GHOSTBUSTERS movie review

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A Ghostbusters film needs certain key things in order to work. Ghosts, for instance.

An all-male Ghostbusters team, or any kind of mandated team demographic, is not one of those things.

This is hard to keep that in mind with all the fuss surrounding the 2016 reboot of Ghostbusters, however. Movies don’t exist in a vacuum and most will have gone into this film with some exposure to the vile online campaign to bring this movie down, before anyone had even seen it, simply due to its choice of women in the lead roles.

In spite of this early ugliness, Bridesmaids and Spy director Paul Feig has pushed forward in making a modern-day Ghostbusters film starring four talented comediennes that is both energetic and amazingly colorful.

But there is one thing missing that this new Ghostbusters needed to fully work: to be funny.

Comedy is subjective but it just doesn’t feel like anyone involved shot for A-grade laughs with this film. Normally, that would be something to shrug off but this is a remake of what’s widely considered to be one of the definitive comedies of the ’80s. There are higher expectations in calling yourself a Ghostbusters movie and anything less than being solidly funny will not do.

This latest iteration solicits more soft chuckles and acknowledging smiles than belly laughs. And it’s no real fault of the cast. Wiig, McCarthey, McKinnon and Jones do what they can with the material and sometimes even feel like a cohesive unit (McKinnon clearly has a lot of fun channeling some Jim Carrey-level mugging).

More so, it comes down to some select bad ideas from the filmmakers. Paul Feig’s previous works usually take the Judd Apatow approach of driving otherwise just-okay jokes into the dirt with repetition. He has not shaken this habit with Ghostbusters, nor has he done away with the basic trick of having characters comment on situations in “funny” ways instead of letting the humor speak for itself.

This Ghostbusters is seen as a big step forward for women taking leading roles in blockbusters/franchises. What does it say, then, when Chris Hemsworth is given the best, most consistently funny material in the film? It’s normal to have a buffoonish side character be comic relief, but it’s a problem when he’s THE comedic element in a movie that’s meant to highlight the strength of the leads.

Where Ghostbusters fails as a comedy, however, it does all right as a summer blockbuster. There are more than a few set pieces that really pop off screen with some fresh, well-designed spooks at the center.

The spectacle is silly, easy to follow and, best of all, amazingly colorful. I’m what you might call an apologist for the recent string of franchise films that adopt a drained color palette but it’s still awesome to see a film make such vibrant use of its visuals, especially in utilizing the 3D appropriately.

All this came together for an impressive finale that can stand among some of the more interesting final acts this season.

Yet for all the good blockbuster pieces Ghostbusters delivers on, it’s still plagued by genre demons, such as painful levels of product placement, a bloated runtime (thanks to all those repetitive observa-jokes) and perhaps the most cringe-worthy screen villain in recent memory.

Shoutsma Says:

There are a lot of heated emotions surrounding Ghostbusters, a film that doesn’t do much to inspire strong feelings in one direction or the other. It’s silly, great to look at and a harmless way to spend two hours, but it’s not likely to leave any big impact given how little the humor sticks.

5/10

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LIGHTS OUT movie review

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Eerie setting. Faulty lighting. Character walks uncommonly slow. Don’t look behind that door. Music cuts out. Tension at its peak. Relief.

LOUD NOISE AND SCARY THING APPEARS.

When all else fails, the classic jumpscare is always there for horror films to fall back on.

As such, it’s become a completely predictable tactic for the genre. But every once in a while a film comes along that can subvert the trope and use it in a way that feels fresh and new.

Lights Out isn’t that film. By a long shot.

Instead, Warner Bros.’ next horror hit hopeful is reliant on nothing but the same basic scare repeated over and over.

It may be a refreshingly lean picture in a season of bloat, but with its flat characters, limited range of frights and abscess of atmosphere, Lights Out feels like a shadow of what it could be.

Produced by The Conjuring‘s James Wan, Lights Out is the story of a family (Teresa Palmer as older sister Rebecca and Gabriel Bateman as younger brother Martin) terrorized by a dangerous phantasm that lurks in the shadows and has a mysterious connection to the pair’s mother (Maria Bello).

That idea alone shows so much potential. Add in that the film is only 81 minutes and it’s not unreasonable to expect an efficient experience in terror.

But even with a treasure trove of possibilities at its disposal, Lights Out is made with no more ambition than as to repeat the same tired jolt throughout.

Rather than a smart, developed horror film befitting of Wan’s name (the film is directed by relative newcomer David F. Sandberg, adapted from his 2013 short film of the same name), the filmmakers shoot low, going for the broadest appeal possible with the least possible tone.

It’s cheap thrills and the type of popcorn flick where audiences interact with it rather than watch it — they won’t miss anything of importance, after all.

Which becomes even more frustrating because Lights Out does show flashes of some legitimately good things the movie needed more of.

The backstory of the spectre, Diana, might as well have been made by another team, considering how creepy it was in comparison to the rest of the movie.

Some real creativity was shown in the finale in various ways to produce light when it was needed to save someone’s backside.

Props as well to the filmmakers for at least attempting to craft serious drama surrounding mental illness and the hardships it causes families. Again, attempted.

But all too often it’s redeeming parts are lost by going back to that same plain jumpscare we’ve seen in countless other movies (in more creative and effecting ways) and so many times in this one.

Putting Wan’s name in all the promotional materials may seem like a good idea on paper but it also reveals the most glaring difference between the filmmakers: Wan’s scares work because he puts effort into the characters.

The characters in Lights Out invoke only apathy, as the movie is way too preoccupied with cheap scares to worry about interesting personalities.

Hanging around with these people at the end of the second act, a dramatic and pacing dead-zone before the finale, somehow killed the momentum in an already short film.

Less crucial but also less consistent are the supposed “rules” of the film. Lights Out establishes early on that Diana will getcha in the shadows but you’re safe in the light. However, she also has the ability to turn the lights out … except when she doesn’t (or won’t). Candle light also isn’t strong enough to repel her … except when it is.

But who has time for attention to detail like that when it’s been 10 minutes since the scary thing last jumped out?

This is a movie that plays to general audiences and it succeeds as just that. It’s short, you don’t have to get too invested and there are plenty of shocks that will cause your girlfriend/boyfriend to scream and grab your arm.

If that’s enough for you, there’s enjoyment to be had.

If you crave a robust horror film that’s more than just a one-trick pony, Lights Out is not for you. Don’t be left in the dark.

5/10

THE PURGE: ELECTION YEAR movie review

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It’s a crazy political landscape we’re living in.

Talk of building walls and banning certain races and religions has become a depressingly normal rhetoric of hate. The wealthy and politically elite have further insulated themselves from common law and repercussions, while the poor and vulnerable are increasingly disenfranchised, left at the mercy of whatever brutality comes next — be it financially based or from law enforcement.

Our country feels like it’s at a tipping point and The Purge: Election Year pulls out all the stops to tap into that growing social unrest, to surprisingly effective results.

The Purge series has never been what you would call “masterful cinema.” The original film, while still boasting the most enticing cast, squandered a great premise on a routine home invasion thriller.

The Purge: Anarchy — still very much a workmanlike experience of lite horror — apparently listen to audience recommendations and opened up the world of The Purge to have the chaos unfold on the streets.

The Purge: Election Year still only skirts the edge of acceptable filmmaking but takes a complete dive into trying to mirror the madness to our current environment. As such, Election Year is a grotesque, over-the-top satire of America’s increasingly dark politics.

It may be rough but it’s a film that has things it wants to say and the gusto to put it all out there.

Subtlety is not even remotely a factor with Election Year. If you might have missed that the purge is a systematic tool against poor people and minorities, this movie certainly proclaims it enough to drive the point home.

Likewise, the craggly old conservative villains of the film repeat their talking point that the Purge makes America great enough times for even the most politically out of touch audience member to draw some connections.

In most cases, this would be a bad thing but The Purge series has largely earned the benefit of the doubt. We know by now these movies are allegories meant for the masses, and thus it’s not surprising that they make their message as obvious as possible.

There’s still a fun sense that both Election Year and Anarchy are modern-day answers to Escape from New York that works in the movie’s favor, as does Frank Grillo’s natural action star presence.

One thing that gives the film a bit of grisly intrigue is stumbling upon smaller purge vignettes unfolding on the street. A man gets killed by a guillotine, crazy teen schoolgirls attack a convenience store as payback, an older woman calmly keeps warm next to a flaming corpse — it’s little moments like these that give the film more of its character.

And it certainly needs these flashes of interest because while the message and select parts of the film are strong, a lot of the basic elements of The Purge: Election Year are still lacking.

Most of the footage is dim and monotonous, the action sequences are too unfocused or chopped up in the edit room to be as effective as they can be, characters are mostly flat and sometimes stereotypes, attempts at humor can be downright painful and the movie sags going into the third act.

Those looking for scares and gruesome kills should be aware by now that this isn’t really the series for that. While there are a number of weak jump scares, the tension in Election Year comes more from the feeling that this crazy world is closing in around you.

Likewise, one of the more questionable aspects of these movies is the violence. Barring a few bloody kills, most of the carnage of the film is gunplay and is largely tamed down or glossed over. There’s certainly a lot of it going on but to treat it in such an offhanded, tame manner takes away from how horrible it should be.

Instead, it comes off as just another thing that happens, which, ironically, is something pro-purge advocates might argue.

It’s easy to think what might have been if the Purge series had been made by a different group with much more finesse than it ultimately was, now that it would appear the story is coming to a close.

But finesse was never really a factor for this series at all. Honestly, it started out as a grungy, cheap way to milk out another basic thriller and ended up two movies later as a much grungier, still-cheap thriller that decided it had something to say about the way things are headed.

The difference in the long run was that it finally found a way to apply itself.

6/10

THE LEGEND OF TARZAN movie review

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Throughout The Legend of Tarzan®, Margot Robbie’s Jane Porter reminds us that Tarzan was first thought to be a dark spirit in the trees before coming to be known as the legendary ape man.

It’s a bit ironic, then, because were it not for this awkward voiceover reminder, there would be practically nothing in the latest adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ classic tale that would identify this as being a Tarzan film.

While there may be a jungle setting and a man who sometimes swings from trees and interacts with apes, The Legend of Tarzan® holds no characteristics of its own outside of its ability to make otherwise extraordinary things dull and plain.

Director David Yates did some commendable work on the final half of the Harry Potter series so it’s sad to see him saddled with a project that, after being in the pipeline for a long time, seems to have reached the point of the studio just needing to get the thing shot and released.

This new Tarzan shakes things up a bit, in that it’s essentially a sequel to the story we know, and sees Tarzan in a “return to the jungle” scenario. However, it still bogs down the movie’s pace finds the time to tell the entire original story in flashback form.

And while credit is certainly due for the film’s willingness to touch on colonialism and the exploitation of Africa, it’s all lost on a screenplay so flat that the theme doesn’t progress beyond leading into another “white savior” trope.

If you take out the admittedly pretty backgrounds of the African savanna (easy, because the actors were all shot on a set in the U.K.) and the shoddy digital apes, the movie is essentially “generic action man does generic action things while being played by the next in line to be a generic action star.”

There’s nothing particularly wrong with Alexander Skargard, or anyone else in the cast for that matter, but the screenplay doesn’t flesh out any of the characters beyond the point of being cardboard cut-outs. They’re just kind of stuck doing what they need to in order to get on with it — and they don’t seem particularly enthused about it.

Not that Tarzan himself was ever an emotionally vivid character but that shouldn’t stop the lord of the apes from looking like he wants to actually be there.

But a Tarzan film doesn’t need to be dramatically complex, perfectly cohesive or thought-provoking. It, at the very least, just needs to be fun. Serve up some eye popping visuals and visceral escapism, yes?

Well, The Legend of Tarzan®* also drops the ball in this most basic of areas. Clouded in a thick layer of cinematic murk, the action of LOT® is stunted by some nauseating camera work, while the small amount of humor the film does have sets the bar as low as primate fellatio.

[*Seriously, the movie makes sure the copyright symbol is present in every appearance of the title.]

That is, however, when the movie finds time for its few adventure thrills in between all the intrusive flashbacks to an origin that we already know, that doesn’t add anything and leads to some serious bloat.

Tarzan may be more than 100 years old but it’s perfectly conceivable that audiences are ready and willing to embrace the iconic character once more.

However, we’re in an era where films like the new Planet of the Apes push the boundaries on digital human/animal performance, the live action Jungle Book brings the jungle to vibrant life, and Mad Max: Fury Road takes stoic characters and fleshes them out in a perfectly-paced thrill ride.

All of those films have one thing in common: they’re passion projects. That’s a concept that’s as foreign and mysterious to The Legend of Tarzan® as man is to beast.

4/10