The SportsAlcohol.com Podcast: Top Summer Movies of 1998

The summer movie season means sequels galore, and we here at SportsAlcohol.com are happy to oblige with the latest installment of our own long-running series! Since 2014, we’ve been recording a podcast wherein we go through the top summer box office attractions of 20 years earlier and discuss what it was like going to movies in a different era, and how we feel about some of these beloved/despised/moneymaking/money-losing projects now. So, in the tradition of 1997, 1996, 1995, and 1994 comes our blockbuster episode on summer 1998, including:

  • Two asteroids!
  • Two big comedies!
  • One big comedy star trying drama!
  • More Disney song critiques!
  • Unsold Godzilla merchandise languishing at JC Penney!
  • A lightning round of non-blockbusters!
  • AND MORE!

For supplemental reading about the summer of 1998, you might also check out this site’s story “Godzilla ’98” and its companion piece “Armageddon ’98”!

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The Top 15 Best Liz Phair Songs (So Far)

When I was 16 or 17 and girls my age called Alanis Morrissette “Alanis,” it irritated me in the way that smartass know-it-all insecure teenage boys frequently get unaccountably irritated. You don’t know her! I’d think. Or sometimes say out loud, in the way that smartass know-it-all insecure teenage boys frequently can’t keep their stupid mouths shut. At the time I, to paraphrase the song “Rock Me,” didn’t know who Liz Phair was. But I thought back to those moments when reading over our write-ups of the best Liz Phair songs—including my own. Pretty much all of us did it: We called her Liz, like we knew her. We don’t, of course. But that’s how good Liz Phair’s songwriting is: There’s something relatable yet specifically conversational about so many of her lyrics, as well as her unaffected delivery style and sometimes fret-squeaking arrangements. And as important as Exile in Guyville is, this kind of presumptuous rapport with your audience doesn’t automatically happen from one great album. It happens more often from a career full of high points, from one of our best (and sometimes most underappreciated songwriters). SportsAlcohol.com founders Marisa, Jesse, and Rob were joined by past ‘90s list voters Sara Ciaburri and Lorraina Raccuia-Morrison as well as Liz (and film) scholar R. Emmett Sweeney to pay tribute to our collective favorites, coinciding with the reissue of her first four albums on vinyl, an Exile-themed anniversary tour, a bigger tour in the fall, and hopefully a new album sometime soon. In the meantime, here is who Liz Phair is.

The Top 15 Best Liz Phair Songs So Far

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The Odyssey: Damsel and Izzy Gets the Fuck Across Town

About halfway through Damsel, maybe a little earlier, maybe much earlier if you’re looking for it, Robert Pattinson, who has been playing the lead role, turns out to be less heroic than you might have assumed, and certainly less heroic than his character has made himself out to be so far. This might constitute a spoiler if I was more specific, or if Robert Pattinson had played any actual heroic roles since his work as the ultimate Hero Who’s Not, Really as the lead in the Twilight series. This isn’t a criticism so much as a fact: Robert Pattinson has played creeps, fuck-ups, and/or blunderers so many times that it’s his moments seeming like a sweet naïf that subvert expectations, not any undermining of his matinee-idol image (besides, five Twilight movies arguably did that already, albeit unintentionally).

That’s about right for Damsel, which makes a sharp point much later and more frequently than is, perhaps, necessary. The cue is right there in the title; obviously when Samuel (Pattinson) recruits a supposed parson (co-writer/co-director David Zellner) to help rescue his beloved Penelope (Mia Wasikowska) in a movie called Damsel, there’s probably going to be more going on than, you know, rescuing the damsel and going home. The movie’s twist, of sorts, is less notable for its ribbing of Old West tropes than its commitment to the bit: Once Wasikowska’s character gains some dimension in the back half of the movie, it doesn’t let up its pokes at very male complexes.
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The SportsAlcohol.com Podcast: Incredibles 2 and the Films of Pixar

Who doesn’t love Pixar?! Actually, a non-rhetorical answer to that question awaits in this well-populated group discussion about the mega-successful animation studio, conducted after Nathaniel, Ben, Jon, Marisa, Jesse, and Sara got back from watching the studio’s (and Brad Bird’s!) latest opus, Incredibles 2. We talk about the new film, Pixar’s sequels in general, and, really, the whole Pixar oeuvre: Favorites, least-favorites, and the Pixar titles we think could use some more attention (the answers may surprise you!). Every Pixar movie is touched upon! Some are covered in surprising detail! Laughs and tears! We also talk about whether or not Jack Palance is dead! It makes sense in context. To infinity, and beyond!

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  • The SportsAlcohol.com Podcast: The Ladies of Ocean’s 8

    Continuing our coverage of Ocean’s 8 and its producer Steven Soderbergh, SportsAlcohol.com has assembled a crack team of ladies… well, OK, it’s Marisa and Sara, but two people can still be plenty crack. What Jesse is doing there, no one can say, but if they do say “James Corden” he will be sad. Anyway, they’re talking about Ocean’s 8 and the ladies starring therein! How does it compare to the Soderbergh series? Who’s the Lady George Clooney? How does Sandra Bullock do in the Oceanverse? Who steals the movie? All these questions and more will be answered (and spoiled) in a brisk and snappy discussion.

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  • Ocean’s 8, like all Ocean’s movies, is about acting

    “I’d like to play a more central role this time,” says Linus (Matt Damon) in Ocean’s 12. He’s nominally talking about his participation in a coordinated group heist, but the language is unmistakable and the self-referential tone unavoidable: Linus, played by a very famous actor who is nonetheless slightly less famous than his biggest co-stars, sounds very much like an actor, asking for a bigger role in the ensemble for the sequel to Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s 11. Like a lot of actors, Linus—a pickpocket, a bit younger than Danny Ocean (George Clooney) or his right-hand man Rusty (Brad Pitt), and certainly less experienced—takes his job very seriously. In Ocean’s 13, Linus goes into full con-man mode, not just planning or thieving, but playing a character in order to deceive a casino boss’s right-hand lady (Ellen Barkin). He insists on wearing an exaggerated false nose to complete the illusion, as his colleagues look on with indifference. “The nose plays!” is his forceful refrain.

    Ocean’s 13 doesn’t go as far through the looking glass as Ocean’s 12, but taken together, Soderbergh’s trilogy does resemble a hall of mirrors, both for its illusive tricks and its funhouse consideration of star vanity. To this hall, the new female-driven Ocean’s 8 adds a few more mirrors, though mostly not engineered by Soderbergh himself. He’s on hand as producer, but has handed the directorial reins to his friend Gary Ross. In the run-up to his sort-of retirement, Soderbergh did some second-unit directing on The Hunger Games; here, Ross returns the favor by directing all of Ocean’s 8 as if on second-unit. This probably isn’t a fair criticism—few directors have the command of the heist-movie form that consummate problem-solver Soderbergh seems to summon with the snap of his fingers—but the over-the-top quasi-professionalism of an Ocean gang has the unfortunate side effect of exposing journeymen. In Soderbergh’s trilogy, he keeps all of the intricate, ridiculous prep-work moving at a clip, punctuating the most amusing moments with sharp cuts. Ross directs scenes that appear to be wandering around in search of their punchline before hustling away empty-handed.

    Yet Ocean’s 8 can’t help but follow in the tradition of its predecessors, even when Ross seems unable of keeping up, nevermind setting a pace. Some of it is that all-lady ensemble. Instead of George Clooney leading a mixture of Hollywood royalty and game character actors, Sandra Bullock heads up a starry crew that includes Cate Blanchett, Rihanna, Mindy Kaling, Helena Bonham Carter, Sarah Paulson, and YouTube star Awkafina. Anne Hathaway is there too, although her character Daphne Kluger isn’t recruited as part of the gang; rather, she’s a vain yet needy actress who Debbie Ocean (Bullock) and company must manipulate into wearing an extremely valuable necklace at the Met Ball, so they can switch it with a fake and rob its owners blind (and maybe frame someone else for the job).
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    The SportsAlcohol.com Podcast: Riverdale, Season 2

    Hey, remember how last year we watched Riverdale all season long and then wanted to talk about it? Well, your SportsAlcohol.com Riverdale fan club may be down a member (I see you, Maggie) (and I understand) but a bunch of us are still watching this hot teen mess and we needed to talk it out: the ever-metastasizing stupidity of Archie, the evil lurking inside Betty (IS IT, THOUGH?), the gang obsession of Jughead, and whether or not Veronica is, in Marisa’s words, “pulling an Orphan.” In this brisk, enthusiastic episode, we find things to praise about Riverdale Season 2 among our many complaints and questions. Psyched for Season 3, guys!

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  • The Ten Best Soundtrack Cues from The Americans

    When The Americans premiered back in January 2013, it had all the makings of a fun throwback. ’80s fashion! ’80s politics! Felicity gracing our screens again! It quickly revealed itself to be a much more serious exploration of the crisscrossing allegiances to family and country than its sexy logline implied, albeit with plenty of time for bone-breaking and tooth-extracting, and with some of the most complex (and perplexingly under-awarded) performances on television. And in hindsight its granular exploration of the old Cold War was remarkably prescient of our current quagmires, constantly forcing the audience to question just how much it should be sympathizing with characters that want to undermine our very way of life, antiheroes whose destructive reach extends beyond even Heisenberg. What the show’s ultimate legacy will be after its May 30th finale remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure: it had some of the most artful era-appropriate music cues this side of Mad Men. In honor of its six masterful seasons, here are the 10 best cuts from the entirety of the series (up until the eighth episode of season six, that is), presented in the order they first appeared. Also, though The Americans has its favorites like everyone, I limited this to one soundtrack cut per artist out of fairness. Otherwise this list might be mostly Fleetwood Mac. Speaking of…

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    Tribeca 2018, Part 3: Emma Roberts Returns

    Emma Roberts, who is 27, is probably done playing teenagers and recent graduates, though you can never really say for sure. Roberts played teenager-ish characters for so long that she had stints as both a Sundance Queen (where her roles in The Winning Season, The Art of Getting By, and Celeste and Jesse Forever debuted) and an even less-heralded period as the Princess of Tribeca, with the likes of Palo Alto, Adult World, and Ashby bringing her movies to lower Manhattan (and not much further). She was a teen in all of them, so her newest Tribeca film still feels like a milestone, albeit of the nebulous sort that the title In a Relationship implies. Roberts plays Hallie, a twentysomething in a long-term relationship with Owen (Michael Angarano), a doofy guy who I’d describe as hemming and hawing over their level of commitment, except that he evades too much to even hem or haw as much as he wants to. When Owen loses his roommate, Hallie suggests that they could move in together. Instead, they break up, because Owen can’t commit to the number of years they’ve been dating, much less to a cohabitation (despite the fact that they spend most of their time together).

    Emma Roberts does the heavy lifting in this movie, and not just because she’s good at delivering half-ironic young-neurotic dialogue, like her line about wanting to leave a party and go home: “I think I left a candle burning and it’s haunted me all afternoon.” (Or her suggestion for a heartbroken afternoon activity: “Can we look at pictures of sushi on Yelp?”) She also finds some sensibility, if not exactly sense, in the notion that Hallie would be terribly attached to Owen. Angarano, meanwhile, gives the opposite performance: He takes a guy who is, on paper, not especially interesting or even sympathetic, and makes him into a character you can actively root against. There’s something weirdly loud about his performance; he doesn’t spend the whole movie shouting, but he is overemphatic in a way you’d never guess from the frazzled little kid from Almost Famous. Owen is not particularly funny, not particularly nice, not particularly smart, not even especially handsome, and not in possession of any redeeming qualities apart from his occasional affection for Hallie.

    This should not count, because how hard is it to find Emma Roberts charming? If anything, he’s below-average in that department. The movie’s other half, which is about Owen’s buddy Matt (Patrick Gibson) dating Hallie’s cousin Willa (Dree Hemingway), at least has some balance between both partners’ sweetness and their Los Angeleno insufferability. In a Relationship is crisply edited and moderately well-written, but it never earns its bittersweet ending note, and it sure doesn’t give Roberts the millennial rom-com she deserves.

    Really, that movie might have been the neon-tinged online-but-IRL thriller Nerve, from a couple of years ago. But it wasn’t a big hit, and the truth is, Roberts is a Tribeca-scale star: She can be the lead in an indie movie, but getting her into a studio rom-com, something that barely exists at the moment, would take some more doing. It’s kind of amazing that she never found herself in a YA fantasy (beyond It’s Kind of a Funny Story, the YA adaptation for which she serves as a fantasy object), and kind of cool that she racked up a bunch of indies in the meantime, even though she played someone who was around about 18 for the better part of a decade. In a Relationship ages her up to normal, but it still feels like a grad movie of sorts; Hallie spends the movie ready to graduate into a relationship that means as much to her partner as it does to her. There’s something touching about that, and Roberts doesn’t shy away from the neediness or desperation there, either. She obviously feels some connection to this project; she’s credited here as an executive producer. Maybe next time she returns to Tribeca, it should be as a director. Or at least with another movie from the Nerve guys.

    Tribeca 2018, Part 2: Fuck-Ups or Just Funny?

    I don’t mean to be glib when I say that this year’s Tribeca is, like some Tribecas of the past, pretty big on women-fucking-up indie movies. I’m actually pretty excited to say that, because women-fucking-up indies tend to be a lot more fresh and a lot less mopey than their male counterparts, the latter tending to be awash with sensitive acoustic guitar music, passivity, beards, and Manic Pixie Dream Girls.

    There actually might be a Manic Pixie Dream Girl of sorts in Duck Butter (Grade: C-), or maybe she’s a commentary on one; it’s hard to tell, because the movie is so low-key unpleasant. Sergio (Laia Costa) meets Naima (Alia Shawkat, who co-wrote the film with director Miguel Arteta) in between Naima’s first day on the set of an indie movie and the next day, when she is told she’s been fired; Sergio is first seen singing in public in a way that’s not very good but supposed to be bold and charming (not a good sign) and makes a post-hookup proposal that Naima initially rejects, then warms to after her firing: Why don’t they spend a full 24 hours together, having sex every hour or so, as a way of jumpstarting their intimacy and honesty?

    Why not? Well, mostly because it’s exhausting, even with a 93-minute running time. Sergio acts vaguely mercurial (which is to say petulant), Naima acts vaguely overcautious (which is to say normal), and rather than a fuller understanding of their characters, you mostly get an idea of what kind of thought-experiment noodling Shawkat and Arteta would like to see from the movies they watch. Credit due, though: Duck Butter (which opens today in limited release and hits VOD next week) is the first movie where I’ve seen both Duplass Brothers playing themselves, and the awkwardness of their interactions with Naima feel more like vintage (if second-tier) Arteta.

    Naima is an actress who is too self-conscious about the shitty state of the world to appear especially creative. Two more Tribeca movies focus on women who use their creativity to fight their crummy circumstances, not so much women-fucking-up movies (though one sort of takes the form of one) as women-fucking-shit-up movies. The documentary Love, Gilda (Grade: B-) chronicles the life of peerless SNL player Gilda Radner, who died far too soon at the age of 42, from ovarian cancer. The film, assembled from old photos, home movies, and diaries (though it’s hard to tell when the latter are fudged together with the audio book of her autobiography, It’s Always Something), is a moving and candid portrait, though the materials it’s working with sometimes feel stretched thin, cinematically speaking (some of the shots of old photos linger too long, as if the movie has nothing else to cut to for the moment). It’s not a wildly insightful movie, but it’s valuable both for getting to hear Radner’s voice again (in the voiceover audio as well as her comic voice in various clips, some oft-repeated SNL bits and some more obscure), and to see Amy Poehler, Melissa McCarthy, Maya Rudolph, and Bill Hader read through her diaries and reflect on her comic technique (Poehler calls most of her SNL characters poor Radner imitations, a humble way of acknowledging her hero’s influence).

    The talking-heads from people who actually knew Radner are a little thin. Lorne Michaels, Chevy Chase, and Laraine Newman go on camera, but it’s disappointing not to hear from Dan Aykroyd, Jane Curtin, or (less surprising, but even so) Bill Murray. What resonates most about the movie is Radner’s joy of performance – that despite her eating disorder or neediness, she truly and, especially toward the end, unselfishly, loved making people laugh.

    It wouldn’t be fair to compare the tough and fictional stand-up comedian of All About Nina (Grade: C+) to Gilda Radner, but as well-observed as the movie’s fake stand-up routines are, it could have used a little more sense of that joy, however fleeting. Nina (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is a brash, smart lady comic with a dark past who gets a long-awaited shot at an SNL-style show (based for plot convenience in Los Angeles rather than Nina’s native New York). The pacing of the movie, as Nina breaks things off with an abusive boyfriend, moves to L.A., temporarily rooms with her agent’s new-age-y friend, and strikes up a romance with a plainspoken guy outside the entertainment industry (Common), is careful and appealingly slow. But the movie’s turn into Nina’s tragic backstory, while right up to the minute with the #MeToo movement, isn’t handled as adroitly, and even makes the movie’s first hour feel poky and rambling in retrospect. It’s too bad, because Winstead is typically great as Nina; she has a great scene running through some material three-quarters naked in front of her apartment window, invigorated by her own talent. In the end, though, All About Nina feels ambivalent about the very act of making comedy; it wants to position it as Nina’s salvation, of sorts, but at arm’s length, like it secretly finds the whole thing kind of distasteful, a remove the movie never fully explores.

    Karen Gillan’s The Party’s Just Beginning (Grade: B-) is more of a traditional young-lady-fucking-up movie, about a Scottish gal (Gillan) flailing through a drunken, French-fry-binging, casual-sex-having life after the suicide of her best friend. As written, the material is pretty boilerplate, but Gillan shows a lot of promise behind the camera. In front of it, she captures the desperate helplessness that can come with grief. Even when she’s spiraling, the movie never mopes—or breaks out the sensitive acoustic guitar.