Remember 1984? Be a Lot Zuuler If You Did

Ghostbusters: Afterlife

by George Wolf

Have you tried to branch out, only to end up with a revolt on your hands? Perhaps fan service is right for you! In other words, if 2016’s Ghostbusters was The Last Jedi, Afterlife is The Rise of Skywalker. With a side of Goonies.

That doesn’t mean it’s not a fun trip down memory lane.

Director/co-writer Jason Reitman picks up the 1984 baton from dad Ivan, crafting a new adventure that casually ignores the 1989 sequel.

Egon Spengler’s long-estranged daughter Callie (Carrie Coon) is being evicted from her Chicago apartment, so she takes daughter Phoebe (Mckenna Grace – just terrific in a completely heroic arc) and son Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) to the only thing Dad left her when he died: a dilapidated farmhouse in small-town Oklahoma.

Ah, but this farm holds secrets, and it isn’t long before science whiz Phoebe is getting familiar with proton packs and Trevor is checking to see if the ECTO-1’s engine might actually turn over.

Good timing, too, because Phoebe’s teacher Mr. Grooberson (Paul Rudd) has been noticing some serious seismic activity in town that he cannot explain. Turns out the Sexiest Teacher Alive is also a big fan of the original Ghostbusters, and he clues in Phoebe and her conspiracy-happy friend “Podcast” (a charming Logan Kim) about Grandpa’s heroics back in the day.

Once Trevor’s crush Lucky (Celeste O’Connor from Freaky) makes it a quartet, it’s up to the kids to figure out the real reason Egon abandoned the GB’s all those years ago, what’s brewing under the farmhouse, and just how to wrangle a stage 5 apparition.

This is a film so steeped in the nostalgia for its source material that you cannot imagine it existing on its own. Is that a direct result of the savagery that greeted the female (and for what it’s worth, underrated) reboot or a natural reaction by a son following in his father’s footsteps?

Either way, the benchmark callbacks come early and often, with Reitman frequently holding the shot an extra beat just to make sure you pick up what he left for you. And while the Bill Murray zany-ness is replaced by Paul Rudd sarcasm and wisecracking from a cast of wonderful young actors, there is humor here, enough to justify the “comedy” label (which honestly, the original trailer had me questioning).

But is it fun? Oh yeah, with some slick CGI and high points that are zuuler than the other side of the pillow.

You’ll want to stay through the credits for two extra scenes, but there’s a good chance you’ll still be thinking about all that Reitman has in store during that finale. It’s plenty – maybe even enough for your eyes to stay as pufty as a certain marshmallow man.

More Spooky, Less Ooky

The Addams Family

by Hope Madden

Has anything ever embraced the outcast narrative with as much macabre panache as Charles Addams’s single-panel cartoons, The Addams Family?

Their pride in themselves and obliviousness to the reaction of those around them continue to offer opportunity to pick at society’s weakness for sameness. Rooting a story of individuality versus conformity with the two pre-adolescent characters (Addams children Wednesday and Pugsley) makes good sense.

This should totally have worked.

The voice talent ensemble is a thing of envy: Charlize Theron, Oscar Isaac, Chloe Grace Moretz, Bette Midler, Allison Janney, Finn Wolfhard, Nick Kroll, Elsie Fisher, Martin Short, Catherine O’Hara and Snoop Dogg. That’s two Oscars, three nominations and one Snoop.

The standouts here are Janney and Moretz, each the funhouse mirror opposite image of the other. Janney’s zealous believer in conformity, Margaux Needler, is a home improvement guru with a reality TV show and a motto: “Why be yourself when you can be like everyone else?”

Moretz delightfully counters that energy with an entirely deadpan Wednesday. Moretz’s every line is delivered with the emotion of a month old corpse. She’s perfect.

Wednesday chooses public middle school, Pugsley (Wolfhard) preps for a family ritual of manhood, Margaux plots to rid her perfect neighborhood of that eyesore mansion on the hill in time for her TV show’s big season finale. The collision of those three stories bogs and slogs, though, each of the subplots championing individuality.

Which is fine. And that’s what this film is. It’s fine.

Kroll gets a funny bit about where his Fester is and is not allowed to travel. Lurch is reading Little Women. Thing has a foot fetish—that bit’s kind of priceless, actually. But on the whole, the film just kind of lays there. Like a cadaver, but not in a good way.

Co-directors Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon (who also lends his voice) proved they could envision a highly irreverent cartoon with 2016’s Sausage Party, but have trouble finding solid ground between fornicating lunch meats and Thomas the Tank Engine (Tiernan’s claim to fame).

Co-writer Pamela Pettler (writing here with The Christmas Chronicles’ Matt Lieberman) offers a resume more in line with the concept: The Corpse Bride, Monster House, 9. Yes, she has her goth bona fides. But she struggles to give the story any bite.

The Addams Family is unlikely to charm longstanding fans and will likely bore young moviegoers. It might entertain a slim swath of tweens, but this family deserves better than that.

Fun & Games

It

by Hope Madden

Clowns are fun, aren’t they?

Back in ’86, Stephen King released the novel It, about a bunch of New England kids plagued by a flesh-hungry monster who showed itself as whatever scared them the most. Like, say, a clown.

The basic premise of It is this: little kids are afraid of everything, and that’s just good thinking.

Four years later, It made its way to TV as a miniseries, the first episode of which is one of the most terrifying things ever to grace the small screen, much thanks to the unforgettable presence of Tim Curry as Pennywise the clown.

It’s been 27 years, and as the story itself dictates, the time has come for It to return.

The Derry, Maine “losers club” finds itself in 1988 in this adaptation, an era that not only brings the possibility of Part 2 much closer to present day, but it gives the pre-teen adventures a nostalgic and familiar quality.

Though The Goonies this is not. Nor is it made for TV.

This version shares a lot of tonal qualities with one of the best King adaptations, Stand By Me. Both are bittersweet tales of the early bonds that help you survive your own childhood.

Bill Skarsgård has the unenviable task of following a letter-perfect Curry in the role of Pennywise. Those are some big clown shoes to fill, but Skarsgård is up to the challenge. His Pennywise is more theatrical, more of an exploitation of all that’s inherently macabre and grotesque about clowns.

Is he better than the original? Let’s not get nutty here, but he is great.

He and the kids really make this work. The young cast is led by the always strong Jaeden Lieberher (Midnight Special), and he’s surrounded by very strong support. Sophia Lillis charms as the shiniest gem in the losers’ club, and Finn Wolfhard (that is a name!) is a scream as the foul mouthed class clown Richie.

The almost inexcusably cute Jackson Robert Scott is little, doomed Georgie, he of the yellow slicker.

In keeping with that Eighties theme, both characters cast as minorities—the Jewish Stanely Uris (Wyatt Oleff) and African American “Homeschool” Mike Hanlon (Chosen Jacobs)—are noticeably underwritten.

So, they weren’t perfect, but the team adapting for this go-round got a lot right.

The best Stephen King adaptations are those with writers who know how to prune and refocus. Luckily, newcomer Chase Palmer, longtime horror writer Gary Dauberman and, maybe most importantly, Cary Fukunaga (who wrote Beasts of No Nation) are on it.

The trio streamlines King’s more unwieldy plot turns and bloat, creating a much-appreciated focus.

Director Andy Muschietti shows great instinct for taking advantage of foreground, background and sound. Yes, It relies heavily on jump scares, but Muschietti’s approach to plumbing your fear has more depth than that and he manages your rising terror expertly.