Sunday, September 21, 2014

Nostalgia Theater: The Cosby Show Turns 30!

"Hey, don't give me your sob story. I'm the guy who passed on The Cosby Show."

Per author Bill Carter in his book The War For Late Night, that quote was uttered by former ABC exec Lew Erlicht after being approached by a homeless person seeking help. And while Carter couches that anecdote as likely apocryphal, the truth behind the probable fiction is that Erlicht did indeed (much to his regret) reject a pitch by producers Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner for a family comedy centered on comedian Bill Cosby. He passed, the show was picked up by NBC prexy Brandon Tartikoff, and the rest is TV history.

One Year Ago in Nostalgia Theater: XX Years of The X-Files

Three decades of history, in fact. In news that's sure to make a lot of folks of my vintage feel positively decrepit, last night marked thirty years to the day that The Cosby Show premiered on the Peacock, introducing America to the upper-middle class Huxtable family, headed by doctor dad Cliff (Cosby) and lawyer mom Claire (Phylicia Rashad), with four (later five) children. On its journey the '80s, it  revived the sitcom format, changed the playing field for African-Americans on TV and, depending on the telling, rescued NBC, which had spent the better part of the last decade on-the-ropes, from insolvency.

Here's one of my fave bits from the very first episode:

Friday, September 19, 2014

Key & Peele on Aliens & Racism

Key & Peele have figured out how to identify the alien invaders in our midst. Here's a clip from next week's season premiere:

From The Onion...

I think this was me last month, when I visited Chicago.
Man Visiting Hometown Amazed To Find All His Childhood Insecurities Still There 
MANSFIELD, OH—While walking through his old neighborhood, Mansfield, OH, native Peter Grogan, 37, was reportedly surprised Thursday to find that each and every one of his childhood insecurities remains in his hometown. “I was heading down Marion Avenue, where Jeff Bilderman used to pick on me every day, and noticed that my old anxieties, fears, and constant sense of shame are all still here,” Grogan told reporters, marveling that the dozens of uncertainties that plagued him throughout his adolescent and teenage years were still thriving exactly where he left them. “I haven’t been back for long, but it doesn’t seem like my timidity and self-doubt have changed even a bit. And it looks like my feelings of inadequacy are still going strong, judging by the fears of rejection that came flooding back when I walked past my old high school. It’s all exactly the same as it was almost 20 years ago.” Grogan added that the one difference he could identify was that walking through his hometown now fills him with newly established insecurities regarding his financial situation, relationship with his parents, and own impending mortality.

Recommended Reading

Jonathan Chait looks at the peculiarities of polling coming out of Kansas, and how changing political winds could be blowing against the state's deeply-entrenched Republican establishment.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Nostalgia Theater: Getting to the Core of Filmation's Journey to the Center of the Earth

This is another show that I shouldn't really have any memory of, given that it was cancelled more than ten years before I was born. Nonetheless, thanks once again to Saudi TV being more than a decade out-of-date, I got to see Filmation's Journey to the Center of the Earth during the early '80s, when I was exactly the right age for both the show and the concept to become permanently imprinted in my frontal lobe. The series took its name and inspiration from Jules Verne's classic adventure novel, but it clearly owed more to the 1959 feature adaptation starring James Mason and released by 20th Century Fox (which also produced the 'toon). For an overview of the premise, look no further than the intro below, with narration by the late, great Ted Knight:

Friday, September 12, 2014

Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader, and Craig Johnson Talk The Skeleton Twins

From the moment they joined the cast of Saturday Night Live in 2005, Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader set about creating an impressive roster of memorable characters and unforgettable impressions that made both performers an indispensable part of the sketch-com's ensemble right up until their departures, in 2012 and 2013 respectively. And though both have found ample opportunities to continue cracking up audiences in their post-SNL careers, we get to see their dramatic chops with this weekend's release of writer-director Craig Johnson's The Skeleton Twins.

The family drama stars Wiig and Hader as titular twins Maggie and Milo, reunited in adulthood due to extenuating circumstances and forced to deal with the repercussions of two lifetimes of questionable choices. I had opportunity to chat with Wiig, Hader, and director Johnson last May for the film's San Francisco premiere, and what follows are some of the highlights from the hilarious roundtable discussion, which often dissolved into spontaneous comedy routines from the two stars:

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The MovieFilm Podcast: Episode 54

For our first episode of the fall season, the MovieFilm Podcast is proud to present a roundtable interview with actors Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig, and director Craig Johnson, about their new film The Skeleton Twins. After that, we dive into the latest headlines out of Hollywood, including our thoughts on the newly-revealed Batmobile from Batman v. Superman, word that Sylvester Stallone may be getting ready to strap on the machete and play Rambo one last time, and some new rumors about what to expect from Star Wars: Episode VII. After that, it's onto the main event, as we continue our annual tradition of looking back at the just-concluded summer season's spate of releases, from The Amazing Spider-Man 2 to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, offering a post-mortem on what worked, what didn't, and why. It's loose, it's fun, it's under two hours, and you can stream it below or download at the link! As always, please hit up 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, September 09, 2014

From The Onion...

Man, ain't it the truth.
Puzzled Nation Can Remember Name Ferguson, But Not Sure From Where 
WASHINGTON—Reportedly racking their brains in an attempt to figure out how they knew that name, a puzzled American populace admitted Monday that while they definitely remembered hearing the word Ferguson, they could not quite put their finger on where. “Ferguson, Ferguson—God, I know that word from somewhere. It’s right on the tip of my tongue,” said Virginia Beach resident Mark Brown, one of millions of citizens nationwide who reportedly paused during the day and furrowed their brows in bafflement, before venturing guesses that the familiar-sounding term might have been a thing from TV or someone they heard a friend talking about. “Yeah, that definitely rings a bell. Hmm. Boy, I’m drawing a big blank on this one. Oh, well.” At press time, each citizen agreed that wherever they had heard the name Ferguson, it probably wasn’t worth any more of their time trying to remember.

Recommended Reading

The New Yorker's Lawrence Wright on twenty-eight missing pages in the the congressional inquiry into 9/11. Those pages were excised at the behest of the Bush Administration, but it's the "why" that's at issue.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Nostalgia Theater: Run, Joe, Run -- It's The Fugitive With a Dog

Run, Joe, Run was a live action Saturday morning series that aired on NBC and premiered exactly forty years ago today, September 7, 1974. Seeing as how it preceded me into the world by a few (five) years, there's really no reason I should have any memory of it all, except for the fact that they showed it in Saudi Arabia, where pop culture was ten years behind at any given time. Even so, those memories are so fleeting and jumbled that I had to do some Googling to figure out what the heck the thing was even about, as most of my recollections center on the theme music, which you can hear in the intro (and outro) below:

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Recommended Reading

Tom Englehardt lays out the long and winding trail of foreign policy tears -- stemming from our own ill-advised foreign policy decisions -- that led to the creation of ISIS.

"Wealthy Choice"

From Tuesday's Daily Show, it looks like Eric Cantor has managed to find some gainful (and then some) employment following his Tea Party-led ouster from the House last June:

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Recommended Reading

Former Yale professor William Deresiewicz explains why our nation's current concept of higher education and what it's pursuit has come to represent has created several generations of "excellent sheep."

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Nostalgia Theater: Boomtown -- The Best Cop Show You've Never Seen

L-R: Mykelti Williamson, Donnie Wahlberg, Neal McDonough, Lana Parilla, Jason Gedrick, Nina Garbiras, Gary Basaraba
The weird thing about doing these Nostalgia Theaters is that the further ahead in time we move, the more stuff I think of as fairly recent can actually be included under its label. To wit, Boomtown, a here-and-gone 2002-2002 series that aired briefly on NBC to considerable acclaim, but little in the way of actual viewers. The pitch, as created by Band of Brothers' Graham Yost, was to take all the procedural-style shows that were/are in vogue with TV audiences, and encompass them all in one skein. Check out the terrific intro, with Emmy-winning theme music by Philip Giffin:

Friday, August 29, 2014

Diffused Congruence: Shadi Hamid

For this month's show we're joined by Shadi Hamid of the Brookings Institute and author of Temptations of Power: Islamists and Illiberal Democracy in a New Middle East for a far-ranging chat on the foreign policy events that have been playing out in the Middle East over the last few years, including the Arab Spring, the rise of ISIS, and the escalation of conflict between Gaza and Israel this past month. Whether you're a policy wonk or just have a mind to learn more about what's been going on lately, this is a conversation you're certain to enjoy. As always, download or stream below, and listen at iTunes and Stitcher Radio. Send any comments or questions to or via our Facebook page!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Remains of the Summer

Labor Day weekend traditionally marks the end of summer movie season, and Forbes' always-insightful box office analyst Scott Mendelson lays out the biggest marketing hails and fails for the season that just concluded. Can't say I disagree with anything on his list, from Godzilla getting props, to The Amazing Spider-Man 2 getting plopped.

Honest 'busters

This weekend sees the classic comedy Ghostbusters re-released to theaters to celebrate its thirtieth anniversary. And by the way, can I mention how positively ancient that makes me feel? I remember my buddy Sean Coyle buying me the fifteenth anniversary VHS release (a pan-and-scan release, by the way!) for my birthday back in 1999. Where did those fifteen years go? Anyway, to mark the occasion of the GBs hitting three-oh, the good folks at Honest Trailers have released this latest assemblage. Enjoy!

"Race is There. It is a Constant."

Jon Stewart came back from summer vacation last night to unleash a lengthy broadside against the Fox News crowd, which has managed to turn the tragic events in Ferguson into a sustained finger-wag against the black community for not being able to let things go. I'd say this should be the final word on this story, but of course it never truly ends. Part one below, part two after the jump:

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Recommended Reading

Back in 2008, renowned scholar and philosopher Cornel West was a pretty big supporter of then-candidate Barack Obama. Not so much anymore. A very revealing conversation between West and author Thomas Frank sheds light on why that is.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Nostalgia Theater: Freaking Out Over Freakazoid!

We talked about Steven Spielberg's Tiny Toon Adventures last week, and I thought I'd follow up by looking back at another Spielberg-produced 'toon from the same era -- one that's been almost entirely overlooked since its brief time on the airwaves: Freakazoid! After producer Bruce Timm found a significant degree of success from his creation of Batman: The Animated Series in '92, he was approached by Spielberg to develop a superhero skein that could fit in alongside both Tiny Toons and Animaniacs (which had premiered in 1993).

While Timm envisioned a serious superhero series with a comedic hero at its center, Spielberg imagined a comedy show that happened to be about a superhero, and since Spielberg was the bigger name on the bill, Timm gracefully handed the baton over to Tiny Toons impresario Tom Ruegger, who sure ran with it. While it's a tantalizing mystery for the ages what a Timm-produced Freakazoid! might have looked like, there's no doubting that what we did get was a madcap mix of animated insanity. Here, just watch the intro to see what I mean:

Friday, August 22, 2014

Recommended Reading

With all the horrible news coming out of the Middle East this week about the actions of ISIS, it's only become more clear just how little we know about this group. Vox's Zack Beauchamp breaks down some of those barriers by debunking the 9 biggest myths about ISIS, starting with the idea that there's no method to their startling degree of madness.

Chloë Grace Moretz, Liana Liberato, and Gayle Forman on If I Stay

As part of the current Hollywood vogue of adapting popular young adult novels to the silver screen, If I Stay is one of the more effective entries in the genre. Starring Chloë Grace Moretz in the lead role of Mia, a teenager who hovers between this plane and the next following a horrific car accident, the film is directed by R.J. Cutler from the best-selling book of the same name, and it should find a welcome embrace by its target audience as it hits theaters this weekend.

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to chat with Moretz and her co-star Liana Liberato, as well as novelist Gayle Forman, about the process of bringing the beloved book to the screen, any lessons learned on-set, and what they'd do in a similar position as the characters in the film. What follows are some highlights from that conversation:

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Pierce Brosnan Sucks at GoldenEye

In an example of exactly the kind of bit that's made Jimmy Fallon's Tonight Show such a joy, Pierce Brosnan made an appearance on the talker last night to promote his new flick The November Man, and Fallon took the opportunity to challenge the former 007 to a game of GoldenEye, the iconic 1990s Nintendo game based on Brosnan's first Bond flick. Needless to say, it left Our Man shaken and stirred:

From The Onion...

Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson has some thoughts on the events unfolding in his municipality of late:
Sometimes Unfortunate Things Happen In The Heat Of A 400-Year-Old Legacy Of Racism

Buckets of Fun

If you follow me on Twitter, you know that I don't really get the whole "Ice Bucket Challenge" thing that's gone hopelessly viral over the last few days. But this piece by Annie Lowrey does go some ways toward explaining how the fad took off like a shot. Certainly worthy of a read for anyone trying to engineer their own viral marketing sensation.

The MovieFIlm Podcast: Episode 53

It's Turtle time for the MovieFilm duo, as Brian and I discuss the latest big screen iteration of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and wonder whether producer Michael Bay's take on the hoary franchise is a step up from the 1990s version. But that's not all, we also share our fond memories of the late, great Robin Williams, including recommending some of our favorite flicks from his oeuvre, and discuss the latest headlines out of Hollywood. In addition, I share my exclusive interview with actors Chloë Grace Moretz & Liana Liberato and author Gayle Forman about their new film If I StayYou can listen via the embed below, or download or stream at iTunes or Stitcher. As always, make sure to hit "like" on our Facebook page, and write a review to let us know how we’re doing. Enjoy!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Recommended Reading

Jonathan Chait tackles yet another erroneous assumption about American history that's propagated as gospel by the Tea Party crowd.

And Speaking of John Oliver...

Here's Steve Almond at Salon on why Oliver's brand of comedy, while honed by years as a reliable second banana on The Daily Show, has managed to stake out some fairly unique turf via its willingness to finesse the laughing-learning ratio. Given that I don't have cable anymore, I'm grateful that I'm able to catch the clips via YouTube.

Oliver on Ferguson

Last week was a bit of a busy one for me (as I'll get into later), but even I've been following the news out of Ferguson, MI with a mixture of horror and sadness as I watch racial unrest engulf a small town. It's hard to view this situation, which all started with an unarmed black teen being shot six times by a cop, with an eye toward humor, but John Oliver managed to find a way on last night's ep of his HBO talker, highlighting both the tragedy and absurdity of what's currently unfolding. Check out the vid below:

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Nostalgia Theater: Tiny Toon Adventures Keeps the Looney Legacy Alive

In 1990, Bugs Bunny celebrated his fiftieth year of bringing laughter to the masses. And while that occasion marked plenty of pomp and circumstance in the media, it also prompted Warner Bros. to parlay the celebration into a renewed spotlight on their entire Looney Tunes catalog, collaborating with Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment to come up with a new animated iteration of Bugs & Co. The result was Tiny Toon Adventures, which began airing in fall of 1990 before, first in syndication, later as part of the Fox Kids weekday lineup. Here's the intro:

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Robin Williams, RIP

Like most folks my age, the first time I saw Robin Williams was as wacky space alien Mork from Ork on ABC's Happy Days spin-off Mork & Mindy. While that series, a perfect showcase for Williams' trademark brand of stream-of-consciousness improv, faded away after four years, it was only the leading edge of a brilliant, varied career that continued uninterrupted for almost four decades. Robin Williams was such an indelible presence in so many of our lives in so many different ways that the news of his death yesterday from apparent suicide felt like some kind of cruel prank. How could it end this way for someone who'd given the world so much joy? Nonetheless, here we are.

From playing the live action Popeye in 1980 to voicing the Genie in Disney's Aladdin twelve years later, Williams is perhaps most known for the manic energy that defined his brand of comedy on stage and screen. He was driven by the intense need to make people laugh, and boy, did he ever succeed. But he also built a parallel career as one of the finest dramatic actors of all time. The World According to Garp. Good Morning, Vietnam. Dead Poets Society. Awakenings. Hook. The list goes on and on. While his recent return to television, the just-cancelled The Crazy Ones on CBS failed to land with auds, there's no doubt that, at 63 years of age, we still had many years of great Robin Williams performances to look forward to.

Objectively, Williams had achieved every measure of terrestrial success. The admiration of his peers. The adoration of his fans. There was no door he couldn't open with his name alone. Yet he suffered silently for years with an illness that few are aware of, and even fewer understand. If there's a lesson we can take from this, perhaps it's to increase our understanding of depression and mental illness, and reach out to those who need help before they too make a decision they can't come back from. To that end, as we look back on an unprecedented body of work, let's watch the clip after the jump, from my all-time favorite Robin Williams' performance, his Oscar-winning turn in Gus Van Sant's 1997 Good Will Hunting.

Godspeed, Robin.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Nostalgia Theater: The Ninja Turtles' Pizza Crunchabungas!

With the Michael Bay-produced reboot of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles currently sitting atop the box office, we may well be entering a new age of Turtle madness, but I doubt it'll be anything like the first time they took over the world. That was a magical era that saw not just action figures, video games, and school supplies adorned with the smiling ninja visages of Leo, Mikey, et al, but also food, food, food! There were all manner of licensed snack products churned out during the Ninja Turtles' early-'90s heyday, including cereal, ice cream bars, cookies, you name it.

But the product that I've decided to shine the Nostalgia Theater spotlight on this week is a short-lived chip from Ralston with the unwieldy name of "Pizza Crunchabungas." I recall really enjoying these during their brief shelf-life, but I'm fairly certain that was just my mind forcing me to love it just because of the licensed logo on the bag. Certainly in hindsight a pizza-flavored corn chip just sounds nasty, and given that Crunchabungas didn't last past 1991, that's probably accurate. More than anything about the chips themselves, I remember this ad promoting them, using claymation Turtles created by Will Vinton (he of "California Raisins" fame):

Zaki's Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

In a measure of just how calculated a product Paramount's Michael Bay-produced reboot of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is, we get to see Megan Fox jumping up-and-down on a trampoline within five minutes of the opening titles. Talk about knowing your audience!

Of course, I doubt things like "subtlety" and "restraint" were high on the list of action items when parent company Viacom acquired the Turtles lock, stock, and half-shell five years ago, and you kind of have to respect how this new take, directed by Battle LA's Jonathan Liebesman, resolutely sticks to Bay's road-tested template of babes, bombast, and brainlessness (which has, to be fair, minted a cool bil for Par as recently as this summer's Transformers: Age of Extinction -- which I didn't hate, by the way). While this pic benefits from motion-captured CGI portrayals of the titular teens that leap, twist, and bound through a digitally-created New York cityscape with unquestionable aplomb, it's undone by a needlessly-convoluted story that's long on contrivance and short on common sense.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Recommended Reading

Ezra Klein underscores the central irony of the current presidency: "Obama has brought a lot of change to America. But he's done it by accepting — and, in many cases, accelerating — the breakdown of American politics." Read the whys-and-wherefores behind this here.

The MovieFilm Podcast: Episode 52

We mark two years of the MovieFilm Podcast with this week's installment, and Brian and I have plenty to discuss, including the Batman v Superman Comic Con footage, Wonder Woman's new look, the potential for an all-female Ghostbusters movie, and Ridley Scott's forthcoming space film (which isn't the one you may be thinking of...), and the latest rumors about Star Wars: Episode VII!

I also have a special interview with Matt Akey, executive producer at Legend3D, who talks the nuts and bolts of 3D filmmaking, including their work with director Michael Bay on the number one film of the year, Transformers: Age of Extinction. After that, it's on to the main event, Marvel's latest greatest hit, Guardians of the Galaxy.

Give it a listen via the embed below, or download or stream at iTunes or Stitcher. Like always, make sure you write us a review to let us know how we’re doing, and enjoy!

Monday, August 04, 2014

See? Me.

The folks at HuffPost Live invited me on earlier today to talk up the record-shattering opening weekend of Guardians of the Galaxy (a movie I liked a little bit), which blew the doors off most expectations by raking in nearly $95 mil in three days. Here's the vid of the segment. At the risk of tooting my own horn, I don't think I embarrassed myself too badly:

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Nostalgia Theater: The Invaders Are Here!

The Invaders is a TV sci-fi offering from before the era when the genre garnered mainstream acceptance. Thus, it often felt like we were hearing about the titular aliens more than we were actually seeing them. Produced by Quinn Martin, the TV impresario behind The Fugitive, Invaders was meant to emulate that series' "quest" sensibility, albeit in support of thwarting otherworldly baddies as opposed to finding a one-armed. To that end, creator Larry Cohen, taking a cue from films such as Invasion of the Body Snatchers, came up with the idea of a secret invasion orchestrated by human-looking aliens, with everyman architect David Vincent (Roy Thinnes) the only one who knows they're here. Here's the intro:

Zaki's Review: Guardians of the Galaxy

L-R: Zoe Saldana, Chris Pratt, Groot, Dave Bautista
You can pinpoint the exact moment in Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy that actor Chris Pratt, best known until now as an affable supporting player in films such as Delivery Man, Moneyball, and TV's Parks and Recreation, morphs into a genuine movie star. It's about five minutes in. We see Pratt's character, Peter Jason Quill, a.k.a. Star-Lord, a legendary (in his own mind, at least) outlaw who's landed on the derelict planet Morag to avail himself of its hidden treasures. Making his way through an ancient Raiders of the Lost Ark-esque temple, Quill pulls on earphones from a 1980s-era Walkman and dances his way across the ruins to the tune of Redbone's "Come and Get Your Love."

And just like that, the Marvel factory -- which previously worked its mojo on Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, and Chris Evans -- has sprinkled fairy dust on top of its latest leading man.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Mad Max is Back!

The last time I mentioned Mad Max: Fury Road here was way back in October of 2010, when it looked like the long-developing revival of director George Miller's legendary Mad Max saga might run aground thanks to a combination of budgetary and logistical concerns. Well, that was then, but now not only has the movie filmed, but the marketing campaign is kicking into gear for the Warner Bros. production's summer 2015 release (thirty years after the last film in the series).

With Miller once more at the helm, and Tom Hardy stepping into Mel Gibson's well-worn leathers, Fury Road is refershingly neither reboot nor restart, but simply another adventure of ex-cop Max Rockatansky in the post-nuclear wasteland that used to be Australia. And that's a good thing, as far as I'm concerned. Now, given that the original Max trilogy is one of my all-time favorite series, I've had both anticipation and dread for this installment, but if the Comic-Con trailer below is anything to go by, I think we're in good shape.

A Poem For My Mom

My mother, Iffath Hasan, just wrapped up twenty-plus years of teaching Islamic studies in the Chicagoland area so that she and my dad can move to the Bay Area to be closer to my brother and I. Beginning in early 1993 and continuing to just a few weeks ago without interruption, she would travel to countless schools and mosques every week and teach countless students young and old about the mysteries of the Qur'an and how to apply its precepts meaningfully. While I'm happy to know that my parents will be closer to us, I didn't realize until reading the poem below just how much of a loss my mom's absence in Chicago will be for her many students. Read it after the jump:

Nostalgia Theater: Punky Brewster -- The Hilarious Life of an Abandoned Orphan

I loved Punky Brewster when I was a kid, and I really have no idea why. But given how long it ended up lasting -- 88 episodes over four seasons -- I clearly wasn't alone. Starring precocious youngster Soleil Moon Frye as the title character, Punky was about a little girl who comes from a broken home, is ditched by her mother at a shopping mall, and who ends up finding sanctuary (along with her dog Brandon) with a lonely old man named Henry Warnimont (Police Academy's Commandant Lassard, George Gaynes). As sitcom premises go, that's a pretty dark place to start out, but Punky was all about girl power and day-glo colors. Here's the intro of the show, which began airing on NBC in September of '84, and which I first saw when they showed it in Saudi Arabia the following year:

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Arrow Season 3 Sizzle Reel Hits the Target

For the past two seasons, the CW's Arrow has quietly, consistently been plugging away, churning out compelling stories and mythology while becoming not only the hub of a DC Comics-based TV renaissance, but also one of the best shows on the tube. And with this upcoming season seeing the launch of companion series The Flash, spinning off of events in year two, it looks like Arrow (starring Stephen Amell as DC's long-running Green Arrow character) is really coming into its own. If you haven't given it a shot yet, check out the Comicon sizzle reel for year three below, and then get caught up via Netflix or here.

Idle Hands

As someone who often finds his twin identities as a lifelong Muslim and a lifelong pop-culture geek juxtaposed against each other in a variety of sometimes curious ways, I was struck this Sunday when two news stories crossed my social media feeds in rapid succession that involved eerily similar imagery—but with wildly different overtones.

First up, let’s start with the good stuff: Devin Faraci over at the film website dropped a bit of bombshell news of what he claims is the planned storyline for next year’s impending revival of the Star Wars franchise. If Faraci’s supposed scoop is legit and not just another geek rumor, Episode VII of the new trilogy will feature as a key plot point the severed hand of a familiar character clutching a lightsaber.

While I don’t know that what he has to say is particularly spoilerific—and, again, it’s not even confirmed at this point—I’ll abstain from posting details here just to preserve the surprise for those who want it. But honestly, if you’re anything like me, just hearing that tantalizing bit of teasing was enough to get the follicles on the back of your neck bolting upright by providing just one more piece of confirmation that we are indeed barrelling towards yet another visit to that galaxy far, far away.

So, yeah. That story got me excited. But then came the very next story in my news feed. And that one wasn’t so cool.

Continue reading at Philadelphia Weekly...

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

No-Win Scenario

Last week Jon Stewart engaged in a bit of commentary on The Daily Show that was critical of the number of civilian casualties that have mounted as a result of Israel's offensive against the people of Gaza. The result was this and this, and from last night, this:

Sunday, July 20, 2014

James Garner, RIP

With last night's word of the passing of actor James Garner at age 86, another legend has left us. By all accounts as genial and good natured in person as he was on-screen, Garner enjoyed an acting career that spanned over fifty years, including a second-billed turn in one of my all-time favorite films, 1963's The Great Escape. But I'm willing to wager he's most fondly remembered by global auds for his time playing the title characters of two classic television series: Maverick and The Rockford Files. Whether you're talking about gamblin' cowboy Bret Maverick or disheveled PI Jim Rockford, both summed up the ineffable appeal of the laconic Garner, who managed to couple the burly physique and chiseled looks of a matinee idol with the laid-back approachability of an everyman.

Garner would reprise both of his most iconic characters several times, the former via TV revivals and a supporting turn in the 1994 feature film, starring Mel Gibson, and the latter via eight Rockford telefilms that aired on NBC throughout the '90s. In the 2000s, Garner, by then one of Hollywood's most respected elder statesmen, notched a stint on the early-aughts sitcom 8 Simple Rules after star John Ritter unexpectedly suffered a heart attack, and, in perhaps his most memorable late career role, played the older version of Ryan Gosling's character in 2004's The Notebook. After suffering a stroke in 2008, the actor's output understandably slowed, with his final credit a voice performance as the wizard "Shazam" in a DC Universe animated short in 2010, but by then he'd long since cemented his legacy as one of the greatest stars of a bygone era.

Nostalgia Theater: Captain N: The Game Master Explores the Nintendo Universe!

I've periodically looked at the pervasive influence the Nintendo Entertainment System had over kids in the late-'80s and early-'90s, having previously discussed the Super Mario Bros. cartoon show and the Nintendo Cereal System, and this week's entry is another part of that very specific subgenre of turn-of-the-decade kidvid: Captain N: The Game Master. Beginning life as a comic feature in Nintendo Power magazine (remember Nintendo Power magazine??) entitled "Captain Nintendo," created by editor Randy Studdard, the concept was licensed to and tweaked by the folks at our favorite crap factory, DiC, who shortened the name to "Captain N," tacked on "The Game Master," and premiered the result on September 9, 1989 on NBC:

Friday, July 18, 2014

Diffused Congruence: Mustafa Davis

For this episode, we're joined by famed photographer and filmmaker Mustafa Davis, co-founder of Ta'leef Collective, about his road to Islam, and what he views as the role of Muslim-Americans artists. As usual, download or stream the show below, and also listen at iTunes (don't forget to leave us a review!) and Stitcher Radio. Feel free to send any comments or questions our way at or via our Facebook page!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Honest Lantern

By chance I happened to watch some of the 2011 misfire Green Lantern a few days ago, and the bad vibes just came flooding back. And now, wouldn't you know, the team over at Screen Junkies has answered the call with their very own "Honest Trailers" take on how Warner Bros. managed to turn "one of the most original comic books into one of the least original comic book movies." Enjoy:

Time Warping With Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Director Matt Reeves!

I went through a bit of a personal time warp when I met with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes director Matt Reeves shortly after the global premiere of the Fox release. When I sat down with the gregarious and chatty Reeves, who previously made his mark by creating TV's Felicity and directing Cloverfield before helming the current number one movie in the country, I started our conversation by showing him some issues of the Planet of the Apes fanzine that I self-published twenty years ago when I was in high school (way before that kind of thing could remotely have been considered "cool" or "retro"). With that, the lifelong Apes fan began fondly reminiscing about his own boyhood love of the franchise, and away we went. What follows is the transcript of our conversation, which includes details on his particular approach to illuminating the apes' dawn, where he sees the series going next, and how he's tried to tie in with the larger Apes legacy: