Friday, October 21, 2016

Guest Review: Ghostbusters (2016)

by ScottDS

[sigh] Okay, here it is. Was it worth all the trouble and the hate and the exabytes of thinkpieces and blog comments? To put it bluntly: NO!! I chuckled a couple times and I laughed out loud once near the end. That’s about it. So let’s take a look at the Biggest Political Football of 2016, aka a movie that was liked by few and disliked by many.

Please note: there will be spoilers, and a few uncensored curse words. Starting now. The misogynists and the trolls can go fuck themselves. Not just because they suck (they do), but because they make regular geeks like me look bad! Those of us who didn’t like the film deserve better than to be lumped in with these losers.

And the studio PR people and the filmmakers can go fuck themselves for courting the controversy instead of taking the high road. Those of us who didn’t like the film have legitimate reasons for doing so and deserve better than to be lumped in with the aforementioned losers. Between this and screwing up Spider-Man (twice!), Columbia Pictures deserves whatever happens to it. (Uh, unless that “whatever” is good, in which case it doesn’t.)
Dr. Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) is up for tenure at Columbia University. Her childhood friend Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) has re-published a book they wrote – and Gilbert disowned – years earlier on the paranormal. Gilbert visits Yates and her eccentric co-worker Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) and the three of them soon find themselves encountering a ghost at an old mansion. Embarrassing footage of the event ends up online, Gilbert is fired, and Yates and Holtzmann are thrown out of their institution as well. They decide to start their own agency: they rent an office above a Chinese restaurant, they hire a moronic assistant (Kevin, played by Chris Hemsworth), and they call themselves Conductors of the Metaphysical Examination. They’re soon joined by MTA worker/amateur historian Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) who has recently encountered a ghost herself.

The ghosts are being summoned by a… weirdo named Rowan (Neil Casey). He’s been bullied his whole life and wants to see the world end. The climax takes place in and around Times Square. After possessing Kevin, Rowan takes the form of the Ghostbusters’ logo (which is originally seen as graffiti in the subway). The ladies use the nuclear reactor aboard the Ecto-1 to close Rowan’s dimensional portal. A defeated Rowan manages to drag Abby with him but Erin jumps in and comes to the rescue. So all’s well that ends well. The mayor’s office decides to privately support and fund the team even though they have to disdain their work in public to avoid a panic. And I stopped caring an hour ago.
The movie could’ve been titled something else and the whole thing would’ve been forgotten about. Like most comedies made today, it’s way too bright and sterile, the jokes are either too long or poorly shot or over-explained (or some combination of the three), there’s so much meaningless technobabble that I thought I was watching a bad Trek episode, and the backstory is boring and useless. There’s nothing “New York” about the movie, possibly because most of it was shot in Boston. The whole thing walks a fine line between half-baked homage and full-on parody. I’ll try not to compare it too much to the original but when the filmmakers go out of their way to include references and cameos, well, I guess I can’t help but compare.

So… the backstory. Who cares? Ray and Egon were interested in the paranormal, Peter was a fraud but Dana gave him a reason to care, and Winston was your average no-nonsense everyman who wanted a paycheck. That’s all we needed to know. And while Bill Murray was great at the whole ironic self-aware thing, he could also play sincere and we believed him. He sold it. Wiig and McCarthy can’t sell it. I’m sorry to say this, especially since Wiig can be a very good actress (see The Skeleton Twins or Welcome to Me). I bought the friendship but I couldn’t buy them as serious scientists nor could I buy them as scared. The whole time I kept asking, “Who gives a shit?!”

The original is such a unique blend of humor and horror that if a studio exec asked me to remake Ghostbusters, as much as I want to play in that playground, I’d say no. In fact, the former head of Sony Pictures reportedly asked several filmmakers, “Why do all of you keep turning this down?” To them, it was sacred ground. Paul Feig’s opinion was basically, “They’re gonna remake it. It might as well be remade by someone who cares.” But I’m not so sure he did. And since I’m not a fan of his films anyway (his TV work was excellent, though), it’s a moot point.
Anyway, the two better actresses are McKinnon and Jones. Jones comes off very well as your average no-nonsense everywoman. Yes, all the stupid jokes from the trailer are in the movie, but she’s actually convincing when faced with a ghost. And I feel terrible for all the shit she’s been through in the Twitterverse. McKinnon, as mentioned in other reviews, is in her own universe… and I want to live there. The one laugh-out-loud moment I had was one of her lines and she does a better job with the babble, but it’s still mostly useless. I love her look and you know what? This movie would’ve been so much better as a 90-minute buddy comedy with Jones and McKinnon. By the way, I watched the extended cut of this film: the original 1984 film managed to be a hundred times more coherent and entertaining while also being 30 minutes shorter!!

The rest of the cast is way too over-qualified or doesn’t belong at all. Andy Garcia plays the mayor and his presence proves the idea that dramatic actors are oftentimes better at comedy than comedians. But he’s only in it for five minutes. Charles Dance is Wiig’s superior and he’s way too good for this movie. But this leads me to another problem: nearly everyone has schtick, they’re all going for the punchline… it would be like populating the original’s supporting cast with the likes of Harvey Korman and Dom DeLuise. (Actually, that might be kinda awesome!)

We see familiar faces like Silicon Valley’s Zach Woods and MADtv’s Michael McDonald (to be fair, Veep’s Matt Walsh got a chuckle out of me) and it made me think of the original where the guys were the only ones allowed to be funny, plus Rick Moranis. Not everyone needs to be “the funny one.” There’s no Dana character to ground this movie – everyone’s a comedian! It gets old and it’s why there’s a lack of authenticity to anything. And once again, I can tell when the actors are improvising because it’s the material that could easily be cut without affecting the rest of the story. Look, I sympathize – I wrote part of a screenplay in high school and ended up with a 200-page first act! But when did filmmakers, especially comedy filmmakers, forget how to edit?!
Rowan the villain is pretty ill-defined. So he wants to watch the world burn. Fine. Go with it. Make him like the Joker… but he was a victim of bullying and he’s into the occult… and that’s really it. The use of “ley lines” was appreciated but I missed the original’s use of real history to tie things together. Not to mention the rules of this world are pretty inconsistent: some ghosts let people pass through them while others are… solid?

And yes, there are a few anti-male jokes… look, I wasn’t offended BUT it was enough to make me notice, and enough to make my friend give up after 15 minutes. (And my friend is no activist – politically, he’s basically in the “Fuck ‘Em All Party.”) Now was this material added after the controversy? In the script or ad-libbed on set? I don’t know. But I do know you don’t have to make your heroes look good by badmouthing someone else. And in this case, that someone else is me!

Of course, I don’t have to vent my frustration on Twitter like some assholes. [wink]
And finally, the cameos. A bored Bill Murray shows up as a skeptic and is done after one scene. Dan Aykroyd is a cab driver who gets an iconic tagline, but it’s more sad than anything else. Ernie Hudson (ageless!) shows up at the end as Jones’ uncle. Annie Potts is a hotel clerk who gets to reprise one of her iconic lines. Sigourney Weaver shows up as Holtzmannn’s mentor and it’s worth it just for her bizarro look, but her dialogue is awful. And Harold Ramis appears as a bust sitting on a shelf. Speaking of Murray, we see a clip of a Ghost Hunters-type show at the beginning and you think it might pay off later. Nope. In the trailer, we see Times Square revert to its gritty 1970s form. Does this pay off? Nope! And Rowan asks the Ghostbusters to choose a form for him, à la Gozer in the original. Except there’s no motivation for it at all.

This is where I get off. I know I can’t convince you of anything and I didn’t like it enough to even give it a half-assed recommendation like I did with Battleship a few years ago! Better to put this all behind us. They most likely won’t make a sequel but if they do, they could use Max Landis’ treatment which involves a multi-gendered team (real equality!) and other Ghostbusters franchises from across the country. Better yet, they could hire Leslye Headland to write and direct the film. She did an indie comedy I like titled Bachelorette (better than Bridesmaids imho) and she can write and direct a good joke! Is that too much to ask of a comedy?

P.S. The film’s most egregious sin? Thanks to a product placement deal, the ladies eat Papa John’s pizza. In New York City!


tryanmax said...

I haven't seen this, so I have no comments directly on the movie.

My only beef is that, by not giving it a subtitle, we now have to refer to Ghostbusters 1984 and Ghostbusters 2016. Couldn't they have called it something like Ghostbusters: Re-Possessed? I think that's where the serious discussion lies.

As for the gender "controversy," I only note that it was mainly major outlets and celebrities criticizing posts on comments sections and forums. It's a classic case of people with influence declaring that people without influence are the problem, which is the basic means of establishing "goodthink."

ScottDS said...

It's funny you mention the subtitle. The film's title card simply says, Ghostbusters but the end title card says, Ghostbusters: Answer the Call. Someone from the studio was asked about that and it's strictly for inventory purposes on their end. The title is still just Ghostbusters. But yeah, I agree.

Jason said...

I did see the movie in the theater. To me, it was occasionally amusing with a lot of potential that really didn't get used anywhere to its full effect. It really made me appreciate the original more and reminded me of how movies like that just don't get made today.

And Sony is a bunch of idiots for turning this movie into a political cause. Who knows how many millions they lost over it?

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Thanks for the review! I'm struggling to get any sort of film reviewed these days. What a retched hive of dull and dullery Hollywood is producing these days!

AndrewPrice said...

Anyways, here are some comments that are similar to what I said in my emails.

1. Let me be clear, not everyone who felt it was a crap decision to make this an all-girl team is a misogynist. There are many people who react poorly to changes to characters they love (and these are effectively remakes of those characters even if they aren't officially). And when people feel those changes were made simply to tweak them or to draw publicity they tend to react poorly.

It struck me from the moment this film was announced that they were using this idea of "let's use women!" not as a creative idea, but as a means to court controversy. And when they got the controversy they expected, they played victim to try to use it for marketing purposes. Their whole campaign was premised on victimization and shaming. So I have zero sympathy for any of them involved.

2. The fact that you, a super-tolerant moderate, spotted anti-male jokes and that your friend abandoned the film over it tells me that the complainers are right that the film was overtly political. Films like that fail.

3. Reading your description, the film sounds like crap. It really does. It sounds confused and just not entertaining.

4. The word "improv" is the death note for films for me. As a writer, I can tell you that good writers can spend weeks on individual words. Anyone who thinks they can wing it is delusional. It's lazy and smug and results in worthless scenes.

5. On a remake, I actually do think it could be done. But it needs to be significantly different than the original. I would go for a much scarier film and make it a dark comedy.

ScottDS said...

Andrew -

1. It may have came across that way in my draft but I personally never lumped all the haters in with the misogynists. Though I did hate having to add a "No, it's not because they're women!" disclaimer every time I mentioned this movie on Facebook, lest a friend of mine think I'm a misogynist!

And again, I think Feig just wanted to work with his friends. If it were another filmmaker or another remake, would you say the same thing? (In other words, what if they did, say, 12 Angry Women?)

2. [sigh] Yeah... they weren't needed and they stuck out like a sore thumb. I wasn't offended as a male but as a fan of good movies!

3. Confused? No. Entertaining? Meh. I mean, I was talking to some people last night who thought the movie was okay and didn't understand the fuss.

4. There are exceptions, of course. But Jamie Lee Curtis was interviewed on a podcast I listen to and she was talking about being asked to improvise on something. She said that not every actor can do it and that NOTHING beats a well-written line of dialogue. (She of course used A Fish Called Wanda as an example and I agree.)

5. It's funny... while I mention above that I'd say no to a studio executive if asked to do a new Ghostbusters... after watching this movie, I might actually say yes! I couldn't do any worse!

ScottDS said...

Jason -

There is potential but as I said above, the original is such a unique blend of elements and all the planets aligned to make it what it was. Feig and Co. would've been better off just making this their own instead of paying homage to the original.

I remember when I saw the first photos of the car and the gadgets... while I appreciate the homemade "going into business" aesthetic, I honestly thought they should've gone another route entirely.

PikeBishop said...

Haven't seen it, but Scott, what is your take on the Hemsworth character, whom most reviewers said was just mind-numbingly stupid, as in "How does this guy tie his shoes dumb."

Also, I remember an idea that was floated about early which would have been so much a better movie, i.e. combinging the new females with the veterans of the first movie. Jennifer Lawrence as, say Akroyd's daughter or Egon's grad student protege, carrying on his legacy. Kerry Washington as Winston's niece or daughter. Have a connection to the first film and continue the legacy as they have adventures together. Instead we get another insulting black "street" caricature and Melissa McCarthy's "I'm a cute fat girl" schtick.

ScottDS said...

Pike -

The Max Landis treatment I linked to above kinda sorta does that, with males and females and one of the characters is Egon's nerdy daughter.

As far as Hemsworth, he's game but the character is a one-note joke and yeah, you do wonder how someone like that could survive in the real world. He's stupid but he plays it well. There's a bizarre gag at the end where he's eating a sandwich, McCarthy slaps it out of his hand, then someone off-screen throws it back to him, then it happens again.

In a movie as pre-planned and promoted as this one, I kinda liked the randomness of it... but a gag like that belongs in Airplane!, not this movie.

tryanmax said...

So, I did a little sleuthing and, for what it's worth, Feig announced his GB cast on January 27, 2015. The very next day, virtually every feminist website had near identical articles, down to the links, declaring all criticism of the movie to be sexist. An exemplary article from Jezebel is titled "All-Feminist Ghostbusters is a Punch in the Dick to All of Mankind" (if you care to Google it). It's a very lazy satire of an angry man with links to tweets and Reddits that, in most cases, undermine the premise.

I'm not saying I'm shocked that feminist websites would take whatever opportunity to cry sexism. I'm saying this whole affair began with, if not wholly fabricating, then massively overstating a vanishingly rare opinion.

ScottDS said...

tryanmax -

I loathe the "Thinkpiece Industrial Complex." Oftentimes the conversation shifts from the actual work to the conversation being had about the work... and then THAT becomes the story.

(I'm obviously not the first to notice or mention it!)

It makes me appreciate Christopher Nolan - he's not on social media and he doesn't really comment on this stuff. If I were Feig, I'd be thinking, "Uh, can't we just make the movie?"

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, As with the Leslie Jones racism stuff, this is one time where the studio was whining victim before the critics existed. Everything I saw suggests to me that the whole marketing campaign was based on the film/actors being victimized: I'm victim, come save me by seeing my film!

Even the sexist attacks were not anything broad-based. In other words, the studios needed to dig pretty deeply into the bowels of the internet to find them. And if you dig deeply enough, you can always find anything.

What's more, every critic was then thrown into the "you must hate women!" category.

This one was cynically made and even more cynically marketed.

AndrewPrice said...


1. I don't care who does what with film, but when I feel that you had no reason to do something except to support your marketing, then I call bullshit -- be it a gender/race change, throwing in certain demographics, replacing China with Korea, warping dialog to avoid offending sponsors, etc.

2. You may not have been offended, but keep this in mind. A lot of people were and there is no reason for their inclusion except to anger those people. And before you say the complaint isn't valid, ask yourself if you consider similar complaints from women, blacks or other "protected" groups valid. If so, then you can't really dismiss this.

3. The plot you outline sounds like it sucked.

4. There are moments where improv can work, but it's sloppy and I would never use it for anything significant. I would certainly never do what Apatow does.

5. I would say yes. I think that any movie can be remade, but you need to be really clever in how you do it. You can't just take a classic and turn it into a generic paint-by-numbers film and get away with it.

ScottDS said...

Andrew -

Re: the plot, you mean the Max Landis treatment I mentioned above?

I read it and for a rough draft, it's actually not that bad. He manages to tie it in with the previous films, he has a team of men and women, and he creates on a much bigger canvas than Feig is capable of.

When I wrote my previous article predicting what might happen with this movie, I suggested using this cool plot idea I read about years ago, involving the old NYNEX phone system.

Looking back at that article now, I said the following:

"As for the female thing, despite Feig’s comments, I think it comes across as a gimmick. It’ll inspire a thousand think pieces from the bloggers of the world and it’ll be the only thing people talk about."


AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I mean the Feig film. The plots of really good films sound like a compelling story as you describe them. It's action: the heroes gather, train and chase the villain to the climax. Bad films sound like this: A and B argue as C wanders around. They kind of pump into the plot. They talk about some stuff. They got to some random place where some stuff happens. The villain gets bored waiting for them and finally attacks them. There are a series of random fights. Oh climax. Roll credits.

AndrewPrice said...

BTW, Scott, Feig's career strikes me as a career filled with generic films that rely on low-hanging fruit and bad-taste shock. Courting controversy to spice up a generic film is an old trick among these people.

ScottDS said...

Andrew -

I think Feig's film career proves he works better with limitations. Freaks and Geeks was a network show but now he can have his characters just curse up a storm and he thinks it's funny.

Judd Apatow wrote for The Larry Sanders Show, of which I'm a fan. You know who else wrote for that show? Paul Simms, who later created NewsRadio, which still makes me laugh out loud after 20 years!

I'd love to live in an alternate universe where Apatow is still doing TV and Simms is the A-list filmmaker!

Kit said...

That is basically what I've heard. Not bad enough to warrant the hate but not good enough to warrant any adulation.

BTW, I wondered why they never just went w/ the Extreme Ghostbustes idea. I know Egon died but maybe they could have Ray or Peter or Winston.

Kit said...

Or, hell, if you want to be really feminist, have Janine restart the team.

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