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Friday, July 29, 2011

Kid Cudi postponed

Posted By on Fri, Jul 29, 2011 at 6:04 PM

Monday's Kid Cudi show at Trib Total Media Amphitheater has been postponed due to illness. An email from Cudi's publicist, passed along by Drusky Entertainment, says that dates in Worcester, Toronto and Pittsburgh this weekend and next week are affected:

"Under doctor's orders to rest, Cudi sincerely regrets this unavoidable cancellation and apologizes to fans for any disappointment caused. Plans to reschedule the dates are currently on their way and will be announced shortly. All tickets for the following shows will be honored at the new date."

We'll let you know when the show is rescheduled.

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Organic Theater Pittsburgh Debuts

Posted By on Fri, Jul 29, 2011 at 3:39 PM

While there's a lot more going on in Pittsburgh arts-and-entertainmentwise than there was when I became CP's A&E editor, in 2003, the uptick is especially noticeable in summer.

Used to be things quieted down after the arts fest and stayed sleepy until mid-September. Not anymore. If the shows and exhibits aren't quite as wall-to-wall as in traditional peak months like April and October, July and August are still pretty busy. And for all the economy's continued woes, and general fretting about empty seats at theaters, there are even people still out there starting new theater companies.

Organic Theater Company, for instance, was launched just this month by Jaime Slavinsky. The 2000 Point Park grad and familiar face on local stages stars in Dead Man's Cell Phone, a thought-provoking 2007 comedy by Sarah Ruhl.

Ruhl is an up-an-coming name in the national theater community, with a Pulitzer-finalist distinction (for her play The Clean House) and a MacArthur genius grant. It's a big deal for a start-up like OTC to present the Pittsburgh premiere of Ruhl's latest work. The play world-premiered at Washington, D.C.'s Woolly Mammoth Theatre Co. and went on to Chicago's legendary Steppenwolf Theatre and then to Off-Broadway; in Pittsburgh, OTC mounts the show on the tiny back-room stage at ModernFormations Gallery.

Dead Man's is a dark comedy about a timid woman named Jean (played by Slavinsky) who answers a fellow café customer's insistently ringing phone … and then is shocked to learn that the man has kicked. Only half-willingly, it seems, she gets sucked into his life, and drawn into deepening encounters with Gordon's mistress, mother, wife and younger brother.

When Jean learns what Gordon did for a living (something only she, it seems, didn't know), things only get weirder and more dangerous.

The play is a sly commentary on the ways cell phones' ubiquity has warped our lives, to be sure. ("When everyone is on their cell phone, it's like no one's there," Jean observes. "The more we're there, the more we disappear.")

But ultimately the play is about loneliness, the lengths people will go to avoid it … and how going to said lengths can wind up making them only lonelier. (And yes, it remains a comedy.) The set design expertly reinforces this theme with pre-show projections that evoke the paintings of Edward Hopper, like "Nighthawks at the Diner," which explore that particular American species of loneliness in public places.

The cast, which also includes Adam Kukic, Deb Wein, Michael E. Moats, Ja'Sonta Roberts-Deen and Jennifer Chervenick, is fine, likewise the direction, by Ricardo Vila-Roger.

OTC, whose mission statement incorporates eco-friendliness, will even take $2 off your ticket if you bring in an old cell phone to be recycled (and tickets are only $12 to start with -- a third of what you'd pay at many local theaters).

Dead Man's Cell Phone continues with performances at 8 p.m. tonight and tomorrow, and concludes with a 2 p.m. matinee on Sun., July 31. www.organictheaterpgh.org

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Holy horseshit, Batman!

Posted By on Fri, Jul 29, 2011 at 2:11 PM

To hear politicians tell it, you'd almost think the real hero in attracting the new Batman film to Pittsburgh was a state tax credit. But notwithstanding remarks made at a press conference Thursday, public subsides are not the reason that portions of Dark Knight Rises will be shot here over the next month.

If anything, the credit may have been a bit of an empty (superhero's) suit.

During the presser, held at the Renaissance hotel Downtown, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, Gov. Tom Corbett and Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato spoke at length about the 25 percent film tax credit.

On a stage officials shared with director Christopher Nolan and star Christian Bale, Ravenstahl praised the Corbett administration "for their commitment to the film industry through the extension of the film tax credit ... The commitment the governor made is clearly helping the Pittsburgh economy and part of the reason we're standing here today."

Onorato, who lost the governors' mansion to Corbett in November, also praised his former rival.

"I do want to also lend my congratulations to Gov. Corbett for committing to the film tax credit. It's been great the last couple years," Onorato said. "If anyone has any doubts about the multiplier effects of those tax credits, I think today" ends those doubts.

Corbet too talked up the film tax credit. Noting fears earlier this year that the credit might be cut, he said, "There was never a doubt in my mind that we need to have the film tax credit." There was even some talk yesterday about expanding it.

A case could be made that the credit has helped develop home-grown movie-making expertise, which current and future productions can benefit from.  But for the record, Dark Knight Rises is not directly benefiting from the tax break at all.

To garner the credit, a film must spend 60 percent of its production budget inside the state. Given reports that the film will cost at least $250 million to make, that would amount to $150 million. But Pittsburgh is just one of a handful of locations being used in production, and Dark Knight Rises will be spending less than that.

When asked by City Paper about the tax credit, Dawn Keezer, executive director of the Pittsburgh Film Office, replied in an email that filmmakers "[d]id not apply [and] do not qualify" for it.

In fact, Keezer said, "no public money" at all is being used to lure the production. And Keezer, unlike the politicians beside her, barely mentioned the credit during yesterday's press conference. She spent most of her time talking up the film and the city's attributes.

Which, it appears, had far more to do with drawing the film here.

"I think the architecture of this city makes it a very beautiful city on a very impressive scale," Nolan told reporters. "The vibrancy and positive feeling that you get when you come here is incredibly impressive here and it's exciting to me to be filming the streets of downtown Pittsburgh for the next month."

Neither Nolan nor Bale gave away much in the way of plot -- though they confirmed the production is going to make it snow downtown and that there will be, as Bale says "fighting in the streets."

"We're very honored to be in your city," Nolan said.

Apparently so. The film, which will become part of a high-grossing franchise, will bring added exposure and revenue, without needing a taxpayer giveaway.

"I think we're really going to do some impressive and exciting things," Nolan added. "I'm confident that we're going to be able to leave the City of Pittsburgh liking us."

There's already reason to like the way they've arrived.

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Thursday, July 28, 2011

City Paper story may lead to review-board investigation

Posted By on Thu, Jul 28, 2011 at 2:23 PM

A City Paper story about two feuding Pittsburgh Police officers could soon become the subject of a Citizen Police Review Board investigation.

In May, CP reported about an unusual dispute between two police officers. The officers, Chuck Bosetti and Lisa Luncinski, disagreed on how to handle the case of 59-year-old James Takos, who last September crashed his bicycle, allegedly while intoxicated, into a stop sign in Oakland.

Bosetti, the first-responding officer, wanted Takos to receive medical attention for his injuries, and decided against charging him. But Luncinski, who arrived on scene later, decided to pursue criminal charges, including DUI, against the bicyclist. Months later, the case made it to a courtroom, where the two officers testified against one another before a district judge.

"This article contains information that raises questions about police procedures and the effect on civilians, due process and the court system," Beth Pittinger, the CPRB's executive director, wrote in a May report seeking a board investigation. "The described situation also reinforces the importance of disclosing conviction rates as a measure of effective arrests."

CP's story highlighted a number of issues related to the Takos case. For one thing, Bosetti raised concerns that Luncinski's decision to file criminal charges against the bicyclist may have violated Takos' Miranda rights -- the right to be warned that anything a suspect says can be used against him. Bosetti told CP that Takos admitted he'd been drinking only after Bosetti told him he wouldn't be facing charges.

"Was there a potential Miranda violation pursuant to the dispute between the officers?" Pittinger's report to the board asks. "Who/what determines who will be the arresting officer? (Control unit's role vs. back-up or other officers' role)"

Another concern raised in the story was the concept of police discretion, an officer's right to make or forego an arrest. As Pittinger's report asks, "Was the ... arrest within the bounds of police discretion? ... What standards guide discretion?"

In the story, Bosetti also accused Luncinski -- whom he called a "bounty hunter -- of criminally charging Takos simply to "cash in on this guy's misery."

Police earn overtime pay for testifying against the people they arrest -- and few have earned as much as Luncinski, a 14-year veteran of the force often tasked with DUI details. According to city pay records, Luncinski, who makes roughly $60,000 in annual base pay, logged 449 court hours from Feb. 1, 2010, to Feb. 1, 2011, earning a total of $18,192.09 in court premium pay.

"Does a desire to earn court time pay influence arrest decisions? Pittinger asks in her report. "How do postponements affect officers' court pay? Can the postponement process be abused for profit? (How is court time and related activities monitored by supervisors?)"

Finally, there are questions about the contents of Luncinski's criminal complaint. The complaint never mentioned Bosetti's presence at the scene of the accident. Nor did it discuss his disagreement with Luncinski over the decision to arrest Takos.

Takos' defense attorney only learned that Bosetti was present on the scene after Bosetti took his concerns to the district attorney's office. An assistant DA later informed Takos' attorney about Bosetti's misgivings regarding the criminal charges. (Note: District Judge James Hanley Jr. dismissed the DUI charges against Takos on April 19, but found the bicyclist guilty of lesser charges of public intoxication and disorderly conduct.)

"Was there a material omission on the affidavit of probable cause?" Pittinger asks in her report. "(Is there a check system to validate factual content?)"

Pittinger's report asks the board to "initiate a study of the policies & procedures related to the arrest described in the [CP] article … and if appropriate, make recommendations to the Chief [of Police] for the purpose of improving public understanding of police procedures and enhancement of police efficiency."

In May, the board tabled Pittinger's recommendation for further study. They did the same again at their June meeting. The board was expected to act on the recommendation during their July meeting earlier this week, but the meeting was cancelled because the board did not have a quorum. The board's next meeting takes place in September.

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Natural-gas referendum generates heat

Posted By on Thu, Jul 28, 2011 at 11:31 AM

City council took a preliminary vote in favor of placing a natural-gas-drilling ban on the November ballot. A final vote is due next week. But given the heat created by the debate this week, a ban on gas production might be superfluous ... even assuming it is legal. Which it may not be. 

The bill, proposed by outgoing councilor Doug Shields, would give voters a chance to approve a change to the city's Home Rule Charter. If city officials sign off on the legislation, and voters approve the ballot question, the charter will be amended to include a ban on natural-gas drilling in city limits. Council actually passed such a ban on its own last year. But this measure would incorporate a ban directly into the city's own constitution. And the new measure also features several stirring provisions asserting a "right to water," a "right to self-goverment," and other Jeffersonian nostrums.

Early on, though, the discussion has been somewhat less high-minded.

As first reported here on Monday (and later discussed further by the Post-Gazette), Shields has argued that drilling interests are applying "significant political pressure" to kill the measure. Shields revisited that allegation yesterday. During remarks that touched on everything from inalienable rights to fish that clean each other's teeth, he suggested that pro-drilling forces were "working feverishly behind the scenes" to stop the measure.

That drew a lengthy condemnation from Patrick Dowd, who voted against the measure and accused Shields of "launch[ing] a smear campaign. It's in the paper now: Anybody that votes against Mr. Shields' bill is a prostitute to the industry ... Councilman Shields might have a majority here, but he doesn’t have unanimity [so] he launches a smear campaign against anybody that would vote no ... I would ask my colleagues to turn away from that sort of ... demagoguery."

Shields' allegations of arm-twisting got little support even from those who were friendly to the bill. Natalia Rudiak acknowledged discussing the issue with Rich Fitzgerald, the Democratic nominee for county executive. But she characterized it as a mere exchange of views -- "done, end of story."

If anything, Rudiak almost sounded like she'd like to see a bit more lobbying: "I personally have never been contacted by a representative of the Marcellus Shale industry, ever." And the industry's failure to engage with local politicians, she charged, "sends the message that the industry .... feel that they're bigger than us. That they're more powerful than us, that they can ignore us. And I don’t appreciate that."

Of course, it may well be that the gas industry can ignore the measure. There's a very real chance that they could overturn it in the courts. 

Councilors yesterday had in hand a brief legal analysis of the bill from the city Law Department. While the department asked for more time to conduct a review, it goes at numerous provisions of Shields' bill. For openers, it refers to Pennsylvania state law's limitation on municipal powers. The key provision of that law asserts

a municipality shall not ... [e]nact or promulgate any ordinance or regulation with respect to ... the manufacture, processing, storage, distribution and sale of any foods, goods or services subject to any Commonwealth statutes and regulations unless the municipal ordinance or regulation is uniform in all respects with the Commonwealth statutes and regulations.

The Law Department analysis also notes that the state's Oil and Gas Act explicitly states that "all local ordinances and enactments purporting to regulate oil and gas well operations regulated by this act are hereby superseded." That language has been used to overturn local regulations that are far less sweeping than an outright ban.

At yesterday's meeting, Shields argued that no less a personage than Joe Scarnati, the Republican president pro tempore of the Senate, seems to envision communities saying "no" to drilling. In a May op-ed piece, Scarnati argued on behalf of establishing an "impact fee" for local communities that host drilling sites. "[C]ommunities that choose to ban drilling will not collect money from the impact fees," Scarnati wrote. To Shields, that suggests Scarnati agrees communities should be able to make that choice.

Shields also argued that while the state has jurisdiction over liquor laws, that doesn't preclude communities like Wilkinsburg from being "dry." I'm not sure that's a great analogy: State liquor law explicitly grants the possibility that communities may choose to remain "dry." Whereas the Oil and Gas Act seems to explicitly deny local governments the opportunity to say no.

In any case, there are other problems with Shields' bill. For example, it asserts:

Corporations in violation of the prohibition against natural gas extraction, or seeking to engage in natural gas extraction shall not ... be afforded the protections of the commerce or contracts clauses within the United States Constitution or corresponding sections of the Pennsylvania Constitution.

You can probably see the problem here, even if you don't work for the Law Department: The Shields ordinance appears to be revoking the state and US Constitution for industries that Pittsburgh doesn't like. And you can't even do that for strip clubs. Not surprisingly, the law department notes that other "[p]otential areas of concern relate to the Commerce Clause, Contracts Clause, Substantive & Procedural Due Process [clauses]."

During yesterday's council meeting, Dowd had some sport with a provision asserting that "[n]o permit, license, privilege, or charter issued by any State or federal agency ... to any person or any corporation ... which would violate the prohibitions of this Charter provision ... shall be deemed valid within the City of Pittsburgh." Dowd wondered whether truck drivers hauling frackwater would thus have their licenses suspended within city limits. How would police enforce such a measure, he wondered. 

Ricky Burgess, meanwhile, chose to have some fun at the expense of his council rivals. Burgess, who is perenially on the outs with Shields and the rest of council's majority, noted that he'd proposed two referenda in January which were both tabled. Councilors had argued that the initiative for those proposals could come from the voters, rather than from the councilors themselves.

"I am very humbled that they have been persuaded by me that this is something council should do," he said, remaining admirably straight-faced. 

But the preliminary vote went in Shields' favor 5-3 ... and Burgess himself abstained in yesterday's vote, saying he felt "conflicted." The law department opinion worried him, he said, but so did drilling's potential impact on community health.

"I do not think it’s appropriate for [drilling] to be in the city of Pittsburgh," he said. "I typically believe that people have the right to decide their own future."

For his part, Bill Peduto acknowledged that "The regulations that are in place at the state and federal level are skewed," and that the field is "not level." But "What do you do when you feel that way?" he asked. "You try what you can to put the field back" -- especially when the stakes for environmental and community health are so high.

Will a local referndum really change that balance of power? Probably not. Even some environmentalists I've spoken with privately admit that local drilling bans are unlikely to withstand court scrutiny. They tend to believe that the reason the existing council ban hasn't been challenged is that no drilling firms have any plans to come to Pittsburgh in the forseeable future. (Gas prices are quite low, and it's much easier and more cost-effective to drill in rural areas.) 

Still, supporters relish sending a strong message about the community's will. Some enjoy the prospect of a court battle, as a way of highlighting the issue and -- who knows? -- perhaps turning up something juicy in the discovery process.

But maybe the best reason to put this measure on the ballot is that the objections to it -- it violates state law, etc. -- are the same objections that apply to council's own ban. And all 9 council members voted in favor of that bill. Which raises the question: Once you've given yourself the opportunity to defy state law, how do you justify denying voters the same fun?

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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Review: Gang Gang Dance and Nguzunguzu at Brillobox

Posted By on Wed, Jul 27, 2011 at 3:51 PM

New York art-scene figureheads and Pitchforkmedia darlings Gang Gang Dance hit Brillo on Sunday July 17th accompanied by LA avant-moombah-pop production-and-DJ duo Nguzunguzu. The show itself was a sweatfest prompted by boundless dance music as both artists offered up their versions of sonic splatter paintings. Indie representation from the major cultural epicenters of either U.S. coast gave the crowd at Brillo two wildly different flavors from the current wave of Internet-induced pop-collage dance music.

Nguzunguzu, comprised of Daniel Pineda and Asma Maroof, opened. The duo stood before a table full of electronic noisemaking equipment and created soundscapes wedged between hyperactive minutes full of dance music. Their sound was sexy, but not filthily so, as they drew from Chicago footwork and dub-house music with just a tinge of UK bass. They have music-making ties to M.I.A., and the shared flavors were made just apparent enough through their tendency toward sampling R&B and poppy tracks but reworking them into a pop culture quilt. Pop samples were re-appropriated so originally that there was no need to pay homage to the sampled artists as they were rarely recognizable anyway. Fair Use at its finest.

Sometimes really great producers fail to take their mixing capabilities to a DJ set, but Pineda and Maroof proved to be equally deft at live mixing and mixed their way right into Gang Gang Dance's set.

The crossover between the two acts was as seamless as one skilled beatmatcher handing the decks over to another. Gang Gang Dance's live set was much like their albums: It felt like one big song equipped with peaks and valleys, but never plains. Even when they did stop between songs the transition was smoothed by the endearing chatter of ethereal vocalist Lizzi Bougatsos, who deservedly got crowd comparisons to Bjork circa Sugarcubes. Not only did she warble through the mystical lyrics with a strong yet fairy-like voice but she also played a myriad of percussion instruments, chimes and anything in sight that could be hit with a stick.

Gang Gang Dance's overall sound is very much percussion-centric, melodies comprised of Bougatsos' chime playing mixed with the small drum set played by Tim DeWitt and other organic drums played by both. "Experimental" could be an applicable descriptor for their sound, however, in comparison to their earlier stuff -- at first listen sounded like noise -- their show on Sunday was an otherworldy cacophony of harmonious percussion backed by synths and just a does of their older anti-music making efforts.

Brillo was steamy but no amount of heat could stop the packed crowd from dancing. Between Nguzunguzu's expert mixing of moombah-like vocal tracks over bass-y layers that made for pretty tunes to Gang Gang Dance's chaotic spirit-driven drumfest, the entire show was high-energy and highly unique.

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Library tax referendum moves forward

Posted By on Wed, Jul 27, 2011 at 10:34 AM

Activists want voters to decide how to fund the Carnegie Library system, and it looks like this November, city residents will get a say on whether to support the libraries or not.

Library activist group Our Library, Our Future yesterday presented nearly 11,000 petition signatures to City Council, asking for a ballot question in November. The requested referendum would ask for a 0.25 mil special tax on taxable real estate, and the funds generated would be earmarked only for the operation and maintenance of the Carnegie Library system. Under the state law that allows municipalities to levy library taxes, only 2,769 signatures were needed for a petition.

The petitions wrapped up and presented to council yesterday.
  • The petitions wrapped up and presented to council yesterday.

"It's clear city voters want to have a say in the future of their libraries," said David Malehorn, a volunteer with Our Library, Our Future, at a press conference Tuesday morning outside City Council Chambers. "We need to step up and shoulder responsibility for funding for our libraries."

The proposed tax would generate $3.25 million a year, according to city councilor Patrick Dowd. It would cost an additional $25 a year for taxpayers on properties with an assessed value of $100,000. By law, the tax proceeds must be used to support ongoing library operations, rather than capital expenses like new facilities. 

"It's not just an asset. It's a critical part of our infrastructure," Dowd, a library board member, told City Paper. "We have to have it. We need the neighborhood resources it provides. It is a necessity."

City Council will act as a pass-through for the petitions, which are being forwarded to the mayor's office for approval. They will then be forwarded to the Allegheny County Board of Elections, which will certify them before placing them on the November ballot.

"This is democracy in action. It's up to the people now," said council president Darlene Harris.

Dozens of library supporters came out to the press conference by the Our Library, Our Future -- an initiative launched in June born out of the recommendations of Public-Private Task Force on Sustainable Library Funding. The library's board approved the funding strategy in January.

It's all been part of an effort to solve the public library's long-standing financial woes.

A recently approved budget by the state government keeps funding roughly on par with last year's allotment for libraries statewide, which, while the Pennsylvania Library Association has noted is better than being anticipated cuts, it still is problematic for cash-strapped systems.

The Carnegie Library, for example, has lost about $2 million in state funding over the past few years. But it's not just state allocations to blame; other funding streams haven't increased. "Our funding has remained level," says library spokeswoman Suzanne Thinnes. "It's not keeping up with expenditures."

City council approved a total of $1.2 million stop-gap funding for the library last year to be disbursed over two years. Thinnes said the library has received about half of that amount and "we haven't heard" anything about the release of the remaining funds.

The library has gotten a little help from the mayor's office on the tax initiative, at least. Ravenstahl is one of the 10,000 city residents to sign the petitions. But city spokeswoman Joanna Doven said he did so only to support "the public's right to vote on the issue. He will be voting 'no' because he believes the people of Pittsburgh already pay too much in property tax."

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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Tonight: Pictureplane et al at Belvedere's

Posted By on Tue, Jul 26, 2011 at 5:25 PM

pictureplane.jpg

You may be thinking, right now: What's new with that VIA crew? Don't they have an ongoing series of shows happening leading up to their next big festival? Yes! Yes, they do! And the last iteration of that before they take some time off to prepare for the fest: tonight's Pictureplane show at Belvedere's

Pictureplane is from Denver, where he makes electronic dance pop; a couple years ago, he was named in Stereogum's Band to Watch feature, even though he's just a dude.

Also playing: straight-outta-Oberlin remix duo Teengirl Fantasy, Chicago tourmates Gatekeeper, and local Majeure (Tony Paterra), with DJ sets by Cutups

$10, 9 p.m., 4016 Butler Street, t's Tuesday, why not?

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Monday, July 25, 2011

MP3 Monday: Slim Forsythe and the Nied's Hotel Band

Posted By on Mon, Jul 25, 2011 at 5:55 PM

A few months back, I wrote a feature on Slim Forsythe, the singin', school bus drivin' cowboy of Lawrenceville. Slim's known to collaborate with plenty of bands -- he's got a few different combos of his own (like The Payday Loners), and plays with other folks -- like, sometimes, The Nied's Hotel Band. That band, fronted by Johnny Vento, features some serious old heads (like Ron Beitle, the former drummer of Wild Cherry whose experience led to that song "Play That Funky Music, White Boy," however you feel about that).

The song they collaborated on, and are offering up here, is called "Bye Bye Harley, Hello Big Yellow." Did I mention that Slim drives a school bus? Here it is; *download link expired*

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Locally Produced Science-Fiction Web Serial Debuts

Posted By on Mon, Jul 25, 2011 at 3:55 PM

The year is 1975, and everything is about start going very poorly for Edward Borman. His government office in the U.S. Steel Tower is closing for the evening, but instead of heading home to a beer and a ball game, Borman finds himself wrapped up in a dangerous plot involving invaders from Mercury, a mysterious "league" of good guys and, potentially, the end of the world.

The Mercury Men is a new web-based serial presented by Syfy.com, written and directed by Chris Preksta, the Pittsburgh resident and Point Park grad behind the web series and 2005 feature film Captain Blasto. And from what I've seen of it, it rings all the right sci-fi geek bells. I was hooked at the first sight of Borman's face; Mark Tierno, who plays the office cog, has wrinkles and shadows straight out of the Twilight Zone, an impression further strengthened by the show's high-contrast black-and-white imagery.

Although I'm not quite sure why these men from Mercury are so intent on destroying the Earth -- with a "Gravity Engine," no less -- it's a suspension of disbelief comfortable to all fans of science fiction. And once you first set your eyes on the aliens, it hardly matters. They're giant, glowing creatures, made from "light so dense it has become solid," according to the series website. All of the featureless invaders are played by Preksta, who at 6'7" is uniquely capable of playing the loping creatures.

The series was filmed entirely without the use of the "green screen" filmmakers use to enable digital effects. Rather, to depict the Mercury Men, Preksta donned a completely black outfit in front of a shock-white background, then took a negative image. Combined with the hissing, TV-on-mute noise that the Men emit, they are the first really original bad guys I've seen in years.

Naturally, Borman doesn't have a snowball's chance of beating these guys alone, and help comes -- for no apparent reason -- in the form of Jack Yaeger, a bold and handsome man in an old aviator's uniform. Yeager knows these Mercury invaders, somehow, and packs a gun that shoots light, apparently the only thing that can hurt the enemy. At a singular moment, Borman -- staring incredulously at the man's weapon -- asks Yaeger whether he's a pilot, and actor Curt Wootton deadpans, "I'm an engineer."

The take-away from all this is that the Syfy network has taken a chance on a brand-new serial that completely deserves it. There are shoot-outs, glowing monsters, intrepid and not so intrepid heroes, and a talking brain in a jar. It is very much worth a click. The first of 10 seven-minutes episodes premieres today at www.syfy.com/mercurymen

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