Playing Catch-Up With The Films of 2019: Yesterday (dir by Danny Boyle)


It’s a bit of an odd film, Yesterday is.

Himesh Patel plays Jack Malik, a singer-songwriter who has struggled to find much success.  The only person who believes in him is his manager, a school teacher named Ellie Appleton (Lily James).  (Given the film’s subject matter, Ellie’s last name is a significant one.)  One night, the entire world is hit by a brief blackout.  Jack misses most of the excitement because he’s in a coma, having been hit by a bus.

When Jack wakes up from his coma, he’s shocked to discover that he’s lost several teeth and now looks kind of silly whenever he speaks, sings, or even smiles.  However, he also eventually discovers that he is now apparently the only person in the world who remembers The Beatles!

Somehow (it’s never explained how), that global blackout changed history.  It’s not that the Beatles ceased to exist as individuals.  In one of the film’s more affecting scenes, Jack drives out to the country and meets John Lennon (Robert Carlyle), who never became a superstar and who, as a result, was never assassinated.  However, in this new world, the Beatles never came together as a group and, as a result, some of the most beloved songs in history were never written.  Only Jack knows the lyrics and music for Eleanor Rigby, Yesterday, The Long and Riding Road, Let It Be, Back in the USSR, and …. well, everything!

(Oddly enough, the Beatles no longer existing has also led to several other things no longer existing.  It’s impossible not to laugh when Jack discovers that, without the Beatles, there was never an Oasis.  At the same time, there’s also no Coke or Harry Potter books.  I guess the Beatles weren’t around to inspire J.K. Rowling but why Coke would vanish is a bit more confusing.  Since Coke predates the Beatles by a century, perhaps the the film is less about how strange the world is without Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and instead about how we owe everything good in the world to John Pemberton.)

Needless to say, this leads to Jack becoming a huge star.  He’s soon touring with Ed Sheeran and recording his debut album.  And yet, through it all, Jack is haunted by the fact that the music isn’t truly his.  Will Jack continue to plagiarize his way to stardom?  And will Jack and Ellie ever realize that they’re in love and totally meant to be together?  Watch to find out, I suppose!

As I said at the start of this review, Yesterday is a bit of an odd film.  Directed by Danny Boyle and written by Richard Curtis, it’s a meeting of two talents that you wouldn’t necessarily expect to compliment each other.  Surprisingly enough, though, the mix of Curtis’s sentimentality and Boyle’s more subversive instincts works well.  This is to especially be found in the scene where Jack meets John Lennon.  On paper, the scene shouldn’t work but it does work because Boyle is enough of a contrarian to direct his actors to play the scene with a wistful sadness.  The script may have intended the scene to prove that Lennon would have found happiness no matter what but Boyle directs it as if to say, “It probably would have been better for John if the Beatles has never existed….”  Stylistically, Boyle is too much of a cheerful anarchist to fully embrace Curtis’s romcom-style love of the Beatles.  At the same time, Curtis’s more earnest dialogue often undercuts Boyle’s more excessive instincts.  The end result is a sweet-natured movie with an edge.

Making his feature film debut, Himsh Patel is likable as Jack, even if he doesn’t quite have rock star charisma.  (Then again, that’s also a part of the film’s humor.  On his own, Jack is destined to forever be the opening act, the acceptable performer who is forgotten as soon as the headliners show up.  It’s only after the Beatles are wiped from everyone’s memory that Jack is able to become a star.)  Lily James does her best with an underwritten role and Ed Sheeran plays a hilariously vapid version of himself.

Yesterday is a good-natured tribute to the power of music and one band in particular.

Here’s What Won At The Emmys Last Night!


Last night, Lisa Marie did not watch the Emmys because she says that, “I’m just not feeling TV this year.”  If Twin Peaks had been eligible to be nominated, I bet it would have been a different story!

Instead, she asked me to watch the ceremony and let everyone know what I thought.  It needed less politics and more cats.

Here’s the list of winners:

COMEDY

BEST COMEDY SERIES
“Atlanta”
“Black-ish”
“Masters of None”
“Modern Family”
“Silicon Valley”
“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”
X — “Veep”

BEST COMEDY ACTRESS
Pamela Adlon, “Better Things”
Jane Fonda, “Grace and Frankie”
Allison Janney, “Mom”
Ellie Kemper, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”
X — Julia Louis-Dreyfus, “Veep”
Tracee Ellis Ross, “Black-ish”
Lily Tomlin, “Grace and Frankie”

BEST COMEDY ACTOR
Anthony Anderson, “Black-ish”
Aziz Ansari, “Master of None”
Zach Galifianaks, “Baskets”
X — Donald Glover, “Atlanta”
William H. Macy, “Shameless”
Jeffrey Tambor, “Transparent”

BEST COMEDY SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Vanessa Bayer, “Saturday Night Live”
Anna Chlumsky, “Veep”
Kathryn Hahn, “Transparent”
Leslie Jones, “Saturday Night Live”
Judith Light, “Transparent”
X — Kate McKinnon, “Saturday Night Live”

BEST COMEDY SUPPORTING ACTOR
Louie Anderson, “Baskets”
X — Alec Baldwin, “Saturday Night Live”
Tituss Burgess, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”
Ty Burrell, “Modern Family”
Tony Hale, “Veep”
Matt Walsh, “Veep”

BEST COMEDY DIRECTING
X — “Atlanta” (“B.A.N.”)
“Silicon Valley” (“Intellectual Property”)
“Silicon Valley” (“Server Error”)
“Veep” (“Justice”)
“Veep” (“Blurb”)
“Veep” (“Groundbreaking”)

BEST COMEDY WRITING
“Atlanta” (“B.A.N.”)
“Atlanta” (“Streets on Lock”)
X — “Master of None” (“Thanksgiving”)
“Silicon Valley” (“Success Failure”)
“Veep” (“Groundbreaking”)
“Veep” (“Georgia”)

DRAMA

BEST DRAMA SERIES
“Better Call Saul”
“The Crown”
X — “The Handmaid’s Tale”
“House of Cards”
“Stranger Things”
“This is Us”
“Westworld”

BEST DRAMA ACTRESS
Viola Davis, “How to Get Away with Murder”
Claire Foy, “The Crown”
X — Elisabeth Moss, “The Handmaid’s Tale”
Keri Russell, “The Americans”
Evan Rachel Wood, “Westworld”
Robin Wright, “House of Cards”

BEST DRAMA ACTOR
X — Sterling K. Brown, “This is Us”
Anthony Hopkins, “Westworld”
Bob Odenkirk, “Better Call Saul”
Matthew Rhys, “The Americans”
Liev Schreiber, “Ray Donovan”
Kevin Spacey, “House of Cards”
Milo Ventimiglia, “This is Us”

BEST DRAMA SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Uzo Aduba, “Orange is the New Black”
Millie Bobby Brown, “Stranger Things”
X — Ann Dowd, “The Handmaid’s Tale”
Chrissy Metz, “This is Us”
Thandie Newton, “Westworld”
Samira Wiley, “The Handmaid’s Tale”

BEST DRAMA SUPPORTING ACTOR
Jonathan Banks, “Better Call Saul”
David Harbour, “Stranger Things”
Ron Cephas Jones, “This is Us”
Michael Kelly, “House of Cards”
X — John Lithgow, “The Crown”
Mandy Patinkin, “Homeland”
Jeffrey Wright, “Westworld”

BEST DRAMA DIRECTING
“Better Call Saul” (“Witness”)
“The Crown” (“Hyde Park Corner”)
“The Handmaid’s Tale” (“The Bridge”)
X — “The Handmaid’s Tale” (“Offred”)
“Homeland” (“America First”)
“Stranger Things” (“Chapter One: The Vanishing of Will Byers”)
“Westworld” (“The Bicameral Mind”)

BEST DRAMA WRITING
“The Americans” (“The Soviet Division”)
“Better Call Saul” (“Chicanery”)
“The Crown” (“Assassins”)
X — “The Handmaid’s Tale” (“Offred”)
“Stranger Things” (“Chapter One: The Vanishing of Will Byers”)
“Westworld” (“The Bicameral Mind”)

MOVIE/LIMITED SERIES

BEST LIMITED SERIES
X — “Big Little Lies”
“Fargo”
“Feud: Bette and Joan”
“Genius”
“The Night Of”

BEST TV MOVIE
X — “Black Mirror: San Junipero”
“Christmas of Many Colors”
“The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks”
“Sherlock: The Lying Detective”
“The Wizard of Lies”

BEST MOVIE/MINI ACTRESS
Carrie Coon, “Fargo”
Felicity Huffman, “American Crime”
X — Nicole Kidman, “Big Little Lies”
Jessica Lange, “Feud: Bette and Joan”
Susan Sarandon, “Feud: Bette and Joan”
Reese Witherspoon, “Big Little Lies”

BEST MOVIE/MINI ACTOR
X — Riz Ahmed, “The Night Of”
Benedict Cumberbatch, “Sherlock: The Lying Detective”
Robert De Niro, “The Wizard of Lies”
Ewan McGregor, “Fargo”
Geoffrey Rush, “Genius”
John Turturro, “The Night Of”

BEST MOVIE/MINI SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Judy Davis, “Feud: Bette and Joan”
X — Laura Dern, “Big Little Lies”
Jackie Hoffman, “Feud: Bette and Joan”
Regina King, “American Crime”
Michelle Pfeiffer, “The Wizard of Lies”
Shailene Woodley, “Big Little Lies”

BEST MOVIE/MINI SUPPORTING ACTOR
Bill Camp, “The Night Of”
Alfred Molina, “Feud: Bette and Joan”
X — Alexander Skarsgard, “Big Little Lies”
David Thewlis, “Fargo”
Stanley Tucci, “Feud: Bette and Joan”
Michael Kenneth Williams, “The Night Of”

BEST MOVIE/MINI DIRECTING
X — “Big Little Lies”
“Fargo” (“The Law of Vacant Places”)
“Feud: Bette and Joan” (“And the Winner Is”)
“Genius” (“Einstein: Chapter One”)
“The Night Of” (“The Art of War”)
“The Night Of” (“The Beach”)

BEST MOVIE/MINI WRITING
“Big Little Lies”
X — “Black Mirror: San Junipero”
“Fargo” (“The Law of Vacant Places”)
“Feud: Bette and Joan” (“And the Winner Is”)
“Feud: Bette and Joan” (“Pilot”)
“The Night Of” (“Call of the Wild”)

VARIETY/REALITY

BEST REALITY COMPETITION PROGRAM
“The Amazing Race”
“Amercan Ninja Warrior”
“Project Runway”
“RuPaul’s Drag Race”
“Top Chef”
X — “The Voice”

BEST VARIETY TALK SERIES
“Full Frontal with Samantha Bee”
“Jimmy Kimmel Live”
X — “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver”
“Late Late Show with James Corden”
“Late Show with Stephen Colbert”
“Real Time with Bill Maher”

BEST VARIETY SKETCH SERIES
“Billy on the Street”
“Documentary Now”
“Drunk History”
“Portlandia”
X — “Saturday Night Live”
“Tracey Ullman’s Show”

BEST VARIETY SERIES DIRECTING
“Drunk History”
“Jimmy Kimmel Live”
“Last Week Tonight with John Oliver”
“Late Show with Stephen Colbert”
X — “Saturday Night Live”

BEST VARIETY SERIES WRITING
“Full Frontal with Samantha Bee”
X — “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver”
“Late Night with Seth Meyers”
“Late Show with Stephen Colbert

Film Review: Finding Dory (dir by Andrew Stanton)


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Finding Dory, the latest film from Pixar, tells the story of Dory (Ellen DeGeneres), a regal blue tang (for our readers in Vermont, that’s a fish) who suffers from short-term memory loss.  You may remember her from Pixar’s previous movie about fish, Finding Nemo.  In that movie, she helped a clownfish named Marlin (Albert Brooks) find his son, Nemo (voiced, in Finding Dory, by Hayden Rolence).  In the sequel, it’s Marlin and Nemo who are now helping Dory to find her parents.

Dory has spent years searching for her parents.  Of course, it would be easier if she didn’t suffer from short-term memory loss.  It seems that every time she sets out to track her parents down, she ends up getting distracted and forgets what she was doing.  However, while helping to teach a class about migration, Dory has a sudden flashback to her parents (voiced, quite charmingly, by Eugene Levy and Diane Keaton).  She sets out once again, determined to find her parents.  This time, Marlin and Nemo are accompanying her.  As Dory continually frets, she’s can’t do it alone because she can’t remember directions.

Though her memories are fuzzy and her flighty nature leads to some conflict with Marlin (who is just as cautious and overprotective of Nemo as he was in the first film), Dory eventually finds her way to where her parents were last seen.  And, in doing so, Dory discovers that she and her parents originally lived at a water park, the California Marine Life Institute.

(One of my favorite parts of the film is that apparently, Sigourney Weaver recorded several greetings and other messages that are played continuously over the Institute’s PA system.  “Hello, I’m Sigourney Weaver and welcome to the Marine Life Institute.”  Dory becomes convinced that Sigourney Weaver is some sort of God-like being who is leaving personal messages for her.  At one point, Dory exclaims, “A friend of mine, her name’s Sigourney, once told me that all it takes is three simple steps: rescue, rehabilitation, and um… one other thing?”)

Since this is a Pixar movie, Dory meets the usual collection of oddball and outcast sealife at the Institute, all of whom help her out while overcoming their own insecurities, providing properly snarky commentary, and hopefully bringing a tear or two to the eyes of even the most jaded of viewers.  Finding Dory is full of familiar voices, everyone from Idris Elba to Bill Hader to Kate McKinnon.  But, for me, the most memorable of all the voices (with the exception of Ellen DeGeneres herself) was Ed O’Neill’s.  O’Neill brought Hank, the bitter but ultimately good-hearted seven-legged octopus, to poignant life.  I imagine that, should there be another sequel, it will be called Finding Hank.

Finding Dory continues the annual tradition of Pixar films making me cry.  Finding Dory is an incredibly sweet and truly heartfelt movie but, at the same time, it’s also an extremely witty comedy.  This is one of those Pixar films where the joy comes not only from looking at the amazing animation but also from listening to truly clever dialogue being delivered by some of the best voice actors around.  DeGeneres does such a great job bringing Dory to life that, as the movie ended, my first instinct was to run out and buy a regal blue tang of my very own.  But then I read an article on Wikipedia, which explained why I shouldn’t do that.

(Basically, blue tangs may look cute but they have big, scary spikes that can cut up your hand.  As well, they don’t do well in captivity.  So, if you’re planning on getting a Dory of your very own, you might be better off just rewatching this movie…)

It’ll make you laugh.  It’ll make you cry.  Finding Dory is another great film from Pixar.

Here Are the 2016 Seattle Film Award Nominees!


Here are the 2016 Seattle Film Award Nominees!  I don’t know what the cat’s yawning about; these nominations are actually an interesting mix of the usual suspects (Moonlight, Manchester, La La Land) and a few unexpected but intriguing picks (like 13th and The Witch).

THE 2016 SEATTLE FILM AWARD NOMINEES:

BEST PICTURE OF THE YEAR:

BEST DIRECTOR:

  • Damien Chazelle – La La Land
  • Robert EggersThe Witch
  • Barry JenkinsMoonlight
  • Paul Verhoeven – Elle
  • Denis Villeneuve – Arrival

BEST ACTOR in a LEADING ROLE:

  • Casey Affleck – Manchester By The Sea
  • Ryan GoslingLa La Land
  • Logan Lerman – Indignation
  • Viggo Mortensen – Captain Fantastic
  • Denzel Washington – Fences

BEST ACTRESS in a LEADING ROLE:

  • Amy Adams – Arrival
  • Kate Beckinsale – Love & Friendship
  • Isabelle Huppert – Elle
  • Natalie Portman – Jackie
  • Emma StoneLa La Land

BEST ACTOR in a SUPPORTING ROLE:

BEST ACTRESS in a SUPPORTING ROLE:

  • Viola Davis – Fences
  • Lily Gladstone – Certain Women
  • Naomie HarrisMoonlight
  • Kate McKinnonGhostbusters
  • Michelle Williams – Manchester By The Sea

BEST ENSEMBLE CAST:

BEST SCREENPLAY:

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE:

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM:

  • EllePaul Verhoeven, director
  • The HandmaidenPark Chan-wook, director
  • The InnocentsAnne Fontaine, director
  • Under The ShadowBabak Anvari, director
  • The WailingNa Hong-jin, director

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE:

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY:

BEST COSTUME DESIGN:

BEST FILM EDITING:

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE:

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN:

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS:

BEST YOUTH PERFORMANCE (18 years of age or younger upon start of filming):

BEST VILLAIN:

10_Cloverfield_Lane

The Women Film Critic Circle Honors Hidden Figures And Ghostbusters!


ghostbusters-2016-cast-proton-packs-images

The Women Film Critics Circle has announced their picks for both the best and the worst of 2016! And here they are:

BEST MOVIE ABOUT WOMEN
Hidden Figures
BEST MOVIE BY A WOMAN
13TH
BEST WOMAN STORYTELLER [Screenwriting Award]
13TH, Ava DuVernay
BEST ACTRESS
Natalie Portman, Jackie
BEST ACTOR
Casey Affleck, Manchester By The Sea
BEST YOUNG ACTRESS
Hailee Steinfeld, The Edge Of Seventeen
BEST COMEDIC ACTRESS
Kate McKinnon, Ghostbusters
BEST FOREIGN FILM BY OR ABOUT WOMEN
The Handmaiden
BEST DOCUMENTARY BY OR ABOUT WOMEN
13TH
BEST FEMALE IMAGES IN A MOVIE
Hidden Figures
WORST FEMALE IMAGES IN A MOVIE
Neighbors 2
BEST MALE IMAGES IN A MOVIE
Loving
WORST MALE IMAGES IN A MOVIE
Dirty Grandpa
WOMEN’S WORK/BEST ENSEMBLE
Hidden Figures
SPECIAL MENTION AWARDS COURAGE IN FILMMAKING
Ava DuVernay, 13TH
COURAGE IN ACTING [Taking on unconventional roles that radically redefine the images of women on screen]
Rebecca Hall, Christine
*ADRIENNE SHELLY AWARD: For a film that most passionately opposes violence against women
American Honey
*JOSEPHINE BAKER AWARD: For best expressing the woman of color experience in America
Hidden Figures
*KAREN MORLEY AWARD: For best exemplifying a woman’s place in history or society, and a courageous search for identity
Hidden Figures
*THE INVISIBLE WOMAN AWARD: [Performance by a woman whose exceptional impact on the film dramatically, socially or historically, has been ignored]
The women of Hidden Figures
BEST SCREEN COUPLE
Loving
BEST FEMALE ACTION HERO
The women of Ghostbusters

Here Are The Nominations For The 22nd Annual Critics’ Choice Awards!


manchester-by-the-sea-sundance-2016

The Broadcast Film Critics Association have announced their nominees for the 22nd Annual Critics’ Choice Awards and here they are!  Once again, in a pattern that will probably see repeated several times of this next month, the nominations were dominated by Moonlight, La La Land, and Manchester By The Sea.

FILM NOMINATIONS FOR THE 22ND ANNUAL CRITICS’ CHOICE AWARDS

BEST PICTURE

BEST ACTOR

BEST ACTRESS

  • Amy Adams – Arrival
  • Annette Bening – 20th Century Women
  • Isabelle Huppert – Elle
  • Ruth Negga – Loving
  • Natalie Portman – Jackie
  • Emma Stone – La La Land

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

  • Viola Davis – Fences
  • Greta Gerwig – 20th Century Women
  • Naomie Harris – Moonlight
  • Nicole Kidman – Lion
  • Janelle Monáe  – Hidden Figures
  • Michelle Williams – Manchester by the Sea

BEST YOUNG ACTOR/ACTRESS

  • Lucas Hedges – Manchester by the Sea
  • Alex R. Hibbert – Moonlight
  • Lewis MacDougall – A Monster Calls
  • Madina Nalwanga – Queen of Katwe
  • Sunny Pawar – Lion
  • Hailee Steinfeld – The Edge of Seventeen

BEST ACTING ENSEMBLE

BEST DIRECTOR

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

  • Damien Chazelle – La La Land
  • Barry Jenkins – Moonlight
  • Yorgos Lanthimos/Efthimis Filippou – The Lobster
  • Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester by the Sea
  • Jeff Nichols – Loving
  • Taylor Sheridan – Hell or High Water

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

  • Luke Davies – Lion
  • Tom Ford – Nocturnal Animals
  • Eric Heisserer – Arrival
  • Todd Komarnicki – Sully
  • Allison Schroeder/Theodore Melfi – Hidden Figures
  • August Wilson – Fences

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

  • Stéphane Fontaine – Jackie
  • James Laxton – Moonlight
  • Seamus McGarvey – Nocturnal Animals
  • Linus Sandgren – La La Land
  • Bradford Young – Arrival

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN

  • Arrival – Patrice Vermette, Paul Hotte/André Valade
  • Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – Stuart Craig/James Hambidge, Anna Pinnock
  • Jackie – Jean Rabasse, Véronique Melery
  • La La Land – David Wasco, Sandy Reynolds-Wasco
  • Live by Night – Jess Gonchor, Nancy Haigh

BEST EDITING

BEST COSTUME DESIGN

  • Colleen Atwood – Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
  • Consolata Boyle – Florence Foster Jenkins
  • Madeline Fontaine – Jackie
  • Joanna Johnston – Allied
  • Eimer Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh – Love & Friendship
  • Mary Zophres – La La Land

BEST HAIR & MAKEUP

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE

BEST ACTION MOVIE

BEST ACTOR IN AN ACTION MOVIE

BEST ACTRESS IN AN ACTION MOVIE

BEST COMEDY

BEST ACTOR IN A COMEDY

  • Ryan Gosling – The Nice Guys
  • Hugh Grant – Florence Foster Jenkins
  • Dwayne Johnson – Central Intelligence
  • Viggo Mortensen – Captain Fantastic
  • Ryan Reynolds – Deadpool

BEST ACTRESS IN A COMEDY

  • Kate Beckinsale – Love & Friendship
  • Sally Field – Hello, My Name Is Doris
  • Kate McKinnon – Ghostbusters
  • Hailee Steinfeld – The Edge of Seventeen
  • Meryl Streep – Florence Foster Jenkins

BEST SCI-FI/HORROR MOVIE

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

  • Elle
  • The Handmaiden
  • Julieta
  • Neruda
  • The Salesman
  • Toni Erdmann

BEST SONG

  • Audition (The Fools Who Dream) – La La Land
  • Can’t Stop the Feeling – Trolls
  • City of Stars – La La Land
  • Drive It Like You Stole It – Sing Street
  • How Far I’ll Go – Moana
  • The Rules Don’t Apply – Rules Don’t Apply

BEST SCORE

  • Nicholas Britell – Moonlight
  • Jóhann Jóhannsson – Arrival
  • Justin Hurwitz – La La Land
  • Micachu – Jackie
  • Dustin O’Halloran, Hauschka – Lion

Deadpool

Film Review: Ghostbusters (dir by Paul Feig)


Ghostbusters

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.

Wiig McKinnon

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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