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Daily Reads: Is There Middle Ground for ‘American Sniper?’ Why ‘Selma’s’ Oscar Omission Matters and More

Daily Reads: Is There Middle Ground for 'American Sniper?' Why 'Selma's' Oscar Omission Matters and More

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

1. Gray Areas for ‘American Sniper.’ Mike Ryan of Uproxx had a middle ground response to “American Sniper,” but he’s one of the few. He writes about the film’s polarized reactions and why the truth about Chris Kyle might be somewhere between “hero” and “monster.”

I have never been in a position where someone else is trying to kill me. I am grateful for this. My grandfather would never talk to me about his World War II service. (I once asked him if he wanted to watch “Saving Private Ryan” with me and he refused.) To this day, my uncle will not discuss his time in Vietnam. It’s impossible for a situation like that to not change a person. Kyle’s book (which the movie is based upon) has been quoted in which he refers to Iraqis as “savages.” No, this is not good. And, yes, it’s easy and right to say, “he shouldn’t have done that.” But it’s really hard for me to judge the mindset of someone who lived through his experience, and I think exploring how war does this to a person – how and why it makes a person think this way – is a worthwhile subject. I believe this ugly “debate” is happening because Eastwood failed to address it in the movie, so each side is posturing. To call Kyle a hero who did no wrong is as preposterous as Michael Moore alluding that Kyle is a “coward.” (Moore is now saying he didn’t do that.) Read more.

2. Abbi is the Best Part of “Broad City.” Ilana Glazer’s brilliant lowbrow monologues and Marxian anarchy on “Broad City” have made her the breakout star on the show, but co-creator/star Abbi Jacobson is great in her own way. Salon’s Laura Miller argues that she’s the best part of the show.

In counterpoint to Ilana’s Marxian spirit of anarchy, Abbi, in female form, reincarnates the great deadpan everymen of silent film comedy. Some critics, like my colleague Sonia Saraiya, have found Abbi to be overly downtrodden, the series’ weak point. I beg to differ. Certainly Abbi gets more than her fair share of knocks: The manager of the gym where she works as a cleaner ignores her obvious desire to lead a class; her roommate’s disgusting boyfriend is permanently parked on her sofa and a budding romance goes south when the guy explains that he’d rather call the whole thing off than go to Penn Station with her. But Abbi’s modest dreams and incessant frustrations (another running joke concerns her fury at being taken for a mother) are so completely relatable that they tether the anarchic elements of “Broad City” to earth, much as the cheesy romances introduced into Marx Brothers films tried, and failed, to do. Read more.

3. Why It’s OK To Hate a Film About the Military. Many of “American Sniper’s” critics have been lambasted as being anti-military, but Drew McWeeny of HitFix argues that films depicting the military become propaganda objects if people aren’t allowed to dislike them.

Obviously, there was an audience that was ready and waiting for “American Sniper,” and I am glad they had the opportunity to see a film that means so much to them. But I wish it was possible in our culture to have a conversation about these movies and how they work as films without it automatically spilling over into accusations and anger. If you feel protective of the way the military is portrayed on film, that’s fine. But the anger is part of something larger, some fundamental break that has occurred in the way we talk to each other in this country, a “your team or mine” thing that I constantly struggle to stay out of. What worries me is that at a certain point, if you say that what a film is about is more important than the actual artistry of the filmmaking, then you’re talking about propaganda… aren’t you? Read more.

4. The Quiet Influence of “12 Monkeys.” Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil” is one of the most influential science fiction films of the past 30 years, but “12 Monkeys,” which just got a TV spinoff, is influential in its own, quiet way. Yahoo! Movies’ Oliver Lyttleton writes:

“12 Monkeys” brought that fear home, with its vision of a deserted, wintry Philadelphia populated only by wild animals, a far cry from the endless deserts of nuclear-apocalypse films like “Mad Max.” It was one of the first films to play into the end-of-the-millennium fears that soon became a recurrent theme in the movies, and its vision of a terrible (and terribly realistic) future paved the way for everything from “28 Days Later” and “The Road,” to “The Walking Dead” and “Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes.” The latter blockbuster franchise in particular seems to borrow as much from Gilliam’s film as it does from the 60s “Apes” movies and their nuclear disasters — witness the animal-testing sub-plot, and the subsequent viral epidemic, in the first film, or the memorable images of animals roaming a deserted city in last year’s “Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes.” Read more.

5. “Selma’s” Oscar Omission Matters. “Selma” missed out on several major Oscar categories, most notably Director and Actor. The New York Times’ David Carr writes about why it matters.

As someone who once spent a great deal of time reporting on the ins and outs of the Oscars, I know that the snub is not some overt racial conspiracy at work…But in general, the academy and the industry it mirrors manage diversity the same way that corporate America does, by ticking off boxes. That means that after Kathryn Bigelow won as best director in 2010 for “The Hurt Locker” — the only female director to have won in the award’s 87 years — there was no reason to even nominate her again for the extraordinary “Zero Dark Thirty.” The “woman thing” had been checked off already. And it also means that even though “12 Years a Slave” won best picture, its director, Steve McQueen, did not receive similar acclaim because that win took care of “the black thing.” Read more.

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