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Daily Reads: ‘The Interview’ and the End of Satire, Why ‘Selma’ Matters Today and More

Daily Reads: 'The Interview' and the End of Satire, Why 'Selma' Matters Today and More

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

1. “The Interview” and the Death of Satire. We’re still astounded at the unprecedented cancellation of “The Interview’s” release, particularly for the precedent it might set. Vulture’s Adam Sternbergh believes it might be the death of a certain type of satire.

From what we know about “The Interview,” it certainly seems more in the spirit of “Team America “than of, say, Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator”…”The Great Dictator” is a satire of the curdled mindset that can produce a figure like Hitler. “Team America” is a satire, really, of America, whose creators incidentally realized (correctly) that it’s funnier and edgier to watch a puppet of a real dictator than a made-up one, in the same way it’s funnier to make fun of “Matt Damon” than “Max Diamond.” It’s seems doubtful that the goal of “The Interview” was to illuminate what drives Kim Jong-un or to dissect the society that created him. More likely, there was, in the development of “The Interview,” at least one conversation in which someone asked Seth Rogen and James Franco, “Why does it have to be the real guy?” and they said, “Because it’s funnier!”…So if you’re worried about anything disappearing, worry about that — the desire to push something just a little farther for the sake of being funnier. Read more.

2. Why Tragic Deaths Made for Optimistic Television. This year in television brought a number of major character deaths, yet their demises rarely led to dirges. Vanity Fair’s Joanna Robinson wrote about how deaths made for optimistic television.

So where, you ask, is the optimism in all this carnage? It’s in the little moments. It’s in the survivors. No 2014 shows embodied this idea better than the dark and gloomy “The Leftovers” and “Rectify.” The first is about a community grieving a mysterious and supernatural rapture, the other about a man who was released after spending 19 years on death row, but both are haunted by the memories of the dead. And both used this despair to highlight the beauty and pleasure in the mundane. In this way, a new pair of glasses, a bike ride, a party, or even just a smile lands like a ton of bricks. Read more.

3. Why “Selma” Matters Today. “Selma” might deal with a specific problem in the Civil Rights Era, but with the recent injustices with grand jury decisions it still feels relevant. Jamelle Bouie of Slate argues that the Black Lives Matter movement could learn a lesson from “Selma.”

There’s no doubt that this is a vital moment. With protests across the country and endorsements from major figures in American society, “Black Lives Matter” might be the most significant youth movement in recent history. But right now—and not unlike its contemporary, Occupy Wall Street—it reads as just an exercise in catharsis, a declaration of dignity and a plea for humanity. This isn’t a bad thing, but it isn’t a strategy. Not only could “Black Lives Matter” shift attitudes on criminal justice and force a needed conversation about police culture and police violence, it could create political space for changes to law and policy. Indeed, if we want reform, it must. Read more.

4. Todd Haynes’ “Safe” Then and Now. Todd Haynes made his career on “Safe,” a chilling AIDS allegory, but the relevance of “environmental illness” has shifted over the years into something else. Scott Tobias of The Dissolve talked with Haynes about that change.

The Dissolve: Do you feel like the film reads differently in 2014 than it did in 1995?

Haynes: No doubt, it does. Certainly, everything was being interpreted around the specificity of AIDS and HIV at the time that “Safe” was made. That was on my mind quite specifically when I was conceiving of the film. At the same time, I wanted to bring up the behavior that we all exhibit around illness, particularly in the way we try to attach meaning and personal responsibility to illness, and how much illness and identity are mixed up with each other…It was summoning up memories of the AIDS era for many people in the way it was being hysterically described at the beginning. It brought up a general sense of our fragility, even as we become more fortified by technology and knowledge, and our fragility as human beings on the planet, and the status of the planet and the lower regard the sciences are being held in nowadays. They’re all contributing factors to the sense of vulnerability and insecurity with our bodies, and that certainly hasn’t gone away. In that sense, “Safe” feels like this allegory about all kinds of indeterminate and imprecise notions of health, well-being, and immunity in peril. Read more.

5. Mike Leigh Solved the Biopic Problem. Biopics tend to be pretty tired, lumpy affairs that simplify the lives of great men and women for a tidy three-act structure. But Mike Leigh’s “Mr. Turner” has sidestepped most of the issues that plague biopics, and Slate’s Dana Stevens writes about how Leigh did it.

More than any period film in years (Paul Thomas Anderson’s “There Will Be Blood” comes to mind, as does Leigh’s own “Topsy Turvy”) “Mr. Turner” seems to be taking place in something like the actual past, in a world distinctly different from our own while remaining contiguous with it. As the inscrutable Turner, a work-obsessed loner who for long stretches communicates only in grunts, Timothy Spall—a key member of Leigh’s informal ensemble company for decades now—creates a character so embodied and complete, it doesn’t matter that we don’t always get the motivations behind his impulsive acts. The seeming disconnect between this painter’s chaotic personal life and the harmonious compositions he creates only deepens, and enhances, the mystery. Read more.

6. 2014’s Most Cry-Worthy Television. From “Transparent” to “The Good Wife,” “The Leftovers” to “Orange Is the New Black,” 2014 had its fair share of teary moments. BuzzFeed’s Kate Aurthur picks 11 of the year’s best, including a key scene from the “Mad Men” episode “The Strategy.”

In that scene, when Don says to Peggy that he “worries about a lot of things,” but never about her — well, I just got choked up typing that. And then she asks him what he has to worry about, and he very honestly, and so sadly, says: “That I never did anything. And that I don’t have anyone.” Just like Peggy, she takes it in, and doesn’t really react — because it’s OK for these two to go back and forth, being honest, and then cap it off with 1) a great idea for the Burger Chef pitch and 2) a lovely coming together as they danced to, of all the deliberately on-the-nose things, “My Way.” Just perfect. If the show had ended at that scene, I would have been fine with it. Read more.

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