Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013: The Rest of the Reviews

While I picked out my faves of the year in my last post, there were plenty of other flicks that I did write-ups on. Here's a rundown of the full-length movie reviews I did this year, with a small capsule accompanying each. Click through the individual links to get the full skinny:

The Cinema Year That Was: Zaki's Flick Picks 2013

True stories, high stakes, big spectacle, and big funny won the day with this year's movie offerings. Here's a countdown of my top cinematic experiences for the year now closing:

10 & 9 - This is the End/The World's End

Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg's directorial debut and Edgar Wright's third teaming with Simon Pegg & Nick Frost both offered humorous takes on apocalyptic themes, so it seemed appropriate to discuss them together. This is the End, while ostensibly set in the aftermath of the Rapture (comedy gold!), was really a sly jab at the self-obsession of outsized Hollywood personalities (and, by extension, all of us who idolize them) which manages to somehow survive even in the face of cannibal gangs, giant demons, and just general chaos.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Recommended Reading

The Huffington Post's Jason Linkins looks at the much-ballyhooed "autopsy" undertaken by the RNC after last year's electoral losses, and examines how good a job the Grand Ol' Party has done in following the policy prescriptions contained therein: Spoiler: Not so well.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Nostalgia Theater Extra: Year in Review 2013

Well, the first of January is barreling towards us at a fast clip, and that means we've got 52 new Nostalgia Theater entries to add to the ol' archives. So, just as we did last year, let's take a look back at the most popular entries of the year that's now coming to a close. Only this time, instead of limiting it to five, we'll expand things out to look at the top ten as we count down to the big number one...

Gun Nuttery

Media Matters lists just some of the horrible things said by the NRA and its appendages in the media during 2013. Sad to say, while on the one hand this stuff is shocking and sickening, it's also pretty much par for the course with this bunch.

Nostalgia Theater: Revealing The Secret Lives of Waldo Kitty

James Thurber's 1939 short story "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" is currently the recipient of a new screen adaptation now in theaters, starring Ben Stiller. And while the story of a daydreaming wallflower had been brought to the screen in a 1947 feature starring Danny Kaye, my first exposure to Thurber's celebrated novelette came in a somewhat sidelong fashion, while I was a kid living in Saudi Arabia and watching Filmation's live action/animated series The Secret Lives of Waldo Kitty.

Airing on NBC in fall of '75, Waldo Kitty took its cues from Thurber while updating it for the kidvid crowd. Each ep would start with live action intros and outros where put-upon pussycat Waldo finds either himself or his girlfriend Felicia teased by neighboring bulldog Tyrone. From there, Waldo would wish himself into that week's fantasy, a riff on Batman, Robin Hood, the Lone Ranger, Tarzan, or Captain Kirk (most of whom had either already gotten, or would soon get, the Filmation treatment, as it happens). Here's the intro:

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Recommended Reading

Edwin Lyngar, one-time Ron Paul delegate, explains why he considers himself a former libertarian. Here's a particularly relevant bit:
The best parts of the America I love are our communities. My libertarian friends might call me a f***ing commie (they have) or a p***y, but extreme selfishness is just so isolating and cruel. Libertarianism is unnatural, and the size of the federal government is almost irrelevant. The real question is: what does society need and how do we pay for it?
Read more here.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Recommended Reading

Thanks to a last-minute extension, today is the last day for consumers to select a health insurance plan through the federal exchanges that will kick in on the first of the year (though they'll still be able to buy plans that kick in a bit later). For those of you who are still hesitant about purchasing, former insurance exec Wendell Potter lays out some of the upsides you might potentially have waiting for you.

The MovieFilm Podcast: Episode 37

Due to a combination of extreme fatigue, extreme illness, and various other extenuating circumstances, I missed recording the MovieFilm show for the very first time. I know. Tragic. But have no fear, because my dedicated cohorts from Mr. Boy Productions, Sean and Brian, didn't miss so much as a single step, filling the breach with all the expected aplomb, and cranking out a very fun mini-episode where they catch up on some of the latest Hollywood headlines (Paul Rudd is Ant Man!), and casting a wistful eye backwards at their favorite Christmas-themed flicks. Listen below, or download or stream at iTunes or Stitcher. And you know the drill, make sure to write a review and let us know how we're doing!

From The Onion...


Sunday, December 22, 2013

Nostalgia Theater: Re-telling Tales of the Gold Monkey

Roddy McDowall (left) and Stephen Collins (R) get ready for adventure
In 1981, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg's first Indiana Jones opus, Raiders of the Lost Ark hit theaters and brought joy to the hearts of critics and paying audiences alike. What followed in the wake of Indy's success was like a reprise of what happened when Lucas's Star Wars saga first launched '77: All manner of imitators attempted to bring a similar flavor to big screen and small, hoping to catch some of that mojo. The Star Wars fad is what led Glen A. Larson to inflict the original Battlestar Galactica and Buck Rogers on the TV-watching public, and Raiders of the Lost Ark is what allowed Tales of the Gold Monkey, an ABC series created by Donald P. Bellisario, to air briefly between 1982 and 1983.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Zaki's Review: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Martin Freeman is back for more in The Desolation of Smaug
Read my 2012 review of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey here

A little over eleven years ago, on the eve of the theatrical release of The Two Towers, the second leg of director Peter Jackson's epic adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy, I was jittery with anticipation. By then I'd watched the first installment, The Fellowship of the Ring, an embarrassingly high number of times in the theater, and a few more times on home vid. And as the clock wound down to the saga's continuation, I. Could. Not. Wait. I tell that story partly to reminisce, but mainly to mark a contrast with my state of mind vis-a-vis Jackson's current Hobbit trilogy, in whose release history we now find ourselves at a comparable point.

I had an enjoyable enough experience with part one, An Unexpected Journey, last year, but I pretty much left it in the theater after I watched. It didn't stay with me past that, and I didn't go out of my way to seek out a repeat viewing. More perplexing (to me, anyway) was how, as the impending screening for the follow-up, The Desolation of Smaug, bore down on me, I found myself greeting it not with the anticipation and expectation I felt for The Two Towers but rather the fatigue-in-advance that comes from the thought of sitting through a three hour story with no beginning and no end.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Apes Trailer Teases New Dawn

Next summer's Dawn of the Planet of the Apes marks the first honest-to-gosh Apes sequel since Battle for the Planet of the Apes in 1973. I realize that little nugget means absolutely nothing to anyone but me, but I think it's pretty cool all the same. Still, with the second life the prequel/reboot Rise of the Planet of the Apes gave the brand in 2011, it's no shock that Fox is taking full advantage, positioning the follow-up as one of the studio's big tentpoles for the summer, occupying the plum mid-July slot recently vacated by Universal's postponed Fast & Furious 7. Check out the first trailer below to see how new director Matt Reeves (replacing Rupert Wyatt) is advancing the story of sympathetic simian Caesar as we march inexorably toward the status quo of the original 1968 Planet of the Apes:

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Mark of the Beast!

I was looking at the number of Facebook followers on this site, and I just realized that I've reached a momentous non-milestone milestone that I figured I should screencap and preserve for posterity:
Do I hear Damien calling in the distance? Anyway, to ensure that this status quo doesn't last for too long, make sure you hit "like" on the link at the right!

Peter O'Toole, RIP

Last year, legendary actor Peter O'Toole announced his retirement from the beloved craft that had defined his entire life, saying, "The heart for it has gone out of me: it won’t come back." For a man like O'Toole, Oscar-nominated for his title turn in 1962's David Lean's timeless epic Lawrence of Arabia, who was well known in the industry for working hard and living even harder, I can only imagine that this realization was as difficult for him to arrive at as it was for those of us who admired his work to believe. Thus, while today's word that O'Toole has passed away at age 81 following a long illness isn't especially surprising, it's sad news all the same for everything it represents.

While his Lawrence role is the unquestionable highlight of a long, distinguished career, the stage-trained O'Toole had the kind of run that few actors achieve, appearing onscreen nearly every year from his debut on a 1956 TV production of The Scarlet Pimpernel to this year's Katherine of Alexandria (for which he briefly broke his brief retirement). In between, he did everything from mentoring Helen Slater as one of the few bright spots in the otherwise execrable Supergirl (1984), to leveraging his considerable accrued gravitas as King Priam in 2004's Troy. More than anything, his passing marks yet another loss in the increasingly shallow pool of larger-than-life talent from Hollywood's bygone era of larger-than-life epics.

Nostalgia Theater: The Disney Afternoon Dominates Weekdays

Think of today's Nostalgia Theater as a tease for things to come. After making some headway during the late '80s in syndicated animation with offerings such as Duck Tales and Chip 'n' Dales Rescue Rangers, the Disney company went all in, selling four animated series as one two hour chunk to air on local stations in after-school slots. This block, known as The Disney Afternoon, first aired in fall of 1990, and I'm willing to wager that anyone who came of age during that era has fond memories of these shows.

With the aforementioned Duck Tales and Chip 'n' Dale occupying the middle hour in that initial lineup, Disney's Gummi Bears had the lead-off slot, and Tale Spin (a new twist on characters from Disney's Jungle Book) closed the afternoon out. While the Mouse House would switch the shows out every year between its debut and when the block was retired in 1997, we'll spend some time in coming weeks looking at the individual offerings. In the meantime, take a trip back in time with the intro from the very first iteration of The Disney Afternoon:

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Not the Same Thing.

In the wake of Nelson Mandela's passing, we've seen a passel of entirely inappropriate comparisons being made by our political right equating Mandela's struggle to overcome the racial inequality that ruled South Africa for most of his adult life, and the Republicans' struggle here at home against a subsidized health insurance policy that they kind of disagree with. Here's Jon Stewart from yesterday's Daily Show, clarifying what should really be obvious:

Godzilla Returns! (And I Don't Care)

The first trailer dropped today for Warner Bros.' upcoming reboot of Godzilla, directed by Gareth Edwards and starring Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Olson, Aaron Johnson, and one very big, green lizard. While there's a fair amount of excitement for this flick on the interwebs, especially among the geek set, I haven't really been able to muster much enthusiasm, and I can't say there's anything in today's assemblage that really has me jazzed either. I mean, it looks...fine. Great cast, I'm sure great effects, and some great talent working behind-the-scenes to make Japan's biggest export live up to his larger than life rep. Nonetheless, I'm not blown away.

After all, it wasn't that long ago (okay, fifteen years is kind of a long time ago) that Sony unleashed their big budget Godzilla flick with a degree of pomp and anticipation completely disproportional to the actual quality of what we ended up with. And take this from one who was there opening night for Godzilla '98 (the much-anticipated follow-up to Independence Day by the filmmaking team of Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin). Needless to say, size really didn't matter. After that, maybe it's understandable I'm not getting a tingle from what we see so far of the new one. Watch the trailer below, and then watch the eerily similar trailer for the '98 version after the jump.

Monday, December 09, 2013

The MovieFilm Podcast: Episode 36

This week, Zaki and Brian find themselves holding down a Sean-less fort but, unsurprisingly, still manage to pack in a full episode's worth of MovieFilm goodness. Join in as they ruminate on the recent announcement of Gal Gadot as the soon-to-be first silver screen Wonder Woman, talk up the trailers for Noah and The Amazing Spider-man 2, as well as discuss J.J. Abrams' long-coming admission that Zaki was right all along about the Star Trek Into Darkness marketing strategy. The boys also take a moment to remember the all-too-soon passing of Paul Walker, and think about what's come before and what's up ahead with The Fast and the Furious franchise.

Then, it's a veritable Review-a-Palooza when an odd twist of fate finds Brian as the only person who has seen a bevy of new releases, including All is Lost, Dallas Buyers Club, Frozen, and Saving Mr. Banks. There's also Listener Letters, Star Wars news, and a shout out to Zaki's Overlooked & Underrated movie of the week so take a listen either through 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!

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Nostalgia Theater: Defrosting Mattel's Demolition Man Action Figures

One of my favorite sidelights here in Nostalgia Theater is looking back at children's toylines based on entirely inappropriate, R-rated subject matter. One assortment that's entirely forgotten is Demolition Man. For those who don't have the displeasure of remembering the film from its fall '93 release, it stars Sylvester Stallone and Wesley Snipes as, respectively, a cop and a criminal from the late 20th century who are put on ice (literally) for thirty years, after which they resume their rivalry in the utopian future world of "San Angeles." Here's the trailer:

Friday, December 06, 2013

Diffused Congruence: Episode 3

It's the first Friday of the month, and that means it's time for a new Diffused Congruence podcast! Our special guest for this episode of the show is Hollywood writer-producer Kamran Pasha, who's spent more than ten years working in the film industry on projects such as Sleeper Cell on Showtime and Kings on NBC, and also authored the acclaimed novels Mother of the Believers: A Novel of the Birth of Islam and Shadow of the Swords: An Epic Novel of the Crusades.

With the depth and breadth of his experience as one of the few Muslim writers in Hollywood, Kamran discusses the importance of Muslim engagement in non-traditional fields such as media production, and also shares some of the life lessons he's picked up during his time in the Hollywood trenches. You can download or stream the show below, as well as via iTunes (don't forget to leave us a review!). Send any questions and concerns our way at diffusedcongruence@gmail.com.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Amazing Spider-Man 2 Spins First Trailer

I thought Sony's 2012 reboot The Amazing Spider-Man was a lot better than it probably had any right to be -- especially given that no one was particularly asking for a reboot for this series. As such I've been monitoring casting and production news on the upcoming sequel, again directed by Marc Webb, with a fair degree of interest. With the film due to drop next year in the traditional "Marvel" slot the first weekend of May, it's understandable that we're now starting to see the marketing campaign kick in. To wit, here's the teaser for The Amazing Spider-Man 2:

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

The War on "The War on Christmas"

Welp, it's December, and that must mean it's "War on Christmas" time in Right Wing World. Exactly one year ago I posted a bit from Jon Stewart spinning comedy gold out of this phenomenon's reliable reoccurrence on Fox News, and now here's the lead segment from last night's Daily Show doing much the same over much the same. See part one below, then click past the jump for part two.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Khan Don't

As you know if you read this site, last May's Star Trek Into Darkness wasn't exactly a home run for me. Beyond the sloppy storytelling and generally listless nature of the thing, what irked me the most was the way legendary Trek villain Khan was shoehorned in seemingly for the sole purpose of the producers getting to say they "did" Khan. And while actor Benedict Cumberbatch was fine in the part, he also would have been fine if the character wasn't Khan. And given the superfluous ways they utilized his backstory, he might as well not have been Khan.

An observation I made on the MovieFilm Podcast a few months ago was that the filmmakers' desperate desire to preserve the supposed "twist" of Cumberbatch's identity (a twist that had long since been spoiled by the Internet doing what the Internet does) hampered the ability to tell a compelling story with a compelling character. The result was a big "meh" that did well with critics and at the till, but still felt like a missed opportunity. Still, with director JJ Abrams now departing for that other "Star" franchise, it seems he feels a bit freer to speak his mind, and with the benefit of hindsight it looks like he's come around to the same point-of-view as me (and others). Here's what he told MTV recently:

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Nostalgia Theater: Archie Grows Up

One look at the TV ratings/box office is enough to make clear how much comic book properties have come to dominate our cultural discourse. But with all the characters making their transition to screens big and small of late, one four-color icon who's never quite managed that magical jump to live action is one Archie Andrews, the eternal teenager who's been in continuous publication since his debut in 1941. Well, "never" isn't entirely true. For a brief instant in 1990, there was To Riverdale and Back Again, an NBC TV movie that tried to turn everyone's favorite checkerboard-headed kid into a primetime soap. Here's a trailer for the flick (which was released theatrically overseas under the title Return to Riverdale):

Paul Walker, RIP

The news of this broke yesterday across social media via TMZ, and I guess it's a testament to the age we live in, where Internet "death hoaxes" propagate so easily, that folks were chasing around trying to find something, anything, that said this too was just a terrible, terrible mistake. Sadly, such was not the case, and confirmations soon began to roll in via his publicists that Paul Walker, the 40-year old star of Universal's long-running Fast & Furious franchise, perished yesterday after an automobile accident outside of LA while riding as a passenger in a friend's car.

While I doubt anyone would confuse Walker with Laurence Olivier, as the actor got older he did grow into his own, finding a comfortable niche for himself while also seeking out new ways of pushing the limits of that niche. More than that, he was known not only for the relatively modest life he lived (considering the global stardom he enjoyed), but also the philanthropic causes he supported (he died leaving an event for Reach Out Worldwide, a charitable organization he founded in 2010).