Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Super, Man! Early Buzz on Man of Steel

My friend Paul Shirey has a post up at JoBlo with info from a trusted source (who I also know, and can most definitely vouch for) that there was recently an early (very early, as it doesn't open until June) screening of this summer's Zach Snyder-directed, Christopher Nolan-produced Superman epic Man of Steel. Based on this report, it sure looks like all signs are pointing toward a righting of the wrongs of Bryan Singer's 2006 dud Superman Returns. Per Paul's post:

The 007 Tribute The Oscars Missed

One of the big selling points for last Sunday's Academy Awards that they'd been hyping for awhile was a segment celebrating the James Bond series hitting 50 years. Naturally this is a pretty big deal, and the initial scuttlebutt circled on them possibly getting all five big screen Bonds to occupy the same stage at the same time, something that's never been done before. Had that actually happened, it surely would have been one of the major highlights of this -- or any -- Oscar telecast. However, once original star Sean Connery decided to pass, followed by Pierce Brosnan, that pretty much scotched the "Class of 007" idea.

I didn't know any of this at the time, of course, so I tuned in with great anticipation only to see Halle Berry intro a montage that was so gaudy and tacky that it did nothing to sell why the series has lasted as long as it has.* For something that does do that, check out the Bond montage below, edited by a 19-yar-old wunderkind from the Netherlands named Kees van Dijkhuizen. Cut to Adele's newly-Oscarized 007 ditty "Skyfall," it manages to incorporate footage of every Bond actor and every iconic Bond moment in four compact minutes, while making them all seem as timely and relevant as the Oscar montage pointedly failed to do. Catch it after the jump:

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Webhead's New Threads

The sequel to last summer's successful reboot The Amazing Spider-Man (which I liked quite a bit even though a lot of folks didn't) quietly began filming this week. With a cast chock-full of new additions to the rebooted Spider-mythos, including The Descendants' Shailene Woodley as Mary Jane Watson, Chronicle's Dane DeHaan as Peter Parker's frenemy Harry Osborn, and Jamie Foxx and Paul Giamatti pulling bad guy duty as the villainous Electro and Rhino respectively, this sequel is already making my Spidey Sense tingle that it might fall victim to the kitchen sink overkill that sank 2007's Spider-Man 3. Let's hope I'm wrong.

One good sign, however, is the new costume (right) they have Andrew Garfield's web-slinger sporting, and they look...a lot like the suit Tobey Maguire wore in the previous trilogy. This pic hit the web yesterday, but I wanted to double check its authenticity before posting it here. I had no problem with the redesigned Spider-suit in the last flick, but I also can't argue against taking the suit back to its iconic roots. I especially like the new eye pieces, which more closely resemble the character's comic book incarnation. As filming has just commenced on Amazing Spider-Man 2 (one assumes that's not the final title), I'm sure we'll have plenty more news and tidbits to pick apart before the movie's summer 2014 release, and I'll try to post the most worthy nuggets here.


Sequester Sequencing

Much of the noise emanating from the political media this week and last has revolved around breathlessly counting down the minutes until the dreaded sequester kicks in this Friday, presumably sending the economy spinning off its axis like the Earth flying into the sun. Now, I think most people are like me in that they have a sense of what this thing entails without fully getting their arms around its breadth. For a helpful cheat sheet, jump over to The National Journal and read this piece by Niraj Chokshi. Naturally, the thing about how teachers in California might be affected has my blinkers sounding. Now, as to the question of which side in the perpetual game of partisan brinksmanship that Washington is engaged in, Brian Beutler at Talking Points Memo seems pretty confident that the politics and perception in this particular fight both favor President Obama and the Dems, leading to a likely cave by the Republicans. Let's see how this plays out.

Monday, February 25, 2013

The MovieFilm Podcast: Episode 16

"Dissecting Die Hard!" For this week's installment, the MovieFilm crew spends the bulk of the time discussing Bruce Willis' latest exploit as Detective John McClane in the critically lambasted A Good Day to Die Hard. Is it just plain fun or just plain dumb? We get into it (with me expanding on my review from last week). In addition, we also talk up the latest developments as far as who might man the director's chair for the next James Bond movie after the skyrise of Skyfall, offer up some very wary predictions on the Oscars, and indulge in a conversation on whether we're past the point where movie stars are popular enough to get people to pony up for tickets. All that, plus a quiz from Brian on the many facets of the Die Hard franchise, the newest developments on Star Wars: Episode VII, and another batch of Listener Letters for this sixteenth episode of the MovieFilm Podcast. Like every episode, You can stream it below or just download at the link. Also like every episode, make sure to write a review or rank us on iTunes, and be sure to hit "like" on our official Facebook page.

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Sunday, February 24, 2013

Nostalgia Theater: RoboCop: The Series -- The Future of Law Enforcement Gets Syndicated

In a Nostalgia Theater entry last month, I talked at length about the ill-advised line of RoboCop action figures that Kenner put out in the late '80s. But the myriad of ways that rights holders Orion tried to squeeze blood from their cyborg stone didn't end there. No sir. By the early '90s, the cash-strapped studio had been stuck in a sustained rough patch stemming from such box office nonstarters as "Weird Al" Yankovic's 1989 flop UHF, not to mention 1990's merely adequate RoboCop 2, directed by The Empire Strikes Back's Irvin Kirschner.

Thus, in a bid to keep the studio coffers flush just a little bit longer to stave off the encroaching advance of creditors, they were offered a half-mil infusion of cash from Canadian company SkyVision to license the Robo rights for television, a sum they happily accepted at the cost of retaining minimal involvement in the product (also no great loss given the execrable quality of their recent output). The resultant TV show hit the syndicated airwaves in early '94, mere months after the much-delayed RoboCop 3 flopped hard on the big screen and pretty much kiboshed future prospects for the movie series. Here's the intro:

Friday, February 22, 2013

Zaki's Review: A Good Day to Die Hard

(L-R) Bruce Willis, Jai Courtney, Sebastian Koch
It's now twenty-five years since a shoeless, shirtless Bruce Willis, as beleagured NY cop John McClane, uttered his first "Yippee-ki-yay" while taking down hordes of heavily-armed baddies in director John McTiernan's Die Hard. I doubt the filmmakers had any inkling at the time, but that thriller (which launched Willis' big screen career only after it was first turned down by a laundry list of the era's preeminent action players) would completely reset the action movie paradigm in its wake. Die Hard's everyman action hero, as embodied by McClane, would become the new status quo for the genre moving forward, effectively consigning the invincible onscreen personas of the Sly Stallones and Arnold Schwarzeneggers during the '80s to the "obsolete" pile.

In fact, so perfectly did Willis embody this new archetype in 1988 that it was worth following the character along through three increasingly hollow sequels, the Renny Harlin-helmed Die Hard 2 in 1990, McTiernan's return engagement in 1995's Die Hard With a Vengeance, and 2007's belated Live Free or Die Hard, directed by Len Wiseman. None of those follow-ups have the simple heart of the original but I liked -- and like -- them all. When it comes to John McClane, I'm just an easy mark, and by now the distinction between Willis the actor and McClane the character has blurred to the point of irrelevance. Thus it is that a quarter century after his trip through the many floors of Nakatomi Tower, we arrive at A Good Day to Die Hard, the fifth entry in the McClane chronicles...and the fifth best.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Real and Reel: Pondering the Argo Effect

The Academy Awards are this coming weekend, and based on its mad march through the rest of the award shows this season, it sure looks like Argo is well positioned to take the Best Picture prize even as its helmer, the resurgent Ben Affleck was perplexingly robbed of a nom for Best Director. I greatly enjoyed the movie when I saw it last fall, and enjoyed it again after watching it yesterday evening on home vid. However, the question that arises whenever a film like this, ostensibly based on true events, hits the public sphere is exactly how true "true" is, and how much license should we allow creative-types to, well, create.

A little bit of research last fall made clear to me that while the filmmaking team took great pains to make sure Argo preserved the spirit of the times (both in terms of the content of the film and how it's presented stylistically), it also employs a fair amount of dramatic license to up the stakes as we watch CIA agent Affleck attempt a down-to-the-wire rescue of six American diplomats from Iran during the '79-'80 hostage crisis, aided by the the game efforts of stateside boss Bryan Cranston. Nonetheless, in a funhouse mirror of its closing moments, as the film closes in on the promised land of Oscar gold, there are renewed questions whether its spinning of history makes it worth the many accolades it's garnered.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Nostalgia Theater: The Pretender Among Us

Michael T. Weiss as super-genius Jarod, TV's The Pretender
The Pretender was a series that aired probably a decade too late to truly find its calling. Debuting on NBC in fall of 1996 as part of their ballyhooed "Thrillogy" of fantasy-tinged suspense series (which also included criminalist skein Profiler and the short-lived Dark Skies), the series starred Michael T. Weiss as Jarod, a super genius who could subsume himself into any identity with the barest of research. Kidnapped as a child and forced into the servitude of an evil organization called the Centre, the adult Jarod made his escape and set about using his gifts to right wrongs and help the downtrodden while also trying to piece together the puzzle of his identity. Like Quantum Leap a decade earlier (which also aired on NBC, and which I talked about here), The Pretender was a "quest" show that hinged on a likable lead assuming new identities in every episode.

The way it usually went down was that Jarod would show up in that episode's designated role (i.e. doctor, pilot, lifeguard, teacher, etc.) specifically to ferret out some recent wrongdoing and forcing the perpetrators to come clean after reliving their crimes ("You left Mr. x behind to die so you could marry his wife/take his job/steal his money, didn't you? Didn't you??" "Yes! Yes! Jarod, get me out of this sinking car/crashing elevator/gas-filled room!" Cue the sweet sound of justice.) All the while, the bloodhounds from the Centre, led by the beautiful/nasty (beautifully nasty?) Ms. Parker (played by the appropriately named Andrea Parker), are mere steps away from recapturing him. For some reason, vids of the intro are impossible to find on YouTube, but here's an NBC promo hyping the then-impending series' debut:

Friday, February 15, 2013

That Muslim CIA Guy in Zero Dark Thirty

On the last MovieFilm show, while in the midst of yet another discussion on controversy-magnet Zero Dark Thirty, I mentioned the inclusion of a WASP-y CIA muckety-muck who the audience is first introduced to while he's kneeling on a prayer rug on the floor of his Langley office, performing the traditional Muslim prayer. His subordinate waits for him to finish, then greets him with "As-salaam-wa-alaikum," to which the higher-up responds with "Walaikum-as-salaam," and then the plot's business about tracking down Bin Laden carries on. Never again is the CIA guy's "Muslim-ness" addressed. Naturally, I couldn't help but be fascinated not only by this character, but by the filmmakers' decision to include him as a part of their narrative tapestry. As it turns out, this wasn't some mere fictional token that screenwriter Mark Boal spun out of a whole cloth. Rather, he's actually based on a real guy who really works at the CIA, and he has quite the fascinating story behind him, as this Washington Post piece from last year shows.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

INTERVIEW: Comedian Hasan Minhaj, Host of MTV's Failosophy

I first became aware of the comic stylings of Hasan Minhaj a little over years ago thanks to vids like "Abercrombie Door Greeters" and "Indian Spider-Man." Since then, I've watched the comedian expand his presence through ongoing comedic shorts like "The Truth" (check out his blistering, hilarious takedown of Ashton Kutcher here). Tomorrow night I (and you) get to see him on MTV as host of the new series Failosophy. I had the opportunity to chat with Hasan a few weeks ago about how Failosophy happened, who some of his inspirations are, and his take on the very serious business of being funny. Here's what he had to say:

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Loathed

Writer Ian Murphy, editor of Buffalo alternative The Beast, reliably takes no prisoners in his blistering annual takedowns of the "50 Most Loathsome Americans," and this year's countdown is no exception. Enjoy.

Monday, February 11, 2013

The MovieFilm Podcast: Episode 15

For this week's MovieFilm Podcast, Brian emerges from the hyperbaric chamber that is "film post-production" to get caught up on the latest out of La-La-Wood. In Headlines, we discuss the total floppage of Sylvester Stallone's latest actioner Bullet to the Head (not to mention why sixty-somethings shouldn't use growth hormones), and also talk about why Warner Bros. reboot of Godzilla sounds promising, why their plans for Justice League don't, and the latest news on the upcoming Star Wars: Episode VII. All that, plus discussions on the Super Bowl trailers for this summer's most anticipated flicks, my exclusive interview with writer/director Roman Coppola on writing Moonrise Kingdom and directing A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan, and just in time for Valentine's Day comes Sean's movie quiz on romantic comedies. As always, You can stream it below or download at the link. Make sure you write a review or rank us on iTunes, and be sure to hit "like" on our official Facebook page.

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Sunday, February 10, 2013

Nostalgia Theater: Miami Vice -- Cool Cops, Hot Town, Dated Show

Don Johnson (L) as Sonny Crockett, Philip Michael Thomas (R) as Rico Tubbs
Miami Vice is the textbook example of a pop cultural force that can seem so hip and current one moment, then hopelessly dated and out of step later. During its mid-'80s heyday on NBC, the procedural skein completely redefined the boundaries of TV drama in general and cop shows in particular. But in the intervening decades since it first ran, rather than being remembered for the technical and stylistic trailblazer that it was, it's come to be viewed as the embarrassing artifact that created an entire generation of douchebags who thought they looked good in pastels.

Created by Anthony Yerkovich and executive produced by Michael Mann, Vice centered on undercover coppers Sonny Crocket (Don Johnson) and Ricardo Tubbs (Philip Michael Thomas), whose work trying to take down Florida's narco-driven criminal underbelly had them running in the seediest circles while wearing the nicest threads and driving the sweetest rides. Here's the intro theme, complete with neon-colored logo, with music composed by Czech synthesizer maestro Jan Hammer:

Friday, February 08, 2013

INTERVIEW: Writer/Director Roman Coppola on Charles Swan and Moonrise Kingdom

After making his entrĂ©e into feature directing with 2001's CQ, it took a while for writer/director Roman Coppola to choose a follow-up directorial effort: A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III.

The surrealist comedy starring Charlie Sheen, Jason Schwartzman, and Bill Murray is now playing in select theaters as well as through video-on-demand, and its surrealist take on the internal struggles of a man (Sheen) dealing with the aftermath of a bad breakup is very much a personal passion project for the writer/director, who's also up for a Best Original Screenplay Oscar this year for his work co-writing Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom.

I had a chance to chat with Coppola (son of legendary Godfather helmer Francis) last week for the MovieFilm Podcast, and here are some highlights from our conversation, wherein he discusses the genesis of Swan, what it's like working with Wes Anderson, and his thoughts on the Hollywood blockbuster machine and possibly directing an action movie sometime in the future:

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

INTERVIEW: Director Lena Khan Talks Tiger

(Note: This is a mock-up poster)
As longtime readers know quite well, two areas of special interest for me are Muslim issues and movie issues, so when we see a conjunction of both, that tends to pique my interest in a big way. On that score, one of the more intriguing projects to cross across my radar of late is The Tiger Hunter, a film to be directed by Lena Khan from a script co-written by my cousin Sameer Gardezi.

A coming-of-age dramedy in the vein of American Graffiti, The Tiger Hunter looks to have a lot of humor and a lot of heart, and is currently in the process of raising funds via Kickstarter. I had the chance to chat with Lena a few weeks ago about the project, the job of trying to pull together money for indie films, and what the difference is between "Muslim films" and "films about Muslims." Here's how it went:

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Super Bowl Peeks at Iron Man 3 and More

Amazingly enough, we're now under three months from when Iron Man 3 kicks off the summer movie season. Feels like only yesterday that The Avengers came out! Anyway, we got another look at the anticipated superhero threequel this past Sunday via the Super Bowl (which, as you know, I only pay attention to because of the movie commercials). Check out the extended preview below, and once you're done with that, go ahead and click past the jump to check out the new Star Trek and Lone Ranger spots, the latter of which I'm a lot more interested in now than I was previously, largely on the strength of this promo. Mission accomplished there.

Words of Wars

Now that JJ Abrams is locked in for Star Wars: Episode VII, the long wait begins until the film's 2015 (maybe even 2016) debut. Naturally while we know less than nothing now, that's not stopping various voices in the media-sphere adding their voices to the speculative cacophony about what Abrams will do, whether he'll do it well, and whether the whole thing will be worth a darn. Mike Ryan at Huffington Post has an interesting piece up wherein he makes the argument that Abrams in imminently qualified for the task, and looks to the original three films for signs of what he may do with the new trilogy:
I'm not saying Abrams is guaranteed to direct a great Star Wars movie, but the signs are good: he has his own headstrong style (like Kershner), loves strong characters (like Kershner) and possesses a vast knowledge of special effects (like Lucas). At this point, I just don't understand how any Star Wars fan wouldn't be excited about Abrams, considering he's the first director in the history of the franchise who, you know, is actually qualified.
Making the opposing case, Ross Douthat at the New York Times argues that Abrams may not be the guy thanks to the director's professed fandom for the Star Wars films. Says he:

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Nostalgia Theater: Oh Brother, Simon & Simon

Rick & AJ Simon: Gerald McRaney (L), Jameson Parker (R)
I loved Simon & Simon when I was a kid. In hindsight, it was probably mostly because of the theme song, but the truth is the show wasn't that bad either. Part of CBS' bumper crop of "gimmick" private investigator skeins in the '80s, i.e. Magnum, PI and Murder, She Wrote -- both of which existed in the same "universe" as this (and as opposed to the net's current bumper crop of city-based procedurals), Simon & Simon was about a pair of mismatched siblings who worked together as San Diego private detectives. Aaaaand that's basically it. That was the show.

Vietnam vet Rick (Gerald McRaney, a few years away from Major Dad) was the anything-goes, cowboy hat-wearing, pickup truck-driving older brother, while younger sib AJ (Jameson Parker) was the buttoned down, studious-type. Gee, I wonder what kind of wacky misadventures were going to ensue when these total opposites had to team up! Yeah, pretty much the kind you'd imagine. When Simon & Simon premiered on the Eye in late November '81, it looked and sounded like this: