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STEPHEN THOMPSON, HOST:
The "Ghostbusters" franchise produced two blockbuster movies in the '80s, as well as a 2016 reboot.
GLEN WELDON, HOST:
The latest film is called "Ghostbusters: Afterlife." It brings together a new generation of Ghostbusters who discover that they need to pick up where the old '80s films left off. I'm Glen Weldon.
THOMPSON: And I'm Stephen Thompson. Today, we are talking about "Ghostbusters: Afterlife" on POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR.
Here with Glen and me is NPR's White House correspondent Ayesha Rascoe. Hello, Ayesha.
AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: Hello.
THOMPSON: Also joining us is NPR contributor Cyrena Touros. Hi, Cyrena.
CYRENA TOUROS, BYLINE: Hey, Stephen.
THOMPSON: It is great to have you both. So the history of the "Ghostbusters" franchise is complicated. The original 1984 movie starring Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis and Ernie Hudson was a massive comedy blockbuster. But from there, it gets messy. "Ghostbusters II" came out in 1989. It got mediocre reviews, but it performed well at the box office. Still, efforts to continue the series languished, and we didn't get another "Ghostbusters" movie until 2016, when a reboot directed by Paul Feig with women as the Ghostbusters got swept up in the culture wars and underperformed commercially.
Now, "Ghostbusters: Afterlife" reconnects with the original timeline while introducing a bunch of new characters. Carrie Coon plays the estranged daughter of Harold Ramis' character in the original "Ghostbusters." She moves to Oklahoma with her science-loving 12-year-old daughter Phoebe, played by Mckenna Grace, and her 15-year-old son Trevor, played by Finn Wolfhard. There, the family has to contend with a new supernatural threat, as well as the legacy and the equipment the original Ghostbusters left behind. The family is joined by a summer school teacher named Mr. Grooberson, played by Paul Rudd, as well as a junior podcaster who goes by the name Podcast. Don't we all?
THOMPSON: He is played by Logan Kim. The movie is directed by Jason Reitman, son of Ivan Reitman, who directed the first two "Ghostbusters" films. Jason Reitman co-wrote this script with Gil Kenan. It's in theaters now. Now, Ayesha, I'm going to start with you. What is your relationship with the "Ghostbusters" franchise? And what did you think of "Ghostbusters: Afterlife"?
RASCOE: OK, so I am a kid of the '80s, so I love the Ghostbusters. I remember it. You know, all the stuff about New York City - obviously, I was from the South. But my father was from New Jersey, so the idea of, like, the city and the Slimer and all that stuff - I really liked it. There's something about those, like, '80s New York movies that it just - it hit something for you (laughter), right? Like, it brings the nostalgia, right? So I really like that. And I also love - the second movie had a Bobby Brown song that I listen to to this day.
THOMPSON: "On Our Own"?
RASCOE: "On Our Own" - that I will jam out in the car today. I will probably listen to it after this. I - like, I listen to that song. It's a great song.
RASCOE: So I came into this, and I - you know, I was a little concerned because I feel like "Ghostbusters" is one of those movies that it was just of a moment, and I think it's hard to recapture. You know, I think of movies like "Coming To America" and stuff like that. Like, they were great, but they're also, like, of a moment. They capture a moment. And so with this, I don't love it. It's OK. It's OK. Like, I really like the characters. I like Podcast, the little kid.
RASCOE: I like, you know, Phoebe. You know, Paul Rudd is great as the summer school teacher and possible mom love interest. And so they're likable. The kids don't have much supervision. I do think putting it in a rural area, it kind of took away from it a bit because, like, the - New York was, like, a part of the character of the movies. And then you go to this, like, town, and it's not really a part of it. Like, at the end, I will say, it did kind of warm my cold, cold heart a little bit - just a bit.
RASCOE: But it still didn't completely justify, like, why do we need this movie? Why - does this add anything? Like, I feel like the "Creed" movies, when you look at them compared to "Rocky," I - they added something. Like, you got the nostalgia, but you also, like, added something. I'm not sure this adds anything. And so I might just watch the original movies instead (laughter) of watching this one. But I don't mind it. If you're with your kids and you don't have nothing else to do, you can go see the "Ghostbusters: Afterlife."
THOMPSON: All right. That's fair enough. Cyrena Touros, how about you?
TOUROS: I mean, I watched the "Ghostbusters" film for the first time, I think, in college. I think I've only seen it once. So I don't come to this franchise with a whole lot of sentimental attachment. But I was willing to go into it with an open mind. Yeah, I mean, I read the, like, two-sentence synopsis before going into it and kind of had the same thoughts as Ayesha. Like, why does this movie need to exist? But that being said, what does it get right? I think it gets the spirit of the '80s right in the narrative. I think precocious child is an underrated trope that has been kind of tossed aside in the 21st century, but I love that. It's, like, one of my favorites. I mean, Phoebe, I think, is fantastic in this as a character. And Mckenna Grace really nails this role. I mean, kids doing stuff in the middle of nowhere is the spirit of the '80s.
TOUROS: I miss, you know, the time in which children just got to do weird stuff unsupervised and got to explore their own little niche interests. So I think, like, that as a plot point worked perfectly for me. And I think the costuming is also really great. I think they let Phoebe be, like, a 12-year-old girl. I feel like I'm so used to seeing girls feel pressured to act and look 10 years older than they actually are that to see her wear, like, a disgustingly ugly pair of cargo shorts really worked for me.
TOUROS: But then I don't know that this needed to be a "Ghostbusters" film. I think if it didn't have that franchise label to it, I would have enjoyed it a lot more. I think 30 minutes into the film, when we're watching, you know, an edited YouTube clip of the first film in Paul Rudd's classroom...
TOUROS: ...I was just - totally took me out of the movie. I didn't quite know how to reconcile the very serious acting of the first third with then just, like, the really cartoonish animation of the ghosts that showed up halfway through. It's just too long. I don't like movies that are more than about 90 minutes. This is two hours. It takes about 45 minutes for them to fire the first plasma ray. And I was just like, we need the action sooner, and then we need to spend a little bit longer building up to what's going on. I also don't like the whole, you know, ancient-civilizations-are-causes-of-evil-in-society trope.
TOUROS: That really - I was like, why are we talking about Mesopotamia? And like, why in the middle of Oklahoma? That never really gets explained. They're just like, yeah, there's, like, ancient ruins here for no reason.
THOMPSON: It's just hand waving. Get to the ghosts (laughter).
TOUROS: I do think that this movie does have a lot of heart, which is the issue that most sequels and franchises get wrong. I think if I wasn't emotionally invested in the journey of these characters, I wouldn't have cared for this film at all. I think this is maybe less a story about the Ghostbusters than it is just a story about loss and grief and how hard it is to cope with those things, especially when you don't have a perfect relationship with the person that you lose. Using the emotion - like, the climax of the film as an emotional climax with the family and not really necessarily about saving the world, does this film a greater service. So overall, you know, I enjoyed it. Would I watch it again, like I would maybe rewatch the first "Ghostbusters"? Probably not.
THOMPSON: All right, all right, all right. How about you, Glen?
WELDON: Oh, boy. How many different ways can we say, this was fine?
WELDON: I am not mad at this movie. I mean, for a while, the degree to which it was foregrounding the young actors, Mckenna Grace and Logan Kim - by the way, Logan Kim, he is riding a line between funny and Disney Channel precocious, and I think he comes out the right end of it. I think that kid's got a future. That was a little puzzling to me, though, because taking this franchise in a YA direction is a big choice, but it is definitely going for that kids-on-bikes genre, that late, early career Spielberg. This is - almost becomes a pastiche, kind of like that film "Super 8" was kind of a - almost a pastiche...
WELDON: ...Of Spielberg. But at the end of the day, I think this film was made by people who didn't like the Paul Feig film...
THOMPSON: Yeah, I think that's right.
WELDON: ...For people who didn't like the Paul Feig film. And I don't count myself among that group. I liked that movie fine. But if you are one of those people who didn't feel that the Feig movie paid enough deference, was not respectful of the original material, did not fetishize the tech enough of that first film, let me say, a lack of reverence to the source material is not this movie's problem...
THOMPSON: Not the issue.
WELDON: ...Especially in the final reel, where things get really kind of bogged down. And while I liked it well enough as a movie, it's hard not to see this as kind of a cultural object, as a comment on where we are in popular culture right now because I think it represents the same huge missed opportunity that fan-services nostalgia over narrative, right? It suffers the "Rise Of Skywalker" problem. So, I mean, say what you will about the Feig film, it built on that mythology. It widened the world. And even...
WELDON: ...You know, there was a "Real Ghostbusters" animated series in the '80s. And there were comics. And they were supposed to be just money grabs, but - and brand extenders - but they really built on it, and they widened this mythology. This simply doubles down on the first movies.
THOMPSON: Yeah, it really does.
WELDON: It's not trying to step out of the first movies' shadow. It is setting up camp there. And that is a very intentional choice. And we should acknowledge that. That is one that will be welcomed by a lot of folks for whom - you know, they're going to think this is the model of how you continue a franchise. You simply keep iterating and reiterating, without widening it, without deepening it, without exploring new ground. You just stay in one place - had some good jokes, though.
WELDON: And that is how I say this movie was fine.
THOMPSON: Yeah, I mean, it is fascinating this this movie and reactions to this movie, like the reactions to the 2016 Feig film, are a Rorschach test. And how you feel about those films often says a lot about your relation to not only these films, but nostalgia itself. And it's kind of interesting that I think all four of us are kind of coming down on the side of, yeah, it's pretty good...
THOMPSON: ...Because early reviews of this film - I don't usually do this, but I wanted to quote the headlines of two reviews of this film that have already dropped, as of this taping. Deadline says that the movie delivers the smart and fun reinvention this beloved franchise has been waiting for. And then The Guardian says, and I quote, "a slimy, stinking corpse of a sequel."
WELDON: All right, then.
RASCOE: No, I wouldn't go that far.
THOMPSON: And now when you read those reviews, it's a little clearer how the reviewers viewed the Feig film. And one of them was really caught up in the really sexist reaction to the Feig film and felt like this film erased the Feig film in ways that the reviewer found really frustrating and found this to be very cynical in its fan service. And the other one was like, blech (ph), this finally puts that awful Feig film aside and, you know, doubles down on all the things that we love. And the fact of the matter is, I look at both headlines, and I'm like, yeah, I can see it.
THOMPSON: And so if your reaction to this film is, I wish they would just continue the movie that I loved in 1984, this is going to be delightful to you. But if your reaction to it is that, like, the Paul Feig film got a really raw deal, you're just going to be really ticked off because this movie just erases it completely and just doubles down. I really, really agree with what Cyrena said about Mckenna Grace. I think Mckenna Grace is really charming and excellent in this kind of central role in the film. I think this film would not have worked at all without - but just kind of the pluck and charm and weirdness of that character. I agree with Glen. As doofy is it is to have a character who calls himself Podcast...
WELDON: Red flag, red flag.
THOMPSON: ...In a way, that felt truer to a lot of podcasters than a lot of pop cultural depictions of podcasting.
RASCOE: He had great equipment.
TOUROS: He did.
RASCOE: He had great equipment.
THOMPSON: He did have unusually good equipment.
WELDON: He knew how to hold a shotgun mike. Yup.
THOMPSON: I kind of - just kind of rolled along with this film. I think some of the secondary characters weren't as well-developed as they could have been. I actually really thought the Paul Rudd character was a little underdeveloped. I think I could have stood for more of that Paul Rudd energy that he brings. He kind of disappears from this film kind of right as it gets into some of the more rote third-act machinations that these films always get bogged down in. But, on balance, like, you guys, I thought it was fine.
THOMPSON: I thought it was fun. I don't fetishize the movies of my youth. I mean, one of the mantras that came out of the discussions of the 2016 film - where people were like, you're ruining my childhood. Like, the 1984 movie is still there. You can still watch it. Like, I didn't necessarily feel like some part of my childhood was activated by this movie any more than I thought some part of my childhood was violated in 2016. I just thought it was a fun kind of IP extension - you know, 2 1/2 star - perfectly fine. If I were - if it were the time of year when I'd be going to movies for the air conditioning...
THOMPSON: ...I would go to this movie for the air conditioning.
TOUROS: That's a question I had. Like, why is this film coming out in November? You know, if - I'm at, you know, maximum generosity to watch this film in October. And so I was completely confused as to, like, why they would even bother releasing this three weeks after Halloween. That just didn't make any sense to me.
WELDON: Yeah, the trailer certainly kind of highlighted that this is the serious "Ghostbusters" film - which a lot of people are like, why? What?
WELDON: Why? Why a serious "Ghostbusters" film? So I could see that being released, (laughter) you know, at Oscar-bait time...
TOUROS: Oscar bait?
RASCOE: Let's back up.
WELDON: ...But also close to Halloween. That makes sense, too, right?
WELDON: Make - release it close to Halloween.
THOMPSON: I don't know, man. I think it's counterprogramming against "House Of Gucci"...
THOMPSON: ...You know?
WELDON: What will we go see? Kids, "House Of Gucci"?
TOUROS: I mean, if I have to choose between Gaga and "Ghostbusters," you know which side of the line I fall on.
THOMPSON: I know which side you're taking.
WELDON: Can I just - this series has always bugged me from a taxonomy perspective. Can we agree? These are not ghosts. These are not...
RASCOE: What do you mean?
WELDON: ...The restless spirits of the dead, with unfinished business.
RASCOE: Aren't they - they're phantasms.
WELDON: They're clearly - Ayesha, they are demons.
RASCOE: Oh, they're demons.
WELDON: They are malevolent entities, here to torment humanity. Names mean things, people. This thing that eats metal - and Slimer eats hot dogs. These are not the shades of loved ones. These are just...
WELDON: ....Demons. And you're not busting them, by the way. You're trapping them, which is a temporary solution...
WELDON: ...To a literally immortal problem. So Walter Peck had a point.
RASCOE: Look, the thing about them, you know, locking them up, which they did deal with in the original movies is...
RASCOE: ...It is an EPA issue.
WELDON: It sure is.
RASCOE: It's just like nuclear plants. What do you do with the nuclear waste? What do you do with these, you know, locked-up demons and their - all their energy?
WELDON: Yep. Justice for Walter Peck - that's what you're saying.
THOMPSON: "Ghostbusters" came out when I was 11 or 12 years old. I'm now 49. Like, we're starting to run - the runway is starting to get short for - like, for further '80s nostalgia. Like, we're kind of...
RASCOE: We're running out of material, you would say.
THOMPSON: Yeah. And so what is Finn Wolfhard going to do when we run out of '80s?
WELDON: Yeah. Yeah.
THOMPSON: Because that kid was in "Stranger Things." He's in "It" movies.
WELDON: Yeah. Yeah.
THOMPSON: And now he's in this. What's he going to do when we don't do the '80s anymore?
RASCOE: Well, they haven't remade "Cujo." I don't know if that came on the '80s. I do think they have not remade "Beat Street." That is also one of my favorites.
RASCOE: People may not know "Beat Street," but - and "Return To Oz." Did they remake that one?
WELDON: Oh, my God.
THOMPSON: Yeah. OK.
RASCOE: Remake that one.
WELDON: Pl-, pl-, pl-, pl-, please (ph).
WELDON: Let the evil eye. No, no, no, no, no.
RASCOE: No evil eye?
THOMPSON: Ayesha, Glen, you and I are not getting any younger.
THOMPSON: They're going to have to hurry up if they are going to fan-service us more '80s nostalgia. They have to get cracking.
RASCOE: They have to move fast.
RASCOE: They have to move fast.
THOMPSON: All right. Well, we want to know what you think about "Ghostbusters: Afterlife" and about the Ghostbusters metaverse writ large. Find us on Facebook at facebook.com/pchh. Or tweet us - @pchh. Up next, what is making us happy this week.
Now it's time for our favorite segment of this week and every week, what's making us happy this week. Ayesha Rascoe, what's making you happy this week?
RASCOE: So this week, what is making me happy - and it made me really happy over the weekend - is I binged watched the second season of "Locke & Key."
RASCOE: And for people who may not know about "Locke & Key," it is based on a graphic novel series by Joe Hill. It is about a family that goes to this house that is a part of their legacy, a part of their - and there are these keys. And they have very important keys. And they have very interesting powers. What I love about this show - and I will say, you know, if you're going straight into the second season, you should watch the first season because it's going to be very confusing.
RASCOE: The second season starts out a little slow. But it builds. And it gets good. Is that - I just love the conceit of the show, of these keys that do very interesting things, like if you could go into someone's head and what that would look like. And it's something that you don't normally see, like, these ideas of these powers. I will say about the Lockes and the people in this show who are supposed to keep these keys, they have a very hard time doing so even when their lives depend on it (laughter). I do wish they invented, also, a key ring. But that's for another story. But it's still good. I really like it. "Locke & Key." It's on Netflix.
WELDON: Ayesha, that's such a good pick. I love that series. And the illustration - the books are illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez. And that is just - really adds to the whole experience. But, yeah, I haven't checked out the second season yet, been meaning to catch up.
THOMPSON: Nice. Thank you, Ayesha Rascoe. Cyrena Touros, what's making you happy this week?
TOUROS: So I've recently gone down the rabbit hole of the 2019 Netflix series "The Untamed," which is based off of a Chinese novel called "Mo Dao Zu Shi." And this series is incredible. It's 50 episodes, about 40 minutes each. And it takes place over the course of 20 years in these characters' lives. And I feel like it's reductive to call it, like, Chinese "Game Of Thrones." But if what's interesting to you and compelling to you about "Game Of Thrones" is a giant universe full of warring factions, very, very well-developed characters - 50-plus characters with, you know, complex, nuanced, morally gray motivations, then this is a series that you'd really like. It has about three arcs. One is kind of, like, prep school for teenage boys becomes, like, coming-of-age war novel. And then, you know, post-war political machinations, the cost of doing what's right. And then finally, it dovetails into kind of, like, a murder mystery buddy comedy. It contains multitudes. And I think it's a really interesting media experience.
I forgot to mention it's queer. The two main characters are men who are, you know, canonically in love. But because this is a - you know, a Chinese-produced TV series, there are limitations to what they're allowed to portray. And so it was interesting to me, as, like, a meta experience, to see - like, this is a TV show so much about truth and who gets to tell stories and the way that power influences what people know about each other and society that it was fascinating to watch this show developed in a place where not all of the realities of the story can be portrayed on screen. That's what's making me happy this week, "The Untamed" on Netflix.
THOMPSON: "The Untamed" on Netflix. Thank you, Cyrena. Glen Weldon, what's making you happy this week?
WELDON: Well, this made the virtual rounds last week as we taped this. So you might have seen it already. But I keep going back to it. I keep finding nuances. The news that Ariana Grande and Cynthia Erivo have been cast in the film of the musical "Wicked," it fluttered like freshly flushed grouse through gay Twitter and theater Twitter last week, causing a range of reactions. My favorite came from two queer comedians, Calvin Seabrooks, whom I've been following for a while. He's @larrygayvid - G-A-Y-V-I-D - and from Dylan Akira Adler. He's @dylanadler_, whom I discovered through this Instagram video I'm about to talk about. They came up with what they called a chemistry test for "Wicked," featuring Billy Porter and Lin-Manuel Miranda - Seabrooks as Porter and Adler a revelation as Miranda singing something good. Take a listen.
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CALVIN SEABROOKS: (As Billy, singing) Like a ship blown from its mooring - well, well, well. Well, well, well.
DYLAN AKIRA ADLER: (As Lin-Manuel, singing) Like a comet pulled from orbit, yes, as it passes the sun. Look at my son. Like a stream that meets a boulder halfway through the wood.
SEABROOKS: (As Billy, singing) Like a girl doing a twirl in the wood.
CALVIN SEABROOKS AND DYLAN AKIRA ADLER: (As Billy and Lin-Manuel, singing) Who can say if I've been changed for the better?
THOMPSON: Oh, my god. That Miranda is spot on.
WELDON: That Miranda is - right? You have to see the video on Instagram. It is - a lot of it's the body language. I just how - his Lin-Manuel is so...
THOMPSON: My son.
WELDON: ...Adenoidal, right? Like, look at my son. You can find it on their social media pages @larrygayvid and @dylanadler_. Both are great follows, not for nothing, for nonsense exactly like that.
THOMPSON: Nice. Thank you, Glen Weldon. What is making me happy this week is another piece of extremely '80s fan service. And that is the announcement that we are getting a new public radio colleague over at KCRW. Our new colleague, Pee-wee Herman...
THOMPSON: ...Is going to host a radio show on KCRW. The news of this rolled out via this very strange Twitter exchange, where Pee-wee Herman posted an open letter to KCRW asking to get a slot as a DJ. KCRW accepted that request. On November 26 at 6 p.m. Pacific, 9 o'clock Eastern - available on demand apparently just for a week after it airs - Pee-wee Herman will be on KCRW, the NPR affiliate in the LA area, joined by Chairry and Miss Yvonne and Magic Screen...
WELDON: Good lord.
THOMPSON: ...To bring some of that wonderful Pee-wee Herman magic to our radios. And when you talk about pieces of '80s pop culture to which we are irrationally attached...
THOMPSON: I am deeply, deeply, deeply, deeply attached to the film "Pee-wee's Big Adventure." I know Glen is deeply, deeply attached to "Pee-wee's Playhouse" and the Pee-wee's Christmas special, which is almost...
WELDON: Oh, my God.
THOMPSON: It's almost time to trot out...
THOMPSON: ...Yet again. So seeing Pee-wee Herman join the ranks of my beloved public media colleagues made me very happy. I know they're just scheduled to do the one show. I hope there will be many, many more and that eventually, we can just consider ourselves co-workers.
WELDON: Yeah. Sure.
RASCOE: (Laughter) Yes.
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THOMPSON: And that's what's making me happy this week. If you want links for what we recommended, plus some more recommendations, subscribe to our newsletter at npr.org/popculturenewsletter. That brings us to the end of our show. You can find all of us on Twitter. You can find me @idislikestephen. You can follow Glen @ghweldon. You can follow Cyrena @cyrenatouros. You can follow Ayesha @ayesharascoe. You can follow editor Jessica Reedy @jessica_reedy, producer Candice Lim @thecandicelim and producer Jared Gair @jaredmgair. You can follow producer Romel Wood @blergisphere. You can follow producer Mike Katzif @mikekatzif. That's K-A-T-Z-I-F. Mike's band, Hello Come In, provides the music you are bobbing your head to right now. Thanks to all of you for being here.
WELDON: Thank you.
TOUROS: Thank you.
RASCOE: Thank you.
THOMPSON: Thanks for listening to POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR. We will see you all next week.
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