Saturday, December 31, 2016

Best of 2016: The Top 10 Movies of the Year

I was going to open this year-end overview by writing, "2016 started out so promisingly," but then I actually thought back to the early months of this year. My grandmother died, I was convinced my wife and I had made a terrible mistake with the purchase of our condo ... there were plenty of things to lament then, too. My point isn't to make 2016 sound like a ceaseless wave of sadness but, rather, to suggest that sometimes we have to choose to find a little light amidst the gloom.

So let's try this: 2016 was a fantastic year for movies, a suspicion that started back at Sundance but was cemented by trips to True/False and especially Cannes. Here's my Top 10....

1. Moonlight 
2. American Honey 
3. The Other Side
4. O.J.: Made in America 
5. Paterson 
6. Certain Women 
7. The Lobster 
8. Notfilm 
9. La La Land 
10. Everybody Wants Some!!

After a couple years of being out of the critical consensus, I found myself pretty aligned with my colleagues in 2016. I go into my choices in some detail over here at The New Republic, and you can check out my Village Voice ballot right here. (An even-more-detailed ballot can be found over at the IndieWire site.) The two selections in my Top 10 that are probably the least familiar to readers, The Other Side and Notfilm, were among the year's finest documentaries, and both are available on home video -- or soon will be. (The Other Side is up at iTunes and Amazon. Notfilm hits DVD in March.)

Professionally, 2016 had plenty of highlights. In April, I flew to Las Vegas for Rolling Stone to review the first official date of Guns N' Roses' "reunion" tour. (That sentence is something 16-year-old me would have never believed he would be able to say.) In June, I spoke with former Esquire art director George Lois in the wake of Muhammad Ali's death to talk about the iconic cover they made together in 1968. Lois was still reeling from his friend's passing, but he was incredibly gracious with his time: The resulting piece is one of my favorites I've written for Rolling Stone. I am grateful to write for a publication I adored as a kid, and I'm thankful to have a great editor in David Fear, who asked if I'd be interested in interviewing Alden Ehrenreich after his delightful turn in Hail, Caesar! I was, and wrote this piece, which is a lot funnier now that he's been cast as the young Han Solo. For David, I got to profile everyone from Elizabeth Wood to Andrea Arnold to Julie Dash, and he also let me write about Stephen Colbert's disappointing performance during the Republican and Democratic national conventions -- a piece that, in retrospect, was my way of letting go of my hope that his Late Show was ever going to pull out of the nosedive of mediocrity that seems to be its fate.

I wrote a ton of reviews, for Screen International, The New Republic, Paste and Popular Mechanics, which allows me a consistent opportunity to interact with film culture in a way I prefer. (As much as I enjoy tweeting reactions after screenings during a festival, the process of sitting down and composing something still feels more nourishing.) And the opportunity to go back and reconsider movies between a festival viewing and a theatrical release has been illuminating. More times than not, my initial impression remains, but the nuance of my understanding of the film deepens.

Then, there are the happy accidents that come your way because of an assignment. I'd been a fan of Emayatzy Corinealdi ever since seeing her in Middle of Nowhere. But hanging out with her the day before the Oscars for Backstage was an absolute treat. She couldn't have been lovelier. I've mentioned this before, but I relish my experiences interviewing actors for Backstage: They are open and honest in a way that's refreshing. It's partly because of the publication, I imagine, but I'd also like to think that they feel that they're in good hands with me -- that trust means a lot. Corinealdi saying grace before our meal, or Michiel Huisman taking a break to really enjoy the opening cut off Stevie Wonder's Innervisions while it was playing in the room, or Emma Stone sharing her secrets about dealing with voice issues (it didn't make the final piece), or Derek Hough talking about being lucky ... each of those moments felt unrehearsed, and I was thrilled to have been present when they occurred. (My Backstage year culminated with a chat with Lily Tomlin. More about that in 2017.)

The public unveiling of MEL was one of my proudest 2016 moments. There's a part of me that's drawn to building something from scratch, and I couldn't be happier to work with a bunch of smart writers and editors in Venice, who have become a new little family in my life. For MEL, I got to make the case for Steven Soderbergh's The Girlfriend Experience as the great movie about the 2008 economic collapse. I also bid farewell to Prince and Leonard Cohen, and I was able to revisit my 2009 EMP Pop Conference paper on George Michael's "Father Figure," having no idea that Michael would die 10 months later. And I was also given the freedom to interview documentary filmmakers whose work spoke to me, whether that be Brett Story and the remarkable The Prison in Twelve Landscapes (No. 17 on my 2016 list) or the directors behind last year's Welcome to Leith. In between, I also chatted with Max Linsky, who hosted the I'm With Her podcast alongside Hillary Clinton. A lot of my writing for MEL in 2016 reflected the rolling anxieties of a presidential election year. I suspect MEL will spend a lot of 2017 reacting to that election's aftermath, and I'm excited to see what the staff will come up with.

Other happy memories? I love my annual tradition of covering the Sci-Tech Awards, and going backstage during Oscar prep week was very entertaining. I wrote both of those pieces for Popular Mechanics, but my big feature for the magazine is my yearly salute to the best movie effects. Talking to Arrival production designer Patrice Vermette about our shared love of James Turrell was one of my most geeked-out conversations in 2016. (Seriously, Turrell's LACMA exhibition from a few years ago was amazing. Just ask me or Patrice, who took plenty of inspiration from it for Arrival, which ended up No. 19 on my year-end list.)

I continued to review television for The Wrap, which allowed me the opportunity to experience gems like the small-screen redo of The Girlfriend Experience, as well as Atlanta, Better Things and The Night Of.

As always, my hat's off to the great crew at Paste, who give me ample room to write about Sundance, Cannes, Toronto and True/False. I was very happy to write the site's essay on its Film Person of the Year, the magnificent Isabelle Huppert. (Elle ended up No. 13 on my list. Things to Come was No. 16.)

And then there's my old friend Will Leitch. This was our first full year at The New Republic, and it was a blast. The weekly podcast is a regular treat in my life, and I'm eternally grateful to my editor, Michelle Legro, for letting me write about The Killing of America, a movie I found arresting and deeply upsetting when I saw it at True/False. Will and I have cultivated a readership over the years, and I never take that for granted. And what fun it was to watch a movie with Will for the first time in forever, even if we totally disagreed about the movie. Eagle-eyed readers will know I'm referring to Rogue One, which, well, you can hear about that here.

I am not going to convince you that 2016 wasn't a terrible year. It was. For me, personally and globally, it was the worst since 2001. I feel very concerned that 2017 could be worse. But I refuse to assume that. I'm just more convinced that we have a responsibility to take care of one another -- because I'm not sure anybody else will.

The morning after the election, I wrote an email to my parents. Here's the part of it I feel like sharing:
Needless to say, I am heartbroken. I'm also angry and stunned and ashamed. I feel like I have tried to live a life in which I conduct myself as a good person -- the kind of person you raised. The man the country just elected represents everything that is counter to how I was raised and the values that I was given. I can't help but take last night's results incredibly personally -- it feels like an affront to everything that matters to me about basic human decency. 
I'm scared about what's ahead for America and the world. But I'm not going to give up on the idea of basic human decency still mattering. One of the reasons why I love Obama was because he was a role model for the values that mean so much to me. Those values are worth fighting for. Which is why I'm ending this wrap-up on the film that kept speaking to me most this year.

At True/False, which takes place in Columbia, Missouri, a last-minute premiere was announced of a documentary short made by a trio of University of Missouri students. It was Concerned Student 1950, named after the student protest movement that brought down the campus president in 2015. An attack on racism fueled by righteous anger, Concerned Student 1950 was an inspiring story in the newspaper, but to watch the fiery, triumphant documentary on the campus where the events occurred was another story entirely. It's the sort of disciplined, concentrated protest that many Americans would do well to study as we move into Trump's presidency. Next year may be worse than this year. But we have some say in the matter.

Mousterpiece Cinema: Going Long on 'Rogue One'

At this point, you have already seen Rogue One or decided you're entirely uninterested in seeing it. This post is for people in the former camp: I was very pleased to be asked back to Mousterpiece Cinema to talk about the latest Star Wars movie. We went long -- two hours -- and I think it's a fun discussion about the movie that touches on politics, economics and whether CG Tarkin is the worst thing ever. Check it out here.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Best of 2016: Isabelle Huppert's Amazing Year

Over at Paste, I wrote about Isabelle Huppert, who the site named its Film Person of the Year. She was part of four films in 2016: Valley of Love, Louder Than Bombs, Things to Come and Elle. In each, she ruled. Taken together, their cumulative impact is stunning. Really happy with how this turned out: Hope you enjoy.

Catching Up With the Late-December Movie Releases

Will and I are on break for the holidays, but over at The New Republic we have a handy rundown of the season's big releases. We've got capsule reviews for Assassin's Creed, Fences, A Monster Calls, Passengers, Paterson, Patriots Day, Silence and Toni Erdmann. Enjoy!

case/lang/veirs - "I Want To Be Here"

The hungry fools 
Who rule the world can’t catch us 
Surely they can’t ruin everything  

I just want 
I wanna be here with you 
Not bracing for what comes next

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Best of 2016: The Year in Best-Of Lists

Here's one of my favorite annual traditions. For Rolling Stone, I attempt to tell the story of the year gone by entirely through ranked lists. The idea is to create a de facto time capsule of 2016 -- and maybe provide a little commentary along the way. The stars of this year's list of lists include Kobe Bryant, Syrian refuges and, yes, Donald Trump. Check it out.

Misleading Men: Edward Norton

Edward Norton is one of the stars of Collateral Beauty, which nobody saw, including me. But it did provide me an opportunity to write about Norton, The Incredible Hulk and the misconceptions around the idea of the "difficult" actor. The Oscar-nominated thespian is the subject of my latest installment of "Misleading Men" over at MEL.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Ride - "Drive Blind"

Have a Merry Shoegazing Christmas.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

'Live by Night' Review

I went to an early critics' screening of Live by Night, which was introduced by Ben Affleck, who wrote, directed and stars in the gangster drama. He made an appeal for supporting studio movies that take risks and aren't just franchises. (He then made a self-deprecating joke about being knee-deep in Batman movies for Warner Bros., which is putting out Live by Night, for the immediate future.) Supporting grownup fare is all well and good, but Live by Night is kinda dull. I reviewed the film for Screen International.

Let's Rank All Will Smith's Movies

I haven't seen Collateral Beauty, but for Vulture Will and I offer a comprehensive overview of Will Smith's career. Check it out. (And, seriously, see Ali.)

Monday, December 19, 2016

'Rogue One' and the State of the Modern Prequel

Ready for more Rogue One opinions from me? Over at Rolling Stone, I made my case for why the new Star Wars film shows other franchises how to do their reboots/remakes/sequels/prequels properly. As you might imagine, there are spoilers. You can read it right here.

'Assassin's Creed' Review

Give Assassin's Creed this: It's not good in a pretty arresting way. Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard star in this adaptation of the popular videogame series. Most of the time, I had no idea what was going on. But it's got a real vision to its hallucinatory nonsense. My Screen International review is live here.

'Passengers' Review

Is Passengers as terrible as you've heard? No. Is it good? Ultimately, no. It gets close to being a nervy studio movie about one supremely twisted love story, but it wimps out along the way. Also, Passengers is the film where I started to seriously question Chris Pratt's potential as a movie star. I reviewed the film for Popular Mechanics.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

'Julieta' Review

Funny how movies' bad buzz can sometimes affect your relationship with them before you even get a chance to watch them. Before Cannes, Julieta had screened for some critics, and the consensus was that it was pretty minor Pedro Almodóvar and, therefore, skippable -- which is what I did at the festival. Only now am I catching up with it before its U.S. release, and I have to say ... well, it's not amazing, but it's pretty darn decent. And it's sure better than his last film, the ghastly I'm So Excited! My review is up at Paste.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

The Grierson & Leitch Podcast: Let the 'Rogue One' Debate Begin

While Will was in Los Angeles, he and I taped a podcast entirely devoted to Rogue One. He and I saw the film together but did not discuss it afterward. Also, we hadn't read anything that anyone else had said about it. So, what you'll hear in this episode are our completely unfiltered responses to the movie. One of us loved Rogue One; one of us hated it. Both of us were surprised by the other person's take. Hear the whole thing here. (Note: There are no spoilers in this episode, but I still think you should see the film first before listening.)

'The Killing of America': 35 Years Later

At this year's True/False, I checked out The Killing of America, a profoundly upsetting documentary about our country's obsession with violence. The movie debuted in 1981, but it felt like it could have been made yesterday. For The New Republic, I spoke with its director to reconstruct the making of this upsetting film and why it basically vanished without a trace afterward. In 2016, The Killing of America is having something of a comeback. Here's my essay on the film and its lasting impact.

Best of 2016: The Top 10 Horror Movies of the Year

The intrepid team at Rolling Stone has put together a list of the year's finest horror movies. I wrote about The Eyes of My Mother, which is super-creepy. You can check out the whole list here.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Blood Orange - "I Know"

Dev Hynes is not getting enough end-of-the-year love for his terrific album Freetown Sound. C'mon, people.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Returning to 'Welcome to Leith'

At the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, a documentary called Welcome to Leith debuted. It was about a small town in North Dakota that was overtaken by white supremacists. (Their strategy was simple: If there's more of us than there are of them, we decide what happens in this community.) With Trump's rise, I revisited the film and interviewed one of its directors, Michael Beach Nichols, for MEL. You can read the piece here.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Grierson & Leitch Podcast: Talking 'La La Land,' 'Usual Suspects' and 'Five Heartbeats'

For this week's installment of our New Republic podcast, Will and I come to you live from Los Angeles. He and I hang out in my office to discuss La La Land. And in our Reboot segment, we tackle The Usual Suspects (I still think it's overrated) and The Five Heartbeats. You can hear the whole thing here.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

'Rogue One' Review

So, I have no idea what any of my colleagues thought of Rogue One. I went to the premiere Saturday night, wrote my review that evening and have stayed off social media ever since. Well, now that the embargo has lifted, I can say: I enjoyed this movie immensely, and I think it's the best Star Wars film since The Empire Strikes Back. This is a surprisingly thoughtful and emotional war movie. My review is up at Screen International.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

'Hidden Figures' Review

Here's a great true story that's stripped of its drama by a bland biopic-y approach. Hidden Figures recounts the unsung contributions of African-American women who worked as mathematicians in the 1960s for NASA during the height of the Space Race. Octavia Spencer, Taraji P. Henson and Janelle Monáe are such fun in the film but, seriously, the movie is a paint-by-numbers affair. I reviewed Hidden Figures for Screen International.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

'Silence' Review

Silence is a movie that Martin Scorsese has wanted to make for decades. It tells the story of two Jesuit priests (Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver) in the 17th century traveling from Portugal to Japan to hunt down their missing mentor (Liam Neeson). Arduous, demanding, uneven, imperfect, Silence is also a real knockout in certain ways. I struggled with it, which is perfect for a film about faith. My review is live at Screen International.

Friday, December 09, 2016

Drive-By Truckers - "What It Means"

I've long praised Drive-By Truckers, who are one of America's two best bands. (The other being the Roots.) But I've been nervous about hearing their latest record, American Band, ever since word got out that it was going to address current events head-on. As frontman Patterson Hood puts it in the liner notes, "Our records have often attempted to tell some kind of story, sometimes current things veiled in some tale set in some other time period. This album is pretty much centered around contemporary issues. Tales of our time."

And while I still like American Band, its straining to be bluntly topical ends up having limitations. DBT's best songs have tackled racism, unemployment, inequality, mortality, murder, marriage, suicide, corrupt politicians, Southern identity, and even the phony feud between Neil Young and Lynyrd Skynyrd. These guys are bright, articulate storytellers who connect the small, telling detail to larger societal issues. But American Band strips away the narrative distance these guys usually incorporate, and as a result too much of the album feels earnest rather than illuminating. For the first time in their great career, DBT are telling us what we know without really showing us fresh ways to think about what's going on around us.

At the center of my mixed feelings about American Band is "What It Means." Hood lets fly with a litany of the country's current ills, pinpointing the racial disharmony that's been rampant since Obama got elected. The killing of Trayvon Martin is connected to Ferguson, which is connected to so many other black murders. "Don’t look to me for answers," Hood sings near the end, "'cuz I don’t know what it means." This is a typical approach from artists -- survey the scene while being humble enough to admit you don't have any concrete solution -- but Drive-By Truckers have never pretended they have the answers. What they have been able to give us are characters: Whether based on real people or entirely fictional, the men and women we meet in a DBT album are folks we know. And it's through their struggles that we see ourselves; their humanity reminds us of our own.

As predictably stirring and moving as American Band can be, I find myself missing that slightly removed perspective. If you listen to "What It Means" and it gives you what you need to cope in our troubling times, that's great. Me, I nod along in agreement with everything Hood says. But agreement doesn't seem sufficient. At their best, DBT have also challenged and inspired. The spiritual exhaustion in "What It Means" and American Band is, perhaps, intentional. Lord knows a lot of us feel that way right now. In that sense, American Band is, indeed, a tale of our time. 

Thursday, December 08, 2016

'La La Land' Review

Yeah, it's as good as you've heard. La La Land is a fun, frizzy romantic comedy, but like some of the best musicals, it's also a bit bittersweet. My review is up at The New Republic.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

The Grierson & Leitch Podcast: Reviewing 'Jackie' ... and 'Hudson Hawk'

I am always reminded that one shouldn't use the word "eclectic" to describe something that offers a variety of different things. (Technically speaking, "eclectic" means a wide array of great items.) So, I'll simply say that this week's episode of the Grierson & Leitch podcast runs the gamut. On one side, we review Jackie and Things to Come, great movies fronted by superb female performances. On the other, we go back and look at Hudson Hawk. In between, we also chat a bit about the indomitable Double Indemnity. So, a little something for everyone this week. Check it out here.

Friday, December 02, 2016

Thursday, December 01, 2016

'Bad Santa' and Movies About Characters Behaving Badly

In honor of Bad Santa 2, I decided to vent about my dislike of "bad" movies -- you know, Bad Santa, Bad Teacher, Bad Words, etc. All those comedies where characters act like reprobates? I think they're massively lame. I go into it over at MEL.

'Things to Come' and Learning to Let Go

Over at The New Republic, I spent a little time raving about Things to Come, which is merely the second-best film out this fall with Isabelle Huppert. (The other, of course, is the fabulous Elle.) She plays a woman saying goodbye to her marriage, her mother and the life she's known. It's a gem -- read all about it.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Misleading Men: Billy Bob Thornton

I hated Bad Santa 2 -- more on that later this week -- but for my regular MEL feature "Misleading Men," I decided to take a closer look at its star. What, exactly, is authenticity? And how does it apply to the career of Billy Bob Thornton? I ponder those questions here.

The Grierson & Leitch Podcast: 'Allied,' 'The Truman Show' and 'Hancock'

Welcome to Episode 45 of the Grierson & Leitch podcast. Today, we're talking about Allied and Rules Don't Apply. But we also take a look back at The Truman Show and Hancock. The whole thing is available right here.

My Interview With Derek Hough

As I may have said before, one of the things I most like about profiling actors for Backstage is that it puts me into the orbit of performers I wouldn't normally meet when I write about music and movies. For example, I was aware of Derek Hough because of Dancing With the Stars, but I can't say I had any opinion of the guy before sitting down with him at the Universal lot more than a month ago. I found him quite engaging: We talked about his career and his forthcoming Hairspray Live! Hope you enjoy my cover story.

(P.S. It's worth noting that this piece was written and finished before Hough announced he was leaving Dancing. But I wondered if something was up: He obliquely mentioned he was looking for new challenges. "I do feel like I’m reaching the end of a certain chapter in my life," he told me. "Or at least an elongated pause ... into some new adventures and some new opportunities. I think when you feel like you’ve done as much as you can do in a certain space -- when you actually look at a room and you go, 'I feel like I’ve done everything in this room I can creatively' -- you start to go, 'OK, I need a new space to create in.' ... It’s definitely a little scary, but it’s also exciting. I think it's important to live at the edge of your comfort zone. There's a great expression, which I really love, which is 'Passion lies at the edge of uncertainty.' I think that when you’re sort of uncertain about something, there has to be a passion. When you know how it’s gonna play out, it starts to become a little bit arbitrary.")

Friday, November 25, 2016

Heems - "Womyn"

Here's to all the womyn.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

My Interview With Emma Stone

If I was a betting man, I'd say place good money on Emma Stone winning Best Actress for La La Land. For Backstage, I spoke with the actress, who couldn't have been lovelier. We talked about her movie, the pain of auditioning and her current obsession with TED Talks. Also worth noting: This interview was conducted and written before Election Day. She was nervous about the outcome, and so was I. I hope she's doing OK. Here's my profile of Ms. Stone.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

'Fences' Review

Fences is -- and I hate this word -- a real powerhouse. Denzel Washington and Viola Davis take August Wilson's play and go to town on it. (Probably doesn't hurt that they both won Tonys for a recent Broadway revival of the show.) A potent tale of fathers, marriage and racism, Fences is capital-A acting done very well. My review is up at Screen International.

Monday, November 21, 2016

The Grierson & Leitch Podcast: Beasts, Animals and 'Children of Men'

Episode 44 of the Grierson & Leitch podcast gets you caught up on last weekend's big releases. That means reviews of Fantastic Beasts, Nocturnal Animals and Manchester by the Sea. And for our Reboot segment, well, what better time to revisit Children of Men? You can hear the whole thing here.

'Allied' Review

If I could chart my reaction in real time to Allied as I was watching it, this is sorta how it would have gone: "Hey, this is fun! Hey, this is real good! Hmm, OK, that's interesting, let's see where this goes from here. Uh oh, what's happening?" I ultimately liked the film, but it starts a lot stronger than it finishes. My Screen International review is right here.

Friday, November 18, 2016

'Press Play With Madeleine Brand': Let's Chat About 'Fantastic Beasts' and 'Manchester by the Sea'

I was back on KCRW today with fellow critic Miri Jedeikin to discuss Fantastic Beasts, Manchester by the Sea and The Edge of Seventeen. I like two of the three movies. You can hear the whole thing here.

Exploring Metallica's Best Non-Hits

Metallica's new album, Self-Destruct, drops today. So, hey, why not celebrate this metal band's legacy by looking at their best deep album cuts? Good idea! Check it out over at MEL.

On the 25th Anniversary of 'Daughters of the Dust'

In 1991, Julie Dash's first feature, Daughters of the Dust, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, winning the cinematography prize. What happened afterward? And why is the movie (finally) coming back to theaters? I interviewed Dash on the occasion of the film's re-release for Rolling Stone. Hope you enjoy.

AFI Fest 2016: 'Patriots Day' Review

Mark Wahlberg and director Peter Berg hook up for a third time (after Lone Survivor and Deepwater Horizon) to tell the story of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and its aftermath. Patriots Day again proves that Berg is one hell of an action filmmaker. But I'm starting to get tired of the formula around his true-life dramas. My Screen International review is right here.

TV on the Radio - "Trouble"

Oh, here comes trouble 
These people talk too much, need to shut 'em up 
Yeah, I'd rather be alone 
Can you, can you feel that rumble? 
All this borrowed time, it's been running out 
It's the ending of the show

Thursday, November 17, 2016

'Manchester by the Sea' and Grief's Bumpy Road

For The New Republic, I turned my attention to Manchester by the Sea, focusing on the way Kenneth Lonergan's new movie portrays the messiness of grief. Really happy with how this one turned out -- you can read it here.

AFI Fest 2016: 'Split' Review

And so it came to pass that writer-director M. Night Shyamalan finally made a good movie again. (To be fair, I still haven't seen The Visit.) But Split is a fun, nasty little thriller -- and it's a hoot to see James McAvoy go gonzo playing a man with 23 distinct personalities. B-movie horror done right, Split will cater to all your midnight-movie needs. My review is live at Screen International.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

'Bad Santa 2' Review

Ugh. Oof. Ouch. Blerg. Ack. Yeah, Bad Santa 2 is really terrible. I reviewed it for Screen International.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Grierson & Leitch Podcast: Talking 'Arrival' and 'Short Term 12'

On this week's episode of the Grierson & Leitch podcast, we review Arrival, Loving and Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk. Plus, in our Reboot segment, we take a look back at 2013's Short Term 12. But the elephant in the room is the Trump presidential victory, which we didn't want to talk about but is everywhere in our conversation. Nobody other than me will notice, but there's a moment while discussing Short Term 12 where I almost got choked up. Check out the podcast here.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Trumpism at the Movies

In the fog and anger of the aftermath of Trump's victory, I wrote a piece for MEL that compiles a list of movies that seem to reflect the America we're now living in. Yes, Idiocracy is here. But so are several others. Read it and weep.

Leonard Cohen & Robert Altman & 'McCabe & Mrs. Miller'

For Rolling Stone, I did a little digging into the history of McCabe & Mrs. Miller -- specifically, how its terrific Leonard Cohen soundtrack came together. It was all a bit of a happy accident, as it turns out. What a movie, and what two great artists. You can read my essay here.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

AFI Fest 2016: 'The Comedian' Review

These days, whenever Robert De Niro shows some life in a performance, it's worth celebrating -- and how sad is that to say? Regardless, he's decently compelling in The Comedian, a comedy-drama where he plays a has-been stand-up comic. Weirdly, the movie is at its best when it's not about comedians -- far more enjoyable is his rapport with Leslie Mann, who's dynamite as a possible love interest. My review is live at Screen International.

'Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them' Review

After seven Harry Potter movies, Warner Bros. is back in the wizarding business with Fantastic Beasts. What did I think of it? Read my review over at Screen International. (Mostly, I was just proud of myself for never accidentally typing the title as Fantastic Beats.)

Saturday, November 12, 2016

The Grierson & Leitch Podcast: On 'Doctor Strange, Mel Gibson and 'Snatch'

This week's episode of the Grierson & Leitch podcast went live on Tuesday. What a fun day that was! Anyway, Will and I review Doctor Strange and Hacksaw Ridge. Then, for our Reboot segment, we look back at Guy Ritchie's sophomore release, Snatch. You can check it all out here.

Farewell, Leonard Cohen

Like a lot of people, I was sad to hear about Leonard Cohen's passing -- especially this week. For MEL, I wrote about the fact that he used to live in my old neighborhood. I never saw him, but I liked the idea of his being in the general vicinity. Which inspired this essay.

AFI Fest 2016: 'Miss Sloane' Review

Jessica Chastain has a type of role that she seems to gravitate to. Whether it's Zero Dark Thirty or Crimson Peak, she likes playing characters who have a certain no-nonsense ferocity to them that can be pretty hypnotizing. Which is why I wasn't all that amazed by her steely portrayal of a ruthless D.C. lobbyist in Miss Sloane, a political thriller that's better when it's just being silly and juicy, throwing one outrageous twist after another at us. My review is up at Screen International.

Friday, November 11, 2016

AFI Fest 2016: 'Rules Don't Apply' Review

Rules Don't Apply, Warren Beatty's first directorial effort since Bulworth, didn't do a lot for me. Yes, it's a pleasurable bauble, I suppose, but holy moley is it slight. A tale of Howard Hughes and two young people who get sucked into his orbit, the movie is a romantic triangle in which none of the three legs captivated me that much. My review is up at Screen International.

Richard & Linda Thompson - "Just the Motion"

When you're rocked on the ocean
Rocked up and down
Don't worry

When you're spinning and turning 

Round and around
Don't worry

You're just feeling seasick
You're just feeling weak
Your mind is confused 

And you can't seem to speak

It's just the motion
It's just the motion

Thursday, November 10, 2016

'Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk' Review

Ang Lee likes to challenge himself, and his newest movie finds him experimenting with a much higher frame rate than a traditional film. (In simple terms, the image looks like what happens when you have motion-smoothing on a television.) So what did I think of the experiment? My review of Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk is up at The New Republic.

Monday, November 07, 2016

'Moana' Review

A tale of an adventurous Pacific Island teen, Moana is a perfectly pleasant Disney animated movie. You'll have a fine time, but I don't think the film is particularly inspired. My review is up at Screen International.

'Loving' and Racism's Quiet Force

Over at The New Republic, I wrote about Loving, which I saw for the first time at Cannes. I respected what writer-director Jeff Nichols attempted -- a smarter, stripped-down, no-fuss variation on the typical awards-bait drama -- without fully going for it. A second viewing helped put some thoughts into sharper focus. You can read my review here.

Friday, November 04, 2016

My Interview With Brett Story, Director of 'The Prison in Twelve Landscapes'

The biggest discovery at this year's True/False Film Festival was The Prison in Twelve Landscapes, director Brett Story's incisive, poetic look at how prisons are all around us -- even though Americans don't see them. The documentary is made up of 12 vignettes, all of them connected to mass incarceration in ways we don't immediately realize. It's a subtle but powerful film.

For MEL, I spoke with Story to talk about her background in geography, the challenges of making a documentary that doesn't fall into any one category, and why she's an activist who doesn't like activist films. It was a great talk -- you can read it right here.

Leonard Cohen - "You Want It Darker"

At 82, Leonard Cohen has released his latest album, You Want It Darker. There are more songs on it than the opening title track, but I'm having a hard time moving past that one. Cohen provides the lyrics, but former Madonna collaborator Patrick Leonard wrote the spare, ghostly, church-ly music. Play it loud.

Thursday, November 03, 2016

'Hacksaw Ridge' Review

War is hell, and Mel Gibson drives that point home yet again in Hacksaw Ridge, a very average WWII drama buoyed by a darn-good Andrew Garfield performance. In some stretches, the film is quite arresting. In others, lordy, is it corny. My review is up at The New Republic.