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Daily Reads: ‘San Andreas’ and the Art of Destroying L.A., Why Ferris Bueller is the Real Villain of his Day Off, and More

Daily Reads: 'San Andreas' and the Art of Destroying L.A., Why Ferris Bueller is the Real Villain of his Day Off, and More

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

1. How “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” Keeps Jerry Seinfeld Relevant. It’s been almost twenty years since the Seinfeld finale aired to serious disappointment, and its cast members have had varying degrees of success since (compare Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Michael Richards). However, Jerry Seinfeld himself has still hung on to relevancy in the Internet-era through his short online series, “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.” The New York Times’ Dave Itzkoff profiles Seinfeld and explores his online success.

Mr. Seinfeld, 61, is at a point when he could coast on the unexpected online value of his past achievements. Next month, Hulu is adding all nine seasons of “Seinfeld” to its library as that streaming service shores itself against competitors like Netflix and Amazon. The deal, which reportedly cost $130 million to $180 million, will further enrich Mr. Seinfeld, a series co-creator who receives part of its profits. Instead, he has taken what could have been a glorified side project and fully committed himself to it, turning “Comedians in Cars” into a stealth powerhouse. Its episodes have been streamed nearly 100 million times since its 2012 debut, and it is now a central part of Sony’s ambitions to make Crackle a more formidable combatant in the arena of online content. While it is to be expected that a younger class of comedians who came of age with the Internet — like Aziz Ansari, Amy Schumer or Chris Hardwick — would naturally adapt to it, Mr. Seinfeld could not say precisely why he was thriving with digital content when his own peers — say, David Letterman, or acolytes like Chris Rock — were largely absent from it. Speaking generally about comedians, Mr. Seinfeld said that no two paths unfold similarly and that there was little that well-established stars could teach one another. “The first 10 years of a lot of careers, you could say, ‘This is pretty similar,'” he said. At this point, “I can’t look at Jay Leno’s career, or Louis C. K.’s career or Chris Rock’s career and learn anything. I can’t model anything on what they do. Precedents are not helpful.” Even as he applies his stand-up comic’s approach to his online work, Mr. Seinfeld makes no assumptions that his stage and TV career should guarantee him success in this new realm. “The Internet is the least forgiving medium of anything,” he said. “Even at a nightclub, an audience can’t all get up and leave. On the Internet, they can.”

2. Twenty-Three Thoughts on “San Andreas” and Destroying the City of Angels. This Friday, “San Andreas,” a new disaster movie written by Carlton Cuse and starring The Rock, enters theaters. Though early reviews have been mixed at best, it’s interesting to look at “San Andreas” through the history of disaster movies and seeing how it approaches its destruction. Grantland’s Alex Pappademas shares his thoughts on the film and the art of destroying L.A.

3. Simultaneously a Los Angeles disaster movie and a San Francisco disaster movie, “San Andreas” bridges two superficially similar but fundamentally antithetical subgenres. When bad things happen to San Francisco onscreen — bat flu in “Contagion,” simian revolt in “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” and “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” a thick-necked thunder lizard fighting MUTOS downtown in “Godzilla” — we’re usually encouraged to see this as regrettable, whereas the versions of Los Angeles pulped in popular entertainment almost always seem on some level to deserve it. “The destruction of London — the metropolis most persecuted in fiction between 1885 and 1940 — was imagined as a horrifying spectacle, equivalent to the death of Western civilization itself,” wrote Mike Davis in his indispensable L.A.-apocalypse treatise “Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster.” “The obliteration of Los Angeles, by contrast, is often depicted as, or at least secretly experienced as, a victory for civilization.”

4. To put it in slasher-movie terms, L.A. is almost never the Final Girl; L.A. is the trashy girl who gets carved up early and has it coming, whether “it” is Skynet’s nukes or a tornado filled with sharks.

3. “Under the Skin” is the Best Horror Movie You’ve Never Seen. 
Last year, Jonathan Glazer’s newest film “Under the Skin” was released in theaters to widespread critical acclaim, with many critics placing the film on their Best of the Year lists. Yet, there are still plenty of people who haven’t seen it and that must be rectified. Decider’s Sean T. Collins explains why “Under the Skin” is the best horror movie you’ve never seen. Yes, you. Well, not you. But certainly you.

“Under the Skin” is most often described as science fiction, but little if anything within the film itself makes this explicit. If you were unfamiliar with Michael Faber’s source novel (from which the movie deviated a great deal at any rate) you’d have no real way of knowing that the predatory main character, a beautiful woman who drives around Scotland in a van picking up men who are never seen again, is an alien. She could just as easily be a vampire or succubus given an idiosyncratic new spin, or a David Lynch demon from the Black Lodge, or some brand new thing we’ve never seen before until director Jonathan Glazer and actor Scarlett Johansson, who plays the protagonist, thought to show it to us — a rough beast slouching toward Glasgow to be born.

4. Nathan Rabin on David O. Russell’s “Nailed.” 
Back in 2008, David O. Russell made a movie about a woman who becomes a health care advocate after accidentally getting hit in the head with a nail. The film was never released and Russell went on to make a string of commercial, Oscar-winning hits: “The Fighter,” “Silver Linings Playbook,” and “American Hustle.” But then last month, “Nailed” was released onto home video with a new title and without Russell’s name. Over at Playboy, Nathan Rabin reviews the movie and explores the history of disowned movies.

This raises a series of provocative questions. When a filmmaker disowns their work, who does it belong to? The money people that contracted unknown hacks to finish it? Audiences that might love it for precisely the reason its creators abandoned it? Or does it ultimately belong to nobody? Are we betraying our favorite artists when we see work they would rather have buried or are we honoring them by seeing even work they’re ashamed of? Disowned and abandoned films are a depressingly common phenomenon. Bob Odenkirk and David Cross famously discouraged people from seeing “Run, Ronnie, Run.” Recently, Paul Schrader, Anton Yelchin and Nicolas Winding Refn sought to dissuade people from seeing “The Dying Of The Light” after it was taken away from Schrader. Robert Towne was so unhappy with the changes to the Oscar-nominated script he co-wrote for “Greystoke: The Legend Of Tarzan, Lord Of The Apes” that he listed as his screenwriting credit, “P.H Vazak.” the name of his dog. To cite an example closer to home, my friends Todd Hanson and Rob Siegel wrote “The Onion Movie,” a sketch comedy movie that, like “Accidental Love/Nailed,” sat on a shelf for a long time before being dumped onto home video in 2008 after pretty much everyone involved disowned it, including Rob, Todd and “The Onion.” To this day, I have not seen “The Onion Movie” largely out of loyalty. I wouldn’t want my friends to read a book credited to me that had been taken out of my hands and re-written extensively by another person, so I understand why they wouldn’t want people to see something that, while credited to them, does not represent their vision or their voice, or does so in a hopelessly compromised form.

5. Why Ferris Bueller Was the Villain of His Own Story. 
Though “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” is by all accounts something of a teen classic, it has retained a mixed reception since its 1986 release. Many people cite Ferris’ privileged selfishness as the main detraction, especially when his friends are much more interesting. Veteran critic Glenn Kenny unpacks why Ferris is the real villain of his “Day Off.”

Once the movie shows that Ferris is extremely technologically sophisticated with respect to covering his tracks for hooky-playing — indeed, one could conclude that if he put as much effort and innovation into completing his schooling as he does into deceiving his parents and school officials, he could have graduated early and had several months to just “look around” at life — “Day Off” sets Ferris to relentlessly badgering Alan Ruck’s Cameron to abscond with his dad’s 1961 Ferrari for a jaunt. Ferris’ contempt for both his pal and the dad who put a huge amount of money and effort into restoring and preserving the vehicle is palpable. If the car gets taken, Bueller observes, it’s the dad’s “fault he didn’t lock the garage.” In an aside to the audience, he observes, “If you had access to a car like this, would YOU take it back right away?” The immediate answer to the question is of course “no,” but as the access was gained by a form of theft, the question itself is something of a trick. That audience isn’t meant to notice Ferris’ venality on account of his abundant charm.

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