Ghostbusters

July 15, 2016 by  
Filed under Brian, Reviews

Starring: Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones
Directed by: Paul Feig (“Bridesmaids”)
Written by: Katie Dippold (“The Heat”) and Paul Feig (“Bridesmaids”)

“’Ain’t no bitches gonna bust no ghosts,” intones bewildered and hurt paranormal-hobbyist-turned-physicist-turned-“Ghostbuster”-2.0 Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig), reading aloud a reaction to a YouTube video of her team’s extra-normal exploits. It’s a line that elicits a knowing, involuntary bark of a laugh, not least because it’s an example of art not so much imitating life, but rather faithfully — if painfully — reporting it.

Following an historically inauspicious trailer reception (it’s the “most disliked” movie trailer in YouTube’s decade-plus of existence), and the widespread denunciation of that reception as virulently sexist, and the repudiation of that denunciation by commenters claiming defense of a treasured classic, and so on — all months before the first press or preview screening — Paul Feig’s female-fronted “Ghostbusters” reboot could be forgiven for rolling into theaters this week with a sizable spectral chip on its wearied shoulder.

To wit: If the aforementioned “bust no ghosts” scene is the most pointed of the film’s fourth-wall-chipping glances at its own pre-detractors, it may not be the only one. Subtle (or not-so-) moments in which a male villain taunts our heroes (or heroines?) for “shooting like girls” or opines that they’re late to a showdown because (1) women “always” are and (2) they probably couldn’t pick out the right coveralls to wear, or Cecily Strong’s purposeful emphasis, as a tight-smiling mayoral assistant, in complaining about “these women” are all about as jarring and uncomfortable as they sound, but skate by(?) as paper-thin, self-aware, psuedo-Swiftian satire.

Which assessment brings us more directly to the rightful point: the film. Is it good? Is it funny? How does it fare, pushing distractions and comparisons aside?

Well, that depends.

Structurally (and in many other ways, as it turns out), we’re in strikingly familiar territory — on paper, at least. Wiig’s Gilbert is an about-to-be-tenured professor at Columbia University whose enthusiastic/eccentric/scientific-genius former colleague Abby Yates (McCarthy, introduced sporting decidedly Stanz-ian headgear) is on the verge of a breakthrough in super-spooky studies, assisted by the even-more-enthusiastic/eccentric/scientific-genius-y Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon). When Gilbert’s association with Yates leads to a chain of events that outs her as a supernatural-believer to her no-nonsense dean (the wonderful Charles Dance, in what sadly amounts to a cameo) and leaves all three women out of a job, she joins forces with Yates, Holtzmann, and Patty Tolan (Jones), a subway worker with an encyclopedic knowledge of New York City architecture and history, to catch and study incorporeal entities — and, ultimately, save the city from a neon ghostly apocalypse.

The talent here assembled is considerable: Wiig and McCarthy are proven and reliable comedic tentpoles; “Freaks and Geeks” creator Feig has delivered with female-led hits “Bridesmaids,” “The Heat,” and the uproarious and tremendously fun “Spy;” McKinnon, Jones, and Strong are breakout “SNL” stars (McKinnon and Strong, in particular, are capable of unleashing a dizzying array of simultaneously realistic and gut-busting characters; expect big things from them). Hemsworth is undeniably winning (if perplexingly written) as a brick-stupid receptionist, and even Andy Garcia shows up to fill out a small role as an unapologetic rat-sleazehole of a mayor. The ingredients are present, then, for these Ghostbusters to stride confidently in a new direction all their own, exorcising the hulking and formidable spectre of their phantom-fighting forebears.

One significant problem, it turns out, lies precisely in the film’s own reluctance to do just that, instead allowing said spectre to loom unavoidably overhead like a monstrous, anthropomorphic, sailor-suited partial S’more. That is to say, “Ghostbusters” (2016) invests so very much time and energy nodding to and hammer-winking at “Ghostbusters” (1984) in so very many multifarious ways (plot points, art design/visual references, locations, audio cues, déjà-vu-ish characters, a glut of cameos, lines lines lines lines lines) that it does itself a number of great disservices. Not only does this significant a volume of repeated hat-tips (literally, repeated: Annie Potts’s beloved “Ghostbusters, whaddaya want?” squawk is quoted not once, but twice) constantly pull its audience out of the story to remind us that we’re watching a movie (and a contentious remake, at that), not only does it refuse to allow us to to forget the original (and, in fact, all-but-force us to compare the two), but, arguably most damaging of all, it causes the film itself to seem strangely insecure — almost as if, for all the filmmakers’ railing against and dismissal of cage-rattling trolls and hatescream fanboys, they don’t ultimately feel worthy of the mantle without concerted pandering or appeasement. It’s like Cary Elwes’s pitiable-but-understandable attempt at Jim Carrey’s “The Claw” in “Liar, Liar” — no one wants that, man. Just be yourself.

That may seem uncharitable. I apologize, if so. The truth is, I’m frustrated, because the thing could have worked. If this were the film’s only pervasive misstep, Feig and co. might’ve pulled it off — and what a success it would have been.

Let’s pause, though. Because here’s where the “that depends” part comes in.

The (other) truth is: If you’re a child aged 9-14, or if you haven’t seen or aren’t especially fond of or aren’t looking for a tonal successor to the seminal 1984 hit, chances are good you’ll like this “Ghostbusters” very much. You might, in fact, love it. That isn’t a dig. It’s a sincere distinction. This film, with its bright colors, lighter tone, and somewhat scaled-back scares, feels a bit more like a kids’ movie than the original — or even like “The Real Ghostbusters” cartoon I very much enjoyed as a kid (I dug Filmation’s, too). No demon dogs, no monster-hands bursting from the recliner, no eidolic Ackroyd-fellating. Some of the inconsistencies in the universe (particularly those presented by the panoply of cameos — a nod to one character suggests we’re in the original Ghostbusterverse, while other actors are clearly new characters and one seems to have a foot in both) or departures in tone (’84 was quirky-but-subtle, and, though ghosts feature prominently, set in an otherwise “real” world; ’16 presents us with a parade of sketch-comedy characters [and there’s no telling what dimension spawned Hemsworth’s absurdly airheaded Kevin]) or issues with pacing or writing or chemistry or character or performance (a heavier premium on “funny” or “wacky” than “convincing” or “deep”) may not bother a younger viewer, and some of these may not bother an older viewer not beholden to cockle-warming memories of Peter/Ray/Egon/Winston. It is, in some ways, a “fresh” take. Kind of. When it isn’t trying desperately not to be.

And that, finally, is the death-knell. Or is it? On the one hand, you’ve got an exciting team of comedic performers seemingly hamstrung by a script that seems more interested in dutifully bowing to its elders every five pages than in making its own mark, and a film whose first cut was reportedly four hours and 15 minutes (which is palpable, in retrospect). On the other hand, you’ve got that magical viral photo of Kristen Wiig, clasping hands with a positively beaming young girl in a Ghostbusters outfit while another, identically attired down to the unutterably joyous expression, looks on. And that’s when you can’t help but think: “Huh — maybe my opinion isn’t the one that really matters here.”

Beverly Hills Chihuahua

October 5, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Drew Barrymore, Andy Garcia, Piper Perabo
Directed by: Raja Gosnell (“Never Been Kissed”)
Written by: Analisa LaBianco (debut ) and Jeffrey Bushell (debut)

It might be easy to dismiss the idea of “Beverly Hills Chihuahua” if you associate the movie with heiress Paris Hilton carrying a pooch in her purse down Rodeo Drive or think of nothing but a bunch of talking mutts, but make no, er, bones about it, “Chihuahua” is surprisingly one of the best family films of the year not starring a trash-collecting robot.

In “Chihuahua,” Rachel (Piper Perabo) is left to dog-sit her Aunt Viv’s (Jaime Lee Curtis) most prized possession: her spoiled Chihuahua Chloe (voiced by Drew Barrymore). Treated like the furry queen of the castle, Chloe enjoys the finer things in life like designer doggie clothes, choice cuts of meat for dinner, and her time at the day spa. But when Chloe is dog-napped during Rachael’s spontaneous trip to Puerto Vallarta with her friends, she must fend for herself or become a four-legged casualty on the stray-filled streets of Mexico.

“Beverly Hills Chihuahua” is entertaining first and foremost because of the great voice work by some talented actors. As Delgado, a former police dog who saves Chloe from participating in an underground dog fight, Andy Garcia is fantastic. Who knew you could get so much enthusiasm to come out of mouth of a German shepherd? Edward James Olmos is also noteworthy as Diablo, a fiendish Doberman on a mission from his owner to hunt down Chloe and get his paws on the diamond collar she is wearing.

As a smitten Chihuahua named Papi, George Lopez brings a humorous “Lady and the Tramp”-like perspective to the film. Between serenading Chole with Spanish love songs and calling her “mi corazon,” Lopez’s Papi might be too flashy at times, but every story needs a little romance even when the suitor comes with a wagging tail. Cheech Marin is great as one of the very few non-canine characters, Manuel, a cunning mouse who works the streets as a con artist with his iguana friend Chico (voiced by Paul Rodriguez).

Not only does “Chihuahua” showcase some well-cast actors, there is a surprisingly sweet message that wins through without becoming intolerably stereotypical or corny. Sure, we could do without insubstantial one-liners like “Hold your tacos” and the always overused “We’re Mexican not Mexican’t,” but there’s plenty of value for kids and adults alike when “tiny but mighty” pups are teaching us about inner-strength.

As far as live-action talking animal movies go, “Chihuahua” isn’t speaking the language of “Babe” or “Charlotte’s Web,” but it’s charming. Don’t let the unpromising trailers fool you. This dog definitely has some bite behind its yappy bark.

Andy Garcia – The Lost City

June 8, 2005 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

What is the earliest memory that you have as a child living in Havana, Cuba?

I remember being, if you go way back, I remember my home and being in my crib and what the crib felt like and what the floor of the hall felt like, which was a granite floor. I remember the combination of coolness of the granite floor compared to the heat that was outside the house. I remember having chalk milk in my crib outside of Havana. My memories go way back a long, long time.

Most people cannot remember that far back.

I think because I left [Cuba] something happens to you when you realize that you may not be going back. I’ve tried to analyze it over the years and I think I’ve protected those memories because I didn’t think I would ever see the place that you left, the place you cherish. So, they become very precious to you. I think the mind is a very powerful thing and it sort of froze those images for me and those memories.

I guess at the age of five, when you and your family left Havana, you really did not know what was going on when it came to the political turmoil that was happening in your country.

But I was being affected by it. The Batista Army was there. We left two and a half years after Fidel [Castro] came into town. They had taken that over. As a young boy, one of the moments that crystallized for my family was that I was marching outside of our house and humming The Internationale, which is the communist anthem. Two and half years after that Castro had already solidified power and betrayed all the promises of the Revolution and the restoration of the constitution and the democracy. He declared himself a Marxist and took over the country without an electoral process. The indoctrination of this new revolutionary man had begun. I was being affected by it.

So, you were young, but you definitely knew something was taking place.

Oh yeah. All over. It was all about propaganda and fervor. That was what going. Rallies and long speeches on the television and the radio. It was all there.

I interviewed a gentleman once that told me about his time in Havana as a child. He said the Castro government would take kids aside and ask them, “Do you believe in God or Castro?” If the child said God, they would ask them, “Well, then ask God for some ice cream.” Of course, ice cream would not come, so then they would ask, “Now ask Castro for some ice cream.” Then, of course, they would bring the ice cream out for them. Did you ever go through any of these brainwashing techniques as a child?

Well, I wasn’t in school so I didn’t get into that. That is one of the reasons we left the country because there was a law past called patria potestad, which basically means that [parents] lost control of their children at the age of five. You would have to go into the state-run educational system of the new revolutionary man, which isn’t education but indoctrination. The 12-year-olds would have to go into the military service. These things were going on and my parents said no. Enough is enough. You’ve already taken our rights away. You’re not going to take the rights away from our children. So we left. We were lucky we got out. We were blessed. That was a huge sacrifice my parents made, but I wouldn’t be talking to you now if it wasn’t for that.

At what point in your life did you finally understand the reason your parents had to make that decision to leave Cuba?

Very early on. It was very much the topic of conversation in our household and in the community. As soon as I could comprehend history in elementary school, it was very clear what was going on. I was very much aware that we were not going back and the reasons why we came. As I became a young adult, on my own, I began to research Cuba. I was very stimulated by the music of Cuba. I stared collecting all the music I could find, reading all the research books and collecting photographic images. All these things formulated as soon as I began making movies in the mid- 80s. I realized that this was a story I wanted to tell and the journey to make this movie began.

I could sense the amount of research that went into making this film because in it you seem to capture the culture of the country really well, although you did not grow up around it. That leads me to believe that you studied the country on many different levels.

Well, I’m a product of that culture and a product of that story. Also, you have to look at it like I’m a student of it. I’m a student of its music, its architectural history, its design history, and its art history. I care about them and continue to learn about them. You live with Cuba everyday in exile. I think all exiles are profoundly nostalgic for the country where they lived. It’s not just particular to Cubans. If you’re from Mexico and you move to American, you can be always thinking about back home no matter what. The trouble with exile is exile.

Watching this film, you can easily tell that it was a very personal story for you to tell. What was the main mission behind creating this film? What did you want to say?

The prime motivation was to pay tribute to the music of Cuba and to use music as a metaphoric protagonist. Then, I always thought that there were elements that happened in that time period because of this dramatic ideological change that happened in Cuba. This movie has classical elements from the movies that I have always responded to like Casablanca or Godfather or Dr. Zihivago or Cabaret or (Bernardo) Burtoluccis 1900 or the (Lucino) Visconi films. All these things that I saw, I wanted to play with in this film music, design, fashion, dance, a political backdrop, and a microcosm of a family and how brother can turn against brother.

I read that this film took 16 years to make. Talk to me about that struggle you had to endure to final see this film come to fruition.

We developed the picture at Paramount. The regime that was interested in helping making this picture started to change. The new head of Paramount wanted to hire a new writer and I didn’t want to abandon Mr. (G. Cabrera) Infante. I was not able to get any support from any other studio. So, you become an independent film trying to look for money outside the system. Then you get the diplomat answer [from studios]: It’s very interesting, but it’s not for us.

Fidel Castro is going to be 80 in August. What do you think is going to happen to Cuba once he finally passes on?

Well, you would hope it would gravitate towards the promises of a revolution, which is to restore a democracy. It is hard to predict. I can only tell you what I would hope for, but I do not know what’s going to happen. There is a dissident movement in Cuba that is calling for democracy, but is that [group] going to be strong enough at that particular moment to override the military dictatorship that exists there. There will be no other person there that has the pull or weight that Castro has. Then the question is, what does the international community do? What is their position? There are a lot of factors that can help it turn toward the original promises of revolution, which is to restore the original constitution of the 1940s and have an election. That is what I would hope for. A democracy is what people want. I truly believe that.

Why do you think Fidel Castro is one of those few leaders that have received such a wide range of praise and criticism at the same time?

There is no simple answer to that. In theory, he uses as his political platform that he stands up against America. He uses America as his abuser to the north. He is the one that is saying that he is fighting against American imperialism. Meanwhile, he will open the front door to fight against American imperialism and open the back door to Russian imperialism. There is a great hypocrisy there. But he does have this combative position against America. He gets supported by many people who want to perpetuate him and want that to exist. Then they will turn a blind eye to the atrocities that are going on in his own country in terms of human rights. We have to remember that there is a U.S. embargo against Cuba, but Cuba trades with the entire world. The economic problems in Cuba are not due to the American embargo in my opinion.

What did you learn about yourself as a director in this, your first attempt? Do you plan on directing again in the future?

I’m very stimulated in directing. I hope to continue to direct. I learned that it is a lot more fun to direct when you don’t have to act. That doesn’t mean that I might not do it like that again. But I know the days I didn’t have to act, it was really liberating. The projects that I want to do are very eclectic projects. They are not easy projects to get off the ground. I hope I don’t get in another 16 year battle with something.