Saturday, January 31, 2015

Recommended Reading

Elizabeth Drew on how the the Republicans' rise to power in both tiers of Congress has only hastened the ideological fractures that we've seen at work during their stewardship of the House, and how it will likely end up making the pursuit of the GOP's 2016 presidential nod a real headache.

INTERVIEW: Director Kevin Macdonald on Black Sea

Kevin Macdonald directed one of my absolute favorite movies of the last ten years, the twisty political thriller State of Play. As such, I was especially excited when I had opportunity to chat with the director about his latest project, Black Sea (now in theaters). The film stars Jude Law as Robinson, the civilian skipper of a beat-up old submarine, leading a crew of English and Russian seamen on a trek to lost Nazi gold in the middle of the titular body of water. Naturally things don't go entirely to plan. What follows are some highlights from my conversation with Mr. Macdonald, covering State of Play, Black Sea, shaping the film's main character with Jude Law, the differences between working in and out of the studio system, and more:

Friday, January 30, 2015

Zaki's Review: Black or White

Kevin Costner is none too happy with Octavia Spencer
Here's what I said about Kevin Costner when I reviewed his low-key actioner 3 Days to Kill just over a year ago:
Getting older has been good for Kevin Costner. As the one-time Robin Hood's face has grown more creased and weathered with the passage of years, it's allowed him to leave behind some of the trappings of superstardom that first propelled and then constrained him during the '80s and '90s, leading him to the much more fruitful and fulfilling character parts that await all leading men eventually.
I stand by every word of that. In fact, Costner's performance in writer-director Mike Binder's otherwise forgettable melodrama Black or White only helps underscore that earlier point. As an actor, Costner is just imminently watchable. Even in material such as this, that really doesn't measure up to his performance, I can still find a particular joy in just watching his choices as he works through a scene. Nonetheless, just as with 3 Days to Kill, I sometimes wish he'd pick a better variety of projects with which to fill his dance card.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The MovieFilm Podcast: Episode 63

For this week's show, we start things off by diving into the number one movie in the country, the Clint Eastwood docudrama American Sniper. In addition to marveling at the war pic's record-shattering opening weekend, we also get into Bradley Cooper's performance as well as discussing the role of truth and fiction in historical dramas. From there, you can listen to my interview with director Kevin Macdonald (who also helmed one of my fave flicks of the past ten years) about his new submarine thriller Black Sea. After that, it's on to a whole host of hot headlines, with conversation about whether Johnny Depp was ever really a movie star, whether Chris Pratt has the bona fides to don Indiana Jones's trademark fedora, whether Ghostbusters should be rebooted, and whether Independence Day should be sequelized. We then cap things off by sharing our mutual impressions of the first trailer for Fox's upcoming Fantastic Four reboot. Of course, that's not all. We've also got some listener letters and Star Wars talk to close things out. Listen in via the embed below, at iTunes, or at Stitcher. As always, please let us know how we're doing at our Facebook page!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

New Fantastic Four Promises Interesting Movie About Characters I Don't Recognize

It sure seems like Fox's new Fantastic Four, which ignores the two previous FF go-rounds from 2005 and 2007 in favor of one of them thar reboots that are so popular lately, is an outgrowth more of the studio's desire to keep Marvel and Disney from snaking back the valuable merchandising and franchise rights than from any genuine creative need. The project is directed by Josh Trank, and stars a cast of young up-and-comers as the titular quartet: Miles Teller is Mr. Fantastic, Kate Mara is the Invisible Woman, Jamie Bell is the Thing, and Michael B. Jordan is the Human Torch.

Although they finished filming on this awhile ago, it's been mostly radio silence from Fox on the promotional front, which seems a bit odd for such a high-ticket item that's due for release in less than a year. A lot of folks (myself included) have interpreted this silence as an indication that the studio was sitting on a bomb and trying to figure out how best to disarm

Monday, January 26, 2015

Recommended Reading

Jonathan Chait makes the case that the Affordable Care Act shouldn't be repealed. And not just for a whole host of logistical issues, but for the fundamental reason that such a move would be, at its core, deeply immoral.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Nostalgia Theater: Parker Lewis Can't Lose -- The REAL Ferris Bueller Series

Last week I discussed the here-and-gone Ferris Bueller TV series that NBC briefly aired from fall of '90 to...slightly later in fall of '90. In a weird coincidence, the same month Ferris began its brief TV run, the Fox network (still in its infancy back then) began airing their own show that pretty shamelessly borrowed the style and approach of the beloved John Hughes film, and managed to last substantially longer not only during its initial run, but also in the collective consciousness. I'm talking about Parker Lewis Can't Lose. Here's the intro:

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Diffused Congruence: Comedian Azhar Usman Gets Serious

For the first episode of 2015, we're joined by stand-up comedian Azhar Usman -- "America's Funniest Muslim" -- for a wide-ranging, free-form conversation that's as incisive and introspective as it is hilarious. Azhar covers everything from the role of satire and humor in Islam to the recent tragic terror attacks in Paris -- and that's just scratching the surface. You can listen in via the embed 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!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Zaki's Review: American Sniper

In the days leading up to and out of the release of director Clint Eastwood's American Sniper, there's been a lot of conversation -- some hagiographic, some just plain graphic -- about Chris Kyle, the titular sniper upon whose autobiography the film is based. I haven't read the book, so I'm not really equipped to comment on that, but at the very least there's a questionable haze surrounding his expressed worldview as well as the veracity of some of the incidents he's described. Since Kyle tragically passed away in 2013, his input is an essential piece of this conversation that will forever be missing.

 As such, when I set down to sum up my thoughts on the film, I decided to leave it up to others to share their thoughts on Kyle the man versus Kyle the character (embodied here in an absolute showpiece performance by Bradley Cooper, who rightly snagged an Oscar nom for the role last week). Of course, even when we remove discussion of the real Chris Kyle (called "The Legend" for racking up more confirmed kills than any sniper in US military history) from the discussion we still have to contend with American Sniper's problematic approach to and depiction of recent real life events.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Nostalgia Theater: Ferris Bueller: The Series -- Yes, This Exists.

In 1986, director John Hughes' high school slacker comedy Ferris Bueller's Day Off , starring Matthew Broderick in his most iconic role, earned a cool $70+ mil against a $5 million budget, and rightly came to be viewed as one of the classics of the genre and the decade. And while the mercenary route to pursue in the wake of such success would have been for the key creatives to embark on a sequel ("Ferris Bueller's Second Day Off" or some such), cooler heads prevailed, and Ferris remained a one-off classic, unsullied by any imperfect follow-ups.

Er, that is except for one little thing.

In 1990, with both Hughes and Broderick most definitely out, home studio Paramount decided to sequelize the film their own way by bringing it to television with Ferris Bueller: The Series. While there are a handful of TV shows that have successful transitioned from big screen to small (M*A*S*H, for one), they usually come off as low-rent, dinner theater versions of their cinematic cousins. In that sense, Ferris Bueller was no exception, and it can't have helped win over viewers when the first scene of the first ep involved the show taking the piss out of the very flick that got the whole thing started. Observe:

Friday, January 16, 2015

Zaki's Review: Blackhat

In 2006, I passionately defended Michael Mann's much-derided Miami Vice feature film. Yes, it was often laborious. Yes, it was pretty much a mess. But hey, at least it was an ambitious mess. In 2009, I stood up for his old-timey gangster pic Public Enemies, starring Johnny Depp and Christian Bale, which has also endured its fair share of brickbats. "It's a Michael Mann movie," I said. "If you're not feeling it, maybe that's on you," I said. But now here we are with Blackhat, the director's return to the theaters after a self-imposed six-year sabbatical, and I have no more words.

The cyber whodunnit (starring Chris Hemsworth as the most unbelievably buff, distractingly handsome computer hacker of all time) is leaden and clubfooted precisely when it should be sleek and sophisticated, and arrives with such a resounding thud that one feels compelled to start a forensic investigation before the closing credits have even rolled. As we watch the film hit the requisite "thriller" touchstones with the kind of on-the-nose writing and pacing usually reserved for straight-to-video junkers starring Jean-Claude Van Damme, we'd be hard-pressed to find anything pointing to the man responsible for such legitimately great films like The Insider and Collateral.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The MovieFilm Podcast: Episode 62

The MovieFilm crew welcomes in 2015 by taking a fond look back at our favorites from the year just ended. With eclectic lists that run the gamut of styles and genres from Boyhood to Guardians of the Galaxy, Brian and I discuss some of the whys-and-wherefores of their 2015 faves. But that's not all, we also talk up our varied reactions to the new trailers for Ant-Man, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and 50 Shades of Grey, discuss our antipathy toward the Golden Globes, and unpack the latest Star Wars news. All that, plus the latest new releases, Listener Letters, and more! As always, you can take it all in via the embed below, at iTunes, or at Stitcher. Make sure to write us a review and/or leave a comment at our Facebook page to let us know how we're doing!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Condemned If You Do, Condemned If You Don't

From last night's Daily Show, Jon Stewart and co. do a masterful "reductio ad absurdum" with the tendency from certain talking heads to want all Muslims the world over to be held accountable for the nutbar actions of a few radicals:

New Avengers Trailer Dials Up The Destruction

2015 is here, and with it, the countdown clock to the May 1st launch of Avengers: Age of Ultron is official winding down. (Has it really been three years already since the first one came out??) We're now less than four months away from the film's release, and as the latest assemblage dropped yesterday by Marvel demonstrates, they're fully intent on making the wait as long and excruciating as possible. As you can tell, this one seems to really up the darkness factor (Hi Andy Serkis!), and also drops in lots shots of icky medical experimentation (never a good thing). Of course, the money footage is clearly the big Hulk vs. Iron Man throwdown, which I fully expect will be one of the showcase action sequences for the film. Check it out below:

Monday, January 12, 2015

Zaki's Review: Selma

David Oyelowo (center) leads the stellar cast of Selma
Early last week, a video crossed my Facebook feed of a young-ish African-American male beating up an elderly gentleman. The discomfiting vid was posted by someone claiming the aggressor was Michael Brown, the black teen who died in a police altercation last fall under circumstances that are, at best, opaque, and was accompanied by the following declaration: "Riots over this man. Demonstrations for this man. Dead policemen for this man. Disgusting." Of course, a simple Google search -- literally three seconds of typing -- revealed that not only wasn't Michael Brown the "this man" in the video, but it had no connection to Brown, and wasn't shot anywhere in his vicinity.

Nonetheless, the narrative was already set for this person, and that was that. Maybe because it was so fresh in my mind or maybe because one can't help but make these connections, I kept thinking about that video and that comment as I sat in my screening of Ava Duvernay's Selma. Arriving in the midst of Michael Brown and Eric Garner and "#blacklivesmatter", the docudrama about Martin Luther King Jr.'s role in bringing voting rights to the African-American population of the deep South, where systemic racial prejudice endured long after it was made illegal, once again asks us to not just remember the ongoing struggle that's brought us to this point, but to recognize the inherent humanity of those who've fought for it.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Nostalgia Theater: The Many Faces of Super Friends, Part 2 -- The Super Powers Collection

As detailed last time, by 1982 Super Friends had enjoyed a very long, healthy run before ABC carted it off to rerun heaven. That was supposed to be that, but the calculus changed somewhat the following year when toymaker Kenner scored the master license to the entire catalogue of DC Universe heroes, and by 1984 they were hard at it cranking out the Super Powers line of action figures and accessories. With each figure including an "action feature" that aligned with the character's power set, this assortment was notable for not only the attention to detail that went into it, but also for how expansive it ended up being. Here are some of the many TV spots hyping the series:

Friday, January 09, 2015

Recommended Reading

The other day I linked to an interview with Steven Brill about his new book America's Bitter Pill, exposing what he sees as the flaws in the Affordable Care Act. Well, Malcolm Gladwell has some issues with Brill's book...

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Thoughts on the Charlie Hebdo Attack

Being a part of this world means living with things you disagree with. The way to combat bad ideas is with better ideas. These are the twin thoughts swirling in my head as I've struggled to take in the totality of the terrible news of this morning's attack in Paris, ostensibly carried out by militant Muslims "defending" Islam's Prophet Muhammad from the poison pens of political cartoonists and caricaturists.

Now, to be clear, as a Muslim I find such portrayals offensive and often unnecessary. And, to be equally clear, my sense of self isn't so fragile that it can't withstand folks taking potshots at my faith. In other words, I get over it and get on with it. Yes, the target of this attack, France's long-running satire magazine Charlie Hebdo has often been critical of religion in general, Islam in particular, and Prophet Muhammad even more particular still. So are a lot of other people.

Ant-Man Promises Big Things For Little Hero

After the spectacular success of Guardians of the Galaxy last summer, Marvel Studios has very little left to prove. Nonetheless, they'll have another chance to test their box office Midas Touch with next July's release of Ant-Man, which closes out the Disney shingle's "Phase 2" following May's Avengers: Age of Ultron. As I first discussed here, Ant-Man stars Paul Rudd and Michael Douglas as Scott Lang and Hank Pym, different incarnations of the shrinking hero whose technological accoutrements allow him telepathic control over insects, the superhero flick began development as far back as 2003 under the auspices of director Edgar Wright.

However, when his unique vision clashed with the unified whole that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Wright bailed and Peyton Reed (Bring It On) stepped up to the plate. While such behind-the-scenes musical chairs would normally be a red flag, especially for a project/character with as little cultural cache as this, I think Marvel's earned enough rope after the last seven years that we can trust them to do know what they're doing. Watch the first trailer below, which debuted last night during the ABC premiere of Marvel's new Agent Carter series, and tell me what you think.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Recommended Reading

In an interview with NPR about his new book, America's Bitter Pill, journalist Steven Brill lays out what the Affordable Care Act does and does not do, and also explains why, despite all the good intentions behind it, he thinks it's unsustainable in the long term.

Monday, January 05, 2015

Recommended Reading

Rabbi Marc Schneier answers the eternal question of why more ordinary Muslims don't denounce acts of terrorism. (Spoiler: They do)

Rambo Returns. Again.

Almost five years ago I posted that Sly Stallone had scuppered plans for a fifth Rambo flick, presumably feeling that the franchise's fourth entry (which opened just under seven years ago...yikes!) put the pin on the character pretty effectively. Well, with Stallone set to reprise Rocky Balboa (again) in the upcoming spin-off Creed (which I first discussed here, and which is now readying for filming), and with his Expendables franchise flaming domestically out at the end there, I guess the siren song (and promised dollar signs) of bringing back John Rambo for one more romp was just too much to resist.

Network Nuts

The GOP assumes its majority role in congress today, and in one of its first goals is to fight proposed rules protecting network neutrality because, well, why not, right? The Wall Street Journal has the details.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Nostalgia Theater: The Many Faces of Super Friends, Part 1

For kids who came of age in the seventies and eighties, it's a safe bet that some of their earliest exposures to the costume-clad cavalcade of DC Comics heroes came by way of ABC's Super Friends. The kiddie-fied version of the Justice League teamed DC stalwarts Superman, Batman (& Robin), Wonder Woman, and Aquaman on-screen for the first time, usually pairing them with such made-for-TV creations as Wonder Dog or the Wonder Twins (presumably so kids wouldn't be bored by, y'know, Superman and Batman).

Produced by Hanna-Barbara and airing intermittently, in one form or another, from 1973 to 1986, Super Friends holds a degree of nostalgic appeal for many that's inversely proportional to its actual quality. I wasn't around for the early part of that run, obviously, but I have very strong memories of the later stuff. Part of its longevity came from how it constantly reinvented itself every year or so, adding in new characters, new premises, and above all, new intros. Check 'em out below: