‘Ghostbusters: Afterlife’ is Very Similar to the First ‘Ghostbusters,’ and I Would Be Very Surprised If Anyone Argued Differently

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Ghostbusters: Afterlife (CREDIT: Screenshot)

Starring: McKenna Grace, Carrie Coon, Finn Wolfhard, Paul Rudd, Logan Kim, Celeste O’Connor, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Sigourney Weaver, Annie Potts, Bokeem Woodbine

Director: Jason Reitman

Running Time: 125 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Shooting Lasers at Those Ghosts

Release Date: November 19, 2021 (Theaters)

Ghostbusters: Afterlife plays all the biggest hits of the original Ghostbusters, but in rural Oklahoma instead of Manhattan. A gluttonous spook chomping away, squishy treats running amok, hellbeasts hooking up, “Who you gonna call?” – it’s all right here! It’s like a recurring sketch on Saturday Night Live: perfectly professional, and it probably works best for those who haven’t seen the first edition. As for those who were around for the original, there’s the thrill – or sting – of familiarity. This time around, the main busters are a few precocious kids, as opposed to a crew of childlike adults, so the vibe is at least a little different, although pretty much everyone involved takes great pains to capture that 1984 mojo as best they can.

I frequently wonder why repetition is demonized so much more in cinema than it is in other mediums. Revivals are an essential piece of live theater, musicians are expected to play the same songs over and over at their concerts, superhero comic books thrive on retelling the same stories, etc. But when you trot out a repeat at the movie house, you might draw big crowds, though you likely won’t win much critical praise, at least not as much as you did the first go-round. It probably has something to do with scale and budget. It takes years to assemble sequels and reboots, so there is a lot riding on them to be worth it. Ghostbusters: Afterlife plays it safe, so we’ll probably continue to see proton packs around town for decades to come, but I don’t know if anyone will also start emulating Paul Rudd’s plaid ensembles. (Well, maybe they will, but less because of this movie and more because he’s the Sexiest Man Alive.)

I didn’t want to be preoccupied by all this context while watching Afterlife, but it’s kind of unavoidable when you’re as plugged into culture as much as I am. When I try to think about this movie in and of itself, I can at least say that I appreciate that Carrie Coon and McKenna Grace and Finn Wolfhard were free to do their own thing, more or less. And there is one scene that I must admit is just undeniably satisfying, and that is when a bunch of Stay Puft marshmallows impishly run amok in a brand name department store. It’s cute and chaotic – an eternally winning combination. It’s also curious and a little unpredictable, which are qualities that the rest of the movie could have definitely benefited from.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife is Recommended If You Like: SNL recurring sketches, the Minions going shopping in the first Despicable Me, Dead actors resurrected by technology

Grade: 2.75 out of 5 Spooks

This Is a Movie Review: A Monster Calls

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A MONSTER CALLS (2016) Conor (Lewis MacDougall) and The Monster (performed and voiced by Liam Neeson)

This review was originally published on News Cult in December 2016.

Starring: Lewis MacDougall, Felicity Jones, Sigourney Weaver, Liam Neeson, Toby Kebbell

Director: J.A. Bayona

Running Time: 108 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Not Watering Down the Rough Patches in Life

Release Date: December 23, 2016 (Limited), Expands Nationwide January 6, 2017

In the fantasy/domestic drama A Monster Calls, adolescent Conor O’Malley (Lewis McDougal) must deal with his mother’s (Felicity Jones) terminal illness, his grandmother’s (Sigourney Weaver) overbearing presence, a classmate’s (James Melville) frequent torments, and the geographical distance from his father (Toby Kebbell). In the midst of all this arises a humanoid tree visitor (voiced by Liam Neeson) from the cemetery by his house. Is this monster a friend offering relief, or a foe busting in with more troubles? Hard to say. What he does have are stories, but their meanings are either difficult to parse or not as comforting as Conor would like.

A Monster Calls is admirably challenging for a film ostensibly aimed at family audiences. The laws of nature are likely to make the life of any teenage boy turbulent, and that difficulty is piled on via his parents’ separation, mother’s closeness to death, and the oppressive dreariness of England. A more typical “fantasy creature meets boy” story would position the monster as protector or companion, but for Conor the Liam Neeson Tree is mostly a source of frustration, which he internalizes and takes out on those around him – destroying a room at his grandmother’s in a fit of rage, getting back at the bully – and the consequences are confoundingly minimal. Conor expects to be punished, but life does not always make sense.

Making A Monster Calls difficult to embrace fully are the unpleasant sound effects that accompany every movement of the tree monster. They are, in a word, oppressive. Perhaps they are meant to illustrate the lack of comfort inherent in Conor’s story, but that strikes me as a step too far.

A Monster Calls is Recommended If You LikeThe BFG, The Mother-Son Relationship from The Babadook, Kid Actors with Fiery Emotions

Grade: 3 out of 5 Snapping Tree Branches