Tag Archives: movies

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Soundtrack: I Still Feel the Same (Anti!)

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!
Gripes

I know this is going to make me sound like a crotchety old lady who can’t lighten up and have fun, but we need to talk about the Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 soundtrack. After the first movie blew up and its playlist hit the top of the Billboard charts, I ranted against the Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1 soundtrack. As time passed, I worried that, by calling the songs overdone and overplayed, I might have been missing the point. Maybe they were supposed to be like that? In college, when it would get nice out and everyone would sit outside on blankets on the lawn with tiny radios to play music, my friends and I started piecing together what we called The Generic Mix Tape, with those decade-agnostic tracks that transcend musical taste, like “Sweet Home Alabama” or “The Hurricane.” Maybe I’d overlooked some subtle nuance, and director James Gunn had been commenting on those kinds of songs with his Guardians needle drops.

Enter Vol. 2. Nope, I was right the first time. (Warning: The rest contains spoilers for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.)

Continue reading Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Soundtrack: I Still Feel the Same (Anti!)

King Kong Week!

Nathaniel

Nathaniel

SportsAlcohol.com cofounder Nathaniel moved to Brooklyn, as you do. His hobbies include cutting up rhubarb and laying down. His favorite things are the band Moon Hooch and custard from Shake Shack. Old ladies love his hair.
Nathaniel

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Hail the power of King Kong week on SportsAlcohol.com! If you’re looking for Kong coverage, we’ve got:

…a King Kong primer for the uninitiated.

…a list of all of Kong’s movie opponents.

…a look at Kong’s creator Merian C. Cooper and his connection with non-Kong protagonist Carl Denham.

…a rundown of the expanded Kong mythos in Joe DeVito’s Skull Island series.

…a tag-team review of Korean baseball-playing gorilla movie, Mr. Go.

…a tour of the many full-sized King Kongs throughout the years.

King-Size Kong

Nathaniel

Nathaniel

SportsAlcohol.com cofounder Nathaniel moved to Brooklyn, as you do. His hobbies include cutting up rhubarb and laying down. His favorite things are the band Moon Hooch and custard from Shake Shack. Old ladies love his hair.
Nathaniel

Latest posts by Nathaniel (see all)

How big is King Kong?

Everyone who’s heard of him knows the answer is “big,” but the real answer is, “it depends.” Because in his seven film appearances (including this week’s Kong: Skull Island) his height has varied dramatically, at times within the same film. So if we’re going to look at the history of life-sized King Kongs, we’ve got to talk about what “life-sized” means. Continue reading King-Size Kong

The Athletic Grand-Nephew of Kong: MR. GO (2013)

Nathaniel

Nathaniel

SportsAlcohol.com cofounder Nathaniel moved to Brooklyn, as you do. His hobbies include cutting up rhubarb and laying down. His favorite things are the band Moon Hooch and custard from Shake Shack. Old ladies love his hair.
Nathaniel

Latest posts by Nathaniel (see all)

NATHANIEL:
Finally, after like four years of percolating interest, I managed to see Mr. Go, the Korean/Chinese gorilla-playing-baseball movie! And I roped you into watching it too! Now we’re gonna talk a little about how that went for us. Continue reading The Athletic Grand-Nephew of Kong: MR. GO (2013)

Merian C. Cooper, King Kong, and the Carl Denham Connection

Nathaniel

Nathaniel

SportsAlcohol.com cofounder Nathaniel moved to Brooklyn, as you do. His hobbies include cutting up rhubarb and laying down. His favorite things are the band Moon Hooch and custard from Shake Shack. Old ladies love his hair.
Nathaniel

Latest posts by Nathaniel (see all)

– Say, is this the moving picture ship?

– The pictures? Yeah. Are you going on this crazy voyage?

– What’s crazy about it?

                                   – I don’t know, but everybody around here is talking about that crazy fella that’s running it.

– Carl Denham?

                                         – Guess that’s the name. They say he ain’t scared of                                                  nothin’. If he wants a picture of a lion, he just goes up to him and tells him to look pleasant.

– He’s a tough egg all right.

For all the remakes, sequels, and knock-offs that followed in its wake, the original King Kong still stands apart as something special. Now sure, some of that is down to the tremendous craft involved in its creation. And some of it is down to its trailblazing place in cinema history. And some of it is down to just the dumb luck confluence of right-place-and-right-time grouping of people and resources that can be found behind the scenes of so many truly classic movies. But I think the real secret to King Kong is how personal it is. That’s right, the fantastical story of an ape-god lording over a mysterious lost world also happens to feature a fair amount of autobiography, a fact perhaps best illustrated by the fact that Carl Denham, the adventurer and filmmaker who is essentially responsible for all of the destructive events in the film, is also its hero. And that’s because Carl Denham is basically King Kong‘s director, Merian C. Cooper. Continue reading Merian C. Cooper, King Kong, and the Carl Denham Connection

King Kong Opponents

Nathaniel

Nathaniel

SportsAlcohol.com cofounder Nathaniel moved to Brooklyn, as you do. His hobbies include cutting up rhubarb and laying down. His favorite things are the band Moon Hooch and custard from Shake Shack. Old ladies love his hair.
Nathaniel

Latest posts by Nathaniel (see all)

A few years ago when we were talking about Godzilla here at SportsAlcohol.com, in the run-up to Legendary’s 2014 film, we talked about which of Godzilla’s famous opponents we’d like to see in a future sequel. That approach doesn’t seem quite appropriate here, since King Kong doesn’t have quite as extensive or established a rogues gallery as Godzilla. Still, the trailers for Kong: Skull Island have certainly promised plenty of monster fights, so instead of suggestions for a sequel I thought we might just run down a complete list of the creatures Kong has already fought on film.*

King Kong Primer

Nathaniel

Nathaniel

SportsAlcohol.com cofounder Nathaniel moved to Brooklyn, as you do. His hobbies include cutting up rhubarb and laying down. His favorite things are the band Moon Hooch and custard from Shake Shack. Old ladies love his hair.
Nathaniel

Latest posts by Nathaniel (see all)

Kong: Skull Island marks the return to theaters of one of the greatest American screen monsters, 84 years (and three days) after he changed movie history in the original King Kong. He’s never had a long-running series like the ones we’ve covered for Planet of the Apes or his chief rival to the monster monarchy, Godzilla. But he’s still appeared in a handful of movies, remakes, and sequels, and spawned cartoons, books, comics, ripoffs, and even a stage musical. So it’s still worthwhile to kick off our week of King Kongtent with an overview of the career of Skull Island’s most famous resident. Continue reading King Kong Primer

Anna Kendrick gets jilted by Table 19

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.

Is Anna Kendrick America’s Sweetheart? Sub-question: If she isn’t, does America deserve a sweetheart at all? We may not have one; Hollywood studios have written off romantic comedies, traditionally a chief incubator of big-screen sweethearts, as, I guess, not profitable enough, despite their relatively low budgets and relatively high rate of financial success (how did producers not look at The Ugly Truth’s box office and think, OK, literally any of these could make money?). But Kendrick has the chops – the instant likability, the comic prowess, the willingness to look ridiculous and sound either sincere or snarky about it, depending on the scene – despite never having actually starred in a rom-com.

She’s come close: Last summer’s Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates is more of a Step Brothers knockoff than a vehicle for the Julia Robertses of today, but she is the romantic lead in it, as well as enormously winning and funny. The Last Five Years is all about a relationship, but it’s not especially comedic and, actually, not very romantic, either. Drinking Buddies is a pretty great rom-com, but Kendrick is in second position for most of it (Jake Johnson and Olivia Wilde are at the center). Kendrick is good in all of these movies, and they’re all more enjoyable than, say, The Proposal, so maybe it’s not a problem that she’s come into her own as a star at a time when this particular genre is on the wane. Kendrick has kept to her indie roots even following the enormous success of the Pitch Perfect series, remaining open to tiny budgets and/or costarring with Sam Rockwell. But this can make watching her in an indie rom-com substitute like this week’s Table 19 a frustrating experience. If you’re going to make a bad movie set at a wedding – and Table 19 is both of those things – why not at least go with enjoyably hokey, rather than self-consciously quirky?

Continue reading Anna Kendrick gets jilted by Table 19

The singing and dancing makes La La Land better, not worse

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.

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are not great singers. Not in the Broadway or even rock and roll senses of the word, anyway. They’re also not great dancers in the Fred Astaire or Ginger Rogers senses of the word. They can both carry a tune and make graceful moves, as they prove in the musical La La Land, current Oscar frontrunner and film-nerd debate flashpoint, but their performances in the movie tend to be more of the hushed, lilting, or gentle (if you’re less kind, “reedy”) variety. As it has amassed acclaim, awards, and cash, the movie’s show of technical limitations have been thrown back at it through a number of different criticisms: the music isn’t memorable, the stars can’t sing, the stars can’t dance; this is pastiche without a soul; what business does Gosling have pretending to be a jazzman; what kind of musical is this, anyway?

Issues about representation and whiteness in La La Land make particular sense in the current cultural moment, when more people are speaking up more forcefully about inequality in Hollywood. If those knocks against the movie are up-to-the-minute, though, complaints about Stone and Gosling’s abilities as singers and dancers, echo plenty of others about modern movie musicals from the recent past. Almost every time a movie star appears in a musical, someone will point out that Nicole Kidman, Ewan McGregor, Johnny Depp, or whoever else can’t complete with the technical best of Broadway or the golden age of the cinematic form. But movie musicals have changed since that golden age. Virtuosic displays of singing and/or dancing can still be dazzling – maybe moreso than ever, considering how few movies are able to offer it – but many of the best recent movie musicals use a lack of virtuosity as an advantage. Collectively, they point the way through what has arguably become a post-singing, post-dancing, post-stage world.

This is not to denigrate the classic movie musicals of yore. Time has not dimmed the splendor of Singin’ In The Rain (it’s arguably made it shine all the brighter), and even less iconic, less specifically timeless individual films like the Astaire-Rogers musicals (from which La La Land lightly cribs some bits of choreography) make the business of entertaining and delighting an audience appear far easier than it probably is. But genres evolve with their medium, and musicals are not honor-bound to replicate the values of the past. This doesn’t make contemporary musicals automatically better than their ancestors; indeed, many of them are much, much worse. But nor does it mean they all fail to measure up just because they don’t value the same techniques as their forbearers.

Though in retrospect it’s a major pivot point in the genre, Moulin Rouge! was far from the first musical to de-emphasize either singing or dancing. Astaire movies certainly have better examples of the latter than the former, and some musicals toyed with these genre conventions as a means of experimenting. Woody Allen’s Everyone Says I Love You, for example, has a central conceit that at the time was written about almost as a gimmick: Every actor in it does their own singing, regardless of ability (except for Drew Barrymore, who was apparently too mortified and/or mortifyingly weak to get a pass). This means listening to actors with singing voices that range from pleasant (Edward Norton) to barely there (Allen himself), with plenty of awkward middle ground. Moulin Rouge!, though, stuck in a lot of craws at the time of its 2001 release for combining non-Broadway singing with aggressive, MTV-style cutting. In short, it’s a musical where non-pro singers perform musical numbers cut together in a way that does not place high priority on showcasing athletic dancing.

That might sound like a nightmare, but as it turns out, director Baz Luhrmann is the rare contemporary filmmaker who loves musicals yet also understands how they might work cinematically following MTV’s de facto takeover of the genre (audience members who roll their eyes at the idea of characters “breaking into song” rarely seem to have that trouble with the concept of a music video, perhaps because the music video was starting to replace the film musical before MTV even existed). The stars’ limitations – McGregor has a nice rock and roll but decidedly non-operatic voice; Kidman’s is a little thin – don’t limit the film, because Luhrmann is performing with the camera. Plenty of old musicals have camera movement and editing: Singin’ In The Rain, to return to an obvious example, captures its dance numbers without limiting itself to locked-down set-ups. In those and many other great musical sequences, the camera is a silent partner; in Luhrmann’s, it’s more of an active participant, not complementing the rhythm of singers and dancers but helping to create it.

In this context, where the musical’s cinematic properties dominate any one star, less polished singing and dancing actually become an advantage. Ewan McGregor is not as “good” a singer as Whitney Houston (for that matter, he’s probably not as good a singer as Dolly Parton, either), but there’s something ecstatically moving about the way he joyfully bursts into the chorus of “I Will Always Love You” during the climax of the “Elephant Love Medley” sequence – it has a reach to it that impeccable singing chops would not replicate (even within the Houston catalog, this has applications: Isn’t “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” so much more delightful than her cover of “I Will Always Love You”?). Less joyfully, the gravel-throated Moulin Rouge! cover of The Police’s “Roxanne” is a dance number – it’s framed specifically as a tango – but Luhrmann’s assured cutting of the sequence builds tension through its juxtaposition of McGregor’s counter-vocals and the rhythm of a group of dancers, not a single dancer’s powerhouse showcase.

Many of the best post-Moulin Rouge! movie musicals also step away from musical traditionalism. Johnny Depp’s growly, rock-inflected take on the title character of Sweeney Todd didn’t please some Sondheim purists, but his voice has a roughness that matches the furrowed, barely-contained anger of his performance. It’s singing made to match close-ups and medium shots, rather than hit the back row of a theater. Some other genre highlights further dispense with bombastic theatricality: There’s a downright homemade quality to young-people-in-bands rock musicals like God Help the Girl and Sing Street. Girl has a whimsical sense of space to its simple choreography along with a low-budget music video sensibility, one that Sing Street incorporates into its narrative, which is actually, in part, about the making of music videos the way that some musicals are about putting on a big show.

In plenty of ways, La La Land positions itself as a throwback to the pre-music video period. It begins with an old-timey CinemaScope logo, it was shot on film, it pays visual homage to many classic musicals, its songs lack the now-customary pop or rock touches, and the story concerns itself with the feelings of two extremely attractive white people. One thing that keeps the movie from becoming an extended, regressive pine for nonexistent Good Old Days, though, is its approach to music and performance. Though both characters want desperately to make their living in the performing arts, the songs Stone and Gosling perform are, for the most part, aimed at each other, rather than serving as demonstrations of their boundless talents.

Though Gosling’s character Seb takes the stage in a variety of guises over the course of the movie, we never really see him perform the movie’s signature tune “City of Stars” in a public way. He warbles it by himself, and he sings it as a private duet with Stone’s Mia. Similarly, Stone and Gosling’s dance in the “A Lovely Night” number is relatively low-impact in terms of physical exertion, but it fits the casually flirtatious, tenuous nature of their relationship at that point in the film. It’s preceded by “Someone in the Crowd,” which has the trappings of a more elaborate number, but is performed largely in an apartment building and on an empty street. When the number continues at a party, including a lavish shot that dives underwater with a group of background singers/swimmers, it’s no longer Mia’s fun, messing-around song with her roommates; it escapes from “someone” to the crowd.

This fits with the movie’s treatment of Mia and Seb’s talents, which is more nuanced that it may look at first. Though Seb is depicted as a dutiful jazz obsessive who can’t bring himself to phone in even a background-music performance at a dinner joint, even if his stubbornness costs him his job (again, it’s implied), his big dream is not to cut a classic jazz record or become a famous jazz musician; it’s to open a jazz club and preserve his traditionalist vision of jazz. A little regressive, perhaps, but not a dream that necessarily aggrandizes his talent, which tends to catch Mia’s attention far more readily than anyone else’s. When he does perform in public, either in his embarrassing keytar gig at a party or as part of a very successful band led by John Legend’s character, the movie focuses on Mia’s reaction moreso than anyone else’s, making clear the ultimate value of his art. Mia herself is depicted a little more clearly as talented and worthy of success, though it’s dependent almost entirely on Emma Stone’s own talent for appearing instantly likable; her auditions are usually shown in fragments, focusing more on her not getting a chance than her powerhouse acting going to waste (the movie also smartly elides showing more than a few seconds of her one-woman show). Even Mia’s “Audition” song, while positioned as a more public performance in front of people who are not Seb, is directed to feel like a spare, lonely solo, with the lights around her darkening as her small audience falls away. It’s a moving scene, to be sure, but it doesn’t take the obvious tack of representing her audition via a showstopping barnstormer of an 11 o’clock number. There’s tension between her expressiveness and the limits of her vocal range.

If every number was performed with the brio of the movie’s biggest moments, or if the songs were sung with roof-rattling power, that tension would snap and the movie’s intimacy would, if not evaporate entirely, certainly diminish. Though La La Land is a musical about performers, it’s important to note that neither character is a professional singer or dancer, and we spend a lot more time watching them do that than we do watching them act or, uh, jazz. As much fun as it can be to see someone as athletic as Gene Kelly or graceful as Fred Astaire or Ginger Rogers play a (relatively) “normal” person whose physical expressions transcend normal boundaries, it’s also neat to see actors who aren’t naturally gifted dancers attempt to float away from their default naturalism. (I have seen a lot of Step Up movies and like most of them, but I have never found myself wishing that the best dancers in the movies would have more lines, or carry more emotional weight.) Despite the surface-level homages to older movies, this is a lot closer to what Moulin Rouge! does than what Swing Time or Top Hat does. I’m sure plenty of classic musical fans would argue that there was never any need for Astaire and Rogers to be artificially floated into the air at a planetarium, and that is true. Maybe for some viewers, this sequence plays like one of those Goldblum-style just-because-they-could-they-never-stopped-to-ask-if-they-should moments of technology run amok. But I find the interplay between actual human movement and cinematically enhanced impossibility (which, let’s be real, starts with cuts and covers just about anything that movies do) stunning in its wistful expressiveness.

“Stunning” may sound like too much for such a relatively simple scene, but this balance is not as easy to strike as it may look. For examples of how it can go wrong, look to Rob Marshall’s filmed musicals Chicago and Nine, which manage to come off both stagy (with their minimalist sets seemingly designed to downplay or make narrative excuses for the songs) and cravenly hyperactive (with fast cutting out of a middling music video). The most extreme version of this divide is visible in a movie like Mamma Mia! where Pierce Brosnan cannot carry a tune on pure enthusiasm. During his duet with Meryl Streep (who is a decent singer, because of course she is) on “S.O.S.,” Brosnan struggles mightily with the relatively benign task of singing a dopey ABBA song, issuing a strangled cry of “…when you’re gone!” that has become a signature moment in a craptacular movie.

Yet at the same time, Brosnan’s vocal lurching may also be the only honest moment in the whole of Mamma Mia! The other incompetence on display in the movie – the inability to excitingly or inventively shoot big group numbers; the self-conscious overacting; the plot-lite dithering – are mere reasons that the movie is terrible in its synthetically cheesy way. Brosnan, with his game and failed attempt to sound as if he’s not being prodded with an electrical device, is terrible in an entirely human way.

Enjoyment of Brosnan’s tanking of Mamma Mia! doesn’t necessarily override the importance of choreography, blocking, and all-around talent, all of which still matter to anyone making a great musical (which Mamma is emphatically, I need to stress, not). There’s still room for traditional dazzle in the genre; La La Land opens with this very pleasure, mounting an elaborate L.A. freeway production number before it even introduces its two lead characters. But even the freeway scene, with its dozens of talented, unknown singers and dancers, is predicated as much on the camera choreography as the actual singing and dancing. I’ve heard complaints about poor audio mixing in that sequence that muffle the singing, and while this may or may not be intentional, it makes a kind of sense either way. Chazelle doesn’t construct that sequence in a way that zeroes in on amazing solos or eye-popping dance interludes or even the song’s lyrics. Instead, it overflows with color and bodies and movement in a way that a stage production probably wouldn’t – you can’t put dancers that far in the background on a stage, at least not without some pretty extreme trickery. Yet in La La Land, dancing in and around parked cars on a Los Angeles overpass seems both physically achievable and like a special effect all its own. The fantastical and the real both look better when they’re side by side.

The SportsAlcohol.com Podcast: The Best Movies of 2016

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.

After we voted on our definitive list of the 20 best movies of 2016, naturally we had to get together and talk about it. So Marisa, Sara, Jesse, and Nathaniel assembled on a winter evening to go over everything from The Neon Demon to La La Land; from the movies all four of us listed to the handful that got on the list with the support of just one; from the movies we loved to the movies we really fucking loved. Just like last year, it’s a wide-ranging yet quickly paced conversation that takes you through a year in film way better than any old Oscars ever could!

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