Criticwire’s Daily Reads brings today’s essential news stories and critical pieces to you.
1. Stop Calling It the “All Female ‘Ghostbusters'”. Here at Daily Reads, we’re not sure if you’ve heard of Paul Feig is reboting “Ghostbusters” with all women in the four main roles. Naturally, this upsets a lot of people who don’t want their precious childhood memories enjoying “Ghostbusters” soiled by the existence of a new “Ghostbusters,” especially if they aren’t guys. In honor of the film’s 2016 release, i09’s Annalee Newitz wants everyone to stop calling it Feig’s remake the “All Female ‘Ghostbusters'” because it unnecessarily calls attention to the lead characters’ gender.
This is not some special girl-themed version of “Ghostbusters” where the fact that our characters are women matters. It’s not a chick flick. It’s just straight-up the new “Ghostbusters” movie, about lovable, entrepreneurial mad scientists with giant, bizarre energy weapons, a pimped-out jalopy, and a burning desire to rid the world of evil spirits. Only this time the actors happen to be female. There’s no reason they couldn’t be guys. Likewise, there’s no reason the first crew of ghostbusting weirdos had to be guys. They just had to be dorks, and be funny. Arguably the cast of the new “Ghostbusters” is pretty much culturally equivalent to the first cast. It stars two of the most famous comedians on film right now – Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy – who are absolutely of the same wattage that Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd were back in 1984. So why are we calling this movie “all female,”* as if it’s some lesser spinoff from the “real series,” which features dudes? Obvious answer is obvious. It’s because people don’t expect to see women in these roles, and so they see “women” instead of “Ghostbusters.” Even in the post-“Bridesmaids,” post-“30 Rock,” post-“Parks and Recreation” era, audiences don’t expect women to be funny. They also don’t expect women to be the badasses driving the plot in an action movie, despite “Hunger Games” and “Nikita” and “Mad Max: Fury Road.” But there’s a less-obvious answer, too. The really startling part of the new “Ghostbusters” crew, for a lot of people, is that they are a team of women. Nobody would blink an eye at a token lady, or maybe even two. An entire team of women, though? That stands out in a way that all-male teams never do (unless you’re a woman, and then you notice all-male groups constantly, with a sinking heart). Racial representation sometimes works in a comparable way. Nobody seems startled that there’s one person of color on the “Ghostbusters” team, but when “Fast Five” came out, reviewers kept talking how amazing it was that every starring role was played by a person of color – though I would note that nobody actually called it “the all-POC ‘Fast and Furious’ movie.”
2. Will Woody Allen Ever Make Another Good Movie? Woody Allen’s new film “Irrational Man” opens today and, like much of Woody’s later work, it’s received a mixed reception. Many critics claim that Woody has stunted as a writer and keeps repeating his scripts to lesser effect, others go so far as to say that Woody has completely lost touch with modern life and it makes his scripts feel stilted and alien. Flavorwire’s Jason Bailey worries that Woody will never make another good movie after “Irrational Man”.
Allen’s process is, by now, part of his legend: once a year, he sits down at the typewriter his mother bought him when he was 16 (he turns 80 this year) and writes a new screenplay. He doesn’t have to take it to a studio or a financier for approval; sometimes he doesn’t even do any revisions. He hands it to his producer (who is also his sister), her team works up the budget, the roles are cast, and the film is made. He then sits with his editor and puts the movie together exactly as he sees fit, and then he sits down to write the next one. Such autonomy is rare, even in the independent film world. And make no mistake, that autonomy has resulted in some of the finest films of the modern era. But for whatever reason — increasing age, declining interest, a fuller plate — “Magic in the Moonlight” and now “Irrational Man” play like first cuts of films that were shot from their first drafts. Mixed reactions to earlier pictures were often a result of personal preference or affection for Allen’s style, but these recent efforts aren’t even getting basic screenwriting and filmmaking right. The first act of “Magic” features a peculiar, alarming number of scenes where the picture’s premise is stated, and then restated, and then restated, as though Allen either a) has forgotten that he already explained it, b) is afraid we’ve forgotten it, or c) is worried people are arriving late and need to be caught up. There’s a similar series of scenes in “Irrational Man,” in which Stone’s Jill and her boyfriend Roy (Jamie Blackley) discuss Abe Lucas (that’s what he’s always called, “Abe Lucas”), and Roy says he’s nervous that she has or will have a crush on Abe Lucas, and she assures him that he’s her one true love and he has nothing to worry about, and that’s the scene. Said scene plays out with little variation, no exaggeration, four times; during the fourth, she exclaims, “God, Roy, we have had this conversation so many times,” to which you want to shout back, “No kidding!”
3. The Existential Genius of Late Woody Allen. However, not all of them agree with that sentiment. In fact, some critics find that there’s plenty of substance to Woody Allen’s later work, and these films just naturally represents a changing comic mind. The New Yorker’s Richard Brody argues in favor of late Woody Allen work because of its existential appeal.
Just as Allen has nothing better to offer than a common-sense limit to deception in “Magic,” in “Irrational Man” his insight is yoked to a common-sense constraint on action. In both films, he finds himself arguing for norms that he can’t rationally justify, a conventional moralism that seems obvious at a distance but uncertain in the moment. For all his existential despair, Allen isn’t a nihilist. His films don’t display a belief in unrestrained behavior or a disdain for moral codes. On the contrary, he offers an optimism in the throw of the dice, a blind faith despite the absence of God. The pleasure of “Magic” is real, despite the volcano preparing to erupt beneath the soil; so is that of “Irrational,” despite the ease with which things could have turned out radically worse. The irrationality of “Irrational Man” is this faith in the ordinary — and it’s not entirely new to Allen’s work. On the contrary, at the end of “Manhattan,” Tracy implores Isaac to “have a little faith in people.” Allen’s underlying humanism isn’t gone — he takes directorial pleasure in the characters who people his cinematic universe — but now it’s sublimated. In his earlier films, he wrote his characters densely, filmed them closely, and derived a wider worldview from the vectors that they bore within. Now, he sees existence as a whole, as if from the somewhat fearsome contemplative distance of someone with one foot already outside it and in the next world. His characters float through that worldscape like apparitions, as diaphanous and transitory as the directorial eye. Nonetheless, Allen’s work is comic and breezy — not from a lack of seriousness or of commitment but from an abiding sense of fullness and progress, an optimism in the sense that the dice are infinitesimally loaded, that, in the long run, over the billions of throws, the house gets beaten just enough to keep mankind in the black. The primal trauma of “Annie Hall” is young Alvy’s neurotic realization that the world will eventually come to an end, destroying all traces of human life and retroactively rendering all action absurd. Yet, there, Allen comically overcame that nihilism by means of the sheer force and exuberance of personality. This was the heart of the film’s easygoing but intricately modernistic reflexivity — a crucial trace of which gleams throughout all of Allen’s work, including “Irrational Man.”
4. A Review of “Community” Season Six. Last March, Yahoo! Screen released the sixth season of cult favorite “Community” weekly on its streaming site. Though it has received mostly favorable reviews, many found it to be lacking in quality compared to the Dan Harmon-years at NBC (seasons 1-3 and 5). But “Community” has aways divided people, deeply connecting with few and mostly confounding others. Over at his blog, TV critic Ryan McGee writes about how he connected with the sixth season of “Community,” especially its theme of aging.
I just don’t think you can truly like a show without relating to it on some emotional level. If you didn’t relate to this season of “Community,” you’re not better or worse than me. You’re certainly different, and I get why those that used to love the show more were disappointed it didn’t work for them over the long haul. But I also think it’s pretty amazing that “Community” ever did connect with me. Not because I was happy that it did, but I was surprised that it did at all. “Community” wrestled with being a TV show as much as anything, and the constant cast turnover and difficulty in explaining why certain characters were still on the show should have derailed it from episode one this year. And indeed, the first two episodes are pretty dire. But then something clicked, and the last eleven or so (aside from the fairly horrid grifting episode) were almost start-to-finish really funny yet fairly hefty all the same. Each wore bore the weight of having to approach the finish line, even if the characters themselves pretending as if they were in a loop. Indeed, whenever they caught a glimpse outside that loop is when the season really turned into something magical. The lack of certain core characters forced the show to focus on Jeff a lot more, and Joel McHale did some pretty stellar work as a guy so terrified to realize what his life had become that he clung more closely to the study group/Save Greendale Committee than ever before. He watched those around him succeed wildly despite huge obstacles (“Intro To Recycled Cinema”), recognized that those he mocked found love (“Wedding Videography”), and understood that the pattern of the show/his life was for him to be the last man at the study room table (“Emotional Consequences Of Broadcast Television”). Sure, he talked about a “season seven,” but that was his way of recognizing that his peak might have already peaked. There is nothing else but his job at Greendale, but that’s not the case for others around him. Even though he sits with several people in Britta’s bar, he realizes all too well he might very well be alone before long.
5. “The Act of Killing,” “The Look of Silence,” and the Power of the Camera. Two days ago, our own Sam Adams interviewed Oscilloscope’s Dan Berger about Musings, their new online film publication. Though Oscilloscope is a film distributor, it still believed in the power of film writing and wants to feature it, even though it won’t be generating revenue. Ex-Dissolver Scott Tobias wrote a piece for them on “The Honeymoon Killers” earlier this week, and now he has a new piece on Joshua Oppenheimer’s work and list the four ways his camera asserts himself in his films.
It’s a topography of the human face. The title “The Look Of Silence” suggests a play on both Adi’s job as an optician and the unfathomable courage with which he stares down the men responsible for killing his brother. And though the film is full of stunning lines of inquiry, with Adi addressing mass murderers directly and persistently hitting the third rail of Indonesian politics, the fundamental emotions could come through with the sound off. Whenever his subjects try to make a joke or say something provocative, Adi’s face hardens into a leveling stare, as if he’s waiting, none-too-patiently, for the gravity of his questions to be acknowledged. This is a forbidden topic, and Adi addresses it with such impertinent candor that his subjects’ willingness to indulge him stops cold and that genocidal impulse starts to resurface again. “You don’t want to know what I’d do,” one leaders says when Adi asks what would have happened if he’d come to him like that during the dictatorship. But the camera catches that murderous glint in their eyes, which the decades between 1965 and now haven’t entirely extinguished. There’s a reason Adi and half the crew are listed as “Anonymous” in the credits: It could all happen again, and the camera picks up on the threat before it’s ever vocalized.
6. What “Steven Universe” Can Teach Us About Sex and Relationships. Cartoon Network’s “Steven Universe” follows the adventures of a young half human, half Gem (a Gem being an alien being with superpowers) who’s being raised by three Gems to use his abilities well. Though this is a children’s show, it sneaks it some powerful themes about adulthood. Polygon’s Carli Velocci believes that “Steven Universe” has powerful things to say about sexual consent and adult relationships, in its own way.
The episode “Alone Together” showed Steven and his human friend Connie fusing for the first time, forming an androgynous and strong being named Stevonnie that becomes the subject of awe. This was another story that was heavily about consent, with Steven stepping back and giving Connie the will to choose whether to dance with him. They also checked in with each other during the experience to make sure they were both comfortable. Later when Stevonnie is at a rave, a guy named Kevin — quite literally — invades their personal space, causing them to lash out and question their decisions, eventually splitting apart. This is the closest “Steven Universe” has come so far to a real-world scenario where a character is coerced into a relationship. There is no magic involved besides the existence of Stevonnie. The whole episode is oddly quiet, targeting the relationships between Steven and Connie — along with Steven, Connie and Kevin — and dread that both they and the audience feel when confronted with a distressing presence. When Stevonnie breaks apart, the two characters rejoice and dance with each other as the crowd looks on them in shock. The audience feels relieved with the happy ending, and with the fact that we won’t see Kevin again. He was someone who threatened the characters with his inability to take no for an answer. And again, none of this was done with the use of sex.
Tweet of the Day:
That chain only”enslaved”me until I could use the frabjous thing to KILL THAT DROOLING SWOLLEN SUPERTONGUED SLUG&whirl him off into infinity
— Carrie Fisher (@carrieffisher) July 15, 2015