Saturday, June 27, 2009

Zaki's Review: Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

The first Transformers worked. Inexplicably, it turns out.

The second Transformers doesn't. Inevitably, it turns out.

As I sat watching Revenge of the Fallen, the second silver screen outing for the evergreen Hasbro toyline, a most peculiar thing began to happen. I could actually feel myself aging right out of the target demo.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Michael Jackson, RIP

King of Pop Deat at 12

LOS ANGELES—Michael Jackson, a talented child performer known for his love of amusement park rides and his hobby of collecting exotic animals for his Neverland Ranch, died from sudden cardiac arrest Thursday at the age of 12. The prepubescent singer, who enjoyed playing dress-up and often referred to himself as "the King of Pop," was celebrated for his na├»ve exuberance and his generosity toward other children. "This is a terrible loss for music and for all of us," brother Jermaine Jackson said. "He had so much potential to blossom into a gracious and mature human being. As it is, the world will never know the genius Michael Jackson might have become had he grown up." The singer leaves behind a large body of hits, 25,000 unopened toys, and nearly $400 million of debt.
Too soon?

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Recommended Reading

Back on the ol' laptop for this one. With the discussion on public health care beginning to heat up (and by "heat up" I actually mean "cool down"), Robert Reich has posted a list of suggestions it might be helpful for President Obama to save in his beloved Blackberry.

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Great iPod Experiment

I just downloaded an app from the iTunes store that will, in theory, allow me to post to my blog whenever I have my iPod and an Internet connection. If you're reading this, I guess it worked. Consider yourself duly honored, as you've shared in something momentous.

Salvation Through Laughter

The folks at The Editing Room hit it out of the park last year with their hysterically funny Indiana Jones parody script, and they don't disappoint now with a brilliant send-up of Terminator Salvation.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


And perfectly putting the pin in this particular story...

Oh Captain, My Captain

About two years and three months ago I posted a brief entry on the then-unfolding "Death of..." storyline in Marvel Comics' Captain America book, depicting the assassination of Steve "Cap" Rogers through the machinations of his longtime foe the Red Skull. As envisaged by writer Ed Brubaker (in one of the best ever runs in the character's lengthy history) the comic book storyline has since shifted to Rogers' presumed dead/now-returned sidekick Bucky Barnes assuming the red/white/blue togs of his fallen mentor. Surprisingly, it's remained just as involving and engrossing without Rogers in the preeminent role, but this being comics and all, we knew it was just a matter of time until a move back towards the status quo was made. I ended my initial blog post by asking, very rhetorically, when is he coming back? And now we know: July 1st.


This past Monday, David Letterman gave it one more go at putting the whole Palin kerfuffle behind him with what is, by all appearances, a sincere and humble apology -- again. Observe it here.

Now observe the mouth-breathers who showed up at Letterman's CBS Studios in New York for a "rally" calling for his ouster (and I put "rally" in quotes because I'm not sure fifteen people makes for much of a rally). History has shown us already that these pro-Palin events tend to really bring out the loons, and this one didn't disappoint, with an extra-crispy brand of crazy on display:

Palin must be so proud to have supporters like this.

(And here's Letterman's Top Ten List from last night poking fun at the protest.)

Monday, June 15, 2009


Just a brief note to mark what is probably an utterly insignificant achievement in the blog world (and even less so in the real world), but momentous to me nonetheless. If you take a gander at the "Followers" box to the right, you'll note that I've now hit 300 subscribers. I'll assume that the number of subscriptions isn't so much an indication of any inherent quality here as it is a reflection of my shameless self-promotion at every possible opportunity, regardless of appropriateness. Seriously, I'm like an Amway guy. Anyway, just so it's preserved for posterity...

Saturday, June 13, 2009


We're coming up on a month now since Terminator Salvation, the third sequel to James Cameron's 1984 original, came to theaters, and if box office totals are any indication, I wasn't alone in greeting it with a shrug. After struggling mightily to cross the $100 million mark (itself increasingly irrelevant in this age of skyrocketing costs), the much-ballyhooed sequel will top out with an embarrassingly meager take of $135 mil or so, well short of its $200 mil-plus budget, effectively spelling the end of the Terminator movies for the time being.

It wasn't supposed to be like that, of course. This was supposed to be a franchise reinvention in the mold of the Nolan Batmans, or the Craig Bonds, or even the Abrams Trek. In fact, if you're a died-in-the-wool Terminator fan, then the month of May in general wasn't very good for you between Salvation's flame-out and the much-hyped, little-watched TV series The Sarah Connor Chronicles meeting its own Judgment Day after being canceled in the middle of a cliffhanger. It's a little sad to look at these continued diminished returns, where one of the most hallowed, revered brands in sci-fi and filmdom is reduced to a mere footnote.

I don't have near enough experience with the show to have an informed opinion, but while I didn't hate Salvation, by no means should that be interpreted to imply that the opposite is true as well. The fact that I couldn't even be arsed to write a review should serve as testament to the general level of apathy I felt as I walked out of the multiplex, and continue to feel now as I sit typing this. Not so much a review, this is more a meditation on the continued Hollywood propensity towards strip-mining properties of any perceived value, as reflected through the lens of The Terminator.

Given the distance of several weeks since its release, I've had plenty of opportunities to summarize my impressions on the film, and the only thing I can really bring myself to do is pity poor, poor Joe McGinty. He tried. He really tried. When McGinty, known to fan and foe alike as the director McG, signed on to helm, there were hoots and hollers from Terminator fans in particular and film fans in general, and bloggers the world over had their fingers poised, ready to deride when the signal was given. He was, after all, the man who'd inflicted two successively awful Charlie's Angels movies on an unsuspecting public. Plus, he made the really boneheaded decision to adopt a cutesy-poo nickname as an alias.

Either one of these would have been a tough cross to bear, but taken together they became darn near insurmountable. I think it was because of this double-whammy, and the lowered expectations that came with, that I found myself -- despite myself -- actually rooting for the guy. Interview after interview, he asked, pleaded even, to be given a chance. Don't judge him on what he's done, judge him on what he will do. Fair enough, I thought. And as pictures and trailers and more continued to work their way out leading up to the big release, I had cause for optimism. The production design indeed looked impressive, the stunts indeed looked spectacular, and it starred Christian Bale in the lead for goodness sake! He wouldn't do a bad movie, right?

And the answer is no, he wouldn't. He would, however, do a mediocre one, and that's what Terminator Salvation ended up being. Despite an absolutely massive effort to clear the bar that the Terminator franchise had previously set, what McGinty has done is to pack the movie with enough whiz-bang and spectacle to carry you through it and not make your brain ache until after you've gone home, gotten a good night's sleep, and sat down with your Corn Flakes the next morning. After that -- hoo-boy -- get ready to break out the Tylenol.

The broader point though, and one that I've become increasingly cognizant of as I get older and I see more and more revered franchises from yesteryear trotted out for remakes, reboots, or (God help us) "re-imaginings," is that maybe it's okay to just leave well enough alone sometimes. Certain stories are simply meant to stand as is. No part two. No trilogy. No TV series. Just a beginning, middle, and end. Certainly as it pertains to Cameron's Terminator -- the first one and (arguably) the best -- that's very much the case.

Here was a film expressly not intended to be sequelized into franchise heaven. It told a story, a specific story, about the immutability of fate, and how love can transcend time, and that was it. Credits roll, fade to black. The fact that Cameron was able to squeeze another entry out of that with 1991's Judgment Day is a testament to his own creativity, making an end-run around his own concept to "fit." The fact that they were able to get another sequel to that was in turn a testament to the solid conceptual foundation Cameron had laid, even without his continued involvement.

Nevertheless, as much as I enjoyed both Terminator 2 and Terminator 3 (yes, even Terminator 3), neither adds anything to the simple finality of the first movie, thus both were (and are) essentially unnecessary. Of course, I'm not naive enough to think that Hollywood isn't just as much about "business" as it is about "show," but the key to any sequel isn't just to make money to ensure yet another sequel, it's to build on the original while maintaining fidelity to it, otherwise you end up with a purely monetary exercise. Sadly, such is now the case with The Terminator. It's become Planet of the Apes. It's become RoboCop. A brilliant, done-in-one story that's subsequently watered down and watered down through add-ons that extend the brand but diminish the simple power of the original.

Does the premature end of Sarah Connor and the limp box office fate of Salvation spell the end of The Terminator as a brand? I doubt it. If not right away, then somewhere down the line it'll be jolted back to Frankensteinian life in hopes of squeezing more blood from the stone, just like they're even now planning to do with the aforementioned Apes and RoboCop. There's too much money at stake for them not to try. But it is, however, the end of The Terminator as a concept with anything substantive to say. After Salvation, it's become something that, however technically proficient, is nonetheless utterly soulless and ruthlessly mechanical. How bitterly ironic.

Recommended Reading

GOP strategist Mike Murphy on the demographic realities conspiring to ensure that -- barring a sudden paradigm shift -- the Republicans will have an extended stay out of the White House and in the congressional minority.

Friday, June 12, 2009

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Sarah?

No shocker if you follow this blog, but I'm not a Sarah Palin fan. I've never been a Sarah Palin fan. My first real exposure to her was with her "coming out" speech at the Republican Convention last fall, and it's been downhill since. It's reached a point now where whenever I hear her voice, an unbidden chill runs down my back. Not just from what she's saying, but yeah, from the way she says it. Nonetheless, I have some friends, die hard Republicans, who are (rather bafflingly) equally die hard in their Palin fervor.

Now, in a Republican field that's so devoid of marquee names that they're turning to El Rushbo to dictate policy, I suppose that's understandable, but it seems to me that her brand of hypocritical moralizing is everything the GOP should want to separate itself from in these days of ever-dwindling returns. In her case, it's both the message and the messenger that's toxic. The spectacle that's currently playing out between she and David Letterman exemplifies everything I'm talking about, as she pulls the outrage card beyond all reasonable measure in hopes of getting just a little bit more media face-time to feign indignation over an "offense" that any reasonable person would have brushed to the side one apology ago.

Come on.

I think Robert Elisberg over at Huffington Post bullseyes the Palin Problem far better than I, so just jump over there and give it a read (thanks to me for posting the link).

G.I. Dunno

The bad news keeps coming for the big screen G.I. Joe. Read the rumors here, including the spin-tastic comments from producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura, and make up your own mind. For my part, I've heard from enough sources with no dog in the fight that this thing is a stinker, which saddens me to no end. Really, it's been a race to the bottom with every piece of news that's leaked out, starting with the hiring of Stephen Sommers to direct and working outward from there, like ripples in a pond.

The exception for me has been the casting, which I consider mostly solid except for the unfortunate choice of the vacant Channing Tatum for the not-inconsequential role of lead soldier Duke. Still, I have to think that the trainwreck(s) currently unfolding (behind-the-scenes turmoil and toxic word of mouth) have moved this flick into Worst Case Scenario territory for the Paramount execs who greenlit the thing. Right now they must be thanking their lucky stars that they had Star Trek last month and Transformers in a few weeks to shore up the ol' balance sheets.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

David Carradine, RIP

Very sad to hear of the passing of David Carradine, known to one generation as the pacifist martial artist Kwai Chang Caine, who headlined TV's Kung Fu in '70s, and known to another as the titular "Bill" of Tarentino's Kill Bill series. Though Carradine was part of acting royalty that included (but wasn't limited to) father John, brother Keith, and niece Ever, my first exposure to him was in the 1980s with reruns of Kung Fu I used to watch growing up in Saudi Arabia. For me, he continued to embody the spirit and serenity of that character long after it had left the air (and after its '90s successor, The Legend Continues, had run its course), which is why the news of his passing is made doubly sad, and a little confusing, with the knowledge that it was a suicide. I don't know what demons he was battling that led him to this point, but I hope his family is able to make their own peace with his choice.