Halt and Catch Fire Reaction, “Tonya and Nancy”: Folk Death

Halt and Catch Fire is an interesting way to take the temperature of our current television climate. It is a very, very good show, with all of the hallmarks of a prestige cable drama, and yet it’s nobody’s favorite. Still, we’ve been covering Halt and Catch Fire since the first season, and Marisa has always found something about it that spoke to her personally, so she decided to write about the individual episodes as it heads into its final stretch. Read her reaction to the first three episodes here

Last time, I talked about how impressed I was with Halt and Catch Fire‘s ability to play with your expectations, setting up a Big Conflict, then pushing it off to the side in favor of something else. The title of this episode, “Tonya and Nancy,” promises much. Yet the big event that’s referenced barely makes a blip on the characters’ lives: Joanie actively tries to not watch the Olympics, while Joe and Gordon plan to view it at a small party that gets eclipsed by Cameron’s dramatic re-entrance into civilized society. (Hopefully Gordon and Anna Chlumsky’s Katie continue to watch, because I am HERE for that relationship, especially now that we know how bad at pool Gordon is. Although the series currently takes place the year of My Girl 2, which gives me weird, meta-concerns where I wonder if Katie knows about the My Girl movies. ) Tanya (Sasha Morfaw), Donna’s recently promoted employee, laments over a sushi lunch that her name will forever be entwined someone named Gillooly.

Continue reading Halt and Catch Fire Reaction, “Tonya and Nancy”: Folk Death

Halt and Catch Fire Reaction, “So It Goes,” “Signal to Noise,” and “Miscellaneous”: Live Through This

Halt and Catch Fire is an interesting way to take the temperature of our current television climate. It is a very, very good show, with all of the hallmarks of a prestige cable drama, and yet it’s nobody’s favorite. Still, we’ve been covering Halt and Catch Fire since the first season, and Marisa has always found something about it that spoke to her personally, so she decided (a little late) to write about the individual episodes as it heads into its final stretch, starting with a quick catch-up of the season so far.

So, how did we get here? The conventional wisdom is that the show got better once it stopped being a Mad Men ripoff and found its own footing. That opinion says more about the watcher than the show itself. To me, it never really bore more than a surface-level resemblance to Mad Men. Sure, it was a period drama in a business setting, and maybe Joe got a slice of the backstory pie that was out of proportion to how much his character warrants. (Joe is the way he is because of…daddy issues? Snooze.) But Joe was never really a Don Draper, because Don Draper is widely recognized as a remarkable talent in the advertising world at the start of Mad Men, and Joe can rarely catch a break. He’s not an anti-hero in the he can’t accomplish anything major, good or bad.

Neither can the rest of them, even though all of the ingredients are there for them to achieve greatness. Together, they have the vision (Joe), programming talent (Cameron), engineering and hardware know-how (Gordon), and business sense/capital (Donna) to really launch a successful tech company—and they often have the right, world-changing idea at the right time. The show keeps bringing them to the precipice of runaway success. And yet, while they’ve managed in three seasons to amass some individual accomplishments, their volatile interpersonal dynamic keeps them from getting to that next level, because they need to work together to get there. And they can’t. But they know that, if they were able to somehow work on a project together and pull it off, the benefits would be immeasurable. But, again, they can’t. But they’re still drawn to each other, until they blow each other up again, retreat to their separate corners, and start the cycle anew. That push/pull dynamic, which has been there since the first season, is the whole reason for Halt and Catch Fire’s existence, and separates it from Mad Men, where Don was affected by the other characters, but not entirely dependent on them.

Continue reading Halt and Catch Fire Reaction, “So It Goes,” “Signal to Noise,” and “Miscellaneous”: Live Through This

In The End, Twin Peaks Denied Us More Good Times Together

It took Dale Cooper 25 years, 15 episodes and one extended detour in Las Vegas to return to Twin Peaks, and he didn’t stay long.

[Spoilers follow!]

In Sunday’s twisty final installments of David Lynch’s magnum opus (stop kidding yourself if you’re holding out hopes for a fourth season), a revived Cooper rushes to the Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Department just in time for a boss battle against a floating orb of evil right out of an NES game. You’d have thought he’d stick around to at least give Hawk a firm hand shake, maybe put an affectionate hand on Albert’s shoulder or learn all about Wally. Instead, he didn’t even stop for a slice of cherry pie (apparently nobody told him about RR2Go). Fresh from his hard-earned escape from the spirit world, Cooper… rushed right back to the spirit world.

There are already good theories pinging across the internet that explain the gist of the finale, or at least take a little bit of the initial sting out of its irresolution. It seems Lynch was trying to tell an even bigger, much more ambitious story than those first 14 episodes let on. Yet for all the big themes that consumed the series — the fluid nature of evil, the inadequacy of good intentions, repetition compulsion — what people will ultimately remember the most about Twin Peaks: The Return is its audacity to deny fans what they wanted. Here’s a sprawling, Berlin Alexanderplatz-sized work that made time for a minutes-long shot of a bartender sweeping but that still refused us many of the reunions we’d spent decades longing for. One of the initial fan complaints about the feature film revival Fire Walk With Me was it hardly had any Cooper in it, due to Kyle MacLachlan’s limited availability. The Return, ironically, offered magnitudes of Kyle MacLachlan, yet somehow the old Coop we remember — not Dougie, not Richard — still hardly got any screen time.

Of all the extended reunions we never got to enjoy — Cooper and Audrey, Cooper and the Bookhouse Boys, Cooper and the Double R — one’s absence felt especially conspicuous. For most of the revival, FBI Director Gordon Cole, played by Lynch himself, served as a stand-in for Cooper, an avatar of decency and determination who’s oblivious to his own eccentricities. The camaraderie between the FBI agents was always a highlight of the franchise, and given how so much of the new series tracked Gordon’s search for Cooper, all signs pointed to the old friends sharing at least a little one-on-one time as a narrative reward. But though they’re both present for the series’ climatic smackdown, Cooper never paused to catch up. We never got to see them share that curtain call Cooper alluded to.

Instead, we’re left with the bastardized “reunion” between the two in the season’s fourth episode, when a confounded Gordon meets Cooper’s doppelgänger for the first time through prison glass. For my money, it’s the most moving scene of a season that offered so many. So much of the coverage of The Return focused on Kyle MacLachlan’s bravado performances, and rightly so, but here Lynch carries the scene. Who knew he could act like this? Gordon fights to maintain a neutral face while making sense of the monster in front of him: his beady eyes, his halted speech, his robotic conversation. “Gordon, I really, really missed spending time with you,” the dark Cooper intones, with all the emotion of an answering machine. Gordon plays along, though his voice can’t disguise a tinge of a tremor: “Yes, Coop. I too have missed our good times together.”

There’s terror on Cole’s face — how could there not be, given what he’s witnessing — but there’s something else, too: grief. His eyelids are red and heavy as he processes the disappointment that his long-missing friend is still gone. When the fake Cooper flashes him the old thumbs up, Gordon reciprocates to maintain the ruse, but he seems sickened by the act. It’s as if he’s betraying part of himself.

Gordon was always an impressive comic creation, but for a few scenes he becomes not only the show’s most sympathetic character, but an audience surrogate. Like Gordon, we waited 25 years to see our old friend again. Instead, we were greeted by something else — something terrifying, fascinating and confusing. The season was filled with scenes like this, moments that awed us with their creativity and gave us the titillation of seeing something truly new, but that leave behind a sense of loss over what we weren’t seeing. And while it’s tempting for fans frustrated by the finale to write off Lynch’s oblique storytelling as a kind of callousness, that’s never been the case. Lynch was right there on screen. He doesn’t just understand what we wanted to see; he grieves with us that we never got to see it.

Every Steven Soderbergh Movie Ranked

As you might recall if you listen to our exhaustive recent podcast episode on Steven Soderbergh, we here at SportsAlcohol.com are, by and large, pretty big fans of his work. On the occasion of that podcast and the release of Logan Lucky, his first new feature in four years, here are Soderbergh’s 25 fiction films ranked from worst all the way up to best. The rankings were determined only by me, Jesse, but I enlisted some help in talking about certain entries. Cue the David Holmes music:
Continue reading Every Steven Soderbergh Movie Ranked

Greetings, A.V. Clubbers!

If you’re joining us for the first time because of  a recommendation from the A.V. Club‘s Podmass, welcome! We hardly ever really talk about sports or alcohol!

If you liked our discussion of the movies of summer 1997, you might also enjoy:

-Chats about this summer’s blockbusters, including Wonder Woman and Spider-Man: Homecoming. We plan on covering the indie movies of the summer soon, like we did last summer, so stay tuned.

-Talk about what makes us cry or what makes us scared. Feelings, guys. We have them.

-Our reminisces about the movies of previous summers past: 1996, 1995, and 1994, which Rob and Jesse tackled by themselves. I’d like to say these are more concise, but, while the running times are shorter, we talk a lot about Batman Forever.

Or, if you’re more of a reader than a listener:

-We’ve done lists of the best songs by Radiohead, David Bowie, Sleater-Kinney, the Hold Steady, Belle and Sebastian, Los Campesinos, and the Disney machine, in addition to a mega-list about the best songs of the ’90s.

-We have a lot of stuff here about King Kong. More kong-tent than you could possibly read in one lunch break!

Bonus Content!

Here’s a behind-the-scenes follow-up to our podcast about the movies of the summer of 1997: Jesse bought a used copy of Spawn: The Album and sent it to Rob, but, when he opened it, there was only a copy of Silverchair’s Frogstomp inside.

Is Halle Berry’s KIDNAP the worst movie of the summer? Or the year?

Halle Berry is a good actor. Her Academy Award for her raw, emotionally open performance in Monster’s Ball was well-deserved.

Halle Berry has movie-star charisma. It’s not just world-class beauty; at her best, she combines playfulness and gravity in a way that makes her fun to watch as an action hero (as in Die Another Day), a romantic foil (as in Bulworth), or as a nurturing type (as in X2, containing her best turn as Storm, of the X-Men).

So how is it that Halle Berry is seemingly incapable of starring in a good, genre-y thriller? Some of it, yes, must be the lack of high-quality roles afforded black women in Hollywood – even for a near-universally known Oscar-winning woman with plenty of hits to her name, including the genre-thriller The Call. But Berry seems particularly ill-fated in her late-career star vehicles, from an actual minor hit like The Call to a barely-released obscurity like Dark Tide. Before even getting to her performances, she has a bizarre knack for picking projects that were almost certainly not designed to be the D-movie equivalent of another, better thriller, but inevitably come off that way anyway: The 911-operator drama The Call is sort of a seedier, less taut variation on the 2004 thriller Cellular, while Dark Tide predates Blake Lively’s The Shallows and also provides roughly one percent of that movie’s shark-related thrills.

Kidnap, the latest Berry vehicle, indicates an abiding interest in this kind of stripped-down B-movie – the kind of thing that, like The Shallows, should serve as a tonic during the overblown summer months (or, if it’s really good, a Hitchcock throwback). Berry plays Karla Dyson, a divorced mother trying to make ends meet for her sweet six-year-old. After her shift as a diner waitress, she takes her kid to either the park, or a fair – the movie says the latter and indicates as much with poorly CGI’d overhead shots of a Ferris wheel, but the actual scenes seem to take place on a playground adjacent to a parking lot. Wherever they go, they aren’t there for long, because when Karla takes a call from her ex (threatening to take custody, natch), she leaves the boy alone for a moment and he gets abducted. Issuing the first of many howling screams of rage, Karla sprints after the car speeding away with her kid inside. When she is unable to physically drag that car to a halt, she hops in her minivan and heads into hot pursuit.

This premise is pure exploitation – or rather, it aspires to pure exploitation. Pure exploitation would be welcome in place of Kidnap, which is too vastly stupid to even exploit properly. The movie jams on the righteous-mom button so incessantly and insistently that Berry looks ready to short circuit. She’s clearly attempting to tap into a parent’s primal fear, and of course most parents would not respond coolly or calmly to witnessing the abduction of their child. But Kidnap makes Berry perform, in essence, 10 minutes of awkwardly written exposition followed by an 80-minute scream, as Karla frantically endangers the lives of as many people as possible, up to and including her son, by instigating this mad chase.

Director Luis Prieto operates under the impression that he is making a pedal-to-the-metal nailbiter, creating all of the noise and signifiers of a car going fast while actually depicting speed as infrequently as possible. There are multiple shots of Berry’s Conversed foot hitting the gas pedal, innumerable overhead shots of the cars on the move, and, most hilariously, multiple shots (or the same shot, multiple times) of a speedometer revving from about 40 miles per hour to about 60 miles per hour. Tires screech, Berry screeches, cars smash together, and the movie starts to feel like it’s getting off on its star’s goosed-up hysteria. (It’s certainly not getting off on actual speed; despite all of those cuts and a brief running time, storywise it’s mostly a putter in a circle.)

Look, the idea of a regular person fighting their way through extraordinary (and pulpy) circumstances is a juicy one – I’d love to see a mom-revenge movie directed by Jeremy Saulnier, who put regular-acting folks through the wringer in both Blue Ruin and Green Room. But Kidnap pitches deeply stupid behavior as a mother’s wrath, as in a spectacular negotiation scene wherein Karla is able to momentarily confront her sons’ captors (who seem confused and angry that she has chosen to pursue his abduction), and shrewdly throws them her entire wallet without prompting while yelling out her PIN. This follows a scene where the kidnappers indicate, by menacingly wielding a knife outside of a car window, that she must stop following them. Frightened for her son’s safety, she takes the next exit, then swerving back onto the highway and continuing to follow the car at a conspicuously close distance.

At best, this all looks incredibly cheap. At worst, Prieto and his editor Avi Youabian (who also cut The Call!) seem unsure about what they’re looking at, and convey that confusion to the audience, like in a simple scene where Berry and her son have a conversation in their minivan. Prieto shoots and cuts it to look, somehow, like Berry is literally talking to herself. This matches the subverbal tone of the screenplay, which features several scenes that show only half of a phone call, and struggle to make sense of what the person on the other end could possibly be saying. (These moments, though brief, very much play like the filmmakers concluded that if the audience can’t hear what’s being said on the other end of the phone, no one making the movie should know, either.)

It would be hard for any actor to perform well in these circumstances; yes, Kidnap is a movie where the screenplay is best described as “these circumstances.” At one point, Berry must perform a monologue to God, asking him not for the safe return of her son, but for the ability to spot the kidnappers’ car in traffic. In another scene, she briefly pauses her relentless hunt to talk to an actual cop, instead of screaming incoherently at bystanders to call 911. When the rest of the police force make the mistake of not instantaneously materializing around her and ask her to wait for a moment, Karla’s eyes frantically scan the MISSING posters adorning the station wall. All of those parents waited, she says to herself, and bolts (she decides it’s more expedient to drive around aimlessly looking for clues). I was thinking, lady, come on. How do you know those parents all waited? Maybe some of them killed the kids themselves. Maybe some of them died tragically in a minivan crash while hurtling down the highway at speeds between 40 and 60 miles per hour. Right away is not enough for Karla; later, a 911 operator gives her an ETA of 15 minutes, which she agitatedly deems too long. I guess streaming video really has spoiled a nation. I could go on, so suffice to say that most of Berry’s performance involves looking as if she just woke up in the middle of surgery, or on a rollercoaster.

Could anyone have saved this material? Maybe not; maybe Nicolas Cage, although his give-me-back-my-kid mode tends to be haunted and sullen, rather than peaking manic. Even so, it may be worth exploring why I would celebrate Cage’s hypothetical outbursts, while Berry’s feel so embarrassing. I think it’s their performing style: Berry has a natural strength and poise that these thrillers can’t resist prodding and poking and mussing into a kind of plain-folks invincibility. She’s not unhinged enough to turn a movie like Kidnap (or The Call, or Dark Tide) into performance art. Usually playing ridiculous material straight and sincere is an asset, but for a movie as craven and inept as this one, it amounts to an overemphatic endorsement of its shameless preying upon parental fears. Plenty of actors do movies that seem beneath them; Kidnap winds up grimy enough to get under its star’s fingernails. It ends with a collage of unconvincing news voiceover explaining that this mom has uncovered a multi-state childnapping ring and is, in the movie’s actual words, a real hero. The movie seems unaware that Halle Berry is a movie star, or a good actor – that she doesn’t need some dipshit thriller to clumsily spell out why we’re supposed to like her.

The SportsAlcohol Podcast: Top 15 Summer Movies for 1997

As we did for 1994, 1995, and 1996, we look 20 years back at the top films of the summer of 1997. Things were much different 20 years ago and we tackle some of the big changes including: 

Watching trailers without a broadband connection
Bookstores, existence of
Nicolas Cage was respected, dammit
John Travolta too, for that matter.
Girls wanted to hang out with us

How To Listen

We are now up to SIX (6) different ways to listen to a SportsAlcohol podcast:

Stories from the Antebellum Planet of the Apes

The last time a new Planet of the Apes movie hit theaters we took a look at the tie-in novel and short films that were meant to fill in a little of the story between the movies. With the release of War for the Planet of the Apes, we decided it was time to update that list and run through all of the stories that have been released in this iteration of the series. If you want to catch up on the current Apes timeline (or want to know which ones are worth checking out) before going out to see the new movie, this is the list for you. Continue reading Stories from the Antebellum Planet of the Apes

SportsAlcohol.com Founder in the Wild: Kevin Geeks Out About Kaiju

One Week From Today!
One Night Only!

As you may have noticed, SportsAlcohol.com co-founder Nathaniel is a bit of an expert when it comes to all things Godzilla. If you’re in the NYC area, you get the chance to see him smash through the structures of Monster Island ignorance in person ONE WEEK FROM TODAY at Kevin Geeks Out About Kaiju. The event takes place at the Alamo Drafthouse in Downtown Brooklyn, where you can have a warm peanut-butter-banana cookie with your monster mash. Official description:

The two-hour show features rare clips with everything from fan favorite kaiju to obscure creatures, with appearances by smog monsters, flying turtles, giant bird-beasts and more. With footage you won’t find on Netflix, Hulu or YouTube.

You definitely want to head over to the Alamo website to check out the event trailer.

Okay, now that you’ve done that, you probably want in. Details:

Date: Thursday, July 20, 2017
Time: 7:30 pm
Ticket Price: $15
Rating: NR
Run Time: 120 minutes
Format: Digital
Language: English
Age Policy: 18 and up


The SportsAlcohol Podcast: Spider-Man: Homecoming

The last Spider-Man movie, Amazing Spider-Man 2, was the subject of SportsAlcohol.com’s very first podcast. Over three years later, we’re back with an ever-more-slightly-better-produced episode about the third cinematic reboot of Marvel’s flagship character this century. Topics covered:

  • Betty Brant
  • Dennis Miller
  • Women named Marisa
  • How bad we are at podcasts

Also, as mentioned in the podcast, check out Rob’s take on Betty Brant

SPOILER WARNING: This podcast assumes you’ve seen every movie every made with Spider-Man

How To Listen

We are now up to SIX (6) different ways to listen to a SportsAlcohol podcast: