Criticwire’s Daily Reads brings today’s essential news stories and critical pieces to you.
1. Netflix Will Never Have Everything, And Neither Will Anyplace Else. In this new age of instant streaming access, it’s easy to get suckered into the idea of having one streaming service feature all the great movies. All of them. But of course, when that doesn’t happen, and you inevitably have to use Netflix and Hulu and Amazon, someone has to ask why? The Verge’s Brian Bishop explains why Netflix will never have everything you want, and neither will anyplace else.
This past weekend Netflix announced that it was not renewing its streaming deal with cable channel Epix, and as a result, movies like “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” “The Wolf of Wall Street,” and “Transformers: Age of Extinction” will be disappearing from the service by the end of September. Hulu signed up with Epix instead (Amazon Video already has a deal), and Netflix’s attempt to soften the blow — “Hey guys, we’ve got new Adam Sandler and Pee-wee Herman movies coming!” — was met with swift and merciless ridicule.Behind all the sturm and drang is a basic truth: consumers want a single subscription service that can offer all the movies and TV shows they could possibly want, all in one place. Conditioned by years of streaming music services, audiences simply expect a Spotify-style service to become a reality, and anything that veers away from that goal is seen as a momentous failure. There’s just one problem: a Spotify for movies and TV is never going to happen. And that’s just the way the studios and services want it. When Netflix first got into the streaming game, it wasn’t even a matter of collecting all the content; it was a question of collecting enough content to justify the service’s own existence. A lot of those movies came from side deals with cable channels: rather than getting movies from studios directly, Netflix could sub-license from channels like Starz (or Epix), and let those catalogs flow into its own online library. There tended to be some quality issues back in the day — Starz was particularly notorious for serving up pan-and-scan versions of movies — but it was a quick way to build a catalog when Netflix was best known for mailing out plastic discs. It also came with some pretty major downsides, like when Starz realized just how much value it gave to Netflix, and ended up pulling out of negotiations in 2011. At the time, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings estimated that Starz content accounted for 8 percent of Netflix’s domestic viewing, and his company’s stock plunged appropriately. Epix pulled a similar move in 2012, when it decided to not move forward with Netflix on an exclusive basis, and instead began working with Amazon as well.
2. Make Keegan-Michael Key Our Next Rom-Com Leading Man. The acclaimed sketch comedy show “Key & Peele” ends its five-season run this evening, and it’s only natural to ask where the talented funny men go next. Will they stay together as a duo permanently like some postmodern Laurel & Hardy that’s tied at the hip, or do they pursue their own interests like regular folks. Vulture’s Margaret Lyons has an idea, at least for the Key in the duo: Make Keegan-Michael Key the next rom-com leading man.
There hasn’t been a truly great movie rom-com in an awfully long time. There are any number of reasons for this — the crippling of the mid-budget movie, general cultural malaise, superheroes. But today is not about lamenting problems. It’s about presenting solutions. And the perfect possible solution to our rom-com dearth comes to us from television, where a mini rom-com boom is afoot. America — nay, world: Our next great romantic lead is Keegan-Michael Key. Make it so. Key’s brilliant work on “Key and Peele” — which ends its five-season run on Wednesday — has proven his acumen as a writer and performer (true even in his “MADtv” days), and the fact that the show is going out on such a high note demonstrates his self-restraint as a creator and executive producer. Plus, he made a patchy goatee still seem striking on “Fargo.” All of this can be said of Jordan Peele as well. But the distinguishing factor here for Key is “Playing House,” where he plays the upstanding, occasionally uptight Mark, the long-arc love interest for Jessica St. Clair’s Emma. He’s her high-school sweetheart, and he’s stayed friends with her lifelong bestie Maggie (Lennon Parham), even after Emma moved away and came back. Over the show’s 16 episodes, Mark has been a dutiful police officer, a supportive friend, a doting sociological uncle to Maggie’s baby, a community-theater enthusiast, though just a so-so husband to his wife, Tina, who Maggie and Emma call “Bird Bones.” On tonight’s “Officer of the Year,” he is also a stone-cold fox.
3. Living in the Sprawl: “Superbad’s” Coming-of-Age In the Suburban Void. Bright Wall/Dark Room is one of the best film magazines around putting out quality writing every month from young writers of many different backgrounds. They’re a publication that focuses on quality and quantity, allowing writers to go long on subjects that are personal to them. Over at RogerEbert.com, BW/DR has an excerpt from their new September issue: Charles Bramesco writes about “Superbad” and its relationship to The Suburbs.
Bill Hader and co-scriptwriter Seth Rogen appear in the high school comic odyssey “Superbad” as a pair of aloof, fun-lovin’ cops who take chronic third-wheeler Fogell (alias: McLovin, played indelibly by Christopher Mintz-Plasse) out for the night of his life in a freewheeling B-plot. Look closely at their costuming and you’ll see that the patches stitched onto their uniforms read “CLARK COUNTY POLICE DEPARTMENT,” in reference to the sprawling Nevada county that contains the greater Las Vegas area. This easily-missed detail constitutes the lone means of determining where, exactly, “Superbad” is supposed to take place. Fogell and soft-spoken niceguy Evan (Michael Cera, attaining some lofty Platonic ideal of Michael Ceraness) plan on shipping off to start their freshman year at Dartmouth College in the fall, and a cokehead at a party mentions that his brother came in all the way from Scottsdale, Arizona. But apart from those fleeting, inconsequential markers, “Superbad” is a film that exists outside of place, unstuck in America, nowhere and everywhere. Though audiences walking out of “Superbad” may have difficulty pointing out where it takes place on a map, all viewers recognize the setting immediately as The Suburbs, the faceless expanse of middle-class flatland that encircles every major metro area and stretches across the landlocked states for uninterrupted miles. Small-time consumerism defines the face of the town, and the time not spent huddled around glowing TV sets in cool basements or in bedrooms full of stale air is instead squandered at convenience stores or malls. It’s like a Norman Rockwell painting, but without the delusions of genteel small-town values; kids loiter outside the liquor mart, needling strangers to buy them beers, while seniors play hooky during fourth period. The thematic, capital-S Suburbs also exist as a distinctly teenage milieu, inviting the sort of adolescent perspectives that only Evan and his inseparable best friend Seth (multiple Academy Award nominee Jonah Hill) can offer. We all know the darkly existential suburbs that provoke crises of identity in married couples like Lester and Carolyn Burnham (“American Beauty”) or Frank and April Wheeler (“Revolutionary Road”), but the ennui of “Superbad’s” suburbs signifies mere dullness, not hollowness. After all, for Seth and Evan, life has yet to start. The faceless setting of the film acts as a holding zone, a sort of purgatory in which they must toil before the wonders of college—and, more critically, excursion into the outside world—may begin. Evan’s got a big bright future ahead of him, and the frightening realization that Seth may not share those prospects threatens to tear their friendship asunder. They generate drama through their ability (or failure) to grow out of the suburbs; while Evan’s somewhat prepared for the wide road before him, Seth’s a little too content in his own enclave.
4. The Adolescent Angst of “The Breakfast Club” 30 Years Later. John Hughes’ “The Breakfast Club” is an indelible teen classic in which a bunch of archetypes are forced to spend time together during Saturday detention and learn that they all have a little more in common than they might think. Now, that may be trite, but “The Breakfast Club” does traffic in real teenage emotions, so much so that it still endures thirty years later. The A.V. Club’s Gwen Ihnat examines the ’80s teen film after all of these years.
Much is made of the five leads as generic stereotypes: Brain, Beauty, Jock, Rebel, Basket Case. In classic Hughes fashion, the Beauty and Jock are at the top of the high-school structure, the others further down the ladder. But the fact that “custodial artist” Carl is seen in a brief shot at the beginning of the movie as a former high school star is a sly nod to what Hughes thinks of people who peak in high school. (Ferris Bueller is the only Hughes hero who’s popular with his classmates.) “The Breakfast Club” systematically breaks down these social barriers, first by pointing out the group’s differences—as seen in their lunches, for instance, which range from sushi to a Cap’n Crunch sandwich—then their similarities. They share social fears. They all acted out their general dissatisfaction to wind up in all-day detention, even Allison, who only wandered in out of boredom. Moments like pot-fueled dancing and examining each other’s wallets help bond the kids together, along with their alignment against out-of-touch principal Richard Vernon (Paul Gleason). The lines from Brian’s letter that close the movie reinforce how pointless and painful stereotypes can be. But what resonates most from a later viewing of “The Breakfast Club,” and the main thing these five have in common, is how their parents cast a pall over the entire proceedings. Parents only appear tangentially in Hughes’ other teen movies, with nice-guy dads like Paul Dooley and Harry Dean Stanton sitting in for some heartfelt one-to-ones with Molly Ringwald. In “The Breakfast Club,” viewers only briefly see the parents dropping the kids off in the morning. But much of what the kids talk about, and what appears to upset them most, is how they deal with their parental units. Bender’s “‘No, dad, what about you? ‘Fuck you!'” speech is a sharper version of Jim Stark’s plea to his father decades earlier. Claire readily admits that she is the focus of a tug-of-war between her parents, and given the option, she’d rather just live with her brother. In one of Brian’s fumbling attempts to fit in, he says, “Hey, I don’t get along with my parents either,” even though he undoubtedly has the most stable family of anyone there. Still, he feels so compelled to get straight As that he brings a (flare) gun to school when it looks like he may fail shop. Sheedy sells Allison’s isolation when she reveals to Andy that her parents “ignore me,” and the fact that we never see her parents—their car pulls away without anyone saying goodbye to her—underscores her point. Andy’s father pushes him so much into sports that he feels like a prize racehorse: “It’s about how involved I am in what’s happening to me.” At one point, Andy despairs, “My God. Are we going to be like our parents?” Claire tearfully insists, “Not me. Ever.”
5. FX’s “The Strain” Embraced the Stupid and Became Much Better. Do you guys know “The Strain”? No? Guillermo Del Toro’s weird vampire horror drama that seems like the show where a bunch of stuff happens but none of it means anything? Well, it’s in the middle of its second season on FX and it seems to have done the right thing: embrace its stupid side. Vox’s Todd VanDerWerff reviews the series mid-season and explains why it’s hard to make good stupid TV.
The series has embraced camp. There are so many things on this show that don’t stand up to logical scrutiny, even within a universe where vampires with long stingers for tongues are slowly but surely taking over the world. Giant, seemingly earth-rending events happen, and a few scenes later everyone has forgotten about them. Our hero, Eph (Corey Stoll), develops a bioweapon to take out the vampires, and it works. But when he’s temporarily foiled by the villains, he instead decides to assassinate wealthy billionaire Eldritch Palmer (who’s in on the vampire conspiracy). “Something changed in you in Washington,” his mentor tells him, and this is the kind of character development the show goes in for — characters filling in other characters about what seems different about them. It’s the kind of series where people can fall in love after a particularly intense hug. But to its credit, “The Strain” seems more willing to embrace its inherent ridiculousness this season. Stoll, who spent a lot of the first season emoting up a storm, now plays everything with a very slight wink. He’s even lost the terrible wig from season one! Similarly, the characters now include a former luchador and a weird vampire hitman who tracks down others of his own kind while wearing a hoodie. Not everything works, but the series is finally willing to wink at itself, at least a little bit.
6. “Fort Tilden” May Be the Defining Film of Its Generation. The independent film “Fort Tilden,” written and directed by Sarah-Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers, has a familiar premise and familiar characters (two Brooklynites go on a short journey that coincides with a Major Life Turning Point), the film also has quite more to say than it lets on. On his blog, Jesse Knight discusses why “Fort Tilden” may be the defining film of its generation.
I’ve spent years living in the Silverlake neighborhood of Los Angeles, sort of the west coast Williamsburg, constantly feeling out of place. I don’t own a single fedora, I gave up playing the ukulele years ago, and my farmer’s tan doesn’t lend well to V-neck t-shirts. But while the young people who flood the overpriced coffee shops and vintage clothes racks of Sunset Junction are easy targets, their presence is as transitory as it is undeniable. And those outfits? Tell me they’re not adorable. It’s a time- or generation-specific aesthetic, the way the ’90s fared neon and triple sizes. Look at almost any photo of your younger self and you’ll laugh at the ridiculous outfit you were wearing, the one you were wearing with pride. But it’s not a laugh driven by judgment or hate. It was just the time, right? The context. It’s what every other prior aesthetic helped cultivate through its ritual of perpetual mutation. It also might be the fault of your parents, those other pillars of evolutionary custom. The routine of tradition is a changing one too. Our children now will look different from how we did then. They’ll look ridiculous in new and different ways. Maybe soon Target will be selling rompers for toddlers. The hipster or millennial isn’t identifiable just by its fashion, as elaborated throughout “Fort Tilden,” it’s generally an attitude, a detachment, a privileged aloofness. When Harper, the self-proclaimed artist whose procrastination is funded through a series of wire transfers by her faceless father, sees a barrel on the sidewalk, she swoons, thinking it’d make a great addition to their apartment as a receptacle for umbrellas. She offers a man sitting nearby $200 for it. He knows exactly what’s happening when he accepts her check, but he doesn’t let on, in fact he looks as if he’s trying hard not to move, as if she might realize through his facial expressions and body language of disbelief that he is not there to sell the barrel, he may not have even noticed the barrel until she asked about it, because the barrel is street garbage. But to Harper it’s the find of the decade. It’s one of the funnier scenes in one of the funnier movies in recent memory, which only gets funnier as Harper and Allie try to push-carry-roll the cumbersome umbrella holder home. We wait an eternity for the moment when they come to the conclusion the barrel might have been a bad investment, a moment that, brilliantly, never comes. Their delight and confidence in their new piece of furniture is so defiant that we ultimately don’t question it. The film certainly doesn’t, which is key. The ridiculousness of the situation is inherently comical but also divulges nearly all we need to know about these two. Looked at one way, “Fort Tilden” could be one of the funniest movies ever made. Looked at another, it could be one of the most upsetting. It transgresses by being both.
Tweet of the Day:
EXEC: Damn, The Guardian gave our film only two stars.
DESIGNER: I got this. *cracks knuckles* pic.twitter.com/jwO6wn7hOq
— Eric Heisserer (@HIGHzurrer) September 8, 2015