Wednesday, July 31, 2013

'The Smurfs 2' Review

The Smurfs 2 is really bad, it's going to make a lot of money anyway, and there's nothing you can do about it. Well, you can read my Paste review -- but that still won't do anything.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

'2 Guns' Review

2 Guns is the sort of movie they don't make much anymore, which I imagine will get it praised more than it should. A dark, down-and-dirty B-movie thriller, the film stars Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg as tough-talking law enforcement officers -- one DEA, one Naval intelligence -- that have to square off with crooked cops and scary drug lords. Proudly rated R, 2 Guns is as nasty as it wants to be. Is that enough? I reviewed the film for Screen International.

Friday, July 26, 2013

'The To Do List' Review

The To Do List has one really good thing going for it, and that's Aubrey Plaza in the lead. As for the movie as a whole? Well, my IFC Fix review gets into that.

Fiona Apple - "Hot Knife"

Maybe it's just human nature, but one of the stupider things I do sometimes is pick a person to "support" when celebrity couples break up. When Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman split, I was immediately on her side. (Why? I guess because she seemed like the aggrieved party. I had no facts to back that up.) When Paul Thomas Anderson and Fiona Apple called it quits years ago, I confess I was probably pro-Fiona. This was in part because her first album after the split, Extraordinary Machine, was flat-out terrific: I assumed (and I'm sure I wasn't alone in thinking this way) that the kiss-off songs were about him.

Since they presumably still run in the same circles, I was curious if they ever bumped into each other and what that was like. Why I spend a single moment thinking about such things is a subject for another day, but I will say that -- again, for stupid reasons -- it pleased me to see her new video, "Hot Knife," which was directed by Anderson. It's absolutely striking -- one of the best distillations of a song's particular greatness in purely visual terms. (It boils down to the slow introduction of the song's spare elements, including those interwoven vocals.) Anderson's fans will be hard-pressed to explain how the video plays into his filmic oeuvre, but you could argue that, like with There Will Be Blood and The Master, it focuses on a dangerously driven main character. But that's a stretch -- although it is less dumb than rooting for one person over another in celebrity breakups.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

'The Wolverine' Review

In his very idiosyncratic rating system, music critic Robert Christgau included a designation for "Neither." This breed of forgettable albums, he explained, "may impress once or twice with consistent craft or an arresting track or two. Then it won't." The Wolverine is a "neither" movie: It's perfectly competent, but also incredibly uninteresting. I can't say I hated it, but I also can't say I felt strongly one way or the other about it. My review is up at Deadspin.

What Happened With 'R.I.P.D.'?

"Because I like him so much and want only good things for him, I wish Ryan Reynolds would start choosing better movies to be in -- or at least be a little more selective." Thus began a comment from a friend of mine about R.I.P.D., the action-comedy that tanked over the weekend. I agree 150 percent: He's a funny, likeable guy who can't seem to stumble into a good movie. (It's like Channing Tatum stole the career he should have had.) For IFC Fix, my latest Bomb Squad column tries to get to the bottom of why R.I.P.D. failed so spectacularly at the box office. Here's what I came up with.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Jay-Z, the Grownup

Recently, Jay-Z released Magna Carta Holy Grail, which received pretty mediocre reviews. The album has its flaws, but for my Culture Club column at Playboy, I examine how the record is the artist's attempt to grapple with adulthood, a subject that mainstream hip-hop is just now embracing. You can read the piece here.

(Also, yes, I'm refusing to call him Jay Z. I like the damn hyphen.)

'Blue Jasmine' Review

Blue Jasmine is Woody Allen's best movie since Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Cate Blanchett is just terrific in it, but so is Andrew Dice Clay, which might surprise you. I reviewed the film for Deadspin.

Friday, July 19, 2013

The Greats: Gordon Willis

I'm happy to announce a new column I'll be doing for Paste. It's called "The Greats," and it celebrates film icons -- actors, directors, cinematographers, you name it -- who are 70 or older. The rationale behind the column was simple. Whenever any giant of the movie industry dies, Twitter would immediately be full of folks reminiscing about the deceased's greatness -- and then eventually someone would tweet, "Gee, wouldn't it be nice if we appreciated these people while they were still alive?" So that's what I'm doing. I'll write this column every other week, and I hope you enjoy.

First up is the man who I once lobbied to receive our annual Career Achievement award from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association. Sadly, I wasn't persuasive enough, but no matter: He's a legend. Ladies and gentlemen, here's my salute to cinematographer Gordon Willis.

Nirvana - "Serve the Servents"

I almost never buy remastered, re-released anniversary editions of classic albums. (My philosophy: I bought the album the first time, and I probably don't need the detritus that comes with the fancy new package.) But I may break with my long-standing policy for the 20th-anniversary edition of In Utero. To this day, the album gets my juices flowing, starting with its opening track, "Serve the Servants." Just love those guitar sounds.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

'R.I.P.D.' Review

If there had been no Men in Black III last year, I think people would be more interested in R.I.P.D., which is essentially "Men In Black but with dead people." Jeff Bridges' and Ryan Reynolds' fans will recognize glimpses of the charm that each actor naturally exudes, but the movie on the whole is a stinker. It's not terrible or a disaster -- it's just kinda boring. My review is up at Screen International.

(By the way, I realize I didn't even bother discussing in my review one of the film's central jokes: Bridges and Reynolds' characters, who are dead, appear to the living as, respectively, Marisa Miller and James Hong. It's such a dumb bit I totally forgot all about it.)

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

'The Act of Killing' Review

The Act of Killing has gotten pretty consistently good reviews across the board, but I think I'm the first person to call it a surreal, nightmare version of The Weavers: Wasn't That a Time. (It's nice to be known for something.) My review of this stark, shocking documentary is up at Paste.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Maxwell - "Lifetime"

Stumbled across this song for the first time in forever recently. Sounded really good on a lazy, warm weekend summer night. Nowadays, Maxwell seems like a sweeter, less complicated version of the Weeknd, which isn't a criticism as much as it is an observation. As far as I'm concerned, it's nice to have both of them around.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

'Fruitvale Station' Review

So, I go to Sundance this year, see a bunch of movies, and still end up missing the U.S. Dramatic Competition winner. That would be Fruitvale Station, which opens on Friday in select cities. I think it can be a bit wobbly dramatically on occasion, but it's still rather affecting. My review is up at Paste.

Defending 'The Newsroom,' Sorta

For the latest installment of my Culture Club column for Playboy, I stick up for The Newsroom, which may not be great but is certainly better than the vitriolic reviews it received last year. With the new season starting on Sunday, I argue that the show's strengths and weaknesses are all wrapped up together in one undeniable package. (And, I should note, I've seen none of Season Two yet.) Hope you enjoy.

'Grown Ups 2' Review

If Adam Sandler felt the burning desire to make a sequel to one of his movies, I guess I'm glad it was Grown Ups. (And, by the way, I'm not counting films like Punch-Drunk Love and Funny People, which aren't part of his Happy Madison stable of starring vehicles.) Grown Ups is pretty sophomoric, but it's got a lot more spirit and sweetness than, say, That's My Boy. With that said, though, Grown Ups 2 may be the worst thing he's ever done. I survey the wreckage over at Paste.

(By the way, look at how sad Nick Swardson looks in this photo. Poor guy.)

Monday, July 08, 2013

'Pacific Rim' Review

Pacific Rim is being advertized as a Transformers-meets-Godzilla behemoth, and that's exactly how it plays. Frankly, I wish it was even more that way: When director Guillermo del Toro lets the carnage fly, the movie can be quite stunning. Unfortunately, other times the movie lets characters talk, and that's really boring. I reviewed Pacific Rim for Screen International.

Friday, July 05, 2013

What Happened to Johnny Depp?

For Playboy, I mourn the career of Johnny Depp. It gave me an excuse to reference one of my favorite Onion articles of all time. Enjoy.

Mekons - "Hate Is the New Love"

"Everyday's a battle/How we still love the war."

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

The Best Movies of 2013 (So Far)

OK, fine, you're probably sick of mid-year lists by this point. But here are Will's and my Top 6 movies of 2013. We had four movies in common, which probably means something. Here's my writeup -- and if you want a more extensive list of my favorites so far, go here. What movies from the first half do I need to catch up on? Several: The Attack, A Hijacking, Caesar Must Die, In the House, Much Ado About Nothing, Something in the Air, The Unspeakable Act, You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet....

Monday, July 01, 2013

'Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me' Review

Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me, a documentary about the Memphis power-pop group, will delight their fans. (And if you see it in a theater, hearing "September Gurls" through high-quality speakers will no doubt be fantastic.) It's a little soft-focus in its approach, but I'm sure the folks who want to see the movie already won't mind one bit. My review is up at Paste.