I’ve bought an embarrassing number of weird old records over the last several years, some of them priced considerably higher than the $1 I dropped on Proudly They Came… to Honor America. The double LP was a memento from “Honor America Day,” a 1970 Independence Day observance organized by President Nixon’s inaugural committee chair.
I’d never heard of that event until I found this record, but when I read up on it, mostly in Kevin J. Kruse’s 2015 book One Nation Under God, it struck me as similar in intention to the self-aggrandizing “Salute to America” that President Trump has announced for this Thursday, but far less dire and militaristic. I wrote about all this for the Washington Post.
What a treat to dissect the third and gnarliest John Wick with Linda and Glen and Aisha Harris.
While recommending Brian Raftery’sBest. Movie. Year. Ever: How 1999 Blew Up the Big Screen, I happened to name one of my most be-loathed movies from that year, the Best Picture-winning American Beauty, while omitting the names of my most beloved: Rushmore, Three Kings, Eyes Wide Shut, and so on. Raftery did not include John McTiernan’s remake of The Thomas Crown Affair in his book about 1999’s most notable and groundbreaking movies, probably because a remake of a 30-year-old thriller isn’t groundbreaking, and the movie did not have a substantial cultural impact.
But it was was the last good movie McTiernan made, I’m sorry to say, and I saw it in the theater that summer along with Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, Notting Hill, American Pie, The Sixth Sense, Mystery Men, and all the rest, and I have revisited it on several occasions since.
Have mercy! This is just getting ridiculous now. For the lucky thirteenth iteration of my Yuletunes Eclectic and Inexplicable series, I thought that instead of releasing it in two indefensibly long parts, as had been my habit since I stopped burning and printing physical CDs of this thing—a nice bauble to thrust into some unsuspecting person’s hand, but expensive—I thought I would do a sort of podcast limited series of four episodes, released weekly, counting down to the Feast of Christmas. Because four is more than two—one hundred percent more, from a numerical perspective. And I believe in always giving one hundred percent, Christmaswise.
I learned of my former boss’s passing last Saturday via a text from my friend Brian just after midnight:
“My sincere condolences on your friend Ricky Jay.”
I worked for RJ for eight months, 13 years ago. He was kind to me, and I recall many moments of warmth between us, but it would be disingenuous for me to imply we were buddies. I was his employee. Then again, people who knew him for much longer than I did spoke of being very conscious of minding those kinds of boundaries with him, too.
I didn’t think I was going to write anything about him. I didn’t see how I could without also writing about me, and a rough patch in my life, which seemed perilously narcissistic/self-pitying/starfucking/all of the above.
Then old buddy Glen, who is also, happily, my editor, prodded me to start and I couldn’t stop.
It had been too long since I got to appear on a PCHH panel with the great Gene Demby from Code Switch, so I was very happy to find myself sitting beside him for this episode dissecting Creed II, which frustrated each of us in different ways. You can hear the episode here; my review of the movie is here.
I’ve got a feature in today’s Washington City Paper about Raghad Mahklouf, a Syrian asylum-seeker—and veteran actor—who’s appearing in The Welders’ new riff on Pericles. Only 34 seats are available for each performance, so don’t sleep on those tickets if this appeals to you.
After the customary late summer lull, I’m back on the theater beat. Last week’s Washington City Paper featured my reviews of two plays that first appeared in 2015, now making their regional premieres Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ stunner Gloria, at Woolly Mammoth, and Small Mouth Sounds by Bess Wohl, at Round House.
FURTHER READING: My 2013 City Paper profile of Branden Jacobs-Jenkins is here.
Predator, directed by John McTiernan the year before he made Die Hard, has been a favorite film of mine ever since I biked home with the rented VHS cassette (I couldn’t persuade my dad to take me, aged 10, to see it in the theater) and watched it three or four times in a weekend. It was the 12th highest-grossing film of 1987, a year when the box office top five was Three Men and a Baby, Fatal Attraction, Beverly Hills Cop II, Good Morning, Vietnam, and Moonstruck. One sequel and four original, not-based-on-preexisting material screenplays. Just in case you need a sense of just how long ago that was.
Jennifer Garner and Jeff Harlan star in PEPPERMINT
“The title, with its slight echo of the 1973 Pam Grier vehicle Coffy, promises a sticky confection of feminism and violence, but the movie it’s selling is a desultory drag. It’s so dull-edged that even prospect of a white woman (named North!) whose family was afflicted by, um, economic anxiety before being murdered by cartel-affiliated outlaws doesn’t carry the scab-picking provocation that it should.”
That’s me on Peppermint, a sweaty return to sweaty form for Jennifer Garner, from Taken director Pierre Morel. It’s the kind of movie that doesn’t get shown at the Toronto International Film Festival, where I currently am not. The full review is here.
Pal-for-Life Glen Weldon did me a solid with that headline. Of all the giant-shark thrillers that’ve been scaring us out of the water since Jawsinvented the summer blockbuster, The Meg is without question the most recent. Here’s my NPR review.
Here is a joke you will not hear on today’s episode of Pop Culture Happy Hour, wherein I join old friends Linda Holmes and Stephen Thompson and new friend Daisy Rosario to dissect (heh) Annihilation, the new thriller from Ex Machina writer/director Alex Garland starring Natalie Portman and involving lots of cool but hella gross body horror stuff: Continue reading →
I’m on today’s episode of Pop Culture Happy Hour, weighing in on the new season of Netflix’s cautionary-tale tech anthology Black Mirror. One thing I should’ve said had there been time is just how much the open format of the show contributes to its ability to build tension. Two of my favorites among the six new episodes are “U.S.S. Callister,” which runs a nearly feature-length 76 minutes, and “Metalhead,” which clocks in at around 40 minutes—not even long enough to fill a network hour.
Anyway, I was happy as always to join Linda and Glen, and especially glad to get to speak with Brittany Luse, whom I had not met previously. You can hear the episode here, or on whatever smart device you’ve got. Or both. I mean, we’re all cuffed to our digital appendages now, despite the warnings of Black Mirror creator Charlie Brooker. Continue reading →
Here’s my NPR review of American Made, Doug Liman’s heavily fictionalized but ecstatically true crime biopic starring Tom Cruise as C.I.A. gunrunner and dope smuggler Barry Seal. As I discuss in the piece, Liman’s father, Arthur Liman, was heavily involved in the 1987 U.S. Senate hearings into the Iran-Contra affair, of which Seal’s covert flights were an operational element. (Here’s Arthur.)
Review-writing is easier when you can interrogate your responses to the work and make judgments quickly. Detroitjust wasn’t one of those movies for me.
I thought it was important to try to discern exactly where the Bigelow-Boal directing/screenwriting duo deviated from or compressed the facts, which is hard in a 50-year-old case where so many of the facts were disputed. But I also saw some odd parallels between this movie and a couple of the ones Bigelow made before her historic Oscar win changed the way we receive her work. So my review is, among other things… long.
What a Craig Finn-style blockbuster summer we’re having this year. Nothing as visionary as Mad Max: Fury Road from 2015, maybe, or as congruent with my own sensibilities as The Nice Guys from last year, but everything I picked sight unseen for my Village Voice/LA Weekly summer movie preview—Wonder Woman, The Beguiled, Baby Driver, Spider-Man: Homecoming—has so far avoided embarrassing me. I even liked Rough Night okay. It’s possible I’m not all that discerning a critic.
But my praise for War of the Planet of the Apes is well-founded. Even though I saw the movie weeks before I was assigned to write about it, which might be why the review is uncharacteristically (I hope) light on specific observations. Continue reading →
I know I’m supposed to be sick to death of superhero movies, but I don’t think we’ve ever had three as strong as Logan, Wonder Woman, and the new Spider-Man: Homecoming arrive in such rapid succession. Here’s Homecoming, for NPR. Continue reading →
Here we are in Year Ten of the Marvel Cinematic Era, and not one piece of music has emerged from any of the two dozen films based on Marvel characters (released by Marvel Studios and others) that can rival John Williams’ mighty score for Superman: The Movie or even Danny Elfman’s brooding Batman theme.
For years I’ve wondered why this is. But only two days ago did I at last get to ask someone who might know. On today’s All Things Considered,I speak with Rupert Gregson-Williams, who composed the score for director Patty Jenkins’ fine Wonder Woman. You might even hear a cameo by one of the most venerable heroes of the National Public Radio universe, the great Bob Mondello.
I’m looking forward to the argument we’re going to have over beers, you and I, about whether Logan is the best comic book movie since The Dark Knight or the best Western since No Country for Old Men.
Here’s my NPR review, where I ran out of space to cite all the things I loved about this movie (Eriq La Salle! Autotrucks!), or to warn you that if you know you will recoil from the sight of an 11-year-old girl defending her life with lethal force, you should skip it. And it would probably be more correct to call it the Rocky Balboa of Rocky movies than the Creed of Rocky movies, but sometimes clarity is more important than pinpoint accuracy.