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GHOSTBUSTERS

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First of all, a disclaimer: I have never seen the original Ghostbusters, nor its 1989 sequel. I know, crazy right? How dare I have an opinion on the reboot without the benefit of an all-encompassing knowledge of the 1984 classic? Well some news for you, Reddit Ghostbros: a hefty proportion of the new generation of 12-year-olds who see this film won’t have seen the original either. Nor (hopefully) will they have any conception of the amount of bullshit baggage that this project has gradually been laden with since director Paul Feig announced his plans for an all-female cast back in 2014. And that’s great, because that means they’ll get to do what those of us who have followed the controversy surrounding this film are now unable to do: simply enjoy Ghostbusters as the lighthearted summer blockbuster it was intended to be.

And – newsflash – that’s what it is. A lighthearted summer blockbuster, with plentiful lols and a top-notch comic cast in the form of Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon. That’s largely the critics’ consensus too, much to the chagrin of those Reddit users who freaked out just a little when the press embargo was lifted and the verdict was that the film that was set to retroactively ruin their childhoods was actually – fine. Given the seemingly endless buildup to its release, complete with detailed reviews of and reactions to the (admittedly underwhelming) trailer, this conclusion was arguably the best outcome when it comes to the film’s critical reception. If reviewers (especially, unfortunately, those of the female variety) had raved about it, they no doubt would have been accused of doing so in order to pander to the film’s feminist agenda. If they had universally panned it, the fanboys would have taken this as vindication, rather than measured criticism. A verdict of ‘fine’, however, is immediately disarming because there’s not really a comeback. At the same time, solid three and four star reviews aren’t going to put audiences off. In this way, it’s kind of a win-win situation.

I watched Ghostbusters a couple of days after its UK release. It wasn’t perfect by any stretch – the plot lost itself a little towards the end, and the editing wasn’t seamless. But it was everything I wanted it to be. Not because I wanted it to be a hyper-feminist f***-you to the haters, but because I wanted it to be an enjoyable and funny way to spend a couple of hours in the cinema. And lo and behold, it was.

In a recent article for HuffPost, Matthew Jacobs argued for less obviously gendered comedies in the wake of the hoo-ha around Ghostbusters. But what does that mean? What exactly is specifically gendered about this film? Wiig, McCarthy, Jones and McKinnon don’t go around making vagina jokes or talking about their periods. On the contrary, the message of this film is that women can do whatever men do, equally as competently, and equally as comically, without the need to resort to stereotypes. Arguably, it was the fan- and media-fuelled furore around this film that turned a simple casting decision into a girl vs. boy thing. By claiming in his article that the comedy genre ‘is still a war between the penis and the vagina’ it’s as if Jones is saying that as soon as a comedy comes along that isn’t predominantly male (a.k.a. the norm), it’s automatically a challenge. It’s not. It’s just another funny film.

Sure, the film utilised the dumb-blonde secretary cliche for copious laughs, but in casting Marvel franchise hero Chris Hemsworth in the role, converted it into a glorious send-up of a tired trope (something that seemed to go over the heads of a number of outraged naysayers). More subtly subversive is the inclusion of the villain Rowan, a weedy beta-male who spouts lines such as ‘I am a genius. I see things that no one else does, and for it, I am rewarded with nothing but scorn and mockery’. Simply put, he’s your classic Reddit troll, the manifestation of Lily Allen’s URL Badman, a loner convinced that rather than being the cause of his own problems, he is misunderstood, and that the rest of the world must pay for this. Interestingly, as a nerdy guy  with the world against him, he could also be mistaken for a down-on-his-luck protagonist who might come good in a traditional male-driven narrative. Without going into details, this film gives him a rather less comfy ride.

In short, Ghostbusters does feel like a game-changer. Bridesmaids (a previous Feig offering, also starring Wiig and McCarthy) was given similar praise when it was released in 2011 to critical and commercial acclaim, but even then it focused on traditionally female experiences (hen nights, bridal showers, dress fittings) and contained elements of the rom-com formula. Ghostbusters, in contrast, is indisputably a fully-fledged action movie, and these women are more than wives and bridesmaids. We meet them when they are established career scientists (important in itself given the total dearth of women in STEM careers portrayed in the movies). More crucially, they get to be passionate about what they do: Holtzmann can be a genius inventor who gets wildly excited over a Faraday cage, whilst Patty can revel in her encyclopaedic, history book-fuelled knowledge of New York City. And they’re totally badass. We’ve discussed over and over for the past two years that it’s significant to have four women front a summer action blockbuster, but it was only when I was sitting there in the cinema actually witnessing four women in jumpsuits battle ghost after ghost in glorious slow motion on the big screen that it truly dawned on me just how significant. I couldn’t (and still can’t) think of anything I watched at age 12 that came close.

Something else: there’s a glaring absence from Ghostbusters that is glorious in its significance. Two thirds of the way through the film, Kristen Wiig’s Erin reads a book in a bedroom. It’s one of the only times in the film where we see a protagonist out of the workplace or off the streets of NYC. Seeing this female character in a domestic space was enough to make my brain automatically wonder where Erin’s home was and who she lived with. That’s when the realisation came like a jolt of static from one of Holtzmann’s inventions. Unlike in 95% of female-fronted films – Bridesmaids included – I didn’t need to know or care about any of the four protagonists’ personal lives outside their ghostbusting unit of friendship. And that came as such a relief.

There are hints, of course. Kate McKinnon as Jillian Holtzmann was 66% of the reason my brother and I went to see this film, and it’s no surprise that a huge number of people have fallen in love with Holtzmann – many even joking of a shift in their Kinsey scale reading after watching McKinnon’s breakout performance. She’s a magnetic, scene-stealing presence throughout, her off-beat delivery and oddball behaviour providing laughs even when she’s not the focus of a scene. Feig wanted to ensure that what he referred to as the ‘pansexual’ presence of McKinnon (who incidentally is Saturday Night Live‘s first openly lesbian cast member) translated to her character. But when asked if Holtzmann herself was gay, he was suggestive yet evasive: “I hate to be coy about it. But when you’re dealing with the studios and that kind of thing… ”

We might have four ghostbusting women, but it’s still a little too much for Sony to allow one of them to be openly gay. That is likely the next frontier in the campaign against Hollywood’s outdated ideas about what sells (although some progress is being made on this front where the latest Star Trek is concerned). All things considered, though, Ghostbusters is a giant leap forward.

 

 

Picture: Radio Times

Sherlock – BBC1. Read the review on Varsity here.

That’s it then. Sherlock has gone as quickly as it came. Quicker, maybe – it got off to a bit of a shaky start. But this third and final instalment of series 3 was right back on form. The much sought-after ‘actual plot’ that many lamented the absence of in previous episodes finally materialised. And there was a fabulous cliff-hanger to boot.

We finally got to meet the man belonging to the pair of icy blue eyes that stared out at us on New Year’s Day as Watson sautéed on the bonfire: Charles Augustus Magnusson (a thrillingly evil Lars Mikkelsen), sole retainer of a gigantic amount of incriminating information on everyone he’d ever come across, and also a massive creep. When he wasn’t licking people’s faces, he was busy blackmailing the entire country. But not for much longer. Enter Sherlock.

A slightly squalid Sherlock, actually, hiding out in a drug den – supposedly for a case. ‘Stay out of my bedroom!’ he ordered once he’d been dragged home and scolded by everyone (not to mention slapped a few times by the wonderful Molly, who hasn’t had nearly enough to do this series). Sherlock was clean, it turned out. So what was he hiding in the bedroom? Only the flirty Irish bridesmaid from last week! Watson’s incredulous response to this ‘relationship’ was priceless – Martin Freeman is the king of reaction shots. But Sherlock had morphine pumping through his veins soon enough, this time in hospital: he’d been shot. The culprit? None other than Mrs Watson.

Oh, Mary! What a dark horse, stringing us along in your jovial manner! We saw the word ‘liar’ on the screen alongside ‘bakes own bread’ when Sherlock first met Mary, but we chose to ignore it because she was just so nice. Yet suddenly here she was, putting a bullet through him. It was a clever twist, and credit to Amanda Abbington for making us invest so much in her character in just a few episodes that the big reveal, when it came, was a genuine shock.

A series of confrontations followed, amusingly interspersed with Christmas at the Cumberbatches (with Benedict’s parents reprising their roles as Mr and Mrs Holmes). It was thrilling, but perhaps not to the extent of previous finales. Two years ago, Sherlock was the sharpest thing on TV. This year it knew it, and veered dangerously towards self-indulgence a few too many times. But you can’t fault its intelligence. There were lines in this episode that wouldn’t have been out of place in a sitcom, but as always they were woven around a much darker story – in this case one that played to very current fears of surveillance and exposure. Beneath all the panache, Sherlock remains a beautifully crafted drama.

After a final rendezvous with Magnusson (in what appeared to be the Tellytubby house crossed with Kew Gardens), Sherlock was on a jet headed for certain death in Eastern Europe. Not again. But oh, how they toy with us! Just as the credits began to roll, a voice piped up: ‘Did you miss me?’ And there he was in all his mad glory: Jim Moriarty. As quickly as it had taken off, Sherlock’s jet was landing. Yes, Moriarty! We did miss you! Come back and engineer some real crimes! Blackmail and face-licking are one thing, but not a patch on the havoc you used to cause! Let’s just hope your mayhem isn’t another two years in the making.

New Who: Capaldi (Picture: Hypable)

So the Twelfth Doctor has been announced, in a half-hour long programme that comprised a few semi-celebrities declaring their love for the 900+ year old alien and waxing lyrical about previous incarnations. Matt Smith gave the gender game away fairly early on. That didn’t stop Zoe Ball attempting not so subtly to rebuild the drama – HE COULD STILL BE A WOMAN, GUYS. The Big Reveal, when it came, was like a budget version of The X Factor: we had the long silence, and the Enthusiastically Yelled Name, but no sliding doors or fireworks. Part of me was quite disappointed that Joe McElderry didn’t emerge from a cloud of dry ice singing You Raise Me Up, but maybe it was for the best. A montage video would have been nice though, maybe with flashbacks of Peter Capaldi scanning tins of beans at the Asda checkout, interspersed with shots of his family hugging and crying, dressed in PETER WHO t-shirts.

Anyway, I’m reserving judgement on this casting decision until we see the Twelfth Doctor in action.  For me, a lot is resting on this new series. I used to love Doctor Who, but I haven’t been very into it for a good while now. This is partly because of Matt Smith – I don’t think he’s been a terrible Doctor, but he’s definitely been the weakest since the show returned (although Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant set the bar almost unreachably high). It’s not all Smith’s fault though. The show changed a lot when Stephen Moffat took over, and surprisingly not for the better. New Doctor aside, there are other things that Doctor Who is lacking these days. Therefore, I’ve compiled a list of things that Moffat could do with bearing in mind…

1. Can we take ourselves a bit less seriously please? What happened to people being swallowed by wheelie bins, and getting attacked by homicidal Christmas trees? When Doctor Who first returned to our screens, you got the impression that the writers were having a right laugh. More lighthearted episodes were interspersed with darker, scarier episodes penned by Stephen Moffat, which really stood out as a result, all involving the most frightening baddies (gas mask zombies, weeping angels, those freaky shadow things). But otherwise, the Doctor and his companions really appeared to be travelling for fun – they just happened to stumble into a lot of dangerous situations on the way to that fun. When Moffat took over, everything got a bit uniformly deep and dark and intense. My A levels were already providing enough deepness and darkness and intensity so I kind of just gave up. And then never got back into it.

2. The families aren’t what they used to be… I loved the comedy that the families of Rose, Martha and Donna brought to previous series. And they also provided some of the most touching moments – the reaction of Donna’s granddad Wilf to her memory loss being the one that springs to mind first. What we’ve seen of Clara’s next-of-kin doesn’t bode well so far. Those two really irritating kids that insisted on tagging along last series have nothing on Wilf, and even less on Jackie Tyler.  It’s a shame because, when they’re written well, companion families bring a much-required human element to the show that was lacking a bit when Amy and Rory both travelled with the Doctor.

3. To add insult to injury, one of the only members of Amy and Rory’s families that ever materialised happened to be the most irritating character to appear in the revamped show so far. I am referring, of course, to curly-haired, husky-voiced, space-age seductress, River Song, Amy and Rory’s time travelling daughter, ‘conceived (according to Wikipedia – I don’t pretend to have watched all of this) on board the TARDIS as it travelled through the space-time vortex’.  Right. Ok. Just because you have time lord traits, that doesn’t give you the right to swan around being so supremely annoying. Seriously, River. Why do you insist on returning every other episode just to strut about calling the Doctor ‘sweetie’ and doing that I-totally-know-what’s-going-on-here-and-you-don’t face. Hate to burst your bubble, sweetie, but spoilers are what the internet is for.

4. Talking of spoilers, is it really necessary for there to be so much spoiler potential? Doctor Who episodes used to be really enjoyable as one-offs. Arcs like Bad Wolf and Mr Saxon were great if you watched every week, but they weren’t intrusive enough for it to matter if you missed the odd episode. The past few series have been dominated by ridiculously complicated story arcs that make dipping in and out nigh on impossible. So next series, fewer complicated storylines, and finally…

5. …more Daleks. Doctor Who generally just needs more Daleks. For no other reason than pure comic value. Daleks are absolutely hilarious. There is absolutely nothing scary about a really unhinged compost bin with a power complex getting more and more worked up as an episode progresses.

So as I’ve demonstrated, Stephen Moffatt will have to do a lot better than merely casting an impressive Doctor if I’m going to return to previous levels of Who-love. I do really like Clara though. It’s nice to have a smiley and enthusiastic companion again after a recent hiatus in the shape of Amy Pond. Amy was always giving off those too-cool-for-the-TARDIS vibes, like a sci-fi version of a teenage girl who sits at the back of the bus and rolls her eyes a lot. Clara’s shunned the pout and replaced it with a smile. Hopefully that smile is contagious: I just want Doctor Who to take itself a little less seriously. The latest series has been a definite improvement, but it’s still got a way to go.

My two earliest memories of television are coupled with strong emotions. The first is annoyance. Annoyance at the fact that staying at nursery for a full day on Fridays meant that I missed Sesame Street. Second, anxiousness – specifically my reaction to Fizzgog’s hat blowing off his head and into the murky waters of a central England canal in Rosie and Jim. I have since rewatched this scene (for research purposes, obviously) and I can safely say that I find it no less traumatic than my three-year-old self did all those years ago, mainly because no sooner has the ill-fated hat landed in the water, than a large barge appears out of nowhere and advances towards it, threatening to mow it over and drown it through suction. It’s exactly like that bit in Titanic when that teeny tiny yacht is shown sailing next to the gigantic prow of the eponymous ship, except WAY more dramatic – James Cameron’s score has nothing on the tension-building ascending bassoon-and-keyboard combo used to dramatic effect in Rosie and Jim.

In fact, it appears that my childhood television watching was plagued by wind-induced hat loss to an unusual degree. I am informed by my mother that as a toddler, whilst watching Postman Pat’s Windy Day, I would remove my thumb from it’s usual resting place in my mouth, point concernedly at the television and cry, ‘Hat blew off! Hat blew off!’ when the hat belonging to everyone’s favourite Royal Mail employee was elevated by a rogue gust of wind and deposited into a stream. Perhaps my early experiences of headgear-related dilemmas are why I have never really been a hat person (although this is more likely due to the fact that wearing a hat over my short hair usually makes me look like an egg.)

Besides Rosie and Jim and Postman Pat, I grew up on a healthy diet of nineties television classics, from Noddy and Brum through to Hey Arnold, the Famous Five, the Animals of Farthing Wood and Arthur (which, by the way, nothing can beat when it comes to theme tunes). Sometimes I get all nostalgic about the fact that the only exposure I had to technology when I was younger was an hour and a half of CITV or CBBC after school.  I pause for a second, thinking of all the post-millennium children growing up in a world of tablets and smartphones, and I smile to myself smugly, before continuing my extensive internet trawl for the cheapest iPhone deal.

My favourite programme when I was in primary school was Blue Peter, presented by the dream team that was Matt, Konnie, Simon and Liz. I  watched every episode and wanted Blue Peter badge so badly (I still do, obviously). When I was older I got really into Grange Hill. I used to think it was rubbish. My brother and I would ‘watch it just to laugh at it’. Then, one day, we turned on the TV with this very intention, and found ourselves watching an episode in which a guy (possibly called Wayne) made a dramatic return, dropped a cigarette in a chemistry store cupboard and started a fire from which a girl (definitely called Judy) tried to escape and ended up falling to her death from a fire escape. Needless to say, we were hooked and I ended up watching it regularly. (This habit of ‘watching stuff to laugh at it then accidentally forgetting to stop’ has continued throughout my TV-watching life, my addiction to Towie being the most recent regrettable consequence.)

A special mention must now go to a series that I watched with my family religiously every Sunday evening: Monarch of the Glen, a cosy drama following the trials and tribulations of the reluctant Laird of a Highland estate. Seriously, who didn’t love this programme?I have mixed emotions when I hear the theme tune though. Obviously, it brings with it waves of nostalgia. But it’s also synonymous with that dreaded ‘back to school’ feeling. The minute the first ‘strum’ sounded at the end of every episode, I was ushered up to bed, knowing that a dreary Monday at school awaited me when I awoke the next morning. Still, this will never tarnish my love for Glenbogle and its residents (although it was never the same after Archie left and Lexie got all boring and serious…).

Round about now, we come to an ordinary Saturday evening upon which I sat down with my whole family to watch a programme that up until then I had only ever known to be the punchline of a ‘knock knock’ joke: Doctor Who. To put it mildly, I quite liked it. I’d still argue that series 1 of the remake was the best yet for storylines: the creepy little boy in the gas mask is by far the scariest villain they’ve had so far. (I don’t understand people who think Daleks are scary.  I think they’re absolutely hilarious, and insanely cute, in an unhinged sort of way.) I remember being really sad when Christopher Ecclestone regenerated into David Tennant, who I decided seemed really irritating. I was sure he would never be as good as Christopher Ecclestone. We all know how that turned out.

Thus, Doctor Who continued to be a regular feature in my TV schedule, interspersed with lots of period dramas (at roundabout 13 I watched the 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice and my love of TV period pieces began. My all time favourite was the BBC’s 2005 adaptation of Bleak House, which had an incredible cast and an even better story. If you haven’t seen it, order the DVD and get watching.) Unfortunately, my love of Doctor Who has waned in recent years, 40% due to Matt Smith and 60% due to River Song, who seems to pop up pretentiously in every other episode, making her catchphrase of ‘spoilers!’ kind of ironic. Is the spoiler that you’ll be back AGAIN River? Because that’s not really that much of a spoiler, is it?

Drama remains by far my favourite genre. I’ve probably mentioned just a few times my love of The Hour (for which I am now mourning – how could they cancel it on such a cliffhanger?!) and certain friends would probably disown me if I failed to mention the genius that is Sherlock. I loved last year’s BBC adaptation of Parades End, and more recently ITV’s Broadchurch. British drama is really the bees knees. That doesn’t mean I haven’t LOVED some US exports: Desperate Housewives and Homeland are the first to spring to mind. However I’d like to point out that I have never been snobby when it comes to dramas. I think you can probably gather this from my non-existent attempts to hide my enthusiasm for Downton Abbey and Gossip Girl. I do draw the line somewhere, though, and that line probably lies halfway between Lark Rise and Candleford.

I could finish this piece off with a really soul-searching conclusion about how the programmes I’ve watched have deeply significant parallels with certain stages of my life. But that would be rubbish/pretentious/obviously not true. I just really like watching TV. Instead, I’ll leave you with three concluding points:

1) Watch Bleak House. It really is excellent.

2) No pressure, twelfth Doctor. None at all.

3) If it’s windy, leave your hat at home. Seriously. It’s not worth it.

Something slightly different today: an article I wrote for this week’s Varsity that recommends TV programmes that you can totally justify watching instead of revising because they kind of fit in with your subject…

Find yourself craving iPlayer halfway through an intense revision session? Read on for subject specific television recommendations that are (almost) completely justifiable as revision aids.

Social and Political SciencesThe Politician’s Husband started on BBC Two this week. If you’re already craving your next David Tennant fix after the finale of Broadchurch on Monday, then one is for you. Tennant plays the husband of a government minister in what the BBC describes as ‘a drama about the shifting power in a marriage when the personal and political collide.’ Personal and political? Watching this is absolutely necessary if you want to pass your exams.

History –The BBC made a huge effort to sell The Village as a naturalistic period piece: Downton Abbey it most certainly ain’t. Its focus is the working classes, and the plan is to track the lives of the inhabitants of a Peak District village through historical events of the early 20th century, kicking off with the First World War. It’s gritty, bleak and depressing and therefore can be passed off easily as revision.

EconomicsThe Apprentice is back next month. It’s as if the BBC scheduled it specifically to fit into your revision timetable. Whether you watch it to come up with your own strategy for each task, or simply to scare yourself into working harder so you never have to resort to being a contestant, this type of revision is totally justified.

Psychology – Sometimes I do wonder if Britain’s Got Talent is one big psychological experiment: how long can we keep the nation entertained with dancing racoons and singing grannies? Ponder this question and others (what on earth possessed that guy to think dancing with a broomstick nun whilst dressed as a priest was entertainment? And what on earth were the judges thinking when they put him through?) as you kick back with a cup of tea, safe in the knowledge that this is definitely time well spent.

Classics – The writers of Roman sitcom Plebs (episodes of which are still available on ITV player) insist that they approached none other than Mary Beard herself for advice on content. If it has the approval of your professor, it’s definitely legitimate revision.

English – Fed up of reading novels? There are plenty of adaptations out there. Order the box sets and put your feet up.  Studying languages? Take your DVD box set of choice, set the subtitles to the appropriate language and hey presto! You’re revising.

Geography –Want to see some Part IA Geopolitics in action? Then look no further than the box set of Homeland. Nothing says US imperialism quite like a morally questionable drone strike. It annoyed me that I couldn’t watch without making parallels to ideas about ‘self’ and ‘other’, and wondering what Edward Said would have thought. I guess that’s just what Geography does to you, apart from give you a love of highlighters and a high tolerance for cold, wet weather. Physical geographers can look to Game of Thrones for some relevant respite. Despite all the political and sexual intrigue, the underlying ‘winter is coming’ theme means it’s essentially about climate change.

Physics – Not that you ever need justification to watch Doctor Who, but physicists have the advantage here because pondering the possibility of time travel and the existence of parallel universes is obviously revision. Right?

There you have it. Put the kettle on, put your feet up, and work while you watch. Revision never needs to be a chore again.

The (slightly edited) Varsity article is here.