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Daily Reads: Making a Place for Film Stock, the Sublime Foolishness of ‘Birdman’ and More

Daily Reads: Making a Place for Film Stock, the Sublime Foolishness of 'Birdman' and More

Criticwire’s Daily Reads brings today’s essential news stories and critical pieces to you.

1. A Place for Film Stock. Most movie theaters have switched from 35mm projectors to DCP, but some are moving to reinstall 35mm in order to get Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar” two days earlier than everyone else, as per his wish. Alamo Drafthouse CEO Tim League argues that theater owners should make it their mission to accommodate Nolan, Quentin Tarantino, and other filmmakers who want their films exhibited in traditional film prints. 

I ask all cinema owners, what is our relationship to filmmakers? I consider myself a venue in service of the creative visionaries who create the stories and experiences for which we charge. If Christopher Nolan prefers for his movie to be projected from 35mm or 70mm prints, then we as an industry should respect his vision and do our best to support it. He is seeing an industry that has all but abandoned the rich history and tradition of film projection and is using this highly anticipated release to stop the rapid erosion of film projection in cinemas. Read more.

2. The Female “Bad Fan.” Male antihero shows like “Breaking Bad” and “The Sopranos” have long suffered from having “bad fans” – surface-reading male fans who wish that Skyler or Carmela would get out of the way and just let Walter White or Tony Soprano get on with the carnage. But Emily Nussbaum of The New Yorker notes the existence of female bad fans, people who watch the characters of “The Mindy Project” or “The Good Wife” and see not morally complex, messed-up characters, but symbols of empowerment, and who are outraged when they see their beloved characters do questionable things.

“The Good Wife,” which is among the most ambitious, morally complex dramas on either network or cable television, has always had viewers who mistook it for a “You go, girl!” fantasy. To these viewers (and to a few recappers, male and female), Alicia Florrick is a role model for “having it all.” When she takes moral shortcuts, these fans get outraged and confused. The same is true of “Scandal,” a very different kind of show, but one that also centers around a high-powered, wine-swilling, morally sketchy heroine. On fan boards, a subset of viewers gripes that Olivia Pope is an adulterous basket case and a hypocrite. (These fans often prefer early Season 1, when Olivia wore the white hat and it was easier to see her affair as true love.) Read more.

3. R.I.P. Misty Upham, from a Former Director. The talented actress Misty Upham was found dead last week after being reported missing by her father. Anne-Katrin Titze of Eye for Film contacted Arnaud Desplechin, who directed Upham in last year’s “Jimmy P,” and he shared his thoughts about the late actress and her talents.

I remember our first meeting. I told her about my unreserved admiration for “Frozen River.” I had been dazzled: Lila was invulnerable as she was almost blind. With glasses, healed, the woman suddenly became very shy. It was her blindness that protected her from the world! When I told her this, Misty jumped on my neck! She could not believe that a European film buff had been able to see what she had done so secretly and subtly. Read more.

4. The Ultimate Jason Schwartzman Role. 
Jason Schwartzman has made a career of playing overbearing, insecure narcissists, but he might have found the ultimate Schwartzman character in Alex Ross Perry’s “Listen Up Philip.” Dana Stevens of Slate writes about how Perry and Schwartzman make a repellent, self-absorbed character someone worth caring about, even if he doesn’t care about anyone but himself.

There have been elements of this character in almost every role Schwartzman has played. He’s a sultan of smarm, unsurpassed at conveying the inner lives of young men too complacent and self-impressed to have much of an inner life at all. The essential comedy of a Schwartzman character frequently derives from his failure to even attempt to disguise his own self-serving behavior, his bewilderment at the very notion that ordinary laws of ethics, politesse, or causation might apply to him. This trait usually falls somewhere on the spectrum between endearing  (“Rushmore”) and neurotic (“Bored to Death”), but “Listen Up Philip” marks the first time I’ve seen him play it as a straight-up pathology. If you’re allergic to that particular J-Schwartz vibe, “Listen Up Philip” will likely repel you. But if you can, as my yoga teacher says, breathe with it, you’ll find Perry’s script doesn’t just lazily tap into the actor’s established set of tricks. It deftly deconstructs them, along with the whole literary-young-man-in-love genre once exemplified by the films of Woody Allen, and in more recent years by those of Noah Baumbach. 
Read more.

5. The Sublime Foolishness of “Birdman.” In his first column for To Be (Cont’d), Keith Uhlich writes about both “Gone Girl” and “American Horror Story: Freak Show,” but his take on the new Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu film “Birdman” is of most interest. Uhlich notes that he hasn’t been a fan of Gonzalez Inarritu’s work in the past, but that for once he’s with the director, who for once reaches for profundity while knowing that most of what’s being said is absurd.

It is to Iñárritu’s credit that no one leaves this strange, abrasive film with his or her dignity intact. Everyone is in some way a fool, and nonsensical, though they seem to be making sense. Appropriate for a movie that represents the known universe as morse-code hyphens on a roll of toilet paper, though I wasn’t fully on board until Iñárritu and Lubezki’s coup de cinema referenced the coup de théâtre that closes Fritz Lang’s “Spies,” with a “Sin City” twist. Even Riggan’s seeming redemption is complicated in the film’s final shot by the multifaceted expression on one character’s face—at once “Rock on!” and “Fuck off!” to which I can only return a hearty grin and a firmly extended middle finger. Read more.

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