Monthly Archives: May 2014

The Russians Are Humming

Billy Joel rock ‘n’ rolls back the Iron Curtain

SONY DSCA Matter of Trust: The Bridge To Russia

Billy Joel

2-CD/Blu-ray, $34.88 (Columbia Records/Legacy Recordings)

In 1987, piano-man superstar Billy Joel was invited to take his show on the road—to Russia, becoming the first American act ever to bring a full-fledged rock ’n’ roll tour to the Soviet Union. His tour, regarded as playing a major role in helping thaw once-chilly international relationships, was documented by a film crew, recorded and widely reported a worldwide news event. Now all the elements of that historic excursion have been remastered and reassembled into one dynamic package: a full-length film of one of the concerts; two live audio CDs of the music; plus the recent two-hour Showtime documentary about the tour, and a book with photos and notes from writers and journalists who were there.

 

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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WWII Crash Course

Time-Life re-intros book line, promises to make ‘instant experts’

World War II in 500 Photographs

Softcover, 272 pages / $17.95 (Time-Life)

World War 2 in 50 Photographs

Marking a re-launch of the venerable Time-Life line that churned out many a bookshelf-filling volume in the 1960s and ’70s, this photo-packed chronicle of the world’s greatest conflict promises to make its audience “instant experts” through a sweeping, comprehensive mix of information and graphics. Timed for release around the 75th anniversary of the onset of WWII—and designed for a new readers accustomed to information packaged in easily digestible bits and bytes—it’s an engrossing encyclopedia of all the major personalities, conflicts and events of the war, including Pearl Harbor, D-Day and Iwo Jima, and also includes numerous stats, timelines and other data-rich features.

 

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

 

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More Lies

Secrets, scandals and surprises abound in ‘Pretty Little Liars’

Pretty Little Liars

Pretty Little Liars: The Complete Fourth Season

DVD $59.98 (Warner Home Entertainment)

 

A clique of teenage girls (Troian Bellisario, Ashley Benson, Tyler Blackburn and Lucy Hale) falls apart after the death of their “queen bee” leader. But is she really dead? Who is “Red Coat”? And is that really actress-singer Nia Peeples making a guest appearance? (Yes!) Welcome to the secrets, scandals and surprises in the fictional Pennsylvania hamlet of Rosewood and Pretty Little Liars, the hit ABC Family TV drama based on the popular young-adult fiction series by Sara Shepard. Now you can binge watch all 24 episodes of last season—just before the new one begins June 10—and catch up on all the lies, lies, lies!

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Potty All The Time

Adam Sandler’s new comedy can’t find its way out of the bathroom

BLENDED

Blended

Starring Adam Sandler & Drew Barrymore

Directed by Frank Coraci

PG-13, 113, min.

 

You might get a sense of where Adam Sandler’s latest movie is headed as the first scene opens to the sound of a toilet flushing and the sight of his co-star, Drew Barrymore, exiting a public restroom stall.

Blended marks the third time Sandler and Barrymore have worked together, after The Wedding Singer and 50 First Dates. This time around, they play a couple of single parents whose blind date—at a Hooter’s—is a disaster, but who later end up, in one of those only-in-the-movies contrivances/coincidences, “blended” together with their respective kids at a luxurious African resort.

Sandler’s tastes in humor have never exactly been hallmarks of high refinement, and by now even most of his fans realize that he seems somehow incapable of evolving to a more enlightened state. BLENDEDThere are a lot of things wrong with Blended, but the biggest is that it drags so many younger actors down to Sandler’s crude, bathroom-humor level, all in the name of a “family” comedy about family togetherness.

Sandler’s character, Jim, has three daughters; Lauren (Barrymore) has two sons. So when they all end up together in the Dark Continent, it’s like an episode of the Brady Bunch, only with cutaway shots of rutting rhinos and jokes about cleavage, buttholes and crotches.

It’s hard to hold the “children” in the movie responsible for the actions of the adults, particularly Sandler, director Frank Coraci (who also directed him in The Waterboy, 50 First Dates and Click) and the writers, who concocted not one scene, but two, in which Jim’s youngest daughter (six-year old Alyvia Alyn Lind) gets to chirpily mispronounce a certain feminine body part as “bagina.” Isn’t that adorable?

Sandler, 47, plays the same wisecracking, goofball man-child schlub he’s basically played in every movie. Barrymore is adorable, but given little of substance to do outside of being his secondBLENDED banana, filling the necessary “female” role. The two of them do have a natural, relaxed chemistry, and some of their scenes together in this rom-com reunion, especially when Sandler’s not gobbling every punch line in sight, have a warm, unforced sweetness that almost feels like something from another movie entirely.

It’s just too bad that those little seeds of sweetness are buried beneath such a heaping mountain of comedic crap. For every genuinely funny, clever line, there are three dozen moaners. Technically, the movie’s a mess—it looks like it was shot, staged and edited in a mad rush. And it’s depressing to see such a big cast, including Shaquille O’Neal, Saturday Night Live alum Kevin Nealon, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Joel McHale and Terry Crews, yukking around in such muck.

“Is this a sick dream?” ask Sandler’s character at one point. After watching a movie that begins with a flushing toilet and ends with kids singing a song about poo, pee and “juicy farts,” it sure might feel that way for his audience.

 

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

Xs & Os

This sassy little book wants to beat you at Tic Tac Toe

Tic Tac Tome

Tic Tac Tome

By Willy Yonkers

Softcover, 1,444 pages, $12.95 (Quirk Books)

 

Are you pretty good at Tic-Tac-Toe? Well, this saucy little “interactive” book thinks it’s better—and wants to prove it. Forget about the messy old traditional pencil “marking” game; this ingenious format asks you start on any page, then go to other pages according to the choices you want to make, up, down or diagonally. Chances are, the book will be one move ahead of you, every time—guaranteeing you’ll stalemate, if not lose. As you’ll learn in the book’s cheeky introduction: “I’m an artificially intelligent expert system with one purpose: to totally dominate you in Tic-Tac-Toe.” Think you can beat the book? Perhaps—and you’ll have hours of fun trying, regardless.

 

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Sun & Fun

A celebration of the joys of summer in words & pictures

Summertime

Summertime

Edited by Joanne Dugan

Hardcover, 144 pages, $29.95 / Kindle edition $12.99 (Chronicle Books)

 

Ah, summertime: Just the word itself evokes images of vacation, school-free childhood days stretching endlessly toward the horizon, sun and skies and warm-weather frolics. This lovely coffee-table collection captures the potent essence of that most special, universally nostalgic season with more than 80 photos, from a variety of photographers and depicting a spectrum of seasonal activities, with quotes and musings from writers, philosophers other notables—like St. Francis of Assisi, who noted, “A single sunbeam is enough to drive away many shadows.” Even better, of course, if that sunbeam is in the summer!

 

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Oh, Magoo!

The theatrical roots of the TV cartoon grumbler-bumbler

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The Mr. Magoo Theatrical Collection 1949-1959

DVD $34.93 (Shout! Factory)

Fans of the Golden Age of cartoons have been waiting for this roundup of all the cartoon “shorts” (made to be shown in movie theaters) starring everyone’s favorite bumbling, grumbling, visually impaired misanthrope. Voiced by actor Jim Backus, Mr. Magoo became an audience favorite who went on to have his own TV series in the 1960s. This generous collection, however, takes him back to his movie-house roots, with 53 original shorts, plus the 1959 animated feature film 1,001 Arabian Nights, two documentaries, an interview with film critic Leonard Maltin, and commentaries.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Hear Him Roar

The King of the Monsters makes a rompin’, stompin’ comeback

GODZILLA

Godzilla

Starring Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Brian Cranston and Elisabeth Olson

Directed by Gareth Edwards

PG-13, 123 min.

 

At an age when some folks are thinking about retirement, the world’s most famous mega-monster is enjoying a roaring comeback.

First introduced in a 1954 Japanese flick as a metaphor for the nuclear weapons that had leveled Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II, Godzilla went on to become a worldwide pop-cultural phenomenon—and sometimes a parody. The gigantic lumbering lizard appeared in nearly 30 other movies, squared off against everyone from King Kong to Bambi, inspired a song by Blue Oyster Cult, shilled shoes for Nike, and received an MTV Lifetime Achievement Award.

If it sounds like show-business super-saturation turned the King of the Monsters—a title he’s held since the 1950s—into a softy and a sell-out, the latest movie returns him to his rockin’, rompin’, stompin’ roots.

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Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elisabeth Olson

While this Godzilla has an all-new, modern setting and story, it still connects back to the tale’s 1950s Atomic Age roots. Opening in 1999 when a nuclear physicist (Brian Cranston) detects a seismic anomaly in the Philippines that turns out to be something much more ominous, it quickly jumps ahead to present-day San Francisco, the scientist’s now-grown son (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), and another Pacific rumble signaling something big and bad once again about to blow…

Godzilla fans may be somewhat disappointed that they have to wait an hour for the main attraction to appear. But director Gareth Edwards deftly plays out the build-up to the big guy. He develops his characters (although Elizabeth Olson, as the wife of Taylor-Johnson’s character, and Ken Wantanabe, a fine, pedigreed Japanese actor, are all but lost in the shuffle). We meet a couple of other creatures, the huge, gargoyle-like Mutos, and delve into a subplot of government conspiracy and cover-up.

GODZILLASo when Godzilla finally does show, we’re ready for the rumble. As monster-movie fans know, Big G’s not really a bad guy; in fact, he usually appears when some other monster gets seriously out of bounds. And when two—or more—mega-monsters are tussling, well, you can just expect some things—Tokyo, Las Vegas, San Francisco—to get a bit trampled in the process.

Godzilla is also an environmentalist, of sorts. As Wantanabe’s character explains, “Nature has an order, a power to restore balance. He is that power.”

GODZILLA

Edwards, cinematographer Seamus McGarvey, and the special effects team do a great job of integrating digital dazzle and live action, and several scenes have an almost trippy, hypnotic aura of amazement and awe, as soldiers parachute through battling behemoths into the wrecked cityscape below, or children on a school bus watch Godzilla rage alongside the Golden Gate Bridge.

Other monsters come and go. But a prehistoric creature that still has the atomic oomph to strut out of the ocean depths, make a 400-foot-tall, megaton statement, and set the world straight, well, there’s only one that comes to mind.

Godzilla is still da bomb.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Love Bytes

‘Her’ raises questions about our connections to technology

Her

Her

Blu-ray Combo Pack $35.99 / DVD $28.98 (Warner Bros. Home Entetainment)

 

What does it mean to be in love? What senses are involved? Is it possible to love someone who isn’t there—who isn’t really “someone” at all? Director Spike Jonze’s provocative, critically acclaimed futuristic tale of a lonely man (Joaquin Phoenix) who falls in love with his computer’s new artificially intelligent operating system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson), raises all sorts of questions about technology and our growing relationship to it—and also becomes a surprisingly sweet, sensitive ode to the basic, timeless human need to connect. It also features Amy Adams, Rooney Mara and Olivia Wilde, an Oscar-winning original screenplay, and a captivating Oscar-nominated song by Karen O of The Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

 

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Pedal People

A super-cool celebration of the Big Apple’s biker population

New York Bike Style cover

New York Bike Style

By Sam Polcer

Softcover, 224 pages

$29.95 (Prestel)

 

In New York, one of our most always-on-the-go cities, a lot of the going is on two wheels. The bike-friendly Big Apple’s avid cyclist population is celebrated in this collection of images by photographer Sam Polcer, whose popular blog, PreferredMode.com, also attests to his favorite way of getting around town. ­Every photo—of commuters, BMX kids, fashionistas and a spectrum of other pedalers and pumpers from all the city’s five boroughs—is accompanied by a caption with the subject’s name, what kind of bike they’re riding, where the picture was taken, and where they’re heading. Riding a bike never looked so cool.

 

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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