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Daily Reads: In Praise of ‘Bad’ Wachowski Movies, How TV Recaps Became an Art Form, and More

Daily Reads: In Praise of 'Bad' Wachowski Movies, How TV Recaps Became an Art Form, and More

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

1. In Praise of “Bad” Wachowski Movies. The Wachowskis’ later films have never matched the cultural importance of “The Matrix,” but that doesn’t mean “Speed Racer” and “Cloud Atlas” aren’t without interest. Alex Pappademas of Grantland defends them:

As a blockbuster, [“Speed Racer”] was hopeless. But as a sensory experience, it’s a perfect object. I once spent a winter vacation fighting seasonally affective gloom by drinking tons of coffee and playing the PlayStation game “Ape Escape” while listening endlessly to Prince’s “Around the World in a Day.” “Speed Racer” on a loop might have effectively substituted for all three. The moment the WB logo pops up veiled in bands of kaleidoscopic color, you know you’re watching a movie whose chromatic palette will be a character, the way it was in Warren Beatty’s equally underappreciated “Dick Tracy.” It’s a pointedly anti-realistic treatment of material to which more self-conscious filmmakers might have felt the need to add darkness and grit. The Wachowskis aren’t the least bit embarrassed by the material’s Saturday-morning roots; a stylistic grammar this deliberate and overbearing is a language of love. Read more.

2. The State of Television Criticism. Sarah Bunting and Tara Ariano co-founded Television Without Pity, revolutionizing the world of television criticism. Jane Hu of Scratch interviewed the two about the TV criticism landscape then and now.

TV criticism does need to be a lot faster now. What was your window for talking about a show when you first started?

ARIANO: The recaps at Television Without Pity were so long and so in-depth, and we started the site before full episodes were going online and before social media was a thing—before there were blogs, really, even. So people would wait up to a week after the episode aired. Originally we just tried to have the recap of the last episode up before the next one. But now everything’s changed—you kind of have to do it day-of or day-after, or you lose the timeliness of the buzz of whatever you’re covering. Read more.

3. Saving Forgotten Films. Sometimes films don’t get the theatrical treatment they deserve. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is now trying to preserve those films to keep even forgotten film history alive. The Los Angeles Times’ Richard Verrier writes:

In addition to documentaries and student films, many of the titles are B-horror movies or grindhouse films with titles including “House of Evil,” a 1968 horror film starring Boris Karloff; “Flesh Suitcase,” a 1995 thriller about drug mules who carry drugs in their stomachs; and “Adios Amigo,” a 1976 blaxploitation cowboy movie starring Richard Pryor and Fred Williamson. One of the more unusual titles is the surreal cult western “Greaser’s Palace,” a 1972 parable of the life of Christ written and directed by Robert Downey Sr. Some may have surfaced in a film festival years ago but had short theatrical runs. Others never made it into theaters. No matter how obscure, Lea and his colleagues talk about each film with reverence. “Every title is a different story,” Lea said. “That’s the whole gist of this, to make sure these are preserved.” Read more.

4. The Best/Worst of Reality TV. “Big Brother’s” first season was pretty dull, but it was dull in a fascinating way: none of had seen reality TV before, so none of them acted like reality TV lunatics. Alan Scherstuhl of The Village Voice writes:

The show actually became about the kind of social experiment reality TV producers used to claim they were going for. The experiment: What if the breakroom at your most boring job ever was, like, our entire society? Almost as fascinating were the producers’ attempts to rile up the houseguests. At one point, host Julie Chen introduced a putative new contestant named Beth, who strutted about in a bikini and promised to be a fierce competitor inside the house. But the producers didn’t just put her in. Instead, they offered each of the six remaining houseguests $20,000 — in cash, in a suitcase — to walk off the show so that Beth could come on. And right there, on live TV, all six turned the offer down — even the three nominated to be booted from the show that week. Read more.

5. How TV Recaps Became an Art Form. TV recaps have gone beyond summaries to being an art form. The Atlantic’s Laura Bliss wrote about what makes for great recaps.

Some recaps are technical masterpieces. On a complex show, an editor might have to reach back into previous seasons to pluck the narrative buds that the latest episode unfurls. Sharp, quick cuts of dialogue work with expert visual precision (“Friday Night Lights” did an extraordinary job with this—a character walks into the night with a pissed-off expression, while another character, seen in the previous fragment, describes her perspective on the drama in voice-over). Other recaps play a more expository role, and might not even be chronological, as with “The Newsroom” or “Lost,” which kicked off its last few seasons with hour-long recaps. And some shows choose to set a mood rather than offer any kind of chronology, as on “Mad Men,” whose enigmatic recaps and teasers have proved maddening to some viewers. Read more.

6. Saving Found Footage. Have found footage movies run their course? Bilge Ebiri of Vulture investigates.

In cinema, what we don’t see can be just as important as what we do see. Found-footage films make that idea explicit. But so far, very few have taken that idea beyond the gimmick stage. Why not play with the idea that different people can witness something and come away with entirely different conclusions? Imagine a found-footage “Rashomon.” Or, hell, a found-footage bedroom farce. Or even a found-footage horror movie in which different videographers see different, contradictory things. (“As Above, So Below” began to toy with this but abandoned it pretty quickly.) Read more.

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