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.

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

The Grierson & Leitch Podcast: Forget 'Inferno,' Let's Talk 'Jackie Brown' and 'Bottle Rocket'

On this week's episode of the Grierson & Leitch podcast, we dutifully discuss Inferno. But then the fun begins with our Reboot section, where we try to figure out if Jackie Brown actually is Quentin Tarantino's best movie and whether Bottle Rocket holds up as well as Wes Anderson's later films. Very, very enjoyable. You can hear the whole thing here.