Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Sneak Peek: ST. VINCENT

Yesterday took a cool little turn in the early evening.  An hour or so before I was to finish work, I got a quick text and managed to net myself a seat at an advance screening of the new Bill Murray film, St. Vincent, with a Q&A afterwards with the director, Theodore Melfi.

The film itself, I liked a lot.  This is the third advance look I've managed to score for a Bill Murray movie (the others being Lost in Translation with Sofia Coppola in attendance and then The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou), which is crazy to me as it happens that I'm a huge Bill Murray fan and have been since I was a child, when Meatballs was released.  I actually just finished reading his book Cinderella Story, which I also enjoyed even though I know precious little about golf.  It's still a fun read.

Anyway, the film was hilarious, naturally, but also dramatic with a great deal of humanity. The plight of the single mom (Melissa McCarthy) was handled well in this way and McCarthy is better here than I've ever seen her.  She seriously nails her part.  Naomi Watts was decent and her character grew as the film went on, though the character seems the most unreal in the story.  Terrence Howard needed more scenes.  He plays the heavy but just gets dropped from the story completely, which was a shame.  As Oliver, the child actor Jaeden Lieberher is a highlight.  He's natural, makes a strong impression and his scenes with Murray are uniformly good.  And Murray's a pro.  You know going in that he'll deliver and he does as expected with humor and humanity.  He, McCarthy and Lieberher are the home run hitters, here.

Like last year's Nebraska, this one's a low-profile story about people on the ropes, emotionally.  These aren't shiny happy people holding hands.  They're not living the life.  They're dealing with stress and disappointment.  The film deals as much with the trials of aging, sickness, loneliness, single parenting and loss as it does with crotchety old man humor.  Every little joke has a darker statement seething just under the surface.  It's not the end all be all of cinematic experience but I teared up a lot during this thing, easily able to identify with the experiences of all three of the main characters; they're that relateable and effective.  Maybe it won't resonate with a lot of people the way it did with me but then again those people can always just sit back and enjoy the pleasures of seeing a decent film devoid of waste or overproduction and maybe get a few laughs while they're at it.

The film's director Theodore Melfi was also gracious and happily related stories about the production (working with Harvey Weinstein, casting Lieberher and McCarthy, tracking down Bill), the real-life inspirations of the story and characters (his daughter, wife, mother and father-in-law) and that one of his primary inspirations for the tone of the film was Disney's Up, another film with a young boy/older man relationship at its core.  The screening and Q&A were fun and the audience was appreciative.

A solid night at the movies for me, and, it seemed, many.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Full Roaming Vapors: The Recent History of GHOSTBUSTERS III

It's the 30th Anniversary of one of my favorite movies.  One of the funniest, most influential and highest grossing comedies of my lifetime and a primer on how absolutely perfectly the combination of well-written character-comedy and big special-effects chaos can be achieved.  We're talking Ivan Retiman's Ghostbusters (1984), of course, and lately it's all over the varied forms of entertainment news these days in ways I couldn't have guessed.

Sadly, just a few months before the much talked about anniversary, actor, co-writer, and comedy genius Harold Ramis passed away.  This sent shock waves through the show business world as Ramis was a warm and loved figure in the community.   Almost immediately, industry talk of a proper Ghostbusters III sequel stopped, despite it having being teased over and over again for the better part of the last decade.  Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters II (1989) director Ivan Reitman then stated that he was pretty much completely off any sort of new sequel project, which soon compounded with not only the continual screenplay rejection of the always great Bill Murray but the still-up-for-it exuberance of actor Ernie Hudson and especially the continual marching-on of the franchise holdout and co-creator, Dan Aykroyd, who'd leaked incorrect start-dates in interviews several times before.

Then Paul Feig, director of Bridesmaids (2011), a substantial hit for Universal, was teased online as a top contender for director a new Ghostbusters film, this time with an all-female cast.  Hundreds of articles were written about this possibility and whether it was a much-needed shot in the arm or a total casting stunt meant to test the fan waters and see if anything floated.  Industry insiders guessed immediately that there'd be a place for Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy, two stars of Feig's hit, Bridesmaids, and possibly Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Sarah Silverman among others.  Just recently, celebrating "Bill Murray Day" at the Toronto Film Festival, Bill himself gave his picks as to who he'd like to see cast: Wiig, McCarthy (with whom he'd just filmed the new picture St. Vincent), Emma Stone (Magic in the Moonlight) and Linda Cardellini (Mad Men), going on to say "I would watch it."  I would, too.  I like the idea of a female team of Ghostbusters, especially with Kristen Wiig involved, much more than any of the various Rogen-Franco-McBride-Robinson-Cera-Zuckerberg-Milano-Dukshu-Jack Black-Hader-Sudekis-Samberg combinations being thrown around in the last few years.  In fact, give me a Wiig-Stone-Maria Bamford-Meagan Good team.  I love me some Bamford and Good was great in Anchorman 2.  That's my Ghostbuster Lady dream team, right there.

Not to be outdone, in the last 24 hours, Dan Aykroyd has come back into the picture and made two interesting and wild statements.

The first: he thinks the Ghostbusters world could/should be blown up and writ large, as Marvel has done with it's extended cinematic universe, a la Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, The Avengers and so on.

"It’s beyond just another sequel, a prequel, another TV show. I'm thinking what does the whole brand mean to Sony? What does Pixar and Star Wars mean to Disney? What does Marvel mean to Fox? That’s what we have to do. The whole vehicle of Ghostbusters has to be rebuilt. That’s the ambitious thinking that’s going on now. Taking on the model of Marvel where we take all of the elements that are in this movie and we put them out there as different ideas.”  --

Now here's the thing.  I'm a die-hard Ghostbusters fan.  With the exception of Dan himself, you're rarely likely to bump into a someone more into the movie on the street.  And while there would be a certain interest for me, personally, to see something kooky like this happen (sequels/prequels/spin-offs, etc), I think for the general populace Dan comes very close in this thinking to diluting the brand to such an extent that it all comes crashing down around him.  As far as it goes, Ghostbusters II, Caddyshack II and Blues Brothers 2000 show that sequels aren't exactly Aykroyd's best friends.

Thirty years later, people still love the original Ghostbusters.  Twenty-five years later, Ghostbusters II can't even get a properly packed special edition blu-ray.  (No commentary track and minus several deleted scenes that are said to still exist.)  People who dress up as Ghostbusters for charity Halloween parades are typically greeted with huge love and applause, especially if their suits and props are screen-accurate.  And yeah, if I had the where-with-all, I'd have one too and be marching along right there with them.  But the die-hards are always gonna love the Ghostbusters, while sub-par franchise expansions could really hurt the general public love.  Then again, The Clone Wars cartoon, video games and novels kept the love for Star Wars alive for the last ten-plus years, despite the successful but now-reappraised Second Trilogy.  So, I don't know.  As long as the stories work, I guess it could be fine.  There's a possibility.  I liked 88MPH's Ghostbusters comic series much more than the longer-lasting IDW ones, as the writing and art were so much stronger in the former than the latter. The novel Ghostbusters: The Return was solid and true to the original films, and the 2009 videogame just flat out rocked.

I'm torn between two other movie-based schools of thought on this.  "I want to believe," and "I've got a bad feeling about this."

And just a few short hours ago, this little nugget popped up on the internet from

Dan Aykroyd has said he is “100% assured” that a new Ghostbusters movie will be released in the next two years, and has backed British action movie star Jason Statham to star in the sequel. Discussing the possibility of moving location to London for the new film, he said: “I think that that’s a big part of what we would think about in the future, that it’s an international thing. It would be rich to do something here in the UK because there’re so many possibilities.  “There are so many great locations here and… in fact true spirits here that are living right now amongst us. There is so much talent coming out of the UK but I would love to see Jason Statham as a Ghostbuster in some capacity. He’s a lot of fun,” said Aykroyd.

Jason Statham.  As a Ghostbuster,  Would I see that movie?   Hell yeah.  Do I think it will ever happen?  Hell no.  In a way I kind of hope it does.  Sometimes crazy can work.  Just look at this year's highest grossing adventure flick, the one with the raccoon and the smiling tree man.  Anything can happen and nobody knows nothing.  Still, still...  Mentioning both this crazy casting and that there might be "true spirits here that are living right now amongst us" might not be the best way to deliver your messages and hopes of sane, bankable corporate filmmaking creativity to the masses.

So, okay.  If this is the kind of thing that's going on his mind, let's get really crazy.  No idea is too much, apparently.  Nothing is impossible.  So yeah, okay, let's open up that Ghostbusters Cinematic Universe and really expand it.  How about a war movie?  A romcom?  Let's get nuts, blaze some trails and put the Busters in some whole new cinematic realities.

- Combine the new film with Ivan Reitman's long-gestating, not-really-wanted Twins sequel and make Arnold Schwarzenegger, Danny DeVito and Eddie Murphy into Ghostbusters.

- A Fistful of Ghostbusters.  Old-tech in the Old West.  Like the Doc Brown steam science designs in Back to the Future Part III.

- Ghostbusters VS. Army of Darkness.  Deadites in New York.  The New Venkman meets The New Ash.  Pseudo-hilarity ensues.  In fact, fuck it, throw some Gremlins in there too. why don'tcha?

- Ghostballs.  Ghostbusters meets Meatballs.  Summer Camp flick.  Teens getting laid and trapping vapors.  And not just the ones that come from the Fat Kid's ass.

- Ghostly Instinct.  An NC-17 sexual-thriller about a tormented Ghostbuster having a scandalous affair with a particularly sexy spectre and vowing to help find her killer from beyond the grave. With Emma Stone and Jason Statham.  Box office gold.

- The Grudgebusters.  They go over to Japan to kick that little meowing kid's ass once and for all.

- Freddy Vs. Jason Vs. Ghostbusters.  Probably the dumbest idea and the one that actually makes some kind of sense. 

- Ghostbusters of Mars.  'Cause why not let John Carpenter get in on this, right?  In fact...

- Big Ghostbusters in Little China.  Venkman, Stantz, Spengler and Zeddemore meet Jack Burton.  Lo Pan and The Three Storms don't stand a chance.   

Call me, Dan...  At the very least, you can stay in our guestroom here Boston while you try to set up a meeting with Damon and Affleck about location scouting for Good Will Busting.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Adventures in Cinema: ROBOCOP 2

In cinema circles right now, one of the main topics of nerdly discussion is the relative non-necessity of a remake of Paul Verhoeven's ROBOCOP.  

Released in 1987, this sci-fi action satire drama chunk of awesomeness looked like a terrible good-guy clone of THE TERMINATOR going by the advance poster art and at the time I paid it little mind.  When I saw it though, I was as bowled over by how much fun it was as everyone else.  

Sweet action, crazy gallows humor, hugely quotable, insane comic violence and gleeful debauchery, all surrounding the heart and soul of a good guy out to get the bad guys.  There were sequels, TV shows, comic books, and videogames to follow.  And, it now seems, the inevitable Hollywood product remake with reduced violence and toothless satire.  As far as the sequels to the original film go, I've never seen ROBOCOP 3... ("A pg-13 RoboCop movie? Who the hell would want to see that?"

But the also-nutty ROBOCOP 2 (1990) will always have a place in my ridiculous heart.  

Aside from the now-classic sequence where all the new models are trotted out and shown going crazy, the meta-dialogue about bad follow-ups to superior originals, the swearing little kid drug dealer and Tom Freakin' Noonan... there is one event I can't help but recall whenever I think of ROBOCOP 2.

The night it the film came out in the summer of 1990, my friends and I all worked in a suburban multiplex cinema off the highway between Boston and Providence.  My crazy friend Chris (we all have that one crazy friend) and I were going to see it at the 7:00pm Friday night first show at the theater where we worked.  We'd been playing Nintendo games for far too long, though, and lost track of time.  He lived about ten miles from the cinema and we realized we had less than fifteen minutes till showtime. We hurriedly finished playing "Duck Hunt" or whatever we were so engrossed in and ran down to my car downstairs.

Now, at the time Chris lived across from an expansive car park in a sort of burnt out industrialized area at the end of town (not unlike Delta City, actually) and we would routinely engage in some loud, obnoxious behavior because it amused us and because, as two crazy-looking weirdos, we could.  One example was a game we'd invented called LETHAL WEAPON PARKING LOT.  I'd get in my car and drive backwards, he'd chase after the car on foot like Martin Riggs... and I'd swerve left and right, going backwards at high speeds, trying to lose him. What can I tell you?  It was like being a stunt man filming an action scene.  We were stupid and easily-amused kids.

This time, though, I got to the car far ahead of him, which was unusual as he was always the faster runner of the two of us, started it up, and when he was about fifty yards away from my legendary 1978 Oldsmobile Royale "Uncle Buck" battletank, I hit the gas and went tearing across the pavement backwards, which was the universal symbol for "GAME ON."  

Chris came running.  But since I knew we didn't have time for this if we were going to make the start of ROBOCOP 2, I slowed down again almost immediately.  He didn't, though.  He was running at the car full speed before I knew it and when I suddenly slowed down, he flew up the front of the car over the hood and BAM.  Rolled onto his shoulder and went right through my windshield, ripping a hole in it where it looked like his head bounced off it.

Now imagine this.  The car is now stopped.  I hear an "UGH!" and he rolls back off the car onto the ground.  There's a moment of silence.  I'm freaked.  He's on the ground where I can't see him.  There's no sound but the rumbling of my idling engine.  A few seconds pass and then...


Chris is on the ground laughing his ass off and after a moment he gets up to survey the damage.  "Holy shit, are you okay?" I ask him.  

He was totally fine, as his jacket was thick enough to take the hit and cushion him from any glass or bodily harm.  His head didn't actually hit the windshield or the roof or anything, he had no whiplash and there was no blood anywhere. He got the wind knocked out of him for a brief moment, came up laughing and was absolutely none the worse for wear.  We both broke out laughing in relief then, as this was probably one of the more scary and more stupid things we'd done in a while.  But then the true shock and seriousness of the situation hit us...

"We're totally gonna miss the start of ROBOCOP 2 if we don't hurry up!"

So we jumped back in the car and drove as fast as we could with a broken windshield to the movie theater.

Finding a front row parking spot, we dashed though the lobby past our friends, some of which couldn't help but notice the giant hole in the windshield.  "What the fuck?!" our friend Shawn asked.  "Not now, we'll talk later!" we yelled as we grabbed two free sodas and a bunch of popcorn and briskly cut ahead of the two-hundred person line to the about-to-begin 7:00pm showing.  The movie started and we were still laughing like idiots from the adrenaline.  We sat back and settled into some Robo glory.

After a little while for some odd reason -- lack of sleep or too many videogames earlier that day -- my eyes started getting itchy.  I was rubbing them when Chris asks me what's up.  I whisper that my eyes are itchy and this kid decides to go PsyOp on me and mess with my head, another favorite pasttime of ours.  

"You know why that is, don't you?" Chris whispered as we watched the film.  "It's probably microscopic shards of broken windshield glass, and every blink you blink is probably bringing you one step closer to blindness."  

"You... You think?"  I felt the fear coming on.

"Yep.  Don't worry, though.  I'll drive you to the hospital after the movie there, Ray Charles."

"FUCK YOU!" I yelled and spastically leaped to my feet, crushing people in the seats next to us and knocking others out of the way, running at full speed to the bathroom and flushing my eyes with water from the sink like a total freak show madman.

The itchiness went away after a moment and fortunately I can still see just fine, thank you, almost twenty-five years later.  I went back to the movie, sat back down, was fine again and just laughed like an idiot a little more. 

"Did I miss anything?" I asked.  

"Yeah, RoboCop shot somebody for smoking a cigarette."

Just another day with my crazy friend, Chris.  And I always think of it whenever someone brings up ROBOCOP 2. Good times.