Friday, December 19, 2014

Taylor Swift - "Welcome to New York"

My understanding is that some people hate "Welcome to New York," the opening track off Taylor Swift's 1989. Apparently, Swift should be caned because, as a pop singer, she had the audacity to write a song about New York as an idealized place where young people can reinvent themselves, find love and perhaps live happily ever after. Doesn't she know there is a lot of crime and economic inequality in New York??!?!? What's wrong with her??!?!? Swift, who just turned 25 and was never expected to be an expert on economics, responded to the criticism exactly right....
[W]hen you write a song, you're writing about a momentary emotion. If you can capture that and turn it into three-and-half minutes that feel like that emotion, that's all you're trying to do as a songwriter. To take a song and try to apply it to every situation everyone is going through -- economically, politically, in an entire metropolitan area -- is asking a little much of a piece of a music.  

I'm as optimistic and enthusiastic about New York as I am about the state of the music industry, and a lot of people aren't optimistic about those two things. And if they're not in that place in their life, they're not going to relate to what I have to say.
I've never lived in New York, but I can't think of a song in the last few years that's so captured that giddy rush of being young and living in a big city -- of thinking that the whole world is in front of you and oh my god, it feels amazing. "Welcome to New York" conveys that sensation perfectly. It's what being in your mid-20s sounds like.

In fact, the track reminds me of two very different artists: PJ Harvey, whose own New York album, Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea, opens with a "Welcome to New York"-like tune called "Big Exit" and is full of similarly euphoric romantic abandon; and Liz Phair, whose 2003 self-titled album opened with "Extraordinary," which like Swift's "Shake It Off" is about the woman she is versus the woman other people assume her (or want her) to be.

I haven't finished filling out my Pazz & Jop ballot yet, but "Welcome to New York" might make the cut. I can say for sure, though, that it always sounds great blasting out of my speakers on the freeway. Here she is performing it on Late Show With David Letterman -- right, in New York.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

'Into the Woods' Review

Into the woods, into the woods, into the woods!

If you see only one musical this holiday season......absolutely don't let it be the atrocious Annie. And while Into the Woods isn't terrific, it's perfectly, pleasantly solid. My review of the big-screen adaptation of the James Lapine/Stephen Sondheim classic is up live over at Screen International.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

'Selma' Review

For Deadspin, I reviewed Selma, which recounts Martin Luther King, Jr.'s 1965 attempt to organize a peaceful march from Selma to Birmingham to raise awareness for voting equality. It's a strong, solid drama that has its shortcomings. But my review ponders whether such nitpicking matters in the face of American history: both 50 years ago and right now. You can read my piece here.

'Mr. Turner' Review

With Vera Drake, Happy-Go-Lucky, Another Year and now Mr. Turner, writer-director Mike Leigh has been on a 10-year hot streak. His latest is his long-in-the-works portrait of 19th century artist J.M.W. Turner, which stars a singular Timothy Spall. I loved this movie -- and if you can see it on the big screen, do it. I reviewed Mr. Turner for Paste.

Monday, December 15, 2014

What's the Best Recurring Segment on 'The Colbert Report'?

Is it "Better Know a District"? "Difference Makers"? "The Word"? "ThreatDown"? For Rolling Stone, I counted down the 30 greatest regular features of The Colbert Report. I spent way too much time on this, and it was totally worth it. The whole list is here.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

'Annie' Review

My final review of the year for Screen International is a huge lump of coal. The Annie remake is positively dreadful. (Thank goodness for Rose Byrne's warm presence.) You can read all about it here.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

SAG Foundation: My Conversation With Timothy Spall

On December 4, I sat down with Timothy Spall, the star of the mighty Mr. Turner, to discuss the film at a SAG Foundation screening. We only had about 25 minutes, but he was terrific. This is one of those Q&As where my guest does all the heavy lifting: Spall spoke at length, and articulately, about his approach to playing the painter J.M.W. Turner and his relationship with writer-director Mike Leigh, whom he refers to as a "forensic filmmaker." Needless to say, I was honored to get to speak with him. The video is below.

Friday, December 12, 2014

'Inherent Vice' Review

Inherent Vice isn't as magnificent as Punch-Drunk Love, There Will Be Blood or The Master. It's pretty damn fantastic anyway. I reviewed Paul Thomas Anderson's latest for Deadspin.

2014 in Review: The Year's Best Lists

This was very fun: For Rolling Stone, I compiled the best lists of the year. Yes, it's a list of great lists. I brought science, reason and careful objectivity to a deeply silly enterprise. (Full disclosure: I had a blast.) You can read about the 20 best lists of 2014, including Grantland's countdown of all the NBA home court designs, right here.

Can - "Vitamin C"

After you see Inherent Vice, you'll want to hear this song on a loop.