Saturday, October 31, 2015

Recommended Reading

Ben Carson may well be a brain surgeon, but based on the litany of extraordinarily moronic statements he's making in his bid to become president, he's also not especially bright. And yet, just like with Donald Trump, repeated demonstrations of rampant stupidity are doing nothing to dent the poll numbers for either of these presumptive frontrunners. Why is that, exactly? Mike Lofgren has some ideas in a new piece examining the rise of "anti-knowledge" as something that's prized by the GOP's base. Says he:
Anti-knowledge is a subset of anti-intellectualism, and as Richard Hofstadter has pointed out, anti-intellectualism has been a recurrent feature in American life, generally rising and receding in synchronism with fundamentalist revivalism. 
The current wave, which now threatens to swamp our political culture, began in a similar fashion with the rise to prominence in the 1970s of fundamentalists like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. But to a far greater degree than previous outbreaks, fundamentalism has merged its personnel, its policies, its tactics and its fate with a major American political party, the Republicans.
Read the rest here.

From The Onion...

John Boehner To Paul Ryan: ‘I Was Once Young And Beautiful Too’
WASHINGTON—Pulling the congressman aside Wednesday and sitting him down in his office, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) reportedly told his likely successor, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), that he had once been young and beautiful too. “There was a time when I had that youthful glow and that glimmer in my eye, just like you; but time passes, and alas, it takes its toll,” said Boehner as he gently brushed the back of his hand along Ryan’s cheek and recalled how he had, years earlier, possessed unspoiled good looks, an innocent charm and energy, and a popularity among his party much the same as that of his heir apparent. “You might not believe it looking at this old, withered shell sitting before you now, but back so many years ago in 2011, I was no different than you—a bright young thing that every Republican congressman wanted to be seen around Washington with. But that doesn’t last forever, my child. Once that pretty face fades and the magic melts away, they have no use for you in this business—none at all.” At press time, a single tear was rolling down Boehner’s cheek after the Speaker turned away in disgust from the wizened, timeworn face he glimpsed in a wall-mounted mirror.

007@40: On Her Majesty's Secret Service

Originally written: March 20, 2002

Note: With the impending release of Spectre, the 24th entry in the James Bond, I went into my archives and found this piece I wrote during the franchise's fortieth anniversary year about one of its most underrated entries. In the more than thirteen years since I wrote it, it's somewhat gratifying that the rest of the world has gradually come around to the fact that this is an overlooked gem in the 007 canon. Meanwhile, look out for my Spectre review this Thursday!

His name was Lazenby. George Lazenby.

The year was 1969, and the most popular movie series of the '60s had found itself without its leading man. After starring in five James Bond features, Sean Connery, the man who—thirty years later—remains inextricably linked with the role he first brought to the silver screen, bowed out of the franchise. This left producers Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli in a bit of a bind. Their answer lay in the handsome 28-year-old Lazenby.

Friday, October 30, 2015

INTERVIEW: Writer/Director James Vanderbilt on Truth

Cate Blanchett and Robert Redford seek to uncover the Truth
James Vanderbilt is the in-demand writer behind some of the most high-profile releases in Hollywood for more than a decade now, having penned such memorably diverse films as The Losers, Zodiac, and The Rundown. For his directing debut, Truth, the veteran screenwriter chose to dramatize 60 Minutes II's 2004 investigation into President Bush's National Guard service, a story whose aftermath proved so explosive that it led to the resignation/retirement of longtime CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather, who reported the story.

The film stars Cate Blanchett as 60 Minutes producer Mary Mapes (upon whose memoir the script is based), and movie legend Robert Redford as news legend Rather, and it's imminently watchable thanks to the investigative format and the sterling cast that's been assembled. I recently had a chance to talk Truth with the game Vanderbilt, as well as his work on the two Amazing Spider-Man films and my fondness for White House Down. In addition, we also discussed the state of TV news in the aftermath of the events of Truth. What follows are some highlights from that conversation:

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The MovieFilm Podcast: Episode 81

For this week's show, after taking stock of the aftermath of last week's once-in-a-lifetime Back to the Future day (make sure you listen to our special commentary track!) Brian and I offer up our quick reactions to whole host of new releases from the past month, including the Robert Zemeckis thriller The Walk, the drug drama Sicario, Steven Spielberg's latest team-up with Tom Hanks Bridge of Spies, and the Michael Fassbender starrer Steve Jobs.

From there, catch my interview with director Danny Boyle about the film, and then dive in to a whole host of headlines, including the futures of the Terminator and Indiana Jones franchises, and the lack of a future for cult TV comedy Community. Finally, get our thoughts on the newest, final trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. As always, listen below or via iTunes or Stitcher or TuneIn Radio (and make sure to write us a review!). Drop us a line at MovieFilmPodcast@gmail.com, or at our Facebook page to tell us how we're doing!

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Nostalgia Theater: How Jem Was Truly Outrageous

There's a Jem and the Holograms feature film (helmed by G.I. Joe: Retaliation's Jon M. Chu) flopping hard in theaters right now, and while I'm sure much Internet ink will be spent examining why the flick, based on a popular toyline and animated series from the '80s, died on the vine, that's not what this is about. I haven't seen the movie, so I can't comment on that. And while hardly an expert on the TV show, I've received enough requests to look at it that I figured this was the moment to unleash my inner Jem Girl.

The Jem media franchise was launched in 1985 by toymaker Hasbro, no doubt wanting to capitalize on the ubiquity of MTV during that era by providing young girls with a whole array of rocking role models with all the fashion arrays and accessories necessary to give Mattel's Barbie a run for her money. Given Hasbro's success with G.I. Joe and Transformers earlier in the decade, they no doubt hoped some of that same cross-promotional mojo would rub off.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Zaki's Original Review: What Dreams May Come

First published October 9, 1998
Note: Given the subject matter, obviously this film has taken on an entirely different kind of significance following Robin Williams death. I haven't revisited the film since his passing, and to be honest I'm not really in a hurry to do so.

Robin Williams is a human contradiction.

On the one hand he's the manic comedic presence that has been crowned "The Funniest Man Alive" by no less prestigious a publication than Entertainment Weekly. On the other hand, he gives the kind of dramatic performances that have powered films like Dead Poets Society, Awakenings, and Good Will Hunting (for which he took home a deserved Oscar).

Friday, October 23, 2015

Zaki's Review: Steve Jobs

Read my interview with Steve Jobs director Danny Boyle

That Steve Jobs' unquestionable genius went hand-in-hand with his equally-unquestionable self-possession is hardly a revelation. Like all people of vision, the co-founder of Apple Computers was trapped in that fissure between the man he was and the man we saw. Long before his death in 2011, Jobs had taken on a larger-than-life mystique that grew exponentially with each new reality-warping product the company launched, and his passing has only cemented that mystique.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Future's Passed

From Wednesday's Jimmy Kimmel Live, Jimmy gets a surprise visit from some honored guests. A perfect capper to all the Back to the Future festivities this week!

Recommended Reading

A lot of folks who consider themselves not-Republicans have been enjoying the GOP's current sustained flail, from the House's circular firing squad to the party's inexorably movement toward a potential Donald Trump nomination. While such an eventuality probably means a Democrat's path to the White House gets easier, as the truism says, all politics is local, and on the local level, the Dems are in deep, deep trouble. Matt Yglesias over at Vox explains.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

111 films in 11 days: The Philadelphia Film Festival

This week marks the start of the 24th annual Philadelphia Film Festival, the yearly mega-movie extravaganza hosted by the Philadelphia Film Society. The 11-day event showcases some of the most unique, interesting and evocative voices in independent cinema from all over the world, past and present, and features numerous special guests to boot.

Whether you’re a dyed-in-the-wool movie buff or a relative novice, whether you prefer something serious (director Brian Helgeland’s Legend), frightening (a 19-film retrospective of the late horror icon Wes Craven, including a “sleepover” Nightmare on Elm Street event) or silly (Monty Python’s Life of Brian and The Meaning of Life), it’s safe to say you’ll find something to strike your fancy among the 111 films that are being showcased.

Continue reading at Philly Weekly...

The MovieFilm Commentary Track: Back to the Future Part II

The future is now! Today is October 21, 2015, and as any dyed-in-the-wool film buff knows, that's the very same date that Marty McFly and Doc Brown visit at the start of 1989's Back to the Future Part II. Well, naturally being the lifelong Back to the Future buffs that we are, there was no way the MovieFilm gang was going to let this momentous, once-in-a-lifetime occasion pass without making a contribution to the festivities. And so here we are with our third MovieFilm commentary track (after Planet of the Apes and Terminator 2).

This time out, Brian and I talk you through the time-twisting sequel directed by Robert Zemeckis and starring Michael J. Fox & Christopher Lloyd. Not only do we offer specific comments on this film, but also the franchise as a whole, sharing anecdotes, gossip, and lots of laughs. Whether you're watching the movie along with us, or listening on the go, there's something for you to dig. So grab a bottle of Pepsi Perfect, kick up your heels on a hoverboard, and prepare to go back to...well, you know. 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!

Monday, October 19, 2015

The New Star Wars Trailer is Here!

Here's our latest (final?) look at The Force Awakens. Some new info in here, including extended time with Han Solo, our first glimpse of Princess Leia, and more of a sense of the baddies' mission. But hey, it doesn't matter what I have to say. Watch it below. Then watch it again. Then go buy your tickets, because they're on sale right now!

SNL on Dem Debate

From last weekend, here's Saturday Night Live's take on the first Democratic debate. And can we all agree that Larry Sanders as Bernie Sanders is the best stunt-casting since they wrangled Tina Fey to play Sarah Palin?

Diffused Congruence: Social Worker Sabeen Shaiq

This month we're joined by psychologist Sabeen Shaiq for a riveting conversation about the things that tend to remain unsaid in many American Muslim families. Sabeen talks about the importance of communication in relationships, how mental health challenges are manifesting in the current generation, and the work she does to help people overcome them. Listen to our chat 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!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Nostalgia Theater: Mutant X -- Marvel's X-Men Minus Marvel's X-Men

Not the X-Men: (L-R) Victor Webster, Lauren Lee Smith, John Shea, Victoria Pratt, Forbes March
This week we got word that Fox and Marvel have agreed to develop a couple of TV projects based on the comic publisher's X-Men library of characters. Whether anything substantive emerges from that agreement or not, it got me thinking about the last time Marvel developed a show ostensibly connected to its X-universe -- but couldn't actually connect it to its X-universe. I'm talking about Mutant X, a syndicated series that aired for three seasons between 2001 and 2004.

The behind-the-scenes backstory (as many of you already know, I'm sure) is that Marvel signed a supremely idiotic contract with Fox back in the mid-'90s that gave the movie studio essentially carte blanche to exploit the X-Men in movies and on TV, and they could keep exploiting them as long as they continued to crank out content. These rights were first leveraged in 2000, with the first X-Men flick, which did remarkably well (and arguably led to the age of nonstop comic flicks we're currently in the midst of).

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Zaki's Original Review: A Night at the Roxbury

First published: October 9, 1998
To be fair, A Night at the Roxbury isn't horrible on the level of, say, It's Pat!. But then again, very few films have managed to match that movie's level of jaw-dropping mediocrity (although this summer's The Avengers came pretty close).

Friday, October 16, 2015

INTERVIEW: Director Danny Boyle on Steve Jobs

It's been just over four years since legendary Apple founder Steve Jobs passed away, but in the intervening years his mystique has lived on and even grown. The latest attempt to peel away the layers of the enigmatic Jobs comes via Steve Jobs, a new film from a veritable varsity team of cinematic heavy-hitters: Michael Fassbender playing the title role, a script by Academy Award-winner Aaron Sorkin, and direction by Danny Boyle.

The film avoids the standard bio pic tropes by depicting three key product launches in Jobs's career, and dramatizing some of his personal and professional struggles surrounding them. I was enraptured for the entirety of the film's 122 minutes, so much so that I wanted to watch it again as soon as it was over. This was a sentiment I conveyed to director Boyle (Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire) when I chatted with him in San Francisco last week. What follows are some highlights from that conversation:

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

INTERVIEW: Film Historian Robert A. Harris on Restoring My Fair Lady

In the five decades since its release, director George Cukor’s seminal musical My Fair Lady has lost none of its enduring allure and appeal. The 1964 film, starring Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison, is due to be re-released to select theaters starting this weekend to celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, and has been given a painstaking, multi-year restoration process to ensure that it looks and sounds better than it ever has.

On the occasion of this reissue, I had a chance to speak with renowned film historian and preservationist Robert A. Harris, who supervised My Fair Lady’s restoration, as well as those of Lawrence of Arabia, the Godfather trilogy, and many others. Our conversation covered not only what the process was like on My Fair Lady, but also his views on what the digital future means for classic films, and much more. Read on for some highlights:

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Honest Jurassic

The year's biggest hit (well, for a few more weeks, anyway) is already available to own digitally, and it hits home vid next Tuesday. So naturally it's the perfect time for the geniuses at Screen Junkies to launch the all-new Honest Trailer for Jurassic World. Watch it below, nod along with all the points they make, and then chuck them all out the window, cuz whatever man, freakin' dinosaurs, amirite!?

From The Onion...

Aides Gently Remind Hillary Clinton Not To Refer To Opponents As ‘Obstacles To Greatness’
LAS VEGAS—In an effort to help the presidential hopeful make her best possible impression during tonight’s Democratic primary debate, Hillary Clinton’s aides gently reminded her Tuesday not to refer to her opponents as “obstacles to greatness.” “When you’re addressing the other candidates, just make sure not to call any of them ‘impediments to glory’ or ‘the only things standing between me and my rightful place in history’ or anything like that; it’s probably best to just stick to using their names,” said chief strategist Joel Benenson, who has reportedly stopped Clinton several times over the course of her practice debates to recommend that she use the phrase “the senator” when referring to Bernie Sanders instead of “a minor blip on my path to ascendancy.” “You’re really nailing all the policy details, which is great, but if you can, remember to stay away from likening your opponents to ‘temporary obstructions,’ ‘pins to be knocked down,’ or ‘mere speed bumps.’ I’d also suggest trying the phrase ‘When I’m in the White House’ instead of ‘When the throne is mine’—just a thought.” Benenson added that Clinton should also be cautious about how many times she referred to herself as “The One” throughout the debate.

Recommended Reading

Here's Eugene Robinson on the scariest contender vying for the GOP crown -- and it ain't Donald Trump!

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Nostalgia Theater: Nowhere Man Edition

In January 1995, the brand new UPN network launched to much ballyhoo on the back of the latest entry in TV's Star Trek franchise (back when, y'know, that was actually considered a ratings asset). However, other than Star Trek: Voyager (which quickly came back down to Earth), the netlet's inaugural season was otherwise comprised of a slate of truly terrible sitcoms that were axed instantly. For its sophomore year, they took a cue from Voyager's initial success to build a roster of fantasy-themed hour-longs.

Now, the majority of these were terrible, including the Leonard Nimoy-produced Deadly Games, but one series that actually managed to do something interesting was Nowhere Man, which premiered in August of 1995. Created by Lawrence Hertzog and starring Bruce Greenwood, the conspiracy thriller was very much in the vein of the then-surging The X-Files over on Fox. And while it didn't enjoy quite as long a lifespan (and afterlife) as the Mulder and Scully skein, it sure left a lasting impression on me. Here's the intro, including some helpful expository voiceover from Greenwood that graced each episode:

Friday, October 09, 2015

Zaki's Review: Pan

Did the world really need an origin story for Peter Pan? It seems to me that we've gotten on just fine for the hundred-plus years since author J.M. Barrie introduced his mythical, mystical "boy who never grows up" in 1904 without much need for the whys-and-wherefores behind Our Man Pan. Nonetheless, in this age of franchises, trilogies, and shared universes, it's not altogether surprising that we now have Pan, director Joe Wright's prequel depicting an abandoned orphan's inevitable journey to becoming the flightiest kid in Never Land.

From a script by Jason Fuchs, Pan fills us in on how young Peter (Levi Miller) is mistreated and malnourished at the WWII-era London orphanage where his mysterious mother left him. However, his fortunes take a sudden turn when, in the middle of the night, he's abducted along with many of his fellow orphans by the crew of a flying pirate ship that whisks them off to Never Land. Once there, the youngsters are forced into the mines at the behest of the charismatic Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman).

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Planned Parenthood Panic

Here's a clip from Late Night last week wherein Seth Myers unpacks the bizarre spectacle of House Republicans attempting to defund Planned Parenthood. Say what you want about the portion of their services that involves abortions, but the organization still provide so many other vital -- and in many cases life-saving -- benefits for low income women that it's a bit baffling to me how this is good for anything but partisan keep-away.

The MovieFilm Podcast: Episode 80

Matt Damon is currently sitting atop the box office with his starring role in Ridley Scott's The Martian, and we're joined by special guest Zahra Noorbahksh this week as we unpack the stellar sci-fi epic. In addition, we talk up new releases like Davis Guggenheim's latest documentary He Named Me Malala, and the fairy tale reinvention Pan. But that's not all, we also discuss the latest headlines out of Hollywood, including a franchise onslaught that's going to see four more Transformers films, two more Mad Max films, and at least one more Prometheus. All that, plus the usual Listener Letters and back-and-forth banter you've come to expect from the MovieFilm gang! 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!

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Recommended Reading

Great piece by my friend Zainab Chaudary on the particular mix of emotions that many American Muslims feel when we hear about events such as the shocking shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon last week. Says she:
Pain for the families mourning in Oregon. Sadness at this unnecessary loss of life. Outrage at the policies that keep guns in the hands of reckless people, and at the inherent media bias that twists the narrative when a mass murderer isn’t Muslim. Only once I knew who this man was could I process my feelings, both as an American and as a human being.
Read the rest from Zainab here.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

The Muslim Name Game

My friend Wajahat Ali has a piece up at The New York Times wherein he takes a humorous look at the very real conversation that many expectant Muslim parents have as they decide how "Muslim-y" their kids' names should be. Speaking for myself, I've gone through some variation of this four times.

Nostalgia Theater: Rediscovering The Rockford Files

Sometimes a show can have a deceptively simple premise without ever seeming simplistic. Such was the case with The Rockford Files, a mystery series that ran on NBC from 1974 to 1980. Created by Roy Huggins (who'd made his mark during the previous decade with the runaway success of The Fugitive) and produced by Stephen J. Cannell, Rockford turned the prevailing genre aesthetic on its ear by presenting us with Jim Rockford, a forever put-upon P.I. who relies more on his wits than his fists.

With his rumpled clothes, beat-up car and tiny mobile home, Jim Rockford was the quintessential everyman. And when it came time for casting, there was no better actor to embody the role than James Garner, who'd previously endeared himself to audiences on the western series Maverick. Garner's "aw-shucks" portrayable of Rockford is probably the biggest component in why the show not only found success, but remains such a beloved artifact. Here's the intro (with music by Mike Post, natch):

Friday, October 02, 2015

Bond With the Final Spectre Trailer!

Man, is it that time already? It feels like just yesterday that Skyfall came out, but it's already time for the 24th James Bond epic, Spectre, to hit theaters (in less than two months!). So from here on in we're going to see the final marketing push for the much-anticipated MGM/Sony pic (once again directed by Sam Mendes) really kicking into gear. For one thing, here's the final theatrical trailer, which gives us more of Daniel Craig's dashing double-0, as well as the usual band of James Bond supporting players. More importantly, however, we also get to see more of Christoph Waltz's baddie, who may or may not be Blofeld (c'mon, of course he's Blofeld). Watch the vid below, and then watch Spectre when it arrives stateside on November 6.

Zaki's Review: The Martian

I first read Andy Weir's bestseller The Martian a little over a year ago. Actually, "inhaled" might be a better word to use. The story, about an astronaut stranded on Mars, his struggle to survive and the struggles on Earth to try and bring him home, is about as gripping a book as I've ever consumed, and I blazed through it in a matter of days. Upon finishing it, knowing a film was already on the way, extreme anticipation commingled with extreme dread as I wondered how the Hollywood assembly line would attempt to "improve" on Weir's perfectly proportioned prose.

Well, it turns out I needn't have worried. As directed by Ridley Scott (making his return to outer space just three years after his Alien quasi-prequel Prometheus landed in theaters), from a script by Drew Goddard, Twentieth Century Fox's feature adaptation of The Martian is everything I could have hoped for, one of the most engaging would-be blockbusters we've gotten all year. While it boasts plenty of amazing effects and wide open vistas to justify its apportionment of IMAX screens, the film (featuring a droll Matt Damon in the title role) is a celebration of science, selflessness, and good old fashioned smarts.