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Daily Reads: The Persecution of Amy Schumer, ‘Magic Mike XXL’s Gay Appeal, and More

Daily Reads: The Persecution of Amy Schumer, 'Magic Mike XXL's Gay Appeal, and More

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

1. The Persecution of Amy Schumer: Political Correctness and Comedy. Comedian Amy Schumer, the star of the upcoming Judd Apatow film “Trainwreck,” has recently come under fire for her treatment of race in her comedy. She then denied being a racist on Twitter and claimed that people have to trust her comedy and provide her space to discuss whatever she wants. This naturally raised a whole host of questions about comedy and offensiveness, but so often than not, critics and writers don’t wrestle with the details and instead fall back on simply absolving or condemning the subject. The Daily Beast’s Teo Bugbee digs into Amy Schumer’s supposed persecution and the intersection between political correctness and comedy.

I’ve questioned if my choice to overlook what’s hurtful in Schumer’s comedy for the sake of what’s insightful is a sign that I’m complicit in the faults of white feminism, not valuing the importance of others’ feelings on this matter enough. This argument of apathy gets used often on social media to raise awareness around issues of race, sex, gender, and other topics surrounding justice and a need for change, and it is often useful, but it can also be a blunt instrument. Where I’ve landed for the moment is that not all marginalized people feel the same way about every issue — even on social media, but especially outside it — and asking everyone to respond in the same way to the same joke takes a simplistic view that flattens the complexity of marginalized communities just as much as it does the white, cisgender mainstream. However, if we’re going to ask audiences to keep in mind the multiplicity of responses that a person might have to a work of art before they attempt to control someone else’s opinion, then it’s only fair that comedians follow the same rule. It’s not that you can’t be an edgy comedian in 2015, it’s that you can’t be 1995’s idea of what an edgy comedian looks like in 2015. You don’t get to collect laughs from generalizations about Latinos (and I somewhat suspect Schumer’s tendency to focus her meanest humor on Latinos is a sign that she believers Latino stereotypes are somehow safer than black stereotypes) and also control people’s negative responses. If Schumer wanted to make the stripper she murders for the boy in her “I’m Cool With It” skit a woman of color? That’s edgy. Not including women of color in her skits, except for a music video making fun of twerking? That’s lame, and if you’re paying attention to voices beyond white media, this week wouldn’t be the first time you heard someone say that.

2. “Magic Mike XXL’s” Odd Depiction of Female Pleasure.“Magic Mike XXL” has received quite a bit of positive attention from critics for focusing on female pleasure. The film features plenty of buff, attractive men eager and willing to be objectified by women so they can be the one’s getting off for once. But as is often the case, not everyone feels this way. The Dissolve’s Tasha Robinson argues that “Magic Mike XXL’s” depiction of female pleasure is odd and ultimately male-oriented.

“Magic Mike XXL” never acknowledges the potential discomfort in the equation; it doesn’t fit with the fantasy. The film’s bevy of strip-show attendees are beyond thrilled when, for instance, one of them gets strapped into an onstage sex swing, dry-humped, then forgotten and left dangling for the rest of the show. Mike’s latest love interest, Zoe (Amber Heard), repeatedly resists being volunteered for the final number, and has to be physically dragged onstage, over her protests — but then she seems overjoyed to be publicly groped, straddled, flopped onto her stomach, and face-humped by a sweaty, mostly naked near-stranger. And probably the movie’s least believable idea of female pleasure comes from its dude-porn love of the faux money shot. In one scene, Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello) tries to lure a smile from a bored convenience-store clerk by writhing his way through the chips aisle spraying Cheetos in all directions, then simulating masturbation and spraying water from a crotch-level bottle in a parody of ejaculation. In another, a dancer at Rome’s club squirts oil all over himself and a fully-clothed target, then smears the oil into her dress and skin while she wails in excitement. In a third, Tito (Adam Rodriguez) pours chocolate sauce all over three clothed women, smears it around with his tongue, then spritzes all three with an unlikely, explosive burst of whipped-cream, implying a prodigious three-partner facial. It’s all outrageous, over the top, and fairly hilarious. But is it sexy? The women onscreen certainly think so.

3. “Magic Mike XXL’s” Gay Appeal is Surprisingly Deep.
But “Magic Mike XXL” isn’t just for the straight ladies. In fact, there’s a whole other section of the population that “Magic Mike XXL” appeals to without reservation. Slate’s J. Bryan Lowder discusses the film’s deep gay appeal and how it isn’t blunt and annoying like other direct gay appeals.

The trouble with this kind of direct appeal to gay folks is that it can often come off as Gaga “Born This Way” blunt and annoying. No one likes a hard sell, and gays have a long history of repurposing straight culture for our own uses — as my friends and I did with the first “Magic Mike.” When subtle subversion is your preferred approach, directness can feel somehow vulgar. The great thing about the draggy aspects of “Magic Mike XXL,” though, are that they make total sense in the world of the story, both logically and thematically. Anyone who has spent time around nightlife creatures knows that the various sub-genres — drag queens, club kids, strippers, sex workers, etc. — usually overlap, at least socially. That’s why the bonfire scene felt so well-observed and lovely. And then, of course, there’s the sense in which the entertaining Mike and the others are doing is really just drag of another gender. The roles and scenarios the guys use as their framing devices — both the old firemen/military routines and the new ones they debut in Myrtle Beach — are drag that eroticizes, exaggerates, and sends up traditional masculinity. Just as drag queens are playing with our ideas of the feminine rather than making fun of real women, male strippers similarly toy with the masculine. When you think about it, the two are really a perfect fit.

4. Kent Jones on “Hitchcock/Truffaut”. One of the best film texts available to the public is “Hitchcock/Truffaut,” Truffaut’s intimate, loving profile of his favorite filmmaker, assembled and compiled from a series of interviews. Critic and filmmaker Kent Jones has a new documentary called “Hitchcock/Truffaut,” which tells the story of Truffaut and Hitchcock’s relationship. Fandor’s Adam Cook interviews Kent Jones on the old text and his new documentary.

Cook: It’s in the spirit of the book to focus on these impassioned directors. The film almost feels less Hitchock by Truffaut than it does Hitchcock by Truffaut by Scorsese/Gray/Desplechin/Assayas, etc. Their admiration being synonymous with the fascination and enthusiasm of Truffaut’s exemplified in the text.

Jones: Yeah, I wanted people who would speak passionately, extemporaneously, without giving canned answers. These are people that I know. It’s a book between two filmmakers. Truffaut may have been a critic but he was a already a renowned director at that point which makes it immediately different, very different from the interviews done by critics at the time where the critic would speak one language, and the filmmaker another, or where you’d get the filmmaker meeting the critic more than halfway and adapting to their language. In the John Halliday book on Douglas Sirk for example, Sirk says that he intended to make a trilogy with “Take Me to Town, All I Desire” to be part of a trilogy on Americana and…I don’t know. There’s no dishonor in saying I was guy who was employed by Universal, I worked for Ross Hunter, I had a job and I did it extraordinarily. Hawks fell into that some of the time. It’s easy to see how. This is filmmaking being picked apart, how the films were made, by two directors. It’s like Fincher says, it’s very basic.

5. Danny Elfman on Eight of His Iconic Scores.
The Lincoln Center Festival in New York starts this week with a concert featuring “Danny Elfman’s Music From the Films of Tim Burton.” Elfman has produced some of the most classic and memorable scores in the last thirty years, and they’re not just limited to Burton’s films. Vulture’s Olivia Collette asks Elfman about eight of his iconic scores in honor of the festival.

The Simpsons” Opening Theme: In the infrequent case where someone can’t place Elfman by name alone, just tell them he composed the theme for “The Simpsons.” It’s so recognizable that Elfman wouldn’t be surprised if, despite over 100 film credits to his name, his tombstone one day reads, “Wrote the ‘Simpsons’ theme.” So how did he come up with this playful orchestral piece? The answer is in his childhood. “It was the easiest thing I’ve ever done because it was immediate; there were no notes, no changes, no suggestions,” he says. “I got called into a meeting with Matt Groening. He showed me a pencil sketch of the opening of ‘The Simpsons’ and it felt very retro and crazy, what I remember growing up on. I told him, ‘If you want something contemporary, I’m not the guy for that. But if you want something like a crazy Hanna-Barbera that never was, then I think I’m the right guy.’ I literally wrote the piece in the car on my way home from the meeting, in my head. I ran down to my studio and within a couple of hours, I wrote all the parts on a multi-track. Then I sent the cassette back to Matt, and I think I got a call the next day saying, ‘Yeah, that’s it’. I didn’t know that I would actually be hitting a jackpot. I didn’t expect anybody to see “The Simpsons.” I didn’t think it would last more than one season, if it even lasted one season. So I did it purely for fun. That silly moment would become this major defining moment in my life. It’s amazing. It’s ironic.”

6. Seven Reasons You Should Be Watching Lifetime’s “UnREAL”. The Lifetime Channel has a new series that’s on everyone’s minds lately: “UnREAL,” a series about the behind-the-scenes machinations of a reality dating competition show, a la “The Bachelor.” Lifetime recently renewed it for a second season banking on the series’ critical acclaim. Buzzfeed’s Louis Peitzman lists seven reasons why you should be watching “UnREAL” now rather than later.

It embraces a subtler and more interesting kind of moral ambiguity “Everlasting” producer Rachel (Shiri Appleby) and her boss Quinn (Constance Zimmer) are, to varying extents, deeply flawed. They embody the kind of antiheroic qualities that made protagonists like “Breaking Bad’s” Walter White and “The Sopranos’” Tony Soprano such tough sells. And because they are women and morally ambiguous in a much less confronting way, they’re actually far more unique as characters — and ultimately, more challenging for viewers who aren’t used to this particular form of bad behavior, especially among women. It’s not news that there is a double standard for how we view male and female characters: One need only look at the vastly different perceptions of Walt and Skyler White for a sense of how skewed things are. But “UnREAL” takes audience assumptions of female characters and confronts them head-on. Rachel and Quinn, not to mention the “Everlasting” contestants themselves, do seriously fucked-up things in nearly every episode, but that makes them thrilling to watch, and finding sympathy for them a consistently rewarding challenge.

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