LAST STOP (2021)

(macOS/PC/PS4/PS5/Xboxes) Every gamer has encountered a game that desperately wants to be a film instead. (I’m looking at you, METAL GEAR SOLID 2.) You know the type: long-winded cut-scenes, overly flamboyant camerawork that often gets in the way of interactivity, shamelessly cribbing from other films — usually Tarantino — all with the intent to make the player feel something.

LAST STOP, from VIRGINIA developers Variable State, is one such game.

LAST STOP consists of an intertwined story of three primary characters: John Smith, an aging father who has a precocious eight (excuse me, eight-and-a-half) year-old daughter named Molly; Donna, a teen girl who sneaks out at night to be a bit rebellious with her friends; and Meena, an agent with a nebulous intelligence agency that deals with the supernatural or aliens — that isn’t quite clear out of the gate — but it also leads to some body switching and other high-concept notes.

While ostensibly it’s interactive fiction by way of Telltale’s games (THE WALKING DEAD), the dialogue choices really don’t matter, and most of the interactivity consists of walking to a door or clumsy item finagling, a la David Cage (the ‘auteur’ behind HEAVY RAIN, DETROIT: BEHIND HUMAN, who also desperately wants to create ‘cinematic experiences’ and they often ring false).

When you get to the third chapter of LAST STOP, which nakedly indulges in the trope where a camera circles around a table during what is ostensibly heist planning, well, yeah, it becomes crystal clear that this should just be a film rather than a hackneyed patchwork of filmic gaming experience.

That may sound harsh, but I couldn’t scrub that feeling from my mind and it’s a shame, as their prior game VIRGINIA managed to navigate those interactive narrative waters far more smoothly, partially because it felt more thoughtful and thought-out.

So why am I grousing about it in this blog that’s all about recommending works? It’s because I’m still a sucker for these sort of games; they’re perfect fodder for tucking into on a lazy Sunday. Also, Meena? (See above.) She is one hell of an ice queen and one of the best modern video game characters of our time. However, it’s a far cry from the silent meditative and askew nature of VIRGINIA.

While it’s far from perfect, it is quite playable — for as little that you actually can play it — and while I played, I was quite invested to see where all of the high-concept facets would lead to. Additionally, the visual design and artistry is quite compelling in a LIFE IS STRANGE simple, but effective, way. When the story hits, it lands well; these are complex people living different but vastly similar lives to the way most live.

I’ll note that it is extraordinarily British. One chapter practically feels torn from a Mike Leigh film.

Again, it’s a bit of a misfire and isn’t for everyone, but it is a fun lark and we all need that sometimes.


One nice touch: one of the lead characters has a very visible caesarean scar, perhaps the only time I’ve ever seen that in a video game.


So, if you read my prior post about SHADE, THE CHANGING GIRL, you might have noted that I said the series was very low-stakes.

I retract that remark.

SHADE, THE CHANGING WOMAN ramps everything up 200%, while still being a well-honed and calculated identity tale. Also, it manages to (briefly) interweave prior Rac Shade interlopers Lenny and Kathy in a brilliant way.

In other words, I fucking love it. I wish there was more of it, but I’m so happy what I have in my hands exists. Long live Madness, and may Madness bless Loma Shade.

If you’d prefer a deeper dive, I’ll direct you to this PASTE interview from writer Cecil Castellucci:


My apologies in advance for posting yet again about HARLEY QUINN but I will never, ever shut up about this show.

It is not only a paragon of comedic entertainment, with a joke-per-minute count that puts ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT to shame, it features some of the most thrilling and cartoonishly squeamish scenes that would make Sam Raimi jealous, it dives head-first into some of the thorniest depictions of trauma — seriously, the first season’s Bensonhurst should be on every screenwriting syllabus — and it has one of the best penned romances of television time. (Suck it, Jim & Pam.)

And it does all of this under the umbrella of the scattershot DC universe somehow.

I’ll note that the show has radically changed over its three seasons: the first season was fundamentally about Harley separating herself from the abuse of the Joker and finding a supportive network. The second season was about her finding herself and reconciling her history. The third kind of blew up her support network, but also (finally) found her living her best queer life with her love Poison Ivy.

That’s a lot for a show to tear off, much less do well, and manage to do so in gut-busting way.

A bit of a sidenote: I think a lot of people get a tad too hung up over ‘being Harley’ or ‘being Ivy’, in the stupid way everyone in the 90s felt the need to label themselves as a Seinfeld or Sex and the City character. (I still don’t understand why anyone would want to self-identify with those hateful people, but it’s not for me to judge. Well, maybe a little, unless you’re a Samantha.)

What I love about the series — and what makes this special so very special — is that the characters are far more complicated than base archetypes. I can’t help but identify with both. I’m the filthy over-eager people-pleaser that Harley is, but I am also frequently misanthropic and want to do nothing but watch my stories and retreat from the world because I also hate everyone and everything. (Nothing personal!)

However, they make it work. They’re loving, but also have to be constantly mindful of each other’s needs.

That’s one of the great things about this show: it’s one of the first non-John Waters works I’ve seen that celebrates horniness, even against a culture that actively tries to beat it down. (Pun intended.) This episode is wall-to-wall horny in a celebratory way, in the way that I wish sex was more popularly portrayed. It’s mostly about Harley buying drugs to give Ivy the best orgasm of her life — which leads to one of the best lines of the show: “Oh you cannot possibly be mad about me wanting to get you off too good. THAT IS NOT A THING!

Even us damaged folk want to get our freak on, and this show helps to normalize that.

And then there’s Bane! Kaiju Bane, fucking every building he sees because he took some bad drugs! Literally laying waste to the world, and it’s hilarious.

This show is bonkers, but also manages to be one of the most grounded works out there. I’m so tired of seeing poorly-penned 20-something relationships in media, and HARLEY QUINN gives us something meaningful and substantive, while also being narratively interesting!

I’d like to note that Alan Sepinwall is also extolling the show’s virtues (or, err, lack there of?) so I’m not alone:

Cripes, I didn’t even get to mention all of the WHEN HARRY MET SALLY riffs. Also: ETRIGAN and his rhymes?! And their V-Day hairdos! Just watch the damn ep — it speaks for itself!

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.


(HBO MAX, for now) I’ve written about MADE FOR LOVE twice before — first concerning the initial HBO season and second regarding the original novel. Now I’m writing about the second and, sadly, final HBO season so, this will probably be the last time I’ll write about it.

Both the initial novel and the first HBO season dialed in on a very sloppy woman named Hazel who routinely made bad decisions and rarely thought about or regretted them, which lead to the trauma of being a woman escaping from a technological bubble created by Byron Gogol, an obsessive man’s technological spider-web. She ultimately gets roped back into the bubble — The Hub — but MADE FOR LOVE’s second season is a tad more flip, far more darkly comic, albeit at the cost of a lack of focus.

While the end of the first season of MADE FOR LOVE aptly set the stage for a second season — going against the grain of its source material, I’ll add — the second season feels like a wild swing for the fences; it tackles a number of wide-eyed high-concepts in ways that recalls cyberpunk classic MAX HEADROOM while still hewing close to its character study of Hazel’s difficult relationship with her father, how she can course-correct her life, and ultimately find a better version of her self.

There are times when the season feels rushed, however there are also a number of subplots and character arcs that feel tantalizing but sputter out — especially the reintroduction of Zelda, the dolphin that aided Hazel’s escape in season one. However, the highs exceed the lows — this season ventures into batshit-crazy territory and completely exploit the universe. I wish I could say why without spoiling matters.

Season two bites off more than it can chew, certainly, but goddamn it is an aspirational piece of high-concept work that utilizes tech and humanity in ways that feels revitalizing.


(Cinemas) I’ve gone on record as being both an easy laugher and an easy crier when it comes to film viewing, but it’s very rare that I do both at the same time. The Daniels’ (Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheiner, who previously helmed the surprisingly affecting dick joke of a film SWISS ARMY MAN) EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE had my face wet and aglow more than a few times.

EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE (henceforth referred to as EVERYTHING) is an absolutely outrageous film; it’s mind-bogglingly high-concept, often amusingly puerile, always inventive, but also remarkably emotionally grounded. If that sounds like your idea of a good time, read no further and just go see it, preferably on the largest screen possible. (Although, if you do read further, I promise no major spoilers.)

EVERYTHING is all about Evelyn (see what they did there?) played by a never-better Michelle Yeoh — and that’s saying something, as her career is vast and multi-faceted and brilliant — who helms a laundromat with her overly joyful husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan, who you may remember as INDIANA JONES’ Short Round) that is currently being audited by the IRS, specifically by Deirdre (Jaime Lee Curtis, clearly having the time of her life). Meanwhile, Evelyn is trying to mediate matters between taking care of her addled, elderly father (the illustrious James Hong), and her daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu) and her daughter’s girlfriend, Becky (Tallie Medel), all while personally bemoaning all of the options she could have pursued over her life, including singing and acting, instead of tending to a struggling laundromat where her husband keeps slapping googly eyes on everything.

When heading up in an elevator in a non-descript IRS building to meet Deidre and iron their financial matters out, Waymond’s disposition completely shifts; he pops an umbrella to obscure a security camera, and then gives her the barest of instructions and information, which ultimately results in: right now, I’m not your husband; I’m the same person, but from a different, splintered universe, and I need your help. Evelyn’s then walked through the process of accessing her multiverse personas, explicitly through silly, surreal actions.

Matters escalate and what ultimately follows is a very heady trip through not only a mid-life crisis, but a personal reckoning with family. And hot dog hands, which happen to exist in a universe in which people play pianos with their toes. (I can’t help but think that’s a bit of a Tarantino riff. Notably, Uma Thurman is thanked in the credits.)

While EVERYTHING feels a tad too long at almost two-and-a-half-hours, none of that running time is wasted. It is jam-packed, almost overstuffed, with so many ideas, so many effusive, brilliant visual gags, so much hurt between Evelyn and Joy, so much enthusiasm from Way, so many brilliantly choreographed and executed fight sequences, it’s hard to say what they could have cut. The film is an embarrassment of riches, a treasure-trove of cinematic appreciation, but also a surprisingly thoughtful take on hope and love and humanity and of aging and of missed opportunities. While I’m prone to crying and laughing too much at a film, it is an astonishing achievement, and one worth being exuberant about.

Lastly, buy an everything bagel before diving in, and save it for after. You’ll thank me later.


(VOD)? FLASHFORWARD was a post-LOST high-concept ensemble show (based on Robert J. Sawyer’s novel of the same name) helmed by David S. Goyer (who has penned everything from DARK CITY to BATMAN V SUPERMAN). Due to reasons that are (very slowly) exposed over the show’s first season, every human in the world blacks out for 137 seconds which, as you can imagine, was very unfortunate for anyone in an automobile or airplane at the time. However, the majority of folks encountered a vision of what appears to be their life in six months, hence the title of the show. Notably, some people didn’t see anything, and some of those people believe that means they won’t be alive in six months, and more than a few of those folks -do not- react reasonably to that thought.

It features Mark Benford (Joseph Finnes, popular for the best-forgotten SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE) as focal character FBI agent investigating ‘the incident’, and he’s also a recovering alcoholic. (In his flash-forward, he’s fallen off the wagon). Mark’s FBI partner is Demetri Noh (John Cho, HAROLD & KUMAR, the rebooted STAR TREK films, and also pops up as Billy Eichner’s boyfriend on the previously recommended DIFFICULT PEOPLE). Courtney B. Vance (THE PEOPLE V. O.J. SIMPSON) plays the FBI director overseeing Mark and Demetri, and Mark’s wife is surgeon Dr. Olivia Benford (Sonya Walger, one the best parts of LOST). LOST’s Dominic Monaghan portrays a scientist (which is a bit of a stretch, James Callis (the rebooted BATTLESTAR GALACTICA but also the previously recommended 12 MONKEYS TV series) is peppered into a few eps as are Gabrielle Union and Annabeth Gish. Also, sadly-departed magician Ricky Jay brings his skills to a handful of episodes.

So, FLASHFORWARD has an intriguing concept, a versatile storytelling engine, a fantastic cast, and a significant budget, so you probably expect me to write that it’s an underrated one-season wonder.

You would be wrong.

This is not a great show. It spends too much time spinning its wheels, the characters are extraordinarily one-dimensional and uninspired, and the dialogue is very clunky. It’s not a terrible show, but it never finds its footing, and I doubt if it would have even if it had been renewed.

So, why am I recommending it? I’m recommending it solely for one supremely stupid recurring exchange between husband and wife Mark and Olivia that is clearly intended to be a sarcastic-but-cute inside joke:

“I hate you.”

“I hate you too.”

I have no idea whether this is in the original novel. It does seem like a lift from WHEN HARRY MET SALLY but, when I watched the series with my wife, we had forgotten about that comedic bit. The same exchange also occurs between Alain Delon and Ann-Margret in ONCE A THIEF (1965) and — when delivered by them — it’s comedic and even sexy.

Fiennes and Walger — while normally being very winsome actors — can’t pull it off. Sadly, they have little romantic charisma together, but also it’s just poorly framed because they aren’t complex characters.

To the show’s credit, it’s worth noting that Olivia’s flash-forward is that she’s with another man, so it’s a bit of unsubtle foreshadowing, but it still rang hollow when we watched it when it was first broadcast.

Since then, my wife and I often jokingly bring up that poorly executed exchange so, in a way, it was inadvertently effective writing. While it’s an exchange that has been handled far better in more memorable works, it’s FLASHFORWARD’s use of it that’s become our inside joke.


(DVD/BR/YT) ELECTRIC DREAMS is an odd high-concept romantic rivalry/surveillance thriller about architect Miles (Lenny von Dohlen, best known as the agoraphobic florist from TWIN PEAKS), his computer, cellist Madeline (Virginia Madsen), and the love triangle they inhabit, one with shades of CYRANO DE BERGERAC.

Given that I was both a computer nerd and practicing cellist as a youth, I’ve seen this film more than a few times over the years. Yes, its portrayal for what a mid-1980s computer was capable of doing was wildly overblown, but it had a fantastic soundtrack — as you would expect as it’s courtesy of Giorgio Moroder — and was extraordinarily shot. It has a number of lush scenes that highlight the difference between video and film, as well as a more than a few fantastically composed visual vignettes, and Madsen is absolutely charming as Madeline. It certainly was one of the first narrative films that ‘spoke’ to me, that made me feel seen, given that it was both about computers and a cellist.

The film features a musical number where Madeline warms up by playing Bach’s Minuet in G Major (what the ELECTRIC DREAMS soundtrack dubs as the ‘Mad Minuet’), which was one of my warm-ups when I was a young cellist so I can’t help but love it, but I also adore how long and -fun- the scene is. I was never a brilliant cellist — although I was good enough to be in a quartet to play for then-Vermont governor Howard Dean — but when I got on a roll, when I was in the zone, it felt just as exuberant and gleeful. You can view the number below:

ELECTRIC DREAMS has been unavailable in the U.S. for some time now, but there was a recent UK Blu-Ray release via Second Sight ( ). There’s also a copy floating around YouTube that I may have already ‘accidentally’ linked to. (Shh, don’t tell!)

“Hm. Very smart, but weird.”

P.S. There’s a great post-mortem about the film available on YouTube. And, for what it’s worth, there are two scenes I remember vividly from watching it as a youth: the motherboard being washed out, and Madeline’s cello being crushed in the elevator. Madsen’s method time was worth it.

VIBES (1988)

(Prime/VOD) When I first found out about VIBES a few months ago via TCM Underground, I was very upset. “What do you mean there was a late-80s film with Cyndi Lauper, Peter Falk -and- Jeff Goldblum? Why am I just finding out about this?!” Now that I’ve had a chance to watch it, I can understand why it never registered on my radar but I do feel it’s the sort of film that anyone who has any interest in either of the three performers — which I think encompasses most of humanity — needs to know about.

VIBES capitalized on the short-lived mid-80s screwball romantic adventure genre spurred by ROMANCING THE STONE and the like. It’s comprised of two psychics (Lauper & Goldblum) who are enlisted by a dodgy cad (Peter Falk) to track down treasure in a lost Incan city. As you’d expect, the romantic intrigue and banter between Lauper & Goldblum should be enough to propel the film forward but, sadly, Goldblum’s halting delivery hampers an already weak vaudevillian script. For example, here’s an exchange between veteren character actor Michael Lerner and Peter Falk, regarding Falk’s wife: “Harry, I once slept with your wife.” “Estelle? Or Vivian?” “Both.” “Well, you’re one up on me!” (Cue rimshot.)

The sole highlight is Lauper as a 1980s Mae West but, sadly, the material simply isn’t there to let her shine. While she has the enthusiasm and rhythm for the role, her jokes rely on a more energetic and combative performer than the languid Goldblum (who has since been given far more opportunities to hone his comedic timing than Lauper).

I don’t want to oversell -or- undersell this film. Veteran TV director Ken Kwapis does the best with the material as he can, Julian Sands does a classic Julian Sands heel turn, and Steve Buscemi briefly appears as a sad-sack gambler! It’s an intriguing oddity, and it’s worth your time if your Venn diagram of interests intersect with any of those I listed above.

AWAKE (2012)

(VOD) AWAKE was a short-lived high-concept procedural TV crime drama about Michael Britten (Jason Issacs, HARRY POTTER, THE DEATH OF STALIN), a detective who loses his wife (Laura Allen, TERRIERS, THE 4400) in a car accident. He falls asleep and, when he wakes, instead of his wife being dead, it’s his son (13 REASONS WHY’s Dylan Minnette). Next time he falls asleep, his son is still dead. He straddles these two realms, living a fractured life, all while solving crimes and attending therapy sessions with separate therapists (BD Wong in one, Cherry Jones in the other).

The show’s creator, Kyle Killen, previously dabbled in the ‘dual lives’ genre with his infamously truncated FOX series LONE STAR, which featured James Wolk (the Bob in MAD MEN’s ‘Not great, Bob!’. Also, ZOO.) as a bigamist and, while LONE STAR was unjustly canceled too soon, AWAKE feels like a more mature, more interesting take on the material, as it scrutinizes a man who won’t reckon with the schism in his life, so he’s forced to endure all permutations.

AWAKE was one of the rare post-LOST genre shows that used its high-concept to dig deep into the humanity of its characters, while still fueling a remarkable storytelling engine. The season one finale — also the series finale — broke the future potential of the show wide open, or lent the show some closure, depending on how you look at it.

If you do watch it and want to read about what they intended with the finale and potential future of the show, there’s a great interview with Killen here: