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Daily Reads: ‘Focus’ Is a Milestone, Even If It’s Not a Good Movie; How ‘House of Cards’ is Abandoning Politics, and More

Daily Reads: 'Focus' Is a Milestone, Even If It's Not a Good Movie; How 'House of Cards' is Abandoning Politics, and More

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

1. “Focus” a Milestone. Robbie Collin of The Telegraph didn’t care for “Focus,” but he did admire it for tackling interracial romance when most Hollywood movies are still timid in that territory:

…away from issue-driven drama, Hollywood’s squeamishness around black and white couples didn’t subside. Think about all the films you’ve seen Denzel Washington in: isn’t it strange that, despite his obvious good looks and endless charm, you’ve hardly ever seen him play a romantic lead? Cast a black actor opposite a black actress for a romance and white audiences are thought to assume that the film “isn’t for them”. But cast a black actor (Washington, for example) opposite a white actress and their characters strangely and inexplicably lose all interest in sex. In “The Pelican Brief” (1993), Washington played opposite Julia Roberts, but the romantic subplot from John Grisham’s original book didn’t survive in the movie. Read more.

The Elusive Will Smith Persona. Will Smith is one of our great stars, yet he never fully reveals himself as an actor. Adam W. Hofbauer of Movie Mezzanine writes about Smith’s career.

Will Smith lives on a razor’s edge between constant visibility and unreachability. The endurance of his appeal lies in his ability to maintain the illusion of intimacy while never quite turning his face to us. It’s a position that echoes Smith’s first high-profile cinematic role, the young conman in “Six Degrees of Separation.” If Smith sees his career as a slow maturation process from West Philadelphia semi-poverty to global recognition, one notable scene in “Six Degrees” mimics that process in miniature. We spend half the film watching Smith as the clearly duplicitous Paul, a man who plies sympathy from a pair of Manhattan socialites. The narrative then snaps into Paul’s past to reveal him as an itinerant thief taught upper-crust mannerisms by a bitter, trust-fund preppy. Smith begins in his drawling, relaxed cadence, the one-liner-spewing braggadocio familiar from his rap and sitcom career and soon to be on full display in “Bad Boys.” Read more.

3. The Hidden Virtues of Adrien Brody’s Post-Oscar Career. Adrien Brody’s Oscar win for “The Pianist” has been followed by bit parts in films both great (“The Grand Budapest Hotel”) and abysmal (“InAPPropriate Comedy”), but The Dissolve’s Charles Bramesco argues that he’s always giving it his all:

Brody attacks even his lowest roles with self-seriousness and commitment. He isn’t phoning it in; it’s as though the man doesn’t even own a phone. As Flirty Harry, Brody wrings every last bit of smoldering homoeroticism from his lines. He isn’t lisping or gesticulating wildly. The material is hugely offensive, but his performance isn’t. He’s given thought to who Flirty Harry is, what motivates him in life, and why he feels compelled to speak entirely in super-gay double entendres. Wrecked drags Brody through a series of increasingly unlikely, undignified circumstances, but he keeps a brave face throughout every frame. The script says he must eat an ant, so he’s going to be the most convincing ant-eater in cinematic history. Read more.

4. “The Last Man on Earth” as a Sly Critique of Romantic-Comedies. “The Last Man on Earth” isn’t just a promising post-apocalyptic TV comedy, but a sly critique of the romantic-comedy convention of the schlubby man-child getting rewarded with a beautiful woman for his slight maturity. The Washington Post’s Alyssa Rosenberg writes:

Phil and Carol have searched the whole country, and both of them truly have no other options, either for romantic partnership or even simple companionship. “30 Rock” once featured a story where Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) faced the prospect of a “settling soulmate,” a man (Michael Sheen) she didn’t much like but roughly matched in attractiveness, professional accomplishment and relative weirdness. “The Last Man on Earth” is like that, but without the optimism. Phil and Carol can’t take Liz’s example and recommit to the New York dating scene in a world where New York only exists as a bunch of empty buildings. The show also doubles down on the idea that Phil and Carol’s differences aren’t cosmetic or cute – they’re deep-seated and, sometimes, truly off-putting. Read more.

5. “House of Cards” is Abandoning Politics. “House of Cards” started off as a show about the wheeling and dealing of the political process, but it’s gradually embraced the political melodrama style of “Scandal.” Will Leitch of Bloomberg Politics writes:

This cost “House of Cards” many fans from the first season; you heard a lot that the show had “just gotten too crazy.” To which I respond: Thank God. The first season of “House of Cards” had its virtues—notably the two terrific actors at its center—but it was far too ponderous and respectful of the political system. You could tell that it was incredibly important to everyone involved that Washington see some of itself in the show and embrace it. The show looked fantastic, but it seemed to tiptoe around and not go full Soap Opera—that is to say, be an actual TV show. Remember: All serial fictional TV shows are Soap Operas, from “Breaking Bad” to “The Sopranos” to “The Wire.” They’re not documentaries: They’re heightened realities meant to be a cartoonish view of the real world, not a factual one. “House of Cards” got ridiculous in its third season, but, not unrelatedly, it got a lot better. It got juicier and edgier and a little bit more dangerous. Read more.

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