In Memory of Harold Ramis

Yesterday, the world lost a great talent. Early in the morning, comedian, actor and director Harold Ramis passed away from complications from autoimmune inflammatory vasculitis. If you're not familiar with the body of Ramis' work, then I don't know if we can be friends. He's written a number of classic comedies, like Stripes Animal House and Groundhog Day. But to me, his most lasting legacy will be the character of Dr. Egon Spengler from Ghostbusters.

Growing up, Ghostbusters practically defined who I was. It was my favorite movie (still is, in fact), animated series and toy line. I had so much Ghostbusters stuff that I didn't even know what to do with it. In my mid-twenties, I started selling a lot of my old childhood toys in an effort to raise money for a security deposit on my first apartment. I sold my Megazord and Goldar figures (from Mighty Morphin Power Rangers for those of you not initiated), a shit ton of baseball/basketball/hockey cards and all of my Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle action figures (yes, I do regret that now but that's not the point). But the one thing that I couldn't dare part with?

My Ghostbusters toys. I considered putting them on eBay with the rest of my stuff. Came damn close to doing it, too. But there was that one, tiny piece of me that just couldn't do it.

I felt that I could do without the rest of that stuff but my Ghostbusters collection was irreplaceable. And this wasn't just a plethora of action figures. No, I'm talking about Ecto-1, Ecto-2, Ecto-3 and even Highway Haunter. The Proton Pack and Ecto-Googles. I had the firehouse but that got thrown away through a misunderstanding by my mother. I still haven't forgiven her for that. But regardless, most of my collection remains in tact. (I really, really wanted the Ghost trap but never got it; my cousin had it but he never let me kick it across the floor like Winston did all of the time in the cartoon.)

Ghostbusters brings back so many memories. Good, safe memories of a simple time when you could strap a hollow piece of plastic to your back, wave a long, yellow foam tube around and you had the ability to save New York from a deluge of spirits. They were the first movies that I ever purchased on DVD; I bought them even before I had a DVD player. Every time I watch them, I get a warm sense of familiarity wash over me and it makes me feel calm.

Ramis was a comedic genius. The tone he and Dan Aykroyd set in Ghostbusters was brilliant. Their delivery of the material was spot on and their chemistry perfect. I honestly can't think of a movie that compares in terms of humor and quality and one that holds up so well 30 years after it was released. I can watch that movie over and over and still find it humorous and entertaining. Maybe that's just me being biased toward my all-time favorite movie but I don't think so. It has a strong plot, strong characterization and was licensable as hell. That's the formula for a legacy.

Without a doubt, the loss of Ramis will be felt. For starters, this will likely halt any attempt to make a Ghostbusters 3. For years, Ramis and Aykroyd have been working on a script and campaigning to make the film a reality to no avail. And while I backed them for the longest time, without Ramis, I think the plans should be dropped. It would be awkward to have a Ghostbusters movie without Egon and replacing him would just cheapen its legacy. Not to mention the chemistry would be off without one of the original actors as part of the ensemble.

I feel like I'm short-changing Ramis' achievments by just talking about Ghostbusters but, in all honesty, that's how I will always remember him. That's what I associate the name "Harold Ramis" with. To me, he will always be "Egon Spengler", despite the fact that he made a number of ridiculously successful films during his career. The thing is...I don't think he would mind. He seemed like the kind of person that would appreciate that sentiment, just like Dan Aykroyd does. Funny story... A few years back, I met Dan Aykroyd at a local Joe Canal's for a promotional signing of his Crystal Head Vodka. A number of people showed up dressed as Ghostbusters, sporting all kinds of homemade suits and proton packs. When the signing started, Aykroyd came out and said "All Ghostbusters, come up to the front" and did a meet and greet with all of them. He appreciated that they idolized his characters and took the time to immortalize them. And even though it caused a few people to wait longer (though not by much), it was great to see what he does for the devoted fans.

After that meeting with Aykroyd, I wanted to try and get my Ghostbusters DVD insert signed by the entire cast but now that Ramis is gone, that goal is no longer obtainable. I really feel like a part of my childhood died yesterday and it sucks.

I guess there's not much else that i can say besides rest in peace, Harold. You will truly be missed.

One of the greats.


Movie Review: Pompeii

Despite being one of the largest natural disasters of the last two millennia, the topic of Pompeii is the newest hip thing. A few months back we got a song by British pop band Bastille playing all over the radio, which makes me cringe every time I hear it. In addition to that, just this past Friday audiences were treated to a big budget, special effects extravaganza directed by Paul W. S. Anderson, the guy that brought us Resident Evil. But is the big screen Pompeii worth your time?

The story follows Milo, played by Game of Throne's Kit Harington, who comes from a band of Celtic Horse Men. The entirety of the clan is killed by a platoon of Roman soldiers, with Milo being the only one to survive. He runs away where he is captured by nomads and sold into slavery, forced to fight as a gladiator in the arenas. He becomes so successful, under the "stage name" of The Celt, that he is brought to Pompeii in his shot at the big leagues.

Essentially, Pompeii is full of as many blockbuster movie tropes it could think of. You have Milo, the "last of his kind", which, when you look at characters like "The Last Krytonian" or "The Last Timelord", just automatically implies that he will be more powerful than most people. He meets and falls in love with the daughter of the governor of Pompeii, impressing her with his horse-whispering abilities. His earns the respect of his main rival, Atticus (played by Adewale Akinnuoye-Adbaje, who tapped into his character of Adebisi from Oz to prepare for this role), through his frank expression of opinion and amazing fighting technique. Against impossible odds, Milo seeks revenge against the man who ordered the death of his family, all under the threat of an actively erupting volcano. It's a lot for one movie but in the end, manages to make things work.

Harington does well as Milo, but it's not much that we haven't seen in his Jon Snow. No, scratch that. One main difference between Pompeii and Game of Thrones is that Harington isn't draped in the black cloaks of the Night's Watch and is able to show off his impressively-sculpted muscle mass. He's got a great ability with a sword and can handle the intense fight scenes but seems to lack any kind of emotion. All of his scenes are played with the same straight-faced intensity, which really goes a long way to water down the performance. The only indication we get of any kind of emotion is shouted dialogue.

Then you have Kiefer Sutherland who plays the dastardly Roman Senator Corvus. Corvus comes to Pompeii under the guise of bringing word of the Emperor's desire to invest in the city but really he has his eye on Cassia, the daughter of Pompeii's governor. At this point, I am completely unable to see Sutherland in any role other than Jack Bauer, the hero of the show 24 and the character Sutherland portrayed in eight seasons. For the most part, Sutherland struts around on screen, chewing the scenery, doing the best Jeremy Irons from Die Hard With A Vengeance impression that I've ever seen. He does kick into some of the classic "Sutherland Screaming" toward the end of the film when events come to a head but for the most part, watching him was awkward and, at times, difficult.

Emily Browning rounds out the cast as Cassia, the female lead and love interest to both Milo and Corvus. What I liked best about Cassia is that, though she's the film's damsel in distress, she is given a sense of empowerment. She makes her own rules and often openly defies Corvus at the risk of her own safety. She does act like the powerless love interest on a number of occasions when it's necessary to make Milo seem more heroic and chivalrous, but for the most part, Cassia is willing to make an effort to save her self and Milo.

Pompeii's main problem is that it suffers from dual identities. The first 3/4 of the movie is the story of the rise of a hero. He's never forgotten the crimes that were committed against his family and, by a magnificent twist of fate, gets the chance to enact his revenge against their perpetrator. At which point, it turns into a disaster movie. Mount Vesuvius erupts but not without warning. No, there were plenty of precursors to the tragedy, but none that the people of Pompeii would be able to recognize as portents of danger.

The movie spent so much time on focusing on Milo as a gladiator that I practically forgot about the whole "erupting volcano" aspect, the reason I went to see it as that's what was promoted in the trailer and commercials. But I had gotten so wrapped up in Milo's story and his quest for revenge that, then when Vesuvius finally erupted, it felt like it was getting in the way. Part of me no longer cared about the death and destruction of Pompeii; I wanted to see Milo get up on his wrongdoers. That's not to say I didn't like the volcano scenes; just the opposite, in fact. The last thirty minutes of the movie is some of the most intense that I've seen in the theaters in some time.

Pompeii seems to be getting shredded by many reviewers out there but I don't think it deserves that much derision. Yes, it has a great number of flaws, the most obvious being the final chase through the city streets while Vesuvius is blasting fiery balls of death all around them. Then there's the convenient happenstance of how everything seems to go Milo's way. (Seriously, if I had even a fraction of his luck...) And then there's the ridiculous sentimentality of the very final shot. But the movie was able to keep me enthralled with enough violence and fantasy bloodshed, not to mention a goddamned erupting volcano, that it at least becomes entertaining. I mean, you don't expect the guy who directed Aliens vs Predator, Death Race and three of the five Resident Evil films (with his fourth on the way) to make a deeply touching romance that hits all the notes of a cinematic classic. "Momentary Diversion" is the best that I expected and Pompeii at the very least met those expectations.


My Favorites From Toy Fair 2014

The Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York City is a popular place for many big profile shows. It is home to the famous New York Comic Con and Coffee Fest and will be the location for the New York City FIRST Robotics Competition in April. But this past weekend saw a different type of audience at the Javits, one that's a little more down to Earth and a little more relatable: The 11th Annual Toy Fair, the "largest toy and youth marketplace in the Western Hemisphere".

While I wasn't able to attend Toy Fair myself, I did manage to follow along across social media, like Facebook and Twitter, drooling all over myself at the awesome stuff other people were witnessing first hand. And there was quite a lot to drool over. This is the first year that I've been paying close attention to Toy Fair but I'll be damned if it's not the best. I've decided to gather together a few of my favorite offerings from the show, mostly as a way to remind myself that I need to pick these up when they become commercially available.

Given my new excitement for Guardians of the Galaxy, I'm gonna start there. There was a plethora of GotG toys at Toy Fair and most of them kick so much absolute ass that it's unthinkable. (All Guardians of the Galaxy images thanks to ComingSoon.net.)

The first one up is the "Big Blastin' Rocket Raccoon", an oversized electronic replica of Rocket that spouts phrases from the movie.

Next up is the Marvel Legends line for GotG. To keep with the Legends standard, it is a Build-A-Figure, allowing fans to make their own Groot! Here's a look at the collection and each of the figures up close.

Then there's the junior line, the 3 and a half inchers that Hasbro loves so much. I have to say, they don't look too terrible. I may pick up a few of these...depending on the availability of the Legends.

And probably one of the creepier items from the GotG license...The Rocket Raccoon action mask. I haven't seen it in action yet but I can't wait until it hits stores so I can play with it.

According to reports, these toys start rolling out into stores June 28.

Now let's look backward to an obsession from my past: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Even though it never really went away, the new show on Nickelodeon started a landslide of new merchandise, including a rerelease of the original figures from the 1987 animated series. Anyway, there was a bunch of TMNT stuff at Toy Fair and here're some of my favorites.

First up, a line of figures based on the looks of the turtles from the 1990 movie. I heard there was some disappointment with this line and I just have no idea why; I think they look great and will need to get myself a set. Also...Bebop and Rocksteady. Score. (All photos courtesy Comics Alliance.)

Let's not forget about the new series! Nickelodeon has been kicking ass with the new show, making certain to market the toy line to match their amazing line up of mutants in the cartoon. Some figures we have to look forward to are Slash (YES!), Michelangelo dressed as a moth (from the episode that turned April's father into Wingnut), and a line of LARP inspired turtles. Also, is that a tree frog I see? Maybe the team of Punk Frogs will soon make an appearance in the show...

Then we have the Half Shell Heroes! These guys are adorable. They remind me of Marvel/Hasbro's "Super Hero Squad" figures, which I loved, so these are right up my alley.

Next up is a line of Vinyl figures from Kidrobot. Based on the classic animation style, these guys look like the popular Funko Pop figures that are just about everywhere now. It sounds like there's going to be a line of keychain figures, a Mini series, and a 4" and 7" Munny. I can't make out the scale of the figures in the images but I'd imagine they are the 4" line.

Let's talk LEGO now, shall we? They had a pretty great set up, showing off a few of the Guardians of the Galaxy sets they have in the works. Unfortunately, photos of them weren't allowed but luckily they did allow pics of their other stuff, such as these new Marvel Super Heroes sets. "X-Men vs the Sentinel" is a smaller set, clocking in around 336 pieces, but comes with a Storm mini-figure. "Hulk Lab Smash" is a little bigger, just under 400 pieces. Under normal circumstances, I wouldn't give a shit about this but it's notable because it comes with a M.O.D.O.K. mini-fig. How cool! (LEGO images from Comic Vine)

LEGO also showed off the Ghostbusters Ecto-1 set that they announced a few weeks ago. This set will retail for $49.99, which is a little steep in my humble opinion, but it won't make a difference. I will be purchasing it.

I have to credit Marlene from I Like Comics Too for snagging these next pics. As I was browsing Twitter during the week, I saw this awesome Titanus pic pop up in my stream. According to Marlene, it's a Toys R Us exclusive and retails for $200. But that wasn't enough for me; I needed more. So I asked her about the Dragonzord. Next thing I know she tweets a picture! Then the DRAGON DAGGER! Holy crap, these all look awesome. The Dragonzord and Dagger both retail for $80. No word on a release date.

Then we have a few more Mighty Morphin Power Rangers toys. From The Loyal Subjects comes a line of miniatures. Hitting stores August/September, these little guys come with articulation, removable helmets and a price tag of $13. That's a little much for me but I may be swayed depending on the day and availability. (Three Words...Lord. Fucking. Zedd.) (Images from Comics Alliance...again)

DC Collectibles took me by surprise with a few of their figures. Firstly, they announced that they'll be releasing a line of highly articulated figures based on Batman: The Animated Series. That Batman and Catwoman figures both look beautiful. Then there's the New 52 inspired figures: Batgirl, Supergirl, and Nightwing. I've loved the new Supergirl look since the New 52 started so it looks like I'm gonna have to hunt that one down. (Images thanks to ScienceFiction.com)

Then there's the new Super Powers line from Mattel. A throwback to the Super Powers toys from the 80s, this line is highly detailed, super articulated, and flat out awesome. (Pics from Comic Bastards)

And then there're these! Funko Pop revealed a few new licenses like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Guardians of the Galaxy. It's hard not to get excited about any of these. (Pics from io9)

Lastly, Dark Horse showed off a couple awesome Legend of Zelda statues. I can't tell how tall Link and Ganondorf are here but they retail for around $80, which is pretty damn good for statues this detailed. (Photos from Topless Robot)

And that's all I got! Based on what I've seen, Toy Fair looked like it must have kicked ass. What did you think of the showing? Did you have any favorites that I didn't show off here? Comment below with a link or hit me up on Twitter, @IdiotAtPlay!
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