Archive for the ‘Movie Review’ Tag

Ghostbusters 2016 In Review   1 comment

Ugh, what title to use… “Ain’t Afraid Of No Reboots”?  No… “Blockbusters Make Me Feel Good”?  No…  “Who Ya Gonna-“… oh, hi there!  Sorry, wasn’t quite ready, I was… I couldn’t think of a good title.  I’m just gonna… let’s just start the review.

Ghostbusters 2016 might not have been the most anticipated film of the year, but it was definitely one of the most talked about, and a lot of that talk was negative.  Like, strongly negative.  Like, unreasonably, angrily negative.  Some of it was a bit more reasonably negative, but the whole general tone seemed to fit on a three-point scale between “They’re ruining my childhood”, “Ugh, I can’t believe that they’re trying to reboot everything”, and most infamously “Ghostbusters are supposed to be dudes!”

The fact that nearly all of the previous cast of Ghostbusters were okay with the film being led by a female cast didn’t really seem to matter.  The fact that before this movie there were other movies and that this movie wasn’t going to be like those other movies in some way was an insurmountable obstacle for many.

Having said that, my birthday was July 15th, the opening day of the film, and I wanted to see a movie as part of my birthday celebrations.  Part of me wanted to see Warcraft, but Ghostbusters felt like it’d be more enjoyable.  Then, when I checked movie times, I discovered that Warcraft had actually been out of theaters for weeks now.  Ghostbusters was inevitable (though I still wanna see Tarzan, despite all the negative reviews.  I’m a sucker for pulp fiction.)  Enough preamble: on to the show!


Naturally, a few spoilers will follow.

First things first, this movie’s script managed to pull off a really difficult trick: they created a story that fits the Ghostbusters aesthetic without just being a rehashing of what had come before.  One of the most frequently levied criticisms of The Force Awakens was that The Force Awakens was pretty much just a beat for beat imitation of A New Hope, and many (myself included) feel that this hurt the movie.  The creators of A New Hope were trying to rekindle a lot of the feeling of the first movie to assist in bridging the gap between old and new fans, and while I think the movie was “generally good”, I think it fell short.  J. J. Abrams himself has said that he went too far with this and would probably have toned it down had he known what people’s reactions to it would have been.

This movie, on the other hand, has a lot of fun nods to the original two movies but doesn’t make its plot beholden to anything that’s come before.  Rowan North, our villain, is played by Neil Casey, and he’s someone who reminds me of Vigo the Carpathian from Ghostbusters 2, but only indirectly.  He’s the sort of person who would research people like Vigo and hope that he could imitate them.  He doesn’t have a consuming obsession with figures from the past *cough*Kylo Ren*cough* but he is *very* aware of how these sorts of things work, and seeks out methods of bringing about his own power.  The movie doesn’t really focus on if the villain is working out some prophecy, or if “The Fourth Cataclysm” is a product of his own design, but I think dwelling on that would have slowed the movie down.  He’s ultimately a mad scientist who’s tapping into supernatural forces and incorporating magic and the occult into his work.  I liked what he brought to the production, even if I felt that his acting was underplayed at times (the part of “despised genius who’s decided that the rest of society isn’t worth saving” is actually tricky to pull off, in my opinion; too much and you’re chewing scenery, and too little makes you seem drab.)  They leaned too far in the drab direction when I feel like they should’ve gone in the scenery chewing direction; there were times in the movie when he wasn’t on screen and you could only get his voice, and I think at those times he really shined as a character, and I think if he’d acted on-screen as he did when he was off-screen he could’ve been a scene stealer.

Enough about the villain, though; this movie has four main characters who did a great job.  It’s really, really, REALLY tempting to look at each character and compare them to the original four Ghostbusters, but I think such a comparison would be unfair and inaccurate.  The closest comparison that can be made is between Melissa McCarthy playing Abby Yates and Dan Akroyd’s Ray… uh, Ray… *frantically searches IMDB* Ray Stantz.  …huh.  I only remember him being called Ray in those movies.  Anyway, the closest comparison between characters is between Abby Yates and Ray Stantz in that they’re both the scientist who’s devotedly enthusiastic about exploring the supernatural, but where Ray always had a kind of oblivious “Why wouldn’t this be interesting or believable?” optimism, Abby has a sort of “The world isn’t going to believe us, but we shouldn’t stop just because of that” cynicism.  She’s been hurt by people in the past who’ve mocked her beliefs, and even feels a betrayal from her colleague Erin Gilbert, so the sunny optimism of Ray’s character has hit some darker clouds under McCarthy’s characterization.

Speaking of Erin Gilbert, this is probably the biggest departure in terms of point for point characterizations.  Erin Gilbert, played by Kristen Wiig, is arguably the film’s protagonist, and holds a position with the group similar to Peter Venkman as played by Bill Murray by being the scientist with a foot in the “real world”, but the comparison ends there.  Venkman had a detached comical side that acted as a shield between his paranormal research and how society saw him, and he was laid back enough that it wouldn’t be hard to imagine him as legitimately being a fraud or charlatan just like his opponents claimed he was.  Gilbert, on the other hand, is trying very hard to be professional and to be respected, and the fact that she used to be a paranormal researcher is a black mark that she feels could hurt her chances for becoming a tenured professor.  Actual, tangible evidence of ghosts reels her back in to the life that she abandoned, but her character keeps craving legitimacy and acceptance in the public view.  Arguably, this is the main thrust of the film: is it better to be known as legitimate, or is it better to be known as a fraud while *being* legitimate?  Gilbert’s character has to wrestle with that over the course of the film, and the question paints a well-balanced comparison to the “why can’t women be main characters in action movies?” conversation that’s been playing out over the last few decades (especially in the last few years.)

Leslie Jones plays Patty Tolan, and a comparison to Ernie Hudson’s Winston Zeddermore is hard to avoid; both characters represent a non-scientist who’s stepping into the job.  Neither character starts off knowing a lot about how ghosts work or what they represent, but they’re both more than capable of picking it up as they go.  In a way, Patty is a negative version of Winston because while Winston joined the Ghostbusters for a “steady paycheck”, Patty shows up for the fun of it, which in a way helps to ground her in reality more than any of the other characters.  She also knows New York history and architecture (which is convenient for knowing about all the biggest murders in town and best ways to drive around), and can provide a car to help mobilize the other members of the group, so she’s the catalyst that lets the Ghostbusters roll out faster and more efficiently.

Finally, we have Kate McKinnon playing Jillian Holtzmann.  She’s probably the most tempting comparison to make, but calling her “The Egon” isn’t accurate.  There’s a trend in sci-fi or action films to have a freewheeling tech-head or hyper competent hacker, and while Jillian Holtzmann is part of that trend I don’t feel like Egon was.  Egon was an almost emotionless calculator who, while not devoid of emotion, humor, or empathy, was certainly detached from much of what was happening in a way that brought a clinical acknowledgement to the bizarre.  Holtzmann is eager and more frantic, acting like she can’t make her new technology fast enough.  Also, no matter what she winds up seeing, she maintains the same aloof giddiness.  Arguably, the biggest comparison to Egon is unflappability since they both keep effectively the same attitude no matter the circumstances.  However, she also has two very real and very human moments in the film, one near the very end, and another during the transitional period between acts 2 and 3 where she sees a lot of her work being demolished.  There’s a moment of genuine panic and grief when the gadgets and guns she’s been working on are threatened, and I think that actual emotion keeps her character from being too one-note.  Ultimately, she’s the group’s mad scientist, and she plays the part well.

I don’t want to give away much of the plot or the jokes of the film, and it’s hard to say much more without that.  I will say that the movie contains a number of homages and references to the Ghostbusters franchise ranging from the subtle to the blatant, and many from the original cast (apart from Rick Moranis) had small cameo appearances that touched on the plot of events in the reboot.  The film isn’t set decades after the original movies, but it’s almost easy to believe that this is a parallel reality of sorts.  I doubt it is (at least, I doubt it is in any official, easy to get on paper fashion), but the movie is well aware of its roots, ranging from a smirking bust of a dearly departed buster to a familiar receptionist managing the front desk of a prestigious hotel.  The movie also makes a few reasonable jabs at its own impact on the fandom, with comments from YouTube thinking these Ghostbusters aren’t up for the job.  (I’m mostly unfamiliar with the whole “nice guys” and “fedoras” side of the Internet apart from hearing a few things from friends, but I thought it was interesting that the primary opponent of the Ghostbusters wore a fedora which was commented on as a “nice hat.”)  The movie treats these sorts of naysayers in, I think, a fair and reasonable light: thinking that it’s unfortunate that they have these opinions and even uncalled for when the meaner comments show up, but ultimately the Ghostbusters move on and keep doing their work without letting it get to them too much.

Speaking of negative YouTube comments, I think this movie had a shocking lack of violence, cursing, or gross-out humor.  Maybe I’m just desensitized to it, but I really didn’t notice much.  I’d even say that there was more in the original movie than in this, so having said that I’m surprised this film has a PG-13 rating.  I’d personally rate it as PG, although I come from the era when, as The Nostalgia Critic once put it, “PG actually meant something.”  I mean, yes, there are one or two gross jokes, and that’s not even counting the huge amount of slime (this is a Ghostbusters film, after all) but in addition to being a fun addition to the franchise I think it’s even appropriate for younger kids who can handle scary ghost images.

The movie isn’t without its flaws, but I think my complaints with the film amounted to less than thirty seconds if not less than twenty seconds, something I already said on Twitter.  Most of my problems were related to aesthetic taste, however.  Case in point: the opening scene has a few obvious jokes rather than being a straightforward ghost-story cold open like in the first Ghostbusters movie.  I would’ve preferred that opening scene to just be a regular horror story opening, with the humor coming later, but that’s not what happened.  Ultimately this isn’t something that made that first scene bad, it just made it an opening that I would’ve preferred to see tweaked.  Similarly, the movie includes Slimer, who is (in many ways) the franchise’s spirit animal.  At one point Slimer steals the Ecto-1 for a joyride, which I thought was brilliant; later, you see him still joy riding but with another lady Slimer who’s wearing a wig.  It was a funny idea, but didn’t quite work well for me (although seeing those two at the end of that subplot was great; the two Slimers getting along felt like an appropriate metaphor for the relationship of this film to the previous ones, one where they can coexist without really hampering each other, and both can have fun together.)


So, my final verdict: this is a great popcorn flick.  I hate calling it that because the term “popcorn flick” is usually synonymous with “bad”, and this isn’t a bad movie.  It’s good, really good.  It’s a fun piece of summer movie action that you can enjoy and have a great time with, and it’s got an attention to the craft of movie writing that most mindless blockbusters lack.  It’s not Citizen Kane… thank heaven it’s not Citizen Kane… but it’s not trying to be.  This is just a good fun movie.  Enjoy it in theaters and maybe, if we’re lucky, we can start reclaiming popcorn flicks that are enjoyable instead of popcorn flicks that are stale.  Enjoy your time at the movies, everyone!


Coraline: Not the Book, But Still Worth a Watch   Leave a comment

Coraline.  I liked it. But I will certainly understand it if I’m one of the only people who claims to enjoy it. The movie didn’t really follow traditional movie plot formats (or, more precisely, it didn’t follow movie plot formats the way that you would expect a movie to.) The plot was unfolding a bit like a mystery movie rather than the expected way that a horror, suspense or adventure movie would normally unfold. Honestly? I can see a kid leaving the movie thinking it was awesome, while an adult would leave the movie feeling that the first third of it was too slow and boring. The first third was the type of exposition that I remember really enjoying when I was younger but not appreciating as much in later years.

And speaking as a Neil Gaiman fan who read the original book, I can say that the movie does differ in plot from the book, but I do not believe that this difference detracted from the story too greatly.

The one bad thing I can say about the movie (unless you would take my dancing around the phrase “slow to start” above as a bad thing) is that the animation seemed off a bit at the start. I could tell at times that the animation was stop motion (which I knew going into it, of course, but still…) The difficulty I had was a weird one. The motion wasn’t “jerky”, but it certainly wasn’t “smooth.” Honestly, it looked like computer animation…but only if the computer animation had about half of the individual pictures that the movie is made up of removed. I can also say that the movie was in 3D (even down to having the glasses handed out with the ticket), but the movie didn’t need to be, I don’t think. The film would have been just fine if it had all been confined to the screen in front of me (and honestly, very little of the movie jumped off of that screen, and when it did it never came too close to me…then again, I wasn’t sitting in the center of the audience, so my vision might’ve been skewed? Perhaps.)

Regardless: I enjoyed it and felt that my time and money hadn’t been wasted. I doubt that I’ll be watching it again in the cinema, but I wouldn’t mind owning it when it comes out on DVD. For people who are planning on watching it: don’t expect it to be The Nightmare Before Christmas, or you will be dissapointed. Don’t expect it to be Corpse Bride, or you will be dissapointed. Heck, don’t expect it to be Beowulf, Stardust, or the book it was originally based upon, or you could also be dissapointed. Just sit back and let yourself enjoy it. Or don’t, it’s a free country.

PS-Oh, and I was also a little weirded out by the fact that the movie apparently takes place in the USA. While I suppose that might make sense from a marketing standpoint on paper, I think that the Harry Potter series has shown us that a movie can do well in America even if it’s based in Brittain. I don’t think that the Americanization hurt the movie, but I’m not convinced it helped either. Either way, though, it didn’t bug me too much.

PPS-I went with a few friends, one of whom happened to be my sister, and she actually caught that a song in it was played by They Might Be Giants. I didn’t realize it until it was pointed out, but yes, it was certainly John’s voice singing it. And we watched for TMBG to be mentioned in the end credits to verify (I always love watching the end credits, and yeah, I know I’m in the vast minority there.) Nifty touch, in my opinion.

Dr. Horrible on DVD: Putting your Commentary to Music   1 comment

Continuing my tradition of being slow on the uptake and among the last to review things, I figured that it wouldn’t be terrible to do a review of the DVD of Dr. Horrible.  For once I thought I was actually on the ball, but when I told a friend that I’d just ordered the DVD I was informed that he’d been reading reviews of it for a while now.  Those reviews, he said, announced that the disc was a bit cheap and non-commercial and that most of the money had gone to the box.

I have to tell you: I really didn’t notice it that it was a cheap DVD.  I didn’t at all.  If I hadn’t been told, I don’t think I would be even commenting on it right now.

One of the difficulties with Dr. Horrible’s transition to DVD, though, was sound quality.  A lot of the stuff that sounded wonderful on a computer speaker sounded less glamorous when given the full support of the speakers on my TV set.  The only other comment that I would make regarding Dr. Horrible’s switch to DVD regards the act breaks.  I really wish that rather than just saying “Act Two” and “Act Three” at the act breaks, it had actually gone through the full credit sequence each time like it does when you watch it online.  A part of that is because the nerd in my likes completeness.  The presentation nerd in me, though, wants it for a different reason: the act openers are when you familiarize yourself with Dr. Horrible’s theme music.  You’re given those three moments when you view the musical online to really get to feel that theme music and catch a glimpse of the sort of mood that Dr. Horrible wishes he could evoke in others.

Having viewed it thusly online, when that music begins playing near the end of Act Three at the homeless shelter, the viewer can really get the feeling that This Is His Moment.  The theme music playing then really establishes it as a moment of glory for him that has the potential to shape the rest of his life.  With the shortened act intros, I’m not so convinced that the new viewer will so readily get that feeling.  It’s a small nit for me to pick at, but there it is.

Now the biggest draw for this new DVD is, of course, the special features.  As the musical itself is available easily enough to online viewers (at least the online viewers in the States) the commentary and making of features and seeing the winners for the ELE Application Video contests really amount to the cost of the DVD that you’re holding.

The most advertised DVD feature, I think, would be the addition of “Commentary: The Musical!”  Now, setting things to musical that should not be set to musical is a long running gag, and whenever something new comes out that would be horrible to set to music you can bet that someone, somewhere has jokingly announced the musical version of it, sometimes even going so far as to rapidly improvise the first few bars of the song.

Every once in a while, someone follows through on such a concept, if only to drive home just what a bad idea it is.  “Commentary: The Musical!” is a bad idea, and the execution was similarly bad, which is where a great deal of the humor lies.  Its saving grace is that you have folks like Joss Whedon working on it, and Joss knows how to make a musical (to date, Spike’s “Let Me Rest In Peace” song from “Once More, With Feeling” is one of my favorite songs in TV show history.)  The musical follows all of the stereotypical Broadway tropes that you’d expect, and consists mostly of filler.

All in all, I would claim that “Commentary: The Musical!” is at least as good a special feature, if not better in many respects, than the full episode of Everybody Loves Hypnotoad that was included on the Bender’s Big Score DVD (yes, I’ve watched both of them.  Yes, I’m a nerd.)

All in all, Commentary: The Musical! is tolerable, but only because they also provide actual, non-musical commentary for you to listen to.  Call me old fashioned, but if you’re gonna do a special musical number for your commentary, you should also have a non-musical version as well.

Oh, and kudos to the ELE applicants.  Good quality work (my favorite was the second one, the orphan who controlled air.)  And the Dishonorable mention list was hilarious to watch, just at the sheer magnitude of villainous names.

The Dark Knight – A Movie Review   Leave a comment

Like most of the other nerds in the world with disposable income, I went to the midnight showings of The Dark Knight on Thursday night.  A few minutes into Friday Morning, the film started (after a preview of the Watchmen movie, and a friend of mine and I finally became excited about it.  Until the preview, I wasn’t looking forward to it at all…but I digress.)

The Dark Knight was an excellent movie.  The movie was so good, that I was only aware of my problems with it after the fact.  Let me say that again: I was certain that I was going to be let down by this movie all the way through, but I never was, even though I had problems with it.

And interestingly?  The problems were exactly what I predicted.  Naturally, Spoilers follow.

And no, not Stephanie Brown.

My primary problem was with The Joker.  Heath Ledger’s performance was uncanny, and fantastic.  I don’t know if they give post mortem Oscars, may he rest in peace, but I think he deserves a nomination.  He was fantastically creepy, scary and insane, all of which are necessary for a good Joker.

There were many things he was not, however.  He wasn’t zany or whimsical or even all that clownish apart from his white skin (the movie never said his skin was bleached, everyone just kept saying he used paint.  This was never confirmed or denied at any point, so who’s to say?  I’m falling in the “his skin was bleached” camp.)  He was funny, sure.  He was hilarious at times.  But this was not a Joker who would wear a flower pinned to his coat for the purpose of spraying acid.  This wasn’t a Joker who would orchestrate ludicrously complicated song and dance routines to break into while evading police and/or Batman.

The ideal Joker is dark and menacing, sure, but he’s also playful.  The Joker presented in The Dark Knight was dark through and through, and he only rarely chuckled mindlessly (he never cackled, either.  I want my Joker to cackle.)

Now, I want to reiterate: I loved this film.  I’ll probably see it again.  I went in expecting to be the harshest Joker critic imaginable, and in retrospect I’m still coming down pretty hard on this portrayal.  But even so!  This is a movie worth watching, a movie that every self-respecting Batfan needs to see.  If you liked the first one, then you should like this one as well.

Now the tough question for myself is whether I liked this more or less than Wall-E (which I should also review soon, despite it being so late after its release.)

Prince Caspian – Movie Review   2 comments

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

It had been in theaters for a good long while, and I’d started thinking that maybe, perhaps, this would be one of the big summer films that I would miss.  However, on the Sunday before Memorial Day I was lucky enough to get to the movie theater.  And boy was I glad.

Prep Thoughts

Some initial things need to be said.  I’ve been a fan of the Chronicles of Narnia books for most of my life as all seven were read to me by my mother (in addition, she also read the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit, the Riftwar Saga, and dozens of other big, thick books.  Quite the feat.  And don’t worry, she also read shorter things, like The Monster at the End of This Book.)  Whenever a movie is based on a book, there are some initial fears about what will be “ruined” and what will be done “right.”  The first movie in this series was enough to dissuade me of any notion that the studio would be tarnishing Lewis’ wonderful books, so going into it was easier than it normally is.

This movie seems to be all-but a guarantee that the movies will be following publication order rather than chronological order, and that’s good news for me.  I know some people prefer to think of “The Magician’s Nephew” as the first book (and that list of people included the author himself while he was alive), but for me The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (LWW for short) will always be the “first” of the series.  And I prefer it to The Magician’s Nephew anyway, so I was glad that they started with LWW.  Had they gone in chronological order, I think that we would’ve had The Horse and His Boy before Prince Caspian, and that’s just way too long to wait for a certain swashbuckling mouse to be introduced.

The Movie Itself

When a sequel is made, comparisons should be made.  The original movie did a good job of moving from exposition to the action pretty well (although, really, LWW continues its expositions almost through to the end, blending it nicely with the story.)  That isn’t quite the case here: a person who missed the first movie might find the call of the Children into Narnia a bit abrupt (and if they thought that was abrupt, I shudder to think of how they’ll see the third movie’s transition to the fantasy world from the “normal” one.)  Once the kids make it into Narnia, however, I would actually argue that this movie tells its story better than LWW.

The other challenge that this movie probably faced was in the villain.  The Telmarines are just normal people, though admittedly well trained and effective at what they do.  It’s harder to see the evil and power in a normal human than it is for us to see the evil and power of The White Witch or Minotaurs or Giants or the many other fantasy creatures who acted as the enemies in the first film.  I personally think that it was pulled off nicely.  The style of helmets worn by the Telmarines, their marching style, and the emphasis on the effectiveness of their war machines made them very distinctive, menacing, and almost mechanically ruthless.  I think the “almost” is important, however; it’s slowly becoming cliché to have humans relying on technology in an attempt to suppress fantasy creatures in modern stories (and fantasy creatures are becoming more and more adept at utilizing robots, ray guns, a high speed vehicles, being apparently much more advanced with their clockwork and steam-based tools than humans were ever capable of acheiving.)  The accents of the Telmarines were also very fitting.  While the books didn’t suggest much in the way of an accent, I thought it was an effective tool for indicating a clear difference between the Telmarines and the Narnians.  It occurs to me now that it might have been an attempt at a visual suggestion of the Spanish Inquisition.  While the methodology and reasoning fall short in such an analogy, the way that the Narnians felt about the Telmarines was probably not too far off in comparison.

One final note regarding this movie and the previous one: in the first movie, when the Peevensies received their weaponry they were clearly just children with weapons.  The first film didn’t try to magically make them adepts at combat, allowing them to be clumsy people who were only just learning the technique.  While people who didn’t watch LWW might find the skill of the children to be a little strange, I think their progress is a nice touch that would’ve been easy to miss (and frankly, it was necessary in this movie for them to be at least adequette warrios given Edmund’s sword fight near the start at the movie and Peter’s near the end.)

In summary, if you can still get to a theater before this leaves then you should do so.  It’s a fun fantasy flick, well-designed, and well executed.


Now that I’ve lavished the film with praise, it’s time to nitpick.

  • As mentioned before, the movie skimps on exposition at the beginning.  If I’d never read the books or seen the first movie, bringing the Peevensies to Narnia (and their carefree acceptance of the fact that they were back) could’ve been very confusing.  Not that I really have a suggestion that would’ve smoothly made it better, but it was a notable problem in the script’s structure in my opinion.
  • A song played as the children left Narnia at the films end, and it felt very out of place to me.  I may be chided for saying this (my sister and one of her/my friends are fans of the singer) but the song felt out of place.  I was comfortably lost in the world of the movie, but then a clearly modern song began and I was snapped back to reality, and it was a bummer for me.  Nothing against the song or the singer, they were both excellent, but I think they would’ve fit better under the credits (and speaking of credits…)

On a Personal Note…

As the movie ended and the train station of children (who were wearing scarves and uniforms very suggestive of Hogwarts according to my untrained, American eye) faded to the credits, a few surprising (nearly unprecedented) things happened.  You see, I’m one of those people.  I like to watch the credits at the end of movies, and even quietly applaud to myself when a movie ends.  At this movie, not only did nearly the entire audience stick around, but I also heard some other light applause!  (This applause happened once or twice during the movie as well, which I thought was cool.)  To find myself not alone at waiting around in the theater was…well, it rocked.  No other good way to put it.

And then the second unexpected thing happened.  The credits stopped.  They didn’t end, they stopped.  The people in the projection room decided to stop and rewind the movie!  While I was still watching!  While we were still watching!  It was a bit disheartening.

I considered sticking around and complaining but decided not to.  What I gathered from the grumblings of the other movie patrons as we shuffled from the theater into the bright afternoon sunshine was that the movies had been scheduled too closely together, so they needed to end the film early to allow it to start on time.

I can understand little mistakes like that from time to time, so I decided not to let it bug me too much . But still, the one time nearly the entire audience sticks around…meh.  I guess this is just one more reason why I need to buy the DVD when this excellent movie is released.