Sunday, September 4, 2011

August Pop-Culture Round-up

I gave some of my August faves a tribute earlier this month, but luckily, August has been a great month for pop. August pop culture is all about the winding down of summer: it's twilight on the beach and the fun has gotten a little tawdry and dark. Michael Bay is not the hero of August.The hero of August is that movie or song that makes you feel, just for a moment, that you are a kid but have all of the understanding of an adult.

So here is my late August playlist...

"That is a terrible vampire name. Jerry?"
Fright Night, 2011
Do you remember when the movies used to be fun? Remember when summer movies were the funnest movies of all? In the Transformers era, fun is sorely lacking from summer movies, although naps are abundant. Fright Night, despite being a remake of an earlier film (such remakes being one of the Four Horsemen of Hollywood's Apocalypse) retains the DNA of its earlier incarnation - FUN, sexy, scary, and did I mention... fun? It's an old school vampire movie, if you're not familiar with the original (that means the vampires aren't sparkly). Colin Farrell has torn up summer 2011 in supporting roles (see: Horrible Bosses), but the show stopper is David Tennant as a past-his-prime (if he had a prime) Vegas magician with a rash, a Midori addiction, and a horrible past. I'm guessing from Fright Night's awful box office that you haven't seen it yet. This is the last holiday  of the summer. GO IMMEDIATELY.

"All the other kids with the pumped up kicks  you'd better run, better run, outrun my gun" 
Pumped Up Kicks, Foster the People
Yes, it is the song you can't get out of your head that's also about a potential school shooting. I heard some music critic on NPR talking about how it's one of the "songs of the summer" because the darkness hidden behind the jaunty tune somehow represents our national mindset. Actually, I think it's the song of the summer because of the hook. And the whistling.

“You’ve got a time machine and I’ve got a gun. What the hell? Let’s kill Hitler.” 
"Let's Kill Hitler", Doctor Who
After a mid-summer hiatus that had Who fans squirming, the Doctor returned with a bang at the end of August.  The mid-season finale revealed that River Song (played by Alex Kingston - really?!? Ralph Fiennes, you gave up River frakking Song?) is the daughter - spoilers - of Amy and Rory. "Let's Kill Hitler" tore into her backstory with a vengeance, while giving us all the funny bits we love from The Doctor. Matt Smith continues a brilliant run  as the 11th ("bowties are cool") Doctor, and the supporting cast just keep digging deeper into their characters.

"You screwed up your romantic life in front of fifth-graders?"
Sports Night, available on Netflix streaming
For many years, I've heard about the mythical Sports Night: the two seasons in which Aaron Sorkin incubated the core stylistic quirks and the humanist concerns that would drive The West Wing (a.k.a. the White House as liberals wish it was). Now that Sports Night is available on Netflix streaming, we-who-are-too-lazy-to-pop-in-a-DVD can catch a glimpse of the crucible that led to Jed Bartlet. The "walk-and-talk", the rapid-fire dialogue, the Constitutional questions - they are all there in a show that's nominally about a Sports Center-like news hour hosted by Peter Krause and Josh Charles, and produced by Felicity Huffman. And yes, sometimes the seams show in Sports Night,  but how often do you get a glimpse of a television auteur finding his feet?

"Hector, you've just missed a wonderful game of sardines!"
The Hour, BBCA
Sardines. It's a child's game of reverse-hide-and-seek, where everyone hides together until only one person is left. Except in BBC's The Hour (and yes, I know I already mentioned it, but it's that good), sardines is much more: it's a metaphor for the infantilization of the British aristocracy, the setting for a sexy game of cat-and-mouse, and an opportunity to ratchet up the tension in the spy story that has been unfurling. And that's why The Hour is so good. It's willing to give us the Briticissims we love - the country house weekend, the confrontations hidden behind pleasantries, the beds-under-garrets - but it layers these so that they have an immediacy and tautness that's unusual in staid British drama. The MVP award goes to Dominic West, who - perhaps because we know him so well as McNutty on The Wire - manages to be debonair while we believe he might be on the edge of unraveling.

"Maybe this was the only way it could have gone. You didn't get the quest you wanted, you got the one you could do."
The Magician King, Lev Grossman
Last night, I woke up, my brain reeling with thoughts of wild strange magic - magic I can't get into without spoiling the story of Quentin Coldwater, the Magician King. Grossman's book is the sequel to The Magicians, which answers the question: what would happen if Harry Potter and those Narnia kids were filled with ennui and really liked to get drunk? At least, on the surface that's what it seems to be about. In The Magician King, Grossman riffs on C.S. Lewis's The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (my favorite Narnia book). As in The Magicians, Grossman starts the tale with winks and nods, but ends in that wild, strange place that will wake you up in the middle of the night and won't let you drift back to sleep.

"You could have had it any other way."
What the Water Gave Me, Florence + the Machine
Some of us have been waiting a long time for new Florence! Even though she's only been everywhere since late last year, those of us who are super-cool (or just happened, once, by extreme chance rather than any hipness whatsoever, to catch her on a blog radio program and became obsessed to listening to her MySpace page, in the days when you did that)  have been waiting a long time!


Anonymous said...

A Midori addiction? Lol. I don't know why that's so funny to me, but it is. I still need to go see that.

Mmmm... Josh Charles. I already had a crush on him from The Good Wife when I watched Sports Night. And he is even more crushworthy in SP.

Catfish said...

Hey, JB! Yes - a Midori addiction was hilarious to me also.

Josh Charles is great - I like him better now that he's older though. I wasn't a fan in the Dead Poets days.