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Everybody Wants to be Us

Graduate Student at Loyola University Chicago. Check out the blog for what I'm currently obsessed with in film and culture. Michael Fassbender, Leonardo DiCaprio, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Winslet, Christian Bale, Jesse Eisenberg, David Lynch, David Fincher, Christopher Nolan, Martin Scorsese, and Daniel Radcliffe are regulars here.

#television

HBO’s newest comedy “Veep” premieres in April and I can hardly wait.  It stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus as the Vice President and follows the crazed mundanity of her office.  Armando Iannucci created the series and after “In The Loop” everything he does is mandatory.  ”In The Loop” is one the funniest film I’ve ever seen, while also being the best satire around of the lead up to the Iraq war and government bureaucracy in general.  ”Veep” promises to bring down more comedy and criticisms.  

We Need to Talk About Betty: Mad Men Season 5

At the end of an exhaustive and wonderful two hour season opener even I was wondering where was Betty Draper Francis. The divisive character played by January Jones was suspiciously absent from the premiere.  Her one mention was a clever insult from Don to his kids, “Say hi to Morticia and Lurch.” Well in episode 3, we see that his crack had nothing to do with Betty’s appearance.  From the start of the series, Betty’s weakness, terrible parenting, and delusional behavior put her on the losing side of the show’s fans. When Betty does stand up for herself, like when she kicks Don out in season 2, we’re cheering for her for five minutes and then suddenly begging her to take Don back.  Betty seems so resistant to change, while at the same time constricted by the values guiding her actions. 

Whenever I feel my Betty dislike rising, I think of her going out in her nightgown to shoot those pigeons in season 1’s “Shoot.”  Betty, disappointed by a failed re-start of her modeling career, takes out the pigeons that have upset her children and dog.  She longs for something beyond being a housewife, but forced to hold the role, she’s determined to do it her way.  In another time, Betty would probably be Miranda Pristley’s BFF the way she orders Carla and her kids around the house.  Alas, Betty’s career path is marrying up and staying comfortable and she’s doing well at it. 

Now to last night’s episode, Weiner and Co. hid Betty to tempt us to imagine Don and the show without her.  While some may have found the storyline and her appearance off-putting, I thought it was Betty’s most sympathtic moment.  Seeing her frantically call Don for reassurance, crying a lunch, and holding her youngest son tenderly it occured to me that I need Betty around more than I imagined. Her weight gain poses real challenges for this character who has always put so much into her appearance.

The cancer scare, curiously contained into one episode raises interesting questions. Henry and Megan both act jealous of what Don means to Betty (and perhaps vice versa). They may not be together, but Betty draws strength from Don, while she rebuffs Henry consistently.  Betty’s new digs appear to have isolated her (no more gossiping with Francine in Ossining). Her new rival, Mamma Francis, has no sympathy for her. Betty may not be a fighter, as Don points out, but she’s bound to do something interesting with this story line.  I’m already on board and strangely on her side. 

Homecoming: Mad Men Season 5

Matthew Weiner is starting to scare me.  How could he have known that I had spent the entire weekend watching all of “Twin Peaks” when he cast Madchen Amick as Don’s mysterious paramour in the elevator.  I could barely contain my glee- “There’s Shelly Johnson!”  Beyond that, episode 4 was AWESOME! I’m still pondering days later.  Narrative style, character development, and story wise; everything was incredible.  

Yet it was Joan’s story line that captured my special attention.  From the pilot, Joan Holloway has been my favorite character.  She’s bright and knows people - not just men- better than anyone else on the show. Back in Season 3 where Don and Co. wanted to start a new agency, I cheered when Joan came back to make their ideas into action.  Joan is the definition of Margaret Thatcher’s quote,”If you want something said, ask a man. If you want something done, ask a woman.” Not only that, she can effortlessly turn simple answers into sage advice or condemnation.

Despite my admiration, Joan’s marriage to Greg has always been a curious aspect of the show.  Greg is more of a cipher for Joan’s discontent than an actual partner for our heroine. He rarely drives the story and barely offers any sort of real challenge to Joan.  The nagging question around Joan’s marriage was never why she’s stayed married to him, but how much she is willing to sacrifice for her now hollow dream.  When will enough be enough?  

The answer is now.  In one of the most thrilling moments of the show, Joan ends her disappointing marriage.  It’s a reminder that these characters have complicated relationships with their past.  On “Mad Men” the past is always lingering in the background and writers keep heighten even the smallest moments around whether a character will push against their former choices or submit to them. Whether a flash of recognition, a funny moment suddenly soured by a memory, or a silent reconciliation across the office lobby, “Mad Men” uses a character’s history to great effect. 

Joan’s line of “You’re not a good man. You never were. Even before we were married and you know what I’m talking about” catapults us like a time machine back to the floor of Don’s office where her dreams turned into a violent nightmare. She doesn’t need to explain to Greg or us, because I’ve never forgotten her face in that episode (“In the Hall of the Mountain King”) and never will.  Yet, that tragedy is replaced by another image in this episode: Joan lying in bed with her son Kevin and mother. Not quite the family she planned and worked to fashion, but a family all the same. 

Joan Holloway is back. 

Learning Curve : Mad Men Season 5

Episode 4, “Mystery Date,” was foundational for Peggy Olson.  More than most characters, she continually reinvents herself season by season, experimenting and choosing different characters to emulate.  Even as Peggy assumes these different roles, they never seem to fit her completely.  Like Don, what drives Peggy is often imperceptible.  Why did she take up with Duck? How does she really feel about children? What does she think of Megan?

Like Don, Peggy is striking her own path while going to great lengths to distance herself from the past. Unlike Don, there’s no model or blueprint for Peggy to follow. She’s the first and often the only woman in her situation.  In each decision, Peggy weighs what her male colleagues say and her intuition.  In hiring Michael Ginsberg, Peggy comes up against her desire to work with talented people and Stan and Roger’s warning about being replaced by him eventually. When Roger comes into her office, Peggy reacts exactly how he would, sexual innuendo and a relaxed demeanor.  When she senses his desperation, she maintains her upper-hand, like Don would, and comes away with $400 dollars. Peggy experiments with these different personas and comes out on top.   

As the first and the only in her situation, Peggy has a natural empathy and openness to people. Her interaction with Dawn towards the end of the episode was a provocative look at that aspect of Peggy’s character, without being topical. Peggy naturally reaches out to Dawn, seeing similarities and ways to connect: being Don’s secretary and keeping up with civil rights through Abe. Yet, Peggy still has much to learn. Assuming Dawn wants to be a copywriter, Peggy may think all women share in her dream and either haven’t been given their shot or don’t have her confidence to get there.  In her mind, she’s building some kind of female solidarity bond with Dawn, ready to take her under her tutelage like Joan or Freddy did.  

Yet, when she takes that hesitant look at her purse, the truth of their situations are dramatically revealed.  Elizabeth Moss and Teyonah Parris as Dawn are incredible in that scene.  The looks they give each other along with the editing hit you and leave a lingering discomfort.  That scene reminds us and Peggy that despite how difficult it was for women in the 60’s, there is no comparison between Peggy’s struggle and Dawn’s reality. Dawn can’t even get a cab home. Dawn may be fired at any time for no reason at all.  Any employment, would have been her ambition. They may have something in common but are worlds apart.  Peggy’s nascent attempt to befriend Dawn crashes down around her not because she’s being racist, but because they’re living in a time where it’s just not possible. Peggy’s trial and error is one of the most exciting aspects of the show and Moss delivers every time, especially in this episode. 

"Mad Men" and Race

The scene between Peggy (Elizabeth Moss) and Dawn (Teyonah Parris) reminds me why “Mad Men” is far above most TV dramas and films. After trying to befriend Dawn, gaging her career goals, and opening up about her own struggles; Peggy moves to go to bed.  Both women immediately lock eyes on her purse and each other. It’s a acting, editing, narrative powerhouse of a scene. We all know what that moment means for these characters and the time they live in. The scene was about race and feminism without having to be underlined- like other shows or movies would do.  In fact on “Mad Men” every moment is about Race, Feminism, or whatever you want because these characters are shaped by their environment and act true to their circumstances. 

Some viewers may see Dawn as the way “Mad Men” deals with race, when in fact the show has always dealt with it. Black people would not have been in the Sterling Cooper office, except to clean it.  In “Red in the Face” when Don bribes Hollis (La Monde Byrd) to close the elevator for his joke on Roger, Hollis looks scared out of his wits. If found out, Don gets away and Hollis gets fired. When Pete wanted to advertise for Admiral Television in Jet magazine the idea was shot down because brands didn’t want to be associated with their black customers (Pepsi did it and was branded “Nigger Coke”). Each season ups the tension and raises the stakes.  Whatever happens next for Dawn or other Black characters, I expect more of these subtle powerful moments.

Who’s going to take over NBC’s Smash as showrunner for season two?

EW.com has learned the gig is going to Gossip Girl writer and executive producer Josh Safran.

Safran is expected to take over for Theresa Rebeck, the Broadway veteran who created “Smash” and shepherded the show’s debut season. After NBC gave the Monday night drama an early renewal, the announcement was made that Rebeck would step down from the top post amid viewer criticism about the creative direction of the show. She will remain an executive producer on the project.

Full Story Here

I think this is excellent news.  I’m a huge fan of “Gossip Girl” especially the first season, perfect season in my opinion.  I really like “Smash” but since the pilot, something about the show hasn’t kicked in for me.  I think each episode lacks an urgency that made the pilot so compelling.  I really like the characters, especially Tom, Ivy and Derek.  I like the bonds between characters.  Friends feel like friends.  However, I find myself tuning out until a song number, which is the best part of the show.  Meanwhile, GG has run out of steam.  Except for Dan and Blair (hardcore Dair Shipper here) the stakes feel so much lower for the show.  I think since they graduated, each episode contrives a way to get them in the same place.  Some plots are better than others, but overall the show doesn’t seethe like it used to in seasons 1 and 2. Yay for “Smash” and hopefully GG gets one more season. 

hallekiefer:

(via ‘Girls’ Recap: Don’t Abandon Me | Movies News | Rolling Stone)
Guys, are you watching Girls? If so, can we talk about the scene between Hannah and her supervisor Rich? That was one of the craziest scenes to ever be broadcast on television, right?

Indeed it was. As usual Halle Kiefer calls it like it is and illuminates the episode so perfectly.
Everything in this weeks episode was crazy, not the crazy that surfaces later like, “I wish I hadn’t done that” or “Geez that was crazy.” It was more: this is crazy but I’m here and I’m not turning around.  
I love that Marnie doesn’t know where her boyfriend lives. Why the window, Jessa? 

hallekiefer:

(via ‘Girls’ Recap: Don’t Abandon Me | Movies News | Rolling Stone)

Guys, are you watching Girls? If so, can we talk about the scene between Hannah and her supervisor Rich? That was one of the craziest scenes to ever be broadcast on television, right?

Indeed it was. As usual Halle Kiefer calls it like it is and illuminates the episode so perfectly.

Everything in this weeks episode was crazy, not the crazy that surfaces later like, “I wish I hadn’t done that” or “Geez that was crazy.” It was more: this is crazy but I’m here and I’m not turning around.  

I love that Marnie doesn’t know where her boyfriend lives. Why the window, Jessa? 

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