The Girl Without Hands
What he does best is create a palpable sense of dread without pushing, without tilting into melodrama.
Medium Popcorn (Ni**as Spoiling Movies) is a weekly podcast where, as the title bluntly lays out, two black guys have a spirited, detailed conversation about a movie they’ve just seen. Luckily, those two guys, Justin Brown and Brandon Collins, also inject enough unpredictable humor in their talks to have you cackling like an idiot throughout an episode.
Both New York-based comics and actors (Brown even had a bit part in “The Dark Knight Rises”), Collins (who also co-hosts the Comedy Outliers podcast with Mike Brown—no relation!) and Brown are two pals who rarely discuss films in a pedantic, scholarly manner. Instead, they have the sort of hilarious, back-and-forth, bull sessions you’d usually have with friends about movies. It’s that feeling of listening in on a couple of buddies shoot the shit about flicks that makes Popcorn such an addictive pleasure.
RogerEbert.com recently talked with Brown, 32, and Collins, 30, about the highs and lows they’ve experienced so far since launching Popcorn a year and a half ago.
First off, we gotta talk about the theme, where Justin adds his own lyrics over Philip Bailey and Phil Collins’s “Easy Lover.” Aren’t you afraid the Phils are gonna find out and bring the hammer down on you two?
Justin Brown: First off, we love Phil Collins—best drumming in the business! But we’ve definitely thought about him finding out about our theme song for a bit, especially with the number of downloads constantly increasing and the word getting out about the show.
Brandon Collins: But we hope we’ll either be protected under the argument that it is a “parody,” so we can’t be sued, or that the Phils love Justin’s velvet voice so much that they let it slide.
Where did the idea for Medium Popcorn originally come from?
BC: I was initially doing the show on my own but felt weird just ranting and raving about movies with no one to play off of. Justin had been looking into starting his own podcast, so I mentioned him joining me as a co-host for this show and it just clicked. We are used to speaking about the most insane things, so adding movies to the equation was relatively easy. At first, we did it on a bi-weekly basis, but when listenership started picking up and the demand increased, we changed it to weekly to satisfy our fans.
It seems there are no rules when it comes to which movies you’ll review. You’ll review a new movie like “Moonlight,” or you’ll go back twenty years and review something like “Good Burger.” Is there anything you won’t review?
JB: Maybe a Tyler Perry film—just kidding! We’re an equal-opportunity podcast. We take a lot of suggestions from our diverse group of fans, which takes us through all of the genres of film.
BC: We like the unpredictability of the show because you never know what film we’re going to talk about next.
How did you guys come up with the “popcorn-and-dogshit” rating?
JB: The popcorn ratings came pretty naturally with Small = not very good, Medium = decent, Large = great, XLarge = excellent, etc. The dogshit rating was born out of the films we have reviewed that were so bad we couldn’t find any other words to describe them besides “dogshit.” That scale is from 1 to 3 piles of dogshit. Those are the movies that test our sanity.
Both of you give off the impression of being hardcore fanboys, not only reviewing comic-book movies and franchises, but doing news about those movies at the top of the show. And, yet, you have no problem bad-mouthing these films when you feel they are bad. Have you gotten any hate from fanboys when you negatively review these films?
BC: Quite the opposite. A lot of fanboys actually hit us up via Twitter or email to inquire about our thoughts on castings, trailers and recent movie news. This is why we continue to include this information when we can when recording new episodes.
What have been the best/worst eps?
BC: I think our best episode by far was “Good Burger.” The fact that the movie drove Justin to go on a two-minute rant about “Ed’s Sauce” and how much he hated the film gave me nothing but glee. Our worst episode was probably “Lady Ghostbusters”, just due to the overall feedback we’ve received about it.
JB: Well, I'm 1000% with Brandon about the “Ghostbusters” episode. That went so wrong on so many levels. But, for me, my favorites are “Showgirls” and “Boogie Nights.” We had some great conversations with our guests, which gave insights to worlds we all just speculate and assume about. Great stories and experiences were shared on those episodes and, to me, that's invaluable.
When you reviewed the new “Ghostbusters,” it got some negative feedback, mostly because you invited a guest (comic Ray Gootz) who hadn’t seen the film but still slammed it. When did you realize that this was a mistake?
BC: About five minutes into recording that episode. When the guy was kind of foaming at the mouth about his hatred for the film and the humor in it, but also revealed that he didn’t see the film, we both looked at each other like, “Uh-oh.” But not every guest is going to be a winner, and we have definitely worked to ensure that the future guests fit into what Justin and I like about the show. Obviously, we’re not going to always agree with our guests, but we definitely make sure that all of our guests have at least seen the film we’ll be discussing.
JB: I think that episode was doomed the moment we decided to review that movie. It was such a polarizing film that I think we were going to get backlash either way we went. Then, adding on a guest who hadn’t seen the film and was bullish on woman really didn’t help the cause.
Most recently, you guys reviewed “Fences” and Justin discussed how the movie reminded him of his upbringing and his relationship with his father. It gave the ep some revealing & illuminating depth. Is that something you hope movies bring out of you as you're reviewing them?
BC: Absolutely. Some of the films we discuss definitely touch a nerve, and we’ve been close enough with each other to bring up those feelings on the show. I had a similar moment when I discussed my relationship with my mother while we were reviewing “Moonlight.” It’s likely that we’ll continue to always draw from personal experiences when we discuss future films.
JB: While we have a lot of fun on our show, it's also good to connect. We'd be doing a disservice if we shied away from having real discussions about topics and how it affects/affected us personally, even more so as two men of color because it's a bit uncommon for black men to really reveal certain parts of their life. We try to be as real and transparent as possible.
Have there been movies you reviewed on the show that took you by surprise, either in a good or bad way?
JB: For me, it was “Beasts of No Nation”. I guess, at that point, I really didn't take Netflix properties that seriously—but that movie really floored me.
Both of you have been known to give off a pervy vibe when you talk about your favorite actresses. You even talk in breathy, creepy tones. Have you gotten any blowback from that?
BC: We did briefly after the “Ghostbusters” episode, because we had gotten a huge influx of new listeners from being guests on The Black Guy Who Tips and, at first glance, thought that we were overly creepy.
JB: We pulled it back a bit because we were getting a bit over the top but it seems like our audience really gets what we’re saying when we—cough*Brandon*cough—occasionally go extra creepy about actresses. But we think our listeners know that it’s mostly in jest.
Then again, there have also been episodes, like the “Dante’s Peak” ep where Justin calls Pierce Brosnan a “gorgeous British man,” where you give the guys some love. Have you gotten any feedback from that?
BC: Have ya seen Pierce in “Dante’s Peak”?! We haven’t really gotten any feedback on commenting on sexy British men but we do get encouraging emails from listeners when we discuss films like “Moonlight,” because we give a balanced view on romance and sex from two heterosexual men that they seem to appreciate, even when we get silly at times. Don’t even get Justin started on how much he adores Tyson Beckford.
In reviewing movies, especially contemporary movies, have there been things you’ve picked up that you wished filmmakers would eradicate, include or work on more?
JB: Well, not to beat a dead horse, but diversity is definitely still an issue, and maybe shortening the films. Because Lord knows not everything has to be over two hours. But, mostly, we want filmmakers to make sure that they’re actually telling a story and that the film does the story justice. Sometimes studios get caught up with special effects and the biggest actor and lose sight of why people go to the movies, which is to get a great story.
Have you gotten any response regarding the whole “Ni**as Spoiling Movies” thing?
BC: Nothing except the occasional “Can ya’ll say that?” when we are guests on other people’s podcasts and they say our entire podcast name. We sometimes have to have a conversation with other folks about who we feel comfortable saying the entire name aloud. The full show title might not help us get sponsored by Nickelodeon, but we laugh so hard every time we play the theme song before recording an episode.
JB: In the future, it may be referred to as just Medium Popcorn, but we’d be doing the world a disservice if we changed the song. So it’s likely not going anywhere soon.
You’ve had an interesting selection of guests: podcasters, porn stars, strippers, Brandon’s own girlfriend. Are there any people you’d like to have on the show?
BC: We’d love to have a pro-wrestler or a rapper on the show. We could do so many good or terrible films with those types of guests. That’s what we love about the show, because we can either do an acclaimed film or a complete dogshit film depending on how we feel that week!
Can Justin give us a quick Dark Knight Rises story?
JB: Craig, there are no quick “Dark Knight Rises” stories. Soooo much happened in those few days! I mean, a man died at stunt training. I dealt with crazy people who were convinced this was their big break. Christian Bale in the suit looked like he was performing at a child's birthday party. And, then, there's the Bane stunt double who was a savage man without a nose. But I think i know what the people wanna hear. I was part of the scene where all the cops and thugs charge each other and engage in a massive brawl. Well, I clash in the middle with some of the actors playing cops and start some basis stunt choreography. When someone dressed as a cop grabs me by the shoulder and punches me with everything he has clear in the face, I ate the punch and tried to be professional as anyone could slip. But by the time I start to turn my head back to him, he punches me in the stomach. The second one for sure wasn't a mistake, so I was ready to brawl. But this S.O.B. disappears into the crowd before I could get him, as he was dressed the same as 300 other people. Therefore, I spent the rest of the day being an angry psycho lunatic thirsting for vengeance. Random cop puncher, if you're out there—I'm looking for you!
And what do you want people to take with them after listening to Medium Popcorn?
BC: We want them to have a good laugh. The amazing thing about the podcast is that we have this crazy array of fans who, despite various differences, come together with our show because of our shared love of film.