“The World’s End”: Cornetto Ice Cream on a Hot Summer Day

The World's End

Just when you thought summer movies had worn out their welcome, when the onslaught of special effects and flashy sci-fi concepts and action sequences and all of the tropes that signal the return of the oppressively hot months had broken the proverbial camel’s back, The World’s End comes along to remind you that, hey, movies with those things can be fun.

(You know what else is fun? Knowing as little about this movie as possible for you see it for yourself. To that end, I won’t be spoiling anything significant in this review. Read on!)

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“The Spectacular Now”: Teenage Dream

Spectacular Now

During an early scene in The Spectacular Now, carefree high school senior Sutter Keely (Miles Teller) goes to a party with his new friend Aimee Finecky, whom he met after face-planting on her lawn at the end of a hard night of debauchery. The laws of moviemaking tell us that this boy and this girl will overcome their differences, however slight, and fall in love. Sutter and Aimee walk down a trail a few paces away from the party, chatting as the camera follows them from ahead in one unbroken take. We know exactly what’s going to happen. And yet, when it does happen, when they kiss for the first time, I almost leapt out of my seat in delight.

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Newsworthy and Blogworthy: “Bad” Breakout, The Return of Two Queens and More

Breaking Bad

Here’s a look at my reactions to some recent headlines in the pop-culture world.

Breaking Bad returned for its final run of eight episodes last Sunday night, drawing nearly 5.9 million viewers and doubling its highest ratings from previous seasons.

While I’m surprised that the ratings have increased as much as they have, the uptick itself seems like a product of Netflix binge-watching, increased enthusiasm for the show as it approaches its endgame and an insistent promotional campaign that featured such delicacies as the Ozymandias ad and Bryan Cranston’s appearance in a Walter White mask during the show’s Comic-Con panel. Rumors about a potential spinoff starring everyone’s favorite lawyer whom they had better call, Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk), should only intensify now that the show appears to have fully crossed over into mainstream culture.

As for the episode itself? Those 5.9 million viewers could not have tuned in at a more heart-racing time. “Blood Money” featured two or three scenes that rivaled the show’s most dramatically potent to date (Walt and Hank’s confrontation in the garage, Walt’s loaded conversation with Jesse about Mike, Skyler forbidding Lydia from returning to the car wash), advanced speculation about upcoming events with a killer flash-forward tease (“Hello, Carol”) and eased the tension with several moments of impeccable comedy (Jesse lighting up in Saul’s waiting room, Skinny Pete and Badger hatching an epic Star Trek movie plot). Here is a show that knows how to satisfy its audience and deliver challenging material in equal measure. Bring on the next seven.

Roar

Katy Perry and Lady Gaga both released their new singles ahead of schedule after an unknown source leaked them online. Perry’s “Roar” is currently outpacing Gaga’s “Applause” on the iTunes chart, and Perry’s first-week sales are expected to total well over 100,000 more copies than Gaga’s.

It’s been amusing to watch two of the biggest stars in pop music scramble after their best-laid plans of unveiling new music crumbled to pieces on the Internet right around the same time. While I was initially surprised that “Roar” is currently ahead of “Applause” on the charts, I quickly realized that I had been looking forward to Perry’s return more than I had Gaga’s. Perry outstayed her welcome during the Teenage Dream cycle, but that record had several terrific songs including the title track. Gaga, meanwhile, disappointed when she failed to deliver “the greatest album of the decade” (her words, not mine) with Born This Way.

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“Elysium”: Earthbound and Down

Elysium

What happens when interesting ideas clash with summer blockbuster conventions? You get Elysium, writer-director Neill Blomkamp’s follow-up to the surprise 2009 smash and critical favorite District 9. With a premise that inspires all sorts of fascinating moral, philosophical, theoretical and logistical questions and a story that plows right past those questions, Elysium seems unwilling to engage with ideas larger than ones we’ve already seen in millions of other movies. How will Matt Damon save the world? Will good triumph over evil? Will things explode? If you’re clamoring for answers to these questions, Elysium is the movie for you.

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