Author Archives: Stephen Silver

The Week in Silver: “Okay, So You’re Brad Pitt” Edition

I’ve decided to start doing weekly roundups of all my published writing here each Friday; if all goes well perhaps I’ll turn it into a newsletter or something.

I plan to be loitering around the DNC and various ancillary events in Philadelphia throughout next week, so if you’re in town reach out and let me know.

Speaking of which, my favorite news story of the week involves two of my favorite journalists in town, both of whom I know slightly: Fox 29’s Steve Keeley confuses Phillymag’s Dan McQuade with a movie star:

Anyway, on to the links:

At Splice Today, because I didn’t see Star Trek Beyond yet, I review three movies: Cafe Society, Equity and Captain Fantastic. Stay tuned next week for Jason Bourne, Bad Moms and Can We Take a Joke? You can read all of my movie reviews at Rotten Tomatoes. 

At Mapquest’s Parachute, a look at the sports stadiums along the Delaware River- including a pretty gorgeous shot I took at the Philadelphia Union match last weekend:

At Blasting News, I wrote several pieces about the slow descent into madness that was the Republican National Convention

– Why you shouldn’t believe “shock polls” and Hillary is actually winning

– Why the theme of the first night was “be very afraid”

– Why the RNC didn’t mention the one true GOP triumph of the last couple of years

– And why “being un-PC” is no excuse for calling for the death of a rival political candidate.

Over at Screenrant, I was busy this week:

– I eulogized the great Garry Marshall:

– Ahead of the 10th anniversary of the movie, 15 things you may not know about Miami Vice:

Game of Thrones Season 7 will have 7 episodes.

– Bojack Horseman got a fourth season on Netflix:

– There will be more Powerpuff Girls, too.

Law & Order: SVU is making a Making a Murderer-inspired episode.

– The trailer for a new documentary about Leonard Nimoy.

– Star Trek 4 will not recast Anton Yelchin. 

The Emoji Movie has cast T.J. Miller:

As always, follow me on Twitter at @StephenSilver. 

prince

My Thoughts on Prince

 

I already wrote an obituary for Prince at Screen Rant; you can read that here. Below, just a few disconnected thoughts on the death of the Purple One:

Ever since Prince passed away on Thursday, I’ve discovered that a lot of my Minneapolis friends have Prince stories. They once ran into him somewhere, he randomly popped onstage at a club they were at, or maybe they saw him at an early club gig before Prince was Prince.

I really don’t, though. I never saw him in person or in concert or came in any way close to meeting him. My father represented someone with a legal case that tangentially involved him, the details of which I don’t remember, but he never met him either. Hell, I’ve never even been inside First Avenue.

But I’ve always loved Prince’s music, going back as far as I can remember. He was a staple of the radio, and MTV, both of which I followed obsessively as a kid. And of course, there was always the Minnesota pride angle of it. I’ve written before that in the early ‘80s the Replacements/Husker Du music revolution was going on a few miles from my house, but I was too young to know about it and didn’t even discover the music until I was in my 20s and living in New York. But Prince was different. I appreciated his music, and his larger-than-life persona, even from a very young age.

Which isn’t to say that I totally got it. Even as I saw Prince perform in assless chaps on the Video Music Awards, and listened to the album (“Lovesexy”) where he was naked on the cover, the pure sexuality of his music was certainly not something I grasped when I was that young. Neither was the pure complexity of the songs and genre combinations.

The songs are all great. The public persona, like no one else in history. “Purple Rain” is one of the best music movies of all time- and a clear influence on so many others since- and goes in the Minnesota Movie Holy Trinity along with the Coens’ “Fargo” and “A Serious Man” (Whatever #4 is, it’s a steep drop. “Grumpy Old Men”? “Jingle All the Way”? “Drop Dead Gorgeous”?)

For some reason I always really loved the “Diamonds and Pearls” album, especially the title track. And I’ve always dreamed of writing a book about a financial scandal at a synagogue, called “Thieves in the Temple.” And yes, that Chris Rock joke about how “the only black people in Minnesota are Prince and Kirby Puckett” is funny but highly inaccurate, even now that Prince and Kirby are both gone.

Then there was at the strange fall of 2009. For years I had always joked that Prince should buy the Minnesota Vikings. He was a Minneapolis native, with plenty of money, who favored wearing purple, the NFL wanted more minorities in the ownership ranks and he couldn’t possibly be worse than the Headrick Ten, Red McCombs or the Wilfs. That never happened, but that year, when the Vikings had a contending team with Brett Favre at quarterback, Prince- long a fixture at Timberwolves games but never Vikings ones- started appearing at every game, always on TV. He even wrote the team a new fight song.

Sure, the song (“Purple and Gold”) was terrible, the team never used it again, the Vikings lost yet another NFC Championship Game, and Prince was never seen at a Vikings game after that. But it was one of the team’s most exciting runs ever, made more special for me as my first son Noah was born in the middle of it.

I’ve watched and read the tributes, and listened to the songs on every radio station, just like when Michael Jackson died seven years ago. So I’m especially happy to be heading back to Minnesota on Saturday for Passover- say, is that block party outside First Avenue still going on?

The Big List 2015: Ranking Every Movie I Saw This Year

In 2015, I saw 162 movies, a new record and more than 20 more than my previous record. How’d I do it? I went to two film festivals instead of one, had slightly better screener access, and a couple of months of unemployment to catch up. Yet even with all that, there were still more than 200 days that I didn’t see a movie. That’s when I did all that stuff like working, being a husband and father, and all that.

Anyway, without further ado, here’s everything I saw this year (Find all my reviews here):

    1. Mad Max: Fury Road
    2. Spotlight
    3. Creed
    4. Anomalisa
    5. Wild Tales
    6. The Mend
    7. Dope
    8. Love & Mercy
    9. Chi-raq
    10. Brooklyn
    11. Inside Out
    12. The Big Short
    13. The Martian
    14. Ricki and the Flash
    15. Carol
    16. 45 Years
    17. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
    18. Ex Machina
    19. Results
    20. The Walk
    21. Steve Jobs
    22. I’ll See You in My Dreams
    23. Beasts of No Nation
    24. The End of the Tour
    25. The Look of Silence
    26. Tangerine
    27. Trainwreck
    28. Bridge of Spies
    29. The Hateful Eight
    30. Room
    31. The Revenant
    32. Magic Mike XXL
    33. Moonwalkers
    34. I Am Big Bird: the Caroll Spinney Story
    35. Sleeping With Other People
    36. Youth
    37. ’71
    38. Danny Collins
    39. Night Owls
    40. Kingsman: The Secret Service
    41. Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation
    42. Furious Seven
    43. Call Me Lucky
    44. The Best of Enemies
    45. Listen to Me Marlon
    46. Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon
    47. Batkid Begins
    48. What Happened, Miss Simone?
    49. Tig
    50. Clouds of Sils Maria
    51. Southpaw
    52. Jafar Panahi’s Taxi
    53. The Assassin
    54. Experimenter
    55. Time Out of Mind
    56. It Follows
    57. Victoria
    58. James White
    59. Tales of the Grim Sleeper
    60. The Sandwich Nazi
    61. Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck
    62. Amy
    63. Three and a Half Minutes Ten Bullets
    64. The Wrecking Crew
    65. Larry Kramer In Love and Anger
    66. Cartel Land
    67. Straight Outta Compton
    68. Mistress America
    69. A Wonderful Cloud
    70. The Woman in Gold
    71. Phoenix
    72. Heaven Knows What
    73. Ant-Man
    74. The Peanuts Movie
    75. I Smile Back
    76. 99 Homes
    77. Sicario
    78. Joy
    79. Before We Go
    80. White God
    81. Z For Zachariah
    82. Black Mass
    83. By the Sea
    84. Concussion
    85. Trumbo
    86. The Good Dinosaur
    87. Spy
    88. Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Faith
    89. The Death of Superman Lives: What Happened?
    90. The Wolfpack
    91. Do I Sound Gay?
    92. Red Army
    93. Gay Girl in Damascus: The Amina Profile
    94. Sons of Ben
    95. A Walk in the Woods
    96. The Visit
    97. Love
    98. The Danish Girl
    99. Maggie
    100. Timbuktu
    101. Deep Web
    102. Live From New York
    103. Manglehorn
    104. Slow West
    105. Avengers: Age of Ultron
    106. Focus
    107. McFarland USA
    108. I Am Chris Farley
    109. Our Man in Tehran
    110. Jurassic World
    111. Welcome to Me
    112. Age of Adaline
    113. The Rewrite
    114. Uncle Ken 2
    115. What We Do in the Shadows
    116. Kumiko the Treasure Hunter
    117. The Overnight
    118. Fifty Shades of Grey
    119. Deathgasm
    120. Our Brand is Crisis
    121. Crimson Peak
    122. Merchants of Doubt
    123. Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip
    124. Son of the Congo
    125. Atari: Game Over
    126. While We’re Young
    127. Minions
    128. Thought Crimes
    129. Irrational Man
    130. The D-Train
    131. The Sheik
    132. Hot Girls Wanted
    133. Undocumented Executive
    134. Pitch Perfect 2
    135. Wolfcop
    136. The Film Critic
    137. Adult Beginners
    138. San Andreas
    139. The Duff
    140. Chappie
    141. Escobar: Paradise Lost
    142. Snapshot
    143. Tomorrowland
    144. The Last Five Years
    145. Entertainment
    146. Get Hard
    147. Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine
    148. A LEGO Brickumentary
    149. Entourage
    150. Blackhat
    151. The Wedding Ringer
    152. Run All Night
    153. Aloha
    154. Staten Island Summer
    155. Serena
    156. American Ultra
    157. Hot Pursuit
    158. True Story
    159. No Escape
    160. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
    161. The Cobbler
    162. Jupiter Ascending

Did not see (reputedly good): Diary of a Teenaged Girl, He Named Me Malala, The Duke of Burgundy, Grandma, The Tribe

Did not see (reputedly bad): Truth, Ridiculous Six, Pixels, Mortdecai, Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2, Fantastic Four, Stonewall

Smaller Movie Roundup: Reviews and Backstories (The Mend, Time Out of Mind, Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead, Sons of Ben, Deathgasm)

mendBefore I head out of town for a wedding, and then start a new job (More on that later), a look at a few of the smaller movies I’ve seen of late:

The Mend. 

Review: John Magary’s indie triumph is like a much better, next-level version of every mumblecore movie. Ostensibly the story of two brothers (Josh Lucas and Stephen Plunkett) making their way in New York City and failing to relate to the women in their lives, The Mend is actually much, much better: We’re not filled in on anything close to the entire plot, and the film instead functions as a bizarre character study. There’s a first-act party scene featuring many fascinating characters that we’ll never see again, and a dynamite performance by Austin Pendleton as an old man who’s a family friend. And Lucas- if you know him mostly as a romantic comedy lead and failed leading man, his performance here is an eye-opener.

The film’s best idea, of many, is that without women around for a short period of time, the two men slowly regress into savagery. This description doesn’t come close to doing the film justice; I highly recommend checking it out (Now on VOD.)

Backstory: After hearing about The Mend for weeks from my critic friends, I heard there was a one day, three-showing Philadelphia premiere on a Saturday a few weeks back, at PhilaMOCA (a Philly art gallery/exhibit space based in a former mausoleum showroom.) In the city with nothing to do after a fantasy football draft, I was the one and only customer for the 10 p.m. show- just me and the projectionist- and there were lots of times I couldn’t tell if a certain sound was coming from the screen or from the street outside. I recommend everyone see The Mend under those exact conditions.

Time Out of Mind

Yes, Richard Gere is playing the most incongruously handsome homeless person of all time. But this is still a powerful, very unique story of a homeless, possibly mentally ill man in New York City. What I really loved about this film was that it keeps things so unconventional- it’s much more character study than “social problem film,” and the film has wisely saved the political statements for the PR campaign. And the visual style is fantastic, full of nontraditional camera angles. It’s another triumph for writer/director Oren Moverman, who also wrote Love & Mercy earlier this year. There’s also room for a dynamite supporting performance from Ben Vereen. Now in theaters.

Backstory: I interviewed Gere, and Moverman, a couple of weeks ago, and you can read that here. Gere was charming and friendly, and Moverman especially interesting- a tall, bald Israeli Army veteran whose worldview is much more feminist than you’d think. And no, I didn’t ask Gere about you-know-what. I wasn’t specifically warned not to, but I’ve got a feeling if I had I’d have been ejected from the room immediately.

Sons of Ben

Review: This documentary looks at a very strange and unique corner of American sports culture: The Sons of Ben. They’re a group of soccer fans in the Philadelphia area who began gathering in town years before the city had a soccer team and advocating for a new franchise, and have emerged as the official fan club since the Philadelphia Union began play in 2010. The film, directed by Jeffrey C. Bell, lets us meet the original Sons and tells us their stories.

We’re introduced to a group of characters who were part of the original group, including one guy who’s a recovering addict, another who repeatedly talks about the pressure from his wife to scale back his involvement in the group (as his wife stands next to him), and one guy who fought and beat cancer. They all have different reasons for being drawn to the fan club of a team that didn’t yet exist, but their stories are the documentary’s most compelling aspect. And no, they’re not “hooligans” (see below); they’re mostly family men in their 30s and 40s who show not even a hint of violence.

It’s a short film, at around 70 minutes, and it raises a ton of issues- how and why soccer long struggled to catch on in America but finally has in recent years, how soccer fans fit into the wider culture of Philadelphia sports, the failed promise of a new stadium bringing economic development and opportunity to depressed suburb Chester- that it doesn’t have the time to address fully. But regardless, this is a winning and entertaining film, one that’s a must for anyone who cares about American soccer fandom or the Union. It’s out on DVD now.

Backstory: Long story short: Before experiencing a dramatic conversion 6 or 7 years ago, I hated soccer. Once, on my old blog, I mocked the Sons of Ben as “hooligans,” for which I was rightly smacked down in print by the since-deceased Philadelphia Weekly writer Steven Wells. A few years later Bell, the director, reached out to me about this exchange and even discussed interviewing me for the film, but that never come together for whatever reason.

Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon

drunkReview: The world now cares enough about the history and craft of American comedy to sustain about 500 podcast episodes per week about that exact subject. This documentary, directed by Douglas Tirola, goes into the full story of one of the last century’s most important comedy touchstones, National Lampoon. It doubles as a study of the sad tale of Douglas Kenney, the late co-founder. And that poster? Best of the year.

The greatest takeaway from the doc is the sheer audacity of some of the stuff they used to get away with- unlike the flouters of the “PC Police” today, the Lampoon guys really did push the envelope, with the primary goal of being funny, as opposed to the primary goal of being assholes. The second-greatest takeaway-  who knew P.J. O’Rourke was once funny? If you’re even a little bit of a comedy nerd, this is a must. Now in (some) theaters.

Backstory: I could watch a whole other documentary about the long, sad decline of the National Lampoon brand. 

Deathgasm 

Review: A generally entertaining Kiwi-produced horror comedy about a group of young metalheads fighting zombies. I liked it- and had felt bad about missing the late-night screening when it played at SXSW in the spring- except when you get past the New Zealand stuff and Heavy Metal stuff- which is all great, by the way- Deathgasm is a pretty generic zombie movie. Now out on DVD.

Backstory: Deathgasm is without a doubt the only movie this year to namecheck the defunct, Boston-based grindcore band known as Anal Cunt.  

Movie Review: Straight Outta Compton

Straight_Outta_Compton_poster“Straight Outta Compton,” the new biopic of pioneering gangsta rap outfit NWA, is very much a conventional music biopic, with many of the conventional music biopic flaws. It relies on cliche. It’s too long by about a half hour. It distorts history in some respects and de-emphasizes things in others. It’s much, much more sympathetic to the people in the story who cooperated with the production than those who did not.

That said- I was overjoyed myself the entire time. The film executes the established biopic formula to near-perfection, it’s well-acted and well-staged, and thoroughly enjoyable even when relying on cliche. And let’s not forget that the idea of a major Hollywood studio making a movie about NWA- especially one that so greatly emphasizes the role police brutality played in the group’s rise- would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.

If not for “Love and Mercy”- another epic in which Paul Giamatti played the heavy- “Compton” would be the best music biopic of the year.

NWA- which stood, of course, for Niggaz Wit’ Attitudes- emerged from Compton, Calif., in the late 1980s, led by drug dealer-turned rapper Easy-E, rapping standout Ice Cube and producer/performer Dr. Dre; DJ Yella and MC Ren rounded out the group. Plagued by poverty and seemingly non-stop harassment from police, the group emerged in the first Bush era, brought into major label prominence by possibly shady veteran manager Jerry Heller (Giamatti.)

The first half of the film, directed by F. Gary Gray, documents the group’s rise and brief time at the top, later undone by the departures of Cube and Dre and various infighting. The second half is mostly taken up by the group’s doings following NWA’s heyday, including Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg’s collaboration, Ice Cube’s solo work and eventual movie stardom and Easy-E’s death from AIDS complications in 1995.

Is it a bit too much, stretching the running time to nearly two-and-a-half hours? Yes. But that’s par for the course with these music films. And there’s some great stuff there, mostly involving Suge Knight (R. Marcus Taylor) as a villain who’s more mob boss than music label boss. The group’s long-running feud with law enforcement is well-depicted and timely, especially its staging of the famous incident, in 1989, when NWA was arrested for singing “Fuck the Police” at a concert in Detroit. Again, it sort of puts the lie to all the fashionable “PC Police” crap these days- NWA didn’t get called “problematic” or criticized on Twitter for their lyrics. They literally got arrested, by the actual police, for the crime of performing song lyrics that the cops didn’t like.

The cast is fairly strong from top to bottom, led by Corey Hawkins as Dre, Jason Mitchell (a true dead ringer) as Easy-E and O’Shea Jackson, Jr. playing his dad, Ice Cube. Giamatti plays Heller very well, as a charmer, and whether or not he was actually robbing the group blind is left unambiguous for most of the running time.

The film omits various things, most notably Dr. Dre’s much-reported-about history of violence against women, and that DJ Yella enjoyed a successful and prolific career as a pornographer. I don’t even remember seeing Arabian Prince, once a member of the group, in the film. One can’t help but notice that Dre and Cube- the two members of the group who are alive, successful and have the means to have shepherded the film to the point where they have producer credits- come across a bit more positively than anyone else.

There’s much less open drug use than I would imagine there probably was in real life, and the episode in which Heller enlisted the nutty Jewish Defense League against Ice Cube is mostly glossed over. There are a couple of continuity errors- in the opening scene, set in 1986, Eazy-E is wearing a White Sox hat that wouldn’t exist until several years later. And the actor playing Snoop Dogg, “Short Term 12”’s Keith Stanfield, looks nothing like him, even if he does have the voice down perfectly.

Still, “Straight Outta Compton” is ultimately a success, and if that music ever meant anything to you, it’s a must. I for one am rooting for its success so we get more definitive hip-hop biopics. Wouldn’t you watch a whole movie about Suge Knight’s life? Or Tupac’s? Chris Rock has talked about wanting to make a movie about a bunch of the original rappers, now living life as middle-aged men. Wouldn’t you want to see that?

“Notorious,” a biopic of Biggie, came and went a few years ago and isn’t well-remembered. “Compton” will likely be better-remembered.

Movie Review: “Ricki and the Flash”

Ricki_and_the_Flash_posterMuch like director Jonathan Demme’s last feature, 2008’s astonishing “Rachel Getting Married,” “Ricki” is the story of a flawed woman, awkwardly re-connecting with her estranged family, on the occasion of an unusually music-intensive wedding. Of course, the tone is much different. And so is the music.

If you’ve seen the TV commercials or trailers for the film, you likely think of it as “that Meryl Streep rock star movie.” But it’s really not that at all. It’s much deeper, and affecting than you’d think.

“Ricki” combines the styles and worldviews of director Demme and screenwriter Diablo Cody, in a marriage that’s much more successful than you probably imagined.

Streep plays Ricki, a middle-aged dive bar rock performer who, years earlier, abandoned her family to chase rock star dreams that never came true. Working as a Whole Foods cashier by day and playing classic rock covers to small, aging audiences at night alongside guitarist/boyfriend Rick Springfield, Ricki seeks a second chance with her estranged family once her daughter (Streep’s own daughter, Mamie Gummer) attempts suicide.

The middle, and best, section of the movie consists of Streep’s visit to the opulent Indianapolis home of her former husband (Kevin Kline, again playing a repressed Indiana man 15 years after “In & Out.” And this is mostly due to a standard performance from Gummer, who- with clothes and hair that it appears are actually unwashed- is much more convincing as a depressed person than such characters typically are. After a sojourn back to California, the film concludes with a musical wedding not exactly like the one in “Rachel Getting Married,” yet good for much the same reasons.

The movie works largely due to the writing- Cody seems to have gotten over her obsession with painful, “honest to blog” phrasings- and the creation of outstanding, multidimensional characters who are allowed to be both good and bad, and right and wrong. And the portrayal of these characters- led by Streep, Gummer and Kline- is first rate across the board.

Streep is playing a very different type of character for herself- for one thing, I couldn’t tell you the last time she played a Republican- but she knocks it out of the park anyway, and she’s even an all-right singers. Springfield, suddenly ubiquitous as an actor with this and True Detective, gets to act and play music, both reasonably well. Sebastian Stan and Nick Westrate have some good moments as Streep and Kline’s sons, as does Audra McDonald as their stepmom. And the 89-year-old Charlotte Rae- Mrs. Garrett!- has a killer one-scene cameo as Kline’s mother.

The other thing I liked about “Ricki” is that it reverses stereotypes and movie conventional wisdom by making the Indiana characters rich, eccentric and crunchy- complete with wedding RSVPs in which the food options are “vegan” and “vegan gluten-fee”- and the Californian as an unsophisticated rube with an American flag tattoo and a record of voting for George W. Bush. Regional differences aren’t actually as cut-and-dried as the movies usually make them, so I found that refreshing.

So yes: The “Meryl Streep Rockstar Movie” is much, much better than it looks.