Each week or so, Dom plumbs the depths of podcast nation to bring you the best in cinema-related chats and programs. If writing about music is like dancing about architecture, then writing about movie podcasts is like listening to someone describe someone dancing about architecture.
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It’s been two weeks since I’ve last been here, convincing you to listen to my recommendations for podcasts instead of to those of the battalion of Podmassers over at that other much more punctual pop culture website. I am an Army of One, or at least I was, because I was away getting married to the love of my life, my best friend, the person who must spend a lifetime telling me to put on headphones, etc.—she is, as both Borat and popular podcast parlance would say, “my wife.”
In other words, I have a lot of pod-catching-up to do. It’s been going reasonably well, at least as far as being around to revel in The Flop House finally getting to Nicolas Cage’s ode to old people running, Pay the Ghost, and Marc Maron’s WTF interview with Eric André, which is (kinda unfairly, but also not) a completely different experience from Sam Fragoso’s epoch-defining Talk Easy talk with André not so long ago. Granted, Fragoso seemed to reason—and André admitted as much—that the interviewee was pretty done with the whole idea of having a conversation at that point in his day—but it’s strange that with Maron, who was a notorious asshole to the comedian, André would be more willing to tone down his confrontational nature.
I also caught up with Pretty Little Liars (pretty terrible!), finally saw Zootopia (pretty good!), and sat on the couch to orient my eyes in the general direction of the Point Break remake, which was like if Neil Breen and Ed Hardy wrote a script together based on Imagine Dragons lyrics. And somehow, despite white-people-with-dreadlocks philosophizing and early-’90s Michael Crichton-y magic-Asian stereotypes, the most depressing part of that whole movie is the fact that it features a cameo by Steve Aoki, who just looks really tired of being Steve Aoki.
As flighty trustafarian sexpot Samsara would say, “Ideas are strong—but not as strong as a whaling ship.” Keep that in mind when checking out my picks for the three best movie-related podcast episodes of the week: None of these are stronger than a whaling ship.
“Predator 2 (Live)”
We Hate Movies is now over 260 episodes in, which means that one of its most appealing/alienating aspects is its ever-deepening bench of characters and arsenal of inside jokes. (My favorites of the past couple months or so has got to be their take on Gallagher, he of the porn moustache and corresponding explosion of sticky juices, or the nasally nerd-kid who requires his mother’s help in jerking off, which is as gross as it sounds.) For regular listeners, this is a revelation, basically synthesizing the fun of watching terrible movies with your friends into a podcast format, because the more you do so with said friends, the more you develop a shorthand for MST3K-ing your way through any kind of bad movie, rather than just insistently pointing out the ridiculous things that occur in each bad movie, which (don’t @ me) is basically what How Did This Get Made? does, and pretty much only does at increasingly piercing volumes.
The trio takes on the likes of 1990’s Predator 2, a showcase for Danny Glover’s dystopian poet laureate and oversized handgun aficionado, Lt. Mike Harrigan. It’s delightfully easy pickings for the WHM, not only because Harrigan diarrheas such wonderful lines as “That means you’re cuttin’ off my dick and shovin’ it up my ass” (when balking at bureaucratic authority) or “OK pussyface, it’s your move” (when addressing a murderous alien), but also because it co-stars Gary Busey, and the hosts’ impression of Gary Busey is both similar to and as on-point as their impression of Holly Hunter staring at a mason jar full of pee right before dying in Batman v Superman. I mean, I’m still not sure what Harrigan’s getting at. That he feels emasculated? That he’s getting fucked? But why is the implement which he normally uses to fuck now fucking him? And why doesn’t he have any say in this? Harrigan doesn’t seem like a guy to get hung up on a metaphor or two, but he does seem like a guy who has something to say about when and where his dick is used.
Still, the most impressive part about any WHM live episode is just how comfortable and confident these guys are in sitting in front of 70+ people and riffing about a dumb movie. Imagine actually doing that—it’s difficult, the imagining part, because the disconnect between an intoxicated-ish conversation with friends and charging people to listen to that conversation is practically canyon-sized. In this week’s Blank Check, also live, there was something strange about the roomsound and the tangents and the podcast’s overall format: In a room together, in front of no one but themselves, the hosts thrive on their digressions, but in front of an audience you can almost feel the tangents unravel, the tension mount, the crowd growing impatient. And now that we have a whole niche of pop culture devoted to skewering bad movies, We Hate Movies should count their lucky stars that they’ve figured out how to turn something we all thought we were good at into a vocation that puts the rest of us self-defined bad movie lovers to shame.
“Potter and Politics (in Criticism)”
Fighting in the War Room is one of the most dependable weekly film criticism podcasts, mostly because the hosts—David Ehrlich, Joanna Robinson (replacing Katey Rich, who’s on maternity leave), Dave Gonzales and Matt Patches, each well-known and well-respected critics on their own—lay waste to the notion that there is some sort of overarching consensus (let alone conspiracy) in the film criticism community. Each host has his or her preferences and obsessions, probably most recently illustrated by their near-diametrically-opposed feelings about Stranger Things a week or two ago. Such veracity of opinion and diversification of viewpoints lends wonderfully well to this episode’s rambling discussion of politics in criticism, which stems from a willingness to explore the film critic’s role in popular culture. Should critics inject politics into a film review, or is there a time and place for such things? It seems like an easy quandary to answer until it isn’t: What do you say to a Trump supporter who likes what these liberal critics have to say about Suicide Squad but doesn’t want to hear them speak ill of the Donald? Or, to take the idea even further: Is there any point in Lena Dunham stumping for Hillary Clinton when the only people who would ever listen to Lena Dunham would be the people who’d already vote on that side of the spectrum anyway? The hosts don’t have any real clean answers—and even Ehrlich admits at one point that he doesn’t think he has any real conservative friends for whom this debate would matter—but the episode hits all the right points as far as continuing to justify the presence of critics, of culture-obsessed writers and thinkers, in a digital landscape of oversaturated, divisive and even sometimes enraged content.
“Suicide Squad / Top 5 Women Comic Book Characters (Done Right) / Jason Bourne”
Critic and seeming comic-encyclopedia Angelica Jade Bastién fills in for Adam Kempenaar (in Puerto Rico—I hope you’re filling up on mofongo, shit’s deliciously cheap there), which is perfect because her take on Suicide Squad offers the kind of deep-cut opinion the film probably needs to lift itself from the depths of critical hate it’s been (justifiably) getting over the past couple days. Even for a devoted comic book fan, the film bombs, and in this episode of Filmspotting we’re offered both sides: that of the more traditional cinephile and that of the rabid DC buff, criticizing the film from the perspective of an adaptation as thoroughly as from that of a cinematic entity unto itself.
The episode gets even better when the two hosts list their Top 5 Women Comic Characters done right in film adaptations, because not only does it once again highlight the depressing state of women characters and filmmakers in comic book films, but it affords the podcast and those podcasts of its ilk the attention to detail that is so often absent from serious criticism about Marvel and DC films—namely, the fact that they practically need to be justifiably loyal adaptations on top of well-made movies. The more these franchise films occupy our brain-space, the more we need opinions that understand both angles in order to continue to justify the existence of these opinions in the face of box office numbers. If Batman v Superman hadn’t had a barrage of criticism levied at it post-premiere, and was only judged on its fine-enough box office, then maybe DC wouldn’t have attempted to step in during the 11th hour to try to make Suicide Squad more “fun.” Whether or not the execs succeeded, it meant they were listening, which also means that, in the end, the silly, ignorant people who believe that Marvel has been paying off critics—the type of people who like David Ayer movies, say, or the type of people who agree with Bret Easton Ellis about SJWs and spend money on Steve Aoki albums—will not win. And that feels right.
Dom Sinacola is Assistant Movies Editor at Paste and a Portland-based writer. Like everyone on this planet, he co-hosts his own podcast, Pretty Little Grown Men, which is sometimes about movies but mostly about Pretty Little Liars. You can find it on Twitter.