Ghostbusters (2016) – Review

Review Format 1 - The Plot Spot

This 2016 reboot of the beloved franchise, “Ghostbusters,” sees the successful Dr. Erin Gilbert, played by Kristen Wiig, haunted by a paranormal studies book she had written years ago with her one-time friend, Dr. Abby Yates, played by Melissa McCarthy. The book, which she had thought was never released, threatens to undermine her serious career and reputation, so she searches out Dr. Yates to force her to cease its publication.

Instead, when she is reunited with Yates and her wonderfully weird assistant Dr. Jillian Holtzman, played by Kate McKinnon, they are all sucked into an investigation of a paranormal event. When footage of their investigation hits the internet, Gilbert’s career is over, so she joins Yates and Holtzman in forming a paranormal investigation group, the “Department of the Metaphysical Examination,” based out of an upper room above a bad chinese restaurant.

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From there, the “Ghostbusters,” as they come to be known, develop technology for dealing with the spirits they meet. They recruit the amazingly unintelligent receptionist Kevin Beckman, played by Chris Hemsworth, as well as a fourth Ghostbuster, Leslie Jones. They go about their work while struggling for recognition from a disbelieving public. All the while, a terrible danger arises that threatens the entire city with destruction. Only the Ghostbusters are equipped to handle this threat, yet they do not fully understand the scope of the villain’s plans. Can they figure out what is going on in time to stop the oncoming ghostly apocalypse?

Review Format 2 - Target Audience

This movie was directed by Paul Feig, and it is a movie that I believes falls very much in line with his skills and sensibilities. That is to say, if you enjoy the humor of his movies, you will probably enjoy this film. If you are not a Feig fan, you will probably not like this movie. It is a comedy first and foremost. If you are going into this movie looking for supernatural thrills, it’s not really for you. If you’re looking for intense, well conceived and choreographed action set pieces, this film is not for you. This film is a Feig show, through and through.

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Also, do not be confused by the title. This film is not aimed at the diehard fans of the original “Ghostbusters” movie. It doesn’t have the same style, the same humor, and it avoids most of the same aesthetics except for the basic outfits and the look of the car. There is certainly some “Ghostbusters” flavoring in the mix, and the plot is very similar to both of the previous films, but this movie has a very distinct and different feel and chemistry. If you go in expecting a tonal successor to the original, you are setting yourself up for disappointment.

Review Format 3 - The Short Take

This film is at its best when the characters are talking and interacting with one another. Importantly, the characters are unique to themselves – they are not stand-ins for the original 80s group. There is great chemistry between the leads, and their personalities and senses of humor riff well off of one another.

The film is really quite funny. The jokes are mostly hits, even though there are definite misses too. At least it isn’t full of fart and vomit jokes, like the trailers implied. It isn’t exactly high-brow, but I didn’t have to roll my eyes more than once, and I found myself chuckling quite a bit. I think I even laughed out loud once or twice.

However, there are plenty of serious flaws. While the designs of the ghosts aren’t bad (in fact in some places it is as strong as the original), the CGI-heavy nature of the final battle goes over the top and the film suffers for it. The plot follows most of the same beats as the original two, and the villain is the cheesiest out of all three films. I will say that while the bad guy is pretty lame in the first half of the film, he does get much better in the second half.

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The worst offenders, however, were the terrible pacing, editing, and cinematography. The editing is choppy, the framing is plain and uninteresting, and the pacing is lethargic when it needed to be active and too quick when it needed to slow down, with poor transitions between the two. Combine this all with the fact that the action scenes in the film were poorly staged and it just robs the story of the energy and intensity it needed in the climax of the movie.

If you insist on judging this film strictly against the ‘84 original, this film can’t be anything but a massive disappointment. It doesn’t match that film’s originality or humor, and I doubt any movie could – the original is one of the great comedies of all time. When judged on its own merits, however, this film is very fun. It is a basic popcorn-munching summer blockbuster worth seeing at matinee price. Don’t get me wrong, “Ghostbusters” (2016) is not great, but neither is it a train wreck. In fact, I might even pick it up if I found it in…

3-4 Rating - The Bargain Bin

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Warcraft – Review

 

Review Format 1 - The Plot Spot

The film begins with the orcish horde, a military collection of tribal clans. Within the horde we find Durotan, a young orc chieftain, who is accompanied by his wife and their unborn child. The horde, under the command of the warlock Gul’dan, makes preparations and sacrifices needed to cross through a dark portal to escape the imminent destruction of their home world, Draenor. This portal takes them into the world of the seven kingdoms, where live humans, elves, dwarves and other races, and where peace has reigned for many years.

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The orcs bring war with them. Upon their crossing, upon the orders of Gul’dan, the orcs begin to wage a guerilla campaign against the humans. As they pillage, they capture villagers for sacrifice in order to open the dark portal again and bring the full extent of the clans into Azeroth and claim the world as their own. Durotan, meanwhile, begins to have reservations about the methods and goals of Gul’dan.

All of the forces of Azeroth, the country the orcs first invade, are put to the test to figure out what is happening and how to stop it. In Ironforge, a dwarfish city, commander Lothar is summoned to Stormwind to discuss the strange attacks and plan how to thwart them. A young mage named Khadgar has found signs of “fell” magic, demon magic, in these attacks. Khadgar recommends they seek out the guardian Medivh.

Will they figure out the truth in time? Even if they do, will they have the strength to fight the might of the horde? These two factions, orcs and humans, collide in “Warcraft.”

Review Format 2 - Target Audience

When you have a film filled with orcs and humans wielding weapons in a medieval setting, it’s obvious that anyone who doesn’t enjoy fantasy will be turned off immediately. However, there is an in-genre distinction to make. Even with a serious tone, the colorful and cartoonishly-proportioned characters and armor, as well as the generous use of magic, means this film will only appeal to people who not only like fantasy but can also accept the more outlandish elements of this film’s design and storytelling. As much as it might like to be Lord of the Rings, it’s not. I mean, we are talking about magical floating cities, portals the size of skyscrapers, and orange and green orc warriors – each built like the Hulk – after all.

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Beyond this distinction, fans of Warcraft, especially fans since the original real time strategy title “Warcraft: Orcs and Humans,” will find the most to latch onto here. The film doesn’t shy away from its lore, and it drops names of people and places so fast that many die-hard fans might have a hard time keeping up.

That isn’t to say that people unfamiliar with Warcraft lore can’t enjoy the film. The film takes place near the beginning of the game lore of the Warcraft series, meaning this is as good a jumping on point for someone unfamiliar to Warcraft as any. The question is, how well do the filmmakers accomplish providing a good and clear movie narrative?

Review Format 3 - The Short Take

I’m not going to beat around the bush. This film has a lot of flaws. Pacing issues drag it down, especially near the beginning. While there are maybe two good performances, the rest of the acting varies from just fine to very bad. Some plot elements are vague to a fault. The CGI occasionally looks iffy, and the world doesn’t feel particularly lived-in.

Despite these flaws, there are many good things about the film as well. While the pacing is way off, the plot itself is fairly straightforward and understandable, though there are a few points that could have used some more set-up or payoff. Tragedy can and does strike the characters of the film. Sometimes this happens in unexpected ways, and the story doesn’t shy away from violence and consequences.

Durotan is a great character, and we spend a lot of time with him. While the other characters aren’t as engaging as Durotan, many are at least likeable or interesting in their own ways. Lothar in particular nears Durotan in terms of engagement. Also, Gul’dan makes for an effectively vicious villain.

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The action is generally strong. The fights feel real, in the sense that the sound direction makes every impact feel weighty and painful.The CGI is obvious, but once you get used to it, it’s actually pretty good, and it only ever interferes with immersion once or twice. Even if you’re never emotionally touched, this is a perfectly good popcorn spectacle.

I enjoyed this film quite a bit – more than it deserves, even. While I might personally buy it as soon as it comes out, I can’t deny that “Warcraft” won’t be worthwhile for most people. In the end, it’s just a…

Guilty Pleasure

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X-Men: Apocalypse – Review

Review Format 1 - The Plot Spot

Thousands of years ago in ancient Egypt, a being of vast power called En Sabah Nur is betrayed in a moment of weakness by his followers and lies buried, sleeping, underneath the sands and rock.

Fast-forward to the early 80s where we find the familiar faces of the previous x-men films. Mystique quietly helps mutants who are persecuted around the globe. Xavier continues to expand his school, bringing up and guiding a generation of young mutants. Magneto is doing his best to live a quiet life with a wife and daughter in Poland. The world may not be a settled place, but things are looking up for mutants after the events of Washington D.C., where Mystique saved the president from Magneto.

Things don’t stay quiet for long, however, as Moira McTaggert stumbles across Nur, sonn to be known as Apocalypse. Unbeknownst to her, she accidentally wakes him.

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Apocalypse rises to find a new strange world in which the weak have dominated the strong. Humans rule over the mutants. Apocalypse believes he must save his “children” and so begins a campaign of recruitment and control aimed at domination of the human race, which brings him into conflict with Xavier and his students. Which side will Magneto choose? Will the X-Men overcome their greatest challenge yet?

Review Format 2 - Target Audience

X-Men fans, especially those who have watched the previous entries, are the primary audience for this film. The plot and characters are drenched in backstory and inter-connectivity that makes no sense at all to anyone who hasn’t been invested up to this point. I imagine that to the uninitiated it will only come across as so much noise. This film will find the most love in the hearts of fans who have been watching since the first X-Men film back in 2000.

Cutting the familiarity factor out of the equation, the film will appeal to people who like superhero themes and world-spanning spectacle. That said, the film doesn’t have a lot of kinetic action until near the very end. Instead we have powerful beings choosing to use their powers and influence in dramatic ways. It’s about characters and philosophies and how far they are willing to go to defend or enforce them, rather than pure “pow!” bam!” antics. The film certainly has explosions, punches, and eye-beams, but that’s not the focus of this movie.

Review Format 3 - The Short Take

I don’t know if it was the negative reviews I have read, the trailers that have underwhelmed me, or the unflattering set photos, but I was not expecting to really like this movie. Perhaps because of those lowered expectations, I came out of X-Men: Apocalypse having thoroughly enjoyed my time spent in the theater.

The characters are the same as they have been in the last several films, and generally as well portrayed, though I think Jennifer Lawrence was a bit lacking as Mystique. The plot is interesting and the writers made some cool choices, even though there are some weird holes and leaps of logic in places. The villain is intimidating and interesting. Magneto’s story line is especially well done and acted. Everything comes together to make a thoroughly solid film that entertains consistently for the whole run time.

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It’s certainly not perfect, however. Along with the aforementioned plot holes, and the unfortunate emphasis on Mystique’s story line and role, there were other flaws that brought the film down a few pegs. While the villain is interesting and dangerous to the heroes, the viewer rarely feels the reality of the threat he poses. The film falls into familiar tropes of crumbling landmarks and cityscapes without making any of it feel like it has weight. Apocalypse seems to have the ability to just kill people with a thought, but never uses it on the heroes. There are weird tone shifts and the new characters feel like they were mostly sidelined.   

Despite it’s shortcomings, I was generally able to overlook these problems and just enjoy my time back in the X-Men universe, with characters I loved being well-acted, and seeing a classic villain from the comics portrayed well for the first time in live action. It has its flaws, certainly, but I’ll be picking up “X-Men: Apocalypse” as soon as it hits…

3-4 Rating - The Bargain Bin

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Pride and Prejudice and Zombies – Book Review

 

Review Format 1 - The Plot Spot

It is Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen. It follows the same plot. If you aren’t familiar with the basic story of Pride and Prejudice.. well , that’s surprising, but here it goes. The story follows Elizabeth Bennet, an intelligent and independently minded young woman, and her family, as they navigate the social issues of the time. The Bennet family is roughly equivalent to a middle-class family in Regency-era English society. Mr. Bennet is the head of the household, but he tends to shun his social duties as father in favor of books and his sarcastic sense of humor. His wife, Mrs. Bennet, is obsessed with marrying off Elizabeth and her five sisters, Jane, the eldest, who is known for her beauty and kind heart, Mary and Catherine, who bear little weight in the plot of the book, and Lydia, who is the youngest and the one who seems to care the least for social rules. The desire to marry her daughters off comes from both her desire to see her family climb the social ladder, but also to guarantee a place for her daughters since they will be left with nothing when their father dies, as only a male could inherit anything.

The plot kicks off with the arrival Mr. Bingly, a charming and rich gentleman, and his friend Mr. Darcy, a man who may be quite handsome but has few social graces. From this point forward, love, romance, and the dance of social classes is the framework for the entirety of the story. People fall in love across class, but struggle to overcome false impressions and social expectations. Will the Bennet sisters find economic and social security, or even love?

Wait… did I miss something? Oh, yes. There are zombies, too. And ninjas. They don’t affect the plot much, but they are certainly there. That’s a bit different from Jane Austen’s original.

Review Format 2 - Target Audience

I think this book will appeal to a very particular audience. If you both love classics and love poking fun at classics through the lense of popular culture and irony, then you will find yourself at home. However, if you like your classical romances unaltered, you will hate this. If you love zombie apocalypse stories and horror, or perhaps action and adventure, but can’t really stand romance or the “boring stuff” like social maneuvering, you will hate this. It’s an interesting venn diagram.

Review Format 3 - The Short Take

I’ve got to be straightforward with you all right now. I’m not a big fan of the original “Pride and Prejudice.” I could only get through one third of the book. It bored me. It’s not that the characters were particularly bad. They were not. It’s not that the writing style and mechanics were bad. They weren’t. I simply couldn’t connect with anyone, and the conflict was bland.

“Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” is the exact same book as the original, except with zombies filling the backdrop. To compensate for the danger, the main characters are almost universally trained (before the events of the book) in martial arts and swordsmanship to a high level of mastery, which they use to keep the menace of the zombies at bay. This change makes proceedings just a tad more interesting, but really it only adds or changes about twenty percent of the book. Besides that, the ninja and oriental martial arts elements only served to make the events and characters feel even sillier than I felt they already were, and completely undercuts any threat the zombies might have presented to the main characters.

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The thing is, I believe that was the point. I have seen other critics take the addition as some sort of serious effort to add dramatic tension to the story. I disagree. I think it’s very clearly supposed to be ironic and silly. Pride and Prejudice by itself contains many social elements from the time period that seem, to me, to be patently ridiculous. Zombie films can also be seen to have many ridiculous elements. When the two are combined, they serve to emphasize the silliness of each other. In that sense, this retelling of the classic is very successful.

“Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” was still something of a slog for me, but I appreciate the irony and satire of the concept, and I generally enjoyed the last three-fourths of the book. Whether it is to my taste is at least partially besides the point as there is no denying the original skill of Jane Austen, nor the interesting juxtaposition of her classic story against the zombies and ninjas of our pop culture by Seth Grahame-Smith. In the end, I would say this book is worth bringing home if you find it in…

3-4 Rating - The Bargain Bin

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