The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

May 20, 2013

Benji Tunnell: Outside of the theater, movies are still entertaining

By Benji Tunnell
Globe Columnist

JOPLIN, Mo. — Every once in a while, I like to take a break from the weekly movie grind and explore some other entertainment avenues. Being a movie geek, I often gravitate toward film-related stuff. Here are a few different options I've discovered recently.

For your listening pleasure

I am an early podcast adopter, having first started listening to various shows in 2005 to fill time while doing certain tasks at work. As such, I've paid close attention to those shows that have gotten attention through various means, be it recommendations related to shows I downloaded, various media outlets, or just general friend comments.

Yet, it was only recently that I discovered "The Flop House," a podcast devoted solely to the evisceration of bad movies.

The hosts consist of three friends, two of whom write for "The Daily Show," and their punishing quest to watch and discuss the worst movies released into theaters.

As a closet movie masochist, I feel as though I've found kindred spirits in men who can take the occasional pleasure in slogging through drek; as a pseudocritic, I appreciate the surprisingly cogent and thorough analysis offered on movies that truly deserve much less.

The format is pretty well set. On episodes where the three are together, Elliot Kalan offers up a breakdown of the plot as Dan McCoy and Stuart Wellington contribute their insights, and the trio tear apart the movie. After in-depth discussion, the three then render their final verdicts on whether there was any enjoyment to be found in the film, then offer recommendations for alternatives to suffering through what they just watched.

Mixed into this are the tangents on which the three will go off, sometimes rambling, sometimes barely even tied to the film, but always funny. I assume it is some kind of verbal symbolism of the walls the brain throws up to protect itself from crap, as I've often found my mind wandering while suffering through the latest Robin Williams offering or anything starring Ashton Kutcher, and their unhinged rants are a pretty close approximation to what the mind will actually do.

And, unlike so many podcasts offered today, there is a professionalism to their recording and presentation. As a fellow podcaster (*cough* "Tales of the Smoking Chihuahua" -- find us on iTunes or Facebook *cough*) I appreciate the work and effort put into making a quality sounding show.

I've heard shows that are offshoots of large magazines and newspapers that sounded as though they were recorded on computer microphones, so it is nice to find something that is both listenable and extremely funny.

This is a much more enjoyable alternative to actually watching films like "Old Dogs," "The Killers" or "Sucker Punch." Believe me.

And in case I haven't sold you enough on the show, "The Flop House" is, I think it's safe to say, the foremost podcast authority on movies in which a ding dong is ripped off.

For your reading pleasure

I've recently read two different books that touch on the world of films; one on its impact on a life, the other the inspiration for a pretty fun movie.

The first is "The Film Club," by David Gilmour. In it, Gilmour recounts his agreement with his son, allowing him to drop out of school if he sat with him to watch three films a week. Part film education, part coming of age, part analysis of the father-son dynamic, the book is surprisingly poignant and heartfelt, funny in places and very insightful.

Gilmour is faced with a son who doesn't have a passion for school, but he knows the future the boy will face without proper guidance and direction, so he passes his love of films along while bonding over the frustrations of life, broken hearts and finding one's path.

The second is "Pitch Perfect," on which the film of the same name is loosely based. But rather than just focusing on the competitive world of collegiate a cappella competitions, Mickey Rapkin's book delves into the subculture of the genre, offering a history lesson on the form, while focusing on the changes taking place in a cappella over the 2006-2007 school year.

Certainly, for most, it will be an enlightening glimpse into an area that little is known; for enthusiasts it is a look behind the curtain of competitive singing. Rapkin, who wrote for GQ Magazine at the time, has an engaging writing style, something important for a subject that has been pre-judged by so many of his potential audience.

While it may not bring converts to the form, it is an interesting examination and offers a back story that allows for the fuller appreciation of the resultant film.

For your viewing pleasure

Finally, I offer up "The Story of Film: An Odyssey," a mostly comprehensive study of the world of movies and filmmaking, from the inception of the camera through the modern day multiplex industry that it has become.

Originally a 15-part British television documentary, the entire run, totaling over 900 minutes, is now streaming on Netflix, with the first episode offered for free on iTunes.

Narrated by Irish film critic Mark Cousins and based on his book of the same name, the series dives deep into the history of film, analyzing critical films, directors and actors, as well as major movements and the impact of certain countries and their contributions. It also takes a look at the exhibition side of the industry, from the first rudimentary movie house to the changes that have taken place in what is now a global movie market.

The series is far from flawless. The narrator speaks with such inflection that it seems he is asking a question with every other sentence. In addition, it is very heavily weighted toward his own personal preferences and influences, and as such is not as broad as some might like.

But as a whole, it is a valuable resource of information, and will most likely lead to a much broader exposure to some true classics that might otherwise be relegated to film study classes and classic film festivals.