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Daily Reads: Great Movies Almost Made By Different Directors, ‘SNL’s’ Edgiest Sketch of All Time and More

Daily Reads: Great Movies Almost Made By Different Directors, 'SNL's' Edgiest Sketch of All Time and More

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

1. Great Films Almost Made By Other Directors. It’s common for major films to go through negotiations with multiple directors. Sometimes it’s fascinating to imagine an alternate universe where those films, whether they were classics or disasters in reality, were made by different filmmakers. Robbie Collin of The Telegraph took a look at ten of those films, from Alejandro Jodorowsky’s “Dune” to Terrence Malick’s take on “Che,” to chronicle what went wrong, what we got instead, and whether or not we lost a classic.

David Cronenberg’s “Total Recall.” A script for “Total Recall,” loosely adapted from a 1966 Philip K. Dick short story, had been bouncing around Hollywood since the early Seventies, but it was Cronenberg, enlisted in 1984 by the producer Dino de Laurentiis, who was seen as the man to finally knock it into shape. As Cronenberg tells it, the producers wanted “’Raiders of the Lost Ark’ goes to Mars”, but his multiple redrafts, written over the course of a year, brought its tone far closer to the fractured mystery of Dick’s original story. He also wanted the lead role of Quaid to be played by William Hurt, as a meek Walter Mitty type whose identity was slipping from his grip. Read more.

2. Is “Scandal” Ducking Out of Something Big? “Scandal” has developed a huge audience in its depiction of a political machine, and it does so without necessarily alienating people on either side of the political spectrum. But a recent episode dealing with a potentially false accusation of sexual assault, which spirals into something far more outlandish. Alyssa Rosenberg of The Washington Post charges that the plot is emblematic of both the highs and lows of “Scandal.” 

The plot is a perfect example of the way that “Scandal” uses real-world politics to blast off into a giddy new stratosphere. If in the real world, the intelligence bureaucracy feels unaccountable, in the world of “Scandal,” it is shooting down passenger planes in the kind of false-flag attack that launches a million Alex Jones radio broadcasts…And women do not just get raped on “Scandal,” they get terrorized by their ex-husbands or set up by their bosses. This is both a strength and weakness of “Scandal.” It spends so much time pitting Olivia against monsters of Shonda Rhimes’s own, macabre imagination that it sometimes blows past the more mundane horrors that the rest of us really have to live with. Read more.

3. The Story Behind “SNL’s” Edgiest Sketch Ever. Saturday Night Live” entered its 40th season this weekend, and Salon is just one of the publications celebrating some of its more notable moments. David Henry and Joe Henry took an excerpt from their book about Richard Pryor covering Pryor’s famous word-association sketch with Chevy Chase, which saw the two volleying racial slurs back and forth at each other. Paul Mooney wrote the scene, and he noted that it was the easiest thing he ever wrote because he used his own frustrations of having to deal with Lorne Michaels, Chevy Chase and Richard Pryor together.

Toward the end of the week, as the Saturday show time approaches, he starts following me around himself, like a lamb after Bo Peep. “Richard hates me, doesn’t he?” Chevy asks me. “He doesn’t hate you,” I say, even though I know Richard does indeed despise Chevy. Soon enough he’s back tugging on my sleeve. “Write something for us, will you?” he pleads. “I have to get some air time with Richard.” Finally, in the early afternoon on Thursday, I hand Lorne a sheet of paper. “What’s this?” “You’ve all been asking me to put Chevy and Richard together,” I say. After all the bullshit I’ve been put through to get here, the fucking cross-examination Lorne subjects me to, I decide to do a job interview of my own. Chevy’s the boss, interviewing Richard for a janitor’s job. The white personnel interviewer suggests they do some word association, so he can test if the black man’s fit to employ. Read more.

4. Why TV’s Biggest Shows Are All on Sunday. Last night, dedicated TV fans had “Boardwalk Empire,” “The Simpsons,” “The Good Wife” and more to juggle, and it’s only a matter of time before they’re joined by the likes of “Homeland” and “The Walking Dead.” All of the biggest shows play Sunday night, and it hasn’t always been this way. Tracy Smith of CBS News traces the origin of seemingly every top program being a Sunday show back to a little show about an Italian family on HBO.

HBO estimates a total of 10 million viewers watched the first season of “The Sopranos,” a number that would nearly double as the series continued. With its other Sunday hits like “Sex and the City,” HBO made the night a destination for cutting-edge TV . . . one that critic Alan Sepinwall says other networks noticed. “And so suddenly, everyone else had to rush in and copy HBO,” he said. “‘Mad Men,’ in its first season, aired Thursdays. And at the end of the season, the head of AMC said, ‘All right, if we want people to respect us and pay attention to us, we have to go to Sunday, because that’s where people have come to expect these kinds of shows.'” Read more.

5. 21 Films to See at NYFF. The New York Film Festival is underway, and cinephiles of all kinds are making a mad dash to see the latest films by David Fincher, Jean-Luc Godard and Paul Thomas Anderson. But while plenty of the big releases are on the way to theaters soon, there are also some sleepers among the bunch. The staff of Vulture picked 21 films to see at NYFF, from awards contenders like “Foxcatcher” to the African film “Timbuktu.” Here’s David Edelstein on the latest film from the director of “Winter’s Bone.”

“Stray Dog.” A quiet, sad, meditative documentary by “Winter’s Bone” director Debra Granik, who’s still hovering in the vicinity of the Ozarks. Her subject is a burly biker Vietnam vet in a kind of half-life, haunted by his military service, by what was done to him and what he did to other human beings. In between funeral services and tributes to MIAs, he navigates the challenges of an economy in the toilet — a pregnant daughter working two menial jobs, a Mexican partner whose two sons want to move to the United States to earn a living wage (as if). He’s a good camera subject but not, in truth, a ball of fire, and the camera seems to be loitering even when it’s picking up essential information. There are moments of pleasure, but you end up feeling saturated by hopelessness. Read more.

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