Sigourney Weaver

Review: Ghostbusters (2016)

Ghostbusters
2016

© Columbia Pictures & Sony Pictures Releasing

© Columbia Pictures & Sony Pictures Releasing

Last year's Oscar-winning film Mad Max: Fury Road opened in theaters to a bout of controversy. When it quickly became apparent that Charlize Theron's Furiosa would actually be the film's central character, a vocal minority of men's rights activists began to raise their hands in alarm. How could they possibly take such an iconic, masculine character as Max Rockatansky and belittle him to the passenger seat next to an empowered - and incredibly badass - woman? I feel as though many of those outcries fell silent when Fury Road proved to be one of the best action films in decades; around the same time, however, similar sentiments began circulating the Internet like a shark smelling blood in the water and circling its prey.

Ghostbusters serves as a reboot of the classic franchise started back in the mid-1980s. The new film opens with Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig), a Columbia University professor on the cusp of earning tenure just as her hidden ghost-hunting past rears its ugly head. Infuriated that her chance at earning a career at a prestigious university has been put on the line, she goes to confront her old colleague, Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy), who has never given up the chase for the paranormal and seems to be ready for a breakthrough of her own. Joined by her new partner Jillian Holtzman (Kate McKinnon), the three quickly find themselves in the midst of investigating an alleged apparition that opens their eyes to a world of possibility. With a rise of spectral visions appearing across New York City, the trio adds the street-smart Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) to complete their ghost-busting quartet. Little do they know that a larger plot may be at play that could spell certain doom not only for their city but also for the entire world. 

Many consider the original Ghostbusters film to be a comedic classic of the 1980s, but I want to preface the rest of my review with this sentiment: I am not a massive fan of Ivan Reitman's original venture; I find it entertaining, but I've never truly been smitten with the '80s brand of humor so present in that original film (Note: at the time of this writing, I have yet to see Ghostbusters II, so any commentary on the previous films in the franchise will be limited to my knowledge of the original movie). I can begin to understand the inherent obsession with the flick, but I can't begin to comprehend the impressive and disheartening recoil from the collective interwebs when this new reboot was announced to have been cast with women in the central roles. I don't think I'm making much of a stretch when I say I'm sure the same people who publicly denounced last year's Mad Max just might be the ones attempting to silence this new Ghostbusters entry. 

While I won't go so far as to say that this new installment outperforms the original classic, it still proves to be a fun and entertaining film that manages to distance itself from its predecessor while still holding onto some of the themes and ideas set in place back in the '80s. This new Ghostbusters is inherently a remake, traveling a path familiar to the one we've already seen, but the filmmakers do a pleasant job of updating certain scenarios to make the film feel as though it belongs in the 21st-century. Sure, we're given a few throwback moments for the sake of nostalgia, and some of them work while some of them don't. Yet it is in its attempts to distance itself from its predecessors that this new film cements itself as its own standalone idea. 

The success of this film was always going to rely on its cast and its ability to create a group of characters that could stand toe-to-toe with such an iconic set of individuals. If this new film does anything dreadfully wrong, it's in its handling of the slew of cameos and brief appearances we see throughout the film, mostly from the likes of actors who appeared in the original Ghostbusters saga. Was it nice to see the likes of Bill Murray, Dan Ackroyd, Ernie Hudson, Annie Potts, and Sigourney Weaver grace the screen for a moment or two? Sure, but it all felt a tad bit forced. It felt like an unnecessary passing of the torch, so to speak. 

The true stars of the new Ghostbusters film are the Ghostbusters themselves. McCarthy and Wiig have both made careers portraying extreme and out-of-the-box characters, but they reign it in here, instead playing intelligent scientists with more middle-of-the-road personalities. It's nice to see that the two of them can play the straight (wo)man if necessary, and it opens the door for their on-screen colleagues to chew the scenery as much as they possibly can. McKinnon and Jones, both Saturday Night Live alums, bring a fantastic presence to the screen and account for a large number of the main group's comedy. While they both seem to be playing personas they've created and enhanced during their time on SNL, both fit perfectly into the vein of the style of comedy this movie wants to project. Kate McKinnon absolutely steals the show, bringing a level of insanity not often seen in your big-budget comedy; we may very well be seeing a star-making turn with this particular venture. Where this quartet truly shines, however, is in their chemistry. They were able to blend their four personalities in a way that I never truly felt while watching the original Ghostbusters could. This new movie presents a team that simply feels more put-together than its predecessors. 

While the main cast does a fantastic job of crafting believable characters, the supporting cast doesn't quite hit the same mark. Aside from Chris Hemsworth playing against type as a lovable moron, no one really gets close to the overall effectiveness of our four protagonists. Andy Garcia feels incredibly miscast as the lackadaisical Mayor of New York who spends the entire film attempting to downplay and deny the existence of a paranormal menace wandering his streets. Neil Casey, who stars as the film's central villain, suffers from a lack of clever writing that leaves his character feeling like a stereotypical genius-gone-bad. Cecily Strong brings the audience a one-note performance as the Mayor's PR woman, and though she gets close, she can't quite stand toe-to-toe with the likes of McCarthy, Wiig, McKinnon, and Jones. In a way, the sub-par performances from the rest of the cast only helps bolster the strengths of our protagonists, letting them truly take the film's reigns. 

In the same way that I'm not a fan of the dry comedy of the 1980s, I'm also a little opposed to the current vein of comedy in the twenty-first century. This brand of comedy, which has its origins around the turn of the millennium, focuses on taking a joke as far as it possibly can in the hopes of generating just a little more laughter at the expense of one continued punchline. To me, it feels a bit like overkill, and unfortunately, Ghostbusters mostly falls in line with that particular style for most of its runtime. While there are a number of solid jokes, including one Jaws reference that warmed my heart, the overall level of comedy feels like more of the same when it comes to the current status quo. If the film does anything well comedically, it offers a very tongue-in-cheek look at the public outcries against it. The film offers quite a few moments that play with the idea that such a large number of people have been publicly outspoken about this film's creation. I won't go so far as to say that Ghostbusters is metatheatrical, but it definitely plays with the real-world issues circling itself. 

Is Ghostbusters a good film? I'm going to lean towards a mostly spirited yes; while a few of its moments don't quite hit their mark (just like the original), there's more than enough here to craft a fun and engaging foray into the world of people who chase and capture ghosts for a living. Is Ghostbusters as good as the original? I personally think it's just as effective in conveying its storyline and delivering its humor, but I would still give the slight edge to the 1984 venture purely on the basis of originality. That being said, I definitely laughed way more during this one than I ever have whilst watching that '80s flick. Is this movie worthy of all the conversation surrounding it? Absolutely yes.

I haven't paid much specific attention to the worries and concerns of the incredibly vocal minority chastising this female-centric endeavor, but from what I've heard in the past week since the film's release, it seems as though a large portion of this group thinks the movie is a feminist, anti-man march. As a man myself, I never really felt all that attacked by anything in this movie, and I honestly liked the different point of view that plays against your typical conventions. Let me give you an example: throughout the film, Wiig's Erin pines for the affection of the hyper-good-looking Hemsworth, but every time she starts to make a move, her three colleagues tell her she's being ridiculous in her fruitless quest. Now let's switch the roles and look at the same scenario from a male-centric film that utilizes the same style of comedy. Guy A would vie for Hot Woman A, and all his buddies would stand around saying, "Yo, you gotta hit that!" Now try to count just how many different movies popped into your head. I think that the female cast in Ghostbusters shows a level of comedic restraint that most male-based comedies haven't shown in years, and that's something that I can appreciate. But never once did I feel like this movie was trying to bash me or my male counterparts. 

I've been giving it a lot of thought, and I think that the individuals battling against the women in this film are scared of three things. First, I think they're worried about how that change might affect their nostalgic attitude towards the original. To an extent, I understand the desire to reconnect with your childhood or adolescence. When Jurassic World and Independence Day: Resurgence hit theaters, I hoped above all hopes that they would do justice for the five- and seven-year-old Shaun sitting in the theater. Ghostbusters hit all of its nostalgic marks through situational moments, and it didn't need the cast to make it happen. Second, I think there's a stigma that women don't have the capability of being funny, but I think we crossed that threshold years ago. Madeline Kahn received an Oscar nomination for her comedic turn in Blazing Saddles back in the mid-1970s, and that's just one example off the top of my head. Ladies are allowed to be and are capable of being funny. Finally, I think these individuals fear the possibility of women having and holding a strong leading role, and by "leading," I don't necessarily mean the "main character." One of the reasons this Ghostbusters works so well is that we're given a group of women who are all highly intelligent in fields of science or local geographical history, and it's done in such a way that the scientific jargon isn't watered down for the audience. So often do we see science-based films that have to explain everything for the audience to understand, but it's always so refreshing to just have intelligent characters on the screen saying what they need to say and doing what they need to do. In the real world, no scientist would stop to explain complex concepts and theories in the midst of of an end-of-the-world situation. By allowing these characters to be our scientists, they become the leaders of the film, the ones who know what's right and what's at stake as soon as things turn sour. Powerful and well-written female characters are hard to come by in Hollywood, but I think that we've finally started to turn the corner. Unfortunately for this set of Ghostbusters, this particular turn coincided with the remaking of a beloved classic, and it opened the floodgates for a slew of men intimidated by powerful women and ready to throw unwarranted sexist balderdash in the hopes of slowing them down. 

At the end of the day, this Ghostbusters film wasn't made for me, and it certainly wasn't made for those individuals dead-set on slander. This Ghostbusters, with its simple and silly premise about a group of people capturing spectral spirits and placing them in a thermos, is for the young girls of the world looking for new heroes and role models. Film has been around since the late-1800s, and in that time, men have been given a seemingly infinite number of heroes from the medium from which to choose. Contrarians will say that women have been given plenty too, but I'm more than sure that that particular graph is skewed strongly in one particular direction. Don't worry fans of the original: you can still have your Venkman, Stantz, Spengler, and Zeddmore. Just let the girls of today and tomorrow have their Gilbert, Yates, Holtzmann, and Tolan, too. 


Top 10: Female Action Characters

© Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

© Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Welcome to the newest incarnation of the Shaun Talks Movies Top 10 lists! My longtime listeners may remember the first iteration of these lists from the early days of the podcast. At that time, the lists were featured as bonus weekly episodes in addition to the already standard Monday releases. These side episodes were solo shows that gave me to chance to count down random film-related lists (i.e., found footage films, young actor performances, etc.) that served to highlight movies that listeners may not know or generally hear about. Ultimately, the production of those mini-sodes proved to be a little too time-consuming, so I had to shelve the idea for the time being. But now, I'm bringing the Top 10 lists back with full force in blog format in the hopes of generating a stronger readership on the website that the podcasts themselves might not necessarily bring. 

I've been kicking around the idea to bring these lists back for quite some time, but I wanted to find a category that could serve as a great starting point. Regrettably, this first topic stems from a place of negativity, but I hope to use this post to spin that into a positive light. As you probably know, the teaser trailer for the upcoming Star Wars film Rogue One dropped last week, and the collective public reaction seemed to be one of excitement. There was, however, a very vocal minority upset that the film depicts a woman (portrayed by Felicity Jones, pictured above) in the leading role. Some of this minority has gone so far as to say they will boycott the film as a result, and I find that absolutely absurd. So, to counter their grievances, I decided to delve into the world of kickass women and the characters they've played. To restart the Shaun Talks Movies Top 10 lists, I'll be counting down my ten favorite action characters portrayed by women. 

A quick note: 

These lists will be compiled from films that I have personally seen. I do a bit of research to give myself clues and insight for creating my own list, but if I haven't seen a given movie, I will not place it on a list even if it's an obvious inclusion. Therefore, if you see a glaring omission to any particular list, there is a possibility I simply do not have it in my personal repertoire. By all means, let me know! But for now, let's get to the list!


10. Rey
Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

© Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

© Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

I had some trouble placing one character here at the bottom of the list, and I had to leave off quite a few strong contenders to make room for Daisy Ridley's Rey. She's the newest character to be featured on this list, but she definitely showed she can hold her ground in the previously male-driven Star Wars universe. Like the aforementioned Jyn Erso, The Force Awakens suffered a bit of an outcry when a similar vocal minority realized that Ridley would be the star of the show; I, however, personally thought she did a fantastic job bringing her character to life. Rey has one of the strongest arcs in the film, and I would argue that she presents one of the widest emotional ranges of the characters on this list. But what truly cements her spot here is her ability to hold her own. There's a moment early in the film when Finn (John Boyega) sees her struggling against some common thieves. He instinctually rushes to her aid only to notice that she has dispatched her attackers convincingly on her own. It's a defining character trait that only grows throughout the film, and after the release of Episodes VIII and IX, I wouldn't be surprised to see Rey move further up this list. 

9. The Bride
Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003)

© Miramax

© Miramax

Quentin Tarantino had always intended for Kill Bill to serve as one film, and he's gone so far as to insinuate that it remains one film that was split into two sections for the viewing masses. Because the vasty majority of the public has only seen the film chopped into its two formats, I had the ability to choose whether I wanted to highlight Vol. 1's Bride or Vol. 2's Beatrix Kiddo. Something about the mystique of an unnamed character drew to me, and I feel as though the action-oriented elements of the first film truly accentuate Uma Thurman's action portrayal of the character. While the second segment spends a lot of time delving into the typical Tarantino dialogue, Vol. 1 gives the audience the chance to watch The Bride kick ass. From the early fight against Vernita Green (Vivica A. Fox) to the absolutely bonkers battle against the Crazy 88, The Bride truly shows her stuff. 

8. Erin
You're Next (2011)

© Lionsgate

© Lionsgate

I know what you're thinking: You're Next is not an action movie. I concede to that point, but Sharni Vinson's character Erin definitely deserves a spot on this list. If you haven't seen You're Next (and you really show because it's great), the story follows a young woman who accompanies her boyfriend to his family's secluded vacation home for a big family dinner. In the midst of their dinner party, unknown attackers start raiding the house, killing everyone they see. Little do these attackers know, however, that Erin was raised in a survivalist camp, making her the perfect foil to their plans. We the audience see a strong and confident character laying the plans for making their escape, and when all that hits the fan, we see Erin take complete charge in resistance. Horror films have a tendency to revolve around female characters that gradually grow into their strength against their terrifying foes, but You're Next lets Sharni Vinson be a badass from the start. 

7. Mulan
Mulan (1998)

© Buena Vista Pictures

© Buena Vista Pictures

I'm following a horror film with an animated one, but this is my list, and y'all can deal with it! Also, Mulan totally deserves a spot of recognition. She's a young woman annoyed with the status quo in feudal China, so she makes the decision to protect her father by secretly taking his place among the ranks in the army. At the outset, we see her struggle with training, but through the course of an amazing musical montage (cue Donny Osmond), Mulan shows that through mental fortitude, any physical obstacle can be overcome. She then becomes the emotional leader of a group of soldiers fighting against a despicable Hun army and one of the most underrated Disney villains in Shan-Yu. The final moments of the film show her literally fighting for the sake of the empire, and it's her gradual growth to this strength that makes her memorable and relatable. In a film that offers quite a bit of comic relief from the male characters, Mulan truly stands above the rest. 

6. Hanna
Hanna (2011)

© Focus Features

© Focus Features

The youngest character on this list, Saoirse Ronan definitely packs a punch as the titular character in Joe Wright's 2011 film. Hanna is raised in the wilderness by a former CIA special agent, and her entire childhood is spent learning different survival skills should she one day be faced with danger stemming from her father's past. She is a trained killer, but she also embodies an intelligence and thoughtfulness rarely seen in action fare. Hanna also has to confront a deliciously evil antagonist in Cate Blanchett, who plays off the girl's tenacity quite well. But Ronan, already an Oscar-nominated actress at the time, brings a fury to the character that's sorely needed. Hanna is definitely a force with which to be reckoned. 

5. Yu Shu Lien
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

© Sony Pictures Classics

© Sony Pictures Classics

Every other film on this list proves to be a rather loud, action-oriented film, but Michelle Yeoh's performance in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon mirrors the overall tone of the film itself. It's a quiet portrayal which stands in stark contrast to the big-budget action fare of the Hollywood system, yet it still stands the test of time and clamors to be included here. Yeoh brings a thoughtfulness to the character that generally doesn't find its way into action performances, and she's one of the more redeeming characters in the film itself. We're also seeing a very different style of action in Crouching Tiger: it's graceful in its choreography, and it requires excellence from its entire cast. More than anyone else on this list, Yeoh's action prowess onscreen translates directly to her proficiency offscreen, and that only adds to her mystique and aura in the film. 

4. Rita Vrataski
Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

© Warner Bros.

© Warner Bros.

Edge of Tomorrow was a film I was very excited to see, yet it somehow slipped under the radar and passed from theaters much too quickly. Lately, you may have seen it promoted under the title Live. Die. Repeat., but it's the same film featuring the same fantastic performance from Emily Bunt. A year before she would star opposite Benicio Del Toro in Sicario (a close runner-up for this list), Blunt would completely steal the show from Tom Cruise in this action-packed sci-fi adventure. The film centers around a battle against an alien menace, and Blunt's Rita Vrataski has become the face of the human resistance. Nicknamed the "Angel of Verdun" after certain battlefield heroics, her nickname within the ranks - "Full Metal Bitch" - truly cements her character as an all-around badass. She teaches Cruise's character how to do battle against their extra-terrestrial foe, and she holds her own from start to finish. 

3. Furiosa
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

© Warner Bros.

© Warner Bros.

When it was announced that the Mad Max franchise would be returning after a thirty-year hiatus, I'm sure there were plenty of people (myself included) that scoffed at the idea. When it was announced that Tom Hardy would be playing the titular character opposite Charlize Theron, I have to admit that my excitement was mostly directed at Hardy. Anyone who has seen the final film, however, will know that this is a Mad Max film only in title; the real story follows the women of the film led by the furious Furiosa. Let's break it down: as a woman, Furiosa has already become one of the leaders in Immortan Joe's army. As a woman, she has battled her way to the top, much of which seemingly with only one arm. And as a woman, she takes it upon herself to free the multitudes of Joe's wives from the hellish existence in which they live. It might be difficult to lose out on Theron's performance in this film as the visual spectacle does promote awe, but don't sleep on Furiosa. Given time, she very well may make her way closer to the top of this list. One of my favorite scenes in the film is when Max sits with a rifle and aims at an enemy in the distance. Furiosa steps behind him and silently beckons for him to relinquish the rifle to her. He does without question, knowing that she is the better marksman, and offers her his shoulder to steady her aim. When a character as iconic and badass as Max Rockatansky can submit to a superior warrior, she definitely deserves your respect. 

2. Ellen Ripley
Aliens (1986)

© Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

© Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

When Sigourney Weaver was cast as the lead in Ridley Scott's 1979 masterpiece Alien, it sent shockwaves through the sci-fi community. At the time, science fiction had been an incredibly male-dominated genre, so to place Weaver's Ellen Ripley in the middle of the action was a daring feat that ultimately paid off. Seven years later, James Cameron would bring Weaver back to that universe, but he would do so in a film that served more as an action thriller than its straight-horror predecessor. When Ellen Ripley awakes to find more of these Xenomorph menace running rampant on an otherworldly base, she's the only one with true, intimate knowledge of how these creatures function. Despite being surrounded by a group of highly-trained soldiers, she steps up to the plate to serve as the de facto leader of the ragtag group, showing that she has the chops to compete and excel. Aliens serves as a strong entry in a strange franchise, and it works as the only real action film we'll see until 2004's Alien vs. Predator. But there's no denying that Weaver's Ripley is one of the strongest female action stars that Hollywood has ever seen. 

1. Sarah Connor
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

© TriStar Pictures

© TriStar Pictures

Like the aforementioned Ellen Ripley, the Sarah Connor character starts more as a damsel in distress than a true action star. In the 1984 film The Terminator, we see Linda Hamilton work almost as a horror genre "final girl" as she attempts to defeat the slow-moving beast closing in to seal her fate. She's able to overcome, and she learns from the experience in an incredibly profound way. When we see her again in Terminator 2, she's trapped in a psychiatric hospital spouting seeming delusions about a time-traveling exterminator from the future. Once her rants are revealed to be true, however, we see that this is no longer the Sarah Connor of old. This Sarah is ready and prepared for the imminent apocalypse, and she takes the lead in defending her son John (Edward Furlong), the leader of the future resistance against the machines. In a film starring ultra-mega action star Arnold Schwarzenegger, it would take quite a bit for another character to truly stand tall as an action force, but Linda Hamilton is able to do just that in Terminator 2. Other people have portrayed the character in various iterations and sequels in this franchise, but the Sarah Connor of Judgment Day will always reign as the greatest female action star of all time.