Monday, July 25, 2016

Movies - Ghostbusters

So a friend wanted to see the Ghostbusters remake and I took one for the team. Yes, it’s as bad as everyone says. I didn’t care that it was a remake, I didn’t care that the Ghostbusters were women. All I wanted was to laugh and be entertained. I did laugh out loud a few times, but overall the experience was not entertaining.

The new Ghostbusters - it worked on paper ... 
The plot was wafer-thin and a retread from the first GB. Ghosts invade New York and the Ghostbusters come out to capture and stop them. The problems start with the script—it’s slow and lifeless—but really fails at the character stage. None of the actresses cast help this movie. Melissa McCarthy has burned up all of her emotional goodwill from Gilmore Girls, and is now just a shrill, unfunny actress. At least she wasn’t screaming the F-word six times every sentence. Kate McKinnon (who is a comedy genius on Saturday Night Live), mumbles through endless technobabble and adds nothing to the proceedings. Leslie Jones (again, hilarious on SNL) plays a stereotypical obnoxious state worker, with a “Who dat?” level of conversation. Picture the worst DMV antagonist you ever had, times a million. But the main problem is Kristen Wiig, who anchors the movie. She’s okay on SNL, or if she is fifth or sixth down the line in a supporting cast somewhere. But whatever a performer has to have to be a movie star, she doesn’t have it. She’s just not that interesting on screen, ever. Think of the way Bill Murry stole every scene he was in for the original Ghostbusters. Wiig can’t even shine in a scene by herself.

The one highlight is Chris Hemsworth, playing the himbo secretary. He’s clueless, funny, and steals the movie entirely in a dance scene near the end.

Could better actors and a better script have improved Ghostbusters? Probably, but we’ll never know. This GB remake was dull as dishwater and offered little entertainment value, even with cameos from all the still-living original Ghostbusters. I’d avoid this one, even on DVD. A stinker.

Rating: ** out of 5 stars

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Television: Banshee

Every now and then I discover some media I missed—a TV show, musical artist, recent (or classic) movie, etc. that slipped under my radar. Something I overlooked for some reason, but can now take the pleasure of finding and enjoying. Case in point: Banshee. I had heard this show was fun and a bit naughty, but never paid it much attention. This is the Golden Age of TV, so another action show on a minor pay movie channel just got lost in the cacophony. I am now having an absolute blast making up for lost time.

Banshee just finished its run this year after four roller coaster seasons. Seasons one and two are free on Amazon Prime, so I tried the first episode a few weeks back. It was like crack. I slammed through those two seasons, then went into withdrawal when, like any good dealer, Amazon wanted money for the last two. Now I had to turn back to Netflix for the physical discs. The gratification isn’t as instantaneous, but sometimes waiting makes things better.

Banshee features a simple, high-concept plot. A convict (Antony Starr) is released from prison after a 15-year sentence. He returns to his old haunts in New York to track down a woman. He finds her in Banshee, PA. Stopping at a local bar for a drink, he steps into the middle of a shakedown from two toughs working for the local crime lord. Just getting into town, brand new sheriff Lucas Hood also happens to be at the bar having lunch and is killed by the two toughs. The convict, with the help of the friendly ex-con bartender, assumes the identity of the sheriff no one has met and becomes head law enforcement officer of Banshee. Of course it helps that he is a smart, tough martial arts expert who can bluff his way through almost any situation.

The show is incredibly well cast. Ivana Milicevic plays Anastasia, the Russian mobster’s daughter he has come to Banshee to find. She has built a new life under an alias and has a husband and kids now. The nature of their connection is fascinating and is the crux of the show. Familiar character actor Matt Servitto is Deputy Brock Lotus, the long-serving officer who should have gotten the Sheriff’s job. He doesn’t care for the new guy’s attitude or his penchant for cutting corners. Trieste Kelly Dunn is Siobahn (pronounced Sha-vawn) Kelly, a hot deputy who has an instant crush on faux-Lucas. Ulrich Thomsen is brilliant as former Amish man Kai Procter, now a powerful crime lord who rules the Banshee underworld with an iron fist. Lili Simmons is Rebecca, his drop-dead gorgeous, promiscuous niece who is torn between Amish society and the world. If she’s not careful the choice will be made for her by the Amish elders.

The town of Banshee has three groups rubbing up against each other; the townspeople, the Amish and the local American Indian tribe. Faux-Lucas (his real name has not been revealed as far as I have watched) has his hands full protecting the Amish, dealing with Procter and keeping out of Indian affairs; mostly regarding the new casino the tribe wants to build (and Procter wants a piece of). On the side he continues his thieving ways by still carrying out grand thefts with Anastasia and their pal Job; mostly from large illegal organizations who won’t report the money missing. Yes, fake sheriff is a thief, but has a sense of fairness and decency that makes him a likable, sympathetic character. In my favorite episode so far, an MMA champion comes to down and beats his one-night stand to a pulp. Sheriff Hood has to deal with his violent resistance to arrest. The subsequent fight is epic and definitive. I love the action choreography of this show. Season 3 contains one of the most epic hand-to-hand martial arts fights I’ve ever seen, and I’m a martial arts connoisseur. And Hood isn’t even involved!

The plots on Banshee are fast moving and thrilling. Someone is always poking a rattlesnake, and that rattlesnake always strikes back. Faux-Lucas is trying to steal, resuscitate his relationship with Anastasia and run the sheriff’s department. Oh, and fight crime and make an occasional arrest. The character takes more physical punishment during a typical episode than Mike Tyson took in his entire career.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t warn potential viewers about the astronomical levels of sex and violence in Banshee. It has the most per-minute explicit sex scenes and over the top violence of any TV show of its type. A level comparable to Game of Thrones. But actually it’s all in good fun. Banshee is a thrill-a-minute romp that never takes itself too seriously. Yes, faux-Lucas is sort of a bad guy. But he regularly beats the living @#$% out of worse bad guys. That at least makes him an anti-hero, right? Either way, the writing and performances in the show are an absolute blast.
Rating: ***** out of 5 stars