Saturday, November 29, 2014

'Exodus: Gods and Kings' Review

Holy Moses! Avoid Exodus: Gods and Kings like the plague! Now that I've got the bad jokes out of my system, please feel free to read my review of Ridley Scott's latest. It's up at Screen International.

And as an addendum, I'd like to quote the opening of Roger Ebert's review of Gladiator:
A foolish choice in art direction casts a pall over Ridley Scott's Gladiator that no swordplay can cut through. The film looks muddy, fuzzy and indistinct. Its colors are mud tones at the drab end of the palette, and it seems to have been filmed on grim and overcast days. This darkness and a lack of detail in the long shots helps obscure shabby special effects (the Colosseum in Rome looks like a model from a computer game), and the characters bring no cheer: They're bitter, vengeful, depressed. By the end of this long film, I would have traded any given gladiatorial victory for just one shot of blue skies.
Exodus isn't as muddy, per se, but the dependence on CGI is just as evident. That didn't bother me so much in Gladiator because of the performance and storytelling. With Exodus, though, the problem is far more noticeable.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Joni Mitchell - "Banquet"

The opening song off Joni Mitchell's criminally underrated For the Roses seems an appropriate tune for the day after Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 24, 2014

What Movie Would I Want to See Over and Over Again in a Theater?

This week's Criticwire survey asks the question: If you had the clout to have one movie screen at a theater whenever you wanted, what would it be? "None," I would probably say: I don't like seeing the same movie (even my favorites) that often. But then I thought about it some more, and I arrived at an answer. You can read my response here -- along with my fellow critics'.

Friday, November 21, 2014

'A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night' Review

The Iranian Vampire Western A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night hits select cities today. Good lord, it's a gorgeous-looking movie -- so gorgeous, in fact, that you may not mind the film's limitations. (I know I did.) My review is up at Paste.

Flying Lotus (featuring Kendrick Lamar) - "Never Catch Me"

As I'm focusing on movies for end-of-the-year voting, I'm also taking some time to catch up on some must-hear records in order to be ready for Pazz & Jop. Next up: You're Dead! from Flying Lotus. Here's the single "Never Catch Me," which features Kendrick Lamar, a man whose voice enlivens everything it's on. (Compare this track to, say, Schoolboy Q's "Collard Greens." Totally different sonic worlds.)

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

'The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1' Review

I've never quite been able to get behind the Hunger Games franchise. I like Jennifer Lawrence a lot, but the movies' post-apocalyptic landscape doesn't do much for me. And there's also the fact that the filmmakers keep stringing us along, promising big moments in future installments. I reviewed Mockingjay - Part 1 for Deadspin.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

SAG Foundation: My Conversation With Zach Braff

I had a fine time speaking with Zach Braff, the writer, director and star of Wish I Was Here, which was easily the most divisive film at Sundance this year. (I found it uneven but quite moving. A friend and colleague sitting next to me loathed it.)

In this 45-minute conversation, we talked about Braff's experience with the film since that festival premiere. We also chatted about the courage required to be sincere, the whirlwind of starring in the Broadway musical adaptation of Bullets Over Broadway and what it's like to write a screenplay with your brother.

Friday, November 14, 2014

'Big Eyes' Review

With the exception of Ed Wood and Mars Attacks!, the last two decades haven't been very kind to Tim Burton. So what a relief it is to say that his new movie is a kick. Based on the life of painter Margaret Keane, Big Eyes features very good performances from Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz. Plus, it's a fun little treatise on artistic expression. My review is up at Screen International.

AFI Fest 2014: The Final Rankings

I can't think of a festival in Los Angeles that's ever been more of a whirlwind than this year's AFI Fest. Partly, that was because I was part of the New Auteurs jury (alongside Alonso Duralde, Eric Kohn and Anne Thompson), but mostly it was due to the fact that a mad rush of world premieres (some of them announced at the last minute) kept me watching and reviewing highly-anticipated Oscar contenders just about every day. I wouldn't have traded a moment of any of it.

Before I get into the rankings, I'd like to thank the AFI Fest staff, especially Jacqueline Lyanga, Lane Kneedler, Jenn Murphy and Landon Zakheim, who all took such good care of me. They run a fine festival.

Now, to the list. I should say that all 10 films in the New Auteurs section, which focuses on first- and second-time international directors, were all good enough to recommend. (You can see our list of winners right here. I co-sign on all of them.) I've been on juries before, and I know that this isn't always the case: Normally, you have to suffer through some real dogs. So, again, my thanks go out to the programmers for finding the wheat among the chaff.

As always with my rankings, they include films I saw before the festival elsewhere. (I decided to leave off Cinema Paradiso since I haven't seen it in years and barely remember it.) I already can't wait to see my No. 1 film again next year when it gets its official release. I've been intrigued by it since May: I'm happy to report that it lived up to the hype.

28. The Gambler
27. The Wonders
26. Viktoria
25. The Homesman
24. G├╝eros
23. Red Army
22. Flapping in the Middle of Nowhere
21. Blind
20. Happy Valley
19. Tales of the Grim Sleeper
18. Clouds of Sils Maria
17. Leviathan
16. A Most Violent Year
15. American Sniper
14. Run
13. Black Coal, Thin Ice
12. Thou Wast Mild and Lovely
11. Self Made
10. Violet
9. The Duke of Burgundy
8. Wild Tales
7. Jauja
6. Alive
5. Two Days, One Night
4. Still Alice
3. Eden
2. Foxcatcher
1. The Tribe

Drive-By Truckers - "Pauline Hawkins"

For most of the year, I pegged the mighty Drive-By Truckers' latest album, English Oceans, as merely good. In the last month or so, though, I've turned the corner on it. Full of rich stories -- even more so than usual with these guys -- the record is especially dark, which, again, isn't necessarily new for this band. Maybe that's why it took me a while to warm up to it: Their sustained greatness risks fans like me taking it for granted.

"Pauline Hawkins" is almost unfathomably mysterious. Patterson Hood's narrator lets his lover know just how little he thinks of her, but the intensity of his insistence makes me think he protests too much. Sounds like a guy convincing himself that he's too tough or smart for love. Plus, the musical coda at the end is a killer.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

'Red Army' Review

Red Army is a perfectly likeable documentary -- it just won an Audience Award at AFI Fest -- but I confess I couldn't summon up much enthusiasm for it. Partly, that's because I've seen this sort of thing done often -- and sometimes better -- as part of ESPN's "30 for 30" series. I reviewed Red Army, which looks at the Soviet Union's famed national hockey team, for Paste.

'Dumb and Dumber To' Review

After being a vocal champion of The Three Stooges -- the movie, I mean -- I'm sad to say that the Farrelly brothers' Dumb and Dumber To is a bust. I reviewed the mediocre sequel for Screen International.

'Foxcatcher' Review

Foxcatcher knocked me sideways. I explain why in my Deadspin review.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

'The Homesman' Review

Watch out, Hilary Swank: Tommy Lee Jones has a fork!

I reviewed The Homesman for Paste.

'American Sniper' Review

I need to ponder it a little longer, but my favorite Bradley Cooper performance may be in American Sniper, his new movie in which he plays real-life Navy SEAL Chris Kyle. A fun-loving Texan who joins the military in response to terror attacks against America around the globe, Kyle soon became a legend on the Iraqi battlefield for confirmed kills by a sniper. Clint Eastwood's film lacks some of the moral complexity that made his best movie about warfare, Letters From Iwo Jima, so special. But it's affecting nonetheless. I reviewed American Sniper for Screen International.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

AFI Fest 2014: 'The Gambler' Review

No, this is not a remake of the Kenny Rogers film.

Yes, it is a remake (of sorts) of the James Caan film.

Yes, I have shaken hands with Mark Wahlberg not once but twice at church.

No, that has no bearing on how I felt about The Gambler.

Yes, I was a big fan of the very divisive The Counselor from last year.

Yes, I wish The Gambler was more like The Counselor.

My review is over at Screen International.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Matthew McConaughey's Greatest Performances

In honor of Interstellar, I put together a list of Matthew McConaughey's best performances, for both film and television. Making a Top 20 is difficult because of the ups-and-downs in his career, but it did give me a chance to stick up for Amistad and give shout-outs to underrated gems like Frailty. You can see the list and argue endlessly about it over at Rolling Stone.

Friday, November 07, 2014

'Big Hero 6' Review

The very sweet, very likeable Big Hero 6 opens today. For me, it's a perfect gateway drug to get kids hooked on comic-book/action/blockbuster movies. Plenty of it is familiar, but it's all done well enough. (And Baymax sure is cute.) My review is up at Deadspin.

Marvin Gaye - "Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)"

Because I see so many movies, I get a little numb to the obvious song choices that will show up again and again in them. So I was knocked back a bit when A Most Violent Year kicks off with this Marvin Gaye gem. Now it's stuck in my head.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

AFI Fest 2014: 'A Most Violent Year' Review

Oscar Isaac had been doing fine supporting work for years before raising his profile considerably with last year's Inside Llewyn Davis. He returns with A Most Violent Year, an ambitious, muddled film in which he is superb. I went long on this review for Screen International, discussing what works and what doesn't in filmmaker J.C Chandor's latest.

SAG Foundation: My Conversation With Felicity Jones and Eddie Redmayne

I was deeply moved by The Theory of Everything when I saw it in Toronto in September. In November, I got to speak to its stars, Felicity Jones and Eddie Redmayne. They couldn't have been more charming. This conversation took place at the Linwood Dunn in Hollywood. My thanks to the SAG Foundation for inviting me to host this chat.

'The Better Angels' Review

I was excited for The Better Angels after being told good things from colleagues who had seen it at Sundance. Alas. The movie, which dives into Abraham Lincoln's boyhood, has a serious case of the Malicks. I explain in my Paste review.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

On Christopher Nolan and 'Interstellar'

Two years ago, I wrote a glowing overview of Christopher Nolan's career. Then came The Dark Knight Rises and Interstellar. Those movies aren't bad--in the binary language of film criticism, they both get thumbs-up--but there's something missing. I get into it over at Deadspin.

Monday, November 03, 2014

'National Gallery' Review

I've sung the praises of Frederick Wiseman before, but the man keeps making great movies. His latest is National Gallery. It may be a notch below other high-water marks like At Berkeley and Boxing Gym, but it's plenty enthralling. I review the documentary, which investigates the inner-workings of London's National Gallery museum, for Paste.

'Jessabelle' Review

Just in time for Halloween -- oh, whoops, that was last week -- comes Jessabelle, a rather ordinary horror movie. A woman returns to her childhood home, only to discover a phantom keeps bugging her. What does the ghost want? And how soon until this movie is over? I reviewed Jessabelle for Screen International.

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Beirut 2014: 'Bird People' Review

A little bit of catch-up: Here's my review of Bird People. I missed it during its U.S. run, but I was able to see it while I was in Beirut. Glad I did: Although the movie is a misfire, it's the sort of misfire well worth seeing. My review is up at Paste.

Rock Stars Hanging Out in Horror Movies

Some fun silliness here. For Rolling Stone I helped contribute to a rundown of some of the more memorable appearances by rock stars in 1980s horror movies. Tom Waits! Debbie Harry! Even Wolfman Jack! You can read it all here.