Thursday, April 30, 2015

Ang Lee, 'Hulk' and the Perils of Superpowers

The Dissolve's Movie of the Week is Hulk, Ang Lee's misbegotten 2003 excursion into comic-book filmmaking. Today, I provide an essay on why Hulk isn't that far removed from the thematic concerns of Lee's best films: The Ice Storm, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Brokeback Mountain, and Life of Pi. As I explain in the piece, each of these films, like Hulk, is about "seemingly ordinary people [who] learn to live with the aspects of themselves that make them feel different, strange, extraordinary." In other words, Lee's movies often struggle with the notion of superpowers. I deeply enjoyed writing this essay, and I hope you enjoy reading it.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

I Wrote a Book About Public Enemy

On Friday, my book about the greatest hip-hop group ever, Public Enemy: Inside the Terrordome, comes out. I am both excited and anxious. Because I have loved Public Enemy most of my life, it was intimidating to write about Chuck D, Flavor Flav and their cohorts. I was filled with a sense of responsibility: This was a book I had to get right.  

Inside the Terrordome is what I call a critical biography. It covers the highlights of the band's career, but it also digs into the importance of the group and its albums. On that note, I'm particularly pleased with the amount of writing that goes into PE's post-heyday. (In other words, I cover the albums since Apocalypse 91, which is around the time that most fans dropped by the wayside. C'mon, Muse Sick-n-Hour Mess Age wasn't that bad.) Culturally, musically and historically, Public Enemy is major. I hope my book does them justice while, at the same time, discusses their low points and missteps.

In the meantime, you can enjoy an excerpt from the book over at Playboy. This section covers the making of the group's seminal 1990 album Fear of a Black Planet. And if you'd like to order Inside the Terrordome, you can do that right here through Amazon. Thanks so much.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

'Press Play with Madeleine Brand': On Kurt Cobain and Adam Sandler

On yesterday's Press Play, James Rocchi and I discussed The Age of Adaline, Adult Beginners and Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck. But we also took some time to talk about the latest controversies concerning Adam Sandler and Robert Downey Jr. It's a fun 15 minutes, and you can hear it all here.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Alabama Shakes - "Don't Wanna Fight"

Here's how I concluded my review of Alabama Shakes' debut album, Boys & Girls: "Alabama Shakes demonstrate they have the chops, but hopefully next time out they won’t worry so much about authenticity and instead focus on consistently stunning songs." I haven't listened to Sound & Color yet, but I love how the lead single, "Don't Wanna Fight," is all snarling, funky grime. Where plenty of songs off Boys & Girls settled for "They don't make blues-rock like this anymore!" niceties, "Don't Wanna Fight" has a natural, impressive, ferocious groove. In other words, I dig it. I bet you do, too.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

'Adult Beginners' Review

Adult Beginners is the type of film I, uncharitably, refer to as "a Sundance movie." A comedy-drama that focuses on the mild dilemmas of white people in their 30s, the movie (which actually didn't debut at Sundance) stars Nick Kroll, Rose Byrne and Bobby Cannavale. It's very likeable. But, sometimes, likeable just ain't enough. I reviewed the film for Paste.

'Avengers: Age of Ultron' Review

In the two weeks since I've seen Avengers: Age of Ultron, I've spoken to no one about the film, so I have no idea what folks think of this supersized sequel to the 2012 mega-hit. (I'll look at other people's reviews after posting this.) For my part, I think Ultron lacks the novelty and charm of the first installment. But it's sufficiently, if unevenly, entertaining. And who would have guessed that Hawkeye would turn out to be the Jerry Gergich of the franchise? My review is up at Screen International.

What's the Greatest Kanye West Song Ever?

With So Help Me God supposedly coming to us sooner rather than later, I decided to dive into a massive project: ranking every single Kanye West song. My god, what fun -- also, good heavens, was it hard. But, seriously, fun. My complete list is over at Playboy.

'The Age of Adaline' Review

I suppose that The Age of Adaline was better than I was expecting. And yet, it's still disappointing, taking a promising premise -- what would it be like to be forever young? -- and bungling it. Here's the weird thing, though: It contains one of Harrison Ford's strongest performances in a good long while. Is that enough to recommend this Blake Lively vehicle? Uh, no. I reviewed Adaline for Screen International.

Juliette Binoche Speaks

Back in October when I was at the Beirut Film Festival, Juliette Binoche gave a talk to students and aspiring filmmakers in which she looked back at her career. With her new film, Clouds of Sils Maria, now out, I present a few highlights of her chat over at Backstage.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Drive-By Truckers - "Ronnie and Neil"

Today, I fly to Athens, Georgia, to see my old buddy Will Leitch. So this song has been selected for two reasons. One, Drive-By Truckers (America's best rock band) are based in Athens. Second, I want to remind everyone that I've been raving about this band for years and years. Will, I am never going to let you forget that you once preferred Kings of Leon to these guys.

Monday, April 13, 2015

A Report From the 2015 MTV Movie Awards

The MTV Movie Awards began in 1992, with Terminator 2 winning Best Movie and Keanu Reeves winning Most Desirable Male for Point Break. For the first time, I attended the ceremony, which was held last night at the Nokia here in downtown Los Angeles. For Rolling Stone, I filed a report about all the things that happen inside the room that you don't get to see on TV. I had a fun time, and I hope you enjoy this wrap-up.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Banks - "Begging for Thread"

With Late Show With David Letterman ending next month, I've made a point of watching the show on a pretty regular basis in recent weeks. I've been glad I did; I didn't need to be reminded how much I love the man, but it's been a treat to be reintroduced to Letterman's day-in-and-day-out genius.

Last Friday, Banks was on Late Show to perform "Begging for Thread." It's a great song enhanced by the simple but evocative production design. And I probably would have missed it if Letterman's retirement wasn't just on the horizon.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

A Night to Celebrate Allen Ginsberg and 'Howl'

In the fall of 1955, poet Allen Ginsberg unveiled his epic masterwork "Howl." That poem, and the man behind it, were the focus of last night's star-studded 60th anniversary celebration in downtown Los Angeles at the Theatre at Ace Hotel. (Yup, the same place as last week's "The Music of David Lynch" show.) For Rolling Stone, I reviewed "A Celebration," which featured everyone from Courtney Love to Tim Robbins to Will Forte to Nick Cave. Hope you enjoy.

Summer 2015: Previewing the Upcoming Movie Season

This was a lot of fun. For Deadspin, Will and I dove into the summer release schedule, which we decided started this week and goes all the way through Labor Day, and previewed each weekend. That's a lot of movies, folks. Dig in.

'Desert Dancer' Review

Some movies mean well, taking on important topics and worthy causes, but that doesn't mean they should automatically get a pass. Such is the case with Desert Dancer, which is a fact-based drama about Afshin Ghaffarian, a young man living in Iran who, in 2009, helped form an underground dance troupe in Tehran, even though the repressive government forbids dancing. It's a movie about the power of art to confront tyranny -- which, hey, I'm totally behind -- but, good heavens, this movie is so bloody earnest. I reviewed Desert Dancer, starring Freida Pinto and Reece Ritchie, for Screen International.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

'The Longest Ride' Review

The Longest Ride is the latest Nicholas Sparks adaptation. How you respond to that last sentence will probably be all you need to know about this movie, which cuts between a modern-day romance and a postwar love affair. If you're down with films like The Notebook and Dear John, you'll probably like this one, too, which stars (among others) Britt Robertson, Scott Eastwood and Alan Alda. That's right, Alan Alda! I reviewed The Longest Ride for Screen International.

Monday, April 06, 2015

'Lost River' Review

Ryan Gosling made his feature directorial debut last year at Cannes with Lost River, a decidedly arty, dreamy offering starring Christina Hendricks. Critics were not kind. Almost a year later, the film (in a slightly shorter version) arrives in U.S. theaters. I don't think Lost River works, but it's occasionally fascinating and quite often hypnotic. And I hope Gosling doesn't let his film's detractors discourage him from trying again soon. My Lost River review is up at Paste.

'The Road Within' Review

The comedy-drama The Road Within has a somewhat provocative premise. Three patients at a clinic for psychological disorders -- a young man suffering from Tourette's (Robert Sheehan), his OCD-addled roommate (Dev Patel) and a young anorexic (Zoƫ Kravitz) -- steal a car and go on a road trip. Based on a recent German film, The Road Within goes nowhere, though. I reviewed the film for Screen International.

'Little Boy' Review

The inspirational, faith-based World War II drama Little Boy opens later this month and will perhaps appeal to the same audience that turned out for Heaven Is For Real. It's about a young boy who believes that if he follows a local priest's instructions for being a good person, his beloved father will return home safely from the war. But can the boy show kindness to a Japanese-American man after the bombing of Pearl Harbor? Lots of teachable moments, lots of me checking my watch. I reviewed Little Boy for Screen International.

Friday, April 03, 2015

Thursday, April 02, 2015

A Report From 'The Music of David Lynch'

How do you articulate the experience of seeing artists as diverse as the Flaming Lips, Moby and Duran Duran pay tribute to the music and work of David Lynch? Last night at the Theater at Ace Hotel, an array of stars performed music from his movies, as well as songs he produced. (And, yes, Lynch was there, too, briefly.) For Rolling Stone, I tried my best to give a sense of what the sensuous, moving, hypnotic evening was like. I hope you enjoy.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

My Interview With Caitriona Balfe

One of the perks of my job is having the excuse to dive into different pieces of art I might not have had a chance to sample otherwise. I had quite loved the reboot of Battlestar Galactica -- the first few seasons, anyway -- and I was curious how Ronald D. Moore's new show, Outlander, was. Well, I got a chance to catch up on the series when Backstage asked me to interview its star, Caitriona Balfe.

Like Battlestar, Outlander is a genre show that transcends the potentially tacky elements of its genre, proving to be smarter, more moving and more intriguing than you might expect. So it was a pleasure to sit down with Balfe and talk about the show, her career, and what her life was like when she was a successful model desperately hoping to return to her real love: acting. You can read my interview here.

(Photo: Luc-Richard Elie for Backstage.)