Each week, Now in Rep Cinema compiles the best repertory and art house screenings, special presentations, lectures, and limited engagements.
|Love Em or Hate Em: Luis Buñuel
Miles Nadal JCC
Monday July 25, 7 p.m.
|Ghostbusters II (and Equilibrium)
Thursday July 28, 9 p.m.
TIFF Bell Lightbox
Friday July 29, 9:15 p.m.
|The Rocky Horror Picture Show
Friday July 29, 11:30 p.m.
Ghostbusters II (and Equilibrium)
This Thursday at the Underground, the Defending the Indefensible series (in which local film writers shoulder the duty of defending their favourite flops, failures, and cinematic turds) returns with a double bill of Equilibrium and Ghostbusters II. Now, I can’t speak for Equilibrium, having never seen it, but I can speak for Ghostbusters II. And, indeed, I (the guy writing this) will be at the Underground, defending GBII on Thursday. So here’s a little taste.
A lot of people like to blame Ghostbusters II for ruining summer movies (Defending the Indefensible programmer Andrew Parker has written an extensive and exhaustively researched account of the film’s troubled production and reception over at his blog). This is a sensible claim, in some ways. When the film came out in 1989 it was criticized by many for pretty much copying the tone and plotting of the original, the still excellent Ghostbusters. Ghostsbusters II was just Ghostbusters with slime. Add an extra-apathetic Bill Murray half-assing his way through the press junket, barely trying not to badmouth the movie, and there was plenty of reason to be skeptical about the film. Undaunted, though, Ghostbusters II posted the then-highest-ever three-day opening weekend gross. The record would be steam-rolled a week later by Tim Burton’s Batman.
So, the argument goes, GBII marked the moment where a film’s take of the box office and the quality of the film stopped correlating. Nobody cared if The Exorcist or Jaws made a tonne of dough, because those films (by all accounts) are awesome. But when Hollywood got into the business of, as Tom Shone describes it in his book Blockbuster, lightning bottling (essentially, faking the magic that made early blockbusters so entertaining and profitable), it meant the end for fun, entertaining movies. Enter: Godzilla, Batman and Robin, Transformers, and all the other offenders.
There’s some truth to this. But it’s not really fair to place this burden entirely on Ghostbusters II, or to say that Ghostbusters II is some terrible film because it helped establish a template for terrible films. You might as well malign Train Arriving at the Station for starting the trend of movies being a thing that exists. And the fact is, Ghostbusters II is not a terrible movie. Now, it’s not excellent or anything, and it’s certainly not as good as the original (what film is?). But it is good. And the manner in which it rips off the original (if it even makes sense to say that one film in the same franchise can rip off another; it’s kind of like plagiarizing yourself) makes it even better.
Here’s the thing about Ghostbusters: the thing that makes the Ghostbusters movies great isn’t the ghosts or slime or giant marshmallow men or haunted paintings. What makes the Ghostbusters movies great are the ghostbusters. And it’s not just the casting (though Aykroyd, Hudson, Murray, and Ramis are all perfectly cast). The best thing about the ghostbusters is how workaday they are. There’s a blue collar schlubbiness that hangs over the team, made all the more poignant by the fact that most of them are scientists and doctors and stuff. But the business of busting ghosts is a business like any other, and there are highs and lows. It’s the rote nine-to-fiveness of their work that makes the ghostbusters so fun to watch. They’re not superheroes or anything. They’re just guys with a job to do.
Because Ghostbusters II is so derivative, this banality seems even more pronounced. Even Murray, who always looks nonplussed, seems extra nonplussed, like he’s bored with the idea of being in the movie at all. In order for a Ghostbusters film to really hit those notes of boredom and punch-clocking frustration, it must be truly boring. You could make an argument for it as a kind of existential workplace comedy, if you wanted. And also, there is a dancing toaster.
But if you want to hear a full, robust defense of the film, you’ll have to come out to the Underground on Thursday.
Also Unspooling…Love Em or Hate Em: Luis Buñuel
Nowadays in this, the year of our Lord two thousand and eleven, it’s hard to think of Spanish filmmaker Luis Buñuel as controversial. Sure, he was a relentless critic of organized religion. But now Christopher Hitchens’ books move zillions of copies. And, really, what is there left to say about the bourgeoisie and their charm? Even if he is a bit dated by today’s standards, Buñuel’s like the godfather of controversial filmmakers. Ever since Un Chien Andalou made a splash in 1929, practically birthing surrealist cinema, Buñuel proved a formidable filmmaker and thinker, unblinking in his social criticism and aesthetic brass. And, better than just being controversial, he’s got a handful of films (L’Age D’Or, The Exterminating Angel, The Discrete Charm of the Bourgeoisie, The Phantom of Liberty), which are excellent. But enough of my yakkin’, Adam Nayman’s got the scoop on all things Buñuel this week at the JCC, as his Controversial Directors lecture series continues.
Oh, how we wish that the Lightbox’s John Cassavetes retrospective could just go on forever. But alas, it can’t. Audiences lose interest and prints need to circulate. So as we bid a teary farewell to Cassavetes’ stint at the Lightbox, we recommend that you, dear reader and movie-goer, see it off on Friday by taking in Cassavetes’ Opening Night. The film stars Gena Rowlands (of course) as an aging, alcoholic actress whose life begins to blow apart after witnessing the death of a young fan. And it co-stars Ben Gazzara and John Cassavetes himself. Perfect!
The Rocky Horror Picture Show
Tom Holland’s vampire-next-door flick. When the Bloor Cinema shut down for renovations last month, it raised a lot of questions, namely: where the hell is everyone going to watch The Rocky Horror Picture Show every month? Well fear not, you cross-dressing dorks, because the Revue has picked up the torch. So stop hyperventilating into that brown paper bag, strap on your sister’s best lingerie, and time warp on over to Roncesvalles. It’s the same movie you’ve seen a billion times, but in a different theatre! And with a live shadowcast!