Criticwire’s Daily Reads brings today’s essential news stories and critical pieces to you.
1. “Age of Ultron’s” Black Widow Scene Isn’t About Babies; It’s About Choice. There has been quite a bit of controversy over Black Widow’s role in the new “Avengers” movie, specifically a scene in which she talks about her forced sterilization. Some claim this reduces a strong female character into a whining woman who wishes she had babies, but others feel differently. HitFix’s Katie Hasty celebrates that “Avengers: Age of Ultron” included distinctly “feminine” themes at all.
This isn’t Black Widow’s movie. I don’t want to ignore that Auntie Natasha is frequently a prop for and “picks up” after men in “Age of Ultron,” as many writers have noted. “Ultron’s” got some glaring problems. But the sterilization scene plays to a specifically feminine theme, which is further supported throughout the movie. See how she soothes The Hulk back into Bruce, her tactics initially like a pro’s approach to a deadly predator, transitioning to the physical and verbal language of a mother to a child. In her rich interpersonal life, Black Widow enjoys friendship with Hawkeye but, just as importantly, has a loving relationship with his wife, their daughter and their unborn son. (And, yes, even the literal conception of Vision has a parallel here.)
2. Black Widow and Infertility — Mine. Meanwhile, Salon’s Libby Hill reads the scene as a devastating, sincere portrayal of the psychological effects of infertility, a subject she knows from personal experience.
That’s a huge part of what’s being overlooked in the outcry against Black Widow’s story. As much as it may look on the surface like Natasha is mourning motherhood, what she’s actually mourning is her ability to choose. It’s not about children; it’s about choice. What she has lost isn’t even so much her ability to have a family (as mind-bogglingly brilliant as she is, she, of all people, could find a way to procure a baby). No, what she mourns is her ability to fantasize about that “normal” life, the world opposite the one she currently lives in. Why begrudge her the fantasy of the nebulous other, of picking up and beginning a life that’s the polar opposite of the one she’s currently leading in every way? Natasha is bereft, grieving Plath’s fig tree, but it wasn’t indecision that cost her fruit; it was the cruelty of others that lay waste to her tree.
3. The Original “Little Shop of Horrors” Ending That Wasn’t Meant to Be. Frank Oz’s “Little Shop of Horrors” originally had a much darker ending in which Audrey II devours Seymour and Audrey and then tackles the rest of the world. What happened to this ending and is it inherently better than Oz’s happy ending? The Dissolve’s Darryn King examines the two endings of “Little Shop of Horrors.”
At the first test screening of “Little Shop Of Horrors” in San Jose, the audience loved it. They even applauded after musical numbers, as Off-Broadway audiences had done. But then the lead characters died, and the plant won. In Oz’s own recollection, it was a disaster: “The theater became a refrigerator, an ice box.” Menken thought the screening had gone well until he clocked Geffen’s reaction. Typically with test screenings, recommendation scores falling below 55 percent are cause for serious concern. According to Oz, who claims to have kept the audience’s vote cards, the film scored a 13. It only fared slightly better in a second test screening, held in vain, in Los Angeles.
4. How “The Good Wife’s” 6th Season Failed. After a fantastic fifth season, CBS’ “The Good Wife” made many missteps in its sixth year. Salon’s Sonia Saraiya breaks down what happened to this previously great legal drama.
As a viewer who is invested in the relationship between [Kalinda and Alicia], it has not been satisfying in the least — and worse, seems manufactured to manage some off-screen drama. The general consensus is that the two actresses had a falling out, but how that could affect their shared scene-time in a business where ex-romantic partners routinely act opposite each other is anyone’s guess. But the shift left Kalinda at loose ends, arrested partway between a reconciliation with Alicia and increasing narrative irrelevancy. Josh Charles’ off-screen decision ended up being a limitation that worked in the Kings’ favor; for some reason, Panjabi’s situation wasn’t as manageable. The result is that the sixth season is a slog of missed opportunities and unfulfilled desire — platonic desire, sure, but desire nonetheless. Will’s absence has left a void in the show’s character-driven storytelling that Kalinda simply could not fill. There is no analogue to Season 5’s scintillating “A Few Words,” but for Alicia’s friendship with Kalinda; there is not even “Yet Another Ham Sandwich,” to round out the first two stories of grand jury indictments that both centered on Kalinda and Alicia.
5. Molly Haskell Remembers Richard Corliss. It’s been two weeks since veteran film critic Richard Corliss’ tragic passing and tribute are still pouring in across the Internet. Molly Haskell, another veteran critic and peer of Corliss, provides this touching remembrance.
Corliss was a leading light of the “heroic age of movie criticism,” a second-generation votary (and sometimes critic and mediator) of the passionate and influential and argumentative cinephilia of Andrew Sarris and Pauline Kael. But he was entirely his own man, championing screenwriters, in a book (“Talking Pictures”) that should be more widely known. He was extremely funny, a punster, bubbling over with thoughts and ideas, a performer, someone whose facility and wit, most apparent in the enforced compression of “Time” magazine style, could mask an extraordinary breadth of knowledge. He wrote long, scholarly (but never “academic”) articles for FILM COMMENT and introduced fresh voices as its editor. He also sounded the alarm for the future of film criticism when he wrote a timely (if friendly) attack on his colleague Roger Ebert for the new “thumbs-up” style of consumer movie reviewing.
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