Thursday, February 16, 2017

(Wo[e])Man vs. Supernature: The Road to Victory

End of Days (1999): written by Andrew W. Marlowe; directed by Peter Hyams; starring Arnold Schwarzenegger (Jericho), Gabriel Byrne (Lucifer), Robin Tunney (Bride of Satan), Kevin Pollak (Comic-relief Sidekick), CCH Pounder (Bad Detective), and Rod Steiger (Father Rod Steiger): 

Dumb, often inept apocalyptic action movie that basically recasts the plot of The Terminator in Judeo-Christian terms (well, that plot borrowed from the Annunciation, so sauce for the goose...) and makes the Terminator the hero. Well, Arnold Schwarzenegger isn't a robot. He's woefully miscast as a burned-out, alcoholic ex-cop-turned-security-grunt  mourning the murder of his wife and daughter at the hands of a criminal syndicate he testified against.

I mean, woefully miscast. Arnold may look like a lot of things, but despairing dissipation is not in his acting toolbox. This movie might have been marginally better with someone like Mickey Rourke in Arnold's role. However, I'm not asking for a remake.

The action sequences range from inept to competent. Kevin Pollak, as Arnold's comic-relief sidekick, has nothing to do and possesses absolutely no charisma or comic talent anyway. So we'll recast him with... oh, who cares?

The mystical Christian stuff gets dumber the more it's explained. You know you're in good hands when you note that they've got a Hebrew document upside-down in the opening credits. The screenwriter (who would go on to create the TV show Castle, so good for him) also invents an order of Catholic Monks (the Gregorians, a mistake caused by all those monks selling albums of Gregorian Chants, I'd wager). And a complete inversion of the meaning of End of the World in the Book of Revelation. And a priest named Thomas Aquinas, a name no one comments on. And so on, and so forth. Tuco's Dad (or was he Tuco's grandfather?) in Breaking Bad plays the Pope. Yay!

Arnold Schwarzenegger really works hard here, but he was getting old and the character was way, way out of his range. Rod Steiger shows up in his last studio film to chew the scenery and keep people interested for as long as he's on-screen. Arnold survives a crucifixion, harking back to Conan the Barbarian. Satan just wants to get a girl pregnant between 11 p.m. and midnight, New York Time, on December 31, 1999. Yes, it's very similar to Vigo the Carpathian's plan in Ghostbusters 2, where he has to possess Sigourney Weaver's baby by midnight on New Year's Eve. Ho hum.

The Satan Creature does look pretty good, so kudos to the Stan Winston Creature Shop. Too bad we only see it clearly for about 10 seconds. Gabriel Byrne does what he can with Satan the Man, but the script is terrible and Gabriel Byrne is not a threatening presence. Oh, well. Not recommended

Ghostbusters (2016): adapted by Katie Dippold and Paul Feig from the 1984 film written by Harold Ramis and Dan Aykroyd; directed by Paul Feig; starring Kristen Wiig (Erin), Melissa McCarthy (Abby), Kate McKinnon (Holtzmann), and Leslie Jones (Patty): Part valiant try, part corporate disaster. Paul Feig really wouldn't have been any of my choices to co-write or direct a Ghostbusters reboot. Edgar Wright would have been perfect, given his comfort level with visual effects and the effective integration of those effects into a comedy. 

Feig and co-screenwriter Katie Dippold don't have a clue when it comes to the fantastic elements of Ghostbusters. One of the charms of the original movie was that Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis wrote a screenplay that could have been played completely straight as a supernatural action movie pitting the forces of science against Lovecraftian horrors. In its comedic way, Ghostbusters (1984) is the greatest Humanity vs. The Supernatural movie ever made: it certainly presents a more believable battle with higher stakes than any Exorcist or Omen movie, and all without the creaky apparatus of Judeo-Christian apocalypticism. 

And that movie knew how to deploy its visual effects in service to its story and its comedy. This Ghostbusters just keeps throwing an escalating series of expensive visual effects at the screen in what looks by the end of the film like total panic by Feig and the studio. 

There's nothing wrong with the casting of the distaff new Ghostbusters. I particularly liked Leslie Jones as a subway guard with an encyclopedic knowledge of New York's history. But McCarthy, Wiig, McKinnon, and Jones would have benefited from better writing and a plot that actually builds: the movie goes from set-up to climax without any of the original film's middle complement of successful Ghostbuster operations. 

Chris Hemsworth's idiot receptionist is a clunky puzzle -- he may work as a very broad parody of genre portrayals of women, but he certainly doesn't work as a gender-flipped equivalent to Annie Potts' brassy receptionist from the original.

Beyond that, the villain is terribly uncompelling -- and the movie spends a lot of time trying to flesh out his character. The original wasn't saddled with this problem: Zuul was an approaching force, and William Atherton handled the role of secondary bureaucratic villain without any worries about his backstory. 

If there's any emblem of this movie's misguided nature, it's this: ghosts et al. now throw slime everywhere pretty much all the time, but especially when passing through solid objects. Some slime good, more slime am better, say Hollywood! And let's give Slimer a girlfriend and a car! Yeah. That's super. Not recommended.

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