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Daily Reads: ‘Pulp Fiction’ 20 Years Later, ‘The Walking Dead’s’ Popularity and More

Daily Reads: 'Pulp Fiction' 20 Years Later, 'The Walking Dead's' Popularity and More

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

1. “Pulp Fiction” 20 Years Later. Yesterday marked the 20th anniversary of “Pulp Fiction’s” Stateside release. The film’s postmodernism has kept the film cool for 20 years, but there’s something beneath that cool surface, and Movie Mezzanine’s Vikram Murthi argues that the film is all about people taking on pop culture cool to navigate the emptiness of their lives.

Take the scene where Vincent and Mia enter Jack Rabbit Slims. Tarantino follows Vincent as he slowly surveys the cornucopia of iconography in one long take. To the tune of Ricky Nelson’s “Waitin’ in School,” sung by a Ricky Nelson impersonator, we see what Vincent sees: waiters and waitresses dressed as ’50s icons—Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Donna Reed—the walls covered with posters of era-specific B-movies…and finally…a wall of televisions that resemble windows playing old street scenes on a loop, literally forcing the purveyors to look “in” rather than “out.” “I think it’s like a wax museum with a pulse,” Vincent bewilderedly remarks with just the perfect hint of sadness. It signals a reluctant acceptance that neutral mimicry divorced from history is the only mode of living. Read more.

2. “Jane the Virgin” Is the Best CW Show in Years. The CW is a long way away from the heyday of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (when it was still WB and UPN) and “Felicity” (The WB), but it just got its best show in years with “Jane the Virgin.” Slate’s Willa Paskin praised the show for its diversity, its wit, and its bigheartedness.

“Jane the Virgin” has a light touch, but it also has a big brain thrumming beneath the playfulness. For now, the plot mechanics mandate that Jane keep the baby, but the series doesn’t simplify Jane’s predicament, respectfully laying out her options. “I know my mom loves me, but I also know in some ways I derailed her life. I don’t want my kid to feel that way, ever. I want to be ready,” Jane tells Rafael, explaining why she doesn’t want the baby. Later, Xiomara tells Jane, “I just want you to know you have a choice. Because having one helps, I think.” If all the circumstances around Jane are larger than life, she and the people close to her feel real. Read more.

3. Bill Murray Hates Oscar Season. Bill Murray has been in the Oscar race before, both successfully (he earned a nomination, though not a win, for “Lost in Translation”) and unsuccessfully (calls for a nomination for “Rushmore” went nowhere, and the less said about “Hyde Park on Hudson” the better). He might be in the race again this year for “St. Vincent,” but the always cantankerous actor has some harsh words for the whole Oscar season in an interview with Variety’s Ramin Sehtoodeh.

“I know that’s something Harvey (Weinstein) does — he forces you to do these things. I’m not that way. If you want an award so much, it’s like a virus. It’s an illness.” When Murray was nominated for “Lost in Translation” in 2004, he convinced himself he would take home the Academy Award. “Six months later, I realized I had taken the virus. I had been infected.” He says the careers of some of his peers have faltered because of the golden statue. “People have this post-Oscar blowback,” he says. “They start thinking, ‘I can’t do a movie unless it’s Oscar-worthy.’ It just seems people have difficulty making the right choices after that.” Read more.

4. Jazz is Mishandled on Film. The new film “Whiplash” turns the training of an aspiring jazz drummer into boot camp, a horror show to be navigated. The New Yorker’s Richard Brody, a jazz aficionado, took issue with the film’s view of the genre and of musical greatness. 

In “Whiplash,” the young musicians don’t play much music. Andrew isn’t in a band or a combo, doesn’t get together with his fellow-students and jam—not in a park, not in a subway station, not in a café, not even in a basement. He doesn’t study music theory, not alone and not (as Parker did) with his peers. There’s no obsessive comparing of recordings and styles, no sense of a wide-ranging appreciation of jazz history—no Elvin Jones, no Tony Williams, no Max Roach, no Ed Blackwell. In short, the musician’s life is about pure competitive ambition—the concert band and the exposure it provides—and nothing else. The movie has no music in its soul—and, for that matter, it has no music in its images. Read more.

5. “Los Angeles Plays Itself” as the Definitive L.A. Movie. 
Los Angeles has always been a striking location in the movies, but it’s more common to be represented as a hellhole than a heaven. Thom Andersen’s excellent feature-length video essay “Los Angeles Plays Itself” (due out on home video next week after being delayed from this week) takes Hollywood to task for this, and Grantland’s Steven Hyden wrote about the film as the essential portrayal of the city in the movies.

An exhaustive, exhausting, funny, trenchant, and frequently cantankerous work of film criticism and social commentary, “Los Angeles Plays Itself” was envisioned as a double feature, Andersen said. When viewed this way, the first half plays as a witty observational comedy and the second half as an impassioned political docudrama. Andersen starts off by griping about L.A. movies the way only a longtime Angeleno would: He nitpicks Alfred Hitchcock for setting several films in the San Francisco area and none in Los Angeles, and Sylvester Stallone for taking undue “geographic license” with local streets for the car chases in “Cobra.” It’s not just a matter of realism — though Andersen is a stickler for realism. He’s an unabashed L.A. partisan who bristles at any perceived anti–Los Angeles sentiment, starting with the nickname “L.A.,” which he finds diminishing. Read more.

6. 16 Unintentionally Funny Moments on “Gotham.” The latest episode of “Gotham” featured a villain who killed people with an extending blade from his telescope. This is played deadly serious, even though it’s more than a little silly. ScreenCrush’s Mike Ryan listed some of the goofiest moments on “a hilarious show that doesn’t realize it’s hilarious”

– The fact that the people about to be stabbed don’t just swipe the telescope out of the way and instead just let themselves be stabbed in the face.

– The amount of time James Gordon spends just listening to a little kid talk.

– James Gordon’s fiancee asking who Oswald Cobblepot is, then Gordon responding, “I can’t begin to answer that,” when he could have easily said, “That was the guy who was in our house earlier.” Read more.

7. “The Walking Dead’s” Popularity. AMC’s “The Walking Dead” is an awfully brutal show, but it’s also an immensely popular one, with 17.3 million viewers for its season premiere. Time’s James Poniewozik wrote about why the show’s extremeness has become mainstream. One of the reasons: America loves dark.

Yes, “The Walking Dead” may have the most video-game splatter of anything on TV. But all those CBS dramas with their audiences, um, of a certain age? They’re murder central, and not quaint Angela Lansbury-style mysteries but–in shows like “Criminal Minds” and “Stalker”–truly ugly stories of sadistic, often sexually charged violence that imply we all live in a sick, sad world filled with predators. Gone are the days when Grandma and Grandpa warmed up with wholesome entertainments like “The Waltons;” family dramas like “Parenthood” are essentially niche entertainments now. Read more.

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