Friday, January 31, 2014

The Super Bowl and the Joy of Rooting Against Teams

For this week's Playboy column, I wrote about the fact that, because I don't have an NFL team to call my own, I root against teams, not really for them. So for Super Bowl XLVIII, I'll be cheering against the Seahawks. Why am I such a petty person? And what do I have against the Seahawks? I explain both here.

Frank Ocean - "Wiseman"

Quentin Tarantino has been in the news because his latest script, The Hateful Eight, leaked, provoking him to abandon the project and sue Gawker. The whole incident reminded me that I hadn't heard Frank Ocean's "Wiseman" in a while. You may remember that it was a song intended for Django Unchained that Tarantino decided not to use because "there just wasn't a scene for it." Seemed like a good time to cue it up.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

'The Monuments Men' Review

Not exactly a war movie, not exactly an Ocean's Eleven-style heist drama, The Monuments Men tries to be a little of both -- and does neither successfully. This film was supposed to come out at the end of last year, but director George Clooney pushed it back to early 2014. That's usually a bad sign, and while The Monuments Men is no disaster, it's not exactly Oscar-caliber, either. My review is up at Screen International.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Sundance 2014: 'Ping Pong Summer' Review

I've written about the evils of nostalgia before, but Ping Pong Summer gets a pass because of how adroitly writer-director Michael Tully executes his vision of mid-'80s teen dorkdom. This is a slight but quite pleasant little comedy -- my review is live at Paste.

Sundance 2014: Ranking the Best and Worst of the Festival

The more I go to Sundance, the more frustrated I get that I can't see everything I want to catch during the festival. Assignments and scheduling can be blamed up to a point, but still I'm sad I didn't have the opportunity to see The Overnighters, Rich Hill, Love Is Strange and several others. (As a side note, because I have an editor who is a producer on Life Itself, I declined to review the Roger Ebert documentary. I look forward to seeing the film soon and am gladdened by the number of glowing reviews it got at the festival.)

Below is my ranking of Sundance 2014, including films I saw prior to the festival. Links lead to individual reviews. You'll notice there are no documentaries on the list. Thank goodness I'll be attending True/False next month to do some catch-up.

28. Hits
27. God's Pocket
26. Infinitely Polar Bear   
25. Frank
24. Laggies
23. Ernest & Celestine
22. Wish I Was Here
21. Dead Snow: Red vs. Dead    
20. Ping Pong Summer
19. Land Ho!
18. Young Ones
17. Song One
16. The Voices
15. Happy Christmas
14. Ida
13. The One I Love
12. Whiplash
11. Only Lovers Left Alive
10. Blind
9. The Trip to Italy
8. Blue Ruin
7. I Origins
6. Stranger by the Lake
5. Listen Up Philip
4. Calvary
3. A Most Wanted Man
2. Boyhood
1. The Raid 2

And one final note. My head tells me that Boyhood is going to eventually overtake The Raid 2 on my end-of-the-year list. Linklater's film feels like one for the ages, while Gareth Evans's achievement may diminish with multiple viewings. They couldn't be more different films: Boyhood caresses the heart, while The Raid 2 pummels the senses and rearranges your nervous system -- and for this moment in time, it's the grander achievement. But ask me again in about 11 months.

Sundance 2014: 'Infinitely Polar Bear' Review

Mark Ruffalo stars as a father suffering from bipolar disorder in Infinitely Polar Bear, which is based on the childhood experiences of writer-director Maya Forbes. The movie has lots of heart, and yet it doesn't quite work. My review is up at Paste.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Sundance 2014: 'The One I Love' Review

Elisabeth Moss and Mark Duplass play a married couple that have hit a rough patch in The One I Love, a comedy-drama that soon veers into other genres. This movie has a really interesting twist about 15-20 minutes in that shouldn't be spoiled -- I don't in my review for Paste.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

'I, Frankenstein' Review

It's January, which means that most of the new releases will be terrible. Enter I, Frankenstein, a real stinker. Aaron Eckhart sure can glower while looking buff. My review is up at Screen International.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Big Country - "In a Big Country"

One of my favorite side effects of going to a film festival is getting a song from a movie lodged in my head. This year at Sundance, that honor goes to "In a Big Country" from the modestly charming Land Ho! Now, that chorus just makes me think of Paul Eenhoorn.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Sundance 2014: 'Song One' Review

I forget: Do we all officially hate Anne Hathaway now? It's hard to keep up with backlashes these days.

Her latest film is the small-scale indie drama Song One. And she's good in a nicely modest way. Sorry, haters.

My review is up at Paste.

Sundance 2014: 'A Most Wanted Man' Review

One of my favorite performances of Sundance 2014 comes from Philip Seymour Hoffman. He's flat-out great in A Most Wanted Man, director Anton Corbijn's nicely dour spy thriller based on the John le Carré novel. The film moves slow, but it knows where it's going. My review is up at Paste.

Sundance 2014: 'The Raid 2' Review

Well, this is unexpected. I liked The Raid: Redemption a decent amount, but I wasn't prepared for how blown away I was by The Raid 2. This thing is a crime epic, not just a fun Die Hard-like action feast. Don't worry, though: The action's still pretty phenomenal. My review is up at Screen International.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Sundance 2014: 'Happy Christmas' Review

The latest from Joe Swanberg, Happy Christmas, is a perfectly pleasant comedy-drama about a family in Chicago getting ready for the holidays and coping with one of its members' (played by Anna Kendrick) flagrant immaturity. Swanberg, as per norm, goes for the casual, offhand observation. If you've never seen any of his movies, this is a decent place to start. My review is up at Paste.

Sundance 2014: 'Boyhood' Review

Richard Linklater has never made a movie over two hours long. That's now no longer the case: Boyhood is about 160 minutes, and it justifies its running time. The movie may seem like a gimmick -- he and his cast shot the film in pieces over the span of years to capture the process of a boy's coming-of-age -- but it's wonderfully emotional and thoughtful. My rave review is over at Paste.

Sundance 2014: 'The Trip to Italy' Review

The Trip was such a pleasant surprise -- funny but also quite touching -- that I was concerned about this sequel. But although it's not as stellar, The Trip to Italy is pretty darn good, too. My review is up at Screen International.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Sundance 2014: 'Dead Snow; Red Vs. Dead' Review

I have a fondness for film festivals' midnight-movie sections. At my first Sundance, I reviewed Dead Snow, a horror movie about Nazi zombies, and I was only too happy to check out the sequel at this year's festival. And, hey, it's big dumb fun, just like I hoped. My review is live at Screen International.

Sundance 2014: 'Calvary' Review

I liked The Guard, the debut feature from writer-director John Michael McDonagh. But his second film, Calvary, is on a different level. It's about a priest (Brendan Gleeson) forced to look back on his life after an anonymous parishioner threatens to kill him in a week. This is a despairing, eloquent movie about the search for some sort of lasting value in this world. My review is up at Screen International.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Sundance 2014: 'The Voices' Review

Ryan Reynolds gives one of his best recent performances in The Voices, the new film from Persepolis director Marjane Satrapi. In this dark comedy (or is it really a horror film?), he plays a sweet weirdo who has much darker stuff going on in his head than we initially realize. The Voices' risky mixture of tones succeeds. My review is up at Screen International.

Sundance 2014: 'Young Ones' Review

Michael Shannon is one of the reasons to see the futuristic, vaguely post-apocalyptic Western Young Ones, but he's not the only reason. A wonderfully pitiless tale of a land consumed by punishing drought, the film starts to become almost hypnotic in its bone-dry bleakness. If that's your thing, you'll like this. I reviewed Young Ones for Screen International.

Sundance 2014: 'I Origins' Review

As someone who wasn't that high on Another Earth, I was wary going into I Origins, writer-director Mike Cahill's new film. Happily, I Origins corrects several of the problems that kept dragging down Another Earth. It's another dish of sci-fi humanism, but it's far more intriguing and thought-provoking. A few people here at Sundance have compared I Origins to elements of Upstream Color, which is sort of accurate but also misleading. (For one thing, Upstream Color is far superior.) What the two films have in common is a curiosity about the mysteries of life, expressed through trippy (albeit somewhat realistic) science-fiction language. My review of I Origins is live at Screen International.

Sundance 2014: 'Wish I Was Here' Review

The above image probably tells you everything you need to know about Wish I Was Here. The new film from actor Zach Braff, who last made Garden State, is too pleased with its own plucky individuality. And yet, I was also rather moved by it. Was I also irritated from time to time? Oh, yes. My very, very mixed review of Wish I Was Here is up at Screen International.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Sundance 2014: 'God's Pocket' Review

John Slattery, probably most famous for Mad Men, directs his first feature with God's Pocket. I have to say, I'm starting to actively dread Sundance premieres of films directed by first-timers who are usually actors. I've had too many bad experiences to count. God's Pocket isn't bad, but it is also not good. My review is up at Screen International.

Sundance 2014: 'Laggies' Review

A big Lynn Shelton fan, I've wanted her to break through in a major way after Humpday and Your Sister's Sister. I was less disappointed by her follow-up film, Touchy Feely, than others were, but her latest, Laggies, is the one where I start to lose hope. More polished and tightly scripted than her earlier, better films, it stars Keira Knightley as a woman who refuses to grow up -- and decides to befriend a teen girl (Chloe Grace Moretz) who thinks she's super-cool. It's a cute, slight idea, but I wanted more. Here's my review.

Sundance 2014: 'Frank' Review

Frank, you may recall, was on my list of most-anticipated Sundance titles. Michael Fassbender playing an eccentric musician who walks around in a fake head? Could be intriguing, right? And the finished product is, indeed, somewhat intriguing. But it largely struggles to find its groove. My review is up at Screen International.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Sundance 2014: 'Whiplash' Review

Whiplash, the opening night film at Sundance, features great performances from Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons. And it's about an intriguing subject, following an ambitious aspiring drummer as he goes mano-a-mano with a maniacal instructor. What's the cost of genius? The movie explores that question with appropriate thoughtfulness, even if its resolution isn't as satisfying as I might have liked. My review is up at Paste.

Van Morrison - "Wonderful Remark"

I have no memory of this Van Morrison song being in The King of Comedy, but apparently it first surfaced on the soundtrack of that Scorsese movie. How about we all enjoy it together right now?

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Sundance 2014: 10 Films I Can't Wait to See

I'm off to Sundance early tomorrow morning. I've lost track of how many years I've been going now, but I always feel a mixture of excitement and anxiety about the festival. There are always gems to be found, but there are also duds, often populated with actors that you like. Here's a preview of 10 movies I'm excited for at this year's festival -- actually, it's 12. (You'll see what I mean when you click on that link.)

Update: Now that Sundance 2014 is over, here's my rundown of the festival's best and worst films.

Bruce Springsteen - 'High Hopes' Review

For this week's Playboy column, I wrote about Bruce Springsteen's new album High Hopes. But more specifically, I got into my issues with the Boss since his 21st-century renaissance. I've always loved the guy, but in the past decade or so, it's been significantly harder to do so. I go into my reasons here.

Monday, January 13, 2014

My LAFCA Awards Presentation for 'Blue Is the Warmest Color'

On January 11, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association held our annual awards banquet. During the event, an individual critic presents an award for a film, performance or craftsperson. (Our full list of winners is here.) I was honored to give our Best Foreign-Language Film prize to Blue Is the Warmest Color and its director, Abdellatif Kechiche. I've been championing the movie since Cannes, so this was a thrill.

Kechiche was in attendance for our event, as was his lead actress Adèle Exarchopoulos, who tied for Best Actress with Blue Jasmine's Cate Blanchett. Each presenter is advised to take no more than 90 seconds. (We prefer having our winners speak, not us long-winded critics.) Here was what I had to say about Blue Is the Warmest Color from the podium....

Good Evening.  

Since it debuted at the Cannes Film Festival, Blue Is the Warmest Color has been one of the year’s most discussed and debated movies. But for those of us who fell in love with director Abdellatif Kechiche’s romantic drama, all the noise surrounding this film has never threatened to drown out the gentle, beautiful story that he and his actresses Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux have crafted.  

Loosely adapted from a graphic novel, Blue Is the Warmest Color is about a young woman named Adele’s coming of age. But it’s also a love story, one filled with tenderness and eroticism that gives us a full sense of two individuals growing together and coming apart over the course of several years. Wise and melancholy, this film hurts like real life. And yet watching Blue Is the Warmest Color is invigorating: Kechiche has taken the seemingly mundane building blocks of everyday experience — falling in love, finding our purpose — and he’s created something singular and profound.   

This movie is the triumph of an observant, curious filmmaker, but it’s also a triumph for his actresses and their committed, compassionate performances. Like so many of the best films, Blue Is the Warmest Color transcends language just as it transcends geography. Man or woman, straight or gay, whatever our nationality, we saw ourselves up there on the screen in Adele and her girlfriend Emma’s journey. We share in these characters’ happiness, we worry when they hit tough times, and when the film is over, we wish them nothing but the best — even if that means they won’t end up together.   

Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in congratulating the director of our Best Foreign Language Film winner, Mr. Abdellatif Kechiche.

(Photo of Mr. Kechiche and me courtesy of the very talented Shiloh Strong.)

Friday, January 10, 2014

Deafheaven - "Irresistible"

Deafheaven's Sunbather almost made my Top 10 of 2013; it's a beautifully punishing metal album. But the track I picked is its gentlest: a piano-driven instrumental called "Irresistible." Which is an apt title.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

2014's Must-See Movies

Now that I've got your attention with my shamelessly SEO-friendly headline, here's a list Will and I put together of 20 movies we're excited to see this year. Uma Thurman and I would like to wish you a happy film-going 2014.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

In Defense of 'Girls'

Does Girls need defending? It's a critically-acclaimed show that gets plenty of attention from the Emmys and the Golden Globes. And yet a large, vocal percentage of people really despise Lena Dunham's comedy-drama. Girls returns on Sunday, so for Playboy I dig into the reasons why I think the show, though sometimes exasperating, is quite good. Hope you enjoy -- and, as an added bonus, here's Saturday Night Live's parody from the beginning of the season.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

2013 Pazz & Jop Poll Predictions

Next week, The Village Voice announces the results of its annual Pazz & Jop music poll. (Amazingly, this is my 14th year of submitting a ballot.) Last year, I did a pretty impressive job of predicting the Top 10 in the albums list. So, let's try again this year.....

1. Kanye West, Yeezus
2. Vampire Weekend, Modern Vampires of the City
3. Daft Punk, Random Access Memories
4. Arcade Fire, Reflektor
5. Lorde, Pure Heroine
6. Disclosure, Settle
7. Chance the Rapper, Acid Rap
8. HAIM, Days Are Gone
9. The National, Trouble Will Find Me
10. My Bloody Valentine, MBV

If I'm right and Kanye wins, it'll be the fourth time he's topped the poll, tying him for the most times by any artist in the poll's 40-year history. (Bob Dylan has won Pazz & Jop three four times. Outkast, the Clash and Elvis Costello have won it twice.) The published results are expected to be live by January 15. I'll talk about my own Top 10 then.

(Update: Well, the list is out now. I got six of the Top 10 right, including the top three in order. I just had a feeling that Beyoncé was going to be a surprise entry -- I wish I'd had the guts to include it. And I thought about putting in Wakin on a Pretty Daze as well but went with Trouble Will Find Me instead. Dumb, dumb, dumb. If you're interested in seeing my ballot, it's right here.)

Saturday, January 04, 2014

My Interview With Rita Moreno

At this year's Screen Actors Guild awards, Rita Moreno will be receiving the Life Achievement Award. For Backstage, I spoke with the EGOT winner to discuss her career, her struggles as an older actor, and what she wishes she had done differently when she got her Best Supporting Actress Oscar for West Side Story.

Friday, January 03, 2014

Stephen Malkmus - "The Hook"

More and more, the career arc of Stephen Malkmus is resembling that of Paul Westerberg's: You start off as the leader of an influential indie band, and then you go solo when the band collapses, releasing albums that rarely are embraced with the same enthusiasm as the stuff you put out in your 20s. (I'd add that they also share in common solo careers that, despite some rough patches, have their underrated pleasures.)

Malkmus returns on January 7 with Wig Out at Jagbags. In honor of the occasion, here's a track from his 2001 solo debut, Stephen Malkmus. Is this the best indie rock song ever about the life of a pirate? Maybe -- definitely the funniest.