Ghostbusters: Afterlife – A Movie Review

I’ve always been a lifelong Ghostbusters fan. I loved the movies, had the toys, watched the cartoon, and even tried to make my own proton pack out of cardboard boxes back in the day. I constantly wanted more of Peter, Egon, Ray, Winston, and the rest of the gang up on the silver screen, but it never seemed destined to happen. Heck, I even supported the Ghostbusters reboot with Kristen Wiig (and still do)!

So when I saw the photo of the Ecto-1 covered in a tarp while in an old barn, I got very excited, but also a little confused. What exactly was going on there? Was this Wiig’s Ghostbusters? Was this another reboot? Was it the old gang getting back together? How is that possible due to the unfortunate passing of Harold Ramis in 2014?

Without spoiling anything, Ghostbusters: Afterlife disregards Wiig’s Ghostbusters and essentially functions as Ghostbusters III. It fully acknowledges the 80s Ghostbusters and, in a very real way, continues that storyline.

The plot centers around a grown woman whose father passed away in Oklahoma. She is down on her luck, broke, and completely estranged from her dad. She gathers up her 12 and 15 year old kids and heads to Oklahoma in the hopes of gaining some kind of inheritance. All she gets is an old, creepy house, a dirt farm, a dilatated barn, and–for some reason–Ecto-1.

The two kids, played by Mckenna Grace and Finn Wolfhard, actually carve out their own little niche in the small town as their mom, played by Carrie Coon, becomes involved with a local teacher played by Paul Rudd. The first half of the movie focusses on the kids’ slowly discovering who their grandfather actually was as they tinker with his gear and experience strange abnormalities. Before long, as you would expect, ghosts start popping up. The last half of the movie is full-on fun, surprisingly sentimental, and overflowing with just the right amount of nostalgic fan service. I mean that as a real compliment–no snark here.

If you loved the 80s Ghostbusters movies, you’ll love Ghostbusters: Afterlife. The music is similar, the effects are similar, even the story is honestly pretty similar once you reach that last half. It’s no accident that Jason Reitman wrote and directed Ghostbusters: Afterlife. His dad, Ivan Reitman, directed the original two. This is obviously a love letter to what came before and a proper goodbye to Harold Ramis.

Yet, even though the nostalgia is high, Ghostbusters: Afterlife also sets up a lot of future possibilities. I wouldn’t say it’s a coincidence that Finn Wolfhard is in this film. He’s one of the kids from Stranger Things as well as the two recent It movies. I think they plan to partly build the franchise around him. Mckenna Grace plays his sister, and she’s actually the star of the film. Her character, Phoebe, has the most in common with her grandpa and is a ton of fun to celebrate. Plus, her only friend named Podcast, played by Logan Kim, is an absolute joy. You’ll see what I mean.

Let’s not forget the two Hollywood heavyweights in the movie–Paul Rudd and Carrie Coon. It doesn’t get much better than these two. Reitman has a cast with ample chemistry and oodles of charisma. I’d be more than happy to keep watching them all together for years to come.

But … there’s even more to it than that. I won’t give anything away, but there are two distinct future storylines already at play, one for the old, and one for the new. I have no doubt they’ll eventually converge. Speaking of which, be sure to sit through ALL of the credits.

So, I could have saved you a lot of time by simply writing this one phrase: If you love Ghostbusters, you’ll love Ghostbusters: Afterlife.

Free Guy – A Movie Review

I’ve been meaning to see Free Guy for awhile now because I heard it was really funny and had some great cameos. It finally arrived on DVD, so I checked it out at my local library because … as previously established … I like my movies free.

I’ll be honest — the first hour dragged a bit for me. But the last hour — superb!

The premise is this — Guy (Ryan Reynolds) is a nonplayable character in a video game. He doesn’t realize he’s in a video game, though. All the action stars of his world wear sun glasses, and we quickly realize those are the gamers. One day, after experiencing a kind of love at first sight, he gets hold of a pair of sunglasses, puts them on and … becomes free. From that moment on, we begin to get a glimpse into the real world, how programmers played by hot commodities Jodie Comer and Joe Keery influence Guy and his environment, and whether a game company owner villain extraordinaire played by Taika Waititi will end Guy’s life as he knows it.

Free Guy is big on action, hilarious on comedy with work buddies Lil Rel Howery and Ryan Reynolds exhibiting superb chemistry, and surprisingly complex as issues of video game ethics, artificial intelligence, and morality come into play. Plus, there’s a good old fashion love story.

Before it hits its stride, though, Free Guy is a little bit jarring. Ryan Reynolds plays Guy as a cross between Buddy from Elf and Emmet from The Lego Movie. It then moves into territory akin to The Matrix in terms of reality versus the digital world. But, once you wrap your head around the concept, it’s a super fun ride with a solid story.

Plus, there are some fantastic cameos and Easter eggs. I won’t spoil them, but be on the lookout for visual and audio standouts. Remember, technically speaking, this is a Disney film.

If you’re looking for an action comedy with a pretty engaging storyline, give Free Guy a shot.

Netflix’s Red Notice – A Movie Review

Red Notice felt very much like the excuse we needed to get Dwyane Johnson, Gal Gadot, and Ryan Reynolds together in a movie. It’s not especially good, but it’s fun to watch the three of these stars work together, so there you go.

Oh.

I guess you need a bit more than that, huh?

Okay, so Red Notice is about an art thief (Reynolds) trying to outdo another art thief (Gadot) as he’s being pursued by a profiler (Johnson) who is working with Interpol. Reynolds and Johnson eventually have to team up as Gadot outsmarts them both in regards to ancient Egyptian art pieces in the shape of eggs that Reynolds at one point refers to as MacGuffins. (Yes, you read that right.) Like any good MacGuffin, they serve as the motivation for all three characters even though nothing much ever really comes of them.

Reynolds cracks wise through the whole thing, Johnson tries to play his straight man, and Gadot takes a shot at being a femme fatale.

Honestly, there’s action, but it’s not great action. There’s fun quips from Reynolds, but we’ve heard much better from him in every other movie he’s done. Johnson seems to lack his usual charm for some reason. Gadot is fine though even she doesn’t particularly stand out.

Red Notice is a perfectly acceptable popcorn movie, but it never quite seems to figure out what kind of movie it wants to be. Is it a buddy movie, an action comedy, a self-referential satire, or a mostly serious heist film? It does not settle on any one of these, but instead dabbles in all of them.

While it was indeed fun to see Johnson, Reynolds, and Gadot on screen together, Red Notice did not work nearly as well as it should have.

Eternals – A Movie Review

Let’s get right down to it – this movie is far better than the critics would have you believe. Is it a touch too long? For sure. Is it a tad melodramatic at times? Most definitely. However, knowing what I know about Eternals from the comic books, I told people not to expect Avengers or Spider-Man. I told them to expect a cosmic think-piece, and I stand by that prediction. A cosmic think-piece is exactly what we got.

I’ll try to boil the plot down without spoiling any of it. The Eternals are a group of powered entities sent to protect humanity specifically against an otherworldly race of predators. Once they rid Earth of these creatures, their mission will be complete. However, they are banned from interfering in any way that does not involve the predators. We span thousands and thousands of years in Eternals, with many cuts back and forth throughout time. Eventually, the Eternals believe the time to go home has finally arrived. And they are right, but for reasons they never could have imagined.

Eternals hired very good actors for a purpose – it needed them to bring these unknown characters to life and to make us care about them. (I mean, come on! Who doesn’t love seeing Angelina Jolie, Gemma Chan, Brian Tyree Henry, Salma Hayek, Kit Harington, Kumail Nanjiani, and Richard Madden in the same movie!) Again, yes, the movie is too long – no one is arguing that. But, that long runtime allows us to really get to know each and every member of the Eternals – all ten of them. They each have distinct personalities and philosophies, and the respective actors playing each character do a nice job with showcasing these unique attributes. This is a family of sorts, and we’re meant to believe that they’ve been together for thousands of years. As a result, their relationships are complicated. For the most part, I believe Eternals delivered a smart plot with fully developed characters. In fact, there were a few twists in this movie that I didn’t even see coming. I quite enjoyed that.

It’s important that Marvel begins to recondition their audience with a film like Eternals. I imagine Marvel wants to allow a bit more room for its characters to breathe. It wants to explore the deep, sometimes even trippy, imaginings of luminaries like Jack Kirby. It wants to present morally complex tales that exist beyond “good guys” and “bad guys.” It’s hard to do this with established characters or properties. We know we’re getting weird from Dr. Strange, but not necessarily deep characterization. We know we’re getting funny from Guardians Of the Galaxy, but maybe not cosmic philosophy. Eternals attempts to tackle this endeavor while still remaining part of the MCU. But think about how hard it is to break the mold with largely unknown characters! The audience isn’t familiar with any of them, nor do they have a preexisting affinity for them. Studios keep remaking movies from the past with well-known characters because that guarantees a certain audience draw. Marvel rolled the dice on a largely dramatic movie like Eternals, and they did so with a director not known for these kinds of films.

By the way, I love that Marvel took a chance on Chloé Zhao. Getting fresh perspectives, styles, and voices is important if you want to keep leviathans like the MCU feeling new. On first view, though, I didn’t get a huge sense of where Zhao’s sensibilities shook things up. She’s also the writer, so perhaps her macro level influence is exactly what I’m talking about. Slower pace. Deeper characterization. More complex plot elements.

Consequently, Eternals is not a total departure from established Marvel trends. It’s still funny at times, though there are far more tears than we’re accustomed to seeing. There are still great action sequences, though they are spread out further than what we’re used to. The special effects are fantastic, and the costumes are magnificent. Eternals also opened up a lot of potential storylines, both within the movie itself and with its credit stingers. (There’s two, so stay all the way through the credits.)

This film is honestly a big swing for Marvel. Eternals is an epic story involving ten main characters while spanning millennia. It’s addressing what has come before, the present, and setting up stories to come. No, it does not provide pulse-pounding excitement, but it does present an interesting story with fully realized characters that I came to care about. Too long? Yes. Too much crying? I think so. Worth seeing? Absolutely.

Netflix’s Army Of Thieves – A Movie Review

Remember when Army Of the Dead came out and then, within days, it was revealed that another movie featuring Dieter was currently in the works? Dieter’s film would be the beginning of a shared universe built around Army Of the Dead. I remember wondering why they would start this endeavor with Dieter the safecracker. Sure, he was unique, personable, and fun in Army Of the Dead, but he didn’t really seem to embody the essence of that film.

So, Army Of Thieves came out Friday on Netflix and I watched it that night primarily to see what approach they would choose.

I have to say, while I didn’t LOVE the movie, I did appreciate their strategy. (Don’t come @ me – the movie was fine. I just didn’t LOVE it.)

Army Of Thieves picks up as the zombie outbreak is initially starting in Las Vegas. Dieter is a gifted, but unknown and unutilized safecracker, working a boring job and living a boring life. As expected, he has the opportunity to join an army of thieves (it’s more like a squad, really, but that wouldn’t make nearly as good a title), and then begins a quest that ultimately–no surprises here–leads him to Las Vegas and Army Of the Dead.

Directed by Matthias Schweighöfer (the man playing Dieter), and co-starring Nathalie Emmanuel, whom you’ll recognize and adore if you are a Game Of Thrones fan, Army Of Thieves is a fast-paced, entertaining, fun, largely inconsequential film. Yes, it does touch upon what’s happening in Las Vegas, but because it occurs in Europe, the Vegas outbreak is mostly out of everyone’s mind. (Kind of reminds me of America as China struggled with the Coronavirus.) There are a few lines hinting at Dieter’s ultimate fate, but, otherwise, it’s fairly disconnected.

However, if you love a good heist film about safecracking, Army Of Thieves is right up your alley. If you enjoy pretty European locations, Army Of Thieves is also for you. If you’re simply a fan of Matthias Schweighöfer, you’ll be quite pleased as well because he’s in almost every single scene.

I have to admit that I do like the approach Zack Snyder, the mastermind of the Army Of the Dead universe, is taking with said universe. Perhaps he recognizes how Star Wars is currently trying to find ways to avoid being so reliant on the Jedi/Sith central conflict in their universe. By showcasing a second movie that barely displays a zombie at all, Snyder can connect multiple points of his overall mythology without painting himself into a zombie-infested, blood-splattered corner. I do have to wonder, though, whether or not the audience will stick around for shows and movies relating to Army Of the Dead if they don’t primarily feature zombies. Time will tell, I suppose.

Which leads me to my final point: as already stated, I didn’t LOVE Army of Thieves. I liked it for all kinds of reasons. I certainly don’t regret the two hours I spent watching it. But, honestly, I wouldn’t currently deem it required viewing, especially considering what happened to Dieter in Army Of the Dead.

Unless …

Well, like I said. Time will tell.

Dune – A Movie Review

Dune never interested me all that much until when, years ago, I heard Denis Villeneuve planned to release his interpretation of the seminal work. As a big fan of Arrival and Blade Runner 2049, I knew Villeneuve would do something very special as he put his unique stamp on the mythology.

I immediately set out to read the book before the movie’s release. Because the pandemic kept pushing the movie down the calendar, I managed to finish it with plenty of time to spare, though I wouldn’t consider it an easy read. You can see my thoughts about the book HERE.

Dune released both in theaters and on HBO Max on October 21st. I sat down around 9:30 that Thursday night intending to just watch thirty minutes or so, enough to get a first impression of the film.

I couldn’t turn it off. I was up until 12:30 a.m., on a work night, dog tired, watching Dune, and couldn’t turn it off.

That probably speaks volumes in and of itself, but I’ll share a few thoughts.

As expected, Dune is visually magnificent and utilizes a striking ambiance. It hit all the right chords and delivered the essence of the book. Well, most of the book. Half of the book? More on that to come.

Dune is also filled with true stars. Consider some of these names: Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Jason Momoa, Josh Brolin, Dave Bautista, Javier Bardem, and Zendaya. These are full-fledged movie stars, each and every one.

I found the movie riveting, obviously, but as I watched it I found myself wondering: “Does this thing make any sense at all to anyone who hasn’t read the book?” I’ve since spoken with a few friends who really enjoyed the movie, even loved it in some cases, and haven’t read the book and weren’t familiar with the premise. I think that’s a good sign! As noted before, it definitely hit the high notes of the source material, but many of the more nuanced items were, as one would expect, left out.

I love that a book originally published in 1965 can still feel fresh and captivate audiences in 2021.

Chalamet, who plays the story’s protagonist named Paul, owned his role. Paul is a complex character, and though the movie doesn’t quite make it to his most controversial moments, it absolutely lays the groundwork for his epic quest to come. Rebecca Ferguson plays his mother, Lady Jessica, and I feel that she nailed the loving, dangerous woman that she is. Oscar Isaac proved he can command a screen yet again when given a meaty character to work with, and, as Paul’s father Duke Leto, he does just that. Jason Momoa and Josh Brolin respectively play Duncan and Gurney, mentors to Paul even while being vastly different men. Both actors were perfectly suited for these roles. Unfortunately, Zendya, Dave Bautista, and Javier Bardem were not given much to do … yet. If a second installment is indeed in the cards, you’ll see what interesting characters these three play, particularly Zendaya, who is Chani, the yin to Paul’s yang. Zendaya is a huge star in the making. She and Chalamet, if given a chance, are going to make Dune even more special than it already is.

Which, it must be said, leads me to my final point. Even at nearly three hours, Dune only covers about half of the book. If it feels as though the movie ends on a cliffhanger, well, it very much does. If it feels as though Dune spent a lot of time establishing characters, environments, technology, and religions … it does. If Dune: Part 2 is anything like the book, though, you are in for a very exciting experience.

Even if you’ve never read the book and even if you normally don’t care for science fiction, I urge you to give Dune a chance. It looks amazing, has an interesting take on established archetypes, utilizes themes that are very relevant to today’s world, features some very good acting, and is simply flat-out cool.

Luigi’s Mansion 3 For Nintendo Switch – A Few Thoughts

If you follow my writings, you may remember that I returned to video games last January after taking a twenty year hiatus. I started with Link’s Awakening, then took on Super Mario Odyssey, and finally found the courage for Breath Of the Wild. I heard the news that another favorite property of mine is due to release in October — Metroid: Dread. As I anxiously await that moment, I thought I’d tackle a highly recommended game called Luigi’s Mansion 3.

As I stated with Super Mario Odyssey, I wasn’t a big fan of Mario and Luigi growing up. I was never particularly good at Super Mario Bros. Of course, Odyssey proved an absolute blast and showed me the waywardness of my thinking. If Luigi’s Mansion 3 proved half as fun as Odyssey, I’d have a great time.

And the truth is — I had a great time indeed!

I won’t say I liked Luigi’s Mansion 3 as much as Odyssey, but I certainly had a ton of fun playing it. I was totally unfamiliar with Luigi’s Mansion, so, if you’re like me, you may need a bit of catching up. Luigi, Mario, and friends are headed to a beautiful hotel. It is suddenly overrun by ghosts. King Boo takes Luigi’s friends and family hostage. Luigi, who is completely terrified throughout the game, must use some cool inventions given to him to clear the hotel of ghosts, level by level, until he can finally rescue his loved ones.

Honestly, it’s a little bit Ghostbusters, a little bit Casper, a little bit Haunted Mansion, and a whole lot of good times. The ghosts were super creative throughout the game, especially each level’s main villain. You might get a jump scare here and there, but, for the most part, the game is pretty funny and lighthearted. The graphics are crisp and the gameplay is both intuitive and fluid.

I especially liked that it’s not a particularly hard game. I had to look a few things up on the Internet, but overall, it’s a quick, breezy game that doesn’t demand too much commitment from you. After Breath Of the Wild, that was very much appreciated!

The game actually keeps track of how much time you spend playing it, which I thought was a really cool feature. I beat it in about 25 total hours. Keep in mind that I’m the guy constantly searching for coins, gems, and those kinds of things. I’ll pull down every curtain and flip every garbage can in search of treasure. That sort of thing eats up a lot of time, but I love the exploring aspect of video games.

Luigi’s Mansion 3 only cost me $40 (it was on sale), and I didn’t regret buying it for a single moment. If you’re looking for a fast, enjoyable, lighthearted game to pass the time, Luigi’s Mansion 3 is for you.

Mapping the Interior by Stephen Gram Jones – A Book Review

Most of my recent reads come from a list of recommendations by Literary Hub’s “The 50 Best Contemporary Novels Under 200 Pages.” Mapping the Interior is from among those many wonderful books.

Written by Stephen Graham Jones, Mapping the Interior is a concise 107 pages. It’s told from the perspective of a Native American boy nearing his teens. His mother moved he and his little brother–who seems to have some health challenges–off of their reservation and into a lackluster trailer. The boy reveals his father died some time ago, so no one is more surprised than he when that very same father appears in their home. Their real father is dead and buried, though. This is something … different.

For such a slim book, Mapping the Interior dives into some rather poignant issues such as poverty, racism, violence, alcoholism, bullying, brotherly love, motherly love, disabled family members, and absentee fathers. Running throughout all of these themes, however, is a sense of dread as a monster seems to persistently lurk.

At times surreal, Mapping the Interior plays with the reader a bit as it teases fantasy while dealing very much in reality. Those two genres eventually merge and it becomes difficult to separate fact versus fiction as our narrator may or may not be totally reliable. There were several moments in the book when I had to read a paragraph over to be certain I read it correctly, but this wasn’t a bad thing. Mapping the Interior demands your engagement.

My only criticism of the book pertains to the ending. It managed a consistent, fast-moving pace until the very end, when the pace suddenly hit lightspeed. I understand the point Jones wanted to make about fathers and sons, but the last ten pages of the book were frustratingly rushed. In all honestly, the last ten pages should have been given another hundred pages if not an entire follow-up book.

If you like thoughtful, brief works that aren’t afraid to dabble in horror, I highly recommend Mapping the Interior.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings – A Movie Review

My daughter and I, who both love movies, haven’t been to a theater during the entire pandemic. However, for an MCU theater-only release, and because we’re both vaccinated, we decided to make our triumphant return in order to see Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.

I won’t lie – it wasn’t a totally comfortable situation at the theater. Even with that being said, though, we’re SO glad we went.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is absolutely an action comedy with moments of fairly poignant emotional drama. I know Marvel often goes for that concept, but they resoundingly connect on Shang-Chi. Furthermore, the special effects are phenomenal, but it’s the hand-to-hand martial arts that will mesmerize you. Best of all? The story isn’t too bad, either.

I don’t know about you, but I wasn’t very familiar with Shang-Chi despite the fact that I grew up reading Marvel Comics. Shang-Chi has been a comic book character since 1973, after all. Even so, I knew every thing I needed to know about the MCU Shang-Chi within moments of his introduction on screen. He puts his dishes in the sink after joining Katy’s family for breakfast. He kisses Katy’s grandmother on the head before taking his leave. Bam. There it is. He’s not just a hero, he’s nice.

However, when the fighting starts, and you won’t have to wait long, prepare to see Shang-Chi unleased. You’ve seen parts of the bus fight in the previews – you haven’t seen anything yet. It is a thrilling moment and firmly establishes that Simu Liu has both the charisma and the physicality to headline an MCU martial arts action movie.

Speaking of which, the heart and soul of this film is Simu Liu, who plays Shang-Chi, and Awkwafina, who plays Katy. Their comedic chemistry is a blast and I honestly believed they were the best of friends. I look forward to seeing these two for many years to come.

Tony Chiu-Wai Leung plays Shang-Chi’s father, the true leader of The Ten Rings. Marvel has given us heroes with daddy issues before, but Leung might be the first one who actually elicited sympathy from me – maybe even a bit of empathy. His story is vital to the overall plot, and though father/son conflicts are something of a fantasy trope, this one still felt uniquely fresh.

I promise not to spoil anything, but there are many, many delightful surprises in this film. There are several actors I want to commend, but I don’t want to ruin anything for you. Just know that I’ve only touched upon the three you’ve seen in previews. This film is full of performances that will both catch you off guard and make perfect sense to you.

In the end, I found the story fairly captivating. The comedic friendship between Shang-Chi and Katy were my favorite parts, the backstory with Shang-Chi’s father proved interesting enough, other elements of Shang-Chi’s family also held my attention, but the last act’s “big battle” was problematic. These giant end-of-movie-fights are escalating to an impossible degree. It was visually magnificent, but the stakes seemed way too high for such a predictable outcome. Believe it or not, Shang-Chi struck me as oddly intimate throughout most of the film – the ending contradicted that more tightly-woven approach. But, the ending got the Shang-Chi character where he needed to go, and now his future is wide open.

If you’re vaccinated and comfortable going to the theater, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is certainly worth the trip. My daughter and I immensely enjoyed it from start to finish. Loveable characters, big laughs, thrilling action, cool story – you can’t ask for much more than that of an MCU movie, right?

Grief Is the Thing With Feathers by Max Porter – A Book Review

I once again must thank Literary Hub’s “The 50 Best Contemporary Novels Under 200 Pages” for suggesting yet another novella, this time the book called Grief Is the Thing With Feathers by Max Porter.

At just 114 pages, this novella is a series of paragraphs and stanzas exploring the utter heartbreak of a man after losing his young wife. He must now raise their two boys alone, and he hasn’t a clue how to do so. A crow appears to guide the man through his grief, comfort the children, and help out in any possible way. However, Crow’s also there to encourage chaos, to promote carnage, and to spout madness.

Crow is a complicated figure in this book, especially because I’m not convinced he was ever really there at all. Or perhaps he was grief personified. Or maybe he represented the delicate balance between tranquility and turmoil that exists perpetually within our daily lives. It would also make sense if he was death. Maybe he was just a crow? Like I said–complicated.

As I mentioned, Grief Is the Thing With Feathers is a quick read due to its unconventional formatting. Somewhere between prose and poem, the novella flies by for the invested reader.

That being said, I had a hard time making the time to read it. I found myself a little disinterested throughout, though, I will admit, the last few pages were strikingly emotional.

I think everyone who reads Grief Is the Thing With Feathers will have a different encounter. The material is both universal and very specific, yet everyone will connect with it in some capacity. I can’t say I particularly enjoyed the book, but I do admit that it’s a book every reader should experience for themselves.