Monday, February 24, 2014

Farewell, Egon -- R.I.P., Harold Ramis

Harold Ramis has passed away -- I heard the new this afternoon from Alex Jones, and was stirred.
Although until now never brought into this blog, as a child, I was crazy about The Real Ghostbusters, concurrent with being crazy about DuckTales and when I was first discovering Gladstone's duck comics. I liked the two live-action films, too -- the original was one of the first live-action films I ever watched in full, in fact. (I'm not entirely sure if it or Back to the Future came first for me.) My parents took my sister and I on a family outing to see Ghostbusters II in the theater, and I was so terrified by Vigo the Carpathian, I couldn't sleep for two weeks afterwards, with scenes from the movie replaying in my head all night. Looking back, the fact that it had that strong an effect on me is the reason I'm one of the rare individuals who prefers the sequel to the original.

I've always favored introverted, focused-on-singular-pursuit types, so it's a natural that Egon has long stood as my favorite Ghostbuster -- a role that Ramis defined, while Maurice LaMarche picked up the torch, holding it high for the duration of the animated series. (Ever notice how close his Egon is to his Brain?)

And let's not forget, Ramis didn't just perform in the two GB movies. He and Dan Ackroyd co-wrote the original, creating the entire franchise, and resumed their writing partnership for the sequel. A third movie has been in and out of Development Hell for nearly 25 years -- a few years ago now, it actually looked like there was some traction. Ramis in particular publicly expressed earnestness and enthusiasm at the prospect -- after all, the property was his and Ackroyd's baby. It is too bad that he never got to see it realized, as he was clearly looking forward to it.

I came across this on Facebook (not sure who created it), and found it poignant:

Of course, he was Harold Ramis, not Egon Spengler. He had a  long, full career that included many other projects, both as an actor and as a creator. I regret that I'm not familiar with most of them, and I don't mean to slight the rest of his life and work. But I certainly don't think that he'd NOT want to be remembered for GB -- after all, he was very fond of that particular one of his creations.

-- Ryan

Pulled from storage: Uncle Scrooge #315-316 (Nov.-Dec., 1998)

As anyone interested in reading anything regarding Disney duck comics most likely already knows, Gladstone II ended its run having reduced the line to just two titles, Uncle Scrooge and Walt Disney's Comics and Stories, but compensating by having converted both titles to the "prestige format". (WDC&S in Dec. `95, when the rest of the line still existed; US in Jan. `98, the month that began the era of the two-title line.) Gemstone would continue using this format for both titles for the duration of its run, so with all of Gladstone II's faults, this means of presentation was a legitimate innovation on their part.

When I think of Gladstone II, I, for one, think of constant reprints in WDC&S of the very same versions of Gottfredson stories that had appeared in Gladstone I's albums and in Mickey Mouse in Color and Donald and Mickey being loaded with those Goofy history stories form the Disney Studios. In truth, the "prestige era" saw marked improvement. That upswing is more apparent to me now, as I revisit them. At the time, a pall was cast over Gladstone II's final leg by the aforementioned disappointments, and by the scaling back to two titles and limiting distribution only to the direct market. There was a prevailing air of sadness to this era, at least in how I then sensed it. Gladstone was dying.

Romano Scarpa's "The Flying Scot" (1957) was separated into two installments between Uncle Scrooge #315 and 316, after which there were only to be two more Gladstone issues. When Scarpa stories had appeared a couple of years earlier in Uncle Scrooge Adventures, the 32-page format necessitated serialization. You'd think that the upgrade to 68 pages would be taken advantage of and we'd be able to read the 49-page story in its entirety between the covers of one book. They couldn't really expect the old "if they want to read the ending, they'll have to buy the next issue" trick would be necessary for the few loyal core readership that was left at that point ... could they? Still, I'm not going to complain about a long-form European story having made it to the U.S., especially with quality dialogue and coloring work. Even with Gemstone's digests, for my appetite, not enough of that has ever happened.

Like Scarpa's later "The Pelican Thief" (the only Scarpa story published by BOOM!, in Uncle Scrooge #308, with spiffy dialogue by Joe Torcivia and David Gerstein), aquatic birds -- in "The Flying Scot"'s case, just one -- are integral to the plot. Perhaps this apparent inclination can be attributed to the fact that Scarpa grew up in Venice. According to Wikipedia -- in both cases, citing very reputable-sounding books -- the only continent on which you won't find any pelicans nor sandpipers would be Antarctica. Thus, considering that he lived in a coastal city, it's not impossible that in a coastal city like Venice, sighting such birds was commonplace. Such a background may also account for the maritime settings and nautical trappings of this story ... Scarpa certainly isn't the only duck artist -- he most certainly shares Barks' company in this respect -- to work on such a stage, but familiarity with a locale similar to some of the settings in "Scotman" couldn't have hurt.

"Scotman" comes off as two separate ideas that Scarpa figured out how to fit together as one story. The first is the unexplained mass, worldwide (apparent) disappearance of sardines, which makes Scrooge's attempts to feed his adamantly picky  new pet "mop-topped sandpiper" VERY complicated, setting him and his nephews on a quest to solve the mystery and get some gort-dranged sardines, already. Why does Scrooge go to such lengths for this winged prima donna? Scarpa never makes that clear. The story begins with Scrooge recognizing that he's "been doggoned lonely these days", and in the same breath deciding that the solution is a pet. That's the entirety of what's disclosed here as to Scrooge's character motivation ... "take it or leave it!" Judging by the artwork, translator and dialogue scribe David Gerstein didn't omit anything in translation here. Why has Scrooge never felt this loneliness before? Why the sudden interest in a pets? Is he going soft? When he becomes aware of the massive obstacle to fulfilling the bird's dietary requirements, Scrooge is hell-bent on overcoming it, and never questions himself in doggedly going to whatever length it takes. This, I can accept -- once Scrooge commits to something, he comes through. WHY he committed to taking this spoiled member of the Scolopacidae family under his charge in the first place is what I'm vague on.

Believe it or not, there's an entire other component of this story (the second of the two disparate ideas I spoke of before) concerning a flying ship, the captain of which has been fated with a 300-year mission that, as he relates to Scrooge and co., is up in a few years. (Shades of El Capitan, except Danblane McDuck is not driven to remain alive for centuries not by greed, but repentance.) Huh? Where does this come in? It turns out that the tasks performed in deference to his mission -- with which, it's inferred, he was ordained by the will of an unidentified higher power -- are the cause of the displaced sardines. The explanation given is more logical and less contrived than you would think, given the blunt interjection of a fantastical, supernatural element into a mystery narrative that others -- Barks, for one -- would've resolved with perhaps an outlandish but firmly scientific explanation. Investigating rumors of a magically airborne and very elusive Renaissance-era pirate ship, discovering the ship, and learning of the captain's plight is a perfectly tailored premise that merits its own story.

In fact ... sounds familiar, doesn't it? "Flying Scot" predates Barks' "The Flying Dutchman" by two years, so no accusations of "ripoff" are justified here (in either direction ... I don't believe Barks was aware of the Italian comics at this point). Danblane McDuck certainly resembles seafaring McDuck ancestors seen in flashbacks that were part of two earlier Barks stories: Captain Seafoam McDuck in "The Horseradish Story" (1953), and Matey McDuck and Bo'sn Pintail (the latter being Donald's counterpart) in "Back to Long Ago" (1956). Though in terms of initial publication, "Long Ago" predated "Scotman" by nearly a full year, "Long Ago" didn't appear in Topolino until 1959, so unless Scarpa had an overseas subscription to Dell's Uncle Scrooge, he probably hadn't read "Long Ago" when he wrote and drew "Scotman". Now, if you and someone else, unbeknownst to each other, take Donald (or Scrooge without his whiskers and spectacles, which gives you the same thing as Donald) in pirate in the garb of a 1700's sea captain, odds are, the results will bear a resemblance to each other. Still, Danblane being modeled after Seafoam can't be ruled out completely.

At two different junctures of the story, a giant-sized panel (each occupying two-thirds of its respective page) heralding an entrance and reveal of the Flying Scot: 1. When first appears before the ducks; the second. 2. When the air balloon-borne ducks, now in pursuit of the Scot, discover it as they surmount the cloud that'd been hiding it follows. Despite Scarpa's dynamic, eye-pleasing renderings, these occasions come off as more silly than climactic. Maybe it's just me, but the preoccupation with sardines up until this point failed to build up much of a sense of intrigue. That state of affairs speaks directly to how using Danblane and his ship is a waste of their potential. For such a fantastical, otherworldly vessel and persona, it seems undignified to be steeped in something as ... dinky ... as sardines.

Not only that, but after a quick sequence in which Danblane captures the ducks and orders Scrooge to walk the plank -- which actually DOES play out a little nerve-wrackingly -- the story resolves in a completely anti-climactic way. Realizing they're related, the ducks and Danblane make nice, and he sails them back to Duckburg. The only saving grace is that Scrooge is actually even more excited -- having figured out where the sardines are -- about the sardine factory he'd bought at the beginning of the story, only to discover that it was doomed by the shortage (should've seen that coming, shouldn't he have?) now being set to turn a massive profit than he is about now being able to satisfy the sandpiper's palate. Donald and the nephews reacting with chagrin sweetens the deal -- it's the very same dysfunctional family that we know and love.


Each of these issues contains a prime mid-50's Barks 10-pager -- "The Sagmore Springs Hotel" and "The Runaway Train -- each of white is plotted, paced, characterized, and drawn perfectly. His art is possibly at its most fluid and electrified here. The two half-page panels in "Runaway Train" are especially explosive. I also note that Sue Daigle's coloring for both is some of the richest, most subtle work of hers that I've seen. 


It's getting late, so I'm just going to copy and paste the notes I made for the several European stories that fill out the rest of these two issues, possibly to be revised later:


“The Bungee Jumpers” (1993, Denmark) – Pat McGreal and Vicar. Not something you’d expect to see Scrooge doing, and an odd subject for a Duck story – certainly not in a Barks story, as bungee jumping originated in 1979. Vicar’s art is very much based on Barks’ and appears to be the very same world with little no updating, so bungee jumping really is an anachronism. Donald particularly deceitful and cruel (endangering Scrooge by making him think he has bad vision – that could really screw up the bungee jumping), but we have seen Donald stoop to such a low when greed or jealousy get in his way, in Barks’ stories. To see Scrooge embrace and excel at the bungee jumping is nice to see – true to form of the adventurous, industrious McDuck.

“Rain Dance Reversal” (Denmark, August 1998 – published very soon after by Gladstone in September `98) -- David and Larry Gerstein, Alfarez. Poor Donald? Poor Gyro! Gyro’s oversights and ultimate failure in “blowing away” the rain aren’t really out-of-character – Barks’ characterized as brilliant, but aloof and absent-minded, too. And though Gyro succeeds TOO MUCH at making the rain go away, things still work out for him in the end … unlike for Donald. Is neighbor in Barks’ stories? I know Barks had neighbor character, but same name? Very much in the Danish style art-wise – reminds me of Vicar. 

Figured out one of Gerstein's references: this song. (Makes sense, knowing he likes music from that era. And a wholly pleasant song it is!) The Internet makes this too easy.


“Celluloid Saps” (Denmark, 1994) – written by John Kane and Charlie Martin, American dialogue by David and Susan Daigle-Leach. Art by José Colomer Fonts– can’t believe that Scrooge is this gullible, and this taken by flashiness and spectacle. But good art, and story gets into full swing, once Scrooge is onto things and in pursuit of the bad guys, with the help of the “Viking” movie cast. Good use of the theme, with them “charging” the bank and such. Fine art – again, the Denmark house style. Kind of a hybrid of Vicar and Branca – flexible and slightly exaggerated like Branca, but renderings a bit closer to Vicar.

“The Curious Cure” (Denmark, 1995 – apparently, original title translates to “Home by the Sea”, which doesn’t translate well. It’s a rest home, but it just makes one think of a regular everyday house) – script by Russell and Brian Claxton, art by by Tino Santanach, American dialogue by Susan Daigle-Leach. Glomgold’s inclusion doesn’t go anywhere – I thought he was going to end up working with Scrooge and Donald in the escape. Donald is sharp-witted, focused, and ambitious – unusual, but nice to see. A good idea, and well-executed. Like the action sequences, especially the swinging from a higher tower window to a lower one.


Were those coherent? As I said, revisions might be called for! ;) 'night!

-- Ryan

Monday, February 10, 2014

Rescue Rangers movie announced ... and it decidedly won't be a "MovieToon" ...

About 25 years ago, it was reported in an issue of Animato! -- and perhaps elsewhere, but that's the only place I remember in which this claim was made -- that the first "Disney MovieToon", DuckTales: The Movie, would be followed by a Rescue Rangers movie. This was appropriate, as DT was Disney's first weekday syndicated animated TV series, and RR was appropriate. However, Scrooge and Co. didn't farewell at the box office, and so Gadget, Monty, and Zipper were never to grace the big screen.

...until now. Learned the surprising news yesterday  from an DCF thread started by a member going by Jarred. His source is a article. There's also a Variety article reporting the same info.

It has always seemed to me obvious how to due a Rescue Rangers movie: 1. Traditional cel animation, just like the series. 2. A straightforward action-adventure story with comic relief sprinkled throughout, just like the series. 3. A continuation/part of the series, with all of the same character designs, "set" and "prop" designs (Ranger Headquarters, the Rangerplane, etc.), and voices. 

If the MovieToon had happened, the movie I just described most likely would've been exactly what was made. After all, that was the approach taken with the DuckTales film. At any point from the mid-`90's on, however, if a Rescue Rangers movie were announced -- say during the era Recess and Pepper Ann -- it most likely be overseen by execs and creative personnel who wouldn't have had a thing to do with the original series, and was view it as an outdated, worthless anachronism. Thus, I'd be worried. Into the 2000's, as traditional cel animation became more and more outdated, such an announcement would have me even more worried.

Now, that announcement has actually been made ... and, I'm worried. 

It's going to be CGI with live-action -- so, most likely, the Rangers and other animal characters would CGI, and the settings and human characters would be live-action. From the sounds of things, it's being handled as a revival of an old franchise, playing to the nostalgia of children of the late `80's and aiming to introduce the children of the mid-2010's to it with something that will suit their sensibilities. From the comments on the articles linked above and at DCF, I'm not alone in dreading a movie in the mode of the Smurfs and Alvin and the Chipmunks atrocities of recent years. 

However, there's some hope. As far as it being a continuation of the series, we can safely assume that's out the window, picked up by the sidewalk cleaners, and in a landfill somewhere. Fortunately, the original series' entire premise -- a realistic world in which the animals have their own sub-world that the humans are completely oblivious to -- actually lends itself to an animation-crossed-with-live-action approach, provided that the filmmakers know where to draw the lines between the two worlds. CGI-rendered animal characters can be cartoonish enough but still realistic-and-three-dimensional looking where suspension of disbelief would work when it comes to accepting them as part of a live-action world. A Rescue Rangers movie juxtaposing cel animation with live-action wouldn't work, because there's too much of a disparity. It works for, say, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, because the Toons were supposed to be Toons. 

For this movie to be anywhere remotely good, but allowing for the CGI-live-action hybrid, this movie will only be remotely decent, provided:  1. The creative team doesn't go the Alvin and the Chipmunks route and trying to make the title characters look way too much like actual chipmunks, resulting in putrid, outright disturbing character designs. (I seriously do not have a clue what made those movies so popular.) 2. As mentioned before, competent world-building on the part of the creative team, with an intelligent, complete understanding how to balance the human world and the animals' sub-world. 3. a straightforward action-adventure movie with comic relief sprinkled throughout. Not a musical self-parody polluted with a bunch of pop culture references. If we get to the point where there's trailers and it were obvious that that's what the movie would be, I wouldn't even go see it. If it weren't apparent until I was actually in the theater, I'd get up and walk out.

Here's some visual aides. There should be action, adventure, and danger:

...adventure meaning that the Rangers travel to places that are so far away, it's really cold and they need to bundle up:

...and there should be enough personal drama between the Rangers to keep the hardcore fans happy. Like when Chip and Dale are really mad at each other (if the 'shippers have their way, because they're vying for Gadget's affection... which Chip would be the one to ultimately win, of course...):

Keeping my fingers crossed (kind of in hopes that this won't even happen...)

-- Ryan

Sunday, February 9, 2014

(Some of) my assorted thoughts on: Abduction (2011; directed by John Singleton).

Obviously, this isn't the type of thing that I usually review on this blog. But I'm due a post before the weekend is up (and I have less than an hour), and I just watched it, so I have (some) assorted thoughts on it, and so, it fits the bill!

I came across Abduction yesterday evening while looking on Netflix for something to watch. The description intrigued me: the protagonist "come across his own childhood photo on a missing persons website", an "begins questioning everything he's ever known."

I'm inevitably intrigued by any variation of, "We/I am here to inform you that your whole life has been a lie... now, quick, run, they're coming for you, and follow this trail of dangling carrots to find out the truth!" So, this seemed like a surefire bet; would probably still be fun, as cookie-cutter as it looked.

What more is there to say than, I called it? Indeed, it proved itself cookie-cutter and thus little more than mere fun. Case in point, I never doubted that the female lead (played by 24-year-old Lily Collins, who's gorgeous, and whose filmography I may now explore a bit) was going to die, no matter the severity of danger she appeared to be in, and that the end wouldn't find the couple going off to live the rest of their lives in completely safety and happiness. (Spoiler alert: I was right.)

As a particular plot development came about, I think my face probably lit up with a knowing, pleased grin. The two leads, under assumed identities, were attempting to get to their destination by train, hopefully under the radar of the forces out to besiege them. Of course, one of the latter's operatives has tailed them onto the train and, as the tension is mounting, right to their private compartment, where, obviously, things to a head. What so delighted me about this? It was obvious to me that the Shawn Christensen had been influenced by North by Northwest. This is not the first modern thriller in which the train sequence from that classic Hitchcock film has been paid homage to. And I can't help but approve, because if I were writing a movie, I'd want to do much the same. (In fact, in some of my private comic book scripting, I haven't been able to resist doing so.)

However, it wasn't as dumbed-down as it could have been. I thought it was going to go the "CIA are the good guys, and the foreign agents are the bad guys route", but it ended up concluding that -- in the words of the CIA bigwig "is he friend or foe?" who was ultimately proven to be grossly corrupt -- in the intelligence community, any two opposing parties are "two sides of the same coin". So kudos to the writer and director for having some political and moral kahunas. Hell, with the protagonists being high school students, I didn't expect the film to become even remotely serious about the intelligence community. I figured agents and mercenaries would be ciphers not closely aligned with any actual, real-world outfit.

Also, there were numerous scenes that were quite frank about how easily certain handy devices in our lives can be hacked and/or overridden for interception and spying. The movie didn't come right out and decry the NSA's Big Brother surveillance state, but I was still struck by that it even showed the U.S. government engaging in such operations. Most audiences would probably just figure, though "Ohhh, that's juts those crazy CIA guys in the movies, with all their car chases and shoot-outs and kung fu fights!"

All-in-all, I don't regret spending my time on it. After all, not only did I enjoy it, I even got a blog post out of it! (...a post that incidentally, overlapped in terms of subject matter with my other blog...)

-- Ryan