movies Uncategorized

A Bill Murray cameo for ‘Ghostbusters III’?

From a film treatment for Ghostbusters III by John Landis’ son Max:

Ray, in the meantime, has made his way back to the firehouse, to find it destroyed.  He walks through the rubble of his life’s work, utterly broken. All those moments. Slimer in the ballroom. The TV commercials. The fame. The statue of liberty. He was a hero. They were all heroes. He picks up a photo of himself, Winston, Egon and Venkman, and tries to call Venkman.

We cut to Venkman who’s on the beach on a tropical island with his grandkids. [Venkman] forwards the call.

This would be a throwaway cameo for Bill Murray, who gave the original Ghostbusters its wise-cracking soul. Murray famously passed on Dan Aykroyd’s own treatment. Who can blame him, given the Blues Brothers 2000 train wreck?

(Landis’ treatment isn’t great, either; it reeks of nostalgia and features a convoluted subplot about failed Ghostbusters franchises all across America.)

TV Uncategorized

Interchangeable subplots?

The Big Bang Theory is one of my guilty pleasures. Usually, I demand more from a TV show: great writing, careful storytelling, stellar performances. For Big Bang, I make an exception. Sometimes, you just need a mindless chuckle.

Still, if I’m honest, Big Bang Theory is not an innovative or well-written show. It overuses a stale “setup-setup-punchline” recipe for laughs. And when the jokes fall flat, it fills the silence with an aggressive laugh track—a broadcast trick that should have died decades ago.

I can overlook these faults; almost every other sitcom leans on these genre standards, too. Harder to forgive? The Big Bang Theory’s lazy, haphazardly-written plot lines. Too often, Big Bang’s ‘A’ storyline and ‘B’ storyline have literally nothing to do with one another.

Consider one recent episode: October 2015’s “Helium Insufficiency.” Half the show deals with Sheldon and Leonard buying black-market helium to buoy their scientific research. Meanwhile, the other characters help Amy navigate the world of online dating.

The episode cuts back and forth between the two storylines, but never lets them intersect or even overlap. The separate narratives just plod along, the characters oblivious of what’s happening in the other thread. And then, the episode abruptly ends—or really, ends twice (once for each subplot). For contrast, take Seinfeld, which specialized in cleverly interweaving multiple seemingly-unrelated stories.

I’d posit that you could combine almost any set of Big Bang subplots. Splice them together, and you’d end up with a serviceable episode. For all I know, that’s how the writers chart out each season: come up with a few dozen “hilarious” situations, toss them in a hat, and pull out two or three at a time to conjure up an episode.

That makes writing scripts easier, perhaps, but it hardly makes for legendary comedy.

movies Uncategorized

Bill and Ted 3: potential and pitfalls

According to persistent rumors, a third Bill and Ted movie is in the works. The 90s franchise followed the eponymous characters on an adventure through time, space and the afterlife. The quest? Fulfill their destiny and become a rock band so good that it saves the world.

I loved these films as a kid, but I have serious doubts about a second sequel. We’ve already seen beloved franchises get shipwrecked by nostalgic throw-backs: Star Wars. Indiana Jones. Blues Brothers. The Godfather. And there are a lot of factors working against Bill and Ted 3‘s potential success:

  • First, you’d be building on a damaged foundation; the second film, Bogus Journey wasn’t very good. Rotten Tomatoes lists it at 57%, just below the “rotten” threshold.

  • Second problem? A key actor has passed away; George Carlin played Rufus, Bill and Ted’s rock mentor from the future. With Carlin gone, you’d hate to see the screenwriters force a “Rufus’s brother Doofus” on the audience. There’s simply no good way to explain Rufus’ absence—-especially in a franchise built around time travel.

  • Third, there’s the problem of scale. Like so many sequels, Bogus Journey amped up the scale, adding aliens, evil clones, robots, and visits to both heaven and hell. It substitutes epic scale for good storytelling (and suffers mightily for it). If they’re smart, the third film’s writers won’t even try to broaden Bogus Journey‘s scope.

    (Instead, they should dial things down and write a small-scale story. After all, the (universally beloved) first film revolved around two high-schoolers’ year-end history project. Make the third film cover some similarly modest challenge. Keanu Reeves (Ted himself) offers a hint: “Bill and Ted were supposed to have written the song that would save the world, and it hasn’t happened.” That feels just about right; go with that.

  • The last potential problem with a third Bill and Ted? Continuity. The second film, Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey, wraps up the pair’s story. Two good-for-nothing teens have transformed into nothing-but-good guitarists. The movie’s closing scenes interleave the Wyld Stallyns’ triumphant first concert with shots of people all around the world, rocking out. As the credits run, newspaper headlines highlight the band’s larger-than-life exploits (e.g. “Stallyns tour Midwest; Crop Increase 30%”, “Wild Stallyns to play Grand Canyon (Second Show Added!)”, “Bill & Ted Tour Mideast; Peace Achieved”).

    So… what’s left to tell? How do you reintroduce conflict, when you’ve already said “happily ever after”? My recommendation? Ignore that hyperbolic finale from Bogus Journey. After all, it was already tongue-in-cheek (do Bill and Ted really play a concert on Mars?). You could even let the third film pop that fantasy bubble. Open with a dream sequence along similar lines (e.g. the Wyld Stallyns accepting the Nobel peace prize), then cut to reality: Ted is forty-seven years old, overweight, and still living in his dad’s basement.

Should it ever escape development hell, Bill and Ted 3 could either redeem an already-tarnished franchise or bankrupt it altogether. Will the Wyld Stallyns’ final adventure be excellent or bogus?