Despite a decade of protestations from Florence Welch, the dog days are still very much upon us. That’s true in the sense that August 26 marks International Dog Day, a perfect excuse to go back into The A.V. Club’s archives in search of some very good boys and girls as well as some incorrigible lil’ stinkers. (Never forget the dog-eat-dog rivalry between Moose, the Jack Russell terrier who originally played Eddie on Frasier, and Enzo, his son, who took over the role after Moose retired.)
It also refers to the long, slow, sweet tapering off of summer, the last hurrah of out-of-office notifications and lazy afternoons lying in front of a box fan in your underwear. Late August is traditionally a bit of a slump period for pop culture, and this week has unfolded according to tradition with a flurry of “C” grades on our slate of TV and film reviews. What If...?, Nine Perfect Strangers, Archer, and The Good Fight all underwhelmed our TV reviewers this week, and our highest film grade was a mixed review of Candyman, which horror expert Anya Stanley describes as overstuffed and ambitious to a fault. Ah, well.
It’s not all chilly, gelatinous cubes in our collective pop-culture diet this weekend, however: Although perhaps not the most cheerful of late-summer entertainments, Noel Murray says the NatGeo docuseries 9/11: One Day In America is a powerful retelling of that infamous day through the eyes of those who were there. Alex McLevy also comes at us with sweet succor to our ears with a glowing review of the latest album from indie rocker Indigo De Souza, and there’s never been a better time to get into anime. Really!
Nia DaCosta’s sophomore feature, a pseudo-sequel, pseudo-reboot to the 1992 horror classic Candyman, was one of our most anticipated films of 2020—when it was initially scheduled to debut—and 2021. So perhaps it’s inevitable that the actual release of the thing wold be a bit underwhelming, drawing mixed reviews from critics. Based on these early reactions, it seems the film, starring Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as a photographer obsessed with the infamous bogeyman, has something for every type of fan: Heady symbolism for the horror-blog set, and plenty of blood for the slasher heads. That’s also its biggest weakness, but considering how long we’ve been looking forward to the film, we’re going to watch it no matter what.
“With all these ideas buzzing around the narrative like wasps, it’s easy to fall out of step with the film’s energy. When a white dealer responds to Anthony’s pitch on gentrification in a way that betrays his desire to turn Black struggles into consumable product, it sure seems like DaCosta is encouraging engagement and rumination. But only sometimes. Other times, we’re watching a slasher movie, or a cheeky Velvet Buzzsaw commentary on art consumption. Candyman can be each of these things, but its various interests—the sheer volume of injustice to sift through and structures to interrogate—cry out for the extra space of a TV series. At mere feature length, the sweets are too sweet.” [Anya Stanley]
Phew boy, can you believe it’s been 20 years since 9/11? The anniversary of that infamous day is approaching, bringing with it somber reflections on the devastating loss of life on the morning of September 11, 2001, the terror that gripped a major American city in its aftermath, and the sacrifices of first responders who ran into the rubble in search of survivors. (I’ve typed out and deleted a joke here three different times, and have decided to leave the 9/11 humor to our colleagues at The Onion.)
Noel Murray describes the series as “harrowing” and “unsparing,” so be prepared. Of the new footage of the attacks featured in the series, he writes: “The intent is to recreate the confusion and terror of the day, and the methods are highly effective. The mounting panic, the escalating destruction—thanks to the fresh footage, it all shocks anew.”
“Hold U,” the lead single from the latest record by Asheville singer-songwriter Indigo De Souza, has real “driving down a costal highway with the top down” energy. (Hopefully, it’ll translate for those of us stuck sweating it out on a sticky bus.) But the radio-ready hooks on “Hold U” are but one facet of this indie-rock gem, according to our reviewer Alex McLevy.
“Over the course of 10 songs, De Souza grapples with love, lust, heartache, depression, internal contradictions, and emotional support—sometimes all in the course of a single track—through a record that rediscovers the rough-edged, distorted beauty of indie rock, too often suppressed in the name of studio polish and ‘accessibility” … This is the sound of an album so wholly alive, so in touch with its messy, organic thicket of emotions and competing musical influences, that even the restrained groove-pop of “Hold U,” with its dancefloor rhythms and radio-ready hook, contains moments where De Souza’s voice exceeds the bounds of the melody, pushing past the expected range and beyond the listener’s defenses to create an unexpected moment of unsettling grace.” [Alex McLevy]
Having edited the piece, I may be biased here, but debuting animator Cressa Beer and critic Willow Maclay on the site was a highlight of my summer. Earlier this week, they joined forces for a Crosstalk on the intersection of anime, adolescence, and transfeminine identity, paying tribute to the roles anime series like Sailor Moon, Revolutionary Girl Uetna, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Ranma 1/2, and Escaflowne played in their lives as teenagers.
The article is an endearing mix of nerdy enthusiasm and wistful reflection, expanding the conversation about anime’s cultural influence while compiling a handy watchlist of series and films both comfy and challenging. (I’m going to check out Liz And The Blue Bird this weekend, personally.) This passage from Maclay hits especially hard:
I like your phrase “revised childhood”, because I think we do that to protect ourselves—or, in some cases, make a bigger deal out of things that only caused a small ripple at the time but feel more important now. The fact that I was only relating to characters who were girls wasn’t lost on me, but because it was the ’90s, and everyone perceived me as a boy, I thought something was wrong with me. Additionally, you had mainstream American culture engaging directly with transness in negative ways … But anime never hurt me, and sometimes it even seemed to endorse how I was feeling. Shows like Ranma 1/2 actually engaged with deep-seated desires of mine, like suddenly being transformed into a girl through magical means. Anime was a safe space during what was otherwise a not-so-great time to be growing up trans.
And speaking of getting all misty-eyed, national treasure Dolly Parton is going to take us out with a tribute to a mangy, skinny little guy named Cracker Jack, a dog whose loyalty and companionship were the spirit of love itself. Have a good weekend, everybody.