Wednesday, September 30, 2015

My Interview With Ellen Page

I had a great time hanging out with Ellen Page to talk about her new movie, Freeheld, which opens Friday. She and I discussed her Canadian upbringing, why she prefers muted performances, and how life has been for her since she came out February of last year. Plus, we talk a little surfing. My cover story is live over at Backstage.

Giving the Greatest Directors a Filmmaking Challenge

For the latest Criticwire survey, Sam Adams asks what directors we'd love to see be forced to put aside their usual tricks when making their latest film. (Yes, the question is reminiscent of the great Five Obstructions.) I tweaked the question slightly for my response, writing about my fascination with filmmakers who go to foreign lands to tell their stories. You can read my answer (and everyone else's) here.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

'The Walk' Review

Man on Wire was the first time I ever got dizzy in a theater. Watching the Oscar-winning documentary in a screening room, I got panicky when they showed the actual photos from Philippe Petit's World Trade Center walk, viscerally imagining what would happen if he had fallen from such a great height. (Bear in mind that I knew for a fact that he hadn't fallen: Just the thought of it terrified me.) So I was curious how The Walk, a feature version of the incident, would play for me. The 3D IMAX is damn impressive. As for the rest of it...... well, my review is up at Deadspin.

'The Martian' Review

Matt Damon is not having a great couple weeks on the publicity tour for The Martian, but his performance is nonetheless pretty darn affecting. Like a mixture of All Is Lost and Apollo 13, this sci-fi survival drama is light on psychological depth, but it's one engrossing procedural as NASA tries to figure out how to bring a stranded astronaut home. My review is up at Paste.

Evaluating Trevor Noah After His First 'Daily Show'

Low expectations may have helped Trevor Noah, who took over for the beloved Jon Stewart as the new host of The Daily Show. A relative unknown, Noah came across as charming, self-effacing and funny, while leaving the show's familiar format basically unchanged. He wasn't swinging for the fences -- he just wanted to get the ball in play. He succeeded handily, as I explain in my Rolling Stone recap.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

'Quantico' Review

I understand that one shouldn't take a show like Quantico too seriously. Deeply soapy and filled with sexy, beautiful people, this ABC drama is meant to be guilty-pleasure eye candy. But does it have to be so dumb at the same time? My review is up at The Wrap.

Friday, September 25, 2015

On the Great 'Mississippi Grind'

I first saw Mississippi Grind back at Sundance, and today it opens in New York. (It's also available on DirecTV, and it'll be expanding across the country.) Though its outline is familiar -- two gamblers go on the road -- it find this movie awfully affecting. My review is up at Deadspin.

Let's Rank Robert De Niro's Comedies

Over at Vulture, Will and I took on the unenviable task of sifting through Robert De Niro's outright comedies. (In other words, we're not talking The King of Comedy or Silver Linings Playbook.) So, yeah, it's kinda depressing -- a lot of dreck there -- but we are brave, hearty souls, and so we dove in. Here's what we came up with.

Kendrick Lamar - "These Walls"

It's only late September, but if I had to make a prediction about the front-runner for Pazz & Jop, I'd have to go with Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly. (Of course, considering how poorly I did with my last Pazz & Jop forecast, maybe you should ignore me.)

"These Walls" hasn't been released yet as a single from the album, which surprises me. Smooth, melodic but no less lyrically complex than Pimp's other tracks, "These Walls" is a change-of-pace highlight of the disc, moving between sex and incarceration to examine different types of "walls."

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

'The Intern' Review

Robert De Niro is the best part of The Intern, which is a pretty charming, totally disposable comedy about aging, career ambition and Restoration Hardware production design. In fact, this might be my favorite of writer-director Nancy Meyers' films, which isn't saying much. I reviewed the movie for Deadspin.

'Limitless' Review

You (perhaps) enjoyed the 2011 Bradley Cooper thriller Limitless -- now here comes the CBS spin-off. Only the pilot was made available to me by the network, but I enjoyed what I saw. But if the series is going the direction I think it is, I'm a little less enthusiastic about its future prospects. My review is up at The Wrap.

Monday, September 21, 2015

'Minority Report' Review

Set about 10 years after Steven Spielberg's sci-fi/thriller, Fox's Minority Report series kicks off tonight. I've seen the pilot and ... well, I was underwhelmed. (And I do give the show extra points for casting Stark Sands, who's so good in Inside Llewyn Davis.) My review is up at The Wrap.

Toronto 2015: 'Anomalisa' Review

The best film I saw at this year's Toronto Film Festival was Anomalisa, a stop-motion animation written and co-directed by Charlie Kaufman. Here's what I said about it as I was walking out of the theater...

...and now here's my review at Paste.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Toronto 2015: The Rankings

"I heard Toronto wasn't that great this year."

A few people have said this to me since I got back to Los Angeles, and it's true: The good-to-respectable films outnumbered the stunners, although after reading a few other people's recaps of the festival, I'm reminded that it's always possible that I just didn't make my way to some of the gems. (I didn't have a chance to catch, for instance, new films from Hong Sang-soo, Chantal Akerman and Jafar Panahi.) So, as always, think of these rankings as a sketch written in pencil, not ink. Links lead to individuals reviews, and I've also included films I caught earlier at Sundance or Cannes that made their way to Toronto.

51. Demolition
50. Lolo 
49. Families
48. Where to Invade Next
47. Eye in the Sky 
46. Brooklyn
45. A Tale of Love and Darkness
44. I Smile Back
43. Our Brand Is Crisis 
42. Hyena Road
41. Sleeping Giant 
40. Five Nights in Maine
39. Freeheld 
38. About Ray
37. High-Rise
36. Keith Richards: Under the Influence
35. Green Room
34. Sicario
33. Office
32. Mustang
31. Homesick
30. Maggie's Plan 
29. Eva Doesn't Sleep
28. The Idol
27. Black Mass
26. The Family Fang 
25. Dheepan
24. Room
23. The Treasure
22. Mountains May Depart
21. Embrace of the Serpent
20. One Floor Below
19. Truth 
18. The Assassin 
17. The Danish Girl
16. Love
15. Our Little Sister
14. Youth
13. Un Plus Une
12. The Martian  
11. The Devil's Candy
10. In Jackson Heights
9. Mississippi Grind
8. Spotlight
7. 45 Years
6. Louder Than Bombs
5. The Witch
4. Son of Saul
3. Cemetery of Splendour
2. The Lobster
1. Anomalisa

Friday, September 18, 2015

Belle and Sebastian - "Song for Sunshine"

As is often the case when I get back from a festival, I dedicate my Friday Video this week to a song that's used rather well in one of the films. This nugget shows up in The Family Fang.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Toronto 2015: 'Keith Richards: Under the Influence' Review

Keith Richards has a solo album coming out Friday. As a tie-in, Netflix is releasing a documentary about the Rolling Stones legend that day as well. It's called Under the Influence, and it's directed by the man responsible for Twenty Feet From Stardom. What do I think of the movie? Well, it'll fit just fine on the small screen, put it that way. I reviewed Under the Influence for Screen International.

Toronto 2015: 'I Smile Back' Review

Sarah Silverman gets serious for the addiction drama I Smile Back, which debuted at Sundance in January. (It opens in October.) I caught up with the film in Toronto, and I can say with complete authority: I think it's only OK. Feel free to check out my Screen International review.

Toronto 2015: 'The Devil's Candy' Review

I wasn't a huge fan of The Loved Ones, a cult-classic horror movie from several years ago. (In fact, I saw it at my first Toronto Film Festival.) Now, writer-director Sean Byrne returns with The Devil's Candy, which I think is a major step up. More unsettling, more emotional, it's a kick. I reviewed the film for Screen International.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Toronto 2015: 'Hyena Road' Review

Hyena Road looks at the war in Afghanistan from a perspective we really see: the vantage point of the Canadian army. Writer-director-star Paul Gross has made an earnest, emotional war film -- but it's awfully pedestrian, too. My review is up at Screen International.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Toronto 2015: 'The Danish Girl' Review

The Danish Girl seems a lock for a decent amount of Oscar nominations. But is it actually any good? For Biography, I reviewed the Eddie Redmayne-Alicia Vikander drama.

Toronto 2015: 'The Family Fang' Review

No fan of Bad Words, Jason Bateman's first film as a director, I was a little worried going into The Family Fang. There was no reason: This is a much better movie, a smart drama about adult children (Bateman and Nicole Kidman) who cope with the (possible) death of their missing parents. I reviewed the film for Screen International.

Toronto 2015: 'Families' Review

Director Jean-Paul Rappeneau's Families wants to be a page-turner, telling the story of a rich French family filled with secrets and and lies and scandals. But this comedy-drama never gets out of the starting blocks, if I may mix my metaphors. I reviewed the film for Screen International.

Toronto 2015: '45 Years' Review

The much-heralded 45 Years made its way to Toronto, where I got to see it early in the festival. I like this marital drama, starring Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay, quite a bit. And yet, I have the mildest of reservations that keep me from outright loving this movie about a long-term relationship that suddenly finds itself at an impasse. I reviewed 45 Years for Paste.

Toronto 2015: 'Room' Review

Brie Larson gives one of her best performances in Room, based on the acclaimed novel about a young mother and her son being held captive in a tiny shed in a sicko's backyard in Ohio. I wasn't blown away by the film, but it's a nicely done little drama with plenty of gentle ironies along the way. My review is up at Screen International.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Toronto 2015: 'Five Nights in Maine' Review

In Five Nights in Maine, David Oyelowo and Dianne Wiest star as people brought together by shared grief. (His wife died. It was her daughter.) This is a spare, intimate drama that eschews a lot of the histrionics you normally see in such a film, but it nonetheless left me wanting more. I reviewed Five Nights in Maine for Screen International.

Toronto 2015: 'About Ray' Review

Man, I really wanted to like About Ray. A comedy-drama about a teenager transitioning from female to male, the movie stars Elle Fanning, Naomi Watts and Susan Sarandon. But a worthy topic becomes fodder for soap-opera silliness. I reviewed the film for Screen International.

Toronto 2015: 'Eva Doesn't Sleep' Review

After Eva Peron died, her body went missing for a time. That factiod is the catalyst for Eva Doesn't Sleep, a dreamlike drama about national identity and revolution. I fell under its spell. My review is up at Screen International.

Toronto 2015: 'Maggie's Plan' Review

Rebecca Miller is known for her dramas, but with Maggie's Plan, she enters the comedic terrain of Noah Baumbach. The movie, which stars Greta Gerwig, Ethan Hawke and Julianne Moore, starts slow but gets funnier and wiser as it goes along. My review is up at Screen International.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Toronto 2015: 'The Idol' Review

Director Hany Abu-Assad has made a film about Mohammad Assaf, a Palestinian who won Arab Idol in 2013. It was a huge story in the Middle East, and now the filmmaker behind Omar and Paradise Now has brought it to the big screen. It's a feel-good tale with actual grit and sadness underneath. I reviewed The Idol for Screen International.

Toronto 2015: 'Un Plus Une' Review

He's a famed composer who has trouble settling down. She's the wife of an ambassador. In Un Plus Une, these two disparate people will fall into an intimate friendship after meeting in India. But can it be love? I was smitten by this film, which I reviewed for Screen International.

Toronto 2015: 'Our Brand Is Crisis' Review

Based on the documentary of the same name, the heavily fictionalized Our Brand Is Crisis stars Sandra Bullock as a disgraced political strategist called in to help with a presidential election in Bolivia. Neither satirical nor probing enough, this political comedy-drama just kinda sits there in the middle of the road. My review is up at Screen International.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Toronto 2015: 'Eye in the Sky' Review

I think most intelligent people agree that the use of drones is, well, problematic and morally complicated. So a film like Eye in the Sky is welcome, painting a scenario in which U.S. and U.K. forces work together to take out a terrorist cell in Africa. But what happens when an innocent little girl could be killed if the drones blow up the targeted house? That's the dilemma that director Gavin Hood plays out with maximum manipulation. I reviewed the film for Screen International.

U2 - "Song for Someone"

It's been almost a year now since I woke up one morning during the Toronto Film Festival and discovered that U2 had put a new album in my iTunes. That album, Songs of Innocence, is easily the group's most derided, in large part because a whole lot of people were annoyed at the stunt. Giving the record a few spins, I wasn't enormously impressed -- it felt oddly dull and flavorless, especially considering that the group had worked on it for years.

But the album's latest single, "Song for Someone," has started to catch me off guard as it's begun to show up on radio stations. No revelation, the track is still rather lovely in that late-period U2 kind of way. At some point, I may have to finally give Songs of Innocence another shot.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Toronto 2015: 'Demolition' Review

Demolition kicked off this year's Toronto Film Festival, and hope everybody at the festival kicks it right back. While not terrible, the movie is a deeply precious look at a man (Jake Gyllenhaal) who's lost his wife -- and goes about grieving in very odd ways. Demolition doesn't work, as I explain over at Screen International.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Toronto 2015: The Preview

Over at Deadspin, I did my annual rundown of 10 movies I'm excited to see at the Toronto Film Festival. You may notice I didn't include Black Mass, which I'm having a hard time generating any enthusiasm for. You can read the full list here.

Stephen Colbert's First Night on 'Late Show'

For Rolling Stone, I wrote about the debut episode of Late Show With Stephen Colbert. I haven't talked to too many others who watched the show -- I've been traveling all day -- but I sure laughed a lot. Here's my recap.

Friday, September 04, 2015

Jamie xx - "Gosh"

Jamie xx's In Colour is the album I've probably been most dazzled by so far this year. This is its otherworldly opening track.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

'The Transporter Refueled' Review

The Transporter! He's back! Did you miss him? Probably not! The first new film in the franchise in seven years -- and the first not to feature Jason Statham -- The Transporter Refueled is incredibly average. It's "exciting" without being very exciting, and "sleek" without being particularly sleek. My review is up at Screen International.

Venice 2015: 'Spotlight' Review

Spotlight is the best film director Tom McCarthy has made since The Station Agent. (This is not as high praise as it should be considering a few clunkers he's made in the interim.) It tells the true story of the Boston Globe reporters who investigated cover-ups in the Catholic Church in the early 2000s. Smart ensemble, brisk pacing, intelligently made: Spotlight might not be scintillating, but it's a job well done. I reviewed the film for Screen International.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Venice 2015: 'Lolo' Review

In Lolo, Julie Delpy (who also directed and co-wrote the screenplay) plays a woman who falls in love with a new guy (Dany Boon), much to the chagrin of her possessive teenage son (Vincent Lacoste). If that setup reminds you of the underrated Duplass brothers film Cyrus, well, I wish it was as good. I reviewed this disappointment for Screen International.

Summer Movie Season 2015: The Best and the Worst

Summer movie season is over, but before we close the book on the last several months, Will Leitch and I take one last look back at the best and worst of what we saw. You can read all about it over at Deadspin.

Venice 2015: 'Everest' Review

This year's Venice Film Festival kicked off with Everest, based on the true story of a group of mountain climbers who met with disaster in 1996 on the titular mountain, leading to several deaths. The biggest obstacle a movie like this faces is convincing me that the people who go on such extreme adventures are not, in fact, totally crazy. Everest fails in this regard, and a few others. My review is up at Screen International.