Saturday, February 28, 2015

A Favorite Spock Moment

As people continue to mourn Leonard Nimoy, I'm seeing folks throw all kinds of terrific Star Trek clips on social media and elsewhere to commemorate him, and figured I'd toss one into the mix as well. Believe it or not, it comes from the William Shatner-directed Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, generally accepted as being one of the weakest of all the features (the weakest weakest is actually this one).

Nonetheless, for all its failings, Trek V is the only flick to really focus on the Trek troika of Kirk, Spock, and Bones, illustrating how their unique bond is what gave the original Star Trek so much of its enduring appeal. Thus, the scene below plays on the camaraderie that the characters (and actors) developed after decades working and playing together, and it runs the gamut from easygoing to introspective to humorous, culminating in one of my favorite Spock moments. Check it out:

Friday, February 27, 2015

Leonard Nimoy, RIP

I knew it was coming.

I'd steeled myself for grim news when I read earlier in the week that he'd been admitted to a hospital due to chest pains, but that didn't make it any less of a gut punch to actually see the headline that Leonard Nimoy, 83, was gone.

This one hurts for a variety of reasons. The older you get, the more aware you become of the immutable passage of time. Your own mortality starts feeling more starkly pronounced, as does that of the people close to you, and the people you admire. Certainly Nimoy falls into that latter camp. While he amassed a raft of impressive accomplishments during his many years in and out of the film industry, it's of course for his pointy-eared alter ego as the original Star Trek's Mr. Spock, such an indelible part of so many of our lives, that he'll rightly be remembered, in death just as he was in life.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Mendes Goes Back to Bond

Three years ago director Sam Mendes spearheaded the 50th anniversary 007 pic Skyfall, and brought the series its biggest box office to date. As such, it's not altogether surprising that the Bond braintrust wanted him back for Spectre, the latest entry in the series. What is somewhat surprising is that the in-demand Oscar winner decided to re-up for another go in the franchise trenches. Part of this can be chalked up to his longstanding friendship with current 007 Daniel Craig (who he directed in 2002's Road to Perdition), but for more on Mendes' reasons for returning, check out the video blog below. (And look for Spectre in theaters this November.)

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Two Americas

This vid from The New York Times lays out the impending challenge to the Affordable Care Act which the Supreme Court will begin hearing arguments for next month. Based on how the SCOTUS rules, it could potentially make one's geographic location the primary factor in whether one does or doesn't have access to care.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Impaired Judgment

Jon Stewart may have just announced the impending end of his Daily Show tenure, but at least we know that John Oliver is still in the comedy news trenches over at HBO. And pieces like the one below showcase the fake news host at his best, as he brings down the hammer on the notion of judges being elected to their posts.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Racial Stockholm Syndrome

I've previously referred to right wing wannabe provocateur/convicted felon Dinesh D'Souza as a "walking, talking embodiment of racial Stockholm Syndrome" due to his almost-gleeful willingness to be horribly, racially offensive while attacking President Obama. (And as a bonus, these attempts at humor usually fall painfully flat.) Given D'Souza's Indian background, as someone who's likely dealt with a fair amount of racial prejudice in his own life, this always struck me as curious. Simply put, you think he'd know better.

Of course, Dinesh isn't alone on that front. In recent weeks we've also seen Louisiana guv Bobby Jindal trying desperately to convince the Republican base to support him for president, using every opportunity to stoke the fires of Islamophobia by touting discredited claims of Muslim "no-go zones" in Europe. Again, you'd think Jindal, also Indian, would know better. Nonetheless, the pattern of non-white conservatives bending over to attack non-white non-conservatives in racially blinkered terms is clear for anyone to see, and The New Republic's Jeet Heer picks apart some of what may be the roots of this phenomenon.

Nostalgia Theater: WildC.A.T.s -- More Craptastic Saturday Morning Superheroes

Last week I discussed the aggressively mediocre Ultraforce animated show from 1995, and how it grew out of the desire to incubate another superhero success story a la Fox's Marvel Comics-inspired X-Men 'toon. Well, Ultraforce wasn't the only specimen to emerge from that particular eugenics lab. Another such try aired on CBS a year earlier, and this one probably had more of a claim on some of that X-Men mojo. I'm speaking of WildC.A.T.s, based on a comic book created by artist Jim Lee in late '92.

Lee had, of course, made his bones by revitalizing the X-Men characters for Marvel in the early '90s, including designing the various costumes and accoutrements that would appear in the animated show. But disenchantment with the state of corporate comics at the time, where artists would see their work appear on t-shirts, posters, and other merchandising without much payback, led him and many of his fellow Marvel mainstays to bolt and form their own company, Image Comics.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

"I Feel Intensely Alive"

Famed author and neurologist Oliver Sacks (Awakenings) recently received the kind of diagnosis no one wants and few are ready for: terminal cancer. With the limits of his mortality now within sight, the 81-year-old author has penned an essay for The New York Times taking stock of this devastating news, analyzing what it means for the time he has left, and in essence saying goodbye. Given the journey that we're all on, this is a profound piece that's worth reading and re-reading.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Diffused Congruence: Al Jazeera’s Wajahat Ali

This month we're joined by award-winning playwright, journalist, and humorist Wajahat Ali for a far-ranging conversation that starts with a lengthy discussion about the recent tragic shooting of three Muslim college students in Chapel Hill, NC. After that, we tacklee Wajahat's work on Fear, Inc., a report uncovering the Islamophobia network, as well as how his other recent projects are helping to positively shape the American Muslim narrative today. There's plenty of deep thoughts and big laughs, and you can listen to it all via the embed below, or you can download at the link. As always, make sure to hit us up at our Facebook page to let us know how we're doing!

Zaki's Review: McFarland, USA

Coach Jim White (Kevin Costner) embraces his runners
When I reviewed Ivan Reitman's behind-the-scenes football drama Draft Day last year, I made the observation that pairing star Kevin Costner with any given athletic competition tends to pay crowd-pleasing dividends. And now here comes McFarland, USA to help me double down on the point. The true life tale, directed by Whale Rider's Niki Caro and featuring Costner as the harried coach of an underdog cross country team in California's Central Valley, tells its by-the-bootstraps story so winningly that, predictable though it may be, it's still hard not to find it thoroughly rousing.

It's 1987, and Costner's Jim White finds himself with dwindling options career-wise. A series of altercations over the course of several coaching gigs has left him with the only job that will have him: serving as the extremely overqualified assistant coach for the extremely under-qualified football team at McFarland High, situated in one of the most poverty stricken municipalities in the entire country. With its student population comprised of a heavily latino population where higher education is a secondary priority to helping their families earn a living harvesting crops, it sure seems like White has landed in career purgatory.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Aquaman Looks Awesome!

From the very beginning, when actor Jason Momoa was announced as the guy to wield Aquaman's trident in the upcoming Batman v. Superman and Justice League flicks, I've been down with the casting. Momoa made for a great Conan the Barbarian in an otherwise uneven film, and I was confident that his presence in the role would finally, decisively kill the "Aquaman is lame" chorus that's drowned the character (snicker) for decades now. And with director Zack Snyder's first reveal of Momoa as DC Comics' king of the oceans via Twitter, we see that they're not messing around. (The "seven" being united are the other league members, presumably.) It's a far cry from this, that's for sure! I've still got my concerns about how this film is gonna come together, but Aquaman ain't one of them. Dig it.

Zaki's Review: Kingsman: The Secret Service

Colin Firth teaches Taran Egerton the ropes
It honestly feels like just a few weeks ago that I was sitting in a theater watching xXx (the movie, not the genre). Positioned as kind of an extreme sports response to the long-lived James Bond series, the 2002 Vin Diesel starrer (which I've often referred to as "Poochie: The Movie") starts out with a tuxedo-clad 007 doppelgänger being dispatched by the baddies in a manner clearly meant to announce that Bond was too staid and stodgy to make it in these modern times. Of course, that was thirteen years and four Bonds ago, so I guess we know where audiences landed when it came to that particular choice.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The MovieFilm Podcast: Episode 64

The MovieFilm gang is back, and just in time to tackle last week's big news that Sony and Disney have come to an agreement to share Spider-Man. It's a deal that few thought would ever actually happen, and we're here to offer our thoughts on the details of the deal, and what should happen next with the web-slinger. In addition, we talk up Saturday Night Live's legacy of comedy after forty seasons, and scratch our heads over the stratospheric box office take of Fifty Shades of Grey. After that, it's on to the main event, as we unpack the eye-popping descent of the Wachowskis' Jupiter Ascending and the pleasant surprise that is Matthew Vaughn's Kingsman: The Secret Service. All that, plus Star Wars news, listener letters and more. You can listen in via the embed below, or stream at iTunes or Stitcher. And make sure you let us know how we're doing at our Facebook page!

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Nostalgia Theater: Ultraforce -- It Came From the Nineties!

A few years ago I talked at length about Fox's X-Men cartoon. Premiering in 1992, the series' out-of-the-gate popularity, the effects of which are still being felt today, had the trickle-down effect of prompting kidvid providers across TV land to scour for comic book properties that were still unspoken for, all in hopes of finding "their" X-Men. Some of the resultant offerings were pretty good, such as CBS's Cadillacs & Dinosaurs. Many weren't. And that's where this week's Nostalgia Theater comes in. First, however, a little background.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Recommended Reading

My friend Deanna Othman writing in the Chicago Tribune, mirrors what many Muslims are no doubt feeling in the aftermath of the Chapel Hill tragedy:
You ask yourself: Are we destined to remain "otherized," categorically excluded, alienated and repelled from the very society in which we live? Must we constantly assert our Americanness and prove our loyalty, only to be demonized, vilified and caricatured by our media?  
It is exhausting to feel compelled to constantly validate your identity. Must Muslims be paragons of excellence, lest there be a motive found for their murder other than sheer hatred? Littering? Running a stop sign? Being too loud?  
Read all of her piece here.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

"I can’t understand why someone would hate them enough to kill them"

Yesterday three innocent people were brutally -- horribly -- murdered in Chapel Hill, NC. Their names were Deah Barakat, his wife Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, and her sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha. They were young, they had their whole futures ahead of them, and they're gone now because a crazy person chose them to be the "other" upon which he would project all his rage, hate, and anger. This massacre ostensibly happened over a parking dispute. You'll forgive me if I treat that analysis with a degree of skepticism. I'm sure we'll know more as time goes on, but right now my mind is racing. It has been for the past day-and-a-half as I've read the details of the crime and looked at pictures of the victims. It's tragic on a whole host of levels. Everyone who reads this blog should read this piece by the victims' friend Amira Ata.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

End of an Era

I used the same phrase last fall when David Letterman announced his impending retirement, and now again, with today's announcement that Jon Stewart will shortly be abdicating his Daily Show throne. There's just no other way to describe it that seems appropriate. With Stephen Colbert already off prepping his CBS talker for its debut later this year, and now Stewart getting ready to sign-off The Daily Show for good, it really does feel like a seismic shift has happened while we weren't paying attention.

No date for the departure yet, but I expect we'll get that shortly, not to mention testimonials and memorials, heated speculation about a replacement, and details on what he plans to do after he stops living Daily to Daily. I'm sure I'll have more to say as his final show gets closer, but as I wrote last fall after interviewing him about his feature Rosewater, it's impossible to understate just how much of an influence Jon Stewart has been on my work, personality and overall worldview.

He's not truly going away, of course, but I'll miss him all the same.

Spider-Man Joins the MCU!

When I reviewed 2012's The Amazing Spider-Man, which restarted the superhero franchise from the ground-up a la Batman Begins after three previous entries, I likened it to hitting "reset" on a video game after losing only one life. It didn't make a lot of sense. Yes, 2007's Spider-Man 3 was pretty well lambasted by audiences and critics alike, but the Sony release still managed to score the highest global haul of that initial trifecta of films. Hardly an "abandon ship" moment.

Nonetheless, in a moment of creative panic spurred by the faintest possibility of losing their billion dollar baby to Disney if they waiting too long to get another movie made, they pulled the plug on the Sam Raimi-Tobey Maguire series, trading in for the Marc Webb-Andrew Garfield iteration. And while The Amazing Spider-Man 2 scored a not-inconsiderable $700+ mil worldwide last year, it was deemed a disappointment in relation to its not-insubstantial budget.

Zaki's Review: Jupiter Ascending

Just over sixteen years ago, I sat in a packed screening room on opening night for The Matrix, not knowing a thing about it beyond Laurence Fishburne's portentous intonation/command from the trailers that if you wanted to find out what it was, "You have to see it for yourself." And after I had, I felt like I'd discovered some secret treasure just for me. I have a feeling most of the folks who caught the movie that weekend felt something similar. As directed by the Wachowski siblings, The Matrix wasn't a sequel, prequel, remake or reboot, but it confidently created a mythology so intricate that it managed to sweep me up in a cinematic experience that remains, even today, a singular expression of everything the medium can be.

That said, it's weird how totally The Matrix has disappeared from our collective radar screen in the years since. It burned white hot, with its visuals and vernacular fully conquering the mainstream for awhile there, but then it just kind of faded away as quickly as it first appeared. Now, granted, the lackluster reception accorded the two sequels in 2003 probably didn't help in that regard, but in a way it's almost like the Wachowskis became imprisoned by the out-of-the-blue early success of their sci-fi spectacle. Try as they might, through would-be crowd pleasers and high concept "think" flicks, they just never quite managed to recapture that ineffable Matrix mojo.

Monday, February 09, 2015

The Original Law & Order Returns?

Hmm, could be.

As longtime readers know, the cancellation of the Law & Order mothership by NBC in 2010, just as it wrapped up its twentieth season, was something of a gut punch for me. For two decades producer Dick Wolf's quintessential procedural skein had been a regular part of my TV diet, and while I still dig SVU and the various other spin-offs, nothing has ever come close to the qualitative consistency of that original show. It certainly didn't help when the ostensible replacement, Law & Order: LA was done-and-gone inside of a season, with the UK version appearing to have gone away as well.

That said, I've got 456 episodes of OG L&O to content myself with, and the very format is such that it was always in the back of my mind that it wouldn't be too hard for NBC to turn the "da-dunk" spigot back on if the fancy struck. And while nothing is set in stone just yet

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Recommended Reading

Max Fisher at Vox on what the over-the-top reaction by the Fox News set to President Obama's comments at the National Prayer Breakfast, criticizing religious extremism of all flavors, is really about: "A number of Americans, it seems, are clinging desperately to their anti-Muslim bigotry and are furious at Obama for trying to take that away from them." Yep. Read the rest here.

Nostalgia Theater: Max Headroom Edition

When you look at the myriad of here-and-gone cultural phenoms of the 1980s, Max Headroom has to be right up near the top of the heap. Hyped as TV's first computer generated talking head, Max was actually a mixture of prosthetics and actor Matt Frewer, plus some handy-dandy digital stutter. No CGI, but plenty of buzz --- for about a minute-and-a-half, anyway. Whether that's because the concept was a flash in the pan or simply ahead of its time, I leave to you to determine. Max originally debuted via The Max Headroom Show, a music video showcase on England's Channel 4 in March of '86, with Max appearing between videos to offer commentary and non sequiturs. Here's the intro:

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Recommended Reading

Linda Greenhouse explains how, with the Affordable Care Act once again at risk thanks to the Supreme Court's impending ruling on King v. Burwell, the very nature of the SCOTUS's role and function in American policy-making may potentially be transformed irrevocably based on how they decide.

Friday, February 06, 2015

From The Onion...

I don't think it'll work, personally.
Company To Experiment With Valuing Employees 
SAN DIEGO—Cautioning that the initiative was being instituted on a trial basis only, Forrest Logistics CEO Wayne Gartner announced Thursday that the company had recently begun experimenting with valuing its employees. “For the next three months, we’ll be treating our workers as skilled professionals we appreciate having on our staff instead of as disposable laborers whose morale could not matter less to us,” said Gartner, telling reporters that during this provisional period, management would be assessing the long-term viability of constructively addressing employee concerns and creating an overall positive work environment. “This is completely new to us, obviously, but that’s why we’re just testing it out. If need be, we can go back to essentially telling our workers that they’re lucky we hired them in the first place.” At press time, the initiative had been canceled after estimates revealed it would cost the company upwards of $2,500 annually.

The Muslim Cop Show That Wasn't

My friend Wajahat Ali, currently an anchor on Al Jazeera America and also author of the award-winning play The Domestic Crusaders, has a new piece up over at The Atlantic on his trials and travails trying to sell a cop show to HBO, this one with a Muslim protagonist. Things didn't exactly go as planned, but as always with Wajahat, the resulting essay is funny and enlightening.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Late Night Leader

Exactly a year and a day ago I linked to a terrific interview with NBC's late night king Lorne Michaels on the occasion of Jimmy Fallon taking over The Tonight Show. While Michaels' stewardship of Fallon's Tonight and Seth Myers on Late Night is pretty high profile, it's the equivalent of extracurricular activity when measured against his actual gig, shepherding weekend workhorse Saturday Night Live. Currently in the midst of its fortieth season, there's an anniversary special to mark the occasion airing on the 15th, and Michaels has given another expansive interview, this time to The Hollywood Reporter, covering his history with the show, and some of the lessons he's internalized from his time in the trenches.

First Look at Marvel's Daredevil on Netflix

Way back in November of '13 I discussed Marvel Studios teaming up with Netflix to bring some of the superhero factory's second-tier characters to the streaming giant via a series of limited series. Well, it's almost two years later, and the first of these offerings, Daredevil, is due to hit in just eight short weeks. While many fans and non-fans are still nursing the wounds from 2003's feature film starring Ben Affleck, this version appears to be trying for a much darker take on the red-clad vigilante, with a serialized story playing out over the first season's thirteen episode (all of which will drop on the same day). Check out the trailer below, and look for Daredevil, starring Charlie Cox, Vincent D'Onofrio, Rosario Dawson, and Scott Glenn, on Netflix April 10.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Nostalgia Theater: Ghostbusters Cereal -- Whatcha Gonna Eat?

In another of those licensed cereals that came and went during the 1990s, we have Ralston's Ghostbusters, which combined generic puffs of sugar with marshmallows, and then passed it off as being part of a balanced breakfast. I remember eating this stuff with a lot of excitement, and I also remember it tasting pretty terrible.

When I went back and did some research, I was shocked to learn that it actually lasted five years, from 1985 to 1990. That's about five times longer than most licensed cereals without the word "Pebbles" in their name have managed, and I have to think that says more about the resilience of the brand than the relative quality of the breakfast crap. Here's a commercial for Ghostbusters cereal that first aired during '85-'86: