Film Review: Ghostbusters (dir by Paul Feig)


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If you need any further proof that 2016 is a screwed-up year, just consider the fact that Ghostbusters, an entertaining but ultimately rather mild-mannered and innocuous summer action/comedy, has become the center of one of the biggest controversies of the year.

It all started, of course, when the reboot was first announced.  Fanboys reacted with outrage, offended that Hollywood would even consider remaking a film that was apparently one of the defining moments of their childhood.  Then, it was announced that Ghostbusters would feature an all-female cast and it would be directed by Paul Feig, the director of Bridesmaids.  The howls of outrage grew even louder.  Then that infamous trailer was released and even I felt that trailer sucked.  I wasn not alone because the trailer quickly became one of the most disliked videos in the history of YouTube.  Reading the comments underneath that trailer was literally like finding yourself trapped in a production of Marat/Sade.

Suddenly, in the eyes of very vocal group of internet trolls, the reboot of Ghostbusters went from being simply another dubious idea to being a crime against humanity.  And the trolls were so obnoxious that they managed to turn this big-budget, studio-backed production into an underdog.  Here was a movie directed by one of Hollywood’s biggest directors and starring some of Hollywood’s hottest stars and suddenly, it had become David in a biblical showdown with the Goliaths of internet.

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And then it happened.  Earlier last week, Ghostbusters was finally screened for critics.  The first reviews started to come in and they were surprisingly positive.  In fact, they were so positive that I found myself distrusting them.  I found myself wondering if critics were reacting to the film or if they were simply trying to prove that they were better than the trolls who leave obscene comments on YouTube.

Which was true, I wondered.  Was Ghostbusters the worst film ever made or was it the greatest?  Or was it perhaps just possible that Ghostbusters would turn out to be a typical summer film?

With all the controversy, it’s tempting to overpraise a film like Ghostbusters.  Battle lines have been drawn and sometimes, I feel as if I’m being told that failing to declare Ghostbusters to be the greatest and most important comedy of all time is the equivalent of letting the trolls win.

Well, that’s not true.  Ghostbusters is not the greatest or the most important comedy of all time but you know what?  Ghostbusters is good.  Ghostbusters is entertaining.  Especially during the first half, it’s full of laugh out loud moments.  At times, Ghostbusters is everything that you could hope for.

No, it’s not a perfect film.  Paul Feig is a great comedy director but, in this film at least, his direction of the big action sequences often feels uninspired (especially when compared to his previous work on Spy).  The final fourth of the film gets bogged down in CGI and the film goes from being a clever comedy to being just another summer spectacle.  Even the one-liners, which flowed so naturally at the start of the film, feel forced during the final half of the film.  Ghostbusters is good but it never quite becomes great.

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Here’s what did work: the cast.  As he previously proved with Bridesmaids, Paul Feig is a director who is uniquely skilled at creating and showcasing a strong comedic ensemble.  Kristen Wiig plays Erin Gilbert, who is denied tenure at Columbia when it is discovered that a book she wrote on the paranormal has been republished and is being sold, on Amazon, by her former best friend, Dr. Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy).  When Erin goes to confront Abby, she not only meets Abby’s newest colleague, Dr. Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) but she also gets dragged into investigating an actual case of paranormal activity..  Soon, Erin, Abby, and Holtzmann are investigating hauntings and capturing ghosts, all with the secret approval of the Mayor of New York (Andy Garcia).  Of course, for PR reasons, the mayor’s office has to continually disavow the Ghostbusters and occasionally have them arrested.  Working alongside the three scientists are Patty (Leslie Jones), who apparently knows the history of every building in New York, and Kevin (Chris Hemsworth), their adorably stupid receptionist.

As written, both Patty and Kevin are fairly thin characters.  Kevin’s the handsome dumb guy.  Patty is streetwise and sassy.  But both Hemsworth and Jones give such enthusiastic and sincere performances that they transcend the stereotypical nature of their roles.  At times, Kevin runs the risk of becoming too cartoonish for even a Ghostbusters film.  But if you can’t laugh at Chris Hemsworth explaining that he took the lenses out of his glasses because they were always getting dirty, what can you laugh at?

Erin is an interesting character and Kristen Wiig deserves a lot of credit for her performance.  Erin is actually given a fairly affecting backstory, centering around how she was haunted by the ghost of the old woman who used to live next door to her.  Erin is a former believer, someone who, in order to succeed in the “real” world, gave up her beliefs and conformed to the expectations of society.  When she actually meets a ghost, it’s more than just a confirmation of the supernatural.  It’s a chance for Erin to finally embrace who she truly is and what she truly cares about.  When she and the other ghostbusters chase after evil spirits, Erin is not just doing a job.  Instead, she’s finally found somewhere where she belongs.  She no longer has to pretend to be someone that she isn’t.  Wiig plays the role with just the right touch of neurotic wonder.  She grounds the entire film.

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But the true star of the film is Kate McKinnon.  Whether she’s cheerfully smiling as a ghost vomits all over her colleagues or cheerfully explaining how easily their equipment could kill them all, Holtzmann is the greatest character in the film and McKinnon gives the best performance.  If Wiig grounds the film, McKinnon provides it with a truly demented soul.

The first half of the movie, which focuses on the relationships between the characters and features snappy and endlessly quotable dialogue, is wonderful and I was thrilled while watching it, convinced that the entire movie would be as good as the first hour.  However, the second half of the film gets bogged down in a rather predictable plot and the final action sequences could have just as easily been lifted from Pixels or one of The Avengers movies.  The surviving cast of the original Ghostbusters all show up in cameos that are, at best, inoffensive and, at worst, groan-worthy.  The end result is rather uneven.  If the film had maintained the momentum of that first hour, it would be a classic.  But that second half transforms it into just another entertaining but not quite memorable summer action film.

That said, Paul Feig is an excellent comedy director and let’s hope that he never gets so self-important that he ends up turning into Jay Roach.  Hopefully, if there is a sequel, Feig will return to direct it and Kate McKinnon will have an even bigger role.

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Film Review: The Bronze (dir by Bryan Buckley)


The Bronze has been getting terrible reviews since it first premiered at Sundance last year.  Telling the story of an Olympic bronze medalist who has grown up to be bitter and angry, The Bronze has been unfavorably compared to Bad Santa, Bad Words, Bad Teacher and … well, bad anything.  (You know you’re in trouble when your film gets compared to Bad Teacher because most critics have an irrational hatred for that film.  I actually enjoyed it.)  The Bronze was originally scheduled to be released last July and then it was pushed back and then, for a little while, it vanished all together as it was traded between different distributors.  Finally, last Friday, Sony Pictures Classics released The Bronze with all the fanfare of a community theater announcing their annual production of Forever Plaid.

Well, after hearing how terrible it was, there was no way that my BFF Evelyn and I could resist the temptation to experience it for ourselves.  (We both enjoy watching and commenting during bad movies.  That’s what led to us watching that Tyler Perry movie about the adulterous matckmaker .)  We caught a 10:15 showing last night at the AMC Valley View and the theater was almost totally deserted.  (Admittedly, not many people are brave enough to go to Valley View Mall past 9:00 but Evelyn and I fear nothing.)  We were expecting to see a thoroughly mediocre film but you know what?

We were both kind of surprised to discover that The Bronze was not the terrible film that we had been led to expect.

Melissa Rauch (who co-wrote the script) plays Hope Ann Gregory, a former Olympic gymnast who won the Bronze medal at the Summer Olympics.  She won the medal despite competing on an injured ankle.  Unfortunately, her injury ended her competitive career but it also briefly made her a national celebrity.  12 years later, most of the country may have forgotten Hope but the people of hometown of Amherst, Ohio still love her.

When we first meet Hope, she’s masturbating while watching footage of herself competing at the Olympics.  She then proceeds to steal money from her father’s mail route so she’ll have enough money to buy weed.  Hope is rude to almost everyone and yet, no one in the town seems to notice.  Or maybe they are so happy to be in the presence of a minor celebrity that they just don’t care how terribly she treats them.  The movie is actually somewhat vague on this point but still, the contrast between Hope’s reality and the opinion that others have of her is one of the best things about the film.  Intentionally or not, it perfectly satirizes that way that we idealize our celebrities.

When Hope’s former coach commits suicide, her final request is that Hope agree to train an up-and-coming gymnast, Maggie (Haley Lu Richardson).  At first, the jealous Hope tries to sabotage Maggie but eventually, Hope starts to take her job as coach seriously.  (When Maggie first shows up, she seems to be a one-note, excessively perky character but eventually, she reveals some needed, if not exactly surprising, complexity.)  Hope also develops an unexpected relationship with Maggie’s assistant coach, Twitchy (Thomas Middleditch).  (Twitchy is called Twitchy because he blinks a lot.)

The Bronze is not a great film.  Instead, it’s an extremely uneven film, one that often seems to be trying too hard.  It never manages to find the right balance between its raunchy comedy and the occasional and surprisingly subtle moments when it suddenly becomes a character study.

And yet, at the same time, it’s not as terrible as you’ve heard.  There are moments that work surprisingly well.  Some of them are moments like an enjoyably over-the-top sex scene between two gymnasts.  But then there are moments like the scene where Hope talks about the first time she learned that, as a result of the injury she sustained while winning her Bronze, she would never be able to compete again.  There are scenes like the one where Hope proves herself to be surprisingly loyal to the citizens of Amherst or where her long-suffering father (Gary Cole) confronts her about her behavior.  Though these moments may be few and far between, they still work surprisingly well.  It’s during these moments that The Bronze drops the protective mask of outrageousness and reveals some unexpected depth.  It helps that, along with writing the script, Melissa Rauch totally commits herself to the role.  At her best, she’s like a force of stoned nature.

Is The Bronze really worth seeing on the big screen?  Probably not.  It’s too uneven to really be successful.  But when it shows up on Netflix, I predict that a lot of people are going to be surprised to discover that The Bronze isn’t as terrible as they’ve been told.

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