TOYS ARE US : The Real Ghostbusters

I've actively participated in the modern cultural ritual known as "Black Friday" several times now - and I don't mean like 'online' shopping. For a period of 5 years or so, I went out to the big stores & malls at 12am - trippin' on tryptophan, drunk on adult beverages, sinuses packed with pumpkin pie - and would experience the experience just for the experience. I've never actually sought out a particular item in the hopes of getting it at some mildly lower cost - if I had, then I'd maybe more-fully immerse myself in "what it's all about." But what I've experienced in these excursions has been hot, loud, crowded, and very intermittently exhilarating. But even more prominent than that, I've noted that it's very structured, there's (mostly) a cooperative sense of discipline, and a heavy police presence. There was no sprinting or trampling or fist fights like in movies or TV. It's just like being in a really crowded store in the middle of the night with gastrointestinal cramping and a vague recollection of what it's like to be at home, in bed, asleep.

But was it always like this? Probably not. I hope not - I went out looking for blood, looking for a train wreck, looking for a fucking party! I was hoping to be part of a viral video - instead, it's a chaperoned middle school dance in Nazi-occupied Poland, and they have flatscreen TVs mixed in with the hosiery. The ideas I had in my head of "search & acquire" Xmas shopping was always graphically detailed to me by my parents, recounting their blood, sweat, & tears pursuit of anything (or even everything) from the Real Ghostbusters Kenner line of merchandise in the holiday season of '87.

By their account, it was apparently quite the stereotypical hard target quest, striking out from store to store: Bradlee's, Kay-Bee, Child World, K-Mart, Sears, and probably various other now-dead or dying places of retail, gradually accumulating as many of the pertinent products that were available, but not stopping until they got their hands on what they thought was the most indispensable item of all: the Proton Pack.

It should be noted that this was all meant to be a surprise; this wasn't a Jingle All the Way situation where I was demanding (or even expecting) these products. I'm not even sure I was entirely aware of their existence. But my parents clearly were, and they weren't about to settle for anything less.

It's sad: I've got an excellent memory that reaches pretty far back - nearly to the beginning. But even for a nostalgic sap like myself, it's hard to 'totally recall' emotion in regards to (or maybe in lieu of) personal events or physical activity. Though I think it's fair to assume that I was adequately excited on Christmas morning of 1987.

I remember the logo. Anything that had the logo (which was everything) would draw my eye into wherever it stood: particularly its prominence on the soundtrack cassette, and especially on the plastic Ecto-1, because, as I've done my best to explain in the past, the contrast of the logo against solid white has always been the turn-on. I also remember posing for some hero shots for my parents, and intentionally mugging like Egon in the theatrical poster that I woke up to in my room every morning.

I was a fan of The Real Ghostbusters cartoon series -- in the sense that I watched it regularly and it was colorful and had moments of humor and it filled the moments between watching the Ghostbusters movie. But it certainly read as counterfeit in a lotta ways, and the tone was ham-fisted in comparison.
No big deal, except the designs for the toys (as accurate as they were) derived directly from the show, and I'm overwhelmed with confidence when I say that there was no way I was the only child who felt a constant dull ache of disappointment that these playthings didn't more closely resemble the imposing black scientific weaponry from the film - as opposed to the candy-colored blues & yellows that better matched the Slimer show that spawned them.

I can't complain, and I sure-as-shit didn't complain then. However, nowadays, I've seen stuff online and at places like Spirit Halloween that offer much more true-to-life replicas of the actual movie-movie props. (That screen-accurate Trap is concentrated pornography.) I'm both excited & envious for my son's inevitable plunge into Ghostbusters and the officially licensed merchandise he will have at his dispense.
But in the meantime (i.e. 1987) I "made due" as it were; the hollow vinyl Proton Pack on my back gave me the satisfying sense of miming the action of busting ghosts to the tunes of the sprawling soundtrack that had all the other, cooler songs that weren't the Ray Parker theme. The PKE Meter - as aesthetically pleasing as it was - was the biggest disappointment as it looked nothing like what Harold Ramis was using. The Headquarters was solid and majestic in appearance, and felt like an 'important toy' (my father still recounts the assertive absurdity of the assembly directions), but I mostly sidestepped the action figures it was made for -- I didn't want tiny little Ghostbusters. I was the Ghostbuster. Ultimately it was just a cartoonish monument to real life architecture.

There were other things: the Ghostpopper that shot foam yellow cylinders (and resembled nothing from the show or movie), the Ghostzapper that projected images of cartoon ghosts on the wall in the style of the Bat Signal, the decidedly Pop Art comforter that eventually became a dog bed until 1995, the plush Mr. Stay-Puft with the glow-in-the-dark 'no-ghost' logo on its ass... An endless parade of 80s-colored plastic junk that may've well been solid gold. But the truest & most lifelike gem of that jam was the Ecto-1: my favorite movie vehicle, and though a depiction of the cartoon car, the differences were negligible.

But it's funny: as consciously careful and respectful I was to my toys, they'd eventually succumb to the elements - natural or man-made - and slowly deteriorate and die.
The Proton Pack's final resting place was outdoors, on a bed of leaves, behind my house. Season after season, year after year, I'd peripherally pay my respects as its bright colors and plastic form endured the punishment of time, until one Spring when the snow melted and it was not there anymore.
Even my beloved Ecto-1 lost whatever functionality it had (shocks, brakes, brake pads, lining, steering box, transmission...).

But it's ok, right...? I mean, possessions are fleeting & all that, and whatever physical/emotional/spiritual voodoo the toys discharged into my young life was certainly and wholly consumed by my head & heart. I don't wanna make this some deep metaphysical thing (so I won't), but I suppose the true magic of it is my satisfaction in participating in a major pop-Americana sensation of my generation. For my age at that particular time, it was my Moon Landing.
I mean, I did see the Berlin Wall torn down on live television, but this was better. And more important.

- Paul


EROTIQUE :: The many layers of SKYSCRAPER (1996)

"Erotic Thriller" is a bit too heavy-handed and generic for 1996's direct-to-video feature Skyscraper -- in fact, it's way off the mark. I think of stuff like Jade or Color of Night or Sliver when I hear Erotic Thriller: moody mysteries with psychosexual overtones and the possibility of a surprise ending. There's nothing particularly moody or cerebral about Skyscraper - it's an action flick (and an excellent one at that! Really!). And apart from some marital coitus and a lingering attention to Ms. Smith's bathing routine, it's a bit of a stretch to deem the movie "erotic" as a whole; though if I had to concede on my own terms, the very sight of an even modestly-dressed Anna Nicole Smith could send mothers' hands over their children's eyes. Semantics and labels aside, she had a strikingly bold appearance.

If you've seen it, or ever read anything about it (including this), you'll come across the phrase "Die Hard ripoff." Well, cinephiles, nearly every Action movie redid Die Hard for more than a decade following its release, and this ultra-low budget video delivers enough stunts, explosions, and excitement to roar with the best (and worst) of 'em. The gunplay is adequate & we get to see a few people fall off the building here & there, but there's an early sequence involving bazookas and machine guns in an alleyway that culminates into a flaming car going full-reverse through a tractor trailer and onto a busy city street, landing on a taxi (most of this shot from within the car). Say what you want about the writing and performances (as I will), but there seemed to be a higher standard regarding realism and various other visual components in this movie vs. other small pictures -- or even some other bigger pictures. I mean, this opening plays out as well as any Tom Clancy adaptation - which makes sense as the plot is also just as contrived and barely worth mentioning. So, I'll barely mention it:

Fairfax, a comic book version of a Bond villain, is pursuing some sorta video game-type objective in which he must acquire four different "devices" in order to obtain something along the lines of world domination. He has three, and the fourth lies within the 86-floor Zitex "skyscraper."
Carrie Wink (Smith) is a helicopter pilot who's unwittingly transported the army of baddies to the building, and before long she becomes the reluctant John McClane-type antihero who must thwart the villains' simplistic plan & free the inexplicably small number of hostages.

Anna Nicole is believable as the "Helliscort" pilot (I don't actually know any helicopter pilots, so why not), but the remainder of her performance that isn't delegated to a stunt person (exchanging dialogue, sneaking around with a gun, simulating intercourse) is sluggish and diluted by what I can only assume is a result of her infamous substance abuse. Even as a kid this fascinated me in an unironic way; I've always been a sucker for tortured souls and golden idols who are devoured by celebrity. It's sorta sad and awesome and beautiful and sexy and layered, and in relation to this particular movie, it's just another outrageous element that makes it as mesmerizing as it is.

Not to be outdone or upstaged is the film's radical team of mercenaries - all of whom seemed to take a different approach as to what kinda thug/goon/henchman they were gonna bring, and the result is a colorful array of what feels like different criminals from every kinda crime movie.
But the two showstoppers are Deron McBee - who you'll remember (maybe not as immediately as I) as the male stripper who Marcy hires for Peg's birthday in a Season 3 episode of Married... With Children. More likely than that, you should recognize him as Thor! Not from the series of popular films, but the Nordic-type wrestler who threatened to body slam Larry David so hard that he'd "poop" his "bald pants" on Curb Your Enthusiasm. I'm aware he's done plenty of stuff (often billed as "Muscle Guy," or in some cases, "Muscle Man"), but far too little of his career has been dedicated to Skyscraper-type roles; he should've been blown up by Schwarzenegger at least a half dozen times.

But, the whole movie is nearly entirely outdone by Charles Huber (who, very weirdly, is also credited as Executive Producer) as Fairfax. There's no easy way to describe this performance, but there are fun ways! Try Cary Grant as Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill. Or how about Ian McKellen as Sam Jackson as Bane. The possibilities and combinations are endless, and if you've seen it you understand, and if you haven't you should so you can feel what I'm talking about here.

Alright. To be entirely fair and and stop kidding around: the reason this movie was made, the reason I sat through the entire thing as a kid (and many, many subsequent times), the reason I own the DVD, & the reason I write about it was, and is, the promise of the most prominent Playboy Playmate of the past 30 years engaging in Adult Content and Brief Nudity.

Despite the actual, notable care & effort that went into several aspects of this film, its two 'sex scenes' - both roughly 90 seconds long and both cut to tender love ballads by Victoria Levy (which, if anybody can find these songs for me, we can cut a deal) - are the two major set pieces of the movie. Not because they progress the narrative or they're integral to the plot -- not in a traditional sense. In terms of the B Movies and Drive-In movies and Grindhouse Cinema that came before 'Direct-to-Video,' it is, in every respect, structurally sound, and plays as perfect as the pop song that it is. If the movie had been any different or "better," it wouldn't have been as good. If the Ramones had been better musicians or if Dylan had a golden voice, they simply would've been less dynamic, less fun, less good. Skyscraper is exactly the right temperature - not only as a piece of art, but for its particular time & place: ca. 1997, 12:35 am on Cinemax in my bedroom. And every villain is Hans Gruber or Al Capone, and Anna Nicole is Batman, and the sex scenes are the Millennium Flacon cruisin' in Hyperspace.

'Erotic Thriller' - not so much. I'd say 'Sexy Action' - which sounds way more like something I'd spend my money on.

- Paul

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