Lukewarm, Familiar 'Ghostbusters' Ain't Afraid of No Nostalgia

Directed by: Paul Feig; Runtime: 116 minutes
Grade: C

From the day that the idea was announced up until its release, Paul Feig's take on the Ghostbusters phenomenon has been derogatorily referred to as being nothing more than a remake of the much-beloved 1984 classic ... only with a team of women donning the tan jumpsuits and proton packs. Some immediately dismissed the idea based on the "girl power" gimmick, while others -- like myself -- remained optimistic about what director Feig and his writers could construct with a cast comprised of Bridesmaids and Saturday Night Live alums, hopefully taking the franchise in a fresh, innovative direction. Alas, regardless of months of exaggerated bickering over feminism and nostalgia, those first sight-unseen impressions ended up being true: Feig's Ghostbusters does little to make this revival its own, materializing into a more literal duplication of the original film(s) than expected. These ladies needed their own identity, and this slightly-tweaked, serviceable homage to the franchise's legacy doesn't answer that call.

Feig and The Heat scribe Katie Dippold obviously see the first two Ghostbusters films< as a template to follow instead of inspiration from which to draw, starting things off with a spooky event involving an angry female apparition that pulls the discredited paranormal investigators out of the woodwork. That includes Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig), a professor on the cusp of tenure whose past involving published research into the "metaphysical" remained hidden ... until her once-colleague, Abby Yates (Melisa McCarthy), recently drudged it up to increase her own research department's revenue stream. Forced to cope with their waning reputations, the two reunite -- alongside Yates' assistant, the entirely idiosyncratic Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) -- to investigate the specter, which unearths the possibility of an ancient evil being unleashed upon the streets of New York. With the help of Patty (Leslie Jones), a savvy public transit employee who's had her own run-in with the paranormal, they form a team to research and potentially catch the supernatural forces with a host of fancy gadgets.

Ghostbusters can be seen as other-worldly territory for Paul Feig: firstly, he's working with a known property instead of an original concept, and secondly, he's operating within the space of a PG-13 rating instead of the R-rated raunchiness of Spyand his other hit-and-miss comedic ventures. Top that off with the pressures of respecting the franchise, and it's easy to understand why Feig and Katie Dippold might want to play it safe by duplicating the previous films' plot points with slight modifications, giving it the resemblance of a distinct personality while offering longstanding Ghostbusters fans some familiar surroundings. Unfortunately, Feig ad Dippold's script makes little to no effort to hide those clear echoes of the original, even including copious nudges and winks that serve as constant reminders of what Ivan Reitman and his crew conceived, from deliberate mentions of "mass hysteria" and "protonic reversal" to more meta references to overhead costs and memory-altering noxious fumes. There's no doubting that the folks behind the new team adore the originals, and, boy, do they want the audience to know it.

Instead, this new Ghostbusters picks and chooses its narrative battles, directing its energy to these new female characters and establishing the moving parts of this team's origin. Some of these 'busters aren't too shabby, such as Kate McKinnon's buggy sunglass-wearing Holtzmann, whose amplified personality produces unpredictable quips and goofy antics that generate laughs as she assembles -- and explains -- the dazzling gear for her comrades, frequently stealing the show. Leslie Jones' larger-than-life persona also works better than anticipated as their "streetwise" fourth wheel Patty. Conversely, director Feig overcompensates for critiques aimed at his previous films in establishing the characters portrayed by Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy: Wiig's meek, buttoned-up Erin stumbles as a tarnished academic reduced to bodily crack jokes and fawning over daffy receptionist Kevin (Chris Hemsworth), while Melissa McCarthy mutes her rambunctiousness as the down-to-earth heart of the team. Bold quirks from some and subdued personality types from others result in a hard-to-buy team that misuses the talent involved.

Underneath the borrowed plotting and the clumsy establishment of a new generation of Ghostbusters lies a flat, on-the-nose sense of humor, one that's overly geared toward a broad audience and tiptoes around the divisive female-centered design of this reboot. Alongside taking snipes at internet trolls and going way overboard with the brainless shenanigans of Chris Hemsworth's receptionist, director Feig latches onto zany gags that have more in common with Saturday morning cartoons than a live-action comedy. Yet, despite the spastic nature of many scenes, the spirit at center of Ghostbusters comes across as surprisingly restrained and wishy-washy, as if it's working really hard to coexist with its predecessor instead of blazing a trail with as much gusto as the ladies' proton packs can muster. Small, humorous running jokes divorced from the actual story, such as Abby's back-and-forth with a food delivery boy and Patty's relationship with a funeral home owner, almost feel like they belong in something else from Feig. These characters can be funny off on their own, but not so much when they're brought together as a unit.

As any kind of supernatural horror or action film, however, this Ghostbusters leaves a lot to be desired. Director Feig gets away with threadbare plots in his other works because their sole purpose is to string together comedic scenes; in his Ghostbusters, the jargon involving paranormal science and yet another gateway opening for a ghostly "apocalypse" really struggles with the trappings of blockbuster fare as it takes center stage in the messy final act. On top of more repetition from the previous films, it essentially gives up on making internal sense in service of bold, glitzy special effects that deliver very, very little of Feig's ambition to make it "really scary", undermined by its insistently multihued and non-threatening design. It's delightful to see a foursome of capable female heroes tearing through ghost after ghost, but the writing's lack of imagination and cleverness overshadows their charismatic pursuits against the underdeveloped threat against the city. Paul Feig had the tools and the talent at his disposal to make a sharp, exciting reboot that just so happened to be powered by women, but his Ghostbusters ends up being fuzzy on how to bring it all together.

Film review also appeared over at [LINK]

'Everybody Wants Some' Would Be Cooler With More Story

Directed by: Richard Linklater; Runtime: 117 minutes
Grade: B-

While Richard Linklater's body of work has received generally widespread acclaim, nearly every film he's constructed relies on some kind of gimmick to hold interest, whether it's real-time cycles, cel-shaded animation, or Boyhood's filming of the same actors over twelve years. It makes one think about how well some of those productions might've worked had they been conceived in a more traditional format, whether the writer-director's philosophical and developmental musings would carry the same weight if they weren't bolstered by his inventive filmmaking. In Everybody Wants Some, his depiction of freshman students joining a college baseball team in the '80s, Linklater doesn't try to preserve the illusion of a literal "day in the life" of these guys, instead tracking their growth as a team over the time before classes start. In the absence of an attention-grabbing concept, even though there's a full roster of earnest perspectives and emotions going on, his amplified characters aren't as authentic and his directionless storytelling not as absorbing.

Considering the adoration he showed toward the '70s in Dazed and Confused, it makes perfect sense that Richard Linklater would eventually stumble into the '80s with his reminiscent cinematic style, and he does so in a way that elegantly acts as a follow-up to both his high-school romp and Boyhood. Everybody Wants Some takes place at the very beginning of the '80s, though, so there isn't a stark difference in the time periods as freshman pitcher Jake Bradford (Blake Jenner) walks into his college baseball team's ramshackle residence at a fictional Texas university. Upon his arrival, Jake gets subjected to a mixture of friendly and antagonistic initiation from the other team members: team captain Glen McReynolds (Tyler Hoechlin) doles out a harsh new-guy, anti-pitcher attitude, while Glen Powell's idiosyncratic Finn and others rope him into social activities. The countdown begins to the first days of class, to which the group of guys work to form a bond over beer, women, bars, practices, and ... uh, more women and beer, while Jake decides to pursue the performing arts girl, Beverly (Zoey Deutch), he meets on the first day cruising with the guys.

Even though the chronology sprints ahead throughout the week leading up to classes, there's no mistaking the signature dialogue, focus on music, and slice-of-life aimlessness of Richard Linklater's style. Told largely from the perspective of Jake, Everybody Wants Some takes a more focused approach than the celebratory tone of Dazed and Confused, though. Where everyone rejoices in the end of school and the beginning of summer in the director's ode to high-school, this portrayal of collegiate baseball players tackles the beginning of a long road ahead in terms of training, education, and preparing for life after college, both for the inbound freshman and the senior-level pro prospects. The ease in which Jake and the other freshmen fall into a rhythm with the rest of the team is missing the genuine, accessible touch of Linklater's other coming-of-age and relationship-building stories. There aren't any obstacles that the handsome, well-spoken and good-natured Jake can't overcome, and the bonds that smoothly form between teammates doesn't capture the same earned substance as Linkater's other works.

Of course, that doesn't prevent Everybody Wants Some from being enjoyable fun to watch, if for no other reason than Linklater's charming roster of caricature personalities. As they play on arcade machines, boogie down in various bars, and smoke and drink profusely, the players' personalities take shape while the film consistently debunks the idea that athletes are mindlessly about sports and nothing else. Naturally, Linklater's cheeky, instinctive dialogue and situations revolve around their pursuits of women and team shenanigans, and the script constantly lobs out the kind of humorous lines one would expect from confident, testosterone-driven guys in their physical prime. But there's more to them than that, whether it's the sly intellect of the socially "adaptable" Finn or the sensible musings of the bearded hippy Willoughby (Wyatt Russell). Linklater breaks down the "jock" stereotype and plays jazz with it, though the concept rolls away from him whenever he focuses on the few true oddballs among them, whose overly weird, gratuitous traits stick out from the more organic group of competitors developing into a cohesive unit.

Everybody Wants Some ends up hitting a wall because there isn't a destination in sight, though, with Linklater beginning a story here that he has no intention of finishing ... outside of a potential sequel. Despite their interpretive vagueness, each of his prior slice-of-life projects accomplished something of some kind before the credits rolled, whether it was two strangers' cathartic discovery of true love, the culmination of an epic coming-of-age celebration, or the full maturation of a young adult. This one, on the other hand, reaches the height of its catharsis with team practices and first dates, warming up to the really profound stuff that's to come in Jake's life and to the people surrounding the promising young pitcher, all of whom are also embarking on the discovery of a brand-new decade of culture shock. Each party, each prank, and each individual victory or defeat suffered by these guys who really don't like to lose sets up the journey to be undertaken by this new iteration of the Southern Texas Cherokees, yet Everybody Wants Some leaves one wanting a good bit more just as this college experience gets started.

For the full Blu-ray review, head over to [Click Here]

'Term Life': Dull Cat-and-Mouse Thrills With Parental Backbone

Directed by: Peter Billingsly; Runtime: 93 minutes
Grade: C-

Action-crime thrillers tend to throw in solutions to problems at the drop of a hat: a conveniently placed weapon, a getaway car, a stranger who can hide someone or something on short notice. This tends to be an infuriating but sometimes necessary thing to keep the suspense moving forward, and it doesn't hurt that the introduction of those devices adds a bit of surprise energy to their respective films, even if a little doubtfulness gets tossed in as well. Director Peter Billingsley -- yeah, that Peter Billingsley -- would probably prefer for his latest directorial effort, Term Life, to be remember for more than "rational thinking", perhaps for the father-daughter bond built between the main characters or the gray-area corruption of cops underneath the manhunt for them. The featureless execution of its more dramatic undertones redirects attention to the little things that this limited release (practically direct-to-video) flick intermittently does right, producing a forgettable cat-and-mouse thriller that at least prides itself in remembering to foreshadow.

Term Life stars Vince Vaughn as Nick Barrow, an Atlanta-based career criminal who doesn't actively do any of the criminal activity himself. He's an architect for heists, complex and elaborate ones that require precise timing and awareness of circumstances, to which he maps out and passes on to paying individuals. One of his jobs, despite going off without a hitch, lands him in hot water with a significant crime lord, who, naturally, discovers that Barrow has a daughter, Cate (Hailee Steinfeld), whom he gets to spend very little time with considering his profession. In her rebellious teenage stage and coping with an alcoholic mother, Cate finds herself whisked away by Barrow before the cartel's underlings can get to her first. While on the run and hiding, the father-daughter Barrow team run into difficulties identifying with one another, which they'll need to overcome if they're going to stay two steps ahead of both the criminals and the shady cops after them -- led by Bill Paxton's Detective Keenan -- until Nick lands on a solution.

Gruff narration from Nick Barrow and black-and-white flashbacks frame Term Life in mundane trappings of the crime-thriller genre. From conversations about heists conducted in very public spots to predicting red-light patterns and cellphones going off as convenient distractions, it's full of easy moving parts, driven by a low-key, almost introverted performance from Vince Vaughn as the heist architect. Sporting a distracting haircut that's humorously addressed early on in the film, Vaughn works alongside a surprisingly robust cast filling out the people whom Nick Barrow interacts with as he sinks deeper into hot water, from Jonathan Banks as Barrow's helpful mentor and Jon Favreau as a bizarre hoarder of an informant to Taraji P. Henson and Terrence Howard in cursory supporting roles. The validity of the cast props up its mundane thrills, put into motion by Vaughn in ways that would've benefitted from more of the gristle he brought to the second season of True Detective, where he's instead an unremarkable sympathetic criminal underneath the mop hairdo.

Once Cate enters the picture, Term Life refocuses its attention to the troubled relationship between an absent criminal father and his defiant, angry daughter, and that kills much of the film's momentum. The Barrows are on the run, sure, but their plan doesn't have them moving around very much, leaving other events happening outside their hiding -- the pressure placed on others by the vicious crime lord; the maneuvers of a corrupt batch of detectives -- to build the tension, which comes and goes. Instead, Vince Vaughn and Hailee Steinfeld engage in relationship-building that fits somewhere between the criminal daughter molding in Matchstick Men with the volatile guardianship of a minor in Leon: The Professional, with a dose of teenage angst thrown in for good measure. This might've worked had Vaughn and Steinfeld shared the right kind of chemistry, yet their evolution from a family at loggerheads to a tighter, understanding bond merely goes through the predictable motions amid clothing disputes, carnival rides, and Nick explaining to his daughter how to do what he does.

The framework of an engaging crime-drama exists underneath Term Life, including a batch of villains whose motivations tiptoe along the line of justifiable and conflicted immorality, none of whom make very many outright poor judgment calls. Director Billingsley combines that antagonist angle with a smart grasp on dropping clues as to how characters might get in and out of situations, whether it's directing attention to a potential weapon or introducing minor characters who do somewhat harebrained things for the people that ask. There's a noticeable amount of care here put into crossing Ts and dotting Is, igniting a few bursts of intelligent, modest bursts of action. Unfortunately, with the cluster of gunfights and car chases against the backdrop of Atlanta -- and cute nods to the town liberally thrown in for some flavor -- Term Life never puts those mechanical smarts to work in a way that'd craft a fresh take on this familiar story, lacking the personality or the vigor to better appreciate its due diligence to credibility.

For the full Blu-ray review, head over to [Click Here]