Tag Archives: Summer movies

The Summer of ’84: Ghostbusters

Fante’s Inferno celebrates summer movie going with a look back at the films of the Summer of 1984.


Ghostbusters Movie Poster

Release Date: June 8, 1984

Directed by Ivan Reitman; Screenplay by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis

Starring Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, Sigourney Weaver, Rick Moranis, Ernie Hudson, William Atherton, Annie Potts

For the three years that I’ve been writing my retrospectives on the films of the Summers of 1982, 1983 and now 1984, whether it’s the summer’s biggest blockbuster or one of the smaller hidden gems, there’s always been that one film in each year’s summer lineup that I look forward to reviewing the most.  The Summer of ’84 had a very strong lineup of high grossing crowd pleasers (particularly Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Gremlins), but the film that stands out the most from that summer is Ivan Reitman’s classic supernatural comedy Ghostbusters.

When I first saw Ghostbusters on the Summer of ’84’s lineup, my first thought was “How the heck has it been thirty years?!” (a sentiment shared by many of my friends).  It doesn’t feel like that much time has passed because countless screenings of Ghostbusters over the years have kept it fresh in my mind.  I’ve seen the film more times than any other released during the Summer of ’84 and I still quote some of the more memorable lines (say “Don’t cross the streams” to anyone over 40 and they’ll immediately get the Ghostbusters reference).

The film begins with a librarian experiencing an encounter with a ghost in the New York Public Library.  Dr. Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) drags Dr. Peter Venkman (Bill Murray) from his shady student research experiment to investigate the occurrence with Dr. Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis).  They encounter the ghost first hand, and return to their office at Columbia University to find their equipment being removed and their funding cut off due to questionable research and dubious results.  Confronted with the prospect of never working in academia again and having to find work in the private sector, Venkman proposes they strike out on their own and start a company dedicated to catching ghosts.  Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver) contacts the Ghostbusters when she opens her refrigerator and finds another dimension and a demonic dog.  Smitten, Venkman takes a personal interest in her case.  After a slow start, business picks up with a high level of paranormal activity in New York City, but they’re shut down by the EPA for unlicensed equipment and the ectoplasm hits the fan.

The last time I saw Ghostbusters was during the pre-CGI era and its effects were still pretty cutting edge.  Going into this week’s screening I had to prepare myself that the effects of Ghostbusters, while amazing back in the 80’s, would look dated by today’s standards.  Watching Ghostbusters again this week I realized my reservations were unfounded.  The film is just as enjoyable today because it’s the story and the cast that make this movie great.  The effects are secondary to Aykroyd and Ramis’s script, Reitman’s direction and a talented cast.  Bill Murray is the anchor of the Ghostbusters as Dr. Peter Venkman but the rest of the cast doesn’t take the back seat, with each actor elevating the comedy by adding their own genius: the everyman quality of Dan Aykroyd’s Dr. Ray Stantz, the late, great Harold Ramis’ deadpan Dr. Igon Spengler, to the supporting characters played by Sigourney Weaver as the Ghostbusters client and Venkman’s love interest Dana Barrett, her dorky accountant neighbor Louis played by Rick Moranis, Ernie Hudson as their newhire Winston Zeddmore, and William Atherton as the arrogant EPA bureaucrat Walter Peck.

I remember watching Ghostbusters in the theater back in June of 1984.  It opened the same weekend as Joe Dante’s Gremlins, which is surprising considering even with that direct competition and their neck and neck battle for the weekend box office ($13.6 million for Ghostbusters to $12.5 million for Gremlins) Ghostbusters still grossed over $200 million as the top grossing film of the summer and the #2 grossing film of 1984. It’s easy to see why both films were favorites of my generation, they’re both fun movies that were perfect for summer.  But in the long run I understand why Ghostbusters would prevail as the more popular film because it was more accessible to an adult audience, while Gremlins feels like more of a guilty pleasure.

I may have seen Gremlins in the theater first, but that didn’t take away from the enjoyment of watching Ghostbusters that wonderful summer.  One thing I enjoyed the most when I revisited Ghostbusters this week was that I was able to pick up on a number of one-liners that would have been over my head at age 12.  I also enjoyed the fact that for the first time since June 1984 I was able to see Ghostbusters as it was meant to be seen in letterbox format rather than the pan and scan version that was on cable TV and home video for over 20 years.  I was able to overlook the dated special effects because despite the supernatural/paranormal aspect of the story, the movie wasn’t as heavy on the visual effects as I thought.  Had the film been shot today (or rather, when the reboot is filmed in the next couple of years), CGI would have dominated the screen and at the end of the day would only look fake.  In spite of CGI’s ability to create a whole world out of a green screen shot, in many cases it only ends up being a distraction rather than a seamless effect because it just doesn’t look “right.”

On that note I have to say it was quite refreshing to see New York City as it was in 1984.  The establishing shot of New York Public Library at the beginning of the film is hidden by scaffolding because maintenance work was actually being done on the facade at that time.  If shot today the scaffolding would have been magically removed by CGI and a majority of the cityscape would have been painted in.  I loved just seeing New York as it was shot on a hard negative, particularly that every corner of Manhattan you saw in Ghostbusters wasn’t dominated by a bank, pharmacy or Starbucks.

I guess the main purpose of my revisiting Ghostbusters this week wasn’t to see if it still holds up 30 years later, because every screening of this classic comedy has been equally enjoyable for me over the years.   What I really found myself thinking more than anything was the lost opportunity to get four comedic geniuses back together for a third installment of one of the great comedies of the 80’s.  Murray, Ramis, Aykroyd and Reitman are at the top of their games for Ghostbusters, which makes the fact that they’ll never all be in Ghostbusters 3 all the more heartbreaking for fans of the first two.  There’s been talk of Bridesmaids director Paul Feig in discussions for a reboot of Ghostbusters, possibly with an all female cast.  As funny as that film might be, and as much money as it might gross, it wouldn’t provide the same sense of anticipation of a sequel or the nostalgia of the joy of watching the first two Ghostbusters films.  In my humble opinion the Ghostbusters are Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, Harold Ramis and Ernie Hudson.  Without them and Ivan Reitman, a reboot just doesn’t have the soul of a beloved original.  And without them, who you gonna call?

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The Summer of ’84: Star Trek III The Search for Spock

Fante’s Inferno celebrates summer movie going with a look back at the films of the Summer of 1984.

Star Trek III The Search for Spock Poster

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock

Release Date: June 1, 1984

Directed by Leonard Nimoy, Screenplay by Harve Bennett

Starring William Shatner, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Nichelle Nichols, Walter Koenig, George Takei, Leonard Nimoy, Christopher Lloyd, Robin Curtis, Merritt Butrick

One of the absolute pleasures of my retrospective on the Summer of ’82 was revisiting the classic Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. The film is pretty close to perfect, and watching it again at age forty allowed me to enjoy it on the same level as my younger self and also pick up on elements of the film that had eluded me in my younger years.  Star Trek III: The Search for Spock was high on my list when it was first released in June of 1984, and I went into this review with the same enthusiasm.  As a fan of the original TV series and first two films I was looking forward to the continuing cinematic voyage of Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise, but my main reason for wanting to see Star Trek III during the Summer of ’84 was the title’s promise of the return of my favorite Star Trek character.

Back during the Summer of ’84 I screened Star Trek III: The Search for Spock at the (now closed) Mamaroneck Playhouse as the school year wound down and a carefree summer vacation began.  I remember enjoying the film in the theater and on cable TV back in the 80’s, and I still enjoy it today, but watching it again 30 years later reminded me as to why Wrath of Khan is still revered as the best of the Star Trek films.

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock begins where Wrath of Khan left off.  The crew of the Enterprise, still recovering from their epic battle with Khan and the death of Captain Spock, departs planet Genesis and returns home for repairs.  No sooner than they set course for Earth, an alarm signals a security breach in Spock’s sealed quarters.  A rattled Kirk, reeling from the loss of his best friend, personally investigates and finds a frenzied Dr. McCoy speaking incoherently about returning to Vulcan.  Upon the Enterprise’s return to Earth the crew has earned extended leave, but are given two pieces of bad news: they are ordered to maintain secrecy of the Genesis Project, and the starship Enterprise will be decommissioned.

The crew meets at Kirk’s home, but they are interrupted by Spock’s father Sarek, who is disturbed by Kirk’s decision to leave Spock’s body on Genesis when it should have been returned to Vulcan along with his katra (spirit).  Sarek assumed Spock would have implanted his katra in Kirk, but when his mind meld of Kirk finds no trace of it, he accepts that it is lost forever.  Kirk reviews the security footage of Spock’s last moments before his death which shows him transferring his katra to McCoy, leading to McCoy’s descent into madness.  Sarek tells Kirk they must bring Spock’s body and katra (via McCoy) back to Vulcan.  McCoy is one step ahead of them when he tries to book illegal passage to Genesis and is arrested.  Kirk and the crew break McCoy out of his detention, steal the Enterprise and set course for Genesis.

A crew of Klingons led by commander Kruge (Christopher Lloyd) obtain the Genesis code and set course for the planet.  Meanwhile the Federation ship Grissom, with scientists David Marcus (Merrit Butrick) and Lt. Saavik (Robin Curtis), orbit Genesis to record the planet’s climate and progress.  They detect a life form, which should not have been possible under the Genesis project.  Marcus and Saavik beam to the surface of Genesis to investigate and find Spock’s tomb empty and a Vulcan child, presumably Spock.  Marcus admits the development of the Genesis project included unstable protomatter, which caused Spock to be “reborn” and age at a rapid pace but also made the entire planet unstable and on the verge of destroying itself.  Kruge destroys the Grissom, beams to the surface of Genesis, and holds Marcus, Saavik and Spock hostage.

Harve Bennett wrote the script (he was a writer on Wrath of Khan but was not credited), but Nicholas Meyer did not return to direct the third installment (he was in post-production on the 1983 TV movie The Day After), so Leonard Nimoy stepped in for his directorial debut.  Nimoy’s style of directing complements the film well, although the end of the third act drags with a longer than necessary passage of time sequence.  But as the sequel to the classic Wrath of Khan it’s hard not to make comparisons that can lead the viewer to judge Star Trek III for what it is not.  The tone of Search for Spock is noticeably different than The Wrath of Khan, which is a drama set in space with a story carried by themes of revenge, sacrifice and loss.  Search for Spock plays as more of a caper film, which in itself is especially fun with this cast of characters, with an overall tone that is more in line with the TV series.

William Shatner and DeForest Kelley as Kirk and McCoy carry the story, but James Doohan, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols and George Takei each have their scene stealing moments that move the plot forward in their attempt to steal the Enterprise.  In my opinion, the Klingons make the best villains, and Christopher Lloyd adds an element of psychotic joy to his performance as the Klingon captain Kruge.  But one major area of disappointment for me was the script’s lack of development of Kirk’s relationship with his son Dr. David Marcus.  That plot line in Wrath of Khan added an unexpected emotional weight to the film, but Search for Spock missed an opportunity to expand on it prior to (SPOILER ALERT) David’s death at the hands of the Klingons (though it would be revisited in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country).

While Search for Spock doesn’t come together on the same grand cinematic scale as Wrath of Khan, it does have the story, special effects, action scenes and film score that make a summer blockbuster.  30 years later, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock is still an enjoyable film and perfect for a lazy summer Saturday.

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The Films of the Summer of 1984

For the last two years my retrospectives on the films of the Summers of 1982 and 1983 allowed me to revisit some of the best fantasy and sci-fi films of the 80’s and enjoy them on a new level as a 40 something.  In some cases I would approach a film with a sense of trepidation, wondering if you truly can go back and enjoy an old favorite on the same level 30 years later.  At the end of each series, I learned that many of these films withstand the test of time and sometimes you really can go back.

I truly thought each “Summer Of” retrospective would be the last.  After The Summer of ’82 I didn’t think there could be another lineup of summer films that could compare to Blade Runner, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, The Road Warrior, Conan the Barbarian, Poltergeist, The Thing, TRON and E.T.: The Extra-terrestrial.  It was a magical summer for fans of fantasy and sci-fi films and there hasn’t been another like it.  But I had enjoyed writing that retrospective so much that I had gone through withdrawal and for the next year hoped for another opportunity to revisit a summer’s worth of films.  That void was filled with my retrospective on The Summer of ’83 which included a lineup of films that have been personal favorites of mine for over 30 years.  Even as I closed out that series, I didn’t think I would have an opportunity to write another “Summer Of.”

Then I saw the lineup for the films of the Summer of ’84 and realized another retrospective was possible.

The Summer of ’82 was about a lineup of the best fantasy and sci-fi films of the decade (Blade Runner, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Conan the Barbarian).  The Summer of ’83 was about a lineup of my personal favorites (WarGames, Fire and Ice).  The Summer of 1984 was still heavy on the adventure and sci-fi films, including some of the most crowd pleasing films of the decade as well as a few cult favorites:

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (5/23/84)
Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (6/1/84)
Ghostbusters (6/8/84)
Gremlins (6/8/84)
Conan the Destroyer (6/29/84)
The Last Starfighter (7/13/84)
Red Dawn (8/10/84)

Once I saw this list, I knew I had to revisit them again.

I’m taking these retrospectives year by year, but if the films of the Summer of ’85 etc. bring out the same sense of nostalgia for my original movie-going experiences, I’ll keep them coming.



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Thoughts on the Guardians of the Galaxy Trailer

It’s been barely 24 hours since the Guardians of the Galaxy trailer was released and it has already topped 4 million views on YouTube.  I was surprised by the positive buzz over it in my office today, mostly from non-comic book readers (including one of my co-workers that admitted he’s never read a comic book in his life – you know who you are…).

When I first learned that Marvel Studios had green-lit Guardians of the Galaxy, my initial reactions were surprise and skepticism.  Considering the higher profile characters and super teams that have yet to get the big screen treatment (Doctor Strange, Black Panther), I was surprised Guardians was even on the cinematic radar.  I’ve only read a handful of GotG comics, so while I’m hopeful the film version of Guardians of the Galaxy will continue Marvel Studios’ current positive streak at the box office, I’m not as emotionally connected to the characters or canon as I would be to the Fantastic Four, Alpha Flight or even the New Mutants.

Before I even watched the Guardians trailer, I was convinced I wouldn’t like it.  Maybe a better choice of words would be that I was convinced there wouldn’t be enough in it to make me want to give the film a chance.  But I’ll admit, I liked what I saw though not without a few concerns.


A solid cast: Bradley Cooper (Rocket Raccoon), Vin Diesel (Groot), Zoe Saldana (Gamora), Benicio Del Toro (the Collector), Djimon Hounsou (Korath the Pursuer), Glenn Close (Commander Rael), John C. Reilly (Rhomann Dey)

The effects, production design and makeup/costumes show that Marvel Studios saw something in the Guardians of the Galaxy and didn’t skimp on the budget.


The trailer doesn’t give any indication as to what the movie is about.  Maybe the “Who are these guys?” element of the trailer will drum up initial curiosity/interest in the film, but I can’t help but wonder what it might be lacking in plot.

The reliance on comedy in the trailer has me concerned that the studio is trying to make the film more “accessible” to a non-comic reading audience by having the film make fun of itself rather than creating a story true to the GotG canon.  Nothing irks me more than a comic book movie that gives a wink to the audience as if to say, “We know comics aren’t cool, but this is!”  Chris Pratt’s Star-Lord reminded me of Bill Pullman’s character Lone Starr in Spaceballs.

But in spite of my concerns, I’ll still hold out hope that Guardians of the Galaxy is a good film that both comic readers and non-comic book readers will enjoy, and that it will be successful enough at the box office to add more comic book films to the pipeline.

Guardians of the Galaxy opens in theaters August 1, 2014.

On a side note, BleedingCool.com posted this article on Rocket Raccoon co-creator Bill Mantlo.  A significant portion of my comic book collection growing up was written by Mantlo, with my favorite titles Micronauts, ROM: Spaceknight and Cloak & Dagger.  In 1992 Mantlo was the victim of a hit and run accident that caused a traumatic brain injury and he has required ongoing care ever since.  I made my donation tonight.  I hope this article will inspire other fans of his work to also make a contribution towards the cost of his care.

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The Summer of ’83: Fire and Ice

Fante’s Inferno celebrates summer movie-going by revisiting the films of the Summer of ’83.

Fire and Ice

Fire and Ice Movie Poster

Release Date: August 28, 1983

Directed by Ralph Bakshi; Screenplay by Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway based on characters created by Ralph Bakshi and Frank Frazetta

Starring Randy Norton, Cynthia Leake, Steve Sandor, Sean Hannon, Susan Tyrell, Maggie Roswell, Stephen Mendel

It’s fitting that I’m winding down my retrospective on the films of the Summer of ’83 with Fire and Ice because it was the last film I saw in theaters as that summer ended.  With that screening in the final week of August 1983, two and a half months of movies, comic books, video games and hanging out with friends segued into to the beginning of the upcoming school year.  Watching Fire and Ice again this past weekend not only brought back the memory of that last week of summer vacation, but also how the film and Frank Frazetta’s artwork influenced me at the time.

The film is about the war between the evil Queen Juliana of Icepeak and King Jerol of Firekeep.  Juliana and her son Nekron cover the earth with a wave of glaciers, decimating Jerol’s army as it inches closer to overtaking Firekeep.  Juliana and Nekron send a delegation to Firekeep under the guise of eliciting Jerol’s surrender, but kidnap his daughter Teegra in order to force her into a marriage with Nekron.  Teegra escapes from her captors and meets Larn, a survivor from Jerol’s army.  Teegra is recaptured by Juliana and Nekron’s sub-humans, and Larn attempts to rescue her from Icepeak with the help of Darkwolf.

There’s surprisingly little dialogue in the film’s 81 minutes, but the action is non-stop.  Fire and Ice gives life to the fantasy worlds depicted in Frank Frazetta’s incredible paintings (in one shot in the film, Darkwolf is reminiscent of Frazetta’s iconic painting of the Death Dealer), and the animation techniques used in of Fire and Ice blew me away back in 1983.  All of the character action was rotoscoped – live action was filmed, then each frame traced onto animation cels, lending a more “realistic” effect to the animation.  This film is one of the reasons I still prefer hand-drawn animation over today’s computer generated animation, and I enjoyed watching The Making of Fire and Ice for the parts of the behind-the-scenes film that show the process of rotoscoping as Bakshi directed live actors in the scenes that would be traced for the final animated sequences.

Watching it again made me wonder why Bakshi et al didn’t include more scenes with Darkwolf.  Each of his scenes brought out more of the Frazetta-esque feel, heightening the action and excitement of the film, especially going into the final battle at Icepeak.  The character of Teegra is drawn in the classic Frazetta style seen on many a fantasy novel cover.  Watching Fire and Ice this past weekend, I laughed when I remembered that during my second screening of the film in August 1983 the projectionist intentionally made one scene between Teegra and Larn out of focus because my friend Rob and I were the only people in the audience and he didn’t think it was appropriate for two eleven year olds to watch.

I was impressed at the level of talent involved in Fire and Ice’s production: director Ralph Bakshi had a strong track record of films prior to Fire and Ice (Fritz the Cat, Wizards, American Pop, The Lord of the Rings, Heavy Traffic, Hey Good Lookin’), Frank Frazetta was the absolute master of fantasy art, and writers Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway had written great comic book stories for Marvel and DC.  But the names that truly surprised me in my research were those of two of the film’s background painters: James Gurney (Dinotopia) and Thomas Kinkade.

The August 1983 release of Fire and Ice also coincided with my first attempts at picking up a paint brush.  My two favorite paintings by that time were Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel and Frank Frazetta’s The Silver Warrior.  My weekly routine included checking out the fantasy and science fiction sections of our local Waldenbooks, and it’s safe to say most of my paperback book purchases were based on the cover paintings more often than by the author or story.  I can’t imagine how many hours of the Summer of ’83 I devoted to buying art supplies at the old Larchmont Art Shop and sitting at my drawing table with a set of acrylics and canvas boards trying to copy the works of Frank Frazetta and Bill Sinkiewicz in the hopes of one day painting covers to fantasy novels and comic books.  What I would give to relive one of those carefree summer days again.

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The Summer of ’83: WarGames

Fante’s Inferno celebrates summer movie-going by revisiting the films of the Summer of ’83.


WarGames Movie Poster

Release date: June 3, 1983

Directed by John Badham; Written by Lawrence Lasker and Walter F. Parkes

Starring Matthew Broderick, Dabney Coleman, John Wood, Barry Corbin, Ally Sheedy

See the trailer here.

Shall we play a game?

30 years later, these words spoken by Joshua still have a chilling resonance.

I’ve seen John Badham’s Wargames at least 20 times since my first screening at the Larchmont Theater in June 1983.  It’s one of my favorite films of that particular summer and a perennial favorite since.  Watching it again this week reminded me not only of what a great film WarGames is, but also of how it coincided with my Golden Age of computing in the 80’s.  Back in 1983 the green text on the black monitor of my school’s TSR-80 was as high tech as it got for me (until I moved up to the Commodore 64 and its Royal Blue start screen), but I really enjoyed the days of playing the Infocom classics (Zork, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Planetfall, Ballyhoo), Montezuma’s Revenge and Trolls and TribulationsWarGames is a time capsule of early 80’s computing, but the film still keeps me on the edge of my seat down to the final minutes.  Even with a young Matthew Broderick as the protagonist WarGames doesn’t feel like a teen adventure and holds its own as a well made Cold War thriller.

WarGames begins in the bunker of a nuclear launch site as two launch technicians (played by  actors Michael Madsen and John Spencer) arrive for their shift.  Their arrival at the launch facility is no different from any two average Joes arriving at the office for a day’s work.  But once the alarm sounds, they methodically go through the launch procedures, checking and confirming codes until they learn they must deploy the nuclear warhead.  Spencer’s character hesitates, and the scene ends with Madsen’s character holding up his revolver to get his partner to comply with their orders.  It’s soon revealed that the launch sequence was a test by higher ups to gauge the success rate of the crews following through on their orders to deploy their missiles.  Chief engineer John McKittrick (played by Dabney Coleman) uses this as an opportunity to install a supercomputer (the WOPR – War Operation Plan Response) to take the place of launch technicians and provide a failsafe against the possibility of human hesitation.

I recently took a trip to South Dakota with my faithful sidekick, and coincidentally one of our stops was the Minute Man Nuclear Missile Site near the Badlands national park.  Unfortunately the tour of the launch site was booked for the day, but we got to see a picture of it in the visitor center.  It looked exactly like the launch facility in the opening scene of WarGames so I asked the Park Ranger on duty that day if any films were shot there after it was “retired.”  She advised that the site has never been used as a movie location, but launch facility set created for WarGames was accurate and identical to Minute Man.  With the exception of Michael Madsen pulling out a gun on John Spencer, even the launch sequence in the film was accurate.

Enter David Lightman (played by Matthew Broderick), a high school student and computer whiz who would rather use his talents as a hacker than apply himself in school.  He purposely gets his teachers to send him to the principal’s office so he can look up the passwords to their network and hack into their system.  During dinner with his parents, he learns that computer game company Protovision will be releasing a new line of games.  David can’t wait for them to be released, so he attempts to hack into their network and get early access to the games.

After days of research and long nights trying to crack Protovision’s network through a back door in the system, a benign remark by his friend Jennifer (played by Ally Sheedy) provides David with the logon and password he needs to break in.  But instead of hacking into Protovision, David has unwittingly hacked into the WOPR (also known as Joshua).  He is greeted by Joshua, who thinks that David is his creator Dr. Stephen Falken, and suggests a game of chess.  David insists on playing Global Thermonuclear War, however the “game” is actually the program used by the WOPR to simulate nuclear attacks.

David and Jennifer’s game sets off alarms at NORAD, and the staff headed by McKittrick and General Berringer (played by Barry Corbin) believes they are under nuclear attack by the Soviet Union.  The “threat” disappears when David shuts off his computer, and NORAD quickly learns that it was only a simulation.  They track the break in from David’s hometown of Seattle.  David quickly realizes the gravity of the situation when the simulated attack makes the evening news.  He disposes of the evidence but is still being contacted by Joshua.  The FBI takes David in for questioning at NORAD, but despite his insistence that he thought he was simply playing a game, McKittrick doesn’t believe his story and has him detained on suspicion of espionage.  He uses his tech savvy to sneak out of NORAD (which requires a little suspension of disbelief) and sets out to find Dr. Falken (played by the great John Wood) and prevent Joshua from starting a nuclear war.

What still makes the story accessible despite the dated equipment is Badham and Broderick’s representation of the fun and blank slate of the early days of home computing without dumbing it down with unrealistic graphics.  One of the caveats I’ve always had with computer/tech themed films is how the functionality of computers, networks, etc. are “jazzed up” to make computers more cinematic.  There’s a little bit of that with regard to David’s conversations with Joshua, but the simple typed lines of text typed onto an old school monitor ensure that WarGames doesn’t overachieve with regard to the functionality of early computers.

I already had a DVD copy of WarGames when the 25th Anniversary DVD was released in 2008.  Normally I would have been happy with my first copy, but this new edition had a Making Of featurette that made the purchase a no-brainer.  Despite my appreciation for WarGames and its rank among my all time favorites, I hadn’t actually researched the making of the film.

I didn’t know that John Badham had replaced Martin Brest (director of Scent of a Woman and Meet Joe Black) early in the film’s production.  Badham had received acclaim for the era defining 70’s classic Saturday Night Fever and had another hit film, Blue Thunder starring Roy Scheider released one month prior to WarGames.  Brest had Broderick and Sheedy initially playing their roles with a darker tone, but fortunately Badham lightened it up.  The beginning of the film needed the infusion of teenage innocence and cluelessness in order for the story to unfold more effectively.  The playfulness in Broderick and Sheedy’s early scenes really add to Broderick’s performance when McKittrick’s mistrust and threats hit David in the gut.

But one piece of information about the production that truly blew me away was how the producers had originally considered John Lennon to play the role of Dr. Stephen Falken.   While I think WarGames was near perfect as is, it would have been amazing to see how Lennon would have played the role.  Screenwriters Lawrence Lasker and Walter F. Parkes’ tight story combined with Badham’s direction and a fantastic, believable cast takes the audience on a great ride down to the final moments of the film.

WarGames made me and my brother beg our father to buy our first computer.  I still remember the day he drove us to Caldors department store and completely trusted us to make that purchase without balking at the price.  The Commodore 64 required a keyboard and disk drive purchased separately, and your TV would be the monitor.  The salesman asked if we also wanted the modem to go along with it.  I instantly thought of David Lightman using his modem to hack into Protovision.  Fortunately we didn’t add the modem to our purchase and we stayed at Defcon 5.

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A look at this summer’s comic book films

Based on the strength of Iron Man 3’s performance last weekend, grossing $170 million domestic and $680 million worldwide, moviegoers and critics that predicted (and in some cases hoped for) the decline of the comic book movie will be disappointed.

For a guy that grew up in an era that didn’t have that many comic book movies released, and with many of those that were released not measuring up to their respective source material, it feels like we’re finally living in a Golden Age of comic book movies and I’m hoping there’s no end in sight.

Sometimes my comic book fandom interfered with my ability to enjoy a comic book film on its own merits.  I used to be a staunch believer that a comic book movie had to be as close to the printed source material as possible, but I’ve had a change of perspective over the last couple of years.  When the first wave of comic book movies was released, my complaints usually began with the changes made to the superhero costumes.  (Wolverine’s yellow costume wasn’t cinematic enough?  Then use the brown costume!)  But over a time, a personal caveat like Captain America’s costume deviating from the classic Joe Simon/Jack Kirby design was overshadowed by my pure enjoyment of a film.  Now I accept the need to balance respect for the source material (particularly the characters and their origins) with the new ideas filmmakers can bring to the franchise.  Rather than seeing the film version as a verbatim representation of the comic book, I now go into each film wanting to see it as a new adventure for the characters.

With the latest influx of comic book related films summer has now become my favorite time of year for moviegoing, and this summer’s lineup of releases has me planning my trips to the multiplex.

Here’s a look at the upcoming comic book films for Summer 2013:

Man of Steel

Man of Steel Movie Poster

Release Date: June 14

Directed by Zac Snyder; Screenplay by David Goyer

Starring Henry Cavill (Superman/Clark Kent), Michael Shannon (General Zod), Amy Adams (Lois Lane), Russell Crowe (Jor-El), Kevin Costner (Jonathan Kent), Diane Lane (Martha Kent)

See the trailer here.

Man of Steel is the summer 2013 film I was looking forward to the most.  Back in ’06 the trailer for Superman Returns, complete with a voice over by Marlon Brando from 1978’s Superman: The Movie, made me think that Bryan Singer had taken the first step in reigniting the Superman franchise.  Unfortunately the trailer was better than the film, which was little more than a re-hashing of Lex Luthor’s scheme from Richard Donner’s Superman.  This time around, everything about the trailer for Man of Steel has me wanting to see this film.  While it is a reboot, it has elements from both Superman: The Movie (the origin story) and Superman II (General Zod).  The tone is a little darker than I expected but the cast, from Russell Crowe as Jor-El, Kevin Costner as Jonathan Kent and Michael Shannon as General Zod, looks fantastic.  Christopher Reeve instinctively comes to mind when I think of the role of Clark Kent/Superman, but I’m looking forward to seeing Henry Cavill’s take on Superman/Clark Kent.

Red 2

Red 2 Movie Poster

Release Date: July 19

Directed by Dean Parisot; Written by Jon Hoeber and Erich Hoeber; Based on the comic book by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner

Starring Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren, Mary Louise Parker, Anthony Hopkins, Catherine Zeta-Jones

See the trailer here.

I hadn’t read Warren Ellis’ and Cully Hamner’s comic book mini-series prior to seeing Red in 2010.  The film wasn’t on my radar at the time and I rented it because I thought it would be a fun movie.  It ended up as one of my favorite films that year, and Red 2 is one of the films I’m looking forward to the most this summer.  Willis, Malkovich and Helen Mirren played well against each other in the first action comedy, and from the looks of the trailer Red 2 is cranking up the firepower with Catherine Zeta-Jones and Byung-hun Lee.

The Wolverine

Wolverine Movie Poster

Release Date: July 26

Directed by James Mangold; Screenplay by Mark Bomback

Starring Hugh Jackman (Logan/Wolverine), Will Yun Lee (Silver Samurai), Svetlana Khodchenkova (Viper), Hiroyuki Sanada (Shingen Yashida), Tao Okamoto (Mariko Yashida)

See the trailer here.

Wolverine.  Japan.  Silver Samurai.  ‘Nuff said.  Watching the trailer for The Wolverine brought me back to the early 80’s and Marvel Comics’ four-part Wolverine mini-series by Chris Claremont, Frank Miller and Joe Rubinstein and Uncanny X-Men #172 and #173 by Claremont, Paul Smith and Bob Wiacek.  Silver Samurai is one of the more under-utilized villains of the Marvel Universe in my opinion and his appearance vs. Wolverine in Uncanny X-Men 173 (September 1983) is one of my favorite hero/villain match ups of the 80’s.

Kick-Ass 2

Kick-Ass 2 Movie Poster

Release Date: August 16

Written and directed by Jeff Wadlow; Starring Aaron Tayl0r-Johnson, Chloe Grace Moretz, Jonathan Mintz-Plasse, and Jim Carrey

August’s Kick-Ass 2 brings back Mark Millar and John Romita Jr.’s teen heroes.  Like Red, the first Kick-Ass was another unexpected surprise for me when it was released in 2010.  Red Mist (Mintz-Plasse) is back for revenge as The MotherF***er, and Jim Carrey’s Col. Stars and Stripes joins Kick-Ass and Hit Girl in this adrenaline fueled sequel.

This looks like a good summer for comic book films with a good balance between superheroes and action comedy, but it’s only a primer for 2014 and the upcoming releases of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and X-Men: Days of Future Past.  Luckily the release of Thor: The Dark World on November 8th will hold us over until then.

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The Summer of ’82: Star Trek II The Wrath of Khan

Fante’s Inferno revisits the films of the Summer of 1982, considered the greatest movie summer for fantasy and sci-fi fans.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Release Date: June 4, 1982

See the trailer here.

Starring: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Ricardo Montalban, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols, Walter Koenig

Directed by: Nicholas Meyer; Screenplay by Jack B. Sower and Nicholas Meyer (uncredited)

Where do I begin with Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan?

When I started this retrospective on the Summer of ’82, I found myself revisiting a number of films I haven’t seen in 20 to 30 years.  The Wrath of Khan is one that I own on DVD and have watched many times.  Despite thirty years of technological advances in filmmaking and special effects, some films are just timeless.  The Wrath of Khan falls into that category.  If the films of the Summer of ’82 were the lineup for a baseball team, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan would be batting cleanup.

I remember when Star Trek: The Motion Picture was released in 1979 I couldn’t get enough of that film (trailer here).  The marketing campaign included a promotion with McDonalds that placed Star Trek: TMP related toys in Happy Meals, highlighted by a commercial with a Klingon speaking Klingon-ese (I probably ate three or four Happy Meals a week en route to collecting the entire set).  When I watched the film recently, I realized why some folks have nicknamed it Star Trek: The Motionless Picture.  But for someone who had never seen an episode of Star Trek prior to taking on the film, director Nicholas Meyer (Time After Time, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home) hit this one out of the park and gave Star Trek fans (and sci-fi fans in general) a film that revitalized the franchise.

Watching Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan in 1982 was a real treat (and still is today!).  The battle scenes were heightened by Khan’s lust for vengeance and Kirk’s propensity for trickery.  Kirk’s feelings of guilt and loss resulting from his failed relationship with Carol Marcus (played by Bibi Besch) brought out elements of Kirk’s personality that I was able to appreciate more as an adult.  Watching it again this week, I was impressed with how little dialogue was needed to convey their situation.  One thing that was lost on me at the time was the connection Khan (played by the great Ricardo Montalban) had to the original series.  I must have missed that episode when it aired in reruns, but it didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the film.  I do remember that WPIX re-ran the episode Space Seed around the time of Wrath of Khan’s release, and ran a crawl to announce it at the bottom of the TV screen during other shows leading up to that airing in order to drum up viewership.


I remember walking out of The Wrath of Khan feeling an incredible amount of sadness when Spock died.  When I was a kid and my brother and I played Star Trek with the neighborhood kids, I was always Spock.  I even had a Spock style bowl-cut at the time (that was coincidental).  When Spock sacrificed his life to save the crew, as much as I appreciated the scene I couldn’t fathom at the time why they would kill off such an important character.  I wish I could remember the fan response to this at the time.  When you consider how quickly a fan uproar can spread online when even an unsubstantiated rumor of a plot detail deviating one iota from the original canon in a film based on a beloved property, I wondered if Spock’s death had the same impact among fans in 1982.  Apparently his death was to take place earlier in the film, but the negative response led to the change.  Even so, Nimoy and Meyer thought Spock’s death would be permanent.

The scene with Spock’s final monologue still chokes me up to this day.  When I watched it again this week I felt the weight of Kirk’s loss of his true friend more than I had in previous screenings, a feeling that hit close to home having lost a close friend of mine several years back.  Spock’s final words to Kirk about the needs of the many outweighing the needs of the few always resonated with me, and even seems to pop up in conversations in my day to day life.  There was a moment on the New York City subway a few years back when a rider kept the subway doors open for a bunch of folks to get on the #2 train at the Times Square Station stop.  Despite his noble intentions, he held up the train and started to piss off the rest of us, including the engineer.  The subway engineer opened the door to his compartment, stared the guy down and calmly said “How many people are you going to keep the doors open for?  You’re holding these riders up.  The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”

I highly recommend Wrath of Khan director Nicholas Meyer’s autobiography A View From the Bridge for a fantastic account of his work on the Star Trek films as well as on The Seven Percent Solution, Time After Time, and The Day After.  And if you want to see Ricardo Montalban in another great film, watch the classic World War II film Battleground (starring Van Johnson).

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INTERVIEW: The Dark Knight Rises Producer Michael Uslan on Batman

I had the opportunity to interview producer Michael Uslan (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises, Constantine, National Treasure) when he was in New York to speak at the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art about his memoir The Boy Who Loved Batman (published by Chronicle Books) which chronicles his life and career from young comic book collector to film producer.  His latest film, the highly anticipated The Dark Knight Rises  directed by Christopher Nolan, hits theaters tomorrow.

It was a childhood trip to the local candy store with his older brother Paul that introduced Michael Uslan to Detective Comics and a character named Batman.

“I was about five years old …and my brother had brought me to the first candy store I had ever been to.  I’d never seen a rack of comics before…floor to ceiling, wall to wall comic books.  …I think it was a Detective Comics, it was my first look at Batman.  I had known Superman because the TV show was on the air, so every kid in the 50’s knew of Superman, Lois Lane, and Jimmy Olsen. But Batman was something new, and it was clearly something darker, it was immediately clear it was something more adult than I was prepared for.  And why do I remember this cover?  Because it had this picture of this car this guy was driving, but it was not the Batmobile we all kind of remember as the 50’s Batmobile, this particular issue had a Batmobile that was an urban assault tank.  Not to be seen again really for many, many decades later when it somehow mystically showed up in Batman Begins.  What a coincidence!  And then I was hooked.”

By the time he graduated high school, he had amassed a collection of 30,000 comic books dating back to 1936.  Some of his personal treasures such as Amazing Fantasy #15 (the first appearance of Spider-Man), Fantastic Four #1, and The Hulk #1 just to name a few are each worth five to six figures today, and he purchased a lot of them for a dime apiece.

Yep, that’s right, folks.  A dime apiece.  That includes four pristine copies of Fantastic Four #1 that he was forced to purchase by the crotchety old candy store owner who saw him thumbing through the other three copies to find the best one.  That 40 cent shakedown turned into $208,000.

He still owns many of those iconic comic books because thankfully, unlike many parents of the day, his mother didn’t throw them out on the condition he also read novels and news articles.

Bless you, Mrs. Uslan!

But the turning point in his life came on a cold night in January 1966 when a new television show called Batman premiered on ABC.

“Finally, after only having seen George Reeves in The Adventures of Superman, Batman was coming to television.  I couldn’t wait for this show.  And then it came on the air, and I was simultaneously thrilled and horrified by what I was seeing on TV.  I was thrilled because it was in color, the sets were extravagant, the car was cool, that opening animation looked just like Bob Kane’s work.  But then I was horrified that the whole world was laughing at Batman.  They had made a mockery of Batman.  He was a pot-bellied funny guy who POWs, ZAPs and WHAMs.  Who was there doing the Bat-tusi, and it just killed me.”

It was at that moment that Michael took his “young Bruce Wayne” vow: he would bring a dark, serious version of Batman to the silver screen.

“I swore that somehow, someday, some way, I would show the world what the real, true Batman was like.  The Batman.  The creature of the night who stalks criminals from the shadows, the way he was created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger in 1939.  I would find some way to eliminate from the collective consciousness of the world culture, those three little words POW, ZAP and WHAM.  And that became my mission.”

Michael Uslan went on to executive produce all seven Batman films with his executive producing partner Benjamin Melniker starting with 1989’s Batman starring Michael Keaton and directed by Tim Burton.

The Boy Who Loved Batman gives the readers Uslan’s first hand account of the steps and roadblocks along the way: from his early days of comic collecting, to teaching the first comic book related college course in America while a junior at the Indiana University, to how he got his first writing assignment for DC Comics, to the ten year odyssey he endured to bring Batman to the movie screen after securing the rights.  A comic or movie fan can’t help but be inspired by the stories of his persistence.

Michael Uslan signing The Boy Who Loved Batman at the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art.
Photo by Fabrizio Fante

What is it about Batman that makes him withstand the test of time over 70 years?

Uslan: I keep saying it’s these three things:  First, It’s the fact he has no superpowers and that his greatest superpower is his humanity.  Number two, it’s that primal origin story that transcends borders and demographics and cultures.  And number three, he has the greatest super villains in the world.  And that is probably the main cause of longevity in this superhero.  And nobody can touch Batman’s rogue’s gallery.  They just can’t.  So I think that’s what keeps him fresh and will always keep him fresh.

Who’s your favorite villain in Batman’s rogue’s gallery?


Is there a villain that you think has been under represented and should be touched on more in the stories? 

Catwoman.  I think the greatest villainess since the Dragon Lady (of Milton Caniff’s Terry and the Pirates comic strip).  Batman’s predilection for bad girls is worthy of exploration through Catwoman.  The relationship makes Catwoman a stronger character than she is individually.

Two-Face.  Scarecrow.  I tend toward those psychologically damaged villains more than I do toward a Penguin or a Mad-Hatter.

Ra’s al Ghul.  I think one of the greatest Batman villains ever created, and nobody really cares for him as much because he was created in the 1970’s after the TV show.  So he’s not ingrained in the culture and he should be.

Man-Bat.  I think it’s a beautiful, dark romance that certainly is a modern day take on Doctor Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde and I find it fascinating.

The Reaper.  One of the most powerful Batman stories ever told: The Night of the Reaper is probably my second favorite Batman story of all time.

Which of the many comic book characters that haven’t gotten the full movie treatment would you like to see on film?

My favorite was always Captain Marvel…the Harry Potter of superheroes.  It could be spectacular and different, and based on family.  The Shadow.  His best interpretations outside of print were on radio.  I would love to see it visually done in a stunning way.  I’m a big fan of the pulps: The Shadow, Doc Savage, things like that.  Some of my favorite comic books growing up were Wally Wood’s T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, which to me is like The Right Stuff of superheroes, when they go out and recruit these guys in real life to be superheroes and every power has a curse attached to it.  I loved that.  Doctor Strange.  Fabulous material.  The Question.  I had a chance to write that with Alex Toth.  I was the first writer after Steve Ditko, and working with Toth I never learned so much about graphic storytelling in my life.  That was fun. That’s another character I have a soft spot in my heart for.  That pretty much sums it up.

What is your take on the current state of comic books?  In the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s the stories were more about adventure and now the storylines seem geared more toward the internal turmoil of characters vs. going out and fighting the bad buys.  In your opinion how do today’s comics measure up to the comics of your youth?

A world apart.  Comic books when I was a kid were aimed at 7 to 12 year old boys and today’s they’re aimed at adults.  And in too many cases kids are ignored, and so are women.  And for awhile it was Manga that was filling that gap.  And I’m happy to see comics become a little more diverse and opening the doors again to kids and females which is important.  Technologically the comics are completely different.  The graphic storytelling has changed.  One of my pet peeves is when I open up a $3 or $4 comic book and there’s an average of seven words on a page.  It’s called a comic book.  It’s supposed to be art and words mixed together and not having the words abdicated entirely to the artist.  So I like my comics to have more meat on them in terms of their literary value.  You’re right, this started with Stan Lee with Marvel Comics when he began to create conflicts based on internal conflicts more than the external conflicts of super-villains or aliens or whatever.  And that it became more important as a Marvel reader what was going on in Peter Parker’s life and in Spider-Man’s life.  The torture of the Hulk, the military industrial complex, science gone mad, but it was that switch over to the internal conflicts.  And now I think today that is the rule rather than the exception, even with the villains.  When the villains come in they are internally conflicted and the relationships between the heroes and the villains, the symbiotic relationships, are explored opening doors to make it feel more mature, to make it feel more real to a much older reader.  But the days when I picked up a comic book to be entertained for pure escapism, it’s not quite the same.  And sometimes I feel I’m weighted down by a lot of them and other times I feel they’re inappropriately dark and gritty just to try to keep pace with what everybody else seems to be doing.  And the movies can make the same mistake.  You can’t have the dark and gritty Superman.  You can’t have the dark and gritty Ant-Man.  And for God’s sake you can’t start making Casper the Unfriendly Ghost.

If you were to make a Batman movie in the 1940’s what talent would you put together for that project?

Wow.   Let me start with director.  My directors would be Orson Welles, Fritz Lang, Max Fleischer, they would be my first three.  Stars, oh my God, stars…Douglas Fairbanks Sr.  Did you ever see The Mark of Zorro, the silent version?  I showed everybody when we originally started Batman this scene where Zorro challenges the commandante to have breakfast with him in the center of town.  They set the table for him and he leaps in through a window, sits, takes a bite, and he springs out the next window.  I said, “That’s Batman.  That’s what’s got to be captured.”

You took an idea you had as a teenager and not only made it your life’s mission, but made good on it by producing all seven Batman films starting with Tim Burton’s Batman in 1989.  In your book you describe the obstacles you faced for ten years trying to get the film made.  Where did this persistence come from?

Passion.  If I had to boil my life down to one word, it’s “passion.”  I was raised by an amazing woman who not only let me keep my comic books, but brought up my brother and I in a way that once you make a commitment, you honor it. Period.  End of story.  You’re not happy?  You’re sad having to be on this little league team because you hate your coach?  I’m sorry but you made a commitment to the kids on your team and you have to see this through.  Next year you don’t have to do it, but you made a commitment, you see it through.  I made a commitment to bring a dark and serious Batman to the silver screen.  I thought it was going to be a breeze.  It wasn’t.  And I’ve learned since that I can accomplish anything I want to in life, but always the longest, hardest possible way.  There was never an easy path for me.  There was never a quick path.  You look at the other movies I was involved with: Constantine, National Teasure.  These movies have taken nine, eleven years to bring to the screen.  So I’ve always got there but never the easy way.  And so I have a bit of a siege mentality as a result.  I don’t expect anything less than agony (laughs) and duration to get to where I want to go.  But I so want to get to where I want to go that I’ve learned how to channel that frustration and deal with it and not let it beat me.

A very special thanks to Michael Uslan for taking the time to meet with me for this interview, and to the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art for the opportunity.

Please note this interview, and all original content on FantesInferno.com is copyright Fabrizio Fante and FantesInferno.com and cannot be copied or used on any platform or in any format without expressed written consent.

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The Summer of ’82

With the anniversary upon us, I’ve been seeing quite a few articles proclaiming the summer of ’82 as one of the best summers for movies ever.  This Yahoo slideshow sums it up pretty well.  My first thought regarding the summer of 1982 is usually, “Holy crap, has it been 30 years?”  The second is: “Holy crap, that was a great summer for movies!”

I turned 10 that summer, and in addition to going to the local movie theater, most of that summer was spent reading Marvel comics, playing video games (on the Atari 2600 and at our local arcade) and playing Dungeons & Dragons a couple of times a week.  In short, it was heaven.

I’ll admit, scanning through these 15 films, there are a few that don’t really resonate with me in 2012 (The World According to Garp, An Officer and a Gentleman, and Night Shift), but most of the rest are still favorites of mine and it boggles my mind that they were released over the course of a few months.  Several fall into the category of “when I flip through the channels and it’s on, I watch it to the end.”

My favorites from the list:

Conan the Barbarian (5/14/82)
The Road Warrior (5/21/82)
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (6/4/82)
Poltergeist (6/4/82)
E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial (6/11/82)
Blade Runner (6/25/82)
The Thing (6/25/82)
The Secret of NIMH (7/2/82)
TRON (7/9/82)
Pink Floyd: The Wall (8/6/82)

One film that surprisingly isn’t on this list is Clint Eastwood’s Firefox (6/18/82).

I’d like to revisit each of these films in blog posts corresponding to the week they were released, but as you can see I’m a bit behind schedule with the first six, but the 30th anniversary of the release of Blade Runner (one of my favorite movies of all time) is coming up, so I’d better get cracking on that one.

On a side note, thank you to everyone that has been reading and following my blog.  The latest stats show visitors from 26 countries.  Please feel free to comment, as well as follow me on Twitter (@Fabrizio_Fante).  Emails are also welcome at fabfante (at) gmail (dot) com.

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