Saturday, April 30, 2016

Review: Will Ferrell and Chad Smith Throw a Benefit Concert

The drummer from Red Hot Chili Peppers and the Anchorman star got together with their famous friends last night at the Shrine Auditorium to raise money for worthy causes. It was a night of comedy and music, with the emphasis being on music. I can now say I've reviewed a live RHCP show -- and a live Devo show. You can read my piece over at Rolling Stone.

Friday, April 29, 2016

'Keanu' Review

The difference between a great sketch and a great film is enormous ... and that difference has rarely been felt as acutely as it is in Keanu. The masterminds behind Key & Peele head to the big screen for an action-comedy involving some nerds who have to pretend they're hardcore gangstas to rescue a kittie cat. That's a funny idea, so what happened? I explain all in my New Republic review.

Beck - "Debra"

Among the many thoughts I had after Prince's death, one of them was "Hey, remember that Beck song that was a homage to him?" Well, that's what we thought at the time: "Debra" is, more accurately, a spoof of falsetto, lover-man R&B ballads. I saw Beck perform this during his brief, excellent tour for Mutations, before it was recorded for Midnite Vultures, and it was hoot watching this slender white dude convulse around on a bed while declaring his love for some pretty thing and her sister.

Prince homage or not, it's still very fun.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

What's Great Cinematography?

That's the question film critic Scout Tafoya tries to answer in a new essay and video over at Fandor. To help, he asked lots of colleagues to submit their own ballots for the best cinematography in films. You can read mine -- and a lot of other folks' -- right here.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Summer 2016: The Must-Sees of the Season

Captain America: Civil War is just around the corner. (I liked it.) So now seems a fine time to preview the summer movie season. For The New Republic, Will and I wrote about 15 films worth putting on your radar. (I'm going to hope for the best with the new Ghostbusters.) Check it out.

The Grierson & Leitch Podcast: Elvis, Nixon, Warren Beatty and Lisbeth Salander

Many things to dig into in this week's edition of the Grierson & Leitch podcast. We review Elvis & Nixon. I speak briefly about The Huntsman: Winter's War and A Hologram for the King. And then we feature two films in our Reboot segment: The Parallax View and David Fincher's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. I was glad to see Tattoo again, by the way -- that movie really is exceptional. You can hear the whole podcast here.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

'What the Flick?!': Talking 'The Huntsman: Winter's War' and 'Green Room'

I was very happy to guest-star on What the Flick?! with my pal Christy Lemire to review The Huntsman: Winter's War and Green Room. I was, however, unhappy with Christy because she made me see Winter's War for the show.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Prince and 'The Beautiful Ones'

I was away for my anniversary weekend, so I didn't have a chance to post this on Friday. For Rolling Stone, I wrote about my favorite thing Prince ever did, which was his performance of "The Beautiful Ones" from Purple Rain. His estate blocked the video my editors posted from the film, but hopefully you'll still get the idea.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Prince's Sensual, Spiritual Sexual Life

For MEL, I wrote down some thoughts about how Prince's embrace of sex opened up a whole new world for pop music. In the process, he taught us all how to embrace our sensual/carnal side -- and also how to really live. You can read my essay here. (Oh, and I have another Prince-related piece coming soon.)

The Mountain Goats - "No Children"

On February 24, 2003, about a month before I started dating her, I was emailing with my wife, who was just a friend at the time. But when I look at this email now, dear god, clearly I liked this gal. I don't spend this much time writing to somebody who doesn't mean a thing to me.

Anyway, we were chatting back and forth about several things. And in the midst of all that, I wrote this...

One of the great things about reviewing albums is that I often get my ears opened to music I wouldn't catch otherwise. Take the Mountain Goats, which is really just one guy. His new album is, basically, a concept album about a fictional married couple. They've been together for a few years, but things are falling apart -- they drink too much, they fight too much, etc. So, in order to save the marriage, they decide to take a road trip. "Tallahassee" is about how the whole thing goes wrong.

It's a great record -- I'm a sucker for marriage albums, since they are done so rarely. More often, music is about oh-I-love-you-and-you-love-me. Or, it's oh-I-love-you-but-you-don't-love-me. Not very often do you get something with much depth, that looks at a romance that's lasted more than a few passionate months.

Anyway, I love it. But it's depressing as hell. And it's not like I can stop listening to it -- I've got a job to do. But how often can I absorb these lyrics from the angry, fed-up husband to his wife:

I hope that our few remaining friends
Give up on trying to save us
I hope we come up with a fail-safe plot
To piss off the dumb few that forgave us

I hope the fences we mended
Fall down beneath their own weight
And I hope we hang on past the last exit
I hope it's already too late

And I hope the junkyard a few blocks from here
Someday burns down
And I hope the rising black smoke carries me far away
And I never come back to this town again     

In my life   
I hope I lie
and tell everyone you were a good wife
And I hope you die
I hope we both die

I hope I cut myself shaving tomorrow
I hope it bleeds all day long
Our friends say it's darkest before the sun rises
We're pretty sure they're all wrong

I hope it stays dark forever
I hope the worst isn't over
And I hope you blink before I do
Yeah I hope I never get sober

And I hope when you think of me years down the line
You can't find one good thing to say
And I'd hope that if I found the strength to walk out
You'd stay the hell out of my way

I am drowning
There is no sign of land
You are coming down with me
Hand in unlovable hand
And I hope you die
I hope we both die

Great, stirring stuff. That's one advantage music has over movies -- it compresses life perfectly into two minutes and 45 seconds.

I was speaking, of course, of Tallahassee and quoting from "No Children." Thankfully, my email did not scare the hell out of this woman. In fact, 10 years ago today, she married me. I am grateful every day for that. And I am also grateful that our marriage has never, ever resembled "No Children."

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

A Short History of Great Pothead Characters

Because it is 4/20, let us now toast the cinematic stoners. Noel Murray and I had mucho fun putting together this very silly list for Rolling Stone.

The Grierson & Leitch Podcast: 'The Jungle Book' and 'The Shawshank Redemption'

This week's episode of the New Republic podcast is full of movies. We debate The Jungle Book and why I don't like it. I talk about Green Room and Sing Street, two very different films about bands. And for our special Reboot segment, we give The Shawshank Redemption a second look. Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

'A Hologram for the King' Review

Tom Hanks hooks up again with one of his Cloud Atlas filmmakers, Tom Tykwer, to adapt a Dave Eggers novel about a down-on-his-luck American businessman out in Saudi Arabia. It is very, very, very OK. My review is up at Screen International.

'Inside Amy Schumer' Review

Season Four of Inside Amy Schumer kicks off Thursday night. Today at The Wrap, I talk about the first two episodes -- and why this exemplary series is mostly competing with its own sterling reputation, which proves to be a good and bad thing. Read all about it here.

'Elvis & Nixon' Review

Michael Shannon is Elvis Presley, Kevin Spacey is Richard Nixon, and Elvis & Nixon is a comedy-drama that imagines what these two luminaries talked about when they hung out briefly at the White House in 1970. Overly pleased with itself, the film is pretty superficial, as I discuss in my Screen International review.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Bob Mould - "Voices in My Head"

Bob Mould is one of those great singer-songwriters who's easy to take for granted. Every couple years, he puts out a new album, it's always pretty good, and then we forget about him. Just think how we'll feel when he's not around anymore. His latest is Patch the Sky, and "Voices in My Head" is predictably darn catchy.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

'Confirmation' Review

Kerry Washington is Anita Hill in Confirmation, the new HBO movie about the infamous 1991 Clarence Thomas hearings. (By the way, am I the only person who thinks of this Sonic Youth song whenever Hill is mentioned?) It's a smart, straightforward, entertaining, slightly dutiful retelling, as I explain in my review for The Wrap.

Misleading Men: Paul Hogan

I'm going to be starting a new series at MEL called "Misleading Men." The idea is that each column will focus on one actor who, for whatever reason, was a Hollywood star for only the briefest of moments. To start us off, here's my look back at Paul Hogan.

'Sing Street' Review

One of the most beloved films at this year's Sundance was Sing Street. I didn't see it there, but for The New Republic I reviewed this 1980s-set story of a teen trying to woo the local beauty with his music. There's one problem: He told her he has a band, but he doesn't ... at least not yet. This is a real charmer, as I explain.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

'Captain America: Civil War' Review

Captain America: Civil War will be the fourth Marvel movie to gross a billion dollars worldwide. Is it any good? Oh yeah, says I, though I do have a few mild reservations. You can check out my review over at Screen International.

'The Jungle Book' Review

Meet the one person on Rotten Tomatoes who didn't like The Jungle Book. Visually, it's a wonder. Story-wise, I wasn't very impressed. I lay out my case against the film over at Popular Mechanics.

Giving 'Green Room' a Second Chance

I saw Green Room at Cannes last year and liked it fine, although I was disappointed that filmmaker Jeremy Saulnier had made "just" a midnight-movie thriller. A year later, I revisit the film -- and like it a lot better. I reviewed Green Room for The New Republic.

The Grierson & Leitch Podcast: Melissa McCarthy and Jim Jarmusch

For the 12th installment of the Grierson & Leitch podcast, we review The Boss and Hardcore Henry, while I soliloquy on Louder Than Bombs, which is actually a good movie. And then, this week's Reboot selection is Stranger Than Paradise, which I haven't seen since 1993. You can hear the whole thing here.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Seek Out 'Louder Than Bombs'

Louder Than Bombs, the new drama from filmmaker Joachim Trier, opened to mixed reviews and tepid box office this past weekend. I hope that doesn't deter folks from giving this delicate family tragedy a try. For The New Republic, I stick up for the film.

Exploring Phil Collins' Best Non-Hits

Over at MEL, Craig MacNeil and I spent a little time digging into Phil Collins' deep album cuts, looking for the gems that never made it to the radio. With No Jacket Required being reissued this Friday, it seemed like the right time. Check out our findings here.

Saturday, April 09, 2016

Review: The Guns N' Roses Reunion Tour Kicks Off in Las Vegas

At 11:58pm on April 8, Axl Rose, Slash, Duff McKagan and some other folks got together at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas to play the first official reunion date of the so-called "classic" linuep of Guns N' Roses. I was there, folks, and I wrote about it, at length, for Rolling Stone. Here you go.

Friday, April 08, 2016

Revisiting Steven Soderbergh's "The Girlfriend Experience"

With the Starz series starting Sunday, I thought it was a good time to check back in with the original The Girlfriend Experience -- you know, the one directed by Steven Soderbergh. Turns out, it's still great -- and it's still the best film made about the 2008 financial crisis. My essay/appreciation is up at MEL.

Merle Haggard - "If I Could Only Fly"

Merle Haggard died Wednesday, on his birthday, at the age of 79. I immediately thought of his 2000 album, If I Could Only Fly, which was released through Anti-, an indie label that reintroduced legendary artists like Haggard, Tom Waits and Solomon Burke to a younger, hipper crowd. The title track, written by Blaze Foley, is one of the great missing-you songs: The narrator feels lost and alone, and he just wants to get back to his baby. "If I Could Only Fly" has always killed me -- with the news of Haggard's death, it kills a little more.

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

'The Girlfriend Experience' Review

Based on Steven Soderbergh's 2009 film, Starz's series The Girlfriend Experience starts off as an entertaining, stylish look at a driven law student (payed by Riley Keough) who gets seduced by the world of upscale prostitution. Then, something changes, and I think the show gets even better. I reviewed the series for The Wrap.

'The Boss' Review

The Boss is no Spy. After last year's really funny Melissa McCarthy vehicle, her new movie is a scattershot comedy with some heart but not enough wit or hilarity or good parts. McCarthy and Kristen Bell are a fun pair, though. My review is up at Screen International.

The Grierson & Leitch Podcast: Richard Linklater, 'Shotgun Stories' and 'Shattered Glass'

On this week's podcast, I talk about Everybody Wants Some!! -- Will hasn't seen it yet -- and we also turn the calendar back to the aughts to discuss Shattered Glass and Shotgun Stories. Spoiler: I'm a big fan of all three. Check it out.

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Happy Birthday, Roger Corman

The king of the B-movies turns 90 today. In his honor, I mapped out a partial list of the filmmakers and actors whose careers he helped launch. Without Roger Corman, there might not be Avatar, Lone Star or Splash. My piece is up at Biography.

Monday, April 04, 2016

'Hardcore Henry' Review

The action-packed Hardcore Henry has a great concept: We see the whole movie from the P.O.V. of the main character. But can the film transcend its gimmick? Well, that's where things get dicier. I reviewed the ultra-violent, dude's-dude film for Popular Mechanics.

My Interview With Alan Dean Foster, the King of the Sci-Fi Novelization

Last summer, I interviewed Alan Dean Foster, a prolific author who has written more than 100 books, most of them in the sci-fi realm. But the specific reason I was talking with him was that he'd just finished the novelization of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Foster has a whole side career turning movies into books, and he's been part of Star Wars since the first film. (For A New Hope, he wrote the novelization, but George Lucas' name went on the cover.) We talk about all that in this MEL profile.

Friday, April 01, 2016

Rihanna - "Same Ol’ Mistakes"

I was shuffling through saved tracks on Spotify the other day while writing, and up came the bouncy, electronic beat that kicks off Tame Impala's "New Person, Same Old Mistakes." Except, when the vocal started, I realized it wasn't frontman Kevin Parker singing. Yup, I stumbled upon Rihanna's pretty darn faithful cover from her new album Anti. Renamed "Same Ol' Mistakes," the song remains dreamy, yearning, remorseful. Hopefully it will inspire a few of her fans to check out Currents.