Criticwire’s Daily Reads brings today’s essential news stories and critical pieces to you.
1. 100 Women Directors Hollywood Should Be Hiring. As Criticwire and other publications have pointed out again and again. there’s a dearth of female directors working in Hollywood today. Many studio execs make the tired argument that there aren’t enough female directors to begin with, or that they’re not accomplished enough for them to be considered. Vulture’s Kyle Buchanan compiles a list of 100 women directors and claims that “the only difficult part was culling it down to 100.”
Jane Campion: Campion was only the second woman ever to receive a Best Director nomination, and while she didn’t take home that trophy for 1993’s “The Piano,” she did win that year for the film’s screenplay. (The Academy would later pull the same trick with Sofia Coppola, the next woman nominated for Best Director.) Campion’s entire oeuvre is pretty incredible, from her dark and delightful debut “Sweetie” to her acclaimed mini-series “Top of the Lake,” which she’ll next direct a second season of.
Julie Delpy: A two-time Oscar nominee for co-writing “Before Sunrise” and “Before Sunset,” Delpy has another unlikely franchise of her own making: She wrote, directed, and starred in “2 Days in Paris” and “2 Days in New York,” and her bawdy, moody sense of humor put a unique new spin on those culture-clash comedies. She’s continued crafting her own starring vehicles, too, with “Lolo” up next, in which she plays a single mother whose son doesn’t take kindly to her new beau.
Mira Nair: I don’t know why it is that, since her Oscar-winning turn in “12 Years a Slave” came out in 2013, Lupita Nyong’o has only been given a single additional live-action role, but God bless Mira Nair for doing it. (Nyong’o stars in the upcoming “Queen of Katwe.”) Other important Mira Nair facts: Her “Salaam Bombay!” was nominated for Best Foreign-Language Film, she made “Mississippi Masala,” “Monsoon Wedding,” and “Vanity Fair,” and her film “The Namesake” proved she maybe the only director who understands that Kal Penn is hot and should be given sexy, full-fledged characters to play.
2. “Project Greenlight” Is Over, But The World Is Still Full of Jason Manns. The HBO series “Project Greenlight” finished its fourth season on Sunday with Jason Mann’s film “The Leisure Class” premiering yesterday. Mann, the director at the center of the series, has come under fire for his obstinate, entitled attitude in the face of more experienced, diverse voice. The Verge’s Emily Yoshida writes about how the world is still full of Jason Manns, and that “entitlement means never having to say you’re sorry.”
I respect Effie Brown, even if I didn’t always agree with the way she did her job (from what we could see on the reality television show that depicted it) because she had a point of view. She was trying to affect change in the industry she worked in, using the power and the position that she had. Every year, hundreds of kids graduate with film degrees and pour into the industry with no real point of view or artistic purpose to speak of, other than “be a badass director.” I spoke to someone recently who had been on a student film shoot where the director’s main note to his crew was to “make it look like ‘Goodfellas.'” These young men (and they are still very frequently men) are allowed to believe that homage and sick dolly shots are a point of view, because they are surrounded by peers who are just like them. Argh, I wish I had a citation for this observation other than the majority of the product put out by the industry every year! It’s for that reason that most film programs discourage undergraduate students from even applying to their programs; advising them that it’s highly unlikely they have the life experience or know themselves enough artistically to really be able to take advantage of the resources that film school offers. (Yeah, I was one of those ding-dongs who ignored this advice and jumped the gun.) I thought of this when we were introduced to Mann, now 30, who after getting his BA went to Columbia’s graduate film program, and described his life as living, breathing, and eating film — in an early episode, the gangly director said he tried not to indulge in junk food, alcohol, or other distractions that would detract from his dream of being a filmmaker. It certainly takes all types, but I’m not entirely sure I’m interested in the vision of a man who only lives film. I want stories by filmmakers who eat, drink, fall in love, lose control, have emotional breakdowns, go to far-flung places, meet people who aren’t anything like them, change their perspective, change it again, and finally regain control and write something down.
3. TV Tentatively Starts Talking About Abortion Again. Though television has certainly been more explicit about sex in recent years, it has been somewhat less forthright about the aftermath of sex, specifically unwanted pregnancies and the realities of abortion. However, television always lags behind the culture just a little bit, and it’s just now starting to catch up. The Washington Post’s Alyssa Rosenberg explores the ways TV currently talks about abortion.
And frankest of all is “You’re The Worst,” FXX’s consistently outstanding comedy about Jimmy (Chris Geere) and Gretchen (Aya Cash), a misanthropic novelist and music publicist who find themselves in a relationship after a one-night stand. In the third episode of this season, “Born Dead,” Gretchen tries to reconnect with a group of her old friends after finding out that one of them, Heather (Raney Branch) is pregnant. Heather’s news flashes Gretchen back to the sort of memories that don’t crop up much on television, be it broadcast, basic or even premium cable, these days. “I can’t believe she’s pregnant again. What a dummy,” Gretchen tells Jimmy with characteristic causticness. “I wonder what abobos even cost these days. I should go with her! We could get post-abobo mani-pedis.” But the assumption that Heather plans to terminate her pregnancy comes back to embarrass Gretchen when she throws a party as an occasion to see Heather and the rest of her old crew again. “You’re not still pregnant, are you?” Gretchen asks Heather by way of conversation. “I think so,” Heather tells her, confused by Gretchen’s question. “Ew, I’m sorry, I hate that,” Gretchen tells her, missing all the social cues in the conversation and forging gamely forward. “I mean, if you’re willing to drive to Whittier, there’s a place where you can just walk in. It’s near a Marie Callendar’s, we can make a day of it. What are you drinking?” “I’m not,” Heather tells her bluntly. It’s only then that Gretchen realizes how far she’s blundered wrong. What’s great about the storyline and that scene in particular is that Gretchen’s sin isn’t having had abortions, or volunteering to help a friend obtain an abortion, or even being cavalier about the prospect of having an abortion. It’s that she is dramatically out of touch with the women she claims as close friends, and wants to pull them back into their old partying dynamic, rather than meeting them where they are, babies, newfound sobriety and all. The plot is in keeping with Gretchen’s terror of adulthood, not a pivot into shaming her for her sexual history. Without containing an actual abortion, “Born Dead” is the closest television’s gotten to a neutral, or even positive, abortion story in the years since I’ve been a critic.
4. High School TV Showdown: “Saved by the Bell” vs. “Freaks and Geeks.” From October through mid-November, Vulture is holding a “high school TV showdown,” pitting the best teen shows against each other in a competitive bracket style to determine a “winner.” Naturally, the whole conceit is an excuse to write about teen shows, but it’s also an opportunity to crown a “best” in the genre. Veteran TV critic Alan Sepinwall compares “Saved by the Bell” and “Freaks and Geeks” to determine a winner, and it’s not a difficult choice.
If you only want to look at “Freaks and Geeks” as a comedy about high-school outcasts, it’s perfect, whether presenting a gym-class dodgeball game like the geeks are soldiers storming the beaches at Normandy; having Linda Cardellini’s geek turned freak Lindsay Weir ruin a dramatic monologue by Franco’s head freak Daniel Desario by cackling maniacally at the phoniness of it; or literally everything Martin Starr does and says as gawky, sincere geek Bill Haverchuck…On a pure comedy level, Feig, Apatow, and Company understood how to wring laughs out of adolescence’s most mortifying moments better than anyone has before or since. But once you factor in the series’ dramatic moments — which, unlike anything on “Saved by the Bell,” are never campy — this thing turns into even more of a rout. Had Feig and Apatow played the whole thing as awkward comedy — which it could do spectacularly well, as typified by the miserable and mercifully brief romance between Lindsay and Segel’s pot-smoking drummer Nick Andopolis — “Freaks and Geeks” might still have had a too-brief life. (A year later, Apatow tried the all-laughs approach with college comedy “Undeclared,” which Fox killed almost as quickly as NBC dumped “Freaks and Geeks.”) But what made the show so wonderfully agonizing was that it took the kids’ pain seriously. Lindsay quit Mathletes to join the freaks because her grandmother’s death made her genuinely question the meaning of life. The nastiness of Busy Philipps’s Kim Kelly was born from living in a half-finished house with a mother who hated her and a stepfather who terrorized her. Comedy-loving geek Neal (Samm Levine) is devastated to learn that his cool dad is having an affair. At school, Daniel acts like the serene king of the burnouts, but we learn in time that he’d be happier being almost anything else. (In the series finale, the geeks are surprised Daniel wants to play Dungeons and Dragons with them, but pretending to be Carlos the Dwarf is the most genuinely happy we’ve ever seen him.) That desire to transform — shifting from geek to freak, burnout to punk, mocker of the marching band to dater of the tuba player, rock fan to furious disco dancer — wasn’t specific to suburban Michigan high-school kids in 1980, but “Freaks and Geeks” found a way for the stories of these particular, beautifully drawn characters to speak to larger truths about growing up and wanting to be and feel anything other than miserable and alone.
5. On Not Seeing “The Martian,” 3D Lens Projection, and the Wretchedness of the Multiplex. The myriad problems of actually going to see a movie in the theater have only increased with the advent of new technology and the many gimmicks theater chains employ to get butts into seats. Since the popularization of 3D technology, multiplexes place a premium on 3D movies supposedly tied to the quality of the experience. But what happens when 3D lens projection affects 2D films? Filmmaker Magazine’s Vadim Rizov vents about his most recent experience trying to see “The Martian” and the wretchedness of the multiplex.
In 2011, Ty Burr wrote an article on the most common scourge of multiplex projection: seeing a film projected that is obviously far darker than it should be because a 2D film is being projected through a 3D lens. This is still happening, and I want to use this website to yell about it a little bit: this is a common problem that simply should not exist at this late date. The rise of digital projection is a cost-friendly win for both studios who can save money on printing and shipping prints and movie theaters, which theoretically no longer have to pay a trained union projectionist who knows what they’re doing and can instead just more or less automate the process, placing the task of “starting the movie” on the same tier of employee importance as sweeping the floors. The results are disheartening. Yesterday, with all the goodwill in the world, I attempted to watch “The Martian.” I very specifically wanted to see it in 2D because all reliable reports said that the 3D was basically useless and not worth the extra money. 3D is, recall, a “premium” and hence more expensive viewing format, and that’s especially so the case in NYC ($20 is the norm). But trying to track down a 2D screening of “The Martian” nearly a month into its release is not a simple matter: in the NYC area, that’s basically only one or two screenings a day in the theaters where it’s still playing. Logistics dictated a 3:30 screening at the AMC Kips Bay. Make that 3:45: the sole 2D screening was scheduled between the day’s 3D screenings in the same auditorium, which seemed to be causing the theater some difficulty, so the trailers started late. The auditorium lights were still on, which made it hard to tell immediately that the image was too dark: the combination of lights-up and dim projection on made the trailer for “The Revenant” basically illegible (actually a beneficial side effect, but let that pass). Then a trailer for “In the Heart of the Sea” started playing in 3D, and confused audience members wandered out into the audience to grab some glasses, on the assumption that that was simpler than hoping the theater would fix the problem (why would one expect that?). “The Martian” was then started, then restarted — in 2D, with the lights finally off. Now I could see: the image was clearly way too dark. That’s when I walked out and got a refund, because I knew nobody would fix this and when I’m paying $15 to watch some very expensive sets I want to see them as clearly as possible.
6. Not For The Pixar Crowd: Ralph Bakshi on “Last Days of Coney Island.” The fiercely independent American animator Ralph Bakshi, director of “Fritz the Cat,” “Coonskin,” and the animated “The Lord of the Rings,” has a new 22-minute short film called “Last Days of Coney Island,” funded by money raised on Kickstarter and will be released on Vimeo. RogerEbert.com’s Simon Abrams interviews Bakshi about his new film and his storied career.
Q: Let’s backtrack for a moment to some of the formative experiences that led you to appreciating what Kickstarter can do for you. For example, [exploitation cinema producers/distributors] Cinemation’s emphasis on “Fritz the Cat’s” X-rating during their ad campaign was a sticking point for you. How hard was it to just focus on doing what you felt the material required — that is, being as graphic as you felt the film needed to be — and ignore the idea that eventually, the film will need to be presented to a group of censors, distributors, audiences?
A: I was brought up a certain way. One of the ways I was brought up is I was very poor. Now, I didn’t know I was poor. My parents were immigrants living in Brownsville in Brooklyn. Having money, or not having money was never an issue with me. I was never trying to get rich. So when Warner Brothers bought [“Fritz the Cat”] — before Cinemation, Warner Brothers offered me $250,000 to do the film — they wanted to see twenty minutes. What I did was the Big Bertha sequence, which is the raunchiest sequence in “Fritz the Cat.” She’s running around with Fritz between her breasts, and Fritz is trying to go to bed with her, but he has a small penis. I did that sequence because I wanted to make sure they knew exactly what I was doing. Otherwise, it wouldn’t have been done. In a sense, I went right there to protect my film. I could have done any number of sequences, like Fritz in the park with the girls, or anything that would have been very safe, and very hip to them. That would have been very “Wow, way out” to them. “Fritz singing a folk song, wow, is that hip.” I could have done that, and gotten by the first screening. But they never would have allowed me to make the film. When they found out what I was really up to, they threw me out of the screening room. [Laughs] They fired me, they threw me out and I went home. But I got that sequences, even if twas just a picture. That’s the kind of guy I am. Those things never bothered me. Eventually, I met [Cinemation co-founder/producer] Jerry Gross, who was making a fortune with two very good films: “Sweet Sweetback’s Badasssss Song” and “Johnny Got His Gun.” Gross happened to be in the same building that my animation studio was in. You don’t know how lucky I got. I met him in the elevator, and started talking to him about the movie. This is a true story! I You can’t make this stuff up. And he loved it. I showed him the sequence, and he went crazy. He loved it because he saw the money in the X-rating. He saw everything about it. I just wanted to get what was correct about adult animation on the screen. I would have done anything to get that stuff made.
Tweet of the Day:
If you like Slate’s anti-subtlety article, I hope you’ll enjoy my upcoming, “Fuck You Any Punctuation Mark That’s Not An Exclamation Point!”
— Zombie Handlen (@zhandlen) November 2, 2015