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Best of the Summer
We here at the Leisure section sincerely regret the standard school schedule that prevents us from being able to tell you what to like and dislike over the summer months. To that end, we’ve compiled a collection of some of our favorite movies, music, and shows from the summer, in the hopes of allowing you to catch up on the culture you may have missed. Quick, catch these while the last rays of summer still shine and before those silly classes start.
Mad Men: It is impossible to have gone through this summer and not been aware of Mad Men, the newest “best show on television,” yet the series is not quite what you’d expect it to be. What at first glance resembles a flashy period piece of sixties kitsch is in reality a deliberately slow character study of individuals trying to make sense of their surroundings in a rapidly changing culture. Jon Hamm, playing anti-hero Don Draper, is mesmerizing in the lead role. While Hamm is obviously the main attraction, it is the fully realized supporting cast that makes you stick around, most notably John Slattery as one of the ad agency’s executives and Christina Hendricks, oozing sexuality, as the head of the office pool.
- Dan Newman
Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog: Joss Whedon, of cult worship fame, made his long-awaited return this summer with the internet premiere of Dr. Horrible. Over the course of 42 minutes, Whedon makes you laugh, cry, and care about people you’ve never met before. Neil Patrick Harris, in the titular role, steals the show as a super villain trying to take over the world and win the affection of the girl at the laundromat. Costars Nathan Fillion and Felecia Day shine too. And did I mention that it’s a musical? While only a single episode was made, more have been promised, which should make a nice holdover until Whedon’s newest series, Dollhouse, premieres in the fall.
- Dan Newman
Burn Notice: Burn Notice is not aspiring to be the next great television show. It is simply looking to be solid summer entertainment, and it assuredly succeeds at that. Light and breezy, the show is sharply written and quickly paced. Not only that, but it has guns and explosions and women in bikinis. The series follows a Miami spy blacklisted by his former agency, trying to figure out what happened and who’s to blame. While the angular Jeffrey Donovan may be the lead, Bruce Campbell steals every scene he’s in. As a retired soldier, Campbell and adds a strong sense of humor that raises the show above other summer offerings.
- Dan Newman
Greek: Greek should not be good. It’s on ABC Family, for God’s sake. The story of a nerd trying to navigate college with the help of his sorority president older sister sounds incredibly derivative. But in spite of the premise, the show succeeds.by being absolutely riveting and more or less relatable to real life. The cast memebers actually look as if they could still be in college. The first season, which ended in June, had some missteps, but Greek is a show that, unlike most, appears to learn from its mistakes. The second season kicks off on August 26.
- Dan Newman
The Dark Knight: If Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins resurrected a series that was sickly enough to employ Arnold Schwarzenegger as the moronically diamond-hungry Mr. Freeze, The Dark Knight jettisons the Batman saga into the realm of important American cinema, leaving its superhero ilk in blood-caked dust. But you already knew that, so let’s keep it brief: The Dark Knight transcends the childish comic-book trappings of good-evil duality to embody a morality far grander in scope yet much dearer to our hearts. Though the film isn’t flawless (indeed, the dialogue is overdrawn at times), each quibble-worthy faux pas is swallowed whole in a sea of stunningly visual storytelling, like an inverted Joker raving about turning the world upside-down or, more slyly, a fire truck ablaze prophesying the grinning villain’s ironic vision of chaos. A mountain of paradoxes, The Dark Knight is both the best comic-book movie ever made and not a comic-book movie at all.
– Traviss Cassidy
Hellboy II: The Golden Army: Why, after gorging oneself on the finest crème brûlée, does home-baked chocolate cake still taste so delicious? I found myself asking that very question while watching the second installment of Guillermo Del Toro’s super-anti-hero series, Hellboy. After the near-unanimous critical acclaim of art-house thriller Pan’s Labyrinth, the Mexican director apparently had a hankering for something more proletarian (and more likely to rake in the dough). The film indulges in more than a little self-conscious campiness, which can be a blast if you dig that stuff, and its dazzling set and costume design makes even the visually rich original seem humdrum. It’s no Pan’s Labyrinth, but it finds the director’s unmistakable brand of fantasy congealing into something larger and brighter which will hopefully crawl into Del Toro’s next earth-shattering opus.
- Traviss Cassidy
Invincible – Shapeshifters (Emergence): Ilana Weaver, a.k.a. Invincible, is a genius anomaly of a rapper: where many mainstream female MCs play into the sexist stereotypes that dot the genre, Weaver confidently places herself on equal footing with her male counterparts—“I’m striving to be one of the best, period/ Not just one of the best with breasts and a period,” she spits. Where most rappers on the radio are preoccupied with rims and grills, she’s drawing parallels between civilian displacement in Israel and the plight of gentrification victims in Detroit; where average MCs content themselves with riding the same recycled beats to the same clichéd conclusions, she’s rounding up the finest beatmakers of Motor City to create a debut that is both sonically diverse and conceptually challenging. The end result, is nothing short of staggering, a sure-footed bid for best underground hip-hop record of 2008 and a big “fuck you” to corporate hip-hop’s bloated complacence.
- Traviss Cassidy
Wall-E: From the so-called trash heap of American culture—according to those pesky Europeans, at least—wiggles the cutest trash robot to grace the big screen since, well, ever. Wall-E follows the trials of a feisty, cubical character along his quest to bring unpleasantly plump Earthlings back to their planet, which they have littered to death. In a daring departure from Pixar’s typical pop-culture-inspired humor, Wall-E contains little dialogue, apart from the occasional robot bleeping talk and conversations among humans. Instead, the film elegantly presents a disturbing portrait of what humans could create, without slipping into pretension or running dry on humor. Wall-E is a social critique without the pedantry and an animated film that refuses to infantilize its subject matter, making it one of the few unique cinematic offerings of the year.
- Chelsea Paige
Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson: Hunter S. Thompson’s style is often associated with the booze, LSD, and careening across the Nevada desert scene in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. But this movie shows that Gonzo journalism meant more than drinking and writing: it meant eschewing objectivity to make a point. Alex Gibney’s film explores Thompson’s entire career, interviewing everyone from Jimmy Carter to Pat Buchanan, about his life. The film benefits from clips from Thompson’s home movies, as well as the fact that he was so damned funny. Gibney delves deep into Thompson’s book Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ‘72, comprised of Rolling Stone articles Thompson wrote while following the Democratic primary campaigns. Thompson’s articles mixed candid accounts of conversations with the candidates with pure fiction, and it confused the mainstream media to no end: they began reporting on ludicrous “rumors” he made up, such as “Ed Muskie is using drugs given to him by a mysterious Brazilian doctor.” Gibney treats Thompson with a necessary sense of humor and caution, and avoids the simplistic decision that Thompson was either pure genius or pure crazy.
- Sara Carothers
The Line: Spurred by the lull of the ’07-’08 Writers’ Strike and the success of “Digital Shorts” like “Lazy Sunday,” SNL player Bill Hader and writer Simon Rich churned out an Internet-only series this summer entitled “The Line” with the help of SNL co-workers like Seth Meyers and Jason Sudeikis. The seven-episode series follows Josh and Duffy (played by Hader and Joe Lo Truglio), two full-grown fanboys waiting eleven days outside a theatre to see “FutureSpace,” a fictional science fiction flick. Their goal to be first in line, however, faces a few complications: uber nerds, girlfriends, five-minute rules, and a wonderful character played by Paul Sheer (30 Rock) called “The Spoiler.” Clocking in at just under 30 minutes, “The Line” might not leave you in stitches, but you’ll wish there were at least a few more episodes.
- Dan Cook