The Real Ghostbusters Episode 41: The Collect Call of Cathulu

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BOOM! The Ghostbusters are back on absolute top form with this terrific episode, which often ranks, deservedly, very high on fans lists of best ever adventures. It’s got the lot – it’s exciting, it’s funny, it’s scary, it’s beautifully animated – what more do you want? Okay, so maybe the final confrontation could have been a bit more intense, but whatever, this is still great.

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For many young viewers, this was probably (in fact, there’s no doubt about it) their first exposure to the works of H.P Lovecraft, unless those same viewers had parents liberal enough to let them stay up and watch the likes of Stuart Gordon’s excellent Re-Animator or From Beyond, which would have been popular rentals at video stores around the same time. Lovecraft wrote a substantial run of ‘cosmic horror’ fiction that would reverberate in cult quarters immensely through the latter-half of the 20th century. His biggest contribution was definitely the whole ‘Cthulu’ myth, which began with his chilling short story The Call of Cthulu and then branched out into other Lovecraft stories which then influenced countless others, and cult fascination and adoration followed. So who is Cthulu? Or what is it? Essentially it’s an ancient god/demon who slumbers far beneath the waves, awaiting the call of its disciples to bring it back to the surface in order to rule/devastate the world once more. In the original short story, Cthulu’s temporary emergence in the modern world sends shock waves through out the dreams of many disparate people all over the world, which inspires an investigator to put all the pieces together and work out why the image of a tentacled, dragon-like, miles-tall monster keeps recurring in people’s imagination, seemingly out of nowhere. Lovecraft’s tale is scary because it’s one of those extremely-close-call narratives, where it’s mostly about what might have happened, and we the reader are witness to potential apocalypse which is averted (or at least calmed down) for a while. But for how long?

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Well in the case of ‘The Collect Call of Cathulu’ (a meaningless, but funny spin on the original title), not that long, for here we have a cult of worshippers who wish bring their god back – if only they’d chose somewhere, anywhere else aside from New York City. The episode is not a retelling of Lovecraft’s story, but is obviously indebted immensely to his universe, including having some of its one-off characters named after figures in the Lovecraft literary circle. Now you may notice that the show has changed the spelling of ‘Cthulu’ in the title to add a helpful extra vowel, probably to spare the children all the confusion of wondering what that jumble of letters all means, although they could have spared a moment to have Egon explain the spelling/pronunciation. Or maybe they couldn’t have. Seriously, this is one super-packed episode with no time to stand still and that, in the best way possible, always feels a lot longer than it actually is. It’s like a mini-movie. The plot ricochets characters across the country and back in a matter of hours, and so much incident takes place that it makes the majority of episodes feel pretty sedate and leisurely.

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So, let’s start at the start, where the New York Public Library (nice nod to the film – we even begin with the a shot of the same lion statue) has, rather foolishly, acquired the spell book to end all spell books: the Necronomicon (THE BOOK OF THE DEAD!) and wants to put it out on public display! This opening is brilliantly ominous, with the library nearly entirely empty at night – spooky, moonlit corridors and so on, with great eerie music. The sleazy Clark Ashton is the totally suspicious acquirer of the book and curator of the exhibit (I don’t trust him for a second), but his co-worker Professor Klein thinks it’s a bad idea to put this thing out for the public to see.  There’s a great shot where we see the book in its display cabinet, the reflection of Ashton and Klein in the same shot. There are a lot of great shots in this episode.

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Outside, something is lurking. In a neat series of jump-cuts, we crash into the display cabinet, shattering the glass and alerting the doomed security guard who sees that the book’s been taken, but as soon as he tries to turn on the light, a slippery tentacle grips his arm! Flashing the light in its direction, the security is horrified to see THIS!

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Resembling Cthulu (but a smaller, 12-foot version), this thing scares the security guard so much he faints. Or dies of fright. Either way, we never see him again. The next day, the guys are summoned to the library to get the facts, and Peter’s date with ‘Candy’, who we never see again, is unfortunately curtailed. As Janine puts it, don’t fall for Ghostbusters, they’ll only break your heart. Remember, Janine still loves Egon, so she knows all too well about this whole king thing. Plus, unrequited love is not the only dissatisfaction in her life: the book she’s reading this scene is Changing Your Job.

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Anyway, their latest case doesn’t quite derail the guys’ plan for the day, as Ray was already very keen to go to the exhibit anyway, and for those of us not in the know, he gives us a quick rundown of the mysterious allure of the book, namechecking Lovecraft in the process. There’s a funny bit when he reckons the book’s copyright page scores a 9.9 on the PKE meter! Winston, quite amusingly, assumed the ‘Necronomicon’ was a rock concert. When they arrive, Peter shrugs off the importance of the Necronomicon with ‘it’s just a book’. Ray’s comeback? ‘And an atomic bomb is just two rocks slammed together’. Klein is terrified that the world is in grave, grave danger. After all, the Necronomicon has the power to open portals between worlds, and to awaken the all-powerful ‘The Old Ones’, such as Cthulu (bless you), a figure so immense and powerful ‘he makes Gozer look like Little Mary Sunshine’ – nice, another nod to the film!

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Using the PKE meter, Egon leads the guys down into the sewer, where, after a nice shot of a rat observing them, are ambushed by a half-dozen or so of the ghastly octopus-creatures, aka THE SPAWN OF CTHULU. Blasting only temporarily dismembers them, as in seconds their body parts grow back! Using the proton beam to boil the sewer water, the guys are able to get away from them long enough to escape above ground, but not before one of them wraps its tentacle around Peter’s foot, who looks understandably horrified. Barely escaping (although Peter’s shoe doesn’t make it), the guys reconvene back at HQ. Maybe it’s PTSD, but Peter seems remarkably cool with everything, wondering if all of this is even worth getting into a rush over. Of course, it very much is worth rushing about, especially since the Spawn were most likely brought about by an existing cult, who are certain to attempt to awaken Cthulu itself, especially that it can only be done once every sixty years, when the stars are aligned in a particular way. As Peter wearily, but all too accurately figures, that alignment just happens to be tonight.

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No time to lose! Given that the plot of this episode takes place over a mere 24 hours, we still have time for Egon and Peter to take a flight to Arkham, Massachusetts and back to call on the help of Alice Derleth, a Cthulu expert whom Peter, rather appallingly assumes will be ugly because she’s er…intelligent. Turns out she’s a beauty (well, in animated, Real Ghostbusters-terms) and, in probably THE worst opening line to a conversation EVER, Peter openly admits ‘boy, you sure don’t look smart’ – it’s a testament to Lorenzo Music’s delivery that this line is a lot funnier than it really should have been. The understandably appalled Derleth begs Peter’s pardon. Honestly, I’m surprised she didn’t sock him on the jaw. Peter weakly retorts with ‘can we talk?’, which was comedian Joan Rivers’ regular catchphrase. She even said it when she played the robot in Spaceballs.

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Derleth, once briefed on the situation, insists they get back to New York straight away. Now this is something that might have been settled over a phone call, and could have saved an extra journey on Egon and Peter’s part, but whatever, I like the fast-paced craziness of this episode. Back in the Big Apple, the guys and Derleth arrive at the suspected base of the Cthulu cult. There’s a terrific shot of Egon approaching a crystal ball, with his warped reflection staring back at us. In the basement, the Cthulu cult, who are sizeable in number, are worshipping the stolen Necronomicon, so our heroes do the stealthy thing and barge in on the ceremony. This bold approach severely backfires however, when the cult leader summons a Spawn of Cthulu, and a big, terrifyingly fanged one at that, to smash through the brick wall, trap the guys and Derleth in its tentacle and move in for the kill. Fade to black. Wait, we’re only at the halfway point? So much has already happened!

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Luckily, act two sees this substantial threat swiftly dealt with, as Derleth turns the Spawn into crumbling stone with a spell. The cult meanwhile do a runner, so Ray suggests going to his pulp fiction book store to check out an old issue of Weird Tales to maybe find out a way to defeat Cthulu, as they were written by authors like Lovecraft who had in-depth knowledge of this sort of thing. Honestly, this episode’s moving at a rocket’s pace. The store is owned by a hilariously oddball man named Mr, Howard with a creepy voice – the kind that says ‘yeesssss?’ when he opens the door, and then says, no less eerily, ‘bring your frehends….’ when welcoming Ray.

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The rest of the day is spent perusing the books, much to Winston’s chagrin, who thinks they should just blast their enemy, despite events earlier in the sewer confirming that this will not work. Derleth finds the story Ray’s after – The Horror from the Depth – and so we’re off to Coney Island, the most likely worshipping spot for the cult to bring about Cthulu. Unfortunately Ecto-1 gives in so it’s time to get on the train, where they encounter a jackass with a ghetto blaster, who Winston acts very aggressively towards. I don’t think I’ve seen Winston more annoyed than in this episode.

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Coney Island indeed turns out to be the right spot, as the cult are already chanting by the stormy sea, with the leader using the Necronomicon to raise the absolute BEHEMOTH that is Cthulu from the waves. He turns out to be a total monster, probably the biggest monster the guys have ever faced, and in true ‘I don’t care about my minions’ cruelty, it crushes the pier where his disciples were standing. Talk about ungrateful. Derleth tries to destroy Cthulu with a spell, but it’s not enough. The proton beams barely make a scratch either, so it’s time to run, run, run. Egon admits defeat, and all seems lost.

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Luckily, they suddenly remember about the book they just went out of their way to get. That’s some serious collective memory loss on their behalf. Ray even had the book wedged in his belt – he must have been feeling that thing all the time. The way to kill Cthulu, according to the book, was to fry him with a massive electrical charge. Unfortunately, the last page has been (in)conveniently ripped out, so the hows and whys of electrocuting Cthulu are a mystery. Egon thinks that if they can electrify the metal track of the nearby rollercoaster and attract Cthulu to it, then they might be able to wipe him out if they can time its contact with a lightning bolt. In an incredibly ballsy move, Peter gets on the ride (without being secured in – don’t try this at theme parks, kids) and blasts the enemy, annoying him enough so that he gets near enough the ride to be in contact with it. Then the others blast the ride, lightning strikes, and Cthulu spectacularly melts and is then vaporised. Sorted! Okay, so in the end Cthulu wasn’t quite a be-all/end-all nemesis on the level of say, What/Watt or the Toy Ghost, but he put up a good fight, and besides, it’s not over yet, as there’s still the cult to deal with, and they don’t look happy.

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However, the police show up immediately (er, who rang them?) and in true Scooby-Doo fashion, the mask of the cult leader is removed to reveal….Clark Ashton!!! Who’da thunk it? Hilariously, after dispensing major threats and the promising the imminent return of Cthulu, Peter dismisses him with a ‘yeah, yeah, yeah’ and the sap and his cronies are escorted away. Besides, Cthulu can’t return for another 60 years, so let’s relax for a while. Actually, Peter’s got something else on his mind. Love. He manages to get Derleth to delay her return home and spend the day with him, but she takes charge and insists they go to a museum, followed by a lecture. The perfect revenge for his earlier comments.

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Whoosh. That was a fun 22 minutes. Next up, it’s time for a holiday.

 

The Real Ghostbusters Episode 40: The Man Who Never Reached Home

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Somewhat appropriately, given that this is an episode all about a man who is locked in an eternal journey, doomed to never reach home, this piece closes the longest gap between episode reviews of my very, very drawn-out retrospective. I started this whole thing in 2013! I hope this look at Episode 40 was worth the wait.

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After an heartbreaking tale where the Ghostbusters were uncharacteristically, quite obnoxious (poor, poor Drool), all the twattishness in this story gets more comfortably, reassuringly transposed to the one-off dickhead that is Mr. Simon Quegg, who back in 1887, on a stormy night, left an inn in a fury, the staff baffled as to how they offended him, but all Quegg does is promise that the hotel will be shut down, most likely ruining the staff in the process. Even promises of free lodgings won’t assuage him. What happened – why ? It might have been the food, given he refers at one point to ‘slop’, but all this obnoxiousness, plus the fact that he shoves some poor bloke on his way to his horse and carriage, makes me think he’s a bit of a prat, the kind who thinks he’s above customer service workers. Git.

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Swearing that he’ll reach home in Providence in Rhode Island before dawn (the Devil himself couldn’t stop him, apparently), despite the tempestuous weather, Fate (or the Devil, or whoever) obviously overhears this and, liking a challenge, appears in the form of a mysterious horse rider, who proceeds to follow Quegg into the night. You’ve heard of that ‘dark night of the soul’ thing? Well, how about if that night lasted a century?

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Cut to 100 years later – 1987 – which is now thirty three years ago. Ah, remember when 1987 was the new thing? When new episodes of The Real Ghostbusters were screened every week? Good times. It’s another stormy night, and the guys are in Ecto-1, hungry as hell. They stop off at a diner to feed themselves and Slimer (two dozen hamburgers for him – greedy git). Note that Peter doesn’t hold the door open for Ray, who’s lagging behind. In fact, it looks an awful lot like Peter deliberately closes the door on him.

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Afterwards, when Ray goes outside to feed Slimer, a panicked Quegg and his mysteriously red-eyed horse, neither of whom hasn’t aged a day, arrives, still in his horse and carriage, and stops to ask Ray how many miles left to Providence – aghast that it’s still eighty miles left, and lamenting that he’s been ‘travelling all night’, he rushes off so that he’s not caught by his mystery pursuer, who Ray and Slimer both see.

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While the diner owner frantically tries to kill Slimer with a saucepan, Ray tells the guys what he’d just seen – Egon confirms that something spectral is in the air, and the owner reveals that Quegg’s become quite the local legend and loads of people around have seen him over the years (only on stormy nights though) – however, not many people have actually seen the mystery rider, so when the diner owner realises that Ray is one of the few people to have done so (and disaster apparently follows this rare occurence), he shoos everyone out for fear that he will succumb to some kind of curse. He even closes the shop.

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Ray wants to help Quegg (he might have thought twice had he got to know the sourpuss a bit more), and Egon’s curious about the whole thing, so they decide to find him. When they do catch up on a bridge, he’s coming towards them, in the opposite direction he was sent off in, which suggests he’s been going around in circles forever. Quegg’s annoyed that Ray gave him false directions and is desperate to keep moving, but it turns out that since he and the horse are separate spectral entities, it might be possible to trap the horse and release Quegg from the carriage, from which he seems physically unable to do. Ray attempts to blast the horse, but Egon realises just a little bit too late that this is A VERY BAD IDEA.

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Indeed, blasting it only serves to switch Quegg and Ray’s places, so that’s Ray who’strapped in the carriage, which then hurtles off, the rider in hot pursuit. I think more could have been done with this predicament – Ray is potentially locked in an eternal ride, a terrifying concept – but the episode doesn’t seem interested in instilling any kind of tension. It’s more of an inconvenience really, and one that’s swiftly resolved, but not before Quegg, still being a textbook prat, refuses to help the guys to save Ray. To be fair, it seems like every re-appearance has fogged Quegg’s memory (he doesn’t immediately recognise the Ghostbusters despite having met them already) so his attitude is partly down to discombobulation. He insists he has to focus on returning home, but given he doesn’t know how to get there, he’s pretty much coerced into helping out. They drive him back to HQ to try and get some info out of him, but he’s obnoxiously useless, spending most of his time freaking out over Slimer. You’d think Peter and Quegg would strike up a friendship over their mutual hatred of the green spud, but this isn’t developed. Incidentally, this episode’s missing the one person who would have put Quegg in his place – Janine. Imagine how flustered the old grump would have been when he first saw sight of her amazing hairdo? And imagine how she would have taken none of his shit?

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There’s no guarantee of bad weather the next night, but Egon has miraculously created a fancy weather manipulator (filled with silver iodine, which when sprinkled on clouds, can make it rain) – these things had the potential to become all the rage in the mid-eighties, as fans of Kate Bush’s marvellous ‘Cloudbusting’ video will attest, but they never caught on. Bizarrely, Egon relies on the notoriously clumsy and danger-prone Slimer to assist in Ecto-2 with the spraying of the iodine, and to be fair, he does get the job done, but only after killing almost everybody in a farcical set-piece. Blimey, all he had to do was push a button, but as Peter wisely points out, that’s also what it takes to start World War III.

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The rain arrives on cue and so does Ray  –  he tries to get out of the carriage but he literally can’t. it’s like an invisible wall is stopping him from doing so. Egon thinks that if three proton beams are levelled at the carriage, it might remove Ray from the carriage without switching him with the others. Unfortunately, a bolt of lightning overloads the proton packs and renders them useless. So I guess it’s time for Quegg to face the rider, a rider he’s absolutely terrified of, even if he doesn’t know why he’s following him. Plucking up the courage to confront him, Quegg gets in the carriage with Ray and when they approach the rider, it turns out that he’s an exact copy of Quegg – Quegg’s been running away from himself this whole time! You know, literally and metaphorically! It’s a good twist, to be honest, and this guy needs to learn a lesson. Interestingly, Quegg is able to kick Ray out of the carriage before this confrontation, which suggests that maybe anyone can get in, and then you’re able to kick people out (but not yourself) – I don’t know the specifics. It’s not important, I suppose.

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Obnoxious Quegg and Evil Quegg then storm towards each other, only for them to both disappear in spectacular fashion. It’s alright though, as Quegg has now reappeared, with no rider in sight, to thank Ray for helping him what a complete tool he’s been all this time, before heading off, jubilant at his imminent return home. What’s weird is that, yes, Quegg can now go home, but what is home now? His family, if he had any, will have died, and other people will have moved in, and I’m almost 100% certain he won’t get on with them. It’s the kind of happy ending that really isn’t that happy at all when you think about it. I’d have loved there to be a post-credits scene where Quegg shows up at his estate and it’s now a McDonald’s drive-thru. He would definitely refer to a McChicken Sandwich as slop, no doubt. Anyway, this isn’t a favourite episode of mine – it’s alright I suppose, and the first half is pretty intriguing, but Quegg’s not really an interesting personality, the stakes (weird given we’re talking a tale that spans a century) end up feeling oddly low and nothing really outstanding of note occurs. Oh, well. Maybe that’s one of the reasons it took me so long to write about it. The next episode however, sees The Real Ghostbusters back with an absolute vengeance, in one of the best adventures of the series.

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Happy Back to the Future Day!

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Back to the Future Day. It’s finally here.

We’ve probably all fallen for those fake screengrabs posted on Facebook and Twitter over the last few years, the ones saying ‘THIS is the day Marty McFly arrived in the future’, the ones where the year has been modified to read 2012 or 2013, but today is the real thing. The screengrabs are real.

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Today is the future. Tomorrow it will be the past.

As someone who saw Back to the Future Part II at the cinema as an eight year old and was enthralled by its first-act vision of a future that really wasn’t all bad (compare this to other films set in the future, where it’s pretty much a given that it’s a dystopia), the fact that we’ve finally come to this date is a big deal. 26 years have passed since I first saw this film and I’ve seen plenty of others set in the future before or since, some of which have presented a future that has already come and gone. I didn’t really acknowledge the passing of future to past for the likes of Predator 2 and The Terminator, the latter famous for dating 1997 as JUDGEMENT DAY, and the former for being entirely set in that same year. Since both depictions of 1997 were far from happy, I was just relieved that Bill Paxton was still alive and that the world hadn’t been nuked by some computer that year. 2001? 2010? Great films, but in the end they’re just years to me. We still haven’t arrived at Blade Runner‘s 2019 or The Running Man‘s 2017-2019 (those are the years according to wikipedia) futureworlds, but even though the former is the best film ever made (and the latter the 35th), I don’t think anything’s going to hit me as much as today’s date.

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The fact that Back to the Future Part II‘s future scenes will be, from tomorrow, set in the past, has really hit me. Seeing the film back in 1989, I was genuinely excited as to what the future might bring. It’s weird to discover that director Robert Zemeckis found the 2015 scenes to be the least interesting to develop– he didn’t want to get bogged down in predictions for one thing. For the rest of us mortals though, the future stuff was where it was at. As we’d already seen the first film’s Hill Valley town centre in both 1955 and 1985 incarnations, to see it fully updated for the future almost felt like seing your own town in the future. Obviously, this won’t mean much for casual or one-time Back to the Future viewers, but for us fans, who’d come to recognise the little nooks and crannies of that open space, the exciting newness yet familiarity of the 2015 sequences were a thrill. It helped that certain jokes, characters and set-pieces were cleverly duplicated from the original, none more obvious that the skateboard chase, now refreshed to hoverboard status. Oh God, did I want a hoverboard when I was younger. They just looked like the coolest thing ever. Remember, I was eight, and I think for some people of that age, the sight of seeing Michael J. Fox fly around town as he desperately tries to escape the clutches of utter nutter Griff Tannen and his gang was the equivalent of seeing Superman fly eleven years earlier. Okay, so the Hilldale sequences were far from glamourous (though to be honest, I was stupid enough to read Elisabeth Shue’s horrified delivery of ‘I get married in the Chapel O Love?’ as something far more upbeat when I was a kid), but the bright, colourful locale of the town centre had already worked its magic. I loved the flying cars. I loved the Pepsi Perfect emerging from the counter. I loved the fact that the doors to the Cafe 80’s did that weird sound effect thing everytime they opened (not as good as the ‘Moooo!’ effect on the doors in Clerks II, but nothing is). I loved the fact that the likes of Wild Gunman, a game where you ‘have to use your hands’, was seen as hopelessly old-fashioned. I loved the incidental details, like the skyramp in the background, or the projected TV screens, the pizzas that cook in three or so seconds, or the floating welcoming sign, and of course Jaws 19. Also, self-tailor made jackets which also dry themselves? Power laces? I was thinking of starting a one-day fashion craze where everybody wears their pockets inside out, but never got round to it.

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For all my life, all of this stuff has been set in the future, but today that ceases to be. It’s not that I’m disappointed that we don’t have flying cars, though I am relieved that the Jaws series mercifully stopped after the fourth one. However, there is something about Back to the Future Part II‘s future-ness that meant that it could still hit me today in the same way as it did when I was eight. Setting it in 2015, as well as making sense in regards to the film’s logic (we went 30 years back in time, so why not go forward 30 years?), also made it exciting for us viewers, because it was a future we could eventually live in ourselves. Deep down we probably knew that our 2015 wouldn’t be that much different from our 1989, but it was still distant enough (come on, it was the next century!) that the possibilities for change were plausible. And yes, a fair few things depicted in the film have actually come true, but the mundanities of everyday life still remain. Of course they do. To be honest, there were mundanities in Back to the Future Part II‘s future vision, but there were hoverboards. Oh why couldn’t we have at least got hoverboards?

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No, I just feel a little piece of my childhood has finally been laid to rest with this date. Okay, I knew we weren’t going to catch up with what I’d seen on screen, unless Steven and Max Spielberg really went to work on those Jaws sequels, but that’s beside the point. That film was still the future. And now it’s not. We’re all getting older, and we all know that, but little dates like this hit that point harder than maybe the filmmakers ever imagined they would. But that’s because the likes of Back to the Future are wonderful, special, magnificent things that made a massive impact on my childhood. That particular screening of Back to the Future Part II remains one of my favourite ever cinema visits – it was one of the first ‘dark’ films I’d ever seen, it was probably the first film I’d ever seen on the big screen that was set in the future, it was definitely the most complex and brain-scrambling plot I’d seen in a film to date and it was the first to end on a cliffhanger. All big deals for me. But now whenever I sit down to watch it, there’ll now be a twinkle of amusement and yes, a bit of sadness that it’s now entirely set in the past. It’s on the same level as Back to the Future Part III now. Things will never be the same again.

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Still, I don’t want to get bogged down in sadness. I’ve acknowledged it now, so let’s concentrate on the celebration! Recently, the good people at this site (aka me and Mark) recorded a series of fan audio commentaries for the Back to the Future trilogy that delves more into our love for these films in far greater detail. It’s the fact that we only recorded these commentaries the other day that I won’t be attending my local cinema’s admirable screening of the entire trilogy tonight (well that and it doesn’t finish ’til late, and I have to get up for work tomorrow!). They are being screened on UK TV though, so I’ll most likely dip into that and remain amused at all the little cuts for language that are most definitely going to be made. Oh remember when PG films got away with all those ‘shits’ and ‘assholes’ and ‘son of a bitch’s. Good times.

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Happy Back to the Future day!

PS: To listen to our commentaries, please click on the link to the right – commentaries can be listened to direct from the site or downloaded for free as an mp3. They were recorded whilst watching the UK Region B Blu-Rays from 2010.

PPS: I’m an idiot. I always thought that weird sound effect whenever the doors of the Cafe 80’s came from the doors themselves. Obviously they come Griff’s bionic implants. The same sound is heard when he turns to Jason Scott Lee after the ‘unless you’ve got power!!’ line, so why did I never put two and two together!

The Nintendo Game Boy – 25 Years Later….

So the Nintendo Game Boy is 25 years old. I’m in the UK, so we didn’t actually get it here until 1990, but I didn’t get my own one until the summer of 1993 – around the time of my birthday, in fact – my family got it for me in the Southend-on-Sea branch of Argos, bundled with – surprise, surprise – Tetris! I think Tetris came free with absolutely every Game Boy back in its first phase, so it was weird to see it also available as a stand-alone game that you could buy in the shops. Didn’t everyone have this game? I suppose if you bought a Game Boy second-hand then you might not have had a copy, and to be fair, you had to have a copy. It is so heartening to know that the Game Boy’s flagship game was such an intelligent one. Seriously. I took the time to play one of those retro-compilation games for the Xbox that put together a barrel load of old Mega Drive games and I was staggered by how brain-dead so many of those games were – just punch, punch, punch, jump, jump, jump, kick, kick, kick and so on. With Tetris you had to be on the ball, all the time. It was a great game, except for the fact that it didn’t appear to have an ending. It just got faster and faster until it was physically impossible – for your eyes and your fingers – to keep up. I like games to have an ending, even if nearly all endings to games back then were shit. I just like closure. Almost as bad was when games ‘rewarded’ you by sending you back to the very start of the game so that you had to play it all over again, albeit this time with slightly more difficult opponents. Grr.

The Game Boy’s portability was the obvious and vital key to its success. Coming after the 8-bit wave of consoles – Nintendo’s NES and Sega’s Master System – the Game Boy games were far from cutting edge in regards to graphics and sound. They weren’t even in colour for God’s sake. The games weren’t that much cheaper than the 8-bit ones either. Somehow £29.99 for a Game Boy cartridge felt like a rip-off. No wonder I got so many of mine cheap and second-hand. Also – wanted to go 2-player with your mate? Well, you had to have one of those connectivity cables and your mate had to have his or her own copy of the game!!! Yet so many of us took the console to our hearts because, because… you could play the thing outside. Yeah, everything’s portable nowadays, but back then it was only Walkmans and Game Boys. The freedom of playing a computer game outside that wasn’t one of those crappy Game & Watch thingies was a joy unparalleled. Speaking of Tetris – it seemed perfect for the Game Boy. Have you ever tried playing it on a home console? It never felt right. Too big a screen for something as small and intimately confined as Tetris. True, the 2-player option was a far easier proposition, but knowing you could see what your mate was up to on the other side of the screen made their sneaky moves feel a lot less sneaky. It felt more of an attack when you couldn’t see what they were up to on their own Game Boy.

Design wise it was a classic of simplicity – a lean, no-nonsense grey, two (just two!!!) control buttons, the necessary ‘start’ and ‘select’ buttons and yes, yes, yes – a headphone port! I never understood it at the time but I could see how the tinny soundtracks to all those game could drive anyone not playing them at that moment completely nuts. Now you could shut out all those other humans and lose yourself entirely! I also think the Game Boy was the first ever console to have absolutely every single game begin with the same identifiable logo and sound. Not every Master System game began with the Sega logo, and I don’t think any NES game began with any standard logo. The Game Boy games would always start with the ‘Nintendo’ text scrolling down to the centre of the screen, culminating in that two-note ding that can bring a tear to any nostalgic-waxing gamer these days.

Power-wise, the Game Boy took four AA batteries and they lasted a healthy amount of time to be honest – there was also an AC adaptor for home use which meant you didn’t have to waste those batteries unnecessarily. Compare this to Sega’s attempt to conquer the portable market – the Game Gear- which definitely had the edge in some regards such as its colour screen, but its battery life was minimal and expensive to maintain. I never owned a Game Gear, and I always wanted one – the TV tuner sounded fantastic (never knew how well it worked in reality though) – but no one I knew had one, so how could you ever swap or sell or buy games to your mates? Also, the one game I did play on it was Sonic the Hedgehog 2, which merely took the Master System version and strangely cropped the screen so you couldn’t see what was coming until you were already dead. Now some fans liked the fact that this made the game more difficult, but it pissed me off to no end. Besides, why would I want to play a smaller, inferior version of a game that was already out for the Master System? That’s what gave the Game Boy an edge, that its Mario games were not mere copies of the NES versions.

While the NES had the first three Super Mario Bros games and the SNES had the formidable Super Mario World, the Game Boy was all too aware of its limitations and wisely didn’t try to Xerox those games to fit on a small monochrome screen. Instead it blessed itself with its own unique game – Super Mario Land – that was intentionally designed to fit inside its smaller scale and didn’t feel cropped or compromised as a result. True, there was some pixel blur when you made Mario run instead of walk, but overall this felt like the perfect alternative sequel to the original Mario game – not as anomalous as Mario Madness (Mario 2 in the US and Europe) but not as insanely difficult as The Lost Levels (Mario 2 in Japan). Here you had the tried-and-tested fun of the overground/underground levels (not to mention the plethora of secret rooms) but you could also fly an aircraft, which officially made it cooler than the original. Also, the final credit music used to get me close to tears. I don’t know why, I always found it so beautiful and strangely sad. That I only ever got to hear this music by completing the game made it all the sweeter. The fact that I can hear this music on youtube at the click of a button has robbed it of its magic for me.

That was probably my all-time favourite Game Boy game, but there were plenty of others that I recall – here’s a rundown of some of the games I remember playing.

Bart Simpson’s Escape from Camp Deadly – Simpsons in shock ‘not shite’ video game cash-in. The show itself was remarkably a remote presence in my life for a good while so I jumped on anything with their name on. As spin-offs go, not as good as the ‘Deep, Deep Trouble’ single by Bart and Homer, but what was?

The Castlevania Adventure – atmospheric platformer with vampires. Perfect. Was a real favourite until my copy mysteriously vanished. Cue many tears.

Dynablaster – Insanely addictive maze/blow up the bad guys strategy craziness commonly known as Bomberman that admittedly wasn’t as much fun as the multiplayer versions available on home consoles where you could trap your mates between a dead end and a bomb and watch them squirm ‘til the fuse runs out.

Gremlins 2: The New Batch – I think this must have been very cheap when I bought it as even as a stupid kid I knew all too well the general crappiness of movie tie-in games. Amazingly, I remember this being quite entertaining.

 Hyper Lode Runner – definitely a second hand purchase (I don’t even recall getting it with the box or instructions) and a platform with a little bit of strategy thrown in.

The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening – aka Zelda IV. Massively popular, highly acclaimed, vastly epic, and yet it didn’t do it for me. I guess I had already been spoiled by the astonishing A Link to the Past on the SNES.

Revenge of the Gator – it was a pinball game, and an alligator was involved somehow. I played this one a lot.

Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles: Fall of the Foot Clan – simple platformer but so much fun I must have re-played it and re-completed it at least 678 times. The music in the sewer levels still reverberates inside my skull to this day.

Tennis – it was tennis. Simple, straight-up tennis. Yet it worked for me. I got so into this that I was genuinely disappointed to find out how difficult the sport was when I tried it in real life.

Come to think of it, there were absolutely loads of Game Boy games I never played, and never will. The games were expensive back then, and from what I recall from relevant magazines from the time like Total!, there was a fair amount of crap as well, but the ones I did play, I really, really played. Less was more, and I definitely got my money’s worth back then. A lot of those games have probably dated appallingly, so I’m tempted not to revisit them– let the past be the past. Besides, for me – it’s the memory of the whole gaming experience itself, not just the game, that I love. A warm summer evening, sitting cross-legged on the patch of ground overlooking the car park near the back of my house, playing Super Mario Land as the sun started to set… beautiful.

The Real Ghostbusters Episode 13: ‘Xmas Marks the Spot’

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So here we are – the final episode of the first season, it’s a Christmas special and it’s reviewed here shortly after the big day. I really wanted to get this review ready for Christmas Eve but it just didn’t happen! This really is one of the best ever episodes, boasting one of the most original storylines of the entire series and full of warm, winter wonderland glow. J. Michael Stracsynski wrote this one, and he’s managed to make a Christmas special that is remarkably free of sentiment, with any preaching kept to a minimum and the show managing to smuggle the concept of ‘killing Christmas’ quite stealthily within a children’s cartoon.

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It’s a snowy Christmas Eve, and the guys are returning from a job, listening to Tahiti on the radio, lamenting the fact that they’re working on this most special of penultimate days (trust me, I know how they feel), as well as the fact that they’re lost on the forest road. Peter doesn’t seem too fussed – it turns out he doesn’t really like Christmas very much, so this is just another night for him. He had lonely Christmases according to Ray, what with his dad never being around, and in a moment of confident psychoanalysis (or just good old guess work), it’s assumed that Peter’s cynicism towards the season is really just a defence mechanism to distract him from the genuine pain he feels this time of year.

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Anyway, the guys take a wrong turn, the car’s engine fails, and in their snowbound search for civilisation, they walk directly into a portal, but since the snow’s so heavy, they assume the light is from a nearby vehicle or something. They emerge on the other side in what looks like an undiscovered community directly out of Victorian England. Horse-led carriages, the works. I guess the guys think they’ve merely arrived in some very, very conservative town, but as soon as Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim pick up their depressingly measly Christmas turkey from the local butcher, we the viewer know something’s up.

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Yes, it’s Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol! And look, there’s Ebenezer Scrooge, looking alarmingly like a slightly younger Monty Burns from The Simpsons, howling in terror at something which, and the guys only see it for a second or two, an apparition flying out of the window wrapped in chains. That’s Jacob Marley, that is. He was Scrooge’s old buddy who warned him on Christmas Eve of the impending arrival of three ghosts in the novel….

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The guys investigate by entering Scrooge’s abode, and true enough, the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future are right there, in the bedroom, with a cowering Ebenezer in the corner. Now, I don’t remember all three ghosts showing up at once in the novel – Past would come alone, and all three would take it in turns to teach Scrooge the error of his ways. Obviously, having all three in one spot at the same time makes the big plot hook of the episode plausible, so let’s continue. The guys take aim at the festive trio, and despite their pleading to not open fire, they let rip and trap them in a shot, completely ignoring all the warnings that this is NOT A GOOD IDEA. Oh well, in the trap they go. Cue a delighted Scrooge, who dances around his room and thanks the guys for a job well done. The crew don’t bat an eyelid when Scrooge appears to have never heard of a telephone, but things get dramatic after the legendarily tight git gets the shock of his life when he’s presented with the bill, and he refuses to pay. He even goes so far as to suggest the three apparitions were mere flights of fancy, or possibly something he ate. Cue the reliable threat of instantly releasing the ghosts, which scares old Scrooge right good and proper, so he offers them a single coin. Peter’s all set to go absolutely crazy when Ray swiftly informs him that this one coin is a real mint-condition collector’s item, worth a shedload. Mercenary Peter backtracks instantly and accepts the payment. They leave, and Scrooge walks to the window and offers nothing less than a complete declaration of war on Christmas. Eeek.

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Meanwhile the guys stumble back through the portal, back to their car (which now works) and back to the city, although Egon is trouble by the unnerving familiarity of some of the things they’ve experienced…. No one else cares, but what’s unavoidable is the sense that’s something’s changed back home. Where’s the festivity? Where’s the joy? Where’s the Christmas???? Janine and Slimer have turned into complete grouches. Forget ‘Season’s Greetings’; ‘Bah! Humbug’ seems to be the new line of the day. And look, the local bookshop is selling everyone’s seasonal favourite novel – A Christmas Humbug by Ebenezer Scrooge! His (very evil) visage is on the front of the book, and of course the guys instantly recognise him as the bloke they just helped….

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So, it turns out that all that ‘fictional’ Christmas Carol stuff was real, that the portal was actually a time slip and that by trapping the three Christmas ghosts, Scrooge’s self-realisation that he was a bloody insufferable nightmare never came to fruition, and by him actively waging war on the silly season (and clearly succeeding), Christmas has not just withered away, but has been replaced with a vehemently anti-Christmas celebration. Not celebrating Christmas is one thing, but everyone in town has actually made a point of being extra hateful and mean! No big deal, Peter says, they can just release the ghosts from the trap and put things straight. One problem – Egon’s back at HQ, about to incarcerate the ghosts in the Ecto-Containment Unit! They rush back (although Peter’s in no hurry – remember, he was already a grouch before history changed), but it’s too late. Quite matter-of-factly, Egon says that the ghosts have already been locked away. Now, given that Egon was the only one to think something might be up earlier, he’s remarkably slow in following up that worry with an actual theory about what might happened. Ray sums it up very, very succinctly, in what might be the most alarming act-break line in any episode ever. Quite simply, he declares ‘We just killed Christmas. Christmas is gone. Forever!

Now this is followed by something that really, really used to unnerve me as a child. Just to establish, the guys have a handy viewfinder upstairs that they can use to look inside the Containment Unit, and the final shot of the first act is a peek inside the viewfinder, where we can see the three ghosts being hurtled backwards into the limitless void of ghost limbo. This final shot really freaked me out. Reasons? Well, there’s something hopeless about the situation. The music is the most apocalyptic of the show’s themes. The simple freakiness of that void, which is just some dark blue sky. The strange wail that the ghosts (or the soundtrack?) deliver. The look on Christmas Present’s face. Worried, but eerily static too. The fade to black. Okay, now the latter reason is something I’m going to heavily elaborate on in my write-up of the episode after this one, so it might not make much sense now, but all of these elements combined made for a moment that really burned itself into my mind, and I’d spend night as a child trying to get to sleep just thinking about that image, and it sending the right chills down me. Just one of those things. Wonder if I’m the only one?

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Act Two begins with the anti-Christmas spirit in full flow, with two idiots yelling ‘Bah! Humbug!’ at each other whilst their equally foul-tempered dogs face each other off. Ugly stuff. So, the guys are in a terrible situation. And if any of us had forgotten the details back in the old days when act breaks actually heralded a run of adverts, Peter helpfully summarises all of the chaos that’s just happened. Obviously, the best plan is to return the three Christmas ghosts back to where they belong, but there are hitches – how to release the ghosts without releasing all the other, mean ones, and the fact that time is passing on both sides of the time slip. In other words, they’d better hurry up because Christmas Eve is almost over… so for the first problem, Egon’s going to go INSIDE THE CONTAINMENT UNIT! Peter quite rightfully checks Egon’s pulse and asks if he’s recently hit his head, so MAD is his idea. As for the second problem….well, if Egon’s plan doesn’t work, then Peter, Winston and Ray will have to pretend to be the three Christmas ghosts in order to convert Scrooge….

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While the others head off, Egon asks Janine for help in getting inside the Containment Unit, and she eagerly accepts the chance to impress her love. Remember, the change in history might have erased her love of Christmas, but she’s still dopey-lovey all over Egon, which is nice, as she spent the majority of the previous scene yawning and bad-mouthing the whole point of the guys’ plan. Boo. For the second episode in a row, comedy love hearts replace pupils in the eyes of a main character.

The guys travel back through the time slip and bizarrely, don’t seem to wait for Egon to bring the ghosts back, instead opting immediately for Plan B, the first phase of which involves Peter putting on a blonde wig and rope-swinging his way right into Scrooge’s bedroom (and onto Scrooge himself)! Peter almost immediately blows his cover, responding to Scrooge’s demand of who has just appeared in his room with the frankly hopeless ‘Hey Jack, I’m Peter…’ before realising what’s at stake and adjusting his introduction correctly. Luckily, Scrooge’s glasses seem to have been lost in the preceding chaos, so I’m hoping that’s the reason this frankly unconvincing ruse seems to work. To be fair, Scrooge does note the change in his house invader’s appearance, not to mention the lack of ghostly aura, but this is all resolved with a flashy light show created by magnesium flares attached to Peter. The glow unfortunately makes Peter’s face the same sickly, amber colour that he suffered in series-highpoint ‘Mrs. Rogers’ Neighborhood’, when he was possessed by a demon, so even though this moment is perfectly innocuous, I get the flashback chills. Anyway, Peter produces one of those cool viewfinder head-set toys that lets you lose yourself in location photographs without peripheral distractions, but before we see how this is going to set Scrooge on the path of goodness, we go back to the present…

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Egon’s all set to enter the Containment Unit, attired in a spectacular red and white space suit – he warns Janine that he only has one hour to retrieve the ghosts and get out, or he’s trapped in there forever… when he enters, it’s like a condensed version of the Stargate sequence in 2001, all mind-bending corridors, although this only lasts five seconds, whereas in the film it went on for nearly ten minutes.

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In a superfluous bit of suspense, Slimer is left trapped in the basement when the power of the Containment Unit entrance’s suction threatens to drag Slimer inside. Nothing comes from this, Slimer survives a few scenes later, move on please! Oh, before we go back to Peter’s Christmas ghost shenanigans, Janine has a peek at Egon’s progress in the Unit and we see what she sees in the viewfinder. This looks very odd indeed, like he’s in a half-spectacular/half-primitive video game.

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Back to the past though, and Peter’s embarrassing (though admittedly inventive) method of taking Scrooge into a journey through his past is to strap the viewfinder over his eyes, plonk him in a wheelchair, and ride him round in circles (to simulate flying) in his bedroom. Amazingly, this does seem to work, with getting Scrooge all sentimental over his past, though how the stock-photos in the viewfinder match key moments in his personal history is anyone’s guess. Still, it gets him poring over his lonely youth, so the plan’s working, I suppose.

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Egon’s now properly inside the containment unit, and if you thought Doctor Who’s Tardis was a miracle of ‘small on the outside/big on the inside’, then prepare to be dazzled. It’s like another dimension entirely in here, and top marks to the writers and designers for conjuring up a spectacle. It’s an eternal world of nothingness, only with lonely rock ledges and islands for the ghosts to hang around on. This place must be absolutely massive, because you’d think there’d be even more ghosts in here, but given the relatively few we see, they must be spread out over even further terrain. And look! Some of these ghosts are familiar….there’s Slug from the very first episode …and The Sandman! Slug looks like he’s having fun partying with some other ghouls (noticeably not his wife and kid), but the Sandman looks very unhappy indeed, very lonely. We’re going to see other familiar faces over the next minute or two, so keep your eyes peeled!

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Anyway, Peter’s shift as ghost is thankfully over, but Scrooge, once he’s realised that he should actually be learning something from this whole escapade, is still not convinced that he should stop being such a miserable so and so, despite Peter resorting to a rare instance of outright Christmassy moralising in this episode (and it’s a good message, so well done).

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Back in the Unit, Egon narrowly avoids Samhain, while Slimer’s still trying to avoid getting hurled into the unit, and in an illogical moment of gravity-defying trickery, Winston’s somehow able to rope-swing himself and Scrooge over the streets of London so that the latter can see all the misery he’s caused. What the rope’s attached to, and how it’s managing to cover so much ground isn’t really explained (Peter and Ray certainly aren’t involved holding the rope, as the moment directly afterwards confirms), but since we’re all distracted by Winston’s ginger beard, I guess no one really cares. After all, it’s Christmas!

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Egon’s descent in the unit however, seems to be all in vain as his hour’s almost up, but he sees the three ghosts looking down in the dumps on their own limbo island. However, the moment he gets to them, plenty of other ghosts in the unit suss out what’s going on, and this is where the eagle-eyed will have a ball. Remember, this episode wasn’t available on video cassette (at least not in the UK), so you’d have to have taped it. So that meant keeping a sly eye on the TV listings. Then there was the old-fashioned days of pausing the video. Remember when DVD came out? One of its minor yet notable virtues was the benefit of getting a perfect pause. Back in the days of video tape, pausing the tape usually meant getting a big fat rip in the picture, which would usually mean tapping the pause button so that the rip would move further and further down the screen until you got as close to a perfect picture as was possible in those days. Remember doing that? Oh wait, was this just me. Sorry.

Anyway, we get some very pause-worthy moments as the animators have fun chucking in some notable antagonists from previous episodes. Slug’s companions Snarg and Zunk, not to mention Killerwatt, What/Watt from ‘Mrs. Rogers’ Neighborhood’, the Big Bad Ghost from ‘Slimer, Come Home’, the Winged Puma from ‘Look Homeward, Ray’, the narcoleptic ghost from ‘Take Two’, as well as the previously mentioned Samhain and the Sandman. No sign of the doppelganger Ghostbusters from ‘Citizen Ghost’, although the non-show of the Boogieman and any of the trolls from ‘Troll Bridge’ are understandable as they were never trapped in the first place. Anyway, the sight of all these ghosts, for me, was quite full-on – individually the guys barely got away with trapping them. Having them all in one place, and probably being quite angry, made for a classic ‘Oh s***!’ moment in the series. Egon and the Christmas ghosts make a desperate bid for the Containment Unit’s exit, pursued by all of the ghosts, accompanied, it can’t be ignored, by Killerwatt’s inimitable cackle, provided of course, by the excellent James Avery of Shredder/Uncle Phil/General Fang from Fist of the North Star legend. I wonder if he popped back in the studio to deliver that one laugh, or if the makers just recycled one of his many chuckles from ‘Killerwatt’?

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Egon and the Christmas ghosts barely make it, and I sometimes get this bit confused with a similar escape sequence in ‘Janine Melnitz, Ghostbuster’, where one of the inmates actually manages to peek his head outside of the unit before being threatened with a proton pack wielding Janine. Both excellent sequences, it must be said! So the Christmas ghosts wisely enter a ghost trap so as to get to the past in quicker time, which is good as Ray’s gig as Christmas Future is going nowhere. Probably the least sinister Ghost of Christmas Future ever, Ray is reduced to playing charades with Scrooge in a lamentable effort to…wait a minute, what exactly is Ray trying to achieve here? Never mind, the real ghosts arrive, and Egon, still in his astronaut get-up, warns Scrooge of the impending arrival of three ghosts. Three more? Scrooge doesn’t feel he can take anymore, but tough.

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Phew, all is done, all is well. Will Scrooge learn his lesson? Likely. Have the Ghostbusters learned theirs, Christmas Present asks? Wait, were they supposed to? Well, Peter has, but I’m not sure the others needed to, except possibly to hear a ghost out when he or she says they don’t want to be trapped. Sounds too risky to me, but what the hell, it’s Christmas. Well anyway, they just want to go home. Christmas Present obliges by immediately warping them to the present. I’ll bet Egon wishes that same thing could have been done for him earlier when he was trying to get the ghosts back to the past. It can’t have been easy, what with Ecto-1 already being used by the guys and Egon most likely having to hail a cab, and then the whole awkwardness of giving the driver directions to the mysterious time slip located somewhere in the forest…oh what the hell, it’s Christmas.

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Everything’s back to normal by the way, so the guys, Janine and Slimer share a drink (of water?) from a punch bowl and toast to Scrooge and the Ghosts. Winston wonders that, if A Christmas Carol was really a true story, then what else might be? Father Christmas? Well, someone outside is beckoning his reindeer to get a move on. Who could it be? Santa? Ray? Billy from Predator? To be fair, he sounds like all three, so the mystery remains…. Never mind, a Merry Christmas to all, and to all…good night!

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Next up, it’s a little interlude, if you’ll indulge me.

EDIT PS: James Avery, mentioned  in my post above, sadly passed away today on New Year’s Day, 2014. Great talent, unforgettable voice, RIP.