Monthly Archives: April 2014

Dreaming & Doing

Ben Stiller directs & stars in charming rom-com-adventure remake

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Blu-ray $39.98, DVD $29.98 (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment)

 

Most modern-day viewers are too young to remember the original movie with this title, a 1947 adventure-comedy romp starring Danny Kaye. Here Ben Stiller takes the same basic premise and runs with it, directing and starring in this delightful and fanciful tale of a timid LIFE magazine photo editor who gets a little too caught up in his daydreams—until his daydreams become an amazing, life-changing real adventure. Kristen Wiig, Shirley MacLaine and Sean Penn round out the cast, and the bounty of bonus content includes several deleted and alternate scenes and behind-the-scenes mini-features about the making of the movie.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Bicentennial Ball

In 1976, America’s pastime mirrored the celebration—and craziness—of the nation’s mood

Stars and Strikes

Stars and Strikes

By Dan Epstein

Hardcover, 400 pages, $28.99 / Kindle edition$12.74 (Thomas Dunne Books)

 

The author, who previously chronicled ’70s baseball in Big Hair and Plastic Grass, focuses here on one particularly distinctive year during that decade, looking at America’s pastime through a prism of current events and popular culture as the nation celebrated its 2000 birthday and the 1976 season unfolded in a colorful, often zany setting—changing fashions and hairdos on and off the field, disco-pop music, TV shows and movies, and news headlines about Patty Heart’s kidnapping, Legionnaires Disease and an election campaign that would lead to end of the Watergate era and a new president from the South. As the author says, it’s a tale “rich with electrifying moments, oddball events and unforgettable characters—all set against the star-spangled backdrop of the Bicentennial.”

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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British Invasion

Recalling the ’80s ‘new wave’ of bands from across the sea

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Mad World

By Lori Majewski & Jonathan Bernstein

Softcover, 320 pages, $19.95 / Kindle edition $9.99 (Abrams)

 

If you came of age the ’80s, you remember the impact of British “new wave,” as MTV introduced America to the sights and sounds of the synth pop, goth, industrial, electro and punk-alt-rock combinations that came from across the sea—and helped to define a generation. This sprawling, photo-packing oral history, featuring interviews with members of Tears For Fears (the title comes from one of their tunes) Duran Duran, Adam and the Ants, INXS, Simple Minds, A-ha, The Waitresses, Bow Wow Wow and many more acts of the decade, all talking about their music and their time in the spotlight, casts an entertaining, insightful retro glow on one of pop music’s most colorful, anything-goes eras.

 

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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A Great Escape

Wes Anderson’s latest romp is a quirky, colorful movie getaway

Digital Fusion Image Library TIFF File

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Starring Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori and Willem Dafoe

Directed by Wes Anderson

R, 100 min.

 

With director Wes Anderson, you either “get him” and his oddball characters, quirky plots and distinctive, whimsical visual style, or you don’t. A whole lot of people do, however, in his movies including The Fantastic Mr. Fox, Moonrise Kingdom and The Royal Tenenbaums.

Now The Grand Budapest Hotel offers a bustling movie getaway most Wes Anderson fans will find irresistible.

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Tony Revolori & Saoirse Ronan

A wild romp set in a 1930s Eastern European mountain resort, it features a colorful assortment of players and a story within a story within a story that keeps burrowing deeper into its own silly seriousness. As with most Anderson projects, he works with cavernous open spaces as well as delicate, meticulously detailed miniatures.

His sights, like scenes carefully colored with pastel crayons from a storybook, are often sumptuous, and his actors move, and speak, with a clockwork cadence that adds to the sense of comedic orchestration.

The plot unfolds backwards, as unspooled by the owner of the hotel (F. Murray Abraham) to one of its guests (Jude Law), relating his beginnings as the establishment’s bellboy, Zero (played by newcomer Tony Revolori in his first starring role). Zero and his mentor, the hotel’s longtime, ladies-man concierge, the ultra-dapper Monsieur Gustave (Ralph Feinnes), become friends and co-conspirators in a spiraling, sprawling misadventure that includes a murder, a missing will, a purloined painting, an outlandish prison break, and the outbreak of something that resembles World War II.

Along the way, they encounter a spectrum of characters, played by actors including many who’ve cropped up in previous Anderson movies (Owen Wilson, Edward Norton, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray—who’s appeared in every Wes Anderson film—Adrien Brody, Jeff Goldblum, Willem Dafoe, Bob Balaban, Harvey Keitel), as well as Saoirse Ronan, Tilda Swinton and Tom Wilkinson.

Digital Fusion Image Library TIFF File

Bill Murray

Everyone seems to be having a big old time in the big old hotel, and everywhere else, and several scenes are real hoots, like the scampering prison escape—which feels like a live-action re-enactment of something from the stop-motion animation antics of The Fantastic Mr. Fox—and an extended sequence in which a secret cadre of other concierges drop everything to help one of their own out of a jam.

The story is based on a book by little-remembered Austrian novelist and playwright Stefan Sweig, who was actually one of Europe’s most popular writers of the 1920s and ’30s. Anderson gives Sweig an “inspired by” credit at the end of the film.

Anderson’s detractors often think his movies are contrived, pretentious, gimmicky, too indy/arty or simply not nearly as funny as Mr. Anderson must think they are. OK, fair enough. But if you’re looking for a kooky, slightly off-kilter stopover in a place that can offer you an exhilarating, completely unique experience like nothing else at the multiplex, then I recommend you check in for a couple of free-wheeling hours—at The Grand Budapest Hotel.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

 

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The Heat on the ‘Hill’

A royal roundup of the classic ’80s TV series

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Hill Street Blues: The Complete Series

DVD, $199.99 (Shout! Factory)

 

In the early 1980s, there were no smarter, sharper cops on TV than the ones who worked the metropolitan beat of Hill Street, the ones who began each day hearing the encouraging words of Sgt. Esterhaus (Michael Conrad) telling them to “Be careful out there.” This superb, first-time roundup of all 144 acclaimed episodes, which received 26 Emmy Awards during its seven-year network run, includes a bounty of bonus content, including the original 1981 pilot episode, a 24-page commemorative book, commentary by some of the show’s outstanding ensemble cast, writers and creators, and on-set gags and practical jokes.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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What’s So Funny?

A professor and a writer walk into a bar…

The Humor CodeThe Humor Code

By Peter McGraw & Joel Warner

Hardcover $26 / Kindle edition $11.89 (Simon & Schuster)

What makes us laugh? The two authors, a university professor and an award-winning journalist, teamed up to span the globe on a quest to find out what’s (so) funny, questioning dozens of experts (from professional comedians to cartoonists and comedy writers), auditioning to be laughers for Los Angeles TV tapings, investigating an African mass hysteria outbreak, risking arrest in a Scandinavian cartoon controversy, and testing their talents at the world’s largest comedy festival. Witty, wise and full of delightful surprises, it’s a rollicking expedition that seeks a common connection to all our collective funny bones.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Go, Bilbo, Go

Everyone’s favorite hobbit is halfway home

The Hobbit_The Desolation of Smaug

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Blu-ray Combo Pack $35.95/DVD $28.98 (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment)

Lord of the Rings fans, you’re halfway there: This sprawling sci-fi spectacle marks the midpoint of the cinematic trilogy based on the enduring fantasy novel by J.R.R. Tolkien in which hobbit protagonist Bilbo Baggins traverses Middle Earth on an epic quest laden with many dangers—and a gazillion special effects. The all-star international cast features Martin Freeman, Benedict Cumberbatch, Evangeline Lilly and Orlando Bloom, and bonus content includes several behind-the-scenes production documentaries hosted by director Peter Jackson, and a music video for Ed Sheeran’s “I See Fire,” the movie’s theme song.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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I Feel a Draft

Kevin Costner goes to the gridiron in fictional yarn based on annual NFL event

DRAFT DAY

Draft Day

Starring Kevin Costner, Jennifer Garner and Dennis Leary

Directed by Ivan Reitman

PG-13, 109 min.

Somewhat as Moneyball looked at the inside business of baseball, director Ivan Reitman’s Draft Day pulls back the curtain on the high stakes, high pressures and high-wire hoopla of the annual process by which the National Football League selects its new recruits.

Unlike the better-crafted, based-on-a-true-story baseball movie, however, this formulaic, made-up tale is a pure Hollywood concoction. But it blurs its line between fact and fiction by the use of real NFL locations, cameos by real-life past and present NFL players and other real-life sports personalities, and scenes filmed for the movie at last May’s NFL draft at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.

The movie is set in one 12-hour period, during which the main character, fictitious Cleveland Browns manager Sonny Weaver (Kevin Costner), has to set things up to get the best new players he can when the Browns’ “picks” come up in the draft. This involves some serious war-room wheeling and dealing.

DRAFT DAY

It’s getting hot in here: The head coach (Dennis Leary) and manager (Kevin Costner) take a meeting.

Should Sonny go for the hotshot quarterback (Josh Pence), the humble son of a retired Browns player (Arian Foster), or the passionate defensive tackle (Chadwick Boseman)?

To add Sonny’s stress, he’s got a team owner (Frank Langella) who wants to fire him, a head coach (Dennis Leary) who doesn’t like him, and a girlfriend/co-exec (Jennifer Garner) who’s not happy that he’s not happy that she’s just found out she’s pregnant with their child.

Even Sonny’s own mom (Ellen Burstyn) piles on him. “You sold a cow for magic beans!” she chides him after hearing of a deal he intends to make.

Reitman and veteran film editors Dana Glauberman and Sheldon Kahn do some innovative things with split-screen wipes, swipes and pans, as when two characters have a telephone conversation and “overlap” into each other’s spaces. It gives a sense of motion to scenes where the only thing going on otherwise is just two people yakking—and there is a good deal of that.

DRAFT DAY

Costner and co-star Jennifer Garner

Football fans may be a bit disappointed that there’s so much blab-age and so little yardage—excessive talking at the expense of actual gridiron action. But the movie does a good job of dramatizing an aspect of the sport that’s become an entertainment event itself; this year’s draft will be televised on ESPN May 8-10.

And most fans will likely enjoy the all-around air of authenticity, spotting the real-life sports personalities—and throwing penalty flags when it feels like Hollywood puts a bit too much melodramatic spin on the subject.

DRAFT DAYAnd through it all, Costner—trailing decades of weathered charisma from Field of Dreams, Bull Durham and Tin Cup—anchors the story with a screen persona that seems right at home in a sports-themed movie about a central character under pressure, making decisions at odds with those around him, but somehow rallying to show that maybe he knows what he’s doing, after all.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Hooked

Feel the surf, taste the brine in this photographic tour of coastal fishing

Salt-Coastal and Fly Fishing

Salt: Coastal & Flats Fishing

Photography by Andy Anderson

Hardcover $55 (Rizzoli International)

 

Lean into the sea breeze, taste the brine, feel the tug of the tide: This handsome collection of 180 large-size, full-color images—and essays by fly-fishing expert and author Tom Rosenbauer—takes you on a guided tour of America’s top fishing hot spots. You may not actually be the one wading into the surf, casting the line and hauling in the striped bass, tuna, and tarpon in New England, the Pacific Northwest, the Bahamas, the Gulf Coast and the Florida Keys. But as you lose yourself in this vividly illustrated ode to the sheer joy of fishing, you might easily forget you’re not really there.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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One Hot Holiday

Winslet, Brolin steam up more than the kitchen in ‘Labor Day’

Labor Day

Labor Day

Blu-ray $39.99 / DVD $29.99 (Paramount Home Media)

Based on a best-selling romance novel by Joyce Maynard, this dreamy drama stars Kate Winslet as a neglected single mom whose life intersects with a mysterious, troubled stranger (Josh Brolin) over one steamy weekend noted in the title—and things get heated in more ways than one. (Just wait for the peach pie-making scene.) Director/writer Jason Reitman (Juno, Up in the Air) also works in a subplot about teenagers fumbling with bubbling hormones, for younger viewers. Extras include a making-of documentary, deleted scenes and commentary.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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