All posts by Ben Sears

The Dropout – Limited Series Review

The Dropout

  • Creator: Elizabeth Meriweather
  • Starring: Amanda Seyfreid, Naveen Andrews, William H. Macy, Laurie Metcalf, Stephen Fry, Dylan Minnette, Kurtwood Smith, Camryn Mi-Young Kim, Bashir Salahuddin, Sam Waterston
  • Eight episode mini-series. Seven episodes watched for review.

Grade: B+

You had to know that when the salacious details about Theranos and Elizabeth Holmes came forward, Hollywood would come knocking sooner than later. Sure enough, at least two fictionalizations of Holmes’ life are moving forward, and potentially more to come. Adam McKay’s feature film version is in production, and will star Jennifer Lawrence as Holmes. But first comes Hulu’s miniseries, which is based on the ABC News podcast of the same name.

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Fresh – Movie Review


  • Director: Mimi Cave
  • Writer: Lauryn Kahn
  • Starring: Daisy Edgar-Jones, Sebastian Stan

Grade: B

Take one part horror film, one part revenge thriller, a heavy dose of post-MeToo commentary, and a good helping of chemistry between two likable actors, and you have the perfect distillation of Fresh. First-time director Mimi Cave, working from a script by Lauryn Kahn, displays a nice confidence in the material, but lacks the discipline in a few key areas to make the film truly memorable. Nevertheless, Cave populates the film with Daisy Edgar-Jones and Sebastian Stan, two capable, charming actors as the leads, which goes a long way to making Fresh an enjoyable ride overall.

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After Yang – Movie Review

After Yang

  • Director: Kogonada
  • Writer: Kogonada
  • Starring: Colin Farrell, Jodie Turner-Smith, Justin H. Min, Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja, Haley Lu Richardson, Sarita Choudhury

Grade: A-

Kogonada’s sophomore feature further establishes the writer and director as a unique voice amongst new filmmakers. His 2017 debut, Columbus, explored how beauty can be found amongst the mundane, and After Yang contains similarly profound ideas. Specifically, the film is about preserving the memories of those we love after they’re gone. What will we remember about them? And what will they remember of us?

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La Liste: Everything or Nothing: Interview with director Eric Crosland

I recently spoke with Eric Crosland, director of La Liste: Everything or Nothing, a documentary chronicling extreme skiers as they attempt to conquer some of Earth’s most extreme peaks. Our conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Ben Sears: What was the most difficult thing for you, logistically speaking, to shoot?

Eric Crosland: The most difficult thing was getting there at the right time of year. For the skiing to be the way these guys wanted it, to ski it really aggressively and fast, you really needed nice snow pack and really good outer skiing, and at those higher mountain ranges it only happens once a year for a couple hours, or maybe once every two years. So the hardest part was really knowing when to be there.

BS: How about from a technical standpoint? What was the most difficult thing about setting up the cameras?

EC: The cameraman – the on-wall cameraman who was actually climbing up to the summits of the peaks with them – that job was probably the hardest because they had to climb as well as operate the cameras They were bringing really small cameras and it was really hard to get good audio and cover the climb in a verite manner. It was so cold and you’re always catching up and they’re climbing quite fast, so that’s one of the most highly skilled positions.

We learned a lot about the drones as we went. The first time we went to Peru, we didn’t unlock them because they’re only set to fly 5,000 meters above your controller because of DGI and aviation rules. But you can hack it so you can fly it as high as you want, above the operator, so that’s what we did in the second and third expeditions; we went into the software and removed that restriction so we could fly it 6,000 feet above the drone operator and get much better shots. But it became really difficult to manage the battery because you burn almost 3 quarters of your battery just getting it up to the proper height, and then you have to get the shot and get it back down before it dies. And because of the cold, the higher you go, the colder it gets, so the batteries would degrade and get colder as you go up.

La Liste: Everything or Nothing

BS: I felt a lot of similarities in the film to Free Solo, where the filmmakers there were worried about Alex’s safety but still wanted to make a compelling film. How did you balance your desire to get good footage with making sure everything is safe and nobody gets hurt?

EC: As far as those guys skiing, and where they wanted to ski, and how they wanted to ski, it was completely up to them. It’s so much pressure on these expeditions, especially when you’re going deep into Pakistan where it takes 5 days just to get to base camp and 10 days from your house before you even see the mountain. Everybody’s feeling the pressure, including the athletes. It was something I really had to wrestle with and learn, to let them decide where and when they wanted to ski, and not give them any input because it would be too much if anything went wrong. You’d have to live with it for the rest of your life and it would be a horrible feeling. It was so dangerous, what they were doing, that you just had to let them make the decision. As far as them opening up to the camera and developing their characters, that was really difficult too because I feel like, coming from a couple guys who just made their own ski movies, they weren’t really as open as some other people would have been because a lot of the film was in English and there was a language barrier. I feel like that was a huge challenge, to capture the moments when these guys were really being themselves or actually making decisions.

BS: You’ve spent a lot of time in the mountains and have done a lot of commercial work in extreme terrain. Was there anything you learned while making this about skiing that you hadn’t learned before?

EC: Yes, I think I had always been told that there’s always so much pressure on the expeditions to come home with enough footage to make a sequence. So it’s always a struggle to enjoy the mountains while you’re there because you never know if you’re gonna get back. That’s something I didn’t do too much but I think I’ve learned more while I was editing the project and realizing that it would be really hard to get back to any of these areas, and try to separate yourself at least once a day and take it in. That’s always been the biggest challenge.

As far as skiing, I had no experience in these crazy Himalayan snow packs or where you’re really close to the equator [in Peru]. Just trying to figure out if the snow was safe or if there would be an avalanche, or if it was even skiable was a huge learning curve, just to see what snow was like in the biggest mountain ranges in the world.

La Liste: Everything or Nothing

BS: It’s ironic that this is being released during the winter Olympics. Are you watching that and thinking ‘that’s nothing’ or ‘that’s like amateur hour compared to what I’ve seen’?

EC: I have a lot of respect for athletes at the Olympics, obviously. It’s crazy how skiing is just syphoned into so many sub-genres like cross-country or big air or slopestyle or racing. It’s like cycling, so it’s really interesting to see how core each of those sub-genres can get and how they’re all part of the sport of skiing but each one can go so deep into their specific discipline. For me, I think skiing is a tool for exploring the mountains; that’s how it was developed, as a way of hunting in the mountains. It was a pure form of what we were doing but I appreciate all sides of it. But it is interesting to see the winter Olympics all on man-made snow in the middle of a desert. That being said, I think climate change is really changing the sport a lot.

BS: That was in the back of my mind as I watched the film. How does the climate crisis affect this sport? Will these athletes be able to do these big mountain expeditions ten years from now? Or are they even thinking that far into the future yet?

EC: I don’t think they are; I think that how climate change is affecting the mountains, from the snow pack, to the windows in which you can ski when it’s stable, it’s shortening, and the time periods are switching. Traditionally, all the big ski movies that you saw in the 90s and early 2000s were all made in the first or second week of April or last week of March, when the snow was consistently good that year for alpine descents. Now it’s in the middle of March and it’s maybe only a couple of days before it gets too warm. You basically have to go to places much longer and really hope you catch the window because there’s no consistency anymore. When it warms up, it warms up really quickly and it’s done, so it’s definitely made it way more challenging. You really get to see the differences after you do a bunch of winters in a row for 10 years or something, you can really see it changing.

La Liste: Everything or Nothing

BS: There were several potential setbacks throughout the film, from Mika’s injury to the difficult weather conditions. Were you ever worried that you wouldn’t get enough material after all of that?

EC: Yea, so many times I had people telling me I should shut it down and it’s not doable. Either someone’s going to die or you’re not going to make the movie. The Mika situation was the first expedition in the film and really affected everybody from there from a safety standpoint. For a long time we didn’t even know if we could use Mika’s footage because it was tied up in usage rights and other legal issues. And then COVID came and that paused us, and we ran out of money and we were basically working for free to finish the film, so we were going over insane hurdles to get it done. We always knew we could do it, it was just a matter of taking it one step at a time. I think Jeremie felt a lot of guilt for inviting Mika on that expedition and when that [injury] happened, he took that really personally, even though he caught Mika and saved his life. That really made him question why he wanted to ski 6,000 meter peaks. Then they hopped into Pakistan after that, which was insanely ambitious and dangerous, so we were on pins and needles the whole time right up until this past September to know if we could even make the movie. There were a lot of key issues and story elements that were up in the air until the last minute.

BS: Where do you see these big mountain free-skiing expeditions going from here, now that these guys have tackled these giant mountains? Is there anything bigger or better that they can do?

EC: Yea, I think Pakistan is insane because of how many mountains are there. It is the biggest and most beautiful mountain range in the world. Nepal steals a lot attention because it has Mount Everest but Pakistan has so many mountains that are above 7,000 meters and there’s so much unexplored skiing there. You could ski there for a lifetime, and nobody is skiing there. But they’re really dangerous mountains. The other place that doesn’t get skied very much is the Kluane national park in Canada – in the Yukon territories – which is where Mount Logan is. It’s virtually unexplored from a free-riding standpoint, but it’s really remote and hard to get to. There’s lots of zones, it’s just a matter of how much travelling you want to do to get to the bottom of the runs. There’s a lifetime of skiing in these mountains, but what’s stopped everybody before is just walking for 2 weeks just to even look at it.

La Liste: Everything or Nothing will release on VOD on February 15.

Inventing Anna – Limited Series Review

Inventing Anna

  • Creator: Shonda Rhimes
  • Starring: Julia Garner, Anna Chlumsky, Arian Moayed, Anders Holm, Laverne Cox, Alexis Floyd, Anthony Edwards

Grade: C

You’ve seen Inventing Anna before. In some form or another, this story has been told many, many times already. Of course, the specifics like the people involved and the setting are unique, but everything about Shonda Rhimes’ newest Netflix series suffers from being too familiar without having anything significant or new to say. Even the show’s tagline, which punctuates every episode’s opening – “What you’re about to see is completely true. Except for the made up parts” – feels like it’s been done before. Perhaps the best analogy to Inventing Anna is Scorsese’s magnum opus of American excess The Wolf of Wall Street, but without the “can you believe this is really happening?” bugnuts details.

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Pam and Tommy – Limited Series Review

Pam and Tommy

  • Creator: Robert Siegel
  • Starring: Sebastian Stan, Lily James, Seth Rogen, Nick Offerman, Taylor Schilling

Grade: B

Color me surprised that, when browsing the full list of credits for Hulu’s new limited series, Ryan Murphy is nowhere to be found. Among his exhaustive resume as a writer, director, and producer, Murphy has become ubiquitous in the last few years, especially with his American Crime Story series, as re-investigating moments that broke through pop culture – particularly moments that painted certain people in negative lights without giving them their own platform. This recent phenomenon isn’t exclusive to Murphy, though, as podcasts (Slow Burn), documentaries (Framing Britney Spears), and more television shows (When They See Us) have made a big impact in the way we think about celebrities – in one sense of the word or another – and their often tarnished legacies. 

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Made In Korea – Comics Review

Made In Korea

  • Writer: Jeremy Holt
  • Illustrator: George Schall

Grade: B+

One of the most interesting elements of Made In Korea actually comes after the story proper comes to an end. Not that creator Jeremy Holt’s latest is anything less than an engrossing, humbling narrative, but the graphic novel provides a fascinating outside perspective in its already expansive world. Throughout the course of the novel – a collection of the first 6 comics released in 2021, labeled as Volume One – Holt puts a fresh take on a familiar sci-fi conceit.

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Saga: Chapter Fifty-Five – Comics Review

Saga: Chapter Fifty-Five

  • Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
  • Illustrator: Fiona Staples

Grade: B

Through sheer serendipity alone, I picked up the collected works of Saga at the start of this year and had finished reading the most recent issue earlier this week. Knowing absolutely nothing about the plot, much less its footprint amongst science fiction, I had mostly started reading because of the name recognition of its author, Brian K. Vaughan. I had devoured his Y: The Last Man series years ago and have remained a stalwart of his nuanced, thoughtful writing style.

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The Afterparty – TV Review

The Afterparty

  • Creator: Christopher Miller
  • Starring: Sam Richardson, Tiffany Haddish, Ike Barinholtz, Ben Schwartz, Dave Franco, Ilana Glazer, Zoë Chao

Grade: B

It’s easy to compare The Afterparty, Apple TV+’s newest show, to another recent comedic-murder-mystery series, 2021’s Only Murders In The Building. Both shows deal with a shocking death in the first episode and both feature seasoned comedic actors. But whereas Only Murders In The Building sought to subvert our current true-crime obsession, The Afterparty takes a different, sillier approach to solving its mystery. The show is born from the mind of creator Christopher Miller, who directs each episode and writes a couple, as well as serving as a co-producer along with his regular partner Phil Lord. Indeed, in each episode, Miller manages to balance the zanier bits of humor along with realistic character development that his best projects are known for.

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Salt In My Soul: Interview with director Will Battersby

I recently spoke with director Will Battersby, director of Salt In My Soul, a documentary about Mallory Smith and her battle with cystic fibrosis, and the irrevocable impact she had on everyone she met. We discuss Will’s involvement in the project, the difficulties of telling Mallory’s story in a concise and compelling manner, and raising awareness for cystic fibrosis. Our conversation has been edited for clarity.

Ben Sears: How did you come into this project and get involved in telling Mallory’s story?

Will Battersby: One of our producers, Richard Abate, sent me the book at the end of 2019, and he was involved in selling the book to Random House. Mallory’s mother, Diane [Shader Smith], found her way to him and he always thought it would make a great documentary. He sent it to me, and I agreed immediately. I read the book in one sitting. I knew it was filled with interesting characters and huge themes.

BS: One of the things I’m always fascinated by with documentaries is the editing process. How difficult was it to sift through so many hours of footage, from Mallory’s family’s home videos to Mallory’s recordings, plus all the interviews you did?

WB: It’s hard, and that’s why you hire brilliant editors. Lucky is the wrong word, but we were fortunate to have the time that the pandemic afforded us. Otherwise we would have been more distracted by other projects and developments and various things but April Merl, who edited the film, and I, were able to really just kind of live with this and dig into it. I think it’s definitely challenging when you have that much material, but it’s what makes the film work or not. And that was one of the reasons I knew we could make a film. When I talked to Diane early on, she wanted to know what kind of film I wanted to make before she gave us the rights to do it. I always had the instinct to make it a kind of coming-of-age story from Mallory’s perspective and then as soon as I started to hear how much audio there was, I thought, ‘okay, great, I know I’ve got my narrator’. I really wanted it to be a first-person feeling from Mallory’s perspective and then we made some amazing discoveries along the way. There’s the sit-down interview with Mallory, which we didn’t conduct – it was done by a choreographer in California who did a dance based on Mallory’s life – and nobody had watched it; Mallory’s family had said it was too painful to watch. We watched it and thought ‘it’s gold’ because you have her on camera talking about her experiences, and then we discovered very late in the process that they had used two cameras. They hadn’t even thought about the value of that second camera. They said “oh, it’s handheld, it’s shaky” and I thought it was even better. You have some of the stuff with the dog by Mallory’s side, and we were able to cut between shots in that interview. It’s challenging and takes time to craft it and, as always, we had a 3.5 hour cut, and I thought we were done, and the film’s 96 minutes, so it took a lot of time to then work it down into what we ended up with.

Salt In My Soul

BS: You mention the two cameras that Mallory used, and you mirror that as well with some of your interviews, which you don’t always see with those segments in documentaries.

WB: I’ve always been kind of adamant about two cameras for interviews. It makes an editor’s job easier because you can cover cuts and you can cut to the same camera or overlap audio. But I think you also want to be closer on people because, unless you’re just doing a purely informational piece – which this isn’t; there’s so much emotion and you want to make sure you’re capturing it and you want to make sure you’re close on people’s faces. So it was actually dumb luck that the interview with Mallory used two cameras. We didn’t know that before we started shooting, so we were thrilled that that resonated. I don’t know if you noticed, but the interview with Diane in the living room is almost the exact same spot where the choreographer had interviewed Mallory. So that shot has a kind of strange resonance between the two of them. They’re different types of cameras so it feels different, but there was some really fortuitous and amazing stuff like that. Plus the footage of her surgery, we discovered that by accident.

BS: I liked the way you had done that surgery segment, where you just use the raw footage with no narration or music over it. It drives down the power of that moment.

WB: It’s interesting you identify that because we tried several times to put voices over that, whether it was Mallory or Mark or Diane, and you just have to be in that moment. Of course, the family doesn’t know what’s going to happen there, so you almost need to just be in that moment and have the audience have that similar experience.

Salt In My Soul

BS: You had mentioned this feeling like a kind of first-person documentary, and I agree with that stance since you have so much of Mallory’s narration and her perspective. But because she was such an open and outgoing person, the interviews with her friends and family almost feel like an extension of her.

WB: That was certainly by design. If you notice, the lower-thirds that we used to identify them are the same as what Mallory used to identify them. Uncle Danny is named as Uncle Danny, et cetera. It wasn’t just to be cute, it was to put you in the middle of Mallory’s experience and then also their experience. What I realized in doing my interviews with them is that we weren’t in the present, as it were. We weren’t there during Mallory’s life. We were meeting these people in grief, so that was a really important space to remain in with those interviews. So calling Danny ‘Danny Smith’ or ‘Danny Shader’ would knock you out slightly.

BS: Not to spoil anything, but you have the moments where everyone is reading from the book, and it really makes it feel like they’re almost surrogate speakers for Mallory.

WB: Yes, Mallory’s voice leaves the film at a certain point, and so what’s left is the book and other people reading the book. It’s other people reading her words, and being affected by her words, and definitely the people involved. Hopefully that gets passed along to the viewer as well.

Salt In My Soul

BS: One aspect I noticed is that there’s kind of a similar outlook that both Mallory and her mother have in trying to put a positive spin on every situation. From your perspective, would you think that Mallory inherited that from her mother, or do you think Mallory had it all along and it rubbed off on Diane?

WB: I think it’s very much a Diane quality that Mallory inherited. Diane is an extraordinary community builder. She’s one of those people that, within 5 minutes of meeting somebody, she wants to know what they need, how they are, and she wants to help. I think what I find moving about both of them is that they’re willing for that to be a two-way street. And obviously Mallory kept some of her mental health stuff secret because she didn’t want to burden people, but I think one of the messages that I really want to come out of this film is that it’s OK to share. It’s OK to share what you’re going through, good and bad and ugly, with other people. Because it’s only through that empathy and that community that we survive.

BS: What do you hope that the film does for cystic fibrosis awareness and people’s understanding of it, and what it does to a person?

WB: I hope that a lot of people simply learn what it is. It’s something we all hear about, but until we take the time to learn something, you don’t really know what it is. It also helps that 100% of the profits from the film are going back into research, specifically phage and anti-microbial resistance research, and my hope is that people are moved and inspired by it. I hope that we can do a little bit of good in the world. We’re a small documentary, we’re not gonna change the world, but I think Mallory’s story actually might. And that’s the book, the film, and Diane gives talks all around the world. That treatment that Mallory received at the end of her life is now being studied because of her case by universities and institutions across the world.

Salt In My Soul will release in theaters in New York and LA on January 21, and available on VOD on January 25.