Review: ‘Ghostbusters’ 2016 (answer the call, Kevin)

Wonderfully reimagined escapism — fun for fans new and old.

On the eve of receiving tenure at a prestigious school, physicist Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) discovers an old book she co-wrote is selling on Amazon; self-published by her former friend and co-author Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy), the contents could jeapordize her career. In the time since Erin and her parted ways, Abby and her co-worker Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) have continued work into paranormal investigation — including cooking up a few homemade gadgets — but after an investigative opportunity provides their first actual recorded proof of ghosts, the three scientists are set on a path to work together. Enter Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones), a city transit worker and NYC history buff who’s also had a recent ghostly encounter, but something else found in the subway tunnels suggests to the team that the sudden appearance of so many ghosts may not be a natural phenomenon.

It’s finally here: the thing that will ruin the happy memories and childhoods of anyone who remembers the 1984 hit Ghostbusters…or so we’ve been told. The truth is far simpler; the Ghostbusters intellectual property is valuable, so a new movie was eventually going to be made. No one wanted a repeat of the lackluster Ghostbusters II (especially Bill Murray), but neither the cast nor a script could be counted upon. With the passing of Harold Ramis, there was no chance of getting the old gang back together, so new directors were tapped to come up with fresh ideas. It wasn’t until director Paul Feig pitched an all-female team rebooting the entire franchise that the project moved forward, paving the way for what may end up being a lucrative summer blockbuster.
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Review: ‘The Secret Life of Pets’ (a dog-driven buddy bonding flick)

Zany, manic, and heartwarming.

Max (Louis C.K.) believes he’s the luckiest dog in New York City, as happy as any dog could be with his owner…until she brings home another dog, Duke (Eric Stonestreet), an enormous rescue pet who immediately encroaches on Max’s status as top dog. As both try to out-alpha the other for dominance, an opportunity at a dog walk park sets both animals on a collision course with back alley strays, the city animal control, and an human-hating underground led by an angry white bunny named Snowball (Kevin Hart). When neighboring dog Gidget (Jenny Slate) discovers Max is missing, she mobilizes her own rescue efforts, but can Max and Duke reconcile their differences to evade capture and get home before their owner returns?

From the filmmakers who brought you Despicable Me and Minions comes a story of pets who are far more sophisticated than they let on to their owners. In a clear separation from the way Disney or another studio might handle a story like this, no punches are pulled concerning the anatomy of these characters; they eat, they pee, and they poop…even on camera. They can get as dirty and gross (within reason) as any actual pet, and the effect ups the realism factor in spite of the fact all the animals are talking to one another in plain English. The movie’s real secret, however, is the expert balancing of humorous, outrageous, and serious moments that entertain throughout the film. Coming in on the heels of box office juggernaut Finding Dory, this was no easy task, but a grand marketing campaign hasn’t hurt the film’s chances, either.
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Review: ‘The Legend of Tarzan’ (the long Congo con)

You can take the man out of the jungle, but you can’t take the jungle out of the man.

Everyone knows the story of John Clayton, the infant raised by apes to become Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgård) after his shipwrecked parents died. The story begins long after John has returned to England, residing in his the estate of his parents with the love of his life, Jane Porter (Margot Robbie). John’s quasi-retirement comes to an end when he receives an invitation from Belgian King Leopold to see his accomplishments in Africa; after initially refusing, an American named George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson) begs him to reconsider, explaining that the king is broke and his so-called accomplishments are likely due to enslavement of the Congo. With Jane refusing to stay behind, the three meet in Africa only to be attacked Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz) in an attempt to fulfill a deadly contract.

The first act of The Legend of Tarzan isn’t particularly exciting, but it does set up important back story as well as establish the characters; once the ball gets rolling, the film never looks back. It’s of worthy note that the mandatory handling of John/Tarzan’s time in the jungle as a human child being raised among apes is done efficiently and mostly with selected flashbacks, keeping this from becoming an origin story and more like a return-to-form. Some of the film’s climatic elements may seem a bit farfetched, but it reveals how the King of the Jungle leverages his heritage to target those who’ve earned his ire.
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Review: ‘Independence Day: Resurgence’ (you still wanted a sequel, right?)

Story matters. Well, maybe not to these guys…

It’s been twenty years since the War of 1996, when locust-like aliens tried to destroy humanity and claim the Earth’s resources for their own. Since defeating the invaders, Earth has reverse-engineered the alien tech and unified the planet into a global defense force…preparing for the day when the invaders might return. Faster than you can say “Happy Fourth of July,” Earth is again tasked to survive, and only the actors they could get back from the last movie can save us…along with a few new folks and some damnably convenient intel exactly when it’s needed. If you thought the first ID4 was crazy-random bringing characters together, you haven’t seen anything yet!

Too many cooks spoil the soup? Semester-long college classes could be held explaining how bad the science is in this movie, but hey, it’s just a summer wannabe blockbuster, right? If all you want are special effects and explosions, that’s all here, along with the mandatory back stories on how your favorite characters have been getting along since the last movie. So…what’s the problem? “Franchisitis.” When the next wave of aliens (with no actual innovation improving upon their existing technology) proceeds to show Earth how pointless twenty years of preparation was, the writers press the deus ex machina button to create the solution of all solutions…if they can just survive long enough to use it! Ugh.
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Review: ‘Therapy for a Vampire’ (this is not normal)

An almost-sweet period vampire horror comedy set in Austria and spoken in German…with English subtitles.

It is September, 1932 in Vienna, Austria. Count Geza von Közsnöm (Tobias Moretti) seeks out Sigmund Freud (Karl Fischer) for help after making a generous donation. He’s a biteless and bored vampire who despises the undead wife he settled for, Countess Elsa (Jeanette Hain). The count pines after the centuries-lost vampire who turned him, Nadila, but his hope is renewed when he notices a painting in Freud’s office. The renowned therapist has been employing the services of Viktor (Dominic Oley) to illustrate the fervent dreams of other patients, but Viktor has also been substituting the woman in such drawings with a fantasy image of his headstrong girlfriend Lucy (Cornelia Ivancan). Lucy knows Viktor would like if she presented herself more femininely, but the Count has his own ideas about making over Lucy when he decides she must be he reincarnation of his precious Nadila…but first, he’ll have to distract both the countess and Lucy’s lover by pairing them up for a promised painting — capturing an image of a vampire that can never be captured. What could possibly go horribly wrong?

Wunderbar! With few exceptions, here’s a vampire films that nails the classic tropes first before allowing the comedy to flow organically from the botched situations. From a nosey neighbor listening in on the young lovers to an abused house servant who tries to muscle in on the count’s action, the film takes its time setting up and executing the plot. The effects are subtle but amazing, from blink-and-you’ll-miss-it movements to flight, wall crawling, fangs, claws, pupils widening at the sight of blood, and missing reflections. While the count becomes a bat to get about and is susceptible to obsessive counting, the countess prefers her wolf form and is distracted by her vanity, giving each vampire a unique presentation. It’s a game of husbands and wives, boyfriends and girlfriends, and mortals and vampires; everyone wants something different but no one is willing to compromise. Oh, and there’s lots of blood and people dying…because VAMPIRES.
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A Reboot of Ghostbusters Had to Happen – Editorial

Speaking as a film critic, I think this NEEDED to happen: a full reboot. New characters, and the new group needed to be seen discovering the problem, inventing the equipment, and getting it done. The first group was all guys; why NOT all women? Lemme check…um…no, the only times being a man was important was Venkman creeping on his client and Stantz enjoying his PG-13 wet dream.

Ghostbusters2016RowenSure, it might have been nice if, after Ghostbusters 2, maybe there was an off-screen secret mission and, on the eve of opening multiple franchises across the US, the known Ghostbusters were all sucked into a dimensional rift while saving the world once again. The rightfully paranoid government (operating under Walter Peck) confiscated the “dangerous” equipment and buried it in an MiB warehouse, never to be seen again. This is all in spite of multiple denied requests by Egon’s daughter to reclaim what she considers her birthright after dad went missing when she was five; in the present and with a doctorate’s degree, she is able to replicate and improve upon her late father’s detection and capture equipment, enlisting previous classmates and a local subway-working acquaintance when she discovers a huge PKE surge from the tunnels below in conjunction to her current work…

A nice idea, but then the movie would have been about THEM, not the new team. What else could they do? Kill them off? Yeah, they MIGHT have done that — and maybe people would have been less cranky about it — but they didn’t. Murray was never going to agree to it and Rick Moranis quit the industry while waiting for a sequel. This is what we’ve got, it’s looking better all the time, and I’ll go and see it. Let’s just cool it with all the hate toward Paul Feig, Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, and Chris Hemsworth.

After I have seen it, I’ll let you know if my idea was better or not.

FYI: where are all of my new reviews? Hey…it’s hard keeping up with all these celebrities — don’t you watch the news? — so shut up.

Please feel free to post your support and/or hate in the comments below.

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Review: ‘Zootopia’ (It Takes All Kinds)

Prejudice 101 — for kids of all ages.

Judy Hopps (voice of Ginnifer Goodwin) dreams of making a difference, so she becomes a police officer in the big city. One problem: Judy is a bunny, and Zootopia is a metropolis fully stocked with predators and prey living life together in perfect harmony…but is everything as peaceful as it seems? Relegated to meter-maid duty because of her size and species, Judy seizes an opportunity to investigate a missing persons case to prove her worth, but her bid for success comes with a price if she fails to deliver. With the clock ticking, our hero enlists (read: hustles) the services of a grifter fox named Nick Wilde (voice of Jason Bateman) to guide her through Zootopia’s seedy underbelly, but the truth she discovers is darker than anything a happy, hopeful little bunny could have ever imagined.

This is how smart people tell stories that matter: disguising it as escapism. While reportedly just an idea about anthropomorphic animals living together in a concrete jungle, the clever visual commentary on current society is a feast for the eyes, poking fun at everything from social media to pop culture. But tucked inside all the happy bunny and sly fox antics is a very real problem: how preconceptions and prejudice can lead to racism and genocide — not exactly Saturday morning topics of discussion. Zootopia manages an incredible balancing act having fun with their high concept while taking nothing away from the seriousness of their story, and that’s no small thing.
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