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 ~ Alien (1979)

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The Facts:

Synopsis: After a space merchant vessel receives an unknown transmission as a distress call, one of the crew is attacked by a mysterious life form and they soon realize that its life cycle has merely begun.

Stars: Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, John Hurt, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, Ian Holm, Yaphet Kotto, Bolaji Badejo

Director: Ridley Scott

Rated: R

Running Length: 117 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (10/10)

Review:  It’s Memorial Day weekend 1979 and you are an audience member in one of the 90 theaters showing a movie called Alien.  You’ve only seen the poster with the tagline, ‘In space, no one can hear you scream.’  Maybe you saw the teaser trailer (one of the all time best) in front of another movie earlier in the year or perhaps you’ve seen nothing of the film at all.  This is a time before the internet and the type of massive publicity surge studios use to show nearly everything but the closing credits before a movie opens.  No one else has told you what to expect, no dialogue later to become iconic has been quoted endlessly, there have been no copycats that tried to ride its genre coattails to similar success.  Everything about this is new to you.  I am so jealous of you!!

Seriously, think back to a time before you saw one of your favorite movies and then think about yourself now and how things changed after that experience.  You wish you could go back and relive that first thrill again.  While you can watch your go-to dozens of times over and only grow to love it more, nothing will beat that sweet first glimpse of greatness that made it so memorable in the first place.  Jaws, Jurassic Park, Moulin Rouge!, Grease 2 (yes, Grease 2), Rear Window, The Sound of Music, The Godfather – just a handful of titles that come to mind I’d love to go back and experience again like I’d never seen them before.  Ridley Scott’s sci-fi classic Alien sits high on that list as well…and pretty high up.

A supreme genre hybrid and crown jewel in both science fiction and horror, Alien is the be-all, end-all of creature feature films set in the stars while also impressing as an incredibly scary haunted house flick with a few nods to the Westerns made famous in the ’50s.  Go into Alien without knowing what’s in store and you are sure to have shock after shock, finding a scream around every corner of the large commercial space vessel Nostromo which gets cleverly boarded by our titular character. 

The original idea of screenwriters Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett, both sci-fi fans with ties to the industry, the existence of the film can be tied back to the Star Wars craze.  Fans were clamoring for more space odysseys and with The Empire Strikes Back still in development/production and not due until 1980, 20th Century Fox took the first space script that came to them, then called Star Beast.  Renamed Alien, the studio hired relatively new director Scott (recently represented with The Last Duel) to lead the way of the modestly budgeted picture and Scott cast the film using the freedom the script gave him by making the characters unisex.  That means we could have gotten a male Ripley if Sigourney Weaver (Copycat) had decided to skip her audition that day.  While Weaver is just one of a fantastic ensemble of actors and would only later truly step into a spotlight leading role in 1986’s Aliens, almost from the start you can see the then 29 year-old actress taking control of the screen anytime she’s present. 

Weaver hangs to the side for much of the first hour of the film, as her crew answers a distress call on a small moon they were redirected to as they made their way home.  Landing on the barren terra, the three crew volunteers tasked with finding the source of the signal instead find what looks to be a spaceship in ruins and eventually encounter an…unpleasantness which leaves one crew member incapacitated.  Bringing him back on board to give him medical care, they restart the journey home as fast as possible but it’s already too late.  They’ve brought something on board that will emerge, grow, and kill them one by one until only one is left to face the towering creature head on.

Even watching the movie for as long as I have, I’ll never get over at how ahead of its time it was.  On so many levels.  First off, the presence of such a strong female character that winds up the lead is so rare in this genre and this certain type of take-charge female is particularly impressive.  Other films feature women that become strong or fall into a position of being forced to adapt or else, but Weaver plays Ripley as a woman that’s always been proving herself and this experience is not all that different.  She would return to the role again in three subsequent sequels and was Oscar-nominated for the next film but here is where it all began, and the groundwork is laid strong for what develops over the years. 

Another way the film seems ahead of its time is that it literally looks like it was made a decade or more in the future and then shipped back for the audience to view.  The special effects are outstanding and deservedly won an Oscar and the production design was also nominated and could have likely won as well because the magnitude of the sets is jaw-dropping.  Budgeted at 11 million dollars, the producers made their money go a long way and it shows in each blinking light on the control panels, grandeur of the planetary design, and scale of the ship’s shadowy corridors.  The alien itself is just a man (Bolaji Badejo) in a rubber suit but the costume is so detailed and the editing from Terry Rawlings and Peter Weatherley so skilled that you never notice the seams. 

Anyone with a pulse should feel it racing at some point during Alien.  Using not just the creature itself but light, practical design/effects, and our own imaginations to create scenarios in our head, Alien creates a high sense of dread that rarely lets the audience have time to catch their breath. The cast, the production, and Scott’s assured hand in direction combine to give what could have been a B-movie in the wrong hands a classy sheen that’s stood the test of time.  Even today it remains an extremely frightening film that works because of its simplicity in scaring us. Countless movies have tried without the same type of (or any) success in recreating what Alien brings forth…just stick with the biggest baddest mother of them all.

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.

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.

The Silver Bullet ~ Exodus: Gods and Kings

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Synopsis: An account of Moses’ hand in leading the Israelite slaves out of Egypt.

Release Date:  December 12, 2014

Thoughts:  After March’s Noah and the modest success of films like God’s Not Dead and Heaven Is For Real I’m thinking we’ll look back on 2014 as the year that studios got Biblical.  Coming in right under the wire this December will be Ridley Scott’s (Prometheus) take on the story of Moses as told in the book of Exodus.  With Christian Bale (Out of the Furnace) as the Red Sea parter himself and Joel Edgerton (The Odd Life of Timothy Green) as Pharaoh Ramses (his brother from another mother) joining Scott’s favorite alien hunter Sigourney Weaver (Working Girl), Ben Kingsley (Iron Man 3), and Aaron Paul (Need for Speed) for some Egyptian action this looks more in line with the epics from the 50s and 60s.  Scott is certainly a competent filmmaker so hopes are high Exodus: Gods and Kings won’t make as quick a box office exit as Noah did earlier this year.

In Praise of Teasers – Alien (1979)

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I have a serious problem with movie trailers lately.  It seems like nearly every preview that’s released is about 2:30 minutes long and gives away almost every aspect of the movie, acting more like a Cliff Notes version of the movie being advertised rather than something to entice an audience into coming back and seeing the full product.

In this day and age where all aspects of a movie are fairly well known before an inch of footage is seen the subtlety of a well crafted “teaser” trailer is totally gone…and I miss it…I miss it a lot. So I decided to go back to some of the teaser trailers I fondly remember and, in a way, reintroduce them. Whether the actual movie was good or bad is neither here nor there…but pay attention to how each of these teasers work in their own special way to grab the attention of movie-goers.

Let’s start?  Shall we?

I’m going big right away…my numero uno favorite.

Alien (1979)

Besides being one of the best movies ever made, Alien from director Ridley Scott (Prometheus) boasted a truly kick-ass  trailer that only hinted at the terror to come.  While it’s a bit longer than a traditional teaser, the absence of any narration or dialogue and quick edits of scenes/characters that would soon become part of movie history help to make this one for the record books.  I especially like how the edits get faster and more intense until all hell breaks loose.  How could any sci-fi/horror fan see this trailer in the theater and not get a little tingle of excitement?  It’s not only one of the best teasers ever…it’s one of the best trailers ever.

Bonus fun – check out the teaser poster above.  Though Alien would eventually run with the famous tagline “In space no one can hear you scream” there’s something equally ominious about “A word of warning” that’s used on the early promotional poster.

The Silver Bullet ~ Vamps

Synopsis: Two female vampires in modern-day New York City are faced with daunting romantic possibilities.

Release Date:  November 2, 2012

Thoughts: Oh dear.  Well, being a big Amy Heckerling fan (even National Lampoon’s European Vacation!) I had been waiting for this one for a while.  Long delayed for a theatrical release, Vamps was recently announced as going direct-to-video.  After viewing the silly trailer I can see why.  Featuring a nice supply of actors that know how to do light comedy, I’m a bit surprised this looks as bad as it does.  Who knows, perhaps this one will be a guilty pleasure but I’m guessing it’ll be a toothless comedy lacking bite.