Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Cinema Year That Was: Zaki's Flick Picks 2015

It's been a great year for movies, with a diverse assortment of high-profile and smaller scale films, true stories and big surprises, all emerging as some of my favorites for this year. Here's a countdown of my top ten for 2015:

(Click the links to read my full-length reviews/features)

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

2015: The Year in Reviews

I have my "top ten" for the year on track for tomorrow, but in the meantime here's an overview of all the movies I did full reviews during calendar year 2015, with a little blurb from each. This was a big year for me, as I reviewed more flicks than ever before. (This doesn't include retro or archival reviews, of which there were also a few.) Catch them all after the jump!

2015: The Year in Interviews

As in previous years, 2015 offered me some pretty terrific opportunity to chat with some very interesting folks about their latest projects. For your ease, I've compiled them into a list below. Check them out after the jump!

INTERVIEW: Director Jay Roach on Trumbo

After a career spent honing his craft on some of the most memorable comedies of the past twenty years (Austin Powers, Meet the Parents) and some of the most gripping political dramas in recent memory (Recount, Game Change), it feels like director Jay Roach has ascended a new plateau of sorts with the riveting character study Trumbo. The film stars Bryan Cranston in the title role of the cantankerous screenwriter who gained a different degree of prominence thanks to his place in the Hollywood 10 -- filmmakers blacklisted for supposed anti-American beliefs.

In addition to Cranston, the film boasts such talents as John Goodman, Helen Mirren, Louis CK, and Diane Lane in supporting roles, all of whom lend the proceedings the proper sense of gravitas. I had the chance to speak with director Roach during his recent swing through San Francisco, and as I learned during our chat, for him this project was about more than doing justice to Trumbo's incredibly compelling biography. It was also about making some observations about the state of our current discourse in this modern age. Read on for highlights from one of the favorite interviews I've ever done.

Monday, December 28, 2015

This is Strange.

Via Entertainment Weekly, here's our first glimpse of Benedict Cumberbatch all duded up in his sorcerers' best as Stephen Strange, Marvel's Master of the Mystic Arts, for the Doctor Strange feature film due out Thanksgiving. I know nothing about what to expect from the movie, but I am a fan of the early comics by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, about an arrogant surgeon forced to find a new path when an accident robs him of his surgical abilities.

Given the thematic turf it needs to cover, Doctor Strange promises to be one of the wonkiest -- and thus riskiest -- offerings yet from Marvel Studios, currently bounding from victory to victory. I'm hoping we'll get to see some footage from the Scott Derrickson-directed pic soon, but for now, Cumberbatch looks great, and this is a promising start. Jump over to EW for some more pics.

Diffused Congruence: Talking Star Wars With Omer Mozaffar

We've had a great 2015 here at Diffused Congruence, and we wanted to wrap up the year's offerings with something a bit less serious than perhaps we're used to. With the current release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens tearing up box office records in its wake, old school Star Wars fans Parvez and Zaki decided it might be fun to spend an episode unpacking this revival of the storied franchise. To that end, we've invited lecturer and film critic Omer Mozaffar to join us for a fun conversation about this latest visit to the galaxy far, far away. Listen to it below, or download at the link. Also, be sure to hit us up at our Facebook page to let us know how we're doing!

Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Force A-shaken

As you know, I enjoyed Star Wars: The Force Awakens quite a bit. I think it's a bold start to the new era of the franchise, and I'm excited to see where things go next. (And clearly I'm not alone based on the box office records that continue to fall.) That said, there's one teeny little aspect of the Star Wars revival that's always bothered me just a bit.

Going back to when it was first announced back in 2012, I knew we'd lose the closure offered by Return of the Jedi. The happy ending as the heroes defeated the baddies would now be lost to us forever. Here's io9's Rob Bricken, echoing my thoughts (minor spoilers, I suppose, so be aware before clicking past the jump):

Nostalgia Theater Extra: Year in Review 2015

With the year winding down, it's time once again to look back at this year's crop of Nostalgia Theater posts to see which ones rose to the top and were the most popular:

Nostalgia Theater: Users Are Losers!

Traditionally I close out my the year's crop of Nostalgia Theater entries by picking some random commercial from my childhood, and here's a spot that got a fair amount of airplay during the '80s campaign to keep kids off drugs (here's another post I did on the subject waaaay back in '07). While the "take a bit out of crime" slogan, with ubiquitous mascot McGruff the Crime Dog front-and-center, was fairly well known, they clearly felt the need to zazz things up a bit, so they roped in singing sensation (?) Regina to join the cartoon dog. It began airing in '87, and was still playing when I was in high school, so at least into the early '90s. To be honest, I think this commercial counts as the biggest hit Regina (last name: Richards) ever had, as three decades later I still find myself humming it. And seeing as how I never started on drugs, I guess that makes me one of the campaign's success stories.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Still Not Sure What I Think of Deadpool

It's easy to forget that the next film in Fox's X-Men series isn't this summer's X-Men: Apocalypse. Instead, they're going off the reservation a bit and giving us Deadpool, based on the long-running "Merc with the Mouth" who's been a cult fave since his inception in the early '90s. While star Ryan Reynolds definitely feels like a born-to-it choice to play the wisecracking title character, I'm still not sure how I'm feeling about the Tim Miller-directed film, even after seeing the gratuitous red band trailer that dropped yesterday AM. That said, there's some pretty funny stuff in there, and I do applaud Fox for being willing to do something different within the superhero genre in general and the X-franchise in particular, so let's see where we land when Deadpool debuts Valentine's Day weekend. Watch the trailer after the jump, and tell me what you think:

Recommended Reading

Fascinating read by Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo looking at billionaire Sheldon Adelson's attempts to buy media outlets he can then use as megaphones for his extreme right wing views. It's a sad insight into the long, slow death spiral of traditional media as the needs of traditional journalism bump headlong into the sad realities of generating content in the Internet age. Read the whole thing and just feel the depression wash over you.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Taibbi's Holiday Message: Calm the F$#@ Down!

Here's Matt Taibbi with a very pertinent reminder this holiday season of how we've collectively lost all sense of proportion in terms of actual threats to life and limb:
It's not that there aren't real threats. The problem is that no one in popular culture is incentivized to mitigate our fears of those threats, or place them in context. Fox News is not going to sell many ads running stories called "Mexicans Are Basically Nice People Just Like Us." CNN isn't going to grab eyeballs showing videos of Muslim immigrants in New Jersey just hanging out watching soccer. 
Much more to read here.

Monday, December 21, 2015

The MovieFilm Podcast: The Star Wars: The Force Awakens Episode!

The Force has awakened! With this weekend's release of Star Wars: Episode VII already leaving several box office records in its wake, Disney's $4 billion relaunch of the legendary franchise is off to an auspicious start (click here to read my non-spoiler review). For this final MovieFilm show of 2015, we mark the return of Star Wars from a galaxy far, far away by dispensing with the traditional format and instead going all-in for an in-depth, spoiler-filled conversation about the J.J. Abrams directed space epic.

What did we think of The Force Awakens, what worked for us, what didn't work for us, what were our reactions to some of the biggest moments, and where would we like to see the Star Wars saga go next now that we can expect new installments semi-regularly. We cover it all in this very special episode, and you can listen through the embed below or via iTunes or Stitcher or TuneIn Radio (and make sure to write us a review or leave a star rating!). Like always, you can drop us a line at MovieFilmPodcast@gmail.com, or at our our Facebook page to tell us how we're doing!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Nostalgia Theater Rewind: Star Wars Comes to Saturday Morning

Star Wars: The Force Awakens hit theaters last Thursday (read my review here), and it's already well on its way to the very top of the all-time box office champs. With all the Star Wars nostalgia that's understandably pervading the pop culture sphere, I thought I'd flash back to some of my own previous Nostalgia Theater installments. In two separate entries in 2012 and 2013, I looked back at Ewoks and Droids, two Star Wars-themed animated offerings that then-honcho George Lucas put into development shortly after the conclusion of the original trilogy in 1983. While they were paired together initially, neither show lasted a particularly long time, but they've nonetheless staked out a rather unique place for themselves within the annals of one of the most famous franchises of all time.

Click here to read my remembrance of the animated Droids.

Click here to read my piece on the franchising of Ewoks.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

From The Onion...

This made me laugh.
Guy Wearing Chewbacca Costume Torn Between Seeing ‘Star Wars’ And ‘The Big Short’
BOSTON—Going back and forth between the two options as he approached the movie theater ticket counter, a man dressed in a full Chewbacca costume told reporters Thursday that he was torn between seeing Star Wars: The Force Awakens and the new financial film The Big Short. “I’ve been waiting for the new Star Wars movie to come out for a while, but then again, Brad Pitt’s supposed to be really good in this, and it could be cool to see [director] Adam McKay do a drama—jeez, I don’t know,” he said, adjusting his Wookiee mask and admitting that he just wasn’t sure whether he was more in the mood for an epic adventure film or an ensemble drama. “It’d be kind of interesting to hear the story behind the housing market collapse, but on the other hand, I’ve been camped out to see The Force Awakens for the past eight days. Actually, now that I’m looking at it, In The Heart Of The Sea sounds pretty good, too. Man, this is tough.” At press time, the man had removed the gloves of his Chewbacca costume to look up the Rotten Tomatoes score of each film on his phone.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Zaki's Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Directed by J.J. Abrams, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the seventh Star Wars installment (though "Episode VII" has been curiously absent from the marketing), the first to be released by the franchise’s new minders at Disney, and the first to follow on from the events of the beloved original trilogy that concluded with 1983’s Return of the Jedi. While I’ve been aware of this movie's impending arrival ever since it was first announced just over three years ago, the import of what it represents hit me suddenly and early during my screening.

Like all the chapters before, it started with the instantly-recognizable Star Wars logo and the equally-iconic blast of John Williams’ theme music. But as I began to read the crawl of text catching us up on the status quo, I suddenly realized that it was a crawl I hadn’t read countless, innumerable times before. It was new. Completely new. And although that’s an understandably exciting feeling for any longtime fan (and my understanding is there are a few), I have to admit there's also something just a little bittersweet about it too.

Monday, December 14, 2015

New Star Trek Trailer Goes Beyond!

The trailer festivities continue this morning with our first look at Paramount's upcoming Star Trek Beyond, the third entry in the rebooted franchise that began in 2009. While previous director J.J. Abrams has bolted for a certain other beloved sci-fi series, it's clear that Star Trek's minders haven't missed a step, hiring Justin Lin, who almost singlehandedly turned Fast & Furious into one of Hollywood's preeminent brands, to direct the next mission of the U.S.S. Enterprise.

As you may recall, I disliked the second Trek reboot pic, 2013's Star Trek Into Darkness, but that was more over story concerns than anything about the cast or set-up, which I'm still a fan of. This new film brings back Chris Pine (sporting a new 'do) as Captain Kirk), Zachary Quinto as Mr. Spock, etc., and also boasts a script co-written by co-star (and Star Trek superfan) Simon Pegg. Already lots of cause for optimism, and this first trailer confirms that:

Celebrating Independence Day...Again

When it was released in 1996, I was over the moon for director Roland Emmerich's sci-fi blockbuster Independence Day. And clearly I wasn't alone. The alien invasion pic was a genuine box office phenomenon, and was arguably the main factor that turned Will Smith into a global superstar. Still, after revisiting the movie relatively recently, I realized that -- nostalgic memories notwithstanding -- it was aimed so specifically at my teenaged self that it lost all appeal once I aged out of the target demo.

Thus, I'm very curious about whether the upcoming Independence Day: Resurgence will play for me. The project reunites director Emmerich with stars Bill Pullman and Jeff Goldblum (though there's a very noticeable Will Smith-sized hole in the cast). The film is set to to hit theaters next summer (twenty years after the original), but Fox dropped the first trailer yesterday. While there's a whole generation of kids for whom this sequel will no doubt be a cause for celebration, I was never really clamoring for another ID movie. That said, I have to admit, this trailer does its job.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

And Speaking of Star Wars Toys...

From last night's SNL. My wife tells me I have to post this. I have no idea why. Seriously. No idea.

Recommended Reading

Mark Bowden over at Vanity Fair describes his experience spending several hours with Donald Trump back in the '90s for an article. What he describes sure feels like it fits the profile of Trump-ish excess we've become painfully aware of since he entered the current presidential circus:
He was like one of those characters in an 18th-century comedy meant to embody a particular flavor of human folly. Trump struck me as adolescent, hilariously ostentatious, arbitrary, unkind, profane, dishonest, loudly opinionated, and consistently wrong. He remains the most vain man I have ever met. And he was trying to make a good impression. Who could have predicted that those very traits, now on prominent daily display, would turn him into the leading G.O.P. candidate for president of the United States?
What happened during this meeting, you ask? Read the whole thing here.

Nostalgia Theater: Star Wars in the '90s

We're just days away from Star Wars: The Force Awakens (review coming soon!), and I don't know if you've walked into a Target story or whatever lately, but Star Wars is everywhere. You can't escape it! But in the midst of the all-out merchandising assault that's accompanying the new film, it's easy to forget that there was actually a time when the George Lucas juggernaut wasn't the omnipresent Force that Disney is currently making massive bank off of.

For roughly ten years after Return of the Jedi closed out the original batch of movies in 1983, the brand was in hibernation. Without any new movie or TV product in the pipeline (well, except for this and this), it just kind of went away. That all changed in the early '90s, though. First, Dark Horse comics and Bantam books both began their very successful and long-lived Star Wars publishing programs, and then after a few years...the toys came back.

Friday, December 11, 2015

TRAILER: New X-Men Promises Apocalypse Now

We've gotten a steady stream of 2016 superhero movie trailers for the past few weeks, but the one franchise we'd heard nary a peep from was the granddaddy of the current comic book boom, Fox's X-Men, which has its eight installment launching next summer. Well, in anticipation of its placement in front of next week's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Fox has dropped the trailer for director Bryan Singer's X-Men: Apocalypse.

Following 2014's very successful Days of Future Past, this entry promises to close out the rebooted First Class trilogy that began in 2011 and stars James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, and Jennifer Lawrence (who's presumably ready to put Mystique out of her life forever after this). The big selling point here is one of the most popular baddies in the entire Marvel mutant canon: Apocalypse, played by Oscar Isaac.

This is just a teaser, meaning we'll get a full trailer or two between now and the movie's release next summer, but as teasers go, it's fine, I guess. One presumes that if you've liked the previous Bryan Singer X-movies, this will probably fall within the expected range. Watch the vid after the jump:

INTERVIEW: Director Adam McKay on The Big Short

Steve Carrell and Ryan Gosling plan The Big Short
The Big Short is one of the best movies of the year. The screen adaptation of Michael Lewis' "capitalism run amuck" best-seller defies easy genre categorization as it bounces between comedy and tragedy, but its depiction of the 2007-2008 financial crisis that threatened to torpedo the entire world's economy will grip you, engage you, and ultimately anger you.

The film is bracketed by terrific performances from one of the best ensemble casts of the year, including Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Brad Pitt, and Ryan Gosling, all of whom give life to a crackerjack script co-written by director Adam McKay, who makes a bold entry into dramatic filmmaking after building a reputation teaming with Will Ferrel for some of the funniest movies of the last decade.

Faced with making a movie revolving around "mortgage-backed securities" and "tranches" and "collateralized debt obligations" play with mainstream audiences is no easy feat, but McKay manages it with remarkable ease. He addressed the inherent challenges in adapting the text when I chatted with him during his visit to the Bay Area a few weeks ago, and I got to pick his brain about that, as well as his work co-writing Marvel's Ant-Man with Paul Rudd.

Read on for the transcript:

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Godfather Speaks

Profound insights sometimes come from unexpected places. I've often said that listening to Francis Ford Coppola's commentary on the ‪three ‎Godfather‬ films was a better education than four years of film school, and the video below of comments delivered last week at the Marrakech International Film Festival illustrates why. In commenting on the recent resurgence of religious violence, the legendary Apocalypse Now helmer makes some remarkably lucid observations about Islam that demonstrate a willingness to know things outside of his normal frame of experience.

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

The Delusional Donald

As of yesterday, Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump escalated his drip-drip-drip war of words against America's Muslims by proposing a new policy that would not only ban all further Muslim immigration to this country, but would also prevent any American Muslims who happen to be overseas from returning home. This ignorance and idiocy moves Trump past the punchline he's been and become something far more dangerous. With every venomous soundbite about and against Muslims, his polling only solidifies with his particular base, and there are real consequences being suffered by the American Muslim community as a result. A new piece by Arsalan Iftekhar at The Atlantic gives a timeline of Trump's rapidly escalating anti-Muslim rhetoric, and asks how far he'll go.

Monday, December 07, 2015

Sunday, December 06, 2015

From The Onion...

It'd be nice, that's all I'm saying.
Adjunct Professor Hoping Some Student Leaves Behind Warm Pair Of Gloves Today
CHICAGO—After remarking upon the frigid temperatures and blustery conditions during his walk into work this morning, Michael Halloran, an adjunct professor of communications and media studies, expressed hope Wednesday that one of his students would leave behind a pair of warm gloves. “It’d be great if someone accidentally dropped a couple of nice, thick gloves on their way out of the classroom or just forgot about them on the corner of their desk,” the 41-year-old Ph.D. said after hurrying across a chilly campus to teach his third course of the day, noting that last month someone left behind an umbrella that “really helped [him] out.” “Wool would be great, or Gore-Tex maybe, though really I’d be happy with anything. I’m not picky. A mismatched pair would be fine, too. I’d even take one glove if that’s all there was. Maybe I could use the hand with the glove to carry my bag and keep the bare hand in my pocket.” At press time, sources reported that the adjunct professor had hit the jackpot when he came across a scarf under a chair.

Nostalgia Theater: Flash Gordon -- 35 Years of the Savior of the Universe

Believe it or not, yesterday marked thirty-five years to the day that the inexplicably-beloved flop Flash Gordon was first released to theaters. For those of you who've never had the pleasure, the Mike Hodges-directed, Dino De Laurentiis-produced movie is an adaptation of a newspaper comic strip created by Alex Raymond in the 1930s, about an Earth-man who winds upon the distant planet Mongo, and must defeat its vile overlord Ming the Merciless. The film starred actor Sam J. Jones (with his voice dubbed by some unknown actor) as the title character, with Max Von Sydow as Ming (it also featured a pre-James Bond Timothy Dalton in a supporting role).

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Batman v. Superman v. Bright Colors

Last week Disney dropped our first look at their superhero slugfest Captain America: Civil War, which puts Robert Downey and Chris Evans on the opposite side of an ideological divide, and yesterday Warners unleashed our latest look at their own super-smackdown pic, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. The Man of Steel quasi-sequel, which puts in place the various pieces for the expanded DC Comics movie universe while also demonstrating the grimdark color palette that director Zack Snyder seems to favor.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

The MovieFilm Podcast: Episode 83

Yo! The critically-acclaimed Creed is punching up the nation's box office as we speak, and we go the distance this week talk up director Ryan Coogler's emotional and engaging Rocky spin-off, starring Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone. But that's not all, hear Brian's takes some of the movies he missed from last summer, including Pixels and The Man From U.N.C.L.E., as well as my fascinating interview with director Jay Roach about his brilliant biopic Trumbo, starring Bryan Cranston.

In addition, we're joined by special guest Sameer Gardezi (Modern Family) to talk up his upcoming comedy writing webinar, and offer thoughts on the trailer for next year's superhero smash-up Captain America: Civil War, and more. Listen below, or via iTunes or Stitcher or TuneIn Radio (and make sure to write us a review!). As always, you can drop us a line at MovieFilmPodcast@gmail.com, or at our our Facebook page to tell us how we're doing!

Monday, November 30, 2015

Diffused Congruence: Dr. Joseph Lumbard and The Study Quran

For our latest episode we're joined by renowned author Dr. Joseph Lumbard, who served as co-editor of The Study Quran, a new translation that aims to contextualize and add commentary to the text, and features contributions by several well-known Islamic scholars. In addition to discussing the fascinating story of his own journey to Islam, Dr. Lumbard also explains why The Study Quran is so essential in today's politically-charged environment. Listen below or at iTunes (don't forget to leave us a review!). Send e-mail to DiffusedCongruence@gmail.com, and be sure to hit "like" on our Facebook page!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Taibbi Thumps Trump

If you're following the circus sideshow that is Donald Trump's presidential campaign, you're aware of his recent claims purporting to have witnessed "thousands and thousands" of American Muslims celebrating in New Jersey on 9/11.

Now, apart from the fact that this is entirely fictional -- as in, it didn't happen -- what's more interesting is how not only, but his followers have dug in on this lie no matter what facts emerge to the contrary. Matt Taibbi basically buttons the key thing here:
It was preposterous from the start to think that there could have been contemporaneous broadcasts of "thousands" of people in New Jersey celebrating the 9/11 attacks. Does nobody remember how people felt that day? If there had been such broadcasts, there would have been massacres – angry Americans would have stormed Jersey City. 
Seems like a no-brainer, but there it is. Beyond that, however, Taibbi posits that this whole contretemps is indicative of a whole new level of stupidity among the folks for whom this story strikes a resonant chord. Read the rest of his piece here.

Nostalgia Theater: Giving a Hard Time to Hard Time on Planet Earth

I've often mentioned what a horrid wasteland network television was for science-fiction in the '70s and '80s, and I can't think of a better signifier of this then the brief, benighted existence of Hard Time on Planet Earth. Produced by Disney's Touchstone division and airing on CBS from early in 1989 to slightly later in 1989, the hourlong skein was created by Jim & John Thomas, the screenwriting pair who'd burst on the scene a few years earlier with 1987's Predator.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The MovieFilm Commentary Track: Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope

Check out our snazzy Star Wars crawl!

It's episode 4 of the MovieFilm Commentary Track, and with Thanksgiving on the horizon, we're watching a movie we're especially thankful for: Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (or, as old fogies like us call it, just Star Wars). Between Brian and me, we've probably seen this flick hundreds of times, but believe it or not we'd never watched it together before recording this track.

And with Star Wars: The Force Awakens on the way in a few short weeks, there's never been a better time to see where the "Galaxy Far, Far Away" first began. Whether you queue up your blu-ray and watch along with us, or just catch the track separately, there's lots or trivia, factoids, and laughs as we go through one of the greatest movies of all-time.

Listen below or via iTunes or Stitcher or TuneIn Radio (and make sure to write us a review!). Drop us a line at MovieFilmPodcast@gmail.com, or at our Facebook page to tell us how we're doing!

Captain America: Civil War Promises Superhero Slugfest!

Avengers: Age of Ultron may have a grossed a cool $1.5 bil last summer, but turns out it was just setting the table for the real super slugfest from Marvel Studios: Next May's Captain America: Civil War, which dropped its first trailer last night on the Jimmy Kimmel show (though I kinda wonder why Disney didn't hold it for Star Wars in a few weeks). Arriving two years after Captain America: The Winter Soldier, this third Captain America "solo" movie (though that term is somewhat of a misnomer given the cast involved) continues the previous film's storyline surrounding our man Cap (Chris Evans) and his search for former partner Bucky Barnes, a.k.a. Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan).

Of course, as the title implies, this pursuit ends up putting him on the opposite side of General "Thunderbolt" Ross (William Hurt) and Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr., presumably pocketing the GDP of a small country to appear here), who in turn enlists several fellow Avengers to bring down his teammate. The film is again directed by Joe & Anthony Russo, who blew me away on Winter Soldier, and while there's no telling which way the chips will fall when the movie hits next year, but in addition to some guaranteed big budget brawling, we can look for the first film appearance of Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and the first Marvel Studios appearance of Spider-Man (Tom Holland). Check out the poster to the right, and watch the vid below:

Monday, November 23, 2015

Zaki's Review: Creed

Click here to read my retro reviews of the entire Rocky series
Director Ryan Coogler's Creed functions as both a sequel to the long-running Rocky series (which marks its fourth decade next year) and the start of its very own franchise. I suspect that the manner in which it's interpreted is entirely dependent on the vintage of whoever happens to be viewing. But either way, what's unmistakeable about the boxing drama starring Michael B. Jordan is the passion that drove the helmer of 2013's Fruitvale Station to pursue this as his follow-up to that acclaimed docudrama.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Nostalgia Theater: I Pity the Fool Who Remembers T and T

With all the Rocky business this week on my blog, some neurons started firing when I wrote about Rocky III and Mr. T, and for the first time in decades I remembered T and T, a short-lived TV vehicle for the one-time Clubber Lang following the cancellation of The A-Team in 1987. Aimed at the syndication market, T and T was produced in Canada and starred T (née Lawrence Tureaud) as T.S. Turner, ex-con turned P.I., who teams with attorney Amy Taler (Alexandra Amini) to solve crimes, beat bad guys, and other other low-budget crime-busting stuff.

The Rocky Road: Rocky Balboa (2006)

Click here to read my retro review of Rocky V
When the lights came up on 1990's Rocky V, like most moviegoers and Rocky fans, I assumed that I'd just seen the last of Rocky Balboa. I mean, we'd gotten that great Elton John song and everything! Nonetheless, for years after its release, the film's critical and commercial failure nagged at star Sylvester Stallone. Given all that the series and the character had achieved over the years, it seemed somehow wrong to him that the franchise's final curtain be one that was so divisive -- both for the fans and himself.

The Rocky Road: Rocky V (1990)

Here's a shocker: I come not to bury Rocky V, but to praise it.

Upon its release in 1985, Rocky IV achieved a degree of financial success that was heretofore unprecedented for the boxing franchise. However, given the critical brickbats it endured on the way to box office nirvana, one could make the argument that writer/director/star Sylvester Stallone had sold Rocky Balboa's soul to get there. In many ways, Rocky IV was to this series what Moonraker was to James Bond -- hugely successful financially, but completely at odds with everything preceding it. In Bond's case, that meant using the next entry (1981's For Your Eyes Only) to re-ground the secret agent in a traditional espionage story.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Rocky Road: Rocky IV (1985)

Click here to read my retro review of Rocky III

With its fourth installment in 1985, the Rocky series hit its commercial zenith -- and its creative nadir.

Bear in mind that Rocky IV arrived during a time that can best be referred to as "Peak Stallone." The actor, who less than ten years ago was living in a one-room apartment and subsisting off of bit parts, was at the absolute top of his box office drawing power -- a situation he'd never again enjoy to the same degree. In addition to the demonstrated staying power of Rocky, shortly after Rocky III in 1982, he'd also made a little movie called First Blood, about a Vietnam vet named John Rambo who's tormented by a small town sheriff (Brian Dennehy).

The Rocky Road: Rocky III (1982)

Click here to read my retro review of Rocky II

When Rocky II provided just as potent a punch at the box office as the Oscar-winning original, it became a question of "when," not "if," we'd be treated to another visit with the famous Philadelphia southpaw, especially if home studio MGM/United Artists had anything to say about it. After taking some time to star in Nighthawks and Victory, both released in 1981 and both critically admired but little-seen by audiences, the mood seemed right for Sylvester Stallone to once again lace up the gloves and get his company of "Rocky Repertory Players" back together for the next chapter in the saga of the Italian Stallion.

Friday, November 20, 2015

The Rocky Road: Rocky II (1979)

Click here to read my retro review of Rocky
After Rocky blew the doors off industry expectations in 1976, its writer and star Sylvester Stallone immediately benefited from all the attention the underdog boxing movie had garnered. The newly-minted Oscar nominee quickly put this fresh clout behind two 1978 productions: First up was F.I.S.T., directed by Norman Jewison and featuring a script by Stallone and Joe Eszterhas, which depicted the early days of the union movement. From there, Stallone himself moved behind the camera for the first time for Paradise Alley, a period piece about three siblings in the '40s.

The Rocky Road: Rocky (1976)

"His whole life was a million-to-one shot"

So proclaims the poster for 1976's Rocky, but when you think about it, it was as much a million-to-one shot for its lead actor as it was for its lead character. No one had any expectations that the micro-budgeted million dollar production would do much of anything when it hit a handful of theaters in the closing weeks of 1976, but the film's out-of-nowhere success not only transformed writer/star Sylvester Stallone into an overnight household name, it also turned Rocky Balboa, the indomitable southpaw from Philadelphia, into one of the most enduring and iconic screen characters of all time -- one who's poised to return yet again in next week's Creed.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Refugee Hysteria

Since the tragic events of last Friday in Paris, we've seen many of the campaigning politicos stateside -- including the usuals like Trump, Carson, Huckabee, and Jindal -- turn the refusal of Syrian refugees into a standard-issue talking point. But did this burst of xenophobia just suddenly happen? Not according to Talking Point Memo's Tierney Sneed, who says it's been simmering for awhile, and the Paris attacks just gave it cover. Read her take here.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

From The Onion...

Historians Politely Remind Nation To Check What's Happened In Past Before Making Any Big Decisions
From the piece:
"In the coming weeks and months, people will have to make some really important decisions about some really important issues," Columbia University historian Douglas R. Collins said during a press conference, speaking very slowly and clearly so the nation could follow his words. "And one thing we can do, before making a choice that has permanent consequences for our entire civilization, is check real quick first to see if human beings have ever done anything like it previously, and see if turned out to be a good idea or not."
Read the rest here.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Nostalgia Theater: Rocky Gets Brisk

With the impending release of the Rocky spin-off Creed a week from Wednesday, I've got a ton of Rocky content planned in the lead-up. And just to get the ball rolling, I thought I'd share this fun commercial from 1997. The stop-motion spot, which first aired during the NBA playoffs, was produced by Brisk Iced Tea, and they really went all-out, including paying Sly Stallone a reported $1 million to record about three lines of dialogue. Who knows, maybe reprising his most iconic role in this spot was what lit a fire under the actor to finally bring the Italian Stallion back in 2006's Rocky Balboa. Regardless, a fun little vid. Enjoy:

Friday, November 13, 2015

Zaki's Review: Spotlight

Michael Keaton and Mark Ruffalo chase down leads in Spotlight
In our current age of clickbait articles and nonsensical "listicles" passing for news, it feels like the role of traditional journalism is being called into question more and more. As such, it's reassuring to get a movie like Spotlight to help reset our collective compasses. Director Tom McCarthy's riveting dramatization of the real life 2001-2002 Boston Globe story that exposed widespread criminal sexual misconduct within the Boston Archdiocese is riveting and ceaselessly compelling, while also illustrating the inherent nobility of reporters hitting the streets and chasing down leads and finding sources.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Honest Genisys

As you know if you read my review last summer, Terminator Genisys proved to be kind of a trainwreck, providing neither the sequel that fans wanted nor the restart the franchise needs. With further sequels in doubt even with a not-insubstantial $440 mil global haul, it'll fall to home video to carry the freight the rest of the way. But if anyone has waited until now to finally watch this latest Schwarzenegger cyborg pic, let the folks at Screen Junkies' "Honest Trailers" divest you of that notion. Observe:

The MovieFilm Podcast: Episode 82

After three long years, Bond, James Bond is back! Last Friday marked the release of Spectre, the twenty-fourth film in the immortal spy movies, and we couldn't be more excited to be joined by Bruce Scivally, renowned film historian and co-author of James Bond: The Legacy, to talk up the latest 007 film as well as his new tome, Dracula FAQ. In addition, we cover some of the latest headlines out of Hollywood, including a proposed Die Hard prequel and plans to bring Star Trek back to television. There's also Star Wars news, Listener Letters, plus all the deep thoughts and big laughs you've come to expect. Listen to the show below, or via iTunes or Stitcher or TuneIn Radio (and make sure to write us a review!). As always, you can drop us a line at MovieFilmPodcast@gmail.com, or at our our Facebook page to tell us how we're doing!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Recommended Reading

Over the last few days, as we've watched improbable GOP frontrunner Ben Carson's propensity for telling tall tales burnishing his own personal legend get scrutinized, some curious truths are being revealed in the process about Carson, who Talking Point Memo's Josh Marshall refers to as a "self-awareness Mr. Magoo." Read his take here.

Monday, November 09, 2015

The Force is With Him

I don't envy J.J. Abrams for the high tension, high stakes situation he currently finds himself in. As writer/director of Disney's impending multi-billion dollar relaunch of the Star Wars franchise, Abrams is on the leading edge of what will either be hailed as a bold reclamation of a beloved brand, or a huge fizzle.

By the end of the year, The Force Awakens will finally be out, and we -- and Abrams -- will know whether he's destined to be deemed hero or villain by the gathered hordes of nerd-dom. But as a new interview with Wired reveals, the man behind Lost and Alias and the Star Trek reboot is sanguine about his place in the narrative, and the film he's made:

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Nostalgia Theater: Wonder Woman -- 40 Years Fighting For Her Rights (In Her Satin Tights)

Yesterday marked four decades to the day that the Wonder Woman we all know and love made her live action debut via a 1975 TV movie on ABC (home of the camp-tastic Batman series nearly a decade earlier) entitled The New, Original Wonder Woman. The reason for that title, by the way, was because of a previous telefilm a year earlier entitled simply Wonder Woman, which starred Cathie Lee Crosby (later of That's Incredible!) and which bore no resemblance to the character that had been appearing in DC Comics since 1941. The alphabet net went back to the well, however, and their second try convinced them to roll the dice on a series for the following spring. Here's the intro:

Friday, November 06, 2015

Diffused Congruence: Micah Anderson on Meditation and Mindfulness

Continuing last month's theme about emotional problems within the American-Muslim community, we're joined by Micah Anderson, an expert on meditation and mental health, for a fascinating conversation about his own journey, as well as some best practices that we can all adopt to nurture our own emotional well-being. Listen below or at iTunes (don't forget to leave us a review!). Send e-mail to DiffusedCongruence@gmail.com, and be sure to hit "like" on our Facebook page

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Zaki's Review: Spectre

At the close of 2012's Skyfall, the big fiftieth anniversary installment of the James Bond film series, we'd come to the natural conclusion of a de facto "Becoming Bond" trilogy for current 007 Daniel Craig. Beginning with the 2006 reboot Casino Royale, and continuing through 2008's Quantum of Solace, we'd seen Bond's first mission, his first true love, his first betrayal, and learned of the childhood trauma that shaped him into the international man of mystery that we all know and love.

With a newly-introduced, newly-youthified Q (Ben Whishaw), a brand-new Miss Moneypenny (Naomie Harris), and Ralph Fiennes as a freshly-installed M to give Bond his marching orders, it sure looked like the pump was primed for the kind of traditional heightened reality 007 escapades that audiences had been thrilling to right up to the beginning of Craig's tenure. But not quite. With Spectre, number twenty-four in the infinitely enduring franchise (and at 150 minutes this one really is an exercise in infinite endurance), there's yet more origin to unfurl.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Countdown to 007: Skyfall (2012)

I saw Spectre last night, and I have plenty of thoughts, but they'll have to wait until tomorrow for my review. In the meantime, let's take a trip back to 2012 to see what I thought of the last Bond opus, Skyfall, when it came out:
There's a particular, special kind of pomp that greets the clockwork release of James Bond's cinematic escapades every couple of years. It's a pomp that at once underscores each new installment's role as the storied series' leading edge, while at the same time highlighting its ultimate transience as just one small cog in the machine that is, first and foremost, "The Franchise." The most successful of its kind. More than any individual film in the vast, ever-expanding catalogue, the Bond films' place of permanence comes from the totality of that catalogue, the breadth and width of which has long since rendered the films a kind of pop culture perpetual motion machine, ensuring that they carry on simply because they carry on.
Continue reading...

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Fixer

At the start of this campaign season, it sure looked like the Republican nomination was Jeb Bush's for the taking. Given sinking poll numbers, a flailing campaign, and the uncharismatic candidate at its center, that presumption seems almost comical in hindsight, especially when we see the Bush brother's hapless attempts reset the narrative.

The latest try at stanching the bleeding (which includes several donors skedaddling) comes via the just-announced campaign slogan "Jeb Can Fix It," which quickly elicited guffaws and mockery from the online commentariat. However, as Heather Digby Parton remembers, there's one instance where Jeb most definitely did "fix it." And not in a good way. Says she:
Anyone old enough to remember that election night, which was 15 years ago today, will remember that the outcome of the electoral college depended on that one state. And what came next is exactly what anyone would have predicted would happen when an election is so close it triggers a recount in a state in which the levers of power and the electoral machinery are run by one of the candidates’ brothers. That candidate was the one who became president.
Honestly, it all feels like yesterday. Read the rest from Parton here.

Countdown to 007: Quantum of Solace (2008)

The countdown to Spectre continues! Here's what I had to say about Daniel Craig's second bout of Bondage, Quantum of Solace, upon its release in 2008:
If there was any doubt after 2006’s “James Bond Begins” franchise reinvention Casino Royale that the producers of Hollywood’s longest running series wanted to take a hard left turn from the excesses of the Pierce Brosnan era, one need look no further than star Daniel Craig’s second go-round with Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Quantum of Solace.  
Like the previous installment in the reinvigorated series, the filmmakers, led by director Marc Forster (Stranger Than Fiction, Finding Neverland) have made a concerted effort to eschew many of the Bond tropes that are so familiar they’ve come to be thought of as essential to the series’ survival. Once again there’s no Q, no Moneypenny, and about the most exotic thing Bond does with his cell phone is make phone calls.
Continue reading...

Monday, November 02, 2015

The Long Trek Back...to TV

Just over ten years ago, while taking stock of the series finale of Star Trek: Enterprise, I noted that while it brought the curtain down on seventeen uninterrupted years of TV trekking, the franchise would eventually be back. And return it did, four years later, via the J.J. Abrams-helmed feature film reboot that has spawned one sequel already with another on the way. Of course, the small screen has always been Trek's true home, so we all knew it was only a matter of time before it boldly went back there. And now comes word via CBS, the franchise's current minders, that Star Trek is indeed returning -- albeit with a twist.

Countdown to 007: Casino Royale (2006)

With this week's stateside debut of Spectre, the latest James Bond opus, I thought this was a good time to look back at my reviews of the current run of Daniel Craig-led flicks. Here's what I said about Casino Royale upon its premiere in 2006:
When last we left him in 2002's Die Another Day, James Bond (Pierce Brosnan), armed with an invisible Aston Martin, a gun-toting Halle Berry at his side, had just defeated a face-changing Korean colonel and his giant space laser. If that description elicits more of a groan than a gasp, you're not alone. After forty-plus years of cinematic spectacle, it's easy to understand why Agent 007's recent adventures haven't done very much to leave expectant audiences shaken or stirred.
Continue reading...

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Nostalgia Theater Rewind: James Bond Jr. Flunks Out

The twenty-fourth (official) James Bond epic, Spectre, hits stateside theaters this week, and if you've been reading me for any length of time, you already know how excited I am. You can look for my review of that one shortly, but in the meantime, I thought this was as good a time as any to revisit my piece from three years ago (on the eve of the last Bond movie's debut), examining the here-and-gone life of Agent 007's teenaged nephew, who headlined the short-lived James Bond Jr. multimedia onslaught in the early '90s. While the younger Bond may have had his famous uncle's name and accent, neither was enough to endear him to an apathetic public. Why was that? Well, watch the video after the jump and read on...

Continue reading...

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Recommended Reading

Ben Carson may well be a brain surgeon, but based on the litany of extraordinarily moronic statements he's making in his bid to become president, he's also not especially bright. And yet, just like with Donald Trump, repeated demonstrations of rampant stupidity are doing nothing to dent the poll numbers for either of these presumptive frontrunners. Why is that, exactly? Mike Lofgren has some ideas in a new piece examining the rise of "anti-knowledge" as something that's prized by the GOP's base. Says he:
Anti-knowledge is a subset of anti-intellectualism, and as Richard Hofstadter has pointed out, anti-intellectualism has been a recurrent feature in American life, generally rising and receding in synchronism with fundamentalist revivalism. 
The current wave, which now threatens to swamp our political culture, began in a similar fashion with the rise to prominence in the 1970s of fundamentalists like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. But to a far greater degree than previous outbreaks, fundamentalism has merged its personnel, its policies, its tactics and its fate with a major American political party, the Republicans.
Read the rest here.

From The Onion...

John Boehner To Paul Ryan: ‘I Was Once Young And Beautiful Too’
WASHINGTON—Pulling the congressman aside Wednesday and sitting him down in his office, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) reportedly told his likely successor, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), that he had once been young and beautiful too. “There was a time when I had that youthful glow and that glimmer in my eye, just like you; but time passes, and alas, it takes its toll,” said Boehner as he gently brushed the back of his hand along Ryan’s cheek and recalled how he had, years earlier, possessed unspoiled good looks, an innocent charm and energy, and a popularity among his party much the same as that of his heir apparent. “You might not believe it looking at this old, withered shell sitting before you now, but back so many years ago in 2011, I was no different than you—a bright young thing that every Republican congressman wanted to be seen around Washington with. But that doesn’t last forever, my child. Once that pretty face fades and the magic melts away, they have no use for you in this business—none at all.” At press time, a single tear was rolling down Boehner’s cheek after the Speaker turned away in disgust from the wizened, timeworn face he glimpsed in a wall-mounted mirror.

007@40: On Her Majesty's Secret Service

Originally written: March 20, 2002

Note: With the impending release of Spectre, the 24th entry in the James Bond, I went into my archives and found this piece I wrote during the franchise's fortieth anniversary year about one of its most underrated entries. In the more than thirteen years since I wrote it, it's somewhat gratifying that the rest of the world has gradually come around to the fact that this is an overlooked gem in the 007 canon. Meanwhile, look out for my Spectre review this Thursday!

His name was Lazenby. George Lazenby.

The year was 1969, and the most popular movie series of the '60s had found itself without its leading man. After starring in five James Bond features, Sean Connery, the man who—thirty years later—remains inextricably linked with the role he first brought to the silver screen, bowed out of the franchise. This left producers Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli in a bit of a bind. Their answer lay in the handsome 28-year-old Lazenby.

Friday, October 30, 2015

INTERVIEW: Writer/Director James Vanderbilt on Truth

Cate Blanchett and Robert Redford seek to uncover the Truth
James Vanderbilt is the in-demand writer behind some of the most high-profile releases in Hollywood for more than a decade now, having penned such memorably diverse films as The Losers, Zodiac, and The Rundown. For his directing debut, Truth, the veteran screenwriter chose to dramatize 60 Minutes II's 2004 investigation into President Bush's National Guard service, a story whose aftermath proved so explosive that it led to the resignation/retirement of longtime CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather, who reported the story.

The film stars Cate Blanchett as 60 Minutes producer Mary Mapes (upon whose memoir the script is based), and movie legend Robert Redford as news legend Rather, and it's imminently watchable thanks to the investigative format and the sterling cast that's been assembled. I recently had a chance to talk Truth with the game Vanderbilt, as well as his work on the two Amazing Spider-Man films and my fondness for White House Down. In addition, we also discussed the state of TV news in the aftermath of the events of Truth. What follows are some highlights from that conversation:

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The MovieFilm Podcast: Episode 81

For this week's show, after taking stock of the aftermath of last week's once-in-a-lifetime Back to the Future day (make sure you listen to our special commentary track!) Brian and I offer up our quick reactions to whole host of new releases from the past month, including the Robert Zemeckis thriller The Walk, the drug drama Sicario, Steven Spielberg's latest team-up with Tom Hanks Bridge of Spies, and the Michael Fassbender starrer Steve Jobs.

From there, catch my interview with director Danny Boyle about the film, and then dive in to a whole host of headlines, including the futures of the Terminator and Indiana Jones franchises, and the lack of a future for cult TV comedy Community. Finally, get our thoughts on the newest, final trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. As always, listen below or via iTunes or Stitcher or TuneIn Radio (and make sure to write us a review!). Drop us a line at MovieFilmPodcast@gmail.com, or at our Facebook page to tell us how we're doing!

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Nostalgia Theater: How Jem Was Truly Outrageous

There's a Jem and the Holograms feature film (helmed by G.I. Joe: Retaliation's Jon M. Chu) flopping hard in theaters right now, and while I'm sure much Internet ink will be spent examining why the flick, based on a popular toyline and animated series from the '80s, died on the vine, that's not what this is about. I haven't seen the movie, so I can't comment on that. And while hardly an expert on the TV show, I've received enough requests to look at it that I figured this was the moment to unleash my inner Jem Girl.

The Jem media franchise was launched in 1985 by toymaker Hasbro, no doubt wanting to capitalize on the ubiquity of MTV during that era by providing young girls with a whole array of rocking role models with all the fashion arrays and accessories necessary to give Mattel's Barbie a run for her money. Given Hasbro's success with G.I. Joe and Transformers earlier in the decade, they no doubt hoped some of that same cross-promotional mojo would rub off.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Zaki's Original Review: What Dreams May Come

First published October 9, 1998
Note: Given the subject matter, obviously this film has taken on an entirely different kind of significance following Robin Williams death. I haven't revisited the film since his passing, and to be honest I'm not really in a hurry to do so.

Robin Williams is a human contradiction.

On the one hand he's the manic comedic presence that has been crowned "The Funniest Man Alive" by no less prestigious a publication than Entertainment Weekly. On the other hand, he gives the kind of dramatic performances that have powered films like Dead Poets Society, Awakenings, and Good Will Hunting (for which he took home a deserved Oscar).