Saturday, June 30, 2012

Spidey on Screen: Spider-Man (2002)

I was shellshocked when I first watched Spider-Man on May 3, 2002. There's no other word. I'd never seen anything like it. Afterwards, a friend asked what I thought, and after mulling the question, all I could come up with was, "I knew exactly what was going to happen." I meant it as a compliment. Abject admiration. Not since Christopher Reeve's first turn as Superman could I remember a big budget superhero flick so unabashedly embracing its roots with as much confidence. This was the Spider-Man I'd read about in comics all my life. Seen in cartoons all my life. He looked the same. Acted the same. His origin was the same. In hindsight, maybe that's just a testament to how low the bar had been set for comic adaptations.

In 1999, having secured the Spider-Man film rights after a very lengthy, very contentious legal battle with several comers, the movie mavens at Sony dutifully set about laying the pieces in place to get Spidey onto local cinema screens posthaste. Bear in mind that, until very recently at that time, Marvel Comics had never enjoyed a successful big screen translation for any of its characters. Not one. This might seem hard to believe in today's post-Iron Man age of celluloid dominance for the company, but back then their cinematic prospects were one long, uninterrupted joke, with mega flops like 1986's Howard the Duck and also-rans like 1990's The Punisher and Captain America (not to mention the craptastic, never-released 1994 Fantastic Four) serving as periodic punchlines.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Recommended Reading

Since yesterday's Affordable Care Act goings-on, it's been amusing/depressing to see the "I'm moving to Canada!" stuff flit across my Facebook feed by folks upset by the decision. I never cease to be baffled by those who stand to benefit the most from the law's passage happily trotting out partisan talking points against it. This is something Paul Krugman nicely encapsulates:
...what was and is really striking about the anti-reformers is their cruelty. It would be one thing if, at any point, they had offered any hint of an alternative proposal to help Americans with pre-existing conditions, Americans who simply can’t afford expensive individual insurance, Americans who lose coverage along with their jobs. But it has long been obvious that the opposition’s goal is simply to kill reform, never mind the human consequences.
Frightening, but, if yesterday's reactions are any indication, apparently true. Read the rest from Krugman here.

Nostalgia Theater: My Favorite Spider-Man

Look for my retro review of the 2002 Spider-Man flick to be posted tomorrow, but in the meantime I thought I'd use this week's Nostalgia Theater to reminisce about one of my Spidery faves. During his amazing fifty year webspin through our pop cultural history, Spider-Man has been a remarkably consistent presence in animation, headlining an impressive eight shows, from his first 'toon in the late '60s (known today for its iconic "Spider-Man, Spider-Man, does whatever a spider can.." theme music) to the just-launched Ultimate Spider-Man on DisneyXD. 

With that many shows spanning that many decades, its understandable that each has its fans (though, granted, it doesn't seem like very many folks like Ultimate). For me, Spidey in animation doesn't get any better than a little-seen offering that few realize even exists. The first entry from the then-new Marvel Productions, the animation studio started up in 1980, Spider-Man debuted in syndication in September of '81. Having watched it at exactly the right moment in my life to permanently imprint on my psyche, this will always be my definitive take on how Spider-Man (voiced here by actor Ted Schwartz) should sound.

Check out the intro below:

Thursday, June 28, 2012

On Today's Health Care Decision

I was visiting my brother yesterday, and he and my dad asked me which way I thought the Supreme Court would decide on the question of whether or not the Affordable Care Act passes Constitutional muster. I laid out what the three options were (preserving the entire law, repealing the entire law, repealing part of the law), and made clear that I had no particular insight on the matter. However, I did mention the feeling in my gut that, if it absolutely came down to it, John Roberts would probably vote to preserve the law. Weird how that's exactly what ended up happening.

Again, I don't profess any special knowledge of the court's workings beyond what the talking head brigade offers, but it struck me that completely voiding legislation that gives substantial relief to so many (which is precisely what the conservatives on the court wantedwould forever be a legacy of "The Roberts Court," and he had to have an awareness of that on some level. I don't know if that's what ultimately compelled the Chief Justice to side with the court's liberal wing in today's 5-4 decision, but the result is the same. The Affordable Care Act stands -- for now.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Spidey on Screen: Untangling the Legal Web

Andrew Garfield dons the red-and-blue in 2012's The Amazing Spider-Man
Ten years ago last month, Sam Raimi's Spider-Man debuted to an astounding $100 million+ in its first three days of release -- the White Whale of opening weekends until then. It's not an exaggeration to say that Spider-Man led directly to the superhero movie boom we're currently in the midst of, and which, if The Avengers' record-breaking sprint through the box office is any indication, shows no sign of subsiding anytime soon. The franchise -- one of the most successful in history -- is due for a reboot with next week's The Amazing Spider-Man, but before we talk about the trail Spidey blazed for his studio and genre, it might be helpful to first take a look back at his winding, webby road to the silver screen.

Even though Marvel Comics Webhead's has now become a valued, signature property for Sony Pictures, he spent more than a decade lingering first in development hell, then in legal limbo, as multiple interests all jostled for a piece of the cinematic goldmine he would prove to be. Development on a movie version of Spider-Man first began in earnest in the mid-1980s under the auspices of famed shlock producers Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, whose Cannon Films had built its rep by then on cheapie exploitation fare like the various Death Wish, Delta Force and American Ninja flicks (in a sign of just how highly undervalued comic properties were back then, Cannon had licensed the Spidey rights for the ridiculously low sum of 225K for five years).

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Blockbusted

With The Amazing Spider-Man debuting a week from today, I've got a run of Spidey retro reviews and related features planned to lay the groundwork for next week's review. In the meantime, check out io9's list of "10 Rules of Blockbuster Movies that Hollywood Forgot" and nod your head in agreement. And while we're on that subject, my buddy Paul Shirey has a new column up at JoBlo.com excoriating the recent practice of Hollywood studios betting insane amounts of dollars on franchise films that clearly aren't in "go" position.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Recommended Reading

Leif Haase at The Atlantic argues that whichever way the pieces fall vis-a-vis ObamaCare and the Supreme Court, it may not end up being that big a deal after all -- that the winds of change are already blowing in the right direction. Not sure I necessarily agree with his contention that this decision will just be a "footnote" when the history of health care reform is written, but he does offer some compelling arguments to underscore his point.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Sorkin's Newsroom Deconstruction

Another Newsroom piece as we get ready for the show's debut tomorrow. In a new article for GQ, series creator Aaron Sorkin deconstructs the famous "meltdown" scene which we've seen in the various promos, where Jeff Daniels' news anchor Will Mcavoy unleashes a Network-esque assault on our media, our politics, and our culture. Using a musical metaphor, Sorkin explains how he's able to create such riveting moments of primo speechifying, and how we can do it too:
A song in a musical works best when a character has to sing — when words won't do the trick anymore. The same idea applies to a long speech in a play or a movie or on television. You want to force the character out of a conversational pattern.
In case you haven't seen it yet, check out the trailer below for some helpful context, then jump over to GQ for the play-by-play.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Nostalgia Theater: My Secret Identity --
"It's All In a Day's Work For Ultraman"

My Secret Identity was about a prepubescent comic book nerd who ends up getting superpowers. Can you guess why I loved it as kid?

A Canadian-produced series that aired in syndication in the US in the late '80s and early '90s, the show was a half-hour adventure/comedy created by Brian Levant, who would go on to direct a variety of family fare such as the two Flintstones flicks in the '90s, and Arnold Schwarzenegger's Jingle All the Way, though it's probably most known today for giving actor Jerry O'Connell his first starring gig after playing pudgy sidekick Vern in 1986's Stand By Me.

The premise was straightforward: O'Connell is average teen Andrew Clement, whose encounter with a ray beam invented by wacky scientist neighbor Dr. Benjamin Jeffcoate (Derek McGrath, top-billed over O'Connell) leaves him impervious to pain, possessed of superspeed, and with the ability to float in the air. Being the comic fan he is, Andrew promptly adopts the superhero handle Ultraman, and sets about righting various wrongs (which, given the premise and budget, doesn't really amount to much in the way of superheroing).

Check out part one of the first ep after the jump below:

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Judging the First Dredd Trailer

Spider-Man and Batman may be getting ready to attack your local multiplexes very shortly, but that doesn't mean we should forget about Judge Dredd, no less iconic a comic book hero (well, in England, anyway). With the futuristic lawman returning to the big screen this September in Lionsgate's Dredd, we're starting to get the promo push now. I showed you the poster for the Karl Urban starrer last week, and now there's the first trailer, which gives a sense of the film's scope, style, and tone. Catch the vid after the jump, then meet me on the other side for my take.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

I'm Not Watching The New Dark Knight Trailer

But you can.

With exactly one month to go until The Dark Knight Rises premieres, I've decided that the best way to get the most out of my experience with Chris Nolan's Batman trilogy-capper is to put myself on full lockdown with all things Dark Knight. This is gonna take a lot of willpower. However, don't let that stop you from clicking the vid below for the latest (one presumes final) assemblage tossed together by the folks in WB marketing. Let me know how it is.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Medical Decisions

The Supreme Court is expected to drop its game changing decision about the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. ObamaCare) any day now, and with Justice Scalia now signaling his opposition to the government's past latitude in using the commerce clause to enforce legislation, it's sure not looking good for the individual mandate that the entire law hinges on -- which could in turn bring the whole thing down. Of course, the very notion of the individual mandate originated in the '90s with Republicans, who wanted a market-based, rather than government-based approach to solving the health coverage issues facing our country.

Indeed, this was something that folks on the left wildly opposed in the lead-up to ObamaCare's passage, preferring a single payer or government option plan. But you'd never know that to hear the rhetoric out there from some of the politicos and pundits decrying the law. Once President Obama and the Democrats embraced the mandate as valid mechanism to try and solve the problem, it suddenly became "Socialism this" and "Fascism that." Politics as usual. So, how exactly did the Republicans execute such a complete 180 on the individual mandate, an idea that they'd proposed and championed? Ezra Klein offers one take. Brian Beutler responds to Klein with another. Both are worth checking out.

From The Onion...

'nuff said.
Herman Cain Endorses Who Gives A F*** 
DOESN'T MATTER—Business magnate and former Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain briefly returned to the spotlight Tuesday to announce he would lend his support to the campaign of nobody gives a flying f*** what Herman Cain has to say. "After serious consideration and soul-searching, I've decided to support [no one gives a s*** about you, your political beliefs, and certainly not who you think should be president of the United States]," said the short-lived media phenomenon, reading from a prepared statement that in a sense does not exist if no one agrees to read or listen to it. "I [Just shut the f*** up now. We don't care. People are going to stop paying attention to you now and you are going to go away]." At press time, Donald Trump you've got to be kidding me, no way, nuh-uh, not even if he's announcing he invented a f****** time machine, I'm sorry, I just can't.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Sorkin: "I Like the Sound of Intelligence"

Aaron Sorkin's new skein The Newsroom is debuting next Sunday on HBO and, shock of shocks, I'm hugely excited for it. So much so that, as I promised earlier, I just got off the phone with DirecTV to make sure I'll be able to watch as it airs. Seriously, this is a big step for me. It's the Zaki Hasan equivalent of getting pay-per-view before a big fight.

With the days to the debut counting down, Sorkin is out making the usual media rounds, but I found this chat with Mark Harris of The Vulture especially illuminating, as it covers a whole lot of ground beyond just The Newsroom, dipping into his politics, his writing style, and his views on some of his past works. There's far too much meat for me to just pull one highlight from, so click past the link for a sampling of some of his choicest comments.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Nostalgia Theater: Swamp Thing: The Series -- DC's Leafy Hero Hits the Small Screen

Swamp Thing has been a DC Comics mainstay since his debut in the early '70s. Created by Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson, the character was originally envisioned as scientist Alec Holland, who merges with the vegetation of the surrounding swamp following an accident in his Everglades lab. Though the comic books took some bizarre "mature readers" turns in later years under the pen of fan favorite writer Alan Moore, Swamp Thing still achieved a crossover success in the mainstream that can't be claimed by very many DC heroes outside of Superman and Batman.

It started with 1982's Swamp Thing feature film, starring Ray Wise as Holland, and the late Dick Durock as his mossy alter ego. This low-budget schlocker is most notable today for being directed by Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream helmer Wes Craven. I can't really say much good about it, but nonetheless the movie has its fans (though I have to assume many of them are just fans of co-star Adrienne Barbeau). The much-reviled, mostly-ignored sequel, The Return of Swamp Thing, which brought back Durock launched in May of '89 -- one month before another DC movie reset the paradigm for superhero flicks.

That brings us to Swamp Thing: The Series, which aired on the USA cable channel beginning in July of 1990 as one of the net's first tries at giving its viewers original programming. Bringing back the hulking Durock (who, appropriately enough, also played the evil Hulk in "The First," a popular episode of TV's The Incredible Hulk), the skein strove to eschew the kitsch and lowbrow jokiness of the last feature film, while still going a little more mainstream than where the Moore comic run ended up situating the character. Whether it succeeded or not is open to discussion:

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Logic Problems

This article over at The New Yorker by Jonah Lehrer starts out by asking readers to solve a basic logic problem that involves some math. Now, I've never been good at math, but if my completely wrong answer here is any guide, I'm apparently not very good at logic, either. So, y'know, that's good news. From the piece:
When people face an uncertain situation, they don’t carefully evaluate the information or look up relevant statistics. Instead, their decisions depend on a long list of mental shortcuts, which often lead them to make foolish decisions. These shortcuts aren’t a faster way of doing the math; they’re a way of skipping the math altogether.
Scary how true that is. As Lehrer explains, rather than any careful culling of the facts at hand, it's often our own biases and preconceptions that guide our decision-making processes -- especially in the crunch. He goes on to discuss how being "smart" is no magic bullet either. A fascinating piece that's well worth giving a thorough look.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Sheen on Colbert

Just because I love Martin Sheen, here's the former West Wing prez and future Uncle Ben in The Amazing Spider-Man chatting it up with Stephen Colbert this past Monday. Bonus points for getting the traditional Jed Bartlet jacket-swirl in there!

(Also, for as much as I'm apathetic about them rebooting Spidey, having Sheen in there almost makes the whole thing worthwhile.)

Father's Duh

Becoming a dad ruined my life.

Now, before you fire up an angry e-mail, delete my blog from your bookmarks, or un-follow me on Twitter, let me offer some context. I've been a dad for about five-and-a-half years now, and with this weekend marking the annual occurrence that is Father's Day (which I've always felt is kind of a "whatever" holiday thrown together so dads wouldn't feel left out after all the early May Mother's Day love), it got me thinking about just how wildly off course my life has veered from the professional and personal plans I'd so methodically laid out for myself in the pre-child wilderness of my early twenties.

Getting married altered the trajectory of those plans slightly. Having a kid altered it a bit further. And by time I had three kids, well, the change was irrevocable. It sounds like a cliché, but then clichés are clichés because they're often couched in truth (which I'm pretty sure is also cliché...). In that sense, it wasn't just my vision of my life that changed, it was my vision of that vision. That moment when you hold your child in your arms for the first time, all the theoretical "truths" about parenting you've stored away, all the "When I have kids, I'm gonna..." goes right out the window.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Gaffes Entertainment

As a matter of necessity for my work and my writing, I try to catch a handful of TV news programs regularly from across the spectrum just to get a sense of what topics are guiding the conversation any given day. That's really become a chore of late, at least partly due to how the media seems to run hither-and-thither based on whatever new "Squirrel!" distraction catches their eye, whether it's Mitt Romney saying he likes firing people a few months back, or President Obama's saying the private sector is doing fine last Friday.

Suddenly, the tizzy-tron kicks into gear, with talking points ready to go, and quickie attack ads deployed instantaneously. It's nothing new, of course, but with the presidential race now in its "general" stage, it's all about how long the latest verbal oopsie from fill-in-the-blank politician will dominate the airwaves, and whether the opposing side can strike the flint with said gaffe enough times to have it catch fire with the electorate. Context? We don't need no steenking context! Here's Jon Stewart from last night's Daily Show dissecting our gaffe-centric political culture.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Feelin' Dredd

Meant to post this a few days ago, but the weekend sort of got away from me. There's the first teaser poster for Dredd, a new feature adaptation of Brit comic icon "Judge Dredd," starring Star Trek's Karl Urban as the lantern-jawed lawman and due to hit theaters this fall courtesy of Lionsgate. I dig it. Per this post at JoBlo by my good buddy Paul Shirey, Dredd co-creator John Wagner has seen the film and signed off. Here's some of what he said:
Karl is a great Dredd and Olivia gets Anderson completely. This is Dredd as it should be done – true to character, visceral, unrelentingly violent (but not off-puttingly so). It will open, I believe, sometime in September. No doubt you’ll let me know what you think when you’ve seen it, but this has my recommendation.
While Wagner's recommendation is definitely a feather in this film's cap, a red flag for me is that this is coming from Lionsgate, which already doesn't have a great hit ratio with similar fare (Punisher: War Zone, last year's Conan the Barbarian), and when you tack on the bad taste left over from the previous go at bringing Judge Dredd to the big screen back in '95 with Sly Stallone, you start wondering if there's even an audience for this one stateside.

Unspecial

Over the last few weeks I linked to a couple of commencement speeches I found inspirational or thought-provoking, both by famous authors. This one is a little bit different, in that it's a high school graduation and the speaker is less likely to be someone you know.

Nonetheless, I found the message espoused by David McCullough Jr., English teacher at MA's Wellesley High (and son of acclaimed historian and author David McCullough), just as inspirational and just as thought-provoking. Hinging on the idea that the mere act of graduating (from high school, no less!) doesn't make us intrinsically special, McCullough lays out how precisely we can make ourselves special. Here's one part in particular that reached out to me:
Resist the easy comforts of complacency, the specious glitter of materialism, the narcotic paralysis of self-satisfaction. Be worthy of your advantages. And read... read all the time... read as a matter of principle, as a matter of self-respect. Read as a nourishing staple of life. Develop and protect a moral sensibility and demonstrate the character to apply it. Dream big. Work hard. Think for yourself. Love everything you love, everyone you love, with all your might. And do so, please, with a sense of urgency, for every tick of the clock subtracts from fewer and fewer; and as surely as there are commencements there are cessations, and you’ll be in no condition to enjoy the ceremony attendant to that eventuality no matter how delightful the afternoon.
When he talks about "the easy comforts of complacency," man, that's something I have to fight back against every single morning when I wake up. And while I do pride myself on my love of reading, that's a pride that comes with absolute understanding of how much more I really need to be doing. Like he says, "as a matter of principle." Despite the fact that some idiots out there read up to "You're not special" and that was all it took to get their knickers in a knot, these are wonderful sentiments, expressed wonderfully. You can read the transcript of McCullough's speech here, and if so inclined, you can check out the video after the jump.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Nostalgia Theater: TV's Magnificent Seven --
A Cavalcade of Cult Actors Cowboys Up

The Magnificent Seven began its life as a 1960 Western movie directed by John Sturges and inspired by Akira Kurosawa's The Seven Samurai (1954). In addition to star Yul Brynner, who essayed the lead role of mystery man Chris Adams, who brings the titular seven together, the film also featured a cast of future luminaries including Steve McQueen, James Coburn, and Charles Bronson (all three of whom would reunited with Sturges for his epic The Great Escape three years later).

The film, about a group of disparate cowboys and gunmen hired to protect a small village from a group of bandidos found enough of an audience to lead to three increasingly worthless follow-ups (without Sturges on board, and with Brynner only returning for one). Perhaps more than anything, The Magnificent Seven is remembered today for its iconic main theme composed by the late, great Elmer Bernstein, which I'm pretty sure is at least familiar even to folks who've never heard of the movie.

Although the Magnificent Seven concept petered out after a third crappy sequel in 1972, it was revived in 1998 as a short-lived television series that's most memorable for the way it packed the rafters with an array of familiar faces best known for their stints in the salt mines of science fiction. Terminator and Aliens' Michael Biehn starred as Chris Larabee (the Brynner character), alongside Eric Close (Dark Skies, Without a Trace), Dale Midkiff ('90s syndie skein Time Trax), and Ron Perlman (Beauty & the Beast, Hellboy), among others. Here's the intro, which nicely utlizes the Bernstein theme:

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Zaki's Review: Prometheus

(Be sure to check out my retro reviews of the entire Alien series!)

Ridley Scott's Prometheus is an epic-sized tableau packed with a lot of meditations on a lot of big questions. But let's get the biggest question out of the way right up-top. Is it a prequel to Alien? Yes. Of course it's a prequel to Alien. When viewed in hindsight, the filmmakers' hemming and hawing and misdirected "Look at that!" over the last few years as they ran in the opposite direction whenever the question arose seems a bit silly. So, yes, Prometheus is set in the same universe as the Alien series, and yes, it's set before the first film in said series. Seems to satisfy the base requirements of a prequel to me.

With that out of the way, the second question that's dogged viewers from even before Fox rolled out the big publicity push all the way to now is what precisely Prometheus is about. This one is a little harder to pin down. It's about a lot of things. The beginnings of life. Man's place in the universe. The bond between parents and children. But most importantly, it's about Scott returning to the genre he served so well and that in turn served him so well, to prove he still has what it takes to make his mark. Well, he does, and he does. And if Prometheus doesn't quite measure up to the loftiness of its aspirations, that doesn't make it a ride that's any less worth taking.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Zaki's Retro Review: Alien Resurrection (1997)

After Ellen Ripley's fiery immolation in the closing moments of Alien³, it sure looked like the Alien cycle had come to a logical conclusion. Was it the best conclusion, necessarily? No, but there sure didn't seem to be very many story avenues left open to explore either. Ripley was dead, so were all the aliens, and so was everyone else. Full stop. As far as Brandywine's Walter Hill & David Giler were concerned, that was that. Nonetheless, in Hollywood, when there's money involved, you can't keep a good franchise down. It's like chaos theory. Nature finds a way.

And so, box office bucks in mind, Fox readied yet another installment, but first they had to cross the moat of how to bring back a thoroughly dead lead character (of course, they wouldn't have had that problem if they hadn't insisted on Ripley being front-and-center in part three). Enter writer Joss Whedon (still a few years from directing the #3 flick of all time), best known at the time as script doctor for Speed and Waterworld, and for co-writing the first Toy Story in '95, who arrived at an agreeable solution in the absence of someone for Ripley to transfer her Katra into.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Ray Bradbury, RIP

I was extremely bummed to hear this morning of writer Ray Bradbury passing away at the age of 91. As the author of such lasting works of genius as The Martian Chronicles, Fahrenheit 451, "A Sound of Thunder," and far too many more to properly enumerate, the impact he had on my life, as a reader, a filmgoer, and a writer is hard to encapsulate. Even with the long life he lived and the many gifts he gave our collective literary culture, it still feels like he left us too soon. Here's a wonderful quote from a few years ago by the author about his craft:
It has nothing to do with pay. Either you love what you’re doing, or … Look, I wrote for years, and I wasn’t paid. My love carried me through all those years. I sold newspapers on the street corner. When I was twenty-two, I was making ten dollars a week. When I started making twenty dollars a week from selling stories, I quit selling newspapers. You’re either in love with what you do, or you’re not in love.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Zaki's Retro Review: Alien³ (1992)

After the stellar success of the first film and the even-bigger success of the second, Alien had become a Franchise That Matters to Fox, who nursed the next sequel through development hell for six years before it finally hit theaters -- ready or not. If nothing else, Alien³ proves out the adage that in Hollywood nothing fails faster than success. Under the helm of director David Fincher (before he became DAVID FINCHER), it's a fascinating, frustrating mess of a movie where you spend just as much time trying to figure out what's happening on-screen as you do trying to figure out why you're trying to figure it out.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Zaki's Retro Review: Aliens (1986)

"This Time It's War," promised the poster for Aliens upon its release in 1986, a belated seven years after the first installment. And it certainly didn't disappoint on that front. In the hands of writer-director James Cameron, the sequel to Alien effectively backburners the moody, looming horror that made the first one so gripping in favor of more adrenaline, more intensity, and most importantly, more aliens. A lot more aliens. Under Cameron's care, Aliens emerges as that rarest of sequels that, if not surpassing its predecessor, stands comfortably alongside it as an equal.

Even after Alien made a boatload of cash for the studio, Twentieth Century Fox had no immediate plans to sequelize it. However, as before, a series of serendipitous events occurred in rapid succession that led directly to part two happening. It started when Cameron, in the midst of prepping his sophomore directorial effort, 1984's The Terminator, stated his fondness for Alien while conversing with its producer, David Giler. Giler in turn mentioned his desire to create a sequel. Taking up the challenge, Cameron came up with a detailed concept and storyline...which was eventually rejected when Fox made clear they weren't interested in another Alien.

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Zombie Apocalypse...No?

Following up on Wednesday's post warning everybody about the impending zombie apocalypse, there's apparently been enough of a mild panic created by the recent outbreak of cannibalistic craziness that the Centers for Disease Control (who, you may remember, posted a helpful list of ways to prep for said apocalypse last year) has put out a statement reassuring the public that no, there's no such thing as a zombie. Per their spokesperson: "CDC does not know of a virus or condition that would reanimate the dead (or one that would present zombie-like symptoms)."

So, y'know, that's a relief.

(Of course, if every zombie movie ever made is anything to go by -- and we all know Hollywood would never lie to us just to make a dramatic point -- that's exactly what the CDC would be saying in this situation...hmm....)

Recommended Reading

Robert Reich on the broader implications of yesterday's jobs report, which, however you want to parse, doesn't signal good news for the economy's prospects. He nicely lays out what we need to be doing, and what we absolutely don't need to be doing.

Friday, June 01, 2012

Zaki's Retro Review: Alien (1979)

Note: After last year's very successful run of retro reviews looking back at Twentieth Century Fox's Planet of the Apes franchise, I thought I'd give it a go with another iconic Fox brand, Alien, as we start the clock counting down to the much-anticipated release of Prometheus, director Ridley Scott's hush-hush Alien quasi-prequel.
Like the grotesque creature at its center, the Alien franchise didn't spring to life fully formed in 1979. Rather, it emerged in separate, distinct stages. I doubt very much that writers Dan O'Bannon & Ron Shusett had any inkling when they first came up with the idea for a film about space truckers terrorized by a space monster that it would have a shelf life that would carry it through several more installments over the next few decades, and expand its reach into all manner of licensing, merchandise, and tie-ins.

At its inception -- the egg stage -- Alien was nothing more than a modernized riff on It! The Terror From Outer Space and other disposable outer space schlock from the 1950s. In fact, so low had O'Bannon and Shusett (who would go on to pen 1990's Total Recall) set the bar for themselves that they would have been content to sell the idea to low budget movie maven Roger Corman for a cheaply-made, quickly-forgotten version of their project. Fortune clearly favored the pair, however, as three events occurring in rapid succession ended up assuring Alien's place in the pantheon of sci-fi greats.

Nostalgia Theater: My Kind of Zoo

Here's a slice of nostalgia that's a bit more targeted than some of the other topics I tend to cover here. This spot first aired in Chicago's local markets in 1987 to promote the then-new renovation of the Lincoln Park Zoo near downtown. While I never did end up actually going, the catchy tune (sung by the band Big Daddy, nominated for a Clio commercial award for their trouble) has taken up permanent residence in my psyche -- as it obviously has for many others, seeing as how someone was moved to actually upload it to YouTube. This should be instantly recognizable to anyone who grew up where I did and when I did, and if you're anything like me, just hearing it will put a big smile on your face.