July 23, 2016

Ghost Busters

A good but not great comedy. Solidly entertaining and fun, just not brilliant. 
The four women are all terrific. Kate McKinnon has chosen a very particular brand of weirdo as the eggheaded engineer, and she steals every scene. Chris Hemsworth is a very particular brand of dum dum and he pulls it off perfectly: It's true, an aquarium is only a fish submarine!
The style and execution of the ghosts is good. I especially liked the demented Thanksgiving Day parade floats.
There's a couple of creepy parts, but only one truly scary moment: when the door opens. If you've seen the movie, you know what I'm talking about.
It would have been nice to excise all the seemingly mandatory tributes and references to the original 1984 movie. None of them fit seamlessly into the movie. All of the cameos could be cut out and the movie would be shorter and better. A discerning 12 year old who had never seen the 1984 film would wonder "why does this fringe character get so many lines?" The one tribute to the original that I liked was the scene where they consider renting the firehouse for their headquarters. Unlike 1984, the real estate in Hell's Kitchen is in high demand!
I also would have been happy to lose the subplot where the goverment tries to quash the Ghostbusters. It doesn't really go anywhere. Cecily Strong is a comic genius, but there's nothing new in her character, which is especially glaring in a movie where McKinnon and Hemsworth's eccentric weirdos are so fresh.
The audience was fun and totally engaged. I missed a lot of post-punchline dialog due to widespread laughter!

My wife saw it a few days before me, and her takeaways are worth sharing here too:
  • Who is this movie for? It's barely PG-13, so why can't they make it a less scary family-friendly PG so Generation X could take their kids, OR go hard-R! Let Kristen Wiig say "oh, shit" instead of "oh, shoot".
  • Compared to the 1984 film, this Ghost Busters is completely devoid of sex. Wiig has a bubbling-under crush on Hemsworth, but that's the totality of the sexual content. In the 1984 film:
    • Venkman puts the moves on a coed;
    • Venkman flirts with/sexually harasses Dana Barrett continually until she is raped/possessed by the Gatekeeper;
    • Barrett turns into a ravenous sex demon who eventually has sex with Rick Moranis' keymaster;
    • Stantz gets a ghost blowjob
We rewatched some of the 1984 movie this week and we couldn't believe how much smoking there is!
Arlington Capitol Theater

July 10, 2016

The Secret Lives of Pets

An outstanding voice cast elevates this silly, benign comedy.
Standouts: Louis CK as the lead terrier Max, and Jenny Slate as his lovesick neighbor Pomeranian Gidget. Kevin Hart is good as a manic rabbit / Che Guevara-style radical revolutionary, and Lake Bell nails the sociopathic cat Chloe. I also loved Dana Carvey resurrecting his hilarious old-man voice from his SNL heyday- now Carvey's over 60 and the voice sounds even better! Oooh, I almost forgot Steve Coogan as a demented alley cat.
It's not Pixar-level brilliant, but it's a lot sillier and more carefree than a potentially heartbreaking movie like Finding Dory. The Secret Lives of Pets really captures the personality quirks we associate with these animals.
The Secret Lives of Pets is from Illumination Entertainment, the same studio that made Despicable Me. My wife and I saw Despicable Me when it first came out six years ago (before the movie and its sequels and spinoffs became a childhood phenomenon, before anyone knew who a Minion was).
At the time we both enjoyed "a terrific comedy for adults and kids" and that holds true here too. The Secret Lives of Pets also maintains a distincly non-American, universal flair: I appreciate the near absence of pop culture references, but why did they go to so much trouble to set the movie in New York City if none of the characters or locations has any New York personality?
The plot was a tad derivative and sloppy: just like with Woody and Buzz in Toy Story 1 (twenty years ago), Max's owner brings a new dog home (Duke) that upends Max's comfortable routine and rivals Max for her affections. Max's schemes to remove this threat triggers the chain of events that lands them both in peril, far away from home.
My only other tiny little complaint is all the moments of objects zooming directly in front of the "camera" to enhance the 3D effects. We saw the movie in 2D and usually those moments are pretty benign, but in The Secret Lives of Pets it felt like everything had to fly directly past our noses.
There's only two moments that the littlest kids would find scary- my six-and-a-half year old son claims the giant fanged anaconda wasn't scary, and the near-drowning scene wasn't scary either, but younger kids will be scared.
Belmont Studio Cinema

July 4, 2016

Terminator: Genisys

I'm a big fan of Terminator 1 & 2. I have seen most of the third one, Rise of the Machines, but Terminator: Salvation barely felt like a Terminator movie at all.
Even if you ignore the plot inconveniences of writing a new movie about an antagonist that has been destroyed several times over (Skynet), it has become more and more difficult to create a fresh angle on the Terminator dynamic.
The lameness of T3 and Salvation made it easy to ignore Genisys when it came to theaters, but I noticed that people were talking about it. There are plenty of lame movies with zero buzz, but something about Genisys grabbed the imagination of Terminator fans who saw it. Most of the buzz was bad:
  • "They've thrown away the whole Terminator canon";
  • "This movie hates Terminator fans";
  • "You won't like what they've done to your Terminator".
But this level of engagement - good or bad - was curious enough that I was willing to try it out on Amazon Prime.
The first act of the movie is a wonderful fan service remake / mashup of the first two movies. Scenes from The Terminator are remade but with a nutty alternate timeline; the silvery T-1000 shows up; and Arnold fights Arnold! At the end of the third act the true villain shows up, and I was bored and confused almost immediately. The new villain does not make much logical sense, and as an opponent in action scenes, he brings nothing new to the conflict that the T-1000 already did.
So the last two-thirds was mostly battle-escape, battle-escape, battle-escape, but with little innovation on the battles Cameron invented with much more flair 25 and 30 years ago.
This movie brings back many of the characters from the franchise, and they've all been recast except for Arnold (Jason Clarke is the sixth actor to play John Connor!):
  • Emilia Clarke was excellent as Sarah Connor. She actually looks a bit like Linda Hamilton too.
  • I first saw Jai Courtney (Kyle Reese) as a cold-blooded assassin in Jack Reacher, and it's impossible for me to see him as a good guy.
  • Likewise, Jason Clarke (no relation to Emilia) never seems trustworthy in this film.
  • Oscar winner JK Simmons plays who exactly? I think he's a cop who believes in the whole Skynet/Terminator story, but has no real idea what's going on - kind of like Fox Mulder on the X-Files. I don't know why he's in the movie. I don't think he's playing a character from one of the earlier movies, but if he's a new character, what purpose does he serve?
  • The other acting standout is Arnold Schwarzenegger. He has no problem playing the T-800 again; what's a welcome surprise is the bone-dry jokes they've written for him. The level of humor in this movie is set just right. That's important for a story dealing with the mass extinction of humanity!
  • Coincidentally, there's two Clarkes and two Courtneys in this movie too- Courtney B. Vance plays the scientist character that Joe Morton played in T2 (yes, he died in that movie, that's totally irrelevant here).
I'd recommend this movie to Terminator fans for the fun remake/reimagining of the first third, but it gets pretty confusing and dull the rest of the way.

Fun Fact: I saw Terminator 2: Judgement Day exactly 25 years before watching Genisys - July 4, 1991.
Further Reading: How the Terminator franchise makes George Lucas look good.