Podthoughts

Podthoughts by Colin Marshall: "The Indie Travel Podcast"

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Though your Podthinker may be slightly biased on this front, it's easy to imagine the podcast becoming the serious traveler's medium of choice. After all, iPods, Zunes, iRivers and such are only shrinking in size and growing in data capacity; we'll surely be stuffing the entire history of audio entertainment onto sub-matchbook trinkets in a year or two. And even as we speak, all but the most benighted hamlets afford at least some amount of internet coverage, allowing the peripatetic podcast listener to log on just long enough to pull down the newest episodes of everything and be on their merry way to wherever, their ears absorbing valuable spoken and musical information all the while.

Full-time traveler Craig Martin made a similarly enticing point on his own podcast: there's nothing like downloading a few hours of podcast-y material — chat shows, free audio books and the like — and taking it all in while gazing out the window of a train as vista after scenic European vista drifts by. He and his wife Linda have taken the next bold step toward unifying travel and the podcast medium with The Indie Travel Podcast [iTunes link], their program about world traveling by world travelers and for world travelers — or, like your Podthinker, aspiring ones. Weary of stable homes, regular lobs and steady incomes, this New Zealand couple one day decided to spend their lives simply traveling at all times, trekking from country to country by whatever means of transport happens to be available and teaching English along the way to pay the bills. They're living the dream, or at least their dream.

While this particular style of ultra-spontanous perpetual nomadism won't be to everyone's traveling taste — it is not, admittedly, quite to your Podthinker's, who shudders at the thought of carting his DJ gear all the way to, say, Tonga — Craig and Linda cover all sorts of angles on travel, from reports on (and from) specific cities to reviews of gear and guidebooks to strategies for obtaning lodging and transport to conversations, usually Skype-based, with other bigtime travelers. The variety would seem to ensure at least something of interest to all active or aspiring globetrotters every few episodes. Even the span of the most recent fifteen includes an interview about Tokyo with an expat residing there [MP3], a list of fifteen items essential to pack for an around-the-world journey [MP3], a review of Craig and Linda's own hometown of Auckland [MP3] (which is what drew your Podthinker, who's planning a New Zealand trip, to the program in the first place) and a discussion of the pros and cons of the many and varied means of conveyance open to the modern traveler [MP3].

The utilitarian value of The Indie Travel Podcast is, needless to say, quite high, and its mien is more than welcoming: Craig has one of the friendliest, gentlest voices I've heard in podcasting, and the laptop-based production imbues the proceedings with a hardy DIY feel. But it must be said that the show's various forms of sponsorship — giveaways, contests, mentions of and spliced-in segments from travel suppliers — cloud the experience a bit. There's also an eerie cast of unreflectiveness to most of the voices heard on the podcast; while the participants are all respectable travelers, the tales of their journeys hew with shocking loyalty to flat, meaningless adjectives like "good," "great," "awesome," "cool," "mad" and "insane," rarely reaching beyond the surface. Painful as it is to hear Jeff Koons' Puppy described simply "enormous" and "weird," though, the fact remains that Craig and Linda have been to Bilbao to see it. Your Podthinker hasn't.

Vital stats:
Format: all things travel
Running since: 2006
Duration: 10m-45m
Frequency: weekly (depending upon whether Craig and Linda can find a decent net connection)
Archive available on iTunes: last 17 only

[Questions, comments, ideas, suggestions or threats for Podthinker Colin Marshall? colinjmarshall at gmail.]

Podthoughts by Colin Marshall: "Low Budget FM"

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At one time, Marc Chambers and Tod Perry rode high on their decentish time slots on the talk stations 103.7 FREE FM in San Diego and then 97.1, also FREE FM, in Los Angeles. Though their young show reportedly managed to attain a reasonable status of belovedness, their station nonetheless gave 'em the ax when These Economic Times rendered the FM talk format financially untenable. Fortunately for us podcast-listeners, this FM Talkpocalypse, if you will, has given up and continues to give up a cornucopia of new internet-only shows helmed by displaced "real" broadcasters. Adam Carolla's mind-blowingly successful venture has been discussed in this space before, and Chambers and Perry, also L.A. guys, have followed suit with Low Budget FM [iTunes link].

Since both co-hosts sound and appear to be two twenty/thirtysomething guys who bullshit about culture, the show would initially seem to be yet another entry into the fabulously glutty podcast genre of the TTWGBAC. But be apprised that they record in a "barn" (as they call it), not a basement! And said barn is located in L.A.'s Koreatown, a subregion that also happens to be the home of the Maximum Fun Home Office. Given their background in no-it-actually-goes-out-over-the-air radio, they go a bit heavier on the drops, the bits, the music and the general "liveness" than do podcasters qua podcasters; like regular radio bits, drops, etc., these strategies sometimes prove hilarious, and sometimes prove, well, chuckleworthy enough. Some of the productions verge on theater of the mind, as when the show lapses into faux commercials and elaborate Tom Leykis parodies. It seems, though, that their material is more effective when they go simpler.

Just chattin' 'bout stuff, for example; that's pretty darn simple, and they pull it off with vim, brio and several other dusty, disused adjective-y nouns. Stimulating topics of late have been based upon such various vagaries of a dude's life as what do to when you see some dude in your ex-girlfriends's Facebook profile image [MP3] whether or not to share money with your ladyfriend [MP3], how best to take to international waters when you're basically done with society [MP3], and whether it's worth flying to Denver just for a shot at some chaunch [MP3]. "Chaunch," by the by, is the hosts' recently-invented term for the ladyparts; journalistic responsibility demands that your Podthinker report that he found their repeated usage of the word — and specifically that — more hilarious than most of what he's been hearing anywhere in the last few months.

It's also worth nothing that these guys are putting out this stuff on (pretty much) a daily basis, which is perhaps no great shakes in the remains of the commercial radio industry but which still comes off as a yeoman's job in podcasting. And they also change it up by bringing in buddies, guests, and buddy-guests, the most entertaining of whom happens to be the I.P.A.-loving Mike Cioffi, also known as one of Adam Carolla's tech guys. And, though this isn't really apropos to a podcast column, they actually do the show live as well; you can listen as they stream on ErrorFM. They also talk quite often about doing something on a site called "Stickam", on which your Podthinker might elaborate if he knew what Stickam was. This all adds up to position Low Budget FM as something of a bridge between talk radio and podcasting — a comedic bridge, that is. All bridges should be this funny. Or at least somehow involve chaunch.

Vital stats:
Format: comedy/TTWGBAC hybrid
Running since: October 28
Duration: 4m-50m
Frequency: near-daily
Archive available on iTunes: all

[Podthoughts questions, comments, ideas, suggestions, threats? Contact Podthinker Colin Marshall at colinjmarshall at gmail.]

Podthoughts by Colin Marshall: "Left Field Cinema"

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Here's the thing about movie podcasts: there's a glut of 'em. No matter your taste, personality, available listening time or filmgoing experience, there's a movie podcast out there that's just right for you. That said, your Podthinker wishes you the best of luck as regards (a) finding it amidst the teeming thousands of other fish swimming the sea and (b) enduring the interminable goof-off-y nonsense that comprises the vast majority of movie podcasts out there through which you'll have to dig to find the perfect match.

Given the situation, your Podthinker is pleased to report that he as unearthed an absolute gem of a movie podcast, one that will constitute the perfect match for many of you: Left Field Cinema [iTunes link]. A few-frills production, the format comes down to host Mike Dawson discussing one piece of cinematic art per episode. (For those who enjoy nitpicking, yes, some shows are two-film comparisons, some are collections of listener-penned reviews, and some are end-of-the-year roundups.) Were Dawson your stereotypical posing, discursive, culturally neurotic video store register jockey, this would be one to avoid. But damn, this guy is sharp! Any given episode is a display of Dawson's impressive succinctness, analytical ability and body of cinema-related knowledge.

Podcasting out of the UK, Dawson seems to be somehow affiliated with the Movies You Should See crew. (Some of them even appear to read quoted material. I never thought I'd hear any of them solemnly intoning the words of Andrei Tarkovsky and Ingmar Bergman, but here it is.) While that's a fine, upstanding movie podcast, it sits right alongside the rest of the crowd in its willingness to discuss any old film. Dawson makes a choice that, in an instant, sets his program way apart from the rest: he talks primarily — perhaps exclusively — about films worth talking about, such as the redoubtable Terence Malick's Badlands [MP3]; Andrei Tarkovsky's exemplar of good sci-fi, Solaris [MP3], Béla Tarr's immortal Sátántangó [MP3] and Andrew Dominik's wrongfully overlooked The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Ford [MP3]. (The title makes the show seem a bit more obscurantist than it really is.)

As a director in his own right, Dawson brings with him rare — and, in criticism, sometimes invaluable — knowledge of the actual filmmaking process. He also keeps abreast in film developments, as it were, that might escape the radar of the more casual viewer; some of the very best episodes are the themed ones where he sheds light on a "contemporary obscurity," a piece of "misunderstood modern cinema" or one of the "Asian avant-garde." His championing of Michael Cimino's very-oft-maligned Heaven's Gate [MP3] has driven your Podthinker to finally watch the thing. If you only subscribe to fiften of the hundred new film podcasts out this year, then by all means, make Left Field Cinema one of them.

Vital stats:
Format: solo film discussion
Running since: November 2007
Duration: 3m-50m
Frequency: weekly
Archive available on iTunes: all

[Questions, comments, ideas, suggestions or threats for Podthinker Colin Marshall? colinjmarshall at gmail.]

Podthoughts by Colin Marshall: "Uhh Yeah Dude"

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They say that less is more. They say to keep it simple (, stupid). Simplify, simplify, said Thoreau. These are broad rules, to be sure, but, in what has become your Podthinker's humble opinion, they apply just as well to podcasting as they do to any other, healthier pursuit. When you're putting out a podcast, going elaborate is a dangerous gambit; sometimes you pull it off, but most of the time you wind up with an unholy mess. While what the hosts of Uhh Yeah Dude [iTunes link] do may indeed be unholy, it adheres to about as simple a format as formats get, and good lord have they scored a following by so doing.

Now bear with, because this is going to sound less promising before it sounds more promising. Like Arrive Having Eaten, Uhh Yeah Dude straddles the line between Two Twenty/Thirtysomething Guys/Girls Bullshitting About Culture (TTWGBAC) and Ridiculousness Uttered Flatly, Segmented By Music (RUFSBM), except it out-simplifies the latter genre by not having any interstitial music, and it isn't even segmented. That is to say, it's not sharply segmented: the dudes behind the mics simply talk to each other, no breaks, with vanishingly subtle or spun-on-a-dime changes in subject, for about an hour per episode. It's one solid conversational texture, all the way through.

Given the unfortunate title, this more than likely sounds, to the uninitiated, like a recipe for a meaningless, desultory yammerfest. And to some listeners, perhaps that's precisely what it is. Thing is, though, the show's actually quite funny — and it's not clear why. Co-hosts Seth Romatelli and Jonathan Larroquette — no, not the horny lawyer from Night Court, but it might be his son — don't make what one would normally call jokes. Theirs could more accurately be called a tonal humor, or at least it would be if the phrase "tonal humor" didn't conjure so many unpleasant memories of A Prairie Home Companion. It's worth noting, though, that 90% of your Podthinker's Uhh Yeah Dude-related laughs are set off by Romatelli's delivery style, which is tricky to describe but somewhat resembles a foulmouthed, more masculine, more slacker-y version of David Sedaris. At a certain point, the listener starts Pavlovianly chortling at whatever the guy happens to be saying.

Topic-wise, the program is no great shakes, but nor is it impoverished. Ostensibly surveying the United States of America in all its bizarre glory, Romatelli and Larroquette cover and ridicule happenings across this great land including but not limited to the release of Kanye West's "book", the threat of a Sugar Ray comeback and whether "Nougabot" counts as a racial slur. And after 170 episodes, they've got it down, trading riffs with and blasting through the issues of the day with almost startling quickness. Hence, one supposes, the large, devoted fanbase; they're admirers of the pure craft.

Vital stats:
Format: two dudes and America
Running since: February 2006
Duration:1h-1h15m
Frequency: weekly
Archive available on iTunes: all

[Podthinker Colin Marshall shakes his fist at all of you who were able to live large at MaxFunCon this year, but vows revenge — specifically, that he'll be at the next one. Tell him how maximally fun it was at colinjmarshall at gmail.]

Podthoughts by Colin Marshall: "Science & the City"

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Though a young medium, podcasting has proven to be a versatile one. It informs, it educates, it entertains — there's the BBC's misson statement checked off already — and it does a bunch of other wonky, nerdy stuff besides. The New York Academy of Science's Science & the City [iTunes link] tacks one more function onto the list: outreach.

Any reader who's worked for a marginal political party, unpopular cause or culty pseudo-religion knows full well the necessity of outreach. As bitter science people on the internet rarely hesitate to complain, the intellectual enterprise could use a bit more love, too. The New York Academy of Sciences grasps this and then some; the podcast is but one tentacle of the enormous outreach-octopus that is their public relations unit. At this point in the description, memories no doubt cast back to the tiresome television specials of childhood that proclaimed, dully and with brutal repetition, the Importance of Science, underscoring their point with footage of a spectrometer or maybe some deep-water invertebrates. Breathe a sigh of relief that Science & the City isn't exactly that. But what is it?

"Science grab bag", ungainly as it may sound, is the first subject name to come to mind. The program zigs and zags through a forest of domains in science and technology, with visits to specific sub-areas like engineering and medicine, and never is its next step predictable. Why, just recently, listeners have been taken from the science of music and how humans hear it [MP3] to a lecture informing scientists about how best to extract a few extra dollars from Congress' rigid fists [MP3] to the site of what is arguably New York's most prestigious kite-flying competition [MP3]. Some might call this a lack of focus, but your Podthinker commends what he considers to be a healthy spirit of diverse inquiry, especially when it happens to have the vast intellectual resources of the NYAS at its back.

Just as the subjects sit all over the place, Science & the City's internal structure varies almost as widely. Sometimes an episode will focus on a single topic — taste, say, or envirnomental toxins, or Swine Flu — and invite several voices to comment on it, sometimes an episode will feaure just one person commenting on a variety of issues — and some big names show up, like Neil deGrasse Tyson, Craig Venter, Steven Pinker and Michio Kaku — and sometimes an episode will do something or other in between. The best episodes, in your Podthinker's experience, are the simpler ones, such as the straight-ahead lectures like Dean Kamen's on the proper way to forge new young men and women of science (and engineering) [MP3] or the one-on-one conversations like Tom Wolfe and Michael Gazzaniga's on neuroscience and morality [MP3]. Host Alana Range does a solid job in the presenter's seat, though journalistic integrity demands that her unsettling tendency to misuse the expression "to beg the question" and slap modifiers in front of the word "unique" be called out. But every podcast bears its awkwardnesses, and the non-dorkiness of the outreach here more than compensates.

Vital stats:
Format: sci-variety
Running since: October 2005
Duration: 15m-1h30m
Frequency: just about weekly
Archive available on iTunes: all

[Podthinker Colin Marshall now resides proudly among the orgs. Send podcast suggestions, podcast un-suggestions or podcast semi-suggestions to colinjmarshall at gmail.]

Podthoughts by Colin Marshall: "Arrive Having Eaten"

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Longtime Podthoughts readers know that the podcast medium has spawned two basically-new genres of show. The first is the venerable TTWGBAC, or, for shorttime Podthoughts readers, the Two Twentysomething (or Thirtysomething) White Guys (or, occasionally, Girls) Bullshitting About Culture. (Content obvious.) The second, your Podthinker hasn't yet bothered to label, so he's just been calling it You Look Nice Today, which, for those really new to the podcast scene, is the name of the hi-larious program that pioneered the format, or in any case perfected it. In this genre, two or more co-hosts make comedy, or at least attempt to, by making preposterous statements in reasonable tones of voice, then improvisationally scale up the prepostrosity in conversation. It's usually broken up by short bumper tunes and titled with a phrase that doesn't make much sense. Perhaps we'll call it Ridiculousness Uttered Flatly, Segmented By Music (RUFSBM).

Arrive Having Eaten [iTunes link] is something of a hybrid of the TTWGBAC and the RUFSBM, though with a strong lean toward the latter. Linked up by Skype (presumably), Kentucky-based co-host Ben Compton and Ohio-based co-host Erica Minton trade ridiculous and/or preposterous lines about certain sectors of culture — Twitter, say, or movies like Con Air — and about life's vicissitudes — like being de-friended by real-life friends on Twitter and watching Con Air on VHS until the audio track wears off. Though Erica seems to drive the conversation and Ben picks up the rear with the quips-in-response, they operate on what it feels appropriate to call the Jenga model of RUFSBM podcasting: keep pulling out blocks of ludicrousness until someone, usually Erica, collapses. In laughter, than is.

With each RUFSBM — or, for that matter, TTWGBAC — your Podthinker listens to, it becomes clearer that their listenability hinges on how well one knows the hosts' particular tics and inclinations. As with regular friends, the more familiar you are, up to a point, the better time you have. Therefore, the success of an RUFSBM hinges on the prospective listener's willingness to hang in there while they get to know the hosts. Upon first play, Ben and Erica certainly seem affable and articulate enough. Jovial. Reasonably energetic. Few especially eccentric qualities — or positively or negatively distinguished characteristics of any obvious nature — emerge to latch onto, unfortunately, but there's nothing repellent either.

If you're in need of a new regular download, though, hang in there. Your Podthinker is pleased to report that he'd fully warmed up to Ben and Erica after no more than three or four episodes. There's laughs. There's good times. There's schemes, harebrained and otherwise. There's priceless phrases like "'tato stampin'." Ben sometimes works a tad blue, but the content is nothing one wouldn't share with an especially forward-thinking family. Plus, it's quite well-produced, which is often the Achilles' heel of these projects. While Arrive Having Eaten doesn't make much of an effort to come out and grab you, there's smile-inducing entertainment to be had on that there podcast if you're willing to swim on out to it. A mixed metaphor, yes, but you're hereby dared to prove it inaccurate.

Vital stats:
Format: TTWGBAC-y RUFSBM
Running since: June 2009
Duration: 15m-25m
Frequency: just about weekly
Archive available on iTunes: all

[It's podthinker Colin Marshall you want? colinjmarshall at gmail.]

Podthoughts by Colin Marshall: "Tom vs. The Flash"

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Deep into the hunt for unusual, innovative podcasts, one would not normally give a comic book show a second look, let alone a first listen. If there's anything of which the podcasting world has a surfeit, it's guys talking about movies and television. But if there's anything else of which the podcasting world has a surfeit, it's guys talking about video games. But beyond that, if there's still anything else of which the podcasting world has a surfeit, it's guys talking about comic books. Being nothing but a guy talking about comic books, Tom vs. The Flash [iTunes link] would seem to be a prime candidate for the "listen upon the introduction of the 30-hour day" file. But here's the thing: it's not just freeform comics chatter. Host Tom Katers, also of the well-regarded comic-book culture podcast Around Comics, has actually adopted a fairly disciplined and unusual format: each episode, he describes to the audience one issue of The Flash. In the episode following, he describes the next issue of The Flash. And on, one assumes, into infinity.

This is a godsend to anyone who wants to catch up on what's gone on over The Flash's last forty-odd years. though Katers probably didn't hold that utilitarian a vision when conceiving the program. In fact, it didn't even begin as Tom vs. The Flash; the first half of the archive has Katers taking on the Justice League of America. So this isn't about superhero narrative completism. It's about reading old comic books and having one hell of a good time doing it. When Katers blasts through an issue of The Flash, he doesn't simply read it, he doesn't simply snark on it, and — boy, is your Podthinker thankful for this — he doesn't obsessively nitpick misalignments with scientific fact and the greater Flash chronology. Yes, he announces a few passages verbatim; yes, he makes fun; yes, he points out the creators' more egregious dismissals of plausibility and continuity. But he does it so joyfully!

While "joyful" is rarely the word for any podcast, it has to lie at the core of any description of Tom vs. The Flash. Katers sounds utterly thrilled to be telling us Flash stories, to be admiring them where their artistry can be admired, to be ridiculing them where they deserve a bit of ridicule, and to be reading the things in the first place. This holds even when the comics frustrate them, as when he admits that he's had to restart a recording three times because one story was too ridiculously convoluted to accurately relate in takes one and two. And anyone who's read broad superhero comics of the era — Katers is currently reading Flash issues from the late 1960s — knows that ridiculous convolution is the least of their stories' problems. The tales related on the podcast are usually deadly cocktails of contrivance, preposterousness and ham-handedness. One of them is about aliens who steal the Eiffel Tower.

That's not to say that the adventures of the super-speedy Barry Allen (the second of several Flashes, it seems) and his main squeeze Iris in the bustling metropolis of Central City lack all charm. Perhaps the fact that he's nobody's idea of iconic is what makes this high-tech dredging-up of his midcentury exploits so endearing in the first place. Though the concept stands every chance of swerving into tiresome territory, Katers appears to know exactly when and how much to take what he's reading seriously. Surely your Podthinker can be forgiven for claiming that striking a controlled balance in that department is not a skill of particular prevalence in the comic-book community. One unanswered question remains, though: can The Flash outrun Superman? And if not, why not?

Vital stats:
Format: man reading The Flash
Running since: January 2008
Duration: 9m-20m
Frequency: every 2-3 days
Archive available on iTunes: all

[Podthinker Colin Marshall fights the West Coast Avengers, himself. Other superheroes or superhero teams can challenge him at colinjmarshall at gmail.]

Podthoughts by Colin Marshall: "A Life Well Wasted"

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Your Podthinker's normal standard of podcast-journalistic integrity demands that he listen to no fewer than ten or fifteen hours of each show under review. This is an ironclad, uncompromisable rule, except when it isn't. In no normal case would less than four hours of material constitute background material adequate for a reasonably descriptive review. A Life Well Wasted [iTunes link], however, is not a normal case.

Its first and most apparent distinguishing feature is the hyperbolic-sounding, borderline ridiculous praise it receives from its fans. "The best-produced podcast around," they say. "Without a doubt the finest video-game-related thing in circulation on the internet, even if you hate video games," they say. "We would trade our immortal souls for the next episode of this podcast," they probably say. Hear all this once and it sounds like mere fanatic enthusiasm. Hear it again and again and it sounds suspicious, especially given that only three full episodes have been released. Host and producer Robert Ashley has somehow managed, with just a few hours of content pertaining to the still-kinda-sorta-niche-y sphere of video gaming, gained a listenership ready to hard-sell his product at a moment's notice.

A Life Well Wasted has been described as "the This American Life of video games," and not without good cause. The format, such as it has thus far emerged, is nearly identical to that of Ira Glass' brainchild, except there's a lot less wistful commentary on humanity's foibles and a lot more pressing of the B button. If you momentarily stopped understanding spoken English, though, you'd mistake it for This American Life itself. Ashley conducts and dramatically recuts interviews, he weaves his own words in with others' and he aligns the whole shebang against a low-key but sharp musical score. It's a slick package.

It's also hard not to read some sort of symbolic changing of the guard into the fact that the program not only sounds as good as the behemoth that pioneered its format, but that it sometimes sounds even better. (And it probably costs a damn sight less per minute to produce, at that.) Its choice of subject matter will no doubt keep it from unseating the unseatable, but that's no bad thing: video game culture has always lacked accessible coverage of not just the people who make them, but the people who journalize about and simply play them. The show has thus far tidily covered all these bases in a way that, to concede a point to those unsettlingly zealous subscribers, may well appeal even to those who continue to regard video gaming as the unchallenged domain of the dateless wonder.

Episode one, "The Death of EGM" MP3, finds Ashley at the staff party following the demise of the once-beloved magazine Electronic Gaming Monthly, reminiscing about the salad days of print game journalism with the likes of Crispin Boyer and Sean "Seanbaby" Reiley, exhuming the kind of memories that are hugely resonant for the kind of gamer now likely, still gaming or not, to reside in his mid-twenties. Episode two, "Gotta Catch 'Em All" MP3 is, rather than an ode Pokemon — though that would have been good too — a first-hand exploration of extreme collectorhood, from a guy with a sprawling underground warren filled with every console known to man to the proprietor of an all-vintage-pinball arcade to a Stanford academic bent on preserving our increasingly distant gaming past. Episode three, "Why Game?" MP3, delves into deeper issues surrounding the pressing of buttons and the watching of onscreen actions corresponding to said button-pressings, but it's probably most memorable for its conversation with an eccentric conceptual game designer who rides a recumbent bike and somehow survives on about fifteen cents a year. Runner-up for memorability is an interview with a developer who, despite talking through a voice filter that puts him on the edge of unintelligibility, makes with the juicy details about how bad games become bad. (The fourth episode is an extended version of the conversation with that game-preserving academic. Considering the infrequency of the main episodes, periodically releasing a handful of in-between supplements wouldn't be a bad idea.)

The best-produced podcast around? It's one of them, certainly. The finest video-game-related thing in circulation on the internet? Sure, but the competition ain't much. One immortal soul for another episode? Sorry, but if we're talking souls, your Podthinker demands at least three A Life Well Wasteds.

Vital stats:
Format: "the This American Life of video games"
Running since: January 2009
Duration: ~1h
Frequency: monthlyish, plus supplement(s?)
Archive available on iTunes: all

[Podthinker Colin Marshall does most of his gaming str8-up Turbografx-16-style. Share Turbo tips with him at colinjmarshall at gmail.]

Podthoughts by Colin Marshall: "The /Filmcast"

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Long before your Podthinker became a Podthinker, his esteemed predecessor Ian Brill wrote up a movie podcast called Battleship Pretension. Having been sold on the show by that very review, it has thus been your Podthinker's goal to dig up an equally good program on matters cinematic to recommend. When Tyler and David, co-captiains of the good ship Pretension, mentioned that they'd made a guest appearance on The /Filmcast [iTunes link], said /Filmcast emerged as a promising contender.

Is it as recommendable as Battleship Pretension? Quite difficult to say, since never have two podcasts that share a subject been so different in form. Where BP has the purity of two dudes in the same room simply straight-talking about the cinema every week, T/FC is a more exotic, technological beast, combining Skype-based group film discussion with news, reviews, interviews and even movie commentaries. It's like some crazy Horn of Plenty of film talk, an ever-more-various variety show that pushes the boundaries of what can be accomplished in the movie-chat-podcast form.

The plus side is that, what with all the elements, features and wingdings, every film geek's going to find something to love. On the minus side, some of the show's branches necessarily prove sturdier than the others. Downloading an episode at random — actually a semi-episode, since each is broken up into multiple files — you'll get one of a few basic entertainments. One is what I call the "episode head", where the group get together and first mention what they've seen recently, then speculate about the latest word from the film world, then commence arguing out the merits and/or demerits of a single motion picture in current theatrical release, such as Duplicity [MP3], Observe and Report [MP3] or Crank 2: High Voltage [MP3].

As was always the case with Siskel and Ebert, the reviews are as fun as the disagreement is strong. This was well-illustrated on Tyler and David's guest appearance, when everyone but them liked the (pretty lame-sounding) State of Play [MP3]. (If there's a weakness to the discussions, it's that the usual group gives way too much slack to "popcorn" movies.) Many others from the internet film scene also stop by to participate: people from Rotten Tomatoes, people from the Independent Film Channel, people from C.H.U.D., that sort of thing. But things don't truly get interesting until the free-form "/Filmcast: After Dark" segments start up, when guards are let down, spoiler cautions are thrown to the wind and (one assumes) the drinks start flowing. (It's especially nice to hear the group's marginally irritating spoiler fixation stop, since, really, any movie that's literally spoiled by revealing its plot points probably isn't worth watching to begin with.)

All that said and your Podthinker hasn't even gotten to The /Filmcast's interviews, where host David Chen turns roving reporter, going around and conversing with the neato filmmakers of our time like Brick director Rian Johnson [MP3] and Sin Nombre director Cary Fukunaga [MP3]. Though a bit on the short side, the interviews are informative nonetheless. And speaking of, any more information in this column — and much more could be said about such a full-featured podcast — and the short side will recede into the distance, never to be seen again. Even if this isn't your Podthinker's Battleship Pretension, it's got enough variety and experimental brio to extract admiration from any willing cinephile.

(Oh, and they take listener calls, too.)

Vital stats:
Format: film discussion, film reviews, film interviews, film news
Running since: May 2008
Duration: 20m-2h (depending on the segment)
Frequency: one segment every two, three or four days
Archive available on iTunes: last 70 segments

[Fun fact: Podthinker Colin Marshall also writes a film column. Argue with his impeccable points at colinjmarshall at gmail, discuss Podthoughts on the forum here or submit your own podcast for the next by-Max-Funsters column here.]

Podthoughts by Colin Marshall: "The History of Rome"

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If any theme has emerged over the last year of Podthoughts, it's that the podcast medium has limitless possibilities. If any other theme has emerged over the last year of Podthoughts, it's that the podcast medium's possibilities remain insufficiently explored. Every once in a while, though, a show emerges that casts new light on what podcasting can be. At the risk of making too grand a claim, The History of Rome [iTunes link] is one such podcast. (Subject obvious.) Its execution is simple and straightforward; its listening experience is strangely, almost unsettlingly enthralling.

What do you get from The History of Rome? Well, the history of Rome, start to finish, wall-to-wall. To promise anything else would be a lie, though in the podcast's purity lies its strength. Aside from very, very rare pieces of technical administrivia, host Mike Duncan utters essentially no non-Rome-related words, and he doesn't deliver the ones that are Rome-related in any sort of theatrical inflection. His voice, in fact, is remarkable only in its unremarkability. This may well be the first podcast to contain only one thing of note: Rome's history.

But boy oh boy, does it ever contain it. Duncan recites the history of Rome — "recites" seems to be the word, since it sounds like he's reading a text rather than speaking extemporaneously, so it's a bit like a long, serial audiobook — in rich detail, including everything even that one "cool" young history lecturer you had in college neglected to mention in favor of those racy asides, ancient double entendres and vomitorium anecdotes he thought would keep the class awake. Refreshingly, Duncan hews away from the Caligula model of history lecturing and simply assumes that Roman history, served straight up, is as fascinating as it is. Allowing the material its proper dignity does wonders for the tone and engagingness (to coin a term) of its conveyance.

One could, potentially, learn the history of Rome from The History of Rome, but to your Podthinker's mind, taking such a pedestrian approach misses a superior listening opportunity. Better, it seems, to use The History of Rome to inhabit the history of Rome, letting yourself be immersed in the wash of battles, societal experiments and political machinations and Duncan's impressive erudition about them all. Your Podthinker has already spent many a happy evening enveloped by spoken stories of the Roman Empire's many vicissitudes, from the three Samnite Wars to Pompey's conquering of Jerusalem to Antony and Cleopatra's flight to Alexandria. The experience isn't so much an informational one — though it's well equipped to be — but a textual one. It's a historical podcast, sure, but it's also a pure, blissful sonic setting, one that delivers as much education as the listener feels like absorbing, and that listener need not face scantron nor blue book when it's all over. History 117B was never like this.

Vital stats:
Format: history (of Rome)
Running since: December 2007
Duration: 10m-20m
Frequency: weekly, roughly
Archive available on iTunes: all but, inexplicably, the first three

[Podthinker Colin Marshall would have gotten this to you all sooner if not for lousy Amtrak's lack of wireless. Bark at him about it colinjmarshall at gmail, discuss Podthoughts on the forum here or submit your own podcast for the next by-Max-Funsters column here.]

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