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Daily Reads: David Fincher’s ‘Films’ and ‘Movies,’ the Psychology of ‘The Americans’ and ‘Hannibal’ and More

Daily Reads: David Fincher's 'Films' and 'Movies,' the Psychology of 'The Americans' and 'Hannibal' and More

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

1. David Fincher’s “Films” and “Movies.” David Fincher once noted that there was a difference between his “films,” serious projects like “Fight Club” and “Zodiac,” and his “movies,” projects he merely wanted to entertain (“Panic Room” and, oddly, “The Social Network”). Tim Grierson of Deadspin notes that his recent films are all meant to be “movies,” but that “Gone Girl” is more meaningful than Fincher might have intended. 

But while “Gone Girl” will be compared to “Dragon Tattoo,” as the film went on, I thought a lot about a divisive movie from Fincher’s pre-“prestige” career: The Game. In certain ways, the two movies are spiritual cousins: stories about not being able to believe what we see made by filmmakers who are having a ball screwing with our heads. “Gone Girl” is the richer, deeper movie because it has more to say about The Way We Live Now, but it plays out so fiendishly that it’s never thematically heavy. (There will be plenty of Oscar movies this fall that are more “important” or “earth-shattering,” but precious few of them will be more fun.) Read more.

2. Gillian Flynn’s Leap to Screenwriting. Speaking of, Gillian Flynn has made the leap from Entertainment Weekly television critic to best-selling author to screenwriter confidently, if the early reviews of “Gone Girl” at NYFF are any indication. The Chicago Tribune’s Christopher Borrelli wrote a profile on Flynn and her gifts for bleak scenarios, her false starts before success, her and David Fincher’s shared enthusiasm for “Jaws” (“I went on a rant about the genius of ‘Jaws,’ all the while thinking ‘Stop talking!’ Then Fincher says, ”Jaws’ is one of the most perfect movies ever'”), and, oddly, her skills at the arcade game “Frogger.”

Flynn said she hadn’t played “Frogger” in a long time, then she proceeded to destroy me. She moved her digital frog across logs and through traffic with a scary efficiency. “Muscle memory,” she said, explaining this unexpected tour de force of frog conservation. I stood and waited my turn. And waited my turn. Even as the game picked up speed, Flynn retained her calm, never faltering. And then she died. Or rather, I think, she maneuvered her frog directly into the path of an oncoming truck. Intentionally, so I could play too. She murdered for my benefit. Splat! Did I mention that Gillian Flynn is really super nice? Read more.

3. What “Jimi: All Is By My Side” Gets VERY Wrong About Hendrix. We here at Criticwire aren’t too huge on “What X Gets Wrong About Y” articles, but sometimes a film mucks up what it’s trying to depict so badly that it’s hard not to nitpick. Case in point: “Jimi: All Is By My Side,” the new Jimi Hendrix biopic from John Ridley, which had the not inconsiderable challenge of not having access to any of Hendrix’s songs. Glenn Kenny writes in Wondering Sound that the film compensates by approximating Hendrix’s sound, poorly, and showing more interest in his ego and personal problems than in his music.

But it’s not only not the real thing, it’s nothing like the real thing. I’m forever in admiration, even awe, of Wachtel for his spectacular contributions to modern rock milestones such as Warren Zevon’s “Excitable Boy” and (especially) Bryan Ferry’s “The Bride Stripped Bare,” but the approximations of Hendrix music he concocts with Sklar and Aronoff are a catalog of psychedelic clichés. A Hendrix acolyte, unaware of Ridley’s challenge, might find themselves distinctly frustrated as “All Is By My Side‘s” narrative lurches toward the recording of The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s debut album “Are You Experienced,” thinking that the “it,” to which the movie is consistently implicitly alluding, will finally happen with the opening notes of “Purple Haze.” It doesn’t. And viewers who have little or no notion of the music will seriously wonder what the big deal about this guy was. Read more.

4. Why “The Good Wife” is Strictly For Grown-Ups. The CBS show “The Good Wife” has a very vocal legion of fans, but it’s never been a “Breaking Bad” or “Mad Men” level hit. But the show is no less morally complex, particularly in episodes dealing with Julianna Margulies’ fundamentally decent lawyer defending a client she knows is a drug kingpin. Elisabeth Vincentelli of The New York Post wrote about why some objections to this are misguided and why the show is more interesting because of it.

This has left some innocent viewers’ panties in a knot. The New York Times’ reviewer primly objected that the show “works best — really, it works only — when you can root unreservedly for Alicia Florrick and her firm. It gets harder to do that every time Bishop shows up.” Oh no, not a TV show exploring moral ambiguity! Shhh, calm down people, and just cue up your “L.A. Law” DVDs. You can leave “The Good Wife” to the grown-ups. Read more.

5. The Psychology of “The Americans” and “Hannibal.” Post-“The Sopranos” TV shows have been very successful in making the experiences of meth dealers, gangsters and advertising men seem universal by rooting them in everyday plights like familial conflict or piling bills. Writing for RogerEbert.com, Libby Hill noted that “The Americans” and “Hannibal” have an interesting way of dealing with this, with the FX drama removing all character self-awareness and the NBC serial killer show setting it in a world populated by the kinds of people who can’t help but be self-aware. They’re polar-opposite approaches that are equally effective at making their characters’ problems and level of awareness seem like the worst possible situation to be in.

However, perhaps the most horrifying psychological aspect of either show is the idea that not only are these the respective universes the characters are trapped in, but that this is their normal. This is par for the course. Hannibal Lecter is the devil at the crossroads, waiting to steal your soul. The world is a dangerous place populated with serial killer after serial killer that eats away at your very humanity. That is Will Graham’s reality. That is everyday workplace drama. That’s his normal. On “The Americans,” all involved operate under conditions of extreme nationalism but more than that, because all of the adults are involved in extremely covert operations, they compartmentalize their emotions to a severe degree. Read more.

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