All posts by Stephen Toyofuku

4/28/16 – #PodGoal: Game of Thrones!!! – ‘Talk Sex w/ Podrick Payne’

Ep. 20 ‘Talk Sex w/ Podrick Payne’ w/ Stephen Toyofuku, Dujie Tahat, and Bill Goatskey

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‘Talk Sex w/ Podrick Payne’ – your one-stop Luckswing destination for everything Game of Thrones.

Season 6.01 “The Red Woman”

(00:52) Stephen and Dujie recap and discuss the season premiere and what they hope to see in following weeks.

(24:59) Maesters in training Stephen and “The Goat” go into politics of the North, wtf Dorne, and more!

Notes:

We (Stephen did…) obviously named the show after we recorded.

Joey Kern will typically be featured on this series.

Podrick Payne is the LuckSwing spirit animal.

During the Maester portion the call dropped a few times…

Expect these normally on Tuesdays.

 

4/21/16 – #PodGoal: 420 – “Welcome to Luckswing!”

Ep. 19 ‘Welcome to Luckswing’ w/ Joey Kern, Dujie Tahat, and Stephen Toyofuku

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‘Welcome to LuckSwing’ – Our Flagship Program

This week:

2016 NFL Draft (01:20), Harriet Tubman replacing Andrew Jackson on the FRONT of the American $20 Bill (11:21), the New York primaries (20:45), and [insert theme music] Sunday’s return of “Game of Thrones!” (34:00)

Notes:

It is very obviously 420…

We are still working out audio kinks…sorry Clare…and everyone else.

Tarzan can heard making a smoothie around the 22 min mark, #themysterioushum

Stay tuned for our new Game of Thrones podcast starting next week!

Here are the links to the promised “History and Lore of Westeros” aka the “Game of Thrones” Blue Ray special features:

Season 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kPI_xA1SoRg

Season 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rC7rzczZ030

Season 3: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xQh-Uk9L7rQ

Season 4: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SKahi3qZuZw

Season 5: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RzWo97BBeOs

You can also find us on I-tunes, Soundcloud, and at http://luckswing.podomatic.com!

Netflix’s new ‘Cooked’ is not food porn, it’s food appreciation at its best: simple, topical, and congenial

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For is there any practice less selfish, any labor less alienating, any time less wasted than preparing something delicious and nourishing for the people you love. – Michael Pollan

Netflix recently released a new documentary series Cookedbased on Journalist Michael Pollan’s 2013 book Cooked: A Natural History of TransformationAs an audience we are treated to a series of stories, histories, and philosophies – from all around the world – building a larger global narrative, along with Michael’s personal journey into cooking. Anyone with a love of food or food culture will instantly meld with this series because it affirms all of your beliefs and emotional responses to food, and for many, the very act of cooking.1, Cooked is more accessible to a wider audience because it works towards demystifying the world and narrative of cooking. Instead of presenting what seems too impossible to reach ideals and values, Cooked presents food through a variety of lenses – scientific, personal, spiritual, global, etc. –  that offer a greater understanding of our species’ relationship to it. Simply, it brings a more tangible understanding of food that for many remain forgotten or abstract.

Michael Pollan’s journey takes us through the four elements of nature: Fire, Water, Air, and Earth2. The elemental progression marks our own co-evolution with cooking, and how all four transform the raw world around us into food. Through explaining the scientific process and the our own historical relationship to these elements, he manages to stir the instinctual nature with in tapping into your emotional responses to food, cooking and cuisine.

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The narrative of fire reminds us that cooking with fire is what originally made us human, allowing a hunter-gather society. It reminds us how, in many ways, society will evolve around fire to birth tradition and culture. The aboriginal tribe featured in the docushow still practice, on weekends, a hunter-gather type of lifestyle in the bush. You hear the tales of how fire is incorporated into every aspect of their lives: hunting, cooking, baptism, etc. It is in their history, way of life and, is the primary element that stitches together their community. You can’t help but to stop and think about your own connection to fire. Even if you don’t cook with it yourself, you’ve been around it your whole life. It can tie you back to your hometown, your family, and that basic human allure. Making the connection to home in America, the story also visits a Southern Pit Master smoking hogs and features Michael Pollan BBQing in his own backyard.

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Water explores the birth of what we consider cuisine; providing the ability to combine plants and animals in various ways to create a wide variety of new flavors. Using water opened up endless possibilities for creativity, not just in making food tastier, but also making it more nutritious and comforting.  Michael Pollan and chef/ writer Samin Nosrat demonstrate and explain the process of braising; how the slow breaking down combines the molecules of your different ingredients to create something undeniably tantalizing. This episode amazingly presents the joy and satisfaction in the personal handling of ingredients and the creation of food. Pollan is constantly trying to provoke that a yearning to cook which he believes to be instinct for all humans.

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Air in the series is heavily tied to the production of bread3, which for many cultures throughout human history has been an essential cooked4product foundational to the development of civilization. Air and bread literally allowed humans to turn grass seeds into something nutritious and magically delicious. Seeing a mill and wheat farm in its traditional form in Marrakesh is a reminder for how long bread has part of our society and how it still affects the daily lives of those in many other countries. More importantly, this segment takes you to the home kitchen turning something viewed as bought, as to something that can be made.  Pollan argues that studying the traditional ways of making bread can will always lead to something more delicious and “naturally5” more nutritious.

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The final chapter, by far the most abstract in terms of an element, is earth. In this case not necessarily the dirt or physical earth, but the inevitability that all living things will eventually return to the earth, also known as decay. Human mastery over the microbes of these processes has not only been key to survival 6, but often allowed us to create foods and dishes unique to cultural identities. Every culture has a fermented product and Cooked shows that the processes of making cheese, beer, and cacao are all heavily reliant on a variety of microbes and decay to make them delicious and unique. Like the other cooking methods, fermentation is an old and global practice. This episode, even more so than the others, works toward moving American perception food away from the spectacle, commercialism, and separation we’ve created around cooking and ingredients; gently guiding our views to be comprehensive, appreciative, and unafraid.

Michael Pollan points out the clear contrasts between modern7 food culture and traditional cooking. There is a loss in connection to our food either turning it into an unreachable spectacle, or reducing it to a time saving measure. For many of us, we could not be farther away from our ingredients. Corporations do the work for us, save us time, and at that point, food becomes an after thought. For many other countries, we are shown that it this is not the case. In Mumbai, we see the importance of the home cooked meal, even in the contemporary work place; and how the rural farming communities of Marrakesh are brought closer together by the process of making bread, from growing the grain to milling the flour, and baking in the community oven. Pollan urges us slow down, look around at what were doing, and evaluate if it is right for us. He offers an alternative way to look at how our lives and well being are deeply connected our food and, explains the best way to get to find understanding in this is to explore cooking.

Michael Pollan is unashamed in his views against the unsustainable nature of vegetarianism, corrosive nature of processed foods and industrial meat farming, and how wheat has now been given a bad name with out properly evaluating how modern methods have been processing it. However, Cooked, is not a statement for an immediate call for change, and uses Pollan’s views more to tell a story than make a point. He offers insight and visual examples of how cooking can transform your life and, asks us to make simple choices to guide cooking back into the core of our lives.

To cook or not to cook is a consequential question. Though I realize that is putting the matter a bit too bluntly. Cooking means different things at different time for different people; seldom is it an all or nothing proposition. […However,] cooking has the power to transform more than just plants and animals. Cooking I found gives us the opportunity so rare in modern life to work directly in our own support and in the support of the people we feed. – Michael Pollan

Cooked validates all of my beliefs about food, and turns them into a visual reality both familiar and strange. If you love cooking or food, you can’t deny the human allure towards it, and our dependency on it. Take time to explore the primal, instinctual, and nostalgic nature of that relationship through the four elements of Cooked.

 

 

 

Scorsese, Winter, and Jagger’s new series “Vinyl’ is classic HBO programming at its most genric

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This past Sunday, Hbo’s new series Vinyl premiered to only about 764,000 viewers; a shockingly low number compared to other series premiers this past season: The Leftovers and True Detective 1. With household names such as Scorsese and Winter, a celebrity Executive Producer like Jagger, and the full monetary support of HBO, how could a series like this under-perform? How does power, sex, drugs, rock n’ roll, with an auteur storyteller not equal a compelling and addicting hit? The answer is simply “we have been here before,” and no amount of celebrity and quality, artistic production can make an old, generic story feel fresh.

It is hard laying down a review like this on this series 2, because I don’t find myself criticizing the technical craftsmanship of its creators. Terrence Winter is an incredible, detailed storyteller, and this paired with Scorsese’s style and eye has resulted in a visually engrossing world populated by multi-faceted characters. Scorsese then treats audience members to an array of colors and sets that transports you in the venues, offices, and musical waves of the 1970’s 3.

Similar to the final season of Boardwalk Empire , 4 Winter uses this pilot to tell two stories – present and past – about our protagonist Richie Finestra, portrayed by high intensity Bobby Cannavale. As our “unreliable” narrator Richie guides us into his world of corporate greed, celebrity ego, life long dreams, and that innate, magical ear it takes to make a hit record. In the present Richie and his partners, Zak Yankovich (Ray Ramono) and Skip Fontaine (J.C. Mackenie), are attempting to sell their dying record label to a German conglomerate while dealing with an unhappy Led Zeppelin. Richie then finds himself reminiscing over his first client, a black blues singer/ guitarist named Lester Grimes (Ato Essandoh), as he flashes back to the sounds of to classic Rhythm and Blues. Winter has not only created a multi-faceted front-man for the series, but has given him two intersecting narratives which he seamlessly transition between.

Bobby Cannavale, who was a bit too over the top for me in his role as Gyp Rosetti on season 3 of Boardwalk Empire 5, uses his physicality as a representative theme for the series. His character, Richie, is torn between the man music (the industry) has turned him into and the raw feelings and emotions that listening to music stir inside him. The contrast between the smooth label executive and the wild fan of music sings through Cannavale’s performance and he definitely adds a unique signature to the series.

Yet with so much going for it, how is Vinyl not a major success? Had it premiered five years ago this series would have been a hit, and arguably a must watch HBO series for America (both for critics and audiences)6. However, with all this new scripted programming7,  constant access to countless titles for streaming, and an over all progressive shift in the “quality television” landscape Vinyl in 2016 will likely continue to struggle with viewership. The average person, in my opinion, is not going to sit down on a Sunday night and watch a two -hour (no commercial) premier of a series. Often times, even critics will grimace in the face of having to do so. At the end of the day, Vinyl just doesn’t shine bright enough through all the other programming (period or other wise) being made. *cough* The Knick *cough*8

There are so many series about conflicted and corrupt powerful white men 9. Terrence Winter has even made two series centered around that: The Sopranos and Boardwalk Empire. Many viewers and especially critics are bored of seeing old, corrupt white men being misogynists and rich assholes, which, although beautifully and craftily done, is a lot of what Vinyl is. Juno Temple’s character Jamie Vine, the young dreamer of the series, would be an ideal character to center the series around; watching an outgoing, talented, and driven young woman climb to top of record label. This is exactly what made Amazon’s Good Girls Revolt a massive breath of fresh air. I can only hope that, like Halt & Catch Fire season 210, Terrence Winter will find a way to give a lot more narrative to Devon Finestra (Olivia Wilde), Richie’s wife with a Warhol connection, and the intrepid Jamie Vine (Juno Temple) as she potentially discovers a new genre of rock n’ roll. He literally wrote himself a potential Betty Draper and Peggy Olson 11.

So if The Leftovers represents HBO’s series for critical acclaim, Vinyl seems more like a shout out to the networks mid 2000’s content and fans 12. A series that will generically be entertaining, well made, and nuanced but, suffers from a lack of progressive content, topical and fresh for the times. And if anything, Vinyl most certainly signifies that HBO is playing into the content race that Netflix started.

I can’t say Vinyl is not worth your time, because I am going to continue watching the series… However, don’t suckered into thinking this is or will be a must watch series of 2016. Like most of America and their connection to HBO just sit tight for April 24 and the return of Game of Thrones 13.

 

 

 

“American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson” – FX’s fun and topical new series

“It’s a tasty Proustian cronut that makes you remember the events of not only 1995 but 2015.”  – Emily Nussbaum, The New Yorker

That’s right, young (younger?) America! FX and Ryan Murphy’s American Crime Story (not to be confused with Abc’s American Crimehas somehow managed to give us a chance (and for older America a second chance) to experience the O.J. Simpson Story (chase, trial, and media storm) through a dimer, but still national spotlight. Based on its subject matter this series could have easily yielded nothing more than an expensive and embarrassing Lifetime movie, but instead delivers a topical, thought provoking, and nuanced experience. Following the straightforward, expositive, storytelling techniques of more traditional network television (with a higher budget) Murphy and FX present a nostalgic, accessible series with loud themes and clear reflections on this period in American history.

Like myself, I assume when all of you saw the teasers for this series last fall we all had the similar feeling of “WTF!”After so many years of experiencing this story on the singular note of “He got away with it,” hearing about a big budget series being made feels tiresome, overdone, and like a waste of your time. I will admit, I only started watching the series after reading and listening to overwhelming positive reviews from critics. Contrary to the initial impressions, American Crime Story brings humanity to the spectacle of the case and, will not have audiences “re-trying O.J. Simpson” but, instead attempting to reevaluate the entire judicial system, media’s role, societal and political issues of the time, etc. The premier episode starts (before anything O.J. related at all) with real news coverage and footage from the 1992 L.A. Riots. The writers aren’t being coy about wanting us to engage the coming narrative with the tone the riots set in mind. It will not yield the standard, speculative TV discussion about what “could” happen but, instead a reflective what “should” have happened. A conversation close to the hearts and minds of Americans as police brutality and racial/ class inequality continue to be a issue for finding justice and unity in this country.

The “spectacle” nature of the series lends itself well to Ryan Murphy whose hit or miss career in spectacle speaks for itself: Glee, American Horror Story, New Normal, Scream QueensMurphy’s campy nature tends to overly niche characters into their roles: the geek, the cheerleader, the conservative grandmother, etc. This at times becomes problematic because it leaves you with very one dimensional characters lacking in agency. However, this technique lends itself well to the O.J. narrative as it is one where the cast of characters are already overly niched players: Marcia Clark, Bob Shapiro, Johnnie Cochran, Robert Kardashian, and O.J. Simpson and use them as anchors for the viewers. From their Murphy is able to create something essential to the tone and ideological discussions of the series, the factions of L.A./ O.J. trial; the strongest of which are Johnnie Cochran, O.J Simpson, and Marcia Clark.

All of the performances in the series do it justice, including David Schwimmer (Kardashian), but Sarah Paulson (Clark), Cuba Gooding Jr. (O.J.), and Courtney B. Vance (Cochran) present an authenticity and energy that draws you in. Cuba Gooding’s O.J. is perfectly unbalanced and over the top, creating a character who is sympathetic and emanates the vibe of celebrity corruption. Paulson brings, to Marcia Clark, a fire and a passion that pierces through the apathy in her DA’s office; all she sees is a domestic abuse victim whom the system failed, Nicole Brown Simpson. Johnnie Cochran has yet to take a side in the literal case, but his presence in the series represents the racial wave that the show so far has slowly been building.  Vance portrays Cochran as pragmatic, intelligent, and the only man who seems to have a understanding of how racial tension in L.A. will lead to this man’s acquittal. All three performers are/ will act as our guides through the series, and so far the performances warrant following.

American Crime Story tackling the O. J. story first was a huge challenge as a first project to take on, and so far it has surpassed all of my expectations. Using hindsight at its most entertaining, it puts America’s celebrity worshiping culture under examine and, peaks at a dark side of America’s not too distant past with issues still very present today. If this style of storytelling will lend itself well to the Hurricane Katrina planned season 2 of the series is to be determined. Similar to Fargo, True Detective, and Murphy’s own American Horror Story another season of this anthology could have a completely different direction and style. That being said, Hurricane Katrina seems like a similarly great place/ time to discuss the themes of: race, class, government, and media bottled in a national spectacle/ disaster.

With so much new content constantly being released on various streaming platforms, and even on television it is rarer to find a series that everyone in America watches and talks about (Game of Thrones being the major exception). FX creating American Crime Story brilliantly attempts to fill that void with a universal and nostalgic series, and is notably the network’s first participation in the current true-crime trend, which arose over the past two years (Making a Murderer, The Jinx, Serial). So go call your folks and tell them to start watching. Just say, “We will have more to talk about when I call.”

American Crime Story: The People v. O. J. Simpson New Episodes Tuesdays at 10:20pm on FX, and/ or available for streaming with FXNow on your computer or various phone/ tablet devices.

http://www.fxnetworks.com/shows/american-crime-story/episodes