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Daily Reads: ‘Age of Ultron,’ ‘Man of Steel’ and the Cost of Modern Warfare, ‘Fury Road’s Feminism, and More

Daily Reads: 'Age of Ultron,' 'Man of Steel' and the Cost of Modern Warfare, 'Fury Road's Feminism, and More

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

1. Why “Avengers: Age of Ultron” is More Naive Than “Man of Steel.” The climax of “Age of Ultron” finds the Avengers fighting a robot army while struggling to save civilian lives — a choice many critics cast as an implicit rebuttal to the corpse-free destruction of “Man of Steel.” But The Washington Post’s Sonny Bunch argues that it’s “Man of Steel” that more closely reflects how modern battles are fought, and “Ultron” that sugarcoats the truth.

I get the sense that what makes some people uncomfortable about “Man of Steel” is that it more closely reflects the way war is fought today than a movie like “Age of Ultron.” Ours is an age of terror and drones, of bombing campaigns and troops on the ground in urban settings and of the collateral damage that results. Joss Whedon’s flick, with its supposedly civilian-casualty-free assault on an Eastern European nation, calls to mind the conception of warfare from the mid-1990s, an era when smart bombs and precision-guided munitions were supposed to prevent war from affecting innocent people.

2. “Mad Men,” From First Frame to Final Act. “Mad Men” comes to a close this Sunday and most of us are still in denial about that. Over at Time, James Poniewozik jumps on the metaphorical carousel to take us back in time with the history of “Mad Men.”

“Mad Men,” on the other hand, has covered about a decade of its time in about a decade of our own. We see hair grow longer, hemlines shorter. Paul Kinsey’s blazers give way to Stan Rizzo’s fringe jackets. Weiner has talked often about Don being a representation of American society, steeped in sin, haunted by his past but always asking the question: Why am I doing this again? Sexual liberation and feminism arrive, but the show is deeper than the sex — it’s about human experience and human nature and time unfolding. The children grow up (including four — count ’em, four — actors playing Bobby Draper). The colors get more saturated, the social mores more extreme. The cultural power shifts toward youth. The creatives are pitching TV storyboards, not text-heavy print ads. Characters get prosperous, get fat, get lost. It’s a potent effect: Just like in life, you don’t notice the gradual changes until you look back and — holy cow — how far have they come? How far have we? Where has the time gone, besides into the creases of our foreheads?

3. “Male Rights Activists” Shed Tears Over Feminist “Fury Road.” You know how everybody seems to love “Mad Max: Fury Road”? Well, apparently there are those out there who have issues with the new summer blockbuster, but their issues are profoundly misogynistic and objectionable. Thankfully, The A.V. Club’s Sean O’Neal uses the power of words to unpack the stupidity inherent in those who think men will be tricked into seeing feminist propaganda.

While Clarey admits that he has not actually seen “Fury Road” — obviously not wanting to have his penis ripped off and replaced with a Betty Friedan book — he just knows that the film is feminist propaganda from seeing the previews, which prominently feature Charlize Theron’s character, Furiosa, talking and doing things. “Charlize Theron sure talked a lot during the trailers,” Clarey laments, but even more egregiously, “Charlize Theron’s character barked orders to Mad Max. Nobody barks orders to Mad Max.” Indeed, other than his commanding officer in “Mad Max”, his captors in “The Road Warrior,” and Tina Turner in “Beyond Thunderdome,” Mad Max is simply always in charge of his own destiny as a pawn who’s manipulated by circumstance into various power struggles he wants no part of, and is almost never being told what to do more than once or twice per movie. And certainly never by a woman, except when they are women.

4. The Dissolve’s Five-Star Review of “Mad Max: Fury Road”. Speaking of everyone loving “Fury Road,” the film site The Dissolve has only given two five-star reviews in its 21 months of existence. One of them is the new “Mad Max” movie. Editorial director Keith Phipps gives his review.

Not that much else about the film, apart from the mostly wordless evolution of the relationship between Max and Furiosa, can be called subtle. Miller co-wrote “Fury Road” — whose origins date back to the late 1990s, and whose troubled production includes one false start in 2001 and a continent-shifting change of venue — with actor Nick Lathouris and comic-book artist Brendan McCarthy (“Judge Dredd,” “Rogan Gosh”). The latter provided storyboards and designs, and the film sometimes plays like an attempt to realize ideas that only make sense on the pages of comics, bringing to life cars covered in spikes and characters like “Rictus Erectus,” who more than live up to their names. It’s a world gone wrong, yet one that’s assumed a kind of horrible beauty as humanity’s impulse to survive and desire to create and innovate have become twisted toward barbaric ends. It’s also a place troubled by some of the same fundamental philosophical questions about who we are, where we’re going, and how we’re supposed to live together. But here, they’re played out at breakneck speeds, along savage stretches of unforgiving desert, in a flood of fire, a hail of bullets, and accompanied by a deafening roar.

5. Six Showrunners Talk About Race, Critics, and their Networks. The Hollywood Reporter sat down with six showrunners (including Lee Daniels of “Empire,” Damon Lindelof of “The Leftovers” and Michelle King of “The Good Wife”) to talk about their respective shows, and it eventually turned into a discussion about writer’s rooms and critics.

Lindelof:
Let me preface this by saying that I take full responsibility for every decision that I have made professionally. That said, if I’m staffing a show, I’m going to get sent 40 scripts for people, and of those 40 scripts, how many of them were written by any people of color? Or women, for that matter? The pool that I’m being told that I should be picking from is a majority white male pool. And if you walk down the corridors of WME, CAA, UTA, you’re not going to see a lot of black agents, and they’re the ones who [would be] sending me those scripts. The most significant impact that we can have is to empower people, whether writers, producers or directors, who don’t look like us so that they can make hiring decisions. “The Leftovers” has a very strong female voice, and I sought out that balance behind the camera. Mimi Leder is our directing producer, and she said, “I’m hiring women directors.” The pool that she has to choose from for episodic directors is literally 20-to-1, but because she’s saying that’s really important and they’re out there and we’re going to find them, it’s happening.

6. The Envelope-Pushing Early Days of “CSI.” CBS recently cancelled “CSI,” its once-hit series, after a 15-year run. Bloomberg View’s Virginia Postrel fondly remembers the series’ high points and building a show around the ideal of achieving justice by meticulously finding evidence.

Although “CSI” may now seem like a cosy retreat, in its early days the show’s graphic depiction of corpses also pushed the boundaries of prime-time gore. (Who could forget the bloated body rotting in a bath tub?) When a rookie investigator vomited in the pilot episode, she was standing in for an audience unaccustomed to seeing blue-veined bodies cut up on coroner’s slabs. And yes, the vomit was equally explicit. And then there were the signature “CSI shots,” whizzing through blood vessels, tracking bullets as they burst through flesh or were fired in test tanks, magnifying hair follicles 1,000 times, penetrating the secrets of floorboards and walls. In the real Las Vegas, the spectacle is on a grand scale. On “CSI,” it was microscopic. “We took the camera where it had never been before,” said Cannon.

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