REVIEW: Ghostbusters

12 07 2016

While watching Paul Feig’s take on “Ghostbusters” (splitting hairs over remake vs. reboot just doesn’t feel worth it), I often felt like I needed to keep a tally chart. In one column, the header would read “one for progress;” the other, “one for fan service.”

One for progress: women are scientific masterminds and ingenious problem solvers. Chris Hemsworth’s secretary Kevin fills the traditional role of the dumb blonde objectified by the protagonists (with aplomb, I might add). The human villain is a socially isolated white male with a bone to pick. Welcome to 2016.

One for fan service: these newfangled characters are locked into hitting most of the same plot beats as the original film. Better than today’s hackneyed franchise origin stories, I suppose. Welcome back to 1984.

One for progress: acknowledging the differences between 1984 and 2016. With the rise of the Internet, computer graphics and the larger conspiracy culture, the Ghostbusters and the paranormal apparitions they hunt would be all too easily laughed off today. Feig and co-writer Katie Dippold reimagine the team successfully in a world that is more incredulous than ever – yet also more terrified of the random and the unexplained.

One for fan service: just giving us the ghosts we already know anyways. Feig brings back all the most familiar ghosts from the Marshmallow Man to the green slime monster. The latter even gets a female companion. Neither the characters nor the effects used to bring them to life feel particularly new, exciting or terrifying. I cannot put myself in the shows of a 1984 moviegoer, but this 2016 viewer saw a whole lot of bright blue light beams that look a whole lot like the ones in basically every other action movie these days.

Quick break from the rhetorical device, in case you’re getting tired … One for I don’t know who: fart jokes and a lame “your mama” line. Really? Did they throw those in the mix just in case the “Ghostbusters” bros who made the film’s trailer the most disliked in YouTube history actually decided to show up?

Now back to your regularly scheduled programming!

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REVIEW: The Boss

6 04 2016

Picture this: a highly successful businessperson, who augments the public’s perception of their wealth by doubling as a skilled entertainer, needs to bounce back after suffering some public humiliation.

This person enters a field knowing little about the profession but finds a way to prosper by exploiting complacency, deriding rivals with unwarranted personal attacks and even inciting violence.

The captain of industry boasts about cruel implementation of shrewd business tactics and remains unfazed when compared to totalitarian rulers.

(Oh, and this individual’s distinctively styled hair never gets dented.)

Did I just describe Donald Trump or Michelle Darnell, the lead character of the new film “The Boss” played by Melissa McCarthy?

The two larger-than-life figures share quite a few similarities, though McCarthy (along with co-writers Ben Falcone and Steve Mallory) could not possibly have known that her burlesqued portrayal of a corporate mogul would hit the marketplace at the same time as an equal ludicrous figure marched towards the nomination of a major political party. Literally, production ended on “The Boss” two weeks before Trump made the infamous escalator announcement. The ill-fated timing of its release makes it play like an inverse of “Zootopia,” this year’s most fortuitous arrival.

The odd parallel here and there between the fictional and the absurd business tycoon is not necessarily bothersome. And, in the interest of fairness, Donald Trump did not spend five months in jail for insider trading like Michelle Darnell. But a line feels crossed when she declares, “We’re participating in the American Dream!”

Out of context, this might seem harmless. However, Darnell utters it right before an all-out brawl takes place between her group of entrepreneurial thugs and the Girl Scout-like troop from which they disaffiliated. How can one find humor in the perversion of the American Dream on screen when a demagogue is ushering in a national nightmare in reality? Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dicator” showed that comedy had a definite place in a time of bullying leaders, though it ought to contain some confrontational element if it is to be anything more than a diversion. “The Boss” comes across as oblivious in regards to the implications of its dull satire.

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REVIEW: Spy

6 06 2015

Prior to “Spy,” Melissa McCarthy was one lumbering burlesque of a physical performance away from entering Adam Sandler or Will Ferrell territory.  This land, beyond typecasting, is a dump of sneering self-parody churned out at breakneck speed.  After breakout success in “Bridesmaids,” roles in “Identity Thief” and “Tammy” reduced her to little more than a one-dimensional punchline (not to mention a bit of a punching bag as well).

Thankfully, maestro Paul Feig arrives with Susan Cooper, a part that provides a well-timed reminder of McCarthy’s remarkable comic agility and versatility.  As an unlikely secret agent tracking down a rogue nuclear weapon on the black market, Susan often has to shift gears into new – and often unflattering – identities on the fly.  While playing a character who goes from shy and sheepish to brash and outspoken within a matter of minutes, McCarthy never appears anything less than completely confident.

Unfortunately, Feig’s script for “Spy” reserves all the surprises and range for its star.  In his past collaborations with Melissa McCarthy, Feig worked with screenplays from other comediennes: Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo (“Bridesmaids”) as well as Katie Dippold (“The Heat“).  When tasked with creating the humor he has to orchestrate, Feig falls into rather predictable patterns that often feel one-note.

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REVIEW: St. Vincent

19 11 2014

St. VincentAs Bill Murray’s zany candor becomes the ultimate cult of personality, it seems that plenty of people are completely entertained by just watching him be – whether in character or in real life.  “St. Vincent” thus assumes the position of a holy text in Murray’s civil religion. Writer/director Theodore Melfi essentially gives Murray an entire film where he can just exemplify his effortlessly authentic mix of odd and cool.

It really does not even matter that the mechanics of his performance are quite rusty, as most egregiously evinced by his seriously spotty Brooklyn accent.  As the harmlessly grouchy titular character, he gets the chance to spout plenty of memorable maxims (or Bill Murrayisms, as they are often called).  “St. Vincent” provides an hour and a half to spend basking in his wisdom for those not lucky enough to run into him at a hotel.

Murray does not just show up, though; he adjusts his acting style as necessary in order to mesh with Melfi’s sentimental but nonetheless winning story.  “St. Vincent” operates from a big, sympathetic heart that it wears on its sleeve.  Melfi could have done without so many mellow music montages to convey that emotion, however, since it comes so naturally from the actors.

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REVIEW: Tammy

12 07 2014

With their collaboration on “Tammy,” writer/star Melissa McCarthy and writer/director Ben Falcone construct what may very well be the cinematic equivalent of Sarah Palin’s infamous “bridge to nowhere.”  It’s a film about a road trip to nowhere that gets everyone involved in its making nowhere.

Coming off an Oscar nomination and three box office hits, it’s a shame McCarthy spent what was likely carte blanche with the studios on a project that offers nothing new for her talents.  Even though she was so heavily involved with the film’s creation, “Tammy” offers little humor other than jokes at the expense of her character’s weight or lacking mental capacity.  It’s almost as if she wants the two characteristics to be linked, which baffles me.

Was the point is to prove that McCarthy can play the woman-child archetype as well as, say, Vince Vaughn can play the man-child?  Or that a character like McCarthy’s Tammy can pull in a romantic conquest in spite of her figure and eccentric personality?  I could maybe see “Tammy” sounding like a great feminist victory in its premise, yet in execution, the movie is every bit as bumbling as its titular character.  If McCarthy really wanted to do something radical, she should have made a film where her figure was never addressed at all.

Over the course of 96 minutes (that feel much longer), Falcone and McCarthy give us a whole lot of time on the road with Tammy and her grandmother Pearl, an alcoholic played by Susan Sarandon.  Tammy and Pearl don’t quite have any grand purpose to be road tripping in the first place other than … well, something had to give “Tammy” a plot!

The quite-literal journey in the story is the perfect opportunity to explore a similar progression in the protagonist, but they can never quite figure out what virtues or values Tammy is going to discover.  The film toys with the idea of her gaining self-appreciation while also contemplating a familial love angle, never taking the time to fully develop one or the other.  It ultimately slaps on an ending favoring a rediscovered bond between its two female leads, and the conclusion feels rather unearned.

That’s not to say that McCarthy did not earn the opportunity to make “Tammy,” though.  The fact that this is film she chose to make from that position, however, is likely to remain a question mark for the rest of her career.  C-1halfstars





REVIEW: The Heat

21 07 2013

I won’t deny that I laughed a hefty amount in “The Heat.”  It’s definitely a far cry from Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy’s respective greatest comedic hits, “Miss Congeniality” and “Bridesmaids.”  But it’s still a rollickingly funny romp, effectively harnessing the slightly awkward uptightness of Bullock and the bizarre outrageousness of McCarthy into a laugh machine.

It’s not the most efficient machine, however.  “The Heat” never takes a moment to slow down the pace of the humor, operating at full capacity for nearly two hours.  As a result, there are quite a few jokes that fall flat.  But over the course of a fairly bloated runtime, director Paul Feig and writer Kate Dippold more than make up for these missed opportunities.

The film’s Achilles heel is Dippold’s script, which just isn’t as good as the film’s humor.  It’s more of a through line than a story, connecting the dots between the jokes.  “The Heat” is predictable and formulaic, more or less writing Gracie Hart and wacky bridesmaid Megan into a standard police investigation film.

Sadly, two years after Paul Feig’s own “Bridesmaids” lit the world on fire and promised a more prominent future for female-headlined film, “The Heat” is the only studio film of summer 2013 to feature a female leading character.  And sadly, Dippold blows the chance to make the ultimate feminist statement with some cursory scenes addressing gender struggles in the typically masculine work of law enforcement.  The fact that two women were in a buddy cop flick and no one seemed to bat an eyelid is a pretty telling statement in and of itself.  B-2stars





REVIEW: The Hangover Part III

17 06 2013

Two summers ago, I expressed my frustration with the inertia of the “Hangover” franchise in my review for the carbon-copy sequel.  I wrote, “‘The Hangover Part II‘ is like breathing in airplane air.  Recycled, stale, but better than not having air to breathe at all.  In essence, it gives you exactly what you expected – and nothing more.”  Had I known yet another follow-up was in the pipelines, I would have begged the question, “Is it too much to ask for something different?”

In which case, I would never have been so unhappy to have a movie give me exactly what I asked of it.  “The Hangover Part III” is definitely not the same as its predecessors.  But lest we forget, change is not always good.  In this case, it’s just kind of depressing to see how fast and hard a comedic sensation can fall.  The series’ legacy will now likely be one of a studio that took a truly original concept, hackneyed it to the point of annoyance, and then besmirched its name entirely.

In fact, it’s hard to call “The Hangover Part III” much a comedy at all.  Sure, there’s the occasional clever quip, but the writers’ new plot structure forays the series into a new genre entirely.  It’s essentially a chase film, an action-thriller that squeezes out a laugh every once in a while.

The so-called “comedy” of this installment is lazy and, quite frankly, offensive.  The nuance of the original “Hangover” is long gone, replaced here by cheap gags that are above the most immature of middle schoolers.  All “The Hangover Part III” has to offer is homophobic humor, offering up gays as objects to be ridiculed.

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