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Daily Reads: The Evolution of Whodunit Cliffhangers, Ranking the Best ‘Taken’ Knockoffs and more.

Daily Reads: The Evolution of Whodunit Cliffhangers, Ranking the Best 'Taken' Knockoffs and more.

Criticwire’s Daily Reads brings today’s essential news
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1. The Evolution of Whodunit Cliffhangers. The 35th anniversary of “Dallas'” “Who Shot J.R.?” episode has passed, and The Atlantic’s David Sims writes about the evolution of whodunit cliffhangers.

As with many classic TV cliffhangers, the show’s writers went into things with no particular idea of how to resolve the mystery, arriving at the conclusion just by a logical process of elimination. Another example of that loose approach is “The Best of Both Worlds,” the third-season finale of “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” which ended with Captain Picard captured by the alien Borg and transformed into a cyborg zombie. The writer and showrunner Michael Piller later admitted he had no concept of how the next episode, which led off the fourth season, would resolve the cliffhanger—he just knew the show needed something to keep audiences on the hook over the summer. “The Next Generation” was a steady cult hit before the episode, but its ratings jumped by 25 percent between seasons, and the show graduated to mainstream success. Read more.

2. Hand-Drawn Animation Here to Stay. Computer-animation might dominate the multiplexes, but Robbie Collin of The Telegraph shows how a few recent hand-drawn features show the older style’s continued vitality. On “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya”:

The film is about the beautiful impermanence of life – and its freely sketched characters and backgrounds feel like attempts to capture individual moments even as they whistle past. Many of the scenes in Takahata’s film peter out towards the edge of the screen. In the film’s centerpiece sequence, in which the princess flees her palace for the mountains, her dash for freedom becomes an expressionistic storm of color and line. It’s impossible to imagine how CGI might accomplish this. By their very nature, computer graphics have to be ultra-finished; meticulously rendered over months by the winking mainframes in a studio’s basement. Read more.

3. What Happens to a Movie’s Twitter Account? If you’ve tweeted about a movie near the time of its release, you have have gotten a quick followback from the likes of Charlie Mortdecai. But what happens to those Twitter accounts once the movie’s promotional cycle is complete? Uproxx’s Mike Ryan investigates:

It’s not unusual for a movie to have its own Twitter account — most do — though it’s a little unusual how, let’s say, aggressive the “Mortdecai” account turned out to be. But, just like pretty much all Twitter accounts specifically created to promote a movie, the shelf life is short. Out of a twisted curiosity, every so often I like to go back and look what these abandoned accounts are doing today. So, I went through every major release from 2012 and 2013 — long enough ago that even the Blu-ray campaign would be over — to find out what they are doing or how they ended. Here are those results. Read more.

4. Vampires and Feminism. Vampires have become cinema’s most feminist monster, writes The Dissolve’s Genevieve Valentine:

It’s noteworthy, then, that “A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night” was also released in 2014. Its nameless vampire girl (Sheila Vand) is stranded in Iran’s mythical Bad City, a positively misandrist edge-of-the-wilderness town ringed by a ditch of men’s corpses. Within its cultural context, the Girl stalking the night and eliminating men who threaten women is such a feminist character that she doesn’t even need a name. Her very presence is vengeance against violent men (mistreating a woman—or suggesting the intent to—is a one-way ticket), and the vampire is just the form in which that social resentment has been most recognizably made flesh. Women still can’t safely walking home alone at night. The vampire-girl signals her supernatural nature simply by her fearlessness. Read more.

5. “Taken” Knockoffs Ranked. Which “Taken” knockoff stands as an equal to the film that kickstarted the recent run of “respected actor punches people” movies? Vulture’s Adam Sternbergh ranks the equals and the knockoffs, picking “John Wick” as the best non-“Taken” “Taken”:

 Everything looks great in this movie, from the expertly choreographed fight scenes to Reeves in a series of perfectly cut bespoke suits, and Reeves is well-suited (pun intended!) to play a hit man so taciturn that he’s basically a personification of lethal Zen. The film also understands, and even seems to gently parody, the obligatory mechanics of the genre: you kill man’s dog; man kills you. (There’s a great scene in which one gangster is informed that they’ve killed Wick’s dog and his reaction is basically, Well, yes, okay, now we’re all going to die, of course.) The film’s biggest detriments are the fact that it gets less exciting as it goes along — Wick starts by coolly dispatching a whole house full of assassins, and ends with a mano a mano fistfight in the rain with a Russian gang-lord who looks about 30 years older than Wick — and the inclusion of the Continental Hotel subplot about a hotel that services only professional killers. The subplot isn’t bad — it’s great, and thus unfortunately nods to an even better, more interesting movie. Still, “John Wick” is the most stylishly distinctive of the post-“Taken” action movies, and the one that, like the Continental, you’ll most want to revisit. Read more.

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