Criticwire’s Daily Reads brings today’s essential news stories and critical pieces to you.
1. The Misunderstanding of 3-D. Despite the recent trend in 3-D movies, many criticisms still plague the technology, which is often misused or misappropriated. Though occasionally someone like Jean-Luc Godard will come along and make “Goodbye to Language,” a film that deconstructed the imagistic purpose of 3-D, most of the time, 3-D is poorly conceived and employed by studios who want more revenue. The New Yorker’s Daniel Engber unpacks the general misunderstanding of 3-D.
But the secret of 3-D — its central irony, let’s say — is that it isn’t any good for spectacle. Adding a dimension often serves to shrink the objects on the screen, instead of giving them more pomp; trees and mountains end up looking like pieces in a diorama; people seem like puppets. Action, too, suffers in the format, because rapid horizontal movements mess with the illusion and fast-paced edits in 3-D tend to wear a viewer out. Yet the artsy way of looking at 3-D glorifies the format for its decadence, its delicious and despised absurdity. That’s the sense I got last month at BAM, where mindless, stunning films like “Resident Evil: Retribution,” “Katy Perry: Part of Me,” and “Step Up 3D” were juxtaposed, low-meets-high, with experimental shorts. It was as if the mainstream and the avant-garde had been allowed to gather and miscegenate in pure, visual abstraction.
2. The Feminine Desert of “Mad Max: Fury Road”. As more and more people finally get out to see “Mad Max,” its critical and popular attention only grows, especially with relation to its feminine (or feminist) bona fides. But though director George Miller has garnered acclaim for how he shoots the desert in “Mad Max,” there’s been little attention paid to what (or how) the desert means in the film. The Dissolve’s Genevieve Valentine explores the decidedly feminine desert in “Mad Max.”
The camera loves nothing the way it loves the desert. The sun across an uninterrupted sky; sand or clay swallowing up the light the same way it swallowed up the water. A desert suggests a story before anything enters the frame. It’s a landscape of the psyche that presents an essential cinematic image: absence. Wilderness is beautiful everywhere, and suggests high-stakes stories whenever the camera finds it — the sea has the infinite starkness of the desert (and is only slightly less lovely to photograph), and the forest evokes shadowy unknowns. But stories about the desert aren’t just stories about wilderness. Desert stories are about the inevitable. Only the specifics change: what sort of desert is approached, and what sort of inevitability is to be faced. It’s what separates desert stories from Westerns, in spite of their shared narrative and visual markers. Westerns are about struggle. Desert stories are about the doomed. George Miller’s “Mad Max: Fury Road” has been praised for nearly every aspect of its filmmaking — the relentless pacing, the gleeful diegetic soundtrack, the stunning, two-hour portable battlefield. But two things are most frequently lauded. One is its de facto feminism, since Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa drives the narrative (and the war rig) by taking a warlord’s five wives to the safety of matriarchal bikers before returning en masse to take over the city. The other is the desert itself, shot by John Seale. It’s a world split into blue and gold, sand that’s both bedrock and traitor, blood-edged dust storms and nights saturated with silent-film cobalt. These aspects seem disparate at first glance, but they actually draw along a particular vector. “Mad Max’s” women are part of the tradition of the feminine desert, rather than the masculine.
3. The Department of Justice’s Antitrust Investigation of U.S. Movie Screens, Explained. If you’re even in a mid-sized movie market, chances are you’ve heard of chains like AMC, Regal, and Cinemark. Well, were you also aware that the DOJ is currently investigating all three chains for antitrust violations? But what does that mean, you ask? Well, Flavorwire’s Jason Bailey explains the recent investigation in detail for your benefit.
What exactly is the Department of Justice investigating?
In a nutshell, the DOJ is investigating complaints from the owner/operators of several independent theaters that the big three chains (can we call them Big Multiplex? I’m gonna call them that) have used their influence and power to keep their smaller competitors from screening big movies — and enjoying the revenues provided by such titles. The inquiry launched several months ago, but we just started hearing about it in May, via an article in the “LA Times,” which reported that Justice had ordered Big Multiplex to supply documents relating to their business and booking practices. The story is back in the news this week because the DOJ has made a new inquiry for documents relating to the specific practice of film clearances.
4. Six Seasons and a Board Game: A Review of “Community’s” Possible Series Finale. Last Tuesday, “Community” finally reached half of its absurd goal of “six seasons and a movie,” and aired its sixth season finale. The finale, like most every “Community” finale, plays as both a season and series finale, but this time, it truly felt like a definitive ending. Time’s James Poniewozik breaks down possibly the last “Community” finale.
When you title a sitcom “Community,” the individual-vs.-group themes are going to be glaring no matter what. But this final burst of imagination was meta in the best way; it wasn’t just breaking the fourth wall for easy laughs, but rather using the stories to show how the characters’ identities – anyone’s identities, really – are a group construct, not simply an individual creation. You are a person, but you – the idea of you – are also the collective perceptions of those around you. If you imagine yourself fabulously clothed and everyone else around you sees you flailing in a diaper, for better or worse that is part of the construct of yourself. What “Emotional Consequences” illustrated was a sophisticated idea: that when you spend the years in the company of other people, to some extent you do belong to them and not just yourself. You will always be an individual, but you will also be yourself as understood by those who know you; that’s what will survive after you go to Quantico, or head to Los Angeles, or, like Jeff, stay home as everyone else moves on.
5. The Queerness of “Entourage”. And now, we finally return to “Entourage,” the terrible movie based on a terrible TV show that has captured the country’s attention, if only for a short while. Buzzfeed’s Anne Helen Petersen explores the latent homoeroticism in “Entourage” and how it creates a toxic environment.
“Entourage” offers the sort of old-fashioned gay jokes that most “quality” television disposed with years ago. It’s most potently manifest in superagent-turned-studio-head Ari Gold’s treatment of Lloyd (Rex Lee), his former assistant, but the boys use it to insult each other (“Maybe those skinny pills you’re taking are filled with estrogen”) and adversaries use it to insult them. (Armie Hammer: “Enjoy your salads, boys.”) But even gay jokes can’t always mask the homoeroticism. When Ari (Jeremy Piven) exclaims, “Warren Buffett’s going to be blowing us for investment advice soon!” it’s intended as a power move, but it’s actually reinscribing the aura of queerness. And so a film like “Entourage” finds itself in a holding pattern. Every homosocial scene — the boys spending time alone, Lloyd telling Ari he loves him, one of the guys happening upon another one of the guys in a vulnerable and/or semi-naked state — demands a scene to diffuse the queer tension, usually in the form of semi-naked women. But the boys treat those women so absentmindedly that it feels cursory, performative, even unconvincing. The first scene of the “Entourage” film offers some classic male gaze of models on a yacht in Ibiza, prompting Drama (Kevin Dillon) to exclaim, “I may have to jerk it before we even get there.” It’s meant to highlight Drama’s heterosexual desire, but the comment implies taking out his penis and masturbating in front of his two best friends: an intensely queer action. Cue more shots of girls in bikinis. It’s like an inescapable vortex of compulsory heterosexuality.
Tweet of the Day:
All of a sudden I want to see Pete Campbell as the mayor of Wichita in the 1980s, reading Playboy during zoning board meetings.
— Matt Zoller Seitz (@mattzollerseitz) June 3, 2015