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Commentary: A look back on summer screens and Columbus stages

Courtesy of HBO

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With evenings getting cooler and classes looming, the reality that we’ve reached the end of summer is unavoidable. But we still have time to take a look back at the movies, television shows and concerts that kept us pop culture-obsessives occupied during the heat of summer.

Movies

In the season of the Blockbuster, it was no surprise which movie reigned supreme. “The Dark Knight Rises” proved to be not only a satisfying conclusion to Christopher Nolan’s epic Batman trilogy, but maybe the best comic book movie of all time. Boasting jaw-dropping visuals, an action-packed plot and stunning performances from the entire cast, particularly Anne Hathaway as the devious Selina Kyle, or Catwoman, and Tom Hardy – all muscle and menace – as Bane, “Rises” was the most impressive of Nolan’s adaptations, cementing the trilogy as being peerless to all other comic films.

Elsewhere at the multiplex, Seth MacFarlane’s “Ted” was essentially an R-rated episode of “Family Guy” with a filthy but charming teddy bear lead. Meanwhile, in spite of some top-notch scenery chewing from Benicio Del Toro and Salma Hayek, Oliver Stone’s “Savages” proved to be mostly toothless (apparently, Hollywood’s going to keep putting Blake Lively on the big screen despite her relative inability to, you know, act).

Woody Allen’s “To Rome With Love” was a disappointing follow-up to his Oscar-winning hit of last summer, “Midnight In Paris.” And the less said about “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” the better. More encouragingly, the indie comedy “Your Sister’s Sister” was a lovely alternative to the standard summer fare, with stellar performances from Mark Duplass, Rosemarie DeWitt and Emily Blunt. Perhaps the most pleasant surprise of the summer, Steven Soderbergh’s “Magic Mike” transcended the hyped tag of “that male stripper movie” with energy and heart to spare. Channing Tatum silenced naysayers with a hilarious, charismatic performance, and Matthew McConaughey’s performance as the sleazy troop leader is already eliciting awards buzz.

Television

This summer also marked the return of arguably the best drama and comedy on television. AMC’s “Breaking Bad” and “Louie” on FX continue to prove HBO hasn’t entirely cornered the market on exemplary programming.

The ever-darkening “Breaking Bad” started its fifth season with a doozy of a cold open, with protagonist (“hero” hardly fits anymore) Walter White, played by three-time Primetime Emmy Award winner Bryan Cranston, purchasing some serious-looking firearms. Oh, and it was also a fast-forward to more than a year into the future from where we left him. Fans of the show’s penchant for almost unbearable tension and gallows humor should have found plenty to love in the first four episodes, and will no doubt be put through the wringer by the time it ends its too-short, eight-episode season.

A series already adorned with endless hyperbole, “Louie” continues to prove it is one of the few shows truly deserving of the label “ground-breaking.” Master comedian and multi-hyphenate Louis C.K. is still stretching the boundaries of his TV world, and along with it, the audience’s notion of what a sitcom can be. Mining the uncomfortably hilarious (and hilariously uncomfortable) depths of blind dates and single parenthood, no amount of praise seems to do justice to the singular vision C.K. has cultivated over the past few seasons. Cinematic, challenging and just plain funny, to say there’s nothing else like it on TV seems an understatement.

On HBO, “True Blood” has continued its downward spiral into absurdity and self-parody, while Aaron Sorkin’s new series “The Newsroom” reminds us that witty banter and breaking news might not always mix well. But when they do, it can make for one of the most compelling hours of television around.

Concerts

Let’s bring this topic closer to home with the highlight of Columbus’ summer concert season being an epic, early August performance by Wilco at the Lifestyle Communities Pavilion. Playing a 27-song set that spanned its entire discography, the group was tireless as frontman Jeff Tweedy led the way through favorites new and old.

Flying just below the radar but poised to break any minute, Shovels & Rope, comprised of husband and wife Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst, dropped its new album “O’ Be Joyful” July 31. The collection of country-tinged rock is stellar, with Trent and Hearst trading off lead vocals between tracks. The band has played to increasingly packed rooms in Columbus in the past year, including a near-capacity set at The Rumba Cafe, which holds 200 people, in June. With the release of its new record, the band seems prepped for bigger and better things. Best hop on the bandwagon now.

Fall is right around the corner, and with it, the return of our favorite nights of television and heavy Oscar-bait flicks. Take one last breath of summer, and remember the entertainment that helped us beat the heat.
 

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