TRACK MARKS: “Most of the Time” by Bob Dylan

You may have heard a little announcement out of Stockholm recently: Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature, the first American to do so since 1993 and the first musician ever so honored. It was, to say the least, a controversial choice among the literati. As a writer and avid reader of fiction, I sympathize with the complaints that awarding a literary prize to someone like Dylan robs an actual author, often one whose name is hardly known in the U.S., of a well-deserved boost in sales and recognition. And as someone who strives to read poetry more regularly, I understand the necessity of interrogating whether someone who is known primarily as a lyricist can or should be considered a writer of verse in the same way laureates like Szymborska and Heaney are. And as a woman who has experienced her share of man-splaining, I nodded my head at the annoyance that rippled through many Twitter feeds that perhaps the ultimate white male artiste beloved by every pretentious dickhead who ever picked up a guitar received an award of this magnitude and prestige.

And yet.
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Shin Godzilla (2016)

First things first: Shin Godzilla is here! There’s a new Japanese Godzilla film currently playing theaters in the United States and it is pretty spectacular. With a franchise that has lasted over six decades and twenty nine films, audience members will obviously approach it with a wide variety of expectations, so it’s best to know going in that it is a film much more in the vein of the original Godzilla (or 1984’s The Return of Godzilla) than the sillier alien invasion epics that characterized the 60s & 70s. It’s a film with seriousness of purpose, with the most frightening depiction of the title monster in the entire franchise (with the possible exception of the original). But it’s also a deeply eccentric film, with a strain of satire running throughout, and extremely propulsive and idiosyncratic filmmaking choices that render a talky, procedural story breathlessly involving (it’s the Contagion or Apollo 13 of Godzilla movies, or The Martian if Matt Damon was roughly 35 stories high and oozing radioactivity). The story is certainly familiar to fans of the genre, but the presentation can be dizzyingly unfamiliar. Presented in this country with subtitles, it’s an incredibly dense film, with whip fast dialogue (sure to be too talky to some) sometimes fighting for room with other onscreen text (including a running gag where every character with a line is identified by name and title/rank/governmental position, including some characters who get multiple titles as their position changes during the story). It’s a very political film, with some material that will be easily grasped by western audiences and some material that will (and, no doubt in my case, did) fly over their heads. Oh, and the monster sequences are beautiful, thrilling, and full of images that left this Godzilla fan’s jaw on the floor. So, that’s the short of it. Go see the movie! But there’s a lot more to talk about. So, if you want to go deeper, let’s get to it.

(NOTE: I’m going to talk about the story of the film in some detail below. But I’m only going to put another big spoiler warning before I discuss some details about the film’s depiction of Godzilla himself because there was some stuff there that genuinely surprised me!) Continue reading Shin Godzilla (2016)

The Podcast: What Makes Us Scared at Movies

Last time we talked about visceral reactions we have to movies, it involved the movies (and TV shows) that have made us cry. In the spirit of Halloween, Nathaniel, Rob, Marisa, Jesse, Sara, and Rayme got together to discuss movies that make us cry… WITH FRIGHT! We discuss what movies scared us as kids, what scares us as adults, what horror classics never did it for us, and more! Some of these movies are traditional horror; some of them are just dramatic thrillers or children’s TV shows. If you want to find out who started to cry from fear at Signs or who hid under the bed during Fraggle Rock, this is your chance!

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Godzilla: King of the Hollywood Trends

For one week, starting today, fans in America and Canada will be able to see Shin Godzilla, the first new Japanese Godzilla movie in twelve years. The film was a smash hit this summer in its native country, and is already proving controversial (mostly sight-unseen) with western fans for both its politics and its portrayal of the title monster. While controversy is certainly not new to the series, its existence surrounding the twenty-ninth(!) entry offers promise that there is still room to try something new as Godzilla enters his seventh decade on screen.

One area that Shin Godzilla seems to be striking new ground in the series is that it is apparently a completely fresh start, establishing its own continuity and not functioning as a sequel to any prior film. That’s right, Shin Godzilla is a reimagining/remake/hard reboot/what-have-you. It’s all the more surprising that his hasn’t happened before when you look and see that so many of the other storytelling trends that Hollywood studios have been chasing over the last fifteen years have been well covered in the Godzilla series. Godzilla wasn’t always there first, but he was usually there early, and I needn’t tell you how big those footprints are.
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What ‘The Girl on the Train’ Gets Wrong About Westchester

The novel The Girl on the Train takes place across the pond in the good old U.K., but the move adaptation imports it to Westchester County, NY. It’s a pretty good match for the subject matter, in that there is a train that runs alongside some big freaking houses, which is basically the main building blocks you need for the story. Since Westchester is my turf, I’m in charge of WC fact-checking,  just like I was with the X-Men movies. Here’s what they messed up.


You Can’t Live in Ardsley-on-Hudson

At least I don’t think you can. It my 20 years of living in Westchester, I never met anyone who said they were from Ardsley-on-Hudson. Ardsley-on-Hudson is more of a hamlet than a village. There is a college (that uses a Dobbs Ferry street address), a country club (home to Westchester’s only curling team), and, yes, a Metro-North station, but that’s about it. There’s no mayor. There’s no elementary school. If you look for Ardsley-on-Hudson real estate, you’ll find houses in Irvington.

It’s funny, because if the movie had transplanted the events of The Girl on the Train to any other “-on-Hudson” town, they’d be fine. Irvington-on-Hudson is a place, which is also just called Irvington. Hastings-on-Hudson is a wonderful village, and you can get away with calling it Hastings. But the village of Ardsley—which is a real village with its own mayor, school system, mailing addresses, and the like—and Ardsley-on-Hudson are two different places, and they’re in two entirely separate locations. Sadly, Ardsley has no Metro-North station of its own, so many times people hop on the train assuming the Ardsley-on-Hudson stop is close enough, only to wind up with an expensive cab ride. The New York Times even made this mistake.

That stuff about being a routine baby factory, though, is pretty spot-on.


For updates on the seedy crime that’s being investigated throughout the movie, the characters often turn to TV staton New York 1. NY1 is unavailable in the county. We’re a News 12 Westchester region all the way.


The Train Itself

Sometimes, the Metro-North seats looked a little off to me. Sometimes, though, they were dead on, so it could’ve just been the shooting angle. But the fact that I could see enough of the seats to scrutinize them is a fundamental mistake in the movie. If Rachel was really commuting at a time that would be convincing for someone who had a real job in a city, all those seats would be taken. And forget sitting in the same window seat in the same car every day—if she was getting on around Ardsley-on-Hudson, she’d either be squished in the middle, or standing.

And One Last Note

Ardsley is a teeny, one-square-mile village, and Ardsley-on-Hudson is less than that. It’s not odd to me that few movies are set in any of the Ardsleys. As far as I know, there are only two: The Girl on the Train, and Unfaithful.

In the cinematic world, “Ardsley” is shorthand for one thing: murderous infidelity. In our Tim Burton podcast, we talk about how the suburbs are usually only given one treatment in film: the whole American Beauty, materialistic souring-of-the-American-dream/seedy-underbelly thing. You go from zero to The Ice Storm in 60 seconds. (Though The Ice Storm took place just over the border in Connecticut.) That’s not to say that it never happens, or that it never works. (Cheever, man.) But I do hope that someday filmmakers find a different color to paint the suburbs in the way Burton does.


The Podcast: The Career of Tim Burton

Tim Burton is easily one of the most commercially successful directors in Hollywood, with a name awareness up there with Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, and Christopher Nolan. Yet in recent years, the director, whose new movie Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children just came out, has been the target of plenty of scorn, too. Is he an underappreciated auteur, a self-plagiarizing hack, or something in between? Is Miss Peregrine a comeback or did he not really go anywhere? What’s up with how much the internet hates Alice in Wonderland?

These questions and more are at the heart of our Tim Burton podcast, where Nathaniel, Marisa, and Jesse started with his new movie and wound up discussing every single feature he’s directed in some capacity. We talk about the best, the worst, the unloved and the underloved. Who sticks up for what? Who has a hot take on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? And what have any of us bought at Hot Topic? Listen up and find out.

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The Best 30 Rock Episodes: A Chronological Journey, Part Two

Hold on! Before reading this, make sure you’ve caught up with yesterday’s kickoff. Now, wave like a human being!

Liz Waves
Season 4, Episode 7: “Dealbreakers Talk Show #0001”
30 Rock’s ensemble cast began to sprawl out as the show went on, serving some characters better than others. In the first few seasons Jenna Maroney played an integral role as Liz’s best friend and working nightmare, the grotesquely narcissistic star of TGS who still made time to give her friend terrible life advice. But as Liz and Jack’s corporate relationship grew more personal, Jenna was often shunted into B and C stories; as her craziness became more outsized her position as Liz’s friend became more precarious. This is not to suggest Jane Krakowski doesn’t give everything she gets her all. But it does seem a bit of a shame in retrospect, especially when her presence can lift an entire episode into greatness, as it does with “Dealbreakers.” The early portion of season four introduced a new arc for Liz as she publishes a bestseller based on a catchphrase of one of Jenna’s TGS characters, but in another example of 30 Rock mocking the expectations of serialized stories (or, less charitably, losing interest in them), Liz’s shot at starring in a show based on the book is short-lived. After a disastrously hilarious shoot during which Liz turns into a bizarre marionette-approximation of a human (“Remember waving?” Pete yells helplessly) she locks herself in her dressing room and refuses to come out, just as Jenna often does, leading Jack to seek her counsel. This whole episode is about the fluidity of character traits; in Liz’s absence from the writer’s room, Frank, another supporting cast member I’ve yet to mention, steps into her role as den mother, scolding his colleagues and dressing in frumpy sweaters. It wouldn’t work if we didn’t know all these characters so well by now; by episode’s end the reset button has been hit but it’s still a jolt to a series that was starting to show its limits.
Continue reading The Best 30 Rock Episodes: A Chronological Journey, Part Two

The Best 30 Rock Episodes: A Chronological Journey, Part One

Ten years ago this month a much-hyped new series premiered on NBC. Marketed as a rollicking satire of a very recognizable late-night sketch comedy show it boasted a starry cast and a strong TV auteur behind the scenes. It was Aaron Sorkin’s Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and it tanked, hard. Its earnest investment in the trivial backstage drama of its characters, along with a tenuous grasp of what makes for good, or at least believable, comedy, doomed it to the cancellation bin after one season.

It’s odd now in hindsight to remember just how much of an underdog 30 Rock was when it debuted on the same network and in the same month as Studio 60. The brainchild of Tina Fey and based on her tenure as head writer of Saturday Night Live, the pedigree was more untested and it shows in the first several episodes. But voice and vision are paramount in a comedy and, at a time when NBC was struggling to find itself post Must-See-TV-Thursday, Fey and company stood out: the jokes were quick to the point of weaponization, often literally coming a second at a time, with a commitment to character beats as strong as to the outright bizarre set-piece. It also benefitted from a dynamite central pairing with Fey as the biographical-to-a-point Liz Lemon and Alec Baldwin as Jack Donaghy, her right-wing blowhard of a boss and singular comic creation. Even in the sloppily paced pilot their scenes have a spark that carried over seven seasons and remained reliable whenever the storytelling faltered over the 138 episodes that eventually ran. Ten years on, in the midst of so much “peak TV,” no currently airing comedy quite comes close to its alchemical mix of breakneck zaniness and reluctant heart, though Fey’s own Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt does its gosh-darndest. For a show that often worked deliberately against the serialization trend, 30 Rock amply rewards re-visiting and here are the fifteen best episodes to get you started, whether it’s your first time through or your thirtieth.
Continue reading The Best 30 Rock Episodes: A Chronological Journey, Part One

The Podcast: Hot Takes on the Pop Music Canon

Welcome to the internet! We have hot takes here. has plenty of contrary and bizarre opinions to go around, and for this podcast we focused on albums from the pop music canon. Rob, Sara, Marisa, and Jesse got together to chat about which albums they think are secretly inferior to other, less acclaimed albums by the same artist. It’s a simple formula that generates hot take after hot take! Here are just some of the artists we cover in this trim 40-minute session:

The Beatles!
Bruce Springsteen!
The Stone Roses!
Simon & Garfunkel!
Coldplay for some reason!
Liz Phair!


You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll become infuriated with our hotness.

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The Podcast: Indie Movies of Summer 2016

Everyone thinks of summer as blockbuster season for movies, but the truth is, May, June, July, and August always see the release of a ton of indie movies, often of high quality. For the second year in a row, Marisa, Sara, Nathaniel, and Jesse got together in Brooklyn to talk about the smaller-scale fare they watched over the past few months, blazing through hot take after hot take on over a dozen recent releases. If you’re sick of Suicide Squads, pets with secret lives, and Jason Bournes, go ahead and find out what we thought of The Lobster, Cafe Society, A Bigger Splash, The Neon Demon, Hell or High Water, and more indie movies you can add to your Netflix queue (or in some cases, still catch in a theater near you) as fall approaches.

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