“The Worship of Sally Draper”

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“THE WORSHIP OF SALLY DRAPER”

The following words regarding a certain character on the AMC series, “MAD MEN” is bound to result in me receiving a good deal of hostile responses … or none at all. I am so sick to death of fans putting Sally Draper on a pedestal.

I am sick of it. Ever since Season Three, when show creator Matthew Weiner made her a more prominent characters, fans have been putting a character that aged from nine to sixteen on a pedestal. Why, I have no idea . To me, there is nothing special about Sally. She has always struck me as a typical kid who will probably grow up with her own set of virtues and bullshit . . . just like her parents, her siblings, and nearly every other character on this show.

After the last episode, (7.10) “The Forecast” aired, I managed to encounter two articles that waxed lyrical over Sally. In one of them, “MAD MEN: Viva la Sally Draper”, author Julianne Escobedo Shepherd claimed that Sally will be forced to spend the rest of her life overcoming her parents’ personalities. Now, I realize that neither Don Draper aka Dick Whitman or Betty Draper Francis are perfect. In fact, they are far from perfect . . . like every other character on this damn show. Including one Sally Draper. Unfortunately, this is something that many fans of the show, including Ms. Shepherd, always fail to realize.

Watching Sally in “The Forecast” made me realize how ridiculous are those claims that Sally is more mature than her parents. Do not make me laugh. I saw that Sally was unable or unwilling to cast any blame on her old friend, Glen Bishop, after she witnessed his reunion with Betty. Ten years earlier, Glen commenced upon an infatuation for Sally’s mother that apparently has yet to abate. But instead of commenting on Glen’s obvious attempt to flirt with Betty, Sally went into a tailspin over Betty’s friendly response to Glen. Later in the episode, Sally had dinner with Don and her friends at a restaurant, in which one of her friends began flirting with Don. Who responded with a good deal of friendliness without making a scene. In the end, it was Sally who made a scene by blaming Don for the exchange and ignoring her friend’s attempt at flirtation. The fact that Sally was unwilling to blame her friends for what happened between them and her parents, only tell me that not only is she still immature, but also a world-class scapegoater.

In The Washington Post article called “MAD MEN: Is Sally Draper Our Last Hope For Change?”, author Soraya Nadia McDonald speculates on whether the character will become some symbol of change on the show. Duh! Sally is the youngest major character on this damn show. By 2015, she will be at least 61 years old. Of course she is the future for a show in which the setting ends in 1970. However, this also means that whatever Sally manages to achieve with her life, she will still have to deal with her frustrations, disappointments and especially her own personal flaws. These personal flaws may or may not affect others. They will certainly affect her. And those flaws will be with Sally until the day she dies or when “MAD MEN” goes off the air.

I have notice in this latest article on how McDonald went out of her way to insult both Don and Betty . . . and at the same time, put Sally on a pedestal. I swear . . . both the media and the fans seemed to regard Sally in the same manner in which Mildred Pierce regarded her daughter Veda. Through rose colored glasses. These same fans have a penchant for ignoring Sally’s penchant for scapegoating. I first became aware of this problem back in Season Four, when she solely blamed Betty for the end of the Drapers’ marriage. Sally possesses other flaws – namely her penchant for bullying – especially her younger brother Bobby; her “sass”, which makes her a world-class needler in my eyes; and her slightly cruel sense of humor. Sally reminds me of certain classmates from my younger years in elementary and high school, whom I heartily disliked or I had regarded with a good deal of wariness. But if there is one person whom Sally reminds me of . . . it is her paternal grandfather, Archie Whitman.

This is the character who is supposed to be the series’ “Great White Female Hope”? Sally Draper? A character, whose flaws are constantly ignored by the “MAD MEN” fandom? There are some who are talking about a spin-off featuring Sally as an adult. Honestly? That is one show I will never watch. How can I drum up the interest to watch a series about a character I have never harbored a high opinion of in the first place? What I am trying to say is that in the end, I am getting sick and tired of the “Glorification of Sally Draper”. The sooner “MAD MEN” is off the air, the less chance I have of encountering this phenomenon. God, I hope so.

A Letter to Matthew Weiner

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A LETTER TO MATTHEW WEINER

Dear Matthew Weiner,

I just watched the latest episode of “MAD MEN”, (7.13) “The Milk and Honey Route”, and discovered that Betty Francis was doomed for a quickie death from lung cancer. And all I can say is . . .

FUCK YOU.

Fuck you for this piece of contrived writing that came out of the blue, due to your neverending desire to surprise the viewers. It’s bad enough that you wasted Betty’s nearly decade-long character development with impending death. But you decided to kill her off in the same manner as Don’s former mistress, Rachel Katz. How unoriginal can you be?

This whole story arc disgusted me, because it seemed as if you had pulled it out of his ass and dumped it on the viewers without warning. I guess a quick death by lung cancer was your idea of Betty “developing” into a mature character. I should have known better, considering you are a man who found it realistic that a 21 year-old secretary with no college education can be promoted to a junior copywriter after EIGHT MONTHS of work experience, but found the idea of a black copywriter or accounts exec in the 1960s unrealistic . . . despite the fact that such people actually existed. This was a supreme example of your inability to create complex minority characters. And your idea of a FBI background investigation (in Season Four) was so ridiculous that I am still shaking my head in disgust.

After the contrived writing that surrounded Peggy Olson’s original job promotion in (1.13) “The Wheel”, the dumb ass FBI “investigation” of Don Draper in Season Four and your inability to create and write complex minority characters, I realized that I had enough. So again . . .

FUCK YOU.

Top Five Favorite “MAD MEN” Season Two (2008) Episodes

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Below is a list of my top five favorite Season Two episodes of AMC’s “MAD MEN”:

 

TOP FIVE FAVORITE “MAD MEN” SEASON TWO (2008) Episodes

1 - 2.08 A Night to Remember

1. (2.08) “A Night to Remember” – During this game-changing episode, copywriter Peggy Olson agrees to help a friendly priest named Father Gill create a promotion for a Church-sponsored dance. Office manager Joan Holloway helps Television Advertiser Harry Crane read new television scripts and discovers that she likes the job. Still reeling from comedian Jimmy Barrett’s revelation of Don Draper’s infidelity, Betty Draper helps her husband with an important business dinner, before she later confronts him about his affair with Bobbie Barrett.

 

2 - 2.05 The New Girl

2. (2.05) “The New Girl” – Don and Bobbie heads out of the city for a night together, before getting into a traffic accident. Don recruits Peggy to help him cover up the incident. Meanwhile, a new Sterling-Cooper secretary named Jane Siegel begins working for Don.

 

3 - 2.04 Three Sundays

3. (2.04) “Three Sundays” – Over the Easter holidays, Don and Betty clash over the discipline of their son Bobby. Peggy meets the new family priest, Father Gill. And Head of Advertising Duck Phillips recruits the agency in an effort to win over American Airlines as a new client.

 

4 - 2.07 The Gold Violin

4. (2.07) “The Gold Violin” – Art director Sal Romano develops a case of unrequited attraction for Accounts man Ken Cosgrove. Joan and Jane clash over an incident regarding a new painting in owner Bert Cooper’s office. And Betty learns about Don’s affair with Bobbie Barrett at a media party, thanks to her husband Jimmy.

 

5 - 2.09 Six Month Leave

5. (2.09) “Six Month Leave” – Owner Roger Sterling leaves his wife for Jane Siegel. Senior copy Freddie Rumsen’s alcoholism spirals out of control. And the death of Marilyn Monroe has an impact upon the firm’s female employees.

“MAD MEN”: “It’s Hard Being a Woman”



“MAD MEN”:  “IT’S HARD BEING A WOMAN”

The reactions to the recent “MAD MEN” episode, (7.03) “Field Trip” has left me feeling a little exhausted . . . and somewhat annoyed.  After reading comments on various blogs, I am beginning to wonder if fans of the show really harbor an enlightened attitude when it comes to the major female characters.  I an a little perturbed by the attitude toward Joan Harris, Peggy Olson and Betty Francis; I have encountered in other articles.

The fan reaction to Don Draper’s return.to Sterling, Cooper & Partners, after he was asked to go on “leave” in the Season Six finale, (6.13) “In Care Of”, has left me shaking my head.  In another Season Six episode called (6.06) “For Immediate Release”, Don had really pissed off Joan, when he got rid of the Jaguar account that had a great impact upon her career. I understood why Joan was upset.  Don had rendered her actions in (5.11) “The Other Woman” – namely sleeping with a Jaguar salesman in order to gain the acount for the firm – a waste of her time.  Don, who had failed to prevent her from sleeping with Jaguar salesman, tried to become her knight in shining armor again, when he got rid of the Jaguar account.  Not only did he rendered Joan’s actions useless, his decision ruined Joan, Pete Campbell and Bert Campbell’s attempt to make the company public.  And some of his other actions back in Season Six caused a good deal of upheaval for the firm, which included his emotional outburst about his lurid childhood during a meeting with Hershey’s executives.  His Season Six actions, along with her anger over the Jaguar account loss, made Joan wary about his return.  But I noticed that some fans – especially many male fans and critics – seemed hostile toward her reaction to Don.  Many had expressed this belief that she should be grateful to Don for getting rid of the Jaguar account and the presence of salesman Herb Rennet. They did not understand Joan’s anger or did not want to understand.  And now, they have expressed either hostility or confusion over her reluctance to be thrilled over Don’s return.

I also suspect that many believe that Peggy Olson should be eternally grateful to Don for taking her out of the secretarial pool and making her a copywriter in the Season One episode, (1.13) “The Wheel”.  They also want Peggy to be grateful for giving her emotional support after she had given birth to hers and Pete Campbell’s love child.  But once Peggy became a part of Don’s creative team, he not only started to take her for granted, but subject her to some harsh belittling – especially when she asked for a raise.  These same fans wanted Peggy to forget the crap that Don had subjected her from Seasons Three to Five. They want to forget that Peggy had a good reason to finally put Don behind her, when she resigned from the firm in “The Other Woman”.  They also want Peggy to forget Don’s actions in Season Six, regarding her relationship with another partner of the firm, Ted  Chaough.  I am not saying there was nothing wrong with Peggy’s affair with Ted.  There was.  But Don’s manner in delivering a blow to their relationship in (6.12) “The Quality of Mercy” came off as ham-fisted . . . and angered Peggy in the process.  Yes, she is still angry at Don.  And she is also angry at Ted for finally ending their affair.  But due to their own reasons, fans want . . . or demand that Peggy forget about all of the crap that Don had put her through in the last four seasons and welcome him back with open arms. Why?  Was it really that important Don to resume his role as Peggy’s Alpha Male?  These same fans also demand that Peggy return to the woman she used to be during Seasons One to Four or Five . . . especially after expressed anger at her secretary, 

Following his return to Sterling, Cooper & Partners, many fans are chomping at the bit over the idea of Don eventually resuming his role as the Alpha Male in the advertising workplace.  This desire is so strong that they were willing to pay lip service to Don’s offhand dismissal of his former secretary and the firm’s new Office Manager, Dawn Chambers, after all she had done for him during his leave.  Regardless of Don’s mistakes, it seems more important to  many that he resumes his place back on top in the form of a “new and improved” Don.  Fans are so convinced that Don will stick to his new and improved path that all of the females that he had  interacted with in “Field Trip” – Joan, Peggy, Dawn and second wife Megan Draper – are being bashed by the fans, because they did not swoon at his feet.  In the case of Dawn, no one seemed to care about Don’s dismissal treatment of her, because .they believe they have a cause to celebrate – namely the potential return of Alpha Male Don Draper.

But the character I really feel sorry for is Betty Francis, Don’s first wife.  I feel sorry for her because as a character, she seemed to be in a conundrum.  Betty had been taught and has been expected to be a perfect mother and wife. This is her biggest demon. Fans of the show have criticized her for trying to be perfect. Yet, at the same, they continue to demand that she be perfect . . . especially as a mother.  This certainly happened when Betty coldly reacted to her discovery that son Bobby had exchanged the lunch she made for him, for a bag of candy in “Field Trip”.  This was the latest incident in which fans The only time Don has seriously been criticized as  a parent, was when daughter Sally caught him with Sylvia Rosen and he made an attempt to brush aside what she saw with a lie in Season Six’s(6.11) “Favors”.   by the fans to make one mistake in regard to her kids.  Not one.  She forever has to be a Mildred Pierce – a mother willing to coddle her children, despite their transgression – in order to be consistently loved by the fans.  I have been on the receiving end of a cold reaction like Bobby from my parents when I made a mistake.  It has not damaged by psyche.  And I have reacted to others, like Betty did.  I am a human being and I am capable of mistakes. But, due to her mistakes, Betty is the only character – other than Pete – who is consistently labeled as a “child”, when she makes a mistake.  Yet, other characters in the series, have also been consistently childish since the first season.  But I sometimes wonder if fans cannot make up their minds on what Betty should be. They criticize both her lack of maternal perfection (which does not exist in real life, by the way) . . . and at the same time, criticize her attempts at perfection. I feel sorry for her, because due to rules of our still patriarchal society – both in the series and in real life – she will never win.  Even when she expresses doubt about her skills as a mother, which she did by the end of“Field Trip”.

Poor Betty will never be accepted as the complex person that she is, because of this demand that she be the perfect mother. Many seem incapable of understanding Joan’s wariness at Don’s return. And many want Peggy to disregard her past anger at Don and his past behavior, so that she will be eternally grateful to him, again. Meanwhile, many cannot wait for Don to be his old self again – the creative Alpha Male that he was, seasons ago. We truly live in a paternalistic society.

Top Five Favorite “MAD MEN” Season One (2007) Episodes

Below is a list of my top five favorite Season One episodes of AMC’s “MAD MEN”

 

TOP FIVE FAVORITE “MAD MEN” SEASON ONE (2007) Episodes

1 - 1.12 Nixon vs. Kennedy

1. (1.12) “Nixon vs. Kennedy” – In this superb episode, Sterling-Cooper’s employees have an all-night party to watch the results of the 1960 Presidential Election. Also, Pete Campbell discovers that Don Draper’s real name is Dick Whitman, who had been officially declared dead during the Korean War.

2 - 1.10 The Long Weekend

2. (1.10) “The Long Weekend” – During the Labor Day weekend, Roger Sterling decides to cheer up Don over the loss of a client by arranging a double date with twins. During the date, he suffers a heart attack. Meanwhile, Joan Holloway has a double date with her roommate and two out-of-town businessmen.

3 - 1.05 5G

3. (1.05) “5G” – In this poignant episode, Don receives an unwelcome visitor in the form of his half-brother, Adam Whitman, whom he had not seen since the Korean War. And when Ken Cosgrove gets his short story published in a magazine, a jealous Pete asks wife Trudy to convince an old boyfriend to publish his story.

4 - 1.01 Smoke Gets in Your Eyes

4. (1.01) “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” – The series’ pilot episode introduces Manhattan advertisement executive Don Draper and his co-workers at the Sterling-Cooper agency, as he struggles to maintain Lucky Strike as a client for the agency.

5 - 1.09 Shoot

5. (1.09) “Shoot” – A larger ad agency tries to lure Don from Sterling-Cooper by hiring wife Betty Draper for a modeling job. Meanwhile, Pete devises a strategy to help the Nixon campaign.

Top Ten (10) Favorite “MAD MEN” Episodes – Seasons One to Three (2007-2009)

Below is a list of my ten favorite episodes that have aired during Seasons One to Three on “MAD MEN”

 

Top Ten (10) Favorite “MAD MEN” Episodes – Seasons One to Three (2007-2009)

1. (2.08) “A Night to Remember” – The Draper marriage show signs of serious trouble when Betty confronts Don about his recent affair with Bobbie Barrett. Father McGill confronts Peggy Olson about her past, while working on a church project with her. And Harry Crane turns to the unlikely help of office manager Joan Holloway, when his department is overloaded with work.

 

2. (3.11) “The Gypsy and the Hobo” – Don’s past finally catches up with him when Betty confronts him about his identity theft. Roger Sterling meets a former client/lover who wishes to rekindle their affair. And Joan discovers that her husband, Greg Harris, has joined the Army after failing to start a medical career in New York.

 

3. (1.12) “Nixon vs. Kennedy” – On Election Night 1960, the Sterling-Cooper staff hold an all night party to view the election results. Pete Campbell uses his knowledge of Don’s past to blackmail him for a higher position. And Don recalls his moment of identity theft during the Korean War.

 

4. (2.05) “The New Girl” – Joan finds a new secretary for Don, while he is stuck in the middle of personal issues between TV comedian Jimmy Barrett and the latter’s wife, Bobbie.

 

5. (3.12) “The Grown Ups” – The assassination of President John Kennedy serves as the backdrop of the wedding for Roger’s daughter and the breakup of the Draper marriage.

 

6. (1.06) “Babylon” – Peggy proves to be more than a secretary when opportunities as a copywriter are opened to her. Roger and Joan’s affair is revealed. And client Rachel Mencken deals with her conflicting feelings for Don.

 

7. (3.07) “Seven Twenty-Three” – Don’s attempts to land the Conrad Hilton account leads to him being blackmailed by Bert Cooper to sign a three-year contract with Sterling Cooper. Peggy begins an affair with former Sterling-Cooper Accounts Head, Duck Phillips. And Betty expresses interest in the Governor’s aide, Henry Francis when she becomes involved in civic politics.

 

8. (2.04) “Three Sundays” – The Sterling-Cooper staff rally to save an attempt to win the American Airlines account. Don and Betty clash over the disciplining of their children. Peggy becomes acquainted with a young and attractive priest named Father McGill.

 

9. (1.03) “The Marriage of Figaro” – After his business relationship with Rachel Mencken takes an unforeseen turn; Don attends his daughter Sally’s birthday party, which further illuminates his increasing dissatisfaction with his present life.

 

10. (2.07) “The Gold Violin” – Art director Sal Romano develops an attraction toward Accounts man Ken Cosgrove and invites the latter over to Sunday dinner. Joan clashes with Don’s new secretary, Jane Siegel. And the Drapers are invited to attend a party for TV comedian Jimmy Barrett, who has some news for Betty.

“The Future and Past Mrs. Draper

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I first wrote this article after the airing of the “MAD MEN” Season Four finale called (4.13) “Tomorrowland”:

THE FUTURE AND PAST MRS. DON DRAPER

As many fans know, (4.13) “Tomorrowland”, the Season Four finale of ”MAD MEN” revealed Don Draper aka Dick Whitman proposing marriage to his secretary, Megan. And she said yes. Megan is just as beautiful as Betty. She is younger and seemed to be a better parent than the former Mrs. Draper. 

Some fans have criticized Don for dumping the pragmatic Faye Miller for the superficially satisfying Megan. Some have waxed lyrical over Don’s new choice, claiming that she will prove to be the perfect addition to the Draper family. I suspect that whatever misgivings some fans have about Don’s engagement to Megan, many of them will fall in love with her during Season 5. Why? Because I have a deep suspicion that series creator Matt Weiner will portray Megan as the perfect wife/mother. She will not only be willing to accept Don as he is and not be concerned with his Dick Whitman persona, she will also be portrayed as the perfect stepmother for the Draper kids.

I suspect that these fans will especially love Megan for being the perfect stepmother, because we live in a society that believes the perfect mother is one that indulges her children, not discipline them. Weiner will make sure to portray Megan in the way many wanted Betty to be portrayed – as the perfect early 21st century mother in a story set in a mid 20th century tale.

As for Betty, I never thought she was a monstrous mother. I suspect that Betty was having a difficult time dealing with her divorce from Don, and the fact that she spent ten years with a man who had been lying to her from Day One. That was why she was having a meltdown in during Season Four. The problem is that our society seem to frown upon people having emotional difficulties in life. We would prefer if everyone behaves perfectly or as if we are not having any personal problems . . . all the time.

Many have accused Betty of harboring this same attitude and trying to project this image of perfection. And they would be right. But these same fans seem willing to ignore the fact that most of the series’ characters are like this. In fact, I suspect that many of the show’s fans are like this as well. They criticize Betty for trying to project a perfect image . . . and failing; yet they ignore this trait in the other characters. More importantly, they ignore this trait in themselves. They seemed to be unaware of their intolerance toward Betty’s flaws and their demands that she behave like the perfect mother. Quite frankly, I find this behavior a lot more disturbing than Betty’s or that of the other characters.

“MEN IN BLACK 3” (2012) Review

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“MEN IN BLACK 3” (2012) Review

After 2002’s “MEN IN BLACK II”, I never thought I would ever see another movie from the franchise based upon Lowell Cunningham’s The Men in Black comic book series. Never. After all, it was not exactly a critical success and was barely a commercial hit. And yet . . . the team from the first two movies went ahead and created a third one for the franchise. 

“MEN IN BLACK 3” picks up ten years after the last movie. Boris the Animal, the last surviving member of the Boglodite species, escapes from the LunarMax prison on Earth’s moon with the intention of seeking revenge against the MIB agent responsible for his arrest and loss of arm – Agent K. The latter discovers during a skirmish he and Agent J experience at a local Chinese restaurant that Boris has escaped. Unfortunately for Agent K, Boris arrives in Manhattan and seeks Jeffrey Price, the son of a fellow prisoner who had possession of a few time-jump mechanisms. Not much time passes before Agent K disappears from existence and Agent J is the only one who remembers his partner.

Agent O, who is MIB’s new Chief following Zed’s passing, deduces from Agent J’s statements that a fracture has occurred in the space-time continuum. The two realize Boris must have time-jumped to 1969 and killed K. And now an imminent Boglodite invasion threatens Earth, due to the absence of the protective ArcNet that K had installed in 1969. J acquires a similar time-jump mechanism from Price, jumps off the Chrysler Building in order to reach time-travel velocity, and arrives in July 1969, a day before Boris kills K.

When I learned that Steven Spielberg, director Barry Sonnenfeld, Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones planned to do a thirdMEN IN BLACK movie; I could only shake my head in disbelief. Mind you, I did not dislike the second film. But it seemed a disappointment in compare to the quality of 1997 original movie. But in the end, I could not say no to a MEN IN BLACKmovie. And thank God I did go see it.

Now, “MEN IN BLACK 3” was not perfect. There were a few aspects about Etan Cohen’s screenplay that left me scratching my head. If Boris the Animal (oops! I mean Boris) had been imprisoned in the LunarMax prison for over 40 years, how on earth did Boris’ girlfriend Lily, who helped him escape, learn about his existence in the first place? I am also a little confused about Agent J and Agent K’s ages. According to 1997’s “MEN IN BLACK”, Agent k was a teenager in New Jersey when he experienced his first alien encounter before becoming a member of the Men in Black agency in 1961 or 1962. Yet, according to Cohen’s script, Agent K was a Texas native born in 1940. As for Agent J, he was at least four years old in July 1969. Which makes him at least 46 or 47 years old in this story. I could have sworn he was at least three or four years younger. Oh well.

However, by the time I became deeply engrossed in the story, I managed to forget these questionable aspects of “MEN IN BLACK 3”. I believe that “MEN IN BLACK” is the funnier movie. I cannot deny this. However, I feel that “MEN IN BLACK 3” had the best plot of the three films. Time travel tends to be a hit-or-miss topic when it comes to the science-fiction genre. Aside from the questionable aspects of Agents K and J’s ages, I feel that “MEN IN BLACK 3” provided a first-rate time travel story. One, Agent J proved to be the right character chosen for a time travel mission. Being over twenty years younger than his partner, he was the right person to see New York City and Cape Canaveral in 1969. Boris’ reasons for time travel proved to be a heady mixture of personal vengeance and the successful completion of his original mission to kill a refugee alien named Griffin, who possessed the ArcNet, a satellite device that would prevent Boris’ species, the Boglodites, from invading Earth and destroying mankind. Agent J’s time travel adventures gave audiences two peaks into what it must have been like for an African-American in the 1960s New York – something that the TV series “MAD MEN”more or less failed to do after five seasons. Kudos to director Barry Sonnenfeld for keeping this fascinating tale hilarious, poignant and on track.

Not only did “MEN IN BLACK 3” provided a first-rate time travel story, it also possessed some memorable scenes that I will never forget. My favorite scenes include the brief, yet bizarre memorial service for the recently dead Agent Zed; Agents K and J’s skirmish with some truly bizarre agents at a Chinese restaurant that I would not recommend to humans; Agent J’s initial time jump to 1969; J’s hilarious elevator encounter with a bigot fearful of being in close proximity with a black man; Agent J and young Agent K’s very funny and surprising meeting with “Andy Warhol” at the latter’s factory; the two agents’ meeting with Griffin at Shea Stadium; the meeting between old and young Boris in 1969; and Agent J’s discovery at Cape Canaveral of the true reason behind K’s strange behavior at the beginning of the story. But my favorite moment featured Agent J’s discovery that Agent K’s habit of ordering pie was even frustrating in the past.

The production for “MEN IN BLACK 3” was also first-rate. Danny Elfman continued his outstanding work in providing a score similar to the franchise’s signature theme. I found Bill Pope’s photography to be rather sharp and colorful – especially the 1969 segments. Don Zimmerman did outstanding work as the film’s editor. I was especially impressed by his work in the time jump sequence and the showdown between the MIB agents and Boris at Cape Canaveral. And both Mary E. Vogt’s costume designs and Bo Welch’s production designs perfectly recaptured the end of the 1960s.

As for the performances . . . what can I say? The cast gave some truly outstanding performances in this film. Will Smith was absolutely marvelous as the time traveling Agent J. I thought he gave one of his best performances in a role that required him to be funny and poignant at the same time. I suspect that he more or less carried the movie on his shoulders. But he had fine support from a wonderful Tommy Lee Jones, who allowed audiences another peek into a personality who hid his emotions behind a stoic mask. I just never thought his emotions would be directed at Smith’s Agent J. And I never thought Spielberg and Sonnenfeld would find someone who not only could perfectly portray a younger Agent K, but create a similar screen dynamic with Smith. And Josh Brolin proved to be the man who did the job. He was fantastic.

Emma Thompson portrayed Agent O, the new leader of the Men in Black agency. And I adored her performance, especially the scene that required her to give a eulogy for Zed at his memorial . . . in an alien language. Alice Eve was charming as the younger Agent O. She and Brolin had a nice chemistry going as two MIB agents attracted to one another. What can I say about Michael Stuhlbarg’s performance as the precognitive alien, Griffin? Oh God, he was so wonderful. He portrayed Griffin with a delicious mixture of wisdom and naivety. I wanted to gather him in my arms and squeeze him like a teddy bear. Someone once commented (or complained) that New Zealand comic Jemaine Clement as the movie’s main villain, Boris the Animal. Frankly, Clement was a lot more scary than funny. But he did have one scene that left me rolling in the aisles with laughter – namely Boris’ encounter with his younger self in 1969. Even more important, Clement portrayed Boris once scary and resourceful villain.

What else can I say about “MEN IN BLACK 3”? Sure, it had a few glitches regarding the plot and the two main characters’ ages. But thanks to Etan Cohen’s script that featured an outstanding time travel story, outstanding performances from a cast led by Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones and Josh Brolin; the movie turned out to be a first-rate addition to the franchise and one of my favorite movies of the summer of 2012. Thank you Barry Sonnenfeld! You have not lost your touch.

 

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“MAD MEN” RETROSPECT: (1.07) “Red in the Face”

 

“MAD MEN” RETROSPECT: (1.07) “Red in the Face”

Due to some sense of nostalgia, I decided to break out my “MAD MEN” Season One DVD set and watch an episode. The episode in question turned out to be the seventh one, (1.07) “Red in the Face”

After watching “Red in the Face”, it occurred to me that its main theme centered around some of the main characters’ childish behavior. I say “some of the characters”, because only a few managed to refrain from such behavior – Sterling Cooper’s co-owner Bert Cooper; Office Manager Joan Holloway; and Helen Bishop, a divorcée that happens to be a neighbor of the Drapers. I do not recall Cooper behaving childishly during the series’ last four seasons. Helen Bishop merely reacted as any neighbor would when faced with a situation regarding her nine year-old son and a neighbor. As for Joan, she had displayed her own brand of childishness (of the vindictive nature) in episodes before and after “Red in the Face”. But in this episode, she managed to refrain herself.

I cannot deny that I found this episode entertaining. And I believe it was mainly due John Slattery’s performance as Roger Sterling, Sterling-Cooper’s other owner. In scene after scene, Slattery conveyed Roger’s penchant for childishness – proposing an illicit weekend to Joan, resentment toward the female attention that Don Draper managed to attract at a Manhattan bar, making snipes at the younger man’s background during an impromptu dinner with the Drapers, making sexual advances at Betty Draper, and gorging on a very unhealthy lunch. That is a lot for one episode. Roger’s behavior served to convey a middle-aged man stuck in personal stagnation. Even worse, he has remained in this situation up to the latest season. And Slattery managed to convey these tragic aspects of Roger’s character with his usual fine skills.

Jon Hamm fared just as well with another first-rate performance as the series’ protagonist, Don Draper. In “Red in the Face”, Hamm revealed Don’s immature and bullying nature behind his usual smooth, charismatic and secretive personality. This was especially apparent in a scene that Hamm shared with January Jones, in which Don accused his wife Betty of flirting with Roger. And Don’s less admirable nature was also apparent in the joke that he pulled on Roger in the episode’s final scenes. Speaking of Betty, January Jones also did a top-notch job in those scenes with Hamm. She also gave an excellent performance in Betty’s confrontation with Don, following the dinner with Roger; and her conversation with neighbor Francine about her desire to attract attention. I have noticed that most of the series’ fans seemed to regard Betty as a child in a woman’s body. Granted, Betty had her childish moments in the episode – especially during her confrontation with neighbor Helen Bishop at a local grocery store. But I have always harbored the opinion that she is no more or less childish than the other main characters. This episode seemed to prove it. One last performance that stood out came from Vincent Kartheiser as the young Accounts executive Pete Campbell. To this day, I do not understand why he is the only major cast member who has never received an acting nomination for an Emmy or Golden Globe. Because Kartheiser does such a terrific job as the ambiguous Pete. His complexity seemed apparent in “Red in the Face”. In one scene, he tried to exchange a rather ugly wedding gift for something more dear to his heart – a rifle. His attempt to exchange the gift seemed to feature Pete as his most childish. Yet, he also seemed to be the only Sterling Cooper executive who understood the advertising value of John F. Kennedy’s youthful persona during the 1960 Presidential election.

Earlier, I had commented on how screenwriter Bridget Bedard’s use of childish behavior by some of the main characters as a major theme for “Red in the Face”. I have noticed that once this behavior is apparent; Roger, Don, Betty and Pete are left humiliated or “red in the face” after being exposed. Betty’s decision to give a lock of hair to Helen Bishop’s nine year-old son in (1.04) “New Amsterdam” led to a confrontation between the two women at a grocery store and a slap delivered by Betty after being humiliated by Helen. If I had been Betty, I would have admitted that giving young Glen a lock of her hair was a mistake, before pointing out Glen’s habit of entering a private bathroom already in use. And Pete’s decision to trade the ugly-looking chip-and-dip for a rifle led to being berated over the telephone by his new wife, Trudy. Only a conversation with Peggy Olson, Don’s secretary, about his fantasies as a hunter could alleviate his humiliation. During the Drapers’ dinner party with Roger, the latter noted that Don’s habit of slipping his “Gs” indicated a rural upbringing – a revelation that left Don feeling slightly humiliated. And after accusing Betty of flirting with Roger, she retaliated with a snide comment about his masculinity. Don tried to retaliate by calling her a child, but Betty’s stoic lack of response only fed his humiliation even more. However, he did get even with Roger by setting up the latter with a cruel practical joke that involved a falsely inoperative elevator and a heavy lunch that included oysters and cheesecake. Although the joke left Don feeling smug and vindicated, I was left more convinced than ever of his penchant for childish behavior. Aside from feeling humiliated by a pair of young females’ attention toward Don, Roger managed to coast through most of the episode without paying a price for his behavior. In the end, he suffered the biggest humiliation via his reaction to Don’s joke – by vomiting in front of prospective clients.

“Red in the Face” featured many scenes that I found entertaining – especially the impromptu dinner party given by the Drapers for Roger Sterling. But if I must be honest, I did not find it particularly impressive. Although “Red in the Face” offered viewers a negative aspects of four of the main characters, I do not believe it did nothing to advance any of the stories that began at the beginning of the season. I must also add that Betty’s confrontation with Helen Bishop seemed out of place in this episode. While watching it, I had the distinct impression that this scene, along with Betty and Francine’s conversation, should have been added near the end of “New Amsterdam”. By including it in “Red in the Face”, it almost seemed out of place.

I could never regard “Red in the Face” as one of the best episodes of Season One or the series. But I cannot deny that thanks to performances by John Slattery, Jon Hamm, January Jones and Vincent Kartheiser, I found it entertaining.

Matthew Weiner, “MAD MEN” and Issues

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MATTHEW WEINER, “MAD MEN” AND ISSUES

Ever since the characters Roger Sterling and Joan Harris were mugged by an African-American man in the Season Four episode of “MAD MEN”(4.09) “The Beautiful Girls”, the topic of race in the series reared its head again. The ironic thing is that many of the series’ fans and the media still refuse to criticize the series’ creator, Matthew Weiner, for the series’ minimal exploration of race. Instead, they believe that Weiner will gradually get into the issue by the time the series focuses upon the late 1960s. 

Matthew Weiner reminds me a lot of the creator of “BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER”, Joss Whedon. Whedon had engaged in a good deal of in-depth exploration of feminine issues, yet barely touched upon race issues. And I see the same in Matthew Weiner’s handling of “MAD MEN”.

He tried to deal with the race issue with the character of Shelia White back in Season 2. Sheila was the girlfriend of Sterling Cooper copywriter Paul Kinsey. But eight episodes following her first appearance, Sheila’s character ended up being dropped in a very unsatisfying manner. Instead of showing the audience the circumstances that led to her and Paul’s breakup, Weiner merely had Paul reveal the news to his fellow co-workers, upon his return from a trip to Mississippi.

Weiner portrayed Carla, the Drapers’ maid, as the wise and dignified “Negro” – someone who turned out to be not very interesting. Poor Carla became one of those cliches that have permeated Hollywood for so many decades. In her case, she became the “dignified Negro”.  The firing of Carla at the end of Season Four has never sat well with me. I found it manipulative and a cheat. Weiner gave viewers (especially those from the white middle and upper classes) a chance to express sympathy toward a character, whose actions rightly led her to be fired. Betty had right to fire Carla.  The latter had no business allowing young Glen into the house, especially on the heel of his vandalism of the Francis household.  But since Betty was an unpopular character, and Carla was popular due to being a bland and non-threatening minority character, Weiner gave audiences a chance to congratulate themselves on being so tolerant and sympathetic toward a minority character.

I really do not see why Weiner could have approached the issue of race from a perspective not shown before – an African-American character that also happened to be an advertising executive. Most people do not realize this, but African-Americans began being employed by advertising agencies as far back as the mid or late 1950s . . . and not as service employees. Weiner had plenty of opportunity to approach this topic in the past two to three seasons. There is no need for him to wait until the series is set in the late 1960s.

Just recently, Weiner included a new addition to the cast – a thirty-something African-American woman named Dawn Chambers.  The character had been hired in the Season Five episode, (5.03) “Tea Leaves”.  Since then, Dawn has been featured in one major scene in which she sought refuge at Peggy Olson’s apartment in the wake of racial violence in Harlem.  But instead of audiences getting to know more about Dawn, the sequence centered around Peggy.  I found this very disappointing.  Since then, Dawn has been treated as background or a minor character with a few lines.

I can recall one particular critic, who has expressed contempt at Weiner’s handling of racial issues.  This critic pointed out that the FOX series, “24” had an African-American character as President of the United States . . . six years before Barack Obama became the first person of African descent to be elected to that office. If the producers of “24” (who were known for harboring conservative political beliefs) could do this, what had prevented Weiner from including a major African-American character as an employee of Sterling-Cooper after four seasons? Especially since there had been a small number of Black Americans who worked in advertising.

I also thought Weiner would deal with gay issues with the character of Sal Romano over the series. In the end, Weiner backed away from that subject, as well. Some claim that Sal’s story had simply ran its course. I disagree. Weiner had plenty of opportunity to continue Sal’s story. He had barely touched upon the issue of Sal’s marriage to Kitty, before he had Sal’s character removed from the series in the Season 3 episode, (3.09) “Wee Small Hours”. I found this decision to get rid of Sal very disappointing.  I later learn that actor Bryan Batt had left the series, due to personal reasons.  But Weiner never bothered to broach the subject of gay issues since Sal’s departure.

I suspect that like Whedon, Weiner will eventually approach the topic of race . . . but at the last minute. Hopefully, there will be a television series or movie that will be brave enough to give equal time to the topic of gender, race and gay issues.