“I just don’t exhibit emotions like everyone else, on the inside, I’m vomiting.”
With Harold Ramis’ death in 2014, it seemed unlikely that a long-planned Ghostbusters follow-up would ever happen, moreso after the 2016 reboot, and yet it eventually arrived in Afterlife, which is dedicated to Ramis. The film hands the reins down to a new generation — literally in the case of Jason Reitman, who steps into his father’s director’s chair — as Egon’s family inherit his farm and learn about his work. Stylistically, Afterlife often feels like an 80s family movie with a glossier sheen (much like Super 8), its soundtrack peppered with welcome callbacks to the original score. Finn Wolfhard may be more recognisable but Mckenna Grace’s performance as Phoebe is the heart of the film, a 12 year old struggling with neurodivergence and every bit Egon’s granddaughter. The action is nonsensical as the children inexplicably know how to trap ghosts with 30-year-old equipment or use a tiny remote control car that outpaces a regular one, but Ghostbusters action was always more about a flashy lightshow than choreography. There is plenty of fan-service with Paul Rudd’s character fanboying over the the original Ghostbusters and a host of cameos, but Afterlife delivers more than just nostalgia. Its formula of running either toward or away from ghosts may become repetitive, but the character relationships have much of the warmth that made the original work. It may not be an unqualified success but, with another sequel in production, Afterlife has proved that the legacy of the Ghostbusters is far from dead.
The Whale is emotionally manipulative in its presentation of a shut-in who has become morbidly obese, an effective tearjerker but less profound than Aronofky’s previous work. Charlie is presented sympathetically, using impressive prosthetics and shot predominantly in soft light that delivers an often beautiful appearance despite the comparative squalor in which he lives. Swelling music makes every movement feel like a heroic effort though the camera seems largely impassive even as Charlie gorges himself inside the single-location set that reveals The Whale’s roots as a stage play. It has been heralded as a return for Brendan Fraser but, although his sensitive portrayal of Charlie — augmented by audience knowledge of Fraser’s fallout with Hollywood — may be the lead, the straightforward blend of kindess, shame and regret is less interesting than the supporting characters who surround him. Hong Chau is particularly compelling as Charlie’s friend and nurse, tied to him by a tragedy but frustrated at his refusal to get help and left hollow by the knowledge of his likely demise. The script bears a clear grudge with religion though it is less well-developed aside from a distinction between saving someone and preaching salvation (“I don’t think I believe anyone can save anybody”). Repeated references to Moby Dick cast Charlie as both Ahab and the whale, chasing his own destruction. Sadie Sink’s most high profile performance following Stranger Things is impressive as Charlie’s estranged daughter, seeming at first mercurial and capricious until we perceive pain and purpose, her defiance competing with curiosity about her father. Yet, for all the talent at work, a late in life attempt at redemption and reconcilliation with a daughter is something Aronofsky has already produced with greater subtlety in The Wrestler.
“There’s a whole world out there for you, Duncan. Don’t settle. Not yet.”
The Way Way Back is a delight that has instantly earned a place amongst my favourite coming-of-age films, not because it breaks new ground but because it populates the familiar template with such well-realised characters that I am certain to rewatch it just to spend more time with them. This is perhaps more surprising from a pair of comedian writer-directors, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (Community‘s Dean Pelton), who let the humanity drive the humour rather than the other way round. Our sympathy for Duncan arises not from his adolescent awkwardness but the difficult family dynamic of this summer holiday, coping with his parents’ divorce and the distance he feels from his mother due to her overbearing new boyfriend Trent. Shot with a visual sheen of sun-drenched nostalgia, there is a sense of fortuitous absurdism in the ease with which Duncan is taken under the wing of workers at a water park and offered a job. Although the whole ensemble cast excels, Sam Rockwell’s performance as Owen is perhaps the key, acting as a counterpoint to Trent, immature but self-aware and unburdened by ego. The Way Way Back deserves praise for not seeking easy or fantastic resolutions to its more serious confrontation, leaving viewers with hopefulness rather than closure.
Since the underwhelming Bright in 2017, Netflix has been chasing a big budget action film success in vain. Yet, with big name stars drawing high streaming figures, Netflix now seems content with a regular cadence of generic and largely forgettable films instead, and that is the mould for The Adam Project from director Shawn Levy (teaming up again with Ryan Reynolds after last year’s Free Guy). Its loose time travel mechanics are forgivable but its greater flaw is laziness in establishing its sci-fi world. We never really get a sense of the stakes in 2050, or how the existence of time travel has changed the planet, and a direct reference to The Terminator serves only to highlight The Adam Project‘s comparatively weak world-building and derivative story. The action is competently choreographed, with a few memorable moments using futuristic energy and sonic weapons. A more serious tone also allows Ryan Reynolds to deliver a more emotionally nuanced performance than Free Guy, particularly in the regret Adam feels when faced with how he treated his mother as a child. Unfortunately, with the exception of Walter Scobell as his younger self, the excellent supporting cast is wasted on characters that are never developed beyond sketches. The Adam Project is enjoyable but will be forgotten within a few months.
“If I had a dream that didn’t come true, I could at least be pissed off at the world. Instead I’m just pissed off at myself.”
The third outing for director Jason Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody, Tully moves away from overt comedy, instead drawing out humour from the absurd repetitive reality of parenthood. Its grounded first third contains rarely depicted images in quick succession, like an exhausted Marlo attached to a whirring dual breast pump or spilt milk worthy of tears when she forgets to seal a medela bag. However, treating the film solely as a lens on motherhood is somewhat reductive, with its wider commentary on finding a place in the world for the life one has chosen. Unfortunately the story flounders after the halfway mark and its conclusion manages to be both contrived and predictable for a seasoned filmgoer.