Monthly Archives: June 2014

Nut Case

Classic Jerry Lewis Jekyll & Hyde parody celebrates 50th anniversary

The Nutty Professor 50th_contents

The Nutty Professor: 50th Anniversary Collector’s Edition

Blu-ray $54.99 (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment)

 

Jerry Lewis co-wrote, directed and starred in this 1964 parody, based on the tale of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, about a bumbling chemistry teacher, Julius Kelp, who invents a magic potion that turns him into a smarmy nightclub singer named Buddy Love. A comedy classic that’s even been recognized by the Library of Congress, it now celebrates its half-century milestone with a load of bonus features, including a CD of Lewis’ private prank phone calls; a 44-page script with Jerry’s notes; a recreation of a 96-page “inspirational” booklet Lewis made to rev up his disgruntled cast and crew; bloopers, outtakes and screen tests; and two complete additional Lewis movie comedies of the era, The Errand Boy and Cinderfella.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Now That’s Cool

Exploring the elusive concept through attitude, style and pop culture

American Cool

American Cool

By Joel Dinerstein & Frank H. Goodyear III

Hardcover, 196 pages (Prestel Publishing, $49.95)

 

Who’s cool? What’s cool? We’re not talking air temperature, but the concept, the iconic designation of attitude, style and pop-cultural transcendence. This collection of 100 chronically displayed images of “cool,” (now all on display in a special exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.), plus insightful essays, examines the ever-morphing concept of cool through a prism of personalities from early movie actors and actresses Veronica Lake, Humphrey Bogart and Greta Garbo, to contemporary stars including Johnny Depp, director Quentin Tarantino and late-night host Jon Stewart. Needless to say, it’s cool!

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Of Man & Machines

He’s a little bit human, a lot of ’bot—and all cop

Robocop_2014Robocop

Bluray $39.99, DVD $29.98 (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment)

A rockin’, sockin’ remake of the ’80s sci-fi cult classic about a Detroit policeman transformed into a crime-fighting cyborg, this updated tale of men, machines, capitalism and corruption in high places stars Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Abbie Cornish, Jackie Haley and Samuel L. Jackson, and comes packaged with nearly an hour of bonus content, including featurettes on the movie’s arsenal of heavy weaponry and the special effects behind the high-tech Robocop suit.

 

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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We Are Stardust

The sweet teenage suffering of 11 million fans hits the big screen

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The Fault in Our Stars

Starring Shailene Woodley & Ansel Elgort

Directed by Josh Boone

PG-13, 125 min.

 

“What’s your story?” Augustus “Gus” Waters asks 16-year-old Hazel Grace Lancaster early in this highly anticipated movie adaptation of the wildly popular novel by author John Green that’s sold almost 11 million copies and been on the New York Times bestseller list for almost three years.

In answering the question about “her” story, then dissecting it, Hazel (Shailene Woodley), who’s fought cancer nearly her entire life, and Gus (Ansel Elgort), the 18-year-old fellow cancer survivor who becomes her soul mate, set the stage for a much bigger story—about two young people determined to make their story more than just a “cancer” story, refusing to let their disease rule their lives or their future.

A Fault In Our StarsGreen’s romantic, heart-aching, heartbreaking, poignant melodrama of two kids on a “star-crossed” course with fate has teen-DNA strands stretching all the way back to antiquity, running from Romeo and Juliet through the classic 1970s tear-jerker Love Story. The title, a twist on a quote from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, refers to the world as a “profoundly unjust place where suffering is unfairly distributed,” according to Green.

As Hazel, Woodley is sensational, especially given that she’s got a breathing tube in her nostrils constantly and she lugs around a canister of oxygen the entire movie, physical limitations that focus us even more on the breadth of emotions she can coax out of even the smallest of facial expressions.

There’s a marvelous scene when Gus tells her that he loves her, and we watch her eyes well with emotion in the soft glow of a restaurant’s hundreds of twinkling (star-like) lights. It’s a moment that taps into all that the movie has been about up until that point, much more complex and nuanced that it might sound, and the camera lingers on Woodley’s radiant face, empowering it to carry the entire weight of everything that goes unsaid.

Her handsome, hunkish co-star, Elgort, who also appeared with her earlier this year in Divergent, is a bit hammy by comparison. But the book’s legions of (mostly) female fans likely won’t be grading his acting chops between sighs and swoons.

A Fault In Our Stars

Gus (Ansel Elgort), Issac (Nat Wolff) and Hazel Grace (Shailene Woodley) engage in an egg-throwing prank.

Laura Dern and Sam Trammell play Hazel’s loving, protective parents, and Willem Dafoe is the scotch-swilling author of that book Hazel adores. Nat Wolff portrays Gus’ friend Issac, who’s losing his eyesight, but not his droll wit, to cancer.

Smarter, sharper and deeper than most movies aimed at teens, The Fault in Our Stars doesn’t dumb down its story, its dialogue, or its realities for its target audience, and it blends in some heady existential nuggets—and metaphors—on death, dying, living, suffering, religion, theology, ethics, miracles, time, space, infinity, eternity and oblivion.

For everyone who’s already fallen under the spell of Green’s book, this movie will complete a magnificent arc that began with words on a page, bringing beloved characters, places and conversations vividly, emotionally to life, larger than life, on a giant screen. For everyone else, well, climb on board, better late than never, and get ready to find out what all the fuss has been about—and why, for millions, Hazel’s tale has become so much more than just a cancer story.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Window on Early America

Vintage color photos reveal nation’s late-1800s beauty

 

An American Odyssey

By Marc Walter & Sabine Arqué

Hardcover, 600 pages (Taschen, $200)

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Yes, it’s pricey, and if it falls on your foot, you’ll know it—it’s one seriously big, heavy book. But it’s also a thing of beauty and wonder: a stunning collection of the first color photographs ever taken of America. Produced between 1988 and 1924 and marketed as picture-postcards by the Detroit Photographic Company, these images capture people, places and goings-on from nearly every state (at that time), in stunning clarity—wide open spaces, packed city streets, cowboys and Indians, miners and mill workers, railroads and rivers—a spectacular, century-old tapestry of the United States that unfurls, page by page, like a lost scroll of some of our nation’s earliest visual treasures.

 

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Sky King

Liam Neeson takes charge on a ticking time bomb with wings

NonStop

Non-Stop

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

If I’m trapped on a plane about to blow, Liam Neeson is someone I’d want nearby—especially after seeing how he handles that exact scenario in this action-packed thriller, playing a federal air marshal with more than his hands full trying to save his fellow passengers, find the hidden bomb, discover who on board who put it there, and why. Everyone’s a suspect (even Liam!), including Julianne Moore, Michelle Dockery from Downton Abbey, and Oscar-winning Lupita Nyong’o from 12 Years a Slave. Bonus features include a behind-the-scenes look at shooting the stunts and staging the gripping drama inside a 20’ by 30’ set the shape of a tube.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Hillybilly Haven

Fascinating documentary pulls back the curtain on Branson

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We Always Lie to Strangers

DVD $19.95 (Virgil Films)

The tourism Mecca of Branson, Mo., with a visitor-to-resident ratio of nearly 900 to 1, is a conservative town with widespread traditional, patriotic, evangelical Christian values often reflected in its many “hillbilly” entertainment offerings. That’s what makes this eye-opening documentary, a film festival favorite five years in the making, so engrossing, as it peels back the curtain on a central cast of characters—performers, the city’s female mayor, and others—whose diversity (and humanity) reveal a town that defies easy local-yokel stereotypes. (And the title, if you’re wondering, comes from an age-old Ozarks expression about tall tales.)

 

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Evil (?) Woman

Disney puts girrrl-power backspin on ‘Sleeping Beauty’ tale

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Maleficent

Starring Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning and Sharlito Copley

Directed by Robert Stromberg

PG, 97 min.

Disney turns one of its own stories inside out in this inverted fairy tale back-story about the “mistress of all evil” who put the deep sleep on Sleeping Beauty.

Long before slumbering princess comes along, we meet the tiny winged creature who’ll grow up to become Maleficent, “the strongest fairy of them all,” protecting her idyllic land of fluttering pixies, gnarled tree warriors and mischievous, mud-slinging gnomes from the greedy, marauding humans in the neighboring kingdom.

maleficentwingsAngelina Jolie plays the adult Maleficent, a baroque sight—with bright red lips, gleaming white teeth, jutting prosthetic cheekbones, a gigantic set of wings, and a pair of imposing dark antlers—as the flesh-and-blood incarnation of the cartoon character many grownups will recall from the classic 1959 Disney version of the age-old Brothers Grimm folk tale.

A cruel betrayal hardens Maleficent’s heart and sets her on a path of vengeance toward the vile new king (Sharlito Copley), which leads to the famous curse she puts on his infant daughter: When the princess turns 16, she’ll prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning loom and fall into a deep, death-like slumber from which she’ll never awaken. The only way to break the curse is with a kiss of “true love.”

MALEFICENTBut here’s the movie’s big twist: As princess Aurora (Elle Fanning) ages and becomes more adorable every year, Maleficent finds her own maternal instincts. Instead of waiting in wicked anticipation for the princess’ fateful 16th birthday, she begins to regret the horrible hex of doom she’s placed on the innocent girl.

A trio of fluttering fairy nannies provides comic relief, a fire-breathing dragon is as fearsome as you might expect, and there’s a shape-shifting young man (Sam Riley) who, depending on when you see him, may be a bird. And as the title character, Jolie is a campy composite of theatrics, costuming, makeup and special effects that create the movie’s swirling center of dramatic gravity.

Disney has shaken things up before, most successfully in last year’s Frozen, which stepped out from the company’s decades-old template to feature princesses that didn’t need princes to save them, complete them, or even make them interesting. Maleficent has a similar girrrl-power spin, but plays even looser with its own mythology and the possibilities for what “true love” can really mean.

First-time director Robert Stromberg is an award-winning set decorator and visual effects artist for major movies including Avatar, The Life of Pi and The Hunger Games, but his directorial inexperience shows. The movie practically spills over with lavish, flashy things to see, but overall it’sDisney's "Maleficent"..Ph: Film Still..?Disney 2014 a bit of a muddle, a Game of Thrones-meets-Lord of the Rings bedtime story with a confusing tone that will likely puzzle many younger viewers accustomed to clearer, cleaner motives for characters, and needing more distinct lines separating heroes and villains. And too often, the special effects seem like cartoons, or computer-game graphics, at odds with its live action.

“There is an evil in this world, and I cannot keep you from it,” Maleficent tells Aurora at one point. Alas, neither can Angelina Jolie’s star power stir up enough magic Disney pixie dust to keep this big fractured fairy tale from falling into its own cracks.

 

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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