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Daily Reads: Angelina Jolie as a Movie Star, ‘Masters of Sex’ and Ferguson and More

Daily Reads: Angelina Jolie as a Movie Star, 'Masters of Sex' and Ferguson and More

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

1. Angelina Jolie IS a Movie Star. Gawker’s Tom Scocca recently questioned why Angelina Jolie is considered a major movie star, given how middling her movies usually are. The answer: because she’s usually great in them (see: this year’s ambitious but muddled “Maleficent,” which owes its success to her performance) and can open a movie based on star power alone. Jolie and Brad Pitt finally married nine years after “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” started their love affair turned long-term relationship, so Gwynne Watkins of Yahoo! Movies looked back at the film, the obsession with Brangelina, and Jolie’s own star quality.

That version of Jolie and Pitt’s relationship — transgressive, erotic — is what played out in the tabloids. But their subsequent marriage and family tells a different story, one that may have begun in these scenes from the “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” blooper reel. It’s just a collection of quick, bad takes, but what is immediately clear about Brad and Angelina is how much fun they’re having together. All that famous smoldering turns to laughter when the cameras stopped rolling, and the onscreen tension melts into something easy and comfortable. Is it because they each saw themselves reflected in the other’s character? Read more.

2. An “Obvious Child” Roundtable. Gillian Robespierre’s “Obvious Child” raised a lot of eyebrows for the way it addressed abortion through the lens of a romantic comedy. The feminist film journal Cleo gathered a roundtable of writers to talk about the film, the its handling of its subject, and Jenny Slate’s embodiment of the neurotic female protagonist that’s become a staple of indie film.

I think the “neurotic female protagonist” trope is a very close cousin to
the “manic pixie dream girl” trope, and it can be disarmingly offensive, which
is one of the reasons there is a lot of criticism that asks for diversity
(whether racial or otherwise). The problem is that these characters become
formulaic archetypes that are destructive/unimaginative/reductionist and
ultimately boring: Hannah Horvath (the poster girl of the NFP) is a boring
character. I am interested in stories where women are there for each other,
where women — and/or the protagonist herself—ignite a change of character and/or
life direction — not a man. Which is why, for the most part, I did enjoy “Frances Ha.” Frances’
relationship with Sophie was an isomorphic romantic relationship, but they both
had agency over their lives and it was cathartic to watch the ups and downs not
only of each self, but also of a close female friendship. Read more.

3. The “SNL” Films of Tom Schiller.
The celebration of “Saturday Night Live’s” 40-season run continues at Grantland, and Alex Pappademas covers one of the less-heralded highlights of the show. “SNL” has featured short films from the beginning of its run with Albert Brooks’ first forays into filmmaking, but Pappademas looks at Tom Schiller, who made a number of short films for the show, including accidentally poignant films that feature the late John Belushi and Phil Hartman. Pappademas interviews Schiller about his experiences.

Those three films — the one with Belushi, “La Dolce Gilda,” and Bill Murray — all have a strange resonance to them, given the trajectory of these people’s lives in the years that followed. Even the Murray one is really affecting, because it seems to capture some frustrated desire in him to be something more than a goofy comic actor. Did you have any sense that you were tapping into something as you were making the films?

“Don’t let me film you or you’ll die.” I had no idea [Belushi] was going to die. It was a tragic way for a film to become famous and prophetic and sad. But he did have a “live fast, die young, leave a good-looking corpse” attitude — or in his case, a corpulent corpse. I don’t know. But thank you. I think when you hang out so tightly with all these people, you begin to see what their essence is, and what the best thing is that they can do, and that led to me making those films. Later, when I came back to the new show, I wasn’t able to hang out with as many people like that. I didn’t exactly know what the essence of Adam Sandler was! So I wasn’t able to make films as deep and meaningful as the earlier ones.

But I’ll tell you about “La Dolce Gilda” — I went to Italy, and I went to Fellini and I said, “I made a film — an homage to you.” He said, “We must arrange a screening.” And so I showed “La Dolce Gilda” to Fellini, and he said, “It’s sweet — it has the atmosphere of some of my films.” He was my great idol, so I was in heaven. I was floating on air. Read more.

4. “Broadchurch,” “True Detective” and Sin. “Broadchurch” and “True Detective” are very different shows in terms of explicitness and tone, but they deal with similar territory beyond their base murder mystery elements. In particular, the two shows have an innate understanding of sin as both a “personal and corporate matter.” Christianity Today’s Alissa Wilkinson investigates.

In “True Detective,” it becomes clear that the evil within the community is far more pervasive than one man. It starts high and slides all the way to the lowest, and it runs straight through the hearts of the detectives themselves. This is reminiscent of “The Wire,” which compellingly shows that violence and drugs and criminal activity have both a simple answer—all people are capable of evil—and a very complex one, because there is no way to simply point a finger in one direction…Similarly, in “Broadchurch,” tugging on the loose threads reveals that while everyone is under suspicion, it’s not really merely the perpetrator’s fault. In some way, one death is a failure of the whole community to live with love and integrity. And each person, even the “innocent,” has something ugly in their own hearts, something they hide from others that ultimately harms the community as a whole. They harbor anger and resentment and the line from acquaintance to enemy is quickly crossed. Grace and forgiveness are hard-won, when they’re there at all.Read more.

5. How “Masters of Sex” Became Poignant in Ferguson’s Wake. The events in Ferguson, Missouri over the past several weeks has put race at the forefront of several conversations, and some have noticed how art has accidentally coincided with the events. Where “Let’s Be Cops” handles the topic poorly, “Masters of Sex” has become strangely relevant. Dee Lockett of Slate talks about how the Missouri-set show handled race this season.

But the strongest contemporary parallels on the show emerge when Libby spitefully runs a background check on Robert with the help of a “friend high up in the police department.” It turns out that Robert has been arrested multiple times. When confronted with this information, Coral tries to explain to her boss that racial bias led to these arrests. Libby counters that “one of those arrests was for assaulting a police officer.” “They assaulted him first,” Coral tells her. Read more.

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