Saturday, December 13, 2014

ICYMI: The Big Longread, The Sony Hack, and the Beginning of the End of the Year

Writing for the Internet can break your heart. Don't get me wrong--I'm eternally grateful for the opportunity to actually making a living writing about movies. But too often, the thing you really spend your time and pour your heart into lands on your site and vanishes almost immediately, while the throwaway thing you toss off in a half hour becomes your best performer in a week. I know, I know, traffic shouldn't be the only metric, and it's always nice to have work that's noted and appreciated by your peers and fellow film fans. But when you work really hard on something, it's nice to know that eyeballs are on it. Nine times out of ten, that's not the case.

Thankfully, this was the tenth time. I'd been working on this piece for several weeks now, formulating theories, crunching numbers, doing research, attempting (and occasionally landing) interviews. It went live this week, and it's become one of my most widely-read articles--lots of tweets (from not only fellow tweets, but Felicia Day, FAINT), wonderful feedback, links from my favorite film sites, and today, the ultimate goal for a long piece of ambitious writing: a link at Longreads.

So thank you to everyone who took the time (18 minutes, according to Longreads!) to read it, and to share it. And if you haven't yet, well, here ya go.

And as if that wasn't lovely enough, another piece did very well this week too. I'd initially resisted writing anything about the information culled from the Sony Pictures hack, so when I decided to, it was less for salacious gossip than for something genuinely informative about race in Hollywood. Here's that.

And the rest of this week's links:

Why Is the Weinstein Company Dooming Two of Its Best Oscar Prospects? [UPDATED]

Why Did It Take Chris Rock So Long to Make a Great Movie Like ‘Top Five’?



In Defense of Seeing the Movie Before You Read the Book

Fascinating Early Drafts and Alternate Versions of ‘Star Wars’ Movie Posters

Saturday, November 22, 2014

ICYMI: Mike Nichols, 'Mockingjay,' Trailers, and Pop Culture's Closed Loop

Is Television Sacrificing Its Golden Age to the Closed Loop of Pop Culture?


Why Mike Nichols Was So Much More Than ‘The Graduate’




“What’s Discriminated Against Are My Choices”: Director Gina Prince-Bythewood on Representation, Love Stories, and ‘Beyond the Lights’



‘Basement Tapes’ Syllabus: An Essential Bob Dylan Reading List


How Insane Was the Real-Life Millionaire Murderer at the Center of ‘Foxcatcher’?

 

50 Great Pre-Fame Performances by Famous Actors

 

A Brief History of Jon Stewart’s Side Projects

 

The 8 People You Meet in a Screwball Comedy

 

Cool Illustrations Pair Hollywood Icons with Famous Architects

 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

ICYMI: "Interstellar," Scandal Books, "Theory of Everything," and Bay's Benghazi

Messy, Ambitious ‘Interstellar’ Is Christopher Nolan’s ‘White Album’

 

‘Tinseltown,’ ‘Classic Hollywood,’ and the Secret, Sexy History of Movie Scandals

 

Who Put the Kibosh on the Hollywood Sex Abuse Doc ‘An Open Secret’?

 

Flavorwire Exclusive: Leaked Memo Details Michael Bay’s Benghazi Movie, Other Political Thrillers Based on Real Events!

 

The Slow Erosion of the TV vs. Movie Actor Class System



Let’s Not Break Our Arms Patting Marvel on the Back For “Diversity”

 

How Did the ‘Hobbit’ Movies Go So Horribly Awry?

 

The Greatest Silent Comedians of the Sound Era

 

10 Terrible American Remakes of Great Foreign Films 


The 10 Worst Movies Based on Real Political Events

 

Ingenious Graphic Renderings of Quotes from Pixar Movies

 

7 Totally Lame Movie Sequel Plot Twists

 

13 Great Horror Movies to Stream This Halloween Weekend

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Excerpt-O-Rama!



So The Ultimate Woody Allen Film Companion is out! You can get it here, or here, or here. And there have been excerpts, luckily enough:

The Dissolve ran the piece on "The Woody Allen Style".

RogerEbert.com's "Balder and Dash" vertical ran the piece on autobiography and persona.

And Movie Mezzanine ran the piece on Woody the dramatist.

Also, in a just-plain-odd bit of timing, Pulp Fiction celebrated its actual 20th anniversary (the one that our 20th anniversary book was published nearly a year ahead of) the very week that the Woody book hit shelves, so I had an excuse to run a couple of excerpts from that one too.

At Flavorwire, on Tarantino, violence, and tap-dancing.

And, at The Atlantic, on Tarantino as director/DJ.

So, enjoy! And if you do, y'know, buy the books.

Monday, October 20, 2014

My Next Book: "Richard Pryor: American Id"


A few weeks back, I noticed that quite a few very good film writers/Twitter pals were announcing books from a new publisher called The Critical Press. So I headed over to their website, poked around, and got very excited--because I knew I'd finally found a home for the book I've been wanting to write, trying to write, and starting to write for something like five years now, a book I was thinking about before I even knew anyone would let me write a book. And luckily for me, The Critical Press thinks it's a book worth writing as well, so they'll be publishing it next fall. It's called Richard Pryor: American Id.

I've been a Pryor fan for most of my life, even before I knew the real Pryor, when all I knew him as was the funny guy in Superman III and The Toy. (I was a kid, I didn't know any better.) But when I started listening to the albums, a good many years before I probably should have, I was hooked. I know them by heart, I've seen all the movies, I've watched and rewatched the TV shows. And I've always felt there's a bigger story there, beyond just the comic brilliance of what he was doing, a story of how Richard changed American culture--partially just by being someone who talked about hot-button issues, yet who everyone agreed was funny--and how American culture changed him, how they reflected each other. And in a strange way, it feels like Richard's story mirrors that of American culture in the mid-to-late 20th century: it's a story of discovery, of finding a voice, of breaking down barriers, and then of retreating into safety and nostalgia. 

So with those ideas in mind, the book will be neither a conventional biography (there's plenty of those out there, and more are coming) nor a complete catalogue of the work (like my Woody Allen book). Instead, in a style somewhat inspired by Greil Marcus's books on Van Morrison and the Doors, I'll tackle Pryor through a handful of essays, each of them examining a recurring theme, motif, or experience within his work, via one or a couple of a handful of stand-up routines, or film performances, or TV apperances. (For example, rather than running through his battles with substance abuse, we'll look at his performances as addicts in Lady Sings the Blues, in the "Wino Vs. Junkie" routine on That Nigger's Crazy, as "Motif the Junikie" in Richard Pryor: Here and Now, and in a remarkable sketch on Lilty Tomlin's special Lily. That kinda thing.) If you'd like an idea of what it will be like, here's a piece I ran at Flavorwire, based on an earlier version of the prologue. 

So I'll be working on the book this fall and winter, and The Critical Press is aiming to release it next fall--just in time, wouldn't ya know it, to coincide with Lee Daniels' Pryor biopic. They'll release it both in physical and digital format, for all you Kindle-rs out there. And it is my hope that it will be a book worthy of its rich subject. It's the book I've been wanting to write for a very long time, and I look forward to sharing it with you. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

10 Must-See Movies at the 2014 Tallgrass Film Festival


The time has come again for me to pack a bag, gather up the family, and head home to Wichita, Kansas for the Tallgrass  Film Festival--my hometown film fest, where I’ve participated as a filmmaker, a selection committee member, and, for the last three years, as a critic. It kicks off tonight, and one of the best things about the festival is that its programmers gather terrific films that might never otherwise make their way to a smaller market like Wichita; they’ve got pictures that played Sundance, SXSW, Tribeca, and elsewhere, all of them worth seeing. So  I put together a round-up of the ones I’ve already enjoyed, in the hopes that you Tallgrass-goers will do the same.

Art and Craft

“Nothing’s original under the sun — everything goes back to something,” mutters Mark Landis in the opening sequence of this rich and fascinating documentary. He made a life of that principle; for decades, the soft-spoken, melancholy, schizophrenic art forger “donated” over 100 works of art to 46 museums in 20 states, sometimes disguised as a priest, occasionally in the name of his deceased mother or fictional sister. He was finally outed by the registrar of one of those museums, Matthew Leininger, and Art and Craft brilliantly situates them as opposite sides of the same coin, pursuing complimentary obsessions with a similar fervor. The picture’s got a crisp pace and a deadpan playfulness, telling a too-good-to-be-true story with humor and empathy, and its climactic sequence (where the key players come face to face at an exhibition of Landis’s work) is funny, sad, and satisfying, all at once.

Five Star

Writer/director/Editor Keith Miller crafts this Brooklyn gang drama with an offhand naturalism, filling it with conversations that feel overheard and scenes that seem captured without preparation. As a result, some of the scenes run on a bit too long, sacrificing dynamism for the sake of reality, and the familiarity of the narrative results in some unfortunately clichéd dialogue (“Sad to say, it was just business”). But nonetheless, this is a forceful and bracing ground-level portrait, contrasting a young man working his way into “the life” with an older power player longing to get out. And first-timer James “Primo” Grant is astonishingly good in the leading role, suggesting but never insisting on either his power or his complexity.

The Great Invisible

The winner of this year’s SXSW Grand Jury Prize for feature documentary revisits the Deep Horizon explosion and subsequent oil spill, which dumped 176 million gallons of oil in the Gulf of Mexico over 87 days in 2010. It gives you what you pay for — stunning figures, accounts of mind-boggling hypocrisy and incompetence, and endless rage. We know the facts; director Margaret Brown’s skill is in drawing out the characters, from shellshocked survivors to family members left behind to Roosevelt Harris, a straight-talking and kind food bank volunteer who provides the heart and soul of the picture. It’s easy to get depressed by this kind of thing, but Harris provides a valuable counterpoint, reminding us of the goodness that inevitably appears in the wake of a nightmare.

Keep on Keepin’ On

We get our first glimpse of jazz legend Clark Terry as he’s bedridden, an oxygen tube to his nose, humming melodies. “I’m 89, but I’m gonna keep doin’ it till I get it right,” he insists, and Alan Hicks’ documentary takes a look at his long career, as one of the foremost jazz trumpet players, to his current station as an instructor and booster, providing the kind of guidance to young musicians that the old timers in his day rarely gave. Hicks also focuses on Justin Kauflin, a young, blind jazz piano player who “CT” takes under his wing; the older man gets sicker, but the mentorship helps keep his head in the game. Hicks’ style is intimate and unassuming, capturing the struggles of musicians young and old, and the common bond shared between them (not just Terry and Kauflin, but the genuine affection between Terry and Quincy Jones, who exec-produces). Wanders a little, but a warm and engaging picture, filled — no surprise — with great music.

The Kill Team

Director Dan Krauss crafts a chilling, unforgiving, and vividly effective documentary account of a platoon of soldiers murdering Afghans for sport, mutilating corpses, and engaging in other ghastly activity in the name of “combat.” Motivated by resentment, blood lust, or (worst of all) sheer boredom, the “kill team” took graphic video and pictures as shocking as anything at Abu Gharib, and nearly got away with it. Krauss focuses on the trial of Spc. Adam Winfield, who tried to blow the whistle and failed; his helplessness grounds the tale, while Krauss and editor Lawrence Lerew’s sharp-edged cutting keeps the storytelling hard and jarring. Excellent documentary filmmaking, and infuriating viewing.


Life Itself

Hoop Dreams director Steve James constructs this documentary profile of film critic Roger Ebert in much the same spirit as the memoir whose title it shares — as a series of good stories, warm memories, and cinematic valentines. He’s covering a lot of ground here, but the picture never feels rushed or superficial; it’s full of tributes, dialectics, fascinating archival material, and remarkable footage shot by James during Ebert’s final months. A treat for cinephiles, but they’re not the only audience; it is the moving story of a bright man who found fame and love and, in the face of illness, tremendous bravery. (Full review here.)

Mood Indigo

The latest from the great Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) opens with a quote from Boris Vian: “The story is entirely true, because I imagined it from one end to the other.” It feels that thoroughly pulled from Gondry’s active imagination; he creates his own world, with its own look, rules, and even physics. It’s at the service of a charming story about a young man (Roman Duris) who demands to fall in love (mostly because all of his friends are), and meets a lovely young woman (Audrey Tautou) who puts him at ease: “If we screw up the moment, we try the next,” she tells him on their first date. “We have our whole lives to get it right.” It’s a sweet and cheery movie that takes a turn toward melancholy in its third act — which is probably for the best, since Gondry’s style can get a bit exhausting, and you can only watch a spinning top for so long. But if you go along with it, Mood Indigo offers plenty of pleasures, not least among them the joy Gondry seems to have playing in his big sandbox.

The Overnighters

Jesse Moss’s quiet, thoughtful documentary tells the story of Pastor Jay Reinke, whose Concordia Lutheran Church in Williston, North Dakota becomes a way station for waves of men flooding into their town looking for work in the flourishing oil industry. The church offers them help and temporary housing — but their presence causes tension with neighbors and the community, who are wary of these out-of-towners (particularly when a local newspaper uncovers a worrisome number of sex offenders in their midst). Moss’ camera captures some extraordinarily candid moments, up to and including a closing bombshell that reframes much of what’s come before. But it’s not just voyeurism; the picture carefully considers, in a way that’s seldom seen in American film, exactly what it is to be a Christian — not just to say it, but to be it — and the implications of living one’s life accordingly.

Stray Dog

Debra Granik’s documentary follow-up to the Oscar-nominated Winter’s Bone opens with a pack of aging, grizzled bikers hanging out in parking lots, roaring down highways, and drinking moonshine out of jelly jars. But within minutes, we’re watching one of them learning Spanish on his computer and painting figurines with his Mexican wife. You think you know people, and you might think you know Ronnie “Stray Dog” Hall, but Granik’s quietly observational movie (no interviews, no voice-over, just moments) takes in a man who seems like a type, living a very average Midwestern trailer park life, and discovers the real guy: a likable old salty dog whose warm exterior conceals a lot of sadness and a lot of pain. But it’s not a sad film, and it’s not “poverty porn” — it’s filled with earthy humor and love, both for this man and what he represents.

Traitors

Chaimae Ben Acha is superb as Malika, lead singer of a punk band in Tangier desperate to hustle up some cash for a promising demo recording. She crosses paths with Samir (Mourade Zeguendi), a skeezy but persuasive drug dealer, who offers her a stack of cash to drive a heroin-filled car across the border — a seemingly easy mission, but one with dangerous repercussions that become frighteningly clear when it’s too late to turn back. Writer/director Sean Gullette (star of Darren Aronofky’s Pi) feeds off the band’s punk energy in the early passages, while taking an unexpected turn into stranger waters later on. The tension is genuine and the script is smart, given an invaluable assist by Acha’s considerable charisma and force.


All capsule reviews originally published at Flavorwire

ICYMI: 'Birdman,' Burroughs, 'Foxcatcher,' and Spinal Tap'


Alejandro Iñárritu’s ‘Birdman’ is Brainy, Buoyant, Brash, Meta Moviemaking


How a Legendary William S. Burroughs Documentary Was Lost… and Found 30 Years Later

 

Christopher Guest on the Real Inspiration Behind ‘This Is Spinal Tap’

 

Bennett Miller’s ‘Foxcatcher': A Mesmerizing Telling of a Bizarre, Tragic, True Tale


‘St. Vincent’ Is Warm, Likable, and Worrisome for Bill Murray Fans

 

Know Your Righteous Movie Journalists 

 

NBC’s ‘Marry Me’ Is Yet Another Rehash of Rejected Rom-Com Tropes

Monday, September 1, 2014

May I Suggest Some Labor Day Reading?


I wanted to give these two pieces one more push, since I'm proud of them, and what the hell, it's Labor Day, what else are you doing?

I'd been planning this look at sex, lies, and videotape for a while--since I spotted that its 25th anniversary was on the horizon, in fact. I wanted to do it for many reasons: My semi-obsession with Soderbergh, my love for the film, to explore its history further, etc. But mostly, I think it's an important film because from several standpoints (aesthetically, commercially, critically) it really was the beginning of the '90s indie movie movement, and it's my belief that, once we get a bit more distance from it, we'll see that moments as just as vibrant and vital as '70s Hollywood or the French New Wave. Anyway, I took a long look at how the film was made and how it changed the industry, and you can read it here.

While I was researching that piece, I discovered that The Dissolve was making Out of Sight their Movie of the Week, so I reached out to them with the idea of doing a piece that basically picked up where the sex, lies one left off--an analysis of the "wilderness years" between that first success and his comeback nine years later. To my delight, they bit, and so I got my first real byline (aside from a book excerpt) at this amazing site. You can read that one here.

I did both of these pieces like mini-books, following the same process that I've used on the two tomes thus far: rewatching the films, some intense research (too much research, usually), a lock-the-doors-bar-the-windows period for pounding out the piece itself, and many revisions, with the help of my in-house editor Rebekah, and the fine editors at these sites. And I'm proud of the results. Maybe I'll get to turn these into a book someday. Hmmmm....

Thursday, June 5, 2014

ICYMI: "Edge of Tomorrow," "Neighbors," "Godzilla," and Lotsa "Louie"

Why Isn’t ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ Director Doug Liman a Household Name?

Flavorwire Author Club: How James Agee Changed Film Criticism

‘Neighbors’: The Bro Comedy Grows Up

‘Godzilla’ Is the Rare Cynical Reboot That’s Surprisingly Fun

Has the Ryan Gosling Era Come to an End?

Dear Seth MacFarlane: Quit Your Day Job

Fox News Boldly Investigates the Shameful Trend of “Female Breadwinners”

The 25 Most Underrated Movies of the 2000s

10 Directors Who Just Can’t Leave Their Damn Movies Alone

The Seven-Month Delay on the Wachowskis’ ‘Jupiter Ascending’ Is a Blessing, Not a Curse

George Carlin’s Guide to Life

The Most Hilariously Cringe-Inducing Romantic Dialogue in Movie History

30 Years of Memorial Day Blockbusters, Ranked

8 Legendary Deleted Movie Scenes You’ve Never Seen

Flavorwire’s Guide to Indie Flicks to See in June

“Based on a True Story” Movie Subjects: Where Are They Now?

10 Great New-to-Netflix Movies to Stream This Holiday Weekend

The Best Life Advice From Movie Moms

7 More Wes Anderson Tourist Attractions We’d Like to See

10 Essential Mod Movies

Flavorwire Exclusive: Storyboards From the Original ‘Star Wars’ Trilogy

Amazing Photos of Huge Monuments Seen From Surprising Perspectives

‘Louie’ Season 4 Premiere Recap: “Back/Model”