Mad Men s1e1: Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

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image courtesy of this Gallery

Hello, hello! Due to my own personal mania and a splash of popular demand, I’ve decided to undergo the Herculean task of rewatching and writing about all 92 episodes of Mad Men. Now these won’t be super duper in depth like my season 7 reviews, and I’m sure I’ll combine a couple of episodes into each post at some point, but I’m sure certain episodes will merit more yappin’ than others. So uh, here goes!

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image courtesy of Imgur

With the opening shot of the Mad Men pilot, we are greeted with the back of a shadowy figure at a bar. He’s in a crowd of breezy people, yet he is alone. Who the hell is this guy? What’s his deal? Here’s a vaguely fried Don Draper in a bar, grasping at straws for his upcoming Lucky Strike meeting.

The pilot of any series will lay out the greater themes to come, and Smoke gets in your Eyes is no exception. And one of the things I find magical about a well written show or movie is how we, the audience, are merely dropped in. This isn’t the beginning of something, we are entering into something, this narrative as it has already progressed.

The character introductions are sort of hilarious. We’ve got Peggy, the oldschool Brooklyn girl trying to make it at her first big job in the city. Pete, the boorish young guy who’s about to get married to the photo of Matthew Weiner’s mother as Trudy hadn’t been cast yet. Sal, the closeted gay man who makes approximately 100 innuendos implying that he’s gay. Joan, the snarky fun girl. There’s jokes about technology and the lack thereof in 1960. Pilots, man.. thankfully the rest of the series is far more subtle.

The real meat of this episode starts with Don getting schooled in a meeting with Rachel Menken. Here, we can see that she’s cut from a different cloth. She is serious about her business, and apparently Don is having none of that. He really fucked it up, and has to do some damage control later on in this episode..

And then, the Lucky Strike pitch. This pitch defines a lot of what the series is ultimately about.

“Advertising is based on one thing: happiness. And do you know what happiness is?

Happiness is the smell of a new car. It’s freedom from fear.

It’s a billboard on the side of a road that screams with reassurance that whatever you’re doing is OK.

You are OK.”

Does Don really know what happiness is, or is he just trying to reach out and touch people with what he thinks happiness implies? The notion that he’s adrift is emphasised when we see his meeting with Rachel at a bar that evening.

Don: The reason you haven’t felt it is because it doesn’t exist. What you call “love” was invented by guys like me to sell nylons. You’re born alone, you die alone, and this world just drops a bunch of rules on top of you to make you forget those facts. But I never forget. I’m living like there’s no tomorrow, because there isn’t one.

Rachel: I don’t think I realised it until this moment, but it must be hard being a man, too.

Don: Excuse me?

Rachel: Mr. Draper, I don’t know what it is you really believe in, but I know what it feels like to be out of place. To be disconnected. To see the world laid out in front of you the way other people live it. And there is something about you that tells me you know it too. 

Don: .. I don’t know if that’s true..

I mean, good goddamn. Rachel immediately saw through his elaborate bullshit façade and succinctly called him out on it. He showed his ass just a little, and she doesn’t have time for that. This brief but potent exchange lays important groundwork for the episodes to come. Don is both fascinated and bewildered by her honesty.

At the end of the pilot, I found myself faced with a couple of questions. Why do we want what we want? Is that all there is? The more you dig into those questions, the more you’ll find, and the deeper that hole gets. The show will grapple with this dizzying idea for the next 7 seasons.

Don heads home to the suburbs of New York state, set to Caravan.

And ah fuck, this guy’s married??

shitjustgotreal

image courtesy of Imgur

Hey-o, thanks for reading!

Late to the Party: Hollywoodland

Nearly 10 years ago to the day, Hollywoodland came out. I remember wanting to see it, but for whatever reason it didn’t happen and it promptly fell off my radar for an actual fucking decade. Joke’s on me. But thanks to the modern miracle of everything being available on Netflix/HBOgo/Hulu, I’ve been able to catch up on movies and TV I simply never got around to seeing.

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image courtesy of Uproxx

So, though I am freakishly late to the party, I wanted to put some words down about Hollywoodland. I really dug it. Early oughts Bennifer-era Affleck is pretty great, though around 2006 he was semi-fresh off the trash barge trio of Jersey Girl, Gigli, and Daredevil. Affleck brings out the allure and magic in George Reeves along with sharp vulnerability. There’s also his crushing, deep-seated disappointment just under the surface, whiling away and ready to explode.

Hollywoodland is a dramatised version of the rise and mysterious death of George Reeves, TV’s Superman. The movie starts with Reeves’ bloody suicide and works its way backwards with Affleck playing Reeves via flashbacks. Fictional washed up PI Louis Simo (Adrien Brody) tries to piece everything together. It’s a love letter to noir, a vintage hard boiled crime drama. And thankfully it’s not all shallow junk either, there’s facets to the characters and their surroundings, right down to the soundtrack.

On a sidenote, is there such a thing as a NON-washed up PI? TV and movie detectives are never not a piping hot mess. Always just on the verge of full blown alcoholism, drowning in cigarettes and stains, weathered hair.. they’re all fucked up. Someone name me a detective who has their shit together, please. The closest one I can think of is Val Kilmer’s Gay Perry from Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, but even that’s a bit of a reach.. anyway.

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hey, these guys KINDA have their shit together.. image courtesy of Vanity Fair

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…..ah, fuck. image courtesy of Tumblr

Reeves is a man who’s at a bit of a slump in his career, but he appears unflappable. The first time we see him as a non-corpse, he’s hunting down A-list tables at a club and cleverly inserting himself into paparazzi photos. This is how he meets glam 40-something Toni Mannix, and ultimately how his path veers to that tragic ending.

The characters in Hollywoodland all want something tantalizingly just out of reach. Boozed up Simo is grasping at the idea of the whole thing being a murder/conspiracy, if not only to resurrect his flagging PI career but to look admirable in the eyes of his young son, who was devastated at the death of Superman himself. We watch him turn from doing PI work as a means to an end to instead giving a damn about what he’s doing, and what it means for the greater good and his estranged family.

Toni, wife to MGM studio head Eddie Mannix, wants to keep Reeves in a box that’s only for her. She laps up his attention like so many Gibsons, and flips the fuck out when he breaks things off with her to be with a younger woman. Could she have ordered a hit?

Eddie Mannix, hypnotically portrayed by the late great Bob Hoskins, is one of those guys who has it all, yet has the stones to yearn for more. He’s got brass balls, bringing his non-English speaking mistress out to dinner with the wife and Reeves. This dinner is like being in fucking bizarro land.. Toni floats the idea of buying a house on Benedict Canyon for Reeves and Mannix is like “whatevs”. Shortly after Reeves’ death, Mannix tries to have a nice moment with Toni before their lavish anniversary party, but ends up firmly reminding her that she is his. Lends some gravity to the idea that perhaps he had Reeves killed in order to keep Toni in her box..

And the ambitious Reeves, grateful for the paycheck and stunned at the fame from TV, is profoundly vexed with where he’s ended up. He’s resentful and fraying at the edges. Think about it for a second – here’s a guy who had a goddamned speaking role in Gone With The Wind, and now he’s wearing a washed out Superman costume, turned into a cartoon of a man doing cringeworthy public appearances. He wanted so much more from his life and career, yet here he is in a house that Toni bought, with a fiancée who’s rapidly losing interest in him due to his waning career prospects.

Reeves’ true frustration is on display in the final minutes of the film, when Simo views a demo reel from Reeves’ manager. He’s showing off some fighting moves for a wrestling gig, but you can see on his face that he’s just done. Totally defeated, doughy, with a pained expression going through the motions. At that moment, Simo believes (along with myself) that maybe Reeves had committed suicide after all.

Hollywoodland is well worth a spin. Great performances, an intriguing story, wonderful music. I found it to be a more charismatic L.A. Confidential.

Thanks for reading!

Stranger Things; the exact nostalgia we need

Everyone at SDCC last weekend wouldn’t stop yapping about this new Netflix show, so I gave it a whirl and it sure as shit did not disappoint.  From the sublime John Carpenter-esque music to the opening title sequence that feels straight out of 1980, I was hooked from the start.

So like everyone else on the internet, I watched all 8 episodes of Stranger Things over the course of this past week. What I found was an exceedingly well-crafted love letter to Spielberg, Carpenter, King, a dash of Cronenberg, and the early 1980s. That sense of wonder I remember from devouring their films growing up is abundantly intact.

Spoilers within, ya jerks.

image courtesy of Empire Online

People seem to be shocked that showrunners the Duffer Brothers were born in 1984. Maybe they were expecting someone.. older? Who the hell knows. Seems just right to me. As someone born that very same year, I completely identify with their brand of time capsule nostalgia. I grew up on Spielberg movies, adored the messy houses with the wood paneling and earthtone aesthetic, the ever-present shaggy dog and over-stuffed fridge. The wonder with a whiff of darkness, something bigger than us. There’s rich character work in lieu of spectacle, and Stranger Things takes their characters to heart.

These characters, their actions and environments are familiar to me, as I’m sure they are to the showrunners. They have succeeded in not only purveying a certain time period, but did it with depth and feeling rather than surface level on the nose jokes and bullshit like “I CAN’T BELIEVE DARTH VADER IS LUKE’S FATHER, HOLY FUCK”.

There are so many familiar feelings and places in this show that I lost count, so much of it is nearly tactile. Plot brass tacks; small Indiana town, strange disappearance of a young boy named Will, tinges of the supernatural. Drunk weathered police chief Hopper going through some shit, frazzled single mother Joyce supporting Will and his older misfit artist punk brother Jonathan, and her idiot ex-husband. Strange mystery girl shows up out of the ether, nothing is as it seems. She befriends a ragtag band of 3 boys, who are determined to find their friend. There’s high school romance, government conspiracy coverups, a little Cronenbergian terror, an E.T. wig, Stephen King vibes, and a rattled community.

Joyce, feeling guilt-stricken and adrift, discovers that Will is still somehow around. He’s communicating with her via electricity, through the lights specifically. There’s a chilling sequence where she paints the alphabet on the wall tuned to lights, and he spells out his fear.

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image courtesy of The Telegraph

Naturally, this looks completely batshit insane to everyone else. She hacks a hole in her wall during a macabre Cronenberg moment, where Will is trapped in some sort of phosphorescent bodily goo within the walls. Nightmares.

Exploring the way each of these groups chooses to seek out Will is a really cool approach, and the plot and action move along at a good clip. Joyce works with Police Chief Hopper. There are a few hints at their previous relationship, and as he tragically lost his own daughter, he is determined to see what in the hell is going on and bring Will home.

Oh, AND there’s a fake dead Will body supplied by the Bad People in Power Suits. Hopper discovers this and is on Joyce’s side 100% after that mess.

Will’s friends are fantastic, they remind me so much of my own friends growing up, hanging out in basements doing nerd shit. Their conversations aren’t contrived or tryhard as they tend to be other movies and media of this vein, it was all believable and at points very funny.

Mike, Dustin and Lucas are the Indoor Kids playing D&D in the basement the night of Will’s disappearance. They approach finding Will with both science and science fiction alike, how to break into other dimensions, completely hellbent on finding their friend. The way they go about forming a plan and setting it in motion reminds me of a treasure hunt, an adventure. Running through the woods and taking off on bikes, seeing more to the world and the environment they occupy as only imaginative kids can.

The mysterious girl, Eleven, befriends Mike and lives in a pillow fort built in his basement. Mike and Nancy’s increasingly clueless parents are a good backdrop of the perfect 1980s couple, where nothing is really as it seems on the surface.

We get some sense of intrigue right off the bat as Eleven is clothed in a filthy hospital gown, eating the hell out of a burger in some rundown joint that is soon descended upon by the typical Bad People In Power Suits. What’s her story?

And let’s be real, her telekinesis kicks ass. Turns out it’s a side effect from the MKUltra experimentation done on her mother. Conspiracy theorists everywhere shit themselves a touch once that tidbit was dropped. Not unlike E.T., she’s into junk food and jacks a whole bunch of Eggos from a grocery store at one point.

We discover that Eleven’s abilities have torn a hole in spacetime and now this trash dimension is leaking into ours, which is pretty much the worst. The boys’ AV club teacher and fellow nerd teaches them about how alternate dimensions theoretically work, and they absorb it all intently, convinced that this is what has happened to Will.

Mike’s older sister Nancy is your pretty typical pretty high school girl, with down to earth Barbara as her best friend and the boyfriend Hunk(TM) Steve. OH yeah, and Barbara also disappears from a party at Steve’s house. Same deal, same monster taking her to the same trash dimension.. guess she didn’t hide as well as Will cause she went and got dead.

Jonathan is your American Beauty-esque artiste taking creeper photos of Nancy at said party before her and Steve have a ~romantical bang~. Naturally, Steve’s douchepocalypse friends find the photos, taunt Jonathan and break his camera like a group of total dicks. However, Steve is the handsome jock with a heart of gold who in actuality doesn’t end up being an asshole, so that’s pretty cool. Hey John Hughes! Didn’t fancy seeing you here.

Nancy sees more to Jonathan after that confrontation, and even more as she pieces one of the photos of Barbara together; she sees a faint glimpse of the monster. From there on out they form a bond, eventually entering the other dimension to find Will, and thoroughly booby-trapping Joyce’s house to lure the monster out to our dimension to light it on fucking fire. Pretty crazy shit.

It’s Saturday night and the AV teacher is about to get it in, when suddenly Dustin calls his house imploring that he teach them all how to build an isolation tank RIGHT NOW. They get it done, and let Eleven do her mind thing. She lures the monster and destroys it, sacrificing herself in the process. Really powerful stuff, I was sad to see her go off to wherever she ends up. Probably relegated to the ‘upside down’.

Joyce and Hopper actually enter that trash dimension, due to Hopper cutting a deal with the Bad Guy in the Power Suit. They both wear full body spacesuit-esque gear á la E.T., and manage to get Will the hell out of there just in a nick of time after some super violent CPR.

And, RIP Barbara. Too bad we didn’t see her parents freaking out about their daughter who literally fucking disappeared, save for one scene and a poorly executed runaway coverup.. what? Justice4Barb.

As an aside, I’ve been reading some criticisms of the monster design online, and as a non-horror type I’m pretty indifferent to that whole mess. I thought the monster was tangible and creepy, and even more, I love that this show wasn’t directly about the monster but more about the tension, the eeriness, that mist shrouding everything. The feeling of distinct unease.

And the ending is SUPER fucking disconcerting. It’s Christmas Eve, everything seems nicely tied up. The boys are back to enthusiastically playing D&D in Mike’s basement, Steve and Nancy give Jonathan a new camera, Hopper is hanging out at the precinct and enjoying some potluck food, yadda yadda yadda.

Will is sitting down to dinner with his mom and Jonathan when he feels strange and excuses himself. He coughs up some sort of nightmare slug in the bathroom sink, and suddenly we’re fully immersed in the trash dimension again, for a split second. W H A T. Is everyone now in this trash dimension? Is anything what it seems? What in the fresh hell is really going on??  Really frightening.

The last episode closes with Hopper leaving potluck food and some Eggos in a little snow-covered box in the woods, for whom we can only infer to be Eleven. It’s a quiet moment, and a nice one at that. Maybe Hopper found some peace in all that mess and can move forward with his life, knowing that he was able to save Will and help Eleven do her thing.

I can’t wait to see if they do another season of Stranger Things, these episodes were completely enjoyable and I’m excited to watch them again.

Thanks for reading!