Friday, December 31, 2010

A Look Back in Islamophobia

In the spirit of my previous post, Talking Points Memo has taken a walk down memory lane with a fond look back at the way the "Ground Zero Mosque" hubbub last summer ignited a wave of semi-related anti-Muslim rhetoric (and incidents) across the country.  Remember Pastor Terry Jones and the great Qur'an (non) burning in Florida?  How 'bout the anti-mosque movement in Tennessee?  Now you can revisit all those good times and many more.  Of course, the TPM folks don't even get to the Islamophobic congressional campaign of Renee Ellmers in North Carolina, or Louis Gohmert and his "terror babies" nonsense, or the hysterical paranoia surrounding a proposed mosque in Temecula, CA.  No doubt there'll be a similar harvest of embarrassments to dissect at the close of next year.

Believe it or not though, while I've spent quite a bit of time covering and commenting on this stuff over the last year (far more than I would have liked, frankly), I staunchly refuse to believe it represents anything close to a plurality of opinions.  My experiences and conversations with people of all political persuasions continues to prove that out, and while some of the invective that's emerged from the most virulent (read: Pamela Geller) circles has been hateful, disgusting, and, yep, hilarious, it's also prompted many responses that've been just as nuanced, insightful, and informative, so I guess you just have to take the good with the bad.  I mean, who knew that Sarah Palin asking Muslims to "refudiate" the Park51 center would lead directly to a discussion that would in turn become my most-read post of all time?  Thanks, Sarah!

The Muslim Batman Flap

It might come as a shock to my longtime readers, but my comic reading has dropped from 20-30 titles a month to practically nil (a rapidly growing family and rapidly shrinking budget will do that) so the current Right Wing freakout over recent events in DC Comics' Batman line of comics had almost entirely passed me by.  The short version: After a several month interregnum during which he was "dead" (which, in comic book terms, has about as much permanence as a rub-on tattoo), millionaire playboy Bruce Wayne has announced to the world that he is funding Gotham City's vigilante hero Batman (unbeknownst to them, he actually is Batman...shhh).  As part of an extended storyline labelled "Batman, Inc." Wayne is seeking out similar masked heroes in all corners of the globe to provide them the financial backing necessary to become their county's very own "Batman."

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Murrow Effect

Remember Jon Stewart's show-long appeal two weeks ago for congress to pass the 9/11 responders' healthcare bill?  Well, one of the more welcome bits of news to emerge from the lame duck legislative session is that it passed (albeit with a substantially lower ticket price than was initially proposed) -- and its success is largely being laid at the feet of Stewart and The Daily Show, with many comparing the late night laugher to the late, legendary newsman Edward R. Murrow, who famously used his broadcast perch to turn public opinion against Senator Joseph McCarthy's anti-Communist witch hunts.  In an article for The New York Times, Bill Carter (whose tome The War For Late Night I just finished, and which I highly recommend) and Brian Stelter examine Stewart's transformative role on this issue, as well as the comedian's own delicate tightrope act between social critic and circus clown.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Muslim Myths

Cracked takes a break from the usual countdowns of wacky products and lame movies that grace the site to tackle the "5 Ridiculous Things You Probably Believe About Islam."  Very funny, and very insightful.  Methinks that guy who wrote that hate blog about me a few months ago should really give it a look-see -- he might just learn something.

Friday, December 17, 2010

"Worst Responders"

Earlier in the week, I linked to Jon Stewart's brilliant takedown of the GOP legislative roadblock that's kept all manner of Senate business from getting resolved before the end of the year.  While "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," the START Treaty, and the DREAM Act have all fallen victim to this trend, the most egregious casualty has surely been the Zadroga bill, which would infuse federal money to address the health problems suffered by 9/11 responders.  That a bill like that can't muster the votes necessary to overcome a filibuster is as baffling as it is unconscionable, and while Stewart touched on it on Monday, he devoted the entirety of last night's show, his last of 2010, to the issue.  Check out part one and two below, then part three, the full interview with guest Mike Huckabee, after the jump.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Worst Responders
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire Blog</a>The Daily Show on Facebook


The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
9/11 First Responders React to the Senate Filibuster
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire Blog</a>The Daily Show on Facebook

Reclaiming the Narrative

The New York Times has a great piece about how the Muslim American community in the SF Bay Area (which I've been proud to call my home for nearly ten years now) is using artistic endeavors to bridge cultural and communicative divides.  My friends Wajahat Ali (whose Domestic Crusaders was just published last week -- buy it here), Illume publisher Javed Ali, musician Baraka Blue, and many other terrifically talented folks all represent, and it's well worth a read.

THOR Unfair to White People. Seriously.

So, remember how I posted that Thor trailer last week and said it looked pretty darn solid? Well, not everyone agreed. And while some have voiced issues with the perceived fealty to the comic books, or the relative merits of the trailer itself, there's one cadre of troglodytic malcontents that's registered its displeasure for more...uh, colorful reasons. Specifically, their hackles are up because the character of Heimdall, one of the many God-folk who populate the comic book realm of Asgard in the Marvel books, is played by actor Idris Elba.

Now, if you read that last sentence and just sort of shrugged your shoulders, or scratched your head then shrugged your shoulders, congratulations, you're a rational human being. Now, for the sake of clarification, let me try connecting the dots for you. See, Elba -- the acclaimed actor most well known for his role on The Wire -- is black. Heimdall -- the not real, never-was-real Norse God -- is white. You see where I'm going with this?  Let's just let the so-called Council of Conservative Citizens take us the rest of the way:

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Favreau Ironed Out

So, the big news that hit the geek wires yesterday was that Iron Man director Jon Favreau is bowing out of the third entry in the hugely-successful series, choosing instead to tackle Disney's promised product placement-palooza The Magic Kingdom. This is somewhat of a surprise considering Favreau's role as executive producer (mostly ceremonial, no doubt) of next summer's Avengers, and especially considering he was laying out plans for the franchise's future as recently as last summer. Beyond that, I don't think one can understate the key role Favreau played in the current Marvel movie renaissance, with his creative choices on the first Iron Man (including going to bat with the studio for star Robert Downey) laying the pipe for almost everything that's followed in its wake.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

"Lame-as-F@#k"

One of the more disgusting sidelights in the already-disgusting tax cut argument that reached its disgusting denouement yesterday was the way that congressional Republicans hitched their lame duck stance on not allowing any legislation to advance unless the first order of business was preventing a 3% tax hike for the country's highest earners.  As Jon Stewart masterfully demonstrated on last night's Daily Show, one welcome side effect of this lockstep obstinacy is that it exposes the rank hypocrisy that's epitomized the GOP's perpetual use and abuse of 9/11 for political purposes in the near-decade since that day's tragic events:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Lame-as-F@#k Congress
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire Blog</a>The Daily Show on Facebook

State of ORDER

It's been awhile now since we've talked Law & Order in these parts. In the interim, Criminal Intent has been readying for its farewell season this Spring on USA, and Special Victims and Los Angeles have both been plugging away to varied creative and ratings results on NBC.  From my personal perspective, it definitely seems like SVU is ramping down, with its exec producer departing, and the iffy prospects of continuing without stars Chris Meloni and Mariska Hargitay (whose contracts expire at season's end).  Meanwhile, Los Angeles -- in its role as the franchise's heir apparent -- has steadily improved since its shaky start, but has yet to find an identity that allows it to truly stand on its own (though maybe that'll change with the show's impending move to Tuesdays at 10).  With all this uncertainty hanging over TV's most resilient brand, Ileane Rudolph at TV Guide again asks the question that seems to pop up every couple of years: Is this the end of the Law & Order era?

Unformed

I meant to post this one sooner, but the last few days kinda got away from me.  Anyway, while discussing the impending third Transformers flick back in June, I mentioned that, at present, I'd "rather stick an icepick in my ear than watch it." I guess the best thing I can say about the teaser trailer for Transformers: Dark of the Moon that dropped last week is that it, while it doesn't move the needle significantly towards "have to see it right now!" it also doesn't put me any closer to "icepick in the ear" territory either.  The little victories...

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Filibusted

Yesterday, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders (who I've always been a pretty big fan of) took to the Senate floor in an eight hour-plus tour de force that saw him standing defiantly (with brief assists from Sens. Sherrod Brown and -- of all people -- Mary Landrieu) against the Obama-GOP tax cut deal that was announced earlier in the week.  While Sanders' stand made for one of the more magnetic moments of parliamentary politicking of late (even crashing the Senate video server at one point due to the many views), it wasn't exactly the "Mr. Smith"-style filibuster that many in the blogosphere quickly pegged it as -- mainly because that kind of filibuster doesn't even exist anymore!  Confused?  Don't worry, Brian Beutler helpfully explains what makes a filibuster a filibuster.  If, like me, you've found yourself frustrated at the slower-than-glacial pace of darn near anything getting done on the Senate floor for the past two years, you should really read it.  Then weep.

Getting Hammered

Things have been a bit quiet on the Thor movie front lately, but that's begun to change this week, first with the very Frank Miller-esque teaser poster to the left, and then with yesterday's release of the first trailer for the film, which Marvel and Paramount have slotted for release into the early May "lead-off" position that Marvel has previously found great success in with Spider-Man, X2, and the two Iron Mans.  The trailer isn't substantially different from the Comic-Con sizzle reel I linked to in July, but since that vid got yanked by Marvel's legals, this is your chance to catch it "for reals."  My comments from back then still apply, with the added observation that I'm feeling this one way more than I was the Green Lantern trailer a few weeks ago.  I'm sure both flicks will be solid, but -- at least for now -- this one has the edge with me going in.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Recommended Reading

One of my favorite deep thinkers, George Lakoff, weighs in on the Democrats' current Obama-induced tax cut nightmare, and how (yet again) they managed to lose control of the narrative.  I have to admit, as a communications instructor, Lakoff's pieces always speak to me in a very personal way, and this one is no exception.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

The Pragmatism Declaration

Yesterday afternoon President Obama held a presser in which he forcefully declared why he negotiated with the Republicans (who he likened to hostage takers -- prompting this "only on Fox News" moment on Bill O'Reilly's show) to extend unemployment benefits for one more year in exchange for extending the George Bush-instigated tax cuts for two more years, even in the face of their clearly debilitative effects on the deficit.  Now, we can go back and forth on whether this was the only move open to him thanks to the chess game he finds himself in, or whether he's just a bad negotiator, but what was most definitely crystallized in Obama's often heated exchange with the press is the same thing that had already come into focus with the public option fight and the "will they/won't they" surrounding the Khalid Sheikh Mohammad trial: Obama defines himself first and foremost by a sense of political pragmatism.  This in itself may not be anything new, but his statement of such while actively rejecting the "sanctimony" and "idealism" of the left makes this a fairly significant moment in the ongoing Obama narrative -- one that David Kurtz over at TPM helps elucidate for us.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Digital Future

Here's some more Back to the Future news following on the heels of the first film's theatrical re-issue and the trilogy's Blu-ray release this past October.  Check out the trailer for the new videogame coming soon from Telltale, with a story from franchise co-creator Bob Gale, and featuring the voices of Christopher Lloyd reprising his signature role of Doc Brown, and AJ LoCascio doing a pretty dead-on impression of Michael J. Fox as Marty McFly.  Very nice.  If you read this site regularly, you know I don't really have much time for videogames, but you also know that I always have time for Back to the Future.

(Get it? Time? Huh? Huh? Where're you going?)

Wishy-Washy

A few weeks back I was haranguing Team Obama for their unwillingness (or inability) to pick a principle on which to stand. Back then it seemed like a self-fulfilling prophecy when I said it was likely the White House would fold on the tax cut battle that's currently consuming Washington, and wouldn't you know, it looks like they're going to fold.  Score one for predictability.  Yet again this proves out the broader point I was making about Obama's perpetual failure to stake out a clear position and defend it.  This is a frustration that's becoming increasingly pronounced among many who've supported him, and Frank Rich articulates it quite well:
The cliché criticisms of Obama are (from the left) that he is a naïve centrist, not the audacious liberal that Democrats thought they were getting, and (from the right) that he is a socialist out to impose government on every corner of American life. But the real problem is that he’s so in distinct no one across the entire political spectrum knows who he is. A chief executive who repeatedly presents himself as a conciliator, forever searching for the “good side” of all adversaries and convening summits, in the end comes across as weightless, if not AWOL. A Rorschach test may make for a fine presidential candidate — when everyone projects their hopes on the guy. But it doesn’t work in the Oval Office: These days everyone is projecting their fears on Obama instead.
And, as if the "Birther" stuff from the other day didn't provide enough of a clue, the nonsensical "socialist" meme is only the tip of an iceberg of the anti-Obama fumes emanating from the Right.  So, given that, I'm wondering again what consensus he thinks he's achieving when the opposition has made clear time and again that they're intent on not only defeating any and all of his policy initiatives, but also on rendering him damaged and debilitated in every way possible.  It's beyond baffling -- even more so because it's actually working!  Much more from Rich at the link.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Birther Quake

I've mentioned previously on this site about the "Birther" phenomenon and how it continues despite all evidence (and common sense) to the contrary.  I can't begin to guess where the irrational belief that President Obama wasn't born in this country -- and is thus an illegitimate president -- comes from (though I certainly have my suspicions) but I've encountered some of these folks personally, and there's a whole lot of "yikes" going on there, believe you me.

Case in point is this video from Tuesday evening that's already gone viral, of CNN's Anderson Cooper confronting Texas Rep. Leo Berman (R -- natch) about a "birth certificate" bill he's advancing that's pretty clearly been dreamed up primarily as catnip for the Birther contingent.  As he's done very well in the past, Cooper does a nice job of demolishing Berman's contentions, most of them scraped off the most fevered corners of the blogosphere, in rapid succession.  If you've ever found yourself wondering where they're getting this stuff, now you know...


Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Capitulating Instead of Negotiating

Discussing the proposal by President Obama to freeze the pay of federal workers as sop to the deficit hawks, Paul Begala bullseyed the problem last night on CNN:


Irvin Kershner, RIP

Director Irvin Kershner also passed away this weekend.  While the name may not be familiar to you, if you love the Star Wars saga, it's likely because of him.  Following on the heels of the out-of-nowhere success of the first Star Wars film in 1977, George Lucas brought on Kershner, then a working director who'd amassed a steady, if unremarkable, list of credits up to that point, to shepherd the highly-anticipated sequel in England while he handled the administrative end stateside.  I'm not sure if Lucas thought he'd get a "shoot what I tell you to shoot" director, but it's to the franchise's eternal benefit that he didn't.  The resultant mix of Kershner's introspective, character-based vision atop Lucas' blockbuster edifice provides the beating heartbeat of the entire series.  The Empire Strikes Back is that rarest of beasts in Hollywood: the perfect movie.  It's a powerful, resonant film that provides the context to increase our love of its predecessor and tolerate its successors.

So successful was Kershner with what he set out to accomplish in Empire that it almost seems inevitable that nothing else in his catalogue could measure up to it.  Two years after Empire's 1980 release, he helmed the James Bond rival production Never Say Never Again, a remake of Thunderball that was memorable for Sean Connery's (final) return to the role, but little else.  In 1990 he tackled the first sequel to RoboCop, and whatever humanistic touches he might have lent the proceedings were lost in an array of grotesque violence that lacked both the subtlety and dark humour that Paul Verhoeven lent the original.  His final directing credits were for a few episodes (including the pilot) of the mostly-forgotten NBC sci-fi series SeaQuest DSV, which starred Roy Scheider and was executive produced by Steven Spielberg.  That he never quite left the shadow of The Empire Strikes Back says less about the man's unquestionable talent then about how that talent, paired with just the right parts, allowed for the creation of something exceptional.

For more on the man and his work, click over here to read Drew McWeeny's terrific remembrance.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Leslie Nielsen, RIP

I think it's a testament to how thoroughly Leslie Nielsen came to embody the face of comedy for so many that most of of the memorials in the wake of his passing this weekend will likely forget that he started out as a dramatic actor.  Indeed, the deep-voiced, granite-chinned actor was the heroic space captain of the '50s sci-fi classic Forbidden Planet, and he embodied varying degrees of tough guy machismo on big screen and small for decades before his comedic turn in 1980's Airplane! showed us the smirk under the swagger.  That paved the way for Nielsen's signature role of Lt. Frank Drebin in the short-lived Police Squad TV series (cancelled by ABC in 1982 after a mere six eps), which in turn inspired a successful feature (and franchise) in The Naked Gun a mere six years later.

By the time Nielsen completed the third and final Naked Gun in 1993, he'd cemented his image to the spoof genre interminably.  Some of the movies that emerged in subsequent years were funny (Wrongfully Accused), and some weren't (Dracula: Dead and Loving It), but all benefited from his unerring ability to deliver the most riotous of laugh lines with deadpan precision.  I caught the cable premiere of one of Nielsen's final appearances, Superhero Movie, a few weeks back, in which he played the "Uncle Ben" role to Drake Bell's Peter Parker riff, and while the film itself is pretty mediocre -- better than most recent spoofers, nowhere near the heights of Airplane! -- there's no denying that Nielsen, like the Godfather, blessed the proceeding with his presence.  Like few others, he proved again and again that being funny is some serious business.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Buy Your Tickets!

If you're reading this in or around the SF Bay Area, be sure to clear your schedule this coming Saturday, November 27, to attend the 2nd Annual Young American Muslim Leadership Conference, sponsored by the Muslim Community Center in San Ramon, with the theme of "Mind, Body, and Soul."  In addition to event headliners Hamza Yusuf and Zaid Shakir, two of the preeminent Muslim voices in America, other speakers include singer Baraka Blue, Javed Ali (founder of Illume magazine), Wajahat Ali (author of the play The Domestic Crusaders), and, yep, This Guy, talking about the role of Muslims in the media.  So stacked is this thing with luminaries that I don't think even my presence on the bill can prevent it from being an educational, enlightening, and engrossing program. Read more about it here, and purchase your tickets here.  If you make it, be sure to stop by and say hey!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Dead Meet

I discovered the zombie genre in kind of a sideways manner a few years ago, after Friend of the Blog Glenn Greenberg (whose opinion I highly respect, and whose site I highly recommend) spoke its praises and thus piqued my curiosity.  Although I started somewhat inauspiciously with the '80s horror/comedy mashup Return of the Living Dead, by the time I worked my way over to the George A. Romero corner of the zombie movie-verse, starting with 1968's Night of the Living Dead and working forward from there, this resolute non-fan of blood-and-guts was utterly hooked (while simultaneously being frightened out of my wits).

That fandom quickly carried over to books (having made the mistake more than once of falling asleep while listening to the audiobook of Max Brooks' World War Z -- really bad idea!), and comic books, with the terrific Walking Dead series from Image and Robert Kirkman, and it continues with the equally-terrific AMC series it inspired.  So, after all this, the question is why?  What's the appeal of the zombie genre, not just to me, but to all the other people who've enjoyed it in all its many iterations?  I've had more than enough opportunity to ponder this (including as part of the Big Secret Project I've been working on -- announcement coming soon!), as apparently has writer Olivia Collette, who's reached some of the same conclusions I have.  Says she:

Monday, November 22, 2010

Recommended Reading(s)

Frank Rich on the perils of underestimating Sarah Palin.

Paul Krugman on the danger of overestimating Barack Obama.

Whichever way you want to slice it, 2012 starts looking pretty darn unpleasant.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The "Lamestream" Lament

Last week, Sarah Palin gave another in her long series of famously petulant interviews, this time to the New York Times, where she once again took to chastising the so-called "lamestream media" for various and sundry perceived crimes against her personage.  Apart from the obvious hilarity of a grown woman using the word "lamestream" and expecting to be taken seriously as a political force, there's the somewhat worrisome reality that she is taken seriously as a political force.

In fact, for all her "woe is me" grousing about the rough ride she's been given, the media on the whole have been downright kid gloved in their treatment of Ms. Palin. Whether "death panels" or "refudiate" or, yep, "lamestream media," she's been able to sit pretty on her twin Twitter-Facebook perches and lob all manner of easily-disproved canards with most of the media breathlessly reporting on her every update while standing idle when it comes to questioning her underlying facts and/or assumptions. All this for fear of tarnishing their supposed objectivity.  Here again we see how the desperate need be seen as "balanced" has effectively neutered the Fourth Estate by making it a third rail to call foul on blatant falsehoods.

While the ongoing MSNBC-Fox News sideshow has put the question of media objectivity back at the forefront of our discussion, as did last week's Keith Olbermann kerfuffle, what seems to have gone unacknowledged is that sometimes there is only one side -- the truth -- and far from demonstrating bias by pointing it out, our media appendages betray gross negligence by attempting to frame all sides of a given argument as equal players.  In examining Olbermann's role, Salon's Gene Lyons makes a very important point:
...for all his grandiosity, MSNBC's resident blowhard doesn't actually make things up -- the most fundamental distinction in journalism.
The same can't be said of the Hannity-Beck-Limbaugh axis though, in which Ms. Palin can now be included thanks to her Fox News talking head post.  They've shown plenty of times that they have a, shall we say, strained relationship with the truth.  And therein lies the rub.  You're entitled to spin facts whichever way you choose, but you're not allowed to invent them from whole cloth, and you should expect to be called on it when you do.  Objectivity and balance aren't the same thing, and the media's conflation of the two has resulted in the foregrounding of the latter at the expense of the former.  It's how we end up with this.

Or this.

Or, God help us, this.

"Lamestream," indeed.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Bringin' Crazy Back

You might remember way back in March when Jon Stewart tried to out-Beck Glenn Beck for a show-long piece of performance art that, while hilarious, still had to work pretty darn hard to match the Fox News host for beat-for-beat craziness.  Well, with Beck's special last week in which he blamed all of America's ills on millionaire George Soros (going so far as to call the octogenarian Holocaust survivor a Nazi sympathizer -- "Nazi Tourette's" anyone?), he may just have topped himself.  But not to be outdone, Stewart broke out the glasses and chalkboard(s) once again last night for another double-length extravaganza, and it's a doozy:

Part the First:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
George Soros Plans to Overthrow America
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorRally to Restore Sanity

Part the Second:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
The Manchurian Lunatic
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorRally to Restore Sanity

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Cowboy Way

Yesterday I noted the general apathy I felt upon viewing the Green Lantern teaser trailer, which I thought was competent but otherwise unremarkable.  I don't know if it's that superhero burnout I've talked about before or what, but yesterday also gave us our first look at Cowboys & Aliens, another blockbuster gearing up for release next summer, and after seeing it I felt the exact sense of anticipation I didn't get with the Green Lantern one.

Starring Daniel Craig in what could be his breakout post-Bond part, and Harrison Ford reprising his current role of Grumpy Old Guy, the movie is based on the graphic novel of the same name and directed by Iron Man maestro Jon Favreau.  This teaser does exactly what it should do: give a rough sense of the story while leaving just enough in the dark (literally, in this case) to keep us wanting more.  Until now, despite the high-caliber of talent involved from top-to-bottom, this one had been mostly off my radar.  Not anymore.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

That Green, Green Glow

Here's the first trailer for next summer's Green Lantern feature, directed by Casino Royale's Martin Campbell and starring Ryan Reynolds as Hal Jordan.  As DC Comics and Warners' attempt to mine gold from a character whose name doesn't begin with "Super" or "Bat," this looks solid, and Reynolds seems like a good fit for the part, but I'll be honest and say there's nothing about the trailer that really blows my mind either.  The best I can say is, yep, it looks like a Green Lantern movie -- which is a good thing, I guess. Anyway, I'm sure we'll be seeing and hearing a lot more about this as its release inches closer, allowing us to gain a greater sense of what to expect.  Click here for the HD Quicktime version.


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Slash 'n' Grab

Last month we got our first word that critically beloved director Darren Aronofsky, whose Black Swan is now in theaters, was weighing the latest installment of Fox's Wolverine series.  The question I asked then was why someone of Aronofsky's caliber would bother slumming on the fifth leg of a series that, despite the very best efforts of its lead actor, seemed to be circling the drain as of its last entry.  Well, the speculation is over.  The contracts are signed, and the director is aboard.

In confirming his attachment, Aronofsky has addressed some of my initial concerns. The project, which tracks the Japanese adventures of Hugh Jackman's hirsute anti-hero (can you believe he's been playing the role for more than ten years now?), won't be Wolverine 2 or X-Men 5 or anything else with a number or roman numeral at the end. Instead, they've tacked the definite article onto the front: The Wolverine. Oh, and don't call it a sequel.  Remember those four previous movies in which Jackman played the same character?  Ignore them, because they don't exist.  Said Aronofsky to HitFix, this is a "one-off."

So, I guess that answers the question of what kind of incentive the director was given to sign on beyond just his relationship with Jackman -- the freedom to reinvent the wheel as he sees fit.  Wolverine 2, er, The Wolverine is due to hit theaters in 2012 in the midst of a very jam packed summer, duking it out with Sony's Spider-Man reboot, the last leg of Chris Nolan's Batman trilogy, JJ Abrams' Star Trek sequel, and, of course, the Marvel superhero jam The Avengers.  Given the competition, Aronofsky and Jackman will really need to up the ante to make sure their Wolverine stays a cut above.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Trial Tribulations

On Friday, I linked to an article chronicling Eric Holder's struggles as Attorney General, particularly as it relates to the planned trial of Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, which was intended for civil jurisprudence before political and security concerns shunted it back to a potential military tribunal.  Now it looks like even that won't be happening anytime soon, as folks within the administration have -- yet again -- demonstrated their lack of political courage by privately conceding the most likely outcome for the so-called "9/11 mastermind" is continued indefinite detention without trial.  As The Washington Post states:
Obama came into office with a strong preference to prosecute Mohammed and other detainees in federal court as part of a larger plan to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay. Almost from the start, however, he ran into fierce political opposition.
And, in the face of that opposition, he folded like a lawn chair. Are you surprised? That's been the story of this administration, after all.  Whether the KSM trial, closing Guantanamo (remember when that was at the top of the Obama agenda?), the aftermath of the Shirley Sherrod fiasco from last summer, the sterling defense of the Park51 Islamic Center followed immediately by a hasty walk-back, or the current tax cut brouhaha that I'm reasonably certain will end with the president buckling just like he always has, the narrative is remarkably consistent: the minute a tough political fight looks like it's in the offing, run in the opposite direction.

Now, that's not to imply that there hasn't been a substantial amount of positive change made under the Obama Administration (as this site shows), however, there's also just as much that's been business as usual (as this site shows).  What becomes apparent when examining his presidency thus far is that the Obama position seems to hinge on the misbegotten notion that, by avoiding polarizing political fights, he'll preserve political capital for a rainy day.  Someone should really explain to him that political capital is sort of like milk: it'll go bad whether you keep it in the fridge or not, so you'd best drink it quickly.

And two years in, with the House's Republican takeover in January all but assuring that the current frustrating stasis in Washington will become a longed-for memory, new political capital is something he's going to find harder and harder to come by, especially if he keeps dancing through some of the most important fights of this or any other presidency by playing to the mythical middle instead of scoring a knockdown blow.  I've said it before, but it seems like it needs repeating: the people who hate Obama will hate him whether he meets them partway, halfway or all the way.  And while there's definite wisdom in picking your battles, that still implies that you'll eventually, y'know, pick a battle.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Hankies on Stun!

The folks at Topless Robot have posted another of their trademark lists, this time rattling off the top eleven moments from the worlds of sci-fi and fantasy that are virtually guaranteed to bring a tear to the eye of the sensitive geek.  I mean who didn't get a little verklemmt when Optimus Prime died in the 1986 Transformers animated flick? And Spock in Star Trek II?  That's some traumatic stuff right there.  There are a couple of the entries I haven't seen, but I'll be darned if they're not pretty much spot-on with the vast majority of them. Number 3, especially, manages to choke me up. Every. Single. Time.

Recommended Reading

Wil Hylton at GQ has a fascinating article examining the struggle of Attorney General Eric Holder, as head of the Obama Justice Department, in attempting to balance principle and politics in the face of a president and administration increasingly embracing the latter at the expense of the former.  The President's decision to yank the Khalid Sheikh Muhammad prosecution from a civilan court in favor of a military tribunal, in defiance of Obama's stated opposition to them during the campaign, is just one example of this phenomenon, but anyone who's paid attention during the last two years is already aware of the legacy that Obama the Pragmatist is in danger of leaving behind.  Reading this piece probably won't leave you feeling much better.

Civil Discourse


Though Jon Stewart rarely ventures outside of his Daily Show forum, whenever he does, whether appearing with Bill Moyers or Bill O'Reilly, I'm consistently impressed at how he approaches complex issues with a seriousness and sincerity that belies the "I'm just a comedian" line he deploys as a shield.  Case in point is his lengthy sit-down last night with Rachel Maddow on MSNBC that saw him discussing the goals of and reaction to his ballyhooed "Rally to Restore Sanity" a few weeks back, the aftermath of which saw him taking some hits from seemingly all sides.

While some folks on the Right fell over themselves to write it all off as an insubstantial clown show, which maybe it was, some folks on the Left quickly took issue with what they felt was an unfair equivalence between the the tactics employed by both sides, which, in fairness, maybe it was.  However, what may have gotten lost in all of the talking head round-robins was the simple point behind the rally: The media has an investment in propagating a binary "us vs. them" narrative, regardless of who you paint as "us" and who you paint as "them."

Now, that doesn't mean, as Bill Maher seemed to infer last Friday, that there aren't times when one side is more right than the other.  However, it does mean that we have to figure out ways to get past those differences to actually get things done.  This was the sentiment articulated in Stewart's speech at the event, as well as every non-Daily interview he's ever done, going back to his famous Crossfire appearance in '04.  The Maddow chat -- all fifty minutes -- is worth watching in its entirety, as posted above. If time is at a premium, click past the jump for some clips...

Thursday, November 11, 2010

TRON Traffic

The upcoming sequel Tron Legacy, which I previously discussed here and here, is just one month shy of its highly-anticipated launch, with the full marketing muscle of the Disney company at its back.  The various toys and merchandise are already out there, and in addition to the just-announced CG animated series Tron Uprising, set between the first and second films, there's also the newly-released final trailer that not only gives us a sense of the new movie's scope, but also some of the story terrain they're mining.



Also of note, the last time the original Tron hit home video was for a bells-and-whistles DVD back in '02.  Of course, eight years is an eternity in movie time, and in this age of double-and-triple-dipping discs, I did find it strange that the Mouse House allowed the film to remain out of print with no updated edition while awareness and interest are at a high.  In case you've been left high-and-dry looking for a Tron fix, The Vulture asked original director Steven Lisberger about a potential new release, and here's what he said about when to expect it.

From THE ONION...

Ah, God love the "experts."
Local Man Foremost Expert On What The Terrorists Should Do If They Really Want To Hurt Us
BIRMINGHAM, AL—Area feed store manager and local terrorist expert Wendell Butler offered up another one of his brilliant theories Friday outlining exactly what the terrorists should do if they really want to hurt the United States. "I'll tell you what would absolutely demoralize us is if they hit Disneyland," said the 48-year-old high school graduate, whose vast knowledge of how terrorists operate and what the consequences of their potential actions would be is truly unmatched. "With all the families there it would just be devastating. And it's Disneyland, so symbolically that would be like the ultimate desecration of everything American." The razor-sharp Butler then spent the next two hours applying his insightful analysis of global terrorism and its effects to hypothetical attacks on water treatment facilities, hospitals, and the Academy Awards.

Recommended Reading

On this Veteran's Day, The West Wing's Aaron Sorkin recalls the experience of a veteran in his life, and ponders the true meaning of patriotism.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Olbermann on Olbermann

Just back from his suspension, Keith Olbermann reacted to the reaction on last night's Countdown:


Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Olbermann to Fans: "Thanks"; Olbermann to MSNBC: "Bite me"

Keith Olbermann returns to his Countdown perch this evening, so it looks like the long national nightmare of his suspension will finally come to a close.  But before we put a pin on the story, there's one more bit of business worthy of mention.  Yesterday, the host issued a statement of gratitude to the folks who've expressed solidarity during his long spell of uncertainty for the past four days, and he also took the chance to lob a few spitballs at his bosses.  For the record, I think he's correct in his criticisms of MSNBC's handling of this, but I also find it hard to get too exorcised over someone who makes $7 million a year missing two days of pay.  The original statement is here, and I've gone ahead and posted it below:
I want to sincerely thank you for the honor of your extraordinary and ground-rattling support. Your efforts have been integral to the remedying of these recent events, and the results should remind us of the power of individuals spontaneously acting together to correct injustices great or small. I would also like to acknowledge with respect the many commentators and reporters, including those with whom my politics do not overlap, for their support. 
I also wish to apologize to you viewers for having precipitated such anxiety and unnecessary drama. You should know that I mistakenly violated an inconsistently applied rule – which I previously knew nothing about – that pertains to the process by which such political contributions are approved by NBC. Certainly this mistake merited a form of public acknowledgment and/or internal warning, and an on-air discussion about the merits of limitations on such campaign contributions by all employees of news organizations. Instead, after my representative was assured that no suspension was contemplated, I was suspended without a hearing, and learned of that suspension through the media. 
You should also know that I did not attempt to keep any of these political contributions secret; I knew they would be known to you and the rest of the public. I did not make them through a relative, friend, corporation, PAC, or any other intermediary, and I did not blame them on some kind of convenient 'mistake' by their recipients. When a website contacted NBC about one of the donations, I immediately volunteered that there were in fact three of them; and contrary to much of the subsequent reporting, I immediately volunteered to explain all this, on-air and off, in the fashion MSNBC desired. 
I genuinely look forward to rejoining you on Countdown on Tuesday, to begin the repayment of your latest display of support and loyalty - support and loyalty that is truly mutual.
Think this'll warrant a "Special Comment" tonight?

Conan Returns!

I tweeted last night while watching Conan O'Brien's triumphant return to late night that I'd forgotten just how much I'd missed him.  And I really had.  Insofar as my late night viewing options after the Tonight Show shenanigans early this year, Leno was never an option, and I've found David Letterman increasingly grumpy and hard to watch with any regularity, so Conan's new talker was like welcoming back an old friend (for, as he called it, his "2nd Annual first show").  Even my three-year old was excited, joining me on the couch after first confirming, "Is that Conan O'Brien?" (and I'm sure Conan will be very happy to know that he's got the just-out-of-diapers demo all sewn up).  For those who may have missed it, here's the opening monologue from last night's series premiere of Conan on TBS:

Mankiewicz on Bond, Superman

Back in August I noted the untimely passing of writer Tom Mankiewicz, whose considerable creative contributions helped elevate Superman: The Movie (which I previously discussed here) and who also helped shape some of the most definitive entries in the James Bond series (the latest news of which I discussed here).  Well, Empire had conducted a lengthy and wide-ranging interview with the late wordsmith very shortly before his death in which he offered up more priceless recollections of the immortal franchises, and they offer one more chance to hear the celebrated writer discuss the beloved franchises.

Mankiewicz recalls his first Bond entry, 1970's Diamonds are Forever, and working with star Sean Connery:
Sean wanted to have a meeting when he arrived in Vegas to do Diamonds Are Forever. I was so pleasantly surprised that about half of his notes were for other characters. He would say, “Are you sure she should say this here? Wouldn’t it be stronger if she did something?” I thought, “Good for him. He’s really read the script and he’s thinking about everybody in it.” I’m sure he thought, “Don’t worry about me, I’ve played this part before.” He would say, “Can I get something funnier here?”

When Lana Wood appears at the crap table and says, “Hi, I’m Plenty.” Bond says, “Why, of course you are.” She says, “Plenty O’Toole.” He asked me if he could respond, “‘Named after your father perhaps?’” I said, “It’s a great line.” But the very fact that he asked me – I was (only) 27 years old – shows you the kind of way he goes about his work. He’s totally professional. Any other actor would just have tried it right in the take. I was amazed. It’s a good line, and it’s his line.
He also offers this amusing anecdote when asked about Chris Reeve's early concerns about being typecast as the Man of Steel (concerns that, sadly, were borne out):

Monday, November 08, 2010

The Zemeckis Metamorphosis

I've spent enough time watching (and discussing) the Back to the Future trilogy of late to know that a recurrent question among many fellow fans is why series director and co-scenarist Robert Zemeckis seems to have exiled himself from "traditional" filmmaking to concentrate instead on CGI, motion capture spectacles like The Polar Express and Beowulf.  On top of that, his last live-action output was the '00 double-pump of What Lies Beneath and Cast Away, both of which are a far cry from the timeless, old school whimsy that the Future films, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and Forrest Gump all exemplify, and at which Zemeckis is second perhaps only to Steven Spielberg at pulling off so effortlessly.

While I have no desire to see a new Back to the Future flick (nor does another one appear to be in the offing, thank goodness), I do wonder what happened to the Robert Zemeckis who used to make those kinds of movies, and whether he'll ever come back (he even turned down the Chris Nolan-produced Superman project that Zack Snyder is now helming -- I'll let you ponder the possibilities there for just a second).  Well, Matt Zoller Seintz has asked this very question, and in his view, the roots of the metamorphosis from that Zemeckis to the current model can be traced directly to the second leg of the Back to the Future trilogy.  And, I gotta say, he makes a pretty compelling case!

The Two-Day "Indefinite Suspension"

Putting a pin on all the Keith Olbermann drama from this past weekend, MSNBC prexy Phil Griffin announced late yesterday that the host will be back in his chair come Tuesday evening's broadcast.  Did I say "slap on the wrist"?  I actually meant "four-day weekend."  Anyway, now that it's over and done with, here's Washington Post blogger (and frequent Olbermann guest) Ezra Klein with an after the fact reflection on the whole episode that I think sums it up pretty well.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

The Post-Midterms Playbook

As anyone who's followed the gridlock in DC for the past few years knows, the Republican platform has hinged on lockstep opposition to the President in hopes of painting him as ineffectual, helped along by the President's own inability to create a narrative of his legislative accomplishments.  These factors created the perfect storm that saw the GOP taking the House last Tuesday, and in analyzing the changed political playing field in the wake of the midterms, Frank Rich explains how Obama (at least partially) has himself to blame:
You can’t win an election without a coherent message. Obama, despite his administration’s genuine achievements, didn’t have one. The good news — for him, if not necessarily a straitened country — is that the G.O.P. doesn’t have one either. This explains the seemingly irrational calculus of Tuesday’s exit polls. Voters gave Democrats and Republicans virtually identical favorability ratings while voting for the G.O.P. They gave Obama a slightly higher approval rating than either political party even as they punished him. This is a snapshot of a whiplashed country that (understandably) doesn’t know whose butt to kick first.
Rich goes on to make the case that the Republicans' plan for governing is that they have no plan:
Even in victory, most Republicans can’t explain exactly what they want to do besides cut taxes and repeal health care (a quixotic goal, given the president’s veto pen and the law’s more popular provisions). A riotous dissection of this empty agenda could be found on election night on MSNBC, where a Republican stalwart, Representative Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, called for “across the board” spending cuts. Under relentless questioning from Chris Matthews, she exempted defense and entitlements from the ax, thereby eliminating some 85 percent of the federal budget from her fiscal diligence.
One might think that by exploiting these inherent contradictions, Team Obama can find the key to their messaging strategy going forward, but based on some of the Democrats' truly baffling political moves of late (kicking that middle class tax cut down the curb to after the election being just one idiotic example), I wonder if they're even up to the task.  More from Rich here.