Sunday, July 31, 2011

Zaki's Retro Review: Planet of the Apes (1968)

Note: Two summers ago I walked down memory lane and re-watched the entire catalogue of Star Trek features and offered my thoughts and reflections. With Rise of the Planet of the Apes hitting theaters this Friday, and my oft-stated love of the Apes franchise a part of the record in these parts, I've decided to do something similar here, hopefully lending some context to the experience of watching the new flick for you and me both.
When Planet of the Apes was first being pitched to wary cinema-goers in 1968, it was billed as "an unusual and important motion picture event." And while I doubt very much that anyone involved knew at the time how much of a half-life the dystopic fable of evolution turned upside down would end up enjoying, as far as descriptors go, "unusual and important" pretty nicely encompasses its place in movie history. "Unusual" for how it managed to wrap so many discussions of so many heady topics into such an ostensibly populist package, and "important" for how it redefined forever going forward the notion of film-as-franchise that's so commonplace today.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Debt Threats and the Imaginary Middle

I rattled off a tweet earlier in the week, whilst watching the debt ceiling debate continue to unravel, that wondered whether the business community had any regrets now that the Tea Party folks they helped get into Congress are very close to torpedoing the global economy. And that question becomes even more relevant with today's news that Sen. Jim DeMint, king of the Tea Party crazy over in the Senate, is willing to hold up the whole thing unless he gets an impossible-to-pass balanced budget constitutional amendment through the congress ("Give me what I want, or the economy gets it!").

There are a whole lot of things wrong in this debate, starting with the Tea Party getting drunk on its own ideological Kool-Aid and the Obama Administration's many tactical missteps -- including the failure to decouple spending cuts in the budget with debt limit increases, the decision to take the 14th Amendment off the table as a possible way out of this, and most egregiously, for buying into the GOP's erroneous "austerity or nothing" framing. But as Paul Krugman explains, perhaps the most wrong of all comes from the media's unwillingness/inability to tackle this debate honestly without having to couch it in terms of a mythical "balance" that, at least in the case of this particular issue, doesn't really exist.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Zaki's Review: Captain America: The First Avenger

As with last May's Thor, Marvel's Captain America: The First Avenger, directed by Joe Johnston and starring Chris Evans as the iconic superhero, unreels with machine-like efficiency from end-to-end. It's loaded with enough action and emotion to lure in audiences not steeped in comic book minutia, but also peppered with enough tie-ins and callbacks to send a tingle up the legs of the faithful. That it's executed with such finesse and polish only makes more pronounced the very stark contrast with Warners' Green Lantern from June. While that production had wanted very much to follow in Marvel's multi-franchise footsteps, its failure and Captain America's creative and commercial success only proves yet again how, Christopher Nolan notwithstanding, DC has essentially become the Microsoft to Marvel's Apple.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Muslish

I've been a bit under the weather the past few days, so I hit a bit of a logjam (blogjam?) with things I want to get posted. But as I get back up to speed, I wanted to make sure to get this bit of video from Monday evening's Colbert Report up, wherein the host makes some very pointed comments about the direction in which the media immediately began to point fingers when news of the horrible massacre in Norway first broke on Friday. Well worth a view:

Friday, July 22, 2011

Early Risers

I'm hoping to have the first in a series of Planet of the Apes retro reviews up sometime this weekend, with my Captain America review shortly thereafter, but with two weeks and counting until Rise of the Planet of the Apes launches, I thought it'd be nice to whet your appetite with the clips that Fox has been ladling out in rapid succession this past week. As has been obvious from the beginning, the studio is laying much of the onus for success on the special effects technology, with Caesar performer Andy Serkis already being talked up for high honors and star James Franco notably backburnered (not altogether surprising, given how he managed to make himself radioactive in the last six months). I've placed the clips after the jump because, as usual with this movie, they're sort of giving away the store. So if you want to remain blissfully unspoiled you'd do well to avert your gaze.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

First Webs

Following on from last Friday's post, and no doubt in response to a shaky-cam, bootleg version that briefly hit the 'net early in the week, Sony has released the first teaser trailer for next summer's The Amazing Spider-Man. It looks fine for what it is, with Andrew Garfield in particular standing out as really a great choice for the title character. But given the narrative terrain covered here -- different, but not too different from what we've already seen fairly recently -- I'm still not seeing the pressing need for this revamp. Unlike Batman and Bond, neither of whom had an in-depth on-screen origin until their respective '05 and '06 reboots, Spider-Man's beginnings were pretty well covered already by Sam Raimi back in 2002.

Not to say the Raimi version is so sacrosanct that it can't ever be overwritten -- quite the contrary, in fact, as the extant Spider-trilogy can't help but seem a bit quaint compared to the current crop of Marvel movies that it helped to usher in -- but I'd have preferred this franchise go the Bond route (well, the pre-Craig Bond route) and just dive in with new adventures rather than keep doing the same superhero origin stuff that the genre has practically worn down to its nubs lately thanks to stuff like Green Lantern. Anyway, check the teaser below and see if you agree or disagree:

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Job Creationists

Here's Jon Stewart on the very curious linguistic legerdemain being deployed by congressional Republicans in their messaging over the debt limit negotiations. Very funny, and pretty much dead-on:

Recommended Reading

Stephan Salisbury examines the many recent instances of Islamophobic rhetoric being subtly and not-so-subtly inserted into the midst of local and national elections and argues that -- contrary to the conventional wisdom that all the fearing and smearing seems to have created -- it's a surefire way to lose those elections. Chalk one up for common sense, I guess.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Dark Knight Teases

The ultimate Christopher Nolan Batman epic, The Dark Knight Rises, isn't due to hit theaters until next summer, but it's never too early to get the word out if you're Warner Brothers, and so we have our first hit at the pipe courtesy of this teaser that debuted last weekend in front of the (also) ultimate Harry Potter. As far as trailers go, it's pretty "meh" in terms of establishing the story or stars, with mostly repurposed footage from the previous two flicks woven throughout, but the rare new stuff includes Gary Oldman's Jim Gordon hospitialized (dying?), and a first peek at the villainous Bane, played by Tom Hardy. But let's be honest here, given the level of anticipation folks have for this, the Warner team could have a static image of "Chris Nolan's Batman 3 -- Summer 2012" written in crayon over a Bat-symbol for ninety seconds, call it a teaser trailer, and audiences would still line up in droves, so we should probably just be grateful for whatever scraps we get. Don't worry, there'll be plenty to see and discuss between now and when the movie debuts.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Case Closed for Law & Order: CI

When Law & Order: Criminal Intent aired its ostensible series finale a few weeks ago, producer Dick Wolf and stars Vincent D'Onofrio and Kathryn Erbe left the door just a little bit ajar in case a combination of solid ratings, audience enthusiasm, and network goodwill allowed for the show to soldier on. Well, that door has officially been shut and latched as of last Friday, with USA network prexy Jeff Wachtel signaling that Detectives Goren and Eames have officially divined their last criminal's intent. I can't say this is altogether surprising, as the stated goal all along in the wake of the creative shakeup after the previous season had been for the show to bring back its banner team for what I termed a "victory lap." And while these last eight eps marked a very welcome return to the series at its best, I'm also glad to see it go out on its own terms with a finale that was actually intended to be finale, as opposed the just-ended Law & Order: LA, which whimpered to a close with its season/series ender last Monday (not three weeks ago, as I erroneously mentioned earlier).

Brazen Cain, Part II

Following on from my post of Friday, wherein I dissected Herman Cain's ignorant comments decrying the construction of a mosque in Murfreesboro, TN, the GOP presidential contender showed up on Fox News this morning, where it fell to host Chris Wallace to act as the voice of moderation and common sense (yeah, yeah, I know...). But like any ideologue, rather than take advantage of the rhetorical escape hatch offered by the Fox host to explain away his comments, Cain instead doubled down on the crazy, first reiterating his nonsensical "mosques violate the first amendment" equation from before, then saying communities should be able to ban them from being built (even if they're being built by the people in the communities), and finally explaining how his anti-Muslim bigotry is totally different from the bigotry he encountered when involved in the civil rights movement in the 1960s. And yep, it's as nutty as you'd expect. Is it any wonder why this guy is such a favorite of the Tea Party/nativist crowd?

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Defaults and Da Faults

Over the last several weeks, it's been sobering to see just as many people in office (or seeking office) as in the far right blogosphere who are openly advocating for Congressional Republicans to avoid raising the debt ceiling and, by extension, advocating for the catastrophic default that will contrail in its wake. In their formulation, any deal Republicans reach with the president -- who at various points they've labeled un-American, a Socialist, a terrorist, a you-name-it -- is immediately rendered "impure" thanks to the ideological litmus tests they now function under. Thus, rather than agree to something that most serious people understand needs to be done, they refuse on principle to give the other side what it wants -- even though they want it too. This is comic book villain stuff, folks.

Now, I've taken grief sometimes for coming across as an Obama apologist (which I don't think I am, by the way, having given the guy plenty of grief during his tenure), but I've been pretty impressed this week with how he's handled himself during the debt limit negotiations, managing to appear accommodating while still standing firm on certain key principles. In the process, he's exposed the illogical implacability of the GOP's Tea Party faction for most to see (culminating in a press avail held by Reps. King, Gohmert, and Bachmann -- truly the Three Tenors of Tea Party stupidity -- in which they claimed with the absolute assurance that can only come from absolute cluelessness that even if the limit isn't increased, no default danger is imminent).

Still, thanks to the shenanigans of Eric Cantor and his faux-tough guy posturing that ended in a he-said/he-said scenario where the president either "stormed out" of a meeting or, y'know, ended the meeting, an end to this negotiations isn't any closer now than a week ago, and indeed it may have receded even further into the distance. Despite that, my gut tells me that, when all is said and done, the debt limit will be raised, because even the Republican leadership (Cantor notwithstanding) realize what a gut-punch to the economy this would be. They're just trying to figure out is how to get as little egg on their face as possible when the inevitable deal is inevitably reached. Still, for those of you who still doubt the domino effect a potential default could have, The Washington Post's Ezra Klein lays it out all out in stark detail.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Brazen Cain

Sometimes I have to seek out content to post here, and other times it just sort of falls in my lap. To wit: one of my favorite punching bags, anti-Muslim presidential candidate Herman Cain (Republican, natch) recently visited the town of Murfreesboro, TN, which has itself earned top marks in Islamophobic bigotry recently thanks to a group of folks protesting the construction of a mosque (as detailed here, here, and here). So what do you think happened when Herman was asked about said mosque? Predictably enough, it went a little something like this (via the AP):
“It is an infringement and an abuse of our freedom of religion,” he said. “And I don’t agree with what’s happening, because this isn’t an innocent mosque.”
Without even getting into his "not an innocent mosque" non sequitur, tossed out without any proof or evidence, how is a group of Muslims building a house to pray in, which would strike anyone else as a confirmation of our country's religious freedom, actually an abuse of that religious freedom? See if you can figure that one out and get back to me. Oh, but it didn't end there, because Cain also dropped this nugget:
“This is just another way to try to gradually sneak Shariah law into our laws, and I absolutely object to that.”
We've already picked apart the subject of Sharia law ad infinitum here, so I don't want to go over that yet again, but seriously, what is he even talking about here? It's like he was handed a list of right wing anti-Muslim talking points and committed them to memory without understanding entirely what they mean. But then, as if to place the comical cherry atop the whipped cream of hilarity that was Cain's visit, comes this comment from one of the mouth-breathers who attended the event:
“He wants to define who are our enemies right now, and who are our allies,” he said. “Morally, he’s not afraid to say he’s a Christian. He’s not trying to force it down people’s throats, and I appreciate that. And he’s not afraid to say who he is.”
Well, he's saying who he is alright. Can't argue there.

The Amazing Spalding-Man



Here's a close-up of Spidey's mask from Sony's upcoming Amazing Spider-Man franchise reboot (click the pic for an embiggened version). Not terrible, other than the weird texture that makes it looks like he bought his suit off-the-rack at the local SportMart.

As you know from the times I've discussed this project previously, I'm of two minds. On the one hand, I feel like 2007's Spider-Man 3, while certainly lackluster, wasn't so much so that it needed a ground-up restart with its very own "here we go again" origin. On the other hand, it's hard to fault the creative team they've assembled behind the camera, nor the cast they've lined up in front of it. I'd already concluded that Andrew Garfield is a very solid choice to embody Peter Parker, and once they got Martin Sheen in there to play the saintly Uncle Ben, my resistance had all but crumbled. Throw in Sally Field and Denis Leary as Aunt May and Captain George Stacy, and suddenly you realize they're actually swinging for the fences.

Still, with next weekend's San Diego Con promising the first volley of publicity in anticipation of the flick's launch next summer (ten years after the series' inaugural entry), this new crop of stills from EW definitely provides an insight into the direction that new helmer Marc Webb plans to take the wall crawler. It sure seems that, as opposed to the more fanciful, heightened-reality take of his predecessor Sam Rami, Webb and Co. are trying to ground the proceedings in the same way Chris Nolan distinguished his Batman from Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher (thought that may prove a very presumptuous comparison in the long run).

Check their write-up here, and take a look at the rest of the shots here, including looks at Emma Stone as love interest Gwen Stacy as well as Rhys Ifans as Dr. Curt Connors (a.k.a. The Lizard) and tell me if you disagree.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Action Holmes

I was a pretty big fan of Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes reboot two Christmases ago (enjoying it even more then mega-blockbuster Avatar, which hit one week prior), so I was gladdened to know that a sequel was forthcoming, though even I didn't realize how quickly it was forthcoming. Here's our first look at Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, which (a la The Dark Knight and the Joker) ups the stakes by bringing the legendary detective's arch-nemesis James Moriarty (played by Jared Harris) into the mix.

Again helmed by Ritchie, the film is apparently (and presumably very loosely) based on "The Final Problem," the only one of Arthur Conan Doyle's short stories to have the two foes square off. Based on the trailer though (complete with intro from star Robert Downey Jr., whose current configuration of facial hair gives a hint of what he's working on right now), I'm going to assume that, like last time, the focus will again be on the Riggs-and-Murtaugh-esque banter between Downey's Holmes and Jude Law's Watson. Which is fine by me. Look for this one in theaters this December.

(Click past the jump for a YouTube embed, courtesy of Rich Johnston's Bleeding Cool.)

Before the Rise

The blogging's been a bit light this week as I've been trying to get various commitments attended to, but keeping to my promise on Saturday of lots of impending Planet of the Apes content, check out this Rise of the Planet of the Apes online comic that serves as a prequel to the film (which is itself a prequel, so I guess that makes this a pre-prequel). The comic will unfold in serialized form every Wednesday and presumably conclude just before the movie opens. As an FYI, this was put together by the good folks at BOOM! Studios, who've been doing a bang-up job for several months now on their ongoing Planet of the Apes comic series, which serves as a (wait for it) prequel to the original 1968 movie. Having read more than a few Apes comics during the last few decades, I can say with a certain amount of authority that this is one of the better ones. Read the online prequel here, and check out the rest of BOOM!'s Apes wares here.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Recommended Reading

Andrew Leonard explains why the nonsensical balanced budget amendment to the constitution that's currently being proffered by the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party might actually be a good thing -- but not necessarily for the reasons they think.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Institutional Apes

We're just under a month now from Rise of the Planet of the Apes hitting theaters, and I've got some fun Apes-related stuff planned between now and then that will hopefully drive you bananas. In the meantime though, so your appetite is properly whetted, jump over to Dread Central and check out their rundown of a Rise special event at the CalTech Institute this past Thursday wherein the film's creatives discussed the revolutionary technology they've pioneered to bring their conquering apes to digital life, including comments from director Rupert Wyatt and Caesar himself, actor Andy Serkis. Some very illuminating stuff. And like I said, keep it peeled here for plenty more Planet of the Apes content in the lead-up to the new flick.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Feeling the Ceiling

Former Reagan adviser Bruce Bartlett lays out many of the truths and debunks most the untruths surrounding the debt limit debate. Someone reading my post on this subject yesterday said that I was taking an extreme partisan position on this issue, which I really don't think I am, and Bartlett's list nicely underscores its seriousness to me, as well as the foolishness of those who are turning it into a partisan battleground.

The only downside is that his fifth item, the option for the executive branch to override congressional debt restrictions by way of constitutional fiat, has been taken off the table by the White House itself, which -- agree or disagree with the underlying presumption -- just strikes me as a really bad bargaining posture to assume as you head into a tense round of negotiations (but then, this is an administration that's become quite practiced in emptying its own quiver ahead of time).

Sarah Palin's The Undefeated Trailer = Comedy Gold

This is an actual thing, folks. While I've been hearing (and tweeting) about it for a little while now, seeing really is disbelieving, and there's plenty to disbelieve in this unintentionally hilarious trailer for The Undefeated, a rah-rah propaganda piece from filmmaker Steve Bannon supporting Sarah Palin (supporting why, I have no idea, as she clearly has no intention of running for president). I'm also not quite sure how a doco about a failed vice presidential candidate who quit halfway through her single term as governor gets to use the word "undefeated" anywhere in the title unless it's immediately preceded by "the opposite of." Anyway, observe the trailer for yourself, and share in the WTF:


Thursday, July 07, 2011

Recommended Reading

If you're like me, you've been sitting on tenterhooks for the last few days watching the debt ceiling debate go into extra innings with no end in sight. And based on the news that's trickling out, you're starting to wonder how badly President Obama will whiff this thing by giving into the strong-arm tactics of congressional Republicans.

Now, we've already been down this road enough times now to know what usually comes at the end of it: the president's practiced pragmatism runs headlong into GOP obstinacy, and progressives surrender even more ideological turf. Well, the way things are playing out, it sure looks like history is going to repeat itself, and per former Bush speechwriter David Frum, Obama has no one to blame on this but Obama:
...the president could have included an increase in the debt ceiling in the December deal to extend the Bush tax cuts. The Republicans dearly wanted that extension. Obama did not use leverage when he had it -- and so he became a victim of leverage when he lacked it. 
Then, as Republicans discovered the power of their new tool, the president decided to assume they were bluffing, that they would never actually do anything so reckless. Waking up to the reality of the situation too late, he commenced bargaining by offering what he assumed would be an irresistible deal. Wrong again. The Republicans did resist. So Obama offered an even better deal -- which predictably only whetted the GOP appetite for still more.
And that's coming from a Republican, folks. But given the mere fact that Frum knows the seriousness of the situation and the importance of raising the debt limit, that immediately places him at odds with the overwhelming majority of his party that's long since hitched its wagon to litmus tests and an obstinacy that the president has only enabled further. More from Frum at the link, all of it worth a look.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Sad, But Probably True

Says Jeffrey Wells over at the excellent Hollywood Elsewhere blog:
Richard Nixon Returns to Earth 
...with the same mind and spirit and perspective that he had before he died in the '90s but in the body of a go-getter Congressman from Southern California, and he'd probably have a tough time getting re-elected because he'd be considered too moderate, too thoughtful, too practical. He'd be regarded as a sleepy-centrist go-along Republican who doesn't get the ideological fever of the Tea Party or the debt-ceiling shutdown or any of the things that Eric Cantor or Michelle Bachmann believe in. He could almost be a centrist Democrat by today's standards.
Just look at the debt ceiling fiasco-in-progress and tell me he's wrong.

The Unknown Joe

By now everyone who reads this site should know what a huge fan I am of Marvel's G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero comic that ran from the early '80s through the early '90s, whose influence is still felt today in the brand's many appendages (even *sigh* the unfortunate feature film from two summers ago -- the sequel to which is *sigh* currently ramping up). While much of the credit for Joe's modern-era (1982-present) longevity is rightly attributed to writer/creator Larry Hama, who wrote the comic for the entirety of its run and came up with the core Joe vs. Cobra mythology (as well as most of the characters who populate it), another person who was "present at conception" was former Marvel editor-in-chief Jim Shooter, the sometimes-controversial figure whose 1978-1987 tenure nonetheless marked one of the publisher's most sustained periods of creative synergy. Shooter has been offering up tidbits of his time in the comic book trenches for many months now via his excellent blog, and today he has a terrific post up with some new, heretofore unrevealed insights into his role in the early '80s as inadvertent nursemaid to the Marvel Joe, one of the biggest four-color success stories of the decade.

The Unseen Super 8 Posters

While I  wasn't as big a fan of Super 8 last month as I hoped I'd be going in, one thing I did appreciate was the clear passion that director JJ Abrams invested into recapturing the feel and tone of a simpler era of cinema, one that marks a cultural touchstone for so many of us. That feeling of trying to revisit an earlier time was also reflected in the deceptively simple marketing campaign as well, and several different schemas were mulled over before the campaign was finalized.

Chicago-based filmmaker and artist Daniel Skubal was one of the folks (along with his partner Veronica LaPage) who was tasked by Abrams' Bad Robot Productions to come up with some different poster designs (one of which you can see to the right), and while the production ultimately went in a different direction, Daniel's reflection on his Super 8 experience still makes for a fascinating read. Click over to his blog for the full skinny, as well as a look at more of the designs they came up with.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Impossible Expectations

Despite much initial anticipation, the big screen Mission: Impossible series got off to a less-than-auspicious start for me in 1996, when it took the TV series' lead character, heroic IMF leader Jim Phelps (played by the late Peter Graves), and transmogrified him into the movie's traitorous villain (played by Jon Voight), all as a way to cement Tom Cruise's singularly uninteresting agent Ethan Hunt in the position of the Impossible Mission team's new number one. As a longtime fan of the show (which you can now watch online in its entirety couresty of Netflix), I couldn't fathom the decision to take a character who was, if not iconic, still fairly beloved, and dispatch him in a manner that would be meaningless to newbies, and absolutely insulting for us old-timers (granted, I was fifteen at the time, but still...).

Friday, July 01, 2011

Recommended Reading

Josh Marshall succinctly sums up the sides, stakes, and potential solutions to the fight over raising the debt limit that's currently being waged in Washington. There's no telling which way this one will land, but whichever way it goes, it tells us something very depressing about the broken state of our government, where even a no-brainer of a vote like this is the subject of a breathless "beat the clock" countdown.

Limited Options

Jon Stewart offers his take on the state of the Republican primary race as it stands right now, with a panoply of candidates who run the gamut from yawn-inducing to cringe-inducing duking it out for the title of "Least Objectionable Person Who Probably Won't Beat President Obama Anyway."