Saturday, March 27, 2010

Common Sense

The dependably-sensible David Gergen on health care reform:
People will wake up one morning and realise that the healthcare bill hasn’t brought socialism to America...And Democrats will wake up to realise we have not magically solved all our healthcare problems. People should calm down a little.
Edward Luce has more here in a piece examining three major consequences of the bill's passage.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Castin' America

Over the last few weeks, the question marks surrounding The First Avenger: Captain America had begun to swirl around an increasingly eclectic circle of young actors who fit the general physical requirements of the title role. It appeared very briefly that The Office actor Jon Krasinski might take the part, then the blogosphere nearly melted down when the winds blew in G.I. Joe star Channing Tatum's direction. Now word arrives via The Hollywood Reporter that Captain America has been cast, and Chris Evans has him.

This would mark Evans' second sojourn into the cinematic Marvel Universe, having previously played the Human Torch in -- and been one of the two best things about -- the Fantastic Four movies cranked out by Fox in '05 and '07 (the other best, by the way, is Michael Chiklis as the Thing). He's also in this summer's The Losers, based on the DC/Vertigo comic which ties him with Ryan Reynolds in the big screen superhero sweepstakes, with both actors playing two Marvels and one DC (FYI, Reynolds was Hannibal King in Blade: Trinity, Wade Wilson in Wolverine, and has the title role in the now-filming Green Lantern).

One way or another, this is the project that will likely propel Evans into a whole new stratosphere of visibility. Not only will he headline his own movie as Captain America/Steve Rogers, but he'd also appear in the Avengers team-up movie and various other Marvel projects in various stages of development. Given that his career until now has mostly been spent playing young wiseacres who get by on their charm, I don't see much in Evans' filmography that points me towards him being a credible Cap, but clearly there was something there that prompted Team Marvel to reportedly offer the part without his even having to test for it.

This is a key entry in Marvel's movie assault, so there's a lot of marbles at stake -- something I'm sure they're all fully aware of. With my lifelong fondness for Cap a matter of record here and elsewhere, and with director Joe Johnston having made clear more than once that this flick will be the real deal, I remain optimistic about Evans' prospects in the part. Certainly the terrific choice of Hugo Weaving as arch-villain The Red Skull is further cause for excitement on my end. Filming on The First Avenger: Captain America is due to begin shortly in England, and now the long wait begins for pics of Evans in the star-spangled suit.

Waterlewd

Republican senator Jim DeMint proclaimed his desire many months ago to make the health care battle President Obama's Waterloo.  Thinks didn't work out exactly that way with the House's vote yesterday making health care reform the law of the land.  Still, watching the closing moments of debate yesterday, I think it was when John Boehner was lapsing into hysterics on the House floor that the entire GOP argument against the bill jumped the tracks from pathetic to bathetic.  Of course, Boehner was just the figurative cherry atop a rhetorical sundae of fear-mongering alarmism from the right side of the aisle.  As Paul Krugman says:
For the most part...opponents of reform didn’t even pretend to engage with the reality either of the existing health care system or of the moderate, centrist plan — very close in outline to the reform Mitt Romney introduced in Massachusetts — that Democrats were proposing.

Instead, the emotional core of opposition to reform was blatant fear-mongering, unconstrained either by the facts or by any sense of decency.
One after another, Republicans have mistaken ideology and principle as synonymous with one another, and the end result is the passage of a bill into law which they've willfully chosen to disassociate themselves from rather than help in shaping it.  It seems counter-intuitive to me, and former Bush speechwriter David Frum, with whom my policy disagreements are legion but who's nothing if not pragmatic, makes the exact same point:
No illusions please: This bill will not be repealed. Even if Republicans scored a 1994 style landslide in November, how many votes could we muster to re-open the “doughnut hole” and charge seniors more for prescription drugs? How many votes to re-allow insurers to rescind policies when they discover a pre-existing condition? How many votes to banish 25 year olds from their parents’ insurance coverage? And even if the votes were there – would President Obama sign such a repeal?

We followed the most radical voices in the party and the movement, and they led us to abject and irreversible defeat.
Obviously, November is far enough away that it's probably best not to prognosticate too heavily on which way the electoral winds will blow.  Still, knowing the immediate positive impact that average citizens will experience from this legislation (not to mention those benefits that will kick in over time) the idea being propagated by some of the most virulent Republicans voices that this bill -- which I don't feel goes nearly far enough, by the way -- will somehow be so unpopular come Autumn that it will lead to a mass citizens' revolt seems like a pretty slanted view of how history has played out in the wake of similar legislation in the past.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

600!

Back once again to celebrate another milestone. As evidenced by the box to the right, Zaki's Corner has hit 600 followers! It was June of last year that we (and that's the royal "we") hit 300, and it's taken just over nine months to double that. Not bad, but let's see if we can do even better on our way to 1000.

Now, all the usual caveats about 600 being barely a drop in the bucket of web users the world over still apply, but dammit, let me have this moment! Thanks once again to everyone who reads and enjoys the site. As long as there's an audience for my nonsense, I'll keep making with it. Consider yourselves duly forewarned. And as always, just so it's preserved for future generations:


Friday, March 19, 2010

Crazy Train

Comedically speaking, poking at Glenn Beck has become sort of like when schoolyard bullies pick on the kid wearing the helmet.  Still, with the invective he spews daily getting further and further out there in the weeds, he sure does make it easy.  On yesterday's Daily Show, Jon Stewart devoted the entire first half of the program to a Beck Bash that's surely his pièce de résistance (whoops, if I'm not careful, Glenn might come after me for using French!).

Here's the intro:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Intro - Progressivism Is Cancer
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorHealth Care Reform


Here's the rest of the segment:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Conservative Libertarian
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorHealth Care Reform

Recommended Reading

The health care vote is supposedly scheduled for this Sunday, meaning at least one part of this sad, sordid story can be put in our rearview mirror. Of course, that doesn't mean that the opposition is going to stop doing what they've done since this administration began, which is to fight back in as dirty a way as possible.

Case in point, Tim Dickerson from Rolling Stone has a look at the GOP's plan to win back congress.  It's the usual eye-gouging and crotch-kicking we've come to expect from that crowd, but what I find even more instructive is the stuff about how the Dems essentially sabotaged themselves, starting with the man on top:
"Obama wasn't hammering Democrats to behave with individual interventions," says an insider close to the negotiations. "He also wasn't working very hard to create fissures and fractures in the Republican Party at the level that should be possible." Rather than twisting arms like LBJ, the president and his supposed all-star team of advisers, anchored by Rahm Emanuel, came across like a bunch of rookies. "It's bizarre that Obama could be so politically weak that Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman could kick the White House around," says [Steve] Clemons, "rather than the White House kicking them around."
Couldn't agree more.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Peter Graves, RIP

Last fall director JJ Abrams gave an interview to Collider in which he talked about his plans for the next Mission: Impossible feature, which he plans to produce. While the discussion was mostly in the abstract, one thing Abrams did mention was his desire to have Peter Graves appear in the film and perhaps redeem his character of Jim Phelps, the suave, silver-haired Impossible Missions Force leader. Sadly, with Graves' passing away yesterday at the age of 83, that opportunity will never materialize.

It would have been a welcome victory lap for Graves, whose distinctive voice and magnetic presence assured him the kind of immortality that few screen stars enjoy. After originating Phelps in the seminal spy series' 1967 TV season (replacing original lead Steven Hill), Graves played the role for the duration of the show's run, reprised it in a late-80s remake, and was then replaced by Jon Voight in 1996's Mission: Impossible film, in which the character turned traitor and was killed off. It was an ignominious end for one of television's most iconic characters. Phelps deserved better, and so did Graves.

Of course, the depth and breadth of Graves' career was much greater than just Phelps (as evidenced in this extensive interview -- his last, it turns out -- from October) but the curse of originating an icon is that it's hard to ever fully escape its shadow. Thus it was that other than hosting the Biography program in the '90s, Graves' greatest post-Mission success was perhaps his turn as Clarence Oveur, the befuddled airline captain in two Airplane! movies (1980 and 1982), where deadpan humor was put to great use in lampooning his serious screen image (not to mention immortalizing the line, "Do you like movies about gladiators?").

As someone who watched and loved the original Mission: Impossible as a kid (and has continued to enjoy and appreciate it as an adult now that it's been released in its entirety on DVD), I'd been heartened to hear that we might yet see the real Jim Phelps back on the screen once more. While that opportunity is now lost to the ages, Peter Graves leaves a career behind him that any working actor can be proud of. Mission accomplished, Mr. Phelps.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Leading by a Chin

It feels like forever ago that the nation was wringing its collective hands pondering the fate of its late night franchises. Whither O'Brien? Whence Leno? Why Fallon? Legions of Conan-come-lately fans were proclaiming Leno's return to The Tonight Show DOA thanks to the outpouring of support (and ratings) his successor/predecessor generated during his last weeks with the gig. I said even back then that it wouldn't happen, and it hasn't. Jay Leno is once again the king of late night. At least for now.

I'd set my DVR to catch Jay's first batch of new shows back, but as of this week I may be just about done. I was hopeful that recent events would reinvigorate Leno's comedy, but it just feels like more of the same. There doesn't seem to be any drive to prove that yes, he does deserve to have the show back. Its odd to me that he would keep so much of what made the primetime strip so "eh," starting with that God-awful muzak-style theme music. As usual the monologues are his strongest stuff, but that says more (or less) about the other comedy bits, many 'ported over from The Jay Leno Show, which run the gamut from "mildly amusing" to "painfully unfunny."

Based on the ratings for the first two weeks of the new/old Tonight Show, I'm clearly in the minority on this one, which isn't all that surprising. For most of his (first) time in late night, Leno's audience was set at about five million viewers, enough to make him the undisputed ratings champ. His 10 PM show attracted almost the exact numbers (of viewers, not ratings, as the prime time share comes from a larger pool), implying that his fans would follow him back to late night just as they'd followed him to prime time, which they appear to have done.

In the short term this is good news for NBC, as it puts their key late night franchise back on top. In the longer term though, it remains an idiotic move executed idiotically. Leno's margin of victory is much slimmer now thanks to the seven months Letterman had to grow his audience, and its doubtful that Jay's numbers will expand much beyond where they're at right now. Coupled with the fact that Leno still isn't getting any younger, it puts NBC right back where they were five years ago, only this time without a clear successor on deck (and I'm wondering who'd even want to succeed him, given what happened the last time).

Time will tell obviously, but based on the news generated by his Twitter activity, and the fact that -- much to my chagrin --his planned stage tour pretty much sold out the minute tickets became available, it sure looks like Conan has already won the buzz war (and in case you're wondering where unemployed sidekick Andy Richter has been in all this, he emerged this past week with some choice words for the Chin). Of course, the continued interest in all things Conan gives O'Brien a very strong negotiating hand when it comes time to entertain offers for his next televised yakker, about which the only certainty seems to be a fall bow.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Beck v. Boss

It's really been quite the week for Glenn Beck.  First, he devoted the entire hour of his Fox News yakker Tuesday for a sit-down with disgraced Dem congressman Eric Mass which he boasted would "decide the course of this nation," but that ended up as the Capone's Vault of blistering exposés. 

Then, one-upping himself, on the Thursday edition of his radio show, he decided that Bruce Springsteen and his 1984 ballad "Born in the USA" are un-American.  Granted, it took Glenn twenty-six years to get around to listening to the lyrics, but hey, better late than never, right?  Now, Beck has always been about seven shades of nuts, but when you go after the Boss, that's a bridge too far right there.

Friday, March 12, 2010

"The Meanest Sorority in the World"

Jon Stewart with more of that "fair and balanced" that Fox News so excels at:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Health Care: The Ultimate Last Final Push
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorHealth Care Reform

HIGHLY Recommended Reading

With every passing day, the possibility that health care reform may actually happen gets tantalizingly closer, and the arguments from those opposed either ideologically or politically grow even more desperate and random.  In his most recent column, Paul Krugman knocks down three of the primary talking points being trotted out by the other side.  As Krugman, who's long been critical of the plan not doing more and not going far enough, finally declares, "This is a reasonable, responsible plan. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise."

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Recommended Reading

Salon's Gene Lyons picks apart the hypocritical and fundamentally dishonest smear-and-fear meme being trotted out by the GOP to raise electoral bucks and find electoral fortune in time for the midterms.  The takeaway:
Socialism? When it comes to economics, today's GOP has nothing to advocate except the very policies that got us into this mess to begin with. They're simply trying to trick tea party activists into believing that this time, Republicans will deliver the fiscal conservatism they always advocate but haven't delivered since Herbert Hoover.

The simple truth is, they can't. The reasons, moreover, aren't far to seek. For all the anxiety President Obama's election has generated among those who perceive that people like them are losing power, everyone knows the America of the "Andy Griffith Show" and "Leave It to Beaver" isn't coming back. (Actually, it never existed, but that's a different column.)
More at the link.

The Cape and the Cowl

A month ago we first talked about the rumor that Batman mastermind Christopher Nolan may take on stewardship of the Superman film franchise (in a producing capacity if not directing). Now he's confirmed not only his own involvement, but also that of Bat-collaborators David Goyer and Nolan's brother Jonah.

Currently readying the Leonard DiCaprio thriller Inception for its summer bow, Nolan recently gave an in-depth interview with the LA Times in which he discusses Superman, Batman, and what's next. As one of the most insightful and unique directors working today, the entire thing is worth a read, but here are some of the highlights.

On the possibility of his Superman and his Batman bumping into each other on-screen:
"Each serves to the internal logic of the story. They have nothing to do with each other.”
Taking inspiration from Richard Donner's Superman when casting Batman Begins:
“I went to the studio with the analogy of ‘I want to cast the way they did in 1978 with Superman, where they had [Marlon] Brando and Glenn Ford and Ned Beatty and all these fantastic actors in even small parts, which was an exotic idea for a superhero movie at the time. It really paid off too. As a kid watching Superman, it seemed enormous and I realized later by looking at it that a lot of that was actually the casting, just having these incredibly talented people and these characterizations. And Marlon Brando is the first guy up playing Superman’s dad. It’s incredible.”
On the next Batman being the last Batman:
"Unlike the comics, these things don’t go on forever in film and viewing it as a story with an end is useful. Viewing it as an ending, that sets you very much on the right track about the appropriate conclusion and the essence of what tale we’re telling. And it harkens back to that priority of trying to find the reality in these fantastic stories. That’s what we do.”
The identity of the next Bat-villain:
“It won’t be Mr. Freeze.”
That last one should prompt a sigh of relief from those still nursing the wounds from the Governator's sojourn in Gotham City. Of course, there's still a lot of yardage to go before anything concretizes around Nolan's take on Superman (or the third Batman, for that matter), but I'll be keeping my eyes peeled for any new developments.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Tron 2.0

Jeff Bridges won a well-deserved Oscar last Sunday and I was very excited for him, but I think I'm even more excited to see him back on the big screen reprising the very first role I saw him in. That's right, they're making a sequel to Tron. Yep, that Tron.

Directed by Joseph Kosinsky (with original helmer Steven Lisberger onboard as a producer), Tron Legacy is due to hit theaters this December with all the IMAX and 3-D trimmings, and Disney is already hatching big plans for sequels, a TV series, and merchandising, merchandising, merchandising!

I don't know if a Tron sequel quite qualifies as a "hell freezing over" moment, but it's pretty darn close. The 1982 original, with Bridges as a computer programmer digitized into a computer society and forced to compete in gladiator-style video games with fellow "programs" against the evil "Master Control," is one of those movies so inextricably linked to my childhood that I can't ever hope to be objective about it (for some context, I began preschool with a Tron backpack slung over my shoulder).

Though the studio hung high hopes on the film's initial release, box office returns were less than they'd hoped and that was that. While it maintained a steady cult following over the years (with Roger Ebert in particular praising it as an overlooked masterpiece), it took a generation of '80s kids like me to grow up before Tron could be elevated from punchline into viable property. Sure, it might be thirty years late in coming, but in our post-Avatar world, it looks like the rest of the world has finally caught up. As far as first volleys go, this teaser sure sets things on the right foot.


(Pay special attention for a shot of Bridges de-aged to his 1970s self through some digital sleight-of-hand.)

Monday, March 08, 2010

Head Stark

Well, time constraints conspired to keep that Oscar blog from happening, but after catching the show a day later via DVR, I don't think you missed much from me.  In case you're still disappointed though, here's some consolation in the new Iron Man 2 trailer that Robert Downey debuted during his appearance on Jimmy Kimmel's post-Oscars show:

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Horror of Horrors

Depending on how things work out timewise this evening I may or may not do another liveblog of the Oscar ceremony like I did last year, but in the meantime here are the worst movies ever made as compiled by The Huffington Post.  I know I've said before that these kinds of lists are hardly ever definitive, but I think this one may just have the win.  Between the demon/dance flick and the jive-talking mule, I thought these were joke trailers, but nope, they're real.

Recommended Reading

The health care reform battle is (hopefully) heading towards some positive resolution within the next few weeks, and while it may end up being a political win for the president (jury's still out on that), it'll be a Pyrrhic one at best for the rest of us.

It took too long to get here, and what we end up with will be a neutered version of what it could have been.  Frank Rich contextualizes this within Obama's presidency, and also makes an important point about the brickbats being hurled from the right:
Those who are unsympathetic or outright hostile to Obama frame his failures as an attempt to impose “socialism” on a conservative nation. The truth is that the Fox News right would believe this about any Democratic president no matter who he was and what his policies were. Obama, who has expanded the war in Afghanistan and proved reluctant to reverse extra-constitutional Bush-Cheney jurisprudence, is a radical mainly to those who believe a conservative Republican senator like Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas is a closet commie.
 More at the link.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Captains Outrageous


A few weeks back a story very briefly made media noise about some Tea Party folks (with this guy as Patient Zero, near as I can figure) who had their undies in a twist over a recent issue of Captain America (January's #602, to be precise) portraying their ilk as ignorant and racist. To me this is sort of like the sun complaining that it's being portrayed as too hot, but I digress. Conservatives expressed umbrage at yet again being turned into a ghettoized minority, and liberals pronounced it all a tempest in a teabag.

While things culminated with Marvel honcho Joe Quesada expressing a mea culpa, the "incident" (using that term very loosely) did spark a broader discussion across the web over the politics of superhero comics, with folks playing pick-up-sticks with the political affiliations of various heroes (sort of like in the '80s when Reagan claimed that Rambo was a Republican). Of course, the entire discussion seems even sillier when one considers that we're talking about glorified picture books with overly-muscled, brightly-colored spandex-types pounding on each other, but, again, I digress.

For me, both as a fan of the exemplary run by current Captain America writer Ed Brubaker and as a vocal critic of the whole Tea Party thing, it's hard for me to feel too much sympathy at the rightie indignation, but I'm also the first to admit that the many sides to this discussion make it look like one of those dies from Dungeons & Dragons. Given that, I applaud blogger Greg Burgas for providing what's probably the most evenhanded assessment, both of the Cap/Teabag story in the micro, and the role of politics in comics in the macro.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Burtonesque

Alice in Wonderland hit your local IMAX screen today and it seems like a lot of people are excited. I'm not one of them. Here's why:



Recommended Reading

The senatorial antics this week and last by Kentucky's Jim Bunning (with the tacit assistance of his caucus) in holding up benefits for the unemployed coupled with the ongoing Republican obstructionism on health care reform have made it clear as day that there's simply too much daylight between the parties on too many issues for "compromise" to be anything but "compromised." Paul Krugman agrees.