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Daily Reads: Marvel's Third-Act Problem, Werner Herzog Data Journalism

Criticwire By Max O'Connell | Criticwire August 1, 2014 at 10:15AM

Plus: How "The Killing" ended on its own terms, and Bradley Cooper wasn't the only actor playing Rocket Raccoon.
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Werner Herzog
Werner Herzog

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

1. Werner Herzog Data Journalism. Cult filmmaker Werner Herzog has a new box set out this week from Shout! Factory, with 16 films from the director's heyday in the 70s and 80s. The Dissolve found a way to look at the box set outside of everyday reviews by breaking down each film by numbers. They discovered, for example, that "Fitzcarraldo" is comprised of 40% boat-hauling, 20% soundtrack opera, 18% jungle, 15% Peruvian tribespeople dressed like "Jesus Christ Superstar" extras, 4% Klaus Kinski shouting "For god's sake, wake up you drunk fools," and 3% people in improbably white suits. Tasha Robinson continued:

Herzog’s 157-minute epic "Fitzcarraldo" is his quintessential film. It hits all his favorite themes, including madness, ambition, quixotic quests, lost causes, stubborn determination beyond all logical argument, and the natural world’s beauty and pitiless, impersonal malice. And the filmmaking reflects all those things as much as the story: It’s a perfect Möbius strip, where the art and the creation of the art communicate the exact same things, feeding into each other. The story follows crazed would-be rubber baron Fitzcarraldo (longtime Herzog partner and muse Klaus Kinski) in an attempt to haul a 300-ton steamship across a mountain and into lucrative, otherwise-inaccessible rubber-tree territory, all so he can finance a lavish opera house to bring music to the Peruvian jungle. Herzog felt the best way to represent the scale of Fitzcarraldo’s endeavor was to actually do it himself; Les Blank’s terrific documentary "Burden Of Dreams," shot during the film’s production, documents how life imitated art, as Herzog attempted to actually move a steamship across a mountain with the help of a native tribe, all while portraying his protagonist’s efforts to do just that as hubristic and obsessive beyond comprehension. Read more.

2. How "The Killing" Ended on Its Own Terms. "The Killing" survived two cancellations thanks to help from Netflix, first for cofunding the third season, then to play the fourth and final season on Netflix Instant. Now the show has a chance to find a natural conclusion and, on top of that, let viewers binge the episodes, which fits the show's pulpy appeal int he first place. 

I asked Veena Sud for her thoughts on "The Killing's" ultimate legacy, which will likely be defined by its association with Netflix. "I'm very excited about that," she said. "I hear about that anecdotally from friends of friends, that people are coming to 'The Killing' because they're hearing about it on Netflix and doing that — knocking it out in a week or two. […] To not have the handicap of annoying commercials breaking your concentration, and having to sit around and wait for a week to pick up a very intense story, is great. It's like reading a very thick, intense novel. You don't want to read a chapter, wait a week, read another chapter. You have to keep going to experience it. And I watch everything like that now. There's no other way to watch." Read more.


3. Marvel's Third-Act Problem. "Guardians of the Galaxy" is one of the Marvel Cinematic Universe's best-reviewed films, largely because it's so damn weird compared to its predecessors...up to a point. Flavorwire's Jason Bailey writes that "Guardians" has the same problem that the rest of the Marvel films have in a lame, personality-free explosion-driven finale that pales to what's come beforehand. 

Look, I recognize that they have a fanboy audience of young men who want nothing more than to watch things blow up (even if those things are just 1s and 0s, and look like it.) But these action climaxes aren’t what people like about these movies, or what make them memorable. When we remember "The Avengers," we don’t think fondly of the numbing New York City smash-up or such generic action movie dialogue as “I’m bringing the party to you”; we think of the interactions between the characters during the film’s middle hour, and the screwball snap of Whedon’s dialogue. (The only memorable moment in that film’s climax is the unexpectedly uproarious beat between Hulk and Loki, and that’s because we’ve been primed for it; we spent an hour watching a comedy.) When we remember "Iron Man 3", it’s for Shane Black’s delightful voice-over narration and the relationship between Tony Stark and little Harley Keener, not that endless fight between literally empty Iron Man suits. "Captain America’s" greatness was in its period style and the eye-popping transformation of Steve Rogers, not that dumb battle with Hugo Weaving (he peeled off his head or something, right? I can barely remember, and I saw that movie twice.) Read more.


4. "Death of Film/Decay of Cinema" at 15. In July of 1999, Godfrey Cheshire wrote a two-part "Death of Film/Decay of Cinema" for New York Press. Prompted by the first digitally-projected films in theaters ("Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace" and "An Ideal Husband"), Cheshire looked at new digital technology and predicted what would come to pass, from the rush to digital filmmaking and death of film to the rise in ticket and popcorn prices to $20 and $10. Nearly all of it came true, so Cheshire and RogerEbert.com editor Matt Zoller Seitz sat down to discuss the piece fifteen years later.

One of the things I projected in my article was that there would be a period where, once the conversion to digital shooting was made, people would use digital in just the way that we’ve talked about, in trying to really very minutely imitate the look of film, because the film look in retrospect would come to seem like sort of a high-art look.  But I said that I thought that after a time, that kind of thinking would sort of go by the boards, except in certain areas. 

It’s like black-and-white.  I mean, black-and-white fell out of being the main medium, but it didn’t ever entirely go away.  Thirty years after color became predominant, Woody Allen made "Manhattan" in black-and-white.  People are still making movies in black-and-white.  I think that that’s similar to what’s happening with what you might call “the film look. “ People will go on using the film look forever, for specific purposes. Read more.

5. The Other Actor Playing Rocket Raccoon. With few exceptions, Bradley Cooper's work as Rocket Raccoon is being hailed as the highlight of "Guardians of the Galaxy." But Cooper's work only goes as far as Rocket's voice. Director James Gunn's brother Sean was hired to play Rocket on set, and he dove in without knowing exactly what it was he was supposed to be doing, eventually incorporating some of the animal-work training he did when he studied acting. BuzzFeed has the story:

For each scene involving Rocket, Gunn would position himself — and especially his eyes — where Rocket would be standing on set, and then act out the scene as the character with other actors, especially Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, and Dave Bautista. “I knew at that time that Rocket hadn’t been cast yet, and he would be cast at some point in the process,” said Gunn. “So I asked [my brother], ‘Do you want me to stay sort of malleable with my performance because you don’t know exactly how it’s going to turn out?’ James said, ‘No. Just go for it. We need the actors to be acting with an actor so that the whole thing is as real and as truthful as possible. So just play it like you’re playing the part.’ So that’s what I did.” Read more.


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This article is related to: The Killing, The Killing, Season 4, Guardians of the Galaxy, Werner Herzog, Daily Reads


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