Sunday, May 31, 2015

Nostalgia Theater: What the Heck Was Young Samson?

Here's one of the weirdest cartoons I've ever ever seen -- and trust me, I've seen a few. Courtesy of animation house Hanna-Barbara during the period in the '60s when they could toss pretty much whatever they wanted at the tube, and some network somewhere was likely to air it, Young Samson actually began its life as Samson and Goliath when it premiered on NBC in September of '67, but it was retitled the following year to avoid confusion with the Davey and Goliath children's series. Here, watch the intro and see if you can figure this thing out:

Zaki's Original Review: Lethal Weapon 4

First written: July 11, 1998
Danny Glover and Mel Gibson, back in action
Note: This review was written during a brief period in summer of '98 when I was experimenting with star ratings instead of the letter grades I've since settled on.

Right at the beginning of Lethal Weapon 4 there's a scene that perfectly encapsulates the continued appeal of the Lethal movies after more than ten years and three sequels. An armored, flamethrower-wielding psycho is barbecuing the LA metropolitan area, with the police powerless to do anything. Taking refuge behind a wrecked car, rain pouring down and fires burning all around them, Sergeants Riggs and Murtaugh (Mel Gibson and Danny Glover) concoct a plan.

Instructing his partner to doff his clothing, dance around, and cluck like a chicken (serving as a distraction), Riggs takes aim at the fuel tank on the arsonist's back, resulting in a flying, flame-spewing perp, an exploding gas station, and Murtaugh in his skivvies. Happily turning to his partner, Murtaugh exclaims, "Do you think that clucking like a chicken helped?" Without missing a beat, Riggs chuckles, "No, I just wanted to see if you'd do it."

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Taibbi Takes Down...

...disgraced reporter Judith Miller, and it's a beaut. Miller, you may recall, was the preeminent media voice who, by way of her cushy perch at the New York Times, propelled much of the propaganda the Bush administration ginned up during the bygone days of the early aughts to cement its case for attacking Iraq. That case collapsed in on itself once it became clear what a debacle Iraq was shaping up to be, and Miller was rightly excoriated for her part in it, dropping from the public eye shortly thereafter. Now the former reporter is hoping to rehab her image by way of a self-serving tome titled The Story, which she no doubt hopes will whitewash her key role in one of the biggest military debacles in our country's history. Thankfully, Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi is here to make sure she doesn't try to escape that culpability.

Zaki's Original Review: Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace

First published: May 21, 1999

L-R: Natalie Portman, Liam Neeson, Jake Lloyd, Ewan MacGregor
Note: You can see a little bit of cognitive dissonance happening in this write-up, as the "B+" grade at the end in no way matches the very critical review preceding it. Nonetheless, I took a fair bit of grief when this one first appeared in The Courier, from folks who couldn't quite bring themselves to admit that yes, Star Wars could indeed suck. I regret nothing about this one except the grade. It should've been a "C".

This much is certain: Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace is a visual feast. One has to admire the sheer volume of fantastic elements in writer/director George Lucas's vision. What's surprising and even disappointing is how routine and, yes, dull it all seems. Phantom Menace lacks much of the necessary emotional investment that made the original Star Wars and its sequels such cultural touchstones.

Despite the fact that we're presented with a cadre of supremely talented actors to carry the story along, they're given little else to do than stand in front of Lucas's carefully conceived computer landscapes, with cutesy 'droids and creatures twittering and fluttering about. Obviously the original trilogy has a two decade head start on the prequel (and its two planned follow-ups), giving us plenty of time to gain an almost familial attachment to Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and company.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Zaki's Review: San Andreas

In my review of Godzilla last year, I noted how my current hometown of San Francisco gets pretty thoroughly clobbered during the course of that movie's hot monster-on-monster action. Well, here we are one summer later, and once again the poor Bay Area falls victim to the mega-destructo demands of summer blockbuster season. Thank goodness for musclebound Dwayne Johnson then. After a bone-crunching brawl wherein he took on Jason Statham in Furious 7 a few short months ago, the once and future Rock has moved to a higher weight class, facing off with Mother Nature herself in Brad Peyton's San Andreas.

And while the disaster pic makes full use of current computer technology to bring vivid life to the nightmare scenario that might ensue should the titular fault-line go off, it's Johnson (re-teaming with his Journey 2 helmer) who practically singlehandedly hefts the entire enterprise on his oversized shoulders. His ever-flowing wellspring of charisma has served him well throughout his career, and it's almost enough to offset the grab bag of tired tropes and overplayed cliches in the script by Carlton Cuse (from a story by Andre Fabrizio & Jeremy Passmore), not to mention the inevitable apathy that comes from watching one too many CGI buildings topple into each other.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

From The Onion...

Some sobering reflections from actor Bill Paxton...
We all want to believe that our lives have meaning and purpose, that our actions can have a lasting impact on the world around us. But on the grand scale of the universe, a human life passes in the blink of an eye, all remembrance of it lost like a grain of sand on an endlessly shifting beach. Terrifying though it may be, the reality we must all face up to is that 1,000 years from now, every one of us will be forgotten except for me, Bill Paxton.  
It’s simply a humbling fact of existence that, unless you were the beloved star of both Twister and A Simple Plan, every memory of you will one day vanish in the mists of time.
Read the rest here.

Recommended Reading

With the dawn of the new presidential election season, the clown car that is the Republican nominating process is once again hitting the road. And with eighteen candidates currently vying for the chance to (probably) lose the presidency, that doesn't leave a lot of elbow room for anyone in particular to grab the wheel. Of course, the question of how a field this unwieldy gets whittled down to something more manageable isn't so easily answered, as Ed Kilgore explains.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Nostalgia Theater: Giving the Hook to Hook

Captain Hook (Dustin Hoffman) squares off with Peter Pan (Robin Williams)
Steven Spielberg's Peter Pan project Hook is one of those movies that I've always defended from the brickbats of all those snooty media types who've looked down their nose at the 1991 film, claiming derisively that it occupies one of the bottom rungs of the Jaws and Indiana Jones director's expansive catalog of crowd pleasers. Pish-posh, said I. Elitist snobs! These folks were obviously just unable (or unwilling) to find their happy place. What're they, made of stone or something? I mean, come on, check out the release trailer!

Friday, May 22, 2015

Zaki's Review: Tomorrowland

It's hard to fault the optimistic underpinnings of director Brad Bird's new Disney opus Tomorrowland. Taking inspiration from the same brand of utopian philosophy that Uncle Walt himself espoused during his lifetime (and which he imbued the theme park ride of the same name with), the film is predicated on the simple notion that all it takes to combat the host of self-inflicted calamities currently threatening to capsize this Earthly experiment are a few of the right people with a few really good ideas. With that kind of idealism in play, it sort of feels like I'm kicking an adorable little puppy by giving Tomorrowland any less than a rave. And yet, here we are.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Tributes to Dave

Before Letterman's final show last night, his colleagues in the very exclusive fraternity of late night hosts chimed in on their various nightly skeins to pay homage to the man who, for many of them, had been their inspiration and guiding light. Click past the jump to watch their various tributes:

Late Night Leader

After announcing his retirement just over a year ago, last night David Letterman put the period on an unprecedented thirty-three year run of sitting behind a desk, cracking wise, and making America smile. Spanning two shows and two networks (Late Night on NBC from 1982 to 1993, and Late Show on CBS from 1993 to now), not to mention five presidents, countless monologue minutes and innumerable "Top Ten" lists, Letterman's legacy is substantial not only for the unique brand of off-kilter, self-referential comedy he ushered in, but for how he normalized that kind of humor in the mainstream.

On a personal level, I never did get to see Dave during his NBC era. Late Night was on too late for me to be allowed to watch it during that pre-Hulu, pre-DVR wilderness, so my first exposure to his show was when Late Show debuted on CBS in fall of '93. By then the dust was settling from the first late night wars, with the feeling among many that Letterman was wrongly passed over in favor of Jay Leno after Johnny Carson abdicated The Tonight Show in 1992. At least initially, you have to think NBC wondered if they'd made the right decision. Initial tune-in for Letterman's CBS skein was substantial, and it remained dominant for several months.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The MovieFilm Podcast: Episode 70

The MovieFilm gang hits the road! Fury Road, that is. You already know how I felt about it, but for our big 70th show, Brian and I are joined by Paul Shirey, editor-in-chief movie news site Joblo.com for an in-depth conversation about director George Miller's latest, thirty-years-in-the-making Mad Max epic. But that's not all, in addition to unpacking the trailers for this summer's Vacation reboot and Danny Boyle's Steve Jobs, we also talk up the news that veteran actor Harry Shearer is leaving the cast of The Simpsons after twenty-six years, some of the latest rumblings about what to expect in next year's Batman v. Superman, and word of how long the next Star Wars film is shaping up to be. In addition to that, there's all the fun, frivolity, and witty banter you've come to expect. Listen via the embed below! Also, be sure to go to iTunes and Stitcher to write us a review, and drop us a line at our Facebook page to tell us how we're doing!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Nostalgia Theater: AfterMASH Loses the War

The cast of AfterMASH: (L-R) William Christopher, Harry Morgan, Jamie Farr
In February of 1983, CBS aired the finale of their long-running hit M*A*S*H. Thanks to its mix of comedy, pathos, and its charismatic star Alan Alda, the show, about the hilarious hijinks of a medical team during the Korean war had enjoyed an amazing eleven year run -- almost four times longer than the war itself! The much-ballyhooed final episode, "Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen" was watched by a staggering 121 million people, and still holds the record for the highest rated TV episode of all time. Here's the tearjerking final scene, with Alda's "Hawkeye" Pierce bidding farewell to Mike Farrell's BJ Hunnicutt:

Friday, May 15, 2015

Diffused Congruence: Entrepreneur Shahed Amanullah

For this month's show we're joined by self-proclaimed "serial entrepreneur" Shahed Amanullah, founder of AltMuslim.com, Zabihah.com, Halalfire.com, and many others, for an in-depth chat on the role of Muslims in engaging with new media. With extensive experience in both the activist and policy spaces, having worked for the State Department under Secretaries Clinton and Kerry and also serving as one of the architects of the recent Haqqathon conference in Abu Dhabi, Shahed is uniquely equipped to answer some of the big questions pertaining to American Muslims taking a larger role in shaping their own narrative, and we're excited to be able to pick his brain on the subject. You can listen to the show via the embed below, or 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: Mad Max: Fury Road

I was first exposed to director George Miller's Mad Max series in 1987 when, at age seven, I watched the trilogy capper Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome during its premium cable run. I didn't understand much of it at the time, but I loved it all the same. It wasn't until several years later that I watched the preceding entries in the series, and they left even more of a mark. Especially the second one, The Road Warrior (a.k.a. Mad Max 2). Today, Miller's post-apocalyptic playground remains as vivid and well-realized as when it debuted, and the franchise remains a favorite.

Thus, as the latest Max entry, Fury Road, moved through development hell, going from potentiality to actuality, with Miller himself at the helm to shepherd his creation once again, I tried very hard to keep my excitement level in check. After all, the last time a director named George brought back a beloved brand after an extended interregnum...well, things didn't go so well. "Please," I thought to myself, sending a silent prayer to the movie gods, "after The Phantom Menace, after the Planet of the Apes remake, after Superman Returns, after Indiana Jones, just give me this one."

And by George, he's done it. I waited twenty-eight years for Mad Max: Fury Road, and I'm so glad it's not terrible.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Zaki's Retro Review: Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985)

After Mad Max 2’s ecstatic reception by both critics and paying audiences, a third entry in the series took on the air of inevitability. It was a question of when, not if. Mind you, that inevitability came more from the studio than the filmmakers. After living in Max’s world—not the most pleasant of places—for the past several years, George Miller was more than happy to wait and let inspiration strike him before moving back to the wasteland.

However, Warner Brothers had taken a pretty big gamble when they agreed to release the second Max even after the 1979 original fizzled out at the domestic till, and they were eager to get back on the road again to capitalize on their success. Thus, the Mad Max braintrust of Miller, producer Byron Kennedy, and screenwriter Terry Hayes, once again set about envisioning a story to wrap around their reluctant hero. And then tragedy struck.

Continue reading at Sequart...

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Zaki's Retro Review: Mad Max 2 (1981)

“I remember a time of chaos. Ruined dreams. This wasted land.” 

So begins the opening narration setting the status quo of Mad Max 2 (known to many folks stateside as The Road Warrior). Nearly thirty-five years on from its initial release, the first Mad Max sequel is that rarest of cinematic beasts: The Perfect Movie. At just over ninety minutes, there’s not an ounce of fat on the thing, and it whizzes along like the souped-up V8 Interceptor that the title character tools around in. If the first film represented director George Miller’s tentative initial forays into the world of high stakes, high impact filmmaking, the second is the auteur fully embracing the freedom of imagination that can only come from making the then-most profitable film of all time.

Continue reading at Sequart...

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Zaki's Retro Review: Mad Max (1979)

By the time Mad Max arrived on the scene in 1979, the cupboard of post-apocalyptic cinema was already pretty well stocked. From The Time Machine to the Planet of the Apes cycle to A Boy And His Dog, for as long as the threat of nuclear annihilation has hung heavy in the air, there’s been a steady stream of movies to helpfully illustrate the multitude of ways mankind can/will end himself. Nonetheless, there’s something about Mad Max, both the film and the franchise, that’s allowed it to stand the test of time, not only as a work of art in and of itself, but also as a name and brand that commands cultural currency thirty years since the character’s last appearance.

Continue reading at Sequart...

Sunday, May 10, 2015

"Picture Perfect"

From last night's SNL. I laughed.

Nostalgia Theater: Free Spirit Edition

Free Spirit is a show that aired briefly from late 1989 to slightly-later 1989. As yet another entry in the catalogue of sci-fi/fantasy sitcoms pumped out during the '80s, it didn't quite manage the inexplicable longevity of either Out of This World or *shudder* Small Wonder. Instead, it aired for a brief fourteen episodes on ABC before disappearing down the memory hole and being replaced by the then-new America's Funniest Home Videos, which enjoyed much greater success for the network. In others words, audiences preferred to watch people being repeatedly hit in the groin with baseball bats than Free Spirit. Here's the title sequence, which I swear to God I'd think was a postmodern Too Many Cooks-style parody if I hadn't actually witnessed several episodes of the thing with my very own eyes:

Saturday, May 09, 2015

Recommended Reading

Last Sunday noted Islamophobe Pamela Geller organized a "Draw Muhammad Day" in Garland, Texas that was dressed up as a free speech event but was really just another vehicle to propel her anti-Muslim invective. Making matters even worse, when two nutbar gunmen showed up in its aftermath, Geller had the chance to cement her "us vs. them" narrative further. However, as my friend Wajahat Ali says in a new piece for Salon, "These ideological extremists are two faces of the same coin; they have a symbiotic relationship strengthened and sustained by the other’s toxic absolutism." Pretty much sums it up. Read the rest here.

Friday, May 08, 2015

"Negrotown"

Comedy Central's Key & Peele is due back in a few weeks to start its fifth season, and here's a small taste of what to expect:

Thursday, May 07, 2015

2016: The Movie

Last night Conan O'Brien set about casting the inevitable movie about the coming presidential election, and found some eerie matches. Good luck getting these out of your head when you're watching the debates and whatnot:

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

The MovieFilm Podcast: Episode 69


Avengers: Age of Ultron is the number one film in the world, and the MovieFilm gang is here to offer their thoughts on the long-awaited, much-anticipated superhero sequel from Marvel Studios (read my review here). We talk our likes, our dislikes, and where we'd like to see the Marvel Cinematic Universe go next as it heads towards next year's Captain America: Civil War. In addition to that, we also discuss the first images from DC Comics' adaptation Suicide Squad, news that DC/Warner Bros. is having some trouble getting its own superhero universe up and running, the plan to make a feature film about the great "New Coke" disaster of the 1980s, and the latest Star Wars news, including word that director Josh Trank has dropped out of directing a spin-off film centering on fan fave bounty hunter Boba Fett. There's plenty more though, and you can listen to it all through the embed below, or at iTunes and 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!

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Nostalgia Theater: The Avengers' Crappy First Cartoon

Marvel's Avengers are currently cleaning up at the box office via their second big screen blockbuster, but in all the anticipation and hype for Age of Ultron, it's easy to forget that there was a time not too long ago when the only way the Marvelous super-team could make its way into the mainstream was via an instantly forgettable animated offering that aired on Fox Kids for about a minute-and-a-half during the late 1990s.

Arriving a few short years after Fox found considerable success with first Marvel's X-Men and later Spider-Man (in turn launching a veritable cavalcade of comic-based cartoons on Saturday mornings throughout the decade), there was no reason to think they couldn't make lightning strike thrice. Alas, such was not to be. Instead, when The Avengers (sometimes saddled with the unwieldy subhead "United They Stand") premiered in October '99, it looked like this: