Sunday, May 22, 2016



Courtesy of Movieclips Trailers.

I’ve been wanting to talk about this since the first trailer, i.e. the one above, was released about a month and a half ago. Because while I’m excited for a female-centric Ghostbusters film, especially since I liked the director’s last film, Spy, a lot, it doesn’t seem like people want to give this film a chance. And neither do Sony Pictures, judging by the way they’re promoting it to the masses: “It’s quirky! It’s girls being weird, scientist people! You’ll see it, right?”

I’ll back up and give some context: Ghostbusters is regarded as one of the greatest sci-fi/comedy films of the 20th Century. Released in 1984, it has a 97% on Rotten Tomatoes and is generally well-loved by people. And how could it not? It’s a movie about fighting ghosts that also happens to be smart, funny and promotes the power of science. It’s so influential that Bob Chipman even made it his pilot episode for “Really That Good”.

Anyway, the prospect of a third entry had been floating around for a while, especially after the disappointment of the initial sequel, before being confirmed in 2014 following the infamous Sony hack. The film had a cast, a director and a release window of Summer 2016. Adding fuel to the fire was the cast being all women, which caused intense backlash. Which leads to the trailer I posted above, much to some serious criticism online. How serious? I’ll be polite and say it could’ve been better.

This brings up the bigger question, one that’s been reconfirmed with the most-recent trailer: is the backlash based in misogyny, or legit disinterest?

Let’s look at the arguments on both sides: firstly, there’s definitely some sexism going on. It’s not the only reason people are against this film, but it’s there. How do I know? Because a video was made reading the reactions in the YouTube comments of the first trailer. If you want proof it exists, here you go:

These never get old. (Courtesy of Shesellssheshells.)

I know this seems too ridiculous to be true, but I buy it. For one, this is YouTube. Garbage nonsense like this pops up all the time in the comments sections of videos. I’m actually amazed it’s not more vitriolic, especially given the people that fester there! And secondly, this guy did his research. He’s the same YouTuber who’s recently dedicated his efforts to ripping apart Cinema Sins’s “Everything Wrong With” videos, so I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt even if he’d concocted all of those comments as a joke. But my point is that misogyny does exist over this movie’s casting, even if people choose to pretend that it doesn’t.

On the other hand, I’m doubtful it’s exclusively misogyny that’s propelling the hate. For one, not every person, even online, hates women, that’s generalizing. Additionally, the trailers aren’t helping much. I don’t think they’re “the worst ever”, especially since they’ve made me chuckle a few times, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t weird, off-key and with shoehorned references that only make sense if you’re a fan of the franchise. They’re also unbelievably dumb, and not in the charming kind of way. They’re actually off-putting with how stupid they are, and after two failed attempts at trying to sell something that’s not easy to sell, it’s a bad sign.

It’s especially tricky because, ignoring the sexism, there are some solid complaints to be had that are being shut down. That the trailers keep highlighting Pitch Perfect’s style of dumb and offensive jabs at the film’s cast, particularly the black lead, is proof enough. Considering that black actors and actresses still get the short-end of the stick when it comes to casting, it’s sad that a “progressive” film like this one, which had the sense to give four female comedians a shot at fame, thought that racist and obese jokes were worth a chuckle or two. Not to mention, the trailers don’t understand what it means to be respectful tonally, such that Melissa McCarthy, one of the movie’s leads, called the first one “confusing”.

Then there’s the problem of calling out people for sexism when they might not be sexist. The prime example is James Rolfe, aka The Angry Video Game Nerd, who posted a video stating that he wouldn’t be reviewing the movie. Rolfe’s been garnering serious backlash from his critics for sexism, while his defenders have been trying to explain that that’s not the case. I haven’t been too keen on Rolfe in years, having slowly moved away from his work as I’ve become disenfranchised with video games, but for curiosity’s sake I gave his video a watch. And what did I think?

Um, eh?

I’m aware James Rolfe has made decisions that’ve irked some of his fans. But that doesn’t mean that Rolfe’s reasoning for not seeing the new movie, that it craps on a film’s legacy, is sexist. Should he have mentioned that this’ll be known as “the female Ghostbusters”? Probably not, even though the movie’s promotional material isn’t hiding that. Is his reasoning for not wanting to give this film a chance lame? Again, probably. But that doesn’t mean that he’s being “sexist”.

I get that the internet likes to blow stuff out of proportion. I also don’t like how a lot of Rolfe’s defenders are also people I can’t stand for…reasons I won’t get into. But if Rolfe should be criticized for crapping on this film, it should be because he’s not giving this movie a fair chance.

That’s the key: “a fair chance”. Remember, trailers can be misleading. The trailers for Inside Out, for example, were atrocious, especially the dinner one, and that movie ended up being awesome. I’d even argue that it’s one of Pixar’s best! But my point is that the trailers shouldn’t be the defining point for a movie that’s not out yet. And yet they are, which is sad given how much the film has to prove to cynics and skeptics.

It’s equally as sad because I don’t think this movie ever had a chance to begin with. Ignoring that the original film’s so well-loved, none of the past attempts at recapturing the magic of it were successful. Even Ghostbusters II, which came out in 1989, was regarded as shamelessly recreating the original. So that this movie is trying again, albeit 32 years later, means that it has a bumpy road ahead. It’s not like reboots haven’t worked before either, I’ve been loving the Planet of the Apes films lately, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less bumpy.

Then there’s the additional angle of preference. I didn’t grow up with Ghostbusters as a kid, having been born 6 years after it came out. I’d heard of it from people old enough to remember it, and had even seen bits and pieces here and there on TV as a child, but it never stayed in my consciousness like, say, Toy Story or the Disney Renaissance films did. I didn’t get a chance to sit down and watch it in its full glory until recently on Netflix, and while I enjoyed it…it didn’t click with me. The jokes didn’t always land, the pacing was erratic, some of the visual gags and effects looked really dated and the finale was underwhelming. I respect what it did for American film, and I even appreciate its ideas, but it’s not what I’d consider a “masterpiece”.

Maybe that’s why I’m more hopeful. Ignoring the female spin, I think this is a cool premise with a lot of potential. Ghosts are a universally-feared concept by kids, while adults can easily read into them as a metaphor for whatever kinds of paranoia we have. Plus, it’s escapist fantasy! Who doesn’t love a little bit of that?

But that doesn’t mean that the criticism isn’t there. Is some of it sexist? Yes. Is all of it sexist? No. And it’s important to differentiate between the two, as opposed to going on a witch hunt and alienating people who are doing nothing wrong. I only wish the internet understood this, instead of me having to write a blurb that’d most-likely be misconstrued anyway…

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Batman: Mask of the Okaytasm

Batman: Mask of the Phantasm and I have a weird relationship. I’ve seen plenty of Batman films, being a huge fan of the character, but none have left me conflicted to the same degree as this one. Usually I know when a Batman film has me hooked (see The Dark Knight Trilogy) or not (see every live-action film from 1989 to 1997), and this is especially true with the myriad of animated films, but Batman: Mask of the Phantasm remains the weird outlier that I’ve never been able to love. The combination of enjoyment and frustration always leaves me conflicted, such that attempts to write about it have often left me at a loss for words. Still, I might as well try.

Two disclaimers: firstly, this won’t be a review. If you want one, you’re better off with Marzgurl, Chris Stuckmann, Confused Matthew (whose review no longer exists), Geekvolution or, to a lesser extent, Doug Walker, as they’ve done so quite efficiently. Instead, this’ll be me sharing my general thoughts and why the movie doesn’t click with me like most. And secondly, there’ll be major spoilers. I can’t discuss it without them, so you’ve been warned.

To give a general overview, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm takes place in-continuity of the highly-acclaimed Batman: The Animated Series. It begins with a fight between Batman and some mobsters, only to turn deadly when their boss is killed while trying to escape by a shadowy assassin out for revenge. This assassin is targeting mobsters with a shared history, and, what’s worse, Batman’s being blamed for it. Complicating matters is the return of an old fling in Batman’s, aka Bruce Wayne’s, love-life, bringing back a flood of repressed memories of their doomed relationship. As Batman tries piecing together the links behind the hits, and Bruce Wayne tries understanding why his former lover, Andrea Beaumont, left him, it becomes clear that the connections are as close as the character’s dual identity.

Let's start with the positives: the story is really interesting. Not because it’s a dark mystery, that’s nothing new for Batman, or because it delves into Batman’s/Bruce Wayne’s past, that’s nothing new either, but because it touches on something never really explored in the Batman mythos to quite this extent: romance. Usually, Batman’s flings are either there to look pretty, get into trouble, or both. And in the case of the show, there’s the additional component of the love interests giving up because they see no future with him. But Andrea Beaumont gives a Batman story a chance for a real love angle to build off of. It’s not a perfect love angle, Confused Matthew’s review pointed out how dissimilar Bruce and Andrea are personality-wise, but it’s enough to feel fresh and interesting for a character who’s been around for so long that he’s been cited by detractors as “stale” and “overused”.

I love the music and art-style. On the former’s end, the late-Shirley Walker gives it her all, and it shows. Full-out, gothic-style orchestrations can be heard throughout the film’s 76-minute runtime, including gospel choir humming during flashbacks and Latin chants during the opening credits and the big finale, and they really add to the film’s epic nature. As for the latter? If these stills aren't already indicative, the art-deco style really gives the film a unique look, something complimented by the animation. I do have an issue with said animation…but we’ll get to that later.

And finally, this movie wonderfully balances funny and dramatic. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, it’s DC’s animated division, but it keeps you on the edge of your seat with its twists, turns and bouts of feels and humour. Everything with the Joker is comedic gold, including his phone call with Batman in the third-act, while the more somber notes of Bruce’s relationship with his parents hit you where it hurts. And, of course, this movie is graphic! There’s blood and death galore, and while it’s never to the point of scarring…it’s intense. The Nostalgia Critic was right when he said that Batman: Mask of the Phantasm earns its PG-rating!

“Okay,” you’re thinking, “That doesn’t sound so bad. What could possibly warrant criticism?”

The first complaint has to do with execution. Remember how I said this is an interesting story? It doesn’t always present itself that way. For one, the pacing, particularly the first-act, is choppy. The film suffers from the same problem Batman Begins did, namely jumping back-and-forth between Bruce’s past and present to establish beats that’d come back into play in the finale. Except that it also rushes through major plot points for the sake of time. Details like Bruce’s romance with Andrea happen too fast, such that his proposal feels out of left-field and is lacking build-up. It doesn’t help that their break-off of the proposal is equally as quick and rushed, leaving little time for it to sink in.

On top of that, Bruce’s back-story has way too many conveniences for its own good. Am I really supposed to believe that Bruce would fall in-love with a girl he met at his parents’ grave three days earlier while she’d come to visit him in the backyard of his mansion? Or that their only romantic links are that they have dead parents and have taken martial arts classes? Or that Bruce proposes to Andrea at the same place he discovers a swarm of bats surfacing from what ends up becoming his Batcave? Or even that Andrea dumping him and him becoming Batman were supposed to be intertwined?

Actually, let’s zone-in on that last one: Bruce proposes to Andrea near the same rock that leads to the eventual Batcave, discovering its location because of a swarm of bats. Ignoring the on-the-nose symbolism, he goes investigating the cave, only to surface to a letter of rejection from Andrea. The next scene is him donning the guise of Batman for the first time, as if to suggest that Andrea’s rejection is what allowed that to happen. Do you realize how messed up that is? I remember Confused Matthew stating how dirty he felt that Bruce only became Batman because he broke up with a girl, but I felt that way long before that. Because it made Bruce out to be shallow, only doing what he did because “heartbreak”.

The movie’s contrivances don’t end there. For one, Andrea discovering that Batman and Bruce Wayne are the same guy is a real error in judgement on Batman’s part. He decides to visit his parents’ grave in costume while Andrea is at the cemetery, only to be noticed long enough for her to make the connection. And while I like that the Joker is in this movie, even though he takes over way too often whenever he’s on-screen, the way Bruce connects him to Andrea, smearing pink crayon over the mouth of a henchman in a photograph, is so ridiculous you’d have to be a complete idiot to not see it. I mean, really? Pink crayon?!

Speaking of which, the climax is unsatisfying. For one, Andrea, who at this point has been revealed to be The Phantasm, grabs the Joker and leaves right when the Smithsonian they’re in goes up into flames, stating that “it ends tonight”. It’s obvious that the Joker’s her last victim, but…what happens to him? He doesn’t die, as he returns in-show, but you never find out what Andrea had in mind. All you see is her on a boat with a mourner’s veil on, implying that she’s finally moved on, but when you factor in that Batman lets her go because she’s too similar to him…ugh, it’s confusing and annoying!

Finally, the animation and voice acting are a tad awkward. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm was originally supposed to be a TV movie, only becoming a theatrical release last-minute to capitalize on the success of the Tim Burton films, and it feels it. The animation is bounds better than the show, but it’s not quite film quality. It’s at times beautiful and others jarring, with character movements often clunky and hard to look at. And the voice acting is no different, coming off as too normal sounding for TV, yet too cartoony for film. It’s that imbalance that makes it hard to fully be engaged, which is a shame.

I get it: all these complaints can be waved with the justification of being a 76-minute film from a studio that’d never done something this ambitious. But I don’t buy that. 76-minutes might not seem like it, but that’s plenty of time to tell a compelling story in animation if properly-paced. Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker was also 76-minutes, and it told a wonderfully-paced story on the same budget. Even Batman & Mr. Freeze: Sub-Zero, which was 67-minutes long, managed to be tighter-written, and that’s an arguably weaker film! And let’s not forget DC animated films like Wonder Woman and Batman: Under the Red Hood, both of which were also 76-minutes long! Rushing to capitalize on a brand might explain Batman: Mask of the Phantasm’s problems, but it doesn’t excuse them, not when the same team would go on to do the aforementioned.

It’s also these sorts of problems that hold me back from liking this movie more than I do. Does this mean it’s not good? No, the points I mentioned at the beginning are more than enough for why you should check it out. Does I think it’s under-appreciated? Yes, especially when juxtaposed with The Dark Knight Trilogy. But I can’t call it anything higher than a 4/5 star film, and none of my multiple viewings have been able to convince me otherwise.

But I’d recommend checking it out anyway. The above is personal and subjective, so you might disagree with me. Besides, any opportunity to hear Mark Hamill as the Joker, even if it overshadows some of his equally terrific performances in other shows and movies, is a good one!