Sunday, March 29, 2015

Nostalgia Theater: The Bradys -- A Bunch of Crap

Earlier this week NBC announced plans to bring the beloved (?) '80s-'90s sitcom Coach, starring Craig T. Nelson, back to TV for a new sequel series picking up with the same characters several decades removed. Naturally that got me thinking about previous attempts to sequelize beloved shows years after their initial success (*ahem* Hunter). This in turn landed me on The Bradys, a bizarre attempt at corporate synergy that saw network programmers attempting to wed the wacky family hijinks of The Brady Bunch with the pressing family drama of the then-popular Thirtysomething. A match made in heaven, am I right?

Not so much.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

007 is Back! First Spectre Trailer Drops

With Paramount releasing a teaser for their next Mission: Impossible spy caper this past Monday, it seems somewhat appropriate that we closed the week with MGM offering up our first look at Spectre, the latest James Bond feature (number 24, if you're keeping count). We don't know much about the plot for the film, and the studio is understandably keeping things close to the chest this far out, but from the assemblage below it's clear that they're using the events of 2012's Skyfall as a pretty direct jump-off point as they re-introduce the evil SPECTRE organization back into the Bond canon. This is Daniel Craig's fourth go round as Our Man (is it already nine years since Casino Royale??), and the second time behind the camera for director Sam Mendes. Watch the trailer below, and look for the movie in theaters this November.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Late Night's Newest James

While Stephen Colbert isn't due to take over David Letterman's Late Show chair until later this year, his eventual lead-out on CBS, The Late Late Show, debuted its newest host earlier this week, with Brit James Corden taking over for Scot Craig Ferguson (who abdicated late last year after a ten year run). From what I've seen (I don't have cable anymore, so I've yet to see the whole show), the thirty-six year old Corden (the third James in late night after Fallon and Kimmel) is pretty darn likable, and this comedy bit from his opening night is pretty darn fun:

Recommended Reading

Vox's Andrew Prokop has a single sentence that perfectly summarizes just how toxic the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling of 2010 continues to be on the performance of politics -- and how there just may be no un-ringing of that bell.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Lexed

It's just over a year ago that we first got word that actor Jesse Eisenberg had been drafted by Warner Bros. to play Superman's bald-pated baddie Lex Luthor in next year's Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. At the time I was skeptical of the casting, and to be honest, I remain so, but nonetheless, I do have to give it up to Warners' discipline in keeping their powder dry for the much-anticipated superhero team-up pic, keeping spoilers in their pocket and letting each new announcement be its own big deal.

For example, here's our first look at a chrome-domed Eisenberg, courtesy of Entertainment Weekly. Says director Zack Snyder: "“He’s not any of the Lexes that you’ve seen, that’s for sure, other than him being a captain of industry and one person to the world and another person to himself. And bald, of course.” And for those of you keeping track, Eisenberg is the eighth actor to play Lex in live action since the character's introduction seventy-five years ago. Click over to EW for more, and look for Batman v. Superman in theaters next March.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Honest Hobbit

The final Hobbit flick (which I enjoyed immensely) hit home vid today, and the fine folks at Screen Junkies have put out another of their "Honest Trailers" to mark the occasion. Check it out below:

See? Me Too.

Here's the rest of that min-doc from PBS's Independent Lens on race, identity, etc. A lot of interesting folks telling some compelling stories in here. And me.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Cruz Controlled

Yesterday, in a surprise to exactly no one, word dropped that freshman senator, government shutdown architect, and noted Dr. Seuss aficionado Ted Cruz has thrown his hat into the quadrennial three ring circus that is the Republican presidential primary. Naturally, Cruz being Cruz, and the Internet being the Internet, hilarity swiftly ensued. Observe.

New Mission: Impossible Trailer Goes Rogue

Ever since its inception nineteen (!!) years ago, one feature that's distinguished Paramount's Mission: Impossible film franchise is how every entry of the Tom Cruise spy series bears the unique hallmarks of whichever director happens to be handling that particular installment. This can be good or bad, but it certainly paid off both creatively and at the box office with the fourth Mission, the Brad Bird-helmed Ghost Protocol in 2011.

Now here we are four years later, and Christopher McQuarrie has taken the reins for globetrotting superspy Ethan Hunt's latest go-round. McQuarrie last worked with the superstar on his underrated 2012 actioner Jack Reacher, and from the trailer below, it looks like he's maintaining the same gritty, grounded feel, albeit on a much more expansive stage. I'm also glad to see Simon Pegg and Jeremy Renner back, alongside the ever-reliable Ving Rhames, to keep at least a little bit of continuity from flick to flick. Look for Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation in theaters this July.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Nostalgia Theater: Sledge Hammer! -- Dirty Harry Ad Absurdum

David Rasche (center) flanked by Harrison Page and Anne-Marie Martin
Last week I talked about the inexplicably long-lived '80s-'90s series Hunter, which attempted to translate the sensibilities of the popular Dirty Harry movies to the small screen. That in turn got my neurons firing about Sledge Hammer!, an ABC skein that took the Harry/Hunter formula and spun it into a left field, comedic direction. While I'd argue this formula proved far more successful creatively, I think its brief lifespan proves that when it comes to trigger happy rogue cops, audiences prefer them without the satire, please. Here's the intro:

Saturday, March 21, 2015

See? Me.

Here's a portion of a conversation I recently had with PBS's Independent Lens about race, identity, etc. Look for more on Monday.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Recommended Reading

Paul Krugman weighs in on the House GOP's proposed budget plan, which promises all the usual greatest hits: tax cuts for the rich, repeal Obamacare, yadda yadda. But as Krugman explains, the implications of this plan (which, to be fair, will never actually become law under the current status quo) are far starker in terms of what they illuminate about the mindset behind it:
Think about what these budgets would do if you ignore the mysterious trillions in unspecified spending cuts and revenue enhancements. What you’re left with is huge transfers of income from the poor and the working class, who would see severe benefit cuts, to the rich, who would see big tax cuts. And the simplest way to understand these budgets is surely to suppose that they are intended to do what they would, in fact, actually do: make the rich richer and ordinary families poorer.
One the one hand it's a head-scratcher, but on the other it's totally not. Read the rest here.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The MovieFilm Podcast: Episode 66

It's a catch-all episode of the MovieFilm Podcast as Brian and Zaki await the arrival of the much-anticipated Furious 7, which kicks off the summer movie season in a few short weeks. We've still got lots to discuss in the meantime, however, including our thoughts on Neill Blomkamp's high concept misfire Chappie, as well as Liam Neeson's latest actioner Run All Night. After that, we fondly remember the late Sam Simon, the comedy genius who shaped an entire generation's sense of humor thanks to his work on The Simpsons, Taxi, Cheers, and so much more. We also discuss the latest headlines out of Hollywood, including word of a Secret of NIMH remake, Tim Burton tackling a live action Dumbo, and the Expendables franchise coming to TV. All that, plus the usual listener letters and Star Wars news you've come to expect. Listen via the embed below! Also, be sure to go to iTunes and Stitcher to write us a review, and drop us a line at our Facebook page to tell us how we're doing!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Recommended Reading

With the Affordable Care Act now in full swing, with millions of people benefitting from the law without the end of the world happening vis-a-vis jobs, the economy, etc., you'd think the folks who've been so vehemently opposed to anything remotely connected to the law would finally slow their roll. But nope, even with a SCOTUS ruling in the works that could potentially cripple the law (and do real harm to its beneficiaries), they're still sticking to their "Obamacare is the devil!" marching orders. Where does this absolute obstinacy even in the face of overwhelming data come from? HuffPo's Michael McAuliff explains.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Nostalgia Theater: TV's Hunter -- The Poor Man's Dirty Harry

In proof positive of the truism that mediocrity tends to flourish on television, Hunter is a run-of-the-mill cop show that enjoyed an inexplicable seven season run on NBC. Created by Frank Lupo and produced by Stephen J. Cannell, it was pretty clearly meant to trade on the "cop who plays by his own rules" model popularized by Clint Eastwood vis-a-vis the then-ongoing Dirty Harry series (the third Harry flick, Sudden Impact, had just hit theaters in December of '83, mere months before Hunter debuted). Here's the intro for the first season (with theme by Mike Post):

Friday, March 13, 2015

Recommended Reading

Jonathan Chait assesses out the aftermath of this week's congressional shenanigans, with Senate Republicans shooting themselves in the foot yet again -- this time in front of a global audience.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

What a Journey

From last weekend's SNL, Chris Hemsworth teams with American Express to share his inspirational story:

Monday, March 09, 2015

Diffused Congruence: Imam Zaid Shakir

 
We're very excited to be joined by renowned scholar Imam Zaid Shakir for this month's episode. As a founding member of Zaytuna College, the first accredited Islamic college in the United States, Imam Zaid discuss the school's history and its mission, and then shares the amazing story of his own journey to Islam, in the process helping to add yet more layers to the ongoing tapestry of the American Muslim experience that we've been weaving together ever since our very first show. It's a fascinating conversation with one of the most prominent and preeminent Muslim minds in the world, and you can listen via the embed below, or download via iTunes and Stitcher Radio. Feel free to send any comments or questions our way at diffusedcongruence@gmail.com, and make sure you hit "like" on our Facebook page!

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Nostalgia Theater: The Early Extinction of Dino Riders

Dino Riders was a multimedia franchise from toymaker Tyco that briefly appeared and disappeared in the latter part of the '80s. Featuring the tagline "Harness the Power of Dinosaurs," they obviously realized, as I've mentioned before, that kids love dinosaurs. Given that, this should've been a slam dunk. In 1988, G.I. Joe and Transformers had lost some cache, and Masters of the Universe was discontinued the previous year. But unfortunately for Tyco, Dino Riders appeared just as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles juggernaut was getting underway, and never stood a chance.

The premise of the line was simple: crash landing on prehistoric Earth from the planet Valoria, good guy Dino Riders and bad guy Rulons outfit dinosaurs with high-tech gear and shoot stuff at each other. Like I said, not a complicated hook, but pretty much right in line with the stuff that passed for boys' toys back in the day (G.I. Joe vs. Cobra, Autobots vs. Decepticons, etc.). And also right in line with boys' toys for the era were the commercials, which you can see a cross-section of below:

Friday, March 06, 2015

Zaki's Review: Chappie

Director Neill Blomkamp's Elysium was one of my favorite films of 2013. "This is the good stuff," I said of the director's follow-up to his Oscar-nominated District 9, and I meant it. Well, while the year is young, it's looking like his follow-up film, Chappie, may earn itself the opposite honor and end up on my "worst of 2015" list. Yep, it's that bad. The sci-fi fable, about a robot that gains sentience, has an intriguing premise at its core, but it's rare to see a talented filmmaker with so many tools and so much talent at his disposal squander a compelling idea so thoroughly.

It's South Africa, 2020, and to combat the rampant crime, the Johannesburg PD has enlisted a high-end weapons manufacturer (think OCP from RoboCop, with Sigourney Weaver as "the Old Man") to provide them an army of robotic police drones to augment the extant human police force. When the drones' designer Deon Wilson (Dev Patel), who's experimenting with artifical intelligence, is kidnapped by gang members (Ninja & Yolandi Visser) who want to repurpose a 'bot for their own ends, the result is Chappie, a drone that acts human and sounds like Sharlto Copley.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

"Bibi's Big Adventures"

From last night's Daily Show, Jon Stewart offers his take on Benjamin Netanyahu's much-ballyhooed speech to congress yesterday:


Watch part two after the jump:

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

The MovieFilm Podcast: Episode 65

We're very excited to be joined by special guest Sabir Pirzada, staff writer on the CBS series Person of Interest, for this episode, and there's a lot to cover! Starting with a quick run-down of the latest releases, we segue into our memories of the late Leonard Nimoy, share our response to last week's underwhelming Oscar-cast, and offer our take on a whole host of headlines flying out of Hollywood, including word of new sequels for Alien and Blade Runner, and possible news on who'll be helming Sony and Marvel's upcoming Spider-Man re-reboot. But that's not all, we also have all the usual listener letters, witty banter, and fanciful digressions you've come to expect after sixty-four episodes. Listen via the embed below, at iTunes, or at Stitcher. Make sure to write us a review and/or leave a comment at our Facebook page to let us know how we're doing!

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Birdbrain

Despite it winning Best Pic at the Oscars last week, I can't say I was as enamored of the movie Birdman as a lot of other folks. That said, it did allow for this hilarious cold open on last night's SNL, which mimics the film's unique "tracking shot" aesthetic, showcases Taran Killam's dead-on Michael Keaton impression, and, bonus, lampoons the recent blowhard shenanigans of Rudy Giulani. I'm willing to file it in the "thumb's up" column just for that.

Recommended Reading

Scott Walker first came to national prominence a few years ago when, in his role as Wisconsin's newly-minted Republican governor, he took on the public employee unions, much to the ire of progressives and much to the acclaim of his ideological fellows. Now, that alone doesn't seem like enough to hang a presidential campaign on, especially given the generally abysmal state of Wisconsin's economy in the aftermath of his draconian agenda. Nonetheless, in an indication of how barren the GOP cupboard currently is, Walker is the putative frontrunner for the 2016 Republican nod following a direct appeal to the base at this week's CPAC conference. Ah, but not so fast, says Matt Taibbi, who argues that a Walker nomination would be the kind of thing Democrats dream of. Read here for the why.

Nostalgia Theater: Street Fighter in the '90s

As a force in video games, the Street Fighter franchise has been an evergreen since its inception in 1987. Not being much of a gamer, I'm not especially equipped to comment on its intricacies, but the set-up is pretty much evident in the title. You and your opponent each pick one of several colorful characters with a specific martial arts skill and a special move. They fight. Occasionally in the street. The end. Not a whole lot to hang a mythology on, but developer Capcom sure gave it the ol' college try, spending a big chunk of the '90s trying to turn the game's niche appeal into a crossover success. Things didn't exactly work out, as you'll see below.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

A Favorite Spock Moment

As people continue to mourn Leonard Nimoy, I'm seeing folks throw all kinds of terrific Star Trek clips on social media and elsewhere to commemorate him, and figured I'd toss one into the mix as well. Believe it or not, it comes from the William Shatner-directed Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, generally accepted as being one of the weakest of all the features (the weakest weakest is actually this one).

Nonetheless, for all its failings, Trek V is the only flick to really focus on the Trek troika of Kirk, Spock, and Bones, illustrating how their unique bond is what gave the original Star Trek so much of its enduring appeal. Thus, the scene below plays on the camaraderie that the characters (and actors) developed after decades working and playing together, and it runs the gamut from easygoing to introspective to humorous, culminating in one of my favorite Spock moments. Check it out:

Friday, February 27, 2015

Leonard Nimoy, RIP

I knew it was coming.

I'd steeled myself for grim news when I read earlier in the week that he'd been admitted to a hospital due to chest pains, but that didn't make it any less of a gut punch to actually see the headline that Leonard Nimoy, 83, was gone.

This one hurts for a variety of reasons. The older you get, the more aware you become of the immutable passage of time. Your own mortality starts feeling more starkly pronounced, as does that of the people close to you, and the people you admire. Certainly Nimoy falls into that latter camp. While he amassed a raft of impressive accomplishments during his many years in and out of the film industry, it's of course for his pointy-eared alter ego as the original Star Trek's Mr. Spock, such an indelible part of so many of our lives, that he'll rightly be remembered, in death just as he was in life.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Mendes Goes Back to Bond

Three years ago director Sam Mendes spearheaded the 50th anniversary 007 pic Skyfall, and brought the series its biggest box office to date. As such, it's not altogether surprising that the Bond braintrust wanted him back for Spectre, the latest entry in the series. What is somewhat surprising is that the in-demand Oscar winner decided to re-up for another go in the franchise trenches. Part of this can be chalked up to his longstanding friendship with current 007 Daniel Craig (who he directed in 2002's Road to Perdition), but for more on Mendes' reasons for returning, check out the video blog below. (And look for Spectre in theaters this November.)

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Two Americas

This vid from The New York Times lays out the impending challenge to the Affordable Care Act which the Supreme Court will begin hearing arguments for next month. Based on how the SCOTUS rules, it could potentially make one's geographic location the primary factor in whether one does or doesn't have access to care.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Impaired Judgment

Jon Stewart may have just announced the impending end of his Daily Show tenure, but at least we know that John Oliver is still in the comedy news trenches over at HBO. And pieces like the one below showcase the fake news host at his best, as he brings down the hammer on the notion of judges being elected to their posts.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Racial Stockholm Syndrome

I've previously referred to right wing wannabe provocateur/convicted felon Dinesh D'Souza as a "walking, talking embodiment of racial Stockholm Syndrome" due to his almost-gleeful willingness to be horribly, racially offensive while attacking President Obama. (And as a bonus, these attempts at humor usually fall painfully flat.) Given D'Souza's Indian background, as someone who's likely dealt with a fair amount of racial prejudice in his own life, this always struck me as curious. Simply put, you think he'd know better.

Of course, Dinesh isn't alone on that front. In recent weeks we've also seen Louisiana guv Bobby Jindal trying desperately to convince the Republican base to support him for president, using every opportunity to stoke the fires of Islamophobia by touting discredited claims of Muslim "no-go zones" in Europe. Again, you'd think Jindal, also Indian, would know better. Nonetheless, the pattern of non-white conservatives bending over to attack non-white non-conservatives in racially blinkered terms is clear for anyone to see, and The New Republic's Jeet Heer picks apart some of what may be the roots of this phenomenon.

Nostalgia Theater: WildC.A.T.s -- More Craptastic Saturday Morning Superheroes

Last week I discussed the aggressively mediocre Ultraforce animated show from 1995, and how it grew out of the desire to incubate another superhero success story a la Fox's Marvel Comics-inspired X-Men 'toon. Well, Ultraforce wasn't the only specimen to emerge from that particular eugenics lab. Another such try aired on CBS a year earlier, and this one probably had more of a claim on some of that X-Men mojo. I'm speaking of WildC.A.T.s, based on a comic book created by artist Jim Lee in late '92.

Lee had, of course, made his bones by revitalizing the X-Men characters for Marvel in the early '90s, including designing the various costumes and accoutrements that would appear in the animated show. But disenchantment with the state of corporate comics at the time, where artists would see their work appear on t-shirts, posters, and other merchandising without much payback, led him and many of his fellow Marvel mainstays to bolt and form their own company, Image Comics.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

"I Feel Intensely Alive"

Famed author and neurologist Oliver Sacks (Awakenings) recently received the kind of diagnosis no one wants and few are ready for: terminal cancer. With the limits of his mortality now within sight, the 81-year-old author has penned an essay for The New York Times taking stock of this devastating news, analyzing what it means for the time he has left, and in essence saying goodbye. Given the journey that we're all on, this is a profound piece that's worth reading and re-reading.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Diffused Congruence: Al Jazeera’s Wajahat Ali

This month we're joined by award-winning playwright, journalist, and humorist Wajahat Ali for a far-ranging conversation that starts with a lengthy discussion about the recent tragic shooting of three Muslim college students in Chapel Hill, NC. After that, we tacklee Wajahat's work on Fear, Inc., a report uncovering the Islamophobia network, as well as how his other recent projects are helping to positively shape the American Muslim narrative today. There's plenty of deep thoughts and big laughs, and you can listen to it all via the embed below, or you can download at the link. As always, make sure to hit us up at our Facebook page to let us know how we're doing!

Zaki's Review: McFarland, USA

Coach Jim White (Kevin Costner) embraces his runners
When I reviewed Ivan Reitman's behind-the-scenes football drama Draft Day last year, I made the observation that pairing star Kevin Costner with any given athletic competition tends to pay crowd-pleasing dividends. And now here comes McFarland, USA to help me double down on the point. The true life tale, directed by Whale Rider's Niki Caro and featuring Costner as the harried coach of an underdog cross country team in California's Central Valley, tells its by-the-bootstraps story so winningly that, predictable though it may be, it's still hard not to find it thoroughly rousing.

It's 1987, and Costner's Jim White finds himself with dwindling options career-wise. A series of altercations over the course of several coaching gigs has left him with the only job that will have him: serving as the extremely overqualified assistant coach for the extremely under-qualified football team at McFarland High, situated in one of the most poverty stricken municipalities in the entire country. With its student population comprised of a heavily latino population where higher education is a secondary priority to helping their families earn a living harvesting crops, it sure seems like White has landed in career purgatory.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Aquaman Looks Awesome!

From the very beginning, when actor Jason Momoa was announced as the guy to wield Aquaman's trident in the upcoming Batman v. Superman and Justice League flicks, I've been down with the casting. Momoa made for a great Conan the Barbarian in an otherwise uneven film, and I was confident that his presence in the role would finally, decisively kill the "Aquaman is lame" chorus that's drowned the character (snicker) for decades now. And with director Zack Snyder's first reveal of Momoa as DC Comics' king of the oceans via Twitter, we see that they're not messing around. (The "seven" being united are the other league members, presumably.) It's a far cry from this, that's for sure! I've still got my concerns about how this film is gonna come together, but Aquaman ain't one of them. Dig it.


Zaki's Review: Kingsman: The Secret Service

Colin Firth teaches Taran Egerton the ropes
It honestly feels like just a few weeks ago that I was sitting in a theater watching xXx (the movie, not the genre). Positioned as kind of an extreme sports response to the long-lived James Bond series, the 2002 Vin Diesel starrer (which I've often referred to as "Poochie: The Movie") starts out with a tuxedo-clad 007 doppelgänger being dispatched by the baddies in a manner clearly meant to announce that Bond was too staid and stodgy to make it in these modern times. Of course, that was thirteen years and four Bonds ago, so I guess we know where audiences landed when it came to that particular choice.