Monday, October 31, 2016

Recommended Reading

One of the go-to attacks from the right when it comes to Hillary Clinton's e-mails is that it's a scandal on par with Richard Nixon and Watergate. Well, John W. Dean was Nixon's White House Counsel, so he knows a thing or two about the comparison, so I put a fair amount of weight behind his words when he says the Clinton's e-brouhaha doesn't stack up to the scandal that engulfed his former boss. All of it is worth reading, but here's a key takeaway:
None of this is to say that Mrs. Clinton did not make mistakes with her email server. But to compare them to Watergate is more than historical ignorance. It distorts our understanding of what actually constitutes an abuse of power, and raises the risks that we will someday install another leader who is all too happy to misuse historical memory to indulge a dark and nasty nature.
Click here for the rest.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Obamacare Fail: A Closer Look

Here's a piece from Late Night with Seth Meyers this week which does a pretty good job of cutting through some of the hysterics about the Affordable Care Act that have been making the media rounds now that premiums are set to go up in the coming year. I've said before, but these bits from Myers are as close as we're getting to Jon Stewart since the man himself retired. (Well, maybe John Oliver too.)

Recommended Reading

From Gabriel Sherman at New York comes this fascinating, in-depth look into the final days of the Donald Trump campaign as we head up to an election day whose outcome is far from certain even now.

Nostalgia Theater: The Original Dr. Strange!

Marvel Studios' big budget Doctor Strange hits theaters stateside later this week, so for this week's Nostalgia Theater I wanted to look back at the previous try at turning the comic book Sorcerer Supreme into a mainstream hit. That attempt didn't fare quite so well. The time was the late '70s, and after CBS and Universal found quick success with their live-action Incredible Hulk TV series in 1977, they quickly went into the Marvel coffers to see what other superheroes could be translated to the small screen. What they arrived at was Stan Lee & Steve Ditko's creation Dr. Strange:

Friday, October 28, 2016

Zaki's Review: Inferno

When I reviewed The Da Vinci Code ten years ago, I found the feature adaptation of Dan Brown's best-selling novel beset with glacial pacing and a decidedly un-cinematic structure. Despite my many qualms, director Ron Howard and star Tom Hanks (turning in his usual thoroughly reliable performance as Brown's hero, Harvard Professor Robert Langdon), certainly weren't among Da Vinci's problems. When the pair reunited three short years later for follow-up Angels & Demons (based on Brown's first Langdon novel), it seemed to mostly address the pacing problems of the previous installment, and I found it mostly engrossing (albeit mostly forgettable too).

So, two movies in, I was fifty-fifty on this series. And now, after an extended seven-year gap, Hanks and Howard are back once more for Inferno, an adaptation of Brown's 2013 novel of the same name. Featuring a script by David Koepp (going solo after co-writing Angels with Akiva Goldsman), this third entry boasts the usual panoply of ancient mysteries, elaborate puzzles, and beautiful travelogue shots of several European locales, but also gives a greater sense of who Langdon is as a character, filling in his backstory to the extent that we actually feel something for him beyond the normal fondness that Hanks effortlessly engenders.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Nostalgia Theater Podcast: Thirty Years of Labyrinth!

It was thirty years ago that Jareth the Goblin King (David Bowie) first invited young Sarah (Jennifer Connelly) into his magical, mysterious maze in the Jim Henson-directed classic Labyrinth. As I discussed in my retro review last month, the film didn't land with audiences at the time, it's become a beloved, multi-generational cult artifact in the years since, with its mix of dazzling puppetry and compelling performances making it feel as timeless today as when it was first released.

For the latest Nostalgia Theater show, I celebrate this auspicious anniversary with my special guests Terry J. Erdmann & Paula M. Block, authors of the brand-new book Labyrinth: The Ultimate Visual History. Join us for a fun chat as we track the film's origins, secrets of its casting, plans for a sequel, and why there can never be another Goblin King who can ever match the late, great David Bowie. Check it out at the embed below, or subscribe at iTunesStitcher RadioTuneIn Radio, or Google Play (and remember to leave a review!)

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, October 25, 2016

From The Onion...

Yep, been there.
Reality Of Fatherhood Never Truly Dawned On Man Until He Held Newborn Son’s Hospital Bill 
MISSOULA, MT—Describing how he suddenly found himself overwhelmed by a flood of intense emotions, local man Mike Bentzen told reporters Monday the reality of fatherhood didn’t truly set in for him until the moment he held his newborn son’s hospital bill. “Wow, this is going to totally change my life,” said Bentzen as tears welled up in his eyes, adding that he was left completely speechless by the little bundle of papers and that it would probably take some time before the magnitude of what had just happened fully sank in. “I’ve had friends tell me about their experience, but you just can’t understand what it feels like until you’re looking down at it in your own hands. It’s hard to even put into words. Whatever my world was like before, I just know things are going to be very different from this day forward.” Bentzen reportedly started softly weeping as he sat down with his son’s medical invoice in his lap and began imagining how he would deal with this for the next 18 years.

Taibbi on Trump: Fury and Failure

As you know if you've been reading me for awhile, Matt Taibbi's long-form essays at Rolling Stone are always something I look forward to. And his latest piece looking at the impact of Donald Trump not only on this election but our entire electoral process is a terrific piece of writing, especially as we enter the final stretch of this freakin' thing. Here's just one highlight:
It is true that if you talk to enough Trump supporters, you will eventually find an ex-Democrat or two who'll cop to being disillusioned by the party's turn away from the middle class. "My parents were FDR Democrats," says Tim Kallas of Oak Creek, Wisconsin. "I was born and raised to believe that Democrats were for the workingman." A self-described "child of the MTV generation" who has plenty of liberal friends and rocks a long silver ponytail, Kallas says he became disenchanted with the Democrats sometime during Bill Clinton's second term. He was troubled by the Wiki speeches, and says he never signed up for the globalist program. "If you look at what's going on in Europe with the Brexit vote, it's the same conclusion that voters in England came to," he says. "Why are the problems in Greece, or whatever, my problem?"  
This sounds sensible enough, but it stops computing when you get to the part where the solution to the vast and complex dilemmas facing humanity is Donald Trump, a man who stays up at night tweeting about whether or not Robert Pattinson should take back Kristen Stewart. (He shouldn't, says Trump: "She cheated on him like a dog and will do it again – just watch. He can do much better!") This is a man who can't remember what he did 10 seconds ago, much less decide the fate of the nation-state.
Much more from Taibbi here, and all of it is worth reading.

Behold, My Twitter Glory!

Speaking of Wired, the site also compiled a list of what they deemed the best tweets during the third presidential debate last Wednesday, and wouldn't you know, one of my witticisms made the cut! Does this mean I've arrived? Probably not, but hey, click over anyway!

Trekkie-in-Chief

In an interview with Wired earlier this month, President Obama, leader of the free world and noted geek, waxed on the enduring appeal of the Star Trek franchise, and specifically the original series, on the occasion of its fiftieth anniversary. Said he:
“What made the show, I think, lasting, was it wasn’t actually about technology. It was about values and human relationships, which is why it didn’t matter that the special effects were kind of cheesy and bad. Because it was really talking about a notion of a common humanity, and a confidence in our ability to solve problems.”
Pretty hard to argue with that! Read more here.

Pumpkins Power!

The debate and monologue were both great as well, but this is the sketch I couldn't stop laughing at on this week's Saturday Night Live, hosted by Tom Hanks. Clearly I'm not alone.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Nostalgia Theater: The Trump TV Movie

We're just about two weeks out from the close of an election season that, in addition to seeming absolutely interminable, also feels like something out of a twisted, nightmarish reality show. So, so close to the end, folks. Hang in there. Anyway, I was poking around in the Nostalgia Theater closet to see if I could unearth something suitable to the moment, and boy howdy, look at the garish, gold-encrusted turd that that shook out.

The backstory: back in 2005, as Donald Trump's TV show The Apprentice was at its ratings peak on NBC, rival net ABC decided that they too wanted some of that sweet, sweet Donald Trump action (*shudder*). Without access to the Donald himself, they rolled the dice on a splashy sweeps month TV movie entitled Trump Unauthorized, purporting to tell the soapy, sex-and-booze fueled story of the magnate's rise to fame. Here's a promo:

Thursday, October 20, 2016

My Final Debate Live-Tweets For 2016

Honestly, about an hour before the final debate began last night, I just really, really didn't want to watch. I'm done, man. I just November 9th to be here so we can put this whole thing behind us. But, y'know, in for a penny, in for a pound. Having already clacked out commentary on the two presidentials and sole vice-presidential, I figured it was my civic duty to get my Twitter on for the final debate so I could close out the trilogy. With that said, I think Hillary Clinton pretty much cemented her chances last night. Read on to see my responses as the show progressed:

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The MovieFilm Podcast: The Accountant & Ewan McGregor on American Pastoral

For the latest MovieFilm show, the boys discuss the Ben Affleck starrer The Accountant, as well as some quick takes on HBO's Westworld, and Brian's belated reaction to The Magnificent Seven. In addition, get our thoughts on Fox mainstay The Simpsons hitting 600 episodes, and the new trailers for Powers Ranges and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Also, listen to Zaki's interview with star Ewan McGregor as he discusses his directorial debut, American Pastoral, as well as what it's like to be Obi-Wan Kenobi to a generation of kids who've grown up since the Star Wars prequels were released. Listen to it all via the embed below, or at iTunes or Stitcher or Google Play. As always, please hit "like" on our Facebook page, and send any questions or comments to MovieFilmPodcast@gmail.com.

Monday, October 17, 2016

In Praise of the Universal Monsters

With the creepy-crawly tendrils of Halloween fast approaching, and our thoughts focused on the best fright features to feast upon, it seemed a good time to cast a gaze backward at one of Hollywood’s most durable and beloved horror brands: the classic Universal Monsters, celebrating their eighty-fifth anniversary this year.

Now, given how familiar and, dare we say, cute and cuddly the images of Universal’s Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolf Man, the Mummy, and friends have become to the generations of viewers who’ve known and loved them since their first theatrical runs—who’ve bought the action figures and worn the costumes and cuddled with the stuffed dolls—it’s easy to forget that the initial intent behind these denizens of the darkness was actually to scare the pants off unsuspecting audiences.

Of course that was long ago, during a simpler time when the bar for cinematic scares was significantly lower than it is now. But in an age when the horror genre has come to be almost exclusively defined by how many bucketloads of gore and viscera can be doled out, there’s something appealingly nostalgic about the gothic fright flicks that Universal made its stock in trade for the better part of two decades—thereby birthing not only Hollywood’s original horror franchise, but also moviedom’s very first shared universe.

Continue reading at Fandor...

Diffused Congruence: Shadi Hamid

For our latest episode we're honored to welcome back special guest Shadi Hamid, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institute and author of the new book Islamic Exceptionalism: How the Struggle Over Islam Is Reshaping the World. Shadi brings his considerable wisdom and insight on global geopolitics to a discussion that spans both the domestic and international political situation, and we're confident you'll enjoy diving into the deep end with us. As always, you can check out the show at the embed below or at this link. As always, send any questions or comments to diffusedcongruence@gmail.com, or at our Facebook page.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

"I'm Gonna Miss Him So Much"

I put this Hillary Clinton campaign ad, featuring President Obama stumping for the current Dem nominee, on the TV yesterday, and when I glanced over at my wife after it ended, I was surprised to see that she had tears streaming down her face. She just couldn't stop crying. When I asked her why she was so emotional, she struggled to gain her bearings, but finally said, "I'm gonna miss him so much. We'll never get another president like him again."

At that moment, it really struck me the wild disconnect between the constituency that gave the man two victories by very wide margins, and which have given him record approval ratings even as he enters his lame duck period, and the manic nonsense from the Trump crowd, who consider him the worst thing to happen to this country since polio. We've been dealing with this practically since his first inauguration, but even now I just don't get it. That said, as political ads go, this is pretty damn effective. Check it out:

SNL Prompts Trump Tantrum

Demonstrating once again that reservoir of detachment and cool reserve that's served him so well during his presidential run, a riled-up Donald Trump once again broke free of his handlers and took to his Twitter account late last night to lambast another new source of ire in his ongoing victimization campaign.

This time the target was Saturday Night Live, which did its usual number on last Sunday's debate. Despite the fact that they didn't really do anything different than before, with Alec Baldwin's Trump and Kate McKinnon's Hillary Clinton duking it out for the best laugh lines, it was a bridge too far for the Donald:

Nostalgia Theater: Gemini Man Disappears From the Airwaves

Last week I discussed NBC's short-lived The Invisible Man TV series starring David McCallum that aired for one season in 1975. What's interesting about that show's brief lifespan isn't so much that it went away, but that it was revived the following year by the same network.

However, when it came back, it had cheaper effects and a dumbed-down premise to win over the Joe Sixpack crowd. It didn't work. The show was Gemini Man, starring Ben Murphy of Alias Smith and Jones fame. Debuting as a TV movie in spring of '75, it went to series the following September, and looked like this:

Friday, October 14, 2016

From The Onion...

Trump Complains Entire Personality Rigged Against Him 
WEST PALM BEACH, FL—Responding to his flagging poll numbers and a string of newspaper editorials and cable news pundits questioning his fitness to lead, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump reportedly complained to a rally crowd Thursday that for the entirety of this race, his personality has been rigged against him. “From day one, my internal thought processes and overall temperament have completely stacked the deck against my candidacy—it’s so obvious, folks, you can’t deny it,” said Trump, claiming that all facets of his character, from his egocentric worldview to his brash, vitriolic responses to even the smallest and most inconsequential provocations, have been colluding to ruin his chances of ever reaching the Oval Office. “Open your eyes, people! Just look at how I routinely project the fear and hatred inside of me onto others, or my total lack of impulse control, conscientiousness, and tact. My personality is doing everything—and I mean everything—to make sure I never have a chance.” Trump then reportedly vowed that no matter how many of his own character traits aligned against him, he would never let his personality stop him from becoming president, drawing raucous cheers from the crowd.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

INTERVIEW: Ewan McGregor on the Star Wars Prequels and Being Obi-Wan Kenobi

Earlier this week I had opportunity to chat with Ewan McGregor about his directorial debut, the Phillip Roth adaptation American Pastoral. I'll share the entirety of that conversation next week closer to the film's release, but for now I thought you might enjoy looking at a bit that came near the tail-end of our chat as we ended up segueing into his long time ago tenure in a galaxy far, far away as Obi-Wan Kenobi in the Star Wars prequels. Read on to for his thoughts on those divisive films one generation after their release, as well as the possibility of reprising his iconic role as the Jedi Master in Disney's new spin-off films.

Monday, October 10, 2016

I Live-Tweeted the Second Debate

As is kind of becoming my "thing" during these throwdowns, I was on Twitter yesterday while the second match-up between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump was playing out. Read on to see what I had to say about the horror-show that ensued:

Sunday, October 09, 2016

They Knew.

Friday's release of Donald Trump's deeply unsettling comments about women on a hot mic while filming a puff piece for Access Hollywood eleven years ago have proved a bridge too far for many in the establishment GOP, who took the opportunity to cut bait as quickly as they could. But given what Trump has said and done from literally day one of his campaign, why this? Why now? Is it any shock that he turned out to be exactly the person he's presented himself as. Here's Jeffrey Young at HuffPost:
Your condemnations are and have always been empty. Your sudden rush to abandon Trump ― after what’s merely the most recently uncovered manifestation of his hatred for women ― is motivated by the same venal cowardice that led you to support him in the first place.  
You knew Hillary Clinton isn’t the monstrous caricature you spent decades depicting. You knew she is ― like each and every one of you ― an ordinary politician, in all the ways that word has positive and negative connotations. You knew she would govern in a perfectly normal way.  
You knew this, but you told voters she was more dangerous than Trump. More evil. A greater threat to the republic. And this, after so many of you spent the presidential primary campaign warning the U.S. that Trump is exactly who he appears to be. But you fell in line. You knew, and you endorsed him anyway.
Yep. Read the rest here.

Nostalgia Theater: TV's The Invisible Man -- Now You See It, Now You Don't

The underlying concept from author H.G. Wells' classic novel The Invisible Man has proven a resilient one when it comes to multimedia adaptations, but other than the classic Universal film version from 1933 starring Claude Rains and directed by James Whale (which spawned a mini franchise for awhile there during the Universal Monsters era), it's difficult for me to think of any other version that's had staying power in the cultural consciousness. Case in point, the short-lived The Invisible Man TV show that aired on NBC for thirteen episodes beginning in fall of 1975. Here's the intro, with weirdly leisurely theme music:

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

My Veep Debate Live-Tweets

Last night's throwdown between presidential backbenchers Mike Pence and Tim Kaine was as electric as we'd expected -- that is to say, not very much. Then again, maybe we've just gotten conditioned to expect chair-throwing after the antics of the first presidential debate last week. While I think Pence won it on poise and by threading that needle of "not sounding crazy while saying crazy things," Kaine set out with the mission of highlighting and re-litigating Donald Trump's controversies, and he accomplished that with the seeming acquiescence of Trump's VP, who largely stepped out of the way rather than attempt to defend the guy at the top of the ticket.

Can't say I blame him, given that he's probably doing a little bit of political calculus of his own. Regardless, what follows are my thoughts as they unfolded in real time while watching. Enjoy:

The MovieFilm Podcast: Taking Stock of Fall TV!

It's a light week at the movies, but that doesn't mean Zaki and Brian don't have plenty of topics to cover on the latest show! To start things off, we look at some select highlights and lowlights of the fall TV season, including the reboots of Lethal Weapon and MacGyver, as well as the new Fox animated offering Son of Zorn, and more. From there, it's on to headlines, including Ben Affleck's comments on the negative reaction to Batman v. Superman, and news that Jon Favreau is helming a brand new version of Disney's The Lion King. And we wrap things up with brief discussion on the trailers for the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie and writer/director Jordan Peele's new horror offering Get Out. In addition, we have the usual Listener Letters, Star Wars news, and all the usual banter you've come to expect! Listen to it all via the embed below or at iTunes or Stitcher or Google Play. As always, please hit "like" on our Facebook page, and send any questions or comments to MovieFilmPodcast@gmail.com.

Monday, October 03, 2016

Straight Line From Palin to Trump

President Obama spoke with Jonathan Chait in a kind of extended preview of his memoirs, and something that stuck out to me in that conversation is his verbalizing something that I've been saying for awhile now as I've watched Donald Trump suck up the oxygen on the right, and that is that you saw the roots of his rise the moment that John McCain chose Sarah Palin as his veep candidate in '08 (I've often likened McCain to Oppenheimer for his role in all this). Here's a choice selection:
I see a straight line from the announcement of Sarah Palin as the vice-presidential nominee to what we see today in Donald Trump, the emergence of the Freedom Caucus, the tea party, and the shift in the center of gravity for the Republican Party. Whether that changes, I think, will depend in part on the outcome of this election, but it’s also going to depend on the degree of self-reflection inside the Republican Party. There have been at least a couple of other times that I’ve said confidently that the fever is going to have to break, but it just seems to get worse.
What he may have overlooked here is that occasionally the fever doesn't break and the fever dies, in which case we're dealing with sort of the zombified remains of the Republican electorate right now. There's much more from the president at the link, and it sure makes me curious about how the level of candor we can expect when that memoir does eventually hit the stands.

Sunday, October 02, 2016

Baldwin Channels Trump

Almost the minute the debate ended last Monday, I was waiting with anticipation to see what Saturday Night Live would make of it, and they didn't disappoint with the cold open from last night's season premiere. Kate McKinnon is back this year as Hillary Clinton, but the sketch was really a showpiece for the new Donald Trump impersonator, veteran SNL host Alec Baldwin, whose orange makeup and overly mannered gesticulating made for a pretty perfect match with the GOP's current standard bearer. Watch the vid below:

Nostalgia Theater: The Westworld Franchise

Tonight marks much-anticipated premiere of HBO's big budget series adaptation of the 1973 feature Westworld . And while I've yet to see it, the star power of Anthony Hopkins and Ed Harris in front of the camera, and Jonah Nolan and J.J. Abrams behind, sure makes me think this could be a standout of the fall season. Of course, many of the folks excited about the new Westworld may not even realize that it's a remake of a respected film that was itself the recipient of its own TV spin-off.

For some quick backstory, the Westworld movie arrived at a time when science-fiction at the movies had just turned the corner into darker, more sophisticated fare. The film was written and directed by Michael Crichton, and told of a western-themed amusement park owned by the Delos Corporation, where a robotic gunslinger (Yul Brynner) goes on a rampage and targets two vacationing businessmen who are suddenly running for their lives. Here's the trailer for that: