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Daily Reads: The Death of Adulthood, the Future of Film in ‘Snowpiercer’ and More

Daily Reads: The Death of Adulthood, the Future of Film in 'Snowpiercer' and More

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

1. The Death of Adulthood. In an essay published today, A.O. Scott of the New York Times declared a death to the patriarchy (or at least the unquestioned patriarchy) through pop culture about masculinity turned ugly. But there’s been another byproduct: the death of adulthood. Mass culture specializes in youthful fantasies (from YA adaptations to superhero movies) and works of art about navigating the tricky minefield of adulthood without ever finding a comfortable grasp on it (“Girls,” “Broad City,” Judd Apatow comedies).

What all of these shows grasp at, in one way or another, is that nobody knows how to be a grown-up anymore. Adulthood as we have known it has become conceptually untenable. It isn’t only that patriarchy in the strict, old-school Don Draper sense has fallen apart. It’s that it may never really have existed in the first place, at least in the way its avatars imagined. Which raises the question: Should we mourn the departed or dance on its grave? Read more.

2. Overused TV Cliches. Every medium winds up creating hoary cliches after a certain golden period, and it looks like it’s TV’s turn. Andy Greenwald of Grantland writes about his biggest TV pet peeves, from dudebros to wealthy and wise animals. Here’s an entry on the eternal and, in some cases, lazy question, “Am I a good man?”

Still, the important thing to note is that what made shows like “The Sopranos” and “Mad Men” truly great is that while they spent the bulk of their existence wrestling with these sorts of existential quandaries, they never felt the need to spell them out. Their would-be descendants are not-so-doomed-antihero hours like “Low Winter Sun,” which began with a cop bellowing “I’m not a bad person!” before drowning a rival in a restaurant sink. More recently, “The Leftovers” made Kevin Garvey’s jacked interrogation of the universe its defining trait. (“Are you a good guy?” asked his pre-rapture hook-up. “No!” he answered with the most good cheer he was able to muster all season.) Read more.

3. Disappointment in the Coens. In honor of the 30th anniversary of “Blood Simple,” Christopher Orr of The Atlantic is revisiting each of their 16 films. After loving their first three features, he’s finally hit a disappointing note with…”Barton Fink?!” And while many (this writer included) would rank “Fink” as a top three Coen movie, Orr finds much to admire while still finding it difficult to love.

My second dissatisfaction with the movie is the way it makes such a fetish of its own ambiguity. I don’t believe that every film needs to explain its underlying architecture to viewers, but I like to believe that it has an underlying architecture, and in the case of “Barton Fink,” I remain skeptical. I’ve seen a variety of overlapping interpretations of the movie…And while each of these meshes with certain of the movie’s elements, none seem to fit it fully. It may be that there is a truly persuasive explanation out there, but if so, I haven’t come across it. I can’t shake the sense that the Coens just grabbed a number of compelling ideas and images—the Hollywood satire, the evil doppleganger, the ominously decrepit hotel, etc.—and crammed them together in ways that have no particular internal logic. Read more.

4. The Strength of Robin WilliamsOne month later, it’s still difficult to come to terms with the death of Robin Williams. Many have written about how Williams’ roles are about keeping demons at bay, but Matt Zoller Seitz of RogerEbert.com found something else in the roles: courage. For the longest time, Williams not only battled his depression, but made films about the need to combat despair.

Once you know that Williams dealt with a version of that, you see his choice of roles—and the choices he made within those roles—differently. From the late 1970s onward, when he became a star on “Mork and Mindy,” he was famous enough to pick his projects. That’s not to say he was offered the same sorts of roles as Robert De Niro or whomever, just that he had more options than most working actors. As his box office clout grew, he had more power to initiate his own projects or help others get theirs made. I doubt it’s a coincidence that he often made films about people in tremendous pain who had to get through life anyway. Read more.

5. “Snowpiercer” and the Future of Film. When Radius-TWC pulled “Snowpiercer” from theaters and put on VOD early, many were annoyed, but it made sense as far as dollars were concerned, and “Snowpiercer” wound up doing OK anyway. What’s more, this kept Radius from spending an exorbitant amount of money on money on prints and advertising. Is this the future of movie releases? Dorothy Pomerantz of Forbes looks at why that might make sense to medium-budgeted movies.

But for films in the $20 million to $60 million budget range, an at-home release starts to make more and more sense. Without massive advertising costs, releasing a movie becomes much more affordable and producers are often able to cover large portions of their production budgets using tax credits and pre-selling foreign rights. Studios have more room to set prices at home so a film could debut at $10 for VOD (or more) and get cheaper the longer it is available. That variable pricing option doesn’t exist at theaters. The problem with this kind of model right now is theater owners. The movie house guys make their money selling popcorn which means they need butts in seats. And movies make most of their money in the first two weeks in theaters. If studios start to divert popular films to VOD, they’ll find it hard to get other (crappier) films into theaters. Read more.

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