Thursday, July 23, 2015


I felt like an asshole watching Amy. The new documentary about doomed singer Amy Winehouse left me feeling disheartened, and sad, and cold. “It left me feeling cold.” That’s a line I see a lot in film criticism today. People often say it as if it’s a bad thing – “It left me feeling cold.” The problem with that line is that further explanation is rarely granted by the people who use it. After all, what’s wrong with feeling cold? Many of my favorite films leave me feeling cold. There’s nothing inherently “warm” to gain from Cries and Whispers. Or Shame. Or Deliverance. A documentary about someone as troubled as Amy Winehouse is not going to leave you feeling warm and fuzzy. Cold is to be expected here. But my time with Amy goes beyond cold. Watching the film, I felt like a participant in Winehouse’s death. I felt like I was watching someone die in slow motion, and that I was helping it happen.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

In Character: Rebecca Pidgeon

David Mamet’s films are a drug. I watch one and the synapses in my brain start firing, demanding only one thing: more, more, more. Genuinely, I can’t remember ever watching just one Mamet film and letting that be that. I watch one, and a week later, I’ve rewatched them all.

Upon binging Mamet’s films for the past week, I took particular notice of one of Mamet’s staple actors, the great Rebecca Pidgeon. Pidgeon and Mamet have been married since 1991 and their fruitful collaboration has produced some truly excellent work. So, for the first time in In Character (125 posts and counting!), every role I’ll be discussing was directed and/or created by the same filmmaker, which is really a testament to the work Pidgeon and Mamet have made together.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

the Directors: Kathryn Bigelow

Roger Ebert said it best, Kathryn Bigelow is a master of stories about men and women who choose to be in physical danger. Choose is the operative word. The characters in Bigelow’s films always seek out trouble. Sometimes it’s their job to do so; cops, soldiers and secret agents are paid to place themselves in dangerous situations. Other times, Bigelow’s characters start trouble just for the hell of it. The through line of these characters is that they all become obsessed with danger. The thrill of the chase, the determination of discovery.

Of course, Kathryn Bigelow is the only female who has won a Best Director Oscar, but that’s not what makes her work so iconic. In her three decades plus career, she’s made films in all different genres. Her movies are all different, but, in some ways, all the same. That’s what makes a great director, a great director.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Top 39 Things I Love About Magic Mike (that no one talks about)

So the thing is, I love Steven Soderbergh’s Magic Mike. The movie is a lot smarter than it has ever been given credit for, and in the wake of the release of its worthy follow-up, Magic Mike XXL (my review here), I thought it be fun to take a look back at the wildly misunderstood source film. For the most part, I’m going to focus on the technical aspects of the film – cinematography, editing, sound design – which are sadly rarely discussed.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Magic Mike XXL

The original Magic Mike was a phenomenon. Made independently with $7 million dollars of director Steven Soderbergh and star Channing Tatum’s money, the film grossed more than $160 million worldwide, but not without angering a great many people. From the beginning, Magic Mike was pitched as an all-male romp, based on Tatum’s experience as a teenage stripper in Florida. The film was marketed ingeniously, relying on the abs and asses of guys with names like Tatum, McConaughey, Pettyfer, and Bomer. The marketing objective was simple: get women in the seats opening weekend. And it worked, like wildfire. Theaters sold out, millions were made, and many were pissed.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

In Character: Ann Dowd

Ann Dowd is having a moment. In the past two years alone she’s been featured in critically revered indies as well as some of the most popular shows on television. But diving into her filmography, it’s clear that Dowd has been killing it for quite some time (yeah, that’s her as Ton Hanks’ supportive sis in Philadelphia), she only just broke through recently. Here I take a look back at her career, from humble and humorous beginnings, to current career-best work.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

My Favorite Scene: Begin Again

Warning: Critical plot details are revealed in this post.

My first experience with Begin Again was under some of the worst viewing circumstances possible. It was on my birthday last year. I was flying back to L.A. after 30 consecutive hours of delayed planes, mile-long lines for flight exchanges, layovers that never ended, and airport workers “trying their best.” I was tired and pissed off and figured that Begin Again looked as good a film as any to help pass the time. I thought the film would be easy, silly, dumb – not worth the $15 to catch it theaters, but fine for free on a plane.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Top 10 Directors Who Edit Their Own Films

Editing is where the magic happens. It’s where you shape, explore, experiment – it’s literally where you find and make your film. But it’s also a damn tedious process. Because there are so many choices in editing, filmmakers often hire professional editors to help them craft their films. On rare occasions, directors will assume sole responsibility as the chief editor, thereby fully seeing their film to the bitter end. Below are 10 directors who took on the laborious task of editing their own films themselves. Ranking them seemed fruitless, so they’re presented here alphabetically.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Top 10 Vilmos Zsigmond Films

Vilmos Zsigmond has been one of film’s most influential cinematographers for decades. In more than 60 years as a working director of photography, he’s amassed 100 credits and been a go-to cinematographer for Brian De Palma, Robert Altman, Steven Spielberg, Michael Cimino and many more. By pure coincidence, I wrote the majority of this post yesterday, which was Zsigmond’s 85th birthday. Here’s wishing him well by exploring some of his best work.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

In Character: Benicio Del Toro

One of my favorite things about writing these In Character posts is that I occasionally discover a new reason why I love an actor I already admired. I’ve loved Benicio Del Toro’s work since he strutted away from the police in his opening scene in The Usual Suspects, but in writing this post, I realized what I like most about him are his silences. While widely regarded for the inspired voices he often gives his characters, Del Toro’s real skill is his stare. Here’s an actor I’ve always appreciated, but like even more now, just from stacking all of his best work together.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Top 10 Entourage Cameos

I know the popular thing to do right now is shit all over the new Entourage movie, but I was always a fan of the original HBO show. Excessive, juvenile, silly – it was consistently all of those things, but I enjoyed much of the bubblegum L.A. fantasy it maintained. One thing the show was always rich with was celebrity cameos, and in the wake of the film sequel, here are my favorite celeb cameos featured in the show’s eight-season run. (Note: I only included cameos in which the celebrity played themselves.)

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Music Video: Mint Green

Sometimes it feels like a song finds you. Like it was made specifically for you and it reached out when you needed it most. Hearing Andrew Shapiro’s “Mint Green” for the first time was one such rare and beautiful occasion. I came across the track by chance on Pandora and immediately stopped what I was doing and devoted my full attention to it. I was so touched by the song’s collection of layered pianos, delivering notes of love and hope and melancholy. When the track finished, I sat inspired and deeply moved.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

the Directors: Alfred Hitchcock

This is the one. The post I’ve been leading to. When I started my “the Directors” column in 2009, I knew that covering the great Alfred Hitchcock was a necessity, no matter how long it took. I’ve been chipping away at Hitch’s filmography for a good long while, and below is what I (finally) have to report. I do hope you enjoy my thoughts on every film by the Master of Suspense, and feel free to share your favorite Hitch films as well!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Every Secret Thing

The girl is missing. Three-year-old Brittney Little was last seen in a furniture store as her young mother, Maveen (Sarah Sokolovic), and Maveen’s boyfriend (Common), playfully argued about which type of couch to buy. Two detectives are called to investigate, and they soon begin to unravel a complex plot that could help explain Brittney’s disappearance.

But that’s not where Every Secret Thing begins.

LAMBcast Discussion: Spring Breakers

Last week, I was invited to participate in a podcast discussion about Harmony Korine’s masterful film, Spring Breakers. The Vern, Jay CluittJD Duran, Nikhat Zahra and I spent 90 minutes talking about all aspects of the film – from the neon cinematography to the hyper editing, dangerous perceptions to surprising (but very welcome) feminism. It’s always a pleasure to be a part of the LAMBcast, especially when I’m such a huge admirer of the film in discussion. Click here to give the podcast a listen!