MARK O'CONNELL

Writer, Author, Bond Fan

Tag: New York

If you’ve got it, haunt it – Reviewing GHOSTBUSTERS

Spoilers.

 

Despite Melissa McCarthy’s Chewbacca Mom schtick now running very thin, a weirdly bipolar it is/it isn’t linked to the originals stance, a distinct lack of that SNL ’84 bite from these SNL ’16 ladies and some fun, but wanting cameos (who ultimately underscore the film’s schizophrenic relationship with its source material), oddly and rather refreshingly Ghostbusters – Answer The Call is still miraculously heaps of slick fun, creepy when it needs to be and is not quite the childhood-destroying proton beam the cackling undead of the internet’s movie fan community needed it to be.

Yes, it’s no Bridesmaids II. But it’s not Ghostbusters II either. Losing Dan Aykroyd’s ever passionate pursuits of ancient ghost-foolery versus society’s ills is no bad thing. And whilst the original 1984 classic is understandably held aloft with great reverence it too is not that perfect a movie. If the original and surviving cast members couldn’t get this third Gozarian off the ground then possibly it was for a reason.

Admittedly director Paul Feig (The Heat, Spy) has bargained with a franchise devil and maybe not wholly stood up from the séance as victor. The now reviled initial trailers for this new movie were actually fine. But they did tap into a heritage – the ’84 fire house, the New York was saved before mantra, the suits, the proton guns – that the subsequent trailers and this final film oddly try to distance itself from when it suits. This is a 2016 world where no Ghostbusters have ever existed….yet a subway graffiti artist nails their logo without trying, a real estate suit shows the new gang around that Tribeca fire station and the cameo wrangler clearly has the ’84 original on loop somewhere. For a film whose director and press tried to distance itself from the first two movies, it makes no sense that Ghostbusters – Answer The Call (that seemed to be the title we got in our cinema but who knows what this alias of a movie wants to call itself) repeats the beats of the ’84 original. From an opening phantom menace to some cool and kickass calls to duty, the unbelieving world of academic elders (Charles Dance is sorely wasted), camp venue managers, a finale haunting in a late 19th century apartment block and meddlesome city bureaucrats, the film that doesn’t want you to know it is Ghostbusters III is about as convincing at subterfuge as a Halloween kid under a white sheet.

And so to the ghostly white elephant in the Manhattan library room. Does the all-lady ensemble work? Yes, it does. Very much so. When the end credits roll (and not the eye-gougingly awful spectacle of Chris Hemsworth trying to add some Slumdog Millionaire flash-mob er fun to proceedings) one is left with a guilty moment of “I think I want to see those characters again“. Yes, they are shameless photocopies of the original line up of Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis and Ernie Hudson (with the exception being that Wiig is not Venkman with the “smallest bowtie in the world“). Wiig especially has the onscreen ability of being the comedy ring leader without pitching for the bigger laughs. That is left to Leslie Jones and the comedy balls she brings to the haunting. And likewise Kate McKinnon’s science lesbian Holtzman and the gentle hots she has for Wiig’s Erin Gilbert works more than not, despite being kept at arm’s length. If anything, a film that is/isn’t based on the 1984 Columbia Pictures stalwart needed a love story in the ecto-mix to echo that Dana and Peter dynamic. And not with Hemsworth’s dire receptionist. We really don’t need to talk about Kevin – a terrible, terrible homage mix of Rick Moranis dumb and Annie Potts phone answering swipes whose dumb blonde comedy gold must have stormed that first cast read-through, but maybe not since. Whilst it obviously panders to the ladies (and some of the boys) leaving the cinema, a film that has weathered such female-skewed criticisms should have thought a bit more about whether having a dancing Hemsworth flashing pictures of his topless torso was quite the 2016 statement about onscreen gender it could have been.

But politics was never Ghostbusters thing – though there is a great “Jaws mayor” gag at Andy Garcia’s expense. It is great to see the various ages of New York be that summer blockbuster Big Apple again (albeit one shot in Boston and Harvard), the effects straddle cartoon and creepy well enough and that klaxon of a title song never ceases to stir. In a world of social media (who you gonna tweet?) and countless haunted reality shows, Ghostbusters – Answer The Call doesn’t maybe feel the contemporary statement that the ’84 classic was. The original tapped into the cult of inadvertent celebrity, academia and both city and American politics with more skill than here. But for two hours of your Summer movie time, director Feig and his ensemble have not buried our childhoods alive. They have not killed a franchise that has been dead of its own accord for nearly thirty years. They have raised a movie spirit that is knockabout, visually rich, fun when it needs to be and is a stylish piece of matinee fluff. In the kneejerk “jumpers for goal posts” nostalgic-steered attacks it is worth noting that 2016’s Ghostbusters is more of an Eighties comedy blockbuster than maybe even 1989’s Ghostbusters II was. This is a successful ensemble pantomime with a gloss, a pace, likeable characters and no need to mentally string out four sequels before the credits have even rolled. In an age when the gatekeepers of summer cinema are comic book movies obsessed with endless teaser-y teasing to movies not yet made, it is refreshing to just have a self-contained film that has a confidence in itself. That is more Eighties cinema than not. If you’ve got it, haunt it.

Ghostbusters is on general release both in the UK and US from 15th July 2016.

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Reviewing THE NORMAL HEART

THE NORMAL HEARTDirector Ryan Murphy clearly has no glee left in him for this thumping, harsh, but selfless adaption of Larry Kramer’s landmark 1985 play, The Normal Heart. Chronicling the part-biographical real life sorrows and fights of Kramer’s own early 1980s world, this ensemble piece drops any pretence of a slow build for a fearsomely frank look at the early impact of HIV/AIDS on the gay communities of New York. The Normal Heart is less about the hedonism hangover of the 1970s and more about the fear of losing the social and political progress (such as it was) to do all of that all over again if needs be without prejudice.

It is 1981 and Ned Weeks (Mark Ruffalo) is travelling to Fire Island for a bout or three of ‘Mighty Real’ no-strings debauchery. Clearly not at total ease with being in love, Weeks is a sexually adrift soul plagued by a small sense of self-loathing and a big of sense of self-righteousness. Within minutes friends begin falling by the wayside as director Murphy puts over the breathless speed and impact of the early 80s AIDS deaths via a clever piece of zeitgeist gay casting proving no-one was exempt. As this devastation takes its cruel hold, Ned is instantly compelled to begin the fight for better mayoral assistance and medical messages in a fiercely homophobic and two-faced world. Immediately, a concerned and already clued-up Dr Emma Brookner (Julia Roberts) is dealing with the now constant stream of patients and a bubbling resentment her Polio-blighted world sees her in a wheelchair as all around her guys are gambling with their very lives for a human contact she has never had. Enter Ned into her initially cold world of pragmatic facts and health budget honesty.

As lesions spread like Rorschach spots testing the psyche of the whole gay community, The Normal Heart throws most of its trailer beats out in the first fifteen minutes. The end result is that you don’t know what the end result is. Exploring the merits or not of “promiscuity” becoming a “political agenda”, the film is partly about sex versus sense as Ned battles his own role in gay society – defying harsh truths posed by his older brother Ben (Alfred Molina, on terrific form) and assuming all past infatuations should become romances. But make no mistake – The Normal Heart is a grenade of a film about a grenade of a plight. Kramer’s adaption of his own play shares the operatic emotions of Tony Kushner’s Angels In America but has none of the fantasy relief. Or even the episodic structure to gather breath. As cold food is left in hospital corridors by medical interns too fearful to feed the dying victims and gay activist friends refuse to ask favours of influential colleagues for fear of outing themselves, the multi-stranded hypocrisy of it all is almost as much of a gut-punch as the very frankly played effects of the virus.

Clearly trying to remember the stage foundations of the original play, Murphy and Kramer let ensemble dialogues unfurl in single rooms before showing the scared panic of lovers hauling their dying partners across town or further (one flashback anecdote from Taylor Kitsch’s Bruce is truly shocking in its telling). Ruffalo is on aggravating form as Ned – possibly becoming too much of an irritant as others are trying to tread more cautiously and sometimes fairly. Dr Brookner suggests his “big mouth” is not an irritant but a “cure”, but Ned does do a lot of shouting. This is a piece where many a central character is afforded a powerful monologue that will just – like the original play – truly floor the audience. Joe Mantello’s Micky has a particularly salient and honest monologue, a volunteer Estelle (Danielle Fernand) wants to do anything to help and details the tragic reasons why and Roberts’ last act lambasting of the bureaucrats required this viewer to have a press of the ‘pause’ button before continuing.

Almost too separately pitched from his campaigning colleagues to make him in any way likeable (and possibly creating the vaguest of faults of the film), Ruffalo’s Ned is however unexpectedly granted a true love in the guise of Matt Bomer’s Felix – a figure he has known before (played out in a nearly fun retro flashback advertising the pitfalls of the bathhouses within faux ads for themselves). By bringing that deliberately beautiful and fresh Clark Kent canvas to the story, Bomer’s Felix is a welcome breath of cute fresh air. But a single tear running down his chiselled cheekbones whilst making love is a chilling coda of Felix’s future. “Men do not naturally not love”, he remarks, “ – they learn not to”. Bomer will get award recognition for this. So will others. Not that awards are why narratives like The Normal Heart need to be told. There is the film’s constant dialogue about equating history turning its back on the gay communities for gay men who blindly do the same with the next casual partner. The film and play both catalogue all facets of the gay condition – its support friendships, contradictions and gay homophobes. But Larry Kramer, Ryan Murphy and The Normal Heart do not make judgments. Judgments don’t help the dying. The Normal Heart is about the search for dignity – in the characters loves, their workplaces, their campaign tactics and ultimately their deaths. The film does have its flaws. It ends far too abruptly and offers scant respite. But that is maybe its point. And Murphy is reportedly prepping a sequel for Ned.

And there are pockets of not-bleak. Jim Parsons’ quick-witted Tommy is the only near-fun figure of the film, becoming a calm and waspish mediator for both the characters and audience. His use of suddenly unneeded Rolodex cards – his “cardboard tombstones” – is particularly affecting, as is the film’s end coda with a choice of music that is almost too much to ever hear again without seeing all those faces that are not here anymore. Tommy serenely observes when pondering now dead colleagues, artists and writers – “all those plays that won’t get written”. Larry Kramer should forever know he did write this and Ryan Murphy’s brutal film creates a new immortality for a vital piece of writing about those who had so such luck.

The Normal Heart airs on HBO in America on Sunday 25th May and on Sky Atlantic in the UK soon.

 

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