I know COCAINE BEAR — the “inspired by true events” film — sounds like a straight-to-SyFy production. It is exactly what the title is: it’s about a bear in the woods, jacked up on cocaine, and matters escalate.

However, director Elizabeth Banks — a relentless actor/director — goes for fucking broke with it. The script is whip-smart, it’s perfectly paced, it’s hilarious but also strangely sensitive both in tone, character approach, and its visual approach — it has gore, but it doesn’t luxuriate in it — and oddly it reminds me of both THE GOONIES and ALIEN3. To say why might spoil matters, but: it’s a brilliant combination.

Also, Banks must have called in all of her favors, because this cast — Keri Russel, Ray Liotta, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Margo Martindale, Ayoola Smart! (Also a barely present Matthew Rhys, so they got all of THE AMERICANS!) — would seem to be above what sounds like schlock. (Well, maybe not Ray Liotta [R.I.P.]) However, they all commit and give commanding performances!

This is a small note, but Banks really captures the essence of exploring a forest trail. There were a few shots where I said to myself: “Wow, this unnervingly feels like my backwoods.” (Because of course, having previously lived in Vermont, our backyard was basically one big forest, and also had guideposts and maps and signs to help navigate.)

I went into it expecting the film to be a lark, but I was shocked by how well-executed it was. This is an exceptional genre picture, and I’m slightly upset that there were only three other people in the audience with me — for a 4:20 Friday screening, nonetheless — which indicates … it’s under-appreciated. Hopefully it’ll find its audience in the future, because it deserves proper cult status.

One ding: I really wish they didn’t lean so hard into the “inspired by true events” bit. The events that happen here are outlandish enough that I don’t want to think about them happening to actual folks, and I imagine that there’s a lot of imagination and exaggeration going on. It feels completely unnecessary.


The Vic, a Chicago-based music venue, used to host film screenings whenever bands weren’t playing there, sometimes even indulging in triple-screenings that would extend well-beyond midnight. It was called ‘Brew & View’ and I still rave about what I can’t remember about the strangest triple-feature I’ve ever seen screened: THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS, LORD OF THE RINGS: TWO TOWERS, and JASON X.

If I had my way, I’d totally delight in screening a triple-feature of this, ROAR, and ALIEN3. But that’s just me.

RODEO (2022)

(VOD/Cinemas) RODEO is a film about a masochistic individual who thrills by riding motorbikes.

I’m a masochistic individual who previously thrilled by riding horses. I was so completely thrown by how seen I felt. So of course I’m pre-disposed to love it.

I caught a screening of it with a post-interview between the brilliant Katie Rife and director Lola Quivoron, who basically said: “Yeah, it’s one and the same.”

(I would argue that it isn’t, as animals and engineering are completely different, but we’re both basically on the same page.)

It is a brilliant depiction of self-destruction and hedonism, and Julie Ledru is absolutely fantastic as the wide-eyed lead.

I’ll note that it’s very French, and would make a great double-feature with TITANE. Some may have issues with the ending, but to me it felt inevitable. Folks like ourselves literally burn ourselves out.


As I’ve previously mentioned one of my absolutely favorite things about living where I do is that I can walk to see Joe Swanberg show off a secret film, and when I heard he was bringing his secret screenings back this year, I absolutely glowed and immediately bought a solo ticket.

I’ve been to a lot of film fests and special film events. Normally they’re all dudebros and posturing and bullshit and I want nothing to do with it but watch the film and walk out and grab a drink elsewhere and think for a while.

That’s not Swanberg’s Secret Screenings at the Davis Theater. I don’t know anyone there, but it has a communal atmosphere. We’re all there to be delighted, enthralled, disgusted, or even disappointed, but to revel in the experience!

And wow, what a gloriously stupid experience this was.

When I walked into the theater, I’d overheard Swanberg saying ‘…yeah, it’s not as brutal as the last film. It’s lighter!’ because he’s there, doing the work, still handing out flyers for his events like a 16-year-old, and I love it.

A FOLDED OCEAN is an absolutely brutal body horror short film from the FX artist of EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE, which can be boiled down to absolution and lust, and what can come from that.

Then it took a good hour for them to figure out how to project the actual secret screening! And everyone was so patient, and reached out to everyone and talked to everyone in an extremely mindful way! I normally have my nose stuck in a book, which is 100% visually coding for: do not talk to me, but people did, and I did not mind it!

(They ended up handing out free beers to everyone — and everyone already had free beers with their tickets — and when I accepted one, they asked: do you want a second one? I indulge, but I don’t double-fist because that’s crass and stupid, so I said no, and my theatrical neighbor sarcastically quipped: ‘Do you want a six pack?’ and I couldn’t help but snort-laugh.)

SMOKING CAUSES COUGHING is essentially an anthology series — the trailer will try to fool you but the superhero schtick is just the framing device. It’s penned and directed by one person: Quentin Dupieux, of RUBBER and DEERSKIN fame. I will admit: I didn’t become a fan of his until DEERSKIN. That was the moment when I was like: okay, he’s graduated to penning proper narratives instead of self-indulgent experimental, navel-gazing works.

SMOKING CAUSES COUGHING is his best work yet, and most effective. The first story was so effective that my mind has blacked it out — not because of the free beers, but because it fucked me up. Do not go into this thinking it’ll be a fun lark, because it is not, but it’s a well-told weaving of stories, akin to THE COMPANY OF WOLVES. It’s affecting, occasionally funny, but often traumatic.

conner4real – F**K OFF

POPSTAR: NEVER STOP NEVER STOPPING is — like JOSIE AND THE PUSSYCATS — a criminally underrated cult film about pop music and musicians. I could write forever about it, but instead, I stupidly want to focus on the deleted musical number FUCK OFF, which isn’t even in the film proper.

You might want to watch it first:

I have no idea why they filmed this. The lyrics alone — which apart from the FUCK OFF anthem also features the line ‘you think I look like a punk, when your face looks like an elephant’s c**t’ — automatically guarantees an NC-17 rating. (I especially appreciate the cut-away to a youth singing along to the lyric.) They spent a lot of money and a lot of time on this one weird number that — checks notes — well, it has almost nine million views, so maybe that’s why.

This song is wall-to-wall filth, pretending to be pre-teen-friendly, which is in-and-of-itself absolute perfection. I swear like a fucking sailor and even I was astounded by this song. (In a good way, though!)

Even better, it is visually perfect, featuring amazing choreography and eye-popping colors, crop-tops and Britney schoolgirl skirts and screaming audience members, all moving in-sync. It’s a perfect encapsulation of coming-of-age youth stadium shows.

My favorite incredibly stupid detail is the one audience member brandishing a GameBoy Color standing in as an iPhone.

It is a gloriously dumb-smart bit that was too good for the world, relegated to the bin of DVD extras, but is definitely worth your time if you have the stomach for it.

“I hope you get butt-fucked in prison! Be good to each other — peace!”

Fuck AMC

Taking a rare timeout to get on a different sort of soapbox today:

Look, I realize I’m in the minority when it comes to movie viewing and theatrical outings. I actively — often solo — pursue indie theaters in the name of art versus a collective outing to fall asleep during the latest Marvel film. Also: I hate middle seats and sitting around people, especially in megaplexes. I have long legs — long enough that if someone needs to pass me by, I have to stand up; the sideway scrunch doesn’t cut it — so I routinely sit in one of the most unpopular seats in the house.

That said: AMC’s decision to move towards tiered prices for seats is a disheartening and damaging one, one that signals that they’re tilting towards Ticketmaster. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if, within a year or two, we start to see them boost their own ticket hub to auction off ‘sold out’ seats for tentpole releases. (I still don’t understand how Ticketmaster owning and funneling tickets off to StubHub is legal.)

Movie theaters will never die — you will always have misfits operating a creaky projector in whatever abode they can finagle — however, it is about damn time that theaters as monopolies die. What many folks forget about American capitalism is that Hollywood was the very pinacle of ‘vertical integration’, where one singular power controlled the creation, distribution, and consumption of their product, giving studios unbridled sway to essentially extort money from the public. Eventually the Supreme Court interceded and handed down a brutal number of penalties against the major players. It’s worth noting that Disney actively engages in ‘block booking’, which is why you can see the latest Marvel film on ten screens in the same theater, but there’s no room for the latest Sarah Polley film. (For more, see:

However, as Elijah Wood noted: movies have a history of being an egalitarian entertainment. Before there were movie houses, folks roamed from town-to-town, setting up a hand-cranked projector and a screen outdoors for public entertainment (and a bit of profit). When movies went indoors, the spots were often known as movie palaces — not just for their opulence, but because they were spaces to collectively congregate for the better part of the day, and a nickel would give you a way to beat the heat, learn about current events via newsreels, have a few laughs and maybe shed a few tears. (And yes, that’s where the term ‘Nickelodeon’ comes from.)

Not to be all ‘back in my day’ but back in my day, there were a number of national franchised movie houses, like Loews. Now, AMC owns them all and have a virtual monopoly on movie theaters. Now they’re charging more than what you’d spend to stream a film upon its release. (Those of my age may remember that, ‘back in the day’ you couldn’t buy films on video for less than $100, but that’s a subject for another time.)

Again, this isn’t about me. I’ll pay the minimum price for the handful of films I attend at an AMC for a year and it’s no skin off of my nose. (There’s no way in hell I’m paying a membership fee for the privilege of a discount, though I will note that I do pay a yearly membership fee to my favorite movie theater: Chicago’s own Music Box.) However, it does severely impact families. I can’t speak for everyone, but I vividly remember my early moviegoing experiences with my family, the awe of big screen spectacle, being swept away by intense emotions, sometimes to the point of having to be ushered out of the theater and comforted by my parents. I’m saddened to think that most of the youth of the current generation will not have those experiences — it’ll just be a blur of banal streaming works on a poorly calibrated flat-screen TV because it’s financially impractical as an outing.

(That said, my parents also hewed strictly to ratings and rarely let me watch anything they hadn’t already seen before. Let this post be a lesson to all of you young parents: restricting media to youths only serves to turn them into media-obsessed monsters.)

I wouldn’t be surprised to see AMC either revert this decision, or simply double-down on it. It’s just disheartening and sad to see what should be a simple experience of going to the movies — a literal trope in many movies — become overly complex and expensive when, if matters were better managed, it wouldn’t be a problem.

THE MENU (2022)

There’s an old adage that one should work a service industry job, just for the experience, just to know what it’s like to have to perform a job that you will not be acknowledged for, one in which you will be treated like dirt. I didn’t do so for the experience — I needed the money and worked as a dishwasher and then was promoted to a line cook. (Then I was fired and re-hired because my bosses discovered out that I found out how much my fellow employees were making. I honestly didn’t care, because they had far more experience than I did, and I don’t value my self-worth because I’m dumb, and basically groveled to reclaim my place and retained it until I moved. But that’s another tale.)

So it’s nice to see THE MENU call this shit out, when instead they could have absolutely ignored it and penned a basic classist slasher-thriller. Instead, it’s a supremely smart and thoughtful dramatic thriller about the entire operation of feeding people, especially rich people, and fulfilling expectations while also fundamentally undermining them, but also undergoing a certain type of self-examination.

I’ll note that, yes, while I grew up in blue-collar joints and learned how to perfectly cook a cheeseburger to someone’s needs, I have indulged in dining in the exact restaurants that THE MENU riffs on such as Alinea. I’ll note that it is hard to overstate the impact of Alinea, especially in a frequently overlooked culinary city like my residing city of Chicago. (We’re more than deep-dish pizza, you know.)

This will age me, but my wife took me to Alinea for my thirtieth birthday. I’d been salivating over them before they even opened, as I’d been following the progress of the restaurant via the eGullet forum, despite not really being a foodie, and definitely not being a restaurant-scene chaser. It looked absolutely radical.

I felt like a schmuck because I was still kind of young and barely knew how to dress myself for the surprise occasion. No, we did not have the fabled dessert because it wasn’t part of the menu at that time. At that time, they were known more for a table-centric chocolate bomb, which was just as delightful/terrifying.

I do not say this to brag. I do not like to pretend that I’m above my station. (To quote Groucho Marx: “I don’t want to belong to any club that would have me as a member.”) I proposed to my wife over fried chicken, if that tells you anything. (Granted, it wasn’t KFC, but Harold’s Fried Chicken — some of the best goddamn fried chicken in the world, however, you routinely have to order it through bulletproof-glass.)

THE MENU sees all of this, and sees the possible pretension and artifice and demon-mongering that can go into it, and it explores it. I commend it for that, because certainly, there are plenty of terrible restaurants out there that prey on it, on giving pretentious service that can fail to fulfill it’s promise. (Alinea’s rotating sidecar restaurant — NEXT — has done that more than a few times for us, but has also been absolutely amazing at times. I can’t forget the pressed duck that we had at our first endeavor — their recreation of a Parisian menu from 1906 — and then they walked us through the kitchen to show how it was made which, well, it made it more miraculous.)

Long story short: restaurants are complicated creatures. Unlike films, no one ventures to one for the fun of a ‘bad time’ but THE MENU twists all of that around. I can’t say it didn’t leave a bad taste in my mouth — it certainly did — but it’s certainly a film that provides food for thought.


It’s worth noting that one of my favorite films of all-time is Peter Greenaway’s THE COOK, THE THIEF, HIS WIFE AND HER LOVER. You might think that it and THE MENU are different sides of the same coin, but really, apart from taking place in a restaurant and extolling haute cuisine, they are worlds apart. THE COOK… is far more mannered and political and British, whereas THE MENU is far more American in every which way.


Why yes, I did briefly write about Tim Burton’s BATMAN RETURNS a few years ago, but I wanted to return to it because I don’t think I said all I had to say about it then. Also, my wife gifted me a Christmas portrait of the reveal of HELL HERE, and it’s one of the best gifts I’ve ever received, by one of my favorite artists — Dijana Granov. This photo does not do it justice: her watercolors and markers lend it a luminosity and vibrancy that feels like the character is reborn, and rightfully so. (Also, my wife framed it properly as a window sill, which is absolute perfection.)

I’ll note that I hate overly demonstrative performances like these being labeled as camp, because no: it’s not. It’s sincere. We all have our breaking points. What affects me about Catwoman and BATMAN RETURNS is her being reborn out of traumatic circumstances, in a new skin, and becomes vengeful because of it, but also stronger — a different person.

When she reacts to hearing her abuser’s name on her answering machine, after literally being killed by him, she flies into a fury that I’ve felt so many times; loud acts of desperation, exacted solely because you don’t know what else to do. And then Selina becomes …..something different, someone different, someone capable of reconciling her strife.

“Honey, I’m home.

Oh, I forgot. I’m not married.”

Favorites of 2022: Film

This was not a great year for prestige films or flyboy-less blockbusters, but it was a fantastic year for small-scale genre films. Granted, I have missed out on a lot of films — I have yet to see ARMAGEDDON TIME or EO or WOMEN TALKING or a bunch of others as there’s never enough time — but below are my current favorites of 2022.


Brilliantly nuanced work about youth and child rearing. One of the most intriguing body horror films since Cronenberg’s THE FLY.


“[An] absolutely outrageous film; it’s mind-bogglingly high-concept, often amusingly puerile, always inventive, but also remarkably emotionally grounded.”


“This is a quiet film, both in tone and in scope, but it confidently speaks volumes. It’s a work about ennui and minor victories and emotional stumbles while also being about longing for an accepting crowd. It’s a melancholy, complicated film told simply, one that’s destined for cult status, simply because it defies tonal categorization or, perhaps, because it’s so cute, so initially innocuous, while ultimately being a measured existential tale, one so immaculately put together in a way that will almost certainly have you smiling through tears.”


High-concept filmmaking with the heart of Cahiers du Cinéma; an audacious look at Hollywood’s role in representing history and people.


The film that made me ask myself: “Why the fuck do I put myself through this?” A brazen and tautly constructed spiral of trauma.


“A meditation on finding one’s identity and transformation [and] how people reach out through technology when there’s no other way. It’s a heartfelt, singular work.”


“Equal parts Truffaut’s THE WILD CHILD, Virginia Woolf’s novel ORLANDO and Sally Potter’s film adaptation, and Angela Carter’s THE BLOODY CHAMBER and Neil Jordan’s adaptation, THE COMPANY OF WOLVES.”



Cronenberg returns to body horror in a big way, letting Kristen Stewart do whatever she wants, indulging Viggo Mortensen in breath work, all while showcasing Tarkovsky-esque backdrops.


If life is fair — and we all know it is not — this film will become a cult-classic, at least as long as long as it’s available to stream. It starts off as a private high-school STRANGERS ON A TRAIN and then becomes something completely different, all backed by an astounding 90s soundtrack. Shades of a modern JAWBREAKER from the creators of SWEET/VICIOUS.


Extraordinarily winsome character drama that puts the delights and desires of the best features of attire forward.


A surprising “paean to 50s Technicolor melodramas” from one of the most humanist genre filmmakers working right now.

Angelo Badalamenti (1937-2022)

If the works of David Lynch have taught us anything, it’s that those who have passed will live long in our memories and, sadly, composer Angelo Badalamenti will now only exist in that realm.

I’ve thought and mused a lot about TWIN PEAKS over the past few years, for reasons anyone can probably suss out, but I feel like I failed to give due attention to how much work Badalamenti does to buoy Lynch. Yes, there’s Laura Palmer’s iconic theme, and of course Audrey’s dance, but I find his score for FIRE WALK WITH ME to be far more resonant and brutal, The Pink Room (NSFW) in particular.

His influence cannot be overstated. He provided an enlightened soundtrack for scores of dreamy and broken and fucked-up individuals, and he will be missed.

Halloween 2022 Programming: Classic

For over a decade, my wife and I have had a tradition where I draft up a selection of horror films for Halloween viewing, and she picks one from each group: contemporary, classic, and cult, and I thought I’d share my suggestions this year.

Due to timing and circumstances, I provided our contemporary first yesterday, and now it’s time for classic and cult. This is classic! I’m also including some personal notes to provide context.


“A married couple grieving the recent death of their young daughter are in Venice when they encounter two elderly sisters, one of whom is psychic and brings a warning from beyond.”

One of the most popular non-Hitchcock Daphne du Maurier film adaptations, and also one of the greatest portraits of Venice. Certain facets of it haven’t aged well, but it’s still very thrilling.


“A teenager discovers that the newcomer in his neighborhood is a vampire, so he turns to an actor in a television horror show for help dealing with the undead.”

There was a recent remake of FRIGHT NIGHT, oddly starring David Tennent and penned by Marti Noxon (BUFFY, UnREAL, DIETLAND). While it’s surprisingly good for a remake, the original is more fun.

SISTERS (1992)

“The Staten Island apartment of lovely model Danielle becomes the scene of a grisly murder that is witnessed by her neighbor, Grace, a reporter. But the police don’t believe her story, so it’s up to Grace to solve the murder mystery on her own.”

Brian De Palma’s breakthrough film. (We just saw the end of his OBSESSION.) It also features Margot Kidder, and has some very inventive visuals that — while cribbed from Hitchcock — manage to feel fresh.