Once upon a time, three idiots did a podcast. Their names were Paul Smith, Arlo “AJ” Wiley, and Joseph “Will Penley” Lewis. And no, we’re not talking about Gobbledygeek episode 400–we’re talking about the very first episode, recorded a full decade ago. This painful, awkward reminder of where it all began has been lost to time and/or the BlogTalkRadio servers for at least a few years now. Now, it has been restored–but never remastered–to its proper glory. Relive the earliest day of the podcast, with discussion of Alice in Wonderland, Lost, Joss Whedon, Kevin Smith, and a whole bunch of random nerd shit they did not have the faculties to properly critique. Enjoy?
The Avatar Returns returns! We’re back, having survived our various chemically altered holiday adventures. And due to some odd digital episode numbering, we end up with a bonus chapter this week which we hadn’t anticipated watching yet. But perhaps it all works out for the best, since it turns out chapters 210, “The Library,” and 213, “The Drill” bookend this discussion with more action-oriented, event-based stories, whereas the two middle chapters, 211, “The Desert,” and 212, “The Serpent’s Pass” are transitional, getting-from-place-to-place stories. We talk about giant owl-faced dick spirits, Aang almost going all Anakin Skywalker on some dudes, AJ asks Paul to dance (it gets awkward), and we forgo the usual Buffy the Vampire Slayer comparisons in favor of our first Doctor Who, Tarantino, Princess Bride, and Lost references.
Also there’s a pop quiz!
Next: a short week to make up for this week’s surprise fourth chapter, we’ll be discussion 214, “City of Walls and Secrets,” and 215, “The Tales of Ba Sing Se.”
The long and winding road of the Gobbledy-Book Club has led us here, through factories and caves and cellars, to the final two chapters of J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst’s S. Paul and AJ host an all-star jam band reunion of their co-readers: Paul’s better half Pam Smith, whom we have to thank for just about everything; The Debatable Podcast host and Ukrainian royal Greg Sahadachny; and Kenn Edwards of So Let’s Get to the Point and Project Batman, who might just be recording your entire existence as a podcast. Believe it or not, the show is (mostly) able to contain all five of them as they get to the important business of discussing the conclusions of both Ship of Theseus and the Jen/Eric marginalia, the importance of endings, and the open-ended nature of many of the tale’s mysteries (sound familiar, Lost fans?). Plus, the gang says goodbye to the late, great Harold Ramis.
Next: the boys are on their own again to pay tribute to the work of Harold Ramis. They’ll be watching Meatballs, Stripes, Ghostbusters, and Groundhog Day.
Last week, we brought you our favorite movies of last year (finally saw Inside Llewyn Davis, by the way, and yes, it would have made the cut). This week, we change channels to focus on TV. We’re doing things a little differently this time out, with separate top 10 lists for new shows and returning favorites. Though there were a lot of new shows I enjoyed over the past year, I’ll admit I couldn’t stretch them to 10; instead, I’ve got 8, while Paul’s just crazy enough to have a full 10.
As always, there are shows we couldn’t get around to: I haven’t seen Rectify, Top of the Lake, Broadchurch, or The Wrong Mans, all of which I’d hoped to see in time for this list. Oh, and to absolve him of all guilt, I should mention that Paul has never seen Breaking Bad. Wait, I don’t think that absolves him.
PAUL: 10. HANNIBAL (NBC)
I wasn’t particularly interested in a television adaptation of the Thomas Harris characters. But names like Hugh Dancy, Mads Mikkelsen, and Bryan Fuller pulled me in. It’s one of the most visually stunning and hauntingly…haunting shows ever to make it to network television. It’s also one of the most shockingly violent and grotesque. All positives in my book. But I can’t put it any higher on my list because it’s crushingly depressing.
Ridley Scott’s Prometheus has an early shot which undeniably quotes 2001: A Space Odyssey, a beautiful image of a planet ringed with light. There’s some more striking imagery, of an unidentified landscape. A humanoid being removes his cloak and ingests some form of liquid which quickly begins killing him. He sacrificially gives himself to the river, where he falls apart piece by piece, his body possibly giving birth to life as we know it. That’s a provocative beginning for a big-budget science fiction film, one that clearly announces its intentions to be a thoughtful exploration of the creation and destruction of life. As they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
After the cryptic prologue, things get off to a very good start. The crew of the good ship Prometheus–which looks like a jumbo Serenity, but maybe that’s just me–is awakened from cryogenic sleep after two years by the android David (Michael Fassbender). Scientists Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) have discovered cave paintings from around the world, all of which depict images of a figure gesturing toward the same star pattern. They’ve followed that pattern all the way out to the middle of space, hoping to find the meaning of life, the universe, and everything. There are some big ideas at play here, and in the early going, there are conversations about whether the existence of supposed humanity-creating beings (Engineers, they’re called) negates or supports the existence of God. Holloway posits that because they now know the Engineers exist, the cross Shaw wears around her neck is meaningless. Shaw, with a wink in her eye, then asks where the Engineers came from.
Saying this upfront: NO SPOILERS. Paul and I have also discussed the film on the show.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. A bunch of kids pack into an RV for a weekend of fun, sex, and sexy fun. That they encounter the extremely creepy owner of an ancient gas station on the way does nothing to deter them from their destination: a remote cabin in the woods, owned by one of the kids’ cousins. The place immediately seems a little off, there’s some disturbing stuff in the cellar, someone maybe reads Latin, and eventually bloody mayhem ensues. Though they should know better, each one succumbs to some very stupid behavior for which they will be punished.
This is the set-up for dozens, maybe hundreds, of horror movies. The Cabin in the Woods is something different. When we first meet these kids, they seem like lively, intelligent college students. They don’t seem like they would do some of the dumb things they end up doing. Which seems par for the course for this kind of movie, except The Cabin in the Woods dares to offer a justification as to why the victims would seemingly offer themselves up as fodder. There’s more here than meets the eye. Characters played by Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford are part of a shadowy organization which makes everything much more complicated. This I guarantee: If you’ve only seen the ads, which paint the movie as your generic Halloween Saw Massacre deal, it is not that. At all.
Paul and I rambled on and on about our favorites of 2011 in our second season finale, but that isn’t gonna stop us from rambling some more. This is the first in a series of top 10s that will be spread out over the next couple weeks; the rest will concern television, albums, and comic books.
But first, a word about lists. Paul has described my obsession with list-making as a “sickness,” and that’s probably close to the truth. However, even one such as I, beholden to rating and ranking everything known to man, know that these kinds of things are imperfect, to put it lightly. For one, no matter how all-inclusive you try to be, there’s always going to be a movie (or show, or comic, etc.) that you somehow missed; for example, as of this writing, neither Paul nor I have seen The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Shame, or Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, just to name a few. And more importantly, lists are always subject to how their makers feel at the moment they’re making them. Each of our top 10s represent the movies we love right now, and with the exception of our #1 choices, their order could be fluid, changing from day to day, mood to mood.
Right now, though? These are the films we adore, and which we feel exemplify 2011.
PAUL: 10. RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (dir. Rupert Wyatt)
The summer blockbuster that was better than any of us had any right to expect. Not only a remarkably capable relaunch/reboot of a beloved but dated franchise, but also just a damned good popcorn flick in its own right. Andy Serkis brings heart and humanity (pun intended) to the “inhuman” protagonist. It’s Pinocchio and Moses and Che Guevara.
AJ: 10. GEORGE HARRISON: LIVING IN THE MATERIAL WORLD (dir. Martin Scorsese)
It has been lazy shorthand for decades to refer to George Harrison as the “quiet Beatle,” and though that might have a kernel of truth to it, the man himself was far more complex. Publicly, he was quiet because he desperately hated fame; professionally, he was quiet during the Beatle years because John and Paul vetoed his material, and later, because he was content with tending to his family and to his garden. Martin Scorsese’s Bob Dylan documentary No Direction Home definitively captured that 60s icon’s brilliance and enigma, and while Living in the Material World doesn’t quite do the same for this 60s icon, it comes close enough. In the first part of this two-part doc, the entire life cycle of The Beatles is rehashed yet again, though considering it’s Scorsese at the helm, it remains of interest. It’s in the second part, however, when things truly come alive. By telling of his unsung career as a film producer, enticing candid stories from a number of those closest to him, and showing private home movies, Scorsese paints a portrait of Harrison as a man perpetually struggling to reconcile his spirituality with his materialism, caught between divinity and mortality.
In the summer of 1976, 36 bombs went off in Cleveland. I’d heard this statistic somewhere before; it’s sort of hard not to when you’ve lived within driving distance of the city your whole life. But seeing that statistic placed in context is still pretty startling. As far as I know, Kill the Irishman is the first gangster movie set in Cleveland, and as such, it was pretty weird to watch tough guys from The Sopranos parading across the screen talking about places like Youngstown and Cuyahoga Falls. I kept thinking, “Don’t you mean the Bronx? Or something?”
Ironic that Game of Thrones creator George R.R. Martin has found himself embroiled in an intardweb feud (not really) with Lost creator Damon Lindelof, seeing as his sword-and-sorcery-and-politics (-and-politics-and-politics-and-more-politics) epic is positively brimming with an enormous cast of characters and a complex web of interconnected stories and plotlines. I’ve not yet read the series of novels from which the new HBO series is adapted, but I can already tell that there are going to be at least as many, if not more, threads that will need to be woven or cut in the tapestry of this tale than there were in Lost. So Martin’s stance on that show’s narrative failures (in his opinion), as well as those of Battlestar Galactica and even Citizen Kane, theoretically set him in an awkward position of now having to seriously bust his ass to pay off his own magnum opus or draw uncomfortable comparisons.
But that’s not why we’re here. We’re here to talk about tonight’s premier, “Winter is Coming.”
Last night, Paul and I reached the conclusion of our countdown of the Top 100 Characters in Modern Pop Culture. Here are choice excerpts from our top 10’s, but be sure to listen to the whole show to hear everything we said:
PAUL: Calvin & Hobbes (Calvin & Hobbes)
The series was not only the funniest comic strip of all time (and on this point I will brook no dispute), but it was almost the most philosophical, satirical, and thought-provoking.
AJ: Death (The Sandman)
With the usual concepts and presentations of Death’s visage from Western culture so ingrained in my mind, just the idea that Death didn’t have to be gloomy or terrifying, and instead could be a radiant beacon of hope, felt stunningly fresh and bold to me.