Friday, May 31, 2013

Zaki's Review: After Earth

Will Smith (L) and Jaden Smith (R) brave the dangers of After Earth
It's become a popular pastime of late to pile on poor M. Night Shyamalan. I certainly did my share of it three years ago with his last misfire. But when I first learned of the Sixth Sense director teaming with Will Smith, one of the most dependable draws in the world, for the kind of futuristic fable that's Smith's forte, I hoped desperately that Shyamalan could arrest the descent that began with 2004's The Village (or earlier, if you hated 2000's Unbreakable). Instead, we have After Earth, a listlessly written, lackadaisically executed story which can't seem to do much more than march through its preordained paces.

Set over a thousand years after some vague cataclysm forced the last remnants of mankind to seek shelter on a far-off alien world, the film has a routine space voyage beset by a wayward storm of asteroids, which in turn leaves legendary General Cypher Raige (Smith) and his son Kitai (Jaden Smith) stranded on the quarantined, hostile remains of their once-planet. With a life-threatening wound sidelining father, the onus is on son to retrieve the beacon that will signal for help before their window for survival closes, all the while steering clear of the alien "Ursa," which is loose and out for blood.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Buh-Bye Bachmann

In what can only be considered a major blow to late night comedians and comedy writers from sea to shining sea, Tea Party favorite Michele Bachman has this morning announced her resignation from congress following this term. The Minnesota congresswoman first rose to national prominence during the '08 campaign, just five short years ago, thanks to an ill-timed (or perfectly-timed, depending on your vantage point) appearance on MSNBC's Hardball wherein she loosed a hilarious, McCarthy-esque tirade against then-Senator Obama as well as other congressional Dems. That appearance, coming at the tail end of her first congressional term, instantly marked Bachmann as a piñata for the left, and a cause célèbre on the far right. Certainly, her unhinged Islamophobia made her a regular fixture hereabouts.

The hits kept coming from there, of course, with Bachmann (she of Newsweek's infamous "crazy eyes" cover, to the right) reliably bringing the nutty whenever there was a camera nearby. It tells you something about the state of the party around her that she was (for a brief instant, anyway) the frontrunner for the Republican nod during the last election cycle. I'd love to say that her vacating the seat signals an end to the blindly ideological, nonstop partisanship that was her forte, but let's be real here. The House's entire Republican caucus has long since been subsumed by Bachmann-esque rhetoric, to the point that her absence will barely be felt. Still, as she begins that long walk into obscurity (or, more likely, a "talking head" job at Fox News), let us look back at some of Congresswoman Bachmann's dizziest dictums, as compiled by Sahil Kapur over at TPM.

Whedon: "Listen to the Dissent in Yourself"

When I graduated from Columbia College in Chicago eleven years ago, actor Alan Arkin delivered the commencement address. That, in and of itself, is exciting and pretty cool, but unfortunately I have no recollection of anything he said. None. Zero. I'd like to think that's less a reflection on Mr. Arkin's ability to turn a phrase, and more an indicator of my in-the-moment spaciness as I sat on the cusp of clutching my diploma (which I didn't actually end up getting for another eight months. Long story).

Anyway, my point is that ever since then, while I've forgotten the words of wisdom from my own commencement, I try to take what I can from others, living vicariously through the grads who get to hear various luminaries I admire exhort them to greatness. Last year I posted speeches from Aaron Sorkin and Neil Gaiman, and now I present this address by Avengers helmer Joss Whedon, who spoke last weekend at Connecticut's Wesleyan University. In addition to the usual Whedon-esque wordsmithery we've come to expect, there are some profound points to be had. Check out the vid below, and read the transcript here.

(Source: Wesleyan Connection)

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

From The Onion...

Makes sense to me!
Report: Texting While Driving Okay If You Look Up Every Couple Seconds

WASHINGTON—A new report published Monday by the National Transportation Safety Board advises motorists that sending text messages while driving “is totally fine” and “not that big a deal” as long as you make sure to glance up from your phone every now and then. “If you’re driving and have a really important text to send, that’s okay; just try to keep one eye on the road as best you can,” NTSB chairman Deborah Hersman said of the report, which advocates a new “50-50 rule” for texting drivers, suggesting they keep half their attention on the road and half on their handheld device. “After all, you can always steer with your knees or—if you really want to be extra careful—text with one hand and hold the wheel with the other. Better yet, just ask a passenger to give you a heads-up whenever there’s a red light or another car up ahead.” Hersman added that the report’s findings apply not only to texting, but also to checking email, playing games, or watching movies while driving.

Zaki's Podcasting Excursions

It's an off-week for MovieFilm, but that doesn't mean there aren't plenty of other ways to get your necessary fix of my dulcet tones as I wax on about various worthless things. First up, after a great time last fall, I made a double-header return visit to my friend J. David Weter's fun PADSmash: An Incredible Hulk podcast, spending two episodes discussing two key issues that had a great deal of importance in the life of this young Hulkophile many moons ago. Catch the first one here, and the second one here.

Also on tap, my buddies at the new Real Fans 4 Real Movies podcast, which overlaps with MovieFilm in terms of content, asked me to drop by and discuss the latest releases, including The Hangover Part III and Fast & Furious 6. Catch that via iTunes or at Stitcher radio. Of course, these are just extracurricular activities for me, and the boys and I will be back Monday with ep. 23 of the MovieFilm Podcast, with Hangover, Fast 6, After Earth talk, plus my exclusive interview with Much Ado About Nothing stars Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof, and more.

Recommended Reading

As longtime readers know, while I'm not opposed to gun ownership as a general principle, I do believe that right isn't a blank check. Based on polling, this seems to be a mainstream point-of-view, which makes it even more of a shame that the NRA has such outsized influence over our politicos. Year after year, their particular brand of gun nuttery has twisted and contorted this very real, very important debate, and deposited far, far away from where it needs to be. But the tides of policy and politics may be changing, if this lengthy piece by Alec MacGillis for The New Republic is to be believed. Read it, and you tell me.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Nostalgia Theater: Phantom 2040 -- The Ghost Who Walks...Into the Future

A few months ago I discussed the forgotten '80s animated series Defenders of the Earth, which teamed-up newspaper heroes Flash Gordon, Mandrake the Magician, and the Phantom into a jury rigged, pseudo-Justice League of sorts. While the show still has its fans, it pretty much came and went after a season. Still, that was hardly the end of the multitudinous attempts by King Features Syndicate to branch its coterie of classic heroes beyond their newsprint purviews. Another such try arrived on our collective TV screens in fall of '94, with the launch of Phantom 2040, which took Lee Falk's legendary jungle hero and transposed him into the futuristic cityscapes of the year 2040. Here's the intro:

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Recommended Reading

Rick Ungar at Forbes discusses the big surprise that greeted critics when California announced the prices of its statewide insurance exchange as part of the Affordable Care Act. It wasn't what they were thinking.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Zaki's Review: Fast & Furious 6

Paul Walker (L) and Vin Diesel (R) get ready for more car-nage
Amazingly enough, before this week I hadn't seen a single entry in Universal's now-voluminous catalogue of Fast & Furious movies. That didn't necessarily signal a lack of interest on my part, but simply a lack of energy. My fuzzy recollections of the first one, 2001's The Fast & The Furious (back before they dispensed with the need for pesky things like definitive articles) were of a "hip & cool" street-racing flick that cribbed liberally from 1991's Kathryn Bigelow-helmed Point Break while swapping Paul Walker for Keanu Reeves. I dunno, seemed like kind of a lateral move. And so, I scootched over to the slow lane and let it pass me by.

But then a funny thing happened. The Fast & The Furious didn't just spawn a sequel. Or even a franchise. It spawned a saga. And a passionate fan base right along with it that eagerly awaited each installment. That passion is something I didn't become fully aware of until I talked to my students, who greeted the arrival of 2009's movie four, Fast & Furious, reuniting Diesel & Walker after they sat out the second and third installments respectively, with all the pomp one would expect for a Beatles reunion. And then, with 2011's Fast Five, I saw the kind of anticipatory ardor I'd previously assumed was reserved for Star Wars and Twilight. Something was definitely happening here. But even then I didn't dive in.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The MovieFilm Podcast: Episode 22

It's just Brian and Zaki for this week's installment of the MovieFilm Podcast, but they have plenty to discuss. First up, Zaki offers his thoughts on The Great Gatsby and the all-new animated feature Superman Unbound. After that, a discussion on the latest Hollywood Headlines, including the delay of the much-anticipated (by us) Jurassic Park 4, and what it means for the future of the hallowed dino-franchise. Also, they take a look at the new trailers for Anchorman 2, Riddick and the upcoming TV series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

In addition, Zaki interviews with director Sarah Polley about her fascinating new documentary Stories We Tell, and he and Brian go in-depth and all-in on spoilers for a lengthy chat about Star Trek Into Darkness, discussing the plot, what works, what doesn't, and why it failed to take off at the box office as expected. Lots to listen for in this latest episode, so make it so! You can stream below, listen through iTunes, or via the Stitcher network. As always, remember to write a review or rank us on iTunes (as well as on Stitcher!), and hit "like" on our official Facebook page!

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Monday, May 20, 2013

Analyzing Trek's Box Office Flail

This past weekend, Star Trek Into Darkness should have warped off to a $100 million-plus at the box office, at least if pre-release hype from Paramount was to be believed, but instead it netted a less impressive (though hardly insubstantial) $85 million over its opening four days, with its three day total coming in slightly under the much-ballyhooed reboot from '09. A worrisome sign if the flick has any hopes of recouping its $190 mil budget domestically.

Now, my Grumpy Old Fan review notwithstanding, this really should have opened higher, especially when you factor in the box office behavior of most recent franchise films. So, what happened, exactly? Here's an analysis by Christopher Rosen at HuffPo on some of the factors that may have led to the drop -- and why there might be trouble ahead at the till, especially with the duel onslaught of Hangover 3 and Fast 6 arriving this week. Brian Hall and I also discussed this at some length in the latest MovieFilm show, including echoing some of Rosen's points. You can listen for that when the show drops tomorrow morning (apologies for the was unavoidable with this one).

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Nostalgia Theater: A Final Farewell for Trek's First Family

With Star Trek Into Darkness sitting atop the box office this weekend, cementing this latest iteration of the sci-fi evergreen in the minds of the public, I thought it might be a good time to take a look back at when Star Trek's originals took their final bow. After the box office disappointment of 1989's William Shatner-helmed The Final Frontier (my first theatrical Star Trek experience, which I dissected here), the assumption by many was that the bell had tolled for the cast of the 1960s TV series. Certainly that was my assumption.

And in that pre-Internet wilderness of the late-'80s and early-'90s, I had no window into the behind-the-scenes wheeling-and-dealing by Paramount to ensure that they had some kind of Star Trek product in theaters for the franchise's silver anniversary in 1991 (to put this in perspective, we're now just years away from the fiftieth). Thus, the very first indication I had of another movie Trek in the offing was this wonderful teaser trailer, which I saw in summer of 1991 on the now-defunct Coming Attractions show on the E! channel:

Saturday, May 18, 2013

INTERVIEW: Director Sarah Polley Talks Stories We Tell

Sarah Polley has been working consistently in film and television since she was a child, and what's most astounding about the multi-hyphenate filmmaker, who spends her days smoothly segueing back-and-forth between actor, writer, and director, is how much enthusiasm she continues to have for the industry as she seeks out new, innovative ways of telling stories.

That enthusiasm is ably reflected in her latest directorial endeavor, the appropriately-titled documentary Stories We Tell, in which she offers a peek into revelations from her own life, using those revelations to make some very piquant observations about human nature. The doc is built on a series of surprises that I won't dare to spoil here, but I will say you owe it to yourself to see it knowing as little ahead of time as possible.

I had the opportunity to talk to Ms. Polley recently, and we discussed the story behind Stories, what moves her to choose the projects she does, and more. Check out the full text of our chat below:

Friday, May 17, 2013

Zaki's Review: Star Trek Into Darkness

Read my review of 2009's Star Trek here

2009's hugely successful sequel/prequel/reboot Star Trek did a lot more than apply the paddles to the moribund Trek brand after a brief, apathy-induced interregnum. It also opened the franchise up to a wider, more diverse audience than it ever enjoyed in the previous four decades, through ten feature films, six TV series, and mountains of licensed memorabilia. Given that Star Trek practically invented the pejorative perception of geekdom, that's quite the feat, and given that considerable feather in his cap, it's understandable that director J.J. Abrams would leverage that success to go bigger and wider with his follow-up, Star Trek Into Darkness.

What's less understandable is why, given the sky's-the-limit free rein offered by the time-twisting, alternate reality shenanigans of the previous film, which effectively took a phaser-beam to the Gordian Knot of accumulated Star Trek continuity and "canon," Team Abrams instead assembled a patchwork pastiche for their curtain call, one that gleefully scavenges familiar moments from prior iterations of the brand, but with none of the accrued emotional heft. If the previous film was your entrée into the franchise, then you'll likely find this the perfect sequel. But for anyone with any knowledge of or fondness for Trek pre-Abrams, Into Darkness is a decidedly mixed bag that strives mightily to achieve a resonance it hasn't earned.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

TV Trekkin'

I saw Star Trek Into Darkness last night and have lots to say, so look for my review of that flick shortly. In the meantime, check out this piece by Matt Yglesias wherein he takes an in-depth look at the various iterations of televised Trek over the years, and makes a pretty compelling argument that it's on the small screen where the venerable sci-fi franchise's goings have been most bold. After seeing the new flick, I can't say I necessarily disagree.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013


Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg, center) is back from beyond to head the cast of Marvel's Agents of SHIELD
This week's upfronts announcing the fall lineups for the various nets have been singularly unimpressive in my view (with last place NBC's desperation particularly apparent), but the one prog that has my antennas up is Agents of SHIELD, the first expression of synchronicity by Disney between its ABC and Marvel appendages. I've been tracking the development of the Joss Whedon-produced show, which brings Marvel's expanded movie-verse to the small screen, for awhile now, but I figured I'd wait until it was a go for a series before I brought it up here, lest it get kiboshed at the pilot stage and we get all excited for nothing.

The word that SHIELD is a go for series came down this week, and with it we got the above still, plus the extended teaser below. Heading up the show is Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) the fan-fave character who heroically met his end in last summer's Avengers (apparently the concept of death is just as elastic in the movie-verse as it is in the comics). This teaser gives us a good sense of what the show is going for, plus we also see another Whedon regular, J. August Richards, apparently playing Marvel hero Rage. Hopefully he's not the last secondary hero we'll see turning up in the skein, due to debut this fall. Check out the vid after the jump.

From The Onion

Arab-American Actually Kind Of Enjoys Always Having 2 Bus Seats To Self

CHICAGO—While stressing that racial profiling is degrading and has made his life more difficult in a great many ways, 29-year-old Egyptian-American Tarek Yasin admitted to reporters Monday that he does sort of enjoy always having two seats to himself when he rides the bus. “Sure, it’s insulting when people take one look at me and then walk to the other end of the bus, but after a long day of work, it is kind of nice to be able to stretch out a little bit,” said Yasin, adding that since the Boston Marathon bombings on Apr. 15, he hasn’t once had to sit next to someone else during his daily commute. “Even when the bus is full, just the sight of me standing in the aisle is enough to make people get up and move, so I always wind up with a seat. Ignorance, fear, racism—these are horrible things, but at least I get to sit down and take a load off.” Yasin, who has been an American citizen for over a decade, added that he also gets the locker room at his health club to himself “just by showing up and setting down [his] gym bag.”

Sunday, May 12, 2013


Marking another meaningless milestone here at Zaki's Corner this morning, as I hit 500 followers via the official Facebook page. Just so it's preserved for posterity...

If you haven't already, make sure to click over to FB and hit "like." 1000, here we come!

Nostalgia Theater: My Mother the Car's Day

After last week's piece on Knight Rider, I thought I'd celebrate Mother's Day by looking back at another show about a talking car -- one with a premise so perplexing and nonsensical that you start wondering what strain of what controlled substance was being partaken of when it was conceived (and where you might find some). My Mother the Car is a short-lived sitcom that aired on NBC from 1965 to 1966. In case you're wondering what it's about (if the title doesn't give it away, that is), watch the opening credits below and see if they don't fill in the blanks:

Friday, May 10, 2013

Dawn of the Apes Spoilers

Filming commenced a few weeks ago on Fox's sequel Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, which picks up a decade after the viral conclusion of 2011's Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and finds ape leader Caesar leading his colony of intelligent apes while the remnants of humanity struggle to hang on. As you can imagine, I'm suitably stoked for this one, especially when you consider this'll be the first actual, honest-to-goodness Apes sequel in more than forty (!!) years, remakes and reboots notwithstanding.

With a cast that includes Gary Oldman, Jason Clarke, Keri Russell as the humans, and Andy Serkis and Judy Greer doing mo-cap duty as the the apes, this one looks promising, though it remains an open question whether new helmer Matt Reeves will lead us to the nuclear apocalypse promised by the 1968 original. You can see Fox's logo for the new flick above, which cements its place as a the Memorial Day heavy hitter for next summer, which in turn cements the renewed franchise's significance (something I take an inordinate amount of pride in, as if I had anything remotely to do with it).

I'd been half-mocking the title on the MovieFilm show for the way "dawn" only incrementally advances the bar from "rise", but upon reflection I like the (unintentional?) comparison with Dawn of the Dead, and how that took the opening chords of the zombie apocalypse begun in George Romero's Night of the Living Dead and turned it into a full-blown sonata. As always with these things, especially a big franchise flick (and a Fox franchise flick at that), things could take a wrong turn very quickly, but one of the first set pics we've gotten sure fills me with confidence. It's spoilery as all heck, so I've placed it after the jump:

Zaki's Review: The Great Gatsby

After four wildly different tries at bringing F. Scott Fitzgerald's much-admired tome The Great Gatsby to the silver screen, I'm starting to think it may simply be unadaptable. Maybe the acknowledgement of such will keep hubristic filmmakers like Baz Luhrmann from dusting off the text every few decades to try, try again. The book, a mainstay of Honors English classes across the country, retains much of its appeal thanks to its vivid depiction of the roaring '20s and the simple poetry of its central arc, and the inability of Hollywood hands to properly crack it remains something of a head-scratcher to me.

The most "recent" celluloid adaptation of Gatsby, 1974's Jack Clayton-directed Robert Redford starrer, is almost forty years old, and while it was beautiful to look at it was absolutely stultifying to sit through, with Redford and Mia Farrow making for an ill-fitting romantic coupling, and a severe lack of dramatic urgency hobbling the proceedings as the plot sauntered through its paces. In crafting his re-adaptation (co-scripted with Craig Pearce), it's as if Luhrmann looked at the dull Clayton version, noted the lack of energy, and made a concerted effort to err in the exact opposite direction.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

The Riker Maneuver

I've logged more than twenty-five years of watching Star Trek: The Next Generation, and yet somehow I managed to never notice the bizarre, crazypants way Number One (a.k.a Commander Riker, a.k.a. actor Jonathan Frakes) sits down. Guess that's another symptom of Gene Roddenberry's utopian vision of the future. Watch and be amazed. Or at least amused.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Stewart on Gun Nut Convention

From Monday's Daily Show, Jon Stewart demolishes the collection of cognitive dissonance that is the annual NRA convention. First part below, second part after the jump. Hoo-boy, this is a good'n, so enjoy.

Spock v. Spock

Don't know how I missed posting this one. As part of the Star Trek Into Darkness marketing push, Spock future and Spock past (I leave it to you to determine which is which) teamed up yet again to appear in this fun spot for Audi. I especially like the callback to Leonard Nimoy's '60s-era LP "The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins."

Monday, May 06, 2013

The MovieFilm Podcast: Episode 21

Just in time for the summer movie season, Brian Hall rejoins the MovieFilm boys for an in-depth, spoileriffic discussion of Marvel Studios' Iron Man 3, which kicked off its record-setting box office run this past weekend. Sean and Brian explain why they loved it, and Zaki explains why he just liked it. In addition to that, the gang picks up apart the trailers for Thor: The Dark World and Now You See Me, dish on the latest news out of Star Wars land, and weigh the pros and cons of yet another Die Hard sequel hitting theaters. All that, plus the usual listener letters, random observations, and witty banter you've come to expect every fortnight. In other big news, in addition to being available to listen via iTunes, the MovieFilm show is now a part of the Stitcher network, and can be streamed on all your non-Apple portable devices as well. Listen below, or download here. Like always, remember to write a review or rank us on iTunes (as well as on Stitcher!), and hit "like" on our official Facebook page!

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Sunday, May 05, 2013

Nostalgia Theater: The Many Crappy Lives of Knight Rider, Part I -- The Crappy Original

David Hasselhoff and the real star of the show
We begin today a semi-regular Nostalgia Theater series-within-a-series where I look back on a property that's maintained a pop culture half-life that's inversely proportional to any actual quality it embodied. I speak of Knight Rider, the 1980s action/adventure series whose popularity made it the leading edge of a boom in similar "super vehicle" shows that briefly littered the broadcast nets in the mid-'80s. Those shows, like Street Hawk and Airwolf, will no doubt get their turn in the spotlight in due time, but for now let's cast an accusing glance at the thing that got the whole trend started.

First airing on NBC in fall of 1982, Knight Rider was created by Nostalgia Theater mainstay Glen A. Larson as, per the writer, a modern age iteration of the Lone Ranger. Only with a talking car instead of a white horse and/or Indian sidekick. Oh, and with David Hasselhoff instead of the Lone Ranger. I'd go into a long schpiel about the concept and mission of the show, but I think the opening narration (by actor Richard Basehart) from later seasons does most of the heavy lifting in that department, so I'll cede the floor. Take it away, Richard:

Friday, May 03, 2013

Zaki's Review: Iron Man 3

Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and his better half
Read my 2008 review of Iron Man here

Read my 2010 review of Iron Man 2 here

Read my 2012 review of The Avengers here

I have to admit, as a fan of the comic book incarnation of Iron Man going all the way back to the early '80s, I can't help feel a bit of a fanboy thrill at how swiftly -- and how thoroughly -- the character's filmic success has made him not only one of Marvel Comics' top-tier heroes, but also one of the most prominent characters in all of pop culture. So much so that the onset of his third solo cinematic escapade has been greeted with the kind of pomp, ballyhoo, and anticipation that would have seemed unheard of (and sort of hilarious) just a few short years ago.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Recommended Reading

My friend Wajahat Ali interviews Farea Al-Muslimi, a US-educated Yemeni citizen who's seen his village decimated by an American drone strike. Powerful stuff that's well worth your time to read.

Superman in Action on Man of Steel Poster

In yet another example of how much the folks at Warners are bending over backwards to distinguish the upcoming Man of Steel from 2006's non-starter Superman Returns in the hearts and minds of viewers, we have this new poster for the much-anticipated opus, which is as action-oriented as the previous flick's "Superman as Jesus" poster wasn't. Thrill to the new poster below, yawn to the old one after the jump: