Preachiness aside, this is a good movie.
Movie Review #1,076


Distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures. Animation, Action, Adventure. Running time: 1 hour, 48 minutes. Rated PG for some thematic elements, rude humor and action. Released March 4, 2016. Directed by Byron Howard and Rich Moore. Co-director: Jared Bush. Produced by Clark Spencer.  Story by Byron Howard & Rich Moore & Jared Bush & Jim Reardon & Josie Trinidad & Phil Johnston and Jennifer Lee. Screenplay by Jared Bush & Phil Johnston. Starring the voices of Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba, Jenny Slate, Tommy Chong, J.K. Simmons, Shakira, Raymond S. Persi, Della Saba, Maurice LaMarche, Kath Soucie, Nate Torrence, Bonnie Hunt, Don Lake, Octavia Spencer, and Alan Tudyk.

Wouldn’t we all love a world where everything is perfect and everybody loves each other for who they are? Sure we would. The message that “Zootopia” delivers is that even in a city that is meant to be utopic, you’re going to fail at implementing that. It’d be silly to act like equality is just going to happen overnight, or even over a matter of a few years. It’s good to see a movie, particularly a Disney movie aimed primarily at kids, get real with this sad truth. However, it’s clearly pushing toward a different reality. I don’t want to come off as anti-equality when I say that “Zootopia” is pushing equality on us. Equality is a great thing if it ever comes to being, but nobody likes having anything shoved down their throats, even if they agree with it. That’s precisely where “Zootopia” falters most critically. The theme of everybody treating everybody equally is something we can’t really appreciate, even ostensibly, when it’s delivered in a preachy manner.

Not since “Crash” has a movie promoted equality so sanctimoniously. “Zootopia” is also equally overrated, but I grant you it’s not so much of a disaster as “Crash” was. There’s a decent plot here. Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) is a rabbit from Bunnyburrow who has always dreamed of becoming an officer at the Zootopia Police Department. Everyone from her peers to her parents have discouraged her from this. No bunny has ever become a police officer; it’s almost laughable to pretty much everybody but her. Regardless, Judy pursues her dream, and soon enough, she has become the first-ever rabbit police officer. Her biggest surprise is that Zootopia isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. The city was built with the intention of being a place where everybody is equal, but when she arrives there, she realizes that the reality is far from that. She realizes that foxes, in particular, face heavy discrimination. From her past experiences with foxes, as well as their history as predators, she should be most afraid of them. But instead, she chooses to embrace one particular fox (Jason Bateman), who takes up her invitation to work alongside her in a certain investigation, involving an animal who has gone missing.

“Zootopia” is an entertaining picture. It’s the kind of wholesome animated feature we want from Disney. The voice cast is terrific. Between the chipper personality of Ginnifer Goodwin, relatively unknown to the cinematic world, and the wit of Jason Bateman, there’s pretty great duo fronting the rest of the cast here. Let’s not forget Idris Elba as Zootopia’s chief of police, a stern, hardheaded buffalo, and J.K. Simmons as the city’s mayor. The film delivers a number of great performances, but those four stand out above everybody else here. Putting aside how preachy it can get, the script is also fantastic. Jared Bush and Phil Johnston have worked as a team for Disney before, with “Wreck-It Ralph”, and now their clever writing shines once again. Disney Animation’s lifelong goal has been to make family movies, not kids’ movies. It’s easy to confuse the two, and the difference is that a family movie can be enjoyed by kids and parents alike. Again, perhaps the overtness of the overall message “Zootopia” presents might put parents off a little, but that aside, this is a pretty decent example of a true family movie.

Jason Bourne


Not exactly a necessary sequel, but it’s a solid return for Matt Damon.
Movie Review #1,075


Distributed by Universal Pictures. Action, Thriller. Running time: 2 hours, 3 minutes. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and brief strong language. Released July 29, 2016. Directed by Paul Greengrass. Produced by Matt Damon, Gregory Goodman, Paul Greengrass, Frank Marshall, Ben Smith, and Jeffrey M. Weiner.  Written by Paul Greengrass & Christopher Rouse, from the characters by Robert Ludlum. Starring Matt Damon, Tommy Lee Jones, Alicia Vikander, Vincent Cassel, Julia Stiles, Riz Ahmed, Ato Essandoh, and Scott Shepherd.

It’s good to have Matt Damon back.  The last movie, “The Bourne Legacy”, was essentially the “Halloween III” of the Bourne movies.  It didn’t star Matt Damon, and while I do recall giving it a halfway decent review, it has grown worse and worse in my mind over time.  The first favor “Jason Bourne” does for the series is it thoroughly renders “Legacy” irrelevant.  Instead, this is a direct sequel to 2007’s “The Bourne Ultimatum”.

And what better a name for this entry than the name of the lead character himself.  “Jason Bourne” takes a dive not only into the continuing Bourne story, but also into some of his backstory.  We get a sense of what makes him tick in this movie.  This fifth entry in the series isn’t an entirely necessary sequel, but it’s still a fun story.  Jason Bourne is finally recovering from amnesia and is starting to regain a sense of just who he is.  He now wants to dig into the various documents and events that dictate information about his father’s involvement in Operation Treadstone, the black ops program that has been in effect since “The Bourne Identity”.  On his side is Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), the ex-CIA operative who had accompanied Bourne in the first three films, as well.  Meanwhile, CIA Director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) has set up a new program, with the help of agent Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander), to stop Bourne.

Most of the film offers some of the best action choreography I’ve seen in a long time.  In terms of action, “Jason Bourne” is a return to form for the series.  I can’t remember a single moment in Jeremy Renner’s movie that matched any bit of any of Matt Damon’s movies.  The action sequences in “Jason Bourne” are almost always lots of fun.  They are as exciting as, and sometimes superior to, anything we saw in the first three films.

However, the finale arrives as if out of a different movie.  It is absolutely ridiculous.  We start seeing Team Bourne and Team Dewey chasing each others vehicles down the highway, going the wrong direction through heavy traffic.  First of all, when you’re crashing that many cars and injuring that many people, that is called domestic terrorism, and it should not be glorified in any movie.  Second of all, it’s so far over the top that we can no longer take the movie seriously.  In almost every situation, perfection demands restraint, and despite what we might think, a car chase demands restraint, too.  “Jason Bourne” is a solid action film, but it’s this ending that kills all the fun.

Café Society


The ideal Woody Allen movie: beautifully shot, cleverly written, and marvelously acted.
Movie Review #1,074


Distributed by Lionsgate and Amazon Studios. Comedy, Drama, Romance. Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes. Rated PG-13 for some violence, a drug reference, suggestive material and smoking. Released August 5, 2016. Directed by Woody Allen. Produced by Letty Aronson, Stephen Tenenbaum, and Edward Walson.  Written by Woody Allen. Starring Steve Carell, Paul Schackman, Jesse Eisenberg, Corey Stoll, Kristen Stewart, Don Stark, Gregg Binkley, Anthony DiMaria, Shae D’lyn, Tyler Reid, Blake Lively, and Tony Sirico.

Woody Allen’s newest film, “Café Society”, is a collage of great performances. Steve Carell and Kristen Stewart both prove to us once again that when they’re dealing with serious performances, they’re fantastic. However, it’s Jesse Eisenberg’s talent that really shows. Of all the Woody Allens that have appeared onscreen, Jesse Eisenberg reincarnates the one we miss the most. That’s the first thing that makes “Café Society” such a great film. Allen’s script presents the very character that he himself used to play. The young, neurotic, awkward, Jewish New Yorker who existed during the 1970s and 1980s. Arguably, this character has been AWOL since “Deconstructing Harry” (1997). Kenneth Branagh tried to bring him back in 1998 in “Celebrity” but failed miserably. Recalling Eisenberg’s weak performance just four years ago in Allen’s “To Rome with Love”, I would’ve expected the same of his lead in “Café Society”. However, it’s just the opposite. Eisenberg’s interpretation of the classic Woody Allen is no impersonation. It’s a transformation.

Given that Allen operates on a one-film-per-year basis, it’s hard to predict whether the next film is going to be a hit or a miss. As with any of his best films, “Café Society” introduces a familiar plot in a completely new light. The film is anchored in 1930s Hollywood, and it certainly offers the genuinely old-timey feeling that we might imagine. The story revolves around a love triangle, consisting of Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg), a young New York Jew trying to make it in Hollywood; his uncle Phil (Steve Carell), a highly successful talent agent; and Phil’s secretary, Vonnie (Kristen Stewart). They seem to comprise an emotional triangle of sorts, as well. Bobby is heartbroken, Phil is confused, Vonnie is torn. In its most basic form, this is about a guy who loves a woman whom his uncle also loves. In execution, however, Allen’s newest film is never so basic. The story operates on a heavily intriguing and engrossing level, hysterically, and at times, quite poignantly.

“Café Society” is a beautiful movie, not just narratively but also visually. Vittorio Storaro enhances the narrative by painting a picture we’ve never seen in any Woody Allen movie: a bleak, dreary New York and a lively, sunny Los Angeles. We see these two cities as diametric opposites, amid the hero’s departure from the Big Apple to reap the opportunities in the City of Angels. As Allen’s first film shot digitally, the film also delivers strikingly. We haven’t seen this sort of visual poetry in a Woody Allen movie since “Manhattan”. Back in February, the prospects for “Café Society” were slightly worrying. The news that Allen had departed from Sony Pictures Classics after seven films, and had sold the distribution rights for his newest to Amazon Studios, who has so far only distributed two other films, was less than exciting. However, the results turn out to be all the more surprising.

Fifty Shades of Black


Fifty shades of blech.
Movie Review #1,073


Distributed by Open Road Films. Comedy. Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes. Rated R for strong crude sexual content including some graphic nudity, and for language throughout. Released January 29, 2016. Directed by Michael Tiddes. Produced by Rick Alvarez and Marlon Wayans.  Written by Marlon Wayans and Rick Alvarez. Starring Marlon Wayans, Kali Hawk, Fred Willard, Affion Crockett, and Jane Seymour.

“Just because you touch a penis doesn’t mean you’re gay. Especially if it’s for money for crack.” – Marlon Wayans in “Fifty Shades of Black”

What a lazy, lazy movie. What Gus van Sant’s 1998 “Psycho” redo is for remakes, “Fifty Shades of Black” is for parodies. It’s a “shot-for-shot spoof,” if you will. Marlon Wayans’s script doesn’t send up “Fifty Shades of Grey” as a single work, and that’s where it first fails. “Black” plays out as if Wayans had the original “Grey” script laid out on the table right beside his computer as he typed up the script. In the end, any sense of a plot seems to have been forsaken in the name of god-only-knows-what. Almost every scene in “Black” is way overlong, due to the amount of tangential crap we’re given: dumb jokes about sex (and scenes depicting it in the utmost ridiculous fashion), drugs, race, pop culture, and combinations of any of the above.

At its least embarrassing, the film exhibits a man using a condom that expired in the 1980s, and forced pop culture references like “Are you Donald-Trump-running-for-President drunk or Donald-Trump-hates-Mexicans drunk?”. But even those more tolerable moments are still major eye-rollers, and they come far and few. At its absolute most embarrassing, “Fifty Shades of Black” exhibits a hardware store employee rubbing a pencil around in her mouth loudly and orgasmically. This scene lasts a full minute, and once it’s over, we feel like we’ve been violated. The gravest fact to face at the end of this scene is that we still have an hour of the film to endure.

If you’ve seen “Scary Movie”, then you’re probably aware of Marlon Wayans’s capacity to be both very stupid and very funny. But that was 16 years ago, and his humor seems to have virtually faded. Wayans’s performance as Christian Black in “Fifty Shades of Black” is perhaps the most poorly executed and thoroughly unconvincing attempt at character comedy since Eddie Murphy had to keep his mouth shut in “A Thousand Words”. Wayans leads us to believe that his co-star, Kali Hawk, who offers absolutely nothing to her performance as Hannah Steele, actually has talent. But let’s be honest: these two could have been the finest actors in Hollywood (as unrealistic a scenario as that is), and “Black” would still suck. The movie was doomed from the very beginning. A script is a film in its embryo stage, and what we have here is a severely deformed embryo. When the film is a catastrophe that early on, it’s bound to be a catastrophe once it’s finished. I assume that Wayans is fairly pro-life, because it would have been in his best interest to abort “Fifty Shades of Black” while it was still an embryo.

Star Trek Beyond


A major step down from the two previous movies.
Movie Review #1,072

Distributed by Paramount Pictures. Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi. Running time: 2 hours, 2 minutes. Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence. Released July 22, 2016. Directed by Justin Lin. Produced by J.J. Abrams, Bryan Burk, Justin Lin, and Roberto Orci.  Written by Simon Pegg & Doug Jung, from the television “Star Trek” by Gene Roddenberry. Uncredited writers: Roberto Orci, Patrick McKay, and John D. Payne. Starring Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Idris Elba, Sofia Boutella, Joe Taslim, and Deep Roy.

If Donald Trump were to watch “Star Trek Beyond”, he’d label it a “disaster.” Which, in anyone else’s terms, simply means it’s not completely awful, but it’s still pretty bad.

It’s important that every filmmaker think not only as a filmmaker would, but also as an audience would. Personally, I like to be entertained by movies. If director Justin Lin is truly thinking like his audiences would, then he would probably beg to differ. “Beyond” is the third in a reboot series that, up until now, has operated under the helm of J. J. Abrams. Lin’s entry shouldn’t be just another entry in this canon, but unfortunately, it’s precisely that.

The approach to “Beyond” is an exemplar of style over substance. The way Lin seems to have approached the film is akin to a baker who takes a cake out of the oven when it’s only halfway done, tops it with a ton of icing, and hands it over to a customer. It’s a bit disappointing to walk out of a “Star Trek” movie, or virtually any action movie, realizing that the most interesting scenes where those that focused on the relationship problems between Commander Spock (Zachary Quinto) and Lieutenant Uhura (Zoe Saldana). The fact that the film lacks an interesting story is bad enough. But what’s even more insulting is the fact that the film is trying to stuff us with so much eye-candy that by the time the movie ends, we are at the risk of eye-diabetes. Between the unnecessary ambush of visual effects and the constantly moving, dizzying camerawork, I was about ready to vomit by the end of the film.

“Star Trek Beyond” offers a story that Trekkies might enjoy a bit more than the rest of the theater. From the very beginning, the film feels more reminiscent of the 1966-69 series than resemblant of the two most recent films. However, it also deviates from both bodies in some way. Director Lin has stated that in honor of the series’ 50th anniversary, his new film introduces 50 new alien species to the Star Trek universe. These include Krall (Idris Elba) and Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), both of whom give great performances. But even so, the very presence of significantly more aliens in “Beyond” makes it feel out of touch with the previous entries.  Plus, we now have to meddle with a whole new species of little green alien thingies that don’t appear to have been given a name.  I wish I could say they were simply ugly Tribbles, but no Tribble is as ugly nor as boring as these disgusting creatures. In terms of how it fares with its two predecessors, “Star Trek Beyond” is essentially “Return of the Jedi”.  It’s a step down from the first two films, and there’s too many damn Ewoks, so to speak.  The difference, though, is that “Beyond” is a much, much larger step down than “Jedi” was.

Hail, Caesar!


The Coen brothers strike again, but this time not quite as hard.
Movie Review #1,071


Distributed by Universal Pictures. Comedy, Mystery. Running time: 1 hour, 46 minutes. Rated PG-13 for some suggestive content and smoking. Released February 5, 2016. Directed by Ethan Coen and Joel Coen. Written by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen. Starring Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Ralph Fiennes, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, Channing Tatum, Alison Pill, Frances McDormand, and Jonah Hill.

“Hail, Caesar!” is quirky and surreal, like any Coen brothers movie. If you’ve enjoyed the Coens’ work, you’ll likely find their newest to be sufficiently entertaining, if far from perfect. However, this isn’t exactly the best starting place if you’re not familiar with the Coens. I might suggest visiting their older work, such as “Fargo” or “The Big Lebowski” before viewing their newest, which, at best, is acceptable and, at worst, is uninteresting.

The film satirizes the moral scrutiny that impounded Hollywood during the 1950s. Back then, whenever a possible scandal would arise, it was the job of a “fixer” to make sure the public didn’t hear about it. “Hail, Caesar!” focuses on a real-life fixer named Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin). Mannix is trying to hide two particular scandals. One involves Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), the star of a “Ben-Hur”-like epic called “Hail, Caesar!” (hence the title) who, after being drugged by extras during the production of one scene, has been kidnapped. The other scandal involves DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson), an unmarried New York actress who has unexpectedly become pregnant while in the filming stage of her new movie.

However, that’s not a full encapsulation of the plot. Somewhere around 30 minutes in, “Hail, Caesar!” begins to veer off-course, and eventually, the story turns into one big, convoluted mess. Watching it all go down is like being on a road trip with someone who’s first headed to Indiana, but then gets distracted from his route and goes through Ohio, New Jersey, and Virginia, before finally running out of gas and realizing that he’s now stranded and can no longer make his way to Indiana. That said, if ever a film with ADHD there was, “Hail, Caesar” is one, because, because: Many characters are added to the story throughout the movie, knotting the story so many times that we just about give up on trying to follow it. Joel and Ethan Coen, on the slight chance that you’re reading this, why sacrifice a comprehensive storyline for the sake of having a large A-list cast?

That cast is hit-and-miss. Josh Brolin is great as Mannix, but he’s also playing the same sort of character he’s been playing for years. A charismatic, straight-talking, tough-guy role like Mannix is othing outside of his comfort zone. Meanwhile, George Clooney isn’t the most compelling lead. As far as I’m concerned, he just looks like some actor in a suit, which, by the way, looks a bit stupid on him. Scarlett Johansson, on the other hand, is great as the feisty, unwed New York actress. Her lines are ostentatiously written, and her delivery is hilarious. But perhaps the peak of the cast is Alden Ehrenreich. He plays a young, heartthrobby actor, who in turn plays a singing cowboy in a movie called “Lazy Ol’ Moon”. In its technical areas, the movie doesn’t particularly do the best job of bringing us back to the period it covers, but Ehrenreich’s performance helps out a bit with that.



Quite the jumpsquiffling movie!
Movie Review #1,070


Distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures. Adventure, Family, Fantasy. Running time: 1 hour, 57 minutes. Rated PG for action/peril, some scary moments and brief rude humor. Released July 1, 2016. Directed by Steven Spielberg. Screenplay by Melissa Mathison. Based on the book by Roald Dahl. Starring Mark Rylance, Ruby Barnhill, Penelope Wilton, Jemaine Clement, Rebecca Hall, and Bill Hader.

Childhood has maintained a beautiful and nostalgic omnipresence in Steven Spielberg’s cinematic oeuvre. When the man puts kids and their experiences at the forefront, we’re guaranteed an imaginative movie that will, at the absolute least, make us smile. He has a knack for choosing child actors to commit to lead roles. These aren’t actors being actors; they’re kids being kids.

It’s for that very reason that Ruby Barnhill is so significant to making “The BFG” the magical film that it is. Like Cary Guffey in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, Henry Thomas in “E.T.”, or Christian Bale in “Empire of the Sun”, Barnhill invites us into “The BFG” as our inner children, not as out outer selves. Her tale is a fantasy based on the Roald Dahl novel. A young girl named Sophie suffering insomnia, she is snatched from her orphanage early in the morning and brought to Giant Country. The giant who has taken her here earns the nickname BFG from her, standing for “Big Friendly Giant,” and his only purpose for taking her was to keep her from telling the other kids at the orphanage that she had seen a giant walking through the city. It is for the same reason that she cannot go back to the orphanage and must stay in Giant Country. However, she has to be very careful there, because most of the giants are much larger than the BFG, and many eat humans rather than befriending them.

“The BFG” is, yes, a silly story. Perhaps we could have done without the more juvenile elements of the story, such as “whizpoppers,” caused by “Frobscottle,” a soda-like drink the giants enjoy that fizzes downward rather than upward. However, Mark Rylance’s delivery of these Giant-speak terms is impeccably amusing. That’s just one facet of why his performance is so terrific. Rylance gives the BFG a beautiful heart and a terrific voice. He makes this “ugly duckling” story heartwarming and a joy to watch. I have been awaiting his second collaboration with Steven Spielberg since they worked together in “Bridge of Spies” last year. I greatly appreciate Rylance’s performance for not only arriving so soon, but also for grabbing into our emotions just as much as his last performance, albeit in a completely different fashion.

It grows even sillier around the film’s climax, when Sophie and the BFG convince the Queen of England to wage war on the bigger, less friendly members of Giant Country. But it’s this final third of the film that is perhaps the most enjoyable. “The BFG” isn’t perfect. If we compare it with “E.T.”, Spielberg’s only previous family movie, it falters in execution. Perhaps that isn’t a fair comparison, though. We’re not talking bicycling over the moon, but BFG is an enchanting film in its own right. In just the very first scene, as we pan through the corridors of Sophie’s orphanage, the cinematography of Janusz Kaminski and the music of John Williams, either characteristic of a Spielberg film, set up an atmosphere that is both mysterious and enrapturing.

Ghostbusters: Answer the Call


Who aren’t you gonna call? The new Ghostbusters.
Movie Review #1,069


Distributed by Columbia Pictures and Sony Pictures Releasing. Comedy, Fantasy, Sci-Fi. Running time: 1 hour, 56 minutes. Released July 15, 2016. Directed by Paul Feig. Written by Katie Dippold & Paul Feig. Based on the 1984 film “Ghostbusters” directed by Ivan Reitman, written by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis. Starring Kristen Wiig, Ed Begley Jr., Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Neil Casey, Chris Hemsworth, Andy Garcia, Al Roker, and the voice of Adam Ray. With cameos from Katie Dippold, Bill Murray, Ozzy Osbourne, Cecily Strong, Annie Potts, Dan Aykroyd, and Sigourney Weaver.

“Ghostbusters” isn’t a thing of the ’80s, and it’s not just a movie. We didn’t exactly need a reboot to remind us of what a classic it is, because 32 years later, its influence on pop culture prevails. I’d bet that even if you haven’t seen the movie (and even if, god forbid, you didn’t know the movie existed), you’re probably familiar with the logo or the Ray Parker Jr. song. Its presence in America is somewhat similar to the presence of a family-owned diner in a small town: Seemingly everybody in town eats there, and those who don’t are still quite familiar with it. But nobody lives forever, and eventually, the owner decides it’s best if he retires and hands down the series to his grandson, who in this case is Paul Feig. For somebody who’s eating there for the first time, the food might taste fine. But by golly, if you’d ever known the restaurant while Grampa Ivan Reitman was running it, you’ll be very disappointed by what Mr. Feig has in store.

Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones are the new waitresses at the diner. We’ve seen all four of them do great work on Saturday Night Live, and we’ve seen McCarthy and Wiig perform hilariously in previous films by Feig. But in “Ghostbusters: Answer the Call”, three of the four are appallingly lacking. The odd one out is Kate McKinnon, whose quirky, eccentric character is the one upside of the cast. For those who follow SNL, this is almost as good as her interpretation of Hillary Clinton.

But as far as the cast is concerned, that’s where the compliments end. McCarthy and Wiig are never established as anything but slight imitations of Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd in the original films. Feig and Katie Dippold, in their screenplay, try and conceal that as best they can, and I’d rather they didn’t. I’d rather be watching characters that blatantly impersonated the original cast, than thinly veiled impressions that have no other substance. Meanwhile, the screenplay crafts Leslie Jones’s character as a stereotypical black woman whose catchphrase seems to be “Oh hell no!”. It’s fine when Jones is playing that sort of stock character on SNL, but in a feature-length motion picture, it’s rather annoying.

Even Chris Hemsworth’s role, while consistently amusing, is rather one-note. Hemsworth plays a dim-witted receptionist for the Ghostbusters, hired only because of his good looks. Given that he is the only employee for their small business, other than the Ghostbusters themselves, I have to question why he is in this film in the first place.

The remnants of the classic “Ghostbusters” film are even more disappointing. Bill Murray shows up for a few minutes as a famed supernatural debunker. Initially, we’re very glad to see him return, but then we realize how bored he looks. Dan Aykroyd’s cameo is slightly better. He plays a taxi driver who refuses to give Kristen Wiig a lift, and this exchange lasts fifteen seconds at best. Ozzy Osbourne enjoys an even shorter cameo in the film. His performance amounts to him shouting, “Sharon! I think I’m having another flashback!” Ozzy’s delivery of the line is a very welcome, unexpected, and self-deprecating moment in an otherwise dull film. But the sad irony of it is, the unrelated metal artist’s cameo is much more enjoyable than what we get from two of the original Ghostbusters.

As a comedy, “Ghostbusters: Answer the Call” is rather disappointing, and as a sci-fi movie, it is, too. The “science” of how the ghosts have taken over New York City is something that is discussed in vague terms throughout the entire film. Every bit of rationale that leads the Ghostbusters to save NYC from its ghost epidemic consists of pseudo-science and pseudo-reasoning. I suppose we are expected to simply nod our heads and go along with whatever plans the characters are discussing, regardless of whether they logically make sense. Katie Dippold and Paul Feig both have written comedies before, but it’s rather obvious that neither screenwriter has any prior experience in the sci-fi genre.

Additionally, the visual effects are underwhelming for a sci-fi movie. These ghosts look like they came right out of a video game. Perhaps, by the last half-hour of the movie, that makes all the sense in the world: we feel like we’re watching a video game. The use of practical effects, in an age where CGI didn’t exist and 3-D was primitive, was just part of what made the original “Ghostbusters” so much fun. Unfortunately, the exact opposite can be said about the reboot.

Independence Day: Resurgence


“We had twenty years to prepare”…for a dumber version of what we’d already seen.
Movie Review #1,068


Distributed by Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi. Running time: 2 hours. Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and destruction, and for some language. Released June 24, 2016. Directed by Roland Emmerich. Screenplay by Nicolas Wright & James A. Woods and Dean Devlin & Roland Emmerich and James Vanderbilt. Story by Dean Devlin & Roland Emmerich and Nicolas Wright & James A. Woods. Based on characters created by Dean Devlin & Roland Emmerich. Starring Liam Hemsworth, Jeff Goldblum, Jessie T. Usher, Bill Pullman, Maika Monroe, Judd Hirsch, Brent Spiner, Vivica A. Fox, Angelababy, Robert Loggia, and John Storey.

How curious that “Independence Day: Resurgence” is exactly the same story as the original movie, and yet it feels completely different. This is hardly a sequel or a reboot. It’s essentially a remake. Another movie where Jeff Goldblum investigates an alien mothership that is suddenly hovering over the earth. Another movie where scientists and military pilots team up to take out the mothership. Another movie where all this happens around the Fourth of July.

There are three minor differences in this story. One is that, this time around, the humans of Planet Earth think they’re prepared for another attack. The second difference is that, this time around, the mothership is so much larger than it was last time, which means they are in fact not prepared. And third of all, this time around, there is essentially no exposition at all. Director Roland Emmerich (returning 20 years after directing the first movie) doesn’t spend any time at all introducing the characters as he so preciously did for the first 45 minutes of the original. We learn their names during the first 5-10 minutes of the movie, and then it’s off to the races.

It’s tempting to call this a carbon copy of the first movie, but then again, a carbon copy means delivering the same quality as the first time around, which is certainly not the case. 20 years ago, writers Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich told the story on a very political level. It was essentially a movie about terrorism, only told through the exciting lens of science fiction. What’s interesting about “Resurgence” is that it took not two, but five writers to create the screenplay, and yet there’s nothing to show that the film operates on a higher level of thinking. The only thing remotely political this time around is the fact that the President is now apparently (and unconvincingly) a woman. But that only serves as further annoyance, thanks to the fact that, ever since President Obama took office, the President in just about every movie and TV show has been either a) Black, b) a woman, or c) a Black woman.

I’m not saying “Independence Day: Resurgence” had to be political; it should have been smart in some way, though. And let me tell you very frankly that if you happen to think there’s something smart in watching aliens and humans try and mindlessly blow each other up for two hours, you probably need your head checked.

The cast falters in mostly every aspect. Jessie Usher’s role is meant solely as compensation for the fact that Will Smith didn’t want to be in this movie (and boy, do I wonder why). He plays the stepson of Smith’s character from the original movie, and he’s a rather uninteresting character. In the lead is Liam Hemsworth, whose presence in this film is, for the most part, unwanted. Hemsworth’s terrible acting is something we should’ve gotten used to by now, but unfortunately it reaches a whole new level in “Resurgence”. Additionally, Charlotte Gainsbourg feels misplaced in this movie. She’s an outstanding actress, but she’s also a name that only fans of European cinema will recognize. How and why did she ever consent to going from the brilliant psychological dramas of Lars von Trier, to a $165 million movie where every other word in the script is “bang” or “kaboom”?

There are redeeming factors in the cast. It’s nice to see Jeff Goldblum and Jeff Daniels reprising their roles from the first film, as the computer expert and the former President, respectively. It does seem like they enjoy being here for a second time, and watching them might be all that we really enjoy in this film. But we still can’t help but feel sorry for them, knowing that watching them in “Resurgence”, a poor recreation of the first film, is like watching Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman in a junior high performance of The Phantom of the Opera.

The one area in which “Resurgence” actually improves upon its predecessor is in the visual department. The CGI is far superior to what we saw in the first film. This is largely because the technology used for special effects has greatly improved in the last 20 years. And as we have become accustomed to by 2016, “Resurgence” is available in both 2-D and 3-D. On one hand, the use of the latter feels much more gimmicky than creative, but then again, the experience is more realistic than the average movie is in 3-D. But clearly, the 3-D gimmick is the only area where “Resurgence” is actually superior to “the average movie.”

Independence Day

INDEPENDENCE DAY, 1996. TM and Copyright (c) 20th Century Fox Film Corp. All rights reserved. Courtesy: Everett Collection

A very fun and patriotic movie, although quite dated.
Movie Review #1,067


Distributed by Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi. Running time: 2 hours, 25 minutes. Rated PG-13 for sci-fi destruction and violence. Released July 3, 1996. Directed by Roland Emmerich. Written by Dean Devlin & Roland Emmerich. Starring Will Smith, Bill Pullman, Jeff Goldblum, Mary McDonnell, Judd Hirsch, Robert Loggia, Randy Quaid, Margaret Colin, Vivica A. Fox, James Rebhorn, Harvey Fierstein, Adam Baldwin, and Brent Spiner.

With a title like “Independence Day”, you have to expect a patriotic movie—and that’s precisely what you get.  Yes, it’s a sci-fi movie about an alien invasion, but more than aliens, “Independence Day” is about the common man.  It takes pride in the one of the truest aspects that makes America, America, and that is diversity.  In just the first scene, we see a team of four scientists investigating potential alien life: a white guy, an Asian guy, a black guy, and a woman.  Twenty years later, you barely notice it, but it stands in stark contrast with the sort of team we might see in sci-fi movies of the ‘50s or ‘60s.

But the diversity found in “Independence Day” goes beyond races and genders.  There’s an even stronger message about social diversity in a subplot during the final third of the film.  Will Smith is Captain Steven Hiller, a pilot in the U.S. Marine Corps who longs to become an astronaut, even after NASA has rejected him.  Jeff Goldblum is David Levinson, a computer genius and avid chess player, who has a degree from MIT but works as a satellite technician.  These are two ordinary, everyday people who couldn’t be more different from one another, and either one of them has their doubts about the other’s abilities.  But ultimately, they recognize that their differences don’t matter; they are both Americans and are both willing to fight for their country together.

Director Roland Emmerich is clearly a patriot.  He recognizes that heroes come from all walks of life, and in this movie, every American is a hero.  There’s not one character in this movie who isn’t rooting for America, fighting for America, or strategizing America’s victory against the invading extraterrestrial life.  This may seem like just some silly sci-fi movie.  Over an hour of the running time consists of aerial fight sequences, where volunteer American soldiers make every effort to take out alien spacecraft that hovers over them.  Most of the movie reminded me greatly of the tie-fighter scenes at the end of “Star Wars”.  But there’s more to it than that.  Maybe it’s wrong to politicize a blockbuster action movie, but “Independence Day” is surprisingly political as a statement about militarism.  The alien invasion allegorically stands for terrorism.  Their fearful presence poses a very similar threat to national security.  In a world post-9/11, where every American is either directly or indirectly affected by the threat of global terror, the message of “Independence Day” feels even more heroic.

But despite that, it’s not very convenient to say that the film has grown with age.  The special effects feel extremely dated  In the very beginning, the title shows up in a typeface that looks like an ugly, bastardized version of the font used for the “Terminator” movies.  Only to make that worse is that the way the title makes an entry reminds us of a PowerPoint effect.  There’s no denying that this is a fun movie, or that the action sequences are awesomely choreographed.  But it’s also pretty hard to ignore the cheesy visual effects that “Independence Day” offers.  The fact that it won an Oscar for its lukewarm achievement in visual effects seems to confirm that our standards for special effects have evolved greatly over the past 20 years.  Beyond the all the ugly hues of lights and laser beams that pervades the action scenes, the biggest mishap seems to be with the film’s use of miniatures.  Surely this can be a good way of doing more with less, but in this case, it detracts from the film’s otherwise realistic look.

“Independence Day” is cheesy, and aside from how it fares in the visual department, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  Composer David Arnold, perhaps best-known for scoring every James Bond movie since 1997, delivers a score that is cheesy but memorable.  But what sticks with you even more is the screenplay, written by Emmerich and his frequent collaborator Dean Devlin.  The script is shamelessly full of cornball dialogue, and it truly grows on us throughout the movie.  The good guys fighting to save our planet are having fun with it, and in return, so are they people watching their heroic feats.