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.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Siouxsie and the Banshees - "Dear Prudence"

Tomorrow is my wonderful wife's birthday. So many songs make me think of her ... even in roundabout ways. For instance, whenever I play the Beatles' "Dear Prudence," she mentions that she grew up being more familiar with the Siouxsie and the Banshees version. So, this goes out to her.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

'Lucky' Review

Lucky has gotten good reviews out of South by Southwest and Locarno, with most critics raving about Harry Dean Stanton's performance as a 90-year-old man pondering existence and mortality. I like him in the film, but I'm less enamored with the film itself. Lucky opens September 29; today over at Screen International, I share my thoughts.

My Interview With Robert Pattinson and the Safdies for 'Good Time'

I've been raving about Good Time since Cannes, and this Friday the film hits select cities. Over at Rolling Stone, I talked to its star and its directors. Robert Pattinson is still best known for Twilight, but that might soon be changing. Josh and Benny Safdie previously made superb, intense dramas like Heaven Knows What. We discussed how this project came together, and what the film did for each of them. Hope you enjoy.

(P.S. I bang the drum for the movie over at Paste as well.)

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

The Grierson & Leitch Podcast: 'The Dark Tower,' 'Columbus' and 'Anything Else'

We fit five movies into this week's episode. Will and I talk a bit about The Dark Tower, while I riff on Kidnap and Columbus. Then, in our Reboot section, we own up to the fact that we don't think Superbad is as fantastic as a lot of folks do. But much of the podcast is given over to Woody Allen's Anything Else. Back in 2003, we were both big defenders of the film. Has it held up? Listen below.

Monday, August 07, 2017

My Interview With 'Icarus' Director Bryan Fogel

Bryan Fogel is best known as the guy who co-wrote and starred in Jewtopia. But a few years ago, he decided he needed to reinvent himself. So, he hatched an idea to test anabolic steroids on himself, Super Size Me-style, and see how they affected him. But during his research, he met a Russian doctor who, it turns out, was deeply involved in that country's Olympic doping scandal. The resulting documentary, Icarus, details what happened. For MEL, I talked to Fogel about PEDs, Russian hacking, the notion of "clean" sports, and whether he feared for his life once he stumbled upon the country's doping operation. Hope you enjoy.

Saturday, August 05, 2017

What's Charlize Theron's Best Movie?

Will and I set about answering that question for Vulture, where we ranked every one of her performances. As always, we had such fun putting this together. You can check out the list here.

Randy Newman in the Trump Era

The great Randy Newman has a new album out, Dark Matter. I haven't fully landed on how I feel about it, but my gut is telling me that it's merely decent, not amazing. But so what? For MEL, I talked about how this brilliant songwriter has become better known in recent decades for his Pixar soundtracks than for the fantastic, caustic character sketches of the 1970s. And yet, we see elements of those despicable individuals in the news all the time. Hope you enjoy.

'The Only Living Boy in New York' Review

No, it's not about the Simon & Garfunkel song. This so-so romantic drama stars Callum Turner as a restless young New Yorker who discovers that his dad (Pierce Brosnan) is sleeping with a much younger woman (Kate Beckinsale). The son confronts the mistress .... and then they start having an affair, too. The mysteries of the heart can make for fun subject matter, but The Only Living Boy in New York tries way too hard to seem literary and sophisticated. Plus, Jeff Bridges plays the kid's funky, loopy mentor and, boy, does that get tiresome. My review of the film is up at Screen International.

Friday, August 04, 2017

The Chemical Brothers (featuring Beth Orton) - "Where Do I Begin"

From the 1997 album Dig Your Own Hole, "Where Do I Begin" features Beth Orton vulnerably singing this verse again and again....

Sunday morning I'm waking up 
Can't even focus on a coffee cup 
Don't even know whose bed I'm in 
Where do I start 
Where do I begin

It's a great start to a short story, one that the Chemical Brothers never finish, which only makes the setup all the more intriguing. So many possible directions for that narrative to travel.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

'Kidnap' Review

Kidnap has been kicking around the release schedule for two years, largely because the film fell into limbo after its original distributor landed in bankruptcy. And, yes, this Halle Berry action-thriller is very silly and incredibly over-the-top. But I enjoyed myself quite a lot. My review is live at Screen International.

'The Dark Tower' Review

The bad buzz circulating around The Dark Tower left most of us assuming it would be terrible. Well, I've seen it now, and it's really .... mediocre. Not ghastly, just mediocre. I reviewed the film for Screen International.

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

The Grierson & Leitch Podcast: 'Detroit,' 'Atomic Blonde' and 'Delicatessen'

Lots to cover in this week's episode. We review Detroit and Atomic Blonde. Then, we quickly discuss Brigsby Bear, The Last Face and The Emoji Movie. And finally, we rewatch Delicatessen for our Reboot segment. Hear the whole thing below.

Ranking Stephen King's Movies

Many movies have been made from Stephen King's work. Many of them are bad. For Vulture, Will and I ranked every single last one of 'em. Check it out.