Tag Archives: podcasts

Pop Culture Happy Hour: Never Say Die Hard

We had to do a Pop Culture Happy Hour discussion of Die Hard because it’s holiday time and because the beloved classic turned 30, uh, back in July and because we just had to. I thought I was being punk’d when I got the invitation but I’m so glad it was real. This was the awkward Christmas Eve holiday party/attempted spousal reconciliation I’ve been waiting to be invited to since I was 11 years old. Yippie kai yay, podcast lovers. (My punishingly long Die Hard Dossier is here.)

I’m on The Canon, Debating His Girl Friday v The Philadelphia Story with my pal Amy Nicholson!

IMG_0083“Your assignment will be Spy magazine’s greatest achievement: Tracy Lord. Big game hunting in Africa, fox hunting in Pennsylvania. Married on impulse. Divorced in a rage. And always unapproachable by the press. The unapproachable Miss Lord… The Philadelphia Story!”

I was so certain that recording an episode of The Canon with my friend Amy Nicholson, pitting one Problematic 1940 Divorced Cary Grant movie against another, would require me to perform an impression of Henry Daniell as Spy publisher Sidney Kidd that I might’ve ripped the audio of the scene into my iPhone and rehearsed it during my drive to Earwolf HQ in Hollywood a few weeks ago. In the end, I forgot to break out the imitation I’d practiced to carefully, because Amy is just as brilliant in conversation as she is in prose. So the fact that she spared you all my, um, acting is not the best reason to be grateful for her insight and eloquence, but it’s a reason.

You can listen to our debate here.
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Hear Me Threaten the Life of Co-Host Josh Larsen on Last Week’s Filmspotting!

Hamilton Biehn CameronThe Terminator is one of my favorite movies. When my Windy City pals Adam Kempenarr and Josh Larsen announced the other week that they would make writer-director James Cameron’s low-budget, high-concept sci-fi classic the subject of one of their “Sacred Cow” reviews, I knew that the likelihood that Josh—a critic who generally seems to dislike action films, with the bizarre exception of the Fast & the Furious franchise, which to me represents the genre at its most derivative and least inspired—would rain on it. He hates Predator, people! Predator! A film I saw last year at the Library of Congress!

So I took action. To paraphrase Al Capone, you can get farther with a kind word and a quote from The Terminator than you can with a kind word alone. And the threatening voice mail I left for Josh opened last week’s episode.
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Pop Culture Happy Hour No. 288: Batman v Superman and Objects We Desire

Batman V. Superman: Dawn Of JusticeI was happy as always to join Linda Holmes, Stephen Thompson, and my Pal-for-Life Glen Weldon on this week’s Pop Culture Happy Hour, wherein we perform an autopsy on the rotten corpse of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Based on my defense of Man of Steel on this show three years ago I was, I think, expected to stick up for BvS. I  could not.

Since none of us liked this film — in fact we all disliked it so much that the controversial issue of Henry Cavill’s height never even came up — we decided to broaden the topic to try to pin down the elements that make a would-be action blockbuster work or not work. I forgot to say so on the show, but I wrote about this for Linda two summers ago after helping the staff of The Dissolve, may it rest in peace, to determine the 50 Greatest Summer Blockbusters. Continue reading

Pop Culture Happy Hour No. 278: The Hateful Eight and the Theatrical Filmgoing Experience

Jennifer Jason Leigh in "The Hateful Eight." (The Weinstein Co.)

It’s a split verdict from the Pop Culture Happy Hour panel this week on the merits of Quentin Tarantino’s eighth and—on account of having been shot in 65mm Super Panavision, for a 2.76:1 aspect ratio when projected in 70mm—widest feature, The Hateful Eight. I don’t think I was at my sharpest trying to defend the picture. All I can tell is you that I saw its refusal to give us any character to empathize with fully as a strength, not a weakness, and reflective of a deliberate decision by Tarantino. Although more modest in scale and contained in its setting, this is a more complicated film than the two historical fantasias that preceded it, 2009’s Inglorious Basterds and 2012’s Django Unchained. I enjoy and admire all of these films, but it’s very clear in the latter two who is supposed to enjoy the audience’s support. Not so in The Hateful Eight. That discomfiture ain’t for everyone. “The viewership for this one narrows to the self-selected,” wrote my pal Scott Tobias in his NPR review three weeks ago.

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Don’t Fence Me, Vin: Talking Furious 7 on Pop Culture Happy Hour, Small-Batch Ed.

script-scoop-brian-o-conner-to-retire-in-fast-and-furious-7-74101_1These are indeed Strange Days we’re living in when my delightful friend Linda Holmes appreciates an action picture more than I do. We have each of us seen only the latter-day installments in the unaccountably resilient Fast & Furious franchise – those would be Nos. 6 and 7, the ones we watched together – which did not deter us from debriefing on the new Furious 7 in a small-batch session Pop Culture Happy Hour, which you can hear here.

Linda loves it. I like it, too, though I have some reservations. (My Travel Channel TV show is actually called Some Reservations. Call your cable operator.) Continue reading

On the FringeCasting Couch with Live Action Theatre

And this episode of The FringeCasting Couch was recorded last Tuesday afternoon, during a brief interval between a depressing visit to my doctor’s office and the two fitness classes I had to teach that evening; one boxing and one boot camp. This were necessarily verbal-instruction-only editions of said classes for me; doctor’s orders. Nothing feels worse.

Anyway, I’m a big fan of Live Action Theatre. Their show in the 2013 Capital Fringe Festival, The Continuing Adventures of John Blade, Super Spy, was my favorite last year. I liked their new one, The Tournament, so much that I’m leaving to see it for a second time right now. Here’s the original Fringeworthy post.

I had them on the podcast last year, too.

On The FringeCasting Couch with Twanna A. Hines

For the fifth consecutive year, I’m running the Washington City Paper’s coverage of the Capital Fringe Festival here in DC, manifest mainly through a blog previously known as Fringe & Purge that we decided this year to rename Fringeworthy. In 2012, I started The Fringe & PurgeCast to accompany that blog; its rebranding this summer forced me to rethink the podcast’s name, too. The Fringe & PurgeCast is dead; long live The FringeCasiting Couch.

I’m not cross-posting most of the stuff I’m doing for Fringeworthy, but I’m going to put up a couple of recent episodes of the podcast that I thought were particularly fun. This one, which I recorded last night with Twanna A. Hines, whose show is called I Füçkèð Your Country, is one of those. The original post is here.

Pop Culture Happy Hour: Edge of Tomorrow and Noble Failures

It’s always a thrill to be invited back on Pop Culture Happy Hour. I joined Linda, Stephen, and Glen to talk about Edge of Tomorrow — the best would-be summer blockbuster yet in a year that’s already seen several strong ones — plus noble failures. We agreed on the B topic before Edge of Tomorrow opened to less-than-stellar business, despite near-universal acclaim from critics. I hope we didn’t jinx it, because this is exactly the kind of shrewd, fresh, self-aware big movie that seems to be perennially in danger of extinction.

I’d been summoned to PCHH this time at least in part because of my enduring affection for the 1991 caper comedy/Bruce Willis vanity project Hudson Hawk. This is, to my mind, a creatively successful film that also just happened to lose something north of $50 million in 1991 dollars.

I always over-prepare when I’m invited on a podcast. I came in ready to talk about a few other movies big genre films whose reach exceeded their grasp: Kathryn Bigelow’s ambitious social sci-fi Strange Days, Bryan Singer’s way-emo Superman Returns (to which Man of Steel‘s shrugging, genocidal violence was, I’m convinced, a direct, and stupid, reaction), and Alien 3, the fascinating, troubled sequel that marked David Fincher’s feature debut and that he refuses to talk about to this day. Of those three, only Strange Days was a big money-loser like Hudson Hawk was; the other two did okay but fell short of their aesthetic objectives. Notes on "Strange Days" for Pop Culture Happy Hour.

I’d even jotted down a quote from Roger Ebert’s four-star review of Strange Days to read on the air. Having come from a screening of Steve James’ wonderful documentary Life Itself — about Ebert’s life, career, illness, and death — just hours ago as I’m typing this, I’m doubly sorry I didn’t get to. We didn’t even get to everything I meant to say about Hudson Hawk. Hey, it’s a discussion, not a lecture.

I’ll correct one of those omissions right here: One of Hudson Hawk’s villains, Caesar Mario, is a guy who had a chip on his shoulder because he’s the lesser-known brother of a more famous gangster. This character is played by Frank Stallone. That’s a good casting joke, there.

Recorded but cut for time was an acknowledgment — initiated, would you believe, not by me but by my Pal-for-Life Glen — about Edge of Tomorrow‘s homages to ALIENS both large and small, from the armored power suits to the gender-neutral division of action-hero labors between stars Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt, to the presence of Bill Paxton, doing a hilarious 180-degree inversion of Private Hudson, his panicked, “Game over, Man!” Marine from ALIENS.

Anyway, listen here or find the podcast on iTunes.

FURTHER READING: I wrote about Edge of Tomorrow and blockbuster fatigue, and about PG-13 vs. R-rated cine-violence and about how seeing ALIENS on VHS 400 times as a kid set up expectations that the 2012 ALIEN prequel Prometheus could not possibly satisfy.

Click on any photo to see a beautiful, high-res version.

The Career of Tom Cruise, X-Men, Han Solo, and the Wrath of Cannes. I’m on the Voice Film Club podcast this week.

I had a great time sitting in on this week’s Voice Film Club podcast with my Village Voice editor Alan Scherstuhl and L.A. Weekly film critic Amy Nicholson. Alan invited me on to talk about my essay demanding the death of Han Solo, but before we get to that we have a long chat about the perplexing career of Tom Cruise (working off of Amy’s marvelous cover story about him) and Amy’s review of X-Men: Days of Future Past, which I won’t get to see until tonight. You can hear the podcast below or here.

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Pop Culture Happy Hour: More Hobbits and Christmas Music

In "Terminator 2: Judgment Day," Sarah Connor gets militarized.

In “Terminator 2,” onetime victim Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) gets militarized.

Thanks to Pop Culture Happy Hour full-timers Stephen Thompson, Glen Weldon, and host Linda Holmes for inviting me back on the podcast this week to talk about The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, and a subject closer to my heart than that one, Christmas music. Have I mentioned that I’m very interested in Christmas music?

Our dissection of that enervating Hobbit movie feeds into a discussion of second installments, and some of the ones that really work. If you haven’t seen Terminator 2: Judgment Day in a while, there’s no time like the present, Christmas T-minus five. Continue reading

Rosebud the Sled: Spoilers, Considered

1968: Humanity learns the location of the "Planet of the Apes."

1968: Humanity learns the location of the “Planet of the Apes.”

Last year, a brilliant new play premiered at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company called Mr. Burns, a Post-Apocalyptic Play. Everyone who reviewed it told their readers far too much about it. Everyone but me… he said modestly.

The cycle repeated itself when Mr. Burns opened last month at Playwrights Horizons in New York City. So I wrote this for the Village Voice.

The Cavil Over Henry Cavill, and other thoughts on Man of Steel

Wayne Boring Superman

1. Happy to Be Here

I was delighted to sit in on this week’s Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast, a Very Special Episode we — okay, I — have decided to call “The Cavil Over Henry Cavill.” The A-topic this week was the arrival of Man of Steel, the muscled-up, darkened-down reboot of Superman film franchise that is, we all agree, short on humor. Also short on height. Zing!

Any regular listener to the show will know that Glen Weldon, my pal-for-life and 25 percent of the show’s regular lineup (along with host Linda Holmes and Stephen Thompson and Trey Graham), just spent the better part of two years researching and writing the marvelous Superman: The Unauthorized Biography. I recently ran a freezing cold 12-mile death race wearing a Superman T-shirt, so our credentials are roughly equivalent.

But they didn’t exactly need a second longtime Supes fan. I snuck in by making fun of Henry Cavill’s average-ish height. He is, for the record, exactly as tall as I am if you believe IMDB, an authority on which actor heights seem to be self-reported.

“I think he makes you feel short,” Linda tells me during the show. Continue reading

Wherein I return to Pop Culture Happy Hour, and everyone attempts a Schwarzenegger impression except me.

James Bond, in DR. NO (1962) and SKYFALL (2012).

I was delighted to appear on Pop Culture Happy Hour again last week. (Listen here, you.) The show’s A-topic was movie action heroes, inspired by the publication of Arnold Schwarzengger‘s memoir Total Recall (which I’d only half-read prior to taping, on account of its 624-page girth and the fact I’m reading it in tandem with Salman Rushdie‘s equally substantial memoir Joseph Anton) and, I thought, Taken 2 (which I haven’t seen, and won’t, unless it turns up on Encore Action at 11:30 p.m. on a Tuesday eight months from now).

If they’d asked anyone but me to come discuss this topic, I’d have been crushed like Sarah Connor crushed the T-800’s microprocessor-controlled hyperalloy endoskeleton in a hydraulic press.

It turns out that the first half of Arnold’s book is a lot less annoying than the second half.

Happily, Taken 2 did not come up at all.

624 pages!

I’d come prepared to talk about the evolution of the cinema action hero: How the men (usually) of violence, reluctant or not, whose adventures fill seats around the world grew out of a conflation of the gangster pictures that dominated the 1930s and the westerns of the 40s and 50s. In 1962, James Bond arrives onscreen; by 1969, Bond one-timer George Lazenby is watching Telly Savalas (in his sole appearance as one of the series’ recurring characters, cat-loving Bond nemesis Ernst Stavro Blofeld) break his neck on a low tree limb during the film’s climactic fight atop a bobbing bobsled (!) and observing, “He’s branched off!” Continue reading

Righting the Outlaw Wrongs in Brooklyn: Notes on The Thrilling Adventure Hour‘s first out-of-L.A. show

I bought this poster at the merch table.

I finally saw Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark this weekend, but that was just to kill an evening in New York City in advance of the event that had precipitated the trip from DC: The very first East Coast performance of The Thrilling Adventure Hour.

I’m glad you asked! The Thrilling Adventure Hour is a podcast that my pal Glen Weldon turned me onto early last year. It lost no time shooting to the top of my list of favorite things. Recorded at the Los Angeles nightclub Largo at the Coronet the first weekend of each month, TAHis a collection of hilarious serial narratives that affectionately parody the pre-television radio dramas I discovered when I lived in LA and was spending too many of my precious few hours of life in my car.

The best of them are the two that bookend the monthly live show.

Sparks Nevada, Marshal on Mars is basically The Lone Ranger set on the Red Planet, only with more musical numbers, like its marvelous theme song. It stars Marc Evan Jackson as Sparks and Mark Gagliardi as “his faithful Martian companion, Croach the Tracker,” whose fidelity to strict codes of Martian honor often has him “under onus” to the Earth-man he works for, who means well but is sometimes a bit of a jerk.

There’s a rotating feature in the middle, plus some funny fake commercials for fake sponsors Workjuice Coffee and Patriot Brand Cigarettes.

Paul F. Tompkins and Paget Brewster as Frank and Sadie Doyle. (ROMAN CHO)

The closing feature is Beyond Belief, starring Paget Brewster and Paul F. Tompkins as Sadie and Frank Doyle, a high-functioning, alcoholic 1930s society couple who help people with their supernatural troubles. Especially if those supernatural troubles stand in the way of the Doyles’ next drink.

Which of the two regular features is my favorite is usually a matter of which one I’ve listened to the most recently. (Each serial is released as a separate podcast, usually not more than 30 minutes in length. The live show runs about 90 minutes.) They’re both brilliantly funny, featuring sublime vocal work from the actors and written, as are all of the features and everything else on the show (including, with Andy Paley, the songs), by Ben Acker and Ben Blacker. They make their living writing TV shows together. TAH is the project they — and their impressive company of in-demand actors, comics and musicians — do for love. Continue reading

Dept. of Excess: The Top Five Things I Forgot to Say While Presenting My Top Five Remakes List on Filmspotting This Week

I’ve written at least 150 concert reviews like this one for the Washington Post in the last five years. The format is very short: 250 to 300 words is your usual allotment; sometimes more, but usually not. I’m not crazy about the level of compression that requires, but it does keep you in the happy position of having more opinions than space.

I was thinking about this for the last couple of weeks as I prepared for one of the most exciting jobs that’s ever come my way: the chance to guest-cohost my favorite podcast, Filmspotting, which I’ve praised here before. (You can listen to the episode here or get it from iTunes here. The co-hosts of the episodes immediately prior to mine were two of the sharpest film critics in the game, my friend Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune and Dana Stevens from Slate, whose writing I’ve long admired. So, you know, no pressure!) I don’t have much on-air experience yet, so I haven’t developed an awareness of how many seconds I need to express an idea verbally. But I do know broad/podcast media is very unforgiving of contemplative pauses and of digression, both of which are characteristic of the way I talk in real life. Continue reading

Do the Pain Revolution: Wherein I Join the Pop Culture Happy Hour Crew for a Sober Discussion of Real Steel, and also of the Rather Startling Ascendancy of Robot Boxing Generally

I teach a weekly boxing class. Though I do cover the fundamentals of the Sweet Science, and participants do get to glove-up and practice punching combinations with partners holding focus mitts, it’s primarily a fitness class, not a curriculum for someone who’s serious about trying to compete in the ring.

I hope you’ll agree those credentials are at least (and perhaps at most) sufficient to lend my discussion of Real Steel, and of the exciting new sport of robot boxing in general, a certain authority. At least the NPR Pop Culture Happy Hour crew — Monkey See blogger & show host Linda Holmes, Music Editor Stephen Thompson, Movies Editor (and my fellow Washington City Paper theatre critic) Trey Graham, Producer Mike Katzif, and books & comics critic and funniest-man-on-Twitter Glen Weldon — saw it that way. I was honored to join them on this week’s episode, wherein we gab about the very best robot boxing movie I have ever seen. Continue reading

All Up in Your Earbuds: I’m on Filmspotting this week!

"I hear you guys are having a little debt ceiling problem. Don't MAKE me hurl this shield. It's vibranium. Harder than unobtanium."

Well now! This doesn’t happen to me every week.

Filmspotting is a weekly podcast offering substantive, informed discussion of current and vintage cinema, produced out of Chicago — specifically, out of the WBEZ studios on Navy Pier where This American Life, one of my other must-listen podcasts, used to operate before they packed off to New York City. Of the four podcasts I consider to be appointment listening each week (the appointment is usually with my running shoes), it’s probably my favorite.

So naturally I was over the moon when Adam Kempenaar, the show’s sleep-abjuring founding co-host, invited me to call in to discuss CAPTAIN AMERICA. I expect he only did this to placate me for not winning the Wrath of Kahn edition of Massacre Theatre a couple of weeks ago. Which was wise of him, because as David O. Selznick once observed, revenge is a dish best served cold. And it is very cold in Chicago. Except for the last couple of months. Continue reading