Friday, April 29, 2016

INTERVIEW: Key & Peele on Keanu

Having just wrapped up five hilarious seasons on the forefront of the zeitgeist with their groundbreaking sketch comedy series Key & Peele, it's only natural that the team of Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele have cast their gaze to the big screen for their next challenge. And if the new film Keanu, opening today in theaters everywhere, proves anything, it's that the pair, who've been working together since their time on MADtv in the 2000s, haven't missed a step in their transition to the big screen.

The film, a wacky road picture about two friends trying to retrieve the adorable kitten (the titular "Keanu") that's been kidnapped by drug dealers, is in many ways a perfect distillation of the gonzo, anything-goes humor that one associates with the Key & Peele brand. While they were promoting the movie at (appropriately enough) the Cat Town Cafe in Oakland, CA, I had the chance to ask them why this was the perfect project with which to transition to the big screen, and whether they ever thought their show would be as popular as it is. Read on for some highlights of our conversation:

Diffused Congruence Bonus Episode: On Grief, Death, and Dying

Well this is a first. We started out recording this bit as a brief, five minute addendum to tag onto the live show, but as tends to happen when we get together, five minutes stretched into twenty-five, and so we decided to turn it into its own little mini-episode. For this special show, Parvez and Zaki have a conversation about the recent deaths of public figures, some Muslim, some non-Muslim, and how they've resulted in a particular conversation in regards to seemliness of expressing grief or sadness in a public sphere. Give it a listen to hear our thoughts, and then hit us up at DiffusedCongruence@gmail.com, or at our Facebook page to offer your take on our takes!

Diffused Congruence LIVE: Poet & Storyteller Mark Gonzales

We were honored to present our very first live recording of the show a few weeks ago, and now here it is for your enjoyment. Our guest this time was poet and storyteller Mark Gonzales, who talked about his own journey to Islam, and what he's learned along the way. It was a fun and invigorating conversation that also included a Q&A with the audience at the Islamic Cultural Center of Northern California, in Oakland, CA. Many thanks to the Muslim Writers' Collective for arranging this special event. We had a blast participating, and we're confident you'll feel the same after listening. Check it out through the embed below, or via iTunes or Stitcher. As always, please hit "like" on our Facebook page, and send any comments or questions to DiffusedCongruence@gmail.com.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

INTERVIEW: Jeremy Saulnier & Anton Yelchin on Green Room

After making a splash with the crowdfunded 2013 thriller Blue Ruin, writer-director Jeremy Saulnier's next project is an even darker dive, the survival horror film Green Room. Following a punk band's harrowing encounter with neo-Nazis in the green room of a hole-in-the-wall bar, the film stars Anton Yelchin as one of the unfortunate band members, and features a chilling performance by Patrick Stewart as the enigmatic white supremacist leader.

I had a chance to discuss the film (which also features a supporting turn by Imogen Poots) with Saulnier and Yelchin during their recent swing through San Francisco, and you can read on for some highlights of our chat, including Saulnier's shying away from studio pictures, their mutual fondness for the punk scene, and whether Yelchin swapped Star Trek stories with Patrick Stewart:

Monday, April 25, 2016

Clawed Cameo in Final X-Men: Apocalypse Trailer

The hype right now is all about Captain America: Civil War's release next week, but lest we forget, there's another Marvel Comics-inspired movie hitting screens shortly after, Fox's X-Men: Apocalypse. Coming on the heels of Deadpool's out-of-nowhere success earlier this year (with a sequel already in the works, naturally), Apocalypse can't help but suddenly feel like the big brother that suddenly got overshadowed.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Nostalgia Theater Rewind: The Crappy Captain America Movies

With the release of Captain America: Civil War mere weeks away (I'm hoping to catch a screening a week from tomorrow, in fact) and expected to bring in the big bucks for home studio Disney, it's easy to forget that Marvel Comics' star-spangled man of action wasn't always the sure thing that he's perceived as today. In fact, over the decades there had actually been several attempts at bringing the iconic hero to the screen -- both big and small -- with less-than-stellar results. I took a look at those pre-Chris Evans tries at Cap in a Nostalgia Theater post from a few years ago, so I figured this was as good a time as any to link back to that. Click below to feel the embarrassment!

Continue reading...

Zaki's Retro Review: The Last Starfighter

Yesterday I decided to pop in 1984's The Last Starfighter for my kids. I was about five or six when I was first exposed to this flick, which was probably the perfect age to have it take up permanent residence in my psyche. The sci-fi adventure, about teenager Alex Rogan (Lance Guest) who inadvertently drafts himself into an intergalactic corps of space pilots after beating a video game, is completely of its time -- the quintessential '80s artifact -- though in this case I mean that in the best way possible. It arrived at a time when earnestness hadn't yet been overwhelmed by cynicism, and it's the earnestness that's the key element in this mix.

Directed by Nick Castle from a script by Jonathan Betuel, The Last Starfighter was one of the first films to use computer-generated effects as a stand-in for models, in the "real" world (as opposed to the entirely otherworldly Tron), and if there's a creaky element to the movie, it's probably that. However, the central storyline, Alex's journey, his relationship with his family and girlfriend (Catherine Mary Stewart), is something that resonates no matter when we happen to watch it, and it's the human elements allow us to look past any deficits in the effects area. Here, watch the trailer:

Friday, April 22, 2016

Am I Actually Excited For Independence Day 2?

When I first heard they were doing a sequel to 1996's mega-hit Independence Day, I chuckled at the hubris of digging up an IP that came and went three presidential administrations ago (no matter how much I loved the thing when it first came out). But still, either because of the comfortable gauze of nostalgia, or the damn good marketing campaign from Twentieth Century Fox, I've just been consistently impressed and ever more anticipatory with each new bit of footage we're seeing from the Roland Emmerich-directed sequel.

Guy Hamilton, RIP

Was saddened to hear yesterday that director Guy Hamilton passed away. Having lived to the age of 93 there's no denying that he enjoyed a full life, and while he has an impressive roster of credits that span the 1950s through the late '80s, he's probably best known for his key role in the early days of the James Bond franchise. While Terence Young ably directed the first two pictures, 1962's Dr. No and 1963's From Russia With Love, it's arguably with Hamilton's 007 debut, 1964's Goldfinger that the quintessence of what we consider "essential" to Bond was established.

Zaki's Review: The Huntsman: Winter's War

In the age of the insta-franchise, where studios force sequels on audiences whether they're warranted or not, it shouldn't come as a great shock that The Huntsman: Winter's War exists. After all, despite mostly mixed notices from critics, 2012's Snow White and the Huntsman still managed to rake in nearly $400 million worldwide against a $170 mil budget. Thus, with the tedious inevitability of an unloved season, here comes Winter's War off the Universal Studios assembly line to serve as prequel, sequel, spin-off and, most importantly, brand extender.

Now, while I wasn't a particularly big fan of the previous film, my general indifference to it came down more to execution than concept. While I left the theater feeling that the revisionist fairy tale, directed by Rupert Sanders and starring Kristen Stewart as the most butt-kicking Snow White in cinematic history, didn't live up to its own potential, I did think that a potential follow-up (if one was absolutely necessary, which is certainly open to debate) might have been made worthy of our time with a few minor course corrections.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

The MovieFilm Podcast: The Jungle Book, and Key & Peele on Keanu!

This week Brian and I discuss a whole host of new and upcoming release, including Disney's box office behemoth The Jungle Book, the Kevin Costner action thriller Criminal, and Universal's sequel/spin-off The Huntsman: Winter's War. From there, listen to an interview with the hilarious comedy duo Key & Peele about their feature film Keanu. After that, it's on to a discussion of the trailers for The Magnificent Seven and Jason Bourne, and some headlines, including James Cameron's further Avatar plans and the first look at actress Elizabeth Banks as the baddie in the upcoming Mighty Morphin Power Rangers feature, plus more! Listen to it all via the embed below or at iTunes or Stitcher or TuneIn Radio, and make sure to write us a review or leave a star rating! As always, send a line at MovieFilmPodcast@gmail.com, or at our Facebook page to tell us how we're doing!

Jason Bourne is Back

The last time Matt Damon was kicking butt and taking names as Robert Ludlum's literary superspy Jason Bourne was in 2007's The Bourne Ultimatum, and while that film bolstered Universal's bottom line, it put enough of a bow around Bourne's amnesiac storyline that Damon felt it was a good place to walk away with his boots on. Of course, in the interim the studio tried 2012's Damon-less The Bourne Legacy, to mixed results, and Damon himself had mixed success parlaying his Bourne visibility over to other roles.

Thus, after many years of back-and-forth negotiations between parties, we end up with this July's Jason Bourne, which brings back Damon as well as director Paul Greengrass, and which just had its first trailer released last night. Coming nine years after the trilogy-capper, this installment is being called more of an epilogue than a bold new beginning, and while it kind of looks like more of the same with this franchise, that's not necessarily a bad thing given how much goodwill the Bourne brand -- with Damon -- still carries. Check it out below:

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Watch the First Trailer for The Magnificent Seven!

When I first heard MGM had a redo of seminal western The Magnificent Seven in the works, I was reflexively reticent, partly because MGM doesn't have a great track record digging up their library titles, and partly because the original is still such a damn good movie that it doesn't need a remake. Nonetheless, when Training Day director Antoine Fuqua signed on my interest was piqued, and even more when I saw the cast he lined up (Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D'onofrio).

Fuqua, of course, bolted the terrible London Has Fallen to make this, and if the new teaser trailer, released this morning, for the September release is anything to go by, he made the right choice. This may be one remake that actually beats the odds. The 1960 version, directed by John Sturgess, starred Yul Brynner, and made movie stars of Steve McQueen and James Coburn, and also spawned a film franchise of its own in the '60s (not to mention a short-lived TV show in the '90s), so I'm sure the Lion has visions of sequels flitting in front of their eyes with the 2016 Magnificent as well. Watch the vid below, and look for the movie this fall.

Zaki's Review: The Jungle Book (2016)

Following in the very successful wake of Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland in 2010 and Kenneth Branagh's Cinderalla last year, it's no surprise that Disney is continuing the process of turning titles from its voluminous roster of animated classics into big budget live action spectacles. The latest such effort is The Jungle Book, and as directed by Jon Favreau, it's a feast for the mind and the eyes, with stunning special effects, dazzling use of 3D (seriously, go see it in 3D!), and a revelatory performance from a talented young newcomer to hold it all together.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

From The Onion...

I laughed way too hard at this.
Elderly Man Who’s Outlived Wife By 8 Years Must Not Have Loved Her Very Much
LAUREL, MD—Noting that the 81-year-old is still in relatively good health to this day, sources reported Monday that elderly man Jonathan Eckman, who has outlived his wife by eight years now, must not have loved her very much. “If he didn’t die the day after his wife, or later that year on their wedding anniversary, then he probably didn’t really care about her at all,” said local acquaintance Dana Ridgely, who added that the least Eckman could have done if he, in fact, cherished and adored the woman he spent 50 years of his life alongside, was die within a few weeks of her. “He vows to be with her forever, he raises three kids with her, and he spends nearly every moment with her for decades, but he doesn’t even pass away moments after she does, still holding her hand? He must have been cheating on her or something.” Sources added that unless Eckman dies 10 years to the day after his wife’s passing, it was almost guaranteed that he never even loved her to begin with and their marriage was one big lie.

Nostalgia Theater: Disney's TaleSpin Takes Flight!

Just over two years ago I covered Disney's Chip 'n' Dale Rescue Rangers in this column, with the promise that I'd eventually get to TaleSpin, another offering from the famed Disney Afternoon syndicated block. Well, with Disney's live action Jungle Book adaptation now in theaters, I figured this was a perfect opportunity to look back at the time Baloo, King Louie, and Shere Khan took a break from hanging out with Mowgli to engage in high-flying derring-do in and around the fictional South Pacific town of Cape Suzette. Here's the intro, with another catchy Disney theme song:

Friday, April 15, 2016

Diffused Congruence: Dr. Meraj Mohiuddin

For our latest episode we're pleased to be joined by Dr. Meraj Mohiuddin, author of the upcoming book Revelation: The Story of Muhammad. Listen in as Dr. Mohiuddin shares how he came up with the idea for the book fifteen years ago, and his long journey bringing it to fruition. You can catch the show via the embed below, or via iTunes or Stitcher Radio. As always, please hit "like" on our Facebook page, and send any comments or questions to DiffusedCongruence@gmail.com

Zaki's Review: Criminal

A couple of years back, in 3 Days to Kill, Kevin Costner tried his hand at playing a hardbitten action hero in the latter day Liam Neeson mould. While that film was largely forgettable, Costner ended up making it a lot more engaging than would otherwise have been warranted, and one can say the same thing about his latest actioner, the mind-bending, body-swapping thriller Criminal. Oddly enough, for the last few years we've seen a pattern emerge where two Costner pics open within weeks of each other, one bad, one good.

You might recall that (minor spoiler) Batman v. Superman a few weeks ago featured a spectral appearance by the actor as Superman's deceased papa. And given how spectacularly god-awful that picture was, it has the sideways benefit of making Criminal, by default, the "good" Costner flick for this year. Well, "good" might be overselling things a bit. As boilerplate thrillers go, it's mostly diverting, and moderately engrossing, but not quite worthy of the top-drawer cast that's been assembled in front of the camera (including Tommy Lee Jones, Gary Oldman, Gal Gadot, and more).

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Interview With Yours Truly

About a month ago Jordan Peffley, a college student from Middle Tennessee State University, interviewed me about my time as a film critic. It was my honor to chat with her, and I think I come off as occasionally lucid, so I'll file it as a win. Check it out here.

The MovieFilm Podcast: Episode 92

This week we start things out with Brian offering some of his post-season thoughts on FX's The People vs. O.J. Simpson and Hulu's 11/22/63. From there, listen to my interview with director Jeremy Saulnier and actor Anton Yelchin about their shocking new thriller Green Room (featuring Patrick Stewart in his creepiest role to date). After that, we discuss the box office collapse of Batman v. Superman, and what effect -- if any -- it will have on Warner Bros.' plans for their big superhero cinematic universe, and then we dive into a whole host of brand new trailers of highly-anticipated upcoming releases, including Suicide Squad and Fantastic Beasts, Marvel's brand new franchise Doctor Strange, and the upcoming Star Wars spin-off, Rogue One. You can catch it via the embed below or at 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!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Watch the First Trailer For Marvel's Doctor Strange!

We're now in the final approach to Captain America: Civil War, that doesn't mean Marvel Studios is taking a breather. Case in point, the trailer for what Disney no doubt hopes will be the superhero factory's next big launch: Doctor Strange. Based on a Stan Lee-Steve Ditko character introduced in 1963, the Scott Derrickson-directed film stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Stephen Strange, an arrogant physician who loses the use of his hands and in traveling the world searching for a cure, ends up becoming Earth's mystic guardian (a.k.a the Sorcerer Supreme).

In addition to Cumberbatch, we've also got Tilda Swinton in the cast as his mystical mentor, the Ancient One, Chiwetel Ejiofor as the villainous Baron Mordo, as well as Rachel McAdams as (I presume) Strange's love interest. This is a chance for Marvel to explore some new terrain -- that of the mystic other-realms that have only been hinted at thus far -- and if history is our guide, it'll be just as much of a success as its Marvel Studios forerunners. Watch the vid below, and look for Doctor Strange to hit theaters this November:

Recommended Reading

If you're like me, you're getting pretty sick and tired of how long the Democratic primary is dragging on. Not because there aren't important issues to be discussed and worked out between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, but because of how annoying it's getting to deal with their respective supporters on social media, which is making it seem like this is the most bitter, hard-fought election since, well, Clinton and Obama, I guess. Regardless, maybe it's just me being eight years older, but I'm pretty worn down by it all. Here's New York Magazine's Jesse Singal, echoing what I'm feeling:
What makes me desperate for the sporks is the extent to which many people engaging in online arguments on both sides of the Democratic primary turn into nasty, bullying blowhards incapable of seeing their ideological opponents’ basic humanity. To Bernie fans, Hillary supporters’ only policy goal is to have Wall Street bankers run thousands of drone missions geared at wiping out distant orphans. To Hillary supporters, Bernie fans are motivated only by misogyny and the sort of revolutionary politics that would get you laughed out of even a stoned-freshmen dorm-room debate about politics.
Read on for more from Singal, specifically on why, despite what it might seem like online, there aren't as many differences between Clinton and Sanders supporters as we might think.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Nostalgia Theater: Centennial -- The Story of the American West

This past week I've been re-watching the 1978 miniseries Centennial, and it's one of those shows that I've been meaning to write about here in Nostalgia Theater for awhile, so I figured this was as good a time as any. Based on the novel of the same name by James Michener, the mammoth production (which cost nearly $100 million in today's dollars) tracks the history of a particular piece of land in Colorado from Native American days through the first settlers arriving to the then-present day of the late '70s. (The title refers to the name of the town that's founded on that land.)

I first saw Centennial when it aired on Saudi TV in the early '90s (albeit in a heavily bowdlerized form). I was all of ten years old but I was absolutely captivated by the richness of the the story. I fell in love with characters -- such as Robert Conrad as French trapper Pasquinel, and Richard Chamberlain as his partner Alexander McKeag --  and my heart broke as they aged and eventually exited. While not itself a true story, Centennial is certainly based around true events, and like Roots before it, it exposes uncomfortable truths about our history (a fictionalized depiction of the infamous Sand Creek massacre of 1864 remains shocking even today).

Thursday, April 07, 2016

First Trailer for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Star Wars: The Force Awakens came out and made $2+ bil at the global box office, proving Disney made a wise decision when they bought Lucasfilm back in 2012, but you didn't think things would go quiet after that, did you? Nope, the next step in the Mouse House's plan to strap booster rockets on the biggest franchise in the galaxy is here with our first look at this coming December's Rogue One. Subtitled as "A Star Wars Story", the film is the first of what they no doubt hope will be many more branded spin-offs set in and around the larger Star Wars universe separate from the "episodes" that will continue to advance the central saga. Check it out:

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Nostalgia Theater Podcast: Celebrating Batman on Screen!

With the release of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice two weeks ago (read my thoughts here), Batman has made his triumphant return to movie screens after an interminable interregnum of...just a few years, actually. As it turns out, audiences can't go too long without DC Comics' Dark Knight Detective showing up to beat up baddies and right wrongs on big screen and small. But what is it about Batman that keeps folks coming back again and again? To unpack that question, I'm joined by pop culture historian John Kenneth Muir, author of The Encyclopedia of Superheroes on Film and Television, to discuss his own history with Batman, his thoughts on the many incarnations of the Caped Crusader, from the movie serials in the 1940s to the 1960s television series to the various feature films over the years, and answer whether Batman truly is forever. It's a long-ranging conversation that goes deep and wide, and you can listen to it via the embed below, or via iTunesStitcher Radio, or TuneIn Radio. As always, send all questions or comments our way via MovieFilmPodcast@gmail.com, and don't forget to hit "like" on our Facebook page

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Recommended Reading

Gabriel Sherman at New York Magazine has a look into the bundle of dysfunction that is the Donald Trump campaign. If you thought that was a whole lotta "yikes" before, just wait until after you read this. Hoo-boy.

Sunday, April 03, 2016

INTERVIEW: Director Gavin Hood on Eye in the Sky, Drone Warfare, and Alan Rickman

With such films as Tsotsi and Rendition, director Gavin Hood has made a career out of tackling difficult subject matter and presenting them in a compelling fashion. His latest, the military thriller Eye in the Sky, which doubles as both a character drama and a meditation on the ramifications of drone warfare, is no exception. The film, featuring an all-star ensemble including Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul, and the final performance Alan Rickman, is thoughtful and challenging, and unlike a lot of the films we tend to get out of Hollywood on this subject.

I had a chance to discuss the film with Mr. Hood recently, and we delved not only into the origins of the project, but also his own views on the difficult issue of drones, as well as his thoughts on working on independent films versus Hollywood blockbusters like X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and his memories of working with the late, great Alan Rickman. Read on for the transcript of our chat:

Nostalgia Theater: The Brady Kids Come to Animation

About a year ago I discussed The Bradys, an attempt to continue the Brady Bunch brand several years after the original show had ended. And while that ended up being this goofy thing that was pretty much rejected on arrival, it was hardly the first try to at expanding creator Sherwood Schwartz's Brady empire. For instance, there was The Brady Kids, an animated show that aired for twenty-two episodes between 1972 and 1973. Here's the intro:

Friday, April 01, 2016

Diffused Congruence: Dr. Ingrid Mattson

For this month's show we're joined by Dr. Ingrid Mattson, renowned scholar and former president of ISNA (the Islamic Society of North America), who discusses her own personal journey to Islam, and also her experience at the forefront of combatting Islamophobia and anti-Muslim sentiment during her ten years with ISNA. It's a fascinating and insightful conversation that we hope you'll enjoy listening to via the embed below. You can also listen at iTunes and Stitcher Radio. Send any comments or questions to diffusedcongruence@gmail.com or via our Facebook page!

INTERVIEW: Director Jeff Nichols on Midnight Special

From the time he burst onto the scene with 2007's Shotgun Stories, filmmaker Jeff Nichols has blazed a unique trail of quirky projects that draw on his preternatural grasp of concept and character to create some of the most rich and rewarding film experiences in recent memory. For his latest film, Midnight Special, the writer-director has created a meditative fantasy film that draws equally from early-era Spielberg and his own particular fancies.

The film follows the journey of a frantic father (Michael Shannon) as he attempts to rescue his supernaturally gifted son from the forces that are out to ensnare him. With an impressive roster of supporting players including Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, and Adam Driver, this is a movie that manages to be both surprising and (as promised by the title) special.

I had a chance to discuss the film, his first major studio release, with Nichols on his recent visit to San Francisco, and in addition to giving a sense of where this idea came from, he also dove deep into his creative partnership with star Shannon, his personal preferences as a filmmaker between indie and studios, and why he was never actually attached to the Aquaman feature adaptation despite what you may have read. Read on for the transcript of our chat: