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Daily Reads: Real Talk With RuPaul, Zack Snyder’s Troubled Relationship With Superman and Comics, and More

Daily Reads: Real Talk With RuPaul, Zack Snyder's Troubled Relationship With Superman and Comics, and More

Criticwire’s Daily Reads brings today’s essential news stories and critical pieces to you.

1. Real Talk With RuPaul, the Drag Supermodel of the World.
Whether or not you’re an avid watcher of “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” it’s hard to argue that RuPaul has had a profound impact on the culture at large. Vulture’s E. Alex Jung sits down with RuPaul to discuss everything under the sun: His show, transphobia, Spike TV’s “Lip Sync Battle,” David Bowie, and more.

David Bowie was a big influence on you. Did you ever get to meet him?

I did, yeah. I was at a dinner party and when I saw he was there, I had to excuse myself into the library of this swanky house. Actually, it’s a house that David Geffen owns now, but it wasn’t his then. I excused myself to breathe a little bit, you know? Thinking back, I guess he came in there specifically because he knew that I went in there. And he said “Hi” and shook my hand. I said, “Hi, great to see you.” And we spoke for a little bit. Then I actually escaped the party and didn’t sit down for dinner because I had to go downstairs and let out the screaming and crying that followed.

What does he mean for you?

I talk about the sweet, sensitive souls, the people who are my tribe, you know? And how hard it is to navigate your heart in this plane, in this linear, basic, mediocre, hypocritical world. To find those beacons of light in that darkness is such a gift. And he is that. He still is that. Through his music and his art, how he projected this image out there. And it was never cocky. Part of the rock creed is to wear black and cover up and smoke a cigarette and be exclusive. His wasn’t that way. His was always open. That’s why my generation of kids flocked to that. Because it was a continuation of the exploration of the ’60s and ’70s.

2. Zack Snyder’s Troubled Relationship With Superman and Comics.
As you may have heard, Zack Snyder’s “Batman v Superman” opens in theaters this Friday. The film has received mostly middling-to-negative reviews from critics, which of course, hasn’t stopped comic book fans of accusing critics of taking bribes to pan the movie, a ludicrous accusation with no basis in fact. As a result, critics and writers have spent a little over a week unpacking Snyder’s films, the Batman and Superman mythos, and other topics in this area. Film School Rejects’ Danny Bowes examines Snyder’s troubled relationship with Superman and comics in general.

Fan reaction to “Man of Steel” and the widespread trepidation about the new film indicates that something went awry along the way. The culprit — Zack Snyder — is not the surprise here, but the reason he was hired in the first place speaks to one of the great weaknesses of the current commercial model in the movie industry, whereby a filmmaker with an even remotely tangential skillset is forced to work within the constraints of a form — the superhero film — that is a great deal more specific than is often acknowledged. I submit that, as astonishingly awful as he is an interview, Zack Snyder is a very gifted filmmaker indeed, simply in a way that does not serve the material he works with consistently, or at all. It may be that he’s a filmmaker existing outside “his” era, as Snyder’s most readily appreciable talent is for arranging physical bodies within the frame, capturing physical movement, and reveling in pure adrenal effect. In the abstract, out of the context of text, I consistently enjoy the pure physicality of Zack Snyder movies. This minute of “300,” which has long since passed into the realm of parody and been diminished by endless imitations, was exhilarating the first time. Consider also what might be the high point of Snyder’s career (which is only meant with a fraction of the apparent damning), the opening titles to “Watchmen,” which pack at least an hour’s worth of backstory into just under six minutes, with no dialogue. With this skill set Snyder could have thrived in the silent era, with no other masters to serve but staging in space and in the frame. The opening sequence of “Sucker Punch,” for one example, is presented in just that fashion: with only physical gestures and no dialogue, it establishes that the protagonist Babydoll is being railroaded to an insane asylum by her evil stepfather, concisely and yet fully conveying a considerable amount of information. Using “Sucker Punch” as an example, though, brings up Snyder’s greatest weakness: a tendency to, once he’s gotten the ball rolling, lose control of its trajectory. The remainder of “Sucker Punch” (which, in spite of myself, I still quite enjoyed without any desire to subsequently revisit) sees Snyder make an earnest effort at auto-critique with regards to sexism and exploitation, only to end up with something widely interpreted as sexism and exploitation. While that kind of Schrodingerian identity crisis might be fun on an academic level, and provide multiple points of entry for critics, it speaks to Snyder’s lack of textual control over his own movie.

3. Where Have You Gone, Superman?
In the early days of comics, the Superman character was a beacon of light in a dark universe, a symbol of hope that could carry America into the future and beyond. On the other hand, the most popular image of Batman — dark, brooding, grim — came out of the 1970’s when paranoia and national distrust of the government was at an all-time high. Uproxx’s Mike Ryan explores the Superman character and how he could have been the character we need in the world right now.

The day I saw “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” was the same day as the terrorist attacks in Brussels. On the way to the screening, which happened to be in Times Square, I weaved in and out of all the heightened security New York City dispenses on days like this. It’s always disconcerting. But on that day – a day Donald Trump would say more stupid stuff about things that he knows nothing about, then win another primary – I really wanted to see a Superman movie. That was the kind of day I would have picked up a Superman comic on the way home. I don’t want dark and gritty, I wanted a fictional authority figure to tell me everything was going to be okay because there are still good people. Which is the truth! There are lots of good people! And Superman always did a good job of reminding everyone that’s true. (Also: If the earnest Captain America – a character that has the word “America” in his title – can succeed in 2016, an earnest Superman surely can, too. And the “Supergirl” television series is pretty much proving this.) But not this Superman. This Superman’s eyes often glow red with anger and rage, right before he lets off some heat vision. I’ve decided I don’t like this Superman. If he were real and I were in jeopardy, I wouldn’t feel comfortable approaching him on the street to tell him. I imagine with this version, there are a lot of conversations like, “Oh, there’s Superman. Should I tell him your purse was robbed?” “Eh, it really depends on what kind of mood he’s in. You know what, just forget it, I’ll just buy a new purse.” Superman’s still “boring” in the fact he’s all-powerful, only now the one character trait that made him appealing – that he stood for something “good” – is gone. Seriously, what’s the point of this guy now?


4. Film Criticism as National Exorcism: A Review of “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.”
We at Criticwire rarely try to highlight straight film reviews of films in Daily Reads partially because we highlight them elsewhere and also because we tend to focus on broader critical pieces, but sometimes we make exceptions for especially insightful, creative film reviews. Film Freak Central’s Walter Chaw reviews “Batman v. Superman” in a way that Matt Zoller Seitz describes as “criticism as national exorcism.”

I saw this ugly, bleak film on the day that religious fundamentalists blew up themselves and 31 other people in Belgium. This, a week or so after religious fundamentalists blew up themselves and 4 other people in Istanbul (a month after they blew up 13 other people in Istanbul), causing our homegrown religious fundamentalists to start talking about torturing, rounding up, and building ghettos for 1.6 billion people. 1.6 billion is also the number of dollars, roughly, that “BVS” needs to make to break even. That’s called a false equivalency. Bear with me, there’ll be a few of these, and they’re ultimately not all as false as they might seem. Snyder’s “BVS” is exactly the Superman movie we deserve. It begins as an apologia of sorts for “Man of Steel,” in which Snyder took the most Christ-like figure in Silver Age Comics and made him a Golden Age figure all noir and war and crime and horror. He created the single most irreducible icon of my childhood and made him a murderer indifferent to the suffering of thousands of collateral casualties, buried by his fecklessness and rage in the rubble of his adopted home of Metropolis. It’s interesting to me that this film and the upcoming “Captain America: Civil War” will be dealing with the consequences of leveling cities, packed to the brim as these franchises have been with city-leveling 9/11 iconography. It’s interesting, too, that this iteration of Superman continues to have no problem with killing people. He demonstrates this early on when someone holds a gun to the head of lady love/professional hostage Lois Lane (Amy Adams). My response to that was a “well, of course he could kill anyone he wanted to at any time” horror. This is symptomatic of a movie that doesn’t seek to explain the ways of God to men, but imposes upon gods the petty weaknesses and tunnel vision of their creations. It’s an attractive teleology vs. theology argument. Except that for this avowed atheist, pop-cultural Superman was the only divinity I ever truly believed in. What I’m really trying to say is that “BVS” will make its $1.6 billion, because as a culture it’s not only the Superman film we deserve, but also the one we most ardently desire.

5. Remembering Chantal Akerman: A Dry and Moving Intensity.
The cinephile community still greatly mourns the loss of Chantal Akerman, one of the finest directors of her time who made some of the very best films of the 20th century, like “Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1980 Bruxelles” and “News from Home.” At the Criterion Collection’s Current blog, Ivone Marguiles remembers Akerman, her films, and her dry and moving intensity.

We had come to expect Chantal Akerman’s periodic gifts of small and large cinematic gems. Certain of this flow, we were devastated when, all too abruptly, we were forced to think of her latest film, so beautiful, as her last. “No Home Movie” (2015) speaks of exile, the existential Jewish condition that propelled Chantal and her films’ wanderings. It also declares its significance as being more than a record of family gatherings. Moved by the greatest rupture, the one motivating the storyteller, edited from hours of rushes Akerman kept in her computer, the film, it becomes clear, was a way of keeping company with her aging mother. And yet this is a full-fledged Akerman film, perfectly shaped by its halting, empty spaces. Always elegant, Nelly from time to time slowly crosses the living room, the kitchen, in a film punctuated by corridors, corners, and talks that are always anxiously reassuring. One woman reminds the other to take medications, to eat, and they mother each other by trading stories long known and retold. We also watch a long Skype conversation between the two, filmed, as Chantal explains, to prove that there is no distance in the world. But hélas, there is. And the extreme melancholy of the film has to do with a final goodbye, when Chantal, who — living away from her mother but coming and going constantly — finally departs, leaving that apartment empty. Bereft, we have been left in the company of her films and all that remains is to say again and again why they affected us so. My first piece on Akerman was called “A Dry and Moving Intensity,” words I believe apply still to her films and person. For what could better account for the filmmaker’s restless expressivity, her impatience with the comfort of a successful precedent, than moving, and what but dry intensity reflects the lasting imprint of her films, their memorable and slowly released emotion?

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