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.

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.

Tribeca 2018, Part 1: Forbidden Love and Forbidden Sex, Too

I’ve been attending the Tribeca Film Festival since (checks notes) 2013, and when I file dispatches during the festival, I usually have to wait a few days for at least a couple of thematic links to form between seemingly disparate features. Not so in 2018, as my first day at the festival took me from a movie about forbidden love (and lust) between adult women to a movie about forbidden lust (and love) between gay teenagers to a movie about self-forbidden lust (or love) between mostly hetero teenagers. The first two movies, with their narratives about boundaries on homosexuality imposed by various parts of society, should have made the third feel like a privileged trifle, but as it happens, the progressively less intense playing order made the final film feel like a blessed relief.

I started with Disobedience (Grade: B-), which opens commercially next weekend and is the most serious of the batch—not in terms of what happens in it, which is not especially disturbing or upsetting, but in terms of its tone, which might be what a writer’s group I’ve been in might call an imitative fallacy. Because the movie is set in an Orthodox Jewish community and that community is located in London, and because the two leading women are not especially happy to be in this restrictive setting, Disobedience is drab and dour, capturing barely more than a minute or two of sunlight over the course of its two hours.

What it lacks in color, humor, or liveliness, it does make up for in Rachels: Rachel Weisz plays the estranged daughter of a recently deceased rabbi who returns home after his passing, and reconnects with childhood friends played by Rachel McAdams and Alessandro Nivola. They’re still in the Orthodox community—and they’re now married. But the Rachels have been holding torches for one another this whole time, and reignite their relationship with alternating caution and recklessness. Weisz and Adams are very good here, and do a hell of a lot to make this movie watchably rather than oppressively downcast. McAdams in particular offers a potent reminder of what a smart, subtle, no-frills actress she is in the right role.

These characters don’t entirely acquiesce to their oppression, but despite the judgmental people around them, their struggles are mostly internal as they are, after all, more or less free to make their own decisions. There’s plenty of internal struggle in The Miseducation of Cameron Post (Grade: B), but whatever self-loathing can come from realizing your sexuality in adolescence is terrifyingly externalized when Cameron (Chloe Grace Moretz) is sent to a school that specializes in straightening out gay teens—sort of half Bible camp, half cult. Director/cowriter Desiree Akhavan makes a major leap from her promising debut Inappropriate Behavior, and it happens within minutes of Miseducation’s opening. She moves the action from Cameron’s rendezvous with her secret girlfriend, to prom night, to exposure as a lesbian, to enrollment in the school with terrific fluidity and lack of exposition. It’s all quickly engineered yet perfectly observed, right down to its 1993 period details (The Breeders on cassette, what what!).

The action slows a bit once Cameron reaches the school; the movie introduces a lot of new characters but their importance as individuals comes more from inferences than big scenes, especially Jane (Sasha Lane), who sometimes feels like an attitude in search of an individual. But Akhavan is able to elicit sardonic laughter from the material without sacrificing the sense of psychological pain that is being inflicted on these kids. And the movie ends with a couple of scenes so unhurried and plainspoken in their loveliness and sadness that they start to recall David Gordon Green or Lane’s American Honey director Andrea Arnold. Akhavan isn’t quite on that level yet, but she bookends her film with virtuoso displays of talent.

The French-Canadian teens of Slut in a Good Way (Grade: B+) have no such worries on their minds. The movie’s central trio of teenage girls all get jobs at a big-box toy store on a whim, because there are cute, somewhat older guys there (college-aged, to their Grade 11), and one of the girls is nursing a broken heart (the gay guy she thought wanted to be with her anyway turns out to be, yeah, actually gay). First they want to goof off and sleep with their new coworkers; then they decide to impose a moratorium on interoffice sex for, well, 24 hours later the reason is escaping me. If I recall correctly, it’s because the guys start to just expect that they’ll be able to fool or fuck around with any of the girls, and also they decide to raise some money for charity. I’d be happy to watch the movie again to clarify, because Slut in a Good Way (whose actual French title translates to either Charlotte Has Fun or Charlotte Having Fun; I’m not sure) is a delight.

It’s sort of a one-crazy-summer movie, except it takes place over the fall, and its characters aren’t especially outsized or caricatured. There are also bits of Clerks (besides the workplace shenanigans, it’s shot in a halo’d, soft black and white), American Pie (a little smutty but sex-positive), and workplace sitcoms. Those influences are all enjoyable, but it isn’t particular a gender-flipped version of any of them (it also resembles a more antic companion piece to the sleepier Canadian delight Tu Dors, Nicole). What’s most magical about the movie is how director Sophie Lorain choreographs her camera and her actors. She’s very aware of where the characters are within (or outside of) the frame, and pans her camera around the Toy Depot aisles to capture the musicality of their movements, even though none of the actors play the material with much theatricality. When she executes a funny extended sight gag based on characters playing a dance video game, you think: of course.

Lorain, a movie and TV actress from Quebec who has made some Canadian TV and one movie, unseen by me, nearly a decade ago, is a find (which is to say, Americans may find her after this movie; clearly she’s been around in relatively plain sight for our Canadian neighbors). Instead of coming across like a carefree irritant, Slut in a Good Way, showing up at the end of my triple feature, felt aspirational. Here’s hoping more gay teenagers can grow up (and fuck up) with this kind of near-musical ebullience.

The SportsAlcohol.com Podcast: Steven Spielberg and Ready Player One (Parts 1 and 2)

Still cranking out movies, sometimes faster than ever, as he enters his 70s, Steven Spielberg remains an enormous figure who looms, moonlike, over the cinematic landscape. Not everyone loves his work, and even those who love his work don’t love everything about it, but there’s no denying his influence, importance, and talent. On the occasion of Ready Player One, his new movie (and fourth in about two and a half years!), we assembled a group mixing hardcore fans, casual watchers, and genuine skeptics of his work to discuss the new film and everything that came before it. This was such an expansive discussion that we’ve split it into two episodes. Part 1 focuses on Ready Player One and some of his directorial trademarks; Part 2 focuses on the rest of his career and the Spielberg movies and ephemera that Marisa, Ben, Sara, Nathaniel, and Jesse love, hate, or may have just watched for the first time. How does Ready Player One compare to the book? Who thinks Lincoln is overrated? What Spielberg sequel is Jesse nuts for? What the hell do we all think of Hook? Listen to find out all of that plus more Spielberg nerdery!

Both parts are now available for your listening pleasure below!

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  • Part 1:

    Part 2:

  • Unsane: Claire Foy is the latest of Steven Soderbergh’s Difficult Women

    Now that Steven Soderbergh is back to making movies at his usual peerless clip after a short-yet-too-long four-year break, he’s picking up very much where he left off. Last summer’s Logan Lucky was like a sweeter Ocean’s 11 led by his pre-retirement muse Channing Tatum, and now his brand-new, iPhone-shot feature Unsane is very much a companion piece to Side Effects (which also featured Tatum, alongside Rooney Mara, Jude Law, and Catherine Zeta-Jones). Soderbergh is once again rooting a psychological thriller in a modern fears about medicine and mental health, following Sawyer Valentini (Claire Foy) as she seeks help for residual fears after a stalking incident, and finds herself committed against her will to a mental hospital – where she starts to seeing a face she swears belongs to her old stalker (Joshua Leonard).

    A major difference between Unsane and some of Soderbergh’s other female-centric genre experiments is that Foy is a professional actress. That’s not a knock against The Girlfriend Experience’s Sasha Gray or Haywire’s Gina Carano; Soderbergh knew what he was doing, casting an adult film performer and martial artist, respectively, at the center of two movies. Though neither woman was experienced in traditional film performing, they both seemed to match Soderbergh’s preferred later-period female character: Calculating but lacking affect, professional but somewhat opaque, and uninterested in charming the audience like the lead of a romantic comedy (something so many movies, rom-com or not, expect from its female leads).
    Continue reading Unsane: Claire Foy is the latest of Steven Soderbergh’s Difficult Women

    The SportsAlcohol.com Podcast: They Might Be Giants

    Between our recent list of the 40 best They Might Be Giants songs and our accompanying list of the outliers in our voting process, you may have gathered that SportsAlcohol.com reps a pretty big They Might Be Giants fandom. And you would be right! So we couldn’t let the release of the band’s new record I Like Fun pass without a They Might Be Giants podcast discussing it, along with our listmaking methodology as well as some personal history in terms of formative TMBG experiences. TMBG superfans Jesse and Marisa were joined by list voters and fellow TMBG superfans Alan Scherstuhl and Karen Han for a wide-ranging, super-nerdy discussion of all things They Might Be Giants. Hear how we each got into the band, how we all love spending New Year’s Eve at their concerts, what oddball songs we love and don’t love, and how we think I Like Fun fits into TMBG’s canon. We promise not to kill you!

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    Our Favorite They Might Be Giants Songs: The Outliers

    These aren’t runners-up in our list of the Top 40 Best They Might Be Giants songs. Far from it; these are all found much further down the full ranking of 160 or so tunes, because they all received exactly one (1) vote from one (1) participant. In some ways, especially with a band as original and idiosyncratic as TMBG, these outliers will tell you more about the artist than the stuff that nearly made the official list. These were the choices that inspired passionate devotion that, in turn, was not enough. Some of them are from the band’s best-selling record; others are newer songs that may not have had time to gain popular traction; one was chosen by a two-year-old who didn’t get to vote yet. What they have in common is that peculiar, wonderful connection between prolific band and attentive listener. Consider this an alternate top ten (er, eleven).
    Continue reading Our Favorite They Might Be Giants Songs: The Outliers

    The Top 40 Best They Might Be Giants Songs of All Time (For Now)

    We here at SportsAlcohol.com love indie rock, love lists, and love (with reservations) our teenager selves from years ago. So it’s a little bit strange to us that though we’ve tackled artists like David Bowie, Sleater-Kinney, Belle & Sebastian, Radiohead, and The Hold Steady, we have yet to make our definitive list of the best They Might Be Giants songs. It’s especially strange because of our founders’ history: Rob and Jesse went to see TMBG together on September 27th 1996, the night before Rob turned 17 and a few days before Jesse turned 16. There were TMBG t-shirts all over our high school for the next year-plus. One of the first times Jesse and Marisa met was at a TMBG show during college, and it was one of their most obvious initial common interests. Yet somehow it took us until 2018 to pull together a proper list.

    This is probably because there never seems like a perfect time to make a They Might Be Giants list, because they’re almost always making music. I remember the gap between proper studio discs in 1996 and 2001 felt epic to me back in the day, but I didn’t realize how good I had it; the band released something— a compilation, a live album, an internet-only album, EPs, demos—literally every year of that “gap.” They have a new album called I Like Fun out right now, just a few months old, but still we’re not safe to make our definitive lists, because they’re going to be releasing more tracks through their Dial-a-Song service throughout the year, just as they did in 2015 alongside their album Glean.

    So eventually you just have to put your head down and get to work and not worry about whether the next Dial-a-Song would have become your new favorite if you just waited another week or two. There will always be more songs, or at least that’s what it feels like when you’re a TMBG fan. I’ve been a fan of a lot of bands and I don’t know that I’ve ever found loving any of them as rewarding as it is to love They Might Be Giants. There are hits, obscurities, arcana, and everything in between. They have a reputation as a band that attracts nerds, and while that’s probably somewhat true, I think they’re also a band that kinda teaches you how to be a nerd. The good kind: curious, offbeat, and joyfully obsessive rather than sour or myopic.

    A dozen-plus such nerds submitted lists of their 30 favorite TMBG songs, a wonderful and impossible task that resulted in this list of 40. If this seems like a lot, consider that it’s only the top twenty-five percent of the 160 songs that received votes, and only the top ten (or less) percent of the 400-plus songs (probably closer to 500+; I had to stop counting) that were eligible. Almost everyone who participated complained that this was too hard; that it wasn’t enough. Because we really, really love They Might Be Giants. So think of this list less as an exercise in leaving some songs off than as an extended thank-you to a band who means a whole lot to a whole lot of people.

    Speaking of which: You’re familiar with Jesse, Marisa, and Rob. Here are your other voting nerds and TMBG experts for this rock-solid list:

    Jeremy Bent is a writer, comedian, and UCB performer and teacher.
    Trillion Grams loves TMBG and does IT for HR in DFW, TX, USA.
    Karen Han writes on film, TV, music, and games, and is based in NYC. She loves Tintin and TMBG.
    Andrew Hassenger is a musician and artist from Upstate New York.
    Matt Koff is a comedian and Daily Show writer.
    Randy Locklair is a Brooklyn-based dad and software architect, who likes to play the cello, fly planes and race bikes for fun. If you can’t find him doing any of those things, you can probably find him at a concert.
    Demitri Muna is an astronomer at large in NYC who is reasonably obsessed with indiepop and is in love with a too-tall girl.
    Michelle Paul is Managing Director of PatronManager.
    Dennis Perkins is a freelance film and TV writer for the A.V. Club and elsewhere, and lives in Portland, Maine.
    Alan Scherstuhl is the film editor at the Village Voice.
    Rayme Shore is an Obstetrician-Gynecologist (yes, really) who occasionally enjoys geeking out.

    Let’s get this over with:
    Continue reading The Top 40 Best They Might Be Giants Songs of All Time (For Now)

    Still Raidin’ After All These Years: Tomb Raider Movies in 2001 and 2018

    A new Tomb Raider movie is opening this weekend. It won’t be the last, and not because it’s destined to produce sequel after sequel; it won’t be the last because if this version of Tomb Raider doesn’t work, wait five or ten or fifteen years, and someone will try again. That there is a 2018 Tomb Raider starring Alicia Vikander feels, in some ways, like an act of almost religious faith in brand names; the original movie series, based on the popular video game series, starred Angelina Jolie not long after she won an Oscar, started off with one of the biggest domestic grosses ever for a videogame-based movie, and still couldn’t make it past an ill-regarded, poorly performing second installment. For a big hit movie featuring a star who remains globally famous playing a character who remains popular, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider is amazingly forgettable and amazingly mostly forgotten. It’s also entirely emblematic of its early-aughts time period in a way that, too, has been forgotten.

    I don’t think it’s entirely the tarnishing of teenage ideals that makes me think of the summer of 2001 as the first Bad Summer. Granted, there were plenty of bad summer movies before 2001, and on the other side, three of the year’s best movies – A.I., Moulin Rouge!, and Ghost World – came out that summer, two from major studios. But compared with, say, the varied offerings of summer 1998 (which included, yes, two asteroid-peril movies, but also Saving Private Ryan, The Truman Show, Out of Sight, The Mask of Zorro, and There’s Something About Mary) or 1999 (which included, yes, hotly anticipated Star Wars and Austin Powers installments, but also The Sixth Sense, Bowfinger, The Blair Witch Project, Eyes Wide Shut, American Pie, and several hit rom-coms), or even the more typical crop in 2000 (Mission: Impossible II, Gladiator, A Perfect Storm, What Lies Beneath, Gone in 60 Seconds, X-Men), 2001 leaned heavily on sequels and adaptations of well-known properties. Many of them were hits, but the collective goodwill of Rush Hour 2, The Mummy Returns, Jurassic Park III, American Pie 2, Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes, and, yes, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider does not appear to add up to much today (and that’s not even getting into how that year’s equivalent of Saving Private Ryan or Titanic was supposed to be Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor).

    Continue reading Still Raidin’ After All These Years: Tomb Raider Movies in 2001 and 2018

    The SportsAlcohol.com Podcast: Paul Thomas Anderson

    Though we briefly discussed the new Paul Thomas Anderson picture Phantom Thread on our podcast about the best movies of 2017, some of our core group of movie fans had not yet seen it. Paul Thomas Anderson always provides plenty to talk about, so after Marisa, Jesse, Sara, Nathaniel, and Jon had all seen the latest from PTA, we got together to talk about all of his movies, in reverse chronological order (and including at least one HAIM video). Whose favorite is Boogie Nights? Who is transfixed by The Master? Does Punch-Drunk Love hold up? And what does Phantom Thread have to do with old-timey comic strips? All this and more is covered on our Paul Thomas Anderson career view.

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