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Daily Reads: ‘The Hateful Eight’ Resurrects 70mm, The Year Asian-Americans Got a Shot on TV, and More

Daily Reads: 'The Hateful Eight' Resurrects 70mm, The Year Asian-Americans Got a Shot on TV, and More

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

1. Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight” Resurrects Nearly Obsolete Technology.
For his new film “The Hateful Eight,” director Quentin Tarantino has cut two versions of the film. One is for general audiences set for digital release next year, and the other is the longer roadshow version set to be released on Christmas day in glorious 70mm. As a result, Tarantino and the Weinstein Company have purchased 70mm projectors for theaters across the country so they can show the film. The New York Times’ Ben Kenigsberg explores how Tarantino has helped resurrect obsolete technology for his new film.

“The charge that we got from Weinstein was that we needed to be prepared to do 100 screens,” said Chapin Cutler, a founder of Boston Light & Sound, the company hired to find and assemble the projectors. Mr. Cutler said that the hunt began in January and continued through September. (The Weinstein Company plans to release a full list of theaters Thursday or Friday. The film is also currently facing calls for a police boycott because of Mr. Tarantino’s recent remarks about police violence.) Mr. Cutler discovered some worn-out machines in theaters and bought others from service companies. Some projectors dated to the 1950s. Gears, shafts, bearings and rollers had to be replaced, or in some cases the pieces had to be manufactured anew, based on original blueprints. “We looked around for anybody who was selling them,” said Erik Lomis, Weinstein’s president of theatrical distribution and home entertainment. “We tried to keep it as quiet as possible as to why. Eventually word leaked out why we were looking for them, and then the price went up.” Both Mr. Lomis and Mr. Cutler declined to comment on what the undertaking cost. Justin Dennis, the principal engineer at Kinora, a Chicago company that specializes in movie theater installations, noted the difficulty of setting a price for equipment that is no longer manufactured. He hazarded that he might charge $60,000 to $80,000 per screen to get the system up and running, not counting any costs for labor at the theater. “We’ve been accused of actually cornering the market on 70-millimeter projectors,” Mr. Cutler said. “It’s probably pretty true. There probably aren’t too many out there that we didn’t find.” Most of them were destroyed, he added, during the conversion to digital projection. “The Hateful Eight” is not just any 70-millimeter movie: It is only the 10th feature to make full use of shooting in Ultra Panavision, an extra-wide format, but it will actually have the technology’s largest opening in terms of screen numbers. Dan Sasaki, vice president of optical engineering at Panavision, said his company manufactured “basically a lens a day” during the production to retrofit its long-dormant technology. The lenses produce an extremely wide image. Think of midcentury films like “Ben-Hur” or “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.” Before “The Hateful Eight,” the last Ultra Panavision feature was “Khartoum” in 1966.

2. 2015: The Year Asian-Americans Finally Got a Shot on TV.
If you’ve taken a look at what’s on television this year and believe there are a lot more Asian-Americans faces than usual, you would be correct. With “Fresh Off The Boat,” “Master of None,” and “Dr. Ken,” Asian-Americans have made a big leap forward in prominent roles on television. Vulture’s E. Alex Jung declares 2015 to be the year Asian-Americans finally got a shot on TV.

It was a pointed reminder of “Fresh Off the Boat’s” own high-pressure debut earlier this year. At this time in 2014, there were just two shows headlined by Asian-American actors: Mindy Kaling’s “The Mindy Project” and “Selfie,” starring John Cho. Both were romantic comedies with Asian-American leads and would get canceled by their respective networks for flagging ratings: Fox declined to renew “The Mindy Project” and ABC would cancel “Selfie” after just six episodes…”Fresh Off the Boat” came in with enormous expectations: It had been 20 years since the last Asian-American family sitcom on a broadcast network, Margaret Cho’s “All-American Girl,” had flamed out in one abbreviated and tumultuous season despite strong ratings at first. At the time, many Asian-American writers criticized the show for its hackneyed portrayal of a vague “Orient.” There was a fear that history would repeat itself: What if “Fresh Off the Boat” just recycled Asian stereotypes? If the show faltered, would Asian-Americans have to wait another 20 years to get another shot? It had to be perfect. “Fresh Off the Boat” didn’t merely succeed, it managed to do the seemingly impossible: It resonated with Asian Americans (except for Eddie Huang) as well as non-Asians, picked up favorable reviews, and kept a political edge. The fall television season that followed brought more Asian-American leads to television than ever before. ABC premiered the soapy FBI thriller “Quantico,” starring international Bollywood actress Priyanka Chopra, along with another Asian-American family sitcom, “Dr. Ken,” built around comedian Ken Jeong. Hulu saved “The Mindy Project,” and “The Walking Dead” fans mourned the prospect of losing Steven Yeun. Asian-Americans popped up in some unexpected places, too: Karen David plays the princess on the medieval musical “Galavant,” Lori Tan Chinn emerged from the background on “Orange is the New Black,” and Vincent Rodriguez III plays the fantasy boyfriend, Josh Chan, in “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.” The most recent addition — and arguably the most critically acclaimed — is Aziz Ansari’s new Netflix show, “Master of None,” which features another Asian-American actor, Kelvin Yu, as the laid-back hottie of the friends. What a difference a year makes.

3. A Serious Attempt to Understand the Ending of “Spectre.”
The new James Bond film “Spectre” has received mixed-to-negative reviews from many critics for its illogical nature, silly twists, and general Daniel Craig-related fatigue. But amidst all the naysayers, there are a few that stand up to understand and try to praise “Spectre.” EW’s Darren Franich argues in favor of “Spectre’s” ending, claiming it’s so “willfully obtuse” that it “deserves extra attention.”

But the Bond franchise is also a case study in zeitgeist overreaction. Part of the pleasures of loving Bond is how the franchise provides a pocket history of half a century of the blockbuster-movie as an art form and as an ongoing concern. You watch the ’70s become the ’80s around the outskirts of the Moore Bonds. You watch film styles come, go, return. You need to excavate a little. “A View to a Kill” is an incredible Grace Jones delivery system, if you can wade through an hour of equestrian noir. You need to always remember that the geopolitics of the James Bond franchise is a load of hot nonsense. The Brosnan Bonds tell you nothing about the realities of the ’90s: The period when the Cold War quietly, gradually, suddenly shifted into the War on Terror. But the Brosnan Bonds tell you everything about our weird paranoid fantasies in the ’90s: media moguls and renegade Russians and the corporate-terrorist complex. So “Spectre” is an overreaction to our current blockbuster moment. Like “Quantum,” it wants to be a serialized sequel. Like every superhero film, it wants to prove itself as a Saga. This is very silly, for the most part.
SPOILERS FROM HERE. It is silly that James Bond was a childhood friend-brother to Franz Oberhauser a.k.a. Blofeld, and it’s silly that Oberhauser killed his father and faked his own death and changed his name to Blofeld and became the most evil man alive. Nothing that happens in “Spectre” holds up to even minor logical scrutiny. (Bond sets off on his mission because M leaves him a video with, basically, this instruction: “Kill this random guy and go to his funeral.”) The logic stuff wouldn’t matter in a lighthearted movie, but “Spectre” keeps filtering in psychodrama and Snowden-era paranoia. It’s like watching an episode of “DuckTales” about the financial crisis. But I come not to bury “Spectre,” but to weirdly praise it. Because the final act of the movie is so strange, so willfully obtuse, that it deserves extra attention. Put simply: I have no clear idea what happens in the last half hour of “Spectre.” I’m not sure anyone really does. It’s a final act that feels overly rewritten in four or five different directions. I guess you could just say it’s “bad.” It is radically unpleasant in the context of Bond movie history — and it dovetails on some bits of fan service so shameless that it’s shocking they didn’t just throw in Benedict Cumberbatch with robotic hands and a doctor’s outfit.

4. “Scandal” Has Turned Olivia Pope Into TV’s Best Anti-Hero Since Walter White.
You remember a little show called “Breaking Bad”? It was about this nebbishy high school chemistry teacher who became a sociopathic drug lord and destroyed everything and everyone he ever loved. Well, Walter White felt like the culmination of a decade of anti-heroes, the character whose truly awful qualities surpassed any sort of audience identification. But HitFix’s Alan Sepinwall argues that this season of “Scandal” has made Olivia Pope TV’s best anti-hero since Walter White.

“Scandal” is a fundamentally melodramatic show, where ludicrous things happen — including Fitz entering America into a war to save a kidnapped Olivia — and that kind of heightened storytelling tends to reach diminishing returns after a few years. For a long time, it seemed the series had peaked with its second season, and while it would continue to feature great actors delivering wonderful monologues, its need to keep outdoing earlier arcs would be its creative undoing over time. But Rhimes and company have instead turned the show’s crazy history to their advantage. They’re not running away from every wild plot twist from prior seasons, but turning that into the very subject of the series. These weekly acting duets — not to mention bigger stories like the foiled attempt to impeach Fitz for concealing his affair with Olivia from the public — have the power that they do because they’re informed by every unspeakable thing that these characters have seen and done over the previous four seasons. “Scandal” isn’t sprinting away from its over-the-top past, but diving right back into it, and asking how those events would shape the people who endured them. In particular, it’s using the accumulation of incident to really drive home the point Jake was trying to make about Olivia. She talks all the time about wearing, or wanting to wear, the white hat — to be the hero to her clients, her friends, and, yes, to the dashing POTUS who has her heart. But whether she can admit it or not, she’s done too many awful things over the years — most recently in convincing Mellie to arrange the release from prison of Olivia’s monstrous father Rowan (Joe Morton) so he could scuttle the impeachment hearings — to wear anything but the blackest of hats. Maybe even the sort of black pork pie hat favored by Walter White when he turned into Heisenberg?

5. Nick Hornby’s Screenplays and the Female Experience.
British novelist Nick Hornby has had plenty of success in penning screenplays that feature complex female protagonists. Though his early work featured a certain type of arrested male protagonist, he shifted to writing about women with screenplays like “An Education,” “Wild,” and his latest “Brooklyn.” RogerEbert.com’s Noah Gittell writes about Hornby’s screenplays and how he captures the female experience.

Hornby’s scripts, character-driven as they may be, come with a distinctly feminist flavor. “An Education,” the story of a teenage girl (Carey Mulligan) who falls for a con man (Peter Sarsgaard) in the early 1960s, is at its core about a clever young woman struggling to wrest control of her own future away from the men in her life; the most poignant conflict in the film is between the girl and her father (Alfred Molina), who pushes her to go to Oxford but only for the sole purpose of meeting a man. He gives up on Oxford when he meets her charming older beau — what does a girl need school for if she’s got a husband? — so her decision to ultimately attend university anyway feels emblematic of that era’s feminist victories. But the film is never defined by these politics; instead, Hornby feels his ways into the story and resists the urge to turn his heroine into a symbol, an icon, or anything less than a human being. The same goes for “Brooklyn,” the critically-acclaimed immigrant fable now in theaters. On paper, the story of Eilis, a young Irish woman trying to build a life in New York in the ’50s, could be read as a feminist text; after all, this was an era when women were reared to be housewives, and our Eilis has plans to be both an accountant and a wife. The love triangle that emerges, however, between her and her two suitors largely dismisses her professional aspirations — although it is subtly implied that one of her potential husbands will be more supportive of her career than the other. As such, it’s easy to imagine the film being criticized for celebrating a young woman who values a husband over a career, especially in our era of identity politics. No such criticism has been voiced, however, and here’s why: the character is so sharply written — she is so undeniably real — that Hornby never gives us the empty space to view her as a political object. That’s not the case, however, in “Wild,” whose feminism is slightly more overt. Okay, more than slightly: At one point, someone flat-out asks Cheryl (Reese Witherspoon) if she’s a feminist, and she replies in the affirmative. Further, the film’s male characters seem purposefully two-dimensional, and it even features its own Manic Pixie Dream Guy, a studly musician that Cheryl meets and has a one-night stand with in the final act. But if “Wild” is a necessary correction to the male narrative gaze, it’s difficult to reconcile the fact that it was written by a man.

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