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The Artist – It’s really rather pleasant

April 5, 2012
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Coming to The Artist 3 months after its release and a month after its numerous Oscar successes meant that a lot of expectations had been built up about this film. I certainly didn’t hate it, it was great, a very well executed hark back to a bye-gone age with enough of a modern angle to make sure it stayed relevant. Fantastic. My only complaint is with those expectations!

I touched on this in the previous post about Mad Men. Something has clicked about just how subjective all this stuff really is. Do people read reviews because they want to preempt what they would enjoy watching? How much of that enjoyment relies on personal taste and even more arbitrary, mood? 

The reviews of The Artist are 98% positive, according to Rotten Tomatoes and I intend mine to be too. But there’s something about the endless praise (I hesitate to say ‘hype’, as I don’t mean to make it sound artificial) that really dampened my enjoyment of the film. Media voices have to exaggerate, because ‘new silent film, which some other commentators may have been cynical about when it was presented to them as an idea and not a finished article, turns out to be a) really good and b) rather popular’ doesn’t read so well. Audiences have to be ‘wowed’ and ‘blown away’ rather than pleasantly entertained.

As much as I try and disregard all this – and I will use the word now – hyperbole, I spent the whole of the film with a little voice inside daring Michel Hazanavicius and Jean Dujardin to blow me away. To a certain degree, an awesome film past me by with the expectation of it being a once-in-a-lifetime, extravaganza of all that is good about cinema.

I don’t really have any prescriptions or solutions. Perhaps, watching a film as quickly as possible, before everyone else’s opinions get a chance to flood your sub-conscious. I just see this as an extreme case of what happens every time we sit in front of something.

Mad Men – Season 5, Episode 3(!)

April 5, 2012
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Are we bothered to blog about Mad Men this week? I thought the episode was way better than last week’s, but maybe that was my internal in-the-moodness and not necessarily the quality of the narrative. Let’s do this person by person, shall we?

I’m starting to think mood makes up a large percentage of viewer enjoyment. On a side note, I watched The Artist last night (in a meh mood) and found it to be pretty, meh.

Peggy: I like her interactions with this Ginsberg gentleman. She’s bitchy-firm, but fair. Do we think he’s going to break up her and her Village Voice-ass boyfriend? I cannot be bothered to google his name.

I don’t think Ginsberg’s supposed to be a love interest. Do we not think he’s a replacement gay? Peggy’s always super-endearing.

Don: Jesus Christ, being a 1960s husband sucks. Giving platitudinous reassurance to old wife, followed by forced cavorting with your new one.

I don’t know what’s particularly 1960s about that. I’m liking Megan dragging Don towards the youth though. We can’t let him become the bitter out-of-touch old dude.

Which brings me nicely onto…

Roger: It’s hard out here for an aging, increasingly obsolete functioning alcoholic.

If the British buyout was the plot cul-de-sac heading into Season 3, I can’t help feeling that the irrelevance of Messrs Sterling & Cooper could be this year’s. I’m kinda done with Bert, but want Roger to stick around. It can’t just be as an obsolete functioning alcoholic, though. Hopefully he’ll get a juicy plot arc, beyond ‘I’m kid’s father, Joan and I should be together’.

Betty: Mad Men finally found a way to make Betty interesting: Make her fat! I got nervous at the Very Special Episode cancer, but it turned out to be a scare, which is more Sopranos than Blossom, so I’m OK with it in the end. Betty’s finally realizing that her choices have consequences, and having trouble adjusting to it all.

I wasn’t too interested in fat Betty. It all just seems like a clever answer to a pregnant January Jones and not much besides. I don’t really believe that Betty (with the voice of her image-obsessed mother in her ear) would let that happen. And why have the scare if she’s ok? Perhaps you just answered that one.

Henry Francis: How is Don supposed to be the heartthrob of this show? I would mount Henry Francis like one of those horses on Luck.

Erm, he just looks like an old dude to me. Don too for that matter.

Pete: Peeeeete! What a fucking human disaster. I think I like the office storylines more than the domestic ones because the villains are clearer.

Is Pete still a villain? He’s the dude holding the accounts side of the company together. Business is dickish, so there’s a productive outlet for his ample serving of that particular characteristic.

Harry: There’s something sad about you, kiddo.

He’s thinner, with cool glasses and yet still nothing more than an irritating dick.

Dawn: More, please.

Mmmmm hmmmm

 

I’m a lot more enthusiastic about this episode in retrospect. Perhaps that’s because I’m in a good mood…

Mad Men, Season 5, Episode 2: ‘I insulted you because I’m honest. And I apologized because I’m brave.’

April 5, 2012
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Are we bothered to blog about Mad Men this week? I thought the episode was way better than last week’s, but maybe that was my internal in-the-moodness and not necessarily the quality of the narrative. Let’s do this person by person, shall we?

Peggy: I like her interactions with this Ginsberg gentleman. She’s bitchy-firm, but fair. Do we think he’s going to break up her and her Village Voice-ass boyfriend? I cannot be bothered to google his name.

Don: Jesus Christ, being a 1960s husband sucks. Giving platitudinous reassurance to old wife, followed by forced cavorting with your new one.

Roger: It’s hard out here for an aging, increasingly obsolete functioning alcoholic.

Betty: Mad Men finally found a way to make Betty interesting: Make her fat! I got nervous at the Very Special Episode cancer, but it turned out to be a scare, which is more Sopranos than Blossom, so I’m OK with it in the end. Betty’s finally realizing that her choices have consequences, and having trouble adjusting to it all.

Henry Francis: How is Don supposed to be the heartthrob of this show? I would mount Henry Francis like one of those horses on Luck.

Pete: Peeeeete! What a fucking human disaster. I think I like the office storylines more than the domestic ones because the villains are clearer.

Harry: There’s something sad about you, kiddo.

Dawn: More, please.

Mad Men Season 5, Episode 1: ‘Have you ever seen a bean close up?’

March 28, 2012
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I felt really meh during most of this episode, to be honest. A lot of it felt like well-worn territory. Peggy is awkward, Pete is petulant, Roger is an imminently-expiring asshole, Lane is tweedy and repressed, Don hates everyone, etc.  The only character I found compelling was Joan.

It felt like Mad Men right back on form for me. For some reason I was anticipating some unnecessary gimmick or a complete left-field shocker. But it seems a honest, compelling continuation from where we left off.

Overally I thought the whole storyline of Don and Megan was the most disappointing. It felt like a Don and Betty episode, and those were always the ones I slept through. This season adds the extra wrinkle of them working together, but that just brings domestic strife—typically the least interesting aspect of Mad Men—into the office, typically its most.

Perhaps your interest in on-screen romantic relationships reached saturation point a long time ago. I empathise, they fall in love, they fight, they cheat, it’s all rather soap opera. But the Mad Men take on it all keeps me interested: everyone’s just searching for fulfillment and running into disappointments and diversions along the way.

I have a lot of faith in Megan, for some reason. The parallels with Jane are clearly going to be mined this year, but Megan seems a lot more open-minded (her blasé acceptance of Don’s past) and a lot less superficial. She’s got her fancy apartment, sure, but the party seemed to come from a genuine effort to make the man she loves happy, not just to show off.

This is clearly just the love-hazed honeymoon period. The interesting question is how things will settle once that wears off. Do we think they’ll still be married in 1970? Is it a question of when, or perhaps even – dare I say – if Don cheats on her? My money’s on some exploration of open relationships coming up…

It was an hour and 45 minutes long, and that’s about all I have to say about it, which is probably the worse sign of all. Usually these premieres feel like they’re laying the groundwork for the rest of the season, but with the potential exception of a black-secretary plotline, I didn’t see much here to get excited about.

Oh yeah, they have to fire one of the divs and get a proper black character in now. And what a genius way to do it. Had they randomly plonked a black secretary into that office from the beginning of this season it’d look obvious, lame and tokenistic. The ‘equal opportunities’ ad was a great way to force the civil rights issue into the office. Let’s see how the old boys try to live up to their promise

But I’m open to the idea that there were things going on that I missed. What’d you think?

Joan’s awesome! Complete with bitchy Mom! But yeah, once she’s back in the office, it’s only the Roger thing to sort out, right? This is in danger of becoming very predicable: Greg gets killed in ‘naam, Roger splits with Jane, they get together and raise the kid.

We only seemed to get a taste of Peggy so far. She’s frustrated by the realities of getting what you want: sometimes the clients don’t like your cool idea. She’s got her dream position, but has ended up pulling most of the weight. We barely touched on her relationship. How has this dude changed her?

Pete too, he seems to be properly on the ball and even professional. Until he finds something trivial to get he’s ego in a knot about. And aren’t you intrigued by the prospect of the Campbell marriage, arguably the best match on the show, descending into Don & Betty territory? They’ve got to do better. Don and Megan have to learn from the mistakes of Roger and Jane and Pete and Trudy have to learn from Don and Betty.

With Roger and Bert even more irrelevant, where is there to go with their professional lives? Roger has the baby and Joan on the menu, but unless he finds something else to offer the firm…

I’m less excited about Lane. He convinced his wife to stay and we’re still exploring his lust for younger women. I can’t see how this is going to stay interesting.

Mad Men Season 5, Episode 1: About As Interesting As Bean Ballet

March 26, 2012
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I felt really meh during most of this episode, to be honest. A lot of it felt like well-worn territory. Peggy is awkward, Pete is petulant, Roger is an imminently-expiring asshole, Lane is tweedy and repressed, Don hates everyone, etc.  The only character I found compelling was Joan.

Overally I thought the whole storyline of Don and Megan was the most disappointing. It felt like a Don and Betty episode, and those were always the ones I slept through. This season adds the extra wrinkle of them working together, but that just brings domestic strife—typically the least interesting aspect of Mad Men—into the office, typically its most.

It was an hour and 45 minutes long, and that’s about all I have to say about it, which is probably the worse sign of all. Usually these premieres feel like they’re laying the groundwork for the rest of the season, but with the potential exception of a black-secretary plotline, I didn’t see much here to get excited about.

But I’m open to the idea that there were things going on that I missed. What’d you think?

Warrior: What He Said

December 30, 2011
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A.O. Scott on ‘Warrior’:

They fight because every other way of being a man has been compromised, undermined or taken away. […]

In such conditions stripping down to your shorts and beating another guy senseless can seem not only logical, but also noble. The mock-gladiatorial theatrics of mixed martial arts may look tawdry and overblown, but the sport, perhaps even more than boxing, expresses a deep and authentic impulse to find meaning through the infliction and acceptance of pain. While the Conlon brothers are both fighting for the money, the real stakes are much deeper. Though their climactic confrontation is terrifyingly violent, it is also tender. And the most disarming thing about “Warrior” is that, for all its mayhem, it is a movie about love.

It’s a good movie!

The only weird thing about ‘Warrior’ (besides how good it is) is how shamelessly it promotes Mixed Martial Arts as a legitimate, popular American pasttime, rather than the niche backwater it actually is.

The movie contains dozens of scenes where CNN reporters investigate and interview MMA fighters in a contrived Today’s Top Story kind of way. The movie’s final tournament (it’s called ‘Sparta’. You half expect the name to include an exclamation mark) is broadcast on ESPN rather than pay-per-view. Dozens of reporters greet the fighters when they arrive at the hotel, and hold a pre-tournament press conference.

In what alternate-universe America does this movie take place? MMA is covered by CNN about as often as Wrestlemania, and ESPN barely gets near it. The movie never questions the the format (‘cage-fighting’) of MMA or its long-term effects on its participants. I have no evidence for this, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the MMA partly funded, or at least officially approved, Warrior’s final cut.

In the Heat of the Night

December 3, 2011
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So I’m still blasting through the AFI top 100 movies, and last night’s tickbox was In the Heat of the Night, a movie I’ve avoided watching almost entirely because I hate the title, and because it was the inspiration for a tremendously boring syndicated TV show that was on when I was a kid.

Since I saw it on the AFI list, I looked it up on Wikipedia:

The story of an African-American police detective from Philadelphia who becomes involved in a murder investigation in a racist small town in Mississippi.

Racism, social issues and crime-solving?! These are basically my three favorite things. I’m in!

Racism
I have no idea how accurate this movie is considered to be, but the racism is seriously bonkers. It’s so offensive it’s almost camp, and and I legitimately had trouble believing that this is the country I grew up in just a two decades before I was born.

This scene, for example, is a fucking scorcher:

There’s a point later in the movie where someone tells the (white) sheriff, ‘There was a time when you would have just shot that black fella and claimed self-defense’. Every American kid grows up learning about slavery and segregation and the injustice of racism, but it’s only recently that I’ve come to grips with the fact that it was basically legal to murder a black person for a significant portion of my country’s history.

Social Issues
ITHOTN sometimes feels like a movie by Northerners, for Northerners. A few scenes feel a bit extreme, like the filmmakers are trying to tell you look how bonkers Southern racism is. There’s a scene where Sydney Poitier is chased by hoodlums and nearly beaten to death for no apparent reason beyond his blackness.

Crime-Solving
So ITHOTN is basically a Message Movie. It  doesn’t take great pains to disguise its politics: Racism is bad, y’all.

That’s why it’s surprising how well it holds up. At its core, it’s basically just a film noir about a man solving a murder. Yes, it’s marinated in fried green redneckery, but each instance of racism serves primarily as an obstacle to solving the central conundrum, not as an excuse to demonstrate the moral failings of Dixie law enforcement officials.

In the Heat of the Night is a movie that, by taking its core plot seriously, makes you take the rest of it seriously too.