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David Poland

By David Poland poland@moviecitynews.com

Review-ish: Ghostbusters (2016, non-spoiler)

This is an unusual movie to review, at least for me. So apologies for the amount of self-reference.

I saw Ghostbusters (2016) one night in 3D and the next night in 2D.

The 3D experience, which was surprisingly engaging as a piece of artistic technology, showed every limitation of the narrative quite clearly. My central objection? Two central protagonists of the Mary Richards variety. That is to say, lovely and charming and sometimes funny, but not offering up big laughs themselves. And those two leads happen to be played by two of the best broad-comedy comedians of the current era. Both get a moment or two of schtick. Both are likable. But there is no sink crapping or brutal insult runs or high goofball coming from McCarthy and Wiig here.

If you think about the 1984 Ghostbusters, part of what worked so well is that all three of the central ‘busters had very specific character roles to play. Bill Murray was the clear lead as the who-gives-a-f*** Venkmann. There was a love story that drove the emotional layer and a strong, somewhat traditional actress to go with it. Aykroyd’d Ray Stantz was the unshakable true believer. Ramis’ Egon Spangler was the scientific cynic. (Ernie Hudson was the normal-person audience in the room, though not much of the film.)

None of those slots are filled in this Ghostbusters. McCarthy leans Stantz. Wiig leans Spangler. McKinnon is a new creation altogether, the mad techno-tist. And Jones is a bigger part of things than Hudson was, with more of an agenda.

So as I watched the 3D version – which is kind of brilliant in its use of a letterbox on the top and bottom of the screen that the movie leaks into at times – the visual experience was so rich and the talking scenes so pleasant, but not razor sharp, that the movie felt out of balance for me. I liked it, but I was also filling my mental list of flaws… as I do when I see a movie that doesn’t completely have me in its clutches.

What was also apparent from the first screening was that Feig and co-writer Katie Dippold and the cast of improv-trained actors were not trying to remake the 1984 movie. There were plenty of references and cameos. But they were on their own journey. This film is, I think, much scarier in terms of effects than the original. The pre-credits ghost reveal is much more intense than the little old lady in the library. There is a very ambitious bit about the ghosts recreating old Times Square. Much of the swagger element of the film is just not there, as any effort to slow the Ghostbusters has a very modern, self-aware twist. And the only real love story here is between the two lead characters, who are estranged friends at the beginning. But even that is subtle.

I immediately felt that if audiences gave it a chance, it would be a success, though not of the $700m worldwide variety.

The next night, I was scheduled to go back and see the 2D version with my 6-year-old. And honestly, had he decided not to go, I might have skipped it. And that would have been a really bad choice.

Seeing the film in 2D, the experience became a Paul Feig comedy and not so much of a visual spectacle. And that was good.

There was a web brouhaha about whether Ghostbusters is a sci-fi/horror genre film first and a comedy second or the other way around. Seeing the 2D version, I had no question about that issue. It is a comedy. And it is a very specific kind of comedy. I don’t know if I can really say that it has a female sensibility, but I am inclined to think that. Then again, it seems more Jacques Tati than Lucille Ball. Feig has a love of the small, complex physical bits and a willingness to use words to punctuate more than pronounce.

For me, the work of McCarthy and Wiig took on an element of the sublime watching them again. I still must admit that I wish they were a bit more specific in their roles. But the rhythm of the piece worked for me a lot more the second time around.

Unlike the male version, this Ghostbusters foursome is truly a foursome. I could have used a little more Groucho from McCarthy… a little more Stan Laurel from Wiig (or even a higher ceiling on her female gaze bit)…

But the showstopper is Kate McKinnon, who is clearly the Harpo of this film. She does speak. But her mind is ablaze in every single frame, to the point where you almost feel you can here the engine whizzing at top speed. She steals the movie, in no small part because her role – wild and unpredictable as it is – is so well defined. She is always 100% go as a character.

Likewise, Leslie Jones shows more range here than she has on SNL and her few other movie appearances. She seems – all 6′ 2″ of her – like a normal person with bouts of extremely strong personality. It’s hard to fully explain what I mean about this performance, but Ms. Jones presents larger than life… big woman, big voice, big personality. And yet, here, it is the first time I have seen her where I felt like I was seeing something more akin to who she must be when she turns it all off. She still brings that big personality. But I am always interested in range in rising actors and I was pleasantly surprised to see more than I expected.

And back to that center. I think part of my issue is that the two former friends don’t really seem angry at each other so much as steeped in their own issues and needs. So we as an audience are not terribly invested in their reunion or new bonding. The stakes are low.

And the stakes are low for the city. You don’t really feel like the end of the world is coming in this film. They do an elaborate montage of ghost troubles all over town, but somehow, the threat seems surface more than truly world-shaking. Plus, the villain is not good. I think Neil Casey is a funny performer. But he, like the teo leads, really demands a bigger character. Lots of ways you could have gone. Louis CK or Larry David would have been a sardonic choice. Patton Oswalt could have killed it. Michael Cera. Aubrey Plaza.

Also, there is not a lot of character transformation in this film. There is one scene where it feels like a character is making a big step up… and it’s not one of the two big stars.

But, all that said… I think most people will have a good time at this movie, assuming they allow themselves to watch the movie and not go in expecting a sequel. This is a very solid Paul Feig comedy.

And if you want to have a cool effects show, do go see the 3D, which although it was added on later, pushes the form in interesting directions. In fact, Feig says that there is an even bigger visual stunt that is only on the IMAX version. So maybe that is great fun too.

As Summer 2016 comedies go, I’d put it only behind The Nice Guys… which is a completely different experience on every level. Perhaps Ghostbusters won’t define your childhood. But I don’t think anyone on the team was after that. A good summer laugh at the movies? Absolutely.

16 Responses to “Review-ish: Ghostbusters (2016, non-spoiler)”

  1. Sideshow Bill says:

    Not to bog this down with this shit but am I wrong in thinking the “fanboy haters” or whatever should be blaming someone else that they didn’t get the Ghostbusters they think they deserve: Bill Murray? I’m not saying Bill was being a jerk or that he was wrong (he may have been very wise in steering clear). But everyone else commited. He didn’t. GB3 didn’t get made, to my eyes (and I may be wrong) because Bill wouldn’t do it. Yet none of these dunderheads dares to point this out. They blame Feig, et al, for making a different movie they were hired to make. Quality of said film notwithstanding.

    That said, solid review. Not sure if I’m gonna see this in theaters or not. But I’ll watch it at some point. The controversy kinda makes me hope it make $600 million, and I’ll buy 10 Blu Rays. It’s so stupid.

  2. Sideshow Bill says:

    I killed this board before it even had a chance. Sorry lol.

  3. leahnz says:

    Sideshow Bill i might be remembering this wrong but do you have kids say older than 10? i think ‘ghostbusters’ is PG-13 but if your child(s) is slightly sophisticated or jaded when it comes to mildly spooky stuff i think the ’13’ rating is pretty conservative and pre-teens would dig it, it’s a bit of a hoot
    (i want to go live with abby, holtzman, patty and erin and be their friend and do weird adventure-y ghost stuff with them, esp if i feel sad)

  4. Breedlove says:

    Hey DP, I didn’t see a specific “reviews” link like you used to have, so I typed “review-ish” in the search engine…is this really your first review in over a year? Mission Impossible the last one? Damn. I miss when you reviewed stuff regularly. You should try and knock one out once a month or so. Enjoyed reading this.

  5. Sideshow Bill says:

    You’re spot-on Leah. Flattered you’d remember. My girls are 17 and 13. The 13 y/o wants to see and I’ll probably take her. My personal take is it looks fun. I like all four of the ladies. I love the original GB a lot. I’d put it in my top 25 favorite movies. I’m just not a guy that gets upset about remakes/reboots. Some are good. Some are bad and I ignore them.

    My favorite film of all-time was remade by that mook Rob Zombie and turned into a garish shit-show. I survived that I can survive this.

    Although I must admit the Big Trouble In Little China remake with The Rock sounds wrong. Doomed. Like that awful Robocop thing. Ugh.

  6. leahnz says:

    “Although I must admit the Big Trouble In Little China remake with The Rock sounds wrong. Doomed. Like that awful Robocop thing. Ugh.”

    ?! i was not aware of this BTinLC news

    assume you’re referring to carpenter’s ‘halloween’ above? from a film-making standpoint that movie is revolutionary because of carpenter’s conceptual eye and cundy’s sublime use of panaglide — the subtle way the camera is used for the shots where ‘the shape’ stalks laurie (and her friends) is so insidious and compelling; what is initially presented to appear as michael’s POV subtly changes into a viewpoint from just behind/beside/over his shoulder etc, so close we can hear him breath, it’s as if the viewer is held intimate hostage by michael in his languid pursuit of his prey and we are dragged along right there with him, an intimate and helpless observer (probably the most obvious – and least ‘intimate’ – example of this is the shot where the shape is inside the car driving away from the school looking out, and it turns out we, as the camera, are in the back seat behind michael, brilliant. let me out of this car!)
    anyway sorry to blather on there, obviously i share your fandom for the OG carpenter. on the flip side there is nothing remarkable about the remake because there’s no conceptual design or hook using originality in film-making to tell the story in a compelling way, it’s just by-the-numbers dreck)

  7. leahnz says:

    forgot to say, a friend recommended i check out the ‘reviews’ (wink, wink) for GB on imdb – holy shit maybe the most hilarious display of a bunch of toddlers making a concerted effort to poop their pants while writing hate-bombs about a movie they clearly haven’t seen, it’s really quite a display, houston we have a problem)

  8. Sideshow Bill says:

    The controversy, Leah, is just stupid. I can’t describe it any better and I’ve read a lot about it. It all just strikes me as stupid. If they had gotten the GB3 they wanted and it sucked, would they have been any happier? Some of them would have.

    It’s just head-shakingly stupid and childish.

    And yes, I was referencing Carpenter’s Halloween. It’s my favorite film, flaws and all. I ADORE the flaws. It’s just a hair ahead of Jaws. My top 10 is rather infantile I must admit, aside from Boogie Nights.

  9. Pete B. says:

    The fact that Big Trouble in Little China is celebrating its 30 year anniversary makes me feel ancient. And yeah, I like The Rock, but I cringe at someone else being Jack Burton.

  10. leahnz says:

    all the best movies are ‘flawed’

    (because humans are flawed, and the flaws in great art show that when someone strives to create and push boundaries and innovate a stumble along the way is inevitably part of the creative process, it’s what happens when one really reaches and tries for something above and beyond as opposed to staying safe and risk-averse, which leads only to generic mediocrity)

  11. Fitz says:

    Lovely point, Leah.

  12. David Poland says:

    There have been other reviews since last summer, Breedlove. But not enough. Not really writing enough.

  13. leahnz says:

    tēnā koe fitz

    i guess from lack of discussion not many people have seen this movie yet (seen it twice now) but has there been any discussion specifically about how the trailers – particularly the early batch – were so bizarrely random re the clips chosen to stitch together, it’s as if someone intentionally chose the least amusing little bits of the movie here and there to stitch together, it’s hard not to wonder about some deliberate attempt to sabotage the marketing, which makes not a lick of sense of course, i don’t get it

  14. Hallick says:

    I’ll be damned, I think that’s the first Maori I’ve seen you use here, leah.

  15. leahnz says:

    really, ha (i tend to speak te reo more than write it i guess as part of my vernacular – words and expressions, i’m not at all fluent – but i’m working on a project with maori dialogue right now so i guess it’s in my brain)

    speaking of dialogue, “warning lights are for dudes!” holzman cracks me up. has there been a weirder, more unabashedly off-beat lead character in a mainstream flick since…i’m not sure when, maybe ever

  16. Greg says:

    Not a lot of “seen the movie” comments simIll jump in and say I saw it today in a surprisingly full matinee and the audience was laughing throughout. Surprised no mention of Hemsworth above because he killed it. I thought it was a very enjoyable comedy w a few weak spots.

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“I suddenly couldn’t say anything about some of the movies. They were just so terrible, and I’d already written about so many terrible movies. I love writing about movies when I can discover something in them – when I can get something out of them that I can share with people. The week I quit, I hadn’t planned on it. But I wrote up a couple of movies, and I read what I’d written, and it was just incredibly depressing. I thought, I’ve got nothing to share from this. One of them was of that movie with Woody Allen and Bette Midler, Scenes From a Mall. I couldn’t write another bad review of Bette Midler. I thought she was so brilliant, and when I saw her in that terrible production of ‘Gypsy’ on television, my heart sank. And I’d already panned her in Beaches. How can you go on panning people in picture after picture when you know they were great just a few years before? You have so much emotional investment in praising people that when you have to pan the same people a few years later, it tears your spirits apart.”
~ Pauline Kael On Quitting

“My father was a Jerome. My daughter’s middle name is Jerome. But my most vexing and vexed relationship with a Jerome was with Jerome Levitch, the subject of my first book under his stage and screen name, Jerry Lewis.

I have a lot of strong and complex feelings about the man, who passed away today in Las Vegas at age 91. Suffice to say he was a brilliant talent, an immense humanitarian, a difficult boss/interview, and a quixotic sort of genius, as often inspired as insipid, as often tender as caustic.

I wrote all about it in my 1996 book, “King of Comedy,” which is available on Kindle. With all due humility, it’s kinda definitive — the good and the bad — even though it’s two decades old. My favorite review, and one I begged St. Martin’s (unsuccessfully) to put on the paperback jacket, came from “Screw” magazine, which called it “A remarkably fair portrait of a great American asshole.”

Jerry and I met twice while I was working on the book and spoke/wrote to each other perhaps a dozen times. Like many of his relationships with the press and his partners/subordinates, it ended badly, with Jerry hollering profanities at me in the cabin of his yacht in San Diego. I wrote about it in the epilogue to my book, and over the years I’ve had the scene quoted back to me by Steve Martin, Harry Shearer, Paul Provenza and Penn Jillette. Tom Hanks once told me that he had a dinner with Paul Reiser and Martin Short at which Short spent the night imitating Jerry throwing me off the boat.

Jerry was a lot of things: father, husband, chum, businessman, philanthropist, artist, innovator, clown, tyrant. He was at various times in his life the highest-ever-paid performer on TV, in movies, and on Broadway. He raised BILLIONS for charity, invented filmmaking techniques, made perhaps a dozen classic comedies, turned in a terrific dramatic performance in Martin Scorsese’s “The King of Comedy,” and left the world altered and even enhanced with his time and his work in it.

That’s an estimable achievement and one worth pausing to commemorate.

#RIP to Le Roi du Crazy

~ Biographer Shawn Levy on Jerry Lewis on Facebook