Archive by Author | MWH1980

Movie Review: Batman & Bill

The title Batman and Bill, may sound like some new personalized TV concept from Hulu, but sometimes, perceptions can be deceiving.

For years, I and many others had been used to seeing artist Bob Kane’s name on anything Batman-related, assuming he was the full creator of one of comic’s most famous characters. However, there was one name that was often pushed out of sight, except by a select few. That name, was Bill Finger.

Throughout the years, Finger’s name would pop up in conversations with Kane and others in the comics industry. Some could easily assume Bill was one of the many ‘ghost artists/writers’ over the years who worked on the comics, but unlike an artist hired on for a small stint, Bill worked with Bob for several decades, starting at the creation of Batman!

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Bill Finger’s only credited ‘Batman’ writing role, featured in the “Batman TV Series” (1967)

While Kane may have gained notoriety for drawing the character, much of Batman’s mythos was created and written by Finger. He not only helped shape Batman’s intimidating look, but was also responsible for the creation of many of the series’ characters, and even came up with the nickname, “The Dark Knight.”

Bill would write over 1,500 Batman-related stories (often going to great lengths to research what went into them), but was never given any credit in the comic books. It wasn’t until the 1967 Batman TV series episode, The Clock King’s Crazy Crimes, would Bill’s name finally be associated with the character he co-created.

However, while that one episode gave Bill a chance to shine, he remained largely hidden in the shadows of Bob Kane. Over the years, many would try to give Bill Finger proper creative credit, but none roared loud enough, until author Marc Taylor Nobleman.

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Marc Taylor Nobleman

Upon researching the history of the Batman character, and finding out Finger’s importance, Marc set off on a quest worthy of “the world’s greatest detective”: to find out everything he could about Bill, and maybe, get him and his family the recognition that had been denied him for over 75 years.

Directed by Don Argott (Rock School) and Sheena M Joyce (The Atomic States of America), the film is a simple-yet-intriguing documentary, with Nobleman (whose name sounds perfect for a comic character!) being the main focal point.

The film could easily have ended up as simply a large progression of ‘talking heads,’ but to illustrate the life and times of Bill Finger and his family, the filmmakers turned to a company called Alkemy X. They created the animated, comic book-style imagery for references to Bill’s journey, that prove to be a real, emotional treat.

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Alkemy X image, of Bill Finger and Bob Kane, designing the look for “The Batman.”

A number of notable Bat-fans are included as well. There’s commentary by Kevin Smith and Michael Uslan (the executive producer on all modern Batman films), as well as those who actually knew Bill (like his friend, Charles Sinclair).

It should be noted, that while there is some flak thrown towards Kane and how he seemed to deny Finger credit (Kane didn’t even share the 1966 TV show’s monetary successes with Bill!), there is very little hate on-screen for the man. I found this largely admirable with many parties, who at the most, simply wanted Bill to just get some recognition.

Where the film trips up for me, is in it’s last third.

This area deals with those who knew Bill, along with his surviving family and descendants, including his granddaughter, Athena Finger. Though having never met Bill, she did recall some stories her father (Finger’s only son, Fred) told her. Through Marc Nobleman, her role in the story, becomes about finding acceptance and closure regarding her family’s legacy.

I can understand the filmmakers wanting to give the family it’s 15 minutes of fame, but it feels like they spend a little too much time with Finger’s family members, and it seems to slow down the momentum of the film in some places.

Marc Nobleman’s quest also seems to suffer a bit from the filmmaker’s overuse of his fanaticism for Batman as well. A few instances that could be simple little mentions, are fleshed out a little too much in certain areas.

With some tighter editing, the film could have clocked in a little shy of it’s one hour and thirty-five minute mark, but I feel it might have been a little stronger if these changes had been made.

Even so, much of the documentary was very intriguing, as we start with a number of puzzle pieces, and slowly, we see them come together.

Of course, it’s a sure bet that this documentary will not be for everyone. There will be those fervent fans who will stand by Bob Kane’s word over the years, and say Bill Finger was not the man whom Nobleman and others claim him to be. However, I for one believe them, and though the film is not one of the best entertainment-related documentaries out there, it has enough amazing insight and storytelling, to keep you entertained, and maybe, make you a believer too!

*Note: At the time of this review, this documentary is only accessible through the Hulu channel and digital app.*

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Final Grade: B (Final Thoughts: “Batman and Bill” is the little documentary that blows open the doors to a secret that could have been buried forever. It’s chronicles of how author Marc Nobleman helped Bill Finger’s family and legacy, is one that is definitely entertaining, albeit largely ‘safe’ in it’s multi-generational story of an entertainment legend that struggles to become fact. The editing at times does get a bit loose, but overall, a very entertaining and informative film.

Terrible 2’s Reviews: The Lost World – Jurassic Park

*Some people may say that most films lose their way by a third sequel, but that isn’t always the case. For every “Wrath of Khan” or “Toy Story 2,” there’s a dozen ‘number 2’ films that were made, that could not uphold the energy and enthusiasm of the first film. This review section, aims to talk about these “Terrible 2’s”*

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In 1993, Director Steven Spielberg created an amazing cinematic experience for millions of people worldwide, when he brought Michael Crichton’s novel Jurassic Park to the screen. At times both awe-inspiring and terrifying, I often consider it my generation’s Star Wars.

No film stood a chance against it that summer, and with it’s box-office grosses breaking records worldwide, it was a sure bet that Universal Studios would bring the dinosaurs back to the big screen.

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Cover art for the book’s 1995 debut.

The success of the film caused Crichton to soon churn out a rather unnecessary sequel, dubbed The Lost World. Released in 1995, it’s story dealt with another island (“Site B”), where the dinosaurs that populated Jurassic Park, were born and raised.

The science-fiction adventure story, has Ian Malcolm (who had previously been killed off in the book-version of Jurassic Park!) and a number of persons go off to rescue a colleague named Richard Levine, who has struck off for the island on his own. Right behind them, are a group of people from the InGen rival, Biosyn, hoping to steal eggs from the dinosaurs that have been set free on the island.

What gave some hope during the production of this sequel, was when Spielberg himself came back to direct, making it one of the first sequels he’d done outside of the Indiana Jones series. This was also his first feature after 1993’s Schindler’s List, a film whose dramatic tone seemed to signify a new direction he wanted to go in.

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Teaser Poster for the film.

Most of the crew from the first film would return as well, though Crichton would opt out of screenwriting duties, which would pass solely to David Koepp (who had co-written the first film with Crichton).

From production on up through it’s release, much of the story and imagery was kept a secret. The teaser trailer was particularly exciting, showing the T-Rex roaring in the rain, before the words “Something Has Survived” flashed before our eyes! Only a scant few moments of dinosaur footage was released, before the film’s big release on Memorial Day weekend, in 1997.

The excitement over the film, would make it one of the biggest hits of the year. However, it failed to capture the magic that had enthralled us four summers prior, and made itself a prime candidate for this category.

Here’s some of my issues with The Lost World: Jurassic Park.

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The Lost World, in name-only

Let’s face it: when one adapts a famous novel to the screen, you have to expect some liberties to be taken. Of course, sometimes, there are quite a few.

If one were to read Peter Benchley’s Jaws, and watch Spielberg’s 1975 film, you’d find they are two completely different ‘beasts’ (did you know Matt Hooper was having an affair with the Sheriff Brody’s wife in the book!?).

When it came to Crichton’s novel, screenwriter David Koepp made quite a number of changes!

Of the new novel’s characters, he only ports over Sarah Harding and Eddie Carr, though drops the whole subplot regarding Biosyn, and instead has our villains come from within InGen itself.

In this case, the main corporate bad guy of the film, is John Hammond’s nephew, Peter Ludlow (played by Arliss Howard). Peter has taken over the company, and is eager to exploit the leftover dinosaurs on Site B to recoup the company’s lost investments from the shuttered Jurassic Park.

Of all the ‘set-pieces’ from the novel, the only one that seems to have survived the story restructuring, is when the two T-Rexes on the island come for their infant, and push a research RV over the edge of a high-cliff.

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Carnotaurus game boss, from the Lost World arcade game, from SEGA.

It should be noted that one of the more intriguing (new) creatures in the novel, actually ended up making it’s way into the SEGA arcade game tie-in.

Near the end of the novel, our main group of humans is menaced by a chameleon-like carnotaurus.  Though much like how the first film’s dilophosaurus was given fictional neck-frills and a venom-pouch, the Carnotaurus in the SEGA game was also embellished.

Notable was that in relation to it’s chameleon-like camouflage features, it was colored green, as well as given the swivel-eyes of a chameleon, which it did not have in real life.

The carnotaurus was one of the more memorable dinos in the arcade game, mainly due to it having a strange, digitized howl when one dealt a major blow to it.

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Few Likable Characters

With the first Jurassic Park, there were plenty of enjoyable characters to choose from. From paleontologist Alan Grant (Sam Neill), to the slimy lawyer Donald Gennaro (Martin Ferrero), almost all of the characters easily stuck in our minds.

Unfortunately, that kind of chemistry across the cast is pretty much left in the dark here.

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L to R: Julianne Moore, Vince Vaughn, Jeff Goldblum, Vanessa Lee Chester, Pete Postlewaite, Harvey Jason, Peter Stormare

In regards to the original film’s cast, Ian Malcolm is the only ‘major’ returning player. However, Jeff Goldblum plays him as the ‘reluctant hero,’ sometimes acting as a babysitter, other times trying to get people to listen, but most of the time just there to largely tell the idiots around him, “I told you so.”

Of all the new characters introduced, I couldn’t help but find Julianne Moore’s portrayal of Sarah Harding, to be quite annoying. The filmmakers seem to be trying to make her a vocally-outspoken and serious researcher, but oftentimes, she sounds moreso like she’s just there to spout certain facts, and doesn’t quite realize wholly that she’s among an environment of creatures that could squash or eat her.

Nick Van Owen (played by Vince Vaughn) is added in as a nature photographer/double-agent (Hammond secretly told him his nephew might show up!?), and seems to be the film’s resident “tree-hugger,” there to mainly get in the way of hunter Roland Tembo, played by Peter Postlewaite.

Probably of all the new characters, it is Roland who is the only one that seems interesting, let alone is given a small character arc. A bit like Robert Muldoon from the first film, Tembo is a big-game hunter who has caught almost everything…but, the chance to take down a Tyrannosaur, piques his interest enough to join the InGen ‘hunting’ party.

The film also attempts to make us care about two men in Roland’s employ, Ajay Sidhu (Harvey Jason), and Dieter Stark (Peter Stormare). However, Stark is quickly pegged to be our ‘evil man in the wilderness,’ and Ajay’s role is so underused, that when Roland expresses remorse for the loss of his friend at the end, it doesn’t really resonate (there was a deleted scene that did give the two more time together).

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L to R: Joseph Mazzello, Ariana Richards, Jeff Goldblum

The film also finds the time to shoehorn in some brief cameos, from Joseph Mazzello and Ariana Richards, reprising their roles of Tim and Lex for a brief meetup with Malcolm. Lord Richard Attenborough also returns as John Hammond, though mainly to bookend the adventure.

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Showoff!

This is a symptom I’ve seen in a lot of second films over the years (like Men in Black 2, and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen). When it comes to some sequels, the filmmakers seem to get worried that they have to top themselves from the previous film…and give the audience more!

That definitely seems to be the case with Lost World. We get so many extra dinosaurs, that at times, the wonder and awe that we experienced in the first film, is all-but-forgotten.

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Sure, the stampede/round-up scene in Lost World showed new effects boundaries being pushed, (making the Gallimimus scene in the first film look quaint), but so many of the effects-heavy scenes here, often feel like the film’s story is stopping just to say, “look at this!”

This isn’t to sat the effects work in the film isn’t admirable, but it just doesn’t feel as thoroughly in the service of the storytelling for much of the picture.

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Oh, Give me a Break!

There’s one scene in the film, that seems to have passed into the annals of laughable set-up/payoff scenes, when it comes to this film.

As Malcolm prepares to leave his daughter Kelly (Vanessa Lee Chester) and go to Site B, he makes mention of her upcoming gymnastics tournament, before being told she got cut from the team.

One would assume this was the writer’s attempt to show us how disconnected Ian was from his daughter’s life. However, there was so much more…

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In a later scene, Malcolm finds himself being menaced by a raptor in a multi-level utility hut, with Sarah and Kelly looking on. Suddenly, Kelly takes a leap, and, using some overhead piping as parallel bars, ends up using her gymnastics skills to take out the raptor, kicking it out of a window to it’s death.

How ridiculous was this joke? Well, a month or two after the film premiered, a comic book I was reading actually referenced it, with one character calling it’s set-up/pay-off a work of genius!

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More B-movie than usual

Spielberg filled some parts of Jurassic Park with homages to some of the old days of stop-motion monster movies, and that same feel (somewhat) continues with Lost World.

The film’s title and some of it’s ending, do borrows from the 1925 silent film, The Lost World. However, it is a brontosaurus that the explorers bring back to the mainland in the 1925 film, compared to the more exciting T-Rex.

Plus, just like the first film, there is a reference to King Kong in this film, with the name of the boat that brings the Rex to San Diego, being the S.S. Venture, which was the name of the ship that brought Kong to New York City.

The original ending for the film would have featured pterodactyls attacking a helicopter, but this was changed to the more B-movie scenario, of the T-Rex getting loose in San Diego, California.

Spielberg seems to really revel in getting his monster-movie fix during the rampage. People scream, cars crash, a family is terrorized, but, it feels like Spielberg pulls away from the main story a little too long, almost like he’s become distracted by what the guys at Industrial Light & Magic can do with their CGI creatures.

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“We need a lawyer-eating moment. Koepp, you’re up!”

If there is one saving grace to the Rex’s rampage, it’s with the man whom the T-Rex consumes in one scene, who attempts to escape into a nearby store. The man it turns out, is Lost World screenwriter and second-unit director, David Koepp. So, if you didn’t like the film, you can feel a little better knowing that the guy who wrote that gymnastics scene, got eaten onscreen. They even have some fun in the credits, as Koepp’s character is called, “Unlucky B******.”

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Loose plot threads much?

While the first Jurassic Park had several large plotholes (notably how the T-Rex seemed to be levitating over an area in it’s paddock, that became a steep drop-off only minutes later!), The Lost World had quite a number of storypoints where it felt like the script just gave up.

One notable plothole, comes after the ship with the Rex crashes into the InGen docks. Littered across the ship, are the remains of it’s crew. However, it’s never explained just how this happened. We see a severed hand holding onto the ship’s wheel, but there’s no way the T-Rex could have caused such a thing (the boat’s wheelhouse is completely intact!).

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My theory is that maybe raptors had gotten aboard, but one would have assumed they would have stayed aboard the ship, and then jumped off once they were able to get on the ground.

Another loose thread is how as the film enters it’s third act, Nick Van Owen just disappears from the story!

It’s never explained just why he didn’t accompany Ian and Sarah to the Rex’s arrival, and he’s never mentioned by name again. I guess maybe the two assumed he’d try some crazy stunt and free the Rex once it arrived? Or, maybe he just figured John Hammond’s paycheck only covered his time on Site B?

Speaking of this film’s habitat, the existence of Site B throws into question, a scene in the first film. During the tour of Jurassic Park, the group is shown a number of working scientists and technicians, whom Hammond claimed were “the real miracle-workers” of the park.

This seems rather hard-to-believe upon seeing Lost World, as one would assume if the development and breeding of the dinosaurs was all off-island on Site B, it feels like a wasted expenditure to have that small operation on Isla Nublar in the first film.

Plus, if the park was just for show as Hammond claims in this film, then why were important (and valuable) vials of the dinosaur’s DNA being kept there, rather than on Site B?

…the world, may never know.

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Overall, I think The Lost World: Jurassic Park’s biggest problem, is that it doesn’t know how to balance itself out, acting more like a ‘product’ than a film at times.

It’s shaky storytelling reminds me of such Spielberg films as Hook, and the most recent Indiana Jones film (which David Koepp also penned). Both of those films also seek to have Spielberg take us back to something familiar from our past, yet in trying to ‘make it new,’ there’s a certain something…missing.

Over the years, seeing some of the ridiculousness of certain situations in the film, I couldn’t help but wonder if Spielberg was trying to make some sort of 90’s era satire, ala Stanley Kubrick’s dark comedy, Dr Strangelove.

Given how we have two groups of people trying to decide ‘what’s best’ for these prehistoric creatures, it feels like maybe writer David Koepp is trying to find some form of satire in the very PC way that characters like Nick Van Owen try to preserve nature, in the face of InGen and Roland Tembo’s crew, who either want to exploit it, or decimate it.

In the end, the film is not as memorable to us as the first one, but it cleaned up pretty well, being one of the top moneymakers for the 1997 summer movie season. Even so, it’s take didn’t do what most of today’s sequels do, and it made less overall than the first film.

While it is lacking in making us care about it’s characters, the film does get “brownie points” regarding it’s effects work.

The advances in technology with Industrial Light & Magic and Stan Winston Studios, helped the film earn an Oscar nod for visual effects (which it would lose, to the more aptly-named, Titanic).

I also have a soft-spot for John Williams’ score, which becomes it’s own ‘beast.’ Less like the eerie-yet-majestic feel of the first film, his score here brings in a true atmospheric sound that ties into the darker climate of a world, where there are no manmade fences to keep the dinosaurs at bay.

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Journeys Through Life: Guillermo Del Toro – At Home With Monsters Exhibition

When I was growing up in the safety of suburban Iowa, it was the works of filmmaker Tim Burton, that brought a strange intrusion of the bizarre and the macabre into my life, with his imagery of clowns, swirls, and striped monstrosities.

In the last few decades, another intriguing filmmaker emerged…one who has channeled his own personal and eclectic tastes (many of them similar to Burton’s), into films and projects that appeal to his love of The Victorian Era, steampunk, and creature features.

AHWM-2That person, is filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro (see left).

The writer and director of films such as Hellboy and Crimson Peak, Del Toro is also a connoisseur of collecting items, some of which, are strange and unusual to many.

On his property in Los Angeles, there is a place he refers to as The Bleak House (named after the novel by Charles Dickens). Within it’s walls, he has curated a vast collection of personal mementos, as well as toys, collectibles, rare production art, and items from the various films he’s worked on. Being a fan of horror and science fiction, he has often remarked that he based his private abode on “The Ackermansion,” the home of Famous Monsters of Filmland‘s editor, Forrest J Ackerman.

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A promotional image, showing the interior of Guillermo Del Toro’s “Bleak House,” in Los Angeles, California.

When word and imagery of Del Toro’s private abode reached the mainstream media, there were quite a few that were enthralled by what they saw. Key among them was Kaywin Feldman, the director of the Minneapolis Institute of Art (aka MIA). After reading an article about Bleak House in 2011, Feldman wanted to find a way to share some of Del Toro’s collection with the world, via an exhibit, that became what is now known as: At Home With Monsters.

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Entrance to the exhibit, at MIA.

Working with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and The Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), MIA coordinated a 3-city tour (now 4 cities!), to showcase the exhibit from 2016 through 2018.

Monsters arrived at MIA in March 2017, and recently, I decided to take it in. I will admit, that it did feel like a ‘homecoming’ was taking place, when I headed back up to Minneapolis.

17 years ago, while attending college in the state of Iowa, a classmate and I drove up to MIA, to view the traveling exhibit, Star Wars: The Magic of Myth. It was one of the first exhibits regarding film and entertainment items that I ever saw, and in a sense, At Home with Monsters is very close to that previous exhibit in terms of it’s content.

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For the At Home with Monsters exhibit in Minneapolis, a portion of The Bleak House collection is distributed through eight different areas, each one with a specific theme.

Each section also contains several audio/visual items that help offer atmosphere to specific portions of the collection. There are specially-mixed series of sounds to help provide mood, and flat-screen television sets provide videos that tie into each room’s themes. A few rooms even have projected visuals to enhance portions of the collection.

There are also interactive iPad displays throughout, that give glimpses into several of Del Toro’s personal journals. Plus, the exhibit is bi-lingual, with each room’s summary presented in both English, and Spanish.

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Concept watercolor painting for Walt Disney’s “Pinocchio.” Art by Gustaf Tenggren

Of the various areas, I found myself most enamored with the one titled Childhood and Innocence. In most of Del Toro’s films that include a child or children, they are often never fully-protected from danger, whether it be Mako Mori as a child in Pacific Rim, or the young Carlos in Devil’s Backbone. Oftentimes, the children in his films try desperately to cling to something safe, but find the world around them to be an unforgiving place, much like in the old Grimm’s Fairy Tales.

Notable in this room, were a number of original concept art pieces Del Toro owns, some from his own films (like Pan’s Labyrinth), and others from early animated Disney features. Like Hansel and Gretel amazed by the witch’s candy house, I couldn’t help but ‘eat up’ the inspiring concept art of such Disney artists like Gustaf Tenggren, Eyvind Earle, and even Mary Blair!

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The Faun from “Pan’s Labyrinth.”

Concept, production, and original art pieces are a major highlight of the collection. Along with some of Del Toro’s own art, there are pieces by the likes of James Cameron, Mike Mignola, Richard Corben, and many more. There are also a number of art pieces from the last decade, some of them digital, but often tying into Del Toro’s love of the macabre, or the unusual.

Also of note, are a number of full-size figures from Del Toro’s films (such as the faun from Pan’s Labyrinth at right), along with several, specially-created wax figures. Two of the most notable, are wax figures of H.P. Lovecraft, and Edgar Allen Poe. Del Toro has claimed that both authors have had a great presence in his life’s work, and that presence is also felt throughout the exhibit.

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Albino Penguin maquette, from Spectral Motion.

Over the years, Del Toro has often talked of wanting to make a film adaptation of Lovecraft’s famous novella, At the Mountains of Madness. Around 2011, he had attempted to get the film made, but sadly, it sounds like his passion project may never come to pass.

However, a reminder of what could have been is included in the exhibition, in the form of a 2-foot tall maquette (see left) by the production company Spectral Motion. Made in 2011, it gives us a taste of what the six-foot-tall albino penguins in Lovecraft’s novel may have looked like! I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve never read anything by Lovecraft, but this definitely has me intrigued to know more about the famous story.

Out of all the films that Del Toro has directed, it feels that the two that stand out greatly in the exhibit, are Hellboy, and Pan’s Labyrinth.  I will admit that while plenty of space had been given over to some of his more elaborate and memorable films, I was a little disappointed that there wasn’t more concept or prop art related to Pacific Rim.

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El Santo’s Screen Actor’s Guild card.

One small part of the exhibit that had me most intrigued, involved references to Del Toro’s love of Luchadores (aka Mexican wrestlers). Wrestling is an influence in the fights within Pacific Rim, and in the TV series The Strain, where a luchador known as The Silver Angel, helps it’s heroes fight vampires.

The Silver Angel may be a reference to one of the most famous of all Mexican wrestlers (who also wore a silver-colored mask!), El Santo. Going through the section labelled Magic, Alchemy, and The Occult, I was very surprised to see on it’s walls, a framed piece that contained Santo’s Screen Actor’s Guild membership papers and membership card, which revealed his true identity (many never saw Santo’s face, until after he retired in 1982)!

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The head of Frankenstein’s monster (sculpted by Mike Hill).

Of course, a highlight of the show, are the numerous references to famous movie monsters, from Nosferatu, to The Metaluna Mutant (from the 1955 film, This Island Earth), and most famous of all: Frankenstein’s monster.

It is Frankenstein’s monster that is most prevalent throughout the exhibit, with one of the most eye-opening pieces, being the huge, 7-foot-tall head that famously hung above The Bleak House‘s entryway.

It truly is an amazing sight, seeing the pores, stubble, let alone all the little creases and details! Artist Mike Hill, who fashioned the likeness from Boris Karloff’s depiction of the monster, also contributes his talents to other figures throughout the exhibit, including several based around likenesses of characters from the 1932 film, Freaks.

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“Big Baby” prop gun, from “Hellboy II: The Golden Army.”

Yes, there’s plenty to see throughout the exhibit, and I won’t lie: I spent over 5 hours going through it, 3 times over! However, I will admit that after seeing other exhibitions and shows in my lifetime, there was definitely room for a little improvement.

What struck me most, was the rather helter-skelter way that certain items from the collection were labeled…and sometimes, not labeled at all.

Having visited The Art Institute of Chicago, I am often used to seeing an art piece’s label, that gives it’s name, artist, and medium (aka what was used to make the image). Surprisingly, none of the art pieces here (that were a part of the Bleak House collection) mentioned their ‘medium.’ I felt this was rather odd, as a few times, I couldn’t be sure if what I was seeing was a licensed print, or an ‘original’ art piece.

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Infant Dren prop, from the film, “Splice.”

Some items are set up to seem almost like typical ‘oddities on shelves,’ and have no label whatsoever. It struck me as a little odd for a few, as I doubt the average museum guest would have recognized the infant Dren from the Del Toro-produced film Splice, or the Prince Nuada puppet maquette from Hellboy II: The Golden Army, settled amongst a group of marionettes.

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Figure of Santi, from “The Devil’s Backbone.”

Despite some hiccups here and there, I was very impressed by what had been brought to the Midwest.

Personally, Minneapolis is not a place that I would have imagined displaying The Bleak House’s trappings, much less find one of MIA‘s directors being the ‘mastermind’ behind the whole touring exhibition!

This is also the first exhibit I’ve seen, that actually has an R-rating, and trust me, it is definitely warranted (note: the Faun from Pan’s Labyrinth is ‘anatomically-correct!’).

This was another factor that impressed me: the museum was willing to display an exhibit like this, with restricted access.

In Chicago, entertainment-related exhibits that display items from popular culture like Harry Potter, The Muppets, as well as the life of Walt Disney, often find their way to Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry. However, the museum is often stuck with the addendum to make exhibits like these, an all-ages experience.

MIA’s ability to not ‘cheapen’ the experience, was definitely a welcome sight, as the culture in Middle-America can often be somewhat prudish and narrow-minded, when it comes to what Del Toro’s Bleak House contains.

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As of the time of this review, the exhibit is in it’s final weeks before it closes at MIA, on May 28, 2017.

Following it’s closure in Minnesota, it will then go on to The Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto, where it will be on display from September 30th, 2017, through January 7th, 2018.

AHWM-8AGO was originally to be it’s last stop, but in recent months, the touring exhibition has been extended to include Mexico City, for the year 2018 (however, no museum location or start/end date for the city has been set yet).

If you have an open mind and are somewhat fascinated by the strange and unusual, then At Home with Monsters is a highly recommended show to take in!

Of course, if you are unable to make it to any of the exhibition showings, a companion book to it’s catalogue has also been released (see right), with a number of images showing some of what is on display, as well as anecdotes and notes from Del Toro himself, on his personal collection.

While the book is a wonderful little memento of the exhibition, I still say that nothing compares to being inches away from it’s wax figures, elaborate costumes, original artwork, and much, much more!

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A Peanuts Prospectus: Of Charlie Brown, the EPA, and Baseball

Since it’s founding in 1970 by former President Richard Nixon, The Environmental Protection Agency, has claimed to try and protect human health, as well as the environment.

However, in the early months of 1977, it ended up playing a small role in Charlie Brown’s constant struggles, with the local Kite-Eating Tree. The incident soon snowballed into a strange little cross-town adventure for our favorite blockhead.

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It all started on February 21st, 1977, when Charlie Brown addressed the Kite-Eating Tree, now that Winter seemed to be over. Tensions boiled over a few days later, when the tree catches one of Charlie’s kites in it’s branches.CBEPA-2

“You stupid tree,” he yells. “If you bite my kite, I’ll bite you!”

It isn’t an idle threat either, as Charlie quickly takes a bite out of the tree (see right)!

It should be noted that up until this point, Schulz had not decided if this storyline would be expanded upon. Charlie’s business with the Kite-Eating Tree, would trade off on some days, with some story strips regarding Snoopy and Woodstock.

CBEPA-3It wouldn’t be until March 1st, 1977, that Schulz would zero in on Charlie’s predicament, and further develop his story.  On that day, Charlie Brown received a letter from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in regards to him biting the Kite-Eating Tree!

At first, Charlie Brown is unsure about what he should do. While he wonders about hiring an attorney for fear he’ll be sued by the EPA, Lucy seems to revel in him possibly being incarcerated (“Fifty cents says they’ll throw you in the slammer,” she tells him).

Finally, Charlie comes to a decision, and decides to run away.

Packing some things, he leaves Snoopy in the care of his sister Sally, who doesn’t seem that concerned that her big brother is leaving (“Can I have your room?” she asks, as he leaves the house).CBEPA-4

After walking for some time, Charlie finds himself in a different neighborhood, where he is promptly beaned by a ball, and collapses!

He is revived by two kids named Austin and Ruby, who claim they are looking for someone to coach their baseball team…an offer that seems to sit well with Charlie!

CBEPA-6However, it soon becomes apparent that this might not be so easy.  The team is made up mostly of younger kids. After accepting Austin and Ruby’s offer, Charlie is introduced to two other members of the team: Leland, and Milo.

Charlie does his best to coach the younger players, while also staying in a cardboard box nearby. Also notable, is that even though he introduces himself as “Charlie,” the kids all refer to him as “Charles.”

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Of all the kids on the team, Schulz seems to zero in on Milo, as the one whom Charlie acts like a mentor figure towards. There’s also a fun little scene where Milo brings Charlie some cold cereal one morning. A nice gesture, except Milo has the cereal in his cupped hands, along with some milk.

While they are practicing one day, Ruby asks Charlie about the term, “goose egg.” When he explains that it can stand for when a team doesn’t score runs during an inning, Ruby grows excited.

CBEPA-10“That’ll be the name of our team…’The Goose Eggs,'” she happily proclaims, as Charlie rolls his eyes.

Eventually, the time comes for The Goose Eggs to play against a visiting team…who just happen to be Charlie’s old team!

Naturally, Lucy finds the whole thing to be ridiculous, while Linus tells Charlie that he can now return home. A recent storm caused the Kite-Eating Tree to fall over, wiping out the evidence the EPA had against him.

Milo overhears, this, and inquires if Charlie is some sort of criminal.

“No, not really, Milo,” he replies.

Of course, the fun ‘cherry-on-the-top’ for the scene, is Milo proclaiming he wants to be like Charlie when he grows up!

“Did anyone hear that?” Charlie calls out to his team, happy that someone there thinks rather highly of him!

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With most multi-day storylines, Schulz seemed to know what direction he was going in. However, with this one, it felt like he was toying with where to take the story.

In an article on the Charles M Schulz Museum’s page, his wife Jean talked about some of the strips from this storyline, when they were displayed as part of an exhibit in 2010.

Jean related how Schulz had reached the point where Charlie runs away from home because of the EPA notice, but wasn’t sure just where the journey would go from there.

Of course, it sprouted into the storyline of Charlie finding the younger kids and their ball team in another part of the town, before finally wrapping up.

cbepa-11This would often be the way some of Schulz’s longer stories would go. He would start with an idea, and it would often snowball from there, with no clear end in sight. A prime example is in 1973, where Charlie Brown wakes up, only to see the rising sun resembles a baseball (see left)!cbepa-12

In regards to the EPA-related story, Schulz has often found size differences to provide humor, and he uses that plenty of times throughout this story. The Goose Egg’s player named Leland figures into a few scenes. We see his role as catcher is in jeopardy, when the mask seems to cover his whole body, as well as him being rather disturbed at how high up he is when atop his team’s pitcher’s mound.

There also comes a fun little joke when Charlie asks Milo how many bases he’s stolen. When he inquires about the year before that, and then the year before that one, Milo claims he hasn’t been alive that long.

CBEPA-9I will admit that the ending somewhat peters out, though I will give Schulz some credit for a very minor bit of continuity.

Linus mentions in the final story’s strip on April 2nd, how the kite-eating tree fell over in a rain storm. The week before, on March 28th, we got imagery of Charlie in his cardboard box, as rain poured down.

It’s a minor detail to some, but I feel it backs up Linus’ words on the 2nd of April.

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Like much of my exposure to some storylines in the comics, I saw this story re-purposed through animation first, in the 1983 TV special, It’s an Adventure, Charlie Brown. The special collected a number of the short stories from Schulz’s comics, and brought them to life on-screen.CBEPA-7

The animated story rarely deviated from the comic strips, though they added some extra stuff in building up Charlie’s opening problems with the Kite-Eating Tree. The fun part is the animators adding a rather devilish grin on his face, after he has bitten the tree (see right).

There’s also a few nice background setups, where we get a wider view of the neighborhood where The Goose Eggs reside. The artists even include the fancy streetlight, that Schulz drew in the panel where Charlie first enters the neighborhood.

Most notable from a behind-the-scenes point-of-view, was how the story also served as a starting point for one person’s career with the Peanuts gang. For the voice of the character Milo, producer Lee Mendelson cast his son, Jason.

It would be the start of a small voice-career for Jason, who a few years later, would be voicing Rerun Van Pelt on The Charlie Brown and Snoopy Show, and later go on to voice Peppermint Patty during the This is America, Charlie Brown TV series (btw, it wasn’t that odd to have a boy voicing a girl. During the series, Charlie Brown was voiced by a girl named Erin Chase).

CBEPA-8In the early 2000’s, Jason would follow in his father’s footsteps, and do some work on several of TV specials for the Peanuts gang, acting as a story developer on several shows.

I always liked the little bits with Charlie and Milo in the special, and one can hear Jason at his young age, trying his best to say the lines. Plus, just like the Kite-Eating Tree bit, the animators add an extra bit at the end, showing Charlie really happy about Milo wanting to be “just like him.”

I will admit, the overall storyline isn’t one of the comic’s best, but it has stuck with me over the years, enough to put together this little prospectus.

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An Animated Dissection: My Top 10 Favorite Star vs the Forces of Evil segments, from Season 2

A few weeks ago, I gave my verdict on my 5 least-favorite segments, from the second season of Star vs the Forces of Evil.

Now, a few weeks later, I think I’m ready to reveal the 10 story segments that I enjoyed the most out of the second season of the show.

This year’s list is a bit more extensive, given there were over 38 10-12 minute segments this season to choose from.  So, let’s dive in and see what I thought!

Note:  This Top 10 list only covers the stories that spanned 10-12 minutes. 22-minute episodes like “Bon Bon the Birthday Clown,” “Face the Music,” and “Starcrushed,” are excluded, given the extra time and storytelling makeup.

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10. Game of Flags

I won’t lie: trying to come up with the segment to go into the ’10’ slot on these lists, is usually the hardest thing to do. I bounced around segments such as Just FriendsThe Hard Way, and Gift of the Card, but in the end, settled on Game of Flags.

This story gives us a little more background into Star’s family (with both the Butterfly and Johansen clans), as well as their yearly game of ‘flags,’ which Star is eager to take part in.

We get some background and insight into how both sides of Star’s family seem to revel in a game that is pretty ridiculous. In the end, Star realizes this, and attempts to make a change to the family tradition.

Most notable in regards to this segment, is how we get to see some more of Moon Butterfly (aka Star’s Mom), being a little more attentive towards her daughter. Some additional information is revealed about Moon, AND, a positive reinforcement from mother to daughter, regarding some things that Star believes in.

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9. Friend-Enemies

When it came to seeing a full return of Star’s ex-boyfriend Tom, I don’t think anyone could have comprehended what this episode would be (well, aside from hundreds who assumed from the promo art, that the two were possibly going to embark on a love odyssey of fan-gasmic proportions!).

Instead, we get the two finding out that despite their dislike of certain things (and each other), they do find common ground on some things, such as their enjoyment of music by the group, Love Sentence.

We get some great music by Brian H Kim, as well as Nick Lachey doing vocals for the song, Awesome Feeling. And, we get Tom and Marco doing a duet, which I think elevated the story in some people’s eyes (and probably won voice actors Adam McArthur and Rider Strong some additional followers on Twitter!).

There’s also a sub-story in regards to a karate master Marco and Tom both like, and while it isn’t the strongest sub-story, where Friend-Enemies took it, was pretty satisfying (and humorous)!

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8. Ludo in the Wild

While Ludo has been a major fixture in Season 2, this story stands out, as an example that Season 2 was not going to be like the first season. Most notable, is that Star Butterfly is not actually part of the overall storyline!

The tone of the piece is almost like a nature documentary, as we see Ludo struggling in the aftermath of the end of Season 1, and how a discovery of his, will lead to even more dangerous things later on.

Despite being a pivotal story, Wild ranks lower in the Top 10, due to the somewhat repetitive nature, and Wile E Coyote style humor of the world just treating Ludo like a punching bag. However, as the story goes on, we see him fight back, and re-evaluate his direction in life.

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7. Fetch

I will admit, my first viewings of this story didn’t really do much for me. But as the season has gone on, it’s grown on me.

It’s a great character study, seeing how Star deals with a dog that won’t let go of her wand. We’ve seen her often being off-the-wall, but in this story, she tries to be logical with a few sub-characters, who get to be the weirdos in the story.

Marco also is pretty much the straight-man of the story, telling Star that she needs to resolve this problem on her own. There’s also an ‘Earth-world problems’ subplot for Marco, showing him trying to drink from a juice pouch.

Most notable in the segment, is a wonderful little piano bit near the end by Brian H Kim, that sounds eerily reminiscent of some Japanese dramas or emotional anime, as the story attempts to cross it’s final hurdle.

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6. Naysaya

Marco Diaz trying to get together with his crush Jackie Lynn Thomas, was like ‘catnip’ to me throughout the first season. When I found out this subplot would be continuing on in Season 2, I was eager for more stories of Marco working through his feelings.

Marco having to deal with the little Naysaya head that tells his most embarrassing secrets, is one story I couldn’t keep off here. The plot-point helps prove that once again, Marco Diaz is the kind of guy who can try to power through the worst of things, if he puts his mind to it.

Plus, we get Star being a caring friend and enthusiastic cheerleader, as she keeps trying to get her ‘bestie’ to ask out Jackie. Pretty much everytime Star was on-screen, I had a smile on my face.

Just like the story in Sleepover, we get a little more information on Jackie, though she’s still somewhat of a character enigma by the end of the piece. However, the final moment was one of my favorites, and is currently my iPhone’s lock-screen image.

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5. Sleepover

In some cases, this story could be seen as somewhat of a throwaway segment, but it has some nice bits buried deep within it’s structure.

The sleepover aspect, as well as dragging Marco into the festivities is rather fun. The typical ‘truth-or-dare’ game ramped up to the inter-dimensional game of “Truth or Punishment,” proves to be quite entertaining, even if at the end, it gets a bit weird.

However, what saves the storyline, is Marco finally admitting his feelings for Jackie, and, we get some further insight into Star’s feelings, as well as a rather interesting analysis of people’s emotions, and how they can change over time.

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4. Heinous

After her rather lackluster appearance in the season 2 segment Gift of the Card, I wondered if we’d get a proper episode with the former headmistress of St Olga’s Reform School for Wayward Princesses, and lo and behold, we got this!

This wasn’t quite what I was expecting for a full-return of Heinous (as well as her sidekick Gemini, who finally has his name revealed here!), but the storyline was one I was rather intrigued by.

Instead of an all-out brawl, Marco’s parents want him and Star, to find a compromise with Heinous, who has fallen on hard times after being cast out of St Olga’s. Rarely does one get a story where a non-violent compromise is attempted, and it’s resolution proves to be a well-done little surprise, with the return of “Princess Marco.”

There’s also a fun resolution to a money-based gag that has been heard throughout the season.

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3. Mr Candle Cares

I have a feeling many will discount this story, but to me, it was one of the first this season, that seemed to get a bit deep, in regards to relationships, and what the future could hold for the characters.

Most notable, was seeing Star get very quiet about realizing that no matter what she wants to do, she still has the duties of becoming a Queen hanging over her head.

There also is the reunion of Marco Diaz, and Tom, Star’s ex-boyfriend. Their small scene seems to play off as rather ‘boring,’ but I feel there’s some interesting revelations about the characters. Tom reveals his thoughts on Star, and Marco reveals his feelings about relationships and couplings (“You can’t make Star be your girlfriend, unless she wants to.”).

Humor isn’t very prevalent in this storyline, but the few moments that it does appear, are still some that are stuck in my head, months later.

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2. Spider with a Top Hat

Much like Ludo in the Wild, this segment also attempted to do something out of the ordinary.

We get to see where Star Butterfly’s myriad spells ‘live,’ and get the chance to shine a light on a character that seemed pretty insignificant.

This story may not be as entertaining for younger audiences, given how we see Spider and his cohorts dealing with their daily life of helping Star, as well as the question of, “what is my purpose in life?” That storytelling angle of playing to some of the ‘older’ viewers, was definitely noteworthy in my eyes, and made me feel that some of the writers may have brought some of their own life experiences to the table when storyboarding this one.

The ending has a pretty great payoff, though I find it’s smaller, character-driven moments with Spider with a Top Hat being emotional, helped propel this story up the chain.

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1. Running with Scissors

Yes yes, I know: my favorite 11-minute segment, and Star Butterfly isn’t the main character in it!

When Marco Diaz uses Star’s dimensional scissors, he meets up with Magic High Commission member Hekapoo, who gives him a task to get them back.

This was not just a fun and emotional storyline, but one that got incredibly mind-bending after awhile, managing to put weird and wild together, and come to a place I and many others, could probably never have fathomed!

As the story winds down, it ends up leaving us with plenty of questions, as well as some pretty heavy emotional scenes, underscored by some great music by Brian H Kim, which might be his most emotional piece so far for the series!

Sadly, it feels like the ending was quickly forgotten in stories going forward, but for a brief moment, Star vs the Forces of Evil, made me deeply ponder the ramifications and journey that Marco Diaz had just been on…one that the fans could surely speculate and build upon in fanfiction or discussions outside of the series!

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And there you have it: the 10 segments from season 2, that just really impressed me a great deal!

Keep in mind that this list is based on my tastes, and I’m sure there are some who didn’t see some of their faves make the list.

As always, would love to read in the comments what you Star fans think. Did anything match up? Was there a segment that you really enjoyed? Always up for a discussion on the series, as we wait impatiently for what season 3 has in store for Mewni, and possibly, Earth.

As stated in my previous Star-related article, I got a few other things I want to discuss about the season, and hopefully, I’ll have another article soon for you fans out there.

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Movie Musings: The Path to Darth Vader, buried within the Star Wars Prequels

To many, it seemed that the Star Wars prequels could be summed up in four words: George Lucas blew it.

However, in the years since the three films were released, and despite the neverending flogging from a very vocal (but usually online) fanbase, I often found myself still intrigued by what had been laid out before the public.

While many had high hopes of a film trilogy that would have shown Anakin Skywalker ‘hunting down and destroying Jedi,’ Lucas instead attempted to tell a story of how a giving and caring person, was corrupted into craving ultimate power.

Unlike a mere rehash of the films many knew and loved, the Prequels attempted to tell their own tale. Notable, was how Darth Sidious (under the guise of a Senator-turned Chancellor named Palpatine)  managed to not only bring down the Jedi Order, but coerce the Galactic Republic into giving him total control, and forming the Galactic Empire.

Of course, Sidious continued to play with the ‘rule of two,’ when it came to doctrine of the Sith: there would be only a Master, and an Apprentice.

Over the course of the three films, we’d see several of Palpatine’s apprentices rise and fall. One looked like a demonic bad-@$$, another was a Jedi who turned to the Dark Side, then a mechanically-aided alien creature, before Sidious finally set his sights on Anakin.

With Skywalker at his side, Palpatine could have had one of his most powerful apprentices ever. However, circumstances left him with a badly-wounded husk of a human being…one who was then transformed into an imposing dark presence, who became one of the most visually-distinctive figures in the Star Wars Universe.

While many were let down with Lucas’ depiction of the Jedi Council (a rather pompous lot whom had become lazy after a millennia of having no Sith to counteract), there was also some negativity bandied towards his depictions of the multiple Sith Apprentices as well.

Many fans were used to the general idea of there being a ‘constant’ apprentice to the Emperor, as it was in The Original Trilogy with Vader.

However, what some may not have considered (from a certain point-of-view), was that the three figures we see being loyal to Darth Sidious, might in fact, be considered as ‘puzzle pieces,’ that together, form Darth Vader.

In several making-of pieces, Lucas makes note of what he calls, ‘an echo.’ This is usually in reference to something we see, that will also come back later in some form.

The first time I recalled this word usage, was during a “webisode,” discussing the creation of General Grievous.

Lucas was adamant that the concept artists not ‘recreate Darth Vader,’ but was taken by an image that showed a metal creation, with organic eyes. This was the birth of Episode III‘s new bad guy.

His telling of how Grievous was “an echo of what Anakin is going to become,” started the wheels in my head to turn. Soon, I began to think deeper, about the apprentices to Darth Sidious.

This post, is the result of those thoughts. So, let’s see what I’ve dug up.

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Darth Maul

From the moment he was introduced visually to the public back in 1998, many eagerly clamored for more of Episode I’s Sith Apprentice.

His kicks and flips were one thing, but his tattooed visage and double-bladed lightsaber, quickly made him the ‘Boba Fett’ of the first prequel film. Many were eagerly snapping up toys of Maul, and speculating on just how he’d fit into the grand scheme of the new trilogy.

…and then he was cut down by Obi-Wan Kenobi, infuriating many! How could Lucas throw away what was (essentially) an awesome character, many wailed.

The truth is, George Lucas rarely goes for what’s ‘cool.’ This explains why fan-favorite character Boba Fett, was so easily dispatched in Return of the Jedi. To George, Fett had served his purpose, and there was no further reason for him to live on.

Of course, George’s vision was mere peanuts compared to the fans and the Star Wars Expanded Universe, that soon made Fett out to be ‘The Most Interesting Bounty Hunter in the Galaxy.’

When going over Maul’s appearance in The Phantom Menace, I soon thought I had figured out what Lucas was trying to do.

To me, it boiled down to a line that Luke Skywalker told the Emperor in Return of the Jedi: “Your over-confidence is your weakness.”

Maul is much the same way. He’s been trained by Sidious, and like a brash young upstart, he seems to think he can take on anything. With his whirling dervish moves, he feels his skills will give him the upper-hand in getting revenge on the Jedi.

Maul’s skills come into play when he stuns Qui-gon and take him out, but his over-confidence gets the better of him, when he revels in Obi-Wan hanging over the pit on Naboo.

Obi-Wan ended up getting the upper-hand against Maul, by jumping over him, and slicing him with Qui-Gon’s lightsaber.

This also serves as an ‘echo’ in Revenge of the Sith.

When Obi-Wan confronts Anakin on the planet Mustafar, Anakin is confident in his powers, and much like Maul, his moves are fast and vicious.

We also get an ‘echo’ to Obi-Wan in Menace, when Anakin attempts to jump over Obi-Wan. However, Obi-Wan has been in this situation before, and he knows what to expect (even cautioning Anakin not to do what he knows he’ll do).

Just like Darth Maul, Anakin’s over-confidence becomes his weakness, and Obi-Wan mortally-wounds his former apprentice, with a well-placed slice of his lightsaber.

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Count Dooku (aka Darth Tyrannus)

In Attack of the Clones, Count Dooku was revealed to be a former Jedi (and Master to Qui-Gon Jinn), who left the Jedi Order.

Word was that Dooku became disillusioned with the Order, and how it was conducting itself. It was briefly mentioned that Qui-gon himself was sometimes at odds with the Council, and these tendencies may have been instilled in him by his own Master.

It surprised the Jedi, when Dooku was soon mentioned as being a member of the Separatist Movement, which seemed intent to try and take control of the Galaxy, away from the Republic.

Just as Dooku found disillusionment with the Jedi, an ‘echo’ of this seemed to be mirrored in Anakin as the Prequels continued onward.

Anakin’s emotional turmoil is on display in Attack of the Clones, most notable in regards to the death of his mother, as well as his feelings for Padme Amidala. The monastic lifestyle of the Jedi began to clash with Anakin’s thinking, and as he tried to wrestle with those around him telling to let go of his emotions and feelings, he often found himself unable to do so.

We see more of Anakin’s disillusionment in Revenge of the Sith, when he is given a position on the council, though mainly out of obligation to the requests of Chancellor Palpatine. The Council does so at the request of Palpatine, but Anakin does not become a Master simply by sitting on it. Anakin in turn, is upset by this, but is further upset upon being given a secret request by Obi-Wan, to spy upon the Chancellor, at the Council’s request.

Being used to spy on the Chancellor feels like a further crumbling of Anakin’s faith in the Jedi Order, and he grows upset as well, when Padme asks him to speak directly with Palpatine. Because of his closeness to Palpatine, she requests he ask him to consider diplomacy against the Separatists, to end the war (“Don’t ask me to do that,” he snaps at her. “Make a motion in the Senate, where that kind of a request belongs!”).

I will admit when it comes to Dooku, there isn’t quite as much in regards to him, as he’s a bit less ‘confrontational’ than Maul or Grievous.

Even so, Dooku was powerful enough to channel Force lightning upon Anakin, while also maneuvering his own lightsaber, with an aire of grace and fluidity.

We also see, that he was not above playing mind games, even with the Jedi.

Notable is when he has Obi-Wan Kenobi captured on Geonosis.

At one point, Dooku tells Obi-Wan point-blank, that a Sith Lord is controlling the Galactic Senate.  Dooku even tries to use this information to turn Obi-wan, claiming the two of them can destroy the Sith. It could be that Dooku hoped that Obi-Wan’s loyalty to Qui-Gon could make him able to be turned, but Kenobi stays strong and refuses the offer (it almost ‘echoes’ Vader’s attempts to turn Luke in The Empire Strikes Back).

The information is later relayed to the Council, and rattles them slightly. Though they don’t wholly believe what has been told, they decide to keep a closer watch on the Senate.

This tactic of trying to turn good people to the Dark Side, is almost ‘echoed’ in Revenge of the Sith with Anakin. When he meets Padme on Mustafar, he tries to convince her that he is powerful enough to overcome Palpatine, and that this can pave the way for them to be happy. With Palpatine overthrown, Anakin claims that they can ‘rule the galaxy, and make things the way they want to be.’

Though just like Kenobi, Padme refuses to give in to this Sith Apprentice’s offerings of power.

Of course, Anakin’s confrontations with Dooku in Episodes II and III, resulted in dismemberment for the both of them.

Dooku cut off Anakin’s arm in Episode II, and in their next confrontation, Anakin cut off Dooku’s hands, and decapitated the former Jedi, at the behest of Palpatine.

One could almost see that moment, as Palpatine testing Skywalker, to see how loyal he could truly be. Though Anakin shows a slight remorse, Palpatine claims that his actions were justified (“He cut off your arm, and you wanted revenge,” says Palpatine).

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General Grievous


During the Clone Wars, Darth Sidious and Count Dooku employed an overseer for the Separatist’s Droid Army, in the form of General Grievous.

When first introduced in the Cartoon Network animated series in 2004, Grievous was seen as a cunningly-fast, and dangerous threat to the Jedi.

It was a far cry from his appearance in Revenge of the Sith though, where he seemed to be one of those villains who talked big, but then quickly ran away, shaking his fist at the “Jedi scum,” as he made his way to a new location (usually with a raspy cough).

Just like Maul and Tyrannus, Grievous also supplies a piece in the evolutionary puzzle of Darth Vader.

Whereas Maul shows how overconfidence can cloud a Sith’s judgement, and Dooku shows how a Jedi can be turned to the Dark Side via disillusionment, Grievous shows himself to be an early predecessor of a creature, kept alive via technology.

However, the mechanics are far from perfect, as seconds after he is introduced in Episode III, a raspy cough can be heard, a sign that the technology that Grievous is encased in, can’t cure all his ailments.

George Lucas has often been fascinated by the concept of man-and-technology, a theme that winds it’s way through his entire filmography.

Some could almost consider Grievous to be Vader’s predecessor. With his imposing height and appearance (at times looking like a living alien skeleton), let alone his threatening demeanor, the two almost seem cut from the same cloth.

While some criticize the rasping cough that accompanied the general in the film, it can be considered another ‘echo’ to the ‘creature/man-in-suit’ theme surrounding Vader.

The technology to save Grievous, is shown to have flaws, notably in how it cannot cure his cough. There is also the not-so-protective chest cavity, where his vital organs are stored. We see this flaw when Obi-Wan Kenobi manages to pry it open wide enough, to eventually fire a blaster, and cause the contents to catch fire, leading to the General’s death.

When it comes to Anakin, the cybernetic enhancements and the dark suit that he is encased in at the end of Episode III, are the final steps to erasing all traces of the former human being he once was. Plus, one assumes that since the Empire didn’t tell what had befallen Anakin (probably writing him off as another Jedi casualty), many never knew who was behind the imposing mask, and simply referred to him by the title of Darth Vader, as the Emperor requested.

I imagine some feel that my inclusion of Grievous here is somewhat of a ‘cheat,’ given that he was never a true apprentice to Darth Sidious. However, we did see in one scene, that Grievous was taking orders from Sidious (such as being told to move the Separatists to the planet Mustafar). Plus, he claimed that Dooku trained him in the Jedi Arts.

I feel that Grievous could be considered an unofficial apprentice for the first half of Episode III, after the death of Count Dooku. Shortly after Grievous is destroyed by Obi-Wan, that is when Anakin is given the title of Darth Vader, pledging himself to Palpatine’s teachings, and the Dark Side.

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Final Thoughts

When it came to the Prequels, George Lucas strove to make us question just who Darth Vader was.

Throughout the Original Trilogy, and the many years of advertising, Vader’s helmeted visage became an icon for the series. However, this was counter to what Lucas originally envisioned.

An example is in A New Hope. Whereas many thought it was Vader who was running much of the operations for the Empire, he was little more than an overseer to certain events, and little more than a lapdog/assistant to Grand Moff Tarkin, who was running the show on the Death Star (it was Tarkin after all, who ordered the destruction of Alderaan).

Throughout the years, many have often complained that Episode I’s storyline should have been excised. They claimed the story should have started with Anakin as a teenager, with him ‘falling’ in Episode II, and then in Episode III, there’d be images of him being totally evil, destroying Jedi left and right!

However, many fail to comprehend that most of what Obi-wan ‘fed’ Luke, were stories like the kind a Grandfather would tell his Grandchildren, about how the old days were so much better…but oftentimes, keeping out certain details. After all, most never realize that Obi-Wan (and later Yoda) pretty much lied to Luke about what really happened to his father, seemingly trying to set the young Skywalker up to murder his own father.

To many that grew up on the series, it was these little tidbits of background information, that fed our imagination, and made it hard to fathom the notions that this imposing dark figure, was once a Force-sensitive little boy, who would happily shout “Yippee!”

Despite the flaws of the prequels (yes, I will admit they aren’t perfect) there are some ideas and areas of interest in them, that still keep me thinking all these years later.

One of George Lucas’ strengths, are his thoughts and ideas. We see these played across in many of the films he’s not only directed, but also produced. Some times he hits the sweet spot, and other times, his visions clash with those of the viewers.

This is true of Vader’s big moment at the end of Episode III, after his new suit is completed. The scene is almost an ‘echo’ of the carbon-freezing scene in Empire Strikes Back, only instead of Han Solo encased in a carbonite block, Vader is now encased in his suit. A heavy metallic sound upon the table’s rotation, almost makes it seem like he is now forever ‘trapped,’ both physically and mentally, by what he has done, and what he has now become.

Of course, Lucas tries to make us feel sympathy for Vader, but he ends up somewhat ruining the mood, in a moment that became more cringe-inducing than emotional.

Even so, he’s given me plenty of ‘food for thought’ over the years, and this post is the results of some of it.

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Movie Review : Your Name (Kimi no na wa)

Rated PG for thematic elements, suggestive content, brief language, and smoking

As much as I may say a film’s story or it’s emotional aesthetic should be a litmus test for how good it is…sometimes, money does talk, and makes people like me take notice. Especially, if the films are animated, and not easily accessible within this country.

That was the case in 2001, when word came that Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, had become one of the most successful anime productions in Japan.

History seemed to repeat itself almost 15 years later when last year, word came of a new animated film, that was electrifying the Japanese box-office. Titled Your Name (or Kimi no na wa), it finally made it’s way to US shores this Spring, courtesy of Funimation Films.

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After watching a brightly-colored comet streak through the heavens, we find ourselves focusing on two teenagers: Mitsuha Miyamizu (Moni Kamishiraishi), and Taki Tachibana (Ryunosuke Kamiki).

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L to R: Taki Tachibana (Ryunosuke Kamiki), Mitsuha Miyamizu (Moni Kamishiraishi)

The two have never met, with Mitsuha living in a small village in Central Japan’s countryside, and Taki growing up amid the skyscrapers of Tokyo. However, over the course of several weeks, circumstances will bring them together, in the most unbelievable ways.

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Writer/director Makoto Shinkai is quick to thrust us into a story where it soon becomes apparent, that we’ll need to use our brains, in order to decipher just what is going on in the lives of our two main leads.

It is notable how we also see a contrast in the lives of these two teenagers. While Taki is used to the big city, Mitsuha looks upon it with wonder, as she comes from a village where a dentist office or even a cafe are non-existent. Plus, we even see how the cost of living differs between them (a meal in a Tokyo cafe, costs as much as she could spend on a month’s worth of food in her village!).

The filmmakers also attempt to add in some risque humor in a few instances. While they don’t turn the film into an overtly-sexual teen romp, a recurring joke in regards to Mitsuha, feels like they should have stopped after the first few times.

There are also some nice little instances of ‘body language’ added to the animation, and some minor storypoints in regards to pronunciation of certain words. I will admit, this kind of stuff might go over better with the original Japanese viewers (I can only wonder how the little verbal differences were handled in the English dub, as I preferred seeing the film with it’s original Japanese dialogue).

The film also dabbles in thoughts regarding the spiritual realm, as well as the world of dreams. The concept of ‘memory,’ also becomes an underlying layer as the film progresses as well.

A number of people online, have also compared this film to some of the works of Hayao Miyazaki. However, I think such comparisons are mainly in regards to the rendered environments we see throughout the film.

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Make no mistake: the imagery in this film has the kind of detail that, like in a Ghibli film, you’ll want to fall into and just immerse yourself in.

Though Shinkai based the film’s screenplay off of his originally-published story, I am curious as to the embellishments he may have made. Unfortunately for the flow of the film, it feels like he tends to overdo the use of visuals in a few areas.

Most striking to me, is how he gives the film an intro, almost reminiscent of the manic types of openings one would normally find in an anime television series. It shows us our main characters, before their more ‘looser’ introduction within the story of the film, when we could get a better chance to start getting to know them.

Plus, we get a small music video-style montage 1/4 of the way through the film. I will admit to getting caught up in the catchy music of the soundtrack’s band Radwimps (yes, you read that right), but it feels like this bit seems to stop the film cold for a few minutes.

Of course, most surprising was that almost halfway through the film, one assumes it will zig in a usual manner, but instead, zags in a most surprising way.

 

There are also a few areas, where we are given a lot of information, but it almost becomes a bit too much. Some scenes felt like a muddled sensory overload of information, when a less-is-more approach probably could have made them ‘read’ as more emotional.

As I watched the film, I found myself sitting upright in rapt attention for some parts, but most surprisingly, the emotional resonance of some scenes, just wasn’t sucking me in. I think this is one of the director’s faults when it comes to the execution of the film: at times, it feels a bit too ‘clinical,’ in trying to be ’emotional.’

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While some are apt to think of references to Studio Ghibli, Your Name’s tone and atmosphere, reminded me a bit of the works of author Haruki Murakami, as well as an anime titled, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. There’s also a South Korean film from 2000 that I’d throw in as a reference too, but if I did, I might release a major spoiler.

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Final Grade: B (Final Summary: “Your Name” gives us a science fiction/romance/comedy, that manages to do it’s own thing, and takes it’s storytelling to places that are not as pedestrian as  most animated teenage love stories. However, it feels like writer/director Makoto Shinkai could have tightened up his story in certain places. Some of his uses for visuals gets a bit too over-the-top in places, and a few gags that may have been funny in a smaller dose, are milked a bit too long in other places. However, some character-building scenes and the film’s stunning imagery, will probably overwhelm even the most jaded of audience members.)