New Year’s Eve I was scrambling to get a submission in for HEAVY Magazine which I have been contributor for since April 2017. I’m not always able to be as prolific as I would like but a chance to contribute as one of their film reviewers to a recap of the year’s films was too good to miss out on. Similar to how I feel honoured to contribute to end of year countdowns for X-Press magazine. I’ll of course be putting together my annual Favourite Films of the Year later on in 2019 but this will give you an idea of who is in the running at the moment for a Top 10 entry. You can find the post here https://heavymag.com.au/a-re-cap-of-the-films-of-2018/
I hope you enjoy and feel free to comment or give any social media love.
Heavy is an independent magazine and website that is all about the music and specifically heavy music and supporting the Australian music scene in general. Fortunately for me they do cover film as well and I have been fortunate to have a few things published there.
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.
The Boss is the second pairing of star Melissa McCarthy with her husband Ben Falcone as director working off a script they wrote with fellow former Groundling Steve Mallory. A first such pairing of director and star yielded Tammy in 2014 which was a box office success but not as critically celebrated as McCarthy’s pairings with director Paul Feig. A comparison that was unfair in the sense that Tammy rather than being a broad comedy was designed to say something about life and the people who fall through the cracks of our society. It was a harder going narrative despite some comic riffing which can’t earn forgiveness for all its sins but can help explain why it is not as enjoyable as other films. The marketing has presented The Boss as a broader comedy with a larger than life protagonist and huge over the top set piece where Girl Scouts have the kind of street fight Ron Burgundy would find himself in. Yet it too is a parable about relationships being more important that success and having the courage to let people in but it’s a lot less depressing than Tammy at times could be.
Michelle Darnell was created years ago by McCarthy when she was a member of the comedy troupe Groundlings. A parody of self-help gurus and successful business entrepreneurs, Michelle Darnell finds herself charged with white collar crime and all her assets frozen. When she gets out of jail the only person who will speak to her is her former personal assistant Claire Rawlins (Kristen Bell) who is now working a dead end job to help take care of her daughter Rachel (Ella Anderson). While at a meeting for Rachel’s Dandelions Group (they’re Girl Scouts in everything but name) where fundraising is mentioned, Darnell sees an opportunity for a new business venture. She creates a rival group of Darnell’s Darlings who sell Brownies that Claire makes. There are forces at work including a former betrayed lover and colleague of Michelle called Renault played by Peter Dinklage. There’s also a love interest in the form of Tyler Labine’s Mike Beals who works with Claire, is a nice guy and is funny and has a nice face but is not being asked to pose for the cover of Vanity Fair next week.
There’s something uneven in the tone of The Boss, one minute we’re feeling the very real harshness of a woman walking the streets with nowhere else to go. In one scene people attempt to kill people with swords and it all feels like a little too real to shrug off when it’s over. On the other hand the overblown street fight was a lot of fun but seems out of place with some of the realities the film acknowledges. There are some great insults and put downs and some don’t care for predictable pratfalls but the audience did laugh when a sofa bed sprang McCarthy into a wall. If you’re going to knock on the door, I guess you got to step through it. Some moments also feel underserved; maybe to keep Darnell a character rather than a caricature they missed some opportunities to really parody similar real life figures.
Yet the film looks good enough for a second time director although editing could be tighter, I particularly like the aping of a heist sequence. The editing could be tighter but at least Falcone has mastered establishing shots, maybe Zack Snyder should call him for some tips. The cast is likeable enough, Anderson, Bell & McCarthy share a nice chemistry as the heart of the film and there is a good message under all the gross jokes and pratfalls. At times you feel like celebrating the fact that here is a gross out comedy that has 3 central female characters at the heart of it and celebrates motherhood and strong female relationships. At other times cookies get shoved down butt cracks and you wonder if something has been lost. One of the funniest bits has been featured a lot in advertising where McCarthy and Bell prepare Claire for her first date with Tyler. Other scenes don’t stick the landing as good as this but there’s enough here to recommend for fans of McCarthy. Based off this second effort I would be interested to see whether the third time pairing would be a charm.