Sunday, October 17, 2021

Didja know? John Belushi Was The Original Peter Venkman In GHOSTBUSTERS

In an interview with Vanity Fair, Dan Aykroyd revealed that when he heard the news that his best friend, John Belushi had died of an overdose, he was “writing a line for John, and (talent manager and GHOSTBUSTERS executive producer) Bernie Brillstein called and said they just found him. It was a Kennedy moment... We loved each other as brothers.” 


This was March 5, 1982, when Belushi died at the age of 33. He left behind 4 seasons of the classic comedy/rock late night show, Saturday Night Live, and seven movies (two were cameos). His movie output was headed by the hits NATIONAL LAMPOON’S ANIMAL HOUSE, and THE BLUES BROTHERS, but he had some flops in such works as 1941, CONTINENTAL DIVIDE, and NEIGHBORS.


But Aykroyd appeared to have a plan to put he and his blustery cohort back on top with proposed high concept comedies GHOSTBUSTERS, THREE CALLABEROS (obviously the original title of Steve Martin’s dream project), and SPIES LIKE US. That’s right – Belushi was going to star in all of these films. They were intended to further Aykroyd and Belushi’s status as a modern comic duo, but now they are fascinating to watch and wonder what could have been.

As definitive as Murray’s portrayal of scruffy, sarcastic Peter Venkman Ph.D is, it would fun to see Belushi take on the role. Now, it would be extremely different as Murray famously improvised a lot of his lines. Belushi was also skilled at improv so he probably would’ve woven comedy gold from the big set pieces, and interaction with his co-stars, but, of course we’ll never know who would be the better Venkman.


As for the other movies, I’m going to speculate that Belushi would’ve made THREE AMIGOS better, and that he would’ve trounced Chevy Chase in SPIES LIKE US, especially since Chase walked through the film displaying supreme detachment. I bet Belushi would’ve done a lot more with the role, even if the movie would probably be as lackluster in either version.


It’s sad to acknowledge that Belushi’s career was cut short right before he could’ve re-established his stardom in a run of movies with his long-time pal, Dan Aykroyd. It’s been nearly 40 years since Belushi returned to his home planet, but at least a few of his films are classics, and there’s a lot of SNL to wade through as well as the records he made with the Blues Brothers.

Since I was a kid, I watched every minute of Belushi’s output that I could find. Maybe that’s why I can’t help trying to picture what it would be like if the man somehow didn’t accept the injection of cocaine and morphine that took his life, and went on to make a series of successful comedies. Sure, it’s a futile premise, but I can think of worse ways to spend one’s time.

More later...

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Between Star Trek & His Real Life Space Trip, William Shatner Once Went To The Stars For Comedy

Irony Can Be Pretty Ironic Sometimes”
Earlier today, iconic actor William Shatner boarded a rocket named New Shepherd with three fellow passengers to launch into space for an 11 minute journey.

Shatner, whose Wikipedia entry now adds the title “space tourist,” described the experience as “profound,” and that “I hope I never recover from this.”

But while Shatner is best known for the role of Captain James T. Kirk in 79 episodes of the ‘60s sci-fi classic television program Star Trek, and seven movies which run from the late ‘70s to the mid ‘90s, he took a less heralded voyage to the stars in a sequel that was released the same year as STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN, one of the most acclaimed entries in the franchise.

That would be AIRPLANE II: THE SEQUEL, the 1982 follow-up to the hit satire, AIRPLANE! (1980). While AIRPLANE II recycled the disaster movie parody premise, it added some sci-fi film spoofery including a running gag involving a computer much like HAL-9000 from 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY.

The most obvious take-off comes in the form of Shatner as Buck Murdock, a tough as nails space station Commander, who aids in the rescue of the shuttle Mayflower One. Now, Shatner is standing in for Robert Stack, who played an incredibly stern airline pilot from the original. Both Shatner and Stack even say “that’s just what they’ll be expecting us to do.”

Apart from that, Shatner is obviously, and obnoxiously, satirizing his classic character, Captain Kirk. Extreme over-acting, mad mugging for the camera, and over dramatized speechifying make his part here the Shatner role from Heaven, or, for some, the Shatner role from Hell. There's even a shot of the U.S.S. Enterprise from the original series that Shatner's caricature sees through a periscope.

What’s most notable to me is that AIRPLANE II can be seen as the beginning of Shatner’s comedy career. The man had touched on comedy in previous years (BIG BAD MAMA for instance), but it wasn’t until that silly sequel that he was cast in all out comic productions  like LOADED WEAPON 1,  MISS CONGENIALITY, and DODGEBALL. Shatner also made many TV appearances most notably Boston Legal, for which he won an Emmy for his portrayal of lawyer Denny Crane.

Now, it could be said that Shatner’s work as a dramatic actor was largely comical, even if it wasn’t meant to be. According to the Urban Dictionary, “Shatnerize” is described as “To deliberately produce something so bad it’s good.” At one point I theorized that Shatner was aware that he’s a joke to many of his fans and non fans, but he’s not sure what the joke is.

Now that he’s actually gone to space – at 90, the oldest human to do so – maybe it’s time to take the man more seriously. His film and TV career is nothing to sneeze at, his extensive list of books (dozens and dozens) as an author are largely best-sellers, and his personable appearances on talk shows are hilarious must sees.

Even if he didn’t reach the final frontier, it was fun to see Shatner boldly go where a number of others have gone before. Unless he shows up in some new movie or TV show, this epic yet brief voyage certainly serves as a final feather in his cap. Oh, and I bet he’ll get another book out of it. 

So Ill leave you on this note, Shatner’s classic appearance on SNL in 1986, in which he told a convention full of Star Trek fans to Get a life!

More later...

Sunday, October 10, 2021

NO TIME TO DIE, But Plenty Of Time To Say Goodbye

Now playing at a multiplex near everybody:

NO TIME TO DIE (Dir. Cary Joji Fukunaga, 2021)

In the last year and a half, the patience of James Bond fans has been majorly tested.

The 25th entry, NO TIME TO DIE, was originally slated to open on late 2019, then it was pushed back to February, followed by April 2020 (star Daniel Craig even hosted SNL to promote the film on this last date). But the pandemic reared its ugly head and the movie was rescheduled for November 2020. The global health crisis kept raging, and an April 2021 release was set. Of course, that was predictably scraped, and October 8th is now the official domestic debut, and for once, they’ve stuck to it.


This is a colossal relief for fans, the filmmakers, and Craig himself, as it must have been frustrating to have his fifth and final film as 007 constantly being shelved. Well, he can rest assured because the film just dropped, and it’s being greatly received with many critics calling it the best Bond ever.


I wouldn’t regard it as such, but it’s pretty damn great, and it might be the best Craig installment, though SKYFALL comes pretty damn close. It starts off like a horror movie, with a young girl, Madeleine Swann (Coline Defaud) being pursued across a frozen lake by a creepy disfigured masked assailant. We cut to modern day to see that the girl has grown into Léa Seydoux, returning from the previous adventure, SPECTRE, and she’s vacationing with Bond in Italy. Madeleine encourages Bond to visit his long gone love, Vesper Lynd, who’s haunted him since CASINO ROYALE. Her damn tomb explodes, and we’re suddenly thrusted into a high speed chase by Spectre agents with Craig’s Bob doing what he does best – running, and jumping, sometimes motorcycling across sidewalks and rooftops. 

This Matera-set sequence goes on and on, but that’s not a complaint – it’s superbly thrilling stuff, and is given an emotional layer with Bob believing that Madeleine betrayed him and ending their relationship. Now this all happens before the opening credits, so not only is NO TIME TO DIE the longest Bond film (163 min.), it appears to have the longest pre-credits sequence.


After Billy Ellish’s effectively spooky title song, it’s five years later, and while Bond has retired, his crew including Q (Ben Whishaw, Moneypenny (Naomi Harris), M (Ralph Fiennes), and Lashana Lynch, as the woman who has inherited the 007 codename much to Bond’ chagrin. This faction of MI6 is working to combat a wave of wide-reaching genetic warfare that is set to be launched by Spectre adversary Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek).


Other returning roles include Jeffrey Wright as Bond’s long-time CIA confident Felix Leiter, and a cameo by Christoph Waltz as unhinged yet still confident (confidently cuckoo?) Spectre mastermind Ernest Stavro Blofeld. In Norway, Bond reunites with Madelienne, learning that she has a five-year old daughter Mathilde  (Lisa-Dorah Sonnet) that, of course, Bond suspects is his offspring. Bond, Madelienne, and Mathilde find themselves at, guess what, a ginormous fortress (a long abandoned WWII sea fort actually), where Bond tries to stop the killing of millions, because that’s just what he does.


Despite its lavish action scenes, some of the most entertaining moments of this entry involve the back and forths in the dialogue between Bond and his Secret Service buddies who convincingly portray friends and co-workers as they are hard at work in a different type of procedural. The locations, captured by cinematographer Linus Sandgren are stunning with very shot suitable for framing.


The film is more romantic that most Bond films via Craig's chemistry with Seydoux, except ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (aka the one in which Bond gets married), which the screenwriters, including Director Fukunaga, veteran 007 scribes Neal Purvis, and Robert Wade, and Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Fleabag) drew on extensively with music themes from George Lazenby’s lone effort slyly inserted, including Louis Armstrong’s “We Have All the Time in The World.” The title of this classic is repeated by Craig’s Bond, just like Lazenby did, but that’s probably all I should say about that.


NO TIME TO DIE, which earns its length, is a wonderful finale to Craig’s five film chunk of one of the most lucrative and popular movie franchises in history. And historic it is as it does something no other Bond film has done, but I’m not telling you what. It’ll probably be leaked so you cheap bastards will find out anyway, but I hope most folks will go in cold. 


As for Craig, he’s made three great Bonds out of this five, and this certainly lets him go out in spectacular style. I wasn’t into him at first as he seemed more like the blonde thugs that were trying to kill Bond in such entries as FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE and YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, but his intensity, and precision won me over. It was SKYFALL to me, that cemented Craig as a new kind of 007, as he balanced the bombast and humor in a manner that elegantly matched his predecessors.


Even in this never-ending era of covid, Craig’s swan song is a must see on the big screen. It’s Bond at his most heartfelt, but still with the big action spectacle you want and expect. I was blown away by the ending, which will surprise a lot of fans, and so want to share what happened with somebody, but like I said before, I’m not going to give it away. 


So farewell, Mr. Craig and your strong run of 007 instalments. He brought a gritty killer persona to a franchise that had come too close to being a fluffy spoof of spy cinema, and needed an injection of new blood. But I think the filmmakers should really take a break and work hard on a new direction as they’ll really need to do a hard reboot after this.


More later…

Wednesday, October 06, 2021

What Are Fotonovels Or Photostories, You Ask? Well, Let Me Tell You

Back in the ‘70s, before cable TV and home video options (laserdisc players, VCRs) weren’t household appliances yet, movie-fans like me had to re-experience or our favorite films in other ways. Since the ‘60s, there were books that contained screenplays of various popular movies augmented with a bunch of stills. 

In the ‘70s the medium exploded with tons of these books, but later in the decade, a particular kind of movie book hit the scene. They were called Fotonovels or Photostories and they featured color screenshots and word bubbles to illustrate the films or TV shows. Yes, they were put together like comic books (no one called them graphic novels back then).

Among the first Fotonovels published were of 12 episodes of the original ‘60s Star Trek including such fan favorites as “City on the Edge of Forever,” “The Trouble with Tribbles,” and “The Devil in the Dark.”

But it was the movies that were the bigger sellers. Such films as GREASE, LORD OF THE RINGS (the 1979 animated version), HAIR, INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, HEAVEN CAN WAIT, ROCKY AND ROCKY II (in one book), and many more.

Check out a couple of pages from the CLOSE ENCOUNTERS edition:

TV shows that were given the treatment included The Incredible Hulk, Mork & Mindy, Buck Rogers in the 25th
 Century, Battlestar Gallactica, and even The Waltons.

Not everything that photostories and Fotonovels was a beloved hit. Flops like NIGHTWING, and AMERICATHON (heard of those?) were titles that were probably decided on before their box office was known, were impossible to predict whether they were going to be successes failures at the time (seems pretty obvious now though).

So in the early ‘80s, just as cable was spreading like a virus, there were fewer books produced. The saddest release was of STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN as it was in black & white. In addition, the images were blurry, and grainy on much lower quality paper. Even as a kid at the time, I knew the movie picture book party was over.


But the decades that followed, there were a few that popped up in the movie/TV sections in bookstores. THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, Disney’s DINOSAUR, and CHARLIE ANGELS, which was an attempt to cash in on the ‘70s revival of the time. Nowadays, you can find Fotonovels and Photostories in used bookstores and on Ebay. Most are cheap - $10-$20, but the GREASE one is listed on Ebay as going for $40-$500 (no joke).

So that’s a small, maybe tiny, bit of movie memorabilia history. I have a few of these Fotonovels on my bookshelf, and am amused when I see them out in the wild. If I come across one, or more, at a local used bookstore, I may consider a purchase, unless it’s the overpriced GREASE one that is.

More later...