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Month: April, 2013

Los Angeles Nights!


Lizz and I are back in Omaha after 4 glorious days in California. We flew in to Palm Springs on Friday to visit Lizz’s grandpa. Considering it snowed in Omaha last week, it was a bit of a shock, although a pleasant one. We ate great food, enjoyed the sun, and even took a couple dips in the pool. On Saturday afternoon, we drove to LA to visit my best friend from high school and his wife. That night we went to Santa Monica. We walked the beach and stepped in the ocean just as the sun was setting over the mountains. Glorious. Then, I was roped into a street performance before we ate more good food. On Sunday, we visited Griffith Park, went to a fantastic street market, and ate even more fantastic food (I overloaded on fish tacos all trip). Yesterday was a long day of traveling and now we are back in the Midwest and real life.

My UNO class is over for the summer, so I’m going to be a little less overloaded with papers to grade. It will be nice only teaching one class for a while, once this quarter ends at Metro. I’m looking forward to having a little more time to read, watch movies, and write.

I thought I’d also give a couple blurbs on some movies I’ve neglected to write about on here. Hopefully I will get back to more extended, more regular reviews in the coming weeks.

Film #13 – Cosmopolis
(Writers and Director: David Cronenberg; from the novel by Don DeLillo)

It’s always dangerous to watch the film adaptation of a book you love. I’ve spent a lot of time reading, thinking about, and writing on DeLillo’s post-9/11 output. Although Cosmopolis is one of DeLillo’s least popular novels, I love it. It’s more of a theoretical treatise than a novel, and I can certainly understand why it grates on people. But I love the man’s prose, regardless of its pretentiousness.

Unfortunately, I’m not a fan of Cronenberg’s adaptation. It just feels wrong on so many levels, the primary one being the casting of Robert Pattinson as Wall Street mogul Eric Packer. He just doesn’t have the chops for this weird of a role. He plays Packer as borderline stupid, whereas in the novel he is clearly a genius, just a really disaffected one. It doesn’t help that DeLillo’s dialogue sounds so ridiculous coming out of actual humans, but it just seems ultra-stunted here. My biggest concerns are thematic. I just think Cronenberg misses the critical edge of the novel. The book has this momentum to it that border on surrealism. Cronenberg doesn’t quite match that here.

Crucially, the most fundamental aspect of the novel is missing in the film: Packer has moments where he seems to see the future, even just a couple milliseconds ahead of time. For me, this aspect is so critically tied into DeLillo’s critique of modern capitalism that to leave it out, or merely have Pattinson mention it once, defeats the whole purpose of the story.

I have no doubt my lack of objectivity is a problem here, but you adapt something I love, you run the risk.

Film #14 – Magic Mike
(Writer: Reid Carolin; Director: Steven Soderbergh)

I’m not even going to pretend I wasn’t excited to see this. I love Steven Soderbergh, so it doesn’t matter if it’s a movie about male strippers or Liberace, I’m down. It also helps that I had heard quite a bit of good things from people I actually trust, and unsurprisingly, Soderbergh delivers a really entertaining Hollywood film. Channing Tatum continues to prove himself a charming actor (remember his brilliance in 21 Jump Street) and he really carries this film. For his part, Soderbergh and screenwriter Carolin work to give Magic Mike a more relatable edge by making economics a key factor in the plot. Unfortunately, they sort of abandon it halfway through. At the beginning, Mike is an aspiring entrepreneur who is unable to get a bank load for his furniture business because his credit sucks (he works in a cash-only business). But this seems to serve more as a plot point than a real character component. We are told of his passion, but we never see it.

That being said, can we really fault the filmmakers for making this an entertaining, if predictable, film about male strippers and not a quiet contemplation on economic recessions and the everyday workingman? I think it pursues those angles enough to make the film enough while also fulfilling its basic promise.



S06E03 – “Collaborators”
(Writers: Jonathan Igla and Matthew Weiner, Director: Jon Hamm)

It’s Wednesday, and I will finally watch the new episode of Mad Men tonight. That should tell you all you need to know about how busy I’ve been with grading and class stuff (I also finished Lost. I have little time here, and only a short stack of papers next to me, so I thought I’d jot some lines on the third episode of the season, “Collaborators.”

The show has hit a curious phase in its history. While we went an entire season with a monogamous Don, we now have the return of Don we fell in love with. Has the show run out of ideas? Is it boring to see Don in yet another affair, toying with yet another woman’s emotions? My wife (Mah wiiiifee) certainly thinks so, and weirdly, I now get blamed for Mr. Draper’s misdeeds.

I’m not bothered by the new developments. I guess Don cheating is such an integral part of his personality that it’s more weird when he isn’t doing it. But I also think that Weiner and Co. are doing something fundamentally different here. Both in his personal and professional life, Don is far more reckless than he’s ever been before. I think his sabotage of the Jaguar meeting is a perfect example of this.

In terms of his affair with Sylvia, this is also a first. We have never seen Don carry on with a married women (I guess Bobbie Barrett was technically married, but that certainly wasn’t a real marriage). This has allowed him to avoid any confrontation with other men. I think we are going to finally see that happen this season, and I’m really interested to see how Don handles it (of course, they also introduced his friendship with Sylvia’s husband. What isn’t clear is whether Don genuinely likes him or is being overly nice as a buffer).

In the past, Don kept his affairs pretty buffered from Bette. He certainly never slept with one of her friends or someone she came into frequent contact with. Here, they played Sylvia’s proximity up to ridiculous levels by having Megan reveal her miscarriage to her first, not Don. An affair in the city is easy to hide, but an affair in the same apartment complex gets real messy real quick. It’s a dangerous tactic for Weiner, though. This could quickly devolve into soap opera theatrics, but I’m confident they will avoid such an obvious plot.

It’s also interesting that this is all tied up with a deeper exploration of Don’s childhood. I would hesitate to call Don a sex addict in any sort of clinical, medical way, because sex doesn’t seem like a debilitating obsession to him. He’s actually really focused on the idea of love. He wants to have a real connection with these women, which also explains the way he chooses them. All of his serious affairs have been with strong, independent women, and they are generally older and not predictably attractive (of course they are attractive, but not in a stereotypical way). Actually, his wives most closely fit that modelesque stereotype, which might explain why he becomes so disinterested so quickly. They haven’t had to work for anything in their life. Combined with the flashbacks of lil’Don in the brothel, and given his relationship with his step-mother, it’s pretty clear there are major issues boiling up and I hope we can continue to get more about his awkward teen years.

Overall, I think season 6 is going to be for sex what season 4 was for alcohol.

Mad Men Returns!!!

S06E01 – “The Doorway”  (Writer: Matthew Weiner, Director: Scoot Hornbacher)


Mad Man has returned, which means my life is about a million times better. Unfortunately, I’m also a bad scheduler and haven’t had time to give the Season 6 premiere the write-up treatment. I’ve certainly been chewing over “The Doorway” since I watched it Monday, but I wish I had time to watch it again. This is really the reason I love Mad Men more than just about anything. It gives you so much to think on, and it begs to be dissected, discussed, and rewatched.

So how was “The Doorway”? Weird. That is my overwhelming feeling from the double-sized opener. Although it was one of the funniest Mad Men episodes in memory, thanks primarily to Roger, the whole episode was presided over by an overwhelming sense of doom. Mad Men has always dealt with death, but it has never felt so present to me. And that sense of death is almost exclusively tied to Don, even though Roger is the person dealing with an actual passing. We get an early flashback to Don’s doorman (didn’t make this connection to the show title until now. The obvious one is Roger’s anecdote) having a heart attack in front of him, and when Don is helped back home after drinking too much at Mrs. Sterling’s funeral, he begs the doorman, who survived, to tell him what it was like when he died. He also pitches an idea to a Hawaii hotel that centers around killing yourself to enter a more peaceful realm. Shockingly, he doesn’t get why they are opposed.

I guess it was just weird to see Don so out-of-place in his environment. He has always been the face of SC and later SCDP, but here he is a complete anomaly. I like the ways Weiner and company choose to visualize this. First, although the fashions have radically changed, perhaps more than in any other season, Don still looks exactly the same. He’s one of the only people not rocking some sort of facial hair and his clothes refuse to engage in the vibrant shenanigans happening around them. I was also thrown off by SCDP itself. The office is chaotic. Obviously, the agency is doing well, but it’s the volume of the decoration that seems out of place. The episode takes place around Christmas, and there are Christmas lights and homemade paper snowflakes everywhere. In the old office, there may have been a nice, restrained display in the corner, but the rest of the office would have been business as usual. Director Scott Hornbacher has also magnified the audio with phones ringing, idle conversations, typewriters, and other office sounds. In places, it is almost overwhelming.


But the two most striking things that show Don’s new role in the agency were simple things. First, there is a sequence with Don in Stan and Ginsberg’s office hashing out ideas with his staff. The old Don wouldn’t be caught dead in this situation; meetings happen in his office or a conference room. To see him brainstorming ideas and working through pitches with his sleeves rolled up is bizarre.

The second thing is more subtle, but for some reason, it’s stuck with me more than anything in the episode. Don’s new friend from his apartment, Arnold Rosen (Brian Markinson), comes into the agency to take Don up on a free camera SCDP got after a campaign. Don takes him to the supply closet and uses his own set of keys to get inside. Instantly, this felt off to me. Since when does Don Draper carry keys? Since when does Don Draper even know where the supply closet is? It’s such a menial task, and for five seasons, we’ve been presented a Don Draper who really only understands what’s happening in his personaoffice and in the meetings he runs. The minutiae of basic office operations are Joan’s purview (or Lane’s before, well, you know) and the lady secretaries under her. Don doesn’t know where the paper clips are; they just show up on his desk. Again, it is a tiny thing, but this episode is stuffed full of incongruities between Don and his surroundings and the Don of the past 5 seasons. These are but two examples.

There is, of course, so much more to get into, especially with Peggy  (who dominated this episode so hard I couldn’t even hope to do it justice) and Betty. I’m expecting a big Pete episode this week, as he mainly served a tertiary role, obviously chuffed with his increasingly powerful role within the agency (how many times does he stick a barb in Don?). But as always, it’s that man Don who drives the intrigue.

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