Sometimes it’s hard to find a running theme between two seemingly unrelated new releases like the award-worthy film “King Richard” and the new “Ghostbusters” sequel.
Both films, however, are about parents handing over the reins to a new generation. Oscar nominated writer/director Jason Reitman (“Juno,” “Up in the Air”) takes over for his father, Ivan Reitman, with a new script that beautifully bridges the first two films with “Ghostbusters: Afterlife.”
Thirty-seven years after the original “Ghostbusters” raked in more than $230 million and spawned an ‘80s and ‘90s mass toy collection, Reitman has cracked the code for a real sequel. His script allows grown-ups to not only relive their childhood but pass on the franchise to their children.
The first 30 minutes of “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” is already better than Paul Feig’s all-female “Ghostbusters” (2016), which felt more like a spoof than anything. Jason Reitman, who grew on his father’s sets, featured as a minor character in “Ghostbusters II,” is the perfect director to revive the franchise in a way that honors its legacy.
Single mother Callie (Carrie Coon), her children 15-year old Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) and 12-years-old-and-going-on-40 Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) have been evicted from their apartment in New York City. Halfway across the country, Callie’s estranged father died, leaving her a dilapidated farm house in the middle of nowhere.
When the family arrives, they realize there are actually cool things in Summerville, Oklahoma. Callie flirts with the local summer school teacher (Paul Rudd), Trevor finds a crush and Phoebe has endless objects to tinker with and some appear to talk back.
Phoebe discovers her grandfather was actually a well-known scientist. Even though he isn’t around to teach her his ways, what he left for her to find will be instrumental in saving the world and changing her family forever.
It wouldn’t hurt to revisit the campy original films, familiarizing yourself with the characters, the world and some of the mythology in those scripts. Ivan Reitman and his team were just learning how to best use the technology of the day in the originals, whereas Jason Reitman has the latest and greatest at his disposal.
While Ivan has always been a bigger budget, more commercial director, his son’s success has been with smaller, independent films. At least until lately where the junior Reitman has directed a string of box office bombs.
Jason’s independent film brain is what makes “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” work so well, and with producers like Dan Aykroyd and Ivan Rietman, he was surrounded by people interested in helping him get this right. Mckenna Grace (“Gifted,” “I Tonya”) is the real scene stealer of the film. With cameos galore, it’s a real easter egg hunt for fans of the original.
I hesitate to make bold awards predictions even though by mid-November we are knee deep in the films that will vie for top honors. With that being said, unless there’s another best actor contender hiding somewhere, Will Smith is the one to beat for his transformative performance in “King Richard.”
The two-time Oscar nominee, known more for his action roles and blockbusters than his serious acting, has finally found the role that will nab him that gold statue.
Richard Williams (Smith), father to Venus (Saniyya Sidney) and Serena (Demi Singleton), was and is a character like no other we have seen on screen. Without the right charismatic actor portraying the larger than life figure, he might come across as a villain, or at least someone who repels the audience.
Director Reinaldo Marcus Green (“Joe Bell”) and screenwriter Zach Baylin have crafted a film that rings true, but more than that, it works with the strengths of Smith as an actor.
“King Richard” isn’t a sport film, the best sports film never are. It’s a story about a family, a dream and the foresight of one hard-headed individual. In many ways, “King Richard” is the ultimate family film, detailing the incredible back story to one of the most astonishing legacies in tennis and sport history.
While Smith is the best actor frontrunner, his wife in the film, co-star Aunjanue Ellis (“Ray,” “The Help”), is equally as good on screen. In a few scenes, she must reign in her husband with a brilliant balance of delicacy and stern language. “Her scene” that also will likely lead to an Oscar nomination in supporting actress, is a turning point in the film, a tour de force, right there in the kitchen.
“King Richard” isn’t reinventing the cinematic wheel like the competition “Dune,” “The Power of the Dog” or “Belfast,” will face in many categories. It’s a performance-driven dramedy that will appeal to the entire family.