Sunday, August 31, 2014

Nostalgia Theater: Boomtown -- The Best Cop Show You've Never Seen

L-R: Mykelti Williamson, Donnie Wahlberg, Neal McDonough, Lana Parilla, Jason Gedrick, Nina Garbiras, Gary Basaraba
The weird thing about doing these Nostalgia Theaters is that the further ahead in time we move, the more stuff I think of as fairly recent can actually be included under its label. To wit, Boomtown, a here-and-gone 2002-2002 series that aired briefly on NBC to considerable acclaim, but little in the way of actual viewers. The pitch, as created by Band of Brothers' Graham Yost, was to take all the procedural-style shows that were/are in vogue with TV audiences, and encompass them all in one skein. Check out the terrific intro, with Emmy-winning theme music by Philip Giffin:

Friday, August 29, 2014

Diffused Congruence: Shadi Hamid

For this month's show we're joined by Shadi Hamid of the Brookings Institute and author of Temptations of Power: Islamists and Illiberal Democracy in a New Middle East for a far-ranging chat on the foreign policy events that have been playing out in the Middle East over the last few years, including the Arab Spring, the rise of ISIS, and the escalation of conflict between Gaza and Israel this past month. Whether you're a policy wonk or just have a mind to learn more about what's been going on lately, this is a conversation you're certain to enjoy. As always, download or stream below, and listen at iTunes and Stitcher Radio. Send any comments or questions to diffusedcongruence@gmail.com or via our Facebook page!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Remains of the Summer

Labor Day weekend traditionally marks the end of summer movie season, and Forbes' always-insightful box office analyst Scott Mendelson lays out the biggest marketing hails and fails for the season that just concluded. Can't say I disagree with anything on his list, from Godzilla getting props, to The Amazing Spider-Man 2 getting plopped.

Honest 'busters

This weekend sees the classic comedy Ghostbusters re-released to theaters to celebrate its thirtieth anniversary. And by the way, can I mention how positively ancient that makes me feel? I remember my buddy Sean Coyle buying me the fifteenth anniversary VHS release (a pan-and-scan release, by the way!) for my birthday back in 1999. Where did those fifteen years go? Anyway, to mark the occasion of the GBs hitting three-oh, the good folks at Honest Trailers have released this latest assemblage. Enjoy!

"Race is There. It is a Constant."

Jon Stewart came back from summer vacation last night to unleash a lengthy broadside against the Fox News crowd, which has managed to turn the tragic events in Ferguson into a sustained finger-wag against the black community for not being able to let things go. I'd say this should be the final word on this story, but of course it never truly ends. Part one below, part two after the jump:

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Recommended Reading

Back in 2008, renowned scholar and philosopher Cornel West was a pretty big supporter of then-candidate Barack Obama. Not so much anymore. A very revealing conversation between West and author Thomas Frank sheds light on why that is.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Nostalgia Theater: Freaking Out Over Freakazoid!

We talked about Steven Spielberg's Tiny Toon Adventures last week, and I thought I'd follow up by looking back at another Spielberg-produced 'toon from the same era -- one that's been almost entirely overlooked since its brief time on the airwaves: Freakazoid! After producer Bruce Timm found a significant degree of success from his creation of Batman: The Animated Series in '92, he was approached by Spielberg to develop a superhero skein that could fit in alongside both Tiny Toons and Animaniacs (which had premiered in 1993).

While Timm envisioned a serious superhero series with a comedic hero at its center, Spielberg imagined a comedy show that happened to be about a superhero, and since Spielberg was the bigger name on the bill, Timm gracefully handed the baton over to Tiny Toons impresario Tom Ruegger, who sure ran with it. While it's a tantalizing mystery for the ages what a Timm-produced Freakazoid! might have looked like, there's no doubting that what we did get was a madcap mix of animated insanity. Here, just watch the intro to see what I mean:

Friday, August 22, 2014

Recommended Reading

With all the horrible news coming out of the Middle East this week about the actions of ISIS, it's only become more clear just how little we know about this group. Vox's Zack Beauchamp breaks down some of those barriers by debunking the 9 biggest myths about ISIS, starting with the idea that there's no method to their startling degree of madness.

Chloë Grace Moretz, Liana Liberato, and Gayle Forman on If I Stay

As part of the current Hollywood vogue of adapting popular young adult novels to the silver screen, If I Stay is one of the more effective entries in the genre. Starring Chloë Grace Moretz in the lead role of Mia, a teenager who hovers between this plane and the next following a horrific car accident, the film is directed by R.J. Cutler from the best-selling book of the same name, and it should find a welcome embrace by its target audience as it hits theaters this weekend.

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to chat with Moretz and her co-star Liana Liberato, as well as novelist Gayle Forman, about the process of bringing the beloved book to the screen, any lessons learned on-set, and what they'd do in a similar position as the characters in the film. What follows are some highlights from that conversation:

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Pierce Brosnan Sucks at GoldenEye

In an example of exactly the kind of bit that's made Jimmy Fallon's Tonight Show such a joy, Pierce Brosnan made an appearance on the talker last night to promote his new flick The November Man, and Fallon took the opportunity to challenge the former 007 to a game of GoldenEye, the iconic 1990s Nintendo game based on Brosnan's first Bond flick. Needless to say, it left Our Man shaken and stirred:

From The Onion...

Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson has some thoughts on the events unfolding in his municipality of late:
Sometimes Unfortunate Things Happen In The Heat Of A 400-Year-Old Legacy Of Racism

Buckets of Fun

If you follow me on Twitter, you know that I don't really get the whole "Ice Bucket Challenge" thing that's gone hopelessly viral over the last few days. But this piece by Annie Lowrey does go some ways toward explaining how the fad took off like a shot. Certainly worthy of a read for anyone trying to engineer their own viral marketing sensation.

The MovieFIlm Podcast: Episode 53

It's Turtle time for the MovieFilm duo, as Brian and I discuss the latest big screen iteration of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and wonder whether producer Michael Bay's take on the hoary franchise is a step up from the 1990s version. But that's not all, we also share our fond memories of the late, great Robin Williams, including recommending some of our favorite flicks from his oeuvre, and discuss the latest headlines out of Hollywood. In addition, I share my exclusive interview with actors Chloë Grace Moretz & Liana Liberato and author Gayle Forman about their new film If I StayYou can listen via the embed below, or download or stream at iTunes or Stitcher. As always, make sure to hit "like" on our Facebook page, and write a review to let us know how we’re doing. Enjoy!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Recommended Reading

Jonathan Chait tackles yet another erroneous assumption about American history that's propagated as gospel by the Tea Party crowd.

And Speaking of John Oliver...

Here's Steve Almond at Salon on why Oliver's brand of comedy, while honed by years as a reliable second banana on The Daily Show, has managed to stake out some fairly unique turf via its willingness to finesse the laughing-learning ratio. Given that I don't have cable anymore, I'm grateful that I'm able to catch the clips via YouTube.

Oliver on Ferguson

Last week was a bit of a busy one for me (as I'll get into later), but even I've been following the news out of Ferguson, MI with a mixture of horror and sadness as I watch racial unrest engulf a small town. It's hard to view this situation, which all started with an unarmed black teen being shot six times by a cop, with an eye toward humor, but John Oliver managed to find a way on last night's ep of his HBO talker, highlighting both the tragedy and absurdity of what's currently unfolding. Check out the vid below:

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Nostalgia Theater: Tiny Toon Adventures Keeps the Looney Legacy Alive

In 1990, Bugs Bunny celebrated his fiftieth year of bringing laughter to the masses. And while that occasion marked plenty of pomp and circumstance in the media, it also prompted Warner Bros. to parlay the celebration into a renewed spotlight on their entire Looney Tunes catalog, collaborating with Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment to come up with a new animated iteration of Bugs & Co. The result was Tiny Toon Adventures, which began airing in fall of 1990 before, first in syndication, later as part of the Fox Kids weekday lineup. Here's the intro:

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Robin Williams, RIP

Like most folks my age, the first time I saw Robin Williams was as wacky space alien Mork from Ork on ABC's Happy Days spin-off Mork & Mindy. While that series, a perfect showcase for Williams' trademark brand of stream-of-consciousness improv, faded away after four years, it was only the leading edge of a brilliant, varied career that continued uninterrupted for almost four decades. Robin Williams was such an indelible presence in so many of our lives in so many different ways that the news of his death yesterday from apparent suicide felt like some kind of cruel prank. How could it end this way for someone who'd given the world so much joy? Nonetheless, here we are.

From playing the live action Popeye in 1980 to voicing the Genie in Disney's Aladdin twelve years later, Williams is perhaps most known for the manic energy that defined his brand of comedy on stage and screen. He was driven by the intense need to make people laugh, and boy, did he ever succeed. But he also built a parallel career as one of the finest dramatic actors of all time. The World According to Garp. Good Morning, Vietnam. Dead Poets Society. Awakenings. Hook. The list goes on and on. While his recent return to television, the just-cancelled The Crazy Ones on CBS failed to land with auds, there's no doubt that, at 63 years of age, we still had many years of great Robin Williams performances to look forward to.

Objectively, Williams had achieved every measure of terrestrial success. The admiration of his peers. The adoration of his fans. There was no door he couldn't open with his name alone. Yet he suffered silently for years with an illness that few are aware of, and even fewer understand. If there's a lesson we can take from this, perhaps it's to increase our understanding of depression and mental illness, and reach out to those who need help before they too make a decision they can't come back from. To that end, as we look back on an unprecedented body of work, let's watch the clip after the jump, from my all-time favorite Robin Williams' performance, his Oscar-winning turn in Gus Van Sant's 1997 Good Will Hunting.

Godspeed, Robin.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Nostalgia Theater: The Ninja Turtles' Pizza Crunchabungas!

With the Michael Bay-produced reboot of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles currently sitting atop the box office, we may well be entering a new age of Turtle madness, but I doubt it'll be anything like the first time they took over the world. That was a magical era that saw not just action figures, video games, and school supplies adorned with the smiling ninja visages of Leo, Mikey, et al, but also food, food, food! There were all manner of licensed snack products churned out during the Ninja Turtles' early-'90s heyday, including cereal, ice cream bars, cookies, you name it.

But the product that I've decided to shine the Nostalgia Theater spotlight on this week is a short-lived chip from Ralston with the unwieldy name of "Pizza Crunchabungas." I recall really enjoying these during their brief shelf-life, but I'm fairly certain that was just my mind forcing me to love it just because of the licensed logo on the bag. Certainly in hindsight a pizza-flavored corn chip just sounds nasty, and given that Crunchabungas didn't last past 1991, that's probably accurate. More than anything about the chips themselves, I remember this ad promoting them, using claymation Turtles created by Will Vinton (he of "California Raisins" fame):

Zaki's Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

In a measure of just how calculated a product Paramount's Michael Bay-produced reboot of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is, we get to see Megan Fox jumping up-and-down on a trampoline within five minutes of the opening titles. Talk about knowing your audience!

Of course, I doubt things like "subtlety" and "restraint" were high on the list of action items when parent company Viacom acquired the Turtles lock, stock, and half-shell five years ago, and you kind of have to respect how this new take, directed by Battle LA's Jonathan Liebesman, resolutely sticks to Bay's road-tested template of babes, bombast, and brainlessness (which has, to be fair, minted a cool bil for Par as recently as this summer's Transformers: Age of Extinction -- which I didn't hate, by the way). While this pic benefits from motion-captured CGI portrayals of the titular teens that leap, twist, and bound through a digitally-created New York cityscape with unquestionable aplomb, it's undone by a needlessly-convoluted story that's long on contrivance and short on common sense.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Recommended Reading

Ezra Klein underscores the central irony of the current presidency: "Obama has brought a lot of change to America. But he's done it by accepting — and, in many cases, accelerating — the breakdown of American politics." Read the whys-and-wherefores behind this here.

The MovieFilm Podcast: Episode 52

We mark two years of the MovieFilm Podcast with this week's installment, and Brian and I have plenty to discuss, including the Batman v Superman Comic Con footage, Wonder Woman's new look, the potential for an all-female Ghostbusters movie, and Ridley Scott's forthcoming space film (which isn't the one you may be thinking of...), and the latest rumors about Star Wars: Episode VII!

I also have a special interview with Matt Akey, executive producer at Legend3D, who talks the nuts and bolts of 3D filmmaking, including their work with director Michael Bay on the number one film of the year, Transformers: Age of Extinction. After that, it's on to the main event, Marvel's latest greatest hit, Guardians of the Galaxy.

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!

Monday, August 04, 2014

See? Me.

The folks at HuffPost Live invited me on earlier today to talk up the record-shattering opening weekend of Guardians of the Galaxy (a movie I liked a little bit), which blew the doors off most expectations by raking in nearly $95 mil in three days. Here's the vid of the segment. At the risk of tooting my own horn, I don't think I embarrassed myself too badly:

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Nostalgia Theater: The Invaders Are Here!

The Invaders is a TV sci-fi offering from before the era when the genre garnered mainstream acceptance. Thus, it often felt like we were hearing about the titular aliens more than we were actually seeing them. Produced by Quinn Martin, the TV impresario behind The Fugitive, Invaders was meant to emulate that series' "quest" sensibility, albeit in support of thwarting otherworldly baddies as opposed to finding a one-armed. To that end, creator Larry Cohen, taking a cue from films such as Invasion of the Body Snatchers, came up with the idea of a secret invasion orchestrated by human-looking aliens, with everyman architect David Vincent (Roy Thinnes) the only one who knows they're here. Here's the intro:

Zaki's Review: Guardians of the Galaxy

L-R: Zoe Saldana, Chris Pratt, Groot, Dave Bautista
You can pinpoint the exact moment in Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy that actor Chris Pratt, best known until now as an affable supporting player in films such as Delivery Man, Moneyball, and TV's Parks and Recreation, morphs into a genuine movie star. It's about five minutes in. We see Pratt's character, Peter Jason Quill, a.k.a. Star-Lord, a legendary (in his own mind, at least) outlaw who's landed on the derelict planet Morag to avail himself of its hidden treasures. Making his way through an ancient Raiders of the Lost Ark-esque temple, Quill pulls on earphones from a 1980s-era Walkman and dances his way across the ruins to the tune of Redbone's "Come and Get Your Love."

And just like that, the Marvel factory -- which previously worked its mojo on Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, and Chris Evans -- has sprinkled fairy dust on top of its latest leading man.