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Daily Reads: ‘Fast & Furious” as the Perfect Post-Recession Franchise, the Male Power on ‘Mad Men’ and More

Daily Reads: 'Fast & Furious" as the Perfect Post-Recession Franchise, the Male Power on 'Mad Men' and More

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

1. The Perfect Franchise for Post-Recession America. Furious 7” may be a ridiculous, over-the-top action series, but Jen Chaney of Slate argues it’s something more:

The notion that an action series could take what was, arguably, its worst example—that would be “Tokyo Drift” —then turn that into a building block for its subsequent narratives, and, after that, encounter greater critical and financial success than it had before: Talk about the audacity of hope! The wonderfully American idea that everyone gets a second chance—or a third, fourth, or “Furious 7″nth one—is deeply embedded in the “Fast and Furious” sensibility. No matter how many times the core characters get involved in spectacular car accidents, they usually live to come up with yet another ludicrous plan that will lead to yet another spectacular wreck. Read more.

2. The Real Neuroscience Behind “Ex Machina.” Alex Garland’s new film “Ex Machina” uses technology as a metaphor for patriarchy, but there’s also real neuroscience involved. Sloan Science & Film’s Anthony Kaufman speaks with Dr. David J. Freedman of the University of Chicago:

SSF: The film raises an interesting question, about whether that consciousness would be merely “simulated” in a computer, or could it be called real in the same way as we think about it for humans.

DF: Once our understanding advances far enough, it might be possible to create an exact duplicate of someone’s brain that is exactly identical, maintaining all the connections between the neurons, which would transfer all the knowledge of the original brain to this duplicate brain. Then if you could transplant that new brain into a person, you wouldn’t say that new entity is having a simulation of consciousness. By the same token, if you got these processes working in a computer system, and it showed the same behaviors, the assumption would be that you’re witnessing real consciousness, not a simulation. Read more.

3. Female Friendships in Film. Kate Erbland uses “Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion” as a jumping-off point to argue that Hollywood needs more movies about female friendships:

“Romy And Michele’s High School” reunion didn’t immediately spawn a new series of friendship-positive films, but nearly 20 years later, things are starting to look up, thanks to features like “Frances Ha;” “For A Good Time, Call…;” and “Bridesmaids,” all of which include romance while still focusing on female friendships. Each film was at least partially written by one of its female stars (Gerwig wrote “Frances Ha” alongside director Noah Baumbach, Lauren Miller wrote and starred in “For A Good Time, Call…,” “Bridesmaids” was penned by star Kristen Wiig and her close friend Annie Mumolo), stars eager to show the positivity, warmth, and respect of female friendships to a wider audience. All three films are uniquely satisfying, all three are extremely funny, and all three illuminate an entire subset of friendship so often disregarded in service to romantic drama or plain old ugliness. These are feel-good movies, the kind any girl and her best friend would love to see on the big screen. Read more.

4. How South Africa Shaped Trevor Noah’s Comic Sensibility. Trevor Noah’s ascension to the “Daily Show” throne has been tarnished somewhat by his tweets, but Richard Poplak of The Globe and Mail and Norimitsu Onishi and Dave Itzkoff of The New York Times show how growing up under apartheid has shaped his sense of humor:

Poplak: Still, the South Africans likely to watch Noah on “The Daily Show” have grown up with him. For better or worse, he’s commented on literally everything that’s transpired in the local maelstrom, which makes him not postnational, but uber-South African. Without context, without South Africa, Noah quickly loses meaning. His home country’s national obsession is, after all and unsurprisingly, race. Twenty-one years after the democratic dawn, the prevailing conversation remains the great divide between the country’s black and white communities, and how democracy has failed to disassemble the structural racism that apartheid instituted and perfected. Noah cracked his first jokes in one of the more unequal societies on Earth, where almost all of the wealth remains in the hands of the white minority, a status quo that has enriched a narrow black elite mostly connected to the governing African National Congress. Read more.

Onishi/Itzkoff: Born here in 1984, Mr. Noah grew up in the final years of apartheid, when South Africa’s white-minority government became an international pariah, backed by a dwindling number of allies, particularly Israel, its longtime economic partner and arms supplier. To this day, as a result, many blacks, as well as whites who supported the liberation movement, tend to reflexively criticize Israel and support the Palestinian cause. Read more.

5. Roger Ebert’s Legacy. Roger Ebert died two years ago, and the writers of RogerEbert.com wrote about his legacy. Here’s Alan Zilberman:

The first important part of Roger’s legacy is that he showed us how to appreciate the movies. He showed us how form intersects with purpose, and how it is essential to defend new, exciting voices in cinema. The second, arguably more important part of his legacy is that he showed us how the movies can help us lead better lives. He argued that if movies put us in the shoes of other people, then sensitive movie-goers will have more compassion and tolerance. Read more.

6. Male Power on “Mad Men.” “Mad Men” has seven episodes left, yet many are already writing obits for Jon Hamm’s Don Draper. Kathy Knapp of The Los Angeles Review of Books writes that it’s less about the death of white male power and more how it protects its power by “staging and restaging its own death”:

But as exhilarating as it is to watch Peggy nail the presentation, and to watch Dawn command the room if just for a moment, the big winner in this episode is the status quo, which puts a new face on the same old model. Peggy’s pitch for Burger Chef promises that everyone will get a seat at the table, but if we’ve learned anything over the course of six and a half seasons, it’s that it is actually an invitation-only affair for an exceptional few. Yes, “Mad Men” narrates the crisis of white masculinity, but as this episode makes clear, that crisis is not about who gets a piece of pie, but about who controls the pie; as Bert tautologically instructs his younger partner Roger Sterling, “Whoever is in control is in charge.” Read more.

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