Sunday, June 30, 2013

Nostalgia Theater: Out of this World Edition

Space mutant Evie (Maureen Flannigan) terrifies human mom Donna (Donna Pescow)
I don't know if it's an actual fact or simply my jaundiced memory of the era, but it certainly feels like TV traffic in the 1980s was clogged with a disproportionately high number of sitcoms that revolved around sci-fi/fantasy scenarios, rather than quality writing, to do the comedic heavy lifting. I talked about one such example, the awesomely awful Small Wonder, a few years ago, and another such example is Out of this World, which ran for four seasons and nearly a hundred episodes from the late '80s into the early '90s. I'd go into the premise, but watch the intro after the jump and see if that doesn't clear the air first:

Saturday, June 29, 2013

INTERVIEW: Director Paul Feig on The Heat, Bridesmaids, and Freaks and Geeks

As an actor, Paul Feig has appeared on shows as diverse The Facts of Life, The Drew Carey Show, and Sabrina, the Teenage Witch. As creator of the short-lived, much-loved NBC series Freaks and Geeks, he helped launch the careers of such current comedy icons as Seth Rogen, Jason Segal, and James Franco. As a director, he helmed 2011's Oscar-nominated comedy smash Bridesmaids, which should have firmly put to bed the antiquated notion that women can't be funny.

I guess what I'm saying is that after this many years in the trenches, Paul Feig knows his way around the serious business of being funny. His latest project is The Heat, now in theaters, re-teaming him with Bridesmaids alum (and Oscar-nominee) Melissa McCarthy alongside Sandra Bullock. I recently had the opportunity to participate in a panel interview with the director about the film, his two stars, and other lessons he's learned from his time in the industry. Here's the transcript:

Friday, June 28, 2013

Zaki's Review: World War Z

For the past several years we've seen the tropes, vernacular and iconography of the "zombie apocalypse" worm their way into the mainstream. What had always been a niche of a niche until now, typified by writer/director George A. Romero's trailblazing 1969 shocker Night of the Living Dead, has given way in the past decade to such genre-busting efforts as 2004's parody Shaun of the Dead, and AMC TV drama The Walking Dead, which enjoys the kind of ratings usually reserved for doctor and lawyer shows on the broadcast nets. In that sense, World War Z, director Marc Forster's big budget, big spectacle star vehicle for Brad Pitt, feels very much like the culmination of that mainstreaming, and thus can't help but seem watered down and ordinary when compared with some of the boundary-breakers that have come before it.

Arriving with a hefty price tag in the vicinity of $200 million, World War Z proudly brandishes its blockbuster bona fides. Gone is much of the visceral horror and underlying subtext and social commentary that Romero brought to his entries (and that author Max Brooks brought to the book from which the movie takes its title -- and little else), replaced instead by the kind of rampaging, panoramic zombie hordes that previous films could never have budgeted for. This is intended primarily as a full-charging summer entertainment that careens along at a pace too freewheeling to dwell on the broader implications of the scenario it presents. And while that approach is gripping in the moment, it's also too-quickly forgotten.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

SCOTUS and the Voting Rights Act

Earlier this morning the Supreme Court unleashed its decision in the case of "Shelby County v. Holder," which had at its center a question regarding the overall Constitutionality of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, passed during the Johnson Administration, which has allowed countless minorities to overcome the systemic roadblocks that had been put in place (primarily in the South) to prevent their inclusion in the democratic process.

In its 5-4 decision today, the SCOTUS struck down a key tenet of the VRA that, in essence, makes the entire law that much harder to uphold. Naturally, the usual suspects on the right have heralded this as a victory for the states (primarily southern, many of which were held back from enacting several draconian voter ID measures thanks to the the Justice Department enforcing the VRA). That said, Joshua Green at Bloomberg Business is pretty confident that, while this decision is being heralded right now, it'll end up a "poison chalice" for the GOP.

From The Onion...

Seeing The Lone Ranger later in the week, so this one seemed appropriate.
Johnny Depp Now Physically Unable To Walk Unless Whimsically Teeter-Tottering Across Rolling Log, Wobbly Plank, Or Swaying Beam
From the piece:
“The other day we were walking in the city, and he must have lost his balance and fell down 60 times, but as soon as various sections of the ground broke apart underneath him and started swaying back and forth, well, he flailed around a lot and made some wide-eyed, funny facial expressions, but he didn’t fall down once and made it across unharmed,” said a close friend, adding that because of the injuries Depp has sustained while trying to walk on stable ground, the actor now prefers the tops of moving trains to sidewalks.
Read more here.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Nostalgia Theater: The Many Crappy Lives of Knight Rider, Part II -- Team Knight Rider

L-R: Kathy Trageser, Nick Wechsler, Brixton Karnes, Christine Steel, Duane Davis
This week we pick up with our leisurely walk through the different facets of Universal's perplexingly long-lived Knight Rider franchise. While the reunion movie Knight Rider 2000 in 1991 didn't turn into a series, that didn't stop the studio from giving it another try just three short years later with Knight Rider 2010, a backdoor pilot that aired in February of '94 as part of Uni's syndicated "Action Pack" made-for-TV movies (which also served as the launchpad for the hugely-successful Hercules: The Legendary Journeys).

Other than its name, Knight Rider 2010 had zero connection to prior iterations, set in a futuristic, Mad Max-esque dystopia in 2010 -- the world of tomorrow! Our lead is a daredevil driver named Jake McQueen (Richard Joseph Paul), who wanders the wasteland in a souped-up 'stang that's equipped with AI based on deceased love interest Hannah (Hudson Leick). I watched this when it first aired, but apparently it self-deleted from my brain immediately after, because I have no memory of it. Nonetheless, here's the scene where "Hannah" first comes to digital life:

Saturday, June 22, 2013

INTERVIEW: Journalist Jeremy Scahilll on Dirty Wars

For more than fifteen years, Jeremy Scahill's investigative work has earned him accolades the world over for speaking truth to power and for shining a light down those shadowed corridors that certain vested interests would prefer remain hidden. In 2007, his blockbuster tome Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army laid bare the United States' role in positioning a proxy army overseas to fight its wars.

The work that began there continues with his latest effort, Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield (also a gripping new documentary of the same name directed by Richard Rowley), which investigates America's policy of drone strikes and targeted assassinations. I recently had the opportunity to speak with Scahill (whose work has long been an inspiration to me) about Blackwater, Dirty Wars, and what the revelations in both mean for America's sense of self moving forward. Check out the full transcript of our candid and compelling conversation below:

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Steel Struggles

Last year I was of the same mind as Sequart's Julian Darius on The Dark Knight Rises (which I re-watched last night, and I'd say has actually diminished from my initial "meh" review), and we're also of a piece on Man of Steel, which both he and I enjoyed greatly. I recommend checking out his entire piece looking at the film, but one part in particular that jumped out at me was his take on the film's controversial climax (a climax that even exec producer Christopher Nolan had to be convinced on, by the way). I alluded to potential controversy about this development in my review, and indeed it's been a central talking point in the "anti" column. Nonetheless, I was okay with it, and what follows is why. Since this is still spoiler material, I'll put the relevant bit after the jump:

Recommended Reading

Robert Reich says the GOP has learned no lessons from its drubbing at the polls in 2012.

Monday, June 17, 2013

The MovieFilm Podcast: Episode 24

The Man of Steel episode! The MovieFilm gang reunites to discuss the latest (greatest?) cinematic exploit of Superman, with all three of us offering a rapturous reaction. But that's not all! Speaking of rapturous, there's also my in-depth interview with Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, and Craig Robinson of the hilarious end-of-the-world comedy This Is The End (check out the full transcript here). In addition, we talk up the latest news on the latest Terminator movie (including word that sixty-something Ah-Nold might be cyborging up again), dissect the doomsaying predictions from Steven Spielberg & George Lucas that the end of cinema is nigh, and offer our takes on the new trailers for 300: Rise of An Empire, and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, and we top things off with a MovieFilm quiz where Sean and I test our Superman trivia thresholds. You can stream below, or listen/download to the show through iTunes or via Stitcher Radio. Remember to write a review or rank us on iTunes and Stitcher, and be sure to hit "like" on our official Facebook page!

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Sunday, June 16, 2013

Nostalgia Theater: Superman Peanut Butter -- "Its Strength is its Great Taste"

With Man of Steel burning up the box office this weekend (check out my review if you haven't already!), let's stay on topic for a little while longer with this vintage spot for Superman Peanut Butter. Believe it or not, that was a real thing, lasting for a few years from the late '70s into the early '80s. I don't have a lot of memories of what it tasted like, but one presumes it tasted just like regular, run-of-the-mill peanut butter. Nonetheless, countless kids probably forced their parents to buy Superman PB, as opposed to whatever generic store-brand stuff they usually picked up, simply because of that stylized "S" beckoning to them from the condiments aisle. At least, that's what happened in my house! Catch the vid below:

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Zaki's Review: Man of Steel

Director Zack Snyder's Man of Steel is an ambitious attempt by home studio Warner Bros. to imbue their Superman property with the same sense of primacy with audiences that seems to come so easily to DC Comics stablemate Batman (who's taking a breather between film series right now). And while it doesn't quite remove the Richard Donner-directed, Christopher Reeve-starring Superman: The Movie -- the granddaddy of the wave of comic book pics we're currently in the midst of -- from its place of preeminence in my heart, it does sit quite comfortably alongside it as a worthy retelling of this most indelible piece of Americana.

I've often said that one of the keys to the evergreen appeal of the Superman myth is in its elasticity. The timeless tale of an infant rocketed from a dying planet to assume a mantle of heroism on Earth has a resiliency that transcends its Depression-era origins, allowing it to find new expression for every generation since. In that sense, Man of Steel (upon which Warners is hanging all its be-Leaguered hopes for a Marvel-style movie universe) isn't so much a reinvention as it is a reclamation. The Watchmen director's franchise restart accords the saga the same degree of respect and seriousness it was given in Donner's beloved film, but also grounds the proceedings with relevance and immediacy for 2013 auds.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

INTERVIEW: Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, and Craig Robinson on This is the End

L-R: Craig Robinson, Seth Rogen, some guy, and Evan Goldberg
Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg have been creative partners for almost a decade now, with their history of uproarious collaborations including such recent comedic benchmarks as Superbad and Pineapple Express, as well as one of their earliest projects, the self-referential short film Jay & Seth Versus the Apocalypse. It was this latter project that formed the basis of the pair's most recent endeavor, This is the End (now in theaters), which also marks their directorial debut.

The film, starring Rogen, Craig Robinson, James Franco, Jonah Hill, and Danny McBride as themselves in the aftermath of the Rapture, is one of most original comedies I've seen in awhile, serving as a perfect showcase for the style of humor they've turned into their trademark. I had the chance to chat with Rogen, Goldberg, and Robinson recently, and they made my job extremely easy, as all I had to do was set them up and watch the magic as they played off one another. Check out the transcript of our conversation below:

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

"Good News! You're Not Paranoid"

Jon Stewart took a twelve-week sabbatical from Daily Show hosting duties last week to direct a feature film that he co-wrote, but if there were any doubts that erstwhile fill-in John Oliver would miss a step during his tenure in the big chair, they were dashed immediately with last night's barn-burner of an episode. Check out Oliver's blistering take on the recent revelations about the NSA's domestic surveillance. Part one is below, and parts two and three are after the jump:

Monday, June 10, 2013

Sins of a Superman

My Man of Steel review should be up tomorrow, but in the meantime check out this vid compiled by the folks at Cinema Sins as they pick apart many of the things that went wrong with Superman's last cinematic escapade. I would say that, in hindsight, I was more generous than I needed to be with Superman Returns, and while I haven't revisited the movie the whole way through since the one time I saw it in the theater in '06, I think this summarizes many of the things that bothered me about it:

Recommended Reading

Robert Reich discusses how the static equilibrium in Washington, with nothing of substance breaching the congressional logjam, has precipitated the polarization all across the country, as reflected by the legislation that is making it through the statehouses.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Nostalgia Theater: The Forgotten Superman

Man of Steel finally arrives this week, and having seen it last week I've got lots to say, but that'll have to wait for my review. In the meantime, let's take a look back at another artifact from Superman's long multimedia history -- one that came and went so quickly that it's largely been left by the wayside. In 1988, two years after Hanna-Barbera's long-lived Super Friends franchise aired its last episode on ABC, and one year after the last Christopher Reeve Superman flick (nuclear) bombed, DC Comics made another play at crossover glory for their biggest icon on the occasion of his 50th anniversary.

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Recommended Reading

The Washington Post's Timothy B. Lee lays out in precise detail why exactly this week's revelations of the NSA's unprecedented snooping into phone records are such a big freakin' deal.

INTERVIEW: Alexis Denisof & Amy Acker on Much Ado About Nothing

Alexis Denisof (L) and Amy Acker (R) as erstwhile love interests Benedick and Beatrice
I've been a fan of actors Alexis Denisof and Amy Acker since their time together playing doomed lovers Wesley Wyndam-Pryce and Winifred Burkle on creator Joss Whedon's late, lamented series Angel. While the two have kept busy with a variety of different projects since the show ended its run nearly a decade ago, they've reunited this week as Benedick and Beatrice, the will-they/won't-they couple at the center of Whedon's adaptation of William Shakespeare's immortal comedy Much Ado About Nothing.

The film, which Whedon shot over the course of twelve days last year as a way of unwinding from the stress of making a certain mega-budgeted blockbuster, is a virtual cornucopia of longtime and frequent Whedon collaborators, with Nathan Fillion, Clark Gregg, Sean Maher, and many others on hand to give voice to the Bard's words. I had a chance to chat with Denisof and Acker a few weeks ago about Angel, Much Ado, and what it's like when you're filming a movie at Joss Whedon's house. Check out the transcript of our conversation after the jump:

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

The MovieFilm Podcast: Episode 23

Sean rejoins the MovieFilm troika for this week's episode, and starts things out with a belated review of Star Trek Into Darkness. From there, we launch into in-depth conversations on how the The Hangover Part III is one of the unfunniest comedies ever made, how Fast & Furious 6 made Zaki shut up and love Vin Diesel, and how After Earth may well be the death knell for M. Night Shyamalan's once-promising career. In addition, we also take in the all-new trailers for Ender's Game and The World's End, plus commentary on Henry Cavill joining the long-development feature adaptation of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Whoopi Goldberg joining the cast of the Michael Bay-produced Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot, the possibility that Skyfall director Sam Mendes might return for back-to-back Bond adventures, and more. All that, and the usual listener letters to start things off and a movie quiz to wrap things up. Stream below, or listen/download through iTunes or via Stitcher Radio. Remember to write a review or rank us on iTunes and Stitcher, and be sure to hit "like" on our official Facebook page!

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Monday, June 03, 2013

The Perils of Prepubescent Prominence

A conversation I frequently have, both with my MovieFilm colleagues and my students, is about the way Hollywood churns up and spits out promising young stars. Those young actors who actually manage a successful transition from precocious youngling to Tiger Beat cover star to regular working actor are few and far between, and are far outnumbered by the tragic, comical, or tragicomic cases such as Lindsay Lohan, Amanda Bynes, the entire cast of Diff'rent Strokes, etc.

Children are used by the machine as long as they're deemed valuable to the corporate bottom line, after which they're kicked to the curb with no few life or social skills to speak of after being trained to view themselves and others as a commodity all their lives. This isn't just an isolated phenomenon, as Hollywood history is littered with similar such cases. For some insider perspective on the troubling travails of child stars, here's Mara Wilson (remember her from Matilda?), who lists seven possibilities for why the frequency of child star meltdowns is so high.

From The Onion...

Oh, so true.
Man On Cusp Of Having Fun Suddenly Remembers Every Single One Of His Responsibilities
From the piece:
While cracking open his second beer as he chatted with friends over a relaxed outdoor meal, Platt was reportedly seconds away from letting go and enjoying himself when he was suddenly crushed by the full weight of work emails that still needed to be dealt with, looming deadlines for projects that would take a great deal of time and energy to complete, an upcoming wedding he had yet to buy airfare for because of an unresolved issue with his Southwest Rapid Rewards account, and phone calls that needed to be returned.
Read the rest here.

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Nostalgia Theater 100! The Franchising of Ewoks

Welcome to the big 100th installment of Nostalgia Theater! I'm as shocked as you that we've made it this far, but here's to the next 100! You ain't seen nothin' yet!

Last July I had a post looking back at the animated Star Wars spin-off Droids, with the promise of a follow-up the next week examining its sister series Ewoks. Well, when I said "next week," I actually meant, "whenever I get around to it." And with last week marking thirty years to the day that Return of the Jedi, the movie that first launched the furry little runts into our collective mindspace, was released, I figured the moment had finally arrived to look back at the franchising of Ewoks.