Friday, May 30, 2014

Zaki's Review: A Million Ways to Die in the West

I laughed exactly twice during A Million Ways to Die in the West.

Once was in the middle, once was near the end. It was only after the fact I learned that one of those laughs, a "Hey, didn't see that coming!" moment, has actually been spoiled by Universal via the film's marketing materials. I'll avoid doing the same thing here, but after you factor that one out, it leaves us with one genuine laugh in just under two hours. That's not a great ratio for a comedy (it's also not a great runtime for a comedy, but I digress). It's an even bigger problem when you realize this is director Seth MacFarlane's follow-up to the top grossing R-rated comedy of all time.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Recommended Reading

David Shorr on why the "pox on both their houses" school of critical critique, which says that both parties are equally culpable for the gridlock that's got things so twisted up in Washington, is a disingenuous dodge. Here's just one example:
Trying to paint the gun debate as a standoff between two absolutist positions obscures the fact that only one side in this fight is absolutist. This isn’t an all-or-nothing debate, with Democrats insisting that personal firearms be banned or confiscated. The questions on the table have been about universal background checks, the gun show loophole, and high-capacity magazines. Please tell me how Democrats share blame for blocking these sorts of practical measures.
Read the rest here.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

From The Onion...

Sure feels like it...
Bored GOP Vetting Rand Paul Just To Kill Time Before Viable 2016 Candidate Emerges
From the piece:
“Obviously, there’s not a chance we see the name ‘Rand Paul’ on the ballot in 2016, but running his political positions by a few focus groups and making sure he doesn’t have any dirty laundry that might come up in a hypothetical presidential run is better than just sitting on our hands, you know? To be clear, though, once a halfway appealing centrist whom the American people might actually consider getting behind dips his toes in the water, we’re dropping this whole Rand Paul thing on the spot.”
Read the rest here.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Nostalgia Theater: Star Trek: The Next Generation Warps to the Finish Line

Seven years ago in this space, I marked the twentieth anniversary of the premiere of seminal syndie sci-fi sequel Star Trek: The Next Generation, which launched to much ballyhoo and a whole lot of skepticism (most especially from me) in fall of '87. Well, by the time the The Next Generation's seventh season had rolled around, most of that skepticism had long since dissipated, and it had blazed a trail unlike any other before it. Not only were its ratings such that it was regularly ranking alongside the top network shows of the week, not only did it launch a successful spin-off the previous year, but a raft of sci-fi pretenders sprang up, both on network and in syndication, hoping to capture just some of its magic.

Related: Nostalgia Theater: Star Trek Edition

Of course, with the costs of keeping any long-running skein in production, much less an effects-heavy science fiction show, coupled with the increasing wanderlust of the cast (plus home studio Paramount's own desire to transition the Enterprise-D onto the big screen to replace the just-retired original Trek crew), it was decided early on that The Next Generation's seventh year would also be its last. This in turn led to a year-long celebration (or funerary march, depending on your degree of fandom) as Next Gen wended its way toward the finale in May '94. That episode, carrying the painfully on-the-nose title "All Good Things..." aired twenty years ago this past Friday. Here's a promo hyping it up:

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Recommended Reading

Norm Ornstein makes a pretty compelling case over at The Atlantic for why our Supreme Court is in desperate need of term limits. This is something I've thought about often, so it's gratifying to see that sentiment echoed by someone like him. Says he:
How did we get here? As politics have become polarized and as two-party competition intensified, control of the courts—which are increasingly making major policy decisions—became more important. With lifetime appointments, a party in power for two or four years could have sway over policy for decades after it left power.
Read on...

Friday, May 23, 2014

Zaki's Review: X-Men: Days of Future Past

(L-R) Hugh Jackman, Michael Fassbender, and James McAvoy
X-Men: Days of Future Past is the seventh entry in Fox's long-running movie series, which returning director Bryan Singer first ushered in with 2000's X-Men. It's also the best.

Serving as both a coda to the original trilogy of X-Men films (the first two of which Singer helmed) and a sequel to the 2011 prequel/reboot X-Men: First Class (directed by Matthew Vaughn), this time-twisting team-up tale (from a script by Simon Kinberg, loosely inspired by a 1981 four-color opus by Chris Claremont & John Byrne) is a testament to how thoroughly the superhero genre in general has assumed a place of sustained permanence in our collective pop culture psyche. Here we are seven flicks in, and while it's certainly had its creative ups-and-downs over these past fourteen (!!) years, X-Men can rightly be considered the granddaddy of the current comic movie boom.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The MovieFilm Podcast: Episode 47

We start this week's show off with my interview with Chef writer/director/star Jon Favreau, who talks not only about his new film but also shares his thoughts on the current state of the Marvel Cinematic Universe after he pretty much kicked it into gear with Iron Man. After that, Brian and I (still no Sean this week!) are joined by a special guest: comedian Hasan Minhaj (MTV's Failosophy), who talks up his new project, the globe-spanning doc Standup Planet, and joins us as we discuss Viggo Mortensen's unvarnished take on Peter Jackson and the Lord of the Rings films, the Harry Potter spin-off/prequel Alfonso Cuaron is currently circling, plus Zach Snyder's surprise reveal of Ben Affleck in his Batman finest for the upcoming Batman vs Superman, and why 2011's Green Lantern flick didn't work (and why we hope the upcoming CW show The Flash will). After that, it's onto the monster in the room! Join us for a spoiler-rific discussion of Gareth Edward's take on the king of the monsters, Godzilla. Opinions are actively split on this one so listen in to hear what the guys have to say. 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!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy Launch Second Trailer!

Meanwhile, on the other end of the superhero cinema spectrum, we got a new poster (right) for Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy last week, and today we also have the latest trailer (I discussed the previous trailer here). With Chris Pratt heading up an ensemble that's packed with aliens and animals and foliage, it seems like director James Gunn has really nailed the tone here, and I'm feeling better about this one the more I see. I need to give it up to the Marvel honchos for rolling the dice on a relatively new, relatively untried concept. I think what we see here certainly signals that they made the right choice in putting the Guardians front-and-center in a feature of their own.

Check Out the Flash Extended Promo!

Last time I talked about the CW's The Flash, it was still in the pilot stage, and we'd just gotten our first look at star Grant Gustin in the traditional red-and-gold speed suit. Well, since then the DC Comics superhero skein (spinning off the net's hit Arrow) has been picked up to series, and we've also got an extended trailer showcasing the scope and mythology they're planning for Barry Allen (a.ka. the Flash, a.k.a. the Fastest Man Alive). Gotta be honest, given the limitations of a TV buidget, I wasn't expecting much from this, but what I see here certainly has me jazzed:

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Nostalgia Theater: Godzilla: The Series -- A Horrible Remake Spawns a Not-Bad Sequel

Read my look at the 1970s Godzilla cartoon here

In 1998, Sony's impossibly-hyped Godzilla reboot, starring Matthew Broderick, Hank Azaria, and Mario Pitillo, hit theaters and promptly landed with a dull thud. While the combination of bad story, bad acting, bad effects, bad monster design, etc. certainly did the project no favors, I think it was most undone by its preordained "hit" status long in advance of its release. In the end, far from breaking any box office records, the Roland Emmerich-directed pic panted and wheezed its way to barely matching its production budget domestically.

Related: Zaki's Review: Godzilla (2014)

Of course, thanks to one of the most outsize bouts of hubris in Hollywood history, the folks at Sony were so overconfident in their movie's franchise prospects that they already had an animated series in the development pipeline early on, ready to lap up all those eager younglings whose appetites were sure to have been whetted by the film. Thus, in September of '98, just four months after the movie's less-than-auspicious premiere, Godzilla: The Series debuted as part of Fox's Saturday morning lineup. Here's what it looked like:

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Diffused Congruence: Professor Zareena Grewal

This month, the Diffused Congruence team speaks with Professor Zareena Grewal about her new book, Islam is a Foreign Country, and her concept of the American Muslim Experience, leading to a spirited conversation about the many rich facets of Islam in America. You won't want to miss this one! Download or stream the show below, and also listen at iTunes (don't forget to leave us a review!) and Stitcher Radio. Feel free to send any comments or questions our way at or via our Facebook page!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Zaki's Review: Godzilla (2014)

Legendary Pictures' big budget reboot Godzilla, directed by Gareth Edwards and released by Warner Bros., arrives amidst a barrage of pre-release buzz that can't help but call to mind the previous attempt by a Hollywood studio to translate this quintessentially Japanese of celluloid icons to the American cinematic vernacular. That film, from Sony-Tristar and Independence Day director Roland Emmerich, arrived exactly sixteen years ago next week as the summer season's preordained champion. I was there opening night, popcorn in hand, brain thoroughly washed by the mountainous onslaught of hype leading up to opening night, fully expecting the greatest blockbuster of all time.

It wasn't. In fact, my clearest memory from that day isn't of the film itself, but of feeling so non-plussed afterwards that I went into the theater parking lot and took my first (and only) drag from a cigarette, ever. That's right, I needed to ingest a carcinogen just to make the bad feeling go away. In the decade-and-a-half since then, Sony's misfire has become so synonymous with Hollywood's propensity for empty calorie excess that it's a wonder the whole brand wasn't rendered as radioactive as the title character. I actually re-watched it a few days ago for the first time since that nicotine-tinged night, and time has truly done nothing to salve that wound.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Honest 'Zilla

I've got my review of the all-new Godzilla coming up very soon, but in the meantime, check out the Honest Trailers take on Sony's crap-tastic 1998 version that this new take is hoping you've forgotten about by now:

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Recommended Reading

Based on recent polling, the same young people who turned out in droves in 2008 and 2012, and powered Barack Obama to two electoral victories are rapidly losing faith in the power of the presidency to bring about change. Ezra Klein explains why that's actually a good thing.

First Look: Affleck as Batman!

Last August the word first broke that Ben Affleck had been chosen to don the cape and cowl for Warner Bros.' big Batman vs. Superman team-up pic. Since then, the speculatron has been in overdrive about the much-anticipated project, currently set for release in May of 2016. My biggest question all along has been about what Affleck's bat-suit would look like. Knowing that fitness trainer extraordinaire Rehan Jalali was hard at work with the Argo Oscar winner (whose biceps are now so massive they're worthy of their own zip code), my suspicion all along was that this Batman would not be sporting the moulded armor worn by every other movie version of the character going back to Michael Keaton twenty-five (!!) years ago. And lo and behold, a tweet earlier today by director Zack Snyder confirmed this suspicion, giving us our very first look at the very comic book-inspired look for the latest big screen Bats. I am really digging this. So much so, in fact, that my enthusiasm for this flick just jumped by several degrees. For more on this, including our look at the latest Batmobile, jump over to The Hollywood Reporter.

Jon Favreau on Starting the Marvel Cinematic Universe

Early this morning I interviewed director Jon Favreau about his new film Chef, which he also wrote and stars in. You can listen to the audio from that on the MovieFilm Podcast next week, but I figured I'd get this bit from the end of our conversation, about his foundational role in creating what's now popularly called the Marvel Cinematic Universe, transcribed and out to you guys. Check it out after the jump.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Denial Ain't Just a River...

John Oliver tackles the rampant epidemic of climate change denialism in this segment from his excellent new HBO yakker:

Sunday, May 11, 2014

From The Onion...

This sounds eerily like our day so far.

Nation Successfully Completes Mother’s Day By 9:18 A.M.

Recommended Reading

Sara Kamali asks why, in the aftermath of various mass killings, some perpetrators are referred to as terrorists while others aren't. Good question, good answers.

Remembering Community

After five years dancing on the razor's edge between cancellation and renewal, time finally ran out for NBC's Community this past week, with the Peacock announcing the demise of Dan Harmon's masterpiece of meta-comedic construction. I was singing the praises of this show from the very beginning (including here a few years ago) and my opinion has never wavered, even in the face of a fourth year that saw Harmon briefly removed from the stewardship of his creation. Now, five seasons and 97 episodes is hardly a failure, as the show will likely find a long and plentiful life in syndication and via streaming services, but it feels like a loss all the same. Here's a reflection piece by Matt Zoller Seitz that sums up pretty much exactly how I'm feeling now that one of my favorite shows of all time is (likely) coming to a close.

Nostalgia Theater: Godzilla Comes to Cartoons!

Warner Bros.' much-anticipated Godzilla reboot flick hits theaters this week, and I should have my review up no later than Wednesday, but in the meantime I thought I'd use this week's Nostalgia Theater entry to look back at the very first time the iconic monster from Japan's Toho Productions made his way to American kidvid. First, a little context might be helpful: For all its schlocky "guy in a suit" production values, the first Godzilla in 1954 was meant to be a dark reflection of Japan's wounded sense of self in the immediate aftermath of Hiroshima.

But as the movies continued into the mid-'70s, the character became a kiddiefied anti-hero of sorts, serving as humanity's defender against other rubber monsters like Ghidorah and Hedorah and Gigan (oh, and King Kong, natch). With fifteen films under his belt by the late-'70s (1975's Terror of Mechagodzilla marked a decade-long halt in production), the folks at Hanna-Barbera calculated that the time was ripe for Godzilla to come to TV via an animated offering that aired twenty-six episodes on NBC between 1978 until 1981. Check out the intro:

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Watch the Full Trailer for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes!

It's been nearly five months since Fox dropped the teaser for their upcoming sequel Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, which opens July 11, and while that assemblage did its job of getting our feet wet, this new one drops us into the deep end, giving us a clear sense of the plot, performances, and scope of this follow-up to 2011's successful reboot Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Though the previous film's James Franco only has a cameo here, this one stars Jason Clark, Keri Russell, Gary Oldman, with Andy Serkis once again playing chimp leader Caesar.

I really dig the zombie apocalypse-esque setup (right down to actor Kirk Acevedo as apparently the exact same guy he played on The Walking Dead this past season). Interestingly, Dawn marks the first actual Planet of the Apes sequel in more than thirty years. Yeah, they've had a remake and a reboot since then, but the last honest-to-goodness sequels was 1973's Battle for the Planet of the Apes (the finale of that first Apes cycle), which is appropriate enough, given that's the one Dawn is most clearly tied to thematically. I'm excited, but then you knew that already.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

The MovieFilm Podcast: Episode 46

Summer movie season is here, our favorite time of the year! For this week's show, we fly Sean-less, but Brian and I still have lots to chat about, including Jon Favreau's return to his indie writing/directing roots with the cooking dramady, Chef, and my chat with writer/director Steven Knight about his new film, Locke, which sees Tom Hardy behind the wheel of a car for its entire duration.

We also share our thoughts on the recently dropped trailer for the upcoming Fox drama Gotham, question the thinking behind the recently announced Beverly Hills Cop 4, share encouraged opinions about the recent Star Wars casting news, and then talk at length about the number one movie in the country, The Amazing Spider-Man 2.

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!

Monday, May 05, 2014

Watch the First Trailer for TV's Gotham!

I've been keeping tabs on the development process of the DC Comics-based series Gotham since the first word of its development dropped last fall. The much-anticipated Batman prequel project stars a perfectly cast Ben McKenzie as young James Gordon, the future commissioner of the crime-infested city of the title, in his earliest days on the beat as he investigates the untimely mugging-murder of a certain millionaire doctor and his wife.

Also along for the ride on this one is Donal Logue as his partner, the hard-bitten Harvey Bullock, who teaches Gordon the ins-and-outs of what it means to be a cop on the mean streets of Gotham City. Now, with a week to go before the Fox network unveils its fall schedule, we have word that the net is officially taking the skein to series, with a minimum order of thirteen episodes. In addition, we've also gotten the first trailer, which you can check out below. I've thought all along that this had a lot of potential, and this vid certainly has me intrigued.

Recommended Reading

Heather Digby Parton lays out the ongoing case of "Benghazi Disease" on the right, which has them furiously searching for something -- anything -- to hang around the Obama White House's neck even as we near the two-year anniversary of the attacks and nothing seems to be materializing.

Sunday, May 04, 2014

Nostalgia Theater: C-3PO's Cereal -- A New Force at Breakfast!

Today being Star Wars day and all (May the 4th be with you, by the way) I thought I'd use this week's post to talk about a short-lived oddity from the cereal aisle that really showcases just how long and in how many different ways George Lucas's space-based creation has been a part of the cultural firmament. I'm speaking of C-3PO's cereal. Manufactured by Kellogg's during a very brief window from the mid-'80s until the mid-'80s, C-3PO's were absolutely no different taste-wise from dozens of other breakfast-y confections before and since (think Honeycomb or Alpha-Bits), so they rested pretty heavily on that Star Wars connection as a selling point. Given that the stuff didn't last very long, I guess that tells us how that went. Timing-wise these hits shelves in 1984, during the long lull after Return of the Jedi's theatrical release (and the year before the short-lived Droids animated show), so for a brief spell there, the only new footage from that galaxy far, far away fans could savor was in the thirty-second TV spot below. Dark times, indeed.

Friday, May 02, 2014

Zaki's Review: The Amazing Spider-Man 2

Read my 2012 review of The Amazing Spider-Man here

Max Dillon (a.k.a. Electro, a.k.a. Jamie Foxx) gets the point via Spider-Man (Andrew Garfield)
In 2012, after a creative roadblock halted development on a planned Spider-Man 4 that would have re-teamed director Sam Raimi with star Tobey Maguire, and with the loss of the whole franchise to Disney a very real possibility, Spider-Man rightsholders Sony Pictures chose to reboot the Marvel Comics' webslinger's big screen series from the ground up just ten years after it started, and a mere five years after its last unfortunate installment. As a result, a lot of folks came down hard on The Amazing Spider-Man, with much of that resentment stemming from what they perceived as a wholly unnecessary razing-and-restart.

And as far as the necessity of the reboot, I'll offer no argument. There was really no reason to see awkward loner Peter Parker get bitten by a genetically engineered spider again, to see his poor old Uncle Ben get fatally shot again, and to see him learn to master his spidery powers again -- with the filmmakers twisting themselves into pretzels all the while to be different without being too different. That said, taken on its own merits, I enjoyed the film quite a bit. And I can now say the same thing about The Amazing Spider-Man 2, which is the fifth Spider-Man film overall, the third Spider-Man sequel, and the first sequel to the reboot. Still with me?