Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Zaki's Review: Sherlock Holmes

The recipe behind Warner Brothers' big budget redo of Sherlock Holmes is deceptively simple. Start with a familiar brand that's been out of the public eye for awhile. Add a critically adored star on the popular upswing. Sprinkle in a few well-liked supporting players. Top things off with a quirky director in need of a mainstream breakthrough. Heat, stir, and voilĂ . Brand new franchise, ready to serve. It all seems so...elementary.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Zaki's Review: Avatar

The one thing you can't say about Avatar, director James Cameron's return to mainstream filmmaking after twelve long years toiling in the salt mines of IMAX docos, is that it lacks for sheer audaciousness -- in execution, if not content.

In an age when high-def TVs and Blu-Ray players have made the home viewing experience an increasingly appealing alternative, this is the Titanic helmer's defiant challenge to apathetic filmgoers to stake out a seat in a crowded multiplex and experience his epic the right way: In front of an IMAX screen, with state-of-the-art 3D projection.

I suppose if anyone has earned the right to boss his audience around, it's James Cameron.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

What Would Teddy Think?

The senate's ongoing, debilitating negotiations with (read: obeisance to) anti-reformers like Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson has seen a potentially strong health care bill steadily chipped and whittled away by compromises both material and moral. In the process, staunch, vocal reform advocates like Howard Dean are saying to kill what the bill has become and start over through reconciliation, while staunch, vocal reform advocates like Anthony Weiner and Tom Harkin are saying to work with and build on what they've got.

Given that these are all voices I respect on this issue, it's hard not to be left feeling a little bit whiplashed (hopefully that doesn't count as a pre-existing condition). Through it all however, the one question that's been continually on my mind has been that of the late Ted Kennedy's hypothetical vote. Kennedy, whose lifelong pursuit of meaningful reform remained tantalizingly out of reach, famously said after some very, very close calls that the "perfect" shouldn't become the enemy of the "good."

So how "good" would he think things are right now? Although we'll never get a definitive answer to that, we may have gotten one that's as close to definitive as possible thanks to this op-ed penned by Kennedy's widow, Vicki. Mrs. Kennedy makes the case that this bill, as damaged as it may well be, would still be enough of an improvement on the status quo that it's worth supporting. I'm still unsure of where I stand on this, but I have to admit that as far as affirmative arguments go, this is a pretty compelling one.

Thursday, December 17, 2009


Twenty years ago tonight saw Fox air a Christmas special featuring characters spun-off from its critically-beloved, popularly-ignored sketch comedy series The Tracy Ullman Show.

At the risk of re-stating what is common knowledge to most, the special was "Simpsons Roasting on Open Fire," and the characters were the Simpsons. The half-hour series that arose following the special's success began a run that fall that has continued uninterrupted to this very day, generating billions of dollars in syndication, box office, and licensing revenues in its wake.

Even though The Simpsons has been mediocre-to-bad for longer than it's been good (which I'm not alone in feeling), those twenty years of history have given the show an air of cultural permanence afforded only to national monuments or Saturday Night Live. Though these days it's something of an elder statesman of primetime fare, I can remember quite clearly -- almost wistfully -- those heady early months when George Bush Sr. criticized the show for its lack of values, and when "Bart Simpson: Underachiever" t-shirts became a proud talisman of preteen rebellion.

Twenty years. Crap, I'm old.

Iron Mania

We got the poster a few weeks ago, and now the footage is here. Although it's making its debut in theaters this weekend (probably in front of Avatar), Paramount and Marvel have also been nice enough to post the teaser trailer for Iron Man 2 in all its HD-Quicktimey goodness.

In addition to reaquainting us with the smarmy Tony Stark bravado that Downey Jr. embodied so well, the trailer also gives us our first in-motion looks at Mickey Rourke's baddie Whiplash and Scarlett Johannson's Black Widow, as well as glimpses of Sam Rockwell as rival industrialist Justin Hammer, and Don Cheadle decked out in his War Machine finest.

Of course, the danger here is that it'll end up being overstuffed and unwieldy like Spider-Man 3 from a few year back -- which may still end up being the case. Here's hoping Jon Favreau has learned from Sam Raimi's missteps.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


Watching the health care debate for the past week, with the Dems standing in a circle and opening fire, has been as depressing as its been utterly predictable. The final straw seems to have been the loss not just of the public option, but the Medicare buy-in proposed as an alternative (thank Senator Lieberman for that one). This in turn has prompted a great many progressive voices -- up till now staunch supporters of health care reform -- to jump ship, Howard Dean most prominent among them. I'm not sure I'm at the point yet where I think it's a good idea to squash the thing and just start over (especially after douchebag moves like Tom Coburn's today on the Senate floor) but Glenn Greenwald, with gaze focused laser-like at 1600 Pennsylvania, sure doesn't fill me with confidence based on his appraisal of the situation.

Monday, December 07, 2009

The Mile Lie Club

A new meme began to make the rounds in Rightie Blogworld over the weekend, propelled mostly by the delightful Debbie Schlussel (described elsewhere as -- ouch! -- "The Poor Man's Ann Coulter"). Reading like some kind of neocon wet dream given electronic form, it's the "heroic" account via e-mail of one Ted Petruna by one Ted Petruna.

In the e-mail, the NASA employee breathlessly recounts how he bravely led the charge in tossing certain undesirable (read: Muslim) elements from an airplane he happened to be on. Here, said Ms. Schlussel with barely-concealed glee, was all the proof we needed to expose the Big Bad Muslim Booga-Booga hiding under our collective bed. Of course, all it took from me was a basic understanding of human behavior to read Petruna's story and say, "Yeah, that didn't happen."

And wouldn't you know, it didn't.

Seems Petruna concocted the whole thing to forward around and impress his circle of what must surely be fellow intellectuals. Even better, once it got out and the essential elements of the story were not only questioned but actually disproved, he still stands by the lie! Given the racist scaremongering involved in this story, I have to admit to some barely-concealed glee of my own at seeing this ignorant idiot hoisted with his own petard.

Left Behind

Matt Taibbi on birthers, Sarah Palin, and the American left (or "left," as it were).