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.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens


A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…

In more than a century of motion picture history, one would be hard pressed to come up with a more eagerly anticipated, massively-hyped film than Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Sure, in recent years, there have been huge franchises that have largely lived up to their billing (Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter and even The Hunger Games are just a few examples). There have been massive best-seller books made into wildly over-hyped movies (Fifty Shades of Grey, anyone?). And there have even been unexpected visits from old friends that we thought we may never hear from again…and ultimately probably shouldn’t have (Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, ugh).

But in today’s age of brute force marketing, corporate cross-promotion, and social media madness, the art of anticipation has reached its golden age.

Thus we have the phenomenon of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and for some of us, it has been pure heaven.

And when I say “some of us”, let me be precise as to who I’m talking about:

I’m talking about people of a certain age, let’s just say mid-40’s to be kind about it. Men in their mid-40’s, in fact, though certainly there are plenty of women who are equally fanatical. I’m talking about those people who stood in line—in long lines, blocks long—when the original Star Wars came out in 1977 and played at the single-screen movie theater in downtown wherever. Those whose annual St. Nick’s Day stockings and Easter baskets were filled with Star Wars figures. Those who grew up reading books with titles like Han Solo and the Lost Legacy and Lando Calrissian and the Mindharp of Sharu. Those who watched The Star Wars Holiday Special in 1978…and then waited breathlessly—though fruitlessly—for it to air again in the coming years. Those who bragged in our youth that we could recite Star Wars line for line from memory—and could!—and never figured out why we were in our late teens before we had our first date.

Don’t get me wrong: Star Wars fandom absolutely crosses generational, gender, cultural, and just about every other line you can imagine, but there is something special about having been on the ground floor of this particular cultural phenomenon and now seeing new, glorious life breathed into the cherished franchise once again.

The Force Awakens succeeds where the prequels failed (miserably failed, to be sure, though even I will admit that there were some engaging moments here and there) by paying proper deference to and recapturing the spirit of the original trilogy. The new movie just feels like Star Wars, and the return of so many familiar faces and long-lost friends creates the atmosphere of a welcome family reunion.

It takes a while for the reunion to unfold, however.

The Force Awakens takes its time introducing the next generation, as it were (sorry, Trekkies). New heroes, new villains, and even a new adorable robot sidekick dominate the early stages of the film, and it’s all fun and enjoyable to look at, with a capable and engaging young cast that you begin to feel you may just be able to trust with the franchise.

But when Han Solo and Chewbacca burst into the frame for the first time, the movie kicks into proverbial hyperdrive and begins to gather its emotional steam. “Chewie, we’re home,” Han Solo effuses as he re-boards the Millennium Falcon for the first time in ages, and at that moment, every single person in the audience feels exactly the same. We’re home. And that’s when—for some—eyes start to grow misty and perhaps even a single tear rolls down a cheek. And suddenly The Force Awakens begins to soar.

One by one, old friends join the party—human, alien, and machine alike—and one by one it feels as if they had never gone away. Even lines of dialogue—“May the force be with you”—feel like a warm hug from a lost love.

The plot is the plot, which is to say that if you’ve seen Star Wars (I refuse to subtitle it A New Hope, because that’s revisionist), you’ve pretty much seen The Force Awakens. That doesn’t mean that it’s a remake, per se; but the new film tracks much the same as the original did: plot points, character archetypes, and even twists, to some degree. The story and thematic parallels between this film and the original have been much remarked upon in recent weeks and in some quarters roundly criticized, but it is that familiar structure that allows us to remain comfortable and patient as the early introductions play out and we wait for the reunion to come.

Of the veteran cast, Harrison Ford does most of the heavy-lifting as Han Solo, who has matured from scoundrel to curmudgeon in the 30-ish years between Return of the Jedi and this latest installment. And that’s just fine, because even though the original Star Wars trilogy was Luke Skywalker’s story, Han Solo has always been the most fun and intriguing character. It also helps that of all the original cast, Academy Award nominee Ford also has displayed the most serious acting chops of the bunch. So, putting him front and center of The Force Awakens feels like the right thing to do.

Of the newbies, the talented group of John Boyega, Adam Driver, and Oscar Isaac perform admirably enough in roles of varying significance; but it is newcomer Daisy Ridley, as the desert scavenger-cum-quasi-Jedi, who shines most brilliantly. Ridley’s Rey is a revelation of charisma, intensity, authenticity, and flat-out girl power; and if this trilogy in fact turns out to be Rey’s story—as this film strongly suggests—then we have a lot to look forward to in the coming years.

For both the uninitiated (if there truly are any at this point) and the casual fan, The Force Awakens bristles with enough adventure, action, and pure kinetic energy to gloss over the occasional lapses in plot or some of the undeveloped logic of this particular past/future galaxy.

However, for the rest of us, The Force Awakens is far more than an entertaining new film.

It is an emotionally rewarding extension of the mythology of our childhood. It is the welcome erasure of not only Jar Jar Binks, but also of the unnerving racism and cult of petulance that defined the prequel trilogy. It is a movie that makes us feel again like the wide-eyed kids we once were when we sat in a theater and saw for the first time something that we had never even dared to imagine before.

“It’s true,” Han Solo assures us. “All of it. The Dark Side, the Jedi. They’re real.”

That’s how we felt watching Star Wars for the first time nearly 40 years ago, and that’s how this movie makes us feel once again.

The Force Awakens is the movie we’ve been waiting for since 1983, and you come away from it reassured of one thing:

The Force will be with you. Always.