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.”

SPONTANEOUS (2020)

(epix/Hulu/Paramount+/VOD) Yep, this is a repeat recommendation! (Here’s the original recommendation.) I often read the source material of a film afterwards, but that’s usually concerning dusty films from the 40s; rarely do I seek out source material for a modern film because many modern literary-to-film adaptations simply aren’t that interesting. (The last great book/film pair I can recall is probably GONE GIRL which was checks notes seven years ago?!)

However, I just finished reading the source material — Aaron Starmer’s novel of the same name — and I -love- both versions. To summarize both real quick, just in case: the senior year students in a traditional American high school start spontaneously combusting, BLEAK HOUSE-style. (Sorry, spoilers for a 150-year-old novel.)

The novel is denser and woolier than the film, but the film has a cavalier, high-energy attitude that the book lacks, and it doesn’t get so bogged down with the details. The film feels like a very concise reinterpretation of the novel — vast sections of the last third of the book are dropped or merely given lip-service in the film — the focus here is more on Mara and her end-of-youth relationship with Dylan — who is has far less back-story in the film — but that’s okay because the film is about Mara’s agency and her graduating to adulthood. Yes, writer/director Brian Duffield (writer of the previously recommended UNDERWATER) bumps up Mara’s quirkiness, but in a way that feels organic for Katherine Langford (KNIVES OUT), while still preserving her fuck-up demeanor (although it does significantly ramp down her drug use for some reason).

Sadly, Mara’s best friend Tess (RIVERDALE’s Hayley Law) is significantly dumbed down in the film, which is perhaps the only misstep the film makes, but otherwise it’s an extremely smart, visually inventive and refreshing take on a coming-of-age tale. I’m hoping it’ll find an audience post-COVID, because it has all of the hallmarks of a great cult film. And, if you like the film, pick up a copy of the book.*

  • I’d like to note that I picked up a used copy of the book, and the previous owner of the book took the effort to use typewriter whiteout tape — not actual whiteout — to obscure not only every swear in the novel (Mara swears approximately every other page, and it’s a 355 page novel) but also any physical sexual moment, including full paragraphs about self-stimulation. I can’t wrap my head around it — Mara’s utterances and the sex is the least disturbing part of the novel — but at least the presumed kid that asked to read the book got to read it?

THE TWILIGHT ZONE: COME WANDER WITH ME (1964)

(Hulu/Paramount+, S05E34) 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:

It’s worth noting that, for some inexplicable reason, the episode is titled ‘Come Wander With Us’ on Netflix.

FREAKS & GEEKS (1999)

(Hulu/Paramount+/VOD) FREAKS & GEEKS is finally available to stream! If you haven’t already purchased the DVD, or have enough grey hair to have watched it when it first aired, Hulu managed to clear all of the music rights and — after a bit of a stumble out of the gait — have the eps properly ordered.

If you’re a product of the 80s — especially if you were a nerd in the 80s — it’ll be a trip down memory lane. If not, given how absurdly recognizable all of the actors and creatives are, it’ll be another sort of nostalgia for you, as it introduced the world to: Judd Apatow, Linda Cardellini, Paul Feig, James Franco, Busy Philipps, Seth Rogen, Jason Segel, Mike White. A laundry list of modern heavy hitters, all of whom cut their teeth on this show.

SPONTANEOUS (2020)

(epix/Hulu/Paramount+/VOD) In a year of unnervingly prescient pandemic screenplays, this one stands out. Based on Aaron Starmer’s young adult novel, senior-year high school teens start spontaneously exploding and are quarantined while scientists race to find a cure.

Brian Duffield’s (writer of both UNDERWATER and JANE GOT A GUN) adaptation takes a number of notes from THE LEFTOVERS, such as uniforms similar to the ‘Guilty Remnants’ and referring to the ‘exploded’ as ‘departed’. They even leave the ‘act of departing’ in the visual gutter — you never witness it occur, you only witness the aftermath. It’s a nice touch by Duffield, and it leads to more than a few gleefully shocking moments.

While you will laugh while watching this — especially at the playful insults bandied about by acerbic smartass Mara (Katherine Longford, KNIVES OUT and LOVE, SIMON) with her best friend Hayley Law (RIVERDALE), boyfriend Dylan (Charlie Plummer, LEAN ON PETE), and ‘cool dad and mom (comedy mainstay Rob Huebel and COYOTE UGLY’s Piper Perabo) — it’s a much more downbeat and thoughtful, occasionally distressing, look at teens reckoning with their mortality on the cusp of beginning their adult lives. It’s not exactly the thigh-slapping dark rom-com the trailer pitches, which is a relief because the end result resonates far longer than a more flippant approach to the material would.