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Ghostbusters

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To be clear, this is a review of the 2016 Paul Feig Ghostbusters, not Ivan Reitman’s 1984 Ghostbusters. In almost every facet, from casting to special effects, drama to comedy, the new lives up to the old. The one thing that I missed was a particular line from Dr. Peter Venkman (Bill Murray), Yes it’s true… This man has no dick. Do you remember that line?1

The film did have some great lines. Lines like this, I don’t go to Chinatown, I don’t drive wackos, and I ain’t afraid of no ghosts! That comes from Dan Aykroyd, who appears in a scene, as does Murray, Hudson and Weaver. Another is, Never compare me to the mayor in Jaws! Never! That comes from Andy Garcia’s wonderful Mayor of New York. From the updated sensibilities the film effect was, on the whole, kind of like J.J. Abram’s Star Trek. It was familiar and fresh, with a new villain and surprising faces. The only major difference is that Star Trek was kind of sexist and this was not. Somehow I think that Star Trek was still a better movie.

No Karan Soni, unfortunately.

Dr. Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy), Dr. Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig), Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon), and Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones), Ghostbusters, © 2016 Columbia Pics.

The entire main cast was hilarious. My least favorite was probably Kate McKinnon, but she seems to be the favorite of most other people. Thus there is a Ghostbuster for everyone watching! Well, except for angry men out there who are just looking for something to hate. In their case they have Kevin—Chris Hemsworth, Thor—who is the least competent receptionist ever. But he is very attractive. This seems to have bothered people in a way that no incompetent female character ever has. Do not misunderstand me, he is gratingly obnoxious, but the ironic anger of some viewers makes his inclusion worthwhile, at least on a meta level. A lot in this film seems to function on a meta level, but almost all of it2 works for me. Good job Paul Feig.

****

1 Dr. Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd): Everything was fine with our system until the power grid was shut off by dickless here.
Walter Peck (the inimitable William Atherton): They caused an explosion!
Mayor (David Margulies): Is this true?
Dr. Peter Venkman: Yes it’s true. [pause] This man has no dick.
2 E.g. McCarthy reading an online review of her book, which is mean and sexist, to which McKinnon tells her not to read that crap.

The Beauty of Film: Be Kind Rewind

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Be Kind Rewind (2008) — Ellen Kuras (cinematographer) & Michel Gondry (director).

To fully appreciate this shot, you have to know the premise of the film. Two ne’er-do-wells have to watch a video rental store, but they accidentally erase most of the tapes. Thus to save the day, they try to refilm them personally. Below Jerry (Black) and Alma (Diaz) are reenacting RoboCop. Additional kudos to Rahel Afiley and Kishu Chand as costume designers because that RoboCop costume from junkyard parts is amazing.

be-kind-rewind

Jack Black & Melonie Diaz in “RoboCop”.

The Best Batman

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Everybody loves Batman. If asked, most people would probably not trust an ultra-wealthy vigilante with sadistic tendencies who spies on people. But if Batman asked you help him, you know you would. Herein I will address the cinematic Batmen only. This means that Frank Miller’s Batman versus Scott Snyder’s Batman and Kelley Jones’ Batman1 versus Neal Adams’ Batman will not be addressed here. Someone else probably made those lists and once I finish writing this I will probably try to find them.

 

BRUCE WAYNE/BATMAN (l) Michael Keaton in Batman; Val Kilmer in Batman Forever; George Clooney in Batman & Robin; Christian Bale in The Dark Knight

BRUCE WAYNE/BATMAN
(l) Adam West in Batman: The Movie; Michael Keaton in Batman; Val Kilmer in Batman Forever; George Clooney in Batman & Robin; Christian Bale in The Dark Knight.

Chronologically:

Adam West (1966-1968) – This was my first Batman so it is hard to be overly critical of the version of a character that made me fall in love with said character. As an actor, West’s performances were amazing. He never let the absurdity of the scripts crack the crucial veneer of the caped crusader’s crime-fighting career. By playing it so seriously and so whole-heartedly, children bought in and parents loved to watch it with them. Still, as far as Batmen go, he was extremely lame, like a more physical Jeff Goldblum character from the 90s.

Michael Keaton (1989-1992) – Michael Keaton’s Batman sometimes felt less like Batman than Adam West’s did. Revisiting the movies his Bruce Wayne was a very good character, but his Batman was kind of a schmuck. Planes with machine guns mowing down a crowded Gotham street seems like something people trying to kill Indiana Jones might have second thoughts about. And they were nazis. Plus, Batman gets upstaged by his villains in both movies. He lacked the detective skills that help make Batman a well rounded borderline sadistic sociopath.

Joker and Batman fighting in Batman: Mask of The Phantasm, © WB 1993.

Joker and Batman fighting in Batman: Mask of The Phantasm, © WB 1993.

Kevin Conroy (1992-present) – The voice actor behind the Batman from “Batman: The Animated Series” and the resulting movies, such as Mask of the Phantasm. After Adam West got me to fall in love with the character, Conroy shaped my conception of the ‘true’ Batman. Thus I am biased towards Conroy and want to put him at #1. His Batman looked amazing. He looked tough, yet human. Solved crimes as well as used violence. He had the style of Michael Keaton’s Bruce Wayne and Tim Burton’s Gotham, but with good storytelling, character development, and a fully formed reality. This Batman taught lessons like Adam West’s, but in a less ridiculous fashion.

Val Kilmer (1995) – Physically he was the first to fit the description of a Batman. His fighting skills were good and he improved the deep Keaton voice. His Bruce Wayne was less convincing, but almost no points deducted for that. He did lack some of the brutality helpful to the role of Batman. Also, Robin stole his batmobile. Maybe he should get credit for hiring a 25 year-old instead of a young teen, though. It may fly in the face of tradition, but seems much more reasonable than a 13 year-old fighting crime.

George Clooney (1997) – Bat nipples + Joel Schumacher = the incorrect assumption that Batman & Robin had killed comic book movies stone cold dead.2

Christian Bale (2005–2010) – Oh Dark Knight Rises…how many points does Bale lose for quitting his crusade against crime? Even with that flawed premise, he does make a great Batman. His Batman had the right balance of fun and rage. While he is not the darkest Dark Knight, he does show the most fascism (in Dark Knight). He also cracks some jokes, which show how his Batman is not really as far from Val Kilmer’s, as it might have seemed. Lastly, I liked the Batman voice,3 despite the parodies it engendered.

THE LEGO MOVIE. Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. © 2014.

THE LEGO MOVIE. Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. © 2014.

Will Arnett (2014) – I love Will Arnett and I love Batman. I do not love Will Arnett as Batman. He has a low voice which helps, but he mostly sucks in The Lego Movie. But the movie was pretty good, unlike Batman & Robin.

Ben Affleck (2016) – I know that if I pick Affleck as my number one Batman that it will elicit an angry response from most readers. My biggest complaint with Affleck’s older Batman is that I do not have enough Batman to work with, since he has not had an entire film’s worth of Batman-ing under his belt. Still, he convincingly plays a Batman who has been through years and years of a crusade. He beats Superman down. Like, more so than even in The Dark Knight Returns. The difference is that Dark Knight, in that graphic novel, has an endgame more elegant than killing Superman.4  Some people do not like how Batman could kill or be tricked, but he has done both in his long history—including in Dark Knight Rises.

Ben Affleck as Batman, calling out Superman in the aptly titled Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice, © WB 2016.

Ben Affleck as Batman, calling out Superman in the aptly titled Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice, © WB 2016.

Rankings:

8. George Clooney
7. Will Arnett
6. Michael Keaton
5. Adam West
4. Val Kilmer
3. Ben Affleck
2. Kevin Conroy
1. Christian Bale

 

1 I wrote Kelley Moench first, which is amusing because the writer/artist team was Dave Moench and Kelley Jones.
2 June 20, 1997 Batman & Robin is released. August 21, 1998 Blade is released. So assuming Blade took only 8 months to make, give or take 3 months, comic book movies were “dead” for at most 9 months. 
3 I also loved Tom Hardy’s Bane voice. Although not casting a Latino for the role was close-minded of Christopher Nolan, since the character is South American and the only Latino/a I can recall from the trilogy was Det. Ramirez.
4 People generally use the term “graphic novel” to mean respected comic books. It has been wildly overused. Comic books are light and thin. Trade paperbacks are softcover collections of comic books. Hardcovers are trade paperbacks, but with a hardcover. Graphic novels initially meant a hardcover/trade paperback that contained new material, thus skipping the comic book phase. It has been expanded to include works that are initially released as comic books, but meant to be read together. Thus a mini-series can qualify, but a story arch in an on-going series would be less likely to meet that criterion. Anything more than that, would be uncivilized. 

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

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In order to win the girl of his dreams, nay, just simply to survive, Scott Pilgrim must defeat The League of Evil Exes! In said League there are seven evil exes. In honor of that, here are my seven favorite things in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.

Chris Evans as Lucas Lee, AKA Evil Ex #2. Part of me wants to believe that his cheesy action hero character helped him land the role of Captain America. This or him as Johnny Storm did it. Hey, they’re both comic book movies! To show the level of detail that went into this film, here is an article about the fake movie posters from Lucas Lee’s career. The glimpses we get are amazing, with lines like, “Now you listen up, bucko. The next click you hear is me hanging up. The one after that…is me pulling the trigger.”

How Anna Kendrick and Kieran Culkin are already talking on the phone about what Scott has said before Scott finishes telling either of them whatever it is that he is saying. It is punchy and funny and Anna Kendrick’s bubbly character, as Scott’s sister, just fits. Sub-thing I like, how Kim Pine would cut off the lead singer of Sex Bob-omb to yell, “We are Sex Bob-Omb!! 1-2-3-4” and just start playing the drums.

The. Bass. Guitar. Michael Cera’s Scott Pilgrim plays the bass in Sex Bob-Omb—a totally sweet looking Rickenbacker. And it is great. But my favorite bass comes from Brandon Routh’s Todd Ingram, AKA Evil Ex #4(?)

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Michael Cera and Brie Larson as Scott Pilgrim and the way cooler Envy Adams, Scott Pilgrim vs the World, © Universal 2010.

Brie Larson as Envy Adams. Sure she would make a terrible girlfriend but she has an amazing voice, beautiful look and fascinating manner. I felt legitimately bad for her when her boyfriend exploded. On a side note, I hope The Clash At Demonhead re-forms in real life and starts touring.

The end non-fight fight scene. “No. This is something I have to do for myself.” Such a classic cheeseball line! Usually the reasoning behind such a decision is rather poor and is used to even the odds, so to speak, after the hero has overcome a more difficult challenge. Then jumping to the outside where the two women who care for Scott are outside waiting to see if he has lived or died perfectly sets up the nonchalant, wound free exit Scott and Nega-Scott have.

That Edgar Wright directed this masterpiece. I have seen his Hot Fuzz about ten times and I love it very much, but this film—not The World’s End—harnessed every skill Wright had as a director, and screenwriter, and pulled off this unlikely adaptation of an English language manga.1 Going back to Lucas Lee, Wright even shot a clip from the movie within a movie that I quoted above and it was amazing and in a totally different style. Or maybe Brad Allan shot it with the second unit, who knows. The result is the same—the best film of 2010.2 

*****

1 A manga is a Japanese comic book, or a comic book done in the Japanese style, often printed in a small paperback format.
2 2010 was a good year for movies too. It also was apparently forever ago because Winter’s Bone came out that year starring a teenage Jennifer Lawrence in her first starring role. If you ever question her abilities, just go back and (re)watch that movie.

Spy Hard & The Crap Barrier

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Marty (Ernest Borgnine).

Marty (Ernest Borgnine).

Marty has a runtime of 90 minutes. Do you know Marty? The 1955 Academy Award winner for Best Picture starring Ernest Borgnine as a butcher who falls in love with Betsy Blair. Yeah, I have not seen it either, but I know someone who did that said it was a sweet movie. In any event, it is the shortest film to win Best Picture in academy history. That fittingly sets the bar at how short a movie can, or should, be. According to Kevin Smith, the ideal length for a comedy is 97 minutes. 8 of his 11 movies come within 7 minutes of that goal. All but 1 (Dogma) come within 10 minutes of it. Whether or not you like him as a director, the man clearly has skills as an editor and can put together coherent stories with good comedic timing and appropriate doses of comedy. I do not know if 97 is a magic number, but what I do know is that movies that come in under 90 minutes tend to be crappy.

Now there are exceptions to the rule. Smith’s Red State was only 88 minutes, but so was Jon Avnet’s 88 MinutesRed State was pretty good, while 88 Minutes was definitely not. And Jon Avnet can direct well, in fact he directed Fried Green Tomatoes. FGT comes in at 130 minutes. This is probably because FGT had lots of good acting and interesting dialogue from which to choose, unlike 88 Minutes which could not even cobble together 90 minutes. Therein lies the premise of my theory—short movies are short because they do not have even good stuff to reach 90 minutes. There is no corresponding converse of this, where long movies are necessarily good ones. The Transformers movies have all been over 142 minutes, with the latest, and probably crappiest, clocking in at 2 hours 43 minutes. Each one of those could have been a less bad 88 minute movie than it was at full length, if only because it would have wasted less of the viewer’s time in telling its incoherent, poorly designed plot with terrible and occasionally offensive dialogue.

Another exception to this is the phenomenal comedy Office Space, which is 89 minutes long. That is truly a great movie and can be forgiven for coming up a minute short. It also highlights that this 90 minute “crap barrier” is a warning sign, not a determining factor. Just like when movies have the cast and crew tell me how good the movie is, instead of just showing a trailer. Does that mean that they could not splice together even 90 seconds of enticing material? Maybe, but I have yet to see a movie that was advertised in that manner that did not suck. Maybe The BFG will be good because Steven Spielberg directed it and he has two Academy Awards and only directs one not good movie each decade, which is amazing. The runtime may be correlated to the quality, but it does not cause a movie to be a good or bad.

Leslie Nielsen in Spy Hard, © Hollywood Pics. 1996.

Leslie Nielsen in Spy Hard, © Hollywood Pics. 1996.

I wanted a vehicle to discuss my long held theory, and then I saw Spy Hard available on Netflix. Netflix listed the runtime at 81 minutes…a solid 9 under the crap barrier. Now I watched the movie on VHS in the 1990s, but as a 14 year old, so I might have been too mature to appreciate it. Maybe twenty years later I would like it better. While watching I made a list of all the times I laughed out loud, and here is that list:

  1. In a nightclub a man wearing a shirt that says “I ♥ to party” gets a knife thrown into the heart symbol, and says “Why…” with a pained and confused look on his face.1

Okay that is the entire list. That said, thinking back to the scene made me smile and I started to laugh again. I have another list though, this comprises of all the other parts of the film that have any merit:

  1. “Weird Al” Yankovic’s Spy Hard theme song and video. Is it one of his best songs? No, but the parody of the classic Bond imagery is done well and the lyrics are solid.

Yup, that was it. The plot serves merely as a vehicle to move from unfunny parody to unfunny parody. James Bond was clearly pitched as the idea, but the movie takes aim at dozens of popular films from the late 80s and early 90s. In no particular order, they go after SpeedIn the Line of FireSister Act AND Nuns on the Run2Mission: Impossible, Cliffhanger, “The A-Team”, True Lies, E.T., Rambo, Jurassic ParkPulp Fiction, and Home Alone. None of which was funny. Literally everything about this movie was bad, with the exception of I Love to Party and the theme song. It makes Dracula: Dead and Loving It look like the original (almost 5 star) Naked Gun. Directed by Rick Friedberg in his sole feature film outing, the story stars Leslie Nielsen playing Leslie Nielsen AKA Dick Steele, Agent WD-40. Did reading Agent WD-40 make you laugh? If so, then you should watch this movie and then please never vote in an election again. Or drive a car. You might hear someone fart on the sidewalk, crack up, roll into the intersection, and cause a collision. Just stay home and enjoy more movies. I recommend the ones that are under 90 minutes.

1 Proofreading this post I started to laugh again remembering the scene. Unfortunately no clip or screenshot exists because no-one cared enough to make that happen.
2 I had to add this to IMDb because it has somehow been overlooked! It stars Eric Idle and Robbie Coltrane. I remember it being very amusing when I saw it as a kid. Although it is only 89 minutes…

The Beauty of Film: V for Vendetta

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V for Vendetta (2005) — Adrian Biddle (cinematographer) & James McTeigue (director).

I actually thought that the Wachowskis directed this, but was mistaken. This shot shows excellent lighting through multiple sources. Even though it is just after curfew the locale is dark and scary, while providing enough logical light, from multiple sources, to read the government’s slogans and to shine off of V’s awesome knives, all while showing the background of an authentic London street. If I am not mistaken, this is Knockturn Alley.

v-for-vendetta

Aliens

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Can you see a bit of Avatar in this shot?

Jenette Goldstein and Mark Rolston as Privates Vazquez and Drake in Fox’s 1986 Aliens.

Believe me, I’d prefer not to. I may be synthetic, but I’m not stupid.

****

I started watching this movie in Toledo, OH in the Summer of 2010. In August of that year I started my movielog, publishing my first review—Crimson Rivers 2–Angels of the Apocalypse. It has a rating, a quotation, and five sentences. That feels like so long ago. My internet connection sucked in Toledo, so I gave up about an hour into Aliens. Almost six years later I am flying back from Maui on American Airlines and our plane has individual screens and a sizeable movie library. After watching The Big Short I still have about 90 minutes left in my flight. Those of you who know me from my pre-movielog days probably heard me mention “the crap barrier.” The only reference in a review to this metric that I have made so far was in 2012 in my review of the horrid Ghost Dad. Thus I could either watch a movie that was probably crappy, or, clearly, finish Aliens since I had 70 minutes left according to my memory. I decided to watch Aliens (had 75 minutes left, it turned out) and finally got to find out if most of the humans survived their encounter with the Aliens—they did not.

The characters are straight forward, as one might expect from a James Cameron screenplay, but the dialogue works pretty well. That is the highest praise I can give for dialogue in Cameron’s work. Recently I chose Rambo1 for a Shot post, which reminded me that Rambo was actually written by Cameron and Stallone. I choose to imagine Cameron coming up with a cool line while writing Rambo, not wasting it, keeping it to himself, and then using it here. The similarities between Rambo and Aliens are manifold, but one had Weaver and was cool, while the other was like watching fireworks on the 4th of July, but with worse dialogue. In Aliens the mood and the environments are great at creating tension and making you feel like you are on another world. More than just being on another world, it makes you feel like you are on a dangerous foreign planet with almost no hope of survival beyond the coolheadedness of Weaver’s Ripley.

Ripley, Newt (Carrie Henn) & Bishop totally safe with no Alien Queens lurking nearby.

Ripley, Newt (Carrie Henn) & Bishop totally safe with no Alien Queens lurking nearby.

Much has been written about Ripley and Cameron, and the role of the female hero in cinema. So why add to it when my experience with women in cinema focused on Soviet films.2 Anyways, I want to add that the robots in these movies are always great, including Lance Henriksen’s Bishop. Despite my preference for Ridley Scott as a filmmaker, I think that this is better than Alien. This is James Cameron’s best film until he made Avatar, and yes that includes Titanic, for which he won Best Director and Best Picture. Aliens has two Oscars of its own for its special effects, and I support the nominations it received for Best Actress (Weaver) and Best Score (James Horner).

1 The original film in the Rambo series was First Blood which meant that when making a sequel, the producers opted to go for The Godfather Part II, except with First Blood instead of The Godfather. With the success of Rockys I–III, and Rocky IV coming out the same year, a five letter R name starring Stallone might help boost the box office on Part II. Part I made $47m domestically, and $78m internationally. The Rambo: First Blood Part II. Part II got a $44m budget, which was an increase of $30m! This made $150m domestically and internationally, more than doubling the gross on the better First Blood. Next up, Rambo III, which means no The Godfather portion at all. The budget went up another $20m, but brought in $10m less domestically than it cost to make (grossing $54m). Foreign intake dropped to $125m, making it still a huge success, despite being somehow even worse than Rambo/Part II, or whatever you want to call it.
2 If you are looking for a recommendation, Moscow Doesn’t Believe in Tears (Москва слезам не верит) is great, but easier to find might be the Criterion Collection’s Wings (Крылья).

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