Monthly Archives: February 2014

Live Like You Were Dying

McConaughey, Leto lead Oscar nominees in ‘Dallas Buyers Club’  

Dallas Buyers Club

Dallas Buyers Club

Blu-ray $34.99 / DVD $29.98 (Universal Studios Home Entertainment)

Matthew McConaughey stars as a high-living, homophobic Texas cowboy whose life is turned inside out when he’s diagnosed with AIDS and given 30 days to live. Taking matters into his own hands, he seeks alternative treatments—legal and illegal—and begins his own “buyer’s club” for the life-extending drugs he can’t obtain through conventional channels, eventually uniting an eclectic group of fellow social outcasts. Based on a true story from the 1980s, this powerful, inspiring tale resulted in six Oscar nominations, including Picture, Lead Actor for McConaughey, and Supporting Actor for Jared Leto, whose wrenching performance as the transgendered Rayon has already raked in dozens of awards, including trophies from the Screen Actors Guild and the Golden Globes.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Here’s The Pitch…

Learn baseball’s colorful vocabulary of lingo, slang & expressions

How To Speak Baseball

How to Speak Baseball

By James Charlton and Sally Cook

Illustrations by Ross MacDonald

Hardcover, 128 pages, $14.95 / Kindle edition $7.99 (Chronicle Books)

Even if you don’t realize you’re talkin’ baseball, you probably do occasionally: “He threw me a curve ball.” “I really struck out.” “Time to step up to the plate.” Now, with this handy little compendium of baseball’s rich, colorful vocabulary of slang terms, phrases and expressions (complete with whimsical illustrations), you can be fully versed in the lexicon of America’s oldest team sport—and able to discern between a “banjo hitter,” a “spitter” and a “splitter,” tell if a pitcher is a “fireman,” a “cousin” or a “portsider” trying to “climb the ladder” or “paint the corners,” and, once a ball is hit, know with certainty whether to pronounce it a “dribbler,” a “looper,” a “frozen rope” or a “can of corn.”

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Soul Sister

Martina McBride colors outside the country lines

Everlasting_Martina McBride

Everlasting

Martina McBride

CD $15.83 (Kobalt)

The Nashville hit-maker revisits some of her favorite R&B and soul classics of the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s for this cover-song project she’s releasing on her own label, an obvious labor of love that shows the her passion for great music outside the genre for which she became famous. As McBride channels the spirit, if not necessarily the style, of Aretha Franklin, Sam Cooke, the Supremes, Van Morrison, Elvis Presley and other artists of those previous eras, on tunes including “Come See About Me,” “Wild Night,” “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” and “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted,” it’s a testament to the durability of not only these “everlasting” songs, but also to the wide-ranging vocal abilities of a world-class artist who proves she’s capable of much more than country sunshine.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Of Men and Machines

Rebooted robot tale is more recycled than refreshed

1174829 - ROBOCOP

RoboCop

Starring Joel Kinnaman, Michael Keaton, Gary Oldman & Samuel L. Jackson

Directed by José Padilha

PG-13, 117 min.

He’s a little bit human, a lot of machine—and a total throwback to 1987, when the original RoboCop first clicked, whirred and blasted onto the big screen as an R-rated whammy of speculative, satirical sci-fi about crime and justice, corruption, corporate greed, the media, and what might happen if we ever let computers do the thinking for us.

This tamer, toned-down PG-13 remake follows the basic plot of the original, with a few tweaks. Here it’s 2028, and Joel Kinnaman (from TV’s The Killing) plays Detroit police officer Alex Murphy, whose remaining body parts are implanted into a rock-’em, sock-’em exoskeleton after a dangerous undercover mission goes awry.

Joel Kinnaman;Gary Oldman;Aimee Garcia

The newly reconstituted “robocop” (Joel Kinnaman) with the doc who put him back together (Gary Oldman)

But Murphy’s high-tech reconstruction is underwritten by a mega-corporation with motives that aren’t exactly medical—and a billion-dollar stake in “privatizing” crime control.

Michael Keaton is the corporation’s smarmy CEO. The always-dependable Gary Oldman brings subtle shadings of conflicted genius to his role as the researcher/physician/surgeon who integrates man with machine. Jack Earle Haley makes a dandy, devious foil as a robot trainer. Samuel L. Jackson pops in and out as a one-man Greek chorus, a TV talk-show host stumping for bots to do all the dirty work for police officers and soldiers.

Back in 1987, that concept seemed a lot more far-off futuristic than it does today, when robots and robotic processes have already taken over all sorts of jobs once done by humans, and drone airplanes are doing widespread military surveillance—and more lethal tasks—as well as operations for police, firefighters and reporters.

Joel Kinnaman;Jackie Earle Haley

Jack Earle Haley (right) is a devious robot trainer.

This RoboCop isn’t a total clunker. It looks cool and sleek, and Brazilian director José Padilha, making his first English-language film, keeps things moving at a lively action-movie clip. But after 25-plus years, too much of this rebooted robot tale just feels recycled instead of refreshed, especially compared to the visceral, original kick of its groundbreaking ’80s predecessor.

I do have to give some props to the rockin’ soundtrack, however. Any movie that works in Frank Sinatra’s “Fly Me to the Moon,” orchestrates a shootout to the loony ’70s hit “Hocus Pocus” by the Dutch group Focus, and rolls end credits to the Clash’s cover of “I Fought the Law” gets at least one pop-cultural attaboy from me.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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The City of Angels

A photo-packed paean to America’s West Coast icon

Los Angeles

Los Angeles

By David L. Ulin

Hardcover, 572 pages / $69.99 (Taschen)

Ulin, the books editor for the Los Angeles Times, hosts this golly-whopping historical sweep to present an extraordinary depiction of the City of Angels, from the first known photograph ever taken of the shantytown that would become L.A. in 1862 to the modern-day urban metroplex it is today. Packed with more than 500 images from  photographers, archives and collectors, plus accompanying decade-by-decade  essays, it’s a sprawling, spectacular paean to one of America’s most iconic cities and its many contributions to world, cast in all its grit and greatness.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Far Out

Sandra Bullock is a knockout in thrilling outer-space drama 

Gravity

Gravity

Blu-ray +DVD + Digital Bonus Pack $35.99 (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment)

Sandra Bullock stars in this technically dazzling Oscar-nominated thriller as a NASA medical engineer thrown into a terrifying struggle to survive after her first space shuttle mission suddenly erupts in catastrophe. George Clooney’s also along for some of the ride, but this is Bullock’s show all the way as her character stares down the blackness of the cold, indifferent, infinite void of the cosmos—and wonders how she can possibly get home.  Bonus content includes behind-the-scenes features, a short film by director Jonás Cuarón, and a look at the groundbreaking special effects, which create the most realistic, believable scenes of bodies and other “weightless” objects bobbing, bouncing, twirling, hurtling, and colliding ever depicted on screen.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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What Are The Odds?

Fascinating facts abound in dandy data round up 

The Book of Odds

The Book of Odds

By Amram Shapiro, Louise Firth-Campbell & Rosalind Wright

Softcover, 238 pages, $26.99 / Kindle edition $13.29 (William Morrow)

 

What are the odds? Now you’ll know, with this handy, dandy compendium of thousands of ’em, presented in chapters that cover the cradle to the grave—like the best odds for a boy to be named Harold were in the 1920s (1 in 80.4); the odds a female college student has a tattoo on her neck (1 in 125); the odds that an adult agrees that “creatures such as Bigfoot and the Loch Ness monster will one day be discovered by science” (1 in 5.6). With sidebars, trivia boxes, lists, graphs and other helpful breakouts, it’s a wealth of data that you can open up anywhere and find something fascinating.

 

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Winter Break

Will ‘Nebraska’ finally crack the Oscar ice for Bruce Dern?

NEBRASKA

Nebraska

Starring Bruce Dern & Will Forte

Directed by Alexander Payne

R, 115 min.

Bruce Dern has only been up for two Academy Awards. Back in 1979, he was nominated for his supporting role as a stressed-out Vietnam-vet husband in Coming Home. (He lost to Christopher Walken, who played another, even more stressed-out Vietnam vet, in The Deer Hunter.)

Now, 25 years later, he’s back in the running again, this time for a Best Actor trophy, for what might well be the crowning performance of his entire career—as a cantankerous Montana senior citizen on a crazy quest to claim a sweepstakes jackpot across the state line in Nebraska.

Dern plays Woody Grant, who mistakenly thinks that the Publishers Clearing House-style notification/solicitation he’s received means he’s won a million dollars. Woody may have a touch of dementia, might have a drinking problem, and he certainly “believes stuff that people tell him,” according to his adult son, David (Will Forte of Saturday Night Live fame).

NEBRASKAThis “little” film shuffles along at a leisurely pace, without a lot of the frills, thrills or spills that usually mark box-office champs. Yet it’s up for five other 2014 Oscars: Best Picture, plus nominations for June Squibb (Supporting Actress), who plays Woody’s tart-tongued war horse of a wife; veteran cinematographer Phedon Papamichael, whose black-and-white vistas often look like fine-art photographic prints; writer Bob Nelson, who provided the wit, warmth and humanity of the screenplay; and director Alexander Payne (The Descendants, Sideways, About Schmidt, Election), a native of Omaha, whose affinity for the empty, wide-open spaces and deadpan social cadences of the Midwest shows in the authenticity of every scene, every conversation, and every character, and in the way he gradually reveals the details, wrinkles and folds of the story.

It’s a story of a simple road trip that becomes something much bigger, much broader, and much deeper—a tale of fathers and sons and families, of generosity and grudges, of old memories and youthful frolics, of the many shades of grey in the wide spectrum of love.

NEBRASKA

“He doesn’t need a nursing home,” David tells his brother (Bob Odenkirk, of TV’s Breaking Bad). “He just needs something to live for.”

It’s got six shots at taking home an Oscar this year. But even if doesn’t, this wonderful, warmhearted winter gem of a film is already a big winner, especially for anyone fortunate enough to see it.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Sparks of Love

Roundup features star-studded movies based on romance novels

Nicholas_Sparks_DVD_Collection

Nicholas Sparks Limited Edition DVD Collection

DVD $69.97 (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment)

Hey, lovebirds, here’s something to coo about: Seven star-studded movies based on the romance novels of Nicholas Sparks are now for the first time available together in this super-snuggly gift set. Sparks, if you don’t know, is the maestro of mushiness whose 17 books have been published in 50 languages and sold some 90 million copies worldwide—and turned into these flicks: Safe Haven (2013) with Julianne Hough; The Lucky One (2012) with Zac Efron; Dear John (2010) with Channing Tatum and Amanda Seyfried; Nights in Rodanthe (2008) with Richard Gere and Diane Lane; Message in a Bottle (1999) with Kevin Costner; A Walk to Remember (2002) with Mandy Moore; and The Notebook (2004) with Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams. Extras include a postcard set with images from each flick.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Save the Chimps

Proceeds of book go to world’s largest chimpanzee rehab sanctuary  

Opening Doors

Opening Doors

By Gary Ferguson

Hardcover, 176 pages ($24.95, Save The Chimps)

Chronicling the trials as well as the triumphs of rescuing and rehabbing abused, neglected chimpanzees from labs, roadside “attractions” and even backyards, this chronicle of the work of primatologist Dr. Carole Noon will warm the hearts of animal lovers of all kinds. With more than 250 photos of chimps playing, socializing, relaxing, enjoying life or simply looking into the camera, it’s easy to understand why, as Noon says, “chimpanzees are amazing people.” All proceeds from the sale of the book go toward the funding of her Save the Chimps foundation, the world’s largest chimpanzee sanctuary, in Ft. Pierce, Fla.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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