Tuesday, December 29, 2015

On the Beautiful 'Anomalisa'

A gorgeous little love story full of melancholy, Anomalisa is one of the year's best films. Over at The New Republic, I sing its praises, which is challenging in part because the movie's greatness is tied up in its ineffability. I explain why right here.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Thursday, December 24, 2015

'Joy': The Stories David O. Russell Tells About Himself

For the third time in his last four films, director David O. Russell is working from a true story in Joy. But, as usual, the movie is less about the real-life person than it is about himself. For The New Republic, I explain the pros and cons of that approach. Read all about it here.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

'(T)error' Review

(T)error was my favorite documentary of the year. For Screen International, I go into why. (And if you missed it in theaters, fear not: (T)error will be coming to PBS in February.)

'The Revenant': Leo Gone Wild

I make my New Republic debut with my piece today on The Revenant. It was only during a second viewing that the enormity of Leonardo DiCaprio's performance really hit me. Truth is, the whole movie worked better a second time, which is even more impressive considering I saw it on a television, not the big screen. You can read my thoughts here.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

'Saturday Night Live' Recap: Tina Fey and Amy Poehler Are Funny Enough

Much like their new film Sisters, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler's hosting job on Saturday Night Live didn't require much from them and was likable enough. Not amazing, not brilliantly funny -- but, hey, good enough. For Rolling Stone, I recapped last night's episode. (My wife laughed as much as I did over "Meet Your Second Wife.") You can read my thoughts here.

Friday, December 18, 2015

What's Leonardo DiCaprio's Greatest Performance?

That's what Will and I set out to determine over at Vulture, doing one of our fun ranked lists. A few things I discovered while putting together the list....

1. I've been defending DiCaprio to naysayers for a long time.
2. I was right.
3. Will and I both think that his best work has come with Martin Scorsese, a collaboration that many critics had serious reservations about at first.

OK, on to the countdown.

Daft Punk (featuring Panda Bear) - "Doin' It Right"

Immediately after seeing Sisters, I thought, "Man, I kinda want to listen to Random Access Memories now." The reason was that this gem is used in the film quite nicely.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

'Sisters' Review

Yay, Tina Fey! Yay, Amy Poehler! Eh, Sisters ... which is barely good enough to recommend, just so long as we all promise not to think about it too much. I reviewed this hit-or-miss comedy for Paste.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

'The Magicians' Review

The Magicians premiered tonight on Syfy, and the show appears to want to be a sexy Harry Potter. Did you want that in your life? No, no you did not. I reviewed the pilot for The Wrap.

'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' Review

OK, let's do it: Here's my review for Screen International. (And don't worry: This review is spoiler-free.)

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

2015 in Review: The Year's Best Lists

For the second consecutive year, I had the very enjoyable task of figuring out for Rolling Stone what the year's best lists were. What I try to do is find lists that are either incredibly smart, deeply engaging or emblematic of the year gone by. Here are 20 that serve as a time capsule of life in 2015. (Congrats, Ms. Lawrence, you made the cut.)

'The Hateful Eight' Review

Here are some facts about Quentin Tarantino:

1. He is one of our most accomplished, ambitious, talented, essential modern filmmakers.
2. His films tend not to do as much for me as they do my colleagues.

This brings us to The Hateful Eight, which I reviewed for Screen International. I am convinced I need a second viewing to fully absorb it. And I am also fairly certain that it's another QT joint that is audacious but not entirely satisfying. You can read my review here.

Monday, December 14, 2015

'Childhood's End' Review

As a teen, I really liked Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End. Hollywood has long wanted to turn the novel into a film, but now Syfy has decided to go the miniseries route. It is perfectly competent and not all that good. I reviewed Childhood's End for The Wrap.

'Star Wars: The Force Awakens': What If It's Great? What If It's Not?

I see Star Wars: The Force Awakens tonight, with Disney asking that reviews be held until Wednesday. So, for Popular Mechanics, I did a little speculating about a best- and worst-case scenario for the film. (The worst-case scenario was a lot less fun to write.) You can read the piece here.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Beach Slang - "Porno Love"

Did you know that if you search "porno love" on YouTube, you will find many results that are not the Beach Slang song? This track if off the band's wonderfully-titled disc The Things We Do to Find People Who Feel Like Us.

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

'In the Heart of the Sea' Review

Not to be confused with By the Sea or The Sea of Trees, In the Heart of the Sea stars Chris Hemsworth and Benjamin Walker as seaman on the hunt for a white whale. Sound like Moby-Dick a little? That's the idea. Based on the actual events that inspired the book, this Ron Howard film is only moderately engaging, which I get into in my Popular Mechanics review.

Monday, December 07, 2015

'Joy' Review

Of all of David O. Russell's recent films, Joy is the most resistible. Starring Jennifer Lawrence as the inventor of a self-wringing mop, the movie is based on the true story of Joy Mangano, but it very much combines elements of the director's The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle. It is, quite frankly, a bit of a mess. Just enough of it works for me to recommend, but you gotta wade through much that doesn't. My review is up at Screen International.

Friday, December 04, 2015

'Press Play With Madeleine Brand': Who's Ready for a Little 'Krampus'?

I was on Ms. Brand's KCRW show today with Christy Lemire to discuss Krampus, Chi-Raq, Macbeth and Youth. Spoiler alert: I am very meh on several of this weekend's film options. You can hear us chat right here.

'The Revenant' Review

One of the final pieces of the Oscar puzzle, The Revenant, was shown to critics at the end of last month. My review is now up on Screen International. What did I think of the film? Well, like with a lot of Iñárritua's stuff, I am enormously impressed by the craft but a little iffy on the content -- and the showiness can sure be a drag. But, hey, it's a hell of a show he puts on. You can read all my thoughts here.

Stone Temple Pilots - "Sour Girl"

By now, you've probably heard the sad news that Scott Weiland passed away at the age of 48. I interviewed him once, back in 2008. It was over the phone and, if memory serves, he was in the middle of a birthday party for one of his kids. This exchange stands out now...

Condolences to his family and friends.

Thursday, December 03, 2015

'A Very Murray Christmas' Review

A Very Murray Christmas, the quirky new Netflix holiday special starring Bill Murray, will be an interesting litmus test for how people feel about the Oscar-nominated actor. Personally, I've come to enjoy the idea of Bill Murray more than the actual performer, and the reasons why are pretty evident in this one-hour program. I get into that over at The Wrap.

What's the Greatest 'Star Wars' Character?

I didn't have anything to do with the rankings, but over at Rolling Stone I helped contribute to their massive list of the 50 Best Star Wars Characters. Very, very fun. (And, no, Jar Jar didn't make the cut.)

Talking 'Husbands & Wives'

I realize I haven't talked much about MEL, a new publication based out of Venice, California. I serve as a contributing editor alongside a group of smart writers and editors. We're in the midst of a soft launch now, but here's the first thing from yours truly: a discussion about Husbands & Wives with Will Leitch. It's part of a regular podcast called "The Rewatch" that I think is quite fun.

OK, here's my episode with Will.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Grierson & Leitch Has a New Home

Four years ago today, Will Leitch and I got some sad news: Our movie site at Yahoo was being shuttered. In the aftermath, we jumped over to Deadspin, where we found a very happy home. Well, I come to you today with some more news: "Grierson & Leitch" is leaving Deadspin and heading to The New Republic. I'm so pleased to get to do the work we've always done at a new place. We said farewell over at Deadspin today. Look forward to seeing you at the new home.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

My Interview With Spike Lee

Just a few days after Spike Lee won his honorary Oscar, I sat down with the director to talk about his new film, Chi-Raq, for Screen International. Sadly, the piece is behind the site's paywall. But, as an added bonus for readers of my site, here's an excerpt that didn't make the final story. I asked Spike about his place in the industry. This is the lightly edited transcript of that discussion...

Is there any sort of place for you in terms of studios or any conversations still going on?  

You don’t seem sad about that.
Hey, by hook or crook, been doing it since 1986, sir. 

You've talked about other independent directors, like John Sayles, being inspirations to you. Did you imagine you’d always be an independent filmmaker?  
I always felt that I would have one foot in independent cinema, and one foot within a [studio] system. And depending [on] the film, it’d be my left foot or my right foot. [Laughs] You know, it would depend upon if it’s my left in a Jordan or my right in a Jordan.

During our chat, by the way, he was wearing a nice pair of new Air Jordans. 

I told him that, as a fan, I found it depressing to think that there's no place for him in the major studios in 2015 -- that a movie like Chi-Raq only has a shot with a newcomer like Amazon. He looked at me and replied, "I don't find that [depressing]. Not to negate your statement, but I find it refreshing. Because it’s gonna be places like Amazon and Netflix, and other places like that, that are gonna take the chances that the big Hollywood studios don’t want to take."

For those who have a subscription to Screen International, you can read the published piece here.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Billy Idol Is 60 Years Old

On November 30, 1955, the man who would become Billy Idol was born. Over at Biography, I look back at a career filled with memorable videos. Was there anything behind the image, though? Sort of. You can read my appreciation of the man here.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

On 'The Danish Girl' and the Art of the Well-Meaning Movie

The Danish Girl, I imagine, will be the sort of film a lot of folks will feel like they "should" see. It's about a worthy subject, it's based on a true story ... you know the drill. The movie is very, very well-meaning, but does that mean it can't be good as well? I explore all that in my review over at Deadspin.

Friday, November 27, 2015

'What the Flick?!': Dinosaurs, Boxers and 'The Danish Girl'

My thanks to Christy Lemire for having me back on What the Flick?! alongside special guest Scott Mantz from Access Hollywood. Below, we review The Good Dinosaur, Creed and The Danish Girl.

James McMurtry - "Copper Canteen"

Finally catching up with Complicated Game, James McMurtry's very fine album from February. He's got lots of stories tell, each of them buttressed with beautiful guitar melodies of the country/folk variety. A little bit Tunnel of Love, a little bit John Prine, it's all kinds of lovely. Here's a live version of "Copper Canteen," an utterly wonderful portrait of a long marriage with all the aches and pains included.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

My Interview With Will Smith

I tend not to bore you with my personal life, but I wanted to share this tidbit. On the day I was set to interview Will Smith, I was in the midst of a profound funk: nothing major, just the usual accumulation of nonsense that can leave one feeling generally bummed. Within a minute of sitting down with Smith, that all evaporated -- and it triggered a thought that I knew was going to be the opening sentence in my profile of him. For Backstage, I chatted with the ebullient star of Concussion about his hiatus from acting, how his life has changed since returning, and why he loves being famous. (Smith is, by the way, the first celebrity I've ever met who actually told me, "I love being famous." And why not? He wears it well.) You can read my piece here.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Is 'The Good Dinosaur' Aimed Chiefly at Kids?

And, more importantly, does that matter? I wrote about Pixar's latest for Deadspin, making the case that it's the studio's most kid-friendly film. However, I do think that it does a fine job of not playing down to its young audience. You can read the piece here.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Let's Rank the 'Rocky' Movies

When Will and I do a ranking piece, we're sometimes blown away by which entry's positioning will drive people crazy on the Internet. (The classic example for us was our Spielberg list: Folks went ballistic because we ranked Hook so low.) Today, we rank the seven Rocky films for Deadspin ... who knew there were so many Rocky IV fans? Check out the list here.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

'Saints & Strangers' Review

Hoping to tell the story of the first Thanksgiving with stripped-down realism, the Nat Geo miniseries Saints & Strangers is a worthy attempt at showing the clash of two cultures at the dawn of the United States. But I don't think it's particularly riveting drama. My review is up at The Wrap.

Friday, November 20, 2015

In Praise of 'Shutter Island'

My thanks to Decider, who asked me to contribute to their Scorsese Week. Today, I wrote about my undying love for Shutter Island ... and why the movie has been misjudged in the spoiler-alert era. (Hint: Guessing the twist isn't the point.) Hope you enjoy.

Eagles of Death Metal - "Now I'm a Fool"

It's been a week since the horrific attacks in Paris and Beirut, so it seemed appropriate to play a little Eagles of Death Metal.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Giving a Second Look to 'Carol'

I reviewed Carol at the Cannes Film Festival, but it's been months since then. Has my opinion changed at all? I decided to give the year's most acclaimed movie a second look ... and I have to say I feel about the same. It's a gorgeous, swoon-worthy movie. And yet...... well, I talk about that over at Deadspin.

Is It Time for Seth Rogen to Stop Making Bromances?

That's the question I pose in my piece on The Night Before over at Deadspin. If I'm asking it, that probably means my answer is "yes." And, in fact, that is my answer! You can read the piece here.

'The Man in the High Castle' Review

The reviews for The Man in the High Castle, Amazon's latest original series, have been glowing. I do nothing to diminish that glow over at The Wrap.

'Secret in Their Eyes' Review

When I interviewed Billy Ray for my book Filmcraft: Screenwriting, I was enormously impressed with his work ethic, his competitive fire and the fact that he's a longtime baseball fan. So it pains me to say that his latest film, a remake of the Oscar-winning The Secret in Their Eyes, is a bit of a misfire. The "The" is missing from the title of the remake, but that's not all that's lacking from the original, unfortunately. My review is up at Screen International.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

'Creed' Review

The results aren't all in yet, but I seem to be one of the few initial critics who didn't go for Creed, the latest in the Rocky Balboa series. There's a twist to this movie, though: This time, it's not Rocky who's the main character. That would be Adonis (Michael B. Jordan), the secret son of Apollo Creed, who now wants a shot in the ring. I found Creed to be an intriguing but mostly formulaic attempt to breathe new life into this franchise. My review is up at Screen International.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Let's Rank Movies Starring Real Couples

Ali. Cruel Intentions. Eyes Wide Shut. What do they have in common? They're all movies featuring real-life couples. In honor of By the Sea, Will and I ranked the greatest. Enjoy!

'The Night Before' Review

Bah humbug. The merely fitfully hilarious The Night Before isn't a new Christmas comedy classic but, rather, a predictable sex-and-drugs comedy from Seth Rogen's creative team. What once was funny is now just familiar. I reviewed the film for Screen International.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

'Into the Badlands' Review

An undemanding martial-arts drama, AMC's Into the Badlands exists in a future world where guns have been outlawed but everybody is awesome with knives and swords. The sort of TV show a bunch of teenage boys would dream up, Badlands is kinda cheesy but also pretty fun. I reviewed the show for The Wrap.

Friday, November 13, 2015

What Great 2015 Movies Are Flying Under the Radar?

Over at Criticwire, I contributed to the latest survey, which asked, "Before we drown in award-season heavyweights, what should you see?" It's a question at the forefront of many critics' minds, as we're all in heavy catch-up mode with movies we missed from earlier in 2015. (I'm particularly panic-stricken this year.) My responses, as of those from my colleagues, can be found right here.

My Interview With the Men Behind 'Entertainment'

A lousy, over-the-hill comic wanders the American Southwest doing his tired bits to uninterested crowds. That's Entertainment? Yup, and for Rolling Stone I spoke with director Rick Alverson and star Gregg Turkington. We discussed cringe comedy, Flipper and why Two-Lane Blacktop means so much to them. Hope you enjoy.

'The Good Dinosaur' Review

I'm of two minds about Pixar's latest endeavor. On the one hand, The Good Dinosaur is very familiar, a coming-of-age story that's geared to younger viewers. But on the other, my goodness, what a visually gorgeous, surprisingly moving experience. I let those two minds duke it out in my review for Screen International.

AFI Fest 2015: 'The Big Short' Review

Sometimes, I walk out of a screening knowing I'm slightly overrating a film, overlooking its flaws, simply because I'm swept away in what's so good about that movie. Such is the case with The Big Short, which I thought was rather fabulous, even though I can recognize the parts that don't quite work. Director Adam McKay has made a ridiculously entertaining and wonderfully angry satire about the 2008 financial crisis. If you're still mad about how that all went down -- or, if you're like me and had forgotten just how mad it made you -- this film is singing your song. I reviewed The Big Short for Screen International.

The Kinks - "Village Green"

This song, nor the album it comes from, has anything to do with the section of Los Angeles where I now live. But I get a kick out of it anyway.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Love and Marriage and 'By the Sea'

I've continued to think about By the Sea since going to its world premiere last week. I'm not convinced the movie is good, but I do keep wrestling with what it's trying to say. I put down some thoughts over at Deadspin.

Mousterpiece Cinema: Discussing 'The Prestige'

I returned to the Mousterpiece Cinema podcast this week to discuss The Prestige. I always have a fun time with hosts Josh Spiegel and Gabe Bucsko, but I was especially pleased to do this episode because it gave me an excuse to rewatch the film, which I'd been meaning to do for a while. Josh and Gabe are a little higher on it than I am, which we get into during the show. You can hear the whole thing here.

AFI Fest 2015: 'Concussion' Review

Will Smith is the best part of Concussion, a good-not-great dramatization of the Nigerian doctor, Bennet Omalu, who uncovered the fact that the NFL was hiding what it knew about head trauma from its players. The movie muckrakes, but it also delivers a pretty sober condemnation of American values. My review is up at Screen International.

'James White' Review

Does anyone need to see another cancer drama or coming-of-age tale? If it's James White, you do: This stubbornly idiosyncratic character study doesn't worm its way into your heart, which is part of what makes it great. I explain why in my Paste review.

Friday, November 06, 2015

AFI Fest 2015: 'By the Sea' Review

Not to be confused with the forthcoming In the Heart of the Sea, By the Sea stars Brad Pitt and writer-director Angelina Jolie Pitt as a married couple on the rocks. This drama's publicity materials mention that "In its style and its treatment of themes of the human experience, By the Sea is reminiscent of European cinema and theater of the ’60s and ’70s—with its concentrated, lean storytelling style, spare dialogue and intimate, often disquieting atmosphere." Those are my kind of movies but, well, it's not the sort of thing one should actively brag about, especially if you can't quite pull it off. My review is up at Screen International.

Run the Jewels (featuring Gangsta Boo) - "Love Again (Akinyele Back)"

Why this track for Friday Video?

1. Because I was listening to the Weeknd's "The Hills" the other day and thinking about other great recent sex songs.

2. Because for all their acclaim, Run the Jewels aren't just rapping about social/political issues. These dudes can be filthy when they want to be.

3. Because this tweet still makes me laugh:

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Which 'Peanuts' Is It, Anyway?

Today over at Deadspin, I go into more of my reservations about The Peanuts Movie. Specifically, I talk about my issue with the notion that the movie should be commended for how faithful it is to Charles Schulz's creation. To me, there have been different iterations of Peanuts over the years -- and I'm not that much of a fan of the one the movie chooses to honor. You can read my piece here.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

'The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2' Review

I've never been the biggest fan of the Hunger Games series, so I'm not particularly heartbroken that it's coming to an end. Nevertheless, Mockingjay - Part 2 is, for my money, the best film in the series, wrapping things up confidently and darkly. I reviewed the film for Screen International.