Sunday, March 30, 2014

Nostalgia Theater: Earth: Final Conflict -- Clearing Gene Roddenbery's Table Scraps

The first-run syndication boom of the 1990s was a direct result of Paramount's twin Star Trek successes, The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine, which led to a whole host of syndicated hourlongs bombarding local stations to capture just a small piece of that mojo. By the late '90s, producers were turning to unfinished ideas that had been left behind by late Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, in hopes that his posthumous imprimatur would be enough to add a veneer of credibility. That's the landscape that birthed Earth: Final Conflict, based on a concept developed Roddenberry during the '70s, but which didn't make it to air until fall of '97.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Zaki's Review: Sabotage

It's a strange time to be Arnold Schwarzenegger. The one-time (and future?) Conan the Barbarian's heyday sitting astride the global box office, bounding from blockbuster to blockbuster, seems like an eternity ago. And, even weirder, his eight years as California's chief executive (yep, that actually happened) feel like they occurred in some shared fever dream that the entire country has quietly decided never to speak of again (though his signature on my San Jose State University diploma from '07 marks it as an artifact of that peculiar period).

Regardless, the past few years have been difficult ones for the Austrian Oak, with his post-statehouse return to the screen resulting in some of the weakest openings of his entire career (last year's The Last Stand opened in ninth place, and 1980s Zaki is still practically catatonic over the fact that Escape Plan, teaming Schwarzenegger AND Sylvester Stallone, bombed as spectacularly as it did Stateside). While it's long been my contention that the passage of time inevitably turns leading men into character actors, some have more success with this switch than others. For Schwarzenegger, that transition may be nigh impossible.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

"Get to the Choppah!"

Once-and-future Terminator Arnold Schwarzenegger showed up on last night's Tonight Show to hype his new flick Sabotage, and he and host Jimmy Fallon managed to mine some comedy gold from one of the former governator's most famous catchphrases:

Monday, March 24, 2014

Recommended Reading

Paul Krugman says the GOP's economic policies and worldview have us marching toward oligarchy:
Despite the frantic efforts of some Republicans to pretend otherwise, most people realize that today’s G.O.P. favors the interests of the rich over those of ordinary families. I suspect, however, that fewer people realize the extent to which the party favors returns on wealth over wages and salaries. And the dominance of income from capital, which can be inherited, over wages — the dominance of wealth over work — is what patrimonial capitalism is all about.
Read the rest here.

The Future is Now With New X-Men Trailer

Considering the mountain of promos, teasers, and clips that both Sony and Marvel have been inundating us with to hype their upcoming Spider-Man (due one month) and Captain America (due in two weeks) sequels, the marketing machine for Fox's upcoming X-Men: Days of Future Past has been positively sedate in comparison. There was the well-received teaser trailer last fall, and then...nothing. Considering that this thing is due to open in over Memorial Day weekend -- less than three months away -- that's either a mark of confidence on Fox's part, or a sign of deep embarrassment.

I suspect your interpretation of that silence will vary greatly depending on your fondness for the franchise. From my end, I've been generally impressed with whatever I've seen of the Bryan Singer-directed jam pic so far, and today's release of the full (final?) trailer continues that trend. This is definitely the most ambitious of all seven X-flicks thus far, with a budget to match that ambition, and my sense is that Fox is feeling pretty good about their chances with this one. Check out the new poster to the right, then catch the vid after the jump, and you tell me:

The MovieFilm Podcast: Episode 43

This week we celebrate the 20th anniversary of one of the greatest action thrillers of all time, the Keanu Reeves-Sandra Bullock starrer Speed. But while we take a wistful look back at Jan de Bont's bus-gone-wild thriller, we also talk up brand-spankin' new releases like Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel and the latest sequel for the Muppets, and we unpack some of the latest headlines out of Hollywood, including word that Captain America 3 and Batman vs. Superman are set for a superhero showdown on the same opening weekend, possible directors for the long-gestating Ghostbusters 3, and the actor that David Fincher really wants to play Steve Jobs in his upcoming biopic about the Apple founder. All that, plus the usual Listener Letters, and Speed-related movie quiz to wrap things up. You can either stream it below, or listen at iTunes or Stitcher (make sure to leave us a review!). Also, you can "like" our Facebook page or e-mail to let us know how we're doing!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Nostalgia Theater: Getting in the Crib With Muppet Babies

With Muppets Most Wanted now in theaters (read my review here), I figured I'd use this week's entry to look back on another Muppets entry for which I'm sure many folks of my vintage have fond memories: the Muppet Babies animated series, which enjoyed a very healthy eight season run as part of CBS's Saturday morning lineup from 1984 to 1991, and remains a fairly beloved artifact of that era. The concept for the show actually originated with the dream sequence below, from the 1984 feature Muppets Take Manhattan:

Friday, March 21, 2014

Zaki's Review: Muppets Most Wanted

Muppets Most Wanted began its development life under the working title The Muppets...Again. While it's probably for the best that they landed where they did title-wise, the movie does kind of feel like that's all it is. The Muppets. Again. By itself, that's hardly a bad thing, but coming on the heels of 2011's The Muppets, a franchise restart explicitly built on the idea that the late Jim Henson's immortal troupe of puppet players are more than just a part of our cultural wallpaper, I'll admit that it does feel like a slight (only a slight) step down.

Picking up right where the "The End" sign in the previous film left off, with Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Gonzo, Fozzie, et al. having successfully reunited at the urging of Muppet superfan Walter, Muppets Most Wanted brings back director James Bobin (and Walter too). However, co-writer and co-star Jason Segal, who almost singlehandedly saved the franchise from the brink of obsolescence last time, chose to sit this sequel out, leaving Ricky Gervais, Tina Fey, and Ty Burrell to ably fill out the most prominent human roles, with most of the heavy-lifting accorded to the various creatures populating Henson's Muppet menagerie.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

From The Onion...

Through the looking glass.
Families Of Missing Flight Passengers Just Hoping Media Gets Closure It Needs 
KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA—Saying they have endured heart-wrenching uncertainty and deserved definitive answers, the families of passengers aboard missing Malaysia Airlines flight 370 expressed hope Wednesday that the media will eventually receive some kind of closure regarding the plane’s mysterious disappearance. “This has been an extremely difficult time for the reporters and anchors covering this event; they have put their lives on hold over the past 10 days and we know they won’t be able to move forward until they learn the fate of this airliner,” said Sarah Wan, speaking on behalf of the relatives and loved ones of the 239 missing individuals, who remain hopeful that some sort of resolution will be reached for the sake of the various news networks and websites. “The conflicting reports and numerous remaining unanswered questions have been devastating for them. It’s not surprising that they are obsessing around the clock, wondering what could have possibly occurred on board that flight. I don’t know how they are able to stay so resilient, grasping at every new statement or bit of information that trickles out. Our thoughts and prayers go out to them.” Wan said there was still a chance the plane may have been hijacked and the passengers aboard had been taken hostage, but she didn’t want to unfairly get the media’s hopes up.

Sony Drops Final Spidey Trailer

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 premieres on May 2, just six weeks away, and Sony is pulling out all the stops to make its superhero spectacle stand out in what's shaping up to be a very crowded summer. Not sure how well they'll succeed with the film itself, but what we get here doesn't look too bad. Lots more Harry Osborn and Rhino, not as much Electro. Clearly Sony is hellbent on expanding their Spider-Man mini-universe in a myriad of different directions, and I guess we're seeing the pipe being laid for that proposed "Sinister Six" spin-off movie (which still sounds like a terrible idea to me, but whaddya do).

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Reitman Gone From Ghostbusters 3

A few weeks ago I mentioned that despite the loss of Harold Ramis, Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters 2 director Ivan Reitman was still hard at work to bring the franchise back for another go. Well, what a difference a month makes. Per Deadline, the helmer (whose new dramedy Draft Day hits screens in a few short weeks) has decided it's best to hand the long-gestating third installment to someone who has more passion for it:
“When I came back from Harold’s funeral, it was really moving and it made me think about a lot of things. I’d just finished directing Draft Day, which I’m really happy with and proud of. Working on a film that is smaller and more dramatic was so much fun and satisfying. I just finally met with Amy and Doug Belgrad when I got back. I said I’d been thinking about it for weeks, that I’d rather just produce this Ghostbusters. I told them I thought I could help but let’s find a really good director and make it with him. So that’s what we’ve agreed will happen. I didn’t want all kinds of speculation about what happened with me, that is the real story.”
You can read the rest at the link, but the translation, to me anyway, is that this is a property Sony is hellbent on keeping alive no matter what, and given Reitman's ownership stake in the whole shebang, he's happy to sit back and cash the check from whatever emerges. I wasn't especially enthused about a Murray-less, Ramis-less Ghostbusters anyway, and a Reitman-less sequel has me feeling the necessity for this even less.

The Individual Mandate in Two Minutes

Former Washington Post wonk Ezra Klein explains the mechanics and necessity of the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate in a way any layperson should get. Socialism? No. Economics.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Nostalgia Theater: The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. Rides into the Sunset

In my discussion of M.A.N.T.I.S. last week I mentioned how, back in the early '90s, the Fox network continually tried to find shows to pair with its nascent blockbuster The X-Files. Well, this week we look at the very first skein Fox put in the pre-X slot. Ironically enough, when the 1993 fall season started, it was X-Files that was the wild card, while all expectations were for its Friday night lead-in to strike ratings gold. But in a variation on the exact same thing that would unfold with CBS and its Friday night lineup in 2000, it was the second, under-the-radar offering that became a phenomenon, with the first reduced to just a footnote. In 2000, that footnote would be the remake of The Fugitive.* But seven years earlier, the footnote was The Adventures of Brisco County Jr.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Wisdom From Beyond the Grave

Here's one of the best things I've seen all week. Back in 2010, The Office's Rainn Wilson interviewed the late Harold Ramis for an expansive conversation that started with asking the meaning of life, and took off from there. When Ramis passed away a few weeks ago, Wilson shared his vid of the chat for the rest of us to appreciate, and I'm glad he did. Regardless of where you land on the religious/spiritual spectrum, I'm sure you'll find this ten minutes that are worth watching.

Waste Disgrace

While I have general distaste for many of the talking heads on Fox, The Five's Eric Bolling is right there near the top (or the bottom, as it were). The reason for that distaste is nicely illustrated by this Daily Show segment from Thursday wherein Jon Stewart takes Bolling to task after Bolling took Stewart to task for previously taking him to task. What happened next, see for yourself. Part one below, part two after the jump:

Friday, March 14, 2014

Diffused Congruence: Episode 6

This month we're honored to be joined by Imam Abu Qadir Al-Amin, a veteran religious leader in the San Francisco Bay Area who came to Islam after first being exposed to the teachings of Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam. Imam Abu Qadir shares his reflections on being at the forefront of Black Muslim experience, including thoughts on Malcolm X, and his memories of the late W.D. Muhammad, one of the most influential religious leaders of our time. Download or stream the episode below, as well as via iTunes (don't forget to leave us a review!). Send any questions and concerns our way at

Zaki's Review: Need For Speed

Need For Speed has a plot that's paper-thin, and dialogue that rarely rises above the level of "functional," but it serves as an effective leading man vehicle for star Aaron Paul. More than that, the mid-budget adaptation of Electronic Arts' blockbuster video game series (now celebrating its twentieth year on the roadways) offers up some of the most elaborate, well-staged stunt driving I've ever seen. For that, I'm willing to let it slide with a warning.

Directed by veteran stunt coordinator Scott Waugh (Act of Valor), Need For Speed casts Paul as troubled street racer Tobey Marshall, an ex-con who was (naturally) framed after a racing fatality. Following his release, Marshall and his motley pit crew (Rami Malek, Ramon Rodriguez) transport a custom Mustang from New Jersey to California in hopes of entering a secret race organized by the mysterious "Monarch" (Michael Keaton), and having a long-saught reckoning with boo-hiss baddie Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper), who he blames for landing him in prison in the pokey.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Full Flash

As promised a few days ago, here's that full-body shot of actor Grant Gustin wearing the trademark suit for the CW's The Flash TV pilot. My first reaction to the new suit is that it looks like he'd chafe a lot. Other than that, looks fine, I guess. By way of comparison, here's what John Wesley Shipp looked like when he wore the red duds for the short-lived CBS series in 1990:

The Power of Fear

Jon Stewart offers his take on the just-concluded CPAC conference, which parades the country's leading conservative lights to scare the pants off the Republican base:

Monday, March 10, 2014

The MovieFilm Podcast: Episode 42

This week we're joined by award-winning comedy writer Sameer Gardezi (Modern Family, The Goodwin Games) as we riff on the latest noteworthy news out of La-La-Land. First up, our assorted reactions to last week's Oscarcast, which saw 12 Years a Slave crowned Best Picture. After that, a brief conversation about the Liam Neeson actioner Non-Stop, as well as my panel interview with director Scott Waugh and star Aaron Paul about the video game adaptation Need For Speed.

From there, after briefly discussing the trailers for Godzilla and Transformers: Age of Extinction, as well as latest word on the latest Terminator, we dive headfirst into a fond remembrance of the late, great Harold Ramis, as well as an in-depth discussion on why 1984's Ghostbusters is a Movie That Matters. There's lots of fun to be had, and you can either stream it below, or listen via iTunes or Stitcher (and make sure to leave us a review afterwards!). As always, hit up our Facebook page to let us know how we're doing!

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Nostalgia Theater: Pray for M.A.N.T.I.S.

Back in the mid-'90s, the Fox network had a bona fide cult sensation on its hands with the growing buzz around Friday night sci-fi skein The X-Files. Given that, they spent several seasons, to mixed results, trying to find similar genre fare to pair it with. One such example was M.A.N.T.I.S., which aired in 1994 during the Files' second season, and represented the net's attempt to bring TV's first African-American superhero to the small screen, just minus the requisite budget and sense of ambition.

Created by future Spider-Man director Sam Raimi and past Batman writer Sam Hamm, the titular M.A.N.T.I.S. (an entirely unwieldy acronym standing for "Mechanically Augmented Neuro Transmitter Interception System") was actually brilliant, wheelchair-bound scientist Miles Hawkins (Carl Lumbly, later of Alias fame), who created the titular gadget to allow him to walk as well as kick a a little bad guy ass. Oh, and when he put on the helmet he kind of looked like a mantis. Convenient. Here's the show's intro:

Friday, March 07, 2014

Man Crush

Something I've found amusing over the past week's commentary regarding Russia is the way right wing talking heads have contrasted the perceived fecklessness of President Obama with the mountain of molten machismo that is Vladimir Putin ("He's so decisive!" "He swims so manly!"). Kind of makes you wonder which side of this whole geopolitical divide they're on. Anyway, I'm not the only one who's noticed this trend, as was made clear on last night's Daily Show. Check out part one below, and part two after the jump:

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Awkward Auditions

Overall, this past week's episode of Saturday Night Live was probably one of the worst I've ever seen (a sentiment I'm not alone in), but this pre-filmed sketch about the difficult process of auditioning actors for secondary roles in Best Picture winner 12 Years a Slave was the one diamond in the rough:

"Meeting people counts. Talking counts."

A common refrain I've often conveyed to the students in my argumentation and debate classes over the years is to try to look through arguments to the people giving them. No matter how certain you may feel in your own rectitude, try to understand where the other person, who feels just as passionately about the opposite point-of-view from you, might be coming from.

In other words, accept the possibility, however remote, that maybe -- just maybe -- you might be wrong, and maybe -- just maybe -- they might be right. Not only is this likely to open your mind to different ways of thinking, it's also, more importantly, liable to increase your sense of empathy. Michael Rubens, a former segment producer at The Daily Show, explains how his time at the nightly comedy skein taught him this exact thing. As he says:

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Recommended Reading

The New Yorker's David Remnick goes deep and wide with the current goings-on in Russia and Ukraine, offering up several decades of important historical context leading up to Putin's invasion.

Nostalgia Theater: Tarzan: The Epic Adventures Stinks Up Syndication

About a year ago I looked at the syndicated BeastMaster TV series from the mid-'90s. That show emerged as a result of the huge success enjoyed by Universal's Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, and there was a long line of cheapie offerings that showed up around the same time to try and grab some of that reflected glory. Among the cheapest of these cheapies was 1996's Tarzan: The Epic Adventures, which took a thesaurus to "The Legendary Journeys" and attempted to reinterpret the scope, majesty, and mystery of Edgar Rice Burroughs' iconic literary character minus the actual scope, majesty, and mystery.

Starring former model Joe Lara (who'd previously played Burroughs' jungle man in a 1988 TV movie called Tarzan in Manhattan, unrelated to this series), The Epic Adventures' big selling point before its debut was that it would literalize the fantasy and sci-fi stuff that was layered into the various Tarzan books (lizard men, lost kingdoms at the center of the Earth, etc.) but which was rarely associated with the character in the eyes of the public thanks to decades upon decades of screen Tarzans doing battle with poachers, hunters, etc. In concept, that's not a bad idea, but when an ambitious premise collides with an unambitious budget, you get this:

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Recommended Reading

As a general rule I try to avoid the "pox on both houses" school of political equivalencies that allows one to retain their political objectivity by saying both parties' conduct is equally vile. That said, while I tend not to subscribe to that view, I also fully acknowledge that there's plenty of blame to go around for how messed up things have gotten in DC. On that point, veteran Washington Post reporter Robert Kaiser, who retired from the paper last month, offers his take -- borne of a perspective that can only come from several decades in the thick of the capital beat -- on why there really is a pox on both houses.