Criticwire’s Daily Reads brings today’s essential news stories and critical pieces to you.
1. The World Doesn’t Need a Young Han Solo. Amidst all the mourning of the tragic loss of David Bowie, a shortlist of actors being considered for the part of young Han Solo for one of the numerous “Star Wars” spinoffs was leaked onto the Internet. The shortlist underwhelmed and enraged plenty of fans and innocent bystanders. The Atlantic’s David Sims argues that the world doesn’t need a young Han Solo, but should rather embrace new faces.
“The Force Awakens” mined familiar motifs (the Death Star, the lonely soul on a desert planet, the transformative death of a mentor) from George Lucas’s original work to position its new characters. Yes, the critical backlash eventually focused on how familiar everything felt, but few could discount the thrill of seeing Daisy Ridley, Oscar Isaac, and John Boyega as the new faces of the franchise. Harrison Ford was involved, of course, playing an aging Solo, but he was there to pass the torch more than anything, and he did his work well. Elgort, or Franco, or whomever is cast in this upcoming film won’t be so lucky — they’ll have to live up to the memory of a character who’s almost universally adored by audiences, and do it in a film that can’t have any bearing on the future of the Star Wars franchise, given that it’s set before Lucas’s original films. Perhaps it’ll concern Solo acquiring the Millennium Falcon, or meeting his pal Chewbacca, or making that infamous Kessel Run he keeps talking about. Guess who tried this kind of story-mining before? George Lucas, whose prequel trilogy tripped over itself trying to explain every famed original character’s background, unfortunately getting in the way of a coherent story in the process. Why do audiences need to see the events that made Han Solo who he is? He’s a complete package the second he’s introduced — rebellious, charming, with just enough bravado to disguise that he’s making it up as he goes along — and so much of that is down to Ford’s performance. Any new actor in the role will be saddled with the choice between trying to imitate Ford or creating their own take on the character, and both will be a tough sell. The most depressing thing is that “Star Wars” doesn’t need any of this. By 2018, “Episode VIII” will have been released and a whole other generation will be firmly invested in the series’s new characters. Where will the appetite for a young Han Solo be? Older viewers raised on Harrison Ford will be predisposed to cynicism. Younger viewers will be waiting for the return of Finn and Rey. Another upcoming spinoff, “Rogue One,” will also explain a past bit of Star Wars marginalia — the theft of the original Death Star plans — but it at least has an exciting ensemble of character actors playing entirely novel characters.
2. How Boxing Movies Put Black Heroes in the Frame. Ryan Coogler’s “Creed,” the successful seventh installment in the “Rocky” franchise, features Michael B. Jordan as a young Adonis Creed trains with Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) to become a professional boxer like his father Apollo. In light of “Creed,” Little White Lies’ Christina Newland writes about how boxing films raise awareness of race and class, and often place black heroes in the frame.
As early as 1910, boxing has played an important role in both race relations and film history. When first-ever black heavyweight champ Jack Johnson KO’d “great white hope” Jim Jeffries in the so-called “Fight of the Century” – exposing the lie of white superiority – race riots broke out across the nation. The immediate response in several states was an outright ban on prizefight films; one of the earliest instances of American film censorship. Such was the power of the fledgling medium. Motion pictures were perfectly suited to capture the sport’s dynamic movement – and its potentially revolutionary impact. Prizefighting had its on-screen heyday in the ’30s and ’40s. Among the many catalysts for the “progressive” boxing film were the respective surges in popularity of pugilism and moviegoing during the first half of the 20th century. Traditionally, fighters came from urban immigrant backgrounds, making them perfect salt of the earth heroes for Warner Brothers’ Depression-era output. This aligned with other progressive influences in Tinseltown at the time – the incipient rise of the Communist Party and left-wing activism came to have a significant relationship with the prizefight film. Familiar rags-to-riches plots became cautionary tales about the pitfalls of capitalism; heroic sports figures became dopes and heels, exploited by gangsters and corrupt managers. Throughout the ’40s, boxing films swelled the film noir ranks, offering an even more pessimistic interpretation of what had come before. When it came to promoting white heroes, Hollywood had catapulted champs like Jack Dempsey and Max Baer onto the big screen in walk-on roles. But by 1937 the legendary Joe Louis was heavyweight champ, opening the door for African-American fighters that would soon dominate the sport over ethnic Jews, Irish, and Italians. Yet in the unrivalled 11 years that Louis was champ, not a single boxing film produced by a major studio featured a prominent black protagonist. In terms of both race and class, a look at the output of two Hollywood screenwriters during this portion of the studio era – both active CPUSA members and later victims of the McCarthy blacklist – proves illuminating. Carl Foreman is perhaps best known for penning “High Noon,” but did equally subversive work with his 1949 Kirk Douglas vehicle, “Champion.” Douglas stars as a champ with dubious morals; his all-American success story is implicated as a racket where only the ruthless truly succeed. Screenwriter Abraham Polonsky made an even greater impact on the genre, first with 1947’s evocative and fiercely felt “Body and Soul,” starring John Garfield as fictional Jewish fighter Charley Davis. Davis is a man torn between the wealth of the big-time fight game and solidarity with his old world Brooklyn community. In the climactic final fight, Charley plans to take a fall for the short-term money, even though his neighborhood has rallied around him and is gambling on his win. Canada Lee co-stars as Ben, an African-American fighter forced to retire and work in Charley’s corner after the ring doctor warns that he has a potentially fatal blood clot on the brain. His friendship with Garfield’s Charley is a rare occurrence in Hollywood cinema of the 1940’s; the narrative hinges on the brotherhood and solidarity between a black and a Jewish fighter. Once again, race in boxing had managed to raise the ire of American film censors – the Production Code Administration moved to have Lee’s character completely excised from the script.
3. The 2016 Golden Globe Awards Explained. On Sunday, the 73rd annual Golden Globe Awards aired on NBC to generally negative reviews and low viewership. This can be attributed to many reasons, but Vox’s Todd VanDerWerff argues in his explainer of the show that the Golden Globes no longer have a strong identity and instead flounder in insignificance.
In the ’80s and ’90s, the Golden Globes knew their role in the awards ecosystem exactly: They were the awards that predicted the Oscars. Sure, there were a variety of industry prizes with better track records (like, say, the Director’s Guild Awards), but they weren’t televised to the American public. Add to a solid prediction track record stars getting drunk and behaving badly, and you had a recipe for a fun show. But the Globes increasingly just aren’t that anymore. The Oscars changed their schedule in the early 2000s to blunt the influence of the Globes and other precursor awards. And without the “predicting the Oscars” element, the Globes have started to feel increasingly adrift. A great host can save the proceedings, as can a handful of inspired speeches. But the Globes haven’t particularly handled their transition to “institution” all that well, because becoming an institution was never in the awards’ DNA. They’ve always been about throwing a great party for celebrities, and the awards were incidental. There was a recurring theme throughout the night that the Hollywood Foreign Press Association probably didn’t want out there: You can buy a Golden Globe. And this is true, on some level! Washington discussed in his speech about how when he won his first Globe, it was because he spent lots of time with HFPA members, while Larson said exactly the same thing while collecting her prize, telling said members how fun it’s been getting to know them. There are only a few dozen HFPA members. Enterprising networks and studios, then, can woo them fairly easily, and fairly inexpensively compared with larger awards bodies. The Globes had mostly cast off this image, except as something people whispered about — but this year, obsessed with the past as it was, brought it roaring back. In the end, the Golden Globes are what they always were: a party for a handful of journalists to get to meet famous people.
4. Adam Sandler, Streaming Superstar. You may have heard rumblings about how “The Ridiculous 6,” Adam Sandler’s newest film for Netflix, is one of the most watched films on the streaming service. While this is shocking to just about anyone who has even a cursory awareness of Sandler, Slate’s Amanda Hess claims that Sandler is the type of figure to succeed on streaming platforms rather than in movie theaters.
Netflix’s heralding of Sandler as a “global” star is another case of exceeding low expectations. Several of Sandler’s films have brought in more money overseas than they did in the U.S., but a) they were flops in America and b) the U.S. population is small compared to all the people in every other country combined. Healthy foreign box office receipts shouldn’t be mistaken for universal appeal: Reviews of Sandler’s films are just as lousy abroad as they are stateside, even in the countries Netflix has held up as Sandler apologists. “I have literally no idea why Adam Sandler would be popular here or anywhere else,” British film critic Ben Walters told me. “It’s not like the French loving Jerry Lewis or anything.” A German critic called it “unpleasant,” explaining, “the running gag of the film is an incontinent donkey.” A Belgian journalist begged Netflix to “give him the bag of money he’s still owed, but please don’t let him make those other three films.” Though one Brazilian reviewer described the “Ridiculous 6” as “mental torture,” Sandler is genuinely popular in that country. When a Brazilian friend of Slate surveyed her Facebook compatriots on their attitudes toward Sandler, the dozen-or-so respondents signaled a deep affinity with the star. “He is considered a great actor,” one said. “People are entertained by his charisma,” said another. And on and on: “All his movies are great,” “He is very funny,” “I love him.” None of them had seen “The Ridiculous 6,” because they don’t subscribe to Netflix. Yet. Sandler’s career redistribution — waning at home, trending abroad — could be a case of sinking to the lowest common denominator. The conventional wisdom is that comedy is too culturally specific to travel far and wide, but Sandler’s slapstick style and scatological fixations operate on such a subverbal level, they slip beneath the language barrier to reach tween males across the world. In Brazil, “Pixels” enjoyed a bigger opening weekend than “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” but both were bested by “Minions,” a film starring cartoon aliens who speak a language that no human understands. “My character will be the easiest to translate, because he only makes noises,” “Lost” castaway and “Ridiculous 6” star Jorge Garcia told audiences at the Sao Paulo Comic Con outpost, where he and his castmates were met with huge crowds.
5. “13 Hours”: Can Michael Bay Pull Off a Gritty Movie About Benghazi? Michael Bay’s Benghazi movie “13 Hours,” based on the 2013 book by Mitchell Zuckoff, is set to be released this Friday. Bay’s films have always done well at the box office but have fared poorly with the majority of critics who find his work consistently juvenile and indulgent. Rolling Stone’s Josh Eells profiles Bay on the set of “13 Hours” and wonders if he can pull off a Benghazi movie.
Bay’s alleged cinematic sins have been well documented: the explosions, the hammy one-liners, the epileptic editing, the indifference to narrative logic, the explosions, the explosions. By now, he has little interest in defending himself. “What’s to defend?” he says. “See the movie. Make your choice. What I do know is that when I show these guys doing their stuff, it’s accurate. We tried getting it really right.” It’s fair to be skeptical about claims of realism from a director who once said, of a fireball in “Armageddon,” “Now, I know there’s no fire in space. But it’s a movie, and most people don’t know that.” In some ways, though, Benghazi is a perfect fit for Bay. “13 Hours” is based on a book of the same name, written by journalist Mitchell Zuckoff with five of the CIA contractors. Much of it sounds like something right out of a Michael Bay movie: There’s a weaselly desk-jockey boss, a family-man CIA contractor doing one last job. At one point, one of the heroes climbs into an armor-plated SUV and can’t find anywhere to put his coffee and grumbles, “Spend $250,000 on a damn Mercedes and there’s no cup holder? What kind of bullshit is that?” – which is almost literally a line from “Bad Boys.” The real-life contractors were happy with the choice. “I thought ‘Armageddon’ was awesome,” says Kris “Tanto” Paronto, a former Army Ranger. Adds former Marine Mark “Oz” Geist, “Some people are like, ‘Oh, Michael Bay, he does all the explosions.’ Well, the real event had plenty of explosions. So it’s not like he had to come up with any.” And according to former Marine John “Tig” Tiegen, Bay had incentive to be accurate: “We told him we’d waterboard him if he got it wrong.” Bay is going to get into all of it, with one caveat. “Some of the things I tell you have to be off the record,” he says. “Because they have to do with the CIA, and how they do what they do. A lot of people think they know the story of Benghazi,” he says, like a human trailer. “But they have no idea.”
Tweet of the Day:
VELVET GOLDMINE also offers my favorite (indirect) description of who Bowie was: pic.twitter.com/TMUvUlkltR
— david ehrlich (@davidehrlich) January 11, 2016