Archive | April 2018

Episode Review: Star vs the Forces of Evil (Season 3, Episode 21) – Conquer

If one looks at the Kingdom of Mewni over the course of Star vs the Forces of Evil’s third season, it really feels like it’s non-maagical inhabitants have dealt with quite a lot.

Earlier this season, we watched as the kingdom was taken over by Ludo (under the mind-control of Toffee), with many of the inhabitants forced to accept his rule, or be levitated into the sky.

And now, just as some sense of normalcy might have been coming back to the kingdom, Eclipsa’s daughter Meteora has appeared. Destroying villages and draining mewmans and other creatures of their life essence, could this be the calm before a bigger storm rears it’s head?

Tied into the previous episode titled Divide, we now get it’s follow-up, and the final episode of the season: Conquer.

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– Conquer –

From the start of the episode, it feels like the first half of Conquer, is repeating several things that we saw during the last half of the previous episode. We have Star off in the Realm of Magic, trying to bring her mother home. Meanwhile, Marco, Tom, and several of their friends, are still attempting to slow down Meteora.

One surprise to me during the scenes with Marco and the others, was in regards to Tom trying to re-energize their group after the events at the end of the last episode. For much of this season, when it’s comes to charging into battle or standing up for the rights of monsters, Tom has been mostly silent…except on a few, special occasions.StarEp321-2

Several episodes ago, there was an altercation between Marco and Tom (when Tom forgot Star’s birthday), and I almost expected a major fight to break out between the two of them before the end of the season. However, this episode makes it seem like Tom has been working on getting over his inner, emotional turmoil. He also surprisingly, comes front-and-center for a bit of this episode, making me wish that the writers could have given him a bit more to do overall regarding these last two episodes.

At the beginning of the previous episode, there was a hint that Star is almost in the same position as her mother was, in the earlier Season 3 story, Moon the Undaunted.

Just like that story, Star is looking for answers on how to deal with a dire situation. Her mother was a very powerful and wise figure…and now, it seems that Star is on her own, having to make some very grown-up decisions. What has been most notable about the episodes Divide and Conquer, is that Star is unwilling to repeat the mistakes of the past (unlike her mother, she is not willing to utilize Eclipsa’s magic to try and stop Meteora).

What is also notable, is a subtle bit of character-growth that almost whizzes under the eye of the average viewer, when Star attempts to repeat something we saw her mother do earlier in the season. Unlike Moon however, Star lacks the proper knowledge to do what she did, and has to make a major decision…on her own.

That seems to ultimately be the takeaway from this storyline, that this is another turning point in Star Butterfly’s growth as a character, on her way to one day becoming Mewni’s next queen.

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Sadly, while I did enjoy the little moments of character growth with Star and Tom, they were used rather sparingly, in a story that seemed to meander quite a bit.

I often look forward to these 22-minute episodes, as they have the chance to tell a much more interesting story. The tone of these last few episodes however, has reminded me of the pacing of the episode Monster Bash. That story revealed some intriguing revelations about Meteora’s past, but wasted a large chunk of it’s time fighting Mina Loveberry, rather than focusing on the theme of ‘monsters’ that was part of that episode.

Speaking of monsters, this season looked like it was going to do some intriguing things with this sub-culture of Mewni, as Star attempted to try and bring more attention to them. I would have gladly welcomed a scene at the end, where Star’s faith in the goodness of monsters paid off. I kept waiting for Buff Frog and a number of ‘good monsters’ to suddenly appear near the end, and join in on the battle to stop Meteora…but that moment never came.

In terms of Eclipsa, she ends up having one of the more dramatic bits in the episode, and it almost saved the story. Sadly, her time here is fleeting, and what her actions in the last few minutes, keeps us on our toes as to what she may have in store for the next season, as the credits roll.

Overall, much of the episode’s layout and structure, just feels ‘okay.’ This is far from the emotional rollercoaster that the earlier season three episode Toffee was (and personally, Toffee is still one of the more solid episodes the series has given us!). There is definitely emotion to be had here, but the episode feels like it’s moving so fast through the more interesting stuff, that we don’t really get the chance to feel like it ‘impacts’ us in a proper way.

The episode also has a habit of showing us stuff that may or may not tie into things later on down the line. This is somewhat frustrating, because it just feels like more stuff we have to juggle in the air and ask ourselves: “did this-or-that mean anything in the grand scheme of this series, or is it just going to be something the writers will never address again?”

In the end, Conquer reminded me of a lot of stories I’ve seen so far this season: the kind of stories that tend to have a good idea and could definitely go deeper with the material, but feel like they just meander for 3/4 of their running time, before a lot of stuff happens in the last 4 minutes. At that point, the episode goes: “Whew…what’s gonna happen next, kiddies? Are you on pins and needles?”

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Best line from episode (sung by Star Butterfly): “Where’d the hair-y la-dy go? I-don’t-know, I-don’t know.”

Final Grade: B

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Best honorable mention line from episode (said by Meteora): “You’re a smart girl, figure it out.”

For the end of Season 3 of Star vs the Forces of Evil, both Divide and Conquer felt like a storyline that was stretched a little too thin over 2 episodes. It was like they meandered on a very long second act, while jettisoning some nice balance and time for the first and third acts.

The opening of Divide where we see Star dealing with being the kingdom’s ‘acting queen,’ let alone the end in Conquer where things could have gotten more dark and intense, just didn’t hold enough to make me as excited, or eager to write about these episodes as I had hoped.

 

At this point, I will surely delve into Season 4 when the time comes, but I am a little less intrigued by where it all may go (plus, while the show is confirmed for a fourth season, there’s been no word on a fifth).

So far this season, we’ve seen Star show a progressive mindset in trying to change her kingdom’s culture. The season had a number of great opportunities to really make some deep, meaningful episodes about monster/mewman connections, but often squandered them on cheap laughs. For a season that started out strong with it’s Battle for Mewni storyline, I was definitely let down a little in the storytelling department here.

There’s definitely more I want to say after seeing where three seasons has brought us, but I think that’s best suited for a separate Animated Dissection post. For now, I bid you adieu.

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Book Review: The Art of Ready Player One

Over the years, there have been a number of ‘making-of/art-of’ books that have adorned my shelves. Along with the majority of them that concern animated features, there are several relating to the films of George Lucas, Robert Zemeckis, and Steven Spielberg. To me, these three men are ‘the holy trinity’ of directors who influenced my childhood, and got me interested in the worlds of film, and visual effects.

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Steven Spielberg converses with actress Olivia Cooke, on Ready Player One’s motion-capture stage.

Recently, Spielberg has returned to the pop-culture limelight, with his adaptation of Ernie Cline’s bestselling novel, Ready Player One. The story of an economically-bereft world where it’s inhabitants escape into a virtual realm of unlimited possibilities (and pop-culture cameos aplenty!), had me interested in what ‘the bearded one’ could do with Cline’s source material…and once I saw an early screening of the film, I was eager for behind-the-scenes material.

Fortunately, my appetite was (somewhat) satiated, thanks to Insight Editions‘ recent release: The Art of Ready Player One.

While a number of “art of” books are in my collection, I have become a bit of a connoisseur regarding how some are put together. I’ve seen some that miss the chance to provide intriguing commentary on their subject matter (The Art of Inside Out), and some that feel like certain bits of production information were squeezed in at the end as an afterthought (The Art of Big Hero 6).

With The Art of Ready Player One, author Gina McIntyre manages to hit the sweet-spot, with her 156-page tome having a cohesive balance to the material contained within.

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Concept Art of the First Challenge, by Alex Jaeger

The layout of the book gives us some background on the film’s literary beginnings, before delving into it’s characters, and then the world that Spielberg brought to life. The format of the book makes it seem like a companion piece to the film, making me feel reading it should be done after a screening (or two) of the film.

It’s always fun for me to see how certain elements of a film’s story evolved, though in the case of this book, it feel like much of the storyline was already locked-in, with a surprising lack of ‘abandoned concepts’ or ‘alternate story ideas’ mentioned. Even the section regarding character concepts, is rather sparse when it comes to showing the evolution of character designs.

A fun area of conceptual ‘what-if,’ happens in a section devoted to the film’s ‘second challenge.’ This was one of my favorite parts of the film, and seeing several unused concepts and reading commentary by the production designer and effects supervisor, made it a highlight that I think other insightful readers will enjoy.

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An original avatar design, by Aaron Sims Creative.

Of course, some may eagerly pick up the book hoping it’ll spill the beans on all of the pop-culture ‘easter eggs’ in the film. While a few are shown in concept, the book is far from being a ‘cheat sheet’ for the casual viewer.

Even with the book managing to placate my desire for behind-the-scenes information, there were a few things that stuck out for me as “minor nitpicks.”

One of the rather unusual things that the book’s text does, is repeat certain items several times. This struck me after reading the foreword and introduction pieces by Spielberg and Cline, only to find some of their remarks repeated in different interview context a few pages later.

There was also a rather unusual bit of labeling, where when identifying various images, the author almost seems to ‘gush’ about extra details in them. One example is an image of the character of Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), relaxing in his personal chair. One would expect a simple explanation, but the description gives the full name of the haptic chair, along with the style of VR visor he’s wearing. I can only assume that the author of the book was trying to have some fun, and add in some extra touches of Gunter-level knowledge for the images on hand (FYI: ‘Gunters’ are the names of the egg-hunters in the Oasis, who are usually avid fans of Oasis creator James Haliday-oh great, now I’m doing it!).

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Gothropolis World Concept, by Stephen Tappin

There are definitely some eye-opening bits of art that helped show the scope of the world of the Oasis, with several pages showing a number of conceptual worlds that never made it off the drawing board (like the image of Gothropolis, which I assume is a DC Universe-only playground).

Like a lot of Art of Books, I couldn’t help but imagine The Art of Ready Player One could have made due with another 25-50 pages. We get some prime examples of the haptic technology used to enter the Oasis, but I could also see a section detailing more about thoughts and concepts, regarding the dystopian future world of 2045. When looking over Spielberg’s filmography, the ‘real world’ in this film is a much more bleak future than the ones we’ve seen in A.I. Artificial Intelligence, or Minority Report. One can only wonder what Ernie Cline and co-screenwriter Zak Penn thought of this world, let alone how production designer Adam Stockhausen and his team came to their conclusions on bringing it to life.

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Construction drawing for the Stacks sets, by Stuart Rose.

In this day-and-age, material about the production of feature films has become decidedly small-scale, unlike ‘the days of wine-and-roses’ when laserdiscs and the first DVD’s seemed intent on giving us a glimpse behind the curtain that VHS tapes were incapable of doing. Studios today see more profit in selling films in a digital format, than revealing the tricks-of-the-trade that brought these productions to life through multi-disc boxsets.

The Art of Ready Player One serves as another example of Insight Editions‘ attempts to keep pushing quality-based book releases, that give film fans and cinephiles like myself, something to placate our curiosity. Even with my nitpicks about a few areas, I was still satisfied with the final product, though like a Gunter trying to unlock all of James Haliday’s secrets, I still hunger to learn more about Spielberg’s latest feature.

Episode Review: Star vs the Forces of Evil (Season 3, Episode 20) – Divide

With 19 episodes under season 3’s belt, here we are, at the second-to-last episode, and the first of a two-part story, that seeks to make this season go out with a bang.

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– Divide –

At the end of the last episode, Queen Moon was severely injured, and disappeared through a multi-colored portal. With Moon gone, Star has now been made the ‘acting queen’ of Mewni, but finds it frustrating how everyone is looking to her for decisions.

With Meteora still advancing on the kingdom, Marco and Star’s friends try to slow her down, while Star attempts to try and find out what happened to her mom.

At the beginning of the episode, the writers try to balance drama and humor, as Star finds out that much of the Kingdom’s decision-making, was done by her mother…and without Queen Moon, most people are unable to think for themselves (making me wonder what happened with previous ruling parties).

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While the stupidity of several of the royal personnel is a bit eye-rolling, it was intriguing to see Star reacting almost identically to her Mom in the earlier Season 3 story, Moon the Undaunted. Just like young Moon, Star is thrust into an awkward position of power, one that she finds herself struggling to work through.

It is also notable how Star is unwilling to take the advice of Eclipsa (who is partially to blame for Moon’s disappearance), or the Magic High Commission (who were found guilty of tampering with Mewni’s past history texts some time ago!). This signals a move that some would probably see as being foolhardy, but it seems that Star doesn’t feel like she can trust ‘the old ways’ of doing things. Much of this season has shown her trying to make changes to a broken ruling system, and this feels like another small step forward.

Most of Star’s time in this episode, is spent outside of the castle in the unnamed, paradise-like place she entered into in the earlier story, called Deep Dive. There is still the danger that Star could be sidetracked in her quest to find her mom, and the writers come up with a neat idea, on trying to keep her mind on her plan.

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On the other end of the ‘divide,’ we have Marco staying behind on Mewni, trying to work on slowing down Meteora. This leads to the grouping of a number of characters we’ve seen him interact with over the season, as he attempts to put several plans into action.

While there is plenty that is good about the episode, Divide feels like it focuses a bit too much on gags in some areas,  almost like in splitting the final story for the season in two, the writers had to ‘pad it out’ in a number of places.

One highlight is when we see Star and Marco talking over things before everyone splits off into their separate quests. Plus, we get to see how their fighting skills have improved over the last season. It’s probably one of the most productive conversations Star has in the episode.

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Best line from episode (said by Marco Diaz): “No Star, my abs are not back.”

Final Grade: B

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Best honorable mention line from episode (said by Tom Lucitor): “Oh, well I’ll just take the bait here. Where did you get that sword, Marco?”

When watching Divide, I couldn’t help but feel that many of it’s events, were largely just to set-up the events of the next episode. However, it does have some memorable moments.

Much like seeing Moon Butterfly in her younger days, we get to see Star trying to deal with being thrust into the spotlight as an ‘active queen.’ Her working through a number of emotions, helped make this story pretty enjoyable, though I was hoping for a little more drama during the second part of the episode for her.

Marco’s attempts to stop Meteora, helped give the episode some action, and prove just how ruthless Eclipsa’s daughter is (using magic-draining powers that may remind some of what Toffee was capable of in season 2).

Overall, if the episode had felt a little more ‘complete,’ I probably would have given it a higher rating. Still, it did prove to be entertaining.

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And then…there was one left.

Come back soon, when I review the final episode of Star vs the Forces of Evil’s third season: Conquer.

Episode Review: Star vs the Forces of Evil (Season 3, Episode 19) – Bam Ui Pati! / Tough Love

The last episode of Star vs the Forces of Evil gave us some rather startling revelations, making it one of the most enjoyable episodes this season.

Episode 19 of the third season, manages to tie into that episode, in several ways.

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– Bam Ui Pati! –

Following events from the episode 18 story Skooled, Ponyhead has locked herself in her room, watching Korean soap operas. Star is contacted by a few of Ponyhead’s sisters to help break her out of her lethargy, but things may be more complex than they seem.

By now, most of the series’ fans are probably used to things going a little weird at times. In this case, Ponyhead’s story is tied into her watching the Korean soap opera, Bam Ui Pati (aka Party of the Night), in which a famous singer is stricken with a horrible illness, that may affect her life…forever.

I could almost see this story as being the yang to the ying that was the earlier Season 3 story, Scent of a Hoodie. While Ponyhead worked to try and bring Star out of her crazed lethargy there, Star almost seems to be returning the favor here. However, that storyline was a bit more entertaining in it’s main character going through some crazy stuff.

For this story, the writers try to use the soap opera to mirror Ponyhead’s ‘journey,’ as she tries to come to grips with what happened to her, and move on. It sounds like a good concept, but the execution of it feels disjointed, as the story tried to throw all sorts of obstacles in the way of Ponyhead trying to watch her show.

It was a little surprising to see several of Ponyhead’s sisters again, though it didn’t feel like they added very much to the story. Personally, I was more enamored with the return of Ponyhead’s ex-boyfriend (last seen in the Demoncism episode), whose salesperson persona, provided some much-needed comic relief at times.

Overall, this felt like ‘filler.’ It ties into events from a previous story, and tries to push us forward…but it’s attempts to be a little kooky with how it does that, just didn’t do it for me.

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Best line from episode (said by Star Butterfly): “Oh, sorry, Cloudy was a lot further down than I thought he was.”

Final Grade: C+

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– Tough Love –

After finding out information about her past in the last episode, Meteora (formerly Ms Heinous) returns to Mewni, intent on claiming the royal throne. Unknown to her, Queen Moon and Eclipsa (Meteora’s mother), are hot on her trail.

Seeing Moon and Eclipsa play off each other over season 3, has led to some very entertaining moments for me. It feels like as time has gone on, Moon’s stance on the former queen of Mewni has softened a bit, though Eclipsa still tries to assert herself in some situations, irking the current queen.

Much of the story is based around the two women trying to track down Meteora, while also encountering the angered denizens of Rich Pigeon’s kingdom, and an angry mob of villagers. The encounters are good for quick bits of comedy, but it definitely feels like the writers missed the opportunity to make this a stronger, more emotional storyline, by shortening these scenes a bit more.

The meeting between Meteora and her mother sadly, is something I felt would be a bit stronger. It does have it’s moments, though it does seem that Meteora may also have become mentally unstable from years of repressing herself at St Olga’s. It’s also notable that Meteora uses green ‘dark magic,’ which we haven’t seen used since Toffee had overtaken Ludo at the end of last season.

It is in the last few minutes, that the story gets really eye-opening. However, some shocking events happen so quickly, that by the time the credits roll, your brain is still trying to process what you just saw.

A good episode for sure, but one that I definitely feel, could have been great if it focused more on the dramatic tension at the end.

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Best line from episode (said by Eclipsa): “Well, some terrible, terrible people, locked me up in a dingy old crystal, deep down in a dark dungeon. They were a rather backwards, maladjusted people, especially that old queen.”

Final Grade: B

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Best honorable mention line from episode (said by Happy Villager, in Tough Love): “She gave me this neat hat…I like it.”)

Well, that was an episode that was okay, but definitely could have been better.

Bam Ui Pati‘s storyline could have held up a bit stronger in it’s storyline of Ponyhead coping with a crisis, but it’s attempts to parallel the soap opera she was watching, felt like a fun concept that just didn’t work for me.

Tough Love brings us the encounter we’ve been waiting for, between Meteora, her mother, and Queen Moon. The opening comedy beats of the story somewhat take away from the more interesting and serious bits, and while the story does have some serious moments, it feels like a much stronger story could have surfaced here.

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And thus, the last 2-story episode of season 3 is over.

The final two episodes of this season, will be full 22-minute stories, with some rather ominous titles. The next episode is titled Divide, and the final season’s episode…will be titled, Conquer.

I’ll be reviewing each of the episodes separately, so see you back here soon, when we take a look at episode 21: Divide.