Review: ‘Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire,’ starring Paul Rudd, Carrie Coon, Finn Wolfhard, Mckenna Grace, Kumail Nanjiani, Patton Oswalt, Ernie Hudson and Annie Potts

March 20, 2024

by Carla Hay

Carrie Coon, Finn Wolfhard, Paul Rudd, Annie Potts, Mckenna Grace, Logan Kim, Dan Aykroyd, James Acaster and Celeste O’Connor in “Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire” (Photo by Jaap Buitendijk/Columbia Pictures)

“Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire”

Directed by Gil Kenan

Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City, the comedy/horror film “Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans and Asians) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: The Ghostbusters (a ghost-fighting team) battle against an ancient demon with freezing powers, as the mayor of New York City wants to shut down the Ghostbusters for causing destruction and violating various laws. 

Culture Audience: “Ghostbusters” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the “Ghostbusters” franchise and the movie’s headlines, but the movie doesn’t have a good-enough story to justify its weak new characters and how the movie sidelines too many of the franchise’s likable familiar characters.

Dan Aykroyd and Kumail Nanjiani in “Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire” (Photo by Jaap Buitendijk/Columbia Pictures)

Unfocused and overstuffed, “Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire” is proof that fan-service nostalgia and too many underdeveloped characters cannot make up for a shoddy story. Bill Murray has the worst jokes in the movie. The fact that the Murray’s Peter Venkman character—who is supposed to be the funniest person in the “Ghostbusters” franchise—is stuck with uninspired, unfunny and embarrassing lines of dialogue in “Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire” tells you all you need to know about what a terrible, wasted opportunity this mess of a movie is.

“Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire” is the follow-up to 2021’s “Ghostbusters: Afterlife,” a somewhat flawed but still fun reboot of the “Ghostbusters” movie series. Both movies were co-written by Jason Reitman and Gil Kenan. Reitman directed “Ghostbusters: Afterlife.” Kenan directed “Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire.”

The “Ghostbusters” series began with 1984’s “Ghostbusters” (still the best movie in the series) and continued with 1989’s “Ghostbusters 2,” with both movies directed by Ivan Reitman (father of Jason Reitman) and written by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis, two of the original “Ghostbusters” co-stars. There is also director Paul Feig’s divisive 2016 “Ghostbusters” reboot, led by an all-female Ghostbusters team, starring Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon.

The screenwriting is the weakest link in “Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire.” New characters are introduced but they are mostly hollow and have shallow personalities. The “sidekick” teenage characters who were introduced in “Ghostbusters: Afterlife”—Podcast (played by Logan Kim) and Lucky Domingo (played by Celeste O’Connor)—have their roles and screen time reduced in “Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire,” thereby robbing audiences of getting to know Podcast and Lucky better. And the franchise’s original characters from the first two “Ghostbusters” movies are given flat and unimaginative things to do in “Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire.”

“Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire” begins by showing that the core four Ghostbusters, who became a team in “Ghostbusters: Afterlife,” have relocated from Oklahoma, and are now living at the firehouse that is the Ghostbusters headquarters in New York City. The core four are seismologist and former science teacher Gary Grooberson (played by Paul Rudd); Callie Spengler (played by Carrie Coon), a divorcée who began dating Gary in “Ghostbusters: Afterlife”; Trevor Spengler (played by Finn Wolfhard), Callie’s impulsive 18-year-old son; and Phoebe Spengler (played by Mckenna Grace), Callie’s intelligent 15-year-old daughter.

Callie is the daughter of Egon Spengler (played by the late Ramis), who was a member of the original Ghostbusters team. Ramis died in 2014, at the age of 69, from complications from autoimmune inflammatory vasculitis. Phoebe is supposed to be a lot like a young, female version of Egon. She is a self-admitted “science nerd,” who is also a quick problem solver and the person most likely in the group to come up with invention ideas.

Podcast (whose real name is never revealed) and Lucky, who met Trevor and Phoebe when they all went to the same school together in Oklahoma, have also relocated from Oklahoma to New York City. “Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire” never explains why Lucky’s parents (who are never shown or talked about in the film) agreed to this move. Podcast is shown having a brief phone conversation with his parents, who think he is way at summer camp. Podcast and Lucky, who are supposed to still be under 18, are never shown in school in “Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire.” Podcast and Lucky are only in the movie to show up and give occasional help to the core four Ghostbusters.

An opening action scene “Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire” show Gary, Callie, Trevor and Phoebe chasing a sewer dragon ghost through the streets of New York City. This chase causes a lot of destruction and infuriates Walter Peck (played by William Atherton), the grouchy mayor of New York City. Mayor Peck despises the Ghostbusters and wants to shut down the entire Ghostbusters operation. In the meantime, he punishes them for violating child labor laws, because Phoebe is underage. Gary and Callie are forced to sideline Phoebe from Ghostbuster work. Phoebe is predictably unhappy about this decision, but she finds a way to rebel against her Ghostbusters ban anyway.

One night, Phoebe is playing chess by herself in Washington Square Park (why is she playing chess alone?), when she meets a ghost named Melody (played by Emily Alyn Lind), who died at the age of 16 in a tenement fire. Melody (whose ghostly body can light up in flames because of her fiery death) begins playing chess with Phoebe, who is never afraid of Melody and ends up becoming friendly with Melody. “Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire” drops major hints that Phoebe and Melody could have a romance—Phoebe, at least, is obviously romantically attracted to Melody—but the movie doesn’t go there, probably because Phoebe is only 15 years old. Phoebe’s sexuality could be addressed if this character continues in the “Ghostbusters” franchise as an adult.

Meanwhile, original Ghostbusters member Ray Stantz (played by Aykroyd) now owns a store called Ray’s Occult Books. On the side, Ray hosts a YouTube show produced by Podcast. One day, a man named Nadeem Razmaadi (played by Kumail Nanjiani) comes into to store to sell some family artifacts that used to be owned by his recently deceased grandmother. One of these artifacts is a dark gold brass orb, about the size of a grapefruit or bocce ball.

The movie has a long-winded way of revealing the obvious: The orb has trapped an evil demon named Garraka, which has the power to freeze things and people. Garraka wants to raise an army of the undead, according to librarian Hubert Wartzki (played by Patton Oswalt, in a quick cameo), who works at the New York City Library’s main branch. The branch’s famous lion statues Patience and Fortitude come to life n an action sequence that’s already revealed in the movie’s trailers. The way that Garraka looks is also revealed in the move’s trailers.

Winston Zeddemore (played by Ernie Hudson) is now a philanthropist who has opened the Paranormal Research Center. A somewhat snooty British parabiologist named Lars Pinfield (played by James Acaster) works for the Paranormal Research Center and is a completely useless and annyoing character. Original “Ghostbusters” character Janine Melnitz (played by Annie Potts) gets to wear a Ghostbusters team outfit but she isn’t gven much to do in her unnecessary cameo.

Grace and Nanjiani (who has talent to give charisma to even the most moronic lines of dialogue) give the best performances in this muddled movie. As for Murray, his Howard character is reduced to testing Nadeem to see if Nadeem is really human when Nadeem is suspected of possibly being a demon. He asks Nadeem a series of stupid questions, such as if he likes puppies or not. The movie makes half-hearted attempts at family sentimentality in showing how never-married bachelor Gary adjusts to being a father figure who is technically not a stepfather because he’s not married to Callie.

The adorable and mischievous Stay Puft marshmallows are barely in the in the movie. A mid-credits scene with the marshmallows is meant to be comedic but is very bland. The vibrant enthusiasm and engaging dialogue of “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” are missing in “Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire,” with many of the cast members giving “going through the motions” performances. “Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire” (which has mediocre visual effects) is a jumble of not-very-funny scenes that reach a very formulaic conclusion that you don’t need to be a ghostbusting psychic to easily predict.

Columbia Pictures will release “Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire” in U.S. cinemas on March 22, 2024.

Review: ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem,’ starring the voices of Nicolas Cantu, Brady Noon, Shamon Brown Jr., Micah Abbey, Ayo Edebiri, Ice Cube and Jackie Chan

July 31, 2023

by Carla Hay

Michelangelo, aka Mikey (voiced by Shamon Brown Jr.); Donatello, aka Donnie (voiced by Micah Abbey); Leonardo, aka Leo (voiced by Nicolas Cantu); and Raphael, aka Raph (voiced by Brady Noon), in “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem” (Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem”

Directed by Jeff Rowe; co-directed by Kyler Spears

Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City, the animated film “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem” features a cast of characters portraying mutant animals and a racially diverse mix of humans representing the middle-class and working-class.

Culture Clash: Four crime-fighting hero brothers, who happen to be teenage mutant ninja turtles, team up with a teenage aspiring journalist, to stop a mutant insect named Superfly from his plans to enslave and torture humans worldwide.

Culture Audience: Besides appealing to the obvious target audience of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” franchise fans, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching comical adventure animation that various generations of people can enjoy.

April O’Neil (voiced by Ayo Edebiri); Raphael, aka Raph (voiced by Brady Noon)l Leonardo, aka Leo (voiced by Nicolas Cantu); Donatello, aka Donnie (voiced by Micah Abbey); and Michelangelo, aka Mikey (voiced by Shamon Brown Jr.), in “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem” (Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem” is a vibrant example of how good storytelling, talented cast members, and appealing visuals can make animation the ideal format for the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” franchise. “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” started out as a comic book series in 1984. It has since spawned several animated series and films (live-action and animated), as well as albums, live tours and a seemingly never-ending supply of merchandise. “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem” is among the best of what the franchise has to offer.

Directed by Jeff Rowe and co-directed by Kyler Spears, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem” doesn’t do anything radically different with the basic concept of the franchise. The story still takes place in New York City, where four teenage mutant ninja turtle brothers grew up in the city’s sewers and now fight crime. Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, Jeff Rowe, Dan Hernandez and Benji Samit wrote the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem” screenplay.

What’s different about “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem” is that the movie is much more centered around the teenage characters than the live-action “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” movies, which tended to give human adults about the same amount of screen time. The chief villain in “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem” is not human, but a giant mutant insect named Superfly.

The four mutant turtles brothers have distinct personalities, signature colors and preferred weapons that identify each brother.

  • Michelangelo, also known as Mikey (voiced by Shamon Brown Jr.), is the level-headed leader of the group. His signature color is blue. His preferred weapons are katanas.
  • Raphael, also known as Raph (voiced by Brady Noon), is the hot-tempered and physically strongest brother, who often clashes with Mike over decisions. Raph’s signature color is red. His preferred weapons are sai.
  • Donatello, also known as Donnie (voiced by Micah Abbey), is the mild-mannered tech expert of the group and the brother who’s most likely to be a peacemaker in fights between Mikey and Raph. Donnie’s signature color is purple. His preferred weapon is an oak Bō.
  • Leonardo, also known as Leo (voiced by Nicolas Cantu), is the goofy and impulsive brother who is the one most likely to want to party. His signature color is orange. His preferred weapons are nunchucks.

Do viewers have to know the above information about the brothers before seeing “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem”? No, but it helps viewers tell these characters apart quicker than viewers who are unfamiliar with these characters. The brothers’ origin story is explained early in the movie, which generally does a good job of setting up the story for people who might be seeing these characters for the first time.

In the beginning of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem,” it’s shown how these mutant characters came to be. An eccentric scientist names Baxter Stockman (voiced by Giancarlo Esposito) went rogue and created mutants from animals that he kept in his lab. His lab was eventually raided by the government. Stockman died during this raid, but he left behind a toxic ooze that can turn any being into a mutant.

Four baby turtles managed to escape from the raid and were found and raised by a mutant rat Splinter (voiced by Jackie Chan), a jaded but very overprotective adoptive father who kept the four brothers hidden in the sewers with. When the brothers became old enough to be curious about the outside world where humans live, Splinter reluctantly gave in to the brothers’ pestering to take them outside.

The experience did not go well at all. Upon emerging in the middle of Times Square, this mutant family was attacked and taunted by humans, out of fear and hatred. Splinter vowed never to take the brothers above ground again. But now that the brothers are teenagers, they want to defy a parent’s rules, as teenagers tend to do. These brother turtles have been sneaking out at night and fighting crimes, but they have to do so in disguise (they wear masks) and as mysterious and elusive heroes.

“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem” has many themes about “fitting in” to society, trying to find self-acceptance, and experiencing prejudice based on outward appearances. The turtle brothers long to be part of the human world but can only watch from a certain distance. While many human teenagers in high school think school is to confining, the turtle brothers feel confined in their own environment and are fascinated with wanting to go to high school, which represents freedom to the turtle brothers.

One night, the turtle brothers help a human teenager named April O’Neil (voiced by Ayo Edebiri), who’s about 16 or 17 years old, after her scooter is stolen. (The character of April is usually an adult in other “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle” stories.) April (who is an aspiring investigative journalist) is smart and witty, but she has her own “misfit” issues because she’s bullied at school and is somewhat of a social outcast with her student peers. She’s been given the unflattering nickname Puke Girl by some of the school bullies because of an incident when she vomited out of nervousness during the school’s live closed-circuit TV newscast. Meanwhile, Mikey develops a crush on April and gets a little bit of teasing about it from Raph.

The word is out that there’s a criminal mastermind who’s plotting to destroy the world. His named is Superfly (voiced by Ice Cube), a swaggering mutant insect, who has a hatred of humans because of the way he was treated by humans. Superfly has a gang of mutant accomplices, of course. These sidekicks include Leatherhead (voiced by Rose Byrne), Mondo Gecko (voiced by Paul Rudd), Ray Fillet (voiced by Post Malone), Genghis Frog (voiced by Hannibal Buress) and Wingnut (voiced by Natasia Demetriou).

The turtle brothers team up with April to try to stop Superfly, with the hope that if they succeed, then human society will finally accept the turtle brothers. In addition to battling Superfly, the turtle brothers also have to contend with a nemesis named Cynthia Utrom (voiced by Maya Rudolph), a government official who was responsible for the raid that led to Dr. Stockman’s demise. Cynthia is menacing in a bureaucratic way, unlike Superfly’s street-tough methods. Other supporting characters are two dimwitted mutants: warthog Bebop (played by Rogen, one of the producers of the movie) and rhinoceros Rocksteady (voiced by John Cena), who both bring some comic relief with their buffonery.

All of the principal cast members do admirable jobs of making their characters memorable and with identifable personalities, while the animation is a combination of gritty and gorgeous. Superfly is a ruthless “gangster” villain (Ice Cube plays this role to the hilt), but the movie also shows Superfly as an example of someone who was bullied who ends up becoming a worse bully than his tormentors. Another standout is Edebiri in her voice role as April, who has a lot of heart and relatable humanity, thanks to Edebiri’s engaging performance.

Fortunately for viewers, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem” doesn’t over-complicate its “good versus evil” plot. The action sequences are entertaining to watch, while the dialogue is often laugh-out-loud funny. “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem” doesn’t get preachy about it, but amid all the cartoonish fun is a cautionary message about the repercussions of mistreating others. The movie ends on a cliffhanger, but there’s so much to like about “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem,” many viewers will still want a sequel, even if there had been no cliffhanger.

Paramount Pictures will release “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem” in U.S. cinemas on August 2, 2023.

Review: ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania,’ starring Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Jonathan Majors, Kathryn Newton, Bill Murray, Michelle Pfeiffer and Michael Douglas

February 14, 2023

by Carla Hay

Paul Rudd, Kathryn Newton and Evangeline Lilly in “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” (Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios)

“Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania”

Directed by Peyton Reed

Culture Representation: Taking place in an underworld universe called Quantumania, and briefly in San Francisco, the sci-fi/fantasy/action film “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” (based on Marvel Comics characters) features a cast of predominantly white characters (with some African Americans, Asians and Latinos) representing superheroes, regular humans and alien creatures.

Culture Clash: Scott Lang (also known as superhero Ant-Man), his formerly estranged daughter Cassie Lang, Scott’s girlfriend Hope Van Dyne (also known as superhero The Wasp) and Hope’s parents get dragged into the Quantum Realm, where they have to battle evil forces, led by Kang the Conqueror. 

Culture Audience: Besides appealing to the obvious target audience of Marvel movie fans, “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s headliners and superhero movies that are very predictable, corny and formulaic.

Paul Rudd and Jonathan Majors in “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” (Photo by Jay Maidment/Marvel Studios)

“Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” is a quantum mess. It’s bad enough that it recycles tired clichés of Marvel movies. This uneven superhero movie also rips off 1977’s “Star Wars” in many ways. Jonathan Majors’ standout performance can’t save this substandard spectacle. “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” is supposed to be the start of Phase 5 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). The movie will no doubt make blockbuster money, as all MCU movies have done so far. But in terms of creativity, this disappointing film is a stumble right out of the gate for the MCU’s Phase 5.

One of the biggest problems with “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” is how it awkwardly balances comedy with action. The jokes are the most juvenile, tackiest and least funny so far in the “Ant-Man” movie series, which began with 2015’s “Ant-Man” and continued with 2018’s “Ant-Man and the Wasp.” Peyton Reed is the director of all three movies, which makes his creative choices even more baffling for “Quantumania,” which has a drastically different tone (and lower quality as a result) than the first two “Ant-Man” movies.

When writer/director Taika Waititi directed 2017’s “Thor: Ragnarok” (the third “Thor” movie of the MCU), he radically changed the tone of the “Thor” movie series to make it fit his signature comedic style: goofy and slightly offbeat. Waititi did the same for 2022’s “Thor: Love and Thunder,” to less well-received results. But it doesn’t explain why the third “Ant-Man” movie has gone so far off-course when it’s had the same director for the first three “Ant-Man” movies.

Much of the blame for why “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” has turned into a hodgepodge of bad jokes, sci-fi rehashes and superhero triteness has to with the movie’s screenplay, which is the feature-film debut of Jeff Loveness. Loveness’ previous writing experience is for shows such as the Adult Swim animated series “Rick and Morty,” the ABC variety talk show “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” the 2012 Primetime Emmy Awards, the 2016 Primetime Emmy Awards and the 2017 Academy Awards, with these particular award shows all hosted by Jimmy Kimmel. All of these TV shows require a different skill set than what’s required to write an entertaining superhero movie. Unfortunately, hiring a TV writer with no experience in writing movies turned out to be a huge mistake for “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” and Marvel Studios.

In “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania,” the story begins right after the events of 2019’s “Avengers: Endgame.” Scott Lang (played by Paul Rudd), a former petty criminal also known as Ant-Man (whose superpower is being able to change the height of his body by wearing a special superhero suit), is a happily retired superhero living in his hometown in San Francisco. Scott has cashed in on his superhero fame by writing a memoir titled “Look Out for the Little Guy!,” where he talks about his superhero experiences and what they have taught him about life.

The movie shows Scott reading excerpts from his book at a book signing, but a few people there still mistake him for the more famous Spider-Man. Scott tells the small audience at this book signing, “From now on, the only job I want is to be a dad.” However, the movie unrealistically shows that middle-aged Scott, in his superhero “retirement,” has chosen to take a low-paying job as a customer service employee at a local Baskin-Robbins store. He has been named Employee of the Century because of his celebrity status as Ant-Man.

It’s really the movie’s obvious brand placement for Baskin-Robbins, but viewers are given the weak explanation that Scott took the job because he loves ice cream. It all looks very awkward and fake. The movie’s overload of Baskin-Robbins brand promotion is extremely annoying. There’s even a scene where a Scott Lang look-alike named Jack, who’s a Baskin-Robbins employee, gets in on the fight action. It’s all so crass and stupid.

Get used to seeing a lot of “look-alikes” in this movie, because much of it takes place in an alternate universe where clones of people and clones of creatures can show up randomly. Scott is trying to reconnect with his 18-year-old daughter Cassandra “Cassie” Lang (played by Kathryn Newton), who was raised primarily by Scott’s ex-wife while Scott was off doing other things, such as being a criminal-turned-superhero. Cassie has turned into a social justice warrior who’s involved in civil protests.

In the beginning of the movie, Cassie has landed in the San Francisco County Jail, because she was arrested for shrinking a police car because the police were trying to clear out an illegal homeless camp. Scott and his intelligent and sassy girlfriend Hope Van Dyne (played by Evangeline Lilly), also known as superhero The Wasp (she can turn into a wasp mutant and can also shrink her body height), have arrived at the jail to retrieve Cassie. It’s how Scott finds out to his dismay that Cassie is also an aspiring scientist who invented her own shrinkage suit. She hasn’t given herself a superhero name though.

Scott thinks Cassie is too young to get involved in superhero antics. Cassie thinks Scott has become too complacent and thinks he should care more about making the world a better place. Hope and Cassie have bonded with each other because Hope is now the leader of the Pym Van Dyne Foundation, which uses Pym Particle (the body morphing invention used by Ant-Man and The Wasp) for humanitarian causes. Of course, it’s already been revealed in the “Quantumania” trailer that Scott will literally be sucked back into superhero activities, whether he likes it or not.

Hope’s parents are scientists Hank Pym (played by Michael Douglas) and Janet Van Dyne (played by Michelle Pfeiffer), who were the original Ant-Man and The Wasp. As the movie over-explains and over-repeats in pedestrian dialogue, Janet was trapped in an alternative universe called the Quantum Realm for 30 years and doesn’t like to talk about what she experienced there. Janet returned to Earth when Hank rescued her from the Quantum Realm, as shown in “Ant-Man and the Wasp.”

However, “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” makes a big misstep by giving away in an opening scene that Janet actually was acquainted with the movie’s chief villain: Kang the Conequeror (played by Majors) while she was in the Quantum Realm, where Janet and Kang are seen escaping an attack from a giant insect-like creature. The movie should have left it a mystery until the right moment to show that Janet already knew this villain. Instead, this part of the plot is revealed too early in the film.

At any rate, Scott finds out that Hank, Janet, Hope and Cassie have been studying ant science. Hope and Cassie in particular want to use this science to explore the Quantum Realm, but Janet has no interest in going back there. Janet won’t say why, but she will eventually make a confession later in the movie.

Janet describes the Quantum Realm as a “place with no time and space. It’s a secret universe beneath ours.” To Janet’s horror, Cassie announces to Janet, Scott, Hank and Hope (while they are all in the scientific lab) that Cassie has been secretly sending signals to the Quantum Realm. Janet frantically tries to turn off the signal machine.

And faster than you can say “inferior Marvel movie sequel,” all five of them are sucked into the Quantum Realm, which looks like a half-baked “Star Wars” universe. For much the first third of the movie, Scott and Cassie are separated from Janet, Hank and Hope. Scott and Cassie spend a lot of time bickering over how much Cassie might or might not be ready to use her superhero suit. (Too late. We already know she will.)

Janet, Hank and Hope spend much of their time talking in vague tones about a mysterious “he” and “him” leader who has wreaked havoc on the Quantum Realm. Anyone can easily figure out that the “he” and “him” is Kang the Conqueror. There’s no reason to make him sound like “Harry Potter” villain Voldemort, also known in the “Harry Potter” series as He Who Shall Not Be Named. It’s yet another way that “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” takes ideas from other sci-fi/fantasy franchises.

Reed says in the production notes for “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” where he got some of the visual influences for the movie: “We pulled together a lot of visual inspiration—everything from electron microscope photography to heavy metal magazine images from the ’70s and ’80s. I collected all of these images from old science-fiction paperback book covers—artists like John Harris, Paul Laird, Richard M. Powers. Those paintings were evocative and really moody. We liked that feel and tone for the look of the Quantum Realm.”

Reed curiously didn’t mention “Star Wars,” which is undoubtedly the biggest influence on “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.” The Quantum Realm’s terrain looks like a desert in some areas and looks like a crater-filled planet in other areas. The desert scenes look too much like the desert realm of Tatooine in “Star Wars,” while the hooded costumes worn by the Quantum Realm residents look an awful lot like the costumes worn by Tusken Raiders from “Star Wars.”

And if the “Star Wars” similarities for the production design and costume design weren’t enough, “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” also imitates the Mos Eisley cantina scene in “Star Wars,” but doesn’t make it nearly as fun and interesting to watch. Hank, Janet and Hope end up in a place called Axia Restaurant, which is basically a “Star Wars” cantina look-alike filled with unusual-looking creatures. There’s no memorable music at the Axia Restaurant, like there was in the Mos Eisley cantina. Christophe Beck’s musical score for “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” is serviceable and unremarkable.

It’s at Axia Restaurant where Hope and Hank meet the smirking Lord Kylar (played by Bill Murray) for the first time. Janet already knows Lord Kylar, who says he is neither a human nor a machine. Lord Kylar, who is the governor of the Axia community, hints that he and Janet used to be lovers when she was in the Quantum Realm.

“I had needs,” Janet tells Hank and Hope in a somewhat defensive and uncomfortable tone. Hope then has to hear Hank talk about an ex-girlfriend. And she acts like a prudish teen who doesn’t want to think about her parents having love lives before they met each other. This is the type of time-wasting dialogue that’s supposed to pass as “comedy” in the movie.

Even though Murray shares top billing for “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania,” his role in the movie is just a cameo that lasts for less than 15 minutes. It’s ineffective and misguided casting because he’s not convincing as this fictional character. All viewers will think is that this is Murray in a space-alien costume playing a version of himself.

As for the other inhabitants of the Quantum Realm, it’s a random mix of beings who look like humans and those who are very non-human in appearance, including a lot of jellyfish-like creatures that float around in space. As soon as Scott and Cassie arrive in the Quantum Realm, they are force-fed a red ooze by a creature named Veb (voiced by David Dastmalchian), because this red ooze will help these humans understand the language of the Quantum Realm residents. Dastmalchian had the role of Kurt (a member of Scott’s posse) in the first two “Ant-Man” movies. Veb is an underdeveloped character that is meant to be comedic, but Veb’s jokes fall very flat.

The Quantum Realm residents predictably greet these newcomers from Earth with reactions that range from curiosity to hostility. Jentorra (played by Katy O’Brian) is an anti-Kang freedom fighter who scowls a lot and has to learn to trust these Earth heroes to be her allies. Xolum (played by James Cutler, also known as Jamie Andrew Cutler) is a loyal soldier and totally generic sidekick of Jentorra.

Quaz (played by William Jackson Harper) is a psychic/telepath, whose only purpose in the movie is to make people uncomfortable by reading their thoughts and saying their thoughts out loud. His revelations are supposed to be amusing, but they’re not really all that funny. Randall Park has a small and non-essential role as FBI agent Jimmy Woo.

Corey Stoll returns as “Ant-Man” villain Darren Cross, also known as Yellowjacket, who has now been shrunken by Kang into a subatomic lackey with an oversized head known as M.O.D.O.K., which stands for Mechanized Organism Designed Only for Killing. M.O.D.O.K. looks like a floating head and delivers some of the few genuinely comedic moments in “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.” Various characters in the movie have horrified reactions to seeing Darren look so drastically different as M.O.D.O.K., but this gag is repeated too much and loses its impact by the middle of the movie.

As for Kang, Majors’ performance is the only one that brings a certain gravitas to the rampant foolishness and smarm that stink up “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.” Majors brings a combination of menace and melancholy to his role, but it’s wasted in a movie that is hell-bent on trying to be more like Waititi’s “Thor” movies. The rest of the cast members’ performances aren’t bad, but they’re not special either. Kang’s soldiers are Quantumnauts, which are as anonymous and soulless as the mostly CGI creations that they are.

Unfortunately, the big showdown fight scene is lot more montonous and unimaginative than it should have been. It ends abruptly and in a way that has been done already (and done much better) in many other sci-fi/fantasy/action movies. As for the movie’s visual effects, it’s a shame that a movie with this big budget can make visual effects look so cheap and shoddy. There are scenes that make it obvious where the “blue screens” and “green screens” were.

A mid-credits scene and end-credits scene basically show the return of a major character from the movie. The end-credits scene is a nod to the Disney+ series “Loki.” As an example of how “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” has a sitcom tone to it, the movie uses John Sebastian’s 1976 hit “Welcome Back” (the theme from the sitcom “Welcome Back, Kotter”) as bookends to the movie. A big-budget superhero movie should not look like a second-rate sitcom, which is what “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” has turned out to be.

Marvel Studios will release “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” in U.S. cinemas on February 17, 2023.

Review: ‘Ghostbusters: Afterlife,’ starring Mckenna Grace, Finn Wolfhard, Carrie Coon, Paul Rudd, Logan Kim and Celeste O’Connor

October 9, 2021

by Carla Hay

Celeste O’Connor, Finn Wolfhard, Logan Kim and McKenna Grace in “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” (Photo by Kimberley French/Columbia Pictures)

“Ghostbusters: Afterlife”

Directed by Jason Reitman

Culture Representation: Taking place in the fictional U.S. city of Summerville, Oklahoma, and briefly in Chicago and New York City, the comedic horror film “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans, Asians and Latinos) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: The daughter and grandchildren of the late Dr. Egon Spengler (an original Ghostbuster) move to the isolated home in Summerville that they inherited from him, and they immediately have supernatural encounters with deadly entitities. 

Culture Audience: Besides appealing to the obvious target audience of “Ghostbusters” fans, “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” will appeal primarily to fans of people who like well-paced adventurous films that combine horror with comedy that’s suitable for most children over the age of 6.

Paul Rudd and Carrie Coon in “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” (Photo by Kimberley French/Columbia Pictures)

“Ghostbusters: Afterlife” is a “Ghostbusters” fan’s dream come true. The movie delivers almost everything that diehard fans of the franchise might want to see in a sequel. It also respects all the things that fans loved about the original “Ghostbusters” movie while introducing an exciting new storyline and appealing new characters. It’s the type of movie that is sure to win over legions of new fans to the franchise, which experienced some controversy and mixed-to-negative reviews from fans for the divisive, female-starring 2016 “Ghosbusters” reboot that was directed and co-written by Paul Feig.

Ivan Reitman, who directed 1984’s “Ghostbusters” and 1989’s “Ghostbusters II,” has been a producer of all “Ghostbusters” movies so far. For “Ghostbusters: Afterlife,” he handed over the directorial duties to his son Jason Reitman, who co-wrote the “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” screenplay with Gil Kenan, a filmmaker who’s a self-professed “Ghostbusters” superfan. The result is what happens when you put true fans in charge of making a sequel to a beloved classic about ghost hunters who call themselves Ghostbusters: You give the fans what they really want. And that’s probably why “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” had its first public screening at the 2021 edition of New York Comic Con at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City. After a “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” discussion panel that featured Jason Reitman, Ivan Reitman, Kenan and members of the movie’s cast, people who were in attendance got a surprise treat when the entire film was shown after the panel ended.

In “Ghostbusters: Afterlife,” the daughter and two grandchildren of Dr. Egon Spengler (an original Ghostbuster) are at the center of the story when they find themselves involved in the same work that Egon did as a Ghostbuster in New York City. Egon was portrayed by Harold Ramis (who died of autoimmune inflammatory vasculitis in 2014, at the age of 69), whose presence is definitely felt in “Ghostbusters: Afterlife.” Ramis was also a co-writer on the 1984 “Ghostbusters” and “Ghostbusters II.” When watching “Ghostbusters: Afterlife,” fans will notice all the homages paid to these first two “Ghostbusters” movies.

Egon’s divorced daughter Callie (played by Carrie Coon), who was estranged from Egon for most of her life due to his workaholic ways, is having financial problems. It’s reached a point where Callie and her two kids, who all live in a Chicago apartment, have gotten an eviction notice from their landlord. Callie’s ex-husband, who is not seen in the movie, is not involved in raising the children. Later in the movie, Callie describes her ex-husband as a “dirtbag,” in order to leave no doubt that she doesn’t want him in her life anymore.

Instead of waiting to be evicted, Callie decides to take herself and her two kids—brainy 12-year-old Phoebe (played by Mckenna Grace) and socially awkward 15-year-old Trevor (played by Finn Wolfhard)—to the fictional small town of Summerville, Oklahoma, where Egon lived as a recluse until he died about a week before this story takes place. Even though Callie had not seen or spoken to her father in years, she inherited his run-down home. She decides to go there in person with her kids to see what to make of the place and to try to escape from her financial woes.

Egon’s home is a cluttered and dirty farmhouse located in an isolated area filled with corn fields and tall grass. Trevor quips when he looks at the dumpy condition of the house: “This is so much worse than I thought it would be.” Callie tells her children that they only plan to stay for a week while she gets some of Egon’s estate affairs in order. But there would be no “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” movie if that turned out to be true.

Before Callie, Phoebe and Trevor even arrived in Summerville, the movie shows that strange and spirits and creatures were inhabiting the area. And these sinister beings don’t plan on leaving anytime soon. There’s also an abandoned mine that was owned by the Shemdor Mining Company that plays a large role in explaining the mystery behind this story.

The mine used to be a big source of the town’s economy, but the mine was shut down years ago by the U.S. Air Force, because miners began leaping to their death in the mine shafts. Why did the U.S. Air Force get involved? It’s all explained in the movie, but viewers can figure it out as soon they hear that the U.S. Air Force and other military and federal law enforcement have had an interest in Summerville.

After Callie, Trevor and Phoebe arrive in Summerville, they find out that Egon wasn’t very well-liked by the locals, who gave him the unflattering nickname Dirt Farmer. Egon kept mostly to himself, and when he did interact with people, he was often gruff or aloof. Trevor and Phoebe never knew their grandfather Egon, but Phoebe seems more fascinated by Egon than Trevor is. During the course of the movie, viewers will see that Phoebe also inherited a lot of Egon’s analytical and personality traits. While Phoebe is very scientific-minded, Trevor is the more artistic sibling, because he is interested in filmmaking.

Callie already knows that Egon’s house is worthless. But to her dismay, she finds out that her estranged father left behind a lot of debts that she’s now responsible for paying, since she is his only heir. She tries to hide these problems from the children, but they are intuitive and are smart enough to figure out that things aren’t going so well for their family and they will be in Summerville for a while, since they have nowhere else to live rent-free.

Summerville is a quaint small town that has some characteristics of a bygone era. For example, Summerville has a drive-in diner called Spinners Roller Hop that has roller-skating servers. One of these servers is a teenager named Lucky (played by Celeste O’Connor), who immediately catches Trevor’s eye when he and his family eat at the diner one day. It’s attraction at first sight for Trevor.

Trevor is so infatuated with Lucky that he gets a job as a dishwasher at Spinners Roller Hop, in order to get to know her better. Trevor lies about his age (he says he’s 17) so that he can get the job. Callie takes a while to warm up to Trevor, and their possible romance is hinted at and teased throughout the movie. Later in the movie, Trevor does a lot of driving of a certain vehicle that “Ghostbusters” fans know and love, even though he’s not old enough to have a driver’s license.

Trevor and Callie also meet a precocious kid who’s about 12 or 13 years old. He calls himself Podcast (played by Logan Kim), because he has his own podcast where he likes to think of himself as an investigative journalist and historian for Summerville. Podcast is naturally inquisitive, and he quickly befriends Trevor and Callie. Podcast constantly carries around audio equipment with him, so he can be ready to record anything newsworthy. He’s also an aspiring paranormal investigator. How convenient.

Summerville is the type of town that doesn’t have many cops, but there are enough police officers who eventually notice some of the shenanigans that Trevor, Phoebe and Podcast get up to around town. Summerville’s Sheriff Domingo (played by Bokeem Woodbine) just happens to be Lucky’s father. Lucky ends up joining Trevor, Phoebe and Podcast in their ghostbusting activities when things get really dangerous.

Trevor isn’t the only family member to meet a potential love interest in Summerville. Carrie begins dating a seismologist named Gary Grooberson (played by Paul Rudd), who teaches at the local high school. Gary, who is a middle-aged bachelor with no children, is a little bit of a goofball nerd who would rather be a full-time scientist than be a teacher to help pay his bills. He’s so bored with teaching that one of the movie’s first scenes of Gary has him using a VCR and TV monitor in his classroom, to show old horror movies such as “Cujo (on VHS tape) to his students, as a way of babysitting them while he does other things that interest him.

“Ghostbusters: Afterlife” is a feast of references to the first “Ghostbusters” without copying any previous “Ghostbusters” plot. Is there anyone from the previous “Ghostbusters” movies who is in “Ghostbusters: Afterlife”? That information won’t be revealed in this review, although that information has already been leaked on the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) and other places where people can find out the details if they really want to know. Any “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” cameos from original “Ghostbusters” cast members also have updates on what their “Ghostbusters” characters have been up to since the 1990s.

It’s not just people from the first “Ghostbusters” movie that might or might not make a re-appearance. Don’t be surprised to see any ghosts, demons and monsters that look familiar. “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” also has done something hilarious and clever with the Stay Puft marshmallow presence in the movie. The visual effects for “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” are well-done and bring chills and laughs in all the right ways.

The filmmakers of “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” understand that all the visual effects and scary creatures in the world wouldn’t make this movie succeed. People have to root for the main characters. And the movie delivers on featuring characters that are relatable yet find themselves in extraordinary situations. It’s a well-cast movie where all of these talented actors inhabit their character roles with a great deal of believability, even when extraordinary things are happening to their characters on screen.

In “Ghostbusters: Afterlife,” Phoebe is portrayed as the smartest and most fearless hero of the movie, which is undoubtedly a star-making turn for Grace. Phoebe is serious about science, but she also likes to tell jokes that she knows are corny. For example, one of the jokes is: “What do a cigarette and a hamster have in common? They’re both completely harmless until you stick one in your mouth and light it on fire.”

Wolfhard also does a very credible job as Trevor, who can be adventurous or nervous, depending on the situation. Kim’s portrayal of Podcast is of someone who is endlessly curious, but he’s not a brat, which is what this character could have been but thankfully is not. Coon’s portrayal of Callie is of a concerned mother who’s trying to hold her family life together, even when things are starting to fall apart. Gary is smitten with Callie, so this infatuation is used for some lighthearted jokes in the movie.

Because “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” focuses most of the story on the adolescent characters, some people might say that the movie is trying to be like the Netflix series “Stranger Things,” which also co-stars Wolfhard. But make no mistake: This is a “Ghostbusters” movie in every way. It has comedy, scary thrills and plenty of adventure and mystery that all harken back to the original “Ghostbusters,” but told from young people’s perspectives. That doesn’t mean the adult characters are sidelined in the movie, but they really are supporting characters who don’t get involved in the action until it’s absolutely necessary.

“Ghostbusters: Afterlife” is escapist entertainment, but the movie also has some tearjerking, poignant moments, especially in the final scenes. Stick around for the mid-credits and end-credits scenes too, which will further delight fans of the original “Ghostbusters” movie. Even if people don’t see these credits scenes, it should come as no surprise that “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” already telegraphs that this film is not the end of the “Ghostbusters” movie series.

Columbia Pictures will release “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” in U.S. cinemas on November 19, 2021.

2020 Golden Globe Awards: presenters announced

January 3, 2020

by Carla Hay

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association (the organization the votes for the Golden Globe Awards) and Dick Clark Productions (which co-produces the Golden Globes telecast) have announced the presenters of the 2020 Golden Globe Awards ceremony, which takes place January 5 at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills California. NBC will have the U.S. telecast of the show, beginning at 8 p.m. Eastern Time/5 p.m. Pacific Time.

Here are the presenters in alphabetical order:

  • Tim Allen
  • Jennifer Aniston*
  • Christian Bale*
  • Antonio Banderas*
  • Jason Bateman
  • Annette Bening*
  • Cate Blanchett*
  • Matt Bomer
  • Pierce Brosnan
  • Glenn Close
  • Daniel Craig*
  • Ted Danson
  • Ana de Armas*
  • Leonardo DiCaprio*
  • Ansel Elgort
  • Chris Evans
  • Dakota Fanning
  • Will Ferrell
  • Lauren Graham
  • Tiffany Haddish
  • Kit Harington*
  • Salma Hayek
  • Scarlett Johansson*
  • Elton John*
  • Nick Jonas
  • Harvey Keitel
  • Zoe Kravitz
  • Jennifer Lopez*
  • Rami Malek*
  • Kate McKinnon
  • Helen Mirren
  • Jason Momoa
  • Gwyneth Paltrow
  • Amy Poehler
  • Brad Pitt*
  • Da’Vine Joy Randolph
  • Margot Robbie*
  • Paul Rudd*
  • Wesley Snipes
  • Octavia Spencer
  • Bernie Taupin*
  • Charlize Theron*
  • Sofia Vergara
  • Kerry Washington
  • Naomi Watts
  • Rachel Weisz
  • Reese Witherspoon*

*2020 Golden Globe Awards nominee

Ricky Gervais is hosting the show. Tom Hanks will be receive the Cecil B. DeMille Award for career achievement, while Ellen DeGeneres will be getting the Carol Burnett Award, which is given to people who have excelled in comedy. The Carol Burnett Award debuted at the Golden Globes in 2019, and Burnett was the first recipient of the prize. Dylan and Paris Brosnan (sons of Pierce Brosnan) will serve as the 2020 Golden Globe Ambassadors.

Click here for a complete list of nominations for the 2020 Golden Globe Awards.

2019 Academy Awards: performers and presenters announced

February 11, 2019

by Carla Hay

Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga
Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga at the 76th Annual Golden Globe Awards on January 6, 2019. (Photo by Paul Drinkwater/NBC)

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has announced several entertainers who will be performers and presenters at the 91st Annual Academy Awards ceremony, which will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. ABC will have the U.S. telecast of the show, which will not have a host. As previously reported, comedian/actor Kevin Hart was going to host the show, but he backed out after the show’s producers demanded that he make a public apology for homophobic remarks that he made several years ago. After getting a  firestorm of backlash for the homophobic remarks, Hart later made several public apologies but remained adamant that he would still not host the Oscars this year.

The celebrities who will be on stage at the Oscars this year are several of those whose songs are nominated for Best Original Song. Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper will perform their duet “Shallow” from their movie remake of “A Star Is Born.” Jennifer Hudson will perform “I’ll Fight” from the Ruth Bader Ginsburg documentary “RBG.” David Rawlings and Gillian Welch will team up for the duet “When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings” from the Western film “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.” It has not yet been announced who will perform “The Place Where Lost Things Go” from the Disney musical sequel “Mary Poppins Returns.”** It also hasn’t been announced yet if Kendrick Lamar and SZA will take the stage for “All the Stars” from the superhero flick “Black Panther.”

Gustavo Dudamel and the L.A. Philharmonic do the music for the “In Memoriam” segment, which spotlights notable people in the film industry who have died in the year since the previous Oscar ceremony.

Meanwhile, the following celebrities have been announced as presenters at the ceremony: Whoopi Goldberg (who has hosted the Oscars twice in the past), Awkwafina, Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Tina Fey, Jennifer Lopez, Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, Amandla Stenberg, Tessa Thompson Constance Wu, Javier Bardem, Angela Bassett, Chadwick Boseman, Emilia Clarke, Laura Dern, Samuel L. Jackson, Stephan James, Keegan-Michael Key, KiKi Layne, James McAvoy, Melissa McCarthy, Jason Momoa and Sarah Paulson. Goldberg and Bardem are previous Oscar winners.

Other previous Oscar winners taking the stage will be Gary Oldman, Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell and Allison Janney, who won the actor and actress prizes at the 2018 Academy Awards.

Donna Gigliotti (who won an Oscar for Best Picture for 1998’s “Shakespeare in Love) and Emmy-winning director Glenn Weiss are the producers of the 2019 Academy Awards. This will be the first time that Gigliotti is producing the Oscar ceremony. Weiss has directed several major award shows, including the Oscars and the Tonys. He will direct the Oscar ceremony again in 2019.

**February 18, 2019 UPDATE: Bette Midler will perform “The Place Where Los Things Go,” the Oscar-nominated song from “Mary Poppins Returns.” British rock band Queen, whose official biopic is the Oscar-nominated film “Bohemian Rhapsody,” will also perform on the show with lead singer Adam Lambert. It has not been revealed which song(s) Queen will perform at the Oscars.

February 19, 2019 UPDATE: These presenters have been added to the Oscar telecast: Elsie Fisher, Danai Gurira, Brian Tyree Henry, Michael B. Jordan, Michael Keaton, Helen Mirren, John Mulaney, Tyler Perry, Pharrell Williams, Krysten Ritter, Paul Rudd and Michelle Yeoh.

February 21, 2019 UPDATE: These celebrities will present the Best Picture nominees: José Andrés, Dana Carvey, Queen Latifah, Congressman John Lewis, Diego Luna, Tom Morello, Mike Myers, Trevor Noah, Amandla Stenberg, Barbra Streisand and Serena Williams.

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