Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Zaki's Review: Avengers: Age of Ultron


Marvel Studios has a villain problem.

That's not a new observation, mind you. There have been rumblings and grumblings about it for awhile now (including here), that while the various colorful heroes who are front-and-center for these comic book spectacles are spot-on both in terms of how they're depicted and how they're played, they're rarely given antagonists that can match them in commanding the screen. Sure, Tom Hiddleston's wayward god Loki is a very notable exception to this rule, as is Vincent D'Onofrio as gargantuan crime boss Wilson "Kingpin" Fisk on Netflix's superlative Daredevil series. 

And yet, even with brilliant actors like Jeff Bridges, Hugo Weaving, Christopher Eccleston, and more having filled out Marvel's bad guy ranks at one time or another, Loki and Fisk are the outliers rather than the norm. And now here comes Avengers: Age of Ultron, Marvel's much-anticipated follow-up to their 2012 blockbuster The Avengers, to serve as exhibit A in this argument. The film takes a performance by the impossibly charismatic James Spader, and purposes it in service of an impossibly dull CGI automaton. It's a bit perplexing that Ultron manages to get so much right except for the very villain whose name is in the title.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Marvelous

I'm just a few short hours away from seeing Avengers: Age of Ultron, and while I didn't think it was possible to get more jazzed than I already am, this JoBlo.com supercut by Nick Bosworth & Joel Walden definitely manages to up the excitement level for me. Watch!

Anger Translated

Says Ezra Klein in reference to last weekend's White House Correspondents' Dinner, "The joke of President Obama's performance on Saturday was that he wasn't joking. Everyone just had to pretend he was." Indeed, and that became clearer the further along we got in the "anger translator" routine. Read here for more.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Soda Jerks

A few weeks ago I made reference to "New Coke" in one of my classes, and was greeted with a sea of blank stares. It was then that I realized that the substitute soda came and went so long ago now that there's whole generations that have no awareness of the national nightmare that ensued when Coca-Cola Comparny decided to slightly sweeten its formula. As it happens, a few days ago marked thirty years since the auspicious occasion of New Coke's introduction, and Vox has the blow-by-blow of what led up to (and out of) it.

Luther

As you know, Comedy Central's Key & Peele is, for my money, the strongest and most incisive sketch comedy show currently airing. Thus, you can imagine my joy at seeing one of the show's signature characters, President Obama's anger translator Luther, show up alongside the man himself at last night's White House Correspondents' Dinner for a masterful comedy set. Observe:

Nostalgia Theater: Morning Funnies Cereal -- Putting the "Mourn" in "Morning"

Here's another entry to add to the already-voluminous catalog of "The Crap We Ate." Morning Funnies is a short-lived cereal produced by Ralston, noted maker of short-lived cereals, that had a run of less than a year between 1988 and 1989. In a novel twist on the traditional approach to marketing breakfast food, the folks at Ralston dispensed with things like "taste" and "nutritional value" for Morning Funnies. Instead, its appeal was entirely predicated on what it came in. Here, watch this:

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The MovieFilm Podcast: Episode 68

The Fandom Awakens! For this week's show, we're joined by a special guest, award-winning documentary filmmaker Ray Nowosielski, and we go through the big batch of trailers that dropped in the last few days, including Terminator GenisysJurassic WorldBatman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, and, of course, Star Wars: The Force Awakens. But that's not all! We also talk up new releases such as horror thriller It Follows and the Netflix original series Daredevil, plus news that Netflix has a Full House sequel series on the way as well. 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!

Monday, April 20, 2015

I Wish I Hadn't Seen the New Jurassic World Trailer

Well, technically I didn't.

I got about forty-five seconds in, and it really started to feel like they were giving away the whole store before the sale even started. Thus, given my preexisting excitement level for this one (which is probably disproportionately high -- but seriously, dig that poster to the right! It's Chris Pratt! On a motorcycle! And there's Raptors!), I decided that I'd close it out and wait. At this stage I'm content to know that it involves Chris Pratt, Bryce Howard, and presumably dinosaurs of some sort running amok. I'm good with that. That said, my choices shouldn't affect yours, so I've put the embed just after the jump should you choose to partake, and by all means, let me know what you think. Me, I'll just wait to watch Jurassic World when it hits theaters this June.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Fantastic Four Doesn't Look Bad

Man, the past few days have seen quite the rush of high profile trailers, and the hits keep coming! We've got a new one for Jurassic World hitting tomorrow, and Twentieth Century Fox just dropped our second look at August's Fantastic Four reboot. As per my new policy on these thing, I'm going dark from here on in with FF trailers, but everything I see here just affirms my feelings from the previous clip in January: Seems intriguing, don't recognize the characters. We also get our first looks at the Thing (above, pretty good) and Dr. Doom (awful). That said, the production design and cast are all top notch, so I'm definitely not going to write this off. It doesn't look bad. It really doesn't. I just wish they'd first tried to succeed with a version of the team that resembled their classic iterations before going all off-model.

"The country will survive.”

So says Jon Stewart in a lengthy interview with The Guardian reflecting on his decision to hand in his Daily Show walking papers in a few short months. While he's handling himself with the usual dry self-deprecation that's his forte, there's no doubt that, for me and I'm sure many, many others, the notion of Stewart not being there to lampoon a presidential election is probably the hardest part of this whole thing to swallow. But as he explains, one of the reasons he's leaving before 2016 is to give his successor Trevor Noah (who has himself dealt with some controversy of late) as much of a leg-up as possible. But that's not all he talks about in this lengthy and expansive chat. Read it all here.

Nostalgia Theater: The Powers of Matthew Star

The Powers of Matthew Star is generally considered one of the worst TV shows of all time, so naturally I've gotten a disproportionate number of requests to cover it here in Nostalgia Theater. Emerging during that 1970s-'80s limbo when both the quantity and quality of sci-fi on TV was practically nil, the skein was created by Steven E. de Souza, who found fame later in the decade with his script for Die Hard (and infamy the following decade thanks to his script and direction of this). I've seen less than a handful of the episodes produced during Matthew Star's brief 1982-'83 run on NBC, so I'm hardly an authority, but it's not hard to understand why it has such an execrable rep. Here, watch the intro:

Friday, April 17, 2015

Yawn of Justice: The First Batman v. Superman Trailer

Warner Bros. began this week with a lot of big plans for 2016's big superhero jam Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. They dropped a twenty second teaser-for-the-teaser on Wednesday, and then announced an IMAX exclusive screening of the trailer itself for next Monday. Unfortunately, WB got waylaid by two unfortunate instances yesterday. First, the Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailer dropped early in the day to near unanimous fan approval. Second, just as geeks the world over were joining hands and singing "Kumbayah," a crappy bootleg of the Batman v. Superman trailer hit the web.

As such, to try and minimize the PR damage from the leak, they've now dropped a hi-def version of the assemblage online, which you can watch below. As you can see, the storyline picks up right after the destructive finale of Man of Steel, with the world still trying to figure out what to make of the alien √úbermensch in its midst. Watching the clip, I can't help but find the general moroseness of the thing off-putting. If DC is looking at the success Marvel has had building its superhero universe, I'm wondering how exactly their takeaway is to go darker and grimmer.

Regardless, here's our first look at Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne, and here's our first listen to his heavily-modulated Bat-voice (which is still an improvement over whatever the heck Christian Bale was doing in his last two flicks). I'm not ready to write this movie off just yet, especially given that, yes, I really dug Man of Steel, but nothing I see here really blows me away either, which is itself a disappointment. Watch after the jump:

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Star Wars Trailer: "We're Home."

When I posted the first teaser trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens last November, I mentioned that while it looked pretty spiffy, it wouldn't really feel "real" to me until we got to see some of the beloved characters from old school Star Wars making their return engagements. Well, the second teaser just dropped today at the big Star Wars Celebration in Anaheim, and as you can see from the shot above, things just got real. Really real. Click through the jump to watch, enjoy, and then batten down for the long, long wait until December.

The Legacy of Mad Max!

We're just under a month away from the release of Mad Max: Fury Road, and I'm trying very hard to keep my excitement in check. Although it's been thirty (!!) years since ex-cop Max Rockatansky wandered the post-nuclear wasteland, what we've seen of Fury Road shows that director George Miller hasn't missed a beat in the "gonzo action sequences" department, and new star Tom Hardy looks to be a seamless transition from Mel Gibson's Max.

My new policy with these big movies is to tune out all trailers, clips, TV spots, etc. the closer we get to release, but I made an exception for the "legacy" spot Warner Bros. dropped yesterday, and I'm glad I did. Giving us a glimpse of where the series has been before showing us where it's going, I found it especially, gratifying as a fan of the Max films, to know that the entirety of the history is being honored. Look for Fury Road in theaters on May 15!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Recommended Reading

I'm ambivalent about Hillary Clinton as a candidate, but there's no doubting that the political winds (and the general clown car feeling on the other side of the aisle) sure seem to favor her ascension to the White House come January of 2017. Jonathan Chait has more.

Monday, April 13, 2015

From The Onion...

Hillary Clinton To Nation: ‘Do Not F*** This Up For Me’ 

New Ant-Man Trailer Goes Small

Another big trailer dropping this morning is the second assemblage for Marvel's Ant-Man. We got our first look at the tiny hero this past January, and while I was fine with it, it didn't really blow people away with its somewhat played-out "scoundrel with a heart of gold seeks redemption" storyline straight out of the superhero origin playbook. This new, longer look at the Peyton Reed-directed film takes us deeper into the mechanics of how "super" a hero can be when his power is to become tiny.

I like what we're seeing of Paul Rudd as petty thief Scott Lang, our titular hero, as well as his interactions with Evangeline Lilly and Michael Douglas (as Hope Van Dyne and Hank Pym, respectively). What I find less engaging is the too-obvious CGI, special effects stuff as he battles baddie Corey Stoll (though the Thomas gag at the end is terrific). Ant-Man will be our second visit to the Marvel Cinematic Universe this summer, following Avengers 2 in a few weeks. Let's see if it can keep that momentum going. Watch the clip below:

I Wish I Hadn't Seen the New Terminator Trailer

If you listened to the MovieFilm gang's Terminator 2 commentary track a few weeks ago, you know that Brian Hall and I are massive fans of the franchise's past, even as we're cautious about its future. And while I'm not ready to write off the fifth installment, this summer's Terminator Genisys, just yet, I didn't see anything in the first trailer last December that made it must-see (as opposed to "gonna see it anyway, so whatever").

Well, the new full trailer dropped this morning, and while the must-see factor hasn't really risen, they do drop a pretty massive spoiler about the plot that I desperately wish I could un-see. I've been feeling generally frustrated with trailers giving away the farm lately, and seriously, this feels like Exhibit A. I won't reveal it here, but if you feel like crossing the rubicon, watch the second Genisys trailer below. Or, if you're smart, just wait 'till the thing hits theaters in a few months.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Nostalgia Theater 200! Daredevil's First Try at TV

There's a lot of buzz online this weekend after Netflix dropped the first season of Marvel's Daredevil online last Friday. With its moody, violent look at the seedy underside of superhero-ing, the thirteen-episode skein (first in a multi-part pact with Marvel Studios) has definitely upped the ante for what to expect from superhero TV. Of course, it wasn't always thus for Marvel's Man Without Fear. Yes, there was the execrable '03 feature film that everyone (especially Ben Affleck) pretends never happened, but Daredevil actually made his live action debut a few years earlier in a project few people even realize happened.

The year was 1989, and Marvel was owned by New World Pictures, a dime-store multimedia company that had designs on competing with the big kids. Their 1986 acquisition of the comic publisher was one of many steps toward that promised land (which they never actually reached). At the time, the most well-known Marvel hero was the Hulk, thanks to his 1977-1982 CBS TV series. The show had been off the air for awhile, but it retained enough cache for New World to sell NBC on a pack of TV movies reuniting stars Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno, and serving as backdoor pilots for whichever other characters they could squeeze in. Think of it as the Marvel Cinematic Universe before the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Friday, April 10, 2015

INTERVIEW: Director Alex Garland on Ex Machina

Alex Garland's haunting and thought-provoking science-fiction film Ex Machina hits theaters today, and it excels at the kind of "small scale, big ideas" cinema that we get far too little of these days. Starring Oscar Isaac as an eccentric billionaire genius who invents a human-like artificial intelligence called Ava (Alicia Vikander), and Domhnall Gleeson as the worker who's recruited to test the limits of this creation, the film is clearly a passion project for Garland.

Making his directing debut after crafting some of the most memorable screenplays of the last few years, including 28 Days Later, Sunshine, and one of my favorite underrated flicks, 2012's Dredd, I had the opportunity to chat with the soft-spoken and introspective Garland during his recent swing through the Bay Area. In addition to the philosophical underpinnings of Ex Machina and why we shouldn't fear AI, we also discussed his love of science-fiction, where 28 Days Later came from, and why Dredd will likely never have a sequel. Read on for highlights from our chat:

Thursday, April 09, 2015

From The Onion...

A question for the ages: "Can Anyone Truly Be Said To ‘Own’ The Complete James Bond Collection?"

Step-by-Step

By now I'm sure you're aware of the video that emerged a few days ago showing South Carolina police officer Michael Slager unloading several bullets into an unarmed man running away from him. While Slager is currently in jail on a murder rap, it's safe to say that if not for the video he'd be in the clear, and his victim, fifty-five year old Walter Scott, would be pegged as the instigator. Beyond the horrifying nature of this whole thing, what's so disconcerting is the clinical precision with which the whole thing appeared to go down, from shooting to attempted cover-up. To that end, Aurin Squire over at Talking Points Memo goes down the various steps in what appears to be a practiced process for dirty cops to obscure their bad behavior.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

The MovieFilm Podcast: Episode 67

For this week's show we unpack the number one movie in the country, Furious 7! In addition listen to Zaki's interview with writer-director Alex Garland about his cerebral sci-fi thriller Ex Machina. But that's not all, we also talk the trailers for this year's big spy thrillers, Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation and the James Bond epic Spectre. Plus: Word that Hugh Jackman is ready to hand in his Wolverine walking papers and news that the Star Wars saga is coming soon to digital platforms everywhere. Listen through the embed below, or via iTunes and Stitcher (remember to write us a review!). Also, hit us up at our Facebook page to tell us how we're doing!

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Nostalgia Theater: John Candy's Camp Candy!

This weekend marked my very first attempt at camping out with the boy, and while the relative success or failure of that endeavor is fodder for a separate conversation, it did get my mind flashing back to Camp Candy, a cartoon show that brought the comic stylings of the late, great John Candy to Saturday morning animation. Premiering in September of 1989 at the peak of his big screen stardom, Camp Candy was produced by our favorite crap factory DiC and aired as part of the same NBC lineup that included the short-lived Karate Kid cartoon. Here's the intro:

Saturday, April 04, 2015

Diffused Congruence: Marvel Comics Editor Sana Amanat

For this month's show we're joined by Marvel Comics' Sana Amanat. In addition to overseeing multiple fan favorite titles, Sana is also director of content and character development for the comic book giant, helping to spearhead the 2014 creation of Kamala Khan, a.k.a Ms. Marvel, the first female Muslim superhero to headline her own monthly title. This conversation offered us a chance to let our fanboy flags fly, and whether a fan of Marvel's comics, movies, or merchandise, we're sure you'll find a lot to glom onto on this breezy chat. Listen to it via the embed below, or download/stream at iTunes and Stitcher Radio. As always, send any comments or questions to diffusedcongruence@gmail.com, and make sure you hit "like" on our Facebook page!

Friday, April 03, 2015

Zaki's Review: Furious 7

L-R: Ludacris, Paul Walker, Tyrese, and Vin Diesel
Read my 2013 review of Fast & Furious 6 here

With the tragic and unexpected death of star Paul Walker in late 2013, the Fast & Furious franchise was hit with a nearly insurmountable challenge heading into its seventh lap. Production on the latest installment was only partially completed at the time of his passing, and the filmmakers had to scrap preexisting plans, honor the actor, acknowledge his passing, and write out his character, all the while delivering the hard driving intensity the series has become synonymous with after fourteen years. No mean feat, that, and the franchise's minders deserve all the props in the world for pulling it off with Furious 7.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

The MovieFilm Commentary Track: Terminator 2: Judgment Day

It’s time once again for a MovieFilm Commentary Track! For this go-round, Brian and I chat up our thoughts and drop copious amounts of useless trivia as we watch one of our favorite films of all time: Terminator 2: Judgement Day. Whether you queue up the film and listen along, or just enjoy the track on your commute to work and back home again -- let's face it, you have the whole movie memorized anyway -- get reacquainted with one of the greatest action movies ever made. Listen by way of the embed below, or download or stream the show at iTunes or Stitcher. And as always, please do write up a review to let us know how we’re doing!