January 8th, 2012, by

I last blogged about comedian Louis C.K. when some things he said on NPR about middle-aged coupling got Fresh Air run out of Mississippi. Since then, C.K. has been busy, producing his groundbreaking show, Louie, for FX and making headlines by selling his comedy special video directly to fans.

I’ve also been making my way through the recently concluded season 2 of Louie and can say with full conviction that he is one of the smartest, funniest guys on TV right now. The show itself is vaguely reminiscent of Seinfeld in its structure and follows a middle-aged, divorced comedian named “Louie C.K.” through the trials and tribulations of dating, fatherhood and show business. The main difference between Louie and Seinfeld, however, is that no topic is off limits in C.K.’s comedy, and he peppers his monologues liberally with the kind of profanity normally reserved for gangster movies.

While it’s easy to go wrong with this sort of material, Louis C.K. not only gets away with it, but is building a reputation as a sort of court jester of 21st-century life, speaking truth to the powers of our world, be they technology or politics. His observational comedy is dead-on, but most strikingly, it’s completely bereft of ego. Perhaps this is why he’s able to riff on controversial topics as easily as more mundane, everyday things. Sort of like a Jon Stewart of stand-up.

For a classic example of Louis C.K.’s style, check out his famous “Everything’s Amazing and Nobody’s Happy” monologue below.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8r1CZTLk-Gk&w=420&h=315]

 

January 6th, 2012, by

When it comes to Grammy nominees, movie box office sales, S&P numbers, and CEO rankings, there’s no end to the amount of lists that can materialize in the media. But, what if you’re looking for a list that compiles people who are the most inspiring? That can take some work.

Luckily, the folks at Beliefnet.com have taken the hassle out of such an endeavor.

According to their website, Beliefnet.com works, “to help people like you find, and walk, a spiritual path that will bring comfort, hope, clarity, strength, and happiness.”

The site recently compiled a list of nominees for their most inspiring person award. The list is pretty stacked with some extraordinary individuals whose heart and character make them stand-out stars of service and dedication.

Included on their list are Katie Davis, the 20-something woman who went to Uganda as a teen and found her calling; Jordan Cullbreath, a stellar athlete whose personal experiences can teach one how to overcome some of life’s most pressing obstacles when the odds are stacked against you; and Brryan Jackson, a young man whose amazing story will make you think twice before complaining about the challenges in your own life. Many of the nominees credit their faith as being one of the hallmarks of their inspirational stories.

Each one of these individuals has a unique story to share, along with the ability to encourage and inspire. As you look to start off the new year off empowered, be sure to take a look at the list and learn about those who can truly inspire you in 2012 to even greater heights.

December 31st, 2011, by

I was recently in New York City, and being what, these days, you might call a “foodie,” I made a point of stopping in at David Chang’s lauded Momofuku noodle bar. After a 90-minute(!) wait for a table, I can confidently report that the pork buns are indeed worth the hype, and the ramen is also very good.

But Chang, being the unstoppable force of nature he is, is not content to merely open hit restaurants. His latest venture is Lucky Peach, a full-scale magazine devoted to the pleasures of food, in all of its weird and wondrous forms. Produced by McSweeney’s and co-created by writer Peter Meehan and the production company behind Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations TV series (Bourdain himself is a frequent contributor), it’s unlike any other food mag out there.

Lucky Peach‘s first issue was devoted entirely to ramen, and its second was themed “The Sweet Spot” and covered everything from the perfect kimchi to Chang’s obsession with the movie Roadhouse. In between are delightful meditations on cooking duck the right way (by painter and bon-vivant Russel Chatham), a multi-part travelogue by Meehan and starring Chang, that takes them from Japan to Denmark to Kentucky bourbon country and a recipe for a mouthwatering-looking blackened bluefish sandwich with miso mayo.

Beyond the fact that the writing is good, the thing that strikes me most about Lucky Peach is the passion that obviously went into creating it. It comes out four times per year and has only a few scant ads for indie cookbooks; so it’s obviously a labor of love for those involved. The magazine industry being what it is these days, I hope there’s room for something as innovative and exciting as Lucky Peach to prosper.

December 30th, 2011, by

One of my favorite TV shows of the last few years is Summer Heights High, the brainchild of Australian comic Chris Lilley. It’s a show about a high school and the teachers, students and parents who populate it. But here’s the hook: Lilley plays the three lead characters.

It may be hard to picture Lilley, who’s a middle-aged white Australian man, playing an upper class 15-year-old girl, a 13-year-old Tongan hooligan and a high-strung high school drama teacher in the same show, but he does, and it’s a remarkable achievement. Equally noteworthy, however, is Lilley’s ability to balance the edgy humor of his scripts with real pathos–while his characters are hilarious and sometimes despicable in the things they say and do, they are not reduced to caricatures. I can’t think of another series that balances these two elements so well.

Lilley’s next show, appearing in early 2012 on HBO, is called Angry Boys and borrows characters from his first series, We Can Be Heroes, while adding new ones, including an African American rapper named “S’Mouse” and an overbearing Japanese mom.

While Angry Boys frequently achieves the unique balance of bizarrely funny and genuinely touching that has become the comedian’s trademark, he pushes farther and goes darker with this series than he ever has before, and I’m not entirely sure it works. As in his previous shows, Lilley uses comedy to explore themes of adolescence, masculinity, family and racism, but it feels as if, as he tries harder to push boundaries and break taboos, he is simultaneously running out of things to say. There are plenty of laughs to be had, but his characters, especially his aforementioned “racial” characters, don’t seem to contain enough insight to justify the shock value.

In a recent interview with New York magazine, however, Lilley gave some insight into his choice to play a black character:

“The idea is that I play multiple characters. That’s what I’ve always done. Part of what I like to do is to push the boundaries and try new things….  I think I wanted to do it because I thought it was a challenging, new, interesting idea, and mostly I just thought it was a really funny character. I think once you get through 30 seconds of S’Mouse you realize there’s more to the character than just a blackface joke. Like, obviously that’s not the joke. You see that he’s this vulnerable guy who’s living at home with his dad and he gets exposed by the documentary for not being the big tough guy he’s making himself out to be. There’s a lot more going on. It’s a character.”

I appreciate comedians who push boundaries. That’s the highest role of comedy as far as I’m concerned. And frankly, the blackface doesn’t bother me as much as the weakness of those characters compared to some of his others. Is America ready for an Australian in blackface? I’m don’t think we are, at least not this one.

December 29th, 2011, by

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about purpose, passion and the value of loving your work. As part of that, I’ve been seeking out examples of such, both in “real life” and online. Steve Jobs was outspoken on the topic, and coming from one of the most culturally important figures of our age, I find his words compelling.

No one, however, comes close to Shinya Kimura. Thanks to an incredibly beautifully shot mini-documentary by Henrik Hansen, I (and millions of others by now) have the chance to see Kimura, a custom motorcycle builder, at work, doing what he loves. I think it’s worth noting that I have very little interest in motorcycles, but listening to him talk about his work is nothing short of inspiring.

Behind his singular work is the Japanese notion of not just doing something, but doing it perfectly–or at least constantly striving for perfection. Beyond that, though, is a passion for the work that shines through more brightly than any other part of Kimura’s personality. He really, really loves what he does. And who wouldn’t want that for themselves?

 

shinya kimura @ chabott engineering from Henrik Hansen on Vimeo.

December 28th, 2011, by

There has been a lot of good stuff tickling my ears over the last 12 months, including Bill Callahan, The War on Drugs and Frank Fairfield, to name the three probably in heaviest rotation. My pick for the best new music of 2011, however, is based on longevity. Some music hits you right away and then loses its appeal, but this record has endured well enough to earn its place in my permanent playlist. All respect to Ye and Jay, but apart from “Otis” (which is a good song, but mostly due to the Otis Redding sample and the crazy-cool Spike Jonze video) their “Watch the Throne” doesn’t have a huge amount of staying power in my mind.

The album I chose is “Kaputt,” but Vancouver-based Destroyer (aka Dan Bejar and friends). It’s campy without being cheesy, fey without being mopey, and incredibly catchy. My one complaint about this album, in fact, is not about the music at all, but about the music videos for its best songs, which are about as inaccessible and self-consciously “edgy” as you can get. It’s forgivable in light of the strength of the album, but still seems like a waste if you ask me.

Here’s the title track, sans video, for your listening pleasure.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DJSjspGcmMU&w=420&h=315]

December 27th, 2011, by

Christmas is one of the most celebrated holidays around the world. Millions of families across the globe celebrated the holiday with their families this past week. But even as the history of Christmas is discussed in both secular and religious circles, the one question that continues to emerge has to do with Jesus’ appearance. What exactly did he look like? Where did all the images of the previous century’s depictions of Jesus, to present time, originate?

This past week, I came across some archival footage online that not only asked the question, but provided some interesting answers. Folks may be surprised by what they learn. Check it out.

 

December 27th, 2011, by

The Obama's pose for a holiday photo inside the White House. Credit: Lawrence Jackson

Is it just me or did Christmas just fly by way too fast? Hopefully, all the Black Friday sales, last minute shopping and long lines were worth it.

If you thought your holiday shopping was tough, just look at President Obama. You would think with all the Secret Service protection, getting down the aisles at a local store is easy, right? Not so much when you’re the President of the United States.

The president was seen throughout the Washington, DC  and tri-state area making purchases for Christmas and gave people a quick look at how even the most simple of tasks get super-sized when you’re leader of the free world.

Be sure to check out President Obama’s Christmas shopping (I don’t think it’ll be a secret what he’s getting anyone this holiday). Be sure to count your blessings and be thankful that your holiday shopping won’t ever have to be like that. Happy Holidays!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

December 27th, 2011, by

2011 was, in spite of the best efforts of Adam Sandler, Michael Bay and a viciously banal gang of Smurfs to ruin it for everyone, a very good year for film. As previously noted here, The Interrupters, Drive and The Upsetter were among my top new picks, while my belated discoveries included Happy Go Lucky and Valhalla Rising.

So far, however, I’ve neglected to mention the one film that stands out among them all, the film that when asked if I’ve “Seen any good movies lately?” immediately springs to mind. The movie is Kelly Reichardt‘s slow, painfully beautiful Meek’s Cutoff, starring Michelle Williams, Bruce Greenwood, Paul Dano and some incredibly majestic scenery. I’ll be the first to say it wasn’t a popular favourite, and for understandable reasons: primarily the fact that plotwise, not a whole lot happens over the course of the film. It’s about a group of pioneer-era settlers headed westward who lose their way and are forced to make some difficult decisions. And without spoiling it too much, there’s not a whole lot more to it than that. At least on the surface.

If you care to look past the austere script, however (and you can start with the lovingly-captured western landscape that forms an important character in the film) you’ll find a story that runs as deep as the Grand Canyon. Williams and Greenwood deliver wonderful performances as a strong-willed settler and an egotistical guide with questionable credentials, respectively, and whoever designed the soundtrack of creaking wagon parts and crunching boots–a beautiful, minimalist symphony unto itself–deserves praise as well.

Reichardt and Williams last worked together on the heart-wrenching Wendy and Lucy, which was a thus-far high point in the careers of both. Meek’s Cutoff, while a different beast in many ways, suggests that their creative partnership is just getting started.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5rhNrz2hX_o&w=560&h=315]

December 22nd, 2011, by

Protestors react to Lowe's pulling their ads from TLC

After the utterly mind-numbing decision by Lowe’s stores to pull their advertising from the TLC program All-American Muslim, people have taken to the streets.

Protestors in Allen Park, MI and Brooklyn, NY gathered in Lowe’s store parking lots to voice their frustration and disagreement with the North Carolina-based company. Apparently, a show about a family that showcases their life, everyday challenges and faith is too controversial for Lowe’s.

Hmm. I wonder, if TLC had shows called All-American Jew or All-American Christian, would corporations have felt pressured to pull their ads? It’s that kind of warped thinking which led to the current firestorm that Lowe’s is currently facing.

Protestors across the nation have every right to be infuriated at the lack of respect and indecency Lowe’s displayed. And yet, in this case, the pressure to pull ads from the show says more about the level of intolerance from the groups protesting the show than Lowe’s themselves. It’s a shame Lowe’s couldn’t see that.

TLC has a long history of showcasing programs that aren’t seen on mainstream television. Audiences are given a rare look into what really goes on behind closed doors in the lives of those that some might otherwise not have a window into. Everyone from political leaders to those in the advertising industry have expressed how horrible of a mess their decision was.

Nowadays, corporations can get into hot water at the snap of a finger and find themselves reeling from the backlash for some time. So companies, take note: don’t allow the fringe elements to hijack your message or your image. The damage can be costly.

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