Saturday, October 29, 2011

New Interview With Me

Last summer I was a participant in an online conference entitled "Islam in the Age of New Media," formatted as "60 speeches in 60 minutes," with a diverse array of speakers from across the Muslim media spectrum holding forth about what role Muslims can play in the age of Web 2.0. In addition to myself, other speakers included Reza Aslan, Asma Uddin, Wajahat Ali, and my cousin Shazia Kamal. You can sign up for a free download of the seminar here (my bit comes at the very, very end).

With the first phase of the conference going quite well, the program's organizer, Amir Ahmad Nasr, contacted me earlier this month about having a more in-depth discussion as a way of unpacking and illuminating some of the concepts I brought up in those 60 seconds. We spoke last week, and the video of that convo is now up, which you can check out via the embed below. It's about twenty minutes in length, but I think we got to go both deep and wide on a pretty broad range of issues and, at the risk of sounding immodest, I definitely think it's worth a watch.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Nostalgia Theater: Fake Ghostbusters Edition

I was finally able to catch the original Ghostbusters flick last night at the very tail end of its re-release (which I previously mentioned here), and with that experience still fresh in my rearview, plus Halloween coming up on Sunday, this one seemed an appropriate pick for this week's NT. When Ghostbusters became a huge theatrical hit in 1984, home studio Columbia Pictures began development almost immediately (as was the custom at the time) on a tie-in animated show. But this isn't about that. No, today we're going to talk about the other Ghostbusters.

Here's the backstory: In 1975, Filmation, one of the preeminent sources of TV kidvid from the '60s into the '80s, had produced a live action Saturday morning show called The Ghost Busters, which starred F-Troop's Forrest Tucker and Larry Storch (along with a guy in a monkey suit) as a team of hapless, well, Ghost Busters. The show came and went inside of 15 episodes, and that would have been that, except for Columbia licensing the name for their completely unrelated movie, and its subsequent success suddenly making the title (if not the property) very valuable. Here's the intro:

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Thinkin' 'Bout My Generation

I was reading an article recently -- I forget which, otherwise I'd post the link -- about the differences between how Generation X (folks born between the early '60s and the late-'70s) and the so-called Millenials (people born from the mid-'80s through the mid-'90s) view the world and their future prospects.

As I read up on the markers denoting the two demos, I realized I'd somehow fallen between the cracks of cultural currency -- neither old enough to have any special affinity for Lee Majors and Sonny & Cher, nor young enough to feel nostalgia for Power Rangers and Pokémon. Given the weird generational void I found myself stuck in, I was heartened to read this reflection by Doree Shafrir that sums up where my fellow 'tweeners and I appear to sit:
I was born during Jimmy Carter's presidency, a one-term administration remembered mostly for the Iran hostage crisis, the New York City blackout, and stagflation. The Carter babies—anyone born between his inauguration in January 1977 and Reagan's in January 1981—are now 30 to 34, and, like Carter himself, the weirdly brilliant yet deeply weird born-again Christian peanut farmer, this micro-generation is hard to pin down. We identify with some of Gen X's cynicism and suspicion of authority—watching Pee-Wee Herman proclaim, "I'm a loner, Dottie. A rebel," will do that to a kid—but we were too young to claim Singles and Reality Bites and Slacker as our own (though that didn't stop me from buying the soundtracks). And, while the proud alienation of the Gen X worldview doesn't totally sit right, we certainly don't yearn for the Organization Man-like conformity that the Millennials seem to crave.
Yep, that's pretty much me. She goes on to highlight why we feel the need to categorize generationally at all, which also rings very true:

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Why Real Steel Works

I caught Real Steel during its opening weekend a few weeks back, enjoyed it tremendously, and was trying like heck to get a write-up posted here, but time constraints and professional commitments conspired to keep that review out of reach juuuust long enough for it to slip off my radar until now, much to my regret. Suffice it to say, when I first saw the trailer for the robot boxing flick last summer, I had the same "WTF? Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots: The Movie?" reaction I'm guessing most people did, but I was nonetheless lured into the theater by initial positive word of mouth, and in the end I was blown away by how effective and surprisingly emotional it ended up being.

When you stop and think about it, this story of a deadbeat dad, a precocious youngster, and the robot that brings them both together, really shouldn't have worked. At all. I mean, the premise alone makes it sounds like Over the Top with metal men instead of arm wrestling. But more than merely reminding us yet again why lead Hugh Jackman has legitimate acting and star chops, the film, loosely adapted from the Richard Matheson short story "Steel" (which itself previously came to the screen via an episode of The Twilight Zone in the '50s), also demonstrates the peculiar kind of magic that can happen when actual thought is put into making a movie "work" beyond just its opening weekend (are you listening, Michael Bay?)

We get some insight into how deep this thought process went in a brief interview between Brendon Connelly and Steel director Shawn Levy, whose filmography thus far -- composed almost entirely of light, disposable family fare -- prepared me not at all for the immensely satisfying moviegoing experience that would follow. Levy's dissection of how the main robot, Atom, was to be portrayed, and how that impacted the world of the film, tells me that the director is ready for something bigger and better than more Night at the Museum sequels. What lies past the break is all spoilers, so if you haven't seen Real Steel yet, just take my word and watch it first, then read on.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Nostalgia Theater: Captain America Edition

Note: I'm working on being more regular with these "Nostalgia Theater" installments and having them good to go every Friday, so bear with me while I get some kind of a system going.

Captain America: The First Avenger hits home video this Tuesday on the heels of its very successful theatrical run last summer, and while the Joe Johnston-directed, Chris Evans-starrer made the notion of bringing Marvel's patriotic hero to the screen seem like a no-brainer, especially in this age of dime-a-dozen cinematic superheroes, there was a time when the pickings were mighty slim if you were looking for a successful comics-to-film translation for the Star-Spangled Avenger.

Although the character's first turn on the big screen came in the form of a Republic movie serial from 1944, the first live action Cap I was ever exposed to came via two 1979 made-for-TV movies/backdoor pilots, which saw a short, notable wave of Marvel-inspired telefilms following the success of the Incredible Hulk TV series on CBS. Of this batch, Spider-Man got himself a short-lived show (which I hope to talk about one of these days), but Cap never made it past two trial runs, and given what lies after the jump, it's probably not hard to see why.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Street People

Last night's Daily Show nicely encapsulated the intellectual divide I'm currently experiencing over the Occupy Wall Street movement. On the one hand, Jon Stewart bullseyed the whiplash-inducing hypocrisy of those who are criticizing the protests...

...and then, after the jump, John Oliver nailed what's bugging me about the protests themselves.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Community Minded

As you already know if you follow my Twitter feed, one of my fave shows right now is Community, NBC's skewed take on the community college experience (which, it's worth pointing out, is nothing like the actual community college experience.) While it's yet to find the mainstream acceptance of an Office or even, God help us, a Two and a Half Men, the show, created and exec produced by Dan Harmon, has nonetheless managed to skate to its third season thanks to a small-but-loyal group of fans who've embraced the quirky comedy's ability to push, pull, and stretch the sitcom format in new, unexpected ways.

This has been accomplished with the help of both topflight writing from Harmon and a tailor-made ensemble that includes star Joel McHale, the hilarious Donald Glover, and the always-dependable Chevy Chase, experiencing a late-career resurgance. Last week's installment, entitled "Remedial Chaos Theory" for the way it saw an unassuming pizza delivery morph into a harrowing journey across alternate timelines, is perhaps one of the best-ever exemplars of the show's cast and concept working at their absolute peak. Meditating on the episode last Friday, /Film's Adam Quigley arrived at much the same conclusion, and went even further in his analysis:

Recommended Reading

I keep going back-and-forth on my opinion of the "Occupy Wall Street" movement that's spreading across the country -- not because I disagree with the discontent underlying it, but because I question whether a bunch of shapeless, formless protests without clear goals are really going to do much to bring about the systemic change we so desperately need. That said, I do agree with Matt Taibbi that the worst thing this nascent movement needs is to be boxed into the usual Right-Left dialectic that's already made our politics so toxic.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Shopping Maul

Following up on Friday's post wherein I questioned the wisdom behind re-releasing the much-reviled Star Wars: Episode I to theaters in spiffy new 3D, Topless Robot has their own take on the decision making process that led to Team Lucas deciding on that poster (with its image of a very tired Yoda -- above -- summing up what I think we all felt when we heard about this). Here's a taste:
Lucasfilm Marketing Executive: Our research team indicates everyone hates The Phantom Menace.
George Lucas: Really?
Lucasfilm Marketing Executive: Very much so.
George Lucas: I had no idea.
Lucasfilm Marketing Executive: ...really?
George Lucas: What don't they like?
Lucasfilm Marketing Executive: Everything, really. Jar Jar. The story. Jake Lloyd. The borderline racist aliens. Natalie Portman macking on a 10-year-old. "Yippee." Jar Jar. Anakin building C-3PO for no reason whatsoever. Midichlorians. All the dull political bullshit. Jar Jar. T--
George Lucas: I think you said Jar Jar a couple of times already.
Lucasfilm Marketing Executive: People really don't like Jar Jar.
For the rest, jump over here. Very, very funny.

On a related tangent, I did a little impromptu market research yesterday and spoke with my nephew, who's twelve now, and he has absolutely no problem with either Jar Jar in particular or The Phantom Menace in general. Indeed, he wonders why anyone would. So maybe this really is a generational divide.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

New Video Interview With Yours Truly

This past Thursday my friend and fellow blogger Amanda Quraishi chatted me up via the new Spreecast video service for a breezy fifteen minute convo about Geek Wisdom, what qualifies me to call myself a geek authority, and some of my fave entries for the book. We experienced a few technical hiccups here and there, but it was still a fun time, and you can check it out in its entirety here.

And if you haven't ordered your copy of Geek Wisdom yet, get on it, willya!

Broken Discourse

I've often noted how the age of extreme partisan polarization we find ourselves in has so damaged our ability to come together and solve common problems that the resultant breach may simply have become insurmountable. I can't think of a better exemplar of the broken state of our discourse than this week's parting-of-ways between conservative commentator David Frum and NPR's weekly Marketplace radio program. The format of the show was a weekly point-counterpoint, with Frum holding forth on various news topics one week from the conservative perspective, and former Labor Secretary Robert Reich representing the progressive side the following week.

Now, I've said here several times that Frum, though I stridently disagree with many of his political views, is still someone who I'd enjoy a conversation with because he strikes me as someone who views conservatism as a policy prescription as opposed to an ideology. Well, after years of drifting further and further away from what's considered conservative/Republian orthodoxy, Frum felt compelled to hand his walking papers to NPR over the GOP's laserlike focus on cuts, cuts, cuts even at the expensive of longterm prosperity, and his inability to be "the Republican voice" on something he disagrees with. Here's the money quote, from his farewell Marketplace appearance:

Friday, October 14, 2011

George Lucas to Fans: You're Welcome.

Courtesy of Bleeding Cool, here's the release poster for next year's theatrical reissue of Star Wars: Episode I -- now in 3D! -- which seems like more of a threat than a promise, and serves as further proof that George Lucas is playing some kind of elaborate "screw you" mind game with his Star Wars faithful. How else to explain a re-release no one was asking for of a movie no one likes in a format no one wants to pay for? Also, given the stated plan to put these things out in number order at a rate of one-a-year (assuming they get a box office reception that even warrants it), it'll be 2015 before we'd even get to the good stuff, and who knows how many more changes Lucas will have made to the original flicks by then.

And for even more Lucas craziness, jump over to Topless Robot and read their take on the goofy plans now in motion to revive deceased Phantom Menace baddie Darth Maul via the Clone Wars TV show.

Intelligence Failures

I mentioned a few months ago that my friend Ray Nowosielski was working on a new documentary about the veil of half-truths surrounding the 9/11 attacks, and former CIA chief George Tenet's role in perpetuating it. Since then, he's become a part of the story thanks to revelations that emerged in his and partner John Duffy's interview with former Bush terrorism official Richard Clarke. As the investigation continues to unfold, and with the doco still forthcoming, Ray has a lengthy article, co-written by Rory O'Connor, at Salon that lays out the extent of their findings in exquisite detail. Fascinating stuff.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Recommended Reading

The Huffington Post's Ryan Grim and Mike Sacks lay out the long, tortured history of "corporate personhood" as a concept, from its origins in the 1800s to its current role as the key actor upon the body politic thanks to the "Citizens United" ruling of nearly two years ago. Depressing stuff, to be sure, but instructive all the same.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Zaki's Corner Nominated For Best Blog

I got some good news to start out my week yesterday from the Brass Crescent Awards, celebrating the best and brightest in the Muslim blogosphere, where this site has once again been nominated in the "Best Blog" category. They even went ahead and compared me to Mark Twain in their descriptor, something which I'm exceedingly grateful for and humbled by (though, to paraphrase the man himself, it's a comparison that's been greatly exaggerated). All this is made even more humbling when I look at the calibre of writers with whom I've been included, as well as those in the other categories. Big thanks to everyone out there who submitted me for consideration, and I hope you'll continue to show your support by casting your votes. Ballots close on November 7, so you can expect plenty more friendly reminders before then.

Assembling the Avengers Trailer

Here it is, courtesy of Comic Book Resources. The years-long build-up is very nearly reaching its payoff. Watch, enjoy, and realize that May suddenly feels very far away.

Jump over to Apple for all the spiffy hi-def versions.

More Cop Talk

As you already know if you read this site regularly I'm a pretty big fan of the original RoboCop flick from '87, which is why I've been both cautious and optimistic about MGM's plans to reinvent the property for the big screen. That door has definitely swung much more in the direction of "optimistic" the more I've read about the approach director José Padilha plans/hopes to take with the material. Thanks to a lengthy new interview with Crave Online he once again has me feeling very good about this project's potential chances of cutting through the usual Hollywood noise to become something very interesting. Click past the jump to check out some of the Robo-centric highlights from their conversation:

Monday, October 10, 2011

Recommended Reading

I agree with Paul Krugman that the longterm impact and effectiveness of the "Occupy Wall Street" movement that's taken shape over the past few weeks remains to be seen, but I also agree with his read of why it may be making certain power brokers in this country -- political and financial alike -- feeling a mite fidgety. Said Krugman in his column yesterday:
What’s going on here? The answer, surely, is that Wall Street’s Masters of the Universe realize, deep down, how morally indefensible their position is. They’re not John Galt; they’re not even Steve Jobs. They’re people who got rich by peddling complex financial schemes that, far from delivering clear benefits to the American people, helped push us into a crisis whose aftereffects continue to blight the lives of tens of millions of their fellow citizens.  
Yet they have paid no price. Their institutions were bailed out by taxpayers, with few strings attached. They continue to benefit from explicit and implicit federal guarantees — basically, they’re still in a game of heads they win, tails taxpayers lose. And they benefit from tax loopholes that in many cases have people with multimillion-dollar incomes paying lower rates than middle-class families.
More at the link.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Charles Napier, RIP

The best thing I can say about Charles Napier, who passed away Wednesday at the age of 75, is that when I was a kid, I really hated his guts.

Mind you, that's no reflection on the man, who I understand was just lovely, but rather a comment on his capacity as a character actor to continually and consummately embody all manner of weaselly bureaucrats, corporate stooges, and hardbitten army types in a film career spanning four decades. While his name may have been unknown to many, the gravel-voiced, granite-jawed Napier's face was likely a familiar one, having popped up in everything from episodes of The A-Team and Knight Rider to feature films like The Blues Brothers.

The first time I remember seeing him, and the reason for that mad-on alluded to up-top, was in 1985's Rambo: First Blood, Part II playing one of those aforementioned weaselly bureaucrats, Murdock, whose betrayal of our hero at the movie's midpoint propels the action for the remainder of its running time. His character's dialogue may have been simplistic, and his motivation wafer thin, but Napier did his job like a champ, and made the countdown to his inevitable comeuppance an interminable one for those of us sitting in the audience.

In later years, the actor, who also had a brief, memorable turn as the unlucky police officer who gets de-faced by Hannibal Lecter in 1991's Silence of the Lambs, did voice duty as the Ted Turner-esque boss on the short-lived animated sitcom The Critic (an underrated gem), and continued to work regularly in features like the Austin Powers movies and TV shows like Curb Your Enthusiasm until just a few years ago. While he may never have become a household name, he did spend forty-plus years turning in solid, dependable work as one of Hollywood's most reliable utility players, and that's not a bad legacy to leave behind.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Steve Jobs, RIP

Steve Jobs knew how to part me with my money.

That was one reason why we had an informal rule in my family that when I went into the Apple Store to "browse," it had to be without my wallet or with adult supervision. The very long arm of the Apple founder's influence on society can be seen in everything from me typing this post on a MacBook to the fact that iPods, iPhones, and iPads have achieved a kind of ubiquity that's fundamentally altered our collective conception of technology's role in our lives, and what it's capable of achieving.

With all the testimonials that have hit the media since Jobs' passing last night, with more sure to come in the days and weeks ahead, there's not much for me to say beyond the sadness that, at 56, he still had many years of creativity ahead of him, and the sobering realization that even with all the ingenuity and money at his disposal, cancer was an obstacle even he couldn't overcome. I'm also reminded of an essay I wrote for Geek Wisdom in reference to a quote by late author Isaac Asimov, which seemed applicable enough to post in its entirety below:

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Franco's Rise Fall

When I first heard that actor James Franco had been cast as the human lead in last summer's Rise of the Planet of the Apes, filling what was essentially the Ricardo Montalban role from the original Apes series' analogue, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, I was under the impression that Franco, like Montalban before him, would bite the big one before the credits rolled. This is something that was confirmed for me when I tracked down a copy of the shooting script.

However, by the time the movie actually hit theaters, the filmmakers and/or studio clearly had a change of heart, and Franco's Will Rodman bid his hirsute "son" Caesar an emotional goodbye, but still lived to see the credits (though if he made it past said credits is another question entirely, and if you've seen the movie you know what I'm talking about). I always felt like there was a story behind this change, and now we have it, thanks to Fox post-production prexy Ted Gagliano, who tells The Hollywood Reporter...

"The Comments Section"

From last weekend's Saturday Night Live. Per usual with SNL, the execution is a little bit dodgy, but the concept is bang-on. Jason Sudeikis really is one of the show's secret weapons.

Sunday, October 02, 2011


Growing up in the '80s and '90s, comic artist/writer Frank Miller was an inspirational figure to me. His seminal Batman opus, The Dark Knight Returns, depicting an aged Bruce Wayne reclaiming his cape and cowl to set a post-apocalyptic Gotham City aright once more, was one of those rare pieces of comic literature I felt comfortable handing off to "civilians" to prove that comic books weren't, in fact, for kids. And when you're a kid yourself, all you want is the validation of knowing that the things you love aren't mere childish distractions -- no, they're serious

Thus, Miller's particular oeuvre -- as defined by the aforementioned Batman and a character-redefining run on Marvel's Daredevil before that -- held a special appeal for me, with both his superhero works and later projects like Sin City and 300 all awash in the mood and shadow and macho posturing and barely-veiled adult innuendos that were proof enough of just how grown up I was (not grown up enough, mind you, to appreciate the inherent irony of pointing to colored picture books as evidence of said maturity). 

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Freedom of Speech v. Freedom to Hate

As you know, I've been posting semi-regularly here about the ongoing anti-mosque shenanigans in the small town of Murfreesboro, TN, where a campaign to stop the construction of an Islamic center has led to some pretty shocking displays of hate and ignorance on the part of those opposed. In addition to blatant stuff like vandalism and arson, another venue for this hate and ignorance has been a local paper called The Rutherford Reader, which has dedicated countless paragraphs since this saga first began to a very pronounced, very transparent anti-Muslim agenda on the part of its publisher, and which is being opposed in a campaign by one citizen (not a Muslim, FYI) who's simply had enough of the hate. When I wrote about it last month, I said this was a story that makes you feel pride and shame in equal measure. That's still the case. Here's an update, via Jonathan Meador at Nashville Scene.