Ghostbusters (2016)

Don’t believe the bad hype. It’s alright!

Ghostbusters

When future generations look back on this time – our time – and they think of Ghostbusters, we all want them to think of the wonders of the original 1984 film, the underrated wonders of the second and the animated wonders of the cartoon (at least before it was ruined by meddling execs), don’t we? A fine legacy, right? But nooooooooooo, Hollywood had to spoil everything by re-BOOTing the damn thing, so now when future generations look back on Ghostbusters, they may very well think of this new version before the old one, the old one which we took to our hearts and still love decades later. Sacriliege! Well, it would be sacriliege if the film was crap.

Which it isn’t.

I’ll admit, the news of a Ghostbusters reboot filled with me fear. Reboots, remakes and remodels have a very patchy success rate in this day and age. Legacys spoiled and whatnot. The fourth Indiana Jones film is probably the most saddening example of this, all the more baffling because it was the original director responsible for such dirty soilage. I’m a child of the 1980s – I may have been too young to experience the fruits of the ‘Second Golden Age of Hollywood’ (as Homer Simpson puts it) at the cinema, but home video and TV viewing meant I devoured a lot the classics anyway, and yes, these films turned out to be very special for a lot of us. When news of a remake arrives, it’s usually accompanied with a groan. Remember when Poltergeist got remade a year or so ago? Somehow we all knew it wasn’t going to be that great, and apparently it wasn’t. I never watched it, but I never heard a good word about it, and as such, didn’t bother. By that time I had been fed up of giving remakes/reboots a chance when they usually turned out to be either rubbish (The Omen, The Wicker Man) or just meh (Robocop, The Thing), so the likes of Evil Dead, Elm Street, Total Recall, Point Break and whatnot were simply ignored by this good reviewer. Not from sheer ignorant obstinance, but because I do take film critics seriously – when they were saying the film in question wasn’t much cop, I took their word for it, and for the most part, they were right. Sometimes I’d catch up with a particular remake and realise that I should have given it a chance, but those are the risks you take, I suppose. At the same time I remain soberly cynical about future remakes in the pipeline (Big Trouble in Little China, for example) because I’ve been burned before and I don’t want to get my hopes up too much. I won’t be picketing the studios or trolling on Twitter though, because that’s just mean.

Why? Because in the end, none of these remakes or reboots ruined my childhood. They just ruined my evening, that’s all. The originals were still there, and yes, it was painful at the time to see these inferior versions claim the limelight over the original for that brief moment when it was released and were publicised, but mostly they faded into obscurity. Why? Because they weren’t any good. If they did latch on to the public consciousness, it was probably because they did have something to offer, and I’m all for that. If a remake or a reboot is great, then what are we complaining about? The first two Bale/Nolan Batman films, the Planet of the Apes films are two examples of reboots that have worked spectacularly well. And you know what? The older films are still there to be enjoyed and savoured. Living together in perfect harmony and whatnot.

The news of a Ghostbusters remake however, turned out to be the Last Straw in the eyes of those who feel all originals should be left alone. I’ll admit, my first reaction was that of jaded pessimism – the director Paul Feig, had made Bridesmaids, a funny-but-not-that-funny comedy that seemed to get a freer than usual pass because of the all too rare occurrence of a high-profile comedy with a predominantly female cast. I felt it suffered from the same Judd Apatow problem of a comedy that was too long, too baggy and in sore need of an editor. Oh well though, we’ll see what happens, I suppose. For some though, the news of a Ghostbusters reboot was just too much – I hadn’t really been paying attention to much of the backlash because I can’t be arsed to be drawn into the hype of upcoming films years before they actually come out, I just want to concentrate on the films that are out now instead. I was aware that some (but certainly not all) of the backlash was focused on the fact that the new film would feature four women as the Ghostbusters – on one level I couldn’t give two hoots who were in the roles as long as they were good, but then I realised that given women get such a crap deal in blockbusters, the decision to make it female-led felt necessary. I wanted to like the film almost instantly for having the… er, balls (okay, let’s go with ovaries) to go ahead with a decision.

Now, the notion of re-doing Ghostbusters didn’t seem quite as up there with so-far unpromised notions of Jaws and Back to the Future, but still it seemed wrong to me. Even talk of a third Ghostbusters film that would have been a sequel to the first two was in the skies for a long time, and that got my alarms ringing too. Just leave it alone, I thought. Yet when I could be bothered to give it some thought, I realised the idea wasn’t bad at all. Ghostbusters had always been more of a thing than a cast-in-stone classic, potentially very adaptable and ripe for expansion.

Then the trailer came along.

It was crap, wasn’t it? I mean, its eventual distinction of being the most unpopular film trailer ever on Youtube was most likely part of the conspiracy by disgruntled fans to purposefully get it there because they were so pissed off by the sheer notion of a Ghostbusters reboot. I believe that some of the impetus of that conspiracy was fuelled by misognyny, but I stress, I don’t believe that it was purely fuelled by that – there are lot of fans out there who simply have had their fill of mediocre-to-crap reboots. However, let’s not forget that it wasn’t a good trailer, was it? It wasn’t funny, the ghosts looked dodgy, the reworking of the theme tune sounded rubbish and some of the dialogue sounded cringey. Then there was the fact that the film had resorted to having a black character as the one non-professional all over again. The treatment of Ernie Hudson’s Winston character, acceptable-ish in the first one given that it was an expository film, not so much at all in the established sequel, was a sad example of sidelining the black character in mainstream Hollywood. It seemed like the new film was repeating the mistake, and even compounding it by emphasising the whole ‘shouty-sassy’ stereotype. And regardless of who was saying it, that whole ‘THE POWER OF PATTY COMPELS YOU!’ gag was just awful – this was one of the big jokes? Riffing off a film that came out before the original Ghostbusters came out?

Another, slightly better received trailer came along, and the best I could say about it was that it was alright. It honestly should have been the first trailer, even if it would have still lambasted simply for being a new Ghostbusters promo. Right up until last week, I was ambivalent – probably unlikely to see it unless the reviews were great. And you know what? They were! That was enough for me. Pretty much across the spectrum – great. Not even any two-star reviews! Threes and fours everywhere! Sold. I was still prepared not to be blown away – the other Feig film I had seen since Bridesmaids – 2015’s Spy – suffered from the same problems as that earlier film. Too bloody long, and too baggy, though with plenty of belly laughs, so good enough.

My opinion? It’s good!

It’s not great, but it is good.

I don’t love it as much as the original. Okay, okay, what a ridiculous thing for me to say. I’ve lived with the original since I saw it on its Christmas TV premiere back in 1987. I’ve only lived with the new film for 24 or so hours. How can it stand up to that? I also don’t love it as much as the wildly underrated Ghostbusters II, but again, that one’s been in my life since I saw it at the cinema as an eight year old back in 1989. Those two films are a special part of my life, and they always will be. Maybe this new one will be a special part of lots of other lives, and that’s a good thing. I’ve had my childhood classics – let the kids have theirs. Anyway, I’m going to avoid comparisons with the old films as best as I can, even though the film is having plenty of fun doing that itself.

The four Ghostbusters are the hoping-to-be-tenured university teacher Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig – playing it sweet and straight) who wants to bury her past as a co-author of a ‘ghosts are real’ tome lest it ruin her reputation, her former creative partner but still true-believer Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy – endearingly enthusiastic) who wants the book to reach an audience so she can pay the bills, her eccentric current partner in science Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon – live-wire), and subway worker Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones – warm and engaging) who encounters a ghost at work and wants in on the action.

The plot to the new one is similar enough in that we have four ghostbusters busting ghosts in New York, culminating in a big showdown, but how it gets there is refreshing enough to deliver some surprises. For instance, we actually have a human antagonist named Rowan who is deliberately unleashing the supernatural in the city, an underused but effective turn by Neil Casey as a social misfit who’s tired of being the underdog. The presence of ghosts is established and seemingly popularised instantly, but is thwarted by the Mayor (Andy F****n’ Garcia!) who wants to keep all of this hush-hush so as not to panic the city. However, Rowan’s plan to bring about spectral chaos becomes too immense to contain, leading to an all-out explosion of ghostly shenanigans, and to quote the second film, when shit happens, who you gonna call?

Okay, the good stuff – the new Ghostbusters are fine. There’s an easy-going, natural chemistry between them and they all get a chance to shine. It’s early days, and new characters take getting used to, so it’s too soon for me to say how well this new team works, but early signs are promising I really do hope this film gets a sequel to enhance all of this. Wiig and McCarthy are effortlessly funny and have a good, believable friendship going on between them. The obvious stand out turn is from McKinnon, with her (animated version) Egon-style haircut and infectiously gleeful performance providing much of the film’s energy. Jones, despite being responsible for the trailer’s worst bit, is also funny. These are funny people. I like them. They work well together. Enough said. The thing is, these characters are literally female of course, but their femaleness is not the be all and end all – they’re regular people, regular characters, certainly not sexualised or solely defined by their gender. We’re not talking about four Lara Crofts or male fantasy stereotypes here. For that the film and all involved should be congratulated. It’s so depressing that in this day and age, there are no female-led adventure/action films. It’s just a given that the women are sidelined or their ‘strength’ is boiled down to their ability to be able to give as good as the guys when it comes to a punch-up. This needs to be rectified. Ghostbusters is a start.

What else? Well, despite fearing that it all looked a bit too much like Luigi’s Mansion for the Nintendo Gamecube in the trailers, the vividly colourful look of the ghosts is actually quite cool in the film itself. Some of the ghosts look great, especially a short-lived but properly creepy mannequin ghost half-way through. Supporting performances are excellent, especially Chris Hemsworth as the ladies’ secretary, who may very well be the stupidest on-screen character since Brick in Anchorman. It’s wonderful to see Garcia back on the big screen, and his reaction to being called the worst thing a Mayor could ever be called is priceless. Charles Dance also has a cool, brief appearance near the start. Unlike Feig’s earlier works, the film is not too long. It’s just right. That will probably change when the extended cut arrives on home video, but hopefully the new stuff will add rather than subtract from the film’s impact.

Okay, the not so good stuff. It’s not scary. Oh, how I wish it could have been scary. It’s a film about ghosts! Bring on the fear! I’m not talking hardcore horror – it’s a family film (crack jokes not withstanding) after all, but aside from the occasional very mild spooky bit, I don’t see this one giving children nightmares. What? Giving children nightmares? How horrible! That’s right! Scary kids films are the best! The lack of fear means the big ending, as fun as it is, lacks any kind of real dramatic weight. Okay, I’m going to bring up the original here – the first one had the kind of serious scares that were thrilling to a younger viewer – entry-points to more adult horror, for sure. Stuff like the demon in the fridge, any of the terror dog bits, and yes, the librarian at the start. They counter-balanced the humour beautifully and both elements enhanced each other. There was a real sense of escalating tension in the first one, but here it all just kind of cruises in medium-gear.

Now to some of the humour. Now this film is funny (though not as witty as the originals), but the film seems to be too aware that it’s being funny, if you know what I mean? I understand it must be difficult to rein in your enthusiasm when you’re making a film like this, but there was a bit too much of an ‘awesome!’ vibe that sometimes left me cold, and ‘awesome!’ is an exclamation I could happily do without hearing in any film, ever, from now on. It’s been said that the enjoyment of a film is in inverse proportion to the enjoyment the actors had making it, and while that’s a severe test, it’s true that sometimes watching actors get off on their own jokes can get a bit annoying. Having Hemsworth dance through the end credits is an example of such overkill, I thought. However, such self-indulgent stuff really worked in Ghostbusters II because the actors had pretty much earned the right to have a laugh, riff and enjoy themselves because we’d all been through the first film together and it was like a wonderful reunion of some sorts. The guys had already proved their worth in the first one, and they could afford to be a lot more easy-going, self-reflexive and naturally hilarious as a result. I think we could have saved the indulgences of this new Ghostbusters film for its sequel, which, I repeat, I hope we do get. We have a good thing going here. It could be a great thing.

Also, the cameos. The best one is the homage to Harold Ramis, seen near the start. I thought that was wonderful. The others range from slightly awkward (Bill Murrary), cute (Annie Potts, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson) to just baffling (Sigourney Weaver). Oh yeah, Slimer is back too, with a girlfriend. How does that work? In fact, I don’t want to know. I think the film could have done without these appearance to be honest. They just distract. And yes, the new takes on the theme are not great. That was always going to be a tough one, to be fair.

So speaking as someone who rates Ghostbusters as one of his favourite films, who adores the first two seasons of the cartoon version and who thinks that Ghostbusters II is probably the most underrated sequel ever, this new one is a welcome addition to the canon. Compared to what has preceeded it, it falls short, but on its own terms it is most enjoyable. Go for it.

PS: I can never be bothered with star ratings and whatnot, but to counteract the suspiciously low rating on the Internet Movie Database, I assigned it the mark I felt it deserved. 6/10.

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Invasion U.S.A (1985)

It’s time…

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One of Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus’ most iconic examples of Cannon fodder, Invasion U.S.A is 80’s action trash taken to the logical limit, and it’s bloody shite. Thankfully it’s also hilarious and excessively entertaining. As for Chuck Norris – well, it’s not so much that he can’t act, more that he won’t act. I have never seen a more non-descript action hero than our Chuck. His face is a almost entirely blank canvas – I say almost, since he does have a beard. Aside from a bit when he wrangles an alligator early on, he has no characteristics or interests beyond beating people and killing people. Sometimes he combines the two.

Here, he plays Matt Hunter, one of those ‘there’s only one man for the job’ types. He lives alone in the Florida Everglades, where he does little else except be a man. You do not fuck with him. If you do, he’ll hit you with so many rights you’ll be begging for a left. He’ll also, when demanding information, squeeze that hand you were using to hold your beer so hard the glass will break. Ouch. The villains in Invasion U.S.A are particularly despicable, their only personality traits being stuff along the lines of ‘complete prickheads’ and ‘murdering scumbag bastards’– I mean, we start off with a boatload of tired, lost refugees (including children) being ‘welcomed’ by the U.S coast guard, who turn out to not be remotely U.S-ish or even coastguard-ish. No, they’re our bad guys, of undecided ethnic origin (I think the film is more than happy to designate them simply as ‘un-American’) who kill them all and then take the secret stash of cocaine that was on the boat. The head bad guy, Rostov, is played by Richard Lynch, and this fucker just looks evil. He’s also the best thing in this movie, because he’s just so off the chain, but that isn’t saying much at all. It looks like there’s a history between Rostov and Hunter, with the latter lamenting that he should have killed him when he had the chance. Rostov has a nightmare where Hunter catches him unawares and insists that ‘it’s time’. As in, time to die. Therefore, if Rostov is going to successfully invade the USA, he best take Hunter out of the equation first. After a half-hearted attempt, Hunter is left for dead and so the invasion can commence. This involves Rostov and his gang going around and killing Americans in acts of outrageously OTT violence – they storm the beach and literally stomp over a couple kissing by the sea, they blow up a load of houses with rocket launchers that somehow never need to be reloaded, they kill a load of people at some bar in Miami, lay waste to a shopping mall (although Chuck does most of the damage) and a fairground too (though we never see this – given this is a Cannon film, I suppose the budget can only go so far).

They even try to blow up a church and a school bus full of children, but even that’s too much for Golan and Globus, so Chuck foils both plans at the last minute. How he does so is down to some weird sixth sense that has him arriving at the nick of time from out of nowhere in any situation. Apparently the film was ruthlessly cut to take out shit like explanations, continuity or common sense, so all we’re left with are action sequences. To be honest, this lean, mean approach does work in the film’s favour. There’s no way this film was going to be any good in any given cut, so the filmmakers might as well just give us the greatest hits. This is why Invasion U.S.A is the most fun out of all the Chuck films I’ve seen. It’s not his best – that’s still Code of Silence, which, keep it quiet, is actually a proper decent thriller, but it’s not an all-out mad piece of outrageous trash like this. You can keep The Delta Force, which is about an hour too long and not quite crap enough to work as an unintentional blast – this is where it’s at.

There’s an astonishing scene early on which encapsulates the madness of this movie. Rostov shows up at a seedy motel (natch) to sell the cocaine he’s just nicked and the dealer is BILLY FUCKIN’ DRAGO. Sometimes I think filmmakers simply put Billy Drago in a supporting bad guy role to make the real bad guy look even more evil. Poor Drago only lasts one scene here, but it’s a good one, and it essentially culminates in Rostov sealing the deal by killing Mickey (Drago) and some addict who’s busy snorting coke. This is how it goes down:

1. Rostov slams the addict’s face down onto the table whilst she’s snorting with her straw, which results in the straw going up in her head.

2. Rostov, after killing a few lackeys (two shots fired, three bullet holes in the door – eek), hurls Mickey up against the wall, pulls out a gun, sticks it down his trousers and SHOOTS HIM TWICE IN THE COCK AND BALLS!

3. Rostov grabs the screaming addict and hurls her through a window.

It’s a jaw-dropping moment, and the bit that stands out is Rostov shooting Mickey in the nuts. What an odd way to kill someone. If Rostov had only ever done this kind of thing once, then we could chalk it up to a moment of madness, but no – he shoots one of his own men in the cock and balls later on. Like I say, one time – off-the-cuff resourcefulness. Two times – this man’s clearly got a depraved M.O. You just know that this is how he’s aching to off the Chuck with, but by the end he’s so desperate he’s had to resort to the infinitely less initmate method of ROCKET LAUNCHER.

Nothing else in the film is quite as jaw-dropping as that Lynch/Drago face-off, but there’s lots of laughs to be had, be it the very obstinate man who tries to chase down the terrorist who ‘forgot his bag’, the lady who suffers an entire car chase being dragged along by the side of the vehicle, the kids who sing ‘Row, Row, Row Your Boat’ on loop without even moving onto the other verses (where’s the crocodile? The lion?), the car on display in the mall that’s just screaming to be used, and the utterly pointless reporter character who does no reporting, instead just taking a few snapshots and hurling a lot of abuse at our Chuck, who barely reacts. The reporter incidentally, is played by Melissa Prophet, who I recognised as Joe Pesci’s wife in Casino.

Oh yeah, finally the ending – essentially, Hunter and Rostov stalk each other around an office block with rocket launchers. Anyone who played multiplayer in Goldeneye on the N64 will remember there was an option to chase each other around with the bloody things, and they were frankly impractical. Let one off in a closed environment (just like letting anything off in a closed environment) was only going to do you more damage than anyone else. Yet we pretty much get a mano a mano stand-off in a corridor and it culminates in one seriously exterminated bad guy, a broken window and a stray boot – it is utterly, utterly ludicrous. Yet by this point in the film, I was pretty much sold on it. The thing is, this showdown isn’t even the best of its kind. That’s right, it wasn’t the Best Rocket Launcher Death in a Cannon Film from 1985. That prestige must be awarded to Death Wish 3, where Charles Bronson terminates the bad guy with a bazooka he ordered through the post. After Rostov is blown to pieces, the film ends. It makes sense – Chuck has literally nothing left to contribute after that, so he may was well just power down until he’s ready to be let loose as part of The Delta Force.

Invasion U.S.A works as a total comedy these days, but at the time it was lambasted as paranoid, dumb as fuck, xenophobic trash. Still, those critics, who were rightly offended, must have also been quietly laughing their arses off at that bit when Billy Drago gets his bollocks shot. They just didn’t put that bit in the review, that’s all.

Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

It’s not good. It’s not good at all.

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‘You’ve got me? Who’s got you?’ – Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) in Richard Donner’s Superman (1978)

Ah, that sense of awe. Remember that bit in the original Superman, when Superman and Lois fly through the night sky? Remember the tagline – ‘you’ll believe a man can fly’? Not much of that magic was in Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, which I re-watched last night in the build-up to its sequel, which I watched today. I’m all for a darker, de-mystified approach in films, but there’s dark and there’s drab. Thinking back to when I first watched it at the cinema years back, all I can remember about Man of Steel was that it looked dull, there wasn’t any humour and there was too many, and I mean far too many buildings collapsing amidst interminably long fight sequences. Since then I’ve watched Peter Griffin fight Homer Simpson, a fight which took them on a bus, into a power plant, in a radiation pit, up into the skies, into outer space, over a gorge and under a boulder, and it’s the kind of scrap that shows up the fighting style of Man of Steel for what it is – empty, preposterous, overdone, but without the self-aware hilarity of the Family Guy/Simpsons crossover. Man of Steel is perfectly watchable, even straight-up solid for the most part, but it totally lacked that sense of awe – none of the characters seemed remotely stunned that they were witnessing things that they’d never seen before, astonishing things like a man who could fly, spaceships and whatnot. Lois Lane walked into a derelict space craft like she was mooching around an abandoned warehouse. It was like the filmmakers had forgot what had made this kind of movie so magical. It also lacked any kind of narrative flow – Kal-El/Superman’s life up to the present day was depicted in scattershot fashion which jumped back and forth in time, and I just felt uninvolved. It didn’t help that poor Henry Cavill was given so little to work with as the title character– we never got a real sense of how he was feeling, apart from that bit when he flies for the first time. He looked pretty jazzed during that bit. The colossal destruction that pretty much took up the entirety of the second half was also pretty offensive – all those buildings falling down, the body count presumably in the thousands, and none of those lost lives were even paid any attention, and yet we’re meant to feel bad for Superman when he kills the bad guy at the end. What about all those poor sods in all those buildings? It didn’t put me in a good frame of mind for the sequel, but I’d already booked the ticket. What could I do?

Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is not good. At all. It is entirely free of heart (despite various heart-to-heart scenes between characters, living and/or dead), humour, intelligence or imagination. My hackles were raised as soon as I had to sit through another depiction of Bruce Wayne losing his parents in the opening credits. Enough already! You know why Batman Returns is still the best Batman movie? Because it doesn’t make us go through all that shit again! That and it’s just the best, straight up. What follows in this new film is an experience of two halves, the first a plodding series of scenes with no momentum and incoherent logic, the second a relentless run of destruction porn and spectacular but flat action.

So yeah, about that first half – Superman is suddenly the bad guy for reasons confusingly depicted, Batman doesn’t like Superman because he was on street level when all the horrors of the Man of Steel finale took place and thinks Supes is a thoughtless god-like monster who can’t be disciplined. In fact, these flashback bits do work because it lets us in on what the filmmakers should have been concentrating on in the original film’s climax – that all those collapsing buildings had human beings in them and lots of people died during that protracted punch-up. Elsewhere, Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and Superman are in a relationship and their chemistry is zero-level. Maybe because we’ve not seen their romance develop at all.

Lex Luthor is also in on the film’s increasingly overcrowded action, and Jesse Eisenberg’s jittery, manic-comic/psycho turn is out of place in a film which is otherwise lantern-jawed/seriously stoic. It’s like if Jim Carrey walked in on the set of Bergman’s Cries and Whispers. He’s probably the best thing in the film, mind you, despite a fatal lack of threat – something even the previous film’s two-dimensional antagonist General Zod (Michael Shannon) managed to convey. Batman’s faithful servant Alfred is here, and with Jeremy Irons we have the worst incarnation of the character to date. His character is simply a bored-sounding run of oh-so ironic asides. He has none of the warmth of Michaels Gough or Caine.

Other characters drift in and out – only Laurence Fishburne as Daily Planet editor Perry White gets to enjoy anything close to a good line. Scenes follow dream sequences follow scenes that I think were dream sequences (I didn’t know what the hell was going on), some Kryptonite is thrown into the mix (surprise, surprise) and the whole thing is so patchily put together, so lacking in any kind of coherent continuity that I wondered if this first half was an edit made up of scenes from a whole series of Batman/Superman films that were made but never released. How come there was no sense of Metropolis having to rebuild itself after all the damaged wreaked in the first film? It’s probably because we’re not being asked to give a shit. No time for that, there’s a newly minted Metropolis to destroy! Oh yeah, Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot)’s somewhere amongst all of this, though we don’t see her as such until very late in the film. Some other DC characters make little appearances, and unless you really, really give a shit about that sort of thing, these little moments won’t get your motor running. In fact, you may just wonder who these people are.

The second half is just a load of utterly exhausting action, and seriously, none of it is exciting. In fact, it may represent the apex/nadir of explosion-fuelled, fatigue-inducing, city-flattening, bum-numbing chaos outside of a Michael Bay movie. Snyder is seemingly just interested in widespread destruction – he doesn’t seem to care about things like peril, danger, excitement or tension, just in having two or three people beating the shit out of each other, but given our opponents are either near-invincible aliens, armour-plated nutters or rock monsters, there’s no real sense of pain being inflicted, or a flesh, blood and sweat conflict. It’s just punch, punch, punch/kick, kick, kick/get thrown through that building, this building, that building. It’s almost perversely tedious. In another scene, Batman beats the living shit out of some bad guys and I didn’t even know who the fuck they were. They were just anonymous lackeys. They might as well have been cardboard cut-outs in a shoot-out range. The afore-mentioned rock monster is like the equivalent of the bonus boss you get to unlock if you pick up all the secret scrolls/chaos emeralds/mystic turds in a video game. All the while I was watching it I was aware that because Wonder Woman hadn’t shown up to join the battle, it meant the film was far from over. When she does show up, it’s simply the same thing as ‘PLAYER 3 HAS JOINED THE GAME’. Who is this character? Why do I care about the fact that I don’t care? Because this film should have been great, and I’m pissed off. As for Batman, Ben Affleck pulls off all the right solemn expressions, stern physicality and gravelly vocals (aided this time by a vocoder, which makes more sense than Christian Bale seemingly eating broken glass to get the desired effect) but his Caped Crusader is lost in all this mess – introducing him as a co-star instead of giving him his own film to begin with him has done the actor no favours. Affleck hasn’t been given a chance to establish himself in the role, and him being thrust into Superman’s storyline sells this incarnation of the character short. I know we all know who Batman is, and we have an established awareness of the character’s history, but poor Affleck hasn’t been given any time to settle into the role, or make it his own, so his swiftly established anger towards Superman is shoehorned into the Man of Steel universe too quickly. Additionally, the resolution to all of this rivalry is settled very unconvincingly towards the end. All I’ll say is that it’s very convenient that Martha seems to be the go-to name for superheroes’ mothers. Most unforgivably, Batman’s new suit looks stupid. He looks like Fat Iron Man from Avengers: Age of Ultron but not as funny. He also reminds me of Emperor Zurg from Toy Story – their pained grunts are identical. We also get that thing that pisses me off more than anything in superhero films – someone dies, but it’s then teased that they’re not really dead. What’s the point in having any emotional investment in characters that are only going to be resurrected? It’s just manipulative.

There are a few good moments in the film. There must be, because I would have walked out. I just can’t remember what they were. After that final hour of non-stop scrapping, my recent memory banks had melted. I do remember that there was some dialogue near the end about the final boss feeding off energy to make itself stronger. It wouldn’t have had much luck with me – my energy levels were utterly depleted by the end, and they’re pretty much gone now, so I’ll start winding down.

The thing is, the film’s going to be flippin’ huge. The queues in the cinema today were massive. If the word-of-mouth turns out to be bad, then hopefully it’ll steer the series in another direction, but in the meantime I think the mere notion of Batman V Superman is a guaranteed, irresistible draw. Even someone like me, who didn’t think much of Man of Steel, still went to see this. You’ll hear it’s meant to be rubbish, but you’ll still want to see it, just to get your own opinion. I heard it was crap, I still went to see it. To paraphrase The Matrix, no one can be told just how rubbish this film is. You have to see it for yourself. I’ll simply fizzle out by stating that this film is a colossal waste of money. Their money. Your money. Anyone’s money.

Labyrinth (1986) review

Labyrinth (1986) Original

I have to admit something. For a long time, this film didn’t remind me of the babe. You know, the one with the power. What power? The power of voodoo and all that. However, now that my three-year old niece has become a new full-on Labyrinth fan, and can quote it with ease, I can safely and with confidence say that this film does now remind me of the babe. I don’t know if she has the power of voodoo yet. I’ll get back to you on that one. It’s great that she loves the film though, because there is something still adorably fresh and sparkling about Labyrinth, despite (and of course, because of) all the 80’s trappings.

Fantasy and 80’s cinema went hand in hand very nicely – okay, not all of it was great, but it still had sweep, magic, spectacle and imagination, and even though we live in a time where the likes of Lord of the Rings has proved that there is an enormous audience for this kind of thing, there doesn’t seem to be that many great fantasy films out these days. Back then, we had Dragonslayer, Krull, Willow, Legend, The Dark Crystal, Ladyhawke, The Company of Wolves, The Princess Bride, Excalibur…. okay, not all of them are classics, but they had a consistency to them. Like one of them, you’ll most like the others. There was plenty to enjoy. Labyrinth, with the exception of The Princess Bride, was the most tongue-in-cheek and funny of the lot. It helped that the script was by Monty Python’s Terry Jones, who has a lot of fun playing around with fairytale tropes and standards, with plenty of great sight gags. Director Jim Henson and his team’s brilliant puppetry skills are second to none – we get a totally believable range of characters, beautifully voiced, be they tiny (and very unhelpful) worms, depressed door knockers (these look amazing, the really do look like talking metal – beat that, T-1000) or our main cast of creations, more of which below. The only bum note is a very dated looking sequence where a bunch of fire monkeys try to decapitate our hero – actually, that’s less to do with the puppets than the special effects attempted to try and get them in the same shots as Jennifer Connelly. Yeah, this is one of her early roles – not her earliest, as we’d already seen her as the young Deborah in Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America, and she’d played the lead in Dario Argento’s bonkers paranormal/telekenetic/simian slasher/serial killer horror Phenomena, and her performance is a straight-up anchor mooring all of the eccentricity around her. Seriously, she’s the only character in the film who doesn’t attempt to provoke a laugh. This is a good touch, stopping the film from going over the edge into outright comedy.

The plot is simple enough – our angsty, and let’s be fair, quite annoying protagonist Sarah (Jennifer Connelly) is very upset that her baby brother Toby gets all the attention, all the love, all the cute close-ups and none of the babysitting duties. Oh, how she wishes Jareth the Goblin King would take him away. Fair enough. Except he actually does, and the Goblin King is none other than David Bowie in an astonishing wig and very revealing tights. He jiggles his balls about a lot too, but that’s nowhere near as rude as it sounds. Anyway, Sarah instantly regrets her rash decision, but Jareth won’t go back on their deal, not unless she can work her way through the labyrinth that leads to her brother, and in 13 hours too. On her way, she encounters all manner of fantastical creatures, including a fairy-killing coward named Hoggle, a Donkey Kong-like gently beast named Ludo, an idiotic knight called Sir Didymus and his adorable canine steed Ambrosius, the latter shifting from being a real dog to a hilariously fake puppet depending on the danger he’s in. These are fantastic creations, a true testament to the genius of their creators. Oh, and there are songs. David Bowie songs!

And they’re fun, you know? What do you mean, they’re not ‘Life on Mars?’? Yeah, but ‘Life on Mars?’ isn’t ‘Magic Dance’, which is, as you all know, the song that reminds us of the babe. The version on the soundtrack album is better than the one in the film though – I always thought the goblin vocals were a little weak in the film – like, proper crap even. They sound better on the CD, and when they’re totally un-salvageable, Bowie just sings their lines instead. Despite all that, ‘Magic Dance’ is, with the exception of the Bowie-written-but-not-sung ‘Chilly Down’ (the one with the fire monkeys – not great), the least impressive of the songs here. ‘Underground’ is properly fantastic – all six minutes of it. It sounds great blended with Trevor Jones’ score over the opening credits, sounds better a few minutes later as Sarah runs back home in the rain and is your classic example of brilliant closing credits music. It also throws in, convincingly, a gospel element in the chorus, while Bowie even adds the decidedly risque lament ‘no love injection’ into a kids film theme, which I never noticed as a child. The gorgeous, dreamy ‘As the World Falls Down’ is one of the most unabashedly straightforward love songs Bowie has ever created – it was almost going to be a single (a video was made for it) but was pulled at the last minute, which was a shame as it could have been a success. Indeed, this and ‘Magic Dance’ are the two most downloaded songs in Bowie’s entire canon, probably because of their inexplicable absence from any singles compilations since. Anyway, ‘As the World Falls Down’ is really lovely, and it really works in the film too. The dramatic ‘Within You’ (not to be confused with ‘Without You’ from Let’s Dance) works incredibly well as a song in its own right – in the film it’s one of many bravura touches during its wild climax, and you might be too dazzled by all the Escher imagery and baby-in-peril excitement to realise it’s one of his best songs from this era.

As for Bowie’s performance – he’s still got that ever-so-slightly awkward line delivery which we all love anyway because it’s David Bowie and his awkwardness is endearing (prime example – ‘Turn back now, Sarah!’ about ten minutes in). However, he is still a magnetic performer – he’s the only one who could get away with that costume of his. He has a whole sequence where he’s singing to a few dozen goblins and still looks cool. He looks goofy and, in the spirit of things, quite pantomime, but he looks damned good too. He always did, didn’t he? I love David Bowie. Always have, always will.

The film is similar to Neil Jordan and Angela Carter’s The Company of Wolves in that it focuses on a girl on the cusp of adulthood, at a time where one must decide whether or not to put childish things away. While in the other film this process is unavoidable (and treated with outright horror at times, especially at the end), here there’s a bit more resistance to accompany the seduction. One of the best sequences in the film is when Sarah is lost in a masquerade ball, made dizzy by all the debauchery around her and pursued by Jareth – she denies his romantic advances, and considering this is a man approaching 40 pursuing a girl of 15, there’s nothing icky or uncomfortable about this bit (this is her dream, not his). The film ends in direct polar opposition to The Company of Wolves – almost flippantly, you could add, but what’s wrong with prolonging childhood a little longer? Besides, Goblin City’s residents know how to throw a party.

Issues I have with the film? That fire monkey bit. Actually, they’re not on fire, but their fur is all ‘flamey’ I suppose. The Bog of Eternal Stench bit, which is mostly brilliant (you can almost smell this sequence), has a moment where some helpful stepping stones emerge from the bog so that Ludo can make it to the other side in safety. Yet the stepping stones emerged from the bog, and lest we forget, if you touch even a little bit of the bog, you’ll smell bad forever. Ludo walks all over bog-covered steps! If it was one of the other characters, I’d have almost forgiven it, because they’re wearing shoes and could have thrown their offending footwear away afterwards, but Ludo’s barefoot! Maybe he stinks already. I can’t imagine him taking a bath that often, and all that fur must be an absolute nightmare to maintain. Yeah, that’s a real minor nitpick blown up to paragraph-sized criticism, but I can’t ignore it.

Overall, Labyrinth is a splendid, utterly lovable entertainment for girls and boys, kids and adults – it wasn’t a hit back in ’86, but it has become a serious cult film, with a vengeance – in London, there are Masquerade Ball screenings! Put together with The Princess Bride, and you have a double-bill of utterly wonderful, self-aware (but still full of heart) fantasy comedy cinema that’ll have you wondering why they don’t make them like this anymore.

PS: That milk bottle sight gag is so, so, so wonderful.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Spoiler-Crammed Review!

Star_Wars_The_Force_Awakens_Theatrical_Poster

I saw the new Star Wars movie this morning. I didn’t read any reviews before seeing it, even the ones that claimed to be spoiler-free. I mean, even a review that was spoiler-free might give away things without meaning to. You know, when a review thinks its being nice by not revealing a film’s big twist but the sheer act of mentioning a twist means that I’m trying to second-guess the film all the way. So, this is a review for those who’ve already seen the film. I’m not going to go into plot, because anyone who reads this review will have seen the film already. If you haven’t seen the film yet, and you still want to read this piece, then good for you. I think.Weirdo.

I’ve only seen The Force Awakens once, and it’s only been six or so hours since I saw it, so feelings and opinions are still fresh, unfocused and whatnot. In no order, this is a rambling account of how I feel about it. It’s not a thorough review, it’s just how I feel at this time.

  • It is better than all of the prequel films. The prequels were not awful – I watched them again recently and they are spectacular, sometimes exhilarating and dramatic, and Ian McDiarmid is terrific, the unquestioned highlight of all three episodes, but they are deeply flawed films. This is the Star Wars film we should have got back in 1999.
  • There is no embarassing dialogue, no clunky plot, no bad acting. This is a strong Star Wars movie.
  • The film starts without the 20th Century Fox logo. This is weird, but can’t be helped. Still, it is odd not hearing that fanfare, though I’m so glad we didn’t kick off with the Disney or Bad Robot idents. Simply having the Lucasfilm glimmer into shot without any music was the best possible solution.
  • No matter which Star Wars film I watch, all immediate emotional responses once that ‘STAR WARS’ title appears and the John Williams score explodes into earshot are the same. Essentially, it’s bliss. I’m a child again. The opening text is a good one, no crap about trade debates and taxation. I’m excited.
  • I bloody love Oscar Isaac. Seriously, whatever it is that the best actors have, whatever IT is, that special something or whatever, he’s got IT. He’s just got that charisma, that magic… he’s the best. Still, that name… Poe Dameron… I keep thinking of Cameron Poe from Con-Air.
  • As soon as that blood is wiped over Finn’s stormtrooper helmet, all the antiseptic cleanliness of the prequel trilogy is instantly forgotten.
  • Rylo Ken is a terrific villain. He makes you realise that for all his cool double-edge lightsabre antics, Darth Maul was a very one-dimensional antagonist. Maybe there was a little bit more to Count Dooku, but not much. General Grevious had more limbs that personality traits. Rylo Ken is properly conflicted, fascinating, scary and extremely well played by Adam Driver. I was unsure of him beforehand, because as terrific as he is, he has a certain screen presence that I didn’t think would blend with Star Wars. He has adapted beautifully to this series.
  • The music is strong. Whenever it references earlier cues and themes, it’s a wonderful thing.
  • The return of characters from Episodes IV-VI is wonderfully handled. Han Solo, Chewie, Leia and (eventually) Luke… it really was like seeing old friends again. Can’t say the same about Threepio and Artoo, as it feels like they never went away, thanks to them being in the prequel trilogy.
  • The action is exciting, convincing (great special effects) and engaging. The only exception is that the final attack on Starkiller Base is a little underwhelming – the concluding space battles in A New Hope and Jedi are still the ones to remember. It’s a million times better than the one from The Phantom Menace though.
  • It is arguably the funniest in the series. I know that Episodes IV-VI are wonderfully humourous experiences, but the humour I think comes from repeated viewings and familiarity with the characters. In terms of actual jokes and proper immediate laugh-out-loud moments, this is the one. Chewie complaining about the cold and the two Stormtroopers who back off quickly from Rylo Ken’s path of fury were particularly hilarious.
  • Gwendoline Christie didn’t have an awful lot to do in her masked role. Here’s hoping she gets to have some fun in Episode VIII.
  • Domnhall Gleeson was a little, and I mean just a little, hammy as General Lux – he didn’t feel truly threatening enough for me. Having him report to Snoke alongside the truly menacing likes of Rylo Ken was a bit like having Admiral Piett and Darth Vader sharing an elevator on their way to the Emperor.
  • Speaking of Snoke, was anyone else truly worried when he initially appeared to be a genuine behemoth, towering over his underlings? When it turned out that it was just a blown-up projection, I sighed the sigh of the truly relieved.
  • Underplayed, but wonderful references to the original trilogy – the little sphere thing that Luke has to defend himself from whilst training on the Falcon, the re-activation of the holo-chess game, other things I can’t remember…
  • Daisy Ridley is a total success as Rey – the film delightfully undercuts what you imagine would be typical damsel-in-distress moments. I was worried when she was taken prisoner that she would be merely the subject of rescue, but I should have known better. She is tough, smart, passionate and this new film’s brightest star.
  • John Boyega is similarly successful – this is the first time we’ve really got to know a Stormtrooper behind all that armour, and he and Ridley are a great team. Additionally, his early chemistry with Oscar Isaac is magic. Hopefully we’ll see more of these team-ups. Finn’s scenes with his newly acquired lightsabre are the equivalent of what it would be like if you or I got to handle one of those things.
  • Han Solo. His final scene marked the moment where The Force Awakens shifted from an excellent film into a truly amazing one – his and Ken’s confrontation was a major turning point, totally heart-stopping. I didn’t want Han to die – who would? But it made for terrific drama.
  • Wasn’t it wonderful to have Leia back? Carrie Fisher was wonderful – kind, but sad. Just like the way she rembered her own mother in that scene on Endor back in Jedi. Her moments with Han were really sweet. The big happy ending of Jedi never did last, sadly.
  • The new robot – BB-8, is not, as we might have understandably feared, the new Jar Jar Binks. He’s adorable and really funny. That thumbs-up bit was genius.
  • Locations and photography are stunning – the early scenes on Jakku boasted the best of the desolate, run-down feel of Tatooine, whilst the look of the final battle admist a planet where the sun was gradually being drained of power was really effective. Once the snow started falling down on the forest, the mood was the equal of that of Empire and Jedi. Earlier shots like those of the fallen Star Destroyer, or the Apocalypse Now-riffing vision of the TIE fighters against a sunset, were breathtaking.
  • Oh yes, that lightsabre duel. How bloody fantastic was that? First Rylo Ken and Finn, then Rylo Ken and Rey – this crackled with knife-edge tension and spectacle. Roger Ebert once said of Star Trek III: The Search for Spock that the ending featured the ‘latest word in fistfights on the crumbling edges of fiery volcanoes’. This scene outdoes it for duels taking place amongst apocalyptic destruction. Best scene in the film.
  • The final scene. Luke! Of course, every film aside from Episodes IV and VI (and I suppose III too, so that’s half the series, whoops) has left us hanging, and this is no exception, but it is a complete, totally satisfying film in its own right.
  • The key to this film’s success is SIMPLICITY. You could write the plots of Episodes IV-VI on the back of coasters, whereas the convoluted, overly explanatory and bogged-down plotting of the other three often dragged. The best Star Wars films do a hell of a lot with seemingly little – they breathe in and take in their surroundings, they have fun, they feel expansive. For all the surface complexity of Episodes I-III, they feel very suffocated, too trapped within their set plot course. Plus we knew exactly where they were going. Wasn’t it great to see a Star Wars film that genuinely surprised us? Roll on Episode VIII.
  • Thank you Michael Arndt. Thank you Lawrence Kasdan (great to have you back). And yes, thank you, thank you, thank you JJ. Abrams.