Ghostbusters: Afterlife – (With Spoilers) A Gushing Atypical View

I went on last Friday, and the above title should say it all. (Happy Thanksgiving BTW)

TL:DR if you don’t go see this movie in the cinema, you are not going to get more quality films like this. It serves as the bridge between what was, and what may come if you show some love for this franchise. So get your buns in seats, people. Buns in seats. See the bloody movie!!!!

I give it a 9/10 because of a few minor things I’d wish they’d had more of and missed opportunities, but that’s like asking for 3 cherries instead of 2 on top of an incredible sundae.

If you want your standard synopsis, this is not the review for you. This is about my experience with the film and my takeaways and why I felt it is a great accomplishment in filmmaking. Roll your eyes all you want, if you are so inclined at my gushing, but again… my personal thoughts/experiences. Just enjoy the squee and thoughts.

First, let me say I am on the trembling edge of being a superfan of this franchise. I will not see the 2016 version because the studio/director/cast make sure I knew what it was: a soulless woke remake with a political agenda first and no care for the fans of the original themes and less respect for the creation of those actors, writers and directors that made the franchise.

If you’re sick of being pandered to by people who see you as nothing more than a buck to pluck, this is your movie. These are your people. With one sentence, they expunge the blight that is GB2016 from the canon and do it with a more inclusive, diverse cast than it was with none of the typical “Look at how politically correct and relevant I am! Love me for checking the right boxes for social justicetm! If you don’t you’re a racist/sexist/homophobe nazi.” The same people who all the while sneer at you… the fan… as a rube to be cheated of your money and love. That alone gave it a lot of extra credibility with me as a fan.

In that regard, I am a purist. I’ve not played the 2009 game which was in spirit (hah!) the actual third movie, and heard very good things about it. Thus making Ghostbusters: Afterlife (G:A) the fourth of the franchise. BTW, there is some harkening back to the cartoon, “The REAL Ghostbusters” and the toy line with the appearance of the gunner’s seat, which is just a blast that even the characters squee over.

G:A has many good scares and leaves an anti-woke nip on the tongue. Just as much as it makes you laugh, you’ll clutch your popcorn. It’s messages are wholesome and affirmative. Evil’s clear and defined, good struggles and is wounded but ultimately victorious. (In another post I’ll toss some thoughts in for the spiritual side for my fellow Christians who wonder about this movie.)

The cast and director Jason Reitman have stated in interviews time and time again, this movie is about family. Particularly from what I saw, a family dealing with the loss of a loved one, and struggling with old wounds that must heal for the sake of the living. JR was uniquely placed as the only man capable of having the tools and the talent to save this franchise. He grew up surrounded by this franchise. (He even is the snotty kid in the birthday party laying into Winston and Ray in Ghostbusters II.) To him, as well as Akroyd, Murray, Ramis and Hudson, plus Weaver and Potts, this was a passion projects and work of love. It was sad that Rick Moranis could not come back, but he is retired from acting and firmly so. God bless you, Rick, you were missed, but we understand. You hear this from cast interviews on press junket all the time, but for the first time, I actually believed them. This gives the movie a heart you won’t find from other reboots/restarts/re-envisions that have come out.

What is this movie to me? Good hearted, in many ways wholesome, family entertainment like we used to get in the 1980’s. If it wasn’t for the fact that it is completely dependent on the original film, it would be the superior film.

From the opening credits when I heard the iconic piano trill, I personally was in a state of squee till the final “For Harold” at the end… and then for the mid and post credit scenes. STAY THE WHOLE MOVIE OR YOU MISS IMPORTANT DETAILS! There were at least 3 audio call backs in the credits alone which made me smile so wide it darn near bisected my head. My wife was laughing at me just as much as she was the film because of my reactions and bouncing in the seat.

By the time the film was over, I was crying happy tears as well as feeling the loss of both Egon Spangler and Harold Ramis. Something to note, this movie is a sign of healed wounds between Ramis and Murray as well as the rest of the cast who lost so many opportunities with each other due to the feud. It was a treat to see. In Harold’s memory, all things are made right again.

The opening sequence is the death of Egon being very heroic. It is terrifying in so many ways. Even more so, if you are a fan going in. You know what is going to happen and it’s unavoidable. You can smell it and dread the result the entire time, but it must come. It was handled beautifully, setting up the movie without a single word. I admit, it got me verklempt.

The new faces of Phoebe, Trevor and Callie… the estranged human detritus of Egon’s vanishing and death in mystery are on point if you want to be realistic. Through the movie, you see the wound of Egon’s departure. left because nobody understands why he left suddenly. (A point driven home with a sledgehammer later in the film by Ray Stantz in a conversation on the red phone.) They are fully realized and have their own story arcs to complete.

Granddaughter Phoebe’s is the anchor of the film, and she struggles with the awkwardness and social alienation brought about by being hyperintelligent, and an awkwardness that smells remarkably like a child knowing they have autism/aspberger’s and fighting hard to cope. Her awareness makes it touching. Older brother Trevor tries to help her because he sees how special she is, but is not equipped to help. In an attempt to connect, Phoebe cracks what I call “dad jokes” in an effort to connect with her peers. They’re real groaners and you love ’em. But one in particular had me howling for an inordinately long time. Watching Phoebe cracking these jokes in the face of Gozer leaves you both laughing and cringing in fear once again of what could possibly happen. Reitman utilizes Alfred Hitchock’s theory on suspense perfectly. You the audience know there’s a bomb under the table as the characters sit down for dinner and you’re praying they get out alive. That’s serious craft.

Podcast, a plucky boy who becomes Phoebe’s only friend at summer school (why they were in summer school was kinda fuzzy to me. I may have blinked or laughed to long to catch the reason) is a weird and endearing character. He’s a surrogate for the audience with trying to comprehend the mystery of what’s going on in Summerville. Podcast possesses such an innocent joy at all things new, seeing everything with unjaded eyes, is refreshing. He’s definitely a fun “Mini-Ray”, wearing Stantz’s old goggles for so much of the movie made me smile. (When he clicks the goggle’s polaroid and you watch the old picture shoot out the side which he uses to fan himself after the excitement of the proton pack’s first successful test, I just howled with laughter. Yeah, I’m that guy in the theater.) Because Podcast sees himself as a possible social media influencer, his silly commentary for his podcasts are wonderful. One part clueless, one part kid at play, one part marketer. You can’t help but love a kid brave enough to lick ectoplasm. The chemistry between him and Phoebe has spots of puppy love at its finest. My singular complaint about this character is you never learn his real name.

Callie Spangler’s damage from Egon’s estrangement is more subtly expressed at first, but builds. Callie embodies abandonment and her inability to relate to her father’s super-science brain and iconoclastic behavior has devastated her all the more. She was a typical girl in the shadow of a genius even his peers and friends couldn’t understand. Her mother (who is not Janine, and clearly there is some bad blood toward Egon, judging by Callie’s reaction, is out of the picture,) must have hated Egon as well for leaving. Because of the pain, she has expunged her father from her children’s lives. The lingering question of “why did he abandon me?” is essential to her character. One single line encapsulates her resentment and bitterness when going through the “Dirt Farmer’s house” (the name all the locals knew Egon by) saying “Huh. Not a single photo.” You see she believes that Egon forgot about everyone who loved him and never really cared. When Phoebe is on the trail of the ghost of her grandfather in the middle of the night, you see Callie in the background passed out drunk at the kitchen table after clearly struggling with what to do with their lives. I suspect this will resonate with many viewers who grew up in a split/divided home where a parent left. I can attest friends who had divorced parents exhibited many of the same traits to one degree or another. But when Callie finally learns the truth over what’s going on, and sees that all the pictures were in Egon’s secret lab (complete with firepole, because of course it has one) she sees how much he loved her, and how much attention he paid to her life. He just couldn’t afford to be there because Egon was literally saving the world on a daily basis while the planet was in blissful ignorance.

There’s a very touching scene between Phoebe and her mother Callie where the girl demands “Why didn’t you tell us our grandfather was Egon Spangler?” You see the wounds on both character and for a second you feel it with them. It makes their reconciliation at the end all the more powerful and will put you in tears if you’re a romantic so-and-so like me.

Trevor, has the most ordinary, and least interesting arc which helps make the film more real. As I thought about it, this is not because they didn’t know what to do with him, but lay in what furtive interests a 15 year old boy would have. Girls and cars. Possibly in the reverse order. He chases the cute girl at the local drive-in the instant they hit Summersville. Her name is Lucky (or is it a nickname?) is the unattainable girl. All the boys know it and mock Trevor for trying. He lies to get a job at the drive in, just to be near her. Which gives him entrance to her circle and connection to the greater story because of some teenage hijinx.

But it’s Oklahoma, so he needs a car to have independence. This ain’t NYC. One of the few places in the world you can live your life without owning a car. That means getting one of the junkers left by his grandfather’s working again, and of course that would be Ecto 1. He has no clue what an iconic vehicle he has thanks to his mother expunging all things Ghostbuster and Egon from his life. This is so grounded and real you wonder how he gets involved. It’s through Ecto 1 that Trevor becomes involved in the mystery and insanity that is growing around his sister, and ultimately to him being one of the team to stop Gozer.

Then there’s Gary Grooberson. Paul Rudd, when he got the part was so excited he couldn’t help but release the fact that he was cast in the movie. The actor’s personal reaction as a fan at seeing a genuine trap is a palpable. I love the fact that he connects with Phoebe first, and then Callie second. You can see that he has a certain amount of hero worship toward the Ghostbusters that rose tints his vision toward them, but at the same time makes him more sincere. He is the missing piece to their family, even if none of them realize it. The dialogue between him and Phoebe and Callie are some glittering jewels. Rudd also gets the joy of many call backs to Rick Moranis’ character Louis Tully, but also driving the stake through the heart of GB2016 with the singular line “There hasn’t been a ghost sighting for 30 years.” BAM! DONE! I cheered even though nobody else in the theater did because I doubt they realized what just hit the citadel of wokeness, and sank their agenda boat in one salvo. (P.S. this is why the critics are raging.) I will admit on his date with Callie, I got very scared when he started talking about fracking. I literally said “Oh, here we go” and gritted my teeth. But then Callie takes the piss out of it, which Gary detects and says “Are you that drunk or am I boring you?” Bye bye environazi narrative. We the audience were right along with Callie on that MEGO (Mine Eyes Glazeth Over) expression. The beauty there was that Reitman then uses this as a segue into how Callie can’t connect to Phoebe, but Gary can. That’s some good writing right there.

Lucky was the only character that I felt was more or less a prop. Not for the actress’ part. She does a stellar job in what she’s given. She is the “Love Interesttm“. I did like the fact that she was the police chief’s daughter too. She has a bit of street smarts but used for more comedic effect, despite being “third generation dump” stuck out in the middle of nowhere. I think a lot can be done with her moving forward, since any sequel now (which from what I understand is greenlit, and Sony wants to create the “Ghost Corps” cinematic universe) they will all be college age and can do so much more. Again, if Lucky is her nickname, give her a real name. Someone I did want to see a little more resolution to was why did the whole police department disappear when the ghosts started showing up? You don’t even get a hint of where they were or what they were doing as spooks invaded Summersville. Again, one of the rare rough spots that could have been solved with a 5-15 second shot of deputies or the sheriff trying to deal with the deluge of the supernatural.

The only other missed opportunity and waste of talent I’d give to J.K. Skinner as Ivo Shandor. Although I agree on one level with his fate, I’m going… “Dude! That’s J. K. Skinner, man! You gotta do something with that talent!” Oh well, back as a spirit next movie! Jason Reitman, are you paying attention?

Seeing the old faces come back… and some looked very old as 35 years will do… was heartwarming and touching. I wanted to see more of them, but alas, this wasn’t their movie alone anymore. The next generation must rise up.

This movie is also about sacrifice. And not just for loved ones, but for all mankind. Egon you learn felt a genuine care for all of humanity. Not the happy fluffy “We Are the World”, but in the right to exist and live according to our conscience. He sacrificed his entire life to save the world and forestall the apocalypse Gozer tried to inflict in 1984, and managed to do so till his death when his last gambit failed at the start of the movie. After Phoebe, Trevor and Podcast capture their first ghost, causing considerable damage to the community in the process they’re in jail, and Phoebe uses her one phonecall to contact Ray Stantz. When you hear him say “Egon Spangler can rot in hell, for all I care,” your heart hurts. But as the story unfolds and you learn what Egon had done because he couldn’t get them to see what he knew was coming and had to act, you realize these are metaphors for the rift between the three actors as well. When Phoebe tells Ray that Egon is dead and she is his granddaughter, the regret and pain in Ray’s eyes says it all. It’s a good scene, but I felt it is where Afterlife left the most cards on the table. You hear but don’t see Winston or Venkman, which would have been great to see a few minutes spent of “getting the band back together” with Ray going out and giving these moments a chance to shine. Even including Dana Barret (possibly Venkman?) as they convinced a reluctant Peter to come back for one last time, so to speak would have been brilliant.

I will add that it was great to see the original trio (and then Egon in spirit) coming back does feel a little Deus Ex Machina… but it is a rusty Machina, and Gozer has learned a trick or two and crossing the streams isn’t going to do it any more. Egon burnt that trick out keeping Gozer at bay. It would have been nice to see them get some mentor time with the kids, but I also get it. Pacing and they might dominate the scene too much. Sigh… such are the editing choices one must make for good storytelling.

Something else I want to point out is this movie addresses woke virtue signaling in a way it’s acolytes aren’t happy about. While the cult of woke use the “checkboxes” as a way to supposedly prove their virtue and superiority over the knuckle dragging orange man lovers, this movie checks the same boxes, without making it an issue.
Strong female lead? Phoebe. Check.
Racially diverse cast? Podcast is asian and Lucky is black. Check.
“Alphabet” people inclusion? Gozer is gender fluid non-binary. Check.

Snuck that last one in on you didn’t I? Yep. Gozer doesn’t need a gender and can be whatever it wants to be. BTW, that’s the proper singular pronoun for something that doesn’t line up with a male/female alignment, per the rules of the English language. “It”. If you have a problem, it’s with language (which you don’t have control over) not me.

So there you go. Not only does the movie fix canon, it shows how to do all the virtue signaling right without being obnoxious. No focus is put on this. It just “is what it is”. Focus on the story, not ticking boxes of pseudo offense based on an agenda in your head.

Ultimately, this is a great movie, but if watching some of my more trusted critics out there, I can see that my sentiment is not shared by people who aren’t fans of the original 1984 film. And even then, too many fellow watchers in the audience are not paying close attention. There’s so many details that slide by, that if you’re not attentive, you’ll miss them and it will diminish the experience. Add to that, the hatred for the fans by the “professional” critics working for major media outlets that seem to think all things not in direct service to their political agenda is therefore bad and want revenge for the public turning up its nose at GB2016… well… go and make up your own mind.

That may be why I gush a bit about this movie, and see it as such an achievement, but if you’re not the target audience, or are “meh” about the property, you’re probably not going to care about it. The themes won’t hit, the sacrifice of Egon’s life because of his belief in his life’s work will mean little, and that will diminish your experience.

On the other hand, if you are like me, a fan of the franchise, love the characters this is the sequel you deserved and a chance to see a franchise relaunched in a positive way.

I ain’t afraid of no ghost

Scrapyard: Improving My Craft

First, a hat tip to David Lawrence, another aspiring author, head of The Seraphim Regiment : Christian Online Gaming Guild and co-inspirational goofus for driving me in this drive towards making writing my career and really working at my craft.  Thanks for the inspiration to try this out.  Go check his blog out.

Two resources have been put front and center in my writing life right now.  First is one I found and latched onto like a lamprey, while the other has come up behind me and clubbed me a good one thanks to Dave.

The first is “The Story Grid” by Sean Coyne while the second is “The Hero with a Thousand Faces” by Joseph Campbell and the Hero’s Journey.  The two are revolutionizing how I write and work with my stories.  What’s even better is to realize how much I used before learning more about these things on instinct.  I think I can blame 30 years of being a GM for various RPGs and participating in oral storytelling for most of my life.

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So last night, I started analyzing some of my favorite films.  Yes, 2am, Christmas Eve/Day is a good time to watch a movie when you should be keeping your regular schedule.  What did I pop in?  “The Fifth Element“.  Not the most holiday-like of a film but it was what I wanted to see as I resisted the re-watching of “Blade Runner” because I’m on a giggly anticipatory edge for the sequel.  That, I will watch later today.  What I wondered was why, although “The Fifth Element” is an incredible movie, it doesn’t quite go over the ‘critical hump’ to make it a masterpiece.

What I realized is that it did not quite manage the “Hero’s Journey” in a completely satisfying manner or its delivery of obligatory scenes was not quite up to snuff, and made up for the gap in the storytelling with a richness of top notch production design (which nobody can disagree with.  Nope sorry, your argument is invalid because reasons.) and good acting.

Luc Besson spends a long time building the universe, and although it’s fun to watch everything up to the point of Korben Dallas getting into the story (the true personification of the hero in the story) it is about 20 minutes of setup that is more or less dithering on establishing the “Status Quo”.  It doesn’t really dig into the actual story, which in effect is a very short and basic.

You have also have a lot of parallel villains and macguffins.  Now this isn’t bad per sey because Zorg (and Mr. Shadow) with the Mandalorians are all seeking the stones.  The three threats are all striking similar chords and add some delicious betrayal and complexity, but each time, it slightly weakens the overall whole.  Mr. Shadow is a “Man Vs. God” level threat, and the other two are “Man vs. Man” threat.  You have a small “Man vs. Self” threat in terms of Korben’s depression and helplessness but that is almost an afterthought to create the ambiance of his character as the burnt out veteran. Even though the man vs. self does a quick return at the finale, it’s got no real power other than some base sentimentality and emotional manipulation to make the “gets the girl” trope work.

The movie does spend some good time with the next three steps of “Call to Action”, “Refusing the Call”, “Assistance” and “Departure” which comes in many various flavors.  The movie is more like a rope in this manner rather than a beam.  Many things working together, providing great flexibility and art, which is good, but it is not as strong in the end as a singular focus.  The call comes to adventure comes to Dallas through multiple sources, same does his assistance.  Again, although they are alloyed together and echo each other, it is not as strong.

As for the “Trials” honestly, this is almost non-existent and is wrapped up in the coupled fights before and after the Plavalaguna’s Concert, but it’s also mixed up in a disorderly mess where two of the three villians (Zorg and the Mandalorians) are dispatched leaving only the real Man vs God threat as Mr. Shadow goes right for the temple to kill everything and so too must our heroes.

“Crisis” is present when Leeloo is wounded, but again, it is easily overcome, which hurts.  Yes Leeloo is wounded with some great buildup and diminished, and then we get some angst out of Korben, but that’s about it.  Combine with that the emotional shock of the self sacrificing Diva, we are back to that “rope” I’ve referred to.  Good, flexible, textured, but again, not as strong.  The obligatory scene of “Hero at the mercy of the villain” is here with Zorg vs Leeloo, but again, its a little weak on its own, but with the death of the Diva and Korben trying to figure out where the stones are, it’s strengthened.

Then comes the final battle which combines “Crisis”, “Treasure”, “Result” and “Return” all into one quick 10 minute event.  Leeloo is fully realized, Korben gets the girl, evil is defeated for another 5000 years and they’re all back on Earth.  Badaboom, it’s resolved and for me, the first time I saw this movie, it was satisfying, beautiful and fun just like every good thrill ride.  But why did the movie not make the jump to true “classic” film?  I think it’s because it used rope versus versus a steel beam of singular sources of hero and threat.

We even get an “all is lost” moment in when they assemble the weapon only to not understand how to make it work.  As I think about this movie, it works a lot on thematic echoes.  Protagonist Korben is echoed by Leeloo and to some extent Father Cornelius.  The Villains are echoed.  The Macguffins are singular, but in four parts.  The departure (boarding the spaceplane) is repeated FOUR TIMES!  The “Crisis” and “All is Lost” moments are echoed as well.  And again, what it does it sets up a nice harmonic, but goes back to my basic criticism I think to where it keeps this movie from being considered a true classic, but rather an “Honorable Mention”.

The movie itself hits a ton of obligatory tropes:

  • spaceship with FTL
  • Flying cars
  • Megacities
  • Aliens
  • Cool new technology (that nanoreassembly is an incredible bit of SFX)

They even give a few 1990’s cultural twists that were popular ironic social observations.

  • Cynical former military hotshot
  • Benevolent or at least benign but incompetent government
  • Big Business cooperating with evil blinded by profit
  • Damsel in not so much distress (Damsel saves Knight)
  • Scatterbrained priest with undefined strange religious trappings (Dem robes y’all)
  • Shallow uber-sexual narcissist media figure idiot
  • Stoner ground crew of the Reggae variety

But how about obligatory scenes/events common to sci fi/space opera?

  • We get a few battles in flying ships.  (Flying cars and spaceships)
  • Learning about the alien culture (Leeloo learning human culture… now with nudity!)
  • Big spaceship explosion (So long, Fhlostan Paradise)
  • Hokey Religions and Ancient Weapons (Meet Leeloo the deified ancient weapon)
  • Plucky Rebel against insurmountable odds (Korben and Leeloo vs a cast of several)
  • Last second salvation  (The rainbow barf pew pew that saves the universe)

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Now I’m not trying to minimize how much fun this movie is, because dagnabbit, it’s a blast and I like to watch it regularly.  But as I learn more about my craft, I realize why it’s not a seminal classic or rated among the best films ever.  Now I get it.  Hold this up to say “Blade Runner” you can see how it differs in that manner (even though this is light space opera adventure versus a cyberpunk film noir thriller).

Anyhoo, this is me having fun with mah new skills.  I think I may make this a regular series when I sit down and tear into other movies using the ideas from Shawn Coyne and Joseph Campbell.  If not to help myself improve my craft, but to give observations that may help other writers, or just be entertaining.  So, let’s see if my “Scrapyard” will become a regular series of articles.

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