There was a time when nothing was available “on-demand” unless you dragged your JNCO-ed ass to Blockbuster Video—and then you had to settle for what wasn’t already rented out. I’m talking about the ’90s, the glorious age of grunge, G-funk and godawful TV action series.

“New content” rolled out over rabbit-ears TV in the summer. Local stations were flooded with low-budget syndicated action series every weekend, and few of them pass the smell test in 2019. If we’re currently in the Platinum Age of TV, the ’90s were Tin Foil at best.

Here are nine ’90s action series worth a stream and a laugh—but good luck making it past the first episode of most. As with a six-pack of Zima, there’s no shame in tapping out after one.


V.I.P. (Season 1 on Sony Crackle)

In 1998, Pamela Anderson’s V.I.P. satirized the inherent misogyny and T&A exploitation of previous action series—while also amping and camping up the T&A, because Pamela Anderson. Valerie Irons Protection (V.I.P.) provides celebrity security and solid one-liners, and the pilot features future Breaking Bad award magnets Bryan Cranston and Dean Norris. Seriously.


Acapulco H.E.A.T. (Season 1-2 on Prime Video)

It’s downhill from here, though: Acapulco H.E.A.T. (Hemisphere Emergency Action Team) could be the dumbest series ever created—they made 48 fucking episodes! The H.E.A.T. fights international terrorism while undercover as fashion models at an Acapulco resort hotel owned by … Fabio. How do you carry a gun in a banana hammock? Please stop thinking so hard.


Renegade (Seasons 1-5 on Prime Video and Hulu)

Framed for a murder he didn’t commit (as usual), ex-Army Ranger Reno Raines (Lorenzo Lamas) and his lush mullet hit the road on a Harley. He then skids into a gig as a bounty hunter in the “badlands” (as pronounced in the dad-rockin’ theme song) and five seasons of this shit. At least Renegade inspired Mac’s sweet leather duster on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.


La Femme Nikita (Seasons 1-5 on YouTube)

Critically-acclaimed and Canadian-awarded 1997-2001 TV adaptation La Femme Nikita is a mostly action-free “action” series about assassins who operate out of an IKEA-furnished shadow government HQ. Nikita (Peta Wilson) stares through blonde bangs and emotes icily about “moral conflict,” and LFN eventually earns its hype through slow-slow-slow-burn arcs.


Queen of Swords (Season 1 on YouTube)

The number nerds believe the first “0” year of a new decade actually belongs to the previous one—therefore Queen of Swords, which debuted in 2000, is part of the ’90s. If you think that’s a stretch, how about a copyright-baiting female Zorro? Star Tessie Santiago made it work. QoS balanced fizzy fun and swashbuckling sexiness, but missed the ’90s action boat. Triste.


The Crow: Stairway to Heaven (Season 1 on YouTube)

The Crow (1994) was a “meh” film that worked better as an alt-grunge soundtrack vehicle. In 1998, Canada created a Crow TV series with a lesser music budget—that’s like poutine without the gravy, losers. Star Marc Dascos did what he could with dead rocker/avenging angel Eric Draven, but The Crow was already played out (as proven in three inexplicable movie sequels).


Relic Hunter (Seasons 1-3 on Roku Channel)

Like a Raiders of the Lost Ark without the Spielberg cash, or a Tomb Raider without Angelina Jolie’s balloon lips, 1999’s Relic Hunter rides the international artifact-wrangler trope with minimal brain strain. Tia Carrere plays a prim university professor who’s ready to strip down to a tank top and cargo pants and track trinkets at a moment’s notice. RH is almost … educational?


Highlander: The Series (Seasons 1-6 on Prime Video, Hulu and Tubi)

After two Highlander movies, Adrian Paul took on the role of immortal ponytail enthusiast Duncan MacLeod (“of the Clan MacLeod!”) in a TV series that lasted six seasons, 119 episodes and countless mom-jeans jokes. Highlander: The Series bests the film franchise, thanks to deeper storylines and the absence of Christopher Lambert—there can be (wait for it) only one.


Sheena (Seasons 1-2 on Sony Crackle)

Former Baywatch star Gena Lee Nolin was looking for smarter roles in the late ’90s—she wound up starring in Sheena, instead. Sheena (Nolin) was orphaned in the jungle as a child, but now protects the African wilderness with salon-perfect hair and a hand towel passing as a battle dress. Oh, and she can turn invisible, or into an animal. Spoiler: everyone is white.

 

A massive crowd enjoying Death Cab for Cutie

This might have been the only time this has ever happened. In baseball you’d call it pitching a perfect game. Last weekend was the concert equivalent of a perfect game. The perfect concert happened at the Kilby Court 20th Anniversary Block Party. How do I qualify this? Well, let me tell you:

Kilby Court is the soul of the local music scene. It invites the savviest of concert goers, especially those in the scene trying to catch the next big thing before they explode. It attracts concert goers who don’t need environmental bells and whistles to go with their music. It attracts the next generation of concert goers with its always all-ages policy. These people and minimalist-intuitive wonders made up the crowd on Saturday, May 11.

Generally, as you approach the mosh pit portion of a clumped audience, it smells extremely…gamey. Not on this day, though—for the time in the history of any concert I’ve ever been to, the audience smelled fantastic. This is a considerable feat, as the party featured three separate stages. There was one at the traditional Kilby Court concert area, a main stage at 700 S. and Kilby Ct. and the Spyhop stage on the far side of the event area. Until you’ve spent considerable time in a crowd having a sweaty shoulder smushed into your face, this appreciation might seem silly. But having a crowd smelling at the high end of pleasant can really relieve some general scent burdens.

It was so nice to see the (and I quote from my notes) ‘Kick your door down with fucking rock!’ bravado of these bands.”

The National Parks performing at the Kilby Court 20th Anniversary Block Party
Photo: John Barkiple

Running between these stages made me the odd one out on the positive hygiene scale, so I kept my distance and danced between shady spots. Even in line, the crowd impressed me. This is a sharp contrast to traditional concerts, where the audience can be a bit of a gamble. A show where everyone behaves is considered a success, but at the Kilby Court 20th Anniversary Block Party, the audience was impressive. That never happens. The perfect concert goes on.

Ritt Momney was the first band the take the main stage. My notes describe them as “pop-sexy,” despite the golf dad attire of the front man and lead guitarist. “He has a nice voice,” commented the gentleman to my left during the audience favorite “Young Adult.” Ritt Momney harmonizes well too, I noted. The people I’m sitting by at this point are other writers and media people. We all share a nice moment relaxing in chairs under a tree before the guitars fire off on the other two stages and we never get to sit down again.

This first rush lands me at the Spyhop stage where Blue Ribbon Boots are playing. All the bands are playing really well on this Saturday. I won’t mention it going forward, so consider it a general assumption amongst the stages. Like all good Kilby Court attendees, I’m looking for the diamond that’s still a bit of a rock. This quality could be found on the Spyhop stage. A band like the Sardines almost remind me of a young Modest Mouse. I once saw a young Modest Mouse and, at the Kilby Court party, thought to myself, “by-gawd these guys remind me of that.” My notes for Blue Ribbon Boots read, “Charismatic Gravy/Good Crowd skills.” This means they’re smooth. I loved how brave the bands on the Spyhop stage were that day. Coming from the grunge-era, I grew up with singers hiding behind their microphones and having self-deprecating attitudes about stage presence. It was so nice to see the (and I quote from my notes) “Kick your door down with fucking rock!” bravado of these bands. Stay brave young artists! The crowd at the Kilby Court 20th Anniversary Block Party, as well as those of us at SLUG Magazine, will always get your back. 

“The crowd at the Kilby Court party got to see bands uniquely placed for this event only.”

Traveling between the three stages reminds me of all the times I’ve rushed to Kilby Court to catch a band or song. This event, though giant, still feels like a Kilby Court show. The venue hasn’t lost itself in the celebration. This anniversary was doing everything an anniversary should: remind you why it stays around. Joshua James and The National Parks both have ties to Utah, as they did a bit of their early rising in these parts. My notes for Joshua James read “Awkward Badass.” Listening to an album never really conveys the rapport between performers and their audience. You only see these qualities live. After each of the first six songs Joshua James said “Thanks, here’s another one.” I can appreciate the brevity of a small time slot and squeezing in songs, but this was so brief it was comical. We all just stood in awkward silence and listened to the shuffling noises coming from the stage. All of a sudden, BOOM, Joshua James drops into a subtle riff that grows into epic bad-assery. Hence, “Awkward Badass.”

Death Cab for Cutie beginning their headlining set.
Photo: John Barkiple

Years ago, I reviewed The National Parks Until I Live album and wrote, “This is a wonderful local band who won’t be ‘local’ for too long.” Basic and undeveloped sentiment aside, this felt like a band fit for the Utah mountains I’ve spent my life in. Seeing The National Parks play with snowy mountains in the background was a breathtaking visual. These types of stages are not generally in these locations. The crowd at the Kilby Court party got to see bands uniquely placed for this event only.

Death Cab for Cutie was the big draw for the day and they, as the legend goes, played at Kilby Court while getting their start. This, in fact, happened back in 2001. I was curious to see the indie megalodon address this on stage. Ben Gibbard feels like such a giant presence and he, like all of us now, once wandered this hallowed court. The thing with DCFC is that, aside from a 12 minute version of “I Will Possess your Heart,” they played everything pretty close the radio cut. Many concert goers want this, but the Kilby Court audience is typically the type that likes the 32–minute version of The Smiths’ “How Soon is Now.” I wanted to see DCFC be human, not practiced. I wanted a flash of that 2001 band. I got my wish 2/3rd’s through the set when Gibbard started speaking to the audience. To my own education, I learned that Kilby Court wasn’t always the nice little area it is now. Gibbard spoke about the importance of giving bands that initial opportunity to share their music. All throughout the festival, posters, stickers, signs and stands represented bands that had passed through the court. Many have gone on to be career musicians. Gibbard personally thanked Kilby Court for existing. He then treated the Kilby Court 20th Anniversary Block Party to DCFC’s current single, “Northern Lights,” and the sun sank accordingly. A few songs later, we all shuffled out thinking the same thing: “In five years, we’re doing this again right?”

It’s important to challenge perfection. Thanks Kilby Court for an excellent time.

Happy 20th Anniversary from SLUG Magazine!


More on SLUGMag.com:

Kilby Court’s 20th Anniversary Party with Death Cab for Cutie
Twilight Concert Series: Death Cab for Cutie with tUnE-yArDs

Photo courtesy of Sonali Loomba.

Gratitude filled the house again and again, continuously through the night. Kaladharaa Dance School was generously performing for free at Regent’s Black Box Theatre. Though I arrived late during the invocation dance, I knew the aarambh had been performed. According to the handout, which I was very thankful for, aarambh means start or beginning. The artistic directors at Kaladharaa, Nidhika and Sonali Loomba, had, with their mentors’ blessing, constructed the show as such to mark a moment in their journey into learning Kathak more deeply. As artist and composer Debanjan Bhattacharjee brings drums out and begins testing their sound, I gloss over the rest of the pamphlet. It is made for outsiders—people like me—who know nothing of Kathak. This is where the generosity begins.

Kathak is one of the ten original forms of Indian classical dance. It’s a form of storytelling where dancers, along with music, create narratives out of vivid eye and facial expressions combined with restrained, graceful upper-body movement. “Could I get a little more volume?” Bhattacharjee asks the house. Sonali eventually comes out on stage and begins dancing, jolting the slow energy of the sound check into all its potential energy. Sonali’s dress conceals just how animated the lower half of her body is, though you can hear it: Each step has a timber to it. He sings and stops playing for a moment to emphasize his words, which I can’t understand. They are performing “Jugalbandhi,” a piece of rhythmic dialogue between the percussionist and the dancer. Sonali waits for Bhattacharjee to stop drumming, then responds with fast and furious dance. They look at each other affirmingly. It’s a call and response. He sings, or speaks, so quickly, nearly as fast as he drums, and she returns the same, all the while keeping her upper body cool and composed.

“[Sonali Loomba] makes eye contact with the audience in a way that feels very deliberate and knowing.”

Photo courtesy of Sonali Loomba.
Photo courtesy of Sonali Loomba.

At this point, Elizabeth Unni comes onstage. She introduces us to the performers we’ve seen and will see. On tabla are Bhattacharjee and Tarun Gudipaty, both of whom drum like wild. Tabla are usually pairs of differently sized drums. To my eye, the drumming mixes extremely fast movement of both the palms and fingers, particularly the middle fingers. These instruments, with a history of folklore, are a perfect fit for Kathak. Playing sitar is Varanasi Abhishek Mukherjee. This is a more familiar instrument, though I couldn’t recall having seen one in person before, and I was surprised at its size and the delicacy with which it must be tuned.

Dancing were Sonali and Nidhika Loomba. These two sisters, have both earned acclaim for themselves and their school internationally. In both D.C. and Utah they perform Kathak. Were they performing in the time of Kathak’s popularity, we would call them Kathakars, nomadic bards from northern India.    

The next composition is called “Teen Taal.” It runs through sixteen beats of rhythmic harmony through dance, and Sonali demonstrates a very pure Kathak style. She pounds her feet, shaking the bells attached to her ankles, which makes her an instrument as much as she is a dancer. The upper half of her body stays lithe and in communion with the music. She makes eye contact with the audience in a way that feels very deliberate and knowing. The small theatre lets you feel her feet vibrate the ground with each movement. Her outfit is an orange sheer overlaying a white dress. Each section of the dance flows into the next naturally, and the rhythm feels different each time, progressing in tempo, slow to fast, eventually climaxing.

“Perhaps it’s partly because Kathak feels foreign to me to begin with, but between her expressions and the way smoke is billowing out behind her, the whole thing feels ethereal.”

My favorite performance was “Thumri,” which was the most narrative piece shown that night, or at least the one I was able to follow most coherently. Nidhika laid out the story beats of the song before performing it, showing the facial expressions and arm movements we should expect to recognize to make sense of the story: Radha, who is in love with Krishna, is enjoying his company. Suddenly she sees birds flocking home and realizes the sun is setting, and that she must soon leave. How will she convince Krishna? Even without having these beats explained to me, I was able to follow the emotional movements because of how expressive Nidhika can be. In mere moments her gaze will shift, her smile will flicker, and you feel it. So much of the dance is in her face. Perhaps it’s partly because Kathak feels foreign to me to begin with, but between her expressions and the way smoke is billowing out behind her, the whole thing feels ethereal, tapping into the gracious energy that was set at the beginning of the night.

For the last piece, Sonali and Nadhika dance together, the first time in 13 years they’ve shared a stage alone. It’s entrancing. They stay so in sync, and so purposeful in their gaze and arm movements. It’s a treat.

“There is a rich history of classical Indian dance that deserves attention in Utah.”

The evening ends in much the way it began—with gratitude. Each performer is given a shawl and a note of thanks. There is big emphasis on making sure each person is thanked and appreciated, particularly those who made the night possible, as well as the audience for their interest. Though the event was clearly designed to welcome newcomers to the form of Kathak, many friends and family attended as well. The message was clear: Kaladharaa Dance School wants more people to know they exist, let them know what Kathak is and that there is a rich history of classical Indian dance that deserves attention in Utah. If you’re interested in Kathak recreationally, they encourage you to look into it. For what it’s worth, I left feeling lucky, like I’d seen the beginning of a group’s long-deserved recognition.

To learn more about Kathak and the Kaladharaa Dance School specifically, visit their website. I recommend searching for some Kathak videos on Youtube, but start by seeking out Nidhika and Sonali specifically for a sense of just how graceful this art can be.


More on SLUGMag.com:

Review: Oren Ambarchi & Jim O’Rourke – Hence with Special Guest U-zhaan
Utah Arts Festival 2015

Photo courtesy of William Athey.

There’s no better time than Bike month to renew our inventory of Salt Lake City’s legendary people—so let’s highlight William Athey, writer, record-store warrior, public servant and devoted bicycle philanthropist. Athey was once taking on SLUG assignments as the Music Editor through the ’90s alongside [then] photographer Angela H. Brown (now Executive Editor of SLUG Magazine, Executive Director Craft Lake City and a whole bunch of other cool things). As most SLUGsters do, Athey spent his younger years not just writing about music but living it by working at famed SLC record stores like Randy’s Records and the late, great Cosmic Aeroplane.

Throughout the decades of nurturing his passions, Athey has ultimately settled into his 15-year career working within the Salt Lake City Library system and, on the side, just about everything to do with bicycles that this valley has to offer. As is the path that most people go down to develop a bike obsession, Athey says, “Well, my car blew up, so I went and bought [something that isn’t a black-hole money pit] a bike.” That was over 20 years ago. Now the owner of a car once again, Athey is currently using his motorized means of transportation to get all of his newer bike purchases from their point of origin to the repair shop and into the hands of new owners.

From Biker to Bike Nerd

As addictions go, one bike turned into two bikes, then turned into five bikes and then turned into a small backyard business. What ended up happening to Athey was that he would discover and take home the city’s abandoned bicycles from places like estate sales or off the streets. This collection of machinery began a dialogue and eventual alliance with another backyard bicycle entrepreneur, bikeguyslc.com, whose sole role was/is to get these bikes back in working condition and back in the hands of loving owners. To those unaware, The Bike Guy is certified to the teeth in more bicycle repair/maintenance qualifications than one can name. He runs all of his endeavors out of a mobile location and his backyard for an affordable price—a match made in bike heaven.

Once these bikes are revived, they are given back to Athey on consignment, where he sells them on sites like Craigslist and the two split the profit. The thing is that once someone sells products out of love, they need to make it marketable. For Athey, this became an art project built out of finding the colors and ambiance that create a proper advertisement for bicycles. “It’s just what I come across,” says Athey. In some cases, the background calls out to the bike that I’m riding—I’ll stop and shoot a photo in that moment. Here’s the deal if I’m going to sell a bike: It seems to me that if I get the right photo, the bike sells faster.” He’s not wrong.

Athey the Artist

What comes from the “wanted” ads Athey puts out to obtain bikes to work on, are images that encapsulates their beauty in urban nature. This Craigslist venture became the anchor in which Athey began showcasing his art of this sub-culture. Already having a working relationship with the Salt Lake City Library, it wasn’t hard for him to get an exhibit of his bike photos featured during Bike Month at the Downtown Library last year.

As the exhibit last year was Athey’s debut as an artist displaying his work for the world to see; his most recent exhibition is back just in time for Bike Month. This time however, his works are being featured at the Millcreek Community Library through the end of the month. It also just so happens that the Millcreek Community Library is Athey’s current stomping ground as an employee in the library system. He’s also stated that he’s not actively searching to have his work shown on display in any other galleries throughout the city, but he’s all for it!

Having Fun Isn’t Hard…

As he continues to grow his portfolio and sell his bikes, Athey is also in the process of getting his name out in the world of social media. With pages like Instagram and Facebook, his hopes are to be able to sell more bikes as well as getting his art on platforms with more reach than Craigslist or word-of-mouth, which is currently how he’s been conducting business. What’s more, Athey can be found all over the city taking photos or at work in the library.

One of the easiest ways to get a hold of him is just as simple as taking a trip to the Millcreek Community Library and bugging your local librarian! Until then, check him out at the exhibit. You just might be so on love that you ride away at the end of the month with your own new set of wheels! You can also find his images on his Flickr site.


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The Third Annual SLUG Cat Presented by New Belgium Brewing
Bike Guy

Photo: Eliot Lee Hazel

As Salt Lake celebrates Kilby Court’s 20th year, it is easy to reflect on how Kilby fosters a myriad of first-time moments. Some examples are the first time you and your middle school best friends get to go a concert without a parent chaperone, the first time you are inspired by the lights that spotlight the singer-songwriter performing on the stage—a catalyst to the first time you have an impulse to run home and write your first song. In some cases, it is the place you have your first date, your first breakup and, in my case, your first professional internship. These are the fleeting and magical moments that build character into a community and encourages it to have a voice. Salt Lake City is lucky to have an all-ages venue like Kilby that can offer the youth of our community opportunities to find, implement and refine their own voice.

Co-Owner Will Sartain echoes this sentiment, saying, “We love providing a space for people to perform. It is really important, and I think it affects a lot of young people as they try to find themselves. Hopefully, we are providing a place for people to grow.” Co-Owner Lance Saunders’ first-time experience at Kilby is similar to most visitors’: “My first show at Kilby was SUBTLE in February of 2005. I was enamored with their music and after the show we all hung out in the courtyard and started a conversation that would turn into a lifelong friendship with the band. That’s where the band/concert-attendee line blurred for me. It was special to realize we were all there for the same reason … our shared love for the art, music [and] culture … The venue facilitates all of that,” Saunders says.

Soon after Saunders and Sartain obtained Kilby Court as their own in 2008, this became the environment both Saunders and Sartain aim to maintain at the venue to this day. As far as the changes the venue has gone through in the last 20 years, Sartain feels that Kilby has remained consistent. One thing that particularly stays the same is the staff that Sartain and Saunders hire. Sartain says, “Our staff has been great. It’s really the staff that sets the tone. We try to have positive people who care about music, working and providing positivity as people enjoy music.”

Kilby is known to be a rite of passage for many musicians. It is a comfortable and approachable platform for local musicians and touring musicians even just passing through. Saunders says, “I love it when I hear people say, ‘I saw them at Kilby’ or when bands grow to play larger stages, for instance: SLC/Ogden Twilight, Red Butte, etc., and yell out to the crowd, ‘Our first time in SLC, we played Kilby Court!’ and everyone screams and claps. So cool.” One of these bands being the highly acclaimed and treasured Death Cab for Cutie, who is coming back to perform at the 20th Anniversary Block Party on May 11.

Like Kilby, Death Cab for Cutie pull one into a pool of catharsis with sentiment-inducing albums like Transatlanticism, Plans, The Photo Album and more. Nick Harmer, guitarist for Death Cab for Cutie, reflects on their first show at Kilby in 2001, saying, “When we started touring, it was a little bit like magic. It was a little before the internet was really as ubiquitous as it is. It was mysterious and magical to put a record out and go into a city that we have never known before.” Giving touring bands an intimate look into the aspects of Salt Lake’s artistic community is a trait and value Kilby holds tight. It has proven to keep enriching our town with great bands that love to come back. “Finding Kilby Court was really exciting. When we first came into SLC, we had heard that SLC is a really conservative and locked-down town … [that] there was not a lot of interesting things artistically or creatively. Then we found Kilby Court as this oasis where all the oddballs could show up and be who they wanted to be, and all of a sudden, it felt like we weren’t that far from home. Always driving down that alley, it never felt strange or out of place,” Harmer says.

There are many characteristics about Salt Lake’s longest-running all-ages venue, Kilby Court, that make visitors and performers erupt with a range of emotions. The red-picket fence surrounding it is a reminder of being star-struck and brimming with electricity while standing in the ticket line for a long-awaited show. The fire pit in the courtyard has served as a focal point where strangers, friends, fans and musicians can gather and connect in between sets. Adorned by a collection of local art, the green room at Kilby is oftentimes the first green room local starting musicians ever step foot in. And, most importantly, the stage—the stage at Kilby Court has been witness to the performances of successful national and local bands like STRFKR, My Morning Jacket, Pinback and returning band, Death Cab for Cutie.

In addition to Death Cab for Cutie, the block party’s lineup includes a long list of local musicians who have helped set the scene from the last 20 years to today. This lineup includes active and reunited bands (performing across three different stages, one curated by Spyhop): The National Parks, Joshua James, Ritt Momney, Picture This, Palace of Buddies, Breakfast In Silence, The Backseat Lovers and Drew Danbury. When not watching the performers, attendees can visit food trucks and enjoy craft beer in bar areas for those who are ages 21 and up. If you want to celebrate early, visit Urban Lounge on May 10 for the Kick-Off Party with Joshua James beginning at 8 p.m. Come see bands and feel the warmth 20 years of community cultivates for yourself on Saturday, May 11, at 3 p.m. See you there.

Photo: Jared Hess

How well do you remember the year 2004? President Ronald Regan died, the last Oldsmobile rolled off of the assembly line, and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King dominated the Academy Awards. For some, the year embodied a series of tragedies, but, for others, their lives were just beginning. Director Jared Hess was awaiting the premiere of his first feature-length film at the Sundance Film Festival. “I was dry heaving like crazy. We had not screened a completed film for anyone. We did not have any idea how people were going to react to it,” Hess says. “I thought it was funny, but did not know if other people would get the humor.” The Sundance cut of the film did not have the opening credit sequence, so “it went from a black screen to Napoleon waiting for the school bus in front of his house with his Trapper Keeper and action figure, and from the first frame, people started laughing, and I had a sigh of relief. You can tell instantly when a comedy is not working, and they laughed from the beginning of the film all the way to the very end. They laughed in all the right places and places I never would have anticipated.” Hess may have had a whiff of success, but there was no way of telling the monumental acclaim that awaited around the corner with Napoleon Dynamite. “The biggest moment was when Napoleon was walking down the street in slow motion in his brown thrift store suit and holding his corsage. The crowd started to cheer, and I was like, ‘Wow, I think we are going to be OK.’”

Napoleon Dynamite has certainly not disappeared and remains a cult classic for many film aficionados. This year marks the film’s 15th anniversary, and to celebrate, the Utah Film Center is hosting a special screening on May 3 at East High School in Salt Lake City with the cast and crew for a special Q&A after the film. There will also be memorabilia from the film showcased onsite. One can only hope for a peek at those moon boots in person. Tickets can be purchased at UtahFilmCenter.org, and all proceeds will benefit the Utah Film Center.

Before his filmmaking career launched, Hess grew up in a rustic section of Idaho, which influenced his admired creation. “I come from a family of six boys. I’m the oldest, and the Napoleon character is this weird hybrid of me and my younger brothers and all of our most idiotic, shameful moments,” Hess says. “So much of the character is drawn from moments in real life. After my mom saw the film, she was like, ‘Well, that was a lot of embarrassing family material.’ The inspiration truly did come from growing up in rural Preston, Idaho, and being a nerd and an outsider.”

As Hess progressed with his passion in filmmaking, many outside influences found their way into his first film’s components. “I am such a Coen Brothers fan. I love Raising Arizona. I think even more of an influence was Errol Morris’ documentary The Gates of Heaven about pet cemeteries. That just blew my mind—the characters, the pace, and the awkward pregnant moments that ended up being so funny and authentic. For me, I really wanted to translate what I saw in that, and put it in a feature film.”

As with all independent film endeavors, nothing ever goes as planned, but an exorbitant amount of cherished memories are created. “One of the more stressful scenes to film was the climatic scene when Napoleon is dancing in front of everyone. It was the climax of the film, and we only had one roll of film left, and that amounts to about 10 minutes [of filming]. With the length of the song, we had about three takes maximum.  I was really worried that we hadn’t quite nailed it, but, in the editing room, we took the best pieces from all of it and made it work,” Hess says. While the last day of filming may have been strenuous on sticking the landing, the take of the entire project was no easy task either. “The first day of shooting was probably the most stressful because two things happened that almost derailed the whole shoot.” After Jon Heder was told to recreate a “tight” perm he once obtained for the 2003 short film “Peluca,” he arrived on location the night before filming began, and Hess says, “The perm was terrible. It was really loose with big curls. He kind of looked like Shirley Temple.” The crew was freaking out because “the hair was such an important character in the film, and we were like, ‘we have to get it right,’ but you can’t give two perms to somebody or the hair will fry and fall out. So, my wife and her cousin spent all night with the hairdresser doing a water perm, and then, Jon Heder, could not wash his hair for the next 23 days of shooting. He had the grossest hair for the whole shoot.” If you thought that was the only mishap on the first day, you would be sorely mistaken. “Also, the morning of the first day of shooting, the camera truck broke down. We had scheduled to shoot at the D.I. in Preston the day, and it arrived three hours late. So, between the hair and the camera truck, the first day of shooting was the toughest.”

Thanks to a dedicated cast and crew, the project was completed and became a smashing victory far beyond its premiere in Park City, Utah. Audiences across the world have welcomed Napoleon Dynamite into their homes with admiration for its quirky universe and odd elements. “We totally have the moon boots. Those were Jerusha’s [Hess’ uncle’s] moon boots that she borrowed. She was the costume designer. We’ve got them, and they are really disgusting and still taped up. I would probably take the Huffy sledgehammer or the time machine. I think our production designer has the latter.” Furthermore, its incredible that individuals still approach Hess with lines of dialogue that include “’Your mom goes to college’, or ‘Do the chickens have large talons,’” but this was not unusual to Hess. Hess says, “I remember having a rough day, and I was second-guessing stuff as any director does in the course of shooting. My script supervisor, Bryan Lefler, came over to me and said, ‘All the kids that are extras are quoting Napoleon’s lines between takes,’ and I thought maybe we are making something that will not just disappear after it is made.”

As we move forward into the future and celebrate this whacky tale, the idea of a follow-up is still being discussed. “We have been approached by a studio over the years about doing a sequel. It seems like it would be so fun to go back and revisit the world and characters, especially since so much time has passed. We could figure out where they are and what they are doing in life. I think it would be so fun,” Hess says with utter enthusiasm. Here’s hoping to more quesadillas (no matter how you pronounce it) and adventures with Uncle Rico.

Photo courtesy of Crowdsourced Comedy.

Crowdsourced Comedy is a unique, audience-generated experience from some of Utah’s most seasoned and talented improvisational comedians. No two shows will ever, or can ever, be the same. This isn’t your mother’s improv either—with this troupe no topic is taboo. Crowdsourced Comedy puts on regular showcases, charity events, improv classes and can even been seen at corporate events or birthday parties. This is wit and humor as fast as you can yell a suggestion. The audience is always part of the show. The four troupe members of Crowdsourced Comedy are Andrew Sproge, Jessica Sproge, Craig Sorensen and Trevor Kelley.

The troupe got their start nearly a decade ago when a group of improv comics and friends got together in Utah County and decided to do a show. “We used to do improv together in Provo,” says Sorensen. “We kind of trained together. We went across the country [and] did a lot of workshops together. We did shows and eventually we got to the point where we were wanted to do this on our own and our way … When you do shows in Utah County it’s very family oriented. So we’re like—’Let’s go to Salt Lake and say the ‘F’ word!’”

They branched out into “Improv for Adults” as Andrew Sproge calls it. With the move from Utah County to Salt Lake City three years ago, the group found more opportunities to do shows in alternative venues—like bars and comedy clubs—places where they can attract the kind of audience members they love. “We want to talk about the issues and things going on in our world today from an adult’s perspective,” Andrew Sproge says. What sets Crowdsourced Comedy apart from traditional improv shows is that they aren’t just getting a one word suggestion from the audience. They really try to get to know the audience, their pasts, their passions and their stories. This is what they will base their scenes on and why they are “Crowdsourced”. “The best improv scenes are when the audience is involved—heavily involved—that was the genesis of Crowdsourced.” Sorensen says, “We want to pull them up, we want to get their stories, we want them to feel like they are [a] part of the show. Maybe they aren’t the star performers, but without them it would just be us trying to do some other type of comedy.”

In addition to regular shows, the Crowdsourced Troupe teaches Improv 101 and 201 classes at Sugar Space Studios in Salt Lake City. “As people progress we add them to our performers group to join us on stage,” Andrew Sproge says. The next 101 class starts May 14th  for the cost of $125. “People can pay as they go,” says Andrew. “We try to make it affordable because most people who are trying to get into acting or comedy are broke like we are.” The class runs for five weeks, and includes a student graduation show. The 201 class is on Tuesday nights once a comic gets down the basics. Anyone is welcome to come try out the 101 class. Andrew states that they have everyone from comics, to salesmen, to realtors and even psychologists. “The class can be for performers as well as people who just want to get outside of their comfort zone,” he says.

The main Crowdsourced Comedy Troupe consists of anywhere between 15 and 20 main players. The current roster includes a great list of regularly performing comedians, including Jasmine Lewis, Brian Higgins, Jeff Sproge, Hollie Jay, Maddie Bell, Amerah Ames, Adam Conrad, Arash Tadjiki, Dallas Briggs, Wallace Fetzer and Ivan Bigney. The troupe acts like one big family. As Andrew puts it, “The best improv shows are the ones where it is so clear that everybody is friends and they’re really having a great time and it’s so comfortable.”

Crowdsourced Comedy takes pride in having a diverse cast of players. “I have always felt that we really pride diversity,” says Jessica Sproge. “Improv is very white, straight and male-based. I feel like we want diverse people … We love people with different backgrounds—the same background is so boring,” she says. They make a concentrated effort to make sure that all groups of people are represented through the Troupe. Andrew Sproge adds that anybody can be an improviser. “We want people from all walks of life, because that makes the improv all-walks-of-life-improv.”

On May 7 they will be putting on a benefit show for Planned Parenthood benefit show featuring an all-women cast. “With the PP show we are only doing a woman cast because we want to highlight the women in the comedy world,” says Jessica Sproge. This show will be at 7:30 P.M. at Wiseguys Downtown Salt Lake. It’s a $5 donation with proceeds going to Planned Parenthood of Utah, who will also be in attendance with some cool swag.

You can see the next Crowdsource Improv showcase Tuesday, April 23rd, at 7:30 P.M. at Wiseguys at The Gateway, where they will be getting tons of suggestions and stories from the audience. The cost is just $5 at the door. “It will be tons of fun, and we desperately need people there to give us these suggestions because you guys are going to fuel every single scene that we do,” says Andrew Sproge.

To see more showtimes, classes, and information you can check out their website at crowdsourcedlive.com. You can also find them on Twitter (@csourcedcomedy), Instagram (@crowdsourcedcomedy), Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Shazam | David F. Sandberg | Warner Bros.

Shazam!
Director: David F. Sandberg

Warner Bros.
In Theaters: 04.05

We have reached a point in this world we live in where it feels as though the studios have used the majority of the A-list superheroes, so now it’s time to reach further into the grab bag of heroes and heroines to see whether or not they can profit from characters that are slightly deeper cuts. In the case Shazam, 14-year-old Billy Batson (Asher Angel)  is given the powers of the titular wizard and transforms into an adult, super-powered version of himself (Zachary Levi). It feels like almost any character can be given the silver screen treatment with the right cast and crew at the helm.

As a foster child hellbent on finding his birth mother, Billy refuses to adhere to the rules and regulations of the government child-care program. However, when he is randomly given magical powers that include multiple abilities, the only people he can trust are his other foster brothers and sisters, especially Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer). While becoming an internet sensation with YouTube videos showcasing his superpowers and charging for selfies with strangers on the street, Philadelphia’s latest spectacle attracts the attention of Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong), who has spent his entire life craving the powers of Shazam. This obsession has driven the doctor to absolute insanity and he, along with assistance of the demons of the seven deadly sins, will stop at nothing to garner all of the magic available in this universe.

In the same mindset as Ant-Man and Black Panther, director David F. Sandberg has taken a relatively unknown character and made him engaging, enjoyable and enlightening with Shazam. While some scenes contain scenarios which might be a tad too much for a younger audience, the film’s message and delivery is a win for the entire family. The look and tone of the film is on par with classics such as Big and The Goonies, and be sure to keep a look out for multiple Easter eggs that reference other D.C. superheroes and nods to other cinematic influences. The warm-hearted nature of the film’s core comes from Billy’s positive embrace of his abilities, which is something many characters do not establish. This production is a great addition to the DCU, because it steps away from the dreary and drab environment they continuously push toward audiences and actually lighten up a bit. It’s a welcome feeling. –Jimmy Martin


More on SLUGMag.com:
Film Review: Aquaman
Film Review: Deadpool 2

Captain Marvel | Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck | Disney

Captain Marvel
Directors: Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck

Disney
In Theaters: 03.08

It saddens and sickens me that in the year 2019, popular criticism sites had to change their policies about users posting negative comments about a film that has not been released in theaters yet. What are people afraid of witnessing? Why does the idea of a female-led superhero adventure in the Marvel cinematic universe terrify so many? When it was a revealed Oscar winner Brie Larson would take on the role of Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel and she would also be the most powerful being in that collection of films, I was waiting with a bated breath and full of excitement.

Captain Marvel initially reveals Larson as Vers, a human being on an alien planet with a forgotten past and no idea about her origins. During a rescue mission to uncover secrets about her planet’s enemies, The Skrulls, and led by her mentor, Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), our protagonist is captured and eventually makes her way back to Earth. Clearly, a super-powered visitor in a space suit is going to attract government officials, and that is the cue for a young Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and young Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) from S.H.I.E.L.D. to attempt to assess the situation and discover the truth.

The greatest aspect of Captain Marvel is young girls now have another superhero they can look up to and identify with, which can only lead to a positive outcome. Danvers upholds strong morals and refuses to let the negative individuals in her life keep her from accomplishing her goals. As for the film’s setting, the time trip back to the 1990s is quite delightful. Watching our heroine crash land into a Blockbuster Video conjured up so many fond memories. Larson is a perfect choice, and she is wonderfully assisted by an incredible ensemble cast. The only actor who gives Larson a run for her money for pulling focus is the wildly hilarious Ben Mendelsohn as the film’s villain.

The action, while entertaining with shape-shifting aliens, could use a touch-up on the cinematography and choreography. The ’90s greatest-hits soundtrack will certainly send many viewers back to their childhoods, but in some instances, it pulls audiences out of the film—just like a Stan Lee cameo (R.I.P.). All in all, Captain Marvel is a great setup of things to come, and it would not surprise me if Ms. Danvers takes the helm in future endeavors and leads the Avengers. –Jimmy Martin


More on SLUGMag.com:
Film Review: Kong: Skull Island
June 2015 DVD Reviews

Photo courtesy of Cat Palmer.

The Salt Lake Valley area sits in a dome of smog that residents can visibly see as they drive in and out of it. It’s been covered nationally by (Popular Science and Forbes), and referenced as Smog Lake City on social media. Locals are warned casually on morning news programs each winter, to keep pets indoors and to drive with their windows up. The smog isn’t going away and the need to keep this in the public eye is important. This Saturday at the Urban Arts Gallery the SLC Air Protectors are having a fundraiser to raise awareness on this issue and have a little fun.

Veteran activist and award-winning artist Cat Palmer advocates for this issue. Palmer has spent  the last 16 years in art activism, and her gas-mask photography has become equal parts iconic and foreboding. When speaking with her, I sense an enthusiasm that’s not always present in her art. Palmer’s candor while we speak shifts between a sense of urgency and the sharp laugh that I imagine came from the first time she was told she couldn’t do something. She says, “It’s so simple to get involved now … [with] email [and] social media. It takes a handful of minutes—reach out to your representatives.” Palmer says and explains the lobbying she has been involved with and the recent success of the hundred-million-dollar allocation from the state government toward clean air. “This is start,” says Palmer. It’s an encouraging start, as she went on to mention that the support is “more than it has ever been.”

Palmer, who has lost two friends to smog-related asthma, also knows that much of the damage has been done. Congestive heart failure and asthma-related smog deaths in the Salt Lake Valley are now traceable by a simple Google search. The hay fever–like symptoms (runny nose, slight headache, sneezing) and consistent allergy concerns are experienced to some degree by everyone. In this we also see its weakness. If everyone has experienced this, then everyone has something to say. The Salt Lake Community has an effective voice because it’s the affected voice. Any step in the direction of clean air gets you involved. If you need help finding out who your local representative is, try www.house.gov/representatives/find-your-representative.

Palmer explains that this year, Utah has a lot of new representatives on the hill which means creating awareness is critical. Do you know who your local rep is? So far, this year we have seen events like the Clean Air Solutions Fair at the Gateway and a legislation overview at the Downtown library creating conversations. This Saturday, that dialogue will continue 6 p.m.–9 pm. at the Urban Arts Center. The SLC Air Protectors fundraiser will feature Native music being that The SLC Air Protectors’ organization itself is Native led. An auction featuring unique local art and Palmer herself is bringing her elaborate collection of gas masks to take pictures with. “I want people to see how easily you can get involved,” says Palmer, “and to have fun … This will be fun.”