I don’t love the MISSION IMPOSSIBLE films. I don’t begrudge anyone who does — they’re (usually) finely crafted patchworks of set-pieces, but it’s not emotionally evocative for me and usually too spectacle-laden. Sorry, but I prefer small, intense melodramas instead of bombastic spy-craft.

I am not the target audience for most of these films, and that’s fine!

I quite enjoyed MISSION IMPOSSIBLE 3, which some folks have rightly said feels like ALIAS: THE MOVIE due to J.J. Abrams’ direction, but Phillip Seymour Hoffman is so brilliant in that role; all huffing and puffing in a way that puts James Gandolfini’s performance as Tony Soprano to shame.

Also, there’s that one scene where Ethan is battling his way through a building and instead of watching him do his thing, the camera stays stationary on his partners as they shoot the shit in an idling car, waiting for him to finish the job. I love it when works take a dramatic shift to the unconventional like that, subverting expectations and explicitly denying audiences what they think they want.

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: DEAD RECKONING PART 1 (henceforth know as MI:DR1 because I’m lazy and also that title is way too much) has a lot of very thrilling, very memorable set-pieces, and is well-worth watching solely for that. (There’s one protracted scene near the end which liberally cribs from both Buster Keaton’s THE GENERAL and Preston Sturges’ SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS. Yes, really.) It also has a lot of faux-emotional beats that fail to land, and a ton of template potboiler dialogue. Give a little, get a little, I suppose.

However, MI:DR1 greatly excels at showing off foreign locales. I’ve been lucky enough to have visited Rome and Venice, both of which are prominently featured in the film, even if they only were allowed to film on four blocks of Rome. (Seriously, keep an eye out for how many times the Colosseum appears in the background. That said, I have no idea how they finagled one of the car chase scenes without destroying cultural landmarks.) I kept elbowing my wife saying: “We’ve been there!” It wasn’t gloating. We were reliving the experience through the veracity of the film stock, the angles, the alleyways, and the broad public spaces and copious stairwells.

There’s one fight scene in MI:DR1 that features Ethan in an extremely narrow Venice alleyway that essentially is a vertical take on the iconic horizontal fight scene in OLDBOY, and it’s emblematic of the city in general. While most folks think of gondolas and bodies of water when Venice is mentioned — and I’ll note: MI:DR1 does feature some scenic gondola moments — I think of the maze-like nature of navigating the city. It is absolutely byzantine and bewildering and if you are not a local, it is so easy to get lost. GPS? Not gonna help ya here, and there’s no A-to-Zed to detail the webwork of their streets.

Venice is an amazing city. It shouldn’t exist and, within a hundred years it’s doubtful it will continue to exist. It’s an island that is constantly fighting a losing battling against the heartless, unending pressure of water. It is a singular, very special spot that has so much history, but very rarely is that essence captured on film. Apart from MI:DR1, Nicolas Roeg’s DON’T LOOK NOW is the only other film I’ve seen that comes close to fairly portraying the history and claustrophobia that the city evokes.

I’d be remiss to neglect the Orient Express in all of this. While not a locale, per se, it is its own sort of traveling sort of a town; the inside of the train is iconic, and has been made indelible by so many works. (Granted, most of them feature Poirot, but not all of them!) The final set-piece takes place on said train, and mainstay MISSION IMPOSSIBLE director Christopher McQuarrie goes to great lengths to literally walk you through the entirety of the train before, well, before matters escalate.

Again, these films rarely move me, but they are a fun rollercoaster of a ride, and they are steadfast about paying attention to detail. These are meticulously crafted works that can be appreciated in a number of ways, and I prefer to read them as the modern travelogues that they are.


(Cinemas/Prime) I was one of the few folks who watched HBO’s GIRLS simply because it was from the director of TINY FURNITURE. I know that Lena Dunham is a rather polarizing individual in media, but I love her voice, while realizing that it is extremely selective, it is also very distinct.

CATHERINE CALLED BIRDY is no different, despite the fact that it’s based on a children’s book that Dunham didn’t pen. It’s the story of a medieval youth, Catherine, often called Birdy (the brilliant Bella Ramsey, who stole every scene she was in on GAME OF THRONES as Lyanna Mormont), trying to navigate life while her alcoholic father (Hot Priest Andrew Scott) tries to sell her off to a suitor.

While that sounds rather tragic, it ultimately isn’t. It’s a carefully calibrated tale of life and emotion and struggles, and features Dunham’s quick wit and humor (as well as all of the trappings that come with her work).

PEARL (2022)

PEARL is the opportunistic prequel to X, shot partially due to the fact that Ti West and the crew of X were stuck in New Zealand during the pandemic, they were listless, and he certainly made the most of it by fleshing out the ‘X’ storyline.

PEARL takes place in 1918, during the height of the “Spanish Influenza” — conveniently having a writerly reason for masks while shooting through the COVID pandemic — and concerns itself with the youthful edition of the elderly murderous wife featured in X, the titular Pearl. Unlike X, this is more of a character study, but includes faux-Technicolor bravado mimicking the films of John Ford, George Cukor, and Douglas Sirk.

We get the back-story of young Pearl, a woman — a farmer’s daughter — who thrills in killing creatures and feeding them to the nearby crocodile (also featured in X), one that dovetails with her zeal to be immortalized by Hollywood, not unlike X’s Maxine’s go-for-broke need to be seen by others. Matters escalate, most notably regarding a local theater projectionist who has a thing for skin flicks, in which Pearl finds her agency.

While there isn’t much more on the page than that — and those expecting PEARL to be as blood-soaked as X will be disappointed — it features Ti West’s heartfelt warmth towards sympathy for his protagonists, as murderous as they may be. It’s slower, it revels in long shots and eye-popping color — a welcome change from the miserable desaturated hues of most films nowadays — but oddly ramps the visual tone up when necessary, including a jarring giallo-esque segue near the end that you’ll know when you see it.

I’m not surprised that he made this paean to 50s Technicolor melodramas, but I am surprised he managed to get it made, and I can’t wait to see MAXXXINE — the closer to the trilogy.


I am an unabashed Agatha Christie fan. I’ve read every Christie-penned Poirot novel. I’ve seen a live rendition of THE MOUSETRAP, albeit, not in London’s West End (although, not for want of trying). I’ve spent many hours watching adaptations of hers, partially because I’m simply fascinated with how folks adapt her works.

Folks nitpick her, saying she’s a sloppy storyteller, which due to possible Alzheimers, that’s fair concerning some of her later works, but when she was at the top of her game she was endlessly inventive, and constantly challenging herself and her readers.

I can’t say that SEE HOW THEY RUN is as ambitious as Christie’s best works, such as THE A.B.C. MURDERS or THE MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD or AND THEN THERE WERE NONE. However, it is slightly more ambitious than the Christie work it’s riffing on, THE MOUSETRAP, which is a very thin, very perfunctory murder mystery radio play — originally named THREE BLIND MICE, as Christie loves utilizing nursery rhymes and schoolyard songs — that Christie adapted into a short story. It then became the longest running theatrical play in history; perfect for dinner theatre, but not much else.

Famously, Christie sold off the film rights with the caveat that production could start shortly after the West End play closed. It’s still playing there to this day.

Instead of creating an adaptation of THE MOUSETRAP, SEE HOW THEY RUN is a meta-version of THE MOUSETRAP, where the murder mystery takes place during a production of THE MOUSETRAP. Not the cleverest conceit, but it’s serviceable enough to bring in a game — albeit underutilized — cast, which includes short-lived Adrian Brody, Sam Rockwell as the inspector, and the highlight of the film, Saoirse Ronan as the delightfully winsome Constable Stalker.

Frankly, I just want an entire series about Constable Stalker, and Saoirse’s endless enthusiasm practically sells the film in-and-of-itself.

That said, SEE HOW THEY RUN also has some stellar production design and camera work, and comes together far better than, say, Branagh’s tragedy of DEATH ON THE NILE, although it is a bit too tidy.

I can’t say this film will please everyone, but if you’re into Christie, it fits the playbill.


(Cinemas, VOD) WE’RE ALL GOING TO THE WORLD’S FAIR was often described as creepypasta during its film fest tour last year, which — fair, given that it’s about (mostly) teens performing ritualistic summoning acts based on internet content, and then recording themselves online to document the results of said acts — but I find it more to be a character drama lined with horror elements, as opposed to a modern technological horror tale.

(As usual, I’ll keep spoilers light, but if the above sounds appealing to you, perhaps just watch the film and read this after!)

To summarize: ‘Casey’ (an astounding debut from Anna Cobb) is a high-school teen who lacks a mother, hides in a bedroom attic from an asshole father whom is rarely home, and has no friends. She loves horror and darkness and is -extremely online-. She decides to take ‘The World’s Fair Challenge’, which consists of repeating ‘I want to go to The World’s Fair’ three times over — Bloody Mary/Candyman style — then pricking your thumb and bleeding onto a screen, and lastly, watching the ‘The World’s Fair Challenge’ video via said screen, all of which she records via her very underwatched online channel.

What happens next is questionable for all involved, but it always involves some sort of physical transformation. While this could be construed as a teen puberty allegory, it has more depth.

(It’s at this point that I should note that the director, Jane Schoenbrun, is trans, but hadn’t started transitioning when she started writing the script. I highly recommend reading her spoiler-free interview with IndieWire’s Jude Dry)

‘Casey’, based on her videos, hears from an older male-presenting person known solely as JLB (the memorable character actor Michael J Rogers), who constantly frets about her. Matters escalate, but in ways you wouldn’t suspect.

At the center of WE’RE ALL GOING TO THE WORLD’S FAIR is a meditation on finding one’s identity and transformation, not in thrills or scares. (Although it does have a few of those.) While some would write this off as a COVID-centric film — apart from a sole snippet in one scene, no two major players act alongside each other — it’s also about how people reach out through technology when there’s no other way. It’s a heartfelt, singular work, and I can’t wait to see more from Jane.

Lastly, I’ll note: this may seem antithetical for an -extraordinarily online- work, but try to make the effort to see it in the theater if possible. The use of negative space, of silence, of punctuational sound — especially rain — and most certainly of hard-cuts to loading animations is so goddamn effective when blown up and taken out of a smaller screen context. It becomes almost overwhelming and daunting in a way that one rarely thinks about, but one that is certainly intended.

“I swear, some day soon, I’m just going to disappear, and you won’t have any idea what happened to me.”


(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.

SPENCER (2021)

Truth be told, I signed up for this screening solely because of Kristen Stewart’s depiction of Princess Diana. I’m not one who cares about the British monarchy. I barely paid attention to either the anointment of Diana or her death, although I do vividly remember seeing it in print …because it was being used as kitty litter at the pet adoption agency I visited shortly after moving to Chicago. I had a panic attack when my wife tried to walk me through the primary Harrods shop, back when it housed -all- of the Diana memorials, solely because of how populated it was. I haven’t even watched Pablo Larraín’s initial film in his ‘(doomed) princess’ trilogy, JACKIE (2016). Consequently, I expected to find SPENCER well-made, but not terribly engaging.

I certainly did not expect it to be a brilliant, skewed take on THE COOK, THE THIEF, HIS WIFE & HER LOVER. While I often read a lot of Greenaway influence into works, I think it’s undeniable here, as Greenaway’s film was explicitly about the suffocation that climate invoked, the prison one is placed in when bending the knee, and SPENCER is all about feeling trapped, about being boxed in and unable to breathe, and similarly about obligation and servitude, while also mimicking THE COOK, THE THIEF, HIS WIFE & HER LOVER’s visual tropes, notably making Diana the camera’s magnet, fixated on following her across rooms and through walls, flat-framing her, exchanging Gautier for Chanel, even color-coordinating her wear with the wallpaper and meals, such as the inaugural dish served at the opening of the three day Christmas decadence: pea green soup capped with a white foam, while she’s attired in a pea green frock lined in white. Also, her primary confidant and connection throughout this debacle? The chef; food being her only comfort apart from her sons.

SPENCER is a bold tale, singularly focused on Diana mentally spiraling downward, unfurling, and realizing that she’s rebuking this life, struggling to return home and to her roots. She’s opting-out, but yet is still trapped. It’s a story of acknowledging service, service to one’s family, to one’s nation, and of knowing yourself and unceremoniously rejecting your place in that hierarchy.

I’m on record as being a Kristen Stewart booster but even I was a bit on the fence about having her portray Diana, but she’s a goddamn revelation in the role, all wild, sad eyes and angered and antagonistic in a way I’ve never seen from her. It’s brilliant casting and writing, with deft camerawork, and surprisingly one of my favorite films of the year.


(Cinemas) BENEDETTA, the latest from the always inventive and thrilling filmmaker Paul Verhoeven, is based on the true story detailed in Judith C. Brown’s text IMMODEST ACTS: THE LIFE OF A LESBIAN NUN IN RENAISSANCE ITALY. Benedetta Carlini (Virginie Efira) was pledged to the church by her rich family after a very troubled birth. Benedetta felt that Jesus spoke to her from a young age, and then when she was a youth, her parents paid for her to stay at a nunnery, which according to the film was a slightly disillusioning experience, partially because of the very brusque, practical abbesse Soeur Felicita (the always exceptional Charlotte Rampling) at least until — later in life — a young Bartolomea (a wide-eyed Daphne Patakia) stumbles into the nunnery and Benedetta’s life, chased by herd of sheep and her abusive and rapey father. Benedetta convinces her parents to pay for her to stay there, and she and Bartolomea spiral into a very complicated, charged relationship, with severely uneven power dynamics on both sides.

Apologies for yet another ‘hey I saw an advance screening of this film’ post, but I saw an advance screening of this film a few weeks ago, and it’s the first film I’ve seen in some time to have protestors castigating those walking through the Music Box doors. (Heads-up: I didn’t capture this footage and this isn’t my account.)

The screening was at least two-thirds populated and, if you can attend a nearby screening, are vaxxed, and are comfortable with it, I would suggest attending. The film looks great — although two loud film nerds of a certain type directly behind me complained about the ‘shit CGI’ without realizing that’s part of Verhoeven’s cartoonish violence schtick — but, given the nature of the material, you wouldn’t think that this film is funny, but it is. It’s Verhoeven — it’s irreverent, but it comes from a place of wanting better from people and society. Always has been, hopefully always will be. There’s a purpose behind his cutting humor beyond sugar-coating some rough moments and being clever; it helps to provide insight and flesh out the characters. Consequently, hearing how people laugh and respond to the material in a crowd situation is surprisingly enlightening, although I will note that at least a good third of the laughs were of the nervous kind.

Yes, Verhoeven did take certain liberties — I won’t mention what they are as one is pretty important, one could say the crux of the film — so there is definitely some fictional sensationalism, but ultimately this is a human drama, one which showcases how very little has changed over hundreds of years.


(Cinemas) I wrote a bit about THE SOUVENIR (PART I from here on out) a few days ago, in case you missed it. You might want to start there.

Given that I will watch anything from Joanna Hogg, I intentionally neglected to watch THE SOUVENIR PART II’s trailer (PART II from here on out), going in cold. What I saw wasn’t even close to what I thought we would get. I was thinking it would be something along the lines of THE UP series — checking in on the character as they age.

PART II is far more interesting than that.

PART II, an overtly autobiographical piece from writer/director Joanna Hogg, picks up approximately where the first part left off and follows aspiring filmmaker Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne) as she tries to process the events of the first ‘film’ of her life (in several ways), while also becoming a more singular being.

I imagine there will be a number of folks who will find PART II to be too inside baseball. (That said, film nerds will eat this up.) Instead of focusing on a realistic relationship melodrama, PART II is specifically about Julie trying to find the images to deal with what she’s going through, and most of that is done through her work on her final student film. There’s a lot of riffing on PART I, there’s a lot of film jargon, and a lot of time spent on film sets and film crew members angrily bickering with each other.

In other words, the narrative propulsion is the polar opposite to PART I, but the center is still the same: it’s all about Julie’s journey, and Hogg handles it masterfully. Just like with PART I, it’s so beautifully and effectively shot — you can tell it’s a Hogg film based on how she frames buildings and navigates interior urban spaces, how she opts to obscure people’s faces more often than not, have them ‘turnout’ or ’turn in’.

I can’t recommend these two films enough, but I would suggest watching them relatively close together. I hadn’t seen PART I since it screened in theaters in 2019, and felt like I was missing out on a lot in PART II because, uh, my memory, and the past two years have been particularly harrowing.

Lastly, Vadim Rizov’s A.V. Club review touches on a lot of film and autobiographical references and riffs I wish I had time to note.


(Cinemas/VOD) Sorry, yet another ‘very difficult to track down’ film. For the past month or so, Joe Swanberg has been programming Mystery Monday screenings at the Davis Theater in Chicago, showcasing films whose releases were delayed or quietly rolled out to VOD due to COVID. One of the most recent was SUPERIOR, and he managed to bring in director Erin Vassilopoulos for an enlightening post-film Q&A. If you are in Chicago, I highly suggest attending these screening — Swanberg has excellent taste, he’s a very gracious interviewer, and he’s doing good work trying to boost films that might otherwise fall through the cracks.

SUPERIOR is the debut feature film from Erin Vassilopoulos (and co-written by one of the two primary protagonists, Alessandra Mesa), but follows directly after Vassilopoulos’ short film of the same name. It’s a character drama/thriller centered around two identical twins, one a misfit musician on the run from her abusive husband, the other living a very domestic life, trying to have a kid with her milquetoast husband.

It’s a remarkably handled film that, while it definitely has shades of Brian de Palma’s SISTERS (1972) and David Lynch (take your pick: LOST HIGHWAY, MULHOLLAND DRIVE, even FIRE WALK WITH ME), it is its own creature, with quite a bit to say about how sisters push and pull each other, as well as how they deal with individual and intertwined identity.

Just the script and the performances from the two twins (the previously mentioned Alessandra Mesa, and Ani Mesa) would be enough to make this a notable film, but it’s also staged in the 1980s, and Vassilopoulos shot on 16mm to give it a delicious visual texture and familiarity that serves the work well. Additionally, the production design and locations are perfectly handled — attractive, distinct, but they never overshadow any particular scene or moment.

It’s an impactful initial work, one that is tautly paced and doesn’t overstay its welcome. While it’s played a few places in 2021, they’re looking at a proper rollout around March 2022, so keep your eyes peeled for it.