Somehow, Someway, "Ghostbusters: Afterlife" Was Mostly Ok
Plus some MCU talk and an indie film for your Pre-Turkey Day meal enjoyment!
As of this writing, it’s the early morning hours of Thanksgiving 2021 - a time when many of our families are still scrambling to finish meal preparations for a finish around Noon or so. Of course, it’ll become a day for spending time with loved ones from close-by and all over, which will be sometimes lovely and sometimes very awkward. It’ll be a day for counting our blessings and what we’re all thankful for in life and love.
Personally speaking, I’m thankful for the health and well-being of my father, who has had a rough time these last few months. He’s doing better, having the best possible support system around; family. Doctors, too.
Personally speaking, I’m also thankful to the over eighty readers that signed up for my publication, being a support system of a different kind. I certainly hope that my humble work has been as enjoyable to read for y’all as it has been fulfilling to write. I’ve set up a page on Buy Me a Coffee for anyone who can’t become a paid subscriber yet, to leave a tip or buy a requested review for any movie they’d like me to cover. As an independent writer and freelance contributor, it can be difficult to maintain a consistent income, so any amount helps. Right now, these are the best ways to fund what I do.
For those interested in exclusive posts, another Laissez Les Cinema Rouler! newsletter is on the way, with a possible podcast series to boot - though I’m still developing that. I’ll be writing about a certain Parker Posey and Michael Madsen TV movie/pilot about Dr. Frankenstein, set in a foggy and humid New Orleans. It’s a groovy little story, and my take is coming up.
Groovy little takes.
X-MAS May Mark the Spot
Disney+ just dropped the first two episodes of its Marvel Studios Hawkeye series don’t you know, and only about two hours into it, things seem alright.
In this post-Thanos defeated Universe or, rather, recovered America, it’s now X-MAS season, complete with hero-worship in the form of musicals and merchandise. It’s unclear if any of our MCU figures are receiving any profit from the sale of their likenesses - one can only hope it’s all "public domain” or "creative commons” and not as cold as in the shocking and stunning The Boys - but at least Clint "Hawkeye” Barton wishes to move on - at least from the awkward bathroom selfies with fans.
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The series is a New York adventure with college kid Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld) a maybe reluctantly-privileged athletic prodigy who accidentally revives the legacy of Ronin, the hidden persona that Barton (Jeremy Renner) took on during the five years when half of the Universe had been wiped out. He violently took on and took out various underworld characters, in a rage-fueled by the loss of his family. But now, with his wife and kids back, he just wants to have a nice Christmas and a nice life.
Like with any show, the initial first few bits aren’t always a good indicator for how things will progress. There’s a feeling-out process usually. With these Marvel Studios productions, however, it all feels like an extended film, separated by chapters. Hawkeye feels feature-lite, both in scope and in tone. Some explosions sure, some capers that need solving yes, and a grand opening where an impressionable young Kate witnesses Hawkeye’s iconic moment from the battle of New York indeed, it’s all oh so fluffy and cute.
Of course, how does one make a pizza dog work without being cute? How does Hawkeye find himself in a LARP without being fluffy? How do winks and nods occur without being light? Hawkeye may go further, but full-blown dark isn’t too likely. Maybe "Thanos was right” scribbled on the edge of a urinal is about as far as that attitude will be taken. And that would be far enough.
When a Stomach Gets Butterflies…
Going too far is the indie flick I was recently privy to, Butterflies…. I don’t often see movies that try to spin off styles and ideas from a high-strung and high-concept youth in danger film like The Rules of Attraction, but here we are. Directed by Kevin Stevenson from a novel by the late Tom Leveen (whose personal story is quite tragic), Butterflies… is a teen Crash kind of collage, taking place over the course of one evening, before, during, and after "the party.” Often too wordy but never very defining, the film is stifled by too much and not enough writing, making for a stuffy and stilted story.
Each high schooler has the ability to break the fourth wall and speak directly to everyone on the opposite end of the movie screen, in over-written and in-over-its-head monologues. Almost talking head-like in nature, these addressed to the audience moments are never lazy or misfired - they’re always well-intended and delivered with good hearts - but they’re perhaps too passionate and occasionally… cringing to watch. Do teens think to themselves in these ways? Sentences, statements, and loud questions are spoken as if it’s an early 90s Nickelodeon show, only with added vulgarities - both in attitude and in the childishness of the writing.
The actors, all of them, put in what they can, but often will go so far emotionally and so strictly to what’s on paper that everything said and done just feels hokey, no matter the seriousness of the given scenarios. One such would be in an ideal football hero who is haunted by the memory or the imagined ghost of a dead relative who died overseas in the military. In one worn-out welcome sequence, this poor kid is tormented by this visage of a spirit, in ever-escalating and confusing ways. What was a small supporting role all of a sudden becomes integral to the whole story. And his big scene in front of a mirror is just unfortunate.
Butterflies… is saved somewhat by an excellent score, mixing Christmas (yes, another seasonal tale) music with electronic beats, and very impressive visuals. The sounds thump in every scene, matching exactly what these teens are feeling outwardly and throwing at the screen. The camera has a specific way of capturing peril and pleasure in equal measures, often getting profile shots of those speaking to us, but usually following along silently but kinetically. The aforementioned haunting scene is lit in fluorescent hues, with the lights blinking in strobes, inducing a sense of a mental state and the juxtaposition of a party going on with pain and trauma being experienced. The palette is fine and finessed, colorful and clear, giving life where there’s often something lacking. Many things lacking, even. Our eyes see the illusions of the movie, and are transfixed.
The film inches towards interesting themes, but never follows through. A gaggle of bros talks about killing an ex-girlfriend, only to discuss how "sensitive” their lead guy is, despite his pure anger towards her and the profound heartbreak he’s in the midst of. His buddies, one in particular, almost have more than affection for him, hinting not so quietly at some repressed or unrequited love, but again Butterflies… never gives in. Maybe the film just didn’t see these things in itself. Maybe it was too concerned with the big picture that it lost sight of the little details. Too bad. 2/5
No Ectoplasm? No Problem.
Too much of anything can be bad or good, depending on what it is. Ghostbusters: Afterlife is technically the third film in the original series (or "prime” timeline), but could also be seen as a soft or hard redo? Reboot? Re-sequeled-make? Decades after the Carpathian popped out of a painting only to get covered in a slime of sorts, Afterlife has moved from being a straight sci-fi comedy of schlubby crack-pots and con-men turned heroes and into a wide-eyed Spielbergian clone of corporate mascot-present. It’s a film of lost possibilities and found joy. A mix of emotion, really. A push and pull between sad and ok.
I lean towards ok.
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In a not-revelation, Egon Spengler (the character formerly played by the late great Harold Ramis) has passed on, and his daughter and grandchildren have moved into his lonely and creepy-ish farmhouse of tricks and treats. He believed trouble was coming, and spent years preparing for it. Traps, proton packs, and the Ecto-1 come back into play, slowly being rediscovered by new precocious misfits. His young granddaughter acts here as the lead, performed with astute charm and biting personality by Mckenna Grace. Her character, more than any other, is what provides Afterlife its successful piece. Not its lone piece, but perhaps its main one.
The movie, while certainly fitting in with this new era of filmmaking style - a good thing since the 80s are no more - is too heavy on the nostalgia to be more than a single viewing experience - a bad thing since it should just be itself. Absolutely, it hits many fine marks, like a ghostbusting scene across a small town main street, but also lands on some disappointing territory, like a Wal-Mart monster escape and some second-hand retread of the first film. There’s goodwill done, and exhausting ads placed, like those papers that rest on the McDonald’s trays, letting you know of what’s available on the menu and what’s coming soon. It’s a movie where the trailer is overall better. Great, in fact.
Still, many things work. Like when Egon’s lab is revealed, or when the kids test the proton packs out. Afterlife can be fun. It can also be its idea of fun, which isn’t so enjoyable. But things are mostly good. Mostly ok. Even that one scene we all knew was coming at the climax. The one I dreaded, but was ultimately fine with. It worked, when it shouldn’t have. And that’s ok. 2.5/5
Stuffing or potatoes? Take your pick.