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.

Personal Space

Ant-Man and the Wasp

by George Wolf

Like the titular heroes who get small to do big things, Ant-Man and the Wasp gets a boost by making its stakes more personal, and its mojo a sweet, witty blast.

“Do you guys just put ‘quantum’ in front of everything?”

Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) asks that question for him and for us. The answer is yes, they do, but don’t sweat the science and the fun will win out.

Scott’s on the outs with just about everyone since his assist to Captain America (“We call him Cap!”) in Civil War, but he just might be what Dr. Pym (Michael Douglas) and his daughter Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) need to rescue their long lost wife/mother Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) from the “quantum realm” that’s held her for decades.

The team could be on to something huge, and their research has many interested and scary parties, including “Ghost” (Hannah John-Kamen from Black Mirror and Ready Player One), a molecularly challenged young lady who thinks it could save her life.

Too serious? Anything but.

Thanks to Rudd’s comic timing and affable charm, Ant-Man becomes the family friendly cousin to Ryan Reynolds’s Deadpool. Like Reynolds on his DP projects, Rudd again earns a writing credit, filling his character with plenty of snappy dialogue and tongue-in-cheek humor that feels like a comfortable extension of Rudd’s own persona.

He’s a natural, but Lilly is the welcome surprise here. The Wasp’s intro in the first film often seemed like an awkward distraction, but she earns the equal marquee time with a script that allows Lilly the chance to make the character matter.

Director Peyton Reed is also back from part one, showing a confident grasp on Ant-Man’s role in the Marvel Universe. He keeps the pace quick, the gags (many featuring a scene-stealing Michael Pena) on a PG-13 speed dial, and the effects team busy, showcasing plenty of the amazing scale-altering set pieces that give this franchise its unique calling card.

The film knows its place in Marvel’s lineup, too, and that’s hardly an accident. Good as Infinity War was, the break from galaxy-hopping is welcome. Two of the writers from Spider-Man: Homecoming are on board this time, bringing some of the less-is-more sensibility which gave that film such an unexpected freshness.

Yes, it could stand to lose about fifteen minutes of excess, but AMATW has an unassuming vibe that is infectious fun, and the perfect palate cleanser before another bite of Thanos.

And don’t leave early, or you’ll miss a mid-credits bonus that might drop some jaws.

 





Take Me Out to the Spy Game

The Catcher Was a Spy

by George Wolf

The Catcher Was a Spy features a surprisingly impressive lead performance from Paul Rudd. It’s not his talent that surprises, but rather the role as enigmatic baseball player turned wartime spy.

This isn’t what we’ve come to expect from the always welcome Rudd, which makes him that much more appealing for branching out.

Dammit, Rudd, you likable rogue!

He stars as true life legend Moe Berg, who spent fifteen years as a Major Leaguer in the years before WWII. Though never a superstar, he was a well-respected and durable catcher with many other talents that proved useful.

A Princeton grad with multiple degrees, Berg spoke several languages and was fiercely private. With his playing career over and a war raging, Berg’s intellect, discretion and communication skills were valued at the O.S.S., where he was trained as a spy and tasked with assassinating the German physicist (Mark Strong) getting dangerously close to developing a nuclear bomb.

Woah.

Director Ben Lewin (The Sessions) fills his throwback yarn with the requisite newsreel voiceovers and shadowy set pieces for a satisfactory spy thriller, but makes more of a mark through the intimate workings of Rudd and the supporting cast.

We’re told Berg is an enigma, but Rudd makes us feel it. From his blunt honesty to his sexual history, Berg’s nature always seems a bit out of step with the crowd, and Rudd provides the humanity to get us on his side while he stokes our curiosity.

Supporting players, including Jeff Daniels, Sienna Miller, Paul Giamatti and Guy Pearce, are equally strong, cementing the relationships that elevate the adapted script from writer Robert Rodat (Saving Private Ryan).

As a spy drama, The Catcher remains fairly routine. Its power comes from its intimacy, getting just close enough to a mysterious, fascinating figure without disrespecting that figure’s commitment to mystery.

 





Yes, It’s a Weiner

Sausage Party

by Christie Robb

I was expecting to hate this movie. At worst I was anticipating a series of increasingly forced dick jokes and at best a munchie-induced fever dream. Instead, I gotta say, Sausage Party stands up with the South Park movie as a pretty offensively entertaining animated movie for adults.

The film is set in a Shopwell supermarket where every morning the products sing about their desire be chosen by “the gods”—those big things wheeling the carts—and travel to the Great Beyond (via a song composed by Alan Menken—the guy who co-created the songs from The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin).

Little do the foodstuffs know what terrors await them on the other side of the pneumatic doors. It’s not nirvana. The Gods fucking eat you.

As the Fourth of July approaches, Frank—a hot dog voiced by Seth Rogan—eagerly anticipates hooking up with his honey bun (Kristen Wiig) in the Great Beyond. But after they are chosen, they and a bunch of other products are separated from their packaging and fall to the supermarket floor.

Forced to traverse the enormous grocery, the fellowship has to navigate the aisles to get back to their packages, interacting with their fellow foodstuffs in various ethnic-food aisles, partying in the liquor aisle, and generally trying to evade the villain—a vampiric and increasingly unhinged literal douche.

The movie certainly employs a fair amount of wiener-based humor and a variety of food-centric ethnic stereotypes (for example, the sauerkraut jars are a bunch of fascists bent on exterminating “the juice”, the bagel’s voice is a Woody Allen impression, and a Peter Pan “Indian”-style pipe-smoking bottle of firewater dispenses wisdom), but the movie turns to a surprising exploration of faith vs. skepticism and the extent to which religious belief fosters divisions, hostility, and repressed sexuality.

Although the movie manages to provide enough offense to go around, the majority of the jokes are actually quite funny. The cast is certainly strong. Rogan and Wiig are joined by Nick Kroll, Salma Hayek, Michael Cera, James Franco, Bill Hader, Danny McBride, Edward Norton, Craig Robinson, David Krumholtz, and Paul Rudd, and the sex-positive food porn scene exceeded my expectations of what was bound to happen once the wiener and the bun finally got together.

Seeing Sausage Party ain’t a bad way to pass the time. But, for the love of God, please don’t take your kids.

Verdict-3-5-Stars

 





Let’s Get Small

Ant-Man

by George Wolf

A legendary screen icon once coolly remarked, “A man’s got to know his limitations.” Ant-Man seems to know his, and comes equipped with enough style, wit and attitude to move past most of them.

As you might guess, the Ant-Man gets his name from being very small and extremely powerful. But, those qualities only come from wearing the special Ant-Man suit invented by Dr. Hank Pym, super- genius (Michael Douglas). Hank’s been looking for a younger suit-filler, and he hand picks ex-con Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), who’s looking to go straight after serving time for some illegal high tech hacking.

Scott’s in line for the gig because Hank’s original protege, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), had to go get all evil and shit, trying to sell all their shrink technology to HYDRA.

See, Hank has a history with S.H.I.E.L.D., and living so ironically in the Avengers universe is one of the things Ant-Man gets right. The writing team of Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead/Scott Pilgrim), Adam McKay (Anchorman/Step Bothers), Joe Cornish (Attack the Block) and Rudd (Role Models) brings some serious cred, with solid instincts for what this hero needs to stand out in the Marvel lineup.

Ant-Man’s backstory just isn’t that memorable, so the film wisely doesn’t spend too much time trying to chase some universal humanity that isn’t there. Instead, the script brings that wisecracking, wry humor the writers know well and Rudd excels at delivering. He makes Lang instantly likable and Ant-Man easy to root for, even in the midst of some clunky exposition.

Collateral damage from the dude-a-thon? Hank’s daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly). Sure, you can knock the entire Marvel franchise as one extended bro-down, but this under-written character is so poorly realized it just becomes a distraction, failing to justify the future that seems in store.

Director Peyton Reed (The Break Up) jumps enthusiastically into the superhero pool, providing a number of memorable set pieces and some truly dazzling visuals as the tiny Ant-Man navigates his immense surroundings. A Thomas the Tank set suddenly becoming a gigantic battleground of rolling tracks and cheeky engines? I’m in.

The payoffs get bigger as our hero gets smaller and the origin story fades farther in the rear view. Expect some Avenger cameos, with two extra scenes after the credits start rolling, and enough self-aware vibe to make Ant-Man‘s corner of the Marvel playground seem like a cool place to hang.

 

Verdict-3-5-Stars

 

 

 

 

 





Wet and Hot All Over Again

They Came Together

by Hope Madden

The non-threateningly attractive, amiable Paul Rudd is an easy guy to like. Maybe even to fall in love with…unless he’s a corporate drone working for the ultra-behemoth conglomerate that’s about to put your quirky, independent candy store out of business! Then he’s just a dreamy boy you could fall in love with but you won’t, damn it! You just won’t!

Director David Wain likes him, though. He likes him well enough to cast him as the lead in every single one of his films, including his latest, They Came Together.

For the provocatively titled newest effort, Wain collaborates with co-writer Michael Showalter, who helped him pen another Rudd vehicle, the cultish gem Wet Hot American Summer. Where that film lampooned summer camp films, the latest effort sends up New York City rom/coms.

Both films are endearingly silly, insightful, packed with genuine talent, and loaded with laughs. Rudd is joined this time around by reliably funny Amy Poehler as maybe the love of his life, if they can get past that candy store thing and a couple dozen other hurdles.

Wain is not just after the big, obvious genre clichés, either – though not one is safe. He’s equally adept at uncovering small, overlooked crutches of the romantic comedy and skewering those, as well. So what went so wrong?

Nothing feels fresh, for starters. So many films have poked fun at romantic comedy clichés that the satire is stale. The humor is broad when it needs to be, targeted at times, and often very funny, but utterly and immediately forgettable.

Just as problematic is that the 83 minute running time feels bloated. Jokes are repeated so incessantly that they lose potency, and Wain’s film has trouble mocking the tired and familiar without feeling a little spent itself. It plays like extended sketch comedy, some of which is spot-on, though too much of it is filler.

With laughs to be had, sight gags galore, priceless cameos, an enviable cast and a quick run time, it’s hardly the worst way to spend a little time in the air conditioning. You know, since Wet  Hot American Summer doesn’t stream on Netflix.

 

Verdict-2-5-Stars

 

 





The ‘Stache Takes Manhattan

 

by George Wolf

 

According to facebook comments, there are humans out there who don’t think Will Ferrell is funny, and say they don’t understand all the fuss about Anchorman 2, and you know what was really funny? Delta Farce.

I am not one of those people.

Look, I’m not going to tell you The Legend Continues is as funny as the original, because , Great Odin’s Raven!, you’d know I was lying. But it is funny, sometimes downright eye-wateringly hilarious.

The swinging 70s have given way to 1980, as Ron Burgundy (Ferrell) and his news team move to New York to join GNN, the very first 24 hour news network. After finding themselves on the graveyard shift, Ron, Brick (Steve Carell), Brian (Paul Rudd) and Champ (David Koechner) set their sights on moving into primetime and taking down the network golden boy (James Marsden).

Ferrell and co-writer Adam McKay (who also directs) get more pointed in their satire of TV news in round two, which seems a natural progression. Occasionally, things get a tad too obvious, but the overall subject of the sad state of broadcast journalism is still so ripe for ridicule that the film is always able to recover pretty quickly.

Two curious plot points hold this new Burgundy adventure back from striking ratings gold, one involving Ron’s health and another concerning his strange choice of new pet (don’t worry, Baxter’s still around). Both subplots fall flat, bloating the film by at least twenty self-indulgent minutes that were better relegated to the deleted scenes section of the DVD.

The other 100 minutes, though, are chock full of nutty goodness. The four core actors again excel at this rapid fire, improv-heavy brand of comedy (especially Koechner, who jumps up a notch this time) and the new faces (Kristin Wiig, Meagan Good, Greg Kinnear) blend in well. Expect some inspired sight gags (keep an eye on that news ticker), well-played homages to the best moments from part one, a litany of welcome cameos, and a small reprise at the end of the credits.

While this Anchorman lamp may not be quite as lovable, you’ll like this lamp, you’ll really like this lamp.

 

Verdict-3-5-Stars

 





They’re On a Road to Nowhere

Prince Avalanche

by Hope Madden

David Gordon Green is a curious filmmaker. Beginning his career with poignant, Southern independent films, he is perhaps best known for the breakout hit Pineapple Express and subsequent bombs Your Highness and The Sitter. He returns to the world of offbeat indies with Prince Avalanche – a film about as offbeat and indie as any you will ever find.

Alvin and Lance (Paul Rudd, Emile Hirsch) spend the summer of ‘88 doing roadwork in an isolated, wooded area recovering from the years-old and miles-wide devastation of a wildfire. They’re just two goofy dorks in blue overalls arguing over their “equal time boombox agreement” and painting yellow stripes, mile after mile, week after week.

Avalanche is as sweetly odd as it is casually gorgeous, the wild beauty of the duo’s surroundings an absurd backdrop to their own screwball behavior. It’s a buddy comedy of the most eccentric sort.

Green’s unconventional approach allows Hirsch and Rudd ample room to breathe, and to develop unique and fascinating characters. Rudd’s peculiar Alvin nicely counters Hirsch’s silly Lance, and their placement in this vast wilderness feels so entirely counter intuitive that their adventure takes on an almost surreal humor. Both actors are a joy in a film that commits to taking you places you’ve simply never been.

Green based the screenplay on Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurossen’s much lauded but little seen Icelandic picture Either Way. The meandering pace he gives the work serves its overall themes, but will aggravate a lot of viewers – particularly those seeking a plot. What we get is a generously documented, lovingly observed character study of two outsiders with little in common beyond their own troubles with human contact.

When Green remains focused on the absurdity of the situation, Prince Avalanche charms the impatient viewer into submission. It’s only when he falls back on his own roots in indie cinema – poetically capturing the languid beauty and rustic living – that the slight production feels tedious.

Still, I cannot imagine a more potent antidote to Summer Blockbuster Fever and its symptoms of FX bloat star dazzle than this spare, offbeat film.

Verdict-3-5-Stars

 





Maybe put Fey in the new Anchorman instead?

By Hope Madden

The idea of pairing Tina Fey and Paul Rudd is very appealing. They are funny, smart and talented – and yet so often willing to take soft-boiled parts where they play socially awkward cutie pies. Like, for instance, Admission.

Fey plays Portia, a buttoned-up Princeton admissions counselor looking for happiness in a hum drum life inside the ivory tower. Rudd’s John, on the other hand, is an impetuous free spirit currently serving the youth of the world as an alternative school teacher.

Both of these misguided adults decide to help one unusual teen get into Princeton in this good hearted, underwhelming comedy about parents and children and the damage we do to each other.

Of course, Portia and John fall for each other, Portia comes to terms with her ambition and her mother (a scene-stealing Lily Tomlin), John realizes fatherhood requires some sacrifice, and lessons are learned just all over the place. Sounds hilarious, doesn’t it?

Nope. Funny is not the word to describe Admission.  And that’s a crime, really. Wasting comic talents like Rudd and Fey should come with consequences.

Director Paul Weitz knows how to orchestrate a smart comedy, having helmed flicks from the raucous American Pie to the complex About a Boy to the wizened American Dreamz. Unfortunately, he cannot find his rhythm here.

Karen Croner seems a likely culprit. The screenwriter had never written a comedy before and frankly, still hasn’t. Working from the novel by Jean Hanff Korelitz, Croner is content to embed flat one liners into a laid back comment on finding true happiness in age old family values.

Side plots abound, each meant to create humiliating moments of comic gold for Fey. Unfortunately, every zany tale – whether with an ex-boyfriend (an underused Michael Sheen), an office rival (Gloria Reuben), or a ferocious mother – goes nowhere.

Fey overworks the “frazzled woman pretending to have it all together” bit, trying too hard to generate energy and chuckles in scenes without potential. A charming, warm Rudd is nothing if not likeable, but he, too, suffers from an absence of opportunity to draw more than a few fond smiles.

Very little works in this toothless comedy that has courage enough to avoid a tidy ending, yet still falls back on an almost offensively traditional image of happiness, one that requires roots, a man, a woman, and a child.

2 stars (out of 5)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Lc9DwpMo6M