STAR TREK: PICARD S3 (2023)

Unsurprisingly, I am an original STAR TREK nerd. I even read the Alan Dean Foster-penned novelizations, checked them out from my school library — as well as a fair amount of STAR TREK novels — at a young age. I even subscribed to the STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION magazine when I was a youth. Granted, I fell off halfway through TNG — high school and all — although goddamn, I think my parents can still hear me shouting at the Locutus reveal. (A very formative narrative moment for me!)

PICARD S1 and S2 weren’t what I wanted, but goddamn, Terry Matalas (SyFy’s 12 MONKEYS) is doing his thing in S3 and holy hell it’s amazing. It’s the best of the cerebral aspects of the show and the action of the films.

“What did they do?”

“Uh… they threw a ship at us.”

The digital modeling and camerawork is absolutely astounding. The ships look amazing, and visually all the panning and swooping show all of that work off. And the interface work! Full disclosure: I know someone who worked on the interfaces for the show, but goddamn, it’s gorgeous, and those behind the show know it because it spends 100% of its time lingering over them for their credit sequence.

This season absolutely knows what it’s doing,

While the entire season is essentially a ‘let’s get the band back together!’ swing, Matalas pulls it off. It leans on the history and lore of the series, while still meaningfully utilizing the TNG crew.

Also: Amanda Plummer as Vadic? They’re an astounding villain.

I went into PICARD S3 more as a completist — “Oh, well, I watched the first two seasons, so I might as well watch the third” — and found it one hell of a journey.

If you think you need to watch the first two seasons before watching the third? Think again. You can simply skip to the third and not miss anything, even though the first season does have a very sweet scene between Riker and Troy.

I never thought I’d say this, especially after the endless attempts to maintain the Star Trek franchise over the years, but we are living in an actual STAR TREK renaissance. Between this, STRANGE NEW WORLDS, and DISCOVERY (post-season two), there are an amazing number of people that are bringing their unique voices to this fictional future world, and they’re doing so in the spirit of the show so many love. It really is a sight for sore eyes.

BOUND (1996)

Apart from perhaps CLOUD ATLAS (which is technically a Wachowski/Tykwer film adaptation), the Wachowski sisters’ BOUND is probably their most under-seen and under-appreciated work which, sure, given it’s their first film, but still! It a very queer neo-noir that, while stylish, doesn’t rely on the gonzo effects of their later films. In fact, one of the most effective shots simply involves buckets of white paint, squibs, and a body.

The fact that it isn’t heralded more is a shame because it’s certainly an iconic queer film, and it’s also my favorite of theirs.

I’m getting ahead of myself. BOUND is a very simple neo-noir with a small cast, smaller locales — almost all of it takes place in two Chicago apartments which, I’ll note, has appropriate trim — and some smoldering, absolutely perfect casting.

Corky (Gina Gershon) is a very butch ex-con who served five years and is now reworking apartments for the mob. She meets the apartment’s next-door neighbors, the sexpot femme Violet (Jennifer Tilly, doing what she does best) is entangled with low-level mobster Caesar (Joe Pantoliano before he was on THE SOPRANOS). Corky and Violet get lustily involved via a number of very heated scenes and, as always, watch how they handle hands. Violet decides she wants to leave Caesar and be with Corky, so Violet fills Corky in on Caesar’s task to pick-up and hand-off over $2.1 million dollars to his mob bosses.

Corky brainstorms a plan to steal the money from under Caesar’s nose. It sounds like the perfect plan.

As this is a noir work, it is not the perfect plan. Matters escalate, and quickly.

It’s worth noting that half of this film works because Gershon and Tilly have amazing chemistry and an amazing wardrobe and suits each perfectly: Corky is all leather, tight white t-shirts and dirty pants and Violet is often dressed like Marilyn in GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES, all glamor dresses and finely coiffed hair. The other half is because of the Wachoswkis’ script — which is far more funny than I remember — but also because of the way they visually frame Corky and Violet’s tryst; it’s restrained, knows when to linger and when to cut away, but is still tantalizing.

I’ll grant that you can see a lot of the Coen Bros. in BOUND, from some Sonnefeld zooms and heightened close-ups to the humor, but out-of-the-gate you can tell these are more-or-less nods, and that the sisters have their own voice and approach.

Lastly: as usual, I saw this at the Music Box Theatre — it was a personal print from the Wachowskis! — as part of the Music Box’s ‘Rated Q’ series, which explicitly is — in the words of Rated Q’s programmer/director Ramona Slick — “A Celebration of Queer, Camp, & Cult Cinema”.

At the time of writing this, it’s Pride month and Chicago’s Pride parade is only a few days away.

Obviously, the screening was completely overflowing with queer folk and it was glorious.

The screening opened with a pre-film, brazenly and enthusiastically over-the-top drag show in the main theater: a lot of torn clothing, a lot of skin, and folks stuffing bills into the performers’ works or throwing money at them. (I’m not 100% sure that the Music Box is zoned for all that I saw, but I will not complain!) The audience was so, so very game for it.

When the film started? Folks went bonkers but, as is the Music Box way, no one ruined the experience for everyone; there was a lot of hooting, a lot of laughter, a lot of veiled recognition at foreshadowing and villainous characters, and a lot of clapping (and even some snaps). In other words, the perfect communal viewing experience.

If you read the interview with Rated Q’s Ramona Slick, they discuss how formative cult and queer films were for them, as they lived in a small town without much of a queer community. Now they’re helping to introduce others to these films in a way that interweaves performance with projection. It also gives a venue for those who love these films and want to see them with likeminded folks instead of alone in a scuzzy dorm room on a tiny cathode ray TV and an exhausted VHS tape.

I know I endlessly beat this drum, but the Music Box has been firing on all cylinders as of late. They’ve slowly pushed back to being a repertoire theater instead of a new-release indie theater, and it’s paid off handsomely for them as practically every older film I’ve attended there has been packed to the ceiling. While that’s not the Music Box I grew up with — they have been around since 1929, and their repertoire period pre-dates the late 90s — I embrace the change. It fills a much-needed absence in the local film scene, and every screening has been a delight.

Corky: “Know what’s the difference between you and me?”

Violet: “…no.”

Corky: “Neither do I.”

WILD THINGS (1998)

In the late 90s, there were two contemporary films I absolutely would not shut up about: Joe Dante’s SMALL SOLDIERS (1998, and there is video footage out there somewhere of me drunkenly ranting about how it should have had at least one Oscar nomination) and John McNaughton’s WILD THINGS (also released in 1998, and I would repeatedly tell people: it’s not the soft-core porn you think it is).

WILD THINGS means different things to different people. Most folks only remember it for the threesome scenes between a never-better Denise Richards, Neve Campbell (always giving it her all), and an amazingly duplicitous Matt Dillon, or they remember Bill Murray’s very sleazy turn as an amoral, neck-braced lawyer, or they remember it because out-of-nowhere, there’s Kevin Bacon’s cock and there’s definitely a romantic subtext to his character and Dillon’s (which, honestly, is basically text — initially that was written in the script).

However, I remember it because it’s a goddamn sun-soaked gonzo neo-noir that is so bat-shit-crazy that the film felt the need to explain itself in the end credits. That’s the memory I took with me when I went to rewatch it at the Music Box Theatre (absolutely killing it this month), with McNaughton in-attendance for a post-film interview with Dmitry Samarov (whose brilliant self-reflective work HACK you should definitely seek out).

Also, both McNaughton and Samarov just happened to be sitting behind me and watched the entire film — not a brag, just a dumb coincidence, as that sort of positioning makes me super-anxious, like when I ended up seated next to Karina Longsworth for her YOU MUST REMEMBER THIS Chicago wintertime screening of OUTRAGE.

I’ll note that: if you’ve been to enough of these sort of ‘director interview’ screenings, it’s rare that the folks involved sit through the entire film. They usually dart off for dinner or drinks and arrive just as the credits roll. I don’t blame them! I’m just shocked when they opt to endure it!

WILD THINGS holds up with aplomb, and also takes on a severely different context today than it did before, while also being a timeless tale. At first it feels very #MeToo, and then it takes a turn, then another turn, then another turn, then it twists, and then again and it will leave you breathless. It is not the film you expect it to be; it’s quintessential noir to its goddamn bones.

In other words: it’s all about sex, power play, and beguilement. Nothing more noir than that, and it all takes place in the humid air of Miami, one of the least noir locations you can think of.

Seeing it in 35mm — McNaughton’s personal print, I’ll add — only made it better. Like most, I first saw it on a well-worn VHS tape from a local rental store as opposed to projected in a theater. It’s that sort of trash — which McNaughton extolls and he specifically told us that that was the intent of the film — but it’s a beautiful alchemy of trash.

While everyone on board knew how brazenly ridiculous the script was, they treated it dead-seriously, and it’s all there on the screen, from the script punch-ups that really give life to the characters, the lush settings, the convoluted narrative, as well as the breezy score, it is trashy perfection.

Stay for the credits, as it’s hand-down, one of the most memorable end-credits sequence ever shot. Marvel could learn a lot from WILD THINGS.

While there are a number of straight-to-video sequels, I have not seen any of them and cannot vouch for them (at this time).

ADDENDUM

I was lucky enough to pick McNaughton’s brain a bit after the screening, particularly about one scene on a boat that I felt riffed on Patricia Highsmith’s THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY (as well as the two best-known film adaptations: THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY (1999) — of course — but also the French adaptation of that Ripley novel: PLEIN SOLEIL).

McNaughton told me: “I love Highsmith, but no, that was never part of it.” So now you know!

ORPHAN: FIRST KILL (2022)

WARNING: The following contains major spoilers for ORPHAN, some minor spoilers for ORPHAN: FIRST KILL, and mentions of sexual abuse.

(Paramount+/VOD) ORPHAN: FIRST KILL contains one of the most intense hard-left turns I’ve seen in a horror franchise. Esther was clearly the villain in the first film — which was certainly set up as a franchise due to her signature look: choker and cuffs and Victorian wear and all, as well as her history — but…

Esther pivots hard from being a malicious thirty-something man-eater in the body of a pre-teen to being a hard-scrapple Dickensian survivor. ORPHAN: FIRST KILL becomes a very complicated tale of prioritizing manipulation while also skewering it.

The story takes place several years prior to ORPHAN: artist Alan (Rossif Sutherland) and wife Tricia (the amazing Julia Styles) believe they’ve found their long-lost daughter, Esther, who is actually Leena/Esther in ORPHAN (Isabelle Fuhrman, who is ten years older, but expected to play even younger than she was in the first film) in disguise. They take ‘Esther’ into their home, but Tricia and teen son Gunnar (Matthew Finlan) quickly see right through her deceit, and they start commanding her like a puppet; Tricia to keep her husband happy, and Gunnar simply because he can.

What follows is a revenge tale that can be read as posited towards emotionally and sexually abused youths, despite the fact that Esther is well-into adulthood. At this point, she still doesn’t know how to fully manipulate people and, thus, people manipulate her.

That extrapolation may sound odd, given how most critics have glibly stated that ORPHAN: FIRST KILL is bonkers crazy and fully leans into being fun and, consequently, lacking depth. However, like the best horror films, I feel like it was born from a place of hurt and it resonates, even if it was unintentionally brazen.

I’ll note that I don’t love how all of Esther’s idiosyncratic affectations seem to be collected via this first ‘father’. The film leans hard on the black light artwork, and I honestly wished that Esther had come up with that idea on her own, that it had it not been wormed into her head by someone else.

Nonetheless, this is a singular work of domestic horror that also manages to make the most of a pre-existing film.

Postscript

This is my 500th recommendation via this site. I told myself I’d stop after a year, then kept mindlessly going, then said: “Okay, 500, that’s a good number.” I’m going to see the month out with horror recs, then go on hiatus for NaNoWriMo. I doubt I’ll ever quit this site, but updates will probably be few-and-far between. Best if you have an RSS reader!

EBERTFEST 2022 – PART I: FRENCH EXIT (2020), PASSING (2021), GOLDEN ARM (2020), GHOST WORLD (2001)

For whatever reason, Ebertfest is a film festival that is often overlooked, despite the fact that it’s been running for over twenty years, despite the fact that it was the singular vision of Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic Roger Ebert, who shaped the field of film studies for years to come and is still wildly revered today, Ebertfest — for some reason I can’t figure out — simply isn’t sexy enough.

Yes, it’s true: it doesn’t traffic in exclusive premieres. Yes, the screenings occur in the beautiful and sizable Virginia Theatre, but it resides in the college town of Champaign, IL, where Roger Ebert got his start writing reviews for the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign newspaper.

However, after attending my first Ebertfest — Ebertfest 2022 — I’m flabbergasted as to why so few cinephiles don’t see this as one of the few North American waypoints of film festivals. It’s by far one of the friendliest film festivals I’ve ever attended. It lacks the snobbery you often see in genre film fests, or the ‘there to be seen’ vibe some attendees exude. Additionally, all of the special guests invited to introduce and/or discuss the film afterwards? They’re clearly absolutely tickled to be there.

I’m not sure if this is because Ebertfest was created out of love for film from a man who was extremely generous championing cinema and his alma matter, or whether it’s because it takes place in a smaller midwest city, or perhaps because it has been around for over twenty years and many of those who attend are locals who have attended the festival for many years.

Either way, it was utterly delightful, and I wish I had made the journey earlier. His wife, Chaz, has kept the festival going since the world lost Roger, and with her enthusiasm, spirit, and love for film, Ebertfest is in great hands. Without further ado, here are some brief musings on the films I managed to catch:

FRENCH EXIT (2020)

(Starz/VOD) This year’s Ebertfest unofficial theme was ‘overlooked films’, honoring the films that slipped through the cracks for one reason or another, and there are few better examples of a film that was give short shrift due to the pandemic than FRENCH EXIT. The latest from Azazel Jacobs (THE LOVERS, DOLL AND ‘EM) featured the return of Michelle Pfeiffer to the silver screen, but its theatrical rollout was muted and, thanks to a very delayed VOD release, was mostly ignored.

The lack of attention, critical or public, is a damn shame because FRENCH EXIT is a thoughtful throwback of a 90s indie ensemble film with a modern sheen. FRENCH EXIT — based on the novel by Jacobs’ good friend Patrick deWitt, who also penned the screenplay — features Frances (Pfeiffer), an acerbic, flinty NYC widower whose rich husband, Franklin, died under suspicious circumstances and left her with a rather valuable estate and assets. Her son, Malcolm (Lucas Hedges, perhaps best known for his role as Danny in LADY BIRD), is a curious but rather aimless young man, and he’s been spinning his wheels about telling his mother about his fiancée Susan (a rather under-utilized Imogen Poots). Frances comes to the realization that she’s finally spent through everything, has to liquidate her cherished home, and finds herself moving to a more affordable abode in Paris with Malcolm.

What follows is a mesmerizing character study that unfurls into a surreal web of human connections. It’s a story that feels unmoored of time, both the passage of and any concrete notion of era, although it does seem to be firmly affixed anywhere-but-now. The end result isn’t necessarily satisfying, but it is captivating with its visual construction and vibrant flourishes of color as the camera traverses through the streets, then gliding through Frances and Franklin’s living spaces. (Look carefully and you can see a few nods to Jacques Tati’s masterpiece PLAYTIME, noted in the post-film discussion by the director himself.)

While Pfeiffer is the obvious draw for the film — rightfully so, as she perfectly conveys Frances’ sense of pride tinged with a hint of self-dissatisfaction — the rest of the cast boldly embellishes the film: television mainstay Valerie Mahaffey brings some well-received laughs, Frances’ best friend is Susan Coyne (best known to fans of Canadian television, and who co-created and occasionally appeared on the best show about theatre, SLINGS & ARROWS), Danielle Macdonald (DUMPLIN’, BIRD BOX) provides significant snark as a professional medium, and Tracy Letts has a role that I’ll let you discover for yourself.

PASSING (2021)

(Netflix) If you only saw Rebecca Hall’s glorious black-and-white adaptation of Nella Larsen’s novel of being a Black woman in Harlem in 1929 via streaming through your TV (or, heavens forbid, on your phone), then you are missing out. Yes, PASSING’s grand pull is the dynamic performances from Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga, but visually it is so exacting — almost, almost! clinically so — that it merits several rewatches on the largest screen possible. The way Eduard Grau (who also shot Tom Ford’s A SINGLE MAN) utilizes the overhead lines of the urban landscape, how he finesses the camera through Irene’s (Thompson) home and then echoes the same motions near the very end of the film is astounding precise in a way that enthralls without calling too much attention to itself.

There’s a lot to love, to think about, to extoll, to muse over with PASSING, but to fully appreciate it and its visual achievement, its best done in a theater.

GOLDEN ARM (2020)

(hoopla/kanopy/VOD) GOLDEN ARM, penned by best friends Anne Marie Allison and Jenna Milly, was self-described by them as “BRIDESMAIDS meets OVER THE TOP”. Now, if you’re a certain age like I am, you may fondly remember OVER THE TOP; it was a quintessential ‘only in the 80s’ type of ‘underdog takes on a niche professional sport’ film that featured Sylvester Stallone as a trucker working his way up through the rungs of the arm-wrestling world to regain custody of his son and get his own trucking company off the ground.

GOLDEN ARM opens with Danny (Betsy Sodaro, who you’ve probably seen or heard in a comedy at some point in your life), a very squat, very brash woman tearing through an arm-wrestling playoff competition, her eye on heading to the finals when Brenda, The Bone Crusher (Olivia Stambouliah) walks in and swiftly dashes Danny’s hopes by shattering her wrist.

Danny, desperate for revenge, seeks out Melanie (Mary Holland, HAPPIEST SEASON, VEEP, and so many other works) her best friend from college, who she recalls as having a deceptively strong arm. Danny finds Melanie in the midst of divorcing her terrible dudebro of a husband while helming her long-gone grandmother’s failing bakery, trying to scrounge up enough cash to replace her faltering oven. Long story short: Danny talks her into filling in for her on the circuit, and we’re treated to the requisite number of training montages and heart-crushing loses, loses that quickly become buoyed by rollickingly amusing feel-good moments.

GOLDEN ARM is an extraordinarily winsome film, one led primarily by its hilarious cast — if you are a comedy fan, it’s wall-to-wall talent, including: Eugene Cordero (THE GOOD PLACE, LOKI), Aparna Nancherla (A SIMPLE FAVOR, MYTHIC QUEST, so much voiceover work), Kate Flannery (THE OFFICE (US)), Dot-Marie Jones (GLEE, Olympic athlete and multiple world arm-wrestling champion) Dawn Luebbe (GREENER GRASS), and of course since it’s about wrestling, you know comedian Ron Funches (POWERLESS, and also so many voiceover parts) has a prominent role.

However, it’s Betsy Sodaro who really stands out. She brings a physicality to her hyperactive, over-enthusiastic, pansexual character that consistently entertains and befuddles. It’s rare to see a film lean into a woman throwing herself around and against everything in this day and age — pratfalls are hardly trendy in film right now — and it’s damn refreshing. Here’s hoping someone is penning a BLACK SHEEP-like film for her right now.

While GOLDEN ARM could coast by on its quips, slapstick, and charm alone, first-time feature director Maureen Bharoocha and cinematographer Christopher Messina provide a colorful contrast between the bright costumes of the wrestlers and the dingy, filthy, tiny shitholes everyone has to train and perform in. More often than not everyone’s tightly framed, not only emphasizing the wide range of expressions of the elastic performers, but also lending a sweaty, authentic claustrophobic feel to the material.

GOLDEN ARM is a crowdpleaser of a film and, unfortunately it appears that it won’t receive the wide theatrical rollout it deserves, as it’s a perfect summer comedy. It’s now available on VOD, so invite a few friends over, make a theme night of it, and get that word of mouth going.

GHOST WORLD (2001)

(epix/Paramount+/Prime/VOD) Part of the allure of Ebertfest is that each and every screening is paired with a post-film discussion featuring directors, writers, producers, actors, etc., often folks who rarely bother with appearing at film festivals unless it’s contractually required to do so for promotional purposes. Because of Ebert’s prominence, and because his and his widow Chaz’s festival is so well-regarded, they’re able to wrangle some big names, folks that are more than happy to show up and shoot the shit for however long they want.

GHOST WORLD closed out the penultimate fest night, and they managed to wrangle both Terry Zwigoff and Thora Birch to treat the night right. Zwigoff opened with an ‘anti-semitic review of GHOST WORLD’ read in jest by the recently departed Gilbert Gottfried (you can hear it here), who was slated to attend Ebertfest alongside the relatively recently documentary about Gottfried’s life, GILBERT. Birch was presented with the award all first-time attendees receive: the Ebert Golden Thumb.

Once the credits rolled and the curtain closed, both Zwigoff and Birch were back out on stage, regaling us with on-set stories, musings, jokes, pokes at the industry, and the like — Birch in particular was quite blunt and forthcoming about her experiences. There was a game enthusiasm in the air, an easy rapport that is often not found in film fests, one that’s emblematic of the general spirit at Ebertfest in general.


If you’d like to see any of the panels or Q&As, each and every one is available via the Ebertfest YouTube channel!

SCREAM (2022)

(VOD/Paramount+) The SCREAM franchise has always been culturally and technologically relevant so I can’t say I’m surprised that the fifth SCREAM film — which self-describes itself as a reinvention, despite slavishly adhering to the original’s trappings — was a financial success.

However, even if this is a franchise that is fundamentally about being paint-by-numbers, SCREAM (2022) rings a bit perfunctory at times. It certainly doesn’t feel as inventive as directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett’s previous very violent take on Agatha Christie’s AND THEN THERE WERE NONE: READY OR NOT. It replays the first SCREAM’s opening scene and mimics many of the initial film’s beats and the rules the franchise has previously underscored (as opposed to invented — it’s practically an adaptation of everything laid out in Carol J. Clover’s brilliant series of essays on slashers: MEN, WOMEN, AND CHAINSAWS), although that’s not quite a crime given the understood confines of the slasher genre.

I always felt the initial SCREAM film was far more interesting because it lead with Sidney Prescott already being traumatized by the rape and murder of her mother, as opposed to being some naive teen. She was a survivor from the very opening, living and coping with her trauma, which is surprisingly rare with initial slasher entries.

There’s a similar, but completely different weight hanging over SCREAM (2022) lead character Sam Carpenter (the versatile Melissa Barrera) that I won’t spoil, but it is an interesting — albeit far-fetched — character note.

Along with Melissa Barrera, it has a brilliant supporting cast: a goofy Jack Quaid (TRAGEDY GIRLS) as Sam’s boyfriend, Jenna Ortega (YOU and JANE THE VIRGIN) as Sam’s sister, Jasmin Savoy Brown (THE LEFTOVERS) as the queer film nerd, the ever-defiant Mikey Madison (BETTER THINGS), and the very game returning cast.

Is this as good as the first SCREAM? No, of course not, but that was something singular and I’m sure SCREAM (2022) lands differently for youths than it does for someone like me who was alive when it first hit screens. Is SCREAM (2022) a wild and unpredictable ride? Yes and no, respectively. Is it worth your time? Certainly, it’s very well-honed and executed, as colorful and full of camera motion and crane shots as the original, and a despite a bit of flab, mostly tightly plotted.

“How can fandom be toxic? It’s about love!”

Halloween 2021 Programming: CLASSIC

As previously noted, my wife and I have 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. Today features classic horror films, and mostly features the exact text I sent her.

This time I will apologize not for leaning on prior works, but for posting about films I have yet to watch, but they all have stellar reputations, and at least one of them will be viewed tonight!

DOCTOR X (1932, Criterion/VOD)

While I purchased a copy of the newly restored DOCTOR X — it was one of the rare early horror films shot on a very distinct, very early two-color Technicolor process (see also: THE MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM (1933)) I have yet to watch it. It’s directed by Michael Curtiz, during his infamous horror run at Warner Bros, and stars Lionel Atwill and Fay Wray.

Excerpt:

SISTERS (1973, Criterion/HBO MAX/VOD)

Also previously suggested. Classic Brian De Palma film about two sisters, two sides of the same coin.

DIABOLIQUE (1955, Criterion/HBO MAX/Plex/Roku)

Also previously suggested. “More of a thriller than a horror film, but it’s a seminal piece of film history for both. I haven’t seen it in over twenty years, and I’m eager to revisit it.”

THE VANISHING (1988, Criterion/VOD)

This has been on my watchlist for years. I think I had a copy on the DVR via TCM, but it may have been auto-deleted due to space.

THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES (1971, DVD/YouTube)

It’s campy, but very intelligent and darkly comic. Also, Vincent Price AND Joseph Cotten! (There’s a sequel I’ve been meaning to watch, but haven’t gotten around to.)

(Shh)

THE CAT AND THE CANARY (1927, epix/kanopy/Paramount+/VOD

I haven’t seen this yet but, similar to THE OLD DARK HOUSE (1932) — which we watched a few years ago — it’s an ensemble film along the lines of Christie’s AND THEN THERE WERE NONE (although this film predates both works). It’s directed by Paul Leni, who directed THE MAN WHO LAUGHS, notable for Conrad Veidt’s (THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI) performance that was blatantly ripped off for the look of the Joker.

Excerpt:

STAR TREK: DISCOVERY (Season Three, 2020)

(Paramount+/VOD) Apologies in advance for the massive preamble here, and the general length of the piece! I actually did whittle it down, but still …it’s STAR TREK.

Both my wife and I have been huge STAR TREK nerds since we were young. I watched the original series while it was in syndication before my family had cable, read all of the novelizations and extended universe books that my school and local library stocked, subscribed to The Official Star Trek: The Next Generation magazine, and even cried when my hairdresser botched my Spock haircut. (She was probably just looking out for my best interests, so thanks?)

At some point, I simply lost interest. I watched a few eps of every post-TNG series over the years, fell asleep during FIRST CONTACT (or was it NEMESIS?), but ultimately I was hard-pressed to care.

During lockdown, my wife and I figured it was as good a time as any to dive back in. We’ve been happily working our way through DEEP SPACE NINE together, and she started binging DISCOVERY on her own. Every time I’d walk through the room while she was watching, I’d witness some humanoids in a lift, talking at each other via overly-complicated and unnecessary camerawork. I was not impressed.

She indulged my optimism for PICARD, based on my prior love of TNG and the fact that the show runner was Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Chabon (THE ADVENTURES OF KAVALIER & CLAY). In the interest of brevity, I’ll simply state that was a mistake.

Once we hit the end of DS9’s third season, she implored me to watch DISCOVERY’s third season — which she had already seen — noting that I could get up to speed pretty quickly, and she wasn’t wrong. The opening recap lays out most of what you need to know: DISCOVERY takes place around the time of Captain Pike’s heyday, a bit before the original series. Michael Burnham (played by Sonequa Martin-Green) is an orphaned Black human woman — Michael’s name is a signifier that DISCOVERY started as a Bryan Fuller show, showcasing his love for masculine-named women * — who was adopted by Spock’s family, grew up on Vulcan, and has become a swashbuckling heroic-but-flawed Federation member serving on the USS Discovery.

The USS Discovery is a Federation starship with an experimental ‘spore drive’ which allows them to speedily navigate space without the need for dilithium crystals, however, someone has to be able to interface with them for …reasons. Thankfully, USS Discovery has brilliant-but-prickly Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp) to physically interface with the drive. Stamets’ husband is Hugh Culber (MY SO-CALLED LIFE’s Wilson Cruz) who is USS Discovery’s Lieutenant Commander. Rounding out the ensemble is: Philippa Georgiou (a charismatically chilly Michelle Yeoh) who is there for …reasons, and she is complex, captivating, and knows how to verbally eviscerate anyone; Saru (an unsurprisingly heavily made-up Doug Jones) as a measured, by-the-book officer and newly-introduced species called the Kelpien; Ensign Tilly (Mary Wiseman) as the overly chatty, but intelligent and warm-hearted foil to Stamets, and Lieutenant Keyla Detmer (Emily Coutts) who serves as a steadfast helmsman.

Oh, and they have Tig Notoro and David Cronenberg as occasional cast members! Granted, both are rather under-utilized, but it’s always thrilling when they show up.

I won’t touch on any particulars of the third season’s plot, as doing so would certainly spoil matters for the first two seasons. Again, I haven’t seen the first two seasons, but based on the critical and fan reactions I’ve heard, the third season course-corrects quite a bit. I found it to be a very enjoyable, very satisfying self-contained season of STAR TREK, although I was initially hesitant as the opening eps primarily focus on Michael’s journey — STAR TREK has always excelled at ensemble work — and I had a number of quibbles with some of the retrofitting and a lot of the details concerning the ship interfaces, but they explained enough of it that made me happy. (This seems to be an unpopular opinion.)

Unlike PICARD, there were a number of times where I exclaimed: “This is my kind of STAR TREK!” as there were more than a few eps that focused on discovering new worlds with kind intent, recreating the wonder that drew me into the STAR TREK universe in the first place. While not all of the characters are terribly complex, their motives and Federation-centric willfulness to be as helpful as they can be was refreshing, comforting, and familiar. It felt like the show realized what it needed to do to recapture the original series’ magic, all while gamely moving matters forward.

When I stated that the season feels self-contained, I meant it. This season starts with a breaking point and ends with a two-parter that comes across like a spectacle-laden STAR TREK film (albeit an even-numbered one) with -huge- stakes and an extremely memorable and intriguing villain in Orion Minister Osyraa (an exceptional Janet Kidder) and, when the last episode fades to black, it feels like a chapter has ended; it feels like a series finale. A fourth season has been confirmed, and it appears that it’ll be a season that isn’t so Kurtzman-fueled but, instead, a STAR TREK show more like the ones I watched with awe as a youth: a show based on optimism, empathy, wonder for the unknown and, well, discovery.

I’ve included a STAR TREK: DISCOVERY S3 trailer below. Do not watch if you have plans to watch S1 or S2:

THE TWILIGHT ZONE: COME WANDER WITH ME (S05E34, 1964)

It’s a sad day: Richard Donner has passed away. While he’s rightfully best known for SUPERMAN, he spent -a lot- of time directing television, including an ep of previously recommended ROUTE 66, eps of TALES FROM THE CRYPT, even eps of THE LORETTA YOUNG SHOW, but most memorably, some of the best episodes of THE TWILIGHT ZONE. Consequently, I’m re-posting a slightly tweaked version of my prior recommendation of one of his lesser-known THE TWILIGHT ZONE eps:

(Hulu/Paramount+/VOD) This episode of THE TWILIGHT ZONE is rarely included in best of lists, which is fair — even if it’s the last-filmed ep -and- directed by Richard Donner — as its story is a bit strained, even by TWILIGHT ZONE standards. Floyd Burney, known as the “Rock-A-Billy Kid” (Gary Crosby), is on the prowl for a new song in a small, unnamed town. He overhears a woman singing and follows her voice as she repeats the refrain: “Come wander with me love / Come wander with me / Away from this sad world / Come wander with me”

The woman introduces herself as Mary Rachel (Bonnie Beecher) and is reluctant to part with the song, but Floyd is insistent. Matters escalate quickly as the rest of the song is revealed.

While the episode is a bit clunky, it’s the song that makes it memorable. -Come Wander With Me- is a brilliantly haunting ballad and, even though the song was never written or recorded in full, a number of musicians, such as Émilie Satt and British Sea Power, have covered it over the years.

Émilie Satt – Come Wander With Me:

British Sea Power – Come Wander With Me:

Hidden Highways – Come Wander With Me:

Original rendition:

A short clip from the ep:

REVIEW: Pancakes, Divorce, Pancakes (S0103, 2014)

(Paramount+/Pluto/VOD) Personal note: This will be the last daily recommendation for the foreseeable future, for reasons detailed below. I hope I haven’t wasted too much of anyone’s time, and my many sincere thanks to those who have commented and those I’ve conversed with over the past ~275 recommendations. You’ve been a balm through this very difficult time.

REVIEW was a fictional Comedy Central show — adapted from a more irreverent Australian show of the same name — centered around soliciting life experience queries from people and then ‘life-reviewer’ Forrest MacNeil (legendary cult comedian/actor/writer Andy Daly) would then find a way to live the experience, review it, and rate it on a five-star system.

While the show could — and definitely leaned into — slapstick behavior, it more often than not tackled more emotional challenges. In -Pancakes, Divorce, Pancakes-, the third episode of the opening season, Forrest is requested to:

1) Review eating 15 pancakes:

2) Review getting divorced (unfortunately not available via YouTube)

3) Review eating 30 pancakes:

Forrest commits to all of it and it’s so hilariously tragic, partially because he’s so blindly committed to his job, but also because he feels he has a personal contract with an audience that barely exists with which he has his own unwritten personal rules that he must abide by. (Especially in the -Divorce- segment, where most of the comedy is elicited by the fact that he feels he can’t tell his wife he’s doing this because of his show.)

I initially picked this episode as a quick-and-easy recommendation to write up but, while typing the above, I realized: Oh, fuck. I’ve become Forrest MacNeil.

I started these daily recommendations to give me a bit of structure and bonding with friends during lockdown. Also, I’d missed writing about media, as the last time I regularly did so was more than several years ago on my defunct videogame criticism/analysis website THE NEW GAMER. I thought: “I can find ~200-300 words a day about something I’ve watched that I love! Surely I can manage that for a year, or until I get to see a post-worthy film in a theater!”

That word limit lasted about three months. Then I added more unstated personal rules: I should post no later than midnight CST; if I haven’t watched it in over a year, I should re-watch it; if it’s an adaptation, I should read the book and comment on that; if there’s a TV adaptation, I should watch and touch on that. (To be fair, half of the time I had either already read the adaptation or watched some, if not all, of the TV adaptation. For example, my THE GHOST & MRS. MUIR recommendation with which I had previously done all three.)

Thanks to REVIEW, I’ve realized I’m currently writing these daily recommendations simply because of my own arbitrary rules and, while I love writing about media, it’s spun a bit out of control. It hasn’t been a bad experience by any means, but those dumb rules of mine ruined what was supposed to be a quick, dumb thing done for fun. That said, I’ll continue to write recommendations, but on far looser terms.

So, on that note, I’ll review this endeavor as Forrest MacNeil would: “Writing a daily media recommendation newsletter during a global pandemic: 4 stars.”

“This certainly is an upsetting number of pancakes.”