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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Hollow Pursuits

Well, it's here.  The end of August.  As I've mentioned, August was a super-busy time at work, but now that the month is done, things are slowing down again to a more normal pace, and as such, I finally have a little breathing room to pursue some of my outside interests...like brilliant-but-cancelled TV series.

I was tickled the other day when my DVD release of Now and Again finally arrived from Amazon!

On my wish list of "brilliant but cancelled TV shows that need to be released on DVD," Now and Again was always at the top of that list.  In fact, reviewing that list and going through my DVD library, I'm pretty sure it's the last one on that list.  It premiered in the fall of 1999 and only lasted one season.  Had a great pedigree, too, as it was created by Glenn Gordon Caron, who brought us the legendary 1980s TV series Moonlighting.

Now and Again followed the life of Michael Wiseman.  An insurance salesman working in a big Manhattan office.  He loves his wife and teenage daughter.  It's a pretty good life.  But then, he's killed in a freak subway accident, and he wakes up as a brain in a jar.  Here, a shadowy government scientist offers Michael choice:  get his brain implanted in a bio-engineered perfect body and become a super-soldier, or die.  Oh, and one condition:  his family and everyone he knew in his previous life must remain convinced that he is dead.  So, Michael wakes up in his new body, and sets about to become, well, Captain America pretty much.  But the heart and soul of the show was watching Micheal's wife, daughter, and best friend grieve and rebuild their lives, as Michael always finds himself drawn back to them, and how everyone's new lives intertwine in interesting ways.

Fantastic cast as well.  Eric Close, who went on to star in the detective series Without a Trace and is now on Nashville, played Michael Wiseman.  Dennis Haysbert, before he shot to fame as the President on 24, played Dr. Theodore Morris, the shadowy scientist in charge of the program and Michael's handler.  Margaret Colin, best known at that point as Jeff Goldblum's wife in Independence Day, plays Michael's wife Lisa, and Heather Matrazzo, star of the 1990s indie classic Welcome to the Dollhouse, played Michael's daughter Heather.

I'm really looking forward to revisiting this series, and seeing if it's still as good as I remember.  And also, the bonus features.  One of the features is a roundtable discussion with the writers as they mention what they had planned for Season 2.  Which is great, because Now and Again is one of the most frustrating things ever:  a TV series that ends with a cliffhanger.  In our cliffhanger, a series of mis-understandings leads Michael to believe that Dr. Morris has become convinced that Michael's family has learned of the secret, and as such, Michael and his family are going to be killed.  So the series ends with Michael going rogue, snatching his wife and daughter from their house, with Dr. Morris and a team of commandos a literal 2 steps behind them.  Meanwhile, a terrorist known as "The Egg Man" (so named because he distributes nerve gas by injecting it into eggs), escapes from prison, bent on revenge against Michael for capturing him, and accompanied by a new sidekick played by wrestling superstar Mick Foley, doing a variation on his Mankind character. 

So, yeah.  I hope these interviews with the writers can finally give me some closure. 

And of course, with free time means I can finally go see a movie.  Having grown up with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, I was mildly curious about the new, Michael Bay-produced reboot  now in theatres.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Movie Poster

For the last TMNT movie, the 2007 animated one, I was genuinely excited for it, but this one, I just couldn't muster any kind of excitement for it.  The Turtles looked too big and hulking.  There was that leaked early script where the Turtles were changed from teenage mutants to aliens.  Unlike the rest of the TMNT fans, though, I was actually pretty OK with Megan Fox as April O'Neil.

After seeing it, it's not bad, it's just bland.  It's a pretty phoned-in, by-the-numbers, superhero tale.  We've got a fairly standard "destroy the city" plot at play.  Shredder is pretty much wasted, and the other villain, our billionaire industrialist Eric Sachs, turns into a fairly routine villain pretty quick.  Megan Fox winds up being a pretty bland April O'Neil, and Will Arnett, who's usually a pretty funny guy, is also bland as April's sidekick and cameraman Vernon.

They did make a few tweaks to the Turtles' origins that I was OK with.  (SPOILER WARNING:  April's father was a scientist running experiments with the ooze and the Turtles and Splinter were his test animals.)  It seems like in every Turtles adaptation, they make a few tweaks to the Turtles' origins, so extra tweaks don't bug me.  The one tweak that did seem lame was Splinter.  Now, instead of being (a) ninja master Hamato Yoshi turned into a rat by the mutagen or (b) Hamato Yoshi's pet rat who learned ninjutsu by watching his master, and then made humanoid by the mutagen, Splinter is now just a plain ol' rat who figures they're going to need some way to defend themselves, so he starts teaching the Turtles the art of ninjutsu from some books he found in the sewers.  

At least they got the Turtles right.  When you get over their new, hulking designs, they pretty much act like the Turtles we all know and love.

So, yeah.  At the end, I didn't find it bad.  Just bland.  2 Nibs.

I've got the complete review posted up at my website. 

And of course, being in the city to do some frivilous shopping, I lost my mind when I popped in at one of my favourite collectables shop and they had a whole ton of those ReAction Figures that are out, so of course I had to snatch up the Back to the Future ones. 

I thought I blogged about these when I managed to find my Rocketeer ReAction figure a few months ago, but it looks like I didn't.  Here's the story about these figures and why they're awesome.

It all started with Alien.  Back in 1979, 20th Century Fox and Kenner sought to duplicate the success of the Star Wars action figures with a line of action figures for Alien.  The first toy from the toyline -- an 18" version of the titular Alien creature, perfect for menacing your G.I. Joes -- hit store shelves, and parents groups lost their freakin' minds.  How DARE they make a line of action figures based on an R-rated horror movies, especially when the monster is so grotesque and phallic!  So, Kenner scrapped the plans for the rest the toyline...a series of 3.75" figures of the film's characters.

Flash forward to the present day.  Toy and collectable company Funko heard of the legends of the lost Alien action figure line, and managed to find the lost prototypes and packaging mock-ups deep within the Hasbro archives (Hasbro having bought out Kenner in the mid-1990s).  Funko decided to finally produce those Alien action figures, and were inspired to created a new line of collectables called ReAction Figures:  action figures for cult classic movies, done in the style of the quickly made and cheaply produced tie-in figures of the 1980s.

When I posted that picture to Facebook the other night, a friend commented, "Did you get the Alien figures, too?"  No, but I was tempted.  For next to these Back to the Future figures were the Alien ones, and the Firefly ones, and the Pulp Fiction ones, and the Goonies ones, and the Terminator ones, and Snake Plissken from Escape from New York.  Needless to say, in order to keep my bank balance healthy, some tough decisions had to be made.  

And before I wrap this up, I have to share some recent developments among movie geeks that made me sad.  Leonard Maltin has announced that the 2015 edition of his famous Movie Guide will be the last.  Maltin says the main reason why it's coming to an end is that there's so many websites and apps these days that offer the same service, that sales have really taken a hit in the past few years.  And besides, with an entire generation now trained to get information online, a reference book is starting to seem...antiquated.  People want their wealth of movie reviews the day it comes out, not six months later. 

It's interesting reading the history of Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide.  Maltin began his career as a film critic and historian when he began running a movie fanzine in high school.  His fanzine impressed people with its professionalism, and at the ripe old age of 17, he was soon meeting with a publisher about launching a Movie Guide.  The first edition of Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide hit bookstore shelves in 1969, with an update 5 years later.  In 1978, he started updating it every 2 years.  And in 1986, he started updating it annually.  It started getting so thick, that starting in 2005, he split it into two volumes:  the "Classic Movie Guide" for movies before 1960, and the regular "Movie Guide" for films after. 

I first discovered Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide back in junior high, in my school's library.  I recognized Maltin as "that movie guy from Entertainment Tonight."  I started leafing through it, and my mind was blown.  I had no other way to describe it than "a dictionary for movies."  I'd check it out of library for weeks on end, just to have it at home and leaf through it.  It was something that did not go unnoticed, as my sister gave me the latest version for Christmas that year.  And thus began a holiday tradition, with my sister giving me the latest edition for Christmas, and me spending Christmas afternoon running around to the family members going, "Name a movie!" so I could see what Leonard Maltin had to say about it. 

It's a tradition that lasted until 2005.  I know it ended in 2005 because the 2006 edition is on my shelf.  As I'm sure you've figured out by reading this blog over the years, I can be a real asshole sometimes, and such a moment came on Christmas morning 2005, when I opened up my present from my sister and went, "Oh, gee...Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide."  And after getting Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide from her for more than a decade, I began teasing her and mocking her relentlessly for her lack of originality when it came to picking Christmas presents.  I genuinely upset her, and I apologized, but she vowed then and there to never get me Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide for Christmas ever again. 

I can tell it's still a sore spot with her because when I shared the new on Facebook along with a sarcastic, "Gee, now what's my sister going to get me for Christmas?" she responded with hearty "Go to Hell."  Part of me hopes she'll give it to me for Christmas this year, you know, because it's the last time she'll ever be able to do it, but I know I upset her so much that day that it'll never, ever happen. 

So Jeanette, once again, I'm very sorry for the things I said on that Christmas morning. 

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