A BRAVE NEW WORLD WITH NEW GHOSTBUSTERS

When is a movie not a movie? The new Ghostbusters could be an example of such a thing. There are seldom few reviews out there that don’t feel like diatribes about gender, remakes and fan service. Negative reviewers feel compelled to point out their history with the franchise and whether they enjoy female led films. Positive reviews take the time to scold small brained insecure men who couldn’t deal with women being at the forefront of a beloved franchise. Which is fair enough because there were puzzling and unsettling paradoxes here. For example, late last year several underwhelming trailers were released for this season’s blockbusters but even bad trailers for anxious releases get more likes than dislikes on YouTube. Not so for the Ghostbusters trailer whose unprecedented negative rating seemed the result of a concerted effort by those with a sexist agenda. Paul Feig has made 3 films previously with female centric casts in traditionally male dominated genres. Bridesmaids (gross out comedies), The Heat (buddy cop action) and Spy (ummm the spy genre). None of these caused controversy or debate albeit Bridesmaids was celebrated a little for breaking new ground. Is it that fan boys particularly felt under attack for the casting in their beloved franchise? Was it a perverse extension of the mindset that had caused a stir when Daniel Craig was cast as blond Bond? Yet these are different characters in a new iteration, Bill Murray remains the only actor to have portrayed Peter Venkman, you can leave those old films on a shelf unharmed. After years of false starts and Harold Ramis’s passing, doing a new take with a female led cast felt like a great way to organically do something new, different and fresh. Plus the old cast were showing up in cameos to give their blessing. While that often is a case of writing enough numbers on a cheque surely the old fans would not want this to fail if the old cast didn’t? It can’t be worse than say Blue Brothers 2000? Ghostbusters  peter macnicol ghostbusters ghostbusters 2Ghostbusters for some holds a special place in their heart the way Superman and Star Wars does for others. Yet the response for this film seems a little over the top given how much Ghostbusters II failed to fire. Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy are well established movie stars now in their own right and at one point Elizabeth Banks was rumoured to be under consideration (what the hell happened there Hollywood?!) although Kate McKinnon does look very similar. wink ghostbusters kate mckinnon winkingThe trailers and marketing were subpar but the negative reaction has also felt targeted and revealed some ugliness. On the other hand the implication that people who don’t like this film are all sexist is insulting to both genders and something Sony seems happy to have exploited.

So here we are…maybe we can talk about the film now for a bit. Wiig stars as physics professor Dr. Erin Gilbert trying to get tenure at her university when an old book she co-wrote about paranormal research is re-published hurting her chances. She tracks down her old friend and co-author Dr. Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) who is now continuing paranormal research at a technical college with Dr. Jillian Holtzmann (McKinnon). She tags along with them in their latest investigation and wouldn’t you know it they come across an actual ghost which thus begins their adventures of busting ghosts. Soon enough they’re joined by Transit Officer Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) who calls them to one scene and reveals herself an expert on old historical landmark buildings and their hauntings. All four are entirely new characters with echoes of the original quartet, Yates is Ray Stantz-the believer super excited by what they’re doing, Holtzmann is Egon Spengler – socially awkward and tech minded, Tolan is Winston Zeddemore-the practical outsider (references to Patty or Winston as being streetwise I don’t get, they were just very grounded and smart in that sense) and Gilbert is Peter Venkman-interested in other things including in an adorkable way the opposite sex. Not to sound too politically correct but Patty Tolan in the trailers seemed a throwback to old stereotypes of African American women. In the film she is more well rounded and arguably the most likeable character compared to killjoys chasing tenure and others complaining about Chinese take-away.

The film following all the media coverage seems oddly prescient in retrospect, the film’s villain is a little man who studied the ghost research of Wiig and McCarthy only to use it to cause more havoc and bring about him becoming a more powerful giant being. A thinly veiled reference to the stereotype of a basement dwelling fan boy geek who can’t relate to women and who has delusions of grandeur. Some have suggested this is an attack on the franchise’s fan base but who wants to identify as this guy? More disappointing is the fact that this idea for an interesting villain isn’t further developed.

Ghostbusters  ghostbusters original ghostbusters
Ah. Old New York city with your rampart crime and filthy streets.

The film follows trends of blockbusters these days, less scary and sexy than previous incarnations or more pointedly less adult and more family friendly for four quadrant appeal. Boston fills is for New York City for the most part, there’s a great deal of CGI which has less impact than practical effects. Everything has less impact! A neat touch though is McKinnon slowly developing the tech throughout the film after each encounter to make it more practical and combat effective which comes in handy during the finale.

kristen wiig ghostbusters kate mckinnon melissa mccarthy leslie jonesThese are some of the most likeable female comedic actresses working today and they remain likeable in this film. I read a really good piece by Matt Zoller Seitz citing how here is a blockbuster with four women in the lead who are all about the work, not defined by their relationship to a man, are all supportive of each other, surrounded by people (mostly men) saying they can’t do their job before they prove ultimately they can. These are all great things to have in a blockbuster but as a scary film it’s not scary enough, as a comedy there are great spaces of time between laughs throughout and chemistry wise something is off with this film. The new Ghostbusters film isn’t bad but it ain’t great either and don’t both genders deserve a great Ghostbusters film?

I’ll close with this picture. These little girl wants to bust ghosts, were there little girls who wanted to busts ghosts in 1984 but were told they couldn’t just because all the Ghostbusters in the movie were men? I don’t know, my sister had Princess Leia, Supergirl, She-Ra and Rainbow Bright so it didn’t come up. If this movie makes it a little easier for these girls or any girls to play being a Ghostbuster, if it spurns an interest for these girls or any girls to do science, if it makes these girls or any girls have a more positive image of themselves as women then that’s a good thing. I hope they enjoy the film too.

-Lloyd Marken

SPOTLIGHT: NOT JUST ONE OF THE YEAR’S BEST PICTURES BUT AN EMOTIONALLY RIVETING STORY

The Boston Globe was founded in 1872 by six Boston businessmen and by the 1890s Wikipedia tells me it was a stronghold with an editorial staff dominated by Irish Catholics. Wikipedia also tells me Tom Winship succeeded his father as editor in 1964 and transformed The Boston Globe from a local paper into regional paper of national distinction. When he stepped down as editor in 1984 it had won not just its first Pulitzer Prize during his twenty year reign but a dozen. From 1993 until 2013 The Boston Globe was owned by The New York Times. In the 1990s it launched an online website which has regularly been ranked as one of the ten best newspaper websites in the country. The quality of their digital work can be seen for example here in this piece. It is a prestigious publication with a storied history, something Boston can be proud of. There are several shots in Spotlight with The Boston Globe marquee; a little romanticism is shown not just for The Globe but for print journalism in general.

This is not a tale about regular journos doing the regular beat to hit that print deadline every day. Spotlight is a specialised team of veteran and talented reporters who are given sometimes months to unearth the specifics of the story. When they pull the lever it needs to be good and it needs to be right because litigation lawyers for the paper have to be ready to stand firm. They are good and they do get it right and in doing so they make the world a better place. They are able to do this type of long form investigative journalism due to the deep coffers of major broadsheets. Coffers that are getting smaller in the digital age it should be noted. In 2001 the team started work on their biggest story, the covering up of sexual abuse of children by the Catholic Church in Boston. As the story broke the scope of it has increased to a global crisis for the Church and its faithful. As Spotlight reporter Michael Rezendez has been quoted by People magazine as saying “Even though I was a lapsed Catholic, I still considered myself a Catholic and thought that one possibly, some day, I would go back to being a practising Catholic. But after this experience, I found it impossible to do that – or even think about doing that. What we discovered was just too shattering.”

The Spotlight team is led by their editor Walter “Robby” Robinson portrayed by Michael Keaton who carries tremendous gravitas as an elder statesmen in this film that it is hard to believe this guy was Beetlejuice. I’ve spent my lifetime watching this man and even in something like Duplicity or Batman he brought such energy to his performance. Not here, here he is quiet and he carries the movie – Mark Ruffalo is not the star. Speaking of Mark, he’s terrific as Michael Rezendes the type of role you might have handed to a young Michael Keaton both professionally determined and yet often radiating a certain swagger. Brian d’Arcy James, predominantly a stage actor, plays Ben Bradlee Jr. who uncovers some interesting facts in old archives before realising uneasily that former perpetrators might be living close to his house. Rachel McAdams one of the most talented young actresses working today plays Sacha Pfeiffer who is the journalist who gets the brunt of the interviews with actual victims. A personal viewpoint of the abuse is never really shown. We meet the victims as adults hurting but determined to tell their story and we see them from the perspective of the journalists who are moved by their stories but have to be professional and have to discern what is true. The reporters confide in each other as the story begins to make them confront their own beliefs, heritage and feelings.

Many years ago a very wise man came to my house with a DVD to watch called The Station Agent. It was reflective of his taste and of many experiences where my best friend introduced me to great films I had never heard of. Director Tom McCarthy has been a filmmaker I have followed ever since. In that film he dealt with broken people discovering they could love again and have a place in the world. One character was getting over the death of a child and McCarthy was spellbinding in the way that he would cause greater effect by underplaying everything and showing wise restraint. That wonderful gift is on display here in a film that deals with something very painful.

Demographics have changed in Boston as they have throughout the rest of America but for the purposes of popular culture there is something distinctly Irish Catholic about Boston, MA. You can imagine then the trauma at the heart of an old respected local broadsheet staffed predominantly by Irish Catholics unearthing the first real proof of the Catholic Church’s cover up of abusive priests. It is arguably two great big Boston institutions at war with each other and there are several small meeting room scenes where old Boston guys sit down and talk about what to do with the kind of polished charm that makes one uneasy. Michael Keaton is riveting in these moments.

Sidenote: Many years ago Keaton starred in another journalism ensemble The Paper, one of those good dramedies Ron Howard did so well back in the day, which was about the daily beat of a regular journalist but also carried this film’s romantic idealism for the good, good journalism could do. Film Critic Roger Ebert who always considered himself a journalist first and foremost loved that movie. I think he would’ve loved this one too and Roger I miss you, I miss your thoughts and your wonderful words about movies even when I disagreed with you.

Films like this make a splash at awards season but often can struggle to find a wide audience. They get labelled ‘Important’, ‘Well Made’ with a ‘Terrific Ensemble Cast’ but people may hesitate to know if the film will involve them or worse be too confronting. Yes Spotlight is well made and about something important boasting an All Star Ensemble. However it is so much more, it’s terribly moving as the victims tell their stories and also as various forces seek to turn around our heroes. The crowd I saw it with on a Tuesday night was visibly moved . At the end we got up without a sound and left the cinema quietly and solemnly. Like we were leaving Church.

-Lloyd Marken