Monthly Archives: June 2014

Super Cool Spies

Box set has all of Robert Culp & Bill Cosby’s ’60s secret-agent series

I Spy 3D with Discs

I Spy: The Complete Series

DVD, $129.99 (Shout! Factory)

The folks at Shout! have gone to the archival-TV well once again and come up with another winner. This 18-disc set contains all 82 episodes of the award-winning 1965-’68 series, about a pair of super-suave secret agents (Robert Culp and Bill Cosby, making his TV-acting debut) posing as a tennis pro and his trainer as they globe-trot to one exotic mission after another. If the witty banter, the international, James Bond-esque locales, and dapper derring-do aren’t enough to keep you engaged, you can keep count of the guest stars who pop in and out of action, including Gene Hackman, Jim Backus, Ron “Opie” Howard, Boris Karloff, Don Rickles, and Eartha “Catwoman” Kitt.

 

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Baseball Fan-Tography

Amateur pix taken by fans shows baseball behind the scenes

Fantography_San Diego Baseball

Fantography: San Diego Baseball

By Andy Strasberg

Softcover, 128 pages, $24.99 (Arcadia Publishing)

 

The author, a lifelong baseball lover and 20-year Padres employee, presents this collection of amateur photos taken by fans (including plenty from his own collection) for a decade-by-decade snapshot of goings-on in and around the San Diego fields that were home to Hall of Famers Dave Winfield, Goose Gossage, Rickey Henderson, Ozzie Smith and Roberto Alomar. The only “fantography” rule: No photos of game action. So, instead, it’s page after page of one-of-a-kind, behind-the-scene, sideline and in-the-stands shots, showing the intense connection of fans to their hometown team, year after year, win or lose. For baseball fans of any stripe, everywhere, it’s a hit.

 

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Psych Out

A search through the centuries to find out what makes us tick

The Psychology Book

The Psychology Book

By Wade E. Pickren

Hardcover, 528 pages, $29.95 (Sterling Publishing)

 

While this isn’t exactly a breezy summer beach read, it’s also far from the suffocating textbook you might expect when you hear that it’s a “history of psychology.” A bountiful, balanced mixture of text and illustrations, it’s an engrossing, time-lined encyclopedia of 250 milestones in study of human behavior, from ancient practices through contemporary concepts and principles, making them all easy to understand and showing why they’re significant, from prehistoric fortune-telling to modern neuroscience. For science buffs or even armchair browsers, it’s a fascinating core sample into the centuries of searching for answers about what makes us tick.

 

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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The Jersey Way

Clint Eastwood brings Frankie Valli & Four Seasons to the screen

JERSEY BOYS

Jersey Boys

Starring John Lloyd Young, Vincent Piazza, Erich Bergen & Christopher Walken

Directed by Clint Eastwood

R, 134 min.

Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons provided a snappy pop soundtrack to the 1960s and early ’70s, then rode a wave of massive nostalgic resurgence as the subjects of a smash, song-filled 2005 Broadway production, Jersey Boys, based on their story.

Now director Clint Eastwood dramatizes the saga of Valli and his three original singing partners in a movie—one that takes a lot of its cues from the Tony Award-winning musical. Using several of the Broadway cast members and two of the show’s writers, Eastwood shows how the young musicians came together in the early 1950s and rose to fame, walking a line between petty crime and dreams of stardom.

JERSEY BOYS

John Lloyd Young plays Frankie Valli.

“I’m going to be as big as Sinatra,” boasts Valli (John Lloyd Young) to the sexy young Italian spitfire who’ll eventually become his wife (Renée Marino). His mom worries he’ll end up “dead or in jail.”

Young, who portrayed Valli on Broadway, is outstanding, especially when summoning up Valli’s uncanny, almost otherworldly falsetto. “A voice like yours, it’s a gift from God,” says Gyp DeCarlo (Christopher Walken), the local mob wise guy, whose eyes well with tears when Frankie sings.

Erich Bergen plays Bob Gaudio, the Four Seasons’ songwriting guru, introduced to the group by Joe Pesci (yes, the actor, here played “pre-stardom” by Joseph Russo). Michael Lomenda is baritone singer Nick Massi, who never has much to say—until he explodes in a quasi-comical rant about having to room with dictatorial group founder Tommy DiVito (Vincent Piazza, the only performer who didn’t play a Four Season on Broadway).

By using a cast of newcomers, Eastwood focuses the attention on the story, not the stars. Having the main actors occasionally look directly into the camera and address the audience, however, is hit and miss. A holdover from the musical, it’s meant to allow each band member to provide his “side” of the story, but the voices fail to create a much of a framing device, or add any traction to the tale.

JERSEY BOYS

And what a tale: Dizzying heights (100 million records, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame), crashing lows (gangsters, embezzlement, fractured families). But for such an epic yarn, things often feel underdeveloped, too quick to move on. Nothing’s given time to sink in, register, resonate. Eastwood’s a solid, meat-and-potatoes director, but this fascinating, multi-textured story could have perhaps benefited from a bit more fine-tuning and finesse.

The music and the musical scenes, however, are toe-tapping terrific. And the story, a real-life combination of Goodfellas meets That Thing You Do!,follows a gritty, all-American arc of talent, pluck and luck, punctuated by songs—“Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Ragdoll,” “Walk Like a Man,” “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” “My Eyes Adored You”—that have stood the test of time.

The end-credits curtain call has the entire cast spilling into the streets for a choreographed hoof-it to “September 1963 (Oh What a Night),” the Four Seasons’ last big hit, from 1975. Another nod to the movie’s Broadway roots, it should help a lot of music lovers—especially those “of a certain age”—stroll out of the theater a bit looser, livelier and lighter than they walked in.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Back To School

Bumbling drug-busting cop duo returns for hilarious higher-ed hijinks

Jonah Hill;Channing Tatum

22 Jump Street

Starring Channing Tatum & Jonah Hill

Directed by Phil Lord & Christopher Miller

R, 112 min.

 

In a summer of sequels, the most laughs so far, and by far, come from a raunchy retro repeat that makes plenty of fun of its own recycled folly—and expense.

And it totally works. A follow-up to the 2012 hit comedy 21 Jump Street, a big-screen parody of the TV series of the late 1980s, this do-over reunites the duo of Jenko (Channing Tatum) and Schmidt (Jonah Hill), bumbling undercover-cop partners again trying to pass themselves off as students, only this time at a college instead of a high school.

The silly shoestring of a plot involves Jenko and Schmidt’s task to break up a dangerous drug pipeline called “WhyPhy,” which has caused the death of a coed. But that’s really just a loosey-goosey framework for a goofy R-rated grab bag of jokes, puns, sight gags and riffs, many of which are truly hilarious, as the two would-be students try to infiltrate campus life.

Channing Tatum“I’m the first person from my family to pretend to go to college,” says Jenko.

Most of the humor revolves around their attempts at blending in, especially since everyone notices immediately how much older they are than everyone else. (“Tell us about the war—any one of them,” prods one student.) But Schmidt impresses his classmates at an improv slam-poetry event (“Jesus died, runaway bride” is one of his on-the-fly couplets), and Jenko relives his teenage fantasy of becoming a football star, befriending the school’s dude-ish quarterback (Wyatt Russell, the son of Goldie Hawn and Curt Russell) and setting up a “bro-mantic triangle” subplot.

Jonah Hill;Channing TatumPatton Oswald pops up in one scene as a professor trying to coax coherent thoughts out of Tatum’s character’s thick head, and the Comedy Central duo of the Lucas Brothers, identical twins Kenny and Keith, make the screen hum with groovy energy every second they’re onscreen as laid-back, comically synchronized roommates.

Returning as Capt. Dickson, rapper-turned-actor Ice Cube still gets howls with his scowl and plays a pivotal role in one of the movie’s funniest scenes—a “gotcha” that truly sneaks up on you, which is a testament to the craft of returning directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, whose other collaborations include Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs and The LEGO Movie.

A recurring theme is an in-joke about just how lazy (and pricey) it is to just do the same thing over again—in this case, the same characters, same plot, same directors. “Exactly like last time,” dryly notes Deputy Chief Hardy (Nick Offerman from TV’s Parks and Recreation.

1178499 - 22 Jump StreetA chase across the campus—with drug lords in a Hummer pursuing Jenko and Schmidt in a little cart with an enormous football helmet “cab”—destroys everything in its path. At one point, the cart comes to a split: Which way should it go?

“Whichever way’s cheaper!” Jenko shouts.

The bawdy comedy tap runs wide open in 22 Jump Street. It may be a ridiculously expensive retread, but man, just about every jolly dollar gets a laugh.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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True Grit

Mark Wahlberg stars in real-life tale of survival behind enemy lines

Lone Survivor

Lone Survivor

Blu-ray $34.98, DVD $29.98 (Universal Studios Home Entertainment)

 

Mark Wahlberg headlines the cast in this intense, action-packed tale about a covert mission by four U.S. Navy SEALs in Afghanistan that goes terribly awry when they’re forced to make a moral decision that leads to an enemy ambush. Based on a true story, it’s a powerful, gung-ho, gut-punch drama about brothers in arms, heroism, courage and the sheer will to survive. Bonus content include several behind-the-scenes, making-of features, and an in-depth look at Marcus Luttrell, the real-life SEAL who received the Navy Cross and the Purple Heart for his actions in the mission on which the movie is based.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Pop-Rockin’ Horns

Chicago still cranking out the brassy, jazzy, snazzy tunes

Chicago XXXVI NOW

Chicago XXXVI (“Now”)

Chicago

CD $14.98 (Frontiers Records)

 

The iconic pop-rock “horn band,” which first came together in 1967 as the Chicago Transit Authority and went on to climb the charts with “If You Leave Me Now,” “Saturday In The Park,” “Feelin’ Stronger Every Day” and dozens of other hits, now clicks off album number 36 (and continues the tradition of naming each release with sequential Roman numerals). Anchored by founding members Robert Lamm, Lee Lougnane, Walt Parazaider and James Pankow, they sound as classy, brassy, jazzy and snazzy as ever, giving these eleven new tunes sharp contemporary sizzle, but also a solid grounding in the group’s suave, swingin’ instantly recognizable style.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Cosmic Cowboy

An intimate portrait of America’s most famous astronaut

Neil Armstrong-A Life of Flight

Neil Armstrong: A Life of Flight

By Jay Barbree

Hardcover, 364 pages

$27.99 / Kindle edition $12.74 (July 8, Thomas Dunne Books)

 

Barbree, an Emmy-winning broadcaster and space reporter, was also a longtime friend of America’s most famous astronaut, the first person to walk on the moon. His richly detailed profile of Armstrong, who died in 2012, is timed to coincide with the 45th anniversary of his subject’s historic 1969 mission and covers Armstrong’s life and career with intimacy, humor and heart, from his days as a U.S. Navy pilot through his training for the NASA space program, and ultimately into the commander’s seat of Apollo 11. Space hounds and history buffs will dig it, for sure, but even casual readers will be riveted by its comprehensive portrait of a real-life cosmic cowboy who broke the bonds of Earth and put the first American footprint where it had never been before.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Fire & Ice

High-flying DreamWorks sequel grows along with its young audience

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2

How to Train Your Dragon 2

Starring the voices of Jay Baruchel, America Ferrera, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, & Cate Blanchett

Directed by Dean DuBois

PG, 102 min.

 

A follow-up to the animated 2010 DreamWorks hit about a young Viking boy and his flying dragon, this soaring sequel has grown along with its audience.

This new Dragon reunites director Dean DuBois with most of the original vocal cast (Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill, Kristen Wiig, Christopher Mintz-Plasse) and takes place five years after the events of the first movie, as Vikings have learned to coexist with dragons instead of slay them. Now, as we see in the movie’s high-spirited opening, the feisty fire-breathers have become part of the everyday life of the mythical island of Berk, where they’re used for transportation, recreation, companionship and commerce.

“With Vikings on the backs of dragons,” says Hiccup (Baruchel), the son of the Berk’s burly tribal chief (Butler) grooming him for an eventual leadership role he doesn’t really want, “the world just got a whole lot bigger.”

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2

And certainly a bit more complicated and dangerous—at least compared to the first movie. As Hiccup, now a gangly teenager, sails through the skies on his trusty night fury, Toothless, with his female friend, Astrid (Ferrera), he discovers a place where the inhabitants don’t see things—or treat dragons—the way they do back on Berk.

Hiccup’s discovery puts his entire village in peril and leads to yet another, even more startling revelation, an Armageddon-like, fire-and-ice showdown, and a life-changing decision. (I won’t reveal much more, but it’s connected to having Oscar-wining Cate Blanchett aboard as the voice of a new character.)

The first Dragon, praised by both critics and audiences, combined a rollicking, family-friendly story (adapted from Cressida Cowell’s British book series) with marvelously rendered, high-tech animation, plus a cast of colorful, amusing characters—and some dazzling scenes, especially if you saw it in 3-D. Dragon 2 upholds those high standards, even pushing them up a couple of notches. The whole movie looks fantastic—fluid, textured and alive.

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2The dragons are things of whimsy, wizardry and wonder, intended to make you think of the bonds between people, nature and animals—at various times they mimic characteristics of puppies, ponies, birds, and butterflies. The returning supporting characters are a gaggle of loveable oddballs (Wiig, Hill, Mintz-Plasse), and a couple of new additions—especially hunky, comically inept Eret, Son of Eret (Game of Thrones actor Kit Harington) and the war-mongering dragon slave master Draco Bludvist (Djimon Hounsou)—both add depth and dimension to a story that’s grown up a bit over the elapsed years, just like many of its young audience members

But the real beauty of the first Dragon, and now this one, is how director DuBois and his team never approached them as purely “kids’ movies.” They always aimed higher than that, without ever losing sight of the children who’d find the most resonance in the fantasy-storybook-adventure elements of the tales. Witty, rousing, heartwarming, sensational-looking, and at times touching, uplifting and even moving, “How to Train Your Dragon 2” is another fine feather in DreamWorks’ cinematic cap, and proof that it is, indeed, still possible for Hollywood to make movies that virtually all ages can enjoy, appreciate and admire.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Hey, Jude!

British actor takes robust dive into meaty role as blaspheming bully safecracker

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Dom Hemingway

Starring Jude Law and Richard E. Grant

Directed by Richard Shepard

R, 93 min.

 

Jude Law, best known for playing sidekick Dr. Watson in two Sherlock Holmes movies, is a fine actor who’s risen steadily through the ranks, playing leading men as well as supporting roles in Alfie, Road to Perdition, Cold Mountain, Hugo, The Talented Mr. Ripley and the recent The Grand Budapest Hotel.

Generally, he’s been known for the ease at which he slides into the roles of mannered gents, well-spoken suitors and empathetic, heartthrob hunks. So it’s a bit jarring, certainly at first, to see him in the title role of his latest project as a beefed up, bellowing, blaspheming beast of a bully, a loud-mouthed safecracker just out of prison who’s looking to catch up on everything he’s missed after 12 years in the pokey—and collect on what he’s owed from the high-dollar heist that put him there.

In the opening sequence, Dom delivers a soaring, profanely poetic soliloquy on a certain private body part of which he’s glowingly proud; beats, kicks and bites an old acquaintance nearly to death; and robustly dives into an orgy of booze, sex and other formerly off-limits excesses.

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Jude Law (left) and Richard E. Grant

“You can’t make up for twelve years in three days,” his old friend and criminal cohort Dickie (Richard E. Grant) cautions him later. “Well, I tried,” says Dom.

Dom is a smug, swaggering keg of dynamite, and you’d better stand clear when he blows. Law’s all-out performance is a brash Cockney explosion of verbiage, violence, deep, dark comedy and even soggy sweetness, as when he tries to reconnect with his now-adult daughter, whose childhood he completely missed, and her young son. It’s completely unlike any role he’s ever had before, and he bores into it so deeply, it’s almost hard to remember all those “nice guys” he portrayed before it.

“I got anger issues,” says Dom. “I just do.”

It’s too bad the rest of the movie isn’t quite as good as its star. Director Richard Shepard pulls off some nice cinematic touches—a volatile scene in a room full of oversized monkey portraits, a hyper-stylized car crash, a hallucinogenic nighttime celebration in a secluded French mansion. But the plot often feels imbalanced and indecisive in its tone, as if its individual pieces somehow couldn’t be put together in sync. We never really know whether to feel sorry for Dom, to root for him, or to recoil in terror that anyone like him could be walking among us.

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But what Law does with his role is reason enough alone to see it—if you can find it on its limited theatrical run. He’s far out of his zone of easy Hollywood familiarity, tearing into it with a rawness and ferocity no one has seen before, like one of Shakespeare’s most scabrous lost characters, somehow unleashed in the modern world, and clearly relishing the grit and the gristle.

Be prepared to be surprised, and maybe even shocked. “I’m Dom Hemingway!” he reminds others, himself, and us, several times. Anyone who sees Jude Law in one of the meatiest, most muscular roles he’s ever played will certainly remember.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

 

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