Monthly Archives: August 2014

Of Pens & Pigskins

A roundup of great writing & great writers on football

 Football_Great Writing

Football

Edited by John Schulian

Hardcover, 486 pages, $30 (The Library of America)

 

Half a century of legendary players, iconic moments and classic games come alive again in this collection of more than 40 magazine articles and book excerpts. Standouts include a selection from H.G. Bissinger’s Friday Night Lights; Frank Deford’s profile of Johnny Unitas; Michael Lewis on NFL kickers, the least respected players on the field; Bryan Curtis’ piece on Texas Youth Football; Roy Blount Jr. writing about his 40-year love affair with the Pittsburgh Steelers; George Plimpton’s first-person account of what it’s like to play as a Detroit Lion from his book Paper Tiger, plus many more insights, perspectives and observations sure to please any diehard pigskin fan.

 

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Tour of Duty

Bullets fly in second action-packed ‘Jarhead’ military adventure

Jarhead 2

Jarhead 2

Blu-ray $34.98 (Universal 1440 Entertainment)

Inspired by the original Jarhead, based on U.S. Marine Anthony Swofford’s best-selling 2003 book about his experiences in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, this fictional direct-to-DVD spin-off features an all-new cast in another dusty, nitty-gritty combat adventure, this time as platoon mates stationed in Afghanistan who risk their lives to help a woman escape her Tailban pursuers. The movie stars Stephen Lang, Esai Morales and Cole Hauser, and gets a extra dose of authenticity with Josh Kelly, who served as a U.S. Army Ranger in Afghanistan and Iraq before beginning his acting career.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Pass the Corn

Helen Mirren leads cast in yummy-looking food-centric tale

THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY

The Hundred-Foot Journey

Starring Helen Mirren, Om Puri, Manish Dayal & Charlotte Le Bon

Directed by Lasse Hallström

PG

If this movie were a recipe, its ingredient list would look pretty impressive.

Start with a highly praised debut novel, one especially loved by foodies for its taste-filled tale of a young Indian cook’s culinary journey across Europe. Stir in powerhouse producers Oprah Winfrey and Steven Spielberg, then Swedish director Lasse Hallström, whose 2000 film, Chocolat, made millions of moviegoers lust for something dark, warm and sweet.

THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEYMarinate in deep-dish countryside vistas and luscious scenes of French and Indian food, all potently presented by Oscar-winning cinematographer Linus Sandgren. Steep in a Bollywood soundtrack by Slumdog Millionaire musical composer A.R. Rahman. Garnish with a frisky starring role by the venerable Helen Mirren—Dame Helen Mirren, no less—and season with humor, heart and message about learning to get along.

Taking some liberty with the novel’s sweeping historical narrative, the movie nonetheless covers the basics: Uprooted by war, political turmoil and the death of his wife, Mumbai restaurateur “Papa” Kadam (Indian movie veteran Om Puri) and his children wander across Europe, eventually settling in the south of France.

Mirren plays Madame Mallory, the widowed proprietress of a tony upscale eatery renowned far and wide for its world-class, award-winning cuisine. Her prim, perfectionist world is rocked when the colorful immigrant clan of Kadams opens a competing, very different dining establishment directly across the street—just 100 feet away.

THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEYThings get even more complicated when Papa’s grown son, Hassan (Manish Dayal), begins showing an interest in learning how to cook something other than his spicy Indian family recipes—and also in Madame Mallory’s beautiful sous-chef in training, Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon).

Hallström has some nice directorial flourishes, especially when it comes to making food a “character” in the story. But that’s not such good news for the actors, who must compete with all sorts of masterfully staged shots of immensely appealing dishes being discussed, made and consumed. Daval and Le Bon work valiantly to light a spark in their romantic subplot, but much of the heat that might have gone there seems to have been diverted to the stovetop.

Mirren and Puri likewise go through the moves of their characters discovering “something” that might be described as romance, but this overstuffed soufflé of a movie never finds room for them to ever do anything other than nibble around its edges. And none of the other characters—Hassan’s brothers and sisters, Madame Mallory’s other employees, a comically hapless mayor—are given much of anything to do, or even say.

THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEYDespite being a bit too long, more than a bit predictable and a whole lot of corny, The Hundred Foot Journey has a lot of heart, and like a platter of yummy things presented by a hostess who relentlessly pours on the charm, it eventually wears down your walls of resistance. A sumptuous-looking confection about decent people living decently, guided by their palettes and their hearts, drawing closer as they celebrate their differences, it will likely go down most smoothly with older audiences who love food and love movies with somewhat equal measure.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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One Man Show

Tom Hardy owns the road in intense, riveting ‘Locke’

LockeLocke

Blu-ray $24.99 / DVD $19.98

British actor Tom Hardy is outstanding in this one-man show as a Ivan Locke, a husband, father and by-the-books construction supervisor, alone in a car, driving at night—and confronting, over his phone, a situation in his life that for the first time can’t be easily, neatly managed. Intense, riveting and powerfully cinematic, it’s a journey in which Locke learns that the road to becoming a better man is a long, sometimes dark and lonely one, with both endings and beginnings. Bonus features include a making of feature, and director commentary.

 

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Small-screen cut-ups

Marx Brothers celebrated in roundup of TV appearances

 The Marx Brothers TV Collection

The Marx Brothers TV Collection

DVD $39.97 (Shout! Factory)

 

Fans of classic television will flip over this roundup of more than 50 performances by the comedic trio of Groucho, Harpo and Chico on dozens of TV shows of the 1950s and ’60s (alongside Jack Benny, Dick Cavett, Dinah Shore, Red Skelton, Perry Como, Jackie Gleason, and many others), plus TV commercials and those-were-the-days episodes of Championship Bridge, Celebrity Golf and Celebrity Billiards, and a 40-page book of rare photos from the Marx Brothers family archive, program notes and an essay by a Marx Brothers historian.

 

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Courting the King

Ginger Alden tells of life as Elvis Presley’s fiancé

Elvis and GingerElvis and Ginger

By Ginger Alden

Hardcover, 400 pages, $26.95, $10.99 Kindle edition (Berkley)

Much has been written about the late, great Elvis Presley, but none of it—until now—by the woman who was his last love, his fiancé at the time of his death, the 20-year-old native Memphis, Tenn., beauty who captured his heart and became a part of his home and his entourage for nine months, up until the fateful day she discovered his unresponsive body in the bathroom. Brimming with details and dish, this fascinating tale of Alden and the King’s courtship and life together, told against a backdrop of the final arc of Presley’s superstardom as it fell apart inside his claustrophobic castle walls, is one Presley fans have been waiting for—and about as “inside” as it gets.

 —Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Across the Universe

Marvel’s newest superheroes are an inter-galactic gas

guardiansofthegalaxy53bd964919f22

Guardians of the Galaxy

Starring Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana & Dave Bautista

Directed by James Gunn

PG-13

Marvel Comics gives their all-stars a breather with Guardians of the Galaxy. But Spider-Man, Iron Man, Thor and other tried-and-true, brand-name superheroes had better watch out: This flip, witty, wily, cheeky, action-adventure sci-fi yarn—which introduces an all-new Marvel team of cosmic crusaders—is all set to become one of the summer’s biggest, most buoyant mainstream hits.

Based on little-known Marvel characters that first made a brief appearance in the 1960s, the Guardians are a motley crew of space misfits led by Peter Quill (Chris Pratt from TV’s Parks andguardiansofthegalaxy530439f7bb98f Recreation), who was abducted from Earth by alien pirates as a youngster and taken to the far reaches of the galaxy, where he grew up to become a rogue smuggler with an intergalactic price on his head, a taste for retro FM rock and a weakness for extraterrestrial hotties.

When Peter swipes a silver orb that turns out to be something Very Powerful Indeed, it puts a series of events in motion that eventually congeal the other guardians around him—although not necessarily as teammates, at least at first.

Gamora (Zoe Saldana) is a genetically mutated, green-hued assassin sent to retrieve the orb. Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), a motor-mouthed raccoon bounty hunter, is in cahoots with Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), a tree-like creature that speaks volumes with the one sentence he can speak, “I am Groot.” And pro wrestler Dave Bautista is Drax, a hulking wall of red-tattooed muscle.

guardiansofthegalaxy5371066e4ab7aTheir adventures bounce them, like interplanetary pinballs, across the galaxy, racing away from—and sometimes into—an ever-growing cloud of trouble. Director James Gunn, at the helm of his first mega-budget, major studio project, creates a teeming sci-fi cosmos of colorful creatures, humanoid hybrids and dazzling digital effects for a totally immersive eye-candy experience. Everywhere the movie goes—and it’s constantly going somewhere—it’s a wild, exuberantly fun new kick.

The cast is first-rate, even down through the supporting ranks. Glenn Close plays the matriarch of a gleaming utopia on the brink of destruction; Michael Rooker is terrific as the swaggering scavenging scoundrel who abducted Peter all those years ago; Benicio Del Toro is The Collector, a mysterious curator of cosmic odds and ends.

But it’s the Guardians, the mismatched team of “losers,” who command the spotlight. And credit the zippy script, by Gunn and Nicole Perlman, for the steady stream of jaunty comedic banter that just keeps the laughs coming—along with a sprinkling of sweetness, a dash of sadness, and even a flash of romance, orchestrated to Elvin Bishop’s “Fooled Around and Fell in Love.”

Will it remind you of Star Wars, Indiana Jones and several other movies, some references to which it just goes ahead and hands you? Sure, but that’s just part of its big, fizzy, movie-lovin’ funhouseguardiansofthegalaxy53bd964656849 spirit. “It’s got a Maltese Falcon kinda vibe,” Peter says of the orb. One scene, when Groot gently gives a young girl a flower, is an obvious nod to a similar moment in the 1931 classic Frankenstein.

You may see classier movies this summer, and you’ll certainly see more serious, sensible ones. But you won’t see another one that takes you on such a rollicking carnival ride halfway across the universe and back, and leaves you with such a big, goofy, satisfied smile when it’s over.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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