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Daily Reads: Why ‘Tomorrowland’ Isn’t Too Original, the Too-Much TV Problem, and More

Daily Reads: Why 'Tomorrowland' Isn't Too Original, the Too-Much TV Problem, and More

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

1. Pop Culture and Courtship. Courting a spouse or a companion has never been easy and relies on several different factors. So, naturally we’re here to ask, “Where does pop culture fit into modern day courtship?” Luckily, The Washington Post’s Alissa Wilkinson explores the history of courtship and where pop culture fits in.

That “older-fashioned” practice of Christian courtship became popular some time in the mid-1980s, particularly among very conservative communities, who often practiced homeschooling and met in home churches. The goal is to eschew modern dating practices. Couples gain parental blessing for their relationship, often mediated through the father; spend time together only in the presence of chaperones; and save physical contact (including kissing and hugging) for after the wedding. The ability to choose your own spouse seems like an inalienable right to many Americans. Technology can help eliminate some of the variables — about 35 percent of spouses now meet online, and a Tinder revolution is in full swing — but at the end of the day, it’s up to grown adults to decide who they’ll marry. But a close look at pop culture reveals a certain weariness with the self-screening process, an acute awareness that it’s still hard work to find love. “All of us have more opportunities for connection,” says documentary filmmaker Amy Kohn, “but we feel more disconnected than ever.”

2. “Tomorrowland’s” Failure Is Not About Audiences Rejecting Originality. 
Last Friday, Disney released its new film “Tomorrowland,” a film about the powers of imagination and the wonder of scientific progress. But for some reason, it doesn’t seem to be catching on with audiences. It’s easy to say that this is a case of audiences rejecting an original, unestablished property, but Forbes’ Scott Mendelson explains that’s not the case.

All due respect, but “Tomorrowland” does not look like a film that cost $190 million to produce. It has moments of razzle-dazzle and spectacle. But for much of its running time, it is an unquestionably polished and gorgeous-looking kid-friendly road trip adventure that is squarely set on a recognizable planet Earth and only gets a little sci-fi freaky in its third act. Without discounting production troubles and reshoots and all of the other things that cause a budget to balloon, there is little reason to have expected a film like “Tomorrowland” to recoup an estimated $190m budget barring variables that were clearly not present in this particular case. While I admire the willingness of Walt Disney to allow one of their prized animation directors to spend nearly $200 million on an original personal project, that doesn’t necessarily mean that said project was a box office guarantee, even with George Clooney in a prominent role. This was an original film whose marketing pretty much hid any real notion of what the film was about. Aside from the idea of a young girl finding a magical pin that hinted at a futuristic utopia and a supporting turn from George Clooney as a curmudgeon tangentially connected to said world, there was no real indication as to what the film was about or what the narrative journey might be. That in itself is not a fatal problem if the movie delivered in terms of spectacle or mind-blowing plot turns, but that was not the case. This is where the reviews hurt. It’s not just that the reviews for “Tomorrowland” were mixed/negative, but rather that the reviews quickly revealed that there wasn’t anything spectacular being hidden behind the curtain.

3. Who is “Tomorrowland” For, Anyway? 
Speaking of Disney’s “Tomorrowland,” who’s its target audience? Is it precocious kids, nostalgic adults, or somewhere in the middle (a precocious, proto-nostalgic kid-dult?).Well, Film School Rejects’ Kate Erbland answers that question and more as she gets closer and closer to the truth.

Brad Bird’s feature is all about wonder, possibility, and progress – basically, it’s got the kind of messaging that is perfect for a younger skewing audience. Although the film is also about combating pessimism and the creation of negative thoughts (in fact, within the context of the film, pessimism and negative thinking are capable of spawning literal disasters), “Tomorrowland” is mainly concerned with the possibilities of the future, particularly as it applies to kids. The savior of the entire film is Britt Robertson’s plucky teen genius Casey, who uses her unique (and very optimistic) worldview to literally save the planet. When Casey thinks something good could happen – like, oh, the world not going boom – it lowers the chances of the world actually going boom. 
Youthful optimism is the lifeblood of “Tomorrowland.” It’s a little bit like someone decided to take a movie that was built on previous “Peter Pan” lessons, i.e. clapping really hard and believing something a lot – especially if you’re a kid – can make it happen. It’s a kids’ movie, or at least, it should be.

4. “Mad Max: Fury Road” and the Political Limits of Action Movies. 
The new “Mad Max” film has gotten a lot of attention for its understated politics and its diversity, especially as an action film. The Washington Post’s Alyssa Rosenberg examines “Mad Max,” its politics, and the political limits of action films.

Watching “Mad Max: Fury Road” feels a lot like observing contemporary feminist debates in particular and many of our debates about cultural politics in general. Both movie and movement are full of arresting images, but as the lens shifts from one to the next, it’s difficult to discern a unifying theory holding them all together. If Immortan Joe is running the Citadel as a sexual caste system, as his wives’ imprisonment and his use of slave wet nurses seems to suggest, how did Imperator Furiosa end up in such a position of leadership? Does her disability (she appears to be an amputee or to have been born without part of one arm) put her outside rigid gender categories? In a similar way, we say we want something more than the stereotype of the Strong Female Character, but what does it mean that in “Mad Max: Fury Road,” both pregnant sex slaves and the desert grannies who become their allies both have to display their action hero credentials?

5. 500 Channels and Everything’s On: The Too-Much TV Problem. 
It seems like there’s so much good TV nowadays, and not just from typical premium cable networks or reliable broadcast ones, but from everywhere. So how does anyone – critics, audiences, couch potatoes – keep up? Time’s James Poniewozik unpacks the “Too-Much TV Problem” and the difference between essential viewing and “essential viewing.”

Last year, there were 352 original scripted shows on broadcast, cable and streaming TV. Let’s estimate 10 hours a year, sans ads, per series (long for a comedy, short for a drama). That’s 3,520 hours, or just shy of 60 days – assuming you clip your eyelids open “Clockwork Orange” – style and you exclude news, reality shows, movies, sports, game shows, talk shows, viral videos, documentaries, music, “House Hunters”, commercials, food, work, exercise, sleep, bathroom breaks, the laughter of children and the touch of a devoted lover. (Well, unless you multitask.) For a TV critic, it means that the job more than ever is about figuring out what not to watch – doing the triage and selective sampling to keep up on many things when you know you can’t nearly see everything. But at least I can do it on company time. For those of you with real jobs – say, if you’re the Pope – the cutting must be even more severe. (This is why I always laugh when people say TV critics are harsher on shows than regular folks: there is no speedier, more pitiless judge than the person with an hour or two of tube time before bed and no professional obligation to watch more than two minutes.)

6. Keith Phipps on “Two-Lane Blacktop”. 
Each week at The Dissolve, they choose a Movie of the Week and assign a variety of writers to provide their own unique perspectives on said film. This week, it’s Monte Hellman’s classic 1971 film “Two-Lane Blacktop,” arguably the pinnacle of the existentialist road movie genre. Editorial Director Keith Phipps plumbs the depths of Hellman’s film and finds old treasures worth celebrating.

Together, Hellman and Wurlitzer took the idea of a cross-country race and stripped it to its essence, turning it into a contest between characters known only as The Driver and The Mechanic. The two men compete in drag races in a souped-up 1955 Chevy so utilitarian it doesn’t even have a coat of paint. Then they face a challenger referred to only by the name of the factory-fresh muscle car he drives: GTO. Also in the picture: a drifter known only as The Girl, who floats between all players. Hellman and Wurlitzer kept stripping this group down until even the story started to fall away. Not only does “Two-Lane Blacktop” reveal little about where its characters come from, it seems to forget where it’s going. Though declared a race “for pinks” that will leave the winner in possession of both cars, the contest frequently gets put on hold—and maybe forgotten—as the participants trade cars, help each other with repairs, share meals, and stop in mutually agreed-upon locations. The race is just an excuse created by people who know they need to keep moving.

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