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Daily Reads: Why Cropping Doesn’t Ruin ‘The Simpsons’ Marathon; Sex and Style in ‘Out of Sight’; and More

Daily Reads: Why Cropping Doesn't Ruin 'The Simpsons' Marathon; Sex and Style in 'Out of Sight'; and More

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

1. Style and Sex in “Out of Sight.” Earlier this month, “Out of Sight” was voted as Steven Soderbergh’s best movie in Criticwire’s Steven Soderbergh survey. This week, the film is The Dissolve’s Movie of the Week. On the site’s roundtable forum, they talk about the style and sexiness of the film. Here’s editor Scott Tobias:

The “Gary and Celeste” sequence is as good as any in Soderbergh’s career, and it encapsulates so much of what “Out Of Sight” does well stylistically. Soderbergh and cinematographer Elliot Davis carry over the color toning of “The Underneath” here, but the cold blues we associate with Detroit are transformed into a snow-globe backdrop, and inside, we get the warm browns of Karen Sisco’s dress (and undergarments), eyes, and liquor of choice. Removed from the harshness outside, Karen (Jennifer Lopez) and Jack (George Clooney) can carve out a new world to go along with their new identities, and along with the sexiness of these actors and this dialogue, Soderbergh and Davis create a mood that’s intimate and insular—a moment out of time. The freeze-frame technique used throughout the film increases, David Holmes’ music takes over from the playful banter of “Gary And Celeste” meeting, and Soderbergh frees himself to play around with structure in a fashion he attempted more aggressively a year later with “The Limey.” Read more.

2. Liftetime to Bring Out “Inner Black Woman” in White Women. In an idea that seems too awful to be real, Lifetime’s new show “Girlfriend Intervention” will see four black women try to bring out every white woman’s “inner black woman.” The series takes the makeover show’s innate individuality shaming and adds horrible racial politics to the fray. NPR’s Linda Holmes gets into some of the show’s other problems.

The casually insulting way these consultants approach their white … clients? … is unappealing, certainly, but the show’s approach to the consultants themselves, and to black women in general, is hugely problematic, too. The black women on “Girlfriend Intervention,” like the gay men who did the work on “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” are supposedly being saluted for their (stereotypically) superior style and knowledge and backbone, but are cast as helpers and facilitators for the benefit of, respectively, white women and straight men, valued for what they can offer and required to display sass at all times in sufficient amounts. (Among other things, it’s unfortunate that other than Thomas being the loudest, they don’t much distinguish the four stylists from each other, either.) Read more.

3. “The Brown Bunny” at 10. When Vincent Gallo’s “The Brown Bunny” played at Cannes, it was received as a disaster by many, including Roger Ebert, who infamously called it the worst film in the history of the festival. He later gave a positive review to a shorter cut, but his initial pan is still perhaps the best-known story about the film (a close contender: the controversial unsimulated blowjob scene between Gallo and Chloe Sevigny). Grantland’s Steven Hyden revisits “The Brown Bunny” ten years later, tackling its strange appeal, Ebert’s reviews, and the implosion of Gallo’s career.

More than anything, “The Brown Bunny” is a movie about a person who spends a lot of time staring out of car windows, and it intends to evoke the feelings one has when spending a lot of time staring out of car windows. It’s the opposite of pretentious — “The Brown Bunny” is exactly what it purports to be. If staring at landscapes while listening to sad songs is something you do all the time, then you already “get” “The Brown Bunny.” This movie might even end up being a good friend that you can hang out with without speaking to all that much. Read more.

4. Comedians and Depression. Robin Williams’ death shocked many, but he’s not the first comedian to self-destruct. But depression is common among comedians, and as Dana Gould writes in Rolling Stone, “being funny is not the same as being happy.” Gould delves into his own depression to explain why comedy helps so many comedians process their own demons.

How to deal with this free-floating and oft-visiting, inexplicable panic? I became talkative, in general, and funny in particular. After all, if you’re going to run your mouth all day, you should at least be entertaining. Like many comedians, I put my nightmare machine of a brain to work in a creative capacity. Being funny allowed me to contextualize my anxiety and, also, allowed me a little relief from it. Laughing and screaming are physiological cousins; both used by the body to release anxiety and tension. In terms of comedians, when the chicken-and-egg question of, “which came first, the sad or the funny” is raised, I can, with authority, say that the egg of acute anxiety begat the rubber chicken of inspired hilarity. In other words, I literally laughed to keep from crying. As do so many. Read more.

5. The Ferguson Live Stream. If one were to tune in to CNN, Fox News, NBC or any other news network for a few hours, they’d be sure to eventually come across something about Ferguson. But the experience of watching the regular news is distinctly different from watching the live streams online. Instead of seeing only the most sensational material, viewers can see more details, or even more mundane material. Robert Lloyd of the Los Angeles Times describes the effect.

Watching a Web stream, which may be organized only to the extent of where the camera is placed and pointed, you get a different and paradoxically wider sense of things. Though the field of view may seem restricted, the framing static, the shots interminable, unmediated video invites you in to look around and make your own decisions. Read more.

6. Why “The Simpsons” Went to Church. One thing that stood out in early episodes of “The Simpsons” is how much the titular family goes to church, media outrage about Bart Simpson’s lawlessness be damned. Writing for Think Christian, Donna Bowman covers why the family went to church, what they got out of it, and how the Simpsons actually might have paved the way for a more understanding, less judgmental world.

But on “The Simpsons,” the characters and story lines defined by religion are far closer to our everyday experience. The platitude-spouting parson; the relentless ray of sunshine; the pearl-clutching defender of public decency; the weary church bureaucrat; the sheltered, homeschooled child; the hell-raising preacher’s kid. Sunday services are a community obligation for the Simpson family, rather than a reverent ritual, ostentatious pious display or source of spiritual nourishment. It’s what good people do, and Marge Simpson (more than anyone) wants her family members to be moral, well-meaning, solid citizens. Like so many American parents who would never register for a discipleship weekend or utter the word “missional,” she wants to instill values in her children and keep her spouse connected to community standards. Dollop a little Bible and Jesus on the side, like a ramekin of catsup that comes with your fries, and you’ve got yourself an ethos. Read more.

7. Why Cropping Didn’t Ruin “The Simpsons” Marathon. We here at Criticwire didn’t take too kindly to FXX fudging with the aspect ratio of “The Simpsons” last week. We still agree with Matt Zoller Seitz’s thoughts that “altering a film or show’s compositions for any reason, at any time, is vandalism.” But Chris Wade of Slate disagrees, and his case…well, it isn’t so blasphemous, anyway.

If “The Simpsons” was “Lawrence of Arabia,” I might agree. But “The Simpsons” is now and has always been a TV show, its content intimately linked with its method of production, with jokes and stories negotiated at all points between the creators and networks, with the understanding that the show would be continually cut and altered to fit demands in syndication. And, though some may dismiss the desires of the masses, studies have found that the vast majority of viewers prefer widescreen content. Call me a philistine, but sometimes I agree: I found myself genuinely excited to see what 25 years of “The Simpsons” looked liked optimized for 2014. Read more.

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