Thoughts on Film: All-Female “Ghostbusters” answers the call.

Who ya’ gonna call!

As far as remakes go, they’re only two camps a remake can fall in; they’re sloppy homages to the original with little originality or ones that try to rise to the occasion and bring a new generation into the fold yet fall a little short.

That being said the new “Ghostbusters” film, I’m happy to say, falls into the latter camp. It might not quite top the original in people’s hearts but it’s most dynamic change, an all-female team, is not a liability.

This re-boot of the beloved 80’s franchise keeps many of the tenants of the original in balance with a new look and attitude, that’s leaner, focused and even zanier than the original.

As the story goes, Dr. Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wigg) a professor approaching tenure at Columbia, thought she buried her ghost searching past and her book “Ghosts from our Past: Literally and Figuratively,” behind her. Only to be dragged back in by the book’s co-author and former best friend Dr. Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy), who now works at a junior college.

Despite herself, Erin encounters a ghost at an old mansion with Yates and her assistant, Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon). Their encounter is posted to YouTube as proof but both are fired from their position. Realizing if they had proof, people would actually take them seriously, the ladies decide to go into research on their own.

Added to the team is MTA transit worker, Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones), who had a separate paranormal encounter of her own while at work and Kevin (Chris Hemsworth), their handsome yet dim assistant.

As they experiment with new tactics of ghostbusting, thanks to Holtzmann’s insane cache of weapons, they deal with a mysterious occultist named Rowan (Neil Casey). Rowan is silently planning an apocalyptic new world order to make himself a god. They also deal with a reluctant city government trying to deny the existence of ghosts “Men in Black” style. And we thought the guys had it rough.

Kristen Wiig as Dr. Erin Burnett

The cast gels remarkably well with each of them contributing zingers almost every minute of dialogue. Even the sit down with the mayor, played by an equally charming yet stern Adam Garcia, provided some gags.

Wiig is surprisingly good at playing the straight person in the film and her character has a slowly evolving arc from frumpy professor to kick-ass ghostbuster. McCarthy, on the other, serves as cheerleader-in-chief, which doesn’t have much in the comedic department but she gets to be possessed by a ghosts which was crazy in it of itself but showcased her physical comedy.

Melissa McCarthy as Abby Yates and Lesile Jones as Patty Tolan

The can-do attitude of the women on the film is as constant as it is infectious for they battle not just the ghosts but the even the men who get in their way.

The film’s true breakout character however, lies with Holtzmann; who McKinnon gives an inspired performance for young women everywhere. The fact that she is quite possibly the first queer Ghostbuster adds a new dimension to her character. It might be easy to compare her to Egon but no she is her own woman and it’s no surprise that her character will be the one that future queer women will look upon her and have their sexual awakening.

Kate McKinnon as Jillian Holtzmann

[Sidebar: Dear Sony please give Holtzmann a girlfriend so queer women are better represented in film. It will make us, the movie going public, happy to see something new and say suck it to meninmists everywhere!]

The cameos, some worked well, like Bill Murrary’s which he played a debunker of the supernatural and Ernie Hudson playing Tolan’s uncle who loans them their car. Dan Akroyd’s cameo was perhaps the most New York thing in the movie which he plays a cabbie and Sigourney Weaver as Holtzmann’s mentor symbolized the official passing of the torch to the new generation. The best one however, goes to the late Harold Ramis who is a bust in the beginning of the film.

Chris Hemsworth as Kevin Beckham

Of course when I said try earlier in the post I meant that the reboot has a few missed opportunities. Compared to the original, the film saves much of ghost-busting towards the end of the film a missed opportunity of sorts, since the first film used a montage of them finding ghosts as a way to show their rising popularity.

Their choice of filming in places to fill in for New York, while important for expanding the Ghostbusters universe, also subtracts from the setting since New York has always been a major character in many films. The adventures from the first two Ghostbusters had that classic ‘only in New York’ quality which gave their plots a sense of time and place the current one sort of lacks.

Another missed opportunity, is perhaps the most obvious, the characterization of Patty. While Jones herself defended the decision of the working-class origins of her character it still would have been nice if she still could have been a scientist and still be well Patty.

I left the theater wishing more was done for her since she has definitely more screen time, compared to Hudson’s Winston Zeddemore, who by the way had the best lines in original.

The only redeeming quality is that Patty comes up with a few ideas that contribute to the team effort and is extremely protective of the team, particularly to well you guessed it Holtzmann.

Fieg is great as a comedic director but he is not an action director nor do I want him to be one. If there is to be a sequel, please let someone direct the action scene’s, it worked well for “West Side Story” and they had 11 Oscar nominations to prove it.

However, considering how much of the deck was stacked against them, this Ghostbusters rises to the occasion, reminds us that we all can be Ghostbusters and that films that are remakes can also break ground. But most importantly I just wanna have fun at the movies.

So, “Who ya gonna call???!”

Grade B

Ghostbuster is rated PG-13 Parents Strongly Cautioned. Light cussing, but inventive use of the middle finger, a theater manager who screams like a girl and ghosts in green, blue and Pilgrims?   

Advertisements

Thoughts on Movies: The Astronaut Vs. The Red Planet

Poster for the film the Martian, image courtesy of imdb.com 

The new film, “The Martian,” based on the book by Andy Weir, is a movie we didn’t know we needed this year.

A film that is part space western and part survival film, “Martian” is a blast to watch from start to finish with great characters, gorgeous scenery and a fine script.

Let’s get to the nitty gritty shall we.

The story starts when a group of astronauts of the Ares IV, led by Commander Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain) are conducting a mission on Mars, when a massive storm hits their base of operations. Forcing them to flee.

While fleeing, a member of the team, Mark Watney (Matt Damon), is separated from the group and with no way of either finding him in the storm, Lewis orders the rest of the group, Beck (Sabastian Stan), Johanssen (Kate Mara), Martinez (Michael Peña), and Vogel (Aksel Hennie) onto the rocket to return to Earth.

All of them believe Watney to be dead.

Surprise! He’s not.

Watney wakes up after the storm and realizes he is alone on Mars with only a few weeks of food supplies and some equipment to keep him alive but not much. Knowing it will be four years until the next mission, Ares V, arrives on Mars, he has to survive at least that long in order to escape the Red Planet.

Using his training as a botanist, Watney begins to find inventive ways to grow food and simple know-how to get in contact with NASA so that they can find a way to rescue him.

His activities on Mars gain the attention of Mindy Park (Mackenzie Davis) and Vincent Kapoor (Chiwetel Ejofor) back at NASA, with its director Teddy Sanders (Jeff Daniels) leading the charge. Also at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California are a group of scientists tasked with figuring out how to get him back.

With the full resources of NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory trying to save one man. It’s the most nerds you’ve seen on a television or movie screen, “The Big Bang Theory,” notwithstanding.

One of the best traits of the film is that Scott keeps the film simple and grounded so we can root for the characters as they take on the film’s main villain, which is time. Time is always appearing to be running out for both Watney on Mars and those on Earth as they have to mount numerous obstacles; Watney for one has to stay alive long enough to get rescued and those on Earth have to find ways to get him to that point despite being 33.9 million miles away!

Despite this Scott keep things optimistic, something that was adapted from the book himself. Watney doesn’t even blame his team for leaving him. Instead he focuses on staying alive which keeps him from feeling isolated. He knows that he or they will find a way, all he has to do is be alive if they show up.

Everyone brings their A-game to this film, from Daniels stern yet cautions Sanders, to Kristen Wigg’s portrayal of Annie Montrose, the Director of Media Relations at NASA was also fun to watch. She managed to capture exactly what Montrose’s personality was in the books. Other aspects such as Watney’s sense of humor, hatred of disco and the white-knuckled scheme for Watney to re-join his crew was faithfully grafted onto the screen.

While we can’t shoot on Mars, the desert of the Middle Eastern country of Jordan provides the sweeping backdrop of what the red planet is like. Its splendid isolation is heavily contrasted by the frenetic pace of life on Earth.

Just looking at Mars almost makes you want to sign up for the space program, just to get away from it all. Yet, I was reminded throughout the film of five simple words uttered from a girl from Kansas.

“There’s no place like home.”