La La Land


I was admittedly very skeptical of La La Land walking in.  On the surface a Ryan Gosling & Emma Stone vehicle written and directed by Damien Chazelle (director of Whiplash, arguably the best drama of the past 5 years) seemed like a no brainer.  But then you learn that it’s a musical.  Wait, they must mean a musical like Walk The Line or Straight Outta Compton have a lot of music in them, right?  No it’s an actual singing in the streets, the hills are alive, shoot me in the face, musical.  Fuck.  What a waste.  It’s like coming across a Bumble profile in which the first five photos portray a fit, good looking, seemingly personable human being, only to end it with one last photo of them sporting a Make America Great Again hat.  I realize it’s slightly immature to be this nauseated by song and dance, but everyone has his or her least favorite genre.  My Mom could do without space movies, my brother refuses to watch anything with Russell Crowe, Dad pretty much avoids anything where “feelings” are involved, and I hate musicals….. or so I thought.


La La Land is so undeniably pleasant, so undeniably charming, and in a year where the most acclaimed films have also been downers, it’s the shot of serotonin that we need right now.  An underrated thing about Stone and Gosling playing romantic counterparts for the third time is that this is actually the first time they are front and center.  You may remember #Stosling so fondly from Gangster Squad and Crazy, Stupid, Love, but as part of ensemble casts they could only do so much to lift up otherwise pretty mediocre films.  In La La Land however, Chazelle uses the two as if they were Stockton and Malone in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals, and they deliver in incredible fashion!  Stone in particular sings her heart out and Gosling has improved considerably since this classic scene from 2010’s Blue Valentine.

A few other random things I really liked about this movie:

  • The many long takes (a shot lasting much longer than the conventional editing pace, think Rust Cohle storming that drug house all in one shot in True Detective Season 1).  I LOVE long takes. They’re a director’s equivalent to a two on one fast break alley oop-off the backboard.
  • JK Simmons cameo. Not my tempo!
  • The fact that Miles Teller didn’t star.  Teller was originally slated for the role of Sebastian but was replaced late in the game by Gosling (its unconfirmed whether Teller backed out over money or if he was just all together dropped when Gosling became available).  I’m a fan of Teller but when you can upgrade from Harrison Barnes to Kevin Durant, you make that move every time.
  • The use of various LA locales that I frequented once upon a time, including the Warner Bros. backlot where I used to work and The Lighthouse Cafe on the Hermosa Beach pier. They make The Lighthouse appear to be a hip Jazz bar (shown below), but I swear the last time I was in there a cover band was playing Eddie Money.  Tier 1 – RATED GREG

LLL d 12 _2353.NEFlighthouse-outside

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story


Let me start off by saying that the most entertaining theater experience of the year can be narrowed down to the last 40 minutes Rogue One.  The third act engulfed entirely in action hops back and forth between two enthralling Rebels vs Empire confrontations.  One on the ground, set unusually (in a good way) against a bright and sunny tropical backdrop not yet seen before in the Star Wars canon.  The other a CGI fueled space battle up above, much of which shot in first person as if you’re on a ride at Disney instead of watching a movie (a tactic which I’ll come back to).  Director Gareth Edwards used actual war photography from Vietnam and the South Pacific as inspiration for the ground warfare and it shows because Rogue One is much more of a straight up war movie than the other seven films in the franchise (looking past the fact that, you know, they are still shooting “laser beams” instead of bullets).


The action doesn’t let up and rolls steadily into a conclusion that ties up everything in a nice bow, one that both the fanboys and more casual Star Wars observers can appreciate, and also one that will make you forget about the pretty boring and nonsensical first two thirds of the movie.  Sidenote: On a scale of 1-10, I’m probably only a 4 on Star Wars fandom.  I grew up on the original trilogy but all of the locations and ancillary characters get the Game of Thrones treatment (you don’t know their names but can describe them). In comparison I’m probably a 10 on the Bad Boys universe fanboy scale and could tell you the names of all minor characters down to Mike Lowrey’s doorman (it’s Chet).  

So where does Rogue One stand in the 2016 movie rankings?  I think it lands as a Tier 1 but ONLY if you’re seeing it in the theater.  It’s much more of a ride than most movies and might as well be in a completely different medium than 2016 heavyweights Manchester By The Sea and Moonlight.  For obvious reasons, the quality of action movies tend to drop off when they hit the TV screen and this is especially true for the PG-13, CGI-heavy fantastical films that fall under the Disney umbrella (Star Wars, Avengers, etc).  I would compare them to NHL games.  In person there’s not a more exhilarating live sporting event to attend, but when it comes to TV I’d much rather watch the NBA, NFL, or shit even Vanderpump Rules.  This doesn’t apply to all action movies. Films with more practical effects like Mad Max and Mission Impossible fare fine on the small screen, but Rogue One is likely to come off a little silly down the road.  Tier 1 – Rated Greg




And here we have the 2016 annual winner for the DUMBEST movie that I couldn’t take my eyes off of.  Past winners include We Are Your Friends, 2 Guns, In Time, and Cocktail. Nerve is about shy & bookish high school senior Emma Roberts who becomes Internet famous overnight after performing various dares on a social media platform.  It’s terrible. In one scene Roberts actually raps along to Wu Tang’s C.R.E.A.M while getting a tattoo.  No really.  It’s supposed to be endearing because her character grew up rough in Staten Island (sure she did), but it’s soooo bad. On a scale of 1 to Anna Kendrick singing along to “Hey Ma” in End of Watch it’s a -4.  Tier 6



I used to be embarrassed about going to movies alone and would wear a hoodie or a baseball cap in case I saw people that I know (“oh yeah, I’m with a date she’s just in the restroom”).  At some point a few years ago I stopped caring about this, not exactly sure if it was due to caring less about what people think of me or if going to movies solo dolo is just more culturally appropriate these days.  Regardless that isn’t an issue anymore….with one exception.  I, a 33 year old man, will not go see a Disney kids movie alone for obvious reasons, that’d be weird.  But with my nieces in town for the holidays I did have the chance to catch Moana and all of its 95% RT rated gloriousness.

Somehow, someway, Moana is ANOTHER Rated Greg recommended musical (I know I know, 2016’s turmoil is having a weird effect on your boy).  But what can I say the music in Moana, each song written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, is catchy as all hell!  Two standouts are “You’re Welcome” performed by The Rock’s character (would love to see real life recording studio footage of him singing btw) and “Shiny” by none other than Jermaine from Flight of the Concords playing a giant crab.  The rest of the film is decent enough.  In terms of entertaining those older than 12, it’s better than Finding Dory but far short of Zootopia. Shout out to the Mad Max inspired coconut pirates.  Your move, Minions.  Tier 4


Finding Dory


Being an amateur film critic, I figured I needed to see the highest grossing movie of the year ($486 million in the US).  If you need something to put on to entertain a youngin that won’t drive you up the wall, sure.  But this doesn’t fall in the group of Pixar films that double their appeal to adults.  It’s fine, things could be much worse.  I’ll take Dory over Dora any day.  One more item of note: Four of the top six grossing films in 2016 were animated PG kids movies, and Idris Elba voices a character in three of them (Dory, Zootopia, Jungle Book).  I’m kind of shocked he hasn’t gotten his own “Taken” type action franchise by now, but I have to imagine his return on investment in terms of residuals on these role choices is going to be through the roof.  And if we know anything about the former Stringer Bell, he knows how to get the most out of his product.   Tier 6



In the middle of Sully there’s a 25 minute sequence that reenacts the boarding, take off, geese mishap, and river crash landing of US Airways Flight 1549. Somehow it’s deeply compelling and intense even though you already know that everything turns out ok in the Miracle on the Hudson.  As for the rest of the movie, to paraphrase from my blurb on Bridge of Spies, it’s all “Tom Hanks doing Tom Hanks things with his Tom Hanks friends.” Tier 6

Other People


Other People wasn’t even on my radar until two weeks ago when Judd Apatow tweeted that it was his favorite movie of the year.  Of course Apatow also disclosed that his daughter is in the film, but given his track record I’ll pretty much check out anything he recommends or is involved with (despite This Is 40 being more insufferable than anyone who had a pony growing up).  Now, I prefer to go into movies without knowing anything about it, and while this is usually impossible with our media saturated corneas, Other People was one of the rare instances where this was the case.  All I had to go off of was this poster that pops up when you pull it up on Netflix.


To me, this looks like a romantic comedy about Jesse Plemons dating older woman Molly Shannon.  Perhaps she’s his wacky boss?  Or his wacky therapist?  Or maybe his wacky childhood piano teacher?  Doesn’t seem like something I’d be into at first glance, but again, Apatow Approved, so who knows.  Well…after watching Other People I can firmly state that this is none of those things.  Shannon and Plemons are not a couple, but rather a mother and son (duh).  This is not a rom-com, but rather a sad-com.  This is not something to maybe check out down the road if there’s nothing else on, but rather a sweet, absolute gem of a movie and a must see!

Written and directed by Chris Kelly (co-head writer of SNL), Other People is his semi-autobiographical tale of a tumultuous time in his late 20’s when he was a struggling comedy writer and had moved back home to care for his dying, cancer stricken mother.  It’s not spoiler territory to reveal the fate of Shannon’s character because the very first scene of the movie is Plemons and the rest of his family mourning her death.  The film then shoots back 12 months and details the year leading up to this life-altering event, yes incorporating many grim moments but also some legitimate laugh out loud scenes.  Plemons’s profile has risen steadily since he was billed 10th on Friday Night Lights a decade ago, so I wasn’t surprised to see him fully step up as a leading man for the first time, but Shannon’s dramatic chops are revelation.  Currently streaming on Netflix.   Tier 1 – RATED GREG


The Year in TV – 2016

Just a quick shout out to my favorite TV shows of 2016.  Over the past decade, the best and most original storytelling has shifted to the small screen and this is at least partially due to cookie cutter movie blockbusters becoming big business.  In no year was this more apparent than in 2016, one of the weakest film slates that I can remember.  In correlation, the current TV landscape has never been more plush with creativity.

Rated Greg’s Favorite TV Shows of 2016 – Ranked

  1. Atlanta (FX) – Season 1
  2. American Crime Story: The People vs. OJ Simpson (FX)
  3. BoJack Horseman (Netflix) – Season 3
  4. Veep (HBO) – Season 5
  5. Game of Thrones (HBO) – Season 6
  6. Mr. Robot (USA) – Season 2
  7. The Girlfriend Experience (Starz) – Season 1
  8. Last Chance U (Netflix) – Season 1
  9. Easy (Netflix) – Season 1
  10. Billions (Showtime) – Season 1



Atlanta (FX) – Season 1:   When asked to describe his new show during the press circuit, Atlanta’s creator Donald Glover called it “Twin Peaks for Rappers.”  I never made it past the pilot of Twin Peaks so I don’t really know what that means, but I would call it Seinfeld for Rappers, only with a lot more heart than Jerry’s crew.  When it gets really good:  Episode 3 – The one with the date and the drug deal



American Crime Story: The People vs. OJ Simpson (FX): You’ve already seen this so I don’t feel compelled to say much, other than the Marcia Clark episode might be the best TV hour of 2016.



Bojack Horseman (Netflix) – Season 3:  Zootopia but strictly for adults.  Pound for pound the most clever comedy on TV is disguised as a cartoon about a washed up former sitcom star talking horse living in Hollywood among humans and other talking animals.  BoJack is voiced by Will Arnett so of course the character is going to be a jerk on the surface and the majority of the rapid fire jokes come from animal puns, Hollywood satire, and wacky characters…but deeper down this turns into heartfelt commentary on depression and regret.  Hand to Cal Ripken Jr, I felt for no TV character in 2016 more than a cartoon talking horse.  If you decide to start from the beginning, just know this doesn’t really find it’s footing until halfway through season 1, but when it does you’ll be hooked.




Veep (HBO) – Season 5: As stated in my blurb on The Nice Guys, cursing is a talent, and the characters in Veep are the Golden State Warriors of bad words, only if the Warriors somehow also acquired LeBron James in Julia Louis-Dreyfus.  The most consistent comedy on TV.  Straight up if you don’t like this show I can’t be friends with you.




Game of Thrones (HBO) – Season 6: Like the OJ show, there’s nothing I need to say about GoT. It’s either appointment viewing for you and you love it or you just don’t get the appeal. I thought the first eight episodes of season 6 were kinda dull (compared to previous seasons) but the final two episodes are in the top 4 they’ve ever done.



Mr. Robot - Season 2

Mr. Robot (USA) – Season 2: Mr. Robot’s season 1 was my second favorite TV show of 2015 (The Leftovers was #1) but Season 2 was very slow out of the gate. However, it really picked up after the usual “midseason twist” and was back to throwing heaters. I love the way this show is shot. I don’t know what it is but it looks so freakin’ good.




The Girlfriend Experience (Starz) – Season 1:  I realize a Starz TV show about an intern at a Chicago law firm who takes up the escort trade on the side sounds sleazy as all hell, but trust me this is extremely well made and compelling. It’s created by Steven Soderbergh and based on his 2009 film of the same name. This is the most cinematic looking show on TV (yes even more so than GoT or Mr. Robot).




Last Chance U (Netflix) – Season 1:  Documentary series following the 2015 football season of the East Mississippi Community College Lions. That might seem like a strange subject to base an entire TV show on but if you’re unaware, EMCC is one of those junior colleges that recruits the elite athletes that did not have the grades to make it into D1 schools and also others that were kicked off their D1 teams. You don’t need to like sports to be into this show because it is about so much more than that. Most of the characters come from such tough upbringings and you just want to see them succeed their goal of graduating. This is the closest thing to Friday Night Lights (my favorite TV show of all time btw) on right now and it even features a guidance counselor who is a real life Tami Taylor. Such wild shit happens in this football season and Netflix really struck gold that they were there filming.



Easy (Netflix) – Season 1: Anthology dramedy series from my favorite mumblecore director Joe Swanberg (Drinking Buddies, Digging for Fire). Anthology means that each episode is a completely different story with different actors, most of whom you will recognize, so this is basically just eight short films (well actually two are connected but the rest stand on their own). This isn’t particularly laugh out loud or even all that dramatic, but I don’t know I just found it to be really pleasant.  FYI – The first episode isn’t very good but the rest are.



Billions (Showtime) – Season 1:  As my good friend Juan put it, Empire for white people. Fantastic cursing on this one as well.

Honorable Mentions:  The Americans, You’re The Worst, The Night Of, Girls, Silicon Valley, South Park, Bloodline, Black-ish, Vanderpump Rules, MTV’s The Challenge, the San Junipero episode of Black Mirror, and all of the Chad episodes of The Bachelorette/Bachelor in Paradise.


The Edge of Seventeen


Rated Greg’s All Time Favorite High School Movies – Ranked

  1. Dazed and Confused
  2. Can’t Hardly Wait
  3. Superbad
  4. Varsity Blues
  5. Sixteen Candles

Being on the edge of 33, I doubt I’m ever going to come across another high school movie that resonates the way the top 5 above does, but The Edge of Seventeen is a fine addition to school hall lore.  Insert Hailee Steinfeld into the awkward, sky is falling, Sixteen Candles Sam role, only on the outcast spectrum she’s much closer to Sissy Spacek in Carrie than Molly Ringwald.  Aside from the fact that someone that looks like Steinfeld would never be unpopular in high school (no matter how big of a jerk she is), the rest of the movie seemed more grounded than most teenage rompers.  Unlike Can’t Hardly Wait, the party scenes looked like high school to me as opposed to the myth of it, and none of the characters are portrayed as the one dimensional teenage stereotypes (jocks, burnouts, nerds, ditzes, etc) that we’re used to seeing.


I appreciate the fact that this is R rated even though it very easily could have been toned down to a PG-13 to please financiers.  It implies that first time director (Kelly Fremon Craig) had a vision and the studio let her run with it.  Most studios would either get rid of the f-bombs and switch explicit sex to inferred in order to garner a PG-13 (think Easy-A), or turn the raunchiness ALL THE WAY UP since they are getting an R anyways (think Jonah Hill and his peculiar drawing obsession in Superbad).  The Edge of Seventeen is somewhere in the middle.  I found it to be more dramatic than funny, however I think I may be in the minority on this because my theater seat mates (aka my Mom and one of her BFF’s) were chuckling throughout. Tier 3