Monday, September 30, 2013

Recommended Reading

At this point it's looking like the once-unthinkable notion of a government shutdown is now an inevitability, and even then it's merely preamble to the once-unthinkable notion of a debt default, which is becoming a very real possibility just a few weeks down the road. These are tenuous times we're in, and as Paul Krugman explains, it's our own damned fault:
No sane political system would run this kind of risk. But we don’t have a sane political system; we have a system in which a substantial number of Republicans believe that they can force President Obama to cancel health reform by threatening a government shutdown, a debt default, or both, and in which Republican leaders who know better are afraid to level with the party’s delusional wing. For they are delusional, about both the economics and the politics.
Read the rest here.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Nostalgia Theater: seaQuest -- Steven Spielberg's Waterlogged Flop

Roy Scheider (center) flanked by the second season cast of seaQuest DSV
Yet another twentieth anniversary this week as we look back on seaQuest DSV, a high profile NBC series that debuted to considerable hype on September 12, 1993, but quickly took on water. As envisioned by Rockne S. O'Bannon (who previously developed Fox's Alien Nation and would go on to create Farscape for Sci-Fi Channel), seaQuest was produced by Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment, and thus launched with all the pomp and expectations that come from having the most successful filmmaker in the world lending his name to your venture (remember, this was just months after Spielberg's Jurassic Park first set theater turnstiles ablaze).

Saturday, September 28, 2013

I Heart Cali

Bill Maher explains why it's great to live in California. Don't always agree with Maher (something I feel like I have to couch myself with whenever I post something from him), but I'm down with this one:

Gotham to TV Minus Batman

This news broke on Tuesday, and I'd meant to address it earlier, but the week kind of got away from me. The gist is that, with Marvel Studios' Agents of SHIELD (which I haven't seen yet, but I'll give my read on it as soon as I do) making its debut this week and creating a beach head for the very popular Marvel Cinematic Universe on the small screen, thoughts inevitably turn to what DC Comics is doing to stay ahead of its perpetual rival in the multimedia sweepstakes. Granted, they've got  the popular Arrow continuing on the CW, inspired (loosely, I'd say) by the Green Arrow character, and that's done well enough to trigger a potential spin-off featuring the Flash.

Still, those projects, while existing in the same universe, nonetheless stand apart from the shared movie universe Warner honchos are building vis-a-vis Superman, Batman, and the eventual Justice League. Now comes word that Fox TV has picked up Gotham, a prequel series set in Batman's hometown that would track the genesis of Last Good Cop James Gordon, the man who will eventually become the city's police commissioner (and Batman's closest ally). We don't know much about this, other than the fact that Gordon (played by Gary Oldman last time around) is the main character, and we'll also witness the origins of some of the most (in)famous villains in the Gotham City lineup.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Measure of Success

This is pretty neat. Nineteen years ago this month, I joined my high school's newspaper, The North Current, mainly because I wasn't involved in any extracurricular stuff, and I figured it'd be nice to do something where I could make some friends and maybe even be productive. The unforeseen aftereffect of my involvement with the paper (which lasted from my sophomore year until my graduation) is that I can pretty much draw a straight line from working on the Current to what I'm up to now vis-a-vis this blog, my writing, my show, etc. Anyway, Chelsea Hammersmith, the current Current EIC, reached out to me a few weeks ago to reflect on my time with the paper lo those many (many, many, many...) moons ago, and here's what I said, starting on page 14. Truly, high school Zaki is slapping me a high five across the gaping chasm of time and space.

Recommend Reading

With the continuing resolution to fund the government currently in flux, it's easy to forget that once this thing gets resolved, there's still the little matter just down the curb of raising the nation's debt ceiling lest we default on our loans. It's a truly terrifying model of "legislating by crisis" that's made inordinately more terrifying by the stated desire of many vested parties to actually let the worst case scenario materialize. As Jonathan Chait explains however, the debt ceiling issue is far too fraught for there to be anything but one resolution.

INTERVIEW: Joseph Gordon-Levitt on Don Jon

Joseph Gordon-Levitt has been working regularly on stage and screen since the tender age of 4, amassing a list of credits during his three decades in Hollywood that would be impressive at any age. From his formative role as Tommy Solomon on NBC's Third Rock From the Sun to breakout turns in Marc Webb's 500 Days of Summer, Christopher Nolan's Inception and The Dark Knight Rises, and Rian Johnson's Looper (one of my fave flicks of last year), Levitt has continually and consistently defied the conventional wisdom that there's no afterlife for child stars.

With his writing/directing debut Don Jon, a romantic comedy starring Levitt in the title role and also starring Scarlett Johansson and Julianne Moore, hitting screens today, it looks like the Hollywood veteran is well positioned to expand his already-prolific output into new and interesting avenues. I had the opportunity to speak with the first-time helmer recently as part of a roundtable interview, and here are some highlights of what he had to say about making the film, what he hopes to achieve with his new online venture, and what he's learned from working closely with veteran directors like Steven Spielberg and Christopher Nolan:

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Stewart on Cruz's Faux-Filibuster

And speaking of Ted Cruz, here's Jon Stewart from last night's Daily Show, demolishing the demagoguery of the junior AZ senator during his fake filibuster aimed at defunding (but not really) the Affordable Care Act. Part two is after the jump.

From The Onion...

President Cruz Fondly Recalls 21-Hour Speech That Started It All
What's really funny (tragic?) is that there's folks out there who actually think this'll happen. From the piece:
“It was a gamble, but it paid off,” President Cruz said, adding that he had a feeling on that fateful day years ago that likening his struggle against Obamacare to the rebel alliance’s battle against the Empire in Star Wars would be a message that would resonate with the nation’s electorate. “I knew I was doing something special, and I knew that the American people would definitely take me and the Republican Party seriously if I compared my speech to the Bataan Death March in which nearly 10,000 Filipino POWs died before they could reach their destination at Camp O’Donnell.”
Read the rest here.

Recommended Reading

Tom Englehardt explains why the hoary notion of "American Exceptionalism" maybe isn't that exceptional.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Recommended Reading

Robert Reich has noted a marked uptick lately in just out-and-out anger among ordinary people -- some even directed at him -- and he looks to our country's ongoing economic travails to find some explanation.

The MovieFilm Podcast: Episode 31

For this week's MovieFilm excursion, we start things off with some highlights from my roundtable interview with actor/writer/director Joseph Gordon-Levitt about his new film Don Jon, then Brian and I dive into some of the latest headlines out of Hollywood, including Ben Affleck's first public comments since taking on the iconic cowl of Batman, news that there's going to be a World of difference in the next Jurassic Park adventure, and uber-producer Jerry Bruckheimer's surprise split from Disney after almost twenty years toiling for the Mouse House.

In addition, we discuss the trailers for Keanu Reeves' 47 Ronin, and the Sly Stallone-Robert De Niro boxing dramedy Grudge Match. After that, we talk up the week's big releases: dark melodrama Prisoners, starring Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhall, and director Ron Howard's new opus Rush, with the distractingly handsome Chris Hemsworth as real life racer James Hunt. As usual, we also have the latest news out of Star Wars land, plus a new batch of listener letters to pick our brains with. Like always, you can listen via the embed below, or download and stream at iTunes or Stitcher. Leave a comment or review to let us know how we're doing, and and be sure to hit "like" on our official Facebook page!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Nostalgia Theater: XX Years of The X-Files

Gillian Anderson (L) and David Duchovny (R)
Seems like we're marking a lot of twentieth anniversaries in Nostalgia Theater, and this is one's a biggie, at least in the geek set. The X-Files first premiered as part of Fox's Friday night lineup on September 10, 1993 (alongside the highly-hyped, quickly forgotten The Adventures of Brisco County Jr., starring Bruce Campbell). While its place of significance on the pop culture landscape today is plain to see (even if it hasn't actually been a pop culture force for awhile now), at the time it was just another cult show that seemed headed to an early demise.

Created by Chris Carter and starring David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson as, respectively, FBI agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, the "X-Files" of the title referred to the agency's (fictional) division that handled cases dealing with the paranormal, the supernatural, and the extraterrestrial -- the "unexplainables," in other words. With Mulder as the true believer and Scully the dyed-in-the-wool skeptic, their byplay each week would gird our excursions into conspiracies, paranoia, terror, and conspiracies. Did I mention conspiracies? Here's the intro from the first season, with theme music by Mark Snow:

Friday, September 20, 2013

Recommended Reading

Edward McClelland eulogizes the middle class in this country:
Between 1970 and today, the share of the nation’s income that went to the middle class – households earning two-thirds to double the national median – fell from 62 percent to 45 percent. Last year, the wealthiest 1 percent took in 19 percent of America’s income – their highest share since 1928. It’s as though the New Deal and the modern labor movement never happened.
Read the rest here.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Boehner Caves to Tea Party

Yesterday, John Boehner announced that he was putting his support behind a Tea Party effort to tie funding the government with defunding the Affordable Care Act. This has been a conservative pipe dream for awhile now (bolstered by the Senate's nuttiest nutter Ted Cruz) but it was always brushed off as a delusional tilt given the impenetrable legislative wall such an effort would face (namely, after passing the House, it would die in the Senate and/or be vetoed by the president).

Seeing as how that the president's healthcare law has been signed into law, survived a legal challenge at the Supreme Court, and been bolstered by his re-election, you'd think the Tea Party crowd would recognize the better part of governance, but this is the Tea Party crowd, after all, and so here we sit, on the cusp of a government shutdown. Interesting times. Dave Weigel at Slate has a solid rundown of how we got to this point, and what the potential endgame might be for the GOP.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

From The Onion...

These are the kinds of things that can tear communities apart...
12-Year-Old Hispanic Boy Not Sure If He’s Supposed To Be Looking Up To Marco Rubio 
CLEVELAND—While recognizing that he and the junior senator from Florida share a similar ethnic background, 12-year-old Hispanic boy Damon Aguilar admitted to reporters Tuesday that he doesn’t really know whether he’s supposed to be looking up to Marco Rubio or not. “I don’t know, should I try to be like Marco Rubio when I grow up? Is he the model I should be aspiring to?” said Aguilar, adding that Rubio may look like he does, but only when compared to all the other members of the U.S. Senate. “I guess he’s given some pretty big speeches, but I don’t know if I’m supposed to be impressed with that or what. It’s not as if my parents or teachers have ever told me, ‘Hey, if you work really hard, maybe someday you could be the next Marco Rubio.’” Aguilar later told reporters that as far as role models go, Hispanic-looking Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra would probably be a far safer pick.

Ben Talks Bats

Ben Affleck appeared on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon last night, and addressed the, er, spirited reaction to his casting as Batman in the upcoming Man of Steel sequel. Funny stuff. Glad to see he's taking it all in stride:

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Nostalgia Theater: Lois & Clark Turns 20!

Teri Hatcher (L) and Dean Cain (R) as the Lois Lane and Clark Kent for the '90s
This past Wednesday marked exactly twenty years since Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman debuted as part of ABC's Sunday night lineup. With Dean Cain representing the "Clark" portion of the title, and Teri Hatcher the "Lois," it was a show that perfectly suited the early '90s milieu in which it emerged, with the focus on the main characters' working (and eventually romantic) relationship, and the "Adventures" alluded to in the title playing a very distant second fiddle. For awhile, this was the most prominent, most popular take on the Superman myth in the zeitgeist, and while it flamed out relatively quickly, it still occupies a special place in the hearts of many a Super-fan -- including me.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Broken Trek Counterpoint

The Hollywood Reporter has posted a response to that "Star Trek is Broken" piece I linked to a few days ago, and I figured I should relink it here in the interest of completeness. The gist of the article, by Mark Hughes, is that Trekkies need to get over themselves:
These films are a different kind of Star Trek -- they are big-screen versions of the original series, the pure space Western action-adventure that we haven't yet seen on the big screen because all the other films have moved so far away from that. Abrams' movies aren't trying to use the original series as a point of departure -- they are using it as their primary template.
Well, not sure how much I agree with that, but I'll leave it to you to determine where you fit on the continuum of not-caring.

Recommended Reading

Salon's R.J. Eskow takes a cudgel to fiction underlying modern, political libertarianism (of the Rand model -- Ayn or Paul, take your pick). Says he:
At no time or place in human history has there been a working libertarian society which provided its people with the kinds of outcomes libertarians claim it will provide. But libertarianism’s self-created mythos claims that it’s more realistic than other ideologies, which is the opposite of the truth. The slope from that contradiction to the deep well of hypocrisy is slippery, steep—and easy to identify.
Check out his list of said hypocrisies here.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Jurassic Park IV is Jurassic World!

This makes me happy.

Universal has announced that the long-gestating fourth installment of their Jurassic Park franchise (which celebrated twenty years this year with last Spring's 3D re-release of the first entry) is now officially set to hit theaters in mid-June of 2015, right smack in the middle of one of the busiest summers to date when it comes to geek catnip at the cinemas. We don't know much about the flick, which arrives fourteen years after the last installment, except that it will be directed by Colin Trevorrow, and will be entitled Jurassic World (the name, perhaps of the fully-functional theme park that's rumored to be the film's setting?). No idea if any of the original stars (Sam Neill, Jeff Goldblum, Laura Dern) will be making return visits, but don't worry, I'm sure I'll have lots to say on this one as we learn more about it.

Broken Trek?

The big budget, big expectations sequel Star Trek Into Darkness hit home vid yesterday, and although I wasn't crazy about it (as you may recall from my review last May), my single downcast thumb hardly signals the end of the line. After all, the flick's global haul of $460+ mil more than guarantees at least a third go at the rebooted series, and with director J. J. Abrams off to pay homage to that galaxy far, far away, it allows another helmer with another vision to potentially offer their take on the 23rd century exploits of the good ship Enterprise. So yeah, "broken" may be too strong a word. Or, if you're Joseph Dickerson over at TrekMovie, it's exactly the right word, as he lays out a pretty solid case for the adjustments and tweaks that need to be made if Trek is expected to keep boldly going (and as a bonus, co-screenwriter Bob Orci even pipes up in the comments section to defend his take on the franchise).

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

From The Onion...

Aw. Funny because it's true?
Apple Unveils Panicked Man With No Ideas
From the piece:
“This is the future of Apple,” announced the lightweight, 75-inch desperate man while being presented on stage. “We are indeed staking our company’s reputation on what you see here on this stage. And as always with Apple, you are getting a glimpse of the entire tech industry’s future today.” 
“Our customers expect the best products from Apple, and that is what we will continue to deliver,” continued the feckless man, offering a tedious, innovation-free display and a high rate of perspiration.
Read the rest here!

The MovieFilm Podcast: Episode 30

The MovieFilm Podcast has officially entered its thirties, and it is brimming over with podcast-y goodness! Though Sean is sadly absent once more, Brian and I soldier on,  discussing recently announced Terminator 5 director Alan Taylor, Josh Brolin's thoughts on being in the running for Batman vs Superman, and the meaning of Katherine Heigl in non-speaking roles in cough syrup commercials. We also ruminate on the summer movie season - which movies met our expectations and which ones fell short.

There's also a bevy of trailers to pore over, including RoboCop, Bad Grandpa, and Gravity (which, if we'd had it our way, we would have never seen...) And let's see, any movies to discuss? How about Riddick, Blue Jasmine, Una Noche and Short Term 12? But we're not stopping there, we're also proud to bring you two (count 'em TWO!) interviews. Zaki talks with Short Term 12 writer/director Destin Cretton along with the film's star Brie Larson, and Brian speaks with the writer/director of Una Noche, Lucy Malloy.

All that, plus the usual batch of Listener Letters, and Brian going on about being in the just-released extended cut of Now You See Me. Give it a listen via the embed below, or download or stream at iTunes or Stitcher. Like always, make sure you write us a review to let us know how we're doing, and enjoy!

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Recommended Viewing

ABC News, as part of their ongoing "What Would You Do?" segments on Primetime Live, recently hired two actors to play, respectively, a Muslim deli worker and an anti-Muslim bigot who is publicly humiliating and harassing him. The goal of their social experiment was to see what kind of reactions the latter's hateful behavior would stir in those who were actually witnessing it. The results may surprise you -- or maybe not.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Recommended Reading

David Sirota explains what our impending action in Syria -- whatever form that ends up taking -- is really about.

Nostalgia Theater: Star Trek's Animation Enterprise

Today marks the 47th anniversary of the debut of the original Star Trek TV series on NBC. By coincidence it also marks exactly 40 years since the second Trek series premiered, this time as part of NBC's Saturday morning lineup. That's right, we're talking about the Star Trek cartoon, which brought Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, and the Enterprise back to the small screen, and kept the franchise's lights on after the original show's cancellation in '69, and before the first big budget flick warped into theaters in '79.

Produced by Filmation, king of the hill when it came to kidvid of that era, the animated Trek premiered in 1973, and had the distinction of being supervised by series creator Gene Roddenberry himself (who famously turned down a sizable payoff to reduce his creative involvement). In addition, it had scripts by many of the same folks who wrote for the live action show (David Gerrold, Samuel Peeples, etc.), and featured (most of) the TV cast reprising their characters, giving a bit more "legitimacy" than most other animated spin-offs of the time. Here's the intro:

Friday, September 06, 2013

First Trailer for RoboCop Remake

Waaaay back last September, I posted our first look at what actor Joel Kinnaman looks like as the titular police officer in MGM's upcoming remake/reboot of the RoboCop franchise. Since then things have been a little on the quiet side PR-wise, but with the film due to hit theaters on February 7 of next year, just over five months from now, the marketing machine (no pun intended) is starting to whir and hum for the new Future of Law Enforcement, beginning with yesterday's release of the first trailer. My initial reaction, having now watched it a handful of times, is that I'm...intrigued.

Not necessarily optimistic yet, given that I still stand by my earlier reservations about the need to remake the movie at all, but I do like that director Jose Padilha was as good as his word that this thing would go in completely different story directions while still retaining the core of dark humor and social commentary. I can't speak to how well Kinnaman acquits himself yet, but it sure helps to have Gary Oldman, Samuel L. Jackson, and Michael Keaton (in one of his rare bi-annual appearances) as part of the cast. Check out the trailer after the jump, then click over to Hero Complex for a new extended interview with Padilha.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

From The Onion...

I'm down with this.
Poll: Majority Of Americans Approve Of Sending Congress To Syria

The New York Times/CBS News poll showed that though just 1 in 4 Americans believe that the United States has a responsibility to intervene in the Syrian conflict, more than 90 percent of the public is convinced that putting all 535 representatives of the United States Congress on the ground in Syria—including Senate pro tempore Patrick Leahy, House Speaker John Boehner, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and, in fact, all current members of the House and Senate—is the best course of action at this time.
Read the rest here.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Prodigal Son

John Oliver did a very effective job holding down the Daily Show fort while Jon Stewart took the summer off to direct a film, but last night marked the man's return to hosting duties, and he came back to a "dark, dark place" as he attempted to spin comedy gold out of the unfolding Syria situation. Here's how it went:

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Recommended Reading

Salon's Kim Messick tracks the evolution of the Republican party from before Nixon's much-vaunted "Southern Strategy" to now, making a pretty good case for why our continued political malaise is a result of the electoral eugenics the GOP has been practicing for the past few decades, with the fringe craziness of the Tea Party now representing Republican orthodoxy:
The cry of the hour is that our politics is “dysfunctional” — mired in “gridlock,” all bipartisanship lost. This is of course true, but it must be seen as merely the latest result of the conservative politics of purity. After all, when does a politician, in the normal course of affairs, have a reason to do something? When he thinks it will gain him a vote, or that not doing it will cost him a vote. It follows that politicians have a reason to be bipartisan — to work with the opposition — only when doing so will increase, not decrease, their electoral support. And this can only happen if they potentially share voters with their opposition. But the Republican electorate is now almost as purified as the Republican Party. Not only is it unlikely to support Democratic candidates, it’s virtually certain to punish any Republican politician who works with Democrats. The electoral logic of bipartisanship has collapsed for most Republicans; they have very little to gain, and much to lose, if they practice it. And so they don’t.
The bit I highlighted at the end was perfectly exemplified a few weeks ago with this story. I have plenty of issues with the Democrats, but it's stories like this that crystallize for me why the "pox on both their houses" mentality is so dangerously wrongheaded. There's much, much more, of course, and you can read the rest here.

Nostalgia Theater: Terminator 2 Action Figures -- He's Back!

Whenever I look back at old, inappropriate toy lines here in Nostalgia Theater, I'm amused by the very different perspectives I had as a bright-eyed kid compared to where I'm at now as a groggy, paranoid oldster. Case in point, Terminator 2 action figures. I saw T2 the movie right when it came out in 1991, meaning I was eleven or twelve years old. Way too young, in other words. At least, that's what I think now, as a parent of three boys.

Back then though, heck, all I wanted after watching (and watching, and watching, and watching) that flick was my very own Terminator action figure(s) to play with. But alas, what toymaker would possibly produce toys based on a hard-R flick that clearly wasn't aimed in any way at young, impressionable children? Ah, little did I realize that the go-to toymaker for '80s excess in plastic form, Kenner, had already happily obliged me and snaked up the T2 license. And so, on my family's trip to the States in early '92, I saw this: