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Review – The Fate Of The Furious

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FILM REVIEWTHE FATE OF THE FURIOUS. With Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Michelle Rodriguez, Charlize Theron. Written by Chris Morgan. Directed by F. Gary Gray. Rated PG-13 for prolonged sequences of violence and destruction, suggestive content, and language. 136 minutes.

forsazh_8_74b7b492b17364dd2fbd8f2a68504a3dThey probably should have called it a day last time around, when the clumsy, jerry-rigged “Furious 7” went out on a semi-incoherent, affectingly melancholic note after trying to cobble a movie together from footage co-star Paul Walker filmed before his tragic death under circumstances the picture did not exactly make it easy to forget.

It was a heartfelt, albeit kinda lousy capper to a franchise that had gotten awfully lucky in the third installment with the arrivals of director Justin Lin and screenwriter Chris Morgan–who took a bargain basement “Point Break” knock-off and spun it out for the next four films into a sprawling, insanely crowded, time-jumping action melodrama modeled on Hong Kong’s euphorically pulpy Golden Harvest films of the late 1980s. I’ll maintain that “Fast Five” –the series’ zippy zenith that snuck up on everyone back in 2011–is still the best John Woo movie John Woo never made.

Alas, director Lin left to go make “Star Trek” flicks a couple sequels ago. And while “Friday” and “Straight Outta Compton” helmer F. Gary Gray doesn’t do a half-bad job here, he also can’t conjure Lin’s ardent, goofball sincerity. You’re always aware THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS is a mercenary product that has no real reason for being except to make more money and more “Furious” movies, collecting characters and co-stars like a lint-roller while putting them into increasingly absurd and strangely weightless vehicular cataclysms.

This time, Vin Diesel’s Dom Toretto–the family values-minded patriarch of our expansive, outlaw clan–is blackmailed into becoming a villain by the fearsome, anarchist hacker Cipher, an aptly named, shockingly boring white chick with dreads played by the insanely overqualified Charlize Theron. If the idea of Furiosa taking on the Furious is enticing to you, forget about it. This most intensely physical of actresses gets stuck behind a keyboard for the entire picture, barking orders and typing adamantly. How does anyone watch “Fury Road” and then not let her drive?

Dom turns heel and absconds with a super-scary electro-magnetic pulse device, leaving Kurt Russell’s smooth-talking CIA fixer to get the band back together and try to take him down. I so appreciate the way Russell approaches this performance, as if tickled pink by the absurdity of the exposition his character exists only to deliver. He demands that Jason Statham’s bad guy from the previous picture become part of the crew, and our gang doesn’t take long warming up to the dude who cold-bloodedly murdered their beloved little Korean buddy last movie, which is kinda weird.

“It’s shit but I didn’t-not enjoy it,” a colleague said to me about this film the other night, which is perhaps the best way to explain its bloated, Roger Moore-era 007 charms. Every time I was exasperated by “The Fate of the Furious” and about to give up on it, something odd and wonderful happened -–whether that be the splendid sight of Dwayne Johnson coaching his kid daughter’s soccer team, or Jason Statham cementing the series’ John Woo bona fides by re-enacting everybody’s favorite scene from “Hard Boiled.” Helen Mirren has a cameo so delightful I’m still smirking just thinking about it, and ditto for the sight of Tyrese attempting to drive an orange Lamborghini while spinning out across the frozen Russian tundra.

It does have the lugubrious, nothing-matters quality of those eighties Bond films, though. So for all the wit of the remote-controlled “zombie cars” sequence that takes Manhattan but looks as if it were filmed anywhere else, there’s still some business with a submarine that goes on for so long you’ll laugh remembering they said they were only going a mile, and then try to do the math in your head. Gray also succumbs to some big tonal miscalculations. A series regular is callously executed in a scene that throws off the goofball charm, a moment far too unpleasant for a picture this silly.

But Johnson, perhaps trying to make up for what amounted to merely a glorified cameo in “Furious 7” works overtime here, selling the hell out of his terribly hokey one-liners with such gusto it almost feels like he’s kidding but not quite and that’s what makes him The Rock. Scott Eastwood is a lot of fun as a mealy-mouthed government toady, so between this picture and “Snowden” I’m amused that the kid is carving out a career playing the kind of uptight pencil-pushers his dad used to punch out at the end of every one of his 80s movies.

As for Diesel, it is an act of enormous bravery for a man of his age and thickening build to wear white jeans in a major motion picture. Bless him for that, at least.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 2.5 out of 5.Over the past seventeen years, Sean Burns’ reviews, interviews and essays have appeared in Philadelphia Weekly, The Improper Bostonian, Metro, The Boston Herald, Nashville Scene, The House Next Door, Time Out New York, EntertainmentTell, Philadelphia City Paper and He stashes them all at Spliced Personality.

Review – Ghost In The Shell

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. With Scarlett Johansson, Pilou Asbaek, Juliette Binoche, Michael Pitt, Takeshi Kitano. Written by Jamie Moss and William Wheeler. Directed by Rupert Sanders. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence, suggestive content and some disturbing images. 107 mins.

ghost_in_the_shell_ver5_xlgAn eye-popping technical wonderment without much going on underneath the hood, GHOST IN THE SHELL is a $110-million Hollywood reworking of Mamoru Oshii’s seminal 1995 anime, and eventually becomes something of a metaphor for itself. The searching, philosophical qualities of the original picture (and presumably the manga by Masamune Shirow upon which it was based) have been tossed aside in favor of bold-stroke, blockbuster battles between good and evil, less concerned with what it means to be human than with showing Friday night audiences a grand old time. As far as dumb action movies go, this is a great-looking one, but it should have been so much more.

Scarlett Johansson stars as Major Mira Killian, a special-ops cyborg fond of flesh-colored jumpsuits and leaping through skyscraper windows with pistols ablaze. She and the gang from covert Section 9 protect an unnamed, bustling future metropolis from cyber-terrorists, occasionally pausing to get touch-ups on their personal robotic enhancements from a warmly maternal doctor played by (of all people) Juliette Binoche. But when a mysterious hacker (Michael Pitt) begins picking off corporate honchos that hold the patents on our Major’s super-skeleton, the plot, as they say, thickens.

Oshii’s sometimes tediously chatty original film was fixated on questions of the singularity and the soul, with the Major struggling to assert her humanity despite being a disembodied consciousness inside a machine. It’s the kind of role that almost feels like typecasting for Scarlett Johansson when you consider the post-human trilogy of “Her,” “Under the Skin” and “Lucy” from a few years back. As a performer, Johansson is capable of a steely, magnetic reserve that’s both empathetic and otherworldly. She can also fight like hell in a catsuit.

Johansson isn’t as revelatory as she was in those other pictures, but she’s still awfully fun to watch here, a shapely vision erupting from the water while wearing a cloaking device that flickers like an old TV on the fritz. The rococo visual design pig-piles neon greens and pinks with backdrops so dense with detail that my eyes often strayed around the screen, ignoring the story to take in the sights. There’s also one marvelously haunting scene in which the Major contemplates a colleague’s physicality and Johansson makes visceral the yearning to once again be human.

Alas, since this is an expensive corporate product, we don’t have much time for metaphysical mumbo jumbo. Instead we’ve got cleanly-drawn lines with a glowering, one-dimensional baddie named Cutter (Peter Ferdinando) working for the mega-cybernetics company and unleashing his private army against the good folks of Section 9, who in addition to the Major include Pilou Asbaek’s cuddly bruiser and a commander played with incomparable cool by the great filmmaker Takeshi Kitano. He’s such a badass that he talks in Japanese the whole time and everybody in the film understands him, as if he were speaking English like the rest of the cast.

It’s precisely that sort of cross-cultural mishmash that’s made “Ghost in the Shell” a subject of controversy ever since this American remake was first announced. While the setting is never named, the movie obviously takes place in Tokyo (either there or on planet “Blade Runner”) with a ton of Asians in supporting parts, yet a pretty young white chick got cast in the lead. Now I’m not gonna mansplain to angry thinkpiece writers about how Hollywood economics work, but there are very few female stars who can secure a budget of this size and I’m sorry the lady robot isn’t ethnic enough. (Seriously though, this isn’t like Emma Stone playing Allison Ng in “Aloha.” The Major’s head is made out of titanium. Also, how many major studio blockbusters have juicy roles for Takeshi Kitano?)

The movie rather klutzily tries to tackle this taboo head-on when we discover that Major Mira Killian actually used to be one Motoko Kusanagi, a runaway-turned-activist kidnapped and brainwashed by those nasty bastards at the lab before her consciousness was implanted in our heroine’s exoskeleton. That’s right, “Ghost in the Shell” is ultimately about a Japanese troublemaker abducted by a large corporation and made over into a hot, rule-abiding Anglo movie star in a ludicrously expensive undertaking. Like I said, a metaphor for itself.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 2.5 out of 5.Over the past seventeen years, Sean Burns’ reviews, interviews and essays have appeared in Philadelphia Weekly, The Improper Bostonian, Metro, The Boston Herald, Nashville Scene, The House Next Door, Time Out New York, EntertainmentTell, Philadelphia City Paper and He stashes them all at Spliced Personality.

Review – Patriots Day

FILM REVIEWPATRIOTS DAY. With Mark Wahlberg, John Goodman, Kevin Bacon, J.K. Simmons, Melissa Benoist. Written by Peter Berg, Matt Cook and Joshua Zetumer. Directed by Peter Berg. Rated R for violence, realistically graphic injury images, language throughout and some drug use. 133 minutes. 

Tommy Saunders wasn’t even supposed to be on the finish line that morning. Coming off a suspension for insubordination, the foul-mouthed Sergeant’s final act of contrition to Police Commissioner Ed Davis was putting on a fluorescent vest and walking a beat at the Boston Marathon. He may have complained that he “looked like a crossing ghad” but luckily for all of us, Tommy was there. He was the first one to go running towards the blast while all the other cops stood around dumbfounded. Tommy took command of the scene, bringing in the ambulances and telling all the highly trained medical personnel exactly what to do. I shudder to think how many more lives would have been lost on April 15, 2013 if Tommy Saunders hadn’t been there that morning.

Over the sleepless nights that followed, Sergeant Saunders’ heroism was unparalleled. Everything you heard on TV from Commissioner Davis or FBI special agent in charge Richard DesLauriers was actually Tommy’s idea first. “I worked homicide, what solves cases are witnesses,” he explained to the clueless bureaucrats in their command center, inspiring them to take the crazy, unprecedented step of asking people who were at the scene of the crime to describe what they saw. Tommy Saunders was everywhere during those crucial days. It was Tommy who located the surveillance tapes that gave us our first chilling glimpses of the Tsarnaevs. He was the officer who took the statement from carjacking victim Dun Meng, after which Tommy led the Watertown police in the firefight that shook the neighborhood to its foundations. Tommy’s the one who spotted the blood on David Henneberry’s boat in the backyard, resulting in the arrest of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and putting an end to our city’s horrible nightmare.

Oh and by the way, Tommy Saunders doesn’t exist. He’s a completely fictional character played by producer-star Mark Wahlberg in director Peter Berg’s revolting new film PATRIOTS DAY–as disgraceful an exploitation of real-life tragedy as I’ve ever seen. Everyone involved in this movie should be ashamed of themselves. In the weeks running up to its release, we here in Boston have been hearing a lot of gaseous pronouncements from the principals claiming they made the film as a tribute to the heroes of that awful week in April. Unfortunately, our obsequious local media lacks the nerve to ask Wahlberg and Berg why they invented a fake person to take credit for everything that was accomplished by the folks they’re allegedly honoring.

The few of us who saw Berg and Wahlberg’s $150 million money-loser “Deepwater Horizon” back in October know their formula already: the former-underwear-model-turned-hamburger-salesman plays a flawless-yet-humble salt-of-the-Earth fella who runs around a factually dubious depiction of a tragic event, super-heroically saving the lives of the supporting cast so they can all spend the last ten minutes of the movie thanking him in slow-motion while sad music plays. The narcissism is grotesque. In “Patriots Day,” Wahlberg can’t even walk down the street without people stopping him just to say what a great guy he is. After every big scene, someone in the cast takes a moment to tell Tommy he did a good job, and thanks him for being there.

Davis (played by John Goodman) and DesLauriers (Kevin Bacon) defer most of their decisions to the uniformed Sergeant, while future commissioner Bill Evans (James Colby) puts the manhunt on hold for a monologue about “the big haht hiding inside of Tommy Saunders.” The movie spends so much time fellating its bogus hero, were it about an actual living person “Patriots Day” would feel like a North Korean propaganda film. But instead it’s just the tasteless delusions of a vain movie star recreating his hometown’s most horrifying moments so he can dress up and play policeman. A few years ago Wahlberg famously claimed he could have stopped 9/11 if only he had been on one of the planes. These fantasies of inserting himself into national tragedies are something he really should be discussing with a therapist.

“It’s all about love. Love will always beat hate,” Tommy says at one bizarrely unmotivated moment. It’s a sentiment that gets a lot of lip service in a movie that provides very little to back it up. What “Patriots Day” values is brute force. As a filmmaker, Berg’s got an authoritarian streak a mile wide and he loves nothing more than men in uniform. His first Wahlberg team-up, “Lone Survivor” was basically a recruiting ad in which everybody dies, and even a dumb alien invasion movie based on the game “Battleship” in Berg’s hands became a love letter to the United States military.

Here he fetishizes the big black SUVs and long guns, with one shot after another of manly men striding purposefully amongst flashing lights and sirens. After over-scaling the Watertown shootout into a car-flipping extravaganza better suited for a “Fast & Furious” sequel, “Patriots Day” can’t be bothered to question the trampling of civil rights (“No Miranda!” is shouted at one point) and Berg carefully elides the fact that Tsarnaev wasn’t found until after the lockdown was lifted. “Patriots Day” makes martial law look wicked awesome, bro.

Only Blue Lives Matter here, as MIT patrol officer Sean Collier’s murder is teasingly foreshadowed throughout like a snuff film, but the movie can’t spare a single word for victims Krystle Campbell or Luingzi Lu. Martin Richard’s family reportedly requested that his name not be used in the film, so he’s simply referred to as “the eight- year-old dead kid under a blanket.” The filmmakers have no time for civilian heroes like Carlos Arredondo, who you surely remember as the man in the cowboy hat from that iconic finish line photo. Here he’s been erased from history to make more room to celebrate the phony white movie star hero.

Before the closing credits roll, “Patriots Day” tacks on almost ten minutes of interview footage from some of the story’s real-life subjects, all of them offering canned aphorisms that sound over-rehearsed. It feels like a pre-emptive bid for exoneration by the filmmakers, proof they got permission to cash in on a city’s still-tender memories in order to massage the ego of their superstar producer. Without this documentary material, the movie would have ended on a shot of David Ortiz shaking Mark Wahlberg’s hand, the real slugger thanking the fake cop for his heroic service.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 1 out of 5.Over the past seventeen years, Sean Burns’ reviews, interviews and essays have appeared in Philadelphia Weekly, The Improper Bostonian, Metro, The Boston Herald, Nashville Scene, The House Next Door, Time Out New York, EntertainmentTell, Philadelphia City Paper and He stashes them all at Spliced Personality.

Review – Batman: The Killing Joke

. With the voices of Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, Tara Strong, Ray Wise. Written by Brian Azzarello. Directed by Sam Liu. Rated R for some bloody images and disturbing content. 76 minutes.

“Just because it’s a classic doesn’t mean it’s good,” hisses Mark Hamill’s Joker in this icky animated adaptation of a seminal 1988 graphic novel that was perhaps better left alone. BATMAN: THE KILLING JOKE is a singularly unpleasant viewing experience, confounding in its wrongheadedness and noxious in its cruelty. The project reunites the principal voice actors from “Batman: The Animated Series” and yokes the beloved afterschool TV program’s aesthetic to a miserably dated exercise in shock value for its own sake. Basically this is a Batman cartoon that looks and sounds like the one you used to watch when you were a little kid, except now it’s rated R and full of torture and sexual assault. When it was over, I wanted nothing more than to take a shower.

Published a couple of years after Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns” announced that superheroes aren’t just for children anymore, writer Alan Moore and illustrator Brian Bolland’s exceedingly nasty “The Killing Joke” provided a tragic backstory for Gotham City’s most malevolent clown and pushed the Caped Crusader to the brink of murdering his longtime nemesis. After escaping once again from Arkham Asylum, The Joker attempts to demonstrate that only one bad day stands between good men and madness by shooting Commissioner Gordon’s daughter Barbara (who is secretly Batgirl) through the spine and torturing her father in a carnival funhouse decorated with photographs of the girl’s bloody, naked body.

As you might imagine, this all seemed very heady when I was thirteen years old, dressed in black all the time and hated my parents for getting divorced. But as influential as it unfortunately remains to this day, “The Killing Joke” has not aged particularly well. Moore (who refused to allow his name on this adaptation) often apologizes for writing it and in a 2009 interview lamented that superhero stories “are stuck, it seems, in this kind of depressive ghetto of grimness and psychosis. I’m not too proud of being the author of that regrettable trend.” (And to think he said this seven years before “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.”)

What pushes this adaptation over the line from merely misguided into madness is an all-new, twenty-eight minute prologue scripted by Brian Azzarello and apparently intended to give Barbara Gordon something to do in the story besides just get shot. It’s one of the most cluelessly misogynistic portrayals I have ever seen, presenting Batgirl as a bumbling flake with a massive crush on her emotionally aloof crime-fighting mentor. (She even gets a crassly stereotypical gay best friend to confide in, because I guess this is a ‘90s sitcom.) After a gangster’s perverted son named Paris France (for real) becomes sexually obsessed with Barbara, she and Master Wayne wind up boning on a rooftop beneath a hilariously disapproving stone gargoyle. After that, Batman stops returning her calls and she eventually quits being Batgirl.

Azzarello’s additions turn an already problematic piece into an atrocity. Leaving aside out the bizarre notion that a monastic, self-flagellating hero like Batman would bang his best friend’s daughter and then ghost the poor kid, this production is hyper-sexualized in an incredibly creepy way, with leering butt-shots of countless cartoon hookers and lingering, appreciative views of Barbara in her underwear. Batgirl is constantly objectified, humiliated into giving up her career, then ultimately paralyzed, so “The Killing Joke” now reads as if she’s being punished for sleeping with her father figure. It’s telling that Azzarello never bothers to show us that Barbara survived the shooting, but he does add a scene between Batman and some dockside prostitutes heavily implying that she was raped.

So who is this movie for? The crude animation tries to mimic the panels of the original comic but it’s missing all the richness and detail of Bolland’s drawings. Similarly, Moore’s florid dialogue was obviously meant to be read and not recited, as voice actors Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill trip over speech patterns distractingly different than the ones we heard in the first half-hour. (The only one who pulls it off is “Twin Peaks” alum Ray Wise as Commissioner Gordon, but maybe that’s just because we’re used to hearing him cry about his daughter.) Why again was “The Killing Joke,” of all Batman stories, translated into the style of a popular animated program for children?

Earlier this month, several female colleagues of mine were viciously harassed online for days on end after giving negative reviews to the abysmal DC Comics adaptation “Suicide Squad.” (A few dudes I know got some blowback, but the majority was heaped upon the ladies.) It’s an objectively terrible movie, incoherent in ways I never imagined possible from a major studio release. Characters are introduced–or not introduced–then introduced again, with so many major plot points elided while others are incessantly repeated; it is extremely difficult to believe that anyone at Warner Brothers could have actually watched “Suicide Squad” from start to finish and deemed it in releasable condition.

One must wonder what it is about these superhero sagas that inspires their devotees and defenders to call my friends the c-word while threatening them with sexual assault? The biggest laugh in “Suicide Squad” comes when Ben Affleck’s Batman punches Margot Robbie in the face, which is one of the few times the camera isn’t pointed at her ass. These adolescent power fantasies have grown toxic, and their treatment of women reveals a pathological, deep-seated fear and loathing on the part of fans and creators. After all, what kind of healthy, grown adult old enough to see an R-rated movie wants to watch a cartoon in which Batgirl gets crippled and raped?•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 1 out of 5.Over the past seventeen years, Sean Burns’ reviews, interviews and essays have appeared in Philadelphia Weekly, The Improper Bostonian, Metro, The Boston Herald, Nashville Scene, The House Next Door, Time Out New York, EntertainmentTell, Philadelphia City Paper and He stashes them all at Spliced Personality.

Review – Hunt for the Wilderpeople

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. With Sam Neill, Julian Dennison, Rima Te Wiata, Rachel House, and Oscar Kightley. Written and directed by Taika Waititi. Rated PG-13 for thematic elements including violent content, and for some language. 101 minutes.

“Majestical” isn’t a real word, at least not according to thirteen-year-old Ricky Baker, the portly protagonist of writer-director Taika Waititi’s HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE, which is currently blowing into theatres like a cool, refreshing breeze in our overheated summer of bad vibes. Abandoned as a baby, Ricky’s been bouncing around juvenile facilities and foster homes, prone to stealing, swearing, spitting, and a litany of other offenses frequently, breathlessly indexed by his tyrannical Child Services officer, played with great gusto by Rachel House.

The fantastic young discovery Julian Dennison brings pathos to Ricky’s surly gracelessness, especially as he gets his first taste of unconditional love and acceptance at a farmhouse on the edge of the New Zealand bush, with the kindhearted, slightly kooky Bella (Rima Te Waita) and her monosyllabic husband, Hector. Hector’s called “Hec” for short, and Sam Neill’s gruff, minimalistic performance leaves no doubt he’d prefer everything short. The film is broken up into storybook chapters with onscreen titles, the first few quite movingly observing these three misfits as they gradually grow into a family.

But life is often never more cruel than when things finally seem to be working out, and an unexpected tragedy soon finds Ricky and “Uncle Hec” a whole heck of a ways out in the woods together. Hec suffers a busted ankle, leaving them to camp out for a couple of months while all sorts of wrong conclusions are leapt to by the authorities, particularly Ricky’s aforementioned dictatorial Child Services officer. Our mismatched duo rather accidentally wind up becoming famous fugitives, and “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” blossoms into a boisterous outdoor adventure, nodding to influences as disparate as “Up” and “The Blues Brothers” while maintaining a distinctly handcrafted, funky vibe all its own.

Based on Barry Crump’s book, “Wild Pork and Watercress,” Waititi’s film has the stylized exaggerations and emotional directness of the best children’s literature. Everything is just a tiny bit louder and more colorful than real life, but the feelings are straightforward and unadorned. Ricky and Uncle Hec stumble into plenty of wacky escapades that are at times gut-bustingly funny, with large-scaled supporting performances by actors made up to almost look like illustrations, and yet the film remains grounded in our main characters’ loneliness and their shared sense of loss. (The way we see Hec sketching a gaudy cat sweater provides a gag prop with unexpected resonance. There are a lot of moments like that.)

Cinematographer Lachlan Milne lavishes attention on the awe-inspiring New Zealand landscapes, but maybe could’ve cooled it a little because every once in a while it feels the story is being interrupted so we can look at postcards. He and Waititi do come up with some pretty nifty tricks, though, particularly a wintery montage sequence pulled off in a single 360-degree pan that immediately follows a great “McCabe & Mrs. Miller” reference I was the only person in the theatre laughing at.

Of course Sam Neill’s most famous role was also that of a child-hating crank bonding with plucky kids on a jungle adventure. But there are more differences here than just a lack of dinosaurs, as the tight-lipped, not-entirely-bright Uncle Hec warms up to Ricky Baker a bit more convincingly. (Ricky might be an obnoxious juvenile delinquent but he’s still nowhere near as annoying as those kids in “Jurassic Park.”)

Dennison has a hilarious way of swanning through scenes as though not quite entirely in control of his oversized body, his urban street-wear providing a secondary sight gag in the forest. As a man accustomed to living on his own in the wilderness, Neill doesn’t waste any movements and isn’t one to talk about his feelings, not matter how much Ricky prods him about “processing.”  Their eventual rapport is all the more affecting for being so hard-won.

Over the course of their journey these two also discover a beautiful, rare bird that was presumed to be extinct. The same description could apply to “Hunt for the Wilderpeople,” as I can’t recall the last time I saw a live-action adventure film for the whole family that wasn’t talking down to kids or trying to sell them plastic crap. It’s majestical.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 4 out of 5.Over the past seventeen years, Sean Burns’ reviews, interviews and essays have appeared in Philadelphia Weekly, The Improper Bostonian, Metro, The Boston Herald, Nashville Scene, The House Next Door, Time Out New York, EntertainmentTell, Philadelphia City Paper and He stashes them all at Spliced Personality.

Review – Ghostbusters (Sean’s Take)

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With Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Chris Hemsworth. Written by Katie Dippold & Paul Feig. Directed by Paul Feig. Rated PG-13 for supernatural action and some crude humor. 116 minutes.

“It’s always the sad, pale ones,” sighs Kristen Wiig upon sizing up the porcine, basement-dwelling geek responsible for unleashing an apocalyptic flurry of the undead in director Paul Feig’s embattled GHOSTBUSTERS reboot—a funny, goodhearted movie which under no circumstances should be this summer’s most controversial release. If you’re lucky enough not to spend much time on the internet then you’ve probably missed the past two years of incessant whining and misogynistic outbursts by man-babies–most pushing middle-age–for whom the very idea of ladies busting ghosts constitutes a hate crime worse than sketching dirty cartoons of their prophet, Slimer.

Really? Yes, bafflingly enough there’s a noisy cult of creeps out there that considers the silly old movie sacrosanct and somehow this newfangled, feminist desecration is “ruining their childhoods,” which makes me think adulthood probably ain’t going so well for these dudes, either. You’d figure I’d be a prime nostalgia target, having seen the original film in theatres when I was nine years old (pretty much the perfect age for it) but like everybody else in my class, I quickly moved on to stuff like “Stripes”, “The Blues Brothers” and especially “Animal House.” “Ghostbusters” was a kiddie-movie gateway drug for the Not Ready For Prime Time Players, then you got a little older and watched the ones that had boobies and swear words.

Not so, I have learned, for a hopefully small but extremely vocal minority. I’m told a lot of this has to do with a “Ghostbusters” cartoon I never bothered with, one that apparently took quite seriously the Aykroyd-Aspergery gobbledygook mythology that Bill Murray spent the first picture rolling his eyes at. Whatever the case, bustin’ makes these lonely fellas feel good, as does the recording of epic YouTube manifestos and online harassment, sexual or otherwise. When comedian Patton Oswalt tweeted that he’d enjoyed the new film, fervent fanboys responded with cartoons of his recently deceased wife as a ghost being busted. I can only rest in the presumably safe assumption that there’s no danger of these pathetic little shits reproducing.

Feig’s girl-power “Ghostbusters” was forged in a crucible of man-baby cyber-bullying and it wears a chip on its shoulder proudly. Wiig, Melissa McCarthy and the monstrously funny Kate McKinnon star as three scientists mocked and run out of the university system for their belief in the paranormal. But when New York City (quite unconvincingly portrayed by Boston and Australia) suffers an outbreak of ectoplasm, who you gonna call? Leslie Jones soon joins the team as an MTA worker who’s an expert on ancient NYC architecture, and Chris Hemsworth plays a himbo receptionist so dumb he thinks he hears through his eyes.

Just like Feig’s “Spy” and “The Heat”, both of which also starred McCarthy, “Ghostbusters” is a movie about female professionals constantly being undercut and underestimated by moronic male gloryhounds who usually end up taking credit for all their work. There are some terrific numbskulls and naysayers here, including Andy Garcia as a vain NYC hizzoner who loses it if you compare him to the mayor from “Jaws”, and Zach Woods as a terrified tour guide who won me over in the opening scene by describing “a face bidet and an anti-Irish security fence.”

McCarthy doesn’t play crass or cloddish this time, anchoring the gang with a genuine sweetness that’s rather beguiling. Besides, her usual lumbering loudmouth shtick would starve for oxygen next to Jones, who can bulldoze anybody in her path and on a big screen seems to loom even larger than Hemsworth. Wiig wisely sneaks in underneath the others, stammering silliness with a lulling, impeccably timed monotone. But the movie is owned outright by Kate McKinnon, conjuring up an oddball gearhead with a gallery of lusty leers and a tickled self-amusement that rivals Murray’s in the 1984 original. You’ll find yourself scanning the screen for McKinnon during the wide shots, where she’s always doing something not-quite-right and absolutely perfect.

What makes “Ghostbusters” a pleasure to watch is how much these women obviously enjoy working with one another, generously feeding each other straight lines and setups as opposed to other comics who too often compete for attention. Feig’s films can get a little messy with the improv, but I find they’re all redeemed by a spirit of community. Like the unexpectedly hilarious Jason Statham in “Spy, or Hemsworth here, everybody gets to be funny.

Alas, this is also a big-budget summer blockbuster, which means the third act of “Ghostbusters” must be dragged down into a boring CGI visual effects extravaganza that appears to have been edited with a meat cleaver, missing large chunks of crucial plot information perhaps best left on the cutting room floor. (One lengthy sequence even plays out beneath the closing credits. It looks expensive so I guess they didn’t want to waste it on the DVD because nobody buys those anymore.)

It’s ironic that all the cameos and callbacks to the original “Ghostbusters” are the gags that don’t land. (I wanted to say Bill Murray gives his unfunniest performance since “The Razor’s Edge” except I tried to watch “Rock The Kasbah” on Netflix the other night. Jesus.) Feig and his co-screenwriter Katie Dippold crafted a ready-made metaphor when the ladies are almost asphyxiated by a gigantic, inflatable Stay-Puft marshmallow man, suffocating under the weight of a legendary, inimitable punchline. You’ll wish they hadn’t bothered trying to provide fan service for a fanbase that had already decided to hate this movie before a frame was even shot.

And yeah, there were a few of those guys at my screening. One fat thirty-something lost his mind and started shouting obscenities at the screen when the gals used their proton packs to blast a bad-guy ghost in the balls. (Oh, the misandry.) Then there were a couple of bros circling the parking lot in a jeep afterwards, hollering “Ghostbusters sucked!” at people leaving the theater.

With everything going on in the world right now I almost envy their comical lack of perspective, getting so worked up because human beings with vaginas are starring in a remake of a movie you liked when you were a little kid. Of course, these dumb motherfuckers all paid for tickets to come see it tonight and yell, so maybe we should just feel sorry for the sad, pale ones.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 3 out of 5.Over the past seventeen years, Sean Burns’ reviews, interviews and essays have appeared in Philadelphia Weekly, The Improper Bostonian, Metro, The Boston Herald, Nashville Scene, The House Next Door, Time Out New York, EntertainmentTell, Philadelphia City Paper and He stashes them all at Spliced Personality.

Review – Independence Day: Resurgence

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. With Liam Hemsworth, Jeff Goldblum, Jessie T. Usher, Bill Pullman, Maika Monroe. Written by Nicolas Wright, James A. Woods, Dean Devlin, Roland Emmerich and James Vanderbilt. Directed by Roland Emmerich. Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and destruction, and for some language.

A garbage sequel to a garbage movie, the spectacularly awful INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE will hopefully serve as an antidote to the millennial nostalgia for all things 1990s that’s currently strangling popular culture amongst our wayward youth. Like sad dad Ray Velcro from “True Detective,” we who lived through the original Clinton era might not be able to keep our children from watching “Friends” reruns on Netflix, but we can at least slap the kids away from “Fuller House” and let them know summer movies once upon a time were more than this.

Roland Emmerich’s “Independence Day” is commonly credited with creating the modern summer blockbuster, which is kinda like saying it invented the lobotomy except it’s not that smart. Short on movie stars and high on concept, the original picture blew up the White House during a SuperBowl ad and that’s pretty much the entire claim to fame. Rinky-dink pew-pew laser battles rocketed Will Smith to stardom, and there was admittedly an underdog appeal to perpetual second bananas Jeff Goldblum and Bill Pullman somehow saving the world.

But the movie itself was a pokey bag of low-rent rubbish, fusing moldy Irwin Allen disaster-picture stereotypes with crummy spaceship battles that only passed muster because we’d been sitting out a long historical hiatus between “Star Wars” pictures. Like most Emmerich films, it’s chintzy, annoying and seems to go on forever.

Twenty years later, we still don’t even know what these aliens’ names are nor what planet they’re from. (The creatures’ powers once again come and go depending on whatever the screenplay demands at any given moment.) Will Smith is too expensive so he’s politely killed offscreen before the opening credits, and his hotshot pilot son (Jessie T. Usher) is engaged in some sort of ill-defined love triangle with the former President’s daughter (Maika Monroe) and a resplendently dull Liam “The One Who Isn’t Thor” Hemsworth. Complications ensue.

A couple decades only made these aliens tougher, much to the consternation of Goldblum’s nattering know-it-all and his hotcha bickering ex. (She’s played by Charlotte Gainsbourg, the most overqualified international art film goddess to co-star in a stupid American disaster movie since Juliette Binoche was eaten by Godzilla a couple years ago.) The entire eastern seaboard is wiped out in a blink of an eye but nobody here is very sad about it. London is reduced to smithereens yet not a single tear is shed. Mass destruction is boring to the filmmakers and inconsequential to the plotline. It’s just there for you to get off on.

“Independence Day: Resurgence” is an insanely crummy-looking picture. Minus any movie stars and skimping on production values, it’s the off-brand blockbuster equivalent of shopping at the Dollar Tree. At least ninety percent of this movie appears to have been shot on a soundstage in front a greenscreen, with Goldblum and the gang weirdly set apart from their two-dimensional surroundings. None of the lighting matches, let alone their eyelines. Everybody’s backlit in that cheapo digital way with a sickly algae-colored pallor, actors melting into the murky backgrounds.

The whole thing is bizarrely tone-deaf and makes you wonder if “Emmerich” might actually be a German word for dopey slapstick in the midst of a genocide. Beloved characters die agonizing deaths, and then we cut to Brent Spiner (who was killed in the previous film, but I guess whatever) in a cartoony hippy wig, spazzing out because someone just told him his bum is hanging out the back of his hospital johnny. Millions have just been murdered and he’s bereaved because “everybody can see my butt!”

It doesn’t even do carnage right. The first movie at least had the lean visual precision of big-ass flying saucers casting shadows over national landmarks then annihilating places like the White House with a single beam of light (much to the insanely scary satisfaction of the audience). “Independence Day: Resurgence” just has a giant ship with its own gravitational field ripping up your lawn and dropping shit on your neighbors.

It’s ugly and noisy and you can’t tell what’s going on. Much like the rest of the film.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 1 out of 5.Over the past seventeen years, Sean Burns’ reviews, interviews and essays have appeared in Philadelphia Weekly, The Improper Bostonian, Metro, The Boston Herald, Nashville Scene, The House Next Door, Time Out New York, EntertainmentTell, Philadelphia City Paper and He stashes them all at Spliced Personality.