Friday, July 15, 2016


"Now I know how Batman feels."

People are already going to want to know: Jack (and I'll reply, 'yes, reader?'), what is *wrong* with the new Ghostbusters, as if there immediately has to be something wrong with something just because it carries the namesake of a beloved product from the 1980's (perhaps the mere fact that there's been an outcry over a remake is a sign that there is still some fire in the belly of people not beaten down by remakes, though more on that near the end of this review). But if I had a general response it's that, simply, generally speaking, the "Ghostbuster Paradigm" is off here. It's not the only issue with the movie - and there are good things I can say about it (and will) - and what I come away with most is that four main characters (you can also call it the "Ninja Turtles" paradigm or the "Avengers paradigm from the 2012 Marvel movie") are not too distinctive from one another.

Actually, that's not fully the case. Kristin Wiig and Melissa McCarthy are... well, Kristin Wiig and Melissa McCarthy, but that's the problem. Their characters do what the script tells them to, as do the actors (hey, it's their job, right), but personality wise you don't get those clear distinctions that were there in that original Ghostbusters; the wisecracking guy we can relate to with Venkman; the straight-arrow guy who's kind of the leader in Stantz; Egon being the scientist so he's super-sciency; and Winston as the, well, guy off the street who we maybe identify with the most as the outsider. There is an exception in Paul Feig and Kate Dippold's creation here which is with Kate McKinnon's Holtzmann. She's an actress who totally embraces this character as a full-blown sciency-quirk-nerdy piece of magnificence, someone who can be whip smart and have a quick retort, but who also *looks* distinctive (I suspect at conventions cosplayers will most go after her look), and she gets to be really silly in down-time moments, singing to herself like no one is looking (even if someone is) or doing a little dance as she fixes something. She's a cool, awesome update of the Egon, and McKinnon is consistent and funny in the role.

But Wiig and McCarthy? More hit or miss, and while the filmmakers try to make the two distinctive early on - Wiig as the college professor fired over a book she wrote with McCarthy's character years back (why it's only discovered now, who knows, whatever, movie), and the former trying to at first distance herself while the latter's more like "no, no, ghosts, ghosts, c'mon' - but once they face off against their first paranormal entity early in the film, the two characters are not really distinctive, both can have some wisecracks (maybe Wiig's *slightly* more dry, but more-so it's that awkward-stilted approach to line delivery that she's perfected over time) and yet there's no distinction between types... which leads me to Leslie Jones, who, I say, IS trying here, but is given a character that has the one dimension of "AAH! GHOSTS! Can I work with y'all", and that's about it.

Even Slimer's like, "I'm getting told for this shit"

Her performance goes from at best tolerable, goofy sidekick to being obnoxious (and most of those scenes, to be fair, are in the trailer, some are left for the movie to give us new scenes to see as tired screaming-black-lady types), and Jones is better than that. Ironically given the four ladies, Chris Hemsworth gets a good role as the "token male" (ho-ho) who also happens to be playing the dumb-blonde type. This diverts from the original movie, which is fine (actually the attraction part now shows the reversal, where before Jeanine hit on Egon to little result, now one or more of the ladies try to when they interview him, and he's so dumb it goes one ear out the other), and Hemsworth owns what is basically also a one-note joke. But he plays that note for all it's worth, and is definitely the highlight of a climax that is... messy.

I think that I can say that this remake (let's call it that, f*** a 'reboot') of Ghostbusters is not terrible. It's also not very good on the whole. It certainly can shine in little pockets. It can also be irksome when a scene goes on for far too long - like a scene with Andy Garcia as the mayor where the Ghostbusters are called frauds, sort of - and it becomes like a game of one-up(wo)man-ship, and it's painful to see the jokes die. A lot of lines and jokes died for me, which is a shame since the actors clearly have good comic timing and chemistry, and can deliver exposition with some aplomb. But along with the weak 'four-character paradigm' aspect, there's also the familiarity that gets crammed in like a fowl in foie gras: slimer shows up, the Stay-Puft Marshmallow man shows up (kinda, sorta, it happens) and even the *logo* becomes that "form of destruction" from the original.

For me it's not that it can't be be helped to associate this with the 1984 movie. I love that piece of work, but I can watch one thing and keep it at that. A major problem is that the movie won't let me, for the most part. At times it does try to make its own mark, like a 'villain' who is just some freak living in a hotel who wants to bring the "Ley Lines" to fruition (yeah, it's the plot, whatever), but it still calls back to the original over and over and over again. Just when it starts to cut its own path it goes back and says "remember the Ghost House? Remember the Ray Parker theme? Remember this and that and the other? Well, here it is again, anew!" And all in all it leaves one with an impression that this is all.... okay. Certainly Feig and the actors are trying. But it's burdened by the weight of its own franchise and not being able to just left go and cut a rug. Oh, and the improv, that's hit or miss too.

Lastly, there's the not-really-but-hey-internet elephant in the room of "Well, it's women now, so it's gonna suck" argument. What one comes away with is the people making these claims likely also were the same who said that Ben Affleck would be AWFUL as Batman. Get over it you small-penised losers. That's the absolute least of this movie's problems!

In other news, Chris Christie sucks because he's FAT!

Thursday, July 14, 2016


I imagine Nicolas Winding Refn (seriously, at this point he should shorten it to N.W. Refn and go full old-school auteur on us, Murnau style) has a lot of deep thoughts to put forward to his audiences. Sometimes they manifest out through stories and characters and images that coalesce in a succinct way (Drive), and other times not so much (Only God Forgives). But it's safe to say he's now in another universe than as the director who once did gritty hand-held street crime movies like the Pusher series, as he has a film that feels like a final thesis project in a Stanley Kubrick Masters class. And if I were a professor given the unlikely and dubious task of assigning students 'grades', Refn would get a B+. Or a B, I'm still not sure.

At any rate, I can call the man an artist because he listens to no one but his own intuition for a film such as The Neon Demon, which is mostly a drama (and in its way somewhat or maybe mostly too a horror film) about a seemingly ingenue-like 16 year old who comes to LA to gain traction as a model (Elle Fanning) and the perils she comes up against as she rises to stardom. Or... is it stardom? She says at one point to a male friend (not quite a boyfriend, I think) that she can't write or sing or do things creatively like that, but she's pretty and "I can get money for that." So she's out for the ego part, no question - how far she'll go is of course always the trouble in these stories.

If this kind of rise-and-fall scenario sounds familiar, well, it is. It's not uncommon to get the story of a young woman trying to find her way into fame and fortune only to have back-biting b***hes on a back because, well, they don't have "It". I think if Refn is out to use his gaze at anything, and it's a powerful one for much of the film, it's to look at the ugliness and despair and kind of scathing depravity just under the surface. Again, not necessarily the most original point either (I was reminded of the one bit from the movie Holy Motors, where the photographer is shouting one moment "Beauty! Beauty! Beauty" then turns his gaze at the freak and goes "Weird! Werid! Weird!")

There's many sequences in the film that are striking, if nothing else for how they're shot - ironically Refn, from what I've read and heard, is color-blind, so a magnanimous kudos to Natasha Braier and her team for the cinematography, tops for the year (like the kind that features lens flare that works, well, take note JJ Abrams) - like when Jessie, Fanning's supposed ingenue, is in front of the photog Jack (Desmond Harrington, remember him from Dexter, much better-creepier here, stone solid). It's her first time with him and he has her strip, to which he closes off the set and gets her slathered in gold. It's not done in some way like he's being a pervert or deviant, except in the way that maybe artists can get or are called out on (maybe Refn's own meta-commentary, in his way, a little, I think so), but it's really about how to make ART and be in control of a moment. When Jessie's asked how it went by Jena Malone's Ruby Jessie goes, "It was great."

Mmmm strawberry dna!
Does she mean it? Another scene, as if out of something like Under the Skin, is when Jessie first goes out onto a runway with the other models. She's by herself surrounded by darkness, and she no longer seems naive (whether that's a put on or not may be up for the audience to decide), but she has a real... moment, something that will be abstract as she sees a blinking triangle light in front of her and as the color red surrounds her face and the occasional flash bulb finds its way through the ether, and then other colors come through as well. It doesn't make logical sense, but it doesn't have to, and it's the most successful moment of some kind of transformation (or simply a self-fulfillment happening) in an emotional way. It's a slow-burn knockout of a sequence.

And yet I left the movie in an odd way not totally satisfied. The Neon Demon is shot and presented in a manner that says "see me on as big a screen with good sound for our kickin' 80's Cliff Martinez score, please", so if you do go see it in a theater. And one performance more than others, Jena Malone, feels complete and I wish in a way the movie was about her most of all (her character is a crucial component, as the real 'friend' as the non-model of the bunch of women). Despite all the movie has going for it, including a few amazing/terrifying/funny scenes with Keanu Reeves of all people, it's a very cold movie at its core, ugly, brutal, unrelenting in its outlook of, in brief, that women HATE women. Especially in a world where they're defined by how men (and, to be fair, other women as well to an extent) see them in clothes and their underwear or sometimes nothing at all.

so... existential, y'know?

I get that that's the point, but Refn stretches the ugliness to such a point near the end that it becomes silly, and not in a way that worked. Earlier on, the Kubrick comparison holds by being very icy and methodical in its camera-work - every pan, every push-in, every two-shot is slow-building and people talk in pauses and so on - but there's a satirical point to it as well, like we KNOW this isn't real, but that's the game to point that out. And then it... gets into real madness and its horror movie sense goes wild, to where I'm sure Refn knows he's f***ing with us, and yet Fanning's character gets the short shrift as a result. I hoped for more with Jessie here from how he's set up, and then after she changes (or does she, that's the interesting thing if she does or not) it soon devolves in the last 20 minutes into being straight-up provocation.

In other words, Neon Demon is a movie I loved and hated, and there's no easy response to recommend it. Refn and his collaborators once again bring out a Los Angeles that's got both the pretty (that wide vista overlooking the city from the cliff-top is there), the empty (those wide rooms showing the spaces that people have left open in their minds) and dirty (the motel area). It's someone putting up images and faces and moments that will shock us, or most of us, or some of us, but at least he's trying, and it's not a bore or misfire (cough, Only God Forgives, cough.