Criticwire’s Daily Reads brings today’s essential news stories and critical pieces to you.
1. The Movie-Star Fantasy of Chris Pratt. Chris Pratt just used to be the goofy guy on “Parks and Recreation” who stole every scene he was in. Now, he’s driving Marvel properties and the new film in the “Jurassic Park” franchise. Movie Mezzanine’s Adam W. Hofbauer explores how Chris Pratt embodies a movie-star fantasy with good looks and a goofy persona.
Let us recall the Pratt ascendency: long-time working actor, juggling cable-TV bit parts with background film roles; lucks into megastar wife, then into multiple franchises; formerly doughy, now sculpted, yet having lost none of the “Who me?” magnetism of his dad-bod inner self, his mouth hanging forever half-cocked in an asymmetrical smile that seems to originate from the sunlit bathhouse of his own glowing soul. Unlike the anonymous physical perfection of franchise placeholders like Jai Courtney and Sam Worthington, the appeal of Pratt’s beauty is that it feels earned, as if that doughy guy who loves Cheetos is still lurking inside the now-sculpted screen idol. And it all seems so accidental, as if fame of such top-tier magnitude were as much a blunder as an accidental double entendre about fellatio on “The Graham Norton Show.” The fallacy of these gaffes is no secret. As Pratt told Esquire last year, “The best stuff that you hear me say will be stuff that I thought of over the past three years. The best acting I did was pretending that it was improv and sneaking it in like I just stumbled on it.” This is the key to the Pratt persona: his ability to make even his most practiced bits seem spontaneous. Pratt isn’t some caveman-browed jock of a 1980s teen movie enforcing heteronormativity through intimidation. If we ran into him on the street, he might not want to hang out with us, but he’d totally interact with us in some priceless way that confirmed our suspicion that he was the rad dude previously advertised.
2. Has TV Reboot Fever Run Amok? In the near future, there will be new episodes of “Twin Peaks” directed by David Lynch. This is a good thing. This is a very good thing. But the new “Twin Peaks” season isn’t the only one we’re getting. We’re also getting an “X-Files” sequel miniseries (yay!), a “Heroes” sequel series (boo!), and a “Coach” sequel series (huh?). All of this seems like just a little too much. HitFix’s Alan Sepinwall examines the TV landscapes and wonders if we’re all just a little reboot crazy.
People like what they like, and I’m not going to tell you you’re wrong for wanting to see any or all of these reboots, any more than I would demand that you watch whatever weirdness Lynch and Mark Frost have planned for the new “Twin Peaks,” or than I would root for the cancellation of a show that wasn’t for me. Once upon a time, TV was a zero sum game with limited shelf space, and if you wanted to make room for a show (or a kind of show) you cared about, then the continued existence of some show you disliked was doubly aggravating. That’s not really the case anymore. The broadcast networks are programming year-round, and have given up on trying to show repeats of all but their most popular shows, and there are so many new players getting into the original content business that I fully expect to wake up tomorrow to find that my old Garmin GPS device has become the exclusive home to a “Veronica’s Closet” revival.
3. “Empire Records” Does a Disservice to 1995 and Record-Store Culture. You guys remember “Empire Records”? Small indie record store about to be bought by big franchise music store? It’s got Liv Tyler, Rory Cochrane, and Renee Zellweger in it? Well, anyway, “Empire Records” has become something of a classic amongst a certain demographic. The A.V. Club’s Jesse Hassenger explains why “Empire Records” does a disservice to its time period and the record-store culture it tries to represent.
Indeed, the “Empire Records” soundtrack — both the accompanying CD and the even-larger array of songs that play during the movie — is vast. Yet its songs don’t seem to interest the characters or the filmmakers much, to the point where it’s sometimes hard to tell whether the movie is employing diegetic or non-diegetic sound, and not in a playful way that blurs the line between fantasy and reality. It’s tempting to say that removing the soundtrack would kill most of the movie’s 1995 signifiers immediately, but worse, it wouldn’t make much of a difference either way. The soundtrack captures alt-rock in a post-Nirvana gold rush, and if the accompanying movie felt affectionate toward half-forgotten mid-’90s alternative rock — or metal, or hip-hop, or any of the other musical genres it refers to without much love — it could be a nostalgic kick, regardless of legacies. “Almost Famous,” for example, isn’t hampered by the intentionally middling work of its fictional band Stillwater (or, for that matter, the sometimes unintentionally middling real music of its era). Instead, “Empire Records” feels opportunistic, not because of its music’s expired cool quotient — no one should expect 1995 movie teens to rock out to Built To Spill or Guided By Voices, and hey, that soundtrack album is pretty good — but because of the final film’s mirthless indifference to it.
4. What if “Jurassic Park” Was Directed by James Cameron? “Jurassic Park” came out in 1993, and even if you didn’t know it was directed by Steven Spielberg, it has all the touches of a Spielberg film: the sense of wonder, the swooning John Williams score, the sentimentality, the kids, etc. But let’s imagine a world where James Cameron directed “Jurassic Park” and it became a nastier, grittier film about man’s hubris and pride run amok. Over at The Dissolve, veteran critic Mike D’Angelo imagines that world and finds it’s better than our current one.
Spielberg’s heart is in the wrong place — remember, this is the guy who started out with a project called “Night Skies,” about malevolent aliens terrorizing a family, and wound up turning it into “E.T.” (Note: That’s not at all a knock on “E.T.,” which I adore.) Here, he’s making a movie about killer dinosaurs on the loose, but deep down he’s less interested in the carnage than he is in another opportunity for what video essayist (and occasional Dissolve contributor) Kevin B. Lee has dubbed “Spielberg face.” Cameron would not have commissioned the majestic fanfare John Williams provides…nor would he likely have panned into so many awestruck faces. Sure, the characters are witnessing something truly incredible, and awe is a natural response. But there are ways to convey awe that aren’t so quintessentially Spielbergian. Given the direction this story will take, something a bit less emphatic would have been welcome. (By the same token, I doubt that Cameron would have released the tension by tossing in a clever joke like “Objects in mirror are closer than they appear.”)
5. A Defense of the Most Hated Character on “Orange is the New Black”. Netflix releases the third season of “Orange is the New Black” on Friday, and though it will be nice to return to that world once again, it still contains a character most everyone can’t stand: Jason Biggs’ Larry. Yet, not everyone seems to hate him. Grantland’s Eric Thurm argues his love for the most hated character on the series.
Accordingly, Larry’s biggest crime is also his biggest redeeming factor. When he tries to actually do journalism, he winds up self-aggrandizing and airing Piper’s dirty laundry — but he’s also trying. His article and ensuing radio interview might be gross misrepresentations of the characters, but his understanding isn’t based on actually knowing them, the way that we do. Instead, it’s based on his interactions with Piper, who is really the one transmitting the information. As much as Larry’s article calls attention to the type of rhetorical violence that is always done to people who become the subject of peering eyes, what he’s actually trying to document is still worthy of inquiry. Because Larry is suffering, too. Yes, Larry — he of the broken “Mad Men” bingeing promises — is suffering. His fiancée, the woman he loves, is in prison! Is the title of his article, “One Sentence, Two Prisoners,” hyperbolic? Sure. But that doesn’t mean Piper’s incarceration isn’t also a problem in his life. Larry doesn’t get to watch “Orange Is the New Black.” We know what Piper is going through — sort of — but Larry does not, can not. Like the rest of us when we’re living our own lives and not staring at the Netflix “next episode” wheel, he’s stuck inside his head and has to make choices based on that. Given those constraints, Larry doesn’t seem like quite as much of a horrible guy.
6. 7 Reasons for Everyone to be Grateful that “Entourage” Bombed at the Box Office. “Entourage”? What’s “Entourage”? Oh, yeah, that show about the assholes who live in Hollywood and hang out together? That’s the one, and there’s a movie now, but no one went to see it. Mic’s Marcus Moretti provides seven reasons why it’s a good thing “Entourage” was a box office bomb.
Four years have passed, but little’s changed. “Retrograde” is a word several critics have latched onto, and not just because the “Entourage” movie is basically a very long episode of a TV show that ended in 2011. The movie is retrograde because its fundamental appeal — available exclusively to heterosexual men — is the fantasy of permanent bromance enjoyed through promiscuity and expenditure, complete with unlimited happy endings. The best thing in the world, “Entourage” proclaims, is to have your intercourse with a hot woman interrupted by an important and glamorous business phone call, which you take. Then you tell your bros about it.
Tweet of the Day:
I’m starting to feel like “Mad Max: Fury Road” is “Bonnie and Clyde” and every other 2015 summer blockbuster is “Doctor Dolittle.”
— Darren Franich (@DarrenFranich) June 10, 2015