Monthly Archives: November 2013

Bursting With Pride

Country hitmaker Neal McCoy salutes his musical mentor

Pride_NealMcCoy

Neal McCoy

Pride (CD, $10.97 / Slate Creek Records)

McCoy, whose early singing stardom was forged under the guidance, tutelage and example of Country Music Hall of Famer-to-be Charley Pride in the 1980s, salutes his musical mentor with this tribute album of his songs, including the Pride standards “Is Anybody Going To San Antone,” “Kiss An Angel Good Mornin’,” “Kaw-Liga,” and “Mountain Of Love,” plus “Roll On Mississippi,” “You’re My Jamaica” and five other tunes. Fellow hit-makers Raul Malo of The Mavericks, Trace Adkins and Darius Rucker also lend their voices on this heartfelt project to assist McCoy in “paying honor to not only a wonderful man, but a wonderful family that gave another family a chance to make their mark.”

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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It’s Hammer Time…Again

Super-fans will get their fix, but everyone else might feel like this ‘Thor’ is just ‘more’

thor251e6e6b3ae340Thor: The Dark World

Starring Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman & Tim Hiddleston

Directed by Alan Taylor

PG-13, 112 min.

It’s hammer time again as Marvel Comics’ mallet-wielding Norse god of thunder makes his third appearance on the big screen.

Chris Hemsworth returns to the starring role and strides confidently into the story, which builds on elements from the first Thor (2011) as well as the The Avengers (2012), in which Thor joined with his fellow Marvel do-gooders Iron Man, Captain America and The Hulk.

Superhero franchise flicks have become big booming business, in case you haven’t noticed. All the ones based on Marvel characters start with a “flip-book” montage of Marvel iconography and end with teasers during and/or after the credits promoting upcoming movies, and the plots of most of them are already working ahead, spinning threads on storylines in the making and setting up new characters.

In this movie, as he does in every movie based on one of his characters, Marvel’s founder Stan Lee makes his obligatory cameo, and an Avenger pops in for a cameo. And now there’s a TV show, The Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., about characters spun off from the movies that spun off from the comic books.

Natalie Portman

Natalie Portman

Maybe that’s why this movie often feels like one big, expensive promotion, and the main dramatic driving force of this Thor just seems to be “more.”

Superhero fans will probably get their fix, but everyone else could easily feel like they’re being hammered into submission by a major marketing plan.

The characters are the same as be-Thor…I mean before. There’s the blonde-haired astro-Nordic beefcake himself; Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), the beautiful, brainy Earth scientist who loves him; his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins), the king of the cosmic kingdom of Asgard; Thor’s resentful step-brother, the treacherous trickster Loki (Tim Hiddleston); and an assortment of returning supporting players, including Idris Elba, Stellan Skarsgård, Rene Russo, and Kat Dennings from TV’s 2 Broke Girls.

The story’s…well, if not the same, more of the same: Something catastrophic will happen if Thor doesn’t stop it. In this case, it’s an evil force called the Aether in the hands of Dark Elves who want to use it to seriously gunk up the universe.

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As the ensuing computer-generated battle rages across the vastness of space, and the story ping-pongs between Asgard and England, Middle Earth-ern bows, arrows, swords and shields mix with Star Wars-ish laser blasters, teleportation devices and anti-gravity beams, as if two sets of mismatched action figures somehow spilled out of the toy box and onto the play mat.

Think of it as Game of Thrones in a galaxy far, far away. Which isn’t too much of a stretch, given that director Alan Taylor’s impressive TV resume includes that particular HBO series.

Tim Hiddleston

Tim Hiddleston

But Hemsworth owns his role, and so does Hiddleston as the villainous Loki, who has certainly become one of the franchise’s strongest second-tier characters.

It’s Stellan Skarsgård’s nutty professor Selvig, however, that really intrigues me. He prances naked around Stonehenge, uses a pair of shoes to explain a complicated theory of planetary alignment, knows how to take the oomph out of Armageddon, and works without pants because he says his brain functions better that way.

Now, when is that guy getting his own spin-off?

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Up, Up & Away

1983 tale of America’s first space cowboys shines on Blu-ray

TheRightStuff

The Right Stuff: 30th Anniversary Edition

Blu-ray $27.98 (Warner Home Video)

Director Philip Kaufman’s acclaimed 1983 drama about America’s space race and the original seven astronauts of Project Mercury—adapted from writer Tom Wolfe’s equally acclaimed 1979 bestseller—came to the screen in an era before computerized razzle-dazzle and the wizardry of digital special effects. But no matter: It remains a rocket ride of high-spirited, spunky adventure that perfectly captures the space-cowboy tone of the times, spurred along by a dream cast of Ed Harris, Scott Glenn, Sam Shepard, Dennis Quaid, Fred Ward, Barbara Hershey and Levon Helm. The commemorative Blu-ray comes with a generous load of bonus features, including several documentaries, a profile of real-life astronaut John Glenn, and commentary by the director, cast and crew.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Loved to Pieces

Heartwarming portraits of childhood holdovers hugged to tatters

MuchLoved_Jacket_Mech_r3.indd

Much Loved

Photographs by Mark Nixon

Hardcover, 124 pages ($17.95, Abrams Image)

Inspired by the unconditional, unbounded attachment of his young son to his stuffed Peter Rabbit, photographer Mark Nixon began seeking out other people’s snuggly childhood holdovers, eventually amassing these 65 quirky, charming and heartwarming portraits of teddy bears, bunnies and other furry friends, all of them hugged, squeezed, kissed and carted around to tatters. Each one is accompanied by a brief bio (like “Edward,” the stately 104-year-old Steiff teddy bear rescued from a cruel fate by Dublin’s Dolls Hospital, or “Flopsie,” a 6-year-old bunny whose owner’s aunt, a nurse, put a bandage on his leg to keep its stuffing from falling out), and the back page includes a blank spot for the reader to include a photo of his or her own favorite childhood stuffed companion, and record its history.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Long Shot

With five Oscar winners on screen, ‘Last Vegas’ should be more of a winner, too

LastVegasPhotoTûR[1]2Last Vegas

Starring Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Kline & Mary Steenbergen

Directed by John Turteltaub

PG-13, 105 min.

Advanced-age audiences have become a sizable movie demographic in recent years, one to which Hollywood has (wisely) been paying more and more attention.

Somebody wasn’t paying quite enough attention, however, to Last Vegas, which seems like a lazy exercise to cash in on the growing base of “maturing” ticket buyers using a cast of venerable, award-winning actors plugged into a story template clearly lifted from another successful franchise.

A buddy comedy about four 70-ish friends who convene for a bachelor-party weekend as the last single member of their group is (finally) about to tie the knot, it’s an over-the-hill Hangover with most of the ribald raunch of that 2009 blockbuster replaced with creaky jokes about achy joints, hemorrhoids and rapper 50 Cent sheepishly complaining to hotel management that the four horsemen of the AARP apocalypse are slammin’ and jammin’ so loudly he can’t sleep.

The movie counts on its all-star pedigree to carry its slender storyline a long way—and that’ll probably be enough for some folks, who’ll simply enjoy the precedent-setting spectacle of seeing Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline sharing the screen as the childhood buddies now grown up and reunited for a geezer-fied fling.

K72A3158.CR2The quip-filled script by Dan Fogleman (whose resume includes Cars, Bolt, Tangled, Crazy, Stupid Love and The Guilt Trip) sets up the characters quickly: Sam (Kline), who’s had so many joints replaced that his friends jokingly call him “the Bionic Man”; Archie (Freeman), recovering from a stroke but dying a slow death under the suffocating care of his overly attentive son; and grumpy Paddy (De Niro), living under a cloud of gloom after the death of his wife.

All three come to Vegas from their far-flung corners of the country when Billy (Douglas), their slick, high-living, lifelong bachelor bud with a sexy 32-year-old girlfriend, decides to get married and throw himself a Sin City send-off.

As the guys acclimate to the glitz of their new surroundings, director John Turteltaub, who previously steered three National Treasure kid-centric adventures, has them run a gauntlet of geriatric jokes. Most of chuckles, alas, feel churned from cheap sitcom stock. Sam, who’s been given a weekend “free pass” (as unlikely as that sounds) from his wife, can’t wait to pop the single Viagra pill in his pocket. Archie tries to maintain his ruse from his son that he’s really on a church retreat. The doorkeeper at the hotel’s after-hours nightclub thinks the group’s paltry $5 tip to skip his long line must be a joke. A young inebriated woman asks them if they have any drugs. “Does Lipitor count?” they want to know.

“This may be the first bachelor party I’ve attended that could be covered by Medicare,” says Diana (MaryK72A7000.CR2 Steenbergen, Oscar winner No. 5), a lovely lounge singer who’ll become a major player in the way the weekend unfolds.

Other movies have plumbed the issues of growing older with grace, dignity and a real sense of the humor and humanity that can be found in the walk into the long shadows of the twilight years. The four old lions in Last Vegas don’t aspire to anything so profound as they rip, roar, rib each other and “party like it’s 1959.”

You might expect more from an assemblage of actors with a spread of six golden Oscar statues among them. Those seem like pretty good odds for a successful, can’t-lose movie, right? Sorry to report that payoff is such a long shot.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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For History Buffs

Watching World War II unfold from every angle

WWII3FilmCollection

WWII 3-Film Collection

Blu-ray $29.99, DVD $24.98

(Lionsgate/A&E Consumer Products)

Here’s one DVD set that will keep armchair history buffs glued to their seats for hours—11 of them, to be exact! This five-disc collection of three History channel specials (WWII in HD, WWII in HD: The Air War and WWII From Space) offers expert examinations of the world’s most destructive conflict from three different perspectives, using combinations of first-person accounts, gripping narration, rare restored color film footage and stunning computer-graphic simulations that show what battles, troop movements and other key events would have looked like if they could have been tracked with modern-day satellite technology.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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One Thing Leads To Another

Stripping away the fluff of life’s most significant milestones

Life in Five Seconds

Life in Five Seconds

By Matteo Civaschi & Gianmarco Milesi

Softcover, 256 pages ($14.95, Quercus Books)

 

Life is short—there’s no time to waste bogged down in boring details. This whimsical breakdown takes some 200 events, cultural milestones, inventions, iconic places, and significant men and women throughout history…and pares away all the fluff, reducing them all to often-hilarious minimalist “pictographs” in which one thing leads naturally to another. The best way to use the book, suggests the authors, is as a quirky brain teaser: Look at the illustrations, then try to guess: Is it Frankenstein, Joan of Arc, the Great Wall of China, or sushi? Have fun…and maybe learn something, too!

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Gallery of Greatness

Robbie Robertson salutes musical movers & shakers

Legends Icons & Rebels

Legends, Icons & Rebels

By Robbie Robertson, Jim Guerinot, Jared Levine & Sebastian Robertson

Hardcover, 128 pages ($35, Tundra Books)

Robertson, one of the founders of the seminal music group The Band, collaborated with his adult son, Sebastian, and fellow music-biz veterans (and fathers) Guerinot and Levine, on this collection of tributes honoring 27 singers, songwriters and other performers across the spectrum of popular music “who changed with world” with their talent—and their tenacity. Featuring designs from numerous illustrators and including a CD with handpicked songs from each of the artists (including Johnny Cash, Chuck Berry, The Beatles, Elvis Presley, Patsy Cline, Ella Fitzgerald, Bob Marley and Carole King), it’s clearly geared for younger readers. But it’s a true multimedia treat for eyes and ears of any age.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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