Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire

Posted on March 21, 2024 at 12:07 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for supernatural action/violence, language and suggestive references
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended supernatural peril and violence, some disturbing images
Diversity Issues: None
Copyright Sony 2024

The latest installment of the now four-decades-long saga of the intrepid, firehouse-based, three-generation funny, scary, and then funny again and then scary/funny crew who capture ghosts is much better than the wobbly reboot, with plenty to delight both long-time fans and newcomers. Those who love the original 1984 will be happy to see the more-than-cameos returns of original stars Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, and Annie Potts. Walter Peck, the mean-spirited non-believer from the EPA in the first film, is now the mayor, played once again by William Atherton. And some of the ghosts from the original are back, too, including tiny little Stay-Puff guys. And yes, there will be slime.

And, yay, they’re back in New York City! The contrast between the gritty, cynical, material reality of the city and the supernatural images is an essential element of this franchise.

Gary (Rudd) is no longer an unhappy single science teacher; he is happily in a warm, loving, supportive relationship with Callie Spengler (Coon) the daughter of the character played by the late Harold Ramis in the first film, and they are full-time ghostbusters, back in that firehouse, still very cool with the firehouse pole and the tricked-out hearse vehicle. Rudd and Coon have an easy chemistry that adds a quiet counterbalance to the wilder elements of the story.

The kids are older. Trevor (“Stranger Things'” Finn Wolfhard) keeps reminding Gary and Callie that he is 18, but they are not ready to make him a full part of the group. And brainiac Phoebe (McKenna Grace) is still the one who is on top of all the science and engineering but still only 15. Mean mayor Peck threatens Gary and Callie with prosecution for violation of child labor and neglect laws if they allow her to participate in ghost-busting. Gary cares about Trevor and Phoebe but has not figured out how best to relate to them. He wants them to like him so much that he is not comfortable taking on more of a parental role.

The other two young characters just happen to have found their way from Oklahoma to New York City so they can stay in the story. Lucky (a charming Celeste O’Connor) is working at a ghost-investigating lab funded by now-billionaire Winston Zeddemore (Hudson). And Podcast (Logan Kim) is working for OG ghostbuster Ray (Aykroyd), who now runs a curio shop that’s a kind of “Antiques Roadshow” for artifacts containing spirits and demons.

One of those items is a sphere brought to the shop by a low-level slacker named Nadeem Razmaadi (a very funny Kumail Nanjiani) in a box of items from his late grandmother. Like the fast-deteriorating ghost containment and storage unit in the fire station, the sphere has kept inside a terrifying spirit who kills people with ice. You know where this is going.

There will be consultation with experts, including Murray returning as Peter Venkman and New York Public Library expert in ancient languages Hubert Wartzki (Patton Oswalt). There will be confrontations with ghosts we’ve met before and new ones, including a swamp dragon and a lonely teenage chess champion named Melody (Emily Alyn Lind), who bonds with Phoebe when she is feeling abandoned by being told she has to wait three years before she can go back to work.

As the title suggests, and as the Robert Frost poem at the beginning of the movie underscores, this movie’s villain controls ice, which juts out from the ground like spiky frozen stalagmites. The ghosts and special effect and action are all entertaining, the humor keeps things bouncing along, the fan service is ample but not intrusive, and, well, ghost-bustin’ makes me feel good.

Parents should know that this movie has extended and sometimes disturbing supernatural peril, horror, and violence. There are some graphic images and jump scares. Characters use some strong language and there is some crude humor. A character makes a reference her family dying in a fire.

Family discussion: Why was it hard for Gary to be firm with Trevor and Phoebe? What did Phoebe like about Melody? Do you think there are ghosts like the ones in the film? What do you think is the meaning of the famous Robert Frost poem at the beginning of the movie?

If you like this try: the other “Ghostbuster” films, especially the original and the 2016 version with female ghostbusters played by Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, and Kate McKinnon, and a very, very funny Chris Hemsworth.

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Ghostbusters: Afterlife

Posted on November 18, 2021 at 5:48 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: Preschool
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended occult-style peril and violence, sad death, discussion of parental abandonment
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: November 19, 2021
Date Released to DVD: January 24, 2022

Copyright Columbia 2021
They should have called this film “Ghostbusters: Half-life” because we now know that the time it takes to diminish the still-impressive special effects and supernatural action plus a very catchy theme song and off-beat comedy that was cynical but not snarky in the 1984 original to about one-half of the original entertainment value is officially 37 years. Jason Reitman takes over for his father Ivan (who produces) and yet somehow they manage to change what worked in the original, misuse what is new and keep only what shows us how much better the 1984 original was. I mean, how do you put Carrie Coon and Paul Rudd in a movie and not make use of their exceptional talents? How do you make a “Ghostbusters” movie and miss the cynical but not snarky vibe that was the heart of the now-classic? Let me put it this way, but first note: SPOILER ALERT (already spoiled in the trailer, so fair game in my opinion) — when characters from the original show up in this one and say, “Did you miss us?” the answer is “We still do.”

The original film was about three adult scientists played by Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, and Harold Ramis (the last two co-wrote the film with Rick Moranis, who also appeared in the film), who with a colleague played by Ernie Hudson start a firm that will capture and imprison ghosts and other supernatural creatures. And it captured something of the gritty In Ghostbusters: Afterlife, it is tweens and teenagers who happen upon some of the ghost-busting equipment when a struggling single mom (Carrie Coon) inherits a near-collapsing old Oklahoma farmhouse from the estranged father who deserted her when she was a child. She moves in with her two children, !5 year old Trevor (“Stranger Things'” Finn Wolfhard) and 13-year-old STEM genius Phoebe (Makenna Grace in a lovely performance). They make friends with two local kids Lucky (Celeste O’Connor) and Podcast (because he is constantly recording podcasts), played by Logan Kim. When Phoebe takes a summer school science class with a bored seismologist (Paul Rudd as Gary) who is investigating the unusual earthquakes in the area, he recognizes some of the equipment she found in the house as belonging to the original Ghostbusters. They were so successful in eradicating the ghosts and other creatures (including the gigantic Stay-Puff Marshmallow Man) from New York that there was not much more for them to do.

You’d think Gary, knowing all this, would not want to open up the ghost-trap, but this not the kind of movie where characters behave in a logical manner because the plot requires them to do many dumb things, except when it requires Phoebe to be an expert at everything from lock-picking to analog mechanics. (She does get a little help from a friendly spirit.)

This one doesn’t come close to the original’s exceptionally deft balance of comedy, supernatural effects, and thrills, mostly because appealing as they are, the kids at the center of the story don’t have the raffish charm or gritty setting of the original team. It’s more of a Nickelodeon version (not up to the standards of Walden or Disney), and the underuse of Coon and Rudd is unforgivable. Like the Stay-Puff marshmallow creature update, this film is the pocket-size version, small in scares, small in laughs, and likely to be forgotten by the time you get to the parking lot.

Parents should know that this film has some strong language and extended fantasy/occult peril and violence as well as discussion of parental abandonment.

Family discussion: What surprising history can you learn about your grandparents? Would you listen to Podcast’s podcast? If you were going to make a podcast, what would it be about?

If you like this, try: the original “Ghostbusters” film and the under-appreciate 2016 reboot with Kristin Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, and Chris Hemsworth

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The French Dispatch

Posted on October 20, 2021 at 10:00 am

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language, graphic nudity, and some sexual references
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Peril and violence including kidnapping of a child and a shoot-out, student uprising
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: October 22, 2021

Copyright 2021 Searchlight
The dictionary has two conflicting definitions for the word “precious,” and both apply to writer/director Wes Anderson’s films as a group and to his latest, “The French Dispatch” especially. “Precious” can mean very valuable or important, deserving of being carefully preserved. And it can also mean excessively refined or affected. If you are an Anderson fan, you will be glad to hear this is the Wes Anderson-iest Wes Anderson film so far. If you are not, well, you’ve been warned.

Anderson’s exquisitely assembled films are more Cornell Box or M.C. Escher puzzle than narrative, the props and settings more important than the characters or storyline. I enjoy the attention to detail and the whimsy of his films, occasionally spiced with moments of, sorry, il faut parler français por un instant, “choquer le bourgeois.” I love his repertory cast of actors, who are always clearly having a blast and not quite winking at the audience. But I also find them claustrophobic, and overly precious in both senses of the word, speaking to those who feel smug about understanding them in a way they believe ordinary, less sophisticated people can not. Like that French I used just now, which by the way means: “it is necessary to speak French for a minute to ‘shock the ordinary people.'” See? It works just fine en englais. Anderson seems to aim for whimsy but one thing whimsy cannot be is heavy-handed.

Anderson has found the idea subject for “The French Dispatch,” a real-life publication almost as precious (still in both senses of the word) as his fantasized characters and environments, The New Yorker, and in particular the New Yorker of the romanticized era of the mid-20th century. There is a long list of New Yorker writers and editors who are listed in the end credits, including the two legendary editors, co-founder and editor from 1925-1951 Harold Ross and William Shawn, editor from 1952-1987 (and father of writer/actor Wallace Shawn).

The film is both an anthology and a retrospective, again Anderson’s preferred matryoshka Russian nesting doll narrative structure. Is with the death of the title publication’s founder and editor, Arthur Howitzer Jr. (Bill Murray), a “Citizen Kane” style set-up that continues with peeks inside some of the magazine’s classic stories, delivered as chapters. The setting is the fictional French town of “Ennui-sur-Blasé” (ennui and blasé both French words adopted by English speakers meaning world-weary and bored). The premise is a look inside an issue of the magazine, which, following the orders of its founder, will cease publication after his death. In another layer of matryoskha, The New Yorker reported that the parallels between its real-life articles and the film include: Herbsaint Sazerac (Owen Wilson), inspired by writer Joseph Mitchell. Julian Cadazio (Adrien Brody), inspired by Lord Duveen, the subject of a 1951 six-part New Yorker profile by S. N. Behrman. Roebuck Wright (Jeffrey Wright), inspired by James Baldwin and A.J. Liebling. Lucinda Krementz (Frances McDormand), inspired by Mavis Gallant, who wrote a two-part 1968 piece on the student uprisings in France.

There are stories within stories as we see the writers discuss what they have written. J. K. L. Berensen (Tilda Swinton, fabulously, of course) delivers a lecture to an audience with slides showing the work of an acclaimed artist (Benecio del Toro) who happens to be criminally insane and confined to prison, where his muse and nude model is one of the guards (Léa Seydoux). Lucinda Krementz (Frances McDormand) is a steely observer of student unrest who gets involved with one of the young leaders (Timothée Chalamet). The strongest of the stories has Jeffrey Wright as Roebuck Wright, who can perfectly recall every word he has written and is invited by a television interviewer (Liev Schreiber) to recite from memory his very convoluted story about the kidnapping of young boy. Wright’s melodious, slightly husky voice in Anderson’s near-monotone style set opposite a story of grotesque twists and turns tilts toward precious in the second sense of the word, but the sheer charisma of the design, with Anderson’s signature dollhouse-style cutaways, has some of the first meaning of the word as well.

Parents should know that this film has sexual references and non-explicit situations, some strong language, and some peril and violence, including a kidnapping, poison, and a shoot-out with many characters injured and killed.

Family discussion: Which of the stories did you like best?

If you like this, try: “The Life Acquatic with Steve Zissou,” “The Royal Tennenbaums,” and the books about the New Yorker by James Thurber and Brendan Gill

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On the Rocks

Posted on October 22, 2020 at 5:49 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated R for some language and some sexual references
Profanity: Strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Social drinking
Violence/ Scariness: None
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: October 24, 2020

Copyright 2020 A24

I admit that I was about to give up on Sofia Coppola. I admired her early films, “The Virgin Suicides” and “Lost in Translation,” in part because of her exquisite framing and intriguing silences. But her later films made the framing seem precious and the silences seem empty. They were like precisely arranged bento boxes created for display only, beautiful to look at but not very nourishing or flavorful.

But now we have “On the Rocks,” a slight film but with more warmth and a more relaxed tone than her previous work. It’s bittersweet, but it is beguiling. Rashida Jones plays Laura, a writer in New York living with her husband Dean (Marlon Wayans) and two young children, one still a toddler. Dean has been working hard at his job, which requires a lot of travel, and Laura has been feeling neglected, struggling with her writing, and she begins to worry that Dean might be having an affair with the beautiful and a bit intimidating colleague who travels with him (Jessica Henwick and Fiona). While he is traveling the world and making big deals, she says, “I’m just the buzzkill waiting to schedule things.” And then, for her birthday, he gives her a kitchen appliance.

One reason Laura might be suspicious is her father, a charming and utterly unrepentant man about town, who has never been faithful to a partner, including Laura’s mother. But he loves Laura, and thinks the best way for him to help her is to help her follow Dean to find out for sure. She isn’t sure whether it’s better to find out that he is having an affair or finding out he is not having an affair but she has just become boring. “Ehst if we find out he is just busy and I’m in a rut?”

Laura’s father, Felix, is played by Coppola favorite Bill Murray, who worked with her in “Lost in Translation” and “A Very Murray Christmas.” The fun of the movie is seeing Jones and Murray together as they take us to one fabulous Manhattan location after another, to the sounds of the lush score from Phoenix. They adore each other, but there is strain between them. He betrayed her mother — and the woman who came after her, and many others. “Why do women get plastic surgery?” Felix asks Laura. “Because of men like you,” she says. He tells her he prefers women who have not had work done and she says he prefers all kinds of women. When he is stopped for speeding as they are following Dean, he utterly disarms the policeman by telling him he knew the cop’s father and grandfather. “It must be very nice to be you,” she says. He smiles, “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

The plot barely exists, but like Laura and Felix, it is more about spending time together than answering the question about Dean. “On the Rocks” is like a lighter, sweeter Woody Allen film, a love letter to Manhattan, to music, to fathers and daughters, and to love itself.

Parents should know that the theme of this movie is adultery, including strong language and sexual references.

Family discussion: Why was Laura worried about Dean? Why didn’t she talk to him about her concerns?

If you like this, try; “Midnight in Paris” and “Celeste and Jesse Forever,” written by and starring Rasida Jones

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Isle of Dogs

Posted on March 22, 2018 at 5:33 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and some violent images
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Dog and human peril and violence, murder, sad death of parents, child injured badly, medical procedures, starvation and disease, skeletons, some disturbing images
Diversity Issues: Issue of white American as the only one who takes on the villain
Date Released to Theaters: March 23, 2018
Date Released to DVD: July 16, 2018

Copyright 20th Century Fox 2018

Say the title out loud. “Isle of Dogs” = “I love dogs,” get it? Even a three-word title of a Wes Anderson movie is a bit of a puzzle box. Anderson is the Joseph Cornell of filmmakers, with every item on screen and even those tucked away and not seen by the audience, every note on the soundtrack, meticulously assembled. It makes sense that this film is set in a fictional version of Japan because his movies are cinematic Bento boxes. Anderson’s most ardent fans love the understated drama and endless unpacking of detail and think there is a deeper meaning in the weirdness. I am less persuaded that there is always a deeper meaning, but I enjoy the singular peculiarity of his storytelling.

Like my favorite Anderson movie, “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” “Isle of Dogs” is a story of talking animals told via stop-motion animation. This is a vastly more ambitious undertaking, based on an original story by Anderson with frequent collaborators Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman, and Kunichi Nomura, who appeared in Anderson’s “Grand Budapest Hotel” and also served as a casting director for this film and provided the voice for the movie’s bad guy.

Anderson’s intricate vision makes for exceptional world-building, and in this film he imagines a Japan 20 years from now, when political and environmental decay has progressed significantly but is seen as normal by the population. Mayor Kobayashi (Nomura) is the mayor of the (fictional) coastal metropolis called Megasaki City. He persuades the population that dogs are a pestilential force, bringing disease (“snout fever” and “dog flu”) to the city, and decrees that all dogs, even the beloved guard dog of his adopted son Atari (Koyu Rankin), must be deported to a nearby “island” made up of trash. The starving, diseased, homesick dogs have a bleak existence on the island. And then Atari arrives, in an airplane, in search of his beloved Spots. And a teenage American exchange student (Greta Gerwig) starts to investigate, with one of those old-school evidence walls covered with clues linked together by red yarn. Anderson’s worst and most tone-deaf choice here is to make the one white, American human character the only one with any integrity and ability to resolve the crimes against the dogs and community.

As in all Anderson films, the human characters deliver their lines in deadpan even while experiencing cataclysmic loss, urgent action, or ardent emotion. What some audiences experience as whimsical, charming, and witty, others see as cloying, twee, or claustrophobic. But he is a marvel at world-building and here, as in “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” where the entire film is essentially a set of dollhouses over which he has complete control, he is at his best. The settings in this film are an astonishing achievement of imagination and skill, from the tears welling up in the eyes of a dog to the intricacy of the machinery. If he ever devotes as much attention to the humanity of his characters as he does to the brilliance of his props, he will no longer be admired primarily for his singular aesthetic vision but for his characters and stories.

Parents should know that this film includes diseased and starving animals, children and adults in peril, murder, death of parents, child injured badly, dog fights with animals injured and killed, skeletons, some disturbing images including surgery, brief strong language, and references to dogs mating.

Family discussion: Why were the dogs banned? Why was it important for them to vote on big decisions?

If you like this, try: “Fantastic Mr. Fox” and “Kubo and the Two Strings”

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