Tuesday, July 26, 2016

It Came From The Cineplex: Ghostbusters (2016)

Ghostbusers 2016 was written Katie Dippold and Paul Feig. It was directed by Paul Feig.

Dippold previously wrote for both MadTV and Parks And Recreation. She also wrote the script for The Heat (which also starred Melissa McCarthy).

Feig is a prolific actor, writer and director. 
He created and wrote several episodes of Freaks And Geeks, which is one of my all-time favorite TV shows. He also wrote the screenplay for Spy, another Melissa McCarthy vehicle. 


He's directed episodes of many top notch TV series, including Freaks And Geeks, Undeclared, Arrested Development, Mad Men, 30 Rock, The Office and Parks And Recreation. On the theatrical side, he directed Unaccompanied Minors (!), Bridesmaids, The Heat and Spy. I'm not sure why, but I like his TV work much more than his films. It feels like his work is becoming increasingly insufferable as time goes by.

I've been a big fan of the original Ghostbusters ever since I saw it in the theater back in 1984 (Ghostbusters 2, not so much). This new film is a tepid, ill-advised remake that adds little or nothing to the franchise. Worst of all it's just not funny, failing to capture the wit and dry humor of the original. I think I laughed maybe twice during the entire film. There's just no excuse for making an unfunny Ghostbusters movie.

Good, bad or ugly, I'm just glad this goddamned movie is finally out so I never have to hear about it ever again.

From the second it was first announced, the film has been extremely divisive, mainly due to the all female cast. For months and months before the movie premiered, the internet was filled with terabytes of harsh, angry comments regarding the four leads, as fans of the original Ghostbusters claimed the presence of four women in the film would destroy the beloved franchise. When the first trailer premiered, it actually became the all-time most hated video on YouTube (by people who keep track of such things).

Like many fans, I wasn't looking forward to this new version either. I have no problem with the gender of the cast. Really, I don't! The problem is I just don't find any of them the least bit funny. I honestly don't get Kristen Wiig, as I've yet to see her do or say anything even mildly humorous. I think Melissa McCarthy is extremely grating, and Kate McKimmon's appeal alludes me as well. Leslie Jones seems to have one loud, unfunny character that she plays over and over. Please believe me when I say I don't have anything against female comedians per se. There are plenty of male comedians I can't stand as well (I'm lookin' at you, T.J. Miller!). It's just that these four do absolutely nothing for me.

Your mileage may vary here of course. If you think any or all of these comedians are funny, then you'll likely find the film hilarious. If not...

Naturally, anyone who expressed a dislike for any of these women was immediately labeled as sexist and anti-feminist. Because in the politically correct hellscape that passes for our current society, you're no longer allowed to dislike anything. Doing so will cause you to immediately be branded a "hater." God forbid I should watch a trailer and decide for myself that it just doesn't look funny.

Paul Feig smarmily insists that he didn't deliberately cast four females as part of any agenda, saying he simply cast the funniest people he knows. 
That's a bald-faced lie. As proof, there's a very ugly anti-male undercurrent in this film. Every male in the film is either an idiot or evil. 

Additionally, the four female leads feels like a perfect example of "stunt casting" to me. Any time you put the word "All" in front of your cast, it's a stunt. "All female," "All black," "All child," "All washed-up 1980s action stars"— those are all examples of stunt casting. 

Feig vehemently defended his cast, saying it's high time we had a sci-fi film with strong female leads. Because of course that's never been done before (Ellen Ripley)! No, we've never had a genre movie with a kickass heroine (Sara Connor) who doesn't need a man to save her (Vasquez). Nope, never happened in the history of cinema (Lara Croft), so of course such a thing is long overdue (Alice from the Resident Evil movies). Yep, Feig was right to finally right this (Imperator Furiosa) grievous wrong. 

I'm also not a fan of the Feig's patented brand of improv humor. There are very few actually scripted jokes in the film, as most of the humor feels ad-libbed and improvised. It's painfully obvious that Feig just turned on the camera and told the cast to start riffing away and "be funny." A perfect example of that is when the Kevin character talks about his dog, who's  named "Mike Hat (get it— My Cat?)." I absolutely guarantee that line wasn't in the original script and Chris Hemsworth came up with it on the spot. Feh. I like my humor scripted, thanks.

I really wish this film had been a sequel rather than a remake. 
I'd have been much more receptive to it if they'd taken that route. Why not have the original characters make a brief appearance and "pass the torch" to the new folks, and hand over their proton packs to them? Answer: Because then the female Ghostbusters would have got their technology from MEN instead of developing them by themselves, and that is something that cannot not be allowed.

Starting over from scratch, pretending the original doesn't exist and believing they could improve upon it is a misfire in my opinion. It's a slap in the face to fans of the franchise, and leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Oddly enough Dan Aykroyd is an executive producer on the film, while original director Ivan Reitman is listed as a producer. Apparently they were both OK with the idea of a remake rather than a sequel, which is puzzling to me.

They do bring the old cast back for a series of cringe-worthy cameos, but it felt like pandering to me, rather than reverence. Plus every time one of the original actors appears, the plot grinds to a halt. They end up becoming a distraction rather than a tribute.

Bill Murray in particular looks like he couldn't possibly care less and would rather be anywhere else than in this film. He can't even be bothered to stand during his scenes, as he immediately heads for the nearest chair and sits down.

Plus, seeing Bill Murray in this particular film only served to infuriate me. For decades, Dan Aykroyd begged and pleaded with him to reprise his role as Peter Venkman for a third Ghostbusters film. Infuriatingly, Murray continually dragged his feet, refusing to ever commit to the project, which delayed it year after year.

Then after the untimely death of actor Harold Ramis, when it's too late to get the entire gang back together again, Murray finally commits to the project, and deigns to film a cameo appearance in a Ghostbusters remake, as a completely new character. What the hell? He wouldn't come back for a sequel, but he'll come back for a sub-par remake? F*ck you, Bill Murray!

I wish they'd have just jettisoned the cameos and the callbacks and gone in an entirely new direction, rather than rehashing the same old plot. We've already had two Ghostbusters movies in which a giant creature menaces New York City at the end, and now there's a third. Wouldn't this have been the perfect opportunity to do something different with the franchise? You can't keep doing this same plot every time guys. It's way past time for something new.

For a film that wants to be judged on its own merits and prove that women can do anything men can do (only better), it can't go five minutes without dredging up a reference or callback to the original. They even bring back Slimer, the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man, the Ecto-1 and the firehouse headquarters, for Zuul's sake! Even the plot is virtually identical. They even use the same theme song! Everything's been duplicated but the humor.

I have a feeling that after the dust settles, for all the hoopla, this new film will become largely forgotten and the original Ghostbusters will continue to be as popular as it ever was, if not more so. People worried that when the Total Recall remake came out, it would either supplant the original in popularity or taint its legacy. That didn't happen. The remake was so poorly received that it was soon forgotten. The same with the Robocop remake. Both were blips on the public's radar for a few brief moments, and then they disappeared, never to be heard about or spoken of again. I'm betting that's what'll happen with Ghostbusters 2016.


SPOILERS FOR A REMAKE OF A THIRTY TWO YEAR OLD MOVIE!

The Plot:
The film opens in the Aldridge Mansion, a famous haunted house in New York City. A tour guide rattles off the history of the building, including the fact that Gertrude Aldridge, daughter of the Mansion's builder, went insane and was kept locked in the basement by her father. The tour group doesn't notice a glowing, high tech device hidden under a dresser. Later as the tour guide closes up shop, he hears strange sounds coming from the basement. He checks and sees green slime bubbling up through the floor, as the ghost of Gertrude Adridge appears (credit where credit's due: this was actually somewhat scary, and not a bad way to update the library scene from the original).

At Columbia University, Dr. Erin Gilbert (played by Kristen Wiig) is doing her best to become a tenured physics professor, shamelessly kissing up to stuffy dean Harold Filmore (very briefly played by Game Of Thrones' Charles Dance). She's horrified when she discovers the book she co-wrote with her former friend Abby Yates (played by Melissa McCarthy)— all about the paranormal— has resurfaced on Amazon (product placement!).

Erin fears the book will scotch her chances of getting tenure. She goes to the technical college where Abby works with her new partner Jillian Holtzmann (played by Kate McKinnon), a brilliant and eccentric engineer. After an argument, Abby says she'll pull the book if Erin will investigate the Aldridge Mansion haunting with her. Erin reluctantly agrees.

The three visit the Mansion. As Holtzmann films the interior, the ghost of Gertrude Aldridge appears. Erin tries to talk to the ghost, but it spews ectoplasmic slime all over her and disappears. Erin enthusiastically proclaims ghosts are real on the tape, which goes viral. Dean Filmore sees the tape online and fires Erin, saying her belief in the supernatural gives the university a bad name.

After the incident, Abby and Holtzmann demand more research money from their college. Their Dean admits he didn't know their department even existed, and fires them on the spot. The three now jobless women decide to open their own paranormal research facility.

Meanwhile, Patty Tolan (played by Leslie Jones) is a bored MTA worker who's also an expert on the history of New York. She meets a weird man named Rowan, who tells her about a "fourth cataclysm" that's coming soon. She spots Rowan enter a dangerous subway tunnel and chases after him. Inside the tunnel she sees him plant a device like the one in the Aldridge Mansion. The device begins sparking and conjures up a ghost in the tunnel. Patty flees in terror.


Erin, Abby and Holtzmann set up their Department Of Metaphysical Examination above a Chinese restaurant (because they can't afford the rent on the traditional Ghostbusters firehouse). They hire a hunky male receptionist named Kevin (played by Chris Hemsworth) and spend the rest of the movie making derogatory remarks about his low intelligence while ogling him. It's funny because it's women doing it!

Patty shows up at their lab and tells them about the subway ghost. Curious, the women follow her to the tunnel. They see the ghost again, and Erin attempts to capture it with one of Holtzmann's cobbled together proton packs. It fails, and the ghost escapes on a passing train. This new video also goes viral, and the internet dubs the women "Ghostbusters." Patty inexplicably quits her job and joins the team, since she knows the city's history and can borrow her uncle's hearse so they can haul their equipment around more easily. Annnnd now they have their own version of the Ecto-1.

Holtzmann improves and streamlines the proton packs, and comes up with a few other devices as well, including proton pistols, a ghost disintegrating grenade, and a proton glove. She also invents a containment unit to hold the ghosts once captured.

Meanwhile, Rowan plants another of his ghost-attracting devices at a heavy metal concert. The Ghostbusters investigate and find a large, dragon-like (?) ghost there. They capture the ghost, and the crowd thinks it's all part of the show. Later the Ghostbusters are taken to a secret meeting with the Mayor of New York. He says he's thankful for their help, but fears a citywide panic if the public found out that ghosts and the supernatural are real. He tells them to continue their work, but says that in order to maintain the peace, publicly he'll have to label them frauds.

Back at the lab, the Ghostbusters notice a pattern in all the ghostly occurrences. They're all happening along the city's "ley lines," which are supernatural alignments of mystical energy. The lines all intersect at the Mercado Hotel. When they investigate, they find Rowan has a secret lair in the basement. He's built a large engine there which he plans to use to open a portal to the other side and release ghosts into our world. Abby tries to talk him out of his plan, but when he hears the police coming, he electrocutes himself.

Later Erin reads through Rowan's notes, and discovers he deliberately killed himself to become a ghost, so he can start up the Fourth Cataclysm and lead an army of ghosts to scour the world.

In the lab, Abby is possessed by Rowan's spirit and starts destroying their equipment. Patty slaps Rowan out of Abby, and his spirit then inhabits the empty-headed Kevin. Rowan/Kevin returns to his lair and starts up the machine again, which opens a huge cliched portal over the city. Thousands of ghost flow through the portal and flood Boston, er, I mean New York (three guesses where the movie was actually filmed).

Abby, Holtzmann and Patty head out to start busting ghosts. They encounter a small, blobular green ghost, who for absolutely no reason at all turns out to be Slimer. He steals the Ecto-1 and goes joyriding in it. Patty starts to shoot at the car, but Holtzmann stops her, saying the equipment on top is basically an unstable nuclear bomb. I smell a plot point coming on...

The three are then attacked by giant, haunted (I guess?) Thanksgiving Day Parade character balloons, including one that looks like the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man. Sigh… He dives onto them, flattening them against the ground. Erin shows up and pops the Marshmallow Man balloon with her Swiss Army knife.

The Ghostbusters then fight their way through the army of ghosts, back to the hotel. There they see that Rowan/Kevin has possessed the army and police force, freezing them in place. Rowan says he's bored with Kevin (?) and exits his body. He then takes on a new form— that of the happy-looking spirit in the Ghostbusters logo (oy). He then grows to gigantic size, just like a Power Rangers monster, and begins rampaging through the city, which is something we've never seen before (that was, I say that was sarcasm, son).

Just then Slimer roars by in the Ecto-1, and Holtzmann gets the bright idea to drive it into the portal and detonate the nukes on it, which will hopefully reverse the polarity of the neutron flow or something. They fire their proton packs at Slimer to herd the car into the portal and then shoot the nukes atop it. Sure enough, the plan works, and the ghosts all over the city are sucked back into the portal.

Unfortunately the gigantic Rowan is holding onto a couple of buildings to prevent himself from being pulled in. The girls shoot him in the crotch, forcing him to let go. Nope, nothing anti-male about this film at all!

Just then Rowan grabs ahold of Abby, and the two are sucked into the portal. Thinking fast, Erin ties a rope around her waist and dives in. Inside the swirling, supernatural vortex, Erin catches up to Rowan. She shoots his hand, causing him to let go of Abby. Erin grabs onto Abby, as Rowan falls into the endless void.

Patty and Holtzmann pull Erin and Abby out of the portal seconds before it closes forever. As a result of their trip to the other side, Erin and Abby's hair has turned completely white.

Later, the Mayor continues to deny the existence of ghosts, saying the whole incident was a mass hallucination or something. However, he secretly funds the Ghostbusters, offering them anything they want to continue their work and safeguard the city against further supernatural threats. They upgrade their headquarters to the fire house.

In the after credits scene, the team is in the lab while Patty's listening to an EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomenon) tape. She hears something odd on the tape, and asks "What's Zuul?" Groan!

Thoughts:

• As I mentioned earlier, for a movie that's allegedly all about gender and equality, it's surprisingly misandristic. Every male character is either evil, extremely stupid, socially awkward or grossly incompetent. 

As proof of this you need look no further than the Kevin character. He's a huge slab of beef who's so dim he doesn't even understand how glass works. The Ghostbusters hire him solely for his hunky good looks, then spend the rest of the film making fun of his low intelligence as they shamelessly ogle him. In fact they do everything but grind their privates against him. Their actions come dangerously close to sexual harassment (if not crossing the line completely).

Imagine how this little subplot would have gone over if the genders had been reversed. Apparently belittling and harassing women is verboten, but it's OK to do the same with males.

Compare this to Janine Melnitz, the receptionist in the original Ghostbusters. Janine was a strong female character who was attractive but also intelligent and competent. The male characters respected her and treated her as an equal.

This attitude even extends to background characters. In the lab, Abby and Holtzmann watch a supernatural reality show called "Ghost Bros," featuring a group of overenthusiastic frat boys who "give paranormal investigation a bad name.

• The internet at large seems to be in love with Kate McKimmon's Holtzmann character. "She's a national treasure!" and "Every second she's onscreen is gold!" are just a few of the many gushing comments I read.

I thought McKimmon was extremely annoying and grating, as she spends the entire movie shamelessly mugging at the camera. McKimmon needs a director who can reign her in and force her to tone it down a notch or twelve. Obviously Feig isn't that director, as he must have thought every second she was onscreen was pure magic.

• I assume Holtzmann's look is a shoutout to the animated version of Egon from The Real Ghostbusters cartoon. She's got the same glasses and poofed-up pompadour as her animated counterpart.

• When the first trailer appeared, I was appalled by Leslie Jones, who seemed to be playing the same "Loud, Angry Black Woman" character she plays in every episode of Saturday Night Live.

I was very surprised to find out that's not the case in the actual film. In fact she was the least annoying of the four main characters, and my favorite thing about the movie. She was the only one who seemed to be an actual person, rather than a character (or caricature, in some cases). Yes, she did have a couple of loud moments, but they were few and far between.

Whoever edited that horrible trailer needs to be fired, pronto.


• As I said earlier, I remember laughing exactly twice during the film. Once was at the beginning, when the Tour Guide describes the Aldridge Mansion by saying, "At the time of its construction, it was one of the most elegant homes in existence featuring every luxury including a face bidet and an anti-Irish security fence." See, now that's a funny joke. Not because it's anti-Irish, but because it perfectly sums up the prejudices of the 1800s.

The other time I laughed was when Jonathan the theater manager (played by Michael McDonald) uttered his high-pitched shriek. That's it, folks. That's all I got.

On the flip side, there were more unfunny lines than I could possibly list here. Oddly enough, most of them were uttered by Kate McKimmon's Holtzmann character. Here's a sampling of her lines that thudded to the ground like sacks of sour laundry:

Holtzmann: "Booyah! Emphasis on the boo!" That's… that's not a joke.

Holtzmann (as she's caught eating Pringles at an inappropriate moment): "Just try saying no to these salty parabolas!"


Holtzmann (after pranking Erin by playing a "hilarious" fart sound on a tape): "Is it more or less disgusting if I tell you it came out the front?" Yes, folks, Ghostbusters 2016 just made a quiff joke.

Erin (after returning from the void): }What year is it?"
Holtzmann: "It's 2040. Our president is a plant!" 
Again, that is not a joke.

Holtzmann: "You just got Holtzmanned, baby!" Somehow I doubt people will be quoting that one like they do "Dogs and cats, living together…"


• Product placement ahoy! When the girls are in the haunted mansion and meet their first ghost, Holtzmann starts snacking on Pringles for absolutely no reason other than because they paid Sony a sh*tload of money for product placement. The scene gives the word "blatant" new meaning.


To be fair, the original Ghostbusters had its fair share of obvious and obnoxious product placement as well. Cheez-Its, Coca-Cola, Perrier, Lay’s, Fritos, Hostess Twinkies, Wise potato chips, USA Today and even Budweiser beer were all featured prominently in the original film, so… I guess I can't complain too loudly about this aspect.

• As I said above, for months before the film's premiere, the internet was positively awash with negative comments about the gender of the four leads. Amazingly the movie actually references all the internet hate! 

Holtzmann posts their encounter with the ghost of Gertrude Aldridge online, and it immediately goes viral. Abby reads a few of the comments on the video, one of which is, "Ain't no bitches gonna hunt no ghosts!"

I'm assuming that comment was thrown in to undermine all the haters, but… when an aspect of your film generates this much controversy, it's probably not a good idea to call undue attention to it.

• Abby, Erin and Holtzmann are all fired from their college positions, which leads to their decision to form the Ghostbusters. 

I'm struggling to understand why Patty would quit her job with the city just to hook up with them though. Sure, her mass transit job probably isn't very exciting, but it's more secure and stable than ghost busting, and no doubt has better benefits.

• At one point Erin proclaims that "books can't fly and neither can babies." Both happened respectively in the original Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters II.

• I liked most of the new Ghostbusting equipment, like the proton grenades, proton pistols and proton glove. They were well thought out and seemed like a logical extension of the technology from the original film.

One piece of equipment I didn't care for though was the new PKE meter. The old one (on the left above) looked like a real piece of technology that performed an actual function. The new one, with its dumb looking, lighted whirling blades, looks for all the word like a kid's toy. Like something you'd find at Spencer's Gifts, before they turned into a porn shop. Maybe its ridiculousness is part of the joke?

• In all, there are five cameos by members of the original Ghostbusters cast. Six, if you count the late Harold Ramis. Slimer and the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man also make cameo appearances. 

Unfortunately, none of the human characters reprise their original roles, instead appearing as distracting new characters that stop the plot cold whenever they appear. Cue sad trombone. 

Bill Murray plays spiritual debunker Martin Heiss. He's quite the asshole, much like the real Bill Murray. His character is killed when he demands to see one of the Ghostbusters trapped spirits. When they let it out, it knocks him out the window and he falls to his death. Note that this is all played for comedic effect. Oh, my sides!

Note: According to the novelization of the film, Heiss doesn't die from his fall, and the incident causes him to reverse his negative opinion of the Ghostbusters. Sorry, but I shouldn't have to do homework to find out what happens to a character. Movie novelizations don't count. As far as I'm concerned he's dead. 

Dan Aykroyd plays a cab driver who exclaims,
"I don't go to Chinatown, I don't drive wackos, and I ain't afraid of no ghosts!" Oy.

Ernie Hudson appears as Patty's uncle, who loans her the hearse that becomes the new Ecto-1. 

Annie Potts plays a disgruntled hotel clerk, uttering some of the same lines she did in the original film.

Siogourney Weaver appears as Rebecca Gorin, Holtzmann's equally deranged mentor. 

Harold Ramis makes a posthumous appearance. Well, sort of. When Dean Filmore exits Erin's office, there's a gold bust of a man wearing glasses in the hallway. That bust is supposed to be Harold Ramis, aka Egon Spengler. Hear that high pitched, whining noise? That's Ramis spinning rapidly in his grave after finding out his image was used in this cinematic turd.

Actor Rick Moranis (who played Louis Tully in the original film) was approached to make a cameo appearance, but told the producers to get lost. Good for him.

• When Rowan is possessing Kevin's body, he takes control of the entire army and police force, making them freeze in place. He even makes them participate in an elaborate dance number, if you stay for the end credits.

So... if he has such power over humans, why doesn't he use it against any of the Ghostbusters? Why not order them to shoot one another with their proton packs and be rid of them?


• I was going to mention that the idea of the Ghostbusters logo coming to life and stomping on the city was the stupidest thing I'd ever seen. Then I realized it's no stupider than the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man doing the same thing. So I'll give 'em this one.

Still, the Stay-Puft Man was actually funny. Somehow the logo is not.

• At the end of the film, Rowan opens a portal to the other side, which for some reason transforms Times Square into an older version. The entire area becomes a hodgepodge of previous eras, as I spotted ads from the 1930s through the 1970s.

So… are these ghosts of buildings and billboards? Did Rowan send the entire block back in time? I'm confused here...

• At the end of the film, the Mayor of New York claims the whole Rowan incident was a "mass hallucination" that never happened. 

The Ghostbusters then look out over the city, and see the public has arranged the lights in various buildings to spell out messages thanking them.

So which is it? Do the citizens know the Ghostbusters saved them or not? You can't have it both ways, movie.

• In the post credits scene, the Ghostbusters are working in their lab. Patty listens to a recording of alleged ghostly voices captured on tape, looks puzzled and says
, " I heard something really weird. What's 'Zuul'??"

Obviously they're setting up the big bad for a potential sequel here. I should point out though that in the original film, Zuul, aka The Gatekeeper, was just a minion of Gozer, who was the real threat. It's possible they're aware of this and are paving the way for Gozer, but who knows? C'mon guys, if you're going to strip mine the mythology, at least get the names right.


Ghostbusters 2016 is a tepid, ill-advised remake that adds little or nothing to the franchise. Worst of all it's just plain not funny, failing to capture the wit and dry humor of the original. I advise giving it a miss— I took one for the team and saw it so you don't have to. I give it a C.

Daddy Issues Continued

Last week at the San Diego Comic Con, Marvel Studios released a ton of new info about their slate of upcoming movies.

Writer/Director James Gunn hosted a panel on Guardians Of The Galaxy 2, and at long last revealed that Kurt Russell will be playing the father of Star-Lord, aka Peter Quill. Awesome!

Russell's an inspired choice, as I could easily see him being father to Chris Pratt's character. Both have the same charismatic screen presence and cocky charm, and they even look a bit alike. In fact Pratt is sort of like the Kurt Russell of the new millennium.

On an odd note, Gunn stated that the character Russell's playing is Ego, The Living Planet. I honestly can't tell if Gunn is serious here or not.

In the comics, Ego is just what he sounds like— a gigantic, sentient planet that's alive. Kind of wondering how a planet can impregnate a woman, but I guess that's something we'll find out in the movie. Maybe Ego can possess random humanoids when he's feeling frisky?

I still think Ben Browder would have been a good choice for Peter Quill's father, especially since Farscape and Guardians Of The Galaxy are basically the exact same story.

Browder's John Crichton was a smart-alecky space pilot who constantly had to talk his way out of trouble. That pretty much exactly describes Pratt's Peter Quill character. In fact Pratt seemed to be channelling Browder's performance in Guardians


I knew this would never happen though. As much as I like Browder, he's just not a recognizable movie star, so his chances of being cast were slim to none. I'm happy with the Kurt Russell choice.

In other Guardians news, Michael Rooker, aka Yondu, released this photo of himself with his crew of Ravagers.

Looks like Yondu's finally getting his head fin! Woohoo!

That was one of my few complaints about Guardians Of The Galaxy. In the comics, Yondu is a blue alien with a large red fin on his head. For some reason, the movie version didn't have a fin. Instead he had what appeared to be a pale red soap dish glued to the top of his noggin.

I didn't get it. The movie already had a talking raccoon and a walking tree in it, but a guy with a fin on his head was a deal breaker? 

Glad to see Marvel Studios, stinging from the harsh words on my blog, has finally rectified this grievous error. 

DVD Doppelgängers: Intruders, House Of Afflictions, Restoration And Cabin In The Woods

I was looking around in my local video store a few days ago (yes, video stores still exist, and yes, I still occasionally browse them), and saw this DVD of Intruders. Hmm… I've never heard of this movie, but something about that cover seems familiar. I've seen that "stark, black & white crumbling house with something unsavory going on beneath" motif somewhere before… but where?

Was it House Of Afflictions? It's got the black and white and red all over color scheme. The crumbling house is there as well, along with the terrifying thing beneath. But no, I don't think this was it. I've never seen this cover before either.

How about Restoration, a film by Zack Ward, aka Scut Farkus of A Christmas Story? Black, white and red palette? Check! Old house? Check! Scary thing below? Check!

No, not this one. It fulfills all the requirements, but once again, I've never seen it before.

Ah, there it is! Joss Whedon's The Cabin In The Woods! In addition to deconstructing the "Haunted Cabin" movie genre and turning it on its ear, it was also apparently very influential in the world of cover design. Everyone and their dog is aping this cover, hoping that some of Cabin's cache rubs off on their subpar direct to video dreck.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Neverending Story

This week Lionsgate Studios announced that after the less than stellar box office performance of Divergent 3: Part 1, er, I mean The Divergent Series: Allegiant, the final chapter of the series will now be a TV movie instead of a theatrical film.

The first Divergent movie was a modest hit that grossed around $150 million. Sensing a lucrative franchise, Lionsgate then revealed they'd be splitting the third film in the series into two parts, in a blatant attempt to rake in more box office earnings in order to "do the story justice and give it room to breathe." The Harry Potter, Twilight and Hunger Games franchises pulled this same "split finale" crap, with great success.

Unfortunately for the studio, Allegiant turned out to be a huge flop, grossing just $66 million against its whopping $110 million dollar budget. I have no idea where all that money went, but it definitely wasn't up on the screen.

It's easy to see why Allegiant flopped. Unlike other Young Adult films, the Divergent series just doesn't have any stakes. In The Hunger Games films, teens are forced to hunt and kill one another to survive. In Divergent, teens are forced to pick one of five Factions in which to live and work. Seriously. That's it. The thing they're all fighting against is mandatory job placement. The horror. The horror...

Additionally, The Divergent Series can't even be bothered to stick with its own premise. The main concept of The Hunger Games— that of televised killing— was prevalent (to a degree) in every film. The "Forced Factions" premise of Divergent is dropped after the first movie, as the story quickly devolves into a muddled, plotless mess. It was also a huge waste of actress Maggie Q.

And then Lionsgate wonders why these films aren't box office smashes.

The final chapter of the series, The Divergent Series: Ascendant, was scheduled to hit theaters in June 2017. According to studio insiders, Lionsgate has scrapped that notion, and now plans to wrap up the series on the small screen with a much cheaper, scaled-down TV movie. The film will then segue into a TV series, starring a new cast of characters (which I guarantee will never come to pass).

At this point, the studio isn't sure if the cast of Allegiant will return for the TV movie or not.


All I have to say about the situation is "Good!" Serves the studio right for gouging the audience. Greedy bastards. They never should have split the final film in half in the first place. There was barely enough material in the last book for one movie, let alone two. You could practically feel the padding!

The whole sorry affair just pisses me off. I've already devoted six hours of my life to watching these cinematic turds, and now I probably won't get to see the finale and find out how the story ends because they'll likely air on either HBO or Showtime. Frustrating!

Ah well. I can barely remember what happened in any of the movies anyway, so.. who cares? 

Let's hope this incident puts an end to the "split finale" phenomenon once and for all.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

It Came From The Cineplex: The Purge: Election Year

The Purge: Election Year was written and directed by James DeMonaco.

Demonaco previously wrote Jack (the one in which Robin Williams plays a ten year old with an accelerated aging disease), The Negotiators, Assault On Precinct 13 (the 2005 remake) and Skinwalkers. He wrote and directed both The Purge and The Purge: Anarchy. The Purge: Election Year
 is the third film in The Purge franchise.


I absolutely hated the first movie (giving it a D+!), as it seemed like a made for Siffy movie that was somehow released to theaters by mistake. It had an intriguing premise that was completely wasted on a bland and claustrophobic home invasion tale. I wanted to see what the Purge was like all across the country, not watch bunch of morons hide inside their house for ninety minutes.

Fortunately the second film was a vast improvement (which I will admit is damning it with faint praise). No longer were we stuck in a single location with uninteresting characters, as we finally got to venture out on the streets during the annual Purge.


The Purge: Election Year is more of the same. It's about the same level as the previous film, and features a very similar plot (trying to get off the streets and find refuge during the annual Purge).

The film has a gritty, urban feel to it, and feels very much like the type of low budget action movies Cannon put out in the 1980s and 1990s.

It also feels more than a little like John Carpenter's Escape From New York, as Leo Barnes tries to protect a presidential candidate in the middle of a dangerous, lawless city. I'm betting writer/director James DeMonaco is a big fan of Carpenter. 

There's some interesting world building here, including "Purge Tourism," in which people from other countries travel to America for The Purge for the express purpose of committing consequence-free murder. I have a feeling that's something that would actually happen if The Purge was real.

That said, we're now three movies into this series, and DeMonaco still hasn't explained all the intricacies of The Purge. I still have many questions about how the whole thing works. We're told that all crime is legal for twelve hours.The films of course always focus on murder, but what about other, lesser crimes? What if you robbed a bank during The Purge? Would you get to keep the money free and clear, or would you be arrested for possession of stolen property the minute it ended?

As in the previous films, the politics here are overly simplistic and naive— a government-sanctioned culling of the poor so the rich won't have to support them. It's all about one step above your drunken uncle saying he could fix the economy by printing more money. I'm still not quite sure if this is DeMonaco's attempt at satire or black humor, or if he truly believes it.

I fully expected this film to feature broad, over-the-top analogues of both Hillary and Trump. Alas, it did not. Talk about a missed opportunity!

The end of the film wraps up the trilogy and seemingly puts an end to the franchise— for now.

SPOILERS!


The Plot:

We open on Purge Night in 2022, as the Roan family is held captive and tortured by a sadistic Purger. He tells them he's going to kill all of them but one, and forces the mother to decide which family member will survive. 

Flash forward to 2040. Charlie Roan (played by Elizabeth Mitchell) was apparently the one chosen to survive her family's slaughter. Roan is now a Senator, and is running for President. If elected, she promises to end The Purge, which she believes exists only to eliminate the poor and homeless.

Roan is running against Minister Edwidge Owens, a member of the New Founding Fathers of America. The NFFA are naturally big fans of The Purge, and see Roan as a threat to the status quo. They suspend the government ban against attacking elected officials in order to eliminate Roan on the upcoming Purge Night.

Meanwhile, Laney Rucker, and EMT, visits the deli of Joe Dixon (played by Mykelti Williamson, aka Bubba of Forest Gump fame). Joe and his assistant Marcos catches a pair of crazed teenaged girls shoplifting. Joe throws them out of the store, causing them to vow revenge against him. To make things worse, Joe's insurance company unexpectedly jacks up his Purge premiums to the point where he can no longer afford them. With no insurance, he decides to spend Purge Night guarding the store. 

Roan's head of security is Leo Barnes (played by Frank Grillo), who was the ostensible star of the previous film. He tries to get her to spend Purge Night in a protected bunker, but she insists on staying in her home to prove she's "one of the people." Barnes takes elaborate measures to lock down Roan's home and protect her.

The annual Purge begins. Laney and her partner Dawn roam the city in their EMT van, offering medical care and protection to the wounded. Surprisingly, they're left alone by the majority of Purgers. 


True to their word, the crazy teens come back to attack the deli, but Joe and Marcos are able to drive them off, wounding one of them. 

Things go OK for Roan, until one of her guards betrays her and disables the security system, allowing a Neo Nazi armed force, led by Earl Danziger, to enter her house and attack. Barnes manages to get Roan out of the house, but is shot in the shoulder. He detonates a bomb he hid in the house, killing several of the enemy soldiers.

Barnes and Roan dash through the streets, trying to find a safe place to wait out the Purge. They're captured by Russian Murder Tourists, who've flown to America to murder without consequence. Luckily Joe and Marcos appear and shoot the tourists. Everyone then hides out inside Joe's deli. The crazy teens return with reinforcements, but Laney runs them over with her EMT van (!). She then takes Barnes, Roan, Joe and Marcus to a safe house.

After a perilous ride through the city, Laney takes them to an underground hideout full of anti-Purge rebels, led by Dante Bishop. The rebels plan to assassinate Owens to ensure Roan wins the election and ends The Purge. Roan tries to talk them out of this plan, fearing Owens' death would make him a martyr. 

They're forced to flee the hideout as another death squad arrives. In the confusion, Roan is captured. She's taken to an NFFA midnight mass, where Owens plans to kill her in front of a church full of pro-Purge supporters.

Barnes, Joe, Marcos, Laney and Bishop launch a rescue mission. They infiltrate the NFFA church through an old tunnel system (there's always a tunnel system). Warrens, the leader of the NFFA, starts to slit Roan's throat with a ritual knife. Marcos kills him, saving Roan's life. The church erupts into chaos, as many NFFA members are killed. Bishop captures Owens and starts to kill him, but Roan talks him out of it. Bishop tells Roan that she'd better win.

Just then Danzinger and the neo Nazis attack, and Bishop is killed. Barnes and Danzinger battle one another to the death. After a brutal fight, Barnes gets the upper hand and kills Danziger. As Roan is being led to safety, Joe is fatally wounded. He tells Marco he's been like a son to him (sniff!) and leaves him the deli.

Two months after The Purge (in May?), Roan wins the election by a landslide. Barnes stays by her side as her chief of security. Marcos and Laney remodel the deli, and run it in Joe's memory.

Thoughts:
• I don't have a lot to say about this film, so this'll be brief.


Look closely, kids, and you'll spot a film credit you don't see very often: "Filmed on location in Woonsocket, Rhode Island."

• If you've not seen the second film, it's likely you'd have no earthly idea who Leo Barnes is supposed to be or why he's in the movie. He's given absolutely zero introduction, simply appearing onscreen with no explanation or fanfare.

• Does the presidency work differently in 2040? Senator Roan promises that if elected, her first official act will be to eliminate The Purge. That's not how it works— the President can't just make a sweeping, fundamental change on a whim like that. That's why we have the Senate, to prevent such things.

• This is some hardcore nitpicking, but what the heck. At one point Joe mentions that politicians have been screwing over "the little people" for 200 years. I assume he means that the government has been crooked ever since it was founded in 1776. He's probably being general here and 200 is a nice round number, but this movie takes place in 2040. That's some pretty poor math on Joe's part.


• In the first film, a homeless man named Dwayne (played by Edwin Hodge) is out on the streets during the annual Purge, and given refuge by the Sandin family. Dwayne pops up again in the second film, as part of an anti-Purge resistance. 

In this new film Dwayne has apparently changed his name to Dante Bishop (or is he supposed to be a new character?) and is now the leader of the Resistance. He's the only character to appear in all three films. He dies in this one, so unless he comes back as his twin brother in the fourth, there'll be no more Dwayne to connect the films.

• If you're a member of the Crips, you'll be glad to hear you've got job security. According to this film the gang will still be around in 2040.

• Like most films today, this one features a series of character posters spotlighting several of the more memorable Purgers in the film.

The character posters, while completely unnecessary, are all pretty well done. They're definitely better than this teaser poster! Every time I see it, it conjures up the image of a supermodel vomiting after binging on a hoagie.

• Why is the presidential election being held in May? I thought it was always in November. Is this another thing that's changed in the future? Or did the events of The Purge cause the government to hold a special election?


• As the film ends, President-elect Roan is true to her word, and abolishes the annual Purge. This would seem to put an end to the franchise once and for all. 

If you're a fan of the movies, I wouldn't worry too much about it. If the box office numbers are good, rest assured they'll find a way to undo the events of this film and The Purge: Impeachment will hit theaters in a year or two.

In fact as the film fades to black, where here a radio report that pro-Purge supporters have taken to the street in protest, all but guaranteeing there'll be a fourth film.

They could also go the prequel route as well, showing us the very first Purge.

The Purge: Election Year feels like a throwback to the low budget action movies of the 1980s, which is a good thing. It continues the world building set forth in the second film, and while it feels like a dark comedy, it doesn't go quite far enough with the satire. Quality-wise, it's about on par with the second film. I give it a B-.

Be He Ever So Humble

Sorry for yet another Trump/Pence (Trumpence?) post so soon. But merciful heaven, they just keep providing an embarrassment of ripe material.

Over the weekend, Trump and his human G.I. Joe action figure Mike Pence were interviewed by Leslie Stahl on CBS' 60 Minutes. The interview was pretty much the train wreck you'd expect, and was as fascinating as it was terrifying. 

Addressing Trump, Leslie Stahl said, "You're not known to be a humble man." Trump replied with, "I think I am actually humble. I think I'm much more humble than you would understand."

Let that statement sink in for a few minutes.

I'm pretty sure there was a Star Trek episode in which Spock said something like that to an android to make its head explode.

Beach Blanket Star Wars!

Last week Disney released the official poster for their upcoming Rogue One: A Star Wars Story film. Brace yourselves, because it's a doozy.

Wow. This may be one of the worst examples of movie poster art I've ever seen. Hard to believe it comes from Disney, a hundred billion dollar media conglomerate (emphasis on the glom).

If you told me this was a piece of fan art created by a mediocre student just learning to use Photoshop, I'd place my hand against my chin as if stroking an invisible goatee, nod knowingly and say, "I have absolutely no problem believing that statement."

Rarely have I seen such a poor design. It looks for all the world like the artist had a month to design the poster, goofed off until the day it was due and cobbled it together on his laptop on the way to his meeting with Disney. It gives new meaning to the word "slapdash."

Despite the fact that the Death Star is looming large over the horizon, this does not feel like a Star Wars poster to me. Where's the epic scope? Where's the classic space opera feel? Most glaring of all, where are the iconic character portraits illustrating the heroes and villains of the film? 

I get that this film is a side story that features all new characters, so Disney might be wanting to distance it from the main Star Wars saga. If so, they went way too far in the opposite direction. Instead of an epic space adventure, this poster tells me the climax of the film apparently involves a beachside volleyball game between the Empire and the Rebels.

This is a textbook example of how not to create a movie poster. The colors are pale and lifeless, the figures are so small they're hard to see, and the layout is nonexistent. Worst of all, the figures in the foreground, which I assume are the main characters, are showing their backs as they run away from the viewer. That's a huge no-no in poster design!

My favorite little detail in the poster— the palm tree on the left side that's cloned, flopped and placed on the right side. If there was ever a doubt that this monstrosity was hurriedly pieced together in Photoshop, that little detail settles the argument. They might as well have typed "MADE WITH ADOBE PHOTOSHOP" across the top of the poster in 200 point text.

I'm assuming the massive size of the Death Star in the poster is supposed to be symbolic rather than literal. It pretty much has to be! OK, this movie's all about the construction of the original Death Star that we first saw in A New Hope. A quick check around the interwebs tells me that the Death Star was about 75 miles across. The Earth is about 8,000 miles across (give or take). See the illustration above for an idea of those two scales.

So how close would the Death Star have to be to that planet to look that big in the sky? Even if this Beach Planet is substantially smaller than Earth, the Death Star would still almost have to be touching the surface to loom that large.

Where's Drew Struzan when you need him?
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