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Daily Reads: Defending Offensive Pop Culture You Love, the Seriousness of Robin Williams' Comedy and More

Criticwire By Max O'Connell | Criticwire August 14, 2014 at 10:13AM

Plus: the look and legend of Lauren Bacall, and the best and worst of Cannon films.
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Robin Williams in 'The Fisher King'
Robin Williams in 'The Fisher King'

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

1. The Seriousness of Robin Williams' Comedy. Robin Williams made as many people laugh as any other comedian or actor of his time, but there was a sense of desperation and sadness even outside of his more overtly dramatic roles like "One Hour Photo" and "Good Will Hunting." Stephanie Zacharek wrote specifically about how in "Moscow on the Hudson" and "The Fisher King," at once funny and tender, uplifting and heartbreaking (something that could apply to even in something like "Popeye," my favorite Williams performance, where he makes a cartoon seem human). The genius of Robin Williams was that he found a way to be deeply vulnerable even as he was being uproariously funny. 

In his less understated moments, Williams could be harder to love. But he could also be shockingly honest about the bald terror and resentment that comes with being a comedian. There may be no harder job in show business than being a person whose existence depends on making other people laugh. Williams once said, "I'm no great shakes. It's the ‘love me' syndrome coupled with the ‘fuck you' syndrome. Like the great joke about the woman who comes up to the comic after the show and says, ‘God, I really love what you do. I want to fuck your brains out!' And the comic says, ‘Did you see the first show or the second show?'" Read more.


2. The Look and Legend of Lauren Bacall. One of the last remaining major stars of Hollywood's Golden Age, Lauren Bacall had a long and fruitful career that included strong late-period work in "Dogville" and "The Sopranos." But her image remains tied to Humphrey Bogart, the look and demeanor that was solidified in "To Have and Have Not," and the romance that was borne of it. Anne Helen Peterson of BuzzFeed writes about that look and that legend.


That face needed no work: As profile after profile explained, she possessed what the Saturday Evening Post called “cohesive physiognomy” — a fancy of way of saying that she looked good photographed from every angle. She had instinctive balance — Hawks “always found her looking correct when taken by surprise.” But when Bacall told Hawks that she might need some acting classes, his reply was absolute: “What you need to learn is non-acting.” Read more.


3. Sylvester Stallone, "Rebel" and Police Brutality. It's always surreal to see a major star in an early role that's far removed from their persona and kind of movie (e.g. Jack Nicholson's goofball masochist in "The Little Shop of Horrors"). Outlaw Vern found an example in the early Sylvester Stallone film "Rebel," which shows the Reagan 80s icon in the middle of a leftist radical movement and their clashes with authorities. Vern also found ties in the film's depictions of protests with current events in Ferguson, Missouri.


But it will be broken windows that will dominate many discussions on both sides. In a city under military occupation by their own police department, of course shit is gonna get crazy. It turned into a riot and some assholes started smashing, stealing and burning shit, so THAT’S the story now. We’re all gonna take a stand on that. We are against looting and rioting. We are non-violent. Protest should be peaceful. Let’s make sure the next protest is peaceful. Oh good, the next protest was peaceful. Okay, we did it now. Problem solved! Wait a minute, what ever happened to that cop who killed the kid for not being on the sidewalk, did they ever figure out how to prevent that from happening again? I’m not sure. Oh well. Read more.


4. Defending Offensive Pop Culture You Love. Even people who feel they have strong personal values and moral compasses occasionally run across art they love even if they find the message behind it hateful. Whether it's being thrilled by "Dirty Harry" in spite of its the film's fascistic tendencies or grooving on Ice Cube's spectacular rhymes and flow while being repulsed by the misogynistic lyrics of "I Ain't the One" or "A Bitch is a Bitch," it's better to find a way to reconcile love for the art and dislike for the message than dismissing it altogether. Alyssa Rosenberg continues:

Be willing to acknowledge when you like something in art that you might not tolerate in the real world:  Do you take a certain satisfaction out of Nicolas Cage’s riposte to Sean Connery’s unprintable definition of what makes a man a winner or a loser in “The Rock”?... Do you ever wish Scarlett O’Hara was not such a terrible racist so you could more freely admire her gumption, even as you acknowledge that her doctrine of self-reliance would have terrible consequences for policy more than a century later? You are not alone. I am not a big fan of punishing ourselves for reactions to art that are not politically compliant with whatever ideologies we might subscribe to. Instead, our reactions to art can be an interesting place to figure out the boundaries of our politics and the weak spots in our beliefs. It is much more interesting to explore these reactions than to deny ourselves the opportunity to experience them. Read more.


5. The Best and Worst of Cannon Films. Menahem Golan funded some truly great films (seek out "Barfly" if you can), but he also made a lot of crap. With his death, it's time to sort through the best and the worst along with the best-worst. The New York Post's Lou Lumenick sorts through it all, including a citation for the Christopher Reeve-starring Cannon film that wasn't "Superman IV."

"Street Smart" (1987) – Morgan Freeman had been around for years when he snagged a career-changing Oscar nomination for his tour de force as a pimp who becomes involved with a lying magazine reporter — played by Christopher Reeve, whom Golan and Globes signed to a two-picture deal to secure his services for “Superman IV.’’ Read more.


6. The Greatness of Mike Leigh. Mike Leigh has spent the past several decades of his career exploring the lives, troubles and traumas of regular people, and works in a realistic style all his own (rather than using traditional scripts, he works with the cast to develop characters and scenarios). He's a true great, and Cannes reviews for his newest film "Mr. Turner" point to another triumph. Paste Magazine's Tim Grierson wrote about Leigh's career and his unique approach to capturing truth on film.

Those dark emotions were once again explored in Leigh’s follow-up film, "Secrets & Lies," but the execution was completely different: an ultimately heartwarming ensemble family drama in which a middle-aged woman (Brenda Blethyn) unexpectedly reunites with the daughter (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) she gave up for adoption years ago. Leigh has listed "Tokyo Story" as one of his favorite films and, although admittedly it’s a stretch, there’s something intriguing about viewing "Secrets & Lies" as his homage to that Yasujirō Ozu classic: Both dramas are about the particular sting of family, but also the ways in which those bonds can be mysteriously powerful, even restorative. Read more.

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This article is related to: Daily Reads, Robin Williams, Sylvester Stallone, Mike Leigh


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