Now is as good a time as ever to question one’s icons—be it the reuniting of mega-popular bands, the rebooting of mega-popular TV shows and film properties, or the continued insistence for some artists that whatever it is they’re doing isn’t actually just a commodification of some really fucking deep insecurities.
So head on over to The Important Cinema Club to double-check how one actually feels about Clint Eastwood. Hosts Will Sloan and Justin Decloux are somehow able to make the worn gag about Eastwood talking to an empty chair funny again—don’t ask me how; it probably has something to do with the recounting of the actor-director’s post-slurred-speech thumbs up—before digging into Eastwood’s directorial debut, High Plains Drifter, and his thinly veiled John Huston “homage,” White Hunter, Black Heart. Throughout, the two try their durndest to characterize both Eastwood’s political leanings and his directorial voice, eventually succumbing to exhaustion under the sheer glut of ineffable charm proffered by a Hollywood stalwart who, despite being a difficult, philandering dickhead, has endured for decades.
Meanwhile, The Canon does as The Canon does, slavering all over O Brother, Where Art Thou? in service to this past week’s Coen-based zeitgeist. I really love that movie, don’t get me wrong, but that podcast’s best episodes are ones in which the two hosts severely, near-violently disagree, and lately their opinions have been too in sync to make for much more than casually interesting fodder. Still, an extended discussion about George Clooney’s celebrity is a fascinating reminder that the film is over 15 years old, which means almost two decades of American Clooney obsession, though they lost me in their political tangent, essentially regurgitating all the obnoxious pap circulating blog-culture regarding misogyny and the “establishment” in the Democratic bout between Clinton and Sanders.
Speaking of misogynistic pap, The Film Vault won’t shut up about The Revenant, somehow convincing themselves that it’s the kind of movie that has never been made before—which is disconcerting when a film podcast ignores the existence of the work of everyone from Werner Herzog to Agnès Varda (see below)—but I have to respect how their love inspires them to talk heatedly about the hidden meaning behind DiCaprio’s blinking. And yet another podcast I’ve recently discovered which shows promise—to be both potentially fascinating and a clarion call for dumbness—is Con Air Cast, which is exactly what you think it is: a podcast about Con Air. This week, host “Dukes” (yes) interviews Conrad Goode, the actor who played Viking, and who has gotten into a number of on-screen battles with such debatable legends as Nic Cage and Michael Douglas, two actors he admits he could easily beat the ever-lovin’ shit out of.
More sobering is The Flop House’s episode this week, in which, after a mild ribbing of Seventh Son (which they mostly enjoyed watching), they read a letter from a listener who lost a sibling to depression and suicide. It’s a genuinely touching moment for an erstwhile goofy ’cast, but it also reminds us, perhaps more than in any other medium, that podcasting can be a startlingly intimate way to communicate ideas. Simplicity, candidness, improvisation—these most podcasters use as a matter of fact, leaving little between the audience and the creators. It’s a circumstance that, as someone who listens to a lot of podcasts, I often forget to remember: This is, for so many podcasters, the closest we’ll ever get, as listeners, to knowing their lives, unfiltered. Burdened as we are with celebrity culture and the weight of idol worship, we should be embracing any medium which allows us to celebrate the ordinariness of just how hard, how commonly, mutually weird, it is to be a human being.
So, hey, cheer up: Here are the three best episodes of the week.
You’ve Got Mail
Consequence of Sound’s resident Hankspert (and Managing Editor) Adam Kivel welcomes a guest each week to make his way, one conversation at a time, through the film oeuvre of America’s Sweetheart, Tom Hanks. While the theme song (by, apparently, someone deliciously called Hot Dad) is reason enough to tune in, the episodes up to this week’s have mostly tread in familiar recap territory, leaving little in the way of some serious commentary on the figure of Hanx. That ends when Kivel welcomes Janet Potter, who not only provides plenty of anecdotes, as a former book store employee, about the travails of book-store-employee life as depicted in Rom-Com Hanks vehicle You’ve Got Mail, but she basically just takes over the episode to wax philosophical on the essence of the kind of Herculean charm that turned Tom Hanks into such a beloved star. She admittedly adores the film, but she never lets such love impede a questioning of the same, transforming the whole podcast into a dissection of nostalgia, the rom-com format and the viability of such charm past its ostensible expiration date. And then she advocates a Meg Ryan resurgence, which, up until I heard this episode, I would have immediately poo-poo’d. Now? I’m not so sure. This is the kind of episode that encourages me to start my own Matt-Damon-themed podcast—even if I’m afraid of what kind of dark secrets of the soul I’ll unearth.
Demon Seed Bonus: Gerrit Graham
As a prelude to The Projection Booth’s main event—a typically in-depth talk about Donald Cammell’s 1977 Demon Seed—Mike White devotes a whole bonus episode to reminiscing with actor Gerrit Graham about his storied career (minus, of course, his part in Demon Seed, which is saved for the successive episode). As regular listeners can easily attest, White’s a born interviewer, conversational and beyond knowledgeable: Here, he’s able to wrench some esoteric details from Graham’s fading memory, cursorily touching on the actor’s brief appearance on Seinfeld, a stint on Star Trek: Voyager and Deep Space Nine, and even his first memories improvising with Brian DePalma in the director’s living room, joined by a pre-Scorsese Robert DeNiro. Unsurprisingly, Graham’s work on Star Trek was a breeze, aided as he was by the showrunners’ attention to detail; surprisingly, his time on the set of Seinfeld was miserable, a mundane horror story of egos and passive aggression and everything that serves as shorthand for the popular stereotype of Hollywood elitism. In that, Graham’s able to effortlessly—by simply just talking his face off—narrate the story of a working actor, which he brilliantly sets apart from that of the “star.” In turn, the episode is a humbling listen, de-romanticizing the film industry while serving as a reminder that even dream jobs can quickly lose their luster.
Sarah Gadon on Cléo from 5 to 7
There is a moment halfway through Agnès Varda’s debut in which the titular Cléo, a pop singer who is awaiting the potentially devastating results of some sort of medical test, looks directly into the camera, weeping as she sings a song during an otherwise typical practice session. It’s a revelatory moment: Varda addresses her audience directly through her character addressing her audience directly, all while on the precipice of total dissolution. As a classic counterpoint to Alejandro Inarritu’s similar addressing (SPOILER!?) of the audience in the last frame of The Revenant, it speaks volumes of the degree to which such a simple gesture can so implicate the viewer in the drama of any film.
As actor and director and overall film student Sarah Gadon stresses in her conversation with Norm Wilner about Varda’s film, that implication is the perfect distillation of the male gaze: Cléo, a beautiful, burgeoning celebrity, seems to understand that she may be empty without her looks, just as she rails against the forces that put her in such an untenable position. In other words, the realization that her attractiveness may be soon over, she’s driven to tears, unable to reconcile her talent with her face, leaving it to the audience to decide where she falls in such a chicken-and-egg scenario.
All of this Gadon eagerly pours her soul into talking about, affirming that, at its heart, Wilner’s Someone Else’s Movie is about a love for film, celebrating those works of cinema that have attached themselves to our most personal, most visceral sensations of self. More than an identification of what someone loves, the podcast is an investigation of why: not as a test, but as a glimpse into who we are, and why we bind ourselves to such seemingly brief things.
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 follow him on Twitter.