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Retro Recaps: The Simpsons (Season 6, Episode 5) – Sideshow Bob Roberts

Along with it’s introspection and sometimes humorous observations on topics like religion over the years, The Simpsons’ writers also had no problems skewering a common, everyday thing that many adults often find themselves wrapped up in: Politics.

Whether it was aliens Kang and Kodos invading Earth during an election year, or Homer rallying Springfield’s brainless slobs with a bunch of crazy promises, they often found ways to think up the most ridiculous political concepts that today, seem to have become (terrifyingly) prescient!

Most often say that when it comes to political figures, they want someone that is honest, has integrity, and will lead by good example. Sadly, that doesn’t usually happen to be the case most of the time. In the season 6 episode Sideshow Bob Roberts, the writers not only brought back an entertaining supporting character, but spun a story about how the manipulation of facts and truth, could make people vote for a man against their basic principles.

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As the show opens, we find Homer and a number of other people in Springfield, listening to Conservative talk show host, Birch Barlow.

SideshowBob-1Barlow quickly begins checking off a number of constants that Springfield seems unable to do anything about, including it’s 6-term Mayor, Diamond Joe Quimby.

Barlow claims that a bunch of ‘tie-dyed tree-huggers’ are to blame for the town’s ‘Quimby Quagmire,’ and that the time supporting the Mayor, could be better spent ‘locking up the homeless.’

Later on that day, Homer and Lisa are out for a drive and listening to Barlow (mainly at the insistence of Homer). Barlow soon begins taking calls, and a man named Bob calls in.

“Thanks for putting the ‘public’ back in the Republican Party,” cites Bob. “It’s time people realized we conservatives aren’t all Johnny Hatemongers and Charlie Bible-Thumps or even, God forbid, George Bushes.”

The deep tone of the caller’s voice suddenly hits Lisa, and she realizes that Birch is talking to Sideshow Bob!SideshowBob-2

Sometime afterward, we see Mayor Quimby visiting the Springfield Retirement Castle, trying to get the Seniors there (including Grandpa Simpson) to support his new expressway plan. Naturally, the Seniors won’t support such a proposal, unless there’s something in it for them. Upon hearing about what they like, the Mayor suggests calling it The Matlock Expressway, and the Seniors quickly warm to the proposal.

We then hear Bob call back to Birch’s show, and claim that he was falsely imprisoned (“‘attempted murder,'” sneers Bob over the phone, “now honestly, did they ever give anyone a Nobel prize for ‘attempted chemistry?'”).

Barlow claims that this is another example of liberal bias against intelligent conservatives, and incites a number of his local listeners to protest for Bob’s release.

Mayor Quimby is soon overwhelmed by protesters, and wanting to avoid further negativity from his constituents, fully pardons Bob.

SideshowBob-3We then cut to a meeting at the Republican Party Headquarters (held in an ancient castle!). With the Springfield mayoral election coming up, a number of the party’s local members (including Mr Burns, Birch Barlow, and even actor Ramier Wolfcastle!), are seeking a proper opponent for Quimby.

“We need a candidate with name-recognition and media savvy,” says Mr Burns. “A true leader…who will do exactly as he’s told!”

It is then that Birch introduces everyone to Bob, with Ramier Wolfcastle claiming that he ‘likes the human touch’ that Bob brings to the group.

After Bob is confirmed as a viable candidate, he and Mayor Quimby do a press appearance with the kids at Springfield Elementary, concerning education. However, Bob puts on a show attempting to make Quimby look incompetent, and most of the kids just eat up his act.

Bart and Lisa attempt to steer attention towards Quimby, claiming they heard him say that ‘kids are the most important natural resource we have.’

“Even more important than coal?” questions news-anchor Kent Brockman.

SideshowBob-4Seconds after the ‘publicity stunt,’ Bart is thrown into a limo with Bob and some henchmen, and whisked away.

“Oh, that was a big mistake, Bart,” growls Bob. “No children have ever meddled with the Republican Party and lived to tell about it.”

It looks like Bob may have Bart eliminated right then-and-there, but his men simply put ‘Vote Bob’ paraphernalia on him, and return him to the Simpsons’ home.

Even with the threat of Bob possibly coming after him, Bart works with Lisa to help Mayor Quimby’s election, despite Quimby’s own rickety track-record.

“This time, he’s the lesser of two evils,” says Lisa, as they attempt to hand out bumper stickers and pins.

Just like Quimby, Bob also attempts to win over the Seniors at the Retirement Castle. He sweetens the Matlock Expressway deal, promising to build it, AND, spend the afternoon listening to the Seniors’ ‘interminable anecdotes’ (a move he quickly regrets).

SideshowBob-5Next, Bob and Quimby have a televised debate. While Bob seems confident, Quimby has caught a cold and has taken medication to combat it. However, his unkempt appearance and drowsy demeanor, makes the effervescent Bob quickly win over the audience.

When it comes time to vote on the candidates, some are willing to forgive some of Bob’s more glaring crimes.

“I don’t approve of his Bart-killing policy,” notes Homer. “But I do approve of his Selma-killing policy.”

“Well, he framed me for armed robbery,” thinks Krusty, “But man, I’m achin’ for that upper-class tax cut.”

Final election results are soon released on the local news, showing Bob winning 99% of the votes, and Quimby just 1% (“and we remind you there is a one-percent margin of error,” adds Kent Brockman).SideshowBob-6

After he wins, Bob makes good on (quickly) fulfilling his promise to build the Matlock Expressway…which is re-routed to go right through where the Simpsons’ house is, with Bob giving the family 72 hours to vacate.

Bart is also affected by the election, when Bob has him sent back to kindergarten (much to the delight of Mrs Krabappel).

As the family faces the loss of their home, Lisa begins to question the final election results.

“I can’t believe a convicted felon would get so many votes, and another convicted felon would get so few,” she thinks aloud.

Going to the Hall of Records, Lisa pores over the election results, but soon falls asleep. When she wakes up, she finds a letter telling her to go to a parking garage that evening.

Lisa brings Bart along, and the two come across a shadowy figure, who refuses to reveal who he is….until Homer turns on the car’s headlights, revealing the secret informant to be Mr Smithers!

SideshowBob-7The Simpsons then drive Smithers home. On the way, he mentions his misgiving about some of Sideshow Bob’s ‘ultra-conservative views,’ claiming they ‘clash with his choice of lifestyle.’

Wanting to help, he tells them to look for the name, Edgar Neubauer.

The kids check the phone books and the public library, but find no trace of Edgar. However, they are soon surprised when Bart sees the name on a tombstone in the local cemetery.

“Oh my God,” he exclaims. “The dead have risen and are voting Republican!”

Lisa tells Bart that in truth, Bob most likely solidified his win by rigging the election, and having a number of dead persons vote for him.SideshowBob-9

The list even uses names from the local Pet Cemetery…including Lisa’s dead cat, Snowball 1!

“Alright Bob,” she angrily cries out. “Now it’s personal!”

“Hey! He did try to kill me,” notes Bart.

With the information the two have obtained, Bob is put on trial, but attorney Lionel Hutz seems unable to get Bob to confess.

Lisa and Bart then step forward. Playing to Bob’s ego, Lisa claims that Bob was nothing more than a pawn in a scheme, run by Birch Barlow.

Bob’s hubris gets the better of him, and his calm demeanor breaks! He confesses to not only rigging the election, but also provides documents (that he conveniently carried in with him!) that tell of his plans.

“But why?” asks the judge, looking over the files.

SideshowBob-8“Because you need me, Springfield,” says Bob, grandstanding before the jury and the rest of the courtroom. “Your guilty conscience may tell you to vote Democratic…but deep down, you long for a hard-nosed Republican to raise taxes, brutalize criminals, and rule you like a king. That’s why I did it: to save you from yourselves! Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a city to run.”

However, Bob’s verbal outrage is enough to have him placed under arrest, and Quimby wins the election by default.

This also means construction on the Matlock Expressway is halted, sparing the Simpsons’ home (but angering the seniors at the Retirement Castle). Bart is also returned to the fourth grade.

As Bob reads the headlines, he vows to escape from his prison…which should be relatively easy, since he’s been placed in the Springfield Minimum Security Prison. Unlike a regular prison, it has no no fences, and it’s own rowing team of Ivy League educated prisoners.

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Sideshow Bob Roberts marked Bob’s third major appearance on the show, and seemed to cement him as a constant thorn in Bart Simpson’s side, as each new season was rolled out.

Given the political nature of the episode, the show writers really play around with the absurdity of campaigns. In one television ad, a narrator tells how Mayor Quimby let Sideshow Bob out of prison, before telling the viewers to vote for Bob.

Even back in the early 1990’s, I and a lot of other people were often surprised when the show would poke fun at it’s own network.

This comes across during a debate, hosted by Larry King (voicing himself).

“Even though we’re being broadcast on…Fox,” he grumbles, “there’s no need for obnoxious hooting and hollering.”

And just like telling a child ‘not to do something,’ the audience takes the warning and just completely ignores it.

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The top scene from All the President’s Men, inspired the homage in The Simpsons.

The Simpsons was often known for making film and pop-culture references in their episodes, and with this one, they also made reference to a real-world event.

The investigation into Bob’s rigging of the system, is largely inspired by the Watergate Scandal, which was exposed by Washington Post writers Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein (Lisa even mentions them by name in the episode). Their work was shown in the film All the President’s Men, and several scenes in the episode mimic ones from that film. Even two of Bob’s henchmen that are constantly seen by his side, are based on Nixon staff members at the time: John Ehrlichman, and H.R. Haldeman.

The episode’s title is also a reference to a film from 1992, titled Bob Roberts.

SideshowBob-11Tim Robbins wrote, directed, and starred as that film’s title character: a conservative who sings folk songs, and attempts to run for public office in Pennsylvania. However, he seems to be hiding a number of political secrets, let alone trying to slip subversive messages into his numerous public song performances. At one point, he even goes on a popular late-night television show, and goes off-script to deliver his own message.

There are also references to Citizen Kane, A Few Good Men, the Kennedy/Nixon debate of 1960, and strangest of all: Archie Comics!

The Archie reference really has nothing to do with the overall political scope of the episode. We first see several of the characters dump Homer on the front lawn, and warning him toSideshowBob-12 “stay out of Riverdale.” This is later followed by a scene of Homer angrily reading an issue of Archie, while Bart and Lisa meet their mysterious informant.

Why the writers included this reference in the story…I’ve never been able to figure out.

Word was at the time of the episode’s release in October of 1994, a number of Conservative persons felt the show was painting them in a very negative light. Even so, it is noted on the audio commentary included on the Season 6 DVD, that the writers claim that the episode pokes fun at many across the political spectrum.

It is notable that at the time of the commentary recording in 2005, several of the writers felt certain elements of the episode seemed to feel very similar to the political climate at that time.

I guess it’s the sad truth about politics: As much as people want things to change, it’s a neverending struggle to make things better for people.

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An Animated Dissection: The Reluctant Villainess Sadira, from Disney’s “Aladdin”

When it came to films released in the early 1990’s from Walt Disney Pictures, the studio really seemed to look at their 1992 feature film Aladdin as a major cash-cow.

Following it’s release in the winter of 1992, the film became the first animated feature to gross over $200 million at the domestic box-office (largely buoyed on by Robin Williams’ supporting role as the Genie of the lamp).

The studio had had some success expanding on The Little Mermaid in television form (albeit set before the events of the film), and seemed to think they could have similar luck with Aladdin. And so, in the fall of 1994, the film’s characters found themselves appearing in the company’s new television series!

New locales were introduced, as well as a host of new characters. In terms of villains for the series, most seemed pretty set in their ways, except one: a young woman named Sadira.

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Much like Aladdin’s introduction in the 1992 film, the character of Sadira is first seen evading Razoul and the Palace Guards in her introductory episode, Strike up the Sand.

Sadira-1Seeing her leaping and jumping to evade the guards, Aladdin sees a kindred spirit in the girl, and steps forward to cover for her. Unluckily for Al, his kindness and good looks instantly cause Sadira to develop a crush on him. However, she is soon saddened to hear that she has just been saved by Princess Jasmine’s future husband.

Sometime later, Sadira accidentally stumbles onto a hidden chamber under the city. The abandoned locale turns out to be the inner sanctum, of the long-forgotten Witches of the Sand. After going through a number of magic scrolls in the sanctum, Sadira soon gets to work learning the ancient magic, and thinks it can get her what she desires most.

Sadira-2Using a magical amulet, she conjures up a sand creature and commands it to bring Jasmine to her. it is notable that the sand creature tells Sadira that he could easily ‘smash’ Jasmine (destroying things brings him much joy!), but Sadira refuses to allow this, showing she is not as vengeful as her creation.

We soon see Sadira hasn’t fully thought through her magical actions. Once she has Jasmine kidnapped, Aladdin and the others show up, and the sand creature wants to smash them as well. Sadira isn’t sure what to do, leading to the creature getting angry at her indecisiveness, and taking the amulet away from her. Without Sadira’s control, it sets out to finish them all off.

Needless to say, Sadira feels remorse for getting everyone caught up in this mess, but Aladdin helps them formulate a plan to get back the amulet. Once it is destroyed and the sand creature disintegrates, Sadira apologizes for her actions.Sadira-3

Aladdin claims that while he likes her, his real love is for Jasmine. Jasmine even shows a willingness to forgive Sadira, and invites her to come to the Palace. However, the young woman declines, claiming she wants some time to be alone.

After they leave, she looks through some more sand-magic scrolls, and finds one about ‘shifting the sands of time,’ proving that she still harbors thoughts to try and snare Aladdin.

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Shortly after her introductory episode, Sadira attempted to get Aladdin again…this time, with a more intriguing sand spell.

Sadira-5In the episode Sandswitch, she uses a special “memory sand,” allowing her to switch places with Jasmine, making everyone believe Sadira to be the Princess of Agrabah, and Jasmine a lowly ‘street rat.’ However, the spell only works on Genie and the humans of the city, leaving Iago, Abu, and Rajah as the only ones who realize what’s happened.

It is notable that even though she is again trying to fulfill her own wants and desires, Sadira continues to not be totally vindictive towards others. When she realizes Rajah did not fall under the sand spell, she decides to use some magic on him, but apologizes for what she is trying to do. Fortunately for Jasmine’s pet tiger, Abu and Iago help him to escape.

Sadira-6There’s even a little ‘continuity payback’ Sadira gets, when it comes to the head of the Royal Guards, named Razoul.  In Strike up the Sand, Razoul was leading the guards in trying to capture her. Here, he is made to bow and give in to her demands. They also make a joke about his name, as Sadira keeps confusing it with other things that sound familiar to it.

In the end, Aladdin and Jasmine’s love is strong enough to break Sadira’s spell. However, even though she’d been thwarted a second time, she wasn’t ready to give up just yet.

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Sadira next appeared in the episode, Dune Quixote.

Running into Aladdin in the marketplace again, she invites him back to her place for some pomegranate juice. Aladdin tries to politely decline, but when Sadira claims that Jasmine “has him on a short leash,” Aladdin won’t let this slap against his masculinity stand!

Sadira-7Once at her place, Sadira quickly puts Aladdin under a sand-spell, wherein she makes him believe he is a Dragon Slayer, who must ride forth to vanquish a dragon, rescue his beloved Princess, and give her a kiss.

However, before Sadira can finish her spell (with her as the beautiful princess in the story), Jasmine and the others show up to stop her. Despite Genie’s protests, Jasmine has him use his ‘genie-magic’ to stop Sadira’s ‘sand-magic.’ This altercation messes up the spell, leaving Abu trapped as a monkey-type horse, and Aladdin still believing he has to slay a dragon.

Sadira claims that because of the spell, the final parts of the story have to play out, which means Aladdin has to slay a dragon and kiss her. Jasmine doesn’t believe her, but thanks to his magical knowledge, Genie confirms that Sadira is correct.

Sadira-8As the story goes on, we see Sadira and Jasmine put aside their animosity towards each other, and try to get Aladdin and Abu back to normal. With Genie’s help, they manage to whip up a false dragon, and upon ‘defeating it,’ Aladdin kisses Sadira (much to Jasmine’s ire).

Once everything is fixed, Sadira apologizes to Jasmine for how she has acted, and it seems she is willing to give up on her obsession over Aladdin.

The episode ends with the two girls going off to peruse the marketplace, leaving Aladdin confused as to why he kissed Sadira (with Iago eager to spill the beans!).

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Now that it seemed that Sadira had given up her obsession with Aladdin, the show’s main cast (almost) seemed willing to hang out with her.

Sadira-9This is revealed in the episode, Witch Way Did She Go. However, while Jasmine seems to believe Sadira has changed, Iago and Aladdin still have some doubts about her. Things don’t get better when Sadira serves her friends some soup, and her sub-par cooking skills accidentally turn Iago into an hourglass.

The spell eventually wears off, but the group grows more suspicious when a large sand snake menaces Iago and Abu!

Sadira is immediately the prime suspect, but Jasmine rushes to her defense. Unfortunately, her attempts to explain why the others suspect Sadira, ends up sounding like she’s accusing Sadira.

Sadira-10Angered at being accused, Sadira storms out of the palace and returns to her sanctum, only to find three ancient sand witches there (the ones who conjured the snake). The trio (Shakata, Razili, and Farida) have returned to their former home from The Realm of Mists, and are intent on taking control of Agrabah, and the Seven Deserts!

They attempt to get her to help them, but Sadira rushes back to the palace, to warn the others. Unfortunately, she overhears them once again claiming she’s bad, and returns to the witches, seemingly willing to help them take over the kingdom.

The others return to Sadira’s place (intending to apologize), but find the witches at work! Surprisingly, Sadira stops them from attacking the trio. After a scuffle that almost stops the witches, Sadira recommends that Aladdin and his friends be banished to the Realm of Mists.

The three witches open a portal to the ancient realm, but Sadira attempts to double-cross them! Razili and Farida end up being shoved in easily, but Shakata grabs hold of Sadira, attempting to drag her down with them!

Sadira-11Aladdin and the others rush to her aid, but Sadira falls into the mists below, and the pit disappears!

Everyone feels remorse for ever doubting Sadira…but a few moments later, she manages to escape, sealing off the witches for good! The others quickly embrace her, and it seems all traces of doubt about her character are gone.

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After Witch Way Did She Go, Sadira never appeared again on the series. However, like many characters in the show, she was given a small ‘curtain call’ appearance in 1996’s direct-to-video film, Aladdin and the King of Thieves.

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During the scene where Aladdin and Jasmine walk past a number of guests, one can see Sadira dressed in pink (see screenshot above).

While her character was not as memorable as the show’s more villainous characters like Mozenrath or Mirage, Sadira was definitely noticeable for being a very “gray-area” character.

Most of the time, she did things out of selfish desire, but it was interesting to see that she still held some moral principles. A good example is that she could have had Jasmine offed in one episode, but she was never that vindictive.

My guess is that after four episodes, the showrunners felt there was little more they could do with her, story-wise. It did feel like three episodes was enough for them to play out the “magical stalker” characterization (I’ve seen some anime series that would gladly stretch that type of character arc out over multiple seasons).

sadira-13Over the years, I have questioned the scene where she falls into the Realm of Mists, wondering if they had originally meant for her to “disappear” from the series forever in this manner. It would have been a very dramatic end, given the others realizing how wrong they were to judge her as they did. Plus, in several episodes, the showrunners actually did have a few characters die!

Sadira’s storylines also expanded on the series’ ‘lore,’ by introducing ‘sand-magic.’ What Genie can do was soon classified as ‘genie-magic,’ and it was soon established that to mix the two magic-types, was very dangerous (as demonstrated in Dune Quixote).

sadira-14Unlike Linda Larkin’s more ‘regal’ vocal tones as Jasmine, Sadira’s voice had a more bubbly, all-American girl vibe, courtesy of actress Kellie Martin (see right).

Most probably know Martin’s voice work from A Goofy Movie, where she voiced Max’s crush, Roxanne. She brings a bit of that tone to Sadira, but she gets to play a wider range of emotions as Sadira.

Of course, Sadira wasn’t the first reluctant villain the studio created. There was also the character of Bushroot in the Darkwing Duck TV series. After being turned into a plant-duck hybrid, Bushroot would sometimes be involved in evil schemes, but most of the time, he just wanted a friend, or to be accepted.

By the end of Aladdin, it seemed being accepted was all Sadira wanted as well. It is a shame that they never found a way to bring her back and assist the group with her sand-magic on another adventure.

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Book Review: Star Vs. the Forces of Evil The Magic Book of Spells

While I am a huge fan of behind-the-scenes material and making-of books, I’m also a big fan of things that are meant to be materials from a series or show (that is, if the items are done right).

With the television series Star vs the Forces of Evil, creator Daron Nefcy and some of her associates, first attempted to give their fans a “tangible” item the year 2017, with Star and Marco’s Guide to Mastering All Dimensions. The book provided some insights by Princess Star Butterfly and her friends, along with some tidbits regarding Star’s Magic Book of Spells.

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Scene from the book’s first appearance in the Star vs the Forces of Evil segment, Monster Arm.

Introduced in the show’s first season, the book of spells has been handed down through generations of Mewni Princesses and Queens. It was a place where they could put down some of their own thoughts, and provide information about new magic spells they had come up with.

Also contained within the book, is a little blue man named Glossaryck of Terms. One would assume that he would be there almost like a helper, but most of the time, all he seemed to do (according to Marco Diaz),  was “spout cryptic remarks and eat pudding.”

Though it is not-to-scale or as thick as the version seen on the show, Daron Nefcy, Dominic Bisignano, Amber Benson, and Devin Taylor have attempted to create a version of the book that reveals more about Mewni’s past…well, as much as is recorded by the women who ruled over the kingdom.

The main focus overall, is on the numerous princesses and queens that have come before Star Butterfly.  Up until now, we only had a few names revealed to us from the television show, but this book quickly fills us in on the others we were less privy to.

Like many royal lines lines in our realm,  Mewni’s has some interesting rulers, and a few “duds” here and there. Some of the entries are real page-turners, and others made my head droop as I struggled to stay interested. The book also gives information on several spells Star Butterfly has used, and just who in her past lineage, created them.

On the show, it was mentioned that the inside of the book is “a complete disorganized mess.” Of course, when dealing with a book for people to read from cover-to-cover in our dimension, it probably was made clear to Nefcy and her crew that there would need to be some semblance of order. However, the book does stick to it’s television counterpart, by having the table of contents in the center.

For those like me who were intrigued by the strange culture of Mewni, there was one thing I was hoping the book would finally do: blow the lid off of the strange symbols we’ve seen all throughout the kingdon on television.

While the book does not provide us with a Mewni-to-English alphabet, it does give enough information to allow the more astute readers, to decipher the symbols if they look through the book enough (or, just go online and find the people who have already figured it out!).

That ability for the readers to also interact with the book, seems to be something that creator Daron Nefcy prizes greatly. There was a bit of this in the last Star book she did, but here, that reader/book interaction is on display in a number of ways.

Readers are encouraged to cut out a few things here and there. Plus, it is assumed that the reader is now the book’s new owner, and is encouraged to personalize it, along with designing what their magic wand looks like, and creating their own log and spells.

The Book of Spells at over 256 pages, is almost on par with another show-oriented book that Disney Press released several years ago: Journal 3 from the hit television series, Gravity Falls.

Much like that book, Spells manages to take a tome that is well-known to the show’s viewers, and add some things that the die-hard fans are yearning to know about, as well as be an intriguing find, or a gateway to those who may not have heard of the series.

Personally, I was hoping for a bit more information written in the book from the numerous owners. At times, it feels like some sections were truncated due to the page-count.

Even so, I do feel that most fans of Star vs the Forces of Evil will enjoy what Disney Press has put out, and may bring in some new fans, who happen to come across the book.

 

Book Review: The Art and Making of Pacific Rim – Uprising

In 2013, filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro released Pacific Rim, his ode to Japanese monster-movies. Five years later, director Steven S DeKnight would continue the film’s story, with Pacific Rim: Uprising.

Taking place ten years after the first film, Uprising showed us a world that has been altered in many ways by the former Kaiju invasions. The once-in-jeopardy Jaeger program has been reborn, upgraded to newer models, and standing by in case of another possible invasion.

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Concept art showing Pacific Rim: Uprising’s new fleet of Jaegers. From L to R: Titan Redeemer, Guardian Bravo, Gipsy Avenger, and Sabre Athena.

However, there is also a threat from the corporate world, as China’s Shao Industries, looks to streamline (and possibly privatize) the Jaeger program.

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Over the years, the publisher Insight Editions has handled a number of behind-the-scenes books for Del Toro’s films, and they have continued to provide their services with this book as well.

These days, there are often a lot of things going on in some films, that it’s on-screen characters don’t have time to explain or point out. This has led to publication/tie-ins in the form of prequel comic books or accompanying publications, which to someone like me, can be seen as a bit much (most of the time, I just want to walk in and see the film). However, I am often moreso intrigued about the development and design process, that brings to life the images on-screen.

With this book, author Daniel Wallace manages to not only shed some light on the development process of the film, but provide plenty of additional pieces of information from those who worked on the film as well. We get everything from actors telling about their audition process, to the sound effects crew talking about how they came up with specific audio experiences you will now think twice about.

Reading books like these, I’m often surprised how I come away finding out information about the design process, that I didn’t consider. A good example is that the coloration of the numerous Jaeger models we see, are tied into certain protective units or branches in our society.

A good example is a Jaeger named November Ayjax, whose duty is to patrol along the war-ravaged Los Angeles Coastline. The coloration of the Jaeger is blue, tying into the theme of it being like a Police Officer for the area, “keeping the peace.”

I was also pleased at the over-abundance of different concept and design examples throughout. A prime example is in the design of Gipsy Avenger’s head. There are quite a number of iterations, and it feels like what we see in the book, are only a fraction of them. That ability for the book to provide a great number of visual concepts, made me eager to keep turning pages, let alone going back to review them once I had finished it.

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Some of the many iterations of Gipsy Avenger’s head design.

One concept that Insight Editions has used in a number of their books, is the inclusion of a number of removable, extra materials in their books.

For this book, they include everything from a collection of storyboard images, to Newton Geiszler’s (aka Charlie Day) Kaiju tattoo designs. While these are nice little additions to the overall book, I have felt that the company’s inclusion of these items affixed to the various pages gives them a greater chance of being lost. Personally, I feel they could have been included in a large envelope at the end of the book (maybe with a rubber-stamped “Classified Shatterdome Information” title across the front of the envelope!).

What I was most surprised about, was that while the book does give us insight into parts of the film, they also held back on revealing some major plot-points. I’ve often been apprehensive of some making-of books ruining everything about a film, but this one has just enough information to keep the overall story, a mystery. For the record, there are some images that do tie into some of the plot-twists, but they are never called out for the reader.

Earlier this year, I was eager to get my hands on another Insight Editions tome: The Art of Ready Player One. However, while that book gave me plenty of information, I felt it didn’t answer as many of the questions I had regarding it’s visual design/development phase. In contrast, The Art and Making of Pacific Rim: Uprising ended up feeling like a much more satisfying read. For those that enjoyed Pacific Rim: Uprising, this is definitely a fitting companion book, and one of the more well-compiled reads I’ve encountered in awhile that connects to a feature-length film.

Movie Review: Summer of 84

(This film is Not Rated)

Once upon a time, the suburban landscape was seen as the next safe bastion of modern society, beyond the seediness and crime of the city.

Soon, it seemed that the well-manicured lawns and the gable-roofed dwellings, were little more than false-fronts to unspeakable terror.

In the 80’s, there were a number of films that explored what might be hiding behind the locked doors, with films like Fright Night and The Burbs showing normality being invaded by the abnormal.

In Summer of 84, the directing trio behind the cult-favorite film Turbo Kid, move their 80’s-era focus out of the action genre, and into the territory of suspense.

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In Ipswitch, Oregon, 15-year-old Davey Armstrong (Graham Verchere), is spending his summer vacation delivering newspapers, hanging out with his best friends, and lusting after the neighborhood hottie, Nikki (played by Tiera Skovebye). However, the lazy summer mood is soon broken, when word comes that a serial killer is on the loose, and a number of boys in the area begin to turn up missing.

A fan of mysteries and unexplained events, Davey soon believes he has the perfect suspect: his next-door-neighbor, Wayne Mackey (Rich Sommer). This seems strange to his friends, as Mackey is a local Police Officer that has lived in their neighborhood for years, but Davey is determined to solve this summer mystery, with or without them.

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When it comes to retro-laced media, we seem to be living in an era that is currently set on idolizing the world of 30 years ago. In the last few years, we’ve seen shows like Stranger Things and film adaptations like It, plunge their youthful protagonists into a familiar-yet-frightful world.

Unlike those recent pop-culture hits, Summer of 84 has no supernatural elements to be found, or multiple plot layers to pick through. The story strives for something a bit simpler in it’s execution, with much of the time focused on the main kids.

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L to R: Dale Woodworth (Caleb Emery), Davey Armstrong (Graham Verchere), Curtis Farraday (Cory Gruter-Andrew), Tommy Eaton (Judah Lewis)

Along for the ride with Davey, are Dale Woodworth (Caleb Emery), Tommy Eaton (Judah Lewis), and Curtis Farraday (Cory Gruter-Andrew). While the film starts out feeling like it’s just going to be these four talking trash to each other and oogling skin-mags for a majority of time, it surprisingly manages to open up a bit more, and reveal a bit more about who a few of them really are.

I was also surprised to find that there were also a fair amount of jump-scares that actually end up working in the film’s favor (with some of them getting quite creative). The filmmakers definitely use an impressive sleight-of-hand trick to make them work.

While the strange, outlandish wasteland of Turbo Kid seemed open for unquestioning acceptance of that story’s world, there are quite a number of areas in Summer of 84 that had me questioning some of the film’s logic that the directors use.

A good example would be that while we see headlines about a number of young boys disappearing in the Ipswitch area, we never get any indication that the parents or local authorities are that concerned for their kids. Several times we see the four boys and some other non-descript neighbor kids playing a game at night, and yet there’s never a call for a curfew.

There also are some uneven bumps in the road regarding Davey’s crush (and former babysitter), Nikki. Originally seen as an object of desire, the film soon throws her in as an unofficial member of the boy’s investigative group (kind of like how Andy and Steff became unofficial Goonies), but some of the ways the story has her pop up in certain areas seems a bit odd. It almost feels like some added backstory on Nikki could have made her character a bit more acceptable in some scenarios.

Much of the film’s tone almost seems to meander along, until it gets to it’s third act. It is here that it felt like the audience I was with, was suddenly jolted awake by what we were seeing. The suckerpunch end scenes of the film are definitely something that is still seared into my brain, but I did wish that the film could have given us a few more moments during the story, that made us sit-up and take notice a bit more.

Summer of 84 is commendable for not throwing in a supernatural element to it’s nostalgic tale, but there are areas where the storytelling gets a bit too loose for my tastes. A good film, but it feels like with some extra time and care, it could have been a great one.

Final Grade: B-

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Movie Review: The Captain

(This film is Not Rated)

When I was younger, we were often taught that what a person wore, signified who they were. A person in a Police Officer’s uniform was someone you could trust to protect you, or someone in a fancy business suit was a wealthy entrepreneur. Of course, in the last few decades, we’ve seen more and more instances of how appearances (and reputations) can be deceiving.

With his latest film The Captain, writer/director Robert Schwentke has chosen to look into the perceptions of humanity and appearances, all based around actual events that occurred in the waning days of the Second World War.

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As the film begins, we find a German soldier named Willi Herold (Max Hubacher), deserting his post. As he runs across the barren countryside, he soon stumbles upon an abandoned vehicle, which contains a Nazi officer’s uniform inside.

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Max Hubacher as Willi Herold

Willi puts it on, and soon encounters a number of other German soldiers, who upon seeing the uniform of a superior officer, quickly offer their services to him. He soon spins a tale that he has been sent to the front lines under direct orders from Der Fuehrer, and the men are quick to believe his story and follow him.

Their journey eventually leads them to a camp that houses a number of German deserters, and the start of a reign of terror that would lead to Herold being dubbed, “The Executioner of Emsland.”

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To many of us in this country who have seen historical events portrayed on the big-screen, our perceptions of the Germans during World War II have largely been shaped by stories either involving American soldiers (Saving Private Ryan), or those dealing with the Holocaust (Schindler’s List, The Pianist).  The Captain manages to stray from the path of ‘the familiar,’ holding only on Herold and the German men he encounters. The only traces we get of any ‘foreigners’ to this world, are in the form of several (enemy) planes flying overhead.

While the film is based on actual events, Schwentke makes a bold move, by not giving his subject an elaborate backstory. At first, one can see that Herold’s wearing of the uniform gives him easy access to hot meals and warm beds. However, as he gathers more men, his actions become more enigmatic. This open interpretation allows the audience to draw their own conclusions to a number of the snap decisions he makes, and will probably make for some interesting discussions after the film ends.

When it comes to the enigmatic Herold, Max Hubacher does a decent job in his characterization of the historical figure. One can at times see his fear of being found out, and at other times, he creates a steely gaze that makes one question just what is going on behind those eyes.

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L to R: Freytag (Milan Peschel), Willi Herold (Max Hubacher), Kipinski (Frederick Lau)

Of the men that Herold commands, two that stand out are Freytag (Milan Peschel), and Kipinski (Frederick Lau). Freytag is Herold’s most loyal soldier, but also one of his more restrained confidantes. In contrast, Kipinski seems to revel in any chance to cause trouble, oftentimes becoming the loose cannon in the group. In several instances, it is how these men react to Herold’s commands, that adds some extra tension to some of the film’s more haunting scenes.

The Captain is also an intriguing look at how easily some people will compromise their morality. This is best shown when Herold begins giving orders to deal with the deserters at the camp he and his men arrive at. One can see the camp’s officers growing upset at their command being usurped, but given Herold’s uniform and proclamation that he is in the good graces of Der Fuehrer, many of them are quick to go along with his orders.

Where the film falters a little for me, is in the rather loose, pseudo-documentary style that Schwentke chooses to use. Some scenes seem to drag on a little too long, and there are a few instances that feel like someone may have spliced in film from another reel altogether.

There also is the use of a synthesized score in places, intermingled with traditional German music. Several of the synthesized pieces seem like odd choices given some of the scenes they are used in, though for much of the film, it is the general ambiance of the bleak scenes and music of the era that pull us into the film’s world.

Overall, it is rare to find a film about Germany that does what The Captain does. While Robert Schwentke’s historically-based film may have it’s flaws, the thought-provoking look at perceptions and power that it gives us, makes it an intriguing film to experience.

Final Grade: B

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Movie Musings: Remembering “American Graffiti,” 45 years later

For a young George Lucas in the early 1970’s, things were looking pretty rough.

At the University of Southern California, he had gained notoriety for daring to be different, and winning numerous accolades for his dystopian short film, Electronic Labyrinth: THX 1138 4EB. However, his attempts to build his film career were met with much resistance.

The translation of his short-subject into the feature-length THX-1138, was reviled by a number of critics, let alone the studio (Warner Brothers) that distributed it. The studio also showed it’s power over Lucas, when they edited the film against his wishes, sowing the seeds for his distrust in the Hollywood studio system.

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George Lucas, and Francis Ford Coppola.

Following THX, George’s friend Francis Ford Coppola felt that he should try to make something he dubbed, “warm and fuzzy.”

This led to George looking back on his teen years in the early 1960’s. He had been enthralled by cars at that time, and when he later learned how cars figured into ‘the mating rituals of teenagers’ in those days, he decided to make his film about the ‘cruising culture’ in Northern California.

At first, Lucas shied away from writing the story himself. He attempted to have his friends Bill Hyuck and Gloria Katz write it, but they were busy with a personal project of their own. Once he had secured financing, he recruited another friend to write it.

Unfortunately, the script that was turned in went against what Lucas wanted. In the end, George was forced to write it himself.

After being rejected by a number of studios, Lucas did another rewrite, and got some interest from Universal Studios. Once the deal was made, Lucas called on Bill and Gloria (who had finished their personal project by this time), to do some additional rewrites.

The studio also requested Lucas get ‘a name’ to associate with the film. Given that he was going to not be casting any big-name actors, George asked his friend Coppola to sign on as a producer.

This worked to his advantage, as The Godfather had become a hit, and the studio could use the pull of Coppola’s name in the film’s advertising.

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Daring to be Different

Throughout his filmmaking career, George Lucas has often had a very maverick sense of filmmaking. From his days at USC Film School to his production of THX-1138, his sensibilities were often seen as ‘out there’ by a number of people.

Even with something as simple as rock and roll and vehicular nostalgia for the early 60’s, George’s production of Graffiti would be very unconventional.

One would assume that a 1960’s era film about teenagers would be more akin to the beach movies of yesteryear. However, George had more in mind than just another Frankie-and-Annette ripoff.

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L to R: Terry “The Toad” Fields (Charles Martin Smith), Curt Henderson (Richard Dreyfuss) John Milner (Paul Le Mat), Laurie Henderson (Cindy Williams), Steve Bolander (Ron Howard)

His film would be more in the vein of a documentary, as if George and his film crew just decided to follow these kids into the hot August night, and see what they got themselves into.

The production was also open to interpretation by the actors. The script was largely seen as an outline, and Lucas would often give his actors free rein to change a line or two, or just improvise.

Some of the actors admitted they were surprised at times, when George would keep filming some scenes over and over again. This led to some of the actors either flubbing lines, or doing unexpected things. Those ended up seeming more ‘natural,’ and oftentimes ended up in the final cut.

There was also the intertwining of four different storylines throughout the film. At the time, the studio said audiences would be confused by this, and that you could only tell one story. Naturally, Lucas’ documentary-style ideas quashed this thinking, and he did it his way.

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Music and Sound

Most notable about the film, is it’s wall-to-wall music soundtrack. A majority of the film’s $750,000 budget went to securing the rights to the 41 original songs that were woven throughout the film.

What some who saw the film never realize, is the ‘”world-izing” the sound team did to the music tracks.

Some of the music sounds like it’s coming from the car speakers, while other times, the music can be altered slightly to draw you into a particularly emotional scene.

Because of the budget constraints, this left little money for any orchestral music. To solve this dilemma, sound effects were layered in to help keep some non-musical scenes from just going silent.

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The Ending Explains the Film

One wouldn’t think of it today, but the film’s ending at the time was considered somewhat controversial.

As Curt’s plane takes wing for the east coast, we see the yearbook pictures of the four guys…and find that not everything ended up happily for them all.

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The studio and several of George’s friends felt this ‘destroyed’ the film, but George claimed it ‘put the whole thing in perspective.’

Graffiti was George’s anthropological ode to “a simpler time.” In his mind, that hot August night in 1962 that these kids shared in, was probably one of the last major nights of their lives, before the rest of the decade overtook them.

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Surprise Hit

Even with a number of successful test-screenings, the head of the studio informed George that the film was a wreck, and some wondered if they should just edit the film and air it as a TV-movie-of-the-week.

The studio was also unsure about the title. The word “graffiti” wasn’t widely-known, and some people felt that the public would think it was “a film about feet.”

It looked like another strike in Lucas’ film career, until Francis Coppola defended his friend, and claimed he was willing to purchase the film back from Universal.

The studio finally relented, and on August 3rd, 1973, American Graffiti was released, and became one of the year’s most profitable films.

It’s overall theatrical gross of $115 million, made it one of the most profitable films at the time given it’s very low production budget.

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The Thematics of George Lucas

If you watch enough films by a director, you soon start to notice patterns in what they make.

Many probably didn’t see it at the time, but if one looks at Lucas’ filmography these days, the themes begin to show up:

Man’s relationship to technologyThis theme manifests itself in several forms. The most obvious is the cruising culture of the film, where we see the kids in it socialize through the late-night driving around their hometown.

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Wolfman Jack as himself.

It’s also notable in relation to all the kids listening to radio DJ Wolfman Jack. The majority of the film’s teens have never met Wolfman, and yet they are totally enthralled by his antics, connecting with a person who is little more than a disembodied voice coming in through their car radios.

EscapeIn the film, Dreyfuss’ character named Curt, returns with Ron Howard’s character to their hometown after a year in college, but is having second-thoughts about going back.

For Curt, the night becomes one where he reminisces about the past, is enticed by a blonde in a white T-Bird, and questions whether he should stay in his hometown.

Much like Obi-Wan Kenobi giving Luke Skywalker advice, Curt finds his words-of-wisdom from Wolfman Jack himself.

In the end, Curt heads back to college, and eventually moves to Canada, where he becomes a writer.

The theme of ‘escape’ is prevalent in almost all of Lucas’ films.

  • In THX-1138, THX stops taking hs medications, has his eyes opened, and escapes from the film’s underground totalitarian society, into the world above.
  • The first films of Lucas’ Star Wars trilogies, have this play out with both Luke and Anakin Skywalker. They long to escape their environments on Tatooine, and in both cases, a sage-like figure helps them take their first steps (much like Curt after his talk with Wolfman Jack in Graffiti).

Graffiti is also the only film Lucas has done, that almost seems to sidestep the notion of politics (which figure into THX’s totalitarian society, and the Empire’s iron grip over the galaxy in Star Wars).

The closest we get to any form of political mention, happens when Curt is cruising with some girls in their car. One of them happens to be an ex-girlfriend, who tells them about Curt’s dream to one day become a Presidential aide, and shake hands with John F Kennedy.

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The Legacy of Graffiti

Next to his film-series Star Wars, American Graffiti is probably Lucas’s second most well-known film.

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Lucas outside of Mel’s Drive-In on Van Ness Blvd, in San Francisco, CA.

Over the years, many have associated the Mel’s Drive-In chain of restaurants with the film, given it’s prominence as the local hang-out for the film’s teenage crowd. Some even say the film saved the chain from going out of business (sadly, the one at Van Ness Blvd in the film was razed many years ago).

Mel’s also would be featured prominently for several decades in a few of Universal Studios’ theme parks, as both a sit-down restaurant and gift shop.

One of the most notable vehicles in the film, was John Milner’s yellow deuce coupe, which became the film’s unofficial symbol. Some people have often tried to replicate the iconic vehicle, even down to giving their vehicle Milner’s THX-138 license plate (a nod to Lucas’ first film).

Lucas’ hometown of Modesto, California (where he did his cruising before heading off to film school), also immortalized the director and his film.

Along a section of the town’s busy thoroughfares, is George Lucas Plaza. There you’ll find a sculpture of a young teen couple, sitting on the fender of a vintage car.

Since 1998, the town has held an annual American Graffiti Festival, where one can see countless vintage vehicles cruise up-and-down it’s streets. The festival got a huge surprise for the film’s 40th anniversary in 2013, when Lucas accepted their invitation to be the parade’s Grand Marshal.

One thing some don’t know, is that in 1979, Lucas produced a sequel called More American Graffiti.

It was set during the middle of the 60’s, and would have shown what happened to some of the characters from the first film.

However, it became another unnecessary sequel, not even coming close to the first film’s budget (and tone), and left a trail of bad reviews in it’s wake.

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In Conclusion

For some directors, there often comes a film that is seen as insight into who they are. Steven Spielberg did this with E.T., Tim Burton with Edward Scissorhands, and with Lucas, American Graffiti captured a bit of who he was in it’s storytelling, showing who Lucas was with some of it’s characters, and who he had become with it’s pseudo-documentary-style.

It’s far from a perfect film, but it definitely marks an important step in his career. While THX showed his concern over the United States heading towards (or already being in!) an Orwellian dystopia, Graffiti allowed him to try and develop characterization, and show a world both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time.

It would prove to be a valuable learning tool, when he would get down to working on his film about fast spaceships and laser-swords, a few years later.

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