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Daily Reads: When Movie Theaters Aren’t Safe, the Man Behind 20 Years of Adam Sandler Movies, and More

Daily Reads: When Movie Theaters Aren't Safe, the Man Behind 20 Years of Adam Sandler Movies, and More

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

1. What We Lose When Movie Theaters Aren’t Safe. Yesterday evening, tragedy struck Lafayette, Louisiana when John Russel Houser opened fire during a showing of “Trainwreck” and killed three people including himself. Though obviously this should spark yet another necessary discussion over whether or not we should curtail our shockingly easy access to guns, it’s also important to talk about what happens when public communal spaces like movie theaters lose their inherent comfort. The Washington Post’s Alyssa Rosenberg writes about what we lose when movie theaters are no longer safe.

When you go to a movie theater, you are deciding to sit for two hours in the dark with dozens, even hundreds of people, you don’t know. Unlike on a plane, or even in a live theater or concert performance, to name other captive experiences that put us in close proximity with strangers, there often aren’t paid staff in the theater with you, watching for disruptions or quietly managing other people’s behavior. Often, if you’re polite, and if you want to give yourself fully over to the experience unfolding on the screen, you’ve turned off your phone, putting another step between yourself and calling for help if it should suddenly prove necessary. Once the lights go down and the previews (and pre-previews, sadly) come up, we’re giving ourselves over not just to the conditions of the movie theater, but to the story on screen. This is what makes film so powerful, and what in the past has made it seem so threatening to decency crusaders who decried the medium’s impact on children and immigrants. Whatever divides us before we take our plushly cushioned stadium seats or our places in community theater chairs worn thin by decades of showings, we’ve been drawn together by the same story. And that story will continue to unite us, at least for a little while, as we spill back into the bright heat of summer daylight, or the cool of the evening, and talk about what we’ve just seen. This isn’t to say that the movies automatically produce some kind of mindless consensus: We bring our differences into the theater with us, and they inform the sometimes radically divergent things we take away from the same images projected on hundreds of similar screens. The movies, though, can help define the parameters of our conversations. We may not want the same results out of a fantasy of American power projection such as “The Avengers” franchise, the glimpse into a president’s inner life on his most difficult days we get in “Lincoln,” or a brutal journey into the realities of slavery and the precarious nature of black freedom in “12 Years a Slave.” But there’s something powerful in finding ourselves attracted to the same basic narratives and the same big, American ideas.

2. The Man Behind 20 Years of Adam Sandler Movies. 
Adam Sandler’s new film “Pixels” enters theaters today and it looks absolutely dreadful, which isn’t a surprise given that Adam Sandler is behind the wheel. No offense to the Sand Man (okay, the tiniest offense), but the large majority of his films are so abysmally stupid and insipid that oftentimes the reviews of his films are more entertaining than the films themselves. But do you know the man behind Adam Sandler, the guy who writes his jokes and produces his movies? Esquire’s Matt Patches profiles Tom Herlihy, a lawyer-turned-comedy-writer who makes Adam Sandler laugh.

Tim Herlihy never dreamed of writing comedy, never considered it a profession, even as he fell face-first into it, and today, isn’t quite sure how comedy works. But he made Adam Sandler laugh. That’s all it took. The future comedic partners met on their first days at New York University in 1984, roommates by chance. They went out for Chinese food (it was Sandler’s birthday). Herlihy studied business. Sandler wanted to be the next Eddie Murphy. The two struck up a friendship. They drank beer in their penthouse dorm room (Budweiser, if they splurged). They bonded over “Animal House,” Bill Murray, Scooby-Doo impressions, and Rodney Dangerfield. They traded dumb jokes. When Herlihy decided to write them down, Sandler suddenly had a stand-up act. At night, they drifted from the Paper Moon in Greenwich Village ($1.50 vodka tonics after 11 p.m.) to Folk City, around the corner. Sandler hit the stage. Herlihy wrote. The laughs kept coming. Sandler blew up. After graduation, Herlihy went to law school and Sandler moved on to television, movies, and “Saturday Night Live.” He kept calling his college buddy for jokes. Because Herlihy wasn’t going to be a lawyer. He was a comedy writer, whether he knew it or not. Little has changed since that first day at NYU, save for over one billion dollars worth of blockbuster comedies. Herlihy became Sandler’s go-to writer and producer, joining him on “SNL” (becoming head writer for two years after his partner’s departure) and together they formed their own Hollywood comedy factory, Happy Madison Productions. But for Herlihy, understanding what made it work remains difficult. “I used to do this thing for my kids’ school where I talk to third-, fourth-, and fifth-graders about comedy,” he says. “I hated it. I’m just so intimidated by these kids. They ask questions and I’m spouting my theories on comedy. I don’t really have any great theories on comedy.” So what does he tell the kids? What does he tell himself when he sits down to write a new Adam Sandler movie? “I just do what they did in Bugs Bunny.”

3. Parker Posey on Working With Woody Allen and Being Forgotten by Hollywood. 
Parker Posey is one of the best actresses working today. She made her name in dozens of independent films, and now has done everything from working with Louis C.K. to Woody Allen. Playboy’s Sam Fragoso interviews Posey and discusses her future in Hollywood.

From “Dazed and Confused” to now — has your career panned out how you thought it would?

Nope. I feel so blessed because I’ve had a risky career, and I’ve always been told that.

Why would they tell you that?

Because there are just things that I couldn’t do and wouldn’t do that were either too boring to me or meaningless, and I’d rather be with friends or take a pottery class or do something that’s grounding. But as I got older, just do everything you can. “Yeah, go do the spot on ‘New Girl,’ do the guest spot on ‘The Good Wife.’” You know, these parts are just not satisfying to me. And going to Hollywood and taking meetings that are empty as well, that don’t amount to anything.

4. “Sin City” Remains a Fascinating Experiment in Panel to Screen Adaptation. 
In 2005, director Robert Rodriquez in collaboration with Frank Miller adapted Miller’s “Sin City” comic book into a film, only they set out to make the most direct adaptation possible. Over at The A.V. Club, veteran critic Mike D’Angelo pens a column called Scenic Routes that analyzes one scene from a movie. D’Angelo takes a look at a scene from “Sin City” and illustrates how it was a fascinating experiment in the history of comic book adaptations.

In theory, movies adapted from comic books should be a cinch. After all, they’ve already been completely storyboarded, providing the director with a ready-made array of arresting images. Production, set, and costume designers can see exactly what they need to replicate, and every camera angle has been pre-selected. All that’s needed is to provide the motion that connects each individual panel to the next.
That sound you hear is thousands of filmmakers laughing uproariously. Maybe you’re laughing, too. Even the most rabid Marvel and DC fans don’t expect to see a movie that treats a particular comic book as a precise blueprint; it doesn’t require a degree in film theory to understand that there are vast differences between the two media — that what works beautifully as drawings organized on a page won’t necessarily make for dynamic, compelling, or even coherent cinema. (The opposite is equally true, as anyone who read Marvel’s “Star Wars” comics — the early issues that just rehashed “A New Hope”— can attest. Even the tie-in fotonovels popular in the late ’70s and early ’80s, which used actual movie stills, achieve very little.) Plus, even if it actually were that simple, there aren’t many self-respecting directors who’d be interested in slavishly recreating another artist’s vision. The result would almost surely be bland beyond endurance. That’s what makes “Sin City” — technically and significantly called “Frank Miller’s Sin City” — so unusual. Co-directed by Miller himself in collaboration with Robert Rodriguez, it’s a freakishly direct adaptation of “The Hard Goodbye,” “The Big Fat Kill,” and “That Yellow Bastard,” striving to accomplish the panel-by-panel correspondence that I just pronounced absurd. The film was shot almost entirely in front of a green screen (at a time when that technique was still being used sparingly) and leached of most color, making it as starkly stylized as the source material; Rodriguez persuaded Miller to approve and eventually join the project by telling him the film would be a translation rather than an adaptation, as if comics and movies are akin to English and Spanish. Again, that’s inane… and yet the result is surprisingly effective, for the most part.

5. Scalarama and the Salvation of Rep Cinema. 
Living in a city that features repertory cinema is a fantastic privilege. It provides you with the opportunity to view seldom-seen films on the big screen and join the community of those who loyally attend these screenings. Director Peter Strickland (“Berberian Sound Studio” and “The Duke of Burgundy”) fondly remembers the time he spent at Scala Cinema and basking in the wonders of rep cinema.

My epiphany was at the Scala Cinema exactly a quarter of a century ago. The film in question happened to be David Lynch’s “Eraserhead,” but that in itself was only one facet within the circumstances that ignited such an intense response. Age had a lot to do with it, but the environment in which the film was screened cannot be divorced from the experience, which makes me wonder if one can truly undergo an epiphany from watching a film on a tablet. The Scala was voluptuously atmospheric as a cinema and the act of entering its dimension felt akin to an illicit, lowlife Alice in Wonderland, as if written by William Burroughs. I loved the dusty squalor of the auditorium along with other pungent aromas. It was the closest my generation got to the US grindhouse cinemas lovingly described by the likes of Michelle Clifford, Bill Landis and Jack Stevenson. The dim red amniotic glow of the cinema screen was a portal into another world. That anticipation and apprehension from seeing that red screen lying in wait for the next film, along with the Northern Line rumbling underneath, shaped the way I thought about the act of making and seeing films.

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