Sunday, October 9, 2016

Ghostbusters (2016)

Year 8, Day 284 - 10/10/16 - Movie #2,462 - viewed on 7/11/16 

I'm done with working at New York Comic-Con, but that means I'm downright exhausted - plus I've got a second audition for "Jeopardy" today, which means I can't stay up and watch a movie, I need to get some sleep.  But I've been holding this review in reserve, for just such an occasion, and in a bit of planned serendipity, Charles Dance carries over from "Victor Frankenstein", and pulls off a Halloween hat trick.  

BEFORE: As I write this, it's July 11, and I'm preparing for San Diego Comic-Con - the last film I watched was really "Lost in a Harem", starring Abbott and Costello, and I'm just back from 2 days in my hometown in Massachusetts.  I had an opportunity to attend an advance screening of the new "Ghostbusters" remake (reboot?) because my boss is an Academy member (actually, both bosses are) and she invited me to a free screening, with a following interview with one of the screenwriters, Katie Dippold.  Hey, I even passed on witnessing Manhattanhenge for this!  But I'm not going to post the review in July, for a number of reasons: 

1) It doesn't link by actor to what I'm currently watching - sure, I could have watched "Hold that Ghost" starring Abbott and Costello, and linked to it thematically, but I'm trying to avoid that sort of thing, using it only as a last resort.  It's more of a challenge if I force myself to find an actor link, and I'm guessing that will place this film between watching "Ted 2", with Kate McKinnon, and "Regarding Henry", where Ernie Hudson has a small role.  If I'm wrong, I'm wrong - 

2) I'm not ready for films about ghosts - honestly, that feels sort of like a Halloween thing to me, right?  Why the heck is Columbia/Sony releasing this film during the summer, when there's such an obvious tie-in with an October holiday on the calendar?  OK, so I admit I know nothing about summer tentpole strategies and studio release schedules - is the plan to release this big over the summer, and if it does well, re-release it at Halloween time?  (Or, if the film fails, hope that people forget about it by October, and maybe try again?)  

3) Another sort of tangential reason - I don't know if this film's going to be successful or not.  The advance buzz online was pretty harsh, a lot of negative reactions to the traditional male Ghostbuster roles being filled by females.  This gives me a little distance, since my reaction might be colored by seeing this in advance, for free, with a supportive crowd.  Not that my rating should change if the film bombs, but still...  Either way, I won't be responsible for posting spoilers if I write the review and sit on it for three months.  If you still haven't seen this film by October, you're either lazy or a misogynist, or maybe you just hate reboots.  

But this is crazy, right?  Who goes to an advance screening and then doesn't talk about the film right away?  Isn't the whole point of seeing a film early to lord it over everyone else?   Well, sure, the temptation is there, but I'm not going to give in to that.  I know I will have seen the film before nearly everyone else, and I'm comfortable with that.  There's no need to brag, or even humble-brag.  

THE PLOT: Four women start a ghost-catching business in New York City.  

AFTER: Well, I've counted it out, this is the seventh film I've seen on the big screen in 7 months - 8 in 8 months if you count back to "Star Wars: The Force Awakens".  So I'm averaging 1 a month, and if I can catch the new "Star Trek" film in August, I can keep the trend going.  Three of the films before this I've posted reviews of ("London Has Fallen", "Batman v. Superman", "Nerdland") and three I haven't, as of the date I'm writing this ("Deadpool", "Captain America: Civil War", "X-Men: Apocalypse") but by the time I post this in October, I should be all caught up.  

And really, it's the year of the reboot, I'm ready to call it.  Batman got rebooted this year, to kick-start the Justice League franchise, and Spider-Man got rebooted during the "Captain America: Civil War" film.  The studios also remade or rebooted "The Jungle Book", "Tarzan", and "Independence Day".  And whatever hasn't been rebooted seems like a sequel, like "Finding Dory", "Star Trek Beyond", "Now You See Me 2", "Zoolander 2", "My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2", "Kung Fu Panda 3", "Alice Through the Looking Glass" and even "The Purge: Election Year".  And the year's far from over, we've got more films in the Jason Bourne, Jack Reacher, Bridget Jones and "Ice Age" franchises still to come.  Plus I think they re-made "Ben-Hur", for God's sake, why?  

There's still time for Hollywood to amaze me with something new, different or original - but frankly, I'm not holding my breath.  Franchise films are (almost) always big successes, plus you can go into them knowing what to expect.  But what about the new "Ghostbusters"?  Is it as good as the original?  Does it set the right tone?  Was it even worth re-visiting the idea in the first place?  

I will say that it's similar in some ways to the original, and seems to have much the same intent - it's more important to be funny than scary, and scientifically accurate, well that's thrown right out the window.  You have to go into it believing that ghosts exist, and that paranormal scientists can devise a portable pack that can catch a ghost in a laser-like stream, and then trap it in a containment device.  Watching the original "Ghostbusters" film isn't a prerequisite, but it couldn't hurt.  Will this film catch on with a new generation, which may or may not have seen the Murray/Aykroyd/Ramis/Hudson team in action?  I can't possibly tell.  

Again, I saw the film at a free advance screening, with the screenwriter in attendance, and a very supportive audience.  I laughed quite a bit, and of course I'm a fan of the original, I don't think one thing precludes the other, and the people who got upset over their favorite childhood movie being "ruined" need to get a grip.  Look, no one's taking away the 1984 film, it's always going to exist, you can always pop in the old VHS tape whenever you want.  But this is a new version of the story, it's similar in some ways, but different in others.  

In the original, three scientists were kicked out of the same college where they were conducting their experiments, in the reboot one character gets kicked out of Columbia, leading her to join up with her former friend and another colleague, who both get kicked out of another institution.  It's another set of roads that lead to the same destination, more or less.  They take on a fourth minority member, they get a vehicle, they develop the proton packs.  In all cases, it's different roads leading to familiar destinations.  More than anything, it sort of evokes "Star Wars: The Force Awakens", the way that film used pieces and parts of previous "Star Wars" films, only putting different spins on them, changing a gender here and there, "Hey, why CAN'T we have a strong female lead?" and so on.  

It's a tough road, finding a way to be both familiar AND different at the same time.  Capturing the spirit of a well-loved film, but not duplicating its plot points too closely - because if they did that, you might as well just go watch the original film again.  I don't envy the people who choose to re-boot a franchise, because it's probably a lot of work just deciding what to leave in and what to jettison from the films that have gone before.  "How do we make James Bond relevant for today's audiences?"  "If we show another Death Star, is that too redundant?"  "What direction can we take Rocky Balboa's life that we haven't considered before?"  But if you change too much, you end up with something like last year's "Fantastic Four" disaster, where the end result barely resembles the story and characters that people found familiar in the first place.  

Now, if I get down to specifics, there are scenes that feel a little too improvised - where characters step on each other's lines, or tangential things go on a little too long.  This is fairly typical for films with Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy, who favor improvisation.  And the screenwriter basically said that when you've got a cast like this, it's tough to pull weight and get them to stick just to the script, when they can usually come up with good comedy on their own.  I will say that a couple of actresses that I usually can't stand on "SNL" (the two in the current SNL cast) do very well here, so maybe they're just better cut out for film work with more scripted lines.  Or maybe it's really the format of SNL that I can't stand, with 3-minute sketches that tend to go nowhere, and have no punchlines or payoffs. 

But I'm not really seeing the big deal over making the four leads female - there was nothing inherently macho about the original Ghostbusters, they were science nerds (Aykroyd/Ramis) and scruffy losers (Murray/Hudson) and really, those types of characters can be either gender.  There are a lot of inside jokes here when they flip the genders around, and the women hire a MALE secretary for his looks, even though he's dumb as a post.  With this type of comedy, I say "go for it", what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, or however that saying goes.  Other inside jokes are made at the expense of the internet trolls who've decried this film from day one - when the Ghostbusters here post their videos on YouTube or Reddit, the comments are not kind.  And obviously ignorant, because the audience "knows" that the ghosts are real, even if the mayor and his wife publicly disavow the Ghostbusters as frauds, while secretly supporting their efforts to save the city.  

Now, I have to wonder about a couple of things, mainly why the majority of the movie was shot in Massachusetts and not New York, when it's set in NYC.  Obviously the aerial shots of the NYC skyline establish the location, but it seems like most of the acting work was filmed around the Boston area.  I saw "Massachusetts Film Office" thanked in the credits, and figured that it was maybe just the first haunted house that was really a Boston building, but all of the college scenes were filmed in Boston, and even the Times Square battle scenes weren't shot in NYC, they were filmed on a naval base in Weymouth, MA!  The Wang Center, Boston Latin Academy, Emerson College - they even shot some scenes in my hometown in the suburbs, and now I want to go back and watch the film again to see if I can tell what was filmed there!  

The cameos were pretty well handled - and not just the human stars of the original film, they found a way to get Slimer into the story, and also watch for the cameo from the Sta-Puft marshmallow man, but he's not in the place you might expect.  It's clear that the people who made this film are super-fans of the original, but in the end you have to decide for yourself if the reboot comes too close to the original, or strays too far.  Everyone's bound to have a different opinion on that.  But definitely make sure to see the film in 3-D if you can, having all of those ghosts flying around definitely was made for 3-D viewing.  

For a NITPICK POINT tonight, I'm going to defer to my boss, who spotted one.  At one point, the Ghostbusters use an early version of their proton packs to battle a ghost on the subway tracks, but instead of catching him, they only manage to get him confined to a subway train, and Patty remarks, "Looks like he's heading to Queens!"  However, it was established that the subway station was a stop on the "6" line, and that subway doesn't go into Queens, not at all.  If the stop was on the Upper East Side (as revealed later on the ladies' map of Manhattan), then she should have said, "Looks like he's heading to the Bronx!", which is where the 6 train goes next.  It might be a forgivable mistake, if that character hadn't claimed to know so much about New York City locations and operations, plus she worked for NYC transit, so she should have known where that train goes. 

Bottom line, it doesn't seem like any movie fans are ever going to be satisfied - in this age of the internet, you can always find people to complain about everything.  I know, because I'm usually one of those people.  Probably 90% of my tweets are sent in anger or frustration, because I noticed some hypocrisy in a company's policy, or my cable DVR died AGAIN, taking all of the saved shows with it.  How often do a send a tweet praising a company for its good work?  Maybe after I've found a new beer float combination, or had a satisfying meal at some restaurant, but that's about it.  And so it goes with the internet, everyone's a critic now, and everyone's got an issue.  

Right from the start, before the new "Ghostbusters" was even WRITTEN, it was all "They can't mess with my childhood!" and "Women can't hunt ghosts!" or "Women can't be funny!" (and relatively speaking, these were the nicer posts...)   Then once the movie got released, it became, "Why is there only one woman Ghostbuster of color?" and "Where's the Latina Ghostbuster?" and "Why can't we have male and female Ghostbusters at the same time?"  Like I say, there's no way everyone is going to be satisfied all at the same time.  It's past the point of being ridiculous - can't we all just go to see a movie and judge it by how funny it is, instead of turning everything into a case study on demographics?   "Why can't Batman have a boyfriend?"  "Why can't Elsa have a girlfriend?"  Hey, if you want to see those stories get made, get off your damn asses and start making movies like that yourselves.  

Also starring Kristen Wiig (last seen in "The Martian"), Melissa McCarthy (last seen in "St. Vincent"), Leslie Jones (last seen in "Trainwreck"), Chris Hemsworth (last seen in "Vacation"), Neil Casey, Andy Garcia (last heard in "Rio 2"), Cecily Strong, Bill Murray (last seen in "Aloha"), Matt Walsh, Michael Kenneth Williams, Ed Begley Jr. (last seen in "Goin' South"), Zach Woods (last seen in "Spy"), Michael McDonald (ditto), Karan Soni, with cameos from Steve Higgins, Dave Allen, Nate Corddry (also last seen in "St. Vincent"), Ozzy Osbourne (last heard in "Moulin Rouge"), Annie Potts (last seen in "She's Having a Baby"), Dan Aykroyd (last seen in "Tammy"), Ernie Hudson (last seen in "The Main Event"), Sigourney Weaver (last seen in "Exodus: Gods and Kings"), Pat Kiernan, Greg Kelly, Rosanna Scotto, Al Roker.

RATING: 7 out of 10 ley lines

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