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Daily Reads: Why ‘Age of Ultron’ Doesn’t Live Up to ‘Buffy,’ the Story of Orson Welles’ Unfinished Film, and More

Daily Reads: Why 'Age of Ultron' Doesn't Live Up to 'Buffy,' the Story of Orson Welles' Unfinished Film, and More

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

1. Cahiers’ Editor on Why J.J. Abrams Deserves the Auteur Treatment. Since it was founded in Paris in 1951, the “Cahiers du Cinema” has been an instrumental film publication, trumpeting the auteur theory as well as providing a place for French New Wave filmmakers to publish their critical writing. BOMB Magazine’s Nicholas Elliott sits down with the editor-in-chief, Stephane Delorme, to discuss anything and everything.

Now of course there are a few Hollywood figures that stand out, like J.J. Abrams. Abrams is interesting on two levels. The first, which I completely connect with, is visible in “Super 8.” “Super 8″ is as autobiographical as a Philippe Garrel film. It seems exotic to us here in France because it’s set in the American suburbs, but he lived that. I was in France at that age, in a little suburb, and I loved Spielberg’s films just like Abrams did. When I was nine or ten I was scared there were aliens in the woods. I totally believed it. That was my reality as a child. I lived by the woods, I had the same BMX you see in “ET.” So the great realist filmmaker of the era was Spielberg. It wasn’t the French filmmakers, it was this guy on the other side of the planet. I’ve always defended Spielberg because I think he made something really new that spoke to the entire world, to children all over the world. J.J. Abrams picks up from there, not in order to copy Spielberg, but because he also lived it.

2. The Story of Orson Welles’ Unfinished Film. Orson Welles was going to make a comeback with the film “The Other Side of the Wind,” but after 45 years, it remains unfinished. In an adaptation from his new book for Vanity Fair, Josh Karp sets out to uncover the mystery of Welles’ unfinished film.

The initial inspiration for “The Other Side of the Wind” can be traced back to an event that took place more than 30 years before Graver walked into Schwab’s that summer day and found Orson in the pages of Variety. It was May 1937 and Welles entered a Manhattan recording studio to narrate a Spanish Civil War documentary whose script had been written by Ernest Hemingway — who happened to be in the sound booth when Orson arrived. Only 22, Orson was not yet the Orson Welles, but he was on his way as a talented voice actor earning $1,000 a week during the Depression and a Broadway wunderkind who’d had the audacity to stage an all-black “Macbeth.” Looking at Hemingway’s script, Welles suggested a few changes, as he recalled to a reporter decades later. Wouldn’t it be better, for instance, to eliminate the line “Here are the faces of men who are close to death,” and simply let those faces speak for themselves?

3. Why “Avengers: Age of Ultron” Doesn’t Live Up To “Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s” Standard. In 1997, Joss Whedon’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” premiered and soon became an undeniable cult hit, but Whedon couldn’t seem to put his unique style to any use in “Age of Ultron.” The Village Voice’s Stephanie Zacharek explores why this happened.

But I still can’t square what I see in “Age of Ultron” with the pleasure I got from all seven seasons of “Buffy.” In “Age of Ultron,” the fun of watching these fallible humans with superpowers interact is the mechanical kind: How many times are Downey’s Tony Stark/Iron Man and Chris Evans’ Steve Rogers/Captain America going to spar and squabble before they — spoiler alert! — finally learn to work together? Whedon himself wrote the script, but instead of shaping any kind of meaningful interaction between the characters, he peppers their conversation with knowing wisecracks, like jokes about the unaffordability of Brooklyn (har har). The storytelling has no natural rhythm, no supple arc. Whedon moves from one episodic chunk to the next with barely a breath in between. Because everything has so much dramatic weight, there’s never anything at stake. And like nearly all action scenes today, those in Age of Ultron are designed and shot to be chaotic, seemingly to make us feel we’re in the middle of the action instead of just watching it. In other words, it’s immersive!

4. In Search of the Female Gus Fring. The dearth of great female characters on television is a well-known cultural problem, but there’s a related, equally pressing issue at hand: Where’s the female Gus Fring? The Mary Sue’s Zack Budryk wonders where television is hiding the great female villains.

It surprises me how little of our ongoing conversation about the nature of strong female characters and the writing thereof has concerned female villains. Female villains, like female heroes, have suffered for generations from the constraints of traditional portrayals of their gender in fiction. If the heroine is constantly under the shadow of the princess archetype, the villainess is constantly under the shadow of the femme fatale or the slut. Many of the best female villains in recent years go beyond these shallow characterizations but are still to some extend bound by them; Amy Dunne from “Gone Girl” is so vicious, and so meticulous and prepared in her viciousness, that it prompts a Ron Burgundy-esque “I’m not even mad, that’s amazing”; but her villainy is that of a woman scorned, and her methods are misogynist horror stories like false rape reports and baby traps. Amy is more than the sum of her parts, but those parts still bring with them their baggage and history.

5. Conan O’Brien’s Tribute to David LettermanDavid Letterman will host “Late Show” for the last time on May 20th. In Entertainment Weekly, Conan O’Brien writes a lovely tribute to his comedic hero and mentor.

Dave’s show was that rare phenomenon: a big, fat show business hit that seemingly despised show business. Dave didn’t belong, and he had no interest in belonging. He amused himself, skewered clueless celebrity guests, and did strange, ironic comedic bits that no one had seen on television before. Everything about that show was surreal and off-kilter. Where late night television had once provided comfort, this man reveled in awkwardness. Cher called him an asshole. Andy Kaufman ran screaming from the set. Chris Elliot lived under the stairs. Throughout one episode the entire show rotated a complete 360 degrees, for no reason whatsoever.

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