Category Archives: Film

Concert Review: Eric Clapton Tour 2013







Guitar “God” Eric Clapton kicked off his 2013 Tour in Phoenix, AZ last night and while it’s unlikely this tour will rank in the “Top 10 All Time Favorite Concerts” for anyone, an excellent time was had by all.

Clapton, started the evening off acoustically with the breezy and appropriate “Hello Old Friend”, from his 1976 release No Reason to Cry, followed by the moderate hit “My Father’s Eyes” from 1998’s Pilgrim, no, it wasn’t all that exciting and given Clapton’s catalog spanning 40 years of rock and roll one has to wonder why he would chose to kick off the evening with such tepid, easy listening tracks.

The show kicked into higher gear with “Got to Get Better in a Little While”, a favorite from the Derek and the Dominos days. Clapton tore into his wah wah on this tune and, despite his trademark stoic demeanor, finally showed signs of having a good time. The rapturous audience response confirmed the legendary rocker had at last tip toed into the “zone” we all had been patiently waiting for.

Surprisingly, the evening was a bit of a hit and miss affair, not all that unusual really during the first few nights of a new tour, one suspects the band/show will tighten with a little more time on the road. If I could suggest a tune they might consider exploring a little more during their future sound checks it would have to be the 70s classic, “Layla”, which last night meandered and drifted in an almost confused and listless way.

Concert highlights included Clapton’s definitive cover of Bob Marley’s “I Shot the Sheriff”, (featuring awe inspiring guitar work from the “God” himself), “Little Queen of Spades”, a blues jam that allowed the full 9 piece band to stretch some extremely impressive muscles, and an extended version of “Cocaine” complete with shredding guitars and dueling pianos.

As a bit of a surprise, Paul Carrack, formerly of Mike & The Mechanics, Squeeze and Ace, is a member of EC’s band this time around and delivered some wicked work on both the organ and keys, not to mention some fine vocal work on his hits “Tempted”, (previously recorded by Squeeze), and “How Long”  originally recorded by Carrack’s first band, Ace.

Hate to say it but it felt a bit like the big Clapton hits were just a lot of “going through the motions”, almost as if to say, “now that we got THAT out of the way, let’s play something we really like!” Definitely an understandable situation given how many times Clapton has performed these tunes, all I can tell you is, if you’re looking for engaging showmanship an Eric Clapton concert is not for you. However, if you’re coming to see one of the greatest guitarist rock and roll has ever offered shred a few strings, by all means run to the show, you won’t be disappointed!

The Wallflowers opened the show and, if you should happen to arrive late, never fear, you didn’t miss all that much.

Eric Clapton 2013 Setlist, US Airways Arena, Phoenix, AZ  3/14/2013

Hello Old Friend

My Father’s Eyes

Tell the Truth

Gotta Get Over

Black Cat Bone

Got to Get Better in a Little While

Tempted (Featuring Paul Carrack) 

I Shot the Sheriff

Driftin’ Blues

Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out

Tears in Heaven

Goodnight, Irene

Wonderful Tonight

How Long? (Featuring Paul Carrack)

Stones in My Passway

Love in Vain


Little Queen of Spades




Sunshine of Your Love

High Time We Went (Featuring Paul Carrack)

Pop Bitez Film in Review for 2012

2012 was definitely a mixed bag as far as film is concerned and while we wouldn’t go as far as saying it was a bad year, it wasn’t exactly one of the best either.

We’re a little late with our list this year as it took some time to make certain we saw all that needed to be seen and, as it happens, we now find ourselves deep in the middle of “Awards Season”, never fear, the nominations and self congratulatory events of the film world have never had an influence on us and, rest assured, they never will. In fact, with a few possible exceptions, it seems the Globes and Oscars are in more of a state of confusion than usual this year, which makes sense given the “WOW!” factor was really nowhere to be found in 2012.

What follows are our picks for the closest thing to “WOW!” we could find in 2012.

And with that we now give you the Pop Bitez Top 12 for 2012!

12. Lincoln


Yes, it’s true, beyond Daniel Day Lewis‘ well established talents, the good Lord blessed the man with a natural, uncanny resemblance to our 16th President. In the theater they often say “directing is 90% casting”, but in the film world this is obviously not the case and is exactly why Steven Spielberg‘s Lincoln isn’t placing higher on our list. Spielberg has been lauded for many decades as our preeminent film director and yet, when you look over the man’s filmography, you would have to agree his expertise through the years has been greatly overstated. Pacing it would seem is Spielberg’s Achilles’ heel, (have you taken a look at Close Encounters….lately?), and Lincoln, like last year’s War Horse, suffers from the director’s inability to succinctly and clearly tell a story. Sadly, he gets no help from Tony Kushner’s yawn inducing, butt numbingly dry screenplay, which punches up the cliches and regurgitates facts that sound as if they were lifted directly from your high school history book. Lincoln is on our list this year for the performances alone. We tend to judge our favorites of the year by which films we would willingly sit down and watch for a second and third time, Lincoln is the only flick on this year’s list that is the exception to our basic rule.


11. Anna Karenina


Director Joe Wright’s brilliant take on this classic novel is unlike anything you have seen before. Every frame of this film is filled with beauty, from it’s stars to it’s locations, it’s pretty people, in pretty places, using pretty words. We don’t see as many of these films as we should and, if it weren’t for Wright, we wouldn’t have had any costume dramas in 2012. As far as this genre goes, Anna Karenina is as good as it gets.


10. The Perks of Being a Wallflower


Every year brings at least a handful of “coming of age” flicks which is why it’s always so surprising when a film rises above it’s predecessors and offers something new to such a well worn genre. The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a smart, funny and touching look at the heartaches and pains of growing up and is one of the best of it’s kind in several years. Director/Writer Stephen Chbosky and his excellent cast which includes Logan Lerman, Emma Watson and Ezra Miller have delivered a film that will be enjoyed by many well beyond 2012.


9. Safety Not Guaranteed


Safety Not Guaranteed is a small movie with big ideas, which is exactly why we love it. Screenwriter Derek Connolly gives us an intelligent collection of characters we grow to care about, something not quite as easy as it may sound. Indie film, at it’s best, gives us relationships we can relate to and explores the human psyche and heart in a way that most of the major studio films have seemingly given up on. Thank God we still have a new crop of directors like Colin Trevorrow showing up every year to bring us stories that connect.


8. Sound of My Voice

Sound_of_My_Voice_filmstill5_BritMarling_byRachelMorissonR 2.jpg

Sound of My Voice is another of those small films exploring big ideas, it’s a tense, at times unsettling story that unfolds slowly until it eventually delivers on it’s promise. The less you know the more you will enjoy this indie gem so we won’t say much, suffice it to say Zal Batmanglij’s direction is spot on and the performances, particularly that of Brit Marling, are haunting and memorable.


7. Cloud Atlas


Cloud Atlas is a BIG movie exploring BIG ideas, now when was the last time you saw one of those? The Wachowskis, best known for their Matrix trilogy, are responsible for bringing us Cloud Atlas and, if not for the success of that previous series, would never have received a greenlight for this big budgeted journey through space and time, as a result, we find we have a new respect for that Keanu Reeves hit and miss collection. Cloud Atlas may be one of the most debated, love it or hate it films of 2012, we loved it. Ambitious, inspired and featuring some great actors in multiple roles, (a concept previously reserved only for broad comedies), this epic of the heart will be talked about for many years to come, we know it’s true true.


6. Skyfall


After the incredibly disappointing Quantum of Solace we really we’re expecting much from Skyfall, of course if we’d stopped to consider the previous brilliance of director Sam Mendes we might have had higher hopes. Mendes has officially raised the bar on the Bond franchise with this one incredibly high. After seeing it a second time, we’re convinced, not only is this the best Bond flick in several decades, it’s easily one of the best pictures of 2012. Note for note, this is as good as it may ever get for the true Bond fan.


5. The Avengers

The Avengers

Just as Sam Mendes raised the bar on Bond, Joss Whedon delivered what we believe is the greatest comic book film of all time. Yes, you read that right, the greatest! Take note Marvel and DC, this one is going to be nearly impossible to top.


4. Les Miserables


As far as widely debated films are concerned, next to Cloud Atlas, Les Miserables is probably the second biggest film this year to evenly divide audiences and, like Cloud Atlas, this is another love it or hate it flick. We loved it and yet, while Tom Hooper delivered some of the most incredibly inspired moments in movie musical history, it is his unfortunate missteps, (a few very nearly unforgivable), that kept this movie from being our number one pick for the year. Les Miserables isn’t perfect, but it was much closer than some of us expected and for that reason alone, it belongs high on everyone’s list of the best films of 2012.


3. The Sessions


In some circles this is the exact type of movie they often refer to as “Oscar Bait” only, this time, the film is more than worthy of the awards consideration. John Hawkes and Helen Hunt brilliantly carry a movie that, in other hands, could have easily been a weepy disaster.


2. Silver Linings Playbook


David O’Russell surprises again with our second favorite film of 2012, Silver Linings Playbook. We imagine the title probably kept many of you from seeing this one in theaters and we can’t blame you, the title, while good for a book, is not a marquee grabber. The script is perfect, the cast is perfect and, wow, Robert De Niro can still bring it on, who knew, (it’s been a few years Bob)!


1. Life of Pi


Ang Lee, we officially can now forgive you for the incredibly awful Hulk. Lee accomplished the seemingly impossible this year by bringing to the screen a novel that was widely believed to be unfilmable, but then that only makes sense, the film is about faith and Lee, rightfully so, had a lot of it. The visuals are stunningly beautiful as is the message of the film and, in our opinion, there was no movie better in 2012 than Life of Pi. You will notice our list does not separate Best Film from Best Director, only in the strangest of universes does that make any kind of sense, so our Best Director of 2012 is Ang Lee.


Honorable Mentions

Indie Game


Indie Game is a brilliant documentary that follows the journeys of indie game developers as they create games and release those works, and themselves, to the world. (currently available on Netflix).

The Master


From the Master himself, Paul Thomas Anderson, we get a thinly veiled look at the early days of a very creepy, celebrity religion, (you know, the one Cruise and Travolta give all their money?). Joaquin Phoenix delivers the kind of performance that convinces us, once and for all, if not for acting this guy would be chopping up hitchhikers and burying them on the side of the road somewhere in Idaho right now.

Zero Dark Thirty


If we believed the version of this story presented by Kathryn Bigelow, (or even the one from Obama’s Whitehouse), this film would have placed high on our list. Don’t get us wrong, it is an excellent movie, no question, we just refuse to accept it as “a recreation of actual events”. We aren’t exactly conspiracy nuts but, when it comes to this tall tale, our bullshit detecting needle is way off the charts.


Best Documentary:

Searching for Sugar Man


Sixto Rodriguez was a Detroit folksinger who had a short-lived recording career with only two well received but non-selling albums. Unknown to Rodriguez, his musical story continued in South Africa where he became a pop music icon and inspiration for generations. Searching for Sugar Man is one of only a few non-political documentaries this year and, as far as we’re concerned, is by far and away the best of 2012. This flick will surprise you big time, it’s one of those stories that could only be presented in non-fiction terms as it is very nearly unbelievable.


Runner Up: Queen of Versailles

Queen of Versailles, Jackie Siegel

Those of you always barking about the “one percenters” will find much to love about the Queen of Versailles but then, as usual, you would be missing the point entirely. Yes, there is a certain schadenfreude enjoyment at watching those living “too large” for some of you but, consider this, when the wealthy fall, how far behind do you think the rest of us will be? Has anyone ever been employed by a poor person? Some will see this film as a grotesque comedy, we see it as a horror film, a harbinger of our darkest days still on the horizon. See you on the soup lines, dumbass.


Best Animated Feature:



Paranorman is not necessarily what we’d call a “family film”, unless you’re ok with having to explain a few facts of life to your youngest. That being said, it was easily the most inspired, funny and surprisingly beautiful animated feature of 2012.


Runner Up: Wreck it Ralph


Wreck it Ralph might have made it to our top spot this year if it weren’t for the hideousness that is Sara Silverman. Sorry but she grates on the nerves, animated and otherwise. Loved this flick but the casting of Silverman did not make it easy.


Best Horror: Cabin in the Woods


It was a very good year for Joss Whedon fans, who produced this one at the same time he was directing The Avengers. This time around Whedon left the directing duties to Drew Goddard who does a bang up job of standing ever single horror film cliche on it’s head. Cabin in the Woods is easily the most scary fun we had in a theater in 2012!


Best Screenplay: The Trouble with the Truth


Every once in awhile we come across a screenplay that we wish we’d written ourselves, in 2012 The Trouble with the Truth was that screenplay. Kudos to director/ screenwriter Jim Hemphill for his very impressive debut and also to John Shea and Lea Thompson who so brilliantly brought Hemphill’s words to life. Keep an eye on Pop Bitez and we’ll let you know when the DVD and/or Instant Streaming is available, (hopefully very soon!)


Best Sci-Fi: Looper


Joseph Gordon Levitt and Bruce Willis, playing the same character no less, make Looper work, and work it does, in a tense, edge of your seat kind of way. Sci-fi these days is a lot more miss than hit and this one definitely hits in a big way. Here’s hoping Looper will usher in a new era of smart Sci-fi, we need it bad.


Best Surprise: Snow White and The Huntsman


From the trailers for Snow White and the Huntsman we had zero hope for this flick, so much so that we skipped it on the big screen which definitely proved to be our mistake. There really is no way an adaptation of Snow White with a decidedly Lord of the Rings treatment should be any good and yet it is, it’s very good, which is why we’ve chosen as our Biggest Surprise of 2012.


Best Actor: Hugh Jackman

Hugh Jackman

We’re a little gay for Hugh Jackman these days but then, who isn’t? The man’s man actor puts all of his talents to the test and succeeds with a career defining performance as Jean Valjean, the born again convict and step daddy on the run. We can’t actually think of another A- list actor who could have even come close to what Jackman accomplishes in Les Miserables and, if there are any shortcomings in his performance, (maybe one or two quibbles), the fault is with Tom Hooper’s uneven direction and has nothing to do with Jackman as an actor.


Runner Up: John Hawkes


John Hawkes gets more and more impressive with every role and it’s only a matter of time before he has one of those golden gods on his mantle piece. In The Sessions Hawkes plays a man who spends most of his days in an iron lung who, on a few occasions, is able to live a fuller life by way of Helen Hunt’s vagina for hire. Hawkes was terrifying in last year’s Winter’s Bone and heartbreaking and funny in The Sessions. It almost makes us want to go back and watch Deadwood all over again, maybe we will.


Best Actress:

Helen Hunt


We’ve never been all that big of a Helen Hunt fan but damned if the woman didn’t completely change our minds with her fearless and beautiful performance in The Sessions.


Runner Up: Jennifer Lawrence


Jennifer Lawrence can do it all and at this point, out of all the other actresses of her generation, is clearly our favorite. We worried for her in the above mentioned Winter’s Bone, we cheered for her in The Hunger Games and we fell in love with her in Silver Linings Playbook.


Best Supporting Actor: Javier Bardem


What would James Bond be without a great nemesis? Kind of a bore, right? Well, Skyfall is anything but a bore and part of it’s very deserving success is due in part to Javier Bardem’s amazing performance. Not only is he the best Bond villain to come around in a very long time, he’s the best crazy ass bad guy to hit the big screen since Heath Ledger’s Joker.


Runner Up: Mark Ruffalo

ruffalo hulk

Eric Bana couldn’t do it, Ed Norton couldn’t either but Mark Ruffalo sure did! True, a lot of the success of bringing the Hulk to the big screen and not stinking the place up is due to Joss Whedon’s excellent writing and directing but still, there is no ignoring the fact that Ruffalo nails the character with his soft spoken Dr. Bruce Banner and his not so soft spoken big green guy. Thank you again, Ed Norton, for being such a pain in the ass to work with that they chose to recast the role, your loss was without question our gain!


Best Supporting Actress: Anne Hathaway


Bottom line, there isn’t another actress working today who could do what Anne Hathaway does in Les Miserables, it is a performance for the ages, beautiful and devastating, and she more than deserves every single award that is certain to come her way this year.


Runner Up: Amanda Seyfried


So much has been made of Samantha Bark’s performance as the painfully underwritten Eponine in the big screen adaptation of Les Miserables that Amanda Seyfried’s Cosette has been unfairly lost in the shuffle. The truth is, we’ve seen Les Miserables on stage several times and always loved Eponine but have been bored to death by Cosette and, after watching the film a second time, we’re convinced Seyfried’s is the more impressive performance. On film we’re actually a bit underwhelmed by Eponine and fall in love, hard, with Cosette and the credit belongs exclusively to Amanda Seyfried’s sweet and heartfelt performance.


Biggest Disappointments of 2012

The Dark Knight Rises


Obscuring 75% of your villain’s face is no way to follow up the Oscar winning villain from your previous film and allowing the God awful indistinguishable accent adopted by Tom Hardy didn’t help either. What is it about trilogies that the third installment, in almost every case, fails to live up to the 2nd film in the series? Too long, too lame and very disappointing.




Pixar set the bar high for themselves a long time ago and, these days, has been floundering and struggling. When John Lassiter took over as the head of Animation at Disney after the merger between the House of Mouse and Pixar, we expected the quality would increase and the craft would come first over the mass merchandizing and marketing, which is why we stand slack jawed and shocked that the exact opposite has happened. True, we were thrilled to have a new film from Pixar that was NOT a $equel but sadly, Brave does not live up to films like Up, Wall E, Finding Nemo, Toy Story or even A Bug’s Life. We didn’t hate Brave but we didn’t love it either and that was definitely a big disappointment for us.


Django Unchained


We’ve seemingly been waiting forever for a Western from Tarantino and this just ain’t it. The Star F*cking Golden Globes awarded Quentin with a Best Screenplay Award this year for what we believe is one of his all time weakest scripts. The character development or rather the lack there of, in a screenwriting class would have earned the overrated filmmaker a C grade at best. It seems we’re supposed to care about Jamie Foxx’s character based solely on the fact that he is a slave and, in the end, we don’t know him anymore than we did in the beginning, which is to say, not at all. Hip contemporary tunes played over a period piece, unsavory villains waxing poetically and philosophizing anti-heroes. please, enough already, it’s all played out Quentin and is no longer novel or very imaginative. At this point it would be daring and rebellious for you to just offer a film straight up, without all the signatures and gimmicks but, somehow, we doubt you have it in you.


This is 40

This Is 40

If you asked Judd Apatow to name his top 5 comedies of all time we’re betting every title he would offer up would have an average running time of approximately 90 minutes, which is why it is so hard to understand why he consistently breaks this big screen comedy rule EVERY TIME with films that come close to the 2 1/2 hour mark. Judd, the best clowns know when to leave the party and yet you are repeatedly guilty of staying until the hostess begins to uncomfortably clear her throat. Every one of Apatow’s films has something we love but, in the end, he just doesn’t have the clarity of vision to tell a tight story. Brevity is the soul of wit Judd, which is why This is 40, like all of your other films, is soul-less.

Pop Blitz 4/28/2012

The Pop Blitz for 4/28/2012

Welcome to the weekend Popsters!

Can you believe it? The time to assemble is less than a week away!!!

As you may already suspect I’m pretty geeked up about The Avengers opening NEXT WEEKEND! I’ve already bought my ticket for the 12:01 am premiere on May 4th and I’m counting the days…the hours…the minutes! I actually can’t imagine being more excited about any other release this Summer!

‘Nuff Said? Not a chance! So, in preparation for the big night I thought we might talk a little Avengers today, so, without further yada, yada, yada, have at it!

• Super Pre-Sale Numbers for The Avengers!

The Avengers Motion Poster

If you’re planning on going to that midnight opening next Thursday, (Friday morning, 12:01 am), you better get online and get your tickets now, they’re going faster than a…spinning shield! is reporting that the advance ticket sales for the U.S. opening of The Avengers are off the charts! The Pre-sale numbers are said to be better than Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Thor and Captain America…wait for it…COMBINED!?

56% of pre-sale tickets are for the 3D version, despite the fact that this super blockbuster was NOT actually filmed in 3D but was converted in post. claims the reason so many people want to see the film in 3D is that “all the midnight showings are in 3D”, (wrong), there are also rumors about free posters being given away at select theaters, (IMAX only from the information I’ve received).

This weekend Marvel is releasing The Avengers in over 40 international territories prior to it’s U.S. opening on May 4th, (a true nerd holiday, as in “May the Fourth Be With You”). The film was released in New Zealand, Australia and Taiwan a few days ago and has already grossed a stunning 8 million dollars!

In the season destined to be remembered by Hollywood Executives as “The Summer of Marvel VS. DC”, my money is on The Avengers, (I’m still not convinced the new Dark Knight flick is going to be any good, I have some serious doubts about the strength of the villain and these films often rise and fall based on the strength of the villain.)

• Another Mondo and Marvel Team Up!

You’ve got to love these new posters created by Mondo, the Austin based graphic design house famous for their posters and Tees. Marvel recently commissioned the posters for the collectible art boutique arm of Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, in Austin, Texas.

Justin Ishmael, Mondo Creative Director explains, “We’ve become very attached to doing Marvel movie posters over the past few years, specifically for Avengers-related characters, so working on the upcoming film is a huge dream come true. The participating artists have really brought some of their best work ever to the table. If you want to see the different styles the Mondo crew is capable of, look no further than this series, we couldn’t be happier with it.

I gotta tell ya, I couldn’t be happier either! I don’t know Popsters, I might actually need to throw down some cash this weekend! If you want to join me in blowing some hard earned green on this exquisite nerd art, feel free to damage your checking account by clicking this link!

Now, how many can I afford….and which ones? Decisions, decisions…

• The Avengers XXX: A Porn Parody

And if you still can’t get enough of the ultimate Marvel Team up you can always dim the lights, lock the door and grab your favorite…..alright, you knew it was coming, (pun if you need to), Vivid proudly presents The Avengers XXX!

(edited from the press release)

The Avengers XXX is a new power-packed sexy spoof from adult powerhouse Vivid Entertainment, that enlists a dozen super heroes to save an American city from an incredible path of destruction created by The Hulk…and have some freaky geeky sex along the way! Fresh off his second consecutive XRCO Best Director Award win, Porn Parody king Axel Braun is once again staying true to the comics and making full use of his legendary attention to detail. The result is another superior product that will please even the most hardcore fans…in more ways than one. The Avengers XXX will debut online at on May 1st and will be in stores nationwide on May 4.”

I’ve actually seen…ummm…a few screen shots from this one and…well…I give it four out of five Iron…..whatevers.

Moving on……just watch the trailer.


• The BXX: Haunted

Producer/ Writer Daniel Knauf, best known for HBO’s Carnivale and the Starz series Spartacus: Vengeance has created the new web based, interactive series Haunted and man is it ever creepy and addictive!

Seriously, this is a lot of fun, but you need to be patient and explore it all. Give it an hour and you’ll be hooked!

Check out the video for a full breakdown and enjoy!


• Mother Nature’s Son

Composer Diego Stocco created this piece in celebration of Earth Day last week. Though I am far from what you’d call a “Birkenstock Boy” or a “Tree Humper”, I have to admit I’m a sucker for all things brilliant and cool, and this is pretty freakin’ brilliant and cool! Check it out!


• Pop Bitez PopCast; The Showtune Covers

We’ve got a brand spanking new PopCast for you this week featuring covers of Broadway show tunes that really needs to be heard to be believed! Some are surprisingly good, some are wicked awful! From The Beatles to Queensryche, from Andrew Lloyd Webber Metal to Disco Sondheim? Tune in, turn on and Pop out!

♦ That’s all the news that’s fit to POP for this week, thanks for stopping by Popsters! Check back next weekend for my full review of The Avengers! Have a great weekend! Cheers!- Scott

The Trouble With The Truth: Review

The Trouble With The Truth (2011)

Director/ Writer: Jim Hemphill

Executive Producers: James W. Hemphill, Nancy Yudchitz

Producers: Daniel Farrands, Thommy Hutson

Cast: Lea Thompson, John Shea, Danielle Harris, Keri Lynn Pratt

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ out of 5

While attending the 2012 Sedona International Film Festival it was impossible to ignore the definite buzz in the air about Writer/ Director Jim Hemphill’s new film The Trouble with the Truth, which proved to be a bonafide crowd pleaser with this year’s festival attendees.

The film centers on divorced couple Robert (John Shea) and Emily (Lea Thompson), initially brought together to discuss their daughter’s impending nuptials. Throughout the course of one evening, (which includes dinner, desert and more than a few drinks), the former couple playfully revisit their differing ideas regarding love and career which, of course, eventually drives the conversation to the inevitable excavation of their failed marriage. By evening’s end their impromptu reunion will lead to a few surprises, a few confessions and, yes, even a few tears.

Given the film is basically a continuing conversation, with limited locations and lots of over the shoulder shots, obvious comparisons have been made to that other flick involving a dining duo, My Dinner with Andre, but where that classic film deals in matters mostly cerebral, Hemphill’s sharp and funny screenplay is all heart and, as a result, is a much warmer, intimate and personal film. If …Andre is a “thinking” person’s movie, The Trouble with the Truth is for the “feeling”, and proves to be an honest and thought provoking debate between the heart and the head.

When you’ve got a film that involves a lot more talk than action, casting is a make or break proposition, first and foremost, we need to like them, which I am happy to report we do, quite a bit.

We grow to like Robert quickly, due in large part to John Shea’s handling of Hemphill’s often blunt and hilarious dialog, the actor’s years of experience on film, and more specifically the stage, serves him and the film quite well.

Lea Thompson as Emily, however, is the real surprise. The actresses’ instant like-ability has been the cornerstone of her long and successful career for the last two decades, where the adjectives “cute” and “suburban” have been exhausted by writers with little imagination, but this time around Thompson is given an opportunity to play a modern woman who is perhaps a little deeper, a little more cultured and a lot more eloquent than we’ve seen from her previous roles and the result is nothing short of a revelation. Her performance is both funny and heartbreaking, often simultaneously, and stays with you long after the credits have rolled. 

The many talents of relative newcomer Jim Hemphill are on full display with his brilliant, quotable dialog and thoughtful instincts as a director. The premiss alone, in lesser hands, might have easily degenerated into bad drama and worn out cliche’s, but the Director/ Writer deftly avoids the obvious traps at all costs and delivers a smart, funny and engaging film. Hemphill is definitely one to keep an eye!

Though it is still quite early, The Trouble with the Truth is, by far and away, the best indie I’ve seen this year. I can only hope a distribution deal is coming soon so that you all will have the opportunity to enjoy this one for yourselves.

Pop Bitez Best 11 Films of 2011

It took me awhile to catch up and see all of the movies this year but, finally, we’ve got our last list for the year that was 2011!

 Pop Bitez Best Films of 2011!

Before we get into the list, let me first toss out the “Honorable Mentions”, who just barely missed the cut. Moneyball, Midnight in Paris, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Crazy Stupid Love, LimitlessThe Ides of March, We Need to Talk About Kevin, 50/50 and Arthur Christmas.

11. The Tree Of Life

It’s true Terrance Malick’s flicks aren’t for everyone but, if you can surrender your preconceived notions of what you’ve come to expect from a movie you may find you appreciate the man’s singularly brilliant vision. If you come to The Tree Of Life you should know going in, the plot, (if there truly is one), is told in a non-linear manner and doesn’t make much sense in a traditional sense. It is more a film to be experienced and absorbed than immediately understood. As a young man Malick grew up as a farm hand and, eventually, found his way to Harvard where he studied philosophy, he went on to become a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford and spent a good portion of his life teaching philosophy at M.I.T. His ideas are big and deep and his background is at the core of every one of his films. The Tree of Life, in many ways, is the film he has been building towards for years. It is a masterwork from a philosopher come director and, in the future, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that it’s being shown in both film and philosophy class rooms equally. Heady stuff to be sure but very rewarding.

10. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

First, a disclaimer: This is NOT the film to watch late on a Friday night after a long work week. My first time around I did and I missed the brilliance of both the film and Gary Oldman’s performance. This is not a movie to watch passively, it requires your complete and undivided attention. As far as spy thrillers are concerned, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is the best in decades, I was actually beginning to suspect this genre might have completely skipped an entire generation of filmmakers. The cast is literally a who’s who of top notch British talent and the screenplay, adapted from John Le Carre’s classic novel, is dense and perfectly constructed. Trust no one.

9. My Week With Marilyn

I‘m usually opposed to any film featuring actors playing other actors, bio pics have always seemed a bit of an odd affair to me and we often make the mistake of confusing a great impersonation for a great performance, especially during “awards season”. That being said, Michelle William’s take on Marilyn Monroe broke my heart, it’s the best performance by an actress for me this year, hands down. William’s energy and sheer presence elevates the film from your standard bio-pic, while Kenneth Branagh’s uncomfortably odd portrayal of Sir Laurence Olivier tends to weigh it down a bit. It’s not a perfect film but it is on our list this year based in large part on Michelle Williams career defining performance. She alone is more than enough reason to love this movie.

8. Tyrannosaur

Director/ Writer Paddy Considine’s Tyrannosaur, winner of last year’s Sundance Film Festival Special Jury Prize, is definitely NOT the “feel good movie of the holiday season”, in truth it’s as dark and sad as anything on our list this year but man, is it ever great! Peter Mullan and Olivia Colman give two of the strongest performances of the year in this small but deeply effecting film. Considine puts the darkest parts of our humanity under a microscope and explores our failures and frailties with deft precision. It’s a haunting film that stays with you, like it or not, long after the credits have rolled.

7. Young Adult

It’s ridiculous how great Charlize Theron is in Young Adult, after all, it’s long been accepted that a woman this beautiful simply can’t possibly have the acting chops to go this deep, a rumor I suspect propagated by lesser attractive actresses long ago. Let there be no mistake, the Oscar Theron won for her scary portrayal in the film Monster was no fluke, she is quickly becoming one of the best of her generation. The supporting cast is also spot on perfect with strong performances from Patrick Wilson and Patton Oswald. This would easily be director Jason Reitman’s best film to date and screenwriter Diablo Cody more than redeems herself from the dreadful Jennifer’s Body and actually, in my opinion, delivers a much more nuanced script than her previously award winning Juno.

6. The Guard

The Guard is, hands down, the funniest film I saw in 2011. This fish-out-of-water comedy featuring a befuddled Don Cheadle playing off of a hilariously dead pan Brendan Gleeson was a pleasant surprise and had me laughing from the first frame to the last. The script is loaded with smart and quotable dialog, memorable characters and even a moment or two of genuine humanity. You might have missed this one on it’s initial release but I strongly suggest you seek it out now, it’s currently available on DVD and Streaming on Amazon and iTunes.

5. Drive

Between The Ides of March, Crazy Stupid Love and Drive, Ryan Gosling had a very good year. I enjoyed all three of Gosling’s films but this one has to be my favorite. It’s moody (and violent) and reminded me a great deal of the films Michael Mann used to make. The soundtrack is pure 80s electronic kitsch and the camera work is spectacular. Gosling’s quiet but strong performance brings to mind a young Steve McQueen and former funny man Albert Brooks‘ turn as an old school menace is nothing short of a revelation.

4. War Horse

War Horse is, in many ways, like the titles still to come on this list, a tribute to the Hollywood films of yesterday. It’s a beautiful movie, filled with gorgeous panoramic shots of sweeping vistas and epic battle scenes so perfectly staged they put most of 2011’s 3D films to shame. This is grand cinematic opera in a way only Steven Spielberg can deliver, and boy does he. While the performances across the board are excellent, Spielberg is the real star of War Horse. Yes, it’s a little manipulative and, sure, you might shed a tear or two but, isn’t that all an expected part of the experience, especially when Steve’s at the wheel? As for the ending, I’m very happy to report, it isn’t sad! If that was one of the things that might have been keeping you from seeing this movie, trust me, you’ll like the conclusion, it ain’t Old Yeller.

3. The Artist

A black and white silent film, really? In the age of digital film, 3D super heroes and IMAX epics? YES, and if you ask me, the timing couldn’t be more perfect! “Mash-ups” have been a popular part of the music world for quite some time now but a film mash is definitely a new concept. The Artist is a perfect combination of Singin’ in the Rain, Sunset Blvd. and A Star is Born and while you might not think we have the attention span or capacity these days to appreciate a black and white silent flick, you’ll quickly discover, when it’s done right, we more than do. Given the technical aspects, the film has been in limited release for most of it’s run thus far, relegated almost exclusively to art house theaters, that’s a real shame as I suspect this distinction has intimidated the masses from going to see this one but, trust me when I tell you, this is pure populist entertainment and it doesn’t have a pretentious or “arty” bone in it’s body. In terms of sheer charm and entertainment value I’ll put this one up against anything else that came out this year, The Artist is, once again, proof positive that less is often much more.

2. Warrior

Yes, this is probably the biggest surprise on my list this year, of course the surprise for me has been that Warrior was largely ignored by the critics lists and award nominations, it still remains unclear as to why. The film scored a solid 82% on Rotten Tomatoes which, when compared to The Help at 76% and War Horse at 77%, should tell you something.

Last year, The Fighter got a lot of attention and, by a long shot, this is a much better flick. Some have even gone as far as to compare it to Rocky, I’m going to take it a step further and tell you, in my useless opinion, it is actually a better film than Rocky ever was. All three of the film’s stars, Tom Hardy, Joel Edgerton and Nick Nolte, gave Oscar worthy performances and, as example, make the attention given to Clooney’s work in The Descendants and Pitt’s work in Moneyball almost comical, clearly there’s a bit of star fucking going on here. Nolte in particular, who normally get’s more attention than he did this past year, is outstanding and heartbreaking and has rarely been better. The film was lost and buried amongst the big summer popcorn movies when it was released in July and struggled to perform at the box office, in spite of mostly rave reviews.

I also have my suspicions that the box office failure of Warrior may have something to do with the pussification of our modern world, after all, this is most definitely a “real man” movie, the kind Hollywood used to make before we surrendered our testicles to the ill-informed idea that women were looking for more “sensitive” men, a concept that, when put to the test, holds as much water as an old G.I. Joe helmet. Our big screen heroes were once MEN like John Wayne, Steve McQueen, Stallone and Willis, they were kicking ass and taking names, today we’ve got Tom Cruise and Matt Damon who, let’s be honest, on their most virile day wouldn’t intimidate today’s average third grader.

I think some moviegoers may have skipped Warrior due to it’s UFC storyline but I have never watched a UFC fight in my entire life and I LOVED this movie. Warrior isn’t really about UFC fighters, it’s about brothers and the ghosts of their past and, I predict, when more people discover this film on cable and DVD, it’ll become a much talked about classic that will be remembered long after many of this year’s other films have been forgotten. The Descendants? Moneyball? Midnight in Paris? Please. Warrior!



I seriously struggled this year with these last three titles, from week to week and day to day, I juggled The Artist, Warrior and Hugo with the number one spot. After watching all three a second time, Hugo, by a nose, won the Pop Bitez pick for Best Film of 2011. Years from now when people are reviewing and rediscovering Martin Scorsese’s filmography Hugo will be right up there beside Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and Goodfellas.

As is the case with both Warrior and The Artist, Hugo has struggled this year to find it’s audience and has under performed at the box office, I can only hope with the Oscar nominations right around the corner, these films will finally receive the attention they deserve, (this will be the case at least for The Artist and Hugo, I fully expect them to continue to ignore Warrior).

If The Artist is a love letter to Hollywood, Hugo is the sonnet for filmmaking itself. The Artist explores the old fashioned story telling of a bygone era, Hugo tells the story of the art form in it’s youth and explores the origins and history of the greatest form of expression in modern times. Granted, you wouldn’t know any of this from the extremely misleading marketing campaign for Hugo, which was sold around the holidays as a family fantasy film about a little robot, a sneaky conceit designed to compete with The Muppets and Arthur Christmas but in truth couldn’t be farther from what the film is really about. One review I read observed that Hugo is as much about a little boy as Cinema Paradiso which, if you’re familiar with that classic Italian film, (an all time favorite of mine), you’ll understand immediately.

Hugo is about the early days of filmmaking and the repairing of broken people, as well as the importance of film restoration, (a subject close to Scorsese’s heart). The performances are excellent and inspired and are sure to charm for generations to come. Ben Kingsley in particular is outstanding and deserves to be acknowledged this year amongst the many names being tossed about. The awards folks really strain their already dubious credibility when they embrace Brad Pitt in Moneyball and overlook people like Kingsley and Nolte in Warrior.

The real question when looking over the films of 2011 is this; will I own this movie and watch it more than once as the years go by? I knew before the credits had even begun to roll, I will be purchasing Hugo the moment it’s available and I know I will watch it many more times, it is what we often call “an instant classic”, a major triumph of love from one of the greatest American directors of all time.

Thank you, Martin Scorsese, for your dream, your gift and your vision.

Gary Sinise: Actor/ Director/ Patriot

Frank Sinatra was “The Chairman of the Board”, Springsteen is “The Boss”, Elvis was “The King” and Gary Sinise is now, and most likely will forever be, “The Lieutenant”. Throughout Sinise’s long and distinguished career as a celebrated actor of both stage and screen, the role that seems to have resonated the deepest is that of Lt. Dan in the Academy Award winning Best Picture Forrest Gump. Sinise received rave reviews for his portrayal of the contentious Viet Nam veteran with a heart of gold and was nominated that year for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture. The role established Gary Sinise as an actor of depth and substance in Hollywood- something he had already proven many times over on stage in both Chicago and New York with the theatre group he co-founded, Chicago’s world famous The Steppenwolf Theatre Company.

In the years since, Gary Sinise has won the Cable Ace, SAG and Emmy Award for his performance in HBO’s George Wallace and the Golden Globe for his brilliant work in the HBO film Truman. In 1991 Sinise directed and co-starred with fellow Steppenwolf Company member John Malkovich in the big screen adaptation of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. A few of Sinise’s other notable performances include Apollo 13, The Green Mile, Ransom, All the Rage (a personal fav of mine, seek it out!), That Championship Season and the ABC Mini-series Stephen King’s The Stand.

These days Gary Sinise can be seen every Friday night as Mac Taylor on CBS’ CSI:NY, which will begin it’s 8th season this Fall and, in his off time, on a bandstand somewhere in the middle of Afghanistan or Iraq.

Motivated in large part by the tragic events of September 11th, Sinise, along with his rock group, The Lt.Dan Band, have been entertaining the troops on U.S. Military bases worldwide and also, stateside, at numerous fund raising events for everything from memorials to the children of fallen soldiers. The band has averaged 40 shows a year for the last 10 years and, in USO shows alone, are close to breaking the performance record long held by the legendary Bob Hope, (rumor is, they already have.)

Gary Sinise’s tireless commitment to our American troops and first responders is quite simply awe-inspiring and answers the age old question, “can one man make a difference?”, with an emphatic and glorious, “YES!”

In 2009-2010, filmmaker Jonathan Flora had a chance to follow Gary and his band for an extended period of time and the result is the deeply moving and inspiring documentary Lt. Dan Band: For the Common Good. The documentary was released on DVD July 29th and is currently available for purchase on the film’s website and at

Lt. Dan Band: For the Common Good has a long and impressive list of fans and supporters. Gary’s friend and co-star of Forrest Gump and Apollo 13, Tom Hanks, recently said of the film “With the joy of music, delivered by an ensemble of nothing less than the tightest of musicians, Gary Sinise connects the honor of Service with the abandon of Rock and Roll, uniting all who hear the chorus and hook of their songs into an American Family. Jonathan Flora has captured it all in this moving tribute to our men and women in uniform and their families“. Jerry Bruckheimer, producer of Pirates of the Caribbean, National Treasure, Blackhawk Down, Remember the Titans describes the movie asA wonderful and inspiring chronicle of Gary and his fellow musicians….but the real point of the film, as it should be, is to shine a much-needed light on those in uniform, whose tremendous sacrifices can never—and must never—be taken for granted.” Comedian/ Radio Personality Dennis Miller recently offered “You watch the first two minutes and you’re hooked !”

Personally, I’ve been a big fan of this flick since I first saw it earlier this year at the Sedona International Film Festival. The movie is a true labor of patriotic love. It’s a celebration, a call to arms and a tribute to the many who live and die to defend our freedom and liberties. It’s also got a great beat and you can dance to it, (and I strongly recommend you do)!

Recently, I had a chance to talk with Gary Sinise about Lt. Dan Band: For the Common Good, as well as his long and varied career on both the stage and screen.

Pop Bitez: What’s the one thing you want people to take away from your new film Lt.Dan Band: For the Common Good?

Gary Sinise: Well, through this work I’m doing you get introduced to a lot of people who are doing good work out there and if people are inspired by some of these folks, and also some of the wonderful defenders you meet in the film, that’s a good thing. I hope people enjoy the film because of the people who occupy the film, I was just pleased to be a part of it and to have Jonathan follow me around a little bit to see what I’m up to.

PB: Now, for those people that know you mostly for your work on the big and small screen, the Lt. Dan Band may be a bit of a surprise but, for those who know you from your many years on the stage as a founding member of Chicago’s world famous Steppenwolf Theatre, Rock and Roll, it would seem, has always been a part of your creative life, in fact the term “Rock and Roll” has actually been used many times by critics as a way of describing more than a few productions at Steppenwolf, do you remember how old you were when you first discovered rock and roll?

GS: However old you are in fourth grade, that’s when I got my first guitar and that’s when I started listening to The Beatles and The Beach Boys and started wanting to perform. Through Jr. high school and high school and up into my early twenties I was always playing in bands and then, in high school, not only was I performing in bands but I got hooked on acting and started performing in plays, so I was going back and forth between music and theatre. When I graduated from high school I started the Steppenwolf Company with some pals and the acting sort of just took over and I didn’t really play for quite a long time, it was the late 90s when I started playing again.

PB: And as far as your instrument of choice is concerned, was it Paul McCartney or more John Paul Jones? Why the bass?

GS: Because the other guitar players were better and we needed a bass player (laughs) yeah, that was kind of it. I was playing guitar and we ran into another guitar player who was just much better than I was and we needed a bass player so I ended up playing bass and then I played bass in a jazz group when I was 19,20, 21 years old, I was playing in a jazz quartet and I really got into bass but, you know, I was never a really great bass player and I realized at that point that the discipline it takes to be a great musician… I didn’t have it, with acting you can kind of rely on your intuitive skills a lot more, playing music…you can have instincts for it but it’s also very technical, you have to practice and practice and practice to be able to get your fingers movin’ and all that, I just didn’t have the discipline to become a great bass player but I’m a good bass player and I can certainly play all the stuff we need to play to entertain the troops and the families out there.

PB: I think one of the reasons you’ve always been one of my favorite actors is your dedication and passion for telling stories that deal directly with the American experience, from Tom Joad in The Grapes of Wrath and George Milton in Of Mice and Men to George Wallace, Truman, Apollo 13 and Forrest Gump, I’m curious to know, are you consciously pursuing these stories or are they, more or less, pursuing you?

GS: Well, I think I’m just drawn to American stories. I fell in love with Steinbeck in the 70s when I was in high school, through Of Mice and Men I became a Steinbeck fan, and then I ended up being in a play Of Mice and Men and then doin’ a movie of it and then doing The Grapes of Wrath, I guess I’m just drawn to American stories because that’s just who I am.

PB: I actually don’t think I’ve ever seen you do any “accent work”.

GS: Well, I’ve done some Pinter plays, we did a lot of Harold Pinter and that kind of stuff in the 70s and early 80s in the theatre, but…I’m not a guy who’s done a lot of Shakespeare.

PB: Beyond your USO tours you’re also the national spokesman for the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial and the co-founder of Operation Iraqi Children, to name but a few. You’ve sited the horrific events of 9/11 as a primary motivating factor but I can’t help but think the actual roots for your passionate commitment to our troops and first responders predates that event, you actually touch on that a bit in the documentary, your family history was a big influence as well, right?

GS: Absolutely, I’ve got veterans in my family, on both my wife’s and my side and I got involved with Viet Nam veterans groups in the early 80s in the Chicago area ( by way of Steppenwolf’s award winning production of the play Tracers) and then I played a Viet Nam veteran in Forrest Gump and I got involved with a disabled American veterans organization and it’s just built up over time and then, you know, when September 11th hit I was just grieving and I just felt a need, I had to get involved, I had to be where I could be of service and I thought entertaining and visiting and supporting and showing up for our firefighters, our police officers, our military service members, our wounded warriors, our disabled veterans, our Viet Nam veterans and people who have served and done a lot in sacrifice for this country, that’s where I could be of service and where I could make a difference. Over the years I’ve done a lot of that and the more I do it the more I get involved with different organizations, that’s why I created the Gary Sinise Foundation which is set up to help me do more because I’m only one guy, I can only go so many places and raise so much money by showing up to something, you know, there’s got to be other ways that I can continue to evolve and expand without it always being dependent on the minute to minute physical presence of me showing up somewhere.

PB: I’m currently following you on Twitter and Facebook and, from your posts and tweets, I get an overview of what your schedule is actually like and, I gotta tell you, you would make the busiest person feel lazy.

GS: (laughing) Well, yeah, look, I’m lucky, I’m blessed. I don’t pretend I don’t get a lot out of this, I get a great reward in knowing that what I can contribute is actually going to be helpful and make a difference in somebody’s life. Whether it’s performing with a band or visiting a hospital or attending a Gold Star event or trying to help the children or whatever it is, there’s a great reward in service and giving back and I get a lot out of it because I know that it does make a difference and if me making a difference in our defenders lives can help keep our country strong then that’s a way I can serve. This is a dangerous world out there and we felt it all too clearly on September 11th when we were attacked and everybody was just driving around in a coma, remember? People were living in fear and wondering “what’s gonna happen” and then all of the sudden, a few weeks later we’re getting Anthrax in the mail and, you know, we’re under attack and it’s like “what’s going on?” and “what is the future of our country?”… and I started thinking that, what IS the future of our country? How vulnerable are we? We see now, in many ways we’re VERY vulnerable and if we don’t stand up to preserve what we have…in various ways…simply by helping our communities out or by teaching our children properly or helping our defenders or by saving our money…or spending more, whatever it is…this is our country and we have to take care of it. You go around the world and you see how other countries operate and what they don’t have or how the dictatorships have oppressed the people and you start to value the freedom and liberty that we have enjoyed in this country but you also start to think, well, gosh, what if that was taken away one day? What if we weren’t as free as possible? What if we couldn’t do everything that we dream of? You know, I don’t think we’d like it and I’m just looking out and helping out where I can, you know, I think of my kids and my grandkids and what world they might live in and I want them to enjoy a strong country and a country that continues to provide security and freedom to it’s citizens.

PB: I’m sure I’m not the first person that’s said this to you but, although I would miss you as an actor, I’d vote for you in a heartbeat.

GS: (laughs) Yeah, well, I don’t know, I can play some politicians on T.V. but I don’t know if I’d like to be one.

PB: Fair enough, speaking of T.V. you’re starting work on season eight of CSI: NY in a few days, is that right?

GS: Yeah, we’re lucky, we got another season, thank the audience out there for watching us. You know, eight seasons of a television series is a pretty great thing and it’s been a wonderful thing to have at a time in my life when I’m trying to do so many other things, just not having to worry about “the job”, which so many actors have to worry about, you know, you start one job and you’re already thinking, “well, this one is going to be over in two months, what am I gonna do next?” and when you have a successful television series that part of the actor equation is taken away, I’ve never enjoyed that before. I’ve been the artistic director of a theater company and had a steady job for a long time but as an actor it’s up and down and project to project and this has been a wonderful job to have when I’m trying to do so many other things.

PB: And how do you keep Mac Taylor fresh for yourself after 8 years?

GS: You know what? It’s an enjoyable job and I enjoy having this steady job. I’m all too aware of how other people live out there, that can put everything into really good perspective for you, so it’s not hard to keep it “fresh”, just the fact that you’ve got it is “fresh” enough (laughing). I have a very lucrative job on a television series while there are, you know, miners in the coal mines diggin’ around and they don’t make half as much, so look, it’s not hard to keep it “fresh”, I’m happy to do it and that keeps it “fresh” enough.

PB: Given your background do you ever find yourself missing the immediacy of the stage?

GS: Yeah, occasionally, yesterday morning I was at Steppenwolf, I was in Chicago over the weekend… we played at Great Lakes Naval Base, we played a big “Rockin’ for the Troops” show that we do out in Wheaton, Illinois and then yesterday morning, before the Cub game…I sang “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” at the Cub game yesterday….and right before the game I went over to the Steppenwolf and gave a little tour to some people and, you know, going on the stage and everything, it makes me a little homesick for that, but I know I’ll be able to do it sometime if I want too. The Steppenwolf was created and survived many, many challenges over the years and is now very strong, very solid and having founded that theater, you know, hopefully they’ll have me back at some point and I’ll be able to do some work there.

PB: I really want to thank you for taking the time to talk with me today, Gary.

GS: It was my pleasure Scott, thank you.

* If you’re joining us for the first time at Pop Bitez bookmark us today and please join us on Twitter and Facebook! Thanks for stopping by Popsters! Have a great weekend, Cheers!- Scott