Ghostbusters Review: Girl Power


Director: Paul Feig

Writers: Katie Dippold, Paul Feig

Stars: Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones

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Release date: July 14th, 2016

Distributor: Columbia Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 116 minutes


3/5

Best part: The four leads.

Worst part: The cameos.

No movie in cinema history has faced as much anger as 2016’s Ghostbusters reboot. Prior to release, it was showered in searing hatred. Delusional fanboys attacked it for coming near the 1984 original’s lasting legacy. Misogynistic creeps resented the all-female leading cast members. With all that said, it’s best to judge Ghostbusters for what it is and not what certain factions might want.

It has to be said – Ghostbusters is much better than most of 2016’s other blockbusters. The franchise kickstarter follows a familiar structure. Dr Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) is a geeky professor at Columbia University just short of gaining tenure. However, a book about paranormal beings in our realm – co-written by herself and Dr Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) – gets in her way. After reuniting, Gilbert and Yates reluctantly team up with wacky engineer Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) to tackle a reported ghost sighting. After getting fired, the trio turn into a full-time ghost-catching group looking out for New York City. Joined by streetwise MTA worker Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) and ditzy receptionist Kevin (Chris Hemsworth), the group face an army of ghouls and naysayers.

The original delivered big laughs, unique visuals and intelligent heroes for geeks everywhere to look up to. The 2016 version follows a wholly specific formula from script to screen. This one also features an array of Saturday Night Live alumni coming together, proving everyone wrong and saving the world. Writer/director Paul Feig overcomes the barrage of hate and uncertainty with ease. This – like earlier works Bridesmaids, The Heat and Spy – is a pleasant, crystal-clear experience free from anything ‘dark and gritty’. The plot itself boils down to everything you’d expect from a modern supernatural-comedy. The first and second acts revolve around the origin-story dynamic – building up and then shaking the team’s foundations. Of course, the third act is reserved for the underdeveloped villain’s master plan. Ghostbusters doesn’t change the game, but certainly gives it a little push.

Feig and co-screenwriter Katie Dippold make their characters human and understandable in spite of the ensuing chaos. For the most part, the humour is a mix of clever references and light-hearted one-liners. The four leads, having worked together before on many projects, make the jokes, sci-fi gobbledygook and touching moments work effectively. However, Feig’s direction occasionally lets them down. Awkward editing choices and sluggish pacing keep this reboot from reaching its true potential. Sadly, the third-act action extravaganza delivers bland, CGI-laden visuals rather than unique flourishes. Worse still, cameos from Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and the rest of the original troupe stop the movie dead in its tracks. The score also fails to impress, partly due to Fall Out Boy and Missy Elliott’s rubbish remix of the original theme.

Ghostbusters valiantly highlights the best women in contemporary Hollywood comedy. The cast and crew deliver many laugh-out-loud moments, engaging performances and effective reminders of the franchise’s appeal. However, it can’t decide whether to stand on it own or cling to the original.

Verdict: A quaint reboot.

Kill the Messenger Review – Publish & Prosecute


Director: Michael Cuesta

Writers: Peter Landesman (screenplay), Gary Webb, Nick Schou (books)

Stars: Jeremy Renner, Rosemarie DeWitt, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Oliver Platt


Release date: October 10th, 2014

Distributor: Focus Features

Country: USA

Running time: 112 minutes


 

4/5

Best part: Renner’s enjoyable performance.

Worst part: The exhaustive exposition.

Back in 1996, San Jose Mercury News investigative journalist Gary Webb changed the game for budding reporters, veteran editors, and everyone in between the world over. He published several articles condemning the Central Intelligence Agency’s treatment of specific Los Angeles communities. At this time, conspiracy theorists weren’t paid close attention to. Pushing the truthers into the background, society was much less jaded and skeptical…at least I hope so, anyway. Kill the Messenger strives to meticulously dissect the material.

Jeremy Renner.

Kill the Messenger, despite the intriguing narrative and starry cast, primarily illuminates  politics and media’s current relationship. Despite the original story’s grit, the movie – based on Webb’s expose Dark Alliance and Nick Schou’s book of the same name – strives to reach mass audiences. Heads up journo students, fully fledged reporters, and editors: this movie takes the profession and tares it to shreds! Throughout, that “I can’t believe this actually happened!” feeling lingers in the consciousness. Thanks to this, everything hits hard! If you can’t stand a history lesson, get out now! The story revolves around Webb(Jeremy Renner)’s clashing professional and personal lives. After completing one of the year’s biggest stories, exploring the confiscation of homes from on-trial drug-running suspects, our subject becomes one of San Jose Mercury News’ biggest hitters. Known for his go-getter attitude and revelatory writing style, his hunger for truth and ratings turns novel ideas into hit stories. Keeping a close relationship with his editors, Jerry Ceppos (Oliver Platt) and Anna Simons (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), his nice-guy persona nabs him front-page leads and keen-eyed sources. At home, despite he and wife Susan(Rosemarie DeWitt)’s marital quarrels, his family is happy and tight-knit. He receives a call from Coral (Paz Vega), girlfriend of a notorious, on-trial cocaine trafficker. The man, prosecuted against by Russell Dodson (Barry Pepper), is rumoured to have worked with the US Government in the 1980s.

Renner, Mary Elizabeth Winstead & Oliver Platt.

Finding the link between the CIA and Nicaraguan anti-communist rebels, Webb unearths disastrous wrongdoings and their effect on LA’s African-American community. Throughout most of Kill the Messenger, we follow a David vs. Goliath tale of professional line-drawing and personal justification. This docudrama, exploring the decade’s biggest journalistic investigation, depicts an note-worthy rise-and-fall tale. As the investigation continues, it explains each step and tidbit. Given a notepad, interesting sources, and momentous revelations, Webb succinctly tugs each thread. The turning point, hitting during Webb’s interview with incarcerated drug kingpin “Freeway” Ricky Ross (Michael K. Williams), establishes the movie’s immense tone and purpose. Throughout the first half, as the fact vs. perspective feud simmers, his mission attracts lawyers, criminals, and crime lords. Despite the meaty material and searing relevance, it’s afraid of exploring the political, ethical, and social ramifications. Some sequences, depicting heartening interactions between our characters, outline the movie’s immense value. Sadly, others stretch its believability to breaking point. Telling and not showing, the narrative – switching from intriguing journo-drama to vague corporate-thriller – skims over vital details. The second half – depicting Webb’s conflicts with the CIA, editors, and rival media outlets – delivers broad characters and a mind-numbing anti-climax.  Whilst interviewing Norwin Meneses (Andy Garcia), Webb’s dilemma – choosing whether or not to publish this information – is highlighted obtusely.

“American kids did die and are still dying, just not the ones you care about apparently.” (Gary Webb (Jeremy Renner), Kill the Messenger).

Renner, Michael K. Williams & Tim Blake Nelson.

Worthy of consideration, Kill the Messenger‘s  subject matter remains timeless. Director Michael Cuesta – known for TV dramas including Homeland and Dexter – obviously loves the material. Despite his love of the facts, the independent filmmaker struggled to tell them. Leaping between major twists and turns, this docudrama – unlike All the President’s Men and The Insider – distorts enthralling details with underutilised plot-threads and weighty exposition. Aiming at a specific demographic, it expects us to know everything about these events. Despite its many facts and viewpoints, the movie never crafts an interesting agenda. As Webb is attacked mercilessly by the government and media, the broad storytelling and free-wheeling tangents muddy its points. Also, it never examines LA’s drug scene or Nicaragua’s ever-present issues. Telling a straight-forward version of events, Cuesta’s inexperience comes across. Shaking the camera and dimming the lights, his style carries several TV-drama-thriller traits. Examining modern media’s moral and commercial well-being, this docudrama captures the link between conspiracies, government actions, mass culpability, and journalistic integrity. Thrust into a dangerous world, Webb is a fascinating and likable subject. Renner, hopping between blockbusters (The Avengers, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol) and drama-thrillers (The Hurt Locker, The Town), delivers a shades-of-grey turn as the notable journo. Injecting scorn and charisma into the role, this underrated A-lister deserves immense credit.

Studying the nihilistic, dog-eat-dog world of professional journalism, Kill the Messenger tells a story worth exploring further. Despite the promising conceits, it jumps awkwardly between fact and fantasy. Giving its supporting players only one-or-two scenes each, Renner’s hearty performance carries this docudrama. Stripping away his Tinseltown glow, the forty-something actor returns to character-actor roots for this grueling role. Truth be told, he deserves much more than Hawkeye and Hansel.

Verdict: An intelligent and well-acted docudrama.

Let’s Be Cops Review – Bullets, Badges, & Bromances


Director: Luke Greenfield

Writers: Luke Greenfield, Nicholas Thomas

Stars: Jake Johnson, Damon Wayans, Jr., Nina Dobrev, Rob Riggle


Release Date: August 27th, 2014

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Country: USA

Running time: 104 minutes


 

3/5

Best part: Johnson and Wayans, Jr.’s chemistry.

Worst part: The banal gross-out gags.

Over a short period, TV  has surpassed film as the go-to form of entertainment. With A-listers including Kevin Spacey and Matthew McConaughey jumping ship, the small screen is developing increasingly more ambitious projects featuring our favourite performers. So, who are the actors jumping from TV to film? Nowadays, this responsibility rests with sitcom stars of varying ages and talents. With Let’s Be Cops, two New Girl leads hurriedly leaped formats. Despite the movie’s flaws, their involvement saves it from being wholly mediocre.

Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans, Jr. leaving their New Girl comrades behind.

Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans, Jr. leaving their New Girl comrades behind.

Obviously, Director Luke Greenfield (The Girl Next Door) didn’t have to do much to win over New Girl fans or buddy-cop aficionados. Sadly, despite the cast and crew’s hard work, Let’s Be Cops might be overshadowed by recent real-life atrocities. With the Ferguson, Missouri issue concerning the US Government, varying authoritative bodies, and the country’s citizens, this movie’s outlandish premise comes off as tasteless and desperate. With news media calling America’s police practices into question, this action-comedy’s tactless approach may rub some groups the wrong way. So, should we blame this production for trying to have fun? The cast and crew, completing everything before this atrocity took place, deserve a fair assessment. So, with that in mind, does this buddy-cop farce stand up to scrutiny? Definitive answer: yes and no. Unsurprisingly, the story never delves past the title. Former football hopeful Ryan O’Malley (Jake Johnson) and submissive video game designer Justin Miller (Damon Wayans, Jr.) are unsuccessful, thirty-something man-children struggling to face reality. Bafflingly, after an embarrassing college reunion mishap, their elaborate police costumes are far more convincing than expected. Strutting through LA, the immediate acclaim gives them a blissful adrenaline rush. Convinced of this newfound ‘life purpose’, Ryan, ignoring Justin’s concerns, becomes addicted to the gun and badge. Buying a patrol vehicle off eBay, Ryan continually pulls Justin into trouble.

Nina Dobrev as Josie.

Nina Dobrev as Josie.

From the first patrol scene onward, several disturbing plot elements distort Let’s Be Cops’ light-hearted narrative. Obviously, Ryan and Justin’s actions serve to abuse police power. In fact, impersonating a police officer offers up significant prison time and fines. Therefore, with said penalties on the line, the narrative needed to be interesting enough to distract the average filmgoer from reality. Sadly, despite being an enjoyable buddy-actioner, these plot gripes hover above the audience throughout its 102-minute run-time. The story relies on two opposing viewpoints to keep the comedy and drama in line. From the get-go, the odd-couple relationship is hammered across our heads. With Ryan’s oppressive attitude clashing with Justin’s do-gooder personality, this central relationship brings up major questions. In addition, as it transitions from intriguing dramedy to goofy buddy-cop flick, their back-and-fourths become tiresome and dumbfounding. Though Johnson’s character is given suitable, albeit disastrously idiotic, motivations, Wayans, Jr.’s role becomes a series of alliance switches and reluctant decisions. Despite Justin’s desire to become a stronger person, the movie makes him the butt of almost every joke. Failing to get his video game idea, ‘Patrolman’, off the ground, the movie’s mean-streak occasionally weights down this breezy, laugh-fuelled romp. Despite this inconsistent bromance, Johnson and Wayans, jr.’s snappy New Girl dynamic boosts this simplistic venture.

“I feel like Danny Glover before he got too old for this sh*t.” (Justin Miller (Damon Wayans, Jr.), Let’s Be Cops).

Keenan Michael Key without Jordan Peele.

Keegan-Michael Key without Jordan Peele.

Despite the exhaustive improv. sequences, Johnson and Wayans, jr. enliven their stock-standard characters. In this and Safety Not Guaranteed, Johnson proves himself an adventurous and efficient leading man. Conquering the slacker archetype, his likeable presence rescues his conventional character arc. In addition, Wayans, Jr. – stepping out of his family’s shadow – delivers enough charisma and levity when required. Along the way, his comic timing and slapstick gags deliver several laugh-out-loud moments. Meanwhile, Rob Riggle delivers some worthwhile jabs as an enthusiastic yet gullible lawman. Undoubtedly, Let’s Be Cops was designed specifically for our two sitcom-bred stars. Sadly, thanks to hit-and-miss humour, the movie becomes a 21/22 Jump Street rip-off. Despite the potential, its gross-out gags merely degrade certain action beats. The underlying cop-mobster storyline – revolving around Russian mob boss Massi Kasic(James D’Arcy)’s threats against cute waitress Josie (Nina Dobrev) – never sparks any excitement. In fact, this sub-plot exists simply to deliver action, Andy Garcia in another villain role, and D’Arcy’s convincing Ethan Hawke impersonation. Shifting around this sub-plot, the movie’s half-processed skits reek of desperation. Some scenes – featuring our leads strutting into nightclubs, flirting with drunk chicks, and forcing innocent people into uncomfortable situations – add nothing to the story.

Let’s Be Cops – despite the lazy premise and production’s laid-back attitude – overcame several obstacles before hitting the box office. Hindered by a major socio-political scandal, a poor release date, and a derivative marketing campaign (seriously, the image of police partners screaming has been used a million times!), it’s a miracle this buddy-cop flick is even watchable. In addition, Johnson and Wayans, jr. deliver more big laughs than expected. Thanks to their flawless dynamic, these two pull off the uniforms with ease.

Verdict: A charming yet lazy action-comedy.