Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Recommended Reading

The great Robert Fisk weighs in on the current conflict in the Middle East.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Mad Max is Back!

The last time I mentioned Mad Max: Fury Road here was way back in October of 2010, when it looked like the long-developing revival of director George Miller's legendary Mad Max saga might run aground thanks to a combination of budgetary and logistical concerns. Well, that was then, but now not only has the movie filmed, but the marketing campaign is kicking into gear for the Warner Bros. production's summer 2015 release (thirty years after the last film in the series).

With Miller once more at the helm, and Tom Hardy stepping into Mel Gibson's well-worn leathers, Fury Road is refershingly neither reboot nor restart, but simply another adventure of ex-cop Max Rockatansky in the post-nuclear wasteland that used to be Australia. And that's a good thing, as far as I'm concerned. Now, given that the original Max trilogy is one of my all-time favorite series, I've had both anticipation and dread for this installment, but if the Comic-Con trailer below is anything to go by, I think we're in good shape.

A Poem For My Mom

My mother, Iffath Hasan, just wrapped up twenty-plus years of teaching Islamic studies in the Chicagoland area so that she and my dad can move to the Bay Area to be closer to my brother and I. Beginning in early 1993 and continuing to just a few weeks ago without interruption, she would travel to countless schools and mosques every week and teach countless students young and old about the mysteries of the Qur'an and how to apply its precepts meaningfully. While I'm happy to know that my parents will be closer to us, I didn't realize until reading the poem below just how much of a loss my mom's absence in Chicago will be for her many students. Read it after the jump:

Nostalgia Theater: Punky Brewster -- The Hilarious Life of an Abandoned Orphan

I loved Punky Brewster when I was a kid, and I really have no idea why. But given how long it ended up lasting -- 88 episodes over four seasons -- I clearly wasn't alone. Starring precocious youngster Soleil Moon Frye as the title character, Punky was about a little girl who comes from a broken home, is ditched by her mother at a shopping mall, and who ends up finding sanctuary (along with her dog Brandon) with a lonely old man named Henry Warnimont (Police Academy's Commandant Lassard, George Gaynes). As sitcom premises go, that's a pretty dark place to start out, but Punky was all about girl power and day-glo colors. Here's the intro of the show, which began airing on NBC in September of '84, and which I first saw when they showed it in Saudi Arabia the following year:

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Arrow Season 3 Sizzle Reel Hits the Target

For the past two seasons, the CW's Arrow has quietly, consistently been plugging away, churning out compelling stories and mythology while becoming not only the hub of a DC Comics-based TV renaissance, but also one of the best shows on the tube. And with this upcoming season seeing the launch of companion series The Flash, spinning off of events in year two, it looks like Arrow (starring Stephen Amell as DC's long-running Green Arrow character) is really coming into its own. If you haven't given it a shot yet, check out the Comicon sizzle reel for year three below, and then get caught up via Netflix or here.

Idle Hands

As someone who often finds his twin identities as a lifelong Muslim and a lifelong pop-culture geek juxtaposed against each other in a variety of sometimes curious ways, I was struck this Sunday when two news stories crossed my social media feeds in rapid succession that involved eerily similar imagery—but with wildly different overtones.

First up, let’s start with the good stuff: Devin Faraci over at the film website BadAssDigest.com dropped a bit of bombshell news of what he claims is the planned storyline for next year’s impending revival of the Star Wars franchise. If Faraci’s supposed scoop is legit and not just another geek rumor, Episode VII of the new trilogy will feature as a key plot point the severed hand of a familiar character clutching a lightsaber.

While I don’t know that what he has to say is particularly spoilerific—and, again, it’s not even confirmed at this point—I’ll abstain from posting details here just to preserve the surprise for those who want it. But honestly, if you’re anything like me, just hearing that tantalizing bit of teasing was enough to get the follicles on the back of your neck bolting upright by providing just one more piece of confirmation that we are indeed barrelling towards yet another visit to that galaxy far, far away.

So, yeah. That story got me excited. But then came the very next story in my news feed. And that one wasn’t so cool.

Continue reading at Philadelphia Weekly...

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

No-Win Scenario

Last week Jon Stewart engaged in a bit of commentary on The Daily Show that was critical of the number of civilian casualties that have mounted as a result of Israel's offensive against the people of Gaza. The result was this and this, and from last night, this:

Sunday, July 20, 2014

James Garner, RIP

With last night's word of the passing of actor James Garner at age 86, another legend has left us. By all accounts as genial and good natured in person as he was on-screen, Garner enjoyed an acting career that spanned over fifty years, including a second-billed turn in one of my all-time favorite films, 1963's The Great Escape. But I'm willing to wager he's most fondly remembered by global auds for his time playing the title characters of two classic television series: Maverick and The Rockford Files. Whether you're talking about gamblin' cowboy Bret Maverick or disheveled PI Jim Rockford, both summed up the ineffable appeal of the laconic Garner, who managed to couple the burly physique and chiseled looks of a matinee idol with the laid-back approachability of an everyman.

Garner would reprise both of his most iconic characters several times, the former via TV revivals and a supporting turn in the 1994 feature film, starring Mel Gibson, and the latter via eight Rockford telefilms that aired on NBC throughout the '90s. In the 2000s, Garner, by then one of Hollywood's most respected elder statesmen, notched a stint on the early-aughts sitcom 8 Simple Rules after star John Ritter unexpectedly suffered a heart attack, and, in perhaps his most memorable late career role, played the older version of Ryan Gosling's character in 2004's The Notebook. After suffering a stroke in 2008, the actor's output understandably slowed, with his final credit a voice performance as the wizard "Shazam" in a DC Universe animated short in 2010, but by then he'd long since cemented his legacy as one of the greatest stars of a bygone era.

Nostalgia Theater: Captain N: The Game Master Explores the Nintendo Universe!

I've periodically looked at the pervasive influence the Nintendo Entertainment System had over kids in the late-'80s and early-'90s, having previously discussed the Super Mario Bros. cartoon show and the Nintendo Cereal System, and this week's entry is another part of that very specific subgenre of turn-of-the-decade kidvid: Captain N: The Game Master. Beginning life as a comic feature in Nintendo Power magazine (remember Nintendo Power magazine??) entitled "Captain Nintendo," created by editor Randy Studdard, the concept was licensed to and tweaked by the folks at our favorite crap factory, DiC, who shortened the name to "Captain N," tacked on "The Game Master," and premiered the result on September 9, 1989 on NBC:

Friday, July 18, 2014

Diffused Congruence: Mustafa Davis

For this episode, we're joined by famed photographer and filmmaker Mustafa Davis, co-founder of Ta'leef Collective, about his road to Islam, and what he views as the role of Muslim-Americans artists. As usual, 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 diffusedcongruence@gmail.com or via our Facebook page!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Honest Lantern

By chance I happened to watch some of the 2011 misfire Green Lantern a few days ago, and the bad vibes just came flooding back. And now, wouldn't you know, the team over at Screen Junkies has answered the call with their very own "Honest Trailers" take on how Warner Bros. managed to turn "one of the most original comic books into one of the least original comic book movies." Enjoy:

Time Warping With Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Director Matt Reeves!

I went through a bit of a personal time warp when I met with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes director Matt Reeves shortly after the global premiere of the Fox release. When I sat down with the gregarious and chatty Reeves, who previously made his mark by creating TV's Felicity and directing Cloverfield before helming the current number one movie in the country, I started our conversation by showing him some issues of the Planet of the Apes fanzine that I self-published twenty years ago when I was in high school (way before that kind of thing could remotely have been considered "cool" or "retro"). With that, the lifelong Apes fan began fondly reminiscing about his own boyhood love of the franchise, and away we went. What follows is the transcript of our conversation, which includes details on his particular approach to illuminating the apes' dawn, where he sees the series going next, and how he's tried to tie in with the larger Apes legacy:

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Ramadan Reading

Beyond merely abstaining from food and drink, another important aspect of Ramadan is for Muslims to engage in spiritual contemplation, and becoming mindful of how they engage with the rest of the world. My friend Hind Makki reflects on this:
Millions of Muslims are spending the better parts of their nights reciting God’s Words throughout Ramadan, which is often referred to as the Month of Quran. We remind ourselves of these prophetic stories, of the critical importance of speech, of the sacred responsibility we have to seek the truth with gentleness and humility. 
So what does that mean for us today, when anyone with access to the internet has a platform to tell the world his or her thoughts. What is the responsibility we bear as Muslims to offer the world “good” speech? When we do we speak up and speak the truth, and when do we stay silent and keep the peace? How can we use the power of speech to teach or admonish without hurting others or closing their hearts?
For the answers to these questions, read on here.

Recommended Reading

The Huffington Post's Hunter Stuart looks at how the combination of overeager legislators and overzealous lobbyists have inadvertently conspired to keep safer guns off the market. Prepare to feel your blood pressure racing.

The MovieFilm Podcast: Episode 51

This week on the MovieFilm Podcast we have not one, but TWO interviews with the filmmakers of the number one movie in the country, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (read my review here!). First up, director Matt Reeves discusses his own history with the franchise and what drew him to this latest installment, then producer and co-writer Mark Bomback explains why he joined the production and where he'd like to see the franchise go next. Amidst all the Apes talk, Brian and Zaki still manage to discuss their thoughts on the close of Fox TV's special truncated return of 24, the fluctuating future of The Amazing Spider-Man series, as well as the trailer for Disney and Marvel's upcoming animated feature Big Hero 6. Then it's onto an in-depth discussion of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes! 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, July 13, 2014

Recommended Reading

Ten years ago filmmaker Robert Greenwald released the documentary Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism, which strove to peel back the layers of subterfuge and propaganda utilized by Fox News to spin news in a rightward fashion. That Fox was doing this was already part of the cultural ether, but to see it crystallized in such a concise manner by Greenwald was definitely a formative moment for many (remember, this was even before Jon Stewart fully embraced his "Bull$#% Mountain" anti-Fox News line of attack). Now, with ten years of distance, Greenwald reflects on what his film accomplished, and what still needs to be done. Says he:
A lot has happened since releasing Outfoxed in 2004. But history has a way of moving in circles, if not exactly repeating itself. This June, as Iraq imploded into sectarian divisions, Fox was beating the old war drums again. As Hillary Clinton began her newest book tour, it has been pouncing on the presumed 2016 presidential candidate. As the Supreme Court just held that corporations have religious rights and employers do not have to include contraception in women's health plans, Fox taunts, "You got a problem with that?"  
But there's more to this than Fox's rants about Benghazi as the worst foreign policy crisis or their unending attacks on President Obama or the Clintons. They continue to weave a deeper narrative that's divisive and insidious. Their messaging that government is bad, that human nature is intrinsically more evil than good, that people should be afraid and paranoid, isn't journalism covering the news. It's a world view and narrative that is embedded in the identity and agenda of America's political right wing.
Read the rest from Greenwald here.

Nostalgia Theater: The Short Shelf Life of Planet of the Apes: The Series

L-R: Roddy McDowall, James Naughton, Ron Harper
With Dawn of the Planet of the Apes currently storming multiplexes, I continue my run of Apes-related posts here at the Corner with a look back at the franchise's brief expansion onto the small screen. When Planet of the Apes movie producer Arthur P. Jacobs passed away suddenly in June of '73 (ironically enough, less than two weeks after the theatrical premiere of the final flick, Battle for the Planet of the Apes), Fox swooped in and purchased his interest in the very-successful property. After airings of the first three flicks on CBS garnered boffo ratings (remember when TV airings of theatricals used to get ratings?), the Eye and Fox hurriedly set about transitioning Apes from feature series to TV series, which premiered on September 13, 1974. Here's the intro and closing:

Friday, July 11, 2014

Zaki's Review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

I referred to Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Fox's 2011 reboot of their venerable Apes franchise, as "an end of the world movie that makes you forget that it's an end of the world movie." Well, the end of the world is very much front-and-center when it comes to its ambitious sequel, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. As directed by Cloverfield's Matt Reeves (stepping in for Rise's Rupert Wyatt), the latest Apes stands head-and-shoulders above this summer's blockbuster crop by providing a rollicking entertainment wrapped in a rich character study. It does what the very best sci-fi should do by leaving the audience wondering, "What would I do?" and (perhaps more importantly for the studio's bottom line), "What happens next?"

With a pre-title sequence that depicts the rapid, ravaging effects of the "Simian Flu" plague we were introduced to in the last movie's closing minutes, film picks up ten years later, with human civilization effectively wiped off the planet save for a very hardy few. Meanwhile, still in the San Francisco redwoods where we left them, chimpanzee leader Caesar (Andy Serkis) has seen his burgeoning civilization of intelligent apes grow even as he's watched the fires of humanity gradually dwindle.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Ramadan Reading

My cousin Hamzah Moin (a.k.a. Maniac Muslim) takes a humorous (and thorough) look at how things are different for Muslims before Ramadan and during Ramadan.

Monday, July 07, 2014

The MovieFilm Commentary Track: Planet of the Apes (1968)

It's an off-week for the MovieFilm Podcast, but Brian Hall and I are here to inaugurate a brand-new feature for the show: the MovieFilm Commentary Track! Yes, due to popular demand, at periodic intervals, we'll be selecting a Movie That Matters from years past and offering up comments and conversation in real time as we watch right alongside you.

For our very first yak track, just in time for Friday's highly-anticipated release of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, we've selected the 1968 original that got the whole franchise started: Planet of the Apes, starring Charlton Heston and directed by Franklin Schaffner. So cue up the film, grab some popcorn, and get ready to join in on the chat! We're back next week with our regular MovieFilm installment to talk up Dawn with spoilers galore. Listen to the embed below, or download/stream at iTunes or Stitcher.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Recommended Reading

Andrew Leonard contrasts the freedom fighting delusions of libertarian crazies like Ted Cruz and Rand Paul with the actual words and actions of the Founding Fathers they pretend to revere.

Nostalgia Theater: Mego's Planet of the Apes Action Figures

This Friday marks the long-awaited premiere of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and I can't wait to talk to you about that, but I thought I'd ring in a very busy week of Apes-related features this week with a look back at long-defunct toymaker Mego's Planet of the Apes action figures and accessories. Begun in 1974, after the final feature film had already finished its run, the Mego Apes line included several iconic movie apes such as Cornelius, Zira, and Dr. Zaius, as well as a generic human astronaut (presumably because it was cheaper than getting likeness approval from Chuck Heston). Eventually, it also expanded to include characters from the there-and-gone TV series (more on that next week!) before eventually closing up (click here for the full skinny).

Related: Nostalgia Theater: Animated Apes Edition

I'm a post-Star Wars kid, so I wasn't even born when these all came out, but as a lifelong ape-ologist, it wasn't long before I was trying to track them down. And while I never found the originals at a reasonable price, I do own some wonderful replicas put out a few years ago by a company called EMCE. There have been several high-end Planet of the Apes figures from a variety of manufacturers since, but none have matched the sheer quirkiness of these things. To wit, check out this collection of vintage mid-'70s commercials for Mego's Apes, and observe how they're like little mini-movies, many of which seem to revolve around the horrible tortures the apes can inflict on the poor humans. Also observe that, for whatever reason, the commercials use a re-scored version "Also Sprach Zarathustra!" (from 2001: A Space Odyssey) for musical accompaniment. Weird.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Ramadan Reading

Beyond merely abstaining from eating and drinking, a major aspect of truly living Ramadan is to find a place of spiritual tranquility. A key part of that is limiting our anger, and being aware of its corrosive effects on ourselves and those around us. As part of a series of reflections at Time, Sohaib Sultan explains:
There are so many wisdoms from the Prophet specifically advising against anger — all reflecting the Qur’anic description of the righteous as those who “hold in check their anger” (3:134). The advice is much needed. Indeed, some of the worst actions committed by human beings — from killing to domestic abuse — are, at least partly, a result of unbridled anger. For most of us our anger and its potent manifestations tend to be so much more subtle — from showing someone a cold shoulder to de-friending them on Facebook.
For more, including three tips to help control your anger, jump here.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Ramadan Reading

Sabina Khan-Ibarra weaves a beautiful story about what Ramadan meant to her as a child, and what it means to her now.

Honest Apes

I've got my glowing review of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes coming soon, along with a whole bunch of other Apes features, but just to prime the pump, here's an "Honest Trailers" take on Tim Burton's execrable 2001 Planet of the Apes "re-imagining," which I spoke my mind about a few years ago:

Recommended Reading

Theda Skocpol over at TPM explains how the Tea Party is still very much in the driver's seat when it comes to Republican policymaking (or, to be more accurate, the total lack thereof). Says she:
To see that the Tea Party remains supremely effective, just look at what Congressional Republicans are doing, or not doing. Eric Cantor's sudden defeat sealed the GOP House's determination to block immigration reform, but that reform was already effectively dead even before that one primary election happened. Republicans have pulled away from decades-old compromises to fund transportation systems, to support agricultural subsidies along with Food Stamps, to renew the Export-Import Bank that most U.S. business interests want continued. House and Senate Republicans are spending their time mainly on obstruction and media-focused investigations, anything to challenge and humiliate President Obama. In state houses, Tea Party-pushed Republicans are mainly passing anti-abortion restrictions and blocking the expansion of Medicaid favored by hospitals and businesses.
Read the rest here.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

The MovieFilm Podcast: Episode 50

It's time for Transformers talk! For the big 50th episode of the MovieFilm show, Brian and I reminisce about the long strange journey the show has taken since its inception, before diving into some brand new Listener Letters. After that, we're joined by author Andrew Farago, who talks up his new book, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Ultimate Visual History as well as the new trailer for the upcoming Turtles reboot film. From there, it's onto a spirited discussion of the latest headlines, including a new life for Community, a new direction for Fox's Predator, and a new(-ish) title for The Terminator, as well as the latest worries out of Star Wars land, including the possibility that it gets pushed from its Christmas 2015 slot to a more manageable summer 2015 perch. And then it's the main event, as we launch into a full-steam ahead, spoilers galore conversation about Michael Bay's latest (greatest?) Transformers opus, Age of Extinction. You can listen via the embed below, or download or stream the show at iTunes or Stitcher. As always, write us a review to let us know how we're doing!