Tag Archive | Movie Review

Movie Review: Dan Stevens Stars in The Ticket

The Ticket Movie Poster

If you’re a fan of Dan Stevens from his tenure on the period drama series, Downton Abbey, not to mention (but you can see I am about to) his current roles in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast and the hit TV series Legion, you can get another fix of the wildly popular British actor in a new independent film, The Ticket. As the first American film directed by Ido Fluk (Never Too Late) The Ticket offers an intimate, engaging  and well-acted take on a familiar cautionary tale. James (Stevens) has been blind since childhood due to an inoperable pituitary tumor pressing on his optic nerve. Despite his blindness, he appears to enjoy a good life; being happily married to Sam (Malin Ackerman) and father to a 13 year-old son, Jonah (Skylar Gaertner). James also works at a Real Estate firm making cold sales calls with a group of other blind employees that includes his close friend, Bob (Oliver Platt). There’s no reason to think that James‘ life isn’t as fulfilling and productive as a sighted person, until his circumstances change drastically.

James‘ eyesight suddenly returns shortly after the film’s opening credits sequence, which plays out over a playful morning conversation with Sam as they lay in bed. Set against a dark screen that is occasionally punctuated by a brief mix of faded shadows and light, this montage is highly effective in putting the viewer inside James‘ world as a blind man. But by the time that James makes his way into the bathroom for his morning shower, he sees his adult reflection in the mirror for the first time. At this point, the plot of The Ticket might be described as Awakenings meets 99 Homes, as James becomes almost frantically driven to make up for opportunities lost due to his blindness, and get what he feels he deserves as a sighted man.

The Ticket James and Son
James bonds with his son (Skylar Gaertner) while swimming in one of the film’s best scenes

With his vision restored, James is no longer content to work the phones in the office, and makes a pitch to the firm’s executives to launch an ambitious but ethically dubious marketing campaign which Bob immediately sees as a scam. He also becomes increasing preoccupied with his appearance; preening over his hair and investing in tailored suits to fit in better with the professional group of his co-workers that he aspires to join. As he butts heads with Sam over his desire to branch out into new activities,  while she prefers to stay in their comfortable routine (going dancing at a social center frequented by blind people, which is where the two first met), he also develops a wandering eye.

The Ticket James and Lover
Kerry Bishe and Dan Stevens in a scene from The Ticket

Actress Kerry Bishe (the best thing about AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire) is terrific as Jessica, James’ previously unattainable co-worker with whom he pursues an impulsive affair. By the time Sam tells James that if he leaves her, he can’t come back, he is too ‘blinded” by his own misguided ambition to stop the progress of a swiftly moving downward spiral of his own creation.

Because his sight returns so early in the film, we don’t get to experience much of Jamescharacter (or lack thereof)  while he is actually blind, so a degree of  imaginative extrapolation is necessary to surmise whether or not James was always a self-centered dick, or if his growth curve towards dick-ishness was just extremely steep. It’s hard not to empathize with his situation, but his careless selfishness doesn’t make him the most sympathetic protagonist. A fuller backstory showing James living his life and interacting with his loved ones while blind would have been helpful in clarifying the story’s point of view.

The title, The Ticket,  refers to a story that James repeats like a mantra during the film, whose message  boils down to how living life without taking action is like hoping to win the lottery without ever buying a ticket: you have to be “in it to win it.” Ultimately, The Ticket is a good —  not great —  low-key drama that effectively creates emotionally honest interpersonal scenarios, but once the ending  that can be seen coming from a mile away finally hits, you may feel like the writer should have spent a bit more time on the script. That said, it’s definitely recommended for fans of Dan Stevens, or any of the actors involved.

The Worley Gig Gives The Ticket 3 1/2 out of  5 Stars!

The Ticket Opens on April 7th, 2017 and will be playing in New York City at the Cinema Village on Second Avenue and 12th Street. The Ticket will also available On-Demand everywhere on that date. The Ticket in Unrated but OK for teenagers (kids will be bored) and has a runtime of 97 minutes.

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Movie Review: Raw

Raw Movie Poster

If you enjoyed Netflix’s cannibal-themed comedy series, The Santa Clarita Diet, but just wish it featured more of the erotic sexual violence seen in the 2001 thriller Trouble Every Day, while also dishing up a plot that is more deeply-steeped in body horror, dark family secrets, and general fucked-up-edness, a new French horror film, Raw, may satisfy that craving. Raw, the debut feature film from director Julia Ducournau, tells the unconventional coming-of-age story of Justine, a pretty but sheltered teen who is starting her freshman year at veterinary college. Justine’s older sister, Alexia, also attends the school, and it is soon revealed that both of the girls’ parents are alumni as well.

Raised in a family of strict vegetarians, Justine has never even tasted meat. When she is unable to back out of a hazing ritual involving the consumption of a raw rabbit kidney, the act triggers an immediate and alarming metamorphosis within the young student that is both physical and temperamental in nature.

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Attempting to juggle her class schedule while simultaneously enduring the incessant bullying of her upperclassmen peers, Justine finds herself suffering from an acute sickness that the school’s doctor brushes off as food poisoning. In short order, she abandons her vegetarian diet in search of flesh, and also undergoes a sexual awakening when she finds herself irresistibly attracted to her hunky gay roommate Adrien.  When the two finally do get it on, the frenzied encounter plays out as one of the most harrowing sex scenes ever committed to celluloid!

Foreign films always seem to have an edge over American cinema when it comes to creating an effective atmosphere of creeping dread, in which the viewer becomes uncertain whether what is shown on screen is actually happening, or is just a manifestation of a character’s imagination — and Raw succeeds wildly in providing just enough subterfuge to keep you guessing until the very last scene as to what exactly is driving Justine’s insatiable new hunger.

There are many grisly, Cronenberg-esque scenes in Raw, but nothing the average horror film aficionado can’t stomach. The film also boasts terrific acting performances by the three leads; Garance Marillier as JustineElla Rumpf as Alexia, and Rabah Naït Oufella as Adrien. I look forward to watching other films featuring these actors. Recommended if you dig films like Carrie, The Hunger and We Are What We Are, The Worley Gig Gives Raw 4 out of 5 Stars!

With a run time of 98 minutes, in French with English Subtitles, Raw opens nationwide on March 10th, 2017. In NYC, the film opens at the Angelika Film Center, featuring Q&As on Thursday 3/9 following the 8pm show & Friday 3/10 following the 7:10pm show with Director Julia Ducournau and actress Garance Marillier. Details are at This Link.

Watch the Trailer Below:

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Top Ten Reasons Why 20th Century Women is My Favorite Film of 2016

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Billy Crudup, Elle Fanning, Annette Benning, Greta Gerwig and Lucas Jade Zumann Star in 20th Century Women

The Coming-of-Age Story can fall into one of two categories: Sublime when done well, but Worse than Anything when done poorly. 20th Century Women, a new film directed by Mike Mills (Beginners) flips this genre sideways by looking at a pivotal year in the life of a fifteen year old boy through his relationships with three strong and finely nuanced women. Set in Santa Barbara, California in 1979, 20th Century Women follows Dorothea Fields (Annette Bening), a dedicated single mom in her mid-50s, who is raising her teenage son, Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann) during a time filled with cultural change and rebellion. Without a father figure in Jamie’s life, Dorothea enlists the help of two younger women to help her bring-up Jamie  to be a good man. Abbie (Greta Gerwig) is a free-spirited, 20-something punk artist and cancer survivor who is a boarder in their home, while 17-year-old Julie (Elle Fanning) is a troubled, promiscuous neighbor, who is also Jamie’s best friend. Billy Crudup also stars as William, a charming but aimless Handyman who also rents a room with the Fields home.

For anyone who lived through an important time of his or her life during 1979 (it was the year I graduated from high school, lost my virginity, and started college) 20th Century Women will feels like a unique, cliché-free set of life experiences that creates a pitch-perfect time capsule, dictated by a very specific time in pop culture history. Here are my Top Ten reasons why I love this film so much.

1. Even when she is horrible-piece-of-shit films like Greenburg, Greta Gerwig is the best thing in any movie she makes.  I love everything about her character, Abbie, who reminded me of my former Punk Rock self, only way cooler.

2. The cinematography and art direction make each frame of the film look like a William Eggleston photograph.

3. Its depiction of the California Punk Rock scene in 1979 (which I was deeply immersed in) also manages to includes songs from the NYC’s No Wave scene and of course British First Wave Punk. The soundtrack reflects the film’s time period with music from artists who helped define the era: Devo, Suicide, The Germs, The Raincoats, Siouxsie and the Banshees, David Bowie, Buzzcocks and Black Flag. Holy Cow! I felt like someone stole my vinyl collection from this era and put it in the film.

4. The soundtrack also features and original score by Roger Neill, which is utterly transportive.

5. I wouldn’t really call myself a fan of the Talking Heads’ music, but three of their songs – “Don’t Worry about the Government,” “Artists Only” and “The Big Country” — are far superior to any their popular hits, and arguably better than most other songs on the planet. Two of these three songs are included on the soundtrack. You will have to see the movie to find out which ones. BTW I predict that this film will provoke a surge in downloads of the Talking Heads’ catalog.

6. There’s a 3D acid flashback visual effect that the filmmakers use to elucidate the feeling of traveling in a fast car as being comparable to moving across time. I’ve never seen anything like that before and it is so trippy and profoundly emotionally effective.

7. 20th Century Women reminded me so much of three of my favorite films, ever: Dazed and Confused, Almost Famous,  and American Beauty. If you dig those films, then you will just love this one.

8. An old high school friend of mine makes a cameo appearance in the film, sort of by accident. Tony Reflex from the seminal Orange County punk band, Adolescents, can be seen in a photograph used in a montage that depicts the rise of the punk rock movement in the late 1970s. That was fun.

9. No meaningless violence or senseless tragedy. I hope that isn’t a spoiler for anyone.

10. It is just the best movie, and you should go see it!

Grade: A+

20th Century Women — which was just nominated for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy for this year’s Golden Globes, opens in New York and Los Angeles on Christmas Day, and Nationwide on January 20th, 2017. Music From The Motion Picture: 20th Century Women will be released digitally on December 16th, while a CD version will be released on January 13th 2017, followed by an LP version on February 10th, 2017.

various artists 20th century women music from the motion picture

Recommended Viewing: The Stolen Lyric

Stolen Lyric Cast

If you’ve been around long enough, you might remember a genre of extremely clever novelty records — super popular during the ’70s  —   that parodied current events and news stories with fake interviews made up of audio clips taken from charting pop songs. Those early mash-up records were lots of fun, and if you miss them, and wonder why somebody hasn’t picked up on that idea for a long-form project, then a new animated film called The Stolen Lyric is going to really turn you on.

Directed by Chase Peter Garrettson, The Stolen Lyric is an animated retelling of the Robin Hood fable, set in the rock music world, and taking on  corporate greed as its chief nemesis.  While the film’s plot and episodic structure  closely follow Howard Pyle’s 1883 novel, The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood, in The Stolen Lyric, Robin H is the lead singer of a rock band called The Merry, whose members include Tucker (Friar Tuck), LJ (Little John) and Will Scarlet (Will Scarlet). What makes The Stolen Lyric absolutely groundbreaking is how the film’s dialogue is based exclusively on 555 song fragments from 129 different iconic recording artists. Imagine listening to a mind-blowing, deep-catalog mix CD that was created by a pop music audiophile with a ten second attention span, and that might give you an idea of the sweet nostalgic ride that is The Stolen Lyric.

Here are just a few of the artists whose songs you’ll hear in The Stolen Lyric:

The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stones, The Who, Television, Sex Pistols, Ramones, Simon and Garfunkel, Jethro Tull, Queen, The Doors, Iggy Pop, Pink Floyd, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Weezer, Radiohead, Outkast, Beastie Boys, Beach Boys, Elton John, Janet Jackson, Peter Frampton, Jefferson Airplane, Alice in Chains, Joy Division, Fiona Apple, Nine Inch Nails,  Buzzcocks and MGMT.

I must admit that I was very surprised to recognize a few song clips from the hyper-litigious Metallica, so perhaps the filmmakers are biding their time until the lawsuits start to flow in from that camp.

Because the film immediately immerses you in a familiar auditory environment, the action can be a bit fuzzy at first, so here’s an outline of major plot points:

Originally, The Merry included  a fifth member, Sherriff (The Sheriff of Nottingham) who, pre-fortune and fame, become disillusioned with a lack of commercial success, and quit the band to take a music business office job. Years later, the guys discover that Sheriff (who is now a wealthy corporate exective) has stolen a lyric from one of The Merry’s songs — “Time to Trade in Your Bike in for the Ride of Your Life” — and sold it for use in a car commercial. In their quest to get their owed-royalties from Sheriff, the story of The Merry unfolds in a series of flashbacks, and we see that Sheriff is also now with Rob’s former girlfriend who, for some reason isn’t named Marion, but Lorraine, as referenced in the lyrics to Lou Reed’s “Wild Child.”

stolen-lyric-band-cash

Here’s a bit of interesting trivia on the film: The characters in The Stolen Lyric were designed to look like hybrids of the traditional characters and modern-day rock personalities, with Rob’s look inspired by Alex Turner of the Arctic Monkeys, LJ’s look inspired by Joshua Homme of Queens of the Stone Age, Will Scarlet’s look inspired by David Bowie, Tucker’s look inspired by Jonathan Davis of Korn, and Sheriff’s look inspired by Nick Valensi of The Strokes.

I think that the most fun you can have with The Stolen Lyric  is to watch it with group of your best record-collecting-music-nerd friends (adding lots of alcohol into the mix) and see who gets stumped the most when trying to identify the more obscure songs and artists. You could even make a drinking game out of it! Very fun! Although there are scattered swear words throughout (which most kids already know if they have ever ridden the subway in NYC, or own records by even one rap artist), and one fairly tame sex scene, I would say the film is age-appropriate viewing for mature 13 year-olds and up. It would absolutely be a terrific way to introduce kids to a top-shelf and somewhat eclectic collection of classic tunes that they are never going to hear anywhere else.

I watched The Stolen Lyric twice and enjoyed even more the second time.

The Stolen Lyric can be viewed on Amazon Prime.

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Recommended Viewing: We Are X, The Death and Life of X Japan

We Are X Movie Poster
Above Image Courtesy of We Are X Film Dot Com. All Other Photos By Gail

When the most popular heavy metal band in Japan came to New York in October of 2014 to play a show at Madison Square Garden, they managed to sell out the legendary arena, despite being virtually unknown in America. X (known stateside as X Japan), got their start in the 1980s as a glam metal band, doing their best to shock audiences with their outrageous stage show and equally over-the-top, gender-bending physical appearances that included flamboyant rock fashions, wildly theatrical hairstyles and Kabuki-esque make-up. But what critics who initially dismissed the band as all style and no substance didn’t realize was that these guys could play their asses off, and were selling the type of rebellious image that repressed Japanese audiences couldn’t wait to buy. Now, an award-winning documentary, We Are X,  aims to bring the myth and enigma that is X Japan into your consciousness.

X Japan Concert Ad

Critics say that the mark of a good documentary is when its story is accessible to, and can be fully enjoyed by, audiences who are completely unfamiliar with its subject matter. Using the career-milestone Madison Square Garden concert as a jumping off point, and circling back to that show (which I attended) at the film’s end, Director Stephen Kijak (Stones in Exile, Scott Walker: 30 Century Man) has succeeded wildly at crafting a career-spanning Rock & Roll fable that will surely hook those who’ve never even heard of X Japan right from its opening credits.

Yoshiki at MSG
Yoshiki on Stage at MSG

Told primarily from the viewpoint of founding member Yoshiki; X Japan’s drummer, composer and charismatic leader, We Are X is both the story of the band’s groundbreaking 30-year career, and also the life story of Yoshiki, who turned to music as a child as a means to cope with the suicide of his father. Forming X as a teenager with school friend Toshi, who became the band’s lead singer, Yoshiki was driven to succeed by existential questions that haunted him from his father’s death; namely “What is my purpose?” and “why am I here?”

Yoshiki and Stephen Kijak
Yoshiki and Stephen Kijak Discuss the Film at a Post-Screening Q&A Here in NYC

Embracing a ‘Do or Die’ sensibility, X Japan became not just an innovative and successful rock band, but a cultural force as powerfully influential as that created by The Beatles decades before them. Not only have they achieved phenomenal record sales and concert attendances, but band members’ personal brands are associated with products as diverse as credit cards, wine, comic book superhero alter egos, and dolls made in their own likenesses. X Japan is also credited with spearheading the uniquely Japanese Visual Kei movement.

X at MSG
X Japan on Stage at MSG

The band’s great successes, however, were tempered with equally great tragedies. As a counterpoint to the celebratory  moments, the film carefully explores the suicides of two seminal band members, Hide (in 1998) and Taiji (in 2011), which shattered the lives of both X Japan’s surviving members, and devastated their fans, one of whom was driven to suicide because of the news. We Are X is a true life Rock & Roll story that really has everything.

Yoshiki and Toshi
Yoshiki and Toshi Rocking It Back in the Day!

Despite the intense personal/personnel drama, career challenges and many heart-rending moments, We Are X is also good fun, and thoroughly entertaining. One of my favorite parts happens towards the film’s end, when Yoshiki and Toshi are reunited in 2007, ten years after the singer abandoned X Japan to join a mind-controlling cult. Yoshiki recalls hanging out at the Palladium in Hollywood, where the friends were approached by two guys looking to buy drugs. One of the men asked the duo if they knew where they could score some X (meaning the psychedelic drug, Ecstasy). Yoshiki, whose grasp of the English language is obviously much  better now than it was back then, laughs when he recalls replying to the guy, with complete sincerity, “We are X!” Hilarious.

We Are X opens in theaters nationwide on Friday October 21st, 2016.

Grade: A+

X at MSG
X Japan On Stage at Madison Square Garden, October 2014

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Movie Review: Weiner, A Documentary That Fully Satisfies

Weiner Movie Poster

Anyone living in (or anywhere near) NYC during the city’s 2013 Mayoral campaign should be familiar with Anthony Weiner; the former US Congressman who became a walking punch line in 2011, when a sexting scandal (Weiner sent pictures of his junk to several female followers on Twitter) forced him to resign his position. Weiner’s inability to keep it in his pants was not only personally humiliating for the married congressman, but ultimately a huge loss for the citizens he represented, as Weiner had been a passionate advocate for the people during his tenure in Congress; particularly with regard to supporting civil rights for an array of minority groups, and pleading the case for healthcare for 9/11 first responders. That he had no one but himself to blame for his situation made Weiner’s resignation a shame on all fronts.

Weiner Post Cover

But America loves a good comeback story, and when Anthony Weiner staged a high profile race to win the 2013 Democratic nomination for NYC Mayor, two filmmakers, Josh Kreigman and Elyse Steinberg signed on to document the campaign from the inside. It wasn’t long, unfortunately, before his past returned to haunt him, as new sexually explicit texts sent by Weiner to women he had met online come to light. But instead of shutting down the film, Weiner encouraged Kriegman and Steinberg to keep the cameras rolling, as he forged ahead with his campaign. The result of those efforts is Wiener, a new documentary film which is so wildly engaging and surprisingly hilarious, it must be seen to be believed

When the 2013 scandal made the news, it gave me a very negative opinion of Anthony Wiener — and I was most definitely mortified for his wife,  Huma Abedin, who is also in the political arena as close advisor to Hilary Clinton. But the truth is didn’t know anything about all the good Weiner had done while in Congress until I started watching this movie. And no one was more surprised than me when, ten minutes into it I thought to myself, you know what, Anthony Weiner is adorable. As a down-to-earth politician, he comes off as genuinely charming, sincere and intelligent, with an unbelievably quick wit. He’s also a badass force to be reckoned with when it comes to facing his adversaries. Some of Weiner’s most entertaining moments occur when he gets into verbal sparing matches with those who would take him down. It is easy to understand his popularity, and why women threw themselves at him.

Weiner for Mayor
Anthony Weiner and Wife Huma Abedin in a Scene from Weiner

Wiener is consistently fascinating as it reveals the disgraced politician’s effort to come clean and spin the controversy, steadfastly refusing to quit his campaign and drop out of a race he feels he can still win, while doing damage-control on his home life with Huma and their baby son. Abedin is all over this movie, and her ability to present a united front with her husband while maintaining grace under fire, and never denying his misdeeds, is admirable and to be respected. Huma Abedin is a class act, for sure.

No one is denying that Anthony Wiener made some really bad decisions, and paid for them dearly with loss of his career and a blow to his marriage. But the film makes no judgments; it just shows you what happened, and lets you make the call. Personally, I’d like to see him try for another comeback. If he got therapy for his lack of impulse control, and remained scandal free through another campaign for office, I’d vote for him.

Weiner, which won the Sundance’s Grand Jury Prize for Documentary, is one of the most riveting documentaries I have ever seen, and I enthusiastically recommend it. The film opens theatrically on Friday, May 20th, 2016, and will be showing here in New York City at the IFC Center.

The Worley Gig Gives Weiner Five out of Five Stars. Watch the Trailer Below:

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Don Cheadle Becomes Miles Davis in Miles Ahead

Miles Ahead Poster
Don Cheadle is Miles Davis in Miles Ahead (All Images Courtesy of Sony Classics)

Movies about Trumpet Playing Jazz Legends are a thing right now. Just last week, IFC released Born to Be Blue, a surreal art film based loosely on the life and career of Chet Baker. This week, Miles Ahead — actor, and first-time director Don Cheadle’s much-anticipated love letter to another groundbreaking jazz innovator, Miles Davis  — comes to the big screen after garnering all kinds of awards on last year’s festival circuit. It was worth the wait, because Miles Ahead is a fantastic film.

The thing to keep in mind about Miles Ahead going in is that, like Born to be Blue, it takes bit of artistic license with the facts in order to capture the essence of Davis‘ life and art. It is not disputed that Miles Davis changed music a bunch of times during his career. With Bitches Brew (an album that both fans and critics totally lose their minds over) he basically turned Jazz on its head as he added rock and funk to a style of music that previously never had any of those elements. And that was all inspired by his admiration for Jimi Hendrix! Davis was actually supposed to record with Hendrix, but the guitarist died that weekend! You can read these stories in the book Miles: The Autobiography, which is one of the craziest, most-engaging music biographies, ever.

Miles Davis Early

Miles Ahead basically takes place during a five-year period  in the late 1970s where Davis felt he had nothing left to say, so he became reclusive and descended into taking tons of drugs and sleeping with everything that moved. The way he describes it in the book is amazing; scary, but hilarious. One time, he was in an elevator and he was so high, he thought he was in his car, so he punched a lady who was in the elevator with him and he told her to get the fuck out of his car! There are a couple of similar moments in Miles Ahead, and they are just insane. But I digress.

Don Cheadle as Miles

As far as how wide a scope of the story of Miles Davis colorful life and considerable accomplishments are covered in this 100 minute film, let’s say that if Miles Ahead were a weekly TV series, then this would be one episode. Ewan McGregor co-stars as Dave Braden, a ballsy journalist who claims to be on assignment from Rolling Stone. Braden shows up on Davis’ doorstep (while the latter is most definitely wasted out of his mind) and tricks his way into the musician’s home under the guise of conducting an interview for a comeback story. Over the next couple of days, Braden alternately serves as either Davis’ perceived adversary or accidental sidekick, as the two men embark on a wild and sometimes harrowing adventure to recover a stolen tape of the musician’s latest compositions.

The story gains depth from many flashbacks, including those of Davis’ marriage to his first wife, Frances Taylor (played by Emayatzy Corinealdi), a dancer who gave up her career to marry him. Taylor was Davis’ muse during the period that he released several of his signature recordings, including the groundbreaking Sketches of Spain and Someday My Prince Will Come. To put it mildly, he was kind of a dick to her. Miles Davis also ruminates on other past triumphs and regrets, and the film’s jagged flashback style is an effective way to showcase his many inner demons.

Most importantly, Don Cheadle delivers an Oscar-caliber performance as Miles Davis, but he’s amazing in everything. From Boogie Nights to Hotel Rwanda to Showtime’s House of Lies; the man completely loses himself in every role. He’s a genius. Corinealdi is also excellent as Francis, and it’s always fun to see Ewan McGregor, though I believe his unique talents are mostly wasted in this role.

Maybe Miles Ahead isn’t the definitive Miles Davis life story, but when you’re feeling it, who gives a shit? You could make ten movies about Miles Davis and there would still be room for more. If you want a cradle-to-grave primer, read his book.

The Worley Gig Gives Miles Ahead Five out of Five Stars!

Miles Ahead Opens for a Limited Theatrical Release on April 1st, 2016. Consult Fandango Dot Com to find a theater where it is playing in your area.