Sunday, February 28, 2016

'Whiskey Tango Foxtrot' Review

As a colleague pointed out, Paramount can't be super-proud of Whiskey Tango Foxtrot if it's allowing the embargo to lift right before the Oscars start and no one's paying attention. This comedy-drama about a journalist who went to Afghanistan post-9/11 has its intriguing quirks, but ultimately Tina Fey and a good cast can't save this uncertain material. My review is up at Screen International.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Oscars 2016: Your Drinking Game

I write a lot of thoughtful, deeply felt pieces. Then, I just have fun and work with my buddy Sam Adams to come up with a drinking game for tomorrow's Oscars. Enjoy, y'all.

'The Revenant' and the Oscars' Need to Reward Hard Work

I think The Revenant will win Best Picture tomorrow. And part of the reason it will is because Fox has done a fantastic job talking about how hard the movie was to make. For MEL, I explain why the Academy is susceptible to this kind of argument. (Hint: It's because people in the industry know how challenging making a movie can be.) My essay is right here.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Disclosure (featuring Lorde) - "Magnets"

After the critical acclaim for Settle, the debut album from Disclosure, it was a bit surprising how dismissed their follow-up record was. I don't like Caracal as much, either, but it's got its boss tracks. Like "Magnets." (Although, OK fine, the video is kinda dumb.)

Thursday, February 25, 2016

2015 in Review: The Year's Best Film Effects

At the end of last year, I did a big feature for Popular Mechanics' print edition where I interviewed the people behind some of 2015's best effects. The issue is out now, but it also appears on the website, which you can find right here. Everything from The Walk to Tangerine to Anomalisa to Mad Max: Fury Road gets some love.

How Those 'Star Wars' Sounds Came to Be

For Popular Mechanics, I did a quick rundown of the origins of six iconic Star Wars sounds. We're talking Darth Vader's breathing, Chewie's growls and other such memorable minutiae. Hope you enjoy.

What Am I Missing?: Virtual Reality

Over at MEL, I'm going to be starting a new podcast. It's called "What Am I Missing?" and it will find me investigating different cultural trends that mystify me. The first episode digs into the world of virtual reality, and I was very happy to have as my guest Ted Schilowitz, whose official job title at Fox is "futurist." We talked about his background, his lifelong love of theme parks, and why books were the original virtual-reality entertainment. You can hear it here.

Sticking Up for 'Triple 9'

Unhappy with the lukewarm critical consensus around Triple 9, I decided to plead the movie's case over at The New Republic. It's a well-acted, smart, snarling little thriller, and it reminds me of Killing Them Softly and The Counselor, which I consider a good thing. Read all about it.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

What Does It Take to Put the Oscar Telecast Together?

Yesterday, I got to do a very cool thing: I went to Hollywood & Highland to see some of the preparations that go into the Oscar ceremony. I feel the need to say this (again) since I think it sometimes surprises people because of my profession: I really like the Oscars. I always have, and I probably always will. I don't always like their choices, but the idea of honoring movies never gets old to me.

Anyway, for Popular Mechanics I wrote about the experience of meeting some of the sound folks that work behind the scenes during the telecast. You can read all about it here.

'The Other Side of the Door' Review

Ugh, The Other Side of the Door is just so, so bad. Really, really, absolutely, positively bad. It's about dumb people whose kid dies and then the mom does something stupid and, dear god, it's just so dumb. Don't see this movie, anybody. It's really just awful. I reviewed this dumb, dumb, dumb movie for Screen International.

What's the Best "Best Actress" Winner of the 21st Century?

Putting together a ranking of this century's Best Actress Oscar winners, I quickly discovered something: Most of these women got their award for a performance I don't much like. (The Academy sure makes a lot of dumb choices.) Anywhere, here's my rundown of everyone from The Queen's Helen Mirren to The Iron Lady's Meryl Streep.

What's the Best "Best Actor" Winner of the 21st Century?

This was very fun: For Rolling Stone, I decided to take a look at every Best Actor Oscar winner since 2000. Then, because we live on the internet, I ranked them. How did Daniel Day-Lewis fare? Pretty darn good! Check out the full list here.

Hanging Out at the Sci-Tech Awards

For the second straight year, I attended the Academy's Scientific and Technical Awards for Popular Mechanics. And once again, I had much to say, especially about two particular winners. One went to one of my favorite animation companies. The other went to a 20-year-old innovation that established the aesthetic for modern action movies. (Also cool: These gentlemen helped develop the Aircover Inflatables Airwall, a portable, inflatable green screen.) You can read my piece here.

The Grierson & Leitch Podcast: 'The Witch' and the Oscars

The latest installment of the Grierson & Leitch podcast features me and Will disagreeing about The Witch. Also, we dig into the Oscars, making our predictions in all the big categories. (Spoiler Alert: We agree across the board.) Plus, we spend a little time wondering why people are so gosh-darn angry that The Revenant is going to win Best Picture. You can hear it all right here.

Giving 'Crash' Another Try

It's been 10 years now since Crash won Best Picture in an upset over Brokeback Mountain. And in all that time, I've deeply disliked the movie without ever watching it again. Well, for The New Republic, I decided to finally revisit the divisive drama. What did I find? A movie that's incredibly assured and compulsively watchable. Also, still not very good. Those two statements are connected. You can read my essay here.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Oscars 2016: Predicting the Major Categories

The Oscars are Sunday, but today Will and I make our picks for what will win in the eight major categories. As always, it's important to point out that these are not the ones we want to win -- just the ones we think will win. If you're a fan of movies with bear attacks, I think you'll be pleased with our predictions, which are now live on The New Republic.

Friday, February 19, 2016

'Press Play With Madeleine Brand': Witches, Races and 'Embrace of the Serpent'

I was on Press Play today without Madeleine Brand: The very fine pinch-hitter Steve Chiotakis filled in for her. Scott Mantz and I discuss The Witch, Race and Embrace of the Serpent. You can hear the whole thing here.

'Love' Review

No, not the Gaspar Noe film. This is the new Netflix series co-created by Judd Apatow that stars Gillian Jacobs and co-creator Paul Rust as L.A. thirtysomethings looking for, you guessed it, love. But they're looking for other things, too, which helps this series stand out a bit. I reviewed the first season for The Wrap.

Aimee Mann - "Thirty One Today"

Melancholy self-reflection, that's Aimee Mann's wheelhouse. Just don't assume it's autobiographical: The details in "Thirty One Today" don't match up with Mann's own life, but the quiet fumbling for some sort of contentment is so well-observed and universal you'd swear it must. And if it reminds you of your life at all, swallow hard and know everything will be OK.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

'Race' Review

You could make the case for Jesse Owens being one of the greatest athletes of the 20th century. So why, then, is Race so mediocre? I get into it over at Screen International.

The Grierson & Leitch Podcast: Ryan & Ben & Michael

The latest episode of The Grierson & Leitch Podcast is now live. In this week's installment, we talk about Deadpool, Zoolander 2 and Where to Invade Next. Enjoy our lively banter and smart insights. Or don't: Hey, I'm not the boss of you, and you can do whatever you want. (No, seriously, listen here.)

(Also, all credit to Collider for this great image.)

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

'Triple 9' Review

If you can survive the macho overkill of Triple 9, it's a fun, nasty little crime thriller with one heck of a cast, including Chiwetel Ejiofor, Anthony Mackie, Casey Affleck, Kate Winslet and Aaron Paul. Like Heat, but without the delusions of grandeur, this is B-movie pulp done right. My review is live at Screen International.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

In Praise of Ryan Reynolds

For quite some time now, Ryan Reynolds fans have had to be slightly apologetic about our belief in the likable Canadian actor. No longer: After Deadpool's incredible success this weekend, he's a definite A-lister. The irony is that Reynolds didn't change his personality one bit; he's still one of the most snarky, self-deprecating stars we have. My essay in praise of the man is up on MEL.

Monday, February 15, 2016

What's the Best "Album of the Year" Grammy-Winner of the Last 20 Years?

Over at MEL, I gave a listen to the last 20 years of Grammy winners in the Album of the Year category. What I discovered: Some are awful, many are mediocre, and a few are actually really damn good. I ranked and reviewed them all, and I can you read the results right here.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

My LAFCA Awards Presentation for Carter Burwell

I realized I had neglected to post this. At last month's Los Angeles Film Critics Association awards banquet, I had the pleasure of presenting the prize for Best Music Score to Carter Burwell for two films, Carol and Anomalisa. Sadly, Mr. Burwell couldn't be there to accept in person -- he was in New York that night at the opening of his wife's solo exhibition -- but I was very happy to give his award to the producers of Carol, who are (from left to right) Stephen Woolley, Elizabeth Karlsen and Christine Vachon. What I'm most proud about in this picture is that I refrained from gushing to Ms. Vachon about how much Safe means to me.

Anyway, here are the remarks I gave from the podium before presenting the award....
Carter Burwell has been a composer for more than 30 years, but in all that time, he really hasn’t scored many love stories. Working chiefly with the Coen brothers, he’s instead specialized in a kind of existential soundscape. You wouldn’t say that his scores are overtly emotional, but they do feel attuned to the mysteries and the richness of life. His music doesn’t tell you how to feel about the movie you’re watching — actually, his intimate, swirling compositions seem as curious about what’s going to happen next in the story as we are.  
Now, this might explain why his scores for Carol and Anomalisa are so piercing. These movies are love stories, but they’re cautious ones. And so Burwell provides suitably restrained but longing scores — like the movies’ characters, his music seems to be slowly waking up to the dream of a love that can last. And they’re remarkably different scores: Carol’s incorporates muted, exquisite pianos and strings. In Anomalisa, it’s practically a chamber piece that’s as handmade and fragile as the movie’s stop-motion puppets.  
In life, it can be hard to express ourselves authentically to people we’re just meeting, especially if we’re falling in love with that person and don’t know how he or she feels about us. Likewise, the characters in Carol and Anomalisa — for myriad reasons — have to be careful what they say. But that’s no problem: Carter Burwell speaks for them, and he speaks beautifully.  
All our winners (and runners-up) are here. The above photo was taken by the stellar Matt Harbicht.

Friday, February 12, 2016

"Father Figure" and Me

In 2009, I appeared at the annual EMP Pop Conference with a 20-minute presentation entitled "How George Michael’s ‘Father Figure’ Made Me a Man." It was all about a sexual awakening that occurred at a junior high dance. Well, with Valentine's Day around the corner, I've revised that piece for an essay over at MEL. This gave me a chance to rethink some of my attitudes from the original presentation, but all in all I tried to be honest to how 34-year-old Tim felt about all this. Hope you enjoy.

The Dead Weather - "I Feel Love (Every Million Miles)"

The new TV ads for Vinyl are highlighted by this single from the Dead Weather's album Dodge and Burn, which seemed to sink without a trace last year. As usual, ‎Alison Mosshart kills it.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Grierson & Leitch Podcast: Hail, Coens

In this week's episode of the podcast, Will and I talk at length about Hail, Caesar! while taking a little time to examine the corpse that is Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Also, there's some football discussion. (Hey, we taped the episode before the Super Bowl.) Check it out right here.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

In Praise of the Two-Cassette VHS Movie

This was fun: For MEL, I did some deep research into an arcane piece of old home-entertainment memorabilia, the two-tape VHS movie. These were movies that were so long (The Sound of Music, JFK, Scarface) that they couldn't fit onto one tape. I took a look at 10 such films, breaking down their vital stats. (Where does the first tape end? Which tape is better? How much did it cost us to buy it on eBay?) Hope you enjoy.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

'Zoolander 2' Review

Look, folks, I didn't even like the first Zoolander, so what chance did the sequel have with me? Fifteen years later, Ben Stiller has brought back the old gang for a follow-up film that's truly, deeply meh. My review is up at Screen International.

'Where to Invade Next' Review

I have seen Where to Invade Next twice now, and both times I was convinced about halfway through that I wasn't going to be able to finish it. To be fair, Michael Moore's latest gets better in its second half, but I still find this exploration of how other countries do things better than the U.S. to be cutesy and insulting. No matter how moving the film can be on occasion, it doesn't matter, and that's entirely because of Moore. My review is up at The New Republic.

Monday, February 08, 2016

'Taxi Driver' at 40

The movie that won the Palme d'Or at Cannes in 1976 turns 40 years old today. For Biography, I discuss how Taxi Driver is still very much part of the cinematic landscape. (In fact, last year's Palme d'Or winner shares an intriguing similarity.) You can read my piece right here.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

'Deadpool' Review

I imagine that at least one review of Deadpool is going to contain the line, "This ain't your dad's superhero movie!" or some such. This Ryan Reynolds vehicle wants to make sure you get that this is a snottier, coarser version of Iron Man or Captain America. People swear! A lot! And the violence is a lot more graphic! And the main character is kind of a jerk! Oh my!

I'm very torn about Deadpool. Overall, I think it's pretty darn funny, and I enjoyed the sarcastic, too-hip-for-the-room tone. But I also wish the film's comedic success rate was higher, and I wish the movie wasn't so darn pleased with its irreverent stance. It's a thumbs-up, with reservations. My review is live at Screen International.

Friday, February 05, 2016

Who's the Best Coen Brothers Character of All Time?

That's what the folks at Rolling Stone decided to figure out. I had no control over the rankings, but I contributed a few capsules to this list, including the character who landed at No. 1. Read the whole list right here.

'Pride and Prejudice and Zombies' Review

A few years ago, David O. Russell was going to direct Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Think about how strange that would have been for a minute. (And think about the fact that, at one point, a horror-comedy was the direction in which he wanted to go.) Well, after many failed starts, the movie version of the hit 2009 novel is finally on the big screen. To which I say, "Hmm, well, OK." My review is live at The New Republic.

Father John Misty - "Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins)"

I've been thinking about Father John Misty's sophomore release I Love You, Honeybear ever since it came out, which is now almost exactly a year ago. A concept album about Mr. Misty (a.k.a. Josh Tillman) getting married, the record ought to be in my wheelhouse -- I'm unabashedly pro-love -- and yet Honeybear never quite clicked with me.

Why not? I gave the album a new bunch of spins lately after its strong showing in Pazz & Jop to maybe figure out why. Ultimately, I think Honeybear begins and ends beautifully, but the middle section sags under the weight of too many fussily-arranged tunes. It's a marriage album in which Tillman's cleverness sometimes outpaces his melodies or his insights. At its best, the record resembles something that Eels would do -- E has a penchant for utilizing concepts to give a collection of songs a structuring device -- but Honeybear's candid acknowledgment of the panic/excitement involved in saying "I do" is a bit too conceptual for my taste. Sentimentality can be wince-inducing, but so can manic, self-conscious irony.

That said, there are plenty of stunning tracks. "Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins)" is one of them, and this bit always, always, always kills me...

First time you let me stay the night despite your own rules 
You took off early to go cheat your way through film school 
You left a note in your perfect script
"Stay as long as you want"
And I haven’t left your bed since

Thursday, February 04, 2016

'Horace and Pete' Review

Over the weekend, we got the surprise that Louis C.K. has been working on a new TV series, Horace and Pete, and that its first episode was available, like, now. For The Wrap, I reviewed the pilot, which is an intriguing, sometimes very engaging piece of old-school drama. Meant to feel like a theater piece, Horace and Pete is stagy, showy and also very interesting in terms of how it shows C.K.'s aesthetic projected into a new dramatic realm. My review is live now.

The Grierson & Leitch Podcast: My Report From Sundance

Over at The New Republic, Will and I chat a bit about my time at Sundance. I talk about Christine, Kate Plays Christine and The Birth of a Nation. More importantly, see if you can notice in my voice that a mammoth cold is about ready to consume me for the next several days. (Don't worry, I'm better now.) Check it out here.

My Interview With Alden Ehrenreich

Folks seeing Hail, Caesar! will recognize most of the A-list stars in the film. But then there's Alden Ehrenreich, a relative unknown who just about steals the movie with his subplot as a cowboy actor who has to appear in a witty romantic drama. (Spoiler: It doesn't go well.) For Rolling Stone, I spoke with Ehrenreich, who in his short life (he's 26) has already worked with the Coen Brothers, Woody Allen, Francis Ford Coppola and Warren Beatty. You can read it here.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

'Hail, Caesar!' Review

Still in awe of A Serious Man and Inside Llewyn Davis, it's entirely possible that I brought those experiences into my viewing of Hail, Caesar!, which is a far zanier comedy from Joel and Ethan Coen but one that feels uniquely thoughtful and somber. The Hollywood of the 1950s is the backdrop for this tale of a kidnapped movie star (George Clooney) and the studio head (Josh Brolin) who has to find him. But there's much more going on underneath. My review is up at Screen International.