Sunday, July 05, 2015

Nostalgia Theater: Back to the Future Happy Meals!

Five years ago in this space I marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of movie classic Back to the Future by looking back at the animated series based on the beloved movie trilogy. Back then it sure looked like an official home video release for the cartoon show was in the offing, but sadly no such release has materialized in the intervening half-decade.

Regardless, with this past Friday being thirty years to the day that the Robert Zemeckis film made its theatrical debut, I was looking for a way to celebrate the momentous occasion here in Nostalgia Theater, and stumbled on the TV spot below for the McDonald's 1992 Happy Meals tying in with the aforementioned animated incarnation (with voiceover by TV's Doc Brown, Dan Castellaneta).

Saturday, July 04, 2015

INTERVIEW: Dana Nachman, Patricia Wilson, and Mike Jutan on Batkid Begins

L-R: Mike Jutan, Dana Nachman, Patricia Wilson

In 2013, the family of a little boy named Miles, suffering from cancer, made a request to the Make-a-Wish Foundation. He wanted to be Batman. From that simple hope of a sick child, an entire social movement was born: Batkid had begun. With the entire city of San Francisco heeding young Miles's call, an army of volunteers, well-wishers, and Batman fans mobilized to turn his wish into a reality, in the process making for a social media moment unlike any other.

This amazing experience has now been documented in director Dana Nachman's Batkid Begins, which presents a heartwarming portrait of one city's efforts to make one very special day for one very special little hero. I recently had the chance to talk to Nachman, as well as Make-a-Wish Foundation's Patricia Wilson, who orchestrated the entire event, and Mike Jutan, who portrayed Batman baddie the Penguin during the event. Here are some highlights from our conversation.

Friday, July 03, 2015

Zaki's Original Review: Independence Day

First published: August 27, 1996
Note: With Independence Day weekend upon us, I figured there was no time like the present to bust out this oldie from the archives. I haven't revisited ID4 in more than a decade, but I'm fairly certain that if/when I do, I'd have a very different response to it than that of teenage Zaki below. As it is, I pretty much disavow the entirety of this write-up. The comparisons to Star Wars and Jurassic Park betray my total lack of perspective, and the crack about the "current denizen of the Oval Office" in the next-to-last paragraph shows that this was during my brief, unfortunate Rush Limbaugh fanboy phase. Ugh.

Not since 1989's Batman has a movie's impending release been greeted with as much pomp and circumstance as Independence Day. Unless you've been living under a rock for the past nine months or so, you've probably become acquainted with this alien invasion epic, already well on the way to toppling Jurassic Park from its perch as the most successful movie ever. Going all the way back to the teasers played during the Super Bowl and stretching to the cover stories on Time, Newsweek, and Entertainment Weekly (all on the same week, no less!), this onslaught of hoopla helped make Independence Day what is arguably the most highly anticipated movie of the past decade.

Diffused Congruence: The Team From Islamica!

Diffused Congruence welcomes in July with a fun and funny conversation with the jokesters at satire site Islamica News! Founded in 1999, Islamica revels in combating Islamophobia through a humorous lens, while also poking fun at some of the humorous eccentricities that those of us within the Muslim community are all too familiar with. We're happy to be joined by co-founders Azher Ahmed and Mirza Baig as we discuss their earliest collaborations (including a video that Zaki had a cameo in), the company's founding, their general approach to figuring out what's funny, and sharing some of their most popular "news" stories. Download or stream the show below, or listen at iTunes (don't forget to leave us a review!). Send e-mail to DiffusedCongruence@gmail.com, and be sure to hit "like" on our Facebook page!

Thursday, July 02, 2015

The MovieFilm Podcast: Episode 73

Prepare to be terminated! For this week's super-sized show, the MovieFilm gang is joined by Taz Ahmed and Zahra Noorbakhsh, hosts of the #GoodMuslimBadMuslim Podcast for a fun and free-flowing conversation that covers Full House, Magic Mike, and Fifty Shades of Grey. In addition, we discuss the tragic passing of film composer James Horner, news about the latest actor to play Spider-Man, word on Hugh Jackman's final X-Men appearances, and the all-new trailer for the Rocky spin-off Creed, starring Michael B. Jordan. From there, it's a wide-ranging conversation about the pluses and (mostly) minuses of Terminator Genisys, the fifth film in the futuristic franchise. (Read my review here.) Listen to it all via the embed below, at iTunes, or at Stitcher. As always, please let us know how we're doing at our Facebook page!

Rocky Returns in First Trailer For Creed

Meant to post this one a few days ago, but hey, better late than never! With July already upon us, the movie marketing machine has moved from summer flicks to hyping the big productions for fall, and the one I'm probably more hyped about than any other is director Ryan Coogler's Creed. (I first discussed the picture here.) The Warner Bros. release is a spin-off of the Rocky series that celebrates that legacy while carrying the story forward. Michael B. Jordan stars as Adonis Johnson Creed, son the boxing champ who met his end in the ring in 1987's Rocky IV.

When he wants to learn to fight, he turns to his late father's best friend, two-time heavyweight champion Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone, back for his seventh bout). When I reviewed Rocky Balboa, the ostensible final Rocky flick, back in 2006, I said that Rocky had become a guest-star in his own story. While I meant that as an observation on the stage of life he's in during that film, little did I know it literally become the case nearly ten years later! Creed hits theaters in November, and as you can tell from the trailer, it has the potential to be a great one.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Zaki's Review: Terminator Genisys

In 1984's The Terminator, director James Cameron's masterpiece of high tension and big ideas, there's a moment when Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn), soldier from 2029 come back to present day Los Angeles, is trying to explain the threat presented by the title character, a cyborg assassin from his own time, to his charge, Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton): "That Terminator is out there. It can't be bargained with. It can't be reasoned with. It doesn't feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead."

After seeing Paramount's laborious Terminator Genisys, a movie that's as big, dumb and loud as that first one was tight, smart, and efficient, I feel like Reese's words are just as applicable to this franchise as a whole. It's been thirty-one years since the The Terminator first wowed audiences, and my fear as I stare down the abyss into the dark future is that they'll just keep cranking these things out forever and always until the end of time. They. Will. Not. Stop.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Zaki's Retro Review: Terminator Salvation (2009)

Click here to read my retro review of Terminator 3


Terminator 3 was released in 2003, and while its global haul of $430 million didn't top that of T2 from twelve years earlier, it was enough to convince all involved that the brand still retained a great deal of potency with audiences. And though critics weren't exactly over the moon for Rise of the Machines, it did manage to hold its own. Still, in the aftermath of its successful launch, there were more questions than ever as to where things should go next.

Zaki's Retro Review: Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)

Click here to read my retro review of Terminator 2

In 1991, as production on Terminator 2: Judgment Day wore interminably on, its frustrated mastermind James Cameron began to proclaim, "T3 without me!" as a way of expressing how taxing an experience it had become to guide this mammoth enterprise with the biggest budget in history. Of course, as the saying goes, pain is temporary, but film is forever, and once the movie came out and garnered a rapturous response by both critics and audiences, suddenly the thoughts of all concerned turned to how best to capitalize on Judgment Day's runaway success. As a matter of fact, Cameron did do a sequel...of sorts.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Zaki's Retro Review: Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

Click here to read my retro review of The Terminator

Before The Terminator had even finished production, director James Cameron and star Arnold Schwarzenegger expressed interest in continuing the story. Once it hit theaters in fall of 1984 and turned a profit several times over its $6.5 million budget, the idea of sequelizing the sci-fi opus became as inevitable as the dark future it posited. But any efforts in this arena were hobbled by rights holders Hemdale, which had financed the first film but had seen its fortunes wounded by a series of costly bombs in the years afterwards, and was hardly in a position to mount another Terminator that could match Cameron's imagination.

And so, the waiting game began. In the interim, Schwarzenegger marched from success to success like a conquering king, with Commando, Predator, The Running Man and more bolstering his action hero bona fides. Cameron, meanwhile, wrote and directed the Twentieth Century Fox sequel Aliens in 1986 to critical and audience acclaim, and three years later helmed the undersea alien opus The Abyss, which only cemented his growing reputation as one of the most important voices in fantasy filmmaking. Finally, in 1990, after Schwarzenegger helped turn Total Recall into a $260 million smash for Carolco Pictures, the time seemed right to revisit his most iconic role.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Zaki's Retro Review: The Terminator (1984)

For James Cameron, it all started with a dream.

When describing the origins of The Terminator, his violent, paradox-inducing parable of future wars and cyborgs and time travel, the Oscar-winning director of Titanic has said the idea was birthed out of a slumbering vision he had of being attacked by the partial torso of a metal skeleton, clutching kitchen knives in its hands. That was in the late '70s, while Cameron was deep in production on his directorial debut, the low-budget horror flick Piranha II for noted schlock maven Roger Corman.

Today, with a fifth Terminator film just days from release, it's easy to take the franchise's ubiquity for granted. The iconography. The Brad Fiedel music. Arnold Schwarzenegger's black shades. "I'll be back." They've all become cultural touchstones that are known even by those who've never actually seen it. But back then, when Cameron was still toiling in the Corman salt mines, when the market for high-minded sci-fi was still fairly thin, it's doubtful the director had any inclination how that dream -- nightmare, really -- would launch not only a billion dollar franchise, but also set the direction for the rest of his career.

Nostalgia Theater Rewind: Kenner's Terminator 2 Action Figures!

This Wednesday sees the release of the much-anticipated (?) Terminator Genisys, the fifth entry in the Arnold action franchise. And while I'll have plenty to say about that one in a short few days, I thought I'd get my week of Terminator content kicked off by borrowing a trick from the very franchise I'm discussing and going back in time to fall of 2013, when I covered the Terminator 2 action figure assortment produced by Kenner in 1992.

This was during that magical era before what we now think of as the collector market had materialized, when there was nothing at all unusual about mass-marketing toys based on heavily "R" rated movies to the pre-teen set. By spring of 1992 I was all of twelve, but I'd probably seen T2 at least a dozen times already, so naturally I really wanted these. And after watching the video after the jump, hey, can you blame me?

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Thursday, June 25, 2015

Recommended Reading

As you probably know by now, this morning the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that the argument being made by the plaintiffs in King v. Burwell didn't stand up to scrutiny, meaning the Affordable Care Act lives to get sued another day. What came as somewhat of a surprise is that, in addition to swing vote Anthony Kennedy, Chief Justice Roberts sided with the majority in upholding the law, making this time second time in three years he's helped protect it. Here are five reasons he may have done so.

Hateful Ladies

Mark Potok and Janet Smith have compiled a list for the Southern Poverty Law Center of some of the most virulent haters on the Islamophobia scene, who just happen to be women. As they say in the intro to their piece, "the universe of American anti-Muslim activists is peculiarly dominated by women." Here are the "bloggers, politicos, authors, TV personalities, radio talk show hosts, and leaders of anti-Muslim organizations" they've profiled, some of whom you may have heard, many of whom you probably haven't.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Recommended Reading

With a decision in the King v. Burwell case expected any day now, the future of the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. "Obamacare") is once again subject to the whims of a simple majority of the Supreme Court. And with the very real possibility that millions of those benefitting from the law could lose their coverage, Gus Garcia-Roberts over at TPM looks at the many dyed-in-the-wood right wingers who are grappling with the cognitive dissonance that comes from hating the "Obama" but loving the "care."

Here Comes the (Next) Spider-Man

Well, here we go again.

Just over five years ago, I posted about the casting of actor Andrew Garfield as the new Spider-Man/Peter Parker in director Marc Webb's then-upcoming reboot. Honestly, I feel like I can basically repost what I said then with a few minor tweaks, but lest we bury the lede: After months of speculation (not to mention a ticking clock), nineteen-year-old Brit Tom Holland is Sony and Marvel's pick for the upcoming (second!) Spider-Man reboot, this time as part of the shared Marvel Cinematic Universe. After making his Spidey debut in next summer's Captain America: Civil War, Holland will segue into a 2017 solo vehicle in 2017, to be directed by Clown's Jon Watts.

Now, here's what I said in 2010, when the word first broke that Garfield had been cast:

James Horner, RIP

In what I can only call a remarkable, unfortunate coincidence, as I was driving into class yesterday afternoon, I was listening to an old episode of the MovieFilm Podcast wherein Brian and I discussed the then-recent passing of Robin Williams. During the course of that conversation, I mentioned my affinity for the 1999 Williams vehicle Bicentennial Man. This in turn got me in the mood to listen to some of that movie's terrific, evocative score by James Horner:

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Zaki's Retro Review: Jaws (1975)

Forty years ago this weekend, the age of the modern blockbuster was born when Steven Spielberg's Jaws was unleashed into a few hundred theaters across the country. That theater count may seem positively piddly in today's age of ultra-wide, thousand-screen releases, but at the time it was one of the widest in history. And while that might have seemed like a tremendous gamble for any other film, Universal Studios had the goods to back it up.

Obviously history tends to put these sorts of things in perspective, and the fact that we're here four decades later celebrating its remarkable lasting accomplishment is proof enough that Jaws worked. Boy, did it work. Based on the bestselling tome by author Peter Benchley, Universal bet heavily that the untried director (who at the time had only one credit to his name) could bring to life the book's harrowing story about a coastal town bedeviled by attacks from a great white shark.

Nostalgia Theater: What the Heck Was Shazzan?

After my piece from a few weeks ago about the bizarre 'toon Young Samson, I got an e-mail asking when I'd cover Shazzan. Well, never let it be said we don't give service with a smile here at Nostalgia Theater, so let's take a look back at another one of Hanna-Barbera's bizarre creations from the '60s.

Proving my earlier point about how HB had such dominance of the dial during that era, Shazzan premiered on CBS the same day Young Samson debuted on NBC. And like Samson, this one too boasted character designs by legendary comic artist Alex Toth (who also created it). The show, about an ancient Middle Eastern genie who assists a couple of hapless teens, was pretty standard issue stuff from the studio, as you can see from the intro:

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Zaki's Original Review: The Mask of Zorro

First written: July 18, 1998

Put simply, The Mask of Zorro is the reason movies are made. It's two hours of pure wall-to-wall cinematic perfection. In many ways it marks a return to a bygone age of cinema, bringing to mind the swashbuckling movie heroics of Errol Flynn, and of course Douglas Fairbanks and Tyrone Power. The Zorro character is easily one of the most recognizable figures of pop culture, and to see the subject elevated to the level of myth from its humble beginnings as pulp literature is a wondrous achievement indeed.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Diffused Congruence: Haroon Moghul

It's twice the Diffused Congruence this month! For this episode of the show we're joined by Haroon Moghul, PhD candidate at Columbia University and renowned commentator on Islam and public affairs, for a fun and free-flowing conversation that includes his explanation for why he doesn't mind being a "punching bag" for the anti-Muslim industry, and what Islamophobes can learn from the upcoming reboot of Star Wars. 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!

From The Onion...

Not sure this is even satire.
NRA Starts Up Their S___ About What Would Be Even Greater Injustice 
FAIRFAX, VA—In the wake of Wednesday’s mass shooting that left nine dead at a church in South Carolina, sources confirmed today that National Rifle Association officials had already started up with their s___ about what would be an even greater injustice. “What happened in Charleston is a terrible tragedy, but what would be even worse is if we reacted to this event by passing laws infringing on our constitutional rights,” said NRA board member Charles Cotton, who, right on cue, let loose the same predictable flood of steaming horseshit about how the real threat facing Americans comes from legislators who would attempt to restrict access to firearms. “While we mourn those killed, we should never let an incident like this distract from our defense of [the fact that I myself am a pile of human waste who is fundamentally incapable of responding to the deaths of innocent people without raw, putrid sewage gushing from my mouth].” At press time, the NRA had called on Congress to honor the victims of Wednesday’s shooting by passing a law ensuring that citizens can protect themselves by carrying semi-automatic weapons into all houses of worship.

No Jokes.

Wednesday night saw another in what really feels like an endless litany of mass shootings, this time with a deranged, racist gunman killing nine people in a black church in Charleston, SC. On last night's Daily Show, Jon Stewart dispensed with the comedy stylings for a few minutes of straight talk, in the process mirroring the same suffocating sense of frustration we're all feeling at these horrible stories. No jokes, but plenty of insights.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The MovieFilm Podcast: Episode 72

On the heels of Jurassic World's record-breaking opening weekend (read my review here), the MovieFilm crew are joined by special guest Sean Coyle, director of Hulu's The Awesomes, for a discussion on the long-in-coming franchise reboot from director Colin Trevorrow and producer Steven Spielberg. Did it measure up to our expectations? After two mega blockbusters in a row, is Chris Pratt a true superstar? What would we like to see them tackle in the inevitable next Jurassic entry? We tackle it all, but in addition, we also talk up the latest Star Wars news and discuss the impressive trailer for Ridley Scott's upcoming Matt Damon space epic The Martian. In addition to that, there's all the fun, frivolity, and witty banter 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!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Nostalgia Theater Rewind: Kenner's Jurassic Park Action Figures

With Jurassic World currently tearing up theaters (read my review here!) and headed toward what's looking like the second biggest opening weekend in history, I thought this was a good time to link back to a piece I did a few years ago on the occasion of the first film's 20th anniversary re-release in 3D. As you know, a big part of why the Jurassic Park brand is so important to Universal, beyond the almighty box office bucks, is the many ways they've raked in merchandising money.

Of course, one of the key elements of that onslaught was the many different action figure assortments cranked out to tie-in with the first three Jurassic flicks between 1993 and 2001. Just as the new movie's release is surely creating a bit of gauzy nostalgia for the oldsters in the audience who were part of the demo when the original came out, I'm sure that for a lot of folks, just seeing these commercials will bring a whole host of memories back from extinction.

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Zaki's Original Review: Office Space

First published: February 26, 1999
Gary Cole berates Ron Livingston
Note: I remember sitting in the theater on opening night for Office Space, and having like seven other people in the room. Given how ubiquitous it became on home vid, it's easy to forget how totally the thing died at the box office. In hindsight, this movie would absolutely have gotten an A grade. To be honest, I have no idea why I gave it a B+. Also, in the second paragraph I mention an impending Beavis & Butthead sequel, and clearly that never happened.

Work sucks. So will attest any teenager faced with the prospect of a night studying. So too will attest anyone caught up in the daily grind of a 9-5 job as another cog in the corporate machine-works. Combine the mentality of a high schooler with the responsibilities of the real world, and you wind up with Office Space, director Mike Judge's hilarious dissection of of the foibles and follies of corporate Americana.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Zaki's Original Review: Armageddon

First written: July 4, 1998

The folks at THX and SDDS sound must be proud. All qualms about story, acting, and editing aside, Armageddon is a masterpiece of sound technology, with every senses-shattering explosion and every bon-crunching thud putting modern sound systems to the test. It's this summer's second big "The asteroids are coming!" disaster epic, following hot on the heels of the surprise hit Deep Impact. Is Armageddon the superior of the two? It's hard to say, to be honest. The two are such widely different vision of the same basic subject matter that watching them in tandem makes for a decidedly eerie moviegoing experience.

The plot is public record by now. A giant asteroid the size of Texas is hurtling towards Earth, and the only hope of stopping it from turning the planet into an intergalactic pitstop lies in the hands of Harry Stamper (Bruce Willis) and his heroic team of oil drillers (?). The premise is far-fetched, to say the least. The oil team, when they land on the asteroid, are to drill a nuclear warhead into its center, after which it will explode and detonate the giant rock miles before it reaches Earth. Make no mention of any smaller pieces striking Earth (as are shown at the beginning, to destructive effect) because that would shatter the filmmakers' carefully constructed logic.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Zaki's Retro Review: Jurassic Park III (2001)

In summer of 1993, most of the world watched and fell in love with the Jurassic Park movie. But while I’m sure countless folks would have loved to make a dinosaur movie after seeing it, one person was actually in a position to make that happen. Joe Johnston, friend of Steven Spielberg and himself director of such crowd-pleasers as The Rocketeer and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, had been a lifelong dinosaur buff, and he told Spielberg in no uncertain terms that if a sequel were to happen, he wanted to be the one to captain that ship.

And while Spielberg decided to helm the sequel himself, he never forgot that conversation. In the aftermath of The Lost World's summer ‘97 release, a bit of paralysis had overtaken the development process. While an unqualified box office smash (it owned the opening weekend box office record until the first Harry Potter was released four-plus years later), it was also inarguably less beloved than the original. Thus, the Jurassic creatives had to figure out where to take things next — this time without the benefit of an existing novel by Michael Crichton to point the way.

Continue reading at Sequart...

Christopher Lee, RIP

The world of cinema is a little poorer today with word that Sir Christopher Lee, a legitimate movie icon if ever there was one, had passed away this past Sunday at age 93 after several years of declining health. With a career stretching back to the 1940s, Lee has been a constant presence on screens for several generations. For many, their first exposure to the iconic star was through his work with England's Hammer Films in the late '50s. Lee first played the Frankenstein monster for the horror factory in 1957's Curse of Frankenstein before transitioning to The Horror of Dracula in 1958.

He reprised the suave Count Dracula nine more times from 1958 to 1976, and his portrayal remains one of the definitive screen versions of the character. Of course, he did more than just Hammer horror, with his face and voice gracing all manner of productions over the next few decades. A mere glance at his filmography is to see the history of film in the modern era. In addition to playing the villainous Scaramanga in 1975's 007 flick The Man With the Golden Gun (playing one of the series' best villains, even while stuck in one of its worst entries). He also clocked a fun cameo in 1990's Gremlins 2, directed by Joe Dante.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Zaki's Review: Jurassic World

Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard survey the dino damage
Click here to read my retro reviews of the Jurassic Park trilogy.

I'll admit it, I have a soft spot for the Jurassic Park series. While the 1993 original is rightly revered not only for the special-effects revolution it helped usher in but also for just being a darn good film, the two follow-ups, from 1997 and 2001, respectively, aren't thought of quite so fondly. And sure, while that first flick is understandably a tough act to follow, I do think the sequels are just fine for what they are. Heck, the iconic strains of John Williams' "Jurassic Park Theme" are enough to get my pulse racing. So that should give you a sense of what my mindset was going into Jurassic World, the fourth film in the Universal series -- and the first in nearly a decade and a half.

Zaki's Retro Review: The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)

Believe it or not, I come here not to bury The Lost World, but to praise it.

Jurassic Park hit theaters in June of ’93 and the rapturous reception it received at the box office was exactly the kind of alchemy you’d expect when you put “Spielberg” and “dinosaurs” together. With critics and audiences alike primed for more, additional entries were all but assured. At least, that’s what home studio Universal was probably hoping for. However, for director Steven Spielberg, who’d previously seen the same studio squeeze Jaws, which he started for them, into Michael Caine-starring oblivion, the only way Jurassic Park would spawn a franchise was under his terms. And so the waiting game began.

Continue reading at Sequart...

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Zaki's Retro Review: Jurassic Park (1993)

When director Steven Spielberg’s dinos-on-the-rampage blockbuster Jurassic Park first hit the screen in summer of 1993, twenty-two years ago now (I’ll let you process that number for a second, and let the reality of how much older you are sink in) it was a legitimate phenomenon. Promising an adventure “65 million years in the making,” the project carried the pedigree of a hugely successful 1990 novel by the legendary Michael Crichton, not to mention Spielberg at the helm, and photorealistic dinosaurs that promised to up the ante for special effects forever. It was a true game changer. For everyone but me, that is.

Continue reading at Sequart...

Monday, June 08, 2015

Cameron to Terminator Fans: You'll Love Genisys

We're now about three weeks out from the release of Terminator Genisys, and the needle hasn't really moved in terms of mainstream awareness and/or anticipation. (As you know, I wasn't crazy about that last trailer.) After the arguable disappointment of the last two films (though I remain a fan of the third), it seems like many are greeting this fifth installment, directed by Alan Taylor and intended to launch a new trilogy, with a fair bit of skepticism. Still, when it comes to The Terminator, most would agree that the one voice of absolute authority for the franchise is writer/director James Cameron, who created the series, helmed its beloved first two entries, and in whose shadow everyone since has unsuccessfully toiled.

And so it's interesting that the marketing team rolls out the new promo featurette below, which plays many of the clips we've already seen via the umpteen trailers thus far, but lays in commentary from Cameron himself, who's seen the movie, and is apparently giving it the thumbs up ("If you like the Terminator films, you're gonna love this movie."). Now, while this may seem heartening, bear in mind that Cameron gave the same imprimatur to T3 back in '03 ("In one word: great!"), and that one's not exactly beloved either. Whether honest endorsement or a cynical ploy to help out his old buddy Arnold (who really needs this to be a hit), I guess we'll all find out together when Terminator Genisys hits theaters on July 1. (Watch the Cameron endorsement vid after the jump.)

First Trailer: Matt Damon is The Martian

Last fall, after some insistent prodding from my MovieFilm partner-in-crime Brian Hall, I finally checked out the audiobook for Andy Weir's The Martian, and I was so glad I did. The novel is an absolutely riveting story about an astronaut who's left stranded on Mars following a sandstorm, and who must somehow contrive a way to let mission control know he's alive, while surviving long enough for a rescue mission to get to the Red Planet. I ended up devouring the whole thing over the course of a week's worth of commutes, and for awhile there I was contriving reasons to get in my car just so I could listen to just a little bit more.

Ever since, I've been eagerly awaiting anything about the upcoming feature film adaptation. With its heavy grounding in science, plus a compelling leading character whose first-person narration guides us through much of the story, this is a story that's practically tailor-made for a big screen adaptation, and today's debut trailer sure doesn't disappoint. Directed by Ridley Scott, The Martian stars a perfectly-cast Matt Damon in the title role of astronaut Mark Watney, and also features an all-star lineup of established vets and up-and-comers backing him up. I'm excited. You should be too. Watch the vid below, and look for The Martian to hit the screen this November.

(And I don't even want to hear the Interstellar comparisons just because Matt Damon and Jessica Chastain are in both. They're totally different.)

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Nostalgia Theater: Hey, Kiddies! It's the Tales From the Crypt Cartoon!

From the late '80s through the mid-'90s, HBO aired its popular horror anthology Tales From the Crypt. Taking its title from the scandalous EC Comics of the 1950s, the series featured some of the biggest names in Hollywood toiling both in front of and behind the camera, in service of spine-tingling tales of gore, violence, and vengeance, bloody vengeance. Here's one of the framing sequences, with the show's "host," the desiccated Cryptkeeper (voiced by comedian John Kassir) setting up that week's scares in punny fashion alongside that episode's celebrity director:

Zaki's Original Review: The Siege

First published: November 6, 1998


Tony Shalhoub and Denzel Washington
Note: It's weird to re-read this review now, given all the real world history that's accrued since I wrote it, much of it revolving around the very scenarios the film depicts -- fictional at the time, now nudging uncomfortably close to reality. I stand by these initial impressions of the movie itself, and if anything I'm saddened by the fact that the concerns I express here remains in place today for most media coverage of stories involving Islam and Muslims.

In one of those back rooms of the White House so secret that even the President probably doesn't know of its existence, the hard-nosed army general and the Chief of Staff assess the casualty reports from a spate of terrorist bombings in New York. Finally, the Chief of Staff comments wryly, "They're attacking our way of life."

It is that one line that Edward Zwick's The Siege wraps itself around. It asks us how far we'd go to protect that selfsame "way of life." Denzel Washington, one of the most talented actors working today teams for the third time with director Zwick (after Glory and Courage Under Fire), and he is aided by a talented cast that includes Annette Bening and Bruce Willis.

Saturday, June 06, 2015

Zaki's Original Review: The Fifth Element

First published: May 29, 1997
Man, I'd forgotten what Chris Tucker is wearing in this thing.
Note: I haven't revisited The Fifth Element in the eighteen years since I first wrote this review for The North Current, at the tail end of my senior year of high school. Knowing that it's become something of a cult artifact in the interim, I'd be very curious what I think of it today, with the benefit of all that added mileage.

Never has so little been made out of so much. The Fifth Element, starring Bruce Willis, is the latest work of French director Luc Besson, who rose to fame with such movies as La Femme Nikita and The Professional. While boasting impressive visuals and some truly inspired set and costume designs, there is little in the way of substantive narrative to make the film anything but a glaring example of what is so horribly wrong with modern cinema.

Friday, June 05, 2015

Diffused Congruence: Professor Sherman Jackson

This month we're honored to be joined by Dr. Sherman Jackson, professor of Religion and American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California, for our lengthiest conversation yet as he shares his personal story, going deep and wide into the amazing journey he's been on throughout his life. Listen to the show via the embed below, or via iTunes or Stitcher. As always, please hit "like" on our Facebook page, and send any comments or questions to DiffusedCongruence@gmail.com.

Thursday, June 04, 2015

Watch the Second Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation Trailer!

I was sufficiently impressed with the teaser trailer for Rogue Nation, the fifth Mission: Impossible flick, when it dropped a few months ago that I was it just affirmed my enthusiasm for what director Christopher McQuarrie would do with the veteran action franchise. This new assemblage adds some exposition but mainly adds to the spectacle, with some pretty impressive set pieces as we watch returning players Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, and Ving Rhames go through their paces. Watch the trailer after the jump, and look for this one in theaters at the end of July.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

"He Does Declare"

As soon as comical SC Senator Lindsey Graham announced his entry into the GOP presidential contest, the one reaction I was waiting for was that of Jon Stewart, and Monday night he didn't disappoint:

The MovieFilm Podcast: Episode 71

With summer movie season in full swing, the MovieFilm guys have lots to say about Tomorrowland (read my review here) and San Andreas (read my review here), two high-expectations releases that garnered very different responses from audiences. In addition, we also tackle some of the big news of the last two weeks, including David Letterman's retirement after thirty-plus years in late night, plans to expand the Transformers franchise into a "shared universe" with spin-offs galore, word of an unwanted remake of The Fugitive, an unnecessary sequel to My Big Fat Greek Wedding, plus my re-appraisal of Steven Spielberg's Hook after seeing it for the first time in twenty-four years! There's also the usual Listener Letters, Star Wars news, and random digressions you've come to expect. Listen via the embed below, or check us out at iTunes and Stitcher. As always, please do leave us a review or star rating, and drop us a line at our e-mail address or Facebook page to let us know how we're doing!

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

From The Onion...

It's a hard life when you're The Man.
Frustrated NSA Now Forced To Rely On Mass Surveillance Programs That Haven’t Come To Light Yet

Recommended Reading

You may remember President Obama's "You didn't build that" on the campaign trail in 2012. Referencing the idea that even successful entrepreneurs rely on a strong structural framework provided by the commons upon which to ply their trade, this off-the-cuff line led to such upset on the other side that "We Built It" became the theme for for their whole presidential convention that fall. And yet, as Jonathan Chait explains, "You didn't build that" is exactly right, and here's why.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Nostalgia Theater: What the Heck Was Young Samson?

Here's one of the weirdest cartoons I've ever ever seen -- and trust me, I've seen a few. Courtesy of animation house Hanna-Barbara during the period in the '60s when they could toss pretty much whatever they wanted at the tube, and some network somewhere was likely to air it, Young Samson actually began its life as Samson and Goliath when it premiered on NBC in September of '67, but it was retitled the following year to avoid confusion with the Davey and Goliath children's series. Here, watch the intro and see if you can figure this thing out:

Zaki's Original Review: Lethal Weapon 4

First written: July 11, 1998
Danny Glover and Mel Gibson, back in action
Note: This review was written during a brief period in summer of '98 when I was experimenting with star ratings instead of the letter grades I've since settled on.

Right at the beginning of Lethal Weapon 4 there's a scene that perfectly encapsulates the continued appeal of the Lethal movies after more than ten years and three sequels. An armored, flamethrower-wielding psycho is barbecuing the LA metropolitan area, with the police powerless to do anything. Taking refuge behind a wrecked car, rain pouring down and fires burning all around them, Sergeants Riggs and Murtaugh (Mel Gibson and Danny Glover) concoct a plan.

Instructing his partner to doff his clothing, dance around, and cluck like a chicken (serving as a distraction), Riggs takes aim at the fuel tank on the arsonist's back, resulting in a flying, flame-spewing perp, an exploding gas station, and Murtaugh in his skivvies. Happily turning to his partner, Murtaugh exclaims, "Do you think that clucking like a chicken helped?" Without missing a beat, Riggs chuckles, "No, I just wanted to see if you'd do it."

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Taibbi Takes Down...

...disgraced reporter Judith Miller, and it's a beaut. Miller, you may recall, was the preeminent media voice who, by way of her cushy perch at the New York Times, propelled much of the propaganda the Bush administration ginned up during the bygone days of the early aughts to cement its case for attacking Iraq. That case collapsed in on itself once it became clear what a debacle Iraq was shaping up to be, and Miller was rightly excoriated for her part in it, dropping from the public eye shortly thereafter. Now the former reporter is hoping to rehab her image by way of a self-serving tome titled The Story, which she no doubt hopes will whitewash her key role in one of the biggest military debacles in our country's history. Thankfully, Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi is here to make sure she doesn't try to escape that culpability.

Zaki's Original Review: Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace

First published: May 21, 1999

L-R: Natalie Portman, Liam Neeson, Jake Lloyd, Ewan MacGregor
Note: You can see a little bit of cognitive dissonance happening in this write-up, as the "B+" grade at the end in no way matches the very critical review preceding it. Nonetheless, I took a fair bit of grief when this one first appeared in The Courier, from folks who couldn't quite bring themselves to admit that yes, Star Wars could indeed suck. I regret nothing about this one except the grade. It should've been a "C".

This much is certain: Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace is a visual feast. One has to admire the sheer volume of fantastic elements in writer/director George Lucas's vision. What's surprising and even disappointing is how routine and, yes, dull it all seems. Phantom Menace lacks much of the necessary emotional investment that made the original Star Wars and its sequels such cultural touchstones.

Despite the fact that we're presented with a cadre of supremely talented actors to carry the story along, they're given little else to do than stand in front of Lucas's carefully conceived computer landscapes, with cutesy 'droids and creatures twittering and fluttering about. Obviously the original trilogy has a two decade head start on the prequel (and its two planned follow-ups), giving us plenty of time to gain an almost familial attachment to Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and company.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Zaki's Review: San Andreas

In my review of Godzilla last year, I noted how my current hometown of San Francisco gets pretty thoroughly clobbered during the course of that movie's hot monster-on-monster action. Well, here we are one summer later, and once again the poor Bay Area falls victim to the mega-destructo demands of summer blockbuster season. Thank goodness for musclebound Dwayne Johnson then. After a bone-crunching brawl wherein he took on Jason Statham in Furious 7 a few short months ago, the once and future Rock has moved to a higher weight class, facing off with Mother Nature herself in Brad Peyton's San Andreas.

And while the disaster pic makes full use of current computer technology to bring vivid life to the nightmare scenario that might ensue should the titular fault-line go off, it's Johnson (re-teaming with his Journey 2 helmer) who practically singlehandedly hefts the entire enterprise on his oversized shoulders. His ever-flowing wellspring of charisma has served him well throughout his career, and it's almost enough to offset the grab bag of tired tropes and overplayed cliches in the script by Carlton Cuse (from a story by Andre Fabrizio & Jeremy Passmore), not to mention the inevitable apathy that comes from watching one too many CGI buildings topple into each other.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

From The Onion...

Some sobering reflections from actor Bill Paxton...
We all want to believe that our lives have meaning and purpose, that our actions can have a lasting impact on the world around us. But on the grand scale of the universe, a human life passes in the blink of an eye, all remembrance of it lost like a grain of sand on an endlessly shifting beach. Terrifying though it may be, the reality we must all face up to is that 1,000 years from now, every one of us will be forgotten except for me, Bill Paxton.  
It’s simply a humbling fact of existence that, unless you were the beloved star of both Twister and A Simple Plan, every memory of you will one day vanish in the mists of time.
Read the rest here.

Recommended Reading

With the dawn of the new presidential election season, the clown car that is the Republican nominating process is once again hitting the road. And with eighteen candidates currently vying for the chance to (probably) lose the presidency, that doesn't leave a lot of elbow room for anyone in particular to grab the wheel. Of course, the question of how a field this unwieldy gets whittled down to something more manageable isn't so easily answered, as Ed Kilgore explains.