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Daily Reads: Meryl Streep and Film Criticism By the Numbers, A Cinematic Journey Through Japan, and More

Daily Reads: Meryl Streep and Film Criticism By the Numbers, A Cinematic Journey Through Japan, and More

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

1. Meryl Streep and Film Criticism, By the Numbers. 
Meryl Streep recently made headlines with comments about the gender disparity in film criticism by citing the imbalance of male and female Rotten Tomatoes contributors. Though she has been roundly praised for shedding light on sexism in the industry, not many have actually been interested in the numbers themselves. Film School Rejects’ Matthew Monagle explores Streep’s comments and film criticism by the numbers.

Here’s a modest proposal: let’s make the argument less about Streep and more about the numbers. In a 2013 study at San Diego State University titled “Gender @ the Movies: Online Film Critics and Criticism,” PhD Martha M. Lauzen broke down the male and female population of Rotten Tomatoes critics into their various genders and industries. In looking at each approved critic, Lauzen found that 82% of all Rotten Tomatoes critics were male while 18% were female, numbers that align perfectly with Meryl Streep’s 760 and 168. Furthermore, women comprised “10% of those writing for trade publication sites, and 9% of critics writing for movie/entertainment magazine sites.” The largest segment of female film critics could be found at public radios or newspapers. Even if we like to romanticize the idea of Meryl Streep angrily scrolling through a list of film critic names, her math proves to be just as accurate as a major academic study. Of course, you also have to consider the extremely limited pool that is Rotten Tomatoes. When you visit the accreditation portion of their website, what quickly jumps out at you is the fact that you must be writing for a “Tomatometer-approved publication.” Write horror reviews for a genre-focused site like “Shock Till You Drop” or “Fangoria”? Sorry. Take a deep dive into the cinema culture and history at “Reverse Shot” or “Flavorwire”? Maybe if you started writing for a real publication. Even those that make the list of sanctioned Rotten Tomatoes critics include a disheartening (for us) mix of people who have retired, moved into new areas of journalism and entertainment, or, worst of all, have passed away. And this is not even accounting for the fact that as online film criticism grows exponentially, many of our best writers have moved away from the traditional review format in favor of long-form articles and opinion pieces. Mark Harris, for example, might be one of the best in the business, but he does not get to decide whether a movie has a shiny red tomato or an ugly green splat.

2. Found in Translation: A Film Critic Revisits a Lifetime of Cinema on a Trip to Japan
Japan’s rich cinematic history has always held sway over American film audiences, with everything from Kurosawa’s varied filmography to the “Godzilla” films to Studio Ghibli’s impressive output. But watching Japan through film isn’t exactly the same as being in Japan first-hand and seeing the locations that have only “existed” on screen. At Slate, Dana Stevens writes about her recent trip to Japan, visiting its numerous cinematic locations (including the “Lost In Translation” pool and Toho Studios), and how they captured the imagination.

The Japan I knew before traveling there was almost entirely the Japan of the movies, particularly the country as viewed through a very specific slice of its long cinematic history: from the late days of silent film — which in Japan extended into the early 1930s — through the country’s “new wave” of socially conscious, youth-oriented films, which began simultaneously with the French New Wave in the late ’50s and lasted into the early ’70s. Tokyo was still, in my mind, the city of low wooden buildings crisscrossed with telephone wires and studded with radio towers in midcentury domestic dramas like Akira Kurosawa’s “Ikiru” or Mikio Naruse’s “Late Chrysanthemums,” both of which chronicle the painful breakdown of the old ways in the face of relentless modernization. It was the city of miniature models stomped into rubble and then burned by the fiery breath of “Godzilla” in the still-astonishing 1954 movie of that name, a howl of postwar anguish that doesn’t just allegorize but directly expresses the Japanese population’s still-raw PTSD from Hiroshima and Nagasaki — not to mention its mounting anxiety about U.S. hydrogen-bomb tests in the Pacific, the fallout from which had just ravaged the crew of a Japanese fishing boat earlier that year. 

3. Why AMC Renewed “Halt and Catch Fire” For a Third Season. 
Yesterday, AMC renewed its critically adored, commercially struggling personal computer drama “Halt and Catch Fire” for a third season. This was a surprising turn of events as the show has always pulled in very low ratings, but in this age of Peak TV, it’s now possible that low-rated shows like this can live long past their usual sell-by date. The LA Times’ Libby Hill reports on the reasoning behind AMC’s decision and the future of “Halt and Catch Fire.”

Though the series has always suffered with finding an audience, season two ratings were anemic, averaging around 500,000 viewers, not including time-shifted views. Joel Stillerman, AMC’s president of original programming and development, stressed the importance of the network owning its own content when it came to the decision to renew. “A few years ago we decided that we needed to own our content. We did that for a number of reasons, once of which was to find a way to support these shows even if they’re not massive ratings successes,” Stillerman said in an interview Wednesday, “So we were happy that we had the full spectrum of metrics that ownership affords to be able to say yes.” But there are changes coming for “Halt and Catch Fire” and they aren’t limited to merely the change of scenery as established by the plot developments in the season two finale, with the relocation of the story from the Silicon Prairie of Texas to California’s Silicon Valley. The showrunner for the first two seasons, Jonathan Lisco, will be departing and co-creators Chris Cantwell and Chris Rogers will be taking over as showrunners. Stillerman is adamant that Lisco’s departure is happening under only the best terms. “Jonathan is moving on at his election to pursue a passion project he had been developing for some time, long before ‘Halt and Catch Fire.’ I know it was not an easy decision for him, but he made a decision we fully supported.” Moreover, Stillerman reports that Lisco is more than confident that Cantwell and Rogers are up to the task of showrunning, saying, “He was so embracing of Chris and Chris, in terms of showing them the ropes. They’re truly ready.”

4. “Steve Jobs” Turns Apple’s Founder Into a Fascinating Jerk. 
Danny Boyle’s new film “Steve Jobs,” written by Aaron Sorkin, follows the titular Apple mastermind backstage at three project launches and explores his difficult, abrasive personality that alienated co-workers and inspired countless citizens. The film has garnered mostly positive reviews with many critics praising Sorkin’s script as another winner. Buzzfeed’s Alison Willmore reviews “Steve Jobs” and explores how Sorkin’s borderline-Luddism actually helped him capture a technological giant.

Aaron Sorkin has described himself as “just this side of luddite.” He’s made it clear that he can’t stand the internet, which he feels is full of people who talk and talk and don’t listen to each other, not unlike those in an Aaron Sorkin screenplay. You’d think that being indifferent-to-hostile toward technology would make someone a pretty crummy candidate to write movies about two of the tech world’s most influential figures. But instead “The Social Network” and “Steve Jobs” bring out “The West Wing” creator’s best and most affectingly ambivalent self, one interested in challenging the self-mythologizing to which the industry is prone rather than bolstering it up. Sorkin’s long-held faith in the abilities of great men to lead humanity forward is transmuted by his lack of affinity for technology into something with more perspective and plangency. Rather than just celebrate their subjects’s achievements, these movies use them to springboard into pointed explorations of modern masculinity. These are stories about brilliant jerks. 

5. “Pan” Asks The Odd Question: What Happened Before The Fun Started? 
“Pan,” the new prequel to J. M. Barrie’s “Peter Pan” story, opens in theaters today. The film has received mostly negative reviews with much of the criticism stemming from the inherent irrelevance of origin stories, i.e. why would anyone want to see what happens before the good part of a narrative? NPR’s Scott Tobias takes “Pan” to task for focusing on world-building rather than the world itself.

“Sometimes, friends begin as enemies. And sometimes, enemies begin as friends. Sometimes, in order to truly know how things end, we must first know how they begin.” So opens the storybook narration to “Pan,” the calamitous live-action expansion of J.M. Barrie’s Neverland mythos. And so does the film commit its original sin. We are not required, in fact, to know how Peter Pan became Peter Pan or Captain Hook became Captain Hook or what Neverland looked like before Wendy Darling and her brothers arrive with the promise of eternal childhood. Peter Pan has done just fine as a literary and cinematic adventure without readers or audiences needing to understand where he came from and how he learned to fly. To put it in the film’s terms: Sometimes, classic stories don’t benefit from re-imaginings or embellishments. Sometimes, it’s not worth knowing what happened before the fun starts. Sometimes, such mysteries are best left alone. “Pan” doesn’t fail for lack of trying, but rather the opposite. Director Joe Wright has always been an exceptionally bold stylist, and it’s paid off most of the time: In the emotional robustness of his “Pride & Prejudice” adaptation with Keira Knightley, in the celebrated Dunkirk Beach tracking shot from his World War II film “Atonement,” in the propulsive zip of his Euro-thriller “Hanna.” But a world as densely populated as Neverland doesn’t need the outrageous flourishes Wright piles on top of it, and it bends from the weight of all that too-muchness. The action is so frenetic, the eye doesn’t know where to go.

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