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Daily Reads: Jan Hooks’ Brilliance, David Lynch’s 50 Greatest Characters and More

Daily Reads: Jan Hooks' Brilliance, David Lynch's 50 Greatest Characters and More

Mulholland Drive

“Mulholland Drive”

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

1. Jan Hooks’ Brilliance. “Saturday Night Live” alum Jan Hooks died Thursday after a battle with an undisclosed illness. Hooks never had the breakout costars Mike Myers and Dana Carvey did, but she rivaled Phil Hartman for versatility and talent. Alan Sepinwall of HitFix wrote about Hooks, one of the most underrated “SNL” players of all time.

But like Hartman, she gave it her all in every sketch, whether as the straight woman or the comic centerpiece. Like Hartman, she did dead-on, wicked impressions: I was once at an industry lunch at the same table with Diane Sawyer, and it was all I could do not to laugh while thinking of Hooks’ devastatingly smarmy take on her…Her only significant original character was as one half of the Sweeney Sisters, but she was the show’s go-to performer for any woman in the news, from Tammy Faye Bakker to Kathie Lee Gifford to Hillary Clinton. Read more.

2. Amazon Prime’s Best Movies. There are so many movies streaming right now on Amazon Prime that it can be difficult to sort through all of them for the worthwhile titles. But Matt Patches of Vulture has compiled a list of the best Amazon Prime titles, from “Amadeus” to “Glengarry Glen Ross,” “The Best Years of Our Lives” to “Intolerance.”

“Drugstore Cowboy” (1989). Gus Van Sant gives Bonnie and Clyde the junkie treatment. Matt Dillon and Kelly Lynch star as a pilfering duo hungry for any substance they can get their hands on. Van Sant’s frenetic motion creates a literal downward spiral that zips the story from highs to lows until the pair hit rock bottom. Read more.

3. David Fincher as Hitchcock’s Heir. David Fincher is one of the most confident visual stylists and directors of thrillers working today, to the point where he’s earned comparisons to the master of suspense himself, Alfred Hitchcock. Carrey Rickey of Yahoo! Movies takes the comparison further, arguing that “Gone Girl” is the most Hitchcockian movie in years and that Fincher is Hitchcock’s true heir.

Flynn and Fincher (should we say Flincher?) underline in “Gone Girl” a motif only hinted at in Hitchcock’s “Rebecca” and “The Man Who Knew Too Much”: The sinking disappointment when couples discover that courtship is a performance that grows stale in marriage. In the opening scene of Fincher’s film, we hear Nick (Ben Affleck) ruefully utter the question spouses rarely ask, “Who are you? What have we done to each other?”’ Those are the questions The Girl (Joan Fontaine) in Rebecca wonders of her white knight, Max (Laurence Olivier), when she learns he may be a murderer. And one that Jo McKenna (Doris Day) wonders in “The Man Who Knew Too Much” of her doctor husband (James Stewart) who has pressed her to trade her musical career for marriage. Read more.

4. “The Affair” and “Rashomon.”  Showtime just debuted a promising new series called “The Affair,” about two married people (Dominic West and Ruth Wilson) who begin an affair, then give the details to the police years later for reasons unknown. Slate’s Willa Paskin wrote about how the he said-she said structure, where the events remain the same but the details differ, is comparable to “Rashomon” in method, but as much about self-deception as deception.

As with the woodcutter and the priest in “Rashomon,” Noah’s and Alison’s versions of events do not always square. But unlike “Rashomon,” Noah and Alison do seem to agree about the general shape of their story—they met at a diner, they met on a beach, they talked about an outdoor shower. It’s the intonations that are different: Who was friendlier, who was flirtier, who came on to whom? And those differences, copious as they are, seem more a matter of memory, of innate human fallibility and our distorted sense of ourselves than the product of outright schemes, machinations, or lies. On “The Affair,” unreliability is the default condition. Read more.

5. “Transparent” Isn’t Just About a Transgender Parent. There’s a pun in the title of the new Amazon series “Transparent,” which is about a parent (Jeffrey Tambor) of three bickering children coming out as a trans woman. But Phil Maciak of the LA Review of Books noted that the premise is really a way to sell a show that’s more about the relationships of Tambor’s children to each other and to their father, and how it shifts when they learn their father was someone other than who they thought.

At the level of the story, “Transparent” asks what happens to a family when one of its foundational parts reveals itself to be something unexpected. It’s about that revelation, about that process of self-discovery and identification, but it’s also about the relationality within the group. Mort is now Maura, and the show is dedicated to focusing on that evolution, but what, it also asks, does that make everybody else? At the level of form, “Transparent” asks what happens to an ensemble if you isolate one of its parts. It’s not so crass or simple-minded as to actually close-off Tambor, or to perceive his performance as a kind of threat or outlier, but the show does brilliantly nuance the ways in which an easy intimacy can become an uneasy one. Read more.

6. The 50 Greatest David Lynch Characters. David Lynch has only made 10 feature films (plus a few TV shows and a number of shorts) over the course of four decades of filmmaking, yet the number of memorable characters he’s created could fill a book. Time Out New York republished their list of the 50 greatest Lynch characters upon the announcement of “Twin Peaks'” impending return, from the delightfully odd (Special Agent Dale Cooper, the Log Lady) to the just plain odd (Cousin Dell from “Wild at Heart”).

Betty/Diane Selwyn, “Mulholland Drive.” Naomi Watts was a relative unknown prior to her spectacular, multi-textured turn as the sparkly-eyed young actress and hometown Jitterbug champion who comes to Hollywood in search of her dreams. The central narrative thread of the film concerns Betty’s attempts to help the bewildered bombshell Rita find out who she really is. Watts’s best moment in the film sees her character performing a love scene with perma-tanned TV actor Chad Everett for an audition in a cramped office. Her performance is so erotic, disturbing and completely detached from the reality of the room, that—in true Lynch style—the only explanation for it is that she had been momentarily possessed. By Rita, perhaps? Read more.

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