Monthly Archives: October 2013

Dirty Old Man

Johnny Knoxville takes his Jackass show on the road

JACKASS PRESENTS: BAD GRANDPAJackass Presents: Bad Grandpa

Starring Johnny Knoxville and Jackson Nicoll

Directed by Jeff Tremaine

R, 92 min.

Released Oct. 25, 2013

After its debut in 2000 on MTV as a half-hour series of candid-camera pranks, rude ’n’ crude practical jokes and outrageous, knuckleheaded, often dangerous stunts, Jackass became a pop-cultural rocket ride for head hoax-master Johnny Knoxville and his motley crew of cutups, spawning several TV spin-offs and three movies.

Now Knoxville is back in a fourth, reprising a character that will be familiar to fans who made his franchise first a cult hit and then a much broader commercial franchise.

In Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa, transformed by facial prosthetics, layers of makeup, grey hair and pastel polyester pants, Knoxville, 42, plays a randy octogenarian on a cross-country road trip with his grandson. The “grandpa” character had made appearances in skits and stunts in his previous movies and on the TV series.

JACKASS PRESENTS: BAD GRANDPAThis movie, however, expands the typical Jackass format of disconnected kamikaze skits by concocting a plot throughout which Knoxville’s “Irving Zisman” and his young charge, Billy (9-year-old Jackson Nicoll, terrific) spring a variety of hidden-cam pranks on unsuspecting people—just like in the previous movies and TV show. (Knoxville, one of the screenplay’s six writers, reassembled his Jackass team of director Jeff Tremaine and producer Spike Jonze for this project.)

Just how funny—or not—you find it all will depend on how far Jackass antics of yesteryear tended to move the needle on your personal laugh-o-meter. If you guffawed before at the Jackass-ery of people being surprised, shocked or angered by being prodded beyond their comfort zones, you’ll probably guffaw again at these shenanigans in a funeral home, doctor’s office, convenience store, bingo hall, restaurant, biker bar, wedding reception and all-male strip club, where Knoxville’s character lets it all hang out in his tighty whities (which aren’t quite tight enough, as it turns out); and as Irving and Billy bring a bumping, grinding grand finale to a kiddie beauty pageant.

Be warned: Knoxville has a thing for body parts, and body functions, that you’ll never, ever, see on America’s Funniest Home Videos.

JACKASS PRESENTS: BAD GRANDPASo, on the other hand, if you don’t think there’s anything funny about a 87-year-old man who appears to get, ahem, a delicate part of his anatomy stuck in a soda vending machine, and the reactions of the people around him when he asks for their help in extracting himself—well, maybe this isn’t your kind of flick.

When Jackass launched on TV, its format was a brash, gonzo, in-your-face update on Candid Camera, the 1960 series that pioneered the idea of putting ordinary people in outlandish situations, then showing how they reacted. Now, more than a decade later, the idea not’s so brash or so gonzo, especially since Sacha Baron Cohen and his Borat movies have taken the idea to such scatological, wrecking-ball extremes.

Knoxville’s a funny guy, willing to go a long, long way for a laugh, and this is a funny movie…sometimes. But the gags are hit and miss; the ones that fall flat seem to be weighed down by the contrivance of the plot, which makes everything feel overly forced, especially when you see how much fun the crew seems to be having in the behind-the-scenes outtakes during the credits.

Those three minutes of pull-back-the-curtain docu-giggles suggest Bad Grandpa would have been better if it had dropped the whole plot charade, invited the audience in on the joke from the beginning, and let good times roll.

Ah, yes, just like the good old-fashioned, hit-and-run Jackass days of yore.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Getting to Know Hue

How color pervades our lives and shapes the way we react with the world

TheSecretLanguageOfColor_1The Secret Language of Color

By Joann Eckstut & Arielle Eckstut

Hardcover, 240 pages ($29.95, Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers)

Is the grass really greener on the other side of the fence? Why could wearing purple once get you killed? What artificial coloring scheme got Starbucks in hot water? These and hundreds of other questions are answered in this deeply entertaining, engrossing and educational dive into the physics, chemistry, astronomy, neuroscience, geology, botany, zoology, psychology, linguistics, anthropology, history, art, biology and sociology that create the spectrum of ways color pervades our lives—and shapes our view of reality. To quote (as the authors do) the 19th century French painter John Cézanne: “Color is the place where our brain and the universe meet.”

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Hot & Bothered

Bullock, McCarthy buddy up as mismatched police partners

TheHeat-1The Heat

DVD $29.98, Blu-ray $39.99 (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment)

Playing a pair of totally mismatched police partners, Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy bring a riotously fresh comedic chemistry to this female variation of Hollywood’s familiar “buddy comedy.” Bridesmaids director Paul Feig knows that gals can be just as funny—and just as raunchy—as guys, and The Heat turns up the grown-up tee-hees just about as far as they can go for an R rating. Bonus features include several making-of and behind-the-scenes featurettes, bloopers, deleted scenes, hilarious commentary (with one track option from the commentators of Mystery Science Theater 3000) and a rundown of the fabulous supporting cast.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Remembering JFK

First-person reflections on the day a hopeful nation was ripped apart in grief

WhereWereYou-JFK-1Where Were You?

By Gus Russo & Harry Moses

Hardcover, 408 pages ($29.95, Lyons Press/Globe Pequot)

A companion book to the NBC special airing Nov. 22 on the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination, this handsome compilation of first-person stories features contributions from Jimmy Carter, Robert De Niro, John Glenn, Tom Hanks, Jay Leno, Steven Spielberg, Oliver Stone, Judy Collins and more than 30 other heads of state, journalists, public figures, performers and ordinary citizens swept up in the extraordinary circumstances of that fateful day. Through reflections on the many ways Kennedy’s death represented a hopeful nation suddenly ripped apart in grief and loss, it’s a portrait of a people forever changed, as remembered by a diverse group united by the experience of having lived through it.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Information Breakdown

WikiLeaks drama pounds its story, but becomes too much of a cold slog

Daniel Br?hlThe Fifth Estate

Starring Benedict Cumberbatch & Daniel Brühl

Directed by Bill Condon

R, 128 min.

Earlier this year, I went to a team trivia event where one of the questions was “What is the ‘fourth estate?’

Having a bit of newsprint in my blood, I knew that it was an old British term for “the press.” Our team got the point—hooray for us, right? But what struck me that evening was how many teams were completely stumped for an answer.

Was the term really that arcane, that unfamiliar, that antiquated?

If so, are the people on those teams going to have any idea what The Fifth Estate is, either? And an even bigger question: How interested will they be in seeing this movie, no matter what it’s called?

The Fifth Estate dramatizes the beginnings of WikiLeaks, the cyber-organization that shook up world governments and conventional media by posting highly confidential news from anonymous sources, who “leaked” it from places where it was supposed to be contained, sealed away, secreted. Among other stories, the site released sensitive files about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, about civilians killed by military airstrikes, and about what went on at the notorious prisoner detention center Guantanamo Bay.

The term “fifth estate,” the movie tells us, refers to the way news reporting was shaped by the speed, force—and recklessness—of information zipping around the planet in the new millennium’s digital, instant Internet age. If the old-fashioned printing press was the pillar of the fourth estate, new e-media, spurred by WikiLeaks, became the fifth.

The movie centers on WikiLeak’s Australian founder, Julian Assange, and his contentious, co-dependent relationship with Daniel Berg, the site’s German representative (on whose book, Inside WikiLeaks: My Time at the World’s Most Dangerous Website With Julian Assange, the screenplay is partly based).

FE2Benedict Cumberbatch is mesmerizing as Assange, a blonde-haired cyber warrior crusading to expose fraud, corruption, injustice, war crimes and other sins in high places. Daniel Brühl, who also co-stars in the new movie Rush, is Berg, a young computer hacker whose prankish, anti-establishment sparks are fanned into flames of international activism by Assange’s zeal and heated rhetoric.

Director Bill Condon—whose diverse credentials include the musical Dreamgirls, the Gothic drama Gods and Monsters and two Twilight teen-angst vampire sagas—pumps the story hard, backfilling details of Assange’s damaged childhood; weaving in a difficult romantic relationship for Berg; and inserting a pair of Washington D.C. insiders (Stanley Tucci and Laura Linney) who have to deal with the serious fallout WikiLeaks creates as it puts foreign diplomats, military personnel and their families in danger by revealing their identities.

FE3Was Assange a hero or a traitor? That’s the question the movie wants us to ponder. It also paints him as a cyber rock star, with throngs of fans, followers and groupies. (He’s currently living in London, where he’s been granted diplomatic asylum after a 2010 sexual assault investigation.)

But the movie’s all too much of a slog, I’m afraid, through a story that a lot of viewers will find too heavy on current events and history and too light on entertainment. Like the cold, bleak backdrops of Belgium and Germany, where the filming took place, there’s far too little warmth, wit or movie sunshine to penetrate its overarching sense of its own seriousness.

The movie ends with a faux-documentary segment in which Cumberbatch, as Assange, addresses the audience, as if he’s being interviewed about the movie they’ve just seen. He somewhat dismissively brushes the question away, then looks directly into the camera and tells viewers to become inspired to seek their own truths, to ferret out their own information, to become their own crusading whistle-blowing leak-finders and “look beyond this story.”

That’s assuming, of course, that they see it begin with—which might require a leap of an estate or two beyond a lot of people’s usual areas of interest.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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An ‘Abbey’ Companion

What makes the popular PBS British period drama tick

Behind The Scenes At Downton AbbeyBehind the Scenes at Downton Abbey

By Emma Rowley

Hardcover, 280 pages ($29.99, St. Martins Press)

Fans of the popular PBS TV series will delight to the hundreds of color photos and the inside info in this dandy, richly detailed companion book, which goes behind the scenes of the scripts, music, sets, props, costumes and other gears that have to turn to bring the award-winning British period drama to life. The author, a journalist for Britain’s The Telegraph newspaper, includes interviews with numerous members of the cast and crew, and a foreword by the show’s executive producer, Gareth Neame, notes how the successful show, popular on both sides of the Atlantic, reminds “us there is still an appetite for a drama that the whole family can sit down to [watch] together.”

 —Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Squint Like Clint

Iconic 1973 Western made name for writer-director Clint Eastwood

HighPlainsDrifterHigh Plains Drifter: 40th Anniversary Edition

Blu-ray, $19.98 (Universal Studios Home Entertainment)

The main character didn’t have a name in his 1973 Western, but he certainly made one for Clint Eastwood. The “man with no name,” as he came to be called, became a pop icon of rugged, silent, vengeful Old West justice and helped establish Eastwood as an actor-director force in Hollywood. This new hi-res edition doesn’t have any special features (bummer!), but its charms are in its re-mastered clarity, which brings every dusty, squinty, sun-baked, sweat-soaked detail to vibrantly renewed life in the tale of a mysterious stranger of few words who helps a small, sin-ridden town rid itself of a violent band of outlaws.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Art All Around

Tour a great, sprawling gallery spread across time and space

ArtAndPlaceArt & Place

By the Editors of Phaidon

Hardcover, 368 pages ($79.95, Phaidon Press)

All the world, as Shakespeare famously wrote, is a stage. Well, it’s also an art gallery, a point driven home by this handsome guided tour of indoor and outdoor artwork spread across North, Central and South America, an amazing, unprecedented overview encompassing cave etchings, carvings, paintings, sculptures, mosaics, altars, tapestries, stained glass, “land art,” and the work of ancient civilizations, Colonial settlers, 19th century muralists and modern urban artists. With more than 800 large color photos and accompanying text, it’s an exhilarating affirmation of the many ways the creative spirit can blossom and spread over space and time.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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O Captain, My Captain

Tom Hanks is riveting in real-life high-seas drama

Tom Hanks

Captain Phillips

Starring Tom Hanks

Directed by Paul Greengrass

PG-13, 134 min., released Oct. 11, 2013

First of all, finally—a movie about pirates that doesn’t have anything to do with Johnny Depp.

The rascally, comically rakish Capt. Jack Sparrow in five Disney Pirates of the Caribbean flicks, Depp is nowhere to be found in this pulse-pounding drama based on the real-life 2009 pirate hijacking of an American cargo ship off the coast of Africa.

And these pirates are a world away from Disneyland, in every way. A desperate bunch of gun-toting coastal villagers from chaotic, war-torn Somalia who attack the massive Maersk Alabama in their small fishing boat, they light the fuse on an international drama that ultimately draws the explosive deadly force of the U.S. Navy and its elite special ops SEALs.930353 - Captain Phillips

Director Paul Greengrass, who previously steered two Bourne spy thrillers and the nail-biting, real-time United 93, starts the story as the commercial captain of the title (Tom Hanks) departs his Vermont home for Africa, where he’ll meet his ship, his crew and his fate.

In the first scene, we eavesdrop on the conversation between Phillips and his wife (Catherine Keener) on the way to the airport about how their kids should study harder in school to keep up with the big, changing world in which they’ll soon become adults—a foreshadowing of the grueling tutorial on the imbalance of global economics Phillips will soon get first-hand on the other side of the globe.

Working from a taut screenplay by Billy Ray (based on Richard Phillips’ book, A Captain’s Duty, about the incident), Greengrass shifts his cinematic canvas from the vastness of the open ocean to the stifling confines of a claustrophobic closed lifeboat in which the final high-wire act plays out.

In the title role, Hanks reminds us why he’s one of the most versatile actors in all of modern movies, capable of just about anything. As Capt. Phillips’ situation moves from bad to worse, his performance intensifies to a rawness that will leave a lot of viewers gasping—if not weeping—along with him at the end.

Tom HanksA movie “based on real events” can often be at a bit of a dramatic disadvantage in that audiences know everything that happened—or at least they think they do. But even if that’s the case here, it doesn’t matter: Greengrass draws out the tension, the suspense, and the sense that anything can happen into the very final moments.

(A new chapter emerged recently, however, as some of the real crew members involved in the incident brought a $50 million lawsuit against their employers, claiming that Phillips and the Maersk shipping line put their lives in danger by taking unnecessary risks—and that the real-life Capt. Phillips wasn’t quite the hero the movie makes him out to be.)

But if the story unfolded anywhere close to the way it’s depicted on the screen, it’s impossible not to come away from it somewhat moved, if not shaken, after watching this high-seas, high-stakes saga that didn’t spring from someone’s imagination, from a comic book, or from an amusement park ride—but rather from the real world in which we live, and one that really happened, to real people, not so long ago.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Redrum! Redrum!

Documentary goes deep inside Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining

Room237

Room 237

Blu-ray $29.98 / DVD $27.98 (IFC Films)

If you thought the movie The Shining was just a scary story about a haunted hotel, well, you’re obviously not one of the people interviewed in this fascinating documentary, which rounds up several passionate super-fan theorists with their interpretations about the hidden meanings in Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film adaptation of Stephen King’s novel. Is the movie interwoven with clues about American expansionism, the horrors of the Holocaust or a faked moon landing? Or is it just a big, rambling cinematic maze that can’t ever be fully explored? Named for the location in the hotel where much of the movie’s weirdness takes place, Room 237 is a mesmerizing dive into a crazy kaleidoscope of possibilities.

 —Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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