Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Cinema Year That Was: Zaki's Flick Picks 2015

It's been a great year for movies, with a diverse assortment of high-profile and smaller scale films, true stories and big surprises, all emerging as some of my favorites for this year. Here's a countdown of my top ten for 2015:

(Click the links to read my full-length reviews/features)

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

2015: The Year in Reviews

I have my "top ten" for the year on track for tomorrow, but in the meantime here's an overview of all the movies I did full reviews during calendar year 2015, with a little blurb from each. This was a big year for me, as I reviewed more flicks than ever before. (This doesn't include retro or archival reviews, of which there were also a few.) Catch them all after the jump!

2015: The Year in Interviews

As in previous years, 2015 offered me some pretty terrific opportunity to chat with some very interesting folks about their latest projects. For your ease, I've compiled them into a list below. Check them out after the jump!

INTERVIEW: Director Jay Roach on Trumbo

After a career spent honing his craft on some of the most memorable comedies of the past twenty years (Austin Powers, Meet the Parents) and some of the most gripping political dramas in recent memory (Recount, Game Change), it feels like director Jay Roach has ascended a new plateau of sorts with the riveting character study Trumbo. The film stars Bryan Cranston in the title role of the cantankerous screenwriter who gained a different degree of prominence thanks to his place in the Hollywood 10 -- filmmakers blacklisted for supposed anti-American beliefs.

In addition to Cranston, the film boasts such talents as John Goodman, Helen Mirren, Louis CK, and Diane Lane in supporting roles, all of whom lend the proceedings the proper sense of gravitas. I had the chance to speak with director Roach during his recent swing through San Francisco, and as I learned during our chat, for him this project was about more than doing justice to Trumbo's incredibly compelling biography. It was also about making some observations about the state of our current discourse in this modern age. Read on for highlights from one of the favorite interviews I've ever done.

Monday, December 28, 2015

This is Strange.

Via Entertainment Weekly, here's our first glimpse of Benedict Cumberbatch all duded up in his sorcerers' best as Stephen Strange, Marvel's Master of the Mystic Arts, for the Doctor Strange feature film due out Thanksgiving. I know nothing about what to expect from the movie, but I am a fan of the early comics by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, about an arrogant surgeon forced to find a new path when an accident robs him of his surgical abilities.

Given the thematic turf it needs to cover, Doctor Strange promises to be one of the wonkiest -- and thus riskiest -- offerings yet from Marvel Studios, currently bounding from victory to victory. I'm hoping we'll get to see some footage from the Scott Derrickson-directed pic soon, but for now, Cumberbatch looks great, and this is a promising start. Jump over to EW for some more pics.

Diffused Congruence: Talking Star Wars With Omer Mozaffar

We've had a great 2015 here at Diffused Congruence, and we wanted to wrap up the year's offerings with something a bit less serious than perhaps we're used to. With the current release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens tearing up box office records in its wake, old school Star Wars fans Parvez and Zaki decided it might be fun to spend an episode unpacking this revival of the storied franchise. To that end, we've invited lecturer and film critic Omer Mozaffar to join us for a fun conversation about this latest visit to the galaxy far, far away. Listen to it 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, December 27, 2015

The Force A-shaken

As you know, I enjoyed Star Wars: The Force Awakens quite a bit. I think it's a bold start to the new era of the franchise, and I'm excited to see where things go next. (And clearly I'm not alone based on the box office records that continue to fall.) That said, there's one teeny little aspect of the Star Wars revival that's always bothered me just a bit.

Going back to when it was first announced back in 2012, I knew we'd lose the closure offered by Return of the Jedi. The happy ending as the heroes defeated the baddies would now be lost to us forever. Here's io9's Rob Bricken, echoing my thoughts (minor spoilers, I suppose, so be aware before clicking past the jump):

Nostalgia Theater Extra: Year in Review 2015

With the year winding down, it's time once again to look back at this year's crop of Nostalgia Theater posts to see which ones rose to the top and were the most popular:

Nostalgia Theater: Users Are Losers!

Traditionally I close out my the year's crop of Nostalgia Theater entries by picking some random commercial from my childhood, and here's a spot that got a fair amount of airplay during the '80s campaign to keep kids off drugs (here's another post I did on the subject waaaay back in '07). While the "take a bit out of crime" slogan, with ubiquitous mascot McGruff the Crime Dog front-and-center, was fairly well known, they clearly felt the need to zazz things up a bit, so they roped in singing sensation (?) Regina to join the cartoon dog. It began airing in '87, and was still playing when I was in high school, so at least into the early '90s. To be honest, I think this commercial counts as the biggest hit Regina (last name: Richards) ever had, as three decades later I still find myself humming it. And seeing as how I never started on drugs, I guess that makes me one of the campaign's success stories.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Still Not Sure What I Think of Deadpool

It's easy to forget that the next film in Fox's X-Men series isn't this summer's X-Men: Apocalypse. Instead, they're going off the reservation a bit and giving us Deadpool, based on the long-running "Merc with the Mouth" who's been a cult fave since his inception in the early '90s. While star Ryan Reynolds definitely feels like a born-to-it choice to play the wisecracking title character, I'm still not sure how I'm feeling about the Tim Miller-directed film, even after seeing the gratuitous red band trailer that dropped yesterday AM. That said, there's some pretty funny stuff in there, and I do applaud Fox for being willing to do something different within the superhero genre in general and the X-franchise in particular, so let's see where we land when Deadpool debuts Valentine's Day weekend. Watch the trailer after the jump, and tell me what you think:

Recommended Reading

Fascinating read by Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo looking at billionaire Sheldon Adelson's attempts to buy media outlets he can then use as megaphones for his extreme right wing views. It's a sad insight into the long, slow death spiral of traditional media as the needs of traditional journalism bump headlong into the sad realities of generating content in the Internet age. Read the whole thing and just feel the depression wash over you.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Taibbi's Holiday Message: Calm the F$#@ Down!

Here's Matt Taibbi with a very pertinent reminder this holiday season of how we've collectively lost all sense of proportion in terms of actual threats to life and limb:
It's not that there aren't real threats. The problem is that no one in popular culture is incentivized to mitigate our fears of those threats, or place them in context. Fox News is not going to sell many ads running stories called "Mexicans Are Basically Nice People Just Like Us." CNN isn't going to grab eyeballs showing videos of Muslim immigrants in New Jersey just hanging out watching soccer. 
Much more to read here.

Monday, December 21, 2015

The MovieFilm Podcast: The Star Wars: The Force Awakens Episode!

The Force has awakened! With this weekend's release of Star Wars: Episode VII already leaving several box office records in its wake, Disney's $4 billion relaunch of the legendary franchise is off to an auspicious start (click here to read my non-spoiler review). For this final MovieFilm show of 2015, we mark the return of Star Wars from a galaxy far, far away by dispensing with the traditional format and instead going all-in for an in-depth, spoiler-filled conversation about the J.J. Abrams directed space epic.

What did we think of The Force Awakens, what worked for us, what didn't work for us, what were our reactions to some of the biggest moments, and where would we like to see the Star Wars saga go next now that we can expect new installments semi-regularly. We cover it all in this very special episode, and you can listen through the embed below or via iTunes or Stitcher or TuneIn Radio (and make sure to write us a review or leave a star rating!). Like always, you can drop us a line at MovieFilmPodcast@gmail.com, or at our our Facebook page to tell us how we're doing!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Nostalgia Theater Rewind: Star Wars Comes to Saturday Morning

Star Wars: The Force Awakens hit theaters last Thursday (read my review here), and it's already well on its way to the very top of the all-time box office champs. With all the Star Wars nostalgia that's understandably pervading the pop culture sphere, I thought I'd flash back to some of my own previous Nostalgia Theater installments. In two separate entries in 2012 and 2013, I looked back at Ewoks and Droids, two Star Wars-themed animated offerings that then-honcho George Lucas put into development shortly after the conclusion of the original trilogy in 1983. While they were paired together initially, neither show lasted a particularly long time, but they've nonetheless staked out a rather unique place for themselves within the annals of one of the most famous franchises of all time.

Click here to read my remembrance of the animated Droids.

Click here to read my piece on the franchising of Ewoks.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

From The Onion...

This made me laugh.
Guy Wearing Chewbacca Costume Torn Between Seeing ‘Star Wars’ And ‘The Big Short’
BOSTON—Going back and forth between the two options as he approached the movie theater ticket counter, a man dressed in a full Chewbacca costume told reporters Thursday that he was torn between seeing Star Wars: The Force Awakens and the new financial film The Big Short. “I’ve been waiting for the new Star Wars movie to come out for a while, but then again, Brad Pitt’s supposed to be really good in this, and it could be cool to see [director] Adam McKay do a drama—jeez, I don’t know,” he said, adjusting his Wookiee mask and admitting that he just wasn’t sure whether he was more in the mood for an epic adventure film or an ensemble drama. “It’d be kind of interesting to hear the story behind the housing market collapse, but on the other hand, I’ve been camped out to see The Force Awakens for the past eight days. Actually, now that I’m looking at it, In The Heart Of The Sea sounds pretty good, too. Man, this is tough.” At press time, the man had removed the gloves of his Chewbacca costume to look up the Rotten Tomatoes score of each film on his phone.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Zaki's Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Directed by J.J. Abrams, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the seventh Star Wars installment (though "Episode VII" has been curiously absent from the marketing), the first to be released by the franchise’s new minders at Disney, and the first to follow on from the events of the beloved original trilogy that concluded with 1983’s Return of the Jedi. While I’ve been aware of this movie's impending arrival ever since it was first announced just over three years ago, the import of what it represents hit me suddenly and early during my screening.

Like all the chapters before, it started with the instantly-recognizable Star Wars logo and the equally-iconic blast of John Williams’ theme music. But as I began to read the crawl of text catching us up on the status quo, I suddenly realized that it was a crawl I hadn’t read countless, innumerable times before. It was new. Completely new. And although that’s an understandably exciting feeling for any longtime fan (and my understanding is there are a few), I have to admit there's also something just a little bittersweet about it too.

Monday, December 14, 2015

New Star Trek Trailer Goes Beyond!

The trailer festivities continue this morning with our first look at Paramount's upcoming Star Trek Beyond, the third entry in the rebooted franchise that began in 2009. While previous director J.J. Abrams has bolted for a certain other beloved sci-fi series, it's clear that Star Trek's minders haven't missed a step, hiring Justin Lin, who almost singlehandedly turned Fast & Furious into one of Hollywood's preeminent brands, to direct the next mission of the U.S.S. Enterprise.

As you may recall, I disliked the second Trek reboot pic, 2013's Star Trek Into Darkness, but that was more over story concerns than anything about the cast or set-up, which I'm still a fan of. This new film brings back Chris Pine (sporting a new 'do) as Captain Kirk), Zachary Quinto as Mr. Spock, etc., and also boasts a script co-written by co-star (and Star Trek superfan) Simon Pegg. Already lots of cause for optimism, and this first trailer confirms that:

Celebrating Independence Day...Again

When it was released in 1996, I was over the moon for director Roland Emmerich's sci-fi blockbuster Independence Day. And clearly I wasn't alone. The alien invasion pic was a genuine box office phenomenon, and was arguably the main factor that turned Will Smith into a global superstar. Still, after revisiting the movie relatively recently, I realized that -- nostalgic memories notwithstanding -- it was aimed so specifically at my teenaged self that it lost all appeal once I aged out of the target demo.

Thus, I'm very curious about whether the upcoming Independence Day: Resurgence will play for me. The project reunites director Emmerich with stars Bill Pullman and Jeff Goldblum (though there's a very noticeable Will Smith-sized hole in the cast). The film is set to to hit theaters next summer (twenty years after the original), but Fox dropped the first trailer yesterday. While there's a whole generation of kids for whom this sequel will no doubt be a cause for celebration, I was never really clamoring for another ID movie. That said, I have to admit, this trailer does its job.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

And Speaking of Star Wars Toys...

From last night's SNL. My wife tells me I have to post this. I have no idea why. Seriously. No idea.

Recommended Reading

Mark Bowden over at Vanity Fair describes his experience spending several hours with Donald Trump back in the '90s for an article. What he describes sure feels like it fits the profile of Trump-ish excess we've become painfully aware of since he entered the current presidential circus:
He was like one of those characters in an 18th-century comedy meant to embody a particular flavor of human folly. Trump struck me as adolescent, hilariously ostentatious, arbitrary, unkind, profane, dishonest, loudly opinionated, and consistently wrong. He remains the most vain man I have ever met. And he was trying to make a good impression. Who could have predicted that those very traits, now on prominent daily display, would turn him into the leading G.O.P. candidate for president of the United States?
What happened during this meeting, you ask? Read the whole thing here.

Nostalgia Theater: Star Wars in the '90s

We're just days away from Star Wars: The Force Awakens (review coming soon!), and I don't know if you've walked into a Target story or whatever lately, but Star Wars is everywhere. You can't escape it! But in the midst of the all-out merchandising assault that's accompanying the new film, it's easy to forget that there was actually a time when the George Lucas juggernaut wasn't the omnipresent Force that Disney is currently making massive bank off of.

For roughly ten years after Return of the Jedi closed out the original batch of movies in 1983, the brand was in hibernation. Without any new movie or TV product in the pipeline (well, except for this and this), it just kind of went away. That all changed in the early '90s, though. First, Dark Horse comics and Bantam books both began their very successful and long-lived Star Wars publishing programs, and then after a few years...the toys came back.

Friday, December 11, 2015

TRAILER: New X-Men Promises Apocalypse Now

We've gotten a steady stream of 2016 superhero movie trailers for the past few weeks, but the one franchise we'd heard nary a peep from was the granddaddy of the current comic book boom, Fox's X-Men, which has its eight installment launching next summer. Well, in anticipation of its placement in front of next week's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Fox has dropped the trailer for director Bryan Singer's X-Men: Apocalypse.

Following 2014's very successful Days of Future Past, this entry promises to close out the rebooted First Class trilogy that began in 2011 and stars James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, and Jennifer Lawrence (who's presumably ready to put Mystique out of her life forever after this). The big selling point here is one of the most popular baddies in the entire Marvel mutant canon: Apocalypse, played by Oscar Isaac.

This is just a teaser, meaning we'll get a full trailer or two between now and the movie's release next summer, but as teasers go, it's fine, I guess. One presumes that if you've liked the previous Bryan Singer X-movies, this will probably fall within the expected range. Watch the vid after the jump:

INTERVIEW: Director Adam McKay on The Big Short

Steve Carrell and Ryan Gosling plan The Big Short
The Big Short is one of the best movies of the year. The screen adaptation of Michael Lewis' "capitalism run amuck" best-seller defies easy genre categorization as it bounces between comedy and tragedy, but its depiction of the 2007-2008 financial crisis that threatened to torpedo the entire world's economy will grip you, engage you, and ultimately anger you.

The film is bracketed by terrific performances from one of the best ensemble casts of the year, including Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Brad Pitt, and Ryan Gosling, all of whom give life to a crackerjack script co-written by director Adam McKay, who makes a bold entry into dramatic filmmaking after building a reputation teaming with Will Ferrel for some of the funniest movies of the last decade.

Faced with making a movie revolving around "mortgage-backed securities" and "tranches" and "collateralized debt obligations" play with mainstream audiences is no easy feat, but McKay manages it with remarkable ease. He addressed the inherent challenges in adapting the text when I chatted with him during his visit to the Bay Area a few weeks ago, and I got to pick his brain about that, as well as his work co-writing Marvel's Ant-Man with Paul Rudd.

Read on for the transcript:

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Godfather Speaks

Profound insights sometimes come from unexpected places. I've often said that listening to Francis Ford Coppola's commentary on the ‪three ‎Godfather‬ films was a better education than four years of film school, and the video below of comments delivered last week at the Marrakech International Film Festival illustrates why. In commenting on the recent resurgence of religious violence, the legendary Apocalypse Now helmer makes some remarkably lucid observations about Islam that demonstrate a willingness to know things outside of his normal frame of experience.

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

The Delusional Donald

As of yesterday, Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump escalated his drip-drip-drip war of words against America's Muslims by proposing a new policy that would not only ban all further Muslim immigration to this country, but would also prevent any American Muslims who happen to be overseas from returning home. This ignorance and idiocy moves Trump past the punchline he's been and become something far more dangerous. With every venomous soundbite about and against Muslims, his polling only solidifies with his particular base, and there are real consequences being suffered by the American Muslim community as a result. A new piece by Arsalan Iftekhar at The Atlantic gives a timeline of Trump's rapidly escalating anti-Muslim rhetoric, and asks how far he'll go.

Monday, December 07, 2015

Sunday, December 06, 2015

From The Onion...

It'd be nice, that's all I'm saying.
Adjunct Professor Hoping Some Student Leaves Behind Warm Pair Of Gloves Today
CHICAGO—After remarking upon the frigid temperatures and blustery conditions during his walk into work this morning, Michael Halloran, an adjunct professor of communications and media studies, expressed hope Wednesday that one of his students would leave behind a pair of warm gloves. “It’d be great if someone accidentally dropped a couple of nice, thick gloves on their way out of the classroom or just forgot about them on the corner of their desk,” the 41-year-old Ph.D. said after hurrying across a chilly campus to teach his third course of the day, noting that last month someone left behind an umbrella that “really helped [him] out.” “Wool would be great, or Gore-Tex maybe, though really I’d be happy with anything. I’m not picky. A mismatched pair would be fine, too. I’d even take one glove if that’s all there was. Maybe I could use the hand with the glove to carry my bag and keep the bare hand in my pocket.” At press time, sources reported that the adjunct professor had hit the jackpot when he came across a scarf under a chair.

Nostalgia Theater: Flash Gordon -- 35 Years of the Savior of the Universe

Believe it or not, yesterday marked thirty-five years to the day that the inexplicably-beloved flop Flash Gordon was first released to theaters. For those of you who've never had the pleasure, the Mike Hodges-directed, Dino De Laurentiis-produced movie is an adaptation of a newspaper comic strip created by Alex Raymond in the 1930s, about an Earth-man who winds upon the distant planet Mongo, and must defeat its vile overlord Ming the Merciless. The film starred actor Sam J. Jones (with his voice dubbed by some unknown actor) as the title character, with Max Von Sydow as Ming (it also featured a pre-James Bond Timothy Dalton in a supporting role).

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Batman v. Superman v. Bright Colors

Last week Disney dropped our first look at their superhero slugfest Captain America: Civil War, which puts Robert Downey and Chris Evans on the opposite side of an ideological divide, and yesterday Warners unleashed our latest look at their own super-smackdown pic, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. The Man of Steel quasi-sequel, which puts in place the various pieces for the expanded DC Comics movie universe while also demonstrating the grimdark color palette that director Zack Snyder seems to favor.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

The MovieFilm Podcast: Episode 83

Yo! The critically-acclaimed Creed is punching up the nation's box office as we speak, and we go the distance this week talk up director Ryan Coogler's emotional and engaging Rocky spin-off, starring Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone. But that's not all, hear Brian's takes some of the movies he missed from last summer, including Pixels and The Man From U.N.C.L.E., as well as my fascinating interview with director Jay Roach about his brilliant biopic Trumbo, starring Bryan Cranston.

In addition, we're joined by special guest Sameer Gardezi (Modern Family) to talk up his upcoming comedy writing webinar, and offer thoughts on the trailer for next year's superhero smash-up Captain America: Civil War, and more. 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!