Friday, May 29, 2015

'The Nightmare' Review

The Nightmare, the new film from Room 237 director Rodney Ascher, opens next Friday in select cities. It's a smart, fascinating documentary about people who suffer from sleep paralysis, a condition that just sounds horrible. I saw The Nightmare at Sundance, liked it quite a lot, and now I'm reviewing it for Paste. Read on.

On the Great Don Hertzfeldt and 'World of Tomorrow'

Over at Movie Mezzanine, I had a conversation with fellow film critic Alissa Wilkinson about Don Hertzfeldt, one of our best filmmakers. That he's an animator who mostly producers shorts shouldn't disqualify him. In our back-and-forth exchange, we discuss his amazing new short World of Tomorrow and why great movies can sometimes come in small packages. You can read the whole thing here.

Panda Bear - "Boys Latin"

I could take or leave Panda Bear, both as a solo artist and as part of Animal Collective. But his collaboration with Daft Punk, "Doin' It Right," off Random Access Memories softened me on the guy a bit, and for the last several months I've been enthralled by "Boys Latin" off his latest solo record, Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper. "Boys Latin" transcends concrete meaning and does what his best music always does, which is to deliver pure emotion. Just don't ask me to explain the video. 

Thursday, May 28, 2015

'Aloha' Review

Aloha has been living under a cloud for months after reports leaked in December that Sony deemed the latest from writer-director Cameron Crowe a disaster. So, how bad is the film? The first half ain't too shabby -- but then it just implodes in the worst ways imaginable. I reviewed Aloha for Deadspin.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Cannes 2015: The Wrap-Up and the Rankings

My second Cannes Film Festival is in the books. I'm still trying to absorb the last two weeks, so even attempting a ranking at this point is probably foolhardy. But I find the exercise useful to help me focus my thoughts around where certain films landed in relation to others. From worst to best, here's what I saw, including movies I caught before the festival (links lead to individual reviews)....

34. The Sea of Trees
33. A Tale of Love and Darkness
32. Standing Tall
31. Sleeping Giant
30. Macbeth
29. Alias Maria 
28. Green Room
27. Lamb
26. The Little Prince
25. Sicario 
24. Irrational Man
23. Mustang
22. Dheepan
21. Mon Roi
20. The Treasure
19. Mountains May Depart 
18. Embrace of the Serpent
17. One Floor Below
16. The Assassin 
15. Krisha
14. Love
13. Our Little Sister
12. Youth
11. Tale of Tales
10. Dope
9. Mad Max: Fury Road
8. Chronic
7. The Measure of a Man
6. Inside Out
5. Louder Than Bombs
4. Carol
3. Son of Saul
2. Cemetery of Splendor
1. The Lobster

Will these rankings shift over time? Almost certainly. Keep an eye out for No. 16, The Assassin, which may grow in stature with multiple viewings. Also, I'm curious about No. 5, Louder Than Bombs, which I fear may be less impressive the next time I see it. But for today, this is the list.

A few words about The Lobster. Several colleagues have complained that they think the movie runs out of gas halfway through, when a major venue change occurs. I actually think the film gets even better then. Not since, I dunno, Safe has a filmmaker so radically shifted gears in the second half of his film in order to offer a counterpoint to his own argument. (Plus, both films are starkly clinical, although The Lobster is a lot funnier.) I don't buy the betting odds that it will win the Palme d'Or -- I think Carol is still the best bet -- but The Lobster was a standout, even if it's going to prove more divisive than Yorgos Lanthimos' breakout film, Dogtooth.

What else is there to say? Well, I'm sorry I didn't have time for Amy, In the Shadow of Women, Arabian Nights, The Brand New Testament, My Golden Days and others. I hope Vincent Lindon wins Best Actor from the festival for his performance in The Measure of a Man (No. 7 on my list). And I think that if, as several have said, this was a down year at Cannes, well, there were still plenty of pleasures to be found.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Cannes 2015: 'The Assassin' Review

Count me among those who deeply admire Hou Hsiao-Hsien's The Assassin but don't quite love it. Easily the most ravishingly adored critical favorite at this year's Cannes, this meditative martial-arts film could very easily walk off with the Palme d'Or. I reviewed the film for Paste.

Cannes 2015: 'Love' Review

If you only see one pornographic 3D movie this year....

Gaspar Noe, the man behind Irreversible and Enter the Void, is back with Love, which is an audacious, self-indulgent movie about a romantic relationship that falls apart. It's a mess -- but, you know, a really great mess. I reviewed Love for Paste.

Cannes 2015: 'The Little Prince' Review

Not having grown up in love with The Little Prince, I went into this new film version of the Antoine de Saint-Exupéry book as merely an interested outsider. Fans should know that director Mark Osborne uses the source material as a jumping-off point for a new story, although the original tale is told in pretty lively stop-motion animation. I found the whole film charming, if a little slight. My review is up at Screen International.

Cannes 2015: 'Chronic' Review

The second-to-last film to screen in Competition -- Macbeth is tomorrow -- Chronic stars Tim Roth as a nurse who cares for the gravely ill in Los Angeles. But is he too close to his patients for his (and their) own good? Filmmaker Michel Franco, making his English-language debut, works in an austere style that, mostly, succeeds. And Roth is quite good. I reviewed Chronic for Screen International.

Cannes 2015: 'Mustang' Review

Mustang is a Turkish film about five sisters who live under the thumb of their conservative uncle. Deciding that they need to be supervised more closely now that they're into puberty, the uncle essentially locks them up in the house over the summer, hoping that will keep them away from boys. But the sisters may have something to say about that. I reviewed the comedy-drama, which will be opening in the U.S. early next year, for Screen International.

Death Cab For Cutie - "Black Sun"

Part of me is sorta sheepish admitting that I still enjoy Death Cab for Cutie. They haven't made anything as good as Transatlanticism since, but each subsequent album has been good for a cut or two. Still, there's something hopelessly sensitive-white-guy dad-rock about them that makes me hate myself. But, hey, "Black Sun" is a damn fine song, even though it's entirely sensitive-white-guy dad-rock.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Cannes 2015: 'Inside Out' Review

Whoever said Cannes only plays movies about the Holocaust and repressed 1950s lesbian lovers? This year, the festival also showed Inside Out, the latest from Pixar. It's darn good -- my only lament is that it's not even better. My review is up at Paste. (The film opens June 19.)

Kevin Spacey, Before He Was Kevin Spacey

Glengarry Glen Ross is the Movie of the Week over at The Dissolve. Today, I look into Kevin Spacey's crucial performance in that film. Remember, this was back in 1992, before most people knew who he was. That makes a difference. I explain why right here.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Cannes 2015: 'Sicario' Review

Is Sicario the most divisive film in the Competition? Sure looks like it. Some see a work of polished commercial filmmaking genius. I see a taut thriller with delusions of grandeur. Still, really impressive on the technical side. I reviewed this war-on-drugs drama for Paste.

Cannes 2015: 'Youth' Review

Youth is the follow-up film from director Paolo Sorrentino, whose previous effort, The Great Beauty, won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. His new movie is in English, and stars Michael Caine as a retired composer taking a vacation in the Alps. Joined in the cast by Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz and Paul Dano, Caine does some fine work, and Sorrentino plies us with his usual amounts of sumptuous visuals. The film may recycle plenty of old tropes -- mortality, art, love -- but it goes down nice and smooth. I reviewed Youth for Paste.

Cannes 2015: 'Mountains May Depart' Review

The latest from Chinese director Jia Zhangke (The World, Still Life) expands on his favorite theme: the way life keeps on changing and time just keeps on rolling by. Mountains May Depart tells a love story over three eras, ending in Australia in 2025. It's a solid drama that just misses greatness. I explain why over at Paste.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Cannes 2015: 'Cemetery of Splendor' Review

For a certain kind of filmgoer, director Apichatpong Weerasethakul is the man. Elliptical, mysterious, poetic, astonishing, his movies (like Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives) are a kind of religious experience. No director I can name crafts films that feel so restorative, so contemplative, so oddly life-affirming. His latest, Cemetery of Splendor, just premiered at Cannes. I'm still sussing some of it out, but the movie knocked me for a loop. My review is up at Paste.

Cannes 2015: 'Alias Maria' Review

Alias María takes us to the jungles of Colombia for the story a 13-year-old soldier who must hide her pregnancy from her tyrannical commanders. Director José Luis Rugeles Gracia's social drama works better as a condemnation of a culture and an ongoing war -- it's less stirring as a piece of taut storytelling. Still, it's hard to shake these characters' desperate circumstances. My review is up at Screen International.

Cannes 2015: 'The Measure of a Man' Review

It may not be one of the very best films at this year's Cannes, but The Measure of a Man is a movie that's stayed with me, which sometimes at a festival is higher praise. It stars Vincent Lindon as a 50-something man who's been unemployed for about two years, desperate to find work to support his family. This French drama studies how that quest weighs heavy on the character -- the movie is a small little gem of a character study. I reviewed The Measure of a Man for Paste.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Cannes 2015: 'Louder Than Bombs' Review

As a fan of director Joachim Trier's first two films (Reprise and Oslo, August 31st), I was curious how his English-language debut would be. Well, breathe a sigh of relief: Louder Than Bombs brings brains, heart and real feeling to the usually predictable and sappy family melodrama. It's about two sons (Jesse Eisenberg and Devin Druid) and their father (Gabriel Byrne) reuniting on the occasion of a retrospective devoted to the family matriarch, a war photographer (Isabelle Huppert). I reviewed the film for Paste.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Cannes 2015: 'Mon Roi' Review

Most everyone has been in a relationship with someone where you weren't sure if being together or being apart was tougher -- or maybe you know a couple like that. (Saturday Night Live years ago had that achingly dead-on skit "The Couple That Should Be Divorced" that addressed this romantic dilemma.) The French drama Mon Roi takes this experience as its theme, tracing the off-again/on-again relationship between a hopeless cad (Vincent Cassel) and the bright woman (Emmanuelle Bercot) who can't see that he's bad news. Audiences may get exasperated with this couple, but that's sort of the point. I reviewed Mon Roi for Paste.

Cannes 2015: 'The Lobster' Review

One of the most divisive films in the Competition may also be my favorite. Director Yorgos Lanthimos burst onto the scene a few years ago with the dark Dogtooth, and his latest is no less of a jet-black satire. It's called The Lobster, and it concerns a near future in which all single people must find a mate within 45 days or be turned into animals. And did I mention how funny it is? My review is up at Paste.

'Tomorrowland' Review

I wish I could love Tomorrowland. Its first half is often thrilling, and director Brad Bird fully invests in the film's utopian, gee-whiz outlook, even finding a way to make Disney product placement hip and almost downright inspiring. And yet, the second half stumbles badly -- so badly, in fact, that I almost started getting angry about it. My Screen International review is the classic "mixed review." Ultimately, I'd still recommend the film but, oh boy, make sure you go in with your expectations lowered. Here's my review.

Cannes 2015: 'Green Room' Review

Two years ago, filmmaker Jeremy Saulnier brought a little movie called Blue Ruin to Directors' Fortnight at Cannes. It was a hit, soon making its way to U.S. theaters. Now, Saulnier returns to the section with Green Room, which pits a punk band against a scary group of skinheads (including one played by Patrick Stewart). Not nearly as nuanced as Blue Ruin, Green Room is straight-up B-movie pulp. It's pretty well done, as I explain in my Screen International review.

Cannes 2015: 'Irrational Man' Review

It's always been a dream of mine to see a Woody Allen movie at the Cannes Film Festival. Well, cross that dream off the list: I caught Irrational Man yesterday. It's not one of his strongest, but it's smart and intriguing, and after a slow start it gains momentum. I hope he and Joaquin Phoenix hook up again soon. My review of Irrational Man is up at Paste.

Cannes 2015: 'The Sea of Trees' Review

I wasn't there for the world premiere of The Sea of Trees, but by the time I attended the second screening (just a couple hours later), I'd heard about all the boos that had rained down. Is Gus Van Sant's latest that bad? No, not at all. Is it any good? No. This tale of two men (Matthew McConaughey and Ken Watanabe) wandering through Japan's "suicide forest" turns out to be sappy in all the wrong ways. My review is up at Paste.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Cannes 2015: 'Carol' Review

The most anticipated film at this year's Cannes was probably Carol, the new movie from director Todd Haynes (Safe, Far From Heaven). Does it live up to expectations? Almost, which is not to say it isn't a real beauty. Cate Blanchett is especially terrific as the titular housewife engaged in a secret love affair with a much younger woman (Rooney Mara). My review is up at Screen International.

Cannes 2015: 'Son of Saul' Review

The most acclaimed movie so far in this year's Competition at Cannes is this startling first-time film from a Hungarian director. It's about the Holocaust but, seriously, it's not like any other Holocaust movie you can think of -- which is a huge accomplishment. It's called Son of Saul, and I think it's well on its way to getting one of the major prizes here. Still, I have a few small reservations, which I get into in my glowing review for Paste.

Cannes 2015: 'Embrace of the Serpent' Review

Ride the snake...
Ride the snake...

Embrace of the Serpent starts off as a fairly conventional going-down-the-Amazon travelogue. But then, the magic kicks in. This Colombian film, screening here in Directors' Fortnight, will probably not make a dime in U.S. theaters, but it's engagingly weird and delightfully trippy. My review is up at Screen International.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Cannes 2015: 'One Floor Below' Review

Romanian filmmaker Radu Muntean last made the quite-fine Tuesday, After Christmas. He's back with One Floor Below, which is about a possible murder, the bystander who may have overheard it, and the strange reasons why he doesn't report it. This isn't one of the best of the recent crop of great Romanian films, but there's still plenty to chew on. I reviewed the movie for Paste.

Cannes 2015: 'Standing Tall' Review

This year's Cannes opener, Standing Tall, elicited such responses from journalists as "Well, at least it's not as bad as Grace of Monaco from last year." This French social drama is perfectly adequate as a portrait of the country's juvenile-delinquent system. But it doesn't hold up well to scrutiny. I reviewed the film for Paste.

Cannes 2015: 'A Tale of Love and Darkness' Review

Natalie Portman, Oscar-winner and vicious rapper, has just finished her feature directorial debut. It's A Tale of Love and Darkness, based on Amos Oz's memoir. Lovely, sensitive, thoughtful, the movie isn't as good as it could be. Alas, this Tale proves to be too tasteful, too reserved, for its own good. I reviewed the film for Screen International.

Big Sean, Jay-Z and Kanye West - "Clique"

"Clique," one of Kanye's best collaborations, has been in my head a bunch lately. When he's in Vegas, they scream like he's Elvis.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Cannes 2015: 'Sleeping Giant' Review

A perfectly fine coming-of-age tale never escapes conventionality in Sleeping Giant, the first feature from Canadian director Andrew Cividino. The movie is about three teen boys who hang out over one lazy summer. But there's darkness coming just down the road -- too bad it plays out in rather predictable fashion. My review of Sleeping Giant is live over at Screen International.

Goodbye to Letterman: Dave's Realest Moments

Late Night and Late Show were impossibly funny shows, but sometimes it was hard to be funny when real life got in the way for Dave. The final of my Rolling Stone pieces commemorating Letterman's retirement focuses on 10 of the most serious moments on the show. I'm rather proud of this one; several of these episodes have stayed with me -- shaped me, even. Hope you enjoy.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Cannes 2015: 'Tale of Tales' Review

Truth be told, I've never loved the films of director Matteo Garrone (Gomarrah, Reality) as much as my colleagues have. But I'm rather taken by Tale of Tales, which came into Cannes with plenty of buzz. I was suspicious -- a movie that combines three different 17th-century Italian fairytales? -- but I think it's his strongest recent work. (And trust me: You probably don't want to know what Salma Hayek is eating in that photo.) I dive into this uneven, unpredictable, fairly magical movie for Paste.

Cannes 2015: 'Our Little Sister' Review

I recognize that director Hirokazu Kore-eda's films (Like Father, Like Son) are too slight for others. But I continue to find them quite touching. The same goes for his latest, Our Little Sister, which is part of the Cannes competition this year. I reviewed the film, which is about three close-knit sisters who realize they have a younger half-sister when they go to their distant father's funeral, for Paste.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Cannes 2015: 10 Must-Sees

I'm going to see a ton of stuff here at the Cannes Film Festival, but which 10 movies am I most excited to check out? For Deadspin, I put together a list, leaving off movies like Irrational Man and Inside Out, which we already know will be coming out in the U.S. this summer. By the end of the year, maybe a few of these titles will be popping up on best-of-2015 lists. Dive in.

Looking Back at Good (and Bad) Series Finales

Over at Rolling Stone, I helped contribute to a piece that memorialized the best (and the worst) series finales in television history. I wrote about Seinfeld, Breaking Bad and The Colbert Report, and you can see the whole piece here.

Cannes 2015: 'Krisha' Review

Krisha was a big hit at SXSW, winning the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award. Now, it comes to Cannes. On the eve of the festival, I reviewed this intimate, dark family story about a black-sheep alcoholic who discovers that her loved ones aren't necessarily happy to see her for the holidays. My piece is up at Screen International.

Monday, May 11, 2015

'Mad Max: Fury Road' Review

Mad Max: Fury Road plans Cannes on Thursday, and it opens in the U.S. on Friday. For Screen International, I dove into this hyper-violent, unrelenting, rather thrilling action movie. (Warning, though: You, like me, may find it a tad exhausting after a while.) Here's my review.

My New Title at Screen International

I've been writing for Screen International since 2005. (My first review: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.) It's been an honor and a blast writing for the London trade publication, and today I've got some happy news to share: I've been named their Senior U.S. Critic. I love working with these people, and I'm looking forward to doing so in the future. When Roger Ebert used to go to the Cannes Film Festival, he would start every morning by reading Screen International. What a thrill it is for me to be associated with such a venerable institution.

What does this mean for my other outlets? Not a thing: I'll continue to write and review for Deadspin, Paste, Rolling Stone, The Dissolve, you name it. But for now, I'm excited to be heading to Cannes. And I'm grateful to work with the great folks at Screen.

Friday, May 08, 2015

Goodbye to Letterman: His Best Guests

Both on Late Night and Late Show, David Letterman has cultivated a crop of reliable, go-to guests. For Rolling Stone, I wrote about 10 of them, and what each brought to Dave's show. (Of course, Amy Sedaris made the cut.) Hope you enjoy.

Tame Impala - "Cause I'm a Man"

Lonerism, Tame Impala's last record, is the sort that I can dig for about three or four songs at a time. If I try to listen to it from top to bottom, though, I start to get woozy from its sameness: Kevin Parker's retro-psychedelia can be a bit much after a while. That said, I'm deeply enjoying "Cause I'm a Man" off the forthcoming Currents. Easy-listening done right, it floats through the air, high as a kite and feelin' fine.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Goodbye to Letterman: His Toughest Interviews

For Rolling Stone, I went back and looked at 10 of David Letterman's most infamous interviews. But the thing I found really intriguing was that, in retrospect, several of these were far more engaging and revealing than I remembered. (And, in the case of Cher's so-called "asshole" appearance, it wasn't much of a train wreck at all.) Let's dive in.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

'Maggie' Review

The best Arnold Schwarzenegger movie in many a moon is a zombie drama that doubles as a disease-of-the-week flick -- not to mention a father-daughter character study. It's Maggie, a low-budget indie that I hope doesn't sink like a stone. I make the case for this affecting film over at Deadspin.

Goodbye to Letterman: His Best Supporting Characters

For Rolling Stone, I wrote several pieces about the most important minutiae in the David Letterman universe. The first of these is live now: It's about the sidekicks who helped shape Late Night and Late Show. I imagine my pick for his greatest supporting player will annoy some -- the guy gets under lots of people's skin -- but, sorry, I'm right. Hope you enjoy.

'Late Show' Recap: Say Hi to Reese Witherspoon

Last night on Late Show, Reese Witherspoon was there to promote her lame comedy Hot Pursuit. But the real star was David Letterman, who reminded us in quiet ways just why we're gonna miss him so damn much. My final Late Show recap for Rolling Stone can be read right here.

My Interview With Queen Latifah

She's won a Grammy, she's been nominated for an Oscar, she's hosted talk shows and award shows. She's Queen Latifah, and on May 16 she'll be starring in the Bessie Smith biopic Bessie on HBO. For Backstage, I chatted with the multi-threat talent, discussing fear, hip-hop and the rewards of being a Renaissance woman. I hope you enjoy.

Debating 'Avengers: Age of Ultron'

This weekend, I went on Mousterpiece Cinema to speak with Josh Spiegel and Gabe Bucsko about Avengers: Age of Ultron. And, boy, did we talk: We chatted for 90 minutes about the film, the franchise, Joss Whedon, Marvel, feminism, comic-book movies, and why Ant-Man could be the studio's Cars 2. (I think I scared Josh with that last point.) You can hear the whole thing here.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

'Hot Pursuit' Review

Egads, is Hot Pursuit terrible. Well, it's not really terrible -- it's just undistinguished in a completely annoying way. The film, which stars Reese Witherspoon and Sofía Vergara, is only 87 minutes long. But you feel those minutes. My review is up at Screen International.

'Late Show' Recap: Dave and Barack

Last night, President Obama made his eighth appearance on Late Show With David Letterman. It will be his last, and the president made it a worthwhile visit. As a vocal fan of both men, I was happy to see how well it went -- and it made me think about how different the two are. I wrote about the episode for Rolling Stone.

Monday, May 04, 2015

'Late Show' Recap: David Letterman Says Goodbye to Steve Martin

Rolling Stone is recapping every Late Show With David Letterman until the finale on May 20. The usual writer is off for a few days, so I'll be filling in. Here's my take on Friday's episode, which featured Steve Martin, "Will the Circle Be Unbroken?" and an encore presentation of a classic Steve & Dave bit. Why wasn't the night more fun than it was? Here's my take.

Friday, May 01, 2015

Warren Zevon - "Hit Somebody! (The Hockey Song)"

Lots of reasons this song has been on my mind lately. The hockey playoffs are going on right now. David Letterman, who will be ending his show May 20, guest stars on the track. (And Paul Shaffer plays organ.) And the album that houses this song, My Ride's Here, dropped this month 13 years ago. Letterman and Warren Zevon were old pals, and as Late Show winds to a close, there have been reminders of their friendship on the show. (Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires played Zevon's "Mutineer" the other night.)

"Hit Somebody! (The Hockey Song)" was co-written by Zevon and longtime sportswriter (and Tuesdays With Morrie author) Mitch Albom, and it tells the story of a hockey goon with aspirations to be a scorer. It's a silly, endearing little tale, mostly for Letterman's yelled chorus hook. I hope it never gets made into a Kevin Smith movie.