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Daily Reads: Rethinking ‘Sharknado,’ the Fearless Pessimism of ‘BoJack Horseman,’ and More

Daily Reads: Rethinking 'Sharknado,' the Fearless Pessimism of 'BoJack Horseman,' and More

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

1. It’s Time to Rethink How We Talk About “Sharknado”. 
Last night, “Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No!” premiered on the SyFy channel. The “Sharknado” series has been tremendously successful for the SyFy channel, who have capitalized on people’s love for the inherent absurdity of “Sharknado’s” premise. Depending on whom you ask, the “Sharknado” movies are either deliciously fun or grossly overrated. But Vulture’s Matt Zoller Seitz doesn’t think we’re even talking about “Sharknado” the right way.

This one, anyway. The third “Sharknado” is not “so bad it’s good” or “a bad film pretending to be making fun of bad films.” It is a ludicrous thriller that pushes right up to the edge of “Airplane!” surrealism but doesn’t quite cross over, and it knows what it’s doing. I’m not suggesting that anybody “missed” anything about the first two “Sharknado” films, nor is this an invitation for Slate to write a piece titled “5 Things the Critics Got Wrong about ‘Sharknado,'” though I’m sure one is in the works. Nobody’s going to give a film like “Sharknado 3” the biggest award in all of the country. It’s a silly, silly, silly, silly movie. But it deserves kudos for its control of tone, which is a bit uncanny at times. Like the first two movies, this one seems to have been written, or more likely dictated, by one of those breathless kids who follows adults around reciting the entire plot of a film from beginning to end, getting a lot of details wrong, and skipping over the parts that don’t interest him. Provided the adult has not yet seen the film in question and doesn’t mentally check out after two minutes of this, when he finally gets around to seeing it, he finds that it is quite different, and perhaps considerably less interesting, than the film described by the 9-year old. And, yes, in case you’re wondering, I’ve had this experience. In fact, I’ve been on both sides of it. I was that kid. And I also know that kid. He’s a friend of my son’s. His name is Eddie. He once told me the entire plot of the first “Avengers” a week before I got around to seeing it, and his description consisted entirely of stuff like, “And then Loki is like, ‘I have you now,’ and Hulk picks him up and he’s like, ‘Blam blam blam,’ and then the city, there are guys on bikes with lizard faces, the guys, not the bikes, and Iron Man is all, ‘Whoooosh!'” [Spittle flying.]

2. Sound Designer Skip Lievsay and The Art of Sound in Movies. 
Skip Lievsay has created the sound design for films by directors like Martin Scorsese, Spike Lee, the Coen Brothers, Jonathan Demme, and Robert Altman. He’s one of the preeminent sound designers working in the film industry and it’s because he takes his inspiration from the human mind. The Guardian’s Jordan Kisner profiles Skip Lievsay as he’s working on Don Cheadle’s new biopic of Miles DavisMiles Ahead.”

Lievsay is one of the best. He won an Academy award in 2014 for his work on “Gravity.” He was awarded the 2015 Career Achievement award from the Motion Picture Sound Editors society. “Goodfellas,” “Silence of the Lambs,” “Do The Right Thing” – his work. He is also the only sound editor the Coen Brothers work with, which means that he is the person responsible for that gnarly wood chipper noise in “Fargo,” the peel of wallpaper in “Barton Fink,” the resonance of The Dude’s bowling ball in “The Big Lebowski” and the absolutely chilling crinkle of Javier Bardem’s gum wrapper in “No Country for Old Men.” Trying to sum up what makes Lievsay special, Glenn Kiser, the head of Dolby Digital and the former head of Skywalker Sounds, told me: “What separates tremendously gifted designers comes down to taste. Skip has an unfailing sense for the right sound, and how to be simple and precise. He’s not about sound by the pound.” Jonathan Demme, who first worked with Lievsay on “The Silence of the Lambs,” put it more concisely: “He’s a genius.” Despite Lievsay’s influence, you have probably never heard of him, and this is no surprise: Lievsay and his team are only a few members of the legions of people involved in film production, who go about their painstaking, essential work far from the public eye. Lievsay is not a household name, but he is famous among people who are. His expertise, fittingly, is what can’t be seen – sound, yes, but also everything else that sound is to the human mind: the way we orient ourselves in relation to spaces, to time, to each other; the way we communicate when language fails; the way our ears know, pre-cognitively, when the dark room has someone lurking in it or when a stranger will be kind. He orchestrates the levels of human perception that most people either fail to examine or lack the ability to notice at all. His job is to make you feel things without ever knowing he was there.

3. The Fearless Pessimism of “BoJack Horseman”. 
Netflix’s premiered the second season of “BoJack Horseman” last Friday and it’s already garnered almost unanimous critical acclaim for its absurd humor, its biting satire, and its honest depiction of crippling depression. Random Nerds’ Charles Bramesco writes about the fearless pessimism of “BoJack Horseman” and how it’s comforting to feel like you’re not alone in your misery.

Anyone who’s struggled with depression recognizes that consumptive resentment towards non-depressed people, the maddening effortlessness with which they feel good.
 Much of the show revolves around BoJack’s continuing quest to find some measure of inner fulfillment, and the subsequent realizations that accomplishing that is discouragingly difficult. He destroys his romantic relationships by projecting his own baggage and fear of intimacy onto his partners. He felt like he was dying on the inside when phoning in sitcom work, and playing his compromised hero presents him with an entirely new set of emotional hurdles to clear. The show’s most radical, frightening suggestion may be that BoJack’s beyond help. In the punishing climax of episode one, BoJack throws himself at his crush Diane’s feet, straightforwardly asking her if she thinks he’s passed the point of salvation. He nakedly requests her affirmation, making himself the most vulnerable a human being possibly can. And because this is “BoJack Horseman,” she has no answer for him.

4. “Irrational Man” and the Incredible Shrinking Worldview of Woody Allen
Woody Allen’s latest film “Irrational Man” has received a decidedly mixed reception from critics. Some claim that it, and other late-period Woody films, have their own unique value and contain some of the director’s best work. Others say “Irrational Man,” like many of Woody’s recent work, is disastrously repetitive, underwritten, offensive, and indicative of a stunted writer. Over at The Verge, ex-Dissolver Tasha Robinson reviews “Irrational Man” and writes about Woody Allen’s shrinking worldview.

It also isn’t a film of meaningful conclusions or cogent thoughts. It veers back and forth about whether it wants to condemn Abe’s actions: somehow, his murder plot still draws sympathy. Abe honestly seems to think he’s helping not just the judge’s seeming victim, but the world at large, and it’s hard to resent his murder of an offscreen nonentity, especially when the act so thoroughly revitalizes him and the film. Jill’s sexual scheming is less excusable, given that it affects a much more visible character, that it’s pitched so shrilly, and that her sexual demands become so ploddingly redundant. Yes, Abe’s a murderer, but Jill’s annoying. If Allen had pulled back the camera a little to see what the world looks like outside Abe and Jill’s fantasy bubbles, he might have reached a larger point about how narcissism blinds people to a larger world without actually erasing it. But larger perspectives have never been Allen’s strong suit. He specializes in neurotics with an entertainingly blinkered viewpoint, and he has no interest in taking off the blinkers here. We never find out what happens to the woman Abe’s supposedly trying to help; instead, we remain stuck inside Abe and Jill’s worldviews, and both are toxic. Ultimately, though this is a film in which the sexual predation of an obliviously selfish college girl is portrayed as uglier than murder, and that may say more about Allen’s worldview than he’d care to admit. But apart from that between-the-lines message, the film doesn’t communicate much. Like so many of Allen’s recent films, it foregrounds its philosophical beliefs, then reminds the audience that it’s all just verbal masturbation.

5. Leonardo DiCaprio and Alejandro G. Inarritu on “The Revenant”. 
Recently, the trailer for Alejandro Iñárritu’s new film “The Revenant” premiered on the Internet and created quite a bit of excitement as teaser trailers that don’t telegraph information tend to do. Grantland’s Chris Connelly sat down with Iñárritu and star Leonardo DiCaprio to discuss their new film.

An expert hunter and fur trapper along the Upper Missouri River, [Hugh] Glass would be mauled by a grizzly bear within what is now Perkins County, South Dakota, in August 1823. The two men assigned to look after him — or to bury his mutilated remains — left him to die, alone. Glass would refuse to do so. His successful struggle to make his way hundreds of miles to the southeast would transform him into a mountain-man legend. As reimagined by Iñárritu, with fresh layers of meaning and a host of interior crises as well as physical ones, that struggle takes on new dimensions, as does the character of Glass. “He was attacked by a bear, he was abandoned, and he had to go 300 miles to get revenge — this was what is known about him,” explains the 51-year-old Iñárritu, sipping something warm in the Santa Monica offices where he’s begun editing the movie. For him, the raw facts of Glass’ life were just the beginning, an opportunity to see Glass “as an example of the relentless possibilities of the human spirit against so many challenges: racial, physical, spiritual, social. I took that opportunity to create my own Hugh Glass: my interpretation of who he could have been.” That interpretation drew DiCaprio to the project. “I tried to capture — or emulate on film — a different type of American that I haven’t seen on film very often,” DiCaprio says. “This [was] an unregulated, sort of lawless territory. It hadn’t been forged into the America that we know yet. It was still sort of up for grabs.”

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