Thursday, June 30, 2016

When Outsiders Make Movies About America

Over at MEL, we're celebrating the Fourth of July. That meant me picking some great movies about America that weren't made by American filmmakers. I realize that, in a few months, you'd be able to add American Honey to this list. But for now, dive into these six choices ... including a divisive Wong Kar-wai film that, hey, I like just fine.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Best Movies of 2016 (So Far)

Oh man, it's the halfway point of the year, so it's time to look back at the good movies that have come out so far in 2016. Over at The New Republic, Will and I each list our six favorites so far. You can check 'em out here.

And now, here's my list of movies that I still need to see: April and the Extraordinary World, Chevalier, Creative Control, Fireworks Wednesday, In the Shadow of Women, The Invitation, My Golden Days, No Home Movie, Only Yesterday, Pervert Park, Rams, Sunset Song, A War, The Wailing, The Witness and Zootopia. Good heavens.

The Grierson & Leitch Podcast: Fighting About Nicolas Winding Refn

On this week's edition of the Grierson & Leitch podcast, Will and I clash over The Neon Demon. I've heard that some people think we agree too much on the show; this is one of those weeks when that's not the case.

We also talk Independence Day: Resurgence and The Rocketeer. You can hear the whole thing here.

'The Legend of Tarzan' Review

The Legend of Tarzan is one of those movies whose politics, I'm sure, could be labeled "problematic." But I couldn't even get to that level of irritation with a movie I found so damn dumb and boring. I mean, seriously, ugh. I tried to be more articulate in my Screen International review.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

What's the Greatest Animated Movie of All Time?

Over at Rolling Stone, several writers (including yours truly) said some things about the 40 best animated movies ever. I had no control over the rankings, but I'm pretty cool with what was picked for No. 1. Check out the whole list here.

At the Movies, the Aliens Are Us

Independence Day: Resurgence is but the latest Hollywood movie in which aliens come to Earth to wreck havoc. Why are extraterrestrials invading so often? For MEL, I suggest that those aliens aren't actually aliens at all: They're metaphors cluing us in to what we're scared about. You can read my essay here.

Monday, June 27, 2016

'Right Now, Wrong Then' Review

I haven't seen all of Hong Sang-soo's films, but his latest, Right Now, Wrong Then, ranks right behind The Day He Arrives and Night and Day as one of my absolutely favorites of his. Yes, he plays with space and time. Yes, it's a story about people stumbling toward love. But Hong is a master at reworking and reworking his techniques and themes. My review is up at Paste.

Friday, June 24, 2016

'Press Play With Madeleine Brand': Aliens, Sharks and 'The Neon Demon'

I was on KCRW's Press Play this morning to discuss a bunch of this weekend's new releases. Vulture's Kyle Buchanan and I talked Independence Day: Resurgence, The Shallows, Swiss Army Man, The Neon Demon and Hunt for the Wilderpeople. You can hear the whole thing here.

'Roadies' Review

There's no point in kicking Cameron Crowe when he's down. But I found Roadies increasingly irksome over the three episodes that were made available to critics. The show looks at the road crew for a touring rock 'n' roll band, and although Luke Wilson is quite likable, the series is too darn cutesy. My review is up at The Wrap.

'Independence Day: Resurgence' Review

It's been 20 summers since the last Independence Day. Did we need a sequel? I answer that question -- and a few others -- in my review of Resurgence over at The New Republic. Enjoy.

The Long, Strange History of "Never Gonna Give You Up"

Rick Astley recently put out a new album. It's called 50, because of the fact that he's 50 now. For a lot of '80s kids, that news will be a shock. In the culture, he's been forever frozen in his early 20s because of hits like "Never Gonna Give You Up." For MEL, I look back at that song's path to No. 1 ... and then to an internet meme. Read all about it.

My Chat With Nicolas Winding Refn

For Rolling Stone, I sat down with Nicolas Winding Refn, the director of Drive, which lots of people like, and Only God Forgives and The Neon Demon, which lots of people don't. Since I've found his last two movies pretty interesting, I wanted to chat with him about them. I'm glad I did: I walked away from the experience convinced he's no mere provocateur. There's substance underneath the flourishes, and we talked about it.

case/lang/veirs - "Delirium"

case/lang/veirs is the new side project of Neko Case, k.d. lang and Laura Veirs. Thus far, their self-titled album hasn't blown me away, but it's full of so many melodic pleasures, who cares? On "Delirium," Case grabs lead vocals for a song that wouldn't have been out of place on her own Blacklisted. You'll hum it all day long.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Exploring Neil Young's Best Non-Hits

When it comes to someone like Neil Young, the notion of a "hit" is amorphous at best. Outside of "Heart of Gold," which went to No. 1, he's not exactly a dude who dominates the charts. So for MEL, I picked 10 songs that have never been featured on a live album or best-of collection. In theory, these are the greatest of his "obscure" songs. I hope this list shows many of the different aspects of the man's style and career shifts. Dig in.

'The Shallows' Review

Blake Lively shares the screen with a shark in The Shallows, a survival tale about a surfer in for the fight for her life. There are sufficient B-movie pleasures to be had, but I'm sorry: I just found the movie too darn hokey. My review is up at Screen International.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Boys' Club of 'Swiss Army Man'

I've seen Swiss Army Man twice, and while I appreciate the film's audacity, I find the big ideas behind its oddball leanings not particularly compelling. Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe are both good, but they're at the service of a movie that moans too much about sensitive guys' problems. My review is up at The New Republic.

The Grierson & Leitch Podcast: Talking Pixar, 'Armageddon' and 'Road to Perdition'

In the latest installment of our New Republic podcast, Will and I review Finding Dory. (I like it more than he does.) And we turn our attention to one of the quintessential summer movies, Armageddon, as well as Road to Perdition, which also came out during the summer. You can hear the whole thing here.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Misleading Men: Val Kilmer

The latest installment in my MEL series on actors who were Hollywood's A-listers for a minute is dedicated to Val Kilmer. The more I dug into the man's films, the more I noticed a trend: His bigger movies were almost never his most interesting. Here's a guy who has lived wandering around from project to project, doing whatever he wanted whenever he wanted. I'm not sure it's a blueprint for a major career, but it's definitely a way to have a unique one. You can read my essay here.

Monday, June 20, 2016

'Free State of Jones' Review

Matthew McConaughey plays Newt Knight, the real-life Mississippi farmer who, during the Civil War, decided he was done fighting for the Confederacy. He wasn't joining the Union, though: He just had had enough of the Rebels' unfair, excessive taxation. Director Gary Ross tells Newt's story with an eye toward strict historical accuracy. But movies are more than fidelity to the facts. You can read my review of Free State of Jones here.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Father's Day: Our Dads' Favorite Movies

In honor of Father's Day, the MEL staff wrote about the movies that mean the most to their dads. I discussed four of my dad's favorites -- and what they say about the man. Hope you enjoy.

Father's Day: The Evolution of the TV Dad

This whole week at MEL has been dedicated to fatherhood, and today I focus on how television has portrayed dads over time. If you want a thumbnail history of American social norms from the 1950s to the present, just turn on your TV and see what kind of father stares back at you from sitcoms and dramas. You can read my piece here.

Kanye West - "Real Friends"

Apparently, The Life of Pablo is the album where Kanye finally jumps the shark, finally falls flat on that big ego of his. Nonsense: It's plainly terrific. "Real Friends" is a companion piece of sorts to 808s & Heartbreak's "Welcome to Heartbreak," which also documented the loneliness and alienation that fame creates. Great song -- and it's far from the only one on Pablo.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Let's Rank Pixar's Best Characters

The talented team over at Rolling Stone put together a list of Pixar's 25 best characters. I had no control over the rankings, but I contributed some thoughts on Jessie, Carl and a few others. Check it out.

The Grierson & Leitch Podcast: Talking 'Warcraft,' 'Menace II Society' and 'Being John Malkovich'

On this week's installment of the Grierson & Leitch podcast, we get really angry about Warcraft. (Actually, it's more me.) Plus, for our regular Reboot section, we revisit Menace II Society and Being John Malkovich. Both movies made my Top 10 of their respective years. One of them, sadly, has not held up. You can hear the whole thing here.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

'Animal Kingdom' Review

Animal Kingdom was one of my favorite films of 2010. Now, it's been turned into a TV series, which (three episodes in) is only so-so. Ellen Barkin is a hoot as a crime family's trashy matriarch, but I'm not sure there's enough else here to recommend. I reviewed the TNT drama for The Wrap.

Friday, June 10, 2016

'Finding Dory' Review

It's so nice to have him back. Pixar filmmaker Andrew Stanton, the man behind Finding Nemo and Wall-E, returns to the fold to bring us Finding Dory, which you may have quickly surmised is a sequel to Finding Nemo. Fortunately, I was able to get over my grumpiness that, technically speaking, they're not trying to find Dory in the movie -- really, Dory is doing most of the finding -- to see this sequel for what it is: the most purely entertaining and emotional Pixar movie in quite a while. It's just a crackerjack example of everything the studio has done before, all in one comfy-cozy package. I reviewed the film for Screen International.

Chappaquiddick Skyline - "Everyone Else Is Evolving"

"I haven't listened to my Chappaquiddick Skyline album in forever," I thought the other day. "I wonder how it holds up."

A side project from the king of the wistful bummer -- well, one of 'em, anyway -- Joe Pernice, Chappaquiddick Skyline is just as mopey and pretty as I recalled. And, actually, it wasn't as dreary as my memory had led me to believe. The opening track sets the tone. It's called "Everyone Else Is Evolving." But everyone knows it by its unofficial title, "I Hate My Life."

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

'O.J.: Made in America' Review

On Saturday, ABC and ESPN will begin airing O.J.: Made in America. It's a major achievement, but one not without its minor flaws. I get into all that at Paste.

'Warcraft' Review

Last night, as I walked out of Warcraft, I tweeted the following:

Few things are more depressing than watching talented people conspire to make junk. I reviewed Warcraft for Popular Mechanics.

The Grierson & Leitch Podcast: The Terrific New O.J. Simpson Documentary

I'll have more to say about O.J.: Made in America soon, but for now, please enjoy the latest installment of the Grierson & Leitch podcast, which is focused on discussing the new 30 for 30 documentary. We also talk a little Popstar and give John Wick a second look. Enjoy.

Sunday, June 05, 2016

George Lois Remembers Muhammad Ali

For Rolling Stone, I had the honor of interviewing George Lois, the man behind the indelible 1968 Esquire cover that featured Muhammad Ali attacked by arrows. Lois was friends with Ali for more than 50 years, and he had many stories to share. You can read my piece right here.

Saturday, June 04, 2016

Muhammad Ali in Popular Culture

From the opening to my piece....

Ferocious, hilarious and a verbal dynamo, Muhammad Ali is one of the precious few people who can lay claim to being the 20th century's greatest athlete. If his dominance in the ring were all we used to measure his importance, the champ would still be major. But once you factor in his political engagement, his principled refusal to support the Vietnam War and his movie-star charisma, you see why Ali didn't just tower over his sport but also the cultural landscape at large.  

For Rolling Stone, I paid tribute to the Greatest of All Time by examining the shadow he cast over pop culture. He made albums, starred in biopics about himself, and hung out with Superman in a comic book. (And that's when he wasn't joking around with the Beatles.) You can read my appreciation here.

Friday, June 03, 2016

Exploring Paul Simon's Best Non-Hits

Paul Simon's new album, Stranger to Stranger, arrives today. Over at MEL, I gave myself the task of selecting his strongest deep album cuts over his career. This required me listening to a bunch of Paul Simon songs, which I hardly consider work. You can read my piece here.

The Lonely Island's Legacy and 'Popstar'

Over at The New Republic, I thought a little about the Lonely Island and how Popstar both encapsulates their greatness and suggests that they're past their prime. As someone who listens to Incredibad a bunch to this day, I think I'm qualified to render an opinion on such matters -- hopefully you'll agree.

Kacey Musgraves - "Late to the Party"

On her 2015 album Pageant Material, Kacey Musgraves encapsulates one of the delicious little moments you get every once in a while in life: the joy of going to a party where, really, the best part is knowing you're going home with the person you went there with. "Late to the Party" popped up on a playlist while I was in Cannes, and you can bet that line "Who needs a crowd when you're happy at a party for two?" hit me right between the eyes when I was missing my wife.

Thursday, June 02, 2016

Great Mockumentaries (That Weren't Made by Christopher Guest)

This weekend's Popstar will be compared to This Is Spinal Tap a lot. Christopher Guest merely starred in and co-wrote that film, but he's become synonymous with mockumentaries over the years. For MEL, I looked at great mockumentaries he wasn't involved with. Check 'em all out here.

The Grierson & Leitch Podcast: 'Midnight Run' and Fighting About 'X-Men: Apocalypse'

Over at The New Republic, Will and I devote this week's podcast to debating the new X-Men movie. (I'm right.) We also dissect the corpse that is Alice Through the Looking Glass. And we take a look back at Midnight Run and discuss whether it holds up. (Good lord, that Danny Elfman score is an abomination.) You can hear the whole thing here.

'The Conjuring 2' Review

A fan of The Conjuring, but not someone who thought it was the second coming of classic horror films, I was curious how I would react to the sequel. Although not as elegant as the first installment, this one gets its screws into you, too. Plus, it's plenty emotional. And Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson rock. You can read my review over at Screen International.

'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows' Review

The new Turtles movie is less horrendous than the last one. In fact, I actually caught myself enjoying Out of the Shadows on occasion. Not enough to recommend, mind you, but enough to at least appreciate what new director Dave Green brings to the proceedings. My review is live at Screen International.

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

'Now You See Me 2' Review

Folks, I thought the original Now You See Me was dumb, dumb, dumb and smug, smug, smug. The sequel is a bit better, but I still find its maniacal self-confidence and giddy pleasure at fooling us pretty annoying. I reviewed it for Screen International.

'Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping' Review

A big Lonely Island fan, I was hopeful that they could pull off Popstar, which is a very silly mockumentary that spoofs the modern pop world. They succeed, for the most part. My review is up at Screen International.

'The Fits' Review

The thing I like most about The Fits, the feature debut of writer-director Anna Rose Holmer, is that it won't sit still in any one genre. Is it a coming-of-age drama? A dance film? A psychological horror movie? A little bit of all three, but done in a stripped-down, realist style that's make it all feel very naturalistic. I reviewed this indie gem, about a young girl who dreams of joining a local dance troupe, for The New Republic.