Don’t bother calling … the new “Ghostbusters” is a mere specter of its former self. Dull and uninspired, the reboot of the 1984 smash no doubt boasts a talented cast and director in Paul Feig – yet it feels like they are all operating under some strict studio mandate and following marching orders to avoid doing anything risky that will taint the “Ghostbusters” brand.
Despite a new story and characters, the new “Ghostbusters” ultimately feels like a rehash of the original, where a ragtag group of scientists (Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig and Kate McKinnon) and a street savvy New York City transit worker (Leslie Jones) try to rid the Big Apple of some very nasty spirits and the evil human force who’s unleashing them.
The biggest problem with “Ghostbusters is that it’s a PG-13 film that’s preventing the hilarious R-rated comedy team of Feig, McCarthy and Wiig (who first did “Bridesmaids” together) from doing what they do best.
Had Feig (who also directed McCarthy in “The Heat” and “Spy”) been allowed to turn loose his performers in the territory they know best – bawdy, R-rated comedy – the film would have been infinitely better.
Apart from some obviously improved visual effects, the new “Ghostbusters” is a tremendous disappointment considering the level of talent involved.
Not even cameos from most of the original cast can juice up the newfangled proton pack: Bill Murray is given the most to do although his two scenes are brief, while Dan Aykroyd’s appearance is short, silly and of no consequence.
On the other hand, the turns by Ernie Hudson, Annie Potts and Sigourney Weaver (in the end credits) are welcome, and even the late, great Harold Ramis is represented in the form of a golden bust in a blink or you’ll miss it scene at the very beginning of the film.
Rick Moranis, who dropped largely from the public eye for the last 20 years, declined a cameo, and perhaps smartly so. Some franchises are better left untouched.
Hear Tim’s review of “Ghostbusters” and more above with Tom Barnard and the “KQ92 Morning Show,” beginning at 7:30 in.
“The Huntsman: Winter’s War” (PG-13) 3 stars (out of four)
The stars of “Snow White and the Huntsman” are back – sans Kristen Stewart – in “The Huntsman: Winter’s War,” a solid prequel/sequel to the 2012 original that adds Emily Blunt and Jessica Chastain to the cast. Stewart was creatively omitted from the follow-up, which first looks at the origins of Eric the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) and the fellow warrior, Sara (Chastain), he grew up with; then skips forward over the events of “Snow White and the Huntsman” as it heads to an epic showdown between Eric & Sara, the evil Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron) and her sister, the Ice Queen Freya (Blunt), over the all-powerful magic mirror.
While “The Huntsman’s” premise – a mishmash of fairy tale characters from “Frozen,” “Brave” and, of course, “Snow White” – is hardly original, a talented cast (including the hilarious Nick Frost as one of the Huntsman’s dwarf warriors), makes up for the film’s shor
tcomings. “The Huntsman” is far from perfect, but a crowd-pleasing film nonetheless.
“In the Heart of the Sea” (PG-13) 3 stars (out of four)
Director Ron Howard skillfully navigates some treacherous waters in “In the Heart of the Sea,” a riveting whale tale that only suffers from its shaky imagery during the film’s most pivotal moments. Realism is a good thing in films, but in this case, the turbulent depiction of the high seas is too much of a good thing.
The film uses the classic literary work of Herman Melville’s (Ben Whishaw) “Moby Dick” as a framing device, as the author convinces Tom Nickerson (the always great Brendan Gleeson) – one of the few survivors of the shipwreck of the Nantucket whaling vessel, the Essex, in 1820 – to open the deep wounds he’s kept tightly sealed for 30 years. Melville is obsessed with the legend of a monstrous, 100-foot-long white whale that purportedly destroyed the Essex, and Nickerson is the only person the writer can locate to validate the tale.
However, there’s more to the story that Melville ever expected, as his confessions reveal Nickerson (played in flashback by Tom Holland), First Mate Owen Chase (Chr
is Hemsworth), his longtime shipmate Matthew Joy (Cillian Murphy), Captain George Pollard (Benjamin Walker) and a handful of others resort to desperate, dark measures to survive. Not only does the whale continue its rampage after he sinks the ship; the survivors are also floating aimlessly 2,000 miles off the western coast of South America with no hope in sight.
“In the Heart of the Sea” reteams Hemsworth with Howard two years after the woefully underrated Formula One racecar drama “Rush” make a quick and quiet exit from theaters in 2013. Much like that reality-based drama, Howard goes to painstaking efforts to put you aboard the Essex, bringing to life in great detail the inner-workings of a whale ship as it defies the elements of nature to harvest blubber from the benevolent sea beasts for oil. To that end, “In the Heart of the Sea” is a fascinating voyage, as Howard puts you squarely in the shoes of the people who endure, what is still one of the world’s most dangerous professions.
Sadly, the display of danger is where “In the Heart of the Sea” takes a huge plunge, as the scenes of the ship being rocked at sea by storms – and eventually, the whale – simply become too chaotic. Imagine a shaky cam amped up to violent extremes, which really does nothing more than threaten to nauseate the most sensitive of viewers’ stomachs. Fortunately, a weak 3D presentation doesn’t enhance the sea-sickening experience, and only makes the image more distorted. If the 3D would have worked as intended, the film might have been too dizzying for its own good.
While “In the Heart of the Sea” falls short on its overly-ambitious visual effects, it’s hardly a failure. The calmer scenes of the whale will no doubt leave you awestruck in the creature’s presence, especially during its unexpected final confrontation with Owen and his dwindling number of crew members. While still a sight to behold on the big screen, “In the Heart of the Sea” will likely find a friendlier reception in the closed quarters of viewers’ homes. As a film immersed in a screen too big to escape, the experience will likely make you feel more wobbly than wowed.
On the plus side, you have to commend Howard for opting not to make another “Moby Dick” film, and instead examining a fascinating story that inspired the beloved Melville classic. The film feels fresh despite its faults, and another trip with Captain Ahab would have felt waterlogged.
“Avengers: Age of Ultron” (PG-13) 3 1/2 stars (out of four)
Earth’s mightiest heroes are disassembled and reconfigured in an exciting new way in “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” a thrilling, complex and action-packed sequel to the overrated 2012 original.
Once again written and directed by Joss Whedon, the hotly anticipated follow-up to “The Avengers” delves deeper into the fragile psyches of the seemingly unstoppable band of superheroes. It also skillfully blends a new villain and additional super-powered characters to the mix, thereby distancing it from any potential threats of sequelitis. The progression of the narrative feels natural and doesn’t try to rest in any way on its laurels, even though the film is a sure-fire box office blockbuster.
“Age of Ultron” picks up in the fictional Eastern European country of Sokovia, where the villainous organization HYDRA holds Loki’s scepter from the first “Avengers” film in their bid to develop weapons of mass destruction. The team recaptures it, but thanks to the wicked, mind-altering powers of Wanda Maximoff (Elisabeth Olson) and hyper-speed of her twin brother, Pietro Maximoff (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), a trap is set by Hydra when Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) uses the scepter’s power to jumpstart his dormant global peacekeeping “Ultron” program. Stark has the support of Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), but the rest of the team – Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) feel left out in the dark.
The final execution of the program, which helps Stark finally realizes his goal of artificial intelligence, ultimately manifests itself in a super robot named Ultron (voice of James Spader), who not only wants to kill his creator, but rule the Earth after he realizes his plan of global annihilation. And that’s especially a big problem when the Avengers as a team find themselves at breaking point, where loyalties are questioned and trust becomes a big issue, since members of the group have different ideas on how to proceed with stopping the enemy and creating a peaceful future.
Coming in at just over 2 hours and 20 minutes, “Avengers: Age of Ultron” doesn’t feel too long, but rather a complete story because Whedon wisely uses his time to weave in the darker, complex vignettes of each team member in between all the action. For this reason, the film has more of a Christopher Nolan “Dark Knight” sort of edge to it, making the narrative that much more satisfying. While there are plenty of gags and laughs in the “Age of Ultron,” to be sure (a burgeoning romance between Hulk and Black Widow spurs some saucy humor, and there are also running jokes about Cap’s clean-cut demeanor and Thor’s hammer), it’s just refreshing to see that Whedon has adapted to the darker path of the Marvel movie series, where life for its superheroes moves onto shakier ground.
Of course, “Age of Ultron” is packed to the hilt with action, and the special visual effects are about as good as it gets. Particularly impressive is how the fluidness of the metal-based Ultron allows for some expressiveness, and you can really feel Spader’s smarmy characterization flowing through it. The hotly anticipated Hulkbuster scene is also hugely entertaining and diehard fans will definitely not be disappointed.
While the core cast of “Age of Ultron” delivers as expected, it’s exciting to see the introduction of new Marvel Universe characters to the mix like Vision (Paul Bettany) — who is a particularly thrilling addition — and the Maximoffs, who are finely realized by Olsen and Taylor-Johnson. And, without revealing too much, it’s great to see a hint of how the Avengers team is undergoing changes as the film series heads into the two part “Avengers: Infinity War” chapters coming in 2018 and 2019. There will be more in between, though, with “Ant-Man” (in July) and more “Captain America” and “Thor,” because the Marvel Universe is an expansive one – and we can’t get enough of it.
Tim Lammers is a veteran entertainment reporter and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association, and annually votes on the Critics Choice Movie Awards. Locally, he reviews films for “KARE 11 News at 11”and various Minnesota radio stations.
Original Interviews, Reviews & More By Tim Lammers