(Miss the first part? It’s available here!)


(tubi) All you need to know about SIREN OF THE TROPICS is that it’s the feature film debut of one Josephine Baker who, in the late 1920s was the most popular American entertainer in Paris, mostly because of her erotic dancing. Baker went on to star in a number of other French films before retiring from acting to bring her focus back to live entertainment, and then she went on to become a prolific activist and humanitarian.

Sadly, SIREN OF THE TROPICS is not even close to a grand showcase for Baker, not even for its time. It’s a very middling, very colonial silent film whose only worthwhile moments are those when Baker appears on screen. TROPIC doesn’t just perk up when Baker breaks into dance, but it comes to life whenever she’s in the frame; she deftly wriggles and lithely leaps around and all over the set, as if the boundaries of the screen can’t contain her. When she does break out into dance, especially for her extended Charleston number, the film becomes transcendent and you get lost in her enthusiasm, exuberance, and sheer joy of movement.

Ebertfest brought in renowned composer Renée Baker who has a history of drafting up untraditional silent film scores, and her contribution to this screening was an aural delight. While Renée rarely tampers with the visuals of a film, she did take it upon herself to bookend TROPICS with an extreme slow-motion close-up of Josephine during her solo on-stage dance and, as Renée stated post-film, to celebrate the magic of Josephine Baker.

KRISHA (2016)

(fubo/Showtime/VOD) When is the best time to watch a brutal emotional rollercoaster of a film? Certainly not in the morning, when one’s brain is still somewhat fogged, or when one’s stomach may be churning its way through breakfast. The mid-afternoon? Perhaps not, especially if it’s a beautiful day outside. Even if one doesn’t like lounging in the sun, it’ll be there to accost you upon exiting the screening.

I prefer mid-evening when dealing with works that focus on trauma. The mood feels right, and it’s early enough that you can put some distance between it and that night’s sleep.

Unfortunately, when you’re dealing with a smaller film festival, you don’t have the luxury of opting for a later screening. In the case of Ebertfest’s screening of Trey Edward Shults’ crowdfunded debut feature KRISHA, you either watched it right after a light lunch, or not at all.

It’s not as if anyone going into KRISHA is doing so unaware of what they’re getting into: KRISNA is explicitly about Krisha (Krisha Fairchild), a troubled middle-aged woman with a history of addiction which led to an estranged son. Krisha swears to her sister that she’s cleaned up her act, and she’s invited to the family Thanksgiving get-together, which includes her son. Matters escalate, wildly and horrifically, in a way that feels like Gaspar Noé’s take on a severely dysfunctional family homecoming.

Despite being a relatively young entry in the genre, Shults’ film (based on a short that he filmed a few years prior) is widely acclaimed as one of the rawest depictions of addiction, partially thanks to how personal the material is to Shults, the involvement of his family in the production — a number of them, non-actors all of them, are parts of the core cast — as well as the aural and visual literacy of the film. You would not know that this film was shot on a shoestring budget, as the throbbingly sound design expertly builds tension, and ghostlike camera work cranes up stairs and peeks around corners.

Following the screening was a discussion with Krisha Fairchild, who went into great detail about the pre-production and shooting process, as well as demystified a few facets of the film such as what was the impetus behind Krisha’s missing appendage, details behind certain facets of the house, as well as the reasoning behind some of the character names. I highly suggest watching the discussion yourself, made available by Ebertfest for all to see!

NIGHTMARE ALLEY (2021, B&W Cinematic Version)

One of the guest tentpoles for Ebertfest 2022 was the black-and-white version of Guillermo del Toro and Kim Morgan’s NIGHTMARE ALLEY, and both of them were slated to fly out for a post-film discussion. Unfortunately, halfway through the festival it was announced that del Toro had to undergo non-emergency surgery and would have to attend virtually, which was a bummer, but not completely unexpected. (Similarly, a number of actors from GOLDEN ARM were slated to attend their screening, but had to bow out at the last minute due to conflicting schedules.)

The show went on, a bit later than its announced 8:30pm time. While introducing NIGHTMARE ALLEY, Chaz noted the lateness of the festival’s final screening and assured everyone that we wouldn’t have another ‘Herzog’ incident. Apparently, more than several years ago at a prior Ebertfest, Werner Herzog talked with Errol Morris until well beyond one in the morning. Very few made a preemptive exit, but many of the attendees were worse for wear the following day.

As I’ve grown older I’ve found it increasingly difficult to stay awake during evening screenings, even early ones. Add into the mix the woozy warmth of wearing a KN95 mask, compounded with the exhaustion of exploring a new area and the emotional rollercoaster of a week of brilliant-but-difficult films, and I was running on fumes when the projector flickered to life.

Long story short: I fell asleep about an hour into the film and, apart from a few glimpses of an office here, an underground tunnel there, woke up about twenty minutes before the closing credits. Embarrassing, I know. I can say that the first act hews closer to the original film adaptation than I expected, that what I saw of the back-half of the film was far darker than I expected (probably because I have yet to read the source material), that Bradley Cooper is surprisingly well-suited to his role as an over-confident confidence man, and that I still think the latitude of the black-and-white lacks the contrast that would best fit the film. Apart from that, I’m waiting to watch it in full before I say anything more about the film proper. My apologies if you expected otherwise.

To circle back to del Toro and Morgan: not to worry, del Toro is fine. Also, if you’ve heard him speak before, you know he’s very excitable and loves to talk at length about cinema. Add his wife into the mix, and they can chat for hours without interruption.

While they didn’t quite talk until 1am, I didn’t exit the Virginia Theatre until around midnight. Bleary eyed and more than a little groggy, I left the venue feeling sleepily satisfied. I technically bought my tickets to Ebertfest 2022 way back in 2019, as while Ebertfest 2020 and 2021 were canceled due to COVID, they still honored my initial ticket purchase. This trek was a long time coming, one I should have attempted far earlier in life, but I could hardly ask to attend a better first post-lockdown film festival. Here’s to Ebertfest 2023!

If you’d like to watch any of the panels or Q&As, each and every one has kindly been made available via Ebertfest’s YouTube channel!


(Fubo/peacock/Shudder/tubi/Vudu) GINGER SNAPS is an extremely Canadian production from John Fawcett (co-creator of ORPHAN BLACK) and Karen Walton. Fawcett had the concept and directed it, Walton scripted it, but ultimately it was a collaborative effort. It’s about two goth sisters living together in the basement of their idyllic, overly understanding Fitzgerald parents (Mimi Rodgers and John Bourgeois), struggling to make it through high school ridicule. The older sister is Ginger Fitzgerald (Katharine Isabelle, who has had one hell of a TV career, and she glows in AMERICAN MARY), an extremely confident, very protective-yet-belligerent redhead to her younger sister, Brigitte Fitzgerald (Emily Perkins) who is the quieter, less confrontational but more bookish, sibling.

I don’t know why I’m wasting words when the opening title sequence showcases their dynamics and interests perfectly. Even if the rest of the film was garbage, it’d be worth watching for this perfectly executed bit (which is also really NSFW). (Mike Shields’ amazing opening theme also does a lot of heavy lifting there! )

To summarize: dogs in the Fitzgerald’s suburban neighborhood are repeatedly found torn to shreds, but no one really pays much mind. The two Fitzgerald sisters head out to play a prank against a fellow classmate which goes horribly awry. Ginger has her first period at the same time, informs her sister, and is then is grabbed and scratched by something large and wolflike in a wildly Raimi-esque sequence. The two escape to a road, almost get run over, but youthful drug dealer Sam (Kris Lemche, who had a small role in David Cronenberg’s eXistenZ and does a fair amount of TV work now) accidentally runs over the beast with his ambulance.

Brigette drags Ginger home, tends to her wounds and, almost immediately, Ginger is a different person, a different species, growing hairier, more bloodthirsty from there, but handwaving it away as cramps until she’s full werewolf and embodying a vengeful Carrie.

Brigette tries to keep Ginger on the down-low, but … she’s uncontrollable. Matters escalate.

GINGER SNAPS wasn’t the first horror film I’d seen that was a woman transformation parable — that’d be Neil Jordan’s IN THE COMPANY OF WOLVES but it was almost certainly the first I was overtly aware of, and it was quite the revelation.

A lot has happened since then, so here are a few links:

Karen Walton reflects on GINGER SNAPS, 20 years later.

Apparently, it’s slated to be rebooted as a TV series soon, which I hope will be brilliant.


(fubo/VOD) Yes, I know: everyone has seen THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. Even if you haven’t, you are almost certainly aware of it and the broader beats. This is just a light-hearted horror-adjacent personal story about attending a screening of the film when it was released but, for the spoiler-adverse, I will note that it does include a detailed description of the final shot of the film.

It’s Chicago, August 1999. I’d been living in Chicago for few years now and was renting a cramped, very basic studio on an elevated floor in a large Lakeview complex, just a stone’s throw from Wrigley Field. It was one of the few places that allowed dogs — I did not have a dog — and was next door to a grade school — I did not have a kid — but was routinely woken by either dogs barking or screaming children or both.

Anyway, back to THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. I was familiar with the film well before it had been released, partially because of the internet hubbub but also because the studio had promotional folks hitting up the local goth/industrial club nights, including one event they had at Chicago’s long-gone SPIN nightclub, of which I walked away from with both a t-shirt and CD soundtrack — both of which I still have.

A few days after that promotional event, Chicago underwent a massive power outage and vast sections of the North Side of Chicago went dark for several days, during some of the hottest temperatures we’d suffered from in some time. I got used to taking cold candlelit baths and adding a pocket-sized flashlight to my keychain so I could navigate the concrete stairwell to-and-from my apartment, as opposed to taking the elevator like normal.

Given the extreme heat, the woman I was seeing at the time and I decided to do what most people with a few spare coins to rub together do during a heat wave: we went to the movies, and as we’d just attended a BLAIR WITCH PROJECT event, we thought that sounded like a good idea, which it was, because that film was a game-changer. It still stands as one of the best films of the found-footage genre. The final shot of the film, where you see Mike staring at the concrete corner of the room, then thud and Heather’s camera falls to the floor and then her camera’s pulldown mechanism breaks down, well, that’s one of the most effective horror endings of all time.

We reluctantly left the air-conditioned theater and headed back to my studio. By the time we arrived, dusk was upon us, and the entryway was pitch black. We fumbled our way through as I tried to get my pocket flashlight working, both grasping at each other as we struggled to make our way to the stairwell.

The flashlight finally lit up, and I found myself staring directly at a concrete corner. She screamed, then I screamed, and then we huddled together, laughing at the situation.

The next day the lights flickered back on in my studio, waking me up, and I felt the cool air of the built-in air-conditioner fall over me. Normality, restored!


(fubo/kanopy/Showtime/VOD) Josephine Decker’s films always take a bit of time for me to come to terms with. I remember seeing MADELINE’S MADELINE as part of a self-imposed triple-feature at the Music Box during a particularly stormy Chicago day, and it left a sour taste in my mouth, as if the characters I’d seen writ large on the screen weren’t being portrayed fairly.

Then, after haunting my memory for a month or so, it clicks. I realize why the actions were made, no matter how selfish, how distasteful, how the film couldn’t be any different.

(Also, it helps that her films are uniquely surrealistically stylized in a way that most indie filmmakers eschew nowadays, and it’s a style I can’t help but love.)


(fubo/Hulu/kanopy/Netflix/tubi/VOD/Vudu)? No, not John Carpenter’s adaptation of Stephen King’s CHRISTINE — a fine horror film, but you hardly need me to tell you that — this is a dramatized depiction of Christine Chubbuck, a local TV news reporter in the 70s who struggled with depression. The film details her personal and professional troubles as she tries to grow her career and realize the life she wants.

There are other facets of Christine’s story that you may or may not be familiar with. I’m not completely sure whether detailing them would improve a viewing, so I’m going to err on the side of caution and intentionally bite my tongue.

If this were a fictional film, I’d feel a lot better about it, and it wouldn’t have the ending it has. Every thing leading up to that is a smart, nuanced portrayal of a complicated woman, bolstered by Rebecca Hall’s amazing performance. It’s fantastically cast film — Michael C. Hall as Christine’s fellow news man, Tracy Letts as her boss, Maria Dizzia as her co-worker, J. Smith-Cameron (from the previously recommended RECTIFY) as her mother, and VEEP’s Timothy Simons as the weatherman — but this film wouldn’t work without Rebecca Hall’s nuanced handling of Christine. She’s a persona we rarely see on-screen: a smart-but-flailing woman, clearly awkward in general, but so goddamn determined to succeed, and to hide from and survive her mental issues.

Again, if it were fictional, it’d be a triumph. While it’s still a stunningly scripted movie, it just feels… dirty. But that’s a matter for tomorrow.

“Yes, but—”

WYNONNA EARP (2016-2021)

(fubo/Netflix/SyFy/VOD) In the days around SyFy’s rebranding in 2010, they were airing LOST GIRL, an irreverent, pan-sexual Canadian show about a succubus trying to get by in a world full of crazy mythical beasts. LOST GIRL went through a number of showrunners but finally found a constant in Emily Andreas until its end. Once LOST GIRL wrapped up, I knew I’d follow her to whatever she would do next.

Andreas ended up adapting the IDW comic book WYNONNA EARP, a high-concept story about Wyonna Earp (Melanie Scrofano) being a fuckup female hier to the Wyatt Earp legacy in a town of monsters. Andreas turned what could have been a rather routine TV comic book adaptation into the most gleefully slapstick action/comedy queer show ever.

Andreas has been unapologetic about how this is her BUFFY: THE VAMPIRE SLAYER (although there’s a specific turn in the show that I believe marks a pivot to ANGEL) but more importantly, this is a show about family and acceptance. It’s also really fucking funny while also being delightfully filthy. Part of that’s because they severely lean on Melanie Scrofano’s gift for physical and verbal comedy, to the point where the last season of the show has a higher quip count than most network sitcoms.

While the show is unabashedly female-forward, one facet I love about it is that the core men are just as interesting, complicated, and often empathetic, epitomized by the show’s 150+ year-old (but still very handsome) Doc Holiday (Tim Rozon).

If you take a passing glance at Andreas’ Twitter account, or check out any interview with any member of the cast or crew, this was clearly a fun labor of love. Everyone clearly enjoyed showing up to work every day, and you can see the show improve over time because of those bonds.

Sadly, SyFy recently canceled the show, and aired what became the series finale on April 9th. I will miss it, but I can’t wait to see what Emily Andreas does next.

LOST GIRL S1 Trailer:



(Discovery+/fubo/Science Channel)? This will definitely date me, but one of my formative memories is of being dragged out of bed by my father in the middle of the night to see Halley’s Comet. See, I loved reading about space, and this was a once-in-a-lifetime event. We drove out to the middle of nowhere — easily done when you live in Vermont — but, when he set up my telescope, I refused to look, scared of peering into the unknown. I was too young to have an existential crisis but, upon finally squinting through the telescope’s lens and seeing the burst of light in my telescope, well, it made me feel very small and very alone and very scared, but also in awe of the universe.

Now that I’ve technically grown up, practically every night I reinstill that cosmic feeling by letting this show lull me to sleep.

HOW THE UNIVERSE WORKS features an assortment of cosmologists, astrophysicists, theoretical physicists, and other scientists (including Michio Kaku) who discuss the theme of the episode, say, about new discoveries regarding the moons of Saturn, or expound on neutron stars, but more often than not it’s concerned with black holes. While they’re excitedly chatting away about their life’s work, or while Mike Rowe is narrating some connective tissue to help viewers understand the concepts, the show throws a bevy of impressive space CGI at you.

It’s been running for nine seasons now, although a fair amount of the recent seasons consist of three pre-existing hour-long episodes wrapped into one, which makes it perfect for half-awake background viewing.

It’s worth nothing that there are a ton of smaller clips from the show available via YouTube. Science Channel has even conveniently assembled an entire playlist of them, which should make for quality background viewing for you, too.

RECTIFY (2013-2016)

(AMC+/fubo/VOD) RECTIFY is leaving Netflix on March 3rd, when I imagine it’ll pop up on AMC+, so you have less than a week to watch this heartfelt exploration of a man — Daniel Holden (Aden Young) — found guilty of killing a girl, sentenced to death, acquitted of murder, and his re-entry into society.

Rather than RECTIFY being about society re-embracing him, it darts the other way. This is not about whether Daniel Holden is guilty, but is about him trying to find peace with his community, family (including TIMELESS’ Abigail Spencer), and himself. It’s a singularly human drama from DEADWOOD’s Ray McKinnon that had a surprisingly long life thanks to the Sundance Channel, and is well-worth making time for before it leaves Netflix.


(fubo/VOD) Yes, this is a direct-to-DVD sequel to the classic Mary Harron adaptation. Yes, it has little-to-nothing to do with the American excess/toxic masculinity of original film. Yes, it features pre-BLACK SWAN Mila Kunis as well as an unlikely William Shatner playing a teacher that students swoon over. Yes, it’s cheap, trashy — 11% on Rotten Tomatoes, just so you know what you’re getting into — and tries to have its cake and eat it too by toeing the line between earnest satirical genre work and self-aware camp. That doesn’t mean that it is not a whole lot of fun, especially the last third of the film.


(fubo/hoopla/kanopy/Showtime/VOD) EXTRA ORDINARY is an extremely charming and winsome Irish horror-comedy about a woman named Rose (comedian Maeve Higgins) who has been bestowed with paranormal talents, which include the ability to see ghosts. Unfortunately, those powers backfired on her, resulting in the death of her father, so she swore them off and instead became a driving instructor. Unfortunately, local man Martin Martin (Barry Ward, THE END OF THE F***ING WORD) and washed up musician Christian Winter (Will Forte, MACGRUBER, THE LAST MAN ON EARTH, clearly having fun playing a villain) will severely test that resolution.

EXTRA ORDINARY could coast along on the quality of its low-key goofs and gags and be a fun hangout horror rom-com, but the overarching story (penned by the directors Mike Ahern and Enda Loughman, with contributions from Higgins) jauntily moves along and escalates into one very fun but very odd climax. Literally.

It also features several finely produced video segments that recall GARTH MERENGHI’S DARKPLACE and LOOK AROUND YOU, fully rounding out the film into a terrifically satisfying film. Sadly, it was released in the US right before lockdown, but hopefully it’ll find an audience sooner rather than later.