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Daily Reads: The History of Hannibal Lecter, What ‘Entourage’ Taught Me About Hollywood, and More

Daily Reads: The History of Hannibal Lecter, What 'Entourage' Taught Me About Hollywood, and More

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

1. The History of HannibalDespite middling ratings, NBC’s “Hannibal” has captured the hearts of critics everywhere for its distinctive visual style and oneiric tone. Its third season premiered last week to unsurprising critical acclaim. The Atlantic’s David Sims unpacks the series’ title character and why Dr. Lecter has endured as a popular fixture in American culture.

The challenge NBC’s “Hannibal” faced before airing even a second of footage was ducking out of the long shadow of Hopkins’ performance. Pitched as a prequel to Harris’ books, the series (developed by Bryan Fuller) focuses on Will Graham’s (Hugh Dancy) early days at the FBI consulting on various serial killer cases, with the help of Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen), a refined Baltimore psychiatrist. Keeping to the character’s Eurocentric casting traditions, Mikkelsen is a Danish thespian best known for playing the villain Le Chiffre in “Casino Royale
,” and he brings similar restraint to Lecter, helped by the fact that the character is still hiding in plain sight from the FBI. There’s no boasting of eating a census collector’s liver with fava beans and a nice Chianti. There’s barely even a hint that Lecter is up to no good at first, as he helps Graham take down a killer nicknamed the Minnesota Shrike. Mikkelsen hardly lets his Lecter smile, let alone monologue — this is a cautious, impeccably dressed shark of a man, lurking on the sidelines, analyzing the perfect moment to strike in secret.

2. Why I Love “Entourage,” The Show I’m Supposed to Hate. 
“Entourage” has become a critical and cultural punching bag quicker than you can yell, “Oh, yeah!” Critics panned the “Entourage” movie upon release and it opened fifth at the box office last weekend, all but indicating that most everyone seems to be done with Vinny, the boys, and their “adventures” with fame and glamor. However, The Washington Post’s Alyssa Rosenberg actually likes “Entourage,” in spite of everything, because it successfully holds a mirror up to the entertainment industry and forces us to look at it.

[The] women don’t dominate “Entourage,” but there are enough of them, and their perspective is given enough weight that their presence doesn’t feel purely coincidental. (The “Entourage” movie itself hinges on a film investor’s sexual obsession with a young actress and shows Jessica Alba leveraging a director’s sexual harassment of her for a greenlight of her passion project.) Shauna, Barbara, Melissa, Dana and, later, Amanda Daniels (Carla Gugino) and Lizzie Grant (Autumn Reeser) can keep up with Ari, obscenity for obscenity and penetrating insight for penetrating insight. They’re neither prudes nor scolds, and they make it consistently clear that they think the male characters’ behavior is often either disgusting or pitiable. What it’s not is necessarily unrealistic. If you think Vincent Chase is a mediocre actor and the fact that he keeps working seems inexplicable, there are plenty of white men in whom Hollywood keeps investing, despite their failures to turn in either transcendent performances or undeniable box office results, and much to the consternation of critics who would like to see women and people of color get a fraction of those opportunities. The relative lack of women and people of color in directorial or executive roles at either studios or agencies? If you read this blog on a regular basis, I don’t have to tell you how bad the numbers are.

3. Our Humor Crisis: Adjusting to a World That Won’t Laugh With You. 
Over the past few years, we’ve seen many comedians routinely praised for their insights as well as torn down for their offensive rhetoric. Comedy has slowly become a political weapon, one to bludgeon other people with for not sharing the same politics. It’s difficult to navigate these waters, especially because a “joke” no longer has the same ephemeral, brushed-off quality it had before. The New York Times’ A.O. Scott examines our national humor crisis and how we can adjust to a changing world.

But we’re also in the midst of a humor crisis. The world is full of jokes and also of people who can’t take them. It can seem, if you dip into social media or peruse the weekly harvest of Internet think pieces, that comedy swings on a fast-moving pendulum between amusement and outrage. We love jokes that find the far edge of the permissible, but we also love to turn against the joker who violates our own closely held taboos. In the blink of an eye, social media lights up not with twinkles of collective liking but with flames of righteous mob fury. We demand fresh material, and then we demand apologies. Laughter is supposed to be a unifying force, a leveler of distinctions and a healer of divisions. But it often seems to be just as divisive as anything else in our angry and polarized climate. Can’t we just all have a good time together? But maybe comedy has become the way we argue about matters that are too painful, awkward or explosive to address in other ways. In our self-conscious, suspicious and defensive time — when the default settings of public discourse seem to vacillate between piety and rage — comedy might be the only widely available vehicle for the arguments we otherwise don’t want to have.

4. Why Actors Need to Stop Talking About Politics. 
Vince Vaughn recently made ill-informed, ill-advised comments about guns in schools, claiming that mass shootings only take place in places where guns are not allowed. When asked about these comments, John Cusack deftly deflected them, but then proceeded to spout off on foreign policy, claiming that Obama is “as bad or worse than Bush” on such matters. Flavorwire’s Jason Bailey explains why actors need to stop talking about politics, mostly because we should all speak with authority on subjectswe actually know about.

Hey, look, I get it — when people are putting microphones in front of you all day, it’s easy to become convinced that you’re smarter and more enlightened than you actually are. (Ever read any of Cusack’s tweets? Good heavens.) But more often than not, celebs just end up sounding stupid…and actors who are politically outspoken, on both sides of the political equation, rarely accomplish much more than potentially alienating half of their audience. It took me years longer than it should have to appreciate the work of John Wayne, because I read his noxious comments on the Vietnam War (and its protestors) before I saw, say, “The Searchers.” That was my loss, and I’m glad I got over the prejudice. I’d imagine plenty of people on the other end of the political spectrum might feel the same way about, say, Jane Fonda’s work — and as a result, they’re missing great movies like “Klute” and “The China Syndrome.” Maybe they resent George Clooney for being some kind of limousine liberal, and have skipped “Gravity” or “The Descendants,” which is unfortunate. And if Vince Vaughn ever makes a good movie again, or turns out to be great on “True Detective,” some may have difficulty digging into his work when they find out he’s become BFFs (and business partners) with Glenn Beck.

5. On Bollywood’s “Bombay Velvet” and How the Internet Manipulates Expectations. 
Bollywood’s “Bombay Velvet” was released in Indian theaters last month to mixed reviews and high box office numbers, but it has become somewhat of an underdog in India’s movie marketplace. Nikhil Taneja explores how the Internet-era has manipulated expectations of films and has radically changed the modes of reception.

The more time spent on the internet consuming about movies before watching them, is killing the experience of watching any movie for what it is. Remember the unparalleled pleasure of being in a cinema hall at one with a movie, and discovering it unfold one scene at a time, before the onslaught of teasers of teasers and trailers 2,7,10? Before Twitter and Facebook told you EVERYTHING you didn’t want to know about the film but would have liked seeing or deciding for yourself? Before opinions were jammed down your throat because you live on the internet and opinion-givers do too? Hence my opinion of “Bombay Velvet” is immaterial. What matters is what you think of it. And the only way for you to decide is not by reading snarky comments about it on the internet but by going to the theater and watching it yourself. Watch it not because I or anyone else liked the film, but because such an intricately created and painstakingly mounted film is certainly worth your time – at least worth more than reading all the gossip about it. Whether you love, like or dislike it, watching a movie of this scale, design and feel isn’t an experience you get often in India cinema, and will certainly not get anymore if this film is doomed by the wrath of the internet and the curse of being Anurag Kashyap.

6. Maybe “The Matrix” Ruined Science-Fiction Films. 
When “The Matrix” burst onto the scene in 1999, it almost immediately changed sci-fi films, especially with relation to their visual effects, philosophical limitations, and “Whoa” factor. But maybe “The Matrix” actually ruined sci-fi films? io9’s Charlie Jane Anders compiles a Twitter rant from Josh Friedman, creator of “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles,” about how “The Matrix” has made it harder for sci-fi films to succeed.

“The Matrix” was a hugely influential film, which helped launch a million black-clad wuxia-fueled adventures. But maybe it had an even bigger impact? Josh Friedman, creator of “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles,” suggests “The Matrix” ruined science fiction movies. Tomorrow sees the release of “Sense8,” the super-ambitious epic from the Wachowskis — so it’s perfect timing that today, we’re questioning the impact of their most famous work. Today on Twitter, Friedman went on a fascinating rant, dealing with the difficulty of getting a huge enough audience to watch science fiction on television. And the massive budgets needed to make science fiction “work” on the small(er) screen.

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