Archive for September 2010

The Good Wife: Season 2 Premiere

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I've really been looking forward to this year's return of The Good Wife. I didn't see it until the end of its run last year, but I was hooked halfway through the first episode I saw. It is extremely well-written and acted, and unlike many other shows (especially legal dramas), it's actively exciting and takes directions you wouldn't necessarily expect.

For those of you who have never seen the show before, essentially it stars Chris Noth as disgraced district attorney Peter Florick, living a fictionalized version of the Eliot Spitzer scandal. But as the title suggests, the perspective is from his wife, Alicia. The show spends some time with Alicia's feelings of betrayal, but what makes the show watchable is that Alicia is very strong in her own right, and is not merely the wronged wife, even though Peter's enemies choose to portray her that way in the media. This is a story of how she picks up the pieces, going back to work to take care of her family, leaving an uncertain relationship with her scoundrel husband.

As a result, the show has two major strands: the challenges at home, and the challenges at work, which brings its own set of characters. The show has done an excellent job of balancing the two, which is helped by the presence of strong talent in both camps (none stronger than Archie Panjabi, justly rewarded with an Emmy for her Nancy Drew character, Kalinda Sharma). But maintaining a precarious balance is difficult for shows in their second season, but The Good Wife shows no signs of faltering yet.

This is not a show that you expect to challenge the boundaries of FCC decency standards, but as I said before, the writers often surprise. This week's episode had what I'm fairly sure is the first on-screen portrayal of oral sex pointed in the female direction on network television. You don't see even a scrap of flesh, but it's still one of the sexiest scenes I've seen.

Other points of note:

  • Man that judge is an asshole. Hope he gets his comeuppance.
  • As always, Alan Cumming is a massive scene-stealer.
  • Love the spy vs spy antics of Kalinda vs. whatshisface.
  • Not enough Christine Baranski. But then again, there rarely is.

Salute Your Shorts: "A Rose For Emily"

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Growing up in the suburban South, it was hard to see the romance or the adventure that many associate with turn of the century Southern life. But there was always a palpable darkness, the threat of snakes in tall blades of grass, even in fully developed housing developments. The news was filled with the criminality of the proudly uneducated, bootlegging crystal meth where they used to bootleg moonshine. Teenagers with loaded fists and loaded guns, ready to pounce on anything unfamiliar.

This is why, of the great American writers of the 1920's, Faulkner's stories tell of a place I actually recognize. I personally can't connect to Hemingway at all, a topic for another post, and Fitzgerald romanticized a life I dream about and aspire to, but I'm not sure actually exists. But there has always been something in Faulkner's novels and short stories that is reflected in the South even today.

I first read "A Rose For Emily" many years ago, probably in an American short story class I took at the University of Texas. This story didn't make the same impression on me that his novels did, such as Light in August, despite continuing the saga of the Sartoris clan.

The story was originally serialized in five parts in 1930. Having the luxury to read the whole thing in one sitting today could almost stop you from paying attention to the little details, the details that foreshadow the final horror. The first couple of parts set the mysterious Miss Emily up as a sort of Southern Miss Havisham, who famously decayed in her mansion along with her 50 year old wedding cake.

But, much like the people of the town, we can only guess at Miss Emily's inner life. We see into her house only as outside observers, never invited in or invited to participate. Nonetheless, by the end of the story, we have been given all the pieces to figure out exactly what happened, and very strong hints as to why.

Like any good horror story, the setting plays as important a role as any who walk and breathe, and Miss Emily's house plays much the same role as her black manservant, appointed liaisons with the outside world, who also function as shields. Faulkner conveys the passage of time by the decay of the house and the greying of Tobe's hair. And only when Miss Emily herself finally decays, do we find out her terrible secret.

Sci-Fi Sunday: Sunshine

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Sunshine is Danny Boyle's meditative and haunting imagining of a future where the sun is ailing, but can still be saved. The movie was sold as a sort of science fiction thriller, when really it's a much slower affair.

A team of scientists have been sent aboard a spaceship called Icarus II to blow up the inside of the sun to reignite it (wibbly wobbly timey wimey). The issue didn't rankle at first, but really there was no internal logic to the selection of the team members, who were basically one essential physicist (strongly played by Cillian Murphy, in a role similar to his in 28 Days Later), and a bunch of expendables. As we were reminded in numerous conversations about people being expendable.

Chris Evans was surprisingly tolerable in his American flyboy hothead role, and was given slightly more of an inner life than his compatriots. In a typical Hollywood action movie, he would probably have been the hero of the day, instead of gamine Cillian Murphy. Rose Byrne has almost no purpose in the movie, apart from being slightly more intelligent than her crewmates. The rest of the characters are literal ciphers: the crazy one, the honorable commander, the psychiatrist who gets lost in his own humanity, eco-obsessed Asian, etc. So when characters die, it's hard to feel too sad. Oh look, there goes another stereotype!

The visuals are absolutely stunning; this must have been real eye-porn in the theatres. Every shot is calculated for maximum impact. The sun, which is normally a giver of life, has never been scarier, or more larger-than-life. Which brings us to another of the problems with the film. The sun is a powerful character, beautifully presented, representing both threat and hope. When our heroes face the more menacing aspects of it (the brightness, the heat) the crew's fears are understandable and constantly present.

But when the villain shifts to Pinbacker, the captain of Icarus I, (the name Icarus just conjures up hope, eh?) the plot becomes more fragmented (as do the visuals, the space-shift whenever Pinbacker's around is irritating). We don't really know why he became so warped, how he faced the sun and lived, or why he's so committed to making the mission fail. In the end, he is no more a character than any of Boyle's zombies in 28 Days/Weeks Later. The original fight between man v. nature is much more compelling, as is the internal tension between saving humanity v. maintaining your own humanity.

If I sound a little too negative, it's only because the movie was frustratingly close to perfection. If we just knew a little more about Pinbacker and what happened on Icarus I, and why he became a glorified Reaver. If we got just a little more backstory about the characters, not too much, but just enough to make us care. As I mentioned, the direction was stunning and the soundtrack was moody and evocative.

3/5 stars

Actresses Who Take Stabs at (and Usually End Up Stabbing) Music Careers

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Some of the most respected actresses of the past 15 years have made attempts to launch music careers. The lucky ones never got off the ground, so people don't remember their mishaps. I'm here to correct our collective amnesia. Please, please, please listen to these songs. And then, for your own sake, forget them immediately afterwards. This article seemed like a good idea, but there is one very significant downside: I had to actually LISTEN to these damn songs.

Ok, we all know she can sing. But did you know she had two top 40 hits in the UK before she ever became a successful movie star? The voice is there, but the songs are not. Youtube For All Time for a far more hilarious video, where she's apparently dancing with Spartacus. I posted this one mainly because it's 'slightly' less embarrassing.

Godawful. Maybe the worst of the lot. I'm trying to imagine what was going through her head: "Uh, hey guys, I've had four unsuccessful Oscar nominations, so maybe I can win a Grammy instead?" This particular act of musical violence reached #6 six on the UK charts (I am starting to think that absolutely anything can make it onto the UK charts!)

She had two minor hits, Everything in My Pocket and Invisible Girl. The former is very much of its time but not offensive. It has the shoegazy quality of Ivy or early Dido. I am embarrassed to say though, I really like Invisible Girl. She sounds a bit like PJ Harvey singing a song by the Corrs. Which really is much more successful than Winslet and Zeta-Jones embarrassing Mariah Carey impersonations. (Really Driver's songs still aren't great, but in comparison they are masterpieces.)

Unfortunately EMI will not allow me to embed the video (sucks for you!) but here's the link should you still be intrigued:

Invisible Girl

Do you remember the duet she did with Huey Lewis, "Cruisin?" It was from some movie that no one actually wanted to see, but this song was EVERYWHERE. No offense to Gwyneth, she actually has a singing voice I wouldn't mind hearing more of, but the SONG IS DULL AS PAINT! She did also butcher "Bette Davis Eyes," rom the soundtrack to the same movie. More recently, she  performed on stage with Jay-Z for some reason. Street cred? God knows. Gwyneth is less forgivable because unlike the other actresses mentioned so far, she hasn't actually been in a decent movie in like ten years. Too busy writing about crazy diets.

Nicole Kidman wins the contest hands down. She had no pretensions to a music career, but still managed to guest on a fantastic song that was a pretty sizeable international hit. Back in high school, I knew many people who tried to copy the delicate harmonies between Kidman and Robbie Williams on in the hallways. Come What May, from Moulin Rouge, was also a pretty big hit as I recall (it counts because it's not actually in the movie in full!) Here's Something Stupid, for a lovely song and a sexy video. (that's the other thing about the previous contenders, they took beautiful actresses and stripped them of any sexiness!) In fact, I seem to remember this video being censored in the US.

Rule #1: If you are a successful actress and you want to parlay that success into a music career, DON'T!
Rule #2: If you ignore Rule #1 and go through with it anyway, release your singles in the UK, where most of the moviegoing public won't find out about it anyway.
Rule #3: If you simply must have international recognition of your talents, try and tag along with a more famous singer, all the better to cover up your 'talents.'
Rule #4: Really, you should only do it if an already famous singer invites you to join him.
Rule #5: Nowadays, please only try this with smaller indie bands. (A separate post will follow about Marion Cotillard, Carey Mulligan and Scarlett Johansson, and other young superstars making quiet, quiet music instead of pop.)

Fringe Season 3 Premiere: "Olivia"

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Fringe became my replacement for Lost even before Lost ended. When I gave up hope that the truth about Lost would be even half as cool as the fan theories, I transferred all my theorizing nerd energy to Fringe and it actually exceeded my expectations. This spring when Lost was steadily traveling downhill to arrive at the most disappointing finale ever, Fringe was coming into its own, correcting some of the first season's missteps and establishing the mythology early on for the rest of the show (long may it run). The Season 2 finale, "Over There," was spectacular and raised the bar for Season 3 to an almost unreachable height. And while I had a few minor quibbles with last night's episode, overall I was very impressed. And I'm still too excited about the return of my new favorite show to get quibbly about it.

I was surprised and intrigued right away by the revelation that Walternate and his team were trying to convince our Olivia that she was the other Olivia. (On a side note, this show is hard to write about coherently. No name for the alternate characters is as good as Walternate, and it's tiresome to always have to say "the other Olivia." I think the writers call her BOlivia, which looks stupid to me, but I'll go with it for clarity's sake.) I expected them to interrogate her, torture her for information about Walter and Peter and our universe in general. I don't quite understand the motivation behind implanting her with BOlivia's memories, but it was chilling to watch the treatments take effect. She didn't just acquire BOlivia's memories, she acquired her skills and personality as well. Olivia could never have made that shot. Olivia would never have painted a room yellow. The question that remains is whether Olivia is still in there, aware of what's going on in her mind, able to compartmentalize her own memories and personality somewhere. I hope so. Anyway, it's nice that she got to see her dead mother before she was reclaimed.

I love the alternate universe. I love scanning the background for differences. I love that they have nanites and zeppelins and daily flights to the moon and that the script doesn't beat you over the head with them. You just catch a glimpse of a billboard for the hit musical Dogs or a snippet of a news bulletin on the radio that former President Kennedy is stepping down as ambassador to somewhere. I love the dark banter between the Fringe Division agents over there and what it reveals about what's normal for them. I love that Charlie's still alive and that Walter's the Secretary of Defense and that Astrid is an emotionless human calculator. And as much as I love it and as wonderfully disorienting as it is to be there, how much would it suck to live there? Bus and taxi drivers can't put their vehicles into gear until they've swiped the passengers' ID cards so they can be tracked: the government always knows where you are. The ID is called a Show-Me and (even though they ask for it with a redundantly polite "Can I see your Show-Me, please?") the association with "Show me your papers" is creepy.

Toward the end of the episode, though, I was getting antsy to return to our universe. Fun as it is to play spot-the-differences over there, Fringe isn't complete without our Walter and Peter, and they're over here. The tantalizing final scene was just enough and nicely established what was happening over here. The higher-ups aren't taking the team any more seriously than they have before, Walter's eating Oreos, Peter's kissing BOlivia and doesn't know she's not Olivia. That part made me really sad, actually - the real Olivia is trapped in the AU having her mind altered while the impostor is over here getting a new relationship that doesn't belong to her. Olivia sacrificed so much to get to the AU, rescue Peter and tell him how she felt, and he didn't even notice that it wasn't her who came back.

It should be noted here that Anna Torv is a much better actress than I originally gave her credit for. Her style takes a little getting used to, I think, but she has risen admirably to the challenge of playing essentially four characters at times (Olivia, BOlivia, Olivia-as-BOlivia, and BOlivia-as-Olivia). I thought John Noble was going to make her look bad because of how well he distinguishes Walter from Walternate - primarily with his posture, but also with his voice and his expressions. But Anna Torv does almost as much with nuances using just her eyes. As I said, it was chilling to watch Olivia slowly transforming into BOlivia against her will, but it was equally interesting to watch BOlivia consciously pretending to be Olivia. She just found out about this universe and she only had a brief encounter with Olivia on which to base her performance. She smiles a little too much. She's a little too bemused by Walter. I'm already a little disappointed in the other characters for not seeing it. She's going to slip up and get caught soon, or I will be most annoyed with not only the characters but the writers as well.

Oscarbait 2010: Made In Dagenham

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Here we go, the inaugural edition of Oscarbait 2010! The legendary voters of the Academy apparently can't remember anything released before the autumn, which has resulted in the natural industry response of not releasing anything decent before the autumn (although this year there may be a few exceptions: see films with Leonardo DiCaprio).

I was lucky enough to get invited to a free screening of Made In Dagenham at the Odeon in Covent Garden. And after a few directional mishaps (the Covent Garden Odeon is nowhere near Covent Garden!), we made it just in time for the opening credits.

"BBC Films!" rolled the screen, before our collective heads are filled with jaunty English pop music of the 1960s. Jaunty is absolutely the right word for the general tone of this film, whose characters exhibit courage, pluck and determination to conquer any and all enemies, including Richard Schiff!

Made in Dagenham tells the true story of a group of female factory workers who strike to protest the reclassification of their jobs as 'unskilled,' despite the fact that no one else knows how to do it. Eventually this fight morphs into a larger fight to mandate equal pay for women, culminating in the Equal Pay Act of 1970. All very well, all very inspiring (and yes, it is very inspiring. I left the theatre wanting to riot for the Equal Rights Act in America).

So let's get the negative out of the way first. As with any story about triumph over adversity, the movie has it's cheesy moments. The characters never really seem to face any actual threat, although there is a very serious issue at hand. Sally Hawkins et al just have a great time facing challenges. But it's a story about camaraderie, so you can forgive scenes of the women bicycling around town like they're in an English slum remake of the Sound of Music.

The cast is fantastic. I'm starting to think that Rosamund Pike makes EVERYTHING better. Even things that are already awesome. From Pride and Prejudice to An Education to this movie, she lights up the screen with intelligence and beauty. 

But even Pike does not shine quite so brightly as lead Sally Hawkins, who plays Rita O'Grady, the leader of the strike. She powerfully conveys a hundred different emotions with little more than a movement of her eye and a bob of her head. Hawkins is one to watch, and is an early contender for an Oscar nomination.

Miranda Richardson has a lot of fun as Secretary of State Barbara Castle, especially when eviscerating her underlings for patronizing her.

The men are superb as well. Bob Hoskins gives a lovable, if predictable, performance as the inciting figure for the striking women. Daniel Mays was surprisingly sympathetic after his awful, scenery-chewing, show-ruining performance on the final season of Ashes to Ashes.

I recommend everyone go see it, for a heartwarming, feel-good type of movie. It'll put a smile on your face, and maybe even make you think about the world a little differently.

Too Crazy To Be True: Take Back Our Jobs!


The United Farm Workers Association started a program called Take Our Jobs to challenge American citizens to take on the thousands of agricultural jobs that are currently filled by undocumented immigrants or 'migrant workers.' To date, comedian Stephen Colbert is one of ONLY SEVEN citizens to take up this offer. (Although, I suspect the entire system would crumble if enough naturalized citizens took the jobs and farmers had to pay workers *cough* decent salaries *cough* with *cough* humane working conditions *cough.*)

Colbert spent one day conducting the grueling duties of a migrant worker. In his own words, the experience "gave me some small understanding why so few Americans are clamoring to begin an exciting career as seasonal migrant field workers."

As a result, Stephen Colbert has been requested to testify in character on Capitol Hill about the conditions and challenges faced by farm workers. Gretchen Carlson of Fox News, whose claim to political authority is winning Miss America, has promised to discuss this inappropriate behavior all weekend on Fox News.

To the anti-immigrants I have this to say: who's going to pick your tomatoes if we kick out all the illegals? They're not taking your jobs. They're doing honorable work. Unlike say, Minute Men.

Modern Family: The Old Wagon

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"Good times, she wrote!"

At last, after a dreary summer of heavy drama, a show with intentional humor, and lots of it. If the season maintains this standard, it's going to be even better than season 1, which had extremely funny moments, but sometimes got sucked into the sap. This episode still had some of those 'special family moments,' but undercut them very effectively with direct, sharp humor.

There were 3 separate plots. In the first, you had the traditional manipulations and foolishness of the Dunphy family, where the women are in charge only by default (The men are hopeless!). In the 2nd plot, you have Jay and the Gays. Jay and Cameron bond over their mutual desire to keep Mitchell away from any and all power tools, leading to some hilarious exchanges between Jay and Cameron.

My favorite plot was with Gloria and Manny, and her need to come between him and any future love interests. Sofia Vergara just gets funnier and funnier. I know some people complain that there is no reason for characters to talk to the camera in this show, as it's not really in a documentary style, but I think the show would be only half as funny without Gloria's caricatured asides.

Have 2 contenders I can't decide between:

  • Jay, on building a bookcase with Mitchell: "It was my Vietnam...And I was in Vietnam."
  • Gloria, on being a Colombian mother: "I'm not gonna let him make a mistake that is gonna affect him for the rest of my life! ... his life!"

5 out of 10. If this is how we start off, I'm confident we'll get it under 4 at some point this season!

Literary Horror: We Need to Talk About Kevin

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When there is no darkness in the world, we create it in ourselves. We long to become anti-heroes as plain vanilla heroism becomes boring. That is one possible explanation for why Kevin, the Columbine kids, and the University of Virginia pick up weapons and slaughter their classmates.

But Lionel Shriver's superb novel is more concerned with how blame and recrimination diffuses. Kevin can't just be evil, he must surely be a product of poor parenting, of being ignored, of various Freudian explain-alls that place the blame squarely on everyone but him. And then again, maybe he really is just the non-supernatural incarnation of Damien.

The structure of the book, a series of letters written from Eva Khatchadourian to her estranged husband, lays everything out the way she saw it, events narrated as unreliably as possible. There are beautiful passages where you wonder whether Eva has known from the start and rejects Kevin correctly, or whether she had an irrational hatred which in fact turned him evil.

We could never know for sure about Kevin, as the reader, until he commits his dastardly final act. And to say anything about that would be to spoil one of the most shocking surprises committed to page.

I am envious of all who are about to begin this dark, dark journey.

Glee Season 2 Premiere: Auditions


I know it's lame to start with a "Good/Bad/Ugly" post, but "Auditions" is not an episode that merits a thoughtful essay. It's not terrible, but for one of the most anticipated premieres of the season, I found it disappointing.

The Good

Sue Sylvester. I realized I'm basically only still watching Glee for Sue at this point, and she saved an otherwise meh episode last night. It was fun to watch her giggling with Will during their short-lived alliance. Everything she says is so wrong and it goes too far and it's funnier the worse it gets.

New blood. Ken Tanaka is gone and his replacement was more interesting in her first scene than he was in an entire season. Coach Beiste is going to be fun. And the new kids - Sam and Sunshine - both have great voices and potential for engaging stories. Even if Sam's mouth is comically, distractingly, entirely too big for any face.

Randomness. Puck's vasectomy, Santana's boob job, Brittany's summer in the sewers, Becky, Asian Camp, Finn's Cheerios tryout. Glee is my guilty pleasure show and I appreciate the wacky WTF moments way more than the high school drama.

The Bad

Lea Michele's haircut. I mean, it's not a bad haircut but it makes her even less believable as an awkward and fashion-challenged 17-year-old. I was immediately taken out of the story during all her scenes because all I could see was a Hollywood twenty-something.

The song selection. "Empire State of Mind," "Telephone," and "Billionaire"? Really? The performances were all decent, but the songs just didn't do anything for me. I get that it was the point to do recent hits for recruiting purposes, but over-saturation really worked against them here.

The ugly. (Uh, Glee?)

Artie/Tina/Mike. This whole plotline rubbed me completely the wrong way, which was a shame because I think it was supposed to be funny. I'm all for rounding out the background cast (and I'm excited by the prospect of more Mike), but there's character development and then there's out-of-character development. Tina, who was so offended by objectification last season, dumps Artie for Mike's abs. Artie, who used to be so sensitive and so infatuated with Tina, ignores her for weeks in favor of Halo and doesn't see how that makes him a bad boyfriend. Then, the only thing he takes away from the breakup is that he needs abs and should obviously join the football team as a battering ram, despite having previously learned to be realistic about his condition. Just... ugh. In a similar vein, while it was fun to watch Quinn's inner mean girl rise again, it effectively undid most of her character's growth last season. And Rachel has always been an egomaniac, but she's never been a sociopath. I'd like to think this was all done intentionally to show how fickle high school kids can be, but I'm afraid I don't give the Glee writers that much credit.

I'm hoping the junior high nostalgia will help me to enjoy "Britney/Brittany" next week, because Glee is officially on the bubble for me.

Filling The Gaps: "La-di-da" Annie Hall

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Future Dirty Old Man syndrome. In the course of this Filling the Gaps series, I have realized that seems to be why I haven't seen MOST so-called classics from the 1970s.

I also had the general feeling that I already 'knew' Woody Allen movies, having seen so many of them, but now I know that most of his pre-London films are watered down versions of Annie Hall.

Diane Keaton is the original manic pixie dreamgirl (see this Jezebel article to find out more about why this type can be completely loathsome if mishandled). There's no other way to explain her profound weirdness in this movie. The original article refers to the fact there's no way a girl like that could be real except as the perfect imagined mirror to Woody Allen's character.

But she's actually likeable, and very very watchable. The interweb reveals that Annie Hall was actually a major style icon who continues to influence designers like Stella McCartney today. No one would actually want to dress like Natalie Portman in Garden State (Which was a direct rip-off of Kate Winslet's look in Eternal Sunshine, which had a practical purpose of illustrating the changes in timelines. Natalie Portman, on the other hand, blech.)

However, there are many things that elevate this above pure dreck like Garden State and entertaining-yet-forgettable fare such as 500 (Days of Summer), which I remember being sold as 'the new Annie Hall.' For one thing, it has cracking dialogue. Woody was at his comedian finest, keeping the jokes fast and furious.

One of the reasons 500 (Days of Summer) failed as a film is that it tries to portray Joseph Gordon-Levitt as 'romantic', when really he's just extremely out of touch with reality, and frankly, a bit stupid. So it's hard to sympathize with him. Annie Hall at least starts from the premise that Woody Allen is a socially retarded maladjust, so his frequent bursts of irrationality fit into the context of his character. We know he can't help it, so we forgive it like any pathology. There's every indication that Annie Hall sees a commensurate spirit in Alvy, so the relationship wasn't actually doomed when it first started, unlike Summer and Tom's.

While Woody Allen is essentially playing himself as Alvy Singer, Neurotic Jew Extraordinaire (which has surely become it's own overused movie trope by now), that character type was still in its infancy at the time. And then again, it seems apparent to us now that Woody=Alvy, given that he's continued to basically play Alvie Singer as recently as Scoop, but was it obvious to moviegoers at the time? Must research old reviews...

Allen also made ample use of brilliant visual gags illustrating how Alvy sees conversations differently from everyone else, he reads into every last shred of subtext. So we end up with the Neurotic Jew version of Disney classic Sleeping Beauty, which I'm fairly certain that Walt himself would never allowed near the building.

  • Unexpected Christopher Walken!
  • Unexpected Paul Simon appearance! Annie Hall has seriously certifiable taste in men, Woody Allen then Paul Simon! Have there ever been less attractive men starring in Hollywood films?

  • Only the second movie I've seen with Diane Keaton, the first being The Godfather, which I just saw last week.
  • First Woody Allen "New York" film.

Mad Men: The Beautiful Girls

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Death is never funny, or so the general thinking goes. But like the best episodes of The Mary Tyler Moore show, which Beautiful Girls resembled more than once, Weiner took some of the darkest rites of passage in modern human experience - death, racism and desperate love - and turned them into high comedy. And like the seminal episode about the passing of Chuckles The Clown in the middle of a circus show, Mad Men showed that death usually does have a hilarious side to it. And is almost always a circus.

This episode really is one for the women. We get the aging party girl, Ida Blankenship, the office crew (in which Joan was starting to look more and more old-fashioned) and of course young Sally, who is in many ways directly affected by the cultural turmoil surrounding the women of the show. Having divorced parents and a mother who cannot even deal with her own feminine identity, let alone Sally's own exploration, has obviously set off fireworks in Sally's brain, which she foolish decides that only her father can fix..

Mrs. Blankenship has classic line after classic line, and I was thanking the show for the addition of a brilliant character when, suddenly, she snuffed it. Roger predictably made it all about him, but we see genuine compassion and sadness from Cooper and the rest of the office females. But it does show something that happens when these women die; they become legends, with secrets in their graves, and not much more. And that's probably why it affected Joan more than others.

I suppose in some way Joan really cares about her louse of a husband. But I still find it surprising how committed she is to him. You can explain it away as social mores ruling her behavior, but that never seemed to be Joan's primary concern, so much as keeping control of her own status using any means possible, even if it means rejecting progress for other women. In many ways, Roger is the perfect man for her, a relic from the past, just as she aspires to be.

As for Peggy, she is still blossoming, and willing to explore to find her way in the world. She more than competently takes down her would-be lover's double standards, but more importantly, begins to recognize and react to her own, even while knowing that fighting racism is battle she cannot fight while ALSO fighting misogyny and the glass ceiling.

Betty seems to be more easily cowed by the judgment of other women than  by the men in her life. She listens to Henry because she respects him. But cold disapproval only bothers her when it comes from other women. Maybe that's what Sally is really rebelling against, the inherent and obvious weakness in her mother when facing any kind of challenge, frippery or otherwise.

By the end, when that elevator door closes, we see that all the worries and contradictions facing the 3 generations are fully present in Joan, Faye and Peggy (but Peggy looks positively serene next to the other two, maybe because her idea of womanhood isn't quite as rigidly defined as the other two's).

News That Makes Me Happy: Christine McDonnell Is the Queen of the Rings

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Thank you Salon for bringing me the best news ever: Tea Party nutjob Christine O'Donnell is a Lord of the Rings scholar!

Here is the original essay, written for Free Republic, a conservative site that was too controversial even for Matt Drudge.

My first thought when I read it...who is Belladonna? According to O'Donnell, despite the fact that she barely even appears in the books, "she is content, even utterly satisfied, in the role of a wife and mother." We have no way to confirm that either way! I don't even know who she is!

Eowyn v. Arwen
O'Donnell tears down Peter Jackson's masculinization of Arwen, complaining of how the movie gave her some of the manlier tasks that belonged to Glorfindel and Elrond, that "there is an out of place sauciness that goes against the meekness of her character." Basically she's saying, and I agree, Arwen sucks, so don't let's pretend otherwise. However, I more objected to Movie!Arwen because she took some of EOWYN's role in the novels.

O'Donnell loves Eowyn, like any good feminist should (though O'Donnell is anything but.) "One can easily imagine Eowyn with a wicked case of PMS, which is part of why we love her," writes O'Donnell. Careful Christine, you're sounding like Gloria Steinem there.

"It is only when she reconciles her femininity with her warrior spirit that the torment is gone, and her true womanhood is discovered." Amen. This is basically why Eowyn is awesome, and Arwen always sucked.

A strangely on-point essay by a woman who has since refashioned herself as a lunatic.

Soundtrack Surprise! : ER

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ER is an unusual show by modern standards. Before season 4, there were maybe 3 or 4 episodes that even used incidental music. None used pop music except in context of bars, karaoke, or the radio. In many ways, this let the actors be actors and kept the writers on their toes; no bad dialogue could be hidden from the audience with surging strings or adult contemporary fluff.

Even in Season 4, sonic manipulation was still used sparingly. You get the jarring and wonderful use of "Crucify," by Tori Amos, played at a girly sleepover at Elizabeth Corday's. Watching this now, that says more about the presence of Tori Amos in pop culture back then, which directly opposes the current perception of Amos as a producer of "gothy lesbian" music (which I never bought, but it was the general barrier to entry of other people I know). "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)" by Green Day was repeatedly sung by Scott Anspaugh and Jeanie Boulet in scenes that were absolutely heartbreaking. It's good to know that there was a time BEFORE that song, and Green Day themselves, became synonymous with cheap sentiment.

So in Season 6, when music began to be used in earnest you end up with the most sublime use of pop music and the most irritating, within 2 episodes of each other.

"Bookends" by Simon and Garfunkel. Used twice for scenes of Mark Greene and his dying father, you can see an entire history in Anthony Edwards' eyes, of memories that he missed out on, that he could never experience again.

What should have been a beautiful scene was ruined by Don Henley's "Taking You Home" (who, frankly, has ruined many more tv shows, songs, and bands than can be documented. Perhaps a post for our sister blog The Oncoming Hope: Music). The long awaited (and final) reunion of Carol Hathaway and Doug Ross, was already sentimental enough (in a very very good way). So when the producers decided to overlay drippy acoustic guitars and Don Henley's warble, it took me so far out of the moment that I had trouble enjoying the scene.

I may be biased because this is one of my favorite songs of all time period, but it just captured (and foreshadowed) the state of John Carter's life, long after his brutal stabbing and the loss of star pupil Lucy Knight. It played at the beginning of the final episode of season 6, which went in directions no one could ever have predicted. Of course, once all is revealed, it becomes perfectly obvious. But the song comes in just to give a little bud of the truth, and then a series of unhappy coincidences brutally opened that bud to both the viewer and to Carter's colleagues.

Mad Men, Inked: The Swimmers

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Mad Men is back to wearing it's John Cheever-ness on its sleeve, with Don swimming his way through his demons (see Cheever's short story The Swimmer), and returning to the false utopia of his Ossining life (For those of you playing at home, Cheever spent the majority of his productive years in Ossining, drinking and adultering until death by cancer).

However, like many of Cheever's short stories (see also The Enormous Radio, a personal favorite), The Swimmer features a young man who loses himself or a spouse to the darker undercurrents running through New York suburbs. Which is ironic since, for the first time this season, we're seeing Don try to shape up and course-correct (Which I was a little disappointed by to be honest, I was looking forward to seeing Don's bound-to-be-legendary rock bottom).

Meanwhile Joan takes a big step back. Like Don, the passage of time has made her attempts to assert power seem less cutting and a lot more desperate. Compare Joan's reaction to the vending machine scene to Peggy's in the Xerox scene in season two's "The Mountain King." Joan is struggling with the slow loss of control while Peggy is on a journey of consolidation.

I'm not going to go on too much about Don's inane voiceover, this has been fairly effectively trashed over at Slate. It's also too soon to discuss Dr. Faye Miller; her narrative is not complete, and her role is not yet predictable. But for the first time, we do see what kind of woman might make Don into a better man (apart from Peggy, of course).

It's tempting to dismiss Betty again, as it seems most have all season, but at last we are shown her value to the narrative. She is not as strong a force in Don's life as she once was, but she's still one of the unpredictable currents in his swimming pool.

After I finished writing this post, I stumbled across Natasha Vargas-Cooper's far more extensive discussion of the parallels between this week and The Swimmer. If you're interested, go here: The Footnotes of Mad Men: The Swimmer

Filling the Gaps: The Shawshank Redemption

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There is no one reason why I have avoided Shawshank until now. Maybe it's because I worried it would be like Patch Adams, not heartfelt and inspiring, but "heartfelt and inspiring." Or perhaps it's because every male I have ever known has seemed to go totally gay for it and tear up if you even mention the word Shawshank.

But, given the opportunity to see it for free on the big screen at the Everyman Cinemas, I decided it was time to bite the bullet (and hopefully watch grown men cry, always a favorite pastime).

The Shawshank Redemption is a movie about family, about brotherhood, but mostly, about time and the passing thereof. We are given vignettes across the twenty year period when Andy Dufresne comes to Shawshank, and brightens the prison world wherever he can (this is exactly the sort of description that totally put me off seeing the film, to be honest.) 

But there are a couple of things that prevent the movie from gliding too far down the slippery slope of mawkishness. After the initial scenes of Andy's trial, the entire story is told from the perspective of Morgan Freeman's character, Red. Red calmly narrates the goings on in the prison almost as a neutral observer of oddities, the biggest oddity being Andy himself. 

Andy is a riddle. From beginning to end, the audience barely gets a sense of what's under the surface, with hints cropping up in the beer scene and the music scene. But everytime he starts to open up, his shell snaps shut again. Or he gets tossed in the hole. (Ah the hole, that magical plot contrivance of prison movies and hockey movies).

The second saving grace is the music. Thomas Newman's melancholy score emphasizes the mystery and menace of the prison, rather than the cheesy 'we are family' themes that are bubbling under the surface, threatening to break through.

However, given how subtle much of the movie actually is, the famous (infamous?) line, "Get busy living, or get busy dying" hits you like a 900 pound anvil on the head. Forgetting the fact that based on everything we know, Andy would NEVER say something so pithy, it's just a terrible line. It personifies Emma Thompson's recent definition of the word twee: 'whimsy without wit.' It makes no sense, and it's not terribly inspired.

Nonetheless, what keeps the movie chugging ahead is that there are a few genuine surprises in the plotting. Surprise deaths, surprise rebirths, surprise ways of dealing.

But, I confess, I was anxiously awaiting the legendary scene that's renowned for making men cry. It never came. Please write angry letters to this BBC writer: 20 Movies that Make Grown Men Cry

  • I actually couldn't think of any other movies I've seen with Tim Robbins in it, but of course there's High Fidelity (but who remembers anything other than Jack Black in that movie anyway). 
    • Oh and he's in Top Gun, but when I think of that movie I am blinded by the homoeroticism. 
    • And Twister! (giant cows mooing while being sucked up by tornadoes. As you can see, strange things stick in my mind from movies I saw when I was young). 
    • And Austin Powers The Spy Who Shagged Me (no comment).

Yes. But keep your expectations in check.

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