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Allen Adams

Allen Adams

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A lot of the best comedy comes from darkness. For many of our funniest, the shadows are where they find the biggest laughs. As it turns out, one can mine a lot of jokes from battling with one’s demons.

Comedy connoisseurs are certainly aware of Tom Scharpling. He’s likely best known as the creator of the beloved long-running radio show-turned-podcast “The Best Show,” where he and his partner Jon Wurster have spent some two decades crafting a bizarre and absurdist call-in program that is probably one of your favorite comedian’s favorite things.

And now, he’s written a memoir.

“It Never Ends: A Memoir with Nice Memories!” (Abrams Press, $27) gives readers a window into who Scharpling really is. It’s an exploration of a troubled past rendered with self-deprecating frankness, walking us along the path that brought him to his current place. There’s an earnestness to it all, despite the constant self-awareness – an unwavering honesty, even in the face of clear misgivings about sharing these stories in their entirety.

Wednesday, 14 July 2021 11:38

Celebrity Slam - One toad over the line

Anyone who has read this space with regularity is aware of the basic equation for determining which items get included. Now, these rules are tweaked for assorted subgenres – your Twitter beefs, your celebrity romances – but what we’re talking about today is your basic scorn and mockery.

Essentially, it boils down to this: the outlandishness of the action is inversely proportional to the fame of the one who performs said action. So if we’re talking about someone very famous – an A-list actor, chart-topping musician, All-Star athlete – then the action needn’t be all that outlandish for it to make this space. On the flip side, if someone is niche famous – a reality star or a third-tier country singer – then the action better be good and bizarre for it to make that week’s Slam.

“So how outlandish is this week’s action?” Glad you asked, and I’ll answer it thusly – the person we’re talking about stars in one of those home renovation shows on HGTV.

Yeah – we’re gonna get WEIRD.

Wednesday, 14 July 2021 11:36

Weird National Briefs (07/14/2021)

$uper Mario 64

DALLAS (AP) — An unopened copy of Nintendo’s Super Mario 64 has sold at auction for $1.56 million.

Heritage Auctions in Dallas said that the 1996 game sold Sunday, breaking its previous record price for the sale of a single video game.

A spokesman did not immediately respond to an inquiry about who purchased the game.

Super Mario 64 was the best-selling game on the Nintendo 64 and the first to feature the Mario character in 3D, the auction house said in a statement.

The sale follows an unopened copy of Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda selling at auction Friday for $870,000. Valarie McLeckie, Heritage’s video game specialist, said the auction house was shocked to see a game sell for more than a $1 million two days after the Zelda game broke its past record.

In April, the auction house sold an unopened copy of Nintendo’s Super Mario Bros. that was bought in 1986 and forgotten about in a desk drawer for $660,000.

TME – Let’s just hope their wallet isn’t in another castle.

The past couple of months have seen a slow and uneven return to movie theaters. Films that were delayed or otherwise impacted by the pandemic are gradually returning, filling the country’s big screens with the outsized sequels and franchise fare that many have spent the past year-plus anticipating.

We watched a battle of the monsters when King Kong fought Godzilla. We held our breaths as Emily Blunt took on alien invaders in near-silence. Chris Rock was in a “Saw” movie and Emma Stone gave us a Cruella de Vil origin story. We even got to see Vin Diesel get faster and furiouser than ever alongside his franchise family and a smattering of movie stars. But even with all that, it was hard to say that the moviegoing experience was truly, fully back … until now.

That’s right - the MCU is on the big screen, baby!

“Black Widow,” the ostensible first installment in the MCU’s Phase Four, has landed, both in theaters and via premium access on Disney+. Directed by Cate Shortland from Eric Pearson’s screenplay, the film centers on the titular Black Widow and her doings during the period between “Captain America: Civil War” and “Avengers: Infinity War.”

It’s an interesting choice, taking a leap back chronologically with the leadoff film of the newest phase. And some of the narrative wind has been knocked from its sails due to the pandemic delays – Marvel’s three MCU-connected TV shows were supposed to follow this film; instead, they came first. Those looking for big advances to the overarching MCU narrative will likely come away slightly disappointed; the nature of this film means that major revelations are unlikely. However, when judged on its own merits, “Black Widow” is solid action-adventure; not top-tier Marvel, but far from the worst.

For two decades, Anthony Bourdain was an icon. From the publication of his 1999 best-selling memoir “Kitchen Confidential” through his evolution to culinary and cultural adventurer in his television work, Bourdain brought a combination of passion, intelligence and no-bulls—t attitude to the zeitgeist. He was coarse and foul-mouthed and utterly fascinated by the world around him, capturing what he experienced with a punk rock intimacy unlike anything we’d seen before.

When he took his own life in 2018 – on location in France to film, no less – people from all over the globe mourned the loss, even as many of them were left both shocked and somehow unsurprised that this was how the end of his story played out.

Morgan Neville’s new documentary “Roadrunner: A Film about Anthony Bourdain” is an effort to delve deep into the mystique of the complicated figure that was Anthony Bourdain. Through a tight and thorough assemblage of archival footage and interviews, Neville finds a way in, presenting a sort of outsider’s introspection, a look within a man who was often moving far too fast to look within himself.

Through moments poignant, darkly funny and occasionally both, Neville puts together a portrait of a man whose combination of pop cultural wit and charismatic presence turned him into a star, even as he fought against the more shadowy impulses that drove him to reach the pinnacle, and perhaps ultimately, to his tragic demise.

So we’ve passed the halfway point in 2021. Movie theaters have opened back up and the blockbuster summer movies we’ve come to expect are finally making their way to the big screen, many after a delay of a year or more. Seemingly every weekend, we’re looking at a new big-budget extravaganza coming to a theater near you.

But what about the movies we’ve already seen this year?

As a rule, I don’t do midyear looks back, but considering the bifurcated nature of the movie year, it makes sense to take a quick peek at what we saw before the dividing line as opposed to after.

Let me be clear – these are not necessarily the movies I would consider the BEST (though plenty would cross over to that list), but rather my favorites. I’d wager that there are a couple on here that wouldn’t make any of the lists currently making the rounds, actually. Some of these just arrived on the scene, others are from way back in January. But hey – that’s part of the fun.

I should also note that there are a number of big-time films that I saw in 2021, but that received releases in 2020, that I decided not to include. This means that shiny award contenders and winners like “Judas and the Black Messiah,” “Minari” and Best Picture winner “Nomadland” are not here. Without that caveat, they would top my list.

So here we are. Check out my favorite films of 2021 so far – some good ones, a couple of great ones and one or two that are just plain weird.

(Films presented in alphabetical order)

It’s no secret that I’m not a particularly close follower of the NBA. I have a decent general understanding of the state of the league just by dint of being a general sports fan, but as far as the vagaries and granular details? Not so much.

However, it’s also no secret that I’ve never let my relative ignorance with regard to a sports-related subject stop me from voicing my opinion.

And so here we are, with my standard underinformed preview of the NBA Finals.

This year’s championship tilt pits the Eastern Conference-winning Milwaukee Bucks against the Phoenix Suns, victors in the Western Conference. It’s a best-of-seven series that will, regardless of which team triumphs, have an historic impact.

If the Bucks win, it will mark the first title for Milwaukee since 1971, ending the league’s fifth-longest championship drought. Two spots higher on that drought list, we find the Suns, a franchise that came into existence in 1968 and has never won an NBA title. Either way, we’re getting a champion we haven’t seen in over half a century. More than that, neither of these teams have even made the Finals in a long time. We haven’t seen Phoenix here since 1993. And Milwaukee? Try 1974. Heck, the truth is that no player on either roster has ever won a championship. Zero. Like I said – historic.

So who’s going to win?

Remember when Steven Soderbergh announced his retirement?

You’d be forgiven if you didn’t, if for no other reason than the fact that he never actually, you know, stopped making stuff. He said 2013’s “Side Effects” would be his last, but he almost immediately helmed a number of TV projects along with directing Off-Broadway and some fascinating recuts on his website.

Since returning to feature filmmaking with 2017’s “Logan Lucky,” Soderbergh has spent the past few years cementing his reputation as one of Hollywood’s most progressive and experimental mainstream filmmakers. He’s been unafraid to try different methods of filming (such as making 2018’s “Unsane” entirely on an iPhone) and distribution models (self-distribution and fully embracing streaming services).

That tradition continues with his latest, the period heist/caper movie “No Sudden Move,” currently streaming on HBO Max. It’s a convoluted thriller featuring a typically dynamite Soderbergh ensemble cast, all of it presented through the skewed lens of the director’s unique perspective. While it occasionally threatens to collapse under the weight of its own narrative complexity, the film largely holds up thanks to the considerable talents of those both behind and in front of the camera.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a music guy. For whatever reason, music had never resonated with me in the way it did so many of my otherwise like-minded peers. It wasn’t my thing. But sometimes, I’d experience something that would give me a clearer sense of that passion.

Maybe it was a song I heard at a party or at a bar. Maybe I was sitting in a theater – movie or stage. Maybe it was someone feverishly proselytizing about a band they loved that I’d never heard of. Maybe someone showed me “Stop Making Sense.” Maybe it was as simple as: “You need to hear this.”

I always cherish those moments when I have them, the gooseflesh-raising instances when music gets inside me.

“Summer of Soul” was one of those moments.

You can turn just about anything into a movie.

Books and plays, sure. But also songs and TV shows and comic books. Cartoons and toys. Folk tales and urban legends. All of these things have been given the cinematic treatment over the years. Adaptation to the screen is a huge part of the movie business.

But can a Twitter thread become a movie? It can if it achieves enough viral notoriety that it becomes known as simply #TheStory.

That’s what we get with “Zola,” a film inspired by a legendary 148-tweet thread posted in 2015 by a Detroit waitress and exotic dancer named A’Ziah “Zola” King and the David Kushner story for Rolling Stone that followed. Adapted to the screen by Jeremy O. Harris and Janicza Bravo, who also directed the film, it’s a surreal and darkly comic road trip to the heart of American darkness. You know – Florida.

It is a bleak and hilarious story, one whose based-in-reality bona fides strain credulity – in a good way. There’s an intensity to the tale, charged as it is with various flavors of cultural and societal mores being prodded, bent and broken. Again, we’re talking about a film – a story – that is inherently and utterly bizarre, yet wildly compelling, a fascinating glimpse of a world many of us have never experienced for ourselves.

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