Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Ghostbusters 1984

Back in the early 1980s I had the perfect job, I worked in a record store at the mall. I watched trends happen on a daily basis. I witnessed the Michael Jackson phenomenon firsthand, Madonna, Prince, Boy George, Duran Duran, the birth of Motley Crue, and the popifification of Bruce Springsteen - I saw it all, including the summer of Ghostbusters.

From out of a sea of "Lucky Star" outfits and "Thriller" jackets they appeared, the Ghostbusters t-shirts, just as the trailers began. Not just the logo, there were some that said "who you gonna call" and "I ain't afraid of no ghost" to the rarer "I've been slimed" and "back off, man, I'm a scientist." We knew this was going to be a big movie even before Ray Parker Jr. saturated Hot Hits radio with its theme song.

I remember the Friday night that the movie opened, for all the wrong reasons. I broke up with a girlfriend and asked a friend to see the flick with me instead, who became my new girlfriend. Soap opera aside, that June night launched the blockbuster horror/scifi/comedy that definitely lived up to the hype, and a summer of quoting lines and re-seeing the film began.

Toy lines, a hit animated series, and the emblem were everywhere, and the thing was - it's a great film and deserved it all, watchable even today. Like I said in my review of the new movie, it's not the 1984 Ghostbusters, but very few movies are. I wouldn't say I'm a Ghosthead, but yeah, I love this film.

Three scientists, two serious and one not so serious, enter the paranormal investigation game and discover a way to capture ghosts. They learn that the increased paranormal activity is the result of an extra-dimensional entity trying to break through, and stop it, thereby saving New York. That's about it, and that last bit is very important, as the movie is very New York, almost a love letter to the city. A line from the climactic battle, "Let's show this prehistoric bitch how we do things downtown" says it all.

Despite it being written with John Belushi in mind, I think it's Bill Murray's funniest movie. Dan Aykroyd (who co-wrote with Ivan Reitman), Sigourney Weaver, Ernie Hudson, and even Annie Potts and Rick Moranis are perfect supporting. Harold Ramis is wonderful with his deadpan dialogue and facial expressions, giving Kate McKinnon the perfect template for the new movie. Everyone is on mark and at their best.

When it comes right down to it, what can be said about the original Ghostbusters? It stands up after over three decades, it's one of the funniest films ever made and it's not even technically a comedy, and I watch it whenever I find it on television, and still laugh. And it's been on television a lot with the new version currently on DVD and Blu-Ray. This is probably one of the most iconic films of its generation, and thus the aggravation over the remake, but it stands as one of the best. If you haven't seen it, do so, and if you have, do it again.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Arrow S05 E01: Legacy

At the end of the last season of "Arrow," it was truly an ending. Oliver and Felicity were no longer a couple. The Black Canary was dead. Thea had given up her semi-heroic life. John too needed a break from Team Arrow, effectively leaving there no Team Arrow. And Oliver had taken on the duties of mayor of Star City.

We open on the mayor being late to a function, and Thea making excuses for her brother's tardiness. He out on the street in Green Arrow gear fighting the still free Anarky from detonating a bomb. He's also got a puppy dog tag along in a hockey mask trying to help. Green Arrow doesn't want his help, and nails him in the leg with an arrow.

The helper is Wild Dog, or at least the prototype television version of Wild Dog. Back in the 1980s when comics were changing (I won't say for better or worse), and things like Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns were hot, people were experimenting with new types of comics and heroes, and Wild Dog, created by Max Allan Collins and Terry Beatty, was one of them.

Wild Dog was really Jack Wheeler, whose rich girlfriend was killed by the mob. Inheriting her fortune, this former Marie went all Batman/Punisher to get back at the mob wearing a hockey mask and sporting automatic weapons. He was extremely violent and the stories, in his own limited series and the much-missed Action Comics Weekly, were grounded in reality.

As the episode gets rolling, Felicity is reviewing potential recruits for Team Arrow seeing as they are so short handed. Wild Dog is among them, as is Evelyn Sharp (who masqueraded as Black Canary last season), and 'Mr. Ski-Goggles' (Felicity is no Cisco Ramon when it comes to codenames). That last one's police sketch bears a striking resemblance to the 1980s version of the Vigilante.

Oliver doesn't want to train a new team. That's s shame, because there's a new big bad in town, Tobias Church, someone new, without a name or background in the source material comics. He makes the gangs and the corrupt police department look like amateurs. On the episode, police mention that Church and his crew tore through Hub City and Bludhaven, respectively the home bases of the Question and Nightwing.

Church is played with grace and menace by Chad L. Coleman, Tyreese from "The Walking Dead," but a far cry from that character. His real acting chops come from his role as Cutty on HBO's "The Wire." This dude is as good as his character is evil. Church has earned the name Charon in, pardon the pun, underworld circles because of the gold coins he leaves on his victim's eyes.

Star City dedicates a statue, on the waterfront of all places, to Laurel Lance the Black Canary. Not only does this lure alcoholic and Donna-less Quentin Lance out into the open, but also Church and his crew trying to bait a trap for Green Arrow... with a rather feisty mayor who can defend himself too well. As Oliver puts up his hands and surrenders, I had a flashback of the 1966 "Batman" when Bruce Wayne is kidnapped and the villains wonder aloud, "No millionaire playboy fights that well."

Also, who caught the license plate of the faux S.W.A.T. getaway truck? What state is the "Land of Mist"? Most fictional cities' locations in the DC Universe are set in stone but Star City has always been a point of contention. Most reports put it on the Pacific coast in Northern California, but there is some argument for a Great Lakes location. Depictions in this series alone have placed it both on the west coast and Iowa. So what state is the Land of Mist?

Flashback Island this season will apparently be Russia, cataloging Oliver's time with Bratva, and his quest for revenge against Kovar, the warlord who terrorized Taiana's people, and may or not be Starfire/Red Star. After a misunderstanding in a Russian fight club, we are reintroduced to Anatoly Knyazev, AKA the KGBeast, who was Oliver's cell mate on Ivo's Amazo ship.

Explaining his mission to the Russian, Anatoly warns Oliver off, as Kovar has an army. To fight Kovar, Oliver must become Bratva. Anatoly has advice however, relevant in flashback and present day - "The shark that does not swim, drowns." Forget promises to the dead and move forward.

When Thea dons the Speedy costume one last time to save Oliver, we got that same bugaboo that I think all of us thought was finally in the past. It's been four seasons, sheesh. To kill or not kill. Do it or not, Oliver makes it pretty easy in the flashbacks, why is he so bugged now? Either way, Thea is out, and Felicity is back to her push for a new Team Arrow. With Anatoly's advice in his head, Oliver gets his head right.

There's a confrontation with Church's forces that include Coleman doing a Nagan imitation with a baseball bat, and later Heath Ledger as the Joker by uniting the gangs against our hero. Notably, Church takes out yet another member of the Bertinelli crime family.

We had a couple last minute stingers but first there was a ham-fisted attempt to give Curtis (finally) a reason to want to join the new team. First, it looks like it might be possible that Felicity's new love interest could be either Wild Dog or Vigilante. And then there's the costumed killer that attacks one of Star City's few good cops. Looks a little like the Dark Archer, but my bet's on Ragman. Or could this be Prometheus? Time will tell...

For my other reviews of the entire "Arrow" series, click here. And if you'd like to discuss this episode and anything else in the Arrowverse, please join the Arrow Discussion Group on Facebook.

Next: The Recruits!

Friday, October 07, 2016

Disney's The Rescuers

Disney's The Rescuers ~ This animated feature comes from a different era of Disney animation, the time after Walt Disney's death but before the new generation of animators who would usher in a renaissance in the 1980s. The Rescuers was the first film to include both the old guard and the new kids, a bridge between animation dynasties. Watching it, you can see the changing of the guard happening as tradition mixes with technology and new thinking.

The story itself comes from the book series by Margery Sharp, a property that Disney had been eyeing since the early sixties. The series follows the adventures of rich philanthropist mouse Miss Bianca who rescues animals in trouble. The journey from page to screen is so fraught with changes, I've heard it's nearly unrecognizable. An example of this is that at one point Cruella de Vil from 101 Dalmatians was considered as an antagonist in the film.

Eva Gabor as Miss Bianca and Bob Newhart as Bernard are mice and members of the Rescue Aid Society who set out to, what else, rescue a young girl from the evil Madame Medusa, played by Geraldine Page. There's a certain international flair that borders on stereotyping because it's a global mouse organization, headquartered below the UN and all.

Eva Gabor is fun, but the songs are forgettable, and Bob Newhart seems wasted here, and that's s shame. It moves quite slowly, even for a mystery. The screen does brighten however when Madame Medusa is on screen. Supposedly based on an animator's wife, she is a deliciously manic maniac. Much more fun than Cruella could have ever been, and her movements are mesmerizing.

In some ways The Rescuers seems like it was done for younger kids, but then there are some parts, accompanied by suitable scary music, that are downright frightening. The good guys win in the end of course, although the little girl is so 1980s sitcom annoying I almost wanted her gone. Good for the kids, and the adults too.

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Daredevil S02 E02: Dogs to a Gunfight

In this season's first episode of "Daredevil," we were introduced to Grotto, the Dogs of Hell, and the Punisher, and it wasn't bad. We were left with quite a cliffhanger with Daredevil appearing to be shot by the Punisher and falling from a rooftop, but first I wanted to say a few words about the Dogs of Hell motorcycle club, who meet their demise at the hands of the Punisher late in this episode.

Did they seem familiar? Well, it's not what you're thinking, they're not from the comics... they're from the Marvel Television Universe, specifically the one outside Netflix. The Dogs of Hell, Nevada branch at least, first appeared in the "Yes Men" episode of "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." They were the slaves of Lorelei when Asgard's Lady Sif came to Earth to retrieve the sorcerous super-villainess. One could hope the New York branch isn't quite as dumb, but one would be wrong.

The pre-credits scene opens on the aftermath of the still-as-yet-unnamed Punisher's rampage through Metro General Hospital. Metro General has been a centerpiece of the Marvel Netfilx Universe so far, and this sequence is proof positive that Claire Temple, Night Nurse, does in fact have days off. Elden Henson shows his acting chops once again here searching rooftops for his friend Matt, and oh, the panic and fear when he finds him.

Like I predicted, Daredevil's not dead, just shot in the head. That is one strong cowl Melvin Potter built for him back in season one. I love the bromance/friendship between Matt and Foggy as seen here, brothers, spouses, lovers, they are all of them, and it's beautiful. Henson is at his best here, both caring for and chastising his friend at once.

Here also is the determination that the as-yet-unnamed Punisher is something different, something dangerous, a beast unlike what Daredevil has faced before. They see it each from their own perspective, their own angle on what this monster could do to their lives. I like this.

Karen and Foggy, while Matt is on forced 'sick leave,' are at the police station trying to get Grotto, wonderfully played by McCaleb Burnett, into witness protection. Officer Mahoney, Foggy's pseudo contact from last season, while namedropping Detective Clemons from "Jessica Jones," tells them the police know who this one-man army is, and he's bad news. Not like Daredevil at all, he makes people think twice about the whole hero/vigilante thing.

In the witness protection process, Foggy and Karen come up against a new adversary, but a familiar face. Michelle Hurd plays District Attorney Samantha Reyes who previously and briefly clashed with Jeri Hogarth and Jessica Jones in the last episode of her series. Foggy stands up to her like a champ - he is on fire this episode - and easily would make that Hogarth serpent take notice.

The next scene shows us for the first time close up the man Reyes' associate says is called 'the Punisher.' At a pawn shop he buys a police monitor to pick up encrypted codes, an illegal if fair purchase, but when the slimy clerk tries to up-sell the Punisher a little girl, he gets a bit upset with an aluminum baseball bat. I get his motivation, but his methods are what put the Punisher in the villain book for me.

Meanwhile at home, Matt is learning that getting shot in the head has seriously messed up not only his radar sense, but also his hearing. Eventually it comes back, but by then he has a visit from Karen to deal with. She relays what they've learned of the Punisher and offers her thoughts, that without Daredevil opening the door to this vigilante game, there wouldn't be men like the Punisher.

Next stop is the workshop of the aforementioned Melvin Potter, who in the comics is the Daredevil villain, the Gladiator. I so desperately want to see him as Gladiator, one of my fave DD foes, but I do like the dynamic as established here in the Netflix series. Like a blue collar Alfred Pennyworth, Potter is DD's armorer and weapons master. We rarely see superhero/civilian relationships like this that aren't master/servant or hero worship driven, and I'd like to see more. And yes, even he is surprised Matt survived being shot in the head. He'll do his best to repair the cowl, but it should be replaced. Some not so subtle foreshadowing there methinks.

One thing that television and film adaptations of comics usually fail at is showing how certain powers work. This series is one of the exceptions. Last season we got a great description of how DD's radar sense works in "World on Fire," but here as civilian Matt tracks the Punisher from the Irish bar last episode all the way to his lair, we see it in action. No dialogue, no explanation, but perfect execution.

In the midst of a trap set by Reyes to capture the Punisher, with Grotto as bait, Daredevil gets his rematch with the killer. Not only do we get an idea how smart the Punisher is, but we also get to see DD's new billy club in action as he ricochets it like Captain America's shield. It's a 'rain' fight beneath a water tower riddled with bullets for a great effect. As expected, the cowl is not great protection when the Punisher cracks him in the head with his own billy club.

As the police close in, Daredevil's radar sense begins to fail and the Punisher moves in to finish him off. When the cops get there, they're both gone. Fade to black, cue credits.

I said last time I had great reservations about this season of "Daredevil" featuring the Punisher and the as-yet-unseen Elektra, but if this exceptional episode is any indication, this is going to rock. I really loved this one.

Next: New York's Finest!

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Daredevil S02 E01: Bang

I jumped right from "Jessica Jones" into the second season of "Daredevil," so I was already not happy, and what I knew about season two from interviews at Biff Bam Pop! here and here, before I even watched it, made me less happy.

I am not a fan of the Punisher in any way. He is not a hero, he is a villain, and the folks who cheer him as the former irk me no end. And while I respect the storytelling, I'm not a Frank Miller Daredevil fan, and I couldn't care less about Elektra. That the second season would be focused on these two characters ticked me off, more because I wanted Gladiator and Stilt-Man, who had Easter eggs and hints in the first season, than because I'd already seen multiple cinematic versions of Elektra and the Punisher, and had been left unimpressed. Nevertheless bring it on. I liked Daredevil, I wanted more of him.

As we open on a diamond heist, I get more of him. In pursuit of ruthless thieves through the streets of Hell's Kitchen, largely unseen or off-camera, Daredevil picks them off one by one. As they're collected by the cops, our hero stands on a rooftop and allows just the slightest smile. Yeah, I want more of him. But I'm afraid that the two guest-stars, Elektra and the Punisher will overshadow him. I got my fingers crossed.

With Daredevil covered, next we renew our acquaintance with the Matt Murdock and Foggy Nelson friendship/partnership. It seems to have survived the first season well, and the two actors Charlie Cox and Elden Henson still have great chemistry. As they walk to work, the conversation veers in and out of Foggy's dating exploits and Matt's night work seamlessly.

Because of the events of the first season, business is booming for Nelson and Murdock, Deborah Ann Woll's Karen Page has her capable hands full. The problem is that they're broke, they may be genuinely helping people but the fact is you can't run a law firm on fruit, pastries, and good intentions.

We switch scenes to focus on the Irish mob in Hell's Kitchen. The man Nesbitt is a Garth Ennis creation from his Punisher comics, and let that set the tone for this season. It's not Daredevil and Punisher, it is specifically Frank Miller's Daredevil and Garth Ennis' Punisher. I am not looking forward to this at all. Could I just have season two of "Jessica Jones" now please? I'm sure it will hurt less...

Like Nesbitt, Grotto is also from the comics, but more in line with street thugs and rent-a-henchmen like Turk. Here, he's tending bar at a meeting of the Irish mob. Nesbitt is talking big and making plans. Now with the Kingpin, the Russians, and the Chinese out of the way - thanks to 'the Devil,' the Irish can take back Hell's Kitchen, after all, historically it was once theirs. Right when Nesbitt is about to end his speech with a bang, he does, literally.

Everyone does. A crazed but precise barrage of bullets spray the room, killing all within, except Grotto, hiding behind the bar. It's a complete massacre, except for poor Grotto. We all know it's the Punisher even though we don't see him. Grotto escapes only to show up at Josie's later, looking for, coincidentally or not, Nelson and Murdock. He wants witness protection immediately. In the middle of telling his tale, he collapses. Grotto was shot after all.

A little investigation, between Officer Brett Mahoney, Turk, and Sagittarius (could this be a possible reference to the criminal organization known as Zodiac?) from the Dogs of Hell (more about them later) yield that a new crew, paramilitary in nature, has come to Hell's Kitchen to fill the void left by Wilson Fisk. Further investigation by Daredevil reveals that it's not a group, but one very well-trained sociopathic individual, one I'm sure we'll find is called the Punisher.

Just like the Purple Man in early episodes of "Jessica Jones," he stays out of frame or in the shadows. That doesn't stop a rooftop battle between Daredevil and this Punisher, one that ends with a bang and our hero falling off the roof. My bet is that DD isn't dead, just a hunch. The show is called "Daredevil" after all.

Despite trepidations, I liked this episode. I like our three leads and their chemistry is intact from the first season. I have not minded the Punisher thus far, although we haven't seen much of him. There were things that I didn't understand like the thugs on the meat hooks (why not just kill them?) and Daredevil yelling when he should be trying to be stealthy, but I can look past those things.

All in all, good start, bring it on...

Next: Dogs to a Gunfight!