The depiction of surreal, nightmarish visions has had a long history in world cinema. From the classic German expressionism of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari to the experimental giallo traditions of Italian cinema to the somewhat more mainstream horror movies of Cocteau, Lynch, and (relatively speaking) Argento: sustaining the pervasive sensation of nightmare throughout a full-length feature film is a task that even the masters of the genre wrestle with in their finest works. As a result, the purest distillation of nightmare on film tends to be the territory best trafficked by short and experimental film.

And that brings us to TLMEA

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The process of making a feature length motion picture requires an exceptional amount of time, commitment, and creative energy. Depending on the nature of the movie, there could be a large cast of actors and extras to direct, multiple locations to scout and prepare, a crew of professionals to assemble and deploy, a plot to be mapped out, dialogue to be written, and a whole host of critical technical duties to be performed:  lighting and camera work, sound recording and mixing, editing, special effects, and the list goes on and on. It truly requires a Herculean effort. The hard work and dedication that it takes to make a movie—any movie—deserves and demands at least some measure of respect, recognition, and appreciation.

Unless that movie is Chubbies

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Ghostbusters was a preternatural hit back in 1984. It raked in $242 million dollars in gross domestic box office, established Bill Murray as a bonafide movie star, and was—for people of a certain age (cough, cough)—a legitimate cultural touchstone.

Released more than 30 years later, the remake—or reboot, if you prefer, considering there are likely to be plenty of sequels to come—does not rise to that level, but it is still fast-paced, consistently funny, high-quality summer entertainment.

The year is 2016, and New York City is grappling with an unusual spike in supernatural activity. Estranged academic collaborators Abby and Erin (Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig) find themselves reunited by circumstance to investigate a local haunting, and they come face-to-face (and then some) with a malevolent apparition that more or less proves their metaphysical theories. When the video of their apparently-phantasmagoric encounter hits YouTube, both are fired from their academic posts—Erin from Ivy League Columbia University and Abby from a low-rent NYC technical college—leaving them little choice but to go into business for themselves as private paranormal investigators. Abby brings her assistant Jillian (Kate McKinnon) along with them, and eventually they add a fourth ghostbuster, Patty (Leslie Jones), and an oblivious-but-hunky secretary, Kevin (Chris Hemsworth), to their team. There is a modicum of political intrigue along the way and a forgettable human villain to be reckoned with, but mostly these gals spend the rest of this movie battling rampaging spirits from the great beyond.

Lest we forget the embarrassing, (let’s-just-call-it-what-it-is) misogynistic uproar over casting this film with four women instead of four men, Ghostbusters has been mired in hate-spewing social media controversy for the better part of the last year. A certain segment of the movie-going public found itself positively aghast that Ghostbusters 2016 would continue to prosecute the proverbial “war on men” that began when The Force Awakens planted a female character at the center of a galaxy far, far away. Angry trolls everywhere lashed out from their parents’ basements and filled online comment sections and social media timelines with vitriolic screeds of hate and disappointment, demanding that the filmmakers give them an XY reboot instead of the soft, fuzzy XX version that they were sure they’d get.

The irony of that, of course, is that in today’s Hollywood there is no comedian–male or female–with more box office clout than Melissa McCarthy, so why wouldn’t she headline a high-profile summer comedy? Add in Kristen Wiig—who single-handedly kept Saturday Night Live afloat for several seasons in the 2000’s and also headlined a little $170 million hit comedy called Bridesmaids—and you’ve got some serious juice behind this movie.

What’s interesting here, though, is that while McCarthy and Wiig anchor Ghostbusters admirably and do most of the heavy lifting in terms of plot development and emotional stakes, it is Kate McKinnon who delivers not only the lion’s share of the laughs but also the one true breakout performance of the film.

In a movie inspired by (kind of sort of) the Book of Revelation, McKinnon is a revelation unto herself.

Anyone who has watched Kate McKinnon on SNL over the past few years knows the raw comedic talent that she brings to the party. From her much-heralded take on Hillary Clinton to her smarmy imitation of Justin Bieber to her white trash alien abductee that forced character-breaking fits of laughter out of her fellow performers (hands-down the best sketch of SNL’s recent season), McKinnon has got the goods in spades.


In Ghostbusters, McKinnon gets to spread her wings and experiment with a weird, probing performance that sets her apart from her costars in a way that really elevates the comedy. While McCarthy and Wiig get their laughs through more restrained performances and while Jones stays pretty much in the same box she has constructed for herself since coming onto the national scene, McKinnon gets to freestyle here, and the results are sublime. Like the background musician who suddenly overshadows the lead singer and brings the house down with an improvised guitar solo, McKinnon goes big and goes weird, making such interesting and unconventional choices with her character that you just can’t wait to see what she’s going to do next. More often than not, she gets it right and delivers.

Apart from McKinnon, one of the most notable things about this new Ghostbusters is its complete self-awareness and affection for its predecessor.

A parade of cameos throughout the film serve less as moments of comic inspiration than they do as endorsements from or tributes to the original Ghostbusters’ cast. Despite a flashy appearance by Bill Murray, the most affecting of these is a don’t-blink-or-you’ll-miss-it homage to Harold Ramis—co-writer and co-star of the original—who passed away in 2014 but appears here as a bronze bust outside Erin’s office at Columbia. Casual fans will recognize and appreciate the appearances by Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Sigourney Weaver, the Stay Puff Marshmallow Man, and others; but only the true fan will choke up over that brief glimpse of Ramis’ unmistakable figure standing guard in the hallway. His is the one ghost we hope our squadron of wonderful women warriors don’t blast back into the other dimension.

The Shallows


The shark may well be the ultimate screen villain.

Deadly. Relentless. Without mercy. A killing machine with no pity, remorse, or shame. As someone said in the most famous shark movie of them all, “What we are dealing with here is a perfect engine, an eating machine. It’s really a miracle of evolution. All this machine does is swim and eat and make little sharks.”

And when it kills–whoa!—it kills in spectacular fashion.

In time, The Shallows—the new thriller from Spanish director Jaume Collet-Serra—will be remembered, if at all, as just another shark movie. But in the moment, The Shallows is a taught, suspenseful survival tale that pits a game Blake Lively against Mother Nature’s perfect engine.

Lively’s grief-stricken surfer girl, Nancy, has lost her mother to cancer, left medical school, and retreated to a secluded Mexican beach to forget her troubles and ride the spectacular southern swells. Had she headed back to town after lunch, it truly would have been the perfect day. But, alas, she stays out a bit longer than she should, and before you can say “girl in peril”, she finds herself laying on an isolated rock two hundred yards from shore, blood gushing from a savage shark bite in her leg, and the rising tide threatening to wash her off of her safe place and into the jaws (no pun intended) of the great white shark lurking in the dark water. Facing near-impossible odds, the determined and resourceful Nancy rediscovers her lost will to live and sets about trying to find a way to get herself to safety before it’s too late.

Like many shark movies that take themselves seriously (no, I’m not talking to you, Sharknado), The Shallows must be judged against Spielberg’s 1975 masterpiece. That said, is it fair to say that The Shallows is better than one or more movies that has Jaws in its title followed by a number? Yes, absolutely. Does it even come close to the original Jaws? No way.

Then again, what does?

Jaws remains one of the most ground-breaking films of any genre in the history of film. Ranked number 48 on the American Film Institute’s roster of the 100 Greatest American Movies of All Time, Jaws is not only an outstanding film on the merits, but it also single-handedly created the idea of the summer blockbuster. For all the amazing things about Jaws, however—the phenomenal performances, the terrific writing, the rich characters—what is often lost about this timeless classic is just how good a horror film it really is. Jaws actually scares you. And it doesn’t just scare you in the moment: it lingers with you, it haunts you, and it plays with your mind whenever you dip your toe into the deep blue sea. It is not hype to say that an entire generation of moviegoers learned to be afraid of the water from Jaws.


On its own terms, The Shallows provides its fair share of scares, as well, though its killer shark occasionally seems to be a bit too obsessed with  Nancy when, as the saying goes, there are plenty of other fish (and mammals, for that matter) in the sea. The great white of The Shallows seems to have been inspired by the masked killers of the 80’s slasher cycle in its single-minded drive to kill this one specific victim, but considering the tasty way in which the film presents Blake Lively, perhaps it’s hard to blame the precocious fish.

Especially in the film’s early scenes, director Collet-Serra leers at Lively. His gaze lingers on her every curve, from front to back, like a creepy neighbor in an upstairs window with a pair of binoculars.  He cuts from the magnificence of the secluded beach to the gorgeous tree line to Lively peeling off her clothes like she’s just another part of the scenery.

Lively, though, rises above it and proves to be much more than a pretty face. As the movie’s sole actor for probably 90% of its running time, Lively anchors the film effectively and does well to create a real character out of what essentially is a one-line scenario:  What would happen if a girl got caught alone on a rock in the middle of nowhere and had to match wills against a great white shark? There isn’t much room there for character development, but Lively does her level best.

In the end, though, The Shallows has little to do with character, plot, story, or any other element of traditional narrative. It’s about tension, suspense, and a massive, angry, lunging shark. In retrospect, that’s probably not enough. But in the dark of the theater, it makes for good, engaging summer entertainment.