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Daily Reads: Essential Labor Day Films, Superhero Movies and The Bible and More

Daily Reads: Essential Labor Day Films, Superhero Movies and The Bible and More

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


1. The Essential Labor Day Films. Labor Day means that not too many film outlets are updating outside of festival coverage, but that doesn’t mean that film lovers should abstain from cinema. Fandor’s Ella Taylor made a list of essential Labor Day films, from films about tycoons looks at women at work. Here’s an example of the latter:

His Girl Friday” (1940)
“Jeanne Dielman: 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles”  (1975)
A double bill of Howard Hawks and Belgian avant-garde filmmaker Chantal Akerman might seriously mess with your head. Yet there’s a weird logic to such a pairing. In radically different ways, “His Girl Friday” and “Jeanne Dielman: 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles represent the heaven and hell of 20th-century women’s work, and it’s less strange than it might be that heaven came first. How canny of Ben Hecht to turn Hildy Johnson (played as a man in his stage play “The Front Page” and later by Jack Lemmon in the movie) into a woman right when the primary movie audience was female and women were drafted, all too briefly, into the workplace. Rosalind Russell, in great threads, tries to persuade herself that she’s done with reporting and with her testy ex-husband (Cary Grant). It goes without saying that she leans in, and the rest is all delicious banter, sexy friction, and the excitement of getting the story, from which Hildy can’t look up long enough to watch her anodyne new fiancé slither away.

Jeanne Dielman,” by contrast, drains the glamour from actress Delphine Seyrig in a three-hour plus study, in something like real time, of one Belgian homemaker’s domestic drudgery, obsessively repeated in order to avoid the anxiety and depression of her empty days. In its way, Akerman’s film is arguably one of our finest—if least seen—existential thrillers. Read more.

2. Watching Horror with a Heart-Rate Monitor. Judging horror movies on pure fear factor is difficult, given how what scares one person probably won’t raise another’s pulse (see: “The Conjuring” terrifying most, to this writer’s bewilderment). But The Guardian’s Stuart Heritage watched “As Above, So Below” while wearing a heart-rate monitor for a study by Brunel University. The result might not be a definitive evaluation of whether or not the film is the stuff of nightmares, but it does show how the film works on an audience on a base level.

Then there are three bits, spaced about 10 minutes apart, that caused our heart rates to spike upwards quite dramatically. This could be because the film has a good understanding of genre pacing, but alternatively it could signal the moment that the house lights inexplicably came on in the middle of the film, or when the woman next to me screamed so loudly that everyone at the screening briefly thought she was being physically assaulted. Read more.


3. Jill Soloway vs. TV’s Status Quo. “Transparent,” a show about a Los Angeles family that learns their father (Jeffrey Tambor) is a transgender woman, will debut on Amazon on September 26. The show’s creator, Jill Soloway has made it a mission to include transgender actors rather than only cast one and dub it inclusive. Alyssa Rosenberg wrote about how this challenges the TV status quo.

I highlight this not because of any particular choice Soloway made, though many of them are interesting, but simply because it is a perfect illustration of the number of choices that go into making a television show or a movie. Changing the balance of representation in the media industry requires thinking about diversity every time you make every one of these choices on every single project. And given that this is a project-based industry, you can make all of these choices one year, only for the movie to be over or the TV show canceled the next. Read more.

4. Slow Burns of the Summer. Plenty of great shows are non-stop nail-biters, but how many are willing to make the audience wait and still remain fascinating? The Huffington Post’s Maureen Ryan writes about how the slow-burning “Rectify” outdid the HBO’s “The Leftovers” by making subtlety and deliberate pace more involving than distancing.

Like “The Leftovers,” “Rectify” had 10 hours to tell its story this season, and one of the show’s most impressive accomplishments was the way that the quiet world-building and storytelling of the first eight hours led to the simply transfixing final two hours. Slowly, but with a great deal of care, the writers led up to series of decisions that would have an enormous effect on all the characters. Judicious flashbacks to Holden’s jail cell showed the viewer just how cramped and claustrophobic his world had been for decades; after his release, his life was filled with wide-open spaces, but he’s not quite sure how to fill them. “Rectify” is deliberate, and it’s not afraid to make moments linger; you have to attune yourself to its mindset if you want to wring the maximum enjoyment from it. And yet somehow it feels participatory in a way that the weighty HBO drama does not. Read more.


5. Superhero Movies and the Bible. 1978’s “Superman” didn’t just start the movement that would eventually make the superhero movie the predominant popular film. It also reintroduced Biblical concepts to Hollywood blockbusters. Writing for Forbes, Mark Hughes covers the crossover between Superman, Moses and Jesus, as well as how it affected subsequent tentpoles.

The 2000s saw the arrival of the “X-Men” franchise and the “Spider-Man” franchise, and a major leap forward took place. Superhero films could finally realistically depict even the most incredible, outrageous events and characters, and the studios knew they had to appeal to adult audiences with serious storytelling that captured the imagination and made viewers believe in and connect with the characters and stories. What Superman had accomplished on film in 1978 was finally taken to heart, and studios finally recognized that this genre was the brand of new mythology akin to the classic Biblical epic movie produced in Hollywood decades before. Audiences were clearly responding to the films that contained a sense of myth and legend, and that took the material — and the audience, crucially — more seriously. Read more, part 1 and part 2.

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