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Daily Reads: A Feminist’s Letter to Joss Whedon, Ranking the ‘Mad Max’ Movies, and More

Daily Reads: A Feminist's Letter to Joss Whedon, Ranking the 'Mad Max' Movies, and More

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

1. When Directors Shoot Movies Back to Back, Who Wins? Though it makes financial sense for directors to shoot big-budget movies simultaneously, history has shown that the quality of those movies suffers in the process. The Guardian’s Luke Holland wonders if there’s any upside to this practice.

In recent years, there’s also been a growing tendency to split single films – usually the final parts of huge franchises – in two. “Harry Potter,” “The Hunger Games” and “Twilight” all did this, were all massive financial bonanzas, and for some reason were also quite good. Whether the double finale is a better experience for the fans or a cynical ploy to squeeze more cash out of them is up to you. Either way, their critical as well as fiscal success may be due to the fact they are, like “LOTR,” one long story. Perhaps it’s the hubris or panic that comes with the idea of filming numerous movies at once that causes film-makers to drop the ball. Even Robert Zemeckis admitted that wrestling with “Back to the Future’s” second and third parts simultaneously meant he “wasn’t able to really fine-tune Part II the way it should have been.”

2. An Open Letter to Joss Whedon From a Disappointed Feminist. Joss Whedon has always been a proponent of more fully-realized, independent female characters on film and television. But Whedon missed the mark with the new “Avengers” movie. Indiewire’s Sara Stewart explains why she was disappointed with “Age of Ultron” as a feminist.

I really liked the first “Avengers” movie, for the record. I thought it was intelligent and funny and, OK, short on women — but at least you had Black Widow, which was kind of new and exciting in a landscape that had been uniformly male for forever. That was progress, I thought, upon which you would capitalize in the next film.The disappointing treatment of Scarlett Johansson’s character in the sequel (and, for that matter, beforehand) has already been examined…But I would like to add, did we really need Natasha to have a mini-breakdown over the fact that she can’t have children? Haven’t we gotten to a point where the one lonely female superhero in our current landscape can just pursue the business of avenging without having to bemoan not being a mother?

3. Incoherence in Horror Movies, from Murnau to “The Babadook.” The horror film genre shifts and bends every decade to revolt against the received wisdom of what makes “good” horror. Adrian Martin takes a trip through horror’s past to explore the generational changes within the genre.

The 1980s were the decade of what Philip Brophy neologistically called ‘horrality’ — horror and material ‘textuality’ combined. That meant it was the time for showing, no longer suggesting. The graphic ‘gore’ of Italian horror films, of John Carpenter’s “The Thing” (1982) and of ‘slasher’ thrillers, reclaimed its spectacular, subterranean history. Borders of taste were pushed, redefined. Cinema investigated the literal, the visceral, the blunt presentation of trauma and death — and this, too, led to a new kind of imaginary, unconscious, phantasmagoric horror.

4. The Eternal Charm of the Screwball Comedy. Back in the day, the screwball comedy was the Hollywood genre that took both love and comedy very seriously. Over at Fandor, Calum Marsh explores screwball comedies and how the genre was once the one stop shop for genuine romance.

What we see of ourselves in [“The Thin Man’s”] Nick and Nora Charles is this: we see our relationship. That is, we see a convincing facsimile of the way that she and I look at one another, and talk to one another and feel about one another most of the time. And until my fiance and I saw “The Thin Man” we had never seen ourselves in a movie in quite the same way. There’s a looseness to this relationship, a willingness to spar and tease, an adoring vigor animating every exchange. When Nick and Nora’s wire fox terrier, Asta, tugs Nora into a speakeasy and finds Nick talking to the daughter of a former client, who trots off, and Nora asks who the girl was, and Nick without hesitation launches into a phony confession about an affair in Venice, I thought: Well, that’s what I would say. And when Nora, not missing a beat, makes a joke and orders six martinis, in order to catch up with Nick, my fiance said: That’s what I would do. That became our refrain through the film. This is just like us.

5. Mad Max Retrospective. Mad Max: Fury Road,” the fourth film in the “Mad Max” franchise and the first in 30 years, enters theaters soon. So it’s time for Little White Lies’ Rowland Marsh to revisit the other “Mad Max” films to see if there are any stones left unturned.

Guns are hard to come by and many characters do battle with archaic weapons, such as axes and spears. A little feral kid (otherwise nameless) — who resembles Snarf from Thundercats — even brandishes a boomerang as a weapon. Apparel is makeshift and those from the oil refinery wear plain desert clothing, while Humungus’ gang (The Marauders) look like modern Mohicans, wearing a combination of animal skins, leathers, riot gear, and even protective sports guards. There is a punk element to the villains, reflecting the theme of anarchy. Lord Humungus is a bizarre but brutal villain, and is dressed in bondage-type gear and an intimidating metal mask. He professes to be the “Warrior of the Wasteland” and the “Ayatollah of Rock and Rolla”!

6. Why Ross Gellar Cannot Possibly Be a Paleontologist. Seriously, does anyone really believe that Ross Gellar on “Friends” was a paleontologist? Of course not. Why would you? It’s ridiculous. Buzzfeed’s Alex Kasprak unpacks exactly why Ross’ supposed career makes no sense.

Ross Geller’s big break as a paleontologist was actually a sedimentology study — without question, a useful discipline for paleontology. It is, however, remarkable that someone so early in his career could pull off institution-impressing papers on classic geologic subjects while also being an expert in both paleoanthropology and vertebrate paleontology — things that could take years of hard work.

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