Despite being loosely based on a tale told better more than three decades ago, Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters: Answer the Call (B-) doesn’t necessarily lack for ideas. In fact, this all-female makeover of the let’s-capture-ghosts-run-amok-in-Manhattan story is a whirling dervish of special effects and fun gadgetry evoking a mash-up of a haunted Disney dark ride, Q’s invention laboratory and a whack-a-mole carnival gone mad with technicolor Pokemon-style gymnastics. As summer escapist fare, it’s a loud and overstuffed adventure with primary charms provided by Kate McKinnon who, armed with an occasional quip or queef for comic relief, is a welcome Willy Wonka type character entry into the franchise’s pantheon. It’s a bit like she’s working in another dimension from the other collaborators. The film’s biggest disappointments include squandering the talents of Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy with rather bland roles, relying too heavily on throwback cameos that distract from forward momentum and unspooling lame and labored origin story elements. Once the action gets underway, however, the frantic pace glosses over many of the sins of the so-so screenplay. Leslie Jones and Chris Hemsworth are solid in supporting roles, and New York itself – in both a modern and retro dual universe – provides a pleasurable playground of practical effects for spectral warfare. The film rarely crosses the expected streams into the suck, and it’s still a rush to watch a ghost get boxed. This movie is strictly for your inner 13 year old, and the mostly fulfilled “girl power” promised by this reimagining gives enough reason to not give up the ghost.
When film industry legend John Huston made the durable 1982 adaptation of the Broadway musical Annie, he was accused of making a bit too literal and lumbering an entertainment, but fans should likely accept Huston’s creation or Rob Marshall’s 1999 TV re-do as an authoritative version. Will Gluck’s 2014 remake of Annie (C-) starring Quvenzhané Wallis is a beast of a wild card, a modern-day remix of the former Depression-era tale told to an auto-tuned pop beat with basically the same structure as past incarnations but very little of the faithfulness to legitimate song and dance craft. The model here is strictly in the High School Musical quality zone; and only because of the paucity of films in the musical genre is it worth an analysis. Writer/director Gluck, who made the amusing Easy A, isn’t without talent in terms of comedy and sentimentality, but he throws in too many zany elements from smart-home technology to convoluted subplots and too much flash and half-baked jokes when he should really be tightening a bloated story and giving some of those musical numbers a bit more buoyancy. A few mild gross-out gags and inconsistent characters distract from the moments that do actually spark. As the millionaire who takes in the plucky foster child, Jamie Foxx improves in his performance as the film rolls on, ultimately finding some soul in the role. Ditto for Cameron Diaz, whose acting at first seems from another planet: she too gets better as her boozy Miss Hannigan finds her way through the uneven film’s labyrinth. Wallis is largely charming and even gets her own new song, “Opportunity” by pop writer Sia, that adds to chestnuts such as “Tomorrow” and “Hard Knock Life.” The lip-synching and dancing are sloppy and the pace sometimes lugubrious, but overall the positive family vibe eclipses the misfire moments. For every dreadful performance (Bobby Cannavale), there’s a good one (Rose Byrne). For every montage miss, there’s a stirring song. It’s equal parts ashtrays and art, but in a world with few joyful enterprises, perhaps this new deal for Christmas that marches to its own drummer can also pass for an adaptation of this family favorite.
Gareth Edwards’ vision for a new Godzilla (B+) is a you-are-there disaster epic with undertones of family drama and a down-to-earth reality undergirding its myth and mayhem. There’s no camp or comedy in this mighty, muscular take on the classic monster legend. Gorgeous retro news reels and a globetrotting travelogue of sequences help plot out the possibilities early, even as surprises lurk behind every corner and cavern. Grounding the proceedings in its serious sphere is Aaron Taylor-Johnson as an extremely likable protagonist, balancing duties as father, husband, son and military operative against the backdrop of worldwide catastrophe. Bryan Cranston and Ken Watanabe provide additional heft to the proceedings in supporting roles as men who have studied conspiracies that are finally resurfacing. The monsters and their powers are wisely revealed over time during the film’s somewhat long duration, and the slow burn glimpses help build realism and suspense. The stunt work, art direction and effects are quite remarkable, presenting a modern look and feel while hearkening back to some of the iconography purists will crave. Although Edwards can’t sustain his taut atmosphere through every beat of the obligatory final showdowns in San Francisco, he certainly gives a summer movie audience its packed punch of epic thrills. There’s not gonna be a 13-year-old boy on earth who will be able to resist this action flick; and luckily for folks of all ages, it’s a pretty spectacularly well-made film for this genre if you’re going to venture to the cinema for a big screen blockbuster.
Robin Williams and Nathan Lane are birds of a feather in Mike Nichols’ lightweight comedy The Birdcage (B), based on the French classic La Cage Aux Folles. Their tale of an alternative American family is filled with larger-than-life gags. But for all the preening queens run amuck, there are actually some nice domestic moments between the central couple and the son they reared together that blaze some trails on acceptance. It’s super-funny and proof that it takes all types to make a family.
Visionary director Terry Gilliam comes back from the future in Twelve Monkeys (B+), an imaginative time travel fantasy with Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt. Inventive and moody, the film tames the eccentric filmmaker’s most savage instincts and sustains a very suspenseful and engaging thriller throughout.