I already had my review for this week picked out, but then something so momentous happened that I needed to write about it, instead. One of the best shows currently on television had a crossover with my favorite show of all-time. I am speaking, of course, about this past week’s episode of The Office.
For several years now, there have been rumors about a possible cameo or two by characters from the original BBC version of The Office. So many promises have been made that, when I heard that Ricky Gervais might be reprising his role as David Brent, I had dismissed it as just another false rumor.
Well, I was wrong, because this week Steve Carell’s Michael Scott met David Brent in a chance encounter. It was short but sweet, and it was worth the wait.
Over the past decade, I have become increasingly dismayed with the “films” coming out of Hollywood. Of course, you know that I am talking about the fetishization of pop-culture nostalgia. Let’s face it; they just don’t make movies like they used to. From Transformers to G.I. Joe, from The Karate Kid to Teen Wolf (it is going to be on MTV – and do not even get me started on the topic of “Music Television...”), it is difficult (editor’s note: impossible) to name a recent big-budget film that is not a remake/reboot/reimagining/reinventing/sequel/prequel/sidequel. Some may argue that there are only “seven original stories in existence,” but, let’s be honest here; this is a completely specious argument. At the end of the day, all humans eat, breath, and sleep, but are their lives all the same?
Tekkoshocon/n/tech-ko-show-con (Steel Mill Con)
1. An anime convention in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, that usually happens around April of every year.
2. A gathering of Otaku, Cosplayers, and gamers to celebrate anime, manga, and Japanese Culture.
3. An experience of dedication and love.
If you were to were to walk down the streets of Pittsburgh, PA, on any given day, you'd be hard pressed not to encounter one of the following: a yinzer, a hipster, or a hometown sports fan. The sports fan, in fact, is your surest bet. Decked out in Steelers regalia, possibly one or more team tattoos, as sure as sure can be, if pricked would bleed black and gold. But, if you were to encounter a six foot tall Pokemon accompanied by members of Team Rocket, you'd do a double-take. If a gaggle of teenage cat-girls and maids passed you on the way to work, you may think your prayers have been answered and the restraining order was finally lifted. One glimpse of Raptor Jesus and our more devout citizens cling to their rosary beads more tightly. Then again, if it's early Spring and you've been in the ‘Burgh a while, you may already know... it's Tekko time in town.
I can thank Quentin Tarantino for my current infatuation with westerns. As an impatient kid flipping through channels, I moved like lightning past the dusty catwalk towns, the pallid landscapes, the Stetson hats. I sought the humor, pace, and vividness of a Spielberg adventure, a Lucas fantasy, or Disney fairy tale. But since my first viewing of Resevoir Dogs with its gritty, in-your-face violence, its cool anti-heroes, and its witty and verbose humor, I have developed an insatiable appetite for B-movies, action and kung-fu flicks, and westerns. This is the first in a series of blogs dedicated to one of my favorite filmmakers working today, Mr. Quentin Tarantino, and it will focus on one of my new favorite genres, the western.
My first pick is Shane (1953) directed by George Stevens and starring Alan Ladd as the title character. This is an extraordinary western. The story follows Shane, a stranger who helps a small band of oppressed farmers fight back against a wealthy cattle baron who is trying to force them from their land. It is essentially a ‘David vs. Goliath’ struggle, but what makes this a truly unique film are the memorable characters, both bad and good, and the passion and perspective that the filmmakers infused into this masterpiece. We feel the anger of the homesteaders being pushed off their land by the remorseless cattle baron. We love the innocence of their wives and children and long for their safety. We despise the hired gun (Jack Palance at his best) who mercilessly and joyfully guns down innocent men. And, as if we’re children again, we look up to Shane as he reluctantly and dutifully leads us towards the thrilling climax. It’s exciting, heartbreaking, and lovely, and I cannot recommend this movie enough!
Marvel’s Thor is opening in The States soon, and the staff here at Sam’s Wednesday Slog wanna give you some hot, little tidbits about some of the godly characters you’ll be seeing in the movie. For the most part, these folks all live in Asgard, you know, the capital city of the world of the Aesir, one of the nine worlds from Norse mythology. Well, way back when, there were constant struggles over land and resources (My, how times have changed!), and dudes had to secure their rightful reign/sexuality by fighting each other. We talked last week about Odin Thorsdad (not actually his last name, but it should’ve been) who battled many foes in order to maintain his status as dart champion of the world/King of Asgard.
Sony Pictures Classics bought Take Shelter blindly before it had even premiered at Sundance 2011, a rare occurrence in the indie film world. This happened for one main reason: Michael Shannon. Shannon (Oscar-nominated for Revolutionary Road) gives a gripping, powerhouse performance as Curtis LaForche, a man plagued by apocalyptic visions. Thanks to great writing and direction by Jeff Nichols (Shotgun Stories), the story, pacing, and supporting cast add to Shannon’s performance, which serves to sink us deeper into this sci-fi, psychological drama.
LaForche lives in rural Ohio and is husband to a beautiful wife, Samantha (Jessica Chastain), and the father of a young, hearing-impaired daughter, Hannah (Tova Stewart). He works for a construction company day-in and day-out, but, slowly, nightmarish visions paint an entirely different picture of his life and future. His love for his family and his desire to protect them heighten his fears, and he focuses his anxiety-ridden energy into building a costly storm shelter in his backyard. The shelter becomes the focal point of the film, and his drive to complete it mirrors his rising level of worry.
When you pass by Largo on La Cienega just south of Melrose, it doesn’t look like much. A small, nondescript building on the corner of Oakwood, it definitely draws your attention less so than Trashy Lingerie, which is right across the street with all its lace and feathers, masks and garters, leather whips and long black boots, quietly defying you on the other side of those big glass windows [editor’s note: um . . . creepy]. But, right across the street without a hint of fetishistic appeal is an unassuming brick building that contains the Coronet Theatre and several other rooms that make up Largo. The entrance is a big iron gate under a brick archway and, once inside, you find yourself in a small, open-air, brick-paved courtyard with a few tables and chairs at the periphery. Off this courtyard there are at least two different bars and a large 750-seat theatre. I spent the hour before the show having a couple pints of Guinness in The Little Room Bar, which was set up like a small cabaret. The seats and tables were tightly packed and faced a tiny stage in the corner with a standing mic. The lights were dim and, though there wasn’t actually a sultry, velvet-clad songstress wearing pearls accompanied by an upright bassist in sunglasses and suit, the space simply begged for it. At fifteen minutes to show time, I finished my beer and set out across the courtyard to the theatre. On the way there, I encountered Ben Acker, a writer and half of the duo responsible for The Thrilling Adventure Hour. Upon telling him how much I was looking forward to the show, his response was promptly, “Well, let me build it for you even more then. Take however-good-you-think-it’s-going-to-be and double it. Then multiply that by 50. That’s how good this show is.” At last, with stratospheric expectations and a smile on my face, I went into the auditorium and waited for the lights to dim.
The most recent DC animated release is a series of shorts featuring staple DC Universe characters that are slightly less known. Designed to give us a glimpse and maybe pique our interest in these second-tier characters, the showcase succeeds brilliantly. It delivers four animated shorts, clocking in at around 20 minutes each, which are well-crafted and fun introductory pieces to “Captain Marvel,” “The Spectre,” “Green Arrow,” and “Jonah Hex.”
The story of “Captain Marvel,” a young boy who can change into a superhero and back with the uttering of the word "Shazam," is in itself geared toward children. This animated short from the DC Universe still manages to be engaging for the adult crowd. There are certainly a few lines that are so saturated in old, dried-out moral au jus that Superman might as well just break the fourth wall, bend his advice into the shape of a crowbar, and start beating us over the head with it. Instead, he, as Clark Kent to young, orphaned Billy Batson, and later as Superman to the newly empowered Captain Marvel, assumes the role of mentor to this wide-eyed do-good-er. There are clearly many parallels between young Billy Batson and Clark Kent, and you can understand the bond between them. Batson, orphaned at a young age and then transferred from an orphanage, to a troubled youth home, to a nice-looking-then-savagely-evil foster parents, to the street, where he currently spends his time contemplating how to be more like Superman (including unsuccessfully calling out three thugs who are robbing a homeless man). Afterward, Kent's message to the bruised youngster that doing bad is always easier than doing good, seems a little naive, but we definitely get the good intention.
While furthering our knowledge of the origin and nature of theoretical physics, physicist Stephen Hawking has become one of the most vital scientific minds since Albert Einstein. Hawking has accomplished revolutionary work on the existence of black holes and published multiple best-selling books on his scientific discoveries over the past 40 years. Overcoming great professional and personal obstacles such as his battle with Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS), Hawking earned legendary status among his fellow physicists with his notable endeavor to understand the universe. With his most successful book, A Brief History of Time, he explained the evolution of his thinking about the cosmos for general audiences, earning him status as an accessible genius and a household name. Hardly slowed by his battle with ALS, Hawking has continued his research into theoretical physics, written another book, and traveled the globe giving lectures to the general public.
First and foremost, I am a rabid David Sedaris fan. I was first introduced to the humorous essayist just over a year ago with his 2008 book, When You Are Engulfed in Flames. Ever since, I have read almost every one of his books within one sitting; I just cannot put them down. I expected no less from his most recent work, Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk, a collection of short stories that highlights questions of morality and societal ills as enacted by animals. While no less comical than his previous stories, this brief book provides the present-day reader with opportunities to laugh and learn from the assorted creatures who share our trials and tribulations in raising children, alienation from friends, adultery, and racism.
David Sedaris is many things: writer, humorist, and radio contributor for National Public Radio, often working with Ira Glass’ “This American Life.” (Perhaps not well known is the fact that Glass discovered Sedaris in a Chicago club, reading stories from his diary.) Known for his short stories which are, in most cases, autobiographical (yet exaggerated) and self-defacing, Sedaris has enjoyed several, national bestsellers with Naked, Holidays On Ice (featuring his acclaimed essay “SantaLand Diaries," which was first introduced on NPR), Me Talk Pretty One Day, Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, and When You Are Engulfed in Flames. The stories feature accounts of his family’s inner-workings, his numerous odd jobs across the county, and his various follies into drugs that are downright hysterical. The events are sometimes so far-fetched that part of the fun is wondering where the truth leaves off and the exaggeration begins. Despite the repetition of some stories in multiple books, the occurrence only allows the reader to re-experience the humor that may have been forgotten.