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Sunday, October 16, 2016

Shin Godzilla Review

When I heard that Toho Studios was making another Godzilla movie I was really excited. I'd been a fan of the big guy since seeing the 1954 "Godzilla" on Creatures Features when I was a kid. It was perhaps later that I was able to appreciate the producers using Godzilla as a metaphor for the destruction of the atomic bomb. When I was a kid, I just enjoyed the rampaging giant dinosaur.



The popularity of the character led to a series of movies in later decades. Godzilla became not so much a destructive force but rather the protector of earth, each movie featuring a new monster nemesis for Godzilla to battle. The movies were no longer about Japan trying to find a way to destroy Godzilla, but rather how to live with the creature who, while protecting earth, none the less seemed to tear up a good portion of it in the process.



In the 90s and 2000s we saw a more sophisticated look to the movies, the FX of which were starting to look a little thread bare by the 70s. When you can see the zipper on the monster suits, it takes away from the fantasy a bit. The look of Godzilla took on a much fiercer quality than it had in some of the later 60s movies. And the plots were a bit more intricate than the kid-friendly plots that had taken over the original series. But the plots still strayed from the original 1954 notion of Godzilla as a reckoning for the arrogance of humans.

The last movie made was 2004's "Godzilla Final Wars." In the meantime, the US tried its hand at a Godzilla film with the 1998 "Godzilla" in which the producers offered us a mutated Iguana rampaging through a rain soaked New York. Actually, Godzilla's first appearance in New York is fantastic. It's all downhill from there. 



The 2014 Legendary release of "Godzilla" seemed more hopeful. We had again, a giant dinosaur-like creature that actually fit the awesome roar. He was a little chunky for my liking and had ridiculous looking feet, but I still hoped for the best considering the fantastic special effects that were being put into play. Don't get me wrong, I love the guy in the rubber suit battling among the models of buildings. Say what you will, there is an art to that sort of look and Toho was great at it.

But I thought it would be great to see what could be done with the magic of CGI. Unfortunately, it was hard to see what sort of magic was wrought because the director decided to spend two and a half hours teasing the monsters. We saw them only in glimpses, or through smoked glass, or from the perspective of one of the humans who then turned their gaze away when they ran. Drawn on too long, the tease became irritating (as I describe in my blog piece on that film which you can access here). It was like Godzilla was making a cameo in his own movie. 



There is apparently going to be a reboot of "King Kong," which will lead into a Godzilla vs King Kong movie. My only hope is that this time they let us see them fight. 

So when I heard about "Shin Gojiro," or "Shin Godzilla (or as it was briefly known to America, Godzilla Resurgence) I was thrilled knowing that the mighty monster was in the proper hands again. Toho would know how to showcase their monster.

And after seeing it, I wasn't disappointed, although it isn't what many people might be expecting. It harks back to the 1954 "Godzilla," using the creature as a metaphor, only this time he isn't a reckoning for a horror unleashed by humans. He is nature, a true force of nature that humans have no control over. There was a beautiful starkness to the original "Godzilla" as there is with this movie and it's the simplicity of plot that adds to the horror.

The word is that filmmakers were influenced by the events of the 2011 tsunami (and both the destruction and the bureaucracy dealing with the destruction that ensued) that devastated parts of Japan. That is apparent in this film. 

Frankly, I was initially concerned as I watched the film. The shaky camera effect of the found footage films is liberally employed in the beginning and I really loathe that style of film making. But this is just one technique used in the telling of the story so it wasn't so bad. Another thing I found initially off putting was the scores of meetings that are held in the wake of Godzilla's resurgence. Until it dawned on me that that is exactly what would happen if such an event happened. This was political commentary on the massive amount of meetings with no results that were held during the destruction of the 2011 tsunami. With that event, things went from bad to worse as a wave of water devoured the land and the Fukushima Diachi nuclear power plant. And it is so with Godzilla's rampage.



In both events, the government seemed to spend more time talking about it than doing anything about it. And even when warnings are issued or assurances given, they're done all in an effort not to lose face. After much discussion among experts it is decided that the monstrous creature now sliding through rivers would never come on land. The prime minister announces with confidence that people have no need to fear. Shortly after, the creature comes on land, leaving the minister fuming that people will think him a fool. 

And yet, the reality of the situation is fully considered. While the endless meetings would be frustrating, the fact is that if such an unusual event were to occur, the government would have to put a good portion of energy into damage control, as well as trying to figure out what steps to take to stop further damage. If there are any. We complain about the bureaucracy of the government, but in most countries, things run fairly smoothly on a daily basis considering the massive amount of things that must run smoothly. In an event of this magnitude, even without massive bureaucracy bogging down systems, there would be no magic words to put it all right immediately. And that's also what this movie does so right. Especially after the destruction of Tokyo when everyone, including government officials, are forced to take shelter and must dig out and assess what's left to work with once they do.

Once I understood what the writers and directors were going for, I appreciated the scenes (and there are many) of meetings on a different level. It can be taxing to watch when trying to read subtitles. I generally love to hear foreign movies in their own language so I don't mind reading subtitles. But there are so many when they announce the title of this person, or the name of this cabinet, while people are talking, that it can be difficult to take it all in. That might lead some people to be more frustrated by the scenes of meetings. It does take a bit to get into the rhythm.

But let's talk about Godzilla, which is why I bought my ticket (and there may be some spoilers along the way). As stated, Godzilla is a force of nature. I was fascinated by what I read about the slightly different take they were going to give this new movie. I was used to the majesty of the giant dinosaur and wasn't completely sold on the idea of this new creature. Just as in the original Godzilla, this creature is born of radiation. Cans of radioactive waste, dumped into the ocean who knows when, led to the mutation of tiny sea life that eventually coalesced and morphed into what would become Godzilla. In this movie, Godzilla is constantly evolving, changing into the creature that resembles the giant rampaging dinosaur. 



It is the concept of the little problem, unattended, that becomes so much larger and deadlier over time. It offers yet one more challenge for the country to to overcome. Just as the government is getting a handle on what it is, it changes into something else, with new powers.

The first real glimpse of Godzilla comes just as a cabinet is discussing an unexpected tunnel collapse, bringing up the discussion of infrastructure in the country. On the TV they see what appears to be a giant tail flipping around in the ocean. This is the first form of Godzilla, though they don't know that at the time. Zoological experts are brought in to try to figure out what it is, and eventually it's decided to leave it be. Out in the ocean it's harming no one, it'll probably just disappear back to where it came from.

Not long after that, Godzilla's second form emerges from the ocean and starts prowling the rivers of Japan. That's when the prime minister makes his ill-timed statement before the monster crawls its way onto land. Experts have assured him that the monster would be crushed under its own weight if it went on land. But they never considered that the creature was in a constant state of evolution.

This is when you really begin to appreciate the inspiration that the tsunami was on this film. A mound of boats and debris proceeds the monster which is pushing through the river. The only glimpse you get is what looks to be a giant fish eye as it passes. The clip is brief but reminiscent of images of the wave entering towns and bringing with it the debris it had picked up along the way.



Truthfully, when the second form is shown in full, my first reaction was a bit of humor. But as the scene goes on, that muppet-like cuteness took on a horrific feel as this massive creature surges mindlessly on. He almost looks to be confused and in pain, an exposed nerve, as he scrapes, leaking blood from gills no longer necessary. He's not interested in the people running in front of him, he's just following the urge to surge forward...like a wall of water, picking up cars, buildings and people as he moves along. 



It's a haunting image and handled so believably that you become completely immersed in the horror of it. Suddenly, that face doesn't seem so cute. You can imagine the terror you'd feel if you saw something like that coming down the street.

It's not long after this that the creature evolves into the third form of Godzilla, which perhaps explains why it seemed to be thrashing around in agony as it went through the town. The Godzilla that we know is beginning to take shape though it still looks raw and in pain.



Godzilla's fourth form appears after he makes his way back to the ocean, presumably to cool down the nuclear reactor inside him. When he emerges, he's massive, the tallest Godzilla in all the movies, his flesh scarred over though there are still areas with open wounds. Is he done transforming and is now healing, or will there be a fifth form? And always this relentless need to surge forward. 


In past movies, there was always something that Godzilla seemed to be after when he moved through Tokyo. Often it was to fuel up at nuclear reactors. In this movie, there doesn't seem to be a motivation for his rampaging. And actually, it's hard to really call it a rampage since that implies anger. Godzilla's forward motion doesn't seem to entail anger (until people start shooting missiles at him). It's mindless, again, like that tsunami wave that moved across the land. In fact, there are shots in the movie that are reminiscent of the shots of the tsunami as it surged inland.

Another thing I found brave on the part of the film makers was that so many of Godzilla's scenes take place during the day. It's much harder to disguise FX when scenes are set during the day. That's why big CGI scenes are set at night. The film makers were a bit fearless in that. And while the FX has come a long way from guys in rubber suits rampaging among models, there is still a slight sense of that with this movie to keep up the tradition.

Of course, mindless as he may be, Godzilla is capable of major damage and there is a glorious scene when he finally enters Tokyo and a fierce battle ensues which leads to the destruction of the city. It also highlights not only Godzilla's atomic breath but also the fact that he can now shoot rays through back scales and his tail.



This only seems to add to the hopelessness of the situation. He is unstoppable. 

So all in all, I was highly impressed with the direction of this movie. It is open for a sequel (though even after being dissolved at the end of "Godzilla" 1954, he somehow managed to come back for more (and let's not forget, where one Godzilla was created from a mass of irradiated sea creatures, so could another be formed). I'm not sure, if there's a sequel, where it will go. Will go go the route of the earlier series where Godzilla goes from threat to protector? Will it be matter of Godzilla returning to rampage again? I'm just very happy that the people behind this production found such an inventive way to tell the story again. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

A Chat with Laura Quinn

Today I'd like to introduce you to a fellow author whom I met at The Printers Row Literary Fest this past June. Her name is Laura Quinn and among her many talents she is the author of the novel Punk Charming.

Tell us a little about Punk Charming. What’s the plot?

Punk Charming is a combination love story, travel story and trove of pop culture. Kate is an American on her way to study in Oxford in 1986. Along the way, the eighteen-year-old travels through France and Spain and meets a British punk on the train from Paris to Calais. They instantly bond and spend the next few days exploring London. Miscues and sabotage by a fellow Oxford student keep the love-struck pair apart, but they remain in each other’s hearts and thoughts. Time and an ocean prove formidable barriers, testing the constancy of true love. Will they find each other again?


Your bio states the sparks for the story hit you in 1986. What was the inspiration?

Like my character, I traveled to Oxford in 1986. While studying at Oriel College, I managed to squeeze in plenty of trips to local pubs and dance clubs and met so many amazing people. Later, I wondered how you would ever find someone again, if you didn’t write down that person’s 411. Of course, this was all well before we had cell phones, the Internet, etc. That thought was the spark of this novel…but it took quite a bit of time before I actually got around to writing it.

Did it take that long to write the novel or was it a series of stops and starts?

My fingers could barely keep up with the speed that the story revealed itself to me. Still, it did take a good long while to put it all together. Then, there were the dreaded rounds of edits and rewrites. Plus, I did a lot of research. Although I lived through the 80s, I wanted to ensure that the details were accurate. Technology in particular changed at such a rapid pace. It seems like we went from our glowing neon slimline phones to pagers to the brick phone in the blink of an eye.


How’s the reception for the novel been?

In a word, awesome! I’ve received such kind responses from readers that range in age from 13 to 90 years, with as many (if not more) men as women enjoying the story. Recently, my publisher surprised me by telling me Punk Charming is being translated into Spanish. It’s now a race to see if I can revive my fluency in time, so I can actually read my own book!

Okay, the novel is set in the 1980s so let’s talk the 1980s: What do you feel is the most overrated song of the 80s?

This is a tough one! So many terrible songs were so popular. I just heard “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” by Starship, which sticks in my head for all the wrong reasons. They were also responsible for “We Built this City”, which so many renamed “We Bilked this City”. In thinking about your question, I remembered an epic battle with my manager at the time, deciding which 45 to put in the store’s jukebox. I had “Under the Milky Way” by The Church and he had “Sweet Child O’ Mine” by Guns N Roses. He ultimately pulled rank and put in the latter. When he quit a few months later, I immediately made the switch. In fact, a fellow New Waver joined me in the storeroom to reenact the record smashing incident at Comiskey Park, so that particular 45 never returned.


How about the most underrated song of the 80s?

Another tough one! The radio never (or very rarely) played the songs I loved, so I had to always travel with a collection of cassettes. My Renault was famous for eating tapes, so I also kept long tweezers to delicately extract the spools of OMD, Spandau Ballet, Duran Duran, etc. Back to your question – I don’t think I can answer it. There were so many hidden gems! Even the bands that became uber successful had incredible songs from earlier albums that were heard by very few.

What band consistently satisfied you with their music? 

That’s an easy one – Duran Duran! In fact, I just went to both of their concerts at Ravinia last month. They are as amazing as ever (I’m a die-hard Duranie, what can I say?).


How often did you go to Cabaret Metro?

Ah, fond memories there! I was there more times than I can remember – how’s that for accuracy? I was also a frequent visitor to Medusa’s. Not long ago, I found (then lost again) a ticket from the 1987 New Year’s Eve concert there – I think the Revolting Cocks played that show.


How about Wax Trax?

Surprisingly, only a few times. I spent a lot of time at other record stores – especially stores that specialized in imports. The Turntable in Schaumburg was a constant threat to my credit card limit.

What’s your favorite TV show of the 80s?

A three-way tie between "The Young Ones," "Murder She Wrote" and "Alf." I wonder what a psychologist would make of that combination?


What’s your favorite 80s movie?

"Back to the Future" is my immediate answer. If pressed, I would have to choose BTTF 2, but it’s really a three-way tie with that trilogy. The 80s was filled with some epic films (and epic failures!), and my list of favorites is a long one. Still, the experience of watching the BTTF movies is unlike any other, even today. For the 30th anniversary, I saw the trilogy at a local cinema. Even though we have much more advanced effects today, those scenes are still amazing. Despite having seen these movies hundreds of times, I still stress over whether or not Marty will make it in time for the lightning strike. The legend continues to new generations of fans, as I witnessed at ComicCon last week. A very, very long line wrapped through the hotel for a panel discussion with Michael J. Fox, Lea Thompson and Christopher Lloyd. Fans of all ages patiently waited for hours, with most sporting the multi-colored Marty cap, Doc’s hair, and other iconic BTTF fashions.


What was your favorite wine cooler?

Seagram’s. I don’t remember the flavor other than it was citrusy. I’m not sure we had many flavor choices back in the day.


Doc Martens or red gym shoes?

Docs! I still have all my pairs, including my red plaid (my faves!), green velvet and oxblood tall boots. The plaid Docs make frequent appearances to book signings and events.

What color was your hair?

It was my natural color of auburn, augmented by streaks of color (courtesy of the colorful mascara choices we had – blue, pink, etc). During the summer, I tried my luck with Sun-In spray and lemon juice for highlights. My hair was also spiked with a heavy shellac of AquaNet Extra Super Hold. My entire record collection is forever preserved by the same shellac, courtesy of styling my hair while hanging upside down off my bed, record player blasting.


That was fun, but let’s gets back to your book. The cover is very eye catching. Who designed the cover?

Isn’t it amazing? Dawné Dominique is the talented artist. I was so lucky that Punk Charming was assigned to her. She just got the whole essence of the book and created that cover on her first try.

Did you have any input on it?

I had given the cover much thought, but really had no idea exactly what I wanted—though I knew it had to incorporate the UK flag. When I saw Dawné’s design, I knew that was it.


In terms of the romance genre, what book do you consider over rated and what book do you think should have more popularity?

There are more than a few best-sellers that fall under the first category, but I’m not going to name names. In the past few months, I’ve met so many talented authors who put out amazing books that don’t get the attention they deserve. I know I sort of dodged your question here, so how about naming Shakespeare as my favorite? The Bard set the bar for writing timeless scenes of passion.

Did any book in particular inspire this novel of yours in anyway?

I can’t say that there is. We writers are such voracious readers, though, that I’m sure many works inspire subconsciously. Going into the writing process, I had no preconceived ideas. I really had no idea where the story would go.


Who are some of your favorite authors?

I’ve been privileged to read so many beautiful books, I’m spoilt for choice. I gravitate towards character-driven stories, especially those that stand the test of time so brilliantly. Edgar Allen Poe, William Shakespeare, Agatha Christie and George Orwell are some of the authors whose works I can read again and again, and discover some new little jewel every time.

When/how did the writing bug bite you?

My first “published” book was authored in grade school. Our local library had a great program where kids would write a story, have it “bound” with a laminated cover and placed on the library shelves. I think they even assigned a number and check-out card (remember those days?) to them. Sure, only our parents ever actually checked them out, but the experience was a tremendous confidence builder for young writers to pursue their passion.

Anyone else in your family interested in writing? 

Some love to write and some hate to write. They all love to read, though, so we writers have plenty of beta readers to review our work. Luckily for our craft (though not for our egos), they have no hesitation in saying something is terrible.

What are some of your current favorites in books, movies and TV?


TV – I’m a British mystery junkie, desperately awaiting the next season of "Sherlock."

Movies – I haven’t had too much time to see many current films lately. I’m a "Mission Impossible" fan and am waiting to see the most recent "Star Trek" installment. The last film I rented was "Man Up", which was a great quirky romance.



Books – Some of the more recent books I’ve enjoyed are: The Secret History by Donna Tartt, The Twelve (now titled Ghosts of Belfast) by Stuart Neville, and Restless by William Boyd.

Do you have any sort of routine for when you write: Favorite music you listen to, a particular time you prefer to write?

I have a favorite spot where I like to write and I partake of special foods and drinks reserved for writing (Fortnum and Mason Jubilee tea, Thorntons or Charbonnel Et Walker chocolates, and occasionally Mumm Napa Cuvee M sparkling wine). Music is usually involved - the type depends on what I’m writing. I find music has a tremendous impact on creating and sustaining mood and pace in a story.

Do you have any hobbies?

I love to travel! If the winning lottery numbers would just cooperate, I would love to travel the globe and write. I’m also a culture junkie, so I fill the void by reading, going to galleries and museums, attending plays and concerts. Lately, I’ve found a new hobby of creating graphic art. I suppose it’s the frustrated artist in me, loving art but not being able to draw a straight line.


Have you ever written anything that afterward surprised you? Perhaps after a reading it you recognized a hidden subtext that you didn’t realize was there?

I’m a big believer in stream of consciousness writing exercises. I first learned it from one of my favorite writing teachers in college. When he first introduced the idea, I thought it was absolute nonsense. How wrong I was! Whether I’m facing writer’s block or just trying out new ideas, these techniques always produce surprising results. When I write my stories, I usually let them tell themselves, which often take unexpected turns. In Punk Charming, the character that my readers so love to hate actually started off in my mind as a good guy. He definitely drifted to the dark side!

Would you ever be interested in trying to write something in a different genre?

In fact, I’m working on two mystery series now. Like Punk Charming, they’ll be character-driven and feature strong female characters. It’s different in that I do have to do a bit of outlining, to keep track of clues and red herrings.


What do you like best and like least about the marketing process?

Meeting and talking with people has been the best part of the marketing process. I love sharing stories from the 80s, travel dreams and nightmares, and writing in general. I’ve been able to connect with fans over social media platforms too, which is fantastic. The downside is the time required to do all the marketing.

What would be the best advice you could give a new author?

Talk with other authors. If possible, take a workshop or join a writing group. Writing can be a long, lonely road. I think it helps to have a road map of what’s ahead, to prepare for the stressful bits and get excited about the journey.


Who would you like to see play the characters in a movie?

So many readers have asked me this! I’m certainly open to any actors who would like to pick up this project. I got to see the last season of "Smallville", and when I saw Oliver Queen (Justin Hartley), I said, “That’s James!” One of my readers suggested Max Irons for James. I think Jennifer Lawrence would make a great Kate! Simon Pegg (love him!) would be perfect for Ian. Suggestions welcome!

What song would sum up the energy of the novel?
It probably won’t surprise you at this point when I tell you it would be a Duran Duran song. When I heard their latest album, Paper Gods, I instantly thought "What Are the Chances" would be the ideal theme song. Others have told me the same. The song is stunning, with tailor-made lyrics, soaring vocals and haunting melody. When I heard it live at Ravinia, I got chills…and could just picture the film credits rolling on the screen. Simon Le Bon, if you’re reading this, have your people call my people.


The story has different moods and paces, so I’ll have to cheat and add a second one. I’ll go retro on this pick and choose "West End Girls" by the Pet Shop Boys. They’ll be playing a concert in Chicago in November, so I’m available for a meeting with them as well.

Any future projects you can tell us about?

I’m working on a sequel to Punk Charming, which will turn into a series. The new books will be set in current times, but you can bet there will be plenty of 80s references. International travel will be a central theme.

I’m also working on a new mystery series that will be set in Chicago’s North Shore. I can’t tell you what it’s about yet, but I can tell you the stories will include a cause close to my heart, dog rescues.

Where can people find more information on you or your projects?





Saturday, August 27, 2016

Review of the Film FAN

Once a year on his birthday, thousands of fans of the Indian actor Shah Rukh Khan converge outside his mansion in Mumbai to wish him happy birthday. And every year he stands out on his roof top to greet them and thank them for their wishes. His appearance brings about an eruption of screams as the crowd rushes closer to get a better look at him (and in a way, possibly hoping to be seen themselves). 


To each person in the crowd, their view is that of one man. To the man on the roof, his is a sea of people, almost an entity unto itself. One can’t help but wonder if perhaps Shah Rukh Khan is overwhelmed not only by joy that his efforts have touched so many people, but also a bit of trepidation when that entity comes rushing forward.

It’s what makes his performance “in and as” “FAN” that much more interesting. I had hoped to do a review of this movie when it came out in April, but while I saw “FAN” the day it opened, I didn’t get the chance to do the review. Having recently watched the movie again on blu-ray, I feel the need to post my thoughts on it because it’s one of my favorite movies. Though there are cheerful moments, it isn’t a cheerful movie. There’s a lot going on psychologically. It’s possible that’s why it didn’t do as well as Shah Rukh Khan’s films normally do in India.



Bollywood is a very specific style. You can have drama, pathos, violence, but you must balance it with feel-goods like romance or friendship. And of course dance numbers. The audience likes to leave the cinema humming the songs from the four or five dance numbers. You can have dark themes, but the audience wants redemption or reconciliation at the end. They want to feel good and the fact is that “FAN” is not a feel good movie. Nor did it have any dance numbers despite a dance number being released prior to the movie’s release (which I think might have thrown off people’s perceptions of what to expect from the film).


It is, none the less, a great film that asks a number of questions, some by virtue of the star’s real life. The film starts with the voice over recollections of twenty-five year old Guarav Chandna (played by Shah Rukh Khan), who proudly admits that for the majority of his life he has worshipped the Bollywood star Arayan Khanna (also played by Shah Rukh Khan). We’re treated to the joy of a young Guarav watching his idol Arayan on the big screen. And he calls himself “Aryan Junior” (he calls the star “Senior”) because he bears a resemblance to the star, fueling the fan’s fantasy further that they are somehow connected.

And from a technical standpoint, it is amazing when we first see the grown up Guarav. VFX and practical make up come into play here to transform the 51 year old, muscularly toned Khan into the 25 year old, slighter Guarav. Even Khan’s substantial nose had to be shaved a bit to make Guarav’s a little sleeker. A great deal of thought went into how to pull this off. But none of it would have worked without an incredible performance by Khan himself. 

Khan is portraying a young fan, slightly over-indulged by his parents, who is obsessed by an older celebrity whose rise to fame was not an easy one (and who is finding retaining that fame to be proving difficult as well). And his performance is so good that you forget you’re watching Khan and not another actor. This will come into play later too when the two main characters come face to face and seem like two different actors.



The writer, director and Khan did something very smart. Guarav is portrayed as a likable character. He is not a loser. He runs his own internet café and can be incredibly sociable. He has a slightly flirtatious relationship with a woman who could be his girlfriend. He is spoiled by his parents, but he none the less has a close relationship with them. He could be successful in his own right. Except that his obsession for Khanna has gone just a bit over the range of healthy and that keeps him from full involvement in his own life. He wins money at a talent contest in which he impersonates Aryan Khanna, doing scenes from the star’s movies. Having won a number of times in the past, he’s gained a certain amount of celebrity himself. But it’s a borrowed celebrity using recycled material that brought his idol Aryan Khanna full blown celebrity. Guarav is creative, but his creativity is used only in the service of his obsession. 

And he has decided that this year, he will use his money to travel from Delhi to Mumbai to wish his idol happy birthday and to show him the trophy he won. He truly believes he will be able to gain an audience with the star. He travels “WT—Without Ticket” (essentially a stow away) even though he has plenty of money for a ticket because that’s how his idol traveled to Mumbai from Delhi before he made it big. It’s here that we get a glimpse at just how deeply Gaurav’s obsession runs when the conductors of the train he’s on try to corral him to make him get off at the next stop and he threatens to jump from the train if they don’t promise to allow him to travel the way his idol traveled. We’ve already seen how willing he is to fight for his objective. Hours before the talent contest that won him the money for the trip, when bullies tried to force him to keep the internet café open (and risk him being late for his performance) Gaurav was willing to fight them (and be beaten to a pulp) rather than acquiesce or call for help. These incidents set up clearly how far he’s willing to take something to obtain his objective. 

Clearly he is troubled, but if he could dial it down just a notch, he would have a good life of his own. Unfortunately the actions taken in his life are ruled by the fantasy that one day he will meet Senior who will smile down and validate him as a human being. 

This urge, this need is felt by people all around the globe, directed not only at celebrities, but at teachers, love-interests, spouses, parents, children. We all want the pat on the back from those we love or admire. Some just need it more desperately than others. 

Unable to get the attention he seeks, Guarav takes it a step further by threatening a rival actor of Aryan’s whose involved in a lawsuit with Khanna. He no doubt tells himself that he’s doing it purely for Aryan, but the fact is that he’s doing it to seek attention from Aryan. When he at last gets the attention he seeks, it’s not what he bargained for. 

Their meeting in the jail to which Aryan had Guarav sent after discovering the fan’s attack attack on the rival is an example of the many facets to this movie. There are those who feel bad for Guarav during this scene (the notion that our idols somehow always manage to let us down when we meet them coms into play). Aryan has come to try to help him understand how wrong his actions were, but Guarav fails to see that. Instead he insists that it was done all for Aryan and Aryan should somehow be grateful. Aryan’s curt response to what is a disturbing attitude is to question who Guarav is to feel the right to do anything like that for him. Then he tells the young man that he was the one behind his arrest. Aryan’s response wounds Guarav deeply and it shows plainly on his face. 

That’s why people feel sorry for Guarav, perhaps sympathizing with him as fans themselves. And indeed, there is some truth to Guarav’s response, “Without Guarav, there is no Aryan.” Yet, I can’t help but think that Aryan’s response is anything but cruel. 

He’s been placed into a difficult situation by this fan. The disturbing act was posted by Guarav to the internet all for the sake of Aryan, but it’s an act that threatens Aryan’s reputation. Aryan comes to the jail in an obvious attempt to help the young man see some sense, but what he’s faced with is just one person of the millions making up the crowds that follow him. These people are capable of great love and apparently many are capable of great violence. How many are? All in the name of Aryan Khanna. What must that be like to know that you can instill those sorts of emotions in people simply by performing a job you like? And for that matter, how much does a star owe his fans?


Success is a double edged sword and no one knows that better than Shah Rukh Khan whose fame has been stratospheric. As strong as his adulation has been equally so are those who criticize him. And in many respects this is where the movie gets really interesting when we consider how closely Aryan Khanna’s life resembles that of the star playing him. Even down to the talk about his reign as the King of Bollywood coming to an end as younger actors vie for the title. Now of course this talk has gone on for decades and Khan’s reign has yet to be toppled, but both Khan and Khanna know it is a reality that might one day have to be faced (and in the film, Aryan seems to be carrying that burden). 

Beyond that the movie addresses the fickleness of celebrity worship and the dancing that a celebrity often has to do to stay in the limelight. The need to please everyone when there’s no possible way everyone can be pleased. Khan’s most recent movies have been criticized for lack luster performances at the box office and yet the past several years have seen him making some fascinating choices in roles and doing some of his best work. Sometimes the roles play with the image he’s built as a Lothario. Sometimes they break it all together while incorporating new ideas for acting and film making into the typical Bollywood film (this movie is a prime example of Khan’s willingness to experiment not only with VFX but with his own performance). They’re good movies and his performances are great…but they’re not the right kind of movies to please those fans unwilling to look beyond the image they built around him for decades. They are his fans. Should he not continue to make the kind of movies they want? Should he not try to stretch as an actor? 
And yet these are his fans as well. They helped him achieve his success. 

In some respects a celebrity is treated as a thing to be idolized, adored, respected as well as hated, insulted and scorned. There’s a scene in the film in which Khanna is hired to perform at the wedding of a rich Indian living in Dubrovnik, Croatia. Khan is well known for performing at people’s weddings early in his career and he may still do it. (Raised in poverty, he has spent his career perfectly willing to do whatever it takes in the mercurial industry to secure the financial futures of him and his family). When the issue of Guarav has caused distress in Khanna’s life in England, he arrives in Croatia almost for the performance and the man who hired him does not mince words about how irresponsible he is. Khanna has known this family for years. He has performed at other functions for them. At the moment he is going through a trauma few can imagine and yet the man addresses that trauma only in as far as the inconvenience it has caused him. Khanna is little more than a show dog in the eyes of this man who is unconcerned with any dilemma the star is currently embroiled in. After all, Khanna probably brought it on himself and besides, he’s paying him well isn’t he?

In the course of the exchange, you can see Khanna, stressed to the breaking point by the events of the past few days, wanting to snap back. In some respects his ego is as tender as the ego of Guarav and in a different situation perhaps Khanna would go after a bully. But instead he bites back the response knowing any negativity on his end will only make matters worse. Instead he swallows his pride and assures the man that he will deliver a great show. 

There is little doubt that this is an interaction Khan himself must have had in his life from time to time, his own distress or upset viewed as unimportant because he is, after all, merely a celebrity. And of course nothing he has to say can be worth much either. It’s said that the box office numbers for his 2015 film “Dilwale” were affected by a boycott of it because he spoke about intolerance in India. 

And in 1966 John Lennon claimed that the Beatles were better than Jesus only he didn’t really say that. He said they were bigger than Jesus at the moment, and he was commenting on the relevance of Christianity as an institution, not on Jesus or his particular teachings. But that’s how it translated in the heads of the many small-minded who were too busy being affronted to consider and comprehend what the show monkey was actually saying. 
That’s how fame works. Anything the show monkey says can be misconstrued and if people put more effort into believing what they think he meant, as opposed to finding out what he actually meant, it can be tough on a person’s career.

So essentially what we have in these two characters is a fan angered over the rebuke by an idol and a star horrified at what his stardom has inspired a fan to do.

After their talk in the jail, heartbroken by his experience, Guarav returns home to recoup. He takes down the photos and posters of Aryan which cover the walls and ceiling of his room. All the mementos he’s collected over the years are taken up to the roof and burned. His obsession, still burns just as brightly only now, it’s become an obsession for recognition (which, perhaps there has been a little of that need all along). His obsession now is to get the star to acknowledge the betrayal and apologize. And here again is addressed the dichotomy that is Guarav as his energy which could be so productive at bringing joy to his life is instead spent on the scheme to get a star to apologize to him.

In an interview recently, Khan mentioned that perhaps they should have made Guarav’s intentions more deadly. I disagree. Guarav’s actions inevitably turn deadly but by making his mission more benign, it makes all his actions in achieving his objectives more interesting. Guarav’s illness is a lot more complex and thus that makes the movie much more complex than if they simply had an insane fan try to kill a star. The chance to pull him back from the edge remains throughout the remainder of the film and you find yourself hoping that that will be the case. You ask, “Guarav, why can’t you use that creativity to make your own life better as opposed to pull down the life of another?”

I was struck by this in a scene after Guarav has made his decision to get that apology. He sells the internet café and uses the money to travel to Croatia where Khanna will be doing that dance for an ungrateful patron. Guarav is seen walking down some steps, surrounded by history, listening to a Croation language class on his iPod. He’s smiling, enjoying the lesson, fascinated by the surroundings and the experience, but his inspiration for all this isn’t to learn a language, enjoy a vacation, or use the money from his café to see the world and figure out his place in it. Rather, it’s all part of a plan to torment Aryan Khanna and get him to apologize. Again, Guarav, a young man, intelligent, business savvy, with a level of charisma that enables him to socialize with people cannot set aside his anger or obsession to focus on using those tools to better his life. Rather, he spends his energy to upset the life of another (He’s already traveled to London and caused a stir so serious that Khanna was arrested in the belief that it was he who committed the act).

And again, Khan’s performance is so good in this that he’s able to create a character so distinct from Khanna that you forget that in real life, as the actor is walking through that Croatian town, he has prosthetic makeup and dots on his face to show the computer VFX crew where his face needs to be altered into that of Guarav’s during post production.

Equally so is his understanding of Khanna’s motivations. Getting back to Khanna suffering in silence the arrogance of the rich man; once he discovers that all this is being done for the sake of an apology, all it would take to end this is for Khanna to apologize to Guarav. He could even give a false apology and lure Guarav to the authorities. But even for that, Khanna cannot bring himself to apologize to this young man who has turned his life upside down. How much more must he give to this fan?

You have here two men standing on principles that neither can bring themselves to compromise. Both in some respect becoming their own worst enemy. And it leads them down roads that neither would have guessed they’d travel. 

It’s a fascinating study in human nature as well as in some respects Khan’s nature as he must dig deep into the psyche of the fan and the star to portray them both. The technical elements are amazing, especially when the two come into contact with each other, from the face to face in the jail, to chases on rooftops, to the end chase along the streets of Guarav’s hometown. It comes off as practically seamless. And so much thought was put into Khan’s performance of both characters that during the first scene in which you see Aryan chasing Guarav, both characters are running completely differently: Aryan’s a much more assured and athletic gait, Guarav’s a bit looser, his feet splayed out slightly. Aryan has had to train for many of the roles he’s taken on, while all Guarav has had to do was to sit and watch them. 

When I saw the trailer for the first time before its release, I was extremely excited to see the movie. I was not disappointed once I did. And I recommend it to anyone whether they’re fans of Bollywood (which I guess this movie still technically is despite some of the elements missing from it) or they’ve never seen a Bollywood movie before. It is an interesting study of both what it means to be a fan, and what it means to be a celebrity and its star, Shah Rukh Khan has experience with both. 



Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Ghostbusters Review Part II: Girl Power? Please Do Me No Favors

I normally don't post reviews that are negative. I don't feel it's necessary since my opinion may not be everyone's. But I felt the urge to review this movie for a couple of reasons, some of it to counter what I find to be a disingenuous attitude by certain people involved with the project. In this review I want to address the concept of misogyny (which is a term many of the defenders of the film resort to to brush away any criticism aimed at the film) and how it seems to me as if the backers of the film are kind of using it as a crutch to insist that a sub standard film is better than it is. And it's irritating because as a woman who loves to see more Girl Power in films, it annoys me that a film isn't being allowed to stand on its own merit. 

As someone whose been hoping for more Girl Power in films and TV since the folks behind "Xena: Warrior Princess" showed us how it could be done, I walked away from this movie thinking, "This is not what I want to represent female strength" basically because I didn't find the characters to be very strong.


When the cast of the "Ghostbusters" remake was announced, indeed, many cave-men out there expressed outrage over the fact that the Ghostbusters would all be women. These were truly pathetic people whose posts on social media instantly told you where they stood on women in general, not just the Ghostbuster gals (for example, if you use the terms "bitches" or "ho's" in making your argument...it's fairly obvious where your head is at regarding females).

Unfortunately, the misogyny that was out there suddenly became a great marketing tool by the people behind the project and anyone deciding that the project struck a blow for "Girl Power." Consequently anyone who criticized the project or the cast no matter how valid their reasons they presented, were instantly thrown in with the misogynists. 

When I heard about the all girl "Ghostbusters" it simply smacked of a gimmick to me. It didn't seem a sincere attempt to make a good movie in the series and as I explained in the first part of this review, that's all most fans wanted: A well-made continuation of the series. 



And there seemed to be some hope even with the gimmicky casting when talk of making a passing of the torch movie started up. The women could be the daughters or female relatives of the original four and would pick up the proton packs to carry on the tradition. It was simple, it honored the old movie while opening up possibilities for the new cast. Best of all it wouldn't be a remake which no one wanted.

It's possible that the 2014 death of Harold Ramis (Egon Spengler co-star and co-writer of the original) derailed the idea of a passing of the torch. Ivan Reitman, director of the original, was set to be more involved in this project but Ramis' death led him to back off more from the project (though there has been some suggestion that Sony was behind a little of that as well).


When it was announced that Paul Feig was chosen to direct, I had no opinion having not seen any of his movies at that point. Having seen three of his films I think I would have been even more concerned with him taking the wheel of this project.

"The Heat" was okay. "Spy" was very good (though a lot of that had to do with Jason Statham sending up his "brand"). But "Bridesmaids"...the film everyone talks about to indicate Feig's comic genius, in my opinion was absolute garbage. I laughed twice, then midway through the film gave up and turned the movie off. That was exactly the humor and tone that the original "Ghostbusters" wasn't. Unfortunately it's the sort of humor the 2016 remake would be full of.


Now I know there are people out there who found "Bridesmaids" incredibly funny, and while the concept of this scene has some humor to it, 10 minutes of it goes a long way. It's also not the sort of scene that can work well in a movie such as Ghostbusters which along with comedy is dependent on special effects. 

Oh...that doesn't mean they didn't try.

Add to that the names that were ultimately chose for the cast. I wrote a blog piece regarding who was chosen to star in the movie and with a slight softening of my opinion after seeing the movie, I still insist that better actors could have been found for the roles. 

Add to that Paul Feig's (almost arrogant) insistence that the new movie would be a total reboot with completely fresh ideas and no ties to the original. 

Well let's just say I wasn't overly impressed with the direction of this project.

So yes, I was a Debbie Downer about the project from that point on. When the trailers were released, they only confirmed my suspicion based on the cast this was not going to be a good movie.


This is the third trailer released and it still looks bad. Th material just isn't there to work with to create an interesting trailer.

The release of the trailers really set off a back lash against anyone who thought they were bad. It didn't matter that the editing stank, the jokes weren't funny, the FX seemed over the top and cartoony. If you thought those trailers were bad it was all because the cast was female. (And yet one could argue that people were defending the trailers and the movie because the cast was female which I'll bring up later).



It was a pathetic controversy (which I discussed in another post) ginned up I believe Sony marketing who seemed ready to take advantage of the chance to gain sympathy for this project. They took on the demeanor that they were fighting the good fight for more female representation in movies (though give a movie a weak box office and Sony'll change that demeanor really quickly). Paul Feig went after anyone who criticized what they were seeing of the project using the "Girl Power" shield to insult anyone who might not be a fan of what he was doing. In a New York Daily News interview Feig is quoted as saying, "Geek culture is home to some of the biggest a-holes I’ve ever met in my life, especially after being attacked by them for months because of this Ghostbusters project."

Now he's right about the geek-culture thing. It can be home to a lot of a-holes far too passionate about their passions to present their opinions rationally.


But in that one quote he seems to boil all negative opinions about the execution of this movie down to unreasonable discontent in attempt to negate the fact that there are a lot of people who had valid reasons not to be impressed with how he was handling the brand. A good portion of people hitting the "dislike" button were fans who didn't like what had been done to a beloved franchise (and as I stated in another blog piece about the controversy, if someone talked about a love for the original, the next marketing strategy became defenders of the 2016 film sticking out their tongues and saying, "The original wasn't even that good. Nya! Nya!")

No it wasn't misogyny that led to the dismay, it was the people behind the remake that dropped the ball. Simple as that. And cramming a message into a movie rarely works. It has to be done with subtlety, more organically. 

So all the, "poor us, the fanboys are picking on cause we're women" started seeming very disingenuous. In fact, it came off to me as if this new movie had been given a pass because of the supposed extent of the misogyny directed toward.


Now, as I stated in the previous review in which I focused on the remake aspect, I was actually pleasantly surprised by how much I liked the movie and the potential I saw for the cast. Bear in mind, I forked over the cost of the ticket with very low expectations so they didn't have a high bar to climb. But it wasn't the complete train wreck that the trailers led so many people to believe it would be (and I do find it interesting that many of the scenes in those trailers were not in the finished product including a dance scene that isn't in the main movie but is shown over the credits which actually might have been kind of funny for a few moments). 

In the previous review I mentioned that the remake feel of the movie ended up being a detriment to the film. You can't help comparing the two movies when they have so many elements from the original (down to the way the villain allows them to "choose your destructor") in this film. Again, a big deal was made by Paul Feig who didn't want to do a passing of the torch. He wanted to do a complete reboot with entirely fresh ideas. Yet when the time came he created a film that milks the original for all its worth. I think that was a marketing ploy by the studio who hoped to bring in more of the fan base waiting to see another "Ghostbusters" movie. "Okay, it's with a new team, but see, we have cameos by the former cast, we use symbols and characters that appear in the original (Mr Stay Puft, the Ghostbusters' logo, the firehouse, even Slimer, etc.). So we're not totally washing over the original."



But you are. And you're doing it in a way that makes no sense. The trailers spoke of four scientists saving the world 30 years ago...but in the universe presented in the 2016 remake, that event never occurred. So why confuse the issue?

Gimmicks abounded with this project. 

And as I stated, there is so much borrowed from the original that there's way too much baggage for the new team to carry. The writer, the director and the cast just simply don't have the skills to pull off a movie as funny, yet subtle as the original was. A perfect blend of comedy, horror, and paranormal becomes, in the hands of the people behind the 2016 movie, a cartoon. Which is fine, but don't jump on people who would have preferred to see a better retelling of the tale.

Speaking of cartoons, getting back to the point of this post, while the people behind the production shouted out "Girl Power" and all the reporters and hopeful bloggers followed suit, bashing anyone who hated what they were seeing as misogynist, the folks behind the movie managed to take Girl Power and make it as cartoonish as everything else in the movie. 

This is why I wanted to write this second review addressing that. If this is Feig's idea of "Girl Power", please don't do me any favors. These are not women I want representing my notion of "Girl Power".


Annie Potts as Janine
So far, outside of the ridiculous, "The original wasn't even that good" statement, I've not heard too many people claim that the original was some sexist movie. And I'm glad. Because it wasn't. Quite the contrary. The women in that movie are actually very strong.

The reason the Ghostbusters were men was because a bunch of guys who worked together before got together again and created a movie. They weren't worried about gender ratios, or ethnic ratios or whatever. They were simply interested in making a movie together. 

But let's consider the characters in the new movie that are supposed to represent "Girl Power".


Kristin Wiig plays Dr. Erin Gilbert, a particle physicist. One reason I wasn't impressed with her in this was because she gives this character the same demeanor she seems to give most of her characters, carrying herself in the movie as if she's desperate to lie in the corner curled up in the fetal position. She seems constantly on the verge of an apology, as actually McCarthy's character does as well. After the prologue, we introduced to Erin as she stands in front of a white board with a hell of a lot of impressive math figures on it (I've heard most of it was gibberish but I don't know cause I ain't a particle physicist). She's cool, she's confident. The camera pans over to the audience and there's no one there. Back to Erin and she's doing some kooky sort of wiggle to get some courage up for the discussion to come later. 

Okay, there are even brilliant people who have a problem speaking in front of the public. But I think this scene was supposed to be funny, especially with Wiig's body movements and it just fell flat. So you've already established the character as supremely lacking in confidence, which I suppose one could argue she builds up during the course of this movie...I don't know, but her lack of confidence isn't even endearingly funny.

Now some have compared her to the Venkman character, but I believe she's more Ray...the heart of the Ghostbusters. She has tried to distance herself from her previous paranormal research for the sake of her career, but that doesn't mean she isn't still a believer (Venkman, of course never seemed to be a believer until the encounter with the library ghost). 

But here's part of the problem: Several years ago she wrote a book with her friend Dr. Abby Yates on the paranormal. It's a book that should in  no way jeopardize her current career. And yet the moment it springs up again (Abby tries to sell it on Amazon), Erin does everything she can to hide from her boss at the University (played by Charles Dance). She even goes to Abby, the woman she had a falling out with years before and hasn't spoken to since, to get her to take it down. (The supposed years of resentment between them seem to be as weak as the script). 

The inevitable (for the sake of the plot) happens and Erin's previous paranormal work is discovered. She's shown with a box of her belongings walking out of the University after she's been fired.  And as she walks, she insists to everyone that she hasn't been fired, she just cleaning her office (or something along those lines). Again, Wiig doing her typical schtick that really isn't all that funny. The comedy of constant apology.

Her firing was completely unfair, yet she's going out as if she herself has something to hide. How about giving us a character that gives the middle finger to injustice? Many women have been in that situation and who have gone out blazing. 

Yes, one could argue that her character will go through a story arc that will have her connecting with her self esteem through her experience with the team, but it doesn't really get that much better. The team go to the mansion to meet the ghost who a particularly unfunny scene barfs a ton of slime on her (that's why Charles Dance's character ultimately fired her, because the video of it was posted on YouTube).

She carries herself through the film like scared rabbit waiting for the next bit of slime to be puked upon her. Not someone I would consider a great role model for "Girl Power".


Let's consider Abby Yates, another person who seems always on the verge of an apology but she does it with a cutesy smile and just the slightest bit of fire in her voice. Amy, while very enthusiastic about the cause, also seems every bit as capable a salesperson as Venkman was. She even convinces Erin to come back into the fold (after ruining her chances at the college) despite the bad blood between them. The problem is that while Bill Murray’s Venkman was incredibly funny, McCarthy’s cutsy bit just doesn’t have the gas to pull that off. (Even her character’s name, Abby Yates, is sickeningly cute). That doesn’t mean she doesn’t have her moments. But the slight chuckle is not the same full on laugh that so many of Bill Murray’s often improvised remarks produced (all the original cast improvised throughout the shoot. Rick Moranis improvised the whole one shot party scene in which he introduced “Ted and Annette Fleming who own a dry cleaning business in receivership.”). If McCarthy could have turned up the bite in her portrayal a bit, she might have been able to pull it off. She didn't. 

And let's consider how well she wears the "Girl Power" mantle. A running gag in the film is that Amy is constantly short changed when it comes to the won tons in her won ton soup that she orders from the Chinese restaurant (that they actually end up opening the business above). She's even developed a hate/annoyance relationship with Benny the delivery boy who she constantly insists that he tell the preparers of the order about the won ton issue. 

I've had a few bad experiences with take out restaurants and you know what I did? I stopped going to them. Because there are about 100 others I could go to that would give me better service. In the whole of New York is this the only Chinese restaurant that Yates can order from? Of course not, but rather than choose a different restaurant, she settles. Now I know that this is for the comedy and the gag (which sort of gets old after a while), but if you're claiming your movie has a positive "Girl" Power message, then maybe you need to rethnk the gag. Because really, even taking out the gender issue, I just thought Abby was a complete idiot for continuing to order from a restaurant that consistently disappointed her. 


Now two characters did impress me. I had a feeling I was going to like Kate McKinnon as Dr. Jillian Holtzmann, who is obviously the Egon Spengler character: The on the cusp-mad scientist slightly out of touch with societal norms (and how cool would it have been if she were Egon's niece or something!). But where Egon, outside perhaps of Ray and Peter (and later Winston), had no problem projecting his slightly superior, anti-social attitude on others (for hobbies, he collects spores, mold and fungus), Holtzmann seems to try masking  her social awkwardness using attention grabbing ticks and reactions.

From what I can gather in reactions to the movie, you either love Holtzmann or you hate her. I’m in the love camp. I really enjoyed the character. Yes, she chewed the scenery a bit (but really, they all chewed it here and there. Subtlety was not really practiced in this version). She delivered what was written of the character. And I found it kind of fun. Her's is a character that does exuded "Girl Power".


The character that actually surprised me was Patty Tolan, as played by Leslie Jones who is done a complete disservice in the trailers. I expected her to be screaming for most of the movie (and unfortunately they did keep one of the worst scenes in the trailers) but she actually turns in a much better performance than the trailers would lead us believe. Patty is the Winston Zeddemore of the group. The every-person. The stand-in for the audience. He knows very little about the paranormal, he’s simply in it for a steady paycheck. Unlike Winston, however, Patty gave up her steady paycheck to “join the club” after witnessing frightening paranormal phenomena on the tracks of the subway where she works. Yes…the questions are valid: Why couldn’t she have been a scientist? Why wouldn’t the other members of the team have a working knowledge of New York geography having lived there for as long as they had? It is a lame selling point for her to give to join the team (as is her borrowing a hearse from her uncle's funeral business). That’s the sort of thing that Feig and his crew could have easily tweaked. But the character was actually more fun than one would initially suspect. She has the confidence that a movie touting "Girl Power" seems to promise of its characters. She takes the sort of the chances that the original "Ghostbusters" took. 

As for "Girl Power", here are some of the fantastic examples of it that the movie offers: If we remember the first movie, these guys had no idea what they were doing with this business and it was going to cost a lot of money just to get them started. But they charged forward and bought that unique fixer upper of a firehouse (after Ray Stantz took out the third mortgage on the home his parents left him) not even sure if they’re going to be able to make it work. They got up equipment, devised a storage facility, and waited for the calls...which didn't exactly light up the switchboard right off the bat. 

What do the Ghostbusters in the new movie do? They settle. First they swipe most of their equipment from the questionable "institute" that Abby and Jillian have been working out of for years (the dean of which fired them the moment he found out their department was still there). Unable to afford the firehouse which would be much better suited to their needs, they instead take an office over a Chinese restaurant (that has a convenient enclosed garage next to it where they can park the “Ecto-1” once that makes its entrance in the movie). Coincidentally enough, it's the very same restaurant that consistently screws up Abby's order, and can't even deliver the food within an hour when the delivery address is one floor above.

And yet she continues to order from them. 

And of course, as in the original, they need a secretary. As played by Annie Potts, Janine the secretary in the original movie could be surly (frustrated in the beginning by lack of work) and fancied herself a bit psychic, but she could also be warm-hearted and was surprisingly dedicated to the team. And she was a match for Bill Murray's Peter Venkman who insulted her once with, "And stop staring at me, you have the bug eyes" then immediately apologized for the rude remark indicating his own frustration at the situation the business was in. That's real dialogue between two humans, regardless of gender.



As female characters go, I don’t think the “Girl Power” brigade have anything to grouse about with the original movie's secretary.


In the new movie, Feig decides upon a male secretary. A gorgeous male secretary. An insanely stupid, vapid, gorgeous male secretary. As played by Chris Hemsworth, the character of Kevin starts out kind of funny. But the bit gets tiresome really fast…or should I say the one note character gets tiresome really fast. Unlike Janine in the old movie, Kevin in the new movie is a cartoon. Full on. And he does things that make you wonder, “How the hell has he made it to this age without walking into an open manhole or something?” 

Remember the blonde secretary in "The Producers"? That's Kevin, except that movie was made in the '60s and this is 2016.

Many people have detected a bit of hypocrisy on the part of the filmmakers who insist that they've created a movie featuring "Girl Power" yet to do so, apparently feel the need to reverse a stereotype at one time used against women. I don't know, maybe, maybe not. All I know is that there is a chance that this character could have been fleshed out, and Hemsworth does have the comedic chops to do more with it, but again, laziness seemed to win out and waste the comic potential of the character. 


And it does beg the question: The team hires this idiot because the moment he walks in, they all lust after him, especially Erin Gilbert who practically dissolves into jelly every time he’s near her. And that's cute. But four supposedly intelligent women looking for someone to help with the growth of their business decide to hire a man so stupid that he won’t answer a working telephone on the desk because he thinks the ringing is coming from the telephone in the fish tank (and who the hell knows why there’s a phone in the fish tank). All because their hormones are swelling. How is that "Girl Power"? How is that showing any individual characters, male or female, at their best? 

When love entered the domain of the original movie, it was between Peter Venkman and the wildly attractive and incredibly independent Dana Barrett played by Sigourney Weaver (You know Sigourney: Ripley in the "Alien" movies. You want "Girl Power", there you go) who was every bit Venkman’s equal if not his better. She was attracted to him. She enjoyed the flirtation. But she never pooled herself with desire the moment he entered the room (although he was totally in idiot-love-land when he saw her).



There is a particularly funny line in regards to how the girls in the new movie feel about Kevin when he’s possessed by the evil entity Rowan. “Let’s go get Kevin, we’re not going to find a secretary that pretty again.” I enjoyed that. Sure he may be an idiot, but he's our idiot. 

But while women weren’t featured heavily in the original movie they were none the less were very strong characters without having to carry a banner of any sort. Don’t give me the “Girl Power” chant when you have the strong women in your movie going gaga over the idiot secretary (actually, acting not that much differently than the guys in “The Producers” acted around their gorgeous blonde). 

Eventually, the Ghostbusters get their first call. A ghost at a rock concert (that's the scene with the oh so hilarious, "Let's go!" uttered by both McCarthy and Wiig who then agree to decide that the other one can say it next time. Yes, that's the level of humor). And again, in this scene, Leslie Jones actually shines in it (aside from the idiotic joke, "I don't know if it's a race thing or a lady thing...").

But they successfully trap the ghost and become overnight sensations. Unlike the original which followed up the first trapping scene with a montage of them going around the city catching ghosts, this seems to be the only ghost the team catches. And in the remake they can't even hold on to the one they caught. 

In one of the weirder cameos (though somehow perfect for the star) Bill Murray plays a skeptic who goes on TV attacking the Ghostbusters. For some reason he makes his way to their office and begins a discussion with Erin in which he manages to goad her into releasing the ghost. I'm not sure what his character's credentials are. I do know that of Dr. Erin Gilbert, according to Abby Yates, "No one's better at quantum physics than you." And yet this genius, who has witnessed a number of examples of the paranormal, who knows she has a ghost in the trap (that was trapped at concert featuring hundreds of eye witnesses) let's this guy goad her into releasing a dangerous ghost. 

I know they needed a device to advance the plot and I know they needed to shove a Bill Murray cameo in there. And there is potential in the Murray character and the scene. 

As I stated before, when it was announced that the new "Ghostbusters" would all be female, so many people cheered it as a shot across the bow for the representation of strong women in the movies. It was presented (beaten into the ground actually) as if Feig and his crew had to right some massive wrong that had been perpetrated by the makers of the original "Ghostbusters" or most certainly right the wrongs of an industry that has had a bias against women in these sorts of roles.

Yet these are the sort of characters he presents as powerful women?

Interesting that Erin was facing off with a character played by the man who starred as Peter Venkman in the original. What a different approach each took to the situation. Peter made Walter Peck (William Atherton) of the EPA back down once when he tried to get in to see the grid.



When he came back with writs and police, Venkman stood his ground as long as he could. After the grid was off, the ghosts were released, and the Ghostbusters were face to face with the mayor, he still came out fighting issuing some of the funniest lines in any movie. 

That's what I want from my Ghostbusters, male or female. Someone with the courage of their convictions who can debate toe-to-toe with anyone. Not some wishy washy character who is goaded into releasing an entity.

Consider the difference in tone when both casts met the mayors in their respective movies. All hell was literally breaking loose in the original. "The walls in the tenth precinct are bleeding," as one of the police characters states. The mayor isn't sure what to do when he's faced with people claiming that ghosts are behind it all. Venkman is canny enough to zero in on the one thing that will sway the mayor's mind.



In the new movie, things are a bit different. The mayor knows there are paranormal occurrences out there, but the mayor doesn't want the citizens to know so they don't have, "Mass hysteria." The women sit there sedately, knowing that something is up, knowing that they can do something about it, but being told they won't have the backing of the mayor or homeland security if they do. As a scene, like so much in the movie, it falls flat. Though of course it sets up the conceit that unlike the original, the new Ghostbusters is being pegged as a secret organization to battle the emerging paranormal threat.

Just don't tease Erin about whether or not she has a ghost in a trap.

Of course during the big battle their weapon technology has increased to the point where they can actually kill ghosts...if one can kill something that isn't already alive (again, no explanation of that concept). One more concept that didn't really make sense, but at that point the girls are kind of kicking ass and there's so much crap going on anyway, that you don't really care. As an over the top action movie at this point it finally found its footing. 



But it was at this point that I grew truly frustrated. The characters, flawed as I found them, I had finally warmed up to and I saw just how well the actors (if given better material) could have truly made this their own. If they could have had a passing of the torch movie that followed their own characters, or if this was a true reboot that didn't rely so heavily on the original for concepts and scenes and such, I think the whole movie could have been a good movie. 

But whether it was Sony's decision, Feig's decision, or a bit of both, they decided to mine the original for every thing they could to put in this movie, including the end face off with the evil entity (Rowan, now inhabiting Kevin's body) which is a direct rip-off of the concept behind the face off in the original. (and this is where fans of the original start to lose patience with Feig and his attitude).

In the original, a god-like entity arrives (in the form of a woman, no less) from the other side. She allows the Ghostbusters to choose their form of destruction. They clear their minds but of course the hapless Ray messes it up.


In the 2016 version, Rowan, tiring of using Kevin's body, allows the Ghostbusters to choose their form of destruction. The tense scene that follows in the original is no where to be seen here but Patty does ask, "Well why couldn't it be something cute like a cute little ghost or something?" And thus, Rowan decides to become a giant version of the Ghostbusters logo (though with a bow tie, for some odd reason).

The scene in the original that leads up to the reveal (and the reveal itself) of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man is a classic. There's actually a surprising amount of tension as the footsteps leave you wondering what is coming down the street. Even Egon's absurd response to one of Venkman's questions manages to add to that tension. And then the tension is released with hilarious laughs when you see in it's full glory the adorable face of the giant Stay Puft Marshmallow Man here to destroy the world.



The lead up to giant ghost scene in the remake...meh! Rowan pretty much just takes Patty's suggestion and grows into a monster that tears apart everything. If it wasn't a "Ghostbusters" movie (and the joke hadn't been done better before) it might be a cool scene, but again, much too similar to the original not to compare. So it was completely unsatisfactory.

As was the way the ladies were able to take the big guy down. As I mentioned earlier, many people have pointed to examples of hypocrisy in regarding to gender treatment in this movie. Specifically, men are given the same treatment the folks behind the movie claimed women have been getting for so long. I'm not sure about that. Yes, Kevin is an obvious stereotype (to go along with Paul Feig's obvious style of humor). Rowan might have been inspired by the "fanboy" culture that Feig seems to dislike so much (I'm not sure. I actually think if Feig hadn't been so lazy and actually fleshed out Rowan's character, he might have been a serviceable villain).

But the way they were able to bring down Rowan in his giant logo form does smack a bit of slamming it to the men. The ladies all aim their the guns of their proton packs (apparently now able to kill ghosts) at Rowan's crotch which burns up dramatically.

Who knew a ghost had any junk to be affected in such a way?

Here's my problem with this scene aside from it being more of the desperate sort of humor that seems to be Feig's stock and trade. If that was a statement from a crew that seemed intent on making statements from the moment this film was announced, then yeah, it's pretty hypocritical. And I can't help but wonder how many women would be yowling if, in the original version, the guys took down the female form of Gozer (who actually manages to get the better of them) by aiming for her tits. Or heck, maybe drilling those rays into her vagina; you know women hurt when they're injured down there too.



But for some weird reason, people think it's the height of hilarity when a guy is kicked in the nuts. Or shot in the nuts. Kneed in the nuts. Breaks his fall with his nuts. Hell, when Lorena Bobbitt cut off her cheating husbands penis, it was the fodder for late night jokes for years. Imagine if a husband cut the breasts from his cheating wife's body. How much hilarity would ensue then?

So there is some weird thing people have about guys getting kicked in the nuts. My problem with the joke is that, first of all it's not all that funny, it's lazy physical comedy, and secondly it has been so amazingly overused the past few decades. Cartoons, TV shows, movies, what have you. Do you want an easy joke? Just put a guy's junk in peril. Personally, I don't think I found it all that funny the first time, I don't think it's funny after 5000 viewings of similar things in various forms of media. 

I wish I could remember the original review, but film critic Roger Ebert had a wonderful commentary on this type of joke and I have to agree with him. It's too easy. Cheap. And doesn't really pay off all that much for the effort.

Perhaps that's why Feig decided he would use it. He might have run out of ideas at that point.

That's possibly why ultimately, a movie I wouldn't have cared about, has led me to write two reviews on it scrutinizing two different aspects of it. For all Feig and Company's clamor about the misogynistic fanboys, what they have offered us is writing not that much better than what you would find amateurs doing on YouTube and other social media platforms. 

For this movie he needed to step above the level of humor he used for "Bridesmaids". Even the level of humor he used for "Spy." He needed to present us with something funny, and interesting, and if he wanted to include a message fine but there was no reason to beat us over the head with it. He needed to give scenes a lot better than those containing endless riffing of characters who sometimes sound more like children on a playground than doctors of anything. The original cast improvised, but there was an intelligence behind it added immeasurably to the comedy (and the other elements of the film). This movie resorts to the lowest form of humor for most of it and as I said before, it gets old real fast. 

And to try to deflect from this inadequacy by couching any criticism of it in terms of misogyny is doing a disservice to the very people you claim you're trying to support. If the material is strong, the performances strong, then you shouldn't have to silence every critic with accusations that can neither be proven or disproven (how does one prove a negative? How does one prove their criticism isn't misogyny?)

There was most definitely potential to this project. It is worth a viewing even if on DVD. I saw potential for a tale of true "Girl Power." In my opinion, it's just a shame that the writer/director couldn't rise to the occasion. He was too busy offering us the same sort of characters he's offered us before in his previous movies: Girls who rather than roar, squeak. Or if they roar, they follow it up immediately with an apology for causing a scene. My hope is, if Sony does continue with plans for a franchise, they find better writers and a director who truly understands how to do the movie right. 

So that next time Dr. Erin Gilbert faces down a skeptic, she'll come out swinging like the Ghostbuster she is.