Film Review: Ghostbusters: Afterlife (Columbia Pictures/Sony Releasing)

By: Jesse Striewski

It’s exceptionally rare for a sequel or reboot to an already beloved, established franchise like Ghostbusters to come close to comparing to its the source material. But Ghostbusters: Afterlife, the long-awaited third follow up to the first two films, both breathes life back into the series, and redeems the entire franchise after that painfully embarrassing reboot in 2016, which I hope we all can agree by now was a mistake no matter who was cast in it.

Produced by original director Ivan Reitman and directed by his son, Jason, Afterlife does its best to wrap up and explain many questions fans might have about the original characters’ whereabouts, as well as introduce a host of new, yet surprisingly likable ones.

The plot is no huge stretch of the imagination; the daughter (Carrie Coon) of recently deceased Ghostbuster Egon Spengler (originally portrayed by the late Harold Ramis) is forced to pick up the pieces of her father’s past life and move into his decrepit old farm house. Meanwhile, her genius daughter Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) and rebellious teenaged son Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) slowly uncover their grandfather’s mysterious past, and the small town’s ghostly secrets, all with the help of some newfound friends (played by Paul Rudd, Celeste O’Connor, and Logan Kim, respectively). What ensues is all-out escapism entertainment that allows viewers to get completely lost in.

Along the way there’s numerous references and throwbacks to the original films that’s every die hard fan’s dream come true. And yes, there’s appearances from series alumni Bill Murrary, Dan Aykroyd, Erine Hudson, Annie Potts, and Sigourney Weaver, and of course a beautifully constructed tribute to the late Ramis (and I’m pretty sure this is all already public knowledge by now, so technically those aren’t spoilers!). Blink and you might miss some of the many subtle throwbacks weaved within the ongoing proceedings, too (like a ghost from the old animated series that I actually had the action figure of when I was still young!).

I’ve heard rumbles from other critics that the film panders to fans. But what would you rather have, another heap of total garbage like the last misfire of a film, or something with some actual heart like Afterlife?! This is the film that fans have deserved for decades now, and the one I’ve personally been waiting for since I was a kid sitting wide-eyed in the movie theater during Ghostbusters II all those years ago. Check the bonehead mentality at the door, and just enjoy what has been put together for us here.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Retrospective: 35 Years Since Rodney Dangerfield went ‘Back to School’ By Shawn McKee

It would make sense that after seeing Back to School in theaters thirty-five years ago, I would be re-visiting the movie today. It was one of my the earliest big-screen outings, where I can still hear Danny Elfman’s bombastic, dreamlike score reverberating through the aisles. I recognized similar musical queues from another movie my brother and I had seen the year prior called Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. In both cases, Danny Elfman was just starting what would become a long, illustrious career scoring films.

It was exciting to witness the rise of so many well-known artists back then. Their ascendancy attributed to the zeitgeist of popular culture, with one classic movie after another. In 1986, legendary comedian Rodney Dangerfield scored big with a film that became the pinnacle of his career.

As kids, we forget how enormous movie screens looked. The dimming lights and flashing images from an unseen projector provided a surreal disruption of our adolescent sensibilities. I recall my bewildered shock of seeing “Large Marge’s” jarring, eye-popping reveal in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure.The Claymation effects of her split-second transformation were courtesy of director Tim Burton, another rising star at the time.

I was equally enthralled with Rodney Dangerfield’s patented “Triple Lindy” dive, performed in succession from multiple diving boards and accompanied by Elfman’s music. My indiscriminating eyes saw no difference between Rodney and the obvious stunt double performing summersalts between closeups. To me, it was simple movie magic.

Rodney Dangerfield struggled for decades as a stand-up comedian. He worked odd jobs throughout the 1950’s to support his wife and family. His comedy act picked up steam in the 1970’s after what must have seemed a lifetime, and he soon became one of Johnny Carson’s favorite guests on the late-night circuit. Dangerfield’s working-class background was the perfect fit for Thornton Melon, self-made millionaire and owner of “Tall & Fat,” a plus-size clothing store.

In addition to multiple one-liners delivered by Dangerfield, Melon couldn’t have been closer to his own persona. The script’s four writers, Harold Ramis among them, decided somewhere along the line to make their main character rich, and it works to the movie’s advantage. Infinite wealth is an artifice effectively used with Batman and Mr. Burns, among others. We know these characters are capable of anything, but it takes good writing to make it interesting.

Thornton lives in the lap of luxury, heeding advice from his limo driver, bodyguard, and friend Lou (Burt Young). He soon discovers that his wife (Adrienne Barbeau) despises him and is fooling around. He promptly divorces her. With no one else to turn to, Thornton seeks out his college-aged son, Jason (Keith Gordon) and decides to enroll in college himself after learning about his son’s difficulties. Thornton means well but constantly irks and intrudes upon Jason’s goals. To Thornton, college is a means to an end. He didn’t need it to be successful, so why should his son? He buys his way onto campus and pays experts to do his homework, disregarding the point of higher education. This attitude pushes him further away from his son than he can understand.

Meanwhile, Jason develops a love interest in a girl named Valerie Demond (Terry Farrell) who happens to be seeing the lead diver on the diving team, Chas Osborne (William Zabka), the blond antagonist from The Karate Kid. Similarly, Thorton is smitten with his literature professor Dr. Diane Tuner (Sally Kellerman), who is seeing economics professor Dr. Phillip Barbay (Paxton Whithead). These parallels are subtly delivered in a movie that never slows down. Thorton and his son are two sides of the same coin. They’re equal protagonists, but Thorton ultimately steals the show by design.

Both Melons share moments of failing and subsequently redeem themselves by the third act. Thornton learns that money can’t buy everything, as his son learns to believe in himself, and Back to School is a movie that just works. I could compare it to a dozen other classics and equate its magic to no end. It was the movie Rodney Dangerfield had been working for his entire life. And to see him embrace the role of Thornton Melon and perform it so effortlessly is a pleasure to behold.

The movie’s enduring legacy also comes down to its casting. In addition to the actors mentioned, there’s Ned Beatty, Robert Downey Jr., Kurt Vonnegut (in a cameo appearance), and Danny Elfman himself, performing with his band Oingo Boingo at Thornton’s mega party. Sam Kinison, as the deranged Professor Terguson, undoubtedly delivers some of the movie’s most memorable comedic moments. He, like, Dangerfield, is at the top of his game. Kinison was one of the many comics Dangerfield promoted and featured on his early HBO standup specials. It would have been a dream to see them in more movies together.

The carefree academic environment portrayed in Back to School is obviously long dead. It’s not a movie that fits well with the times, but to that extent, nothing does. It remains a classic though in every sense, and that fills me with hope. I’ll never forget seeing it in theaters, fully taken with its wild-eyed protagonist and his incredibly entertaining journey.