Friday, March 30, 2012

'Mirror Mirror' Review

Mirror Mirror is the first of two Snow White movies we're getting this year. This one has Julia Roberts in it. The other, Snow White and the Huntsman, has Charlize Theron and Kristen Stewart. That one looks all dark and Twilight-y. This one is "irreverent." I liked this one OK, although it's not nearly as funny as it thinks it is. My Mirror Mirror review is up at Deadspin.

Massive Attack - "Weather Storm"

Take a deep breath. Hold it in. OK, now, let it out. Feel the anxiety leaving your body.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Debating the 'Bully' Ratings Controversy

Earlier this week, I wrote about the brouhaha over the documentary Bully and its R rating. Matt Singer, who writes the Criticwire blog over at Indiewire, invited me to debate Salon's Andrew O'Hehir, who sees the issue differently than I do. Andrew and I both answered some of Matt's email questions, and you can see what we both had to say here. I think anyone who reads Andrew's and my articles and then reads our responses to each other will be struck by how much we see eye-to-eye on the general stupidity of the MPAA's ratings board -- we just differ on exactly what should be done (if anything) to fix the problem.

Back Stage: Reviews of 'Wrath of the Titans,' 'Intruders,' 'Bully'

It's time for this week's installment of Screen Grab, my weekly Back Stage column where I give you a quick rundown of what's coming to theaters this weekend. In today's column, I delve into Norwegian coming-of-age comedies (Turn Me On, Dammit!), consider some inspirational documentaries (Bully and The Island President) and shrug at Wrath of the Titans. That and much, much more here.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

'Fear and Desire' at New Directors/New Films

For years, Stanley Kubrick didn't want you to see Fear and Desire, his debut feature that he made in the early 1950s. Naturally, that made everyone want to see it. Late last year, it had its world television premiere on Turner Classic Movies, and it's going to be playing twice in New York over the next few days during New Directors/New Films. I took the opportunity to write about Fear and Desire, which is a classic example of a movie that's not good, per se, but is rather interesting. My article is up at The Village Voice.

(By the way, as an added bonus, check out these Kubrick photographs from the 1940. Amazing stuff.)

Harvey Weinstein and the Ratings Controversy Over 'Bully'

By and large, I don't care what movies are rated. I don't have kids, so it doesn't make a difference to me. But when I saw Bully, a new documentary about the affect of bullying on teens, I knew full well that it had been rated R and that its distributor, the Weinstein Company, was fighting it. The movie comes out on Friday, so I wrote at length over at Gawker about why I don't think it should be a controversy at all.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Sam Worthington Knows You Didn't Like 'Clash of the Titans'

I've never quite understood this tendency to promote a sequel by badmouthing the movie you made before it. Last year, everybody associated with Transformers: Dark of the Moon went out of their way to say, don't worry, it would be better than Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. And now we have Sam Worthington, star of Wrath of the Titans, constantly telling interviewers that he stunk in Clash of the Titans. And so an essay was born. For IFC Fix, I wrote about this weird tendency and why I don't necessarily trust Worthington.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Future Ain't What It Used to Be, 'Hunger Games' Edition

For Deadspin, I did a fun little piece in which I looked at how The Hunger Games depicts our bleak future and then compared it to other ways that sci-fi films portray the same thing. Interestingly, there seem to be some similarities across the board, including dumb clothes and silly love stories. You can read my article here.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Brad Paisley - "Oh Yeah, You're Gone"

Of all the many reasons that music critic Robert Christgau is a national treasure and a constant must-read, he's responsible for getting me over my bias against Brad Paisley. Sure, the guy seemed likeable enough, but isn't all modern mainstream country just, y'know, terrible? Not at all -- and how shallow of me to think that in the first place. Specifically, it was Christgau's long piece on Paisley's American Saturday Night from 2009 that turned me around. The album made my Top 10 that year, and it's a record I enjoy every chance I get to hear it -- even if I don't like the fishing and drinking songs as much as Christgau does.

One song in particular that gets me is "Oh Yeah, You're Gone." On its surface, it's a simple breakup song: The narrator tries his best to go through his daily routine, which he now has to do alone. But every time I hear the track, I think, "But what if she didn't break up with him? What if she died?" It gives a sad song an extra level of poignancy because you could interpret the lyrics that way. I'll let you be the judge...

Thursday, March 22, 2012

My Back Stage Column: 'Hunger Games,' 'The Raid,' 'The Deep Blue Sea'

A lifetime ago, an actress girlfriend of mine would go to the newsstand every week to pick up the latest copy of Back Stage, which was known as Back Stage West here in Los Angeles. The reason was because of the casting and audition notices in the back of the publication; these were vitally important for her as well as her acting friends.

Ever since, Back Stage has always had a special place in my heart, so you can imagine my delight when the fine folks over there asked me to do a weekly column in which I give a quick critical rundown of all the weekend's movie offerings. Here's my first entry: It covers the big films (The Hunger Games), but it also hits the smaller indie fare, like 4:44 Last Day on Earth, Brake and The Trouble With Bliss. I hope you enjoy.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

'The Raid: Redemption' and the Lure of Ultra-Violence

Above is the trailer for The Raid: Redemption, the buzzed-about film that finally hits U.S. theaters this weekend. For Gawker, I wrote about the movie and, more specifically, why we love our ultra-violent action flicks. Bam! Crack! Zammo!!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Pressure on Hollywood's Next Generation of Stars

With The Hunger Games coming out on Friday, I was thinking about Jennifer Lawrence. Two years ago, most people didn't know her at all. Now, she's expected to be the face of what Lionsgate hopes will be a major, major franchise. And if the movie tanks -- which I really doubt -- her skyrocketing career will suddenly stall. That's a lot of pressure for an up-and-comer -- and she's not the only young actor facing this scenario. For IFC Fix, I wrote about Lawrence as well as other relative unknowns who are anchoring upcoming event movies: Andrew Garfield (The Amazing Spider-Man) and Benjamin Walker (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter). You can read the article here.

Friday, March 16, 2012

'The Hunger Games' Review

The wait is over: The Hunger Games comes out next Friday... and I think the movie is just OK. In fact, I was reminded of the first film I ever reviewed for Screen International, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Objectively, I knew that Goblet of Fire was "engrossing" and "well made," but I was kinda, y'know, bored watching it. It was big and spectacular and expensive-looking and just not all that involving. The Hunger Games is the same way: There's a lot of stuff in it that I liked, but there's also a lot of stuff in it that I didn't like -- and there's also a lot of stuff in it that I didn't feel one way or the other about. So, yes, I'd say The Hunger Games is a solid "OK." (Or, as Todd McCarthy calls it, a "good-enough" film.) I reviewed the film, appropriately enough, for Screen International.

Will Ferrell Sure Loves the Bizarre, Huh?

In honor of Casa de Mi Padre, I did some thinking about Will Ferrell's career. He's always had a love for the weird -- "Goulet!" -- but he's really been indulging that side of his personality lately. It doesn't always work, but it does make me love the guy. I wrote about Ferrell for Gawker.

Cathy Dennis - "Too Many Walls"

As I continue to digest Sleigh Bells' Reign of Terror, I saw that Spin talked to the band about their musical inspirations for the album. The magazine put together a virtual mixtape of the songs the duo mentioned, including Belinda Carlisle's "Mad About You," Roxette's "It Must Have Been Love" and George Michael's "Father Figure," which, you may remember, I quite love.

Also on their mix: "Too Many Walls" from Cathy Dennis. "Wore this cassingle out when I was maybe 11 or so," Sleigh Bells guitarist Derek Miller told Spin about the song. "Hands down one of my favorite songs. Great snare and string arrangement." I haven't heard the song in forever. I bet you haven't either -- so here it is.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

'Jeff, Who Lives at Home,' the Duplass Brothers, and That Whole Mumblecore Thing

For Gawker, I shared my enthusiasm for Jeff, Who Lives at Home, which really impressed me. I'd heard such mediocre things from friends who'd seen the film at Toronto and Sundance, but I think this is the best film the Duplass brothers have made since their debut, The Puffy Chair. My article touches on what makes Jay and Mark's career so special -- and also why I've never liked that term "mumblecore."

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

What's Next for Andrew Stanton, Director of 'John Carter'?

For this week's IFC Fix piece, I did some thinking about Pixar's Andrew Stanton, who (as I've mentioned before) I really like as a filmmaker. That's why I got no pleasure in disliking his latest film, John Carter: I was really pulling for the guy to prove everyone wrong. My article looks back at the making of John Carter and theorizes on how it might have all gone wrong for Stanton. It's pure conjecture, I grant you, but I do think John Carter is a classic cautionary tale about the age-old mistakes that confident, smart people make all the time in Hollywood.

Monday, March 12, 2012

'Casa de mi Padre' Review

Of Hollywood's A-list stars, Will Ferrell is the one whose movies are the trickiest for me to review. I thought Talladega Nights was pretty darn funny when I first saw it, only to be rather underwhelmed by subsequent viewings. On the other hand, I was lukewarm on Anchorman and Step Brothers initially, but they've both grown on me. Maybe this is a sign that he's a genius? Probably not. Anyway, this brings us to his latest, Casa de mi Padre, which is a full-on parody of telenovelas. Yes, Ferrell speaks Spanish throughout. I think it's just OK: My review is up at Screen International. Maybe in three years I'll think it's a masterpiece. (But probably not.)

Friday, March 09, 2012

Is It Time to Give Up on Eddie Murphy?

A Thousand Words comes out today, and the reviews have been pretty wretched. To be fair, it's a movie that Paramount has been keeping on the shelf for four years, but it did get me thinking about Eddie Murphy and the state of his career. Remember last year when he was going to host the Oscars and everybody was happily declaring he was "back"? Back from what? For Gawker, I wrote about people's tireless belief that Murphy is someday going to return to his old form. I just don't see it happening -- and, more importantly, I don't think Murphy cares that much about what we want from his career.

Sleigh Bells - "Comeback Kid"

I'm still processing Sleigh Bells' Reign of Terror, but my preliminary take is that if Treats was their Fever to Tell, this is their It's Blitz, trading a monochromatic assault for a more varied, moody approach. That analogy doesn't entirely work, of course: Reign of Terror doesn't represent a total sonic reconfiguration and, honestly, comparing bands just because they both have female singers is rather lame. But I do like how the new disc finds the duo branching out. But with that said, the first single, "Comeback Kid," shows them sticking to their noise-pop bread and butter. That's fine: It rocks. 

Thursday, March 08, 2012

'Silent House,' 'Open Water' and Horror Movies Based Around Gimmicks

Over at Deadspin, I wrote about Silent House, which stars Elizabeth Olsen. (It's funny to think that Silent House debuted at the same Sundance that included Martha Marcy May Marlene; the girl specialized in playing terrified women that year at the festival.) My article is less a review than it is a look at the movie's directors, Chris Kentis and Laura Lau. Last time we heard from them, they were responsible for Open Water. You maybe hated that film; I thought it was pretty great. Well, years later they're back with another movie built around a gimmick: Silent House is meant to look like one continuous shot. Watching the movie, I got to thinking about this whole notions of "gimmicky" horror films. Are they necessarily bad because they have a high-concept hook? Here are my thoughts on that.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

'John Carter' Review

Outside of John Lasseter, Pixar's two biggest creative forces are arguably Andrew Stanton and Brad Bird. Stanton worked on the screenplays for several Pixar films before taking the helm on Finding Nemo and Wall-E, while Bird was responsible for Ratatouille and The Incredibles. Personally, I've always preferred Stanton's films to Bird's: There's a beautiful emotional purity to Finding Nemo and Wall-E that has no peer. (And for all the talk of how dazzlingly kinetic Bird's Pixar movies are, Stanton's are no slouch in the visual department, either.)

Both men have just completed their live-action debut, Bird going first with the impressive Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol. Now it's Stanton's turn... and it's John Carter, the movie that's been plagued with bad buzz for months. Unfortunately, the finished film is a bit of a mess: ambitious but also kinda dull. My review is up at Screen International.

(By the way, in that above image, that's Stanton on the left palling around with his John Carter star Taylor Kitsch. See? The movie was a pleasure to make. Laughs all around! Publicity stills are so weird.)

Monday, March 05, 2012

'Myth of the American Sleepover' > 'Project X'

As you may recall, I wasn't too high on Project X. Over the weekend, I was thinking about recent teen films that I did like, and one immediately came to mind: The Myth of the American Sleepover. A low-budget indie, it opened last summer to great reviews and very, very little theatrical business. But now's your chance to catch up with it on DVD. For my IFC Fix column, I talked about what makes the movie so special -- and why it's so right about high school life.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Yuck - "Shook Down"

Yuck's self-titled debut came out just a little over a year ago. It made my Pazz & Jop ballot, which prompted a colleague to comment, "I'd rather just listen to Dinosaur Jr." To which I'll respond with a snippet of Robert Christgau's assessment of them: "These four Brits are compared to so many '80s-'90s bands you should figure they don't sound much like any of them." He then goes on to compare them to Sleigh Bells and Best Coast, two bands I really love. Here's "Shook Down," which doesn't sound all that much like any of those aforementioned groups.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

'Project X' Review

When I first saw the trailer for Project X back in November, I seriously thought for a second that it was a horror movie. (With all the hand-held found-footage shots, it just seemed obvious.) But, no, Project X is a teen comedy that incorporates the what-you're-seeing-is-real gimmick to tell the story of some nerds who throw an epic party. Apparently, being a high school kid in Pasadena in the 21st century is way more awesome than it was being a high school kid in a small town in Illinois back in the day. My Project X review is up at Deadspin. (And, for what it's worth, I'm kicking myself I didn't mention in my review the awesomely huh? cameo from Miles Teller in the movie.)