Criticwire’s Daily Reads brings today’s essential news stories and critical pieces to you.
1. The “10 Cloverfield Lane” Backlash Misses the Point. The new J.J. Abrams puzzlebox movie “10 Cloverfield Lane” has garnered mostly positive reviews and it has already doubled its budget at the box office. However, there has been a vocal backlash against the film’s ending which diverges from the tense claustrophobia of the first two-thirds of the film. The Verge’s Tasha Robinson argues why the “10 Cloverfield Lane” backlash misses the point. (Spoiler Warning For “10 Cloverfield Lane”)
One of the things that makes “10 Cloverfield Lane” such a surprising, satisfying experience is that from the start, Michelle isn’t a cowering victim, in spite of the later revelations about her history. She’s terrified and injured, and she’s badly thrown when she wakes up chained to a wall. (That chain is one thing Howard never bothers to justify or explain away, which makes it one of the movie’s more interesting touches.) But she’s also resourceful, clever, and determined, and she keeps coming up with creative solutions that also happen to be aggressive ones. She’s always had the strength to fight. It just takes her experiences against different kinds of enemies to convince her of that. Conversely, the presence of actual aliens means that Howard’s bunker isn’t the practical option, but the cowardly one. He’s effectively running away by hiding underground, not contributing to anyone’s safety but his own, and threatening the people he pretends to offer safety. “I wanted to make sure Michelle’s arc wasn’t finished until the very last moments,” director Dan Trachtenberg said recently in an io9 interview. “That it didn’t feel like she had a complete story and then something else happened. It felt like when she gets out, now what’s she’s going to do? Which is the thing in life. Whenever you finish something, you still have more to do…It isn’t going into the sunset and everything is going to be okay. In fact, things are going to be potentially worse, but she’s ready to face it. That is the theme of the movie for me.” And that theme requires a real, specific threat to work. “10 Cloverfield Lane” gets a great deal of its creepiness out of ambiguity, particularly over exactly whether Howard has a sexual interest in Michelle. There are clear arguments for and against, and the film deliberately provides and withholds information to maintain the balance. Still, if the story is being told from Michelle’s point of view, that detail doesn’t matter. To an abuse victim, an abuser’s specific pathology isn’t important; only the results are. “Whiplash” writer-director Damien Chazelle — who radically rewrote Josh Campbell and Matthew Stuecken’s original treatment for the film — knows what he can leave up to interpretation. As with “Whiplash,” ultimately it doesn’t matter why the abuser acts out, or how he justifies it. What matters is what the victims do about it, and how they survive.
2. Harrison Ford’s Farewell Tour, and Why It’s Been Fun to Watch. When it was announced that Harrison Ford would return for the fifth Indiana Jones film in the franchise, many people expressed reasonable skepticism, mostly because the actor is 73 years old and he’ll be playing a globe-trotting adventurer. However, Uproxx’s Keith Phipps argues that it’s been fun to watch Harrison Ford’s farewell tour and see him return to all the roles he inhabited as a young man.
It’s a good time to be Harrison Ford. To be fair, it’s been a good time to be Harrison Ford for a few decades now. Since the 1970s Ford has been able to balance acclaimed performances with work in some of the biggest franchises ever created. The balance hasn’t always been perfect. Ford’s back-to-back appearances in, say, “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” and “Witness” in 1984 and 1985 worked out better for him than, for instance, the “Clear and Present Danger”/”Sabrina” one-two punch of a decade later. But on the whole, Ford’s navigated Hollywood well, staying in demand as the world-weary, seen-it-all persona he adopted as a young actor becomes an even better fit as a senior citizen. It’s possible that Ford’s golden years could double as a Ford golden age and that the sequels on his upcoming slate could be more than just a victory lap. Before “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” this didn’t seem all that likely. To watch Ford in “Cowboys & Aliens” or “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal” is to see an actor who would visibly rather be somewhere else. The latter saw him struggling to animate one of his signature characters, which didn’t provide a lot of reasons to be optimistic about his reprisal of Han Solo in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” He could still win acclaim for his work in “42” and “Age of Adaline,” but his heart just didn’t seem to be in blockbusters anymore. But, a funny thing happened on the way to becoming a full-time blockbuster burn-out: Ford turned in a really good performance in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” No, scratch that: he turned in a great performance. The film confirmed what the “Chewie, we’re home” moment in the trailer suggested: That the years between could just melt away. That Han Solo was back and only Ford could play him. (And, yeah, I know: There’s going to be someone else playing him soon. Separate issue. Let’s move on.) What’s remarkable about Ford in “The Force Awakens” is not just how, with seemingly little effort, his slips back into Solo’s skin. It’s how beautifully he lets his performance convey what’s happened to Solo in the years between in ways the script only suggests. He’s seen tragedy follow triumph, losing his son to a corrupting influence and the love of his life in the fall-out from that corruption. He may have gone back to the only thing he thinks he can do well, smuggling, but he’s tender with Rey and caring with Finn in ways that suggest, whatever went wrong, he tried to be a father. And that he missed it.
3. Six Casting Directors Talk Diversity Push in Hollywood. In case you’ve been blind or living under a rock, there’s been a marked push for Hollywood to address its lack of diversity in film and television. While real change won’t happen overnight, it begins with giving people of color the opportunities to succeed. The Hollywood Reporter’s Lesley Goldberg interviews six casting directors to talk about the diversity push in Hollywood.
Q: How has the industrywide diversity push impacted the casting process?
Ayo Davis: It has created more opportunities to cast diverse actors as leads. When I started at ABC 14 years ago, there was no Kerry Washington or Priyanka Chopra front and center on a TV show.
Beth Klein: I’ve seen more diverse casting announcements, and I’ve seen more people on our casting reports booking jobs that are diverse — and big roles, not just supporting roles.
Grace Wu: Where I see the change the most is with talent representatives. It feels like some agencies and managers, who in the past may not have had the most inclusive client list, have now signed more diverse actors because they know there’s a need and demand for them on the broadcast side.
Q: What’s the most unique place you’ve found talent this season?
Davis: Our Talent Showcase and Digital Talent Competition have been great pipelines. [That’s where] we’ve found amazing actors such as Lupita Nyong’o, Gina Rodriguez and Chadwick Boseman.
Tess Sanchez: We have an actress, Amiyah Scott, on Lee Daniels’ “Star” who was discovered on Instagram.
Dawn Steinberg: We have “Sensory” on CBS, where we have a Latino lead, and we did a two-week search in Miami. [The pilot has since been rolled off-cycle.] We try to target areas we think may have inner-city people we’re not getting in L.A.
4. Arnaud Desplechin on “My Golden Days,” Philosophies of Editing, and Philip Roth. Veteran French director Arnaud Desplechin’s new film “My Golden Days,” a prequel-of-sorts to his 1996 film “My Sex Life… (Or How I Got Into An Argument),” follows the beginnings of a passionate love affair. The Film Stage’s Nick Newman sits down with Desplechin to discuss the film, his philosophies of editing, and Philip Roth.
The Film Stage: I found myself thinking this during the movie and your Q & A: one of the things I like most about your films is, put simply, that they seem to be excavated from very complex, personal modes of thought, simultaneously flowing at the rhythm of both memory and everyday living. So is it strange to talk about them, answer questions about how and why you do something, and have to explain what the meaning of an artistic choice might be? Are you comfortable with this?
Arnaud Desplechin: It’s always strange to speak. There are different sides, you know. We were speaking about the fact that I was so nervous this morning; [Speaking to translator] you were saying that I was nervous during the press conference this morning. Strangely enough, I wasn’t. I was doing some interviews and I was still jetlagged, but I didn’t realize. When you love life, you go onstage; you want to be an actor, a stage actor. When you think that life is a little bit overrated and that you would prefer to be protected from life, you go to a cinema theater, because it’s dark. You have the screen, which is so shiny. Because you are so shy. You are not in the yard of your school. You are not a big mouth. It’s a different way of being, and I always thought that I preferred that group of people, who prefer the darkened theater instead of the stage theater. Strangely enough. So that’s why I wanted, so much, to work in films, and it was a commitment for me since — and I don’t remember why — it was a decision that I took so early in my life. I remember, I was nine, in school, and the teacher asked me, “What do you want to do later, when you’re an adult?” My answer was the name of the French cinema school, which was called IDHEC. I had no idea about what it was to be, to make a film, but I knew that I wanted to be protected from life, and that’s why I wanted to be in films. Films are nice, because they’re protecting us from the real life. After that, you are directing a film, which is so great because you are behind the camera. You are not in front of the camera and you can do all your work. Ultimately, I realized, when I did my first French film — which was called “Le vie des morts,” or “The Life of the Death” — it was shown in Cannes, but I was shooting my next one, so I was not in Cannes. I was still protected; I was doing my job. The film was in Cannes, and, actually, the film was shown here, at the New York Film Festival — “La sentinelle” — and I realized that I had to be onstage. And I thought, strangely enough, “I’m 30 years old now, and I managed, all my life, to be protected and never appear on the stage.” At the end of the process, you are making a film, and now people are asking you questions! And it makes you think where I’ve been wrong, because I’ve been wrong somewhere. Actually, normally, it should be an actor answering the question instead of me. It’s something I started quite a while, twenty years ago, and I start the habit, to have that kind of performance and to meet you. Even if, when I was younger, I managed to be protected from that sort of thing. So, yes, it’s still odd.
5. Costume Party: On Pam Grier’s ’70s Fashion. At Brooklyn Magazine, Abbey Bender pens a column called “Costume Party” that explores fashion, style, and aesthetics in film. This week, Bender examines Pam Grier’s style in her 70’s films.
Pam Grier will always be known as one of the most intriguing babes of the 1970s, a woman who brought attitude and intrigue to otherwise flimsy exploitation films. The genre of Blaxploitation, showcased in Anthology Film Archives’ current American International Pictures series, is certainly not without problems: the films, often directed by and for white men besotted with clichés of badass black womanhood, rely on a steady stream of violence and gratuitous female nudity, and often approach absurdity. “Coffy” (1973), “Foxy Brown” (1974), and “Black Mama, White Mama” (1973), the three films in the Anthology series, all trade on Grier’s (admittedly superlative) body. In all three films, she is never far from sex work. “Coffy” and “Foxy Brown” are essentially the same films in slightly different settings, with slightly different incidental characters, and in both she is made to go undercover as a prostitute. In “Black Mama, White Mama,” a Blaxploitation/women in prison cult genre mélange, Grier is a former prostitute who escapes prison while chained to a white woman. Given the prevalence of trenchcoat sleaze cinema in the 1970s, it’s safe to say that few if any people were watching these films for the clothes. Make no mistake, though, Pam Grier is undoubtedly one of the decade’s most stylish women, and the array of outfits displayed here only look better with the passing of time. “Coffy’s” narrative is one of revenge, as Grier seeks to bring down the drug dealers who got her kid sister addicted. Early in the film is a somber occasion: Grier goes to the halfway house to see her sister (who is then never seen again, calling attention to the narrative slightness). Grier wears one of her more sensible, less outré ensembles, a pantsuit with a patterned jacket in shades of brown. It’s clear that most moviegoers of the time would have little interest in seeing sensible outfits for long, as the most iconic images of Grier feature low necklines and formfitting silhouettes. Grier often wears brown outfits, likely to call attention to her blackness (which by definition of Blaxploitation, is always presented as something of a novelty) while keeping up with the trends of burnt sienna shades that were then ubiquitous. In “Foxy Brown,” she wears brown suede overalls with a complementary pointy collared blouse. Pointy collars are everywhere in these films, on men and women. Every outfit Grier wears is really a total look — the colors and patterns match, and her composure gives her power. Of course, the overalls have a matching jacket.
6. Cannes Winner “The Leopard” Is a Gloriously Uneventful Period Piece. Speaking of film columns, film editor A.A. Dowd’s film column at the The A.V. Club is Palme Thursday, a monthly examination of a Palme D’Or winner. This month, Dowd examines Luchino Visconti’s “The Leopard” for this month’s column.
Some period pieces are immersive: They succeed, to an extent, in transporting you to another time and place. Others seem to create, accidentally or on purpose, an artificial remove, looking upon past events as though they were occurring behind the glass at a museum. Somewhere smack-dab in the middle of these two approaches lies “The Leopard,” Luchino Visconti’s lavish, leisurely historical drama about waning aristocracy in 19th-century Italy. The details of clothing, architecture, and bric-a-brac are so carefully and meticulously recreated, they generate a sense of you-are-there immediacy. In “The Leopard,” it’s not the audience but one of the characters himself who’s acutely aware, at all times, that he’s experiencing ancient history as it unfolds. He knows he’s in a period piece, even when we forget. The character is Don Fabrizio Corbera, the Prince Of Salina, played by the rugged American movie star Burt Lancaster. It’s 1860 in Sicily. The Risorgimento, a decades-spanning movement to consolidate the various independent Italian states into a unified nation, has exploded into armed conflict. Things are changing fast. Sheltered from the violence, and likely to be treated very well in the new world being born before his eyes, the prince nonetheless knows that his days — and those of the ruling noble class — are numbered. He is an observer of his own impending obsolescence. His here and now will soon fade into the oblivion of then and there. “The middle class doesn’t want to destroy us,” he remarks, in one of several eloquent speeches that mark this aging socialite as the Greek chorus of his own story. “They simply want to replace us, and gently.” The prince’s melancholy self-awareness, his embodiment of the nostalgia at the heart of so many films about the past, is just one element that’s ushered “The Leopard” into the pantheon. Some have come to think of it as cinema’s grandest epic, the most beautiful example of large-canvas filmmaking. It won the Palme D’Or at Cannes in 1963, which is one of those calls that makes perfect sense in retrospect, given the glowing reputation the film has acquired, and plenty more sense if you think about how it really operates. Jury members at Cannes don’t usually go for a high-budget historical drama, a truly big movie; doing so would theoretically push against the very principles of the fest. But “The Leopard” is a very Cannes kind of epic: For all the sheer size of its production and the history it chronicles, this is ultimately a movie about characters just going about their charmed daily lives as momentous events occur around them. It’s a neorealist epic, in pacing if not in the wealth and status of its subjects. It luxuriates where other epics churn, churn, churn. It is uneventful, and gloriously so.
Tweet of the Day:
Everyone wants to be Irish when it’s time to day drink, but no one wants to be Irish when I want to discuss the plays of Martin McDonagh.
— Amos Posner (@AmosPosner) March 17, 2016