I’m ending my work year tonight by going to a screening of Ava DuVernay’s “Selma,” a movie I’ve been looking forward to for months. In particular, I’m excited for it because rather than being a comprehensive and predictable Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. biopic, it’s a look at an important moment in his career and in the development of the U.S. civil rights movement. In the same way that “The King’s Speech” produced greater insights in part by going deep on a single incident, I’m curious to see King presented in his context, rather than as a singular figure, removed from organizations and other people by the force of his greatness. Inspired by that, I’m curious to know: Which moment in which famous person’s life do you think would make a great movie?
• ” ‘Serial’ Might Have Been Better if Sarah Koenig Had Been Less Likable,” by Amanda Hess: Over at Slate, Hess looks at how “Serial,” the breakout true-crime podcast, soured for her as host Sarah Koenig proved unwilling to ask tough and confrontational questions.
“When Serial first debuted, I hung on Koenig’s every umm. The set-up hit all of my personal pop-cultural indulgences—a true crime story with a narrative treatment and a strong female protagonist. And in the beginning, as Koenig sifted through trial records and hunted down dusty leads offered up by longtime Syed champion Rabia Chaudry, I eagerly followed her at every twist,” Hess explains. “But soon, the established trail of the case dried up, and the direction of ‘Serial’ leaned more and more on Koenig’s own detective skills. Her investigative method took the form of searching conversations, not hard-nosed interrogations. I want to know. I want to know. I want to know. Do I have an ending? The results were introspective, chatty, sometimes brazenly naive.”
• “A Different ‘Annie,’ But Still A Good Kid,” by Linda Holmes: NPR’s Monkey See columnist looks back at the version of “Annie” that she cherished in her childhood and lets go of her exclusive hold on the characters and the music to make way for another generation of little girls who might see themselves in Quvenzhané Wallis.
“It would never have occurred to me at that age that I might have more easily seen myself in that record, that show, that iconic image of the little girl with the big voice, because like practically every little girl I saw in popular culture, she was white,” Holmes looks back. “The original musical ‘Annie’ is a period piece set during the Great Depression, but aside from the one scene where she put on the fluffy red hair, the Annie in the photos I saw looked a lot like me. Don’t get me wrong — plenty of little girls loved Annie who weren’t white, and plenty of boys loved Annie, and so forth. But when you’re a little kid, it doesn’t hurt to have commonality with the people being presented to you as cultural icons. Or maybe it’s better to say it can hurt, I think, to almost never have it.”
• “In ‘Misery,’ Kathy Bates made a nobody into a monster,” by Nathan Rabin: In another journey into pop culture’s past, Nathan Rabin explains how the movie adaptation of Stephen King’s classic anticipated the intense dynamics between artists and their fans that we see play out on social media and in other venues today.
“Annie first presents herself as an angel of mercy, however, a nurse who saves Paul from what easily could have been a fatal car accident. Her cheerfulness quickly takes on a sinister quality. She is at once a very specific character—there are wonderful details sprinkled throughout the film, like framed photographs of Liberace, every spinster’s impossible dream boyfriend—and an exemplar of a particular breed of fan whose love morphs to hate when the artist strays too far from the fan’s conception of how they, and particularly their characters, should behave,” he explains. “Even when Annie is on her best behavior, buttering up Paul with honeyed words and gushing about his genius in ways that embarrass him, there’s still a dark undercurrent. Paul can never be what Annie wants, and her hunger for him can never be abated. Bates makes the concept of the ‘No. 1 fan,’ inherently unsettling because it puts the emphasis on the fan’s psychotic devotion, rather than the object of devotion’s talent.”
• “New video game ‘Hatred’ takes ugly aim at the industry’s progression,” by Todd Martens: Over at Hero Complex, Martens looks at a new title both in the context of the year’s convulsions in video gaming and the changing norms of American shock culture.
“When the developers of “Hatred” argue that their game, one in which the main character wants to commit genocide, is ‘promoting equality’ because ‘everybody dies,’ it’s funny in a way that may have passed for a chuckle in 1995,” Martens argues. “This, remember, was a time when the likes of Eminem and Marilyn Manson were turning violence into a macabre joke. This was before civilians armed with cellphones could post their footage of a man being choked to death, or show parents grieving over yet another school shooting.”