Ghostbusters II

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1989

Columbia Pictures

Directed and Produced by Ivan Reitman

Written by Harold Ramis and Dan Aykroyd

Based on characters created by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis

“On Our Own” written by L.A. Reid/Babyface/Daryl Simmons and performed by Bobby Brown

It’s five years after the events of “Ghostbusters” and they haven’t been entirely good years for our heroes. Even though they saved the world from being destroyed by Gozer, that didn’t stop everybody and their mother from suing The Ghostbusters for property damage. And if that wasn’t bad enough, they’ve been forced out of business due to a truckload of court orders. Dr. Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) runs an occult used bookstore and entertains at children’s parties along with Winston Zeddmore (Ernie Hudson). They sing the “Ghostbusters” theme song while the kids shriek that they’d rather have He-Man singing. Dr. Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis) has gotten his job back at Columbia University doing more conventional research into human emotion (a curious line of research for Egon, I would think) while Dr. Peter Venkman (Bill Murray) hosts a television show about psychics and UFO’s.

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But the boys are drawn back into paranormal investigations by their old friend Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver.) In those five years she’s gotten married, divorced and a new job at the Manhattan Museum of Art resorting ancient paintings under the supervision of Dr. Janosz Poha (Peter MacNicol) who has a serious crush on her. But Dana’s primary concern is providing for her son Oscar (William T. Deutschendorf & Hank J. Deutschendorf II) Once again Dana is the focus of paranormal activity such as her baby’s carriage taking off on it’s own power and careening through rush hour Manhattan traffic. She’s also unnerved by the painting she’s working on, a portrait of the 16th century magician and tyrant Vigo The Carpathian (Wilhelm von Homburg/voiced by Max Von Sydow.)

The boys agree to help Dana and an illegal excavation on First Avenue where the baby carriage went wild enables them to discover a vast river of psychomagnatheric slime filling the long abandoned and experimental pneumatic transit system running the length of underground Manhattan. During their investigations the Ghostbusters cause a citywide blackout and are arrested. On the verge of being sentenced to jail, a sample of the slime reacts to Judge Wexler’s (Harris Yulin) near hysterical angry tirade directed at the boys and it conjures forth the spirits of two murderers Wexler sentenced to the electric chair. In order to save his life from the ghosts, Wexler dismisses all charges and restraining orders against The Ghostbusters who capture the ghosts and they’re back in business.

But can they stop the spirit of Vigo The Carpathian who has already possessed Janosz Poha and is using the river of slime, which feeds off the ill will of eight million New Yorkers to fuel his ever-growing power? What do you think? They’re too hot to handle, too cold to hold. They’re called The Ghostbusters and they’re in control. Try to battle these boys? That’s not legal.

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Whenever I read reviews or talk to people about GHOSTBUSTERS II, this is what I come away with: people don’t like it because it’s not “Ghostbusters.” But there’s no way it could be. “Ghostbusters” was so unique, so fresh, so unlike any movie we’d seen before. Me, I give the cast a lot of credit for giving it their best (well, most of them anyway…we’ll get to that) considering that most of them didn’t want to do a sequel and it had taken Columbia Pictures five years to persuade them to do a sequel.

But just like the first one, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis provide a story that feels like a story and not just something they tossed off during lunch. I like how the story picks up with The Ghostbusters having been sued out of business even though they saved the world (I wonder if that was intended as a homage to “Son of Kong” which found Carl Denham in a similar situation due to Kong’s rampage) and how the boys get back into business. I like how, just like in the first one, the Ghostbusters actually investigate the river of slime and Vigo’s history, putting clues together to uncover Vigo’s ultimate ambition of reincarnating himself in Dana’s baby Oscar (what, wouldn’t any baby do?)

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Unlike the first movie, Bill Murray doesn’t steal any scenes and his energy level here is way, way down. Oh, sure, he’s still the snarky, sarcastic Peter Venkman we know and love but the con-man/used car salesman hustler is gone. Thankfully Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis and Ernie Hudson dial up their energy to compensate and it works. And we have Peter MacNicol who’s this movie’s MVP as Janosz Poha. I have no idea where MacNicol got that accent or that unusual way of phrasing that he uses but it leaves me limp with laughter every time he opens his mouth. Sigourney Weaver’s Dana really doesn’t have much to do except once again half-heartedly fend off Venkman’s advances and worry about her son. Annie Potts and Rick Moranis return as Janine Melnitz and Louis Tully and their characters are given a romance so that they’ll something to do while the boys are off busting ghosts.

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I’m well aware that I hold a minority opinion but I just can’t find it in me to dislike GHOSTBUSTERS II. It still has the quirky charm of the first and that goofy mixture of science fiction and the supernatural. The cast is extremely likeable and they all have great chemistry together. I watched it earlier today, damned if it still wasn’t a more entertaining and fun movie than 75% of the movies I’ve seen this year so far. No, it’s nowhere near as funny or as quotable as the first but there’s still a lot of good laughs to be had in here. Maybe it’s a sign of me getting older and more forgiving but more and more I’m judging movies on two things: was the movie fun and did it entertain me? GHOSTBUSTERS II does indeed entertain me and it’s a lot of fun.

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108 Minutes

Rated PG

Ghostbusters (1984)

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1984

Columbia Pictures

Directed and Produced by Ivan Reitman

Written by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis

Music by Elmer Bernstein

“Ghostbusters” written and performed by Ray Parker, Jr.

Parapsychologist Dr. Peter Venkman (Bill Murray) is conducting important ESP research at Columbia University (which involves tricking one of his students into believing she has psychic powers so he can get into her pants) when he’s called to the New York Public Library to investigate a genuine ghost sighting. Despite his best efforts to avoid going, he’s dragged to the library by his colleagues, Dr. Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) and Dr. Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis) They encounter the spirit of a dead librarian and are thrilled that all their theories about the existence of the paranormal is validated. They dream of unlimited funding and academic success.

Unfortunately, Columbia University doesn’t see it that way as the trio are considered to be nuts. Well, Ray and Egon are. Peter is considered to be little more than a hustler and cheap con man. They’re fired from the university but that doesn’t phase Peter. In record time he’s persuaded Ray to mortgage his house (“Don’t worry about it! Everybody has three mortgages nowadays.”) in order to get the funds to develop and build equipment capable of capturing ghosts, buy a dilapidated firehouse one inspection away from being condemned and establish a ghost elimination service known as GHOSTBUSTERS. Their secretary, the sarcastic Janine Melnitz (Annie Potts), mans the office. Ray buys a broken down ambulance he works on and refurbishes to transport their equipment they name “Ecto-1.” Although they’re initially looked upon as bunkum artists, the increase of paranormal activity in New York soon proves that they are legitimate and have to hire help, Winston Zeddmore who becomes the fourth Ghostbuster.

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Turns out that they really need the extra help. Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver) seeks help from the Ghostbusters because a demonic spirit has possessed her refrigerator. And not long afterwards, possesses her as well. It’s Zuul, the servant of Gozer the Gozerian (Slavitza Jovan) the Sumerian god of destruction. Being The Gatekeeper, Zuul must join with The Keymaster, which has possessed the body of her next door neighbor, nebbishy accountant Louis Tully (Rick Moranis). In the meantime, the Ghostbusters have learned that Ivo Shandor, a mad scientist designed the building Dana and Louis live in as a gateway to bridge our world with that of the dimension Gozer inhabits, granting it access to Earth and thereby causing the end of the world.

Time to strap on the proton packs, heat ‘em up, make ‘em hard and show that prehistoric bitch how things are done downtown.

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What can possibly be said about GHOSTBUSTERS that you haven’t heard or read before? Well, how about this; if Neil Simon and Don Coscarelli had ever decided to get together and make a movie, it might have turned out something like this. It’s a uniquely New York movie in attitude and tone that reminded me of Simon what with that unique New York way of looking at things and how New Yorkers talk while the blend of the supernatural with science fiction reminded me of Coscarelli’s “Phantasm” movies. The unique blending of comedy, science fiction and the supernatural shouldn’t have worked but due to the talent behind and in front of the camera and the exceptionally strong story, it does so in magnificently successful fashion.

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And that is the key to GHOSTBUSTERS; the story. Writers Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis didn’t think up a bunch of gags and then write a story around the gags. They wrote a story first and let the gags grow out of the situation and the characters. And make no mistake about it; the movie has terrific characters, all of them. I especially like how the Ghostbusters themselves are portrayed as blue-collar scientists. Just because they have Ph.D.’s and IQs off the charts doesn’t mean that they’re not regular guys. They smoke cigarettes. They drink beer. They like working on cars and machinery and getting their hands dirty. They eat a lot of junk food (this love of eating junk food carries over into 2016’s “Ghostbusters” where we see the all-girl team share that trait with these guys). They investigate the case of Dana’s hauntings using their particular skill sets; Ray researches the history and construction of the building, Egon consults Tobin’s Spirit Guide to find out who Zuul is while Peter…well, Peter is being Peter. And if you’ve seen GHOSTBUSTERS (and I can’t imagine anybody who hasn’t) you know what that means.

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As good as the entire cast is, it’s Bill Murray that puts the movie in his hip pocket and walks out the door with it. He gets the majority of the funniest lines in the movie. But let me say that Harold Ramis can get just as much of a laugh out of me with his facial expressions. And Dan Aykroyd is a master of technobabble that is bewilderingly comical. All four of the Ghostbusters have distinct personalities and Dana Barrett is right on the money when she says that Peter Venkman acts more like a game show host than a scientist. He’s a hustler, always on the make for a quick buck or a even quicker lay but when the chips are down, he’s the first one to make a deal with The Mayor of New York to give the Ghostbusters a chance to save the city and the world. And everybody plays the material straight. If anybody had broken character or winked at the camera it would have spoiled the movie. But the don’t and because they treat what’s happening as real, we do as well.

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Over the years, GHOSTBUSTERS has come to be hailed as a classic. It’s rightly considered one of the funniest movies ever made and the United States Library of Congress has preserved it in the National Film Registry. Like I said earlier, I can’t imagine anyone who hasn’t seen GHOSTBUSTERS. And I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t like it. It’s rare that a movie is a perfect blend of genres married with a terrific story and solid acting. GHOSTBUSTERS is that perfect blend.

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Ernie Hudson, left, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis in a scene from the 1984 motion picture “Ghostbusters.” CREDIT: Sony Pictures [Via MerlinFTP Drop]
Rated PG

105 Minutes

Ghostbusters (2016)

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2016

Sony Pictures/LStar Capital/Village Roadshow Pictures/The Montecito Picture Company/Columbia Pictures

Directed by Paul Feig

Produced by Ivan Reitman/Amy Pascal

Written by Katie Dippold/Paul Feig

Based on the 1984 motion picture “Ghostbusters” Directed by Ivan Reitman and Written by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis

Particle Physicist Dr. Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) once completely believed in the supernatural and the paranormal due to her having experienced a haunting as a child. But now as an adult, a teacher at Columbia University and anxiously awaiting word on her tenure she’s more concerned with her standing and reputation in academia.

Which explains her hysteria when she learns that a book she co-wrote years ago with her then best friend Dr. Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) has resurfaced and is being sold on Amazon. The book threatens her tenure so she goes to visit Abby and persuade her to take the book down. Abby is still researching the paranormal along with her partner, brilliant engineer Dr. Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) who has the IQ of a Time Lord and the eccentricity to match. Abby agrees to take the book down if Erin will assist her on an investigation. The investigation fires up Erin’s belief in the supernatural again and gets the three of them fired from their teaching positions.

However this just gives them the excuse to open up shop as “The Department of Metaphysical Examination” (don’t worry, that name doesn’t last very long) above a dilapidated Chinese restaurant along with dim-witted himbo Kevin Beckman (Chris Hemsworth) as their secretary/receptionist/Man Friday. While the three scientists get to work building equipment to study and capture ghosts, MTA worker Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) has some pretty frightening encounters with subway ghosts herself which lead to her contacting the three scientists and after discovering she enjoys the excitement and camaraderie, joins the team. She brings with her not only an encyclopedic knowledge and history of New York but transportation for the team, a hearse that Holtzmann lickedy-split pimps out into a custom ride to tote their equipment they dub “Ecto-1” and The Ghostbusters are born.

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And just in time because occultist Rowan North (Neil Casey) is planting devices all over Manhattan. Arcane devices that stimulate the mystic energies of ley lines that intersect at a key point, The Mercado Hotel in Times Square, itself a building with a grisly and horrendous history of paranormal activity. North’s purpose? Nothing less than to bring about The Apocalypse and rule a world of ghosts. Time to fire up those proton packs and save the world, ladies.

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The Ghostbusters Abby (Melissa McCarthy), Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon), Erin (Kristen Wiig) and Patty (Leslie Jones) in Columbia Pictures’ GHOSTBUSTERS.

Let’s get one thing out of the way: it’s a waste of time arguing if the 2016 GHOSTBUSTERS is better movie or even equal to 1984’s “Ghostbusters.” It’s like arguing about who the best James Bond is. It’s not fair to any of the other guys to compare them to Sean Connery because his performance is so iconic that there’s no way you can honestly and fairly put him up against anybody that followed him because they just can’t win. No way. (And watch how much feedback I get on this from the fans of George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig.) Same thing with these two movies. The 1984 “Ghostbusters” is such a landmark that it has rightfully become a classic. It’s a damn near perfect movie in terms of balancing humor with horror, acting and story with imaginative verbal and visual jokes that are still gut-bustlingly hilarious today.

But here’s the thing; 2016’s GHOSTBUSTERS doesn’t even try to go toe-to-toe with the earlier movie. We have the basic set-up and the familiar props such as the proton packs (along with new weapons based on the same technology). Ecto-1, the Ghostbusters logo and callbacks to the earlier movie such as the cold open where an innocent bystander just happens to encounter a malevolent spirit. And The Ghostbusters having their first major victory in capturing a ghost in a public place where everybody can see that ghosts are indeed real. So there’s an awful lot that’s familiar here. But everything else is brand new as far as the characters and the story is concerned and that was the best move the director and writers could have taken with the movie. These characters aren’t copies of the originals and we don’t get a rehash of a story we’ve seen before.

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I’ve got no problem with the acting. Kristen Wiig doesn’t know how to be anything but funny and she and Melissa McCarthy are a delight to watch work together. They have a number of scenes where they engage in humorous back-and-forth double-talk that I’m half-convinced they improvised. And I’m always happy when Melissa McCarthy doesn’t take the lazy way out and fall back on being The Funny Fat Girl as she’s way too funny to fall back on that. Leslie Jones is more manic than her co-stars but that’s okay because we love it when Leslie Jones is manic and gets some of the movie’s biggest laughs as a result. Chris Hemsworth is nothing less than hilarious playing a big, dumb, good-looking hunk and you can tell he had a lot of fun in this movie.

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But it’s easily Kate McKinnon that walks off with the MVP award for this movie. She effortlessly steals every scene she’s in. Like I said earlier, Holtzmann must have the IQ of a Time Lord since she comes up with the wildest and coolest gizmos, gadgets and weapons with no trouble at all. Nothing The Ghostbusters encounter phases her, freaks her out or surprises. She, however, takes a manic delight in freaking everybody else out. Holtzmann is, more than any of the other characters cut out for this life. She’d be right at home with Buckaroo Banzai’s Hong Kong Cavaliers, she’s just that cool.

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So should you see GHOSTBUSTERS? Absolutely. It’s not a remake at all. Re-Imagining is the best way to describe it and it’s done with respect and admiration for the original. It loves the original so much that it doesn’t try to be that movie and instead works hard at being it’s own movie and it succeeds. GHOSTBUSTERS is a welcome two hours of fun in what has been a dismal movie year. Go see and enjoy.

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116 Minutes

PG-13

The Legend of Tarzan

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2016

Village Roadshow Pictures/RatPac Entertainment/Warner Bros. Pictures

Directed by David Yates

Produced by Jerry Wentraub/David Barron/Mike Richardson

Written by Adam Cozad/Craig Brewer

Based on the character “Tarzan” created by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Before I get into the review of THE LEGEND OF TARZAN, a bit of personal history. Some of you have heard this story before so bear with me a bit for the benefit of those who haven’t. I discovered Edgar Rice Burroughs when I was in Junior High School but it wasn’t through his Tarzan books. I devoured his John Carter of Mars books, his Pellucidar and Venus series and historical novels such as “The Rider” “The Outlaw of Torn” “The Mucker.” I read his Tarzan much later on, mainly because they were reissued with gorgeous Neal Adams covers.

Once upon a time in the 1970s, I’m riding on the ‘G’ subway train home from school, reading a Tarzan novel. To this day I can’t recall which one it was even though every other detail of what happened on that train is still as fresh as if it happened today. Three grown men I didn’t know sat down next to me and demanded to know why I was reading a Tarzan book. They described it as “white man’s bullshit” and “racist garbage.” And that’s just about the only part of their descriptions I can relate to you and still keep this review clean. Just trust me when I say they were very colorful. One of the men was particularly vexed at me and loudly expressed his view that at the next stop he and his companions should bodily escort me off the train and give me the thrashing I so richly deserved. It was actually a lot more profane than that but again; I’m trying to keep it clean. I didn’t get thrashed but I will tell you this: it was a long time before I read a Tarzan book in public again.

But I did keep on reading Tarzan. Because I loved the way Burroughs told a story. Yes, I realized the racist elements in his Tarzan stories. But I also realized that if I cut myself off from his books I would be depriving myself of some truly excellent stories and characters. So I had to make a decision about how I would approach reading material (and movies and other works of art) that were created in a supposedly less enlightened time. It’s a decision I’ve never regretted.

So what has all this to do with THE LEGEND OF TARZAN? Because it’s a Tarzan movie that is rightly set in period and it’s kinda hard to do a Tarzan movie without Tarzan being The Great White Savior. It’s just that simple. The very DNA of Tarzan has racial biases and assumptions that have to be dealt with and not simply ignored. But I think that by putting Tarzan in a story where he mainly has to save Jane sidesteps the awkwardness of having him save African warriors who most certainly don’t need a Tarzan to save them. But I also do realize the image of Tarzan as such is still a polarizing one so a lot of people have no use for a Tarzan movie. Believe me, I understand.

In fact, when we meet Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgard), he doesn’t even want to be called Tarzan anymore. He’s fully embraced being John Clayton III aka Lord Greystoke and living in London with his wife Jane (Margot Robbie). He’s asked by The House of Lords to return to Africa on a diplomatic mission on the invitation of King Leopold of Belgium to inspect the development of The Congo. He’s got no interest until he’s informed by the U.S. envoy George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson) that there’s a strong possibility Belgian mercenaries are enslaving the Congolese. Williams persuades John to accept Leopold’s invitation and take Williams along so that Williams can find the evidence needed to stop Leopold. John agrees and of course, Jane goes along as well since unless we have her kidnapped by the bad guy Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz) we don’t have a plot.

Rom is working with Chief Mbonga (Djimon Hounsou) leader of a savage tribe guarding the location of the fabulous diamonds of Opar. Mbonga agrees to give Rom diamonds in exchange for Tarzan since Mbonga seeks revenge on Tarzan. So once Rom kidnaps Jane, we’re off and running since the movie’s taken a considerable amount of time setting up the situation and the relationship between the characters so we can get into the jungle action, right?

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Right. There’s a considerable lot of it that comes our way. With the kinda stuff we expect to see in a Tarzan movie: Tarzan swinging through the trees, hanging out with apes. I would have liked to see Tarzan fighting a lion or leopard, though. Or riding an elephant. And it’s unforgivable that not once does he let out with the classic Tarzan yell. Oh, we do hear a version of it, but c’mon. Tarzan’s yell is like Batman’s Batsignal or Superman’s ‘S’ symbol. It’s who he is.

Alexander Skarsgard is solid as Tarzan. He does interesting things with his body language and the way he holds his arms and uses his hands that I’ve never before seen an actor in a Tarzan movie do. And I like the way that as the movie goes on, John Clayton sheds more and more of his Western garb as he reclaims more and more of his savage heritage. In fact, the movie could easily be subtitled; “How Tarzan Gets His Groove Back” since it quickly becomes obvious to John Clayton that maybe he’s allowed himself to become too civilized and he’s got to get back to what he really is in order to save his wife.

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Margot Robbie is a lot of fun to watch as Jane and she and Samuel L. Jackson strike the right note with their characters and realize they’re in a jungle adventure movie so they should be having fun while doing so. Jackson’s character is based on the real-life soldier, lawyer, adventurer and journalist George Washington Williams and is an interesting enough character to deserve his own movie. Especially when you do your homework and find out that Williams actually did expose Belgium’s exploitations and slavery of Congolese natives and resources. It’s grating indeed to see him as the comedy relief when you know the background of the real-life Williams and Jackson’s performance takes a little getting used to as he’s pretty much playing a modern day black man in the 19th century but since he’s Sam Jackson, we forgive him. And in a movie that takes itself so seriously, a laugh here or there is badly needed.

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If there’s a major disappointment here acting wise, it’s Christoph Waltz. This is his second performance as a villain that has bored me. There’s nothing particularly memorable about Rom who doesn’t seem very interested in his own plans and schemes and if the villain can’t get excited about his own villainy then why should I?

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So should you see THE LEGEND OF TARZAN? Only if you’re going to see it purely as an action-adventure movie. Because the movie works it’s money-maker off to be just that. It does it’s best to give us a Tarzan that is true to the spirit of the character Edgar Rice Burroughs created while still being sensitive to modern day audiences. It’s a noble effort for what is just supposed to be a summer action movie. I enjoyed it but I fully realize that most people can’t say: ‘It’s just a movie,” and go with it. It has amazing locations, impressive action sequences, excellent special effects and plenty of Alexander Skarsgard’s truly impressive musculature that the ladies will no doubt enjoy.

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Rated PG-13

110 Minutes

 

 

 

 

Stripes

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1981

Columbia Pictures

Directed by Ivan Reitman

Produced by Daniel Goldberg/Ivan Reitman

Written by Len Blum/Harold Ramis/Daniel Goldberg

Ask most people what they consider THE Definitive Bill Murray Comedy and you’re going to get many answers. Some will go all the way back to “Meatballs.” A whole lot will say “Caddyshack” or “Ghostbusters.” A lot more will say “Scrooged” or “Groundhog Day.” Then you’ll have those that will cite “Rushmore” or “The Royal Tenenbaums.” Seeing as how I’m not a fan of either one of those we’ll just push on.

But if you were to ask me what my definitive Bill Murray Comedy is, I’d always answer with STRIPES. Why? Maybe because it appeals a whole lot to who I was back in 1981 when I saw the movie. I was irreverent, foolhardy, undisciplined and more than a bit of a total asshole which is exactly what the John Winger character that Bill Murray plays in this movie is. So I identified a lot with that. But it’s also more than that. STRIPES is a superior comedy that highlights the team of Bill Murray and Harold Ramis to their comedic utmost. I mean that everything these cats do in this movie is funny. STRIPES is one of those rare comedy movies that just doesn’t run out of steam. The longer it goes on, the funnier it gets. And it’s the best kind of comedy. The kind in which we’re laughing with the characters and the situations they get into and not at them.

John Winger (Bill Murray) loses his job, his girl and his apartment all in the same day and on an impulse decides to join The Army and be all the best that he can be. His best friend Russell Ziskey (Harold Ramis) joins up with him because he’s that Best of Best Friends: the one that will totally and completely assist you in making a stupid mistake.

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Winger and Ziskey are a little older than your usual recruit so they’re not as down with the gung-ho attitude of their younger platoon mates (John Candy, John Diehl and Judge Reinhold). And Winger soon finds himself in serious contention with their drill sergeant, Sergeant Hulka (Warren Oates) who is having his own problem with the platoon’s new commanding officer, the supremely incompetent Captain Stillman (John Larroquette). But Winger and Ziskey soon find the rigors of basic training softened by their blatantly sexual relationships with female MPs Hansen (P.J. Soles) and Cooper (Sean Young).

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Through a series of misadventures I would not dream of revealing here just in case you have never seen STRIPES (and if you haven’t then what is wrong with you?) Winger, Ziskey, Hansen and Cooper find themselves in the EM-50 Urban Assault Vehicle, which is basically a tank designed as a family RV invading Czechoslovakia to rescue Captain Stillman and their platoon who themselves mistakenly invaded Czechoslovakia thinking that Winger and Ziskey were Russian spies. Look, just watch the movie, okay?

I truly enjoy watching Bill Murray at work in every single scene in this movie. Not only is he as funny as we expect him to be in the funny scenes but there are actually a couple of scenes where we see flashes of the dramatic actor we would see in later movies such as “Lost In Translation” “Get Low” and “Hyde Park On Hudson.” I really like how Harold Ramis ended up with the Hot Chick in this movie instead of his co-star. And STRIPES is the movie that will make you wish that he and Murray had co-starred in a lot more movies. In this movie he shows how he was truly the perfect foil and balance for Murray’s type of humor.

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What else can I say about STRIPES? There’s Warren Oates and his understated performance as Sergeant Hulka. Oates is funny here because most of the time he’s on screen he’s not trying to be funny. But when he is trying, he knows how to sell the scene. And he knows how to play dramatic in a comedy movie such as in the scene where he and Murray have a confrontation in a bathroom. The scene isn’t played for laughs and in the context of what we have come to know about the two characters and their relationship to each other, it works. John Candy and John Diehl have some great scenes together that I enjoyed a lot because I know from interviews I’ve read and seen with him I think I have a good sense of how smart John Diehl is and I appreciate that you have to be really smart to plat really dumb. The Classic “Army Training, SIR!” scene where Murray and his platoon totally kick all kinds of ass in drill techniques in front of the Army brass.

The bottom line is this: I consider STRIPES to be one of the smartest and funniest comedies to have come out of the 1980s. You want to see Classic Bill Murray at his best, watch this one.

106 Minutes

Rated R

 

 

 

Free State of Jones

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2015

IM Global/STX Entertainment

Screenplay written and directed by Gary Ross

Produced by Scott Stuber/Gary Ross/Jon Kilik

Story by Leonard Hartman

I’m a huge fan of summer movie season counter programming. I appreciate film studios that realize not everybody wants to see CGI heavy superhero blockbusters, sci-fi spectacles or hyper violent action movies. So they’ll throw out movies that are for audiences who maybe want a little more meat on their cinematic bones to chew on. So you think that FREE STATE OF JONES would be a slam dunk to draw in audiences. Well, reportedly it’s not and after having seen it for myself I know why. This movie wouldn’t have drawn in audiences no matter what season of the year it was shown. Matthew McConaughey gives it his all along with solid supporting work from Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Mahershala Ali and Keri Russell but it’s just not enough to sell the story which is at best rambling and at worst, downright confusing.

THE FREE STATE OF JONES
Matthew McConaughey (center) and Mahershala Ali (center left) star in THE FREE STATE OF JONES

In the middle of the horrendous hell that is one of the most brutal and savage battles of the Civil War, Newton Knight (Matthew McConaughey) watches as his son is killed. Knight promptly deserts from the Confederate Army and returns to his home in Jones County, Mississippi, hiding out in the swamp with other deserters and runaway slaves. Knight gradually becomes aware of the outrages committed against local farmers whose crops and livestock are stolen by the army who leave the rich plantations unmolested. Knight organizes the deserters, slaves and farmers into a very effective guerrilla militia and their reprisals against the Confederates cause such carnage that the Confederates actually have to turn their attention from the Union Army to try to deal with this threat.

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Knight attempts to make a deal with the Union Army that is rebuffed and so, feeling as if he and his people have been abandoned by both sides, establishes the Free State of Jones. At least for about two minutes of screen time and then it’s quickly forgotten. Which left me disappointed as I found the concept of this truly ragtag and highly unlikely band of founding fathers attempting to form their own independent state amidst the turmoil of the Civil War a highly fascinating one. And like many fascinating stories, this one is based on events that actually happened. Indeed, a man named Newton Knight led a band of Confederate army deserters known as The Knight Company that fought against the Confederacy during the Civil War. Now that’s the story I wanted to see.

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Unfortunately, FREE STATE OF JONES settles for being just another Great White Savior Movie as most of the movie’s running time is taken up with Knight establishing a post Civil War mixed-race community and his relationships with his black wife Rachel (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and his white wife Serena (Keri Russell). Some obligatory runtime is given to his friendship with Moses Washington (Mahershala Ali) an ex-slave who becomes Knight’s right-hand man and later on is instrumental in organizing free blacks to vote. There’s also an unnecessary subplot taking place 85 years after the events of the movie as one of Knight’s descendants finds himself in court defending his right to marry a white woman. The movie jumps all over the place and there are way too many scenes that start promisingly and then go nowhere. They just end abruptly and go onto something else, leaving me sitting there saying; “Wha hoppen?”

Despite the strong acting of McConaughey, Mbatha-Raw, Russell and Ali, the movie lacks energy and drive. Most of the cast we never really get to know at all and there’s far too many scenes of McConaughey standing around looking pained and heartbroken at the various injustices being committed against his black friends who he has come to love and acknowledge as his extended family. FREE STATE OF JONES is a movie with a lot of potential that left me frustrated as there’s actually a great story in there that should be told and I hope that someday it will be. Wait for this one to show up on Netflix or some other streaming service.

139 Minutes

Rated R

 

 

 

 

The Fallen

 

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2015 

Directed by Alex Popov

Written by Bradford James Jackson

YouTube is a trap. You and I both know it. How many times have we gone to YouTube just to look up one video and ten hours later we come up for air, having totally lost ourselves in just watching one video or movie after another? And with good reason. The amount of really good stuff to watch on YouTube considerably outweighs the crap. And Odin knows there is well and truly a whole lot of crap on there.

But that’s if you only want to watch crap. And there’s a lot of people who deliberately seek out the worst stuff to watch. But that’s them. Me, I’d rather spend my time watching good stuff and when I get a recommendation to watch something like THE FALLEN it makes me appreciate YouTube all the more.

On a ragged, blood-soaked plain in Scandinavia, 613 A.D. two bands of rival Vikings clash in savage combat. The winners survive at a high cost; their king is sorely injured and they face a long and difficult trip home across cruel, wintery mountains. The Vikings make a litter for their king and set out on their journey. They run across a strange metallic object that one of their number claims is a Valkyrie come to take them to Valhalla. The metallic object opens and what emerges from it is a being who will indeed send the Vikings to Valhalla but is certainly not a Valkyrie.

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It doesn’t take long before you realize that what we have here is pretty much “Vikings Vs. Predator” as the alien creature begins to hunt the Vikings who in turn decide to hunt the alien right back. The conflict that ensues is horrifically, even gleefully violent. It’s also entertaining as hell.

THE FALLEN is listed as a “proof of concept” short film. My understanding is that such films are made to generate interest and perhaps spark funding for longer, feature length versions of the short film. And THE FALLEN does end with a teaser that could indeed lead into a longer movie. And let’s face it, who doesn’t want to see badass Vikings with swords and battle axes taking on high-tech alien warriors?

The special effects and production values are the real stars of this short film. That’s not to say that actors aren’t good at what they do but let’s face it, in a 20 minutes short film you don’t have a lot of time to build deep, meaningful characterization. Most of the Vikings are there to get killed in deliriously gory ways. The special effects are quite imaginative and surprisingly sophisticated as is the costuming and location shooting. You can see that the people who worked on this movie truly and honestly cared about what they were doing.

I’ve provided a link so that you can check it out for yourself if you’re so inclined. And with a 20 minutes running time I think you will be. I’ve never heard of Alex Popov before but he’s a director to watch. He knows how to direct action and he knows how to direct quiet, thoughtful scenes as well. There’s a scene with the Vikings sitting around a campfire talking about their situation and their dying king that manages to do quite a lot in a short amount of time. THE FALLEN is an impressive piece of work and everybody associated with it should be proud.