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.

The Unchosen One

The Front Runner

by George Wolf

The Front Runner closes with Gary Hart (Hugh Jackman) dropping out of the 1988 Presidential race with a dire warning: Beware the day we elect leaders we deserve.

The film’s previous 110 minutes operate on the premise that day has come, pinpointing Hart’s very public fall from grace as the three watershed weeks that made it possible.

Hart, the Colorado senator who had been a surprise runner up to Walter Mondale for the 1984 Democratic nomination, emerged four years later as the assumed nominee and betting favorite to be the next President. But then, angered by questions about his marriage, Hart famously challenged the press to “put a tail on me, you’ll be bored.”

So they did, and they weren’t.

There was that yacht named Monkey Business (I swear, kids, look it up), the affair with Donna Rice, and damaging photos with another not Mrs. Hart. And before you could say “Dukakis” without laughing, we got President George H.W. Bush and a journalistic landscape that’s never been the same.

That’s more than enough meat for director Jason Reitman to chew on, and he gamely tries to balance all the ethical questions that remain startlingly vibrant today.

Should serious journalism embrace tabloid fodder? Are politicians entitled to private lives? Whose responsibility is it to hold powerful men accountable for their treatment of women?

Reitman, who also helped screenwriter Matt Bai adapt his own best seller All the Truth is Out, taps back into much of the groove that made his Thank You for Smoking such a mischievous treat.

The dialogue is fast and smart, often evoking a more easily digestible Aaron Sorkin. Salient points are made and then rebutted through the precise timing and intricate blocking of an outstanding ensemble (including greats such as J.K. Simmons, Vera Farmiga and Alfred Molina) that serves up indelible characters with relative ease.

Jackman is flat out terrific as the natural-born politician (“his hair alone is worth 6 points, 4 if it’s windy”) who could not, and would not, accept that the press were no longer giving men like him free passes.

Hart used his fame when it suited him and railed against its trappings when it didn’t. Jackman, in a thoroughly realized performance, is able to unveil this hypocrisy subtly enough to keep the authenticity of Hart’s political convictions uninjured.

The attention to narrative ebb and flow is detailed, becoming an absorbing dive into a historical clash of idealism, self-interest, and morality that seems almost quaint today. But strangely, it finds a depth that feels intentionally cautious, and the film never pounds a fist toward any viewpoint of its own.

Is that layup designed to encourage our own conclusions?

Maybe.

But Hart’s warning closes the film for a reason, and The Front Runner, much like the man himself, might have cut even deeper with more courage alongside those convictions.





Hey Lady, You Lady

Tully

by George Wolf

The character Tully doesn’t show up ’til nearly 40 minutes in, but by then the film Tully has its anchor: a sensational Charlize Theron.

The Oscar-winner excels as Marlo, an exhausted, frazzled mom in dire need of a break. Marlo and her inattentive husband Drew (Ron Livingston) already have a young daughter, a younger son with some behavior issues, and now (surprise!) a brand new baby girl.

Lucky for Marlo, she’s also got a rich brother (Mark Duplass) whose baby gift is a “night nanny” named Tully (Halt and Catch Fire‘s Mackenzie Davis – a keeper). Once Tully shows up, Marlo can get what every new parent craves…sleep.

After two winners together in Juno and the criminally ignored Young Adult, writer Diablo Cody  and director Jason Reitman make their third collaboration a wonderfully natural extension of the first two.

Cody is a gifted writer, her dialogue often insightful without preaching and timely without pandering. Here she creates two characters whose unlikely friendship speaks to the changing roles women will play throughout their lives, and the heartache those changes can sometimes bring.

That being said, it’s hard to imagine the film working as well as it does without Theron. She makes Marlo’s every emotion feel real, and the character absolutely human even when Cody’s script takes some chances not all will appreciate.

Reitman, back in form after the dreadful Men, Women & Children, also helps in that department, keeping the film grounded in a world many will recognize. This isn’t the heartwarming comedy the TV ads want you to think it is, nor is it the casual dismissal of postpartum depression that others have charged.

It is one woman’s story, with moments of humor, absurdity and truth, a bit of cliche and even some fairy tale optimism. And with all of that, there’s enough brash boundary pushing to make Tully feel like a film we haven’t seen before, and one we’re glad that’s here.

 





Uninspired Technophobia

Men, Women & Children

by Hope Madden

Nobody panic. Jason Reitman has just hit a slump, that’s all. Remain calm.

Sure, the writer/director made his feature film debut with Thank You for Smoking (thank you for making that movie!), and only went upward from there (Juno, Up in the Air, and the underappreciated masterpiece Young Adult). He was bound to waffle a little. Scorsese followed Taxi Driver with New York, New York, for Lord’s sake. It happens.

I’ll admit, I was hoping he was done with this misstepping with the laborious romantic bludgeoning Labor Day, but it appears he has one more overwrought drama in him in Men, Women & Children.

This is basically the same film Henry Alex Rubin made two years ago called Disconnect, which followed teens and parents making terrible decisions and living online instead of off.

MW&C is not the exact same movie, but close enough. Reitman, with co-writer Erin Cressida Wilson (Secretary), reworks Chad Kultgen’s novel about teens and parents and their collective obsession with the wired world.

In many ways, the themes plumbed here are universal to the coming of age film, only in the world inside this film, every anxiety is heightened by the disconnect between reality and our virtual worlds. What the film explores in dozens of ways is our ever-growing loss of intimacy.

It’s not an uninteresting point, just a belabored one. Some individual storylines grow so hyperbolic that even this talented cast cannot rein it in. (We are expected to believe that online porn has so warped one 15-year-old boy that he can no longer get an erection naturally. Even with a flesh and blood girl present. Monkeys immediately fly from butts.)

Judy Greer gives a characteristically unusual and nuanced performance, as do many of her cast mates. Plenty of folks will bristle at the idea of Adam Sandler in an ensemble drama, but in fact, Sandler is only worth watching in independent ensemble dramas. (Please see Punch Drunk Love. Seriously, please see it.)

Greer and Sandler are not alone. The cast – teen and adult – is quite solid, but by the second trip to the hospital I had to just give up on the film. The youngsters are either sociopathic loners or suicidal, and if their parents aren’t cartoonishly unaware, they’re tracking them like criminals or pimping their underwear-clad asses online. Can things really be this dire?

Back to business now, Jason. Come on. Something good this time.

Verdict-2-5-Stars





Fall Preview Countdown

 

Football, honey crisp apples, leaves to rake – you know what that means? It means the cinema will turn from alien invasion bombast to thought provoking, character driven awards bait. Hooray!  Here are the ten fall movies we are most excited to spend time with between now and the holidays.

 10. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1

Sure, it’s another blockbuster and hardly the kind of adult, autumnal fare you’ll find on the balance of the list, but we don’t care. We’re as geeked for Katniss’s next step as any 13-year-old girl. Director Francis Lawrence took the franchise into ingenious new territory with Catching Fire and we are eager to see where JLaw and team can take the political maneuvering next.

9. Fury (October 17)

Brad Pitt returns to Nazi Germany, but don’t expect the dark comedy of Inglourious Basterds. Writer/director David Ayer (End of Watch) is at the helm of what is being described as a brutal but honest look at WWII.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-OGvZoIrXpg

8. Whiplash (October 23)

The always spectacular J. K. Simmons and talented, young Miles Teller join forces in a cymbal-crashing boot camp for musicians. Buzz for this one is great, and we love Simmons, so we’re ready to rock and roll.

7. Men, Women & Children (October 17)

Jason Reitman made his first major misstep this year with the syrupy mess Labor Day, but we are optimistic he will recover with this ensemble drama about how technology is changing our personal landscapes. Co-writer Erin Cressida Wilson (Secretary) should help.

6. Rosewater (November 7)

Jon Stewart writes and directs this true story of a journalist imprisoned and tortured for simply reporting on Iran’s 2009 election. Clearly a topic close to Stewart’s heart, we are eager to see if he can do at the helm of a film what he’s managed to do with his comedy show: articulate the people’s need for unencumbered journalism.

5. Birdman (October 17)

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu takes a break from heady, heartbreaking drama (Biutiful, 21 Grams, Amores Perros) for something lighter and a bit more meta. Onetime Batman, current struggling actor Michael Keaton plays a struggling actor once known for his role as a superhero. We are in.

4. Foxcatcher (November 14)

Steve Carell has gotten notice for an unforgettable and surprising turn in a true crime drama co-starring Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo. Director Bennett Miller (Capote, Moneyball) has done no wrong so far in his career, and we are intrigued to see where he takes us next.

3. Interstellar (November 9)

Because Christopher Nolan. If he’s directing, we’re in line for tickets, so this space exploration/wormhole business starring Matthew McConaughey (hey, he’s been a good bet lately, eh?) sounds like time well spent.

2. Gone Girl (October 3)

Who else would we line up to see no matter what? David Fincher, who helms this gritty crime drama about a missing wife and a husband who looks guilty. Ben Affleck stars, which is not always his strongest suit, but we’re betting on Fincher.

1. St. Vincent

Bill Murray plays the aging, boozy whoremonger next door who lends a hand to the neighborhood’s new single mom (Melissa McCarthy) in need of a babysitter. What could go wrong? We will be on hand to find out.





What Gives?

 

by George Wolf

Walking out of the preview screening for Labor Day, a woman behind me remarked, “I don’t know..I need action, a hook in the back or something!”

So, while the film won’t please the “hook in back” demographic, it will also let down fans of writer/director Jason Reitman, who makes a curious left turn into overcooked melodrama.

Adapted from the source novel by Joyce Maynard, it is a story told in flashback narration by Henry (Tobey Maquire), recalling one memorable Labor Day weekend from his youth.

While shopping with his mother Adele (Kate Winslet), young Henry is approached by Frank (Josh Brolin), an escaped convict on the run.  Quietly forcing his will upon them, Frank takes refuge in their New Hampshire home, nursing the wounds from his jailbreak and slowly becoming a savior to both mother and son.

The breakdown of her marriage has left Adele constantly depressed, and left Henry without a strong male role model. How fortunate that Frank cooks, fixes most anything, knows baseball, swears he’s not the monster the papers say he is, and oh, yeah, simmers with sexuality.

As does most of the film, juxtaposing Adele’s clear ache for a man with young Henry’s exploding hormones. It’s all very earnest and obvious, miles away from the brilliant edge Reitman brought to every other feature he’s done (Thank You for Smoking, Juno, Up in the Air, Young Adult).

It makes you wonder just what inspired Reitman to film this story, one that is equal parts Douglas Sirk and Nicholas Sparks. Perhaps it was just the challenge of elevating it, to see if his talents, combined with those of strong actors, could give it resonance.

While Labor Day is indeed better for all of their efforts, the air of disappointment lingers.

 

Verdict-2-5-Stars

 

 

 





Weekend Countdown: Hard Labor for Labor Day

It’s Labor Day Weekend, and we’ve decided to take a mo and celebrate the hardest labor of all. The pregnant kind. Here are our five favorite pregnant lady flicks.

5. Knocked Up (2007)

The Judd Apatow brand extends to films he simply produced, so he may be getting more creative credit than he deserves, but he had back to back writing/directing/comic gems with 2005’s Forty Year Old Virgin and this Pregnant Beauty and the Beast. Better for its ensemble than its leads, the flick boasts dead-on genius work from Leslie Mann, hilarious support from Paul Rudd, Jonah Hill, Jason Segel, Jay Baruchel and Kristin Wiig, and it introduced the world to the now constant comic presence of Ken Jeong. At least he kept his pants on for this one.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rR4sXcMf_5o

4. Juno (2007)

Jason Reitman, Diablo Cody, Jason Bateman, Michael Cera and Ellen Page enraptured us all with this quick witted, brilliantly cast, endlessly quotable comedy about a pregnant teen. Reitman and Cody would pair up again with the nearly flawless Young Adult, but their first collaboration remains fresher and funnier than you think.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vwv12d85u7A

3. Waitress (2007)

Soulful and funny, gorgeously filmed and perfectly cast, Waitress is the list’s underseen joy. Pie baking phenom Kerri Russell squirrels away money so she can quit her waitressing job and leave her husband, then finds herself pregnant and attracted to her new doctor. Writer/director Adrienne Shelly’s film offers a pitch-perfect supporting cast, a cleverly crafted script, and the remarkable ability to make you want to eat pie right now.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0cQ0WwcKCLk

2. Inside (2007)

Holy shit. Inside is not for the squeamish. This French horror flick pits a merciless villain against an enormous expecting mother. Though the film goes wildly out of control by the third act, it is a 2/3 brilliant effort, a study in tension wherein one woman will do whatever it takes, with whatever utensils are available, to get at the baby still firmly inside another woman’s body.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gOk5tiAkEdA

1. Rosemary’s Baby

If you’re going to see only one pregnant lady horror flick, make it Rosemary’s Baby. It remains a disturbing, elegant, and fascinating tale, and Mia Farrow’s embodiment of defenselessness joins forces with William Fraker’s skillful camerawork to cast a spell. Yes, that crazy pederast Roman Polanski sure can spin a yarn about violated, vulnerable females.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PewtQsgN5uo