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Jeff Turner

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Photo Courtesy of tvline.com

Jeff Turner

This happened.

It was inevitable that advertisers would eventually leap at the opportunity to commercialize activism, with the presence that protesting has taken in the media. A big corporation like Pepsi can see this as a major opportunity for another iconic ad like others the company has had in the past (ala the Michael Jackson) ad. It’s clear that this needs to appeal to millennials, so which celebrity goes in? One of the Kardashians? Sure.

The finished product is cringe-inducing, like that kid who bursts in during a fight; saying “can’t we just get along?” and gets booed out of the room. It is inoffensive cauliflower in an era where that simply doesn’t work anymore, its antiquated.

The thesis, as far as can be ascertained, is about the evolution of American society. We are moving towards a country of heavy political strife and one with an industry that heavily emphasizes creative innovation. When it cuts to an artist early on, he is drinking a Pepsi; and as the commercial nears its crescendo, known activist Kendall Jenner hands a Pepsi to one of the police officers, and he likes it. He looks to one of his buddies and gives a sitcom shrug. The hipsters cheer. Roll credits.

What makes this so nails-on-a-chalkboard awful? A first point is how disconnected from reality this is. The ultimate point may have been to show that Pepsi will always be relevant and change with the times, but tying it into a major political issue like police violence is woefully misguided. It simplifies the issue down where the solution is clear and present. This commercial makes it seem like the ad firm who produced it doesn’t understand or respect the issues.

This is not to say ‘love will conquer all’ is not a common theme batted around in media, but it has been used so often now. Pepsi wants to say that it will always adapt to the times and goes to one of the oldest tricks in the book. It would be reasonable to make the argument that the commercial’s heart is ultimately in the right place, but so what? Saccharine for saccharine’s sake becomes irritating and obnoxious.

Kendall Jenner is in the commercial. The only purpose for her that can be assumed is that she’s here to effectively pander to millennials, because she contributes nothing else with regards to demographics or the ad itself. It’s interesting that the ad ties her to an activist group, when activists and protestors tend to be lower to middle income people who are mad about the income gap, one gap which Ms. Jenner is profiting from.

When punk rock died was when it started gaining popularity and the anger of the earlier years began to become unsustainable. With popularity came commercialization, and eventually a decline in quality. The same could possibly be applied to the spike in activism in the wake of the rise of our current President. Born out of anger and antithetical to popularity, it could very well be starting to die the same way.


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Photo Courtesy of hollywoodreporter.com

Jeff Turner

1. Taxi Driver
Travis Bickle is a great character, and it’s impossible not to relate to him. But in an animated kid’s movie he needs to sing, and he needs to not be so down–even if that’s what every day of life is like when its unwise to talk about who’s in the basement.

2. Mad Max: Fury Road
This thrilling piece of the Mad Max series was gruesome and brilliant–but it could of truly thrived as a family oriented animation.Max’s passion sets a great example for impressionable children.

3. Seven
This movie would have been so much better if it had a happy ending. What if Kevin Spacey, Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman all hugged and they forgave Spacey for killing all of those people? Spacey didn’t even do that much to hurt them. He’s a good boy. Kevin Spacey should have been forgiven in a family friendly animated remake of “Seven.” He’s a good boy.

4. Blue Velvet
My lord, David. Too violent. Does Dennis Hopper have to breathe from a gas mask and hurt that poor girl? Why can’t he help the children instead? And who is Jeffrey Beaumont supposed to be a role model for? He just kills Frank at the end and that’s how he solves all his problems. Imagine if everyone dealt with their issues that way.

5. Boogie Nights
This movie is about. SEX. UN. BE. LIEVABLE. Just when it seemed movies couldn’t be a more immoral, they go and make a movie about sex. Instead of making “Boogie Nights” about S-E-X, let’s make it a remake of “Explorers.” Fun for the whole family and no satanic behavior!

6. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer
Why make a movie about a serial killer and market it to children? Really, studios? He should be a serial juggler. He goes around, and he juggles balls and oranges for all the kids and everyone’s happy. Henry should learn a lesson at the end about how to be nice. Make a nice movie. These movies are unacceptable for role models like Hollywood producers.

7. Midnight Cowboy
This Oscar winner about a male prostitute was good, but it was just too inappropriate for kids! Why not make him a professional juggler? That’s much more fun. Mov-ies these days are way too inappropriate, not like the old days.

8. A Clockwork Orange
This Stanley Kubrick classic was too inappropriate for kids in its original form. What if instead of brutal sexual assault, Alex and his Droogs gave people hugs? That’s not all, instead of being addicted to sex, Alex can be addicted to puppies. Here’s a puppy. He’s really loveable, his name is Sheldon



Jeff Turner

Last week, the hotly anticipated conclusion to the Paul Blart: Mall Cop trilogy was released. Controversy ensued as directors were afraid to take on such a daunting project. Francis Ford Coppola’s effort behind the camera for the second film was nominated for 13 Oscars, taking home 7, including best supporting actor for Michael Caine as Blart’s estranged father, Adrian Lestrange Blart.

The first shot of the trailer is Blart standing by a grave. This is a reference to the cliffhanger ending of the last film, where Blart’s daughter, Elizabeth (Jennifer Lawrence) was murdered by his archrival, Demetrius Excalibur (a three-tier performance ala “I’m Still Here” with Leonardo Dicaprio, Michael Fassbender, and LL Cool J).

This new film appears to focus on Blart assembling his old team to seek vengeance. He is seen briefly speaking with his old friend from the previous film, Arthur Hendrix (a CGI Orson Welles). Hendrix was the enforcer on Blart’s squad, an old Vietman veteran who successfully cut the head of the great drag-on Antopholomolopous. A living legend in this universe played by a living legend.

“Getting Orson was tough” said Jack Charles, animator at Industrial Light and Magic. “We had to get the rights from his estate, and then we had to break into the cemetery where he was buried and dig up his bones.”

Also in the trailer, Blart’s cyborg-bear sidekick Harold (voice of Dwayne the Rock Johnson). Harold died in the previous film, but rose from the tomb near the end.

“It’s symbolism,” STET director Francis Ford Coppola said. “It’s, like, religious, and stuff. You know what I mean?”

Paul Blart: Mall Cop 3, in the tradition of the other two, will be handed off to a new director. That director is acclaimed auteur Rob Cohen.

“I want to bring a lot of youth to the ‘Blart’ movies. Before they were just dry and stuffy. Stuff for intellectuals, or, like, whatever,” Cohen said in a public statment. “Well I’m taking a stand. No more intellectuals at Paul Blart movies!”

Pedestrians applauded.

The movie’s plot appears to center around the Blart finally facing down his nemesis Johnny Loiter (Kid Rock) and seeing justice done for his family. There is a glimpse of a fist crashing into Johnny Loiter, but we see no more past that. Kevin James worked out a considerable amount for this, as he does whenever a new Blart movie makes the rounds.

“I’m used to the routine” James said. “I eat twelve eggs a day, drink a gallon of milk, and then snort raw protein. You didn’t think that was possible, but science found a way. It always does.”

“Paul Blart: Mall Cop 3” comes out July 25, opening opposite Avengers and Justice League. Critics eagerly wait to see the thrilling, an likely smash hit, conclusion to the Paul Blart series.

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Photo Courtesy of theodysseyonline.com

Jeff Turner

Standup at the Backline is a thoroughly enjoyable experience. People will get up and perform, regulars surely. Some will do well, and others will flounder. Yet still, the crowd claps, and they laugh along. This isn’t about becoming a great professional, or about mastery. It’s about fun, it emphasizes community and it offers relief for the stressors of daily life.

There are two rooms, one presumably for the various events and then the other, behind velvet cloth reminiscent of that creepy hotel in “Twin Peaks” was the stage. It’s all unpretentious, but charming nonetheless.

Performing there is beyond nerve-racking. There’s no assurance the material is any good. There could be an infinite amount of thought and care put into the material, the comic could think they’re the most hilarious individual on earth, and yet still, they can land with a thud. Despite all of this, the crowd will humor any comic who gets up and tries. It’s all about maintaining a good vibe.

The Backline is primarily known for improv. A wide variety of events are booked from across the state and even in Iowa. There’s Experimental 3somes, which follows an hour of 3-person improv teams. They are all relatively obscure and the goal is to get their names out. The next one is one April 27 and tickets are three dollars, as they are for most of the shows here.

There’s another event known as My Giant. Nick Rowley and Jon Herman take you on an adventure through the magical realm of My Giant “where you can meet anyone from a caustic mountain man struggling to understand his effeminate son to two pilots who struggle with memories of absentee fathers while making the inflight announcements.”

They are on every fourth Thursday at 9pm featuring a special new opening act every month.

Interrogated is a fast-paced and adult-friendly improv where we’ll ask you, the audience, to confess stories from a time where you got away with something. Maybe you stole a brownie from a roommate or spun cookies in a football field-either way we’ll take them as long as they are true. Then Backline’s finest improvisers create scenes based off those stories.

Interrogated plays every Friday night.

The Holograms is Des Moines’ first, and only, all female improv team. Their lady long-form is not only high energy, but sharp and full of satire, guaranteed to make you forget the state of the union, even if just for one evening. Sometimes family-friendly, sometimes dirtier than the cops in Training Day, the Holograms gals will keep you engaged from their first line to their last.

They go on stage every fourth Friday at 8pm.

The Backline is a rare oddity that many cities can afford. A corner of Omaha that offers vivacity, community, and unpredictability. The people are easy to talk to, they have to be one of the easiest group of people to network with. It’s hard not to want to go back again.

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Jeff Turner

It was a cold and dreary night at the Slowdown this past Tuesday. The Slowdown is easily one of the best venues in Omaha, with a huge pit so people can get up and close, and a balcony for people to enjoy a bird’s eye view of the band, and the reverb when the music is going is unreal.

Plenty of amenities are offered. There’s a pool table, a bar and Galaga (why anyone would pay twenty-seven dollars to go see a band only to go and play Galaga is mystifying but it’s sweet of them to offer). The place was packed to the brim, and it was a trial to maneuver through the crowd. A DJ opened playing remixes of various popular songs. He was good at it, got the energy going and built up the rest of the show.

The opener could have been the headliner. HDBeenDope is a rapper from Brooklyn, who despite having gotten an album produced, can’t seem to break five figures in YouTube views. This is ludicrous. This guy was fantastic at playing to the crowd, and his music was catchy. His sound was as though hip-hop were mixed with a form of thrash, it was an experience. With a fluid flow, and clever rhyming, this guy could be mentioned in the same sentence as some bigger acts like Danny Brown and Childish Gambino. His performance was a demonstration of some of the minds that never break through into the mainstream.

The primary act didn’t disappoint either. Portugal. The Man is an indie rock and psychedelic group who have been mentioned in the same group with acts such as The Black Keys and Cage the Elephant. They didn’t stick to tracks off of their current album, “Woodstock,” they jumped around their entire discography, usually with notifications signifying as much.

Their music videos often play like experimental films, with various images often appearing disconnected and seemingly meaningless. It is akin to a dream, and yet their sound is accessible and ‘pop’-y enough for the average listener to not get too frustrated. They will often play with harder rock, transitioning back to synth, and then into a more surreal sound.

In the hands of less apt musicians, Portugal. The Man’s constant sound transitions would sound unfocused and they would lose people, but members John Gourley, Kyle O’Quin and Zachary Carothers hold the listeners hand and guide them through.

Clear and concise stories guide the music. For example, “Woodstock,” the title track off their most recent album follows a person mourning the loss of their youth and how boring everything is for them now. People get bored with the same, but get to a point where they’re too old to do anything about it-the price of life. The speaker wants to know if this is truly “it,” if this will be all their life will amount to, another boring soul following the same patterns as all those before.

“Woodstock,” as well as all of Portugal. The Man’s discography can be bought online.

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Photo Courtesy of ew.com

Jeff Turner

The Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner, “I Don’t Feel at Home in this World Anymore,” the directorial debut of frequent Jeremy Saulnier collaborator (“Blue Ruin,” “Green Room”) Macon Blair, is a charming, dark and rapturously entertaining effort, often evoking Blair’s mentor Saulnier, as well as the Coen Brothers.

Ruth (Melanie Lynskey), a depressed nursing assistant, comes home from a bad day at work (including an interaction with Blair at a bar where he spoils a book she was reading, only to then immediately leave) to see that her house has been robbed. She gets nowhere with the police, and the following day goes to ask the neighbors some questions. There she meets Tony (Elijah Wood), who is obsessed with nunchaku, heavy metal and shuriken. They then indirectly get involved with a heist.

The specific Coen Brothers films Blair is evoking are “Raising Arizona” and “The Big Lebowski.” The usage of dark themes meshed with a lot of farcical humor is often evocative of what the Coens will refer to in films like those. Oftentimes, it seems to have “quirky indie comedy syndrome” (think “Garden State” or “Jeff Who Lives at Home”), but it never goes too far overboard. The film is funny, but it is a crime picture first.

The acting is capable, with Wood as the standout. His Tony often carries shades of many Nicolas Cage characters, offbeat and weird, but never once stepping over the line into becoming irritating. Wood is a strange actor, in that he often reinvents himself. Wood, or his role on “Wilfred” are indistinguishable from, say, Frodo Baggins. It’s just interesting that he started as a lead when he clearly seems to be more comfortable as a character actor.

Melanie Lynskey is affable and charming as Ruth, for those who may not know of her, she start-ed out alongside Kate Winslet in Peter Jackson’s “Heavenly Creatures,” and her most recent and well-known effort would be her role on the HBO show “Togetherness.” She has a likability and relatability to her though, one that might encourage people to look through her oeuvre.

Blair started out much like Saulnier, the two were childhood friends and both frequent consumers of movies and film. Blair is accustomed to playing roles in the background, as, before this he mainly acted in Saulnier’s three films and other small projects. The Coen comparison comes into play once again, and this can be said about “Blue Ruin” and “Green Room” as well. He has a screen presence that reminds one of frequent Coen collaborators Steve Buscemi and John Goodman. As a director, he is similarly content to hang in the background, stating in an interview that he, for the most part, let Lynskey and Wood get to work, as they had 20 years of experience.

“I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore” is slight but a constant delight and a bona fide independent marvel. While Blair is trying a lot of different things, the viewer never feels that the film is disconnected or doing too much. It operates on its personality, and that’s more than good enough.

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Jeff Turner

The Pizza Shoppe Collective, one of the shining stars of the Benson strip, will be closing its doors for good on March 11. Owner Amy Ryan will be leaving to work full time as executive director for the Benson Theatre, citing her primary passion as social work: “I was a counselor for women and children before [The Pizza Shoppe] was given to me.”

She cites AmeriCorps and Habitat for Humanity as organizations she’s worked with. With the Benson Theatre, she hopes to assist artists, non-profits and entrepreneurs in building their business plans.

Visiting the Pizza Shoppe Collective on a typical day, the vibe is calm and the service friendly. There is a bar in front and plenty of booths, all nicely designed. The restaurant is almost never quiet, with the bustle of conversation and the music in the background. It evokes those iconic first lines of the theme to “Cheers.”

Ryan has managed the Pizza Shoppe for 20 years, and it had been a learning process every step of the way.

“I feel that we’re at our best right now,” Ryan said.

Over the years the pizzeria had evolved through trial and error,and Ryan sees it as having aged like a fine wine.

After all these years, Ryan feels she is sending one of her kids off to college.

“When I started, my kids were just babies, and I used to hold them when I would go around waiting tables,” Ryan said.

Will there be a sendoff? Ryan said there really isn’t much focus on one. “We’re really just enjoying feeding people right now,” she said. There will, however, be an auction as the closing date approaches.

The Benson Theatre, Ryan’s new project, will show independent programming and serve as an alternative stage in north Omaha for existing nonprofits, schools and performing arts organizations. Their ultimate fundraising goal is 2.7 million; they have raised 1.5.

It will be quickly replaced, however; David and Brenda Losole will be opening Virtuoso Pizza. They have quite a resume, having seen a great deal of success in south Omaha. David Losole will be leaving his previous restaurant, Lo Sole Mio, for this new project.

This project is promising, Losole is the only certified Pizzaioli in Nebraska to graduate from Tony Gemignani’s International School of Pizza. This is important, as Gemignani’s is the first master instructor in the United States and has won so many awards that he has been inducted into the Guin-ness Book of World Records. Degrees from his school are granted straight from Italy. Gemignani knows pizza better than most; and Losole will do Benson well. Virtuoso Pizza will open in the same building the Pizza Shoppe was once in sometime in April.

Ryan might be leaving the Pizza Shoppe behind, but she is not leaving Benson behind. She hopes to build community and help foster its success even further.

The Pizza Shoppe is as definitively ‘Benson’ as The Waiting Room or any of the bars. It will not be easy to replicate, and the people handling the transition realize this. Other articles reporting on this have described The Pizza Shoppe as being “iconic,” which is wholly apt. This transition will be a next step in the layout of this odd, burgeoning community. March 11 is the official last day of The Pizza Shoppe.

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Photo Courtesy of solarmovie.com

Jeff Turner

“Santa Clarita Diet” is a great pitch. There are opportunities for clever jabs at suburbia and some atmospheric, memorable moments. Showrunner Victor Fresno must have been proud of the idea.

The show also has some game performances, Timothy Olyphant and Drew Barrymore don’t have the most stellar resumes, but they offer up animated, committed performances. A shame, then, that the writing betrays them. “Santa Clarita Diet” is a sitcom wanting to be something better, but the scripts just aren’t smart enough.

Sheila and Joel Hammond (Barrymore and Olyphant respectively) are realtors in California. One day, Sheila begins vomiting uncontrollably, pukes out her heart, and “dies.” She wakes up, but as it turns out, she can only eat meat, and as is eventually discovered, human flesh. This eventually leads to the Hammonds having to find ways to track down people and murder them so that Sheila can eat.

It’s a good dynamic, Joel wants to be supportive of his wife who he has been with for over half his life, someone who he sees as his soulmate; and Sheila undergoes a sort of spiritual awakening where she moves from being a little stiff to being more in tune with her id. A critique that could be offered is where does this spiritual awakening tie into her eating people? “Santa Clarita Diet” doesn’t often think about that. This is the problem, the characters felt underdeveloped, and the show isn’t terribly interested in exploring them beyond the initial established traits.

The pilot is a bit of a slog, until Sheila has her incident there really isn’t much to gain or absorb. Afterwards it improves, if only slightly. Nathan Fillion was an interesting choice to play Gary, the primary antagonist of the episode. It doesn’t really get interesting until the end. Episode 2 demonstrates something common in “Santa Clarita Diet,” which is that it gets better when it gets darker. What’s fun is how Barrymore or Olyphant can draw a laugh solely based on giving the right look or saying the right thing at the right time.

Now that the premise is set up, Episode 3 is around where “Santa Clarita Diet” starts to fall apart. Now that we know that Joel is an aimless wuss and that his wife likes to kill and eat people, the writers struggle with where to take them next. The development of the drug dealer is strong, and there are various strong moments sprinkled throughout, but the show is beginning to show its cracks.

Episode 4 follows Sheila’s erratic behavior as the couple’s daughter risks getting suspended. There is a good moment with Joel and his daughter where they wonder whether or not Sheila is truly gone for good. However, for the most part, the traits displayed in the episode are ones that were already established. There’s some good acting on display but the viewer is left not knowing much more than they did before.

“Santa Clarita Diet” is a show with a lot of potential that is marred by lackadaisical writing. It’s easy to bounce back from something like that, however. Worse shows have done it before.