Sunday, November 23, 2014

Islamophobia and Religious Violence

Author Karen Armstrong (who wrote one of the definitive English-language biographies of Prophet Muhammad) is interviewed by Salon's Michael Schulson about her new book, Fields of Blood, and chimes in on a host of issues related to the perception (or misperception) that religion is a catalyst for violence as opposed to violence being a byproduct of a variety of interconnected factors. Here she is on the anti-Muslim rhetoric that's becoming increasingly common of late on the left, catapulted by folks like Bill Maher and Sam Harris:

Nostalgia Theater: Ripley's Believe It Or Not

Ripley's Believe It or Not began its life in 1919 as a newspaper feature collecting oddities and bizarre bits of arcana from around the world and throughout history. As "curated" by cartoonist Robert Ripley, the Believe It or Not brand proved so popular that it eventually expanded into books, radio, films, and eventually TV. The first such television venture premiered on NBC in 1949, and was hosted by Ripley himself for its first thirteen eps (before he succumbed to a heart attack). While that show folded after its second year, Believe It or Not came back to television in the 1980s for the version that I'm certain most of my readers are familiar with. Here, check out the intro:

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Hasan Minhaj's Daily Show Debut

Last night my friend Hasan Minhaj made his debut as a correspondent on The Daily Show, and he's off to a great start! Big props to Hasan for scaling the current Everest of comedy, joining the ranks of such illustrious TDS alums as Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert, Rob Corddry, Ed Helms, John Oliver, and so many more. Upwards and onwards!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Mikaela Hoover Talks Guardians of the Galaxy And More!

In the few short years she's been on the Hollywood scene, Washington native Mikaela Hoover has racked up an impressive array of appearances in such high profile fare as How I Met Your Mother, Anger Management, Two and a Half Men, and more, but it' s safe bet that her biggest credit to date is in the smash hit Guardians of the Galaxy, the year's number one film at the domestic box office (with good reason, if you read my review).

I had a chance to talk to the actress recently about her turn as Glenn Close's assistant in the Marvel Studios pic, and she was happy to share stories of her time on the set, including what it was like working so close to Close, and her reaction when she first heard the news that friend James Gunn had gotten the gig to direct the high profile film. In addition, she also talked up her latest project, the quirky webseries Zombie Basement. Read on for some of the highlights from our chat:

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Nostalgia Theater: Remembering the Original Battlestar Galactica

(L-R) Richard Hatch, Lorne Greene, Dirk Benedict
With Glen Larson's passing yesterday, it seemed an appropriate enough time to fire up the Nostalgia Theater time machine and look back at one of his most cherished (especially to himself) creations, the original Battlestar Galactica. Launching on ABC in fall of 1978, the much-ballyhooed series from Universal was one of the most expensive ever made until that time, and it was also the earliest and most prominent of a whole host of attempts by rival studios to capitalize on the out-of-nowhere success of the original Star Wars (eventually Uni was sued by 20th Century Fox for its troubles).

Here, watch the intro theme, with "saga sell" narration by Patrick Macnee:

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Glen A. Larson, RIP

Veteran writer-producer Glen A. Larson has passed away at age 77, following a battle with cancer. Over the course of five decades in the TV industry, his output has provided a reliable well to pull from whenever I was grasping for a Nostalgia Theater. Buck Rogers. The Fall Guy. Magnum. Knight Rider. Some of it was good, a lot of it wasn't. But if you were watching TV in the '70s, '80s, and '90s, it's a fair bet you came across a Larson product at some point, and it's also a fair bet that it's stayed in the part of your frontal lobe where you store your most pleasant memories.

I certainly gave him my fair share of ribbing over the years (and seriously, can you blame me?), but it was always coming from a place of great fondness. With the television zeitgeist taking a pretty sharp turn away from the kind of safe, comfort food concoctions Larson tended to specialize in (exemplified by the sharp contrast between his original Battlestar Galactica and the rebooted 2003 version), it's easy to see why his output dwindled to nary a trickle by the end, but the sheer volume of memorable (and memorably terrible) television that bears his name ensures that his place in the annals of pop culture has been cemented.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Zaki's Review: Rosewater

For his feature directing debut, Rosewater, longtime Daily Show host and "most trusted newsman in America" Jon Stewart made the somewhat counter-intuitive decision to sidestep the comedy genre entirely. Instead, he chose to tell the true-life story of Newsweek reporter Maziar Bahari, who spent 118 days in an Iranian prison following that country's tumultuous 2009 elections, which saw accusations of Florida 2000-esque shenanigans following the electoral victory of Mahmoud Ahmedinajad (with the Ayatollah essentially filling the king-maker role the Supreme Court played here).

Continue reading at AltMuslim...

INTERVIEW: Jon Stewart & Maziar Bahari on Rosewater

For fifteen years, Jon Stewart has been "America's Most Trusted Newsman" as host of Comedy Central's The Daily Show, even as he'd be the first to tell you he's not an actual newsman. When it came time to branch out from his Daily Show desk two summers ago Stewart instead chose to get behind the camera, writing and directing Rosewater, the screen adaptation of journalist Maziar Bahari's harrowing memoir Then They Came for Me, chronicling his 118 days in an Iranian prison in 2009

That prison stay was at least tangentially tied to an appearance Bahari made on The Daily Show , the video of which was used as evidence against Bahari as "proof" he was a spy. Given that connection, I wondered how responsible Stewart felt for what Bahari went through, and when the two came to San Francisco to talk up the film, that was what I led with. Read on for the answer, as well as more highlights from our roundtable conversation:

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Diffused Congruence: Our Lunch With Dean Obeidallah

We start off episode thirteen with audio from Zaki's roundtable interview with Daily Show host Jon Stewart on his feature directing debut, the based-on-true-events Iranian prison drama Rosewater. After that, listen to Parvez and Zaki's lunchtime conversation with comedian and political commentator Dean Obeidallah as we cover a whole host of topics, including his time at Saturday Night Live, what drew him to comedy, and the portrayal of Muslims in media post-9/11. You can download or stream the show below, or listen at iTunes (don't forget to leave us a review!) and Stitcher Radio. As always, feel free to send any comments or questions our way at or via our Facebook page!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Go Read It!

Yesterday I posted an article fondly looking back at the '60s Batman TV series on the occasion of its long-awaited home video release. Check it out over at HuffPo.

The MovieFilm Podcast: Episode 58

After a weeklong break, the boys are back, and with plenty to discuss! First up, Brian shares his thoughts on seeing Steven Spielberg's 1941 for the first time, and after that I weigh in on the 1966 Batman TV series getting a high-definition blu-ray release. From there, listen to a snippet from my sit-down with Daily Show host Jon Stewart on his new directorial effort, Rosewater, and talk some of the latest headlines out of Hollywood, including Marvel's big "Phase 3" plans and the title for the much-anticipated Star Wars: Episode VII. Then it's onto the main event for this ep, as we share our takes on the new Michael Keaton starrer Birdman, and then dive deep into Christopher Nolan's epic new film Interstellar, starring Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway, and discuss why it may be a 2014 favorite for both of them. Listen to it all below! 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, November 09, 2014

Nostalgia Theater: Alien Nation -- A Buddy Cop Show With a Sci-Fi Twist

Gary Graham (L) and Eric Pierpoint (R)
The very best kind of science fiction works by using a fantastical palette to tell stories aimed at illuminating the human condition. On television, that's why The Twilight Zone worked. That's also why the original Star Trek worked so well. I'm pretty sure Alien Nation arrived with a similar set of goals in mind, and while it didn't quite achieve the same lasting degree of longevity as those hallowed brands, I think it managed the feat pretty well, all things considered. Of course, before it ended up on TV, Alien Nation (ah, I love a good punny title) first debuted as a theatrical feature in 1988, directed by Graham Baker and released by Fox. Check out the trailer:

Friday, November 07, 2014

SCOTUS Gets Second Bite at Obamacare?

In a move that's come as a surprise to many, this morning the Supreme Court agreed to hear another challenge to the Affordable Care Act. While we all assumed the Court had issued its final word on the law, the lodestone of President Obama's legacy, with a 2012 decision that left it largely intact by preserving the individual mandate, this new challenge takes aim at the federal subsidies allowing those with low incomes to purchase insurances from federal exchanges. Call me cynical, but I find it at least a little bit suspect that the SCOTUS agrees to this challenge mere days after a midterm election rout that virtually ensures no legislative fixes for the law anytime soon. Like I said. Suspect. Regardless, for a pretty solid overview of what's at issue -- and what's at stake -- read this piece at Vox by Adrianna McIntyre.

Episodic Awakening

I posted this on Facebook yesterday, but just for the sake of posterity, here it is as well. The title for the upcoming Star Wars: Episode VII was announced via Twitter by Disney yesterday upon completion of principle photography. Behold: The Force Awakens. I've gotten a few messages since yesterday asking what I think, and I can't say I really have any strong feelings either way. I'm not blown away, but I'm sure it'll grown on me like even the clunkiest episode titles (Attack of the Clones) eventually did (even though the movie itself never did, in that case). The actual bar this new flick needs to clear with me is that it be good, and hey, at least C-3PO says it will be. So that's nice.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

How Batman Finally Hit Home Vid

Just over two years ago, I wrote a Nostalgia Theater post fondly reminiscing about the 1960s Batman TV series, starring Adam West and Burt Ward. At the close of that piece, I mentioned the legal standoff that had prevented the show from coming to home video, a standoff that wasn't in danger of de-escalating anytime soon. Well, next week the day so many fans have hoped for is finally dawning, with the official, honest-to-goodness release of Batman in beautiful HD. While I was ecstatic when this news first broke earlier this year, I was also more than a little curious how the parties involved managed to cut through the Gordian tangle of legalese that had kept the Batmobile on blocks until now. Well, Jake Rossen at Wired has an in-depth article that looks at the multi-decade journey through the world of Hollywood contracts that got us to this point. Click here to read it.

Ten Years on the Corner!

In all the workaday business of being a grownup, I forgot to note an anniversary of note yesterday, as I hit the ten year mark of maintaining and running this site. On November 4, 2004, my general dissatisfaction with George W. Bush getting re-elected prompted me to start Zaki's Corner, just so that I'd have my little piece of Internet real estate to vent my spleen about issues various and sundry, political and otherwise. Of course, there have been several more elections since then, some with preferred outcomes, some not so much, and I'm not gonna lie, I look back at some of those earlier political pieces where I was railing against the Bush administration, and I do cringe a little bit.

Not because I disagree with the sentiment, mind you, but because of the way many of those sentiments are expressed. I guess that's only natural when move from your mid-20s to your mid-30s, and are essentially keeping a semi-daily catalogue of that process. It's also interesting to see the issues that seemed so important to me back then which have floated off my radar, and the things that are currently on my front burner that I didn't spend much time on at all in the early goings. 

Regardless, being able to write here, to share time with you all, has been this amazing vehicle for both personal and professional growth in ways I never would have conceived of when I first started this whole operation. The Huffington Post happened because of this. Geek Wisdom happened because of this. The MovieFilm Podcast. Diffused Congruence. Real, lasting friendships have happened because of this. None of that is about me, mind you. It's about the loyal readers who've been with me since the beginning and who've jumped on since. Thanks to all of you for being with me on this trek. It's been ten years, but I don't have any intention of going anywhere just yet.

Monday, November 03, 2014

Shadow Government

Another winner from John Oliver, as he takes an extended, hilarious look at what's really at stake in the upcoming election this Tuesday. While all eyes are focused on which way the Senate will fall, there are thousands of uncontested races playing out across the country at the local level, where no one is really paying attention, but where a whole lot more is happening in terms of problematic legislation actually becoming law. As Oliver ably sums up at the end, it's hard to be angry with people whose names we don't know, but maybe we'll start paying more attention after watching this:

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Nostalgia Theater: One of the All-Time Greats

I woke up this morning with the unexplainable urge to binge-watch Looney Tunes cartoons while munching on a Hershey's bar. Well, not that unexplainable, as I happened to I re-discover the following commercial last night while spelunking through the cavernous recesses of YouTube (one of the joys of being hyper-caffeinated late Saturday night while the kids and the wife are asleep). I used to love this spot when I was a kid, watching Saturday AM cartoons in the early '90s (which is when it got heavy rotation), and I'm sure those of you of a similar vintage will feel those neurons a-firing once you click "play." Watch this:

One Year Ago in Nostalgia Theater: The Secret Force of Pole Position

Two Years Ago in Nostalgia Theater: James Bond Jr. Will Not Return

Friday, October 31, 2014

From The Onion...

Again, just this side of satire.
Traumatized Nation Terrified To Make Its Voice Heard In Another Election
From the piece:
“When I think back to past years—whether it’s ’86, ’88, ’94, ’02, ’04, 2010, or 2012—I realize that pretty much every time I’ve spoken up, I’ve been badly hurt,” said Dayton, OH resident Kellan Avery, adding that the mere thought of scanning a list of candidates and selecting one filled him with a profound sense of terror. “You want to voice your opinion, you really do, but as soon as you say your piece—wham!—they slap you right back down again. And these people are supposed to be there for us. It just…it breaks you down.”
Read the rest here.

Koch Fiends

Earlier this week Jon Stewart found out the Koch Brothers are advertisers on The Daily Show. This is what happened next:

Monday, October 27, 2014

Recommended Reading

Slate's John Dickerson tells us what this upcoming election is really about. Short version: Not much.

Sugar Why

Another good one from John Oliver's HBO skein Last Week Tonight. This time the comedian tackles the ins-and-outs of the sugar industry, which has the average American consuming an annual 75 pounds of the sweet stuff. (Just typing that makes my teeth hurt.) Check out the vid below:

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Nostalgia Theater: The Cult of Urkel

A few weeks ago I linked to a Key & Peele sketch that nicely encapsulates the bizarre transmogrification undergone by the sitcom Family Matters (which premiered on ABC in fall of '89) as it metamorphosed from "blue collar Cosby Show" to a weekly showcase for nerdy next-door-neighbor Steve Urkel. With his "Did I do that?" catchphrase and cartoonish appearance, he was a marketer's wet dream, even as he flew in the face of the show's entire aesthetic.

It wasn't long before the character, intended as a one-off guest spot, came to dominate the whole thing, shooting all credibility to the four corners as he and series star Reginald VelJohnson engaged in increasingly outlandish escapades (seriously, that skit was just barely exaggerating). It's easy now, with twenty years of remove, to look back and wonder what the heck they were thinking, but being in the middle of it, actually living through the Cult of Urkel, was another matter again.

For some perspective, here's the intro for Family Matters' first season:

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The MovieFilm Podcast: Episode 57

For this week's show, we start things out by discussing HBO new a la carte online plans, as well as the new Simpsons World app that offers every episode from that show's multi-decade history. After that, listen to my interview with up-and-coming actress Mikaela Hoover, who appeared in Guardians of the Galaxy last summer, and has a new webseries entitled Zombie Basement on the way.

From there, it's on to headlines: The hot trailer for Avengers: Age of Ultron just dropped, and we unpack it, as well as the news that Robert Downey Jr. signing to appear in more Marvel films, DC's overloaded slate of superhero movies, and Johnny Depp's questionable costume choice for the upcoming Into the Woods. After that it's the main event, with the guys explaining why they liked -- but didn't love -- the new Brad Pitt starrer Fury.

Of course, there's plenty more than that, and you can listen to it all below! 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!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

What I Did Today

From December of 2004 to now, I've linked to clips from or discussed The Daily Show 150 times on this blog. 150. That should give some sense of what a huge influence on my work, personality and overall worldview Jon Stewart has been over the years. That's also why the pic below, taken during today's press junket for Stewart's new film Rosewater, means so much to me. Look out for the text and audio from our conversation very soon. Man, what a world.

The Avengers 2 Trailer is Here!

Is it already time for Marvel Studios to start promoting their next big box office behemoth? (checks calendar) Hmm, guess so. Avengers: Age of Ultron, the sequel to the third biggest box office hit of all time is queued up to rock the box office next May, and based on the assemblage below, we're in for more of what we dug about movie one, albeit with a much darker tinge. We get good looks at all the returning favorites (including Iron Man wearing one of my fave armor configurations), plus newbies Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor Johnson) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), not to mention Ultron, the CGI baddie with the James Spader voice. Joss Whedon directed again, and it'll be in theaters next May. Not too much else I really need to say here. Looks sweet. Watch it after the jump:

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Nostalgia Theater: Double Dragon -- Good Game, Terrible Cartoon, Worse Movie

Anyone who grew up in the '80s and had some degree of interest in the video game scene is familiar with Double Dragon. The quintessential beat 'em up game, it first hit arcades in 1987, and is well known for its side-scrolling street-fighting antics, with our heroes, martial artist brothers Jimmy & Billy Lee, making their way through various gangland environs and dispatching various street toughs while attempting to rescue their ladyfriend. See some of the gameplay below:

Thursday, October 16, 2014

From The Onion...

Entire Conversation With Parents Spent Changing The Subject 
SEATTLE—Deftly switching from topic to topic from the moment he answered his phone until ending the call 20 minutes later, local man Andrew Heltman reportedly spent the entirety of a recent conversation with his parents changing the subject. “Yeah, things are fine at work, the usual—but hey, aren’t you guys leaving for vacation soon?” said Heltman, 26, who while speaking to his father did nothing but redirect discussions of his career, personal finances, and political views to more innocuous areas such as the Kansas City Royals’ postseason run and Ken Burns’ recent documentary series The Roosevelts. “No, I’m still not sure what my plans are for Thanksgiving yet. You going to invite Aunt Jean? How’s she doing?” Once the phone was handed over to his mother, sources confirmed Heltman spent the remainder of the call steering the conversation away from his romantic life with repeated inquiries about the family dog.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Ebola Facts

There's been a lot of hysteria over the past few days regarding the perceived threat of Ebola and the supposed complicity of our government in its supposed spread. A lot of that noise has been emanating from the Fox News crowd, so you wonder if Fox anchor Shep Smith was to speaking to his colleagues or his viewers earlier today when he stated firmly, "We do not have an outbreak of Ebola in the United States." Watch:

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

INTERVIEW: Co-Creator Mike Shoemaker on Hulu's The Awesomes

Hulu's The Awesomes just wrapped its second season (directed by my best bud Sean Coyle!), but as co-creator Mike Shoemaker explains, there's still plenty of super-comedic action on the way for the animated offering, which features voice work by comedy greats such as Seth Myers (also co-creator of the show), Bill Hader, Kenan Thompson, and many more. Shoemaker, a lifelong comic book buff, first conceived of the idea along with Meyers in the early 2000s when the pair was working on Saturday Night Live. But as he explains, the show's journey from concept to cult favorite was long and circuitous before finally becoming a Hulu original. Keep reading for some highlights of our conversation:

Monday, October 13, 2014

Oliver: How is Columbus Day Still a Thing?

With schools mostly open on Columbus Day, I just experienced the single way the "holiday" has any remaining relevance in my life when I swung by the post office only to realize too late that it was closed. As such, I found more than a little to relate to in this vid from John Oliver's HBO show asking why Christopher Columbus is still being feted annually given the...questionable state of his so-called accomplishments.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Urkel Effect

My video of the week. Key & Peele on how '90s sitcom Family Matters transmogrified from a low-key family comedy into "Goddamn Quantum Leap!" (Some salty language, so be aware of where and with whom you're watching.)

Nostalgia Theater: ExoSquad -- Warfare, Bigotry, and Genocide on Weekday Mornings

ExoSquad was an animated series that lasted for 52 episodes from 1993 to 1994, which no one seems to remember today. Produced by Universal Cartoon Studies, it was a sci-fi strip at least partially inspired by Japanese anime, and despite the fact that it came wrapped in the bright colors and limited production values that typified stateside animation of the era (not to mention being primarily intended to sell toys), it managed to serve up some pretty compelling serialized storylines trafficking in themes like genetic engineering, slavery, bigotry, open warfare, and even genocide. High falutin' stuff for kidvid! Here's the intro, which lays out the premise pretty well:

Saturday, October 11, 2014

INTERVIEW: Director David Dobkin on The Judge

Thanks to such films as Wedding Crashers and Fred Claus, David Dobkin has earned a reputation as being primarily a comedy director, but as he revealed in our chat discussing his new project The Judge, in theaters now, starring Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall, his interests as a filmmaker are fare more eclectic.

The intergenerational family drama, written by Nick Schenk and Bill Dubuque from a story by Dobkin himself, features Downey as hotshot defense attorney Hank Palmer, who is forced back to his Indiana hometown following his mother's death, and must work through lingering issues with his father, no-nonsense Judge Joseph Palmer (Duvall).

The Judge also has such respected performers as Vincent D'Onofrio and Vera Farmiga in the cast, and my first question for the director was regarding the top-tier talent he had lined up in front of the camera, including two of the greatest actors of all time headlining. Read on for his answer, as well as other highlights of our conversation:

Friday, October 10, 2014

Diffused Congruence: Parvez & Zaki Celebrate One Year!

After last week's debate about Islam and Muslims between Bill Maher and Ben Affleck (which conspicuously had no Muslims actually involved in the conversation), we celebrate one year of the Diffused Congruence Podcast by chatting about the rise of anti-Muslim and Islamophobic invective from mainstream media figures, and why this podcast is meant at least partially as a response to that. In addition, we also delve into the secret origins of the show, and and what we hope to achieve going forward. Download or stream the show below, or 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, October 09, 2014

The MovieFilm Podcast: Episode 56

In this week's show, the guys make plans to leave Gotham, discuss whether Robert Downey Jr. will/should make another Iron Man movie, and the news that Paul Feig has signed on to direct an all-female Ghostbusters cast. We also unpack the all-new animated series Star Wars Rebels, and Brian explains to me why I should watch David Fincher's latest, Gone Girl. But that's not all! We also have an exclusive conversation with director David Dobkin about his new film The Judge, opening Friday. As always, hit up iTunes and Stitcher to write us a review, and hit "like" on our Facebook page to tell us how we're doing!

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Recommended Reading

Max Fisher at Vox runs us through the gauntlet of recent cringe-worthy cable news segments to make the point that these orgs are instrumental in fostering a pretty toxic (and uncritically tolerated) air of Islamophobia which could, per Fisher, "further normalize bigotry against Muslims in America, making it the default."

Monday, October 06, 2014

Recommended Reading

H.A. Goodman says Ben Affleck was right and Bill Maher was wrong in that Real Time kerfuffle last Friday. Click over to read why.

Once Upon a Time in the West

As you know, The West Wing is up there as one of my favorite TV series of all-time, and the only show I've watched the whole way through multiple times. (Here's what I said when it wrapped up back in 2006.) Well, hard as it is to believe, this fall marks fifteen years since the Aaron Sorkin-created political drama first aired on NBC. To celebrate this auspicious moment, James Dyer of Empire has compiled the definitive oral history of the series, getting on-the-record remembrances from just about everyone who was ever associated with the skein for lengthy deep-dive of a read that any fan needs to set aside time for.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Nostalgia Theater: The Flash's First TV Series

One of my prize possessions, natch
This Tuesday sees the premiere of the CW's The Flash, a spin-off of their successful Arrow, but of course, this isn't the first time the DC Comics' hero has raced to the small screen. After Tim Burton's Batman broke box office (and merchandising!) records in 1989, we saw a miniature version of the same superhero fever we're experiencing right now, with various related and competing properties being fast-tracked at various venues to try and capture some of those sweet, sweet Bat-bucks. The Flash ended up being the first beneficiary of this fervor, hitting screens in fall of 1990 on CBS after being developed by Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo (who wrote the excellent, underrated feature The Rocketeer and would go on to produce another DC Comics-based show, 1992's The Human Target).

Here's the intro of the resultant series: