UFC 189 fight preview – July 11th 2015

The Ultimate Fight Championship (UFC) will bring to a close their annual ‘Fight Week’ with the highly anticipated pay per view fight night on July 11th 2015.

The night will feature a Championship double header between Jose Aldo and Conor McGregor, as both fight to try and clinch the featherweight crown.

This fight will then be followed up by the battle for welterweight’s promotion strap as Robbie Lawler takes on Rory MacDonald.

The venue for the event has been set with the fighters heading to the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, with a full house expected on the night.

Although heavier weight classes usually take the limelight in the event of a UFC championship double header, officials for the night have said Aldo vs. McGregor will serve as the main event for viewers to enjoy.

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Life Imitating Art: How Hollywood Inspires New Careers

The effect Hollywood has on employment makes a strong case for “life imitates art.” Hard-working people can fall in love with what they see on-screen, and turn their fantasies into reality. Such was the case for famous geneticist, Dr. Adam Rutherford, whose interest in scientific research was directly inspired by the movies: “Ghostbusters” and “Back to the Future.” Hollywood is responsible for some significant boons in employment, with the greatest impact on military recruitment, but it’s also provided career inspiration for some truly incredible people in the fields of medicine, criminal justice, and science.

“Top Gun” Prompts Rise in Navy Applications

In 1986, “Top Gun,” starring Tom Cruise and Kelly McGillis, inspired Navy applications to go up 500 percent. According to “Operation Hollywood: How the Pentagon Shapes and Censors the Movies” by David Robb, these recruits wanted to be naval aviators like the characters in the film. The movie’s producer even claimed “Top Gun” worked as a recruiting video, and he wasn’t wrong. Navy recruiters often waited outside theaters, hoping to catch eager new recruits ready to sign up after watching the film.

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Blu Tuesday: The Hobbit, Unbroken and Into the Woods

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on Facebook and Twitter with your friends.

“The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies”

WHAT: After successfully defeating Smaug, Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans) and the surviving citizens of Lake-town head to the Lonely Mountain seeking refuge. Thorin (Richard Armitage), who’s since been consumed by the dragon sickness, refuses to help, leading the humans and elves to declare war on the dwarves. But when Azog the Defiler and his battalion of orcs attack the dwarven stronghold, the three armies must put aside their differences and fight alongside each other in order to stop them.

WHY: Splitting “The Hobbit” into three movies has been a point of contention among fans ever since it was first announced, and the futility of that decision has never been more evident than with “The Battle of the Five Armies,” a 144-minute marathon of masturbatory excess in which the titular set piece (one that’s contained within a single chapter in J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel) makes up almost half of its bloated runtime. Much like the first two installments, the movie has its share of great moments, but they’re surrounded by a lot of extraneous filler that pushes Bilbo even further into the background. These films were supposed to be about Bilbo’s journey “there and back again,” but you wouldn’t know it from the ever-changing protagonists, shifting focus between Bilbo, Thorin and Bard the Bowman with such frequency that it leaves little room for actual character development. But while “The Battle of the Five Armies” may be the weakest entry in the “Hobbit” series, it’s a nonetheless fitting end to a trilogy that’s biggest problem was taking so long to get there. Could it have been better? Absolutely, especially when measured against the far superior “Lord of the Rings” films, but fans will love it regardless, and that’s to the credit of the fantastic ensemble cast, incredible visuals and Jackson’s limitless creativity.

EXTRAS: There’s a featurette about the five armies, a retrospective on Peter Jackson’s Middle-earth saga, and the final part of “New Zealand: Home of Middle-earth.”

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Unbroken”

WHAT: The true story of Olympic distance runner Louis Zamperini (Jack O’Connell), who spent a harrowing 47 days stranded in the Pacific Ocean with two fellow soldiers (Domhnall Gleeson and Finn Wittrock) after their plane crashed during WWII, only to eventually be rescued by the Japanese navy and sent to a POW camp run by a merciless commander known as The Bird (Miyavi).

WHY: It’s taken decades for a Louis Zamperini biopic to get made, and although that may be surprising considering his extraordinary story, it’s easy to see why some of Hollywood’s most powerful and talented filmmakers had so much trouble adapting it for the big screen. This is a movie that singles out one man for his bravery and perseverance in a war where thousands of other men were going through the exact same thing. Granted, none of those guys were Olympic athletes or survived 47 days on a raft, but you don’t really feel any more emotion for Zamperini just because he suffered more than the rest. Angelina Jolie still deserves a lot of credit for succeeding where so many failed, and the opening act – which intermixes scenes from Zamperini’s childhood and the 1936 Berlin Olympics with his pre-crash days in WWII – is really smartly handled. Jack O’Connell also turns in another star-making performance as the resolute war hero, reaffirming his status as an actor to watch, while Japanese rocker Miyavi does some good (if uneven) work as Zamperini’s sadistic tormentor. The film looks great as well thanks to some stunning cinematography by Roger Deakins, but despite its fascinating source material, “Unbroken” isn’t as powerful or inspiring as it sets out to be.

EXTRAS: In addition to a making-of featurette, there’s a profile on the real-life Louis Zamperini, a concert performance by Miyavi, some deleted scenes and more.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Into the Woods”

WHAT: A vengeful witch (Meryl Streep) tasks a baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) with collecting a series of magical items from popular fairy tale characters – including a cow as white as milk, a cape as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn, and a slipper as pure as gold – in exchange for reversing a family curse preventing them from having children.

WHY: Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s “Into the Woods” probably seemed like a pretty clever idea when it debuted back in 1986, but the musical doesn’t feel quite as fresh or groundbreaking in a post-“Shrek” world. Though there’s a lot of great talent on display in Rob Marshall’s big screen adaptation, many of the actors are wasted, including Meryl Streep, whose performance is so mediocre that it makes her recent Oscar nomination look like a complete joke. Johnny Depp, meanwhile, is in the film for about five minutes, despite his face being splashed across every piece of promotional material in a pathetic attempt at drumming up interest. James Corden just about holds the movie together, and youngster Lilla Crawford stands out as the brash Little Red Riding Hood, but it’s not enough, especially when the music is so unmemorable, save for one hilariously bad duet between Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen’s princes that’s fittingly titled “Agony.” “Into the Woods” is supposed to be a witty and unabashedly adult deconstruction of famous fairy tales, but that’s rarely evident in Marshall’s film. Instead, it’s a giant bore that wears out its welcome long before the torturous final act.

EXTRAS: There’s an audio commentary by director Rob Marshall, a four-part making-of featurette, interviews with the cast and crew about working on the movie, and a deleted song performed by Meryl Streep.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

  

Blu Tuesday: Exodus, Top Five and More

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on Facebook and Twitter with your friends.

“Exodus: Gods and Kings”

WHAT: Raised as an Egyptian alongside future pharaoh Ramses (Joel Edgerton), natural leader Moses (Christian Bale) is exiled by his brother-in-arms after it’s revealed that he’s actually a Hebrew. But when Moses receives a message from God, he returns to Egypt to lead 600,000 slaves to freedom by escaping Ramses’ rule and a cycle of plagues.

WHY: Though it’s nice to see a director ballsy enough to make a Golden Age-style epic like “Exodus: Gods and Kings,” Ridley Scott’s latest film is a beautiful disaster – astonishing in its scope and unwavering dedication to the classic Hollywood spectacle, but overly long and dull. It’s also terribly miscast, from the whitewashing of Joel Edgerton as Ramses, to supporting actors like Aaron Paul (as Moses’ eventual successor, Joshua) and Sigourney Weaver (as Ramses’ mother, Tuya), who have less than a dozen lines of dialogue between them. Weaver only appears in two or three scenes, but Paul is basically the movie’s third lead, and yet he spends most of the time in the background simply reacting to Christian Bale, who brings his trademark intensity to the role of Moses, but sadly, isn’t provided the material to do much beyond that. As with last year’s other Biblical epic, “Noah,” Scott takes some liberties with the source material, and while they work for the most part (especially the way he stages the various plagues), it doesn’t make the proceedings any more exciting. “Exodus: Gods and Kings” was likely envisioned as a return to the big, glossy cinema of yesteryear, but it only serves as a reminder why those kinds of films have gone extinct.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes an audio commentary by director Ridley Scott and co-writer Jeffrey Caine, a feature-length trivia track, a pair of historical featurettes, some promotional featurettes and nine deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

“Top Five”

WHAT: Stand-up comedian turned movie star Andre Allen (Chris Rock) wants nothing more than to be taken seriously as a dramatic actor, so on the eve of his marriage to reality TV star Erica Long (Gabrielle Union), Andre agrees to let New York Times journalist Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson) follow him for the day to write a profile piece.

WHY: It’s been eight years since Chris Rock’s last stint behind the camera (2007’s “I Think I Love My Wife”), and considering how poorly received that movie was – not to mention his directorial debut, “Head of State” – it’s easy to see how the comedian might have become disillusioned with the whole Hollywood system. “Top Five” is a marked improvement upon those films, but while the partly biographical, Woody Allen-esque dramedy plays to Rock’s strengths as a writer and performer, it’s also a tad self-indulgent in the way that it mirrors his own aspirations for a more serious career. Ironically, while most people would probably rather Rock just stick to comedy, it’s the serious bits that work best, particularly the subplot involving Andre and Chelsea’s sobriety. I’m still not sure what the title – a reference to an ongoing discussion that Rock’s character has with his friends and fellow celebrities about their top five rappers – has anything to do with the rest of the movie, but the fact that both Jay-Z and Kanye West are barely mentioned, despite being credited as executive producers, might just be the funniest thing about the film.

EXTRAS: There’s an audio commentary by writer/director/star Chris Rock and co-star JB Smoove, some outtakes from Andre’s stand-up act and deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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Drink of the Week: Basil Hayden’s Power Play

Basil Hayden's Power Play.This week we finally come to the end of a cycle of posts featuring a number of good-to-fantastic cocktails, all courtesy of the gods of booze publicity and the free bottles of booze they are kind enough to occasionally send me. This week’s drink is a very tasty way to end the series and is intended as a sort of salute to the relatively new season of what I imagine has to be the most popular of all web-only television series, Beau Willimon’s bass-heavy, caustically compelling “House of Cards.”

Basil Hayden’s Power Play caught my eye not so much because of the promotion tied in with the latest adventures of the ultra-ruthless Democratic pol-on-the-rise played by the great Kevin Spacey, but because of one very unusual cocktail ingredient. You see, we’re actually a week late for the premiere of the new season and I’m only just now caught up with season one. However, the combination of one of the USA’s great bourbons and the inclusion of root beer was the grabber.

I’ve often wondered why, unlike ginger ale/ginger beer, cola, and 7-Up/Sprite, root beer and cream soda never seem to make an appearance in cocktails. And, yes, these are easily my two favorite sodas. Let’s give it a try.

Basil Hayden’s® Power Play

1 1/2 ounces Basil Hayden’s Bourbon
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
3/4 ounce simple syrup
2 drops of vanilla extract
2 splashes of root beer
1 lemon rind slice (highly advisable garnish)

Combine the bourbon, lemon juice, simple syrup, vanilla extract and one splash of your favorite root beer in a double sized rocks/old fashioned glass with plenty of ice. Pour into a cocktail shaker, mixing glass, or really any receptacle large enough to hold the entire drink. Do not shake, but instead pour directly back into your double rocks glass. Add another splash of root beer and  your lemon rind garnish for a bit of additional ruthlessness. Toast the fact that you are almost certainly a much nicer and/or less broken person than Frank Underwood or almost anyone he knows. It might be fun and, sadly, educational, to watch political thrillers about conscience-challenged humans, but niceness is underrated!

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First of all, I usually hesitate to actually include the names of booze brands — no matter how excellent — in the names of the cocktails we use here, even if that’s the name I’m given by its purveyors. However, there’s already another drink called the Power Play, which is very different from this one. Also, as is my usual practice, I tried this with a good Brand X bourbon and it was disappointing. Stick with the call brand this time.

Justifying it’s super-premium price tag, Basil Hayden’s is one of the very few bourbons I’ll drink semi-straight (on the rocks, say) by choice. It’s got a Scotch-like astringency to it and is less sweet than a lot of other bourbons. That’s important because, between the simple syrup and the root beer, this is a pretty sweet concotion and sweeter bourbons are a real problem here.

I also typically like to give readers an option to switch out simple syrup with suger as a way to may life easier. That substitution didn’t work either. You can always simply combine a heaping tablespoon of easily dissolved superfine sugar with an equal amount of water and mix them together for simple syrup on the fly.

Finally, I wish I could report you to you how this drink worked with various brands of root beer. I love root beer at least as much as I love my favorite cocktails and there are a number of brands I like more than the others. Still, the stuff is, to me, far more addictively irresistible than booze, and I feared the impact on my blood sugar if I bought more than one brand. I fortunately found a half-size six pack of my beloved ultimate default root beer, A&W, and stuck with that. It was mighty good as long as I didn’t overdo the splashes.

And one last thing. I know, I know, this post has nothing to do with St. Patrick’s Day this Tuesday. I’m sorry…I failed to give the calendar a look before it was too late. Frank would try to capitalize on my weakness, but I hope you’ll be more forgiving and not try to blow my house down.

  

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