Ghostbusters (2016)

No film has had so much stacked against it pre-release like the new Ghostbusters. The online hate for it reached legendary levels of festering bile. The first trailer became the most disliked movie trailer on YouTube, every new snippet of info was greeted by out-and-out hostility and frankly, it’s been exhausting to watch. The trouble is, the hate has become part of the whole package and it’s almost mandatory to mention it in some capacity.

Remaking something like Ghostbusters is a dumb move. The original film is a lightning-in-a-bottle classic that had just the right amount of cool ideas, unique chemistry between the leads and witty, quotable humour. Even the makers of the original couldn’t recapture the magic. The best they could do was the rehash sequel Ghostbusters II. However, in this movie climate where there’s an increasing numbers of suits who don’t know movies in charge, things are going to be remade and you may as well roll with it. I hate the situation, but you have to be realistic about these things.

So now we have Ghostbusters 2k16. I’ve been on board with the women Ghostbusters thing since it was announced, because I’m not a complete shitheel. It was the best pick of bad ideas. I’ve seen many fans angry that the movie isn’t the “passing of the torch” Ghostbusters 3 they’ve been fan-ficcing for years, but fuck them. I can’t think of anything more lame and pedestrian than that idea. It’s irritating that the main conversation about this has turned to classic shitty sexism and whether you choose to see it or not is practically a political statement. Maybe we could have had a discussion about Hollywood remaking beloved properties at some point, but surely even the most ardent arguers hanging out at the shallow end of the anti-Busters pool have to admit that the pool’s now overcrowded, has been pissed in by the “bitches ain’t shit” brigade and now everybody’s eyes are stinging.

Lecturer Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) works at a prestigious university and is horrified to discover that a book she co-wrote years ago with former friend Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) about the paranormal is available online, threatening her respectability and putting her chance of tenure in danger. She confronts Abby at a ramshackle college and learns that both Abby and her genius lab partner Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) have made big advances in ghost detecting technology. The trio end up teaming and manage to document a genuine ghostly encounter, setting them on a path to supernatural investigation and entrapment. Along the way, our team meet NYC Metro worker Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) and enlist her help to uncover a big supernatural plot that has “apocalyptic” written all over it.

The story’s solid enough, if a little by-the-numbers. It’s basically a remix of the first film’s story with the same basic beats. The Ghostbusters have to start their business and become successful amidst scepticism before heroically coming together to fight a potentially world-ending threat at the end. It plays things a little too safe. It’s mostly a remake and similar scenes are to be expected, but the way it kept stubbornly shackling itself to the original was disappointing and I was urging it to knock it off. Having said all that, I enjoyed the cameos and I felt the brief Harold Ramis shout-out was a deft and touching tribute. If this movie does get a sequel, I’ll be excited to see it. Nobody would be dumb enough to remake Ghostbusters II as it is and they’ll have to do something wholly original. Don’t get me wrong, the story we’re given is decent enough and passable, but I want more from this franchise.

The main villain, Rowan (Neil Casey), is exactly the sort of character you’d expect to be posting negative Ghostbusters forum diatribes in real life. He’s an angry loner with a fascination with the occult and a desire to bring about the end of the world. I get what they’ve done and it’s a cute idea, but it doesn’t make him particularly interesting.

The film’s biggest successes come down to the cast. I liked all of the new ‘Busters. Melissa McCarthy tones it down around 11 notches from her usual level, playing it more like her character in Spy, and it works. Kristen Wiig is mostly the straight-woman but she affords Erin a warmth and affability that is not as easy as she makes it look. Like many people, thanks to the terrible trailers I was worried that Leslie Jones’ character was going to be a walking, yelling stereotype.  There are elements of that, and the “hysterical screeching and slapping” scene hasn’t got any less unfunny, but Patty’s portrayed as just as smart as our scientists, just in a different field. Jones was great in the role too. Chris Hemsworth completely gives himself over to the role of exceptionally dim but hunky receptionist Kevin. The Kevin stuff is really silly, but Hemsworth makes it work. He’s got some serious comedic chops.

Hold the phone though, because I haven’t talked about Kate McKinnon yet. She owns this film. Holtzmann’s most obvious counterpart in the ’84 team is Egon, but she takes it in a whole new direction. She’s zany, unhinged and slightly dangerous. I normally hate quirky characters, but there’s something about Holtzmann. I get the feeling her presence may be divisive, but damn, I loved her.

I really enjoyed the first two thirds of the film. The opening was suitably spooky and I loved the way the team slowly formed. The characters bouncing off each other was great and at times, really funny. The movie isn’t as funny as it should be, but there are some great one-liners and gags here. I started chuckling during the beginning, when it was mentioned that a creepy old estate was built with an “Irish-proof fence” and there was always something to keep me amused. There was a real sense of energy and fun that kept it all bouncing along nicely. The humour here isn’t the dry, sardonic humour of the original, but it’s funny nonetheless. One of the scenes that had me laughing the most was a meta-moment when the gang check out some of the dudebro comments left on a ghostly encounter they uploaded to YouTube.

I don’t know what the big deal was with people calling out the special effects for being rubbish. I loved the look of the ghosts, especially the earlier, more humanoid ones. The colourful glowing reminded me of the library ghost in the first film. I was a big fan of the gadgets too. The proton packs got a nice upgrade and I liked their take on the traps. Whilst I wish they’d saved some of the wackier gadgets like the “Ghostchipper” and Holtzmann’s dual proton pistols for a sequel and had waited until the team were more established, this small gripe doesn’t take too much away from the entertainment factor.

Then we get to the third act. Christ, what a mishmash of ideas. It doesn’t manage to spoil what’s come before and it does have its moments, but it simply doesn’t work. Times Square is turned into a grotty ’70s version for some arbitrary reason. There are tons of ghosts from all time periods thrown in and apparently the proton packs and devices now “kill” ghosts instead of trapping them. That shit wouldn’t have flown if professional weirdo and true believer Dan Aykroyd was in charge of scripting. There’s also a huge, synchronised dance sequence that was clearly cut from the final act and plays over the credits instead.  It’s obvious that the finale had been written, rewritten, filmed and cut many times over before they settled on the underwhelming one in the finished product.

All in all, I liked GB 2K16. It’s not the runaway success I’d hoped for and the big finale is a swing and a miss, but I left with a smile on my face. I want to see more of these new ‘Busters, which I would count as a win for the movie. Sorry Ghostbros, it’s pretty good.


The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Mitty-gating circumstances.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)

It’s award season again, so instead of having an excuse to put a lovely new “2014” in the headings, I’m stuck with shitty old “2013”. Anyway, I went and caught Walter Mitty the other day, just so I could review a film still in cinemas. I don’t have anything else to say here. Call it unprofessional if you must, but I don’t get paid and answer to no-one, so therefore am not a professional. So suck it.

“To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, draw closer, to find each other, and to feel. That is the purpose of life.”

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, shockingly enough, revolves around the eponymous Walter (Ben Stiller). Walt is a chronic daydreamer who comes to the realisation he’s done nothing with his life whilst creating an online dating profile to flirt with co-worker Cheryl (Kristen Wiig). He works in the photography department at Life Magazine, which is undergoing a shifting focus onto online content and a massive downsizing overseen by corporate douche Ted (Adam Scott). Mitty receives a package from famed photographer and globetrotter Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn) which is missing an important negative intended to be the cover for the final printed issue of the magazine. With his job in jeopardy, Walter decides to try and track down O’Connell to get the all-important photo. Stiller stars and directs and he does a bang-up job of both. As the lead, he’s great and way more understated than I thought him capable of. I’m so used to seeing him in cartoony over-the-top roles, it’s nice to see him take things down several hundred gears. Kristen Wiig is lovely in a role that despite some careful touches here and there still basically boils down to the prize to be won. Adam Scott gives us a severely unlikable suited exec to hate and does well with it. Whenever he was on screen, I was trying to remember who he reminded me of, but it finally clicked. He’s like Ellis from Die Hard. Same beard, same oily jokes, same punchability. Sean Penn is basically Sean Penn with a wig. Make of that what you will. Patton Oswalt shows up too and is nowhere near as funny or as likable as he is in other things, basically because his character is there for only one insidious reason. I’ll get to that in a minute.

Walter Mitty is aiming straight for the kind of audiences that like their films surreal and life-affirming. Think Garden State and others of its ilk.  It’s the kind of film with a guitar-strummy soundtrack and many shots of our main character staring into the middle distance. SLoWM often has Mitty daydreaming insane scenarios, ranging from saying what he really wants to say in a social situation to a super-powered street battle, similar to Family Guy’s overblown “Chicken Fight” scenes. They’re fun bits and extremely well done (although there’s a riff on Curious Case of Benjamin Button that clunks like a bitch). The film is about self-discovery and enjoying life whilst you can, which is what Walter does, vicariously living Sean O’Connell’s life whilst tracking him across different countries. It’s all beautifully shot and the soundtrack complements things nicely. It isn’t the deepest movie out there and doesn’t have anything to say about the human condition or anything like that. It’s more akin to a motivational poster hung on an office wall. You know those posters that have a picture of a mountain and some saccharine sentiment underneath about “never giving up” or similar? Yeah, that’s pretty much this film. That’s not to say it’s bad. There’s certainly a place for that. It just doesn’t do much for me.

The films looks fantastic. Stuart Dryburgh’s cinematography is top-notch stuff and features some achingly beautiful landscapes. The script however, is a bit clumsy for my tastes. There are some lovely ideas here, but they require a defter touch. So Mitty’s job at Life Magazine is threatened by a move to internet journalism. The film has a few things to say about this, the hard-working people it’s making redundant and where society’s headed with this attitude. Fair enough. Thing is, when you have a huge sign saying “Life Online” and shots of all the interesting furniture (and workers) being removed, it’s too much and the message is overpowered by how fucking obvious the film’s being. I understand that most people need stuff spelling out for them but you can get your point across with a light push here and there, without having to resort to using a neon sledgehammer. The film isn’t quite so heavy handed with other components. During Walter’s travels, we’re made to question whether or not what we’re seeing is real or whether it’s just an extended fantasy of his. That’s genuinely clever stuff. His backstory involving his dad dying and his relationship with his mother and sister are also played well. He genuinely feels like a guy that just shut down after he lost his father. It’s realistic and heartfelt.

Let’s take a minute to talk about product placement. Personally, I don’t mind it that much when it’s done unobtrusively. Best example I can think of is Bond swigging a Heineken in Skyfall. The film doesn’t linger on the bottle and there are no shots of Daniel Craig taking a sip and then looking at the bottle with an impressed expression. It’s just there. Corporate logos are part of daily life and we’re used to seeing them. I actually find it more distracting when someone drinks a generic “Cola” or a bottle simply labelled “Beer”. Done right, product placement can add some realism and validity to a character’s world. Anyway, back to my point. Walter Mitty is a corporate whore.

A lot has been made of the product placement in this film and I really tried to ignore it, but I couldn’t. This is shameless stuff. Walter starts making an eHARMONY® profile at the start and is called by Todd (Oswalt) from eHarmony® at various points during the film. The pizza chain PAPA JOHN’S® also makes an appearance, ending up being a major plot point. Life Magazine doesn’t really count as it did shut down, although it still exists in some form, although the workers genuinely believing in the corporate motto sticks in the craw slightly. Also Walter goes to CINNABON® and eats a pastry, being prompted to talk about how good it is. There are tons more too, these are just the main offenders. Fuck, this is the worst I’ve ever seen. Obnoxious product placement will now be referred to as “doing a Mitty“. My line between tolerable and intolerable product placement is when there are specific lines of dialogue talking about the product. All of the named products/services above all have positive lines of dialogue in the script.  Todd from eHarmony® talks about their “unique matching algorithm” and Walter says something like “Yeah, that’s why I like them.” I mean, Jesus. Have some goddamn dignity. The Transformers films weren’t this bad. The thing is, if this was Transformers, it wouldn’t matter so much because it’s a big, dumb, shiny advert of a film. In that particular case, they’re films based on TV show that was created for the sole purpose of selling toys. They’re like ultra adverts. Walter Mitty doesn’t have that excuse. Having all this “brand alignment” cheapens the overall sentiment of the film. If Walter’s finding himself and finally taking steps into livening up his life, why do we need garish logos accompanying it? It makes it very hard to buy into anything the film has to say because you can’t shake the feeling you’re being taken for a bit of a mug. You can argue that the film’s being ironic and making a point about big business, but I ain’t buying it. Money changed hands and script lines were changed to fit the sponsorship, I’m sure of it. Disgusting.

“Beautiful things don’t ask for attention.”

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty really isn’t bad. It has some good solid performances and is genuinely heart-warming at times. It has a nice story to tell and does it admirably. It’s basically like the John Lewis Bear & Hare Christmas advert- undeniably charming and enjoyable on its own terms, but at the end of the day is basically just interested in sucking your wallet dry.

%d bloggers like this: