Stephen Romei

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film Reviews -

Ghost­busters (PG) Na­tional re­lease Our Kind of Traitor (MA15+) Na­tional re­lease

Ge­orge Or­well was a bit of a prophet, but had he been able to see even fur­ther ahead he might have tweaked one of the fa­mous lines in Nineteen Eighty-Four: “If you want a picture of the fu­ture, imag­ine a boot stamp­ing on a ghost face — for­ever.’’ The orig­i­nal Ghost­busters came out in 1984 and its se­quel five years later, both di­rected by Ivan Reit­man. Now we have a fast-paced, fun-filled, fe­male-charged re­boot, with the tal­ented Melissa McCarthy, Kris­ten Wiig, Kate McKin­non and Les­lie Jones tak­ing over ghost-stomp­ing du­ties from Bill Mur­ray, Dan Aykroyd and the other boys.

There’s still a man in charge of Ghost­busters, though: di­rec­tor Paul Feig, who worked with McCarthy on the 2011 hit Brides­maids (which also starred Wiig) and the po­lice and es­pi­onage come­dies The Heat (2013) and Spy (2015). He’s a film­maker who works with funny women.

There’s been a bit of de­bate over the fem­i­ni­sa­tion of such a well-known movie, which Feig seems to an­tic­i­pate with a deft joke early on, as the would-be ghost­busters check their on­line pro­file. “Ain’t no bitches gonna hunt no ghosts,’’ de­clares one troller.

There’s a chal­lenge in re­mak­ing such a pop­u­lar film. For a start, the au­di­ence is more lay­ered than usual. There are peo­ple who saw Ghost­busters as teenagers and still re­mem­ber most of the di­a­logue (I work with a few of them), peo­ple a bit older who saw it, liked it but don’t re­mem­ber it in de­tail and even — I be­lieve this is true — peo­ple who have never seen it.

As it hap­pens 1984 was a bumper year for movies, in­clud­ing oth­ers that would be­come fran­chises such as The Ter­mi­na­tor, Grem­lins, Po­lice Acad­emy, The Karate Kid and the one that topped Ghost­busters at the box of­fice, Bev­erly Hills Cop. The Os­car went to Amadeus, Judy Davis should have won for A Pas­sage to In­dia, and the three I most re­mem­ber are Wim Wen­der’s Paris, Texas, Roland Joffe’s The Killing Fields and Michael Radford’s 1984.

Fieg, who wrote the script with Katie Dip­pold (who wrote The Heat), ap­proached this chal­lenge sen­si­bly, say­ing his plan was to “tell a story you haven’t seen be­fore. Or tell a story you’ve seen be­fore, but in a way you haven’t seen it.” So while there are in-jokes for diehard Ghost­busters fans and cameo roles for Mur­ray, Aykroyd and oth­ers, in­clud­ing a few of the orig­i­nal ghosts, it’s also an en­joy­able su­per­nat­u­ral com­edy for one and all. It’s a bit scarier than the orig­i­nal, with some of the ghosts nasty, but as the PG rat­ing sug­gests, noth­ing to faint over.

The film opens with a haunted house scene in New York City. We soon meet sci­ence aca­demic Erin Gil­bert (Wiig), who used to be­lieve in ghosts and still does deep down, para­nor­mal re­searchers Abby Yates (McCarthy) and Jil­lian Holtz­man (McKin­non), who is the ghost-fight­ing gadget de­signer. The three unite af­ter their day jobs go sour and are joined by sub­way worker Patty Tolan (Jones). All four are hu­mor­ous, es­pe­cially the zany Holtz­man.

They hire a hand­some and dim re­cep­tion­ist named Kevin (a won­der­ful Chris Hemsworth, who keeps his Aus­tralian ac­cent). The scenes where the four women try to tame Kevin — to an­swer the phone and such — are a high­light, one that shows women and men can be funny to­gether. Kevin’s char­ac­ter does change to­wards the end, in a story-defin­ing way.

The Ghost­busters, as the me­dia calls them, are also aware of a pos­si­ble spec­tre-rous­ing vil­lain, Rowan (Neil Casey), who per­haps gives him­self away with his first line about how hu­man­ity walks through sewage and needs to be cleaned up. The NYC mayor (Andy Gar­cia) is another prob­lem. So we have the Ghost­busters and Kevin tak­ing on just about ev­ery­one, alive and un­dead. Are they just “in­cred­i­bly sad, lonely women’’, as the mayor’s of­fice calls them, or city-sav­ing su­per­heroes?

You’ll find out in the en­er­getic end se­quence, which makes clever use of the cute Ghost­busters logo and leaves the door wide open for a se­quel. As Abby tells child­hood friend Erin at one point, “This is what we dreamed about since we were lit­tle kids.’’ Our Kind of Traitor, based on the 2010 novel by John Le Carre, is di­rected by Su­sanna White, who made her name at the BBC with lit­er­ary adap­ta­tions such as Bleak House (2005) and Jane Eyre (2006).

The script is by Hos­sein Amini, who re­ceived an Os­car nomination for The Wings of the Dove (1997), based on the Henry James novel, and also wrote the 2011 film ver­sion of James Sal­lis’s crime thriller Drive. It’s a good books-to-screen com­bi­na­tion, backed by a strong cast, and the re­sult works for most of this un­set­tling tale of mod­ern fi­nance, pol­i­tics and es­pi­onage.

The film opens with tight, sus­pense­ful scenes that set up the story. Perry Make­peace (Ewan McGre­gor) and his wife Gail Perkins (Naomie Har­ris, Miss Moneypenny in the lat­est James Bond films) are on hol­i­day in Marrakech, Morocco. He’s a pro­fes­sor of poetics, she’s a bar­ris­ter and they are try­ing to res­cue their 10-year mar­riage. We learn later he has been un­faith­ful.

They ar­gue, she leaves and he ends up hang- Ghost­busters; Our Kind of Traitor, ing out with a group of fel­low guests, rowdy Rus­sian men who are drink­ing a lot of ex­pen­sive wine. They all go to a party, where the en­ter­tain­ment is even richer.

The Rus­sians are led by bear-like Dimi (Stel­lan Skars­gard, fa­ther of the new Tarzan, Alexan­der Skars­gard). “Your wife just left you,’’ he cheer­fully yells when Perry first re­fuses a drink. “Don’t be a sour­pussy.’’ The MA15+ rat­ing is due to Dimi’s fond­ness for the f-word, I sus­pect.

It turns out Dimi is a money laun­derer for the Rus­sian mafia, which has plans to set up a bank in Eng­land. He wants out and is will­ing to tell all to the Bri­tish, pro­vided his wife and chil­dren are pro­tected. He turns to Perry for help. Skars­gard is bril­liant as a tough man who has a vul­ner­a­ble — and per­haps hon­ourable — side. Perry wants to help him, de­spite the risk, be­cause he too wants to be hon­ourable.

Then MI6 be­comes in­volved — Damian Lewis is su­perb as com­plex lead agent Hec­tor — but per­haps not with the sup­port of the For­eign Of­fice. Lead­ing MP Aubrey Lon­grigg (Jeremy Northam) may be on the wrong side. As the ti­tle sug­gests, work­ing out who is a traitor isn’t al­ways straight­for­ward.

The ac­tion moves to Paris, Lon­don, Bern and to the Swiss Alps as Perry, now backed by Gail, and MI6, try to save Dimi and his fam­ily from the ruth­less Rus­sians. There are some high­wire mo­ments but the plot is let down to­wards the end by some hard-to-be­lieve mo­ments. Even so, it’s an in­trigu­ing char­ac­ter study em­bed­ded in a spy thriller.

Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKin­non, Kris­ten Wi­igg and Les­lie Jones in Chris Hemsworth as their re­cep­tion­ist Kevin, below left; Ewan McGre­gorg and Naomie Har­ris in below

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