June 11, 2017 – Ghost Town Gospel

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Lifted from their website, I couldn’t say it better myself:

‘Ghost Town Gospel is straight out of Oakland, blending traditional American folk influences with elements of punk, pop, and protest music driven to create a candid portrait of life in a broken America. Relentless touring musicians, you’ll be sure to find Ghost Town Gospel at a music hall, festival, dive bar or sidewalk near you.’

I had the pleasure of connecting with this group a few years ago, just before New Years Eve. One of their band-mates was an old college friend of mine, and they played a set at The Bisbee Grand Saloon before crawling up the mountain to unpack their gear at my hilltop home. A booze-fueled evening of living-room jams, huddles around laptops watching videos, telling stories and pouring beverages ensued, until that sun came up.There’s nothing like connecting with energetic creative folks, and there’s nothing like live music. If you ever get the chance, this is a group of people worth looking into.

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May 11, 2017 – Père Lachaise Cemetery

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This is an image that I have always loved, and it was a happy accident. After traveling through Europe, I came home with a giant pile of film that needed to be developed. I was still in my early days with photography and most of what I brought home was absolute garbage – but I shot enough film that I ‘lucked’ my way into a few decent images.

While I was in the darkroom, drawing my first prints from the Paris Cemetery rolls, somebody came in and flipped the lights on, not knowing that I was there. When this happens while a print is being lifted, it can create an effect known as ‘solarization,’ where the light short-circuits the developing process because the printing-out paper is still light sensitive. That’s why the highlight areas of this image are a neutral gray with what appear to be glowing edges.

I can’t even recall whose tomb this is; I just remember that the carving grabbed my attention and I took a photograph of it. Maybe somebody out there knows – let me know in the comments.

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Ghostbusters Reboot – What Are They Thinking?

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One week ago, the new trailer for “Ghostbusters (2016)” was released. In the internet age, the release of a trailer is a significant event, an event in which the online community is able to instantaneously react to the the material. Message boards and comment sections immediately begin to swell with the opinions of amateur and professional media prognosticators alike; the fate of many films seem to be decided much earlier than the actual release date. If we remind ourselves of the considerable excitement generated by the “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” trailers, as well as underdog films like “Deadpool” (the trailers of which managed to secure the attention of comic book lovers and total Deadpool neophytes alike) and realize that these trailers translated into record box office numbers.

Since the “Ghostbusters (2016)” trailer debuted, there isn’t even a fifty-fifty split; the people have spoken, and this feature is dead on arrival. With over twenty-two million views (as of this writing), the two minute video has garnered twice as many ‘dislike’ votes than ‘like’ votes. Reaction videos immediately begin to spring up over the past week, and the general consensus is that this film is going to be atrocious.

So what happened?

Many commentators have cast the new film aside as a contrived, politically correct rehash, tailored to the “social justice warrior” contingent and hordes of vapid ‘millennials.’ This is an absurd knee-jerk reaction. Director Paul Feig has already proved his mettle with comedies featuring strong female leads in smash-hit films like “Bridesmaids” and “Spy,” as well as sitting in the director’s chair for several episodes of the hit television series “Nurse Jackie.” The cast itself has a long list of successful projects under its belt, especially Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy, two actresses whose off-beat brand of comedy have attracted a great deal of attention.

A more honest analysis would require a quick discussion of the first “Ghostbusters (1984).” The original film was completely new, with a variety of inventive and novel concepts. It presented a coherent story, blending interesting characters, horror tropes, and comedy in a seamless tapestry. It was an interesting and fun film, unencumbered by audience preconceptions, laden with fast-tongued protagonists and filled to the brim with undeniable creativity.

This is what we would call a “tough act to follow.”

Remaking a genre film is risky business. Consider, as an example, if “The Force Awakens” wasn’t a continuation of our favorite story told in a galaxy far, far away, but actually sought to re-cast and remake the original “Star Wars: A New Hope.” It would not go over well. Fans of the franchise would revolt. While the cult status of “Ghostbusters (1984)” is arguably less pronounced than “Star Wars,” it is a cult classic nonetheless. Nobody wants to see a remake of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” for a reason. Cult films do not translate well into updates, remakes, or reboots. They too easily threaten to alter the very elements of the original film that audiences have come to know and love.

Another problem with the new “Ghostbusters (2016)” is that the trailer isn’t clear about the universe in which the story takes place. The trailer begins with the line “thirty year ago, four scientists saved New York.” This would indicate that the new feature is a continuation of the narrative from the first and second iterations of the franchise. This is hugely problematic because the new feature is a “hard reboot” of the 1984 film; it’s a stand-alone re-telling of the original story set in contemporary New York with an all-female cast. The four beloved hucksters from the cult-classic do not exist in this new film’s canon. There are rumors of a Bill Murray cameo, but there’s no indication that he’ll be reprising his role. Chances are, he’ll be little more than an easter-egg for fans of the original films.

For almost fifteen years there have been rumors that a third Ghostbusters movie was in the works, a film in which the original cast would reprise their roles. Unfortunately the project never got on its feet and, with the death of Harold Ramis in 2014, the project was abandoned altogether. In the interim, however, it was clearly recognized that there was interest in rebooting the franchise. Once it was known that the original four (Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, BIll Murray, and Harold Ramis) would not be on board, a whole world of possibilities opened up.

I don’t believe the decision to make the new film all-female was an attempt at political correctness. Rather, it was an opportunity to expand the demographic reach of a beloved property; it’s an attempt at expanding the audience. There would be nothing wrong with this decision so long as the characters are portrayed as whole women, as characters with agency, avoiding stereotypes of female insecurity and competition – this is where the film appears to have failed. Licking gun barrels and insecurely seeking approval (“The hat is too much, isn’t it? Is it the wig or the hat?”), just doesn’t work. It’s difficult to glean adequate character development from a two minute trailer, but it certainly doesn’t seem like these new characters are as three-dimensional as audiences would prefer.

The “social justice” contingent appears to be cannibalizing an earnest effort at updating this property, but this is only because it has been done so ham-fistedly, incorporating the same-song stereotypes of feminine insecurity and uneducated ethnic minorities, and then wrapping it all up in an unpalatable burrito of updated visual effects, gross-out humor, and Joel-Schumacher-eque neon colored light. Licking gun-barrels and competing for one-liners just doesn’t work.

Where the original film was an adventurous blend of comedy and seriousness, this updated film appears to go full-tilt in the direction of physical comedy. Some of the ghosts in the original film were genuinely scary, counter-balanced by goofy ghosts like the ever-so-enjoyable “ugly spud,” Slimer. It disrespects the source material by disregarding the narrative complexity of the original film. The best comedy comes from a place of thoughtfulness, and this film doesn’t appear to take its license seriously.

Part of the reason why “Ghostbusters (1984)” worked is because the characters were unique and relatable. They were brilliant, marginalized outcasts railing against supernatural forces and governmental bureaucracy at the same time. The new “Ghostbusters (2016) is a focus-grouped cash-grab, and audiences can already tell that they’re being taken for granted by Columbia Pictures.

This, my friends, is what happens when you cross the streams.

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Remembering Harold Ramis

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A little over two years ago news came that a beloved creative personality had passed away. Harold Ramis, widely known as Egon Spengler from “Ghostbusters,” was also an insanely talented writer, a renowned director, and all-around decent human being. His works have undeniably influenced an entire generation of filmmakers, writers, and comedians.

One of the original writers for “Animal House,” his other writing credits include “Stripes,” “Caddyshack,” “National Lampoons: Vacation,” among many, many others. His particular talent revolved around sophomoric, slapstick comedy with an undercurrent moral and social philosophy. His work is known for critiquing “the smugness of institutional life,” a theme exquisitely expressed in his ultimately pleasant, non-fatalistic narrative in “Groundhog Day,” which has since achieved a cult status.

With such a pedigree behind the original “Ghostbusters,” it’s no wonder the May 3rd release of the new “Ghostbusters” trailer – a reboot project with an all-female cast – has been met with intense criticism. The original film was such a monumental, immortal hit (in part due to the genius of Harold Ramis), the deck was already stacked. The cast and crew of the upcoming release have terribly large shoes to fill; it may prove to be an impossibility.

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Fallout – Stephen King’s “The Shining”

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Today’s “Fallout” easter egg is a simple one, but it’s also one of my favorites.

To the uninitiated, there’s a location on the map in The Capital Wasteland where people have survived, barricaded behind a mountain of k-rails, slabs of salvaged pavement, and the walls of a lone surviving structure. Tenpenny Tower, a rotting spire of concrete named after it’s founding inhabitant, is a fortified settlement in the territories west of the Downtown DC ruins. Formerly a luxury hotel, it is the tallest surviving building on the map, with the Washington Memorial a likely second.

The residents of Tenpenny Tower are a collective of elitist snobs who, behind their reinforced concrete barricades and a well-armed security force, do not take a liking to the poor and hungry drifters who occasionally stumble across the dusty cracked monolith. Allistair Tenpenny only allows affluent and “cultured” individuals inside his hotel, prejudiced against the pour and against the ugly so-called “ghouls.”

For those of you who don’t know – and if you don’t, the why the heck are you even reading this?! – ghouls are humans who have been deformed due to exposure to high levels of radiation. Some ghouls are feral and will attack anybody on-sight, but there are underground societies of mentally acute ghouls. These are perfectly sound, rational human beings with a serious case of flesh-rot. Prejudice against them is rampant in settlements across the wastes because of their unsightly appearance and fears that they may become feral. Their presence in the “Fallout” universe is a clever way to inject themes of racial prejudice into the narrative without invoking actual real-world ethnicities.

(this is also one of the reasons I’m such a huge fan of “District 9”)

On the mid-floor apartments in Tenpenny, there’s a tricycle in the hallway, along with blood-stains on the walls and an overturned chair. This is a direct reference to Stanley Kubrick’s classic horror film “The Shining,” based on the novel by Stephen King. Midway through the film, Danny Torrence happens upon two little girls dressed in blue while riding his big-wheel through the corridors of the hotel. In a flash, Danny sees a murder scene with the two girls laying on the ground, butchered, with blood covering the walls and an upturned chair on the floor.

Little nods like this are everywhere in the “Fallout” universe, but this one is absolutely marvelous.

For ever, and ever, and ever…

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Bonus Game Fact: Emil Pagliarulo, lead game designer and lead writer on the “Fallout 3” project confirmed that Tenpenny Tower (and its associated game quest) was partially inspired by Fiddler’s Green, the skyscraper in George A. Romero’s “Land of the Dead.” The story line is similar enough, with arrogant elites inside, and ghoulish creatures outside, looking for a way in.

 

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