Summer: A Retrospective

Attack the Block

Aliens seemed to be everywhere this summer. From the ghastly “Green Lantern,” to the gun-slinging action of “Cowboys & Aliens,” extraterrestrials invaded the summer cineplexes with a boldness befitting your typical blockbuster. Except one. “Attack the Block,” from producer Edgar Wright (director of “Shaun of the Dead”), doesn’t have the vastness of the wild West or the flashy effects of Ryan Reynolds’ green suit. Instead, what we get is a far more subtle and grounded film where comedy, character and creepy creatures intersect in the streets of South London.

Like “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz,” “Attack the Block” pits common characters against extraordinary circumstances. After mugging a helpless nurse, a gang of council estate teenagers find themselves up against an onslaught of, as one of them puts it, “big gorilla wolf motherfuckers.” In other words, aliens. It’s a simple premise and an even simpler film. Where other blockbusters, like “Cowboys & Aliens,” splurged on effects, “Attack the Block” relies on the humanity of its characters and the sharp humor of its script to produce a movie far more entertaining than the summer’s bigger-budget bores.       

       — Jessica Pena

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2

Call it utter fandom or a cult, the magical world of Harry Potter has been defining generations for years. And with the release of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2,” there was no doubt that not only will tears be shed but also childhoods finally left behind.
Veteran “Harry Potter” director David Yates presented an action-packed, fast-paced epic that left viewers breathless. The titular golden boy (Daniel Radcliffe) and his steadfast crew (Rupert Grint and Emma Watson) raced against a noseless villain (Ralph Fiennes), launching spells and battling it out through lands both foreign and familiar.

Granted, the film had its faults — ones that we love to hate. Yes, the epilogue was strange and awkward. And of course, the plotwas confusing for anyone who has never indulged in the series. But honestly, why would you watch the very last movie if you haven’t seen the rest? For the true fans with wands in their hands and Sharpie scars, “Deathly Hallows: Part 2” delivered  a satisfying conclusion and regretfully shuts the door on an unforgettable realm.

— Cynthia Kang

Midnight in Paris

Woody Allen’s latest masterpiece revives the thread of summer slump films. Disillusioned American writer Gil (Owen Wilson) wistfully wanders the cobblestone streets of Paris in search of inspiration. Gil is at the point of creative despair when he stumbles upon a time traveling car.

Allen transports us, along with Gil, back to Paris in the 1920s and lovingly bombards the screen with writers and artists of the era (Fitzgerald and Hemingway, among others).  Allen’s dialogue is delightfully full of witticisms, imparting enough inside jokes to cause art or English majors to high five each other when recognizing references. Yet Allen maintains a thread of earnestness in his writing, saving the whole film from getting bogged down with pretention.

As the comeback kid, Owen Wilson gives a lovably flustered, impassioned performance reminiscent of Woody Allen himself. It’s greatly appreciated that such a deliciously character-driven film is out in theaters, but that appreciation comes with a subsequent yearning to go back to the days when films like “Paris” reigned over the silver screen.

— Dominique Brillon

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Turns out that computer-generated monkeys are more entertaining than computer-generated car robots, as proven by Ruper Wyatt’s “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.” This is either an indication of how good “Rise” is or how bad the industry is at churning out consistently adequate films.  Either way, this prequel to the “Apes” saga cleverly lays down all of the ground information on how the apes we saw in the 1968 and 2001 films came to be upstanding citizens.

For all those hesitant to watch a movie about monkeys being given mind-altering drugs that accelerate their brain development, at least consider the fact that you’ll be watching Andy Serkis (or Gollum, as some of us know him) playing a very convincing, heroic primate. Serkis once again showcases his brilliance behind the veil of CGI effects, proving that nuanced character work can still be done even with the addition of computer-generated images. It’s Serkis who carries the film, making it stand not only as an sci-fi action thriller, but as a character study on the ethics of drug experimentation.

—Dominique Brillon

The Tree of Life

In recent memory, no movie-going experience was, and is and will be, as talked about as Terrence Malick’s big-dreaming, life-affirming, irritating “The Tree of Life.” In a brisk two-and-a-half hours — more than I can say for the latest, longest “Transformers” entry, also ambitious and annoying — the film packs in an American family tragedy, the birth of the universe, dinosaurs and a lot of Sean Penn’s face.

Malick, the cinematic magician behind “Days of Heaven” (1978), “The Thin Red Line” (1998), among others, is known for taking lengthy hiatuses between films and being elusive in public. But he made our own summer hiatus something rather special in sharing his utterly original, Malick-y (because no adjective exists to aptly define the man’s work) vision, even if “The Tree” occasionally left us feeling cold or as if we weren’t in on the big (cosmic) joke, or if it even was a joke. Also, thanks to this film and others, we’ve witnessed the birth of a sublime new star: Jessica Chastain, who impressed us here and in “The Help.” Hopefully we’ll see more of her, because we certainly won’t see Malick again for awhile. Pity.

­­— Ryan Lattanzio

The Stone Foxes

This past year, a majority of the music scene has been dominated by electropop gloss and DJ raves, making it challenging to find artists who are still in tune with guitar slingin’ and drums that are more than just pads. While groups such as The Black Keys have been gaining popularity, San Francisco has a new blues band to call their own. The Stone Foxes have steadily been gaining followers for some time now, and this past year has shown that you don’t need big-name swagger to gain both commercial popularity and a strong fanbase.

The Foxes’ gritty blues and vintage strut have been heard throughout various festivals this past year. From their recent stint at SF’s Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival, to their future gig at the New Orleans Voodoo Music Fest, the Foxes are moving up to new levels of fame. The Bay Area quartet’s cover of “I’m A King Bee” was featured in the Jack Daniels Tennessee Honey Whiskey commercial as well, adding to their down and dirty demeanor. If you feel daring enough, the Stone Foxes are worth seeing — just be prepared for a raucously fun time.

— Ian Birnam


Breaking the rules of sound while adorned in bizarre costumes, Merrill Garbus delights with her unconventional blend of jazz and glitch that also happens to be wildly entertaining. tUnE-yArDs, whose funny-looking name is merely the first indication of its progressive style, never delivers a dull moment. Both the debut and the followup, recorded in Oakland, brimmed with unexpected innovation. Softly crooning vocals, bursts of sax, syncopated drum beats — tUnE-yArDs is a project that can truly label itself as a proponent of its genre.

Garbus should be happy to realize that her studio efforts have not been in vain. Her recent set at Outside Lands, despite its ridiculously early time slot, drew a mass of extremely supportive fans. But the tightly packed crowd was happily compensated by tUnE-yArDs’ show. Garbus dutifully carried out her infamous live mixing in a manner that fell nothing short of mind-blowing. Talented, charismatic and adamantly fearless, Garbus has turned tUnE-yArDs into an entirely justified hype.

— Cynthia Kang