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Daily Reads: ‘Ex Machina’s Feminist Sci-Fi, Native American Actors Call Adam Sandler’s Movie Racist, and More

Daily Reads: 'Ex Machina's Feminist Sci-Fi, Native American Actors Call Adam Sandler's Movie Racist, and More

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

1. “Ex Machina” and Male-Female Relationships. “Ex Machina” has garnered quite a bit of critical praise for its cerebral screenplay courtesy of Alex Garland. Reverse Shot’s Farihah Zaman argues that the film’s best quality is its feminist agenda. 

There have, of course, been other rebellious female A.I. in cinema, like “Metropolis”‘ tellingly named False Maria. There have also been films that question (or perversely indulge in) the power dynamic between male creator and female creation, like “Weird Science,” and films that ponder the ethics of romance across a kind of owner/owned, organic/artificial divide, like “Her.” Perhaps the fixation dates back to the story of Adam’s Rib. What sets “Ex Machina” apart is that gender and sexuality constitute its primary focus; general questions of consciousness are merely threads woven into a tapestry about the politics of male-female relationships. It is of tantamount importance that Ava is a woman, that all previous iterations created by Nathan were women, and that they are, as conscious, female humanoids, under the subjugation of their creator, who doesn’t see this as problematic because he views them as less than. This is sadly not unlike many women’s situations IRL. Even with a sensitive, well-meaning guy like Caleb, there still exists an uncomfortable power dynamic, one that Ava might be evening out through the use of sexuality and manipulation, an equally uncomfortable prospect. These questions, and Caleb’s doubts regarding her intentions, would exist even if Ava were made of flesh and blood.

2. Native American Actors Walk Off the Set of Adam Sandler’s “The Ridiculous Six.” Adam Sandler’s new satirical western repeatedly insulted Native Americans and grossly misrepresented Apache culture. Indian Country’s Vincent Schilling reports on this unfortunate development.

Allison Young, Navajo, a former film student from Dartmouth, was also offended by the stereotypes portrayed and the outright disrespect paid to her and others by the director and producers. “When I began doing this film, I had an uneasy feeling inside of me and I felt so conflicted,” she said. “I talked to a former instructor at Dartmouth and he told me to take this as finally experiencing stereotyping first hand. We talked to the producers about our concerns. They just told us, ‘If you guys are so sensitive, you should leave.’ I was just standing there and got emotional and teary-eyed. I didn’t want to cry but the feeling just came over me. This is supposed to be a comedy that makes you laugh. A film like this should not make someone feel this way.”

3. Walter Murch and “The Conversation’s” Editing. “The Conversation” is The Dissolve’s Movie of the Week this week. Charles Bramesco examines its editing and argues that editor Walter Murch is the true author of the film.

Nobody’s more responsible for the final outcome of the recording than Harry, just as nobody was more responsible for the final shape that “The Conversation” took than Murch. As an editor, he magicks emotional tone out of thin air. In one chapter of “In The Blink Of An Eye,” Murch lays out the six criteria that dictate how he makes his cuts, enumerated from most-important to least. He prioritizes two-dimensional and three-dimensional spatial consistency all the way down at the bottom, curiously. He explains that if the emotional truth of the moment justifies it, nothing should stop an editor from disposing with convention. That “emotional truth” just so happens to sit at the top of that list of criteria, superseding all other concerns.

4. What T.V. Endings Mean (and Why Tony Soprano is Dead). 

Eight years after its airing, “The Sopranos” finale is still confounding and irritating fans, and is somehow still in the news. RogerEbert.com has an excerpt about endings, finales, and “The Sopranos” from Jason Mittell’s new book on serial television.

As a whole, “The Sopranos” 
is less immersed in the culture of forensic fandom and online television debate than many other programs discussed in this book. In large part, this stems from its casual attitude toward serial plotting; as discussed in chapter 1, the series embraces more episodic plots than most prime time serials and often allows itself to pursue digressions and fantasy sequences in lieu of narrative enigmas, mysteries, or even plot-driven curiosity questions. More than most complex television series, “The Sopranos” invites interpretation for theme or symbolism but not the mysteries, structural games, or serial builds toward narrative climaxes that typify many comparable dramas with more robust online fan bases. Thus it is quite surprising that the last scene in the entire series prompted such an outpouring of forensic fandom trying to discern what it meant in terms of both basic narrative comprehension and thematic significance. And appropriately as this book’s conclusive case study, the analysis takes us back to the most basic concept of narrative analysis that was discussed in the introduction: the distinction between story and narrative discourse.

5. Move Over Edward Hopper: “Better Call Saul’s” Biggest Visual Influence is Caravaggio. “Better Call Saul” has obvious debts to “Breaking Bad,” but The Paris Review’s Matt Siegel argues its influences extends all the way to Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio.

“Breaking Bad” was about the battle between light and darkness; every other episode left audiences wondering if Walt would turn things around, if he would delude his family, if he would earn their forgiveness, if he would overcome cancer or drug cartels or the allure of one final cook. Until the very end, there was always room to repent. In “Saul,” that battle is already lost; we’ve already seen Jimmy’s future as “the kind of lawyer guilty people hire,” and so the plot and drama are in his division: not if he will break bad, but why. Faustus personifies this through the voices of good and evil angels. Saturday morning cartoons, by flanking Pluto with angels and devils to personify the dog’s superego and id. Gilligan and Gould called on Caravaggio—and put their faith in an aesthetic designed to be as divisive as it is divine. As a result, it is easier to count the scenes where characters are not half cast in shadow than are.

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