Thursday, June 30, 2011

Less Than Meets The Eye

Zaki's Review: TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON

Is Transformers: Dark of the Moon, the third cinematic iteration of Hasbro's undying toyline, better than Revenge of the Fallen, the witless, charmless sequel from two years ago that I've previously said I'd sooner stick an icepick in my ear than watch again? Sure. But let's not mistake that to mean it's anything close to good. Like its immediate predecessor, Dark of the Moon is loud, dumb, and dull. It's as much an assault on the senses as it is on the intelligence, and as trilogy-cappers go, this latest explode-a-thon from director Michael Bay -- notwithstanding its brilliant use of 3D -- is wholly unsatisfying and wholly unexceptional.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

New Detectives For Law & Order: SVU

With Mariska Hargitay signaling that her time on the force is winding down, and Chris Meloni already moving on to red, blue, yellow, and bluer pastures, change is in the air for the last Law & Order standing, Special Victims Unit, which finds itself at a crossroads as it enters its thirteenth year: will it prove a revolving door impervious to cast changes like the Law & Order mothership, or a star vehicle that collapses without its original detective duo, a la Criminal Intent?

Well, NBC and Dick Wolf are clearly banking on the former, and in an effort to keep the horrible sex crimes going (and scenery-chewing guest stars gainfully employed) for at least a few seasons longer, they've recruited a new pair of gumshoes to step into the breach where Benson and Stabler used to tread: Kelli Giddish (late of NBC's blink-and-it's-gone Chase from last fall) and Danny Pino (no stranger to procedurals after seven seasons on Cold Case for CBS).

Monday, June 27, 2011

A Green Lantern Sequel? Not So Fast.

With its critical lambasting and toxic word-of-mouth translating into an underwhelming premiere last weekend and a precipitous 66% drop-off this weekend, the time has come to officially classify Green Lantern as at best a disappointment, and at worst a flop. And believe me, despite the shellacking I gave it last week, there's no one more broken up about this than I am. Green Lantern is one of my favorite characters, and I'd have loved nothing more than to see this movie elevate the brand into the mainstream consciousness the same way Iron Man did for that character and that property.

Alas and alack, with all the franchise machinery at their disposal, the filmmakers forgot to craft a good enough movie to serve as its beating heart, thus making Lantern the 2011 equivalent of 1998 franchise non-starter Godzilla. Like that monstrosity, which had home studio Sony bravely promise a forthcoming sequel even in the face of brickbats from critics and apathy from audiences (sound familiar?), the folks at Warner Bros. have now confirmed that they're going ahead with development on another Green Lantern installment. But if you enjoyed the flick and are breathlessly awaiting Part Deux, you probably shouldn't break out the green bubbly just yet. 

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The End of Criminal Intent

While the final first-run episode of Law & Order: LA (a leftover from the Skeet Ulrich pre-reboot stretch) is tomorrow night on NBC, the more important Law & Order finale is tonight, as USA airs Criminal Intent's final hour after ten seasons of quirky crimebusting from star Vincent D'Onofrio and partner Kathryn Erbe. While the decision to replace D'Onofrio with Jeff Goldblum didn't extend the show's lifespan the way the producers had no doubt envisioned, it's still something that they were able to rope in the show's original detective duo for one last season, giving CI the kind of ending no other Law & Order series has ever been able to enjoy: a planned one.

There's also a kind symmetry (albeit entirely coincidental) in Criminal Intent ending so near the death of Columbo star Peter Falk (who passed away this past Friday), as D'Onofrio's Det. Goren had been the most clear heir to Columbo's TV legacy. In marking the end of the series, Ken Tucker makes the case that it also effectively marks the end of Law & Order as the television force it once was, notwithstanding the continuing Special Victims Unit. I'm inclined to agree, with the one caveat that the brilliant Law & Order: UK is still chugging along, and that makes me happy. For some reflections from D'Onofrio and Erbe on the close of their Law & Order chapter, click over to MSNBC.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Meloni of Steel

Exactly one month ago I noted that Christopher Meloni had hung up his NYPD badge and departed the cast of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. And while the search for Elliot Stabler's replacement on the force has continued apace, in what feels like a fissure in the space-time continuum that's merged all the topics I cover on this site, Meloni has lined up a heck of a follow-up gig: a "major role" (per Deadline) in Zach Snyder's Man of Steel, the Chris Nolan-produced Superman reboot. No word on who the once-and-former SVUer will be playing (though some in the online commentariat are calling Lex Luthor -- please, God, no), but his signing (assuming all goes well with the negotiations) comes at the end of a very impressive month casting-wise for the Superman project, which also brought aboard Russell Crowe and Julia Ormond to play Kal-El's Kryptonian parents Jor-El and Lara, and is rapidly barreling towards its August start date (for a December 2012 bow).

Friday, June 24, 2011

Islamophobia's Top Ten

You'll notice that whenever I use this blog to take a whack at some of the rampant examples of Islamophobia out there, the same handful of names seem to always pop up with regularity. While the rules of polite society tell us that anyone who builds an entire brand on dehumanizing an entire demographic should be roundly criticized and marginalized, the business of being anti-Muslim has not only survived, but by certain measures thrived. So who are the most rampant repeat offenders in the Islamophobia growth industry? The Southern Poverty Law Center has helpfully compiled a rogue's gallery of the worst and darkest. Their list is mostly populated with al the usual suspects you'd expect, like Pamela Geller, Robert Spencer, and Debbie Schlussel (who, in addition to regularly spewing her Muslim-hate, also writes movie reviews that are so comically idiotic as to defy description), but there are a few characters on there I hadn't heard of until now. Good to know.

American Dream

Last Monday, while I was tearing the Green Lantern movie a new one I also mentioned that the braintrust at Marvel Studios have made this whole superhero movie thing look easy with success following success. Well, that statement is going to be put to the test come late July, when the studio ushers out this summer's bumper crop of costumed cavorters with director Joe Johnston's Captain America: The First Avenger. While Thor in May had the tough task of making the fantastical Thunder God palatable to a mass audience, this one has the arguably tougher task of convincing folks that a decidedly jingoistic, rah-rah hero like Cap still has something to say in 2011.

That said, if the very strong teaser trailer from March didn't do the job already, I have a feeling this new full trailer may well seal the deal with the fence-sitters. Not only does it give a sense of the film's sweep and scope (maybe a little too much, but there's a lot of that going around lately), it also definitively convinces me that Chris Evans is the right guy to play Steve Rogers (a.k.a. Captain America) in a way that the Green Lantern trailers never quite managed to do vis-a-vis Ryan Reynolds and Hal Jordan. This is Marvel's final curtain call before the highly-anticipated team-up flick The Avengers next May, and we'll see how well the stage has been set when Captain America hits theaters July 22.


Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Bachmann Presidency?

While the prospects of a Sarah Palin presidential run are currently dimmer than she is, when the history of this next election is written, Palin's real role may well be as a John the Baptist figure to Michele Bachmann, the Minnesota congresswoman who's managed to take Palin's brand of messianic conservatism and meld it with a laserlike message discipline that the former veep candidate could never dream of mustering. While the Tea Party doyenne has mostly been treated as a joke since her McCarthy-esque splash on MSNBC's Hardball in '08, with her just-announced presidential run prompting guffaws on the right and salivating on the left, the fact that she surpassed the non-existent bar that had been set for her at the Republican debate last week and emerged as the "winner" in the eyes of many has suddenly catapulted her into the ranks of actual contenders. Do I think she'd get the nomination? My gut says no, but per Matt Taibbi in a very lengthy piece for Rolling Stone, thanks to Bachmann's double-barreled backing from Christian conservatives and Tea Party types, she actually has a plausible outside shot at not only snaking the nomination, but even potentially the presidency, and that should be absolutely terrifying to those of us who value things like reason and common sense.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Crazy Apes

Last March I was grousing about how little of a marketing presence Fox's upcoming Planet of the Apes prequel Rise of the Planet of the Apes has had, but boy have they been making up for lost time lately. We got the first teaser trailer in April, the full trailer a few weeks ago, and now a slightly longer international trailer has hit the web, courtesy of The Sun. While it definitely gives a sense of the movie's story and scope, including the relationship between scientist James Franco and super-ape Caesar, I'm a bit put-off by how much of the story and scope it gives us.

I mean, let's save something for the folks who're gonna pay for their tickets, right? Granted, the title already telegraphs how this thing plays out, but it would have been nice if they preserved more of the mystery behind how the film's titular hairy hordes go from flinging poo to chucking spears (it's all Draco Malfoy's fault, apparently). All qualms aside though, I'm still very excited for this, and hope it closes out the summer movie season in a strong way:


Monday, June 20, 2011

Emerald Done

Zaki's Review: GREEN LANTERN

When I reviewed Jonah Hex last summer, I proclaimed the screen adaptation of the DC Comic (which I readily copped to not being intimately familiar with) as "another disposable piece of summer flotsam." Now cut to a year later and here I am saying the exact same thing about another DC Comics translation. And while Green Lantern isn't anything close to the utter catastrophe of Hex, the fact that I am intimately familiar with the character and concept makes the bitter aftertaste that much more pronounced.

It shouldn't have been like this, of course. Created by artist Martin Nodell in the "Golden Age" of comics in the 1940s and revived with a science fiction twist in the early '60s by editor Julius Schwartz, writer John Broome, and artist Gil Kane, this has always been one of the most film-ready properties in the entire DC arsenal. But for as much time as it spends schooling erstwhile test pilot-turned-space cop Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) on the emotions of will (represented by the color green) and fear (represented by the color yellow), the one emotion I never expected to feel during a Green Lantern movie was boredom.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Recommended Reading

Yesterday I mentioned the elevation of Herman Cain into the upper echelons of Islamophobic Crankery, but Cain is a mere Herman-Come-Lately compared to the practiced looniness of Pamela Geller, who rose to national prominence last year thanks to her "Ground Zero Mosque" crusade, but who's been toiling away in the drainage ditch of anti-Muslim hate for many, many years now. Of the few arrows in their quiver, the one that Geller and her ilk most often deploy to burnish their non-existent credibility on Muslim-related issues is to drop the occasional Arabic word ("dhimmi!" "taqiyya!") into the midst of their rants as if to imply "See, I know all about these people! I even speak their language!" Well, text and context being what they are, it can sometimes be worthwhile to look at the specific terminology these folks are using to make their case, and actually, y'know, find out what they mean. To this end, Salon's Justin Elliot talked with noted scholar John Esposito to explain and contextualize the anti-Muslim right's most commonly-used terms. What he said is well worth a read.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Wolverine Claws Mangold

In mid-March, director Darren Aronofsky departed Fox sequel The Wolverine citing family issues, and his exit left myself and many others feeling angry at ourselves for daring to get our hopes up that the mutant's movie series may actually be on the right track after its disastrous last go. Still, this being a multimillion dollar franchise, you knew it wouldn't be long before the long arm of the claw eventually caught up with a replacement director, which it has in the form of James Mangold. This is good news. And while I'll grant that Mangold is no Aronofsky, his selection is still a welcome sign, along with the brilliant X-Men: First Class from a few weeks ago, that Fox is serious about restoring the lustre to this beleaguered brand.

While I can't speak for Mangold's Knight and Day from last summer, not having seen it, I can say that I enjoyed his Sly Stallone drama Cop Land in '97 quite a bit, and the 2007 remake of 3:10 To Yuma, starring Russell Crowe and Christian Bale, is probably one of the more underrated films of recent years. As always, my hope is that Mangold is able to bring more of the gritty, character stuff to bear and can avoid being subsumed by the usual Fox Franchise Tsunami. As far as I know, The Wolverine is still headed for summer 2012 berth, which doesn't give 'em a lot of time to put it together, but First Class came together under a similar crunch, and that turned out swimmingly. While this is still a wait-and-see, I'm definitely feeling better about this one than I was a few months ago.

Cain Enabled

Among those occupying the clown car that is the GOP's current presidential field, one of the more disagreeable candidates to emerge from a veritable cadre of disagreeables is pizza magnate Herman Cain. While expressing anti-Muslim sentiments is now de rigueur if any Republican wants their party's nod, Cain's Islamophobic screeds have put him right alongside fellow hopeless hopeful Newt Gingrich in their virulence, and are even more rank by virtue of the fact that a) he actually seems to believe what he's saying, and b) given his own history, he's better equipped than most to know how dangerous it can be to form blanket opinions about a majority of people based on the unfortunate actions of a few.

"It's not bigoted," protested Cain a little too much, but of course that's exactly what it is. Now, I've been making merry sport of Herman these past few months, both here and on my Twitter feed, thanks to his alarmingly ignorant rhetoric (of which Islamophobia marks only the tip of a very sizable iceberg). And based on his performance at Monday's Republican presidential debate, wherein he called on any Muslims serving in government to take a "loyalty oath" to the United States, it sure looks like he'll be giving me plenty more material between now and whenever he inevitably gets out of the race. Here's Slate's William Saletan on Cain's Muslim problem, and the inherent ignorance it traffics in:
Now that Cain has climbed the corporate ladder and is running for president, he faces a new kind of racism: the assumption that a black man must be liberal. Cain ridicules this stereotype. "Some black people can think for themselves," he says. 
But Muslims? They all think alike. "I have not found a Muslim that has said that they will denounce Sharia law [and] support the Constitution," Cain told Ingraham. In another interview, he explained: "The reason I made the statement that I would not put a Muslim in my cabinet, or in my administration, is because I want people that are dedicated to the Constitution. … I don't know one Muslim who will denounce Sharia Law and then say that they can support the Constitution." 
Herman, you really need to get out more.
More from Saletan at the link, and more from Cain whenever he opens his mouth next, I'm sure.

From THE ONION...

I'll be catching Green Lantern later this week and hope to have my review up shortly thereafter, but in the meantime, check this very funny vid that uses the flick's premiere to take aim at the bout of "same old, same old" that's currently afflicting the cinematic superhero genre:


'Green Lantern' To Fulfill America's Wish To See Lantern-Based Characters On Big Screen

Monday, June 13, 2011

On Reboots and Lawsuits

Two weeks ago, I had a brief post on the ongoing legal battle between DC/Warners and the heirs of Superman creator Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster over the respective parties' future copyright interest in the Man of Steel. A few days later, I offered a lengthy reaction to the announcement by DC Comics that they intend to reboot and relaunch their line of superhero comics this September with spankin' new #1 issues across the board (that's the cover to the brand new Action Comics #1 to the right, by the way). It occurred to me at the time that these two seemingly-unrelated events may have more than just a cursory connection to one another, and my friend Keith Howell (who also reviews comics every week over at AICN under the nom de plume of "Professor Challenger") has done the diligence of diving headfirst into the swamp of legalese that is the Superman lawsuit. What he's come up with sheds a great deal of light not only on the many maneuvers that DC has made up to this point to tip the scales in their favor, but also how the Great DC Reboot of 2011 marks the latest -- perhaps most desperate -- volley in that fight. It all makes for a fascinating read that anyone with an interest in these stories would do well to check out.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Super "Ehh"

Zaki's Review: SUPER 8

After I left my screening of Super 8, writer/director JJ Abrams' slavish homage to the late-'70s/early-'80s oeuvre of executive producer Steven Spielberg, I mentioned to a friend that it didn't wow me like I'd hoped. He responded, "Is that because you're not ten years old?"

And therein, I think, lies the heart of my reaction to the film: for as proficient and practiced a production as it is (and yeah, it is), I'm not ten anymore. It's possible that, for an audience that hasn't seen E.T. or The Goonies or Gremlins or any of the multitudinous other sources from which Abrams has dutifully cribbed his every character and every story beat, this might mark an experience like no other. But I have, and thus, it can't help but not be.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Countdown to COUNTDOWN

It's been a light week posting-wise, mainly because the Weiner-gate story has taken up so much media bandwidth that they've seemingly forgotten there's a world beyond Anthony Weiner's unmentionables. I don't really have much to say there except that I used to admire Weiner, both for his candor and willingness to fight for what he believed, but he displayed a degree of stupidity so stunningly shortsighted with this whole thing that it was enough to ensure me not having much time for him going forward.

Moving to the main topic of this post, Keith Olbermann's new version of Countdown will be making its debut a week from Monday, this time under the auspices of Al Gore's Current TV venture. The nice thing for Olbermann is that this allows him to become the biggest fish in a very small pond, as opposed to the one liberal voice among many that he became during the latter days of his MSNBC tenure (as a result, one can argue, of the success he himself achieved).

I've mentioned here previously that since Olbermann left MSNBC's air I've taken to watching and enjoying Lawrence O'Donnell's Last Word, now in that same slot, and I'm genuinely curious to see whether I feel like following Olbermann over. While I'm sure I'll check out the new Countdown out of curiosity, I have a feeling I won't. Talking about his big MSNBC-Current switcheroo, and the various dealings that led up to that point, the famously-combative Olbermann spoke at length with Rolling Stone for an in-depth profile where, love him or hate him, he proves he's still the same Keith.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

From THE ONION...

Oprah Winfrey looks back on her just-concluded talk show's quarter-century run. Spit-take funny.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

CLASS Act

Zaki's Review: X-MEN: FIRST CLASS

Two summers ago, I was ready to proclaim Fox's X-Men movies "done, done, done." I've never been more happy to be proven wrong.

Following the well-trod paths of recent reboots like Batman Begins, Casino Royale, and Star Trek, all tasked with helping their respective brands reclaim past prestige after prior stumbles, X-Men: First Class, the fifth go at the eleven (!!) year old series, takes us back to the beginnings of Marvel's multitudinous mutant mythology. In mining the rich narrative vein of the fast friendship and bitter breakdown between eternal rivals Professor X and Magneto, it single-handedly rescues the franchise from the creative doldrums that crippled its recent entries

Friday, June 03, 2011

End of the LAW & ORDER Era?

On the Law & Order front, Criminal Intent closes shop this month, and last-show-standing Special Victims Unit's creative shuffles have prompted the usual round-robin of "Is Law & Order done" articles even as New York Senator Chuck Schumer tries to persuade NBC to bring the original series back to the East Coast. While I've already gone over my take on how the Peacock's out-of-the-blue cancellation of the Mothership set off a domino effect that botched the fortunes of recently-axed successor Law & Order: LA, now burning off its pre-retool episodes, Merrill Barr at Film School Rejects argues that the loss of star Christopher Meloni at SVU may well be the sign that it's time for the brand to pack it in. And after twenty-plus years on the beat, I don't think anyone would begrudge them turning in their papers after a job well done.

AdAge's Brian Steinberg, however, makes the case that the fortunes for all procedurals, once that most bulletproof of TV genres (as hilariously elucidated by writer Josh Friedman last year), seem to be down across the board (including for CBS's multitudinous CSI franchise) perhaps signaling a paradigm shift in TV viewing habits. While that may be true, I also think that even if the Law & Order brand does leave the ranks of first-run television in the next year or two (an eventuality that's likelier now than it was a month ago), it's worth too much to NBC/Universal to lie fallow for very long. Having soldiered through changing social and political climates as well as innumerable cast changes, it's the kind of property studios dream of owning. As NBC president Robert Greenblatt says in the Steinberg piece, "It's a franchise I'd love to keep going." And so it will -- eventually.

Money Woes

Here's Jon Stewart from last night's Daily Show, crystallizing in under five minutes the "reductio ad absurdum" that characterizes the current GOP's forehead-slapping fiscal Scroogery, whether we're talking about potentially failing to raise the debt limit, cutting Medicare, or maaaaaaybe providing aid to folks who've been stricken by natural disasters recently (but God help you if you talk about raising taxes!):

APE-ocalypse Now!

You may recall that I thought the teaser trailer for the upcoming Rise of the Planet of the Apes did a nice job of playing things close to the chest while still setting the stage for the "rise" promised by its title. Well, the new full trailer, just released yesterday, goes a bit further, giving us plenty of man v. monkey action, but also showing the circumstances that lead up to all the poop flying, including more with Caesar, the hyper-intelligent chimp played by Andy Serkis (and by Roddy McDowall in 1972's Conquest of the Planet of the Apes -- the thematic inspiration for this installment). Really liking the vibe on this, and hope it signals good things come August 5.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

The Big DC Comics Reboot

I feel I'm turning the nerd-o-tron up to eleven by doing a comic post right after a Star Trek post, but I figured this news was big enough that I should at least acknowledge it. In a move that's already ignited a Firestorm (pun!) of controversy across the Interwebs, DC Comics announced plans earlier this week to go all Batman Begins on their entire superhero universe, using the now-unfolding Flashpoint storyline, set in a time-tripping alternate universe, as a means to reboot their superhero line's history and relaunch every title (including, potentially, warhorses Detective Comics and Action Comics -- the former of which gave the company its initials, the latter of which recently surpassed #900) with a fresh new #1 issue.

By my read, the motivation here is really two-fold. First, by releasing their titles digitally the same day as print editions (as they plan to do), DC hope to cash in on the renewed life that iPad subscriptions can potentially offer (and beat chief competitor Marvel to the punch on the day-and-date digital front). The other concern at play here is no doubt to lay to rest the perception that DC -- home of stalwarts like Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, The Flash, and Wonder Woman -- is quaint and stodgy (as compared to their perpetually-hipper crosstown competitors). That perception seemingly applies even on the movie side of things, where DC has been rolling snake eyes with any property other than Batman -- remember Jonah Hex? We'll have to see if things change in two weeks with Green Lantern's big screen debut).