Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Infiltrator and Ghostbusters [2016]

                                  Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained

                                                             Reviews by Ken Burke

Take care, curious readers, for plot spoilers gallop rampantly throughout the Two Guys’ insightful reviews.  Therefore, be warned, beware, and read on when you’re ready to be transported to … wherever we end up.  Please protect your eyes from the dazzling brilliance.
                                                 The Infiltrator (Brad Furman)
Based on a true story of the mid-1980s, a U.S. Customs undercover agent tries to worm his way into Pablo Escobar’s Colombian drug cartel, posing as a successful money launderer so that he can gather evidence, including with a hidden tape recorder; his ruse continues successfully as he gets further embedded in this mob, but the danger of discovery always lurks.
What Happens: When we first meet U.S. Customs agent Robert Mazur (Bryan Cranston) in Tampa, FL, 1985, he’s got a scraggly mustache, wearing beat-up-clothes, finalizing the setup in a bowling alley for the arrest of his supposed-friend.  As the authorities swoop in, though, we see Mazur suddenly doubled up in pain in what looks like it might be part of his tactics but after he’s taken away we learn that it’s a deep scar on his chest from the wire he was wearing.  This injury, and his time in service, would earn him a full-benefit-disability-retirement but he prefers (against his wife, Evelyn’s [Juliet Aubrey], wishes, fearful for their lives and for their young daughter and son) to stay in for 1 more big operation that his boss, Bonni Tischler (Amy Ryan), wants to orchestrate against Pablo Escobar’s huge Colombia-based-Medellín cartel which is moving billions of dollars a year in cocaine into the U.S., largely through south Florida. The main problem for Mazur, though (beyond his familial-inner-struggles where he’s asked by Evelyn to simply get out while he can vs. encouragement from his marginally-legal Aunt Vicky [Olympia Dukakis] to learn some get-rich-tricks from her), is his disgust with having to partner up with wild-ass-agent (“He’s nuts!”) Emir Abreu (John Leguizamo), but he has no choice as Abreu already has a snitch contact with some lower-level-cartel-members so he’s necessary for Mazur to work his way into the confidence of these crooks as a supposed-top-flight-money-launderer from New Jersey.  Before they can start worming their way into the “family,” though, they need new identities which they get from strolling around a graveyard until they find a couple of names of the dead that fit their ages, thus Mazur becomes Bob Musella.  (I’ll call him that when I’m referring to how this undercover agent presents himself to these conned soon-to-be-cons; the real Mazur says this scene is based on fact; Cranston admits that except for the predetermined images of the chosen headstones most of the dialogue with Leguizamo was improvised, as the scene had to be shot quickly in a private cemetery where they had no permission to be filming.)

 Buoyed by his new identity, trimmed facial hair, sharper clothing, a small reel-to-reel-tape-recorder hidden in the top of his briefcase, and a fake quasi-banker-existence established (with his government's backing) by moving money through the slimy-cartel-friendly Bank of Credit and Commerce International (CBBI), a huge institution based in Luxembourg but with branches in Panama and elsewhere, Musella soon has a viable presence with local Tampa Medellín members (along with ongoing tension toward Abreu, but that’s the essence of their partnership) that leads to a meeting in a club where Bob is offered the willing services of a most-attractive-woman which he declines with the quickly-concocted-story that he’s engaged, not wanting to screw up his coming marriage like he did with the previous one; this complication brings in another partner, Kathy Ertz (Diane Kruger), with no previous undercover experience but an ability to smoothly present herself as the kind of material girl that would appeal to high-roller Bob (even though we’re effectively terrified she’s going to blow her cover, just as we’ve given many quick shots that show Mazur worn-down, near-desperate to be able to maintain his façade around so many people that live a daily life that he’s constantly having to fake).  With all of this faux-structure in order, Operation C-Chase (according to different sources, named either for “currency” or Tampa’s Calibre Chase apartments where the scam began in 1986) is in full swing, although we’re given further reason to worry when Mazur senses he’s being followed (later it turns out that he is, by a CIA guy, so now we’re not even sure if his own government supports this scheme, but, oddly, that’s not a plotline followed up on very far).

 Much of what transpires from here on out consists of scenes of Musella moving up the cartel ladder, impressing his new “colleagues” with his NJ home, his extravagant lifestyle, and his desire to get further embedded in their business as he wants to throw the net as close to Escobar as possible.  Along the way, though, problems keep arising including a groping run-in with gay thug Javier Ospina (Yul Vazquez)—I’m not clear what value he brings to the gang, but it must be of some importance because he’s tolerated even though no one’s interested in his carnal desires—plus a near-disaster when the false briefcase top falls open with Ospina getting a quick look at the tape machine before Musella covers it up again (but the threat he now represents to Mazur is nullified when his own guys shoot him because they’re sick of his jabbering, just as a similarly-miraculous-rescue comes to Abreu in another scene when his informer starts demanding more money, then tries to expose him only to also be shot down by his supposed-comrades when they choose to believe Abreu’s show of bravado [and his tactic of revealing that this guy has cash stuffed in his pants—his latest government payoff—which Emir convinces them is actually mob money]).  The biggest threat to Mazur’s identity, though, comes when he’s trying to bail himself out of hot water for forgetting his anniversary with Evelyn so they’re having dinner at a nice restaurant when a cartel guy, Gonzalo Mora Sr. (Simón Andreu), happens upon them, assuming the woman is Musella’s fiancée; Bob quickly counters that, no, she’s his loyal secretary, but another complication arises with the delivery of an anniversary cake.  Musella has no choice but to actually intimidate the waiter into believing he mistakenly brought this instead of a birthday cake, the scene climaxed by the frightened man being shoved into the pastry (satisfying Mora Sr., scaring the wits out of Evelyn).

 Next, Musella pushes harder for meeting higher-echelon guys but first he endures a weird voodoo ceremony where another man is also hoping to be cut in on the action; he’s shot as not being worthy while Bob’s confident bluff continues to be accepted, leading to a long-awaited-introduction to extremely-high-placed-honcho Roberto Alcaino (Benjamin Bratt), who accepts Bob but is more fascinated with Kathy (who gives him a fake palm reading claiming that “destiny has marked you for success”) leading to luxurious time spent with Alcaino and wife Gloria (Elena Anaya), as Roberto speaks of loyalty while our agents are struggling to maintain their false selves, even as Mazur’s family suffers a meltdown when Escobar sends him a small package of blood as intimidation-encouragement to get $10 million in cartel cash out of Panama even though the U.S. has frozen the assets as Reagan moves against Noriega.  Further trouble arises when Tischler wants to grab a huge shipment of coke coming into Miami, against the wishes of Mazur who wants more time to get further dirt on the cartel’s higher-ups and their crooked banker collaborators, but the bust goes down anyway sending Alcaino into hiding but with Mazur’s “Musella” identity intact.  The final round-up comes later, when most of the cartel members we’ve met show up for Bob and Kathy’s lavish wedding, which ends abruptly with the arrival of Customs and Drug Enforcement Agency feds, the indictment of about 100 drug operatives and bankers (getting 12-15 years in prison each; Escobar remained freely active, though), along with the seizure of about 3,100 pounds of cocaine and the levying of $600 million in fines and forfeitures (all of this told through pre-credits graphics which also offer some quick bio-info on the major players here, including notes that the CIA continued to use BCCI for awhile to finance its support of the Taliban against Soviet Union invaders of Afghanistan while it’s estimated that about $2 trillion is still being laundered on an annual basis throughout the world).

So What? With this film based on the actual Robert Mazur’s book The Infiltrator: My Secret Life Inside the Dirty Banks Behind Pablo Escobar’s Medellín Cartel (2009), this review marks my last 3 postings in a row that include explorations of fact-based-films, with 2 more in June 2016 (the documentary Eat That Question: Frank Zappa in His Own Words [Thorsten Schütte] plus the combo review of the docudramas The Man Who Knew Infinity [Matthew Brown] and Genius [Michael Grandage], along with Papa: Hemingway in Cuba [Bob Yari] in May) so I’ll state now, then repeat in the review below, it’s getting to be beyond time for Hollywood mainstream studios to look for some talented original screenwriters in the ranks of independent films to help us find our way back to such casually-referenced-yet-historically-set masterpieces of yesteryear as The Godfather trilogy (Francis Ford Coppola; 1972, 1974, 1990) or Chinatown (Roman Polanski, 1974) instead of giving us so many films “based on fact,” which often play fast and loose with their events in the quest for dramatic impact.  Fortunately, though, if we’re to continue to be presented with so many “truth-inspired” dramas, at least we get ones such as those noted above which are usually quite-well-produced 
(of the ones I’ve cited here Free State of Jones has the most in the way of structural problems) and  
often fill in aspects of historical eras or events that have gone unknown for far too long.  I'd say 
The Infiltrator falls into the 1st group I’ve just noted in that it’s great drama where the tension never lets up (even though you know that Mazur survives being outed as a drug agent through advance publicity about the film—or if you didn’t, you can get a lot of info on him by consulting his web site, or a 2010 interview, or a recent interview, and/or the info in a very recent interview [this last one confirming/clarifying many details about the current screen story—including the reality that there were hundreds of agents involved in busting members of the Medeliín Cartel, not just the few focused on in this film—serving as reference for some of my further statements in this section of the review, although some specifics are also addressed at this history vs. Hollywood site]).  Still, The Infiltrator doesn’t begin with a “based on true events” statement as most of its ilk do, even though we get plenty of follow-up-info on the main players in a series of graphics-updates just after the action concludes.

 While a few on-screen-items in this film are either compressed or fictionalized (it took Mazur 18 months to establish his phony credentials with BCCI [which later collapsed, due to arrests, fines, and scandal] rather than the seeming-swiftness depicted by the script; the incident of another cartel-applicant being shot while kneeling next to Musella at the voodoo ceremony didn't occur [although it's indicative of actual atrocities]; the final arrests took place at a fake-bachelor party rather than a fake-wedding), the overall impact of what we see here is largely accurate (including the choice of an alias from a tombstone and the near-tragic-event of the briefcase-flap falling open).  For me, the chief fabrication is the age of Mazur because he was in his mid-30s in 1985 (he’s 65 now) rather than the older man we see on screen (relieving the makeup or computer experts from somehow having to make Cranston considerably younger than his current age of 60), so while Cranston does an excellent (Oscar-nomination-worthy) job in the role we either have a situation where a younger actor could have been considered (as long as one good enough could have been secured; based on images we see in this link [from just above], possibly Leguizamo or Bratt [photo here] might have been considered for the lead, but, then, they’re not that much younger than Cranston and I’m sure the producers wanted a big-name-actor at the top of his game, which is exactly what they got) or we’re given the added emotional element of a man clearly ready for traditional retirement (even without the wound) continuing on a job he didn’t have to take purely for the dedication to service that the filmmakers want us to understand about the real Mazur, as well as those like him, who daily risk the lives of themselves and their families in the ongoing, largely-unappreciated quest of undermining criminal empires (just as our various spy agencies work nonstop to thwart terrorist plots, with their equally-valuable-sacrifices largely ignored by a secure public until a destructive event finally breaks through our illusion of comfortable safety).

 However, it’s Leguizamo’s character, Abreu, who openly states that kind of ongoing-dedication to the job but as his own form of self-induced-high, so that it doesn’t seem so quietly-noble as are Mazur’s reasons.  Hopefully, we’ll someday get to see how noble Escobar himself might be when, ironically, he’s portrayed by Leguizamo in El Patron (supposedly set for release in 2017), in that he used millions of his crime-stash to aid underprivileged fellow Colombians even though he was also a ruthless drug lord responsible for countless murders against rival gangs and any authorities who wouldn’t accept his ongoing demand for taking bribes to keep his cartel in such thriving business.

Bottom Line 
Final Comments: I chose the old proverb that offers us the wisdom of “nothing ventured, nothing gained” as the title for this current posting because it's a clever saying that can be interpreted in 2 ways that are applicable to what’s under review.  You could either decide that this statement is a hearty admonition to take some chances, to push yourself out of your comfort zone in order to accomplish great tasks that would go unexplored if you kept within the realm of the expected, or (in a manner not as obvious but implied if you take these words to another logical conclusion) they could mean that if proper preparation isn’t put into a challenging attempt (therefore, “nothing ventured”) then no useful result will come of the effort (producing “nothing gained”).  Certainly, the 1st of these varied interpretations speaks to the life of undercover agents, especially Mazur and his associates in Operation C-Chase, because without their willingness to engage in these dangerous subterfuges the success rates of various criminal and terrorist empires would be even greater than they are now, even though these law-and-order-driven-government-run-scams require great investments of time, resources, and lives to ever have hope of accomplishing their objectives (some don’t, as detailed—with more fictional-bravado than we see in The Infiltrator—in American Hustle [David O. Russell, 2013; review in our December 27, 2013 posting]).  Then, as I’ll explore in the next review below, some would apply my 2nd interpretation of “nothing ventured, nothing gained” to the new rendition of Ghostbusters, but that’s a matter for interpretation (probably of a fierce nature, based on some rabid-male-opinions about this female-centric-remake), but let’s continue on here with The Infiltrator which succeeds in the manner thrillers need to whether based in history or fiction.  Even with after-the-fact-assurances that Mazur and his colleagues made it through this deadly-gauntlet to tell their tale for our agitated-enjoyment years down the road, we constantly feel the tension of impending doom, that a cover will be blown, that some initiation requirement will force an undercover agent to commit a heinous act that he/she’s legally/ethically/morally opposed to just to keep the fake identity intact, yet despite moments that imply immediate peril our brave protagonists continue to survive.

 What also comes across effectively here is the tension between the public and private lives of these clandestine agents, especially Mazur, where desperate attempts are made to function as a normal spouse and parent, always running the risk that someone you’re trying to isolate to your constructed life will appear unannounced in your private one, leading to situations such as we witness with Mazur suddenly transforming into Musella at his anniversary dinner, not only thinking fast to find a scenario that’ll be accepted by the intruder but acting in a manner that justifies his alias (which Cranston now admits grew into an impromptu deviation from the script when he slammed the innocent waiter’s face into the cake, leading to an after-shoot-apology for the surprise-abuse dished out to his fellow actor).  Sometimes, though, you get a sense of the script being a bit sensationalized for the purpose of building, then releasing audience tension, like when his mob associates choose to shoot Ospina because he’s so constantly annoying before he even gets a chance to reveal what he knows about Bob’s secret briefcase 
(a decision also a bit dramatically exaggerated regarding why he wouldn’t expose Bob on the spot rather than waiting until some timely opportunity, so that a lucky [but not for Javier] twist of fate saves Bob’s life that time [Mazur says the actual event resulted in the tape recorder falling into the bottom of the briefcase but it was turned away from whomever he was talking to so that his secret wasn’t exposed]), just as we’re never sure that Roberto and Gloria have fully bought into the ruse of Bob and Kathy, yet every time the pressure mounts it just results in further acceptance of these agents as true friends, including the gift of expensive pearls—a complication as well, as we clearly sense that there’s some guilt involved by both Mazur and Ertz when the arrests come, but if so it’s likely quickly expunged by the furious reactions from the captured couple, especially Gloria.

 It also comes across as extremely effective that Evelyn finally reaches a breaking point with Robert by demanding he move out, not only for protection for her and their children against reprisals (no exaggeration there; the real Mazur still maintains a low profile regarding the use of identifiable photos, unaltered recordings of his voice, etc. because while he doesn’t live in fear—in fact, he still lives in Tampa, where you’d think he’d be easy to track down—he also doesn’t want to make it too available for potential enemies to finally take revenge on him [I imagine Abreu and Ertz have similar concerns but I haven’t found much except incidental mentions in stories about Mazur.]) but also because she can’t stand the dual stress of her husband in constant danger while playing out his fake engagement so she has no idea how intimate it’s become as he’s spending so much public (and private?) time with this “fiancée.”  Her fears on that last issue are put to rest as the women have an honest talk when Kathy retrieves Mazur’s tux for the “wedding,” but Evelyn can’t shake the misery that Leonard Cohen articulates in “Everybody Knows” (on his 1988 album I’m Your Man) “that the boat is leaking … that the captain died Everybody got this broken feeling Like their father or their dog just died.”  That morbid song captures the tone of despair in this film so well that it’s part of the soundtrack, also easily functioning as my Musical Metaphor for the grim realities that The Infiltrator explores, leaving us with the sad sense that many of us may be living virtual-undercover-lives, forced by circumstances to take on personas that aren’t organic to our being yet still are necessary to cope with the challenges of the demanding worlds of work and society around us because “That’s how it goes Everybody knows,” so before exploring just below “who ya gonna call” if you’ve got trouble in New York rather than south Florida you might want a full immersion in Cohen’s troubling worldview at
                                                        Ghostbusters (Paul Feig)
This retelling of a 1984 comedy classic puts women in the 4 lead roles of saviors of NYC from an invasion of fierce ghosts even though their efforts are initially ridiculed by the media (just as this movie has been by men on the Internet), their victories kept hidden by the mayor’s team in order to prevent public panic; this movie may not be necessary but it’s still funny.
What Happens: A series of closely-related-incidents in contemporary NYC sets this plot in motion: A ferocious ghost emerges in a mansion-museum sending one of its curators to seek help from Dr. Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) because he’s read her book about the paranormal; however, that book gets her fired just before her final tenure review at lofty Columbia U., with the stuffy dean of Psychology not wanting to have such absurdities connected to his faculty; Erin angrily tracks down her co-author/former colleague and long-time-friend, 
Dr. Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy), now working at some local technical college in league with a brilliantly-crazed engineer, Dr. Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon), to find the book was resurrected by Abby to help fund her ongoing ghost-based-research, but when she tries to get Erin hired her obscene Dean throws all of them out because he didn’t realize that Abby’s program was still in existence; after the women encounter the slime-belching-mansion-ghost they set up a ramshackle office above a Chinese restaurant (with stolen equipment from the college), hire dim-bulb Kevin Beckman (Chris Hemsworth) as a receptionist (Erin’s really smitten with him), then investigate another spook-sighting by MTA worker Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) which they document on video, but when their footage goes viral they’re dismissed by famous skeptic Dr. Martin Heiss (Bill Murray).  After Holtzmann quickly improves their proton-based-hardware and tricks out their hearse (borrowed from Patty’s undertaker uncle), they capture a dragon-ghost (?) at a rock concert, release it to prove to Heiss that they’re for real (it knocks him out the window as it escapes), and are dubbed the Ghostbusters in the media, a moniker they finally embrace along with the famous logo, spray-painted by a tagger on a city wall.  They’re quietly encouraged—although publically rejected to avoid panic—by Mayor Bradley (Andy Garcia) and his assistant, Jennifer Lynch (Cecily Strong), as other ghost sightings are being reported, until they find that disgruntled bellhop Rowan North (Neil Casey) from the Mercado Hotel is planning to open a portal to the angry ghost dimension, but when they prevent his plan he electrocutes himself.

 That was part of the plan, though, as Rowan comes back as a ghost, takes over Kevin’s body, then releases his human-hating-minions with a goal of commandeering the city with only our 4 Ghostbusters able to destroy many of his army even as his awful power continues to grow as it's feeding off of the power grid (just like with the Doomsday monster in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice [see next paragraph for citations]), giving Rowan the ability to grow himself up to gigantic size (after leaving Kevin, to then appear as the personification of the famous logo "cute" spirit).  Ghosts have even taken over the hearse—now called “Ecto-1”—onto which Holtzmann has installed what’s essentially a nuclear reactor.  In a final desperation move to plug up the abyss through which these destructive ghosts are escaping into our world, the intrepid women lure the careening hearse into the portal, blast the rooftop reactor with their proton weapons setting off a chain reaction that closes the passageway while sucking all of the ghosts back into it (seemingly reversing all of the collateral damage to the city in the process, much like what happened when our Kryptonian hero reversed Earth’s orbit in Superman [Richard Donner, 1978] in order to restore Lois Lane’s life but in the process eliminated all of the physical damage to the western U.S. caused by Lex Luthor’s nefarious scheme), with Erin rescuing Abby at the last second from being sucked into this ghostly hell.  Even though the city officials continue to deny the Ghostbusters’ work (claiming nothing happened, that it was all a mass delusion) they secretly fund research to guard against ghost recurrences (so the gals get to move to an abandoned fire station they originally wanted), with a quick post-credits scene showing Patty picking up reference to Zuul (a monster from the original movie) on a tape recording.

 Along the way throughout this movie we also get cameos from other 1984 Ghostbusters cast members—Dan Aykroyd as an unhelpful cab driver, Sigourney Weaver as a new mentor for Holtzmann, Ernie Hudson as Patty’s uncle Bill Jenkins, Annie Potts as a hotel desk clerk disgusted with bellhop Rowan—along with Ozzy Osbourne, Al Roker, and NYC comic news anchor Pat Kierman appearing as themselves (with the whole thing feeling like a reunion of NBC TV’s Saturday Night Live given how many noted cast members here have appeared on or hosted that show).

So What? One potentially-interesting question about this new version of Ghostbusters is whether to call it a remake or a reboot (based on comments from angry male Internet commenters who seem to be taking a hostile, misogynistic position that it’s almost sacrilegious to recast this story primarily with females or that the men depicted are shown to be either "idiots or assholes" [seemingly regardless of the decades of cinema women shown as bimbos or sluts], I’m sure there are plenty of opponents of this movie who could come up with much-more-scatological-names)—with both terms used in various reviews that I’ve read—in that the former should imply a repackaging of previously-released-material (such as the essentially-shot-by-shot-reconstruction of Psycho [Alfred Hitchcock, 1960; remake by Gus Van Sant, 1998] with added, haunting subtleties in the soundtrack or the upcoming attempt to once again bring Ben-Hur [Timur Bekmambetov, U.S. release date August 19, 2016] to the screen [following versions by Fred Niblo, Charles Brabin in 1925, William Wyler in 1959]) whereas the latter approach is about plots that reimagine characters for the purpose of giving audiences a new series of stories that don’t have to conform to previous continuities (as we’ve seen in recent years with Spider-Man—for his 
own narratives as well as joining him with members of the Avengers [see our reviews of The Amazing Spider-Man {directed by the appropriately-named Marc Webb, 2012}, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 {Webb, 2014}, Captain America: Civil War {Joe and Anthony Russo, 2016, where Spidey’s rebooted for a 2nd time} in the Two Guys' July 12, 2012, May 8, 2014, May 13, 2016 postings]—as well as Superman and Batman [see reviews of Man of Steel {Zack Snyder, 2013}, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice {Snyder} in our June 19, 2013, April 1, 2016 postings], both of those in preparation for the long-awaited debut of the full cast of DC Comics/Warner Bros.’ Justice League [Snyder, due in 2017], plus the storylines of such series as James Bond, Planet of the Apes, Terminator, and Star Trek [see reviews of Skyfall {Sam Mendes, 2012}, Spectre {Mendes, 2015}, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes {Matt Reeves, 2014}, Terminator: Genisys {Alan Taylor, 2015}, Star Trek into Darkness {J.J. Abrams, 2013} in our November 16, 2012, November 12, 2015, July 18, 2014, July 31, 2015, May 24, 2013 postings]), all of which are to be distinguished from actual sequels, even those that come out so long after the originals that they feel like remakes/reboots (such as with Jurassic World [Colin Trevorrow; see the review in our June 17, 2015 posting]).

 With Ghostbusters that remake/reboot determination will emerge when we learn if Sony senses enough positive response (as measured in dollars, along with audience appreciation for the brief return of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man) to go forward with this female-centric-approach to the original concept or whether this is a noble, well-enough-liked (despite the Internet trolls) offering that just doesn’t justify further investment (as with Tim Burton's intended-reboot of the Planet of the Apes series in 2001, which did make a lot of money [$362.2 million worldwide] but suffered tepid critical response [Rotten Tomatoes 45% positive reviews, Metacritic 50%] and general audience confusion about its ending where the Earth astronaut [played by Mark Wahlberg] escapes the ape world only to return to the planet he left, which is now ruled by apes).  If there are more of these, they’ll need to keep the main cast together but find some way to reboot McKinnon’s character a bit.

Bottom Line 
Final Comments: Last weekend I was trying to decide which of the currently-available-new-cinematic-offerings looked the best so, as always, I consulted my local San Francisco Chronicle (Mick LaSalle) and East Bay Times (Tony Hicks—and, by wire-service, Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune) which collectively gave me the clear impression that The Infiltrator was far and away the best bet so it got the prime Friday night choice (a good one, as you see from my remarks above), but then a bit later I saw, oddly enough, that Ghostbusters [2016]—despite all of the negative fanboy stuff I’d briefly read about on the Internet—actually got a higher score on Rotten Tomatoes (73% positive reviews vs. 66% for The Infiltrator) while being a bit lower at Metacritic (60%) but not that much in relation to Cranston’s latest work (66%),* so with hearty encouragement from my wonderful wife, Nina—anxious to see a rare female-led-cast in a big-budget-American movie—off we went on early Sunday afternoon to see how NYC was going to be saved once again from an invading hoard (with little help this time from Hemsworth, who as Thor in The Avengers [Joss Whedon, 2012; review in our May 12, 2012 posting] had a major role in warding off dangerous aliens).  While the domestic income hasn’t been spectacular for Ghostbusters yet, it’s still been substantial ($46 million for opening weekend but #2 behind the juggernaut of the family-friendly The Secret Life of Pets [Chris Renaud], $203.4 million after just 2 weeks, even as another animated feature, Finding Dory [Andrew Stanton; review in our June 23, 2016 posting] took over the all-time-domestic-income-animated-feature-crown, moving up to $445.7 million, after only 5 weeks in release), so even though we were reasonably early for our screening we still ended up in the 5th row (no need to pay extra for the 3-D effect of hurled slime when you’re that close) due to the large crowd who thoroughly enjoyed what they saw, with a good number hanging around after the credits to get the quick scene setting up the option for a sequel (no sure thing but highly likely according to one Sony exec although you can find reasonable 
counterarguments—there’s a Ghostbusters II [Reitman, 1989] already, which I think I have a vague memory of seeing but it certainly had no lasting impact compared to the broad fun of the original).

* In case your trivia-stockpile’s running low lately here are the 5 current all-time highs on Metacritic: Boyhood (Richard Linklater, 2014; review in our July 31, 2014 posting) 100; Pan’s Labyrinth (Guillermo del Toro, 2006) 98; Hoop Dreams (Steve James, 1994) 98; 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (Cristian Munglu, 2008) 97; 12 Years a Slave (Steve McQueen, 2013; review in our November 14, 2013 posting) 97 [only 108 of the current 9,356 entries score 90 or better].  The top 5 for 2016 so far are Manchester by the Sea (Kenneth Lonergan) 91 [not released in the U.S. yet]; Only Yesterday (Isao Takahara, a 1991 Japanese movie just recently played in the U.S., review in our March 9, 2016 posting) 90 [but I gave it only 3½ stars of 5]; The Fits (Anna Rose Holmer) 90; Paths of the Soul (Yang Zhang) 90 [no access for me to these last 2 yet]Little Men (Ira Sachs) 89 [not released in the U.S. yet].  I’ll also note that these lists are based on whatever reviews are available for the involved film, not matter how few; for example Little Men has only 10 as I'm typing this.

 So, what does this remake/reboot offer for me?  Mostly, a lot of fun in watching it, a general respect for how well the female leads carried the concept (although Kate McKinnon’s character is so weird in the scripting or her interpretation that she’s not able to do a lot with it except act like an escapee from a Looney Tunes cartoon—that is, when she’s not developing marvelous cutting-edge-paranormal-controlling-technology on the spot even with the limited resources she has to work with), and an acceptance of this revived version of the 1984-poltergeist-containment-story with relatively-minor-plot-changes and gender-reversals as being an entertaining diversion, even though I’m no more enthusiastic about sequels for it than I (guess I) was about continuing the original version (apparently there was some long-delayed-interest in pushing another follow-up to the earlier movies that finally evolved into what we now have as this story-revamping), as simply continuing the got-slimed-saviors’-tale beyond the initial concept feels too much to me like the 50th visit to Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion ride (fun enough, but once you know every twist and turn on the journey it just becomes a trivia hunt to see what’s in the far recesses you hadn’t noticed before).  If there had never been a 1984 Ghostbusters, this one would still be an enjoyable rendition of the concept; because of the previous incarnation, this one functions as a successful tribute (along with doing some useful work in correcting the balance between big-splash-openings that star mostly men vs. mostly women) with upgraded special effects, but, honestly, I’m almost as tired of reboots and sequels (except where Justice League, Star Wars, and Star Trek characters are concerned) as I am of “based on true events” films, wondering both what’s become of the Hollywood original screenplay for mainstream fare and why the big studios don’t make better use of the original-story-screenwriters who continue to bring interesting concepts to far-less-profitable-independent cinema.

I’ll finish up my comments on this comic farce with the most obvious of Musical Metaphors, the 2016 “Ghostbusters (I'm Not Afraid)" theme song by Fall Out Boy featuring Missy Elliott at com/watch?v=2AQ44nPrRTM (available on the Ghostbusters: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack); however, this is just the music with no accompanying visuals so to further enhance the experience for you here’s the 1984 movie’s theme song at watch?v=XXoQXfi_0oI (by Ray Parker Jr., from that official soundtrack) performed by Parker and the house band on the June 8, 2016 show of ABC TV’s Jimmy Kimmel Live! with guests Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Annie Potts, Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones.  I’ll leave you to boogie along with that because you know that the next time you need film reviews, wondering “Who you gonna call?,” the answer’s Two Guys in the Dark, of course.
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Here’s more information about The Infiltrator: (2 separate trailers with little duplication)

Interviews with some of The Infiltrator actors: Bryan Cranston (, Diane Kruger ( a featurette with director Brad Furman and actors Cranston, John Leguizamo (

Here’s more information about Ghostbusters [2016]: (Top 10 Ghostbusters [2016] facts)

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By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile. Ken

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.


  1. Agree that Bryan Cranston's The Infiltrator is worth seeing although maybe not quite the 4 stars quality that normally you are pretty stingy in handing out. Probably a reflection of the drought of good movies this summer and a recognition of Cranston's abilities.

    Obviously Bryan Cranston is driving most people to see this and the reason it is playing in mainstream theaters around the country. His Breaking Bad fame precedes him and this vehicle is the closest to his mesmerizing Walter White character he has been involved in since Bad.

    I thought his HBO role as LBJ in All the Way was great acting. There Will Be Blood...opps... "There will be Awards" for LBJ and he probably has a Daniel Day Lewis performance in him if given the right material and director. LBJ Link

  2. Hi rj, Thanks as always for your input and for the very informative LBJ link. Maybe as fellow Texans we just have a solid understanding of the complex character that Lyndon Johnson was, but it's clear we agree that Cranston has successfully brought him to life once again (I'm seemingly one of the few in the country who's never seen Breaking Bad, but that's to my detriment if he's as good there as he's been in his recent films). I agree that further awards should be in his future, either for All the Way or some film we've yet to see. Ken