Movie Review ~ Ghostbusters: Afterlife

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The Facts:

Synopsis: When a single mom and her two kids arrive in a small town, they begin to discover their connection to the original Ghostbusters and the secret legacy their grandfather left behind.

Stars: Finn Wolfhard, Mckenna Grace, Paul Rudd, Carrie Coon, Sigourney Weaver, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Annie Potts

Director: Jason Reitman

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 124 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review:  This is a public service announcement to all major Hollywood studios (and any independent ones with franchise opportunities) that are tossing around ideas of rebooting or relaunching their most valuable properties.  There are a million ways you can go wrong in resurrecting what has made you a boatload of cash in the past and will continue to bring in money moving forward as you churn out repackaged Blu-rays, coffee mugs, and ugly sweaters.  Don’t go cheap, instead why not think big, shoot for the moon, great creative, spend the cash, take the time.  Fans will wait for the product if the product is quality.  It’s late as I’m writing this and reading over these last sentences, I’m not sure if I’m writing a review for Ghostbusters: Afterlife or giving a pep talk to an ad agency that just lost a big client.  No, I’m definitely writing a review for this long in the works and much called for sequel, which was delayed over a year due to the COVID-19 lockdown.

I feel as if I need to give this announcement to Tinsel Town (since all the big execs are reading this, naturally) because Ghostbusters: Afterlife is a prime example of why waiting to get the right group of people together and aiming for perfect instead of “acceptable” is how the best sequels are made.  I can’t even begin to describe how pleasing this film is and not just on the low-bar scale of fan service.  Fan service is often the easiest box to to check of all so critics that ding a film for “paying fan service” aren’t really giving an adequate critique of the film.  No, this is a movie that not only understands its audience but cares about them as well.  It knows how long they’ve waited, suspects they may be bringing their own children to the movie, and provides an entertainment package that work fantastically for the generation that grew up with one set of Ghostbusters while paving the way for the next generation to get their own heaping dose of kicks from the festivities.

Does it help having some knowledge of the first two movies (the original in 1984 and the divisive sequel in 1989 being the reference points, the female-led reboot in 2016 isn’t acknowledged as far as I could tell) going in?  Sorta, but only because you’ll pick up more of the small tips of the proton packs director Jason Reitman (son of original director Ivan) makes to what his dad crafted before.  It’s more or less a continuation from the second film which picks up today in a small town in Oklahoma where Egon Spengler retreated to after the Ghostbusters disbanded, abandoning his young daughter in the process. Living life as a recluse before recently dying (original star Harold Ramis passed away in 2014), his now grown daughter (Carrie Coon, Gone Girl) is a single mom to Phoebe (McKenna Grace, I, Tonya) and Trevor (Finn Wolfhard, The Goldfinch) and needs a place to stay after being evicted.  Her dad’s ramshackle house in the middle of nowhere will have to do. Working through the hard feelings she has will have to wait a bit.

Ah, but Spengler picked this town and this house for a reason, as we’ll come to see.  First, we’ll learn a bit more about the town from Phoebe’s summer school science teacher Gary Grooberson (Paul Rudd, This is 40) and Podcast (Logan Kim, a star in the making) her lab partner and, soon, her partner in crime.  Seems the town is known for its strange earthquakes even though it isn’t anywhere near a fault line or any other natural developments which would normally cause them.  Then there’s the abandoned mine which has seemed to have some activity lately.  Oh, and who can forget all the fun discoveries Phoebe finds around the house when the inquisitive girl who has trouble fitting in starts to poke around with a ghostly helping hand.

Uh-oh…I think I’ll stop there because I wouldn’t want to get ahead of myself or let you in on what Reitman and screenwriter Gil Kenan have cooked up for the remainder of the film’s exciting second half.  The thrills and adventure only rises as the stakes grow, resulting in a movie-going experience that works as a sort of fountain-of-youth-filmgoing.  I went in as an adult but left feeling fifteen years younger.  It’s that fun of a watch and while it does have the allure of a summer blockbuster, its spooky tone fits right into its late fall/Thanksgiving release slate. 

Led by a solid cast of young talent and given great support by its adult cast who ace the fast-talking dialogue in Reitman/Kenan’s finely tuned script, Ghostbusters: Afterlife is the sequel fans have been waiting (dreaming?) for.  This isn’t a quickie get rich quick project or a recycled brain-dead treatment.  Reitman (Labor Day) grew up on the sets of these films so it’s no surprise he has spoken of how personal these films are to him.  It shows in nearly every frame on screen and continues to the very end of the movie which has one of the longer post-credit scenes I’ve seen in a while.  The movie won’t be complete if you don’t stay until that absolute final credit is through. I suspect by the time the movie is over, you won’t need any prodding to stay through the credits.

31 Days to Scare ~ Cleanin’ Up the Town: Remembering Ghostbusters

The Facts:

Synopsis: The definitive Ghostbusters documentary charts the making of the greatest supernatural comedy of all time.

Stars: Sigourney Weaver, Annie Potts, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, Ernie Hudson, William Atherton, Jennifer Runyon, Ivan Reitman, Alice Drummond, Timothy Carhart, Jason Reitman, Catherine Reitman, Kurt Fuller, David Margulies, Joe Medjuck, Richard Edlund, Dennis Muren, Steve Johnson, Randall William Cook, Michael C. Gross, John Bruno, Ray Parker, Jr., Randy Edelman, Steven Tash, Michael Ensign, Bill Murray

Director: Anthony Bueno

Rated: NR

Running Length: 128 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: It’s easy to look back at a perennial favorite like Ghostbusters and conclude it was a no-brainer from the start it would be the monster hit it became upon its release in June of 1984.  The director was on a hot streak coming off of three consecutive box office winners, the cast was made-up of proven talent from the worlds of comedy in television and film, and audiences were promised the kind of special effects spectacle that had become a staple of the summer blockbuster.  Collectively, this was the kind of ‘nothing but net’ slam-dunk that comes along once in a ghoulishly blue moon, and to hear the cast and crew in an extended version of the 2019 documentary Cleanin’ Up the Town: Remembering Ghostbusters tell it, the making of this landmark film wasn’t a rough ride for many. Met with enthusiasm and golden dollar signs, it’s gone on to weather a sequel that greatly divides it fans even to this day and a reboot that only deepens the chasm between supporters and those…otherwise inclined. 

With a Jason Reitman-directed follow-up feature arriving in November (don’t forget, Jason is the son of Ivan who sat in the chair for the 1984 original and its sequel in 1989) I figured it was a good time to take in this newly released extended edition of this extensive making-of documentary which has been bouncing around for a few years.  You can see a version that’s nearly a half hour shorter on Crackle, but this lengthier look at how a film originally conceived to be about a crew of janitors in the year 2010 who join a league of ghost hunters became what we know it as today is the more rewarding experience.

Director Anthony Bueno goes big and bold, christening this as the “definitive Ghostbusters documentary” and with the fine amount of detail covered in over two hours of interviews and behind-the-scenes footage, I’m inclined to believe him.  Of course, can anything about Ghostbusters be truly definitive without the participation of Bill Murray or Rick Moranis, neither of whom turn up in interviews here?  Probably not, but taking that out of consideration Bueno sure has rounded up a bevy of production designers, producers, and actors, from the stars all the way down to a red-headed extra that’s seen in one of the final shots of the film.  All speak fondly of their experiences on the film, with only Ernie Hudson continuing to go on the record with his justified disappointment over his character’s clear tokenism, a fact that’s basically acknowledged by several of the actors/writers. 

Going all the way back to Dan Aykroyd’s family history that led him to come up with the basic concept of the film and then gathering the core team of creatives together, Bueno smoothly moves through each element of the production as it builds the movie from the ground up.  Rarely are there any sources of conflict and from what we can assume, despite some pressure from the studio to make their deadline, the shooting and production went off without a hitch.  So many of these documentaries feel like they’re put together to show what a terrible trial it was to produce such a classic but in Cleanin’ Up the Town: Remembering Ghostbusters you get the impression the goal is more to show that Ghostbusters was the result of multiple creative minds working cohesively from the same page.  If there were problems, they’re not mentioned here.

I wish Bueno would have gone the extra mile and covered the sequel because I don’t think we’ll ever get an exhaustive dissection of that interesting misfire, which has its definite pros and cons.  Perhaps in keeping with the positive spin the doc maintains throughout to examine the less successful follow-up would re-open a sore spot no one was in the mood to revisit.  Instead, Cleanin’ Up the Town: Remembering Ghostbusters busies itself probing the great minds that thought alike for that magical stretch of time for their memories of their involvement, whether they were the actor inside The Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man, the actress playing the librarian at the beginning of the movie, or the puppeteer responsible for moving the tongue of one of the ghosts.  For movie nerds, this is a heaven-sent doc that touches on multiple elements involved in the creation of Ghostbusters and a must watch to see how it all came together.

Movie Review ~ Toy Story 4


The Facts
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Synopsis: When a new toy called “Forky” joins Woody and the gang, a road trip alongside old and new friends reveals how big the world can be for a toy.

Stars: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Annie Potts, Christina Hendricks, Keanu Reeves, Joan Cusack, Lori Alan, Blake Clark, Estelle Harris

Director: Josh Cooley

Rated: G

Running Length: 100 minutes

TMMM Score: (8.5/10)

Review: I’m pretty sure most audiences, like me, thought this toy box was closed for good. After changing the face of computer animation with the release of Toy Story in 1995, Pixar followed their original story up with two sequels that managed to improve exponentially on their predecessors. Culminating in 2010 with the beloved, three-hanky Toy Story 3, favorite toys Woody and Buzz Lightyear had a fantastic send-off that was just about the most perfect ending to a story you could ask for. At the time, everyone involved said three films was the limit and they were done with the Toy Story franchise…but a few box office duds and less successful sequels to other popular titles ‘inspired’ the animators at Pixar to come up Toy Story 4.

Usually, in these seemingly desperate situations no good can come of the product that’s created and I braced myself going into Toy Story 4 for a sequel that didn’t measure up. The news at the outset is that no, Toy Story 4 is not as winning as the previous film nor does it have the same complexities that made that last chapter mean so much to adults as well as kids. However, the moment I stopped trying to compare this film to the one that came before I sort of released any tension I had going in and was easily won over. This relatively uncomplicated, but very entertaining, entry gives audiences everything they want. From the characters major and minor we love, to the dizzying hijinks that have become a staple of the prime Pixar pictures, Toy Story 4 works like gangbusters when the gang is all together.

At the end of Toy Story 3, Andy left his prized toys with toddler Bonnie when he went off to college and as this film opens the toys are enjoying their rebooted life with a new child. True, not all of them get the same play time as others, namely Woody (Tom Hanks, Sully) who nicely abdicates his sheriff duties to Jessie (Joan Cusack, Working Girl) because Bonnie prefers her. With Bonnie set to begin Kindergarten, Woody steals away in her backpack to keep an eye on her should she need any comfort and bears witness to the creation of a new toy, Forky (Tony Hale, American Ultra). A crude construction from a spork, pipe cleaners, and popsicle sticks, he becomes Bonnie’s new favorite though the recently born toy keeps trying to pitch himself into any available waste paper bin because he only thinks of himself as “trash”.

With Woody busy trying to keep Forky from going out with the garbage, the rest of the toys take a minor backseat to the action until Bonnie and her parents take a small road trip before school officially begins. It’s here the movie really begins after a half hour of funny, if a tad bit staid, sequences with Woody and the group. Though I’m sure Forky will become a popular toy with fans and the deeper meaning to his metaphysical questioning of life will inspire numerous think pieces, I found this first act of the movie a wee bit ungainly.  To me, Forky and his desperate attemps to run away became an annoyance…and I wondered why all the toys just didn’t let him be on his merry way.  Again, while on the early stages of the road trip, Forky makes a run for it and Woody follows, eventually winding up in an second-hand antique store lorded over by a Gabby Gabby doll (Christina Hendricks, The Neon Demon) and her ventriloquist dummy minions (scary!) with designs on Woody’s voicebox.

The antique shop and the traveling carnival that sits right outside the store provides Pixar people ample space to let their imaginations run wild and they have a ball creating a host of new toys and gadgets for our stalwarts to interact with. I had forgotten that Bo Peep (Annie Potts, Ghostbusters) hadn’t been in the last film and it was nice to see her move into a leading role as the female foil to Woody. Having been given away by her previous owner, Bo Peep (and her sheep) have been living as lost toys for seven years and show Woody the ways of the wild and help him break into the antique shop to look for Forky. These movies have always been quite targeted to boys and though the introduction of Jessie in the second film was meant to balance things out it never truly felt like an equal distribution of material. That error seems to have been nicely righted here by fleshing out Bo Peep as an independent toy capable of more than just tending sheep.

In addition to Gabby Gabby who is perhaps more than just merely a villain but a toy aching for feeling the same love and belonging the others have felt, there’s a Canadian stunt toy (Keanu Reeves, Parenthood) with an inferiority complex, and a set of plush animals (voiced by Keegan-Michael Key, Tomorrowland and Jordan Peele, Us) stitched together at the hand to provide some fine comedic support. The plush toys especially get in some howlingly funny bits, as much as the film made kids in my screening laugh I don’t think I’ve heard adults laugh louder or longer in a movie in quite some time. If there’s one toy that gets short shrift, it’s Buzz (Tim Allen) who has some late-breaking action but is sidelined in the memorable moments field for much of the film.

Watching the movie, I was reminded again at just how incredible the advancements Pixar has made. The animation here is photo-realistic at times and quite stunning to behold. Some animals look real and most vistas appear as if they have been snapped right from a postcard. If you look at the original Toy Story now you can see where the animation has room to grow but comparing that to this is showing how a company has evolved fantastically over the years.  Couple that with action sequences crafted with clockwork precision that best any number of live-action summer blockbusters and you have a movie that has laser eye for detail down to the most minuscule of properties.

I’m hearing again this will be the last Toy Story film and the creators have definitely given us another ending that feels like it…but never count out another adventure if the story is right. It took nine years for this fourth film to be made and the release date comes almost five years after it was originally announced. So, it’s obvious the studio took its time in creating the film and releasing it only when it was perfected. Let’s hope if there is another tale to be told, the same care is taken when Woody, Buzz, and Bo Peep ride again.

Down From the Shelf ~ Jumpin’ Jack Flash

The Facts:

Synopsis: A bank employee gets a coded message from an unknown source and becomes embroiled in an espionage ring.

Stars: Whoopi Goldberg, Stephen Collins, John Wood, Carol Kane, Annie Potts, Roscoe Lee Browne. Phil Hartman, Jon Lovitz, Michael McKean, Tracey Ullman

Director: Penny Marshall

Rated: R

Running Length: 106 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: Here’s an example of a movie I always remember being better than it is. Over the years I’ve returned often to this strange mix of comedy and intrigue with fond memories of fun only to wind up 106 minutes later wondering why I thought it was so great.  Don’t get me wrong, as a showcase for rising star Whoopi Goldberg, Jumpin’ Jack Flash is aces but considering the actress was coming off her Oscar-nominated breakthrough performance in The Color Purple and was several years away from winning her Oscar for Ghost one can’t help but see this as a minor blip on her way to the A-list.

You aren’t wrong in thinking the role of a lonely bank employee that gets roped into a real-life spy adventure is a strange fit for Goldberg.  Just like Sister Act was conceived as a vehicle for Bette Midler, Jumpin’ Jack Flash was intended for Shelley Long who opted for The Money Pit and Outrageous Fortune instead.  Aside from a few instances that were surely the result of Goldberg’s improvisation, the dialogue and overall plot seems generally unchanged from when it was Long’s…and that’s problematic.  With no discernible personality, Goldberg’s character (and the actress herself) struggles at the confines of a screenplay that often works against her more than it does her any real favors.

After original director Howard Zeiff was fired after a few weeks of filming, actress and first-time director Penny Marshall was brought in and that also doesn’t exactly help things.  While Marshall would go on to have several notable efforts like Big, A League of Their Own, and Awakenings, the rookie mistakes are evident.  Though it has comedy in fits and starts, the tone of the movie is all over the place.  One moment it’s an office comedy, then it’s an international thriller before getting Keystone Kop-y after Goldberg finds herself locked in a telephone booth tethered to the back of a tow truck.

With all these items in the minus column of my critical spreadsheet, why do I keep returning to this one?  Clearly, it’s Goldberg and it’s thanks to her the movie remains a rainy day option.  Managing to sell most of the malarkey dialogue she’s tasked with, Goldberg’s NYC vibe creeps in at opportune times.  I still get a kick out of her conning her way into a royal gala at the British embassy dressed as Diana Ross and lip-synching to one of the singer’s tunes.  While the telephone booth scene is quite screwball, listening to Goldberg riff on her situation provides some nice chuckles.  Let’s also give a hand for a fine supporting cast of familiar faces and a great big roll of the eyes at the ancient computer technology that at one time was cutting edge.

A hit at the box office, even if Jumpin’ Jack Flash is an interesting step in Goldberg’s ladder to stardom and hasn’t aged well at all it’s still better than Burglar, Fatal Beauty, and the string of other head-scratchers she appeared in the years after The Color Purple was released.

The Silver Bullet ~ Ghostbusters

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Synopsis: Three unemployed parapsychology professors set up shop as a unique ghost removal service.

Release Date:  August 29, 2014 (30th Anniversary Release)

Thoughts: I wouldn’t normally feature a trailer for an older film so prominently on this site, but seeing that said film is 1984’s Ghostbusters and that the re-release is set to commemorate the 30th Anniversary of the 80s hit comedy I decided to make an exception.  There’s not a lot particularly special about this trailer, and anyone that’s remotely familiar with the movie may feel it comes off as more of an ad for the upcoming BluRay release than anything else…but my nostalgia meter went off the charts the moment Ray Parker Jr.’s Oscar nominated theme song started up.  Playing for only one week in theaters (though these limited runs often turn into two weeks at least), I ain’t afraid of no ticket prices and will happily see this one on the big screen again.