“Ghostbusters” (2016)

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Nostalgia, gender politics, and the Internet are a potent mix, but I like to think I successfully skirted most of that ugliness where Ghostbusters is concerned. A child of the ’80s, I of course had (and have) a soft spot for the original films and especially the animated The Real Ghostbusters, but I never considered myself a rabid fan. (Transformers, a franchise I was more invested in, helped teach me the dangers of being too attached to commercialized nuggets of childhood.) As a result I didn’t have an aneurism about the casting decisions or the simple fact of a Ghostbusters remake.

But if I’m being really honest, I expected this remake to fail, but not because I was blinded by unreasoning sexism or gooey nostalgia: rather, I expected it to fail because it clearly represents the most cynical kind of corporate manipulation, one calculated to take advantage of both gender issues and wistful childhood remembrance. Unfortunately–and unsurprisingly–I was right. What was a bit surprising was just how intensely cynical the film’s faux-progressive ploy actually was in the final reckoning.

The plot follows Dr. Erin Gilbert, a physicist up for tenure at Columbia who once wrote a book about ghosts with her estranged lab partner Abby. When Abby puts the book on Amazon (this is not how publishing works, by the way), Erin is upset because she’s recanted all her paranormal theorizing and worries that it will negatively impact her tenure review. Alas, she’s right, and after she and Abby and Abby’s new partner Holtzmann actually spot a ghost and capture it on film, her dean (or whoever) sees the video on YouTube and fires her. (This is also not how academia works… At least, not exactly.) So, just as Venkman, Stantz and Spengler got booted from Columbia, Erin is also, uh, booted from Columbia, and the ladies go into business for themselves, because this movie takes literally every cue from the original film and adds nothing new except Chris Hemsworth. Oh, he’s their secretary. Whatever.

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It looks kind of cool, at least.

The rest of the movie is the new Ghostbusters proving themselves, developing new gear, and uncovering a plot by a hopeless nerd (nerds are bad, except when they’re good, in which case they’re the Ghostbusters) to unleash hell on New York City. In between busting the glowing purple-and-green specters, the ladies make jokes about Chris Hemsworth being pretty but stupid, once or twice flirt with one another because that apparently makes this film progressive and edgy, and that’s all I can think of even though usually these little lists feel more rounded-out when you have three things but this film doesn’t give me three things to work with, damn it.

It’s just that it’s not good, you see. The jokes are never funny. Jokes have to be clever and unexpected, and these are neither. Ghostbusters has always been about gags first, ghosts second, and marketing tie-ins third. This one is nothing but a marketing tie-in, without the redeeming factors of memorable one-liners or memorable ghosts. The first two ghosts we see are close analogues to the library ghost in Ghostbusters and the skinnier Scoleri brother in Ghostbusters II, because coming up with new ideas is for dicks, man. They shoehorned Stay-Puft in there, too, albeit in the form of a possessed parade float–but that makes no sense if you haven’t seen the original. This film has nothing but nostalgia, and it doesn’t handle that well.

Nearly as bad as the lack of comedy is the lack of Ghostbusters. This is not a sequel: it’s an entirely new, standalone story with no connection to the universe of the original films. There never was a Venkman or an Egon, no Gozer or Viggo, no Ecto-1 or Walter Peck. And yet everything here depends entirely on the audience’s familiarity with the original films, from the teeth-grinding cameos by the entire surviving cast of the original films (except Rick Moranis) to the pointless, universe-hopping appearance of Slimer (and his lady friend, because gender equality, to the filmmakers, means making the exact same thing but in overtly feminized form). Why distance the story from the original only to cram the most recognizable characters and symbols from the original into the new one anyway? (Because money, of course.)

I didn’t closely follow the outrage over this film that played out on the Internet, but you’d have to be totally unplugged not to catch that sexist trolls were upset about the all-femaleness of the main characters. I admit that I was confused by this decision, which seemed arbitrary and therefore the opposite of progressive. But now that I’ve seen it it’s rather upsetting that any “feminism” the all-female GB crew may have represented is reflected in a joke about queefing, in a scene where they shoot a giant ghost in its immaterial balls, and in constant, relentless, and simply unfunny jokes about Chris Hemsworth and how pretty and stupid he is. Just being zany and talking about genitals is not the same as offering critical social commentary (and it’s certainly not funny). And this brand of “feminism” apparently comes at the cost of racial sensitivity, with the one central African American cast member being the stock-est of stock characters, actually crying “Preach!” in one scene and parodying Oprah in another because audiences can apparently only relate to black women if they speak like they’re in church or are Oprah.

This film is just a total miss, and that’s especially disappointing because of how easy it would have been to make a silly, fun, festive piece of nonsense like the original Ghostbuster films. This entry tries, but ends up as a hot sparkly mess of awkward jokes involving shirtless photos of Chris Hemsworth and Kristen Wiig’s character getting ectoplasm in her vagina. (That’s an actual joke from the film, I hasten to add.) Sex jokes are awesome and can be super funny, but they have to be funny. Just shouting out the names of various genitalia doesn’t qualify, because it’s not clever. It’s just words, and if genital-words were all I wanted I’d retire with a bottle of Malbec and my tablet and spend the evening reading Urban Dictionary entries, which at least sometimes have punchlines.

The new Ghostbusters has some cool ghost designs and CG that, while wildly overblown, at least sort of make sense in this context; but the pleasantly goofy visual aesthetic just doesn’t make up for the lazy, cynical money-grab the film so transparently is.

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Monster Hunting

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I’ve mentioned before that as a kid I played a game with my younger sisters wherein we pretended to hunt monsters in our basement. I was clicking around over at the awesome Dinosaur Dracula, and the retro kitsch inspired me to show you a couple of items from our  monster hunting arsenal–because if there’s one thing the Internet needs more of, it’s ’80s/’90s nostalgia.

Being the Castlevania fan that I was, I had to play the hero: my weapons of choice were a toy whip and a “crystal” decanter of “holy water.” I had a succession of cheap toy bullwhips which played the role of the Belmont’s improbable vampire-killer. The holy water vial, a recurring weapon throughout the Castlevania series, was a repurposed plastic decanter from a toy series called “Treasure Rocks.” This was one of many add-water-to-reveal-the-cheap-plastic-doodad-style toys of the ’80s and ’90s. One of my sisters had gotten it as a Christmas or birthday gift, and once the plastic jewels were revealed there wasn’t much use for the bottle anymore–except as a weapon of righteous fury against the basement undead. It was purple and dripped late-20th-century corporate sexism, but I’d fill it with water and lob it around the basement with righteous abandon. Here’s an original ad for the toy, which disturbs me because, among other things, it gives the date as 1993, which means I was significantly older at the time I was running around hunting monsters than I realized. Ah youth.

I bet the creators of that insipid ad never imagined their pretty princess sexist garbage would be used for melting the faces off of unsuspecting vampires. Just goes to show: I was an awesome kid.

Another weapon of monster destruction was this ridiculous beast, the “Eliminator TS-7.” The Eliminator was a hideous hunk of plastic that lit up and made generic machine gun and “pew pew” laser noises. Its gimmick was that various portions of the thing could be removed and reconfigured into slightly different versions of themselves. Basically it was a big gun with a removable sword thing which included a couple of different-length blades. Silly as it was, its lights and sounds made it a lot of fun in the darkened basement.

If that doesn’t scream early-’90s America, it’s only because there are no neon bike shorts, Pogs, Married… with Children cameos or Guns n’ Roses guitar solos. Regardless, machine guns and lazer swords were pretty good for anti-demon warfare.

I can’t be the only person who discovered the supernatural (and tried to shoot it with lasers) as a kid. Did anybody else play any games like this? On a related note, did you ever play any of the various “occult” children’s games that are still popular, like trying to summon Bloody Mary or using a Ouija board?