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

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

Both parts are now available for your listening pleasure below!

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  • Part 1:

    Part 2:

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

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

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

    The Podcast: They Might Be Giants

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

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    Our Favorite They Might Be Giants Songs: The Outliers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    The Podcast: Paul Thomas Anderson

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

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    The Podcast: Oscar Predictions 2018

    Do you like winning your office Oscar pool? Well, look no further, unless you have a lot of money riding on it, in which case we may not be able to help you! The crew of Marisa, Sara, Nathaniel, Jesse, and Jon may not have all the answers in all the categories, but we sure know how to discuss the hell out of the big six for the 2018 Oscars, chatting about our best guesses as well as our personal favorites or anti-favorites. Who’s delighted by Denzel’s surprise nomination? Who’s rooting for Willem Dafoe? Who’s surprised to love Meryl Streep’s obligatory nom? Who loves Lady Bird? (Well, to that last one: All of us.) Listen and then somehow win your Oscar pool for reasons unrelated!

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    The MiniPodcast: The Secret of My Success and Mars Attacks!

    Ben and Jesse are back at it again. After our first business/’90s sci-fi double feature of Pretty Woman and Starship Troopers and our follow-up pairing Other People’s Money and Dark City, we got together to watch 1987’s The Secret of My Success (previously unseen by Jesse) and 1996’s Mars Attacks! (previously unseen by Ben), a business/sci-fi double feature heavily featuring Michael J. Fox. We pulled in Mars Attacks! number one fan and expert Nathaniel, and had a nice little chat about gruesome demises, nepotism, particularly camera-friendly ways of turning around, and other hallmarks of business/sci-fi/Fox cinema.

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    The Podcast: SNL Midseason Check-In 2018

    The crew includes a lot of regular Saturday Night Live viewers, so we’ve made it an annual tradition to get together and check in with the show at various points to see how it’s doing. We can do this because a famous space cowboy is hosting, or a famous piece of total garbage is hosting, or because that famous piece of garbage is president now and must be repeatedly addressed by the show, or, this year, because WE LOVE YOU NATALIE. So Marisa, Nathaniel, Michael, and Jesse stayed up even later than usual after the recent Natalie Portman-hosted episode of SNL to podcast about this most recent episode (the show’s last for about a month), the recent run of episodes including hosting gigs by Will Ferrell, Jessica Chastain, and Sam Rockwell, and how Season 43 has been going so far: in politics, in cast members, in sketches that only a handful of people love. If you’re a fan of the show, you’ll probably enjoy hearing us yak about what we love and hate. NOW SAY SOMETHING NICE ABOUT JAR JAR BINKS.

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