment, with the litmus test being how long Star can put up with this nuisance before she snaps.
Composer Brian H Kim also has one of his more memorable musical cues so far this season. Near the end of the episode, the music gets emotional and heartfelt, in a similar fashion to some cues I’ve heard in Japanese anime…and to me, it just works!
The story came very close to being on the levels of The Banagic Incident, but it soon became a bit like The Other Exchange Student, in how the dog acted (even staring intently at Marco while he slept!).
In regards to secondary storylines, I was a little more enamored with seeing Marco’s relationship with the laser-puppies, who we’ve seen being very affectionate towards him previously, but often seemed to irk him in smaller moments. However, it seems like he’s gotten used to them, and one scene will probably make them seem even cuter than before (if no less dangerous).
Fetch even managed to cram in several smaller subplots, such as Star’s Mom reminding her to write a thank you note to a relation, and Marco trying to get a straw into a juice pouch. Plus, we now see that Star has the equivalent of an inter-dimensional cellphone, in the form of a compact (and as with most teenagers, it becomes a source of annoyance as her Mom keeps calling her on it!).
The overload of all these threads made it very close to making me feel that the segment was suffering from the same ADHD as the first season’s Matchmaker episode, but somehow, they managed to tie things together pretty well, even if a few of the results were a bit blase.
We also have some guest voices for the episode, provided by actresses Amy Sedaris, and Mayim Biailk. Both give decent performances, but their characters are rather brief in their appearances. Of the two, it is Sedaris who really gets to play around with her voice role, while Bialik is the more down-to-earth in the tone of her character.
Even with a gaggle of cutesy-eyed laser-puppies throughout, the episode meanders a bit with its languid pace, as Star continues to try and retrieve her wand from the dog’s jaws.
Final Segment Grade: B-
Coming off of last week’s episode that had some character development for its segments, this episode’s segments feel a little less serious in many respects.After reaching an emotional and storytelling highpoint with Mr Candle Cares last week, I did expect that this week’s segments couldn’t possibly keep up that ’emotional’ momentum (the show is more about comedy than drama, after all).
Overall, the segments this week did manage to keep their own (decent) momentum going within their stories, and while not top-caliber regarding the comedy, they were definitely passable.
Star on Wheels showed Stars’ ‘earth training’ freewheeling out-of-control, along with additional characters sharing in Marco’s attempts to help her. Kinetic at times, but felt a bit too simple a story, stretched out into too long of a running gag.
Fetch deals with an unexpected problem that Star attempts to fix on her own, leaving Marco with a lesser-involved, if not decently-enjoyable ‘story b’ for the segment. One could also see it as showing further how Star solves problems when they brush up against her, with not all resolutions being the same in the end.
If this week’s segments were a bit ‘iffy’ when I first heard of their storylines, I’m moreso looking forward to what is coming up next week. A clip has already been revealed for the first segment, “Star vs Echo Creek,” where it looks like a high-on-sugar Star Butterfly may run rampage across the city. And the second segment, “Wand to Wand,” may finally give us the conclusion some of us has wondered about, since Ludo found the other half of Star’s ‘cleaved’ wand, earlier this season. This could be one of the most major magical showdowns, since Harry Potter, and Voldemort! See you all in 7 days!
The past year regarding the race to see who will be the next President of the United States, has been a spectacle in itself (largely egged on by a number of media networks, on a mad quest for ratings).
As we come up on the National Conventions regarding the major political parties, a certain businessman who has decided to run, put me in mind of an episode of the animated television show, The Critic. In the show’s 2nd season in 1995, cocky businessman Duke Phillips, thought he had what it took to take control of one of the most powerful countries in the world.
And so, let’s dive into my latest Retro Recap, of The Critic‘s episode, All The Duke’s Men.
As the show starts, we find Jay Sherman working with his son Marty, to write a speech. Marty wants to run for 8th grade class president, at the United Nations International School he attends. However, when they try to find a ‘hook’ that they can use to drum up support, Marty claims that he doesn’t have anything major going for him, as he’s just an average kid.
Jay figures this is the hook they need, feeling Marty claiming he’s just like his classmates, is the perfect slogan to pitch to them (“they’ll lap it up like cheap booze at Drew Barrymore’s Sweet 16 Party!”).
Marty goes before the students the next day, telling how he’s “The Regular Kid,” and that he’ll work hard to build the best homecoming float ever.
He also eagerly shouts out to many different members of the school in their native languages (even Klingon!), and gets plenty of affirmative returns!
The campaign slogan works, and Marty wins by a landslide!
Jay shows a video of the kids cheering for Marty to his girlfriend/assistant Alice, and his boss, Duke Phillips. This causes Duke to consider running for President of the United States.
“But you’re not a politician, you’re a businessman,” counters Jay.
“All the better,” says Duke. “I made a multi-national media conglomerate out of a humble fried chicken franchise.”
(This is true, as the giant sign outside of the Phillips Broadcasting building, tells how it was formerly Duke Phillip’s House of Chicken and Waffles)
After seeing how well Marty’s campaign went, Duke asks Jay to become his speech writer, and even offers him any position in the government he’d like.
Jay thinks long and hard about this, and asks his friend, actor Jeremy Hawke, for some advice.
However, Jeremy doesn’t provide anything concrete, except telling how easy it was for him to ‘play’ a President in a spy film (right).
Meanwhile, Marty attempts to rally his class to help him build the homecoming float. However, when they find that electing Marty means they’re expected to do work, they abandon him! Fortunately, Jay, Alice, and her daughter Penny, agree to help him.
During their work, Jay explains his trepidations about Duke to Alice, afraid that his boss will end up standing for the wrong things if he runs for President. She counters this thought, encouraging Jay to act as a conscience, and guide him.
Duke then goes public with his Presidential plans, quickly catching the people’s ear about ‘who’ he is. He first appears on a late-night talk-show, with host Tom Snyder.
“It’s time we had a President who’s not beholden to ‘special interests,'” Duke tells Tom. “I’m a self-made Billionaire, and the only person who can bribe me, is a Bazillionaire.”
Positive public opinion quickly escalates for Duke, and he grows even happier when he receives a request to meet with Bob Dole, figuring he’s got the Republicans “running scared.”
The two meet, and Duke eagerly tells of his wish to become the Republican Party nominee. However Bob warns Duke against it, threatening to release a video of Duke getting teary-eyed over reading a poem to a cat.
“Fine, I’ll run as an Independent,” promises Duke, wishing to still keep his ‘secret shame,’ secret.
While Duke struggles to make his way Independently, Marty struggles in his attempts to build the homecoming float by himself. He wishes to just give up, but Jay reminds his son that building a great homecoming float, was one of his campaign promises to the other 8th grade kids.
“But all they want to do is goof off and eat candy,”complains Marty.
“Well son, as President, you’re above that,” says Jay (before remembering how well ‘goofing off and eating candy’ worked out for a certain 2-term President in the 1980’s).
Jay then works on more speeches for Duke, pushing him into the good graces of the NRA, the Jewish Community, and zombies (“I promise you zombies, more raw human flesh, than any President since Roosevelt!”).
We then catch up with Marty. The Homecoming Parade is now on, and his float concept of George Washington on a horse, has only been completed up to the horse’s hindquarters.
The 8th grader’s float is still entered into the parade, but a stray flaming baton from a cheerleader in front of the float hits the sculpture, leading to it becoming (in the words of Principal Mangosuthu), “A flaming horse’s pa-toot!”
Even so, the students cheer at the final result…though the float soon breaks away, crashing into a theater (advertising Cats: Now and Forever), followed by a huge explosion.
“And nothing of value was lost,” sighs Jay.
Back at Duke’s campaign headquarters, the picture is less rosy.
His campaign adviser tells him that he’s not a big hit with women voters. Duke then shows his ignorance to the common person, when he is surprised that women have the right to vote.
He is also forced to take down a number of anti-Irish campaign ads, when he is informed that ostracizing this part of the population is also politically incorrect.
Duke then tries a number of new tactics. They range from marrying actress June Lockhart, to using a hypnotic, ‘evil eye’ on negative reporters.
Jay grows doubtful about continuing to work on the campaign given Duke’s current actions, but is enticed to continue as speechwriter, when Duke promises that Jay can make and star in a film if Duke wins the election.
With the Guam Primaries(?) coming up, Duke wants Jay to write him a new speech. He also introduces Jay to his Vice-Presidential running mate.
“He’s a former ambassador, cabinet member, and ex-governor of New York,” Duke proudly proclaims.
Those criteria might fly fine for some, but to Jay, it can only mean one thing: Duke has chosen Jay’s Dad, Franklin Sherman, as his running mate! And Franklin, is known for his little…quirks.
The Primaries get underway, and as expected, Franklin babbles away like a crazed mental patient.
After the fiasco, Duke demands Jay write a speech wherein he can fire Franklin, but Jay claims he can’t do that to his own family.
Things reach a head when during a review of Francis Ford Coppola’s new musical (“Apocalypse Wow“), a loud and flashing message is broadcast, demanding people “vote for Duke!”
This causes Jay to vocally refuse to help Duke any further, and once more refusing to help him fire Jay’s father.
Duke then takes over the stage of Jay’s show, and ‘honestly’ tell the people watching, what he really will do as President.
“I’ll run this country like I run my company,” he proclaims. “I’m gonna raid the pension fund, dump chemicals in the ocean, and sell our best assets to the Japanese!
“Half of you states are in the toilet, and you’re not coming out! New York, you know what I’m talking about! California, kiss your smoggy butt goodbye! New England, you’re going back to Old England!”
After leaving the stage, June Lockhart tells Duke off, claiming she wants a divorce, and thinks he’d be a terrible President.
She also calls on her former TV co-star Lassie to attack Duke, and the entertainment mogul finds himself trying to fend off the angry collie.
Needless to say, it looks like Duke’s campaign is over, as Jay shows up to deliver the final words.
“Well, that’s our show for tonight, folks! We didn’t review many movies, but tune in next week, when we have Gentle Ben, maul Newt Gingrich! Good night, everybody!”
And that was All The Duke’s Men.
It’s hard to believe that all these years later, the show’s story has somewhat become reality, as we currently have an opinionated businessman trying to take the Presidential Seat (I won’t name names, but you all know who).
Of course, much like The Simpsons, the show’s writer gets in plenty of jabs at former Presidents and wannabes. There’s a few jabs at Reagan, and in Marty Sherman’s run for class president, former Presidential candidate Michael Dukakis can be seen (“I thought I would start small, with an election, I could win.”). Though even the school’s 8th grade class has no faith in Mike, booing him off the stage.
There’s even a scene where Duke wonders what became of Independent Presidential candidate Ross Perot, and we see that Ross and his VP nominee James Stockdale, are down on their luck, delivering pizzas.
We also see how Duke’s wealth and power, extend into other parts of his empire, outside the media. Duke takes Jay to his theme park, and shows him his Hall of Presidents exhibit, with a number of figures having their speeches changed to drum up support for Duke.
John F Kennedy, Abraham Lincoln, and Bill Clinton’s audio have changed to give their support, but the figure of “Slick Willy,” looks a little different (see left).
“That’s not Clinton,” points out Jay. “That’s just one of your mechanical Hillbilly Bears.”
“Yeah, but so far nobody’s noticed,” replies Duke.
Of course, Jay manages to slip in a few of his own ‘wishes’ into his bosses’ speeches. One that comes to pass, is the tarring and feathering of Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Duke originally promises to do this if elected President, but when other political figures see how well Duke’s poll numbers are doing, they try to fulfill some of his campaign promises to get voters on their side. Bill Clinton is one person, and he signs the bill that leads to Arnold promising: “I’ll be BAWK!”
Like some other episodes of the show, this one has some jokes or story points that seem to still bring up some topics that are relevant, all these years later.
Notable is when Duke appears before the NRA to gain their support.
“I believe Americans have the right to bear arms,” Duke declares, “Except for vicious, cop-killing assault rifles!”
Needless to say, that exception is met with a ‘flurry of outbursts’ from the crowd.
However, Duke strikes back with some heavy weaponry of his own at the naysayers (“Bazooka Duke says chew on this!”)…and his ‘I mean business’ tactic actually wins over the survivors in the room.
Marty Sherman’s running for Class President works as a nice lead-in and parallel to Duke’s story, notably in how fickle voters can be at times.
With such an entertaining story about politics as this one, it should also be noted that writer Patric Verrone, has quite a remarkable list of credentials. He attended both Harvard College and Boston College Law School. He was editor on the Harvard Lampoon, and even wrote for The Tonight Show, before going into animation writing, on shows like The Critic, and Futurama. Plus, he is also a former president of The Writers Guild of America (West).
In writing this Recap, I decided to see if Patric was on social media, and hit the jackpot. I inquired about some of the eerie coincidences in the episode, to current events. His response?
Hotchie Motchie indeed, Patric. Hotchie Motchie, indeed!
The first episode of Star vs The Forces of Evil’s second season, re-introduced us to Star Butterfly, Marco Diaz, and few other characters within the show’s universe. Each of them dealt with some new revelations, as well as provided some new tidbits for what would possibly be coming down the line.
With the second episode, it looks like some additional revelations are to be had, along with the return of a character from Star’s past.
It’s Career Day at Echo Creek Academy, and all the students are visiting guidance counselor, Mr Candle.
However, he quickly quashes Star’s dreams, by reminding her that she is an inter-dimensional Princess, who will one day be a Queen.
As for Marco…well, let’s say that in this day-and-age, all those ‘honors’ classes may not be enough to help him out after all.
The episode definitely hits on that age-old question: “what do you want to do after high school?”
However, that section of the plot ‘almost’ takes a backseat, once Marco encounters Tom, Star’s ex-boyfriend.
This was one of the most interesting parts of the episode, as we’ve never seen both of these guys face off properly. Plus, we get some nice bits of conversation, that opens up some more information about Tom. And, for those who recall the Blood Moon Ball episode, a few other monster cameos from that segment are here as well.
After being reminded what her future holds, much of Star’s time in the episode is one of dejectedness, and quiet contemplation. It goes by pretty quickly, but it was nice to be reminded that Star’s future is one of those doors in her brain that she tries to keep closed, but still creeps open at times. I often find Star to be more interesting, when she slows down a little, and has to consider certain things about her life.
The episode manages to walk a fine tight-rope between Star and Marco’s storylines. It also reminded me a bit of the back-and-forth story structure of Season 1’s segment, School Spirit. It’s entertaining, and it opens up a bit more about our main characters, as well as a supporting player or two.
Oh yeah, and one of the words mentioned among fan-pairings for the show, has now become canon on the show. Now excuse me while I plug my ears, while I try to drown out the joyous screams of the fan-pairing crowd.
There is also a ‘questionable line’ that Tom gives Marco, that made me stop and think for a moment. If you watch the show, see if you can find it.
Final Segment Grade: B+
After being a Green Belt for over five years at his karate dojo, Marco finally has some words with his Sensei, about what he needs to do to make it to the next level.
Star meanwhile, intends to do some non-magic activities involving tools. Just where she intends to find them…well, that’s part of the journey!
We’ve often seen Marco and his dojo’s Sensei in small chunks, but here, the door is thrown open to some more information about the master of the strip mall dojo.
And…it’s a bit under-whelming.
Marco’s story is the bigger of the two interconnecting plot threads. Star’s attempts to search out tools around the Diaz household takes up the secondary story, but even here, it feels a bit weak. It quickly put me in mind of her crazily wandering around, ala The Banagic Incident from Season 1.
Also like Banagic, is how we have Star going cuckoo on her own quest, while Marco is off with his Sensei. The story attempts to mine some emotion out of Marco’s part of the segment, but it never comes close to feeling as solid as what we experienced in Mr Candle Cares.
Even so, it has been awhile since we had a more Marco-centric episode, and it does open additional doors to knowing more about some of the supporting cast members.
Plus, we get the return of Mr and Mrs Diaz in a small cameo, probably being the most concerned we’ve ever seen them (yet).
Final Segment Grade: B-
I will say, that the second episode of Star vs The Forces of Evil, managed to get me a little more excited about Season 2.
Mr Candle Cares manages to mixes life anxieties about growing up, along with bringing some more development to Star’s ex-boyfriend. Plus, it balances nicely in its separate stories for both Star and Marco.
Red Belt gives Marco a little more time for character development, as well as understanding a bit more about the karate portion of his life. The sub-story about Star however, falls a bit flat in its humor, as if it’s struggling to make you laugh.
*With episode 2, it looks like we’re ready to shift into gear for some even wackier stories. Next week, we have “Star on Wheels,” which supposedly will involve her learning to ride a bicycle. We also have “Fetch,” which so far, no information has been provided for (could it involve the laser puppies?). See you guys back here in 7 days.*
Almost 20 years later, it’s surprising how often I find myself referencing the animated series, The Critic.
Touted as being from the creators of The Simpsons, the show followed New York film critic Jay Sherman, as he attempted to put up with reviewing plenty of dreck from La-La-Land, dealing with his crazy socialite parents, and getting into strange situations on each episode.
Sadly, the show didn’t fare too well. After its 13-episode run on ABC, the show was picked up by FOX, for what would become a 10-episode second season, before being cancelled completely from television.
Jay did return to the public eye in 2000, in several animated webcomics. However, unlike the original television series, Jay simply was there to review recent films, not have a series of wacky adventures.
In light of a certain film sequel coming out this week, that has been verbally reviled online since it was announced (I’ll let you figure out what film it is), I thought I’d do a Retro Recap, regarding one episode that could almost be on the same wavelength as that internet vitriol.
After reviewing Al Pacino’s latest film (Scent of a Jack@$$), Jay confides to his stylist Doris, that he’s written a screenplay. He asks her to read it to give her opinion, but she turns down his request.
Fortunately, Jay gets positive feedback from several of his closest friends, as well as his sister.
He also ends up getting a ‘celebrity endorsement’ from his friend, action-film star Jeremy Hawke (though it wasn’t Jeremy who read it, but his script-readers who gave Jay’s work a positive endorsement). Of course, Jeremy has some additional ideas on how it could be improved:
“All it needs is a few car chases, a rap song by Salt N Pepa, and a ‘message’ of some sort!”
Of course, Jay isn’t easily swayed by these suggestions, but when Jeremy sees the script as having true potential to become a successful film, he takes his friend’s advice, and decides to take his script to Hollywood!
Before heading west, he asks to take a sabbatical from his boss Duke Phillips. Jay’s feelings are that making a film and reviewing them at the same time, might be considered a conflict of interest.
“You want to hear a conflict of interest?” asks Duke. “I own a cigarette company, and a company that sells nicotine patches. I own a baseball team, and I bet against them. I love America, but for tax purposes, I’m a citizen of the Dutch Antilles.”
“Gee, thanks for sharing all that with me,” says Jay. “Now that I know all your secrets, you don’t have to kill me, do you?”
“If I do,” says Duke, narrowing his eyes, “you’ll never see it coming.”
Those words are on Jay’s mind, as he and Jeremy take off in an airplane. As they fly over the Midwest, Jeremy remarks how in the space between New York and Los Angeles, are all the people that see his movies (which are often not so thought-provoking).
Down below, a farm father and his son are working in a field.
“Look Pa, the 9:25 to Hollywood,” calls out the son, pointing skyward.
“Yep,” says Pa. “Those are the folks that fill our lives with blockbuster movies, moronic situation comedies…award shows, where award shows win awards?…get my gun, boy!”
Shortly afterwards, the plane’s pilot tells the passengers that they are being shot at by farmers (again).
Eventually, the plane lands in Los Angeles, and Jay and Jeremy head to Quality Pictures.
Jeremy introduces Jay to the head of the studio, Gary Grossman…who at first wants to throttle Jay for how he has bad-mouthed so many of the studio’s pictures (“your bad reviews have cost my Japanese Masters over one billion yen!”).
Luckily, Jeremy steers the conversation to Jay’s script. Gary skims it, and offers Jay $100,000 for it!
Jay eagerly accepts, but is shocked when Gary explains that Jay has agreed to take payment, for the studio to NOT make his script into a film.
Gary claims it is ‘too good,’ and quickly puts it in a bin with a number of other scripts, that were also ‘too good.’ These scripts include topics such as a lesbian love story, and a biography on Galileo.
Gary then offers Jay a consolation, by asking him to write the script, to Ghostchasers III.
Jay is at first against this, since he hated the previous Ghostchasers films. Plus, he’d be becoming his own worst enemy: the kind of person who writes the kind of films he often hates to review on his show!
However, Jeremy tells Jay that this could be his chance to make the series better. If the film is well-received, it could be his stepping-stone to making the kinds of award-winning films with deep subject matter, that Jay yearns to make!
Jay decides to give in, and quickly falls into the Hollywood nightmare.
Talking to several of the studio executives, he finds that the only cast member they got back from the first sequels is (in their words), “The Black Guy.” When asked about possible improvements to the story, they tell Jay that merchandise sales didn’t do so well on Ghostchasers II, and they pitch a few ideas that could turn that around, leading to Jay taking “copious notes.”
Jay also has to deal with Grossman providing ideas, one of which is a 50 foot battery with the voice of Pat Morita (his idea, since a battery company is willing to give money to finance the film).
Feeling that talking to people in the studio is getting him nowhere, Gary allows Jay to meet with some directors, to get some ideas on where to take the plot of the film. His guests include Oliver Stone, Francis Ford Coppola, and Spike Lee. But even here, he finds little respite.
Jay meets up with Jeremy again, and explains that things aren’t getting any better. Jeremy soon recommends that Jay just try to enjoy himself out in Los Angeles, feeling that he’s focusing too intently, and that relaxing might help him.
Jay gets a makeover and a sports car, and invites his son Marty out to partake in sightseeing. However, Marty soon makes Jay see that he’s doing little more, than being “a showbiz phony.”
“My God, you’re right, son,” says Jay. “I’ve forgotten why I came to Hollywood: To write the sequel to the sequel to a movie I didn’t think they should have made in the first place!”
(actually he came to sell his script and get it made into a film, but it seems that Jay has forgotten all about that part of the plot)
Marty’s pep-talk causes Jay to get ‘back on track,’ and soon completes the script, noting that it feels as if a divine force was guiding his hand…though, not quite (see right).
Jay then turns in his script to Gary…but when Jay asks for an opinion on it a few hours later, Gary takes off in his sports car, with Jay giving chase. Eventually, Gary crashes, and Jay demands to know what he thought of it.
Gary quickly spews forth words such as ‘crummy,’ excrement,’ and ‘junk.’
The next day, Jay finds his parking spot moved, and his office now being redecorated as a private bathroom for Tom Cruise. The writing is on the wall that Jay has been canned, and that his script is most likely not going to be used for the sequel.
Jay returns to New York, and three months later(!), Ghostchasers III is released.
Jay immediately lashes out about it on the air, even going so far as to list the addresses of the studio executives of Quality Pictures! However, the scene cuts to the following disclaimer:
This is followed by the video feed returning, with Jay in a towel, as he’s hauled off to New York State Penitentiary for 30 days.
Along with having a rather forward bunkmate (“let me give you a shiatsu massage”), Jay soon finds there are worse things, when one day, the prisoners are subjected to a screening of Ghostchasers III.
“Is there no end to my torment!?” he wails.
The clip we see, shows a Rick Moranis-like character, telling the Ghostchasers that New York is being attacked by an 80-ft Ed Koch! This is soon followed by a giant version of the city’s former mayor, causing chaos, as he asks loudly, “How’m I doin?”
The response from the audience isn’t good, and they soon start a riot.
“They hate it,” says Jay, growing happy that the men in the room also see just how bad the film is. “For once in my life, I truly belong!”
His bunkmate returns with some popcorn (“no salt, just the way you like it”), leaving Jay to think that his remaining days in the penitentiary, might not be so bad after all.
And that was L.A. Jay.
Definitely not one of the best episodes of The Critic, but I did love how it poked fun at the often ridiculous ways that Hollywood seemed to work against good taste.
The struggle to make something tasteful, while being brushed up against an army of P.R. and marketing people, is definitely shown in how noone at the ironically named Quality Pictures, seems to care about story, but only about making money.
We’ve all seen plenty of examples of studios putting product placement over story in many films (*cough*BatmanandRobin*cough*).
A surprise several years after I saw the episode, was the revelation that Gary Grossman, was voiced by Billy Crystal! Billy manages to alter his voice enough, that the tone seems a perfect fit for the illiterate ex-gigolo turned film-studio head.
What’s also funny are how some references have taken on a different meaning all these years later.
Notable is a quote given to Coppola as he lays out his ideas for where the third Ghostchasers film could go: “I think one of the Ghostchasers should be a woman. She should be strong, intelligent. Someone like, oh I don’t know, my daughter, Sofia.”
In 1993, Sofia was still taking the slings and arrows for her role in The Godfather Part III. Though almost a decade later, she’d be seen as an up-and-coming director in the independent film world, garnering plenty of praise for the film, Lost in Translation.
The show could also poke fun at Hollywood making sequels to current films (like Jurassic Park, Speed, and even Home Alone).
In going over his pile of ‘too good’ scripts, Gary Grossman is surprised, when he finds a script for Revenge of the Nerds IV.
“What are you doing here you beautiful thing, when you could be making me a mint!”
At the time the show aired, Fox had actually released Revenge of the Nerds IV as a TV-movie, so once has to wonder if the show writers knew about this, and if it might have been a little jab at the studio.
It’s also fun to see the Variety headlines that Jeremy is reading (circa 1994):
The more things change, the more they stay the same…
There is also a running gag throughout, as every other thing Jay is given, from a director’s chair, to his office at the studio, has his name papered over the name of Andrew “Dice” Clay.
This may have been a jab at Clay, who after being an actor in the late 80’s, largely switched over to stand-up material at the time the show was made.
Another fun bit is when Jay daydreams about being able to one day write something, that could garner him an Academy Award.
In his imagination, he accepts the award, but also uses the win as a platform to bring attention to something he feels needs to be addressed: “Independence for Quebec!”
This is followed by a number of Quebeckians cheering for him from their basement viewing area, chanting: “Viva Jay Sherman! Viva Quebec!”
Of course, much of the recap was truncated, as the writing gets so intricate at times, I could have spent another 1500 words itemizing everything. Though I think the recap works pretty well in this “abridged” form.
I have another Retro Recap coming up soon for a Season 2 episode of The Critic, so we’ll see how that one fares compared to this one.
For those who saw Season 1 of Star vs The Forces of Evil, its 13-episode premiere was definitely a little weird…and a little wild.
We watched as Princess Star Butterfly learned some valuable lessons about magic and friendship, used dimensional scissors to take us to strange worlds, and encountered a number of evil beings, many of them after Star’s royal magic wand.
If Season 1 got us to walk through the doorway, Season 2 has the potential to make us sit down, and become further drawn in, to the world that Daron Nefcy is creating in one of Walt Disney Television Animation’s most popular new shows.
And it all starts here: the first of 22 episodes, for Season 2.
After the events of the Season 1 Finale, Star Butterfly has become enthralled with her ‘new wand,’ which is actually her old wand, that has changed since her encounters with a lizard-creature named Toffee.
However, the wand ends up going haywire, leading to Marco being trapped in Star’s ‘Secrets Closet,’ with the door locked!
Glossaryck of Terms, a little blue figure residing in Star’s Magic Wand Instruction Manual, returns for this episode as well. Much of his screentime, has him as a cryptic repository of knowledge to both Star and Marco, as well as examining the newly-changed wand.
Given the title, one would assume we’d be treated to plenty of spell-casting and wand-testing scenes, via Star. However, the wand ends up taking a backseat to most of the episode’s antics, as Star and Marco try to get Marco out of Star’s closet.
Like some of the later episodes in Season 1, Wand has a habit of shifting gears pretty quickly, leading to some pacing issues.
There are still some intriguing bits to be found within the segment, and much like keywords playing a role in previous episodes, this one has two that end up being part of a learning experience for Star.
There also comes a small revelation, that may surely cause some fans to start speculating very soon about ‘some things,’ but I’m of the persuasion that it might be nothing (in my old age, I need more proof).
The most interesting bits for me, were the moments where time is taken to finally examine what has changed regarding Star’s wand. However, it is a bit surprising that given its transformation, that a more thorough examination had not been considered, following the final events of Season 1.
Final Segment Grade: B-
When last we saw Ludo at the end of Season 1, he had lost everything, and been thrown through a portal by Star Butterfly.
This segment picks up with him ending up on a strange planet, where the elements and numerous creatures menace him, as he struggles to survive.
At times, it feels a bit like a Chuck Jones cartoon crossed with Ingmar Bergman’s tales of existentialism, as Ludo attempts to find sustenance, with his efforts usually ending in pain, or abject failure. There also is a repetitive feel to some attempts, but it just goes to show how one sometimes has to keep pushing on, in order to get the payoff. One could almost see traces of Alejandro Inarritu’s The Revenant in the segment as well.
Much of Wild is told with minimal dialogue. For much of the segment, voice-actor Alan Tudyk gives forth a series of whines and grunts, that might soon grate on your ears. However, it is in Ludo’s little moments of contemplation and introspection, that make for some of the more enjoyable bits in the segment.
This story may seem a bit odd to the viewers who come just for their “Starco fantasy fix,” but to someone like me, I found its change-of-pace to be quite intriguing. Needless to say, this might not appeal to some of the ‘younger fans’ in its content, but for those of us who love when a series tries to experiment outside its comfort zone, it does make us wonder about other ways Season 2 segments could stray outside ‘the norm.’
Like the Magic Wand segment, there are little bits that have carried over from the Season 1 premiere, and some scenes that feel like a tease, that one hopes will be paid off (soon).
Final Segment Grade: B
I didn’t really know what to expect from Season 2’s opener. Given the fast pacing of the first season’s opener, I was a little surprised at how this episode’s segments, pulled back and took their time.
The animation style has also changed in regards to the style from Rough Draft Korea, being a little less frenetic than Mercury Filmworks’ work from last season’s first 5 episodes (which was what originally made me latch on to the show). Rough Draft’s style works pretty well for some of the slower moments, but the movement is a bit awkward when characters have to be a little more spastic. The style seemed to work best with the somber tone of Ludo in the Wild, given the languid pace of Ludo’s ‘rebirth’ following the events of Season 1.
My New Wand tries to be a more intimate portrait of Star and Marco dealing with an unexpected situation, but its pacing feels like it meanders in its roundabout story of Star Butterfly, Marco Diaz, and Glossaryck of Terms. There’s some good moments here, but following the animation-house shake-up of the first season, it fell short of being wholly enjoyable.
Ludo of the Wild, while not being as focused on the series’ main characters, is impressive for being ‘artsy,’ and focusing on a serious/humorous approach to the plight of Ludo, following the destruction of his lifestyle after Season 1. Some areas can get a bit repetitive as he struggles, but its story about perseverance in the wild, mixed in with some fun camera angles, kept me entertained. It also provides an intriguing mixture of Chuck Jones and Ingmar Bergman story tones, shaking up what we’ve seen in most stories told within the series.
Most notable about the episode, is the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it reworking of the group shot, in the the opening theme song:
There have been quite a few characters removed, some familiar ones added, and some that we can only leave to speculation, on how they will play a part in the upcoming season. Out of all of them, the lizard creature in the group on the right, has me most intrigued. Perhaps he could be someone…reborn?
*And so, after a little padding regarding the aftermath of Season 1’s finale, we may now be ready to go further into the brave new world of Season 2. Next week’s episode, will deal with Star thinking ahead to becoming the future Queen of Mewni, in “Mr Candle Cares” (though who Mr Candle is, I have no clue). The second segment, “Red Belt,” deals with Marco trying to ‘level-up’ in karate, from his current green belt (with a stripe) status. See you guys back here in 7 days.*
*I chronicled my following of The Lucas Museum of Narrative Art‘s 2 year journey from announcement to death in Chicago, in my 5,700 word blog post from May of 2016. This post continues where that one left off. If you’d like to read more about the rocky attempts to bring a new museum experience to a “world class city,” CLICK HERE
The Night Chicago Died
Ever since May 3rd, 2016, it felt like Chicago’s plans to keep the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art in its city, were pretty much dead.
It all started in June of 2014, when it was announced that after reviewing different locations in the city, filmmaker and philanthropist George Lucas, had decided to build his Museum of Narrative Art, on an area along the shores of Lake Michigan, between the Soldier Field football stadium, and the McCormick Place East convention hall. The site in question, was currently serving as an ‘overflow’ parking lot, used several times a year during Chicago Bears football games.
While many of the necessary hurdles were cleared, one was unable to be cleared so easily.
Shortly after the museum’s announcement, a non-profit group called Friends of the Parks, filed a lawsuit, claiming that under a local ordinance, that the land belonged to the people of Chicago, and was not to be given away to others.
Even though there was the promise of Lucas himself paying for the construction and endowment of the museum (valued at around $800 million), the group dug in their heels and refused to ‘play ball’ or negotiate, claiming that the Museum Campus grounds (which also housed The Field Museum, The Shedd Aquarium, and The Adler Planetarium), were off-limits. If Lucas wanted to build his museum, they were more than willing to point him to other areas away from his chosen spot.
What followed was almost two years of negotiations, as the museum’s designers and the city tried to find a compromise.
This included reducing the museum’s ‘footprint’ on the parking lot area, and giving over more space to greenery and prairie, as well as a very expensive ‘Plan B.’ ‘Plan B’ called for a $1.2 billion plan that would keep the parking lot intact, but raze the McCormick Place East convention hall, placing the museum there, with the additional 12 acres of space left over, converted back into park land.
But even this rather expensive plan would not sway the group into dropping their lawsuit.
And so on May 3rd, 2016, word was officially released by the Lucas Museum, that other cities were being considered. Lucas had already spent 2 years from 2012-2014 trying to get his museum built on a specific area of the Presidio park in San Francisco, and it seemed that was about how far he was willing to wait for Chicago as well.
A number of additional items were offered to the group as incentives, but still they refused.
The public also attempted to show their support, with a number of persons protesting outside Friends of the Parks’ downtown Chicago headquarters, and a local man named Gino Generelli, who collected 2,500 signatures for his pro-museum petition, and delivered it to the group’s headquarters.
Finally, in mid-June, with public sentiment seeming to be building against them, the group offered up a list of demands.
However, the list was deemed as “extortion” by a number of people.
It called for such requests as:
- A 100-year moratorium on any further Lakefront development
- 5% of the museum’s ticket prices going to fund additional parks projects in the city
Though the one that was almost a slap in the face, was that after claiming a month ago, that they would not accept the ‘Plan B’ site build, the list claimed that this would be the only site they would allow (meaning the original parking lot site was still off-limits).
And what of the parking lot site? That was also listed under the demands, that it be ‘reclaimed’ as green space.
After word that they would not accept that ‘Plan B’ site back in May, the Mayor had called off further interest in it, and instead attempted to get the lawsuit regarding the parking lot site thrown out. The parking lot site would also be simpler, as the ‘Plan B’ would have still meant that $1.2 billion would be needed to raze McCormick Place East, and compensate for its leveling.
Maybe if the list had been submitted 3-9 months earlier, the Mayor and associates from the Lucas Museum might have considered negotiations, but given that the non-profit was dropping this on them 23 months after the lawsuit had been filed, it looked more like them saying, “If Mr Lucas wants his Museum, he’s going to pay…and pay a lot.”
Shortly afterward, the group sent out a notice through social media, that they had been contacted by the museum’s associates, and been given a 24-hour deadline to end the lawsuit, or the museum was going to leave Chicago in the dust.
The 24-hour period ended with no deal, and on June 24th, 2016, a notice was issued that the museum was no longer going to become a lakefront addition to the Museum Campus…but would instead, be heading right back where it started from: California.
In the aftermath of the museum officially leaving the city, the Friends of the Parks group dropped their lawsuit, and were hailed by numerous persons as local heroes, having thwarted an evil outsider who looked to destroy public land (even though it was already a parking lot, and it would have also meant additional green and recreation space around the museum area).
One can only assume that maybe 50-60 years ago, there would have been little chance of stalling in getting the museum placed on the campus, but in the 21st century, priorities on what constitutes ‘importance’ to a “world class city,” have definitely changed.
Plus, Chicago as a whole never fully seemed to embrace what the museum was, or what it could do. The average person were quizzical as to what “narrative art” was, let alone the media taking every chance to call it “A Star Wars Museum,” as if it was going to become some warehouse/museum of the filmmaker’s prop collection.
But then again, the Midwest often isn’t as open-minded towards film, animation, or narrative art for that matter. While I and a select few were understanding of what was being offered, trying to convince persons on things that are more foreign than sports or local business, is often like trying to talk to a brick wall.
And so, The Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, will surely fade from the larger collective memory of Chicago, Illinois. A city that could have had something amazing, something wonderful…but as is often the case, I’ll most likely end up visiting it when it opens where all the things regarding film and animation fascinate me: California.
Back to California, Part II
Back in February of 2016, there was word that San Francisco, CA, was looking to see if Lucas might give them a second chance, after the refusal to build his museum on land near the Presidio, on the west side of the city.
Rumor was that Oakland was even attempting to throw their hat into the ring, and a number of cities in the last week since the Museum claimed it was heading west, have also added their voice. They include Sacramento, Vallejo, and some have even recommended Lucas’ hometown, of Modesto.
However, much like his wanting the museum in Chicago and San Francisco, I still see the location George wants, being one of ‘convenience.’
Many seem to be under the impression that Lucas will build his museum, and then just walk away, but given where he’s wanted it (near a natural location, with other museum and family facilities), he surely is expecting to come out to and visit the museum as well, once it’s completed!
As of the time this post is being written, two locations are prominently being mentioned as possible locations.
Though full location details have not been finalized, I thought I’d discuss what has been brought to light in the last few weeks.
Location Option #1: San Francisco
Unlike the previous location near the Presidio that Lucas originally was going for, the city has been talking in the last few months, about offering him a place on a man-made island, dubbed Treasure Island.
The ‘island’ in question, was actually created by landfill, and is attached to the smaller, Yerba Buena Island. Both landmasses sit between San Francisco and Oakland, and are only accessible by the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.
Treasure Island, at over 568 acres, was originally constructed in the 1930’s, for the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition. With the country entering into World War II after the attack on Pearl Harbor, a Naval and Auxiliary Air Station was soon located there.
For some time now, the city has been trying to redevelop it into a tourist destination. One difficulty towards this is that the only access point for many, would be along the Bay Bridge, and an additional network of roadways and ramps would be necessary to make it more easily accessible for the typical volume of tourist traffic.
Word has been ‘floating’ around, that a water-taxi service could be put into place, to allow persons from the Embarcadero or Fisherman’s Wharf areas to the west, to travel to the island. Though the Mayor has happily mentioned this in a few articles I’ve read, I doubt Lucas will expand his proposed monetary amount to include added infrastructure improvements. I’m sure that will need to be something the city will need to consider.
Even so, current word is that the plans for the island’s rehab, will be a 2o-year, $5 billion project. The island will be rehabbed to become almost like a floating neighborhood on the bay. Plans call for park, office, residential, retail, and hotel space…and it’s a good bet that the city would love for the museum to become the crown jewel of the project.
There may be an advantage to coming back to San Francisco for George. Given he chose them originally, but came back after attempting to look elsewhere, the city may be a little more eager to work with him, than the Presidio board was a few years ago.
Also, unlike Chicago that sees him as an arrogant billionaire, George is more of a hometown hero for the city San Francisco. Basing much of his Lucasfilm production company around the Bay Area, and even consolidating his numerous facilities (Lucasfilm, Lucasarts, and Industrial Light & Magic) into the Letterman Digital Arts Center in 2005, when the facility opened.
It should also be noted that Treasure Island also figured into a Lucasfilm-produced film.
In Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Indy and his father attempt to leave Germany, by way of the Berlin Airport. Treasure Island‘s Administration Building, ended up serving as the exterior for the establishing shot.
Location Option #2: Los Angeles
Though George Lucas is a filmmaker, many assume that he harkens from the City of Angels, where the filmmaking capital of the world resides. However, Lucas over the years, has often made mention that he shuns the moviemaking system there, and since the 1970’s, chose to make and finance his own films, in the San Francisco bay area (like his friend, Francis Ford Coppola).
However, his journey becoming a filmmaker did send him to the city, where he studied at The University of Southern California (USC), which has also churned out a number of famous filmmakers including Ron Howard, Robert Zemeckis, and many others.
Throughout the years, George has not forgotten his alma mater, and has often made generous donations to their film school. One of the biggest donations he made was in 2006, which totaled $175 million, and a more recent donation in the fall of 2015, was as a means to promote diversity in filmmaking.
Just south of the main USC campus, lies Exposition Park.
Originally a racetrack and fairground area (word was camels were even raced here!), it was re-developed in 1909, and much of the rather ‘unsavory fare’ of the day, was soon replaced by gardens and museums.
With the Los Angeles Memorial Stadium at its center, and several other sports-based structures at its southern area, the bulk of its museums are along Exposition Blvd areas close to USC.
These museums include:
- The California African American Museum
- The California Science Center
- The National History Museum of Los Angeles County
Current word is, that the city of Los Angeles is offering Lucas a spot on the Exposition Park grounds, though just where the facility could be built, noone has said.
Much like San Francisco’s Presidio Park and Chicago’s Museum Campus, Exposition Park does offer something for families and schools to partake in, allowing one to experience several different places in a short walking distance from each other.
The park did make the news a few years ago, when its Science Center, became the final resting place for the Space Shuttle Endeavour.
Analyzing the Choices
Though the Treasure Island location has been mentioned regarding San Francisco, there’s been no solid word on just where in Los Angeles Lucas may see as a potential site. The Exposition Park location, has been the only one mentioned verbally so far in the news regarding Los Angeles.
Word is that both cities are being given 18 months to submit proposals to Lucas and his board members, after which, a decision will be made. Hopefully, third time will be the charm, and there will not be an overly-picky non-profit organization that will step forward.
Unlike the Presidio and Chicago lakefront locations, if one looks at the two areas currently being offered, Lucas may have to make a compromise.
Both of his previous locations, were near an area with other museums, but also nestled in a nature-like area, near a body of water.
The two current choices, do not come with all these things:
- The Treasure Island location would afford Lucas a chance to build his museum in San Francisco, and get the watery/natural view he’s so eager to have…but the museum will most likely be seen as a singular tourist destination, with no word on any other museums or learning facilities nearby.
- The Exposition Park location would put Lucas among a number of the city’s prominent museums, and also place him next door to his world-famous alma-mater. However, there is a limited amount of space currently available, and one wonders if the footprint of the museum would need to be shrunk down further than its last iteration. Plus, the fact that the park area is landlocked, means that a more sprawling natural environment, may be out of the cards. One could almost imagine maybe putting the museum in the center of the park’s famous rose garden, but I’m sure that would ire a lot who view the 7.5 acre garden as important to the park’s heritage.
Word is that like the Chicago proposal’s design, organic architecture will also be used for the California location. The MAD Architect firm from China, is still being considered for the design-work, and word is they have reviewed the site at Treasure Island. One rumbling is that the design will be similar to Chicago’s natural look, but with more windows.
At least we can be sure that in both of these cities, the architecture will be met more favorably than the negative bashings from the Midwestern peons, who dubbed the Chicago design, as “a salt pile,” or “Jabba the Hutt.” But then again, organic architecture is largely a foreign concept to a world filled with buildings that are more angular than organic.
Of course, that’s not to say that the Lucas Museum is being fully embraced by those in California.
Recently, the CEO of Salesforce named Marc Benioff, took to social media, feeling that the city of San Francisco should ask for more “social support” from Lucas, if he wishes to build there. Benioff’s feelings were that additional money should be donated by Lucas, for schools, hospitals, and homeless programs.
It seems that even back in California, you can’t please everyone, and I guess in the 21st century, it’s tough to be a philanthropist.
Epilogue…and one more vision from the past…
And that brings us to today. While much of social media is filled with persons congratulating the Friends of the Parks group and vilifying Lucas as a maniacal foreign outsider, very little word has been coming out of California, as the details are still being worked out.
Though I’m sure I’ll be keeping tabs on (and blogging about) the future decisions for the Museum, and trying to keep the facts straight since so many online have not really grasped the history of the project, or the ups-and-downs of what even went on in Chicago over the last 2 years (many on social media couldn’t get their facts straight on which location the museum was originally going to be built on!).
Though in the wake of the death of The Lucas Museum of Narrative Art in Chicago, some new information has been released in the last few days.
A number of firms were commissioned to come up with designs for the lakefront museum. Though the only designs shown were from the MAD architect firm in China, word has recently surfaced that New York-based architecture firm, OMA, also did some design concepts. In the last few days, they have been showing several of the images they did on their Instagram accounts, revealing what they proposed.
Unlike the more amorphous look with no right-angles that MAD made, what OMA designed, was more angular in design, with a translucent outer-dome area above, almost making it look like a jellyfish.
The museum in their design, would seem to ‘float’ above the area, with the space below it re-purposed from the parking lot, into “a new urban park.” Though whether the museum would have underground parking, they didn’t say.
The concept would be that the main area of exhibition, would be on the extended, “suspended galleries” that spread out from the central ‘atrium tower.’ The upper levels would be protected by a ‘membrane’ of ETFE pillows (a high-strength, translucent polymer).
In one of their descriptions, OMA claims that the building’s design, offers “8 times the public space it occupies,” in its hovering state.
It was nice to see what OMA proposed for the site, and does make one wonder, now that the dream is dead in The Windy City, if we may see additional architecture firms show their own ideas for what might have been for this “world-class city’s” chance to move further into the world of narrative art.
(Rated PG for action/peril, some scary moments and brief rude humor)
Probably along with Walt Disney, one of the names that was such a big influence on me growing up, has been Steven Spielberg.
Steven has often had a rather unconventional way of storytelling, dabbling in the visual and story aesthetics of his idol Alfred Hitchcock, while also seeming to embrace the new, and trying to go places that others dare not imagine.
The same could be said for author Roald Dahl, whose writings are often beloved by children, for their strange words, and even larger flights of fancy into strange realms and situations.
As his filmography has gotten more serious over the years, many hoped that Steven Spielberg could possibly return to the more adventurous, youthful spirit of the 70’s and 80’s.
In the last 15 years, we’ve gotten little glimpses of this with Catch Me If You Can, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and The Adventures of Tintin.
Though with The BFG, he regresses to a level we have only seen a few times in his career.
A young orphan named Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) witnesses a giant (Mark Rylance) on the streets of London one evening. As she has seen him, he takes her away with him to Giant Country, to keep her from telling about him and his kind.
Though he is a Big Friendly Giant (whom Sophie calls, “BFG”), he is the nicest among a group of a more gruff and mean lot of them, led by a muscular brute named The Fleshlumpeater (Jermaine Clement).
Sophie forms a friendship with the BFG, and as they learn more about each other, she wishes to help him out with his giant problem.
After watching The BFG, I couldn’t help but feel like the film was definitely playing against what has come to be known as “Family” films in this day and age.
The film does feel like it takes a step backwards for the Family audience, given that it feels stretched a bit thin in reaching its 2 hour run-time. While the kids might get antsy, I think some of the parents may appreciate a film that manages to take its time.
What may also shock some people, is just how ‘simple’ the story is. We don’t have super-elaborate backstories, and so much of what we see is often left to the audience to decipher. Plus, we are often finding ourselves trying to make sense out of the BFG’s language, in which he often mixes up how some words are pronounced (one of them will surely please Dahl’s older fans!).
Though the film isn’t without its little bits of Dahl cheekiness, notably in regards to the BFG’s favorite drink, frobscottle (I’m assuming a packed theater will illicit more laughter than the small crowd I saw it with, in regards to the drink).
Spielberg also seems to want to get in on the action, with some little bouts of slapstick and whatnot here-and-there. However, he almost gets a little too carried away in places, notable in a few scenes where the camera follows Sophie for several minutes, without cutting away to another scene.
While it has its little moments of strangeness here and there, it feels like screenwriter Melissa Mathison (E.T., The Black Stallion), chooses largely to focus on the relationship between the BFG and Sophie.
The BFG himself, is definitely a marvel of motion-capture, that shows how far WETA Digital (the guys who made Gollum and the Na’vi come to life) have come. He’s a bit more refined than the Quentin Blake drawings he’s based off of, but he’s given an almost grandfatherly look about him, as well as a more humble and noble nature, apart from his more brutish kinfolk. Rylance’s voice and mannerisms are also crucial in bringing the character to life, and given that Spielberg has cast him previously in Bridge of Spies (and his next film, Ready Player One), I could see him becoming a Spielberg ‘regular,’ in the same manner as Richard Dreyfuss.
Most notable about the design of the BFG, are his eyes. Eyes have usually been a hard thing to pin down with motion-capture work, and oftentimes, if the eyes seem ‘dead’ or not alive enough (like in The Polar Express), it can cause us to lose touch with the character. However, the added techniques that WETA have used with the BFG, helps sell the illusion so well, that I was really surprised how well my emotions were being toyed with!
Where the effects work gets questionable, is that many times, Sophie is one of the only live-action elements in a scene, almost making one wonder why Spielberg didn’t go full-CG/motion-capture like with Tintin.
Though in a sense, maybe he wanted to pay homage to those films he saw growing up, where you had normal-sized humans reacting to larger-than-life figures, like in the old Willis O’Brien, or Ray Harryhausen films. There were a few times, where the BFG and Sophie’s interactions, reminded me of a scene or two from The 7th Voyage of Sinbad.
Ruby Barnhill does a decent job as Sophie, but it feels like they try a bit too hard to make her likable. Fortunately she never gets super-annoying, but there were a few times where it would have worked best if she was seen, and not heard. As well, there’s a constant on-and-off of her wearing glasses, which left me wondering why she couldn’t have just wore them throughout.
Though they figure into the plot, the additional giants of Giant Country are a little more exaggerated, and not as serious as the BFG. One almost expects them to really become a big nuisance, but at times, they almost seem a minor annoyance to the plot, given their size.
At times, the film almost seemed to hearken back to Hook, in its look being somewhat like a story come to life, but with a somewhat exaggerated look to London, and Giant Country (one also can’t help but wonder, as the camera pans across London, what a Spielberg-directed Harry Potter might have looked like).
Speaking of Hook, if you know your Spielberg filmography, don’t be surprised if some shots seem to tickle old memories in your head (I was even surprised to find one scene reminded me of one in Saving Private Ryan).
A few reviews I read even mentioned the works of Studio Ghibli as possible scenic inspiration, and there are times that one can definitely get such a vibe. Maybe it’s in how much of the film tends to take its time in certain scenes, almost inviting the viewer to stop and smell the roses, rather than throttle them onward like most American films nowadays.
When Spielberg first worked with writer Melissa Mathison in 1981 on E.T., he was still a young man, and unmarried. Now, 35 years later, he he has been a family man, and in the last 7 years, became a Grandfather.
One can’t help but feel The BFG may have been thought of as a gift to his grandchildren, and also a way for him to dig back into his past, looking for a bit of that storytelling magic that he put on a shelf, as he grew up in the last 20 years.
It also seems to bring his filmmaking about childhood full-circle in a way.
When he was working on E.T., he referred to it as “an old-fashioned Walt Disney story about an boy and his alien.” Now here it is, 2016, and with the same screenwriter, he’s made “a Walt Disney Pictures story about a girl and her giant.”
Final Grade for “The BFG”: B (Final Thoughts: Steven Spielberg and writer Melissa Mathison, dabble in Roald Dahl’s realms, and come forth with a Family film that manages to be whimsical, weird, and a bit unlike the conventional PG-fare. The BFG himself is a grandfatherly marvel from the effects wizards at WETA Digital, and actor Mark Rylance. Some in our ADD culture may grow bored at its pacing and focus mainly on The BFG and his friendship with Sophie, but if you have the patience and fortitude, it’s a pretty enjoyable ride. Though not a full return to the older days of Spielberg’s work, there’s a sense of wonder and old-school feelings, almost like putting on a well-worn pair of shoes)