Movie Review

'Betting on Zero.' Photo courtesy of PJDC

By Heidi Sutton

Jon Stewart’s  ‘After Spring’ will be screened on Oct. 17 at Theatre Three. Photo courtesy of PJDC
Jon Stewart’s ‘After Spring’ will be screened on Oct. 17 at Theatre Three. Photo courtesy of PJDC

Autism, pyramid schemes, the mental health system, the game of chess, gay rights, the Syrian refugee crisis — these topics and more will be explored in depth as the Port Jefferson Documentary Series kicks off its fall 2016 season on Monday, Sept. 12. Sponsored by the Greater Port Jefferson-Northern Brookhaven Arts Council, the Suffolk County Office of Film and Cultural Affairs and the New York State Council on the Arts, the PJDS will present seven award-winning documentaries this season at two venues — Theatre Three in Port Jefferson and the Long Island Museum in Stony Brook. Each screening will be followed by a Q-and-A session with a guest speaker.

The documentaries are chosen by a six-member film board, affectionately known as “the film ladies,” who each choose one film to present and then a seventh is chosen unanimously by the group. The ladies, who include co-directors Lyn Boland and Barbara Sverd, Wendy Feinberg, Honey Katz, Phyllis Ross and Lorie Rothstein, are celebrating the festival’s 11th year this month.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Lyn Boland about this local cultural gem and about this season’s exciting lineup.

Can you believe it’s been 11 years?

Yes, it’s amazing. We are very grateful to our audience and also to the directors and distributors we have gotten to know who are willing to share their films with us. This fall will be our 23rd season and longevity has its rewards. For example, for the upcoming fall season, I was emailing a producer and I could honestly write that I was one of his biggest fans because I realized, when I checked his bio, that we had previously run at least three of his films. He was impressed enough by our record to give us his newest film.

How many choices does each film lady bring to the table initially?

I would say each film lady brings five to 10 films to the first meeting, but they have probably gone through a winnowing process even before the first programming meeting.

What film festivals did the film ladies attend this year?

We went to our usuals — Tribeca, Hamptons, Stony Brook. We follow a lot of other festivals from a distance. Toronto will be coming up in a few weeks, and we will watch what happens with the films there or the films at Sundance in January. The festivals announce the films they have chosen to show about a month before they start screenings. Once the films are announced, we are busy reading about them and trying to contact the directors. Fortunately, although we can’t get to some festivals, Tribeca has become an important focus for documentaries. Several of our fall films are films we saw at Tribeca last spring — “Betting on Zero,” “Strike a Pose,” “Life Animated,” “After Spring,” and “Magnus.” It was love at first viewing with those films and then the chase was on.

I understand that you have some extra help these days?

Our initial group is still intact but we have had some great new additions. We have four new volunteers: Lynn Rein, who has contributed tremendously to creating our posters and fliers; Emily Sobel, our agent on the ground at Stony Brook, making sure our public service announcements get on the air; Irene Berman, who brings a fresh perspective after a long career of teaching; and Kathryn Hunter, a charming jack-of-all trades.

In the spring of this year the PJDS formed a new partnership with the Long Island Museum. How is that working out?

Working with LIM has been delightful. They have a great staff there, very competent and open to new ideas. Lisa Unander, the administrator we work with, is calm, understanding and knows how to make things happen. So far the size of the venue has not been an issue although we came close this summer with our special event screening of ”The Witness.” We filled up all 128 seats! The film, which we screened at the same time as it opened in NYC, was a huge success and a great tie-in with the museum’s Long Island in the Sixties exhibit. Our guest speaker, director James Solomon, loved the museum’s exhibit and the perfect tie-in with his film.

Which documentary are you most excited about?

I think one of the most riveting documentaries is ”Tower.” Using animation, the film brings the audience right into the crisis at the University of Austin where a shooter occupied the tower and held the campus prisoner. There are heroes and villains in the film and the point of view is mesmerizing. It is also the 50th anniversary of the shooting which gives all of us pause when we contemplate how frequent these tragedies have become since that horrifying beginning. I am also in love with “Betting on Zero,” the film I am presenting.

Why did you choose to present ‘Betting on Zero’?

I am fascinated by the financial world and I think most of us have become more cognizant of how much we are impacted by stocks, banks and investors since the Great Recession. The story in “Betting on Zero” is particularly dramatic because it involves two financial titans, Carl Icahn and Bill Ackman. Icahn, whose name is familiar to many, is a big shareholder in Herbalife, a well-known company. Ackman, less well-known outside of financial circles, believes Herbalife is a Ponzi scheme and has bet a fortune on bringing the company down. The billionaire battle is set against the backdrop of the many Herbalife small business owners who are caught up on the conflict. So you have humanity, money, and the hint of a Madoff-like shell game.

Which guest speaker are you most excited about meeting?

I am very excited about bringing the director of “Betting on Zero” Ted Braun in from LA. It is also a great privilege to welcome the producer of “Life Animated,” Carolyn Hepburn, since she is a Long Island native and because “Life Animated” is a film that has had a great impact all over the country. I look forward to meeting Steph Ching and Ellen Martinez, the directors of “After Spring,” and I know they will be audience favorites as will Salim Gauwloos, the dancer in “Strike a Pose,” who I met briefly at the screening at Tribeca. However, I think I am most excited about bringing back Todd and Jedd Wider, the directors of “God Knows Where I Am,” because they grew up in Setauket and have been wonderfully generous to the series. We have shown five of their previous films, including the Academy Award-winning documentary “Taxi to the Dark Side,” and we look forward to seeing them again (and again!)

What do you feel is so special about documentaries?

Documentaries are real. Granted, they often represent the director’s point of view, but what you see on the screen actually happened and it is amazing how dramatic and moving real life is. Also, most documentaries are works of passion and dedication. Many of these directors spend years following their subjects, devoting endless hours to stories that need to be told. Documentaries can bring change to our way of life while bringing tears to our eyes. There is a special insight that you get from seeing the real thing.

Why should people come out on a Monday night to see these films?

In addition to seeing films that they might not get to see otherwise and hearing the inside story from a director or cast member that they might never meet, the doc series is a great community event. Our Q-and-As are lively and provide an opportunity to hear from one’s neighbors, near and far. The PJDS audience is a fascinating and ever-changing cross section with whom a film enthusiast can enjoy a unique and often bonding experience. Plus, it’s the best bargain around: film and live speaker for $7!! Finally, the films provide a fantastic learning experience. For example, I had no idea who Magnus Carlsen was before I saw “Magnus” but I soon learned that every chess player from dilettante to devotee knows and follows him.

Are you looking for volunteers?

Yes, very much so. We need people to do imaginative PR, anything to get the word out for a series that operates on less than a shoestring budget. We need grant writers, film enthusiasts, and tech people to create our posters, math people to work on the budget, anything and anyone you can imagine. See you at the movies!

The first and last documentary will be screened on Mondays at the Long Island Museum, 1200 Route 25A, Stony Brook. All others will be screened on Mondays at Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson. All films begin at 7 p.m. and doors open one half hour before show time. Tickets for all films are $7 and will be sold at the door. For more information, call 631-473-5220 or visit www.portjeffdocumentaryseries.com.

Film schedule:

▶ The fall season will kick off with a screening of “Life, Animated” at the Long Island Museum on Sept. 12. Winner of the Sundance Film Festival Director Award for a U.S. Documentary and the Audience Award at the Full Frame Festival and San Francisco International Film Festival, the film follows the life of Owen Suskind, who stopped speaking at the age of 3 and withdrew from his family and the world. Diagnosed with autism, he developed his own language skills after repeated viewings of Disney classics like “The Lion King” and “The Little Mermaid.” Guest speaker will be co-producer Carolyn Hepburn.

“Betting on Zero,” (Arts & Lifestyles cover photo) the second film in the series, will be screened at Theatre Three on Sept. 19. The financial docu-thriller, which made its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, follows hedge-fund titan Bill Ackman as he seeks to expose global nutritional giant Herbalife as the largest pyramid scheme in history in this deeply emotional dive into the world of money, fraud and the American Dream. In English and Spanish. Guest speaker will be director Tim Braun.

Director Benjamin Ree will be the guest speaker on Sept. 26. Photo courtesy of PJDC
Director Benjamin Ree will be the guest speaker on Sept. 26. Photo courtesy of PJDC

▶ Through archival footage and home movies, “Magnus,” to be screened at Theatre Three on Sept. 26, tells the story of 26-year-old Norwegian chess champion Magnus Carlsen’s rise to the top. A hit at several international festivals and winner of the Ray of Sunshine prize at the Norwegian International Film Festival, the documentary also gives the audience a peek inside the isolated world of the chess community. In English and Norwegian. Sponsored by the Long Island Chess Club. Guest speaker, via Skype, will be the director, Benjamin Ree.

▶ The fourth film, titled “Strike a Pose,” screened at Theatre Three on Oct. 10, features Madonna’s seven backup dancers from her Blond Ambition Tour in 1990, whose journey was captured in the rockumentary, “Truth or Dare,” The documentary follows the lives of Kevin Stea, Carlton Wilborn, Luis Xtravaganza Camacho, Jose Gutierez Xtravaganza, Salim Gauwloos and Oliver S. Crumes III since the tour. The seventh, Gabriel Trupin, died from complications due to AIDS in 1995 and is represented in the film by his mother, Sue Trupin. In English and Spanish. Guest speaker will be Salim Gawloos.

▶ The series continues on Oct. 17 at Theatre Three with a screening of Jon Stewart’s heartbreaking “After Spring,” a feature documentary about the Syrian refugee crisis that has affected millions since the conflict began six years ago. Filmed in Jordan, the audience will experience living in Zaatari, the second largest refugee camp in the world. In Arabic, English and Korean. Guest speakers will be directors Steph Ching and Ellen Martinez.

‘God Knows Where I Am’ will be screened on Oct. 24 at Theatre Three. Photo courtesy of PJDC
‘God Knows Where I Am’ will be screened on Oct. 24 at Theatre Three. Photo courtesy of PJDC

“God Knows Where I Am” will be screened at Theatre Three on Oct. 24. Winner of the Special Jury Prize at Hot Docs, the documentary, using 16mm and 35mm cinematography, tells the story of Linda Bishop, a homeless woman who was determined to stay free of the mental health system, documenting her experience in a diary before her tragic death. It has been called by critics “a film for the ages, great cinema and certainly a contender for one of the best documentaries of the millennium that features some of the most beautiful cinematography ever to be seen in a documentary.” Setauket natives and directors Jedd and Todd Wider will join the audience for a Q-and-A after the screening.

▶ The final film for fall 2016, “Tower,” will be screened at the Long Island Museum on Nov. 7. Combining archival footage with live-action animation, “Tower” tells the story of America’s first mass school shooting at the University of Texas in 1966. “Tower” was the Grand Prize Winner and Audience Award Winner at the SXSW Film Festival in Austin, Texas. Guest speaker will be co-producer and animation director Craig Staggs.

A scene from David Cronenberg’s ‘The Brood,’ one of six horror films to be screened on Aug. 27. Photo courtesy of Cinema Arts Centre

Above, a scene from David Cronenberg’s ‘The Brood,’ one of six horror films to be screened on Aug. 27. Photo courtesy of Cinema Arts Centre

By Kevin Redding

Summoning all horror lovers!

As summer creeps to a close, the Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington — in collaboration with Retro Picture Show — sets its sights on the Halloween season and revs up the scares in its 12th annual Pay to Get Out Horror Movie Marathon.

Saturday, Aug. 27, starting at 10 p.m., moviegoers will be treated to six vastly different and obscure horror films from the ’70s and ’80s, which will get increasingly more and more deranged as the marathon goes on, until those in the audience who have “survived” the whole experience emerge from the theater at around 6 a.m. the next morning.

The whole night will be an endurance test of sorts: How much blood and guts and horror can you handle? And, how long can you stay awake? In fact, anyone who stays for all six films will receive a refund of $10 back and a free breakfast courtesy of the theater’s Sky Room Cafe.

For further incentive, all films and accompanying trailers will be shown in glorious 35mm, there will be free giveaways and raffle prizes and one of the six films has purposefully been kept a mystery to the public.

'House by the Cemetery' is part of the line-up this Saturday night. Photo courtesy of Cinema Arts Centre
‘House by the Cemetery’ is part of the line-up this Saturday night. Photo courtesy of Cinema Arts Centre

“If this is your genre, I recommend you come down, absolutely,” said Raj Tawney, director of publicity and promotions for the theater. “I think when we’re talking about classic cinema and movies that stand the test of time, horror often gets left out of the mainstream. Horror movies are just as important … the people who come are really passionate and care so much about these movies and that’s why the horror marathon has lasted so many years. They’ll come and stay up all night.”

This year marks the theater’s first Pay to Get Out collaboration with newly formed Retro Picture Show, a Long Island-based revival screening series focused on classic genre films. The two groups have worked together before, most notably in bringing “Friday the 13th” and “Friday the 13th Part 2” to the big screen for the original film’s 35th anniversary in May. Following the success of that screening, Retro Picture Show was asked by the theater to co-present the marathon.

“The response from the horror fans in the area has been overwhelming to say the least,” said Michael Ciani, founder of Retro Picture Show. “They come out and spend their hard-earned money to watch films that they have probably seen and most likely own on Blu-ray, so it’s an amazing thing. We truly appreciate it.”

“Our events offer genre fans the opportunity to experience the films they love on the big screen in 35mm,” said Ciani. “I use the word ‘experience’ because that’s what it is: an experience. We encourage people to get there early, choose their seats, meet with friends and other horror fans in the cafe before the film begins. Drink a few cocktails, discuss old horror films. It’s very social.”

Ciani, who has loved horror for as long as he can remember, says that finding good film prints takes a lot of hard work and research.

“Some of these prints are old, over 30 years old,” he said, “so a lot of them are in bad shape. We try to find the best ones available. Sometimes you have to find 35mm print collectors, sometimes the studio [and original distributors] will have it.”

But for him, it’s all worth it.

“I love old films. I feel like there’s nothing quite like sitting in a theater packed with like-minded fans watching a print of a film we all love,” said Cinai, adding “It’s really an amazing experience for everyone. I’m looking to re-create what it was like in the theater watching these films back in the ’70s and ’80s. I want everyone to have a great time. I love the cheering, the screaming, the laughing.”

The marathon’s selection of films cover all the bases of horror, from mutant children to werewolves to scary basements and more. But in true Cinema Arts Centre style, the choices are obscure and less heard of than, say, “Halloween” or “Nightmare on Elm Street.”

The event’s lineup includes “The Hidden” (1987), David Cronenberg’s “The Brood” (1979), “The Company of Wolves” (1984), “Vampyres” (1974) and Lucio Fulci’s “House by the Cemetery” (1981), plus the sixth mystery pick — which has been kept so secret that not even Tawney knows what it is.

“We spent a lot of time selecting this year’s mystery film and put a lot of thought into it,” said Ciani. “The goal is to make the audience ‘lose their minds’ with excitement the second it begins … something immediately recognizable. I definitely think we nailed it.”

Tawney says that even though Retro Picture Show will eventually branch out and do these types of programs at different theaters, he’s beyond pleased that they’re getting their start in Huntington.

“Right now we’re currently giving them a home to really prove themselves and test ideas out,” he said. “Most of the time they handpick the films, curate the events and they bring in a lot of personalized promotional materials and posters and prizes, which they create themselves. They give a real personal touch to the event.”

In terms of the prizes, Retro Picture Show will certainly deliver for horror fans.

“For the raffle prize … I’ll be giving away three of the “House by the Cemetery” soundtracks on vinyl, so there will be three winners for that,” said Ciani. “And the free giveaway will be at the end of the night. I’ll be giving away a coupon code for an all-access pass to our Shocktober events that we have every weekend in October. People can buy tickets for all 5 events and get a free poster.”

The Cinema Arts Centre is located at 423 Park Ave. in Huntington. Tickets for the 12th annual Pay to Get Out Horror Movie Marathon are $40 per person, $30 for Cinema Arts Centre members. To order call 631-423-7610 or visit www.cinemaartscentre.org. For more information on upcoming Retro Picture Show events, including its Shocktober events, visit www.retropictureshow.com.

Teresa Palmer in a scene from ‘Lights Out,’ one of this summer’s sleeper hits with a sequel already in the works. Photo courtesy of LA Film Festival

By Kevin Redding

“Lights Out” may appear to just be another entry in the often cheap and soulless things-that-go-bump-in-the-night subgenre that reigns supreme in modern horror, but don’t let its seemingly conventional premise, of an evil entity that shows up to haunt when the room is dark, fool you: This movie is scary, clever and — surprisingly — elevating by addressing mental illness and the effect it could have on a family.

First-time director David F. Sandberg takes on the challenge of stretching his original three-minute short — which was praised for being on a level of terror and suspense that most contemporary horror movies fail to reach — into something that sustains its 80-minute runtime and doesn’t grow stale quickly, which is tough when the concept is as simple as this. It’s creepy and makes for some exceptionally eerie visuals (the freaky silhouette appearing and disappearing with the flick of a switch will undoubtedly stick with you before bed) but how can that work for an entire narrative?

As Sandberg showcases, the answer is with great acting, characters we care about, and real human drama that raises the stakes when the inevitable horror fill the screen.

Gabriel Bateman and Teresa Palmer in a scene from ‘Lights Out.’ Photo courtesy of LA Film Festival
Gabriel Bateman and Teresa Palmer in a scene from ‘Lights Out.’ Photo courtesy of LA Film Festival

At the center of the scares is a family in crisis. A young boy named Martin (Gabriel Bateman) is left alone with his mentally unstable mother Sophie after his father dies in a mysterious freak accident at work (which makes for a really intense opening sequence). Sophie, played by an incredible Maria Bello, is way too damaged to be raising a kid; she spends most of her time locked away in her room talking to a dead woman named Diana, with whom she spent time in a mental institution when they were both young.

Diana is like the physical embodiment of Sophie’s psychological problems, which allows the movie, through jump scares and a freaky atmosphere, to talk a little about the dangers of trying to hide these issues and the consequences of harboring them — or unleashing them.

Diana makes herself known by standing in the shadows, aggressively attacking her victims, and doing everything she can to ensure that the lights don’t go on and halt her terrorizing, and the lengths to which she’ll go are really unnerving. Even during the day and when all lights are on, she could be hiding in darkness under the bed, or a corner of the room, or strike when the inevitable power shortage occurs. She can also travel to different locations, so safety is never really guaranteed no matter where you go.

Martin seeks refuge in his older sister Rebecca, played with a realistic chip-on-her-shoulder attitude by Teresa Palmer, who has long since moved out to escape her own dealings with her mother and Diana. Over the course of events, she becomes hell-bent on protecting Martin at all costs — even going as far as wanting to be his legal guardian. Together with her unexpectedly likable and resourceful boyfriend Bret (Alexander DiPersia) Rebecca helps Martin battle the evil that has latched itself onto their mother in an ending that contains plenty of high-tension scares and a big moment that’s sure to be contentious among viewers, in relation to mental illness.

Produced by modern horror master James Wan, who recently gave us a winning horror movie filled with great acting, characters we care about, and real human drama, with last month’s “The Conjuring 2,” “Lights Out” is truly effective and bold, serving as proof that a PG-13 rating slapped on a movie in this genre doesn’t always mean that it won’t deliver.

Julian Dennison and Sam Neill star in ‘Hunt for the Wilderpeople’

By Talia Amorosano

Garnering an impressive score of 8.4 out of 10 on IMDb and a perfect 100 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” is a charmingly quirky, funny and imaginative film sure to seem particularly refreshing to those tired of riding the steady summer stream of formulaic and minimally heartfelt action blockbusters.

Written and directed by Taika Waititi and based on the book “Wild Pork and Watercress” by Barry Crump, the film made its world premiere screening at the Sundance Film Festival in January of this year to rave reviews.

It opens with sweeping overhead shots of the breathtaking and mountainous New Zealand wilderness, setting the stage for the film’s adventures, which take place entirely in this beautiful natural setting. One of the central characters of the film is a young boy, Ricky Baker (13-year-old Julian Dennison) who has spent his life in foster care and has just been transported to a new home. He first appears in stark contrast with the rugged landscape, wearing an oversized hoodie with multicolored dollar bills on it, jacket covered in Illuminati symbols, and snapback cap.

The other main character and one of Ricky’s guardians, an old man who Ricky relentlessly calls “Uncle” (Sam Neill) despite his preference for the less personal “Hec,” is introduced with a wild boar slung over his back, dirty work boots and an unflinching scowl on his face. Initially, unassuming playful Ricky and stern repressed Hec hardly speak, but a series of traumatic and unexpected events pushes and pulls the pair of unlikely companions together on an impossible journey through the bush, where they attempt to evade a national hunt to bring Ricky back under the care of New Zealand’s child protective services.

During their travels they grapple with hapless hunters, rare and fierce animals, a bush-dwelling conspiracy theorist and growing feelings of understanding and appreciation for one another despite having said their “I hate you”s earlier in the film. What the film’s plot lacks in complexity its characters make up for in humor and heart. While the two protagonists are markedly different from one another, they never devolve into caricatures or stereotypes. Each actor plays his role with such a high degree of earnestness that the character he plays is genuinely likeable both in and of himself and in amusing conjunction with his counterpart.

When Ricky initially arrives at his new home, Hec asks, “have you ever worked on a farm before or are you just … ornamental?” Later, in the woods when Hec threatens to take Ricky home and hand him over to child protective services, Ricky refuses to comply and says dramatically, “might as well just kill me now!” before Hec shoots him a look that prompts him to sheepishly continue, “… don’t kill me.” Ricky refers to himself as a gangster yet writes haikus. Hec puts on a stoic air yet becomes extremely touchy when Ricky exposes the fact that he is unable to read.

Throughout the movie, each character’s individual development and the changing dynamic of the two characters’ relationship are full of interesting visual and verbal surprises. In addition to quirky characters and stunning visuals throughout, an unexpected but fitting range of music traverses the landscape of the film along with Ricky and Hec.

From eighties-esque synth instrumentals to mellow folk-singing interludes, to humorous impromptu singing by the characters themselves, the eclectic sound track of the “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” is indicative of the pleasantly surprising but logical progression of the plot and characters. Holistically, “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” manages to be different but not absurd, humorous but not heartless and emotional but not overblown. This thoroughly entertaining, down-to-earth and endearing film is almost sure to leave you exiting the theater retaining a bit of the warmth it exudes.

This movie is rated PG-13 for thematic elements including violent content and for some language.

Talia Amorosano is a rising senior English and studio art major at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania and is a frequent contributor to Times Beacon Record Newspapers.

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From left, Leslie Jones, Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig and Kate McKinnon star in ‘Ghostbusters.’ Photo courtesy of Fathom Events

By Kevin Redding

What made the original 1984 “Ghostbusters” such a huge cultural phenomenon — captivating generations of proton pack-wearing kids and adults alike — was its truly unique and perfectly balanced blend of high-scale supernatural special effects and natural, irreverent comedy. Even with a great cast that included SNL alums Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd as two of four “schlubby,” everyman paranormal eliminators, nobody could’ve expected this odd anomaly to take the world by storm the way it did, shattering box office records, winning Oscars and striking a meaningful chord with pretty much anybody who would see it.

The movie was lightning-in-a-bottle, further proved five years later when the amusing but wholly underwhelming 1989 sequel failed to make an impact on its audience in the same way. It also had no pedestal to live up to when it first hit theaters.

Thirty-two years later, “Bridesmaids”/ “The Heat” “Spy” director Paul Feig’s all-female reboot has the misfortune of being held up against one of the most beloved movies of all time, a challenge even bigger than the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.

However, thanks to a stellar cast, namely the quartet of spectre hunters — SNL cast members Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones and “Spy” star Melissa McCarthy — good-hearted camaraderie, a memorable batch of scary poltergeists in all shapes and sizes and a consistently funny energy throughout, this new version of “Ghostbusters” is a proton blast of summer fun, even with its flaws.

Feig and co-writer Katie Dippold have crafted something that will appease fans of the original — with plenty of nods and references, and cameos from most of the main cast, including a very touching tribute to the late Harold Ramis, to whom the movie is dedicated — while, most importantly, giving a whole new generation of kids their own heroes to look up to and dress up as. And these heroes are cool, science/tech savvy and laugh out loud funny.

Kristen Wiig — at her most endearingly awkward — is Dr. Erin Gilbert, a physicist on her way to secure tenure at Columbia University, whose paranormal-investigating past comes back to haunt her in the form of a newly republished book she co-wrote alongside her former best friend Dr. Abby Yates (McCarthy). With her academic career threatened, Gilbert confronts Yates, who now works at a small technical college with the eccentric and scene-stealing Dr. Jillian Holtzmann (McKinnon).

Yates and Holtzmann are all about seeking out the paranormal, but Gilbert wants nothing to do with that field of study anymore. The three wind up face-to-face with a free-floating apparition at a historic mansion, where Gilbert finds herself a believer once again after she’s showered with all the concrete evidence she needs: the spirit’s ectoplasmic slime.

Setting up shop above a Chinese restaurant, hiring a whole-other-level-of-stupid receptionist named Kevin, played by “Thor” himself Chris Hemsworth, and rounding out the team with an MTA worker named Patty Tolan (Jones) who knows New York City inside and out, the Ghostbusters are ready to equip a whole slew of ghost-trapping gadgets and find out why there’s been a sudden emergence of paranormal activity lately.

Feig and Dippold understand what people love most about the original — the characters — and run wild with that, taking the main basic concept of realistic people hunting ghosts in the Big Apple and doing their own thing with it. Some jokes fall flat — as is common in an improv-heavy ensemble — and the plot loses steam once it kicks into high gear, making for a second half that’s a bit bloated.

But overall, like in the original, it’s really fun hanging out with these characters and seeing them play off one another. The first half especially, when the group is forming and getting into the swing of their newfound business, is an absolute delight. Also, the ghosts on display here are all wonderfully designed, and the movie contains some legitimately creepy scenes. There’s plenty of room in the world for two different groups of Ghostbusters, and this one certainly holds their own. In fact, it’s when the movie hits the audience over the head with nostalgia and restricts itself from being its own “entity” altogether, by not putting complete trust in its four funny leads to make it work without help, that it suffers.

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