Tag Archives: culture review

What about Veronica Mars, though?!

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.

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.

The Fuzzy Math of Winter’s Tale

Gripes

Marisa

There are contrarians, there are iconoclasts, and then there is SportsAlcohol.com co-founder Marisa. A contraiclast? Her favorite Springsteen album came out this century, so she is basically a controversy machine.

Also, she is totally not a dude!
Marisa
Gripes

Warning: This post contains major spoilers about Winter’s Tale. Even more important warning: If the previous warning scared you, it means you might be considering watching Winter’s Tale. Having seen it, I say: maybe just don’t? 

So, I didn’t take my own advice. I saw Winter’s Tale on Valentine’s Day. To say it was full of nonsense about good and evil, angels and demons, and star-crossed lovers and terminal illnesses, would be to make it sound way more interesting than it is. The lesson: Always listen to SportsAlcohol.com.

It is fair to say, however, that it is full of nonsense. Vulture‘s article, “6 Ridiculous Things That Happen in Winter’s Tale,” doesn’t even really begin to cover it. Yet even in a movie filled with spiritual mumbo-jumbo, flying horses, hokey miracles, and Will Smith doing a cameo as a devil in a Hendrix t-shirt, one thing—which I haven’t seen discussed too many other places—struck me as more preposterous than the rest: its willful misunderstanding of how time works (at least how it is perceived by humans, setting aside any flat circles for now).

With respect to Pushing Daisies (RIP, Pushing Daisies), the facts are these:

  • Peter Lake (Colin Farrell) is born in 1886.
  • Most of the movie takes place in the “past,” in 1916, when Peter is 30 years old. It’s during this time that he meets Beverly Penn (Jessica Brown Findlay), his true love 4eva.
  • There is time skip, and Peter wakes up in? is transported to? miracles??? finds himself in the “present day.” I haven’t read the novel, but I assume the “present day” of the novel is 1983, when the book came out, meaning the skip is 67 years. The “present day” of the movie is this present day, meaning 2014, or a skip of 98 years.
  • The movie treats the ensuing years, between 1983 and 2014, like they just don’t exist.

It doesn’t seem like there should be any contradictions. Dude is in the past, then he’s in the present after an absurd amount of time, meaning everything and everyone he knows should be gone and not cause any problems. But there’s so much magic in Winter’s Tale that it ties itself into knots creating time-travel problems.

In the movie, Beverly has a younger sister, Willa (Makayla Twiggs). They don’t say how old she is, but she looks about 7 or 8 to me. She’s certainly not an infant. Of course, since life is beautiful, after the time-skip, Peter is somehow reunited with Willa, who in the interim became the editor-in-chief of a daily newspaper.

Let’s do the math here. It certainly seems possible if we’re using the book timeline (if, in fact, Willa is a character in the book). Willa would be 7 in 1916, making her 74 in 1983. It’s unusual, but not impossible, for a 74-year-old woman to be a spry editor-in-chief of a newspaper.

But that’s not the timeline in the film. According to the movie , Willa would be 105 years old. She’d be one of the oldest people on the planet. Yet with all of the dwelling on all of the awe-inspiring things in the film, not one person seems amazed that the world’s oldest woman is running a daily paper in New York City. No one addresses it at all, really. (The actress playing Old Willa is Eva Marie Saint, who’s actually 89 and doesn’t look like 105—though it’s hard to tell what 105 looks like since so few people make it that far, let alone people growing up in the 1900s with consumptive sisters.)

You can say it’s an aberration and explain Willa’s existence away with miracles!!! fuzzy math, but she’s not the only one who doesn’t realize what year it is.  Peter finds Willa through a newspaper reporter, Virginia (Jennifer Connelly). Viriginia looks up some old articles on microfiche to figure out who Peter Lake is and where he comes from. She quickly finds a photo of Peter and Beverly in front of the Penn’s lovely Hudson Valley estate. Her jaw drops in amazement and she asks: “Is that your father?”

Father?! If I were Peter, I’d be incredibly offended. It’s a good thing Virginia is a food reporter and doesn’t cover economics or anything that has to do with numbers. I don’t know how she thought that someone who looked like he was 30 in 1916 could sire someone who looks like he’s 30 in 2014. Perhaps she thought Peter Senior sired Peter Junior when he was 98?

I know it’s a little silly to look at the flying horse and look at the time-travel timeline and say that the horse is believable but the time-travel timeline is beyond the pale, but details are important. Especially if you want people to lose themselves in your love story, and not just snicker at it.

 

 

 

I Am Not That Into Sherlock’s “The Sign of Three,” Because I Am a Monster Who Has No Heart

Gripes

Marisa

There are contrarians, there are iconoclasts, and then there is SportsAlcohol.com co-founder Marisa. A contraiclast? Her favorite Springsteen album came out this century, so she is basically a controversy machine.

Also, she is totally not a dude!
Marisa
Gripes

N.B.: This post will hypocritically complain about Sherlock spoilers while simultaneously containing Sherlock spoilers. Away with you if you haven’t seen up to the second episode of the third season.

COMMUNITY -- "Geothermal Escapism" Episode 504 -- Pictured: (l-r) Danny Pudi as Abed, Donald Glover as Troy -- (Photo by: Justin Lubin/NBC)

Before We Get to Sherlock, Let’s Talk About Community

 

Hmm, this seems like an unrelated topic. I wonder where I’m going with all this.

But hear me out: Community is a fine show, to be sure. But it’ll never work its way into my (cold, possibly absent) heart the way the best of its NBC brethren (i.e. 30 Rock) has. Why? Because it insists on being a comedy with heart, only it keeps hitting the same emotional beat over and over again. Far too many episodes boil down something threatening the friend group, and the group deciding that, yes, their friendship is more important than whatever was threatening it.

This was effective in the beginning, where there really was a transition from a randomly assembled study group to a real circle of friends. But a couple seasons in, they were still affirming their relationships. And a couple seasons after that, they still are.

Think I’m wrong? Take this season’s premiere. The Community characters are not even a study group anymore. They’re people who legitimately know each other outside of school. And yet, something threatens their friendship: Jeff manipulates the rest of the group into suing Greendale. And he almost gets away with it…until he decides that, yes, their friendship is more important than his professional success. (Have we seen this episode before?) And instead of suing the school, he convinces them all to re-enroll in it, and re-form the study group.

It just gets emotionally repetitive.

Sherlock-Bench

Now, to Complain About Sherlock a Little

 

I’m still not talking about “The Sign of Three” yet. Just go with it, because you love my roguish qualities.

I watched the previous two seasons of Sherlock on Netflix. I saw the first episode of the first season while Jesse was out of town, and decided it was so good that I’d wait for him to come back, make him watch it, and continue the season with him. The second season came and went on the BBC, and then came and went on PBS, and then finally came to Netflix, where we watched it at our leisure. At no point was I subjected to spoilers.

Sometime in between the second and third seasons, something changed. Now there are bits of Sherlock information floating around in the ether, ready to spoil me at a moment’s notice. Not only that, it seemed like everyone downloaded the episodes as soon as they hit the BBC, so I had to be worried about being spoiled for a show that hadn’t even aired in the United States yet. My choices were these:

1) Be like everyone else and download the episodes, and either watch them on a screen of sub-optimal size or on my regular TV but of the sub-optimal watching-a-web-video-on-my-TV quality.

2) Watch the episodes on PBS, and cross my fingers that a) the downloaders won’t spoil everything and b) PBS didn’t cut the episodes down, as they did the previous two seasons.

3) Wait until the season comes to Netflix, where I can once again watch the uncut episodes at my leisure. Resign myself to knowing everything that happens before I get to watch it for myself.

I went with Option No. 2, and it seems to be working out. The episodes don’t look like they’ve been shortened, and I’ve only been spoiled for minor things. But, obviously, I resent having to make the choice. We only get three Sherlock episodes a season, people. After they’re done, who knows when Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman will be available to shoot another season together? I wanted to spread the episodes out and make the season last as long as possible. Instead, I feel pressured to blow through the entire season in three weeks, and wait however long to blow through the next season in three weeks, and so on.

This is just another example of how…

Sherlock-Moriarty

Fans Are the Worst

 

I should be more specific. When creators listen to their fans, it’s the worst.

Not to go off on yet another tangent, but the big, archetypical example of this—at least around the SportsAlochol.com office—is the Veronica/Logan relationship on Veronica Mars. They’re so much more interesting apart than together, and yet fans somehow bullied the show into keeping them together for longer than was useful.

For a more relevant example, think back “The Empty Hearse,” the season premiere of Sherlock. What was the worse thing about it? If you’re like me, your answer probably has something to do with Anderson—especially his little club of people speculating about how Sherlock is alive. I’d say the worst moment was the imagined Sherlock/Moriarty kiss. It was an elbow-to-the-ribs kind of joke, and it was so, so cheesy. The club is clearly a stand-in for Sherlock fans, and the kiss was total fan service. Did that moment deserve a guffaw, a laugh, or even a chuckle? Sherlock should be better than that.

Sherlock-DrunkDeductions

Which Brings Me, Finally, to “The Sign of Three”

 

I know—I took a roundabout way of getting to the point. Kind of like Sherlock’s interminable wedding toast in “The Sign of Three.”

I’m not saying I hated the episode. All Sherlock episodes are good. I enjoyed the lighter tone of “The Sign of Three” (“the elephant in the room”), along with the clever way the seemingly unrelated cases he mentioned all came to bear at the wedding. I especially adored Sherlock’s drunken deductions. (“Egg? Chair? Sitty thing?”) My problem wasn’t even with the notion that the cases hinged on two people not feeling fatal stab wounds, though I found that kind of unbelievable.

No, my problem was with the excess of gooey emotion between Watson and Sherlock. (I know, I know: monster, no heart, etc. Send all hate mail to rob@sportsalochol.com.)

The idea that Sherlock is a damaged sociopath who is only redeemed through Watson’s love is one that should be used in the show very sparingly. In “The Sign of Three,” it was overused. So many moments were there just to make you go “awww.” We get the mushy parts of Sherlock’s Best Man toast. We get the flashback to when Watson asks Sherlock to be his Best Man, and thus affirm that Sherlock is his best friend. We get Sherlock’s heartfelt violin-playing for Watson and Mary’s first dance. We get Watson saying, “She has completely turned my life around. There are only two people who have ever done that.” (Clutch your hearts, non-monsters who still have them!) And we get the sad way Sherlock slinks out of the wedding, even though he loves to dance, because he has no one to dance with—despite the fact that people don’t really dance exclusively as couples to fast songs at weddings, and no one was dancing with Mrs. Hudson. Manufactured emotion, Sherlock!

If all of these “awww” moments weren’t enough, it all comes after a season premiere that ends with a big, cathartic speech about Watson’s feelings for Sherlock—a speech that starts with Watson saying how hard it is to talk about his feelings for Sherlock. To me, it seems like he actually can’t shut up about them.

It’s not that I’m totally disinterested in these kinds of emotional scenes. I found the end of “The Reichenbach Fall,” the last episode of the second season, to be hugely moving. Watson’s speech at Sherlock’s grave got me, man. I had Feelings-with-a-capital-F. I still do when I think about it. But I only found it so effective because scenes like that, up to that point, had been so rare throughout the series. I’m afraid I’m going to become numb to them.

That might be the goal for some people. It’s clear that, for some fans, reveling in the Watson/Sherlock relationship is the main appeal of the show. But Sherlock should resist, because giving fans what they want is the quickest way to ruin something. If Sherlock pauses every episode—possibly multiple times an episode—to reaffirm that the friendship between Watson and Sherlock is more important than whatever is threatening it (Moriarty, marriage), it’ll stop being great. It’ll be Community. (Look! All the threads came together, just like I planned from the start.)

Conclusion: The tenderness of the Watson and Sherlock relationship is like salt. A little bit of it brings out the flavor of the entire thing. Too much leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

Major Cultural Event: I, Frankenstein (2014)

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.

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.