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.

Why the X-Men Movies Are Better than the Marvel Cinematic Universe

When Bryan Singer’s X-Men was released on July 14, 2000, it was the first big superhero movie of that summer. It was also the first big superhero movie of the year. It was also the first big superhero movie since Mystery Men, a superhero spoof based on a comic book hardly anyone had heard of, flopped a year earlier. The last superhero/comics movie to hit before X-Men was the first Blade movie in 1998. The summer before that, the major superhero movies were Batman & Robin, Spawn, and Steel, starring Shaquille O’Neal.

X-Men‘s unexpected status as the most financially successful superhero movie that did not feature Batman or Superman emboldened movie studios to produce additional superhero movies, no longer mortally afraid that they were making the next Steel. Likewise, the fact that X-Men took the X-Men seriously encouraged audiences to attend superhero movies, no longer mortally afraid that they would wind up seeing a movie starring Shaquille O’Neal or Spawn. Spider-Man followed in 2002, hitting even bigger; Daredevil, Hulk, Fantastic Four, a new Batman series, some more Superman, and two even bigger X-Men movies followed — all before Iron Man re-kickstarted the genre by establishing Marvel Studios in 2008.

I begin by establishing the lineage of Singer’s X-Men because given the deluge that followed, for a lot of people, that’s what it represents: the laying of respectable groundwork for what followed. To be sure, the series as a whole has its fans, and probably some of those fans think back fondly on the first movie. But with its middling special effects, abbreviated running time, lack of massive spectacle, and reputation as a movie exceeded both by its immediate sequel and many superhero adventures that followed, I think it’s safe to say that most fans of comic book movies would place that first movie (and likely most if not all of its sequels) somewhere below The Avengers, the Captain Americas, at least two of the Iron Mans, and one or two Thors, and maybe somewhere above Spider-Man 3, Elektra, or the various attempts to start a Hulk franchise on the Marvel Movie Continuum.

I think it’s also safe to say most fans of comic book movies are incorrect.

The subject of the most ardent fan and even critical approval these days — among movies based on Marvel Comics — are the ones that come directly from Marvel Studios. Here I should note that I like all of those movies, with the possible exception of The Incredible Hulk, which I would have a stronger opinion about if I could remember at all. I would even venture to say that I like Iron Man 2 far more than anyone you know, and that I was on board with Captain America even before Winter Soldier. But when The Avengers, a movie that very nearly made my Ten Best list for 2012, came out, one of my main thoughts about it was: Finally! A Marvel Studios movie that I like nearly as much as the best X-Men and Spider-Man movies!

Let me explain.
Continue reading Why the X-Men Movies Are Better than the Marvel Cinematic Universe

Godzilla ’98

My friends and I did go to see the 1998 version of Godzilla three times in the theaters. This is a story about that although not what actually happened.

We graduate high school in four and a half weeks but first: Godzilla. On the balance, we’ve spent more time planning for Godzilla. Ivan explained it best: graduation is already set. Maybe some of the dumb kids have to sweat passing classes or getting credits, but the four of us have been cruising for months, or at least since I found out I wouldn’t fail gym for cutting most of the last quarter. We aren’t planning the ceremony, we don’t have to pick out clothes, people will tell us where to line up and where to sit, parents will plan the parties and order the macaroni salad and the cake with our pictures on it. But none of those parents or teachers or guidance counselors got us set up with Godzilla. We had to figure that out ourselves.

It started last summer when we saw the trailer where Godzilla’s foot came down and crushed a dinosaur skeleton in a museum, which was a clever way of saying fuck dinosaurs and fuck the movie you’re about to see which was The Lost World, which we still argue about on roughly forty percent of car rides: Henry and I pro, Chuck and Ivan more con.

Godzilla would obviously not invite this kind of controversy.
Continue reading Godzilla ’98

HAIM Is the Best Band and Could Be Improved

Sportsalcohol.com co-founder Sabrina introduced me to HAIM about a year ago via their song “Forever,” before they had a proper album out. I cannot recall liking a band more instantly. Days Are Gone came out on my birthday last year, and I bought it and loved it also more or less immediately. Then, finally, after a lifetime of hard work, Marisa and I were rewarded with seeing HAIM at Terminal 5 in Manhattan last night with SportsAlcohol.com contributing bassist Jeremy, and it was fantastic. The ladies of HAIM rocked out, whipped around their hair and their different types of charisma, and the show was every bit as good as it should have been — maybe better, considering it was an hour-plus set built around exactly one album. Basically anyone who has enjoyed the band on that album would have a great time at their show.

I mean, check out this setlist:

Falling
If I Could Change Your Mind
Oh Well [Fleetwood Mac cover]
Honey & I
Days Are Gone
My Song 5
Running If You Call My Name
Don’t Save Me
Forever

XO [Beyonce cover]
The Wire
Let Me Go

AND YET: was this my ideal HAIM setlist? No. No, it was not. As good as the show was, I saw many ways it could have bee improved. Herewith, my ideal fantasy setlist for HAIM:

Falling
If I Could Change Your Mind
Wrecking Ball [Miley Cyrus cover]
Teenage Dream [Katy Perry cover]
Bizarre Love Triangle [New Order cover]
[pause for hair tutorial]
Honey & I
[banter about how cool Marisa and Jesse look out in the crowd]
Marisa and Jesse Are Our New Best Friends [new song]
Jeremy Is Also Super Cool [new song]
Days Are Gone
My Song 5
[screening of new Godzilla movie]
Running If You Call My Name
Don’t Save Me
Belle [cover of song from Beauty and the Beast]
Forever

XO [Beyonce cover]
Countdown [Beyonce cover]
Radio [Beyonce cover]
Irreplaceable [Beyonce cover]
Let Me Go
The Wire
The Wire
The Wire
Marisa and Jesse Are Our New Best Friends [reprise]

Maybe next HAIM.

HAIM darker

Top 10 Reasons Spider-Man 3 Is Better than The Amazing Spider-Man

When Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man premiered in July 2012, the general reaction seemed to be: well, it’s better than Spider-Man 3, obviously. A few passionate defenders called Amazing a better, more faithful representation of the Peter Parker and Spidey of the comic books than the Sam Raimi take, but for the most part, the movie seems to have been met with something between an affectionate shrug and an encouraging smile. But at least it was better than Spider-Man 3. Obviously.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (for serious, you guys still aren’t going with The Spectacular Spider-Man for a sequel title?) opens this weekend to kick off the summer movie season, and while the early reviews seem a bit more mixed than its predecessor’s, it almost certainly won’t be treated with the same level of derision as Spider-Man 3. Obviously.

Now, I haven’t seen The Amazing Spider-Man 2 yet. There will be a SportsAlcohol.com editorial summit on Friday night to determine what the deal with this movie is. But I have seen The Amazing Spider-Man, and the thing about that movie is: it’s not as good as Spider-Man 3. Not nearly.

The thing about Spider-Man 3 is: it’s actually pretty good.

Not as good as Spider-Man and certainly not as good as Spider-Man 2. To be sure, Spider-Man 3 is the weakest of Raimi’s de facto trilogy, and has two major problems that feed into each other: overcrowding and retconning. Before we get to the good stuff, these problems should be addressed.

The supposed problem of villain overcrowding has been noted at least since Batman Returns in 1992, and indeed, the first series of Batman movies seemed to add bad guys indiscriminately for easy stakes-raising. But as Christopher Nolan’s Batman series has shown, multiple villains don’t have to mean jammed-up storylines: that trilogy managed to include Ra’s al Ghul, Talia al Ghul, the Joker, Two-Face, Scarecrow, Mr. Zsasz, Bane, Carmine Falcone, and Catwoman. Some had bigger roles than others, of course, but that’s pretty much the same number of villains that populate the Burton/Schumacher films.

Unfortunately, Spider-Man 3 adheres more to the Schumacher model of villains, only it’s applied to the entire cast. Apart from the introductions and transformations of Flint Marko (the Sandman) and Eddie Brock (Venom) and the revival of the Green Goblin in the guise of Harry Osborn, Spider-Man 3 adds Gwen Stacy (played by Bryce Dallas Howard) and her police-captain father while continuing to utilize its beloved supporting characters (Aunt May, J. Jonah Jameson, Betty Brant, Curt Connors) and, if anything, upping the screentime afforded to Harry Osborn and Mary Jane Watson. The movie also serves its themes of internal conflict by having several main characters toggle back and forth between personalities, essentially piling on additional characters even when familiar ones are onscreen: Peter Parker bonds with an alien symbiote that brings out a dark side to his personality. Harry Osborn loses his memory (and thirst for vengeance against Peter/Spider-Man), then regains it. Mary Jane has a real flirtation with Harry, then is manipulated by him when he re-evils.

The movie has so little actual room for its characters that it ret-cons them into the earlier films whenever possible. Flint Marko turns out to be involved in the death of Peter’s Uncle Ben, just to give him some convenient incentive to seek symbiote-encouraged revenge. Less of a direct retcon but perhaps even more ridiculous, Bernard Houseman (John Paxton), the Osborn butler for the entire series, decides late in the film to come forward and tell Harry that his father was a murderous lunatic and that Parker did not kill him, and for some reason this and only this can convince Harry to renounce his evil ways (and for some reason Bernard did not see fit to share this information sooner).

Individually, most of the movie’s characters get a moment or three where they shine. Narratively, though, Spider-Man 3 is a mess. Both of the overcrowding and retconning stem from a script that seems unfinished at best; check out that patchwork bit where local news narrates Spider-Man’s big climactic fight with Venom and Sandman. There is also, as mentioned, some whiplash-inducing twists and reversals between Peter, Harry, and MJ in terms of who is wronging who and for what reason.

AND YET: Narrative is overrated sometimes. Spider-Man 3 is a lot of fun and far more good than bad. It came out a year after X-Men: The Last Stand, and for some reason that movie got a pass as a mild disappointment from a lot of fans, while Spider-Man 3 is still held up as something as a disaster. It’s not a disaster! It’s a pretty good movie with a pretty weak script! Surely you’ve heard of this practice before. It also takes Spider-Man to some new places, which is a lot more than I can say for The Amazing Spider-Man insisting that it’s taking a different approach while more or less remaking the first Raimi movie with a minimum or imagination. If we’re going to say that Marc Webb didn’t make a terrible Spider-Man movie, then we as a culture need to admit that Sam Raimi never made a terrible Spider-Man movie.

And so:

Ten Great Things about Spider-Man 3, In No Particular Order

Continue reading Top 10 Reasons Spider-Man 3 Is Better than The Amazing Spider-Man

The 25 Best Hold Steady Songs of All Time (For Now)

A couple of weeks ago, the Hold Steady, a Minneapolis-by-way-of-Brooklyn indie rock band that sings about lost teenagers, drifting adults, various scenes, and other bands, put out their sixth record, Teeth Dreams. It’s their first album in four years, and basically the only time any of the band’s fans have had to wait any real appreciable amount of time for something new; the first five came out in 2004, 2005, 2006, 2008, and 2010, never more than two years apart. This daunting pace was eventually slowed by some lineup shifts, extensive touring, lyricist and singer Craig Finn taking a solo-record detour, and, you know, life and stuff. The first three Hold Steady records are, to this fan’s ears, basically masterpieces, and the others are pretty damn good, too; it’s probably inevitable that the band would need a break from eighteen-month album cycles.

In celebration of this fresh batch of songs, the editors of SportsAlcochol.com decided to poll some other Hold Steady fans and come up with a definitive Top 25 Hold Steady Songs (So Far). Fourteen people, including many writers and zero professional music critics, composed top ten lists that were either weighted (if ranked) or distributed equally (if not). Points were tallied, songs were ordered, ties were broken by number of list mentions, cases were made, and, probably, feelings were hurt.

With a band that so smartly engages with the pleasures and dangers of nostalgia, there’s a very real danger and palpable pleasure that a list like this becomes a catalog of greatest hits from everyone’s favorite couple of albums — mid-aughts nostalgia for nostalgia about a time, nonexistent for anyone participating in this poll (as far as I know) when the eighties almost killed us. As to whether that actually happened, well, read on. Individual top tens seemed like the right number to ask for, given that, by my count, the band has fewer than 100 original tunes — but it nonetheless forced us all to make some hard choices. I will say that while no songs from Teeth Dreams made the list, consider this: “Oaks,” the new album’s nine-minute closer, came close, outscoring several stone-cold Hold Steady classics in the process. That seems to me a sign that this band will continue making great songs for years to come. My personal pick for a future classic: “I Hope This Whole Thing Didn’t Frighten You,” the propulsive narrative that opens Teeth Dreams with classic severe understatement. The point us: we compose this list not to eulogize the band on the tenth anniversary of their debut record, Almost Killed Me (it came out April 20, 2004), but to pay tribute as they set out on their latest tour.

Continue reading The 25 Best Hold Steady Songs of All Time (For Now)

Let’s Talk about How I Met Your Mother

So How I Met Your Mother came to an end this evening. I have thoughts. You probably have thoughts. My wife definitely has thoughts. Maybe let’s talk it over in this open thread?

Open questions:

-Loved it?
-Hated it?
-Can we leave Ted alone now or does everyone just hate him more?
-Other finales you loved/hated/did it better/did it worse?
-Is there an optimal number of seasons for a really good show to run?
-It’s seven seasons, isn’t it?

A Talk with My Cousin about the Divergent Movie

I wrote a bunch about Divergent the week it came out, and then I found out that my thirteen-year-old cousin Abby is super into Divergent so I decided I should interview and get the scoop about what I was missing by only seeing the movie. Abby reads a lot and is awesome. Herewith, our chat:

JESSE: So when did you first read the Divergent books?

ABBY: Over the summer.

JESSE: How did you find out about them?

ABBY: I saw one of my friends had read it, and I saw stuff on the internet that said they were really good books.

JESSE: And I assume you’ve read all three by now?

ABBY: Yeah. It was quite the wait to get to read Allegiant though. That came out in October.

JESSE: Did you know then that a movie was coming out?

ABBY: I can’t quite remember…I don’t think I knew then but after I had read it I saw something online.

JESSE: And generally you were super happy with how the movie came out?

ABBY: Yeah, pretty much. Only a couple scenes I thought would have been really good to be put in the movie.

JESSE: You mentioned something about a butter knife scene. What was that about?

Continue reading A Talk with My Cousin about the Divergent Movie

Things I Wish Happened in the Divergent Movie

-Definitions of words explained 60% fewer times

-Zipline sequence shot with real IMAX cameras

-Zipline sequence shot entirely as POV to avoid bad green screen

-Someone pointing out that Tris may be Divergent, but her hair is Dauntless

-Billy Zane cast instead of poor and weirdly shaped substitute Jai Courtney

-Long sequence with Shailene Woodley alone in dystopian wilderness a la the first half hour of Riddick

-Longer bird-fighting sequence, possibly including bird-fu (not to be confused with bird flu)

-Miles Teller cast in one of the main roles tailor made for an actor with genuine charisma

-Four contracts bird blu

-Ending with cut to title card DIVERGENT. By “ending” I also mean possibly individual scenes, not just the movie

-More complicated scheme of mirrors that would necessitate at least 25 more takes to the camera

are you nervous 2

are you nervous

Fake Spoiler Alert: The Divergent Movie

The movie Divergent comes out this week. Before the movies of Harry Potter and The Hunger Games came out, I read the books to orient myself in the beloved world of these properties. I have not read Divergent. But I have seen the trailer a bunch of times. I am seeing a press screening of the movie tonight so I thought I should explain what I think this movie is going to be like.

What I Assume Happens in the Movie Divergent Based Only On Watching the Trailer a Bunch of Times

Backstory delivered by opening narration: 100 years ago, there was some kind of war, possibly topiary in nature. Then someone declared color-war and divided everyone by their shirts.

Shailene Woodley plays a character who I think is called Tris, a girl who gets up on roofs and admires the peace topiary while also kind of wondering what it all means, also is maybe kind of Amish or something. She is almost ready to go to vocational school and her affectionate boss at the barn where she works is played by Ashley Judd.

On orientation day, everyone and their families, or bosses if they don’t have families, goes to hear a lecture from Kate Winslet’s character, who I will assume is called the Peacekeeper. She explains the rules of color-war and then all the teenagers, even the ones from the Amish districts, have to go get tested to figure out what team they’re on. So the teens get tested on skills such as getting injections, knowing object permanence in a world of mirrors, dog-hugging, and hitting floors when you fall on them.

dog hugging

Continue reading Fake Spoiler Alert: The Divergent Movie

What about Veronica Mars, though?!

It happened: the Veronica Mars movie came out. A large percentage of SportsAlcohol.com staff and contributors saw it together in Manhattan on Friday night. We were not able to record and transcribe the many conversations that followed. But we thought it might be nice to open a discussion thread on here for virtual reactions, however belated. I’ll kick in a few of my major comments below, and I hope others will respond and/or throw in their own.

Obviously, this thread will have spoilers.