Monday, October 15, 2018

The Weekly Stuff Podcast #259 – Doctor Who S11E02, Dragon Quest, First Man, and Microtransactions


It’s time for another episode of The Weekly Stuff Podcast with Jonathan Lack & Sean Chapman, a weekly audio show that explores the worlds of film, television, and video games. You can subscribe for free in iTunes by following this link

Doctor Who continues its new season this week with “The Ghost Monument,” an episode that improves on the premiere, but also reveals some real limitations in Chris Chibnall’s writing style. We discuss the episode in depth, including the new opening credits, TARDIS design, and more. But before that, we also chat more about Dragon Quest XI, Jonathan reviews Damien Chazelle’s First Man and talks about finally getting to the good stuff in Dragon Ball Super, and we go over the last week’s worth of news, including PSN finally allowing users to change their name, Microsoft potentially purchasing developer Obsidian, and the latest kerfuffle surrounding microtransactions in video games. 

Enjoy!

Time Chart: 
Intro: 0:00:00 – 0:03:12
Dragon Quest XI: 0:03:12 – 0:15:34
First Man: 0:15:34 – 0:22:18
Dragon Ball Super: 0:22:18 – 0:34:45
News: 0:34:45 – 1:18:45
Doctor Who S11E02: 1:18:45 – 2:25:54

Stream The Weekly Stuff Podcast Episode #259







The Weekly Stuff with Jonathan Lack & Sean Chapmanis a weekly audio podcast, and if you subscribe in iTunes, episodes will be delivered automatically and for free as soon as they are released. If you visit www.jonathanlack.com, we also have streaming and downloadable versions of new and archival episodes for your listening pleasure.

Monday, October 8, 2018

The Weekly Stuff Podcast #258 – Doctor Who Series 11 Premiere Review & Discussion!


It’s time for another episode of The Weekly Stuff Podcast with Jonathan Lack & Sean Chapman, a weekly audio show that explores the worlds of film, television, and video games. You can subscribe for free in iTunes by following this link

Our favorite TV show is back, as Doctor Who returns for its 11thmodern season (37thoverall!), with a new Doctor in Jodie Whittaker, a new showrunner in Chris Chibnall, plus new companions, a new composer, and an entirely new look. The entire show has effectively regenerated, and the first episode, “The Woman Who Fell to Earth,” in a promising if imperfect start. We give it the usual in-depth treatment we always employ for Doctor Who, along with an update on our progress in Dragon Quest XI, first impressions of Forza Horizon 4, and a bevy of recent video game and film news, from continued developments out of the Telltale Games fiasco to new trailers for Dark Phoenix andDragon Ball Super: Broly. 

Enjoy!

Time Chart: 
Intro: 0:00:00 – 0:05:21
Stuff: 0:05:21 – 0:23:00
News: 0:23:00 – 1:15:22
Doctor Who – “The Woman Who Fell to Earth”: 1:15:22 – 2:43:34

Stream The Weekly Stuff Podcast Episode #258







The Weekly Stuff with Jonathan Lack & Sean Chapmanis a weekly audio podcast, and if you subscribe in iTunes, episodes will be delivered automatically and for free as soon as they are released. If you visit www.jonathanlack.com, we also have streaming and downloadable versions of new and archival episodes for your listening pleasure.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Review: "A Star is Born" - A Virtuoso Performance of a Venerable Classic


Note: I open this review by quoting one of the last lines of the film, and I end it with a discussion that could be construed as a spoiler, so if you want to go in completely cold, this review will be waiting for you when you get back. 

Late in Bradley Cooper’s A Star Is Born, Sam Elliot delivers a line that is at once both a beautiful denouement to the film’s major ideas, and a not-so-subtle defense of the film’s very existence. “Music is essentially twelve notes between any octave,” he says. “Twelve notes and the octave repeat. It’s the same story told over and over, forever. All any artist can offer this world is how they see those twelve notes.” 

Cooper’s A Star Is Born is the fourth of its kind, a remake of a remake, of a film that dates back to the first decade cinema even had sound to call forth the music. These notes have been played before, and they will be played again, and whether or not you’ve seen one of the four film versions of this story, you’ve doubtlessly absorbed it as a piece of American culture, as an archetypal narrative played out again and again in films and musicals and television shows with and without this title. One star rises as another star falls, and when their trajectory meets in the middle, they briefly burn brightest. The notes aren’t new, but what Cooper and company have to offer the world in the way they see those notes is something special. The familiarity isn’t a bug, but a feature, because there’s something embedded in this narrative that has struck a chord with audiences for generations, and this film plays that chord with nothing short of a virtuoso performance. 

A Star Is Born is one of the great films of my lifetime. Hyperbole, perhaps, but words I feel completely comfortable typing, buoyed by the images flashing through my head, by the songs pounding their way through my heart, by the waves of full body sobs that radiated their way through the packed opening-night auditorium still echoing in my ears. Imagine the most soulless, crass commercial cash-grab version of this movie that you can – the kind of vanity project you might have imagined when you heard Warners was handing this remake off to one of their top stars as his first directorial effort – and then imagine its exact qualitative inverse, a film of such immense heart, empathy, and skillfulness that one can scarcely believe it got made in the 2018 studio system. That should put you somewhere in the range of what Cooper and company have pulled off here, though it’s no substitute for actually watching the film, in a theatre, on a giant screen, with a big crowd, all together on a communal journey of being won over by the sheer enormity of the film’s emotional depth. 


I will admit that I’m an easy mark for what Cooper is attempting here, for while I’m not a fan of movie musicals in general, I am an absolute sucker for films about music, where the characters are performers and the music is a diegetic part of their lives and journeys. The Commitments, Nashville, That Thing You Do, Inside Llewyn Davis, Once – films where music and its periphery are the air the characters live and breathe, the thing that fuels them, the force that animates them. The full synesthetic powers of cinema, still so frequently untapped despite the limitless tools at our disposal, can come so fully to life when one places a character within a world and has them sing or play an instrument, expressing their interiority through sound, combining two languages – music and cinema – that are truly universal. Music is a part of our world, a fact of our lives, a companion and an outlet that carries us through the days, tempering our emotions and bringing us closer to ourselves and to others. A film that can incorporate that truth into its being, not as a gimmick but as a core part of its essence, is destined for a particular kind of greatness – the kind that bypasses the head and pierces us right in our soul. 

A Star is Born is one of these films, a movie where music is such a core part of its being that to think of the film is not only to hear the songs playing again in one’s head, but to feel the way they first struck you evolving in your heart. Cooper’s casting of Lady Gaga, then, is one of the film’s many strokes of genius: One of the few talents prodigious enough to chart the character’s meteoric rise to fame without ever calling the film’s internal reality into question, and one of the fewer still surprising enough to astonish us as a person, not just a performer. Her work here is extraordinary, a three-dimensional portrait of a person hidden from themselves, blossoming into being from the simple power of being seen, and by an embrace of talent and creativity. Gaga pours so much of herself into the role, particularly in the film’s second half when the character’s public persona starts to look more and more like the chameleonic pop star, but the performance is so complete one is never removed from the reality of the piece. Particularly when she sings, Gaga is constantly shaping her character, breathing life into this creation with the usual tools available to all great actors, and to those reserved for someone with one of the fullest, most dynamic voices on the planet. It would feel disingenuous to call anything Lady Gaga does a true surprise at this point, so many times has she astonished us with a deeper well of talent than we’d seen before, but her work here is indeed a revelation.

So to, and indeed to an even more astonishing degree, is Bradley Cooper, both behind but especially in front of the camera. I’ve always thought Cooper was a good actor, a naturally charming personality who in certain moments – Silver Linings Playbook, Guardians of the Galaxy – gestured towards something more than an above-average movie star. I would never have expected this. Cooper’s performance here is towering, a fully embodied portrait of a man in pieces, assembling and disassembling before our very eyes. He takes this ‘tortured artistic male genius’ role, one that should be rote beyond salvation at this point, and imbues it with such bottomless pathos that what one sees on screen feels inexorably human. The film’s portrayal of alcoholism and addiction is raw and messy and genuine to a shocking degree, and the way Cooper so deftly traces both the lows and, crucially, highs of this man’s life is palpably, painfully real. The good he embodies in one moment – the charm, the talent, the open-hearted need to share his life and world with those he loves – and the ugliness he descends to in another – jealousy, vindictiveness, a drunken disembodied stupor – are not two men in the same body, but one man on a perpetually uneven path, as such people are when we encounter them in the real world. It’s the complexity itself that hurts, the inability to reconcile the good and the bad of this person we love, the impossibility of truly accessing their mind or heart and healing whatever has been broken. That is the character Cooper conjures here. It hardly feels like a character at all. 


I mentioned earlier the simple power of being seen that sparks the evolution of Gaga’s character, but it goes both ways for the two figures entwined at the heart of this story. Initial advertising for A Star is Born raised more than a few eyebrows for the seemingly stock, surface-level exchanges between Cooper and Gaga depicted in the trailer – him telling her she’s beautiful, her mouth agape in shock – that felt like a relic of another time, a different remake. The film itself is anything but, its depiction of this relationship built and developed not on surfaces, but on empathy. Cooper and Gaga’s first impromptu date, a stupendous sequence, is not about the man telling the woman she is beautiful, or removing her makeup to see some true visage hidden by society, but about two people actually looking at each other, seeing each other, and being seen in turn. Seen as a singer, a songwriter, an expressive soul, a person with a voice the world is less than whole without; seen as an individual, a personality, a thoughtful man the world has calcified in a veil of fame. They look at each other, they see these things, and in having those things seen, they come in closer contact with their own humanity – which, of course, is what human relationships are all about. 

As the eyes of the film itself, cinematographer Matthew Libatique delivers his greatest work since Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan. Next to Emmanuel Lubezki, no working cinematographer displays greater mastery of the mobile frame than Libatique, and like in Black Swan, his work here is at its most transcendent when his camera follows the characters on stage, inhabiting their world of performance with a startling degree of immediacy and intimacy. His camera is sensual, embodied, expertly composed but in perpetual flux, not unlike the characters he captures. A POV shot early on, of Gaga’s character looking through a curtain at Cooper performing, quite literally took my breath away. 

A Star Is Born concludes on a particularly wrenching emotional crescendo, and if you have seen any other version or picked up the basics from the cultural ether, you will know why. It will still not prepare you for what Cooper has prepared here. This film got me misty-eyed early and often, but I thought I was holding it together pretty well at the end, compared to some of the sobs around me. Then Cooper makes a cut. That goddamn cut. You’ll know it when you see it. It is the film’s masterstroke. In thirty years, when this film is rightfully viewed as a classic, being taught by old people like me, it will be one of those cuts we show to illustrate the simple power of editing, cinema’s first and greatest special effectIt will demolish you. It will be talked about forever. A star has indeed been born – do yourself a favor and see it now, with others, in the crowd, where it will burn brightest. 

Follow author Jonathan Lack on Twitter @JonathanLack

Monday, September 24, 2018

The Weekly Stuff Podcast #257 – News Galore! Telltale Games, Tokyo Game Show, PlayStation Classic, and Dragon Quest XI


It’s time for another episode of The Weekly Stuff Podcast with Jonathan Lack & Sean Chapman, a weekly audio show that explores the worlds of film, television, and video games. You can subscribe for free in iTunes by following this link

We really live up to the podcast’s name this week, covering a wide assortment of stuff, including a large grab bag of video game, TV, and movie news from the past week. From the sudden closure of Telltale Games to trailers and announcements from the Tokyo Game Show to the launch of Nintendo’s online service to Sony’s surprise unveiling of the PlayStation Classic, this week brought a lot of surprising news to parse through. Sean also recommends some Spider-Man comics from the 1980s, Jonathan reviews Paul Feig’s A Simple Favor, and we give some more spoiler-free impressions of Dragon Quest XI, now that Sean has also had some time with this truly amazing game. 

Enjoy!

Time Chart: 
Intro: 0:00:00 – 0:02:07
Stuff: 0:02:07 – 0:21:05
Dragon Quest XI Chat: 0:21:05 – 0:56:41
Telltale Games Closes: 0:56:41 – 1:17:07
Tokyo Game Show News: 1:17:07 – 1:41:17
Movie News: 1:41:17 – 1:55:50
Video Game News: 1:55:50 – 2:33:07
Listener Mail: 2:33:07 – 3:03:01 

Stream The Weekly Stuff Podcast Episode #257








The Weekly Stuff with Jonathan Lack & Sean Chapmanis a weekly audio podcast, and if you subscribe in iTunes, episodes will be delivered automatically and for free as soon as they are released. If you visit www.jonathanlack.com, we also have streaming and downloadable versions of new and archival episodes for your listening pleasure.

Monday, September 17, 2018

The Weekly Stuff Podcast #256 – Spider-Man PS4 Review & Nintendo Direct


It’s time for another episode of The Weekly Stuff Podcast with Jonathan Lack & Sean Chapman, a weekly audio show that explores the worlds of film, television, and video games. You can subscribe for free in iTunes by following this link

This week, we dive deep with one of the best video games of the year: Insomniac’s Spider-Manfor PS4. We break down the story, the gameplay, the open world, the characters, and much more, building on our spoiler-free discussion from last week to explore what makes this a new standard-bearer for the superhero genre in video games. This discussion has spoilers aplenty, but we give fair warning before those begin. We also go through all the news from this week’s Nintendo Direct, including a brilliant Animal Crossing troll, talk a little more Dragon Quest XI, and more! 

Enjoy!

Time Chart: 
Intro & Stuff: 0:00:00 – 0:11:20 
Nintendo Direct Breakdown: 0:11:20 – 1:08:52 
Spider-Man PS4 Review: 1:08:52 – 3:00:46

Stream The Weekly Stuff Podcast Episode #256







The Weekly Stuff with Jonathan Lack & Sean Chapman is a weekly audio podcast, and if you subscribe in iTunes, episodes will be delivered automatically and for free as soon as they are released. If you visit www.jonathanlack.com, we also have streaming and downloadable versions of new and archival episodes for your listening pleasure.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

The Weekly Stuff Podcast #255 – Revisiting Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3


It’s time for another episode of The Weekly Stuff Podcast with Jonathan Lack & Sean Chapman, a weekly audio show that explores the worlds of film, television, and video games. You can subscribe for free in iTunes by following this link

As a special bonus episode this week, we wrap up our recent retrospective journey through Sam Raimi’s original Spider-Man films with our in-depth discussion of the controversial Spider-Man 3. Though a record-breaking commercial hit, the film was widely considered a creative disappointment upon release, and its reputation has only soured more and more in the decade since. Is that reputation fully deserved? The answer is complicated, because while Spider-Man 3 almost certainly isn’t a ‘good’ movie, it’s hard to entirely dismiss it as a mere ‘bad’ one as well. Working through the film’s many problems but also its surprising pleasures makes for perhaps our most fun and engaging discussion of the series yet, and wraps up a rewarding trek back through these classic superhero films. 

Enjoy!

Stream The Weekly Stuff Podcast Episode #255








The Weekly Stuff with Jonathan Lack & Sean Chapmanis a weekly audio podcast, and if you subscribe in iTunes, episodes will be delivered automatically and for free as soon as they are released. If you visit www.jonathanlack.com, we also have streaming and downloadable versions of new and archival episodes for your listening pleasure.

Monday, September 10, 2018

The Weekly Stuff Podcast #254 – Spider-Man PS4 & Dragon Quest XI First Impressions


It’s time for another episode of The Weekly Stuff Podcast with Jonathan Lack & Sean Chapman, a weekly audio show that explores the worlds of film, television, and video games. You can subscribe for free in iTunes by following this link

It was an amazing week for video games, as Marvel’s Spider-Man and Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age both launched on the PS4, and after spending an unhealthy amount of time playing as much of them as possible, we’ve got spoiler-free impressions of both. Jonathan gives his thoughts on the early hours of Dragon Quest, Sean sings some more praise for Yakuza Kiwami 2, and we both gush over the incredible achievement that is Insomniac’s Spider-Man game. It may be the best use of a licensed character in a major video game to date, a consistently surprising, endlessly engrossing experience that goes above and beyond being theSpider-Man game of our childhood dreams. We’ll have a full spoiler-filled review next week, but we keep things spoiler-free this time, so feel free to listen whether or not you’ve touched the game yet.

Enjoy, and come back Wednesday for a special mid-week bonus podcust with our retrospective review of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3! 

Time Chart: 

Intro: 0:00:00 – 0:08:36
News: 0:08:36 – 0:19:36
Yakuza Kiwami 2: 0:19:36 – 0:28:37  
Video Game Cover Art Is Weird Now: 0:28:37 – 0:36:14
Dragon Quest XI - Echoes of an Elusive Age: 0:36:14 – 1:02:44
Marvel’s Spider-Man: 1:02:44 – 2:02:51 

Stream The Weekly Stuff Podcast Episode #254








The Weekly Stuff with Jonathan Lack & Sean Chapmanis a weekly audio podcast, and if you subscribe in iTunes, episodes will be delivered automatically and for free as soon as they are released. If you visit www.jonathanlack.com, we also have streaming and downloadable versions of new and archival episodes for your listening pleasure.