Episode 55: Hank the Ballpark Pup 4 Starters

Hank!

We’re back! Again! The podcast that keeps popping up, again and again, just when you thought it was dead forever.

Now, serious question for fans: a decision was made while recording this episode (which you’ll hear!) to not edit them anymore, opting for quantity (and timeliness) over quality. Not that it’s necessarily a trainwreck otherwise, but it’s not as polished as the podcast normally is. But this saves me (Joey) about two hours per episode, which means we can bring you three times the number of episodes in the amount of time it takes me to normally record and produce one! So that’s good, right?

So let me know, one way or the other, whether you’re cool with this. And if you’re not? You can probably stop listening. So just tell me that we’re great and this was a good idea.

Anyway, we talk about a lot of things in this episode! John gets very close to announcing the play-by-play of UConn’s game, which is already no longer timely and we recorded this two hours ago. We preview the baseball season, talk about the Oscars, and some other stuff. Be surprised! You’ll love it. Also: Hank, because of course Hank.

Listen now and subscribe on iTunes!

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A Review of Divergent by Someone Who’s Never Read the Book

Divergent

I saw Divergent tonight in IMAX. I saw the trailer beforehand, forgot most of it, and knew nothing else about the plot. I knew it was a book. I knew it starred Shailene Woodley. I knew it was aimed at tween and teen girls. I still saw it on opening night. This is an account of everything I thought and felt during the night. There are maybe some vague, slight spoilers but nothing that would really impact your viewing of the movie. ANYWAY.

Wristlet

  • Got a leather wristlet (above) when I got my ticket. Was super excited to figure out what it was about. Guess what? There’s no leather wristlet in the movie! Don’t know what it’s all about! SO WEIRD.
  • Sat down in the theater; seemed like the 8pm showing was packed, while there were about 15 people at this showing. In spite of that low number (in a massive theater) and in spite of the fact that I was the only person in the entire front half of the theater, a talkative family of 5 decided to sit DIRECTLY BEHIND ME. REMEMBER, FAMILY: What makes you different makes you dangerous (apparently, according to something I read somewhere related to the movie). Dare to be dangerous, family. DARE.
  • I feel like there are only about four or five IMAX trailers and they just show them before everything. Spiderman, Godzilla, Interstellar, Noah, Captain America… you can stop selling me on these movies, AMC. I’m going to see them already.
  • If I had read the books (which I will sooner or later), I can imagine groaning audibly at the clunky opening narration. But it’s Shailene’s voice, so it was wonderful.
  • The movie is really pretty! It’s beautiful to look at.
  • Divergent is, apparently, Hunger Games meets Harry Potter. And also other generalizations.
  • But seriously, there’s basically a Sorting Hat except you don’t need to listen to it? So what’s the point? Not sure!
  • Also, is there no disease in the future? Why is everyone cutting their hand with the same knife? Icky! AND HOW DOES IT GET SO CLEAN SO QUICKLY?!
  • Whatever the name of Miles Teller’s character is in this movie, he’s no Sutter Keeley. He’s like Sutter Keeley if Sutter Keeley wasn’t charming or likeable in any way. Just the bad parts of Sutter Keeley. I have more to say about it but there’s spoilers so I won’t.
  • Is the arc of this book series like (spoiler alert?) Oblivion? I feel like it is, but who knows, really. I don’t!
  • A lot of the first half of the movie seems jumbled and rushed and weird. It’s sort of like… Book scene! Book scene! Book scene! Like they had SO MUCH to cover and wanted to get everything in. How many pages is this book? 501 pages. I don’t know. The movie’s long, too. It’s almost 2 and a half hours. (Isn’t it?) That’s not to say the first half is BAD because I liked it a lot. There’s just a lot of narration and a lot of scene jumping and etc.
  • The back half of the movie works much better. When you (and Tris) realize what’s going on and you just sort of go with it.
  • This movie is pretty predictable.
  • I was worried for a second we were going to have a major cliffhanger at the end, and there kind-of-sort-of is, but not really. Like, if this movie tanked, the series could end without making the second or third books into movies and you’d be satisfied. (Satisfries?) It’s not like the end of Catching Fire, but that’s a bad example cause that’s the middle book in a trilogy. This is why I shouldn’t write at 2:15 am.
  • All in all I liked it a whole lot. Because (a) Shailene Woodley and (b) It was entertaining.
  • WAIT THAT WAS ASHLEY JUDD? I don’t have any idea what she looks like, apparently!
  • I feel like we’re going to see Theo James in everything.
  • Jai Courtney reminded me of Macklemore the whole time, except I might not know what Macklemore looks like. (Also, Jai Courtney, why do you predominantly make bad movies? Get better decision-making skills. This was a good movie but you had a weird costume. Not a total home run here, buddy.)
  • On the way out, I heard a girl say to her mom, “I thought it was going to be more true to the book.” SO I GUESS IT WASN’T!
  • The 8 pm IMAX show got posters, so I was wandering around, looking for posters. None were to be found. BUT there was a (different) mom and a couple teenage girls and they were real upset about something. And I don’t know what it was, and I was trying to creep on what was going on, but they were staring daggers at me so I couldn’t figure out what was going on. BUT I followed them to the customer service counter, where the guy was getting out free passes to movies, and I think I heard them talking about other people in the theater being rude? Not sure. BUT I got a poster and it’s actually decent quality with cool art. WIN. Here it is:

COOL POSTER

OVERALL RATING (probably): B (?)

CAN’T WAIT FOR… Insurgent. Okay. That’s the next one. If it’s like Hunger Games, Insurgent will be my favorite. The third one is Allegiant? That’s kind of straying from your nomenclature, Veronica Roth.

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Episode 54: Michael Sam 4 Starters

Michael Sam

Sorry for the delay, but the Olympics were on! Three weeks later, John and Joey finally talk about the Super Bowl. It’s taken quite a while to make sense of what happened, or care enough to talk about it. Also: Michael Sam has come out, and John and Joey talk all about that and how awesome it is. Finally, just in time for this weekend’s big award show, the guys make their Oscar picks. Listen now and subscribe on iTunes today!

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The Biggest Plot Hole in ’3 DAYS TO KILL’ (Spoilers)

3 Days to Kill

So, last night, I saw 3 Days to Kill. It’s filled with all the cliches, and isn’t a great movie, but it’s not entirely awful. I enjoyed a bunch of it. I wouldn’t watch it again, but that’s also true of a lot of the movies I see.

Anyway, there’s a major plot hole, that I can’t help but wonder whether or not it was ever mentioned on set. Spoilers follow.

Kevin Costner is dying from brain and lung cancer, and given three months to live. Amber Heard recruits him back into the CIA by offering him an experimental drug that will prolong his life. That’s fine; I have no problem with that.

After taking the drug, a major side effect crops up: when his heart rate rises significantly, he starts hallucinating and then passes out. Still fine; still no problem with that.

Panicking, Costner calls Heard to basically say, “WHAT IS HAPPENING HOW DO I FIX THIS WHAT IS GOING ON.” She says drinking some vodka will take the edge off. That’s pretty dumb, but also fine; I don’t have too much of a problem with that.

Herein lies the rub: HEY DUMMY KEVIN COSTNER, WHY AREN’T YOU ALWAYS CARRYING A FLASK OF VODKA WITH YOU EVERYWHERE YOU GO?! YOU’RE RENDERED USELESS THREE TIMES IN THE MOVIE, ALL OF WHICH COULD HAVE BEEN AVOIDED BY CARRYING A FLASK.

If the big objection to that was: “But how will we let the bad guys get away so we can drag this out?!” You can easily just put it in his jacket pocket, and have it take a bullet (in the ultimate movie irony!!) and let the vodka drain out. Boom. Done.

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Twitch Plays Pokemon: Nine Million Monkeys Trying to Write Shakespeare

Twitch Plays Pokemon

“With an infinite number of monkeys and an infinite number of typewriters, one will type Shakespeare’s plays.” — Émile Borel.

There’s a fascinating social experiment currently underway right now: Up to 75,000 people are “playing” a single game of Pokemon Red over on Twitch.tv. In the five-and-a-half days since the stream started, over 9 million people have tuned in to see what’s happening.

The exciting element of the stream is that anyone watching can help “play” the game. By typing a command into the chat (up, down, left, right, A, B or Start), you can help dictate which direction the character in the game moves. It’s often a beautiful disaster, and I can’t stop watching it.

The idea was concocted by an Australian programmer, who wishes to remain anonymous. He/She had no idea how big the stream would get: “I didn’t really have any plans for it from the beginning,” the creator told Polygon. “I just wanted to put it up to see how people would respond. I put it together and put it up on a dedicated server all within a few days.”

It’s safe to say the stream has grown bigger than anyone would have ever imagined.

It’s like watching a car crash in slow motion.” This is the most accurate description of the stream I’ve found so far. Whether there’s 10 people in the chat, 2,000 (which was when I first tuned in, and already seemed like a ton of people) or 76,000+, there will always be people who want to cause chaos because it’s fun to watch something burn. It’s what makes the stream endlessly fascinating – and frustrating – to watch.

As I write this on Tuesday morning, the chat is stuck in the same maze of arrows that it has been stuck in for over 24 hours. Things have gotten so bad, in fact, that the creator has added a new option: Anarchy vs. Democracy. By having 3/4 of the vote lean toward Democracy, the game temporarily switched over to accepting the most popular input – not all of them. It’s a much slower process but one – in theory, anyway – that should lead to actual results.

And results have been hard to come by. The game has been on for 133 hours, and the farthest they’ve made it is a place about halfway through the game – that you could get to (relatively easily) in about four or five hours. (You can try to make sense of the biggest landmarks or milestones with this Google Docs page.) That’s a lot of “wasted” time. But it’s not really wasted, because the community has responded in a way that’s even better than the stream: fan art.

Twitch Plays Pokemon

The stream has produced tales of false prophets, Pokemon that have risen from the dead and much, much more. Too much to go into in depth here. Just know that it is wonderful.

It would take too long to describe why some of these pieces were created (and, frankly, I’m not 100% sure on some of them myself). But with 133 hours of stream-time, and the internet’s tremendous ability to make greatness out of what initially seems like nothing, there’s been a lot created, and a lot of it is wonderful.

Even with Democracy mode enabled (which, for the sake of entertainment, I hope is repealed as soon as the stream gets past this section), little progress is being made. At this rate, the stream is set to go on for several more days.

You might not understand what you’re watching, and you might think you don’t care, but I urge you to check it out. I’m captivated by so many elements of the stream, as are millions around the world. And, if you tune in at the right point (probably sometime in about a week or so), you might see the team reach the end of the game, and see if those monkeys actually write Shakespeare. Or, as one Twitch commenter noted:

“Man. This isn’t a thousand monkeys at a thousand typewriters. It’s twenty thousand monkeys at a single typewriter, and half those monkeys are screaming and desperately trying to progress while the other half throw s**t everywhere. It’s wonderful.”

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John’s Top 10 Movies of 2013

Unlike Joey, I don’t think you should care that I really enjoyed “Despicable Me 2″, because I’m not a hopeless narcissist. What follows are not my favorite movies of 2013, but rather the ones I think other people should see, will stand the test of time, and are the most technically and artistically accomplished. Go see the movies.

10) SAVING MR. BANKS

saving-mr-banks
While often a bit of a narrative mess (the flashbacks between P.L. Travers’ childhood and the story’s present often feel abrupt and confusing), Saving Mr. Banks is nonetheless a beautifully staged snapshot of a fascinating  moment of pop history. It is impeccably cast, acted, shot, written, and scored, and while it may not add up to quite as much as it thinks, it is the kind of good-natured and cynicism-free entertainment that Hollywood seldom makes anymore.

9) SALINGER

salinger

All criticism leveled at Salinger is entirely valid: this is a superficial look not at the life of J.D. Salinger the man but rather at J.D. Salinger the cultural movement. It is manipulative and exploitative, and anyone looking for a fair and thorough analysis of the man and his works should look elsewhere. However, as an analysis of the Salinger zeitgeist, it is perfect. It may not be a fair or even a good documentary, but it is entirely thrilling, and if you are already a Salingerphile then you already know everything you need to know, and this is the one place you can go for a different look.

8) THE WAY WAY BACK

the_way_way_back_welivefilm

It is unlikely that The Way Way Back will be remembered as a milestone in American cinema. This is a small movie with small ambitions, but it is one of those rare gems in which everything works. In the tradition of Cameron Crowe, The Way Way Back throws us into the middle of a story that has been playing out long before we arrive and gives us a brief peak into its comings and goings. Its characters are beautifully realized and lovingly brought to life by its cast, and while the end result is less than earth-shattering, one feels genuinely upset to leave these characters behind when the movie ends. And, yes, as Joey says: Sam Rockwell.

7) 12 YEARS A SLAVE

12 Years A Slave

Rarely do I take into consideration my own emotional response to a movie in attempting to criticize it, but here I agree with Joey: I will (very likely) never watch 12 Years a Slave again, and while I think it may be the most important movie of the year, and is absolutely one of the best, and is absolutely one I think everybody should see, recommending it feels…inadequate. Movies like this deserve their own lists and their own places in history. It says something that it took this long for this movie to be made, and it says something (possibly something damning) that it took a creative team of Britons to make it at all. Brutal, unrelenting, and unflinchingly human, this is the movie about slavery that should have been made a long, long time ago and could have been (and now should be) a game-changer in the way we talk about race in America.

6) THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG

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Two movies into a trilogy, it is obvious that The Hobbit series will never have the narrative thrust or emotional resonance of its preceding trilogy, The Lord of the Rings. But that makes sense, since the latter actually had to condense a sprawling epic narrative and had an intact climax to which it was building while the former is working to build a stronger and richer foundation for the latter. It isn’t going anywhere conclusive, so it is tasked with finding thrills and resonance in the margins. The first Hobbit was a loveable mess that felt like an epic quest to find a plot, a reason to exist and, most allusively, a place to end. This one suffers from many of the same problems, but it moves along  briskly and engagingly until its final half hour, when the dragon shows up and things really do get interesting. Benedict Cumberbatch’s Smaug is the greatest performance by an actor with zero screen time this year (no offense, Scarlett Johannson), and his teasing, taunting back-and-forth with Martin Freeman’s Bilbo is edge-of-your-seat stuff. The entire last act is worth the price of admission and just demands that it be experienced, which is not to take away from the thoroughly engaging film that precedes it. The end will leave you wanting more, right now, and that’s quite an accomplishment for a 3-hour movie.

5) FRANCES HA

frances-ha-660x440

Everything about this movie should be annoying. It stars the media-anointed Princess of Indie Greta Gerwig (who is to the twenty-teens what the also alliteratively named Parker Posey was to the 90s), is directed by the sometimes cloying and twee Noah Baumbach, is shot in black-and-white, and deals with a middle class white girl’s struggles to make it New York City. Uggggghhh.
So the fact that it’s not only not annoying but quite superb is a remarkable thing. The secret to Frances Ha’s success is that it is at once very aware of the innate annoyingness of its subject matter and indeed its main character and fully committed to telling its story anyway, hipster trust-fund first-world-problem gratingness and all. It is proof that if you approach telling a story about human beings as though they are human beings who, like all of us, are aware that our problems are our own, and that other people have theirs, and that this doesn’t make our own any less problematic…well, much can be forgiven. Frances Ha walks a tightrope, and it knows that one false move into B.S. sentimentality or navel-gazing will end it. Thanks to Gerwig’s miraculous performance (equal parts dancer’s grace and wrecking ball’s clumsiness), a superb supporting cast, and Baumbach’s skilled pacing, that never happens. It is relatable to those (like me) who lived it, but it smartly does not rely on its relatability as its sole source of enjoyablity.

4) MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING

much-ado-about-nothing

Joss Whedon is probably the kind of creative talent that makes other people throw up their hands and return to their day jobs, so it’s great that he’s built a mini-empire of like-minded and equally crafty creative talents. On the surface, Much Ado is a tiny throwaway project shot in a few days at Joss Whedon’s house, featuring a cast of his friends. What it ends up as is the first Shakespeare adaptation in a long time (and perhaps ever) that effortlessly acts as a masterclass in how to modernize and, yes, Americanize Shakespeare without looking like you’re trying to hard or resorting to gimmickry. The whole thing is just so well executed, so confidently staged, and so fancy-free and non-self-conscious that one quickly buys into the idea of Elizabethan English being used in modern Los Angeles without a second thought. The cast may not be uniformly adept at Shakespeare, but they all give it everything they have, which is infectious. Alexis Denisof and Amy Acker make a Benedick and Beatrice that give Branagh and Thompson a run for their money, and Nathan Fillion as Dogberry is the funniest supporting performance in any film this year.

3) AMERICAN HUSTLE

american-hustle

David O. Russell is undoubtedly one of America’s finest filmmakers, and there is not a clunker in his repertoire. While not as strong as Silver Linings Playbook (my pick for best picture of 2012 and a film on which Joey and I vehemently disagree) nor as hard-hitting as The Fighter, American Hustle is a ferociously-acted tour-de-force that plays like a pile of roman candles in a bonfire. It is funny, thrilling, and oddly poignant, and (for a movie about con men and corrupt politics) never treats its characters like caricatures. I have a problem with some of the casting choices (Jennifer Lawrence and Jeremy Renner are both far too young for the respective roles), but sometimes you have to sacrifice perfect casting for adequate talent (which both Lawrence and Renner ooze from their pores) in order to pull off a script like this.

2) THE SPECTACULAR NOW

The-Way-Way-Back-2013

There are few more grating subgenres of film than the “coming of age” story, so it’s something of a miracle that 2013 gave us 3 terrific ones (this, in addition to Frances Ha and Way Way Back). The Spectacular Now is as close to perfection as movies get. Impeccably cast, written, shot, paced, and performed, it trades not in melancholy (as some of its promotion suggests) nor in cheap melodrama (as so much in its genre does) but in honest, funny, and thoroughly non-cynical portraits of contemporary teenage life. Even the most minor of characters feel like human beings, and, astoundingly, the teenagers here act, talk, and live life like actual teenagers. I love this movie.

1) GRAVITY

gravity-movie-578-80

Gravity is pure cinema. Built (like “A Trip to the Moon”, “Star Wars”, “Titanic”, and “Avatar”) on improvised, breakthrough technology and innovation, it is a breathtakingly choreographed existential ballet. But for all its ambition, it is little more than the most basic of human stories: the will to survive. What makes it an important version of that particular story, however, is its modernity. It examines the current outer limit of human exploration (space) and how the human spirit thrives in the awkward margin between the irresistible allure of the dread of the unfamiliar and the eternal yearning for the security and certainty of home. That idea has been explored to death, but never as effectively and as relevantly as it is here. One imagines a time in which Gravity will seem dated in much the same way and for the same reasons “Robinson Crusoe” does today, and the thrill of what a world in which that is true would look like is very much at the core of Gravity‘s soul. This is a landmark masterpiece.

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Episode 53: Cinema 2013 4 Starters

Sparrows Dance

It’s almost the Super Bowl! That means John and Joey break down the ups and downs of Championship Sunday and talk about what to expect from the Big Game in Jersey on Sunday. But the episode is REALLY about their favorite and best movies from 2013. You’ve heard the worst, now hear the best! What topped John and Joey’s charts? Listen and find out! Click here to listen and click here to subscribe on iTunes.

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