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Posts Tagged ‘Ghostbusters’

Some movies acquire their own folklore as supposedly ‘cursed films’, beset by more than their fair share of accidents and problems. The most famous example is probably The Exorcist, doubtless because of its subject matter – one cast member died and various others suffered on-set accidents. Other films which infamously suffered production difficulties, up to and including injuries and deaths, include The Matrix Reloaded and (most recently) No Time to Die. (Though there’s a facetious case to be made that pretty much every big film over the last almost two years has cause to consider itself cursed.)

Slightly more abstractly, there’s an argument to be made that, for many years at least, the entire notion of doing a sequel to Ivan Reitman’s 1984 film Ghostbusters seemed to labour under some kind of baleful influence. The original film is terrific, let us be in no doubt on this point, but the direct sequel was notably poor, and the 2016 all-female reboot, whatever its merits or otherwise as a film, is likely to be best remembered for the incredibly toxic reception it received from some sections of the fanbase. Hostile early reviews for the latest attempt at a continuation, Jason (son of Ivan) Reitman’s Ghostbusters: Afterlife, suggested that a good Ghostbusters follow-up might simply not be possible.

Reitman the Younger’s movie opens with a bit of scene-setting spookiness out in America’s heartlands which is not, to be honest, a model of clarity when it comes to establishing exactly what’s going on, although anyone familiar with the 1984 film will be able to figure out some of the key details (how well versed you are in the original will probably have a direct bearing on how good a time you have with Afterlife). The obfuscation is mostly intentional, as a lot of the film is structured as a mystery anyway.

From here we are plunged into the lives of a struggling family whose only hope of getting out of their dire financial straits is the fact that mother Callie (Carrie Coon) has recently inherited a farm from her estranged father. Living there will entail relocating to Oklahoma, which does not fill the hearts of her children Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) and Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) with joy. (Phoebe is brilliant but socially awkward, while Trevor is in training to start work as a Timothee Chalamet impersonator.)

Nevertheless, off they all go to the sticks, to the small town of Summerville (one of the iron laws of cinema and TV is that whenever somewhere has a name incorporating the words Summer, Sunny, or Pleasant, it’s practically a guarantee that this is ironic and someone is in for a pretty grim time: see The Wicker Man, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Pleasantville, Point Pleasant, etc). It duly turns out that the house and other buildings on the farm are filled with spooky old junk, up to and including backpack cyclotron proton generators and an ancient hearse with a rather odd colour-scheme.

Summerville is also afflicted with regular earth tremors, despite being nowhere near a seismically active zone, a fact which puzzles local seismologist and useless summer school teacher Gary Grooberson (Paul Rudd) – his idea of occupying his students is to let them watch cheesy 1980s horror films (one of these is Cujo, which seemed to me to be an oblique acknowledgement of how much all the small-town Americana of the film is derived from Stephen King).

It transpires that the events of the 1984 film have become a cross between an urban legend and folklore, and Grooberson is savvy enough to recognise that some of the junk Phoebe and Trevor have discovered is equipment from the original Ghostbusters team. It transpires that their grandfather was indeed a Ghostbuster, and he relocated here, alienating his friends and family, because he believed the world still faced an even greater threat…

Some of the initial reviews of Ghostbusters: Afterlife were not afraid to put the boot in with what some might call excessive force: ‘a stinking corpse of a movie’ is one phrase which stuck in my memory. Well, fair enough: I can see why there are elements in this film which might alienate some viewers – the way its respect for the 1984 film sometimes seems to border on actual fetishization of it being perhaps the most obvious one. Props, costumes and throwaway gags are swooningly dwelt upon, and while it’s not unusual for the plot of a sequel to largely be a retread of the original, it is rare for this to happen quite as openly as happens here: there are most of the same monsters and villains, and some of the original sets and dialogue is revisited. If you’re the kind of person who feels that digitally resurrecting performers who have passed on breaches some kind of boundary of taste and decency, this is also a film which will give you pause.

I suppose you could also argue the film is chasing an audience in the way it apparently attempts to co-opt some of the style and atmosphere of the popular entertainment series Stranger Things (Finn Wolfhard apparently appears in this programme). My ability to comment on this is quite limited, as I am that person you may have heard of who has never seen Stranger Things (though from looking at its pop-cultural footprint I feel I have a pretty good idea of what it’s all about). Certainly the movie is less of a comedy than the original, and the emphasis is very much on the younger characters until the very end.

While it’s true the film gets off to a slow start and takes a while to find its groove (I was almost moved to hug Paul Rudd, figuratively speaking, when he eventually appeared – for he’s just a reliably entertaining screen presence), in the end I found it to be rather charming, occasionally very funny, and in a couple of places actually quite scary. The change of scene and introduction of the new group of younger leads, not to mention the way the film is structured, means it has a wholly different energy, atmosphere and tone to the 1984 film – although perhaps this is what makes the brazen recycling of plot elements more palatable. It certainly feels it’s working hard to establish itself as its own thing before it wheels on the ‘special appearances’ by most of the original cast.

In the end it’s the warmth and occasional poignancy of the film which really makes it work, and much of this is channelled through an extremely winning and impressive performance by Mckenna Grace. I was certainly filled by a rush of fondness for the original movie; Afterlife may fundamentally be fuelled by a mixture of sentimentality and nostalgia, but that can be a potent combination when it’s employed as effectively as it is here. It’s not in the same league as the original film, but a worthwhile addendum to it.

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Most producers of major Hollywood summer blockbusters would probably react with dismay, to put it mildly, upon learning that their movie was not going to get a release in one of the world’s biggest and most lucrative markets. For the people behind Paul Feig’s new version of Ghostbusters, however, I suspect China’s decision not to allow the film to show in their country will come as something of a relief: it will at least give people something else to talk about, for this is a project which has attracted a higher-than-usual level of chatter since it was announced.

Ghostbusters-2016

The film is set in present day New York. Kristen Wiig plays Erin Gilbert, a physicist who reluctantly finds herself drawn back to her one-time interest in parapsychology, and also her former friend Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy). A spate of ghost sightings across the city lead the duo to go into business with semi-unhinged engineer Holtzman (Kate McKinnon) and former metro worker Patty (Leslie Jones) as professional psychic investigators. But things seem to be quickly getting out of control, as someone seems intent on unleashing a supernatural disaster on the city. The citizens and government desperately need help, but (and I’m aware you’re probably ahead of me on this) who are they gonna call?

Yes, this is the All-Female Ghostbusters Remake which you may or may not have become aware of in recent months. If you’re going to talk about it with any degree of credibility, I suspect you are required not just to have an opinion on the film but also on its gender politics – I saw one internet comment, following the Chinese decision (apparently because the 1984 Ivan Reitman original never got shown in China there is no demand for it, but rumour suggests an arcane anti-superstition regulation in the censor’s code may also have played a part), along the lines of ‘Men, please take just two hours out of your life to watch this movie and show your support for women’ – which is not the sort of thing people usually say when recommending a Melissa McCarthy movie. It’s almost as if normal debate has been shut off and any suggestion that you don’t like this film means you are basically this century’s answer to Bobby Riggs.

This is just one of a spate of recent films, most of them remakes, which have been drawing flak for their diversity, or lack of it, while this remains a hot-button topic in many areas of popular culture. I must confess to being left bemused, at best, by a world in which the fact that a 15-year-old girl can be a character named Iron Man even makes sense, let alone gets acclaimed as a great progressive victory: attempts to retool long-standing characters with new genders, orientations, and even sometimes ethnicities strikes me as a rather cynical means of cashing in on existing name-recognition while disregarding the work of the original creators. The All-Female Ghostbusters Remake at least opts to include a completely new set of characters, rather than regendering the originals – but I still think it’s a little disingenuous of the film-makers to express surprise at all the attention their decision has drawn. Making a blockbuster VFX-heavy comedy with an ensemble female cast would be a bold move and perhaps a risky one, but not especially controversial – remaking such a well-known and indeed classic film in such an ostentatiously radical and arguably odd way was always going to get a strong response. (The film itself has a couple of somewhat through-clenched-teeth gags about internet trolls, which at least shows a good degree of self-awareness.)

One wonders if there is anything more to this decision than a cheery willingness to exploit the goodwill surrounding the 1984 film, not to mention its familiarity to audiences, because this is by any standards an extremely loose remake, not just in terms of plot and characters but also in style. Ghostbusters sort of hearkens back to the original horror-comedy films like Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein, in which there was a strict delineation between the two genres – the monsters are played straight and people really do get killed; the threat is taken seriously. The new film is much more broadly and consistently comic, with plenty of slapstick and jokes about orifices, much as you’d expect from this particular set of artistes. It is also more emotionally articulate and character-driven, with an essentially human antagonist rather than an unearthly pseudo-Lovecraftian menace. That said, it also works hard to keep fans of the original on-side: all the main stars who are still alive and active in the film business get cameos, and one of them even gets the last word before the closing credits – it is (spoiler alert) ‘flapjacks’.

Well, hie me down to my reinforced bunker as the Diversity Enforcement Squad head for my garret with flaming torches in hand, but I think I’ll be sticking with the 1984 film, which I saw on the big screen again not that long ago and still found to be tremendous entertainment. The All-Female Ghostbusters Remake is stuffed with un-engaging neon-hued CGI and has the same kind of deadpan, ironic, mock-bathetic sensibility as the other Paul Feig films I’ve seen, but I have to say neither of these things really draw me in any more, simply because after a while they both get a bit predictable. Wiig and McCarthy carry the film pretty well, but I suspect it’s Kate McKinnon who is going to get the best notices of the main quartet – she can probably look forward to becoming a dressing-up icon very soon, and, who knows, maybe another sort of icon too. There is also a somewhat revelatory performance from Chris Hemsworth as the new Ghostbusters’ epically dim receptionist, which I thought was one of the funniest things in the film (Hemsworth is cheerily objectified as an object of lust in a way that neither Sigourney Weaver nor Annie Potts were back in 1984 – just saying).

But in the end, as an even vaguely horror-themed film this just isn’t very spooky, and as a comedy there seemed to me to be quite long gaps between laughs. It just about functions and stays watchable as a fantasy-action movie, but then this is by far the least demanding of the three disciplines it attempts. It’ll be interesting, in the light of the Chinese decision, to see what kind of money this film makes, not least because it has clearly been set up as the start of a new franchise (Dan Aykroyd, who exec produces in addition to his cameo, has suggested a Marvel-style series of connected-but-separate series of films is in the offing, which to me sounds wildly optimistic, but we’ll see). I will be surprised if it does super well – not because I think audiences are sexist and reactionary, not because I think films with a mainly female ensemble cast are a bad idea, but simply because this isn’t a particularly accomplished film, for all that it retains one of the catchiest theme tunes in history. Not a comprehensive sliming of the classic original, by any means, but it still feels curiously lightweight and non-essential.

 

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