Monday, June 30, 2014

Ramadan Reading

This past weekend marked the onset of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, and as I do every year, I try to link to pieces from around the web that embody the many diverse ways that Muslims from all over the world and all over the cultural spectrum try make the most of this blessed month. To wit, here's my friend Amanda Quraishi on first learning to fast after embracing Islam:
If you look at it objectively, it seems almost insane that a person would get up out of bed on a Saturday morning and attempt to run 26 miles; continuing to run even when she is exhausted, near dehydration and in pain. Not-Muslim friends and family often look at our Ramadan fast the same way. Why would you subject yourself to that kind of torture? But any runner will tell you that there is no feeling like crossing the finish line, and any faster will tell you there’s nothing more satisfying than that first sip of water and a date after a long day of abstinence. 
These disciplines –physical, mental and spiritual — that we humans engage in cause us to transcend our comfort and, sometimes, even logic. We do these things precisely because they force us out of our comfort zones and challenge us in ways that we inherently understand are important; especially in a culture like that of the U.S., where we are constantly seeking new ways to be comfortable. Every new product or service promises to make our lives easier, more fun and help us feel better. 
When we intentionally make our lives harder and allow ourselves to experience discomfort, we gain valuable perspectives and allow our mettle to be tested. The reward is the confirmation that we have the ability to overcome our own weaknesses, which is even more satisfying in the case of Ramadan when we’re doing it for the glory of the One God.
Read the rest from Amanda here, and look for more Ramadan readings throughout July. Hopefully you'll find them as insightful as I do.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Nostalgia Theater: The Transformers Toy Commercials!

With Transformers: Age of Extinction currently on track for the biggest opening weekend of the year, it's clear that the Transformers brand is in no danger of fading away. Given that, I thought I'd use this week's Nostalgia Theater to look back on the 1984-1991 run of toys from Hasbro that got the whole shebang started. Watch the vids for every single TV spot for the line. I remember seeing a lot of these when they first aired -- (though I unfortunately owned virtually none of these) -- and man, did the memories just come rushing back.

With many of these featuring the first Transformers animation from Marvel Studios, as well as the trademark narration by voiceover artist Victor Caroli, they make for a fascinating timeline of not only Transformers' evolution over the years -- from the original batch to Headmasters to to Power Masters to Pretenders, etc. -- but also how advertising techniques have changed over the years. Check 'em out after the jump!

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Optimus Prime Died So The Transformers Could Live

In 1986, Optimus Prime died. And I cried.

Not big, wracking sobs or anything, mind you. But it’s entirely possible a single tear rolled down my cheek. I feel comfortable admitting that in a public forum like this because I’m reasonably certain I wasn’t the only one who had the exact same reaction when they watched 1986′s The Transformers: The Movie, the first feature film based on Hasbro’s Robots in Disguise. This year marks the thirtieth anniversary for the venerable brand, which, in defiance of most kids’ limited attention spans, has become a multi-generational favorite that’s found lasting success not only in toy aisles, but also on television and the silver screen (as borne out by this week’s release of Transformers: Age of Extinction).

However, anyone seeking a Philosopher’s Stone for the secret of that longevity need look no further than the animated film, when the Transformers became epic, impactful, and important.

Continue reading at Sequart....

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Zaki's Review: Transformers: Age of Extinction

The last time we visited with Paramount/Hasbro's blockbuster Transformers feature franchise (based on the immortal action figure line, natch), Chicago was burning, Shia LeBouf was screaming, and Zaki Hasan was (briefly) sleeping. Thus, when it came time to take in the series' fourth installment, Transformers: Age of Extinction, yet again directed by Michael Bay despite his protestations that he was done after the last one, the (very) low bar I'd set for myself was that it not put me to sleep. Well, it didn't. In fact, I actually found myself mostly engaged throughout.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Watch the First Full Ninja Turtles Trailer!

The latest Transformers opus directed by Michael Bay hits theaters this week, and you can look for my review soon, but the Bay-produced Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot, directed by Jonathan Liebesman, is also on its way in a few short weeks (August 8 -- just one week after Marvel/Disney's Guardians of the Galaxy), and home studio Paramount is hard at work getting the ol' marketing machine pumping. We've gotten character posters showcasing the new CGI incarnations of the hoary heroes in a half shell, and now here's the first full trailer (after the teaser from a few months ago). In addition to Megan Fox starring as reporter April O'Neill, this one also features William Fichtner as main baddie Shredder, and the voices of Johnny Knoxville (as leader Leonardo) and Tony Shalhoub (rat mentor Splinter). Can't say I'm particularly blown away by what I see here, but I don't have a lot invested in it either. Thoughts?

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Nostalgia Theater: 25 Years of Batman and Bat-merch!

In news that's sure to make folks of my vintage feel positively decrepit, tomorrow marks exactly twenty-five years since the theatrical release of Tim Burton's Batman in 1989, a truly seminal experience for anyone lucky enough to be the exact right age for that film at that time (I was just under ten). Now, we can get into its worth as a cinema artifact, how it launched the modern superhero movie genre, discuss the cast and crew, and how the series died a slow death during the '90s, but instead I want to talk about what was probably just as much a part of that ineffable magic as the movie itself: the merchandise.

To be a kid in summer of '89 was to live and breathe Batman during every waking hour (and most of their sleeping hours as well, probably). I was actually visiting the States with my family on our annual trip from Saudi Arabia, and we went back before the flick actually came out, so all I really had was the merch. And boy did I have the merch. Action figures. Buttons. The magazine. The novelization. The cereal, even! Yep, Batman cereal. Sure, it tasted like soggy cardboard, but it was Batman, dammit!

Friday, June 20, 2014

INTERVIEW: John Lloyd Young, Erich Bergen, and Michael Lomenda on Jersey Boys

L-R: Erich Bergen, John Lloyd Young, Vincent Piazza, Michael Lomenda
For his new film Jersey Boys, legendary director Clint Eastwood translates the blockbuster jukebox musical about the rise and fall (and rise) of singer Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons from the stage (where it's been a global phenomenon since its debut in 2006) to the big screen. When it came time to fill out the cast of his celluloid songsters, Eastwood didn't wander too far from the project's stage roots, selecting veteran players from the many lives of Jersey Boys for three of the leads: Tony-winning John Lloyd Young, who originated the role on Broadway, as Valli, and actors Erich Bergen and Michael Lomenda as singer/writer Bob Gaudio and bassist Nick Massi, respectively. (Boardwalk Empire's Vincent Piazza plays group founder Tommy DeVito).

I had the chance to talk with Young, Bergen, and Lomenda during their swing through the San Francisco Bay Area promoting the film, and one thing that became amply clear with all of them was how surreal it was to be in the middle of a whirlwind that's seen them rocket from relative obscurity to headlining a movie directed by Clint Eastwood. In addition to reminiscing about previous visits to the city, I talked to them about the play's long journey from conception to completion, what it was like to perform a play when you know Clint Eastwood is in the audience watching, and the experience of making the movie after doing it for so long on stage. Read past the jump for the transcript of our conversation:

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Final Apes Trailer: War is Here!

We're three weeks away from the launch of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and Fox is amping up anticipation via yesterday's release of the final trailer. Not much I really need to say about this, just check it out below, and plan to watch the movie when it hits theaters on July 11!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Recommended Reading

CJ Werleman over at AlterNet examines new polling data that lays bare just how staggeringly uninformed the American electorate is about the political issues that they're voting on.  Prepare to laugh. Then cry.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The MovieFilm Podcast: Episode 49

We start the show this week with my sit-down chat with John Lloyd Young, Erich Bergen, and Michael Lomenda, the cast of Clint Eastwood's new film Jersey Boys. Then, it's a rip roaring ride as Brian finally gets around to seeing A Million Ways to Die in the West -- and wonders where all the jokes went. There's also plenty of movie news to discuss, what with the leaked list of DCs cinematic universe, the rumors that The Amazing Spider-Man sequel is being delayed, and major set-backs related to production on Star Wars Episode VII. After that it's time for Trailer Talk, featuring Seth Rogen and James Franco's latest, The Interview, as well as the Denzel Washington actioner The Equalizer. And finally, it's the main event, as we engage in spoiler-filled discussions of three, count 'em, three big summer movies: 22 Jump Street, How To Train Your Dragon 2 and Edge of Tomorrow.

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!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Nostalgia Theater: Kung Fu: The Legend Continues Raises Caine

David Carradine (L) and Chris Potter (R) team-up to dish out wisdom and beatings
From 1972 to 1975, ABC aired the TV series Kung Fu. Created by Ed Spielman and starring David Carradine as Chinese-American hero Kwai Chang Caine, it's probably best known today for being the show that didn't cast Bruce Lee in the lead and/or stole his concept (both of these accounts are in dispute) and for using herky-jerky slo-mo for its martial arts "action" sequences (not in dispute at all). With Carradine's quirky Caine, a serene Shaolin monk preaching peace while kicking ass, coupled with the "quest" angle of our hero searching the Old West for his lost brother, the series either kicked off a stateside martial arts craze all its own or, at the very least, arrived just in time to capitalize on one. Here's the intro:

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Recommended Reading

While much of the pundit class settled on immigration reform, and Eric Cantor's support of same, as the thing that tipped his House seat to a Tea Party challenger, Jonathan Chait says it needn't be as narrow a cause as that. In his estimation, what did in Cantor was compromise. Any compromise. Says he:
The conservative revolt against compromise expresses itself constantly. It comes through in the ever-present trope of citing the length of legislation as a primary reason to oppose it. It likewise comes through in the way conservative intellectuals routinely attack bills as a "stew of deals, payoffs, waivers, and special-interest breaks" — which is to say, they hate the fact that passing bills in Congress requires cutting deals with disparate constituencies, which is how legislation works.
Well, it's how legislation used to work, anyway. Read the rest here.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Prepare For Dawn

We're now just over a month out from the release of my most anticipated movie for this summer, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. And while marketing for the monkey sequel has been in play for awhile now, the next few weeks will only see the viral campaign (pun unintentional) begin to escalate for the highly-anticipated Fox production. To wit, this vid that helps stitch together the lost time between where we left things with 2011's Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and the post-apocalyptic status quo at the start of Dawn:

From The Onion...

I think this puts the perfect pin on Eric Cantor's unforeseen (though hardly unwelcome) ouster from his congressional perch (and his role as the #3 Republican in congress along with it) earlier this week:
Resigning House Leader Cantor Reflects On All The Accomplishments He Thwarted 
WASHINGTON—Looking back on his 13-year tenure in the House of Representatives with reverence, resigning House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) reflected on the long list of accomplishments he had thwarted during his time in office, sources confirmed Thursday. “From obstructing a jobs bill to put Americans back to work in 2011, to derailing gun control measures any time they reached my desk, I feel blessed to have had such an incredible run of preventing productive policies, and even a few pieces of landmark legislation, from ever passing,” said Cantor, explaining that as a young man, he “never would have dreamed” that some day he would be in a position to hinder the entire American lawmaking process and completely neuter dozens of bills. “Of course, I’m disappointed because I thought I had many more years of impeding accomplishments ahead of me, and I’ll be the first to admit that I never quite managed to stall environmental policies as much as I would have liked. But at the end of the day, I’m very proud of how I helped Congress accomplish so little during my time in office.” Cantor added that he took solace that his legacy of hampering federal policy was secure, and trusted that “many, many more” in his party would be inspired to follow in his footsteps.

Zaki's Review: 22 Jump Street

Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) trying to blend in 
As a general rule, I'm not a fan of comedy sequels. Far too often, they content themselves with banging out the same jokes as prior entries, lazily relying on simple familiarity being enough to elicit a chuckle from audiences rather than actually doing the work of earning those laughs. That's where the Austin Powers trilogy tripped itself up, as did the Meet the Parents saga. Thus, when the box office success enjoyed by 2012's 21 Jump Street immediately assured a follow-up, I was understandably hesitant.

Related: Nostalgia Theater: Jumping Back to 21 Jump Street

Then again, I can't say I was exactly doing cartwheels when I first heard that a Jump Street movie was in the development pipeline, either. And not because I had any great passion for the 1987-1991 TV series, mind you. I just didn't see a lot of upside in turning a forgettable-if-not-forgotten artifact of the parachute pants era, more notable as the launchpad for Johnny Depp's career (and the thing he couldn't get away from fast enough) than anything else, into a feature film, much less one starring Superbad and G.I. Joe. But wouldn't you know, when I finally ended up watching, I laughed. A lot.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Recommended Reading

Conor Friedersdorf on the curious propensity in the media to call Muslim perpetrators of violence "terrorists," but to avoid appending that tag to killers of the non-Muslim variety:
Applying the "terrorism" label to violence perpetrated by Muslims, and almost exclusively to violence perpetrated by Muslims, distorts the relative danger posed by Islamist radicals versus other extremists. The lack of rigor in labels also contributes to the fact that innocent Muslims are subject to greater scrutiny and afforded fewer rights than non-Muslims because the latter group falls outside "counterterrorism," a rubric under which government claims extraconstitutional powers.
More here.

"Some Kind of Muslim Harry Potter Curse"

The way the whole Bowe Bergdahl story has been playing out over the past few weeks has really been a sight to see. Now, just to be clear, there's obviously a story there as far as whether he did in fact abandon his post before his capture by Taliban forces, but those are all questions that can and no doubt will be answered in due time.

But the more interesting spectacle has been how the various appendages of Right Wing World have hustled to find some -- any -- way to turn the release of an American POW into an albatross to dangle around President Obama's neck. That would be impressive in general, but especially so on Fox News, where the air has been so thick with ignorant Islamophobia-by-implication that they've somehow managed to outdo their usual run-of-the-mill nastiness. Check out Jon Stewart's take from last night's Daily Show. Part one below, two and three after the jump.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Recommended Reading

Thomas Frank lays out how, "over the last 30-odd years we have essentially privatized higher ed," and how the resultant skyrocketing of tuition costs has put not only future generations, but the future of this country at risk. This is sobering stuff for anyone who'd like to see their kids go to college one of these days.

Nostalgia Theater: Sinbad is Sin Bad

Zen Gesner as Sinbad the Sailor
Here's another refugee from the mid-'90s schlock parade of syndicated fantasy dreck. Like Tarzan: The Epic Adventures (which I discussed a few months ago), The Adventures of Sinbad launched in fall of '96 in hopes of capturing some of that Hercules & Xena mojo that worked so well for Universal during the past few years. As developed by Ed Naha (a former editor of the now-defunct Starlog sci-fi mag), Sinbad wasn't especially concerned with fealty to the legendary hero of the Arabian Nights stories that ostensibly inspired it. Here's the intro from the first season:

Friday, June 06, 2014

Recommended Reading

Timothy Egan on the legacy of the great Tea Party experiment five years in:
So, no legislation. A shutdown that cost billions. A near-default that almost threw the United States back into recession. What else? Oh, science denial. Evolution, climate change, medicine — all a hoax, in one form or another.
More here.

Stewart: "Everyone’s Scared of Gun Nuts...Even Other Gun Nuts!"

For some context on the latest shenanigans in gun nut country, read this, then this, and then this. Now watch Jon Stewart below (part 2 and 3 after the jump):

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

The MovieFilm Podcast: Episode 48

For this week's episode, Brian and I start things off with my exclusive interview with director Gillian Robespierre about her endearing new romantic-comedy Obvious Child, starring Jenny Slate. We then transition to the latest round of headlines, including the recent movement on Marvel Studios' upcoming Ant-Man adaptation, with writer/director Edgar Wright begging off the diminutive hero. We then transition to the latest news on Star Wars: Episode VII, as well as director Colin Trevorrow's approach to bringing Jurassic World to the screen.

After that, we dive in to a whole batch of new releases, with spoiler-filled conversations on X-Men: Days of Future Past, Seth MacFarlane's A Million Ways to Die in the West, the Angelina Jolie starrer Maleficent, and Tom Cruise's new sci-fi epic Edge of Tomorrow. That's a whole lot to listen to, so get started via the embed below, or by downloading or stream at iTunes or Stitcher. As always, be sure to write us a review to let us know how we're doing, or send questions & comments to

Watch This: John Oliver Breaks Down Net Neutrality

For an issue that's as pressing as it is, the conspicuous lack of conversation in the media about the FCC's slow, steady rollback of net neutrality has been a continual source of frustration. John Oliver made the same observation on his HBO show last Sunday, and I think his solution is a pretty good one:

Monday, June 02, 2014

Zaki's Review: Maleficent

I feel like I need to preface this review by coming clean that I've never seen Disney's Sleeping Beauty. I was meaning to, mind you. I'd hoped to quickly get a viewing in before last week, but the window on that one closed rapidly, so I was admittedly missing some key pieces of background when it came to my reaction to Maleficent, the studio's retelling-reinvention-reimagining of that beloved family fave from '59. Thus, when my screening ended and I registered my positive feelings, I raced home to hit up the web and see how well the new movie, directed by Robert Stromberg, dovetails with its animated antecedent.

Needless to say, it doesn't very much, and where it tries, it mostly fails. Thus I was faced with a conundrum. I liked Maleficent on its own, but when viewed with the work it's attempting to build on, it seems like a bit of a forced fit. The film shamelessly borrows a page from the playbook of the long-running musical Wicked by taking the assumed villain of a beloved children's tale (in that case The Wizard of Oz, which the Mouse House just prequelized last year with Sam Raimi's Oz, the Great and Powerful), and giving us the old story from a new point of view. But while Wicked is told with a wink, Maleficent takes a more straight-ahead "Everything you knew is wrong!" approach.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Nostalgia Theater: Sky Commanders Goes High Concept

Here's another artifact from the endless parade of '80s "good guy group vs. bad guy group" 'toons created primarily as half-hour commercials for merchandising. The "high concept" (pun!) that differentiated Sky Commanders from the pack was its setting: a new mountain range atop the High Frontier, an unstable new continent that's spontaneously sprung up somewhere in the South Pacific. Produced by Hanna-Barbera, Sky Commanders premiered in fall of 1987 as part of the Funtastic World of Hanna-Barbera syndicated weekend package (which also included reruns of classic H-B shows such as The Jetsons and Jonny Quest). Here's what it looked like: