Monday, June 30, 2014

'Life Itself' Review

I'm happy to have skipped Life Itself at Sundance. Better, I figured, to let all the hype and emotion of a premiere drift off so that I could evaluate the movie away from all that noise. As my Deadspin review shows, I hope, is that even removed from Sundance, I had a hard time being completely objective about this particular documentary. Here are my many, many thoughts on the film.

The Greats: D.A. Pennebaker

He made Don't Look Back. (Purists, of course, call it Dont Look Back.) He made (with his wife, Chris Hegedus) The War Room. In between, he made Monterey Pop. For my latest edition of "The Greats" for Paste, I sing the praises of documentary filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker. Hope you enjoy.

Friday, June 27, 2014

'Transformers: Age of Extinction' Review

Mark Wahlberg is an upgrade over Shia LaBeouf, and Age of Extinction was the Transformers movie I've liked best. But, really, none of that matters: This sequel stinks. My review is up at Deadspin.

Ray Charles - "Don't Let the Sun Catch You Crying"

A couple weekends ago, my wife and I were driving around downtown Los Angeles on a Saturday night. I put this song on, and it just felt right. So now I want to hear it again.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

'Snowpiercer' Review

I've seen Snowpiercer twice now. Both times, I've been enormously impressed in parts but also a little frustrated at other moments. This dark post-apocalyptic tale doesn't come together as wonderfully as Bong Joon-ho's The Host, but it's still worth seeing, especially on the big screen. And the movie is a good reminder of how fine an actor Chris Evans is. My review is up at The Verge.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Eels - "Gentlemen's Choice"

Eels have written a few songs that seem to pay homage to the part of E that adores Randy Newman: "Son of a Bitch," "I'm Going to Stop Pretending That I Didn't Break Your Heart." But "Gentlemen's Choice," off the new album The Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett, is a different sort of Newman homage. It feels like the sort of song Randy would write for a Pixar movie: sad-eyed, heart-tugging, completely sincere. In the film, a female vocalist with an indelible voice would make it pretty, but if Newman sang it himself, the song would be piercing in its vulnerability. (Especially these days when Newman's voice is little more than a croak.) That's what E brings to "Gentlemen's Choice." It's a minor but really, really affecting tune.

(I suppose here is where I should say, "Hey, you should buy my Eels biography. It's good.")

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Los Angeles Film Festival 2014: 'Dear White People' Review

Dear White People was one of the more highly-anticipated debuts at this year's Sundance. I missed it there, but I was able to catch up with it at the Los Angeles Film Festival. Smart, funny, a little undisciplined, full of ideas: This very much feels like a talented newcomer's first film. My review is up at Screen International.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Greats: Clint Eastwood

In honor of this Friday's release of Jersey Boys, I devoted my latest installment of "The Greats" to Clint Eastwood. Fun fact: I actually don't hate Hereafter and J. Edgar. You can read my piece here.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

'Jersey Boys' Review

"Everybody remembers it how they need to." That's the tag line for Jersey Boys, which should tell you that this Hollywood remake of the Tony-winning musical is more about how we distort history than it is about a feel-good collection of deathless pop tunes. With that in mind, Clint Eastwood is an apt director for the material: He's made a career examining the chasm between reality and the stories we tell ourselves. Unfortunately, the musical's familiar narrative arc and the filmmaker's subdued style don't quite mesh. My review is live at Screen International.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Los Angeles Film Festival 2014: 'Stray Dog' Review

Director Debra Granik previously made Down to the Bone (which launched Vera Farmiga) and Winter's Bone (which launched Jennifer Lawrence). Her new movie is her first documentary, about a Vietnam vet named Ron "Stray Dog" Hall. It's called Stray Dog, and it's quite lovely. (Incidentally, it would make a fine double-feature with Rich Hill, and not just because they're both set in Missouri.) My review of Stray Dog is up at Screen International.

Friday, June 13, 2014

John Waite - "Missing You"

There was a period during my childhood when our local radio station would play "Missing You," without fail, every single morning. (And bear in mind: This wasn't 1984. This was years later.) Its inexplicable daily appearance would give my dad and me a good laugh: "They're playing it again!"

"Missing You" is used rather winningly in 22 Jump Street. I chuckled at its inclusion and because of the memory it conjured up.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

'How to Train Your Dragon 2' Review

We're just barely into June, but I think it's fair to say this has already been a pretty good summer movie season. Between Neighbors, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Edge of Tomorrow and the forthcoming 22 Jump Street, I've had plenty of fun watching the big blockbusters. How to Train Your Dragon 2 is a notch below those other films, but not by much. I reviewed the sequel for Deadspin.

Friday, June 06, 2014

Neneh Cherry - "Everything"

Blank Project is the first Neneh Cherry album since 1996. Those hoping for "Buffalo Stance 2" (still?) are going to be sorely disappointed. "Everything" is the seven-minute-plus album-closer.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

'Obvious Child' Review

One of the buzzy hits from this year's Sundance was Obvious Child, a romantic comedy starring Jenny Slate as a twentysomething New York comic who gets pregnant after a one-night stand. This has made Obvious Child known as "the abortion comedy," which it sorta is. But also isn't. I reviewed the film for Paste.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

'Borgman' Review

Borgman was one of two films in last year's Cannes Official Competition that I missed. This psychological horror-cum-dark comedy opens Friday, so I've finally had the chance to catch up with it. If you enjoy shivering, this is the movie for you. My review is up at Paste.

'The Fault in Our Stars' Review

Shailene Woodley continues to be one of our best young actors, but I was very conflicted about The Fault in Our Stars, the tearjerker based on the John Green novel. I reviewed the film for Deadspin.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

'Edge of Tomorrow' Review

Edge of Tomorrow is one of Tom Cruise's best recent films. A sci-fi Groundhog Day, the movie features the ageless wonder as a soldier forced to relive the same day on the battlefield again and again. It's smart and funny and a blast. I reviewed the film for The Verge.

(P.S. I have to acknowledge this great observation from Mark Lisanti about Edge of Tomorrow's less-than-inspiring title: "This movie began its life with the much-cooler title All You Need Is Kill, but there was no way a $100 million–budgeted Tom Cruise blockbuster vehicle was coming to market with any kind of murder-branding.... So the Warner Bros. marketing department’s Inoffensive Phrase Generator coughed up Edge of Tomorrow, which could have just as easily fit on a one-sheet featuring a sopping wet Bradley Cooper and Rachel McAdams clinching atop a seaside cliff.")

Monday, June 02, 2014

The Greats: Thelma Schoonmaker

What exactly does a film editor do? I try to answer that question by devoting the latest edition of my Paste column "The Greats" to Thelma Schoonmaker, the editor of Martin Scorsese's movies since 1980. Dig it.

What Are the Year's Most Underrated Movies?

This week's Criticwire survey asks for people to pick their top films of the year so far. I decided, instead, to focus on five films I think have been overlooked. You can read my answer (and everyone else's) here. (I'm on Page 2.)