I was fortunate enough to be on assignment for Scenestr again to review an upcoming release. I attended last Sunday a morning preview screening of The Lego Movie sequel along with lots of young people who could be heard dropping some truth bombs and giggling away throughout. The law of diminishing returns with sequels may apply here but the film was still more than entertaining and should prove very popular with families over the upcoming Easter holidays. You can read my review here http://scenestr.com.au/movies-and-tv/the-lego-movie-2-the-second-part-review-20190320
Produced by Eyeball Media Enterprises Scenestr. is an online national magazine with local offices around Australia. Having started in 1993 they’ve excelled at moving into the digital realm but they remain at heart from the streets. They still publish magazines in print for Western Australia, South Australia, New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland every month
It is always a thrill to get to review a film and to attend a critics screening which is what I did on Wednesday night when I saw The Happytime Murders at New Farm Cinemas for Scenestr magazine. A new milestone was reached too, my first media screening where I had to sign an agreement not to breach a media blackout. Karen has taken me to preview screenings previously where mobile phones were confiscated but this was something new for me as a critic where I kept my phone but turned it off during the screening. I was attending a screening at 6:45pm Wednesday and the ban lifted 7am Thursday morning. One can never be too careful. I always enjoy going to New Farm cinemas and hitting the local Pig’n’Whistle afterwards before heading home to write my review.
Produced by Eyeball Media Enterprises Scenestr is an online national magazine with local offices around Australia. Celebrating 25 years in 2018 of publishing history they’ve excelled at moving into the digital realm but they remain at heart from the streets. They still publish magazines in print for Western Australia, South Australia, New South Wales, Queensland every month and the first issue for Victoria is coming out this month too.
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 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. The 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.
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.
These 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.
You’re going to hear a lot of talk about Paul Dano’s performance as a young Brian Wilson in Love and Mercy and it is all well deserved. He is the anchor of the scenes set in The Beach Boys early days as Brian retreats from performing and sinks into making the masterpiece that is Pet Sounds. We see a shy young man wrestle with his demons in a different time and place. There must have been a great burden placed on his family at the time and don’t kid yourself Brian got heavy into drugs and partying. The film focuses more on his obsession with making an album that would be like nothing anybody had ever experienced and fending off pressure from his bitter father and exasperated brother. These are choices made to make him more sympathetic perhaps but also to show cause and effect. John Cusack’s older Brian Wilson later says “I wasn’t a good father.” We don’t go further but there is child-like honesty and simplicity to that. He was sick and he lost his family and now here he is. John Cusack is one of the most likeable actors in the world and when he speaks with a child’s straight forwardness about these things we feel sorry for Brian’s loss and maybe don’t think too much on how hard it must have been for his family too. You couldn’t necessarily earn that sympathy with another actor.
Cusack’s Brian has regrets and there is an authenticity in having the older Brian played by an older actor. None of the people present in the Dano’s sections are seen in the Cusack years and vice versa. They’re separate stories, one about creating an album and the onset of an illness. The other a love story about the triumphant re-emergence of Wilson from that illness albeit not without some of the years having ravaged him. Period settings, film stock and different actors definitely set these two stories apart and yet as we build to both conclusions we can clearly see the connections being made. “Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man.” – Jesuit Motto
I’ve been a big fan of Elizabeth Banks for a long time and this may be her best performance yet going toe to toe with great actors like Paul Giamatti as Dr Eugene Landry and Cusack. The latter has a puppy dog charisma that draws Bank’s car saleswoman Melinda Ledbetter to him but it is an odd world the older Beach Boy lives in. Banks is able to communicate how tempting it would be to walk away and why as a strong woman she found herself patiently navigating Brian’s world. The extent of Dr Landry’s control gradually reveals itself setting up an inevitable showdown. When it comes on two sides of a closed door Elizabeth Banks steals the fucking movie from everyone. Please somebody give this woman a blockbuster with her in the lead! Cusack finds small notes here, in a lot of ways he lacks agency in his own story and puts aside vanity to be insulted or drugged in certain scenes. A key scene is when he becomes manic with worry that Eugene will punish him and you can see how confusing this would be for Melissa and how urgent this threat is to Brian.
Love and Mercy is well written and well directed by Bill Pohlad but it is the performances that make or break such a film. This movie soars thanks to them.