2013 - %3, May

Spock and Awe: How 4 Lucky Post-9/11 War Vets Landed Roles in "Star Trek Into Darkness"

| Thu May 16, 2013 6:05 PM EDT

On April 24, 2005, US Marine Corps lance corporal Adam McCann was on patrol with his fire team, as he had been on many other occasions. His team was inspecting a weapons cache discovered in the city of Hīt in Iraq's Al-Anbar province. As they prepared to head back to base, they were met with a hail of mortar fire launched from the other side of street. The entire team was injured, and McCann sustained shrapnel wounds to his neck and both legs. But all escaped with their lives.

"Seeing my name in the movie credits was pretty nice," McCann says. "And the after-party was pretty amazing."

Eight years later, on May 14, McCann, who is now 27, attended the star-studded Los Angeles premiere of Star Trek Into Darkness—in which he plays a minor role. "Seeing my name in the movie credits was pretty nice," McCann told me. "And the after-party was pretty amazing as well."

McCann is one of four post-9/11 American war veterans featured in the new film as the "Starfleet Ceremonial Guard." (The others are Melissa Steinman of the Coast Guard, Eric Greitens of the Navy, and Jon Orvrasky of the Marine Corps.) All have been involved with The Mission Continues, a nonprofit that awards community service fellowships to vets, and helps them apply the skills they learned in the armed forces to work and life at home. Greitens—an ex-Navy SEAL and Rhodes Scholar—founded the group in 2007, and was included in the 2013 Time 100, where he was praised by former Joint Chiefs chairman Mike Mullen as "one of the most remarkable young men I have ever encountered."

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This Film Is "Snakes on a Plane," But With Air Force One, Terrorists, and an Escape Pod

| Tue May 14, 2013 9:07 AM EDT

POTUS.

Hollywood megastar and snake-punching virtuoso Samuel L. Jackson is going to be President of the United States.

At least he will be in director Jalmari Helander's English-language debut film, Big Game. This is a description of the upcoming movie, via the Hollywood Reporter (emphasis mine):

The movie is billed as an adrenaline-fuelled action-adventure and tells the story of a shy, nervous 13-year-old boy who, like his forefathers, takes a test of manhood by spending one day and night alone in the wilderness of a vast local forest.

Armed only with a bow and arrow, his task is to return with a prize to prove himself. But when Air Force One is shot down by terrorists, the young man discovers the U.S. president in an escape pod, and they have to team up as the terrorists close in.

This will be the most political and presidential thing Jackson has done since last September, when he starred in a pro-Obama web ad (funded by The Jewish Council for Education & Research, a liberal super-PAC) that demanded complacent Democratic voters "wake the fuck up" before the 2012 election.

Short Takes: Our Nixon

| Mon May 13, 2013 5:00 AM EDT
Our Nixon

Our Nixon

DIPPER FILMS

One morning in 1972, Nixon chief of staff H.R. "Bob" Haldeman gave press secretary Ron Ziegler some big news: Nixon had just gone to meet with Mao Zedong, head of China's Communist Party, marking the first thaw in a quarter century of US-China relations. In his shock, Ziegler bit into an unpeeled clementine without realizing it. This obscure clip is one of many you'll experience in Our Nixon, a curated collage of 500 Super 8 film reels shot by Haldeman and Nixon aides Dwight Chapin and John Ehrlichman—ambitious men who obsessively documented their lives in the West Wing. The footage, seized by the FBI after Watergate, offers an intimate glimpse into a notoriously secretive administration. "It was a very unnatural kind of life," Ehrlichman reveals. "You had the feeling you were in the middle of a great big, brilliantly lighted, badly run television show."

Quick Reads: "Any Way You Slice It" by Stan Cox

| Mon May 13, 2013 5:00 AM EDT

Any Way You Slice It: The Past, Present, and Future of Rationing

By Stan Cox

THE NEW PRESS

In this lucid and lively book, Stan Cox, an environmental writer whose last book charted the effects of air conditioning on the American landscape, explains how "rationing" has become a dirty word. Through examples ranging from post-Hurricane Sandy gas shortages to China's one-child policy, he depicts a society anxious about our right to consumer choice. "Whenever there's a ceiling on available goods, no one is happy," Cox writes. But sooner or later we'll almost certainly have to ration food, water, and fossil fuels. "If rationing becomes unavoidable, the way it happens—justly or harshly—will depend very much on whether we have managed to build a more just society."

Review: The Handsome Family's "Wilderness"

| Mon May 13, 2013 4:30 AM EDT
Brett and Rennie Sparks

The Handsome Family
Wilderness
Carrot Top

The Handsome Family, Wilderness
Wilderness

Albuquerque-based spouses Brett and Rennie Sparks have crafted their idiosyncratic version of Americana for more than two decades, blending his low growl of a voice with her askew lyrics to offer a subtly surreal take on traditional music. In songs like "Frogs," "Caterpillars," and "Eels" (you get their drift), the slow-cooking Wilderness, out this week, charts the uneasy interaction between humankind and the natural world, often to scary effect. "The owls they mock me and have stolen my pills," Brett murmurs on—what else?—"Owls." Things turn downright creepy on "Spider," his account of how "a million little teeth tore me to pieces." Amid familiar fiddles and banjos, the Handsome Family's absorbing vision of decay and entropy is quietly unsettling, and makes most other modern roots music seem like child's play.

5 Directors Who Should Have Directed "The Great Gatsby" Instead of Baz Luhrmann

| Fri May 10, 2013 5:00 AM EDT

The Great Gatsby
Warner Bros. Pictures
142 minutes

The new adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's American classic/required high school reading The Great Gatsby is exactly how I remember the book: With a hip-hop-tinged drunken pillow fight in 3-D starring sweaty Tobey Maguire.

As an elevator pitch, there is absolutely nothing wrong with Baz Luhrmann's ultra-modern take on The Great Gatsby. His thoroughly modern update of Shakespeare—which, like Gatsby, stars Leonardo DiCaprio—is a joy. Plus, the timelessness of the 1925 novel makes any playful anachronisms (rap and rock music in the soundtrack, grinding dancing, and so forth) all the less suspicious.

But the result is almost unforgivably terrible, gratingly earnest in a way that the novel never was. When classic lines of narration from the beloved book start floating directly at your face as a 3-D special effects gimmick, it's a challenge not to groan audibly in your seat.

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Music Review: "Nightlight" by Dungeonesse

| Fri May 10, 2013 5:00 AM EDT
album cover

TRACK 5

"Nightlight"

From Dungeonesse's Dungeonesse

SECRETLY CANADIAN

Liner notes: Joined by White Life's Jon Ehrens, Jenn Wasner reinvents herself as a dance floor diva, with creamy keyboards, yearning voices, and pumping beats evoking a neon mirage of ecstatic rapture.

Behind the music: Besides singing alt-folk in the duo Wye Oak, the versatile Wasner also performs solo as the poppier Flock of Dimes, while her venture with fellow Baltimorean Ehrens harks back to '90s R&B.

Check it out if you like: The latest from Cat Power and Tegan and Sara, other indie faves who underwent a musical facelift.

Photos: Flamin' Groovies Hometown Return

| Tue May 7, 2013 2:36 PM EDT
Cyril Jordan and Chris Wilson of the Flamin' Groovies. Photos by Mark Murrman

Following a quick romp through Japan and Australia, San Francisco legends the Flamin' Groovies played a hastily arranged show in their hometown this past weekend—the first time this version of the band has played locally since 1981.

The mid-'70s era Flamin' Groovies, with founder Cyril Jordan, George Alexander (bass), Chris Wilson (also of UK band the Barracudas), and Victor Penalosa (drums) tore through a tight set of their near-hits, kicking off with the slow-burning "Yeah My Baby," before running through their power-pop classics, "You Tore Me Down," "I Can't Hide," and of course, "Shake Some Action."

Jake Shimabukuro Rocked the Ukulele Before It Was Cool

| Mon May 6, 2013 4:30 AM EDT
Jake Shimabukuro, epic uke player.

Update (May 8, 2014): PBS will rebroadcasting Life on Four Strings starting on May 9, 2014. Check your local PBS listings for times.

While the jury is out over whether guitar rock is enjoying a renaissance or fading from relevance, the guitar's little brother, the ukulele, has entered the zeitgeist in a big way. With it's small body, four strings, and a range of just two octaves, the uke is among the humblest of instruments. But in the past few years, the uke has popped up in the hands of artists from Taylor Swift and Jason Mraz to Paul McCartney and Jack Johnson. In 2011, Eddie Vedder put out an entire album of quavering love songs that sound like the brooding inner monolog of a heartbroken surfer. With Zooey Deschanel as their queen, the cutie-girl set has made the ukulele nearly as ubiquitous as bird tattoos.

Much its recent popularity, though, is owed to Japanese-American virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro who in several ways resembles the instrument he has mastered: charming, unassuming, Hawaiian. But in Shimabukuro's hands, as he breaks out experimental jazz, lays down a steady blues train, or shreds on rock anthems, this little jumping flea becomes a melodic monster.

Through the late-'90s and early aughts, Shimabukuro carved out a respectable living as a touring artist, but his career exploded in 2006 after a video of him performing While My Guitar Gently Weeps became one of the first YouTube videos to go viral. Forget what the internet says about the overuse of the word "epic." This performance defines it:

Soon after, late night TV shows began knocking on his doors. He was invited to play duets with the likes of Bette Midler and Jimmy Buffett. And now his existence is the subject of Jake Shimabukuro: Life on Four Strings, a documentary airing May 10 on PBS. Through intimate conversations and inspiring performances, the film offers of portrait of the man and his instrument. I caught up with Shimabukuro recently to talk about his dream collaboration, meeting the Queen of England, and what it's like to go viral.

Like Most Libertarians, Iron Man Grows Up and Moves On

| Fri May 3, 2013 5:46 PM EDT

Iron Man 3
Walt Disney Studios
129 minutes

"There's no politics here; it's just good old-fashioned revenge," Tony Stark (a.k.a., Iron Man) declares to a swarm of TV news reporters, following a terrorist attack that leaves a good friend of his in a coma. "There's no Pentagon, it's just you and me," Stark says to his latest nemesis. 

This statement also applies to the film itself.

The third installment in Marvel's Iron Man series is the first in the franchise that wasn't directed by Jon Favreau. The man at the helm this time around is writer/director Shane Black, who is famous for penning Hollywood action flicks like 1987's Lethal Weapon, and for directing 2005's Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, also starring Robert Downey, Jr. The first two films portrayed Tony Stark/Iron Man as he was intended to be depicted: as a suave, hard-partying, right-wing billionaire who battles America's enemies, foreign and domestic. In the DVD commentary of the first Iron Man, Marvel frontman Stan Lee discusses why he created the character in the first place. He wanted to piss off some hippies:

It was the height of the Cold War. The readers—the young readers—if there was one thing they hated it was war, it was the military, or, as Eisenhower called it, the military-industrial complex. So I got a hero who represented that to the hundredth degree. He was a weapons manufacturer. He was providing weapons for the army. He was rich. He was an industrialist. But he was good-looking guy and he was courageous…I thought it would be fun to take the kind of character that nobody would like—that none of our readers would like—and shove him down their throats and make them like him.

Though no one should ever accuse the Iron Man movies of pulling for any particular political agenda, the first two films did preserve the comic books' gleefully rightward lean. (After all, Favreau identified Elon Musk, the libertarian billionaire who co-founded the galactic transport company SpaceX, as the inspiration for the on-screen version of Tony Stark; Musk also had a cameo in Iron Man 2.)

In the first Iron Man, Stark's bad-boy charisma is defined by his belief in a Peace-Through-Strength-on-steroids mindset:

Although he undergoes something of a personal and political makeover later in the film, the beginning of Iron Man 2 shows Stark in familiar form. When he's called to a hearing on Capitol Hill, lawmakers pressure him to turn over his terrorism-fighting toys to the US government and military. In response, a defiant Stark denies the government his property, cockily mocks the panel of lawmakers, and brags that he "successfully privatized world peace." This is met with wild cheers from the gallery.

There are no politics to Iron Man 3, beyond the political assertion that lethal and indiscriminate terrorism is bad. Director Shane Black, who co-wrote the screenplay, is far more concerned with the slam-bang fight scenes and the romance between Stark and his live-in girlfriend Virginia "Pepper" Potts (played by Gwyneth Paltrow). So much of the film focuses on Stark, once the consummate care-free playboy, settling down with the love of his life. It's a genuinely interesting and tender part of the story—and the best and most convincing romance in the modern comic-books-as-film cannon. Their relationship demonstrates just how softened and vulnerable (touchingly so) Tony Stark can get.

With his single life, goes his ideology.

Check out the trailer for Iron Man 3:

Iron Man 3 gets a wide US release on Friday, May 3. The film is rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence throughout, and brief suggestive content. Click here for local showtimes and tickets.

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