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Guardians of the Galaxy
Marvel’s newest franchise – packed to the brim with laughs and whimsy – might just be its best
Smuggler Peter Quill (a dashing Chris Pratt) leads a space-age motley crew, including a green-skinned assassin (Zoë Saldana) out to betray her evil overlord, a bazooka-toting raccoon, a giant talking tree and an awkward alien beefcake. Greed brings this quintet together as they hunt down an “orb” that can destroy the galaxy. But fear of extinction compels them to see beyond a paycheck and turn on their buyer. Like the very best fantasy epics, the dazzling 3D action is secondary to the sly camaraderie of these accidental heroes; here’s that rare space adventure that will win over even those who avoid sci-fi. (PG-13)
Top Chef Duels
The franchise’s top competitors square off
Top Chef experiments with a brand-new recipe: In Duels, two veteran contestants prep dishes for celebrity judges each week. In the premiere, Top Chef All-Stars winner Richard Blais faces polarizing Top Chef runner-up Marcel Vigneron, and each chef is asked to invent one of the night’s challenges and talk some serious smack across the open kitchen. The result: a spicier cook-off contest that doubles as a homecoming for Top Chef’s top graduates. (Bravo, Aug. 6, 10 p.m.)
Anna Kendrick shines as Jenny, an aimless, self-destructive woman who moves in with her brother (and his wife and son) following a nasty breakup. A film about family, forgiveness and self-discovery, Christmas is also a study in friendship, as Jenny clings to best friend Carson (Lena Dunham) when she falls. (R)
Running Wild with Bear Grylls
It’s celebrity vs. wild in this adventure series, which finds Zac Efron (below), Channing Tatum and others scaling cliffs and cooking bugs by campfire with the famed survivalist. At its best, Wild helps stars drop their guard and go off-script as they power through a marathon of physical feats. (NBC, Mondays, 8 p.m.)
The Best New Books
A Victorian love story, a tale of two sisters and another irresistible confection from the bestselling author of The Husband’s Secret
The Fortune Hunter
Empress Elizabeth falls hard for dashing Bay Middleton, who’s not “of the first rank of society, but … a superb rider.” Their equestrian affair derails the dreams of Charlotte Baird, an heiress with the moral compass – and fortune – Bay needs. Downton Abbey fans will gallop like Thoroughbreds through this entertaining historical novel.
Worrier Eva and her half sister Iris, an aspiring actress and “vase of glamour,” come together and apart and together again in this luminous 1940s-era tale of families surviving hard knocks. Bloom places her endearing eccentrics in vivid locales, from cruel Hollywood to bombed-out Germany to a Brooklyn beauty parlor. Who’s lucky? Us.
BOOK OF THE WEEK
Big Little Lies
Exposing the fault lines in what looks like perfection is a specialty of Liane Moriarty’s – thus the exploding images on her covers (a flower for last year’s The Husband’s Secret, a lollipop this time around). The seeming idyll at the center of Lies is Pirriwee Public, a primary school on the Australian coast, where bullying has led to a murder. Will the killer be caught? Can the town recover? Moriarty’s sly humor and razor-sharp insights will keep you turning the pages to find out.
NEW IN PAPERBACK
Sue Grafton, W Is for Wasted
A dead vagrant has Inspector Kinsey Millhone’s name on the paper in his pocket – what’s up with that? Nearing the end of her addictive series, Grafton’s in fine form.
Laura Hillenbrand, Unbroken
The incredible true story of Louis Zamperini, Olympic runner turned World War II survivor extraordinaire. Read it before the movie comes out in December.
Louise Penny, How the Light Gets In
Set in a Quebec village, Penny’s Inspector Gamache mysteries have ingenious plots, intriguing characters and croissants. Delicious.
VINE BREAKOUT STAR!
Vine celebrity Sione Maraschino is the runaway star of the song’s video.
Meghan Trainor ‘All About That Bass’
An infectious new tune about self-image – and swagger
If self-confidence had a theme song, it would be this catchy hit from 20-year-old newcomer Meghan Trainor. The Nashville-based songwriter bursts onto the scene with this uplifting retro-pop debut, an anthem that boasts lyrics like “Every inch of you is perfect” and “I’m bringing booty back.” (That last one’s a lofty claim, but the expert rump-shaking in her pastel music video makes for a strong case.) It’s a ditty that makes loving your body look (and sound) just as fun as it should.
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers
Even at 63, with 80 million records sold, Tom Petty still seems eager to experiment. From the fuzzed-out stomp of “American Dream Part B” to the slow dread of “Power Drunk,” Hypnotic Eye is a gritty, swaggering reminder of Petty’s skills as songwriter and bandleader.
Ice Lake Rebels
These liberated Rebels live way off the grid in house-boats on a remote Cana-dian lake, enduring every deadly freeze. (Animal Planet, Sundays, 10 p.m.)
He’s clumsy and clueless, but Sheriff Hoyle (John Lehr) studied forensics at Harvard—and won’t let you forget it. The absurd western spoof returns for a new season with a series of romantic blunders. (Hulu, Aug. 7)
Jenny Lewis, The Voyager
The indie chanteuse pulls off an impressive feat, using smooth, SoCal-hued songs to deliver deeper stories of heartbreak and loss.
Kidnapped for Christ
This harrowing Lance Bass-produced film profiles a religious boarding school in the Caribbean that “rehabilitated” gay American teens – by any means necessary. More disturbing: Their parents sent them there. (Showtime)
Get On Up
A high-octane, pitch-perfect tribute to showbiz’s hardest-working man
Much like the performer himself, James Brown’s big-screen biography hooks you with its infectious, oddball energy. Unafraid to jump between decades in an instant, the film carves out equal space for Brown the superstar, the abuser, the defiant child of the Jim Crow South and, always, the entertainer. A sweat-soaked Chadwick Boseman gives everything to his uncanny performance, but it’s True Blood’s Nelsan Ellis as sidekick Bobby Byrd who emerges as the true soul of the picture. (PG-13)