Saturday, May 28, 2016

'Press Play With Madeleine Brand': Talking Mutants and Johnny Depp

I was back on Press Play yesterday with Amy Nicholson to rap about X-Men: Apocalypse and Alice Through the Looking Glass. I also sing the praises of The Idol, while Amy goes to bat for Holy Hell. Check it out here.

Friday, May 27, 2016

X - "See How We Are"

"Life goes on long after the thrill of livin' is gone," John Mellencamp once sang, and this X song takes that truth to its next level. Mellencamp's track, "Jack and Diane," was about young people -- "See How We Are" is very much about being an adult and trying to find some sort of contentment with the things that didn't work out. Very sad, but more than that it's stirring.

Sticking Up for 'X-Men: Apocalypse'

The reviews for the latest X-Men movie haven't been so good. So why do I like Apocalypse so much? That's what my piece in the The New Republic is all about. Give it a read.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Cannes 2016: 'Graduation' Review

One of the Cannes jury prizes that didn't drive me nuts was the awarding of Best Director to Cristian Mungiu for Graduation. (He shared the prize with Olivier Assayas for Personal Shopper, also a good choice.) In this smart, taut drama, a local father decides to take matters into his own hands after his talented teen daughter is attacked on the way to school. But good intentions go bad when honorable men cut corners. Graduation was one of my favorites at the festival, and my review is up at Paste.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Grierson & Leitch Podcast: Cannes and 'The Nice Guys'

I'm back from Cannes, so for this week's episode of the Grierson & Leitch podcast, we talk about the festival and my takeaways. (Hint: I hated the jury awards.) We also get into The Nice Guys and Neighbors 2. You can hear it all right here.

Monday, May 23, 2016

'Thelma & Louise,' 25 Years Later

For Biography, I gave Thelma & Louise a second look. It came out in May 1991. Does it hold up? Mostly yes, but what's fascinating is how it plays with genre and gender. Hope you enjoy.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Cannes 2016: The Wrap-Up and the Rankings

When people ask me how a film festival went, there are always two answers I could give. The first, which is the one folks normally care about, is an overall assessment of the movies that screened there. But the second answer concerns how my life was during that festival. Did I sleep well? Any strange encounters? Any moments of paralyzing self-doubt or crippling loneliness? Did I get sick from not enough sleep and too many deadlines? This is the stuff critics and journalists don't talk about so much, but you'd better believe it affects them, especially when they're far from home, and it can affect their assessment of the movies they see.

A small personal example from Cannes. I rented a flat that was on the third floor of an apartment complex. No elevator, just stairs, and it was a beautiful spiral staircase that was very fun to go up and down every day during the festival. Well, except for that one afternoon when I locked my apartment door, proceeded to put the keys in my pocket but had them clang off my wedding ring, sending them tumbling down that beautiful spiral staircase. I don't know if you've ever chased a set of keys as they bounce down twirling stairs, but it's a horrible experience -- especially when you're convinced they've fallen through the center of the stairwell, never to be found again. For a good five-minute span, I was pretty convinced I was in major trouble. And then, I saw them resting in a dusty corner of the stairwell, mere inches from falling down a crevice where I could have never recovered them. A very lucky break ... and a nice reminder that one's experience at a festival can hinge on such inexplicable, uncontrollable moments. (Other than that, I had a great, uneventful festival.)

Now, to the rankings. This was a pretty strong Cannes, and although I'm sorry I missed After the Storm, The Handmaiden, The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki, Julieta, Raw and The Red Turtle, I'm very happy with what I saw. Links lead to full-length reviews...

33. It's Only the End of the World
32. Money Monster
31. The Last Face 
30. Blood Father 
29. Dog Eat Dog
28. Captain Fantastic
27. Staying Vertical
26. Loving
25. Midnight Return: The Story of Billy Hayes and Turkey
24. Hands of Stone
23. Slack Bay 
22. Cafe Society
21. Personal Affairs
20. The Neon Demon
19. Hell or High Water
18. The Cinema Travellers
17. The BFG
16. The Dancer
15. The Transfiguration
14. I, Daniel Blake 
13. Aquarius
12. The Salesman 
11. The Nice Guys
10. Sieranevada
9. The Unknown Girl
8. Ma' Rosa
7. The Student
6. Personal Shopper
5. Elle
4. Toni Erdmann
3. Graduation
2. Paterson
1. American Honey

I'm terrified Julieta is going to win the Palme d'Or, meaning I'll have missed the big prizewinner. But if I had to bet, I'd say Toni Erdmann will take the award. We'll see soon enough. As for me, American Honey was my film of the festival. All hail Sasha Lane (pictured above), who's a major discovery. I hope she had a good Cannes.

Cannes 2016: 'Blood Father' Review

I have to assume that, eventually, we as a culture will decide to forgive Mel Gibson and welcome him back. Just about every other disgraced celebrity has had his moment of redemption, so it just seems inconceivable that Gibson wouldn't. Well, when it happens, it won't be because of Blood Father, a painfully pedestrian Taken-like action-thriller. I reviewed the film for Screen International.

Cannes 2016: 'Personal Shopper' Review

Kristen Stewart reunites with Clouds of Sils Maria filmmaker Olivier Assayas for Personal Shopper about an American living in Paris who's trying to contact her dead twin brother. But that's just the start of this moody ghost story. My review is up at Paste.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Cannes 2016: 'The Unknown Girl' Review

Wouldn't you know it, I attend my first Cannes with a Dardenne brothers film and people don't like it all that much. Well, I enjoyed The Unknown Girl just fine, thank you very much. For Paste, I stick up for the film, while acknowledging that perhaps these filmmakers have spoiled us to expect brilliance. Here's my review.

Lyle Lovett - "Step Inside This House"

In the midst of Cannes, I missed the news about Guy Clark's passing. I'll let Lyle Lovett sing the man's praises while covering his beautiful song.

Cannes 2016: 'The Last Face' Review

When journalists like myself wrote Cannes previews spotlighting the films we were most excited to see at the festival this year, very few of us mentioned The Last Face, the new film from director Sean Penn. Our intuition was correct: This turgid romantic drama starring Charlize Theron and Javier Bardem is a dud that also does a terrible job making us care about atrocities across war-torn Africa. No sale. My review is up at Screen International.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Cannes 2016: 'American Honey' Review

There are still two days left in the festival, but my favorite film at Cannes is the most divisive. Andrea Arnold's American Honey is a big, sprawling, ambitious, these-are-the-times-we-live-in epics. I loved it, as I explain over at Paste.

You Need to See 'The Lobster' Right Now

I've loved The Lobster since I saw it last year at Cannes. As it starts to expand around the country, I decided to write an essay for MEL about what this terrific film has to say about modern relationships -- specifically, how it plays into even happy couples' fear that their love might be a sham. Hope you enjoy.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The Grierson & Leitch Podcast: Lobsters, George Clooney and 'The King of Comedy'

The latest episode of the Grierson & Leitch podcast is our first intercontinental show. I'm in Cannes, Will is in the U.S., and together we discuss Weiner, The Lobster, Money Monster and The King of Comedy. Give a listen.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Cannes 2016: 'Midnight Return' Review

Midnight Express is no personal favorite of mine. Its paranoia feels incredibly dated, and never mind how racist it is. Still, Midnight Return is an engaging little documentary about the movie's making, but it's especially interesting in its examination of the film's negative aftereffect. (Also revealing: How Billy Hayes, whose story inspired Midnight Express, has coped ever since.) I reviewed Midnight Return for Screen International.

Cannes 2016: 'The Student' Review

One of the nicer discoveries of this year's Cannes is The Student, a Russian satire in which a Bible-thumping teenager turns his school upside down with his religious fervor. It's a pointed commentary about how some people use faith as a weapon to forward their regressive agendas. The Student is funny, but it's also very angry. My review is live at Paste.

Looking Back at 'Garbage' 21 Years Later

Garbage have a new album on the way soon. But for MEL, I decided to look back at their first, titled simply enough Garbage. I explain why the album's still so great here.

Cannes 2016: 'Toni Erdmann' Review

German filmmaker Maren Ade hasn't put out a new movie in years. She returns with Toni Erdmann, about a father and daughter working through their issues. Part farce, part drama, part character study, it's the most beloved entry in Cannes' official competition so far. I dig into the film over at Paste.

Cannes 2016: 'Hands of Stone' Review

The signs were not encouraging for Hands of Stone. This biopic about Roberto Duran had seen its press screenings canceled here at Cannes, leaving only one late-night premiere available to critics. Usually, that's an indication that you're about to see a stinker. Well, the movie may not be great, but it's good enough, thanks especially to Edgar Ramirez and (wonder of wonders) Robert De Niro. My review is up at Screen International.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Cannes 2016: 'Loving' Review

It brings me no joy to report that Loving disappointed me. Writer-director Jeff Nichols has made four terrific features, but his latest is a touch too stolid for my tastes. It dramatizes the true story of an interracial couple whose marriage in 1958 landed them in jail. I admired the movie far more than I loved it, as I explain in my Screen International review.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Cannes 2016: 'Paterson' Review

As someone who's always appreciated but not always loved Jim Jarmusch's work, I wonder if it will mean more coming from me that Paterson is just terrific. Adam Driver plays a New Jersey bus driver, and he's exceptional portraying a guy whose life is moving in slow-motion. (Not really, I'm being metaphoric.) My review is up at Screen International.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Cannes 2016: 'Staying Vertical' Review

Filmmaker Alain Guiraudie's last movie was the tense Stranger by the Lake. He returns to Cannes with Staying Vertical, about a filmmaker going through terrible writer's block. Things get weird from there. My review is up at Paste.

Cannes 2016: 'Sieranevada' Review

One of the more praised films thus far in the Competition here at Cannes is Sieranevada, the latest from Death of Mr. Lazarescu writer-director Cristi Puiu. This is a three-hour drama about a group of family members gathered to mourn the passing of their patriarch. A tale of fury and lingering resentment, Sieranevada takes some getting used to, as I explain in my Paste review.

Cannes 2016: 'The BFG' Review

The BFG is very much a Spielberg movie, but I must confess it's the kind of Spielberg movie I'm not exactly craving these days. Certainly heartfelt and magical, it's a family film that almost feels a little too familiar from the Oscar-winner. My review is up at Screen International.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Cannes 2016: 'The Dancer' Review

For Screen International, I reviewed another first-time filmmaker with a movie at Cannes. That would be Stéphanie Di Giusto, who has made a biopic about dancer Loïe Fuller. But, really, it's a smart look at how innovators become prisoners of their innovations. You can read my review here.

Misleading Men: Andrew Dice Clay


In the latest installment of my feature "Misleading Men" for MEL, I look back at the career of Andrew Dice Clay. First, society decided he was funny (but controversial). Then, we decided he wasn't funny. And now, well, he's in the middle of an unexpected renaissance. Check out my essay.

Oasis - "Fade In-Out"

After trashing Johnny Depp's latest piece of junk earlier this week, I decided to be nice and spotlight something good he's done. He plays slide guitar on this Be Here Now track. (Hope that doesn't ruin the song for you.)

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Cannes 2016: 'Personal Affairs' Review

Say hello to Personal Affairs, which is screening as part of Cannes' Un Certain Regard section. This first feature from writer-director Maha Haj is awfully slight -- it's more of a series of anecdotes than an ensemble piece -- but its gentle modesty turns out to be among its major assets. In the film, one Palestinian family copes with different dilemmas, and if none of it is particularly monumental, that's OK. My review is up at Screen International.

Cannes 2016: 'Money Monster' Review

As some may know, many, many moons ago, I worked for George Clooney's production company. And because of that -- and because of how well he treated me (which is never a given when you're talking about a movie star) -- I've always been supportive of the man. This sometimes gets hard when I'm reviewing his films, though, and they turn out like Money Monster, which isn't terrible but feels so, so, so behind the times that it's hard to believe it even exists. Alas, this ripped-from-the-headlines thriller is rather weak, as I explain over in my Screen International review.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Cannes 2016: 'Cafe Society' Review

I can't put into words the excitement I felt about seeing a Woody Allen movie at Cannes. This is my second straight year experiencing it, and I'm not tired of the sensation yet. His latest, Cafe Society, stars Jesse Eisenberg as a Woody-like young man who moves from New York to Los Angeles in the 1930s, falling in love with Kristen Stewart. Cue romantic triangle ... and my review for Paste.

The Grierson & Leitch Podcast: Cannes, Jonathan Demme and James Bond

Over at The New Republic, Will and I devote our latest episode of the podcast to the Cannes Film Festival. (We taped it before I left for France.) And we go back in time to rewatch Married to the Mob (which isn't very good) and Casino Royale (which, happily, still is). Hope you enjoy.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

'Alice Through the Looking Glass' Review

Is it possible I'm just never going to enjoy a Johnny Depp movie again? I liked Black Mass fine but, lord almighty, did I hate Alice Through the Looking Glass. Inconceivably, it's even worse than Alice in Wonderland, and this one wasn't even directed by Tim Burton. I reviewed this debacle for Screen International.

Cannes 2016: The Preview

I'm here in France for my third Cannes Film Festival. So, for The New Republic, I highlighted 10 films I'm very, very curious to see while I'm here. They include two from Romanian masters, the latest Andrea Arnold and, of course, the new Dardenne brothers joint. Take a look.

Monday, May 09, 2016

'X-Men: Apocalypse' Review

After being thoroughly impressed by X-Men: Days of Future Past, I wondered how the follow-up would play for me. Almost as well: Apocalypse doesn't peak quite as high, but I still found it pretty darn emotional and involving. Very curious how others will feel, but my review is up at Screen International.

Sunday, May 08, 2016

'The Angry Birds Movie' Review

I'm not sure what I was expecting from The Angry Birds Movie, so I can't say I was disappointed by the film. Still, at a time when Pixar is really elevating the mainstream animated game -- not to mention DreamWorks and others -- this just seems needlessly mild and generic. I reviewed the film for Screen Interntaional.

Friday, May 06, 2016

Al Green - "Have You Been Making Out O.K."

Sometimes I just listen to the drums. Sometimes I concentrate on the voice, especially as it gently, bravely reaches for those high notes near the end. "Have You Been Making Out O.K." isn't exactly a "sexy" song, but it's deeply soulful and empathetic, which radiates its own kind of passion.

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

The Grierson & Leitch Podcast: Marvel and a Cute Kitten

On this week's installment of our New Republic podcast, Will and I review Captain America: Civil War and Keanu. But we also dig into the forthcoming summer movie season a little. This means we had to get into the upcoming Woody Allen movie, of course. Hope you enjoy.

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Don't Trust Hollywood's Box-Office Charts

For Mel, I decided to dig into the fact that Hollywood is the one entertainment industry that charts success not by individual sales but, rather, through money made. Why should that matter? Because it gives a skewed perspective on what the biggest movies of all time really are. Enjoy my number-crunching and insightful analysis right here.