Thursday, July 21, 2016

Ghostbusters (2016) film review

Year: 2016
Running Time: 114 minutes
Director: Paul Feig
Writers: Kate Dippold and Paul Feig (written by). Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis (based on the 1984 Ghostbusters written by)
Cast: Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Chris Hemsworth, Neil Casey, Andy Garcia, Cecily Strong, Charles Dance

Ghostbusters is now showing everywhere and is distributed in Australia by Sony Pictures.

Just when I was becoming truly tired of watching and writing about unworthy remakes and sequels, along comes the 2016 revamp of Ghostbusters. Filmmakers take note...THIS is how you do a remake and THIS is how you make an empowering female driven film. While Ghostbusters on a whole may not be flawless, what it does right it does flawlessly and makes this a fun and worthy sister piece to the 1984 original.

In a matter of days, New York City has became a very spooky place to live. Dr Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) abandoned her fascination in paranormal investigation to be taken seriously scientifically at Columbia University, but with this rise in ghostly activities across the city she is thrust back into exploring this strange world with her old friend, Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) and the eccentric Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon). Their team is complete with the addition of the street smart Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones), and even though they are successful in their ventures, still struggle to be taken seriously and acknowledged for their hard work. However, the girls have their work cut out for them when they uncover evidence that a terrible event is about to tear the city apart and nobody believes their warnings.

Admit it, when you heard that there was going to be a Ghostbusters remake you weren't impressed, were you? You'd be forgiven too given the state of remade films today as they are normally made as a result of thinking "we can do better now" and/or lack of an original, but bankable idea for a screenplay. Many of these remakes are just modern versions of the original with no real point of differentiation that have movie lovers everywhere screaming 'What was the point of remaking that?!?!"

The 2016 Ghostbusters gives us a great in the remake. Paul Feig's film does something different to the original and is by no means a carbon copy of it's predecessor, yet still has some wonderful cameos and thrilling Easter Eggs to delight long time fans. Despite what could have easily been assumed, the film is not a carbon copy of the original with women thrown in to make it seem different. The screenplay written by Kate Dippold and Feig is a different story to what was previously told by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis with the only similarities feeling as though they are respectfully paying homage to the original. While Ghostbusters is completely and unsurprisingly far-fetched as well as quite silly, it has a self-awareness that makes this acceptable, highly enjoyable and wildly funny.

However, what is perhaps the greatest thing about Ghostbusters is that Feig knows the difference between a film with women in it and a female empowerment film. So many filmmakers believe that just having a female with an action woman's body and commanding manner of speaking empowers women and even as a society we are usually happy to settle for this. Yet, Ghostbusters is truly the ultimate female empowerment film.

Each of the characters portrayed by Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones have extremely admirable qualities...they are all very intelligent women who are comfortable with who they are and in a profession where they are being ridiculed and oppressed, but passionately believe in what they are doing so much that they are doing it either way. None of them are the traditional vision of an action woman, but they are all strong in mind and matter with their own distinguishable personality that makes them unique. Wiig, McCarthy, McKinnon and Jones all give great performances of their well-rounded characters, but McKinnon and Jones shine the greatest. McKinnon's crazy but lovable Holtzmann provides many of the biggest laughs and Jones gives a standout performance as the down-to-earth Patty. Not surprisingly, any 'Saturday Night Live' fans will love the brand of comedy the girls bring to the screen.

The screenplay allows for a reversal of the usual gender stereotypes found in film, especially considering it is the girls saving the boys. The role of the secretary, Kevin played by Chris Hemsworth is the perfect example of this reversal. A secretary is traditionally a female occupation, but here we have an attractive, but incredibly dumb and goofy male who is splendidly portrayed by Hemsworth who must've had a ball during filming. Another worthy point to make is that all the girls are single and while it is great that this shows that a woman doesn't need a man, the best thing about each of the girls being single is that it isn't even a matter that is talked about in the film because it isn't an issue whether they are attached or should be the case in real life too.

Ghostbusters is exactly what film goers have been needing and craving in 2016. With the tidal wave of remakes and sequels flowing through cinemas in recent times, Ghostbusters proves that you can really do something great with a remake and make it memorable and loved in it's own right.


Saturday, July 16, 2016

The Legend of Tarzan (2016) film review

Year: 2016
Running Time: 110 minutes
Director: David Yates
Writers: Edgar Rice Burroughs (based on the 'Tarzan' stories created by), Craig Brewer and Adam Cozad (screenplay)
Cast: Alexander Skarsgard, Margot Robbie, Christoph Waltz, Samuel L. Jackson, Djimon Hounsou

The Legend of Tarzan is now showing in cinemas everywhere and is distributed in Australia by Roadshow Films.

Bringing 'Tarzan' back to the realm of live action in 2016 is not even half a bad idea. It is actually a concept that is easy to get excited about when you consider how much could be done with it. However, it takes only five minutes to realise that that is all The Legend of Tarzan is and is instead exceptionally dull, flawed and overly cliché.

In what is an attempt to be unique and original with a story that has been told many times, The Legend of Tarzan is essentially a sequel to the more traditional Tarzan tale and takes place in the years following the "Tarzan meets Jane" fiasco. Tarzan (as played by Alexander Skarsgard), now known as John Clayton, has brushed up to become quite the civilised English gentleman with his American bride, Jane (Margot Robbie) at his side. He is coaxed back to Africa under the instruction of Belgian King Leopold to see what he has done for the countey and is accompanied by both Jane and American, George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson). When they arrive, they find a new enemy in Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz) who is ruthlessly ripping through tribal villages with no guilt and has his eye set firmly on Tarzan.

While it is admirable that screenwriters Craig Brewer and Adam Cozad have tried to do an original take on Tarzan, there is nothing unique in the fact that it is merely a sequel being released at a time when cinemas are literally flooded with origin stories and sequels. It has been a significant amount of time since the last live-action Tarzan film so it can be presumed that the idea for the film came from that lightbulb moment of "Imagine what we could do with that story now!"

Visually, yes. There was a lot that could be done with The Legend of Tarzan and it does not disappoint in this department. The production design is very impressive and the CGI of the African animals and scenery is superb. This is where the excitement and intrigue exists with the film as the story is hardly suspenseful nor action-packed and very predictable. Of course the argument is that Tarzan films and television shows are supposed to have an acceptable level of tackiness and are not supposed to be taken too seriously, but with anything that isn't supposed to be taken too seriously you expect a level of enjoyment and a bit of fun. The Legend of Tarzan doesn't have any of this. It is a Tarzan film that is perfect in so far as capturing the atmosphere of the Congo, but doesn't succeed in capturing the sense of adventure in the way a Tarzan adaptation should.

The Legend of Tarzan is not just a new story about Tarzan, but the revealing of Tarzan as a new man. Alexander Skarsgard's Tarzan is a lot more civilised than the jungle man of old and the animalistic side of his personality is barely existant. He is a man caught between two worlds, but in the situation he finds himself in in this film, you would expect fragments of the man he used to be to come through in his behavior. Physically is a different matter. This isn't just in relation to his physique and his unnatural male model poses that were undoubtedly the basis for him being cast in the role, but he progresses in stature from a very well-to-do man to the King of the Jungle just fine,

It is Margot Robbie's Jane who has a bigger personality than Tarzan himself and has the fire that you would hope her husband would have. As well as Robbie does do performance wise, Jane is a little too contemporary for the film's time period. She is being presented as a cross between a strong woman and a damsel in distress, but with a less than refined accent and vocabulary that was not typical of the time. The fact that in her final close up you can see that Jane has pierced ears, when ear piercing did not come into fashion until the 1920's does not help this case either.

Samuel L. Jackson adds some humour to the film in a role that is again very contemporary, but probably more accepted than Jane. His addition to the cast makes things a bit more entertaining and animated, even if his character is quite Tarantino-esque minus the swearing. Christoph Waltz is fine as the villain Leon Rom, but sadly isn't too much of a stretch from the characters he has been playing of late.

The Legend of Tarzan proves to be nothing more than an exciting idea that cannot carry the excitement through to it's execution.


Saturday, July 2, 2016

Independence Day: Resurgence (2016) film review

Year: 2016
Running Time: 120 minutes
Director: Roland Emmerich
Writers: Nicolas Wright, James A. Woods, Dean Devlin, Roland Emmerich and James Vanderbilt
Cast: Jeff Goldblum, Liam Hemsworth, Bill Pullman, Jessie T. Usher, Maika Monroe, Judd Hirsch, Sela Ward, Brent Spiner, Joey King, William Fichtner, Travis Tope, Charlotte Gainsbourg

Independence Day: Resurgence is now showing in cinemas everywhere and is distributed in Australia by 20th Century Fox.

"We had twenty years to prepare. So did they"

So reads the tagline of Independence Day: Resurgence. Likewise, Roland Emmerich has had twenty years to prepare sequel to the fun, entertaining and thrilling Independence Day, but in all the excitement he has forgotten to correct what was wrong with the former. Instead, what was wrong with Independence Day is what is wrong with Independence Day: Resurgence...and that is only the beginning of it's flaws.

In an alternate world where aliens did invade Earth in 1996, 2016 looks a great deal like the futuristic world as depicted in "The Jetsons" and Disneyland's Tomorrowland. The invasion left Earth knowing a great deal more about the other life forms in our universe, but the other life forms learnt enough about our strengths and weaknesses to have another go at taking over the planet. They return to Earth with a force greater than any we have ever seen causing destruction on a grander scale than before. In other words, exactly the plot we were expecting this sequel to have. Same story, same enemies...just on a larger basis.

Independence Day: Resurgence's timing is only part of it's problem. Of course twenty years is an incredibly long time between movies and it can hardly be a surprise that ticket sales are not as spectacular as they would have liked. Independence Day fit right into 1996 when the disaster film fad was gaining momentum and an interest in the paranormal and aliens was at an all time high thanks to the hugely popular "The X Files". In 2016, the disaster film genre is tired and although there will always be an interest in whether we are alone in the universe, there is not much different that can be done with this concept in film.

Despite the screenplay being rather ridiculous at times and having some atrocious dialogue, Independence Day: Resurgence is still watchable and even surprisingly fun. It is a matter of everything being so exaggerated that makes the film actually quite funny. In reprising his role of now ex-President Thomas Whitmore, Bill Pullman gives an over-the-top patriotic speech that is supposed to be reminiscent of his infamous speech in the first film, but is almost cringe-worthy in how comical it feels. The action sequences are rather enjoyable and this is one aspect that the sequel being made in 2016 has benefit from as CGI has come a very long way since 1996.

Like it's predecessor, Roland Emmerich's second venture with this July 4 franchise doesn't have a small cast. However, one of the things that did make the first film successful was how much emotion the viewer was exposed to regardless of how many characters there were. Now it is the opposite. None of the characters have enough time to make the viewer feel anything for them, but there is undoubtedly a great deal of opportunity to make this happen with loss and love taking place all through the film.

One thing that Independence Day was criticised for (especially in Film Studies classes across the USA) was it's attitude towards women. The male characters were solely responsible for saving the world and the women either waited at home for the men to arrive or were killed off. It is as if Emmerich was aware of this criticism and really did attempt to rectify this, but with the exception of one or two characters still gets it wrong. At the beginning of the film, it looks extremely promising for women with the current President being a woman, once stripper Jasmine Hiller (Vivica A. Fox) is now in the medical profession, Patricia Whitmore (Maika Monroe) is a trained fighter pilot and one of the first people on an African base to investigate is Dr Catherine Marceaux (Charlote Gaisbourg). However, President Elizabeth Lanford and Jasmine do not reach a desirable fate, Patricia's fate is decided by a man and Dr Catherine Marceaux doesn't really do anything of any great merit in the whole film. The only female character who has any success without being supported by a man is military pilot, Rain Lao (Angelababy).

The question still hangs in the air as to why Mae Whitman, who played Patricia Whitmore as a seven year old in Independence Day was not recast in the role. Truth be told that Whitman (who is still a popular working actress) and Monroe are very different types of actresses and many are jumping to the conclusion that it was based on her looks that she was not recast. The role of Patricia Whitemore would have indeed been extremely different had Whitman been called on to reprise her role, but it would have been far more interesting if that was the case. However, Ross Bagley who played Dylan Hiller in 1996 was also not called upon to reprise his role.

The best performance in the film is by Joey King, who doesn't have anywhere near enough screen time. King plays Sam, a young girl who has had the responsibility of her three younger siblings thrust upon her since the recent disappearance of their parents. Despite her limited time in the film, she is the only one who completely captures the raw emotion of her overwhelming situation. She is struggling with the assumed death of her parents and not only taking on the parental role in her family, but becoming an adult literally overnight. She is the only character who you actually feel anything for and empathise with. Despite his dorky patriotic speech, Bill Pullman is also fine enough.

Independence Day: Resurgence is a deeply flawed film that is one of those sequels that never needed to be made. Yet, it is just the right amount of corny and impressive thrills to make it an entertaining blockbuster.