The SportsAlcohol.com Podcast: The Films of Martin Scorsese

For an episode so long in the works that we decided to make it two episodes, the SportsAlcohol.com film buddies decided to take on the filmography of Martin Scorsese. He doesn’t have a new movie out, and probably won’t until 2022, but we’ve been stuck inside for much of the past year, and Scorsese has such a rich (AND VARIED) filmography that it’s always a pleasure to go flipping back through it. Plus, Raging Bull recently turned 40, Goodfellas recently turned 30, and Casino recently turned 25! Scorsese has so many movies, you can find a significant anniversary virtually any year. So while you prep for the upcoming 10th anniversary of Hugo and 15th anniversary of The Departed, why not kick back with our career-spanning retrospective, wherein we have at least some form of discussion about every fiction film Martin Scorsese has ever made! We talk about the gangster ones, the pulp ones, the religious ones, the early ones, the Leo ones, and more! Do not let Jesse have watched Boxcar Bertha in vain!

We are now up to SEVEN (7) different ways to listen to a SportsAlcohol podcast:

Stop Calling WandaVision Weird!

WandaVision, currently airing on Disney+, is many things. It’s a superhero show. It’s a love story. It’s a fun romp through the pantheon of television history.

In a lot of ways, it’s what I’ve been asking of Marvel in many, many, many of our MCU-related podcasts, where I plead for the studio to focus on fewer Avengers, tell smaller-scale stories, and do something that feels distinct from the rest of the 20-plus entries in the franchise.

But there’s one thing that WandaVision is not: weird. It’s also not completely original (by design!), unique, or bizarre. And yet.

WandaVision Reviews

WandaVision can’t — and doesn’t — have it both ways. It can’t rely on its audience to recognize sitcom tropes, and then also exist apart from them. And I don’t believe the show is really trying to. I think it wants you to feel the timeworn plot patterns, spot the inspirations in the decor, ease into the comfort of the laugh track. From the show’s debut, any TV fan can tell that one episode is going to feel like the ’50s, with all those conventions, the next is going to take on the ’60s, and so on.

In fact, my biggest complaint about WandaVision is that sometimes the idea of it is more fun than actually sitting down to watch it. (Except for Vision’s magic show. That was great.) I get that Wanda has Bewitched-style powers, and she’s going to use them to get out of a scrape with The Boss and try to whip up a big dinner, and that it’s going to backfire. There is joy in watching it because of Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany’s performances, but the way it unfolds is not particularly refreshing. Even the idea of a classic sitcom parody is not, by itself, something especially new.

Of course, it’s not just a classic sitcom parody. But the way the story hints at something bigger going on is not weird, either. It’s straight out of The Truman Show.  Or Lost. I’ve only seen the three episodes that are available to the general public so far, but I know when I start each one that, a couple scenes in, there’s going to be some kind of hint that not everything is as it seems, and then at the end there’s going to be, well, an even bigger hint that not everything is as it seems. Maybe the show will change course and we’ll stop living in TV Land, or maybe the parts that exist outside the sitcom world will take up a bigger slice of the running time of each episode. Maybe she’ll have to fight The Powers That Be — the ones that made our heroes retreat into the imagined safety of a blissful TV marriage. Maybe that’ll involve more typical MCU-style hangars and control rooms. Or maybe not. But I have a feeling that, whatever the reveal is, it’s not going to be shocking. I will come back and sincerely apologize if this show does anything that genuinely surprises me.

So why do people keep calling it weird? I think there’s something else implied that isn’t being said. WandaVision is weird…for Marvel.  (It’s not even the weirdest recent Marvel property! Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse is weirder! It has a talking pig! Legion, as frustrating as I find it, is weirder! It has an astral plane!) While WandaVision sits comfortably within television tropes, it exists apart from the hardened Marvel formula.

At this point, Marvel shouldn’t be getting credit for moving one standard deviation away from its current status quo. It should’ve been at least this creative the whole time, if not moreso. Was it a long game — making movies so samey that they get oohs and ahhs the minute they decide to change course, even the tiniest bit? Probably not. But I hope this encourages the Marvel suits to take more, and bigger, risks across the board, and not just compartmentalize tiny nods to weirdness into a handful of episodes on Disney+. I want more talking pigs!

In THE LITTLE THINGS, Denzel Washington sticks around for more afternoon-cable pulp

There are times when it’s easy to lose patience with Denzel Washington for his steadfast dedication to being a movie star. Here is one of the best actors of his generation, a popular two-time Oscar winner with fine taste in theater classics and a willingness to complicate his megawatt charisma, who nonetheless frequently makes movies designed to play on some Turner-owned cable station or another in weekend-afternoon perpetuity.

Yet Washington, who has always appeared in pulp but has done so more often after 50, has stuck around in crime thrillers, vigilante thrillers, and serial-killer-chasing thrillers for so long that his junky one-for-them studio pictures can, under the right lighting, look like comfort. The Little Things, his new Warner Bros. movie premiering in theaters and HBO Max simultaneously, has the right lighting. Specifically, it’s lit in Diet David Fincher greens and streetlamps at night, a more richly moody look than anything I’ve seen before from writer-director John Lee Hancock. Hancock is taking a break from his usual Americana; rather than observing the men who caught Bonnie and Clyde or the unctuous franchising of McDonald’s or the white-knuckle production of Mary Poppins, he’s simply on the trail of Denzel Washington, on the trail of a serial killer, throwing back only so far as 1990. Canny, setting a cops-versus-killer narrative at the dawn of that narrative’s big-studio heyday.

Continue reading In THE LITTLE THINGS, Denzel Washington sticks around for more afternoon-cable pulp

The Girl Without the Harry Potter Tattoo

Dear Harry Potter Tattoo I No Longer Plan to Get,

Didn’t we almost have it all.

You were meant to be tiny but I had big plans for you: featured player in at least a dozen Instagram stories within week 1; avoiding for as long as possible the phone call to my dad where I’d retract 18-year-old Cristin’s promise to Never Get Another One; a life lived on my left forearm a respectful distance away from my (existing) Shel Silverstein tattoo. I can picture it perfectly even though I can’t picture you; I never decided between the stylized minimalist snitch, the classic lightning bolt scar/ glasses combo, the deathly hallows, the sorting hat, or any still-unmasked dark horse contestant that had yet to grace my Pinterest feed. I should thank my design indecision for your absence–I wavered right up to the pandemic quarantine, where I couldn’t have gotten a tattoo if I wanted it, even if I had decided on a design, even if J.K. Rowling hadn’t imploded, forfeiting her place on a ton of readers’ mental bookshelf of heroes and teaching me that permanent icon status doesn’t exist, at least not outside of Joan Didion. We can all still agree on Joan Didion, thank god. Somehow I still don’t see Later I Forgot or You Sit Down To Dinner and Life As You Know It Ends quote art taking over for Always or I Solemnly Swear I Am Up To No Good on anyone’s tattoo power rankings any time soon.

We can likely expect a tattoo baby boom post-pandemic, both from all of the tattoos not gotten in quarantine (I still can’t believe that the women of this world were asked to deal with RBG’s death without immediate and abundant access to dissent collar tattoos) plus all the mulling-over time we’ve all had at home. There was newfound free time to devote to things like tattoo selection, and things like tattoo selection to allow us to think about permanence, if it even exists, without looking at the concept head-on and punching a one-way ticket to an existential crisis. After a year in a world that bares absolutely no resemblance to its predecessor, the one we thought was indelible and enduring and were categorically wrong about, I can’t think about permanence without feeling like I’m staring into the sun or holding my hand too close to the stove. I can only look at permanence sideways, through philosophical scrims like body art and Sharpies and bad credit histories.

I’m still working through my feelings on Rowling, hoping to talk myself into believing that the books are each of ours as much as they are hers, which would allow me to keep a pensieve’s worth of happy memories and associations that would be a fantastic consolation prize for Tattoos Never Gotten like yourself. Maybe there are places I can go for help, support groups filled with people who still have framed Woody Allen movie posters and who like the Weinstein seasons of Project Runway better than the recent iterations. Maybe in these groups I’ll come to grips with having lost something that I wanted to stay a permanent part of me, something much bigger than just the idea of a someday tattoo.

There’s no sign of you on me, and there won’t be, but I’m left with plenty of Potter inked on my insides, in my personal permanent collection. I’m also left with a vacancy in the spot you surrendered. Tell Frog & Toad they’ll be hearing from me.

Take care, and I’m sure I’ll see you on a BuzzFeed list soon.

Women of Action: MONSTER HUNTER and SHADOW IN THE CLOUD

The recent movie Shadow in the Cloud sounds like it could be one of those occasional January miracles: an efficient, unpretentious genre mish-mash executed with no-fuss brawn and style. It’s about Maude Garrett (Chloe Grace Moretz), a WWII flight officer who hitches a last-minute ride on a bomber, where she is beset by sexism, then Japanese fighter planes, then gremlins. Shadow is so theoretically January-tastic that it dropped on the very first of the year, a rare release date made more feasible by the global pandemic, which has sent the film to first-run VOD as well as a few theaters simultaneously.

The hybrid release model is unusually appropriate for this movie; for its entire 83 minutes (or rather, for the 75 minutes it actually runs minus credits), it straddles the line between unusually ambitious, well-made trash and the chintzy direct-to-video garbage of old. The movie even provides its own convenient delineation: there’s the sizable chunk of the story confined to Maude’s cramped stay in the plane’s ball turret, communicating with her mostly-offscreen co-stars via radio, versus the mayhem-heavier sequences where she exits the ball turret to fight off those human-sized beasties. The filmmakers seem torn over whether its low-budget ridiculousness should be elegantly elided, or powered through with smash-and-grab energy.
Continue reading Women of Action: MONSTER HUNTER and SHADOW IN THE CLOUD

Liam Neeson Cosplays Late-Late-Period Clint Eastwood in THE MARKSMAN

There is no shortage of Clint Eastwood. He may not star in movies as regularly anymore, but his late-late-period career has featured so many roles that seemed like de facto retirement ceremonies that Gran Torino, Trouble with the Curve, and The Mule feel closer together than they are, spread out over the course of a decade. He has at least one more starring role to go; his movie Cry Macho is due out by the end of 2021. By then, he will be 91. The Mule, his last not-quite-last movie made $100 million in the United States. He is easily the most popular eighty-and-ninetysomething actor and director in Hollywood history.

Yet at some point, very likely in the next five to ten years, Clint Eastwood will no longer make movies. (This is not a prediction of his death, mind. If it’s easy to picture any movie star making it to 110, it’s Clint.) He will leave behind the perception that a certain segment of the moviegoing public really enjoys seeing middle-to-advanced-aged men put younger bad guys in their place. 2009’s Taken, starring Liam Neeson, is generally considered to have kicked off the modern strain of old-man-vengeance thrillers, but Eastwood was there a few weeks earlier with 2008’s Grand Torino, just as big a hit with an even older protagonist. (Neeson was a spry 57 when Taken came out, compared with Eastwood’s 79 at the same time.)
Continue reading Liam Neeson Cosplays Late-Late-Period Clint Eastwood in THE MARKSMAN

Track Marks 2020: “No Body, No Crime” by Taylor Swift

Track Marks is a recurring SportsAlcohol.com feature that invites writers to briefly discuss a song that is meaningful to them in any way. Though they can appear on the site at any time, we always run a bunch of them in December and/or January and/or February, looking back at the year in music.

For poptimists of a certain basic sensibility—not that I have anyone in mind—the prospect of Taylor Swift collaborating with Haim was tantalizing. (When I learned the news about Swift’s surprise December album, I was more excited than I’d been for any new music since… well, since Swift released her first quarantine record less than four months earlier. 2020 was an undeniably terrible year, but it had its first-world silver linings.) But “no body, no crime,” the sixth track off of Swift’s evermore, doesn’t just feature Haim as musicians; it features Haim as characters. It’s a murder ballad, starring Este Haim as the scorned woman who confronts her unfaithful husband, who then promptly kills her.

Sorry, did I spoil the ending? Not really, though I can understand the complaint. With its potboiler tone and its canny details—weekly dinners at Olive Garden, fateful life insurance policies—“no body, no crime” is decidedly cinematic, a 1940s noir by way of the Coen Brothers. In just three-and-a-half minutes, Swift tells a three-act story that opens with infidelity, progresses to homicide, and concludes with righteous vengeance. The plot traffics in hairpin twists and grisly violence: First, Este confides her suspicions about her husband (“that ain’t my Merlot on his mouth”) before accusing him of adultery, at which point she suddenly disappears; then Swift, ever the loyal friend, responds by killing the killer, framing his mistress for good measure. (Her alibi comes courtesy of Este’s sister, Danielle Haim, who casually lies to the police: “She was with me, dude.”) The lyrics are so clean and sharp, they compel you to imagine the sordid scenes unfolding in your mind, Swift effortlessly conjuring a squalid world of cheap jewelry, incriminating tire tracks, and corpse-carrying speedboats.
Continue reading Track Marks 2020: “No Body, No Crime” by Taylor Swift

TRACK MARKS 2020: “JU$T” by Run the Jewels

Track Marks is a recurring SportsAlcohol.com feature that invites writers to briefly discuss a song that is meaningful to them in any way. Though they can appear on the site at any time, we always run a bunch of them in December and/or January and/or February, looking back at the year in music.

I don’t need to go through the whole rigamarole here about what an absolute dumpster fire 2020 was. We all experienced it; we all read the year-end reviews that rehashed it; we all know. Many of us hoped the start of 2021 would bring at least a bit of a respite. How foolish that seems now. January 6th was just the most recent of days where it felt almost dystopian to be still checking in on work email while the world fell apart before our eyes. At a time when so many are unemployed, facing eviction, scraping together a living, anger often feels like the only legitimate reaction. What, exactly, is the point of clocking in right now when it has never been a guarantee that you would be safe or cared for or valued beyond your ability to produce something commodifiable? That’s where a song like Run the Jewels’ “JU$T” comes in, articulating such volatile emotions with the ecstatically blunt verbosity that has become their trademark.

Since they started working together in 2013, Killer Mike and El-P have built up something of a formula for most Run the Jewels songs, the former trading bombastic rhymes with the skittery energy of the latter. But over the course of their four albums they’ve made brilliant use of a wide variety of collaborators, from Tunde Adebimpe of TV on the Radio to Mavis Staples to Blink-182’s Travis Barker. If your only awareness of Pharrell Williams was his “Happy” song being played on countless Democratic nominee stages, you might have been surprised by his appearance on this track. Certainly it’s a bit more unexpected to hear him sardonically deliver “Look at all these slave masters posing on your dollar” than when Mike and Zack de la Rocha of Rage Against the Machine take up the refrain. But according to the Song Exploder episode on “JU$T,” the line was Pharrell’s idea. And of course it shouldn’t be a surprise at all. He is a Black man, and no amount of success or wealth shields him from what that means in America.

It all starts with four beats that sounds like a heart revving up before moving with lethal rapidity to verses that mercilessly skewer the capitalistic cycle that forms the backbone of our country and the parasitic ways it works to keep us, especially Black people, at its mercy. “Try to sell a pack of smokes to get food/Get killed and it’s not an anomaly/But hey, it’s just money,” El-P raps, a nod to Eric Garner when it was written but with George Floyd’s murder on Memorial Day became a damning indictment of America’s inability to enact any meaningful change. Backed by a choppy chorus of voices both angelic and robotic, like the sort of menacing call waiting tone you’d hear on Judgement Day, it’s an anthem that feels tailor-made for live performance. In any other year, you can imagine a huge crowd at an outdoor concert ironically shouting “Make money!” back at the rappers. In 2020 we had to settle for screaming into the void instead, but at least it was comforting to know that artists were doing it too.

Track Marks 2020: “One Night Standards” by Ashley McBryde

Track Marks is a recurring SportsAlcohol.com feature that invites writers to briefly discuss a song that is meaningful to them in any way. Though they can appear on the site at any time, we always run a bunch of them in December and/or January and/or February, looking back at the year in music.

Country music is about form. It is constrained and traditional. It is so standard that, yes, it all can sound the same.

So what makes interesting country is a song that plays with its subject. A song that plays with rhyme. One that’s clever and smart and self-aware of the constraints that it lives in.
Continue reading Track Marks 2020: “One Night Standards” by Ashley McBryde

TRACK MARKS 2020: “Stain” by Soccer Mommy

Track Marks is a recurring SportsAlcohol.com feature that invites writers to briefly discuss a song that is meaningful to them in any way. Though they can appear on the site at any time, we always run a bunch of them in December and/or January and/or February, looking back at the year in music.

It’s barely even a riff. Just four notes, two of them repeated—dun-dun da-doom. And with those quick plucks of her guitar strings, Sophie Allison suddenly drains her typically whimsical songwriting of all color and hope. The penultimate track on Color Theory, Allison’s second album as Soccer Mommy, “stain” is a stark departure; there are no gentle choruses or hummable bridges. But there isn’t angst or despair either; though she’s examining the dying embers of a failed relationship, Allison is too lucid to lapse into self-pity. Instead, the primary sensation of “stain” is absence. It feels like a void, like a sonic representation of the lack of connection. No wonder it hit me so hard in 2020.

Still, for its opening minute, it can fool you; catch it askance, and you’re liable to misinterpret the repetitive guitar and the sighing vocals as the setup for a sweet and vivid love song. After all, while Allison’s music packs a punch, it can also be soothing. (In my favorite track off her prior record, she softly marries the intimate with the interstellar: “I’m just a victim of changing planets / My Scorpio rising and my parents.”) And in the initial moments of “stain”, her metaphors hint at the possibility of true romance, as a former lover insists that they were “pulled off the refrigerator and magnetized at heart”. But then: dun-dun da-doom. The riff that isn’t a riff arrives, and from there, the song becomes an autopsy, a quietly volcanic reconstruction of a moribund partnership. Allison’s lyrics are characteristically evocative—her ex’s words were “like chloroform”, and they’ve befouled her “like the sheets at my parents’ house”—but what’s truly disturbing about the song is that there’s no escape from it. That riff just keeps repeating, like an eerily melodic terminator; it never subsides, but it also never builds to anything, because that would imply progress. Yet there’s no catharsis here, no sense of long-sought closure or even righteous anger. And after three unrelenting minutes, Allison doesn’t fade out the track so much as extinguish it, comparing herself to a burden-out match.

Just before delivering that beautifully terrible image, Allison recognizes that this ugly union has inflicted permanent damage: “I’m always stained, and it’s never coming out.” She sounds ruefully self-aware but not despondent, and I’m weirdly jealous of her composure. Perhaps she’s used her music as an exorcism of sorts, virtually transferring her pain to the listener. And so, while “stain” is magnificent, it should probably come with a warning attached. Once this song scratches its way into your soul, it’s never coming out.