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.
Unique and formulaic are two terms mentioned in the descriptions for Concrete Cowboy, which has screened at the Toronto Film Festival. The drama marks the directorial debut of Ricky Staub. It casts Caleb McLaughlin of Stranger Things fame as a troubled teen sent to live with his father (Idris Elba), who’s part of a group of urban cowboys outside of Philadelphia. This is based on the Greg Neri novel Ghetto Cowboy. Costars include Lorraine Toussaint (who’s said to be a highlight), Jharrel Jerome (Emmy winner for HBO’s lauded When They See Us), and Method Man.
Some early reviews are very positive while others say it’s a familiar tale in an unfamiliar setting. Concrete is seeking U.S. distribution at the festival and it should have no trouble finding it. Finding awards chatter is another story as this doesn’t immediately jump out as a major contender. Stranger things have happened, but I don’t foresee it being much of a factor with Academy voters. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…
Blogger’s Note (09/08): I am downgrading my original estimate from $4.3 million down to just $2.3 million. Simply put, this probably would have been better off going the streaming route.
Sony Pictures is hoping that a young audience will turn out for next weekend’s The Broken Hearts Gallery. The romantic comedy comes from first time director Natalie Krinsky and was originally scheduled for a July release before the COVID-19 pandemic altered the plans. Executive produced by Selena Gomez, it stars Geraldine Viswanathan (best known for Blockers and HBO’s Bad Education) and Dacre Montgomery (Billy from Netflix’s Stranger Things). Costars include Utkarsh Ambudkar, Molly Gordon, and Bernadette Peters.
I’m a bit skeptical that this has any breakout potential. Many similar pics in this genre are based on novels with a hoped for built-in audience. Gallery doesn’t have that advantage or much star power to lure its intended demographic into the multiplex. The best hope for Sony is that this crowd is simply starved for anything to go see.
I don’t believe that’ll be enough to get this over $3 million.
The Broken Hearts Gallery opening weekend prediction: $2.3 million
My Daily Streaming Guide rolls along today with three new movies worthy of your binge watching consideration:
From 2007, David Fincher’s Zodiac finds the filmmaker in his dark and visually stylish wheelhouse. The man behind Seven and Fight Club meticulously details the case of the Zodiac Killer in the late 1960s and early 1970s with a top-notch cast including Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, and Robert Downey Jr. (one year before his first appearance as Tony Stark in the MCU).
Speaking of stylish, Nicholas Winding Refn’s Drive from 2011 has it in spades. It also defies genre placement. Ryan Gosling doesn’t have much dialogue, but this is one of his finest roles as a stunt performer who moonlights in underground criminal circles. A contemplative pic with violent outbursts, Drive is a stunner.
On the cinematic front, J.J. Abrams is best known for revitalizing the Star Trek and Star Wars series. His stand-alone 2011 effort Super 8 has a Stranger Things vibe before that landmark show existed. With a heavy Spielberg influence, it would have been right at home being released in 1985. It’s a lot of fun and there’s a humdinger of a trash crash sequence.
Blogger’s Note (01/22): I’m revising my estimate down from $12.2 million to $9 million
Universal Pictures is hoping horror fans turn out next weekend for The Turning. The supernatural tale is based on the late 19th century Henry James novel The Turn of the Shrew. Floria Sigismondi, best known for her music video and TV work, directs. Mackenzie Davis and Joely Richardson star along with Finn Wolfhard (of Stranger Things and It fame) and Brooklyn Prince (from The Florida Project) as orphans with some dark secrets.
The project was originally set to film back in 2016 before production was halted and its original director and writer were fired. Over one year later, it was back on track with a new team. Will the troubled development mean troubling box office returns? My feeling is yes.
Low double digits to low teens appears most probable. It’s always worth noting that horror can over perform, but I’m not seeing it here.
The Turning opening weekend prediction: $9 million
It bloats. That would be Chapter Two of the saga that was adapted from Stephen King’s novel to monstrous box office results in 2017. A rumination on childhood friendship and fears that happened to feature a demented clown (with a humdinger of a performance by Bill Skarsgard and his creepy eyes as Pennywise), it was easy to see why It cashed in. Set in the 1980s (when the book was released) as opposed to the 1950s, the pic had a retro vibe fitting the Stranger Things and Steven Spielberg mold. Featuring fine performances by its band of teens called The Losers, the scariest parts of It often involved what adults were capable of doing to the group as opposed to Pennywise in clown or other forms.
In Chapter Two, it’s The Losers who are the adults. They come together 27 years after the events of chapter one in the town of Derry, Maine. This was choreographed at the conclusion of It two years back, but the grownup Losers only have scant memories of warding off Pennywise in 1989. We as the audience remember it well, but it takes around an hour of the nearly three hour running time for nearly all of them to recall. And that’s a slog.
On the positive side, the casting here is impressive. James McAvoy is de facto leader Bill, now a successful horror author who can’t ever write a satisfactory ending to his works (something King himself is often accused of). In my It review, I speculated that Amy Adams could inhabit the part of Beverly, the lone female of the club who continues to suffer from physical abuse started by her demented father. Jessica Chastain got the role and she’s another obvious choice. The most memorable performances here, however, come from Bill Hader as Richie, now a standup comic and James Ransone as hypochondriac Eddie. They’re responsible for some much needed comic relief and occasional moments that are genuinely funny. And while Jay Ryan might not exactly physically resemble the younger overweight New Kids on the Block loving Ben (who still has a crush on Beverly), the casting club found a performer whose eyes match his youthful counterpart Jeremy Ray Taylor.
Of course, there’s also Skarsgard having a ball as Pennywise. It comes in many forms and in many situations. It comes at night. It comes during daytime. It comes as a creepy old lady who lives in Beverly’s old apartment. It comes as a giant spider. It comes as famous lumberjacks. It comes in ways that display decent CG and dodgy CG. It’s a mixed bag of appearances.
Chapter Two is overstuffed and overlong. It’s as if director Andy Muschietti and screenwriter Gary Dauberman (the team behind the first chapter) wanted to be as faithful as possible to King’s book and leave as little out as possible. A tightening of the screws might have been a wiser course of action. King himself (who cleverly cameos) has stated in interviews that the why of why monsters do what they do is fairly incidental. The time spent linking Pennywise to Native American rituals and the creature’s background feels just that. That Stephen King might be onto something.
The long continuation of this story does certainly feature a couple of spine tingling sequences, fine acting, and amusing bits. Unfortunately it does not represent a hefty portion of its 169 minutes and that’s why this chapter just can’t match the more tightly contained first one.
Based upon Alvin Schwartz’s three horror short tale collections from the 1980s and early 1990s (with some celebrated illustrations by Stephen Gammell), Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark has caught the attention of Guillermo del Toro. He has, of course, turned his monster material into Oscar winning work. Mr. del Toro didn’t direct this and he shares a producer and story credit. However, this reminds one of Steven Spielberg’s output at the time when Schwartz’s works were originally being released. Films like Poltergeist, Gremlins, and The Goonies came from other filmmakers, but they might as well have been made by Spielberg because his fingerprints are all over them. Andre Øvredal directed this and he’s proved his genre chops previously with effective material like The Autopsy of Jane Doe. Yet you get the feeling this is del Toro’s vision through and through.
Set in 1968 when political upheaval and the Vietnam War were true scary stories of their own, this brings us to a small Pennsylvania town in a year where Night of the Living Dead is just out. Teenage Stella (Zoe Colletti) is obsessed with the living dead as a horror enthusiast and aspiring writer. Her seemingly only friends are Auggie (Gabriel Rush) and Chuck (Austin Zajur) and the trio gets their kicks by playing Halloween themed pranks on the school bullies. They are soon joined in this quest by drifter Ramon (Michael Garza), who appears to be living out of his car. Their exploits lead them to an alleged haunted house once lived in by the wealthy and mysterious Bellows family. Their daughter Sarah was a writer like Stella. The difference is that Sarah’s writing hasn’t stopped after death and her words describe the PG-13 horror antics that follow.
This plot line allows for a small number of Schwartz’s old tales to come to life. And the CG creature effects due to that are as solid as we’d expect from anything with del Toro’s name attached. A couple of sequences radiate with a ghoulish vibe that impresses. Those are scary, but there’s not a lot of them. The screenwriters occasionally bring the turbulent late 1960s happenings to the mix, but that feels a bit clumsy and tacked on as they don’t really commit to it.
Instead we have a novel concept from source material of anthological form. Perhaps Sarah and Schwartz’s short stories could have worked a little better had this been adapted into a series on Netflix or another streaming service. After all, it’s probably Stranger Things and its retro goldmine of success that sped up the green light here. There’s no doubt that those involved (particularly one) have deep affection for what they’re adapting. Despite its moments, it’s the format that’s limiting.
Blogger’s Note (08/07): My prediction has increased from $10.7 million to $14.3 million
Based on a series of Alvin Schwartz horror novels geared towards children, ScaryStoriestoTellintheDark opens in theaters next weekend. Co-produced by Guillermo del Toro, the film comes from director André Øvredal who mostly recently made the critically appreciated TheAutopsyofJaneDoe. Cast members include Zoe Colletti, Michael Garza, Gabriel Rush, Austin Abrams, Dean Norris, Gil Bellows, and Lorraine Toussaint.
The concoction of the horror genre marketing to a young audience is a risky one. I’m not confident this mix will result in pleasing box office earnings and I wouldn’t expect the “Stranger Things” crowd to turn out. Even though we’re talking PG-13 here vs. an R rating, I’ll project this performs similarly to what Overlord (which boasted its own known producer J.J. Abrams) did last year.
ScaryStoriestoTellintheDark opening weekend prediction: $14.3 million
For my DoraandtheLostCityofGold prediction, click here:
Continuing its own cinematic universe that will lead to two monstrous creatures facing off next spring, Godzilla: KingoftheMonsters stomps into multiplexes next weekend. The reported $200 million dollar film is a sequel to 2014’s Godzilla reboot from Gareth Edwards. Michael Dougherty takes over directorial duties with a cast including Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga, Millie Bobby Brown of “Stranger Things” fame, Bradley Whitford, Charles Dance, Thomas Middleditch, and O’Shea Jackson Jr. Returnees from part one are Sally Hawkins, David Strathairn, and Ken Watanabe.
As mentioned, Monsters is part of a larger Warner Bros scheme to get the giant green nuclear waste creation to grapple with the world’s best known giant ape. Godzillavs. Kong will hit screens in March of 2020. Five summers ago, Godzilla debuted to a cool $91 million on its way to $200 million domestically. In 2017, Kong: SkullIsland made $61 million out of the gate and $168 million total.
I would anticipate we’ll see Kong money and not Godzilla cash here and perhaps a bit less. Mid to high 50s seems probable with overseas earnings expected to be anything but toxic.
Godzilla: KingoftheMonsters opening weekend prediction: $58.7 million
Over the past year and change, the superhero genre has been flush with massive successes such as BlackPanther, Avengers: InfinityWar, Aquaman, CaptainMarvel, and current box office champ Shazam!, which has dutifully met expectations. The upcoming Avengers: Endgame is looking to set the all time opening record in two weeks. Something was bound to eventually get lost in the shuffle and that turned out to be Hellboy this weekend.
The film rebooted the Dark Horse Comics franchise that debuted in 2004 with Guillermo del Toro behind the camera and Ron Perlman as the horn clad anti-hero. A 2008 sequel, HellboyII: TheGoldenArmy, built on the grosses of its predecessor.
Neil Marshall took over directorial duties for the new Hellboy with David Harbour of “Stranger Things” cast as the title character. All along the way, the marketing campaign seemed curiously muted. It was as if Lionsgate might have known they had a dog on their hands. And they did. The review embargo didn’t lift until late this week. Rotten Tomatoes has been ripe with bad critical reaction with a 15% score. CinemaScore audiences haven’t been kind either with a lowly C rating.
On Sunday, the initial results have Hellboy in third place with just $12 million. Not only is that behind the second frame of Shazam!, it’s after the debut of the Regina Hall comedy Little. To put that in perspective, the 2004 Hellboy made $23 million out of the gate. TheGoldenArmy took in $34 million. For both of those films, the opening weekends represented a hefty chunk of the overall earnings. In the case of the second installment, it fell hard in its sophomore frame due to another comic boom sequel premiering called TheDarkKnight. With its toxic word of mouth, I expect this version to tumble at least 60% in weekend #2 and probably more.
If there’s any silver lining for the studio, it’s that the reboot cost a reported $50 million. That’s certainly low on the scale for this genre. Yet we can be sure this iteration of the character is a one-off. And we’ve found out what the depths of Hellboy are on a financial level and it’s not pretty.