Criticwire’s Daily Reads brings today’s essential news stories and critical pieces to you.
1. How “Entourage” Went From Critical Darling to Cultural Punching Bag. It’s been too long since America has seen Vinny Chase and the boys tear it up in Hollywood, but with the release of the “Entourage” movie this week, the wait is finally over. However, there are some people (read: a lot of people) out there who find “Entourage” to be a wasteland of stunted narratives, offensive humor, and terrible acting. But this wasn’t always the case. Over at Slate, Eric Thurm traces the critical reception of “Entourage” over the years.
Sure, “Entourage” lost fans over the course of its eight seasons. But even reviews of the show’s final season proved that it still had enough residual goodwill to, at the very least, be mostly ignored by people who weren’t fans. In advance of the final season, Goodman reflected on the earlier years of the show, this time for the Hollywood Reporter, capturing the sadness of the passage of time in Hollywood: “It turns out there really wasn’t a message — at least not a profound one.” Drama, Turtle, and the gang had gotten older, but they had not aged in any meaningful way — the review kindest to the final season, gain by Tucker, reads primarily as a restatement of the premise of the show and an affirmation that its low-stakes goofiness is pleasant enough to justify half an hour of your time. So, in the space between the season finale and the announcement of the “Entourage” movie, what changed? The easiest (but also most boring) answer is that nothing did — the first couple of seasons are generally entertaining, but as the show continued to hit the same beats over and over again, it became difficult to take anything that happened even remotely seriously. The very premise of “Entourage” collapsed as it became clear that Vince was a terrible actor, the kind of guy who really wants to do a serious Pablo Escobar biopic because Pablo Escobar is badass, but doesn’t come close to possessing the acting chops of a Daniel Day-Lewis, or even a Johnny Depp…Even an attempt to get serious at the end, when Vince deals with addiction, doesn’t change the status quo much. “You can’t sell vapid to get back honest emotion,” Goodman wrote.
2. Why Horror Remakes Almost Never Get It Right. The “Poltergeist” remake was released two weeks ago to minimal fanfare and mostly mixed-to-negative reviews, with many critics citing its bland laziness as the chief reason for its failure. The new “Poltergeist” isn’t the first horror remake to whiff; in fact, many of them do. The Dissolve’s Hazel Cills unpacks the reasons why horror remakes just can’t quite get it right.
Horror is built on aesthetics: the combination of cinematography, editing, and effects that build terror. Well-executed horror is the reason films can make viewers suddenly afraid of a top hat hanging in the corner of a room, the static on a TV screen, or a distant person walking slowly toward the camera. It’s not so much what horror is trying to tell, as how it’s trying to tell it. And horror movies in which the actual scares hinge on the film’s aesthetic properties simply can’t be translated into new movies, because so many of the originals were iconic for their newness, for their advancements in constructing terrifying visuals. Scenes like Tina’s iconic blood-soaked death and the other surrealist, dream-logic-imbued action sequences in “A Nightmare On Elm Street” just don’t pack the same punch in the dimly lit 2010 remake. Horror as a genre so often thrives in moving forward, in figuring out what makes people tick and jump in the present, in creating new characters or establishing smart takes on centuries-old ones. So remakes, especially ones that reach back only a couple of decades, seem antithetic to the genre’s relentless progression.
3. “Total Recall’s” Cartoonish Comedy Helps it Endure 25 Years Later. “Total Recall” entered theaters 25 years ago this week and it’s endured as one of the better golden-era Schwarzenegger vehicles. The National Post’s Calum Marsh argues that its comedy separates it from the action movie pack.
The fact is that “Total Recall” is still possessed very much of the satirical elan Verhoeven remains known for — only the film directs it back at itself. The effort begins at the level of casting. Arnold Schwarzenegger, by 1990, had spent six years muscling his way into the popular imagination as the star of virtually every action blockbuster around. He had swiftly become synonymous with a certain brand of Hollywood excess: he was the supercharged beefcake of American dreams, emboldening the populace by stepping in as the spokesman for national might. (And it was a real thrill, seeing this 10-tonne megawatt hero blasting and pummelling anyone in his path. He made the vulgarity of it all seem beautiful.) What Verhoeven did was turn Schwarzenegger into a cartoon. Or rather reveal him as one. Nose-wrenching self-surgery, public disguise malfunction, aerobic ballbusting by Sharon Stone: the glorious indignities endured by Arnold through “Total Recall” reduce the brave warrior to absurd buffoon, sweating and heaving his way through a science-fiction epic with about as much grace as Wile E. Coyote.
4. Adam Sandler’s Career Declined As His Contempt For His Audience Rose. Adam Sandler’s new film “The Ridiculous Six” was recently slammed by Native Americans after several Native extras walked off the set because the film deeply insulted their culture. At the same time, Adam Sandler films deeply insult pretty much anyone with a modicum of intelligence. Over at The A.V. Club, Nathan Rabin explores the history of Sandler’s professional decline and wonders if his contempt for his audience is affecting his box office draw.
Despite the odes to working-class life that litter his films — the supporting performances from sports heroes, the product placement for Hooters and Dunkin’ Donuts and his weakness for cheesy arena rock, often of the 1980s variety — Sandler is all about punching down. The butt of the jokes in his comedies are not the wealthy or powerful but the poor, powerless, fat, unsuccessful, and weird-looking. In his films, Sandler is often a 1 percenter at the top of the socio-economic ladder making fun of everybody at the bottom. Sandler’s long, free ride with the public and Hollywood seems to have come to a dramatic end, however. A man who previously pumped out hits effortlessly has found himself in a prolonged and seemingly permanent downward spiral. As of late, nothing has worked for Sandler. He left behind the sticky sentimentality of his family movies for the hard-R vulgarity of “That’s My Boy” and it bombed. Sandler reunited with Drew Barrymore, the Julia Roberts to his Richard Gere (in the sense that they starred in multiple romantic comedies that were both incredibly successful and also terrible) for “Blended,” and it bombed.
5. The 100 Best Ensemble, Secondary, Tertiary Characters in International Postwar Art-House Cinema. You know how The Culture At Large loves lists? Of course you do. We all love lists. Well, here’s a great list that’s gonna knock your socks off. Film Comment’s Nick Pinkerton compiled a list of the best unsung MVPs of art-house cinema. Wait until you get a load of this list!
Beyond the exceptional physical specimens, the director-stars, and the non-humans, we find a mixture of nonprofessionals and veteran utility players. (To continue the baseball metaphors, I also created a special category for that greatest of all designated hitters, Maurice Garrel.) Among their ranks, probably only a handful of names will be recognizable to ardent cinephiles, including Pierre Clementi, who had leading-man looks but an artistic sensibility that drew him to the fringe, and Haruko Sugimura who, though among Japan’s most renowned stage actresses (she originated the role of Blanche Dubois on the Japanese stage!), was generally consigned to character parts in movies. Others, though not household names stateside, seem to have led very busy careers indeed — Hubert Deschamps, who memorably gropes a young woman in his shop while his wife lies dying upstairs in Pialat’s “La Gueule ouverte” (74), has 213 actor credits at IMDb, just shy of “Pauline at the Beach’s” Féodor Atkine, who is still grinding them out. Mario David, the leathern, pencil-mustached motorcyclist in Chabrol’s “Les Bonnes femmes” (60) who presides over the strangest first date scene ever filmed, was another in-demand journeyman with a list of credits as long as your arm — his last role was again for Chabrol, in 1994’s L’Enfer.” Seattle-born Billy Kearns, the loudmouthed American wearing the Stetson in “Playtime,” was a specialist in expat roles requiring the suffix “américain”: “Le producteur américain,” “L’officier américain,” “L’acheteur américain,” “Un client américain,” and so on.
6. The 15 Safety Tips for Surviving a Natural Disaster, According to “San Andreas.” Last Friday, “San Andreas” burst into theaters starring The Rock as a helicopter rescue pilot who’s going to need all of his training to help him get through the destruction that surrounds him. Esquire’s Matt Patches wrote a list of safety tips so you can survive a natural disaster, just like The Rock.
10. If rising tides threaten the aforementioned construction site, cling to the nearest beam — preferably a round one that lacks obvious grips. Bear hug the pole from the far side of the incoming wave so that the water doesn’t hit your back, push you up against the pillar, and sustain your position until the force subsides. You’re an expert body surfer. You do not want to miss out on this rad bombora, bro.
11. In all emergency situations, proceed directly to CalTech, the country’s safest university. Even as 9.2 earthquakes rip open city streets like bags of potato chips, CalTech’s state of the art lab space will remain unscathed. Not even Mother Nature herself can shut down the electricity or WiFi at CalTech. Need to beam useless scientific information out to all the currently unoccupied homes in the disaster area? CalTech has the equipment you need to hack CNN. CalTech: Where America goes to hide.
Tweet of the Day:
“These are movies, not cereal.” Soderbergh on audience testing. pic.twitter.com/hF9gzDZn2N
— Calum Marsh (@calummarsh) May 31, 2015