Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Shield (Again)

In April of '05, while I was breathlessly counting down the days until the summer 2006 release of Superman Returns, I made this post about the newly-redesigned "S" shield that the titular hero would be sporting in that impending opus.

Well, everything that's happened before really does happen again, because here we are almost exactly seven years later, and here's yet another new "S" shield, this time for Man of Steel, the high-stakes revamp hitting theaters in summer '13. This is a bit of a departure from previous screen iterations of the iconic symbol, with the texture signaling an apparent emphasis on its alien origins. Don't see anything that sets my blinkers off just yet, so it's so far, so good for me:

Also, while we're talking about the last big screen Superman, Jeffrey Taylor (who also co-hosts the excellent "From Crisis to Crisis" Superman podcast) has an excellent piece up at dissecting where Superman Returns went right, and where it went wrong, and why we're now talking about a Superman reboot instead of the umpteenth Returns sequel. It's a pretty bang-on analysis.

Olbermann's Ex-Current Gig

Well, that didn't take long.

After less than a year on their air, Keith Olbermann has been shown the door at Current TV, with his revived version of Countdown, the nightly news skein he's hosted in some way, shape, or form for the past nine years, axed as of last night. The union between network and star that started so promisingly, with each singing the other's hosannahs (Olbermann even told David Letterman the gig was "manna from heaven"), is now reduced to tossing veiled epithets and legal threats at each other via dueling press releases. Whether this is the final nail in Olbermann's broadcast career is anyone's guess (probably not, I'm guessing), but I'll go out on a limb and say it is the end of the host's time as a visible part of the political pundit class.

Which may very well end up being for the best.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Nostalgia Theater: Captain Planet --
Ted Turner's Treehugger Hero With A Mullet

Captain Planet and the Planeteers is what happens when you rely on focus groups and preachiness and hype to sell your ideas. It's one of those properties from the '90s that a whole bunch of people watched -- enough to let it continue on for an astounding 166 episodes total -- yet no one really wants to admit they watched. I'm all for appraising kids about the benefits of helping the environment and all, but really, did the show that did it have to be so terrible?

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Recommended Reading

Much of the media bandwidth over the last few days has been taken up by breathless analysis of the Supreme Court's hearings on the constitutionality of President Obama's Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. ObamaCare). With their decision not expected to be handed down for a few more months yet, that's led to a lot of premature hand-wringing and high-fiving in the public sphere, depending almost entirely on one's partisan persuasions.

For my part, I've been looking for more of a "big picture" view of what a bodyblow to the health care law by the Court would mean going forward, and I think Frank Rich has done a nice job of addressing some of the most pressing questions, both in terms of political calculus and social costs. Not sure I necessarily agree with all of his conclusions (I worry he might be a bit too Pollyanna-ish at times), but I think it's a pretty thorough assessment of the lay of the land.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Freeze In Verse

I've had fun linking to the various (surprisingly catchy) musical confections concocted by Jon & Al Kaplan lampooning the films in Arnold Schwarzenegger's impeccable catalogue, from Conan the Barbarian to Commando.

While my impression was that their glorious Predator riff from just over a year ago was the last of the Schwarzenegger musicals, you can't keep a good idea down, and they're back with a showtunes-style take on the Governator's franchise-destroying turn as the main baddie in 1997's Batman & Robin. Suffice it to say, the story improves immeasurably with this telling:

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Nostalgia Theater: Highlander: The Animated Series -- Yep, This Exists

As promised last time, this week we continue our exploration of the many avenues and side streets of the much-abused Highlander franchise. While it suffered its share of ignominy on the live action side, surely the weirdest of brand extenders came in the form of 1995's Highlander: The Animated Series, which found a way to take a story about a race of people who fight each to the death by beheading, and spin it into a weekday morning cartoon.

Sure, on the scale of inappropriate source material for kiddie shows, it's not necessarily this, or even this, but it still has to rank way up there. In order to force the square peg of the already-unwieldy premise into the round hole of TV animation, the producers (primarily Marc Du Pontavice, who oversaw the show for the folks at Gaumont and Peter Davis & William Panzer) came up with a conceit that actually makes sense given the content restrictions they faced. Think of it as Highlander meets Thundarr the Barbarian (which I'll get around to covering one of these days...)

Here, I'll let the opening narration explain it to you:

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Recommended Reading

Yesterday Congressman Paul Ryan, under the auspices of the House Budget Committee, again released his budget plan, again draped in the euphemistic title of "Path to Prosperity." In a lengthy analysis, Robert Reich explains why this budget is all ideological smoke and partisan mirrors that would leave the country in far worse shape were it to be enacted. Says he:
So what’s the guiding principle here? Pure social Darwinism. Reward the rich and cut off the help to anyone who needs it. 
Ryan says too many Americans rely on government benefits. “We don’t want to turn the safety net into a hammock that lulls able-bodied people into lives of dependency.” 
Well, I have news for Paul Ryan. Almost 23 million able-bodied people still can’t find work. They’re not being lulled into dependency. They and their families could use some help. Even if the economy continues to generate new jobs at the rate it’s been going the last three months, we wouldn’t see normal rates of unemployment until 2017.
More from Reich here.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Go Read It!

My mom, Iffath Hasan, has been an Islamic education instructor all my life, starting with teaching my brother and I when we were wee ones, then moving on to other kids who lived in our building in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and eventually teaching both children and adults all over the Chicagoland area for the better part of the past twenty years. In the meantime, she's also written a book aimed at making it easier to understand the style of Arabic used in the Qur'an, and I helped her set up a blog to connect with students across the world. I'm continually amazed and humbled when I meet people even way out here in California who've benefited from her instruction, and who speak of her with such reverence. Thus, I was understandably proud when the Chicago-based Muslim Women's Alliance presented her with an award for her work for the Muslim community two Sundays ago. Check out this article from the local paper detailing the event.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Sisko System

Last week I began an unplanned excursion into the relative merits of the various captains in the Star Trek universe, starting with the original show's Captain James T. Kirk, and then The Next Generation's Jean-Luc Picard. In response to my Picard post, regular commenter Abdul-Halim said, "bald Sisko is the best captain," referencing Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's Avery Brooks shaving his head with the show's fourth season.

Now, you already know of my undying affection for the criminally underrated Deep Space Nine, but as it happens, and entirely coincidentally, Kendra James posted a piece to shortly thereafter making the case for Brooks and Captain Benjamin Sisko's place of importance in the pop cultural firmament not just as a Star Trek hero, but for breaking boundaries as a black leading man in the traditionally white-dominated genre of science fiction. From the article:

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Covering Carter

Despite the modest hope that my positive review last week would singlehandedly turn the tide of bad buzz, John Carter opened last week to just over $30 million domestically and a $100 million global total, which isn't a total embarrassment, but it does signal a long road to recouping the considerable investment (to the tune of $250 mil) Disney put into launching this franchise. And even though word of mouth has leaned positive, that hasn't stanched the flow of tsk-tsk'ing in the industry press, most of it fixated on that aforementioned ginormous price tag, as if the writers of said articles are shouldering the cost personally.

Given the size of its budget and the unfamiliarity of its subject matter, was John Carter a considerable risk? Yes, but it also represents a studio and filmmaker (director Andrew Stanton) taking a chance to bring a passion project to the screen. Instead of applauding them, the collective response has been to damn their hubris. When you consider the creatively bankrupt spectacles released annually that are given a free ride simply because they end up making a profit, the media dogpile on John Carter becomes even more baffling. It's the old ad crumenam fallacy writ large: "This thing cost x, and it didn't make y, so obviously it sucks. Duh."

In a piece earlier this week for AICN, correspondent Jeremy Smith (a.k.a. Mr. Beaks) went into greater detail on why the barrage of Carter attacks are so shortsighted:

Friday, March 16, 2012

Nostalgia Theater: Highlander: The Series -- Weekly Beheadings on a TV Budget

In the annals of science fiction and fantasy franchises, one of the stranger ones to maintain a devoted fanbase even through a wonky premise and increasingly erratic new entries is surely Highlander. As first dreamed up by writer Gregory Widen for a 1986 feature film, directed by Russell Mulcahy, it tracks Connor MacLeod (Christopher Lambert), an immortal born in the early 1500s in the Scottish Highlands (thus the name of the movie).

Per the film, each of the handful of immortals throughout the world -- some good, some evil -- are engaged in battle that sees each square off with another until only one remains, after which the victor claims "The Prize," a nebulous something-or-other that involves having complete control over the universe. Oh, and the immortals fight each other with swords. And have to cut off each others' heads. To get their power.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

From The Onion...

Given the primary results in Mississippi and Alabama last night, the kicker from this piece yesterday seems eerily prophetic:
Rick Santorum Relieved No One Has Asked Him About Interracial Marriage Yet 
LAFAYETTE, LA—Saying his campaign has "really dodged a bullet so far," Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum told reporters today that, much to his relief, no one has asked his opinion on interracial marriage. "No question about it, what I'd have to say about the topic would absolutely terrify anyone with a conscience," said Santorum, adding that his longstanding and carefully thought-through views on whether two individuals of different races should be allowed to marry would put him so far out of the mainstream that it’d be "hilarious how insane [he]’d sound." "The truth is, if anyone decided to ask me flat out if I approve of marriages between black men and white women, for example, the flood gates would open and the bile I would spew would sink this campaign in 10 seconds tops." As of press time, reports of Santorum's mere reference to his incendiary views had caused his favorability ratings in Alabama and Mississippi to skyrocket.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Other Captain's Prerogative

Here's what I said about TV's Star Trek: The Next Generation back in '09 while analyzing the first of the four 24th century-era feature films in the Trek catalog:
If Star Trek (the original show) was ahead of its time (to its detriment, as it turned out), then The Next Generation was perfectly of its time. Whether it was the egalitarian nature of the ensemble, with the captain as first among equals, or the chair on the ship's bridge reserved for the captain's shrink, the telegraphed intent was to stand apart from the original, demonstrating on a weekly basis just how much things had improved since the franchise's '60s origins.
For the most part, I still think that observation holds true (though I may have been overstating it earlier in the review when I said the show just "didn't work"). While I've gone on to question how well Gene Roddenberry's back-to-formula take on his creation has withstood time's ravages -- for a variety of reasons -- I fully acknowledge that any issues with the show itself don't stem from the man in the center chair, Jean-Luc Picard, or the man who embodied him, Patrick Stewart. In this instance, both actor and character have earned at least as much iconic significance as their respective predecessors. I mean, how can they not, after acting the hell out of scenes like this:

Monday, March 12, 2012

Recommended Reading

As longtime readers know, whenever George Lakoff has something to say, I'm there to listen. His latest piece, analyzing the Republican messaging strategy through the prism of Rick Santorum's increasingly out-there campaign rhetoric, makes several worthwhile points about how policy and morality intersect in our discourse, and how imperative it is to understand that intersection. From the article:
The Republican presidential campaign is not just about the presidential race. It is about using conservative language to strengthen conservative values in the brains of voters -- in campaigns at all levels from Congress to school boards. Part of the Republican strategy is to get liberals to argue against them, repeating conservative language. There is a reason I wrote a book called Don't Think of an Elephant! When you negate conservative language, you activate conservative ideas and, hence, automatically and unconsciously strengthen the brain circuitry that characterizes conservative values.
Read the rest of Lakoff's thesis here. It's well worth it.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Captain's Prerogative

When I was a kid, I always looked up to Captain Kirk. Hell, I still do. Compassionate when he needed to be, confident when he needed to be, I think Star Trek's original captain (played by William Shatner, natch) remains the absolute perfect exemplar of the well-rounded leader we all hope we'll be when/if we're ever thrust into that role. To wit, Alex Knapp over at Forbes has an excellent post examining the positive leadership traits that Kirk embodies. From the piece:
"Kirk’s success was no fluke, either. His style of command demonstrates a keen understanding of leadership and how to maintain a team that succeeds time and time again, regardless of the dangers faced." 
As I say so often, we take our wisdom where we find it, and as an instructor in Small Group Communication, I've often invoked the patented badassery of James T. to make an actual point about how to hone and nurture our persona as leaders to maximize effective group throughput (although I do it a bit more gingerly -- don't want to blow my secret Trekkie double life, after all...), so it's gratifying to know I'm not the only one who's found some worthwhile life lessons in Trek beyond, "Never wear a red shirt. Ever."

Now where's the post about leadership tips from Captain Picard?

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Nostalgia Theater:
Jumping Back to 21 Jump Street

The cast of 21 Jump Street's second season: (L-R) Holly Robinson, Steven Williams, Johnny Depp, Peter DeLuise, Dustin Nguyen
Proving just how temporal our pop culture artifacts can end up being, two weeks ago, I was talking with my students in class, and one of them said they were looking forward to the upcoming 21 Jump Street feature film, starring Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum, which opens next Friday. I mentioned that I used to watch the TV show when I was a kid and was curious whether the movie would work, to which he replied, "What show?"

That's right. "What show."


So, yeah, this week, we look at TV's 21 Jump Street, yet another Stephen J. Cannell production from the late '80s. Created by Patrick Hasburgh, the show tracked a group of police officers as they worked undercover as high school students to bring down drug deals, rapists, arsonists, etc., Jump Street is known today (if it's known today) as the launching pad for the movie star supernova that is Johnny Depp. But as part of the very first lineup of programs on the brand new Fox network in April 1987, it helped put the netlet on the map, and was one of the most popular, buzzed-about shows of that era.

Friday, March 09, 2012

Zaki's Review: John Carter

That John Carter, director Andrew Stanton's expansive (and expensive) adaptation of Edgar Rice Burrough's classic literary hero, was a labor of love for the helmer of Pixar spectacles Wall-E and Finding Nemo is evident in the care and forethought that's been laced into every frame. This is a film that lacks in neither scope, attitude, nor ambition. And in the end, if it falls just short of being truly exceptional, it's because of something over which the filmmakers frustratingly have no control.

So many of the themes, so much of the imagery that Burroughs (more well known, perhaps, for his other literary creation, Tarzan of the Apes) pioneered in his many "John Carter of Mars" novels have been appropriated and scavenged by everything from Star Wars to Avatar in the century since they first saw print that it's a struggle to remind oneself that this isn't merely the umpteenth restatement of that iconography, but is rather the statement that all those others drew inspiration from.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

My E-mail Exchange With a Limbaugh Fan

You probably wouldn't remember this, but way back in '07, I posted here about how a group called, after criticizing Rush Limbaugh for comments denigrating military critics of the Iraq war as "phony soldiers," was barraged by hate e-mails from the talker's faithful fans. At the time, I commented on how proud Rush must be to command such allegiance. Well, I now have my own "e-mails from Limbaugh fan" story to draw on as personal experience.

By way of context, my piece from two days ago about my own history as a Limbaugh listener went up at Huffington Post yesterday morning. Within half an hour of it going live, I received an e-mail from a fellow named Tom who was clearly upset with what I'd said in the post and, among other things, called me a brainwashed zombie. I responded to him, and was rewarded with another e-mail, and so it went throughout the day.

I've posted the entirety of our conversation after the jump (he's in bold). Nothing's been changed, either from him or from me. I'm sure you'll find it just as instructive as I did. Enjoy.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Rush to Judgment

There was a time when I used to listen to Rush Limbaugh. All the time. And not ironically, either.

As a junior high student in the thick of the '92 presidential election season, I'd stay up way later than I was supposed to so I could watch his short-lived TV talk show every night on Channel 66 out of Chicago. I'd even look forward to every day I'd have off from school so I could tune in to his radio show on WLS-AM. And even though I was only in junior high back then, I still look back and feel like a bit of a chump for the amount of sway Limbaugh held over my nascent political identity before things like a high school education convinced me to widen my worldview.

In fact, I have a friend from back then who is about as hardcore a conservative as I know today, and thumbing through my senior yearbook recently, I saw a note from him thanking me for first introducing him to Limbaugh -- despite the fact that my own ideology had long since parted ways with Mr. Excellence-in-Broadcasting. As I read that inscription again after these many years, I could feel a chill down the length of my spine as I realized that I may well have been the Emperor Palpatine who helped deliver him to the Dark Side.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Haters Gonna Hate

Total Film has compiled a list of the "50 Most Hated Movies Ever Made," and surprisingly for this sort of thing, I think most of it is pretty bang-on (for example, having just seen #35 last night for the first time since 1998, I can assure you its piss-poor reputation is 100% earned). Even if you disagree with some of the selections listed, it still makes for some entertaining reading.

Kinnaman Going Robo

It was just over a year ago that I first posted about MGM's current plans to restart their RoboCop film franchise, with director Brazilian director Jose Padilha tapped to helm (after an earlier reboot attempt under the guidance of Darren Aronofosky came to naught). Although I was initially quite wary at the prospect, questioning the need to remake a film that I think still holds up remarkably well, my stance started to soften as I got to know the perspective that Padilha was bringing to the project.

That resistance melted away entirely a few weeks ago, when I got a chance to watch the director's much-ballyhooed Elite Squad, finding it completely worthy of all the accolades that have been tossed its way. As a result, I'm now onboard for this in a way I wasn't a year ago when I first posted about this venture. While things have been quiet on the film since last fall, its development did take a big step forward last week with word that Swedish actor Joel Kinnaman has signed on to play the title role (no word if this iteration of the character is still going to be slain, cyborg-ified police officer Alex Murphy).

Sunday, March 04, 2012

See? Me.

A few weeks back, the folks who run the Islamic Scholarship Fund, aimed at encouraging Muslim students' involvement in non-traditional education and career paths (i.e. not engineering or medicine), asked me to be a part of a panel discussion at Stanford University wherein myself and other professionals discussed with college and high school-aged students (and parents) the paths that have brought us to where we are now. I had a great time, and got to meet a lot of great people. In case you're interested in what I said, here's a vid of the event (you may need to crank the volume, depending on where you're watching):

Friday, March 02, 2012

Nostalgia Theater:
Wiseguy -- Doing Brasco Before Depp

This week, we look at late '80s crime drama Wiseguy, one of the seminal series of not only that decade, but all the decades since, having helped pave the road for the kind of complexity and nuance that productions like The Sopranos and The Wire took to an even higher level.

Created by Frank Lupo and the late Stephen J. Cannell -- the same team behind the far more explodey (though far less ambitious) The A-Team just a few years prior -- Wiseguy was an attempt to up the ante from the traditional episodic procedurals that dotted the broadcast landcape back then (See: Exhibit A & Exhibit B). Following deep cover operative Vincent Terranova (Ken Wahl), working for the fictional Organized Crime Bureau, as he tried to bring down various criminal empires from the inside, Wiseguy anticipated the similarly-themed feature Donnie Brasco, starring Johnny Depp, by a full ten years.

Here's the opening credit sequence -- with theme by Cannell's regular composer Mike Post -- from the "Sonny Steelgrave" storyline, the first season's first arc (they'd switch things up with each new story):

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Assembling More Avengers Goodies

The last few days have been big ones for folks in fanboy circles who are eagerly awaiting every morsel of info that's coming out about this summer's Avengers flick (officially Marvel's The Avengers stateside, and Avengers Assemble in the UK -- presumably to avoid confusion with those other Avengers, who'd have the hometown advantage in Merry Ol' England.)

Tuesday saw the release of a decent, though unspectacular release poster (right), which has our various heroes posed and propped and otherwise Photoshopped to look imposing and heroic. More impressive, however, is the full trailer, which picks up the threads from the teaser and the Super Bowl spot, to really up the ante with the spectacle -- giving (almost) each of the heroes a nice showcase moment while spelling out the stakes that would pull this lineup together.

Honestly, I've said this elsewhere, but given how spectacularly unlikely the notion of an Avengers movie would have been even five years ago, I'm still in "pinch me" mode over the very notion of this thing actually existing. After you watch the trailer below, jump on over to Newsarama and check out their list of 10 observations about this assemblage.