Saturday, November 30, 2013

Worse Than "Nothing"

Some thoughts from Robert Reich, via his Facebook page:
To call the Congress that enters its final weeks of the year a "do-nothing" Congress is far too generous. Not only has it done nothing to reform the nation's obsolete immigration laws, or our absurd and unfair tax system, or the government's heinously intrusive methods of spying on its own citizens. But in failing to extend unemployment benefits to 1.3 million jobless people who are about to lose them, or enact any climate legislation, or renew the ban on plastic guns, or end the draconian budget "sequester" that willy-nilly cuts spending on defense and on the poor and needy, it has done worse than nothing. As the year reaches a close, America is worse off than it was when the 113th Congress began. I don't mean to draw a false equivalence. It is the Democrats who have accomplished nothing. Republicans, by contrast, have accomplished exactly what they intended.
'nuff said.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Shop Amazon and Support This Site!

Folks, Amazon has a veritable plethora of Black Friday deals up with plenty of Cyber Monday deals on the way as well, and you can shop to your hearts content without worrying about having to wake up early to find a place at the head of the line. Plus, bonus, by clicking through via this link or the graphic below, you help support Zaki's Corner by sending a percentage of everything you purchase my way. Shop away...and thanks in advance for the love!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Recommended Reading

If you've followed domestic politics for the past few years, you know how the increasingly bitter, take-no-prisoners brand of politicking in Washington can be tied to the rise of the Tea Party and the calls for ideological "purity" on the right. What you may not be aware is the role of right wing think tank the Heritage Foundation (from whence the infamous "individual mandate" originated) in this process, and more specifically its lobbying operation, Heritage Action.

While former Senator Jim "Waterloo" DeMint, who famously vacated his seat to head up Heritage earlier this year, has been the most public face, its young president Michael Needham has been just as integral in propagating the kind of fire-breathing rhetoric that's made the job of day-to-day legislating so fraught. As this in-depth piece by Julia Ioffe over at The New Republic makes clear, you can pretty much draw a straight line between last month's government shutdown and Heritage's increasingly stringent purity standards. A long one, but well worth a read.

Monday, November 25, 2013

The MovieFilm Podcast: Episode 35


The MovieFilm gang is joined once again by friend of the show Paul Shirey, newly-minted editor-in-chief of Joblo.com. And he couldn't have picked a better show to add his voice too, as we've got conversation on the latest installments of the long-running Die Hard and Mad Max franchises, potential titles for the much-anticipated Superman/Batman team-up pic, and the possible sequel to It's a Wonderful Life that was briefly being discussed last week.

In addition, we mark the fiftieth anniversary of the passing of President John F. Kennedy with a lengthy Movies That Matter discussion on Oliver Stone's seminal courtroom drama JFK. In addition to the good and the bad, listen as we go back and to the left with a lengthy digression on whether Lee Harvey Oswald did, in fact, act alone. All that, plus the usual Listener Letters, MovieFilm Quiz, and a special Overlooked & Underrated pick you won't want to miss. Stream it below, or listen via iTunes or Stitcher (and be sure to leave us a review once you do!). As always, make sure to hit up our Facebook page to let us know how we're doing!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Nostalgia Theater: Airwolf Edition

Clockwise from center: Alex Cord, Ernest Borgnine, Jean Bruce Scott, Jan-Michael Vincent
During the 1980s, there were three "super vehicle" shows that only briefly peppered various primetime lineups, but have cast a long shadow in our memories all the same. Once I'd tackled Knight Rider and Street Hawk here in Nostalgia Theater, it became inevitable that I'd get to Airwolf before too long, and here we are. Created by Donald P. Bellisario (who we just talked about last week), Airwolf debuted on CBS in January of 1984, the same month that Street Hawk first raced to the air on ABC.

While Knight Rider focused on a souped-up car, and Street Hawk centered on a snazzy motorcycle, Airwolf was a helicopter outfitted with all manner of new-fangled stealth and capabilities. Though it's commissioned by a shadowy government org called "The Firm," the titular 'copter is piloted by one Stringfellow Hawk (played by Jan-Michael Vincent), who secrets it away in a hidden lair known only to himself and his partner Dominic Santini (Ernest Borgnine). Here's the intro, with memorable theme music by Sylvester Levay:

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Recommended Reading

Robert Reich echoes (with no prompting from me, natch) the point I was making a few days ago about the moral component in health care reform:
Even a clunky compromise like the ACA between a national system of health insurance and a for-profit insurance market depends, fundamentally, on a social compact in which those who are healthier and richer are willing to help those who are sicker and poorer. Such a social compact defines a society.
The rest of that thought, plus two other key fundamental truths in favor of the Affordable Care Act (for all its flaws) can be found here. Give it a read.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Recommended Reading

And here's Jonathan Bernstein on yesterday's filibuster action may well have been the endgame for some of the so-called "dealmakers" in the Republican caucus, as a way to escape the brick-a-bats being hurled their way by some of the Senate's far-right crazies (i.e. Ted Cruz and his fellow travelers).

Colbert on Senate's Nuclear Moves

Stephen Colbert has a suitably sedate response to yesterday's filibuster-breaking moves in the Senate:


The Colbert Report
Get More: Colbert Report Full Episodes,Video Archive

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Health Scared

I have a friend who recently posted on Facebook that his health insurance costs were looking to go up somewhere in the neighborhood of 300% during the next year, and that his options on the insurance exchanges aren't much better. He seemed pretty peeved, and not knowing the specific details of his situation, I'm certainly not going to impugn the righteousness of his situation or his frustration. However, one thing he said later in that thread, when someone countered with how the health care law was benefitting them, did catch my attention: "What your budget and financial burdens are none of my business. Just like reducing anyone's cost for a medical plan is not my responsibility by me having to pay more."

And right there we see the fundamental ideological divide that characterizes this debate. Between the folks who support health insurance reform and those who don't. It's illuminating, a little sad, and also far too common. By all accounts, the website is working better, enrollments are increasing, and I'd expect that come election time the Affordable Care Act won't be quite the albatross Reince Priebus, et al. are hoping for. But even so, comments like the above illustrate just what a steep breach we still need to cross. Not a political breach, but a breach of conscience. Look, no one likes to pay more, especially for a service they may not even need. It sucks. I get it. But until we arrive at a place where we can at least be amenable to the idea that we share a stake in each other's continued existence, I don't know that we'll ever be where we need to be.

The Filibuster Gets Nuked

As longtime readers know, I've spoken out about the use and abuse of the filibuster several times over the years. While the parliamentary tool, with its 60-vote requirement, has its uses, its repeated, sustained deployment during the Obama administration demonstrates why the maneuver has long since exhausted its utility. Well, this morning, after yet another Republican blockade threatened to scupper three of President Obama's judicial nominees, the filibuster went bye-bye (at least as it pertains to judicial and cabinet-level positions).

No shock that I'm in favor of this move. And while it preserves the rights of the minority party to oppose legislation and Supreme Court nominees, I'm willing to bet it's only a matter of time, either in this congress or an eventual one, that those restrictions fall by the wayside as well. In big picture political terms, today really did mark the end of an era. While whether that's a good thing or a bad thing in the long run relies greatly on your particular political leanings, congressional scholar Gregory Koger lays out how this happened and what it likely means going forward.

From The Onion...

Apparently a lot of folks are having this problem.
Terrified Obama Trapped Inside Healthcare.gov Website
From the piece...
“Please, if anyone can hear me, I need help!” said Obama, his voice reportedly echoing endlessly in the distance as he carefully stepped along a green grid of individual and family enrollment information. “Is anyone there? Can anyone hear me? I’m Barack Obama, President of the United States of America! I need to get out of here!” 
“Oh, dear God, there has to be a way out,” continued Obama, ducking as several lines of text guaranteeing coverage for preexisting conditions flew just inches above his head. “There has to be.”
Read the rest here.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Nostalgia Theater: Magnum, P.I. -- The Secret of the 'Stache

I've discussed in previous installments of Nostalgia Theater how CBS in the 1980s had created for itself a pretty indomitable lineup of "gimmick" detective shows (many of which intertwined with each other). For Simon & Simon, the gimmick was to take two mismatched brothers and pair them up as detectives. For Murder, She Wrote, the gimmick revolved around having a mystery writer solve murders in her spare time. For Magnum, P.I., the gimmick was simply Tom Selleck. Well, Tom Selleck and his magnificent mustache.

Created by Glen A. Larson (yep, him) and Donald P. Bellisario, it went like this: Private detective Thomas Magnum (Selleck) lives on the Hawaiian estate of author Robin Masters (unseen, but voiced by Orson Welles), for whom he provides security in exchange for room and board. While he occasionally locks horns with Masters' assistant Higgins (John Hillerman), Magnum mostly spends his days racing around the island in his Ferrari, and chilling with war buddies Rick (Larry Manetti) and T.C. (Roger E. Mosley). Oh yeah, he sometimes pursues some private detective work too.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Steel Barbs

Man of Steel hit home vid this past Tuesday, and while my initial positive appraisal of the Superman reboot hasn't changed, there's also no doubt that the film is far from perfect. The folks at Screen Junkies have just released another in their series of "Honest Trailers" that lays out just a few of the flaws. The bit about dubstep had me rolling.

Recommended Reading

For all the stumbling about that's characterized the launch of the Affordable Care Act until now, the central issue beyond the functionality of the website remains what the law itself offers, which is a marked shift from the pre-ACA status quo. This used to be a status quo that Republicans and Democrats alike were united in opposition to, but it's now become a stark partisan breach, the differences of which are cleanly broken down by Jonathan Chait:
Here is the basic ideological division. Obama wants the health-care system to do more to pool risk — which is to say, to shift the burden of covering the sick onto the healthy. Republicans want it to do less to pool risk, so that healthy people can be free of the burden of subsidizing the costs of those less medically fortunate.
In other words, let social Darwinism do its thing. I'd say "'nuff said" here, but there's actually plenty more to say, and you can read it here.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Recommended Reading

By any objective measure, this hasn't been a great week for President Obama in general, and his health care law in particular. With a raft of policy cancellations making the news, coupled with the continued fumbling of the ballyhooed Healthcare.gov website, Democrats on the Hill have gotten predictably antsy. Antsy enough that the Prez had to hit the mics this morning to announce a "quick fix" solution that, as Brian Beutler notes, "combines a clever p.r. stunt, a stalling tactic, an act of retribution, the genuine possibility of transition assistance for some, and a large political and substantive gamble." That said, Beutler also points out that it "just might work." Click here to read how and why.

"Racist or Not Racist?"

While we're talking Key & Peele, the two also showed up on last night's Daily Show for this segment analyzing the media's propensity for self-analysis on a particularly pressing question:

Keying in on Key & Peele

For the past few years, I've championed Comedy Central's sketch-com Key & Peele as one of the smartest comedy programs on television today. Week after week, the endlessly-elastic leads manage to spin clever characters and cogent commentary into comedy gold. Rolling Stone mag calls it "TV's funniest show," and they may well be right. Here's their interview with stars Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele as the pair through some of their show's highlights thus far. And after the jump, watch one of their best recurring bits:

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Keepin' it Loki

As expected, Thor: The Dark World blew the doors off the box office this past weekend. I had a chance to see it again, and I think it holds up pretty well. That said, as critics from across the Nine Realms have been noting, one of the film's biggest selling points is Tom Hiddleston as scheming baddie Loki. Making his third appearance in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Thor's wayward foster brother manages to steal the show right out from under The Dark World's actual villain, the evil Malekith, played by Christopher Eccleston.

While Eccleston is himself no slouch in the acting department, there's just something about the Marvel Studios machine that manages to take great actors (Hugo Weaving, Tim Roth, Ben Kingsley, etc.) and turn them into merely adequate villains. I've enjoyed all the above actors' turns as Marvel baddies, but there's no denying that none had the staying power (and burgeoning fanbase) that Hiddleston's Loki commands. Here's Katey Rich at Business Insider (by way of Cinemablend) making much the same point, and also positing how the studio can remedy this going forward.

Monday, November 11, 2013

The MovieFilm Podcast: Episode 34

It's hammer time for the MovieFilm gang! After discussing some of the latest news on the next Star Wars flick and dishing on the new trailers for Captain America: The Winter Soldier and X-Men: Days of Future Past, Sean, Brian, and I break through the spoiler wall and offer their thoughts on the good, the bad, and the ugly about the latest opus from Marvel Studios -- Thor: The Dark World (and you can read my full review here). But that's not all, there's also the usual Listener Letters, Hollywood Headlines, and a MovieFilm Quiz to top things off. As usual, you can stream it below, or listen via iTunes or Stitcher. Make sure to visit our Facebook page so you can let us know how we're doing!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Nostalgia Theater: Toxic Crusaders Brings Troma to TV

One of my favorite sub-categories here in Nostalgia Theater is animated kidvid adapted from R-rated movies. We've already discussed Rambo and RoboCop, but one entry that has to deserve some kind of prize for sheer audacity is Toxic Crusaders. Unlike those examples, which at the very least had public awareness before making the leap to animation, I doubt much of the target audience had seen the Toxic Avenger pictures put out by noted schlock factory Troma. The first film, released in 1984, cost half a million bucks and grossed slightly more than that. To get a sense of what the horror/comedy/superhero flick is about, watch the trailer below:

Friday, November 08, 2013

Zaki's Review: Thor: The Dark World

Read my 2011 review of Thor here
I enjoyed the first Thor quite a bit when I saw it in '11, referring to the Kenneth Branagh-directed film as, "a master class in brand management." And I didn't mean that in a bad way. As I said then, it had "the cool confidence that can only come from a studio that's danced this jig already and knows all the beats." Back then the Marvel Studios operation had already become something akin to an assembly line, and that machine-works has only become more practiced and precise in the wake of the senses-shattering success of 2012's team-up opus The Avengers.

As such, while Thor's second solo feature (with star Chris Hemsworth back in armor as the hammer-wielding Thunder God) swaps in director Alan Taylor (HBO's Game of Thrones), the edifice that Branagh helped build last time is so sturdy that any changes are akin to changing the drapes. This is franchise filmmaking at its most efficient. It's either a good thing or bad thing depending on where you sit on the dividing line between "art" and "commerce," but like the James Bond series, the Marvel films are beholden to their own particular producer-driven aesthetics, regardless of who's calling the shots behind the camera.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

New RoboCop Trailer Hits

I offered my thoughts about the first trailer for MGM's upcoming RoboCop remake when it dropped last September. To sum up, I was intrigued but not necessarily engaged -- yet. After watching the latest assemblage from the Lion, just out today, I can't say my thoughts on the Jose Padilha-directed actioner have changed substantially. We see a little more Michael Keaton, a little more Gary Oldman, and a little more Sam Jackson, but not much more Joel Kinnaman, the man they have standing in for Peter Weller as the titular titan. With this thing due to hit screens in February, I'm sure the studio hard sell will really start kicking in by Christmas, but for now we have the new poster to the left, and the trailer below.

Marvel Sends Daredevil & Co. to Netflix

The Marvel Studios brand has already conquered movie theaters (look for my take on Thor: The Dark World tomorrow morning), and is attempting to make inroads on TV (Agents of SHIELD is still doing its thing on ABC), but now it looks like the Disney superhero factory is also looking to tap into the burgeoning marketplace of online original content. In a deal just announced this morning, Marvel will produce four interlinked, serialized dramas specifically for Netflix: Daredevil, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and superhero P.I. Jessica Jones.

I'd been hearing whispers of something like this being in the offing for a few weeks now, but to see the details of the deal all laid today has me pretty jazzed. All four characters are more "street-level" than the cosmos-spanning, world-beating stuff we get from The Avengers and its appendages. The goal, per the press release, is to create an "epic [that] will unfold over multiple years of original programming, taking Netflix members deep into the gritty world of heroes and villains of Hell’s Kitchen."

The Wolverine Returns -- Again

While the domestic reaction to last summer's Hugh Jackman starrer The Wolverine was decidedly sedate (it took in $132 mil against a $120 mil budget -- no small potatoes, but still the lowest of the six X-Men flicks), it clawed its way to a mighty $413 mil worldwide (second highest in the series). Personally, I was of mixed opinion on it, but you can't argue with those numbers, so it's no surprise that movement has quickly begun on another escapade for Jackman's superhero alter-ego. This would be his seventh starring turn, for those of you keeping score. If you're Fox, this makes all the sense in the world.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

From The Onion...

It's good to keep striving.
Paul Hogan Admits He’s Still Searching For That One Career-Defining Role

SYDNEY—Australian character actor Paul Hogan, 74, told sources in an exclusive interview Tuesday that he’s “still searching” for that one career-defining role. “I’m proud of my work, but despite acting in a variety of different films, I’ve yet to find that one iconic, unforgettable character with whom everyone identifies me,” said Hogan, who has been appearing in motion pictures for more than a quarter century. “When people hear the name Paul Hogan, there isn’t any particular performance that comes to mind, but rather a broad range of many diverse roles. I just have to keep working, and hopefully something great will come along eventually.” Hogan then reportedly opened up about his divorce from his wife of 23 years, an actress he met while working on a film in 1986.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Halloween Horror

As he's done for the last two years, Jimmy Kimmel asked the parents in his audience to play a prank on their kids this Halloween. Here's what happened:

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Word Association

Way back here, in my piece marking the passing of groundbreaking comedian Richard Pryor, I noted the seminal skit he appeared in on Saturday Night Live, wherein he and Chevy Chase engage in a word association game during the course of a job interview that rapidly escalates into the kind of uncomfortable tension that creates comedy gold (check out the vid after the jump). In an excerpt posted at Salon from their new book (on shelves Tuesday) about the late comedian, authors David Henry and Joe Henry lay out the sequence of events leading up to that legendary skit.

Nostalgia Theater: The Secret Force of Pole Position

In car racing terms, "pole position" refers to where a car is placed in the starting lineup, something that can in turn determine said car's chances of winning. In video game terms, Pole Position was the title of a racing game from Namco in the early '80s -- one of the most popular of the genre. When the decade's gaming boom led to various media adaptations of arcade properties, the notorious crap-mavens at DiC had a Saturday AM take on Pole Position ready to race. Airing on CBS from September to December of 1984, I don't remember much about the show beyond the catchy theme, which you can check out (along with the closing) below:

Friday, November 01, 2013

Diffused Congruence: Episode 2


For the second episode of our all-new podcast examining the many fascinating conversations to be had within the American Muslim community, my co-host Parvez Ahmed and I are joined by Zahra Billoo, executive director of the San Francisco-Bay Area chapter of CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations), for an in-depth conversation on the goals, history, and criticisms of the venerable civil rights organization (it marks its second decade next year), and her own efforts to bridge interfaith understanding both before and after becoming a part of it. You can download or stream the show below, as well as via iTunes (don't forget to leave us a review!). Also, many thanks for all the feedback and comments on our first episode! Please keep them coming! You can send any questions and concerns our way at diffusedcongruence@gmail.com.