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.

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.

True Detectives: Companion Pieces for Veronica Mars

Much of this week’s Veronica Mars discussion has revolved around proposing various love interests for Veronica, both because the show has a rich cast of characters that are fun to defend, make fun of, or outright disparage; and as a countermeasure to the myopia of seeing Veronica Mars as a show about a girl and her on-again/off-again boyfriend who started a bum-fighting ring one time (THAT WE KNOW ABOUT).

What Veronica/Logan stuff obscures, for me, is the strength of Veronica Mars as an amateur-detective show, and now, yes yes yes, an amateur-detective movie. Admittedly, this comes from a bias as strong as any shipper: I love movies and TV shows about amateur or semi-amateur or non-traditional detectives. Maybe books, too, but I don’t have a lot of experience with reading detective fiction, unless Encyclopedia Brown counts. I never got into the Hardy Boys and I only read part of one Easy Rawlins novel, although it was pretty good; I just put it down and forgot about it and wound up moving on something else. Our book expert Cristin will favor us with more in-depth book companions to Veronica; here now is a brief recent history of a genre I didn’t know was my favorite genre until Veronica Mars was about halfway through its run.

Continue reading True Detectives: Companion Pieces for Veronica Mars

The SportsAlcohol.com Hit Piece: Lorde

Witch-ay Woman

In a move that pays off approximately one Beyonce per decade, I decided to give Lorde a listen. I’d heard a lot of good stuff about her, and I try to occasionally branch out from my indie-rock geekery. It’s super fun to actually like a popular music artist because those albums are super-easy to find at Best Buy or used-CD bins (note to the youngs: used CD bins are boxes of CDs… wait. CDs are things with music you can buy on Amazon or in in stores where… wait. Stores are places where… oh, fuck it, look it up). Contrary to the indie-rock stereotype, I am always in the market for stuff that is easy to like. I was so excited when I thought that maybe Nicki Minaj would be really good.

I was a little skeptical about Lorde because of the praise she’s earned in publications such as Rolling Stone, but then her album (albums are like mp3s, but like, in an order and stuff) was two dollars on Amazon. I would buy almost any popular album for two dollars. I’m often tempted to buy albums I know for a fact I don’t like if they’re two dollars. Plus, no matter how big-boxy it is to buy an album from Amazon for two bucks, I can know for sure that the royalty Lorde gets from that single copy Amazon-discounted copy will be roughly a thousand times higher than what she’d get if I listened to her album on Spotify three or four times. Never say I never did nothin’ for ya, Lorde, he said, when tossing her the equivalent of two quarters, or: the total amount of money your twenty favorite artists have earned from you listening to them on Spotify, total, in their and your lifetimes.

Anyway, I bought the Lorde album and listened to it a bunch of times and now I have an opinion about Lorde and the dominant opinion is: Lorde needs to be taken down and also I shouldn’t listen to this album very much anymore except maybe “Royals” and perhaps “World Alone.”

It’s not that Lorde or Pure Heroine are all that bad. But the cred Lorde seems to be accruing needs to stop or at least slow down a little. Yes, I will acknowledge the coolness of Lorde being a (a.) seventeen-year-old (b.) female (c.) from New Zealand (d.) who looks sort of like a witch and (e.) helps write her own songs that are then (f.) only marginally overproduced in that trendy faux-minimalist sort of… OK, now it sounds less like I’m acknowledging her coolness and more like I’m writing a takedown! Now we’re in the spirit! The general problem with Lorde is that she gets instant cool cred the same way that the record industry embraces anyone who is successful.

I might sound like a cranky Generation Xer here — and I seriously don’t know if I’m in the Generation X or the millennial boom or maybe, just maybe, a sub-generation I just invented called the Third-Greatest Generation (the top two are NOT the ones you’d expect) — but we need to stop giving young people awards for just showing up. I’m not complaining about, like, Participant ribbons here. Participant ribbons are reasonably honest. They say PARTICIPANT and are given to people who participate! I would be happy if Lorde showed up on the cover of Rolling Stone wearing a ribbon that said PARTICIPANT.

But Lorde gets way more credit than that, sort of like how Taylor Swift gets infinite cred for kinda-sorta writing her own songs — even for lyrics that other people have basically already written. I’m not suggesting that Swift wrote “so casually cruel in the name of being honest” after hearing Paul Simon sing that “there’s no tenderness beneath your honesty.” Actually, I’m suggesting quite the opposite: I’m sure Swift hadn’t heard the Paul Simon song. And that’s fine. But you don’t get full credit for re-discovering and re-phrasing that idea. And you certainly don’t get credit for not phrasing it as well.

But that’s another story for another post that tries hard to reconcile how much I love “We Are Never Getting Back Together” with Taylor Swift’s authenticity, which I do not question so much as classify under “authentic self-regard” (see also: Roberts, Julia). Let’s get back to Lorde.

Lorde’s voice is weird.

I don’t mean weird like truly eccentric or wild, like Bjork or Corin Tucker or Nicki Minaj in-character. I mean that somewhere between her native accent and her vaguely American-accented singing, her tongue starts to sound heavy. Her vowels are rounded and some of her consonants come out muffled together, like she’s only singing out of the very front portion of her mouth. It has a weird slurry-baby effect and yeah, it’s a little unnerving to hear a teenager drop truths while sounding like a drunk baby.

Lorde’s songs pretty much all sound the same.

Everyone loves “Royals” for the way Lorde rolls her eyes at music-industry materialism…

Actually, hold up. Let me clarify something.

Lorde is overrated but not racist.

There was a big internet thing recently about whether “Royals” is secretly or not-so-secretly racist because it dismisses elements of culture that are coded as black. But while several of the images in “Royals” seem to be derived from hip-hop videos, the idea that no one is allowed to mildly bag on perceptions of hip-hop culture strikes me as enormously ridiculous. Not least because hip-hop covers a far broader spectrum of songs and styles than what Lorde describes — fair to say that when she says “every song’s like,” she’s referring to a rhetorical “every” song on Top 40 radio, not “every” song in hip-hop, which is not mentioned in her lyrics.

Of course, a lot of “every” song popular in 2014 does have some kind of hip-hop influence — which is exactly why trying to parse out some racism “Royals” seems like a fool’s errand. That complaint misses how mainstream the culture the song describes actually is. It makes sense that Lorde, as a teenager, focuses on that kind (that is to say, hip-hop-influenced) materialism and consumption, rather than, say, Old White Male materialism and consumption.

In fact, despite the rap-video imagery in the lyrics, a lot of what she’s singing about also recalls the flood of the we-invincible-cause-we-drunk party anthems of the last few years — songs that have further mainstreamized a sensibility that might have once been more identified with a particular strain of pop hip-hop, but is now pretty much pop culture at large, especially in the music industry. I get that these trends are often most exploited and encouraged by an old-white-male offensive line up at the executive level, but does this make any artist or any song further down the food chain automatically above reproach? You could call Lorde a hypocrite for appropriating hip-hop-lite beats in a song that seems to knock hip-hop culture, or you could admit that it is, in fact, OK to say that 200 songs about swigging Cristal are not necessarily that interesting without throwing the artist babies out with the shitty music bathwater. Look, a lot of mainstream music made by black people fucking sucks as bad as a lot of mainstream music made by white people. It’s part of the universal law of music suckage.

Anyway, back to:

Lorde’s songs pretty much all sound the same.

Everyone loves “Royals” for the way Lorde rolls her eyes at music-industry materialism. On her album, a few tracks after “Royals,” in which we learn that she’s “not proud of her address,” “we’ll never be royals,” and that she’s not interested in what “every song’s like,” there’s a song called “Team,” in which we learn that Lorde and her crew “live in cities you’ll never seen on screen, not very pretty but we show them how to run free,” and that she’s “kinda over gettin’ told to throw my hands up in the air.”

I, on the other hand, am kinda gettin’ over what an iconoclast Lorde is and now wondering if maybe she is a little racist. (Still probably not, but still.)

Even on the songs that don’t repeat themselves lyrically, there’s a very clear sound on Pure Heroine that gets very clearly exhausted. The album’s basic formula, moody but accessible beats plus Lorde’s voice, is reasonably appealing but even after a mere ten tracks, it feels a bit like an extended remix of itself. Basically, she sounds like a sassier Lana del Rey, but less self-consciously lush and “cinematic.” As it happens, this makes her somewhat more tolerable than Lana del Rey (GATSBY EXCEPTION INVOKED, by the way). But it does not make her a major sonic adventure. I don’t know a lot about production, but the Postal Service Lite beats on this record don’t seem like the height of electrosophistication to me. “World Alone” is particularly Postal Service-y in its vocal melody and multiple beat kick-ins. And it’s easily one of the best tracks on the record. I also like the way she uses the phrase “like yeah” in “Tennis Courts” because I’m always in favor of people using that phrase, but when she sings “it’s a new art form/showing people how little we care,” I don’t even think I’m learning about how today’s seventeen-year-olds think, because millennials seem, if anything, to care a lot, sometimes about good things and sometimes about bad things. Showing how little we care, on the other hand… isn’t that back in Gen-X territory again?

(I couldn’t tell you; I’m a Third-Greatest.)

I’m not sure if Lorde’s rediscovery of Gen-X and Postal Service beats is more or less impressive considering that…

Lorde is a music-biz lifer.

Lorde RS

Here is a quote from the Rolling Stone cover story on Lorde:

“I think my whole career can be boiled down to one word I always say in meetings: strength.”

Feminists, rejoice! Lorde says the word “strength” at meetings! I wonder if these meetings literally begin with Lorde sitting down at a big conference table and just announcing: “Strength.” And then the marketing execs have to go from there? Or does she follow it up with other key words that she only sometimes says in meetings, such as: “robust.” Or: “disruptors.” Or: “low-hanging fruit.”

I don’t mean to bag on Lorde for taking meetings. But it is funny just how little difference there is between her career arc and, say, Katy Perry’s or Justin Bieber’s.

The Rolling Stone article goes into matter-of-fact detail about how Lorde won a school singing contest with a classmate, the classmate’s father sent their recordings around, and Lorde’s voice caught the attention of the head of A&R at Universal Music New Zealand. Her development deal “went nowhere” after three years. As Rolling Stone dramatically phrases it: “The idea of a music career could have floated away.” (NO, I imagine we are meant to cry out. LET NO IDEA OF A CAREER FLOAT AWAY!) But in a turn the magazine terms “fortuitous” but seems more like “what happens when you have a development deal with a major label,” a local manager heard Lorde and offered her his songwriter client as a collaborator. Then they made some songs that the label wasn’t crazy about, but despite the label’s disinterest they took it to the internet, guerilla-style, which is much easier to do when you are guerilla-style disseminating professionally written and produced songs with major-label backing.

If you haven’t done the math yet, this means that crazy from-nowhere success Lorde has been doing this since she was twelve years old. This makes her slightly more of a novice than Miley Cyrus. Slightly.

That’s not to say we should get hung up questions of authenticity. Miley strikes me as enormously mannered and self-conscious, from the Lady Gaga school of explaining why what you’re doing is subversive and interesting, but I still like “Wrecking Ball.”  But I think pretty much everyone would agree that Lorde is hyped as the real deal because of her age and hairdo and ability to think in complete sentences. If we’re talking about music, she has about as much good material as Miley or Katy Perry or anyone else with one or two good songs and a lot of stuff that sounds like those other songs but not as good.

In other words: “Royals” is a pretty good song but it’s nothing you couldn’t say at meetings.

Major Cultural Event: Vampire Academy (2014)

Before I talk about Vampire Academy, let me get some stuff out of the way:

Vampire Academy is about an academy for vampires so obviously during the movie you wonder if Vampire Academy has rival schools that play them in sports and stuff, and think of additional schools such as:

Mummy College

International School of Werewolf Studies

Frankenstein Country Day

The Gill-Man Institute of Technology

The Mortal Instruments: Campus of Bones

Unicorniversity

But apart from that train of thought, I went into Vampire Academy ready and willing to take it as seriously as I needed to take it. Most of the movie, as it turns out, is an exploration of how seriously you should be taking Vampire Academy and, by extension, the life you’ve lead that resulted in you sitting in a movie theater on a Monday night watching Vampire Academy.

The presence of who are now billed, apparently, as the Waters Brothers, suggests that one should take the movie itself seriously (because a team-up of the guy who wrote Heathers and his brother who directed Mean Girls seems so natural that it also seems like some kind of a trick) while allowing the movie itself to not take it too seriously (because Heathers and Mean Girls are both very funny movies that puncture high school melodrama with non-vampire fangs). Daniel Waters and Mark Waters are ideally equipped to make a movie that casually and charmingly tear down the romantic dopiness of the Twilight series and replace it with snappier expressions of adolescent angst.

If they ever go back and make a movie about smart-mouthed vampire teenagers at a boarding school, I still think that could happen.

But Vampire Academy is not so much a movie about smart-mouthed vampire teenagers at a boarding school as it is a budget would-be franchise-starter based on a series of popular YA novels. So yes, some of the vampires are smart-mouthed and some of them are teenagers and there is a boarding school involved, but those easily understandable descriptions are too meager for the complex, multi-generational, heavily detailed and completely fucking pointless mythology that this movie is built around.

Here is a little tip for screenwriters and YA writers and pretty much anyone putting pen to paper about teenagers and magic, years too late to save Beautiful Creatures or The Mortal Instruments or any other movie I’ve seen in the past year-plus that chokes on mythology and then turns blue and purple on screen as the mythology stays lodged the throat of its corpse:

Mythology is not cinematic.

It sounds cinematic, I know! Mythology! Maybe you picture Greek Gods or centaurs or minotaurs or Middle Earth when you hear the word! But mythology is not just the fun of centaurs and/or minotaurs. Mythology, if it is made into a crucial component of your movie, is actually just a form of exposition, or at least requires a fair amount of it. And exposition is usually non-visual information. And movies, at least in theory, are a visual medium. So while mythology may make your movie sound grand and epic, it may actually weigh your movie down with information about something that is so clearly made up that no one really needs additional information about it.

Of course, as with mythology, there are ways to cleverly work exposition into your movie. I to this day cannot believe that people have a problem with Ellen Page’s character in Inception, supposedly because she exists to have the rules of the Inceptionverse explained to her and to ask questions on behalf of the audience. But the thing is, Ellen Page’s character asks way smarter questions than I would ask about this stuff, and is also a character with thoughts and opinions, and who moves the story along quite handily. She is the proverbial new kid being shown around the cafeteria on the first day of school. Hey! Speaking of that: Mean Girls! Mark Waters directed a movie that used voiceover, exposition, and a high school version of mythology (more like anthro, I guess, but still) very, very well.

Vampire Academy goes as far as to actually tee up a cafeteria-intro scene and call attention to it, and then, I guess because Daniel Waters imagines he is poking at convention here, then doesn’t actually have that scene where we meet a bunch of Vampire Academy students, organized by lunch table. I guess he thought that would be too cliché, or beside the point, or maybe there is so much goddamned mythology in this movie that there is no room for anything else that takes up more than half a minute. It engages in a lot of “world-building” while ignoring just how much world-building the title has already done: it’s a school for vampires! Got it! Done! But this movie would rather explain the hierarchal process by which Vampire Academy administration happens to be formed than, you know, have anything to do with vampires going to boarding school.

Here’s what I was able to glean: there are three types of vampires at and around this academy, except one kind aren’t really vampires. There are the bad vampires, who are presumably not welcome to matriculate, who want to kill the pretty good royal vampires (who don’t kill humans, at least as far as we can see), and the non-vampires who protect said royal vampires. This movie is about Rose (Zoey Deutch), a non-vampire protector who has bonded with pretty good vampire Lissa (Lucy Fry). So a semi-reverse-slayer, basically. Rose can sometimes see what Lissa sees, a power that allows her to both better protect her and absorb even more exposition, in part concerning a mystery about who is trying to intimidate and/or kill Lissa and/or Rose. There are also, by my rough estimate, forty to fifty boys in the movie, subject of various crushes and entanglements that the movie finds far less interesting than the (again, by my rough estimate) one thousand different types of royal vampire families who blah blah blah blah arrrrgggghhhh. There’s one who looks like a lil’ Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, one who got my attention by also being named Jesse (SUCH a hot name right now), and then Rose naturally, by which I mean creepily, falls for the one who’s actually an adult man. In general, the I-hate-high-school backstabbing and gossiping and hooking up feels like an afterthought as Important Mythology Characters jostle for screentime with characters who might actually be funny or affecting. The gossip in Vampire Academy conceals itself within the elaborate mythology, which could be a sly joke if the delivery was remotely interesting.

Vampire Academy 2

The most disappointing thing about Vampire Academy (the movie, not the higher-ed institution) is that Zoey Deutch, who I’d never really heard of before, is quite good in it. She’s the one who displays the most frequent signs of Daniel Waters wiseassery; at least fifty percent, if not closer to seventy percent, of her wisecracks don’t really land, but they come a lot closer to landing than they should because there’s something appealingly brusque and no-nonsense about Deutch’s delivery. I may have mentioned Ellen Page earlier because Deutch has a similar fast-talking vibe, and she looks like Page crossed with Rose Byrne. Her performance and character in this particular mythology-flooded enterprise left me with the odd sensation of thinking, boy, I’d like to watch a whole movie about her instead — during a movie where she is, in fact, the main character.

So Vampire Academy isn’t painful to watch, mainly because of Deutch and the stray good lines Daniel Waters feeds her and a lucky few. But it plays uncomfortably like a pilot for a show that gets better seven or eight episodes in, shortly before its cancellation. It also gives the distinct impression that I could read Vampire Academy books all day every day and still not learn a goddamned thing about Vampire Math, Vampire Art, or Vampire Biology. I guess it’s off to Vampire Summer School for me. In related news, be sure to check out SportsAlcohol.com Presents: Vampire Summer School, coming to an e-reader just as soon as we can make up a bunch of stupid backstory.

Mexican Roulette

In addition to writing about I, Frankenstein, I also sometimes write fiction. I’ve been working on a story recently that involves a potato gun. You might say that I am somewhat obsessed with potato guns despite little experience with them in real life. For example: years ago I wrote this extremely short story that also involves a potato gun. Now that I’ve written a second story with a potato gun, I have to either make a potato gun-themed short story collection, or maybe set this other piece aside. Or: maybe I set it free, and nothing says setting free like SportsAlcohol.com. It was either this or try to discreetly slip it into a literature textbook and get fired. Enjoy?

MEXICAN ROULETTE

Dawson, Pete, and Sophie are planning a trip to Mexico. They go over the checklist.  It’s in Sophie’s handwriting, which looks sort of like normal girl handwriting, soft and round, but messier, like if a boy possessed her hand.  Sophie is recording secretary. Sophie keeps things civil by telling people to shut up.

“Blankets.  Matches.  Juice boxes—apple.  Pillows.” Sophie reads, and Pete and Dawson nod in unison several times, until Pete looks at Dawson’s nods and stops.

“A box of change for tolls.  One BB gun.”

They are in Dawson’s van. It used to be a minivan, but he took the back seats out to make room for the stuff on the list.  It’s summer and it’s hot inside the van, but Dawson never wears shorts. Sophie would say it is because he never figured out how to look dignified in them (even though nobody has). Pete would say it is because he is an asshole. Dawson would say that he doesn’t have any shorts.

“Batteries.  Photographic film.  Marshmallows.  BBs.”

“Hold up,” says Dawson.  “BBs?”

“For the BB gun,” says Sophie.  Pete looks at the floor.

“He’s allowed to load the BB gun?”

Pete looks up. “Of course I am! BBs are on the list!”

“True,” says Sophie.

“If I thought we were gonna let him have BBs, I never would have agreed to buy that BB gun,” says Dawson.

“It was implied,” says Pete. “So I added them.”

“You doctored it!  You added BBs without my approval!”

“Shut up, Dawson.  I’ll cross them off,” says Sophie.

“Don’t cross it off.  What am I supposed to do with a BB gun and no BBs?” says Pete.

“You should’ve gone for the potato gun,” says Sophie.  “I told you.”

“No,” says Dawson.  “No way would I supply him with potatoes.”

“I would’ve brought potatoes from home.”

“You don’t have any potatoes from home.”

“Well I know where I could get some.”

“Even now, without a potato gun, potatoes aren’t on the list.  Do you think I’d put them on the list if you had a potato gun?”

“Enough!” says Sophie.  “Pete, do you have a potato gun?”

“No.”

“Do you even know where to get one?”

“Not exactly.”

“Dawson, do you even know what a potato gun looks like?”

“I saw one once.”

“Dawson, do you know?”

“No.”

“Then let’s shut up and move on.”

“If I ever get a potato gun, Dawson, I’m coming for you.”

The next night, Pete sneaks into Dawson’s bedroom with a potato gun.  This sounds impressive until you consider that Pete and Dawson live in the same apartment.  Then it sounds very simple, until you consider that Pete went outside and came back in through Dawson’s bedroom window.

“AHHHHHH – hey, is that a potato gun?” says Dawson.

“You’re goddamn right,” says Pete, immediately forgetting to use his menacing whisper.

“And it’s loaded with potatoes?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, Jesus. I’m pretty impressed.”

“Honestly, you didn’t think I could find potatoes?”

“I figured you’d spend most of your energy not being able to find a potato gun,” says Dawson.

“You figured wrong,” says Pete.

“Why did you just start whispering?” says Dawson. “Anyway, can I go back to bed now?”

“So I can bring it?”

“No,” says Dawson.

“Okay then,” says Pete. He points the potato gun at Dawson’s head. “We’re gonna play a little Idaho roulette,” says Pete.

“I don’t really see how it’s roulette,” says Dawson, “since there’s no way to partially load a potato gun. So I’m going to get it in the head no matter what, unless it jams. And knowing you, you didn’t buy a cheap potato gun. You probably cashed in a savings bond you had since you were a baby or something to get yourself the best potato gun in the catalog.”

“Website.”

“Plus shipping,” says Dawson.

“I’m a man of taste,” says Pete.
The next day, Dawson comes home from the store with bread and a flower for Sophie and sees Pete on the steps of their building with two potato guns at his sides.

“So when I told you that you couldn’t bring a potato gun,” says Dawson, “you decided to ask if you could bring two?”

“I found a way to do roulette with potato guns,” says Pete. “I have two.  One is loaded.  One isn’t.  Get the picture?”

“I get a picture,” says Dawson. “But I don’t exactly see where roulette comes in.”

“I’ll juggle the guns around and shoot you in the head with one of them.”

“But that’s not really roulette.  I’ve got a fifty-fifty shot of getting mashed in the head, and that’s assuming you don’t maintain some knowledge, subliminal or otherwise, of which gun is loaded.  I’m guessing a loaded potato gun is significantly heavier than an unloaded one.”

“Fuck it,” says Pete. “Now I’m just going to shoot you.”

Dawson’s van pulls up to the curb, driven by Sophie.  Even though they’re already looking straight at her, she leans on the horn.

“Hey boys,” she says, and honks it again.

Dawson calls over to her.  “Sophie, do you have that Super Soaker full of mustard?”

Sophie brandishes it.

“Son of a bitch,” says Pete.  “This always happens.”

“The mustard gun thing always happens?” she says to Dawson. “Were there others before me?”

“Since forever,” says Pete. “He’s taller, for one thing.  It pretty much went from there.”

Sophie looks at Dawson, and apologizes with her eyes. She open fires mustard on the crowd of two. She shows no mercy.  She gets it in Dawson’s hair. She staves off adulthood for another week.

This is the story that Dawson and Sophie tell on their wedding day six years later, about their trip to Mexico, when they first admitted to falling in love.  They get about halfway through it before Pete charges in with roman candles blazing and wrecks two centerpieces.  As Dawson’s two biggest cousins drag him away, Pete gives the first part of a magnificent toast, trailing off. Sophie takes Dawson’s hand. They look around the room, heads turning in sync, and for a moment everyone else is a stranger.

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Major Cultural Event: I, Frankenstein (2014)

At one point in I, Frankenstein, someone in the movie reassures someone else: “This is real — all of it,” which I think really means “this is real — even the bullshit about gargoyles, swear to god.”

Let me back up. There are only four Underworld movies. You may have thought there were either one or infinity Underworld movies, but that number stands at a measly four. What’s more, the Underworld movies only involve vampires and werewolves in their dense mythology dedicated to explaining why vampires would deign to shoot guns at werewolves and, to a much lesser extent, defy the gun-shooting dictum to fuck werewolves. The Underworld movies try their best to be inclusive (vampires, werewolves, guns), but leave out monsters such as: mummies; zombies; demons; Twilights; gill-people; fifty-foot women; ghosts; Bigfoots; and Frankensteins.

So what if there was a movie about an army of Frankensteins? That is the plot of I, Frankenstein. It may not seem like this at first because “I” is a singular and also because it’s not really mentioned in the movie until around the halfway point, and not really acted upon until maybe the three-quarters mark. But that is because the first three-quarters of the movie are exposition and then only the last one-quarter is plot. I, Frankenstein has a lot of what we who pretend we are in the business call “world-building.” When you world-build, you use computers to construct vast fantastical places that look somewhat like soundstages.

This is the world Frankenstein, who as many people in the movie point out is actually Frankenstein’s Monster, and who is also called Adam after that lackluster Buffy villain, enters into after the events of the Mary Shelley novel Frankenstein. These events are recounted in the space of forty-five languorous seconds at the beginning of this movie before getting down to the real business: adapting a sham graphic novel written for the purpose of being adapted into a screenplay that rips off Underworld. After that boring Shelley stuff is over, Adam is confronted by demons, who covet his secrets to corpse resurrection, and living, shapeshifting gargoyles, who covet stopping demons from killing shit. Both sides want him to join their war, but Adam Frankenstein needs to go his own way, which Fleetwood Mac never mentioned means living several hundred years as a Jack Reacher-like hobo, slinking around in the shadows, traveling via public-ish transportation, and washing a single set of clothes in whatever sinks he can find.

The conclusion this movie has reached is that because the monster was resurrected by unnatural means, he is basically invincible (like Jack Reacher), cannot be killed by normal means (like Jack Reacher), and not particularly psyched about that (like the non-Cruise vampire from Interview with the Vampire). I’m not sure why the half-rotted flesh used to construct this pitiful creature looks so smooth; I guess it’s due to Victor Frankenstein’s previously unsung stitchwork, which also results in scars that don’t disappear, but do rise and fall, and possibly shift around on his face, although he never says “I have scars?!” a la an earlier film in this series, Young Frankenstein.

Have I mentioned that Frankenstein’s monster is handsome in this version? (Or at least Aaron Eckhart handsome.) And why shouldn’t he be, motherfucker? Sexy vampires have had their day. The era of sexy Frankensteins begins now, or whenever Aaron Eckhart puts his back into it a little more, if you know what I mean (I don’t know what I mean). Also, I really like the idea of Frankenstein’s monster roaming the Earth following the events of the Mary Shelley novel and/or Kenneth Branagh movie. I especially like the idea that maybe at some point he becomes the mysterious new sheriff of a small town.

Anyway, though he doesn’t become sheriff onscreen in this movie, Adam Frankenstein eventually turns up in an unnamed city that must be somewhere in the same country as Underworld; at very least, I’m certain they take place on the same continent, a Europe-like landmass known as Eurotrash. This city also happens to be the world headquarters of the company headed by the demon prince played by Bill Nighy. If you’re making a movie like this, you have to include Bill Nighy (who I hope his friends have nicknamed Billy Nigh at some point). He will totally treat it like it’s a real job and make the movie feel substantially wittier than it actually is. He has been training for this his whole life by appearing in Richard Curtis movies that are not actually funny. Nighy employs a couple of legit scientists who never ask why they’re supposed to be studying suspiciously Frankensteinian reanimation science, I assume because they are trying to avoid spoilers.

Nighy sends out demons to kill humans and/or gargoyles, who also have some kind of headquarters in this town. As someone who is very interested in mythology built around shapeshifting gargoyles, I found the treatment of gargoyles in I, Frankenstein pretty confusing. The gargoyles sometimes take human form and discuss things while walking through doorways, a technique the Underworld people must have explained makes them look busy, and they do all of this in buildings lined with gargoyles. Gargoyles living in buildings lined with gargoyles: does this mean that when they go to sleep, the buildings are actually empty? Are the prime spots in this building on the outside, or the inside? I, Frankenstein is good at showing gargoyles swooping around and grabbing demons and killing them, but disappointingly mum about matters such as gargoyle real estate or gargoyle job descriptions. Like for another example, at one point, a leader gargoyle instructs another gargoyle to make sure there are plenty of gargoyles posted on all nearby buildings to keep watch over the plot of the movie. This for me raised many questions about what the gargoyles are otherwise doing. It seems like saying, hey, make sure there are plenty of humans sitting on their couches tonight.

Another weird thing about the gargoyles in this movie is that while the gargoyles and demons fight and kill each other, they can all see each other ascending to heaven (gargoyles are basically semi-angels) or descending into hell (that’s the demons), which hardly seems fair, in fact seems kind of like a major morale-suck if you’re on the side that descends into hell. When you kill a gargoyle and it just ascends majestically to heaven, possibly to be awarded seventy virgin gargoyles because I don’t know how this gargoyle-inclusive religion works,  I can imagine that might set off an existential crisis about the meaning of gargoyle-demon warfare.

I, Scientist

Then again, presumably you know the score with gargoyle-killing when you become a demon (however you become a demon). This does not explain what goes through the heads of the two normal human scientists (one hot lady, one “other”) when every day they report to work in a gigantic complex where they appear to be the only two non-security employees, and basically looks like it should have a giant DEMONCO sign out front. The DEMONCO science room is one of my favorite parts of the movie, even though it leaves me hanging about the fate of the successfully reanimated giant rat they use as a test subject. When the scientists try to reanimate something (which they aren’t able to really do correctly until they read the MacGuffin Frankenstein Book o’ Resurrection), their screens totally have a reanimation status bar readout that says stuff like “Reanimation 2%” (it takes a super long time to reanimate something). This raises questions — this movie raises many questions; it should include them after the credits, like those discussion sections they sometimes append to paperback editions of popular novels — about what, say, a 40% reanimated corpse is like. Is that like, the limbs do stuff but the rest of the body isn’t into it?

I just realized I may be recapping I, Frankenstein more than assessing its quality. Its quality should probably be discussed in Screen Gems terms. Though it comes from an Underworld writer and is obviously patterned after that series, I, Frankenstein more closely resembles other Screen Gems specials like Legion or Priest in the way it’s always swarming with sometimes-winged CG creatures. In fact, it’s extremely confusing that Paul Bettany does not appear a single time in I, Frankenstein. Bettany is a little more convincing at being intense during a storm of nonsense than Aaron Eckhart, who does look pissed off, but in that way where you can’t tell if Adam Frankenstein is pissed off about getting jerked around by gargoyles and demons and only having one hoodie, or if Aaron Eckhart is pissed off that he was Harvey Dent in the biggest Batman movie ever but now winds up with Paul Bettany’s non-Jennifer Connelly leftovers.

But I like the designs of the demons and gargoyles, and of some of the buildings, and I like the general level of Frankenstein-related glass-smashing though I feel that more of the CGI stained glass should have CGI-smashed; that feels like a missed opportunity. Also, there should have been a part where a gargoyle turns against the other gargoyles and the gargoyles have to fight each other. This admittedly does not have much to do with Frankenstein’s monster but remember, in my ideal post-Frankenstein story he’s off being the sheriff of a small town. There could still be gargoyles in that version, and some glass-smashing.

Also, this movie doesn’t have a secret ending; I checked. Come to think of it, it barely has a public ending. They must be saving that for the sequel.