Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Honest Spidey

I'll be back soon with my review of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 very soon, but in the meantime the good folks at Honest Trailers are back once again, this time with their take on the 2002-2007 Sam Raimi-directed, Tobey Maguire-starring Spider-Man trilogy, which now seems so very, very far in our rearview mirrors. A lot of points here I've been making for awhile now!

Recommended Reading

A lot of folks have been sounding the warning alarms about the impending stifling of network neutrality for awhile now, but those klaxons grew a whole lot louder after a proposed revision in regulations from former anti-FCC lobbyist, current FCC chair Tom Wheeler leaked. If this issue hasn't made its way onto your radar as of yet, you need to focus up, because the existence of the Internet as know it is what's in play, and given that Wheeler was nominated to the post by the same Barack Obama who campaigned on the preservation of net neutrality in '08, we need to recognize that this issue hs few friends in elected office. Read the angry-making blow-by-blow via io9.

"That's Why You Need a Gun"

This past weekend Sarah Palin said something insane. That, in and of itself, isn't really news, but when it happens at the annual NRA convention, then you know it's merely the front end of a tidal wave of crazy that includes usual suspects like Rick Santorum, Bobby Jindal, and NRA prexy Wayne LaPierre, natch, all stoking the embers of resentment, bitterness, and fear, fear, fear! Here's Jon Stewart's overview of the proceedings (part two after the jump):

Bob Hoskins, RIP

Bob Hoskins is gone

After a long battle with Parkinson's disease, the veteran character actor, age 71, whose career stretched back to the early '70s, was claimed by complications from pneumonia early this morning. Like may people my age, the first time I saw him was in the groundbreaking live action-animation hybrid Who Framed Roger Rabbit in 1988, directed by Robert Zemeckis. So seamlessly did the British-born actor inhabit the role of hard-bitten Los Angeles P.I. Eddie Valiant, jockeying with various iconic cartoon characters. that it was jarring for me to hear him in an interview a few years later speaking in his native thick Cockney accent. 

Whether in fantasy fare like Steven Spielberg's Hook in 1990, or the '94 TV movie World War II: When Lions Roared, Hoskins consistently gave solid, dependable performances. The consummate pro even brought the goods in otherwise execrable stuff like 1993's Super Mario Bros. (which the actor famously disavowed in a 2007 interview, referring to it as "a f***in' nightmare"). His final screen appearance was in 2012's Snow White and the Huntsman, after which he receded from public life due to complications from the Parkinson's he'd been battling since 2011. On the occasion of his passing, Hoskins' daughter posted eleven life lessons from her father, which I think we can all find some wisdom in.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Star Wars: The Next Generation

This news is going to be talked to death in the days, weeks, and months ahead, and I don't really have anything to add to the conversation just yet, but I feel like it was worth immortalizing the moment on this site all the same. Seen below, we have our first look at the gathered cast of the upcoming Star Wars: Episode VII for their first table read of the script with director J.J. Abrams:


This is our first official confirmation that the original trilogy's trio of Mark Hammill, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fisher are back to play, and Princess Leia, alongside newbies John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac*, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, and Max von Sydow (Anthony "C-3PO" Daniels, Kenny "R2-D2" Baker, and Peter "Chewbacca" Mayhew are also confirmed). Right now I feel the same way I did a year or so before The Phantom Menace came out. Let's hope I don't end up feeling the same way I did a year after The Phantom Menace came out. For more details, click over to Deadline.

* I had the opportunity to interview Isaac last year for his turn in Inside Llewyn Davis, but I turned it down. That's the kind of idiot I am.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Nostalgia Theater: Spidey Super Stories!

"Spider-Man, where are you coming from? Spider-Man..."

If you grew up in the '70s and '80s, I'm willing to bet you mentally shouted out, "Nobody knows who you are!" By way of some background, in 1971, PBS started aired a series from the Children's Television Workshop called The Electric Company, aimed at helping kids read via comedy skits, etc. It boasted the presence of such luminaries as Bill Cosby, Rita Moreno, and Mel Brooks (as well as regular player Morgan Freeman before he became MORGAN FREEMAN). In the '74-'75 season (the show's fourth) CTW worked out an agreement with Marvel Comics to let them use Spider-Man (free-of-charge). Thus, we got Spidey Super Stories:

Saturday, April 26, 2014

"Nothing Rhymes With Negro"

Stephen Colbert puts the perfect pin on the Bundy Ranch story that saw Sean Hannity hoisted on his petard for his support of "welfare rancher" Cliven Bundy, whose "I'm not racist but yes, I'm totally racist" tirade made many of his proponents cut-and-run as fast as they possibly could. As an aside, between George Zimmerman and Bundy, you'd think right wing talking heads would learn to step a bit more gingerly before elevating outright racists to folk hero status, no?

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Obsession

As we saw earlier this week, Jon Stewart made merry sport of Sean Hannity on Monday's The Daily Show over the Fox host's support of rancher Cliven Bundy. Hannity then volleyed back on Tuesday's edition of his nightly yakker. And now Stewart has his response to the response. Enjoy! (Part two after the jump.)

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The MovieFilm Podcast: Episode 45

"A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away..." Well, more precisely, it was fifteen years ago next month that Star Wars: The Phantom Menace was released into theaters. While feelings on that film range from "meh" to flames on the side of one's face, the MovieFilm guys have decided to forego that well-worn conversation and instead look back at the worldwide phenomenon that lead up to and followed the first Star Wars film to be released after the instantly iconic original trilogy.

But that's not all! With Sean out this week, Brian Hall and I are joined by fellow podcaster Parvez Ahmed as they look at the Johnny Depp flop Transcendence, consider Richard Donner's insistence that a Spielberg-inspired sequel for The Goonies is in the works, examine Star Wars scribe Simon Kinberg's comments on considering the Expanded Universe for the upcoming films, and discuss the trailers for X-Men: Days of Future Past and Gone Girl. Plus, listen to my exclusive interview with writer/director/star John Turturro about his new film
Fading Gigolo!

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!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Cow Dung

In what I can only assume is a signifier of the end times, Jon Stewart shows how Sean Hannity ended up making Glenn Beck looking reasonable. Part one below sets the context, part two after the jump lands the haymaker:

You Know You've Made it When...

...you get name-checked in a satirical news article. One more thing to cross off the ol' bucket list.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Nostalgia Theater: Spiral Zone -- The Zombie Apocalypse For Kids

Spiral Zone was, for all intents and purposes, a way to do do a cartoon about zombies without actually doing a cartoon about zombies. Airing in syndication in fall of '87, the show used a military-themed action figure line by Japanese toymaker Bandai as a jump-off point, but pretty much did its own thing with it, positing a 2007 (the world of tomorrow!) where an evil scientist has used a virus to all turn all those in specific affected zones (spiral zones, if you will) into zombified slaves, distinguished by red blotches on their faces and sunken yellow eyes. Here's the creepy intro with the catchy theme song:

Friday, April 18, 2014

Zaki's Review: Transcendence

Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy, and Rebecca Hall meet the digital Johnny Depp
Marking the directorial debut of premier cinematographer Wally Pfister, Transcendence is so desperate to capture the ineffable mojo that exec producer Christopher Nolan brings to his films (and for whom Pfister has been a go-to collaborator for several projects now) that it might as well have been titled "Transception." Unfortunately, while armed with a tremendous cast and an intriguing premise that carries within it thematic echoes of Jean Baudrillard, Philip K. Dick and more, Pfister seems unsure of how to put either of them to use, leaving us with a confused jumble of big ideas tripped up by meandering execution.

The film stars Johnny Depp (about as "non-quirky" as we've seen in awhile) as famed scientist Will Caster, whose memory and consciousness are uploaded into a computer by his wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) and friend Max Waters (Paul Bettany) following his being stricken by a debilitating, fatal illness. As Will reaches actualization ("Transcendence") in his new computerized iteration, Evelyn aids him in tapping into the worldwide web for even greater reach and access, while a group of anti-technology cultists operating under the name RIFT (Revolutionary Independence From Technology, led by Kate Mara) learn of his existence and try to stop him from (potentially) taking over the world.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Final X-Men Trailer Hits

The second trailer dropped less than a month ago, and now Fox has our final look at Bryan Singer's Days of Future Past, the seventh entry in their X-Men feature franchise, in anticipation of the flick's May 23rd release. While the previous assemblies have focused on the post-apocalyptic prologue portion of the story, with Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan prominently featured, this one dives right into the period-set past-times stuff -- with James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, and Jennifer Lawrence -- that I expect make up the bulk of the runtime (with Hugh Jackman's Wolverine straddling both eras). I feel like this one might be inching a bit close to giving too much away, but nothing I see thus far sets off any warning klaxons. I expect the next time we'll be talking about this will be when I review it. Catch the vid after the jump:

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Recommended Reading

As the fall midterms bear down on us, the prognostications about which way the Senate will go (the House is pretty much a safe Republican stronghold at this point) are coming in, with many foretelling a Majority Leader Mitch McConnell come next year. Here's Jonathan Chait explaining how such an eventuality could upend even more legislative norms than what we've already seen during the Obama admin.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Nostalgia Theater: Jim Carrey Gets Even More Animated

Something akin to a sonic boom sounded when Jim Carrey's movie career took off. The plastic-faced funnyman had been around for a few years already, most visibly doing his thing for several seasons of In Living Color, but when Ace Ventura: Pet Detective hit theaters in February of 1994, right in the middle of my freshman year of high school, and blasted to a $100 million-plus global box office take against a $15 million budget, there was the unmistakeable sense that a star had been born.

That sense was pretty much confirmed by the follow-on successes that same year of The Mask that summer, and Dumb & Dumber that winter. And while Carrey had a pretty good run on movie screens for the rest of the '90s, another side effect of his rising star was how quickly his movie alter egos received animated adaptations. In fact, cartoons based on those three films all premiered in fall of '95, just over a year after his Ace Ventura's box office bonanza cemented his superstar bona fides.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Nick Frost Talks Cuban Fury, Cornetto Trilogy

Actor/writer/comedian Nick Frost has become a fixture on American screens over the past decade thanks to his appearance in 2004's Shaun of the Dead, which became a beloved cult artifact virtually the instant that it hit theaters. Since then, the multi-talented Frost has appeared in two follow-up projects from Shaun director Edgar Wright and co-star Simon Pegg, 2007's Hot Fuzz and one of my fave movies of last year, The World's End, forming the three legs of what filmmakers and fans have dubbed the "Cornetto Trilogy."

While Frost has been a reliable second banana until now, he makes his leading man debut with this week's Cuban Fury. The salsa-themed (the dance, not the condiment) rom-com stars Frost as Bruce, an introverted office drone who uses the language of dance to compete with Chris O'Dowd in winning the attention of co-worker Rashida Jones. I had the chance to talk with the genial and gregarious Frost a few weeks ago about where the first fires of Fury started to burn, and his thoughts on having wrapped up the "Cornetto" films. Here's what he said:

Friday, April 11, 2014

Stewart and Colbert Talk Late Night Moves

Comedy Central's tag team duo naturally addressed yesterday's big late night news during their respective shows last night. Click below to watch the vids, first from Jon Stewart on The Daily Show, then the man himself on The Colbert Report:

Bruce Timm Returns for Batman's 75th

Remember the brilliant animated short the Warner Bros. team concocted last fall to celebrate Superman's 75th birthday? Well, this year DC's Dark Knight Detective hits that very same milestone, and the WB team has roped in Bruce Timm, the visionary stylist who guided the animated identity of the DC Universe for twenty-plus years, to create a new vignette to mark the occasion. Unlike the Superman short, which took us on a flying tour of the many looks of the Man of Steel through the decades, this one is set entirely in the late-'30s milieu that birthed the Bat, pitting him against one of his original baddies, Dr. Hugo Strange. What's notable to me is how, in just two minutes-and-change of traditional animation, Timm manages to pack in more drama and dynamism than however many episodes of the now-cancelled CGI series Beware the Batman could muster last year. Oh, and is that Kevn Conroy's voice I hear? Could be. Check it out after the jump:

Diffused Congruence: Faran Tahir

FaranTahir.jpg
For this month's show, my co-host Parvez and I are joined by acclaimed Pakistani-American actor Faran Tahir, who's been appearing on big and small screens for more than twenty years now in big budget fare such as Iron ManStar Trek, and Elysium, as well as TV's Dallas, for a spirited conversation about what he's learned during his many years in the Hollywood trenches, his hopes for future Muslim engagement in media arts, his work with the Muslim Advocates organization. In addition, he offers up some details on his latest project, the supernatural thriller Jinn (currently in theaters), and shares a heartwarming story about what he learned from the late Larry Hagman. As always, you can download or stream the show below, and also listen at iTunes (don't forget to leave us a review!) and Stitcher Radio. If you have any questions or concerns, feel free to send them our way at diffusedcongruence@gmail.com or via our Facebook page!

Zaki's Review: Draft Day

In my review of 3 Days to Kill last February, I mentioned how the passage of time has let Kevin Costner "leave behind some of the trappings of superstardom." Well, with Draft Day, the Oscar winner's third leading role in four months (meaning I've reviewed more Costner movies in 2014 than in all my years writing online reviews combined), we get to see, conversely, just how much star power he still commands. As directed by Ivan Reitman (from a script by Scott Rothman and Rajiv Joseph), the football dramedy leverages its leading man's instinctive every man-ness to full effect by butting it up against the kind of hard-edged backroom politicking we saw in Moneyball.

Costner plays (fictional) Cleveland Browns GM Sonny Weaver Jr., faced with a raft of stultifying decisions as Draft Day dawns (and which occupies the entire 110 minute runtime). Some of those decisions revolve around the future of his flailing franchise and its seventh round draft pick. Some of them involve his co-worker/girlfriend Ali Parker (Jennifer Garner, admittedly a bit mismatched as a romantic partner for Costner). And some of them are about making peace with his mother Barb (Ellyn Burstyn) and living up to the hallowed legacy of his deceased father, the Browns' former coach (who Sonny Jr. fired, by the way).

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Colbert Replacing Letterman

When David Letterman announced his retirement from his long-running CBS talker last week, I had a sense that Stephen Colbert was probably at or near the top of a lot of folks' lists to replace him, but even so I didn't think Colbert would walk away from the very-successful platform he'd built for himself over the past decade via Comedy Central's The Colbert Report. Well, clearly I was wrong about that, as the Eye announced today that Colbert will ditch his finely-honed "right wing blowhard" persona, winding down The Colbert Report in eight months to step in as host of The Late Show following Dave's departure next year.

Given that Stephen Colbert, comedian, had a successful career long before he became Stephen Colbert, "pundit," and is practically unmatched by the current crop of talkers at improvising interesting banter with a variety of guests. I think he's a great choice. Plus, bonus, Rush Limbaugh is already furious over the selection, so double win. For more takes on this news, click here for late night maven Bill Carter's (he of two best-selling late night-centered tomes) coverage of the story, click here for statements from Colbert, CBS, Comedy Central, et al, and click here for always-insightful TV veteran Mark Evanier's perspective, and for more comments from me, jump over to my Facebook page.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Yusuf Rocks Too

Picking up on my post from Saturday, here's Yusuf's appearance on last night's Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, performing his oldie-but-goodie "The First Cut is the Deepest":

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

The MovieFilm Podcast: Episode 44

This week, we get into a fun (and spoiler) filled discussion of Marvel Studios' latest (and greatest?) superhero adventure, Captain America: The Winter Soldier (read my review here)! But before that, Sean, Brian, and I kick things off by talking about Darren Aronofsky's divisive epic Noah (read my review here), and Arnold Schwarzenegger's latest actioner, Sabotage (read my review here). Then, you can listen to my exclusive conversation with actor/producer Nick Frost to talk about his newest film Cuban Fury, and about wrapping up the much-loved "Cornetto Trilogy" with Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg.

We also weight in on David Letterman retiring his announcement, The Matrix's fifteenth anniversary (read my original review here), word that comedy all-stars Key & Peele are producing a remake of Police Academy, and share varying degrees of optimism (or lack thereof) based on the trailer for the Michael Bay-produced Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles revival. 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! Be sure to drop us a line via our Facebook page or email address at MovieFilmPodcast@gmail.com. Enjoy!

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Nostalgia Theater: Chip 'n' Dale to the Rescue!

My occasional looks back at the many animated appendages of the Disney Afternoon continue this week with the second series the Mouse House added to their syndicated after-school lineup in the late '80s: Chip 'n' Dale's Rescue Rangers. The premise of the skein, which enjoyed a three season, sixty-five episode run, had the iconic Disney chipmunks (created by Uncle Walt himself back in the '40s) taking a break from taunting Donald Duck and stealing acorns and stuff to start up a miniature detective agency, where they teamed with various original characters to solve crimes, help the helpless, etc. Here's the intro, with theme song by Mark Mueller (who also wrote the DuckTales theme):

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Yusuf Rocks

During the time before my time, Cat Stevens was one of the most successful pop stars in the world. His imminently catchy hits like "Moonshadow" and "Peace Train" helped shape the musical identity of an entire era. But he'd tossed all that aside well before I arrived on the scene, having converted to the Muslim faith in 1977 and adopted the new nom-de-voyage Yusuf Islam. Throughout my childhood, that was my only exposure to Cat Stevens. As the past-tense, previous identity of Yusuf Islam, the man who left it all behind after receiving a higher calling.

Friday, April 04, 2014

End of an Era

Here's the vid from last night's Late Show segment wherein David Letterman, the reigning distance champ among late nights hosts, announces his impending retirement from his CBS perch. I'd expect that we'll be seeing a prolonged valedictory victory lap in the lead-up to his 2015 exit, lavishing praise and fond memories on the host, that will likely mark a stark contrast with what we got (or didn't get) both times Leno left The Tonight Show:

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Zaki's Review: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) makes the acquaintance of the Winter Soldier
Read my 2011 review of Captain America: The First Avenger here

Read my 2012 review of Marvel's The Avengers here

For those of you keeping score at home, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the second solo flick from Marvel Studios featuring the shield-wielding Nazi-smasher created by Joe Simon & Jack Kirby, the third film to feature the character (not including this one, natch), and the ninth overall in their mammoth cinematic universe. What all that means is that while it has a particular story to tell and its own specific beats to hit, The Winter Soldier is also subservient to the larger brand that it's comfortably nestled in, dutifully queuing things up for the next movie(s) in the pipeline (August's Guardians of the Galaxy and next summer's Avengers: Age of Ultron).

Ultimately, that sense of interconnectivity is both blessing and curse. It allows each entry to feel like it builds on the one previous as part of a larger mega-narrative, but there can also be a sense of static equilibrium at work as well, resulting in action without consequences, and movement without momentum. This is a problem that particularly afflicted the previous "Phase 2" sequels in the Marvel assembly-line: last year's Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World. Both did their job well enough, and were far from bad, but they still felt more functional than exceptional. Like they were treading water until the whole gang can get back together and do something that matters.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Recommended Reading

Salon's Paul Campos explains how an early morning ruling today by the Supreme Court has made the process of buying politics for the nation's very wealthiest has just become that much easier. And that's really saying something in the post-Citizens United reality we currently live in.

Zaki's Original Review: The Matrix

First published: April 9, 1999

Note: With this past Monday marking fifteen years (!!) since the revolutionary first Matrix flick hit theaters, I thought I'd dig into my archives and share what I had to say about it way back when. This gets the ball rolling on a longterm goal of mine to get the many film reviews I've written over the past twenty years preserved here. Here's the first such post, written while I was Arts & Entertainment Editor for The Courier in the Chicago 'burbs. Other archival reviews will follow pretty much whenever the fancy strikes.

The Matrix is an old fashioned crowd pleaser. Full to the brim with eye-popping effects and "How'd they do that?" stuntwork, it yearns to have audiences be utterly enraptured in its created reality, and for the most part it succeeds. In that sense, there's an eerie parallel being created with the film's basic plotline, which deals with the human race being lulled into subjugation by a race of supremely intelligent machines.

Granted, nothing particularly new or groundbreaking is being presented within the film's 210 minute running time. In fact, humanity as unwilling pawn of outside forces was also the storyline of last year's highly-underrated, highly-extraordinary Dark City. But although the plot borows heavily from Dark City, the two films show widely disparate, yet equally enthralling visions of their worlds.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Zaki's Review: Noah

One thing you can't say about Noah, the big budget re-imagining of the Biblical flood fable (starring Russell Crowe as the titular boat builder) is that it lacks in ambition. The long-held passion project for director Darren Aronofsky, upon which Paramount lavished a cool $125 mil in production costs, has been in development since at least '07, but he's been nurturing the core concept going all the way back to his teen years. So while it's chock full of big ideas and big spectacle, I guess it's not too surprising that it also feels like exactly the kind of jumbled deluge of ideas and images you'd expect to emerge after so many years bouncing around the back of his cerebrum.

Now, the framework of this story is familiar to most folks irrespective of how much time they spent in Sunday school during their formative years (or which -- if any -- religious belief they subscribe to), so I'm not sure how in-depth I need to go on that. The gist: man receives divine visions of impending flood, builds giant boat to save the animals and the righteous. It starts raining. The end. What really distinguishes this telling, then, is how it's been uprooted it from its Old Testament underpinnings. Eschewing any attempt at "truth" or "accuracy" (however ill-suited those terms might be to the subject matter), Aronofsky treats this oldest of parables no differently than something like, say, The Lord of the Rings.