Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Recommended Reading

Legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin takes stock of the "pointless cowardice" that characterizes the speakership of John Boehner:
When Boehner announced his impending departure, he expressed pride that he had kept the government open (after a sixteen-day shutdown in 2013) and raised the debt limit. This, to paraphrase a famous Republican, reflects the soft bigotry of low expectations. Keeping the government open and paying its debts are the minimal undertakings of an elected body, not legislative triumphs. But Boehner could point to almost nothing else that happened on his watch, because the Tea Party would tolerate nothing else.
Read the rest here.

Zaki's Review: Sicario

After being entranced and unnerved by Denis Villeneuve's uncompromising morality fable Prisoners two years ago, I knew right away he was a director to keep an eye on, and I eagerly awaited word of his next project. Well, with the arrival of his equally entrancing and raw Sicario, it's clear that my early faith in the French helmer was well justified. With its visceral depiction of the United States government's ongoing war against Mexican drug cartels, Sicario is so grimy you can practically feel it under your fingernails like soot. Not a feel-good movie, but a damn good one.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Migration Consternation

Here's John Oliver from last night's Last Week Tonight, pointing out how the rush of Syrian refugees fleeing to Europe from ISIS terror has become the latest fright fest for the media. Trevor Noah's Daily Show premieres tonight, but I gotta tell ya, as far as heirs to Jon Stewart go, he's gonna be hard pressed to match what Oliver has been doing so darn well on his show:

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Nostalgia Theater: Street Justice Edition

Bryan Genesse and Carl Weathers dispense Street Justice
Street Justice was part of the assembly-line of syndicated action shows that littered weekend afternoon lineups for local stations in the early part of the '90s. Premiering in September of 1991, the series was (and is) perhaps most notable for being the first series vehicle for actor Carl Weathers, the one-time Action Jackson who'd spend the better part of the previous decade bolstering his action bona fides by squaring off with Sylvester Stallone in several Rocky movies, and matching muscles with Arnold Scharzenegger in Predator.

Produced by the late Stephen J. Cannell, Street Justice may have been utterly generic, but its "filmed in Vancouver" aesthetic and by-commitee premise was perfectly suited to the first-run syndication landscape of the era. The gist: Weathers is tough guy soldier-turned-cop Adam Beaudreaux. Every week, he's assisted in his cases by tough guy martial artist-turned-barteneder Grady Jameson (Bryan Genesse). Together they dispense...street justice! Here, watch the intro, and just feel the '90s washing over you:

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Zaki's Original Review: Meet Joe Black

 First published: November 20, 1998

Before Titanic, the idea of a three hour love story would've been laughed out of every pitch session in Hollywood. Then along came the Ship That Cameron Built, and studio heads realized there was a vast audience of pubescent girls ready to eat up scene after scene of gorgeous people making goo-goo eyes at each other and getting it on. Enter Martin Brest's Meet Joe Black.

What I find interesting is that 1934's Death Takes a Holiday, the inspiration for Joe Black, barely clocks in under 80 minutes. Of course, the original didn't have Brad Pitt. Or Claire Forlani. Or, for that matter, the promise of Brad Pitt and Claire Forlani "doing it." However, if it's the movie's love story aspect that makes it the most marketable, it's this same angle that bogs it down and keeps it from becoming something more.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Recommended Reading

Between Donald Trump, Ben Carson, and that kid with the clock in Texas, the last few weeks have seen a crazy escalation of the usual, run-of-the-mill Islamophobia that's pretty much part-and-parcel of today's GOP. Nonetheless, in the face of such rampant xenophobia it's helpful to remember just ho intrinsically America's Muslims are tied to the American experience. Here's a great piece by Joshua Holland at The Nation underscoring this fact.

Boehner Bounces

In news that's both surprising and totally not surprising, Speaker John Boehner announced this morning that he'll be abdicating his current leadership role in the GOP, presumably tiring of being portrayed as feckless and ineffectual even as he's trying to stem the tide of Tea Party crazy that's infested the majority of his caucus. My friend Zaki Barzinji sums up my thoughts:
The fact that the rabid wing of the GOP was able to paint Boehner as an Obama sympathizer, when the dude spent so much time being such a stick in the mud, should be verrrry concerning. No sane person should be celebrating this turn of events. At the same time, it's hard to feel sympathy for Boehner and the "moderate" wing of the GOP when they are the ones that courted and gave legitimacy to the Tea Partiers in the first place. Frankenstein's monster indeed. Messy, messy.
For more on what led to Boehner bouncing, read Robert Costa's write-up at the Washington Post.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

INTERVIEW: Josh McDermitt on The Walking Dead, Fear of Dying, and Walker Stalker Con

Josh McDermitt has been a familiar face on televisions screens for the past few years, notching regular and recurring roles on such shows as Retired at 35 and Mad Men among many others. However, it’s a safe bet that the actor has reached his widest audience as Eugene, the mulleted genius who occupies a unique place in the extended ensemble of AMC’s megahit The Walking Dead. McDermitt will begin his third season on the zombie drama next month, and he took some time to chat with us about his character, his take on the show’s popularity, and much more, including his upcoming visit to greater Philadelphia for this weekend’s Walker Stalker Con.

Continue reading at Philly Weekly....

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Recommended Reading

Like most people, I've found a kind of car-wreck fascination with the Donald Trump presidential campaign, knowing that even if he somehow manages to wrest the nomination from the so-called "establishment," his noxious views will do little else but alienate the majority of the electorate. Regardless, for folks who are worried about the longterm damage Trump could do to our political process, Frank Rich has some comforting words:
In the short time since Trump declared his candidacy, he has performed a public service by exposing, however crudely and at times inadvertently, the posturings of both the Republicans and the Democrats and the foolishness and obsolescence of much of the political culture they share. He is, as many say, making a mockery of the entire political process with his bull-in-a-china-shop antics. But the mockery in this case may be overdue, highly warranted, and ultimately a spur to reform rather than the crime against civic order that has scandalized those who see him, in the words of the former George W. Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson, as “dangerous to democracy.”
More from Rich here.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The MovieFilm Podcast: Episode 79

For this week's show we start by offering quick takes on M. Night Shyamalan's The Visit and the new IMAX-3D spectacle Everest, before diving into the latest headlines out of Hollywood. Arnold Schwarzenegger is hosting Celebrity Apprentice, Liam Neeson is parodying Liam Neeson action movies, and we can look forward (or not?) to another Charlie's Angels reboot. We talk about it all, plus much more! There's also my fascinating interview with actor-producer Robert Leeshock about his new film Star Leaf, as well as his work on the '90s TV series Earth: Final Conflict. In addition, we also have the usual Listener Letters and Star Wars news that you've come to expect. 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, September 21, 2015

From The Onion...

Gallup Pollster Forced To Cut Off Another GOP Voter’s Enraged Rant In Order To Get To Next Call 
WASHINGTON—Saying the measure was necessary to ensure he met his daily quota of surveys administered, Gallup pollster Marc Perello told reporters that he was forced to cut off another GOP voter’s enraged rant Monday in order to get to his next phone call. “I made it through the first few questions about the respondent’s preferred presidential candidates just fine, but once I asked him about immigration and he launched into a whole rant about states’ rights, I knew I was in for a long one,” said Perello, who added that, after nine minutes of patiently listening to the livid caller’s ramblings shift from disgust with the state of the economy to fears about America’s declining influence on the world stage, he finally decided to skip the last three questions of the survey, interjected by thanking the man for his time, and hung up the phone. “I’ve learned that whenever one of them starts in about handouts or activist judges, it’s usually not worth even trying to redirect them to the next question. And they rarely tire out. Once they build up a head of steam, you just have to cut your losses and move on, otherwise you’ll only get through maybe five or six calls during the entire day.” At press time, Perello was reportedly assuring a caller that he had written down every word of his fuming five-minute response to a yes-or-no question about contraception coverage.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Nostalgia Theater Flash-back: 25 Years of the Fastest Man Alive!

John Wesley Shipp as TV's first Flash
The CW's The Flash is weeks away from beginning its much-anticipated second season, and the mere act of returning for year two has already placed it ahead of its predecessor. But lest we forget the Flash's all-important TV legacy (and the Flash is one character who's all about legacy), twenty-five years ago today, basking in the glow from their recent success with Batman on the big screen, DC Comics teamed with CBS-TV to bring their long-running (sorry) character to the small one.

While they'd been around in animated form for awhile, this was the first serious try at bringing any of DC's heroes outside of the Big Three (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman) to live action. And while the resultant effort (as developed by Danny Bilson & Paul De Meo) was greeted with critical plaudits and a warm embrace by fandom, its shelf-life would prove short-lived. Click past the jump to read my piece from last year looking at the blazing start and sudden stop of TV's first Flash series!

Continue reading...

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Diffused Congruence: Hind Makki

This episode we're joined by Hind Makki, interfaith activist, speaker, and founder of the globally-acclaimed website Side Entrance, which catalogs the "sisters' sections" of mosques all over the world. In addition to discussing her interfaith work, Hind also shares her experiences with ISNA (the Islamic Society of North America), talks about the role of feminism in Islam, plus much more. It's a fascinating conversation that we're confident you'll enjoy listening to just as much as we enjoying engaging in it. 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!

Zaki's Original Review: Ransom

First published November 27, 1996

Mel Gibson show us the money, with a picture of his son (Brawley Nolte) in the background
Note: This is one of my earliest reviews, written for my high school paper, The North Current, and as such it's one of the more cringe-inducing pieces in my archives. First of all, I give away way too much of the plot in the summary, and second, my analysis is, well, frankly a bit pedantic. That said, I don't disagree with my ultimate conclusion, that Ransom is a damn fine film, I just have issues with how I ended up there. Whaddya do. Also, given his career-killing shenanigans in recent years, the first sentence does take on an extra, unintended layer of irony when read now. 

Mel Gibson has always been one of Hollywood's most dependable actors. Even when the movie in which he's appearing is less than stellar, Gibson can always be counted on to deliver a solid performance. One need only look at otherwise forgettable fare like Bird on a Wire or The Man Without a Face to realize this.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Hating Superman

As a lifelong Superman man, one thing that never fails to irk me is when the character is written off as lame or one-dimensional or whatnot. We're kind of seeing that happening (at least implicitly) with the upcoming Batman v. Superman, which was meant to serve as a sequel to Man of Steel, but felt the need to add Batman in there to up the "cool" factor. Because, y'know, we just can't count on boring Big Blue to do the job himself. None of that is true, of course, and as I've talked about previously, his long history is an indication of the many ways the Superman myth can be interpreted and reinterpreted. So why the hate? Well, as this fun vid from Alex Schmidt at Cracked makes clear, when we're hating on Superman, we're really hating ourselves. Think about it.

Zaki's Review: Everest

Jason Clarke leads the team in Everest
"Because it's there," said famed mountaineer George Mallory in 1924 when asked why he wanted to climb Mount Everest. Those words came just before his third and final try at the mountain, as he disappeared shortly thereafter, with his frozen remains finally discovered some seventy-five years later. And yet, Mallory's tossed-off bon mot sums up the fascinating paradox that drives the need to conquer that particular peak.

So powerful is the mountain's pull that it compels men and women with families, livelihoods, and everything in the world to live for, to spend ungodly amounts of money and put themselves in very real harm for a small chance at scaling the summit and owning an achievement that only a handful of humans can claim. More than 200 people have died making the ascent, but new climbers arrive every year hoping to etch a place for themselves in the history books.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

New Creed Trailer Packs a Punch!

An emotional punch, that is.

I linked to the first trailer for the Rocky sequel/spin-off Creed, starring Michael B. Jordan as the son of deceased pugilist Apollo Creed, a few months ago. That trailer, which I first saw in front of Terminator Genisys, ended up being the best thing about that otherwise execrable experience. And now the second assemblage has dropped, and this latest look at the Ryan Googler-directed film gives us even more of an insight into how things have progressed with our favorite Italian Stallion in the nine long years since we last saw him. Clearly life has taken a toll (we also learn the fate of one beloved Rocky supporting player, *sniffle*), but the former champ still has plenty of heart, which he's no doubt doing his best to pass on to his new charge. Watch the vid after the jump. Creed hits theaters November 25, sandwiched between Bond and Star Wars. Not a bad lineup for the end of the year!

Monday, September 14, 2015

From The Onion...

Droll, Onion. Very, very droll.
Amount Of Water Man Just Used To Wash Dish To Be Prize Of Hand-To-Hand Combat Match In 2065
HARTFORD, CT—Noting how it would one day be regarded as an almost unimaginably precious bounty, sources confirmed Tuesday that the quantity of water local resident Kevin Lachowsky just used to wash a single dish will be the same amount awarded as the grand prize of hand-to-hand death matches in the year 2065. According to reports, the volume of water that passed down the 33-year-old’s drain as he cleaned a small salad bowl will, in 50 years’ time, be battled over by pairs of men who will repeatedly slam each other into the rock walls of a shallow pit in an attempt to kill one another and claim the life-sustaining reward for themselves. The victors in these future melees will, by all accounts, gladly choke the last shreds of life out of their opponents given the overwhelming motivation provided by the equivalent of the 17 seconds of tap water that Lachowsky had recently used to remove a thin film of leftover salad dressing from the ceramic vessel. At press time, sources reported that the amount of water Lachowsky continued to let run from his faucet while placing the newly clean dish in the drying rack would, half a century from now, be the quantity exchanged when selling a human being into slavery.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Nostalgia Theater: Space: 1999 Gets Mooned!

L-R: Catherine Schell, Barbara Bain, Martin Landau
Space: 1999 is one of those fandoms that kind of passed me by. Airing for two seasons from 1975 to 1977, it had already come and gone well before I even made my entrée onto this mortal coil. And by the time I was old enough to have an awareness of such things, I'd pretty much set my fanboy compass for Star Trek and Star Wars (and Planet of the Apes, natch). Nonetheless, I've gotten plenty of requests to cover the show here in Nostalgia Theater, and given that this is "Breakaway Day" -- I'll explain in a second -- I figured what better time than now:

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Zaki's Original Review: Pleasantville

First published: October 30, 1998

Note: Pleasantville was my first exposure to Tobey Maguire. As you can see from this review, he made a definite positive impression on me, but little did I know that just under four years later he'd become one of the biggest stars in the world. Also, interesting to see how far director Gary Ross has come from his beginnings here, having gone to helm the first film in the Hunger Games franchise. Also interesting to note how truly timeless the film's central message is no matter how much time passes since its initial release.

On the most superficial level, Pleasantville is a deconstruction of the conventions and cliches of sitcoms in the 1950s. It goes much deeper, however. The film is a multi work that deserves to be analyzed and re-analyzed for years to come.

The story tells of siblings David and Jennifer (Tobey Maguire, Reese Witherspoon), who wind up inside "Pleasantville,"a faux-sitcom in the mold of Father Knows Best, with the black & white color scheme to match, after being given a strange remote control by an even stranger TV repair man (Don Knotts). This premise hardly fills one with confidence, and indeed the basic setup served as the plot for 1992's forgettable John Ritter-Pam Dawber vehicle Stay Tuned. Were Pleasantville to play out its hand as a Leave it to Beaver parody, it may have been adequate, if equally forgettable, fantasy.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Zaki's Review: The Visit

The last ten years have been tough ones for M. Night Shyamalan. After the late-'90s/early aughts trifecta of The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and Signs marked him (per a Newsweek cover story) as "The Next Spielberg," he ran aground with 2004's The Village, and things only got rougher from there. With his After Earth disappointing two years ago, it's understandable that the writer-director would return to kind of small scale chiller-thriller that paid so many critical and commercial dividends for him early on. Unfortunately, The Visit isn't so much a bold reconquest of his home turf as it is a sad marker of just how far those glory days are.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Taibbi: GOP is "Party of White Paranoia"

Matt Taibbi examines how the entry of Donald Trump into the GOP presidential derby did the job of making this a "race" race. Says he:
Not far under the surface of Trump's candidacy lurks a powerful current of Internet conspiracy theory that's a good two or three degrees loonier than even the most far-out Tea Party paranoia. Gone are the salad days when red-staters merely worried about Barack Obama inviting UN tanks to mass on the borders of Lubbock.  
Trump supporters have gone next-level, obsessed with gooney-bird fantasies about "white genocide," a global plan to exterminate white people by sending waves of third-world immigrants across American and European borders to settle and intermarry.
Read more here.

The MovieFilm Podcast: Episode 78

Continuing a post-Labor Day tradition, the MovieFilm gang is back with a super-sized episode taking stock of the summer movie season that just ended. From Furious 7 to Avengers to Straight Outta Compton, it's been a year of big money and big surprises, and we take stock of the winners and losers, as well as making our predictions for the remainder of the year. We also remember the late, great Wes Craven, discuss what we learned on "Force Friday," and I share the story of how my heartfelt interview with Andrew Garfield about The Amazing Spider-Man caught fire all over the Internet and went viral! In addition, there's the usual Headlines, Listener Letters, and witty banter you've come to expect. Listen to it all below, or via iTunes or Stitcher (be sure to write us a review!). You an also drop us a line at MovieFilmPodcast@gmail.com, or at our our Facebook page to tell us how we're doing!

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Nostalgia Theater: Darkwing Duck -- Let's Get Dangerous!

The last time I looked at an entry in the syndicated Disney Afternoon block was waaaaay back in April of last year, so I figured it was time to hop back and talk up another weekday animated series from the Mouse House. After DuckTales finished out its extraordinarily successful four seasons, development began on a spin-off for the skein. After briefly mulling a James Bond parody, they instead invented the new character Drake Mallard, an ordinary duck who spends his nights prowling the streets as...Darkwing Duck:

Saturday, September 05, 2015

Zaki's Original Review: October Sky

First published: March 5, 1999
The struggle between father and son (Chris Cooper, left, and Jake Gyllenhaal, right, lies at the center of October Sky
Note: For as much as I loved October Sky, the main reason I chose to review it was that I was so disgusted by my selected review movie of that week, Joel Schumacher's Nic Cage starrer 8MM, that I said I'd rather do something uplifting and meaningful (8MM does get one mention here). It's interesting to look at the arc of Jake Gyllenhaal's career today, knowing this is where it all started for him. Also, one thing I'd change in this is the needless knock on Ryan Philippe's acting abilities. Not sure why I had an axe to grind with the guy, but he's gone on to some very fine work.

Most of today's movie tearjerkers end up being so full of pretension and phony baloney earnestness that viewers practically choke on the sentiment being jammed down their throats. Simon Birch was one such movie and Patch Adams was another. October Sky could easily have gone down a similar path, but thankfully it doesn't. Make no mistake, it's wholesome. Unapologetically so. But it never lets the drama of its scenario descend into melodrama, and therein lies its strength.

Friday, September 04, 2015

Colbert Dings Jeb!

Stephen Colbert is set to make his debut as host of The Late Show this Monday, and while I'm excited to check it out, I'm in a bit of a frustrating situation because I don't have cable, and CBS shows aren't on Hulu. As such I'm going to have to wait until snippets hit YouTube before I can check them out. (Seriously. First World Problems.) That said, with Jon Stewart gone, and Trevor Noah still an unknown quantity, I'm kind of looking forward to Colbert's return to late night.

Not to say I expect him to do engage in the same merciless mockery he engaged in while serving as ringmaster of The Colbert Report for ten years, but I do think there's a void of the kind of witty snark that both Letterman and Colbert excel at. As my friend Jeff Connell put it, "I do enjoy Jimmy Fallon. But after a year or so of endless lip syncing contests and 80s nostalgia, I welcome The Late Show with Stephen Colbert to bring some much needed humor with substance to the frat boy late night arena."

I couldn't agree more. And to illustrate that point, here's a web vid where Stephen takes one of his first guests to task. Very funny stuff. If this is the kind of stuff we can expect, I'm already onboard. Enjoy:

Diffused Congruence: Mokhtar Akhanshali

For our latest episode, we're joined by Mokhtar Alkhanshali, the "Indiana Jones of coffee" and founder of Mocha Mill, who shares the amazing story of how your favorite caffeinated beverage originated in the Muslim world, and how its spread through the world also ends up being the story of civilization. He also shares his harrowing tale from earlier this year of being trapped in Yemen while fighting had broken out, and trying to find his way back home to the United States. It's gripping stuff, and you can hear it all at the embed below, or download via iTunes and Stitcher Radio. Feel free to send any comments or questions our way at diffusedcongruence@gmail.com, and make sure you hit "like" on our Facebook page!

Thursday, September 03, 2015

New Book!

The Sequart anthology Sacred Scrolls: Comics on the Planet of the Apes just came out a few weeks ago, and it's already time to start hyping up the next book featuring a contribution by Yours Truly! This one is edited by the same titanic tag-team of Rich Handley and Joe Berenato, but takes a swerve from Apes arcana to dive headlong into the most popular sci-fi franchise in history: Star Wars!

The book is A Long Time Ago: Exploring the Star Wars Cinematic Universe, and as the title implies, it examines the multitudes of screen depictions of George Lucas's far, far, away galaxy. My chapter zeroes in on the much-maligned prequels, and in a bit of a challenge to myself, I tried to cut through the crap and see if there was something in them worth recommending. I think I found it, but you can decide how well I've made the case when A Long Time Ago hits shortly.

Take a gander at Kevin Colden's cover below, and for more on the book, jump over to Sequart.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Webspinning With Me & Andrew Garfield

Holy crap! I've been blogging for more than ten years now, and I've never once had a story take off across the web like the snippet last Saturday from my chat with Andrew Garfield. When I posted that, it was meant as a "Hey, here's a fun little moment I had!" but the way it's rocketed around the Internet in the past few days, clearly Garfield's "I was never Spider-Man" had far more click-bait value than I realized.

Anyway, I've kept a running tally of some of the sites that have linked to my original piece, and while there are quite a few that didn't bother with things like *ahem* proper credits and/or backlinks, you can sort of tell which are the classy ones based on who did and who didn't. I've posted a list of some of those below. I'm sure there's more, of course, but these are the ones I found thus far: