Monthly Archives: April 2014

Laugh & Learn

The many lessons between Monty Python’s punch lines

Everything I Ever Needed To Know About___ I Leared From Monty Python

Everything I Ever Needed to Know About ____* I Learned from Monty Python

By Brian Cogan, Ph.D and Jeff Massey, Ph.D

Hardcover, 320 pages ($25.99 Thomas Dunne Books, Kindle edition $11.04)

The authors, two profs at New York’s Molloy College, apply their scholarly skills to a entertaining, engaging deconstruction of the work of classic British satire of iconic comedy troupe, showing how it coursed with complex, nuanced references to history, art, literature, language, religion and a myriad of other “intellectual” contexts. Covering the group’s 1969-1973 TV series onward, it’s sure to delight diehard Python fans. But it’s also a hoot for anyone interested in learning more about one of comedy’s most durable acts, whose subversive pop cultural success spread from television to movies and eventually the Broadway stage.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Let It Rain

New take on Old Testament tale isn’t your familiar Sunday School fare

NOAH

 

Noah

Starring Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Emma Watson & Anthony Hopkins

Directed by Darren Aronofsky

PG-13, 138 min.

Is director Darren Aronofsky’s sprawling saga of Noah and the Great Flood a profane violation of a sacred story? Or is it a mind-blowing cinematic exploration of a character wrestling with faith, doubt, dreams, guilt, miracles and the fate of mankind itself, set in one of the most epic tales of all time?

You’ll have to see it to decide for yourself, but there’s ammunition for both camps.

Russell Crowe plays Noah as the last good man—literally—in a bleak, barren world that’s gone downhill after the good ol’ Adam & Eve days of yore in the Garden of Eden. He gets a message from “the creator” that mankind isn’t worth keeping around, and it’s time to wipe—or wash—the slate clean and start over. (“God” isn’t mentioned by name, which has apparently rankled some by-the-Book viewers.)

NOAHSo Noah builds a big boat, with a plan to take along only his wife (Jennifer Connelly), their three hunky sons, an orphaned girl who’ll grow up to become his daughter-in-law (Emma Watson)—and the only creatures on the planet that haven’t defiled and depleted it, the animals.

“Men are going to be punished for what they’ve done to this world,” Noah says. “The creator has chosen us to save the innocent.”

You probably know the rest of the story. But you probably don’t know the parts about Noah and his lineage being plant-loving, peaceful vegetarians, while the rest of mankind are bloodthirsty, meat-craving barbarians. (Take that, Earth-killing carnivores.) Or that Noah was pretty handy snapping necks or dispatching his enemies with an axe, or a knife, or whatever weapon was handy. Or that he had a pretty sizeable assist in putting the ark together by a group of stone giants, one of them voiced by Nick Nolte.

NOAH

Emma Watson

There are also subplots about teenage rebellion and young love—this is a big-budget, big-studio movie, after all—and a cool, artsy film-within-the-film when Noah explains the seven days of creation. (Cue even more controversy.) The flood itself is something awesome—and awful—to behold. And there are explosions.

Anthony Hopkins plays Noah’s father, Methuselah, and Ray Winstone is Tubal-Cain, a minor character barely noted in the Old Testament who gets elevated to his own subplot as a conniving thug of a king who threatens to derail Noah’s entire mission.

The sets—especially the locations filmed in Iceland—look spectacular. Some of the special effects have an over-the-top, sci-fi, Lord of the Rings feel that may be a bit jarring to some viewers, but hey, consider the magnitude of what the story is about, after all—a cataclysmic mega-event bigger than anything hobbit Bilbo Baggins ever faced in Middle Earth.

NOAH

It’s long, a lot to digest, and it certainly deviates from what you might have covered in Sunday School. But boy, is it ever interesting—and well worth seeing, especially if you’re open to a bold, trippy new interpretation of an old, old story, about miracles of varying size and shape, in which you still today might find some new inspiration.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Conversation Starters

Hip, handy guide for navigating all sorts of social situations

What to Talk About

What to Talk About

By Chris Colin & Rob Baedeker

Illustrations by Tony Millionaire

Hardcover, 160 pages ($14.95, Chronicle Books)

Kindle edition $8.69

 

Written by a journalist and a comedian with pen-and-ink illustrations by Millionaire, a well-known alternative-style cartoonist, this hip, handy handbook offers a array of conversational suggestions for all sorts of social situations, conveniently broken down into categories for maximum effectiveness: Small Talk, Parties, Friends, Family, Work, Travel, Romance, etc. Sometimes absurdly silly but often downright helpful, it’s a witty navigational tool for anyone who could use a little assistance in meeting the communication challenges of the many social realms in which we must constantly move and maneuver.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Not So Funny

A parable of fame and how far people will go for a taste of it

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The King of Comedy

Blu-ray $24.99 (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment)

 

Don’t be mislead by the title: There’s not a lot of ha-ha in this quirky tale of a would-be stand-up comedian (Robert De Niro) who kidnaps a successful New York City talk-show host (Jerry Lewis) to get a long shot a stardom. Directed by the great Martin Scorsese, it’s long been regarded as a prickly modern parable about the high price of fame and the extremes to which some people are willing to go for even a fleeting taste of it. This neat-o 30th anniversary Blu-ray package features interviews with the director and stars, a making-of documentary and deleted scenes.

 —Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Play Time

Poignant portraits of kids and their favorite playthings

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Toy Stories

By Gabriele Galimberti

Hardcover, 110 pages ($24, Abrams Image)

 

The premise is simple enough: kids and their toys. But photographer Galimberti, who spent three years traveling the world for this project, brings out a spectrum of diversity—and makes a poignant statement about the universality of play—in these 54 meticulously posed portraits of individual children from America, India, China, Fiji, Iceland and dozens of other countries posing with their favorite dolls, games, stuffed animals, plastic guns, action figures, balls and bats or other tokens of activity, companionship and imagination.

 

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Time Jumper

Marvel’s red, white & blue WWII hero confronts contemporary enemies

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Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Starring Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Robert Redford and Samuel L. Jackson

Directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo

PG-13, 135 min.

 

Thawed out from his Rip Van Winkle-like cryogenic hibernation, experimentally enhanced WWII U.S. Army super-soldier Capt. Steve Rogers—a.k.a. Captain America (Chris Evans)—now adjusts to the modern world. His Nazi-hunting days are behind him, but he’s still serving his country on missions for S.H.I.E.L.D, the global protection conglomerate, with his sexy crime-fighting partner the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), a former Soviet agent.

But maybe Cap’s not so free of his past, after all. A legendary, near-indestructible assassin rumored to be almost 100 years old, with a Hannibal Lector-like muzzle on his mouth and a gleaming robotic arm, is out to get him. And he smells a rat inside his own organization; could the high-ranking S.H.I.E.L.D. operative Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford), now running the World Security Council, have anything to do with it? Paranoia is everywhere. “Don’t trust anybody,” his wounded leader, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), warns him.

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Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury.

A brawny blockbuster-formula movie with the brains of an espionage thriller, Captain America: The Winter Soldier recalls vintage ’70s spy romps but resonates with contemporary issues about military might, black-ops government conspiracies, historical cover-ups, war, peace and privacy in this digital era.

Sibling directors Anthony and Joe Russo stage the action with gusto and a real sense of the changing scale and proportion needed for fight sequences that take place in a variety of settings, ranging from the claustrophobic confines of a crowded elevator to the expanses of a colossal cargo ship, and eventually taking flight into the sky itself.

Savvy fans who keep up with the Marvel Comics universe will enjoy watching for the obligatory cameo from founder Stan Lee, and staying for the after-credits surprises—both of them—about where the ever-expanding franchise will go next.

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“How do we know the good guys from the bad guys?” the Cap’s new ally, Sam Wilson/The Falcon (Anthony Mackie), asks in the middle of one particularly rousing, action-y moment. It’s a good question, then and now. Who can you trust?

At least in this movie, you can always trust the guy with the shield and the star—the guy who says, “The price of freedom is high, it always has been.” He’s been one of the good guys for a long time.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Anchors Away!

Cast of original comedy returns for more TV shenanigans

Anchorman 2

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues

Blu-ray $39.99, DVD $29.99 (Paramount Home Entertainment)

Will Ferrell, Steve Carrell, Paul Rudd, Christina Applegate and the rest of the original cast return in this hilarious sequel about a 1970s TV-reporting dream team now wrecking round-the-clock havoc in the ’80s on cable-TV’s first 24-hour news network. For a splurge, get the Blu-ray: It’s loaded over four hours of bonus content, including a raunchy R-rated version with 763 (!) new jokes not in the original; commentary by the stars and director; gags, goofs and deleted scenes; rehearsal footage and auditions; and much more.

 

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

 

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Dead Animal Oddities

Meet the Victorian Era’s epic taxidermist

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Walter Potter’s Curious World of Taxidermy

By Dr. Pat Morris with Joanna Ebenstein

Hardcover, 132 pages ($19.95 pages, Blue Rider Press)

 

It may seem freakishly odd now, but 150 years ago “anthropomorphic taxidermy”—posing and dressing small deceased animals to look like people—was all the rage. And a British gentleman named Walter Potter was a superstar of the art form, even opening his own museum to display his meticulously crafted scenes of rabbit schoolchildren, bowling frogs, funeral-attending birds and cigar-chomping squirrels. Potter’s coolly creepy collection (newly re-assembled by Morris, a natural history expert and biologist, and photographed by Ebenstein, curator of Brooklyn’s Morbid Anatomy Museum) may give you the willies. But it’s almost impossible to keep from turning the page to see what Victorian Era animal oddities come next.

 

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Trials & Triumph

Terrific cast, searing true story in Oscar-winning ‘Slave’

12YearsASlave_BD

12 Years a Slave

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

 

With its Oscar for Best Picture capping off a run as one of the most celebrated films of 2013, director Steve McQueen’s epic adaptation of a true American slave’s odyssey is often difficult to watch, but becomes something triumphant to behold. The all-star cast (which includes Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt, Benedict Cumberbatch, Sarah Paulson, Paul Dano and Paul Giamatti) is anchored by the riveting powerhouse performances of Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northup, a free black man kidnapped and sold into slavery, and Lupita Nyong’o, who received the Academy Award for Supporting Actress as Patsy, a fellow captive. Extras include several behind-the-scene features, including Ejiofor reading passages from Northup’s autobiography, on which the movie was based.

 

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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