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Movie Reviews
Ghostbusters: Afterlife
(Carrie Coon, Finn Wolfhard, Mckenna Grace, Paul Rudd, Logan Kim, Celeste O’Connor, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, et al / PG-13 / 2h 04m / Columbia Pictures)

Overview: When a single mother and her two children move to a new town, they soon discover they have a connection to the original Ghostbusters and the secret legacy their grandfather left behind.

Verdict: If someone were to probe into my history with the Ghostbusters franchise, they wouldn’t have to dig very far. I enjoyed the first film, like many of us have, (there is a reason it is iconic), but the second is purely forgettable, the cartoons never held any relevance to me, and the 2016 reboot was a disaster in its goal of turning the series into a straight comedy with horror bits rather than the other way around.

In all its lineage however, the one constant I have seen throughout the years is that the original 1984 film is largely agreed to be special. The reasons why are agreed upon, but no one can summarize or define it. It’s considered lightning in a bottle, which is perhaps what it should have remained, a blockbuster relic of the 80s.

And yet, Ghostbusters: Afterlife arrives, apt title and all, in time to remind us that what made the original so beloved was not the specifics of the horror and comedic genre mixings, nor the gadgets and weaponry, or even the plot itself. It was the authenticity it allowed its characters to portray, the chemistry they built and developed together, and the warmth and inspiration felt from witnessing the unlikeliest team come together in the face of great evil. Jason Reitman—son of the original film’s director, Ivan Reitman (forgive me if you’ve read about that before)—proves that in at least some ways, that there’s something to be said about lineage.

And it is by no means a coincidence that the film holds the idea of lineage as its central theme when Callie (Carrie Coon), a struggling single mom of Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) and Phoebe (McKenna Grace), uproots their family to Summerville, Oklahoma to inherit the abandoned farm her estranged father, original Ghostbuster Dr. Egon Spengler, has left to them after his death.

Soon after they arrive, Phoebe starts to notice strange equipment lying around and unusual occurrences haunting the house and around town, particularly after she meets her new friend Podcast (Logan Kim) who tags along in an ever-grinding effort for new content to boost his actual Podcast, (respect, little man).

Trevor, trying to be independent, gets a job at a local diner to be closer to a waitress named Lucky (Celeste O’Connor), whom he immediately develops a crush for. And Paul Rudd is his Paul Ruddiest as the summer school teacher and ’previously on Ghostbusters’ exposition giver, but it works because, as we already know, Paul Rudd is effortlessly charming and loveable in almost every role he takes on.

While this is certainly an ensemble film, McKenna Grace claims the film as her own by turning in an honest, relatable, and authentic performance as the socially awkward, nerdy genius of her family and a true successor to her grandfather.

The film rests on her young shoulders, and she carries the role like she was born to it. Because of her, the film (and potentially the franchise) are in the greatest hands. What makes her journey so watchable is that we witness every stage of her growth, from the awkward silent kid to the smart, confident, and assertive ghostbuster who learns what it means to be a Spengler.

With this being another attempt at a soft reboot, and one I am saying is largely a success, there are many nods and Easter eggs to the legacy of the franchise. Some of these worked for me and some of them didn’t. Some of them are subtle and others are quite deliberate, including a third act that is somewhat of a jumbled mess of subtlety and slaps in the face.

In spite of that, Jason Reitman comes out batting .500, and what I appreciate about all of the attempts at call backs is that there is a genuineness and earnestness in the approach. Enough to get me ready to believe in another sequel.





Clifford The Big Red Dog
(Jack Whitehall, Darby Camp, Tony Hale, Sienna Guillory, David Alan Grier, Russell Wong, John Cleese, et al / PG / 1h 37m / Paramount Pictures)

Overview: When middle-schooler Emily Elizabeth (Darby Camp) meets a magical animal rescuer (John Cleese) who gifts her a little, red puppy, she never anticipated waking up to find a giant ten-foot hound in her small New York City apartment.

While her single mom (Sienna Guillory) is away for business, Emily and her fun but impulsive uncle Casey (Jack Whitehall) set out on an adventure that will keep you on the edge-of-your-seat as our heroes take a bite out of the Big Apple. Based on the beloved Scholastic book character, Clifford will teach the world how to love big!

Verdict: Family-friendly adventure “Clifford the Big Red Dog” is much better than I expected. It’s certainly made for and caters to kids, but this cute, inoffensive charmer is something the entire brood can enjoy. With its silly jokes, valuable message, funny gags, and huge heart, it’s easy to enjoy this movie.

The film is based on author Norman Bridwell’s children’s literary classic of the same name. The book, first published in 1963, is a series about a giant red dog named Clifford. The story stays true to many of the pup’s adventures, but is given a slightly modern update.

Middle school student Emily Elizabeth (Darby Camp) is having a tough time. Bullied by the mean girls in her class, she often feels lonely and sad. One afternoon, Emily meets a magical animal rescuer (John Cleese) who shows her a special little red puppy.

No pets are allowed in the Harlem apartment she shares with her single mom (Sienna Guillory), but with her slightly irresponsible Uncle Casey (Jack Whitehall) babysitting for a week, Emily begs to keep the cute dog. But when the sun rises the next day, the two get a truly giant surprise: the puppy has grown to be the size of an elephant.

A bunch of fun adventures take place throughout New York City, and the characters just accept that there is a ginormous dog running around. It’s definitely the time for suspension of disbelief, but the cast and story is so good-natured that I didn’t think twice about the practicality of it all.

It’s commendable that the film has an effortless diversity that never feels forced, with a multicultural cast (Paul Rodriguez, Izaac Wang, David Alan Grier, Horatio Sanz) of enjoyable characters.

This fits in perfectly with the message that not only is it okay to be different and stand out from the crowd, but it’s something to be celebrated. In the end, the heroine learns to speak out and use her voice to stand up for others and in doing so, also stands up for herself. It’s a valuable lesson for kids and adults alike.

With its positive message and happy ending, “Clifford the Big Red Dog” is simply delightful.





C’Mon C’Mon
(Joaquin Phoenix, Gaby Hoffmann, Scoot McNairy, Molly Webster, et al / R / 1hr 49m / A24)

Summary: A radio journalist sets out on a journey of discovery about how kids today think, but ends up on an equal journey of self-discovery when he has to look after his nine-year-old nephew.

Verdict: When critics started praising Joaquin Phoenix’s performance in C’Mon C’Mon as incredibly warm and gentle, I was immediately intrigued, especially since I’d only seen Phoenix in grittier roles, most recently, Joker.

They were correct.

A comparatively kinder, gentler Phoenix is Johnny, a journalist on a mission to interview kids across the country to see what the present and future look like through their eyes. The assignment hits particularly close to home when he is conscripted to look after his precocious nephew, Jesse (an exceptional Woody Norman), while Jesse’s mom deals with some family stuff.

The plot hook is that Johnny knows nothing about raising children and that he soon finds out, and that premise would seem over-done but for the exceptional chemistry between Joaquin Phoenix and Woody Norman. Phoenix’s Johnny is aloof and unmoored and trying so hard while Norman’s Jesse is articulate and mischievous.

They get on each other’s nerves, and often. But they also care deeply for one another, working out their fledgling relationship through Jesse’s role-playing as an orphan, the use of Johnny’s tape recorder, and semi-serious conversations that often dissolve into giggles and smiles.

Writer-Director Mike Mills uses real footage of real children being interviewed from Detroit, Los Angeles, New York, and New Orleans, and they make great points about relationships with parents, cities, each other, and planet Earth, and it all serves as a great backdrop for watching Johnny and Jesse’s adventure together unfold.

And if the naturally-delivered dialogue — sometimes goofy (“blah blah blah”), sometimes serious (“why don’t you and mom act like brother and sister?”) — doesn’t wholly establish the metamorphosis of Johnny and Jesse’s relationship, Mills’ direction and Robbie Ryan’s cinematography certainly helps to drive it home.

As the duo explore LA, New York, and New Orleans, the shots are wide as Jesse takes in the world around him, and tight as the two read books together at night or talk or bicker. The choice to shoot the film in black and white continues to add to the emotional weight of a story that is ultimately about people finding their way in the world.

While Joaquin Phoenix is the marquee name, Woody Norman is C’Mon C’Mon’s real standout, perfectly encapsulating the sort of inquisitive kid who prefers the company of adults, who understands (or seems to) so much about everyone else’s feelings but is so out of touch with their own.

But perhaps the most impressive element of Norman’s performance is that he delivers all of it in a flawless American accent. It wasn’t until a behind-the-scenes video on Facebook that I learned he is actually English. Amazing.

Elsewhere, Gaby Hoffman is perfect as Viv, Johnny’s sister, who struggles to navigate her relationship with not only her brother (it’s complicated) and her son, but with her estranged husband (an effective, if not under-utilized Scoot McNairy). A solid eighty percent of her performance is brief cutaways during Johnny’s phone calls to check in, and that’s a shame.

C’Mon C’Mon is a story that hinges on optimism, on the hope that maybe tomorrow will be better than today, that maybe you’ll finally figure out how life works. Or at least the hope that if you don’t, you’ll be able to enjoy the ride.

Against society’s current backdrop, that sort of message is almost achingly poignant, making C’Mon C’Mon without question the feel-good flick the world needs right now.

Review by: Ashley J. Cicotte





The Green Knight
(Dev Patel, Alicia Vikander, Joel Edgerton, Sarita Choudhury, Sean Harris, et al / R / 2h 10m / A24)

Summary: Sir Gawain accepts The Green Knight’s invitation of a “Christmas Game,” striking a blow and then being struck in kind the following year. On his way to keep the appointment, he learns about honor, courage, and what being a Knight really means.

Verdict: From The Sword in the Stone to Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the legends of King Arthur and his knights seem to have a timeless appeal. Writer-Director David Lowery brings Arthurian legend to life in a bold, new way with The Green Knight.

This epic adaptation of “a chivalric romance” follows Sir Gawain on a quest for knightly honor – and official appointment to the King’s round table – as he accepts a challenge issued by the title character on Christmas Day to strike a blow and be struck in kind exactly one year later. Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire) stars as Gawain, a young man whose potential to be something great is as boundless and vast as the film’s wide-shot cinematography under the direction of Andrew Palermo.

Because the story of Gawain’s journey is mostly a solitary one, the aspects of this film that shine the brightest are of the audio-visual variety. The Green Knight (an unrecognizable Ralph Ineson) enters the royal court awash in green light, his challenge being read aloud by the queen as though entranced while the words appear in script on the screen.

The film’s entire color palate is comprised of rich, earthy colors and textures to depict a rather austere world, leaving very little doubt about Lowery’s intention to create an authentic Medieval vibe. This certain level of authenticity isn’t without its faults, though; since there is a fair amount of time spent in the dark, a fair portion of the action is difficult to see.

Traditional English folk music also help to bring the world to life, while scripted text on the screen to break the story up into “chapters” and adorable CGI foxes help keep one foot in a cinematic 21st century.

And while depictions of Arthurian figures tend to often stray toward the fantastical, The Green Knight sticks pretty close to the plot of the epic, anonymous poem that serves as its source material, even down to elements that may seem “edgy” or “progressive,” including a few sensual scenes.

But even here, Lowery takes certain liberties; Gawain goes on a wild side quest when he meets St. Winifred, a woman with a lore all her own. And when Gawain accidentally ingests some hallucinogenic mushrooms, his visions of giants are enough to make the viewer wonder if he’s tripping, or if they are.

Beyond the luscious landscape, individual performances add tremendous dimension to the project. Patel takes pains to emphasize the sense of honor Gawain (mostly) upholds in the face of adversity and temptation, even going as far as to say of honor, “that’s why a knight does what he does.”

But perhaps even more perfectly, he also portrays Gawain as conflicted and hesitant. Alicia Vikander has a brief, yet memorable appearance as Essel, Gawain’s girl, who easily makes you believe that she deserves much better than she gets. And a chance encounter on the road with Barry Koeghan’s scavenging peasant boy begs for more screen time for the worst-best potential pageboy in all of Camelot.

Sean Harris’ King is another standout, perhaps the biggest one, having this well-known literary figure straddle the line between royal responsibility and familial affection, essentially daring his nephew to pursue greatness like the rest of the men in the court, but also making sure to give Gawain the pep talk he needs before the journey begins.

Vote Uncle Artie for Uncle of the Year! Ineson’s Green Knight, too, is a sight to behold underneath tons of barky makeup looking much like an older, wiser Groot from that one superhero movie.

One admittedly valid critique that exists of The Green Knight is that it’s a touch slow paced. The stretches of quiet were so often so long that I was (needlessly) convinced a jump scare was right around every corner. But the upshot of the pacing of The Green Knight is that it gives the viewer time to think, just as Gawain has had a whole year to think about his course of action and the meaning of virtues like honor and courage.

At every juncture, these are put to the test, all building to a confrontation between Gawain and the Green Knight that defines what the former is really made of.

The final fifteen minutes of The Green Knight, for as slow as the first one hundred-five had been, are a rollercoaster, demanding the audience’s full attention, and if you pay close enough attention, you’re bound to walk away from your first viewing satisfied.

And if you didn’t, don’t worry, this story is well worth another look.

Review by: Ashley J. Cicotte





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