The original Ghostbusters, lest we forget, was filled with ribald humor coming from SNL vets that were in the prime of their careers. Overloading the reboot/sequel Afterlife with gooey family drama feels, in many ways, as misplaced as the missteps that 2016’s version took or that 1989’s traditional follow-up was a fairly weak retread of the first. This franchise hasn’t succeeded in their attempts to capitalize on what made 1984’s pic special and that extends to this.
It’s not for a lack of trying as the 2021 iteration goes to extreme lengths to get our nostalgia radars working into overdrive. Jason Reitman takes over directorial duties from his father Ivan, who made the 80s blockbusters. There’s not a piece of attire or Twinkie or demonic marshmallow from 1984 that isn’t placed with the clear purpose of inspiring wild cheers. Sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows the name of every nearly four decade old artifact, vehicle or gadget. In this Afterlife, it more often feels forced than welcome.
We shift from the Big Apple to the sleepy town of Summerville, Oklahoma. Egon Spangler, Harold Ramis’s nerdy scientist from the OG ‘Busters, has relocated to a dilapidated farmhouse and cut off contact with his family and former colleagues. His demise in the prologue causes his heirs to inhabit the dusty domicile. This includes down on her luck daughter Callie (Carrie Coon) and her two kids. Since I think it’s now contactually necessary for Stranger Things players to participate in these reboots, Finn Wolfhard is her teenage son Trevor. Mckenna Grace is the real lead as 12-year-old daughter Phoebe, who resembles her granddad in looks and interests. An outcast at school, she bonds with fellow geek Podcast (Logan Kim) and her summer school teacher Mr. Grooberson (Paul Rudd).
Trevor and Phoebe are completely unaware that Egon was a Ghostbuster (we’ll just go with that I suppose). Paranormal activities start revealing his life’s work including Phoebe’s ongoing chess game with an unseen spirit. The iconic car (yay!) is stored on the property. Of course, the late Egon was in Summerville for a reason and it has to do with familiar haunters from ’84 and preventing them from returning.
This all leads to familiar heroic faces eventually turning up (though not with significant screen time). With their limited participation, the question is whether the new and much younger generation of spirit crushers is compelling enough to warrant a feature. I didn’t think so, but there are some positives. Grace’s performance is terrific (while Wolfhard and his budding romance with his bellhop coworker Celeste O’Connor adds little). Rudd’s considerable talents (he takes a liking to Callie) add a bit of fun. The sight of Bill Murray randomly turning up anywhere is good for a smile (though not much more here than reading about how he does so in real life).
However, the tone in general struck me as off. It’s hard not to be touched by its tribute to the late Harold Ramis (a man responsible for so many laughs in landmark comedies of the past). I felt the sentiment because of that and not the absence of Egon. Afterlife seems trapped in the notion that our emotional connections to these characters run deeper than they do. Like many reboots nowadays, the mere presence of something old is meant to provide the requisite entertainment value. It made me feel mostly dispirited.
It’s in with the old and in with the new as Ghostbusters: Afterlife debuts in theaters November 19th. This was originally scheduled to haunt multiplexes in the summer of 2020 before numerous COVID delays. Jason Reitman directs and there’s some family legacy involved as dad Ivan made parts I and II in 1984 and 1989. Newcomers to the series include Carrie Coon, Finn Wolfhard, Mckenna Grace, Tracy Letts, and Paul Rudd (not to mention Stay Puft Marshmallow Minis according to the trailer). Returnees from the 80s are Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Annie Potts, and Sigourney Weaver.
If rebooting this franchise sounds familiar – that’s because it happened five years ago to middling results. The Paul Feig helmed remake led by Melissa McCarthy and Kristin Wiig took in $46 million on its opening weekend but fizzled quickly due to so-so reviews and audience reaction. It also featured the OG Busters making cameos. This new iteration serves as a direct sequel to the first two.
Some estimates have Afterlife beginning at $50 million or above. That’s certainly doable, but I’m not so sure. While it’s obviously a well-known property and the ’84 original is rightly considered a classic, both follow-ups have been letdowns. The 71% Rotten Tomatoes score is OK, but its actually below the 74% that greeted the ballyhooed 2016 pic.
I’m projecting that this makes it to $35-$40 million and doesn’t get to the number we saw just a half decade back.
Ghostbusters: Afterlife opening weekend prediction: $38.1 million
The attendees of New York Comic Con were treated to a surprise this weekend with a screening of Ghostbusters: Afterlife. The fourth film in the franchise that famously began in 1984 serves as a direct continuation to the original and its 1989 follow-up. It’s all about family with Jason Reitman as director (his father Ivan made those first two). Carrie Coon, Finn Wolfhard, Mckenna Grace, Logan Kim, and Paul Rudd join the bustin’ action with series stalwarts Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Annie Potts, and Sigourney Weaver making appearances. Afterlife is finally coming to life after numerous COVID delays with a November 19th stateside release.
Early reviews indicate a long gestating sequel has extreme reverence for its past. Some critics claim it might be a bit too nostalgic, but reaction is overwhelmingly pleasing with a current Rotten Tomatoes score of 91% (based on 11 reviews).
The original classic 37 years ago managed 2 Oscar nominations. They’re what you would expect: Best Original Song for that addictive title track by Ray Parker Jr. and Visual Effects (it lost to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom). Also as you might expect, Ghostbusters II and the ballyhooed 2016 Paul Feig reboot with Melissa McCarthy and Kristin Wiig achieved zero awards attention. I would anticipate the same for this despite the kudos. Visual Effects is a remote possibility, but there’s a slew of contenders more likely (Dune, The Matrix Resurrections, Eternals to name just some).
My Oscar Prediction posts for the films of 2021 will continue…
**Blogger’s Note (09/09): On the eve of its premiere, I’m revising from my prediction down from $10.2 million to $7.6 million**
The drawing power of director James Wan and a horror audience that’s had plenty to watch lately will be put to the test on September 10th with Malignant. The fright fest comes from a genre filmmaker who kickstarted the Saw, Conjuring, and Insidious franchises. Lately he’s been dabbling in other series as he helmed Furious 7 and Aquaman. The cast includes Annabelle Wallis (who starred in the Conjuring spin-off Annabelle), Maddie Hasson, George Young, and Mckenna Grace.
Originally slated for late summer 2020 before its COVID pause, the Warner Bros property will premiere simultaneously on HBO Max. As mentioned, moviegoers have been inundated with scare tactics in the last few months. This includes sequels to A Quiet Place, Escape Room and Don’t Breathe, a third Conjuring, another Purge, and the new Candyman.
Malignant has a couple of disadvantages. It’s not based on a known property (though one could argue Wan’s original forays into his now well-known franchises weren’t either). The other is the over saturation of the market. My biggest concern is a lack of buzz and its availability at home. That said, horror fans continually demonstrate their willingness to show up.
The previous Conjuring experience also hit HBO when it landed at multiplexes and it took in $24 million. I have a feeling the prognosis for Malignant is that it may earn about half of that figure and maybe a little less.
Malignant opening weekend prediction: $7.6 million
The first Annabelle spinoff in 2014 felt like a cheap and quick money grab after the success of The Conjuring the year before and I’d say it stands as the worst experience in this cinematic universe. Three years later, Annabelle: Creation managed to slightly improve on its predecessor as it told the 1950s set backstory of the demonic doll. Some horror aficionados felt it was a significant improvement, but I wouldn’t go that far. Annabelle Comes Home, which takes place about a year after the events of The Conjuring, accomplishes what very few trilogies can. I think this is the best of the trio and about on the level with The Conjuring 2 as far as effectiveness. That means it’s nowhere near the quality of the film that kicked the whole shebang off, but it’s well-crafted and feels like some effort got put into it.
Paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) are back and they basically bookend this latest haunting. The real focus is their daughter Judy (Mckenna Grace) as she deals with that supremely creepy looking title doll. Her parents have recently acquired Annabelle and locked her in a case that explicitly warns others to keep it closed. When the Warrens go off somewhere investigating what will probably be a Conjuring flick someday, Judy is left in the care of high school babysitter Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman). Her friend Daniela (Katie Sarife) joins the party and is curious if there are evil spirits lurking in the Warren household. She’s also desperate to connect with her recently deceased father.
As we know, Daniela has found the right house to do just that. Her actions unlock a whole lotta spirited occurrences which come with the franchise’s now well-known and precise sound effects editing. Home marks the directorial debut of Gary Dauberman, who wrote the first two Annabelle‘s and The Nun (he also penned both It pics). This walks a sometimes pleasurable line between the terrorized babysitter premise while being steeped in Conjuring lore. We briefly see several other spirits awakened and that includes a dog who’s a bad boy and a board game with a mind of its own.
Yet Annabelle Comes Home never turns into Ouija or Cujo. Most of the focus is on Annabelle. And despite her still scary appearance, no Conjuring sequel/spinoff has quite nailed the key objective: being consistently scary itself. With the exception of Annabelle’s first 2014 starring role, they look good and sound really good. They’re also far cries from what started it all.
In 2002, the horse drawn animated adventure Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron managed a Best Animated Feature nomination (ultimately losing to Spirited Away). Nearly two decades ago, the pic received mostly positive reviews with a 70% Rotten Tomatoes rating and decent box office. Since then, a Netflix series focused on the main character led to Spirit Untamed, which opens in theaters today. It features the voices of some familiar faces like Jake Gyllenhaal and Julianne Moore
So how are its odds to race to awards voters ballots? Not good. Untamed has mostly stalled with critics and its Tomato meter is a mere 44%. We already have solid contenders to make the final cut (Raya and the Last Dragon and The Mitchells vs. The Machines) and there’s plenty more on deck for the second half of the year including the soon to be released Luca from Pixar.
Bottom line: I can’t imagine Dreamworks Animation will mount a spirited campaign for this one. Gyllenhaal’s only equestrian related Oscar contender should remain Brokeback Mountain. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…
All the way back in 2002, the animated horse adventure Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron debuted over Memorial Day weekend and performed fairly well. With Matt Damon voicing the title character, the pic galloped to a Best Animated Feature Oscar nod and a $73 million domestic gross. A Netflix spin-off series has aired since 2017 and Spirit Untamed is a joint venture between Universal and DreamWorks to bring the character back to the big screen. Elaine Bogan and Ennio Torresan Jr. co-direct with a voice cast that includes Isabela Merced, Jake Gyllenhaal, Marsai Martin, Mckenna Grace, Julianne Moore, Walton Goggins, and Eiza Gonzalez.
I will confess to not knowing how popular the streaming series is, but it seems to me that 19 years is a long break between theatrical releases. That could certainly be a nagging problem as to Spirit‘s potential. Additionally, some family audiences might still be checking out Cruella in its sophomore frame.
Untamed stands no shot at reaching what its predecessor accomplished. I’m even skeptical that it reaches $5 million out of the gate and will go a bit under that.
Spirit Untamed opening weekend prediction: $4.4 million
For my The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It prediction, click here:
2019 has seen a number of franchises stumble hard with their sequels and reboots. Yet Warner Bros has one of the sturdiest series in recent memory with the Conjuring Cinematic Universe. Next week brings the third edition of the Annabelle entries and I don’t see fatigue among horror fans happening here.
AnnabelleComesHome marks the directorial debut of Gary Dauberman, who penned both predecessors and last fall’s spin-off TheNun. Mckenna Grace and Madison Iseman star and this time Conjuring leads Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga join the doll party.
As mentioned, this has been a mighty profitable franchise for its studio. After five pictures, the lowest opening belongs to Annabelle: Creation at $35 million two summers ago. However, it legged out better than 2014’s Annabelle ($102 million vs. $84 million). Any thought of the series dwindling was dispelled last fall when TheNun took in $53 million for the best premiere of all.
What might give this Annabelle the lowest debut yet is a matter of logistics. This one opens on Wednesday and that will certainly eat into its traditional weekend haul. I still foresee a high 20s Friday to Sunday gross and high 40s when factoring in the extra two days.
AnnabelleComesHome opening weekend prediction: $27.4 million (Friday to Sunday); $38 million (Wednesday to Sunday)
I, Tonya, despite some faults, is an energetic and extremely well acted biopic of a notorious central figure who entered our lives at the onset of the tabloid world we live in. Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie), on one hand, defied incredible odds and utilized her figure skating talent and boundless drive to become of the sport’s best for a brief period. On the other, she allowed her not always charming demeanor to get in the way. The challenge of the screenplay from Steven Rogers is balancing a want to sympathize her while also acknowledging the subject’s own fault with events.
Harding grows up poor in Oregon with a real humdinger of an abusive mother played by Allison Janney, in a real humdinger of a scene stealing performance. Mother LaVona gives Tonya plenty of emotional issues, but also her severe and rather unhealthy competitive spirit. When the skating prodigy enters her teens, she falls for another abuser Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan). It doesn’t take much for Tonya to adore him after he seems to be the first person to say anything nice to her. That doesn’t last for long.
The picture is told with narration from the main players, reportedly with the actors simply repeating their real life counterparts words. Robbie’s work is impressive. She may not totally resemble the title character’s physical presence, but she embodies her often frustrating personality. Stan is memorable as the clueless but also monstrous husband. And a special shout out goes to Paul Walter Hauser as Jeff’s friend and Tonya’s “bodyguard” Shawn. Like Janney, he pulls heists on sequences he appears in.
I, Tonya seems to know that we’re waiting to get to the part we all know – the attack on rival Nancy Kerrigan and the bungled aftermath of it. As in the real life fury and frenzy when it was happening in 1994, Kerrigan is mostly seen and not heard. We do witness the criminal enterprise behind the kneecapping where the stupidity of the culprits would struggle to be believable in a fiction work.
The film succeeds in helping explain how Tonya became Tonya. How much you feel for her will likely vary by the viewer. One thing is abundantly clear – she doesn’t think anything that’s happened to her is her fault. This is essentially her mantra.
I, Tonya can feel too over directed by Craig Gillespie and too frenetically edited for its own good at times. Yet the actors and the deliciously improbable story that drew the nation’s fixation one winter make it a winner overall. The real Tonya Harding would certainly claim the credit for the movie’s high points. The parts that don’t completely succeed? Not her fault.
Fox Searchlight looks to offer some dramatic counter programming to TheFateoftheFurious this weekend as Gifted is presented in approximately 1000 theaters. Marc Webb, known for (500) Days of Summer and the two Andrew Garfield Spider–Man pics, directs this tale of a super smart kid caught up in a custody fight. The cast includes Chris Evans, Octavia Spencer, Mckenna Grace, Lindsay Duncan, and Jenny Slate.
Gifted has received some decent reviews as it sits at 63% currently on Rotten Tomatoes. It opened in limited release this precious weekend and fared pretty well, collecting $476,000 on only 56 screens.
The pic will be showing on about 1/4 of the screens that Vin Diesel’s blockbuster will be. The best case scenario could be a premiere in the mid single digits and that’s where I have Gifted landing over Easter weekend.
Gifted opening weekend prediction: $4.7 million
For my TheFateoftheFurious prediction, click here: