Saturday, August 31, 2013

Chappelle, Race & Comedy

A few months ago I got to scratch seeing Dave Chappelle perform live stand-up off my bucket list when some friends very graciously got my wife and I into one of those under-the-radar gigs Chappelle's been doing all across the country (including quite regularly here in the SF Bay Area) since he walked away from his trailblazing sketch show on Comedy Central ten years ago. Back then, there was a lot of commentary in the media over whether the comedian had gone nuts or "melted down" or what-have-you. After all, how could anyone in their right mind leave hundreds of millions of dollars on the table and not be crazy, right?

Well, having seen the guy perform, it was clear as day that he's got a lot he wants to say about a lot of things, and while comedy offers a vehicle, it also has him kind of boxed in. Earlier this week in CT, he walked off stage after several minutes of hectoring from the crowd (to which I ask, who the hell heckles Dave Chappelle?). Naturally, this prompted another media round-robin of "meltdown" and "here he goes again" stuff, but as is made clear by Lesli-Ann Lewis, who was actually in attendance and thus has a bit more of an informed perspective than most, what happened with Dave Chappelle has very little to do with a celebrity throwing a hissy-fit, and everything to do with our ongoing problems with race and racism in the public sphere.

INTERVIEW: Deston Cretton and Brie Larson on Short Term 12

I felt emotionally drained after watching writer/director Destin Cretton's rousing, riveting, roller coaster of a sophomore feature, Short Term 12. Set in the largely ignored world of the American foster care system, the film tracks the lives and struggles of Grace (Brie Larson) and Mason (John Gallagher) as they deal with struggles personal and professional, and try to find the little things that give life meaning even as they're surrounded by so much despair.

In addition to Cretton's ceaselessly engaging story and direction, the project also boasts textured and relatable turns by its two leads, Larson and Gallagher. I recently chatted with Cretton and star Brie Larson, whose performance is already generating Awards-season buzz, about the road that brought each of them to Short Term 12. Here's what they had to say:

Friday, August 30, 2013

"When You Make a Mistake, Admit It"

On Wednesday evening, Bill O'Reilly made a factual error. On Thursday evening he issued a correction. I know, I'm as shocked as you. In all seriousness though, good on him for taking it on the chin without hedging or couching:

Love After Loss

My wife had tears streaming down her face after watching this, and I have to admit it made me a little misty as well. 96-year old Fred Stobaugh recently lost his wife of 73 years, Lorraine. When an online singer-songwriter competition was soliciting entries, Stobaugh submitted a handwritten poem he'd penned in memory of his lost love. This is what happened next. Keep a hanky handy!

Recommended Reading

You may recall that earlier this year, RNC chair Reince Priebus released an "autopsy" that outlined the party's future efforts to reach the minority voters they've spent several cycles dehumanizing, debasing, and disenfranchising. Well, this week's commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I have a dream" address in Washington offered a perfect, camera-ready opportunity for the "new" GOP to show its stuff, but the event -- which saw Presidents Obama, Clinton, and Carter all give speeches -- didn't draw even a single elected Republican to attend, despite the fact that every member of congress was invited. It's baffling, but not particularly surprising given the weird brand of identity politics afflicting Republicans, and it's just one reason why, as Salon's Brian Beutler explains, this week wasn't a great one in the annals of minority outreach for the once-Grand Old Party.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Continuing Mission

On the most recent MovieFilm Podcast I mentioned a fan-created Star Trek with a level of storytelling and technical proficiency that elevated it head, shoulders, and torso above most of the similar fan ventures that litter video-sharing sites. The project, entitled Star Trek Continues, purports to tell the "fourth season" adventures of the original series (which, as we all know, only made it to season three), and boasts a quality cast and set design that's remarkably consistent with the first Trek.

I have to say, I got more of a Trek vibe from this thing than the recent Into Darkness feature film (which, you may recall, I didn't dig). The plan, per producer/director/star Vic Mignona is to crank one or two of these out every year, and if the first "episode," which has actor Michael Forrest reprise his role of Apollo* from the original series' "Bread and Circuses," is any guide, we're in for a real treat whenever they beam down the next one. Check it out below and tell me what you think.

* And speaking of Apollo, you Battlestar Galactica fans out there should keep your eyes peeled for a neat little in-joke cameo.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

From The Onion...

Hmm. News to me.
Study: Americans Enjoy Watching TV, Eating 
WASHINGTON—According to a new study published Monday by the Pew Research Center, Americans enjoy watching television and eating. “Our research indicates that residents of the United States take great pleasure in watching television, often for many hours at once, and enjoy eating food in large quantities, preferably several or more times per day,” lead author Dr. Richard Cowell said of the study, which follows an earlier report that concluded the nation greatly prefers sitting to standing. “Our findings also suggest Americans enjoy watching television and eating at the same time.” According to the study, Americans do not enjoy being hungry or having no TV.

Monday, August 26, 2013

The MovieFilm Podcast: Episode 29

Ben Affleck is Batman! Sean was missing for the biggest news out of Hollywood this week, but Brian and I still had plenty to say about the latest actor to done the hallowed cape and cowl, and you can hear us go from cautiously wary to cautiously optimistic in real time. But that's not all we cover! We also chime in on a trio of unnecessary remakes/reboots: MGM's new version of Ben-Hur, the new film adaptation of The Twilight Zone to be directed by Joseph Kosinsky, and the potential TV series based on Rambo. In addition, we also discuss the latest news on the latest Star Wars, and have an in-depth conversation on Edgar Wright's newest offering, The World's End, including some highlights from a roundtable interview with Wright and stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. Listen to the show via the embed below, or download or stream at iTunes or Stitcher. As always, make sure to write a review and let us know how we're doing!

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Sunday, August 25, 2013

Nostalgia Theater: Nintendo Cereal -- It's For Breakfast Now!

When the Nintendo Entertainment System hit US shelves in '87, it took the nation by storm, leaving previous consoles like the Atari 2600 in the dustbin of history. The NES was really a quantum leap forward for video games at the time, ensnaring an entire generation in its 8-bit graphics and catchy MIDI tunes. It wasn't just games, though. I was living in Saudi at the time, so the whole thing passed me by until I visited the States in summer of '89, and saw "Nintendo" branding everywhere. And I mean everywhere. T-shirts. Cartoon shows. Even the breakfast aisle!

In perhaps the nadir of our societal Nintendo-philia, cereal/pet food maker Ralston Purina put together the Nintendo Cereal System in 1988, which had the benefit of being "two cereals in one. Wow!" I never tried it, but given that Ralton (since bought out by Nestle) specialized in licensed cereals that tasted like generic crap (I did buy box upon box of their Batman cereal that same summer), I'd assume there wasn't much there there. I also wouldn't put much hope in it being part of a balanced breakfast. Nintendo Cereal didn't last long, but I do remember the commercials, and I expect a lot of others do as well:

Friday, August 23, 2013

Bat-Ben Begins

I tweeted this news yesterday, noting that any second now the Internet was likely to explode. And certainly if my Facebook wall is any sort of guide, that's exactly what happened. Like it or love it, seems like everyone has an opinion. For those of you who slept through it, the biggest news in geekdom for this week is that Ben Affleck, still basking in his post-Argo afterglow as one of the decade's most respected directors, has been handed the coveted pointy cowl and scalloped cape for a 2015 opus (scheduled for July 17) that will see his Caped Crusader square off against/team up with Henry Cavill's Man of Steel under the direction of the returning Zack Snyder.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

From The Onion...

I think I may actually have interacted with this guy...
Seemingly Mentally Ill Internet Commenter Presumably Functions In Outside World

Recommended Reading

Matt Taibbi casts the harsh light of day on a scandal no one seems to be talking about, one that he posits could very well demolish the economy. Pretty sobering stuff.

Birther Backfire

As you know, I like to mock the misbegotten strain of political activism known as "Birtherism" every chance I get on this site. The movement, which holds as its guiding principle that Barack Obama's presidency is built on an elaborate edifice of fraudulent documents and a conspiracy spanning several decades, is the very definition of cognitive dissonance, with neither common sense nor irrefutable proof enough to squelch the (ultimately racist) notion that Obama is legally unfit to hold office.

That these folks still have oxygen this many years later is hilarious enough, but it's made even more so by Tea Party darling Ted Cruz, the crackpot Texas senator who's clearly angling for a 2016 run, and who now has to combat a bit of Birtherism himself due to his Canadian birth (and thus Canadian dual citizenship). Now, just to be clear, Cruz is an American citizen and is totally eligible to run, but as Steven Lubet at Salon explains, thanks to the kind of nonsense he himself has encouraged, Cruz is now caught in a political trap of his own making. Couldn't happen to a nicer guy.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Jawful: 3-D

Last fall I linked to a piece explaining why Jaws: The Revenge, the 1987 franchise-killer starring a deeply embarrassed Michael Caine, isn't as bad as everyone thinks. Now here's Tom Reimann at Cracked to explain why the other worst Jaws movie, 1983's execrable Jaws 3-D ("The Third Dimension is Terror!"), is actually a staggering work of overlooked genius. The timing on this one couldn't be more apropos, as I actually just watched this flick the whole way through for the very first time this past weekend. And yeah, it's terrible. Ah, or is it? Hmm...

INTERVIEW: Director David Lowery on Ain't Them Bodies Saints

After several years honing his craft directing short films and editing featurs, David Lowery makes a supremely confident entree onto the feature directing stage with Ain't Them Bodies Saints, a visually rich, surprisingly affecting character drama about an escaped convict (Casey Affleck) determined to reunite with his beloved wife (Rooney Mara). On the eve of the film's release last Friday, I had a chance to speak with Lowery (who also wrote the film) about his inspirations, aspirations, and what his personal journey was like bringing his first feature film as a director to the big screen. Check out the text of our conversation below:

Monday, August 19, 2013

Recommended Reading

With the state-based insurance exchange at the center of President Obama's Affordable Care Act mere weeks away from launching across the country, a concerted push is now underway by various vested interests (the Koch Brothers, for one) aimed at dissuading the young and/or the healthy from partaking in said exchanges. The thinking here is that without contributions from young, healthy people, whose participation is essential in keeping rates down across the board, the law will wither and die on the vine. And hey, if the people who actually need the law the most end up suffering for it, whaddya do, right? Freedom! This is fairly devious, Oil Can Harry-type stuff from the Kochs, et al, but it's also extraordinarily shortsighted, should it work. Ezra Klein explains.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Nostalgia Theater: TV's Gung Ho Gets the Heave-Ho

It seems like both before and since Fox's M*A*S*H was able to spin a very successful and acclaimed theatrical release into an eleven season television run on CBS, studios have perpetually been chasing after the magic formula for turning big screen success into small screen longevity. Case in point, TV's Gung Ho. What's that you say, you've never heard of Gung Ho, the series? Oh, I see. You've never heard of Gung Ho, the movie. Very well then, let's reconnoiter a bit, shall we?

Directed by Ron Howard and starring Michael Keaton, Gung Ho is the story of smart talking auto worker Hunt Stevenson (Keaton), who convinces Japanese car company Assan to open facilities stateside and help put his small Pennsylvania town back to work. What follows are the predictable culture clash, fish-out-of-water hijinks as Stevenson has to mediate between the devil-may-care Americans (George Wendt, John Turturro, Clint Howard) and their by-the-book bosses (Gedde Watanabe, Sab Shimono). Here's the trailer:

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Recommended Reading

In a week that saw a Tea Party org threatening to primary staunchly-doctrinaire Republican Senator Lamar Alexander because "can no longer afford compromise and bipartisanship," Salon's Alex Seitz-Wald lays out what left and right have come to represent in our current political discourse, and why the hoary notion that "both sides are the same" is starkly, demonstrably untrue. Says he:
Take immigration reform, where even some of the more radical pro-reform groups are willing to give their blessing to massive border spending, even though they detest it, in order to pass the larger package. Meanwhile, anti-reform conservatives refuse to give an inch. Or Obamacare, a massive compromise itself that the activist wing of the right is trying to kill through undemocratic and pain-inducing sabotage. Liberals were crestfallen by the demise of a public option in the healthcare debate, but ultimately came around on the law.
The mass insanity afflicting vast swaths of this nation's polity over the health care law is really something to behold. At once hilarious (for how it's being expressed) and terrifying (for what it could lead to). Read the rest of the piece here.

Friday, August 16, 2013

INTERVIEW: Ashton Kutcher and Joshua Michael Stern on Jobs

Since the untimely passing of Steve Jobs in 2011, the mystique surrounding the Apple founder has only grown, leading to several screen projects quickly hitting the development pipeline, all aimed at shedding new light on the man behind the Mac. The first of these biographies out of the gate is Jobs, opening today, which stars Ashton Kutcher, in one of his most nuanced and textured performances to date, in the title role.

The film, scripted by Matt Whiteley, covers considerable narrative ground, taking us from Jobs' time as an unmotivated college student to his founding (with Steve Wozniak, played in the film by Josh Gad) of Apple Computers to his eventual dismissal from and triumphant return to the company he created. I recently had a chance to speak with Kutcher, along with director Joshua Michael Stern, about their approach to the film and this most iconic of real life characters. The following are some highlights of our conversation:

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Master of the (Marvel) Universe

Since the release of Iron Man lo those many moons ago in '08, Marvel Studios has ridden from success to success as its built up a shared cinematic universe for its multitude of costume characters that's unlike anything before seen on the screen. Since the culmination of the studio's "Phase 1" with last year's Avengers, there's been no let-up, with the record-setting release of Iron Man 3 in May, and sequels on tap for Thor and Captain America, plus next year's Guardians of the Galaxy, and 2015's Avengers: The Age of Ultron all working their way through the development pipeline (not to mention the upcoming Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. series on ABC).

In fact, the level of cross-platform success Marvel has enjoyed of late is pretty much inversely proportional to how clubfooted rival Warner Bros./DC Comics' record has been with just about any non-Batman flick (though Man of Steel may have turned the tide there). A big part of Marvel's success has been the man in charge, producer Kevin Feige, whose role as head of the Marvel Cinematic Universe gives him more sway over the destinies of these characters than anyone since Stan Lee himself. Check out this in-depth profile of Feige over at Wired for some revealing insights into how he's been able to do what he does as effectively as he has, as well as whether the WB has anyone comparable on their team.

From The Onion...

I'm not this guy. I swear.
Father Teaches Son How To Fly Into Rage Over Completely Inconsequential Bull****
From the piece:
“It’s up to me as a parent to become unsettlingly irate over something as small as letting the screen door slam shut, so that Zach learns to never let even the most petty, negligible nuisance slide,” Dalton added. “He’s an observant kid and he really looks up to me, so I’m sure he’ll catch on quickly.” 
In an effort to help guide his son’s development, Dalton explained that he consistently tries to embody the qualities of irritability, hostility, and bitterness in his daily life, emphasizing to his fourth-grade son the importance of letting his annoyance over an inconsequential matter develop into a lingering, biting resentment that makes others feel uncomfortable to be near him.
Read the rest here.

Monday, August 12, 2013

The MovieFilm Podcast: Episode 28

For the latest MovieFilm episode, the gang celebrates the twentieth anniversary of the 1993 release of The Fugitive, starring Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones in one of the greatest action movies of all time. We delve into its making, offer our thoughts on why it works so well, and chime on the follow-ups. Before that though, we start things off with Zaki's exclusive interview with actor Ashton Kutcher and director Joshua Stern about their work on the all-new Steve Jobs biopic Jobs

After that, we delve into some thoughts on this weekend's new release Elysium, the big budget blockbuster from District 9 director Neil Blomkamp (which you'll recall I liked quite a bit), as well as the latest movie from Warner Bros.' Justice League line, The Flashpoint Paradox. After that, some observations on Disney's Planes turns into an angry rant about why the quality of kids' movies seems to have dropped so precipitously of late, whether America has fallen out of love with Ryan Reynolds, plus more, including the usual Listener Letters and a MovieFilm quiz.

We packed a lot of content into this one, so be sure to join the conversation! You can listen via the embed below, or download or stream at iTunes or Stitcher. Make sure to write a review to let us know how we're doing!

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Sunday, August 11, 2013

Go to the Tape!

Talking Points Memo runs down an amusing list of recent instances where recorded off-the-record comments have come back to bite politicos on their carefully-prepped tuckuses. Naturally, Mitt Romney's infamous 47% thing is in there, but I'm sure you haven't heard about most of the others.

Nostalgia Theater: Believe It or Not, It's Just The Greatest American Hero

We live in an age now where new superhero spectacles seem to be hitting theaters every other week, all armed with boffo budgets and big stars. Wasn't always that way, though. Time was, just a few short decades back, before CGI technology could turn every wayward imagining into a reality, the only way to depict a superhero on the screen was with tongue placed firmly in cheek -- that way the audience knew it was meant to be cheesy. That they were supposed to laugh at it. Yeah, that's the ticket!

The most obvious go at this approach was the 1960s Batman TV show that I talked about here. That pretty much set the cement for screen superheroing until Superman: The Movie in 1978 made a pretty strong argument for ditching campy & tongue-in-cheek in favor of earnest & sober. A few years later, producer Stephen J. Cannell tried to split the difference between the two takes, and what he arrived at was 1981's The Greatest American Hero, an action-comedy-drama that happened to have a superhero at its centre:

Friday, August 09, 2013

Zaki's Review: Elysium

Showing just how redundant things have gotten in Hollywood of late, Elysium, director Neil Blomkamp's lavishly expansive yet lovingly personal sci-fi opus, is actually the third flick this year depicting the aftermath of a global apocalypse. But while April's Oblivion was rendered hollow by its foregrounding of spectacle over character, and while May's After Earth got bogged down by an aggressively uninteresting premise, Elysium benefits from Blomkamp's staunch determination to use his fantastical setting in service of a personal story with a human heart. 

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Christie Too Pro-Muslim for GOP?

All this time I'd been assuming that NJ Governor Chris Christie was pretty much a lock to be, if not the nominee, certainly the frontrunner for the GOP's 2016 presidential ticket. But as Alex Pareene explains, the one hiccup interrupting that assumption is that Christie would need to be nominated by Republica base voters, who tend to prefer a tad more Islamophobia in their candidates than Christie has demonstrated as of yet:
One (particularly vile) segment of the right hates him for one of Christie’s unambiguously admirable acts: standing up to virulent Islamophobia. Unfortunately, virulent Islamophobia is very, very popular on the right, tolerated at the highest levels and encouraged by even the most respectable media outlets of the conservative movement. Mitt Romney counted John Bolton, ally of raving anti-Muslim loons Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer, as a “foreign policy adviser. “Shariah law” hysteria has taken hold at Republican-run legislatures across the nation. These people are prepared to go to war to prevent Christie from being the nominee. They will (and have) essentially call him a terrorist sympathizer.
I'm not saying I'd vote for the guy, necessarily, but it sure says something when the mere act of standing against discrimination toward a minority group (of fellow Americans!) renders you unpalatable to an entire party's decision-makers. Read more here.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

New Thor Trailer Keeps Things Loki

The summer season might be winding to a close at the cineplex, but that doesn't mean fall doesn't have its share of big budget blockbusters to excite the senses. To wit, here's the second trailer for Thor: The Dark World, the sequel to the 2011 opus that marks the latest step in Marvel's eventual Stairway to Box Office Valhalla. Look for the Alan Taylor-directed film, which brings back stars Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, and Anthony Hopkins, to start kicking some Asgard beginning November 8:

From The Onion...

Ah, yes. The good old days.
Man Misses Simple Pleasure Of Going To Movie Store, Browsing For Something, Being Told It’s Out, Driving Home 
FAYETTEVILLE, AR—Shortly after streaming a movie through his Netflix account earlier today, local man Brian Larson, 32, fondly recalled a simpler, more joyful time when he would go to his local video rental store, browse for a particular movie, find out it wasn’t available, and then drive home and find something else to do. “It was just a different experience walking into a cozy, independently run store and having someone tell you, sorry, they just rented out the last copy of the movie you really wanted to watch,” said Larson, adding that while he fully appreciated being able to immediately watch virtually any movie title on his laptop, he “occasionally misses” his Friday night routine of driving to a video store and then driving back home in disappointment 10 minutes later after failing to secure one of the store’s five copies of a new release. “Sometimes you could even see special recommendations made by video store employees, only to realize they don’t have any copies of those movies left either. It’s just the type of experience you’ll never get online.” At press time, Larson’s pangs of nostalgia were somewhat fulfilled when he found out the 2006 film The Prestige was not available to be streamed.

Recommended Reading

One of the most memorable parts of the 2012 presidential campaign (for me, anyway) was how Mitt Romney's road to inevitability was constantly thwarted by the litany of crackpot contenders battling to out-crazy each other during the endless parade of debates, in hopes of locking in the unhinged elements of the Republican base. Of course, thanks to the Republicans' primary process, winning the base is a virtual guarantee of alienating many of the voters you need to carry you in a general election. This presents a bit of a problem, and one the GOP's current minders are acutely aware of if their latest maneuverings are anything to go by.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Michael Ansara, RIP

Veteran character actor Michael Ansara passed away late last week at the age of 91 after a long battle with Alzheimer's Disease. While he had receded from the public eye since the late '90s, he leaves behind a considerable body of work, having brought several memorable genre characters to vivid life -- sometimes with just his voice. The Syrian-born Ansara broke into acting in the mid-1940s and found a successful niche with his exotic looks and unmistakeable vocal delivery. After his breakthrough as Cochise on 1950s TV series Broken Arrow, he rarely stopped working thereafter, portraying a succession of Arabs, Hispanics, Native Americans, and whatever "others" scripts called for.

Nostalgia Theater: A Mash Note to Trapper John, MD

It might seem difficult to fathom today, but there was once a time when Korean War dramedy M*A*S*H, chronicling the wacky trials and tribulations of a group of army docs, was one of the most potent brands on television. The show, an adaptation of the 1970 film of the same name (which was in turn an adaptation of Richard Hooker's series of novels), enjoyed an unprecedented eleven season run on CBS during the '70s and '80s, and its 1983 finale remains the most-watched TV episode of all time even this many decades later. Thus, it should come as no shock that home studio Fox tried to find several ways of expanding the brand outward.

One of the more successful attempts to franchise M*A*S*H was Trapper John, MD, an hourlong drama that ran on the Eye network beginning on September 23, 1979 (just two days before I was born). Starring the late Pernell Roberts as "Trapper" John McIntyre, the chest surgeon played by Elliot Gould in the film and Wayne Rogers on TV (a role Rogers unwisely ditched after just three seasons), Trapper was set in (then) present day San Francisco, with the one-time troublemaker McIntyre now Chief of Surgery at SF Memorial Hospital. Here's the totally '70s intro, with theme music by John Carl Parker (who also tuned up this artifact from the same era):

Thursday, August 01, 2013

"Mexicans in the Middle"

The Daily Show's interim host John Oliver is knocking it out of the park pretty consistently this summer, and last night's piece on the paralysis in the House over immigration reform was another goodie: