Ghostbusters II (Blu-ray Review)

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PG – 108mins – 1989


 

NEW YORK, SLIME SQUARE

“Sometimes shit happens, someone has to deal with it, and who you gonna call?”

Five years later and Reitman, Aykroyd, Ramis, Murray, Hudson, Weaver, Potts, Moranis and Slimer are all back for a second love letter to their beloved Big Apple. Since we last saw the spook-zapping saviours of the city they’ve been sued, left broke, dismissed as phoneys and largely forgotten. “I thought you were going to be He-Man” one disappointed birthday boy informs his ‘special’ guests.

Following a brief romance, walking sarcasm machine Dr. Peter Venkman (Murray) pushed Dana Barrett (Weaver) away, but now she’s back in New York as a single mother following the break-up of her subsequent marriage. When some spectral shenanigans nearly see her baby son wheeled into traffic, Dana calls upon her old friends to recharge their dusty proton packs.

Can the re-suited and booted Ghostbusters save young Oscar from Dana’s pesky, Renfield-esque boss, Janosz (Peter MacNicol), who is possessed into stealing the child as a sacrificial vessel for the tyrannical spirit of portrait-bound 17th century conqueror Vigo the Carpathian (Willhelm von Homburg; dubbed by The Exorcist‘s Max von Sydow)?

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With a river of pink slime flowing beneath the streets and feeding off of irate New Yorker’s negative emotions, pliable puppet Janosz’s spooky stint as a red-eyed phantom nanny, the docking of the Titanic and Peter back to his dry best (“You’re not going to get a Green Card with that attitude, pal!”), there are plenty of quotable lines and memorable scenes in this second supernatural adventure. The camaraderie amongst the chummy cast is still strong.

Alas, there is also a niggling feeling that this is simply more of the same, with the Scalari Brother’s courtroom breakout highly reminiscent of Slimer’s ballroom destruction in the iconic original, and Lady Liberty’s climatic march of hope another attempt at a large scale finale, akin to Stay Puft’s city stomp.

You’ll still laugh (“Do…” “Re…” “Egon!”) and the characters are still adorably endearing (“One time I turned into a dog and they helped me!”), but there are a couple of moments when the humour veers a little too close to overegged (that Judge seriously needs to keep his bile in check). The plot, too, plays it a little safe, making Ghostbusters II an entertaining if unevolved beast. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. “Am I right, Ziggy?” “Yo!”

CR@B’s Claw Score: 3 stars

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Ghostbusters (Cinema Review)

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12A – 116mins – 2016 – 3D


 

BREAKING DOWN BARRIERS

When director and co-writer Paul Bridesmaids Feig is sick of the spurious shit over-opinionated anonymous keyboard trolls sling his way on social media, he writes a biting retort into his controversial screenplay (“Ain’t no bitches be bustin’ ghosts!”). But basement-dwelling bell boy Rowan (Neil Casey) deals with his lowly lot in life in a far less passive-aggressive way: he opens a vortex between our world and the afterlife, allowing ghosts to inhabit New York City.

“If you see something, say something.”

So who you gonna call? The Masters of the Metaphy— or Ghostbusters, as they are more popularly known. But not as we have known them since 1984, as this highly-divisive 21 century reboot reimagines Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis’ apparition-zappers as theory-chasing paranormal investigators and publishers of “Ghosts From Our Past” Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) and Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy). These two temporarily-estranged BFFs are joined by nuclear engineer and equipment creator Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) and subway employee Patty (Leslie Jones), whose sat-nav-like knowledge of the city – and uncle’s hearse – come in mighty handy to the city-saving operation.

Written off before a single frame was filmed, GB ’16 is not the abomination the brigade of misogynistic, childhood-cherishing ‘fanboy’ naysayers feared – there are nods to the three decade franchise (from a bust of the late Ramis to an iconic 100ft parade balloon), winking cameos and respectful parallels aplenty (the firehouse; graffiti-inspired logo; Erin banging on the window of a restaurant a la Louis Tully). The new origin story and characters are, by-and-large, likable. Patty, in particular, is endearingly bullish and integrates well despite being the only non-scientist, while I have legitimately never like a Melissa McCarthy character as much as the charming and non-gregarious Abby.

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So, all good, then? Weeeell, sadly not. Granted this might well be a personal gripe given how I hated Feig’s crude and swear-stuffed spoof Spy (2015), and could happily take or leave The Heat (2013), but the humour in GB ’16 did not tally to my tastes at all. Often played far too broad, forced and occasionally veering close to embarrassing (Ozzy Osbourne and a particular joyriding spook, in particular). Feig and co-writer Katie MADtv Dippold managed to raise a smirk on my face less than a handful of times in nearly two hours…

Chris In the Heart of the Sea Hemsworth 8plays the flip-reversed role of (gasp!) male receptionist Kevin far too dippy – he’s so inexcusably dumb he’s almost offensive, while Kate McKinnon’s disingenuously quirky character traits left me stony-faced throughout. So, too, the influx of cheesy celebratory dance scenes. Yeah, it was vaguely comical once, but they are employed too often and for too long – and completely dominate the Easter Egg-stuffed closing credits.

The much-anticipated cameos from the stars of the iconic original films were somewhat hampered by a horrible tendency for all – bar Ernie “Winston” Hudson and Annie “Janine” Potts – to ham it up something chronic. Paul Feig clearly wanted this to be BIGGER, BOLDER and FUNNIER than ever before, which might explain why his spooks are neon-tinged. The CG special effects here to get a pass, however, as the bright style works with the movie’s zany exuberance.

Image result for ghostbusters uk posterHaving had to give another of my 80s favourites, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows a second chance following a week break, I may have to readjust/downgrade my expectations and re-watch Ghostbusters again next week. But my first impression from opening day is a disappointingly dispirited one, when I really hoped I’d come out feeling spirited away.

CR@B’s Claw Score: 2 stars

 

Ghostbusters (Blu-ray Review)

12 – 105mins – 1984


 

‘BUSTING MAKES ME FEEL GOOD

“We’re ready to believe you!”

Much like the paranormal-investigating pest controllers themselves, Ivan Reitman’s mid-80s supernatural comedy perfectly straddles the divide. Okay, not between life and thereafter, but between yucks and shocks. Ghostbusters is never terrifying enough to scare away the kids, or cheesy enough to turn off their parents. It teases at the edges, sure, but it’s universal in its playfulness, delivering (for the first hour in particular) a relentless rattle-bang compendium of phenomenon-securing cinematic gold.

“Type something, will ya? We’re paying you for this stuff!”

From Elmer Bernstein’s teasingly chilling theramin-tinged opening orchestration to the introduction of gluttonous “ugly little spud” Slimer, via the shock of the library phantom’s sudden mood-swing, it is infectiously entertaining, iconic and endlessly quotable – even down to Ray Stantz’s (Dan Aykroyd) bizarrely incongruous mid-montage ethereal blow job!

“You don’t act much like a scientist… more like a gameshow host.”

Saturday Night Live alumni Aykroyd and co-writer/co-star Harold Ramis bring bountiful personality to their science-fiction screenplay. Their university-evicted spiritual scientists are down to earth and identifiable to such an extent that the belated addiction of advert-answering new recruit Winston Zeddmore (Ernie Hudson) is somewhat superfluous. Through Ray’s wide-eyed excitability (“You gotta try the pole!”), nerdy Egon’s (Ramis) inability to flirt with secretary Janine (Annie Potts) and Peter Venkman’s (fellow SNL-er Bill Murray) facetious louche sarcasm (“back off man, I’m a scientist!”), we already have ample access to this high-concept Zuul-niverse.

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“We came, we saw, we kicked its ass!”

As the proton-packed foursome find themselves rocketed to overnight success and lend their bumbling, fumbling ‘expertise’ to musician Dana Barrett’s (Sigourney Weaver) egg-popping, fridge-possessing doggy dilemma, their is a twenty minute period prior to the high-stakes roof-top finale which does switch down a gear. The plot becomes so invested in the coming together of the Gatekeeper and Keymaster and the possession of lovable loser Louis Tully (Rick Moranis) that smarmy antagonist Walter Peck (William Atherton) is almost lost in the mix – until the overzealous EPA agent makes a costly error of judgment which puts the whole city at risk…

“Dogs and cats, living together. Mass hysteria!”

But once our heroes are ‘busted out of jail by New York’s panic-stricken Mayor (David Marguiles), the red-hot quotes start tumbling again (“It’s true: this man has no dick”) as the action intensifies and the colourful effects fly into overdrive. The Claymation work on the statuesque demon dogs is a little obvious, while flat-topped femme demi-god Gozer is a tad underwhelming in human form (Slavitza Jovan), but all of this is forgiven when a 100foot marshmallow is summoned to stomp across the city, following a couple of subtle visual references teeing up Stay Puft’s appearance earlier in the film.

“Mother puss-bucket!”

Even 32 years on, Ghostbusters still lends itself to endless repeat viewings – its spunky attitude and endearing characterisation overcoming any dated FX work and narrative lulls. I can’t imagine Paul Feig’s incoming reboot will quite manage to capture the imagination of its generation in quite the same all-conquering fashion, but provided GB ’16 can mine the spirit of Reitman’s original then it’s half way to success – provided it doesn’t cross the streams! I guess we’ll find out on Monday…

CR@B’s Claw Score: 5 stars

The Jungle Book (Cinema Review)

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PG – 108mins – 2016


 

UNCANNY FANGY

With revenge-hungry Bengal tiger Shere Khan (the voice of Idris Elba) vowing to murder him as payback for the disfiguring scars man’s “red flower” (fire) left him with, abandoned man-cub Mowgli (Neel Sethi) is forced to flee the pack of his wolfen guardians and return to the human outpost on the jungle’s edge. As he makes his way through the dense Indian vegetation, young Mowgli encounters all manner of furry friends and ferocious foes in this extravagant coming-of-age ‘tail’.

… Keep Scuttling!

A Very Murray Christmas (Netflix Review)


12 – 56mins – 2015


OVER TO BILL 

Even after opening the first handful of doors on my advent calendar and gazing in misty-eyed wonder at the fairy lights now adorning our front porch, I am still struggling to get into the festive spirit this year. So, in an effort to rustle up some cheer, I sat down last Friday to watch my first Christmas special of 2015: Netflix’s exclusive, long-anticipated irreverent take on the variety show starring Ebenezer Scrooge – well, “Frank Cross” – himself, Bill Murray.

After all, if you are in need of cheering up – who ya gonna call?!

Now, I know the Scrooged star is renowned for his dour, grumpy public persona, and I fully expected this brisk, sub-60minute production to play up to that lack of Christmas cheer, and it did (just check his hangdog mug on the poster). But what I wasn’t expecting – particularly given how this was co-written and directed by Murray’s award-winning Lost In Translation director Sophia Coppella – was the bizarre, directionless mess A Very Murray Christmas turned out to be.

Murray plays Murray – unpredictable, eye-rolling irritation and all – preparing to (begrudgingly) host a live televised variety show on December 24th, except a blizzard has meant that none of the big-name guests can make it to New York. Poorly planned and unrehearsed, weather (thankfully) knocks out the electricity mid-way through a cringeworthy impromptu duet with last-minute stand-in Chris Rock.

While not rolling with laughter, I could at least get on board with the farcical, bad-to-worse parody I was watching, famous faces such as Amy Poelher and Michael Cera talking over one another as chaos ensued behind the scenes, but then things take a turn for the surreal

A now free-for-the-night Murray makes his way to the restaurant at the Carlyle Hotel – piano-playing musical director Paul Schaffer (of The Late Show fame) shadowing his every move; keys and a mic always to hand – where he drums up Christmas spirit by offering philosophical relationship advise to a devastated married couple (Jason Schwartzman and Rashida Jones) whose ceremony has been postponed, while eating the de-frosted wedding feast and rallying the motley bar staff into karaoke.

Alcohol takes its toll and Murray eventually collapses into a dream sequence where he hosts a glitzy, well-oiled high-end variety show featuring A-list guests George Clooney and Miley Cyrus, before he wakes up on Christmas morning for one final piano-led croon with Paul and “concierge” Dimitri Dimitrov and things are brought to an anti-climatic close.

Where to start? This just did not work for me on any level. What was it trying to be? It wasn’t laugh-out-loud hilarious enough to be a tongue-in-cheek parody and it was too weird and not wacky enough to be an out-an-out spoof. There was no real-world resolution to the cancelled TV show catalyst, leaving me baffled by the meandering nature of what passed for a plot.

Furthermore, everyone on screen seems to be having an absolute blast, which left me feeling disconnected from the jokes, like the uncool kid who stands in the corner at a party. The jazz lounge vibe came off as hoity and pompous rather than jovial and unifying, while I couldn’t shake the feeling that Murray Christmas was trying way too hard to be clever and anti-network, but the rebel routine came unstuck due to the metaphoric chip on its shoulder.

Seeing some celebrities play themselves while others played everyday characters was jarring and spoiled the meta construct, while the whole production seemed meandering and ramshackle – people come and go for seemingly no reason, microphone’s shoved in their hands for Christmas renditions of varying degrees of quality and appeal – while the dream sequence felt like music video padding (particularly when Murray exits to let Miley sing solo), but one that calls to mind Billy Mack’s “Christmas is All Around” from Love, Actually. That spoof worked because it was obvious that Bill Nye couldn’t sing and didn’t care. Murray can’t either, but this fact is ignored as he powers through regardless.

In a CR@B Shell: Murray mint? Hardly. Had A Very Murray Christmas been any longer I don’t think I’d have continued to suck it. Bah, humbug.
1 star