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Daily Reads: Defending ‘Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” the Golden Age of TV Credits Sequences, and More

Daily Reads: Defending 'Me and Earl and the Dying Girl," the Golden Age of TV Credits Sequences, and More

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

1. “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” and How Death Is Always Personal. There’s been quite a bit of controversy in cinephile circles surrounding Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s new film “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” for its narcissistic perspective along with its precious Sundance tone and not to mention the ironic racism. However, The Dissolve’s David Ehrlich argues in a personal, touching essay that “Me and Earl” doesn’t glorify adolescent narcissism but tears it down.

Greg screens the film on the night Rachel slips into her final coma. He doesn’t know his film is the last thing she will ever see, and the way he frames the episode makes it clear that he didn’t intend to occupy her precious final moments, or assume the burden of responsibility for them. It could be argued that Gomez-Rejon stumbles by conflating Rachel’s death with the unveiling of the movie made for her, a change from the book that inextricably entwines Greg’s artistic growth with the girl’s demise. (In the novel, not only does she survive the screening, she gives it a mixed-to-negative review). On the other hand, the disconnect between his deluded hopes for the presentation and the reality of what happened exposes the paucity of his perspective, and makes him realize he was as much a character in her movie as she was in his. This is how Andrews conveys Greg’s internal monologue in the book: “We hadn’t made the film about her at all. She was just dying, there, and we had gone and made a film about ourselves. We had taken this girl and used her really to make a film about ourselves, and it just seemed so stupid and wrong that I couldn’t stop crying. ‘Rachel The Film’ is not at all about Rachel. It’s about how little we know about Rachel.” In the movie, Greg doesn’t have to say any of that. The film he’s in is a success because it so honestly internalizes everything he learned from the perceived failures of the film he made.

2. The Case for a Trans Clarice Starling.
NBC’s Hannibal is in its third season right now and Bryan Fuller and co. are burning through the Thomas Harris source material, “Hannibal” and “Red Dragon,” which means all that’s left is “The Silence of the Lambs.” Thus, a Clarice is in our future. Geeks Out’s Adam Michael Sass contends that it’s time for a trans Clarice Starling to grace our TV screens.

Circling back to the start of the post, “Silence” is famously preoccupied with staring. It wisely knows that even friendly staring can make a person self-conscious. “Hannibal” has painted itself into a corner with Clarice in part because it’s been so much more egalitarian with gender (the fridging of Beverly Katz would still argue against that). Female characters in “Hannibal” have been headstrong Daughters of Starling; actresses like Gillian Anderson, Hetienne Park, Anna Chlumsky, and Caroline Dhavernas have all been involved in cases, marched into crime scenes, been consulted on murders, walked through the halls of an asylum without being assaulted, and even danced with Hannibal. If a cis Clarice were to enter the fray now, would the audience feel that same disquieting feeling of “everyone here is an asshole who can’t mind their own business and let me do my job”? That feeling is essential to why Hannibal takes an interest in her and is triply essential to why Clarice is so loved — her perseverance when even her allies insist on making her feel unusual. Trans activists Laverne Cox and Carmen Carrera rightfully put Katie Couric in her place when her questions were preoccupied with their bodies and private areas and not on their identities. That IS the soul of Clarice Starling. Perhaps it’s time for a trans woman to hunt down Buffalo Bill and transform the way Hannibal Lecter thinks about the world.

3. “Jurassic World” Battles Sexism Claims, In Heels. 
“Jurassic World” made an insane amount of money in its opening weekend, but it’s still been dodging criticism around claims of sexism with relation to the Bryce Dallas Howard character, who is shamed for her lack of children and runs around in high heels the whole movie. The L.A. Times’ Meredith Woerner investigates “Shoegate” to see if the sexism claim holds water.

When the action kicks in, Claire gets her whites dirty, literally. She rolls up her sleeves, ties up her shirt and runs through the forest with new love interest Owen, desperate to find her two nephews. However, even though Claire is ready and willing to get down in the mud and discover both the beauty and horror of the island, she’s consistently robbed of character victory moments. She gallantly saves Owen from an attacking flock of flying dinos, but the moment flips from a scene of personal glory to a pause for romance when Owen rewards Claire’s valor with a kiss. “I keep thinking about the scene where Claire beats up the pteranodon that is attacking Chris Pratt’s Owen after witnessing that the two kids want to hang out with Owen, not Claire,” said Birth.Movies.Death film critic Devin Faraci via email. “It’s like the kids are speaking for the filmmaker — no matter how cool Claire gets, Owen is always cooler because he’s a tough man.”

4. The Golden Age of TV Credits Sequences. 
Think of your favorite TV credits sequences off the top of your head. What came to mind? “The Brady Bunch”? “Cheers”? “Twin Peaks”? “The Sopranos”? It’s interesting to realize that TV shows often used to declare their idiosyncrasies and perspective through their opening credits sequence. Well, it turns out that’s making a comeback. Slate’s June Thomas explores the return of the opening credits.

This year, the Netflix comedies “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” and “Grace and Frankie” and the CW’s supernatural crime drama “iZombie” have all featured longish, plot-summarizing opening sequences. These programs tell very 21st-century stories — of an indomitable woman’s cheerful struggle to move past a traumatic experience, the knock-on effects of two seventysomething men’s announcement that they’re in love and want to get married, and a comic-book-inspired tale of a physician who solves murder mysteries by eating the victims’ brains — but they all begin each episode with credits that are both intensely modern and totally retro. The heyday of this kind of sequence came in the 1960s, when a host of TV sitcoms set up their stories with a song. None is more memorable than “The Beverly Hillbillies’” “
The Ballad of Jed Clampett,” which features the bluegrass stylings of Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, lyrics that explain how a poor mountaineer got rich, and introduces viewers to the kinfolk who advised him to move to the land of swimming pools and movie stars. In less that a minute, the show’s producers saved themselves from ever having to remind us why the Clampetts keep talking about moonshine and possum instead of overall deals and kale salad.

5. Reverse Shot’s Review of Pixar’s “Inside Out”. 
Pixar’s latest film “Inside Out” opened last weekend and broke the box office record for highest grossing original film of all time, but it’s all racking up critical attention as well. Reverse Shot’s Jeff Reichert reviews Pete Docter’s “Inside Out” and its boundless imagination.

Every time a Pixar film is released, the dominant auteurist frame through which the work is viewed is generally the studio itself. Though as Pixar’s oeuvre grows, and some of its regulars branch out into live action filmmaking, this is starting to change. The relative aesthetic anonymity of the likes of Brad Bird, Andrew Stanton, Lee Unkrich, John Lasseter, and Pete Docter has something to do with the free-flowing collaborative nature of their projects — many are often listed as co-directors, screenwriters, or story creators on the others’ films — but also the long gestation period for these CG animated works; Docter, for instance has directed only three films since 2001. The Pixar trademarks are by now well-known: that winsome quality, the focus on moments of personal realization and self-acceptance, their climactic chase sequences — Docter’s “Inside Out” fits all of these criteria. If Bird is the member of the gang most likely to underline his action with he-man Ayn Randisms, Stanton the most skillful visual stylist, and Lasseter something like the animated world’s John Landis, the images that Docter conjures, especially in “Up” and now “Inside Out,” recall the elemental humanistic pull of Ozu or De Sica, perhaps because he’s more regularly populated his films with human characters.

6. Nick Pinkerton’s Bombast Column: Now That’s What I Call the Nineties. 
Every cinephile with a wi-fi connection looks forward to Nick Pinkerton’s Bombast column over at Film Comment with anticipation because it’s an avenue for one of the best critics working today to write about anything and everything in a critical, intensive, funny, and personal voice unique to him and him alone. This week, Pinkerton takes on 90’s nostalgia, “Jurassic World,” Smash Mouth, and so much more.

However much the unruliness of facts defies the effort, we have an inalienable compulsion to impose coherency on decades, to reduce them into a handful of telling details which we can string together, forming a comprehensible narrative as we connect the dots. I will forever think of the Aughts, for instance, as the decade that began with “
Is This It,” and ended with “This Is It.” Halfway through the 2010s, What It All Meant is still unclear, though I think I have some grip on the Nineties. Rightly or wrongly, the decade now appears to me to have consisted of an early moment of bright promise, where strange and “difficult” art which gave voice to verboten feelings had some kind of mainstream presence, followed in short order by an almost total and complete betrayal. Art-house film went from “Bad Lieutenant” and Hal Hartley and “Kids” to “Shakespeare in Love” and Doug Liman and a renascent Franco Zeffirelli’s “Tea with Mussolini.” ($45 million in U.S. domestic box-office!) Hong Kong’s buoyant pre-handover pop cinema was compromised by a post-1997 need to cater to the mainland market and bowdlerization which accompanied its best and brightest being absorbed into Hollywood — though not before making some glorious noise, a la “Face/Off” (97). Computer-generated imagery — the touted attraction at “Jurassic Park,” though a great deal of what’s most awesome in the movie are in fact instances of Stan Winston Studio at the height of their power in creating analog, animatronic effects — was to make the impossible commonplace. Instead, as the decade carried on, you got the likes of “Spawn” (97) and “The Mummy” (99), and were able to witness the destruction of civilization by a full complement of plagues in a cycle of neo–Irwin Allen disaster movies, not a single one of which was any good. (Dwayne Johnson, who wrestled as “Rocky Maivia” when Jan de Bont’s literally unwatchable 1996 “Twister” was doing boffo b.o., has spearheaded a revival of the genre this summer with his “San Andreas.”)

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