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Daily Reads: The Career of Julia Roberts, The Best of the Fall Festival Season So Far and More

Daily Reads: The Career of Julia Roberts, The Best of the Fall Festival Season So Far and More

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

1. The Career of Julia RobertsJulia Roberts has been one of the biggest stars in Hollywood for the past two decades and change, starring in some of the most beloved romantic-comedies of her time. Matt Singer of The Dissolve has been working on a career overview of Roberts’ work over the past summer, often posting hilarious comments on some of her worst movies on Letterboxd. Singer’s work culminates in a look at Roberts’ girl-next-door persona and fish-out-of-water movies, and her signature move that makes her a star.

Every great star has a signature move. John Travolta dances. Brad Pitt is always eating something onscreen. Tom Cruise runs really fast. Julia Roberts’ signature move is called “the cryle,” where she fights back tears through a pained smile. The cryle has a few variations, but Roberts most commonly uses it in emotional scenes to show characters desperately trying to hold things together while on the verge of a breakdown. Her voice trembles and her eyes begin to water, but she refuses to drop that toothy grin. The cryle sums up Roberts’ onscreen identity—her unique mixture of strength and vulnerability—in one look. Read more.

2. Stop Saying Black Movies “Overperform.” Against all expectations, last week’s reportedly dire thriller “No Good Deed” triumphed at the box office. Many claimed that the film “overperformed” in spite of low expectations and the belief that films with black casts (in this case Idris Elba and Taraji P. Henson) have trouble taking off. But Aisha Harris of Slate dispels this notion, noting that it’s one of a long line of films with black stars that have done well against expectations, including “Ride Along” and  “42.”

Elba and Henson’s only real competition was ‘Dolphin Tale 2’ (and ‘Guardians of the Galaxy,’ perhaps, which is now in its seventh week). But movie studios should take a page from their television counterparts and recognize that audiences are hungry for more diversity on the big screen. ‘No Good Deed’s’ success was likely helped—not hurt—by the combined presence of its two talented, non-white stars. Read .more

3. Violence for Sex in “No Good Deed.” That said, maybe “No Good Deed” deserved to bomb. A number of critics called the film sadistic, but Mike McGranaghan of The Aisle Seat noted that there was something particularly uncomfortable about how the film depicted violent acts against women. According to McGranaghan, “No Good Deed” takes on the form of a pornographic film that substitutes violence for sex, asking the audience to get off on the brutalization of women.

Three times the movie builds up to sex, only to replace it with violence against women. It follows the exact same structure as many pornographic films, then swaps out fornication for mean-spirited aggression toward females. Bloodbaths substitute for orgasms. This is presented in a manner that virtually encourages the audience to become aroused by it. Read more

4. The Weirdest of “Little House on the Prairie.” This is a milestone year for “Little House on the Prairie,” the wholesome coming-of-age series that debuted 40 years ago. Or at least it started wholesome before, in its later years, it went, as Todd VanDerWerff of Vox described it, “completely bugnuts.” VanDerWerff chronicles “Little House’s” strange slide into insanity by listing some of its weirdest episodes..

‘The Halloween Dream’ (Season six, episode seven): ‘Little House’ did a surprising number of horror-themed episodes, particularly ones where somebody dresses up like a monster, as though they were a cut-rate ‘Scooby Doo’ villain. But this one — which involves young Albert dreaming he’s somehow confused for an Indian — takes the cake, both for sheer oddity of its existence and utter lack of racial sensitivity. Read more

5. In Praise of “Happy Valley.” This fall’s slate of new network dramas is pretty lame, with Andy Greenwald of Grantland noting that “if you’re not adapted from a DC Comic, ripped off from ‘Homeland,’ or a weirdly jaunty cop show, you’re not on the air.” That’s why Greenwald recommends that TV fans check out the British import “Happy Valley,” a crime series following a police sergeant (Sarah Lancashire) raising her granddaughter following her own daughter’s suicide, all while dealing with the kidnapping of a local bigwig’s daughter by a disgruntled employee and some local toughs. The series is now available on Netflix.

Unlike ‘Fargo’s’ Marge Gunderson, an obvious touchstone for the part, Catherine isn’t astonished or bemused by the evils that men do. She’s grimly familiar with them. In fact, she and Clare — kindhearted people, with their comfy cardigans and ever-present mugs of tea — have learned the hard way to expect them. Though ‘Happy Valley’s’ plot follows a well-tread path toward chaos and doom, Catherine makes for unique and rewarding company along the way. She’s the all-too-rare female lead who is allowed to make giant mistakes — and then given the chance to use her own impressive competence to correct them. Read.more

6. The Best of the Fall Festival Season (So Far). The Fall Festival Season isn’t over yet – we’ve still got the New York Film Festival coming up – but Telluride, TIFF and Venice have all passed, and some clear highlights have already emerged. Variety’s critics talked about the best of the three festivals, and while they all had individual picks, all three of them had one film in common. Here’s what they all had to say about “Birdman.”

Justin Chang: “Even when his choice of material has been suspect, Alejandro G. (formerly Gonzalez) Iñárritu has never given us reason to doubt him as one of the most purely gifted filmmakers of his generation. For him, no less than for Michael Keaton, this ferociously inventive plunge into the corroded soul of American celebrity represents a career-reigniting comeback; for that wizardly cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, it’s the latest in a steady stream of digital long-take miracles, like ‘Black Swan’ as directed by Max Ophüls.”

Peter Debruge: “Like Kryptonite to comicbook movies, Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s quicksilver satire of what’s become of Hollywood — skewering the way vfx bonanzas have all but displaced adult dramas on American movie screens — reveals a totally new side of Michael Keaton, who delivers the standout performance of the fall movie season opposite ex-‘Hulk’ Edward Norton. In a year crowded with showbiz satires, this one soars to the ranks of ‘All About Eve’ and ‘Sunset Blvd.'”

Scott Foundas: “Much (deserved) attention has been paid to Michael Keaton’s comeback performance and the long-take acrobatics of Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography, but those are just two of the manifold pleasures of Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s backstage Broadway death-dream farce. Emerging from the self-flagellating self-seriousness of his three previous features, the Mexican director himself seems reborn here, spreading his artistic wings and taking dazzling flight.”

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