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October 20, 2014 at 1:05pm

Nerd Alert! John Wick, Constantine, Benedict Cumberbatch ...

The death of Keanu Reeves' dog really lights a fire under his ass in the new action thriller "John Wick."

Taking the red pill, 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.

Last week Oly police arrested a woman for drunk driving, then found she was cruising the streets with a blood-alcohol content of 0.322. In a related story, scientists have discovered a human who cannot be killed by alcohol.


I'd like you to step into the WABAC machine with me and return to the spring of 1999. Our average reader was probably in grade school, but if you're closer to my age, you vividly remember the fever-pitch excitement over a certain science-fantasy prequel. The Phantom Menace was due out in less than two months. Already you wondered which would be your favorite new hero. Would it be preteen Anakin Skywalker, or that all-CG character Jar Jar Binks? He seemed charming. Only one thing was sure: with 17 years of build-up, this movie had to be amazing. Then some techy-looking Keanu Reeves actioner came out, and you thought, "Oh, what the hell, I've got a 10-spot burning a hole in my pocket. I'll eat some wait time by checking out The Matrix." Two and a half hours later, you picked your jaw up off the popcorn-strewn carpet and staggered into the world a changed geek. The Matrix not only stole Lucasfilm's thunder, it represented the absolute state of the art in movie technology, told a riveting and thought-producing story, and still marks the pinnacle of cyberpunk cinema to this day-not that its sequels put up much of a fight.

Of course, that was 15 years ago, a more innocent time, when we feared the non-threat of Y2K more than the non-threat of airborne Ebola. A new Star Wars episode is 14 agonizing months away, you carry cyberpunk technology in your pocket, and there's a pre-Hallowe'en weekend to kill. Who should appear on the movie horizon but your old pal, Wyld Stallyns' co-lead guitarist Keanu Reeves. Whoa! His new actioner is called John Wick, and let's be honest, you don't give two hoots in a hurricane about it.

Except its Tomatometer score at time of writing (which, granted, is a week early) is a whopping 100 percent.

How did that happen? Did only one or two fanboys review it? Nope, it's earned upward thumbs from Forbes, IGN, Screen International and Drew McWeeny of HitFix among lesser evaluators. It's said to be dripping with style, a solid example of world-building, and is that most overused of all critical metaphors: a rollercoaster thrill ride. (Save theater hours waiting in line by reserving a FastPass.) Apparently Keanu brings the noise, popping a cap in everyone and everything while rocking the latest in skinny men's fashions. It could be fun; and besides, what else were you gonna do, play with your on-the-card Jar Jar Binks action figure? Mesa no tinken so!

Of course, you could watch TV instead. It's a big night for entertaining nonsense on NBC. At 9, Grimm returns for season four, so fans of ludicrous cop dramas set in worlds of pure fantasy need no longer content themselves with Hawaii Five-O. At 10 comes the debut of Constantine, a series based on the DC Vertigo horror comic Hellblazer. This adaptation, however, has nothing to do with Keanu or his 2005 movie version, and everything to do with Welsh actor Matt Ryan and a crap ton of CGI. Y'know how sometimes you wake up and discover that the terrestrial plane of which we think we're the masters is in fact crawling with invisible demons and ghosts, and now it's your job to send them off to divinely mandated afterlives? No? Well, now you understand why you don't have your own show on NBC, then.


Out of curiosity, are there any Benedict Cumberbatch fans in the house? Pretty much all of you? Great! Now, how about classic horror icons? Yes? Quite a few of you? OK! Any huge admirers of the National Theatre in London? (Crickets.) Fine, but what if I told you Benedict Cumberbatch got pretty much naked in the National Theatre's 2011 production of Frankenstein, directed by Danny Boyle of Trainspotting and Slumdog Millionaire fame? Aha, I see some of you sitting up straighter. Happily for you and your shameless depravity, that production was videotaped. Even better, it'll be shown in American cineplexes Monday, as, for example, at the Regal Martin Village in Lacey at 7. Then the event repeats two days later ... with the roles of Dr. Frankenstein and the monster reversed! Cumberbatch switches roles with Jonny Lee Miller of Trainspotting! I know! And I'm not gonna tell you which day Cumberbatch plays which part, either, because that I do not know! Check Fandango.com for further details as the date of each screening approaches. It's alive! Exclamation points! Wizard, Annie!

Until next week, may the Force be with you, may the odds be ever in your favor, and may Episode VII be Gungan-free.

October 6, 2014 at 1:49pm

Nerd Alert! - Leonard Maltin in Tacoma, Star Wars Reads Day, Alien: Isolation, Star Wars Rebels debut ...

Star Wars Reads Day: The novels set in the Star Wars universe are great for one more hit of that sweet, sweet Jedi action, and as a way to get Star Wars-mad kids excited to read.

Talking dead, 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.

If you're a true movie lover, or just feel like not hating yourself, leave Dracula Untold this weekend and dive into the Tacoma Film Festival instead. It's running all week, with nerd god Leonard Maltin sitting in Friday and Saturday. Opening night (Friday at 7:30) gets underway with a screening of Laggies, a rom-com starring Keira Knightley and the great Sam "Guy" Rockwell. (Any fellow Galaxy Quest fanboys out there? Right?!) It's directed by Lynn Shelton, who's already given us the charmers Humpday and Your Sister's Sister. Alternately that night at 7, there's a Viggo Mortensen thriller, The Two Faces of January, which finds a con man and his wife chased through present-day, camera-ready Greece. A Maltin Q&A follows the latter film. The festival's chockablock with shorts, too, with everything from animation to documentary to efforts by some of our favorite Northwestern filmmakers. Saturday afternoon at 1:30, Maltin will sign copies of his 2015 Movie Guide and host a screening of Frank Capra's 1948 classic, State of the Union. Hail to the chief!


It's Star Wars Reads Day (yay!) at a library near you. The main branch of the Tacoma Public Library celebrates with crafts, a screening of Lego Star Wars: The Yoda Chronicles at 2:30, and Mel Brooks' ludicrously-speedy Spaceballs. Why? Because nothing encourages reading like watching a video. Ooh, burn for literacy! Incidentally, the Imperials at Lucasfilm Licensing recently decided that almost every Star Wars novel or comic book published since 1977 is now completely non-canonical. The exceptions began with a "dark times" novel, A New Dawn by John Jackson Miller, which hit shelves Sept. 2. So if you're still lugging around that crate full of Rogue Squadron actioners and hoping to hit payday on eBay, the Force may no longer be with you.

STAR WARS READS DAY, 1:30-6 p.m., Tacoma Public Library, 1102 Tacoma Ave. S., Tacoma, free, 253.292.2001


The last time we saw our heroes on AMC's The Walking Dead, a group of them were trapped in a boxcar in a gated community with the deceptive name of Sanctuary. Meanwhile, one claims to know how the plague of undead walkers can be stopped once and for all. As season five begins Sunday at 9, we have reason to believe two things: first, Rick will snap out of his sleepwalk; and second, Michonne will remain a total effing badass. Oh, and Carl will continue to wear that stupid hat.


The eagerly awaited Star Wars Rebels debuts on Disney XD Monday at 9. In fact, this first 90-minute episode airs on other Disney channels as well, but once the hook has been set, you'll be asked to pony up for the obscurer XD. Well, I will not! I will dig it up on the Internet, unless it is illegal, in which case never mind! I win this round probably, Uncle Walt! Anyhow, the same folks who gave us Star Wars: The Clone Wars, a show I grew to like very much, produce this new animated series. Even better, Star Wars Rebels is set in the far more interesting and Vaderful period between the two movie trilogies. Disney approved this show for season two before its pilot even aired, so apparently show runner Dave Filoni and his Jedi apprentices have delivered again.


A lot of you will be running out to buy Gearbox Australia's Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel! Tuesday, because violence. Your humble commentator, however, will still be panic-racing through the flickering halls of space station Sevastopol. That's where Amanda Ripley, daughter of the still cryo-frozen Ellen, confronts a xenomorph of her own in The Creative Assembly's terrifying Alien: Isolation (to be unleashed Oct. 7). Use your flares, check your corners, and for the love of sweet Jebus - whatever you do, do not eat that cornbread.

Until next week, may the Force be with you, may the odds be ever in your favor, and may you never need a pit stop on LV-426. Aye-firmative!

September 30, 2014 at 6:06pm

Nerd Alert! - "Tetris" movie, James Adomian and Stillsuit Cocktails

James Adomian will make an impression at the Tacoma Comedy Club Sunday night. Photo credit: Luke Fontana

There are certain moments that come around every once in a while to remind you that there are no laughably stupid depths that Hollywood is not prepared to plumb. This is such a moment. It has been announced that there is indeed a Tetris movie in the works.

Yes, the landscape of video game adaptations is littered almost exclusively with garbage, so why not take a stab at a game that is just about the goal of turning and stacking blocks? After all, no one expected Clue to be as OK as it was, and there's an Ouija board movie on the way, so who cares? Plus, producer Larry Kasanoff promises it will be a "very big, epic sci-fi movie," so that's great.

But, who's Larry Kasanoff? Only the director of one of the biggest failures in the history of film: Foodfight!, an animated film so inept and so suspiciously expensive that it might actually be considered a Ponzi scheme. Still, Kasanoff's Foodfight! was based entirely on the idea of product placement as art, so he should know what he's doing when it comes to adapting a mindless strategy game like Tetris.


Fans of Comedy Bang! Bang! rejoice! James Adomian is coming to Tacoma. You've no doubt heard his voice on the podcast, doing spot-on impressions of Jesse Ventura, Tom Leykis, Dov Charney, Alan Rickman and Paul Giamatti, among others. While Adomian is nominally an impressionist, what makes his characters so special is that he takes them and spins them into surreal and inspired territory. It's a crime that he hasn't been cast on Saturday Night Live, where he is destined to become a post-modern Darrell Hammond.

He's only appearing for one night, so consider this a can't-miss. 7 p.m., Tacoma Comedy Club, 933 Market St, Tacoma, $10, 253.282.7203


The second annual Frank Herbert tribute, Stillsuit Cocktails, is undoubtedly the coolest and nerdiest thing happening in the coming week - uniting the fierce passions of booze and science fiction. The Dune author and Tacoma native is honored by Hilltop Kitchen and Post Defiance (on his birthday, no less) with cocktails inspired by his works. Drinks with names such as Duncan Idaho and Harkonnen should dredge up images for Herbert fans. Quizzes, books and prizes will also be in attendance, if the idea of drinking Dune-inspired spirits isn't quite enough to convince you to come out and talk with fellow nerds about what it would have been like if Alejandro Jodorowsky really did get to make that movie. 7 p.m., Hilltop Kitchen, 913 MLK Way, Tacoma, no cover, 253.327.1397

September 22, 2014 at 12:40pm

Nerd Alert! - Millennium Falcon update, The Amazing Race premiere, Outlander finale, Masters of Sex ...

"Outlander": A married World War II nurse is mysteriously transported from 1945 to 1743 in the Scottish Highlands, where she's held captive by hunky Scottish warriors in an even more patriarchal, misogynistic society than the ’40s.

Making point five past lightspeed, 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.

J.J. Abrams revealed last week that among the "special modifications" on Star Wars, Episode VII's Millennium Falcon is a toy-sized model of the Tumbler, aka the Christopher Nolan Batmobile. No joke, I just think it's hilarious that with all the Marvel options in the grand Disney corporate family tree at his disposal, Abrams went with an Easter egg from the DC universe instead.


Laika Entertainment, the macabre-motion animators behind Coraline and the underrated ParaNorman, bring us a quirky new family offering, The Boxtrolls - or, as it's known in overseas markets, Keeping Up with the Kardashians.

Otherwise, it's all about the telly this week. As for me and my household, we're psyched for the season 25 premiere of The Amazing Race (8 p.m., CBS). Its cast includes TNA wrestler and surfer Bethany Hamilton, the shark attack victim who wrote about her brush with Bruce in a memoir called (and filmed as) Soul Surfer. If you're wondering what TNA wrestling is, by the way, I gather it stands for "Total Nonstop Action" and is a thing one can watch. "So if ya don't know, now ya know." - B. Smalls, 1994

>>> Photo credit: John Paul Filo/CBS


It may be that you're a fan of the Starz series Outlander, which starz the improbably named Caitriona Balfe as the nearly-as-improbably named Claire Beauchamp Randall. She's a wartime nurse who finds herself time-shifted back to 1743, Scotland. The show is, after all, produced by Ronald D. Moore, beloved mastermind of Syfy's glorious reboot of Battlestar Galactica. Diana Gabaldon's 1991 novel, along with seven sequels, two readers' guides and a graphic novel to date, is enormously popular throughout the English-speaking world. Me, I find it about as intriguing as its British/Australian title, Cross Stitch, but I get where you're coming from. Sci-fi-fantasy-tinged period romance blows your kilt up; more power to you. The midseason finale airs Saturday at 9, the last ep till early 2015. As I write this, Scots are voting "aye" or "nae" on whether they want to secede from the United Kingdom.

Remember, ye bonnie voters: if it's not Scottish, it's crap! Live from New York, it's Saturday night! SNL returns for season 40 (!), with star-lord Chris Pratt, musical guest mite Ariana Grande, and Darrell Hammond returning to fill the late Don Pardo's resonant shoes as show announcer. I love that.


Speaking of SNL, Not Ready for Prime Time alumnus Andy Samberg is featured on a laughtrack-free sitcom you ought to be watching, Fox's Brooklyn Nine-Nine. It airs from 8:30 to 9, so you'll have plenty of time to slip into something more comfortable for the 10 p.m. season finale of Masters of Sex over on Showtime. I mean, you know, like, if you're into that sort of thing. Er. I mean, not that I'm judging if you are. That's between you and your special someone, you pervert.


Transformers: Age of Extinction hits home video, so feel free to throw it on your Netflix queue just as soon as you've seen literally every movie that earned more than 16 percent on RottenTomatoes.com. Yes, Battleship, too. Have some principles, will ya?

Until next week, may the Force be with you, may the odds be ever in your favor, and may you earn your MS degree. Bao chicka wow wow! (Hey, remember when porn featured wah-wah guitars? ... Nah, me neither. I was just testing you. Moving on.)

Filed under: Nerd Alert!, Screens,

September 16, 2014 at 4:59pm

Nerd Alert! - Destiny City Comics, Wolf in White Van, The Trip to Italy

Michael Fitzgerald will offer a daily 15 percent discount on all graphic novels at his Destiny City Comics, opening Oct. 1. Courtesy photo

Destiny City Comics

The first day of October will find a welcome new resident to the Stadium District: Destiny City Comics. Located near Tacoma's foremost hub for literature, King's Books, Destiny City Comics will be starting out of the gate as one of the city's premier spots to find illustrated creativity. The shop will be joining newcomers such as zine-distributor the Nearsighted Narwhal in bringing more independent and varied sources of the written word to Tacoma.

Wednesday, as comics fans know, is the day when new arrivals appear at stores, waiting to be pounced on by hungry readers. The first day of Destiny City Comics falls on Wednesday, Oct. 1, so plan on coming early and often to nab product from your favorite major or indie imprint.

Wolf in White Van

In other literature news, John Darnielle has released his debut novel, Wolf in White Van. As the frontman (and often sole member) of The Mountain Goats, Darnielle has been delivering devastating indie rock for more than 20 years. For those familiar with his work, the idea of Darnielle eventually releasing a novel is far from unexpected - one only wonders why it didn't happen sooner. As a lyricist, Darnielle excelled at painting beautifully heartbreaking pictures that hinted at characters' long, deep backstories. He creates worlds with his music.

Now, for the legions of frighteningly devoted Mountain Goats fans, there is a chance to see what Darnielle can do with a more long-form expression. Already garnering overwhelmingly positive reviews, Wolf in White Van follows Sean Phillips, a man who deals with the agony of his own life by creating a sort of endless, by-mail role-playing game with players around the world. Reviewers have been mum about the lengths that this scenario might descend into the psyche, but it seems clear that tight-framed idea extends far beyond its boundaries.

Plus, role-playing games? How could Nerd Alert not cover it?

The Trip to Italy

In less intense nerd news, The Grand Cinema will be bringing The Trip to Italy to its theaters, this Friday. A sequel to the beguiling comedic travelogue, The Trip, Italy finds us once again in the company of British comedy legends Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon as they tour through Europe, tasting food and trying to prove which one has the better Michael Caine impression.

The Trip was a supremely funny and laid-back quasi-documentary, perfectly content to ride the wave of its two stars' remarkable affability. Simply put, the movie is basically just watching two funny dudes being funny together in beautiful locales. What's not to like? This is what a sequel should be: you want to spend more time with these guys? Well, here you go.

Filed under: Nerd Alert!, Books, Tacoma, Screens,

September 8, 2014 at 2:57pm

Nerd Alert! - Ghostbusters, Pluto, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Red Band Society ...

"Red Band Society': A dramedy with all of the snarky teen attitude of "Glee" and none of the musical numbers.

Deleting its iCloud account, 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's screenings offer a last round of chances to catch the 30th-anniversary re-release of the 1980s' most essential comedy, Ghostbusters, on the big screen. Mother pus bucket! Many Shuvs and Zuuls will know what it is to be roasted in the depths of the Slor this day, I can tell you!


It was a tearful ordeal in the geek community when Pluto, erstwhile friend of Interplanet Janet, was downgraded from full-on member of the post-Copernican pantheon to trans-Neptunian dwarf planet in August 2006. Some of us still haven't gotten over it, despite the fact that Pluto isn't in the ecliptic and has a larger cousin, Eris, farther out in the Kuiper Belt. Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson was obliged to write an entire book, The Pluto Files, in defense of the International Astronomical Union's decision. One little girl, Madeline, actually wrote Tyson to say, "Some people like pluto (sic). If it doesn't exist then they don't have a favorite planet." Madeline added, "Please write back, but not in cursive because I can't read cursive." Awww! So bring your wee ones out to the plane'arium, learn more about frigid little Pluto out there in the solar 'burbs, and have fun explaining to your wide-eyed progeny why small things are undeserving of equal treatment in an ostensibly ethical society.

PLUTO, THE FORGOTTEN PLANET, 2 p.m., Pierce College Science Dome, 9401 Farwest Dr. SW, Lakewood, free, 360.786.9484


Speaking of Dr. deGrasse Tyson, Sunday marks his first of two appearances at the Paramount in Seattle. Be sure to bring your psychologically wounded children, a busload of Flat- and/or Young-Earthers, tinfoil helmets, and a full trunk of easy-light torches along with your signable copy of The Pluto Files. The avuncular Cosmos host and Spacetime Odysseus is eager to hear your proofs that the Moon landings were a hoax, the first three chapters of Genesis constitute a science textbook, and DNA is a myth.

NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON, 7 p.m. Sunday, 7:30 p.m. Monday, The Paramount Theatre, 911 Pine St., Seattle, $31.25-$71.25, 877.STG.4TIX


After the demise of ER, I bet you thought network television and Steven Spielberg would never barf up another prime-time dramedy set in a hospital staffed with hot doctors. Well, you're wrong! You are so wrong! And everyone loves The Fault in Our Stars, so will this new show be full to weeping with sick, witty teenagers? You bet your sweet vat of Proactiv it will! Ugh, I'm losing my will to live just by writing about it. Anyway, the premiere of Fox's Red Band Society airs Wednesday at 9. If you stuck it out through Extant or this year's season of America's Got Talent (break a leg, Quintavious Johnson!), then those finales air tonight, too.

As this episode of Nerd Alert hits the Web, Apple is probably announcing the rollout of its new product, iWatch, plus two smokin' new models of iPhone with larger screens, faster WiFi, NFC, and A8 processors. I was unable to reach Siri for comment, as I'm still dejectedly rocking my iPhone 4.

Until next week, may the Force be with you, may the odds be ever in your favor, and may your junky old iPhone fetch a decent resale value on Gazelle.com.

September 2, 2014 at 3:24pm

Nerd Alert! - New Wonka chapter, Tick returns, Prof. John Stark meets Masonapron ...

Fox squashed "The Tick," to no one's surprise.

A New Chapter for Charlie

In children's literature news, nerds the world over should be happy to discover that a previously unreleased chapter from an early draft of Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has been published on the website of The Guardian. In the early stages of this story, Dahl delighted in the maiming of still more disobedient children, in what must have surely been an almost unending cavalcade of adolescent suffering.

How Dahl loathed children. His obsession with making them pay is wonderfully present in the unearthed excerpt, which finds the remaining eight kids finding a room marked "Vanilla Fudge" - the worst incarnation of fudge, to be sure - that contains a five-story mountain of the sweet stuff. After frolicking on and around the mountain, it comes time, once again, for some kids to be assholes, resulting in them being whisked off to the chopping and smashing room, which is pretty harsh, even for Roald Dahl.

One of these days, I'd like to see some sort of film wherein Tim Burton's many deplorable cinematic remakes are made to tour a candy factory of horrors and pay for their various sins. The chopping and smashing room would be too good for Burton's take on Wonka.

The Tick Returns

Fans of the bizarre TV show The Tick will have much to rejoice about, with the announcement that Amazon has ordered a reboot of the live-action FOX curiosity. Though the show only ran for 10 episodes, it gained a cult following due to its ramshackle charm, sly wit and frankly insane take on the gimmick-heavy trend in '90s superhero comics - seeing a real person on a silly tick costume only added to the strangeness of the show.

No word, yet, on when the pilot will premier on Amazon, but here's hoping it can live up to the earlier version's shaggy energy.

A Musical Melange and Evening Conversation: Friday, September 5

"John Stark Presents: a Musical Melange and Evening Conversation" is a rather conceptual event that combines the studious obsessions of ecology and composition. With music tying the evening together, Professor John Stark of Washington State University will be present to lead a discussion on toxic elements in nature, and man's role in preserving purity or exacerbating the problem. All in all, it'll be a heady show, with Stark taking the audience through the effects of toxins on the Puget Sound, focusing on its sea creature inhabitants.

In addition, music nerds will be treated to Nicolas Hartzell on piano, a debut performance from the Br'ers, and Caroline Sweetheart presenting works from master composers Bach and John Cage. After a Q&A session, Tacoma rock band Masonapron will close out the evening. There's a sliding scale of suggested donations for entry to this odd event, which should provide an abundance of high-minded food for thought and beautifully unique musical performances. Northern Pacific Coffee Company, 7 p.m., 401 Garfield St., Tacoma, $5-$15, 253.537.8338

Filed under: Nerd Alert!, Tacoma, Music, Green Crush,

August 25, 2014 at 8:52am

Nerd Alert! - Videographer Vince Ynzunza, "As Above, So Below," Houdini ...

Adrien Brody plays the title role in "Houdini" on the History Channel.

Reaching out and grabbing ya, 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.

We aren't exactly bombarded with story suggestions for this column, more's the pity, so I'm happy to forward a heads-up from videographer Vince Ynzunza. Inspired, no doubt, by the Lovecraftian flavor of his own family name, Ynzunza is one of the driving forces behind Pacific NorthWEIRD, a YouTube show devoted to paranormally significant locations in Washington state. Its first episode covers the Mima Mounds Natural Area Preserve near Littlerock, which you or I might consider geologic aberrations, but which certain fanciful individuals regard as something ... more. What that something may be I couldn't tell you, as despite my journalistic integrity I was too skeptical to make it any farther than 10 minutes into the episode. I'm sorry, Vince; I'm allergic to woo woo. But if you, Gentle Reader, have a fondness for such uncanny topics as Squatchin' or the Black Houses of Olympia, then Vince Ynzunza would like to be your woo-woo, hoodoo man.


If you're lucky enough to visit Paris, the City of Light, be sure to spend an afternoon down in the dark. There's a network of catacombs underneath the city, in which the late 18th century saw the remnants of six million Parisians stacked into artful patterns of femurs and skulls. A sign over the ossuary's entrance warns, "Arrête! C'est ici l'empire de la mort!" ("Halt! Herein lies the empire of the dead!") About a quarter of a million visitors ignore that warning each year. My wife and I toured the site last fall, and I can honestly say it was one of the most memorable events of my life. I was so struck by it that I wrote my first horror story, Silver, about the burial of all those unnerving remains. (You can read it for free at CreativeColloquy.com.) Apparently the catacombs had a similar effect on brothers Drew and John Erick Dowdle, who set their movie As Above, So Below, opening Friday, within its subterranean depths. It stars Perdita Weeks as Scarlet, an archaeology student who believes the famous "philosopher's stone" of alchemist Nicolas Flamel, or at least a decent Tomb Raider knockoff, might be hiding in all those tunnels. The trailer suggests Scarlet and her friends find a passel of found footage horror tropes instead, so this is basically The Blair Witch Project's European Vacation.

OK, let's not get our hopes up for a classic horror movie; but the Dowdles did record much of As Above, So Below in the actual Catacombs of Paris, including tunnels that aren't generally open to the public. If you can handle its cinematic shocks, it may be a fun way to log some travel time in one of France's most unforgettable locations. Or you could just stay home and watch Andrew Zimmern slurp down snail caviar on Xfinity. Vive la France!


It may surprise you to learn that such professional illusionists as Penn and Teller regard Erik Weisz, better known to spellbound audiences around the early-20th-century world as Harry Houdini, as a barely mediocre magician. No, Houdini's true calling was as an escape artist, a skill he pursued with obsessive-compulsive rigor starting in 1899. Touring Eurasia and America as the "Handcuff King," a name you'd never admit to calling yourself on Facebook, Houdini escaped from riveted beer barrels, a water-filled milk can, the memorably-named "Chinese Water Torture Cell" - even once, on a Boston beach, from the belly of a beached whale. He starred in movies, learned to fly (and then crashed) his own biplane, and aided Scientific American by debunking clairvoyants and other Ynzunzan mystics.

Who better to play the stocky, round-faced, 5'6" Handcuff King than the chiseled, hawk-nosed, 6'1" Adrien Brody? That's a question the History Channel hopes you'll be too enthralled to ask Monday night, as it debuts its two-night bio-miniseries Houdini. And, considering it was written by author and screenwriter Nicholas Meyer (Star Treks II and VI, The Day After, Time After Time, The Seven-Per-Cent Solution), the History Channel may just get its wish. The show airs Sept. 1 and 2 at 8 p.m. As the Amazing Mumford would say, "A la peanut butter sandwiches!" (Yes, it was "a la," not "Allah." I looked it up. I'm a journalist!)

Until next week, may the Force be with you, may the odds be ever in your favor, and may you always find that lock pick you hid in your skivvies.

Filed under: Nerd Alert!, Screens, History,

August 19, 2014 at 9:48am

Nerd Alert! - Action Comics #1, Settlers of Kaletron Tuesday nights, Emo Philips in Tacoma

With a wide-eyed, childlike stare, Emo Philips draws an audience down a winding garden path, the listener hanging on every word, softly spoken in an innocently wavering falsetto sing-song voice.

Action Comics #1

It's not a brave stance for me to start a Nerd Alert column with this statement: Zack Snyder's Man of Steel was a piece of utter garbage, so stultifying and absurdly misguided in its interpretation of a classic figure that it defies all odds. The chances of Man of Steel's sequel rising above the muck of its predecessor are not ideal, but there's still time to right the ship.

I bring up that blight on Superman's career so that I can direct you to a celebration of his humble beginning. In a shocking turn of events, a copy of Action Comics #1 has appeared on Ebay. This issue marked Superman's introduction, and as such remains a highly valuable collector's item. This copy, however, is different. Touting a 9.0 rating from the CGC (the foremost comics appraisal company), this issue of Action Comics #1 is the most pristine unrestored copy in existence. In fact, only 34 unrestored issues of this comic are still around, which makes this quite possibly the most valuable comic in the world.

As of press time, the top bid for Action Comics #1 stood at around $1.75 million with six days left to bid. The last 9.0 rated copy of this issue was sold for $2.1 million in 2011 by Nicolas Cage, of all people.

Settlers of Kaletron

Last year, The New Frontier Lounge adopted a game night for Tuesdays, called Settlers of Kaletron. MC'd by Kale Iverson, the night revolved around tables of drunk revelers playing rounds of The Settlers of Catan, while Kaletron played ukelele and improvised looped electronica. For the month of August, the event has been revived, with game nights every Tuesday. This time around, though, attendants are being encouraged to bring along board games of all varieties.

Nothing like getting lit and angrily swiping all the pieces off of your Risk board.

Emo Philips

Whenever a legend of comedy comes to Tacoma, it shouldn't go unheralded. Emo Philips has been in the business for almost 40 years. Since the beginning, he's been a true original, inspiring a whole generation of absurdist joke-centric comedians such as Mitch Hedberg, Demetri Martin and Patton Oswalt. His style is frequently copied, but never matched, with his odd falsetto and wandering way of delivering jokes. Emo Philips is like Steven Wright, countering Wright's philosophical deadpan with an impish, singsongy surrealism. This is not to be missed. Witness it at 8 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 24 at the Tacoma Comedy Club.

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

August 11, 2014 at 11:18am

Nerd Alert! - The Sixties, The Expendables 3, The Real History of Science Fiction ...

William Shatner chimed in on "The Real History of Science Fiction." Photo courtesy of BBC America

Getting your ass to Mars, 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 hope you've been watching The Sixties on CNN. This briskly-edited, emotional-wallop-packing series recalls how the Baby Boomers came of age in the '60s, then gradually, inevitably gave up on their dreams and softened their acid-fueled idealism. Now, as the Boomers age through their own 60s, it appears they have nothing better to do than reminisce about LBJ, Apollo 11 and Royal Crown Cola. (Yes, I know they still make RC Cola, but when was the last time you drank it?) I have little room to judge, as my idea of an epic Saturday is to curl up with four hours of I Love the '80s and a nap. Anyway, The Sixties' finale airs at 9 o'clock Thursday. It's called "Sex, Drugs, and Rock 'n' Roll," aka "How I Met Your Grandmother."


Harrison Ford!  Mel Gibson! Arnold Schwarzenegger! Wesley Snipes! Sly Stallone! I bedazzle these names with exclamation points because there was once a time, and I'm of an age from which it seems only yesterday, when their appearance on a marquee promised the best - or at least the most handsomely produced - of summer blockbusters. Ooh, what would it be this time? Would Harrison Ford point his Finger of Doom at a power-mad Nazi? Would the Austrian Oak gasp for life-sustaining oxygen as his eyeballs hyperextended and the Martian atmosphere terraformed? Would it always be safe to bet on black, or would Wesley Snipes end up dodging the IRS? I'm afraid, my young readers, it was all of the above. Our mighty heroes of old, and boy, do I mean old, have been replaced by the frat boys of Zeta Alpha Apatow, feather-haired gym rats cosplaying as superheroes, and terabyte upon terabyte of CG sharknadoes. The world has moved on.

But as a bald, burly supervillain of that bygone era once proclaimed, "I have something to say: it's better to burn out than to fade away!" And that, along with hundreds of checks that cleared, is why the abovementioned stars (currently entering their nova stage, having long ago converted all the hydrogen in their cores into helium) have joined forces to bring you The Expendables, Acte Trois. As we all remember so clearly, the first one's plot was ummm, a lot of shooting happened? Bullets? That already-compelling storyline was enhanced in Episode Two, in which I think some propane exploded? Maybe an airplane with knives on it? Somebody rassled a bear?

Movies like The Expendables 3 are why Netflix (or, as I like to call it, the fireman's pole into a shame spiral) was invented. It's the kind of movie you watch when, a.) you're a man over 40, and b.) your night's entertainment will also include a $5 pizza buffet, furtive exploration of Olympia's new strip bar Desire, and a case of Milwaukee's Best. It'll make you feel like more of a man and less of a person. And before you ask, yes, Kelsey Grammer does play a dude named "Bonaparte." Sly Stallone and your adolescence wouldn't have it any other way.


If you're wondering where the promised last episode of The Real History of Science Fiction went a few months ago, it's airing Saturday at 9 on BBC America. It's about time travel, which maybe explains how this happened. Don't forget to set your DVR and/or flux capacitor.

Disney CEO Robert Iger recently announced that his company would start work next year on a "significant" new theme-park project devoted to all things Star Wars. He then intoned, "Many Bothans died to bring us this information." Or maybe that was someone else-I've napped since then. 

Personally, I'm a huge fan of the upgraded Star Tours attraction that re-launched in 2011. I'd love to see something along the lines of a speeder bike steeplechase, TIE fighter shoot-out, or animatronic aliens in a Mos Eisley cantina. The latter could feature frosty blue milkshakes. In your face, butterbeer!

Until next week, may the Force be with you, may the odds be ever in your favor, and may you never reveal you went all the way with LBJ.

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

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