Finn Wolfhard

Ghostbusters: Afterlife

18/11/21

Cineworld

The original Ghostbusters movies were undemanding fun, I suppose, but I’m often astonished by the reverence with which they’re regarded, as though they are some kind of cinematic holy relics. The 2016 reboot, which featured female protagonists, may not have been wonderful, but it certainly didn’t deserve the levels of derision that were piled upon it from all quarters, with some observers complaining that their childhoods had been ‘destroyed.’ Really? At any rate, the events of that film have been brushed under the carpet and, for the purposes of this story, all has been quiet on the haunting front since the mid 1980s.

A lot of careful thought has clearly been put into Afterlife well before the cameras rolled. Directed by Jason Reitman (son of Ivan Reitman, who helmed the first two movies), this clever reboot places teenage protagonists at the heart of the story and it makes for such a perfect fit, I find myself thinking that this would have been a much more sensible approach back in the day. After all, the Ghostbusters films were clearly aimed at young audiences in the first place and that’s where they found their success. So why not make kids the driving force behind this new iteration?

After the breakup of her marriage, Callie (Carrie Coon) finds herself in dire financial straits, unable to pay the rent on the apartment she shares with her two kids, Phoebe (McKenna Grace) and Trevor (Finn Wolfhard, still able to pass for a fifteen-year-old at the grand old age of eighteen). Providence seems to provide an answer when Callie’s estranged grandfather dies, leaving her an old farmhouse in Summerville, Oklahoma. Soon, the three of them are attempting to settle in to the near derelict property, which is still stocked with familiar-looking equipment and, which Phoebe quickly discovers, seems to be haunted by a ghostly presence.

Phoebe enrols at the local summer school, where she encounters the affable ‘Podcast’ (Logan Kim), named because of… well, his obsession with recording podcasts. She also impresses likeable science teacher, Mr Grooberson (Paul Rudd), who has a proclivity for showing his classes highly inappropriate movies on VHS, while he gets on with his own singular obsession, that of studying the strange seismic activity that’s currently afflicting the area.

But of course, we all know that these are no ordinary earthquakes – and that, deep in an abandoned mine, supernatural forces are steadily gathering power…

The witty script (co-written by the director) effortlessly captures the nerdy humour of today’s teenagers and I like the fact that the film takes its time introducing the young leads before heading off into more spooktacular territory. The original films are suitably homaged (The Stay Puft Marshallow Man? Check! The Ectomobile? All present and correct!) and while there are inevitable guest appearances in the film’s final furlongs, this is never allowed to be ‘old-guys-coming-to-the-rescue-of-the-kids.’ No, Phoebe, Trevor and Podcast are running this operation, ably assisted by Sheriff’s daughter, Lucky (Celeste O’ Connor).

The film’s emotional conclusion could so easily have been mishandled but, like pretty much everything else here, it’s astutely done, managing to steer clear of mawkish pitfalls and just feeling warmly appropriate. When that familiar theme music kicks in, don’t be in too much of a hurry to leave the theatre. There’s a charming post-credit scene you won’t want to miss.

I like Ghostbusters: Afterlife a lot – in fact, at the risk of destroying a few more childhoods, I’d go so far as to say that, for my money, this might just be the best film of the franchise.

4.4 stars

Philip Caveney

The Goldfinch

28/09/19

I somehow never got around to reading Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. I loved her debut, The Secret History, but was not so enamoured of The Little Friend. Eleven years after reading a book I admired but did not enjoy, of course I wasn’t going to be first in the bookshop queue when The Goldfinch was released. Still, I have retained enough interest in Tartt’s work to pop along to Cineworld and give director John Crowley’s movie version a few hours of my time.

I’m glad I do, because it’s an interesting tale. I’ve read a few quite harsh reviews, but I don’t agree with those. It’s not perfect: the pace is glacial at times, and adherence to point-of-view means that some of the most exciting sequences happen off-screen. Theo’s sense of detachment permeates the movie and sometimes leaves us feeling rather detached too. And the one-hundred-and-forty-nine minute running time tests my patience somewhat: half an hour could be cut from this without sacrificing much.

But still. The plot is all convolution, contrivance and coincidence, but I don’t mind a jot. It works. Theo Decker (Oakes Fegley/Ansel Elgort) is at an art gallery with his mum one morning, passing the time before a meeting with Theo’s middle-school principal: he’s been caught with cigarettes. They never make it to the meeting, because a bomb explodes, killing Theo’s mum (Hailey Wist). As the dust clears, Theo sees Welty (Robert Joy), an old man at the gallery with his young niece, Pippa (Aimee Laurence/Ashleigh Cummings). With his dying breath, Welty gives Theo a ring, tells him where to take it, and urges him to rescue a priceless painting lying in the rubble. Theo puts the picture in his bag and stumbles home.

He’s taken in by the Barbours; he’s friends with their son, Andy (Ryan Foust). They’re a wealthy family, kindly but cold. Mrs Barbour (Nicole Kidman) in particular is stiff and uptight, doing her duty but with little compassion. As time passes, however, she becomes fond of Theo, and he starts to feel like he belongs.

Until his wastrel father (Luke Wilson) shows up with his latest girlfriend, Xandra (Sarah Paulson), and Theo is hauled off to the Nevada desert, where he befriends a Russian goth called Boris (Finn Wolfhard/Aneurin Barnard). He’s still got the titular painting though: his talisman, his link to his mother.

And when the wheels come off again, he makes yet another new start…

Nicole Kidman is the best thing about this film: she’s luminous and utterly convincing at all times. But the acting is uniformly good, the young cast particularly impressive in these demanding roles.

The film looks ravishing. The desolation of the abandoned housing estate in Nevada is beautifully rendered, the antique repair shop appears marvellous and magical.

The ending, however, feels a little deflating, the action occurring out of Theo’s (and therefore our) sight. Despite this, I think The Goldfinch is a decent film, and I might just purchase the novel now.

3.5 stars

Susan Singfield

It

 

 

13/09/17

Like many readers, I came to Stephen King’s writing in the early seventies, when his debut novel,  Carrie had just been released. I read a lot of his books and I thought that It was one of his best later efforts, despite the inclusion of a lamentable (what-was-he-thinking?) scene towards the end of the story that seemed to have strayed in from an entirely different genre. And of course I saw the 1990 TV adaptation, memorable for Tim Curry’s spirited performance as Pennywise but not much else. This new release, however, has certainly caught the public imagination. In a year where overall box office takings are dramatically down, the film is already proving to be a major hit with the public.

The town of Derry is plagued by a string of mysterious disappearances – most recently, young Georgie Denborough (Jackson Robert Scott) has chased a paper boat along a rainy gutter and into the clutches of a homicidal clown. The event leaves Georgie’s older brother, Bill (Jaeden Lieberher), riddled with guilt and obsessed with finding his lost sibling. Bill teams up with a bunch of fellow outsiders from his school and together they start to uncover Derry’s infamous history – one that appears to feature a list of similar disappearances going back for centuries…

What made the source novel so good was that King really knew how to write about teenagers – and that’s certainly the element that new director, Andy Muschietti, gets right. There are appealing performances from all of the young actors in this version, especially from Sophia Lillis as Beverly and from Finn Wolfhard, channeling his inner Corey Feldman as motormouthed geek Richie Tozier. Bill Skarsgard’s Pennywise is also fabulously creepy in the early scenes, but inevitably, the more we see of him, the less scary he becomes. This means that I really enjoy the first hour or so, but by the time the young protagonists had pursued their supernatural quarry down into the sewers, I am enjoying proceedings a whole lot less. Somebody should have whispered in Muschietti’s ear the old maxim that less is more. But no, he keeps piling it on, and all the menace he’s worked so hard to create runs straight down the drain. Interestingly, it’s the same problem that plagued his earlier film, Mama.

And it’s not just the over-reliance on effects that niggles here. What passed for plotting back in the eighties is starting to feel decidedly heavy-handed in this day and age. I could have done without the cartoonish gang of bullies terrorising the weaker kids in town (or at least had their over-the-top antics dialled down a couple of notches) and, while I appreciate the whole thing is a metaphor for kid’s coming to terms with their true identities, the points don’t need driving home with an economy-sized sledgehammer. As for the decision to turn the book into two different films, one dealing with the nineteen eighties and another featuring the kids all grown up and returning to Derry to confront their old nemesis? Well, given the success of part one, the creators are doubtless rubbing their hands at the prospect of pulling it off a second time.

Whatever I think about It hardly matters. It’s already a massive success and one that clearly chimes with a wide audience. King will, I’m sure, be pleased at what’s finally been done with his book. After so many cack-handed adaptations of his work (including The Lawnmower Man, from which he made a point of having his name removed) this at least is recognisably his brain child. It’s frankly not the spine chilling masterpiece that many have labeled it as, but maybe you can’t argue with bums on seats.

3.5 stars

Philip Caveney