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On the podcast Blank check with Griffin & David, answer guy-turned-hosts Griffin Newman and David Sims have invented and perfected a system for delivering their sometimes idiosyncratic verdicts on movies without coming across as mansplaining douchebags. In every episode of the Patreon-funded show, Newman, a comedian and actor best known for Amazon’s The tick reboot, and Sims, a culture writer for Atlantic, examine a film made by a director who was awarded the proverbial “blank check” by Hollywood. Each filmmaker reviewed’s complete filmography becomes the subject of a different miniseries: “Podward Scissorcast” for the Complete Works of Tim Burton, “Podback Mountcast” for Ang Lee, or “The Pod Knight Casts” for…well, you would have understood it. The hosts, known to longtime listeners as “#TheTwoFriends,” share a complex but fascinating chemistry. For one thing, their dynamic is often more prickly than sympathetic. With her background as a critic, Sims brings to the podcast a focused and balanced approach to Newman, whose more gonzo persona switches between elastically silly and sincere depending on the film. Even when they agree on something, Sims often spend much of each episode’s length warning their clownish counterpart to stay on track.
Since its debut in January 2016, Blank check featured guests from a wide variety of backgrounds, which sets a somewhat unpredictable tone. Episodes in which comedians like Ayo Edebiri or Bodybuilders‘ Matt Rogers and Bowen Yang appear are downright hilarious, while those featuring filmmakers like Nia DaCosta or critics like Slate‘s Dana Stevens serve up serious and intellectual deep dives. As a result, despite his popularity among loyal fans, aka “Blankies”, Blank check can be a hard show to recommend to the uninitiated. (Even Layne Montgomery’s theme song acknowledges this: “Blank check with Griffin & David: I don’t know what to say or what to expect.”) But in episodes where one film’s erudition syncs with the other’s goofy instincts, Sims, Newman and their producer and “third Ben Hosley’s unofficial friend captures a silly-clever dichotomy so different from the more common arrogance of typical movie review podcasts that any self-effacing movie obsessive will consider it a breath of fresh air.
This particular dichotomy is what makes “Unbreakable With Matt Patches” the third installment in the “Pod Night Shyamacast” miniseries chronologically dedicated to the work of M. Night Shyamalan (and episode 42 as a whole). , the most welcoming entry point of the series’ six series. – more than a year for new listeners. Released February 8, 2016 with entertainment editor Thrillist Fixes (now Polygon’s associate entertainment editor) as a guest star, the episode opens with Newman riffing on the closing lines of Shyamalan’s fourth film starring Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson, Unbreakable“I should have known all along. You know why? Because of the kids, David. They called me… Mr. Podcast!” Sims scoffs at the reference but quickly gets serious: the guest very quickly because it freaks me out when he’s just sitting there.” “No, I’m just going to sit in the corner,” Patches replies bravely.
Patches is originally from Philadelphia, so the hosts note he’s the perfect person for a conversation about Shyamalan’s thriller in Pennsylvania. Newman criticizes the guest for getting ahead of himself by describing the first scene of Unbreakable, a film that Newman considers his “Rosetta stone”. But before he could start getting nostalgic, Hosley – billed as “Producer Ben,” “The Ben-Ducer,” “The Hoz,” “The Peeper,” and finally, “Professor Crispy” (because of the sound editing net) – interrupts the conversation with the episode’s signature track: a jarring soundtrack of a choir screaming “UN-BREAKABLE!” from Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt opening credits.
It takes eight minutes of similar distractions and banter to settle in before the real discussion begins. To begin with, the three men agree that Unbreakable is one of Shyamalan’s most haunting works, and well worth what will become an hour and 40 minute deep dive. Sims describes the experience of seeing Unbreakable in theaters as “alarming” and “disturbing”. Patches compares it to a Lars von Trier movie (“Unenjoyable, on purpose”). And Newman recalls that he “soared through his ten favorite movies” when he saw him at the age of 11, turning him into a full-fledged “Shyamaholic” teenager. Even at that young age, Griffin says he recognized that Shyamalan was already a brand due to the success of The sixth sense in 2000. In a rare moment, Sims agrees, calling Unbreakable “The definition of a blank cheque: Alright, you’re the prodigy – do what you want.”
For the next 15 minutes, they swap facts about Shyamalan’s $10 million salary and Robin Wright replacing Julianne Moore. They dissect the intensity of the noir-esque trailer, which Newman can remember shot by shot (it sounds impressive until Sims gasps, “What do you mean?!”). And they react with shock when Newman reveals that Samuel L. Jackson’s longtime “hairstylist” is credited to one Robert Louis Stevenson..
It’s only after 25 minutes that Sims’ training as a professional film critic (and his palpable impatience with all the jokes) kicks in, and he finally demands “a level of human speech.” At this point, the conversation turns to Unbreakableis sad and dark (Hosley again: “UN-BREAKABLE!”). “Every time he makes a choice, he chooses to be muted and dark and unfathomably slow and freezing,” says Sims. When Newman suggests that “2000 to 2010 Griffin would have argued that this movie was perfect,” Sims points to Eduardo Serra’s cinematography as the key to its enduring power. “This movie isn’t perfect, but what it is is meticulous,” he says. “There’s a lot of intention in the way he frames the shots to look like comic book frames.”
In addition to Serra and Shyamalan’s “somewhat showy” visual framing, which gets its own ten-minute analysis, Sims, Newman, and Patches spend the next half-hour studying several other components of the film, like its central performances (which Newman smirks is the best of “Bryce Willis” in homage to a bit of Stella), David Dunn’s poncho suit iconography and Shyamalan’s obsession with the deadly nature of water. Newman concludes that although ostensibly a superhero origin story, Unbreakable (“UN-BREAKABLE!”), like all of the director’s films, is simply about “people who need to reconnect with other people; emotionally repressed men feel the need to reconnect with their spirituality, their family, their career. He adds that Shyamalan is “a very algorithmic filmmaker – in terms of trying to get a response from the audience, but also, he has a good sense of technical craftsmanship and cinematic language”. Sims replies with a rusty knife: “I think we made this point.
Patches jokes only for him, Unbreakable might have felt more like his native Philly if Shyamalan had added rap to James Newton Howard’s already explosive theme music (or as Newman calls it, “James Newty How”). The part becomes ballistic in concept:
Hosley“Who would have done the Unbreakable rap in 2000?
sims: “Someone from the Wu-Tang Clan because he likes superheroes. The RZA?
new man: “Sisqo would have done it. They would have called it ‘The Glass Song’.
new man: “Let me break this gla-aa-ass.”
new man: “Ten negative points?”
Hosley“I’m actually going to have to cut this.”
In the final 20 minutes, Sims and Newman close the episode by discussing the film’s public reception, including how to receive such a “blank check” after The sixth sense led to enormous pressure on Shyamalan. The group wonders if Shyamalan could or should ever make a follow-up, given its lackluster box office.
They suggest that although it was considered his “second-year crisis” at the time, he holds up beautifully and remains “Touchstone Pictures’ go-to image”. As Newman sums it up conclusively, “Thank goodness he didn’t follow through.” Sims and Patches even agree with Newman that Unbreakable works best as a standalone movie. Peace is restored again. Then Hosley continues: “UNBREAKABLE!
The interjection is disruptive in its absurdity, then hysterical after a moment’s pause, and finally, a perfect little cherry on top of this one-episode sundae. The only real downside is that after repeating such an earworm over and over again, anyone who listens to the episode will never be able to watch the Shyamalan movie without laughing again.