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Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Review: Ghostbusters

It's been quiet around here lately, I know – but the reason can be found in the first few paragraphs of my last post. My state of mind got worse before it got better, but it did get better, and I'll continue with my Musketeers reviewing as soon as my Polytechnic assignment is sorted.
But until then, I want to have a quick word about Ghostbusters. Yes, I saw it. Is it a perfect movie? No. Is it as good as the original? No. Is it a fun, entertaining movie on its own terms? YES.

I tried to steer clear of the controversy surrounding the casting of four women into the roles of Ghostbusters, finding it both depressing and sad, but I can't help but be glad that the film has done well with critics (73% on Rotten Tomatoes) and at the box office, all but assuring a sequel. Knowing what I do about some of what was flung at these actresses, it counts as a victory for women-led films, the Ghostbusters franchise, and – you know – general sanity that the movie was warmly received.
It was with a growing sense of relief that I watched the movie, for not only was it much better than that terrible first trailer suggested, but one of the characters turned out to be way less stereotypical than first appeared. The most obvious racial issue people had with the casting was that the three white ghostbusters were scientists, while the sole black member... well, wasn't.
Such was also the case with the four male ghostbusters in 1984, but I definitely think Leslie Jones got a better deal than Ernie Hudson. She's introduced much earlier, and she's more integral to the plot. The trailers have her say: "I know New York," implying a streetwise attitude – but in context, she means she literally knows New York. She's a municipal historian, whose knowledge of New York history provides important intel for the team.
She gets involved not for research purposes, but because she's genuinely concerned about people's lives being threatened by the ghostly menace, and because she's confident she can add something to the team – and she does: not just her historical knowledge, but a car, outside-the-box ideas, and physical strength (she fights off a possessed Abby while preventing Holtzman from falling out a window).
I'd love to say more, but I think I'll save it for August's Woman of the Month entry.
***
For those who haven't seen it yet, the basic plot is that Erin Gilbert's university position is threatened after a book she published years ago with her old friend Abby Yates resurfaces on Amazon.com. She goes to confront Abby in the basement laboratory where she works with the quirky Jillian Holtzman to prove the existence of ghosts.
Erin is soon caught up in their enthusiasm, as is Patty Tolan, a subway worker who witnesses a ghost in one of the tunnels and is eager to help solve the mystery behind its appearance. And so the women form a ghost-busting team that soon discovers there's a human villain behind the recent surge of ghostly activity in the city.
The highpoint of the film is the chemistry and rapport between the four leads. It's obvious Kirsten Wigg, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones are having a great time; with each other and with the project. There's not a single dynamic between any two of the four ladies that isn't fun to watch, but though Erin and Abby are the main characters – with the repairing of their friendship providing the emotional centre of the story – it's Holtzman and Patty that deliver the most laughs.
Kate McKinnon is possibly the standout performance, and I honestly don't think we've ever seen a female character like her before – she's a bonafide mad scientist who lives entirely in her own little world, dancing with blow torches, snacking while ghost-hunting, and delivering unexpectedly emotional speeches when least expected. Brace yourself for an onslaught of Holtzman cosplayers, coming soon to a con near you.
***
In the interests of complete honesty and fairness, I think there are two ways in which the original Ghostbusters was better than this one. Firstly, that it's a love letter to New York in all its contrasting grit and glamour. It's a story that could only be told in New York, right down to the opening shot of the stone lions outside the public library, beautifully foreshadowing the later appearance of the hellhounds.
There are so many Bit Characters that add flavour and texture to the whole: the snooty hotel manager, frightened librarian, the guests at Louis's party, the hapless student volunteers in Venkman's experiment, the nasal-spraying musician, the carriage driver who remarks: "what an asshole" after Louis accosts his horse – we only see them for a few seconds, but they all feel like real people.
Secondly, I think it has a stronger story: three disgraced scientists come up with a business idea that's successful but controversial, interwoven with a Lovecraftian suspense story that requires them to become actual heroes. It's a great blend of comedy between the ghostbusters and genuine horror for Dana and Louis.  
This version of Ghostbusters veers very heavily on the side of comedy, in which almost everything is a setup for a joke in the way the original wasn't.
Miscellaneous Observations:
It turns out that Erin's interest in ghosts was triggered by the fact she was haunted as a child; a backstory that could have used a little more explanation. I mean, is anyone curious as to why the neighbour's ghost appeared at the end of Erin's bed for a year? Cos I am.
Unpopular opinion: I thought the cameos from the original cast were a little unnecessary and slowed the whole thing down. Also, the sequel hook didn't do much for me – I was hoping they'd strike out new story territory on their own.
The villain is pretty much a spot-on embodiment of the movie's backlash: a pale nerdy dude who lashes out at past bullies by being as destructive as possible. He's a little undercooked, but then so was Zuul and Gozer. Still, he seems a bit of a waste, especially since there were some interesting similarities between himself and Erin/Abby that could have been explored: that his technology was based on the science in their book, that he too was ostracized by society, and that his final form is their ghost logo. There was a thematic parallel here that should have been delved into.
I wasn't quite as charmed by Kevin as others seem to be: I find cluelessness more amusing than rampant stupidity, and Kevin was definitely the latter. Chris Hemsworth is a good sport though.
I loved the design of the ghosts, and it was refreshing to see actual colour on-screen for a change (everything else seems to be dark and gritty these days).
Possibly the best Easter egg wasn't any of the props or catchphrases, but Holtzman's coiffed hair, bearing a very similar resemblance to the animated Egon.
Among the complaints about the existence of this movie, my favourite is that people are simply sick to death of reboots and remakes. Mmmhmmm. I look forward to the backlash against the upcoming Ben Hur and The Magnificent Seven (two films that are much more culturally significant than Ghostbusters) – but who am I kidding, they're not going to earn anywhere near the vitriol as Ghostbusters did.
But one thing did make me really happy: I had a great audience in my theatre, especially the two people sitting directly in front of me – a father and his nine/ten year old daughter, who both looked like they were having a great time. 

2 comments:

  1. I'm SO glad you had a good time with it, and I really want to see it soon, and drag everybody I an along with it.

    I think one of the interesting things people are finding about the original when they rewatch it, is its sooooo sexist! Venkman is just awful. Time has changed us all

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  2. I watched it recently too, and it heavily implies that Louis/Dana had sex while both were possessed. Gross. I mean, I generally enjoy the movie but there are definitely some things in it that would never be put on-screen today.

    Definitely see it - it's pretty kid-safe as well (lots of kids in my theatre).

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