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Daily Reads: The Year’s 15 Best New TV Characters, Why ‘The Hobbit’s’ Elves Sound Welsh and More

Daily Reads: The Year's 15 Best New TV Characters, Why 'The Hobbit's' Elves Sound Welsh and More

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

1. The Year’s Best New TV Characters. This was a strong year in television in large part because it brought so many new characters worth spending time with week in and week out. Vanity Fair’s Joanna Robinson writes about some of the best, from Eva Green’s “Penny Dreadful” character Vanessa Ives to the “True Detective” duo. 

Molly Solverson –– “Fargo”: Molly is the perfect answer to the concerns over the über-masculinity of “True Detective” all wrapped up in a comely Allison Tolman–shaped package. Molly is “Fargo’s” most brilliant creation because as much as she might resemble Frances McDormand’s Marge Gunderson (pregnant belly and all!), Molly is somehow completely distinct. Smart, brave, kind, sharp, and funny, Molly is one of the most fully formed and lovable characters in recent memory. The way she bumps up against gendered expectations is both frustrating and, ultimately, rewarding because you know Molly, the smartest person in the room, will have her day. “Fargo” may be bleak, but Molly shines. Read more.

2. Why Do Tolkien’s Elves Sound Welsh? While J.R.R. Tolkien was a quintessentially English writer, he went beyond England for inspiration for Middle-Earth’s many creatures. The BBC’s Dr. Dimitra Fini wrote about why the elves in both the books and the films sound so Welsh.

[Tolkien] explained that what pleased him the most about Welsh was its sound. He told his audience: “Most English-speaking people … will admit that ‘cellar door’ is beautiful, especially if dissociated from its sense and from its spelling. More beautiful than, say, ‘sky’, and far more beautiful than ‘beautiful’ … Well then, in Welsh, for me cellar doors are extraordinarily frequent, and moving to the higher dimension, the words in which there is pleasure in the contemplation of the association of form and sense are abundant.” Read more.

3. What “California Split” is Really About. For the 40th anniversary of Robert Altman’s “California Split,” Kim Morgan presented the film at Telluride and interviewed writer Joseph Walsh and star George Segal. Now Morgan has extended that interview (featuring co-star Elliott Gould) for The Los Angeles Review of Books.

JW: …And for the George character, I always thought, this is the kind who would always end up in trouble. He gambles because something is missing in his life. I didn’t even know what that was. What was missing. Even when I was writing. And we didn’t need to know. His gambling is a way to kill the something that’s missing. Whereas Elliott’s character gambles as a way of life. His emotional content for everything and the laws that he steals time away … these are the words, “I steal time. I can’t steal any more time.” 

EG: Then it’s a matter of responsibility and so my evolution in relation to Bill Denny in not knowing what to do and not knowing what he was going to do and where I was coming from. Oh, yeah. And I have remembrances almost as far back as an infant. I mean, three and a half, I’ve already had a couple of memories. So it’s really interesting because as I said, it’s not about gambling. It’s not about gambling at all. It’s about staying alive. Read more.

4. The Case for Pop Culture Completism. Every November and December sees cultural critics trying to cram as many major films, television shows and albums into their final months for best-of-the-year consideration. The A.V. Club’s Kyle Fowle writes that while it’s important for critics to see as much as they can, it should be more about enriching their own and their readers’ experiences, not the numbers.

We catalog, analyze, and critique in order to deepen our understanding of art, ourselves, and the world around us. It’s why we, as critics, A.V. Club staffers, or general audience members, spend so much time sharing our thoughts with others; we’re hoping to enhance the work of art, to give it a personal meaning. There’s no replacing that feeling, and it can’t be captured in a year-end list. A list could never capture the experience I had watching the “Breaking Bad” finale with my family last fall, where my mom made personalized Los Pollos Hermanos bags to hold our fried chicken, and baked a cake in the shape of a burnt teddy bear for dessert. Read more.

5. Man and Beast in “Inherent Vice.” Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest film, “Inherent Vice,” is one of his funniest, but the laughs stop at an uncomfortable scene between Doc (Joaquin Phoenix) and Shasta (Katherine Waterston) that have some argue sours the movie’s mellow charms. Glenn Kenny writes on his blog Some Came Running that that’s why the scene works.

I think the whole point of the scene is to harsh, if not entirely deprive you, of your mellow. It’s the emotional fulcrum of the whole movie, and in a way an apologia (in the classical sense) for Joaquin Pheonix’s completely uningratiating performance in a role that one might have assumed was MEANT to be a likable one (like Jeff Lebowski, “Doc” Sportello is intended in certain respects as a cannabis-infused spiritual heir to Philip Marlowe). Especially after the film’s rainy-day flashback that gorgeously sentimentalizes the Doc-Shasta romance, the curdled eroticism of the strip scene shows the two characters in a thoroughly broken context, communicating through various languages of power that they never wanted to learn or maybe even acknowledge in the first place. Not only does it shockingly put the movie on a new track, it also recontextualizes a lot of the seemingly aimless goofiness that went on previously. Read more.

6. Reasons to See the Movie Before Reading the Book. With both “Inherent Vice” and “Gone Girl,” among others, there will be a mad rush for many to read the books before they see their cinematic companion pieces. Jason Bailey of Flavorwire argues that it’s sometimes better to do it the other way around.

So if film is your medium of choice, or you recognize that the process of adaptation is one that creates a new work rather than merely an iteration of an old one, or (at risk of putting too fine a point on it) you’re more likely to have two-and-a-half hours of free time available for the “Inherent Vice” movie than a couple of weeks for the book, embrace your inner heathen and just see the damn movie first. Sometimes it’s even better that way — as that Vulture article admits. Sometimes (gasp) it can even heighten the reading experience; with a well-chosen cast of actors and the accoutrement of the time and place already in mind, a post-movie reading can play like an “author’s cut,” allowing the reader to visualize a longer and more extensive version of the film they so enjoyed. Read more.

Video of the Day: Jackie Chan: How to Do Action Comedy

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