Scott Tobias

"Sometimes, friends begin as enemies. And sometimes, enemies begin as friends. Sometimes, in order to truly know how things end, we must first know how they begin."

In their absence, the twin towers have occupied such a significant place in the American conscience, it can be easy to forget they were once considered a blight on the landscape. "Like two file cabinets," snorts one New Yorker in The Walk, Robert Zemeckis' exhilarating film about Philippe Petit, the French wire-walker who tightroped across the towers as they were nearing completion in 1974.

When horror auteur Eli Roth broke into the mainstream with Hostel in 2005, he tapped into a primal fear among Americans, post-9/11, that foreign countries were inhospitable to yankees abroad. (The clever, double-meaning title could be read as "hostile.") He also helped open the floodgates for the hard-R subgenre known as "extreme horror" in some circles and "torture porn" in others, depending on where certain critics drew the line—and whether they were willing to have a line at all.

Without a second's hesitation, Alex Ross Perry's Queen of Earth dives right into its heroine's lowest moment, in medias res. The camera stays close to Catherine's face, as smears of mascara frame eyes alight with pain, anger and exhaustion; this has been going on a while and we're just seeing the end of it. Her boyfriend is breaking up with her, which is awful enough, but the timing makes it worse: She's still reeling from the death of her father, an artist who mentored her, and now the two central figures in her life are gone.

Within the mishmash of influences on the stoner action/comedy American Ultra — namely, Repo Man, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Pineapple Express, and a pile of pointless hyper-violent comic books — the film nearly finds itself in the cognitive dissonance of a pothead who discovers his inner badass. There's something funny about Jesse Eisenberg, that sentient bundle of nerves, standing over the bodies of government agents he's just dispatched with a spoon and a piping hot bowl of ramen noodles.

For the dozen or two regulars at The Salt Well in the San Fernando Valley, watching the house band is like stepping into a musical time machine, where everyone has aged but the song remains the same. By any standard, Ricki and the Flash rates as a better-than-average bar band, fronted by Ricki Rendazzo—a stage name that now almost poignantly reflects a long-forgotten dream of rock superstardom.

Those keeping up with the National Cinematic Lampooniverse (NCL) will be interested to know that Vacation isn't a remake of the three-plus-decade-old Chevy Chase comedy, but a continuation of the series. It takes place in a world where the events of Vacation, European Vacation and Christmas Vacation have happened and everyone has gotten older, if not wiser. Now Rusty Griswold, the grown son of Chase's Clark Griswold, wants to follow in his father's footsteps and drag his own family on a cross-country misadventure.

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