Monday, July 18, 2016

New Ghostbusters Movie

"Ghostbusters" is an silly, good-natured summer movie that just so happens to be based on/rebooting one of the most beloved of all comedy horror flicks - "Ghostbusters." One of the first movies I remember watching, part of me still considers the original a masterpiece, a basically perfect encapsulation of high, middle, and low humor mixed with old-fashioned thrills and chills. So, I get it, the new movie comes with a lot of baggage. There are people who are even more wrapped up in that mystique than I am and to them, the idea of rebooting the movie is and continues to be a non-starter.

Ghostbusters busting: from left to right - Melissa McCarthy (Abby Yates), Kate McKinnon (Jillian Holtzmann), Kristen Wiig (Erin Gilbert), and Leslie Jones (Patty Tolan).

To me, that's a shame because most of what made the original movie fun has survived the translation to 21st century. Instead of four really funny men, we have four really funny women. Like the original, this movie draws most of its comedic potential from workplace struggles. Ghost busting is a messy, unappreciated job and running a small business brings a lot of frustrations both small and potentially cataclysmic. The same off-handed, pseudo-scientific absurdity also appears in this movie. References to mass undersea sponge migrations and Tobin's spirit guide felt a lot more subversive in the original but there enough references to New York's tangled history to make things feel lived-in and plausible.

The basic tension in the movie is between the two leads, Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig. McCarthy, in perhaps my favorite role of hers as Abby Yates, plays the former partner and friend of Erin Gilbert. Abby was the only person to believe Erin's account of childhood haunting but the two have had a falling out prior to the beginning of the movie. Gradually, Erin makes peace with her driveto be accepted and validated by the scientific community. For the most part this relationship is well-handled in the movie although I think they could have gone for a bigger crack-up before the final reel.

Unfortunately, focusing the movie on the two main characters leaves a less time and material for the other two stand-outs of the movie - Kate McKinnon's bizarre mad-scientist Jillian Holtzmann and Leslie Jones' former subway worker Patty Tolan. Both McKinnon and Jones are amazing comedians in their own right but I would have liked to see more of their backstory. With word that Sony's going all in for a sequel, that's something that could be addressed in the next movie.

The first half of the movie is also way better than the latter half. The original made the jump from four hard-working stiffs to world-threatening danger through a montage and well-placed portents. This movie has an awkward confrontation with the mayor (played by Andy Garcia) that never quite pays off. I suspect somewhere there's a longer version of the movie with more explanation about why the government is so keen on covering up paranormal activities and how that might tie into the bad guy, a geeky misanthrope Rowan North (Neil Casey). As it stands the ending is exciting but doesn't quite land with the impact of the original.

Even at this late-date there are online critics who refuse to see this movie - complaining about the gender swap casting or Paul Feig as the director or the supposed inviolability of the original. I honestly struggle understanding these sentiments - especially those that claim they don't need to see the movie to know that it's crap. In a year where people are refusing to see the good in the other side of a political debate, or a societal issue, maybe it shouldn't be surprising to see the same rigidity creep into fan culture.

I think you should see this movie before you decide on its merits.


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