Top Ten Podcasts

I’m relatively new to podcasts, but they’ve turned into a regular part of my daily routine. Here’s my current Top Ten, in order of how excited I am and likely to immediately listen to a new episode:

10) The Command Zone — I’m a gamer, and my favorite game is Magic: The Gathering. In particular, I prefer the Command variant. If that seems like a lot of inside baseball, it is. This is easily the geekiest thing on this list, and even then I don’t listen to every episode. But it does have one of the staples of the genre that I like: engaging hosts that have a fun chemistry. Jimmy Wong and Josh Lee Kwai are having fun, and I’m slowly learning some of their nerdy jargon.

9) The Nerdist — I get the impression this is one of the oldest podcasts out there, with Chris Hardwick pulling in a new celebrity every week for a long-form discussion of…whatever. Whether it’s Norm MacDonald talking about hanging out with Johnny Carson, or Jeremy Irons describing his seaside castle home in Ireland, or Anna Faris discussing the relative merits of pubic hair management, these are usually interesting and fun conversations. My main reason for skipping some is the time investment required. (They’re usually at least an hour long.)

8) How Did This Get Made? — Another oldie, this is somewhat in the mold of the old Mystery Science Theater 3000 shows, where three hosts (Paul Scheer, Jason Mantzoukas and June Diane Raphael) riff on some terrible movie. Some of the shows are studio-produced, others live. And they usually have a guest or two, but these three are really the core of the show. This is another podcast where the chemistry is important. I’d rate this one higher, but Scheer dilutes the brand by interspersing the movie takedowns with “prequel” episodes that are entirely filler.

7) Magic: The Gathering Drive to Work — This is old school podcasting. It’s one guy talking into a recorder while he drives to work. That’s pretty much it. However, Mark Rosewater is a long-time designer (and now head of that team) at Wizards of the Coast. He’s got fun (for the initiated) stories about the entire history of the long-running game, as well as some amazing insights into the more general concept of game design, a topic which fascinates me. Still, some of his more esoteric episodes (T-shirts? Really?) speak of a desire to generate content for content’s sake.

6) Revisionist History — Well known author Malcolm Gladwell is perfect for the podcast format. He’s got a soothing voice and a tendency to build his books around chapter long concepts which are strung together. Here, he takes a topic and does a deep dive for forty minutes or so. It doesn’t have the loosey-goosey structure of most of my other faves on this list. It feels more like an NPR radio show. But it doesn’t disappoint. Here’s hoping his first season isn’t his last.

5) Movie Fights — This is really just an audio version of what is primarily a YouTube series. I don’t have the time to sit in front of a screen to watch all of these super-geeky trips into the strange and bizarre world of internet film fandom, but listening is still fun. A rotating collection of “fighters” meet to argue over questions like “What is the worst Will Smith film?” or “Rogue One: Is it necessary?” Hidden behind the bombast is a strange sort of bromance between Dan Murrell (the reigning Movie Fights champion) and Andy Signore (the host and judge). It’s funny to me how very rarely they acknowledge the baked in nepotism that drives the show.

4) On the Media — Here’s another podcast that is repurposed from another medium. I was a fan of On the Media on public radio for years. When I realized I didn’t have to figure out when it was airing, I was so very pleased. There’s only a hint of interaction between the hosts, Brooke Gladstone and Bob Garfield, but they are both interesting voices (both aurally and ideologically) to listen to as media grows and shifts in the digital age.

3) Movie B. S. with Bayer and Snider — There is no better friendship on the internet (that I’ve found) than these two movie reviewers. They are good at unpacking recent film releases and giving them grades. They’re better at delivering a portrait of two men who seem so very different, but mesh so well. I want to fly to Portland and buy them lunch.

2) The West Wing Weekly — The West Wing is my favorite non-speculative drama. I have watched it way too many times. This episode-by-episode breakdown is a fantastic way for me to revisit them again and pretend it’s not just a waste of my time. The hosts are a podcast veteran (Hrishikesh Hirway) and one of the stars of the TV show (Joshua Malina). Hrishi has the work ethic and the fanboy love of TWW. Josh brings the snark, and such delicious snark it is. This is one of the few podcasts that I sometimes (but not always) listen to the ads, as opposed to just flicking past them at 15 second intervals. I enjoy these guys playing off of each other that much. Throw in amazing guest appearances by actors and other crew from the show, and I plan to listen attentively to this podcast until they burn through seven seasons of this great show.

Notice that there isn’t a number one on my list. I’m in the market for one more podcast. Feel free to make suggestions in the comments below.

The Amazing Spider-man 2

I was a fan of the previous film. It was an enjoyable reboot with some fantastic performances and a new, edgier feel, when compared to the Sam Raimi trilogy.

tasm2So, this new film is a mixed bag, to say the least. First of all, the “mystery” of what happened to Peter’s parents turns out to be not that mysterious at all. Every scene dealing with that aspect of the story could have been distilled down to a singe page of dialogue, rather than having to wade through a pointless action sequence, a lot of whining from Peter, and a truly ridiculous subway-car-lab that, I’m sorry, could not have been kept a secret. There is no way Richard Parker, even if Mary was helping him, could have put that together. Bounced me right out of the film.

The first big Spidey action sequence shows him evading automatic gun fire as he splashily detains Sytsevich (the eventual Rhino, played by Paul Giamatti). Nope. I don’t buy it. I just barely bought him evading all those spinning blades back in Spider-man. Here, it verges on the magical. On the other hand, I didn’t mind the Rhino introduction, nor his reappearance at the end of the film. I would have preferred that the tease at the end wasn’t in every trailer and TV spot. If you’re going to tease the villian of your next film, don’t put him front and center in your marketing of this film. Duh.

Electro (Jamie Foxx) is handled much better. Yes, this is a character we’ve seen before, the sad sack who dreams of bigger things and feels that our hero has slighted him. But I don’t mind that as an origin story. And the Electro effects are pretty amazing.

On to the Osborns. Norman Osborn was mentioned in the first film, but now we seem him in the (pretty revolting) flesh. He’s played by an uncredited Chris Cooper. Also, after we are told he’s dead, there’s a weird little scene where someone is taking a laser mold of his body, and a nurse is checking his eyes. I don’t think he’s dead. That’s just my two cents. As for Harry (Dane Dehaan), the friendship between him and Peter wasn’t really earned, though I suppose since their dads worked together for so long, it makes sense that they would have played together. The best moments for Harry in this film are after he gets tossed out of Oscorp, but before he becomes Green Goblin. I really bought that Electro is so in need of validation, that when Harry says “I need you”, he comes to the pipsqueak’s aid. And the scene of him and Electro breaking into the Oscorp building was fantastic. After he gets all weird-looking, not so much with the fantastic.

Hands down, the best thing about this film is the relationship between Peter and Gwen. Every scene between them (even the mildly annoying “I’m breaking up with you because I love you” nonsense) is gold. Maybe if we had gotten more of the Peter-Gwen stuff, I would have eventually tired of it, but they could have easily made this an Electro movie, and teased the Green Goblin for later. This wasn’t the confusing nightmare that Spider-man 3 was, but it definitely could have used a trim.