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

If you want to know more about my rating systems, check out what each rating means HERE.

If you enjoyed this review, keep on reading for “The Long Take” and “Spoiler Talk,” and don’t forget to support me on Patreon!

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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

If you want to know more about my rating systems, check out what each rating means HERE.

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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

If you want to know more about my rating systems, check out what each rating means HERE.

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“Bitter Seeds” by: Ian Tregillis – Book Review

 

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The Premise:

In an alternate history of Earth, in the years after the Great War, deep in the heart of Germany, a mysterious doctor takes two orphans into his home with nefarious purposes. In England, one young boy is brought into a dark family secret, and another is found and raised by a spymaster who sees great promise in him.

Years pass and the clouds of war come again. The Spanish Civil War is a petri dish for the Nazis where they are testing a new secret weapon – super powered humans. The British catch wind and they begin their own counter initiative. Their weapon against the “Jerries?” Warlocks, and the powers of the otherworldly beings they call upon.

World War II has begun.

 

The Short of It:

This is a great book, but I think the way it plays out won’t match the expectations of someone reading the basic description. In many ways, the strategy and progress of the war effort are just flavoring or a background to what is ultimately the focus of the book, which is the personal lives and conflicts of certain members of each side’s secret organization. Those who enjoy the setting and flavoring of WWII, but are mostly interested in sharp characters, intrigue, action, and a blend of nerdy genres will enjoy the book.

The Long of It:

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“Coyote Rising” by Allen Steele – Review – Science Fiction


The continuation of Steele’s analogue of the American tale.

Aug 14, 2011 – Coyote Rising is (mostly) the story of revolution, fighting against overwhelming odds to clasp hold of freedom. Just as Coyote was basically a sci-fi retelling of the pilgrims landing in the Americas, Rising is a retelling of the American revolution, at least in spirit. There are a number of distinct differences between Coyote and it’s sequel, and the end result is not better, nor much worse, just different.

I’ll assume that you’ve read the first book, though at times knowledge of the first book seems unimportant. I say this because that the first three sub-stories of the book’s narrative have little to do with events of the first book at all. Sure the setting is the same, but our exposure to the original cast of characters is practically nonexistent. What we have instead is an assortment of three story arcs focused on characters that are largely peripheral to the main plot. First a story about a musician newly come to Coyote, second a story of a religious cult, and third the story of a bridge builder.

Each story is interesting in it’s own right, to be sure, and each is very character driven. The story about the musical composer details the struggles and relationships of those who arrive on Coyote under the banner of social collectivism. The bridge builder is probably my favorite, showing a reclusive eccentric getting in touch with his sense of community and humanity, somewhat ironically in his defiance of the “communal” government.

The religious cult story, while interesting, was truly bizarre. Much of the rest of the Coyote story is grounded and realistic, but this tale of a grotesquely modified man, mad science, religious insanity and ill-fated treks through the wilderness bolts directly in the other direction. In that respect it sticks with you. You can’t help it as it is so disparate from the rest of the book, and the characters are intricate, yet I don’t feel it ever made the case to me as to why the story needed to be here. The characters make appearances elsewhere in the book, but they never felt necessary.

I understand why Steele did this. He wanted to give us a picture, to some degree of the new arrivals on Coyote, to connect us to them and show that they aren’t a bunch of communist sheep come to claim the land. In that he succeeds, but the entire time I read these stories I was itching to get back to the meat of the book, to get to what I came back to the series for, the original characters. Where he excels in character and setting development, he somewhat fails in connecting the plot.

When we finally get back to the original characters it was very refreshing. I became once again fascinated by the sense that I was watching the history of this alien world unfold through the eyes of people I’d come to care about. But while this was great and all, it wasn’t everything I could have hoped for. While he got back to the plot, he didn’t keep his character focused writing. The trade-off isn’t extreme. We still get some very nice character sequences, such as the reunion of Chris and Carlos, and the return of Wendy’s journal, but the focus becomes mostly plot centric. It’s an odd dichotomy, where the first half of the book is so strong with character but mild on plot, while the second half is strong on plot but medium on character.

There are a few personal disappointments I had with the book that stem with my expectations or hopes leading out of the first. Primarily I was sad to see a downplaying of the fantasy epic Gillis wrote. I understand it can’t be earth (or Coyote) changing after only a decade or two, but I still want to see how it impact the local culture, which hasn’t really happened yet. I suppose this yearning mostly stems from how much I loved the way culture can mold itself in new ways in works like the Change series by S.M. Stirling. I recognize this is a bit unfair to Steele, but there you have it.

My second qualm is how little exploration I felt the book had. While the terrain does seem more diverse now, I still never got much of a sense of “the new world” so to speak, and that was one of my favorite elements of the first book. Despite setting up shop on a whole new continent, we got very little exposure to new and exciting flora and fauna.

One last notable difference between this book and the last is that I don’t recall Steele switching in and out of Present and Past tenses anymore. This may be a symptom of having all the characters in the same general time frame, as which wasn’t always the case last time. Whichever way, it made the reading experience smother, if a bit less artistic.

For all these differences I want to stress that they are mostly differences, and not flaws. The book is more uneven than the last one, and it doesn’t have nearly as gripping a beginning, but I would be lying if I said there weren’t several stand-out moments that kept me glued to the page. The ending is also great with a climax that doesn’t end quite the way you’d expect, but mostly the way you would hope, while leaving threads wide open to new story possibilities that should come to fruition in the third book.

Closing Comments:
The parallels to the American revolution are much lighter than those between American history and the first book. The plotting is uneven, some characters you wish you could see again are removed too soon, and some story sequences, while unforgettable, are also largely out of place. Despite all of that, I came out of the book at the other end largely satisfied with my time back in Coyote. It didn’t follow through on all the promise of the first book, but what it did deliver was ultimately a convincing portrait of a world in need of revolution, and an exciting struggle from the people who make it happen.

STAR RATING: (3 & 1/2 Stars)

Three and One-Half Stars

For those of you who stuck around after the rating, I’ve got a extra segment for you called Spoiler Talk. It’s a segment in which I discuss what I thought of certain elements of the story or themes that are too spoilerish or high-concept for the main review. What I say here doesn’t ever trump my review, instead it might give insight into what exactly made me give something the score I did. So let’s get started.

Spoiler Talk:

The religious cult story was baffling. I didn’t know whether to laugh at it, feel admiration or feel disgust. Well, I settled on disgust near the end. Cannibalism in the wilderness and the treason of trust will do that to you. Rev. Zoltan Shirow was ultimately a monster, though at times I felt pity for him. The story evoked a storm of emotions across the spectrum, and I suspect it was meant to do so. Greer and Ben’s tragic part in the whole sordid tale was kind of heartbreaking. To see her and Zoltan show up again near the end of the book seemed out of place, needless, and dragging out a point that did not need extrapolating on. I would have preferred to leave their fates after the disastrous trip through the wilderness a mystery, and left Zoltan to become a legend.

Savant Castro’s demise was pretty chilling and fascinating, as was his surprising return. I hope there is some exploration of his place in (or out) of society in the future. It certainly seems there is no getting rid of him at any rate.

The demise of the Alabama was sad. Clever writing, but sad. I mostly wish they could have salvaged Gillis’ painting before it’s untimely demise, but ultimately freedom is more important than a work of art. And ouch, ouch it hurt to say that.

Robert Lee’s death wasn’t surprising, but it was well done, and a great symbol of what was lost in the rebellion, as well as what such a high price gained. In many ways, the twin loss of the Alabama and Lee was a way of shaking lose the last true bindings to the old world and their old lives. This is no longer just a colony, this is a civilization, an independent nation, sovereign.

The most disappointing death was that of Tom Shapiro. He essentially gets a cameo as a corpse. Not being able to get much time with him is bad enough, but then they go and kill him off screen. A tragic end to one of the early stalwarts of the new world.

The volcano blowing was neat. No getting around that. I didn’t see it coming. Well, I guess I did once they said there was a volcano. You don’t lay a Chekhov’s gun, cannon rather, that prominently without shooting it. But they placed that information out there late, which made it very much a last minute surprise.