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February 18, 2015 at 10:28am

Nerd Alert issued for the Academy Awards and "Force Majeure"

Michael Keaton pours all of Batman's simmering disquietude into a different form: that of Riggan Thomson, a has-been actor who hopes to reclaim his reputation by staging an ambitious Broadway show.

The Academy Awards

In a refreshing change of pace from Oscars past, the Academy Awards, this year, are full of nominations for off-kilter films, instead of the usual Oscar-bait pablum. There are no films that aim to create a post-racial society (looking at you, Crash) or dazzle gullible audiences with good special effects (seriously, go back and watch Avatar). Instead, the two movies that have inspired the most feverish Oscar talk are some of the most ambitious films of the past decade: Boyhood and Birdman.

While it's more or less a foregone conclusion that the awe-inspiring, 12-year-long experiment that is Boyhood will win Best Picture, Birdman is such an audacious achievement that I doubt anyone would begrudge it winning the top prize. Still, both films have their lovers and haters, which might make an upset possible. Selma is a more than deserving film to get Best Picture, but it's been overshadowed - both by flashy performances and political debates - by the three other biopics in the nominations: American Sniper, The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything.

The most heartening story of the 87th Annual Academy Awards has to come down to Michael Keaton's performance in Birdman and J.K. Simmons' in Whiplash getting nods from the academy. Both of these veteran actors have spent years being unacknowledged resources in Hollywood, bringing amazing to performances to movies time and time again. If there's a god in this world, both will take home their respective prizes. This being the Oscars, though, we can never count on those old fogies to do the right thing.

As usual, The Grand Cinema will be hosting Tacoma's premiere Oscar party at the Theatre on the Square, Olympia Film Society's bash is at the Capitol Theater and the Gig Harbor Film Festival folks will be at The Hub in Gig Harbor. Get your Oscar pools ready.

Force Majeure

Speaking of things getting snubbed at the Oscars, one of the biggest surprises at the announcement of the nominees was the conspicuous absence of Force Majeure, which was considered a shoo-in for a nod for Best Foreign Language Film. The Swedish dark comedy explores the aftermath of a father abandoning his wife and children when an avalanche strikes. After everyone survives unscathed, Force Majeure shows the consequences of cowardice.

The filmmakers filmed themselves watching the television at the moment that they found out they weren't going to be nominated, in a video that has now gone viral. The director, Ruben Ostlund, positively loses his shit and takes off his clothes, weeping. It's not clear whether or not this is real (and, seeing as how it mimics a scene from the film, I'm guessing not), but it's a potent demonstration of how much this can mean to some of these artists.

Force Majeure plays Tuesday, Feb. 24 at The Grand Cinema.

Filed under: Nerd Alert!, Screens, Tacoma,

February 10, 2015 at 10:44am

Nerd Alert! Kingsman, Fifty Shades of Crap, Saturday Night Live, Valentine's Day movies!

"SNL" debuted in 1975 with Chevy Chase, John Belushi, Jane Curtin, Garrett Morris, Dan Aykroyd, Lorraine Newman and Gilda Radnor. Photo courtesy of Facebook

In a van down by the river, this is Nerd Alert, the Weekly Volcano's recurring events calendar devoted to all things nerdy. I myself am a Star Wars fan, mathlete, and spelling bee champion of long standing, so trust me: I grok whereof I speak.

FRIDAY, FEB. 13

This weekend brings two movies I think are worthy of your attention, and one that is worthy of your derision. First, let's talk about Kingsman: The Secret Service, a nutball actioner from Matthew Vaughn of X-Men: First Class and Kick-Ass fame. It stars Samuel L. Jackson as its over-the-top villain (because the 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision Jackson v. Rickman decreed every movie has to do that now) and Colin Firth as a swanky British superspy. It's been screening and earning raves around the Western world for months. It's kind of like 20th Century Fox knows it has a good thing going. So why, then, is Kingsman debuting in February? Why not? Are you complaining? Would you rather see Jupiter Ascending? I thought not.

The Last Five Days is a musical romance debuting in select U.S. markets, though probably not in South Puget just yet. The advance word says Anna Kendrick is terrific, the movie itself maybe better as a play. Still, if you've never caught this charming two-hander in a theater, perhaps Kendrick's appeal and actual vocal chops will pull you on board.

Or hey, maybe you have zero taste and you're drooling for Fifty Shades of Grey. Yeah. I hate it that much. "Mr. Grey will see you now!" Not if I see him first. Variety reports it's the fastest selling R-rated movie in Fandango history, while film critic Kim Kardashian tweeted, "OMG it's sooooo good!!!!! (sic)" If the movie is anything like the book, however, nooooo, it's not!!!!! It's fifty shades of crap. By way of elucidation, check out my 1783-word dissection of the book, helpfully entitled "Fifty Shades of Crap." Do you understand what I'm saying? This book is crap. I hated it THAT MUCH. And if you go see its unwarranted film adaptation, and GOD KNOWS YOU WILL because TAKE THAT, CIVILIZATION AND RATIONALITY AND BESIDES, BY THE WAY, THERE IS NO GOD, then you'll get exactly what you deserve. Also, have fun being eaten by your cats Mr. Pawpaw Patch and Jeffrey when you die of cookie dough consumption and Al-Qaeda-level sexual frustration.

SUNDAY, FEB. 15

Dozens of Not Ready for Prime Time Players past and present will assemble for Sunday's 40th anniversary of Saturday Night Live on NBC, well within prime time at 8. Producer Lorne Michaels says a significant portion of the show is devoted to new performances, instead of the clips and highlight reels E's been running every weekend. Frequent guests Alec Baldwin, Jon Hamm, Justin Timberlake and Christopher Walken will return, and Eddie Murphy makes his first SNL appearance in three decades. Even Bill Murray, Jack Nicholson and the much-maligned Chevy Chase will show up. You can bet your Schweddy Balls it'll be a good time.

I've often felt "SNL cast member" would be my dream job, but when I reflect on the talented people who've auditioned and failed - Steve Carell, Jim Carrey, Louis C.K., Stephen Colbert, Geena Davis, Zach Galifianakis, Kathy Griffin, Kevin Hart, Lisa Kudrow and Aubrey Plaza, among many, many others including 13-time guest host John Goodman - I think I'd have a better shot if I tried out for Chippendales.

Finally, a word on that Whitman's-Sampler-scented, Hallmark-approved celebration known far and wide, to those who can still stomach it at least, as VD. I for one have been dumped on two different Valentine's Days, which took me a few decades to overcome. I'm fine now. Thanks for asking. The point is some of us are still leery of making a big deal of February 14th, even if we happen to find ourselves consciously coupled at the time. So to you, my fellow star-crossed lovers, I offer sweet, romantic movies to throw on your Netflix queue and watch at home. Take a breather from the Nora Ephron-penned standbys this year. Instead, order a heart-shaped pizza and check out The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, a pastel-hued '60s musical in French starring quite possibly the most beautiful woman who ever acted in front of a camera, Mlle. Catherine Deneuve. Speaking of French, perhaps you've never seen Amélie or La Belle et la Bête - quel dommage! His Girl Friday boasts a killer script, and multiple Oscar winner It Happened One Night is a must-see for any self-respecting cineaste. My wife and I nestled into (500) Days of Summer and Silver Linings Playbook, and Say Anything ... has aged as gracefully as Deneuve. If you really want an excuse to drag out the fur-lined handcuffs you received at your bachelorette party, Secretary leaves Fifty Shades in its disciplinarian dust.

Until next week, may the Force be with you, may the odds be ever in your favor, and doggone it, may people like you.

Filed under: Nerd Alert!, Screens, Holidays,

February 4, 2015 at 12:36pm

Nerd Alert! Oscar nominated shorts! Jupiter Ascending!

Pointy-eared, goateed Channing Tatum, and Mila Kunis, and Seen Beans, and INTERGALACTIC ACTION and SPACESHIPS and CYBORGS and ...

Oscar Nominated Shorts

For anyone with an Oscar pool, this weekend is as important to him or her as the Super Bowl was to gambling junkies. Yes, the time has come, once again, to learn just what exactly the Oscar nominees for Best Live Action and Animated Shorts are. These will be your edge in beating out your office mates when it comes to predicting the big winners come the Academy Awards. Because, let's be honest, we all know that Boyhood is winning Best Picture and JK Simmons is winning Best Supporting Actor (those predictions are yours for free), but the left-field awards are always relegated to the short films.

The Grand Cinema is here for you. Starting Friday, the live action and animated shorts will be compiled and shown at Tacoma's favorites theater. Short films of the past have included projects that have gone on to create great full-length films like this year's nominee, Whiplash. What's better than a three-hour nominee like Boyhood? How about a little over an hour of five nominees? The math speaks for itself.

Jupiter Ascending

The Wachowskis (now, someone regrettably, known as the Wachowski Starship) have quickly become the directing duo to most represent M. Night Shyamalan's career trajectory, with a noticeably downward trend. Bound is their best work, with The Matrix coming in second (and I will accept no arguments on this matter!). Ever since then - especially given the Matrix trilogy's unfortunate second and third acts - the Wachowskis have languished on the edges of the Hollywood blockbuster machine.

Their latest film, following their involvement in the divisive Cloud Atlas, is their much-anticipated Jupiter Ascending. For such an eye-popping blockbuster, the film's release in February should set off a million alarm bells. Its premier in 2015's movie graveyard does not portend the best for the Wachowskis' latest. Preliminary reports from the suspiciously secretive non-premier at Sundance do no bode well for this ambitious sci-fi adventure. What I can say, from my position of having seen nothing but the trailer, is that Jupiter Ascending may be a fascinating folly, which is more or less what we've come to expect from the Wachowskis.

For mainstream directors, the Wachowskis have never lacked for taking risks, including helping to adapt the un-adaptable Cloud Atlas and bringing a neon frenzy to Speed Racer. They're hit or miss, to be sure, but I'll take their gleeful pranking of the studio system over any Michael Bay franchise any day of the week.

Filed under: Nerd Alert!, Screens, Tacoma,

January 26, 2015 at 10:56am

Nerd Alert! Cirque du Soleil, "IMAX Game of Thrones," Patton Oswalt, "Star Wars" costumes ...

"Kurios": A collection of otherworldly characters step into a makeshift mechanical world. Photo credit: © Martin Girard shootstudio.ca

Now with reinflated balls, this is Nerd Alert, the Weekly Volcano's recurring events calendar devoted to all things nerdy. I myself am a Star Wars fan, mathlete, and spelling bee champion of long standing, so trust me: I grok whereof I speak.

THURSDAY, JAN. 29

The last time Cirque du Soleil came through Seattle, I described their Tempest-inspired tent show Amaluna as "unforgettable showmanship ... like watching superheroes before your very eyes." I also said Amaluna was "more than a circus. It's a life event, superhuman in scale and achievement." I stand by every word. Two years later, I remember each moment of that show perfectly. So yes, when Cirque announced last year it was sending a new show to Marymoor Park, you can bet your rubber clown nose I pounced on the opportunity to review it. This new show, Kurios, is set in a steampunk world of whimsical illusions and magical machines. I'm beyond stoked. My family and I are seeing it Saturday, so expect a full and, I have every reason to believe, enraptured review next week.

KURIOS: CABINET OF CURIOSITIES, 8 p.m. through March 22, Marymoor Park, 6046 W. Lake Sammamish Parkway NE, Redmond, $35-$156, 877.924.7783

Thursday marks your first chance to catch HBO's Game of Thrones in IMAX, as the final two episodes of season 4 are projected in giganto-vision along with a trailer for season 5. (It runs through Feb. 5.) In "The Watchers on the Wall," the Night Watch has to beat back the Wildings and defend Castle Black in one of TV's most epic battle scenes of all time. In season finale "The Children," Tyrion Lannister pays some serious debts. I don't have HBO, so I have yet to see either episode. Let me guess: gratuitous nudity? Swirly crotch demons? Hodor sings?

FRIDAY, JAN. 30

For my money, there's simply no funnier standup comedian working right now than Patton Oswalt. As evidence, I submit to you his extended riff on the copiously-portioned offerings at Black Angus Steakhouse, his characterization of KFC's latest entrée as "a failure pile in a sadness bowl," and his bittersweet desire to go back in time and murder George Lucas. His description of a news story in which a senior citizen bore a baby made me laugh so hard it probably contributed to my recent hernia. I slumped a few weeks ago when he was too busy to honor his ritual of live-tweeting Downton Abbey, and for the love of sweet Abigail Mae, what does that say about my life? He has an uncanny knack for wangling his way onto shows he enjoys, so don't be surprised if he moves on from Mr. Show with Bob and David, Reno 911!, Reaper, Community, Caprica, Justified, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and one truly epic pop-culture soliloquy on Parks & Rec to hang out with Lord and Lady Grantham. I bought my tickets back in October, and man, I hope you did, too, 'cause this baby's sold to the rafters. How the hell does he find time to tour? Are there really Patton Oswalt clones like on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.?

PATTON OSWALT, 8 p.m., Pantages Theater, 901 Broadway, Tacoma, (sold out), 253.591.5894

SATURDAY, JAN. 31

After a lavish debut party Fright night, the EMP's Science Fiction Museum in Seattle opens its Star Wars and the Power of Costume exhibit (running through Oct. 4) to us Padawan learners. Exhibits include Vader's helmeted breath mask, Threepio's golden carapace, and yes, Princess Leia's bronze bikini. I encourage you to view these splendid costumes in Machete Order.

SUNDAY, FEB. 1

Apparently there's some sort of game on Sunday. Did you hear about this? Alternatively, you could watch Puppy Bowl XI on Animal Planet, Kitten Bowl II on Hallmark, Fish Bowl II on Nat Geo Wild, or Toddler Bowl on, of all things, The Learning Channel. I'll be busy watching the real thing, but ... y'know, if adult competitors actually were bowling with toddlers, I might be tempted to DVR that shizz. Speaking of DVRs, you do have yours set for the premiere of AMC's Breaking Bad spinoff Better Call Saul a week from Sunday, right? Just checking.

Anyway, between Kurios, Patton Oswalt, and what promises to be the Super Bowl of the decade against those double-crossing Patriots, this is shaping up to one of my favorite weekends ever. Call a historian, folks. This is one for the Holocron.

Until next week, may the Force be with you, may the odds be ever in your favor, and Hodor.

Filed under: Nerd Alert!, Theater, Comedy, Tacoma,

January 21, 2015 at 9:45am

Nerd Alert! Oscars snubs, Liberace Hologram, Justin Bieber Roast

With Lego, you can build anything: houses, airplanes, house-airplanes. But, "The Lego Movie" writers-directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller will have to build an Oscar statue to get one this year. Photo courtesy of Warner Brothers Entertainment Inc.

Oscar Nominations

It's been an unusually strong year for movies, with outliers like Birdman, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Whiplash and Boyhood even snagging spots on the list of nominees for this year's Oscars. Missing are the mega-blockbusters from years past that would fog up the nominations, like the overwhelmingly mediocre Avatar. Marion Cotillard even got a nomination for Best Actress in a foreign-language film (Two Days, One Night), which is incredibly rare.

Still, it wouldn't be the Academy Awards if we weren't bitching about some notable snubs. Most obvious, at first glance, is The Lego Movie missing from Best Animated Feature. Another quibble is Whiplash being nominated for Adapted Screenplay, as opposed to original, thanks to byzantine Academy rules that say that Whiplash having earlier been made in a short film means that it technically has been adapted from its earlier form. Worst of all, though, is the general lack of love given to Selma, which was easily the best biopic of the entire year, giving a fair and powerful portrayal of Martin Luther King, Jr. While Selma did get nods for both Best Picture and Best Song, that's the entirety of it: nothing for stars David Oyelowo or Carmen Ejogo, or any other aspect of the film.

Still, it's overall a very thoughtful group of films chosen by an underground order or ancient white men. Way to almost be progressive and then fail at the last second, Hollywood!

Liberace Hologram

If anyone has spent any amount of time talking to me, you know my undying love for the HBO Liberace biopic, Behind the Candelabra. Others, who have talked to me when I'm drunk, may know of my idea for Behind the Candelabra's unofficial, direct-to-DVD sequel, Beyond the Candelabra, wherein Liberace is a ghost: Beau Bridges as Liberace, Macaulay Culkin as his young lover and Harry Dean Stanton as a Ghostbuster. There will be a love triangle, and it will be directed by David Cronenberg.

Still, I'm clearly not the only person interested in bringing Liberace back from the grave. It has been announced that Liberace will be joining the likes of Michael Jackson and Tupac Shakur in hologram form. No word yet on whether these holographic celebrities will join forces as interdimensional crime-fighters, but what we do know is that Liberace will once again tread the boards of Las Vegas and other venues, bringing his campy wit, indelible piano skills and general old-lady-wooing back from the nth dimension.

Justin Bieber

We can probably track the downward trajectory of the televised Comedy Central Roasts to that disastrous Roast of Chevy Chase, which featured a cavalcade of strangers making fun of a visibly upset Chase, with everyone's feeling getting hurt in the end. Continuing the tradition of shooting fish in a barrel, Comedy Central has announced that everyone's least favorite person, Justin Bieber, will be on the business end of their next roast. Odds are solid that the event will either end in Justin Bieber crying or trying to fight off those mean, mean comedians.

Whoever wins, we lose.

January 12, 2015 at 1:21pm

Nerd Alert! Blackhat, lap dancing, Seven Swords Guild ...

Set within the world of global cybercrime, Legendary’s Blackhat follows a furloughed convict and his American and Chinese partners as they hunt a high-level cybercrime network from Chicago to Los Angeles to Hong Kong to Jakarta.

Penetrating your firewall, this is Nerd Alert, the Weekly Volcano's recurring events calendar devoted to all things nerdy. I myself am a Star Wars fan, mathlete, and spelling bee champion of long standing, so trust me: I grok whereof I speak.

FRIDAY, JAN. 16

Blackhat, directed by Michael Mann of Miami Vice, Heat, and Collateral fame, stars Thor (I mean Chris Hemsworth) as the hottest computer hacker in world history. When this guy arrives on screen, my wife begins purring. It's unseemly. Hemsworth plays the leader of an international team of cyber-crimefighters - so have at thee, Kim Jong-un!

Now that your spouse is all hot and bothered over a shirtless Australian playing a 1337 hax0r, maybe this'd be a good time to visit Beyond Vertical in Fife. The premier pole-dancing emporium offers a ladies-only workshop on the art of lap dancing for fun and, presumably, profit. The event is called "Fifty Shades of Seduction," so if you break it down, that's a mere half-dollar per shade. Last I checked, a proper lap dance runs about ... Wait. Never mind. I wouldn't know. Forget I said anything. What's a lap dance?

FIFTY SHADES OF SEDUCTION, 6:30 p.m. Friday, 5:30 p.m. Saturday, Beyond Vertical, 2412 Pacific Hwy. E., Fife, $25, 888.549.4166

If, on the other hand, you have kids, you'll be over in the PG-rated wing of the cineplex, glumly schlepping into Paddington. It's the charming, tea-and-crumpetful tale of an Andean bear cub that talks like Colin Firth. Would you believe me if I told you established critics are raving about Paddington? No? Well, I'm serious. Not that it matters - you'd be seeing it anyway. At least this time, your kids won't have awful taste in movies.

SATURDAY, JAN. 17

Imagine this. Suppose you're walking down a dark alley one night when some goon jumps out and demands your cash and phone. Like most of us, you're an easy target, because you have to nothing to protect yourself other than your questionable wits and two fists that wouldn't intimidate a Jack Russell terrier. Now, imagine whipping around instead as you draw a damn longsword. Yeah. Do I have your full attention now? 'Cause you sure as hell have your assailant's! Muggers think twice before tangling with a meter-long, double-edged blade of steel justice. That's why the Seven Swords Guild in Lakewood isn't just some loose coalition of dudes that geek out over "Historical European Martial Arts." No, sir! They're incredibly badass dudes who belong to the Brotherhood of the Cruciform Sword! Are you ready to test your mettle against their, uh, metal? Then hie thee to their weekend longsword demonstration and tournament, knave. They provide the mask and blade; you bring the agile wrist of a champion.

BEGINNERS' LONGSWORD TOURNAMENT, 10 a.m. Saturday, Seven Swords Guild, 2321 104th St. Ct. S, Lakewood, free to spectators, 253.278.7550

MONDAY, JAN. 19

Now that Neil deGrasse Tyson has settled for a late-night talk show hosting gig on NatGeo, a channel probably some of us get, it behooves us all to learn as much as we can about the vast and amazing solar neighborhood in which we reside. Interplanet Janet retired to the Oort cloud decades ago, so it falls on enthusiastic science geeks like Olympia Family Theater to keep us up to speed. That's why OFT continues its series of morning edutainments for preschoolers by staging a fast-paced (45 min.) episode devoted to the eight major planets. Remember, "trans-Neptunian object" Pluto no longer makes the A-list; like Dr. Tyson, the frigid rock has been relegated to the solar outskirts.

THE SOLAR SYSTEM, 10:30 a.m. Monday (and Saturday, Jan. 24), Olympia Family Theater, 612 Fourth Ave. E., Olympia, $5, 360.570.1638

TUESDAY, JAN. 20

Speaking of swords and entertainment that gets my wife excited, Saturday the 17th brings the onset of season two of The Musketeers on BBC America. I don't watch the show, but in this incarnation, apparently, they're covered in milk chocolate and filled with rich, fluffy nougat. But what really revs my better half's engine is the start of season six (the final go-round, we're told) of Justified Tuesday. Timothy Olyphant and his huge, swinging Stetson bring the man-candy; Elmore Leonard's the inspiration for much of the dialogue; and Walter Goggins provides the suave Kentucky verbosity of career slicko Boyd Crowder. It truly is an amazing show. Patton Oswalt enjoys it so much he wangled his way into a recurring guest role. I like it so much I'm willing to overlook my wife humping the couch when Timothy Olyphant doffs his chapeau.

Until next week, may the Force be with you, may the odds be ever in your favor, and may your opponent forget to use Thibault to cancel your Capo Ferro (unless, of course, you've studied your Agrippa). En garde!

January 7, 2015 at 12:31pm

Nerd Alert! Gotham and They Might Be Giants Dial-A-Song!

All hail the Penguin!

Gotham

Ah, the day that nerds the world over have been craving for far too long has at last arrived! They Might Be Giants' Dial-A-Song has come back? Yes, but I'll get to that in a moment. First, some sarcastic praise for the Baby Batman show we never knew we wanted: Got Ham. Er, I mean, Gotham.

Yes, those long winter months of missing Lil' Bruce Wayne and his crybaby antics is back, and even more overstuffed with on-the-nose references to future villains. Ever wonder what Edward Nygma was like before he became the Riddler? Well, Gotham is here to let us know that he talks in riddles constantly and drinks coffee out of a mug with a question mark on it. What about Poison Ivy? Turns out she's a girl who loves plants and is now literally named Ivy, which does a lot to take the guesswork out of her eventually coming up with her villainous moniker.

There's a lot to like about Gotham (one word: Penguin), but there's exponentially more to enjoy loudly with friends while you get drunk and wonder how such a rich concept could have gone so laughably wrong. Granted, I do look forward to at least a decade more of Gotham, so we can finally get to the point where the Neophyte Knight actually dons his cowl. Until then, at least we have Robin Taylor knocking it out of the park every week with his psychotic take on the Penguin. And speaking of "Robins," we have also been assured the Boy Wonder will not appear in any other form than possibly as a fetus. Chris O'Donnell already broke our hearts once. No more.

Dial-A-Song

Now, for a real cause for celebration. They Might Be Giants have brought back their legendary Dial-A-Song service. Running from 1983-2006, the band had a hotline you could call to listen to works-in-progress, covers, B-sides and other oddities. A lot of times, you'd get a busy signal and have to call back multiple times in a night, just to hear a scratchy bit of nerdy, musical genius.

With the old hotline, the songs would be updated at the whim of TMBG, meaning that you'd never quite be sure when you'd hear something new. The return of Dial-A-Song comes with the promise that every Tuesday will see the release of a new song, which you can access at DialASong.com or, if you're feeling nostalgic, you can literally dial them up, toll-free, at 844.387.6962 (which, minus the area code, is the exact same number they used to have).

Calling up Dial-A-Song used to be the only constant bit of magic in a dreary world. Now, it's come back to whisper stories of puppet heads and birdhouses to us all.

December 29, 2014 at 11:16am

Nerd Alert! The Head That Wouldn't Die! Downton Abbey! Galavant! Robots! ...

"Marvel's Agent Carter": In the 1946-set spin off of "Captain America," Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) takes on spy missions for Stark Industries. Photo courtesy of ABC TV Network

Just saying no to the Polar Bear Plunge, this is Nerd Alert, the Weekly Volcano's recurring events calendar devoted to all things nerdy. I myself am a Star Wars fan, mathlete, and spelling bee champion of long standing, so trust me: I grok whereof I speak.

THURSDAY, JAN. 1

Jay Hollingsworth is one "big dude" (those are his words, as are "I'm six-eight. I weigh right around twoooo much") who tells some big-ass jokes. He was born in Portland, moved from Seattle to Los Angeles and happily refers to himself as "Big Irish." He's a fixture on podcasts including Doug (Benson) Loves Movies and his own HollingsWorthless. Louie Anderson calls him "a great joke writer," and I agree. He's also industrious enough to fly to Tacoma for a week of shows in winter, on New Year's Day no less, and that seems worthy of our mutual respect. Give him a shot; see if he doesn't deliver serious laughs per minute.

JAY HOLLINGSWORTH, 8 p.m. Thursday-Sunday, 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Tacoma Comedy Club, 933 Market St., Tacoma, $10-$15, 253.282.7203

FRIDAY, JAN. 2

The only downside of compiling my year-end "Carvy awards" for Olympia theater practitioners is that you, our devoted readers, forwent your chance to see all my favorites months ago. I'm happy to report that's not the case for my top pick of 2014, Theater Artists Olympia's The Head! That Wouldn't Die! No, that show sold well enough to justify two reprise performances this week, not to mention two italicized exclamation points. It's a toe-tapping musical that'll put a smile on your face and a song in your heart and other clichés in your brain, then cut that brain full of clichés out and set it in a pan for future audiences to enjoy. It's just so damned! Entertaining!

THE HEAD! THAT WOULDN'T DIE!, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Midnight Sun Performance Space, 113 Columbia St. NW, Olympia, $15, 360.259.2743

SUNDAY, JAN. 4

The art form our English readers refer to as "the telly" returns this week, beginning with the long-awaited Downton Abbey premiere on PBS (9 p.m.). I say "long-awaited," but of course that's assuming you aren't really a recent immigrant from the United Kingdom. If you are British, then you caught Downton's season five starting over three months ago and have probably moved on to Walking with Beasts or The Blue Planet. Also, you say "al-yuMINium" and "adVERTis-ment" and "vitt-amin" and frankly, we're all getting just a bit sick of your superior attitude. Also, Nigella Lawson is getting clobbered on The Taste again, so put that in your calabash and smoke it, guv'nor.

Speaking of stupid jokes about a mythical land, ABC's Galavant premieres Sunday at 8 p.m. It's almost certainly terrible, but it does feature a couple of songs composed by Disney vet Alan Menken. Or you could check out the broadcast premiere of Life Itself, a biography of dearly departed columnist Roger Ebert, at 9 p.m. on CNN. Two thumbs sad.

TUESDAY, JAN. 6

My wife and I caught the Master Chef Junior bug late, but boy, did we. I actually thought about calling ex-girlfriends on the sly, not to catch up but as it occurred to me I may have unknowingly fathered some of these junior-high competitors. Chubby kids with outsized vocabularies and culinary ambitions? An 11-year-old gastronome who referred to another guy's food choices as "pedestrian?" Yeah, remind me to screen calls from Maury Povich. Anyway, season three debuts on Fox at 9 p.m.

Also at 9 p.m., set your DVR for the premiere of Disney's, ABC's, Marvel's Agent Carter. It stars Hayley Atwell as Captain America's former squeeze, then recruits her as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent to clear the name of Howard Hughes - I mean Stark! - aka Iron Man's superrich daddy issue. Also: amazing hats.

Tuesday marks the DVD/Blu-ray release of what a fair number of critics are calling the best movie of the year, director Richard Linklater's Boyhood. It's the film that cast Ellar Coltrane at age 6, then followed him to legal voting age at Sul Ross State University. I haven't seen it yet, so I'm rooting for Birdman till a Netflix viewing of this movie changes my mind.

WEDNESDAY, JAN. 7

Speaking of boyhood, how much would your kids enjoy building robots out of Legos at the library? Well, today brings your first of several chances, which continue through the spring. Remember to teach your kids how to code Asimov's Three Laws of robot behavior. You and the rest of humanity will be so glad you did.

ROBOTS!, 3 p.m. Wednesday, Pierce County Library, 3609 Market Pl. W., Tacoma, free, 253.272.8801

Until next week, may the Force be with you, may the odds be ever in your favor, and thank the Maker, this New-Year's-Day, post-hangover oil bath is going to feel so good.

December 23, 2014 at 11:39am

Nerd Alert! - "The Interview" disaster and "The Imitation Game"

"The Imitation Game" finally gives the life of mathematical genius Alan Turing ??" filled with both triumphs and tragedy ??" the respect it deserves.

Ed. note: Sony Pictures Entertainment said today it will release The Interview in select theaters on Christmas Day.

It would be disingenuous for me to start off this column with anything other than the biggest bit of news in the entertainment industry, right now, even though I might literally be the last person in the world to give my opinion on the matter. With that said, here's my patented TakeTM on the catastrophe surrounding Sony pulling the release (seemingly indefinitely, in all formats) of The Interview: in the simplest terms - it's awful and we should all be very afraid.

That good enough? OK, in more complicated terms, this is clearly setting a dangerous precedent for the state of creativity in mainstream entertainment. Whether or not North Korea was ultimately behind the hacking of Sony and the subsequent threats of terrorist activity (as the US government is now alleging), what we do know is that Sony decided to bury a movie because of some vague threats and the very real possibility of more internal documents being released to the public. While I acknowledge that Sony was between a rock and a hard place (releasing the film to actual terrorist attacks would have made them seem like ghoulish profiteers), what they've actually done is confirm that anonymous threats are enough to inspire an awe-inspiring act of censorship over what was likely a movie mostly about James Franco and Seth Rogen making dick jokes.

Comparisons to The Great Dictator have already been made and, yes, while it's true that that film did not feature Chaplin assassinating a reigning dictator, it did infamously end with Chaplin posing as the dictator and giving a rousing speech decrying everything that Hitler stood for, which would arguably have been just as offensive to Hitler had so many countries not then shunned Chaplin (which, including the United States, was unfortunately the case).

I realize that this is a silly nerd column, so I'll end my rant here: If we're not vocal, this disaster with The Interview will go on to dictate what entertainment the public is privy to watch, which should sound absolutely terrifying to you.

Opening Christmas Day: The Imitation Game

In other, less troubling movie news, the film in competition with The Theory of Everything for the coveted award of Best Prestige Movie About a Great Scientist is coming to theaters. Instead of exploring the life of Stephen Hawking, The Imitation Game follows the life of Alan Turing, who helped the United States to break the Germans' supposedly unbreakable codes during World War II. As if that isn't enough, he also came up with the Turing test, which has challenged scientists ever since to come up with a machine that can believably converse with humans to the point that a human cannot tell if he or she is speaking with a machine. This, Turing thought, would be the barrier we would need to pass before we could actually access artificial intelligence.

Plus, The Imitation Game has Benedict Cumberbatch in it, which is always nice. Just try not to think about The Interview, and you should enjoy your time at the movies just fine.

LINK: Previous Nerd Alerts issued

Filed under: Nerd Alert!, Screens,

December 17, 2014 at 12:00pm

Heed the Trouble Alert: The Justice League of America needs you!

What was the first piece of writing you truly, deeply loved? I'm talking fictional characters whose biographies you knew back and forth, settings as real as your quiet hometown, and plot surprises you felt as keenly as your own life events. Chances are, it wasn't a book your teacher assigned. When I was a kid, it was 25-cent superhero comics. Before they're old enough for Harry Potter, Bilbo Baggins, or even Charlie Bucket, many boys and girls identify as True Believers or soar with the Justice League of America. In recent years, the grown-up world's rediscovered the innocent joy of an issue full of colorful splash panels and galaxy-spanning adventure, and for less than the cost of a Quarter Pounder at Mickey D's.

Still, even that $3.99 comic is a challenge for many families. A child who never falls in love with the power of written words is a child who faces an uphill battle in school and in life. Danger Room Comics in Olympia sees the importance of this truism every day. That's why they've partnered with the South Sound chapter of The Children's Reading Foundation to hand-pick comics guaranteed to transport children far from the here and now, then return them a bit smarter, more heroic, more adventurous, and more curious about the universe around them. This is important stuff, and it gives you a chance to be a real-world hero.

Not only does the Danger Room winter fundraiser benefit childhood literacy, its funnybook aficionados will send collections of comics to wounded warriors in Veterans Health Administration hospitals. These packages, festooned with purple ribbons in honor of recipients' Purple Hearts, have been chosen to assist patients dealing with the horrors of post-traumatic stress. Yeah, this kinda just got real, didn't it? This project is a collaboration between Danger Room Comics and Blackdog Foundation, a 501(c)3 support group based here in Olympia, and it's already collected thousands of comics-yet the battle rages on, True Believer.

Over decades of pop culture geek life, I've had the cherished privilege of highlighting such national crusades as Omaze for UNICEF, Batkid Day for San Franciscan cancer survivor Miles Scott and support for bullied Star Wars fan Katie Goldman. There are moments when thousands of geeks pull together around something they love in a way that makes life better for people in need. This Danger Room campaign marks one of those heartwarming moments, and its payoff lands right here at home. The Justice League of America, and the children and soldiers its heroes protect, require your generous assistance right now. Will you answer the call?

Please, visit DangerRoomOly.com/blog/2014/12/winter-charity-fundraiser/ to see how your monetary donations can help power this vital enterprise.

Filed under: Nerd Alert!, Benefits, Books, Olympia,

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