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Daily Reads: The Marvel Movie We'd All Like To Forget, Why 'Mad Men's' Actors Don't Win Emmys and More

Criticwire By Max O'Connell | Criticwire August 20, 2014 at 10:23AM

Plus: Robin Williams as the man who could be anyone, and how Comedy Central became one of TV's best networks.
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'Howard the Duck'
'Howard the Duck'

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

1. Why Don't "Mad Men's" Actors Win Emmys? "Mad Men" is one of the most acclaimed shows of the past decade, and the first four seasons won Emmys for Outstanding Drama Series. So why haven't any of the actors won statues of their own? Writing for Salon, Daniel D'Addario argues that it's not because they're not brilliant, but because they're so consistent that it's hard to single out one moment the way some might cite the (distracting in an otherwise very good performance) speech Peter Dinklage gave in one episode of "Game of Thrones" this season.

It’s perhaps a bit sour grapes-y to argue that the reason that “Mad Men’s” actors don’t win Emmys is because they’re so consistently good — but it’s also true. The show asks its performers to track slow evolutions over time; if Elisabeth Moss or January Jones (both of whom have lost Emmys, too) had big Emmys-clip moments, it would probably feel out-of-place in the context of the show. And unlike, say, Bryan Cranston’s performance in the early, undercooked seasons of “Breaking Bad” or Maggie Smith’s on a fading “Downton Abbey,” no performer stands out as uniquely better than the material. The “Mad Men” actors are, at the Emmys, treated like the furniture in part because they seem as harmoniously coordinated as the show’s well-appointed interiors. No one seems prize-worthy because they all do. Read more.


2. The Rise of Comedy Central. As "Nathan for You" ends its second season tonight, it's as good a time as any to look at how Comedy Central has gone from mostly reliable to one of the best networks on television over the course of two years. From "Kroll Show" to "Drunk History," "Broad City" to "Inside Amy Schumer," the network features some of the best and most adventurous comedy on television right now. Todd VanDerWerff of Vox writes about Comedy Central's hot streak, including the show he considers the best sketch show on television.

"Key & Peele" isn't just TV's funniest sketch show; it's also one of the most incisive and best-filmed. Director Peter Atencio has been responsible for the look and feel of every episode, and he's created something incredibly rare: a sketch series that also holds up on the level of filmmaking. But "Key & Peele's" sketches are also perfect examples of how to construct these miniature comic morsels. The duo may have become famous at first for their sketches featuring Obama's "anger translator," Luther, and they continue to do political work. But they're also fond of dips into outright weirdness, as in the famous continental breakfast sketch. Season four debuts September 24. Read more.


3. Robin Williams: The Man Who Could Be Anyone. Oliver Sacks's book "Awakenings" was turned into a movie starring Robin Williams, with the late actor playing the fictionalized version of Sacks. Writing for The New Yorker, Sacks recounted how Williams seemed capable of transforming himself into any person depending on the situation.

Robin had thousands of voices, and faces, and personae. He could become Lon Chaney, Hamlet, Dr. Strangelove, Mae West—or all of them in a single sentence. Indeed, he could become any animal. When we had lunch together a few months ago, we got to talking about reptiles—Robin had had a pet iguana—and he combined a zoologist’s knowledge of lizards and turtles with an inner understanding of what it was like to be them, and he could imitate their postures and behavior to perfection. Imitate is too mild a word; he became them as, in “Awakenings,” he became me. Read more.

4. The Marvel Movie We'd All Love to Forget. With the success of "Guardians of the Galaxy" and the hubbub over a (totally uninteresting) production photo of "Ant-Man's" first day, it doesn't look like Marvel's vice-like grip on pop culture is going to loosen anytime soon. But there's one film in particular that everyone would prefer to forget: Willard Huyck's baffling desecration of the satirical comic "Howard the Duck." Jason Bailey of Flavorwire wrote about the film for their "So Bad, It's Good" series while noting on Twitter that this one maybe skips the "It's Good" part of the equation.

But if you try to summarize the events of "Howard the Duck" — and after a couple of stabs at this futile enterprise, I’m electing not to — you just sound like a crazy person, because if "Howard the Duck" has one outstanding characteristic, it is not the neon ‘80s aesthetic or the corresponding crimped and teased hairdos or the utter creepiness of the titular duck himself. It is the film’s total lack of any logic. Events happen on screen, in a form that appears to have been organized by words and character names on pieces of paper, but all reason has been abandoned somewhere along the way. Read more.


5. Neo-noir and Sam Fuller. Most count the 1960s as the end of the classic noir period and the starting point for neo-noir, but who kicked off the second movement? Writing for the Los Angeles Review of Books, Jake Hinkson argues that cult B-filmmaker Sam Fuller deserves credit for starting a less classical, more decidedly nasty branch of the genre with the one-two punch of "Shock Corridor" and "The Naked Kiss" (both on Hulu Plus, so please watch them if you haven't).

"The Naked Kiss" was shot for about 10 cents and looks like it, but, as with "Shock Corridor," Fuller works within these limitations like the pulp novelists he so closely resembles. Fast and efficient, he also had the good fortune not to be a perfectionist. His independent features are frenetic, but they’re not sloppy. He loves jarring visuals, and "The Naked Kiss," with its ubiquitous shadows and slanted cameras, is noir down to its bones. Working without money or sets or stars, he created a film that is nevertheless, in its wild-ass way, the visual superior of bigger-budgeted and more politely directed movies. Read more.


6. Hollywood's Secret Sequel Economy. Why was there a cheap follow-up to "Mean Girls?" Who was asking for a 30-years-later sequel to "Raging Bull?" To quote Kevin Smith's line about turning down writing "Beetlejuice Goes Hawaiian": "didn't we say all we needed to say in the first 'Beetlejuice?' Must we go tropical?" Well, there's a market for the likes of "Tooth Fairy 2" and "Marley & Me: The Puppy Years," and Glenn Ross of Universal 1440 Entertainment is flooding it. Grantland's Matt Patches investigates:

Non-theatrical sequels are still a brand-first, story-second game. 1440 Entertainment selects projects based on their potential to hit big. Why make a sequel to a movie like "Jarhead?" It’s still playing big where it matters. The numbers make sense. The EVP’s team looks at DVD rentals, iTunes downloads, streaming numbers, TV distribution, and international markets. When asked of his intel-gathering methods, Ross is transparent: “I got Google.” Online chatter is a vital metric, too. Ross could produce a wartime movie that doesn’t infringe on the legacy of "Jarhead," but slapping it with a stagnant IP gives it automatic legs. “It does some marketing for you. You come to it with a built-in consumer. You go on Facebook and people are constantly having dialogue about it,” Ross says. Read more.


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