Ghostbusters (2016)

Director: Paul Feig (2016) BBFC cert 12A

This supernatural reboot rakes over the bones of the 1984 comedy classic but fails to scare up the fun.

 Being bravely recast with an all female team has resulted in a ferocious online furore. However this gender switching is nothing new to Hollywood, it worked super successfully for Rosalind Russell in screwball comedy His Girl Friday (1940) and you don’t have to go that far back for other examples. Last year Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) gave a turbo charged reboot to that ’80’s franchise by putting the women in the driving seat.

This is very funny and scary. But only for the first five minutes before the new team turn up. From then on it’s sadly an indulgent Melissa McCarthy vehicle loaded up with CGI to paper over the holes in the weak script.

This is very much her movie and on a par with her recent The Boss (2016) and less fun than the similarly spooky Jack Black caper Goosebumps (2016).

Once again New York is awash with ectoplasm and evil spirits as the apocalypse approaches and only the Ghostbusters team of paranormal investigators can prevent it.

McCarthy and Kristen Wiig star as scientists Abby and Erin. They go into business as paranormal investigators after losing their university jobs.

Pushed into the background, poor Kate McKinnon is forced to gurn for attention as Jillian, the inventor of the teams ghoul catching gadgets.

She’s given a dance scene, an action moment and a speech, and all are great. However they feel more like ‘a bit for the trailer’ or a guilty ‘we’d better give her something to do’ than organic character reveals. McKinnon is easily best in show and I wish she’d been put front and centre.

Leslie Jones is subway worker Patty who sees a ghost and inexplicably joins up. She shouts most of her lines, probably in order to get noticed. Enough has been said about the fact there are three white scientists and one black transport worker. This isn’t a result of malicious intent but a foolish and avoidable lack of script oversight.

The dull villain played by Neil Casey is a self proclaimed genius called Rowan. He’s a janitor who wants to bring forth the apocalypse as revenge on an uncaring world.

Despite some familiar locations, New York is curiously underpopulated and never seems like a living metropolis. This neuters a threat which is never set higher than Def Con Scooby Doo.

Given far more to do than his equivalent in the first film, Chris Hemsworth has a great time at our expense as a dimwitted secretary called Kevin. He’s employed on the basis he looks like Chris Hemsworth. This is fine but is one of many underdeveloped ideas.

Other wasted opportunities include the new Ghostmobile being a hearse and having a ghost chasing scene in a death metal concert. These are starting points not jokes in themselves and are left hanging, waiting for a punchline that never arrives.

Andy Garcia’s city mayor is a character in search of a purpose. He’s picked off the nostalgia shelf  in a tick box exercise to keep the fans happy.

This is an origin story of how the gang get together. In order to eke out some sentiment it fleshes out character backstory the first didn’t feel the need to possess.

One character muses why she joined the team. Never mind the supernatural stuff, this is the real mystery that is never explained.

There’s an unfunny running gag about Chinese food which has no purpose except to indulge McCarthy’s showboating and prolong her screen time.

If because of your attachment to the original film you’re pleased this isn’t a glowing review, then you’re an idiot. No material is safe from being resurrected, rebooted or recycled, no matter how precious it is to you personally.

Plus the deficit of female led high profile films in Hollywood needs to be addressed and I would have loved the opportunity to sing the praises of a great piece of work. My fear is this weak effort may stifle the production of other potential projects.

I enjoyed McCarthy and Feig’s Spy (2015) though Bridesmaids (2011) was over praised. If you thought those were hilarious you may enjoy Ghostbusters (2016) more than I did.

Lacking the sly wit of the original but borrowing the familiar logo, costumes, equipment, theme song, dialogue and story, this adds slapstick and feels like a collection of undercooked tribute sketches happy to coast on the personality of the performers.

Original cast members Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson and Annie Potts are among the cameos. But by the time Sigourney Weaver turns up, my interest had long since given up the ghost.




In The Heart Of The Sea

Director: Ron Howard (2015)

It’s all hands on deck for an epic old fashioned adventure on the high seas.

Based on the events which inspired Herman Melville‘s classic novel Moby Dick, it’s a shipshape and manly yarn full of arrogance, greed and danger.

The story is anchored by the reliable talents of Ben Whishaw and Brendan Gleeson as novelist Melville and drunken old sea-dog Thomas Nickerson.

One dark night in 1850, Melville pays Nickerson to tell the truth behind the voyage of the whaling ship The Essex, on which he served on as a cabin boy thirty years earlier.

Whaling is a dangerous and potentially lucrative industry, harvesting the seas for oil to serve America’s fast growing population.

Back then Nickerson was in the charge of Owen Chase, an experienced first mate, played with manly gusto by Chris Hemsworth.

The star of Marvel’s Thor always gives good smoulder and here he glowers with resentment.

Impoverished and eager to provide for his pregnant wife, Chase’s ambitions to captain his own ship are thwarted by the shipping company directors.

They make him serve under Benjamin Walker’s novice Captain Pollard, the privileged son of an important investor.

Lashed together in mutual antipathy and greed, they sail from Nantucket round Cape Horn to the Pacific ocean.

The scenes where the crew row out in tiny boats to manually harpoon their enormous prey are terrific.

But the increasingly desperate hunt for whales goes awry with the crew facing fires, storms, mutiny and of course a very angry white whale.

The heart of the sea becomes a very dark place indeed as despair and madness grip the sailors.

Following Rush (2013) the biopic of motor racing star James Hunt, this is the second film Ron Howard has made with Hemsworth.

Exciting, intelligent and respectful to it’s source In The Heart Of The Sea is the sort of film Hollywood is now accused of not making any more.

Well now they have so you really should go and see it.





Director: Jonathan Goldstein & John Francis Daley (2015)

This flat retread of Chevy Chase’s 1983 road trip comedy trundles from coast to coast in desperate search of of a decent joke.

Stupid and cheap, Vacation lifts characters, plot, jokes and theme song from the original and does nothing interesting with them.

At the height of his mystifying ’80’s popularity, National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983) starred Chase as Clark, the well-intentioned patriarch of the Griswold family.

A cameo here proves his laboured comic touch hasn’t deserted him. Beverly D’Angelo reprises her role as his wife Ellen.

This time out their grown up son Rusty takes centre stage and is played by Ed Helms, formerly of The Hangover franchise.

Rusty is following in his father’s footsteps and dragging his own squabbling family on a bonding trip across the US, heading once again for the Walley World amusement park.

En route the Griswold’s suffer white water rafting troubles, quad bikes accidents, quarrelling cops and dogging experiences.

Helms does an uncannily accurate impression of the young Chase, regardless of whether the world needs or asked for one.

Christina Applegate gives her all as his wife Debbie. Her talent was honed as the teenage daughter on TV’s Married With Children and she deserves far sharper material. As do we.

As an accomplished comic actress Applegate gives Jennifer Aniston a run for her money. They went head to head as screen sisters in Friends and it would be great to see them paired up in some future project.

Skyler Gisondo is their sensitive, singing teenage son James. He is bullied by his younger brother Kevin, a gleefully foul-mouthed Steele Stebbins.

Thor star Chris Hemsworth flexes his pecs as cow-wrangling brother-in-law with a suspiciously large gun in his pocket.

With craft in the writing all four family members have an identifiable arc which dovetails into the overall dynamic. Situations are set up and have a pay off.

But there’s a distinct lack of ambition as the script sets the comedy bar dispiritingly low and persistently fails to clear it. But at no point do any of the jokes raise a smile, just a rictus of disbelief.

The tone is set at the very beginning with a series of supposedly real holiday snaps which find hilarity in snot, urine, vomit, violence and inappropriate erections.

Vacation also riffs on Duel (1971), National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978) and Airplane! (1980) to barely discernible comic effect.

There is a meta moment where Rusty addresses the film’s nature as a sequel but it’s executed without the wit of Phil Lord and Chris Miller‘s Jump Street 22.

And of course there’s a special circle of hell reserved for films which features TV cook Gordon Ramsey in any capacity.

Technically it’s a fifth sequel to National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983). That was penned by John Hughes, directed by Harold Ramis.

Hughes was responsible for writing and directing the great teen movies of the period including Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) The Breakfast Club (1985). Ramis went on to co-write Ghostbusters (1984) and Groundhog Day (1993) as well as directing the latter.

Despite this talent on board, it wasn’t very good.

Vacation 2015 was scripted by the directors Goldstein and Daley who were responsible for writing Horrible Bosses (2011) and The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (2013). It’s an altogether lesser pedigree, and it shows.

At one point a tour guide gives a primal scream of anguished rage, exactly mirroring my own feelings.

You’re better off at work than experiencing this vacation from hell.

Post script.

Chase and D’Angelo starred in National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983), National Lampoon’s European Vacation (1985), National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989) and Vegas Vacation (1997) plus the short Hotel Hell Vacation (2010) released online.

There was also National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation 2 (2003) focused on the recurring character of cousin Eddie played by Randy Quaid.

Avengers: Age of Ultron

Director: Joss Whedon (2015)

Bigger, darker, funnier and more explosive than ever; the world’s greatest superhero team return in the most spectacular action movie of the summer.

The Avengers take off on a do or die mission to save the world – but before confronting an army of killer robots, they must put aside their differences and overcome their crippling worst fears.

With ferocious fight scenes, dynamic design and sleekly organic CGI, it’s all underpinned by a busy, witty and coherent script.

The wise-cracking, squabbling team of Captain AmericaIron ManThorThe Hulk, Hawkeye and Black Widow are played with enormously energetic enthusiasm by regulars Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Chris HemsworthMark RuffaloJeremy Renner and Scarlett Johansson.

Following on from Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the Avengers are hunting down Hydra, the terrorist organisation responsible the destruction of law-enforcement spy agency SHIELD.

Meanwhile in his civilian identity as billionaire inventor Tony Stark, Iron Man activates a dormant peace-keeping programme designed to keep the Earth safe form alien invaders.

However the villainous giant robot Ultron (James Spader) takes control and uses it to threaten the extinction of mankind. He is hugely powerful, beautiful, shiny, intelligent and funny – in all ways a threat to Iron Man and his monstrous ego.

Ultron is aided by super-powered twins who want Iron Man dead; Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch. He can move lightning-fast while she uses mystical powers to produce visions of fear to paralyse her enemies.

They’re played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen, showcasing their talents on a far better forum than in last year’s terrible Godzilla.

Meanwhile as well as voicing Iron Man’s computer butler JARVIS, Paul Bettany plays a mysterious newcomer called The Vision.

As if this weren’t a surfeit of super-powers, screen-time is also found for a host of supporting characters including SHIELD agents Nick Fury, Maria Hill and Peggy Carter (Samuel L. JacksonCobie Smulders, Hayley Atwell) superheroes War Machine and Falcon (Don Cheadle and Anthony Mackie) and Asgardian warrior Heimdall (Idris Elba).

There’s no appearance by fan’s favourite Tom Hiddlestone as Loki and the absence of Pepper Potts and Jane Foster (Gwyneth Paltrow and Natalie Portman) is mentioned in passing.

Breathless and brilliantly executed action sequences move through Europe, America, Africa and Asia. Though it’s more fierce than Avengers Assemble, the steel-bodied violence is always laced with a tough coating of humour.

The final battle includes an extended composition of astonishing choreography, bearing all the grace and technical excellence we’re used to seeing from British effects house Framestore. They also provide the FX for an amazing freeway chase scene in downtown Seoul.

Visually and thematically Ultron references Moloch, the internet demon from Whedon’s TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The writer also recycles an old Buffy line and puts it in the mouth of Nick Fury.

In his typically intelligent script, Whedon accomplishes the astounding juggling act of tying the large roster of characters to their various plot points, develop them emotionally and maintain their relative positions within the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).

He’s also at impressively at ease including a joke about playwright Eugene O’Neill while bouncing around ideas of sacrifice and duty.

There are also ongoing discussions of evolution, the ethics of eugenics, the accountability of the military and the importance of defending freedoms without sacrificing them.

These are underpinned by visual allusions to the Second World War and references to two British Prime Minsters.

Meanwhile US President’s Teddy Roosevelt‘s maxim about a big stick is invoked and is neatly reflected in some merry horseplay involving Thor’s hammer Molinjor.

More great nuggets of humour are mined from Thor’s mythical self-regard but the focus is moved sideways away from the trio of heroes (Iron Man, Captain America and Thor) who all have their own individual franchise outside of the Avengers.

This allows for the development of the lesser characters of Hulk, Black Widow and Hawkeye.

Despite having starred in two poor films of his own in 2003 and 2008, it was in the Avengers Assemble (2012) where The Hulk became the breakout star, rampaging through the last half hour like, well, an enormous green rage monster.

This time Whedon puts him at the centre of the action from the beginning, squaring off against soldiers, robots and even Iron Man.

More importantly, alter ego scientist Bruce Banner is afforded a full character arc, one influenced by the fairytale of the beauty and the beast.

With his sharp intelligence wrapped up in magnificent brawn and powered by passion, the Hulk is very much the symbol of the Avengers – a super-powered combination offering the best hope Age Of Ultron will be the smash it deserves to be.


Director: Michael Mann (2015)

Twenty years after Angelina Jolie starred in Hackers, Michael Mann discovers the interweb in this dull, dated and disappointing cyber-terrorist thriller.

With its nineties action licks, wide-eyed wonder at the web, redundant explanatory visuals, evocation of 911 and stockmarket manipulation plot, it misses the zeitgeist by at least a dozen years.

When a computer virus causes a malfunction at a Chinese nuclear power plant, it results in eight fatalities and threatens a reactor meltdown.

Military computer expert Captain Chen (Leehom Wang) is ordered to find the ‘blackhat’ cyber-terrorist responsible. With the US also at risk of attack he travels to the US to link up with the FBI Agent Carol Barrett (Viola Davis).

Despite not trusting each other, they start putting a team together with Chen persuading his sister, network expert Lien (Tang Wei) to help.

Chen recognises the code virus as one he co-wrote at university with Nick Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth) – but he’s currently in jail for assault.

Hemsworth has an impressive physique, leading man looks, charm and talent – but it’s a stretch for him to convince as a mega-intelligent programmer.

The FBI agree to commute his sentence if he can solve the case and Hathaway is released in golden sunlight to the sound of soaring strings. Hallelujah.

But until the terrorist is caught he has to wear an electronic ankle tag and be accompanied everywhere by Jessup, a US Marshall  (Holt McCallany).

It’s an unusual investigation with glamorous nerds confronting suspects while FBI agents blackmail banker’s into giving up private information.

With the nuclear incident is contained and the hacker not making demands, there’s a tremendous lack of tension. This downtime allows time for Lien and Hathaway to become intimately acquainted.

There’s an awful lot of tapping at keyboards and staring at screens. Failing to illustrate the web in any inventive way the camera whizzes into computer hardware to follow miles of wires and acres of microchips before popping up on the other side of the world. Ho hum.

Anyway the script wanders off to China to retrieve some data from inside the highly radioactive but now stable nuclear facility. It’s a sequence devoid of drama but does give the team a chance to mess about in yellow radiation suits.

There’s helicopters, speedboats, private jets and shootouts in the street with automatic weapons. When the team takes casualties the mission turns personal.

The bizarre finale takes place in a huge open air parade in Jakarta. White guys wave guns about and happy-slap random members of the local populace – but not one person reacts in anger until shots are fired.

Ultimately the blackhat terrorist is revealed as a shabby bearded bloke called ‘The Boss’ (Yorick van Wageningen). His life would have been a lot simpler if he’d just joined Lloyd’s or gone to work with George Soros.



Director: Ron Howard (2013)

Roaring into the cinema is this amazing racing tale fuelled by testosterone, booze and occasionally petrol.

It charts James Hunt and Nikki Lauda’s rivalry as they race from Formula 3 to challenging for the F1 world title in 1976.

Both men have similar backgrounds of wealth and privilege – Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) is a champagne-quaffing show-off who sees racing as an extension of his social life. While Lauda (Daniel Brühl) is a yoghurt-eating Austrian who is arrogant, risk-averse and highly focused. He races because it offers huge financial rewards.

Each describes the other as assholes but only Lauda seems sufficiently self-aware to realise the term applies to both men equally.

The film creates great tension by focusing on the friction between the two men which is then released by the starter’s flag. The thrilling races are expertly staged, especially as they show how close stewards and spectators were to these ‘bombs on wheels’.

Among the parties, insults and weddings, Lauda suffers a near fatal crash that leaves him scarred yet defiantly he continues to race to the film’s gripping climax.

In this macho mechanical world the ladies fare badly; being married is seen as being incompatible with success and single women are disposable sex toys.

Sadly Hemsworth’s acting is hamstrung by the demands of maintaining an English accent and is at his best behind the wheel. Brühl is more convincing and the supporting cast are all excellent.

The film offers an great insight into the world of 1970s Formula 1. Smoking is allowed in the pit-lanes, rain is a common enemy and the drivers have to battle mechanical failure, financial disaster, personal demons, media interference and the politics of the racing authorities.

It’s a well-crafted story of competitive courage that’s told with humour and energy.