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Daily Reads: 'Snowpiercer' and New Media, William Friedkin Endorses 'The Exorcist' Explanation and More

Criticwire By Max O'Connell | Criticwire August 7, 2014 at 10:07AM

Plus: M. Night Shyamalan as the last original blockbuster director, and what African-Americans do and don't watch on Cable TV.
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Jason Miller in 'The Exorcist'
Jason Miller in 'The Exorcist'

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

1. "Snowpiercer" and the "Rolling Ghetto" of New Media. "Snowpiercer" is doing strong numbers on VOD, but there's still a lot of grumbling among the film's fans that it didn't get the multiplex run that it deserved and arguably could have succeeded with. Daniel Seltzer of ComicBook.com lays part of the blame at the feet of Harvey Weinstein, but it also involves an ongoing problem with new media that Seltzer refers to as the "Rolling Ghetto." It's a reference to the film's train filled with impoverished masses next to the rich few, which Seltzer uses to draw comparisons to smaller films fighting against monolithic franchises and their support.

Is the answer to take Harvey Weinstein out of the equation and replace him with someone with a more inclusive vision? The system self-sustains—it makes no difference. If it’s not Weinstein, it will be someone else. Is the answer to start afresh, to change the rules of media? Then the current system must be destroyed completely and rebuilt from nothing. Studios, as Steven Spielberg predicted last year, will collapse under their own weight before the changes become necessary. Read more.


2. Is M. Night Shyamalan the Last Original Blockbuster Director? Fifteen years ago, "The Sixth Sense" signaled the arrival of a gifted director by the name of M. Night Shyamalan. Fifteen years later, Shyamalan has gone from above-the-title director to punchline. But while the recent work of Shyamalan made most back away, Scott Mendelson of Forbes wrote about why Shyamalan might be the last director to make his name exclusively on his own material.

Even Chris Nolan, current champion of original big-budget/big-idea cinema, only got the chance to make "Inception" and "Interstellar" because he took the Batman franchise and made it his own. Otherwise, today’s would-be blockbuster filmmakers (Bryan Singer, Jon Favreau, J.J. Abrams) merely jump from one major franchise to another with an occasional “one for me” project sprinkled in. Or, like Michael Bay, Peter Jackson, and presumably Marc Webb, they find themselves trapped in the same respective franchise only occasionally coming up for air. It’s not the fault of these filmmakers so much as the way the system works. In 1990, Tim Burton uses his "Batman" capitol to make "Edward Scissorhands." Today Gareth Edwards parlays his "Godzilla" success into a "Star Wars" gig while Rian Johnson parlays "Looper" into a "Star Wars" gig. Read more.


3. How "The Blair Witch Project" and "The Sixth Sense" Changed Horror. 
Shyamalan's breakthrough also did something else 15 years ago, along with a little sleeper called "The Blair Witch Project": they changed the way horror movies were made. Todd VanDerWerff of Vox writes that where one inspired dozens of imitators of its lo-fi style, the other predicated the possibility of larger, old-fashioned horror films that capitalized on their success. 

The idea of "Blair Witch," as it turned out, was ultimately far scarier than anything the film could sell. The unconventional nature of its narrative made "Blair Witch" stronger as a film, but it also ultimately flummoxed the portion of the audience that wanted something more concrete. Fortunately, "The Sixth Sense" was right there to scoop up any viewers who wanted to be scared within the confines of conventional narrative. Read more.


4. What African-Americans Do and Don't Watch on Cable TV. The new Starz series "Power" is the first premium cable show to have a majority African-American audience since "The Wire." BuzzFeed's Kate Aurthur broke down Nielsen ratings to sort out exactly what black audiences have and haven't tuned into and found that while "The Wire" was a big hit with black audiences, "True Detective" wasn't.

As you look through the shows below, you’ll notice, unsurprisingly, that those with black leads or diverse casts dominate the Top 15, whether that’s HBO’s "Treme" or short-lived "No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency," or Showtime’s current hit "House of Lies," starring Don Cheadle. Generally, the more broadly popular the show is, the further down the rankings it falls — but not always. Beyond that, the list is just… well, it’s unexpected! TV nerds may laugh about what’s ranked last, though — whatever divides us, we all can agree about "John From Cincinnati." Read more.


5. A History of Martin Prince. 
Sure, "The Simpsons" gave us Homer, Bart, Lisa and Marge, but it also gave us a endless supply of great supporting characters to debate over which one's the funniest (if you say anyone but Groundskeeper Willie, sorry, you are wrong). The Toast periodically salutes one of them, and this week it's the delightful know-it-all Martin Prince. 

What I love best about Martin is his naked, unabashed desire to be petted and adored. He contains the seeds of his own destruction; he is an unrepentant tryhard and it is his very need for affection that keeps him from making and keeping true friends. He can’t be satisfied with having a Milhouse of his own — he needs to be the "Queen of Summer." Martin Prince is all appetite and no moderation. He wants a feast, but he will take scraps if that is all he can get, and hang those who talk of less. Read more.


6. William Friedkin Endorses "The Exorcist" Explanation. 
Continuing in the horror vein, William Friedkin's "The Exorcist" is still one of the most frightening movies ever made, but it's it's as much an exploration of faith and a Bergman-style questioning of God's presence as it is a scare-fest. Its true protagonist, and the movie hero of The Guardian's Martyn Conterio, is Jason Miller's Father Karras, a priest struggling with his calling. He's initially skeptical of the devil's presence in the film, but he finds redemption and purpose in saving the young girl from the demon's possession, even if it means his own death and theoretical damnation. 

With his dark looks and immediately intense presence, if it wasn't for the warm smile and dog collar, you might mistake him as sinister-looking, even satanic. As the priest walks away from the crowd, he radiates melancholy and a world of worries. The landscape of 1970s New Hollywood is riddled with characters that exhibit antiheroic traits or figures who are complex and complicated souls. Father Damien fits right in. This lauded era, too, was unafraid of the downbeat ending. Forget it, Karras — it's Georgetown. Read more.


And if you don't quite buy into this idea, one Mr. William Friedkin has something to say about it.


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