Monthly Archives: July 2014

Soul Man

Chadwick Boseman channels James Brown in explosively entertaining new biopic

Film Title: Get on Up

Get On Up

Starring Chadwick Boseman, Nelsan Ellas, Viola Davis and  Dan Aykroyd

Directed by Tate Taylor

PG-13

“When I hit that stage, people better be ready,” James Brown (Chadwick Boseman) says early in a scene from director Tate Taylor’s Get On Up, the explosively entertaining new movie about the Godfather of Soul. “Especially the white ones.”

Indeed—James Brown was something the likes of which the world had never seen in the early 1960s, a keg of black dynamite sizzling with unpredictability and danger: sexual energy, gospel fervor, hyperkinetic dance moves, combustive rhythms, and intense, screaming, searing vocals. As he made his way to the top, he rewrote the rules about could, and couldn’t, be done by black artists in a music business owned and controlled by white men.

Film Title: Get on Up

Chadwick Boseman is electrifying as James Brown.

Get On Up is a revelation, not only because it’s so well made, written and acted, but also because it shows—reveals—so much about its subject. Most viewers will know who Brown was, and will certainly know his hits—“I Got You (I Feel Good),” “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag,” “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World”. But the exceptionally sharp storytelling and direction take us inside, outside and all around Brown, across a span of nearly six decades, from his childhood of wrenching Alabama poverty and abuse, through his rocky adolescence and finally into adulthood.

And through it all, we see, hear and feel the rhythm, music and grooves that drove him forward. Taylor (a Southerner who also directed The Help) shows us an internal funk engine constantly churning, turning and burning—young Brown incurring the wrath of his father by tapping a stick on the edge of a table, unable to stop the beat inside him; seeing a dreamy, hallucinogenic vision of his step-and-groove future in the horns and drumbeat of a Dixieland jazz band; having a sweaty, stomping, out-of-body experience on the set of a cheesy, white-bread ’60s Frankie Avalon movie.

Film Title: Get on Up

Dan Aykroyd plays Brown’s manager.

And Taylor skips around, putting the events in Brown’s life on shuffle instead of play mode, juxtaposing events from childhood with moments later that show how, and why, they connect, against a backdrop of politics, civil rights and Vietnam.

The movie also doesn’t shy from Brown’s darker side: He was a complicated, preening, strutting egomaniac who beat his wife, wielded guns, did drugs, served time in jail and berated and fined band members for the slightest infractions.

Portraying Brown as a teenager through his final years (he died in 2006), Chadwick Boseman (who played baseball Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson in 42) is electrifying in a tremendous performance that captures his walk, talk, mannerisms, stage moves and morphing looks over the decades.

The movie also features some stellar supporting performances from Viola Davis (as Brown’s mother), Octavia Spencer (as his aunt, who raised him), True Blood’s Nelsan Ellas (as his longtime right-hand band mate Bobby Byrd), and Dan Aykroyd (as Ben Bart, the talent agent who became his manager).

Film Title: Get on UpBut this movie belongs to Boseman, and to Taylor—and to producers Brian Grazer and Mick Jagger (yes, Rolling Stone Mick Jagger), who persevered for eight years, even when this movie seemed un-makeable, because they believed in it. When you see it, you’ll believe, too. It’s a knockout. It feels good.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Devil Child

‘Rosemary’s Baby’ remake still has creep-out power

Rosemarys Baby

 

Rosemary’s Baby

Blu-ray $19.99 / DVD $19.98 (Lionsgate)

 

Almost half a century after director Roman Polanski put actress Mia Farrow through a devilish, Oscar-winning pregnancy predicament, HBO took another crack at the tale, turning it into a miniseries with Zoe Saldana and giving the story an international spin. But, based on Ira Levin’s best-selling suspenseful, psycho-thriller novel, it still has the power to creep you out big-time, here watching a young married couple escape their troubles in New York and moving to France, where they’re presented with an offer too good to turn down in a place with a very troubled past—and ending up paying a terrible, otherworldly price.

 

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Top Cops

On the Emmy-winning beat with the detectives in ‘Blue’

NYPD Blue S6

NYPD Blue: Season Six

DVD $34.99 (Shout! Factory)

 

One of TV’s groundbreaking “cop” shows of the 1990s, this Emmy-winning network series ran for 12 successful seasons before finally hanging up its badge in 2005. This collection of all 22 season six episodes, available for the first time on DVD, continues the nitty-gritty, true-to-life adventures of New York police detective Andy Sipowicz (Dennis Franz) as he and his precinct partners (Kim Delaney, James McDaniel, Gordon Clapp) welcome a new cast mate, former Silver Spoons star Rick Schroder, in his breakthrough “grownup” TV acting role.

 

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Click Tricks

A LEGO master builder shows how it’s done

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The Art of LEGO Design

By Jordan Schwartz

Softcover, 288 pages, $24.95 / $9.99 Kindle edition (No Starch Press)

 

If you’re serious about your LEGOs and long ago moved far beyond just clicking one brick onto another, this is your book: a serious how-to from a LEGO master builder. The author, who became one of the LEGO Group’s youngest designers ever when he landed an internship at the age of 18, provides tips to better model-building and inventive use of LEGO components (use inside-out rubber LEGO tires for sea-creature legs!), along with hundreds of color photos and advice from other LEGO masters to help guide hobbyists to even greater heights of imagination.

 

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Far Out Man

Johnny Depp stars in head-trippy futuristic sci-fi thriller

Transcendence2Transcendence

Blu-ray $35.99 / DVD $28.99 (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment)

What are the limits of artificial intelligence? In this sci-fi, not-too-futuristic thriller, Johnny Depp plays a researcher working on a machine that combines the knowledge with human emotion—a computer with consciousness, or “transcendence.” But forces are afoot to stop him, even as the secrets of the universe await—and the fate of the world hangs in the balance. Co-stars include Rebecca Hall, Cillian Murphy and Paul Bettany, and the Blu-ray comes with several making-of featurettes.

 —Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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WWI in Photos

The many ways photography became a factor in first “great war”

The Great War

The Great War—The Persuasive Power of Photography

Edited By Ann Thomas / Text by Ann Thomas & Anthony Petiteau

Hardcover, 142 pages $45 (Abrams)

 

The first “great war” was a turning point for many things, and one of them was the use of photography, as both and Allied forces and their enemies employed the technology to spy, strategize, communicate, commemorate, manipulate, stir up public support for the cause, and record events for posterity. This collection of images, along with a well-researched historical narrative about the many ways photography factored into both sides of the conflict, both on the battlefields and at home, is a fascinating look at how “media” shaped the world’s perception of events long before 24-hour news came along.

 

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Shakespeare in Space

Another masterful mashup of the Bard and ‘Star Wars’

William Shakespeare's The Jedi Doth Return

William Shakespeare’s The Jedi Doth Return

By Ian Doescher

Hardcover, 168 pages $14.95 / $8.52 Kindle edition (Quirk Books)

 

Continuing the ultimate literary arc of geek-speak high homage, this third installment of author Ian Doescher’s parody of the entire Star Wars movie canon, re-told in the florid iambic pentameter “signature” of William Shakespeare, continues the interstellar adventures of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and other familiar characters from “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away”—all to a masterful mashup of English lit and pop culture that’s hilarious, dramatic and downright mesmerizing.

 

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Going Badly

Two Oscar winners flounder in sitcom-ism geriatric gloop

ASIG_04749_rgb

And So It Goes

Starring Michael Keaton & Diane Keaton

Directed by Rob Reiner

PG-13

A paint-by-numbers romantic comedy for the AARP crowd, And So It Goes stars Michael Douglas as a cantankerous Connecticut real estate hotshot, Diane Keaton as New England’s most unconvincing lounge singer, and young Sterlin Jerins (who fled zombies with Brad Pitt in World War Z) as the adorable moppet who brings them all together.

Director Rob Reiner has made some good movies, and even some great ones—This Is Spinal Tap, Misery, The Princess Bride, When Harry Met Sally, Stand By Me. Measured against cult masterpieces and all-time audience favorites like those, a lot of other movies would have a hard time measuring up. But this sitcom-like blob of sentimental geriatric gloop, alas, doesn’t have a chance.

ASIG_02615.NEFDouglas’ character, Oren Little, is still bitter 10 years after losing his wife to cancer. Now he’s a full-fledged grump and one-man insult factory, shooshing playful kids, muttering ethic slurs to potential clients and pelting stray dogs with his paintball gun. “Do people really let you get away with being you?” asks his next-door neighbor Leah (Keaton), incredulously.

When Oren’s long-estranged adult son shows up, he’s packing a surprise: He’s headed to prison. Can Oren keep his young daughter—the grandchild he never knew existed—until he gets out of the pokey?

ASIG_04670.NEFIf you’ve never seen any other movie or television show, ever, you might wonder where this story is headed. Otherwise, you’ll see every twist, turn, bump and bumble coming long before it gets there, as the new “unwanted” addition to Oren’s life sets him on a fresh, friendlier course—and reignites his romantic spark.

Douglas and Keaton are old pros and they ride out the storm as best they can, but even these two solid Oscar winners can’t put much of a shine on a script full of cheap jokes, lame gags and flat-out embarrassing lines of insultingly dumb dialog.

And they can’t keep director Reiner’s mind out of the gutter. We watch a pooch take a poop, see a little girl react to a dog humping a stuffed animal (“Look Mommy—it’s just like you and Daddy dancing!”), and hear Oren make a crude crack about being confronted with…ahem, genitals…when a little boy changes out of his swimsuit. After a badly botched attempt at lovemaking, Leah rebukes Oren: “I had a dog once who wouldn’t leave my crotch alone, and it was more romantic than this!”

ASIG_03855.NEFFor some people, the pile-on of feel-good mush at the end might divert them enough to think they’ve seen a decent, even uplifting movie. But most will be discerning enough to know they’ve just really just been buried alive by a truckload of artificial sweetener.

In one scene, Oren and his granddaughter discuss a sandwich made of two slices of baloney and one of cheese. That’s actually a pretty good metaphor for this slapped-together attempt at making a quick, no-frills multiplex option for viewers old enough to get senior-citizen discounts.

It’s just that I can’t imagine this baloney, and this cheese, being what anyone wants for a movie meal—at any age.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Monkey Business

‘Apes’ sequel further muddles the line between monkey and man

DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Starring Andy Serkis, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell & Jason Clark

Directed by Matt Reeves

Rated PG-13

Whose side are you on when battle lines are drawn between people and other primates? The answer may not be as clear-cut as you think, especially in this terrific second installment of the latest Planet of the Apes series, which muddies the moral ground—as well as other things—between monkey and man.

As Dawn begins, we’re reminded that some ten years ago (in 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes), scientific experimentation—and exploitation—resulted in a proliferation of genetically modified apes and began a widespread viral wipeout of the world’s human population.

Now, in a decimated, post-ape-ocalyptic world, a tribe of hunting, gathering apes—who have learned to communicate through sign language, rudimentary writing and grunted speech—rule the densely forested hills outside the city that once was the metropolis of San Francisco.

DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APESWhen a small group of humans are discovered deep inside ape territory, it begins an uneasy truce—until dissenting factions on both sides stoke tensions to something much more aggressive.

Director Matt Reeves, whose resume includes the monster movie Cloverfield, the moody vampire saga Let Me In and several episodes of TV’s 1998-2002 series Felicity, draws from all those projects for his talent pool and technique. Felicity star Keri Russell is the movie’s female lead, Kodi Smit-McPhee played the bullied young teen in Let Me In, and several of Reeve’s bravura sequences—like the one of apes on horseback, firing machine guns—are as tense and scari-fying as almost anything you’ll see in any monster movie.

But Reeves and his team of FX wizards also create something above and beyond any of those movies—and most other movies, period—when it comes to blending live-action with digital effects. The apes, created through a process of “motion capture” photography where live actors are first filmed then digitally “overlaid” with their personalized primate characteristics, are nothing short of spectacular. You won’t be to separate pulse from pixels, no matter how closely you look.

Hunting partyAnd even though the “human” cast also includes Gary Oldman and Jason Clark (from Zero Dark Thirty), top billing goes to someone you’ll never see, at least out of his digital ape-draping: Andy Serkis, who plays Caesar, the chief of the apes, is the true star of this show. Serkis, who’s also portrayed Gollum in The Lord of the Rings and the biggest ape of them all in King Kong, is a marvel, humanizing Caesar as a diplomat, a father, a husband and a leader who knows that leading can sometimes mean making difficult, unpopular, dangerous and even life-or-death decisions.

With a story that connects to contemporary (as well as ancient) issues and themes—trust, family, betrayal, racism, war, survival—this smart, muscular, action-packed blockbuster is easily one of the summer’s most rousing sci-fi crowd-pleasers. It’s some seriously strong, exceptionally well-made monkey business.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Lights, Action, Wahlbergs

Donnie, Mark, other Wahlbergs star in reality-TV show

Walhburgers_cov

Wahlburgers: The Complete First Season

DVD $19.98 (Lionsgate Home Entertainment)

The A&E reality-TV series about the Wahlbergs, centered around their family-owned restaurant in the Hingham, Mass., shows a domestic, hometown side to the Hollywood lives of actors Mark and Donnie, alongside their cousin Paul and their mom, Alma. Season one episodes includes various eatery escapades and offsite adventures, including visits from Mark’s fiancé, actress Jenny McCarthy, and Joey McIntyre, his former musical mate in the s’80s “boy band” New Kids on the Block.

 

 

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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