Monthly Archives: October 2013

What, Me Worry?

Celebrity guests, staffers celebrate the gonzo genius of MAD magazine

Inside MAD Cover.inddInside MAD

By the Writers and Editors of MAD Magazine

Hardcover, 256 pages ($29.95 / Time Home Entertainment)

To celebrate its 61st rascally year, the irreverent humor magazine asked a host of celebrities (including Rosanne Barr, Ken Burns, Dane Cook, Ice-T, George Lopez, Jeff Probst and John Stamos) to ponder its zany influences on their lives, and also rounded up some of the best work from a host of its hall-of-fame cartoonists and writers (Sergio Aragonés, Jack Davis, Dick DeBartolo, Mort Drucker, Al Jaffee). It’s a treasure trove of “What, me worry?” rediscovery for anyone who ever snickered to MAD mascot Alfred E. Newman’s ever-changing world of skewered pop culture, politics, entertainment and public figures.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Beam Me Up!

New Star Trek collection connects fans with series’ beginnings

StarTrekOriginalSeriesOrigins2Star Trek: The Original Series—Origins

Blu-ray $26.99 (CBS Home Entertainment/Paramount Home Entertainment)

Since it debuted on TV in 1966, it’s crossed the pop-culture universe to conquer comic books, novels, video games and movies. Now lifelong Trekkies and newer fans alike can reconnect with how it all began with this collection of origin episodes featuring first appearances of significant characters from the seminal Star Trek: The Original Series, including Spock, the super-villain Khan, and the alien Klingons; the cute but troublesome Tribbles; and both pilot episodes of the iconic series, “The Cage” and “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” which gave the show its memorable catchphrase.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Oh, The Horror!

Four new re-releases set the mood for Halloween

Halloween ComboCast a retro spell for Halloween with some classic, blood-curdling horror flicks. Director John Carpenter’s iconic Halloween, which got the whole teenager-in-danger genre rolling back in 1978, celebrates its 35th anniversary on a bonus-loaded Blu-ray (Anchor Bay, $34.99). The Exorcist: 40th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray includes documentaries, commentary and a tour of the movie’s locations with author William Peter Blatty (Warner Home Video, $49.99). The Amityville Horror Trilogy Deluxe Collector’s Edition features all three movies about one of the haunted-est houses of ‘em all on Blu-ray (Scream Factory, $69.97). And Chucky: The Complete Collection packages six fright films about the tiny terror of toy land (Universal Home Entertainment, Blu-ray $84.98, DVD $34.96).

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Strike Up The Band

Sumptuous collector’s edition repackages famed 1971 concert event

TheBand_Live_productThe Band ‘Live At The Academy of Music 1971’

CD + DVD, $75.74 (Capitol / Universal Music Enterprises)

The legendary band with a capital B, the pioneering Canadian-American ensemble led by Robbie Robertson and Levon Helm that went on to influence countless other roots-rockers, performed four legendary concerts at the top of their fame during the final week of 1971 at New York’s Academy of Music. The shows, originally edited down for the group’s classic 1972 double LP Rock of Ages, have now been re-packaged for this sumptuous collector’s edition, with all the original recordings (including “The Shape I’m In,” “Don’t Do It,” “Stage Fright,” “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” and “The Weight”) enhanced with 19 previously unreleased tracks, plus an in-concert DVD and a 48-page book.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Slices of Masterpieces

A meticulous, moment-by-moment look at the magic of the movies

MomentsThatMadetheMoviesMoments That Made The Movies

By David Thomson

Hardcover, 304 pages ($39.95, Thames & Hudson)

Thomson, an accomplished film historian, author and the movie critic for The New Republic, painstakingly examines meticulously selected scenes from 70 films spanning a century of cinema, nothing each one’s unique contributions to the art form’s history and development. Many you’ll recognize (Gone With The Wind, Psycho, The Godfather); others are buried treasures (Burn After Reading, Sansho The Bailiff, A History Of Violence); after reading what Thomson says about them, you’ll be convinced they’re all slices of masterpieces. With more than 250 color and black-and-white photos, it’s a visually thrilling tour of the magic of the movies, one special moment at a time.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Out of This World

Stunning, spectacular ‘Gravity’ shoots for the stars—and gets there

GRAVITYGravity

Starring Sandra Bullock & George Clooney

Directed by Alfonso Cuaròn

PG-13, 90 min.

Released Oct. 4, 2013

Wow—that’s the single best word I can think of to describe this truly awesome piece of moviemaking, which has instantly vaulted to the top of my list of the year’s best films.

Marooned in space after the destruction of their craft, two American astronauts suddenly find themselves on a new mission of survival.

That’s a simple enough premise, but Gravity turns its into something at once monumental and sublime, slicing to the core of our basic fears and primal issues about death and dying, isolation, abandonment and spiritual longing, and the general cosmic inhospitality and indifference that greets humans whenever we venture outside the comfort zone of the earthly place we call home.

It’s also one of the most technically dazzling spectacles to ever grace the screen, an eye-popping, digital/live-action marvel that makes the senses reel with new levels of sophistication in its groundbreaking special effects that leave most other films looking like they’re lagging light years behind.

GRAVITYAs it begins, we meet veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) and his space shuttle’s medical engineer Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), a newcomer on her first mission. In a breathtaking, 15-minute sequence during which the camera never breaks away, we see Dr. Stone working outside the docked shuttle on the Hubble telescope, and Kowalski whisking around leisurely with his jetpack, cracking jokes with Mission Control (voiced by Ed Harris, a nice nod to another astronaut flick, The Right Stuff), when they receive some alarming news: A shower of shrapnel from a detonated Soviet satellite is speeding directly at them, at 25,000 miles per hour.

But the warning comes too late: The cloud of space junk, catapulted by centrifugal force as it orbits the Earth, plows into the shuttle, rendering it useless—and sending Dr. Stone flying out into the inky, star-flecked blackness, adrift, detached and alone.

And that’s just the beginning!

Other things happen—a lot of things. But revealing more would rob you of the many edge-of-your-seat surprises Gravity has in store, both visually and thematically, in the gripping story written by director Alfonso Cuaròn and his son, Jonás. Suffice it to say, as Bullock’s character does at one point, it’s “one hell of a ride.”

Back in 2006, Cuaròn made critics giddy with the tracking shots he used in Children of Men, a grungy futuristic fable that became known for a couple of lengthy, carefully executed segments in which the camera stayed with the action and characters, without cutting away, for several long, protracted moments. Those shots were über-cool, but they’re nothing compared with what the director pulls off here, in which his camera goes places, and does things, that are nothing short of jaw-dropping.

GRAVITY

You’ll not only feel like you’re floating in space, you’ll feel like you’re inside Sandra Bullock’s space helmet. (In one amazing slow zoom, the camera “takes you along” as it seems to magically penetrate the glass of her visor from the outside, turn around, and begin looking out—all as she’s turning head over heels, weightless.)

This is one of Bullock’s best performances, without a doubt; reserve her a seat down front now at this year’s Oscars. It’s one of the most dazzling-looking films you’ll ever have the opportunity to see, especially if you see it in 3-D, or better yet, in 3-D and IMAX—believe every bit of the hype. It’s a masterful achievement of technique and craftsmanship, creating what has to be the most realistic “in space” experience ever for any motion picture.

And its final scene is a brilliant cinematic brushstroke of pure movie poetry that blends heaven and Earth, rebirth and renewal, past, present and future, and a poignant reminder of the Newtonian universal constant from which the film takes its title.

In almost every way, Gravity is out of this world.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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The Dependable Villain

New collection celebrates the dastardly talents of Vincent Price

VincentPriceCollection2The Vincent Price Collection

Blu-ray ($79.97, Scream Factory)

In the 1960s, Vincent Price became lionized as one of Hollywood most dependably deplorable villains, especially in a string of low-budget flicks in which he played an assortment of madmen, zealots and other horribly unhinged offshoots of humanity. This deluxe collection of six of his movies from that era (Fall of the House of Usher, The Haunted Palace, The Masque of the Red Death, Pit and the Pendulum, Witchfinder General and The Abominable Dr. Phibes) comes with an assortment of top-notch bonus content, including interviews with schlock-king director Roger Corman, who worked with Price on many of his films; commentaries; still photos; and a 24-page booklet.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Willie & The Women

A ride around the singing corral with a bevy of female partners

WillieNelson_ToAllTheGirlsWillie Nelson: To All the Girls…

CD $11.98 (Legacy)

He’s 80 years old, but still churning out the tunes—and roping in the ladies. Taking the name for his latest CD from half of the title of his 1984 duet with Julio Iglesias (the missing part is “…I’ve Loved Before”), the venerable crooning cowboy saddles up with a bevy of female singing partners, including Dolly Parton, Carrie Underwood, Sheryl Crow, Loretta Lynn, Brandi Carlile, Miranda Lambert, Mavis Staples and Norah Jones, for this jaunt around the musical corral. The 18 tunes include a wide-ranging selection of Nelson originals, standards from the American songbook, and other gems from Bruce Springsteen, Waylon Jennings, Bill Withers and Merle Haggard.

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Slices of the Big Apple

A sweeping photo tapestry of New Yorkers going about life

HumansOfNewYorkHumans of New York

By Brandon Stanton

Hardcover, 304 pages ($24.99, St. Martin’s Press)

Based on the popular blog with the same name, Stanton’s sweeping photographic “census” of the Big Apple captures some four hundred New Yorkers going about the activities of their ordinary lives, creating an extraordinary interwoven tapestry of color, life and humanity in one of the world’s most uniquely iconic urban environments. “New York represents America for a lot of people,” says Stanton, who lives in an apartment in Brooklyn. “There are 8 million people in the city. People are so different here that [they] feel free to be…themselves.”

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

Life In The Fast Lane

Ron Howard’s real-story racing movie is a hip, cool-running crowd-pleaser

RUSHRush

Starring Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Brühl & Olivia Wilde

Directed by Ron Howard

R, 123 min.

Released Sept. 27, 2013

The rivalry between two professional racers becomes the driving force in Rush, director Ron Howard’s dramatic depiction the 1970s competition between James Hunt and Niki Lauda.

The racing world was captivated, back in the day, as Hunt and Lauda became superstars of European-based Formula One racing and vied for championship trophies in the first half of the decade. Not only were they passionate, prickly competitors, they also represented polar opposites: Hunt was a dashing, daring blonde-haired British playboy; Lauda was a straight-laced Austrian with an obsessive, calculating mind wired for speed—and a face, as Hunt used to remind him, like a “rat.”

The media loved them, the public loved them, and they loved—well, they loved racing, even though they knew it could kill them. There was a part of them that loved it because they knew it could kill them.RUSH

As Lauda (Daniel Brühl) points out, every time he climbs into his car’s cockpit, he’s aware there’s a 20 percent chance he won’t make it out alive.

“Staring death in the face, there’s nobility in that,” says Hunt (Chris Hemsworth). “It’s like being a knight.”

Brühl and Hemsworth are both outstanding, and it’s especially good to see Hemsworth break out of his Thor tights. Olivia Wilde shines in her role as the globetrotting fashion model who becomes Hunt’s wife…until another playboy, this one a famous Hollywood movie star, enters the picture.

RushMoviegoers who might be put off by the idea of a “racing” movie should know that while Rush revs up its story, it’s much more than a flick about fast cars. At its core are two men who happen to be racers, and the drama that builds around them as the years unfold. We learn how both Hunt and Lauda came to be both rivals and admirers, and how they were both “hulk-headed kids, scorned by [their] families, headed nowhere,” before finding their futures behind the wheels of the low-slung, super-fast cars on the Grand Prix circuit.

And we see how Lauda finds the will to recover from a horrific accident, and return to the track, by watching videotapes of Hunt continuing to win races.

Howard, the former child actor who grew up to become one of Hollywood’s top directors, adds another winner to his resume with this hip, cool-running crowd pleaser that’s also a terrifically made movie all-around. Each scene is meticulously constructed with careful detail, from the burnished, Kodachrome-esque glow cast by cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle (who won an Oscar for his work on Slumdog Millionaire), to the parade of ‘70s fashions and the soundtrack of retro tunes from David Bowie, Steve Winwood and Thin Lizzy.

8D92_FPF_00305R.JPG_cmyk

The racing scenes, whether on sun-dappled pastoral country roads in England or dark, rain-lashed sections of do-or-die championship track under the imposing shadow of Mt. Fuji in Japan, are thrilling, taking advantage of everything that modern movies can do with seamless integrations of live action and digital effects.

But the thing that Rush does best, however, is never let you forget about the two men—the two real men—who did the driving.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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