Criticwire’s Daily Reads brings today’s essential news stories and critical pieces to you.
1. “Jurassic World’ and the Genetically Modified Blockbuster. “Jurassic World” raked in over half a billion dollars this weekend, and because it will inevitably spark a fury of upcoming dinosaur movies as well as a new wave of 1990s reboots and remakes, it’s good to ask some questions about the content of the movie itself. The Dissolve’s Scott Tobias argues that co-writer/director Colin Trevorrow made a mutant blockbuster from spare reliable parts.
In other words, “Jurassic World” is part sequel, part reboot, and Trevorrow and company have no interest in reconciling the inherent contradictions. What they’ve done, quite cannily, is create a genetically modified blockbuster, composed of bits and pieces of mythology, past hits, character types, and tried-and-true cinematic techniques. When park brass talk about the need to create new attractions to raise attendance and revenue — and keep the kids from staring at their phones, as creatures that had previously been extinct for 65 million years dart around them — it’s also Trevorrow’s sly meta-commentary on blockbusters, which cannot be made new again, but rather can be patched together from all the best parts of previous blockbusters. “Jurassic World” is the Indominus Rex, a bigger and more exciting assemblage of the coolest stuff, set to hunt global audiences for sport.
2. Fans and Characters Alike: A Review of “Game of Thrones'” Fifth Season. “Game of Thrones” ended its divisive fifth season last Sunday and it’s sparked another wave of thinkpieces about whether the series has “gone too far” or “stepped over the line” with its depiction of torture and rape. Vulture’s Matt Zoller Seitz contends that “Game of Thrones'” fifth season made its fans feel as unsafe as its characters and why it’s time to accept the show for what it is.
Did “Game of Thrones” go too far this year? Your mileage may vary. I don’t think anything in season five is quantifiably nastier or more excessive than anything that happened in seasons one through four. It probably feels that way because there was so much suffering, much of it prolonged and sadistic and presented with nearly-operatic intensity while series composer Ramin Djawadi settled into “epic lament” mode, the better to twist a knife that was already lodged deep in the viewer’s heart. (Djawadi’s score might be the only thing keeping the show from definitely tipping over into unbearable; it often provokes an “oh, the humanity!” reaction even when we’re observing the suffering of characters, such as Cersei or Stannis, who’ve been cold and cruel for the most part.) I’d say there’s a valid discussion to be had over whether the show is leaning too hard on rape and torture to produce these feelings, except that we’ve been having that discussion for five straight years already. The show is what it is, and it’s adapted from a source that is (I’m told) equally vicious and melodramatically manipulative, though not always in exactly the same way as the series. And even though the makers of “Game of Thrones” have heard complaints about the violence (specifically the sexual violence and torture), and have given us their rationale for it, I haven’t seen much evidence that they”ve responded to viewer concerns by deciding to temper it, or present in such a way as to take the edge off.
3. The Many Plot Twists in the Third Season of “Orange Is The New Black”. The third season of “Orange is the New Black” premiered on Netflix five days ago, and though everyone in America is in a different place in the series, TV critics have to stay ahead of the curve and unpack new developments at a faster speed. Flavorwire’s Pilot Viruet explains how there are too many dramatic plot twists in the third season’s back half, arguing that it went “off the rails” a bit.
But even with all of the positive moments this season, it’s hard not to be just a little worried that maybe “Orange Is the New Black” is veering into later-season “Weeds” territory by rapidly blowing through plots and piling on too much content for comfort. Also created by Jenji Kohan, “Weeds” had some masterful and addictive early episodes, but as the show continued to go on (and on and on), its narratives became less engaging and more ridiculously convoluted, with cliffhangers seemingly designed to test whether the writers could manage to successfully (and believably) write them off in the next season (and they often couldn’t). “Orange” isn’t there yet — and it does bode well for the series that there are so many characters (this season even introduced a Martha Stewart stand-in, who will surely clash with Red in the kitchen) to explore, rather than just going in circles around Nancy Botwin.
4. “Dick Tracy” at 25: The Original Prestige Comic Book Movie. Every year marks the anniversary of some beloved film that everyone must acknowledge, celebrate, and write about. However, sometimes there are forgotten films that deserve anniversaries despite the limited attention. Vanity Fair’s Kate Erbland explores one of those movies, the Warren Beatty film “Dick Tracy” adapted from the 1930’s comic strip.
Beatty’s intention to make “Dick Tracy,” the movie, look like an homage to “Dick Tracy,” the comic strip, resulted in a feature that looked pulled straight from the paper — vivid flatness and limited color palette and all. The film only uses seven colors, mostly red, yellow, green, and blue, all the better to approximate the look and feel of a comic strip. The film’s wider shots make the background look newspaper flat and inkily colorized, a look achieved by combining matte paintings with live action. Sharply cut costumes only add to the effect (most of them in single colors: Tess is all reds, while Dick is yellows and blacks), and cinematographer Vittorio Storaro’s often static camera keeps every film frame feeling like a comic-strip panel, boxed in, heavy on the silhouettes, with obvious focal points. You know where to look in “Dick Tracy,” and when you do, you see a comic strip. Despite the glut of comic-book-based films at the box office, few features have used such styling to stellar effect, though the “300” series and the “Sin City” franchise have certainly tried, with mixed results. Both the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Warner Bros.’ DC Comics films have balked at making their comic-book movies look like comic books, instead opting for all that dark and gritty stuff, so rooted to reality and so often disinterested in acknowledging the medium that spawned their stories.
5. A Personal Tribute to Film Fathers. Father’s day is coming up this Sunday, and it’s a good time to reflect and celebrate the fathers or father figures in our lives, especially the one’s who have died. Over at Fandor, Nelson Carvajal created a video essay tribute to film fathers and wrote a brief piece about his own father who recently passed away.
But there was an elephant in the room. Something I never did tell my father. And now that he’s passed, I finally had to own up to it. It was simple: I missed my dad while he was alive. I was always too proud to admit that; I had convinced myself that I didn’t need him; that I was my own man; that I did it on my own. It didn’t really hit me until I started putting my “Film Fathers” video essay together. As I arranged the clips to literally speak each other, albeit literally or thematically, I realized that I had looked up at these father figures of the silver screen for most of my life, to fill in the void left by my father. I needed my father for the sex talk. I needed my father to see me as a rebellious teen. I needed to see my father have a mental breakdown because of his ambition. I needed to see my father defeat the bad guys. Luckily, these movie dads gave me these lessons with larger-than-life gestures. And the movies did not just give me one father but an array of fathers, from all walks of life. Strangely enough, I suppose I have my own father to thank for that. Remember, he took me to my first movie at the theater. He urged me to watch as many good movies as possible when I was a child. In short, my father gave me the cinema.
6. “Heaven Knows What” and Empathy in Art. Josh and Benny Safdie’s new film “Heaven Knows What” has garnered critical acclaim for its gritty, slice-of-life portrayal of the lived experience of heroin addiction. However, it’s somewhat of a problem if important films like “Heaven Knows What” only reach a self-selecting niche audience because people aren’t interested in seeing people they step over on the street depicted on screen. At his blog, Sean Burns explains why “Heaven Knows What” exemplifies the famous Roger Ebert metaphor of movies as empathy machines.
Shot by the great cinematographer Sean Price Williams in perspective-smushing telephoto close-ups, the movie doesn’t feature anybody from “the straight world” and there aren’t any redemptive character arcs or tragic backstories to explain away the behavior. We simply live with these people for a little while, crashing at flophouses or shelters, hanging out for hours on end in crappy fast food restaurants and “spanging” – their preferred slang term for collecting spare change outside of area businesses. The small-time scams are full of short-term ingenuity, like swiping a bag of mail looking for gift cards or shoplifting 5 Hour Energy capsules from Duane Reades and selling them to corner newsstands, everything leading only to the next high. The verisimilitude is extraordinary; grimy with authenticity. The filmmakers don’t judge their characters, nor do they do any special pleading on their behalf. They simply plunge us into Arielle Holmes’ world and allow us to experience it for ourselves. In his Salon piece O’Hehir argues that “consciously and deliberately, the Safdies have made a film with essentially no audience among middle-class, consumer-type Americans, among avid viewers of “Game Of Thrones” or “Girls” or “Louie.” And while the dismal box-office numbers appear to have borne him out, I still don’t really want to believe that.
Tweet of the Day:
To journalists who cling to “Everything is fine/everyone is overreacting” as a stance: Have you never seen a movie? You die 20 minutes in!
— Mark Harris (@MarkHarrisNYC) June 15, 2015