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Daily Reads: ‘Playtime’ Is the One Movie Everyone Should See, the Best Child Actors on Television and More

Daily Reads: 'Playtime' Is the One Movie Everyone Should See, the Best Child Actors on Television and More

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

1. The One Movie Everyone Should See. Jacques Tati’s “Playtime” isn’t just a masterpiece of French cinema: according to film scholars David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson, it’s the one movie everyone should see. The Dissolve’s Sam Fragoso spoke with the two about the film.

The Dissolve: Can you think of any other films where the location in which you watch it in theater radically changes your experience? 

Bordwell and Thompson: Only in the sense that if you’re sitting way over on the side, you’re likely to have a diminished experience of a film, especially a widescreen one. But “Playtime” is probably unique in that you become aware of characters or actions that you might have completely missed in previous viewings. We can’t think of another film that has quite that same effect. Read more.

2. The Man Who Invented African Cinema. Among the many docs at this year’s Sundance was “Sembrene!,” about early African cinema innovator Ousmene Sembrene. Vulture’s Bilge Ebiri writes about how the Senegalese filmmaker effectively invented a nation’s cinema, and how “Sembrene!” represents his story.

But the documentary doesn’t just tell Sembene’s story. It also tells the story of Samba Gadjigo, one of the film’s co-directors, who himself was raised in a poor village on the border between Senegal and Mali, and whose life was transformed by his introduction to Sembene’s work. “We had no radio, no TV, no newspapers.” Gadjigo recalls of his childhood. “Most of our stories were conveyed orally, from our elders, like my grandmother.” It was an assistant at his school who introduced a 17-year-old Gadjigo to the works of Sembene. Specifically, it was a novel by Sembene called God’s Bits of Wood that made the first impact on the young man. The fictional account of a 1947 railroad strike, the book “was the first fiction we read in which Africans were portrayed in a positive light, in which Africans hadagency,” he says. It was as if the call Sembene had made at the beginning of his career — to tell stories of the Africa he knew, to other Africans — had found its ideal response in young Gadjigo. “This book had characters like me and like the people I grew up with. This wasn’t literature for me. It spoke to me directly. It changed my life.” Read more.

3. The Power and Pitfalls of ‘Shipping. Will-they-or-won’t-theys and cliffhangers eventually get answers in most shows in a process called ‘shipping, or the interpersonal suspense that gets viewers to tune in. What are the pros and cons? Genevieve Valentine of The A.V. Club explains:

The degree to which a pairing directs a show, however, depends as much on ’shipping as on canon, for watching a show and ’shipping are two different beasts. Those who watch a show and absorb the canon presented to them, either care for it or don’t, and largely consider the matter closed: They deal with the show as it comes. For ’shippers, watching the show isn’t passive, but active: The actual outcome of any given relationship is only one factor to be taken into consideration, and if actual events disappoint, they’ll happily imagine otherwise. And while the break in the fourth wall between fans and creators might feel like a post-Internet phenomenon, feedback has been influencing the direction of shows since “Dark Shadows” first matched Barnabas Collins against Dr. Julia Hoffman and the show’s most popular ’ship was born. Read more.

4. Luck of the Draw. Jason Statham was originally going to team up with none other than Brian De Palma for a remake of William Goldman’s “Heat,” but De Palma was replaced by his “The Mechanic” director Simon West. Sow how’d it turn out? Not bad, says R. Emmett Sweeney of Movie Morlocks.

While I don’t want to see Jason Statham start making domestic dramas, the way in which he is straining against the borders of his genre has become fascinating. “Wild Card” is unusually relaxed for a Statham film. The tempo is slow, the movie moving more on atmosphere than drama. It builds it’s own Vegas out of the New Orleans locations, a loop of marginal businesses that form the backbone of Nick Wild’s life. Director Simon West and DP Shelly Johnson have come up with a sun-drenched overexposed Vegas, one in which Wild has nowhere to hide. Wild’s office is a peeling  linoleum, fluorescent-lit tomb that he shares with a shady lawyer (a blink and you’ll miss him Jason Alexander) whom he treats with barely suppressed contempt. His escape is an All-American retro diner at which he drinks grapefruit juice and trades barbs with waitress Roxy (an appealingly grubby Anne Heche). His favorite casino is a worn out thinly carpeted  antique where he plays blackjack with dealer Hope Davis, who exhibits a entire backstories of emotion in the crinkle at the edge of a smile. These are Stathams we really haven’t seen before: grouchy office worker, shooting-the-shit gladhander, and depressive, melancholy addict. Read more.

5. The Sad Boys of Prestige TV. From Bobby Draper to A.J. Soprano, Prestige TV is full of sad young boys. Grantland’s Eric Thurm came up with a support group for the poor kids.

A.J. Soprano pouts. His goatee is immaculately trimmed, and his artificial tips freshly frosted, bringing out the whiteness of the cocaine residue that adorns his left nostril.

“Do I have to go next?”

“That’s where you’re sitting in the circle, A.J.”

“I should’ve joined the Army. After my father was … well, after the … you all know what happened at the diner, right? Christ, I should’ve just joined the Army.” Read more.

6. The Best Child Actors on Television. “Parenthood” finished its fifth and final season last week, and with it goes one of the best showcases for great child acting in recent television history. The Los Angeles Review of Books’ Phillip Maciak wrote about TV’s current run of terrific child performances.

In “Parenthood’s” first season, Max (played by Max Burkholder) is diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. It would have been very easy for an actor as young as Burkholder, who was 13 when the series began, to turn in a caricature or for the series to diagnose and then hide the character except for “very special episodes.” But, to Burkholder and the show’s great credit, Max was never one-note, and the show insisted on making him a functional part of the aforementioned spectacular ensemble. The convention for TV series and films about disability is to either craft a tragic arc or to have the actor manifest the disability only when dramatically convenient. “Parenthood” kept Max in focus, kept the difficulty of his disability in focus, and built a years-long, rather moving characterization. While this plotline encountered some magical thinking late in the series, and occasionally Max’s behavior was figured as a “problem” for the family to solve, Burkholder’s performance always made Max feel like a person rather than a collection of tics. Read more.

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