Monday, November 30, 2015

Diffused Congruence: Dr. Joseph Lumbard and The Study Quran

For our latest episode we're joined by renowned author Dr. Joseph Lumbard, who served as co-editor of The Study Quran, a new translation that aims to contextualize and add commentary to the text, and features contributions by several well-known Islamic scholars. In addition to discussing the fascinating story of his own journey to Islam, Dr. Lumbard also explains why The Study Quran is so essential in today's politically-charged environment. 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!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Taibbi Thumps Trump

If you're following the circus sideshow that is Donald Trump's presidential campaign, you're aware of his recent claims purporting to have witnessed "thousands and thousands" of American Muslims celebrating in New Jersey on 9/11.

Now, apart from the fact that this is entirely fictional -- as in, it didn't happen -- what's more interesting is how not only, but his followers have dug in on this lie no matter what facts emerge to the contrary. Matt Taibbi basically buttons the key thing here:
It was preposterous from the start to think that there could have been contemporaneous broadcasts of "thousands" of people in New Jersey celebrating the 9/11 attacks. Does nobody remember how people felt that day? If there had been such broadcasts, there would have been massacres – angry Americans would have stormed Jersey City. 
Seems like a no-brainer, but there it is. Beyond that, however, Taibbi posits that this whole contretemps is indicative of a whole new level of stupidity among the folks for whom this story strikes a resonant chord. Read the rest of his piece here.

Nostalgia Theater: Giving a Hard Time to Hard Time on Planet Earth

I've often mentioned what a horrid wasteland network television was for science-fiction in the '70s and '80s, and I can't think of a better signifier of this then the brief, benighted existence of Hard Time on Planet Earth. Produced by Disney's Touchstone division and airing on CBS from early in 1989 to slightly later in 1989, the hourlong skein was created by Jim & John Thomas, the screenwriting pair who'd burst on the scene a few years earlier with 1987's Predator.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The MovieFilm Commentary Track: Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope

Check out our snazzy Star Wars crawl!

It's episode 4 of the MovieFilm Commentary Track, and with Thanksgiving on the horizon, we're watching a movie we're especially thankful for: Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (or, as old fogies like us call it, just Star Wars). Between Brian and me, we've probably seen this flick hundreds of times, but believe it or not we'd never watched it together before recording this track.

And with Star Wars: The Force Awakens on the way in a few short weeks, there's never been a better time to see where the "Galaxy Far, Far Away" first began. Whether you queue up your blu-ray and watch along with us, or just catch the track separately, there's lots or trivia, factoids, and laughs as we go through one of the greatest movies of all-time.

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!

Captain America: Civil War Promises Superhero Slugfest!

Avengers: Age of Ultron may have a grossed a cool $1.5 bil last summer, but turns out it was just setting the table for the real super slugfest from Marvel Studios: Next May's Captain America: Civil War, which dropped its first trailer last night on the Jimmy Kimmel show (though I kinda wonder why Disney didn't hold it for Star Wars in a few weeks). Arriving two years after Captain America: The Winter Soldier, this third Captain America "solo" movie (though that term is somewhat of a misnomer given the cast involved) continues the previous film's storyline surrounding our man Cap (Chris Evans) and his search for former partner Bucky Barnes, a.k.a. Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan).

Of course, as the title implies, this pursuit ends up putting him on the opposite side of General "Thunderbolt" Ross (William Hurt) and Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr., presumably pocketing the GDP of a small country to appear here), who in turn enlists several fellow Avengers to bring down his teammate. The film is again directed by Joe & Anthony Russo, who blew me away on Winter Soldier, and while there's no telling which way the chips will fall when the movie hits next year, but in addition to some guaranteed big budget brawling, we can look for the first film appearance of Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and the first Marvel Studios appearance of Spider-Man (Tom Holland). Check out the poster to the right, and watch the vid below:

Monday, November 23, 2015

Zaki's Review: Creed

Click here to read my retro reviews of the entire Rocky series
Director Ryan Coogler's Creed functions as both a sequel to the long-running Rocky series (which marks its fourth decade next year) and the start of its very own franchise. I suspect that the manner in which it's interpreted is entirely dependent on the vintage of whoever happens to be viewing. But either way, what's unmistakeable about the boxing drama starring Michael B. Jordan is the passion that drove the helmer of 2013's Fruitvale Station to pursue this as his follow-up to that acclaimed docudrama.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Nostalgia Theater: I Pity the Fool Who Remembers T and T

With all the Rocky business this week on my blog, some neurons started firing when I wrote about Rocky III and Mr. T, and for the first time in decades I remembered T and T, a short-lived TV vehicle for the one-time Clubber Lang following the cancellation of The A-Team in 1987. Aimed at the syndication market, T and T was produced in Canada and starred T (née Lawrence Tureaud) as T.S. Turner, ex-con turned P.I., who teams with attorney Amy Taler (Alexandra Amini) to solve crimes, beat bad guys, and other other low-budget crime-busting stuff.

The Rocky Road: Rocky Balboa (2006)

Click here to read my retro review of Rocky V
When the lights came up on 1990's Rocky V, like most moviegoers and Rocky fans, I assumed that I'd just seen the last of Rocky Balboa. I mean, we'd gotten that great Elton John song and everything! Nonetheless, for years after its release, the film's critical and commercial failure nagged at star Sylvester Stallone. Given all that the series and the character had achieved over the years, it seemed somehow wrong to him that the franchise's final curtain be one that was so divisive -- both for the fans and himself.

The Rocky Road: Rocky V (1990)

Here's a shocker: I come not to bury Rocky V, but to praise it.

Upon its release in 1985, Rocky IV achieved a degree of financial success that was heretofore unprecedented for the boxing franchise. However, given the critical brickbats it endured on the way to box office nirvana, one could make the argument that writer/director/star Sylvester Stallone had sold Rocky Balboa's soul to get there. In many ways, Rocky IV was to this series what Moonraker was to James Bond -- hugely successful financially, but completely at odds with everything preceding it. In Bond's case, that meant using the next entry (1981's For Your Eyes Only) to re-ground the secret agent in a traditional espionage story.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Rocky Road: Rocky IV (1985)

Click here to read my retro review of Rocky III

With its fourth installment in 1985, the Rocky series hit its commercial zenith -- and its creative nadir.

Bear in mind that Rocky IV arrived during a time that can best be referred to as "Peak Stallone." The actor, who less than ten years ago was living in a one-room apartment and subsisting off of bit parts, was at the absolute top of his box office drawing power -- a situation he'd never again enjoy to the same degree. In addition to the demonstrated staying power of Rocky, shortly after Rocky III in 1982, he'd also made a little movie called First Blood, about a Vietnam vet named John Rambo who's tormented by a small town sheriff (Brian Dennehy).

The Rocky Road: Rocky III (1982)

Click here to read my retro review of Rocky II

When Rocky II provided just as potent a punch at the box office as the Oscar-winning original, it became a question of "when," not "if," we'd be treated to another visit with the famous Philadelphia southpaw, especially if home studio MGM/United Artists had anything to say about it. After taking some time to star in Nighthawks and Victory, both released in 1981 and both critically admired but little-seen by audiences, the mood seemed right for Sylvester Stallone to once again lace up the gloves and get his company of "Rocky Repertory Players" back together for the next chapter in the saga of the Italian Stallion.

Friday, November 20, 2015

The Rocky Road: Rocky II (1979)

Click here to read my retro review of Rocky
After Rocky blew the doors off industry expectations in 1976, its writer and star Sylvester Stallone immediately benefited from all the attention the underdog boxing movie had garnered. The newly-minted Oscar nominee quickly put this fresh clout behind two 1978 productions: First up was F.I.S.T., directed by Norman Jewison and featuring a script by Stallone and Joe Eszterhas, which depicted the early days of the union movement. From there, Stallone himself moved behind the camera for the first time for Paradise Alley, a period piece about three siblings in the '40s.

The Rocky Road: Rocky (1976)

"His whole life was a million-to-one shot"

So proclaims the poster for 1976's Rocky, but when you think about it, it was as much a million-to-one shot for its lead actor as it was for its lead character. No one had any expectations that the micro-budgeted million dollar production would do much of anything when it hit a handful of theaters in the closing weeks of 1976, but the film's out-of-nowhere success not only transformed writer/star Sylvester Stallone into an overnight household name, it also turned Rocky Balboa, the indomitable southpaw from Philadelphia, into one of the most enduring and iconic screen characters of all time -- one who's poised to return yet again in next week's Creed.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Refugee Hysteria

Since the tragic events of last Friday in Paris, we've seen many of the campaigning politicos stateside -- including the usuals like Trump, Carson, Huckabee, and Jindal -- turn the refusal of Syrian refugees into a standard-issue talking point. But did this burst of xenophobia just suddenly happen? Not according to Talking Point Memo's Tierney Sneed, who says it's been simmering for awhile, and the Paris attacks just gave it cover. Read her take here.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

From The Onion...

Historians Politely Remind Nation To Check What's Happened In Past Before Making Any Big Decisions
From the piece:
"In the coming weeks and months, people will have to make some really important decisions about some really important issues," Columbia University historian Douglas R. Collins said during a press conference, speaking very slowly and clearly so the nation could follow his words. "And one thing we can do, before making a choice that has permanent consequences for our entire civilization, is check real quick first to see if human beings have ever done anything like it previously, and see if turned out to be a good idea or not."
Read the rest here.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Nostalgia Theater: Rocky Gets Brisk

With the impending release of the Rocky spin-off Creed a week from Wednesday, I've got a ton of Rocky content planned in the lead-up. And just to get the ball rolling, I thought I'd share this fun commercial from 1997. The stop-motion spot, which first aired during the NBA playoffs, was produced by Brisk Iced Tea, and they really went all-out, including paying Sly Stallone a reported $1 million to record about three lines of dialogue. Who knows, maybe reprising his most iconic role in this spot was what lit a fire under the actor to finally bring the Italian Stallion back in 2006's Rocky Balboa. Regardless, a fun little vid. Enjoy:

Friday, November 13, 2015

Zaki's Review: Spotlight

Michael Keaton and Mark Ruffalo chase down leads in Spotlight
In our current age of clickbait articles and nonsensical "listicles" passing for news, it feels like the role of traditional journalism is being called into question more and more. As such, it's reassuring to get a movie like Spotlight to help reset our collective compasses. Director Tom McCarthy's riveting dramatization of the real life 2001-2002 Boston Globe story that exposed widespread criminal sexual misconduct within the Boston Archdiocese is riveting and ceaselessly compelling, while also illustrating the inherent nobility of reporters hitting the streets and chasing down leads and finding sources.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Honest Genisys

As you know if you read my review last summer, Terminator Genisys proved to be kind of a trainwreck, providing neither the sequel that fans wanted nor the restart the franchise needs. With further sequels in doubt even with a not-insubstantial $440 mil global haul, it'll fall to home video to carry the freight the rest of the way. But if anyone has waited until now to finally watch this latest Schwarzenegger cyborg pic, let the folks at Screen Junkies' "Honest Trailers" divest you of that notion. Observe:

The MovieFilm Podcast: Episode 82

After three long years, Bond, James Bond is back! Last Friday marked the release of Spectre, the twenty-fourth film in the immortal spy movies, and we couldn't be more excited to be joined by Bruce Scivally, renowned film historian and co-author of James Bond: The Legacy, to talk up the latest 007 film as well as his new tome, Dracula FAQ. In addition, we cover some of the latest headlines out of Hollywood, including a proposed Die Hard prequel and plans to bring Star Trek back to television. There's also Star Wars news, Listener Letters, plus all the deep thoughts and big laughs you've come to expect. Listen to the show 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, November 10, 2015

Recommended Reading

Over the last few days, as we've watched improbable GOP frontrunner Ben Carson's propensity for telling tall tales burnishing his own personal legend get scrutinized, some curious truths are being revealed in the process about Carson, who Talking Point Memo's Josh Marshall refers to as a "self-awareness Mr. Magoo." Read his take here.

Monday, November 09, 2015

The Force is With Him

I don't envy J.J. Abrams for the high tension, high stakes situation he currently finds himself in. As writer/director of Disney's impending multi-billion dollar relaunch of the Star Wars franchise, Abrams is on the leading edge of what will either be hailed as a bold reclamation of a beloved brand, or a huge fizzle.

By the end of the year, The Force Awakens will finally be out, and we -- and Abrams -- will know whether he's destined to be deemed hero or villain by the gathered hordes of nerd-dom. But as a new interview with Wired reveals, the man behind Lost and Alias and the Star Trek reboot is sanguine about his place in the narrative, and the film he's made:

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Nostalgia Theater: Wonder Woman -- 40 Years Fighting For Her Rights (In Her Satin Tights)

Yesterday marked four decades to the day that the Wonder Woman we all know and love made her live action debut via a 1975 TV movie on ABC (home of the camp-tastic Batman series nearly a decade earlier) entitled The New, Original Wonder Woman. The reason for that title, by the way, was because of a previous telefilm a year earlier entitled simply Wonder Woman, which starred Cathie Lee Crosby (later of That's Incredible!) and which bore no resemblance to the character that had been appearing in DC Comics since 1941. The alphabet net went back to the well, however, and their second try convinced them to roll the dice on a series for the following spring. Here's the intro:

Friday, November 06, 2015

Diffused Congruence: Micah Anderson on Meditation and Mindfulness

Continuing last month's theme about emotional problems within the American-Muslim community, we're joined by Micah Anderson, an expert on meditation and mental health, for a fascinating conversation about his own journey, as well as some best practices that we can all adopt to nurture our own emotional well-being. 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

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Zaki's Review: Spectre

At the close of 2012's Skyfall, the big fiftieth anniversary installment of the James Bond film series, we'd come to the natural conclusion of a de facto "Becoming Bond" trilogy for current 007 Daniel Craig. Beginning with the 2006 reboot Casino Royale, and continuing through 2008's Quantum of Solace, we'd seen Bond's first mission, his first true love, his first betrayal, and learned of the childhood trauma that shaped him into the international man of mystery that we all know and love.

With a newly-introduced, newly-youthified Q (Ben Whishaw), a brand-new Miss Moneypenny (Naomie Harris), and Ralph Fiennes as a freshly-installed M to give Bond his marching orders, it sure looked like the pump was primed for the kind of traditional heightened reality 007 escapades that audiences had been thrilling to right up to the beginning of Craig's tenure. But not quite. With Spectre, number twenty-four in the infinitely enduring franchise (and at 150 minutes this one really is an exercise in infinite endurance), there's yet more origin to unfurl.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Countdown to 007: Skyfall (2012)

I saw Spectre last night, and I have plenty of thoughts, but they'll have to wait until tomorrow for my review. In the meantime, let's take a trip back to 2012 to see what I thought of the last Bond opus, Skyfall, when it came out:
There's a particular, special kind of pomp that greets the clockwork release of James Bond's cinematic escapades every couple of years. It's a pomp that at once underscores each new installment's role as the storied series' leading edge, while at the same time highlighting its ultimate transience as just one small cog in the machine that is, first and foremost, "The Franchise." The most successful of its kind. More than any individual film in the vast, ever-expanding catalogue, the Bond films' place of permanence comes from the totality of that catalogue, the breadth and width of which has long since rendered the films a kind of pop culture perpetual motion machine, ensuring that they carry on simply because they carry on.
Continue reading...

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Fixer

At the start of this campaign season, it sure looked like the Republican nomination was Jeb Bush's for the taking. Given sinking poll numbers, a flailing campaign, and the uncharismatic candidate at its center, that presumption seems almost comical in hindsight, especially when we see the Bush brother's hapless attempts reset the narrative.

The latest try at stanching the bleeding (which includes several donors skedaddling) comes via the just-announced campaign slogan "Jeb Can Fix It," which quickly elicited guffaws and mockery from the online commentariat. However, as Heather Digby Parton remembers, there's one instance where Jeb most definitely did "fix it." And not in a good way. Says she:
Anyone old enough to remember that election night, which was 15 years ago today, will remember that the outcome of the electoral college depended on that one state. And what came next is exactly what anyone would have predicted would happen when an election is so close it triggers a recount in a state in which the levers of power and the electoral machinery are run by one of the candidates’ brothers. That candidate was the one who became president.
Honestly, it all feels like yesterday. Read the rest from Parton here.

Countdown to 007: Quantum of Solace (2008)

The countdown to Spectre continues! Here's what I had to say about Daniel Craig's second bout of Bondage, Quantum of Solace, upon its release in 2008:
If there was any doubt after 2006’s “James Bond Begins” franchise reinvention Casino Royale that the producers of Hollywood’s longest running series wanted to take a hard left turn from the excesses of the Pierce Brosnan era, one need look no further than star Daniel Craig’s second go-round with Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Quantum of Solace.  
Like the previous installment in the reinvigorated series, the filmmakers, led by director Marc Forster (Stranger Than Fiction, Finding Neverland) have made a concerted effort to eschew many of the Bond tropes that are so familiar they’ve come to be thought of as essential to the series’ survival. Once again there’s no Q, no Moneypenny, and about the most exotic thing Bond does with his cell phone is make phone calls.
Continue reading...

Monday, November 02, 2015

The Long Trek Back...to TV

Just over ten years ago, while taking stock of the series finale of Star Trek: Enterprise, I noted that while it brought the curtain down on seventeen uninterrupted years of TV trekking, the franchise would eventually be back. And return it did, four years later, via the J.J. Abrams-helmed feature film reboot that has spawned one sequel already with another on the way. Of course, the small screen has always been Trek's true home, so we all knew it was only a matter of time before it boldly went back there. And now comes word via CBS, the franchise's current minders, that Star Trek is indeed returning -- albeit with a twist.

Countdown to 007: Casino Royale (2006)

With this week's stateside debut of Spectre, the latest James Bond opus, I thought this was a good time to look back at my reviews of the current run of Daniel Craig-led flicks. Here's what I said about Casino Royale upon its premiere in 2006:
When last we left him in 2002's Die Another Day, James Bond (Pierce Brosnan), armed with an invisible Aston Martin, a gun-toting Halle Berry at his side, had just defeated a face-changing Korean colonel and his giant space laser. If that description elicits more of a groan than a gasp, you're not alone. After forty-plus years of cinematic spectacle, it's easy to understand why Agent 007's recent adventures haven't done very much to leave expectant audiences shaken or stirred.
Continue reading...

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Nostalgia Theater Rewind: James Bond Jr. Flunks Out

The twenty-fourth (official) James Bond epic, Spectre, hits stateside theaters this week, and if you've been reading me for any length of time, you already know how excited I am. You can look for my review of that one shortly, but in the meantime, I thought this was as good a time as any to revisit my piece from three years ago (on the eve of the last Bond movie's debut), examining the here-and-gone life of Agent 007's teenaged nephew, who headlined the short-lived James Bond Jr. multimedia onslaught in the early '90s. While the younger Bond may have had his famous uncle's name and accent, neither was enough to endear him to an apathetic public. Why was that? Well, watch the video after the jump and read on...

Continue reading...