“Gotta make a beer run”: Bustin’ Makes Me Feel Good

Thanks to a new franchise installment, the eyes of pop culture have once again turned toward Ghostbusters. What started in 1984 as an expression of actor/comedian Dan Aykroyd’s fascination with the supernatural has grown into a incredibly lucrative property with animated shows, video games, comics and, of course, a fervent cult following which can be a major boon or a debilitating curse. An embarrassing example of the latter was part of the reaction from the fanbase towards the 2016 female-led reboot of the original film, where certain sects of the GB fandom lobbied hate speech at cast members like Leslie Jones and Melissa McCarthy just because of their gender. On the other hand, the Ghostbusters fandom can be a creative and welcoming bunch, with countless fan creations that embrace the most appealing idea this franchise ever had: anyone can be a Ghostbuster. You don’t need special powers or an important destiny to wield a proton pack. To paraphrase the great Winston Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson), all you need is “the tools” and “the talent” to take up the profession. I believe that central conceit is the reason why this franchise still endures and has the potential to draw in new fans. I haven’t seen the latest film, Ghostbusters: Afterlife, but from what I can tell, the story seems to take its cue from the somewhat populist idea that any ordinary schmoe, even some random kid, can trap a ghost.

Tonight’s subject, often said to be one the earliest Ghostbusters fan films, plays with this idea. In 1998, David Sadler, Brandon Crisp and Rob Cleaton released this nearly two-minute short featuring a pair of GBs taking a nearly peaceful smoke break. Like a lot of early fan films, it’s crude but has a relaxed vibe that doesn’t take the property too seriously.

Hope you enjoy it and remember to never get involved with possessed people.

Credit: DrTart

Reverend Mothers of Paradise Island

Last week marked the occurrence of significant events in the lifespan of two very important pop culture icons. October 21st was the 80th anniversary of the debut of Wonder Woman, the most famous superheroine in history, who made her dazzling debut in All Star Comics #8 back in 1941 before becoming the star of the anthology title Sensation Comics in 1942. Ever since the first appearance of William Moulton Marston and H.G. Peter’s creation, the adventures of the Amazing Amazon have thrilled and inspired countless fans around the world, such as Leo Kei Angelos, the director and stunt performer behind the 2014 Wonder Woman fan film First Impressions, an exciting short which features Hailey Bright as Princess Diana and a villain portrayed by the incomparable Doug Jones (The Shape of Water).

The second event was the release of Denis Villeneuve’s adaptation of Frank Herbert’s 1965 science fiction tale Dune. My capsule review: it’s a visually arresting film and a great retelling of a well-known story but it might be too dry for viewers who are more accustomed to the mind-bending insanity of the 1984 David Lynch version. All the buzz around the new film made me think about the first time I learned about Herbert’s saga of the violent battle for control of the desert planet Arrakis. In 2001, Westwood Studios, best known for the Command & Conquer series of real-time strategy games, released Emperor: Battle for Dune, their third and final game based on the Dune franchise. I’ll admit that I haven’t played the game in a very long time but I do remember that my decision to play it was based solely on the fact that Michael Dorn of Star Trek fame was prominently featured in the game’s live-action cutscenes.

Hope you enjoy them and remember that the slow blade penetrates the shield…unless that shield is Wonder Woman’s indestructible bracelets.

Credit: [ActionLeo], hellhouse Oldies LP

“Our better half”: Spider-Man: Venom Fan Film by Throwbackstudioz

The sequel to the 2018 cult classic superhero film Venom debuts tomorrow and the early buzz for the Andy Serkis-helmed Venom: Let There Be Carnage seems to peg the movie as a crazier and more creative follow-up. To commemorate the release, I’m showcasing a charming fan film produced by the Atlanta-based independent film company Throwbackstudioz featuring a heavily-truncated adaptation of Venom’s comic book origin. The ending battle between the Lethal Protector and the Webslinger is easily the highlight of the short but the costumes are pretty decent and I appreciate their usage of Udi Harpaz’s wonderful score for Spider-Man: The Animated Series.

Hope you enjoy it and remember: Spider-Man PS1 Venom is best Venom.

Credit: ThrowbackStudioz, BigGameBoss

“Listen up, blockheads!”: Harley (2016)

Next week, James Gunn’s sequel (or reboot) to David Ayer’s 2016 Suicide Squad adaptation makes its theatrical/streaming debut. I’m looking forward to it not only because of Gunn’s involvement as writer and director but because the first film was such a mess that there’s nowhere to go but up. The early buzz is positive, which is already a step above the mixed-to-negative reception of its predecessor, with a lot of praise going to Margot Robbie’s portrayal of Paul Dini and Bruce Timm’s creation Harley Quinn. Ever since her debut in the 1992 Batman: The Animated Series episode “Joker’s Favor” (one of my favorites), the former psychiatrist-turned-criminal-turned-antihero has proven to be an indispensable part of the Batman franchise and one of the most popular characters in modern DC Comics history.

Of course, as this blog as documented several times before, that kind of popularity leads to fan creations of various stripes, ranging from artwork to, the subject of today’s post, short films. Directed by stuntman Fernando Jay Huerto (Battle Hero Absolute) and starring actress and writer Jacqui Verdura as the titular character, 2016’s Harley is a breezy but fun entry in the common fan film subgenre of “one long fight scene/stunt showcase” that capitalizes on Harley’s revamped look and characterization from Ayer’s adaptation. At the very least, Huerto’s short is easier to follow than the actual Suicide Squad film.

Hope you enjoy it!

Credit: Jabronie Pictures

“OK Spidey, do your stuff”: Spider-Man (1969)

You can tell that nature is healing from the pandemic because a new installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is about to be released in theaters. In a few days, Marvel resident super spy Black Widow gets a long-overdue solo film directed by Cate Shortland (Somersault), which got me to think about how far various Marvel-related filmic efforts have come from the humble days of 1944’s Captain America serial. Back in the day, Marvel Comics didn’t have the best of luck when it came to theatrical adaptations of their most popular characters. Sure, there was a smattering of direct-to-TV offerings but big-budget productions featuring heroes like Spider-Man, the X-Men or the Hulk seemed like a wild dream. To fill that void, a handful of brave fans took matters into their own hands and made their own short films based on Marvel’s menagerie.

Back in 1969, screenwriter Don F. Glut, who would go on to write for various Marvel cartoons including Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, was an amateur filmmaker who produced over 40 short films in the science-fiction and horror genres. The last short he produced was based on The Amazing Spider-Man and featured Glut himself as the web-slinger battling the histrionic yet powerful Dr. Lightning. I was most impressed by the use of stop-motion animation and miniatures to showcase some of Spidey’s moves in a way that would have been very difficult to execute convincingly with a live actor in a harness in front of a bluescreen.

Hope you enjoy it…and happy birthday to Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2, one of the greatest superhero films ever!

Credit: Buzz Patrol

“I think I’m gonna be sick”: Captain America (1990)

2021 marks the 80th anniversary of Captain America Comics #1, the debut of Steve Rogers, better known as the shield-slinging Sentinel of Liberty, Captain America. Since 1941, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby’s patriotic paladin has been a vital element of various Marvel Comics tales, supported by a diverse cast of iconic heroes and villains, including Bucky Barnes, the Falcon, Sharon Carter and the Red Skull, Cap’s most notorious foe. Last week’s episode of the popular Cap-adjacent Disney+ miniseries, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, would be the last bit of major Marvel Cinematic Universe content until the release of Loki in June. If you’re experiencing a little bit of Cap withdrawal, take a look at one of the most infamous Marvel films made before the dawn of the all-encompassing MCU: 1990’s Captain America.

A Real American Yo-Yo.

The film is a distinctly low-budget affair but that’s something that could be expected from a movie distributed by 21st Century Film Corporation, a company formed by Menahem Golan, former co-owner of the infamous Cannon Group. The story of the film, directed by Albert Pyun (Cyborg) and written by NAACP Image Award nominee Stephen Tolkin, is a combination and distillation of two of the most well-known Captain America stories: his Golden Age origin and his Silver Age reintroduction in the pages of The Avengers. If the first two MCU Cap movies are any indication, both stories have plenty of material and thematic weight in them to make a pair of effective films that play to Cap’s strengths as a character. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t give enough time to either of those tangents which makes the film feel a little unfocused and undercooked. Matt Salinger’s understated and inconsistent performance as the title character doesn’t help. Although the script has a good understanding of the bravery, determination and pathos that define Cap, Salinger doesn’t always keep up the pace. He does well in the action scenes and he certainly looks the part but he doesn’t really sell the idea of Cap as a commanding presence who wants to find his place in a world that has moved beyond him. His co-stars do a better job of making Cap feel like the icon he should be, especially superhero movie veteran Ned Beatty (Superman) and Robocop’s Ronny Cox, who sometimes feels more heroic than the title character. Kim Gillingham showed promise in her dual role based on Sharon Carter and Bernie Rosenthal, two of Cap’s most important supporting characters. Finally, Scott Paulin (The Right Stuff) gives an competent performance as a reimagined version of the Red Skull but Darren McGavin, Carl Kolchak himself, does a little better as a corrupt general who secretly works for the Skull’s organization.

Despite its flaws, I thought Captain America worked more often then it didn’t. It has a decent understanding of the idealistic spirit of Cap’s character and the political intrigue that informs some of his best stories. It even has some fun and creative action scenes. If you only know this movie for its less-than-stellar reputation, I think you’re in for a bit of a surprise.

Credit: Chas Blankenship

Mr. Rodan’s Wild Ride: Monster Planet of Godzilla

In honor of today’s release of Godzilla vs. Kong on HBO Max, I wanted to remind you that Godzilla is so popular in Japan that he’s even had a few theme park attractions made in his honor. Directed by Koichi Kawakita, who helmed 1989’s Godzilla vs. Biollante, and featuring Megumi Odaka as the telepathic Miki Saegusa, 1994’s Monster Planet of Godzilla, or Kaij┼ź Puranetto Gojira, was one of the earliest known attractions based on the long-running Toho kaiju franchise and, as typical for most early versions of things, it’s kinda weird in hindsight. How weird did it get? Well, does the picture below answer your question?

Don Frye’s got nothing on these two.

What’s the deal? Monster Planet was shown at Harmonyland and Puroland, a pair of theme parks owned by the Sanrio Company, producers of the insanely popular Hello Kitty franchise. Basically, this brief crossover would be the Japanese equivalent of Mickey Mouse showing up in front of the Millennium Falcon ride at Galaxy’s Edge on a whim. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a version of Monster Planet with the Hello Kitty footage intact but I was still very impressed by the effort that was put into this short but fun Godzilla adventure. I hope you enjoy it and I wish you the best of luck on the pre-film Godzilla quiz.

Credit: Michael Callari

“Man, I’d rather be dead than not have any bread”: Black Belt Jones

Since the 1970’s, African-American culture has developed a very strong interest in the world of martial arts. The reasons behind the connection are numerous and complex but for the purpose of this review, let’s focus on the impact of martial arts cinema on the black American community. After his breakout role in the classic Enter the Dragon, martial artist Jim Kelly was offered a three-film contract with Warner Brothers, the studio that was responsible for Dragon‘s international distribution. The first of these projects is 1974’s Black Belt Jones, a blaxploitation action film helmed by Dragon director Robert Clouse. Jones is the first starring role for Kelly, who plays the title character. This film may have helped to make Kelly a notable action star during the 70’s but let’s see if it holds up on its own merits.

The threadbare plot of Black Belt Jones, written by the team of Oscar Williams, Alexander Rose and Dragon producer Fred Weintraub, deals with the title character’s efforts to protect a martial arts dojo from an alliance of criminals who seek to control it. The story revolving around a black-owned karate school is a admirable nod to the connection between black culture and Asian martial arts, which adds some thematic texture to this standard heroic tale. Of course, the fight scenes are as intense as they need to be and are creatively shot, with the highlight being a brawl in a room where the lights flicker on and off. As I mentioned, this is Kelly’s first lead role and, in some spots, it shows. He’s still charming in the comedic scenes and thrilling in the action sequences but he seems limited in more dramatic scenes. It doesn’t help that the chemistry that he has with his castmates here is not as vibrant as it would be with his co-leads in Three the Hard Way, which was released a few months after Jones. The Shining’s Scatman Crothers, a debuting Malik Carter (Cobra) and Gloria Hendry (Live and Let Die) are the bright spots of the cast, fully embodying their characters. Crothers’s fight scene in the dojo is easily the coolest non-Kelly fight in the movie with Hendry’s pool hall scuffle coming in second. If the film has a flaw, it’s the strange performance of Andre Philippe (Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice) as the main villain. Philippe seems to fluctuate between a generic portrayal of a mobster and a parody of that same portrayal. On the other hand, Carter’s humorous yet threatening performance as an egotistical drug dealer is a lot of fun to watch.

Overall, I had a lot of fun with Black Belt Jones. It provides a highly entertaining look into an overlooked segment of African-American culture, as well as a demonstration of Jim Kelly’s amazing talents. I highly recommend it if you’re a fan of old-school action cinema.

Credit: Trailer Chan