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 for that to be her default comedy mode. 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

Thor: The Dark World

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2013

Marvel Studios/Walt Disney Studios

Directed by Alan Taylor

Produced by Kevin Feige

Screenplay by Christopher Yost, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely

Story by Don Payne and Robert Rodat

Based on “Thor” created by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby

“Malekith” and “Algrim/Kurse” created by Walt Simonson

Out of all the Marvel superheroes who have starred in movies I think it’s safe to say that Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has the largest and most diverse supporting cast. On Asgard there’s his father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins) his mother Frigga (Rene Russo) The Warriors Three: Voluminous Volstagg (Ray Stevenson) Fandral The Dashing (Zachary Levi) and Hogun The Grim (Tadanobu Asano) the warrior maid Sif (Jaimie Alexander) The all-seeing guardian of The Bifrost and The Rainbow Bridge, Heimdall (Idris Elba) and Thor’s adoptive brother, the ever scheming, always manipulative trickster Loki (Tom Hiddleston)

Then on Earth we’ve got the love of Thor’s life and brilliant astrophysicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) her mentor Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) and her intern Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings) who in this adventure has an intern of her own, Ian (Jonathan Howard)

That’s a lot of characters for one movie and we haven’t even gotten to the bad guys yet: Malekith, king of The Dark Elves of Svartalfheim (Christopher Eccleston) and his right hand elf Algrim (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) who is transformed into Kurse, a terrifying creature of immense power capable of going toe-to-toe with Thor. But you know what? The screenplay is very well put together so that each and every one of these characters has something to do and each has their own part to advance the story. Even when a character is off screen for an extended period of time, there’s a logical explanation for where they are and what they’re doing and why we’re not seeing them. Each and every one of them also gets their own scene where they get a chance to shine. It’s a credit to the skill and generosity of the director, Alan Taylor that he manages that with slowing down the plot or making THOR: THE DARK WORLD feel cramped with unnecessary scenes.

After the events of “The Avengers” Thor, The Warriors Three and Sif have been busy restoring peace and order to The Nine Realms. Loki is being held in the dungeons below Odin’s throne room. Odin is well pleased that his once arrogant and knuckle-headed son has grown up and is seriously contemplating turning over the throne of Asgard to him.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, Jane Foster is in London pissed off because Thor hasn’t come back to Earth for her as he said he would. She’s been neglecting her research but Darcy Lewis pulls her back in by taking Jane to an abandoned warehouse where objects are appearing and disappearing into invisible pocket wormholes. Jane finds out where these objects go and that leads her to being infected by The Aether, a weapon of hideous power capable of destroying the universe. Malekith, his lieutenant Algrim and his army of Dark Elves are awakened by The Aether’s release and go in search of it, the intention being to…well, destroy the universe, what else?

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But by now, Heimdall has alerted Thor that there’s something wrong with Jane and so Thor brings her to Asgard to try and remove The Aether from her and that brings Malekith and his Dark Elves to attack Asgard itself and from then on its hammer time.

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For those of you who complained that there wasn’t enough of Asgard in “Thor” this movie is for you. Most of the action takes place there with occasional side trips to Earth to check up on how the mortals are doing as they gradually come to realize that the Nine Realms are aligning themselves in a rare Convergence that will link the realms. Keep your eyes on Kat Dennings during the Earth scenes as she provides most of the humor and does it with flair and a wicked delivery that strikes exactly the right tone for the situation her character is in.

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Chris Hemsworth gives us a Thor in this one who has learned how to care for others and put their needs ahead of his own and so he’s a much more heroic character here than he was in the first movie. Anthony Hopkins is his usual magnificent self as All-Father Odin while Rene Russo has a kickass fight scene that makes me wish Mrs. Odin had way more screen time.

But it’s Tom Hiddleston who walks off with the acting honors in this one, of course. The relationship between Odin, Thor and Loki is a complicated one and the three actors get the most mileage out of it, giving it a near Shakespearean level of emotion. Hiddleston and Hemsworth especially shine during their scenes together when Thor and Loki have to team up to take on Malekith and they not only make quite the formidable team in battle but they honestly confront their feelings about each other and their relationship to their father.

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THOR: THE DARK WORLD is visually quite magnificent and if you know your Kirby and your Simonson you’ll be able to see their influences on Asgardian architecture, clothing, armor and weaponry. I liked the story a lot as it expanded and enriched Thor’s universe and as I said earlier, didn’t leave any of these characters out of the adventure. Even Mjolnir gets a nice bit of characterization as we see just how seriously the enchanted hammer takes its command that it must always return to Thor’s hand. There’s a lot of really great fight scenes and some tragedy that is truly gut wrenching but there’s also just enough humor so that we know to take it all seriously but not too serious that we can’t relax and have fun. I’d love to sit down Zack Snyder and his “Man of Steel” screenwriters to watch THOR: THE DARK WORLD because this is the way to make a superhero movie. Stop reading this review and go see THOR: THE DARK WORLD right now.

PG-13

112 minutes

The Avengers

2012

Marvel Studios/Walt Disney Pictures

Directed by Joss Whedon

Produced by Kevin Feige

Screenplay by Zak Penn, Joss Whedon

Based on the Marvel comic book “The Avengers” created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby

My love affair with THE AVENGERS goes back to 1968.  That’s when I bought Avengers Annual #2 which featured Captain America going back in time with teammates Hawkeye, Goliath, The Wasp and The Black Panther and through a cosmic mixup find themselves doing battle with Giant-Man, The Wasp, Iron Man, Thor and The Hulk.

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I was hooked and from that year to this one, The Avengers have always been my favorite superhero team.  Way back then my friends and I fantasized about seeing The Avengers in a live-action movie but until a few years ago I never really believed it could be done.  It has.  After five previous Marvel superhero movies it’s all led up to this.  And it’s been done with such fresh intelligence, unique wit, humor, creative consistency and downright fun that as far as I’m concerned THE AVENGERS is the best and greatest superhero movie ever made.  With this movie, the bar for superhero movies has been raised so incredibly high that I don’t think it’ll be topped anytime soon.  At least not until “Avengers 2”

The meat of the plot is actually quite simple.  After being thrown off the destroyed Rainbow Bridge by his brother Thor (Chris Hemsworth) during his attempt to conquer Asgard, The God of Mischief Loki (Tom Hiddleston) found himself in a hostile dimension.  He has made a deal with the leader of the warrior alien race known as the Chitauri.  If Loki retrieves the ancient artifact known as the Tesseract he’ll be given command of a Chitauri army to conquer The Earth.  Loki manages to remotely use the Tesseract to open a portal by which he returns to Earth.  Loki steals the Tessarct from the S.H.I.E.L.D. research facility where it is being studied by Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard)  Loki escapes, destroying the facility in the process while turning Dr. Selvig, Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and half a dozen S.H.I.E.L.D. agents into his mind-controlled lackeys.

S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) decides to reactivate “The Avengers Initiative” to combat this threat.  He sends Natasha Romanoff aka The Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) to India to recruit Dr. Bruce Banner/The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo).  Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) heads to New York to bring in Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.).  When Loki is discovered to be in Germany, it seems like the perfect assignment for Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) to capture him but that plan goes wrong when Thor shows up, intending to capture his brother himself, recover the Tessaract and take them both back to Asgard. And he’s got an outrageously big hammer to back up his intentions.

Surprisingly, Loki allows himself to be taken captive and imprisoned on S.H.I.E.L.D.’s flying aircraft carrier, the Helicarrier.  Fury attempts to talk this wildly diverse group into becoming a team while Banner and Stark try to find the Tesseract and the true depths of Loki’s scheming soon become obvious to all.  Divided and disheartened, The Avengers must learn how to work together as a team to save the world from Loki and the overwhelming onslaught of the Chitauri hordes pouring out of a interdimensional  portal above Stark Tower.

That’s the bare bones of the plot but there’s so much meat on the bones that it flat-out astonishes me how much Joss Whedon and his co-writer Zak Penn gets in there without the movie feeling rushed or over-bloated.  There are some great character moments aboard the Helicarrier and the scene of The Avengers bickering among themselves had me chuckling even though it’s a deadly serious scene.  But as a long-time Avengers fan, I’ve seen this scene played out in I don’t know how many issues of the comic book and it feels absolutely right in here.

We get astounding superhero battles such as Iron Man vs. Thor and Hulk vs. Thor while the actual alien attack on New York is jaw-dropping in its scale and level of sheer spectacle.  It’s also where we get to see The Avengers finally working together as a team and it’s one of the best moments in superhero movie history.

The acting is dead on-point with Mark Ruffalo being the stand-out.  I expected everyone else to be good as they’ve played these characters before and they know the tone they’re supposed to take.  But Mark Ruffalo comes in cold and nails Bruce Banner with an ease that is truly impressive.  He’s just as good as Eric Bana and Edward Norton and I could even see the progression in both The Hulk and Bruce Banner through Ruffalo’s performance.  They both have come a long way and Ruffalo as Banner reflects this.  Nothing he does invalidates or violates the Bana or Norton performances and actually builds on them.  And both Banner and The Hulk get some of the best lines/scenes in the movie.  Including the one between The Hulk and Loki that had the audience I saw the movie with laughing, cheering, clapping and high-fiving for at least five minutes.

Jeremy Renner makes for a far better Clint Barton than I thought he would be.  This incarnation of Hawkeye as well as The Black Widow are darker versions of the traditional characters but I didn’t mind.  These characters I’ve always admired and loved since they don’t have superpowers.  Even Captain America has the Super-Solider Formula going for him but Hawkeye and The Black Widow are superbly trained humans who through virtue of guts, heart and their outstanding skills prove why they’re worthy to be Avengers.

So should you see THE AVENGERS?  What a silly question. of course you have. As for me I’ve seen THE AVENGERS and it’s the Avengers movie I’ve been waiting since 1968 to see and it was worth the wait.

143 minutes

PG-13