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Daily Reads: Aaron Sorkin’s Post’ ‘West Wing’ Problems, The Story Behind ‘Too Many Cooks’ and More

Daily Reads: Aaron Sorkin's Post' 'West Wing' Problems, The Story Behind 'Too Many Cooks' and More

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

1. What Christopher Nolan’s Films Are About. In 2012, Forrest Wickman of Slate wrote about how one signature shot (a camera roll) highlighted what Christopher Nolan’s films are really about: lies made to convince people that the world is a good place. Wickman expanded on the article to include his new film, “Interstellar,” and how that fits in. 

Even when he doesn’t employ the shot, Nolan—in conjunction with his brother and frequent screenwriting partner Jonathan Nolan—delights in upending the viewers’ sense of the world. The “Inception” scene on the train tracks recalls a similar scene from Nolan’s breakout film, “Memento.” That film returns again and again to the moment when Leonard and his wife have been knocked to the bathroom floor by intruders who have broken into their house. Lying on their sides and slipping out of consciousness, they stare across the floor at each other as the life drains from Leonard’s wife’s eyes. When we return to the same shot later, we discover that Leonard’s wife actually survived, that Leonard eventually killed her, and that Leonard has been lying to himself, and giving himself puzzles to solve, to keep himself from confronting the truth. Read more.

2. Altman in the ’70s. New Hollywood showed a number of great directors on incredible runs, but few could top Robert Altman’s long winning-streak (which includes “Popeye,” as far as I’m concerned). Pegged to the release of the new documentary “Altman,” Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune wrote about why he connected to Altman so deeply in the 70s.

My introduction came with “The Long Goodbye,” and although I never got over the horrible Coke-bottle smash to the face, and I still hate that moment, the 12-year-old me was simultaneously pulled in and repelled by the film’s images of early ’70s LA. I was similarly intrigued by “California Split,” the compulsive gamblers movie starring Elliott Gould (from “M*A*S*H” and “The Long Goodbye”) opposite George Segal. The film’s running-off-the-rails vibe felt fresh and spontaneous and finally sad, legitimately and truly sad. So little conventional narrative satisfaction in an Altman picture, yet so many other rewards. Read more.

3. Aaron Sorkin’s Post-“West Wing” Problems.  Aaron Sorkin created one of the most acclaimed series of the 2000s with “The West Wing,” but he’s struggled since with “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” and “The Newsroom.” Vox’s Todd VanDerWerff tries to sort out what’s wrong in Sorkinland.

The biggest problems emerge when Sorkin ultimately falls too in love with his characters and becomes convinced of their inherent virtue so thoroughly that he can’t conceive of them ever being wrong. He loves idealistic, quixotic quests, and there’s something beautiful about that. He’s fundamentally a romantic writer who wants to twist our notions of reality and make us look at them until we see what the world could be. Read more.

4. Sex and Gender Roles in “White Bird in a Blizzard.” Gregg Araki’s recent film “White Bird in a Blizzard” has received mixed reviews for its tonal inconsistencies and predictability, but Movie Mezzanine’s Charles Nash thinks the film’s final ten minutes completely change the game. “White Bird’s” mystery isn’t important for the how, but the “why” and how it relates to sex and gender roles.

“They were the quintessential American couple, the future unfurling before them like some endless magic carpet,” Kat narrates amid a shot of Eve’s blank, expressionless face. This transitions into a montage of Eve ironing clothes, vacuuming floors, and wiping down tables, with Kat stating, “…Once the house was immaculate, and everything was in its place, she had nothing to do but plant the emptiness of days to come.” Brock brings home a crockpot in the following scene and is stunned by Eve’s indifferent response to the kitchen appliance, unaware of how reducing her to a homemaker and depriving her of any sexual intimacy has sucked her into a void of despair. Read more.

5. “Interstellar” vs. “Sunshine.” Not everyone has fallen in love with “Interstellar,” but the film has a number of writers talking about the films they believe handle “Interstellar’s” ideas more deftly. Case in point: Alison Willmore wrote about how Danny Boyle’s “Sunshine” might be worth a look for anyone disappointed by Nolan’s sprawling take on a similar story.

“Sunshine” never equals “Interstellar” in scope — instead of hauling off to a different galaxy, it sticks to our solar system and the dying Sun that its characters are trying to jump start. But it uses a sense of claustrophobia to its advantage. “Interstellar” makes space travel look relatively easy — McConaughey’s Cooper, who was once a NASA pilot, steps effortlessly back into the role with no apparent need for further training and weathers two years of the voyage in cryo-sleep. But “Sunshine’s” crew is tense and ragged, and the members have spent 16 months getting on each other’s nerves when it starts. And where Cooper is chosen for his mission thanks to destiny, the team on the Icarus II in “Sunshine” (“eight astronauts strapped to the back of a bomb”) is made up of carefully chosen specialists. Read more.

6. The Story Behind “Too Many Cooks.” Admit it, you’ve still got “Too Many Cooks” stuck in your head. Vulture talked to the brainchild behind it, Adult Swim writer Casper Kelly, to find out where he came up with it, how the murderer thing developed, and things that didn’t make it in.

At the very end, when they’re all on the couch we had a flaming juggler, but we decided that was too wacky — although obviously the whole thing is wacky. And, during the ending credits, I had a stay tuned for “Two in the Bush” and I had a little soundbite of a different type of show, but we decided it was funnier just to get out very quickly. Read more.

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