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Daily Reads: The Can't-Miss Episodes of 'The Simpsons,' Why Movies Get Retitled and More

Criticwire By Max O'Connell | Criticwire August 22, 2014 at 9:45AM

Plus: Inside Matthew Weiner, and the terrifying genius of "Frank."
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Sideshow Bob in 'The Simpsons' episode "Cape Feare"
Sideshow Bob in 'The Simpsons' episode "Cape Feare"

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

1. "The Simpsons" Can't-Miss Episodes. FXX's marathon of every episode of "The Simpsons" is underway, but some of us have perfectly cromulent excuses like "work" and "family" keeping us from watching every last second of it. For those who can't tune in for all of it, Vox's Todd VanDerWerff and Dylan Matthews went through and selected two episodes from each of the show's peak seasons (1-8) to get a sample of the best. Who thinks Vox's list is a good one? "We dooooo!"

"Cape Feare" and "Homer Goes to College" (episodes 2 and 3; airing from 3-4 a.m. Eastern Saturday:"Homer Goes to College," the final episode of the show written by Conan O'Brien, is excellent, but it'd be criminal to not list "Cape Feare" here. Its reputation as one of the show's finest episodes is completely deserved, not least because of how fearlessly bizarre it lets itself get. Not one but two Gilbert & Sullivan songs are sung — the first without any context given at all. Sideshow Bob's parole hearing ends with a member of the board pronouncing, "No one who speaks German could be an evil man." And most importantly of all, there's the rake sequence, one of the strangest and most wonderful bits the show ever pulled off. Read more.

2. The Terrifying Genius of "Frank." This week brings the Sundance sensation "Frank" to theaters. Writing for LA Weekly, Amy Nicholson covered the peculiar genius of its protagonist, the battle between creativity and commerce, and how working both with genius and in the shadow of it can be dispiriting.

Look closely at Frank's mask and you'll spot two plaster bandages by his nose, a hint at a life that's taken some lumps. Study Fassbender's limbs and see one of the best physical performances of the decade. His face never changes, but he has visible soul. In small movements — the twitch of a hand, a wobble under a door frame, a beer and straw held uselessly by his painted mouth — Fassbender gives us glimpses of what Frank's isolating genius has cost him. Would we, too, sacrifice normal pleasures for a chance at eternal greatness? Or would we rather suffer alongside Jon, cursed with the heart-melting torture of knowing that the gods of music will never love us in return? Read more.


3. The Art of Misdirection in "The Hudsucker Proxy." In 1994, "The Hudsucker Proxy" was the first major critical disappointment in the career of the Coen Brothers, but the underrated film is as visually ingenious as any of their films. The A.V. Club's Scott Kaufman wrote about how the Coens use circles to symbolize life and vitality, and lines to show how, when we reach the end of a circular journey, we're doomed to fall.

But all this fun flies in the face of the film’s central tension—if circles are the stuff of life and vitality, why is it that the narrative’s circling back to the film’s opening scene, in which Barnes is about to commit suicide? It’s because all this circularity is nothing more than misdirection. The Coens and Raimi want the audience to believe, through the majority of the film, that no matter how good things get for Barnes, he can’t be saved. He’s doomed to die in the manner as his predecessor, Waring Hudsucker, because those are the laws of the universe they created. And those are the laws of the universe they created—but only so they could violate them. Read more.


4. Why Movies Get Retitled. What's the point of retitling "You Are Here" as "Are You Here?" Jason Bailey of Flavorwire writes that the change is motivated by the film's VOD release, which will help the film on alphabetical menus. The only problem? Aside from changing the director's creative intentions, it doesn't always work to draw attention to the film.

But as is so often the case with movie-making formulas, filmmakers themselves aren’t so sure. Back in 2010, Ted Loscalzo produced a low-budget horror movie titled "Fetch." When the time came to make a distribution deal, Loscalzo told me, “Our sales agents demanded that we change the name to something with an A so that it appeared at the top of the VOD list.” And so "Fetch" became "American Maniacs," a move that Loscalzo still regrets. “It was absolutely the worst thing we could have done,” he says. “We lost all momentum with the fans that we had already created, and the title really did not represent the work at all.” Read more.


5. Inside Matthew Weiner. "Mad Men" is close to wrapping up, and Matthew Weiner's new film "Are You Here" just hit theaters. Vulture's Kyle Buchanan interviewed Weiner, talking about his film's deviation from "Mad Men's" glamour, his coping with the end of the show, his feelings of loneliness, and more.

Are you in a state of denial right now? It’s not just that "Mad Men" is ending, it’s not just that this film is finally going to come out after several years of percolation ... it’s also that your son is about to head off to college. Your life will look very different in just a few short months.

Oh, I’m feeling it. I’m feeling it as much as I can. I’m not someone who’s very good at anticipating emotions, even though I write about these things all the time. I can write through the emotion of having a horrible fight with someone where you may never talk to them again, but I don’t know what I’m gonna feel if that happens to me. I’ve got an almost childish ability to start fresh on every single one of these big experiences and not know what I’ll feel until it happens. I’ll move to a new house and a couple months later, I’ll start feeling really weird. And someone goes, “Well, you probably miss your old house.” And I’m like, “Oh! I do!” And they’ll say, “Well, everybody knows that’s what happens when you move! Moving is one of the most stressful things you can do!” And I didn’t know that.

Read more.

6. How "Let's Be Cops" Comes Close to Satire, Then Inches Away. A few pieces have covered "Let's Be Cops'" unfortunate timing with Ferguson (including ours), but NPR's Linda Holmes in particular is astounded that the film can come so close to satire and then pull back. She writes about how the film tackles abuse of power and, startlingly, sees the misdeeds of its not-cop protagonists as problems only if its characters aren't really cops.

Perhaps a fake police car is a hilarious idea to Luke Greenfield and Nicholas Thomas, who wrote this movie; to me, it's a point of no return where only a conclusion that satirized how easily authority (of any kind) can be abused could have saved the movie. It could still have been funny, but it would have had to be darkly funny, funny in a way that ended with Ryan locked up. That's not where they're going with this. Instead, the only lesson they really learn about this being unfair and wrong is that it's unfair to real copsRead more.

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This article is related to: Daily Reads, Mad Men, are you here, Frank, Michael Fassbender, Ethan Coen, Joel Coen, Let's Be Cops


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