Sunday, June 30, 2013

'The Lone Ranger' Review

Film critic Todd McCarthy had a great line about the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, calling the second film, Dead Man's Chest, "a slot machine that gobbles up the public's money while giving little back, and, somehow, people don't mind." I thought of that line constantly while watching The Lone Ranger, which reunites a lot of the Pirates personnel, including star Johnny Depp and producer Jerry Bruckheimer. I think people are going to mind this time, though. This movie is a real stinker, as I explain in my Screen International review.

(Update: If you are in need of more of me spouting off about this film, I talked about its faults with Will Leitch over at Deadspin.)

Friday, June 28, 2013

Devo - "Whip It"

Alan Myers died this week. A former drummer for Devo, he appeared on the band's bestselling record, Freedom of Choice, which contained the title track and "Whip It." In fact, the "Whip It" video ends on him. He was 58.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

'The Heat' Review

Can women be funny? Yes, of course -- and what a silly question. Is The Heat funny? Sorta. I reviewed the movie for Screen International.

Your July Comedy Options

For IFC Fix, I preview the movie comedies opening in July. Of the 11 films I spotlight, four are sequels. 'Tis the season, I suppose.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

'Redemption' Review

I can't quit you, Jason Statham. You're so fun to watch onscreen, but your movies constantly disappoint me. And yet, I keep hoping that you'll justify my faith in you.

Alas, his latest, Redemption, is more of the same, although it's more of a drama than his usual action-thrillers. I reviewed the film for Paste.

'White House Down' Review

If nothing else, White House Down is better than Olympus Has Fallen. But despite a game Channing Tatum, this is a pretty generic blow-stuff-up-good summer blockbuster. I sift through the wreckage over at Deadspin.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

'Some Girl(s)' Review

A fan of Neil LaBute's since the In the Company of Men days, I've been less enamored with his recent work. Nevertheless, I like his latest. Some Girl(s) started out as a play, and now it's been made into a film written by him but directed by Daisy von Scherler Mayer. It stars Adam Brody as a man on the cusp of marriage who decides to visit each of his significant ex-girlfriends in order to apologize for the way he treated them. What kind of guy is he? The only clues we get are what we see in his exchanges with these women. It's an intriguing exercise that works -- except for the ending, which I don't spoil in my Paste review.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Los Angeles Film Festival 2013: The Shorts Winners

On Sunday, the Los Angeles Film Festival revealed this year's prize winners, which included audience awards and jury prizes. (You can see all the winners here.)

I was part of the short film jury with Sandi Tan and David Fenster. Before the festival, I had not met either of them, but I couldn't have asked for better folks to spend a few days watching and debating movies with. We had such a fun time.

As for our picks, we were pretty much in complete agreement, and I'm quite pleased with our choices. Below are the descriptions we wrote for our winners....

Best Animated or Experimental Short

Several of the animated shorts at this year's festival were inventive and startling, but our winner was a truly exceptional piece of work. This humorous, moving and ultimately sublime short tells a story of life, death, and rebirth with wobbly thighs, vomit, breastfeeding, space travel and bunny rabbits … all against the backdrop of a nudist colony. The winner of Best Animated or Experimental Short is Oh Willy...  

Best Narrative Short

Great storytelling comes in many different forms, and like an ancient koan, our winner is deceptively simple and surprisingly playful. It features the epic odyssey of one man, seemingly poised against the forces of modernity as he advances--silently, deliberately--from day to night, from tiny alleys to towering skyscraper avenues, across the frenetic city of Hong Kong. At journey's end, we, too, are transformed by the sweet moment when denial morphs into glee: Walker from Tsai Ming-Liang. 

Best Documentary Short

Documentaries can expose us to the world's harsh realities, but they can also reveal the beauty and mystery of the everyday. The latter is very true in the case of our winner for Best Documentary Short, which is only seven minutes long but is filled with character detail and suspense. Consisting of only one shot, this short introduces us to an unnamed street hustler as he bets onlookers that they can't find the ball hidden underneath one of three caps, our winner is filmmaker Kevin Jerome Everson's Stone.

I've been a fan of Kevin Jerome Everson's for a while now, so I was glad to see him win the documentary prize from my jury. (However, I was sad to miss his The Island of St. Matthews during the festival.) Picking such an unconventional (but striking) narrative entry was not something we did to be provocative -- we simply liked Walker that much. And as for Oh Willy..., it was my favorite short of the entire festival. Directors Emma de Swaef and Marc James Roels have come up with something rather wondrous. I sincerely hope it's in the running for Best Animated Short at next year's Academy Awards. It's good enough to win, easily. Here's a taste:

Sunday, June 23, 2013

'Life of a King' Review

Inspirational true stories are catnip for movie producers: When done well, these sorts of movies can be incredibly uplifting, an emotion that audiences can't get enough of. But when done badly.... Sadly, the latter is the case with Life of a King, a well-meaning movie about an ex-con named Eugene Brown (played by Cuba Gooding Jr.) who got out of prison and helped at-risk youth by teaching them chess, a sport that helped him while in the slammer. Noble intentions for a movie, to be sure, but the execution isn't so good. My review is up at Screen International.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

'The Conjuring' Review

One of the better horror films in a while, The Conjuring may be familiar in its contours, but its execution really is something else. Endlessly tense and filled with good performances, the movie could be a summer sleeper. I reviewed the film for Screen International.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Vampire Weekend - "Hannah Hunt"

Modern Vampires of the City has gotten plenty of great reviews, but since it came out around Cannes, I didn't really have much of an opportunity to listen to it. Happily, my daily trips to and from the Los Angeles Film Festival gave me a chance to really absorb the record. I'm perhaps not quite as high on it as its most ardent supporters, but it's darn strong.

The song I keep going back to is "Hannah Hunt," which in the old days would have been the end of side one. It's sorta perfect in that slot: I always think of that spot as where a band puts a song that's maybe not necessarily a grabber but, rather, one that takes a little bit of concentration. (Then, when you flip over to side two, you get nailed with a surefire, instant smash.)

"Hannah Hunt" is more of a short story, one that starts with a weird observation about plants' ability to move and then segues into snapshots of a cross-country road trip between a young couple that seem to be having unexpressed problems. Nothing is quite spelled out, but it's all there. I imagine a lot of 15-year-old aspiring film students are already imagining whole screenplays inspired by this four-minute track.

Plus, I love how the drums kick in near the end. Gets me every time.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

'Monsters University' Review

After being in a bit of a slump, Pixar rights the ship, somewhat, with Monsters University. (Of course, a "slump" is all relative: Their last two films, Cars 2 and Brave, combined to bring in about $1.1 billion worldwide.) The new film, a prequel to Monsters, Inc., is consistently funny and likeable, which isn't the same as great. My review is up at Deadspin.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Apocalyptic Comedies

In honor of This Is the End, I started thinking about other movies that make light of the end of the world. Stanley Kubrick made one such movie, and Bill Murray has starred in a couple of 'em. You can read my findings at IFC Fix.

The Replacements - "Alex Chilton"

Yep, the Replacements are going back on the road. I hadn't realized that they did a video for "Alex Chilton." Ah, the 1980s....

Thursday, June 13, 2013

'Berberian Sound Studio' Review

When is a horror movie not really a horror movie? When it's Berberian Sound Studio, a psychological drama that's about a sound engineer (Toby Jones) who finds himself working on a low-rent horror movie in Italy in the 1970s. But as we'll soon learn, something seems to be amiss. Or is it all in his head? This is the follow-up film from writer-director Peter Strickland, whose Katalin Varga (I'm proud to say) the Los Angeles Film Critics' Films That Got Away committee programmed a few years ago for the Los Angeles Film Festival. That movie was darn good; Berbrian Sound Studio is even better. My review is up at Paste.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Los Angeles Film Festival Jury Duty

I was quite flattered to be asked by David Ansen to serve on the shorts jury for this month's Los Angeles Film Festival. In the last few years, one of my favorite annual traditions has been writing about the Oscar-nominated shorts, which gave me a fresh appreciation for condensed, innovative storytelling. So to be on this particular jury is a treat.

I'll be joined on the jury by author/filmmaker Sandi Tan and filmmaker David Fenster. (You can read more about Ms. Tan here and Mr. Fenster here.)

It's going to be a fun time, and I'm much looking forward to it. For the full announcement of all the juries, here you go. And if you're in Los Angeles, seriously, attend the festival. You'll be glad you did.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

'This Is the End' Review

I can't remember the last movie that made me laugh as hard and as often as This Is the End. It's really silly and vulgar and occasionally just nutso. So, yeah, good stuff. My review is up at Deadspin.

Monday, June 10, 2013

'Man of Steel' Review

If nothing else, Man of Steel is big. It's epic and huge and overpowering, and it just knocks you over with its sheer spectacle. But, in the final analysis, I just don't think it's that great, although it certainly has its moments. My review is up at Screen International.

Friday, June 07, 2013

My Bloody Valentine - "New You"

Earlier this year, the big news in Indie Rock Land was the much-anticipated release from My Bloody Valentine, MBV. Now that the hype has died down, I'm gonna start listening to the album again. It was hard to process the record amidst the breathless online proclamations from music critics, but hopefully now I can hear its merits with the proper perspective. I confess I was a little underwhelmed back during those initial spins, but I always loved "New You."

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Is 'Superman Returns' Underrated?

Later today, I'm going to be seeing Man of Steel, a movie I'm quite excited to see. (Although I've always preferred Batman to Superman, c'mon, he's still Superman.) I got to thinking about Superman Returns, a movie that (to my mind) doesn't deserve the reputation it's received over the years. Maybe it wasn't a big enough hit, and maybe it has its flaws, but I have a fondness for Bryan Singer's reboot attempt. Over at Deadspin, I defend the film to the best of my abilities.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

'The Internship' Review

As much as I liked Wedding Crashers, I'm not sure if I was necessarily pining for a follow-up film from its leads, Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn. Eight years later, they're back together in The Internship. Maybe it would have been better if they'd just done a straight-up Wedding Crashers sequel? I reviewed the film for Deadspin.

'The Purge' Review

Watching The Purge, I was trying to think of another movie that was so crippled by its very premise. I have no problem suspending my disbelief if I think it will lead to a rich experience. (I'm a fan of Compliance, after all.) But this horror-thriller starring Ethan Hawke starts off with a conceit that I simply didn't buy -- and never could buy as the movie rolls along. The Purge imagines an America less than 10 years in the future that allows its citizens to murder each other for exactly one 12-hour period each year. The lack of logic in that dooms the entire film. My review is up at Screen International.

Monday, June 03, 2013

Your June Comedy Options

For IFC Fix, I'm starting a column where I do a quick, service-y rundown of each month's film comedies. In June, you've got everything from This Is the End to Much Ado About Nothing to I'm So Excited! I even tell you a little something about a film called Syrup. Here's this month's column.