DVD Review: 'The Trip to Italy'

...There are wisps of other plot threads—about how they relate to their families, feel about aging, and traverse through their careers—but most of the movie passes without too much incident. And, ultimately, it’s a genial way to pass a couple of hours. In the film, Brydon complains that people find his stage persona “affable”—a hard reputation to live up to in person—but “affable” is the best way to describe the film. It doesn’t require too much thought; audiences just have to sit back and let the jokes wash over them. There’s a teeny bit of literary history, a slight bit of drama, a smattering of food porn, but mostly jokes...

Click through to read the full review at PopMatters.




PopMatters: The Best Films of 2014

I love contributing to year-end lists! I wrote a few blurbs for PopMatters' list of best films of the year.

The Best Films of 2014

No. 29: Only Lovers Left Alive

Vampires are overused. Scrubbed up and prettified to the point they can be nonthreatening romantic partners for teenagers, today’s cinematic vampires are, well, pretty toothless. With Only Lovers Left Alive, director Jim Jarmusch has managed to salvage the vampire mystique. His vamps are sexy, mysterious, brooding, and dangerous in equal measures. Adam (Tom Hiddleston, proving he deserves the admiration of a thousand Tumblrs) and Eve (Tilda Swinton, in one of her many standout performances this year) don’t do much throughout the course of the film—the two reunited lovers mostly bum around Adam’s Detroit home—but throughout their conversations, Jarmusch manages to slip in elbow-to-the-ribs jokes about history, ruminations about marriage, and most importantly, a meditation into the creation of art itself. And Hiddleston and Swinton make it look so, so cool.

No. 22: Whiplash

In Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash, music student and jazz drummer Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) tells his girlfriend that he strives to be one of the greatest performers of all time. In reality, it’s actor Teller and his co-star—J.K. Simmons, playing Terence Fletcher, Neiman’s teacher and bandleader—who really seem to be making a play at greatness. The film is about their conflict, and how Neiman believes he deserves greater acclaim as a drummer, with Fletcher arguing Neiman needs to pay more dues. Their back-and-forth brings the movie to a fever pitch—whiplash, indeed—with Teller and Simmons portraying the extremes of anger, frustration, and ambition without being afraid to show the egoism and callousness that go with them. It all builds to a climax that’s nothing short of virtuosic, both musically and cinematically.

No. 5: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Wes Anderson has a reputation for being constricting. His shots are so composed and his aesthetic so specific that his stories barely have room to breathe. The Grand Budapest Hotel refutes this generalization. Anderson pulls back and widens the scope of his film, spanning multiple time periods (with different casts of actors for each), countries (imagined ones, at least), and even aspect ratios (with frame sizes changing to denote the different timelines). Along with the broadened scope comes a certain looseness not normally associated with a director as controlling as Anderson; the actors, for example, each speak with their own accents, whether or not it makes sense in the context of the film. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t pack the same emotional punch as Anderson’s other films; it subtly moves from sequences of light farce to moments of real grief, sadness, loneliness, and anxiety about an approaching war. It adds up to a masterpiece on par with Johannes Van Hoytl the Younger’s Boy with Apple.

No. 4: Birdman, or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance

If there were a theme to 2014’s best movies, it would be about the struggle of creation. From the generation of music, as seen in Whiplash and Only Lovers Left Alive, to the art of Mr. Turner, the year was full of characters fighting to get something out into the world. Birdman is no exception. Not only is Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) trying to mount a play (a stage adaptation of Raymond Carver’s short story “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love”), he’s also trying to complete an act of self-invention. Along the way, director Alejandro González Iñárritu completes his own metamorphosis, from a director known for cross-cutting to one crazy enough to make a movie that looks like it was all one take. The subtitle of the movie is “The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance”, but it should instead be “The Unabashed Joy of Ambition”.

Click through to read the full list at PopMatters



Bustle TV Coverage: 12/15/2014 to 12/28/2014

Recently on Bustle, I...

...recapped everything we know about the sixth (and, sadly, final) season of Justified.

...lamented that Ben Folds, the best judge, wouldn't be returning to The Sing-Off, the charted the rise and fall of Sing-Off super-group The Exchange

...investigated when True Detective would return for its second season

...speculated about renewal chances for State of Affairs

...explained why the Madison Square Garden performance of the iHeartRadio Jingle Ball Tour was the best one to televise.

...looked into whether or not there were true stories behind Lifetime movies A Wife's Nightmare and Nanny Cam

Photo credit: Prashant Gupta/FX


Bustle TV Coverage: 12/1/2014 to 12/14/2014

...created a holiday gift-guide for die-hard Sherlock fans in case your mind palace was empty of ideas.

...rejoiced that Pixar came up with a new Toy Story short for the holidays.

...took at look at the times Melissa McCarthy and husband Ben Falcone teamed up on comedy projects.

...previewed the product that landed the biggest deal on Shark Tank then peeked behind the curtain at the home life of one of the sharks.

...looked into the literary inspirations behind The Librarians.

...attempted to find the real-life inspirations from Wally Lamb's Wishin' and Hopin', his Christmas special.

...looked at the past careers of two other Christmas special stars, Alicia Witt of Christmas at Cartwrights, and John Reardon of The Christmas Secret.

...figured out how Nashville fans can bide their time until it returns from winter hiatus.

...found out that people can decorate Christmas trees for a living, as Bob Pranga and Debi Staron do.

Image: screenshot from kaieldesigns/Etsy



Bustle Film/TV Coverage: 11/17/2014 to 11/30/2014

Recently on Bustle, I...

...felt perplexed that The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 was split into two movies, so I figured out the page of the book where the first movie ends, determined what's left for Mockingjay - Part 2, and argued that dividing the last book into two movies wasn't the best idea. Spoilers abound for those posts, obviously.

...helped sleepy (hungover?) parade-watchers figure out what time and what channel the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade was on. I didn't know CBS had its own rogue broadcast.

...argued that the best times to watch The Nightmare Before Christmas are on Halloween, in Christmas, and on Thanksgiving, or halfway between Halloween and Christmas.

...gave advice to the makers of Catfish regarding what they should change in the show's fourth season.

...reassured Batman fans that Gotham's Ian Hargrove is not from the comics.

...found out that Seasons of Love's Cleo Anthony is rumored to be appearing in -- where else? -- a Marvel project.

...wondered how the Magic Cook featured on Shark Tank gets its magic heat.

Photo: Murray Close/Lionsgate


A.V. Club: Great Job, Internet!

For the A.V. Club's "Great Job, Internet!" series, I wrote about an artist, Hannah Rothstein, who took a series of photographs of Thanksgiving meals plated like different artists.


...Some of the images are as you would expect: The Piet Mondrian separates cranberry sauce, green beans, and stuffing into perfect, gravy-delineated rectangles, and the Georges Seurat forms a pumpkin out of dots of corn kernels. Others take more artistic license—like the Picasso-inspired meal served on the shards of a broken plate. (And the Rothko? It lives up to the description Jane Siegal gave the artist’s work on Mad Men: “Smudgy squares.”)...

Click through to read the entire post at The A.V. Club.

Photo: Hannah Rothstein. NB: She's selling prints of the photos, with a portion of the proceeds benefittnig the SF-Marin Food Bank.



Bustle TV Coverage: 10/13/2014 to 11/16/2014

Recently on Bustle, I...

...seethed with jealousy that Chris Pratt braids Anna Faris' hair, just one of the many reasons they're the perfect couple.

...cooked up some easy, cheap Gotham Halloween costumes.

...found out why Mr. Wonderful is called that on Shark Tank, and looked into where you can buy one of the products that I liked, but the sharks didn't. I would make a lousy Shark.

...sought out the comic origins of the tattooed stranger and Agent Triplett on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D

...theorized that everything Victoria Gotti knows about reality stardom, she learned from her mobster father.

...found the perfect match for Briana on Are You the One, because it isn't Curti. 

...predicted that Amber is going to be the Snooki of Slednecks

...speaking of Snooki, who is her fiance, anyway? This guy

The Daily Traveler: Ghost Tours

Scariest Ghost Tours for Halloween

Explore haunted spaces, meet scary spirits, hear dark legends—and, yes, maybe learn a little history—on these ghost tours.

Boroughs of the Dead
New York City

Tour: The Ultimate Greenwich Village Ghost Tour takes guests through some of New York City's most famous haunts, including the "House of Death," (pictured) a house that is haunted by 22 spirits—including (possibly) the ghost of Mark Twain, who lived there for a year.

What Else You'll Pass: St. Mark’s Church in the Bowery, McSorley's Tavern, the Public Theatre, the Merchant's House Museum, and Washington Square Park.

You Might Meet: A boy who haunts the sixth floor of Hayden Hall at New York University. He hanged himself there more than 20 years ago; now he spends his time opening and closing drawers and moving furniture around.

FYI: All of Boroughs of the Dead's tour guides are writers who specialize in horror and speculative fiction (and a few of them are actors, too)—so they know how to tell a good ghost story.

Tours meet at St. Mark’s Church in the Bowery, 131 E 10th St, New York, NY, 646-932-0680; boroughsofthedead.com. Tours last two hours and cost $20 in advance, $25 at the door.

Click through to see the full slideshow at the Condé Nast Traveler

Photo Courtesy of Boroughs of the Dead

TV Review: 'Marry Me'

...Even if The New Girl and The Mindy Project have modeled some success, 2014’s crop of TV rom-sitcoms—A to Z, Manhattan Love Story, and Selfie—will have to figure out what they would do if they were lucky enough to make it to a second season. Do they extend the will-they-or-won’t-they tensions, or is that just stringing audiences along? Or, might the couples get together in a season finalé, fundamentally changing the blueprint of the show for a sophomore season?

These longer-term questions aside, the single-camera Marry Me distinguishes itself by focusing on a couple who is together from the beginning. In the premiere episode, airing 14 October, Annie (Casey Wilson) and Jake (Ken Marino) have already been through their meet-cute, fallen in love, and spent six years together. The series premiere focuses on their bumpy engagement.

With this history in place, the show is free to focus on the comedy portion of the relationship, rather than the earliest, more sentimental stage. That doesn’t mean this rom-sitcom leaves out emotional moments; it’s clear that Annie and Jake really care for each other. Flashbacks to their initial meeting and the first time each says, “I love you” briefly deliver blushing first moments of love for viewers interested in that stage. That said, these early moments look ahead to the problems ahead, as Annie and Jake’s awkwardness gives way to scenes of abject embarrassment. Wilson and Marino are skilled enough performers that they can sell the tender scenes as well as the more exaggerated comedy... 

Click through to read the full review at PopMatters.
 


DVD Review: 'Obvious Child'

...If there’s a problem with Obvious Child, it’s born of the movie’s strengths. It’s a relief to see a movie that doesn’t treat abortion as a ordeal, and it’s refreshing to see a man in a romantic comedy be an idealized fantasy object. However, the combination of these two elements makes the film light on conflict. It’s important to Obvious Child to keep the abortion regret-free, so once the decision to end the pregnancy is made, it doesn’t continue to drive the narrative. The focus shifts to the relationship between Donna and Max, but he never seems to anger no matter how bad Donna’s behavior gets. Donna goes through ups and downs on her own accord, but nothing is too extreme...

Click through to read the full review on PopMatters.