Ghostbusters (2016) (PG-13)

Okay so I should start this with a heretical statement: I'm not a fan of the original. I know that's blasphemy for anyone who's actually seen the 1980s sci-fi comedy classic; but I must confess, I didn't care for it. There's a haphazard review floating somewhere around the ether that I did a few years ago attempting to be pretentious and amazing; but it's really crap so I won't be linking to it here. The sad fact remains: I didn't find it all that and a bag of chips. Maybe it's because I didn't witness it in the 80s and I didn't grow up with it, nor was it one of the heralded classics of my childhood. Whatever reason I can give, the movie is kind of goofy and forced to me and all the hype surrounding it only made me super critical.
So take this lauded sausage-fest of a movie and remake it and tell me that you aren't going to have controversy when all the leading stars are displaced by women. Now, before I really get into it, the "Ghostbusters" remake works logically for two reasons: 1) it is a movie that deserves a remake and 2) it's not a remake! This just rebooting the series using the same name; and the fact that women occupy the leading roles should be the least of anyone's concern.
Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) is a renowned physicist on the cusp of receiving tenure at Colombia when a ghost from her past resurfaces: a book she wrote a long time ago. The book concerns the paranormal and would ruin her reputation as a scientist because "real scientists don't believe in the paranormal". The book's co-author Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) has put the book on Amazon to provide herself with some extra cash, not realizing that this will jeopardize Erin's career. So they meet again, after a long, long time separated.
Their meeting is forced by the supernatural coming out of the basements in New York City. A sudden huge wave of activity is causing these ghosts to emerge and Erin and Abby find themselves trying to track down the poltergeists with some help from Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon). The wise-cracking awkward team find themselves joined by Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) and the rest, they say, is history.
The gender issue is enormous surrounding the movie and incidental within the film. Yes, the women are treated remarkably different than the original cast; but that's the whole point of the movie. Some of the funnier tongue-in-cheek moments references how women are treated online, how women are treated in academia, and how women are treated by the popular media. But don't worry, the film isn't here to preach to you, because that wouldn't be fun.
The movie captures the original zaniness of the first "Ghostbusters" and supersizes it with flashy effects, funny one-liners, and blatant sexism towards Chris Hemsworth's idiot secretary Kevin. It feels like the joke is being beaten into the ground, until you realize that this is one of the first times we've really seen this flipped on its end. The jokes might be easy, but they all land.
The plot of the movie is ridiculously fun and entertaining, though sometimes "Bridesmaids"director Paul Feig feels lost in genre. Thankfully, the movie's script keeps the film rolling quickly so that it feels like a short rollercoaster of thrills.
This is not to say that it's a perfect movie, because it's far from it and "Ghostbusters" purists will probably not appreciate the Wiig/McCarthy banter that does not resemble Murray/Ackroyd at all; but for the premise, for the nonsensical fun that the movie brings, I can't think of it as anything but a success.
Then again, I didn't like the original, so what do I know?

Score: ★★★

Diner (1982) (R)

"Diner" attempts to provide of snapshot of the last moments of the 1950s within a certain circle of male friends. These guys were presumably close in highschool and now that they've move on to bigger things they find themselves unsure of the future, whether that's marriage, college, or traveling. Although not put together they always manage to have the resources to go to the local diner and have conversations about music, lovers, and sex.
Barry Levinson's directorial debut is the kind of movie that some might deem 'honest'. It presents several situations that many would find reflective of ordinary life. This is probably accurate, but the movie hasn't aged well and so as minor conversations and small wagers turn into larger narrative arcs, the "honesty" of the picture just consists of people being assholes and a timely soundtrack.
"Diner" owes a lot to Scorsese, particularly in how the movie sounds. The actors all speak in a very laid-back, important fashion about presumably nothing. And in "Seinfeld" fashion, this may be a movie about nothing...which is the point.
"Diner" thrives in the moments thought to be unworthy of film. This is a participation in what indie movies are doing. The more common narrative, by default, assumes that the movie will be exciting and noteworthy simply because of the nature of escapism. No one wants to watch a real time movie of a man filing taxes for three hours, drinking a cup of coffee, and taking a nap. In my mind, "Diner" tries for the moments that are between car chases and robberies, focusing on a group of pre-millennial millennials who are anxious about life, love, sex, women, and money...but most of all being men.
It's the holiday season in the twilight hours of the 1950s and five guy friends like to eat at a diner. If I was being cynical, that's the end of the movie. But we're supposed to push through and press on into the characters, finding them oddly charming and lovably ignorant. Which, for the first half of the movie, they are.
We see them roughhouse and argue about singers and drive around and eat and talk about girls and through their conversation the larger narrative arises: one of the guys is getting married soon and his betrothed has to answer a football quiz in order for them to get married.
Hilarious, right? Well, not exactly in a physical comedy sort of way and as the domestic abuse starts to emerge it becomes less pleasant and maybe more an attempt to mirror everyday life.
Money issues, the mob, women (who are so complicated, right?), music, etc—the movie juggles a lot of issues and a lot of minor arcs as friends come back into town, pregnancies happen, and the wedding gets even closer.
To me, "Diner" is a good movie and something I never want to touch again. Not because it's bad or harmful, I think it accurately represents an 80s mindset concerning the 60s. The reason I never want to see it again is twofold: 1.) it's really not that exciting and 2.) these characters aren't redeemable to me. Sure, it's the 80s so a little misogyny is expected; but "Diner's" treatment of female characters, particularly the Ellen Barkin figure, doesn't inspire warm fuzzy feelings inside me. The chivalry present is supposed to be when, upon manipulating a girl on the brink of a nervous breakdown, the truth emerges that this was all for a bet and everyone gets forgiven.
Maybe I'm too altruistic, or maybe I'm too critical—both are possible.
"Diner" is a good in the way "The Ice Storm" is a good movie. Both fantasize about the everyday life of suburbia, but "Diner" fails to make it compelling.

Score: ★★½

A Very Natural Thing (1974)

To my eyes it seems that there are two ways when confronting non-normative behavior in the mainstream. The first way is to present that who do not cater to the hegemony's expectations of sexuality (read: non-heterosexual) or, the more queer approach, is to thrive in the marginalized space assigned to them and to proclaim that they do not want to be part of the majority. One assumes that underneath it all, we're all the same and the other does just the opposite.
Based off its title, I'm guessing you know which approach "A Very Natural Thing" takes. Late in the movie one character justifies infidelity in general by saying "we all have urges" or something to that extent. Though it may not feel that political by today's more extremist climate, make no mistake that this is a film that is political...but not terribly so. It's making its point, but making it to a very small audience who probably already agree with the sentiments that it sets forth.
David (Robert Joel) is recently out of the Catholic church where he was spending time as a monk. After he came out of the closet, at least to himself, the religion collapsed and he found himself not believing in a god of any kind. He goes out to a night club and runs into Mark (Curt Gareth) who is three years younger and has a much less romantic approach to sex.
David is the romantic, the one that we are supposed to identify with, which was not a problem for me. Mark is the less certain, more masculine one who has hang ups on committing himself to one man for the rest of his life because that would be...*gasp* romance.
In terms of representation, this is considering to be one of the first gay dramas made in America. Whether it's the very first or not is not really important because the nuance that we are given to these characters is surprising considering the time period it was made in.
As the movie's very slight plot continues, we are reminded of possible budget issues, studio drama, and actors risking the rest of their careers on this film. It's not surprise that you haven't heard of any of the stars of the, let alone the film itself.
Half of me wants to respect the film as a pioneer for its time, and the other half isn't compelled by the drama present. It feels forced and cliche, though at the time it was breaking new ground and maybe this is an issue of being a 21st century viewer. You cannot understand the time unless you lived through it. This is why so many films age horribly...but that's another topic.
"A Very Natural Thing", to increase it's running time, includes a mini-documentary in the middle where the filmmakers appear to have interviewed LGBTQ people during a pride parade on what it meant for them to be out of the closet. The answers vary from inspiring to simple but it's a little more interesting than David and Mark's drama central to most of the movie's plot.
The writing is sharp and not too self-indulgent like "Boys in the Band" was. It's a movie that knows it won't receive mass consumption so it plays its hand cleverly. It can be a little more forward and some of the things present are surprising.
But at the end of it all, just considering the way it wants to be viewed: just as a drama and not a "gay movie", it doesn't hold up in comparison but I'm not sure anyone is at fault for that.

Score: ★★½