Swampflix’s Top Films of 2016

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1. The Witch – A cinematic masterpiece from the first frame to the last, The Witch at once acts like a newly-discovered Nathaniel Hawthorne short story, a “Hansel & Gretel” type fairy tale about the dangers of the wild, a slice of Satanic panic folklore, and an impressively well-researched historical account of witchcraft unmatched in its eerie beauty since at least as far back as 1922’s Häxan. Despite its historical nature and Puritan setting, this film will make your skin crawl with dread. Each captured moment is elegant and haunting, transporting the audience back to the 17th Century and tempting those along for the ride to question their sanity. The Witch is a true New England American Gothic piece. It sidesteps the mushy romances and familial dramas typically set in New England, one of the most beautiful areas of the country, in favor of a spine-chilling Satanic tale that features dense layers of historical & moral subtext, an amazing soundtrack of ominous ambient sounds, and a breakout star in its scene-stealing goat, the almighty Black Phillip. It’s not the usual terror-based entertainment you’d pull from more typical horror works about haunted houses or crazed killers who can’t be stopped, but even as a beautiful, slow-building art film & a mood piece it just might be the spookiest movie of 2016.

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2. 10 Cloverfield Lane – Far better than it has any right to be, this sequel in-name-only combines elements of horror, sci-fi, and the supernatural thriller to craft an intimate, difficult-to-categorize indictment of doomsday prepper culture. In a year that saw an excess of great confined-space thrillers (Green RoomDon’t BreatheEmelie, Hush, The ShallowsThe Invitation) 10 Cloverfield Lane stands above the rest by locking its audience in the basement with a small cast of fearful apocalypse survivors and a complexly monstrous John Goodman. Relentlessly & intoxicatingly tense, this Louisiana-set woman-in-captivity horror will rattle you in a way that its 2008 found footage predecessor never even approached. It will disturb you, surprise you, and confirm your deepest fears about “survival” nuts’ ugly thirst for post-apocalyptic power grabs, largely thanks to a career-altering performance from someone we formerly knew as the cool dad from Roseanne.

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3. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping – The pop music version of This Is Spinal Tap, Andy Samberg’s greatest achievement to date thoroughly skewers the totality of hedonistic excess & outsized hubris on the modern pop music landscape. In a larger sense, it also functions as an incisive & withering dissection of the dreamy pop culture star-making machine as the industrial complex that it really is. Popstar can be easily dismissed as a profoundly stupid film. In its smaller moments, it often delivers the quintessential mindless humor we all need to endure this increasingly shitty life & its throwaway consumer culture. There’s legitimate criticism lurking under its frivolously parodic mockumentary surface, though. Popstar smartly & lovingly dismantles the entirety of pop’s current state of ridiculousness, from EDM DJ laziness to Macklemore’s no-homo “activism” to the meaninglessness of hip-hop that apotheosizes empty materialism to the industry’s creepy fetishization of military action & nationalism. Do yourself a favor and at least download the song “Finest Girl (Bin Laden Song)” to sample the film’s well-calibrated sense of pointed, yet absurd satirical humor.

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4. The Boy – There’s really no pleasure quite like a campy horror movie about a haunted evil doll. Not every scary movie is (or ought to be) the next big thing in horror, and The Boy is fairly run of the mill in its light supernatural tomfoolery. That is, until a sharp left turn in its third act completely obliterates its more generic psychological/supernatural slowburn to delve into some utterly bonkers motherfuckery that should be a crowdpleaser among all schlock junkies looking for entertainment in pure novelty. The Boy delivers both the genuinely creepy chills and the over-the-top camp that we crave in our horror flicks, ultimately feeling like two memorable genre pictures for the price of one. In its own goofy way, it completely upends what we’ve come to expect from the modern PG-13 evil doll movie as a genre in recent years, offering a surprise breath of fresh air in its last minute deviation from the norm.

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5. Pee-Wee’s Big Holiday – Our favorite Netflix Original in a year that saw many, Pee-wee’s Big Holiday is essentially Pee-wee’s Big Adventure on a Big Top Pee-wee scale & budget, which is all that Pee-Wee Herman fans could really ask for in a direct-to-streaming release after a 30 year gap. Following a giant Rube Goldberg device of a plot, with each chain reaction proving to be just as kooky (or even kookier) than the last, Pee-wee’s Big Holiday’s most immediately endearing aspect might be the love story of the year: a steamy bromance between Pee-wee Herman and Joe Manganiello (who are both billed as playing themselves). Manganiello enters the scene as a living embodiment of a Tom of Finland drawing on a motorcycle and the queer subtext certainly doesn’t end there, eventually blossoming into a really sweet, very romantic story about two souls who just can’t get enough of each other. We can’t get enough of those two either. In fact, we’re ready for a sequel!

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6. Tale of TalesIn a world full of fairy tale media (Once Upon a Time, Disney Princess movies, live action remakes of Disney Princess movies, etc), it’s a curious thing that more keeps getting made, and that so much of it is adapted from the same tales we already know. Adapted instead from the more rarely-seen source of 17th century Italian fairy tales that fell into obscurity, Tale of Tales is narratively unique, visually striking, morbidly funny, brutally cold: everything you could ask for from a not-all-fairy-tales-are-for-children corrective. The film fearlessly alternates between the grotesque & the beautiful, the darkly funny & the cruelly tragic. Its cinematography as well as its set & costume design will make you wonder how something so delicately pretty can be so willing to get so spiritually ugly at the drop of a hat (or a sea beast’s heart). There is no Disney-brand fantasy to be found here, only black magic, witches, ogres, and giant insects, each waiting to stab you in the back with a harsh life lesson about the dangers & evils of self-absorption once you let your guard down in a dreamlike stupor.

7. Kubo and the Two StringsThe latest masterful offering from the stop-motion animation marvels Laika is pure, gorgeous art. The puppetry is incredible, an overwhelming triumph in Laika’s continued attention to detail in visual & narrative craft. At heart a story about the power of storytelling & the ways memory functions like potent magic, Kubo and the Two Stings finds inspiration in Japanese folklore & the rich cinematic past of samurai epics to craft an immense visual spectacle and to explore dramatic themes of past trauma & familial loss. This allows for a darkness & a danger sometimes missing in the modern kids’ picture, but what Laika most deserves bragging rights for is the mind-boggling way they pulled off this awe-inspiringly beautiful innovation in the moving image, the most basic aspect of filmmaking.

8. Hail, Caesar! Would that it were so simple to sum up this movie’s charms. A smart, star-studded, intricately-plotted, politically & theologically thoughtful, genuinely hilarious, and strikingly gorgeous movie about The Movies, Hail, Caesar! might be one of the Coen Brothers’ strongest works to date. Much like with Barton Fink, the Coens look back to the Old Hollywood studio system in Hail, Caesar! as a gateway into discussing the nature of what they do for living as well as the nature of Nature at large. In the process, they perfectly capture Old Hollywood’s ghost. There’s the hyperbolic threat of Communism, ancient Hollywood scandals, endlessly moody directors, a musical number featuring a tap-dancing Channing Tatum and, behind it all, an unsung hero just trying to hold everything together off-camera. Hail, Caesar! is not only worthwhile for being loaded with its stunningly beautiful tributes to Old Hollywood, however; it’s also pretty damn hilarious in a subtle, quirky way that’s becoming a rare treat on the modern comedy landscape.

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9. Midnight SpecialFocused more on mood than worldbuilding, Jeff Nichols’s sci-fi chase epic mirrors the best eras of genre cinema giants Steven Spieldberg & John Carpenter. Midnight Special is surprisingly accessible for an original sci-fi property, never getting wrapped up in the complex terminologies and detached-from-reality scenarios that often alienate audiences in the genre. This may be the Nichols’s most ambitious work to date in terms of scale, but he’s smart to keep the individual parts that carry the hefty, supernatural mystery of its narrative just as small & intimate as he has in past familial dramas like Mud & Shotgun Stories. You never lose sight that these are real people struggling with an unreal situation. And, if nothing else, a world-weary Michael Shannon’s studied command of his role as the father of a child with godlike, unexplainable powers is something truly special, a grounded, believable performance that everyone should witness at least once.

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10. Hunt for the WilderpeopleThe story of a young boy going on the lam in the New Zealand bush with his reluctantly adoptive uncle after a devastating tragedy, Hunt for the Wilderpeople very nearly tops Boy for Taika Waititi’s best feature to date, mixing small, endearing character beats with the large scale spectacle of a big budget action comedy. We all need a good laugh this year; we also need a good cry. Fortunately, Wilderpeople has both! It’s funny, cute, and even twee in a way that sometimes resembles a Wes Anderson movie, but there’s also a certain darkness to the film that doesn’t shy away from real life consequences or scathing political satire. Many people have rightly latched onto this adventure epic as one of the most consistently funny comedies of recent memory (with a surprisingly gruff comedic turn from Sam Neill registering as especially cherishable), but there’s so much more going on in the film than a mere assemblage of a long string of jokes.

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Honorable Mentions – Here are a few films we loved that just missed our collective Best Of list: The HandmaidenMoonlightArrivalShin Godzilla, Ghostbusters, and Keanu. They may not have made our Top Ten, but they’re each worthy of praise & attention in their own various ways.

Read Alli’s picks here.
Read Boomer’s picks here.
Read Brandon’s picks here & here.
Read Britnee’s picks here.

-The Swampflix Crew

Brandon’s Top Campy Treasures & Trashy Comedies of 2016

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1. The Mermaid – At heart, The Mermaid is a very basic tale of “evil” humans learning that making money isn’t necessarily more worthwhile than simple universal needs like clean, unpolluted water & air. What’s fascinating is the way that director Steven Chow (of Kung Fu Hustle fame) tells this story through a kaleidoscope of different cinematic genres. Part earnest romcom, part heartbreaking drama about environmental destruction, part spoof of the 60s super-spy genre, The Mermaid is a bizarre, hilarious, wonderfully idiosyncratic live action cartoon that might stand as the director’s most satisfying work to date. Chow’s hyper-specific & increasingly focused comedic lens feels like a melting pot of aesthetics that establishes him as a sort of goofball auteur. At different times throughout The Mermaid, I felt sincere romance, I laughed until I was physically sore, and I sat in abject terror as the movie took a nastily violent turn in his portrayal of just how evil humanity can be. Like most parody artists (or at least most of the ones who are good at what they do) Chow has an innate sense of how genre tropes work & how they can be repurposed for varying effects. The film requires a leap of faith in its opening minutes, but once you get into its cartoonish, almost psychedelic groove it’s greatly rewarding as a slapstick comedic fantasy with a charming interspecies man-and-mermaid romance & a unique visual palette, one that puts its cheap CGI to profoundly effective & deeply silly use.

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2. The Greasy Strangler – As a creature feature, The Greasy Strangler undeniably delivers the goods. Although a decidedly camp-minded comedy, it boasts a truly hideous, horrifying, grease-coated monster that’s sickening to behold. What I find much more unique, however, is the way the film satirizes and sets aflame the modern indie romance genre. The color palette & social awkwardness of titles like Juno or Napoleon Dynamite (or whatever their post-aughts equivalent would be) is meticulously recreated here, but employed for a grotesque effect. This is quirk used for pure evil. Within seconds the antagonistic humor of this dirt cheap indie horror comedy establishes itself as the definition of not-for-everyone, but it shouldn’t feel too out of step for folks who’ve spent enough time following Adult Swim’s ever-evolving line-up over the years. I wouldn’t fault anyone who disliked the film for being cruel, grotesque, or aggressively stupid. Those claims would all certainly be valid. As a nasty slasher by way of Eric Warheim, however, that’s just a natural part of a very unnatural territory.

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3. The Love WitchThe Love Witch plays like a restoration of the best camp film you’ve never heard of. It’s pursues an eerily accurate dedication to recreating the half-hearted attempts at sophisticated smut of many erotic horror B-pictures of the 60s & 70s, right down to the awkward dead space that punctuates each line of dialogue & the over-use of goofy lighting tricks to evoke its love potion psychedelia. Filmmaker Anna Biller doesn’t rely solely on easy humor & cinematic nostalgia to make this schlocky throwback worthwhile, however. She instead uses her backwards gaze into the B-picture abyss to reappropriate traditionally misogynist modes of genre filmmaking for a fresh, fiercely feminist purpose. The Love Witch filters modern feminist ideology through old modes of occultist erotica & vaguely goth burlesque to craft the ultimate post-modern camp cinema experience. Biller establishes herself as not only a stylist & a makeshift schlock historian, but also a sly political thinker and a no-fucks-given badass with a bone to pick, which is more than you’d typically expect from an intentionally “bad” movie about witchcraft & strippers.

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4. The Bronze – Anyone going into The Bronze looking for Melissa Rauch to deliver the broad, calculated comedy she’s associated with on The Big Bang Theory is going to be shocked by the loose, raunchy cruelty she brings to the screen here. Rauch helms The Bronze as a writer/lead actor & the film reveals that her personal sense of humor has a wicked mean streak to it that is sure to alienate a lot of fans, but also draw in some new devoted ones, myself included. Besides the dark humor of her merciless selfishness, The Bronze‘s ex-Olympic gymnast protagonist is eternally horny in a purely animalistic, Jerri Blank sort of way. She’s constantly barraging her mild-mannered, Midwestern counterparts with phrases like “cock hole” & “clit jizz” and lights up the screen with the film’s centerpiece: an epic sexual encounter that could only be pulled off by a pair of oversexed Olympic gymnasts. Some of my favorite comedies of the past decade have been this gender-swapped version of raunch cinema (The To Do List, Appropriate Behavior, Wetlands, etc.) and The Bronze fits snugly among them. Combine that genre subversion with the film’s heartless cruelty, the novelty of its gymnastics-world setting, and expert use of my all-time favorite movie trope, the plot-summarizing rap song, and you have a strong contender for a future cult classic.

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5. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping – Andy Samberg’s greatest achievement to date lovingly skewers the totality of hedonistic excess & outsized hubris on the modern pop music landscape. Popstar smartly & lovingly dismantles the entirety of pop’s current state of ridiculousness from EDM DJ laziness to the devastation of a negative Pitchfork review to Macklemore’s no-homo “activism” to U2’s invasive album release snafu. The modern pop documentary format, the character, his world, and our own pop music terrain all back up each ridiculous gag Samberg & his fellow Lonely Island bros throw at the screen, making the film out to be an efficient little comedy machine in comparison to the sprawling, Apatow-dominated landscape comedic cinema’s been exploring to death in recent years. You’re never entirely shaken by a throwaway gag like a baby playing drums like Neil Peart or an artist responsible for the “brilliance” of catchphrases like “#doinkdedoink” having the self-confidence to declare the Mona Lisa “an overrated piece of shit” because the movie is well-calibrated enough to support those kinds of over-the-top indulgences. There’s certainly loose improv afoot in Popstar, but it’s arranged & edited into highly functioning efficiency.

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6. Ghostbusters – Easily the most over-complained about film of 2016, the Ghostbusters reboot is an all-around hilarious, well-made popcorn flick. I most appreciated the way director Paul Feig & casting director Allison Jones have delivered an undercover SNL cast ensemble. When they just comprised half of the main cast in the original property, all four of the Ghostbusters are SNL players in the 2016 version: Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones, Kate McKinnon, and honorary cast member (through regular, fully-committed hosting gigs) Melissa McCarthy. They’re also backed up by the bit role roster of Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Steve Higgins, and Cecily Strong. More convincing yet, the movie is proving to be something of a star-maker for the consistently funny McKinnon, who’s been up there with Strong, Bryant, Moynihan, and (formerly) Killiam as one of the most essential backbone pieces of the show’s current cast. If Ghostbusters did nothing more than promote & develop Kate McKinnon’s screen presence, it would already have done its job, but by lighting internet nerds’ idiotic indignation on fire in the process, a nontroversy the film addresses directly in some brilliant moments of meta-commentary, it stood out as one of the more notable dumb comedies of the year.

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7. Clown – Without any intentional maneuvers in its fashion, music, or narrative, Clown effortlessly taps into a current trend of reflective 90s nostalgia by lovingly recreating the horror cheapies of that era. It does so by striking a very uncomfortable balance between horror comedy & gruesome misanthropy, forging a truly cruel sense of humor in a heartless, blood-soaked gore fest featuring a killer clown & his tiny tyke victims. You’d have to change very few details of Clown to convince me that it was actually a Full Moon Features release made twenty years ago. Besides small details like cell-phone usage and the inclusion of “That guy!” character actor Peter Stormare, the only noticeable difference is that, unlike most Full Moon “classics”, it’s a genuinely great product. Clown is smart & incredibly uncomfortable, but houses its horror film thrills in a very specific era of nontheatrical genre trash, so it’s easy see how its better attributes might be readily dismissed by those not in tune with its highly specific aesthetic.

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8. The Boy – I expected The Boy to play out more or less exactly like the last PG-13 evil doll movie to hit the theaters, the largely disappointing Rosemary’s Baby knockoff Annabelle, but the film sets its sights much higher than that light supernatural tomfoolery. It’s far from wholly original as a horror flick, but instead pulls wacky details from a wide enough range of disparate sources that it ended up being an enjoyably kooky melting pot of repurposed ideas. A sharp left turn in the third act of The Boy completely obliterates the psychological/supernatural slowburn established in its first half & delves into some utterly bonkers motherfuckery that should be a crowdpleaser among schlock junkies & trash gobblers. I’m always a sucker for the evil doll movie as a genre, so it was a given that I’d see The Boy no matter what, but the film really does prove itself to be a solidly fun thrill of a horror trifle in the end, even if it functions as a pastiche.

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9. Pee-Wee’s Big HolidayPee-wee’s Big Holiday is essentially Pee-wee’s Big Adventure on a Big Top Pee-wee scale & budget, which is all that fans could really ask for in a direct-to-streaming release after a 30 year gap. It also helps that the film finds Pee-wee just about as charming & hilarious as he’s ever been, even if its financial freedom & resulting ambition are somewhat diminished. All the movie has to do to succeed is provide Herman (who’s billed as playing himself) with a variety of backdrops & supporting players to bounce his bizarrely childish humor off of. In one highly pertinent scene, Herman proves that he can entertain an entire village of on-lookers with a single, ordinary balloon. Just about the only aspect of Pee-wee Herman’s Big Holiday that isn’t bare bones in this way is Joe Manganiello’s involvement. Manganiello, also playing “himself,” enters the scene as a living embodiment of a Tom of Finland drawing on a motorcycle. The gay subtext certainly doesn’t end there. By the conclusion of the film, Herman & Manganiello’s instant attraction to each other fully blossoms into a really sweet, very romantic story about “friendship”. If there’s any chance for a non-Pee-wee fan to enjoy Big Holiday it’d be in watching just how naturally & enthusiastically that “friendship” develops.

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10. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows – Instead of pushing the brooding grit of the post-Dark Knight era of needless reboots to its most ludicrous extreme (like its hilariously hideous predecessor), Out of the Shadows calls back to the light, fun, cartoonish energy that made the original Ninja Turtles trilogy such a nostalgia-inducing pleasure in the 1990s. I guess you could argue that banking on 90s nostalgia is a dispiriting snapshot of where blockbusters are seated in 2016, but that’s not what makes Out of the Shadows special. Here’s what does make it special: a manhole-shooting garbage truck modeled after the franchise’s infamous pizza van toy; a pro wrestler that plays a tank-operating rhinoceros; a perfectly hideous realization of the villainous mech suit-operating brain Krang; etc. Given enough time, this is a film both silly & visually memorable (read: deeply ugly) enough to generate its own future nostalgia entirely separate from that of a previous generation’s (not that it was above playing the 90s cartoon’s theme song over the end credits). Kids are going to grow up loving this movie and its reputation will outlast the short-term concerns of however well it did or didn’t do at the box office this summer. In that way, it’s a successful work of art.

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11. Nine Lives – Speaking of 90s nostalgia, mark August 2016 down as the exact moment it reached peak ridiculousness, since we’re apparently now making movies about corrupt businessmen who learn life lessons by getting turned into talking animals again (in this case a cat). And I’m talking real movies with real theatrical releases, too, not just some straight-to-DVD trifle from Air Bud Entertainment. Said talking animal comeback film, Nine Lives, even features two (!!!) Academy Award-winning actors and hinges its lovable furball antics on topics as hefty as greed, adultery, the ethics of leaving a vegetative state loved one on longterm life support, and attempted suicide. If you regularly find yourself losing valuable time to internet wormholes of cat-themed home video, you’re likely to get a kick out of Nine Lives‘s simple pleasures: a cat drinking scotch, a cat falling over, a cat slow-dancing with his human daughter, a cat rushing to prevent his human son’s attempted suicide. You know, the little things.

12. Mother May I Sleep With Danger? – James Franco’s 2016 remake of the Tori Spelling Lifetime Original Movie Mother, May I Sleep with Danger? is a biting sociopolitical commentary on the pervasive homophobia, sexism, and rape culture issues that plague college campuses in the 2010s. That’s a half-truth. The film is also a shameless, leering camp fest about lesbian vampires that sometimes borders on the less-than-prestigious realm of dime store erotica. Either way you look at it, it’s is easily the most outrageously entertaining work I’ve seen from Lifetime in decades (unless you include those Mommie Dearest marathons they do every Mother’s Day; those are hilarious). It’s funny, it’s trashy, it’s dirt cheap, and it’s more than a little bit sleazy: pretty much the perfect calibration for an instant Lifetime classic. Better yet, its penchant for cheesy sleaze feels 100% earnest, never truly crossing into the winking parody of an Asylum mockbuster or a ZAZ-style spoof, despite what you may assume from its pedigree. If this vampiric “re-imagining” is an indication of where Lifetime programming is currently headed, we’re in for some tawdry good fun in the years to come, a second golden age of made-for-television schlock.

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13. Hardcore Henry – This trashy novelty’s central gimmick of mirroring the look of 1st person shooters by mounting GoPros to its camera/stuntmen is a lot to handle for 90 minutes of action cinema and the video game-thin plot & villains that accompany it don’t help much either. There’s far more to hate about Hardcore Henry than just its video game gimmick, too. Its rampant misogyny, gay panic humor, and constant, gleeful violence & gore are sure to turn off a lot of folks, rightfully so. However, I don’t personally see much of a difference between the misanthropy on display here and the macho-hedonism of any other generic shoot-em-up. Hardcore Henry is loud, obnoxious, one-note, nearly plotless, and entirely over the top in its meat-headed self-indulgence, but so are a lot of my favorite hallmarks of action cinema: Commando, Rambo IV, Invasion U.S.A., etc. I contend that the film’s glaring, perhaps even deplorable faults are all outweighed by its consistently goofy tone (particularly in the scenery-chewing sorcerer villain & 1st person POV visual experimentation). There are hordes of 13 year olds who’ll latch onto Hardcore Henry‘s naked girls, guns, and cocaine version of masculinity in an unsavory way, I’m sure, but I never really look to my dumb action movies for moral high ground and, truth be told, those kids will grow out of it eventually. Hopefully.

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14. The Shallows – The 2016 version of the giant shark creature feature is smart to recognize its place within this trashiest of cinematic traditions. The popcorn thriller The Shallows is brilliant in the way it keeps things simple. It’s Blake Lively in a neon bikini fighting off a CGI shark for 90min. What do you need, a road map? There’s so much swinging The Shallows in the direction of goofball camp: a couple especially silly encounters with CGI dolphins & jellyfish, a gratuitous explosion, a hideous model of a whale carcass, a caricature of a witless drunk so over the top it could’ve comfortably existed in the 1930s, a puke-eating sidekick named Steven Seagull (who’s easily up there with Black Phillip for Animal of the Year), etc. Even the film’s basic 1-shark-vs.-1-woman premise has a campy appeal to it. However, the shark attacks do have a real gravity to them as well. There’s intense gore in the film’s moments of self-surgery & genuine heart-racing thriller beats when our hero & her friend the seagull have to stave off real-life dehydration & cabin fever. The Shallows is satisfied relegating itself to a 100% trashy surface pleasure ethos, but it doesn’t let up on the practical results of its central scenario’s violence & confinement and that dual goofy/scary balance is what makes this such effective summertime schlock.

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15. Elvis & Nixon – Written around the photo op/publicity stunt in 1970 when Elvis Presley visited the White House & was awarded an official title as a federal narcotics agent, Elvis & Nixon is a low-energy camp delight. Taking great pleasure in its own historical inaccuracies & caricaturist liberties, the film finds easy camp value in casting Michael Shannon as Elvis & Kevin Spacey as Richard Nixon and propping the mismatched pair up in a room (the Oval Office, of all rooms) merely so it can stew in its own unlikelihood. The result isn’t anything mind-blowing or revolutionary, but it is an offbeat pleasure to behold. Elvis & Nixon finds its best possible self in its laidback, weirdly relaxed vibe. Instead of pushing for big, unlikely moments between The President & The King, the film instead finds lowkey fascination in a past-his-prime rock ‘n roller living out a fish-out-of-water comedy in a political atmosphere he knows nothing about.

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16. Look Who’s Back – A Borat-style farce in which Adolf Hitler clumsily navigates & eventually finds popularity in the modern world, Look Who’s Back mixes seemingly tame, broad comedy with fiercely biting, unforgiving political satire, a tonal whiplash that’s as odd of a delight as it is difficult to classify. The film starts with a sci-fi/fantasy premise where Adolf Hitler is mysteriously transported to modern times Germany and follows his first-person POV as he tries to make sense of concepts like selfies, television, the internet, etc. This broad, cheaply campy farce mostly functions as a Trojan horse for the film’s real bread & butter: unscripted, Borat-style street interviews where Hitler interacts with the modern public. A lot of folks treat Hitler like a joke — hugging him, posing for pictures, chirping “I love Hitler!” & honoring him with a Nazi salute — an uncomfortable gaze at toxic hipster irony & modern refusal to engage with life sincerely. However, Look Who’s Back‘s main mode of political satire is in pairing Hitler with real-life, unscripted people who agree with his nationalistic, horrifically racist rhetoric when it comes to the issue of Muslim immigration. They aren’t all easily identifiable neo-Nazi skinheads, either. Think of the German equivalent of your average diehard Trump supporter and you pretty much get the picture. Look Who’s Back is something of a structural mess, but it’s a fascinating mess with a surprising amount to say about current political attitudes towards immigration that disgraces a vast majority of The West, America included (obviously).

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17. Keanu – Not unlike their sketch comedy show, Keegan-Michael Key & Jordan Peele’s debut feature is not always consistently funny, but has really great, transcendently absurd moments. A fun action movie spoof featuring a cute kitten, plus some remarkable flashes of both Anna Farris and George Michael content, Keanu’s more memorable touches are rare gems to come by (especially in light of George Michael’s recent death). It also gets major bonus points in my mind for being the first movie I’ve seen smart enough to include not one, but two Future songs on its soundtrack, which is a resource more movies really need to start tapping into.

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18. Masterminds – A harmless madcap bank heist comedy starring Zach Galifianakis & three Ghostbusters (Jones, Wiig, and McKinnon), Masterminds is essentially a feature length visual punchline. The machinations of Zach Galifianakis’s hapless security guard being coerced into robbing a bank by his milquetoast seductress, Kristen Wiig, or her sleaze ball cohort, Owen Wilson, aren’t nearly as amusing as just the mere look of him. The Prince Valiant haircut, the full beard, the tight novelty t-shirts: Zach Galifianakis is the fashion version of a slapstick pratfall. Certainly, there are funny turns of phrase in the film (mostly delivered by Jason Sudeikis’s cold-as-ice contract killer) but no dialogue made me laugh nearly as hard as just the distinctly awkward visual tableau divisive comedic director Jared Hess crafted with his vanity-free players. In many ways Kate McKinnon was perfect casting for this comedy style, as it’s the criticism she most often receives from her work in SNL. She doesn’t deliver jokes so much as that she is the joke, striking such a specifically strange, crazy-eyed image that no verbal play is needed to sell the humor. This might not be enough for some folks, but just the mere sight of her posing for wedding photos with Zach Galifianakis to an Enya song is personally all I need to guffaw.

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19. Suicide Squad – The studio meddling of Suicide Squad, with its joke-heavy re-shoots, shoehorned-in neon color palette, diminished screen time for Jared Leto’s Joker, and Guardians-aped soundtrack was admittedly haphazard & disharmonious, but it at least made the troubled material a decently fun action picture in the process. In a lot of ways Suicide Squad is just as bloated & tonally inept as Dawn of Justice & Man of Steel. It’s never boring, though, and thanks to some studio meddling it actually allowed for a few interesting moments & decent performances to shine through all of director David Ayer’s trashy genre film bravado. In an ideal world I wouldn’t necessarily want to see Ayer’s Sabotage (a film I described as “oozing with scum” & “garbage water pessimism” in my review) reworked as a superhero spectacle, but Warner Bros. found a way to make that formula remarkably palatable. Kudos to the studio for reigning in Ayer’s bad taste & aggression just enough to make the movie work while still allowing it to breathe new, testosterone-corrupted life into what was previously a drab, depressive franchise. Suicide Squad is not the winning success the budding DC Comics film franchise desperately needs to turn its frown upside down, but I left the theater in a much better mood than I did with the two Batman & Superman films that preceded it.

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20. Scooby-Doo & WWE: Curse of the Speed Demon – Recognizing that its larger-than-life cast of musclebound pro wrestler characters don’t necessarily have to live in a wrestling ring in their animated form, Curse of the Speed Demon picks an entirely new context for them to flex muscles & deliver promos in: off-road monster truck racing. The sequel to WWE’s original Scooby-Doo collaboration plays less like an animated pro wrestling picture & much more like a little kid’s imagination as they smash together Hot Wheels toys in a sandbox. Instead of attending a second WrestleMania, Scooby & the Mystery Gang find themselves at Muscle Moto X, an impossible Vince McMahon startup that combines monster truck mayhem with dirt track speed racing. As the plot unravels, Curse of the Speed Demon gets further & further away from realistic versions of what off-road pro wrestling monster truck races might look like (as unrealistically goofy as that starting point is on its own), eventually just says “Fuck it.” and indulges in some Mario Kart-type cartoon races & settings you’d find doodled in an eight year old’s dream journal.

-Brandon Ledet

Alli’s Top Films of 2016

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1. The Handmaiden – Park Chan-wook has a way of crafting gorgeous Victorian-inspired scenery and making it work even if the setting (in this case, The Japanese Occupation of Korea) doesn’t necessarily call for it. I say “Victorian-inspired” because of the film’s occasional frilly costuming and elaborate, lushly decorated sets, but The Handmaiden is definitely sexy enough to make any room full of self-respecting Victorians faint. It’s such a lovely erotic thriller. Like any of Park Chan-Wook’s other films, it also gets gritty and brutal, but despite the tension and brutality, it’s my favorite love story of the year.

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2. The WitchThe Witch follows in the footsteps of Häxan and presents a more historical account of witchcraft. Despite its historical nature and Puritan setting, the film will make your skin crawl with atmospheric dread. It is beautiful and dark; and, like with every great horror movie, its soundtrack is amazing, just teeming with ominous ambient sounds. Also, how many movies have a goat as the star??? Black Phillip is the king of everything.

3. MoonlightMoonlight is a lovely deconstruction of the hazards of toxic masculinity, homophobia, and the war on drugs. I can’t begin to say how important this movie is. It comes at a time when tensions in our country are high, and people are actually fighting to be able to discriminate against other people. To have a film like this right now, showing us how damaging these attitudes are, is vital. It helps that Moonlight is so good. It has such a tender earnestness in how it approaches the subject, and the way it’s told in three parts gives it a poetic rhythm.

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4. Ghostbusters – This movie was so much funnier than I expected. I think I was predisposed to like it anyway, because it made a bunch of man-children angry, but all the jokes landed and it captures just enough of the original film’s spirit while also having its own liveliness.  The cast really picked up the torch and ran with it. In particular, it was really great to see a lighter side of Chris Hemsworth that isn’t just his culture-shocked Thor act. I’m so glad that this movie didn’t just function as another unnecessary reboot.

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5. Hunt for the Wilderpeople – I think we all need a good laugh this year, but we also need a good cry. Fortunately, Wilderpeople has both!  This is the story of a boy going on the lam in the New Zealand bush with his reluctantly adoptive uncle after a devastating tragedy. Though it’s funny and cute, even twee in a way that resembles a Wes Anderson movie, there’s a certain darkness to it. It doesn’t shy away from real life consequences or scathing political satire.

6. Kubo and the Two Strings – This movie is pure, gorgeous art. The puppetry is incredible. The first time the origami flittered and moved, I just teared up at how wonderful it looked. I’m not even sure how they pulled this stuff off. Laika has done it again, and they deserve all the bragging rights.

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7. Tale of Tales – In a world full of fairy tale related media (Once Upon a Time, Disney Princess movies, live action remakes of Disney Princess movies, etc), it’s a curious thing that more keeps getting made, and that so much of it is adapted from the same tales we already know. Adapted from a book of 17th century Italian fairy tales that fell into obscurity, Tale of Tales weaves together many stories which, while very old, feel very new. There is no Disney here. The stories told are everything fairy tales should be: strange, eerie, brutal, gory, and beautiful.

8. Hail, Caesar! – Would that it were so simple to sum up this movie’s charms. It’s such a fun parody of McCarthy-era Hollywood. There’s the hyperbolized threat of Communism, old Hollywood scandals, moody directors, a musical dance number with Channing Tatum tap dancing and singing about gams, and the one guy in the background who’s just trying to hold it all together. On top of all of that is the Coen Brothers’ ability to assemble an amazing cast. I think Hail, Caesar! might just be one of their strongest works.

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9. Shin Godzilla – It’s very difficult for a franchise this old and with so many titles to it to offer a new take on the tale, but Shin Godzilla really pulls it off. Instead of a story about a giant lizard terrorizing Tokyo, it’s a deconstruction of Japanese bureaucracy and foreign policy with a giant hideous monster destroying Tokyo in the background. It’s In the Loop meets Kaiju and just about as strange and wonderful as you’d expect from that combo.

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10. Pee-wee’s Big Holiday – If The Handmaiden was my favorite love story of the year, the bromance between Pee-wee Herman and Joe Manganiello might be my second favorite. Just like any Pee-wee movie, it’s just a giant Rube Goldberg device of a plot, with each chain reaction being just as kooky or even kookier than the last.

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11. Into the Inferno – Herzog and his vulcanologist friend Clive Oppenheimer nerd out about volcanoes for an hour and forty five minutes. It’s a dream come true.  Part anthropological exploration, part nature documentary, Into the Inferno is gorgeous and enlightening.

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12. Rogue One – How political can a Star Wars movie get while the producers vehemently deny it? Very. Rogue One is about the rebel group who smuggled the Death Star blueprints. Somehow, it manages to take a 40 year old franchise and frame it in such a newly dark light. Also, despite the all haters, I thought that CGI Peter Cushing was very impressive.

-Alli Hobbs

Ghostbusters (2016), Popstar (2016) and the Outsourcing of the Modern SNL Movie

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People tend to get overly nostalgic about Saturday Night Live, typically looking back to the supposed “golden years” of the show (an era that can shift around by decades depending on who you’re asking) in order to knock its most current, supposedly subpar season, whichever year they’re complaining. The truth is that the show might struggle a little here or there, but has overall been consistent in its quality in a way the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia can significantly alter. SNL generally produces a few great sketches on a weekly basis in one of comedy’s most demanding writing rooms (James Franco’s Saturday Night documentary is a good glimpse of that punishing rhythm if you’re interested). These sketches often define their current era’s height of comedic performance & off-the-cuff writing, but just as often appear among enough failure & filler to greatly soften their in-the-moment impact. Looking back at past seasons of the show allow you to remember the great work & forget the filler, constructing a false reality where the show was ever perfect or firing on all cylinders (and I’m saying this about a series I love dearly & never miss). One of the things that helps foster this skewed perception is many of the performers’ post-show fame. It’s easy to look back & think SNL was so much better when Will Ferrell or Bill Murray were on instead of these no-name nobodies they’re currently working with, but the show is where those comedians cut their teeth & made a name for themselves in the first place. The truth is that they suffered just as much public scrutiny & just as many comedic missteps in their own day, but came out the other end of the show’s star-making machine all the better for it.

One of the ways the SNL star-maker machine used to work was in movie production. The franchise’s first film, The Blues Brothers, was an outrageous hit that helped make its stars Dan Aykroyd & John Belushi insanely popular in the early 1980s. The brand’s follow-up, Wayne’s World, had the same effect on the careers of Dan Carvey & Mike Myers and has gradually become a near-universally well-regarded comedy despite its inherent stoner-minded silliness. Things got much stranger in the mid to late 90s. When SNL movies like Coneheads & It’s Pat critically & financially sank the franchise’s box office reputation, the SNL movie seemed to shift focus from defining pop culture to developing the strengths of its performers. The late 90s run of A Night at the Roxbury, Superstar, and The Ladies Man in particular play like movie star training wheels for the show’s performers (not unlike WWE productions like 12 Rounds & See No Evil). They’re low-stakes pictures aimed to help a future generation of comedic giants define their on-screen presence in a halfway point between a comedy sketch & a feature length character study. It’s easy to see, for instance, the beginnings of Will Ferrell’s future schtick, later defined in films like Step Brothers & Talladega Nights, beginning to form in his early roles as a club-hopping airhead in Roxbury or Jesus Christ himself in Superstar. The latest movie in SNL’s official sketch-to-silver-screen catalog (and my personal favorite to date), 2010’s MacGruber, seemed to be a similar incubator for comedic madman Will Forte, whose onscreen work gets weirder & more prominent every passing year.

It’s been six years since MacGruber and it’s unlikely that there are many sketch-to-film characters currently in development (not that I would necessarily be opposed to a Stefon or Olya Povlatsky movie), but that doesn’t mean the SNL movie is currently dead as a format. This hasn’t been the longest gap between SNL pictures by any stretch; there was a full decade separating both The Blues Brothers & Wayne’s World and The Ladies Man & MacGruber. It has been interesting, though, that in this most recent time span there’s been plenty of comedies I’d readily classify as “unofficial” SNL movies. Official SNL productions are traditionally helmed by the showrunner Lorne Michaels & have some sort of character connection to a recurring sketch from the show. Unofficial SNL movies, to me, exist solely in the casting. As a life-long fan of the show, I get incongruously excited when a comedy features a long list of SNL players, especially when I wasn’t expecting their participation. It happened, for example, in recent works like Inside Out, Skeleton Twins, and Zoolander 2 (which was a great showcase for Kyle Mooney in particular). Adam Sandler, for instance, has built a career around including as many of his SNL collaborators as possible in his own productions, which admittedly often disappoint in quality & basic human decency. Sometimes even his unofficial SNL movies can win me over, though. I doubt I’d have enjoyed an Adam Sandler children’s cartoon, horror comedy or otherwise, without a long list of SNL collaborators tagging along, but I gotta admit this long list of Not Ready for Prime Time Players brought too much joy to my heart for me to sour on Sandler’s Hotel Transylvania 2: Sandler, Andy Samberg, Molly Shannon, David Spade, Dana Carvey, Chris Kattan, Jon Lovitz, Robert Smigel, Chris Parnell, and oft-recurring host Steve Buscemi as a CGI werewolf. Similarly, the Tina Fey/Amy Poehler comedy Sisters got me stoked last Christmas with this delicious SNL lineup: Fey, Poehler, Maya Rudolph, Bobby Moynihan, Rachel Dratch, Kate McKinnon, and Chris Parnell. Moynihan in particular was allowed to steal the show in his role as the world’s worst amateur comedian and it got me excited about where his big screen career will eventually go, which is exactly what an SNL movie should be doing, undercover or not. That brings me to this summer’s undercover SNL movies: Popstar & Ghostbusters.

On its own, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping is enough to make me feel as if the modern SNL movie is being officially outsourced to powers outside Lorne Michaels’s reach. Andy Samberg’s comedy troupe The Lonely Island are lifelong friends with roots much deeper than Samberg’s 2000s stint on the sketch comedy show. However, their “Digital Shorts” music parody bits are what made the troupe famous and now they have an entire This is Spinal Tap-style comedy built around the gimmick in Popstar. The Lonely Island’s first feature film, Hot Rod, included enough SNL collaborators to qualify as an undercover SNL movie, but that movie’s followup, Popstar, is even more ambitious in its inclusion of past personalities form the series: Samberg, Bill Hader, Maya Rudolph, Jimmy Fallon, Steve Higgins, Will Forte, Sarah Silverman, and a fully-utilized Tim Meadows, which is particularly a rare treat. Not only has the Saturday Night Live roll call gotten even longer, but the film itself is an extension of a gimmick that was developed on the television series into a feature length narrative. The world was introduced to these pop star clowns on Saturday Night Live in songs like “I’m on a Boat” & “Jack Sparrow” and now their parody of pop music hedonism is on display in movie theaters without the SNL or Lorne Michaels brands stamped on it in any official way.

The modern, undercover SNL movie formula isn’t merely content with hjacking past sketches from the show, either. It’s now also infiltrating past works with only a small connection to the series. Early SNL staples Dan Aykroyd & Bill Murray received top billing in the 1984 horror comedy Ghostbusters, but they were the only two cast members involved with the movie, which had about as much to do with SNL as the Chris Farley, David Spade buddy comedies of the mid-90s, maybe even less. Compare that to the undercover SNL movie ensemble Paul Feig & casting director Allison Jones have delivered in the recent Ghostbusters remake. When they just comprised half of the main cast in the original property, all four of the Ghostbusters are SNL players in the 2016 version: Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones, Kate McKinnon, and honorary cast member (through regular, fully-committed hosting gigs) Melissa McCarthy. They’re also backed up by the bit role roster of Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Steve Higgins, and Cecily Strong. More convincing yet, the movie is proving to be something of a star-maker for the consistently funny McKinnon, who’s been up there with Strong, Bryant, Moynihan, and Taran Killiam as one of the most essential backbone pieces of the show’s current cast. If Ghostbusters did nothing more than promote & develop Kate McKinnon’s screen presence, it would already have done its job, as that’s the best post-Coneheads titles like Superstar & Roxbury ever hoped for.

Ghostbusters does accomplish more than that, though. It’s an all-around hilarious, well-made popcorn flick that’s actually visually striking in its play with aspect ratios in its large format release (ghosts, lasers, lighting, and such spill over the letterbox border to enhance the film’s 3D effects), a kind of ambition I don’t normally anticipate from a summertime comedy, much less a reboot. Popstar is equally successful in its humor & ambition, bringing the Walk Hard brand of pop music cinema parody into the 2010s by tackling the Justin Bieber & One Direction style of “concert documentaries” that have been released since that modern John C. Reilly classic (which featured a few SNL contributors of its own). Two of the best summertime comedies of 2016 boast strong SNL roots, but don’t openly display the series’s brand. Meanwhile, Lorne Michaels supports smaller projects from his sketch comedy children, like the Hader-Armisen series Documentary Now or Maya Rudolph’s various attempts to launch a successful variety show of her own. In the six years since MacGruber left the theaters Michaels has shown little interest in pushing for a project like Riblet: The Movie or One-Dimensional Female Character from a Male-Driven Comedy: The Male-Driven Comedy. I would totally be down for either of those features, being a huge sucker for the brand (a Tonkerbell movie could work too while we’re at it), but I’m proud to see undercover SNL movies like Popstar & Ghostbusters fill that void in the long-running sketch series’s current theatrical absence. I doubt we’ve seen the end of the official SNL sketch-to-big-screen movie, but it’s been great to see the younger cast find their own collaborative space at the movies in the meantime. Especially Kate McKinnon. Everyone throw all of your money directly at Kate McKinnon. Now.

-Brandon Ledet

Ghostbusters (2016)

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Like most people my age (I was born in 1987), my first experience with the Ghostbusters came not in the form of the 1984 comedy classic; instead, my love for all things Ghostbusting was the result of watching the animated The Real Ghostbusters as a kid. In fact, watching the cartoon adventures of Egon, Venkman, Ray, Winston, and Janine on Saturday mornings, alongside Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Garfield and Friends, is one of my earliest memories; unlike TMNT, I can actually remember particular episodes and character types from Ghostbusters (I know that the Turtles theme song delineates each turtle’s individual personality, but that blew right past me as a kid and I couldn’t tell you which one was a “party dude” right now to save my life). I didn’t see the original film until I was a little older, and even then my clearest childhood memories of the movies actually comes from Ghostbusters II, where the pink slime that fills Sigourney Weaver’s bathtub made me terrified of the tub for a few months.

I was pretty excited to hear about the remake/reboot when it was first announced last year, but wasn’t confident that it would ever really been made and even less thrilled about how well it might turn out. I still remember hearing on the radio about a fourth Indiana Jones film as far back as 1997, when Joaquin Phoenix was in talks to play Indie’s younger brother; then, eleven years later, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull plopped into theatres on my birthday like the worst present of all time. I had mixed feelings about Paul Feig; he directed seven episodes of Arrested Development, sure, but one of those was “Ready, Aim, Marry Me,” which is probably the worst single episode of the original three season run. I was also not one of those people who was terribly impressed with Bridesmaids, although it might merely have been that I was in a terrible mood the first time I saw it. Still, Feig was heavily involved with Other Space, Yahoo’s sci-fi comedy that was released last year and which I enjoyed much more than anyone really has a right to (and which featured super cutie Karan Soni, who plays deliveryman Bennie in Ghostbusters, and Neil Casey, who plays villain Rowan North*). Still, when I saw a pic of the all-gal Ghostbusters squad all suited up and ready to bust last year, I was super on board. I retweeted the picture and expressed my excitement, even (and Feig favorited it!).

*According to the credits, fellow Other Space alums Milana Vayntrub and Eugene Cordero were also in the film, as Subway Rat Woman and Bass Guitarist, respectively, but I missed them, unfortunately.

There was (unfortunately, inevitably, and unfortunately inevitably) a backlash, mostly of the misogynistic variety, because of course there was. Of. Course. There. Was. Most of the criticism of the film had little to do with the fact that Ghostbusters is pretty much a perfect movie in a lot of ways (if inarguably a little dated in its kinda creepy sexual politics); after all, this is the primary objection that is usually voiced in response to remakes of any kind. “Why would you remake Total Recall/Robocop/King Kong/True Grit/The Manchurian Candidate/Poltergeist (etc.) when the original still holds up?” But that’s not why (a certain subset of) people were upset about Ghostbusters 2016 at all, even if they tried their best to couch their anti-woman bias in that language. Of course, the blanketing effect across the internet meant that people who were legitimately concerned about the potential artistic or financial failings of the film, especially after the not-very- good first trailer was released, were lumped in together with the rabid woman haters; as a result, those who were anxious that the film would simply fail ended up being on the side of the worst parts of the internet, meaning that there any real criticism was immediately swept away in a wave of meaningless manpain.

So, as someone whose childhood was very GB-influenced, how’s the new movie?

….

I loooooooved it. I loved it so much, y’all. Of course, it pales in comparison to the original, but that’s like saying that Canopus pales in comparison to Sirius: they’re still both pretty bright. It’s not a perfect movie, but it is a lot of fun, and I honestly can’t wait to see it again. There’s a perfect mix between nostalgia and novelty, a slew of cameos from the original cast, and a hell of a lot of laughs throughout.

The film opens with a tour of a supposedly haunted mansion that becomes a little too real for the tour guide (Zach Woods). Meanwhile, Dr. Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) is preparing for her final tenure defense at Columbia when a book about the paranormal she co-wrote many years before threatens to derail her career track. She tracks down the other author, Dr. Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) and asks her to stop pushing sales of the book long enough for her tenure to be accepted. Yates and her engineer officemate Dr. Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) agree, as long as Gilbert assists them in investigating the mansion. Following a genuine encounter with a ghostly entity, all three women find themselves rejected from academia. Meanwhile, MTA employee and amateur historian Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) has a strange encounter with commuter Rowan North (Neil Casey), then follows him down to a subway tunnel where he plants a device that summons a ghost from which Patty barely escapes. The three parascientists set up shop above a restaurant in Chinatown and hire hunky dingbat Kevin (Chris Hemsworth) as their receptionist, and Patty invites them to check out the ghost in the tunnels beneath the city. From there, the Ghostbusters become a legitimate team, and the story builds until the four of them face off against an entity that threatens to destroy New York.

First, the negatives: this film lacks a lot of the New York flavor that permeated the first Ghostbusters and its sequel, although I’d argue that this was inevitable given the overall Disneyfication and general enforced conformity that New York has undergone since the Giuliani administration (Sam Delaney’s Times Square Red, Times Square Blue is required reading on this subject, if you can find a copy). Still, it’s impossible to ignore how much that affects the overall tone of this film in comparison to the original. Further, the original Ghostbusters is a film that has a very dry wit, and although that same temperament is here, the comedy is a little more broad (no pun intended) and varied: there’s slapstick, improvisation, and your standard jokes tied in with the more sardonic wit that characterized the eighties flicks. Here, instead, the film runs the gamut from very dry (the mansion tour guide notes that the mansion that opens the film had the best contemporary security measures at the time of construction, including a fence specifically designed to keep out Irish immigrants) to the more over-the- top (Andy Garcia, as the mayor of New York, blows his lid when Dr. Gilbert compares him to the mayor from Jaws, in one of the film’s funniest moments).

There are other negatives. The music choices in the film are terrible, frankly, outside of the revisitations of the original GB theme and its derivations. There’s an extended sequence in which the team captures a ghost at a nü-metal concert, and the music playing throughout is utter garbage, but even that sounds like the music of the angels in comparison to the closing credits theme “Good Girls” by Elle King, which stands out as possibly the shittiest pop song of the new millennium. There’s also a slight editing problem in a few sequences where it is apparent that a scene has been cut. For instance, it seems like the big psychokinetic dance sequence that plays out over the end credits might once have been part of the film proper, but that’s not terribly distracting on the whole. There also may have been a cut subplot in which Gilbert leaves the team after one of their very public outings that ends with a fake arrest, but that’s also not a problem for me (honestly, the sooner someone takes the “team member rejects the group but then comes back in the end” third act subplot out into a field and puts it out of its misery, the better). I also didn’t love the “battle sequence” toward the end of the film, but that’s more a statement about the the state of modern film structure than a complaint that’s specific to this particular movie.

As far as other things that people have had negative criticism for, I don’t really agree. I’ve heard complaints that some of the improv jokes go on a little too long, but I’m not bothered by them. I’ve also seen much hay being made about Patty’s being a blue collar worker and not a scientist like the three other (white) women in the group, but I found her to be a delight and not at all the potentially troublesome stereotype that she was presented as in a few of the trailers. There are some people out there who are intent on finding something to hate in the film, especially anything that seems “man hating,” but there’s so little of it and it’s so toothless in comparison to the generally misogynistic tone of most media that it won’t bother you unless you go looking for it (for instance, the fact that one of the ghosts takes a crotch shot is something I’ve seen a great deal of discussion about, as if hits to the groin aren’t a staple of comedies with brows both high and low).

Overall, however, the film is great. There’s a lot of great parallelism between Gilbert and Rowan, and the way that each fights or assists supernatural evil with science and technology. There’s very overt humor throughout as well as more subtle moments, and there’s a lot to enjoy whether you’re a fan of old school Ghostbusters or not. None of the characters are direct one-to- one parallels with Egon and the gang (although Holtzmann has Egon’s cartoon hair, which I love), and the story feels fresh and new while retaining echoes of the past. One of the best visual gags in the original GB is when Egon activates Ray’s “unlicensed nuclear accelerator” in the hotel elevator, and then he and Venkman subtly move away from the proton pack, as if a few extra inches would really make a difference; there’s a similar scene in this film in which two of the Ghostbusters inch away from an activated device in the alley where they test their equipment. It’s subtle, but there’s a lot of love and respect for Ghostbusters as a franchise in this film, no matter what you’ve heard. Some of the more slapsticky moments went on a little long for me, but there’s too much fun to be had to stick your head in the sand and ignore this movie just because the ‘Busters aren’t the same ones that you grew up with. And, hey, if Dave Coulier replacing Lorenzo Music as the voice of Venkman in The Real Ghostbusters or the creation of the Slimer! shorts to pad out the Slimer and the Real Ghostbusters hour didn’t destroy the Ghostbusters legacy, this certainly won’t either.

-Mark “Boomer” Redmond

It’s Okay that Dan Aykroyd Isn’t Writing a Ghostbusters Sequel, Because He’s Already Living One

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The recent announcement of the cast for the upcoming Ghostbusters reboot was met with the usual flood of overblown internet outrage that accompanies nearly everything these days. Most of the objections seem to be centered on the idea that Hollywood shouldn’t have unearthed the franchise at all. Personally, I’ve resigned to compromising with what Hollywood productions are going to offer. Nostalgia is big money right now. In a time when it’s becoming increasingly difficult to get people to the cinema, producers will take the guaranteed, built-in audience every time. The best you can hope for is that somewhere in the process someone’s going to try to make these reboots interesting, because they aren’t going away. Paul Feig’s all-female approach to a Ghostbusters reboot is honestly just about the only one I could imagine that wouldn’t be completely pointless. The recent casting announcement make the idea even more promising, since it included four eccentric, boisterous personalities (Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones, Kate McKinnon, and Melissa McCarthy) that have the potential to bring enough weird, idiosyncratic energy to the reboot to distance it from its source material in both style & tone. Feig’s Ghostbusters might just be the rare kind of reboot that can justify an existence on its own.

It at least beats the alternative. For years O.G. Ghostbuster Dan Aykroyd has been trying to get his own sequel to the franchise off the ground. Bill Murray’s resistance to reprising his role as Peter Venkman in Ghosbusters 3 was the long-time thorn in Aykroyd’s side, but Harold Ramis’ devastating passing last year was the final blow to the prospect. Admittedly, Aykroyd’s long-in-development script sounds like it had some promise. For instance, he dropped hints that the plot would somehow relate to recent advances in particle physics & the role he had written for Murray would’ve involved Venkman’s wisecracking ghost. The problem is more that Aykroyd cannot be trusted when left to his own devices. His sole director’s credit, Nothing But Trouble, which he also wrote & stars in, is one of the most bizarrely terrible movies I’ve ever seen. It’s a thoroughly unlikeable & unfathomable work that is the direct result of Aykroyd’s ego going unchecked. Similarly, his decision to write a Blues Brothers sequel more than a decade after costar John Belushi’s death was a total disaster and a detriment to the reputation of the original. Nothing But Trouble & Blues Brothers 2000 were the last two screenplays penned by Aykroyd, so it might be best that his version of a third Ghostbusters film never saw completion.

Aykroyd has publicly given his blessing to Feig’s Ghostbusters reboot and I hope that he’s sincere when he says he’s “delighted” by the casting. Ayroyd doesn’t need to write a Ghostbusters sequel because he is actually living one. In the press release where he gives his blessing to Feig’s cast he goes on to say “My great grandfather, Dr. Sam Aykroyd, the original Ghostbuster, was a man who empowered women in his day, and this is a beautiful development in the legacy of our family business.” Aykroyd’s real-life great grandfather was a dentist by trade, but he was also a spiritualist & a paranormal investigator. Ayrkoyd has claimed that his great grandfather would put on séances as a form of entertainment, which is not far from the spirit of the Ghostbusters franchise. Indeed, his family’s interest in the paranormal was passed down to him generationally & served as the basis of the original Ghostbuster’s film: to combine the “real” science of ghosts & spirits with old-fashioned ghost-themed comedies. With the first two installments of Ghostbusters, Aykroyd had achieved his goal of bringing his real-life obsession with the paranormal to the big screen. As he had continued his pursuit of infusing paranormal concepts into his work after the second film, a third installment seems redundant. He’s living Ghostbusters 3 on a daily basis.

The tactic Aykroyd employs to incorporate the paranormal in his professional life is an unlikely one, almost just as unlikely as a giant, city-destroying marshmallow or a painting come to life. He sells vodka. In an ancient (internet-wise) viral commercial for his Crystal Head Vodka, Aykroyd explains his interest in the paranormal while trying to sell you alcohol. He says things like “Since childhood I have been fascinated with the invisible world,” “There is more to life than mere material reality,” and “No one will show us the bodies from Roswell” in the same matter-of-fact tone that made him perfect for his roles in Coneheads & Dragnet. There are hours & hours of interview footage in which Aykroyd expounds upon his belief in the otherworldly like a particularly talkative caller on Coast to Coast AM, but the Crystal Head Vodka commercial is a perfect encapsulation of his worldview in an easily consumable 8min runtime. He’s so cheerful & confident in his explanations of the physical powers of positive thinking and the extraterrestrial origins of thirteen mysterious crystal heads that you can tell he really loves what he’s doing. He even encourages people who don’t share his beliefs to buy his product anyway, saying if nothing else it’s a “a luxury vodka in a cool bottle”. I can get behind that kind of honesty.

In one of his interviews about the possibility of a Ghostbusters 3, Aykroyd claimed “I’m about the future, not the past. I don’t reminisce.” Indeed, his idea of a particle physics themed Ghostbusters did sound like a somewhat fresh take on the franchise, but bringing back the old guard of actors & characters for the project doesn’t exactly sound like treading new ground. In a cinematic climate where reboots are inevitable and a new Ghostbusters will arrive in theaters, justified or not, I think Paul Feig’s approach is the best one possible for the franchise. The recent casting announcement gives the reboot a chance to stand out on its own as a unique work, even if it isn’t based on an original idea. Instead of Aykroyd giving the third installment the Ghost Brothers 2000 treatment, he gets to continue his great grandfather’s work by philosophically expounding on the existence of ghosts & extraterrestrials and filtering water through diamonds for a vodka pure in spirit. This way everyone wins.

-Brandon Ledet