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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 15, 2014 at 2:26pm

Nerd Alert! - Movies opening Christmas Day

"The Interview": Seth Rogen and James Franco star in the dirty Hope and Crosby-style film about assassinating Kim Jong-un.

Dwarves of Erebor, 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.

With The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies cutting Peter Jackson & Co. loose at long last to work on non-Tolkien projects, this holiday movie season arrives with a vengeance. That's awesome, too, because there's squat-all to watch on TV.

FRIDAY, DEC. 19

If ever I loved the musical Annie, and I'm not sure ever I did, a summer working as a publicist next door to six weeks of "It's the Hard Knock Life" rehearsals drummed it out of me. Still, even I find myself aghast at what Columbia Pictures and director Will Gluck (Friends with Benefits) have done with the popular property. Oh, don't get me wrong, I'm thrilled Jamie Foxx and Quvenzhané Wallis are playing Daddy Warbucks and Little Orphan Annie, respectively, but who thought Cameron Diaz would make a great Miss Hannigan? And isn't Annie famously the story of a little girl struggling through the Great Depression? Why is this movie set in the present day?

On the other hand, what're ya gonna do, buy a ticket to Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb instead? Ha! As if! Oh, I crack myself up. But let's be serious for a moment: perhaps now would be a great time to tuck into a fun weekend read! Say, have I mentioned I'm an author?

THURSDAY, DEC. 25

Gentle Reader, I'm confused. (This happens oftener than I'd like to admit.) Specifically, I'm at a loss to comprehend this year's holiday movie releases. In past years, the last two weeks of December saw major prestige releases roll out in the last possible qualifying moments for Oscar consideration. This year, only one serious contender for Best Picture, Angelina Jolie's epic wartime drama Unbroken, premieres Christmas Day. It's the story of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic athlete who ran a 4:08 mile, then served as a bombardier in the Pacific theater before getting shot down by the Japanese. Zamperini survived 47 days on a life raft at sea before reaching the Marshall Islands, only to find himself captured and tormented for months. It's an amazing, true-life story, one richly deserving of cinematic enshrinement.

Unbroken debuts alongside Big Eyes, a Tim Burton biopic about shy Tennessee artist Margaret Keane. Keane's paintings of mutant children were everywhere in the 1950s, but her self-aggrandizing husband Walter became a national celebrity by claiming he painted all of them. The movie stars Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz, two actors who've earned multiple nominations over the years and may well coast into awards consideration again. The film itself, however, is having a tough time gathering buzz.

Also opening on Christmas - not that its ubiquitous commercials and trailers have kept this a secret - is Disney's adaptation of Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods. If you've ever attended a live musical theater production, this was probably it. In the last few years I've seen two local productions, and passed on seeing yet another at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Early reports suggest the movie (directed by Chicago's Rob Marshall, who should know better) takes liberties with the musical we all know and respect. Sound familiar? Among other changes, it dispenses with the narrator altogether. I wish I could be more optimistic, especially given Woods' undeniably talented cast, but unless the trailers have vastly undersold it I think you may be happier driving to Ashland instead.

Ed. note: Sony pulled the release of The Interview after theaters refused to screen the film due to death threats from the Sony hackers.

One final movie opening Dec. 25 worth mentioning, if only for the damage it may have inspired, is Sony's The Interview. It stars James Franco and Seth Rogen as clueless TV personalities who are commissioned to kill North Korea's "Supreme Leader," Kim Jong-un. Of course, Kim Jong-un is a real person, known more for his purges, human rights violations and nuclear threats than his sense of self-deprecating humor, so this did not go unnoticed. No, it appears Kim got his supreme panties in a bunch about it, a reaction, perhaps, to his father's merciless savaging at the hands of Team America: World Police. Coincidentally or probably not, hackers invaded Sony's corporate network and leaked hundreds of damaging emails, including an exchange in which Sony co-chairman Amy Pascal called Angelina Jolie "a minimally talented spoiled brat." Ooh, or maybe you heard the one about how Sony was planning to sue Bill Murray for declining to costar in Ghostbusters 3? Yeah, this has not been a fun week on the Sony lot, and I have every reason to believe it will not get better soon.

Until next week, may the Force be with you, may the odds be ever in your favor, and may God bless Bill Murray, amen.

December 1, 2014 at 12:16pm

Nerd Alert! Trailers for Jurassic World and The Force Awakens, big theater week, anaconda to eat Paul Rosolie's head ...

The "Jurassic World" trailer shows the park opening, the two stars and some dinosaurs, all to a slightly chilling piano rendition of the original film’s theme.

Chomping the shark, 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.

I submit to you, Gentle Reader, that last week was among the most exciting in recent geek history. No sooner had Rev. Adam posted his Nerd Alert for the week than Universal pulled a surprise move, undercutting its own countdown clock by two days and releasing the Jurassic World teaser to an Internet clamoring for a break from sad Missouri news. I'm a dino buff from way back, so this teaser left stirrings in my genes. ("Ooh, it's Mr. DNA!") To answer your first objection, yes, the raptors are actually an overgrown version of a species called Deinonychus and have way too few feathers. Also, that big mothergator in the lagoon, the one that noshes on Bruce in a sly jab at executive producer Steven Spielberg, is a Mosasaurus - a Cretaceous leviathan almost 60 feet long that probably did swallow sharks whole, then digest them over time like an anaconda or the all-powerful sarlacc. Incidentally, look closely the next time you watch the teaser: those raptors aren't hunting Chris Pratt; they're hunting with him. They're in his motorcycle gang; and if that doesn't make Pratt the coolest dude on our planet, then I'm a veggie-saurus. Jurassic World comes out on my 47th birthday, because I am down with Jeebus.

"There has been an awakening. Have you felt it?" Based on how drastically my Internet slowed down Friday morning, I'll freaking bet you have. The Star Wars: The Force Awakens teaser was released to near-ubiquitous fanfare, especially the John Williams fanfare that hailed the reappearance of the Millennium Falcon to the saga. Between TIE fighters, X-wings, new characters, cruciform lightsabers, snowy forest planets, soccerbots and what sure as hell sounds like Benedict Cumberbatch intoning his lines through a swig of battery acid, the 88-second teaser offered just enough to whet our appetite to the breaking point without giving away anything of significance. That's impressive for a teaser over a year in advance. I watched it alone in a dark room with my childhood so my wife wouldn't catch me having petit mal geek seizures.

THURSDAY, DEC. 4

Thursday, Christopher Walken stars as Captain Hook in NBC's second stab at Twitter-bait musical theater, Peter Pan Live! That exclamation point's emphatically theirs, by the way. I see live musical theater all the time, made by people who know what they're doing, yet have a hell of a time getting most people to give a wet slap about it. So if you insist on bypassing the three, count 'em, three live musicals opening this weekend in the South Sound in order to watch Marnie from Girls play a boy on a wire, that's on you. Otherwise, Joann Varnell and I will be at The Head That Wouldn't Die (Theater Artists Olympia), Scrooge: The Musical (Tacoma Little Theatre) or A Year With Frog and Toad (Lakewood Playhouse). The Stardust Christmas Commotion is still packing 'em in at Harlequin Productions. I'll also review Olympia Little Theatre's take on Neil Simon's Barefoot in the Park, which opens Friday. There's no singing or flying, but I hear Lena Dunham gets naked in it.

SUNDAY, DEC. 7

On Discovery's Eaten Alive, environmentalist Paul Rosolie goads an anaconda into eating his head. That's an actual show, folks. I'm not even kidding. He can do this trick once.

TUESDAY, DEC. 9

I already clued you in to Thursday's Blu-ray and DVD release of Guardians of the Galaxy, so instead I ask you to pick up your visual scanning and look at a couple of books. Frank Portman's 2006 YA novel King Dork was one of my favorites that year. It's a cross between Catcher in the Rye and High Fidelity, in which high school sophomore Tom Henderson navigates the tricky adolescent social sphere six years after his cop father's death. Now Portman offers a sequel, King Dork Approximately, in which Henderson is still in the 10th-grade but unlocks the challenging "first girlfriend" level. No less an authority than John Green (The Fault in Our Stars) said, "Basically, if you are a human being with even a vague grasp of the English language, King Dork will rock your world." I have nothing further, Your Honor.

Then there's Moriarty by Anthony Horowitz, in which an American Pinkerton detective, the aptly-named Frederick Chase, awaits Moriarty's nefarious successor. Remember, Sherlock Holmes pushed "the Napoleon of crime" to his just demise at the Reichenbach Falls ... or did he? That's the tension driving the action of a novel endorsed by the Conan Doyle estate. Personally, they had me at "Sherlock," but if you need more, consider this: the London Daily Mail calls Moriarty "the finest crime novel of the year." Read it now before the inevitable movie starring Pratt as Dr. John Watson, Christopher Walken as Moriarty, and Kristen Stewart as Holmes' sad, empty chair.

Sons of Anarchy wraps Tuesday. I've never seen the show, but here's a spoiler anyway: everyone dies except Horatio and Fortinbras. Meanwhile, Square Enix releases a new co-op Tomb Raider adventure, Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris, in which the titular British adventurer must crisscross Egypt in search of yet another ancient MacGuffin. What was that? No, I said "titular," meaning "mentioned in the title." Why are you snickering?

Until next week, may the Force be with you, may the odds be ever in your favor, and if Kristen Stewart chases you, run.

November 17, 2014 at 1:54pm

Nerd Alert! Mockingjay, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, geeky gift suggestions ...

The games are over, but the cash-in continues. Photo courtesy of Moviestore Collection/REX

Volunteering as tribute, 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, NOV. 20

Despite the enduring success of Chess and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, perhaps no geek musical ever has been more popular than Little Shop of Horrors. Let's face it, Audrey (I) and Seymour speak to the dweebs in all of us. He just wants to grow a man-eating plant, and she just hopes she'll survive another date with her sadistic boyfriend. OK, so maybe they're not terrific role models. The point is, I for one never get tired of seeing it live on stage, perhaps because the original finale is grimmer than the version we know from the 1986 film adaptation. Frank Oz, Muppeteer, Jedi Master and director of that movie, even shot the stage ending, but it tanked with preview audiences. (A black-and-white workprint of that reshot conclusion was unearthed a few years ago and included in recent video releases.) Anyway, North Thurston High completes its run of the show this weekend. It's always fun to watch fresh-faced adolescents evoke bloodlust and sadomasochistic relationships on stage. "That thing went bang, kaboom, and he's havin' some fun now." 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, North Thurston High School, 600 Sleater Kinney Rd. NE, Lacey, $6-$10, 360.412.4800

When last we left our heroine Katniss Everdeen, she'd just been yoinked by insurgents and informed storm troopers under the command of President Snow (Donald Sutherland) burned her home state, District 12, to the ground. This was followed by some of the finest eyeball acting in cinema history, courtesy of America's klutziest sweetheart, Jennifer Lawrence. Fellow Hunger Gamers Peeta and Johanna (Jena Malone, in a memorably sexy performance) were captured and taken to the Capitol, where they'll be used as pawns against a rising rebellion. The success of this series' previous installment, Catching Fire, was good news for anyone who wanted book three, Mockingjay, to be lavishly envisioned, bad news for anyone who wanted it to fit into a single holiday movie. So Thursday night marks the sneak opening of The Hunger Games Colon Mockingjay Em Dash Part Numeral 1 Comma Electric Boogaloo, and thank Suzanne Collins and Lionsgate we only have one year to wait till the grand conclusion in Part 2.

Speaking of long, goofy titles, Disney recently announced Star Wars, Episode VII will be henceforth known as Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The phrase "Episode VII," in fact, appears only in the December 2015 installment's iconic opening crawl. It's hard to complain about that subtitle, actually, to the extent that even Internet haters have given up trying. Instead they've returned to making troglodytic fools of themselves over Gamergate.

This being MY last Nerd Alert before Black Friday, it's time to offer geeky gift suggestions. And hey, if you've enjoyed this column these last few years, far be it from me to restrain you from buying any of this fine swag for your humble commentator!

Let's start with the Blu-ray of the year: Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy comes loaded with hours of special features, including more of respawned Groot and another '70s classic from Star-Lord's Sony Walkman. True, the movie won't hit video till Dec. 9, but feel free to preorder it for me, I mean a loved one, right now.

If for some bizarre reason your gamer buddies don't yet own Titanfall, now's your chance to pay it forward till Halo: Spartan Strike hits Dec. 12. Wort, wort, wort!

It's a year old, but I for one would swoon over the gift of Battlestar Galactica Vault: The Complete History of the Series, 1978-2012, an abundantly illustrated coffee table compendium that follows the saga all the way from its origins as a cheesy Star Wars knockoff through Caprica and Blood & Chrome. And if you know what Blood & Chrome is, then you're probably a superfan who should just buy the frakkin' thing for yourself.

Until next week, may the Force be with you, may the odds be ever in your favor, and so say we all.

November 12, 2014 at 10:58am

Nerd Alert! Nolan brothers, "Rosewater" at The Grand, Todd Barry at Tacoma Comedy Club

With a delivery that sits somewhere between controlled exasperation and a hypnotic, stoic ache, Todd Barry never lets loose.

Nerd news this week had a bit to do with the Nolan brothers, Christopher and Jonathan. Jonathan Nolan was announced to be in talks with HBO to be adapting Isaac Asimov's classic sci-fi series Foundation. The Nolan stranglehold on (relatively) hard science fiction has continued, after Jonathan's writing partnership with his brother, Christopher, on the likes of Interstellar, as well as HBO's JJ Abrams version of Westworld. Of course, Asimov's brand of science fiction was dense with plotting and impenetrable logic, which has notoriously eluded the Nolan brothers, as staunch opponents of Interstellar, Inception and The Dark Knight will tell you. Still, critics of the Nolan brothers may well point to their frequently impersonal storytelling as quite fitting for Asimov's robotic world.

Christopher Nolan, meanwhile, has signed on to guest edit December's issue of Wired magazine. Ostensibly as a way to shore up viewership amongst intellectuals for the space exploration of Interstellar, Nolan's edit of the magazine will also take advantage of the magazine's format to present a "five-dimension"-based layout, so that as the reader gets deeper into the magazine, the concepts presented will grow further complex. For those not completely invested in getting their minds blown, photos of Matthew McConaughey may or may not be present.

FRIDAY, NOV. 14: ROSEWATER

Last year, Daily Show host Jon Stewart took a few weeks off from his show to make his directorial debut. As anyone who's been paying attention to the comedian over the years from his satirically political hosting duties could've predicted, his filmmaking debut would bear little resemblance to that of his acting roles, in fluffy things such as Death to Smoochy, Half Baked and The Faculty. Instead, Stewart decided to make a pointedly political movie about journalist and one-time Daily Show guest Maziar Bahari.

After appearing on The Daily Show, Bahari went to Iran to document the elections, and was imprisoned for more than 100 days over allegations that he was a spy. The film follows Bahari (as played by Gael Garcia Bernal) as he is tortured for information that doesn't exist, and Stewart emphasizes the dark humor inherent in being stuck in a situation without escape. Bahari survived, but more importantly, he survived with his humanity intact.

Rosewater opens at The Grand Cinema Friday, Nov. 14.

SATURDAY, NOV. 15: TODD BARRY

One of the greatest comedians working is heading to Tacoma. Todd Barry's comedy is defined by his deadpan delivery, which barely conceals an acerbic wit. As anyone who's seen his scathing appearances on Louie can attest, Barry is more than just a measured joke-teller. There is a surging undercurrent to Barry's comedy that elevates him above the level of your standard, low-key wit. Whereas other subtle comedians might come across as meek, Barry never seems other than in full control of his presence and his material, which may make him one of the most frightening stand-ups out there. 7:30 and 10:30 p.m., Tacoma Comedy Club, 933 Market St, Tacoma, $20 253.282.7203

November 8, 2014 at 8:05am

5 Things To Do Today: D20 Brass Band, Jet City Comic Show, The Cottonwood Cutups, All Freakin' Night ...

Downtown Tacoma will be blasted with funk as the D20 Brass Band rides the Tacoma Link from the Tacoma Dome to Dorky's Arcade today. Photo credit: Kevin Freitas

SATURDAY, NOV. 8 2014 >>>

1. Forged in the fires of Mount Doom then relocated to Seattle,the D20 Brass Band plays all of your favorite music from the video games, movies, and television you love, and whips it all up into a funky groove reminiscent of old school classics such as James Brown, The Meters and Sly & The Family Stone. We're talking music from the games, TV shows, movies, cartoons, and anime you love played to a deep funky groove. The D20 Brass Band will hit the streets of downtown Tacoma today. Beginning at noon, D20 will hop on the Tacoma Link at the Tacoma Dome station then will the University of Washington-Tacoma Steps with their funky Nintendo beats. Then, the band will hop back on the Link to the Tacoma Convention Center to perform for the crowd at the Jet City Comic Show. Last, it's back on the Link to the end of the line for a performance at Dorky's Arcade at Ninth and Pacific Avenue. We imagine it could be a short set as, well, the joint is filled with video games.

2. Speaking of the Jet City Comic Show, the second annual celebration of pop culture, tights, zombies and the arts runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Tacoma Convention Center. Comics are the stars of the show; it's bringing a wide array of artists, writers and publishers to the South Sound. There's also a little something for TV and film nerds. Actors Dirk Benedict of The A Team and Battlestar Galactica and Richard Hatch - who featured prominently in both the original Battlestar Galactica and the 2000s reboot - will be in attendance for photo ops and autographs. Author/screenwriter Peter Beagle of the cult classic The Last Unicorn will also be on hand.

3. We have a hankering for bluegrass tonight. Maybe it's the rain, the flannel shirts and the switch from summer's gin to autumn's whiskey. Whatever the case, it's nice. Tacoma's The Cottonwood Cutups are bringing that satisfying pluck and twang and funk to The Spar in Old Town Tacoma for a hot 8 p.m. set. The three brothers - who enjoy Dr. Dre, campfires and the Hoh Rainforest - deliver toe-tapping Americana, tickled by mandolin and banjo, with guitar and an upright bass to root it all down. The Spar is the perfect backdrop - intimate, wood floors, nice people, warm food and cold beer.

4. For years, both in the Puget Sound area and in Brooklyn, Ben Roth has been a career musician, collaborating on countless projects and lending his guitarist talents to tons of bands. Taking a break from his role in Oberhofer and Crater, Roth has formed his own band, giving him the opportunity to step into the spotlight and showcase his songwriting talents. His new band, Bod, brings his intricate guitar-playing to the fore, making it the backbone of a hazy mix of math-rock, psych, and grunge. Catch Bod with Burning Palms, Jarvis Clayton and BS System at 9 p.m. in The New Frontier Lounge.

5. The late-night mini-fest of blood-injected spazzmatic anti-cinema All Freakin' Night is sure to cause at least one of your major organs to fail when the projector is flicked on at midnight. As part of the Olympia Film Festival, and running through early morning Sunday at the Capitol Theater, Morbius, The Burning, Mr. Magoo Meets Frankenstein, The Incredible Melting Man and The Fog will flicker with enough carnage to terrify, not just sicken. Host Sam Miller will pass out enough coffee to keep your head spinning - completely around. Wedged between the movies will be contests with plenty of putrid prizes.

PLUS: The Harvey Girls are in the South Sound for the second night in a row. The Portland band joins the Wheelies, Neighbors and Fruit Juice at 8 p.m. in Bob's Java Jive.

LINK: Saturday, Nov. 8 arts and entertainment events in the greater Tacoma and Olympia area

November 3, 2014 at 1:20pm

Nerd Alert! for sci-fi opus "Interstellar," The F-Bombers, Jon Stewart and more ...

Matthew McConaughey as a farmer/astronaut/dreamer. Photo courtesy of Legendary Pictures

All right, all right, all right, 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, NOV. 6

The 2014 holiday movie season kicks off in a big way this weekend. That's right, Thursday brings Drafthouse Films' American release of the 2013 Japanese actioner Jigoku de Naze Warui, or, Why Don't You Play in Hell? (Technically, the Nipponese title translates to "What's So Bad About Hell?" Either English translation is chock full of awesome.) I quote the distributor's pitch word for word: "There's a war going on, but that won't stop the inexperienced but eager wannabe film crew The Fuck Bombers from following their dreams of making the ultimate action epic. Ten years ago, yakuza mid-boss Ikegami led an assault against rival don Muto. Now, on the eve of his revenge, all Muto wants to do is complete his masterpiece, a feature film with his daughter in the starring role, before his wife is released from prison. And The Fuck Bombers are standing by with the chance of a lifetime: to film a real, live yakuza battle to the death ... on 35mm!" Also, did I mention it's called Why Don't You Play in Hell? And there's a film crew of yakuza mobsters? And that crew name? And that apparently, the don is that sex-crazed atomic monster from last year's reboot of Godzilla?

OK, so maybe that won't be everybody's first choice at the cineplex; but it did get good reviews, despite a gleefully blood-soaked climax. If you prefer family-friendlier entertainment, your huckleberry this weekend is probably Disney's Big Hero 6, also known as Why Don't You Play in a Manga? You've seen the commercials and trailer by now, of course, but you may not be aware the movie's based on a recent Marvel Comics team. In the funny books, Japanese outfit Big Hero 6 was led by a mutant ronin dubbed the Silver Samurai, and - how cool is this? - based in a theme park called Cool World. (No, not the one animated by Ralph Bakshi.) Hiro's a tween-age boy who joins the ensemble along with his bodyguard, shape-shifting robot Baymax. The team also features super-chef Wasabi-no-Ginger, a woman named Honey Lemon who wields a magic purse, and a dude who transforms into a kaiju called Fredzilla. Amazingly, all these characters other than the Silver Samurai appear to have crossed the gap into the cinematic incarnation. Critics have fallen for the movie, despite its gleefully blood-soaked climax. Spoiler alert: Wasabi-no-Ginger gets diced, Honey Lemon is squeezed while searching fruitlessly for an Altoid, and Baymax goes POP under the tread of an incautious Fredzilla. There will be no Big Hero 7. It's an odd narrative choice, I feel, especially from The Walt Disney Company, aka The Fuck Bombers.

More cerebral viewers have been eagerly awaiting Jon Stewart's directorial debut, Rosewater, which launches its slow release schedule this weekend. If you're a regular Daily Show viewer, you doubtless know it's the film version of Iranian Maziar Bahari's book Then They Came for Me, which dramatizes Bahari's 2009 detention at the hands of Iran's state police under accusations of spying for the West. Among the clueless evidence presented was a tongue-in-cheek interview Bahari gave Daily Show correspondent Jason Jones. You might also want to check out Les Miz actor Eddie Redmayne, an early Oscar hopeful for his portrayal of the young Stephen Hawking, in biopic The Theory of Everything.

It's an amusing coincidence for the Hawking film to open the same day as Christopher Nolan's sci-fi opus Interstellar, as this perpetuates a longstanding (friendly) competition between Hawking and leading American astrophysicist Kip Thorne. In 1975, Hawking made a wager with Thorne that has since become notorious in space-nerdy circles. Thorne believed black holes are real and that X-ray-emitting object Cygnus X-1 is such a collapsed star. Hawking was also hopeful that Cygnus X-1 would turn out to be a black hole, but he bet on the converse as a way of covering all possible eventualities. The prize at stake? If Hawking won, he'd receive a four-year subscription to Private Eye magazine. Ultimately, however, Hawking conceded to Thorne. "I paid the specified penalty," Hawking writes, "which was a one year subscription to Penthouse, to the outrage of Kip's liberated wife." Chandrasekhar and marital limits aside, Thorne helped Carl Sagan with wormhole concepts for Contact, and now Thorne's the astrophysical brains behind Interstellar. This new film's said to be more 2001: A Space Odyssey than Gravity. Early reviews are somewhat mixed, but it's safe to assume we'll get killer visual effects along with the best-looking astronauts ever, Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway. Space madness!

Interstellar, of course, is an adjective that means "between stars." It's what lay people mean, more often than not, when they say intergalactic ("between galaxies"). Nolan hopped on board the Interstellar crew when Steven Spielberg, who first developed the project along with Thorne, lost interest. Originally, the script was called Why Don't You Play in a Wormhole?, in which Anne Hathaway morphed into a singing, sobbing kaiju.

Until next week, may the Force be with you, may the odds be ever in your favor, and may you never get hired as a production assistant by The Fuck Bombers. As résumé credits go, it'd look shady.

Filed under: Nerd Alert!, Screens, Pop Culture,

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