Monday, March 30, 2015

Trevor Noah, 'The Daily Show' and the Future of Late Night

As you've probably heard, 31-year-old comedian Trevor Noah will take over The Daily Show after Jon Stewart steps aside. What does it mean for fake news? Over at Rolling Stone, I explained why Noah's roots (he's from South Africa) and relatively low-profile signal a significant change in the late-night landscape. (Plus, it gave me a chance to rave about Last Week Tonight.) You can read my piece here.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

What's the Greatest Sketch-Comedy Show of All Time?

Over at Rolling Stone, a group of writers (including yours truly) did write-ups for 40 of the best sketch-comedy programs ever. I didn't have a say in the final rankings, but I made the case for my three entries: Portlandia, Inside Amy Schumer and The Muppet Show.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Crosby, Stills & Nash - "Guinnevere"

My father likes to insist that Neil Young ruined Crosby, Stills & Nash. (What can I say: The man simply has never been on Young's wavelength.) So, in his honor, here's one of my favorite CSN tracks. And let's be honest: There really isn't a place for Young in it.

P.S. If you haven't heard the alternate version of "Guinnevere," you should check it out.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Let's Rank All Will Ferrell's Movies

For Vulture, Will and I gave ourselves the task of ranking every one of Will Ferrell's movies. (We did draw the line at his cameos and his animated roles, with the exception of The Lego Movie, of course.) Going through Ferrell's career, including the recent Get Hard, you notice that he's a better comedic actor than a dramatic one: His artistry doesn't require him to get serious to get our attention. Also, boy, he plays a lot of musical instruments in his films: everything from guitar to drums to banjo to jazz flute. OK, with that out of the way, let's get to the list.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

'Get Hard' Review

You can probably start officially worrying about Will Ferrell's career. After The Campaign and Anchorman 2 (which I actually liked), he's begun to seem less relevant and fresh as a comic star. (Never mind that Anchorman 2 was a massive hit.) He's back with Get Hard, where he and Kevin Hart throw Molotov cocktails at all sorts of P.C. topics. For their trouble, they've been labeled racist and homophobic. I'm not that down on the movie, but I don't think it works. I reviewed Get Hard for Deadspin.

Update: On Wednesday, I was on Studio 11 LA to discuss whether or not the film was racist. You can see my segment here.

'Last Knights' Review

Clive Owen! Morgan Freeman! Swords! Crossbows! These are just some of the selling points of Last Knights, a decidedly threadbare action-adventure film set in ye olde medieval times. I'm going to be honest: I wrote this review weeks ago and remember almost nothing about it. So reading my Screen International piece now will be enlightening for me as well. Here it is.

'White God' Review

In the Hungarian film White God, a teenage girl and her beloved dog are separated, the girl forced to deal with adolescence and the dog struggling to survive on its own in a cruel, uncaring big city. Can they find their way back to one another? The film, from director Kornél Mundruczó, sounds like it could be a variation on The Incredible Journey, but this dark parable has much more on its mind. I reviewed White God for Paste.

True/False 2015: The Wrap-Up

Another True/False, my third, has come and gone. So, let's recap what I wrote about the festival and take a look at my final rankings.

As far as the below list goes, please note I didn't include The Act of Killing, which I've only seen in its theatrical cut. (The festival screened Joshua Oppenheimer's preferred director's cut.) I also decided to leave off Arena of Life, four shorts from Polish filmmaker Bogdan Dziworski, which were, mostly, exceptional. So, here we go, with links leading to individual pages/reviews....

15. What Happened, Miss Simone?
14. Finders Keepers
13. How to Change the World
12. The Chinese Mayor
11. Silvered Water, Syria Self-Portrait
10. The Visit
9. Tales of the Grim Sleeper
8. Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck
7. Best of Enemies
6. Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief
5. Bitter Lake
4. Heaven Knows What
3. Western
2. Cartel Land
1. The Look of Silence

I struggled a bit deciding where to place each of the movies in my top four. All I know is they were the four finest films I saw at the festival. Second viewings will help sort out their placement.

In addition, I wrote a long overview of this year's festival. Rather than doing a standard recap, I explored the notion of how to change the world -- an idea that came to me after watching, you guessed it, How to Change the World. I wondered if a film, or a group of activists, or even a film festival can legitimately make a difference in the world. I hope you enjoy what I came up with.

And, finally, my thanks to Kevin B. Lee for including me in his annual rundown of critics' favorites from True/False. Look how handsome and wise I am.

Monday, March 23, 2015

'The Salt of the Earth' Review

Director Wim Wenders hit my Top 10 for 2011 with Pina, his startling 3D documentary dedicated to choreographer Pina Bausch. His new documentary, The Salt of the Earth, received an Oscar nomination, losing out to Citizenfour. This weekend, it opens in select cities, singing the praises of acclaimed photographer Sebastião Salgado. I think it's a quite fine primer on the man's work, even if the man remains a bit mysterious at its center. You can read my review at Paste.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Nicki Minaj (featuring Drake and Lil Wayne) - "Truffle Butter"

Currently, my car's CD player is on the fritz, which has left me at the mercy of terrestrial radio. It's pretty depressing out there, folks. But "Truffle Butter" has been my salvation.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

'Amour Fou' Review

It's still one of my happiest memories from Sundance: A few years ago, I walked into a screening of Lourdes, knowing little about the film, and walked out utterly gobsmacked. That film's writer-director, Jessica Hausner, has finally returned with her follow-up. Amour Fou isn't as potent, but it's fascinating in its own right. How often do we get movies about suicide pacts? My review of Amour Fou is up at Paste.

Monday, March 16, 2015

'Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter' Review

One of the hits of last year's Sundance Film Festival, Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter finally arrives in theaters this week. Supposedly based on a true story, the film relates the strange tale of a Japanese woman (Rinko Kikuchi) who travels to America convinced that Fargo was nonfiction, hoping to locate the money Steve Buscemi's character buried in a field by the highway. Kumiko doesn't always work, but it's distinctly the vision of its filmmakers, David and Nathan Zellner. I reviewed the curiosity for Paste.

'Spy' Review

Spy premiered at SXSW last night, but I was able to catch it here in Los Angeles. And I'm very happy to report that Melissa McCarthy finally gets a starring vehicle where she doesn't have to play the overbearing, bulldozing Melissa McCarthy of her recent starring vehicles. No, Spy is a big, happy, generous comedy, and she's a total hoot in it: sexy and vulnerable and deeply charming. (As for Jason Statham fans, you should also be thrilled: Our guy is great in this.) (And, oh yeah, Jude Law's fun, too.) I reviewed Spy for Screen International.

Friday, March 13, 2015

'Press Play With Madeleine Brand': Talking 'Cinderella'

Today on KCRW, I went on Madeleine Brand's show with my good buddy Justin Chang to talk about this weekend's big movies. We discussed Cinderella, Run All Night and Going Clear. I only liked one of them, and I'm guessing you know which one. You can hear me and Justin right here.

Django Django - "First Light"

I'm very much digging the new single from Django Django, which will appear on their forthcoming Born Under Saturn. But the video inspired these random snarky responses from yours truly...

1. "What do you mean, 'the band doesn't want to be in the video'?! We gotta film something!"

2. "We call our new video, Establishing Shot: The Movie."

3. "Do not stare directly into the 'First Light' video. You might burn out your retinas."

4. "Dude, I bet Terrence Malick freakin' loves this video."

Thursday, March 12, 2015

True/False 2015: 'Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck' Review

I was apprehensive going into Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck. Sanctioned by Cobain's estate, the documentary could be just one big love letter to Nirvana. And, in a way, it is. But in a more important way, it's not: It's tougher and more risk-taking than that. For Paste I reviewed the film, which will next be screening at South by Southwest.

'Run All Night' Review

Wanna wait until pay cable to see Run All Night? That's probably fine. The latest Liam Neeson joint is aggressively OK. I reviewed it for Deadspin, where way too many commenters take issue with my contention that The Grey is fantastic.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

'It Follows' Review

A big fan of David Robert Mitchell's first film, The Myth of the American Sleepover, I was curious what he'd do for a followup. Well, it's a horror movie, It Follows. It's not as strong as Myth but, intriguingly, they're thematic cousins in a way. I reviewed the film for Deadspin.

'Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief' Review

At True/False, I caught the latest film from documentarian Alex Gibney, Going Clear, which will be opening in limited release this Friday. (It comes to HBO March 29.) This exposé won't be groundbreaking for people who have been following the ins and outs of Scientology over the years, but it's nonetheless a smartly researched and argued attack on the Church. I reviewed the film for Paste.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

True/False 2015: 'The Visit' Review

If aliens arrived on Earth, how would governments react? We see this scenario play out in movies a lot, but the documentary The Visit tries to take a realistic approach, asking scientists, thinkers and theologians to theorize about humanity's response. The movie is playful, thoughtful and a fun little conversation starter. I reviewed The Visit for Screen International.

Monday, March 09, 2015

'Danny Collins' Review

Oh, Al Pacino, why are you in movies like Danny Collins? No doubt because it's the sort of film that a certain audience will go see -- the same crowd that sampled Last Vegas, say. This story of an aging rock star who decides to change his life by reconnecting with his son (Bobby Cannavale) gets sappy and droopy fast. I reviewed the film for Screen International.

True/False 2015: 'Western' Review

The Ross brothers (Tchoupitoulas) return with their latest documentary, Western, which chronicles a Texas border town facing an uncertain future. This movie feels like a portrait of the new Wild Wild West, one in which Mexico and America merge into one new, different culture. I found it pretty striking. My review is up at Screen International.

True/False 2015: 'Finders Keepers' Review

One of the hit documentaries at this year's Sundance was Finders Keepers, about two men who fought over the custody of a severed leg. (Even stranger: The severed leg came from one of the two men.) I caught up with the film at True/False, and while I ultimately enjoyed this funny, affecting movie, I had plenty of reservations. I go into them in my Screen International review.

Friday, March 06, 2015

The New Pornographers - "Marching Orders"

With New Pornographers albums, you can go weeks obsessing over one track -- only to find a new favorite song for the next couple weeks. With Brill Bruisers, I've already gone through "Dancehall Domine," "Fantasy Fools," "War on the East Coast" and "Backstairs." Now, it's time for "Marching Orders."

They say we can't make this stuff up. But what else could we make?   

Thursday, March 05, 2015

A Salute to True/False

In 2013, I attended the True/False Film Festival for the first time. I became a convert. I'm back for my third time this week, and for Deadspin I try to encapsulate what's so special about this documentary-centric festival. Hope you enjoy.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

'Chappie' Review

Never convinced of the genius of filmmaker Neill Blomkamp, I can't say that I went into Chappie with huge expectations. Alas, the movie is as mediocre as I feared. Give the man credit for his ambition -- and then knock him down a few notches for having painfully so-so execution. My review is up at Screen International.

Monday, March 02, 2015

'The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel' Review

Was the world crying out for a sequel to The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel? Well, we got it anyway. The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel doesn't have nearly the amount of charm and humor as the first installment. And, oh lord, Dev Patel...... My review is up at Paste.