Thursday, May 31, 2012

Jack Black Makes an Odd Case for Academy Gold in Bernie

The critics are saying Jack Black turned in his greatest performance and is in the running for an Oscar for his new flick, Bernie.

I would seriously contest the first claim (School of Rock will always be his landmark role and is ranked as my #16 funniest movie ever), but the Academy Award talk seems fair.

Bernie is based on a true story about an odd little man who works at a mortuary in Carthage, Texas and falls into a relationship with a mean old woman played by Shirley MacLaine. Bernie shoots her in the back because he says she is just so mean to him. The movie is unique in that the real people of Carthage offer their testimonies as to how Bernie doesn't deserve to go to jail because he is the nicest person in town.

Well worth watching, and it will be great if Black truly receives an award nomination.

And director Richard Linklater keeps up his string of classics following on Slacker, Dazed and Confused, School of Rock, and Fast Food Nation.

**** out of ***** stars

Monday, May 28, 2012

Blogwatch: In Honor of My Blog's Namesake, Here Are Some Pop Culture Lunch Boxes!

How awesome would it be to have this Maxwell Smart lunchbox?

Check out some other rare ones over at the Pop Culture Safari! blog, which surely must be a kindred soul of mine.

And be sure to check out the rest of the blog. Shazam! DVD and CD releases of the week. An XTC spotlight!

Well done.

Polyphonic Spree Builds a Cult at DC's Chinatown Synagogue

As the crowd settled in at 6th and I Synagogue in DC's Chinatown, there was a buzz in the room that made it feel like we were about to be swept off our feet.

Perhaps we would drink some Kool-Aid and leave our Nikes under our seats. Or maybe we would be wisped off to live on a farm behind the mountains of L.A. At the very least, we would all hop on the tour bus of the Polyphonic Spree and ride along to the next stop on the tour, making Hari Krishna chants all along the way.

Surprisingly, none of this happened on Monday night. What did happen, nonetheless, was a transcendent rock n'roll concert that Chris (my brother), Rachel (my wife), and I will not soon forget.

The story of the Spree is that they were lead singer/creator/mastermind/resident Jesus Tim DeLaughter's answer to putting a positive spin on a former bandmate's death. I was never a huge fan of his old band, Tripping Daisey, but whether the Polyphonic Spree is a clever marketing ploy to build a fan base out of people like me who are suckers for a good cult story or a genuine musical experiment (my opinion leans heavily towards the latter), it doesn't matter. The Polyphonic Spree were a huge leap forward for DeLaughter and simply makes irresistible and bursting psychedelic power pop that was almost too big for the synagogue to contain.

The band played "Light and Day/Reach for the Sun," which most people in U.S. probably don't realize they know. It was used in multiple pop-culture moments, such as a joint Volkswagen/iPod commercial, an NFL tribute to former San Francisco 49ers coach Bill Walsh, on the TV show Scrubs, and in the movies Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and The Lorax.

Other highlights included "Soldier Girl" (captured by me in the short video below), a medley of Who songs "See Me Feel Me/Listening to You" and "Pinball Wizard," "I'm Calling," "Together We're Heavy, and "What Would You Do?"

And while the band's white robes and alluring stage presence are difficult to top, I've been dipping back into its three full-length releases and handful of singles, and there are few to no snoozers in the bunch.

**** out of ***** stars

Thursday, May 24, 2012

'90s Flashback: Afghan Whigs Reform, Still Rock

Greg Dulli and the Afghan Whigs, one of my favorite rock bands of the 1990s, has reformed and they look great. They were in slim, fightin' form on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon Show this week.

Their excellent version of "I'm Her Slave" really took me back to when I saw the (formerly Cincinnati-based) band at Mississippi Nights in St. Louis with My Bloody Valentine and Teenage Fanclub, which was a show of monumentally loud proportions. The Whigs so rattled my hearing that the pop beauty of the Fanclub to follow was somehow muddled.

An even better Whigs show was at the old Cicero's Basement in University City, St. Louis. I actually had to hold the Whigs' guitarist, Rick McCollum, up on stage for a little while because he didn't have enough room to stand on it.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Pricey Air and Space Museum Gets Our Stamp of Approval

Jackson and I decided to take advantage of the nice weather today and finally make our first visit to the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center (named after the guy who paid for it) Dulles Airport annex of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

It was well worth it, even though the place is not cheap, especially by our Washington DC standards of free museums. But after $15 for parking, $14 to take a simulation space flight, $25 for toys (that arguable work) and candy in the gift shop, and $10 at the in-museum McDonald's, it felt a little like we should have just gone to Six Flags instead.
Complaining aside, our visit was super fun. On the space flight, we got into a tube and watched a movie with 3-D glasses on our faces while the thing bounced around for a bit. It worked. Towards the end, Jackson looked up and me and asked, "Daddy, are we in space?" I assured him we were, for what it's worth. He wanted to take some of the other rides, but he wasn't tall enough, saving my pocketbook just a tad.

We loved all the spacemen, the "shark plane," the elevators, and the high walkways. But the really awe-inspiring highlights were the Enola Gay, famed for dropping the first bomb on Hiroshima, and the newly-arrived and massive Space Shuttle Discovery, which flew over our home just a month ago en route from Florida.

And the whole experience was aided by Jackson's steady stream of super-happy goofiness, and the monkey stamp he gave himself right on the forehead.

This museum is a must-see for all kids.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Funniest Mother's Day Photos Ever

To make everyone's Mother's Day just a little bit happier, take a look at this brilliant slideshow from Awkward Family Photos. And have a very Happy Mother's Day.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

NPR Covers Same Story as Me at My New Job at Mobility Lab

This blog was originally published at

Since my 4-year-old son recently got a new bicycle and he usually rides back and forth to school on our trailer bike, my wife and I didn’t know if he would be all that excited about National Bike to School Day this morning.
But it didn’t take long for Jackson, tagging along behind Rachel, to get into the act. As we rode, he … loudly … informed everyone we saw walking, driving, or biking that it is Bike to School Day. He may have even told a few squirrels.

Our ride each day goes from Silver Spring, Maryland just over into Takoma Park, in Washington D.C. It’s about a mile-and-a-half through some pretty busy streets, so teaching Jackson all the rules of the road and all about safety is extremely important.

Several of the parents of Jackson’s school, called Takoma Children’s School, brought along their sons and daughters in trailers, on bike seats, and some of the little ones even rode their own bikes. And all the children walked or rode down the street from the school to their playground area, where we all gathered to have our pictures taken and get bike pins and stickers.
There was even a special treat, as Armando Trull from the local National Public Radio affiliate, WAMU-FM 88.5, was there to do a story (listen here) about the health and environmental benefits of biking to school. He did a live segment, interviewing my wife and one of the students, and talking to them about safety. The kids especially liked the part when he asked them to make noise and ring the bells on their bicycles.

Today is the first National Bike to School Day. Through yesterday, more than 700 Bike to School Day events in 49 states and Washington D.C. were registered at And even if you missed one of today’s events, there are still plenty of options for helping your school children get to enjoy the outdoors and learn about bike safety throughout May, which is National Bike Month.


Sunday, May 6, 2012

Fantastic Four Get Re-imagined For Beginners

I used to read those Big Little Books when I was a kid and one of my favorites was a Fantastic Four story called "The House of Horrors."

The reason I liked it was probably pretty similar to the reason why The Avengers is doing so well during its opening weekend at the box office and why I loved the Superheroes Saturday morning cartoon that aired in the 1970s. You pack a lot of power into a comic by having loads of super-powered individuals on every page.

Marvel has was appears to be a phenomenal new series. It rethinks the origins of various heroes like Spiderman and X-Men. I haven't read those yet, but the Fantastic Four's "Season One" is tremendously enjoyable and beautifully and colorfully illustrated.

Reed Richards is redone for modern times, making references to Mad Men and other hot pop-culture trends. He takes his friends into a cosmic storm that gives them super powers. Reed becomes plastic-like and flexible, his love interest Sue Storm gains the power of invisibility, Johnny Storm can turn into fire, and Ben Grimm becomes the hulking Thing.

This is well worth a read if you're not a Fantastic Four expert, which I'm not. The origin story is redone in a fun and quick way that gives dabblers everything they need to know about this unlikely team of superheroes.

**** out of ***** stars

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Arias With a Twist Turns Woolly Mammoth Into DC Drag City

It's great to know that the last play at Woolly Mammoth appears to have been an anomaly of awfulness. After Civilization (All You Can Eat), it is very comforting to see my favorite DC theater return in force with Arias With a Twist.

This is a very strange drag show featuring a queen named Joey Arias. She is a one-piece firecracker who is absolutely impossible to stop watching, unless of course you were one of the few people who walked out (but why would you walk out? didn't those people have an inkling if what they were getting themselves into?).

In the title, Arias stands for her last name and Twist stands for master puppeteer Basil Twist, whose grand designs of aliens and devils and everything devious matched with stunning light projections make this show true eye candy.

The story, which doesn't really matter, is about Joey Arias, who is captured by aliens that perform an untoward surgery upon her. She is banished to an isolated forest. Later, she makes her way back to civilization and stomps all over Manhattan ala King Kong.

Arias belts out classic rock favorites by Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, and others. She not only does a great job of singing nearly non-stop for 90 minutes, but adds strange and captivating originality to all of it.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch is one of my favorite movies (I admittedly have never seen the stage production). Arias With a Twist is no Hedwig, but it is the second best thing in the drag/cabaret category.

**** out of ***** stars