All posts by Jesse

Jesse

Jesse is a cofounder of SportsAlcohol.com even though he doesn't care for sports or alcohol. His favorite movie is Ron Howard's The Paper. I think. This is what happens when you don't write your own bio. I know for sure likes pie.

The SportsAlcohol.com MiniPodcast: Other People’s Money and Dark City

In a follow-up to our smash hit episode unexpectedly pairing Pretty Woman with Dark City, Ben and Jesse return with another trade-off, going one year into the future of both sci-fi and business movies: Ben had never seen 1998’s Dark City. Jesse had never seen Other People’s Money. So we watched ’em both and talked about both, up to and including why each of these lesser-known works might (or might not) be superior to some similar but more popular movies like Wall Street and The Matrix.

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McDormand and Rockwell face off in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

There are certain actor-on-actor match-ups and team-ups and face-offs that gain a kind of mythic grandeur from the sheer fact of the performers not having intersected earlier. I’m thinking of Al Pacino and Robert De Niro facing off, if only for a few minutes, in Heat; Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie supposedly smoldering in Mr. and Mrs. Smith; Eddie Murphy riffing opposite Steve Martin in Bowfinger; John Travolta and Nicolas Cage in, well, you know. Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell don’t immediately come to mind as a similarly titanic pair. They’re both terrific actors, their filmographies packed with memorable performances, but Rockwell works so often, and McDormand with such relative choosiness, that at first their pairing primarily elicits a vague familiarity – wait, was Rockwell ever in a Coens movie with McDormand? Was McDormand ever in a Marvel movie with Rockwell? Is Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri really their first one together?
Continue reading McDormand and Rockwell face off in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

The SportsAlcohol.com Surprise MiniPodcast: Pretty Woman and Starship Troopers

They may seem like an odd pairing for a double feature, but that’s part of the design: Jesse had never seen Pretty Woman, Ben had never seen Starship Troopers (which turns 20 in just a few weeks!), and everyone was appalled, so we sat down to fix it. Ben and Jesse watched both movies back to back, then had a quick chat about each other’s reactions to both movies as both first-timers and veterans. All in all, a splendid use of a Wednesday night and we hope you enjoy our talk. I’m taking suggestions for future incongruous double-feature conversation-starters in the comments!

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The SportsAlcohol.com Podcast: Romantic Comedies

The most recent episode of our podcast actually went up last weekend, and then the various events of this week happened and suddenly it didn’t seem like such a great time to talk about lovey-dovey stuff that comprises our discussion of what makes a good romantic comedy. But now that we’ve had a few days, maybe you need a break from the news, and would like to hear our majority-female panel talk about what makes us swoon-laugh-smile-whatever when watching rom-coms, as a companion piece of sorts to our discussions of what makes us cry and what makes us scared. Join Marisa, Jesse, Nathaniel, and two different Saras as we sort out various eras of romantic comedy, key ingredients, which classics of the genre we love (and/or hate), and try to figure out why the genre is going through such a drought lately.

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David Gordon Green quietly made another very good movie: STRONGER

A Jake Gyllenhaal movie about the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing is coming out this weekend, and it’s currently within a few percentage points of a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s both wrenching and uplifting as it grapples with the idea of heroism and the expectations that come along with it. It debuted on the prestigious fall festival circuit. And hardly anyone seems to be talking about it. Welcome to the serial underestimation of director David Gordon Green, where even an accessible and critically acclaimed drama can fly under the radar.

Part of Stronger’s high marks is just that old Tomatometer math where if enough critics give a movie a pass, it has a “higher” score than something more divisive. Hardly any critics I’ve read on Stronger seem to prefer it to, say, the less universally beloved mother! Indeed, I don’t prefer it to mother! either. But given my lack of excitement when I heard that Green was prepping a movie about the Boston bombing – concurrently with Mark Wahlberg booster Peter Berg, no less, whose Patriots Day came out last Christmas – and the lack of buzz around the finished product, I was taken aback when I saw Stronger by just how damn good it is. It tells the story of Jeff Bauman, a genial Beantown fuckup who attended the marathon in an uncharacteristic show of dedication to his on-and-off girlfriend Erin (Tatiana Maslaney), hoping to cheer her on. The bomb went off next to him, and he lost both his legs, attaining an unsettling kind of celebrity in the process.
Continue reading David Gordon Green quietly made another very good movie: STRONGER

The SportsAlcohol.com Podcast: Indie Movies of Summer 2017

As another summer winds down, you may think to yourself: Did I see every movie I wanted to see? Even if these questions don’t haunt you, the film core of SportsAlcohol.com is here to tell you they should, because there were a ton of good indie movies out this summer. Just as we did in 2015 and 2016, Nathaniel, Sara, Marisa, and Jesse got together — returning to our lo-fi outdoor-recording roots from 2015 — to chat about as many movies as we could stand. If you’re looking for something to catch while it’s still lingering at the arthouse, Netflix ideas to get you through the fall, and/or a few spoilers about movies you already saw and want to talk about, this episode is for you. We cover well over a dozen movies, including The Big Sick, The Beguiled, Detroit, Ingrid Goes West, Good Time, Atomic Blonde, It Comes At Night, and so many more! What was good? What was bad? What was problematic? Is that a motorcycle you hear in the distance? The answer to all of these questions is YES and also LISTEN TO US.

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Every Steven Soderbergh Movie Ranked

As you might recall if you listen to our exhaustive recent podcast episode on Steven Soderbergh, we here at SportsAlcohol.com are, by and large, pretty big fans of his work. On the occasion of that podcast and the release of Logan Lucky, his first new feature in four years, here are Soderbergh’s 25 fiction films ranked from worst all the way up to best. The rankings were determined only by me, Jesse, but I enlisted some help in talking about certain entries. Cue the David Holmes music:
Continue reading Every Steven Soderbergh Movie Ranked

Is Halle Berry’s KIDNAP the worst movie of the summer? Or the year?

Halle Berry is a good actor. Her Academy Award for her raw, emotionally open performance in Monster’s Ball was well-deserved.

Halle Berry has movie-star charisma. It’s not just world-class beauty; at her best, she combines playfulness and gravity in a way that makes her fun to watch as an action hero (as in Die Another Day), a romantic foil (as in Bulworth), or as a nurturing type (as in X2, containing her best turn as Storm, of the X-Men).

So how is it that Halle Berry is seemingly incapable of starring in a good, genre-y thriller? Some of it, yes, must be the lack of high-quality roles afforded black women in Hollywood – even for a near-universally known Oscar-winning woman with plenty of hits to her name, including the genre-thriller The Call. But Berry seems particularly ill-fated in her late-career star vehicles, from an actual minor hit like The Call to a barely-released obscurity like Dark Tide. Before even getting to her performances, she has a bizarre knack for picking projects that were almost certainly not designed to be the D-movie equivalent of another, better thriller, but inevitably come off that way anyway: The 911-operator drama The Call is sort of a seedier, less taut variation on the 2004 thriller Cellular, while Dark Tide predates Blake Lively’s The Shallows and also provides roughly one percent of that movie’s shark-related thrills.

Kidnap, the latest Berry vehicle, indicates an abiding interest in this kind of stripped-down B-movie – the kind of thing that, like The Shallows, should serve as a tonic during the overblown summer months (or, if it’s really good, a Hitchcock throwback). Berry plays Karla Dyson, a divorced mother trying to make ends meet for her sweet six-year-old. After her shift as a diner waitress, she takes her kid to either the park, or a fair – the movie says the latter and indicates as much with poorly CGI’d overhead shots of a Ferris wheel, but the actual scenes seem to take place on a playground adjacent to a parking lot. Wherever they go, they aren’t there for long, because when Karla takes a call from her ex (threatening to take custody, natch), she leaves the boy alone for a moment and he gets abducted. Issuing the first of many howling screams of rage, Karla sprints after the car speeding away with her kid inside. When she is unable to physically drag that car to a halt, she hops in her minivan and heads into hot pursuit.

This premise is pure exploitation – or rather, it aspires to pure exploitation. Pure exploitation would be welcome in place of Kidnap, which is too vastly stupid to even exploit properly. The movie jams on the righteous-mom button so incessantly and insistently that Berry looks ready to short circuit. She’s clearly attempting to tap into a parent’s primal fear, and of course most parents would not respond coolly or calmly to witnessing the abduction of their child. But Kidnap makes Berry perform, in essence, 10 minutes of awkwardly written exposition followed by an 80-minute scream, as Karla frantically endangers the lives of as many people as possible, up to and including her son, by instigating this mad chase.

Director Luis Prieto operates under the impression that he is making a pedal-to-the-metal nailbiter, creating all of the noise and signifiers of a car going fast while actually depicting speed as infrequently as possible. There are multiple shots of Berry’s Conversed foot hitting the gas pedal, innumerable overhead shots of the cars on the move, and, most hilariously, multiple shots (or the same shot, multiple times) of a speedometer revving from about 40 miles per hour to about 60 miles per hour. Tires screech, Berry screeches, cars smash together, and the movie starts to feel like it’s getting off on its star’s goosed-up hysteria. (It’s certainly not getting off on actual speed; despite all of those cuts and a brief running time, storywise it’s mostly a putter in a circle.)

Look, the idea of a regular person fighting their way through extraordinary (and pulpy) circumstances is a juicy one – I’d love to see a mom-revenge movie directed by Jeremy Saulnier, who put regular-acting folks through the wringer in both Blue Ruin and Green Room. But Kidnap pitches deeply stupid behavior as a mother’s wrath, as in a spectacular negotiation scene wherein Karla is able to momentarily confront her sons’ captors (who seem confused and angry that she has chosen to pursue his abduction), and shrewdly throws them her entire wallet without prompting while yelling out her PIN. This follows a scene where the kidnappers indicate, by menacingly wielding a knife outside of a car window, that she must stop following them. Frightened for her son’s safety, she takes the next exit, then swerving back onto the highway and continuing to follow the car at a conspicuously close distance.

At best, this all looks incredibly cheap. At worst, Prieto and his editor Avi Youabian (who also cut The Call!) seem unsure about what they’re looking at, and convey that confusion to the audience, like in a simple scene where Berry and her son have a conversation in their minivan. Prieto shoots and cuts it to look, somehow, like Berry is literally talking to herself. This matches the subverbal tone of the screenplay, which features several scenes that show only half of a phone call, and struggle to make sense of what the person on the other end could possibly be saying. (These moments, though brief, very much play like the filmmakers concluded that if the audience can’t hear what’s being said on the other end of the phone, no one making the movie should know, either.)

It would be hard for any actor to perform well in these circumstances; yes, Kidnap is a movie where the screenplay is best described as “these circumstances.” At one point, Berry must perform a monologue to God, asking him not for the safe return of her son, but for the ability to spot the kidnappers’ car in traffic. In another scene, she briefly pauses her relentless hunt to talk to an actual cop, instead of screaming incoherently at bystanders to call 911. When the rest of the police force make the mistake of not instantaneously materializing around her and ask her to wait for a moment, Karla’s eyes frantically scan the MISSING posters adorning the station wall. All of those parents waited, she says to herself, and bolts (she decides it’s more expedient to drive around aimlessly looking for clues). I was thinking, lady, come on. How do you know those parents all waited? Maybe some of them killed the kids themselves. Maybe some of them died tragically in a minivan crash while hurtling down the highway at speeds between 40 and 60 miles per hour. Right away is not enough for Karla; later, a 911 operator gives her an ETA of 15 minutes, which she agitatedly deems too long. I guess streaming video really has spoiled a nation. I could go on, so suffice to say that most of Berry’s performance involves looking as if she just woke up in the middle of surgery, or on a rollercoaster.

Could anyone have saved this material? Maybe not; maybe Nicolas Cage, although his give-me-back-my-kid mode tends to be haunted and sullen, rather than peaking manic. Even so, it may be worth exploring why I would celebrate Cage’s hypothetical outbursts, while Berry’s feel so embarrassing. I think it’s their performing style: Berry has a natural strength and poise that these thrillers can’t resist prodding and poking and mussing into a kind of plain-folks invincibility. She’s not unhinged enough to turn a movie like Kidnap (or The Call, or Dark Tide) into performance art. Usually playing ridiculous material straight and sincere is an asset, but for a movie as craven and inept as this one, it amounts to an overemphatic endorsement of its shameless preying upon parental fears. Plenty of actors do movies that seem beneath them; Kidnap winds up grimy enough to get under its star’s fingernails. It ends with a collage of unconvincing news voiceover explaining that this mom has uncovered a multi-state childnapping ring and is, in the movie’s actual words, a real hero. The movie seems unaware that Halle Berry is a movie star, or a good actor – that she doesn’t need some dipshit thriller to clumsily spell out why we’re supposed to like her.

A Ghost Story: Has David Lowery Made a Post-Actor Movie?

David Lowery’s A Ghost Story reunites him with Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara, who starred in his Malickian lyrical-outlaw potboiler Ain’t Them Bodies Saints. It’s not surprising that Lowery would want to re-up with Mara and Affleck, who since their work for him have gone on to an Oscar nomination (Mara, for Carol) and an Oscar win (Affleck, for last year’s Manchester by the Sea). But part of what makes A Ghost Story so beguiling, and so much more interesting than Saints, is the way Lowery uses these talented actors: For long stretches, he doesn’t. In the contemporary summer movie season, where special effects and branding are often sold over movie stars, Lowery has made a movie more boldly post-actor than any recent blockbuster.

It starts out intimate, but familiar: A couple, unnamed by each other but called M (Mara) and C (Affleck) by the credits, nuzzles and sulks in a small house they’ve rented. Eventually, we realize that M wants to leave, while C, a musician, would prefer to stay. And then, after minutes on end of hushed semi-confrontation (and a few eerie noises), C dies in a car accident, right in front of their home. There are hints that Ghost Story will become a long-take study in grieving, like the way Lowery’s camera lingers on M, alone with C’s body in the morgue for a few minutes. The camera fixes on her as she fixes on the body, tucks the sheet over her husband’s lifeless head, then suddenly rushes out. The camera stays. And after a little while longer, C’s body, still sheet-covered, rises up.

It’s not literally his body. This wandering figure, with eye-holes cut in the sheet to make it resemble a hastily assembled Halloween costume, is C’s ghost, invisible to the world around him. As he walks around the hospital where his body remains, he’s presented with what looks like the opportunity to cross over into some kind of afterlife. He hesitates. And then he’s back at the house, watching his widow.
Continue reading A Ghost Story: Has David Lowery Made a Post-Actor Movie?

Will Ferrell experiments with dad comedy in The House

In Will Ferrell’s new movie The House, the comic actor plays the father of an incoming college freshman. Age-wise, this makes perfect sense; Ferrell is nearly 50, and having his daughter be a burgeoning adult probably more accurately reflects typical parent ages than, say, Adam Sandler, who is only a year older than Ferrell but has been stuck parenting mostly tweens on-screen for about a decade. Sandler is a major comparison point not just because of his age, but because of that tenure as a movie dad, which has by now amounted to around a dozen movies, many of which are explicitly about fatherhood (or Sandler’s sitcom-sentimental version of it, anyway).

This happens to most big comedy stars as they get older, especially guys – they need to pay tribute to their real-life families, reflect their real-life priorities, and nod to their aging fanbase by rejecting their youthful vigor/anger/anarchy in favor of gentler dad antics. Ben Stiller spent a whole comedy trilogy preparing himself for the rigors of family life; Sandler made a movie about dads screwing around and busting each other’s balls on vacation, and it’s his only live-action project so far to spawn a sequel; as early as 1997, just three years into his career as a superstar, Jim Carrey was playing a liar who needs to learn to be a better parent to his disappointed moppet.

Ferrell, though, has resisted this role, at least in movies. During his seven years on Saturday Night Live, he was a go-to father figure. His very first showcase sketch had him manning a barbecue, pausing every so often to scream, with increasing frustration and intensity, at unseen off-camera children to “GET OFF THE SHED.” Ferrell was a natural fit in these parts, with his height, soft belly, and slightly beady eyes – he could appear cuddly or menacing, sometimes within the same sketch. Later in his run on the show, he had a recurring bit where two parents made inane conversation over dinner, a symphony of plate-clinking silverware their backing track, until their teenage daughter would interrupt them and send Ferrell into an apoplectic but impotent rage.
Continue reading Will Ferrell experiments with dad comedy in The House