Ghostbusters 2016

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Funny and at times utterly charming, yet the Ghostbusters reboot/make is never convincing. Drawing on the broadest points from the Ivan Reitman-helmed namesake possible, including the same dynamic of disgraced academics and roped-in prole busting ghosts, Paul Feig, Katie Dippold and crew hinge their film on a procession of toy-making and flailing, Apatow cringe comedy (naturally, one character has to learn about the value of self-acceptance and friendship). It’s a hollow core, drowning in noise.

This manifests most clearly in characterization. Reitman’s film centered on the intersection of capital, fringe science, and belief. Cynical hucksters, true believers, and paycheck seekers, all wanting some combination of success and validation as they stumbled, with illegal, calamitous technology they barely understood, against eldritch horrors. The jokes arose from these conflicting personalities and the teeming, glib, dismissive New York they operated in. Ghostbusters 2016 lacks both this range and depth. The central quartet–played by Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones–are all do-gooders with little motivation beyond proving ghosts are real and, later, saving the city. What distinguishing personality traits exist only for crowbarring jokes: Wiig’s Gilbert is prone to freakouts and lustful overtures towards dim-witted receptionist Kevin (Chris Hemsworth); McCarthy and McKinnon (as Yates and gadgeteer Holtzmann, respectively) alternate between the Ray/Egon-style cranks and collegiate pranksters; Jones’ subway worker Patty is a sassy infodump. Undeniably, the rapport between the cast is naturalistic: the film hits its groove when the Ghostbusters begin to assemble, glibly commenting on whatever scraps they end up working with (namely, when Gilbert unknowingly helps Yates and Holtzmann steal supplies from  the Z-rate MIT knockoff they were booted from). Yet, despite this, too often their behavior veers wildly for the express purpose of a gag (during the first big ghostbust, Holtzmann decides to pull a boo scare joke on Gilbert, for no discernible reason), a plasticity matching the shiny Times Square of the film’s climax. No way anyone in Ghostbusters ’16 has a life outside the screen.

What’s especially disappointing is the way Feig and McCarthy have gone backwards. Following the success of their team-up with Wiig, Bridesmaids, the two spun off into a partnership which seemed to improve in iteration. The Heat used Bridesmaids‘ sad sack personality as grist for a gender-bent Lethal Weapon. Last year’s excellent Spy went further, catapulting McCarthy into a mean fuck-up, who was still the smartest person in the room, then watched her work within the insanity around her. This trajectory was ideally suited for a Ghostbusters update, fronted by McCarthy’s anti-glamor and Feig’s eye for mayhem (the fantastic, DIY aesthetic of the Ghostbusters equipment in this film even lends itself to this). Instead, it’s Wiig at the center, playing a woman torn, in that most movie of fashions, between career and friendship. Sad, soft, fuzzy and nonthreatening, with only the faintest sign of life. This Hollywood milieu undermines the humor of watching the outcast and the overlooked pulverize gentrified New York property with  nuclear guns.

Independence Day: Resurgence

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I’m not sure if it’s good or bad that, for all the flaws in his movies, Roland Emmerich does come across as a considerate director. Hokey and sentimental, formulaic and safe, sure, but the evidence is all over his films he’s at least thought through an idea of them. His most well-regarded film (and perennial cable favorite), Independence Day, hits all the cliches for disaster movies and alien invasion flicks, tracking multiple (though almost entirely American) POVs attempting to process the sudden arrival of city-sized alien ships, and the apocalyptic havoc they beam down. After the immediate horror, worldwide survival instincts kicked in, causing humanity to unite in a last ditch attempt to defeat the menace (spearheaded by America, of course). Emmerich’s 20-years-later sequel, Independence Day: Resurgence, explodes this culture shock into a vast sea change for the species. Petty geopolitical squabbles were left behind in ’96, allowing Earth to build sleek, glittering cities, vast public transits, and an X-COM style defense team with moon bases across the solar system, all courtesy of appropriated alien tech. Naturally, the sense of security gets shattered when the aliens return for another round, upping the size and stakes with an Atlantic-sized colony ship dropping to obliterate the planet. It’s also here where Resurgence‘s weaknesses become pronounced.

While Emmerich and co-writers Dean Devlin, James Vanderbilt, Nicolas Wright, and James A. Woods hammer out the particulars of its post-Independence Day Earth, they leave their dramatic arc inert. Independence Day constructed its macro-plot out of a rough assemblage of estranged lovers, broken homes, and a changing definition of family, extinction clarifying to them the importance of familial bonds. Beginning Resurgence with the assumption those principles stayed rock solid for two decades leaves little narrative direction. If the stakes of the previous film were “will humanity unify in time to save themselves,” this should be “will the unity hold?” Instead, the writers choose to dither. Returning players Jeff Goldblum, Vivica A. Fox, and Bill Pullman don’t wrestle with the then-and-now dynamic as much as they get shunted into board pieces; newcomers Maika Monroe, Liam Hemsworth, and Jessie Usher (uncomfortable and stiff attempting to be Will Smith’s stepson) work through a nothing space cadet friendship/romance subplot, marking time until the next CG dust-up. He may have thought through what his utopia would look like, but Emmerich forgot any reason to make anyone else care for this vision.

Will It End? – Movies 2016: April & May

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April

  1. Falling Leaves (1912) (short) – dir. Alice Guy
  2. A Horrible Way to Die (2010) – dir. Adam Wingard
  3. Nightmare City (1980) – dir. Umberto Lenzi
  4. The Objective (2009) – dir. Daniel Myrick
  5. Ganja & Hess (1973) – dir. Bill Gunn
  6. Body Melt (1993) – dir. Philip Brophy
  7. No Telling (1991) – dir. Larry Fessenden
  8. Mutant (1984) – dir. John Cardos
  9. Blackhat (2015) – dir. Michael Mann
  10. The Beyond (1981) – dir. Lucio Fulci
  11. Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989) – dir. Shinya Tsukamoto
  12. Kill List (2011) – dir. Ben Wheatley
  13. El 56 (1988) (short) – dir. Lucrecia Martel
  14. Trouble Every Day (2001) – dir. Claire Denis
  15. Spacebound (2013) (short) – dir. Ellen Su & Kyle Moy
  16. Tourist Trap (1979) – dir. David Schmoeller
  17. Æon Flux (2005) – dir. Karyn Kusama
  18. Cop Car (2015) – dir. Jon Watts
  19. The Maze Runner (2014) – dir. Wes Ball
  20. The Hallow (2015) – dir. Corin Hardy
  21. Cypher (2002) – dir. Vincenzo Natali
  22. Habit (1997) – dir. Larry Fessenden
  23. Hush (2016) – dir. Mike Flanagan
  24. Citizen Kane (1941) – dir. Orson Welles
  25. Cut Her Out  (2015) – dir. Tiffany Heath

YTD: 96

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May

  1. Keanu (2016) – dir. Peter Atencio
  2. Adventures in Babysitting (1987) – dir. Chris Columbus
  3. Kung Fury (2015) (short) – dir. David Sandberg
  4. Zombie (1979) – dir. Lucio Fulci
  5. Manborg (2013) – dir. Steven Kostanski
  6. Mission: Impossible III (2006) – dir. J.J. Abrams
  7. Ava’s Possessions (2015) – dir. Jordan Galland
  8. Bloodsport (1988) – dir. Newt Arnold
  9. The Mutilator (1984) – dir. Buddy Cooper
  10. To Catch a Thief (1955) – dir. Alfred Hitchcock
  11. The Quick and the Dead (1995) – dir. Sam Raimi
  12. The Darkness (2016) – dir. Greg McLean
  13. Project A (1983) – dir. Jackie Chan
  14. American Mary (2012) – dir. Jen & Sylvia Soska
  15. The Woman (2012) – dir. Lucky McKee
  16. The Nice Guys (2016) – dir. Shane Black
  17. The Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials (2015) – dir. Wes Ball
  18. Zero Tolerance (2015) – dir. Wych Kaosayananda
  19. Society (1989) – dir. Brian Yuzna
  20. Night of the Demons (1988) – dir.Kevin Tenney
  21. Days of Thunder (1990) – dir. Tony Scott
  22. X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) – dir. Bryan Singer
  23. The Mummy (1999) – dir. Stephen Sommers
  24. Mabel’s Strange Predicament (1914) (short) – dir. Mabel Normand

YTD: 120

Apocalypse

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Incrementally, Bryan Singer’s X-Men films have moved away from the easily digestible (and tone deaf) racial allegory towards something more abstract. X-Men: Apocalypse, a glacial epic designed to further shred the notion of continuity, is premised not just on  awkward pubescence (Nightcrawler’s teleportation, Jean Grey’s house-shaking psychic nightmares, Cyclops’ uncontrollable lasers ejaculating from his eyes) but on the ability of youth to shatter the planet, literally and figuratively. We’ve gone from special effects as backdrop for adequate fight scenes or a way to drive plot to a core element tying spectacle and theme together. Crisscrossing the globe, as the scattered X-Men contend with the return of ancient mutant and would-be conqueror En Sabah Nur (Oscar Isaac), we’re treated to vistas awash in energy beams, cityscapes rending into futurist pyramids, Earth’s entire nuclear stockpile ejected into space (at once), Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) slinking around underground mutant fight clubs full of 80s reference points, and a dialed-to-11 repeat of Quicksilver’s big moment from Days of Future Past.

This time around, his near-time-stopping super-speed is pitted against a massive explosion. Needle-dropping to the Eurythmics “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This),” Singer plays it like every nerdy boy’s power fantasy: Quicksilver (Evan Peters) staging elaborate rescues (even stopping to save a dog and some goldfish), dancing around, having a couple laughs at the squares, scarfing down some pizza, the movie literally pausing to awe at how much this admitted loser can accomplish when he applies himself (the extravagance also mocks how bland and ineffectual the version Marvel concocted for Avengers: Age of Ulton is). Elsewhere, sometimes-friend, sometimes-enemy Magneto (Michael Fassbender) contends with more personal tragedy just as he’s recruited by Sabah Nur to wreck the world. Facing down his pain at Auschwitz, and encouraged to tap into the full potential of his powers, Magneto twists and rips the horrifying relic into arcs of metallic dust. Soon, he’s turning everything into swirling wreckage, a Pollockian expression of all the rage and disgust brewing under his calm demeanor.

Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, the plot of Apocalypse broadly resembles portions of the original X-Men 3 pitch from Singer and writers Dan Harris and Michael Dougherty. That proposed film, which also would have been the Dark Phoenix Saga, was wrapped in the first two film’s obsessions with evolution, and would have culminated with Jean becoming the X-films’ equivalent of a Star Child. Now, with Simon Kinberg in tow, the trio have concocted a scenario where Louise Simonson and Jackson Guice’s blue-skinned, Darwinian monster forces the mutants to abandon all pretense of control, unleashing world-breaking carnage colored like a pop concert light show. Blockbuster filmmaking as advocacy for transhumanism, in all its horror and splendor.

Nice Guys

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Brimming with slapstick, Byzantine machinations, and sex-obsessed burnouts, Shane Black’s The Nice Guys is a mutant of a film. An 80s buddy action-comedy in 70s dress, using modern, digitally-recreated L.A. skyline, the period trappings are both vivid and flat. This artificiality belies the fact the movie is about something more than its subject. It’s not simply how the neo-noir plotline–a missing persons case where barely-competent PI Holland March (Ryan Gosling) and wannabe do-gooder/thug-for-hire Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) cross paths looking for a hyper-paranoid, rebellious girl–explodes every which way, roping in the porn industry, hitmen, the Big Three automakers, and government collusion. Black’s script bleeds dramatic irony and surrounding texture: references abound to smog, suffocating birds, and killer bees, a prelude to our modern sense of environmental doom. A Justice Department heavy monologues, “What is good for Detroit is good for America.” The image of Richard Nixon, that enduring symbol of power escaping accountability, recurs both bombastically (as a vulgar hallucination) and subtly (on a magazine during a bathroom stall skit, covering up Gosling’s tricky dick). Everyone makes predictions about the future we know are incorrect. March and Healy (and March’s spunky, foul-mouthed daughter Holly, played by Angourie Rice) aren’t experts, dismantling the conspiracy through brawn or intellect. They bungle their way through (March especially, distracted either by booze or women, if not both)–good enough, but incapable of dealing any decisive blow to the responsible, behind-the-scenes figures.

This sense of powerlessness extends to how Black stages action. Panicked, fumbling, often indecisive, whether it’s Healy momentarily scaring off two goons with a shotgun or March surviving a fall off a building by mere inches (his enemy being the messy alternative), control of a situation is at best momentary, at worst nonexistent. Even after finding their missing girl, a shootout with a mob sociopath induces her into a flight response, which in turn goes south. Every fight, then, is a rough patch of collected individuals and their conflicting desires, tripping each other up. No one emerges a winner on any ideological stage. Their only victories are personal.

The Darkness

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Greg McLean’s The Darkness would be an exercise in comical ineptitude if it weren’t so pointless. Much of the movie tries emphasizing suburban angst and the dissolution of a white, bourgeois family (led by an emaciated Kevin Bacon and bored-looking Radha Mitchell), taking place before–or perhaps a result of–some demonic intrusion into their everyday lives. The dreary familiarity of this premise is briefly enlivened in the early going when, on a smiley camping trip to the Grand Canyon, the autistic son is told about Native spirits who could bring about the end of the world if allowed to cross over from the spirit realm. The ensuing brush with the supernatural, and how it’s brought home, plays serene and largely off-screen, promising a low-key apocalypse in the vein of Prince of Darkness.

No such luck. Instead, we’re treated to a series of stuttering dramatic arcs: a daughter’s bulimia; Mitchell sinking into helpless drinking as she stares at family photos; the son’s disorder manifesting in dangerous outbursts (though really the work of the spirits); Bacon’s barely-working architect eyeing a new assistant his boss dangles before him. None of these build, inching the family towards implosion, only occur in succession. Impact and danger rarely last beyond a scene. The implication is these problems arise solely from the parents’ own distracted absence (an overused scare tactic, the son walking off while one or both parents are preoccupied, could become a drinking game), but consequences are rare. Once the threat is clearly established, thanks partly to all-too-convenient web page and a video specifying the whats and whys (even how to stop it), it becomes a matter of family togetherness and roping in a medium or two, last minute. May as well have been a film about performing household chores.

8 Ways Hillary Clinton is Similar to The Predator

 

  1. Predator: Kills people from afar with advanced technology.
    Hillary: Kills people from afar with advanced technology.
  2. Predator: Has a creepy laugh.
    Hillary: Has a creepy laugh.
  3. Predator: Mimics human speech it doesn’t quite understand to draw prey in for the kill.
    Hillary: Mimics human speech she doesn’t quite understand to draw voters to her campaign.
  4. Predator: Terrorized Latin America for decades.
    Hillary: Terrorized Latin America for decades.
  5. Predator: Has issues with (to quote Robert Rodriguez) a “Black Super Predator.”
    Hillary: Has issues with (to quote herself) black “super predators.”
  6. Predator: Sports dreadlocks and other stereotypical characteristics of indigenous tribal hunters.
    Hillary: Sports a pantsuit and other stereotypical characteristics of a white feminist.
  7. Predator:  Didn’t expect a mud-covered Arnold Schwarzenegger to cause as much trouble as he did.
    Hillary: Didn’t expect Bernie Sanders to cause as much trouble as he did.
  8. Predator: Deflects simple questions by repeating the question, then setting off a nuke.
    Hillary: Deflects simple questions by babbling about why she should be allowed access to codes that could set off a nuke.

Coincidence?

 

Cop Car

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A skimpy, unrewarding experience, Cop Car suggests childhood mischief colliding with adult terror. In a sun-blasted, yet perpetually overcast rural America, two kids wander across a cruiser parked in the middle of nowhere. With nothing better to do for miles around, they steal it, leaving the drug-dealing sheriff (Kevin Bacon) dumbfounded and scrambling to get his car back. Jon Watts loads his second film with wide location shots and dark humor, mainly built around the boys’ cluelessness–attempting something like an 80s Touchstone Pictures joint as directed by thriller-mode Coen brothers. They learn driving as they go, accelerating down a highway, swerving across lanes. Later, they root around in the sheriff’s backseat, and try out the loaded weapons (including an M16), though they never figure out what a safety is. For most of the runtime, their own curiosity is more dangerous than either Bacon’s cop or a rival drug dealer found locked in the trunk.

Cop Car spends so much time in this milieu, the supposedly real threat seems tacked-on, diminished. Bacon plays the sheriff as a slick conman, worming his way out of a situation. The carjacking seems more a workplace nuisance than blood-boiling (his performance, though great, is less threatening than the credit sequence, red and blues barely restrained by text). He loads up with an uzi, but never seems intent on harming the boys. His final act turn towards a Joy Ride-esque maniac, careening down the road and growling menacingly over the CB as he rams the cruiser, is unconvincing. The fact this moment comes and goes as a minor setback in the film’s denouement underscores how Watts, for all his portentous shots of cloud cover, doesn’t know how menace works.

Will it End? – Movies 2016: March

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“Damn.”

 

  1. Exposure (1991) – Dir. Walter Salles
  2. Black Hawk Down (2001) – Dir. Ridley Scott
  3. The Deadlands (2014) – Dir. Toa Fraser
  4. Catch Me If You Can (2002) – Dir. Steven Spielberg
  5. The Fury (1978) – Dir. Brian DePalma
  6. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990) – Dir. Steve Barron
  7. Robocop (1987) – Dir. Paul Verhoeven
  8. Ghostbusters (1984) – Dir. Ivan Reitman
  9. 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016) – Dan Trachtenberg
  10. Spectre (2015) – Dir. Sam Mendes
  11. Wolf Warrior (2015) – Dir. Wu Jing
  12. Curve (2015) – Dir. Iain Softley
  13. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) – Dir. Robert Wiene
  14. Motorcycle Gang  (1994) – Dir. John Milius
  15. The Dark Knight (2008) – Dir. Christopher Nolan
  16. Adrenalin: Fear the Rush  (1996) – Dir. Albert Pyun
  17. The Hatching (2014) – Dir. Michael Anderson
  18. The Defender (1994) – Dir. Corey Yuen
  19. The Double (2013) – Dir. Richard Ayoade
  20. Full Metal Jacket (1987) – Dir. Stanley Kubrick
  21. Indigenous (2014) – Dir. Alastair Orr
  22. Steal (2002) – Dir. Gerard Pires
  23. Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) – Dir. Zack Snyder
  24. Men of War (1994) – Dir. Perry Lang
  25. Howl (2015) – Dir. Paul Hyett
  26. Clueless (1995) – Dir. Amy Heckerling
  27. Re-Kill (2015) – Dir. Valeri Milev
  28. Charade (1963) – Dir. Stanley Donen

YTD: 71

SCOURGE OF THE COMMONWEALTH

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Last few weeks have been taken up by Fallout 4‘s “Automatron” expansion. A nearly seamless implant into the 50s-gone-wrong hijinks of nuked Boston, it provides more of everything both good and bad about the main game. The quest line proposes the Mechanist (a side character plucked from Fallout 3, here used as an everyman cover identity) descending on the Commonwealth with an army of robots to save its people, liberating raiders and traders alike from this mortal coil with laser-y mayhem. A few screws obviously loose, it’s up to the game’s resident Vault Dweller to take matters into his/her hands (with a new robo-buddy in tow). While you’re at it, the Mechanist radios speeches about how you’re really the menace and must be stopped. Conflict brews, two would-be saviors prepared to slug it out in the baroque ruins of the old world.

At least, that’s the idea. This being a Bethesda plot, it naturally fizzles out. The Mechanist’s insanity is downplayed with some tossed off exposition about misinterpreted commands. The feud isn’t allowed to follow through, like a superhero team-up comic without even an external threat to unite against (a new, themed raider gang is only a complication, not the main event).

What’s left is new toys to play with: a couple new weapons and tech, formidable enemies (many of which you can one-shot kill with a laser musket if properly prepared), and the ability to construct and modify your own robots. Some top-notch tinkering let down by a wimpy backbone.