Ghosts, a creepy doll, and a serial killer.
When I was a kid, the 1984 Ghostbusters was one of my go-to movies. We had that movie on VHS and I would watch it repeatedly while staying at my grandmother's house. I was also a fan of the broader Ghostbusters franchise - I watched the cartoons, I was so caught up in the hype of the release of Ghostbusters 2 in 1989 that I even bought the soundtrack on cassette, and I ate the cereal. I still have sense memory of how delicious that Ghostbusters cereal was.
Many Ghostbusters fans and co-star Dan Aykroyd (who came up with the idea and co-wrote the movies) were hoping that a Ghostbusters 3 would happen at some point. I would have loved to have seen it, if done right, but it didn't appear meant to be. Co-star Bill Murray was not enthusiastic about returning to the series, making demands that would have limited his role if a sequel were to happen and turning down the scripts that were written. Then another member of the Ghostbusters team, Harold Ramis, who co-wrote the movies with Aykroyd, passed away in 2014. If there was going to be a Ghostbusters 3, it was certain that it would never be about the old team getting back together.
Despite my childhood fandom, I never saw Ghostbusters as a sacred and untouchable film. I was fine with it when it was announced that Bridesmaids / Spy director Paul Feig would be helming a remake/reboot. To say the news didn't go over well on the internet would be a massive understatement. The amount of hate this concept received at every stage of production was overwhelming. There were many complaints made, some of them baffling to me now that we're this deep into the age of remakes. For example, fans being upset that "Now I'll have to specify the year of release when I talk about Ghostbusters." Welcome to the party. Horror fans have had to do that for a long time when discussing most of our classics, many of which I did find to be sacred and untouchable. No movie really is, though.
I had an optimistic "wait and see" attitude toward it. I've liked some of Feig's previous movies, wasn't so fond of others, and I liked half of the Ghostbusters team he assembled, Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy. I wasn't familiar with Leslie Jones or Kate McKinnon before seeing the movie. I went to see it opening weekend, with a second motivation for my theatrical viewing - I wanted to try out the theatre's newly installed reclining leather seats.
Those seats were very nice, and I found the movie to be entertaining.
Wiig plays Dr. Erin Gilbert, a woman who had childhood experience with a haunting but has buried her interest in the paranormal to focus on her teaching career. Her estranged friend Dr. Abby Yates (McCarthy) has not let go of their past paranormal investigations, even publishing a book the two wrote together. Without Erin's permission. This brings them back in contact with each other just in time for Erin to reluctantly accompany Abby and her pal Dr. Jillian Holtzmann (McKinnon) on a ghost hunt... Where she has a close encounter with a slime-spewing spook.
The trio decides to go all-in on this ghost hunting business, starting a company with a complicated name I can't remember off the top of my head, but they'll eventually come to be known as the Ghostbusters. As the film goes on, many iconic things from the original movie will come into play as Feig takes the modern approach of spending too much time focusing on the origin of things. We see exactly how these Ghostbusters pick their logo, acquire their car, get their jump suits, and perfect their equipment.
Along the way, the three women are joined by a fourth, subway worker and New York City expert Patty Tolan (Jones).
The movies do need to explain why, in a world where many people are skeptical about the existence of ghosts, our heroes have so much obvious paranormal activity to contend with, and here the answer is a creepy guy called Rowan (Neil Casey), essentially a domestic terrorist who has created devices that are breaking down the barrier between our world and the spirit dimension. His actions eventually lead to New York City being flooded with ghosts that can only be stopped by the Ghostbusters.
I knew Wiig and McCarthy were reliable, but I was impressed by Jones and McKinnon, with McKinnon's oddball performance (and her "Rhythm of the Night" dance moves) as Holtzmann standing out as the highlight of the film. All four of them handle the comedy well and make a good team, and they're surrounded by some great supporting turns from Chris Hemsworth (as their dimwitted receptionist), Andy Garcia as the mayor (and DO NOT compare him to the mayor from Jaws!), and Cecily Strong as the mayor's assistant.
Surviving Ghostbusters Aykroyd, Murray, and Ernie Hudson, along with their Ghostbusters co-stars Annie Potts and Sigourney Weaver, also show up for cameos, with Murray getting the best of the bunch, and getting what he always wanted from a new Ghostbusters movie.
I did have my issues with Ghostbusters '16. Too much focus on every little origin detail is always tedious, and while it was fun to watch the 'busters banter, I felt there could have been some more ghost action throughout the film. When they wade into the climactic battle, I found it odd that their weapons now obliterate ghosts. The original Ghostbusters only subdued and contained ghosts, they had a containment system packed with them. These Ghostbusters only trap one ghost, the rest they encounter get blasted to slime... But these are new Ghostbusters, which different approaches and rules than the Ghostbusters I grew up with.
It wasn't a laugh riot, but it was amusing and I had fun with it. This is supposed to be the start of a whole new Ghostbusters cinematic universe, with Aykroyd and original Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman heading up a production company called Ghost Corps that was put together just to work on Ghostbusters projects. The next one up is an animated film. I'm totally on board for seeing where this endeavor might lead, and would be glad to see the team of Wiig, McCarthy, Jones, and McKinnon return to the screen.
THE CANAL (2014)
Ostensibly a ghost story, The Canal is, above all else, a devastating character study of a man suffering from a mental and emotional breakdown. That man is Rupert Evans as David, a film archivist whose discovery that his wife is having an affair happens right after he sees a newsreel from 1902 revealing that a murder occurred in their house back then. A man killed his family there. He killed his wife in the very room that David and his wife share.
After witnessing his wife with the other man, David stumbles into a public restroom near their home, a restroom that the local kids think is haunted. While in there, David does indeed have a supernatural experience...
David's wife goes missing that night, and the paranormal activity continues to happen all around him. David has described looking at old films as "seeing ghosts", since everyone in them is long dead, but now he's seeing ghosts everywhere. It isn't long before his wife turns up dead and the authorities understandably turn their suspicion on him.
The movie keeps the viewer wondering just what is going on, whether history has repeated itself and David has murdered his wife, just like the man who used to live in his house, and whether or not the ghosts are real or if the crumbling of his life caused David to snap.
I won't say which direction things end up going in, but I will say that it gets quite disgusting.
Writer/director Ivan Kavanagh crafted a story here that was interesting and involving, and he captured some incredible imagery for the ghost scenes. This was a movie that I might not have gotten around to watching if the Final Girl blog hadn't featured it as a SHOCKtober entry, but I'm glad I did, even though it's far from a feel-good movie.
THE BOY (2016)
Lauren Cohan is a never-ceasing wonder of accents. Watch interviews with her and you'll hear that the actress, who was born to an American father and British mother and raised in the United States until moving to England at 13, has a slight British accent at times. Watch her on The Walking Dead and you'll hear her speaking with one of the thickest Southern accents you could ask for. In the movie The Boy, which she shot between seasons of The Walking Dead, she drops both the British and Southern accents and goes for regular, midwestern American.
Here Cohan plays Greta Evans, a young woman from Montana who flees to the U.K. to escape a bad relationship, taking a job as a nanny for an elderly couple looking for someone to care for their young son. When Greta meets their child, she is understandably thrown for a loop - this child, Brahms, is not a human child at all. It's just a porcelain doll the couple treats like a living being.
The couple leaves for an extended vacation, leaving Greta alone with the Brahms doll in their sprawling, castle-like home. Although they provide her with a list of ten rules she must follow every day, like getting Brahms out of bed at a certain time, dressing him, reading to him, and kissing him goodnight, Greta does what most people would do as soon as the couple is gone - she treats the doll like a doll, tossing it aside and ignoring it.
And then strange things begin to occur that make Greta start to wonder if the doll truly is alive after all. The couple did have an actual son named Brahms who perished in a fire on his eighth birthday twenty-five years ago, could the child's spirit be inhabiting this porcelain object?
Director William Brent Bell has some questionable genre credits in his past, but I felt that he did a fine job with this film, as his direction and the screenplay by Stacey Menear keep the audience guessing and wondering just what the hell is going on here. I'm a fan of Cohan's character on The Walking Dead, and was glad to see that she did a very capable job of carrying this film on her shoulders as well.
At times I would wonder how this concept could possibly sustain a feature film. Sometimes I would think that maybe it would have been better off as being a short. But the twists and turns kept coming and the changes Greta goes through over the course of the film would always keep me invested in finding out what would happen next.
I didn't know exactly what to expect from The Boy, but I definitely didn't think I would enjoy the film as much as I did. It's quite a solid little horror/thriller, and if you check it out you may find that it's not what you expected it to be. For me, it was a very good thing that it wasn't what I was expecting.
The following review originally appeared on ArrowintheHead.com
THE LAST HEIST (2016)
A serial killer has been stalking the Los Angeles area for two years, racking up fifteen kills while earning the nickname "The Window Killer" because he keeps his victims' eyeballs as a trophy. Eyes are the windows to the soul, you know. So while I'm sure it's a hassle for anyone who has a safety deposit box when they find out that their safety deposit vault of choice will soon be closing down, it has to be especially unnerving for the Window Killer, since that's where he keeps his collection of eyeballs. He needs to get his gruesome souvenirs out of there as quickly as possible - and that's how he ends up being in the vault when a group of masked armed robbers come storming into the place and take the employees and their clients hostage.
This was supposed to be a really easy job for the robbers. The vault has no guards, a skeleton crew of employees, the security cameras have already been shut off, there are only a couple clients in there. There's a specific safety deposit box they want to open, and they expected to be in and out of there and $100 million richer within ten minutes, their guns switched to safety and no rounds in the chamber. But armed robberies are not a good idea, folks. You can usually expect them to go disastrously wrong, and that's exactly what happens here. Not only does the place end up surrounded by cops, but the thieves quickly come to realize that one of their hostages is the Window Killer, which they discover from the fact that he starts picking them off one-by-one. Adding to that eyeball collection.
The Last Heist is the latest film from Mike Mendez, a director I've been following closely ever since he made his debut with the incredibly strange Killers twenty years ago. I've been very glad to see that his 2013 film Big Ass Spider! seems to have kickstarted a period of prolificacy in his career, as he has directed as many movies, or segments of them (he contributed to the Tales of Halloween anthology), in the last three years as he did over the course of the previous seventeen. Big Ass Spider! is a much better film than you might expect it to be, and so is, in a way, The Last Heist.
"Dog Day Afternoon with a slasher" already sounds spectacular, I would have been perfectly content with a movie as simple as that, but The Last Heist actually puts in some extra effort. There's an interesting element of in-fighting among the thieves that has nothing to do with the presence of a killer, a disagreement over how to handle the hostage situation, with the ringleader emerging as the "criminal with a code of honor" type while some of his underlings display a bloodthirst. There's the ringleader's mysterious military background adding an extra layer of intrigue, the fact that his brother is one of the vault employees bringing in some character depth and drama.
There's even more than meets the eye going on outside the vault, with a tough robbery/homicide detective butting heads with the Department of Defense contractors who have been brought in because of the ringleader's history.
The Last Heist is still a simple movie that moves along at a quick pace and gets all wrapped up in just 84 minutes, but it could have been much more simplistic, and I appreciate the fact that Mendez and screenwriter Guy Stevenson worked to put some more meat on its bones.
Mendez brings Stevenson's story to the screen with a lively tone and propulsive energy that makes that short running time breeze by. There are thrills, action, laughs (many of them provided by Fay DeWitt as a salty elderly hostage), and copious amounts of blood. The actors also do strong work with the material, the standouts including the aforementioned DeWitt, Torrance Coombs as the criminal with a heart of gold, Victoria Pratt as Detective Pascal, Nick Principe (because how can a 6'7" beast of a man not stand out?), Kristina Klebe (because she is always awesome), and Big Ass Spider!'s laughter MVP Lombardo Boyar in a cameo.
The greatest aspect of this film, however, is the casting of Henry Rollins as the Window Killer. This character is quite odd in everyday interactions, so much so that you probably wouldn't be surprised to find out he was a serial killer, but he really perks up when he's getting the chance to kill someone. It's actually a delight to watch this guy commit violent acts on some of the less savory characters, because Rollins so wonderfully plays the glee he gets out of it. He has a big smile on his face, unable to contain his happiness. My favorite scene in the movie actually involved the Window Killer murdering an actor I didn't want to see leave the film at that point, it was just so entertaining to watch Rollins at work as Window rambles about what's happening to the person as they bleed to death, basically giving them an enthusiastic biology lesson as they fruitlessly fight for their life.
That was the most fun moment for me in a movie that provided 84 minutes of fun. I thoroughly enjoyed this one.