Live by Night
The key question behind Live by Night isn’t so much “Why did they bother?” as “What went wrong?”
"Ghostbusters" is a head-on collision between two comic approaches that have rarely worked together very successfully. This time, they do. It's (1) a special-effects blockbuster, and (2) a sly dialogue movie, in which everybody talks to each other like smart graduate students who are in on the joke. In the movie's climactic scenes, an apocalyptic psychic mindquake is rocking Manhattan, and the experts talk like Bob and Ray.
This movie is an exception to the general rule that big special effects can wreck a comedy. Special effects require painstaking detail work. Comedy requires spontaneity and improvisation; or at least that's what it should feel like, no matter how much work has gone into it. In movies like Steven Spielberg's "1941," the awesome scale of the special effects dominated everything else; we couldn't laugh because we were holding our breath. Not this time.
"Ghostbusters" has a lot of neat effects, some of them mind-boggling, others just quick little throwaways, as when a transparent green-slime monster gobbles up a mouthful of hot dogs. No matter what effects are being used, they're placed at the service of the actors; instead of feeling as if the characters have been carefully posed in front of special effects, we feel they're winging this adventure as they go along.
The movie stars Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, and Harold Ramis, three graduates of the Second City/National Lampoon/"Saturday Night Live" tradition. They're funny, but they're not afraid to reveal that they're also quick-witted and intelligent; their dialogue puts nice little spins on American clichés, and it uses understatement, irony, in-jokes, vast cynicism, and cheerful goofiness. Rarely has a movie this expensive provided so many quotable lines.
This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...
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