Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo as Blofeld and Bond. Image: (c) BBC

The Go-To Podcast for Movie Geeks

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Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo as Blofeld and Bond. Image: (c) BBC
Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo as Blofeld and Bond. Image: (c) BBC

If you consider yourself a movie geek but have no idea why Google’s UK landing page says “Hello to Jason Isaacs” (the actor who played Lucius Malfoy in Harry Potter and will be Captain Lorca in the upcoming Star Trek: Discovery series), then it is time to subscribe to the BBC’s Kermode and Mayo’s Film Review podcast.

The weekly radio show, with its expanded podcast offering (there have been podcast episodes twice as long as the original show aired on the radio), pairs film critic Mark Kermode and talk-show host Simon Mayo. The show has been running since 2001 and the long time shared in presenting the program is quite apparent: Kermode and Mayo are something of the proverbial bickering couple, where one partner can finish the other’s sentences and both regularly revisit the same grievances. If you are wondering whether this makes for enjoyable listening, it does—just think of The Muppet Show‘s Statler and Waldorf!

Even more characteristic for the show than a bit of bickering is a lot of wittering. (“To witter” is a British colloquialism for speaking at length about trivial subjects.) Kermode and Mayo are happy to go off on tangents and talk about whatever strikes their fancy, but manage to stay entertaining all the time. Not coincidentally, they have made @wittertainment their Twitter handle. In the past, they sometimes did not manage to talk about all newly released films during the radio show because of all the wittering, but once they started expanding the podcast, this was  not a problem anymore: more room for wittering and what does not fit into the radio show goes into the podcast.

So, yes, apart from wittering, there is also movie news in the program. At the start of the program, Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo review the UK’s box office top 10. Here, they bring together listeners’ comments submitted via email or social media with Mark Kermode’s views on each movie in the top 10, thus balancing out Kermode’s opinion. Especially in cases where Kermode has a strong opinion about a movie (and he frequently has), you will also hear the opinions of listeners taking the very opposite view.

The box office top 10 is followed by an interview with an actress, actor, director, or similar person about an upcoming movie. The interview is usually conducted by Simon Mayo. Interviewing is Simon Mayo’s daily bread. Skilled and engaging, he almost always manages interviews that are interesting and often contain a refreshing angle on an upcoming movie that is absent from so many other interviews given by stars and directors before a new movie release. Usually, the interview has been recorded beforehand, but once in awhile, a guest comes into the studio. Often, these occasions are a special treat. Witness, for example, Tom Hiddleston performing Hank Williams’ “I Saw the Light” in the studio together with Mark Kermode:

Or Kevin Spacey pitching in with comments on the UK’s box office top 10 movies, most of which he hadn’t watched:

After the interview, Mark Kermode reviews the new releases of the week. I do not always agree with Mark Kermode’s assessments; when I disagree, though, I usually must confess that he has a point in what he likes or dislikes about a movie. I especially value his acute sense of where  a movie  strays into misogyny and sexism, which he will point out vociferously in his reviews. Mark Kermode is always outspoken about his opinions, which sometimes culminates in what without any doubt are the highlights of the show: the Mark Kermode Rant. On YouTube there are several playlists collecting the best Mark Kermode Rants, and even if you disagree with him completely about the movie in question, the rants are always great fun. Have a look at Mark Kermode tearing apart Angels and Demons:

There are also movies Mark Kermode likes. Things become especially entertaining when there is a movie he does not really want to like but likes nevertheless, such as the ABBA musical  Mamma Mia:

The show has a dedicated following of fans, many of which have been listening for a decade and more. Listeners who understand the many in-jokes and recurrent themes of the show may call themselves LTL (long-term listener); for everybody else, there is the Witterpedia, which explains these to new listeners.  Which brings us back to Jason Isaacs and the question why Google in the UK says “Hello” to him. The Witterpedia listing of “Jason Isaacs” contains the following information:

The first ever Hello to Jason Isaacs was said on 3 November 2006, as Jason had been a guest on Simon’s 5 Life show earlier in the week and had told him how he was a listener to the podcast. (…) Jason wasn’t then mentioned again until 9 March 2007, when Mark was talking about how he had been warmly greeted at his hotel in Chicago by someone who was a big fan of the podcast, and Simon replied saying “we should say ‘hello’ to Jason Isaacs at this point, because he says he downloads and listens wherever he is in the world… I think we should say ‘hello’ to him every week.” (…) Saying hello to Jason has subsequently become a bit of a meme, spreading to fans greeting him with cries of “Hello to Jason Isaacs” on the street, and signs declaring the same appearing at sporting events, protests, etc.

“Hello to Jason Isaacs” has been seen on billboards, announced in flights and busses, and uttered in academical talks as well as wedding speeches. Might there be a “Hello to Jason Isaacs” hidden as an Easter egg somewhere in the upcoming Star Trek: Discovery series?

Taking Wikipedia’s definition of “geek” as an  enthusiast or a person obsessed with a hobby or intellectual pursuit, it becomes clear that Kermode and Mayo’s Film Review has spawned a growing sub-species of movie geeks, the Witterpedia geeks. So, if you are a movie geek, see whether you want to join the “Church of Wittertainment.” If you enjoy the show, you will be able to enjoy several months of listening: all podcasts since September 2010 are available online.

And “Hello” to Jason Isaacs!

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