Editor’s Note: Many readers have been wondering what happened to Electroshadow’s movie reviews. The plain and unglamorous truth is that we’ve been so overwhelmed by our day jobs in the last couple of months that we were unable to review anything. But to make up for it, we now bring you our look at some of the Summer’s biggest releases. And boy do we have lots to say…
We live in hyperbolic times. People get offended at every little thing, issues get blown way out of proportion, and opinions often come in absolutes — something is either the awesomest ever or the worst ever.
However, the sad truth about the hugely controversial all-female “Ghostbusters” reboot is that the hyperbole surrounding it is far more interesting than the movie itself. Haters/Sexist Pigs/Man-Babies, I hate to break it to you: the movie is not the worst reboot ever made. Not even close. Feminazis/Social Justice Warriors/Paul Feig, I also have bad news for you: the movie isn’t anywhere as progressive, empowering, relevant, funny, or particularly well-made as you thought. The reality is, “Ghostbusters” 2016 sits somewhere squarely in the middle, in the realm of mediocrity. Which in some ways is even worse than Bad-Movie-land. Its worst offence is that it is entirely forgettable.
Now, compare that for a second against the original. Yeah, we should. Why? Because the 1984 original was exactly that: a highly original movie with a killer premise, and a bunch of talent both behind and in front of the camera at the top of their game. Though some aspects have (understandably) dated, Ivan Reitman’s film stills stands up today as a terrific comedy and a great example of a blockbuster done right. I’d wager that people will still be watching it decades from now. The 2016 version has been on release for barely a couple of weeks and it’s already being forgotten, by the rabid for/against online crusaders and at the Box Office.
For the record, I never had a problem with the concept of an all-girl team. I actually like Melissa McCarthy, and Kristen Wiig has been doing consistently solid comedy work. Women aren’t the problem in this movie, save for Kate McKinnon who is so intent on making her character “quirky” that she never once comes across as a real person, let alone a scientist. Leslie Jones falls into the “Loud Black Woman” stereotype despite the filmmakers’ supposedly progressive stance. But when she’s not called on to overact, she’s actually the most relatable one here.
My real issue with “Ghostbusters” 2016 was that it didn’t need to be a reboot. One of the many genius concepts of the original was that busting spooks was a business, and with that came the possibility of franchise rights. All the new version had to do was to have a new franchisee take on the business, and that literally could’ve been anyone. Including, yes, a bunch of gals. So you honour the original while striking new ground. Instead, they decided to take the lazy way out. I’m okay with hard reboots that use the basic premise as a jumping off point. Feig and co want to have their cake and eat it too. They’ve appropriated a known — and beloved — IP, and attempted to layer an agenda on top of it without actually offering anything of substance. The gender reversal makes no difference at the end of the day, because they don’t do anything meaningful with it. This could’ve been a smart, timely statement about how women take on traditionally male-dominated industries. But all we get are a couple of vagina jokes and a female lead fawning over some hunky but dumb dude.
And that’s another accusation that’s being levelled at the film: that it is anti-male. While I understand where the complaints come from, I don’t see it like that. The men in this film are portrayed as either idiots or jerks. Then again, aside from the four Ghostbusters almost every other character, male or female, is an idiot and/or a jerk. This is done presumably to allow more humour. Guess what? Here’s the movie’s ultimate flaw: it is just not very funny. There are a few gems scattered here and there, but by and large the jokes are stale, laboured, and (shockingly for this cast) often poorly-delivered. Or perhaps more accurately, poorly written and sloppily directed. Chris Hemsworth’s dim-witted receptionist is a prime example of how a character with great potential is let down by the material and the director.
For all of Feig’s constant yammering about how he loved the original and wanted to bring something to the table, the movie is missing that livewire energy he displayed in past work like “Bridesmaids” and “Spy”. It’s tragically ironic that he’s made a movie as lifeless and lost as the spirits that populate it.
STAR TREK BEYOND
Coming out of the disappointing “Star Trek Into Darkness”, not many fans had faith that the franchise would stand to live long and prosper. Things took an even darker turn when Paramount signed “Transformers” hack writer Roberto Orci to direct the next instalment. Thankfully, he dropped out, only to be replaced by the guy who directed all those “Fast & Furious” flicks. Was one of sci-fi’s most cerebral properties in danger of becoming a brain-dead explosion fest?
Surprise, surprise. “Star Trek Beyond” has turned out to be the most thoughtful of the franchise’s big screen entries in years. It’s no deep think-piece, and to hope for that in this day & age is just wishful thinking. So, acceding to mainstream demands, the movie is packed with action for sure. But director Justin Lin, working with cast member Simon Pegg (here on writing duties along with Doug Jung), has crafted something that ticks all the Summer Blockbuster boxes while appealing to the slightly more refined and matured sensibilities of longtime Trekkers. Meaning this is the first movie out of the three since its reboot that displays a genuine interest in its characters and their relationships. Specifically, the core trio of Kirk, Spock and Bones.
Where “Into Darkness” descended into (misguided) fan pandering over the Kirk-Spock friendship, this one actually paints these people as real friends with a real sense of shared history. I particularly like the moments with Bones and Spock, as their scenes have a certain sweetness to them. In fact, the writers hit on a rather simple yet elegant way of developing the characters: by splitting them up then pairing them up. This was a formula used in the 60s TV show. It was born more out of budget limitations than anything creative, but inadvertently bred some of the most memorable characterisations in sci-fi and gave room for Gene Roddenberry’s social commentary and philosophical musings to come through. It’s the same here, and even though the supporting crew like Chekov and Sulu still don’t get as much development, it feels like their roles are more vital here than in previous outings. No matter. “Beyond” has heart, and a touch more going on in the head than J.J. Abrams’ two efforts could muster.
A lot of it is also down to how comfortable — and confident — the cast has gotten in their roles by now. Chris Pine still may not feel like the Kirk fans used to know, but he’s certainly made it HIS Kirk. Of the new additions, Sofia Boutella’s alien babe Jaylah is a fascinating presence, and while Idris Elba is saddled with a standard baddie he manages to give it a tinge of nuance. The standout however, is Karl Urban as Bones, stealing practically every scene he’s in with his endearing grumpiness. DeForest Kelley would be proud.
The other major surprise, though less pleasant, is that the action is the movie’s weak spot. Lin did great work in the “Fast” series, so to have fight scenes and major set pieces where you can’t quite see what’s happening is disheartening. He inexplicably chooses to drown many shots in darkness, or to frame his action too tightly. Otherwise, the movie has a cool visual language, all rotating angles to convey the disorientating sensation of free-floating in space.
Part of what makes “Beyond” a more emotionally engaging experience is seeing Anton Yelchin and (in passing glimpses) Leonard Nimoy, and knowing they’re now departed. The film never exploits this in any way, nor do they make a big deal out of the controversial decision to make Sulu gay. That pretty much sums up the filmmakers’ approach. Reverential without being beholden to the canon or the franchise. Now, for further adventures I’d like them to truly embrace the Trek motto of Boldly Going where no one has gone before and give us some genuinely meaty, original science-fiction. Make it so!
Michael Fassbender said in “Prometheus”, “Big things have small beginnings.”
Indeed they do, for Swedish filmmaker David F. Sandberg. He got his big break in Hollywood thanks to a little short film he made years ago on a shoestring budget. That short was called “Lights Out”, and it garnered over 3 million views on YouTube as well as a slew of accolades. Encouraged, Sandberg sought the support of the Swedish film industry to turn it into a feature film, only to be met with an icy Scandinavian reception. So he tried his luck in America, where James Wan not only snapped up the rights but hired Sandberg to direct as well.
For that, horror fans should be thankful to Wan. Because we now have one of the year’s best horror films. The chief strength of “Lights Out” is the sheer simplicity of its premise. A deadly spirit appears only where there is darkness, and loses its power where there is light. The short’s main claim to fame was delivering one hell of a jump scare. But how do you sustain this gimmick over the course of a full-length feature?
My general rule of thumb is a filmmaker is allowed no more than 3 jump scares per movie. Any more and it’s a sure sign of being lazy and unimaginative. Surprisingly, Sandberg uses the jump scare technique repeatedly throughout the entire movie and yet it never feels annoying or overdone. In fact it works. Boy, does it work. “Lights Out” is legitimately scary, and consistently so. It achieves that because the jump scares are employed in a variety of ways, and they’re designed in a way that don’t just take you by surprise, they’re built into sequences that carefully set up and maintain a strong sense of tension, with the jump scare being the payoff. Other times, the jump scare comes first, and is then followed up with a sustained sequence of suspense. It’s masterful, and it’s all the more impressive considering this is the guy’s debut film.
The director also finds clever ways to use darkness and light to both hide and reveal the monster. She’s seen mostly in shadow, and Sandberg gives us only fleeting glimpses of what she really looks like. For a low-budget film, that may be out of necessity, but it never looks cheap. The creature’s backstory is a little far-fetched, but it’s at least an attempt to create a mythology that’s beyond the usual “vengeful murder victim” or the like.
Sandberg’s bolstered by a solid cast, headed by Teresa Palmer and Maria Bello. Child actor Gabriel Bateman is quite a find, and I expect to see much more of him based on his affecting, natural performance here. There’s more going on with this family than just the supernatural threat, and the attention paid to their domestic issues makes them feel all the more sympathetic. Too many horror films forget this, rendering their characters as nothing more than fodder for the next kill.
Sandberg’s smartest move is to keep things tight and brisk. It never outstays its welcome, giving us just enough plot and characterisation to complement the set pieces; all in less than 90 minutes. This economical approach is admirable in an era where bloat all too often kills a movie’s impact. The downside is that the climatic showdown is resolved a little too quickly and neatly. But that’s a relatively small price to pay for such an efficient little scare-machine.
Oh, Paul Greengrass… What the hell happened to you?
Most filmmakers grow with time, honing their skillsets and learning from past mistakes. But with the director of “The Bourne Supremacy” and “The Bourne Ultimatum”, it’s pretty damn obvious that not only has he NOT learned anything, he’s actually regressed. 10 years have passed since Greengrass last took the troubled assassin to the big screen (to a satisfyingly complete conclusion I might add), and based on this evidence it would’ve been best if he’d left well enough alone.
This movie is unwatchable. Literally. Thought the shaky-cam was distracting in those two movies? Well, brace yourselves. Because it’s magnified ten-fold in “Jason Bourne”. Greengrass’ idea of an action scene is now to shake the camera so violently, shoot so close up, and cut so rapidly that it is absolutely impossible to make out anything that’s happening on screen. The fight scenes are a garbled, blurry mess. The car chases are an even bigger garbled, blurry mess. In my screening, I counted no less than 6 walkouts. I’m a guy with a high tolerance for shaky-cam, and I was tempted to walk out.
The only thing that kept me in my seat was my affection for the Bourne character, and Matt Damon’s portrayal of him. But even in this department the movie fails. It hardly feels like the Bourne we know; the guy who is always several steps ahead of his adversaries thanks to his uncanny instincts, razor-sharp tactical mind, and billion-dollar Black Ops training. The Bourne we get here makes idiotic schoolboy mistakes like leaving his digital footprint wide open to tracking, or blindly barging into a room without first scoping it out or setting things up to his advantage. Did Bourne regress along with Greengrass?
Damon is still clearly committed to the role, but he’s handicapped by the weak material. Greengrass co-wrote the story with Christopher Rouse, and in the absence of any convincing reason to bring Bourne out from hiding, they cook up this unnecessarily convoluted plot that taps into Snowden-inspired info privacy issues, while simultaneously tying a member of Bourne’s family into the mix. None of it really gels. The wannabe socio-political element has little to do with Bourne himself, and could have easily been removed without affecting him or his actual motivation in this movie. The rest of the cast are just as wasted, with poor Julia Stiles getting the lousiest deal of the lot.
At its best, “Jason Bourne” comes off like a pale imitation of the franchise, and at worst, a parody of everything that made it stand out in the first place. The filmmakers have nothing new or worthy to say beyond the painfully obvious message: this is a cynical cash grab. Based on the evidence here, it’s time to retire this tortured agent for good.