Friday, January 31, 2014

Recommended Reading

Jason Edward Harrington offers an unnerving look behind the metal detectors and X-ray machines into the secret world of TSA agents.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

"Premium Grade-A Grass-Fed Free Range Bull"

Jon Stewart has a rant for the ages targeting Republican members of congress and their expressed dissatisfaction at President Obama's failure to win them over. This is a good'n, folks, so grab some popcorn and enjoy.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

From The Onion...

It's good to make a difference.
6-Day Visit To Rural African Village Completely Changes Woman’s Facebook Profile Picture

ST. LOUIS—Calling the experience “completely transformative,” local 22-year-old Angela Fisher told reporters Tuesday that her six-day visit to the rural Malawian village of Neno has completely changed her profile picture on Facebook. “As soon as I walked into that dusty, remote town and the smiling children started coming up to me, I just knew my Facebook profile photo would change forever,” said Fisher, noting that she realized early in her nearly weeklong visit just how narrow and unworldly her previous Facebook profile photos had been. “I don’t think my profile photo will ever be the same, not after the experience of taking such incredible pictures with my arms around those small African children’s shoulders. Honestly, I can’t even imagine going back to my old Facebook photo of my roommate and I at an outdoor concert.” Since returning, Fisher said she has been encouraging every one of her friends to visit Africa, promising that it would change their Facebook profile photos as well.

Recommended Reading

In a lengthy piece over at New York mag, Frank Rich lays out his argument for why Fox News is going the way of the dinosaur. Here's a bit:
For all its ratings prowess and fat profits, Fox, like the GOP itself, is under existential threat in a fast-changing 21st-century America...All three cable-news networks are hemorrhaging young viewers (as are their network-news counterparts) in an era when television is hardly the news medium of choice for Americans raised online and on smartphones. But Fox News is losing younger viewers at an even faster rate than its competitors. With a median viewer age now at 68 according to Nielsen data through mid-January (compared with 60 for MSNBC and CNN, and 62 to 64 for the broadcast networks), Fox is in essence a retirement community.
There's a lot more to take in, and you can read it here.

Jay: Talking

We're now just over a week away from Jay Leno abdicating his late night perch as host of The Tonight Show for the second time, with oncoming emcee Jimmy Fallon yanking the venerable yakker back to its ancestral home in New York City when he debuts on February 17. Given that this is the wind-down period for his long late night run, Leno's been making the media rounds of late, and a new interview with The Hollywood Reporter covers a lot of ground that's sure to be of interest for folks like me who follow this stuff, including what finally got him to leave, what he thinks of the potshots from rival hosts like Jimmy Kimmel, and what his relationship with Conan O'Brien is like these days. Leno emerged as very much the goat after the last late night kerfuffle four years ago, but the ratings history since that time, both for Jay and for Conan, certainly lends credence to the idea that things happened the only way they could.

Monday, January 27, 2014

The MovieFilm Podcast: Episode 39

We start things off in this episode of the MovieFilm show with my exclusive interview with Oscar nominated actress and current star of At Middleton, Vera Farmiga. After that, we ask whether the less-than-stellar box office of Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (a movie I dug) signals the end for that long-running franchise. Also on tap for this go-round: Batman vs. Superman's one year push to 2016, what's in store for Indiana Jones now that his franchise is officially a Disney property, Bill Murray's confession about why he did the Garfield movies, as well as Star Wars news, Listener Letters, and much, much more.

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, January 26, 2014

Nostalgia Theater: No Happy Days for Cartoon Fonzie

After discussing the animated Gilligan last time, I figured I'd look at another cartoon adaptation of a popular sitcom this week. In fall of 1980, ABC's Happy Days was into the eighth of its eventual eleven seasons (well past when it famously "jumped the shark"). And while it had dropped out of the ratings top five, it was still one of TV's top shows, which I'd assume was at least part of the impetus behind the alphabet net teaming with Paramount to spin a Saturday morning 'toon entitled The Fonz and the Happy Days Gang (anyone else feel like that's one definite article too many?).

Producers Hanna-Barbera apparently realized early on that the wee ones probably weren't going to line up for cartoon adventures of Richie, Ralph, et al, sipping malteds at Arnold's while Fonzie regaled them with stories of his various sordid conquests. And thus, after what I can only assume was the worst round of focus grouping in television history, they reasoned that the missing ingredient in making Happy Days palatable for the kidvid crowd was...(wait for it)...a talking dog. And...(wait for it)...time travel. Not making that up. Watch this:

Friday, January 24, 2014

Zaki's Review: Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit


While Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is the latest manifestation of Hollywood's current vogue of restarting storied franchises from the ground up, the previous Ryan film, 2002's The Sum of All Fears, was sort of the progenitor of the trend, rebooting Tom Clancy's literary hero a solid three years before Batman Begins ostensibly popularized the practice. As such, we're left with the somewhat bizarre statistic that three of the five Jack Ryan movies are "The First Jack Ryan movie." Given how much success the series has reaped for home studio Paramount in decades past, you start to wonder why the filmmakers (franchise overseer Mace Neufeld foremost among them) don't get out of their own way.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

From The Onion...

Been there, brother.
Best, Most Original Idea Man’s Ever Had Returns 114,000 Google Search Results 
CENTRALIA, PA—After excitedly sitting down at his computer this morning, local man Joshua Liptak discovered that the all-time best, most original idea he has ever conceived of returned upwards of 114,000 Google search results, sources confirmed. “Oh,” said the 32-year-old, noting that a search of his once-in-a-liftetime “absolute goldmine” of an idea promptly netted a whopping 114,786 hits across hundreds of social media and news outlets including Facebook, Twitter, NYTimes.com, and YouTube. “All right. Well, fuck that.” At press time, Liptak was reading a Forbes.com profile of one of the multimillionaires who pioneered Liptak’s idea nine years ago.

The Amazon Basement

I'm a big Amazon fan. Huge Amazon fan. I have shipments arrive from there at least a few times a week. In fact, about ten minutes before I sat down to type this, the UPS guy rang the bell with another package. So that's where I'm coming from: longtime customer, longtime fan. I was already kind of creeped out by the e-tail giants plans to launch drones at customers' houses (because, y'know, what could possibly go wrong?), but with this latest bit of news, I'm not even sure what to say. Thank you, I guess?

Recommended Reading

Frank Rich says the recent Chris Christie kerfuffle has substantially increased the likelihood of someone like Rand Paul heading the Republican ticket in 2016. I'd argue the political winds were moving in that direction anyway, but Rich has some other key takeaways from that (as well as from the parallel scandal involving former VA Governor Bob McDonnell).

Michael Douglas Adds to Ant-Man's Legacy


While Marvel Studios’ Avengers franchise (and appendages) tends to garner the most ink, I have to say I find development on the studios’ secondary properties far more fascinating, as it demonstrates their willingness to continually expand the boundaries of what we can expect from the ongoing Marvel Cinematic Universe. There’s Guardians of the Galaxy on the way later this year – adding into the mix a twist of deep-space derring-do in the Star Wars vein – and then we have Ant-Man debuting in July of 2015, written and directed by Edgar Wright and starring Paul Rudd in the title role, which promises to… well, I’m not entirely sure what it promises, but the mere fact that we’re getting an Edgar Wright flick in the same world as The Avengers has my mind awash with the possibilities.

Read the rest here!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Deal Breakers

The coming weeks hold the promise of Iran limiting its nuclear ambitions in exchange for the lifting of some of the sanctions that have left that nation isolated. This has been a longterm agenda item for the Obama admin, and it counts as a solid win for diplomacy. Unless you're a member of congress, that is. Watch Jon Stewart:

Nostalgia Theater: The Animated Gilligan

The passing of actor Russell Johnson earlier this week got me thinking about my fondness for his most famous role, Professor Roy Hinkley on the classic TV series Gilligan's Island. The travails of the various Gilligan stars in trying to out-swim their Island characters are already quite well chronicled elsewhere, so I won't reprise that song here, but one thing that's for certain is that while the series lasted a brief three seasons (1964-1967), it left enough of a cultural mark that its stars had plenty of opportunities to reprise their signature characters via cameos, reunion movies, and, as we'll see below, a pair of animated shows in the '70s and '80s.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

More Recommended Reading

With the website's many problems receding into the rearview and enrollments on the rise, Jonathan Chait explains why the right wing's multi-year anti-Obamacare death march is in its final throes.

Recommended Reading

The Verge's Nilay Patel explains how an unfortunate choice of words by the FCC in classifying the Internet may well have doomed the principle of an open and free Internet. If this is indeed the last word on the subject, we're headed for some rough waters very soon.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Diffused Congruence: Episode 4


We encountered a slight delay thanks to various unforeseen technical difficulties, but nonetheless, the Diffused Congruence team is back to help you ring in 2014! And for this, our very first episode of 2014, my co-host Parvez Ahmed and I are joined by world renowned fitness expert Rehan Jalali, who has plenty of advice to offer on how to make 2014 the healthiest it can be, how he's achieved all the success he's achieved, and the role that his Muslim faith has played in that success. You can download or stream the show below, as well as via iTunes or Stitcher Radio (don't forget to leave us a review!). Send any questions and concerns our way at diffusedcongruence@gmail.com.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Recommended Reading

Last week I was having a discussion with someone who adamantly opposes any raise in the mininum wage, and it got me thinking about the weird ideological mental block that keeps certain people from recognizing that poverty isn't a condition people enter into willingly, and it's in all of our economic interests to give them a hand up. Here's Paul Krugman on this phenomenon.

Monday, January 13, 2014

The MovieFilm Podcast: Episode 38

Hello and Happy New Year from the MovieFilm Podcast! It's the first episode of 2014 and the gang kicks it off with brief discussions on Lone Survivor, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and Anchorman 2. They also evaluate the noticeable rise in quality since Dan Harmon's return to Community, and ponder the merits and Gerard Butler-y-ness of the recently announced remake of Point Break.

Then it's the main event. With a new year upon us, the guys take a moment to look back and reflect on our favorite movies of 2013. Agree or disagree with the films you've seen, or pull out a pen and paper and write down the ones that you haven't. And be sure to let us know what YOUR favorite films of 2013 were. We'd love to hear it!

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, January 12, 2014

Nostalgia Theater: The Crow Flies to TV

A tangential conversation with my podcast buddy Brian Hall while recording the upcoming MovieFilm show led me to this week's entry. The nineties was kind of a boomtown in the realm of hourlong shows sold into first-run TV syndication. Initially this was thanks largely to the twin successes of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Baywatch, but as the decade wore on we also got stuff like Xena and Hercules, which in turn inspired their own little boomlets of first-run adventure shows.

Coming at the tail end of this syndication bonanza was The Crow: Stairway to Heaven, a 1998 series inspired by the cult '93 flick that famously took the life of star Brandon Lee (a film that was in turn inspired by James O'Barr's cult comic book about love and vengeance from beyond the grave). While the Lee film (directed by Alex Proyas) reaped nearly $150 million globally against a $23 million budget, attempts to continue the movie with a new protagonist ran aground in 1996 with the painfully unexceptional The Crow: City of Angels.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

From The Onion...

‘It’s Not Too Late To Reverse The Alarming Trend Of Climate Change,’ Scientists Who Know It’s Too Late Announce 
GENEVA—With the implementation of tighter carbon emissions caps and more responsible household energy use, it is not too late to reverse the dire course of global warming, a panel of scientists who know full well that it is far too late and we are all doomed told reporters today. “If we all do our part right now to design and enforce more responsible business and environmental practices, there’s still a good chance we can avoid the calamitous consequences of worldwide climate change,” said climatologist Dr. Kevin Little, a man who, deep in his heart, knows all too acutely that it’s over, there’s not a damned thing we can do, and so we might as well just start preparing now for what is certain to be the unprecedented destruction of human civilization at the hands of a ravaged ecosystem. “It will take massive investment and cooperation on a global scale, but I’m optimistic we can be in good shape by around 2030 or so.” The researchers who awake each morning with the grim realization that they are bearing witness to mankind’s sad, inevitable endgame also suggested there is still very much a chance of stabilizing the rapid loss of Arctic sea ice.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

The New War

If you've been paying attention to the news (or just your own senses) for the last few days, you know that it's pretty freakin' cold out there. If you've been paying attention to Fox News, on the other hand, you probably believe all this subzero weather is proof positive that global warming (a.k.a. CLIMATE CHANGE!!) is an elaborate hoax. Here's Jon Stewart to help us come in from the cold:

Monday, January 06, 2014

Disney to Move Star Wars Comic License

Pleased to announce I'm now blogging for one of my fave pop culture sites, Sequart. Here's my first piece for them:
A couple of days ago Disney confirmed the news that pretty much any fan with some degree of pop culture awareness has seen coming for a year and a half now: this year the Star Wars property will end its longstanding stay at Dark Horse Comics and be handed off to Marvel Comics in 2015. As I said, given that Disney owns both Marvel and Lucasfilm, once the Mouse House acquired the latter, it really became a question of “when” and not “if” the license would end up with the former. Thus, the announcement couldn’t help but feel a bit anticlimactic.
Read the rest from me here.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

The Islamophobia Network

Via Media Matters, here's a brief rundown of some of Fox News' greatest hits in 2013 while playing the anti-Muslim fear-and-smear game. Gotta say, and not really a surprise here, but they still managed to live down to my lowest expectations.

Heeeeere's Jimmy!

Jay Leno's (second) time hosting The Tonight Show will come to a close exactly one month from tomorrow, and as one Tonight era begins its final descent, here's our first look at what's around the corner:

Nostalgia Theater: Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves Steals My Heart

I channel-surfed across a TV broadcast of 1991's Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves the other day, and that got me time warping back to the days when Kevin Costner was such a huge star that he didn't even need to attempt an English accent for global auds to implicitly buy him as a legendary (and legendarily British) do-gooder from Sherwood Forest. In addition to our American-accented Robin, Prince of Thieves also gave us an even rarer movie creation: a bad ass Muslim hero (Azeem, played by Morgan Freeman). For those of you who haven't yet had the pleasure, here's the the trailer:

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Communal Feelings

NBC's Community returns to the air tonight for a new season, new direction, minus original cast member Chevy Chase, but with ousted creator Dan Harmon back at the helm. I'm excited. And whether you're a lapsed fan (after the lackluster fourth season) or a total newbie (how the...??), here's why you should be too.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Recommended Reading

As of today, the Affordable Care Act goes from hypothetical to experiential, meaning a lot of the theatrics of the last year (government shutdown, anyone?) mean even less now than they did before. That said, as Michael Moore (whose '07 documentary Sicko makes him no stranger to matters of health care) explains in a New York Times op-ed, just because the law is now here to stay doesn't mean that what we're getting is all it could be. Says he:
I believe Obamacare’s rocky start — clueless planning, a lousy website, insurance companies raising rates, and the president’s telling people they could keep their coverage when, in fact, not all could — is a result of one fatal flaw: The Affordable Care Act is a pro-insurance-industry plan implemented by a president who knew in his heart that a single-payer, Medicare-for-all model was the true way to go.
No arguments from me on that score. It's a law built on subsidizing the private marketplace with federal dollars, which makes Republican opposition even more tone deaf and ridiculous given their loyalties. But as Moore goes on to state, many of the law's innovations mean the difference between life and death for a whole lot of citizens, so while what we have isn't perfect, it's worth building on and refining until we -- hopefully! -- get to a place where we have universal coverage for all. Read the whole spiel here.

James Avery, RIP

Some sad news to start the new year, with word that James Avery has passed away at age 65 from complications of an undisclosed illness. With distinctive frame and booming voice, the actor (who was actually the subject of an Internet "death hoax" a few years ago) made his screen debut in 1980's The Blues Brothers, and worked steadily in a variety of character and one-off parts before landing his career-defining role as Phillip Banks, Will Smith's ever-wise, ever-suffering uncle on NBC's long-running sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, which lasted for six seasons from the early to mid-90s.

In addition to his on-camera work (which included stints on That '70s Show and Star Trek: Enterprise), Avery was also a familiar presence in animation, giving voice to the Shredder in the original incarnation of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and voicing James Rhodes/War Machine in the 1990s Iron Man 'toon. I have a feeling that this will hit a lot of folks of my vintage especially hard, given the formative role that Fresh Prince played in so many of our lives, and the way Uncle Phil became a father figure not only to Will, but also those of us in the audience by proxy. After the jump, find a highlight reel of some of his memorable Fresh Prince moments:

2013: The Year in Interviews

Meant to post this yesterday, but better late than never. This past year offered me (and my readers) something of a bumper crop of interesting conversations with interesting personalities as they talked up their new and varied projects. In hopes of making them all accessible from one place, I've compiled links to all of them in one post. Check 'em all out after the jump: