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Daily Reads: How John Oliver Mastered the Viral Rant, In Defense of Comic-Con and More

Daily Reads: How John Oliver Mastered the Viral Rant, In Defense of Comic-Con and More

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

1. In Praise of Vintage TV. Neil Genzlinger’s anti-classic television article yesterday drew a lot of ire (including from Criticwire), but Will McKinley perhaps found the best way to respond to it. McKinley spent some time noting that Genzlinger’s argument didn’t boil down to much more than “old is dated and therefore bad,” arguing that the change in pace, acting and style can be as inviting to some as it is alienating to others. He also praises 10 classic shows worth watching and provides info on where to find them.

“The Twilight Zone” (1959-64, CBS)
Rod Serling’s sci-fi drama has been a rerun staple ever since its original airing, and with good reason. Unlike other anthologies of the era, the series benefits from its lack of regular characters, instead letting a steady stream of still-recognizable guest stars and brilliant teleplays take center stage. Serling himself, as on-screen narrator, holds it all together, spookily popping up in each episode, smoking an ever-present cigarette.
(156 episodes)
Me-TV Mon-Fri 11 p.m. (ET) + occasionally on SyFy 
All episodes in HD on Amazon, Netflix and Hulu (w/ ads)
On Blu-ray and DVD
Read more.

2. John Oliver and the Art of the Viral Rant. The former “Daily Show” correspondent John Oliver has found his own voice on his show “Last Week Tonight,” making his show’s relative lack of speed into an asset by going in-depth into major, longstanding issues behind whatever’s going on in the news. Oliver does long rants, but he keeps the energy up and the laughs frequent, enough that they tend to go viral soon after their airing. Slate’s Willa Paskin wrote about why it is Oliver’s work so often succeeds here where others might fall short.

If you watch enough of Oliver’s long rants, you will begin to see them as the brilliant apotheosis of all sorts of contemporary ideas and trends about what a modern-day news-purveying organization is supposed to do. Like Vox and other practitioners of trendy data journalism, “Last Week Tonight” operates as an explainer, breaking down big subjects to their most essential points: Here is everything you need to know to understand net neutrality; here is everything you need to keep in mind about the death penalty. As with the sites devoted to longform, “Last Week Tonight “fetishizes length—in fact, it makes length the viral component—while acting as a trusted counterweight to the frenzy and speed of the Internet. Like almost all political outlets, red or blue, “Last Week Tonight” is aimed directly at the choir. (My colleague Dave Weigel has noted that Oliver has started to accrue the “nailed it!” and “he destroyed it” hosannas often reserved for Stewart.) And, to cap it off, it delivers all of this with a positive spin, the TV equivalent of the cheerful Upworthy headline. Read more.

3. In Defense of Comic-Con. Reports from Comic-Con often bring news of the worst side of fans: the hyperbole, the fighting over memorabilia, the ogling of female cosplayers. Yet it can be a weird and wonderful place as well, according to Badass Digest’s Devin Faraci. While much of the attention goes to its long advertisements for big Hollywood tentpoles, there’s plenty of other stuff going on there, and the enthusiasm among the fans can be infectious.

More than that, the programming at Comic-Con is absolutely diverse. All you hear about in the media are the movie panels that play out to jam-packed Hall H crowds, but the convention center is enormous and features dozens of other rooms. In those rooms you can see panels about the mainstream Big Two comic companies, panels featuring the next tier companies like Boom! and IDW, small fandom meet-ups, experts guiding you through how-to tutorials. Check out the programming on Thursday at this year’s Con – before noon you have a tribute to Bill Finger, a panel telling you how to copyright your ideas, a panel showing the basics of starting a web comic, a look at a comedic take on the Bible, a panel about getting graphic novels into your local library and a meet-up for fans hoping to revive “Babylon 5.” Read more.

4. How “Midnight Run” Made Robert De Niro Bankable. “Little Fockers” and “Grudge Match” make the thought of Robert De Niro showing up in another high-concept comedy a threat rather than a promise. But before that Martin Brest’s road movie “Midnight Run” was a weird bird for De Niro, a movie without his usual soul-searching, an honest-to-god attempt at a blockbuster. In an excerpt from his “Anatomy of an Actor” book on De Niro, Glenn Kenny writes about how “Midnight Run” turned De Niro, idiosyncratic actor, into a bonafide movie star.

Watching De Niro in this picture with a consciousness of the movie’s context at the time of its release is odd because there’s a sense of a retread involved. De Niro is now in a mainstream movie that’s highly informed by the tough-guy tropes that he and Martin Scorsese pioneered in the ’70s. And as he’ll do more explicitly in his performances in mobster or cop roles after the turn of the century (like Analyze That and Righteous Kill, his ill-advised 2008 reunion with Al Pacino), he ever-so-slightly mocks those conventions in Midnight Run. What makes Walsh interesting, if he’s interesting at all, is that he’s being played by De Niro. But while this was the first really ordinary genre picture De Niro worked in as De Niro the Protean Actor, Hollywood by this time was full of actors who aspired to De Niro’s status, acting in precisely these sorts of films. So, at times in Midnight Run, there are instances when De Niro’s application of his own unique talents to the project yields results that look strangely secondhand. Read more.

5. What’s Left to Discover In Film? Plenty. Even the most rabid of film fanatics has blind spots, whether they’ve yet to catch up on Frank Borzage or they still somehow haven’t seen “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.” Film theorist and historian David Bordwell has seen about as much as any cinephile alive, yet he reports that there’s still an untapped wealth of films hiding away in archives to be reintroduced to film libraries and film history. Describing a 1917 adaptation of “A Tale of Two Cities,” Bordwell found reason to believe that aspirations to deep space in photography started long before “Citizen Kane” or its immediate forerunners.

Cinematographer George Schneiderman contrives some really convincing multiple-exposures showing Farnum as both Darnay and Carton. There are some standard trick compositions putting Farnum on each side of the screen, but several images take the next step and let the actor cross the invisible line separating the two halves. At another point, we get a flashy passage showing the two facing one another in court, followed by a “Wellesian” angle of the two characters’ heads in the same frame. Hollywood’s pride in photorealistic special effects, so overwhelmingly apparent today, has deep roots. Read more.

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