Criticwire’s Daily Reads brings today’s essential news stories and critical pieces to you.
1. How Hollywood Stays White and Male. It’s easy to simply say Hollywood is a sexist institution, but it’s more difficult to actually report a story about how it stays sexis. The Washington Post’s Alyssa Rosenberg analyzes the structural causes of years of discrimination within America’s dream factory.
Take the focus on hiring a woman to direct an installment of a major action franchise. The impulse makes sense: If the Marvel Cinematic Universe, DC superhero movies, and the “Star Wars” and “Fast and Furious” franchises are some of the widest-reaching stories in culture right now, of course there’s a hunger to let women tell part of those stories. But there’s a forest-and-trees risk to this approach. We end up fighting for women to get work on single movies that will last a year, only to have to start the battle all over again when the next blockbuster starts moving through a Tony Stark-style assembly line. Professor Stacy L. Smith, who runs the Media, Diversity and Social Change Initiative at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, has floated another supposedly simple solution. “If filmmakers just added five female speaking characters to their current slate of projects (without taking away or changing any of the male characters) and repeated the process for four years, we would be at parity,” she wrote last November. But like many other proposals, “just add five” relies on the benevolence of individual movie directors and writers for implementation.
2. The Epic Losing Streak of M. Night Shyamalan. M. Night Shyamalan is behind the new Fox limited series “Wayward Pines” about a strange new town possibly filled with twists and turns. It’s understandable if you’re hesitant to check it out seeing as M. Night has been on a bit of a bad streak for a while now. The Grantland staff examines the losing streak and try to put it all in perspective.
Another interesting thing about “Lady in the Water” is that it’s one of recent history’s most extensively documented flops. In 2004, a few months before “The Village” was released, “Sports Illustrated” contributor Michael Bamberger met Shyamalan and his wife, Bhavna, at a dinner hosted by mutual friends on Philadelphia’s Main Line. Struck by the director’s boundless energy and personal magnetism, Bamberger began courting him as a subject, and eventually Shyamalan agreed to let Bamberger follow him through the production of his next film. Shyamalan had read and liked Bamberger’s book about one year in the life of a Philadelphia high school; the director’s only stipulation was that Bamberger approach this project with the same unflinching honesty. With a handshake deal in place, Bamberger spent the next two years reporting what became 2006’s “The Man Who Heard Voices: Or, How M. Night Shyamalan Risked His Career on a Fairy Tale.” That fairy tale, of course, was the critically lambasted “Lady in the Water,” which remains Shyamalan’s lowest-grossing post–Sixth Sense movie; Night was about to step on a rake, professionally speaking, and Bamberger would be right there with his notebook open.
3. How “Mad Men’s” Pilot Predicts the Final Episodes. The “Mad Men” pilot premiered in the summer of 2007 as a series about a mysterious ad man living a perfect life and hiding a secret. But looking back on it now just a few days from the series’ final episode, it’s interesting to see how many parallels there are between then and now. Vulture’s Matt Zoller Seitz compares past and present to find a bridge that connects them.
“Do you know what happiness is?” Don asks the Lucky Strike guys rhetorically, then answers, “Happiness is a new car.” And a new car is where he’s going to end up in the last two episodes of season seven, leaving New York in a meandering journey that leads more or less West from New York. Watching “Smoke” again, you may realize that Don’s no-strings-on-me pose is exactly that. At dinner with Rachel, the great love whose offscreen death shatters him in season seven, Don dismisses love as a thing invented by guys like him to sell nylons, and mocks the idea of a “lightning bolt” that makes you unable to eat or work and inclined to just run off and get married and make babies. “You’re born alone and you die alone, and this world just drops a bunch of rules on top of you to make you forget those facts. But I never forget. I’m living like there’s no tomorrow because there isn’t one.” Don’s most embarrassing secret, maybe more than his identity theft, is that deep down, the craving for love and acceptance fuels many of his decisions, including seemingly cynical ones, and is responsible for many of his catastrophic errors in judgment. He keeps running away to find himself and find happiness, but he keeps ending up back where he started.
4. Alan Sepinwall on Staying Up Late to Review “Mad Men”. Critics who review “Mad Men” almost never get screeners except for season premieres necessitating late-night writing on one of the most dense shows in TV history. HitFix’s Alan Sepinwall writes an insider-baseball column on the act of reviewing “Mad Men.”
At the time, most of my episodic reviewing was an extension of the thumbs up/down model: I liked this, I didn’t like that, I wish that had been more like this, etc. Though “Mad Men” would occasionally do stories or even whole episodes I would question (say, the amphetamine haze of “The Crash” which I enjoyed much less than the LSD-flavored “Far Away Places”), I quickly realized that I was much less interested in discussing the quality — which was so readily apparent in the dialogue, the performances, the costuming and every other detail that Matt Weiner and company obsessed over — than in looking at the deeper meaning of both character arcs (why was the otherwise odious Pete Campbell always smarter than everyone else on social issues?) and the themes and symbols Weiner would use to tie each episode together, whether the mirrors of “Maidenform” conveying the episode’s interest in duality and outside appearances, or how the picnic litter of “The Gold Violin” demonstrated how rotten Don’s superficially beautiful life really was.
5. Anna Kendrick Vs. The Hollywood Machine. Anna Kendrick has worked in Hollywood for almost a decade, and before that made her bones in the theater, yet she still hasn’t fallen into any of the prescribed categories for Hollywood actresses. Buzzfeed’s Anne Helen Petersen explores Kendrick’s refusal to conform to expectations.
But star types become more insidious when they trickle down to normal people types: a way of sorting everyone, star or not, into categories. If you’re smart, you’re a ball-busting Independent Woman simply in need of a good man; if you have boobs, you’re a sex object. And as the above typology makes clear, men not only have more type options, but types that position them as natural narrative pulse of the film — and, by extension their lives.
Within this paradigm, Kendrick’s resistance to the type machine isn’t obstinance, but a refusal to accept the limited types available to her. She’s not supermodel beautiful, but she could’ve sought films that made her slim, ideal beauty available to the male gaze. She has a boyfriend, but she’s refused to include him as a major component of her life narrative. She’s “of marrying age,” but the vast majority of her films refuse to present marriage (or even a relationship) as a as a narrative solution.
6. “Constantine,” Social Media, and the Soul of a TV Show. NBC recently cancelled the series “Constantine,” based on the D.C. Comics series “Hellblazer,” despite its sizable fanbase on the Internet. The A.V. Club’s Myles McNutt examines the social media landscape and how it does and doesn’t affect TV ratings.
Trending is supposed to have merit. Streaming is supposed to make a difference. When these platforms emerged as new metrics for success within broadcast television, it represented a huge opportunity for fans to affect programming decisions. But when NBC started making its May decisions, it canceled “Constantine,” just as “BuzzFeed” reported was likely in April as part of a larger fall preview. Fans — and staunch supporter of genre television William Shatner, who pulled “Constantine” under his still-perplexing wing — attacked BuzzFeed’s Kate Aurthur for reporting the show’s likely cancellation, but this was only because she was preparing them for a harsh truth: At the end of the day, their tweeting and streaming weren’t valued as much as they expected, or as much as the networks led them to believe. Instead, NBC chose to renew only one new series: “The Mysteries Of Laura,” which had comparable demographic ratings, and significantly less social media and streaming engagement. Of course, it also had twice as many viewers.
Tweet of the Day:
Asimov’s 3 Laws of Robotics: 1) Will Smith must save world 2) lady scientist must be played by hot ex-model 3) running around & CGI stunts.
— Anne Billson (@AnneBillson) May 14, 2015