The Podcast: Independence Day: Resurgence and Long-Gap Sequels

Happy almost Independence Day! And, perhaps, less-happy Independence Day! That’s right, the 1996 blockbuster is back with Independence Day: Resurgence, a direct sequel that’s already underperforming compared to the original (at least at the U.S. box office). Undeterred by bad buzz or lack of press screenings, Marisa, Nathaniel, and Jesse went to see it, then reconvened to discuss the movie, as well as what goes into an effective twenty-years-later sequel. We talk about what we thought of Independence Day: Resurgence, of course, but we also touch upon Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Dumber and Dumber, Wild Wild West, Space Jam, and lots of other stuff you might not expect.

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WIENER-DOG inspires the bold question: Does Todd Solondz hate us?

Twenty years on, and I’m still having trouble getting a bead on Todd Solondz. Wiener-Dog is not exactly a twenty-years-later sequel to 1996’s Welcome to the Dollhouse to accompany this weekend’s twenty-years-later sequel to 1996’s Independence Day. Yet briefly, it totally is. One quarter of the movie’s dog-connected anthology follows Dawn Wiener, the awkward twelve-year-old played by Heather Matarazzo in Dollhouse, as a thirtysomething woman played by Greta Gerwig.

Close followers of Solondz’s work will not a discrepancy: We were told at the outset of his film Palindromes that Wiener gained a bunch of weight and killed herself. It was a non-grace note in a movie that wasn’t even about Dawn Wiener, but did have its main character (her cousin) played by eight different performers. Since that movie, he made one called Life During Wartime that is a direct sequel to the movie Happiness, except with every single character recast. In Dark Horse, Selma Blair quietly reprises a character she played in Storytelling who no longer looks or acts much like she did in the earlier film. The title of the Dawn-resurrecting Wiener-Dog is also the cruel nickname the character was given at school in Dollhouse, but here actually refers to an actual wiener-dog, who scampers through a series of owners, including Dawn Wiener.

So, again I ask: What the hell is going on with Todd Solondz? Does he think of his filmography as an ongoing, mutating art project, where recasting characters throws them into ever more fascinating contexts? Or do a lot of actors not want to work with him again? Does he compulsively revisit aspects of Dollhouse to tweak expectations about how his movies will compare to his still-biggest success? Or can he not leave well enough alone? And am I being a nerdy pedant for finding it kind of annoying, for not ginning up the interest to see Life During Wartime because I thought Happiness was great and had no desire to see a different rep company inhabit and sequelize those roles?
Continue reading WIENER-DOG inspires the bold question: Does Todd Solondz hate us?

TRACK MARKS: What the Hell, You Weirdos Are All Too Good For “Creep,” by Radiohead?

I used to have a long-ish commute. As expected, sometimes traffic would snarl to a halt. On one particularly backed-up day, I looked up and realized I had no idea where I was. Even though I was overly familiar with every inch of scenery on my way to and from work, having driven the same route every day, I never really had the chance to stop and look closely at some of the things I was passing.

After seeing our Best of Radiohead list, I realize that “Creep” is that stretch of landscape. People pass by it so often that they don’t stop to really listen to it anymore.

Continue reading TRACK MARKS: What the Hell, You Weirdos Are All Too Good For “Creep,” by Radiohead?

The Top 25 Best Radiohead Songs

Let’s reflect for a moment on the beautiful oddity that Radiohead remains one of the biggest rock bands in the world, at a time when the very concept of “biggest rock band in the world” is often looked at as passé. If rock and roll’s moment has indeed passed, what in the name of the Beatles possesses people to follow Radiohead, of all artists, as if members of a religious cult, especially because said religious cult would not particularly worship rock and roll music as most people know it? It would be easy to ascribe the Radiohead following to their shapeshifting, and indeed there is an incredible variety of material across their nine-so-far records and various EPs, live cuts, and so forth. Yet it’s not as if A Moon Shaped Pool, their 2016 album and first in five years, is wildly unrecognizable as the same band that made The King of Limbs, which itself was not so radically different from In Rainbows, and so on, all the way back to the late ’90s (I’ll grant you that, OK, Pablo Honey sounds like a vastly different band, albeit an actually-pretty-good one; better, certainly, than the practitioners of Old Radiohead that cropped up in the early ’00s, a litany of Nerf Herders and Saves the Days to Radiohead’s Weezer).

In fact, it’s their ability to remain recognizably the Radiohead of the ’90s while going in different directions that makes them so exciting. A new Radiohead album, insular and strange and inscrutable as it can be, is still an event, the band’s mutations allowing it to survive the alt-rock boom, the rap-rock bust, the indie gold rush, the death of the album, and on and on. It was a no-brainer, then, that some of the founders, friends, and associates of would want to pledge our allegiance to the paranoid humanoids of Radiohead once again, through a list celebrating their best songs. Contributors were asked to send a ranked list of twenty; points were assigned accordingly.

In addition to your pals Rob, Marisa, Jesse, Sara, and special guest writer Maggie, we recruited a voting team ranging from people old enough to remember “Creep” playing on MTV to people who were born the year The Bends came out. Here are your Radiohead fans par excellence:

Darian Alexander is an attorney and Radiohead correspondent for Slate.
Emma Bennett is studying psychology and studio art at SUNY New Paltz.
Noah Casner is a drama major at New York University.
Timothy DeLizza is a lawyer, a fiction writer, and a gentleman.
A.A. Dowd is the film editor for The Onion’s A.V. Club.
Derrick Hart is an archivist and music fan.
Kate McKean is a literary agent, writer, and crafter.
Umer Piracha might love A Moon Shaped Pool more than anyone else who voted.
Ben Ross has had Radiohead blurbs locked and loaded for years.

The results heavily favored OK Computer, but well over half of Radiohead’s catalog received votes, including most of the new album. But why discuss the results when you can read a series of varied and passionate tributes to our collective favorites? Sometimes we had such varied and passionate responses that we doubled up the blurbing to get a fuller picture of this band we all love. Surprises, please:

The Top 25 Best Radiohead Songs (So Far)

Continue reading The Top 25 Best Radiohead Songs

The Podcast: Peak TV Season Wrap-Up, 2015-2016

Summer doesn’t just mean blockbuster movies; it also brings about the official end of the TV season. Even though the era of “peak TV” means that the traditional TV-season model is crumbling, we still thought the summer would be a good time to circle back and examine some shows and trends from the past nine months. We talk about shows we love and shows we think get too much love! Where do Last Week Tonight, Girls, The Last Man on Earth, Better Call Saul, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, The People vs. OJ Simpson, Catastrophe, and, yes, Love fall on that spectrum? Listen to Marisa, Sara, Nathaniel, and Jesse talking TV to find out!

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The Podcast: Summer Movies from 1996

Summer is here! It may not technically start until June, but Memorial Day Weekend is sort of the cultural kick-off to summer. It used to be when the first big summer movies would start to roll out, but those have been moved up to the first weekend in May. Our latest podcast throws back to a time when that tradition wasn’t quite in place; as per our now-annual tradition, we took a look back at the ten highest-grossing movies from summer 1996. Summer 1996 saw the release of a variety of audience favorites and forgotten non-gems; please enjoy our thoughts about a bunch of old movies and in some cases, what we were up to twenty years ago. What’s our favorite Michael Bay movie? What summer 1996 movies wouldn’t fly today? Which stars had hot streaks continue or crash and burn? These are the questions this podcast will endeavor to answer.

Spoiler Warning: Lots of spoilers for movies that are two decades old.

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The 16 Handles Theory of the Marvel Cinematic Universe

So, this is something I’ve been thinking since we recorded our Captain America: Civil War podcast. In the podcast, we asked whether or not Marvel house style trumps director style, and if that makes a difference when watching a movie set in the MCU.

Since then, what I realized is that, for me, watching MCU movies now feels like going to a 16 Handles where 15 of the handles are broken. Sure, the toppings are different, but it’s always the same flavor underneath.

Nothing about it is bad. It’s dessert! Who doesn’t love dessert? I go to 16 Handles all the time. But, if you asked me what my best dining experience was last year, I’m never going to say, “Oh, it was that time I went to 16 Handles,” because I go there so often.

In the case of the MCU, the directorial flourishes are the toppings. Sure, you can say that the movies are all different because Guardians of the Galaxy is a little jokier, while The Avengers is a little more epic. But, still, they’re all MCU movies, which means they follow a Marvel template, with the same Marvel story beats in each one—it’s basically the same dish each time.

I didn’t always feel this way. Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America: The First Avenger were different enough from each other that I didn’t feel like I was being served the same thing repeatedly. Captain America was period, so it had a totally different vibe. Thor, for better or for worse, was steeped in Kenneth Branagh’ ornateness—it didn’t feel like a touch of decoration slapped on top of a typical superhero movie. And, since I don’t think Jon Favreau has much of a voice of his own, the voice that comes through the most in Iron Man is Downey’s.

I believe Rob said in the podcast that the first installment of each character’s franchise is the one that’s allowed to be a different flavor, but that’s not really true for me anymore. There wasn’t much distinct about Ant Man, except that one bit with the Thomas the Tank Engine that I bet dollars to donuts is a remnant from the Edgar Wright script.

With Doctor Strange, Black Panther, and this new incarnation of Spider-Man on the horizon, I hope Marvel gets its part-one mojo back, or lets the movies get a little bit weirder and different and a little disconnected from each other. If not, it’ll be fine. I’m not against empty calories. But I’d be so much more excited if I was sampling something entirely new each time.

SportsAlcohol Podcast: Captain America: Civil War

Mother’s Day Weekend means that all the SportsAlcohol got together to watch and talk about Captain America: Civil War
Spoiler Warning: Lots of spoilers about this movie and the MCU in general

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TRACK MARKS: “Kiss” by Prince

In April of 2001, the struggling Arizona Top 40 radio station 104.7 ZZP  was getting ready to relaunch as 104.7 KISS-FM. The station’s format was undergoing a transition from Mainstream Top 40 to Rhythmic Top 40, and the change would be punctuated by three days of “stunting.”  Stunting is a common radio practice of abruptly airing something unusual, often used when stations change formats or owners as a way of generating listener interest and publicity. From 6pm on April 20th to noon on April 23rd, 104.7 would play Prince’s “Kiss” on a loop.

I didn’t know any of this radio business background at the time. And I didn’t even really know much about Prince. Sure, I’d seen the Batman movie with his music, missed this Animaniacs joke going right over my head as a kid, and knew Purple Rain was a thing that existed, but I didn’t have particularly cool musical tastes and couldn’t have told you much beyond that. I’d flip around hunting for songs I liked on the radio, but I didn’t buy many albums or go see much live music. What I did do, as a high school senior in Apache Junction, AZ, was go to the park on weekend evenings to goof off and play racquetball with friends until the park closed. Then maybe we’d go back to my folks’ place and bake some cookies before watching a movie or SNL. I was Not Cool, I wasn’t particularly self-conscious about that, and this isn’t a story about how Prince changed my life or anything. But one thing that was really special about him was that he made a world that was cool and sexy and kind of dangerous accessible to even a square kid sitting in the parking lot at Prospector Park, listening to that song one more time (okay, maybe two more times) before getting out to play.

I left the dial tuned to 104.7 that entire weekend. “Kiss” is pretty immediately arresting, with its stripped down arrangement, that jangly guitar lick right before the last word in the chorus, and Prince’s slippery falsetto lead vocal. It was so different, and I admit I genuinely wasn’t even sure at first whether I was listening to a man or a woman. The song is funky as hell and doesn’t even have a bass line. It also felt sexier than anything I’d ever heard on the radio, and he was mostly just singing about getting a kiss.

I don’t know how many times I listened to that song in those three days, but I do know I was genuinely disappointed on April 23rd when the world went back to normal.

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