Well, here’s some news.
Lyons Press has contracted me to write a book about the long, storied history of the Ghostbusters films. All of ’em — the old ones, the new ones, the ones they never even made. It probably won’t be published until 2021. Friends of the blog know I tried to get this off the ground a few years ago. The fact that it’s a reality now…well, my back teeth are swimming in excitement. I can’t wait for everyone to read it.
Speaking of junk you can read, I do a zine now about bizarre tv. It’s called Idiot Time and you can subscribe for the low low price of just two dollars a month at patreon.com/idiot_time. Seven issues so far. The most recent is a tribute to Ted Knight. Hi, guy.
Also, I live in Texas now. The grocery stores are enormous.
Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi
Starring: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill
Directed by Rian Johnson
Accepting reality is one of life’s most difficult challenges. Answers elude burning questions, or arrive with baggage you couldn’t expect. The wrong decision feels one hundred percent right; the right decision leaves everyone feeling wrong. These ideas form the core of The Last Jedi, an entry in the Star Wars saga that blurs the good versus evil / black against white mythos that’s been cemented in this entertainment monolith for decades. The results are dream-like, surreal, mostly captivating, occasionally bonkers—yet you witness a growth, not just with the characters but the franchise itself.
The Last Jedi picks up right where 2015’s The Force Awakens left off; Rey (Daisy Ridley) has located the hermit Luke Skywalker, whom she hopes will join the Resistance against the First Order while training her in the ways of the Force. Luke, still reeling from events in his recent past, is wary of this young newcomer and the trouble she may bring to his doorstep. Meanwhile, a power struggle is coming to light within the First Order as Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) openly doubts the abilities of Darth Vader’s grandson, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). Ren is battling his own demons and is not in fact very present in mind for what the First Order believes will be the final push against General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) and her Resistance. There’s internal distress on that side, too, as spicy boy pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and ex-stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) bristle under Resistance leadership and ultimately go rogue.
Ideas that the Star Wars prequels fumbled to infamy are presented here with grace and wonder. There are also moments in The Last Jedi where they roll the space dice and come up with droid eyes. Of course, this echoes the film’s aforementioned themes—you can’t always get what you want, reality can be a bitch. Director Rian Johnson has broken away from the formulaic feel that many believe hampers The Force Awakens; at the same time, Johnson (who also authored the script) deepens the chemistry between the leads, bringing resonance to the fact this war for the galaxy’s heart is extremely personal.
And yes, the rumors are true: this might be the Star Wars with the most jokes. One liners, visual gags, even bits reminiscent of Monty Python. The levity is appreciated as it bridges the gap between emotional set pieces. Don’t forget, The Last Jedi is two hours plus. A little editing may not have hurt, but perhaps that would decrease the perfectly feverish ambience.
FINAL SCORE: Three and a half porgs (out of four).
– Hulu recently added “Perfect Strangers” to its streaming stable; my first question after spinning the episode wheel for about a week straight is, since Bronson Pinchot’s Balki is just a sanitized version of the brief but memorable role he plays in Beverly Hills Cop, do you think “Perfect Strangers” ever tried to get Eddie Murphy to make a guest appearance? Also, do you think anyone from Beverly Hills Cop chagrins Bronson Pinchot for spinning this character into television, even though legend tells us Pinchot himself improvised it while filming Beverly Hills Cop? Do you think they ever asked Judge Reinhold to be on “Perfect Strangers?”
– the chemistry between Pinchot’s affable, earnest Balki and Mark Linn-Baker’s cynical, beleaguered Cousin Larry is often utterly crackerjack; when the writing plays to their strengths the laughs flow like water and you can see how this goddamn thing ran for eight seasons; this is probably how “Perfect Strangers” survived so many supporting cast hiccups (the actress who plays Twinkacetti’s wife in the first two seasons returns in the third as an unrelated newspaper gossip columnist; very confusing if you’re watching “PS” totally out of order on a Tuesday night, face deep in kung pow chicken)
– yes, there is an episode of this program in which Balki is accidentally hypnotized into believing he is Elvis Presley the night before his tax audit; this is in season four, so it is plausible by this point that Balki might be paying some kind of income tax on his earnings from the newspaper’s mail room
– yes, there is an episode of this program in which Larry brings home 58 live turkeys just a few days before Thanksgiving because he’s convinced he can make a buck off last minute shoppers; there’s nothing funnier than imagining Larry and Balki succumbing to the will of 58 live turkeys in their kitchen and living room, and imagine it is what you have to do—the budget apparently only allotted for two to three birds at a time
– yes, there’s an episode where Balki claims to have met and befriended Carl Lewis after a showing of Benji: The Hunted; Balki’s enthusiasm for this film is very endearing
– over the course of “Perfect Strangers” Larry and Balki meet, awkwardly date, and fall in sitcom love with their upstairs neighbors, Jennifer and Mary Ann (their partners respectively); these parallel romances remains chaste for the most part, even when they all wind up living together, although every once in a while something truly ribald slips by—like the time Balki admits Mary Ann really knows how to “toss his salad”; this occurs in a much later season when all the Friday night heat was ostensibly on Urkel
– people forget “Family Matters,” the show which begat Urkel, is a spinoff of “Perfect Strangers” (before she was mother to Laura and Eddie, wife to Carl, Harriet Winslow was elevator operator to Larry and Balki at their newspaper job); though he pops up on several other ABC TGIF entries of this era, Urkel never came to pay his respects to the cousins, which is fucking nuts because “Perfect Strangers” is the only TGIF show that takes place in the same city as “Family Matters”; even stranger, Mark Linn-Baker crossed over to “Family Matters” in one of its later seasons, but not as Larry, as some other guy
– the episode where Balki takes on the persona of hip hop star Fresh Young Balki B is less incredible than memory; the several minute applause break I recalled for the introduction of Larry as MC Cousin does not occur
– in the seventh season the King of Mypos (Balki’s fictitious homeland) comes to visit and of course dies unexpectedly; this turns into a Weekend at Bernie’s type deal but you’ll be more amused by how many times the dead guy thinks he’s off camera and starts moving his face around
– the final season of “Perfect Strangers” is inexplicably only six episodes, but don’t worry, they cram in pregnancy, a sporting good store, a Myposian death curse, a game show, and a two parter in a hot air balloon
– the only reason they should reboot this show is so we can learn if Bronson and Mark can still execute the Dance of Joy; it was foretold they would not be able to at this advanced age in the season three episode “Future Shock”; surely this is one of the top betting pools in Vegas
– whenever anyone starts talking about how this program gets strange in its later years, remind them the first episode produced after the pilot consists of guest star Michael J. Fox arguing with Santa Claus until the judge literally smothers him in a hug
– “Night Court” is the 1980s sitcom that took an actor best known for playing a Boston area con man and had him play a New York judge so virtuous they had to balance his morality with a wacky persona (this guy isn’t all nobility; he plays with chattering teeth and whoopee cushions at his bench!); it’s possible Harry Anderson’s “Cheers” character Harry The Hat and Judge Harry Stone are the same individual, a dual personality torn between two cities and two very different codes of honor; then again, no other characters from “Cheers” ever materialize on “Night Court,” and “Cheers” had a crossover with every other fuckin’ show on NBC at some point (even “St. Elsewhere”); don’t worry, a shared universe exists between “Night Court” and one other Must See TV sitcom—the Paul Reiser vehicle “My Two Dads”
– in this first season, Paula Kelly plays savvy public defender Liz Williams, a perfect adversary for John Larroquette’s ego-driven prosecutor Dan Fielding; unfortunately, they don’t give Kelly enough to do and these end up being her only 13 episodes; Karen Austin chews more as clerk Lana Wagner, trying her best to parse Judge Harry’s odd mechanisms while stemming what might be an eruption of attraction on her part; Austin is fun and charismatic in this role but she also did not make it to round two (she was cut loose by “Night Court” producers after developing Bell’s palsy); it’s disappointing these talents were shortchanged but the good news is they had careers long before and after these legal hijinks (and Austin quickly recovered from her malady)
– “Night Court” takes place in New York City thirty years ago but they dress all the bums and lowlifes who wander in and out of the gallery like they’re in a train yard seventy years ago; it’s like the classic hobo review and follies
– Yakov Smirnoff guest stars in one of these episodes; somehow he makes it all the way through without saying, “What a country!”
– call me a cynic but it’s difficult to believe these people are all so chummy after hours; if someone had abandoned a baby with one of the bailiffs at the O.J. trial would Marcia Clark, Johnnie Cochran, and Judge Ito have gone over to the bailiff’s house to help out?
– generally the humor of “Night Court” is timeless but every once in a while the writers slip in the topical, like a Pia Zadora reference (1984 audiences were very ready to laugh at her expense)
– as a wee tyke I’d watch this program and dream about visiting a New York City municipal court; in 2011 I got to live my fantasy after receiving a citation for being in Prospect Park after sundown; to my dismay, it was nothing like on the tv—the judge did not do any magic tricks, the attorneys did not crack any jokes, and overall the experience was vaguely depressing; based on this I am wary of befriending any sheep herders from Mypos
– if “Night Court” was just John Larroquette and Richard Moll’s bailiff Bull Shannon trading insults for thirty minutes each week it still probably could have lasted for nine seasons (the dudes is funny)
– excuse my dissidence but it is frankly disgusting that the “Night Court” theme song has not become our country’s national anthem
SPOILER ALERT: there might be spoilers in this.
– the nightmare never really ends, time is anything it wants to be, reality may be actively working against you; these are the sentiments I take away from season three of “Twin Peaks,” an eighteen hour tapestry that’s as frustrating as it is arresting and interesting; if you agree life is more about the journey than the destination, hop in, because we might end up at the DMV
– ask me why the original “Twin Peaks” strikes a chord with so many viewers and I’ll theorize it lies in the even braiding of various fascinating strands: the inherent kitsch of Anytown, U.S.A., the seamy underbelly of Anytown, U.S.A., the Pacific Northwest’s foggy weirdness, a police procedural, and a bevy of legitimately intriguing townies; “Peaks ’17” skews that balance as scores of principle characters and their stories are pushed aside for jaunts with new cast members, lengthy views into unsettling paranormal screen savers, or bizarre non-moments; the art to be found in the sequence where Robert Forster makes a 15 minute Skype call in real time is the lack of art
– David Lynch is critic-proof, of course; perhaps the only way his fans would cry foul is if he’d done anything conventional for the new “Twin Peaks”; that said, the decision to bury our hero, Agent Dale Cooper, in a doppelgänger story line wherein he is not himself at all for the majority of the season while relegating our other beloved icon Audrey Horne to a handful of similarly out-of-character sequences comes across in some ways as cruel (especially if this is in fact the last “Peaks” ever, as Lynch has suggested); it feels like maybe we’re being punished for enjoying these people too much
– don’t worry, we spent plenty of time with Lucy and Andy; you’ll be happy to know they’ve somehow become even stupider
– the game is afoot from the first episode, after a character declares that very unpopular “Peaks” staple James Hurley has “always been cool”; David Lynch has seen your “fuck James Hurley” memes
– when fans say “Twin Peaks: The Return” is unlike anything on television, they’re correct; it trusts its audience implicitly, assuming from them a specific brand of loyalty and intelligence; also, many of the aforementioned journeys into unexplained realms are uniquely hypnotic; the program may vex you but it’s rarely boring to look at, even when a guy is just sweeping a floor
– the remark has been made that, thanks to his role in this, Jim is now the Belushi with the more revered body of work; this is only because season three of “Twin Peaks” is longer than all of John Belushi’s films combined
– the final two episodes introduce a few wonderful and brilliantly conclusive ideas, only to pull them back and present something else; Lynch is as Lynch does, and that itself may be the true point of this coffee soaked exercise
– there are some wigs in this thing, hoo boy; Spirit Halloween shoulda been thanked in the credits; to be fair, I don’t know how to make a wig (I also don’t know how to make prestige television)
– at eighteen hours you’d think they would have found room to throw in Bill Pullman wailin’ on a saxophone but no such luck; at least we get (the) Nine Inch Nails and Edward Louis Vedder Severson
– the reputation of this two episode “event” from 1979 precedes it: it’s the Justice League of America as another cheap and witless variety show, the first entry bouncing flimsy adventure between two or three sets and a thicket of curdled jokes while the second is a roast of the superheroes hosted by Ed McMahon; serious comic heads treat “Legends” like the bubonic plague but it doesn’t reach the scalding hell of “The Star Wars Holiday Special” or “The Chevy Chase Show” (then again, maybe this reviewer has spent too much time entrenched in dreadful horse vomit and is now numb to true pain)
– with the rights to Superman and Wonder Woman tied up in much better properties, this Justice League is lead by Batman; Adam West returns to the cowl and proves time cannot weather his intoxicating dopiness; at his side is Burt Ward’s Robin, who also has no problem getting back on the horse (and his comedic chops feel like they’ve improved since 1968); another “Batman” reprise comes via Frank Gorshin as that maniac the Riddler; though Gorshin isn’t in command of the baddies he’s certainly in command of all the acting talent; that said, Jeff Altman is devilishly charming as Weather Wizard and you can see why they later paired him with Pink Lady
– for Green Lantern, Captain Marvel, the Flash, and Hawkman, NBC called in rent-a-hunks, deliciously sculpted figures with high watt smiles and heroic-seeming dispositions; alas, none of these guys were in danger of sweeping the Emmys, though perhaps Bill Nuckols should have received an honorary award for not dying of embarrassment while wearing the helmet “Legends of The Superheroes” shit out for Hawkman (the mask might be nothing more than construction paper); by the way, these shows aren’t the only peacock droppings Nuckols has on his résumé: he’s also Wally on “Supertrain”
– there are women in “Legends of The Superheroes” but not very many and they aren’t given much to do; in fact, famed rogue the Huntress doesn’t even speak in the first episode; hard to believe a series that introduces an African American character named Ghetto Man would marginalize women like that
– yes, the enormously problematic Ghetto Man debuts in the latter episode to clown his fellow do-gooders and shout his magic catch phrase, “Kareem!”; on a more positive note, future “Night Court” star Marsha Warfield pops up in the first entry and is deftly funny as a flabbergasted woman lingering in a phone booth as our heroes grapple with Solomon Grundy; Warfield goes uncredited but let’s choose to believe the comedienne was savvy enough to have her name removed from this not A+ production
– Batman calls Robin “laddy bubby” at one point, which might be the clearest indicator there’s more going on in the Batcave than previously figured
– a big surprise in “Legends” is that the wizard Mordru, undisputed master of black magic and various other nefarious sorceries, prefers to travel by jet ski
– Adam West, god rest his beautiful soul, refuses to tuck his cowl into the Bat costume for the duration of these programs and it is slightly infuriating how lazy and drunk it makes the Caped Crusader appear
– Hawkman’s mother shows up in episode two and get this…she’s not a hawk, falcon, or bird of any kind
– Ruth Buzzi is also present as Aunt Minerva, a nemesis of Captain Marvel who inexplicably wants to marry him; guess she didn’t get the memo that he’s secretly a ten year old boy
– judging by the reactions of the heroes during the roast episode they didn’t screen the jokes ahead of time; what looks like genuine amusement breaks out across all their faces after each playful barb (Captain Marvel Garrett Craig in particular is having a real hootenanny of a good time)
– in addition to jet skiing, the wizard Mordru (here portrayed by Dead End Kid Gabriel Dell) treats us to a ghoulish rendition of “That’s Entertainment” which concludes with the Dark Nobleman taking a cream pie to the face; no better proof exists that wasting food is hilarious
– Warner Bros released “Legends of The Superheroes” on DVD in 2010 but because this thing was shot on video it still looks like a greasy shit sandwich; didn’t they realize ding dongs in the future would feast on this as meaty irony and crave it in the highest of definitions?
– airing in January of ’79, “Legends of The Superheroes” pre-empted the Jack Webb series “Project U.F.O.” which suggests the government created these terrible comic book tv shows to keep a lid on extra terrestrial activities; assume Jimmy Carter will confirm or deny this before he dies
– Freejack is the 1992 cyberpunk exercise that famously posits Mick Jagger as Victor Vacendak, ice cold “bonejacker” from the far off void of 2009 who uses time-bending technology to harvest the bodies of the young and virile for elderly clients who fear death’s inevitable chilling blade; to stave off guilt the bonejackers only bonejack the bodies of people they know are about to die; as intriguing as this concept is, you are never not aware that you are watching world famous rock n’ roll icon Mick Jagger (no matter how much Spaceballs-looking shit they put on him)
– if a person somehow survives a bonejacking and escapes into the grimy depths of 2009, they become what is known as a freejack; Emilio Estevez plays the freejack at the center of this yarn, a race car driver named Alex who is utterly bewildered after being zapped from certain death to eighteen years in the future; New York City has become a dystopian hellscape—you know because people are playing Ministry records in broad daylight!—and he’s instantly a wanted man; thankfully Alex has a devil may care attitude and is also pretty quick with a one liner
– the strangest part of Freejack’s 2009 is that no one Alex knows has aged over the course of nearly two decades; apparently the culture of bonejacking is good for the skin
– Freejack is more plausible and absorbing than you’d expect a cyberpunk movie starring one of the Rolling Stones to be but it will also reinforce in you the notion that Blade Runner is a fucking act of god
– yes, Anthony Hopkins is also in Freejack, and more power to him for it
– this film seems like the perfect property to reboot as prestige television; imagine Zac Efron as the latest freejack, desperately searching for Emilio’s character, the only key to both their survival; also, Mick Jagger in that leather trench coat again, mewling out classic remarks like, “Just when I think I’m done with bonejacking, they pull me back in.”
Starring: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Danny Huston
Directed by Patty Jenkins
The delay in motion picture treatment for Wonder Woman has been criminal. No disrespect to Antman, but can you believe the Antman got a movie before Wonder Woman? Good things come to those who wait, great things to those who wait even longer, and Wonder Woman is massively great, a refreshing piece of heartfelt action centered around a compelling champion that’s easily the best superhero entry in decades. There’s no deadening coursework to do beforehand, no part of it feels ancillary or middling, they never compromise Wonder Woman’s known ethos, and the whole thing will probably leave you feeling better about the world.
Diana, Princess of Themyscira, Daughter of Hippolyta (Gal Gadot) spends her unfettered youth on an idyllic chunk of earth existing in its own magical area apart from the human realm. Just as she reaches maturity, the barrier is broken by ace pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) and the Germans chasing him. Diana’s agog to hear of the lethal skirmish (World War I) tearing apart “Man’s World”; she resolves herself to end it so that peace may flourish. Although a strong and fearless warrior, this Wonder Woman’s got her work cut out for her. The Germans have recruited diabolical genius Doctor Poison (Elena Anaya) to create the scariest biochemical weapons possible. Poison is also chemically enhancing a ruthless general (Danny Huston) who on the eve of armistice hopes to unleash his hell to take the globe for his country.
Gal Gadot ignited the screen several years ago with the bits they gave her in Batman v Superman and in Wonder Woman she goes the distance, adding dimension and affecting passion to the fun and ferocity already established. Diana wants to save the world with love, for love, and you’ll believe it (she also wants to punish evil with graceful resolute battle, which she does time and time again). Danny Huston’s villain is the heavy we’re meant to focus most of our attention on but underling Doctor Poison steals the nefarious show. Elena Anaya plays Poison possessed of mind and movement, living pulp escaped from page.
Wonder Woman was the dream project of director Patty Jenkins, so she’s said. How often does anyone get to make their dream project and how often does such a thing turn out note perfect at every turn? Jenkins holds the bird without crushing it. Let’s see this spread across a few more rousing outings.
FINAL SCORE: Four golden lassos (out of four).
Star Wars celebrates 40 years of escapism, influence, and cultural currency today. The founding chapter of this now colossal property was released May 25, 1977, across a pittance of screens. Popularity ignited like a house on fire and before anyone could blink this thing was obliterating contemporaries like A Tale of Two Critters, Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo, and Viva Knievel!. Only Smokey And The Bandit gave Star Wars any kind of run for its money, and there’s still a gap of about $180 million in domestic gross between the two. Burt Reynolds just couldn’t charm his way around Chewbacca.
There’s a documentary feel to the 1977 Star Wars which helps it resonate deeply, a framing where the audience isn’t following narrative but observing environment; the awkward broth of fantasy exposition is dismissed and we’re allowed to ferret out details as we witness events in these alien realms. This is especially true of desert planet scenes where the robots fumble along, get swooped up by the junk dealers, and are unceremoniously dumped into Luke Skywalker’s life. This fly-on-the-wall style counters so many other sci-fi films that desperately want to impress upon you their grandiose, mythical nature. Star Wars just drops you in there and lets many fantastical moments unfold nonchalantly, because these characters see lasers and blue milk every day.
Pivoting on that point, one of the best decisions George Lucas ever made was to insist this beginning Star Wars is actually the fourth installment of a who-knows-how-long saga. That let our imaginations go purple trying to fill in the priors. As incredible as the visuals and characters in Star Wars are, they suggest much more with that context. On the other side of the ewok, one of the dumbest decisions George Lucas ever made was giving in to temptation and actually filming the first three chapters, bluntly extinguishing the dreams we spun for ourselves across several decades.
Star Wars numbers four and five came before one, two, and three; there are probably those who also believe the immediate sequels—1980’s The Empire Strikes Back and 1983’s Return of The Jedi—should have never been made, allowing the 1977 film to remain the purest of entities. Foolish mortals! Star Wars made so much fucking money it was never going to be singular. Let’s just count our blessings over the miracle of The Empire Strikes Back, that rare sequel which bests its founder in pulp, artistry, and thrill. Star Wars 6 and 7 (and Rogue One) are great too, but there’s just something about the dreamy nightmare of Empire that cannot be equaled.
Of course, Star Wars at 40 is more of a conglomerate than ever, absorbed by Disney so they can have Darth Vader roaming the halls of their luxury hotels with minimal overhead. Star Wars belongs to our entire planet but it’s a U.S. invention and there’s nothing more “American” than celebrating a successful business. So rats off to maximizing profits and creating a global brand. And thanks for being so lenient with the fans who have restored and distributed the theatrical versions of the ’77 movie and its two sequels; this must be an admission of guilt or disagreement regarding “the vision” George Lucas suddenly decided he had for the original trilogy in 1997.
What else is there to say? Nanu nanu, put more Greedos in Star Wars 8.