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  • Spaceman: Generations

    While watching Adam Sandler’s new Netflix movie, Spaceman, I was repeatedly struck by something oddly familiar about the story. The film is based on Jaroslav Kalfař’s 2017 book, Spaceman of Bohemia. Sandler plays Jakub Prochazka, a Czech astronaut on a solo mission to investigate an astronomical anomaly that unexpectedly appeared in our solar system four years ago. When Jakub’s mission begins, all we know about the anomaly - now called Chopra - is that it is a cloud made of some kind of space dust created by a passing comet past the orbit of Jupiter. When we meet Jakub, he’s six months into his mission and just days away from reaching the anomaly. His only substantive tether to Earth is his principal handler within the Space Agency, Peter (Kunal Nayyar). Jakub does have a direct line of communication set up at home with his pregnant wife, Lenka (Carey Mulligan), but he hasn’t been able to reach her for some time. Unbeknownst to Jakub, this is because the Space Agency has intercepted a message from Lenka telling Jakub that she’s leaving him. The film is explicitly about loneliness, which is not unusual for a story about a singular figure traveling alone in space; but it’s a particular kind of loneliness at play here. Jakub’s feelings of estrangement are of his own making. Even if he isn’t aware that his wife has already left him, he is beginning to realize what prioritizing his ambitions over his wife’s needs (and their nascent family) has cost him. He is in the midst of all he ever thought he wanted - he’s a cosmonaut in space, on the verge of a groundbreaking contribution to our understanding of the universe - but he feels further away than ever from what might actually make him happy. The film is an odd mix -  the tone, themes, and performances are all serious and grounded, but many of the story’s elements are heightened or fantastical. The core of the story is this relationship drama between two people who aren’t talking to one another, but the film’s setting is this odd alternate universe where the Czech Republic has its own space program, and its nearest rival in this historic mission is the equally unlikely South Korean space program. There are numerous elements like these throughout the film that signal to the audience that, while the story is meant to be emotionally grounded, some of the story’s details are going to get a little far out there. So, it isn’t as much of a surprise as you might expect it to be when a giant telepathic spider (voiced by Paul Dano) appears on Jakub’s ship just as its making its final approach to Chopra. Here, despite the film’s hard sci-fi aesthetics, we realize we’re dealing with a much more abstract story. We learn that this spider-like creature was drawn to Jakub and his vessel, having been vaguely aware of humans as a thing, but curious to see one up close. The spider, which Jakub will come to name Hanuš, takes a specific interest in Jakub and his loneliness. And, through some combination of its telepathic abilities along with the amplification of that ability by its proximity to the Chopra cloud, Hanuš can show Jakub memories of his time with Lenka in order to try and see where their relationship went wrong. It’s when Hanuš starts to explain to Jakub what the Chopra cloud is that I began to feel like I had seen a version of this story before. Hanuš describes Chopra as a ribbon of particles left over from the beginning of the universe, a temporal anomaly traveling through space, where past, present, and future intermingle. This would also be a fair description of the Nexus from 1994’s Star Trek: Generations. Now, that by itself would just be an interesting coincidence, but as Jakub’s story unfolds I realize that Star Trek: Generations is also principally about two people, specifically two men, grappling with late-in-life realizations that their career-minded drive to explore the universe cost them the chance of having a stable family life back on Earth. Star Trek: Generations was the first Star Trek film to feature the characters from the ‘90s series, Star Trek: The Next Generation. There was some concern at the time that there wouldn’t be an audience for such a film, so it was structured as a crossover event with the cast from the original Star Trek, who had already made six films of their own at this point. The combined cast would be too large to give everyone their own storyline, so the decision was made to focus on just the two captains, Captain Kirk (William Shatner) and Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart). In their respective time periods, both Kirk and Picard find themselves on missions that bring them in contact with The Nexus. In the case of Captain Kirk, he’s merely a visiting dignitary from Starfleet Command present for the launch of a new starship, the U.S.S. Enterprise-B, when it gets unexpectedly summoned to rescue a pair of ships that had become trapped by the energy ribbon. When we meet Kirk, he has come back out of retirement because he couldn’t handle civilian life on Earth. We’ll also learn that his return to Starfleet was the breaking point in a relationship with  Antonia, a woman he was seeing on Earth. To hammer the theme home, while Kirk is first touring the Enterprise-B, he’ll meet Demora Sulu, the daughter of one of the original series characters. Kirk will even say out loud, “When did Sulu find time to have a family?” To which he is pointedly reminded of having said himself, when something is important to you, you make the time. It won’t be too long after this exchange that, during the rescue mission, an explosion will pull Kirk out of the ship and, we will later learn, into the Nexus. We meet Picard, some 80 years later, having just learned that his only remaining living relatives - his brother Robert, and his young nephew René - both died in a fire back on Earth. He’ll eventually confide to a crewmate that part of his solace in never having had a family was knowing that at least the family would live on through his nephew. With that loss, he finds himself mourning, not only his brother and his nephew but also the family he never made for himself. How Picard winds up in the Nexus is kind of needlessly complicated to get into, since it’s really just a mechanism to get him and Kirk into the same story, but one of the people who was rescued by the Enterprise-B all those years ago, an El-Aurian named Soran (Malcolm McDowell), was actually pulled out of the Nexus, and has been working to get back there ever since, no matter the cost. Soran’s evil plan works, an entire solar system is destroyed, but Picard is also pulled into the Nexus. Now, we’re pretty far afield from Spaceman at this point, but I assure you this is building to a point about how these two films end, and what I believe they’re trying to say about narratives around men and families. What we’re meant to take the Nexus to be is some kind of space-time anomaly that can create for anyone held within it the exact reality they always wanted. That is the endless experience of all of your dreams coming true, which is apparently so seductive that we accept that Soran would be willing to destroy millions of lives in order to get back to it. Not so for our two captains, though. Picard and Kirk each find themselves in their idea of Heaven - Picard in a Victorian house about to have Christmas dinner with his wife and children, and Kirk at his ranch making breakfast in bed for Antonia. Just as in life, neither of them has trouble walking away from this dream, though. Using the temporal powers of the Nexus, Picard finds Kirk, and they both return to the moment when they can stop Soran. They’re both making the right call, but it’s again rejecting all of the experiences of family life for another space adventure as if part of the moral of the story is that this is what heroic men are expected to do. It’s with this idea in mind that we come back to Jakub and Hanuš. Hanuš shows Jakub where he went wrong in his relationship with Lenka. It wasn’t just that he left his pregnant wife back on Earth while he went off to space for a year. Hanuš shows Jakub all the ways he hadn’t been present for  Lenka during his career, including, when she miscarried a previous pregnancy. Jakub has this breakthrough. He manages to get Peter to bring a phone to Lenka so she can at least hear him say that he’s realized just how he’s let her down. Jakub seems like he’s recommitted to putting Lenka first from now on if she’ll have him. And yet, we find he’s almost immediately willing to throw it away for one more space adventure. Having shown Jakub all these things, we learn that Hanuš is dying. Part of why he stumbled across Jakub in the first place was he was on his way to Chopra to die. Hanuš leaves the ship so he can spend his last moment among the particles from the origin of the universe. And Jakub puts on his spacesuit and follows him into the cloud. Having just committed himself to his family, he willingly consigns himself to what should be certain doom by leaving his spaceship to follow the giant telepathic space spider he’s just met into an as-yet unstudied energy cloud. And to do what, exactly? To give Hanuš some un-asked-for company for a few more minutes before they both die? Jakub and Hanuš share their moment, but Jakub lives just the same. He’s rescued by that South Korean spaceship that was right behind him. He’s even able to call Lenka from their ship where they have a final bittersweet exchange that leaves the story open-ended regarding whether they’ll get back together when he returns to Earth. For our purposes, this mirrors the endings of Kirk and Picard. Kirk dies stopping Soran, never to return to Earth to try and make things right with Antonia. And although Picard successfully saves millions of families, all he is left with of his family in the end is a half-burnt photo album. It’s hard not to come away feeling that the ending of each of these stories echoes the mindsets that led each character to their unhappy circumstances. Each narrative begins with a man unsatisfied with his life, having foregone the experience of having a family in favor of space adventures, and each narrative ends with a man foregoing the experience of having a family for another space adventure. It’s almost like the idea is that having a family is incompatible with adventure, and it’s probably an idea like that which led each of these characters to their unhappy circumstances in the first place. Damian Masterson Staff Writer Damian is an endothermic vertebrate with a large four-chambered heart residing in Kerhonkson, NY with his wife and three children. His dream Jeopardy categories would be: They Might Be Giants, Berry Gordy’s The Last Dragon, 18th and 19th-Century Ethical Theory, Moral Psychology, Caffeine, Gummy Candies, and Episode-by-Episode podcasts about TV shows that have been off the air for at least 10 years.

  • PODCAST: Overdrinkers - On Her Majesty's Secret Service

    Mike Burdge and Reeya Banerjee team up once again to chat all things Bond, catching up on the latest rumors of casting the next bow-tied devil, discussing what makes a good Bond actually work in these movies, all while chatting about the lone Lazenby entry from 1969: On Her Majesty's Secret Service. They also cover From Russia with Love, A View to a Kill, Tomorrow Never Dies and Skyfall. They behave themselves. Listen on....

  • Live from New York: It's Satanic Panic

    A review of Late Night with the Devil Live television broadcasting can be a stressful, competitive, soul-crushing, and exhausting endeavor. One would even describe it as the devil’s business. This has never been more prevalent and literal than in the Cairnes Brothers found footage horror comedy Late Night with the Devil, debuting in theaters in March 2024 before streaming at home on Shudder in April. The film is a stand-out in Shudder’s catalog as a clever and playfully gruesome chiller that aesthetically emulates a certain era of 1970s late-night television and what would happen when a particularly offbeat broadcast invites dark forces into the studio, unleashing chaos and pandemonium unto its crew and audience. It is ostensibly Dick Cavett meets Pazuzu, and it is certainly refreshing to see a wild genre picture with a tiny budget receive as wide of a release as it has. Jack Delroy (David Dastmalchian) is the host of the 1970s late-night live television show Night Owls, where on a typical night, he invites strange carnival sideshow characters to interview and exploit in front of a studio audience. However, his ratings are severely lagging behind Johnny Carson, and he is grieving over his recently deceased celebrity wife. Desperate for a ratings boost to save his show, he invites a cavalcade of oddballs onto his show for his 1977 Halloween special, including a parapsychologist and her case study, a 13-year-old cult survivor, seemingly possessed (or as the doctor describes, psychically infested) by a demon she refers to as “Mr. Wriggles” as a way to capitalize on the growing “Satanic panic” sensation occurring throughout the 70s. The film exists in a tiny subgenre of horror I like to dub “mockumentaries depicting live entertainment disrupted by a supernatural force”. It occupies a similar aesthetic space to the 1992 BBC TV movie special Ghostwatch as well as the 2013 WNUF Halloween Special. Ghostwatch incorporates real BBC broadcast talents such as Michael Parkinson and Craig Charles (shout-out to Robot Wars) to give its supernatural investigation an air of authenticity. WNUF Halloween Special utilizes a scrappy 1980s public access presentation complete with amusing fake commercials. Late Night approaches its subject as though a master tape of the fateful evening has been unearthed and shown to the public for the first time, Blair Witch style, complete with VHS artifacting and glitches, sudden cuts to commercial breaks, and mono audio mixing. While the film mostly sticks to this gimmick, it occasionally cuts to a fly-on-the-wall black and white documentary style, similar to a Maysles Brothers film, in between the interstitial commercial breaks. While these scenes do a solid job of adding narrative tension, as the cast and crew grow weary of the potential danger in the studio, it also breaks some immersion in the setting. I wish we could have seen a way for the whole episode to play out as is uninterrupted. It is a real pleasure seeing David Dastmalchian in a leading role. He's been a memorable supporting player in productions by the likes of Denis Villeneuve, Christopher Nolan, and James Gunn (Prisoners is a particular favorite of mine). Now he gets to shine as Jack Delroy, playing a charming and funny late-night host with great chemistry with his co-hosts and guests. He has just the right amount of nervous and chaotic energy where you can believe he's been hosting the show for 6 years, yet still lagging behind the likes of Johnny Carson. He's the heart of the film and I hope this leads to him being the heart of more films to come! There's an unfortunate elephant in the room which I need to address. During the interstitial cuts to commercial breaks, splash images are displayed on the screen. These images are confirmed to be AI-generated. AI art is also on display in the production design, on the backdrop. I personally do not condone the use of generative AI in commercial art. AI can be useful in the early development process to create reference points, but AI-generated art has no place in a finished piece of art, in my opinion. It’s a shame, too, since there’s so much attention to detail and love put into the presentation, the AI generation sours some of the authenticity on display. They did not need to cut corners when they put in so much effort elsewhere. If AI generation doesn’t bother you, it won’t make an impact on your viewing experience. If it does, I don’t necessarily blame you for not wanting to support this film, but there is a lot to love here in other departments. Film is a collaborative medium, I only wish real graphic designers and artists got to contribute to this collaboration in that way. For seasoned genre heads of either found footage mockumentaries or possession/exorcism films, Late Night With the Devil doesn’t exactly offer anything profound or groundbreaking. I do wish it could have gone further with its concept and committed to its bit to a stronger degree. As it is, though, it is still a thoroughly entertaining and creative horror film with a playful and sinister tone full of practical gore. It will assuredly be a staple of many Halloween marathons for years to come. Jeremy Kolodziejski Jeremy is a long-time supporter of and contributor to the Story Screen Fam, as well as the entire Hudson Valley Film community, as a writer, filmmaker, film worker, and general film fan. You can find him sifting through the most obscure corners of horror, martial arts, comedy, noir, and crime drama cinema, always on the hunt to discover something new, strange, and exciting.

  • Orion and the Dark: Varieties in Storytelling

    The new Netflix film, Orion and the Dark, is an animated adaptation of the 2014 children’s book of the same name, by writer and illustrator Emma Yarlett. In the book, Orion is a young boy who is defined by his many fears: dogs, wasps, the ocean, girls, space, grandma, etc. But, what he’s more frightened of than anything else is the dark. We meet him on the night when that finally changes for him. In the book, on the night in question, Orion is in bed, too scared to sleep. He ultimately grows so frustrated with his own fears that he yells out to the darkness, telling it to just go away. And, to Orion’s surprise, the darkness hears him. Orion watches as the night and shadows take shape in his room to talk to him about his request. If you’ve ever read any children’s book, you can probably work out how the rest of the story unfolds. This personification of darkness convinces Orion to accompany it for an evening to explore the dark places in his family’s home, along with those outside his window, to see how these places don’t need to feel as scary as they seem. This exposure therapy works, and by the next morning, Orion is so attached to Dark that he’s now sorry to see it go. And to this Dark tells Orion not to worry because, wherever he might go, it will never be far away from him. Very touching. The book is a perfect little gem of a story. It’s not trying to do too much. It’s 25 pages of pictures that can be knocked out in 5 minutes at bedtime while delivering an easily digested message for kids about facing your fears. What it isn’t, though, is an obvious candidate for a feature-length film adaptation, particularly not one penned by Oscar-winning screenwriter and experimental filmmaker, Charlie Kaufman. Charlie Kaufman is no stranger to adaptation, of course. Of his nine screenplays that have been turned into films, Orion and the Dark is the fourth to be adapted from someone else’s book. What all of these adaptations share with Kaufman’s original stories is a generally bleak view of the human condition, typically conveyed through the perspective of some lonely creative who shares many of the same fears and flaws that Kaufman sees in himself. Even when adapting someone else’s work, Kaufman always finds an approach that allows him to fit that story into his own strange voice. Orion and the Dark is so tonally out of step with the rest of Kaufman’s work, though, that it feels like a wild departure. But, in terms of actual content, this children’s film overlaps with the rest of his projects more than you might think. Orion shares many of the hallmarks of a typical Kaufman protagonist; he’s smart and terrified of the world, painfully aware of how close at hand the life he wishes he was living would be were he not so incapacitated by his own fears. The key difference in this story, though, is that Orion is still young enough for his life to turn out differently. Kaufman makes two big changes to the book to expand the story into something that could be stretched to feature length. The first big difference is that he radically expands the world that Dark shows to Orion. They still spend the night together, but Kaufman’s cast of nighttime entities expands to include other personifications like Insomnia, Unexplained Noises, Sleep, Quiet, and Sweet Dreams. All of these are friends with Dark, and become friends with Orion, too. Kaufman also creates a character that works as a foil to the darkness, Light. Light isn’t exactly an adversary for Dark, but rather just that better-liked part of the natural order that works in opposition to darkness. A dynamic Dark is aware of and self-conscious about. In Charlie Kaufman’s imagination, even the constituent elements of the universe have their own neurosis to work through. The other big change Kaufman makes is the structure of how the story is being told. While he largely follows the children’s book in how he initially sets up the plot, he makes a big departure right when Orion first agrees to accompany Dark for the night. Just as they are about to head out on their predictable nighttime adventure, the story breaks for a moment, and we learn that everything we’re experiencing is actually a story that an adult Orion is telling to his daughter, Hypatia, as she navigates her own fear of the dark. This little reveal was the moment when I fully got on board with what Kaufman was doing with this story. Similar to how this same conceit functions in The Princess Bride, this move creates a meta-commentary on storytelling within the story being told. In The Princess Bride, what’s being drawn out has more to do with that interactive element of telling and being told a story. We watch the grandfather tweak and massage the story based on the reactions of his audience of one: A little less kissing, a little more sword fighting, and maybe we’ll skip that bit about the shrieking eels this time. We’re seeing that, rather than a story being something fixed and rigid, it’s ideally a live experience shared between the teller and the audience. Kaufman is doing this, too, but he’s also using this conceit to say something about how we use stories to pass important knowledge between generations over time. Fear of the dark and the unknown are primal fears that have been with people for as long as there have been people. (In the unexpected words of Werner Herzog, for almost as long as there have been light-sensitive proteins.) Orion begins to tell his daughter this fanciful tale about how he overcame his fear of the dark, and then one day she’ll tell her version of that story to her child, with each new generation adding what they’ve learned from their own unique experience along the way. Without going into details, the ending of Orion and the Dark is hopeful, happy, tidy, and family-friendly. Not at all Charlie Kaufman’s usual, but appropriate here because of the kind of story being told. Kaufman is approaching the same issues he normally does - human fears in a foreboding natural world - but from the opposite direction, from the standpoint of the child who still has their life ahead of them. This makes Orion and the Dark less of a departure for Kaufman, than an entry point for his ideas tailored for younger viewers. Exactly the kind of film I wish I had when I was a kid. Damian Masterson Staff Writer Damian is an endothermic vertebrate with a large four-chambered heart residing in Kerhonkson, NY with his wife and two children. His dream Jeopardy categories would be: They Might Be Giants, Berry Gordy’s The Last Dragon, 18th and 19th-Century Ethical Theory, Moral Psychology, Caffeine, Gummy Candies, and Episode-by-Episode podcasts about TV shows that have been off the air for at least 10 years.

  • PODCAST: 96th Academy Awards Predictions

    Mike Burdge, Bernadette Gorman-White and Diana DiMuro go over all the categories for the 96th Academy Awards, discussing their predictions and hopes, as well as chatting about some truly great flicks that entered the Oscar race this year. Big movies discussed include Oppenheimer, Barbie, The Zone of Interest, Napoleon, The Eternal Memory, all the Oscar Nominated Shorts and so so so much more. Listen on....

  • For Our Consideration

    The films we didn’t take seriously, until we did. The Oscars are coming, the Oscars are coming! Of the ten films nominated for Best Picture this year, two of them are foreign films (Anatomy of a Fall and The Zone of Interest), one is about cultural misappropriation (American Fiction), one is about America’s long history of oppressing and harming the native inhabitants of our land (Killers of the Flower Moon), and one is about the complicated nature of being an immigrant, simultaneously within and outside of two cultures (Past Lives). I think it’s pretty cool to see this kind of diversity in the Best Picture category (even though let’s be real, we all know Oppenheimer is going to win, and I am totally fine with that). Last year, RRR became the first Indian film production to win an Oscar, for Best Original Song, and that was a seismic moment - not just for me personally, but for Indian cinema, and honestly, for cinema as a whole. RRR’s win has been in the back of my mind every time I think about my history as a film lover, and when I wrote my Story Screen piece last fall about the fifth anniversary of the film Bohemian Rhapsody (about the British-Indian frontman of the band Queen) all sorts of big thoughts and emotions about Indians in cinema AND Indian cinema, in general, have been rattling around my head. So come with me on a little journey about the politics of identity and representation as seen in film… When I was in high school and college, I was full-blown obsessed with Bollywood films and also full-blown obsessed with getting my non-Indian friends obsessed with them. This was in part a reaction to having gone to predominantly white schools my whole life and feeling an aggressive need to honor my non-whiteness in communities of well-intentioned liberals who always claimed to me that they "couldn't see color.” (This is what passed for anti-racist discourse in the late 90s/early aughts.) In high school, I formed the Bollywood Club with my best friend Munaf, which was basically a shameless excuse to screen my favorite Bollywood movies after school once a month for anyone interested. (As a result, there is a demographic of white kids from San Francisco who became fans of my favorite Bollywood actor, Shah Rukh Khan.) In college, I majored in film theory and criticism and decided early on that when the time came, I was going to write my senior thesis on some aspect of the Indian film industry. The stereotypical notion of an Indian film, pretty much since people outside of India (and film scholars) were aware of them, was that they were silly, over-the-top melodramatic musicals featuring overwrought acting and goofy song-and-dance sequences where the hero would chase the heroine across lush fields and around trees, and a well-timed rainfall would drench her red chiffon sari, allowing it to cling to her body suggestively, and the music was old-fashioned, lushly orchestrated, featuring singers trained in the Indian classical vocal tradition. In that late 90s/early Aughts period, there was a sea change happening in the Indian film industry, but the world of film scholarship hadn't quite caught up to it. Dil Chahta Hai came out in 2000 and broke ground on two levels, the first being that it portrayed Indian youth culture in Bombay in a realistic, non-movie musical heightened way, the second being that the soundtrack, written by songwriting trio Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, featured music that felt less like old-time movie musical songs and more like contemporary pop songs that could get Top 40 radio play. Lagaan came out around the same time, tackling a story about Indian villagers in the Victorian era fighting back against their British colonial oppressors, and was nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Film (it unfortunately lost). Kal Ho Naa Ho was released in 2003, the first big-budget Indian film shot entirely in New York City, depicting the lives of Indian immigrants in America and again featuring music by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy. But the old stereotype remained, and along with it that very outdated scholarship about the Indian film industry. The seminal text that most film scholars referred to when writing about Indian cinema was a book called Indian Popular Cinema: A Narrative of Cultural Change by K. Moti Gokulsing and Wimal Dissanayake, published in 1998. If one wanted to study Indian cinema in an academic setting, there was no way to avoid that book. I cited it in my senior film thesis. That said, Gokulsing and Dissanayake’s overarching position on the purpose of Indian cinema is, in retrospect, reductive, imperialist in nature, and insulting. They claim that Indian cinema is purely about escapism - which, fine, I would argue that in many ways that is the purpose of all cinema, a chance to take a few hours and immerse yourself in another world and stop thinking about your own life. But their point wasn’t just that Indian cinema was escapism in a universal humanistic sense - it was escapism specifically for the rural poor population in India (which is admittedly quite large), and as such the plots of these films were designed to be purposely simplistic: good triumphs over evil, the good guy always wins the heart of the good girl, the bad guys always get their comeuppance, the bad girls are shamed for their shamelessness. Gokulsing and Dissanayake were basically saying that Indian cinema is inherently uncomplicated and easy-breezy fun because it is fundamentally at odds with the reality of the lives of most of India’s hard-living low-income population. These two scholars aren’t the only people who have this grand-sweeping generalized view of the target audience of a typical Indian film; this film-going population is a demographic that acclaimed writer and noted imperialist snob (I’ve met him; he would agree with me) Salman Rushdie referred to as the “teeming masses” in his award-winning novel Midnight’s Children. Former Under-Secretary of the United Nations, international civil servant, renowned writer, notorious large-vocabulary-word wielder-when-speaking-in-public and professional intellectual (also my uncle’s former student; he attended my parents’ wedding reception) Shashi Tharoor referred to this same population as “rural moralists” in his book India: From Midnight to the Millennium - positing that the simple fact of their poverty and lack of cosmopolitanism meant that they were inherently conservative-and-simple minded. I’m not name-dropping the personal connection I have to these two learned men just as a #humblebrag.  I bring that up to emphasize that this take on Indian cinema was the prevailing one for many years both on a broad scale, culturally, and on a very intimate scale in my own life. In college, I ran with a crowd of rabble-rousing POCs who were very politically minded, and social justice-oriented, and studied serious topics in their areas of discipline - Economics, Poli Sci, History, and Literature. They all made fun of me for wanting to write a film thesis about Bollywood, because they were operating under that old assumption that these movies are facile and not worthy of critical thought beyond the old Gokulsing/Dissanayake framework. They quasi-accused me of not being political enough, of being entrenched in an identity crisis (I was an ABCD - an “American Born Confused Desi”), and trying to work that out in school. They accused me of being simple-minded and uninterested in high art. “High Art.” There’s an interesting term, and one I absolutely hate. High Art, is implicitly in opposition to Low Art. High Art means highbrow, substantial, and important. Low Art means lowest-common-denominator, facile, and unimportant. Parallel Cinema - which is the term Indian film scholars use to describe non-commercial films (roughly equivalent to art-house cinema in the West) - as created by filmmakers like Satyajit Ray, was High Art. Social criticism and complex themes about injustice and the human condition are embedded in the stories. Often deeply depressing films. Commercial mainstream cinema in India - mostly fluffy, fun, rom-com romps, was Low Art. I think the entire notion of High Art versus Low Art is bullshit. Art is art. If art is done well, it moves people. It makes them feel something. That’s the point of art. You can like some art and dislike some art, but don’t ever fool yourself into believing that the art you like is somehow morally or intellectually superior to art you don’t care for. And this is the trouble with making generalizations about Bollywood films. Gokulsing and Dissanayake, in their ground-breaking text, made the same mistake that many people still make when they talk about Bollywood: they use the term “Bollywood” as a genre, instead of what it actually is, which is an industry. Bollywood is an industry. Just like Hollywood is an industry. That’s where the term Bollywood comes from – some jackass British journalist in the eighties coined the term as a portmanteau of Hollywood (the so-called filmmaking capital of the world) with Bombay (the so-called filmmaking capital of India - now known as Mumbai). What followed, of course, was more portmanteaus for other popular regional cinemas - Tollywood (for Telugu films), Kollywood (for Tamil films, mostly shot in studios in the Kodambakkam neighborhood of Chennai). But the simple fact remains: these are the names of film industries - industries that collectively produce nearly 800 films per year: action films, rom-coms, dramas, thrillers, horror films, political films, slapstick comedies, you name it. So, to write a whole damn book about what constitutes a Bollywood movie - and by extension, all Bollywood movies - is pretty presumptuous and frankly, condescending. There are plenty of bubble-gum pop-fluff Bollywood films out there – I wrote about a few of them in my thesis – but there are also a lot of arty Bollywood films out there as well. These are films that follow the basic musical film format but are telling stories that are more complex and nuanced than the stereotypical fare. I wrote about some of those movies in my thesis as well. The reason why they get lumped into the mainstream umbrella is because they are in Hindi and have songs. But I would be hard-pressed to compare a weightier film like Parineeta to a pretty conventional rom-com (right down to the When Harry Met Sally allusions) like Hum Tum. You just can’t. Both films were created by the same industry, but you cannot claim that they are similar in any way other than the fact that they are about complicated male-female friendships and they both star Saif Ali Khan. The music is different. The sets are different. One is a period piece. The acting style is different. Parineeta is a very rich, nuanced cultural criticism about class and privilege. Hum Tum is When Harry Met Sally. But they are both Bollywood films. And so that is why it is flawed to think of the stereotype of the rom-com song-and-dance chasing-the-girl-around-trees wet-red-chiffon-sari model as the benchmark for “mainstream” Indian movies. You cannot use one such film as a representative, a universal stand-in, for some concept of “mainstream.” For one thing, it’s sloppy scholarship – while you can use models and generalizations when talking about, say, statistical data, you just can’t when you’re talking about art. You cannot use a thing to stand in for a concept. That would be as absurd as suggesting that I am a universal representative of transnationalism. For another thing, it’s just sort of gross and imperialistic. It’s anthropology in its worst, most fetishizing definition. It’s looking at a giant industry, a giant body of work, and saying “Yeah, but it’s so meaningless and silly that it can all be summed up in this one film.” It’s just fundamentally untrue. At any rate, in the midst of all of this derogatory noise from the preeminent intellectuals who study Indian popular culture, my peers, and my family, I wrote my college film thesis about the intersection of the use of foreign shooting locations in Bollywood films, feminist film theory, and how foreign location allows Indian filmmakers to broach topics that are still considered taboo to talk about openly in Indian society - like homosexuality, marital infidelity, toxic masculinity, divorce. I analyzed, in detail, three extremely commercial, mainstream, big-budget, non-arthouse romantic comedies starring the biggest celebrity actors in the industry at the time - Shah Rukh Khan, Kajol, Rani Mukherji, Amitabh Bachchan, Saif Ali Khan, Preity Zinta, Abhishek Bachchan, Hrithik Roshan, Kareena Kapoor - and in the process I was able to demonstrate that yes, even in so-called mainstream “low art” there is an opportunity to present thorny stories about complicated topics in society that, just by virtue of their being peddled to Rushdie’s “teeming masses” could raise awareness and empathy. Yes, even to Tharoor’s “rural moralists.” The films I wrote about were not all simplistic stories about good vanquishing evil, black vs white the way Gokulsing and Dissanayake codified into conventional scholarship about this type of cinema; one of the films I wrote about was literally about two people who have an extra-marital affair, destroy two families in the process, but find a measure of peace with each other that was lacking in their respective toxic marriages. How’s that for the gray area? I was the first person in the history of my college’s film department to write a senior thesis about non-Western cinema. I got an A. And then I stopped following the industry; I think the deep dive it took for me to finish that thesis effectively burned me out. I spent the last 72 hours before my thesis was due frantically transcribing pages upon pages of long-hand writing in four notebooks (yes, I am that old) revising, pulling still images and video clips as supplementary material, revising some more, compiling footnotes, and not sleeping. I subsisted on coffee, Mountain Dew Code Red, cigarettes, dubiously-procured Ritalin from a friendly drug-dealing neighbor (not proud of that but hey, I was 22), and listened to an endless loop of Sanskrit yoga chanting set to music blaring loudly from my computer speakers. I’m pretty sure my housemates thought I had found God. In the 17 years or so since then, academic scholarship has blown wide open on Indian cinema - so much that I have not been able to keep up with it. I'm not saying this explosion of critical thought is because of me - no one in academia knows who the fuck I am, and I’m totally fine with that. I never had any intention of becoming a professional academic. But something has changed, and scholars are now willing to give these films a level of consideration and celebration that I was once mocked for wanting to do myself. People are paying attention, and people are rejecting that old Gokulsing and Dissanayake model of assessing the value not just of Bollywood films, but of contemporary Indian popular cinema in general. They are looking at them not as High Art or Low Art, but just Art. Art that is worthy of consideration on a global scale. Which brings me to the Tollywood film RRR winning Best Original Song for “Naatu Naatu” at the Oscars last year. My Story Screen colleague Damian did a great writeup of the film on his best of 2022 list so I'll point you in that direction to learn more about the film itself, because I want to focus on what happened at that telecast. Deepika Padukone, one of the biggest Bollywood actors working today, came on stage to introduce the song, which had become a viral sensation globally since the film's release. The cast of the film came out and recreated a version of the dance sequence for the audience. The crowd went wild. I was in tears. Not long after, Kate Hudson and Janelle Monae presented the Oscar for best Original Song to M.M. Keeravani and Chandrabose, the songwriters of “Naatu Naatu.” Keeravani began his speech by saying that he grew up listening to the Carpenters, and now here he was at the Oscars. He then sang the rest of his acceptance speech to the tune of a Carpenters song. At this point, I was ugly crying. It wasn't just pride - cultural pride, national pride, whatever you want to call it. (National pride isn't accurate anyway - I was born in the US, I'm American; India is where my parents are from.) It was the first song from an Indian production to be nominated at the Oscars, and it won. It was a validation, for me, for everything I had believed back in my young adulthood - for my dogged determination to prove that Indian cinema was worthy of being considered good filmmaking using the standard of what is art meant to do rather than what the Western canon deems worthy of taking seriously. It was retribution to all of those assholes in college who made fun of me for my Bollywood obsession, to my family who sneered at my love of Bollywood films and complained to my dad about why I wouldn't focus my studies on the art-house Parallel Cinema oeuvre of my Bengali compatriot Satyajit Ray, to the whole goddamn world who looked at my interest in Indian cinema and wrote it off as the manifestation of an identity crisis or an extended excuse to moon over Shah Rukh Khan under the guise of academic thought. Should India care that the American Motion Picture Academy finally sat up and paid attention? I mean, that's debatable too. While Hollywood films dominate the globe, so do Indian films due to the diaspora. We Indians are everywhere. Shah Rukh Khan is the most recognized man in the world (the conventional wisdom is that if Tom Cruise and Shah Rukh Khan were walking through Heathrow Airport at the same time, Khan would be getting mobbed for autographs far more than Cruise). India has been doing its own thang cinematically for decades, and it shouldn't take recognition from America to legitimize it. It was already legit. It was legit from the get-go. But here’s how this all feels for me. For me, an elder Millennial who grew up in a time where for decades the only Indian person on TV was Apu on The Simpsons.  For me, someone who nearly gave up on my dream of being an artist because I simply didn't think it was possible for someone who looked like me and had a name like mine to achieve any measure of success, recognition, or attention. For me, someone who loved Indian cinema because it allowed me to see - before the rise of brown-skinned actors like Hasan Minaj, Mindy Kaling, Aziz Ansari, Kumail Nanjiani, Priyanka Chopra (our crossover Bollywood star!), Dev Patel, Padma Lakshmi, Hari Konabolu becoming famous - people who looked like me on screen. For me, a child of Indian immigrants, who had to wait till I was in my thirties before Hollywood made a whole goddamn movie about Queen and reminded the world that their frontman Freddie Mercury (born Farrokh Bulsara) was also the child of Indian immigrants. For me, an American-born woman of Indian origin who went to college specifically to study film, and more specifically to study Indian film - yes, it was a big deal to see an Indian production be celebrated and honored by the American film industry. Last October I went back to my high school for my 20th high school reunion, where I saw for the first time in two decades many of those white kids who I dragged into the Music Room one Friday a month with Munaf to watch my favorite Bollywood movies. They may not remember how important that was to me, but I do. I returned to the place where I tried, in a small way, to get American people to take Indian filmmaking seriously, to give it consideration and appreciation, to look at a long-maligned form of Low Art and interpret it as capital-A Art. And I returned in a year when the whole world had finally taken notice of what the Indian film industry could achieve. I don't presume to think that my tenure as president of the Urban School of San Francisco Bollywood Club and my achievement as the first film student in the history of the Vassar College Film Department to write a senior thesis about non-Western cinema had anything to do with the Tollywood film RRR winning at the Oscars. But I made a good faith effort for many years to move the needle on this issue, and even if at the end of the day it has nothing to do with me, I am proud not just of RRR, but to be a person who saw the potential for this to happen, and who understood the importance - the NEED - for this to happen. Watch RRR. Watch everything. Watch Sholay, and Amar Akbar Anthony, and Main Khiladi Tu Anari, and Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, and Dil Se, and Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, and Kabhi Khushi Kahbhi Gham, and Dil Chahta Hai, and Lagaan, and Kal Ho Naa Ho, and Parineeta, and Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna, and The Dirty Picture, and Don (the remake is better than the original don't @ me), and Om Shanti Om, and Dil Dhadkne Do, and Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani. Death in the Ganj. Sir. Monsoon Wedding. Mr and Mrs Iyer. 36 Chowringhee Lane. Sairat. Watch all of the other movies that are out there, that keep getting made, too many for me to count or keep up with. Action films, historical epics, period pieces, biopics, romantic comedies, domestic dramas, political satire, slapstick goofball comedies, thrillers, children’s films - in any genre you can think of, you will find several great Indian-language films. Watch. Them. All.  Do it, because these are good films. Not good Indian films. Good films, period. Do it because they are worthy of your consideration. Do it so that the next time an Indian film is recognized at the Oscars, I won't sit there and ugly cry, because it will no longer be unprecedented. It will be normal. Reeya Banerjee Staff Writer Reeya is a musician and writer based in Chattanooga, TN, by way of NY's Hudson Valley. Her debut album, “The Way Up,” was released on January 27, 2022 and her follow-up album, "This Place," will be released in spring 2024. In her other life, she works as a staff accountant for a management company that oversees veterinary practices nationwide, enjoys watching Better Call Saul reruns while eating gummy bears, and has a film degree from Vassar College that she does not use.

  • Precious Moments with Lisa Frankenstein

    Diablo Cody, writer of Juno and Jennifer’s Body, teams up with Zelda Williams (daughter of the legendary Robin Williams) for her feature-length film directorial debut: Lisa Frankenstein. Starring Kathryn Newton (Freaky, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania) and Cole Sprouse (Riverdale), the film centers around Lisa, a girl mourning her recently murdered mom who has trouble connecting to the land of the living, namely, her new stepmother Janet (the wickedly amazing Carla Gugino) and her stepsister, Taffy (Liza Soberano in a standout performance). Lisa and her dad (Stranger Things’ Joe Chrest) have moved in with Janet and Taffy during Lisa’s final year of high school, forcing her to adjust to a new town and new school after already suffering the devastating loss of her mom. Taffy is a popular girl with a clique of devotees who feels genuine in her compassion and concern for Lisa, attempting to help her out of her shell in making new friends and meeting boys — as long as they’re the right ones. Kudos to Zelda Williams for creating a film that looks and feels like an actual 80s film. While Williams and Cody have said they drew inspiration from such films as Weird Science and Beetlejuice, the movie gave me major Edward Scissorhands and Heathers vibes in the best way possible. Taffy, as head of her clique, feels like a nicer version of the combined Heathers, while Lisa is most definitely cast in the role of Winona Ryder’s Veronica. Lisa is a delight but she is also a flawed character. She gets hurt and angry and doesn’t always make the best decisions. In the film, Lisa frequently pines after the head of her new school’s literary magazine. Alternatively, she also spends a lot of time hanging out in the abandoned graveyard known as “Bachelor’s Grove,” doing wax rubbings of old tombstones and talking to the handsome statue above the grave of Cole Sprouse’s character. One night after attending a party with Taffy, a huge storm breaks out and a massive bolt of lightning hits said bachelor’s grave. A muddy moaning corpse (Sprouse in some amazing physical comedy) finds his way to Lisa’s house and finally makes actual contact with our Goth heroine. Hilarity (and later, murder,) ensues. I won’t go into further details to avoid spoilers. Newton and Sprouse have great chemistry. Sprouse, who normally utters sarcastic jabs on Riverdale, gives a performance that evokes the great physical work of Bill Irwin or Doug Jones. He is able to convey tenderness and so much more with just a look. The film has a killer soundtrack, excellent set design, and vibrant 80s costumes. Flannel nightgowns have never given me such deja vu before. This is a film that was truly a pleasant surprise for me and one I think I will enjoy even more upon rewatch. Check out Lisa Frankenstein now, before it leaves theaters. It’s original, funny, and darkly romantic. Diana DiMuro Besides watching TV and movies, Diana likes plants, the great outdoors, drawing and reading comics, and just generally rocking out. She has a BA in English Literature and is an art school dropout. You can follow her on Instagram @dldimuro and Twitter @DianaDiMuro

  • PODCAST: Cathode Ray Cast - The Crown S6

    On this episode, Bernadette Gorman-White and Reeya Banerjee wrap up their discussion on the Netflix series, The Crown. Along the way, they applaud the show for wrapping up the Diana and Dodi storyline in a respectful and, perhaps, insightful manner, while also maligning the show for spending too much time on Will and Kate, and ultimately compare the final season's strengths and weaknesses to prior seasons. Listen on....

  • Film Review: Plan 75

    Japan has one of the world’s oldest populations, along with one of the world’s lowest birth rates. In one sense, this can be viewed as a tremendous societal accomplishment. Thanks to advances in medical science, along with widely adopted healthy lifestyle habits, people in Japan are leading longer and more productive lives than anywhere else in the world. Similarly, education and advances in family planning have allowed people much greater control over the kinds of lives they want to lead. An obvious downside though is that such a situation will eventually lead to there being decreasingly fewer young people to take care of an ever-expanding elderly population. Chie Hayakawa’s film, Plan 75, posits a near-future Japan with a novel solution to this problem: Plan 75 is legislation that permits the elderly to voluntarily terminate their life after they reach the age of 75. That is to say, not permission to terminate their life because of some existing condition or illness, but just a general allowance to do so for anyone 75 or older. The public framing around the legislation is that, by choosing to participate in the program, the elderly can gain some measure of control over how their lives will end, while also performing a public service to their country. Additionally, to further incentivize people to make this cost-saving choice, the government will give money to anyone who agrees to participate in the program. When I was younger, I remember the ethics around euthanasia seeming quite a bit more contentious than it does nowadays. Some form of passive euthanasia is legal in every state, whether it’s allowance for a patient to proactively decline to be resuscitated should they experience a future cardiac or respiratory event, or allowing someone to decide to decline life support for a loved one or to remove them from life support. We broadly accept that there is no moral obligation to force people to remain alive for as long as science allows. In this sense, there has long been established at least this minimum right to die. In recent years, that right has expanded to allow some versions of voluntary euthanasia or assisted suicide in a number of places around the world - though generally, this is just in cases where someone has some deteriorating health condition that is expected to eventually erode their quality of life to an intolerable point. In all of these cases, the common thread is that, however precious one’s life might be, it’s sometimes acceptable to deliberately end it. What makes Plan 75 so interesting to me is how it explores the limits and implications of that idea. The film follows five people. Our main character is a 78-year-old widow named Michi Kakutani (Baishô Chieko). From all outward appearances, Michi is leading a very active and fulfilling life for her age. She lives alone in her own apartment and has no children, but she does have a circle of friends she sees regularly and a job cleaning hotel rooms that she enjoys. At her age. Michi could go on government assistance if she needed to, but she’s happy to work. She’s the exact person that Plan 75 is not intended for. She can support herself without assistance and she has no serious health issues that require expensive or time-consuming care. Or, at least that’s how things look for her until her circumstances start to change. Some of the friends in Michi’s social circle have started deciding to opt for Plan 75. The public relations around the Plan 75 legislation presents it as a public service that the elderly can offer to the youth of their country, and for some of her friends that’s motivation enough. It also helps that anyone opting into the program can take the compensation they receive for participating and use it for their family, or to give themselves a lavish send-off. For some, the personal calculus is, “If I’m going to die anyway, why not get something out of it?” For Michi, it’s only when she loses her job that she begins to consider Plan 75 as an option. A fellow elderly employee at her job collapses during their shift, and the hotel decides to eliminate all of their elderly workers rather than risk the potential bad press they might get if one of their elderly workers dies while on the job. Michi is left scrambling for work as there aren’t many job opportunities for a 78-year-old woman. She eventually finds something, but it’s directing nighttime highway traffic. It’s work, but it’s cold and lonely work. Three of the other characters that we follow are involved with the private business that has popped up to handle the implementation of Plan 75. The unfortunately perverse incentive structure created by this legislation has created companies whose sole purpose is to convince elderly people to end their lives while carrying out those terminations in the most cost-effective way possible. We even overhear a news broadcast at one point discussing the $10 billion in revenue the Plan 75 legislation has generated for the economy and how discussions have begun to expand the program to those 65 and older. Hiromu (Isomura Hayata) is a young man who works as a salesman for one of the Plan 75 companies. We mostly see him manning an outdoor information table where it’s his job to recruit people to die. Yôko (Kawai Yûmi) is a young woman who works as a contact for people after they sign up for Plan 75, someone to be there for people throughout the process, but she’s also charged with making sure people don’t change their minds and back out of the program. Finally, there’s Maria (Sutefanî Arian), a single mom who had been working as a nurse until she learned how much more money she could make taking care of the bodies and personal effects of people after they’ve died at one of the private Plan 75 facilities. None of these three people are especially happy doing their jobs, but to this point, the money has been just good enough to keep them from walking away. The fifth character we follow is Hiromu’s elderly estranged uncle, Yukio. We’re introduced to him when he shows up at Hiromu’s table looking to volunteer for Plan 75. Hiromu hasn’t seen his uncle in twenty years and today is Yukio’s 75th birthday. Because of how closely related they are, Hiromu’s company won’t allow him to handle his uncle’s case, so he passes his uncle off to someone else at the company. But, having reconnected with his uncle in this way, Hiromu decides to keep his uncle company during his final days. In some ways, Yukio may quietly be the most important figure in this story. With everyone else, the film is mainly interested in exploring how corrosive the intersection of elder care and capitalism can be, and how dehumanizing our view of the elderly can become as they become less ‘productive’ to society. Yukio is something of a counterpoint to all that. He has legitimately reached the end of a long life that he’s ready to be over. The film doesn’t make it easy on the audience by giving him some terminal illness or other obstacle to an otherwise happy life; he’s simply old, tired, and ready to be done. How all of these threads play out is worth seeing for yourself. Plan 75 is a deeply thoughtful film about our relationship to aging and mortality, both in our own lives and the lives of the people we’re close to. It’s a timely story because these demographic issues are living concerns for every Western society, but it’s also a timeless story in that, on a personal level, these are ideas we all will have to navigate over and over again in all of our relationships. Damian Masterson Staff Writer Damian is an endothermic vertebrate with a large four-chambered heart residing in Kerhonkson, NY with his wife and two children. His dream Jeopardy categories would be: They Might Be Giants, Berry Gordy’s The Last Dragon, 18th and 19th-Century Ethical Theory, Moral Psychology, Caffeine, Gummy Candies, and Episode-by-Episode podcasts about TV shows that have been off the air for at least 10 years.

  • PODCAST: Overdrinkers - Knightriders

    Mike Burdge is joined by Scotty Arnold on a glorious day to chat about George A Romero's unsung 1981 batshit bananas film, Knightriders. Topics of discussion include artistic passion vs real world business, bikes vs horsies, Ed Harris being a madman and the reveal of a brand new podcast coming to this very channel. Listen on....

  • A Recent Journey Through the Netflix Algorithm

    I was originally going to focus this piece on Netflix’s insanely popular hit British miniseries Fool Me Once, based on Harlan Coben’s novel of the same name. Netflix has produced adaptations of nine of Coben’s works, which typically explore unresolved or misinterpreted events about past murder investigations, with twisty-turny plotlines that are perfect for creating extremely bingeable series. Fool Me Once premiered on Netflix on January 1 of this year and quickly became the number one show streamed that week - watched by over 37.1 million Netflix accounts with a total of 238,200,000 hours watched, making it one of Netflix’s largest debuts.  With Netflix eagerly giving me this statistic - the #1 television show streamed that week - I figured I’d go ahead and see what the fuss was all about. Look, I’m going to give you a plot summary, and then I’m not going to mince words. Maya Stern (Michelle Keegan), a disgraced former army captain, is grieving the murder of her husband Joe Burkett (Richard Armitage), a member of a prominent English family who runs one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world. One of her friends gives her a nanny cam to keep tabs on her daughter while she’s not home, and one evening as she reviews the camera footage, she sees Joe - who is supposed to be dead - visiting their daughter. This sends her down a rabbit hole of trying to understand how the heck this could be possible which eventually uncovers a mass conspiracy by the Burkett family to cover up various crimes committed both by their company (they have been pushing faulty drugs out into the prescription pipeline, many of which have devastating and irreversible side effects for those who take them; shades of Dopesick here) and by Joe himself (who, it turns out, is a big old murder-y murderer). Alongside Maya’s quest to discover the truth, her niece and nephew seek to find out the truth about their mother Claire (Natalie Anderson) - Maya’s sister, who worked for the pharma company run by Joe’s family - and her also fairly recent murder which has relegated their father Eddie (Marcus Garvey) to complete basket-case status. (I’ll give you three guesses if you can figure out right now who was responsible for Claire’s death.) Simultaneously, we see Deputy Sergeant Sami Kierce (Adeel Akhtar), the detective assigned to solving Joe’s murder, starting to piece together the connections between the two murders while also suffering unknowingly from side effects from one of the medications he takes regularly that is manufactured by Burkett Global Enterprises. There’s also a hacker whistleblower character named Corey the Whistle (Laurie Kynaston) who is instrumental in solving this whole mess and operates his shady hacking dealings out of a cavelike office under a video game arcade because of course, there is and of course, he does. I said I’m not going to mince words, so I won’t: Fool Me Once is absolute trash. Glorious, shameless, guilty-pleasure, binge-watch-in-one-night trash. Despite decent performances by most of the main cast (with special shout-outs to Akhtar, Garvey, and the legendary Joanna Lumley as Joe’s mother and matriarch of the Burkett family), there is no way to mask the epic soap-opera nonsense logic trashiness of this show. It’s awful. It’s so bad. The plot twists are absurd and stupid, the dialogue is cringeworthy, and the shock ending, which I suspect they intended to be poignant, is actually so corny and saccharine that it made me throw up in my mouth a little bit. And yet, I did binge all eight episodes in one night. Why, I ask you? Why? I think I kept watching because I felt that Joanna Lumley’s participation in this mess gave it an air of respectability and was hoping that the show would rise to her level, but sadly, no. There’s not much else I can say about Fool Me Once. I don’t even want to encourage (OR discourage) you from watching it. It’s entertaining as all get out. It’s also objectively terrible television. If you need a break from the horrors of the world right now and just want to watch good-looking people behave in incomprehensibly dumb and implausible ways while investigating two literal cold-blooded murders, then hey, I won’t judge. I did it too. But what happened to me - and my Netflix queue - AFTER Fool Me Once is where things got interesting. Netflix’s algorithm seemed to figure out that I am the kind of person who: 1) likes miniseries; 2) especially, if they are crime miniseries; and 3) is undisciplined enough to binge eight hours of television in one night. Netflix also (I assume based on my repeated viewings of Delhi Crime - a crime anthology series - natch - which I wrote about for Story Screen last year and also binged each of its two seasons in one night) thought I might be interested in another miniseries set in India. So it directed me to Kohrra, a Punjabi-language crime thriller police procedural released last summer. Kohrra is similar to Fool Me Once in that it’s about a murder investigation with many twists and turns. That is basically all they have in common, though, because Kohrra is far from trashy.  Dark, haunting, and moody, Kohrra follows the story of the murder of Tejinder “Paul” Dhillon (Vishal Handa), a young Indian man raised in London who returns to Punjab for an arranged marriage, the disappearance of his best friend Liam Murphy (Ivantiy Novak), who accompanied him on the trip as his best man, and the two detectives who are assigned to the case, Sub-Inspector Balbir Singh (Suvinder Vicky) and Assistant Sub-Inspector Amarpal Garundi (Barun Sobti) - a classic television police partnership dynamic of an older, world-weary, hardened, careful cop and his younger, hot-headed, and not-yet-worn-down-by-cynicism partner who looks to him as a mentor. The relationship between Singh and Garundi is really sweet to watch, as these two men, aside from their shared profession, could not be more different but share a genuine affection for each other and a fierce level of protectiveness towards one another. Set in a depressed village in Punjab where there is a serious heroin addiction epidemic amongst the poor youth and a glaring divide between that population and the middle and upper classes who would just as much pretend not to notice this problem - as exemplified by the wealthy Dhillon family who owns homes both in the UK and in India, the patriarch of whom is in a long-standing property dispute with his just as wealthy but not as worldly younger brother who never left India - Khorra (which literally translates to “fog” in Punjabi) is about how these social and class conflicts create an inherent murkiness in the community, making it difficult for Singh and Garundi to figure out exactly how a young, wealthy man could be murdered and left in a barren field near a slum two days before his wedding. Vicky as Balbir Singh in particular is the MVP of this series, portraying a sad, stoic man who has fallen victim to corruption in his profession and regrets becoming part of the problem in this village. Rachel Shelley also gives a lovely, nuanced performance as Clara Murphy, Liam’s mother, who has come to India for the wedding only to have her son go missing and be entangled in a murder investigation. (For you Bollywood enthusiasts out there, Shelley played Elizabeth Russell in the Victorian-era historical epic Lagaan in 2001, and this series marks her first return to an Indian production in over twenty years.) I’m not going to tell you how Kohrra ends because y’all should watch this series. I am going to tell you that it’s maddening to me that Netflix wasn’t marketing the hell out of this series last summer when it was released the way they were marketing Fool Me Once. Delhi Crime won Netflix an International Emmy Award and you’d think they would want to capitalize on that a bit more by promoting their other Indian programs. At any rate. Watch Kohrra. Yes, there are subtitles. Get over it. It’s a damn good show. After I binged Kohrra in one night (I told you I have no discipline), Netflix figured out that not only do I love me some crime thriller police-procedural miniseries, but it also figured out that I don’t have a problem watching non-English language shows. It also, I assume, based on my repeated viewings of Call My Agent (actually called Dix Pour Cent in France - a dramedy about talent agents in Paris), figured that I might dig another French-language show. So it served me up The Forest (La Forêt), a 2017 joint Belgian-French crime thriller police procedural about a teenager named Jennifer Lenoir (Isis Guillaume) who disappears into a forest near the small village of Montfaucon in the Ardennes, and the police investigation into her disappearance led by new-in-town chief detective Gaspard Decker (Samuel Labarthe) and Virginie Musso (Suzanne Clement), a law-enforcement officer who grew up in Monfaucon. They are assisted by local school teacher Eve Mendel (Alexia Barlier), who is a mentor to many of the girls in the school and also has a mysterious, traumatic past involving the same forest where Jennifer has disappeared. The Forest and Kohrra are similar in that they are about criminal investigations in small villages that suffer from issues of class disparity, poverty, and addiction. The Forest also reminded me a lot of HBO’s 2021 crime thriller police procedural miniseries Mare of Easttown, starring Kate Winslet as the titular Mare Sheehan, a detective in a small town outside of Philadelphia beset with issues of class disparity, poverty, and addiction. In particular, the parallels between Mare and Virginie Musso - both detectives who are raised locally and so deeply embedded in their communities that they know most of the townspeople who may or may not be suspects, leading them to have blindspots when their superiors want to turn the investigation a certain way - were glaringly evident, to the point where I wonder if the showrunners of Mare of Easttown had ever looked to The Forest as reference material. As The Forest progresses through the obligatory twists and turns that are necessary to this genre of Netflix programming, we learn that Musso’s daughter Maya may be connected to Jennifer’s disappearance, and then Maya goes missing herself, leading one to wonder why Musso is still being allowed to be a primary investigator in the case when there is such a clear conflict of interest.  In all fairness to Captain Decker, he does voice this concern several times, and at one point, when she oversteps tremendously, threatens to pull her off the case - another parallel to Mare of Easttown, where Mare is temporarily suspended from the force for tampering with evidence due to her personal connections to a case. The Forest had me riveted the way Kohrra did. Again, I binged all six episodes in one night.  (I’m really not getting adequate sleep these days, clearly.) The performances by Labarth, Clement, and Barlier are top-notch, and Patrick Ridremont also does a beautiful job with his portrayal of alcoholic ex-convict and small-time criminal Theirry Rouget (whose daughter Oceane might also be a person of interest in Jennifer’s disappearance) - a role that could very easily have fallen into a “deadbeat dad” stereotype but instead he layers with a nuanced portrayal of hurt, guilt, and trauma. Again, I’m not going to tell you how The Forest ends, because y’all should watch this series too. Yes, subtitles. Get over it. You can read. If you couldn’t, you wouldn’t be reading this. What Fool Me Once, Kohrra, and The Forest share in common, besides them all being crime thrillers about police investigations with many plot twists that keep you from turning the TV off when Netflix goes to autoplay the next episode immediately after the current episode concludes is that they all have fairly surprising endings. That said, I did allude to the fact that Fool Me Once’s ending was shocking and then subsequently corny AF, and I stand by that. It’s bad.  Kohrra’s ending, however, is shocking and then deeply, hauntingly sad, and The Forest’s ending is shocking and strangely cathartic. I’m not going to sit here and say that Netflix’s original programming from India and France is better than anything that they produce in the UK or the States. Y’all know I stan The Crown hard around these parts, and even though it kind of went off the rails as it went on, Orange is the New Black was a truly groundbreaking television show when it first made itself known ten years ago. I am going to say that it is deeply disappointing to me that a show like Fool Me Once could make such a huge splash the way it did the first week of this year on Netflix while Kohrra and The Forest went largely unnoticed when they were released. All three shows feature largely unknown casts (except Joanna Lumley) to American audiences, so this isn’t a question of who has more potent star power. Harlan Coben’s work is a known quantity for Netflix, so it does make sense that they would lean on the Coben brand when pushing a new show like Fool Me Once.  But it’s a shame that I only learned about the existence of Kohrra and The Forest after having suffered through the melodramatic hot mess that was Fool Me Once due to a Netflix algorithm that pegged me as a crime-show junkie who also likes Indian and French stuff. (I coincidentally do have family in both India and France, so Netflix has sussed me out pretty well, creepy as that might be #bigbrotheriswatching.) Kohrra was released only a year ago, but The Forest is nearly seven years old and has been languishing in some Netflix black hole all this time, only emerging when someone with my particular viewing profile emerges. I wish it didn’t have to be that way because Fool Me Once is absolute garbage, and Kohrra and The Forest are legitimately brilliant television on par with prestige crime television shows like Mare of Easttown, True Detective (Season 1!!!), and Fargo. Netflix would benefit strongly from spending more of their marketing dollars getting people to take notice of shows like Kohrra and The Forest as aggressively as they did with Fool Me Once instead of letting me find them by algorithmic chance - especially since The Crown, arguably Netflix’s most prestigious, classy show, just aired its series finale late last year. If Netflix wants to retain any semblance of respectability, they should maybe move away from the pulpy Coben adaptations - or at least not shove them down our throats so aggressively - and give these incredible foreign productions a bit more love so larger audiences can find them easily as opposed to by accident. Now that I’ve finished The Forest, Netflix is suggesting that I watch Secret City - an Australian political crime thriller show starring Anna Torv (known to US audiences primarily via The Last of Us, Fringe, and Mindhunter). Netflix probably put together the fact that I like the intersection of crime and politics from my binging of Delhi Crime, plus the fact that I binged the first four seasons of The West Wing repeatedly in a nostalgic frenzy several times before Netflix lost the rights to it to Max. There are two seasons of Secret City, making it more of an anthology series than Khorra and The Forest. I have a feeling I’m going to like it because so far, the algorithm does seem to have me pegged. Check on me later, though, and make sure I didn’t stay up all night watching both seasons back to back to back to back. I gotta work in the morning. Reeya Banerjee Staff Writer Reeya is a musician and writer based in New York's Capital District. Her debut album, “The Way Up,” was released on January 27, 2022. She can frequently be seen in her car on the NYS Thruway cursing traffic on her way to the Hudson Valley for band rehearsals or to Brooklyn for recording sessions. In her other life, she works as a staff accountant for a management company that oversees veterinary practices nationwide, enjoys watching Law & Order SVU returns while eating gummy bears, and has a film degree from Vassar College that she does not use.

  • Mike's Top 23 Films of 2023

    It is literally impossible to be a person who ranks their favorite movies of the year. You watched so many movies and you are so smart, and it kills me that you don’t think you’re good enough. Like, we have to always be watching new movies, but somehow we’re always missing the important ones. You have to be "artsy," but not too "artsy." And you can never say you want to watch "artsy" movies. You have to say you want to be comprehensive, but also you have to be "artsy." You have to have taste, but you can’t explore other tastes because that makes you unoriginal, and you can't say you have broad taste because that makes you egotistical. You have to be a free-thinking individual, but you can’t just skip seeing the “most popular movies of the year.” You have to dislike certain movies, but you can’t squash other people’s liking of those movies. You’re supposed to love watching weird movies but don’t talk about that new Finnish film all the damn time. You have to be a film critic, but also, always be looking out for just having a good time. You have to justify your enjoyment of cheesy, well-made, fun movies, which is insane, but if you point that out, you’re accused of being a contrarian. You’re supposed to stay witty for the readers, but not so witty that you taunt them too much or that you threaten other folk's opinions because you’re supposed to be a part of the cinephile inner circle. But always stand out and always be grateful. But never forget that the system is rigged by studios not releasing certain movies near you, you have no way to see them, no matter how hard you try. So, find a way to acknowledge that, but also always be grateful. You have to never get too sassy, never be pretentious, never use the same adjective to describe two different movies, never be too appreciative of blockbusters, never dismiss that international indie film that played at like three theaters, never say how many movies you watched in one year, never put too many honorable mentions, never leave out the most culturally important movie of the year, even if you didn't love it all that much. It’s too hard to only pick ten movies, alright?! It’s too contradictory and nobody gives you a quote tweet or says "Great list! Definitely going to check some of these out!!" And it turns out, in fact, that not only are you not liking the RIGHT movies, but also everything wrong with Maestro is now your fault, even the nose. I’m just so tired of watching myself and every single other movie-lover tie themselves into knots so that people will like their Best of the Year lists. And if all of that is also true for one guy just representing his taste in the new movies he watched this past year, then I don’t even know. Okay. Let's punch it! 23. Bottoms Fight Club for cool people. Emma Seligman's follow-up to the outrageously great Shiva Baby shows that she is on the correct path towards becoming not just one of the most exciting new voices in movies, but one of the most unique. Ayo Edebiri and Rachel Sennott continue to be some of the best to do it, supported here by a cast of actors that completely get the bit. A very special blend of comedy, heart, and raunchy inspirations, Bottoms was, joke-for-joke, the funniest movie of the year. 22. Talk to Me There's something impressive to me about a low-budget, high-concept horror movie that gets pulled off with such confidence and flair. The "Hand That Makes You Spooky," horror flick of 2023 escaped me for a very long time, but once I finally sat down and caught it, I was hooked, much like many of the characters in the film that take part in the "possession as party drug" concept. With an amazing lead performance by Sophie Wilde, Talk to Me is always unnerving, thought-provoking, and just straight-out dang scary AF, while holding that key element to all successful horror: a clean thematic metaphor. A horror movie lover's type of new horror movie. 21. Afire Artistic creation is a fickle lil’ beast. Even more fickle when you truly don't have your shit together, something most creatives would immediately attest to. Writer/director Christopher Petzold, who previously made one of my favorite movies of the last twenty years, Transit, lays all the emotions involved in artistic creativity out for autopsy and deserved judgment. Paula Bear is just ripping it apart in this movie in the small ways she does best. Thomas Schubert fully encapsulates the try-hard yet writer-block-ridden artist with the exact amount of wanted empathy and unnecessary desperation the character needs. 20. May December Todd Haynes' latest movie is just as loving and depressing as the director's filmography would have you come to expect. Darkly comedic, and expertly acted and constructed, the film became one of the biggest "Could it?" movies of 2023 when it came to audience reception and awards buzz. Charles Melton is out-of-control good in this. Both Natalie Portman and Julianne Moore deliver on their unique capabilities to bring a certain sharpness to their star power, both of which play out beautifully in the picture. You can never really pinpoint who the main character is in this movie, and that's just a sliver of what makes it so special. 19. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse Gimmie gimmie gimmie! The next installment in the multiverse-spanning, better content-creating universe of Spider-Man is nothing short of a miracle. It simultaneously leans on the successes of the original (if it ain't broke, don't fix it), while not only taking aim, but firing on all cylinders at how far its creators can push this form. This chapter builds on the expectations of the world, not only in form but also in how the audience of the world will react. Emotions fluctuate, characters reenter, the universe becomes bigger, and the stakes zone in, leaving us with one of the best cliffhangers in a massive blockbuster since The Empire Strikes Back, not just in scope, but more importantly, in character. 18. Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret. One of the biggest surprises of 2023 for me was not in the form of a skinny legend building a bomb or a plastic doll teaching the world about gynecology (we'll get to those films soon enough, I swear), it came in Kelly Fremon Craig's ridiculously well-executed coming-of-age film based on one of the most well-known books of all time. A book that I have not read. While I was somewhat familiar with the content of the story, I was completely wrong, and I had no idea what this movie was actually about, and this led to an amazing viewing experience. Overflowing with stellar performances from both faces new and old, it's the type of feel-good movie we don't get that often, and it truly had me sobbing out of despair and happiness throughout. When we talk about the good stuff in movies these days, this is a perfect example. 17. Priscilla In my opinion, Sofia Coppola has reached the point in her career that few achieve and many dread: she's made so many bonkers good movies that the world at large takes it for granted. If anyone else had made this thing we wouldn't be hearing the end of it. Coppola takes the story of the woman "aside" one of the most famous figures in American pop culture and breathes her sensuality and silent art into every frame. At some moments the film feels like The Virgin Suicides, and at others, like Lost in Translation. But regardless of all this, Priscilla always feels like it is in conversation with itself, constantly hurtling towards an end that can only be bittersweet. Cailee Spaeny will rule the world soon enough. 16. Maestro Bradley Cooper is a guy who loves movies. He loves to star in them, produce them, make them, talk about them and support them. He's the cinephile's director. His directorial debut, A Star is Born, was one of the most impressive things to happen in the past decade, mostly because of his turn from how the public had previously perceived him. Leaning even harder into the "you don't know me" of it all, Maestro sees him set his sights on one of the most prolific and mysterious figures in modern music: Leonard Bernstein. Cooper's performance is electric, try-hard as it may seem. Heck, electricity looks like it's working pretty hard to me. Carey Mulligan's exuberant but still focused performance seems to ground the more lavish elements of Cooper's, which all plays into the director's expertly crafted frames of a man that loved too much and thought he knew all the same. 15. Beau is Afraid Ladies and gentlemen, we did it. We supported Ari Aster through his fantastic dark family comedy. We praised him for his amazing work on a hyper-bright, drug-induced story of love and loss. And now, we get his junior album, where all bets are off: a nightmare of anxiety with the biggest budget A24 has yet to offer. The results were delicious. I caught this one late, so I had already been privy to the divisiveness of the flick, and honestly, I think I was all the better for it. It’s an odyssey (ugh) of extreme realism but also hyper-reality, all held together by what I'm pretty sure is Joaquin Phoenix's most insane performance (I'll have to check on that). And Parker Posey, everybody. Let's take a moment to stan the legend. 14. Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One The worst part about M:I-DRP1 is that it was always going to be a P1, and the movie doesn't do the greatest job in changing those expectations; it’s very much the first part of a whole story. The Mission: Impossible franchise has always been one that can just go into a new chapter without any need to know what came before. Sure, it enhances the story, but it's never a requirement. That being said, all the good toys are back on the floor for McQuarrie and Cruise to play with, including a lavish budget that keeps pushing the limits of what these movies can get away with. What works so well with this installment, however, is the same that worked best with the previous installment, Fallout, which also had no shortage of amazing effects and stunt work. It's the small moments with the characters, the moments that make us truly like them, therefore root for them when the cash starts to spread across the screen. These small car chases and quiet talks around a table are what makes these movies so universally enthralling, and it's obvious they are ramping up speed for a wild finale. 13. Barbie Who would've thought Greta Gerwig had it in her? I ask that question as someone who has been a huge fan of hers for a very long time, and has seen her career take twists and turns, from actor-turned-writer/director, to making one of the best movies of the year, two times in a row. And now it's three. What Gerwig does here is nothing short of spectacular, seemingly creating an entirely different way to make a movie and communicate a theme. Razor blade commentary disguised in bubble gum flavored soda, this movie is jettisoned into insane heights by the actors involved, most especially, Margot Robbie's jaw-dropping portrayal of a dreamlike person becoming real before our very eyes. Oh, also it's clearly just Oppenheimer for girlz. 12. The Killer Leave it to David Fincher to turn a hitman-revenge movie into a commentary on modern day consumerism and the self-indulgence of our inner thoughts as 21st-century control freaks. A wickedly stylish (almost too much so) action thrill ride from start to finish, The Killer practically throws the whole cake in the face of other, more standard genre fare from recent times, showing what can be done when you truly give as much of a shit as Fincher does, (which is also almost too much). I can't wait to get to eat a McDonald's breakfast sandwich like that next time I'm there. 11. Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves The good praise we were all hearing about this film was one thing, but I didn't expect the best family-fantasy film since checks notes like, Willow? Ladyhawke?? Fucking Legend?!?!?! They certainly don't make ‘em like this anymore, and honestly, I'm not sure they ever did it this well. I could still feel the energy from the audience days after my first watch. This flick is simply one of the most confident and competent movies I’ve seen in a LONG time, like the word "charming" doesn’t even cut it. Michelle Rodriguez continues to be the sleeper action star of a generation. I would kill and die for Jarnathan, who is my friend. 10. Godzilla Minus One (Gojira Mainasu Wan/Mainasu Karā) Breathtaking stuff, ladies and gentlemen. There's nothing like a good Godzilla movie, especially because we seem to not get them too often. This installment puts everything on display that makes this franchise so damn entertaining and endearing: human beings going through emotional trauma and being devastated by the very spectacle that we, the audience, have come to see. This movie does an amazing job of taking us along for the story of these people, making us truly care about the outcome, even though everybody's favorite big boi is comin' on up to make it as difficult for them as he can. 9. Poor Things My second favorite movie character named Bella has arrived! Yorgos Lanthimos continues to tombstone the hell out of the competition of freaky directors who are getting massive appeal from wide audiences. I'm so proud of my ‘lil creepy cutie-pie, who has made odd movie after odd movie, and now arrives with a megaphone to exclaim just how horny he truly is. The movie is just the right amount of Frankenstein-inspired, which transitions hard into a goof, whimsical coming-of-age story. Mark Ruffalo being confused and cutting off mid-sentence to say, “What the fuck are you talking about??” is like watching Michael Jordan slam dunk from center court. Magical stuff. 8. Fallen Leaves (Kuolleet lehdet) One of the most artfully executed communications of how much work can suck. There's just no stopping Aki Kaurismäki, even though he is obviously taking his time and enjoying every moment he is capturing for the screen. The film's aggressive vulnerability is chemically designed to catch you off guard at certain moments, and there is one scene in particular that had everyone’s jaws on the floor in my theater for a full minute. Sweet and bitter, the way all good movies tend to be. 7. The Boy and the Heron (Kimitachi wa Dō Ikiru ka) This Miyazaki guy is pretty good at these ‘lil cartoon movies, huh? The long-anticipated next (last?) film from the Studio Ghibli genius was well worth the wait. It elegantly strings together some of the artist's most classic traits from past films, as well as his usual flair for deep themes and sensual environments. As Miyazaki gets older, his appreciation for life and beauty seems to only grow more innocent and powerful, a rare evolution for most people, let alone artists. While I'm very excited to eventually catch the original Japanese version, this is yet again another shining example of how English dubs should be done: with fantastically talented and interesting actors making interesting decisions on how to bring the tone of Miyazaki through to audiences of any language and age. 6. Passages Come for the galaxy brain-level sweater game, stay for the emotional scarring of a lifetime! Narcissists, beware! One of my most anticipated movies of the year, starring my darling dirtball fuckboy, Franz Rogowski, continues to bring a seemingly unheard of energy to cinema that can't be found or duplicated anywhere else. And this time he's got the powerhouse backing of  Adèle Exarchopoulos and Ben Whishaw, who both serve up what I think are their best performances to date (give or take a few bear movies). There are so many moments in this movie that made me squirm, but also loads of tender scenes that made my heart fill up until it was about to burst. To be clear: this is in no way a feel good movie, it's just very pretty and I like it. 5. Killers of the Flower Moon Our Short King© has done it again. Even as a massive Scorsese fan (and occasional defender) I found it hard to say, "Let him cook," when learning of the story he was adapting and the runtime it had landed on. But, boy howdy, that there's a movie up on yonder screen! DiCaprio and De Niro hit it out of the park, supported by a murderers' row of character actors and talents that would make John Papsidera blush. But of course, this is the Lily Gladstone show, who imbues her character with such realism and depth that it almost becomes hard to think about her as a real person whose job it was to act in a Martin Scorsese movie. She's equally powerful in Reservation Dogs, and it's no surprise she's annihilating the awards competition. What Scorsese is able to accomplish with this horrendous true story and massive cast of talent is nothing short of a masterpiece, another notch in the belt of one of greatest to ever play the game and easily, one of his best, most well-made movies. 4. Anatomy of a Fall (Anatomie d'une chute) Crazy trials, sexy lawyers, boppin’ tracks and cuddly dogs. What more could you possibly ask for from one of the best thrillers of the 21st century? Justine Triet creates a mystery within a mysterious world, centered around a mysterious woman, with every unknowable aspect feeding into the next, spiraling the audience into further confusion and intrigue. Courtroom thrillers are one of my favorite sub-genres and one we've lost in recent times (or had really terrible entries). However, Triet and cinematographer Simon Beaufils, craft an order to the story using only a few sets, creating a constrictive world where it seems impossible for something like this to be so perplexing. The film constantly introduces new evidence and motives that have you rarely blaming others, but becoming more disoriented at the idea of what the truth could actually become. 3. Oppenheimer An almost unbelievable achievement, not only in Christopher Nolan's career, but in filmmaking as a medium moving forward. Creativity and technique collide on both sides of the camera for three hours of pure, "We indeed know what the fuck we are doing," firing on all cylinders. With an insane supporting cast, anchored by Cillian Murphy in full God-mode, as well as Alden Ehrenreich begging us to forgive him, what should feel like a slog is presented and edited in such a fashion that the episodic nature of the film never becomes tiresome. There's more than enough to talk about here without ever straying too far from the purpose: telling the story of a man who made a terrible decision in hopes we wouldn't do the same, and learning that he was tragically wrong. And that music cue when Emily Blunt refuses to shake Benny Safdie’s hand? The movies, ladies and gentlemen! They're back!!! 2. All of Us Strangers One of the most affecting movies about longing and connectivity, Andrew Haigh's high-concept emotional drama is a mesmerizing example of how a fictional story can be made to feel intimate. The entire cast's decisions and sensitivities operate like a machine made to make the viewer explode with ALL the feelings. But it's Jamie Bell, who plays the young version of Andrew Scott's deceased father, who just obliterates everything around him whenever he says anything with that fantastic little mustache. A movie about contemplation, about attachment, about apprehension, about acceptance, about death, about life, about loss, about love. Also, super cookie eating work by Andrew Scott in the opening moments of this movie. Channeling my desired energy. 1. Past Lives Celine Song's debut is a perfect mirror of my favorite film of 2022, Aftersun. Both are brilliantly captivating and devastatingly charming, propelled by expert-level visual language and performances that knock your socks right off and into the hamper. Greta Lee and Teo Yoo are astonishing in this thing, but you know your white boy over here was just digging on everything my little neurotic John Magaro was doing the whole time. Like all good pieces of storytelling, no one part should work without the other. Past Lives operates on an efficient assembly line of seemingly real people, dealing with something every single person on the planet has dealt with: “Did I make the right decision, and what does that even mean?” While this is definitely one of the more defining, universal aspects of the film, it's also a deeply personal tale of immigration and identity, handled with the same care as its delicate "love story." There are moments in the movie that will live with me forever, which is always a very defining attribute of what ultimately ends up being my favorite films of all time. Just perfect. This movie is perfect. It’s perfect. HONORABLE MENTIONS: Air, Eileen, Evil Dead Rise, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, The Holdovers, Infinity Pool, The Iron Claw, John Wick: Chapter 4, Knock at the Cabin, Rye Lane, Scrapper, Showing Up, and When Evil Lurks. And a quick shoutout to some TV shows I loved: Barry, The Bear, The Fall of the House of Usher, The Last of Us, Our Flag Means Death, Perry Mason, Poker Face, Reservation Dogs, and Scott Pilgrim Takes Off. Mike Burdge Founder / Editor-in-Chief Mike is the Editor-in-Chief, Founder, and Programmer for Story Screen. When he isn't watching movies, you can find him reading and listening to things about people watching movies. He currently resides in Poughkeepsie, NY with his partner Diana and their three cats: Willow, Hank, and Freddy.

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