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Daily Reads: Depression, Marriage, and ‘You’re the Worst,’ 2015 Awards Season Respects Its Elders, and More

Daily Reads: Depression, Marriage, and 'You're the Worst,' 2015 Awards Season Respects Its Elders, and More

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

1. Depression, Marriage, and “You’re the Worst.”
The second season of Stephen Falk’s FXX sitcom “You’re The Worst” has produced a lot of personal writing about depression from many critics and journalists, but there have been few about living with someone who suffers from depression, like Jimmy with Gretchen on the series. Vox’s Todd VanDerWerff writes a personal piece inspired by “You’re The Worst” about his marriage and living with depression every day.

Around the middle of the first season of FXX’s sardonic, lovable romantic comedy “You’re the Worst,” Jimmy (Chris Geere), who has fallen in love with Gretchen (Aya Cash), only his brain doesn’t know it yet, goes over to her apartment for the first time. It’s a mess, trash strewn everywhere, no real sense of how a person might conceivably live a life there. It’s the first clue the show would offer to viewers that it was going to turn into one of TV’s finest portrayals of clinical depression later on down the line. A lot of viewers and writers took it as another sign of the show’s quirky sense of humor. Gretchen is pretty messed up, right? Both of these people are messed up, and that makes them perfect for each other, huh? It’s an anti-romantic comedy, get it? But the reason “You’re the Worst” works stems from the way it treats its characters with complete and utter sincerity. It takes Jimmy and Gretchen’s emotions seriously, and it is wiser than they are. Where it takes them two whole seasons to admit how desperately they love each other (in the second season finale), the audience knows from roughly episode four. It gets, as that finale is titled, that the heart is a dum-dum. So when I saw Gretchen’s apartment for the first time, I didn’t think, “Oh, how interesting and unusual and funny!” Nor did I think it was just a funny plot complication when she accidentally burned down the apartment in the first-season finale, necessitating a move-in with Jimmy that both were unprepared for. Nor did I think her tendency to carry all of her stuff around in garbage bags and pile them in a corner was some sort of goofy character trait. And I didn’t even see her tendency to be able to reduce any person she was talking to to emotional rubble with a single well-placed line as another sign of her fundamental nature as “the worst.” There’s something about a TV show that hits you right in the gut, something that no other medium can quite touch. You grow with these characters over years. You get to know them intimately. They come into your home, for goodness’ sake. And when you connect with a series, it’s like building a real relationship, with someone who will let you get to know them and also maybe help you better understand yourself. So when I saw Gretchen’s apartment for the first time, I didn’t think it was a one-off character trait, never to be seen again. No, I thought, “Oh, I know this person. I love this person.”

2. 2015 Awards Season Respects Its Elders.
Hollywood likes to constantly maintain its youthful image, filling multiplexes with movies starring attractive, young actors that go out and do attractive, young things. Yet, as anyone under the age of 25 who actually goes to the movie theater already knows, Hollywood’s audience consistently skews older. What’s interesting is that awards season is starting to reflect that reality. RogerEbert.com’s Susan Wloszczyna examines 2015 awards season and how it demonstrates respect for its elders.

You don’t have to keep a running tally of all the plastic surgeons in the Beverly Hills phonebook to know that Hollywood places a higher priority on youth and beauty than age and experience. And, yet, during the season of potential gold statues and a last-chance box-office bonanza at year’s end, the film industry often reconsiders the value of hiring talent that possesses an established reputation, a long-standing fan base — and even a few wrinkles — when it comes to stocking trophy shelves and padding the bottom line. Exhibit A: “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” Disney did not have to bring back 64-year-old Mark Hamill as Luke, 73-year-old Harrison Ford as Han Solo and 59-year-old Carrie Fisher as Leia from the original trilogy that wrapped up a long time ago and far, far away in 1983. Boffo ticket sales would be guaranteed even if the cast only consisted of such newcomers as Daisy Ridley and John Boyega. But, by including these beloved senior citizens in the cast, its makers have made the new edition a multi-generational must-see like no other in the history of cinema. I know I am not the only ancient boomer out there who bought tickets for an early showing on December 17. Last week’s Screen Actors Guild nominations also confirmed that those with considerable mileage on their careers can be hot commodities when it comes to showbiz honors as well. “Trumbo,” a biopic about a blacklisted screenwriter that primarily takes place in the 1940s and ‘50s, collected the most nominations in the film categories with three. Besides Best Ensemble, the SAG equivalent of Best Picture, voters went for Bryan Cranston, 59, in the title role of Dalton Trumbo and Helen Mirren, 70, for her supporting work as gossip maven Hedda Hopper. Mirren also made the cut in the Best Lead Actress category as a woman who escaped the Holocaust in “Woman of Gold.” However, the Golden Globes folks really took a shine to AARP-eligible contenders with their Best Picture nominees. Not only did they allow two septuagenarians in the form of George Miller and Ridley Scott to sneak into the directing category, but Miller’s “Mad Max: Fury Road” is up for Best Dramatic Film and Scott’s “The Martian” is vying for Best Comedy or Musical.

3. “Fargo’s” Second Season Will Be a Classic in Its Own Right.
The second season of Noah Hawley’s FX drama “Fargo” has received widespread critical acclaim for everything from its performances to its style. Some have called it one of the best shows on TV right now. Vulture’s Matt Zoller Seitz explores “Fargo’s” second season and how it will be a classic in its own right divorced from its Coen Brother parents.

Season two of “Fargo” is the best movie-to-TV conversion since “M*A*S*H.” Like season one, but with more discernment and warmth, Noah Hawley’s series referenced the original 1996 movie as well as many other Coen Brothers films — including, most audaciously, “The Man Who Wasn’t There,” which also uses a UFO as a deus ex machina of sorts. And yet it never seemed to be strip-mining other artists’ work, or treating viewers’ affection for it as a crutch. Jeff Russo’s music is the key to appreciating what the writers, directors, and crew are doing. The show’s original score evoked Carter Burwell’s film score (right down to the main theme) without going so far as to steal from it, his approach mirroring showrunner and head writer Noah Hawley’s storytelling. To continue the musical analogy, this show is an extended set of variations on the Coens, less a collection of covers than an anthology of original work inspired by a certain band, with specific lyrical and musical callbacks nestled deep within each cut. But even as TV’s “Fargo” pays homage to the Coens by borrowing character names, bits of dialogue, situations, and songs, it is resolutely its own thing — more clearly so here than in season one. Some of the most effective allusions in season two were powerful because they were not merely lifted from the Coens and plunked down willy-nilly, but re-contextualized in surprising, sometimes haunting ways. I’m thinking particularly of Cristin Milioti’s Betsy recalling a dream, employing phrases familiar from H.I. McDunnough’s final letter as the story flashed forward to show her daughter and now-widowed husband moving through life without her; and the use of the Chieftains’ cover of “Down in the Willow Garden,” sung as a lullaby by Holly Hunter in “Raising Arizona,” over the closing credits of one episode (in both “Raising Arizona” and “Fargo” season two, that song is a harbinger of darkness to come, and both contain “demon” figures: the biker in Arizona, the Gerhardts in the show). All of which explains why the season’s only direct musical quotation — a snippet of “Fargo” the movie’s main theme — was so resonant. It appeared over a shot of Patrick Wilson’s Lou Solverson walking toward his squad car, which of course evoked memories of Frances McDormand’s Marge Gunderson at the end of the film. I believe the series has only done this twice before, both times in season one: when the future supermarket king finds the ransom money that Steve Buscemi’s Carl Showalter buried in the snow and uses it to start his miniature business empire (subliminally confirming that this show does take place in the same universe as the film), and again over the finale’s end credits. It’s indicative of Hawley’s appealing mix of ambition and humility, less a declaration of equality than a question posed to the audience: “So, do ya think we earned the right to call ourselves ‘Fargo,’ or what?” The ambition manifests itself in the clever and often uncharacteristically patient (for TV) filmmaking, the integration of beloved Coen-esque elements into original stories, the occasional linkage of Hawley’s universe to the brothers’, the knotty, ellipsis-filled, often stubbornly opaque storytelling, and the playful formal devices (such as having episode nine be narrated in detached third person by Martin Freeman, co-star of season one, reading aloud from a nonexistent book about notorious crimes of the Midwest). The humility is evidenced by the way the show resists the urge to tie every character and situation to something the Coens did.

4. Graphic Novel: Marvel’s “Jessica Jones” and the Superhero Survivor.
Another popular series this year has been Marvel’s “Jessica Jones” on Netflix. It has garnered its own critical attention for focusing on the aftermath of trauma filtered through a superhero mythology. The New Yorker’s Emily Nussbaum writes about the series and how the series connects with “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”

In early episodes, Jessica is a bit of a drag: she’s like the self-image of every brooding brunette, a hot punk Daria in shredded Citizens of Humanity jeans and red lipstick. But whenever the plot snaps her together with her horrifying ex it springs to life, suggesting disturbing ambiguities about the hangover of abuse. Kilgrave raped Jessica, but since he did so using mind control, rather than physical force, the scenario emerges as a plastic, unsettling metaphor, a violation that produces a sense of collusion. Mind control is a roofie, but it’s also an addiction. It’s mental illness; it’s domestic violence. At times, the psychological scars that Kilgrave leaves on his victims, who gather in a support group, suggest the result of an extreme political ideology, the sort that might cause a soldier to commit atrocities that would never have occurred in isolation. It’s any mind-set that causes you to do something against your nature — a guilty burden but also, for some, an eerie escape from responsibility. Jessica hates Kilgrave, so why, when he requests a selfie of her smiling, does she send him one? She has strategic reasons. But to the world it looks as if she were flirting — and that’s what he keeps telling her, too. It’s a particularly effective form of gaslighting, since he has cast her in a popular narrative, one that shows up in many forms these days, in books and movies, and particularly in stories aimed at and embraced by female audiences. Is it really such a reach for Kilgrave to insist that Jessica will succumb to him in the end? Tweak Kilgrave’s banter, and he’d be a wealthy vampire who desires Jessica above any other woman, a man who is literally irresistible, as in “Twilight.” Wrench it again, and they’d be role-playing “Fifty Shades of Grey.” “I am new to love,” Kilgrave tells Jessica. “But I know what it looks like. I do watch television.” Much of the reason that their dynamic works is because of Tennant’s sly and layered performance, which suggests a grotesque innocence beneath Kilgrave’s sadism, a distorted belief that this is true romance. It’s the ultimate in entitlement: he deserves Jessica because he desires her, which means that her own desires are just obstacles. (He won’t even take responsibility for the brainwashing, arguing that his supernatural powers are actually a burden: “I have to painstakingly choose every word I say. I once told a man to go screw himself. Can you even imagine?”) At times, their relationship reminded me of the Jonathan Coulton song “Skullcrusher Mountain,” in which a supervillain regards his hostage as a mysteriously recalcitrant date. “I made this half-pony, half-monkey monster to please you,” he croons. “But I get the feeling you don’t like it. What’s with all the screaming?…Isn’t it enough to know that I ruined a pony making a gift for you?” Of course, a modern TV show needs to be more than go-girl feminist to be any good. (If you doubt that, check out the absolute disaster that is the pilot for Amazon’s “Good Girls Revolt.”) And, truth be told, “Jessica Jones” wasn’t entirely my jam. It took five episodes for me to get interested — three too many, in these days of television glut. And only after the seventh and eighth did the cruel and clever plot twists (which include graphic torture) become truly gripping. In the early episodes, the pacing was logy and the action muddy, with several subplots that itched to be trimmed or recast. Still, right away I could tell what was firing up so many viewers, particularly online: in the world of Marvel Comics, a female antihero — a female anything — is a step forward. But a rape survivor, struggling with P.T.S.D., is a genuine leap. While the fact that “Jessica Jones” is Marvel’s first TV franchise starring a superpowered woman — and that it was created by a female showrunner, Melissa Rosenberg — amounts to a pretty limited sort of artistic progress, the show doesn’t need to be perfect in order to deepen the debate. In a genre format that is often reflexively juvenile about sexuality, “Jessica Jones” is distinctly adult, an allegory that is unafraid of ugliness.

5. Production Sound Mixer Mark Ulano on “The Hateful Eight” and 20 Years Working With Tarantino.
Since “Jackie Brown,” production sound mixer Mark Ulano has worked with Quentin Tarantino on every one of his films. As anyone who has paid attention to Tarantino’s work can attest, sound is incredibly important to the overall experience of watching his films, from dialogue to swords swooshing through the air. Filmmaker Magazine’s Jim Hemphill interviews Ulano on his work with Tarantino and “The Hateful Eight.”

Filmmaker: What kinds of conversations do you have with Tarantino after you read the script?

Ulano:
 One of the great things with Quentin is that he doesn’t even really get the pre-production roadshow going until he’s really got the script nailed down. He may spend anywhere between a year and longer, he might have a draft and then leave it alone and come back, but there’ll be a moment when you get this package in your mail that’s got his handwritten cover and that’s the starting point. Now I have a sense and I can start building my questions, and my next step from there is actually not to Quentin. I’ll touch base with him and express my emotional reaction and my feelings for the piece, and so far that’s always been a positive one, because his work is unique and it’s not everyone’s cup of tea but it’s something I find fascinating. Nobody’s got his voice in movie making. I make my own films and I know it’s hard to have that dead-reckoning capacity to always have your own voice clear and central, and it’s his special gift. So there’s that, and then I will reach out to Wiley [Stateman, supervising sound editor] and Mike [Minkler, sound re-recording mixer], and have the creative sound conversation about, “What do you guys think? You know, this strikes me in this way, I’m thinking of going at it in that way, or do you have an idea/need/preference/suggestion?” There’s no hierarchy in that conversation, that’s just partnering creatively. It’s sort of like storyboarding for sound. It’s a conversation that’s tied to the material. After that, I’ll set that down and now I’m into the logistical. Okay, what’s really needed to do this – tools, nuts and bolts, issues indicated in that second reading; sets wardrobe, construction, special effects, editorial, transfer of the lab…you know, all of the things that have countless variables, but you kind of have to nail each one down within a certain range, because unknowns can turn into disasters without some sort of connection between parties who are responsible.

Filmmaker: What does your gear consist of?

Ulano:
 I bring everything every day. It’s something I learned, and if it’s a Quentin movie I bring a third more. It’s like asking a cinematographer, “What’s your favorite lens?” Well, what’s the shot? What are we doing? He’s going to bring an entire complement of lenses because they all have specific attributes for a particular solution. I’m the same, I bring a broad palette of tools, of microphones and mixers and acoustic treatment. A thirty-foot trailer is basically what comes with me. It’s filled with gear, and that’s always the second conversation when I’m doing a movie with Quentin, particularly overseas and [when] the producer’s new with him. He’ll ask, “Do you really need all that stuff?” Have you worked with Quentin before? The answer is yes, because he will pull things out at the last second that require a creative response, not an “Oh, I didn’t know you wanted that.” That’s not acceptable, “no” is not in the vocabulary. On “Kill Bill,” there was a scene where Uma was going to wear a helmet and have this electronic sound – well, he thought of that about 30 seconds before we were going to roll, and next thing you know we’re pulling through the piles to create some kind of voice-affecting electronic sound because this is an opportunity to create something. Not to say no, but to find an answer. If it’s not perfect, so what? We’re riffing. We’re in this, and we didn’t go negative. Going negative is so blinding, it freezes you and locks you out from better solutions.

6. Every Episode of “Hannibal” Ranked.
NBC sadly cancelled Bryan Fuller’s “Hannibal” after its third season, which seemed like quite a bit of time for anyone who watched the stylish, oneiric network drama. But now that the dust has settled, it’s time to get down to official business: Ranking all the episodes. Slant Magazine’s Jaime Christley ranks all 39 episodes of “Hannibal” from worst to best.

“Futamono,” Season 2, Episode 6. “Hannibal” doesn’t lack for scene transitions that are elegant and dryly humorous at the same time. When Will asks, “Who does he have to kill before you open your eyes?,” the next cut is to Alana, whose eyes are wide shut as she begins to fall for Hannibal, presently carving up a heart that undoubtedly once belonged to a human. The perverse floral crime scene blooms in his eye on the subsequent transition; it’s in this part of the second season that Fuller began fashioning opulent editorial set pieces, making miniature art installations with footage and special effects, not unlike what the Chesapeake Ripper made with his victims. All part of the show’s great becoming. Bars between them and no encephalitis to interfere with Will’s reality, animosity between he and Hannibal (largely one way) has reached a fever pitch, as the latter does everything he can from his incarceration to apprehend the former. Appearing roughly at the midpoint of the season, “Futamono” is filled with grim business. Besides the aforementioned, which already sets an allegretto tempo to the proceedings, the end begins for Abel Gideon, as an assault by vengeful orderlies leaves him a paraplegic. Furthermore, Will begins to convert Jack to his suspicions against Hannibal, and someone returns from the past. Veteran director Tim Hunter, handy with violence and its aftermath here and in other episodes, sews dread into any available scenes of rest and hesitation, so that it’s hard to determine which is more sickening: a Hannibal/Alana courtship or a doomed man being served his own leg at the dinner table.

“…And the Beast from the Sea,” Season 3, Episode 11.
 An absolutely hair-raising suspense sequence and the amazing Nina Arianda (as Will’s wife, Molly) give this segment of the wobbly Francis arc a much-needed boost, as the Tooth Fairy, acting on unambiguous orders from Hannibal, descends on Will’s family with a Leeds/Jacobi-style massacre in mind. If this was a zero-sum game, however, the “No Country for Old Men”-inspired home invasion and escape would scarcely compensate for the subsequent silliness of the “real” Red Dragon kicking the crap out of Francis for his failure. But the episode has an overall robustness and, at the hands of director Michael Rymer, maintains a palpable dread of sickness and violence. Everyone, on both sides of the law (except for Hannibal, the cool customer), seems amped by the at-large Red Dragon, unknowable and, possibly even to Francis, unmanageable. The infectious bad vibes make for a propulsive hour, like a runaway train speeding blindly into bad territory.

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