Archive of ‘Retrospectives’ category

Best ( Chris’s Favorite) Films of 2015

Although this wasn’t quite a great year in films, the good and great one’s proved the value of the big screen experience that film allow us.  Nothing beats seeing the grand scope of an amazing car chase scene or great actors with emotional highs with close ups that won’t let you look away.  There are still visionaries out there trying to show the power of film or more accurately digital film, something that the best television can’t accomplish, the atmosphere and mood that film captures.  The feeling of vertigo watching someone high wire from one building to the next, the feel of a punch being landed and the capabilities of our emotions showing being on display.  This is the power the movies can have over us even in the weakest of years. (more…)

 

Best Scene In A Film (That’s Not In Mad Max)

Creed Running With Motorcycle Crew in Creed

Every Rocky film has the montage scene of the boxer getting in top-notch shape for the big fight, so you naturally expect that in Creed as well. And yes they usually end with Rocky running up those now famous stairs in Philadelphia. Director Ryan Coogler decided to go for something quite different on his take in Creed. Clearly influenced by the documentary 12 O’Clock Boys, Coogler makes it clear this isn’t your fathers Rocky film with rapper Meek Mill’s take on the classic Rocky theme providing the tempo for this conclusion for the montage with his song Lord Knows. With a young black motorcycle crew riding with Adonis Creed while he runs his last sprint the scene provides a boost of energy never seen in a Rocky film, making Coogler take on the series uniquely its own.

Best Sequel

Magic Mike XXL (That’s Not Mad Max or Creed)

The first Magic Mike, although surprisingly good, may have left you cold and seeking a little be more than what was delivered. As the sequel’s title suggest, this installment is going much bigger than the prior film while leaving all worries behind of the first film. Magic Mike XXL finds Channing Tatum and the rest of the boys embarking on a “one last ride” style road trip, to Myrtle Beach for a strippers convention. Yes, I said a stripper convention. On the way the find themselves involved in some light hearted misadventures. The film as no bones about what you came here to see but while they give you what you want, they also subversively bring up social topics without ever actually bringing them up. Masculinity, femininity, homosexuality, and race provide an avenue for the characters to show their views without ever making a heavy-handed statement about “togetherness”. It just simply does it in organically. If that’s not enough for you, less not forget the scene stealing performance by Joe Manganiello that provides one of best one of the best scenes of the year with his use of Nine Inch Nails and a sex swing.
What We Talk About When We Talk About Star Wars: The Force Awakens

I feel obligated to mention The Force Awakens, somewhere on this post despite the fact that I’m not much of a Star Wars fan. That said even I found myself sucked up in the excitement of culture phenomenon of the most recent installment. Yes, you could say it was rehash of the original Star Wars film and yes R2-D2 all of sudden waking up seemed just a little perfect but that’s ok. Let’s face it, J.J. Abrams was given the impossible job of living up to the expectations that were once faltered by a previous trilogy. Whatever you may feel for the film it’s self and Abrams table setting, you can’t deny his wonderful casting of the three leads of the film. Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and Adam Driver were not only asked to take a beloved series on their shoulders but to be the new faces of it. There performances in one film, for me as already surpassed many of the actors in the original trilogy. John Boyega seems to be ready made leading man, capable to move between reluctant hero and the sidekick in one scene. Adam Driver is doing something very interesting her as the villain Kylo Ren, with the most iconic bad guy in film history Darth Vader it can be hard to compete with that shadow. Driver knows that, and over plays it in earlier parts of the film with almost “chip on his shoulder” attitude, eventually making and unfortunately making his case for true villainy. Daisy Ridley is the cherry on top of a great year for women in films, in particular action films. For what is asked of her in the closing fight scene (and a lot is asked of her in a break neck speed) we have to buy into her ask character. Ridley makes Rey instantly likeable, in her opening scenes. In the early parts of the film, we don’t exactly know where we are heading with Rey but Ridley manages to convey a comfortably with her performances as if we have been following this character for years. Ridley truly holds her own amongst actors more familiar to this world while placing herself firmly as the hero of this tale.

Top 10 Films of 2015

Full disclosure, I haven’t actually seen every film this year including Carol, Youth, The Look Of Silence, The Assassin, Son Of Saul, Chi-Raq and a few others.

  1. Spotlight

Sometimes great filmmaking is not having a grandiose vision but knowing what the script ask of you, letting the story tell itself. Tom McCarthy does so, allowing his actors showcase their abilities to perform, with small details of their characters. Nothing sexy here, just a will crafted, precise film in which everyone delivers.

  1. The Revenant

I haven’t much cared for any of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu previous films, but even I knew that this most recent effort would be one to seek out. Mostly due to his leading man Leonardo DiCaprio, with if not his best performance (it’s not), perhaps the most demanding of his career. Not just in the physical sense but because for the majority of the film he doesn’t speak, asking DiCaprio to carry his performance in actions, not words. And yes, that bear attack scene, is probably the most terrifying scene you’ll see all year or next year.

  1. The Hateful Eight

Tarantino’s newest film is problematic at times. No filmmaker loves the sound of people speaking his dialogue more, especially when he is reading it himself as the narrator. What flaws there are don’t ruin the intriguing discussion of race, in particular the subtle racism in classic westerns of the “golden age”, such as the John Ford films. In the character Major Marquis Warren (played by Samuel L. Jackson in his best performance since Pulp Fiction), Tarantino has the capacity to talk about race relations in a modern context. The way in which black and white people need to see each other is a fascinating point of the film, especially in relationship with masculinity amongst men of any color.

  1. Clouds of Sils Maria

Of the films on my list that demands a second viewing for me, Clouds of Sils Maria is on the top of the list. Not just because it’s a great film but also because of the open questions that it leaves you with by the end of the film. Juliette Binoche, time in and time out demands your attention with her screen presents. While Kristen Stewart shows that there is real talent behind those other wise annoying mannerism that we grown use to in other films. Can’t wait to catch up on this film again.

  1. Creed

For all the complaints of sequels/remakes, Creed makes a strong case for what stories can be furthered with doing so. This film didn’t have to be as good as it ended up being. Ryan Coogler didn’t want to make just boxing film with classic Rocky montages. He sought to make expansion of the franchise while giving us character driven film of young man chasing his past and future. Michael B. Jordan makes clear that he has all the makings of a movie star, while Stallone is great in his lease all out Rocky performance (It seems Coogler kept him from doing that thick Rocky accent this time around).

  1. Tangerine

For those who know about this film, much has been made about the fact that it was filmed all on an iPhone. If that gets you to see this film, that’s great, but that isn’t what makes the film worth your time. It does what few LGBT films have done, it just tells a story about people that so happen to be transgender. Tangerine is not interested in making statements, but only say these are people, people who deal with life just as you or I do. This is what makes the film great, ordinary people dealing with their day the best they can. Not to mention the eye for detail director Sean S. Baker as for little corners of Los Angeles that may have never been filmed until Tangerine. Showing a side of L.A. that most residents are more familiar with and outsiders have never seen.

  1. Ex Machina

Feeling like a film length episode of The Twilight Zone, Ex Machina is a prime example of the power of cinema. Capturing atmosphere and tone, in such psychological level that puts you on edge admittedly when you reach the man location the film takes place in. And like great episodes of The Twilight Zone, this film subtext is the allegory of men’s need to be loved and the need for power. Alicia Vikander’s performance of Ava is of delicate nature of wonder, even in the closing moments when things begin to turn. She is freighting yes but not with malice or hurtful contempt but just wonder, that is due to Vikander’s great performance.

  1. Inside Out

Much is demanded of Pixar every year to deliver not just a terrific kids movie, but a great picture. This isn’t an easy feat to accomplish year in and year out (clearly they take a year off trying to do so when ever they release a Cars movie), but the bar is set high. Inside Out continues the (for the most part) efforts to set a standard in creative animation and storytelling. Making something as complex as our human emotions, quite easy to comprehend while asking existential questions has though Ingmar Bergman went into animation makes it far ahead than any other traditional big budget film this year. And as always Pixar does a wonderful job with casting whether the voices are familiar to us or not, they always seem to fit the character.

  1. Anomalisa

Speaking of existentialism and the human mind, Charlie Kaufman has a new film out folks. In his second endeavor as director, with the help of co-director Duke Johnson he makes his first animated feature. There’s a subtle hint in all his work of a mental horror film underlying the themes that Kaufman deals with. Whether focusing on our ego, holding on to love, fear of dying, or depression, Kaufman does it in his own unique way. His fascination with these expects of being human are all on display in this most recent film Anomalisa. As with all Kaufman films, he sends you down a rabbit hole of thought and emotion. He doesn’t do this to for us to solve the puzzle but to show the complexity of narcissism and neurosis, seeking pleasures or self worth.

  1. Mad Max: Fury Road

This apocalyptic film came out six months ago and it still stands as the best time I’ve had in theatre this year (yes, I’ve seen The Force Awakens…chill). No film had a better understanding of what it was trying to accomplish than George Miller’s visceral rock opera of chaos and terror. For Miller who hadn’t made a Mad Max film in 30 years, he accomplishes what few action films do as of late, placing the stacks of the situation in relatable way in unreal world. Along with high octane editing, this movie puts you in the driver seat in away that seven Fast & Furious movies having figured out to do yet. With Imperator Furiosa (played by underrated Charlize Theron), we are given a great female action hero, in this allegory of destructive nature of men who seek absolute power. The film speaks to willingness of the ones with power to send young men (War Boys) to fight their wars and die for their personal gain. The fourth installment in any action movie franchise has no business being this good but Miller not only made a great action movie, he made a great film. Period.

Best (Favorite) Television of 2015

With taking a heavier load of classes in the summer and fall semester, this was perhaps the first year in which I watched more television than films. It was easier to step away from writing a paper to watch an episode of Mr. Robot than it was to go to the multiplex for a few hours and get disappointed by the next summer blockbuster. There’s comfort in television, knowing that you won’t be disappointed by familiar faces that you’ve come to know in front and behind the camera. And if you find yourself wanting to cut ties with a show (talking to you House Of Cards) because it’s become a total mess, you can simply walk away from it, no questions asked. We saw some of our favorites go away this year, we found ourselves surprised by the turn around of other shows and we saw True Detective turn into a turd of a show. Here’s a look back at my favorites of 2015. (more…)

Best 30 Minutes of Television


Inside Amy Schumer – 12 Angry Men Inside Amy Schumer
An homage to the classic Sidney Lumet film, 12 Angry Men, which focused on the jury of 12 men deciding the fate of a boy convicted of murder. In Schumer’s version, the focal is not on a murder trial but on whether Amy Schumer is hot enough to be on television. Just as the Lumet film, this episode showcases a cast of great character actors, including Paul Giamatti in a classic blow hard Giamatti performance. You don’t have to be a fan of 12 Angry Men to appreciate this hilarious episode that tackles how men talk about the value of women, especially one such as Schumer. Schumer’s willingness to have these men argue about her sex appeal and beauty, gives insight into the sometimes ruthless discussions men have behind closed doors about women in a heartbreaking, yet funny way.

Best Post Mad Men Performance


Jon Hamm in Wet Hot American Summer: First Day Of Camp
If you were a Mad Men lover such as I, there was a void after those final moments, of Don Draper envisioning the perfect Coca Cola commercial, that may never be filled. Yet those familiar faces were found all over television from Another Period, The Last Man On Earth, and Documentary Now. None were better than Jon Hamm as The Falcon in Wet Hot, a CIA agent who lacks any true concern or apathy for his mission. Hamm showcases his ease in comedy that was rarely shown in his reserved Don Draper performance. Hamm makes himself at home in this already established and beloved cult show, seeming to be at more ease than some of the actors who were in the film 15 years ago.

Best Moment

The “Come At Me Bro” Moment in Game Of Thrones
Due to some bad ad-libbing by the show runners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, this most recent season of Game Of Thrones was filled with missteps. Despite the flaws and questionable decisions (Sansa rape scene and the misadventures of Jamie & Bronn) going off book, literally, the show produced one of the most talked about scenes in pop culture this year. The battle at Hardhome came to be a surprise for non-book readers and book readers alike. With a battle that was only talked about in the books, the beloved character of Jon Snow rose to a new level of being not just the “emo” kid but also, now, a bad ass. Yet for all Jon Snow did, there is no way he could beat a guy who can raise the dead with a snap of the finger. The Knight’s King, the leader of the Others, makes a short appearance but a lasting impression with his awakening of all the dead wildlings, for the use of his own army. Showing his power to Jon Snow brings an echoing fear to him and us as the audience. You got some real problems now Westeros. Good luck.

Honorable Mention Shows

Daredevil, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Veep, Getting On, Halt and Catch Fire, and….

Transparent
I’ve only had the chance to watch two episodes of the new season of Transparent but it terrifically picks up where the last season left off. This show goes beyond just being the “transgender show”, and speaks to the everyday troubles of being part of a family, even when we don’t want to be part of that family. The Pfefferman family may be filled with narcissistic, destructive, unlikable people but no one said you had to like every television character you watch. Even despite their flaws, Transparent shows the importance of family without trying to be a hallmark card from the set of Parenthood.

Top Ten Shows

10. Master of None – Netflix
Aziz Ansari’s take on the lifestyle, of a young up and coming New Yorker, may not be an original thought. Yet the perspective and insight he gives with the help of co-creator, Alan Yang, is something of its time in a profound way in a half hour “comedy”. Some may be disappointed with lack of laughs provided but the humor is there, in the relationships and situations of realism.
Best Episode – Mornings

9. Show Me A Hero – HBO
This six part mini-series, from David Simon (The Wire), shows the real life story of Yonkers building of public housing in the late 1980’s and the protest by it’s white middle class citizens who wanted nothing to do with it. This may sound like a bore to you, but Show Me A Hero was far from that, showing ways that racism can be carried out beyond Civil Rights and racial slurs. Oscar Isaac gets an opportunity to show his range as a leading man, playing the mayor of Yonkers, Nick Wasicsko, who reluctantly must see the public housing through to the end. Isaac showcases his ability to be the movie star in Wasicsko’s highest moments and the complicated character actor in Wasicsko’s lowest lows. Isaac’s higher profile turns this year in Ex Machina and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, giving him more of the spotlight but his turn in Show Me A Hero is the true peak for his great year.
Best Episode – Episode 2

8. Chef’s Table – Netflix
Yes, there were better shows this year but none as more pleasurable to watch than this documentary series. Chef’s Table gives insight to the best of the best of the culinary world; chefs with unique views on life and cooking. It would be easy to show shot after shot of mouth watering meals (don’t get me wrong they do that) but Chef’s Table displays the beauty, hardships, and artistry that goes into making the best food in the world. You’ll want to make a trip to each of these Chef’s restaurant after watching this, believe me.
Best Episode – Francis Mallmann

7. Better Call Saul – AMC
The pressure was on, for the spin-off of one of the best shows ever (Breaking Bad). Though it seemed after the first two episodes it was going to be a lesser rip off of it’s predecessor, Better Call Saul found it’s footing and it’s own unique perspective to the already established Breaking Bad universe. By mid-season, the show stood as its own in the Mike Ehrmantraut centered episode Five-O, that focused on his days as a cop prior to moving to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Bob Ordenkirk and Michael McKean show that some of the best actors are comedians as feuding brothers.
Best Episode – Five-O

6. Review – Comedy Central
Although Better Call Saul is the spin off to Breaking Bad, no character is more spiritually connected to Walter White than Review’s Forrest MacNeil. As a critic of life experiences, MacNeil has put upon himself to go all in on any potential review he must do. Whether it is experiencing a pillow fight, public speaking, or divorce, MacNeil follows through to self-damaging effect. By the end of season two, his life spirals down to a darkly comedic downfall only because of his own undoing.
Best Episode – Cult, Perfect Body

5. Fargo – FX
While most were hate watching True Detective season 2, Fargo was making its case for why we should be watching it over any other crime show for two years running. An all star cast, that feels as though they’ve been these people their whole lives, including Kirsten Dunst, who has never been better and Bokeem Woodbine, who has never gotten such an opportunity to play such a rich character. The show gives respect and admiration for the established Coen Brothers universe of the film Fargo while expanding that world, connecting it to their other films such as Millers Crossing, The Man Who Wasn’t There and The Big Lebowski.
Best Episode – Loplop

4. The Americans – FX
While previous seasons, of this spy drama, focused on the difficulty of keeping a healthy marriage going in the spy game, this most recent season focused on the difficulty of raising children in this dangerous world. This became especially apparent when one of the children finds out their parents are spies for Russia. This 80’s Cold War show, continues to show the brutal (sometimes too brutal) espionage world, which is quite the opposite of James Bond. Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys don’t get accolades they deserve for playing the several characters that is asked of them, many times in just one episode.
Best Episode – March 8, 1983

3. Mad Men – AMC
My love affair with this show is will be documented so no reason to pontificate on it’s greatness. But in it’s closing chapters, Mad Men played wonderfully with old themes of the show of the ever-growing circles we find ourselves in. No other show wonderfully displayed the meta sadness of saying goodbye for its characters and creators while sending off in a classic satisfactory fashion.
Best Episode – Time & Life

2. Mr. Robot – USA
Rarely do you find yourself surprised by television. It’s designed to make you comfortable, characters you come to find dear to you on a weekly basis with storylines resolved by the final moments of the episode. Fortunately, there are shows that like to keep us on our toes. Mr. Robot was such a show that played with grandiose ideas that built on top each episode while breaking the foundation of what to expect from the previous episode. Yes, it had some similarities to a certain late 90’s anarchist tale but we knew that, they knew that but it expanded on a false narrator with layers and layers of denial by its lead character. No show made more excited for what was coming for it’s next season than Mr. Robot.
Best Episode – eps1.5_br4ve-trave1er.asf

1. The Leftovers – HBO
The best show of the year was the biggest surprise of the year, too. Although the first season had its moments with stand alone episodes and the mystery of the departure, I found myself debating if I even needed to watch the second season. Thankfully, the show left the dreariness of its previous season behind along with Guilty Remnant (to a degree) in Upstate New York. This season opened up more doors of questions, while answering others in a satisfying manner. As was the case with Mr. Robot, each episode left you with a compelling ending or threat, wanting you to watch the next episode.
Best Episode – International Assassin

The Legacy of Mad Men

As many of you (us) are preparing grocery lists for Easter Sunday (I’m incredibly indecisive when it comes to Holiday cooking), Chris and I are readying ourselves for the last season of Mad Men. Take it or leave it but MM will always carry a special place in my heart, thanks to the artistic brilliance of Matthew Weiner. For me, it’s hard to pick out certain characters or scenes to analyze but I guess that’s why my husband is so awesome. Are you also saddened by this departure of an amazing TV show? Either way, I hope Chris is able to have you in tears, if you watch it, or intrigued if you don’t. Happy Easter, ya’ll! (more…)

What started as a naval-gazing fascination of how are parents and grandparents lived and behaved in the 60’s, developed into something conceptually connected to present day. These weren’t the “good old days” as we’ve been foolishly told. The show brought a nuance to our thoughts on the lives of women in the work place and at home. Sexism wasn’t just simply your boss grabbing your ass but instead men’s inability to see that a woman, like Peggy Olson, would want to do anything besides raising children. Even the subtle hints of racism from a beloved character, such as Bert Cooper who thought given blacks equal rights would spoil them, showed the flaws in even the most enlightened individuals. Imperfections were the reality of these people, of this time, which helped the show grow into something more than the question of who is Don Draper and what are his dark secrets. Don was the centerpiece, yet Matthew Weiner (creator of Mad Men) built something so much more vast, with various characters that had different points of view from its anti-hero.

What started as a show about who is Don Draper, became a show filled with symbolism and mythology of its world. Is Bob Benson a variation on the Don/Dick character? Was there something to the Megan Draper/Sharon Tate murder theories? Is Michael Ginsberg an alien? Along with the playful theories, hidden meanings, and symbolism came the lesson of change or the inability to do so. We’ve seen this in our lives, as people we are required, sometimes demanded to change for the betterment. At the root of the show, Weiner was most concern with how we adapt to things changing around us. Yet the painful truth that people repeat themselves, personally and publicly, was a theme of the series. The endless cycle or carousel, as Don pitched to Kodak in the season 1 finale, is what Don put himself in several times over. Of course, Don would get divorced again with Megan, yet this time in different circumstances. Yes the agency would eventually be sold to a larger agency again, for the betterment and wealth of its agency partners; that’s what these companies do. Don couldn’t adapt in his personal life but he sure as hell knew how to do it as an ad man.

So with only seven more episodes of Mad Men to look forward to, here’s a look back at what we love about perhaps the best television show ever.

Don & Peggy
No leading man in television as been adored quite like Jon Hamm has been playing Don Draper, yet no leading man has so much respect without the hardware to prove it. After all, how hard is it for Hamm to play Don Draper? He’s sexy, charming, and just says the amazing dialogue provided for him by the writers. Yet we know Hamm’s performance goes beyond simply good looks and written words. His capacity to sell us on not just the product (from the iconic Carousel scene in the finale of season one to the Jaguar ad in episode “The Other Woman”), but for us buying him in all of his deepest, darkest lows of the character. Rarely does Draper allow us to see the man behind those eyes but when we do, we feel true sympathy for him because Hamm has made us believe in him. There was always someone else in Hamm’s way to win the awards (most times deservingly so to Bryan Cranston) but what Hamm did shouldn’t be overlooked. Perhaps in the final year of the show he’ll finally get his just award.

The pleasure in watching people surprise you in a performance is something that keeps us watching films and television. No one, including Matthew Weiner, could have expected that Elizabeth Moss as Peggy Olson would turn out to be the true driving force of Mad Men. From the very first episode, we saw the 1960’s and the world of advertising through her eyes. Although she appeared to only be the tender hearted girl looking to get by, Moss quickly showed Peggy to be capable and when needed be, a ruthless character. As fans of the show, Betty Draper or Megan Draper never wowed us because they never were Don’s true equals. Maybe that was by design for us to see Peggy Olson as his real counter part. Don’s admiration for her comes from the connection of her started from nothing as he did. Elizabeth Moss has shown she is just as valuable (perhaps of more value because Peggy is the future of advertising) to the show’s forward movement into 1970’s and beyond.

5 Memorable “What The Hell” Moments In Mad Men
Sure, Mad Men never had a “red wedding” moment but no show has honed in on the surreal moments of shock and surprise in the ordinary day to day life quite like this show. From Roger Sterling vomiting fifty clams in front future clients, to Peggy accidentally stabbing her boyfriend only to be broken up with him moments later in the ambulance, the show has had its share of water cooler moments that kept us on our toes in what would appear to be a mundane show about advertising.

1. The Lonesome Death of Miss Blankenship
Draper went through secretaries like Spinal Tap went through drummers; maybe because he made them copywriters, one nightstands, or spouses. No secretary had a more memorable resignation than Miss Blankenship, whose death wasn’t such a shock (seeing that she was a very old woman) but the location in which it took place was. Dying in the place in which you work is never how anyone wants to go. As Roger Sterling put it, “She died like she lived, surrounded by the people she answered phones for.” Despite the haunting idea of dying at work, the moment isn’t void of humor, including Harry Crane whining about the use of a quilt, made by his mother, to cover the corpse of Blankenship to avoid clients seeing the disturbing scene.

2. Don’s Sudden Proposal To Megan
Who saw this coming? Megan (played by Jessica Pare) first appeared to be just a background actress filling up empty spaces. Yet slowly she would pop up, having one line here or there, eventually becoming Draper’s secretary. After having sex in “after work hours” at the office, Megan brushed off her encounter with Don as a one-time thing and seemed to return to the background of scenes again; except that Matthew Weiner had something up his sleeve for Megan. Don is a complicated man yes, but he wants his family life simple. A wife who can bring stability is all he wants when he comes home, and Megan seemed to be the perfect candidate for that. Notice the interesting choice of music in the closing scene of the episode, in which he purposes to Megan, “I Got You Babe” by Sonny and Cher, a couple who both where in their second marriages to each other and would eventually divorce.

3.When Lawnmower Meets Foot
Expectations and curiosity was high at Sterling-Cooper with the coming of the newly minted bosses’ arrival from London. Those hopes and curiosities were dashed with the introduction of youthful, charming Guy MacKendrick, an accountant poised to take over operations from Lane Pryce. That, of course, is until the unfortunate (or fortunate for Lane) mishap with the John Deere riding mower. Everyone at the agency has a joy ride with this most recent client merchandise, including Lois, who can barely operate the phone let alone heavy machinery. Her inability to control this “foot slicer on wheels” alters golden boy MacKendrick’s life of an accountant to a dud…Thankfully for Lane at least.

4.Bert’s Send Off
What great symmetry for Bert Cooper to say of his former secretary Miss Blankenship, “She died on the 37th floor of a skyscraper. She was an astronaut,” when he himself would die moments after Neil Armstrong stepped foot on the moon in 1969. Yet all, including Don, felt the void he left in the office in the closing moments of last the season finale. After getting back into partnership with the company and pushing his rival Jim Cutler out of it, Don has a moment to himself, only to experience what only can be described as a hallucination with the appearance of the deceased Bert Cooper. Yes, Mad Men has played with flashbacks from Don’s past in modern settings with him, yes while drunk or high Don has spoken to his dead father, but never has the show broken the forth wall like this. What could have easily been a jumping the shark moment, some how worked well and collaborated with everything going on in Draper’s life (or maybe it was a tumor). Bravo.

5.Pete Campbell vs. Lane Pryce
Everyone has that boss or co-worker that you would like to go 10 rounds with (if not, consider yourself blessed). For a moment, we all vicariously took pleasure in Pryce punching out Pete Campbell. It shouldn’t be surprising that Pete would find himself in a physical altercation with Don or Roger but for it to be Lane was the shocking part of the scene. In earlier seasons, Pryce took Campbell under his wing like a father figure, grooming him to be head of accounts someday. Yet Pete’s continued “assholeness,” due to his growing in power within the company, had reached a head for Lane and gave the “grimy little pimp” the beating he deserved.

The 10 Best Mad Men Characters That Aren’t Don or Peggy

Honorable Mention: Bobby Draper 4.0 simply for the lines: “I like the case, it looks like a coffin,” and “Everybody goes to the movies when their sad.”

10. Harry Crane-Everyone thinks of Campbell as the biggest creeper of MM, but don’t underestimate Crane’s creepy level. He’s sneaky creepy and Rich Sommer is sneaky funny as Crane.
9. Glen Bishop-In the latter seasons of the show, Glen started to develop himself beyond being the weird kid with an old soul into a terrific Holden Caulfield homage.
8. Joan Holloway-The yin to Peggy’s yang is a simplified reading of Joan. Her reach goes beyond her sex appeal as she navigates a man’s world seeking power, just as Peggy desires too.
7. Bert Cooper-When you’re as rich as Cooper, you’re allowed to be a weird, crabby old man but he was much more of a father figure for Sterling and Draper.
6. Bob Benson-Don’s doppelganger of sorts became the bane of Pete’s existence (which was always fun to watch) and gave another angle of the troublesome life of a closeted homosexual that we hadn’t seen on the show.
5. Stan Rizzo-Truthfully, I didn’t like Stan the first couple seasons he was on the show but he eventually became the standard of the new cool of the late 60’s and became one of Peggy’s biggest allies.
4. Michael Ginsberg-The boy who fell to earth, claims to have been born on Mars. Part of me always hoped it was true but sadly it appears he had a form of mental illness. Get well soon Ginsberg.
3. Pete Campbell-Early on he was billed as Don’s nemesis but soon became a surprisingly sympathetic character despite how much of an asshole he is. Vincent Kartheiser’s (who plays Campbell) willingness to play the fool gave us some of the more darkly funny moments. Here’s a link to one of my favorite Pete moments: Pete Falling.
2. Sally Draper-Apparently AMC wanted a spin off based around an adult Sally Draper but Weiner said no way. Unfortunately, we won’t get the chance to see the child of Betty and Don navigate the dangerous streets of 80’s NYC with Madonna, The Smiths, and Wham as the soundtrack.
1. Roger Sterling-All you need to know about the greatness of Roger Sterling is in these unforgettable one-liners:
“Is just me or is the lobby full of Negros?”
“Let me put it in account terms: Are you aware of the number of hand jobs I’m going to have to give?”
“Have a drink. It’ll make me look younger.”
“As a wise man once said: the only thing worse than not getting what you want is someone else getting it.”
“How Jewish are they? You know Fiddler on the Roof, audience or cast?”

The Best (Favorite) Episode of Mad Men

This is an impossible feat to pull, Mad Men has given us some of the best episodes in television history. Yet, there can only be one and for me it’s Season four’s episode titled, “The Suitcase”. It is the night of Ali vs. Liston II (this iconic fight is best known for the great image of Ali standing over Liston after knocking him out), which happens to be Peggy’s birthday as well. Unfortunately for her, instead of celebrating another year of life, she has to spend her night coming up with ad ideas with a drunk Don. Throughout this season, we see Draper spiraling downward but with him pushing away the pending bad news from the west coast, he hits rock bottom on this episode. His decision to not contact Ann Draper, his closest friend (and technically first wife) while she is on her deathbed, haunts Don through out the episode. When he eventually decides to call, he finds out Ann has died. This moment allows us to see Don at his most vulnerable, breaking down to tears in front of Peggy, actually bringing them closer than ever before.

Being a fan of Muhammad Ali, I appreciate the parallels between the young boxer and Don Draper. Despite Don not being a fan of Ali, as he says about him “he’s got a big mouth. I’m the greatest. Not if you have to say it,” there are similarities between the two. Don reinvented himself by obviously changing his name such as the boxer did, doing away with his birth name Cassius Clay, then renaming himself Muhammad Ali. Both have a way with words, which could captivate any room with their own brands of charm. Yet, the deviant Ali, was an unappealing new face in popular culture for Don’s generation (for reason such as being outspoken black man and his chosen religion didn’t help either). Even still, defiance is part of Draper too, who we’ve seen over and over again doing what is best for himself, while upsetting others around him in the agency. What’s great about the historical moments in the show, whether it be the Kennedy Assassination, the Moon landing, or in this case of Ali vs. Liston, Weiner always manages to find parallels between his fictional characters and the historical figures of the time.

100 Films in a Year

Chris here. I wanted to clue you in on a New Years resolution of mine. As so many blog “think” pieces have stated in the past few years, this is the “golden age” of television and has pushed films (to a degree) into the background of the discussion of popular culture. The past year I’ve found myself having more conversations with friends on theories of The Yellow King or what was with the dance sequence at the end of Mad Men than about any film that may have warranted plenty of conversation (Obviously American Sniper has been an exception to this in the past few weeks but not for the merit of the ‘quality’ of the film but the politics behind it). Ash and I in the past few years have found it easier to commit to watching entire season of shows than commit to a two-hour movie. I’m not sure why that’s the case for us and many people these days, but I’ve missed the certain amount of commitment of taking a risk on films, whether they are old or new films. Inspired by that thought process, I wanted to catch up on some films from the past I’ve yet to see. (more…)

My initial plan was to only catch up on the Akira Kurosawa films I haven’t seen but than I realized there are some Ingmar Bergman films that I need to watch and oh, I need to finally see the original Solaris. Then I kept thinking of all these films that I’m shocked that I haven’t seen yet. Yes, it’s perfectly understandable to go your whole life without seeing the 1927 silent film Sunrise but how have I, a child of the 80’s not seen Sixteen Candles or Red Dawn? Then there’s Top Gun, a movie I’ve managed to avoid for my whole life that has dumbfounded the collection of my male friends who grew up wanting to be Maverick, while I wanted to be Prince from Purple Rain. When it was all said, I rounded the number of movies I needed to see to 100 (as if you didn’t know from the title of this piece). With a stipulation being that it had to be films that were released prior to 1994 (94’ was when my obsession with films really started, so it seemed to be the right point to look back at films that I’ve might missed out on). So with all that said, here’s my list of 100 films that I hope to watch before the end of 2015 and for your viewing pleasure, just in case you would like to follow along. Good luck.

100 Films in a year to watch:

Sixteen Candles

The General

Nashville

Brute Force

Ace in the Hole

Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore

Becket

Lust For Life

Point Blank

Scanners

Django

Coming Home

Rocky II

The Panic in Needle Park

National Lampoon’s Loaded Weapon 1

Repulsion

Amarcord

The Long, Hot Summer

Straw Dogs

A Man Escaped

Xanadu

The 39 Steps

Suspicion

Lifeboat

All That Jazz

The Secret of NIMH

Hoosiers

Dead Poets Society

Gandhi

Newsies

The Magnificent Ambersons

F for Fake

Valley Girl

Burden of Dreams

Red Dawn,

The Hunt for Red October

Metropolis

Bull Durham

Shampoo

Sophie’s Choice,

Sullivan’s Travels

Grey Gardens (1975)

The Friends of Eddie Coyle

A Fistful of Dollars

Superfly

The Last Picture Show

Murder on the Orient Express

Baby Doll, Blow Up

Thelma & Louise

Gentleman’s Agreement

Once Upon a Time in America

Sex, Lies and Videotape

My Dinner with Andre

Defending Your Life

Being There

Top Gun

Das Boot

Solaris (1972)

New York, New York

Brief Encounter

Pickpocket

The Great Dictator

Roman Holiday

Sunrise

His Girl Friday

West Side Story

The Gold Rush

Wings of Desire

Battleship Potemkin

The Passion of Joan Arc

Stranger than Paradise

Stagecoach

High and Low

Persona

The Virgin Spring

Monty Python and The Holy Grail

Zelig

A Woman Under the Influence

The Sugarland Express

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me

Jules and Jim

Gates of Heaven

A Woman is a Woman

Breathless

Le Doulos

I Vitelloni

Eraserhead

Aguirre: The Wrath of God

Fitcarraldo

La Strada

McCabe & Mrs. Miller

The Passenger

Le Samourai

Stray Dog

Yojimbo

Sanjuro

Ikiru

Husbands and Wives

Rashomon

 

Stanley and Clyde: The Changing of Masculinity in Films

This is an excerpt from a research paper I did for my class, Introduction to Masculinity, in which I was asked to write about masculinity in culture and its effects. So naturally I decided to write about masculinity in films, in particular two films, A Streetcar Name Desire and Bonnie and Clyde. Here is part of that paper in which I discuss Streetcar and Brando’s groundbreaking performance. Note: I don’t speak as much about the film itself as I usually do but instead the single importance of the Brando performance.

Although A Streetcar Name Desire is mostly remembered for introducing film audiences to Marlon Brando and in particular an acting style known as method-acting, its contribution to popular culture goes further with the way men could be seen sexually.   Prior to the release of A Streetcar Name Desire, male sexuality was more used in an unseen nature of sexual innuendos or longing glares at female counterparts.   How did this particular film change the presentation of men as sex symbols in later films? First, we must not pretend that male actors weren’t sexy or sexual before Streetcar but they weren’t presented as sexual objects in the manner that we see Marlon Brando. Male sexuality prior 1951 was bottled up or under strict control (mostly due to the “Hollywood Codes” that were governed by Motion Picture Production Code, which monitored and prevented any strong use of profanity, violence or sex in films). In Roger Ebert’s 1993 re-review of Streetcar, he discusses the lack of edginess to performances before Brando. He says, “Before this role, there was usually a certain restraint in American movie performances. Actors would portray violent emotions, but you could always sense to some degree a certain modesty that prevented them from displaying their feelings in raw nakedness.” The measure of a man’s sexuality such as Cary Grant was in how he wore a black suit, not in the way he looked without his shirt on. (more…)

Charm, style, and a winning smile were the best and only way to display male sexuality pre-Brando in his sweat-covered tank top.   In his classic performance of Stanley Kowalski, Brando is presented as the object of sexual desire, which we see him using his sculpted body to his advantage. In the most memorable scene in A Streetcar Name Desire (the Hey Stella! Scene). Stanley is beside himself after an abusive fight with his wife Stella, Stanley (Brando) is in agony, begging for Stella to return to him. He is screaming out to the heavens for her to come back home and in the scene his shirt his ripped showing Brando’s exposed back. Stella eventually comes out from hiding at her neighbor’s home to see her crying, begging husband. She begins to come towards him while he screams for forgiveness and she does so. Although it may appear that Stella returns to Stanley because he has apologized for hitting her, she has returned because she can’t refuse the sexual desire she has for him. This is made clear by Stella admittedly needing to rub Stanley’s exposed back, then kissing him.

Susan Bordo discusses in her book, The Male Body, which examines the history of masculinity in culture, how despite his villainous behavior in the film, Stanley and Marlon Brando became sex symbols, “However women viewers may have responded to the ending, they undoubtedly went away from the movie with a set of powerful images emblazoned on their sexual imaginations. That first shot of Brando, taking off his bowling jacket, revealing a wet clinging short-sleeved T-shirt stretched over the most beautiful male chest ever (pg.136).” Along with his physique being an obvious part of the sex appeal, his wardrobe as Stanley Kowalski was key to cementing the character and actor as part of the new era in masculinity. The simple wardrobe of tight blue jeans and tight white shirts would be a style that would forever be part of male culture, from greasers to hipsters. Again, Susan Bordo explains how revolutionary Brando’s performance in the film was in shaping masculinity in the 50’s and beyond saying, “Brando almost went crazy when he saw how he looked in the skintight shirt and jeans: “This is it! This is what I’ve always wanted!” he exulted. Not just Brando. Brando’s look in Streetcar, (shortly to be copied by James Dean, Paul Newman, and others) became the style for sexual macho in many gay male circles and a required uniform for many would be teen rebels (pg.138)” So with that, A Streetcar Name Desire importance in film history is not only due to the importance of the way actors perform but in how we can see men’s sexuality while speaking of their masculinity at the same time. Brando’s sexuality would change not only the mediate films of the 50’s and 60’s but now can be seen to have an effect on modern performances such as Michael Fassbender in the intensely animalistic sexual showing in the film Shame or Joaquin Phoenix role as an untamed man with little on his mind besides sex in The Master Ironically or perhaps unsurprisingly, if you know the history of Brando, he slowly tried to avoid being thought as the honking stud with his film choices after Streetcar and his eventual infamous weight gain during the filming of Apocalypse Now, 30 years after Streetcar was released.

 

Robin Williams’ Top 5 Performances

Robin_Williams

 

Chris here. Having not known much about the personal life of Robin Williams, I can’t imagine trying to give the man an eulogy. But what I will say as far as his body of work on stage and film, Williams was one of the few comedic voices who shaped my childhood and adult life (with the little sense of humor I may have.)  Not having a close relationship with my own father, I naturally attached myself to the men of the silver screen without knowing who they really were off screen. Williams was one of those father figures I connected to at an early age with his youthful energy and spontaneous behavior in films, various television interviews; he had all the makings of a living toy.  His ability to show his warmth and craziness in one seen showed the duality of the sad clown; making him a comedic hero to me. My list is a personal top 5.  I’m not saying this is the holy grail of what should be considered the great Robin Williams performances, these are just what I connect with him the most, especially now in his death.  So, I’m sorry die hard Hook fans, I love that movie but it didn’t make the cut along with Good Morning Vietnam because it’s one of the few of Robin Williams films I haven’t seen. (more…)

Honorable mention:

LOUIE – Barney/Never, Season 3 Ep. 6
In this eight-minute opening segment of Louie (Barney), Williams makes a surprising cameo as himself, attending a funeral of an old friend with Louis C.K. The two are the only ones at the funeral.  Although it’s a short piece, its very effective and perhaps gives us the closest glimpse of who Robin Williams was away from the cameras.  As with everything once a person dies, it is a bit haunting to watch the somber Williams attending a funeral.

My top 5 picks:

THE BIRDCAGE
In this 1996 comedy, Robin Williams is asked to do something he rarely does in comedic films: direct the ship by playing the straight man to Nathan Lane’s and Hank Azaria’s more memorable comedic performances.  What you can appreciate most about Williams’ performance in The Birdcage is his willingness to give the floor to his fellow actors.  Doing what few funny men at their prime have the ability to do, by not always being the funniest person in the room.

ALADDIN
Prior to Disney’s Aladdin, it wasn’t common to hear celebrity voices in animated films.  For better or worse, Williams amazing voice work as Genie in Aladdin brought celebrity voices to animation.  With perhaps the most memorable introduction to a character in Disney history, Williams’ Genie is uniquely his own.  It’s been rumored, that most of Williams dialogue was improvised. You do completely get the feeling that they just allowed him to go at his own rhythm in the introduction scene.

GOOD WILL HUNTING
Although my feelings toward the film itself sways the appreciation to lukewarm at times, I never find myself uninterested by Robin Williams’ deserving Oscar winning performance.  At the time of the release of the film in 1997, Williams was struggling at the box office and critically with his past few films (Jack and Father’s Day).  Losing his status as the funniest man, he did something unlikely by co-starring in this drama as therapist, Dr. Sean Maguire, given the task of finding the demons of troubled lead, Will Hunting.  Robin Williams’ performance isn’t flashy by any account, but instead is a sincere performance of the older and now more gentle Williams.  This performance has the added bonus of being part of one of the few “all guys cry watching this scene” with the “It’s not your fault” scene between Robin Williams and Matt Damon.

THE FISHER KING
This pick is most likely coming from a place of sincere sadness for the lose of Robin Williams, in what is truly a sweet performance.  Hardly his most known or critically acclaimed performance but perhaps the closest you’ll see of the internal sadness of Williams.  What I love most about him in this film is that this would be one of those opportunities for Williams to play crazy to the extreme but instead he holds back when necessary. I would have liked to have seen Terry Gillman (director of The Fisher King) and Williams work together more often; their anarchist dark humor seemed like it would have lent itself to more collaborations.

MRS. DOUBTFIRE
When all is said and done, this is the performance in which Williams will be most remembered for; it’s his “Like A Rolling Stone” ballad. It’s the perfect accumulation of everything we love about Williams as a performer. His vast collection of voices and characters, in which he just needed two or three seconds to give you the full personality of the creation. The sad clown, who can easily make you cry soon after laughing and the absolute belief that he was a 60 something British women.  When the books are written about the best performance by a man in drag, Williams is going to rule over Dustin Hoffman’s 1982 Tootsie performance. Just saying.

Robin Williams will be among the list of most missed movie stars. According to social media, there are few people who weren’t touched by his humor in the roles that he played. I would love to know what is your favorite Robin Williams performance.