Sunday, August 23, 2009

Sam's Review: Mad Men Episode 2

This week’s episode of Mad Men could stand alone as a really good episode, but it really was more of a bridge episode. Many subplots are beginning to form after last week’s big opening showing us what is best about the show. The Ken and Pete competition looks to be underway which seems to be a fun direction to take the show. The real fun will come when Pete undoubtedly starts to play dirty.

On the Ad side of the plot this week SC works to gain the trust of a group looking to renovate Penn Station and Madison Square Garden. Unfortunately they lose it. There also seems to be some weak links beginning to show in the new Brit chain of command. When asked why they bought the company the head British guy (sorry for forgetting the name) responded with an “I don’t know”. This is not something you want to hear from the guy that just bought your business.

The real drama this week came from outside the office. First, Betty’s father, brother, and sister in law came to visit. The father is clearly in diminishing health, he may have Alzheimer’s. While there are some squabbles about the estate of the father and where he will end up, what’s important is how this is going to effect the rest of the season. The end of the episode gives a clue where Don and Betty wake up to her father pouring out all the booze so the cops won’t find it.

The other juicy plotline from this week was the emergence of a new Peggy, or at least one that has been festering for a while. Peggy’s loneliness is best displayed where she sings a song from Bye Bye Birdie in the mirror imagining her as a bit more glamorous. She would later go out to a bar and find a nice young guy who doesn’t know better and bangs him, or blows him, it’s a bit ambiguous but probably not sex since he didn’t have a condom and she’s a bit weary after the whole Pete business. It’s nice to see Peggy try to get some, but she seems to be the only character on the show who could really use a spouse and would actually be happy and faithful (hmm, maybe Joan as well). Peggy’s character has chance immensely since the first season and the journey she is going on will probably be my favorite other than our star Don’s quest in life, whatever that may be.

So there were no new revelations just new facts that will cause some intrigue later. As Jordan can attest, this show is much more fun on DVD since you can watch where these new storylines go immediately, but we’ll just have to settle for one a week.

B+

Notes:
-I’m jealous of Fred Armsien

-I was totally right about them changing the kid who played Bobby. Why?!!?!?! He was Darren’ed I tell you, Darren’ed!!!

-Looking forward to seeing what happens with Joan’s rape-y husband and the wedding of Roger’s daughter on the day Kennedy was shot.

Jordan's Review: Mad Men, Season 3, Episode 2: Love Among the Ruins

Tonight's episode was a standard bridge episode--it set up the things to come while serving up some excellent character moments at the same time. Unfortunately for me, this is my first time watching Mad Men live (I have heretofore just waited for the DVD release and marathoned through it) and so my immediate reaction after any given episode is still, "Alright, next?"

The British rule over Sterling Cooper is sending out mixed signals tonight, as Don is ordered to secure the Madison Square Garden account, then told to dispense with it (silly brits, everyone knows Madison Square Garden would make S-C a shit ton of money...). Paul is as "progressive" as ever, insulting the MSG bigwigs for tearing down his beloved Penn Station in order to reate their venue. Meanwhile, Cosgrove hopes to get a one-up on Pete (largely absent from tonight's episode) by securing Patio, a diet drink for women that they decide to market towards men (Because, as Don explains to Peggy, if men want her, women will want to be here. Duh, Peggy. Clearly Don can sell better to women that you).

The most important aspects of this episode, however, were the personal ones. The title, "Love Among the Ruins" is particularly apt. Paul is upset that a landmark he loves, that defines for him his city, is about to become a ruin. Roger is being shunned by his daughter for leaving his mother, yet finds comfort in his love for Jane (as he says, "Its easy to adjust to happiness.").

Peggy is lonely, entertaining herself first by imitating a sexpot from Bye Bye Birdie (heartbreaking!) and then by having a one night stand with a college student who matches her mouseyness for mouseyness. Betty is struggling to love her family while her brother tries to dump er father in a retirement home and her father loses his mind. Betty's Dad tries to love his life while standing in the ruins of his own mind. And Don tries to make the charade he has built himself work, while secretly longing to take off his shoes and run in the grass with another free-spirited brunette. Each character is trying to find love among the ruins, or make the love they have work, even if it has already been effectively ruined.

Grade: B+

Stray Observations:

-As per usual, Don Draper is not to be trifled with. He puts Betty's brother in his place, and out of Don's house, without blinking an eye.
-Sally never fails to break my heart. She's so earnest and pure and good, and SAD.
-"Do you ever get three sheets to the wind and try that thing on?" Roger, how you continue to be my favorite character.
-On another Roger note, I loved the moment between Roger and Joan. They are clearly still in love with each other ,despite both being married to far less adequate partners. And when he called her "Mrs. Harris." Mad Men, you sure know how to break my heart.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Inglorious Basterds Discussion

Sam and Jordan make like Tarantino and amuse themselves with the sound of their own voices!

Jordan's Review: Inglorious Basterds

For the last ten years I have heard tale of Quentin Tarantino’s World War II epic Inglorious Basterds (though the misspelling is new). I read of his epic ideas, his sprawling (at one point over 600 pages) script, and his desire to make the single greatest war movie ever filmed. In this respect, as in several others, he has failed. Yet if you walk into the movie expecting the standard Tarantino moments—well picked musical selections, excellent dialogue and the occasional explosion of gruesome violence you will leave the theater largely satisfied, if a little empty inside.

The film tells several converging stories, all eventually tied around a movie premiere in Paris that will be attended by most of the German High Command, and thus will be a target by resistance fighters of all stripes. They come in the form of Shosanna Dreyfuss (Melanie Laurent), a young Jew using a pseudonym who owns the cinema at which the premiere will be screened; Lt. Archie Hicox (Michael Fassbender) a British film critic turned spy; Bridget Von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger), a German movie star turned double agent; and of course, the titular band of Jewish American soldiers lead by the crass, sardonic Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt). The forces allayed against them amount to the entire Third Reich, mostly embodied in the form of a charismatic, gleefully amoral Nazi “Jew Hunter” named Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz).

The performance by Waltz quickly becomes the movie’s shining achievement. At once polite and cunning, comforting and prosecutorial, good humored and downright evil, Waltz imbues Landa with the perfect mixture of giddy schoolboy and seasoned interrogator. Pitt also gives a great performance, though much of it feels very one note—he is never given any time to develop the character, and as such, there is not much to work with. Raine wants to kill Nazis, and do so while spouting inappropriate one-liners, but that is about the extent of what we learn about him by the film’s end (that and he speaks pretty awful Italian). Fassbender is great as the suave critic turned soldier, turned spy, spinning British wit out of a quite good scene with his superior General Ed Fenech (Mike Myers, who feels less out of place than one might expect) and adding to perfectly mounting tensions in a basement tavern scene.

All in all, the film has moments of brilliance, even scenes that seem chopped from an excellent WWII thriller. But these scenes seem almost out of place in the movie Tarantino thinks he’s making. At its best, Inglorious Basterd’s looks into the souls of characters it considers soulless and plays like a vengeance tale lacking utterly the ambiguity that makes such stories interesting. Tarantino still builds tension like a master, still writes dialogue so well that conversations that span 20 minutes can be incredibly engrossing (even while often being far too long and redundant), and manages to pack this film with plenty of in-jokes and references to his earlier movies and to cinema at large. There are excellent discussions of the meaning behind King Kong, of the place cinema takes in history and in propaganda, and of when exactly something is considered a Mexican standoff, but on the whole, the film feels decidedly less epic than I believe was intended. For one thing, the Basterds of the title are almost entirely ignored throughout the movie (which, considering the lack of ambiguity in their mission and their one-sided, narrow-minded views might not be such a bad thing) and save one set-piece at the climax, so is the action one might expect from Tarantino’s planned “greatest war movie of all time.” In its place is a lot of overdrawn dialogue, interesting characters, and occasionally excellent direction. The film Tarantino ended up with is spotty at best—when its good, it feels on the verge of greatness, but for most of its runtime (which to its credit never felt overly long), it feels startlingly un-attuned with the points it’s trying to make and (as should be expected from our boy Quentin) almost dangerously in love with the sound of its own voice.

Grade: B-

Sam's Review: Inglourious Basterds

Quentin Tarantino has clearly decided that he can do whatever he wants. The problems this causes are debatable. Tarantino has fallen in love with the concept of making movies he really loved when he was younger like Kung-fu and the such, but now he’s on exploitation flicks. This is fine unless no one gets the point. Tarantino’s newest film, Inglourious Basterds is just that and nothing more. Not the rich storytelling of Reservoir Dogs or the genius, non-linear Pulp Fiction.

Expectations and simply knowing what kind of movie one is about to watch is often important to the movie experience. Basterds demands that people understand schlock and those who think of it as a typical war story of American Jews whose only mission is to kill and scalp as many Nazis as they can may be in for a disappointment. The goal of the movie is to be violent, not a bad thing as far as I’m concerned.
The movie seems to lie in that purgatory of viewing, meaning its damnation will be because of two sides that don’t get it. One side is indignant saying that this is just torture porn. But Basterds is more about laughing and having a good time with the ol’ ultraviolence, not clenching your fist taking deep emotional pleasure with the murder of those nasty Nazis. The other side of this are people who actually take deep emotional pleasure in seeing a Nazi mutilated. To me most (I hope) people fall in the middle seeing the exploitative nature of the film and see that Tarantino used a easy thing to not feel bad about seeing brutally murdered—Nazis. Of course its not really my place to say how someone is supposed to enjoy a movie, but I digress.
The movie is overindulgent and its clear the amount of fun Tarantino had with writing such an over-the-top script. Even many shots are indulgent like a shot of crème on a pastry or a flying cigarette heading for a bunch of flammable film. The actors in the film chewed their scenery appropriately. Brad Pitt was no doubt the leader, practically smirking through the entire film knowing how ridiculous it is,
but enjoying the lines Tarantino wrote for his character.

Tarantino acknowledges the perverse nature of watching a film like this in a scene where the Nazis are watching a propaganda film where a notable German soldier is gunning down Americans. Anyone who couldn’t catch the “Oh, we’re kinda like the Nazis now” moment must have been blinded by a false idea that Tarantino is totally pro-violence always. I’d like to think he’s a bit more than a one-dimensional director in this regard. Of course the propaganda film is followed by a super hot Jewess exacting her revenge and blowing up the theatre. Tarantino wants you to feel uneasy, an idea that many fans might not warm up to.

That leaves the viewer with a mindless violent film that had a great sense of humor about itself. As just that the film was successful, but as I said sometimes excruciatingly overindulgent. Viewed as strictly an exploitation film Basterds was mostly successful but if one comes in with different expectations you may just be seeing stupid, mindless violence, in other words exactly what Tarantino wanted you to see.

B


Notes:

-Not a lot of mention of acting in the film but I can round it up here pretty simply, largely bad but Pitt, Melanie Laurent (hot jewess), and Christoph Waltz (Hans Landa) were strong and embraced the ridiculousness.

-Thinking about guessing Jordan’s grade, I’m gonna say in the C range. We saw it with a blood thirsty audience who fell into that “German bad-German Die!!!” crowd. Also clapping which is a pet-peeve of mine in movies, they can’t hear you folks.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Mad Men Discussion...

Sam and Jordan discuss the first episode of Mad Men. Now that Jordan's done with his hand job from a bell boy we can really talk about this thing....

Sam's Review Mad Men: Episode 1

Mad Men has proved time and time again to be one of the strongest television shows on TV. Tonight’s season premier was no exception. The episode began with a beautifully staged flashback sequence of Don remembering (or imagining as I doubt he could remember things from before he was born and when he was two days old) his birth and the subsequent death of his whore mother. This doesn’t reveal anything we don’t already know other than Don’s real name, Dick, is a cruel joke on his father. It’s staged in the fashion of the play and works incredibly well a great way to remind the audience that Don Draper and Dick Whitman are two very different people, something this episode is largely about.

In the B-story of the episode, Sterling Cooper is rapidly changing due to being recently acquired by some Brits. We’re introduced to a he-secretary not so lovingly referred to as Moneypenny. I hope Joan and the gang at Sterling Cooper give him plenty of shit. He reminded me of a male version of Pete.

Speaking of Pete, he is informed that he is being promoted to Head of Accounts since his superiors are fired. Of course Pete is over the moon since any chance to gain more power and hang with the big boys gives him his jollies. Much to his dismay, and the audiences joy, Ken is also offered the role of Head of Accounts. Ken, like a normal person, is just happy to move up in the world, but Peter is furious and determined to kick Ken’s ass. This is sure to make an interesting storyline throughout the season.

The main story in this episode was Don and Sal taking a trip Baltimore (Wire!) to conduct some business with some rain jacket types. Don Draper being Don Draper, gets a couple of flight attendants to join him and Sal for dinner. Of course, being a married man is only a problem for Sal, while Don takes his blonde bimbo back to his room. This is an interesting choice for Don as he is usually into smart, sophisticated brunettes. What this really displayed was the dichotomy of Don and Dick. Don is into the blondes, he married one he hates Jews, Gays, Blacks, Women like any good WASP would at the time. Dick Whitman likes highbrow literature, deep foreign movies, brunette women who are as smart or smarter than he is. Don Draper took that flight attendant back to his room, not Dick Whitman.

So that leaves our poor, sexually frustrated Sal all alone. Good thing his AC doesn’t work for shit and the bellboy sent to fix it can smell the gay on him like everyone else who’s watched any episode featuring Sal. Right before Sal could finally get a good tug-job from someone who’s not of the opposite sex, the fire alarm goes off. As Don and his Betty stand-in make their way down the stairs Don spots Sal and his would-be lover. Sal sees Don, and probably thinks he’s done for. The good news for Sal is that Dick Whitman is totally down with the gay thing. Sure Don Draper may publicly be against such a thing, but Don knows a thing or two about keeping other people’s secrets, just ask Peggy.

Everything great about Mad Men is back this season, Joan is still a knockout, Betty is still totally fuckable despite the pregnancy, and most importantly theirs the affirmation that Don Draper is one of the most complex characters on TV. Everything seems to be set up for an interesting season, how will Don cope with having another kid? Will he finally be a good dad or keep up the Don Draper façade he’s worked so hard to make for himself. Looks like 1963 will be a crazy year.

A

Notes:

-Did they cast a new kid to play Bobby? The girl is clearly the same but it looks like they wanted the boy to be a bit older, I may be wrong.

-The Don-Sal conversation on the plane on the way back to NYC made me cheer for Don.

-How gut-wrenching was it to see Don’s daughter put the flight attendants pin on? Ew.

Jordan's Review: Mad Men, Season 3, Episode 1: Out of Town

Mad Men is back for a third season, and it means business. Since we last saw Sterling-Cooper, there has been a British invasion, and some serious "redundancies." Gone are the days of Burt Petersen as head of accounts (days, which we missed entirely) and the new owners have decided to pit Pete and Ken against each other for the job of Head of Accounts (Duck, unsurprisingly, is nowhere to be seen after his meltdown at the end of last season). And Don, now “the face of Sterling-Cooper” has to head to Baltimore to assure London Fog that everything is stable at the office. He brings Salvatore along, and soon the two are embroiled in what I like to call “The Don Draper Classic”—they impersonate business men to seduce airline stewardesses. Don, as per usual, gets the girl, and Sal, as per usual, returns to his room in a fit of sexual frustration. He’s tired of repressing himself and tired of never getting what he needs. And then a hotel employee comes along and makes his dreams of a little man-on-man a reality. Sal can’t contain his ecstasy—he finally gets to be himself to have the one thing he’s been deprived of (damn you, ‘60s!)…and then the fire alarm goes off. And then Don learns the dirty little secret of yet another colleague.

Back at home, Betty has a bun in the oven, and Sally has broken Don’s suitcase, because she doesn’t want him to leave her again. And Don is recalling the circumstances surrounding his own entrance to the world.
Things in the Mad Men world are becoming more complicated, and no one is quite sure how to deal with it. Pete is excited, then crushed by his promotion. Don is about to bring another child into the world, has to hide his continued affairs, and has to deal with his fractured sense of self. Roger is, as always, winningly ambivalent to it all. And Joan has married herself a little doctor, who just happened to rape her in Don’s office last season. Oh yeah, Mad Men is back. And this time, it’s personal.


Grade: A


Stray Notes:
Sorry if the insight is lacking tonight. Surrounded by conversation may not be the best way to attempt blogging.

Sal’s love scene was beautiful and heartbreaking.

January Jones and Christina Hendricks. Need I say more?

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Review Schedule for August

Hey guys. Here is our schedule for the coming weeks:

August 7th-GI Joe
August 14th-The Goods
August 21st-Inglorious Basterds
August 28th-TBD (hopefully Cold Souls)

Looks like a weak first few weeks, and hopefully an excellent end to the summer season...

Funny People Discussion

Once again, Sam forgets how on the same page Jordan is with his view of movies. Sam's got some 'splainin to do about why he gave it a lower grade than Jordan....

Sam's Review: Funny People

It seems as though Judd Apatow’s Funny People had years of reputation going against it. Apatow has brought some of the best comedies of the 00’s, not to mention a couple of comedies that were too funny to have a long shelf life.

Leading up to this final installment in Apatow’s “trilogy” (40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up), we’ve learned that his films are often comprised of hilarious improve and great pop-culture references. This is not that type of movie. But that is not such a bad thing; well, maybe for the people who didn’t get the memo. For all our reader out there, Funny people is a DRAMA. Yes, they may say it’s a comedy or bend a little and say it’s a dramedy, but it is, in my mind, a drama. It may throw some people because it includes some of the funniest people in show business at the moment. It also happens to be about comedians so of course there will be jokes, but at the heart of Funny People is a story about mortality, loneliness, the price of fame, and cock jokes.

The story starts out with an famous comedic actor, George Simmons (Adam Sandler), finding out he has a rare form of leukemia. Hilarious, right? He starts doing stand-up again and really goes into the depths of his unhappiness (word on the street is that comedians are unhappy folk). He pines for his lost love (Leslie Mann) and even reaches out to an up-and-coming comic named Ira (Seth Rogen). Rogen is hired to write jokes and be his assistant, but quickly becomes Sandler’s confidant in this part of his life.

Luckily Sandler recovers from the disease and tries to get back with Mann who is currently married to hunky Aussie Clarke (Eric Bana). In this part of the movie, things seemed to feel dragged down by the courtship of Mann. But it was good to see things went the correct, logical direction rather than the typical uber-fantasy of the movies.

While the Mann courtship held the movie down and likely made it longer than it should have (a surprisingly common complaint amongst Apatow films even though I thought Knocked Up was perfect in length) the performances throughtout the movie were surprisingly strong. Leslie Mann did a great job and proves that she is not just there (but probably is) because she is married to the director (what a lucky motherfucker, I digress). Sandler proved touching and went beyond is wacky shaba-do’s. Rogen did a solid job and really sold me as a stand-up and real person thrust into this crazy situation.

Of course there were some laughs, but that’s not what I’m taking away from this clearly very personal movie. It’s all of the things about being in comedy: working to get a laugh, bombing, writing material, whoring yourself for a shitty sitcom that made me intrigued. There will no doubt be the people that are shocked that it wasn’t hilarious on the level of Knocked Up but I say, fuck ‘em. Apatow did a great job at making me care about these funny people and their pretty serious lives.

B+

Notes:

-Great cameos from tons of comics

-Patton Oswalt and Brian Posehn wrote a lot of the material Ira, George, and the
other fake stand-ups used in the movie. The “ball cleavage” throw-away line is right out of Posehn’s act.

-Mad props to Aziz Ansari for portraying RAAAAAAAAAANDY, AKA, Dane Cook

-Speaking of “Mad” there were three Mad Men references, two of them came in a row! They came in the form of cameos by Bryan Batt (played the agent) and Maggie Siff (played J-Date girl). The third reference I’m goin’ out on a limb but it was Ira’s real last name Wiener, but pronounced WHY-ner, like mad men creator Matthew Weiner.

-Sandler’s bit on the piano at the comedy club was heart breaking and surprisingly well directed by Apatow and Sandler’s speech at Thanksgiving made me really shocked at how Sandler really is the old school comic actor now, as he’s surrounded by the next generation.

-New thing I’m gonna do, it’s called what I think Jordan will give the movie. This is tough but I think he probably liked it a bit less than I did, lets say B-.

Jordan's Review: Funny People

There is little doubt that Judd Apatow is a very funny man. What people seem to forget, however, is that he very adeptly gets at the real human emotion beneath the punch lines and quips his characters trade. The 40-Year-Old Virgin is hilarious on its face, but beneath the humor is a story about a lonely man yearning to find something to give his life meaning. Knocked Up is a story about two people struggling to fall in love, or determine whether that’s even a possibility, in the face of an unexpected and unwanted pregnancy. So it should come as no surprise that Apatow’s newest film, Funny People ,is not all about the laughs.

The movie opens with George Simmons (Adam Sandler) wandering through a life of vast riches made off of wildly successful and horribly unfunny movies, looking back at his stand-up roots and wondering where it all went wrong. His introspection is fueled by the discovery that he has a rare form of leukemia and is likely about to die. This leads him to try to break back into stand-up and to try and reconnect with Laura (Leslie Mann), “the one who got away.” After bombing a set at the Improv, Simmons meets Ira Wright (Seth Rogen) a struggling comedian looking for a break. Simmons hires Ira to write some jokes for him, and eventually to be his assistant. Ira and George are perfect foils—Ira is young, optimistic, and unabashedly enthused about the opportunity to open for Simmons, while George is aging, cynical, and unable to find joy except in ripping down others.

Ira lives with other young comedians, Leo (Jonah Hill) who is just finding his way on the stand-up circuit, and Mark (Jason Schwartzman) who can’t help but rub his newfound success on a less than stellar sitcom in his roommates face. Ira also pursues an abortive romance with the adorably acerbic Daisy (Aubrey Plaza), but his time is increasingly absorbed by George who realizes he is profoundly alone in his sickness.

Adam Sandler plays Simmons with subtlety and sadness—he knows he has made mistakes and squandered his life, and worries he may not have time to solve his problems. So he tries to make nice with his family, spend time with his “friends” (including cameos by Andy Dick, Paul Reiser, George Wallace, Norm Macdonald and Eminem) and win back his lost love, who is now married to Australian Clarke (Eric Bana) and has two delightful children (the increasingly impressive Apatow children).

Funny People examines the issues that plague comedians—the insecurities, the cynicism, the dark outlooks, and it isn’t always pleasant to watch. George Simmons is a profoundly unhappy man and uses his humor as a defense mechanism, cutting down others before they have a chance to see his flaws. Real, affecting, and at times ferociously funny, the movie never goes for the cheap laughs. It often allows us to feel the tensions of a comedian whose set is failing, and it never lets us forget what it is that makes funny people funny. If the movie has one flaw, it is that the movie has too many characters, and so often seems to be ignoring people we want to spend more time with. Plaza has created a hilarious and fascinating romantic interest, Schwartzman is perfectly arrogant in his moderate success, and Hill is flat out hilarious, yet each is often forgotten throughout the movies sprawling run time. The focus is on Simmons, but I can’t help but wish the movie had let us linger over the fantastic supporting cast for a bit longer. In the end, however, Apatow has made another very funny film, and one that allows us to question the roots of comedy, and the path we all take to find our own happiness.

Grade: A-