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Daily Reads: The Best Sports Documentaries, Better Female Representation in Movies and More

Daily Reads: The Best Sports Documentaries, Better Female Representation in Movies and More

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

1. The Best Sports Documentaries. This week’s new documentary “No No: A Dockumentary” covers the story of Dock Ellis, who famously pitched a no-hitter while under the influence of LSD. That film inspired The Dissolve writers to talk about their favorite sports documentaries. Some picked no-brainers like “Hoop Dreams” and “Pumping Iron,” but here’s Noel Murray on a less canonical classic.

The walls of my home aren’t covered with movie posters the way they were when I was in my 20s, but I do have one cherished bit of memorabilia hanging in my living room: my embossed tin replica advertisement for “On Any Sunday,” Bruce Brown’s documentary about motocross. Brown’s “The Endless Summer” is one of my favorite films of all time, and would’ve been my pick for this topic, except that the surfing in “The Endless Summer” is largely non-competitive. “On Any Sunday” on the other hand is mostly about racing, giving an inside look at the machines and the men who ride them (including the movie’s producer, Steve McQueen). Brown and his lean crew were some of the best ever at capturing thrill-seekers in action, and just the slow-motion, sun-dappled photography in “On Any Sunday” alone would be enough to recommend it. But it also has a fair measure of Brown’s dry humor and his infectious enthusiasm for speed and motion. Read more.

2. Why Was “How to Train Your Dragon 3” Delayed? The third installment in Dreamworks’ “How to Train Your Dragon” series has been pushed back a full year. The delay is indicative of bigger problems at the studio, from Jeffrey Katzenberg’s tendency to micromanage to the over-saturation of Dreamworks projects. The Playlist’s Drew Taylor talks about what’s dragging the studio down.

Maybe the most radical approach to reforming DreamWorks Animation would be removing Katzenberg, or at least reducing his abilities. His reputation as a micromanager hasn’t lessened and he seems to be spreading himself too thin (just like a number of his most popular properties). Maybe getting some new blood in the studio would lessen the creative stagnation (most of the DreamWorks Animation movies that have lost money just aren’t very good) and get them back on course. But Katzenberg would never do that. He covets the studio and he still wields it against his former employers whenever he can, even when that gets him into trouble. He doesn’t make many friends along the way. The year the first “How to Train Your Dragon” was nominated for the Best Animated Feature Oscar, I visited another animation studio. When I asked a group of animators who they wanted to win, one shot back: “We all want ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ to win. But we don’t want Jeffrey to get the Oscar.” The movie ended up losing the Oscar. Read more.

3. “Scanners”: From the Body to the Mind. David Cronenberg’s “Scanners” just hit Criterion, and The Film Stage’s Ethan Vestby holds the film as a transition from body horror to headier concepts (pun intended) for the director. Where early Cronenberg films (“Shivers,” “Rabid”) were primarily concerned with the body, “Scanners” marks Cronenberg’s venture into his concerns with the mind, something he’d expand upon more successfully in “Videodrome.”

While it’s perhaps too large an excuse to say “Scanners” arrives as a victim of its genre requirements, not having the time for sex and thought amidst shotgun blasts and car chases, a grotesque climax at least serves as the most satisfying marriage of its macho text and audience appeal: two men flaunting their powers — and, in turn, the film’s special effects — in the bloody psychic showdown to end all bloody psychic showdowns. Yet it cuts before the conclusion, which may have just been due to a budgetary restriction, but actually hits the perfect note, robbing audiences the final chance of getting off on what they’d wanted this whole time. Read more.

4. Was “Cruising” Good for the Gays? Few films in LGBT history are as hotly debated as William Friedkin’s “Cruising.” The gay underground thriller was seen as hateful by many upon its release, but Tyler Coates of Decider found it a bit more complicated than that. 

But “Cruising” is a valuable film because of its flaws. I still find it difficult to write the film off as anti-gay; in reality, it’s a very progressive film considering the time in which it was made. And that Friedkin directed, just ten years prior, “The Boys in the Band,” which is one of the best and honest depictions of gay men in cinema, proves that this was not just morbid curiosity on the director’s part. He didn’t set out for “Cruising” to be a gay movie; he simply wanted to make something intriguing. I understand how some might take umbrage with the community used as a backdrop, but on the list of outrageous depictions of gay men throughout the history of film, I am willing to give this one a pass. Read more.

5. Sugar, Spice and Guts. Women are still underrepresented in film, but things are getting better. A.O. Scott and Manohla Dargis of The New York Times wrote about changing representation of women and young girls on film from passive characters to more active heroines. 

Katniss Everdeen, who returns this fall in “Mockingjay — Part 1,” the third installment in the “Hunger Games” franchise, is so cool, so capable, so focused, with her archer’s eye, on the task in front of her that it’s easy to lose sight of just how revolutionary she is. Not only in the dystopian fictional universe she inhabits, where she has been radicalized by the cruelty of the Hunger Games and the iniquity of the society that supports them. In the world of mass entertainment, too, Katniss is a transformative figure: a solitary warrior, a heroine whose personal struggles for survival and dignity are joined to a larger fight for justice. And also, as played by Jennifer Lawrence, a potent force at the global box office — a blockbuster Joan of Arc…The comic-book fraternity has been slow to admit women as full members. Ms. Lawrence has made an impression as the blue-skinned, shape-shifting Mystique (a role originated by Rebecca Romijn-Stamos), but her team is still called the X-Men for a reason. And if women can fight their way toward parity, it will be Katniss who blazed the trail. Read more.

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