Podcast Review: Filmspotting

One of the first podcasts I ever listened to, but will I keep listening this time around?


The Gist

Filmspotting, originally known as Cinecast, has been around since 2005. Each weekly episode features a review or two, usually from new releases but occasionally from a classic, feedback, maybe an interview, shout outs to donors, a massacre theater bit, and a top five segment of some kind. A new addition to the show has been a DVD release segment hosted by Mike Spring. The original hosts were Adam Kempenaar and Sam Van Hallgren, but a couple of years into the show Mr. Van Hallgren left and was replaced by Matty Robinson. There are occasional guest hosts, and it’s important to note that for a few years now Filmspotting has been broadcast as a radio program as well.

Episodes Listened To

#354: I Saw The Devil / Top 5 Revenge Movies
#355: Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part 2
#356: Top 5 Documentaries / Tabloid / Project Nim

My Thoughts

(A disclaimer before I say anything more, I am a member of the Filmspotting Forum, the message board for the podcast. I am on friendly terms with the producer of the show, Candace, and I’m also on friendly terms with one of the more frequent guest hosts, Matt Singer. I tell you this so you know my ties to some people around the show, but as you read on I’ll think you will see that those ties have in no way impacted my views on the show.)

Filmspotting is a much loved and revered podcast. Much of their acclaim can be tied to their entry into the world of film podcasting, they came on the scene when there were hardly any podcasts to be found, let alone ones focusing on film. They built up a strong fan base when not many other podcasts were around and they have continued bringing in new listeners over the years. There’s not a wide world of critical buzz about the world of film related podcasts to be found, but what little there is almost always places Filmspotting either at the top or near the top. The fans of the show champion it greatly, and it’s one of the only film related podcasts that can claim to also be championed by people within the industry as well.

The biggest boon to Filmspotting would have to be their production values, out of all the film related podcasts I have listened to they are by far the most professional sounding. The editing and transitions are seamless, there are never any issues with sound levels and the like, and so on. If I wanted to show an example of what a professional podcast should sound like chances are the first podcast I would turn to would be Filmspotting.

However, as I have said in the past, one can’t get by on production values alone. This is the part where I lose all the Filmspotting fans who have been reading along and agreeing with what I’ve been typing. I’m not a fan of Filmspotting as far as content goes, I once was, but over time I grew to actively dislike the podcast. I believe my reasons are sound, they aren’t born out of pettiness or hatred, but actual problems I have with the content and presentation of the podcast. I also realize that the few people who bother to read this review will vehemently disagree with my opinion of the podcast.

Like I said, I used to listen to Filmspotting, quite regularly in fact. About two years ago I stopped listening and having returned all the reasons I left are still present. I realized I didn’t miss listening to the show, and that says a lot. I have no personal issues with Mr. Kempenaar or Mr. Robinson, but I don’t care to hear what either of them has to say about the world of film. They are very well informed individuals, I may not agree with their opinions very often but I would never attack them for being idiots or anything like that. Where the show, and the hosts, lose me is in their dismissive attitude that they regularly display. They do have a pretentious vibe about them, every opinion they give smacks of an air of superiority. Such statements like, (and I’m slightly paraphrasing but the actual statement was close to what I’m typing) “listen, we’ve always said you can watch whatever movies you want, but if you want to see real art, then…” That statement, spoken about Blue Velvet, really irks me, because combined with their entire body of work it presents a pair of hosts who do are dismissive towards large chunks of cinema and opinions on cinema. Once their “our views on film are better than your views on film” attitude sank into my head I haven’t been able to shake it and I haven’t wanted to hear what either man has to say about, well, anything.

My biggest complaint with the show isn’t the dismissive nature of the hosts, but the rehearsed feel of the show. I understand that getting on the radio was probably a big deal for the podcast, but the adherence to such a strict time structure to fit the radio format has killed any lively discussion on the show. There’s nothing more frustrating than when the hosts sound like they are about to really get into a film, or an issue, but stop themselves because they have to stay within their radio-imposed time limits. The structure issue also leaves a show that sounds fake. I came away from all three episodes of Filmspotting that I listened to convinced I had just finished with a dress rehearsal instead of an actual episode. Ideas weren’t shared, true film discussion was not had, instead two people read from their lines and stifled any tangential, and interesting, discussion in an effort to stay within their radio boundaries. That is not my type of podcast, that’s why Filmspotting is not the podcast for me.

I typed it earlier, but it bears repeating, I know that almost everyone who reads this will disagree with what I have typed. I wish I could make the fans of the show happy and tell them how much I loved Filmspotting, but that would be dishonest. There are lots of people out there who genuinely love Filmspotting and there are even more film aficionados who have yet to discover the podcast who would love the show if they ever gave it a listen. I’m not a fan of the show, listening to it again felt like a chore, and the world of film in any form should never come across like a chore. My recommendation is to unsubscribe from Filmspotting, but none of the people reading this will actually do that, and that’s fine.

The Bottom Line



20 responses to “Podcast Review: Filmspotting

  1. Bill, it’s actually really cool to hear someone give an honest opinion about a revered show like Filmspotting. Don’t get me wrong; I do listen each week and enjoy many of the shows, but there are other shows like Film Junk that will spend a lot more time digging into a movie and have a more relaxed atmosphere. It depends on what you’re looking for in a podcast.

    What I still enjoy about Filmspotting the most are the segments beyond the weekly review like Massacre Theater, the Top 5 Lists, Marathons, and special guest segments. That part of it still retains the less-polished feel of the early shows with Sam and Adam. It’s not a perfect show, but I still think they have a lot of good info, especially when they’re talking about older films that I might not have heard about in the past.

    Again, very good post. I’m looking forward to more of these podcast reviews.

  2. (Psst, is it safe? I hate all this sneaking around: my pants are torn, my back hurts, I got spooked by an owl…)

    Good review, as usual, Mssr. Thompson. (Though, I do feel like you were holding back a bit; once you take away the disclaimers, this one feels much slimmer than most others.)

    I agree with your bit on the dismissive nature of the hosts–I already gave them the what-for over their I SAW THE DEVIL review–but, I have to admit, I don’t get that same “rehearsed” vibe (save for the too-precious review intros, which are obviously written). But, then, I didn’t listen pre-WBEZ, so I don’t really have anything to which I can compare the current format.

    Can’t wait to see which scared cow you slaughter next week!

  3. I agree. Offhand, dismissive statements and a bit of overscripting turned me off to the show after being a faithful listener for a few years. I don’t hate either host, I think they often have great points, I just think they’ve often got a narrow view of films that I don’t agree with.

  4. *”sacred cow”

  5. Dan: I can only be honest, that means that I go against the grain a lot, this being one of those times. There are definitely some aspects of the show that have merit, but what I care about most is the content and in that regard Filmspotting just isn’t the podcast for me.

    Autin: I didn’t hold back, what I did type made my point. There are other aspects of the show that I don’t like, such as the boring and useless Massacre Theatre, but I felt I hit the aspects that mattered the most to me and didn’t want to take the focus off of those aspects.

    I never listened to the show back in the pre-radio days, I started picking up on the rehearsed vibe as I listened to other film related podcasts. I really dig it when a host will go in many different directions in his/her review. After experiencing that a few times and then listening to an episode of Filmspotting I knew something was wrong with the podcast. The more I listened the more I became aware of the rehearsed vibe, and it never went way for me.

    James: Yeah, I don’t hate them either, I just don’t like how they talk about film or how they view film. That’s why for as loved as the show may be I have no desire to hear either host talk about film, there are other people out there who have the same, or better, knowledge base and aren’t as dismissive or narrow in their film views. I’d much rather listen to those people.

  6. Nah, I don’t agree. But then I’m pretty new to the show so it might be that I’ve got the rosy glasses of a newbie. It’s still quite fresh. I agree about the massacre theatre thing. Doesn’t give me anything.(Or I’m just sulking because I never recognize anything, makes me feel stupid.) I think the banter and chemestry they have together is quite good. Admittedly they’re not as verbally entertaining and skilled as Kermode and Mayo, which is my other favorite movie podcast. But what I appreciate about Filmcasting is the way they find reasons to go back to old movies, through their Marathons and top-5-lists. It’s not just about what’s up right now. I don’t quite recognize the snob thing. On the contrary, that was what I fell for in the first place, the open, fairly broad approach to movies, where they could as well talk about and appreciate a blockbuster as a small low-budget production with high artistic ambitions. As a matter of fact they showed for instance Bridesmaids far more love than I did. And then I consider myself very little of a film snob, not at all in danger of becoming one, since I basically fall asleep when a movie wanders into the very deep and very slow.
    I might be missing something you hear though, about the dismissive tone etc, since English is not my native language.

  7. I doubt you’re missing anything Jessica. What bothers me doesn’t bother you, the problems I see don’t show up on your radar, and so on. Podcasts are no different than movies when it comes to subjectivity, that’s why as much as I may not like Filmspotting there are hosts of people who do and their reasons for liking the show are just as valid as my reasons for disliking the show.

    Don’t worry about your English either, it’s perfectly fine. 🙂

  8. I’m having trouble with some of your points, Bill. The ‘dismissive’ nature of their comments, I believe, is frequently with tongue planted in cheek. Adam regularly replies to comments in the show discussion threads at the message board and says so himself, precisely when their are members who make similar claims as you did in this review. To each their own,and if you don’t like the show, then so be it, but I don’t think they really want to be dismissive.

    The other point I’m wrestling with is the radio-imposed restrictions aspect. Here is where I believe lay some of the show’s greatest strengths. I think the discussions they have about a film, within a time frame of 115 minutes or so, are excellent. They get as many points across as they can and are quite articulate about it. While it is not my favourite show, it remains in my top 5 because they are the only ones who can do a show, without a script (a few intros are scripted, but the reviews per say are not scripted) and speak fluently and eloquently to a degree. There are other shows I personally like more that do not have this quality, but I give lots of points to Filmspotting for having it.

    The one thing I can think of the irks me about the show is what I guess one would call ‘group think.’ They agree a lot, and when I download an episode and see that they are going to review a Steve Coogan film, or a Kelly Reichardt film, you know exactly how they’re going to react. vice versa when I download an episode and it says they reviewed, I don’t know, Thor. Again, you know how they’ll react. Maybe, just maybe, that point could fall into what you categorize as dismissive because they tend to give certain kind of films a hard time and automatically sing praises for others. But that comes back to personal taste. If they don’t like Marvel, then why expect them to give Thor or Iron Man 2 an A+? In that sense, they remind of the guys at Sound on Sight, which you reviewed not long ago. If it’s a blockbuster, chances are they’ll crap on it (not always). If it’s an indie/cult film, chances are they’ll think it’s sooooo gooodd (not always). For the record, I do enjoy Sound on Sight, I’m just saying, they’re predictable too.

  9. I’ll tie the first and second points you made into the shows review of Deathly Hallows: Part II. They made sure to belittle that franchise every chance they had while reviewing that movie, and they actually liked the movie. It’s the tone they take in that review, and so many others, that gives leads to them sounding dismissive to my ears. (I would say eyes to as I do find a lot of what Adam writes on the boards to be just as dismissive.) Obviously you feel differently, and that’s cool.

    The “fit every discussion into a neat little box” is a huge problem I have with the show, I think my review spelled that one out rather succinctly. I never feel like Filmspotting gives a film its due, they’re like a junior college film class in that way. Perfectly acceptable, but ultimately shades below what one is really looking for in a film class.

  10. I agree with Edgar about their “dismissive” aspect. I don’t think they are being serious about that. It is a part of their shtick.

    However, I agree, Bill, that it does sound rehearsed and they often do cut off a discussion just as it is getting interesting. On the other hand, I’ve been listening to Battleship Pretension (at your recommendation) and while I’ve liked the movie discussions, I find that they all too often go on and on about personal matters, especially when a guest is on a show. I am often bored at those discussions. I wonder if a happy medium can be reached between these two?

    You talking about a “film class” is spot on what I am looking for. I want people to not be about personality as much as interesting discussion about film, and if the discussion goes on past the running time, great. I’d love to have a couple of the more knowlegable and insightful participants in the forum to start their own podcast, frankly. I know a couple of them do have them, but they are difficult for me to get a hold of.

    Filmspotting isn’t for everyone, but I’ve listened to it for a few years now and am not bored of it. The top 5 lists are better than ever, and the guests are fun as well. I remain an avid listener, but I can see why you don’t appreciate it as much.

    I’m glad you’re still on the forums, though. 🙂

  11. As I think you know Steve, I’m big on the idea of artistic subjectivity. That’s why I pegged these podcast reviews as my recommendations as opposed to some sort of iron clad ruling on the podcasts. I’m giving you my subjective thoughts on the podcast in question, you may end up agreeing or totally disagreeing, either way that’s cool. That’s why I knew that you, and many others, would disagree with what I had to say about Filmspotting, but that’s cool. 🙂

    Out of all the forum grown podcasts I think the only one that is still active is Seema (W@W) and Jhon’s (roujin) Cinema on the Road. If you are able to get a hold of that one I do recommend it, it’s still rough in a few areas, but they are one of the best film related podcasts where it matters the most, in their content and discussions. They haven’t been around long enough for me to review yet, but I’d like to in the future.

    Honestly, it’s been a bit rough on the forums for some time now. I’m not a big fan of one particular person in charge and the way he handles himself, and for some reason the forums have taken on a more hostile vibe with a few people dominating discussions and such. I still like it there, but I find that those things have led to me not participating as much, it’s one of the main reasons I stopped posting all of my capsule reviews on the forums and moved them here instead. But, that’s just me bitching, which I don’t like to do often and probably shouldn’t have done just now. 🙂

  12. I like Cinema on the Road, but that’s the one that’s hard to get a hold of. I need to check to see if I can get it on iTunes. It’s hard for me to listen to anything except on my iPod.

    I understand what you are saying about the forums, but there’s still a lot of camaraderie and I really like the new people who have joined in. It’s good for me to take a break sometimes, like I just did for a couple weeks.

    Still, if it weren’t for the forums, I wouldn’t be here 🙂

  13. That is true, and I do like them still, just a bit of minor bitching on my part. 🙂

  14. Steve, you can totally get all our episodes on Itunes.


  15. Thanks roujin. You are now downloaded and ready to rock! I can’t wait.

  16. Hi Bill, I know it’s been a longtime and just hours ago I’ve unsubscribed myself from Filmspotting. There’s a bunch of reasons why I’ve stopped listening. I haven’t been keeping up with a lot of episodes as the films they review are films I haven’t seen yet and been wanting to. Then, I just lose interest. Now with Matty gone, whom I’ve always liked. The show seems to lose a bit of edge to it. The new guy Josh sucks. I don’t like his voice and I don’t think he is really smart enough to understand film.

    I think the moment that just made me unsubscribe was listening to their review of “We Need to Talk About Kevin” and I really felt the two missed the point on the film. Josh, particularly as it’s very clear that he has too many expectations for the film to be a dramatic-horror film when it’s not at all. He complained about a scene which I thought was in tune to what Tilda Swinton’s character was dealing with since she is meant to be this unreliable narrator. That was it for me. It was wasting my time as I couldn’t win any Massacre Theater and I never got any replies from the emails I sent over their reviews. Now, my podcasts have dwindled to 2. Mark Kermode and Sound Opinions.

  17. Interesting, I’ve heard mostly positive things about the new guy. Not enough to give the show a third chance mind you, but mostly positive nonetheless.

    I hear what you’re saying, although there’s not much I can add. Maybe experiment a bit with some different podcasts, I’m sure there are more out there that will appeal to you.

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