1. 2015 is a Sequel. 2015 isn’t just filled with sequels: it’s filled with sequels to films from 2012, making it a sort of sequel in its own right. Scott Mendelson of Forbes writes:
A Channing Tatum male-stripper drama from Stephen Soderbergh doesn’t scream sequel-friendly, nor does a light drama set in India starring Tom Wilkinson, Judi Dench, Dev Patel, Maggie Smith, and Bill Nighy. And yet these distinctly non-blockbuster entries earned massive profits on small budgets. Many of these sequels only exist because the original films were somewhat outside-the-box multiplex releases, which perhaps targeted “unconventional” audience demographics, and audiences responded to accordingly to everyone’s’ financial benefit. Read more.
2. New Rules for Film Fact-Checking. As with any movie, “Selma” has been met with a barrage of fact-checkers, specifically regarding LBJ’s involvement. Ann Hornaday sees that the “what x gets wrong about y” articles aren’t going away any time soon, but sets out new rules for it.
The correct question isn’t what “Selma” “gets wrong” about Johnson or King or the civil rights movement, but whether we are sophisticated enough as viewers and thinkers to hold two ideas at once: that we’re not watching history, but a work of art that was inspired and animated by history. That we’re having an emotional and aesthetic experience, not a didactic one. Read more.
3. The Underrated Spider-Man. Sam Raimi recently mentioned that he agrees with most of the criticism directed at “Spider-Man 3.” Matt Singer of ScreenCrush, however, writes that for all of its flaws, “Spider-Man 3” is far better than its reputation (as someone who agrees with Singer: Dancin’ Peter Parker 4 Lyfe).
Some of the criticism against “Spider-Man 3” strikes me as short-sighted. People often complain about the randomness of Venom’s arrival on Earth (in a park where Peter happens to be spending time with Mary Jane), and of Eddie Brock walking into the exact same church where Peter’s about to rid himself of the symbiote. But nobody complains how random it is that the radioactive spider bites Peter, or that the same thug that Spider-Man let escape from the wrestling match is also the guy who kills Uncle Ben. The world of “Spider-Man” is defined by chance; the message of Peter Parker is about refusing to let life’s inevitable and inexplicable defeats get you down. All of the elements of the Venom character in this movie fit perfectly into that world. Read more.
4. R.I.P. Edward Herrmann. Edward Herrmann’s death has brought multiple appreciations of his terrific work on “Gilmore Girls,” but Sheila O’Malley of RogerEbert.com writes that Herrman makes an indelible impression in Warren Beatty’s “Reds” with just one line, “Welcome home.”
Character actors, on the margins of the main story, playing support staff, are often given these moments that need to handle or speak the larger themes, the broader context. Through their witnessing, we understand how to look upon the leads, we understand the stakes in a way the leads cannot. If Herrmann had not had that chastened, sadly knowing aspect to his demeanor when he says “Welcome home”, we wouldn’t have understood all that had happened during the time John Reed was out of the United States. Herrmann’s “Welcome home” acts as a counter-weight to Beatty’s fury and openness, his vulnerability and outraged idealism. Herrmann’s line-reading shows a sad self-awareness that a shared dream is in the process of dying. Read more.
5. Films About Women in the Oscar Race. There are plenty of films about men in this year’s Best Picture race (“The Imitation Game,” “Birdman,” “Boyhood,” “Foxcatcher”), but very few films about women. Justin Chang of Variety tries to sort out why.
Still, whatever these films’ particular shortcomings or virtues, I suspect that awards voters are too often inclined to accept them on their own grand, self-important terms, which not so subtly conflate significance with masculinity: Watch Chris Kyle and Louis Zamperini march off to war! See Alan Turing change the face of history! Contrast this with the relatively solitary, interior (and mostly non-biographical) journeys undertaken by some of this year’s female protagonists: a woman quietly losing her mind in “Still Alice,” or searching for her life’s meaning in “Wild,” or simply trying to hold on to her job in “Two Days, One Night.” (The critic Carrie Rickey nailed it, sadly, in an interview several years ago: “What men do is universal; what women do is particular.”) Given Hollywood’s bent toward weighty themes and real-life subjects, one might cynically suggest that the industry should foster more historical dramas about female geniuses, eccentrics and political leaders for a change. But if the result is simply more movies as banal and reductive as “The Iron Lady,” why bother? Read more.