Saturday, September 23, 2017

So, Who Was Bobby Riggs?

With Battle of the Sexes out now, I decided to look into the life and times of Bobby Riggs. For MEL, I read his 1973 memoir and the 2003 biography The Last Sure Thing. I was curious if Riggs was more a chauvinist or a showman who would say anything for attention. My piece is here.

Friday, September 22, 2017

LCD Soundsystem - "Black Screen"

The closing track on American Dream is this 12-minute simmer, dedicated to David Bowie, that is my favorite type of LCD Soundsystem song: mournful, low-key, really beautiful. 

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

'Battle of the Sexes' Review

Battle of the Sexes is a perfectly likeable sports biopic about Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs. Emma Stone and Steve Carell are both good, but what's best about the movie is a love story -- and, no, it's not between those two characters. My review is up at Paste.

The History of 'Broken,' the Notorious Nine Inch Nails Promotional Film

I haven't written for Revolver in five years, so it was fun to be reunited with my old editor Brandon for this piece, which is tied to the 25th anniversary of the release of the Nine Inch Nails EP Broken. Trent Reznor wanted to do a promotional film in connection with the album, but the resulting video was so upsetting he decided to shelve it. That wasn't the end of the story, though. My appreciation of this horrifying artifact is available here.

What's Emma Stone's Best Performance?

Emma Stone has a new film out on Friday, Battle of the Sexes. Today at Vulture, Will and I look back at her first decade of stardom, ranking every one of her movies. I think you can guess what No. 1 is. The full list is here.

'Kingsman: The Golden Circle' Review

I like The Golden Circle a little bit more than its predecessor, The Secret Service. Still, I can't stand this franchise. Someone, please, make it stop. I reviewed the new film for Screen International.

The Grierson & Leitch Podcast: Reviewing 'Mother!' and 'The Hudsucker Proxy'

On this week's episode, Will and I debate mother! Plus, I sing the praises of Brad's Status. And in our Reboot segment, we both admit to not liking The Hudsucker Proxy all that much. This was a special episode because Will was in Los Angeles, so we recorded it face-to-face in my kitchen. Feel the love here.

On the Greatness of 'Comedian'

This week, Jerry Seinfeld debuts a new comedy special on Netflix called Jerry Before Seinfeld. For MEL, I took the opportunity to remind everyone that the 2002 documentary about Seinfeld, Comedian, is still terrific. You can read my piece here.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Toronto 2017: The Wrap-Up and the Rankings

I am fearful that 2017 is going to be the year of the B+ for me. For most movies, a B+ is a very respectable grade, indicative of a film that's of fairly high quality. But a B+ is also the grade I assign films that aren't quite amazing, that don't quite wow me. Toronto had a lot of B+ movies, when I was really hoping for something more.

Will some of the movies on my ranked list end up getting a higher grade on second viewing? It's very possible. But I note that the top two films on my list came from earlier festivals. And I should also say that I'm excited to catch up with Bodied, Dark River, Downsizing, Ex Libris, Foxtrot, Sweet Country and I, Tonya down the road.

In the meantime, let's hear it for Lean on Pete, the third and best film yet from director Andrew Haigh. It's the Kelly Reichardt movie of the year: I saw shades of Meek's Cutoff, Wendy and Lucy, Night Moves and Certain Women in this beautiful, tough coming-of-age story. Sadly, it's not arriving in theaters until 2018. Regardless, put it on your radar.

45. Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken! 
44. Three Christs
43. The Summit
42. Suburbicon
41. The Mountain Between Us 
40. Papillon
39. Redoubtable
38. 55 Steps
37. Marrowbone
36. 1%
35. Mom and Dad
34. Professor Marston & the Wonder Women 
33. Stronger
32. Roman J. Israel, Esq.
31. A Ciambra
30. In the Fade 
29. Unicorn Store
28. Chappaquiddick 
27. Thelma
26. Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood
25. Caniba 
24. Novitiate
23. Battle of the Sexes
22. The Death of Stalin 
21. I Love You, Daddy
20. The Day After
19. The Rider
18. The Square
17. Beats Per Minute
16. First Reformed 
15. Lady Bird 
14. Mudbound
13. Zama
12. The Shape of Water
11. The Killing of a Sacred Deer
10. The Other Side of Hope
9. The Disaster Artist
8. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
7. The Florida Project
6. Happy End  
5. Brad's Status
4. mother!
3. Lean on Pete
2. Loveless
1. Call Me by Your Name

What's Jennifer Lawrence's Best Performance?

Will and I spent a little time ranking the Oscar-winner's roles, including mother! As far as I was concerned, No. 1 boiled down to three possibilities, probably the same ones anyone else would guess. Check out the full list over at Vulture.

In Praise of Ben Stiller in 'Brad's Status'

For MEL, I wanted to talk about why Ben Stiller is such a perfect choice to play the lead in Brad's Status, a film about insecurity and envy. Yes, I brought up his New Yorker profile from five years ago and the "Tom Cruise cupcakes" part. You can read my essay here.

Why Foo Fighters Won the Nirvana/Pearl Jam Rivalry

Foo Fighters have a new album out. I used that occasion to discuss how they're the real victors in the Nirvana/Pearl Jam debate that we didn't really get to have back in the 1990s. My piece is up at MEL.

Toronto 2017: 'Chappaquiddick' Review

It's stressful having to make sure you spell Chappaquiddick right in the midst of a festival when you're running around and not getting a ton of sleep. Anyway, Chappaquiddick features a very good performance from Jason Clarke as Ted Kennedy, who's about to be tested after that fatal 1969 car crash. A drama about the crash's aftermath, Chappaquiddick is a despairing look at a senator who did not acquit himself particularly well. My review is up at Screen International.

Toronto 2017: 'Unicorn Store' Review

Brie Larson makes her directorial debut with Unicorn Store, which risks cutesiness at every turn. She plays a failed art student who comes to believe that she's going to receive a unicorn from a mysterious salesman (Samuel L. Jackson). Is she right? Is she crazy? Unicorn Store is a goofy, odd little beast, but I went for it. My review is up at Screen International.

Toronto 2017: 'Three Christs' Review

Three Christs is a fictionalized look at actual events, and the premise is an interesting one. An American psychiatric doctor (Richard Gere) discovers that three of his patients all believe they're Jesus Christ. So, he decides to put them together to see what happens. Unfortunately, the film is a bit of a snooze. I reviewed Three Christs for Screen International.

Toronto 2017: '1%' Review

A24 picked up 1% during the Toronto Film Festival, which surprised me. I had seen this Australian crime drama early, and wasn't all that impressed by it. Fans of Gomorrah and Animal Kingdom will probably enjoy this look into the world of motorcycle gangs engaged in a turf war, but I didn't see much new here to recommend. My review is up at Screen International.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Toronto 2017: 'Roman J. Israel, Esq.' Review

Never ceases to amaze me how quick festival buzz spreads and then shifts. The first folks who saw Roman J. Israel, Esq. reported back that it was a fiasco. But when I caught up to it, I didn't find a fiasco at all. In fact, I think it contains one of Denzel Washington's gutsier recent performances. He plays an idealistic, deeply odd Los Angeles lawyer who goes through a moral crisis. I wish it worked better, but Roman is a noble failure. My review is up at Screen International.

Toronto 2017: 'Marrowbone' Review

Sergio G. Sanchez is the screenwriter of The Orphange who's made his feature directorial debut with Marrowbone. It's an atmospheric horror movie with a twist. I did not like the twist. I talk about it (a little) in my Screen International review.

Prince - "Father's Song"

The remastered, expanded Purple Rain has been out for a little while. While most of the extras aren't that worthwhile, I'm glad that "Father's Song" is now commercially available. And, yes, you do hear a little "Computer Blue" in there.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Toronto 2017: 'Professor Marston & the Wonder Women' Review

What a great premise Professor Marston & the Wonder Women has. This biopic tells the story of William Moulton Marston, the Harvard psychologist who came up with the idea for Wonder Woman. How did he do it? Well, partly thanks to his wife ... and their shared lover. Rebecca Hall is the highlight of this intriguing but ultimately disappointing drama. My review is up at Screen International.

Toronto 2017: 'Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood' Review

The guy in the center there is Scotty Bowers. You probably have never heard of him. I had not before I watched Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood, a documentary portrait of this man who, around the 1950s, became infamous in L.A. by procuring young lovers for Hollywood stars -- many of whom were gay and wanted to keep that a secret. Dishy and fun, Scotty is full of superficial pleasures, although there's a little poignancy thrown in, too. I reviewed the film for Screen International.

Toronto 2017: 'The Mountain Between Us' Review

Palestinian director Hany Abu-Assad (Paradise Now, Omar) makes the leap to Hollywood for The Mountain Between Us, a romantic melodrama in which two strangers, played by Kate Winslet and Idris Elba, crash land in the Utah mountains, struggling to stay alive while they look for help. Both stars are quite good, but I couldn't get with this florid disaster flick/love story. My review is up at Screen International.

The Grierson & Leitch Podcast: Talking 'It,' 'Before the Devil Knows You're Dead' and 'Kiss Kiss Bang Bang'

This week's podcast focuses on the super-successful It. Will and I feel very differently about that horror movie. We're much more aligned on two terrific movies in our Reboot section. First, there's Before the Devil Knows You're Dead. And then we dig into Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. You can hear the whole thing here.

Toronto 2017: 'Mom and Dad' Review

There's a certain cinematic school of thought that insists that when Nicolas Cage goes really crazy in some low-rent B-movie, it's always amazing. But a film like Mom and Dad tests that theory. This action-thriller has a great premise: For some reason, suddenly parents start wanting to murder their children, creating citywide havoc. But the movie is nothing but its premise, and Cage doesn't do much to help. I reviewed Mom and Dad for Screen International.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Toronto 2017: 'Thelma' Review

Joachim Trier's fourth film is his least accomplished -- more an exercise than a fully engaging experience. And yet, I still liked Thelma, which is sort of a modern riff on Carrie about a young woman who discovers she has strange powers. Read all about it over at Screen International.

Toronto 2017: 'Papillon' Review

Hey, that's not Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman! Yep, it's Charlie Hunnam and Rami Malek in a remake of Papillon. It's grueling but not particularly great, never quite excavating a lot of interesting themes about human resilience and masculinity. I reviewed the film for Screen International

Toronto 2017: 'Stronger' Review

Jake Gyllenhaal and Tatiana Maslany have a great rapport in Stronger, the biopic based on the life of Jeff Bauman, who lost both legs in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. Unfortunately, the movie itself isn't as affecting as I wish it was. My review is up at Screen International.

Toronto 2017: 'I Love You, Daddy' Review

What did you do this summer? Louis C.K. made a movie in secret, and now it's just premiered at the Toronto Film Festival. I Love You, Daddy is about several things, but it's chiefly an homage to C.K.'s hero Woody Allen. (The movie is shot in black-and-white in New York, giving it a vague Manhattan-like vibe.) But that homage comes with a twist, as I explain in my review over at Screen International.

Toronto 2017: 'Brad's Status' Review

Ben Stiller is at his very best in Brad's Status, a smart, funny comedy-drama about an insecure dad who uses the opportunity of his son's trip to look at colleges to examine himself, pinpointing all the areas where's he failed. It's great, as I explain in my Screen International review.

Friday, September 08, 2017

Toronto 2017: 'Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken!' Review

The longer that Morgan Spurlock's career rolls along, the more irritating I find his shtick. He's back with a follow-up to his Oscar-nominated hit. There's interesting info in Holy Chicken!, but he won't get out of its way. I reviewed the film for Screen International.

Toronto 2017: 'The Death of Stalin' Review

Armando Iannucci heads to Russia for his latest satire, The Death of Stalin. I don't think it's among his best work but, you know what, it'll speak to you in these modern times, which is absolutely the idea. You can read my review at Screen International.

Steely Dan - "Time Out of Mind"

Still thinking about the passing of Walter Becker. I can't overstate how massively important Steely Dan have been to me. But what's my favorite song of theirs? Gun to my head, I might go with this one.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Toronto 2017: '55 Steps' Review

The Toronto Film Festival features no shortage of award-hopefuls, and some of them will leave here being exposed as well-meaning but simply not good enough. Such is the case with 55 Steps, a real-life drama about a landmark California case from the 1980s that sought to improve the rights of psychiatric patients. Helena Bonham Carter plays Eleanor, who knows that the medication she's being forced to take is only making her worse, and Hilary Swank and Jeffrey Tambor play the lawyers fighting for her in court. 55 Steps is a film dripping with worthiness, which is rarely enough. My review is up at Screen International.

The Return (and the Legacy) of 'MTV Unplugged'

On Friday, MTV Unplugged returns. For MEL, I took this opportunity to talk about both why the show was so influential in the 1990s and why that's somewhat disappointing. And, of course, I had to remind you just how amazing Nirvana's episode was. My essay is right here.

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

'It' Review

It is great. The first half of what's expected to be duology, this horror movie turns Stephen King's bestseller into a fraught tale of adolescence that's rich with dread. My review is up at Screen International.

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

The Grierson & Leitch Podcast: Previewing the Toronto Film Festival

Tomorrow, I leave for the Toronto Film Festival. So on the podcast, Will and I each picked five movies we're very curious about that will be screening there. (That still from above comes from my most-anticipated film, Frederick Wiseman's Ex Libris - The New York Public Library.) Then, in our Reboot segment, we take a look back at Good Will Hunting and 11:14. Bad news, everybody: I like neither film. You can hear the whole episode down below.

Sunday, September 03, 2017

'Tulip Fever' Review

I was one of the few critics the Weinstein Company actually allowed to see Tulip Fever in advance. We had to hold our reviews until Friday, though, and I'm just now bothering to post it here. Is the movie as terrible as its advance buzz suggested? No, it's just dull. My review is live at Screen International.

Misleading Men: Richard Dreyfuss

Close Encounters of the Third Kind was re-released this weekend. For MEL, I took the opportunity to devote my latest Misleading Men column to Richard Dreyfuss, the star of that movie and several other notable 1970s flicks. What happened afterward? I'm here to talk about that.

'Press Play With Madeleine Brand': 'Tulip Fever,' 'I Do ... Until I Don't' and Awards Season

I was on Press Play on Friday to talk about this holiday weekend's new releases. Spoiler Alert: Those movies are no good. And then, Alicia Malone and I discuss what we're excited to see as the fall film festivals start up. You can hear the whole thing here.

Friday, September 01, 2017

Bruce Springsteen - "Factory"

Happy Labor Day weekend. How about we play a song about actual work?

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Venice 2017: 'First Reformed' Review

And just like that ... fall film festival season begins. A couple weeks ago, I saw First Reformed, the new movie from writer-director Paul Schrader. It's a demanding character drama about a minister who is wrestling with his faith. The minister is played by Ethan Hawke, who gives one of his finest performances. In First Reformed's opening reels, I thought I might be watching something magnificent. The film runs out of gas a bit, unfortunately, but I still liked it enough to recommend it in my Screen International review.

My Interview With Dan Wilson

Well, this was fun. For MEL, I chatted with Dan Wilson, who fronted Semisonic in the 1990s and went on to become an in-demand hitmaker for everyone from Adele to Dixie Chicks to John Legend. We talked about his career, the advantages of being the nice guy, and how he approaches his collaborations. I enjoyed it thoroughly, and I hope you do, too.

What I Learned at the Movies This Summer

For Rolling Stone, I put together a little report of the lessons learned from this summer's box office. For example, people will go see Christopher Nolan movies. Also, people will go see movies with women in them. And although people in the U.S. may not care about Transformers sequels, the rest of the world still does. You can read the whole thing here.

Monday, August 28, 2017

The Grierson & Leitch Podcast: Summer Movie Recap 2017

It was the best of summers, it was the worst of summers ... actually, it was mostly the worst. For this week's episode, Will and I pick the movies we most liked (and most hated) from the summer movie season that just passed.

Then, in our Reboot segment, we look back at After Hours and Starship Troopers. Very fun show. You can hear the whole thing down below.

Friday, August 25, 2017

SZA - "20 Something"

Singer-songwriter Solana Imani Rowe (known professionally as SZA) turns 27 in November. On the closing track from her debut album Ctrl, she sings about her time of life with a clarity that will make anyone older than her wince and sigh in recognition. Over a slow, lazy riff -- more like a little noodle, as if the guitarist was still trying to figure it out in the studio while the tape was rolling -- "20 Something" details the end of a relationship, which leaves SZA twisting in the wind while pondering her quarter-life crisis.

"Stuck in them twentysomethings, stuck in them twentysomethings," she sings, later declaring, "Hoping my twentysomethings won't end/Hoping to keep the rest of my friends/Praying the twentysomethings don't kill me/Don't kill me."

That's what that period of your life feels like. It goes on seemingly forever -- every joy and pain is amplified -- but someday it ends. She's not old enough to know that yet. But in the melancholy, worn-out groove of "20 Something," SZA sounds like she's starting to get an idea.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

The Ongoing Cultural Relevance of 'Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS'

I was only vaguely aware of Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS before it came up in a MEL story meeting. A week later, I emerged with an essay about its strange history and the ongoing battle over the film's quality, or lack thereof. This is my first time really dipping my toe into the world of Nazi exploitation cinema. It's fascinating terrain, as I hope you'll agree.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

What's the Best Sci-Fi Film of the 21st Century?

Rolling Stone put together a list of the century's greatest sci-fi movies. They ranked the 40 best and then asked their contributors to say a few words about the choices. Yours truly took on Arrival, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Edge of Tomorrow, Ex Machina and (an inspired choice) 2046. Check out the whole thing here.

The Grierson & Leitch Podcast: 'Marjorie Prime,' 'V for Vendetta' and Soderbergh

I haven't seen V for Vendetta in 11 years, so I was curious to revisit it. Did my feelings change about the movie? Not so much. Elsewhere in this week's episode of the Grierson & Leitch podcast, we discuss Logan Lucky and The Hitman's Bodyguard. And I go to bat for Marjorie Prime. Hear the whole thing below.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Remembering Jerry Lewis

In the morning, my Sunday seemed pretty wide open. And then the news broke that Jerry Lewis had died at the age of 91.

For Rolling Stone, I wrote an obituary/tribute. But I also went deep on The King of Comedy, and what Lewis brings to that dark comedy. And then over at MEL, I talked about the phenomenon of Martin and Lewis, and how that duo were a perfect sibling relationship.

So, yes, I spent a lot of time yesterday thinking about Mr. Lewis.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

On the Great 'Marjorie Prime'

Marjorie Prime opened in Los Angeles and New York this weekend. For MEL, I wrote about this terrific film's unsettling message: We don't really want our loved ones to come back as holograms unless they're just there to tell us they love us. You can read my essay here.

What's Samuel L. Jackson's Greatest Performance?

Will and I did another ranking for Vulture. This time, we counted down Samuel L. Jackson's best roles. One thing you will notice very quickly: This man has done many movies. Many, many movies. Good lord, it was exhausting. But we're really happy with how this turned out. Dig in!

'Logan Lucky' and the History of the Heist Movie

For Rolling Stone, I wrote about Logan Lucky ... specifically, how its design is crucial for the type of film it is. If you ever wanted to make a heist film, I've put together a step-by-step guide using the Soderbergh flick as your template. Hope you enjoy.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Arcade Fire - "Creature Comfort"

Apparently, I'm not supposed to like Everything Now, the new Arcade Fire album. This is now the second straight disc from them that's been dismissed out of hand almost as soon as it hit iTunes/Amazon.

I confess that I don't quite understand the sudden animosity that now greets this band's every action. I mean, on some level, I do: They are scorned by their detractors as being beyond the pale because of their ambitious, self-serious material. The cultural backlash seemed to occur after The Suburbs, which won them the Album of the Year Grammy, when Win Butler and the group decided to embrace a more dance-heavy sound. Since then, I've noticed that, especially on Film Twitter, it's very fashionable to slag these guys for being too big for their britches. You'd think they were U2 or something.

I wrote about their last album, Reflektor, for Playboy, defending the band's pretensions and arguing why I actually found them endearing, if also more than a bit cumbersome. Everything Now is not dissimilar: It overreaches, it's way too proud of its thematic depth, its songs aren't as great as on past records but, all in all, I enjoy the challenges Arcade Fire give themselves and their audience. In other words, sorry, I don't hate Everything Now.

That said, I don't quite love it, either. My feelings can be summed up by my reaction to "Creature Comfort," which is a ripping synth-pop track that's about ... uh, celebrity and spiritual isolation and maybe suicide and probably the pain of modern life. I'm not totally down with the lyrics, but the emotional struggle at the song's core is pretty compelling, and that's why I still value this band. They wrestle with big ideas, and even when they do so in an ungainly fashion, the friction that comes from it can be rather arresting. I fail to see why this makes them an embarrassment.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

What's Steven Soderbergh's Best Movie?

Vulture asked Will and me to rank Steven Soderbergh's movies on the occasion of Logan Lucky hitting theaters this Friday. We were only too happy to oblige. He's been a fabulous filmmaker for decades, but he's not someone who has a clear-cut best movie. So we put our heads together and came up with this.

'The Hitman's Bodyguard' Review

You can tell it's mid-August because we're still getting action movies, except they're not very good. The Hitman's Bodyguard isn't terrible -- it's just boring. Still, the film kinda crushed my spirits, which I talk a bit about in my Paste review.

The Grierson & Leitch Podcast: 'The Glass Castle,' 'Ingrid Goes West' and 'Persona'

If you'd like to hear me do more raving about Good Time, you're in luck: I do my fair share on this week's podcast. But I was also happy to have the chance to talk about The Glass Castle and Ingrid Goes West, in which two very good actresses are trapped in pretty mediocre movies. For our Reboot segment, we took on Persona, which opened in the U.S. 50 years ago. I haven't seen it since college ... it still rules. Check out the whole show here.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

'South Park' and Kanye West

South Park returns for its 20th season on September 14. Over at Rolling Stone, I helped out on a list of the show's greatest moments. I called dibs on the Kanye West episode, obvs. You can check it out here.