Friday, December 30, 2011

Mad Men, pt. II–The Sucking Sixties

The sixties were a magical and wonderful time.

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Unless you were black.

Or gay.

Or leaned to the left.

Or a woman.

Or a man.

I usually don’t return to my previous subject as quickly as this but since my last post on whether or not Don Draper was an asshole or awesome, I’d gotten a few interesting responses from a variety of people. They basically all boiled down to:

You can’t make such statements so early in the show!

…which kinda surprised me, since my general conclusion was simply that Draper could be both extremes (often within the same episode) and that this was the hallmark of a good show. But as always, I like to engage in a dialogue with my audience and since conversation is an art, I would greatly appreciate us chiseling/painting/pooping this one out together as I write something about each season of MAD MEN.

This season was all about confronting Don with his immaturity. After a vaguely un-PC stereotype of a comedian hinted at Don’s infidelity to Betty (with his own wife, no less), Housewraith decided she’d had it with Don’s shit and threw him out. This befuddled Don to such an extent – and Don’s quite a champ at being befuddled – the dude undertook a vision quest to the mystical land of Callehfornayay. I was seriously kinda feeling shades of Heart of Darkness/APOCALYPSE NOW with Anna Draper as a sort of inverted, benign Kurtz who gives Don his (admittedly kinda heavy-handed) rebirth. Full of contrition, Don returned to the East Coast (apparently still not equalling Roger in terms of days off) to face the rather debilitating news that Betty is expecting another baby right as the nukes seem ready to go off – the season finale is set against the Cuban Missile Crisis.

The show has gotten under my skin to the extent that I like the INCEPTION-style uncertainty of the season’s ending leaving hope for a reconciliation. But one thing I really hope both Don and Betty learn is that women don’t have to be Jackie or Marilyn, they can be whoever the fuck they want at any given time. Let ‘em be Anne Ramsay if it makes ‘em feel good. It didn’t even really piss me off that Don had affairs; it pissed me off that he had affairs and then all but calls his wife a whore when she buys a bikini.

Newly (extra) tragic characters this season: the Romanos and little Sally.

Sal and Kitty: god, if they’d met in, like, 2005 they’d probably be BFFs and go shoe-shopping together. Now all they can do is ruin each other’s lives while probably still caring about each other.

Sally Draper: the sweetest kid in television history? If the Venture brothers had a sister, she’d probably be it. Mixing drinks for the grown-ups, clumsily doing chubster-ballet, telling awful knock-knock jokes… every enchanting thing she does just drives it home more painfully that with parents like Don and Betty, this kid is about as fucked as if she really did grow up on the Venture compound.

In comic book news, Housewraith disavowed any affiliation with Boitaku after he spent a couple of days in her… well, not treehouse but… plastic… lawn house? Anyway, Glenn’s creepiness is explained after we find out that he’s a comic book aficionado (I wonder how much actual Silver Age Action Comics and Metal Men cost them, or if they got ‘em on loan or something). Don’t worry little buddy! Platinum will never leave you like that bitch Betty!

OH GLENN CARES ALRIGHT!

I’m greatly looking forward to season 3, if only to find out how much more miserable the lives of the characters can get.

So let’s recap:

  • Joan is getting married to a guy who randomly rapes her (where the fuck did that come from?)
  • Roger dumped his wife and daughter for a 20 year old secretary
  • Is Pete gonna eat that fucking gun after finding out Peggy’s baby is his?
  • Peggy believes she may be going to hell for renouncing catholicism (thanks, Father Neenan!)

No wait, I would be remiss for not mentioning the lovely Rachel Menken (Maggie Siff) having found herself a schmuck of a husband and Peggy finally getting an office with her name on it and stop-the-motherfucking-presses some fairly consistent recognition from her male colleagues.

U GO GIRL (just keep the gay guy for maintenance okay?)

Bring on season 3!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Don Draper: Awesome or Asshole?

Like with many a quality show, I jumped on the MAD MEN bandwagon about six years late due to a combination of being behind on a million other quality shows and my well-documented distaste for women both big-breasted and loose.

I had of course heard of its protagonist Don Draper (Jon Hamm, someone I’d only seen in BRIDESMAIDS and superhero manips).

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Draper is a polarizing figure. Some people think he’s awesome. Some think he’s terrible. Most have an opinion about him. Based on my hopelessly archaic findings after having seen the first season, the data I have acquired suggests that Don Draper is…

A WELL WRITTEN CHARACTER!

Which means that:

A) He is a cool guy sometimes.

B) He is an asshole sometimes.

He is not a cool guy because he smokes, drinks and womanizes. Pretty much everyone does that at Sterling Cooper, the fictional ad agency Mad Men is situated at. You might as well think he’s awesome for drinking water from the watercooler. In fact, I’m drinking some sweet ass SPA right now. Weak in the knees yet?

But why is Don a cool guy then?

He is not trying to bed that lady as far as I know.

He’s a classy guy, loves his kids, is slick as fuck and seems to treat people in weaker positions respectfully enough (as opposed to some of his coworkers).

But why is he terrible then?

See above picture.

Look, I understand Don’s deal. Death’s been haunting him all his life, ever since his WHORE MAMA died in childbirth. He needs to live like there’s no tomorrow to take his mind off the fact that one day there won’t be.

As he worked his way up in the New York advertising world, he was under the impression that having the perfect wife/house/family would distract him from this terrible fact. Having achieved this, he came to the conclusion that it wasn’t having them, it was pursuing them. Building the idylle.

The moments where I dislike Don Draper are when he gets mad at his wife Betty for totally inconsequential shit. Don may be playing house when it suits him and getting his kicks elsewhere, Betty is living house sans additional kicks. You know shit is bad when a pushy AC salesman appears in the house and instead of being afraid the lonesome lady gets raped, you’re hoping she’ll enjoy some good ole Letter To Penthouse adultery. Seriously, if someone told me that season 1 was just the prolonged origin story of supervillain HOUSEWRAITH and her sidekick BOITAKU (secret identities: Betty Draper and Glenn Bishop) I’d buy it.

My conclusion must end in a COP OUT of Kevin Smith proportions.

A) Don mans the fuck up and starts respecting Betty as a person (the Bruce Willis option)

B) They stop the charade and divorce, disaster for all (the Tracy Morgan option)

C) They tacitly agree to stay out of each other’s way and keep living the Perfect Colgate & Coca Cola lie (the Seann William Scott option)

I’m not going to spoil myself, but I’m hoping for A since B would be too hard on poor Betty and… well… regarding option C…

Don just isn’t ready to smell what Betty’s cooking.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Long-expected Trailer

*CRIES*

Preying on our Christmas spirit like a fat man on the last brown M&M, Peter Jackson has released the first trailer for the first part of his HOBBIT duology hitting next Christmas.

It’s sort-of ballsy in that it actually contains a song in the very trailer: something that even fans of the books skipped ahead of, but Jackson wonderfully made work in the LotR trilogy. On the other hand it’s rather shamelessly full of visual cues reminiscent of PJ’s last three movies; besides a once-more gray-clad Gandalf, there’s also a decidedly not-from-the-book Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Galadriel (Cate Blanchett). Add to this Bilbo visiting the shards of Narsil at Rivendell and the ominous shot of The Ring in the dirt, followed by Gollum going “preciousssss”, it’s like Peter Jackson is desperate for people to remember LORD OF THE RINGS.

But then the Dwarves all look fantastic and full of character and the fat one breaks a bench with his ass and they all stand up from the table to join their boss in song and it segues into that theme and and and and…

I remember LORD OF THE RINGS. It was great.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Once Upon A Punch

There’s only a handful of stories, and endless spins on them.

Here’s a fellow that agrees with me: Vladimir Propp.

Contrary to what you might think from his name, Vladimir Propp was not a Death Eater. In the early 20th century, Propp was a literary scholar whose most famous work entailed the deconstruction of the Russian folk tale. Since folk tales by definition don’t have a clear author, what Propp essentially did was call every motherfucker in Russia’s nana a lazy, cheating bitch. But, you know, who can blame her. No mass media around in the Dark Ages! Can you imagine?

Friday, October 12th, 1487 A.D.

NANA TELL US A STORYVITCH

I vill tell you de story of de princess captured in de kessel by her djellus stepmuther!

Saturday, November 13th, 1487 A.D.

NANA TELL US A STORYVITCH

I vill tell you de story of de poor farm girl imprisoned by de draggon!

Sunday, November 14th, 1487 A.D.

NANA TELL US A STORYVITCH

I, uh, vill tell you… SACHA VATCH OUT A BEAR

*sound of breaking glass, hooves galloping off*

Propp proposed (had to do it) that every fairy tale basically had the same structure, and 7 possible “actants” or plot movers.

During Propp’s lifetime, Finnish and American scholars Antti Aarne and Stith Thompson combined forces like some sort of (more) dorky Captain Planet to make the Aarne-Thompson classification system. Well, technically, it was just Aarne’s list, which got expanded upon by Thompson in ‘61, 50+ years after Aarne’s original 1910 publication. That’s when the numbers came in.

We still kinda use these structures in our movies of today! Case in point:

unleashed_ver3

Or as Aarne-Thompson would call it: 310. The Maiden In The Tower. Or, you know…

Jet Li’s tower is a mental one, as he is kept on a leash by Glasgow gangster Bob Hoskins. When the leash is on, he’s a docile manchild who barely speaks. Once it comes off, he kills everyone in the room. Hoskins has built a decent criminal empire based solely on “Danny The Dog” and two comedy henchmen to drive him around. Due to circumstances, Danny is released from Hoskins’ grip and meets up with a BLIND BLACK PIANO TUNER NAMED SAM. Sam (Morgan Freeman) is also the guardian of Victoria, an “18 year old” Kerry Condon who I swear is absolutely lovely on HBO’s Rome but is like a bracefaced Jar Jar Binks here.

The biggest criticism the movie probably gets is how completely saccharine it turns once Jet Li gets taken in by Morgan Freeman and learns to be a real boy. The action completely falls by the wayside in favor of knocking on melons to see if they are ripe and perhaps an ice cream headache or two. Now, if you’ve seen some other Besson movies, this totally falls into his wheelhouse. In fact, I daresay that some of the more “lad-friendly” elements felt shoehorned in to me. In the script stage, Besson was probably totally seeing this as “a martial arts fairy tale” or some shit. Then Louis Leterrier (TRANSPORTER 2!) comes on and adds blue filters and completely out of place titties! I mean, at one point Li is fighting a big mini-boss type and he crashes into someone’s bathroom. He tries to sneak out while the apartment’s owner is under the shower and hasn’t noticed him. Stroking my chin thoughtfully, I wondered if it was going to turn out to be a busty model under the shower (COMMANDO-style) and yep, once the bad guy busts in too, they fight all around the bathroom and… yup.

It’s actually totally funny to notice how the skeleton of the movie has this RAPUNZEL structure, and the actual nitty gritty of the production is straight out of a fucking 80s Cannon production. Extra lulz: When Hoskins brings Li to the UNDERGROUND FIGHTING TOURNAMENT, he might as well have brought the princess to the dark forest – there’s crazy rich people with Goku hair writhing in masses like orcs and the other fighters are armored and carrying fucking SPEARS AND BATTLEAXES. Meanwhile, the mini-boss he fights in the bathroom? He’s so visually distinct from the rest, he might as well be Queen Hoskins’ Black Knight or Chained Dragon or whatever: albino white guy dressed as a samurai.

A last word of… maybe not defense, but clarification. Sam’s character is quick to be deemed a “magical negro”: blind, musical, always chucklin’ and helping our main character out. But I think you have to take into account that this script was written by a Frenchman. Also note that his (white) adoptive daughter shares many of the same qualities. I think an influence that can’t be discounted here is simply the European stereotype of Americans – within five minutes of meeting you, an American will have told you his life story and invited you into his house. This doesn’t entirely excuse making him a blind piano tuner named SAM PLAYITAGGEN (surname maybe not correct), but it at least provides a fresh perspective.

Watch this movie! Jet Li headbutts a bunch of dudes!

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Passion Of The Magneto

It’s easy to take snipes at THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST nowadays. Nearly a decade after its release, it has safely receded from public consciousness as anything but “that crazy zombie Jesus movie”. But back in 2004, it was a phenomenon nonetheless, so it was hard for me not to immediately see the similarities of PASSION and HUNGER.

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Okay, I say “similarities”, but it’s essentially just the most basic plot framework of a man who meets his fate in service of what he believes in. In Bobby Sands’ (Michael Fassbender) case, it is the reinstatement of political status for IRA prisoners in Northern Ireland.

One thing they definitely do not have in common is subtlety. Where PASSION essentially speaks the language of the blockbuster (sweeping music, crane and helicopter shots, CGI effects), HUNGER is a lot more subdued and reserved. It’s a movie that very clearly lays out all you need to know in long, quiet shots laden with information. Prisoners futzing with torn-off bible pages to roll cigarettes, building little drainage systems out of mashed potatoes and poop so they don’t have to sit in their own pee. A prisoner pawing at a fly to play with it out of sheer loneliness. A prison guard’s frustration at his cruel occupation manifesting itself in what appears to be straight up zombieism once the card is punched. And in the midst of it all, Thatcher constantly on the radio assuring everyone that none of the prisoners will get a political status.*

Steve McQueen and Mel Gibson are very different filmmakers, and HUNGER and PASSION are very different movies in the end, despite their similar motifs. McQueen is a craftsman, telling a highly effective story in a highly effective way. Gibson is a huckster, who’ll use every trick in the book to just make his product look slick and sell his message. In what is no doubt the most amazing scene in a movie full of them, Sands meets up with his old buddy Father Dom Moran (Liam Cunningham, who’d join up with Fassbender again in Neil Marshall’s awesome CENTURION) to inform him of his intentions to go on hunger strike. Moran thinks this is futile, as provo goodwill is at an all-time low, and Thatcher can easily afford “a couple of starved terrorists.” In a truly tour de force one-take scene that runs over fifteen minutes, Bobby and Dom lay out the pros and cons of a hunger strike, and we get to know a bit (a lot) more of what makes Bobby tick. He may have become a martyr, but he was never a saint. Dom quite rightly points out to him that the timing is all wrong for a (successful) strike and for god’s sake Bobbeh you have a SON!

The last fifteen minutes are Fassbender wasting away, which is painful to watch, of course, but the movie has given you plenty to ponder while this is happening. I wanted to say “to chew on” buuuuttt…

Whereas PASSION is simply Jesus getting beat up for two hours (context-free!) with very clear good and bad guys (oy vey!) in a story designed to make Christians feel righteously persecuted, HUNGER never takes sides. The provos and prods are both shown to be conflicted about the terrible shit they do. But terrible shit they do nonetheless. Even our protagonist embarks upon a possibly pointless death march, despite living relatives. Conviction and righteousness are there, sure, but Sands is definitely also an arrogant man.**

Sands: Do you think God will punish me?
Moran: If not for the suicide, then at least for your stupidity.
Sands: That’s the difference between us, Dom. You say suicide, I say murder.

With the Occupy movement getting pooped on and the Eurozone slowly crawling out of the financial abyss, HUNGER served as a stark reminder of the absolutely medieval mindset our First World still finds itself in. In the most basic sense of communication, Sands was unhappy about his government. He was jailed for violent actions as a result of that discontentedness. When Sands engaged in peaceful protests to gain political prisoner status (NOT to advance his original cause in any way), he was met with a

Now take it back to the original dispute. Bobby Sands is not happy with his government. Now picture Bobby Sands being Robert Sands, C.E.O. of SHAUNTY O’LEPRECHAUN, Inc. Perhaps a foundry for rainbow-situated pots of some kind. Anyway, Robert Sands, CEO. Can you imagine him in a poop stained cell being starved to death because his demands of being able to talk to his fellow prisoners and receiving letters and parcels were just too radical? Yeah, me neither.

*If you watch the IRON LADY trailer right after seeing HUNGER, its can-do spirit will likely offend you even more than it had before.

**The neutrality of McQueen was not carried over to the network that was broadcasting the film! In a written epilogue, the film tells us about the effects of the strike: twelve people died from starvation, IRA hitmen killed 16 guards over the coming weeks and months and prisoner’s rights were improved somewhat (though never officially given the status of “political”). The network failed to subtitle the 16 dead guards.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Unbearable Lightness of Dealing

I’ve never asked for much. I’ve always given. Given, given, given. What would this district be without me? I’ll tell you what it would be. A cattle truck with the wheels off. Not going anywhere, forgotten by its handlers, the inhabitants getting restless. It was me that stopped the pigs from feeding on each other in a frenzy. It was me that brought the cocaine into D13. And with cocaine, came order.

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Now, if you live in a walled district surrounded by armed forces, and you are the person with the connections to make the coke flow happen, you’re going to attract a certain type of man. Brutish, uneducated, aggressive men. Hard men. Henchmen, as they say. I welcomed all these men, even though but a fraction of them were useful in any way. Numbers have their own advantages. Besides, if your men fail you and you know that statistically most of them have no skills whatsoever, it’s safe to drop a random guy to intimidate the rest. Odds are, he was no big loss!

Now, if you live in a walled district surrounded by armed forces, and you are the person with the connections to make the coke flow happen, and you are surrounded by henchmen, you are probably going to attract a second kind of man. The kind of man who, for some unconscionable reason, doesn’t like your product going through his block. Usually I send some guys over to talk to a person like this, maybe offer him some recompense for his trouble, maybe take him for a drive, … depends on the person, really. This one guy, though…

He didn’t respond very well to either, really.

And I have to say, I ended up in a pickle thanks to this guy.

I was ready to forgive and forget, too. I mean, six months is a lot of time in my business. Guys get made and broke in six months. So the kid tries to bring me in, right? I tell ya, what a fucking joke. Even if I didn’t own half the cops in D13, they were just about ready to pull out, just like the schools did before them. So yeah, kid gets booked, I take the sister as collateral; we’re fuckin’ quits as far as I’m concerned, you know?

But no. I’m sitting here, telling you this, and someone’s hitting my spots. And I know, I just know, I am fucking positive it’s this kid. He’s got someone with him, some under-who-gives-a-shit-cover cop. And you know what? I’m happy. Really, I am.

Six months without someone like the kid. Without the second type of guy. Just me, and a whole bunch of that first type of guys. Do you have any idea how crazy that makes you? I’m gonna be honest, I’d been hoping the kid’d be back somehow. Sometimes I’d stare at my ceiling at night, sleepless, hoping for someone to just try and come fuck with me. Maybe… shit, why the fuck not, I’ve told you this much. Maybe one of those costumed people. Or one of those super science guys. I mean… I’m good enough, right? I got a hundred motherfuckers. I got a base. I got a fucking fortress. I shoot my own guys when they fuck up and the rest still just keeps listening to me. That should do, right? Christ, I… I tied the kid’s sister to a rocket aimed for Paris. Swear to fucking god, I did. And hey, who knows, maybe the kid’s actually got himself a costume now. You never know, right?

Shit, I’d better go and check what that fucking noise downstairs is. You wait here, okay?