Criticwire’s Daily Reads brings today’s essential news stories and critical pieces to you.
1. Why Is Britain So Enthralled By Sad, Misogynistic James Bond? The new James Bond film “Spectre” is set to be released this November, and we will soon be covered in Bond thinkpieces about everything from debates over the best film in the franchise to a stirring defense of George Lazenby. But over at The Pool, Helen O’Hara argues that it’s silly for the country of Britain to be enthralled by an aging male fantasy of a sad, misogynistic spy who saves the day every time.
The great strength of Daniel Craig’s interpretation is that he has brought as much of his own decency to the role as it will bear (not a huge amount), and has been unafraid of showing Bond as something less than a hero. But even as the flawed, angsty character that Craig became, the character’s popularity still says less-than-flattering things about male fantasies in particular and our society in general. And the problem is that “making the parts as good as you can for the women” still doesn’t produce good roles. Make no mistake: however “gritty” or “realistic” the latest Bond is, it’s still very much a fantasy world where problems can be dispatched with a Walther PPK and women disposed of with…well, we never actually see Bond break up with anyone. Just under 50 per cent of featured “Bond girls” are killed off, sometimes with little more than a single scene – see Bérénice Marlohe in “Skyfall” – and sometimes after proving themselves to be pure evil. If Henry VIII’s wives were divorced, beheaded or died, Bond girls are evil, executed or excised.
2. Firefox’s Founder Wrote a “Silicon Valley” Spec Script. “Silicon Valley” ended its wonderful second season this past June to much critical acclaim. With its third season not set to premiere until sometime next year, certain people in the tech industry may be clamoring for more of the series. Well, Vulture’s Sean Fitz-Gerald reports on the co-creator and founder of Firefox Blake Ross’ spec script for “Silicon Valley.”
As many fans have noted, much of Ross’s writing hews true to the show, with similarly witty tech-flavored zingers (“You sound like Siri having a stroke”), spot-on character interactions (Gilfoyle attacking Dinesh’s mom and culture), and a hint of surrealism (Richard interviews job candidates with Erlich’s pot-infused questions). In an ensuing interview with TechCrunch, Ross floated the idea of penning an entire season of his own “Silicon Valley” episodes. “‘Silicon Valley’ has a chance to show what is really happening in a way that is funny but also authentic — sort of like Jon Stewart. The companies themselves can’t do it because it just comes off as a marketing agenda,” said Ross, who noted that anyone who wants to write for the show should have to work for AOL for at least a year.
3. Wes Craven’s “Scream” Opens With a Self-Contained Master Class in Horror. We’re all still mourning the loss of horror master director Wes Craven, the man who dug deep in our own terrified collective self-conscience through films like “The Last House on the Left,” “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” and of course, “Scream.” Over at the A.V. Club, Greg Cwik examines “Scream’s” 13-minute first scene and how it’s essentially a metaphor for the entire film.
The urban legend of the babysitters and the man upstairs, in which a man calls from within the house and murders children (not always in that order), has been the stimulus for terror in numerous films: “Black Christmas,” “When A Stranger Calls,” “Are You In The House Alone?” — even Freddy Krueger himself, Robert Englund, made a movie about diabolical phones, the better-left-forgotten “976-Evil.” Craven had at least one great phone scene already, so he’s working in familiar territory in “Scream,” revising an old anxiety for a new generation. The stranger on the phone asks Barrymore what her favorite scary movie is, a simple but significant moment in the same vein as Steven Spielberg putting “Star Wars” action figures in “E.T.” Making the characters cognizant of culture grounds them in a sense of reality, establishes parameters to which the rest of the film adheres, and situates them in the same world as us. Craven isn’t blending reality and fantasy, he’s lacing reality with awareness of fantasy, a twist on the main motif of his career. This could be us, sitting at home, getting ready to watch a movie.
4. Armond White on “The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution”. Veteran critic Armond White has been angering, confounding, and exciting readers for years with his distinct critical perspective that embraces little-loved films and rejects consensus picks. Over at the National Review, White reviews Stanley Nelson’s new “Black Panthers” documentary and how the Panthers “surpass today’s protestors.”
Nelson, instead, chooses a conventional pop-culture approach: A “Soul Train” clip of R&B group the Chi-Lites singing their hit “Power to the People” is stirring, but it’s used here as trivia when it deserves a separate discourse on the political consciousness that was articulated beyond protest meetings — the broad-based spirit of appeal that defined a genuine people’s movement, even in popular music. Without such depth, Nelson’s film does not challenge present-day assumptions about Sixties and Seventies black protests. Nelson is likely to be acclaimed by those who would oversimplify and misconstrue the facts behind those civil-rights protests. With little regard for community feeling — for example, how the Panthers’ Free Breakfast Program for children rooted the group’s local image — today’s agitators flip the Panthers’ inspiration backward from self-protection into self-destruction. Recent cultural and political deracination has led to such offensive films as “The Black Power Mixtape” (non-essential historical footage collated by Swedish TV and newly exploited by Millennial race hustlers) and to the unscrupulous parallels that “Straight Outta Compton” makes to Black Lives Matter poseurs. The implication that all black protests are the same and all protesters are martyrs insults the history of conscientious personal and political response. Nelson is not above flirting with that popular, but misleading, implication. That’s part of the way the black civil-rights disciples have been hijacked. Personal political principles have been replaced by the sanctimony of anarchists and others who turn demonstrators into indistinguishable, unruly Bolsheviks. They pretend-recapitulate the old protests to their own venal satisfaction.
5. Todd VanDerWerff on “Listen Up Phillip” and White Male Privilege. Beginning at September 1st, TV critic Todd VanDerWerff pens an “Episodes” column at Tiny Letter once a day Monday thru Friday (theoretically). It focuses mainly on TV episodes, except when it’s about other things, like Bruce Springsteen or in this case, an Alex Ross Perry film. VanDerWerff explores Perry’s “Listen Up Phillip” and how it captures and confronts the weight of privilege.
At first, it just seems to be about the Philip of the title (played by Jason Schwartzman), an all-around unpleasant person and acclaimed author who believes he’s about to be handed everything the world owes him. But as time goes on, you start to see all of the invisible benefits Philip gets simply from existing in the world as a white man (and, not insignificantly, a white man of the upper classes). He can speak his mind to anyone he wants with little consequence. He can be a complete jerk without really suffering for it. It’s not always clear what Perry is doing with the occasional bits of narration from Eric Bogosian, which seem to describe too thoroughly what all of the characters are going through internally, until you start to see all of the ways the things Bogosian says drift from what’s actually happening onscreen. By the end of the film, Bogosian’s drone is covering up legitimately heartwrenching moments for Philip, moments that will cause him to shut himself off even more from the world. In some ways, Bogosian is the language of privilege, the way that it allows those who wield it to retcon the disappointments of the past into something better, grist for the literary mill.
6. Discovering and Rediscovering Classics at the Venice Film Festival. The Venice Film Festival is the oldest film fest in the world, and is one of the “Big Three” along with Cannes and Berlin. It’s currently running from September 2nd to the 12th. RogerEbert.com’s Glenn Kenny reports from the festival’s “Classic” section, which boasts an impressive 28 films.
The “Classics” section of the Venice Film Festival is unusually, and refreshingly, robust, boasting 28 films this year. It’s a mix of selections: four handpicked by French master filmmaker Bertrand Tavernier, the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Golden Lion this year; eight documentaries on film and/or filmmakers (subjects include Helmut Berger, Toshiro Mifune, Jacques Tourneur, and the still-walking-among-us Guy Maddin); and 16 restorations. Among the most exhilarating of the bunch were two films directed by undersung Hollywood innovator William K. Howard. My longtime colleague and friend Dave Kehr, now a curator in the film department at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, has been working on a project to rehabilitate Howard’s too-secret rep in cinephilia through research and restoration work, and for the festival this year Dave presented terrific restorations of two of Howard’s signature works: The 1932 courtroom melodrama “The Trial of Vivienne Ware: and the 1933 Great American Industrialist X-ray “The Power and the Glory.” Clocking in at a mere 55 minutes, “Ware,” starring a blonde Joan Bennett — a truly glorious sight, we esoterically minded cinephiles can tell you — is a breakneck paced picture, with scene shifts connoted by breathless whip pans and dialogue staccatoed out by a cast that seems to be partaking in a private “World’s Fastest Talker” contest. The setup is simple: Lawyer Donald Cook loves Joan’s Vivienne, Vivienne’s engaged to a rotter, rotter messes around with showgirl, rotter ends up dead and all evidence points to Vivienne, and did we mention that guy who loves her is a lawyer? The titular trial is a doozy, as Howard introduces an eccentric series of obfuscating comic characters and provides a Greek chorus in the form of radio broadcasters and commentators, one of whom is played by the legendary ZaSu Pitts, who’s sinfully funny here. The dizzying comic energy can blind the viewer from Howard’s sharp sense of not just timing but time, the always-resourceful way he pockets the narrative with flashbacks.
Tweet of the Day:
How to become an efficient crank/crackpot:
1) Think of all the stuff you like but will be sick of within a year
2) Don’t even like it
— Josh Weinstein (@Joshstrangehill) September 4, 2015