All posts by Jesse

TRACK MARKS: “Love U Forever” by Jenny Lewis

I get impatient with songs about how things are going great. So many sad, ambivalent, or complex songs already use upbeat melodies or a fast pace to make themselves sound more rousing than they would be based only on lyrical content that so many fully upbeat songs — like, say, Jimmy Eat World’s “The Middle,” if one wanted to continue picking on a catchy and harmless decade-only song that one might still kind of loathe — sound like empty overkill. It takes a deceptive amount of skill to write a song about something happy that doesn’t sound kind of insufferable or empty-headed. That goes double if the happy thing is something beyond the heedless rush of love or triumph that informs say, early Beatles songs, or Japandroids. That goes triple, at least sometimes, if an artist used to sing about heavy-duty angst, then got happier as he or she aged, and wants us all to know how serene, centered, and balanced his or her life is now.

Jenny Lewis used to sing about heavy-duty angst, with Rilo Kiley and on her solo records. She still does, on her latest and possibly greatest record, The Voyager. But her songs have taken on a rueful, sometimes slightly detached quality that in no way diminishes their storytelling emotional pull. She also manages to let some light in, both musically and, on “Love U Forever,” lyrically.

“Love U Forever” is a song about being in love. Even the title is spelled out something like a yearbook inscription. In the verses of the song, Lewis sings about stuff that might sound, if not inane, perhaps not material rich in poetic potential: easily identifiable, relatable stuff like getting together with her girlfriends, drinking burgundy wine, getting “a little high” and reminiscing.

Beyond a bouncy intro guitar riff that promises impending rollicking, what makes this song work so surprisingly well are the nuances J-Lew brings to her narrator’s happiness. At the end of her list of things to do, she keeps adding: “I can’t believe I’m getting married in May” — and we might assume her disbelief is wistful, but it’s hard to say for sure. Then, in the chorus: “I could love you forever.” The key word here is could. This is in no way a break-up song; it’s not (as far as I can tell) about the narrator realizing she’s about to make a huge mistake or leaving her intended at the altar, or wanting to change him just a little bit. She gives no directives for how “could” might become “will.” But there is a sweet tentativeness in turning her love hypothetical. The narrator is engaged to be married, and she’s still saying: this could be it. The final verse adds even more ambiguity, observing: “But there are some things money cannot say, like the feeling of hell in a hallway.” So many love songs sound like fantasy; “Love U Forever” sounds like the act of fantasizing.

If it sounds like I’m saying this upbeat love song is great because it’s secretly not all that upbeat, well, I might be kinda-sorta saying that. I’m also saying, though, that this upbeat love song is great because it finds notes and subtleties beyond YES! and YAY! It’s not vital that Lewis express doubt or ambiguity so much as it is that she make this experience sound more specific than just a rush of excitement over seeing old friends and talking about a wedding. It reminds me of Liz Phair’s “What Makes You Happy,” which also approaches being in love from such a specific angle, with such a clear authorial voice, that it makes some old sentiments seem brand new. That’s what listening to Lewis is like these days: hearing an old, familiar friend rephrase and reposition herself as she continues to grow up.

Robin Williams Is My Favorite Actor in 1992

Robin Williams is my favorite actor. It is 1992.

Before this, my favorite actor is Rick Moranis. Before that, Christopher Lloyd. How I determine my favorite actor is: I count up the number of my favorite movies that he appears in. A metric perfect in its simplicity and utter ineptitude.

But by this metric, Robin Williams is doing something right, having starred in The Fisher King and then Hook, which I cannot yet find any fault with except possibly the Lost Boys who remind me of Ninja Turtles, and then doing the voice of the Genie in Aladdin, which is even better than when he does the voice of the bat in FernGully: The Last Rainforest.

But Robin Williams is not winning a number game. I’ve only just become aware of him — at least compared to Christopher Lloyd, who I have been aware of since at least 1988.
Continue reading Robin Williams Is My Favorite Actor in 1992

How to Buy an Album in 2014

If you’ll permit me the briefest interlude of conservatism: it used to be so much easier.

Buying new album releases, I mean. Which isn’t just a regressive statement; it’s a totally counterintuitive one. I could literally buy or, for that matter, listen to for free, almost any album that I would personally have any interest in owning or hearing (this probably isn’t true for a small population of music obsessives, and may not even be one hundred percent true for me, but I can’t think of any true rarities that I’m jonesing to hear and definitely cannot). But certain aspects of buying albums pre-internet that had a certain clarity.

First: the idea that one would buy any album at all, let alone new album releases the day they come out. If you are a person under forty, you almost certainly read the above sentences and either (a.) thought, who even buys albums anymore; (b.) thought, I can’t remember the last time I bought an album; or (c.) are not wholly uninterested in buying albums but can picture someone you know who would read those same sentences and say (a.) or (b.).

A few words about (a.) and (b.): I’m sorry, but generally those are annoying things to say or think, unless you have truly maintained minimal interest in music for your entire life, in which case, hey, I get it, I don’t care about video games. But rolling your eyes at buying albums does not automatically make you au courant. Or if it does, you could be more au courant by having opinions about music itself, not how it is consumed or made.
Continue reading How to Buy an Album in 2014

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)

Here is my take on Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Please feel free to weigh in with your thoughts — pros, cons, yays, nays, new series rankings, whatever — in the comments section. In other words: have at it, nerds.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Rupert Wyatt’s smart and involving revival of the long-dormant Planet of the Apes franchise, ended on such a note of triumph that it was easy for both casual and committed fans the series to forget how uncharacteristic this was for an Apes movie. Rise had its moments of sadness and loss, of course, both human and animal, and its end-credit map of how simian flu spread across the globe offered foreboding for the next chapter. But its climactic sequences of Apes running wild approximated a bigger, more fun version of the violent outbreak that closed Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, its closest relative in the previous series. The apes weren’t out to kill all humans; they just caused some beautifully shot mayhem in the name of ape freedom. Their endgame was a forest settlement to call their own; the destruction (mostly non-lethal) was just collateral damage.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes keeps the collateral damage, loses the triumph — which makes it a clear successor to the original films.

Continue reading Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)

Ejected from the Planet of the Apes

Rob and I were ejected from the Planet of the Apes (the movie, not the planet) in 2001. We got a chat going to explain what happened.

ROB
When was the last time we IM’d each other?

JESSE
Probably sometime after we saw Planet of the Apes 2001 but also way before Rise of the Planet of the Apes came out in 2011.

ROB
Only a decade between the two? It felt like a lifetime

JESSE
Right? A lot of these franchises get rebooted or whatever way too fast, but we straight up got into long-term relationships and got married in the lapse between Apes movies.

ROB
Sabrina and I had been dating a few months. But I don’t know if she had yet to meet my parents when we first attempted to see the Tim Burton Planet of the Apes.

JESSE
I had met Marisa the spring before at school and we were chatting online a lot that summer. In fact I think her friends went to go see it the same night that we tried and I’m sure I emailed or IMed her about our misadventure.

ROB
Oh you guys were totes in touch, but you hadn’t sealed the deal yet

MARISA
So this is a Google Hangout?

ROB
I don’t know if this counts as a real Google hangout because it’s text only Google hangouts are an insidious plot to get unsuspecting people to sign up for Google+

JESSE
First: background by way of what I’ve been listening to on a loop for the past 24 hours and am listening to RIGHT NOW: I got my cassette-to-computer device working and ripped the audio of Planet of the Tapes, the mix tape I made for the drive to Crossgates Mall to see Planet of the Apes (2001). At least the intro will be available as a download with the transcript of this conversation.

ROB
Ugh, I prepped for this by listening to the Apes jams bonus tracks on Severe Tire Damage. I learned nothing.

JESSE
But SO DID I, because those bonus tracks are all over the mix! Weirdly, though I had only seen the 1968 original at the time, the two best They Might Be Giants improv’d Apes songs are in fact my two favorite Planet of the Apes sequels: Escape from the Planet of the Apes and Conquest of the Planet of the Apes.

ROB
“This Ape’s For You” isn’t one of your favorite Apes movies?

JESSE
OK, so to fill in, Rob and I and our buddies did this thing where we made 30-minute tapes for the drive to Saratoga to Crossgates Mall outside of Albany, for the movies we were particularly psyched about.

ROB
Our buddies was usually Jesse, Me, Chris, Jeff, and whatever girl had yet to realize we weren’t that charming.

JESSE
I was trying to remember what the other mixtape-worthy movies of summer 2001 were, and I’m pretty sure it was just Moulin Rouge! and A.I.… which is actually pretty spot-on. But in retrospect, it’s weird that Apes was the only really big blockbuster type thing that got the tape treatment that summer. Which actually makes sense because summer ’01 was a bunch of really uninspired sequels and also Michael Bay’s interpretation of Pearl Harbor.

ROB
It ended up being low key as it was me, you, Chris, and Ofy. But the ape tape is important to the story.
Continue reading Ejected from the Planet of the Apes

Ruth Graham, Not Quite Wrong: Why Liking YA Literature Doesn’t Make It Great

Do you read? Do you also read the internet? If so, you might be aware of an article posted on Slate by Ruth Graham, pegged to Fault in Our Stars mania as a film based on that ultra-popular, mega-beloved John Green young-adult novel was poised to make a killing at the box office (it did, albeit in a more Twilight-y way that some might have expected, given its mostly positive reviews). Graham’s piece discussed the phenomenon of adults reading YA literature, and her argument against it. It was dismissive, maybe even a little haughty, and outfitted with a sensationalist headline (backed up by some actual sensationalist prose) about how adults should be embarrassed to read these kinds of books.

And a part of me agreed with her.

Let me be clear: I do not agree with the idea that anyone should be embarrassed by what they read. Though I don’t use my degree in Library Science (I prefer the Dark Arts of Libraries, but that’s not what the diploma says) often, one thing I did take away from my professors, many of them with experience as school or public librarians, was that reading is reading is reading. It is a net positive, no matter what it is that’s being read. We all have things we read that we could, in different contexts or historical periods, be embarrassed about: comic books, Choose Your Own Adventure, romance novels, Garfield books, Animorphs, Twilight, Slate. There is no reason to be embarrassed by what you read because whatever it is, you have it over on someone who does not read at all.

Strangely, although reading is generally seen as a more worthwhile pursuit than watching things, the stigma attached to watching the “wrong” things seems far smaller, far easier to laugh off. People talk about how they watch those Real Housewives shows all the time. As a movie guy who prides himself on having pretty good taste, I’m not embarrassed to have seen Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever and I’m not even embarrassed to have seen and enjoyed a number of Resident Evil movies. I’m sure some people would be, but I wonder if the general academic/education notion that sitting in front of the TV (or, now, screenamajig) was generally bad for you (save the occasional ingestion of PBS) was in vogue for so long that some are still working through the distinction between bad TV and just TV, in terms of potential embarrassment. I understand that the alleged extremely high quality of television gets a lot of press these days, but I’m speaking in terms of culture-at-large perceptions here, not necessarily of the pop-culture-studies AV Club audience.

In any event: on the matter of embarrassment, regardless of how tongue-in-cheek and/or attention-baiting its use was intended, Graham is incorrect. Friend of and hopefully future contributor to SportsAlcohol.com Jen Vega wrote a very smart piece further dismantling much of Graham’s argument in a thoughtful, measured way. Graham is wrong about a lot.

That said, again:

A part of me agreed with her.
Continue reading Ruth Graham, Not Quite Wrong: Why Liking YA Literature Doesn’t Make It Great

Let’s Talk about X[-Men: Days of Future Past], Baby

So: X-Men Days of Future Past came out. It got some good reviews and made some good money and generally re-affirmed the X-Men as a big franchise for Fox that nonetheless doesn’t have quite the same cross-demographic appeal as an Iron Man or Batman movie (it may, however, become the first X-Men movie to outgross a Spider-Man movie — then again, X-Men: The Last Stand may retroactively gain that title against Amazing Spider-Man 2, too).

In an ideal world, we’d have a post-movie podcast for you, but 2/5 of the SportsAlcohol.com founding editors have been afflicted with a variety of maladies over the past two weeks, and that’s not counting whatever other diseases may be circulating our upstate offices. Our healing factor is decidedly unWolverinelike and I can’t really hear out of my left ear at the moment so any podcast would be like forty percent me going WHAT?! (though if we had done a podcast after X-Men: The Last Stand, that number would have been more like 78%, for different reasons).

What we can offer is a little X-Men discussion forum, so please, by all means, respond to the prompts below or just talk about your unrelated X-Men experience. Spoilers likely abound.

Stray Comments:

–While the movies insist on making Wolverine a major character in most of their stories, this may be the first X-Men movie to really use Wolverine as part of the X-team and without working in his personal issues or feelings of ambiguity toward the idea of X-Men into the center of the story (though his personal issues do loom in the background).

–I think it’s probably safe to say the “Singer is OK but he can’t really direct action” stuff should be put to bed considering the portal-hopping sequence and the Quicksilver sequence. I would have been fine with putting it to bed after X2; on the other hand, I’m sure this will somehow be a chief objection to X-Men: Apocalypse in two years, assuming he gets to make that movie.

–It’s easy to imagine a version of this series that turns Xavier/Charles/Mystique into a Bad YA-style love triangle, so extra props for that being dramatically fertile material both here and in First Class.

–I’ve heard lots of talk of how this movie actually makes the credits stinger from The Wolverine make zero sense, but after talking it out, actually, I think it totally makes sense. When we join the future X-Men in DOFP, Wolverine is fully committed to fighting with them against the Sentinels. So when he’s approached by Professor X and Magneto two years after the events of The Wolverine, they’re recruiting him when the Sentinels are starting to become a threat. This does not explain how Xavier got his body back from where we left him post-credits in X-Men: The Last Stand, but that’s neither here nor there. I’m not saying there aren’t continuity hiccups here and there, but I think the Wolverine thing is actually solid.

Stray Questions:

–Is McAvoy now officially your favorite Professor X? Much love to Patrick Stewart, who I’m pretty sure was the original (and only?) oft-fan-cast actor to actually work out, but McAvoy does a lot of the heavy lifting in this new movie, acting-wise.

–Quicksilver: Everyone’s new favorite X-Man? I never read any comics with him. What’s he like in them and how might he be different in The Avengers 2, which somehow also has the rights to use him?

–By actually doing a time-travel story that changes whether previous movies have happened or not, did the X-Men series actually and possibly accidentally become the most comics-faithful movie series ever?

–Who do you want to see on the team in X-Men: Apocalypse? And what will be credit-teased in that movie? X-Men Origins: Gambit?

–There are now seven X-Men movies. Rank ’em out!

Every Adam Sandler Comedy, Ranked

Adam Sandler has never been a critical darling. This information is practically a cliché; even the movies now regarded as his early, funny ones didn’t exactly receive glowing notices during their original runs, and as the audience that enjoyed his early comedies aged into possible critical-establishment roles, they, too, came to lament the low quality of his vehicles. As a former fifteen-year-old, I think I can attest that this isn’t just grumpiness or nostalgia setting in: I dutifully see Adam Sandler comedies not because they’re usually good, but because they can be good, and I want them to be good. Regardless of what we pointy-headed types may look at as diminished returns, Sandler has remained a popular movie star (in his comedies, at least) for close to twenty years by this point. He may not have hit the same box office or critical highs as fellow SNL players turned movie stars like Will Ferrell or Mike Myers, but in terms of pure numbers, he’s probably the most financially successful (depending on how you count Eddie Murphy’s more erratic mix of massive hits and huge flops).

Though they do vary in quality, it’s his consistency that has come to define his career. The sheer uniformity of his output remains almost unmatched: the vast majority of movies starring Adam Sandler come from his Happy Madison production company, with multiple writing, directing, and/or producing credits from Sandler’s usual gang of buddies, associates, and hangers-on (for these purposes, movies made with Sandler’s usual screenwriters, producers, and/or directors before the official creation of the Happy Madison shingle count towards that total).

This includes the twenty-one movies that I’ve fudged into a top (or bottom) twenty below. This list does not include the more serious movies he has made for other people every two to four years (Punch-Drunk Love; Spanglish; Reign Over Me; Funny People); his voiceover work in Hotel Transylvania (borderline, because it features Sandler’s buddies in supporting roles and a co-writing credit from Robert Smigel, but is also very much of the Sony Animation house style and presumably would have been made without Sandler’s participation); or his sole action-comedy, Bulletproof. Sandler also did supporting roles in a couple of unsuccessful comedies in 1994: Airheads and Mixed Nuts. I have seen them both; let’s leave it at that.

For each Official Adam Sandler Comedy, I’ve included notes on which of Sandler’s team of SNL writers (most often Tim Herlihy; sometimes Fred Wolf, Robert Smigel, or Steve Koren) and journeyman directors (Dennis Dugan, Frank Coraci, Peter Segal, Steve Brill) get credit, along with counts of how many SNL performers he manages to hire. I have not included Allen Covert, Peter Dante, or Jonathan Loughran in these counts; just assume that all of them are in all of these movies and that Covert produces most of them, even if that’s not literally true. I’m also avoiding doing a Nick Swardson tally. He’s been in eight of these. It feels like more. Finally, I’ve noted Sandler’s myriad love interests, not only because they represent a surprisingly and weirdly diverse cross-section of name actresses from the past few decades, but also because it’s worth noting how many of them are significantly younger than he is, even (especially) when he’s playing a total man-child.

Sandler’s consistency makes the task of ranking his films perhaps even more fruitless than the usual list-making; both his best and his worst can be considered toss-ups, especially when you subtract the easy outs of Punch-Drunk Love and Funny People, which are the two best movies he’s actually appeared in. But closer study does reveal not just the way Sandler repeats himself, but the way his repetitions accommodate subtle shifts, occasional jumps in quality or particularly ill-advised detours. (Longer essays or reviews I’ve written about some of these films are linked to their titles, when available.)

Herewith, your intro to those Adam Sandler studies.
Continue reading Every Adam Sandler Comedy, Ranked

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.
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