An Ear for Film: Happy Belated Alien Day

The three best movie-related podcast episodes of the week.

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An Ear for Film: Happy Belated Alien Day

Each week, 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.

Have a suggestion for a good movie podcast? Slide into Dom’s DMs on Twitter.

If you subscribe to any film-based podcasts—and if you don’t, then why’re you reading this column other than you saw the title and thought to yourself, Oh, I love synesthesia?—then by now you’ve been inundated with Captain America: Civil War assessments. To which I’ll only add: They’re all right.

Most people love the movie, and you can count me as one of those “most,” though anxiety over the future of superhero films, perhaps exacerbated by Civil War’s place as something of an epitome of the big-team superhero set-piece, and what Marvel’s continuous success means for Hollywood’s reliance on inestimably dominant franchising, are worth considering. Like in most podcast episodes, I did that with my co-host David Greenwald on our own podcast, praising the film but ultimately wondering what it means for the future of blockbuster filmmaking. What I’ll say is this (which is brought up in much greater detail within our podcast episode):

Captain America: Civil War is not Avengers 3, nor is it really a Captain America movie. Instead, it is most likely the closest we will ever get to Iron Man 4: The emotional arc of Civil War is all Tony Stark’s (Robert Downey Jr.), and that revelation has me completely reevaluating my idea of what the MCU even is.

Consider Captain America (Chris Evans), the MCU’s rock, the foundation upon which the basis of MCU’s sense of justice is founded, and so the obvious choice to lead the film in which that foundation is most severely, direly tested. But, throughout Civil War, Cap does not change. It’s an important aspect to consider: The main character of this movie has no narrative development. Instead, as has been grounded within the previous four films in which he’s appeared, Steve Rogers is a fiercely loyal soldier whose loyalty doesn’t waver, it only shifts. First the U.S. and then S.H.I.E.L.D.—Rogers never once admits that his loyalty was at fault, only that it was aimed in the wrong direction. And so, in going from a textbook soldier to a vigilante disavowed by his bureaucratic employer, Rogers’ story is one that mirrors our country’s: In the 1930s and ’40s, it was clear who the enemies were and who carried the banner for good—but today? The post-9/11 world is referred to in such a sweeping manner because it defiantly marked the end of our black-and-white worldview. The world of Civil War, the world in which Steve Rogers must find a place, is one in which good and evil are far from clearly defined. Captain America must be careful, but no less fervent, with his loyalty.

Instead, it’s Tony Stark who struggles throughout Civil War’s two and a half hours to find some recognizable cartography amidst a rocky emotional landscape. Beginning the film separated from Pepper Potts, still reeling from the events of the second Avengers film, Tony must confront the mother (Alfre Woodard) of a man killed in the Sokovia incident, and thereby determine where a super-powered metal-person fits within the gray area of a world seemingly always on the verge of chaos. That this emotional journey leads him into the trauma of his parents’ murder and the realization that his superhero colleagues are actually the closest he has to friends in this world—Captain America gets none of that. Cap just protects Bucky (Sebastian Stan) because Bucky was his childhood friend and because Captain America can’t trust the American government or S.H.I.E.L.D. after all that Hydra business. This does not change throughout all of Captain America: Civil War.

For an ever-girthing enterprise as the MCU to juggle so many of its beloved intellectual properties within the guise of a single-superhero film—and juggle them by giving each a real sense of character development and heft—means that, I think, what is needed of each MCU installment is outpacing the original marketing plan for the MCU’s assorted “phases.” From now on out, each individual MCU film will be compared to the weight that Captain America: Civil War shoulders, which I think also means that the genre experiments of Ant-Man or the second Captain America are now over—unless, of course, the MCU takes greater strides to bring true auteurs into its fold.

I’d surmise that we’re on the cusp of some major change within the MCU machine. Either the dependable likes of the Russo Brothers and Peyton Reed allow the franchise to comfortably continue to make money with less and less hands-on involvement, or we start to see folks like Taika Waititi, Ryan Coogler and Jon Watts become more and more the norm, using each Marvel film not so much to shake up the story, but to, like the Mission: Impossible films, give plenty of exciting voices the resources and space to interpret a well-established, more-than-well-worn story through their own unique voices—voices that are typically relegated to small-time, fringe-genre fare. My hope, of course, is on the latter.

On an entirely separate note, I want to point out that this week’s Black Men Can’t Jump (In Hollywood) is devoted to the greatness of the film Dope, a film which last week Wesley Morris decried as a movie setting, contrary to the opinions of the hosts of BMCJ, the cause of African American-led films irrevocably backwards. Morris hates the film, while the three hosts of Can’t Jump see the complete opposite. This is the makings of an emotionally rich Ear for Film Universe, folks.

Pray collectively for Jon Watts to use his new franchise money to craft more movies like Cop Car, and then check out my three picks for the best movie-related podcast episodes of the week:

The Mask

Hosts J.M. McNab, Robert LaRonde and Blain Watters spend each episode re-watching (natch) a film from their (or our) youths, taking nostalgia culture to task. While Rewatchability bears many of the touchstones of your favorite “bad movie” podcasts—room for endless riffing; a loose format that allows for sprawling tangents; a cadre of pop-culture-obsessed hosts—the podcast hinges almost exclusively around the incessant doubt lobbed at a group of Millennials and their fringe-friendly adjacent who accept nostalgia as immediately viable cultural capital. Just as each episode ends on the inevitable question of whether or not the film holds up to the standards set by our Jungian memories, so then is each episode rapt with awe at the various blanketly non-PC machinations of an entry like The Mask, which simultaneously hates women and thinks that in order to make an African American a worthwhile part of a mafia-like gang, that person has to also be a jive-talking computer genius. Or something. If you’ve seen The Mask, you know it doesn’t hold up, but that also probably means that you adored it when it came out and haven’t seen it in 15 years, not since, at least, the time in which you used to watch it weekly. So it goes with our hosts, who pick this thing apart with aplomb, even plumbing the script for unaired goodies, which, coincidentally, I’m more than aware of, having bought and read The Mask’s novelization by Oregonian Steve Perry (not that Steve Perry), which was obviously based on the script rather than the film itself. Like most relics of that time, the novelization bears such excellently excruciating passages as the following, giving one an idea of how acceptable it was to approximate skin color based on patois:


See also: The hosts riff on the schooling of one Doctor Freeze, which of course detours into a discussion about the pride and scholastic background of the Batman villain.

ear-film-there-too.jpgI Was There Too
Aliens Live Q&A with Carrie Henn, Ricco Ross, Jenette Goldstein”

Matt Gourley’s impression of HR Giger (and a bonus sketch from Gourley’s Superego podcast) is worth the 45 minutes of tuning in alone, though each of the actors who played substantial bit parts in Aliens contribute well to the cult status of the Alien franchise as being deserving of its own holiday (4/26, named after LV-426 [Acheron], the original planetoid on which the Nostromo discovered the first xenomorph eggs, and on which the colony Hadley’s Hope was founded in Aliens). Recorded in LA care of the Alamo Drafthouse, this unofficial episode of Gourley’s podcast is replete with all of the anecdotal goodies and gossip-y knickknacks one should expect from the I Was There Too series, including what it’s like to be—on behalf of Carrie Henn, who played Newt—a grown adult still sometimes known for a role played a lifetime ago and whose daughter is nearly identical to herself at the time of James Cameron’s film, and so must deal with the eerie experience of watching her “daughter” narrowly escape the clutches of a seemingly indestructible cosmic monster. Best story of the night, though, goes to Ricco Ross (Pvt. Frost) for describing what it’s like to have to pick between a James Cameron film and a Stanley Kubrick joint (Full Metal Jacket). Unsurprisingly, Kubrick demanded at least eight weeks of Ross’s time, which would be filled with improv rehearsals to ultimately refine the script, giving each actor the chance to define his character and practice his craft unto the end of time. Ross ultimately, of course, went with Cameron, who provided a full script up front and was willing to make concessions to Kubrick’s schedule—except for when Ross asked Kubrick if he’d actually be done in eight weeks, to which Kubrick couldn’t truly commit. The production on Full Metal Jacket ended up going for a full year—and it’s cultural impact is debatably less, it could be said, than that of Aliens.

ear-film-faculty-horror.jpgThe Faculty of Horror
“Alienation, Part 1: Alien and Aliens

Hosts Andrea Subissanti and Alex West use this monthly podcast to go HAM on classic horror or related genre films from a (mostly) feminist perspective, and so this episode especially is rife with some fascinating debate, taking the first two Alien films to the mat for their iconographic “feminist” statuses. What emerges is maybe my favorite among the recent “Alien Day” discussions about the legacies of the films, a back-and-forth between the two hosts which both navigates the drippy, gooey sexuality of the first film and the agro-feminine action tropes of the second, even going so far as to contextualize Ripley calling the Queen alien a “bitch” and what that means about Ripley as a feminist hero. From their interpretation of android Ash’s “rape” of Ripley’s mouth (with a porn mag, too) during the characters’ confrontation in the first film, to the parallels with the Vietnam War by way of Ripley’s PTSD in the second (drawing clear lines to Ross’s near-casting in Kubrick’s Vietnam War film as mentioned in Matt gourley’s podcast), and how Aliens falls snugly within a developing narrative in cinema at the time regarding the fall-out and negative effects of the war, West and Subissanti cover an incredible expanse of fertile ground. Listening to them bounce ideas back and forth leaves so much welcome room to unpack films that deserve such a treatment. That the two also drop unnecessary “fucks” in practically every other sentence is more than welcome—it is a crutch that I can relate to, and the beacon upon which I guide my wary ears through the always too-big abyss of this scary podcast universe.

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.

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