A Ghost Story (2017)

*. Let’s start, it’s as good a place as any, with the divide between a film’s critical and public reception. In general, the reviews of A Ghost Story were strong. Though it didn’t have a wide release, making box office hard to quantify, the general public seemed a lot less impressed. Critics found it a profound meditation on love and loss. Audiences were bored out of their minds. Is there any settling this?
*. I can see where people might find it annoying. It is slow moving, and on the commentary track they even mention the “slow film” (or “slow cinema”) movement, which mainly refers to long takes with little or no camera movement. I can see a slight family resemblance, but overall I don’t think A Ghost Story is nearly slow enough to be slow film. It’s also interesting that they point out on the commentary how Casey Affleck couldn’t move quickly in the ghost costume because the sheet was so big he could only do a kind of bunny hop.

*. Another possible source of annoyance is the silence, or lack of dialogue. This is deliberate, to the point where I think writer-director David Lowery was making a joke of it. He seems to be saying that dialogue doesn’t have much function, not just in this film but in life. We never hear anything, or at least very much of what M and C (the young couple) say to each other. We don’t even learn their names. Then when the new family move in they’re speaking in Spanish, without subtitles (the only subtitles we get are for the ghosts, and we can’t hear them). The only big chunk of script comes in the monologue delivered by the bore at the party (Will Oldham, credited as “Prognosticator”), and I think most people mentally shut him off after a couple of minutes. Finally, it is never revealed what M has written in the note she sticks in the doorjamb.
*. In all of this the point, I think, is that what’s being said is not important. But Lowery was aware of the fact that part of the effect was also to make the film more “vaporous.”
*. The business with the secret note is part of a final annoyance I’ll mention, which is the film’s cuteness. This begins with the appearance of the morose ghost itself, which is very “meta” as the hipsters have it. Then there is the extended pie-eating scene. Is all of this being too clever, knowing, ironic? I can understand it putting some people’s back up.
*. None of the things I’ve been mentioning are necessarily strikes against A Ghost Story, but I offer them up as examples of the kinds of things that might have turned audiences off. Now let’s be more positive.
*. There are a lot of things to like. I’ve enjoyed Rooney Mara in everything I’ve seen her in. She has presence and can act. The score by Daniel Hart has some beautiful moments and it really grew on me over repeated viewings. The photography generates wonderful atmosphere. The air seems thick with something, even if it’s only light. And finally a tiny budget is made to go a long way, giving a small story giant edges without becoming ridiculous. I’m not sure I liked the past and future sequences that much, but they weren’t overly awkward and seemed to fit well with the rest of the picture.

*. I’ll even defend the pie-eating scene. It doesn’t actually go on that long, and M’s overindulgence in comfort food does represent her emotional state. It’s also interesting how absorbed we become in watching her, to the point where we don’t even notice the ghost standing in the background (according to the commentary this seems to have been a common effect). But, on the other hand, how much does such a scene communicate? How much can it?
*. Where A Ghost Story disappoints me is in the love story. There’s just not enough flesh on these bones. As a story of love and mourning is it any more profound than Ghost (1990)? I’ll accept that in some cases less can be more, and that in any close relationship much is unsaid and communicated either obliquely or in silence. But it seems to me that Lowery is asking us to do a lot of work reading much into the feelings M and C have for one another.
*. The score helps, a lot, but everything about this movie leaves us on the outside looking in. Then there’s the fact that the second half or so of the movie drops M pretty much completely, only circling back around to her in a time loop at the end. It’s hard not to feel as though Lowery’s attention has wandered.
*. I was impressed by the young talent showcased in this film. It’s really put across very well in all departments. I’m just a bit let down that there wasn’t more to it in the end. It has the feel of a film-school project to it, with lots to show but not much to say.

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Léon: The Professional (1994)

*. Introducing Natalie Portman. A star is born.
*. I think she was 12, the same age as her character. But already she has no trouble stealing the show.
*. Or maybe “stealing” isn’t the right word. She was the only character Luc Besson was interested in. The film was imagined as a sequel to Nikita, with Jean Reno basically reprising his role as Victor the cleaner. (Besson even described Léon as Victor’s “American cousin,” though Léon is, I believe, supposed to be Italian.) It doesn’t take long, however, before Léon gets pushed aside and Mathilda takes over.
*. So Besson, who has always preferred strong female leads, looks past a character who was being played by Reno anyway as “a little mentally slow.”

*. The only other claim on our attention is Gary Oldman’s Stanfield, in a performance considered by some to be a classic and by others as ridiculously over-the-top. Whatever one thinks of it, it seems to have been mostly improvised. The Beethoven speech, for example, and his bellowing to bring in “Everyone!” (a line that has since gone on to become a meme). So as with Léon, Besson was standing back. But when it came to Portman . . .
*. A lot of your response to this movie is going to boil down to how creepy you think the relationship between Léon and Mathilda is. This is not something that is merely hinted at. In the original script Mathilda and Léon do become lovers, and her age is specified as 13 or 14. And though there were cuts made to the American release version, there’s still no pussyfooting around what’s clearly going on. Mathilda says she feels physical love for Léon and tells the concierge that she’s Léon’s lover. She dresses up in lingerie and dances for him (to Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” even). She is jealous of the attention he gives to his plant, and tells him sullenly at one point that he “should be watering me if you want me to grow.”
*. Roger Ebert thought the movie seemed “to exploit the youth of the girl without really dealing with it.” I see where this is coming from, but I’m not sure what more Besson could have done. As I say, it’s all out in the open. This isn’t really innuendo. In one of the scenes that was cut Mathilda even wears the dress Léon buys for her and tells him she wants to lose her virginity to him. That’s a scene that was in the movie Besson made, and as I understand it he wasn’t the one who took it out.
*. Making matters more complicated is the fact that Besson himself was having an affair with a younger girl around the same time he was making Léon. So this wasn’t a subject he was approaching in a totally abstract way, but as, in part, a fantasy.
*. In theory, I don’t see anything wrong with the idea of a movie presenting this kind of a love affair. And it even makes a kind of sense given what we’re shown of Mathilda’s abusive home. However, I’m not sure it really fits in a movie of this kind. Is their relationship what this movie is about? This is where I think Ebert has a point. I’m also not sure I buy a bright spark like Mathilda falling for a sad sack like Léon.
*. The action sequences here are still well done, but the best one is right at the start. None of the shoot-ups in the rest of the movie is as interesting (and the invasion of the justice building is preposterous). Again, one senses Besson’s attention is drifting back to Mathilda and he’s just content to let Reno go on autopilot and leave Oldman to do his crazy pill-popping shtick. The results are definitely a mixed bag. I’m still not sure I’ve made my mind up about it. I don’t think it’s as good a movie as Nikita, but it’s also something that strays into being more than a generic action film. For better or worse, it was a labour of love.

Coda (2013)

*. You have to admire short films that take on big themes. And when they’re animated, well, that’s definitely something.
*. Alan Holly’s Coda, which comes in under ten minutes, is a movie that takes on a couple of the biggest questions of all: What happens when we die? And what is the meaning of life?
*. A young man leaves a bar, staggers into the street, and is hit by a car. He dies and Death, in the form of a towering woman cloaked in black, pursues his wandering spirit. She says it’s really time to go. He wants to hold out for more. His protestations get him nowhere.

*. Visually, Coda is full of interest. For a night film it’s surprisingly bright and pastel coloured. It also has a softness and flow to the imagery despite a linear, cut-out style of animation. The Man’s spirit almost looks like a clothes-peg doll, and Death might be the obelisk from 2001.
*. But despite being so ambitious and nicely visualized, at the end of the day Coda is disappointing in its philosophical vision. We’ve been here before. The moment of death leads to the reliving of the Man’s life. Death herself is a conventional figure, looking much like the pale-faced Bengt Ekerot in The Seventh Seal. At least she doesn’t have a sickle. And finally we have the desperate pleading for more life, which is as old as the medieval mystery play Everyman.
*. So what’s the point, really? When our time is up we’re not getting any more. It’s over. Live your life to the fullest so that you’ll have no regrets. And don’t get drunk and go walking into traffic. Lessons learned.

The Big Chill (1983)

*. I had thought this film mostly forgotten by now. Where it was still remembered, I didn’t think many people took it seriously. But then, even when it came out I remember thinking of it as a bit of a joke. Was I wrong?
*. Well, it did get a Criterion release, if that means anything. And they include an essay by Lena Dunham where she seems to find some deeper meaning in it. Apparently “These are your parents.” Or at least her parents. Her essay seems mostly to be about herself, so perhaps there’s some inherited self-absorption going on. But in any event she takes the movie straight.
*. I think that’s more and more of a mistake. In hindsight The Big Chill strikes me as being high camp, and as the years go by it’s getting campier all the time.
*. What I mean is that this is not a bad movie in the sense of being dull or incompetent. In many regards it’s quite well done and entertaining: a polished production with an excellent cast. But it is also a joke.
*. This is going a bit further than contemporary reviewers did. They found it slick but empty. Pauline Kael (who, on balance, liked it): “The picture offers the pleasures of the synthetic. It’s overcontrolled, it’s shallow, it’s a series of contrivances. And whenever Kasdan tries for depth the result is phony.”
*. Or, Roger Ebert, saying something rather similar: “The Big Chill is a splendid technical exercise. It has all the right moves. It knows all the right words. Its characters have all the right clothes, expressions, fears, lusts and ambitions. But there’s no payoff and it doesn’t lead anywhere. I thought at first that was a weakness of the movie. There also is the possibility that it’s the movie’s message.”
*. Of course that is part of the message, with the final line being Michael’s declaration that the group is never going to leave the comfort of their well-appointed womb. So, literally, it is a movie that doesn’t lead anywhere. It has no politics at all and the psychologizing is canned (the impotent Vietnam vet, the repressed housewife, etc.) In short, I think Ebert and Kael are right that this is a glossy film without any depth. Though it does try for depth. And that’s where it gets funny.

*. You could compare it to other movies concerned with defining a generation. Slacker, maybe. Or you could compare it to John Sayles’s The Return of the Secaucus 7, which writer-director Lawrence Kasdan says he had not seen. But when I was watching it this most recent time the movie I couldn’t get out of my head was Valley of the Dolls.
*. Both films are camp soap operas. They earnestly look to deal with Very Serious Matters but they are kitschy and absurd. In both films we have no sense of watching adults dealing with real problems. Instead, this is what a precocious pre-teen imagines being an adult is like. The angst. The ennui. The pills. The sex.
*. Laughs? I mean, unintended ones. There are more of these than there were scripted gags. How can you watch the scene with Sam and Karen on the boardwalk and not be grinning ear-to-ear? Give it another few years and I think we’ll all be laughing right through it. Or when John Hurt’s Nick says, in the perfect pissy voice, that “it’s only outside here, in the world, that it gets tough!” That’s a closer.

*. And it’s not just funny. It’s creepy too. It’s like all of Karl Marx’s and D. H. Lawrence’s worst fantasies about the beastliness of the bourgeoisie have been realized in a single weekend of frantic bed-hopping, with wounded men being pursued by mature professional women in heat. The climax of all this is the seeding of poor childless Meg, which we know was successful because we see her watching the virile Kevin Kline going out for his morning jog while she reclines on her pillows with a well-serviced smile of satisfaction. Oh my.
*. Of course it’s the essence of camp that it take itself seriously and the fact that Kasdan and co-writer Barbara Benedek really felt this loss of ’60s innocence and the warm atmosphere of college, with the subsequent big chill of entering into a colder “real” world, is what pushes the film into the realm of a camp classic.
*. Apparently all the actresses thought the breeding arrangement was ridiculous, insane, and unimaginable, but Kasdan found it “benign” and couldn’t understand why people thought it exceptional. Another example of his innocence leading to unintended hilarity.

*. In our own time we’ve come to hate this generation, and not without some reason. They are seen as the sell-outs who just coasted through life, enjoying the sunny days of America’s postwar golden-age economy while whining about their own loss of ideals. The fact that the friends here have achieved such a fantastic level of success only makes their complaining more ridiculous. A bunch of Michigan classmates have become the owner of a chain of shoe stores, a big-shot lawyer, the star of a hit television series, a writer for a national magazine (back when that was a good job), a syndicated radio host, a doctor . . . and we’re supposed to feel these people’s pain as they try to adjust to the cold cruel world of adult reality? Or because their lives didn’t turn out the way they wanted? That they didn’t, as the song has it, get what they want?

*. It’s very theatrical. Very talky, in a way where the lines are all clipped and meant to be significant (Ebert: “The dialogue sounds like a series of bittersweet captions from New Yorker cartoons”). The characters are quickly identifiable as types, which is to say unrealistic caricatures. Jeff Goldblum’s Mike is the worst, being so obnoxious and awkward it’s hard to understand how the other, more successful yuppies stand him.
*. So it’s all very silly and superficial and campy, which makes it fun in a so-awful-it’s-kind-of-good sort of way. If it stands for anything today I see it as representing the final turning away from the spirit of the independent American filmmaking of the 1970s. I thought it interesting that Criterion included an interview with Kasdan where he talks about his preference for working within the studio system. He makes several good points about the quality of the talent on both sides of the camera that he had to work with. One is able to do more with greater resources.
*. That said, so much has been lost. There’s no comparing the depth of a film like Five Easy Pieces to the silliness here. Even in its sincerity there is something so almost painfully immature about this movie and it’s resolution not to grow up. An indictment of its generation, or a touching elegy? I’m sure the aim was for the latter, but you don’t always get what you want.

Annabelle: Creation (2017)

*. Hm. A prequel to the prequel (a prequel to Annabelle, which was itself a prequel to The Conjuring, if you’re keeping score). I’d make fun of this but I’m sure enough people have already.
*. Actually, the billing has it that it’s “the next chapter in The Conjuring universe.” Sheesh. It’s a universe now?
*. Given how disappointed I was in Annabelle (and my expectations weren’t high), I’m a little surprised I even bothered with this one. But here we are.
*. I’m glad I gave it a try. I thought this was a very effective, very scary movie. Not at all original, to be sure. Not original in any way, shape, or form. But that’s the nature of all these contemporary haunted house flicks. They’re just going back to the classics. Director David F. Sanger said he was going for the look and feel of classics like The Haunting and The Shining and that sounds about right.
*. Sanger came to the project from Lights Out, which was an expansion on one of his excellent horror vignettes (also called Lights Out). He does a great job with these short suspenseful sequences, but again there’s nothing particularly new about what he’s doing. Something dangerous glimpsed behind a character. The peering into the darkness that was such a big part of Lights Out. A face turned away from us that promises all kinds of horrors when it turns around. Girls being knocked to the floor and then being dragged screaming back by their heels. Hell, he even throws in a ghost in a sheet. That’s something he also used in one of his shorts, and I remember it coming up in Paranormal Activity 3 as well. The horror tradition is being well mined by this generation of filmmakers, and they’re doing it without any sense of irony.

*. It’s remarkable how a film so generic, and one that telegraphs its jump scares so much, still works. As I’ve said before, you can’t really go wrong with this material. In the first half of Annabelle: Creation we have introduced all the elements that we know are going to be used later. There is the business of the notes being used in the game of hide-and-seek. Oh yes, that’s going to come back. Then there’s an elevator stairway seat. Check. There’s a scarecrow. A well. A dumbwaiter. You know we’re going to see all of this again.
*. Another big thing this film has going for it is the acting. Talitha Bateman as Janice and Lulu Wilson as Linda are both really good. Annabelle: Creation would have been in a lot of trouble without their coming through.
*. I wonder what the first film to do the mouth-to-mouth vomiting routine was. It seems to have become fairly common now. The same year as Annabelle: Creation it was also done in It Comes by Night. I remember it being used in Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness (1987), which may have been where it got its start. Also in 1987, however, the SF thriller The Hidden had an alien that body-hopped in a similar fashion.

*. I’m not sure that as a movie it makes a whole lot of sense. Along with all the generic elements come a number of generic complaints I have about this kind of story. First and foremost is the matter of the demon’s motivation. I don’t mean the general motivation — I assume that it is just out to steal souls — but the particular motivation that drives it to run around doing scary things like opening and closing doors, skulking in the shadows, turning on appliances, or unscrewing light bulbs. Obviously because it’s a horror movie “doing scary things” is pretty much the job description for any evil entity. But as I watch all these trivial shenanigans I keep asking myself why they’re bothering.
*. Nicely photographed, as most of these films are. A workmanlike if overstated score, again like most of these films. Yes, you could call it more of the same. Better than the first Annabelle though, and a professionally turned out fright flick all around. As with the movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, however, I’m beginning to wonder how much longer they can keep going back to the same haunted well.

Rings (2017)

*. There’s a point in Rings when our heroes, the studly Holt and sultry Julia, have to go out to do some field research into the supernatural phenomenon that is Samara. Before they leave, the rather dubious Professor Gabriel Brown gives them a shaggy book containing all he has learned so far on the subject. This struck me as archaic. Holt and Julia are millennials and I don’t suppose they read. When would they even have time, especially now that the clock is ticking on Julia’s date with the demon from the well? Couldn’t he have just given them a PowerPoint presentation covering the highlights?
*. As it is, I don’t think they ever consult the book. Instead Julia just keeps watching the video clip on her cellphone, hoping to pick up some more clues. And she’s guided by visions. All that work by Professor Brown for nothing.
*. I’m joking, a bit, about millennials not reading. Actually, I think millennials read as much as other age cohorts these days (which still isn’t much). But there’s a larger point here having to do with Rings. This is a scary teen movie, not a movie like the first two in the series, which were both about a mother trying to protect her family. I think perhaps the thinking was that since there’d been a twelve-year gap between the last film and this one they were pitching to a whole new generation. One less familiar with the Ring mythology.
*. Of course young people weren’t going to buy a movie about a haunted videotape in 2017. As the prologue makes clear, VCRs are now antiques. And I think Rings does a decent job updating the story to our current digital dispensation.
*. Unfortunately, I think the producers took this freedom and used it to turn what might have been a sequel or re-set of the franchise into a remake of the first film (or technically the remake of the first film, which was Ringu). There’s a pre-credit sequence on an airplane that’s actually very funny and that I thought signaled a change in direction but it isn’t followed up on. Instead it quickly settles down into The Ring 2.0. Everything is the same as the first movie right down to the basic structure of the story, which has Julia piecing together clues to try and find where Samara is buried so she can lay her weary spirit to rest (and maybe stop all the re-runs). The only reason I think they thought they could get away with this is because they would assume that the audience for the earlier movies had grown up and weren’t going to be seeing this one.
*. I’ve mentioned the character of Professor Brown (Johnny Galecki) a couple of times already and I want to spend some more time with him as I think he’s a lot more interesting than Holt and Julia.
*. In the first place, what’s his story? How did he get hooked on chasing after Samara? Was it with the tape he found in the VCR at the beginning? Or had he been pursuing her before that? And what’s his background? His title is Associate Professor of Biology but he seems more interested in the intersection of technology with urban myths.
*. Second: How did he manage to score such a massive grant to turn the 7th floor of that building into his own personal fiefdom when all his research seems to be into a bunch of magical mumbo-jumbo that he can’t even prove? I mean, did he say in his application for funding that he was looking to use the money to investigate a haunted videotape?
*. Third: Was there any formal inquiry into the highly questionable ethics of his research? I mean, basically he’s using students as guinea pigs and presumably more than a few of them are turning up dead and horribly disfigured in the same bizarre way. Where’s the administrative oversight?
*. Again I’m joking, a bit, but I really think Rings would have been a better movie if it had spent more time exploring this angle. The set-up was right for something along the lines of what I’ve called the Ghostbuster genre, where a team of people using computers and wearing labcoats use science to take on the supernatural. Think The Stone Tape (a movie with more than a little connection to the Ring mythology), The Entity, Poltergeist, Prince of Darkness, etc. That might have been interesting here, as Samara is a very tech-friendly ghost.
*. Alas, that’s not how things work out. Instead, as noted, we follow the script of the first film. Critics and audiences voiced displeasure, but I liked it a lot better than The Ring Two and it did make money so the franchise may still be alive. However, I think some serious damage has been done, at least in two respects.
*. (1) Samara’s back story, which really doesn’t fit very well with the previous films, diminishes her quite a bit. Her father is just a lecherous priest? They’re dime a dozen. Who cares? And the ending is far too abrupt. They had a chance to give us something real Hellraiser, with Samara as Pinhead back to exact some justice from the beyond, but they flubbed it. The basic idea wasn’t bad, but it had to be put forward with more gusto.
*. (2) Samara going viral is the logical next step in her evolution. She’s about to become a very busy girl! But there’s no putting that genie back in the bottle. Where do you go from there? I would say a prequel, but the lousy back story has already wrecked that.
*. The series could keep going but at this point it’s hard to understand why they’d bother — aside, I guess, from the obvious reason. Personally, I hope they give Samara a rest. Unless she promises to break the Internet and use everybody’s cellphone to stick wet fingers in their ears. That wouldn’t be a bad thing.

The Conjuring 2 (2016)

*. “The next true story from the case files of Ed and Lorraine Warren.” Or at least based on true events. Whatever that means. I guess if they come from someone’s “case file” that means they have to be true, right? And the DVD even comes with a separate documentary on the Enfield poltergeist scare. Must be legit.
*. All you really have to know is that given this was yet another box office smash, these same “case files” will be raided for material again, with more sequels and spin-offs on the way. Is that a good thing?
*. I have reservations, despite enjoying this kind of movie as much as the next person. I know this is genre filmmaking, and there’s only so much you can do with these haunted house stories, but it’s clear that they’re out of ideas here. There are a lot of squeaky doors that open and slam shut on their own, there are swinging lightbulbs, there are dogs that are sensitive to what’s going on, there are levitations, there are terrified children pulling their blankets over their heads. Even the jump scares seemed predictable to me.
*. If you’d seen The Conjuring you’d feel on very familiar ground, right down to the possessed toys that summon the demons and the girls’ sleeping arrangements. Even the film’s basic structure is identical, with a prologue featuring the Warrens in action (here they’re at the Amityville house), followed by our introduction to the threatened family (with a show-off shot zooming into their house), then the arrival of the Warrens at the haunted home at the mid-way point to cast the demons out.
*. None of this stopped audiences from flocking to it. It’s pure formula, but decently turned out. But what I have a hunch really helps this particular franchise out is that it goes against the contemporary trend in horror films of this sort to portray religion as totally ineffective. Here waving a cross and reciting some Latin actually seems to do something. We also don’t see the good guys all lying around dead at the end. Instead, family values and the power of love are affirmed. Audiences like that. Even horror audiences.
*. I’ve mentioned before how I like to look at what people have on their bookshelves in their movie homes. Here we can see what looks like a complete set of Will and Ariel Durant’s Story of Civilization in the Warren home. Good for them. I have them sitting on the shelf next to me now.
*. Poor old Bill Wilkins, ‘e ‘ad a brain ’emorrhage ‘e did, while watchin’ the telly. Now ‘e’s just a lonely bloke who wants to stay in ‘is ‘ouse. What’s so scary about that? I feel sorry for him. At least until he starts stealing the television remote. That’s just mean.
*. I joke, but I’m always curious as to what these damn ghosts or demons want anyway. In this movie Bill is being used by darker forces, but why those forces are targeting Enfield is beyond me.
*. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are back as Ed and Lorraine Warren, as funny and likeable an odd couple as they were in the first film. Again one imagines them trying hard to keep a straight face. I actually laughed out loud a couple of times.
*. There’s nothing either new or interesting about this entry in the case files, and it comes in a bit heavy at two hours and fifteen minutes, but if you like things going bump in the night and scary faces popping out of the darkness to say boo! then you’ll at least be getting what you paid for.

Ghostbusters (2016)

*. This movie became a surprising cultural flashpoint. How sad. I say that because there was nothing surprising or provocative about its premise, which was simply to update a classic comedy from the 1980s and give it an all-female cast. When I first heard that this was in the works I thought it was a terrific idea, and still do. Why then was it so controversial?
*. I guess it had something to do with what was going on in America at the time. For whatever reason a reaction against a perceived “political correctness” was cresting. And so the idea of making the new team of ghostbusters women triggered Internet mobs who went on the attack even before the film was released. It was all stupid and ugly.
*. Unfortunately, the movie itself really isn’t that good. It’s certainly far from terrible, but it’s a letdown given the property they had to work with and the talent assembled. What went wrong? Was it the PC mentality?
*. Hardly. The real culprit, as so often, is the script. There’s just not a lot of good material here. (As an aside, you should watch the deleted jokes reel on the DVD as that stuff is all just as good as what they left in the movie. Plus you’ll get to see Sigourney Weaver’s cameo.)
*. Let me give you two examples of how the script comes up short.
*. (1) The logo. There was no need to explain the team’s development of the familiar “no ghost” logo. In the original film it’s just a given. But for some reason they thought they had to provide some background for it here. The answer? Have the ghostbusters ask a subway graffiti artist to describe the ghost he saw and have him spraypaint it on the wall, and then put a slash through it. How awkward can you get? This is a long scene. There is nothing funny about it at all. And it is totally unnecessary.
*. (2) The cameos. All of the original ghostbusters show up here, minus the late Harold Ramis. Everyone in the audience must have been primed to see them. But they are all wasted. Bill Murray plays a very unfunny debunker of the paranormal. Dan Aykroyd has a brief appearance as a churlish cabbie which again isn’t funny and where we don’t even believe in him as a cabbie. Ernie Hudson is the only one who comes out well, but his role (as Patty’s uncle) is just a drop in at the end.
*. The rest of the movie isn’t much better, and for the same reasons. There are some decent ideas, but they’re flubbed. Chris Hemsworth as a beefy secretary? Sure. But what’s funny about the part? He’s just another himbo. Kate McKinnon basically steals the show as the punk Holtzmann. Everybody else seems at a loss. And why, if they were going for a more progressive political message in the casting, is Leslie Jones the only non-professional (that is, without a Ph.D.) ghostbuster? Did the tough woman from (under) the streets have to be the only person of colour?
*. So, not a lot of funny stuff and not much of a plot either. It basically feels, plot-wise, like a mixed-up rehash of Ghostbusters and the unlamented Ghostbusters II. After all this time couldn’t they have come up with something, if not better, at least new?
*. I mentioned in my notes on Ghostbusters how the end of it had the feel of a Marvel Universe film before we knew of such things. Well, this Ghostbusters is even more of a chip off the Marvel block. And here’s the thing: when the portal to the other dimension opens and all the historical ghosties come pouring into the streets, forcing the women to fight them off with Holtzmann’s arsenal of homemade spirit-fighting devices, this is the best part of the film. And it shouldn’t be. It really, really shouldn’t be.
*. So it’s a disappointment. Not a total bust, but given the high expectations that came with it, a real let-down. This was reflected in its box office, which on the one hand was very good but because it was such a big production it was still considered a bomb. You live by the franchise, you die by the franchise. Those are the rules.