Our end-of-the-month wrapup of reviews, news, and observations that didn’t get a full post.
Here come the dog days of summer, but it’s not a complete loss. For as blah as the summer has been so far - and it’s been a giant yawn, by and large – the coming weeks show plenty of promise. In the meantime, last weekend’s San Diego Comic-Con and the upcoming fall television season has given probably half the Internet several weeks worth of blogging and complaining fuel.
Some of our own complaints and blogging fuel are listed below. All opinions are our own, and as always they’re presented in no particular order of importance.
1. Actually, first things first: Mad Men‘s fourth season premiere was a virtuoso bit of television, as good if not better than the series’ vaunted pilot and a jump ahead in quality from the season three debut. With its characters entering the post-JFK era – some leaping, some getting pulled along by the undertow of changing times – the show seems at once re-energized and recommitted. Jon Hamm continued to bring new range and depth to Don Draper, as Matthew Weiner’s script stood the character on his handsome head, while Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) and Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss) finally emerged as the confident grown-ups fans have waited for them to become.
Weiner made some comments last spring that the show would only run six seasons, and it’s not hard to see this ep as the halfway point in the story’s evolution. This coming week’s episode reveals – just in time for summer – the first-ever Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce Christmas party.
2. It’s fun to get what we want. After complaining last year that we wished some former A-list leading men deserved and were due for comebacks, two of our picks have movies opening this week and next. Kevin Kline’s indie comedy The Extra Man, co-starring Paul Dano and John C. Reilly, opens in limited release this weekend. Next week’s The Other Guys, starring Mark Wahlberg and Will Ferrell, co-stars Michael Keaton; we’ll mention again that The Merry Gentleman, Keaton’s directing debut, remains one of our favorite films released since this blog began a couple of years ago.
In the meantime, here’s the trailer for The Extra Man:
3. Nothing came out of the San Diego Comic-Con that really amazed us, but a few things surfaced that sort of disappointed. We’ve made the case before that Joss Whedon isn’t the best choice to write or direct the upcoming Avengers movie, but now that he’s confirmed to do both we’ll give him an even chance. Mark Ruffalo (Zodiac) is a trade-up in replacing Edward Norton as the Hulk, and it’s good to see Jeremy Renner finally confirmed as Hawkeye. All the same, it’s still a bummer to hear that Avengers founding member and mainstay Hank Pym will not appear in the film. The full cast list was revealed at the convention’s panel.
For no good reason, here’s an episode of The Avengers: United They Stand cartoon from the late 90s. Actually, it’s so painfully 90′s it might as well be sporting a pair of Doc Marten’s and a Friends haircut.
4. Better late than never: we’re happy to report that The Unusuals, the exceptional police comedy-drama that Renner headlined last year, has been available on DVD for a while now. Co-starring Terry Kinney, Amber Tamblyn, Adam Goldberg and Harold Perrineau, the show mixed black humor with sometimes surreal drama and plot twists, creating something unlike anything else on network television. Naturally, it lasted just ten episodes before ABC pulled the plug. Renner immediately went on to acclaim in The Hurt Locker, so hopefully the network regrets its cancellation. Nine episodes are available for streaming on Netflix.
5. October sees the release of The Social Network, which except for its pedigree might seem cause for suspicion; still, an Aaron Sorkin script directed by David Fincher is too good to pass up, and anyway a film that’s intelligently made about current events is seldom a bad thing, if ever.
Based on Ben Mezrich’s book The Accidental Billionaires and starring Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield and Justin Timberlake, the film chronicles the rise of Facebook. By the way, please join our Facebook group.
The film opens nationwide October 1.
6. In previous installments of Miscellaneous Debris we chastised both Rescue Me and Leverage for their egregious product placement, devoting too much time to mentioning or in some cases outright singing the praises of their commercial sponsors. Happily, both shows have toned that down quite a bit in their current runs. After a hit-or-miss second season, Leverage seems to have found its legs, with each episode by and large more entertaining than the last. Meanwhile Rescue Me, though too quick once again to fall back on the Tommy Gavin (Denis Leary)-as-human-trainwreck plotlines, has returned to ideas from earlier seasons that worked well before getting abandoned. In particular, the ace comic chemistry between firefighters Sean Garrity (Steven Pasquale) and Mike Silletti (Mike Lombardi) and the reappearance of slain firefighter Jimmy Keefe (James McCaffrey) improve every episode in which they’re used.
7. Ten years ago, Ang Lee’s martial arts epic Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon caused something of a quiet sensation, re-defining how audiences (particularly sci-fi and fantasy audiences) thought about the limits and potential of the action film genre. The film’s luxurious cinematography and eye-googling special effects, combined with a simple but moving story of revenge and deferred love, made larger Western franchises including the then-popular Matrix and Star Wars prequel trilogy seem instantly cumbersome and outdated. Subsequent imitators and similar wuxia efforts trickled through Western multiplexes for years afterward.
A Blu-Ray edition was released this month (a previous edition was available in a three-film wuxia box set), and though we haven’t seen it yet we can only imagine how Lee’s incredible vision appears in high-definition. If you haven’t seen the film, you should. If you have, it might be time to revisit it.
8. Criterion has officially announced the Blu-Ray and two-disc DVD release of Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line. Set to debut September 28, Criterion’s edition includes a new digital transfer supervised by Malick, thirteen minutes of outtakes, interviews with cast members, newsreels of the actual fighting on Guadalcanal and the Solomon Islands, and audio tracks of the Melanesian chants heard throughout the film.
To reiterate what we said a couple of months ago: Upon its 1998 release the film was unfairly ignored by a public that preferred the more simplistic jingoism of Saving Private Ryan (released earlier that year) or felt leery of its sorrowful, meditative tone. Nevertheless, Malick’s eye for arresting imagery didn’t dull one bit after an almost twenty year hiatus from filmmaking; the trailer alone is more picturesque than the entirety of most films, and also more moving.
Our annual summer hiatus runs through next week. We’ll return Tuesday, August 10 with more of what you come here for. Thanks for reading.
- Michael Kabel