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Daily Reads: SNL’s Race Problem, the Greatest ‘Simpsons’ Writer and More

Daily Reads: SNL's Race Problem, the Greatest 'Simpsons' Writer and More

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

1. SNL’S Race Problem. “Saturday Night Live” has had over 100 regular players, very few of them minorities. Grantland’s Wesley Morris tackled “SNL’s” problematic history with its black cast members, from the days of Garrett Morris to the show’s inability to find a new Maya Rudolph.

Last season, “SNL” brought on Sasheer Zamata. But it did so only after the embarrassment of trying to turn a lack of diversity into satire when guest host Kerry Washington feigned exasperation at having to play Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey, and Beyoncé in the opening sketch, in part because Thompson refused. And that refusal felt like a form of protest: Hire somebody, damn itThompson, of course, has managed to become a fully integrated, invaluable, deliriously inspired team player, like Tim Meadows before him, partially by sticking around. But he didn’t do himself any favors when he suggested that he lacked a black female partner on “SNL” because the black women who come in for auditions are underprepared. What’s up with that? Read more.

2. “Ghostbusters” Turns 30. As no doubt many have noticed, “Ghostbusters” is returning to select theaters to this weekend for its 30th anniversary. Salt Lake City Weekly’s Scott Renshaw has a personal memory of how “Ghostbusters” figured into his life in 1984, when he got a job at a multiplex. Renshaw gets into how the year isn’t just a part of his youth, but a sign of a completely different blockbuster era.

I’d be lying if I said “Ghostbusters” in particular was a defining moment of that movie year. Since it wasn’t showing in the theater where I worked, I only saw “Ghostbusters” a couple of times, as opposed to the dozens of times I made my way into the back of the theater during “The Karate Kid” to watch an audience erupt during the climactic crane kick, or caught certain key moments of “Beverly Hills Cop” that left the crowd breathless with laughter. Even so, I might still find it hard to resist catching “Ghostbusters” in a theater during this limited run, because on some level I feel certain it’s going to take me back to 1984. That was when I discovered not just a love of movies, but a love of going to the movies—sharing in that uniquely transporting communal experience of laughter, fear, anticipation, surprise, awe. I’m not nostalgic for my youth so much as I’m nostalgic for what seems like a different way of watching movies—undistracted by phones, unswayed by a year or more of rumors, casting news and trailers. Read more.

3. The Greats: Terrence MalickLast year’s “To the Wonder” was the first film from the director that didn’t come at least five years after the previous, which might diminished some of the sense of something special arriving whenever he makes a film. Yet Malick remains a figure of mystery and awe among cinephiles, from his gorgeous debut “Badlands” to his magnum opus “The Tree of Life.” As a part of a series honoring still-living greats, Paste Magazine’s Tim Grierson wrote about the enigmatic master.

Like a majority of Malick’s films, “Days of Heaven” is set in the past, depicting the turn-of-the-century exploits of a day laborer (Richard Gere), his girlfriend (Brooke Adams) and his pipsqueak sister (Linda Manz), who all have their lives irrevocably altered when they start working in the fields of a wealthy farmer (Sam Shepard). And as with all of his films, “Days of Heaven” tempts one to unfurl rapturous, swooning accolades: Its romantic, doomed grandeur reaches for the heavens while seemingly evoking the unseen power of the cosmos. (How else to explain images of locusts and fires laying waste to a farm that’s been metaphorically undone by unrequited love and emotional betrayal?) Although Malick’s ’70s films were relatively short—a little over 90 minutes—they felt bolder and larger than that. And because he didn’t make a lot of them, they soon accumulated the aura of holy totems. Read more.

4. The Age of the Beautifully-Directed Blockbuster. Whatever one might say about the current blockbuster age, it has its fair share of striking films, particularly in the past year. From “Guardians of the Galaxy” to “Lucy,” this summer has brought more than a handful of gorgeously-directed scenes. Todd VanDerWerff of Vox selects seven standout scenes:

Godzilla” is basically nothing but a long string of beautiful images loosely collected around a plot (and a surprisingly good plot). In his review of the film for RogerEbert.com, Matt Zoller Seitz compared the film to the works of director Terrence Malick, whose films are famously interested less in the human drama than the natural world around that human drama. “Godzilla” fits that description to a T, but it also borrows liberally from other great blockbuster directors, Steven Spielberg, in particular. Edwards uses Spielberg’s approach in “Jaws” — show the monster only a very little bit — to stunning effect, even in the film’s final confrontation between Godzilla and the giant, spider-like monsters known as MUTOs. The big lizard stomps through downtown San Francisco, but smoke from fires and dust from rubble collect to obscure what’s really happening. His tail swishes quietly through the sky. Sounds echo through skyscraper canyons. And then the monsters spot each other and the fight resumes. Read more.

5. The Greatest “The Simpsons” Writer. “The Simpsons” had plenty of great writers, from Conan O’Brien to Jon Vitti, but the greatest might be John Swartzwelder, who wrote 59 episodes. FXX’s marathon has brought his work to attention, but apparently his fellow “Simpsons” writers never forgot him, because they’ve been tweeting Swatzwelder facts over the past week. Uproxx collected the ten best:

He’s to thank for a fan-favorite line. “The Simpsons” writer Bill Oakley: “We are coming up on what many consider a classic ‘Simpsons’ line – ‘To alcohol! The cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems.’ I am pretty sure that was just entirely made up by Swartzwelder. It just showed up in his script draft and we were like wow, that’s profound.” Read more.

6. Did NC-17 Kill This Film’s Box Office? When “Lucky Bastard” got the NC-17 rating, it had trouble getting into festivals, finding distribution, or getting into theaters. It’s an all too common story of a film getting the kiss of death because it brushed up against the MPAA’s mores. “Lucky Bastard” screenwriter Lukas Kendall writes at Film School Rejects about the experience of trying to make sure the film was seen and what it means to other filmmakers.

Is this a sob story? Not at all. The movie was so inexpensive to make we’ll be fine, and making it with complete creative control was a priceless experience. Overwhelmingly satisfying, in fact. Are we the victims of censorship? Not strictly defined. There is no government rule against making a racy or violent movie. But it is absolutely “soft censorship.” Filmmakers are incentivized either to exit the rating system (defeating the purpose), or change their movie’s ideology to get an R (which is what editing does). We’re convinced that our look behind-the-scenes of porn was so uncompromising and authentic, we would never get an R. We tried to keep our artistic integrity and be responsible filmmakers (I’m a parent myself)—and we got kicked in the nuts. Read more.

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