Monday, April 29, 2013

Mad Men: The Flood

It's been quite a few times this past week that I've heard people comment on how they're being disappointed by this season of Mad Men. Let me first say that we've only seen four episodes this season (or five depending on how you count the two-hour-long premiere), so I think any judgement of the season in general is somewhat rushed. I will say right away that I disagree that this has been a bad season so far, I've been thoroughly entertained and have appreciated a lot of the creative choices so far, but I will say that there's a couple of things that haven't been working as well this season. 

One of the people that expressed their discontent with the show to me said she didn't like all the historical facts that Matthew Weiner was getting wrong (this conversation sparked out of the news about the 'Le Cirque' snafu). She was especially discontent with the way the St. Marks Place had been depicted in the first episode, when Betty goes to the Village looking for Sally's runaway friend. She thought it was a very heavy-handed and off-putting approach, and this season was suffering a lot from having historical moments and references being shoved in into the plot. 

That last part created a little conflict in my viewing of the show. On the one hand I thought Matthew Weiner was making these historical references to the period more prominent to highlight the fact that this characters can't escape the changing times. For much of the show, Don, who is a quintessential 50s man, could keep his ways, but the 60s are finally catching up to him and the people around him (think of how out-of-place Joan looked at the Electric Circus last week). On the other hand, though, I must say that the show is far from at its best when it tries to incorporate historical events into the plot. Sometimes they work (like the Ali vs. Liston fight in 'The Suitcase'), but for the most part they tend to either be too heavy-handed (The civil rights scene at the very beginning of Season 5) or distract greatly from the plot and the characters (The JFK assassination in Season 3). 

And just as I was thinking a lot about that aspect of the show, along comes an episode like 'The Flood'... 

When the show tried to do the JFK assassination, it mainly stopped all the plot and character work in order to have the characters' reaction to the events. While the tragedy affected Roger's daughter's wedding and (I guess) helped make up Betty's mind about divorcing Don, for the most part, the characters' reaction to Kennedy's death was not very interesting and made 'The Grown Ups' one of the weakest episodes of Mad Men. 'The Flood', dealt with the death of Martin Luther King Jr. and not in a very different fashion. I would call 'The Flood' a spiritual sequel to 'The Grown Ups', albeit an improved one, because while the episode focused mainly on the reactions to the tragedy it put a very interesting idea front and center at presenting to us the ways in which people can take personal advantages out of a tragedy.
(It also did some pretty solid work about racial tensions, which the show isn't particularly good at on a regular basis. The awkwardness of Joan hugging Dawn, for example, was just a great moment of television.)

Pete Campbell Phones Home
Congratulations, Pete Campbell, you might not be the most despicable character on the show anymore. That honor seems to have been passed onto Harry Crane, who by loudly lamenting MLK's death on the basis that it will prevent airings of his client's commercials. After his rant to Joan last week and now this fight with Pete, the show seems pretty actively want to show us how much a douchebag Harry really is.
That's not to say, of course, that Pete Campbell is much better. After all, he also uses the assassination of Dr. King to try to get Trudy to let him come home again. I suppose there is a level of truthfulness in Pete's preoccupation over his wife and daughter's wellbeing and I guess he misses them, but I wonder if this is another instance of Pete Campbell just wanting what he doesn't have.  

Location, Location, Location
Peggy also tries to use Dr. King's death to her benefit, only a little more indirectly, when her realtor tells her to make a substantially lower offer to buy an apartment based on the tragic events effect on the property's value. Peggy doesn't get the apartment, but she seems very happy when she gets Abe to say, again, indirectly, that he hopes to have and raise kids with her. She is also at a place in which she is successful enough to consider buying an apartment in Manhattan's Upper East Side (even if it's not on an ideal location).
Also, it seems like the Teddy Chaough-Peggy Olsen relationship is going where the Don Draper-Peggy Olsen relationship never went. Teddy was especially flirtatious towards Peggy at that awards show gala.

Ginsberg's Night Out
Out of the stories about people taking advantage of the tragic events, Ginsberg's was by far the most touching. We take a look at this guy's weird personal live when he goes on a blind date arranged by his father. The date gets interrupted by the tragedy, so Ginsberg goes home and his father tells him a tragic moment such as that is precisely when a man and a woman could need each other's love. Ginsberg Sr. is quite right. That girl was really nice and she seemed to like Ginsberg a lot. He could have found love right then and there, but decides not to. It's a testament to the character's tragic nature that we would feel sorry for him not exploiting a tragedy to get into a woman's pants.

Henry Francis Runs for Office
Also surprisingly sympathetic this week was Betty. Henry takes the possibility of a seat on the State Senate out of the whole MLK situation. Meanwhile, Betty seems concerned she'd have to be on the public spotlight of the campaign trail looking like she does now. After being on some very weird and unsympathetic places throughout the last few seasons, I was glad I could feel at least a little bit sympathetic towards Betty. The scene with the dress, when she looks in the mirror, was the most I've felt for her in a while.

You Mean Bobby Draper Gets Something To Do?
I was surprised at the beginning of the season to see the actor who plays Bobby's name on the opening credits for the first time. It seems like Matthew Weiner has finally felt like he wants to make Bobby at least a little bit of a character (poor Gene will probably never be more than a baby). So he gets something to do in this episode. It's mostly there to influence Don's storyline, but still.
Sepaking of Don's storyline, the guy is at a fairly dark place. Another complaint about the season I heard last week was that Don had become too much of an asshole. That his relationship with Sylvia and his nerve to pretend everything was going fine with his neighbors and wife whenever he was in public was the straw that broke Don's sympathetic back in the public's eye. I, for one, do think this is a horrible thing he is doing, but also one that isn't particularly far off from his behavior in the past. And even so, it seems like the show knows he is sinking further than ever.
I mean, his son is far more worried about his stepdad being shot than of the possibility of the same happening to Don. Don's response to this, saying Henry isn't important enough to be shot, is funny and somewhat delightful, but the subtext is clearly that Don Draper won't be ending this whole thing precisely triumphant. And anyone watching the show should have suspected so since the beginning, after all, he is falling down in the opening credits.  

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Disney Canon: Robin Hood

The more immediate period after Walt Disney's death is sometimes known in Disney Animation History as the Dark Days (in reference, I guess, to the Dark Ages, which just like in Disney History, ended with the Renaissance). For the most part of the 1970s and 80s, the Disney Animation studio kept releasing animated movies, which for the most part were not received as well critically or commercially as the most successful animated products of Walt Disney's lifetime. Some of these movies did make money, but when the Disney Renaissance rolled around in the early 90s, the fact that these had been deeply dark decades for Disney was engraved in the popular consciousness. There is little discussion about these movies and they usually don't get the "Disney Diamond Blu Ray Collection" treatment when they are released in home video. Still, there are always revisionists and every Disney enthusiast tends to have a movie from this period that they think is very good. I think mine is Robin Hood.

This 1973 movie is, obviously, based on the english legend about the archer from Sherwood Forest who steals from the rich to give to the poor. There's never been one, right and established Robin Hood story, but a lot of versions that vary largely in the details. Disney recasts the characters as animals and comes up with a fairly simple plot. The movie basically consists of a number of episodes in which greedy Prince John (and the evil Sheriff of Nottingham) is humiliated by Robin. As the movie progresses Prince John grows more irritated with the Archer and tries to actively capture him, culminating in a grand finale in which Robin and Little John sneak into the castle and take John's fortune in a daring escape.

Robin Hood is an entertaining adventure and a surprisingly good film considering where it came from. One of the most well-known facts about Disney's Robin Hood is that it is a largely recycled film. A lot of the character design and animation sequences are outright lifted from earlier Disney films. Little John, for example, is identical to Baloo except that he has brown fur and a green shirt. Little John moves using the animation from the Lion King in Bedknobs and Broomsticks and his companion, Sir Hiss looks just like The Jungle Book's Kaa (so much so that he even gets Kaa's hypnotizing powers in what may be an otherwise good film's worst decision). By and large, the characters move like others did in previous Disney movies.

But before you go on dismissing this fact as a weakness on part of the movie, the fact that it was largely recycled meant that the movie didn't cost as much to animate as other works, something that allowed the film to make a pretty good profit in the box-office. This motivated Disney artists to keep on working in the Animation Department in a time when Walt's absence was starting to be felt more than ever. So, on some level, we must thank recycled animation for keeping the studio alive. But not only is it good that Robin Hood made money, like I said above, it's a largely unappreciated film. 

This is not to say Robin Hood is a work on the same league as the very best of the Disney Canon. This is not as brilliant a work as Pinocchio (then again, what films are?). But Robin Hood is very entertaining and rather delightful in its simplicity. It is basically a silly adventure for children, but it seems to lovingly and carefully tailored for its young audience that it ends up coming across as incredibly charming. This is also not childhood nostalgia talking. I do remember enjoying Robin Hood as a child, but I also watched Power Rangers every day. Revisiting the film actually opened my eyes at a movie that I had held on the margins of my Disney love just because of the notion that it was a minor work when it may very well be one of the most entertaining times I've had in this project of re-watching the Canon. 

It's incredibly hard for me to say what I liked so much about Robin Hood. The keyword seems to be simplicity. The comedic situations are familiar, but also played with delightful interactions between the characters. The songs are not the best in Disney history, but they have a folk-y, hand crafted quality that just charms me. This is the feeling of delight I had when watching Wes Anderon's Fantastic Mr. Fox (which seems to be influenced a little bit by this movie). There is no opulence or pretentiousness in display here, it's Robin Hood's modesty that charms me the most. And still, behind this very light and fun exterior, there is an emotional interior that speaks to me on a very effective level. Above all, Robin Hood is the story of a community sticking together through thick and thin, and putting the most optimistic face towards all tragedy.

Robin Hood is one of those Disney movies that are ideal for children. They will have a good time, laugh and not be scared. And if you're like me, you just might be charmed by the earthy optimism of the movie. This is a sweet and welcome entry in the Disney Canon.

Next Time: Talking about sweet, we'll go to the Hundred-Acre Woods for The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

'In The House' is Just More of the Same

I few years ago, back in my hometown of Lima, Peru, I saw a production of Juan Mayorga's El chico de la Ășltima fila (The Boy in the Last Row). To be frank, I didn't care much for the play and haven't thought much about it since. Last week, right as it premiered in a few New York screens, I learned that french director François Ozon had made a movie adaptation of the play titled In the House. Although I've only seen three of Ozon's movies, I've liked them (especially 8 Women) and have grown to look at him as one of the most interesting contemporary European auteurs. It is with great disillusion that I have to say that just as when I saw the original play, I didn't care much for In the House. 

Here's the plot: Germain (Fabrice Luchini) is a high school french teacher, who becomes interested in a pupil named Claude (Ernst Umhauer), whose writing assignments stand out amongst his classmate's mediocrity. Claude writes about his visits to the house of one of his classmates, Rapha Artole (Bastien Ughetto). Claude, who doesn't have much money and a sick father,  has a voyeuristic fascination with the Artoles' lifestyle, particularly with Esther (Emmanuelle Seigner), Rapha's mother. About Esther, he writes stuff amongst the lines of "I can distinguish her smell, characteristic of the middle class woman". Germain's wife, Jeanne (Kristin Scott Thomas), warns him about this creepy kid, but Germain can't help but encourage him to keep on writing.

For a moment, especially during the movie's second third, it seems like we're in for a meta-filmic experience, in which Germain's desire to keep the kid writing becomes an addiction and his constant critiques of the work start to get ridiculous and full of contradictions. For a moment there I thought Ozon was trying to turn the play into a commentary about today's consumption of media and the critical eye surrounding art and culture. But Ozon's adaptation is very close to Mayorga's play and in the third act turns into dull territory. I don't quite understand what some people like so much about this movie. The story, which is interesting at first, ends up in the exact same places you would imagine. For a long time we only see Claude interactions with the Artoles through his writing, lifting the question of what is and isn't real in his narrative. This puts Ozon's most melodramatic and thrilling directorial impulses in focus. However, by the end, the movie betrays this narrative and reveals a dull, expected resolution.

There are some fine performances in the movie. I especially liked Luchini's on-spot portrayal of the middle-aged intelectual and Denys Menochet, who finds surprising amount of humor and poignancy as Rapha's father. There are also some very funny moments and some truly inspired directorial choices in the middle part of the movie, but the end result is just disappointing.

Score: 4/10

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Mad Men: To Have and to Hold

Tonight was a pretty great night of tv for me. A very funny Bob's Burgers, an outright great episode of Game of Thrones (one of the best the show's ever done) and this episode of Mad Men, than even if low-key in comparison to what I saw right before it on Game of Thrones, was all the same very interesting and somewhat puzzling. 

Bob & Carol & Don & Megan
Megan gets a juicy love scene and it may or may not be because a co-star and her head writer husband want to get some swinger-action out of the Drapers. Don and Megan laugh about the swinger part, but Don is definitely not laughing about her scene. When Megan first told her about the scene, I sensed Don didn't really think much of it, he probably didn't care much thinking he had Sylvia. Still, when he saw her wife with another man, the situation quickly changed and he, of course, went right into Sylvia's bed. 
I failed to mention Megan's miscarriage (or may it be an abortion?). In any case, there are strong forces clashing in the Draper marriage and both are unseen to the other. Megan is obviously more transparent with Don about her career ambitions (even if she isn't about her pregnancy) than Don is about his affair with Sylvia, but they are keeping secrets and that won't end well. 
When in bed, Sylvia tells Don she prays for him to find peace. Haven't we all been praying for Don Draper since the beginning?

Pass the Heinz
Sadly, from the moment I saw Peggy in the "previously on Mad Men" segment, I knew Don was going to run into her when he pitched for Heinz Ketchup. I still don't know if I had been surprised without watching the segment, but I did like how this turned out. When Kenny says it's a petty to be known for being loyal to Don, it's evident we must think of his relationship with Megan and Sylvia, but also of Peggy and Stan. I think it's a little naive of Stan to think he could tell Peggy about Heinz Ketchup being looking for a new agency and not expect her to jump in and for that I didn't completely buy that part of the situation. On the other hand, the show has done a pretty good job of developing the relationship between the two to the point where I am rather interested in seeing where this goes. 
I was actually content with seeing Heinz going with another agency if only because I thought they were going to go with Peggy's campaign and I thought Don's was better (although Peggy's was clearly way closer to what the Heinz people wanted). Still, SCDP doesn't get ketchup and loses sauces and beans. 

Joan vs. Harry
Ok, first of all, was there just a lot of hinting-at-it or are Harry and Scarlet getting it on? I understand this couldn't be the case if Harry was receiving a client when Scarlet was out, but the episode really made me think something was going on between these two. In any case, with or without the Scarlet component, Harry makes a whole fuzz about his power in the agency. It seems a little weird that an ad agency would pay so little attention to the head of the tv department, but at the same time it's apparent how much everybody in that office truly hates Harry and how much of a sleazy douchebag he is. When he was called into Bert's office, I thought the money was for him to be fired, instead they keep him albeit without a partnership. I didn't quite get this part, they obviously dislike him, and they threaten to fire him, but I guess they recognize he's needed? 
Meanwhile, Joan must still get her small victories wherever she can, and even if she doesn't get to fire Scarlet, she gets to hear how much her sister admires her and what she represents. Being a partner at SCDP is quite a big deal for Joan, even if many people there still treat her like a secretary. Yesterday we saw Peggy's relationship to her workers, and Joan's isn't very different from that. I guess it's just the reality of being a woman with power. 
I sensed Joan didn't fire Scarlet just because of what she did, but because of something that was personally going on with her, even though I couldn't really grasp what that was. I was expecting the episode to go to other places with this storyline, but I guess it was just Joan being her perfectionist and hard self, trying to get the respect she feels she lacks in the office. Respect that I thought she had more than she thinks, until I saw Harry burst into that partners meeting. 

Dawn Chambers 
Dawn also gets a little storyline and gets to keep her job (thanks in part to the growing social conscience of the time). Joan says it's a punishment to be in charge of the files and the back-room (was it those two?), but it seems as if Dawn thought Joan was taking her under her wing and so did I. Here's hoping she becomes Joan's apprentice, because although improbable, it would be just awesome. 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Disney Canon: The Aristocats

Walt Disney died on December 16 1966 at the age of 65. At this point in his career, he had built himself a media empire that had triumphed both in film and television and had pretty much invented the modern theme park. By the late sixties Walt was gone, but an empire as big as his had to keep on living. The theme parks seemed to be strolling along, but the animation department had a problem. Ever since the beginning of the studio, every production had been supervised and guided by Disney himself. Like a group of kids who grew up playing follow the leader, without the leader was gone they didn't know how to play anymore.

Before he passed away Disney did decide that his next project would be based on the story The Aristocats by Tom McGowan and Tom Rowe. So the animators at least knew what they had to work on next. Still, watching the end result, it's easy to imagine how the lack of guidance in Disney's absence would result in such an unfocused film. And it's precisely its unfocused nature that ends up being The Aristocats' biggest detriment. Even if I didn't particularly like some of the films in the Canon up to this point (Alice in Wonderland and Bambi, for example), and with the exception of the package films of the 1940s, I would say that every animated film the studio released up to this point were at least solid enough as to sustain "rewatchability". I couldn't say the same about this film. 

There is nothing particularly wrong with The Aristocats. Actually, the core of the film should work in theory. The film tells the story of parisian cat named Duchess and her three kittens (Berlioz, Toulouse and Marie), who have been named by their wealthy owner as the inheritors of her estate. This displeases butler Edgar, who sees himself as the lady's rightful heir, so he decides to kidnap the cats and leaves them in the wild. From there, the cats team up with hobo cat Thomas O'Malley as they return home. From that plot summary it's easy to see this is pretty much an attempt to recreate One Hundred and One Dalmatians, only this time with cats (this is one of the very rare Disney film in which the cats are heroes and not villains), but everything that goes right in Dalmatians is iffy at best and terrible at worst in The Aristocats. 

That clip above is a song in the movie called "Scaled and Arpeggios". You can see what the animators were going for with that sequence, but it just falls flat. There is too much of the cutesy factor that was so efficient in small doses with the conversing puppies from Dalmatians. Here it's so obvious that they want these cats to be cute. And they are, but knowing they've been made that way on purpose makes it a little less appealing. Not to mention that the song is pretty weak.

Another thing it indulges itself in from Dalmatians is the side characters. Remember how there were those supporting characters that helped the dogs out? Well, there are many supporting characters here in The Aristocats too, but whereas the introduction of Sargeant Tibbs in Dalmatians correlates directly to the story, here we get some extended scenes that have little if not nothing to do with the plot of the movie. Now, don't get me wrong, Disney movies up to this point have indulged tremendously in sequences that deviate from the plot (just think of the dwarf's many sequences in Snow White). There is even some of that in Dalmatians with the dog and goose alerted by the "Twilight Bark". But The Aristocats takes this to the extreme. There are these two lady-geese who are given a lengthy sequence that doesn't really add anything to plot or character (unless you count the kittens learning to walk like geese as a huge development). Not only that, but we later return to them to see them meet their "uncle Waldo". And then there is that very long sequence with Edgar and the two hound dogs.

And while we're on the topic of Edgar, he has to be one of the most incompetently realized villains in the Disney catalogue. It's not only that the character is rather incompetent (which is something that could and did work in later films), but also that we are supposed to be threatened by him when there is absolutely no reason for us to feel that way based on what is shown to us. Think of Captain Hook and how he is simultaneously threatening and then comedically chased by a crocodile. Yeah, that's not Edgar.

One Hundred and One Dalmatians is not the only film The Aristocats borrows from. It gets a big musical influence from The Jungle Book, more specifically in the "Everybody Wants to Be a Cat" sequence, which I bring up at this point for two reasons. First, because it is an example of the movies' MO in that it is a fun sequence, but it doesn't really work in the grand scheme of things. It's not only that it doesn't add particularly much to the story, but it kind of doesn't make much sense. I though Duchess and the kittens were at the jazzy cat's to stay the night, but they actually party and tear down the place. Was there even any jazz in 1910 Paris?

The second reason I brought it up is because I was going to say at least there is nothing offensive in The Aristocats, but then I remembered the chinese member in the jazz cat's band. Anyway, besides that, there is nothing offensive in The Aristocats, an overly cute and harmless movie, albeit not a very good one.

(If you're one of those people that thinks that Disney's Alice in Wonderland was made by drug-influenced animators, then you should watch this clip and see what it really looks like when a Disney sequence has drug-use undertones. I mean, Duchess and Thomas O'Malley clearly get high on that crazy jazz)

Next Time: It's off to Sherwood Forest with Disney's animated and animal-full version of Robin Hood. 

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Mad Men Season 6: "The Collaborators"

Mad Men season six, week two. This episode was quite Don-heavy despite being directed by Jon Hamm. Correct me if I'm wrong, but when Hamm and John Slattery have directed in the past, they usually aren't in the episode as much, right? In any case, here's some thoughts on tonight's episode. 

Don and Sylvia
I didn't know what to think of the revelation last week that Don was sleeping with Sylvia. It was pretty clear from last season's finale that his loyalty to Megan was over, but I was a little disappointed the new dynamic brought us back to where Don was in the show's early seasons. Of course, the show is trying to make a point with the cyclical nature of Don's marriage and of course it goes perfectly with his personality, but it is also far more original than my initial reaction let me believe. 
There is the fact that the world around Don now isn't the same as the world that was around him in the early 60s, but there is not that much of that in this episode. What is present is the fact that Don and Sylvia have to interact with each other's husband/wife a lot. Even after Don's expressed desire to stop the affair last week, he now doesn't seem like he wants to stop. I don't know about you, but my initial reservations are gone and I am enjoying this Don and Sylvia dynamic. I mean, that cross-cut scene between the restaurant and Sylvia's bed was just amazing and very well directed by mr. Jon Hamm. 

Pete is Don Draper 
Last week we got our glimpse at how Peggy had become a new version of Don Draper, but while Peggy seems to have adopted Don's professional traits, Pete Campbell seems to inhabit some of the mental state Don was in when the show began. Pete has always been a deeply unhappy man so it wasn't a surprise to me to see him cheating on his wife in such a systematic manner. But Trudy, of course, is no Betty. I was so glad to see her stand up to Pete and show him how smart she really is. She has her priorities in check. She knew what Pete's city apartment was for and she was (in some ways) using it for her benefits. Her biggest concern is her image and she won't let that fall apart even if her marriage becomes nothing but a charade.    

Peggy's Ketchup
Peggy gets a small story-line this week. We get the downside of being a female version of Don Draper in the jokey response her workers have to her attempts at being a motivational speaker. This made me remember what Joan told her at the end of season four's "The Summer Man", about how power actions made her be perceived as a humorless bitch. And even if Peggy acts tough, this affects her in a way her feelings generally didn't affect Don. She later tells Stan how nobody likes her at her new job. 
But, hey, on the other hand Teddy Chaough does seem to really like her. And the idea of getting the Heinz Ketchup account Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce can't get. Peggy isn't all that comfortable with that. She seems to still have some loyalty to SCDP. When Teddy tells her there's nothing like seeing things go wrong in your previous workplace, her reaction didn't tell me she was agreeing. I wonder what will happen to Peggy in the future of the season. It's been just two weeks and I already miss her interactions with the other characters, yet at the same time I understand it would be a cop-out (and wouldn't make much sense from a character's perspective) to just have her come back to SCDP. Or worse yet, come up with convoluted ways to have her interact with the other characters. I hope Matt Weiner has something up his sleeve with this particular story-line. 

The Jaguar Account
Herb, from the Jaguar account, is the sleaziest, most disgusting character that has ever been on the show, right? Right off the bat he got to Lucky Strike-levels of abusing his power at the agency and he doesn't seem to be stopping down. After what happened in "The Other Woman", Don won't have it. But at the same time Pete is right in understanding how badly they need Jaguar. Talking about "The Other Woman", I was both amused and incredibly saddened at the way Joan treated Herb when he arrived at the agency. The way she put him down is empowering but only in an artificial way when you consider their history. This makes me think, is Joan the most tragic character on Mad Men?

Bob Benson
Finally, I just wanted to talk about Bob Benson, played by James Wolk and introduced last week. From what I understand he is a new accountsman at SCDP and the man seems to be going places (or at least trying to). Last week with his giving coffee to Don (and Pete) and now this week's talk with Pete he is clearly trying to make his way up SCDP. From the way he's being set up I can't imagine there isn't an arc to his character. I wouldn't be surprised if he ends up owning the place or something. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Hit Me With Your Best Shot: Jurassic Park

This post has been written as part of The Film Experience's 'Hit Me With Your Best Shot' series, which can be found at

I was only one year old when Jurassic Park came out, so I've never seen it on the big screen. I have, however, seen it about 40 times. It was one of those movies I grew up with. And as you may know, you always have that sweet spot for those movies you grew up with. While watching Jurassic Park for this post I realized I hadn't seen it in a long time. There were whole scenes I didn't remember. Not every movie you loved as a kid holds up and remains good when you watch it as an adult. Lucky for me, Jurassic Park is awesome. 

I do think it's one of Spielberg's best films and a nice companion to Jaws, in my opinion, Spielberg's very best film. The biggest strength of Jaws is in its characters. Jurassic Park doesn't have characters as iconic as Brody, Hooper and Quinn (which movie does?), but it does share another of Jaws strengths (and it has dinosaurs). 

The first is the understanding that the scariest thing about being attacked by a T-Rex is the moment you realize you're going to be attacked by a T-Rex. Such as these similarly composed and terrifying images (I have to say these were the ones that scared me the most as a kid). 

And then there's the something Jurassic Park does better than Jaws. Except for a couple CGI shots, its visual effects hold up incredibly well. I can't think of another piece of CG imagery from the 90s that holds up as incredibly well as the T-Rex and the Velociraptors. They are so well integrated to the movie that you can get engaged in the danger the characters are in the way you never could in more modern movies like I Am Legend or The Hobbit. Economy is fundamental in the use of great CG, as in this seamlessly integrated scene: 


And finally, my last favorite thing about Jurassic Park, it features the single most terrifying situation you could find yourself into when attacked by a dinosaur. 

Monday, April 8, 2013

Mad Men Season 6: "The Doorway"

BEWARE, this entry is spoiler-full, it is meant for people who have already watched the episode or don't mind being spoiled. Although I don't know what kind of crazy person would do such a thing (or what kind of crazy person wouldn't watch Mad Men for that matter.)

So, Mad Men Season 6. 

It's Christmas 1967 and Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce seems to be doing better than ever financially. The summer of love has gone by, a lot beards, sideburns and mustaches have been grown and our heroes are about to enter the ever most tumultuous year of 1968. But what did I think of the premiere? Needless to say, I thought this was a pretty good episode. Let's talk a little bit about the story-lines. 

Draper in Paradise
Death and Lies have always been the big themes of Mad Men (at least in my opinion), and they were both present in this episode. We finished season five with the uncertainty of whether Don was about to cheat on Megan, by the end of 'The Doorway' it's clear where the newest Draper marriage is at. Not only is Don cheating on his wife, but he is also feeling very miserable about it. He tells his lover Sylvia (Linda Cardellini) new year's resolution is to stop the affair, but he knows that is not going to happen.
There are other many signs that Don is feeling lost: The way he reacts to Jonesy the doorman's near-death experience, his questions to Dr. Rosen (Sylvia's husband) about having patient's lives in his hands, his pitch to Sheraton, filled with suicide overtones and the way he behaves at Roger's mother funeral. Don is completely unhappy to be realizing he is repeating his history. He seems to be at the same place he was when we met him. I think the final reveal of this episode mirrors and contrasts with the ending of the pilot. Back then we realized Don was married, now we realize Don is cheating, but it's all the same thing. Speaking of which... 

Sterling's Grief
...the big theme of the episode is said by Roger to his analyst. He says life is made up of a bunch of doorways. First, you want to know what's behind each door, eager to find something new and then, the more doors you go through the clearer it seems like you're in the same place you were before. This obviously comments on Don's story, but also on Roger's. His mother dies and it's not until he receives the box of his diseased shoe-shiner as a gift that his grief manifests itself. Like the water from the river Jordan that his daughter won't take with her, I guess Roger is afraid no one will be there to remember him when he's gone. He is questioning the meaning of life and the meaning of his existence. He thinks about what he gained and what he lost, how he seems to be in the same place he was before and how he couldn't hold on to the things he appreciated. 

Betty's Adventures in the Village
It was nice to see Betty have a pretty solid story after how she was consistently the weak link of seasons four and five. This story works well because Betty is not entirely unsympathetic in it. She identified with Sally's friend and goes looking for her in New York. She encounters some hippies and makes goulash for them and as a result of the whole experience she becomes a brunette. I'm not really sure what to make of the meaning of this story line just yet, but I'm hoping it will gain more thematic resonance as the season goes on. 

Peggy's New Job
Finally, we see Peggy at her new job and it's pretty clear she's become Don Draper. She saves a campaign with the kind of genius imagination Don has used many times in the past and makes her workers stay up working on New Year's Eve the way Don would have done with her (The Suitcase, anyone?). This place of work environment isn't nearly as tough with Peggy as Don made  Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce be, but she has learned in the Draper ways (I guess both good and bad). Peggy has come a long way and she clearly seems to be the one character who is not in the same place she was before, so something different is going here as far as themes are concerned. I guess I'll have to watch more to see where this is going. I am just so glad Mad Men is back and that this season's just beginning.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Disney Canon Detour: Goofy Shorts

As I've gotten older, I've come to identify most with Donald Duck, but when I was a child, my favorite Disney character was by far Goofy. I guess that's not a big surprise, since Goofy is an incredibly lovable character and one that can easily appeal to children. He is, as his name suggests, pretty dumb. But he is also incredibly kind-hearted and noble. He can get into situations that allow him to be as funny as Donald Duck while still being as noble and righteous as Mickey. He is both funny and a good guy. 

Goofy's history can be traced back to a 1932 short called Mickey's Revue, which focuses on Mickey, Minnie and his friends putting on a musical show. Among the crowd members that are watching Mickey's show is a character retroactively identified as "Dippy Dawg" who is pretty much an early version of Goofy. In this early appearance, he was considerably older and had a white beard. However, Dippy did sported Goofy's recognizable laugh. 

A younger version of Dippy Dawg first appeared later that year. Soon, Dippy was part of the supporting cast in the Mickey Mouse shorts alongside such characters as Clarabelle Cow and Horace Horsecollar (Curiosly, in The Band Concert, Goofy appears alongside another character reminiscent of Dippy.) 

Probably what made Goofy stand the test of time better than these other characters is the fact that he was teamed with Mickey and Donald in 1935's Mickey's Service Station. Goofy's dimwitted attitude alongside Mickey's straight man and Donald's short temper made them a winning team. The trio proved to be a successful combination and many of the shorts made in this era are regarded as some of the company's best work and I would agree. They are definitely amongst the funniest shorts in Disney's catalogue. Lonesome Ghosts and Clock Cleaners (both from 1937) are regarded as the masterpieces of this period, but take a look as this other gem, named Mickey's Trailer. 

The trio was so popular and worked so well that cartoons featuring all three characters were much popular than those featuring just Mickey, something that prompted Disney to release a number of cartoons featuring only Donald and Goofy. Besides solidifying Goofy's popularity, the trio period also established Goofy's good-spirited fool personality, for which he is known until this day. As Mickey's popularity diminished in those years and Donald and Goofy started to appear in shorts as a duo, the years of the trio were finished. Tugboat Mickey, released in 1940, would be the last appearance of the three characters as a team. 

The following decades would see Goofy starring in a series of shorts that started to play with structure and form. In the 1940s, he starred in is known as the How To... series. According to Leonard Maltin, by this poing in time Pinto Colvig, who provided the voice of Goofy had left the studio. Without the voice talent, the animators decided to create shorts using a narrator, so that Goofy would have little dialogue. The How To... series was, as you might have already deduced, a series of spoofs on instructional videos. The narrator would explain what it took to, for example, ride a horse and Goofy would demonstrate it (usually in a clumsy or inept manner).

The format was clearly different from what Goofy had been used for in the past and also pretty different to most cartoons made at the time. The simplicity of the structure is apparent, but it is also a dynamic that opens up endless gag possibilites, which makes the How To... cartoons mostly very funny. What's more, beyond the format change, the 1942 cartoon named How to Play Baseball presented another milestone, in it every character was played by Goofy (or a version of Goofy, to be more precise). This is a somewhat metafilmic approach in which a cartoon character like Goofy becomes more of an actor than a character, establishing the "make believe" qualities of filmmaking and one that can be seen as a stepping stone for some of the most brilliant metafilmic work that would be done in the following years by people like Tex Avery or Chuck Jones. Let me just say I think this brought us one step closer to something as brilliant as Duck Amuck

Although the shorts were pretty good, having every character in the shorts be Goofy meant that he lost some of his personality and individuality. At some point this started to worry Disney, who decided to return him to being more of an individual giving way to what I would say were the weirdest times for Goofy. 

For the most part of the 1950s, Goofy was in what historians call his Everyman period. Goofy was the star of short subjects in which he had to deal with common everyday conflicts like quitting smoking or fighting a cold. Although these cartoons were introduced as "a Goofy cartoon", in them, Goofy was referred to by the narrator and the other characters as "George Geef". He also had a makeover that made him look more like a human. All of his skin was pale now (not only his face) and he didn't long, droopy ears. The look is certainly bizarre for someone accustomed to his usual image. I personally think this is the weakest part of Goofy's screen career, but some of these shorts sport some pretty funny gags. 

By the mid-60s Goofy's career in shorts was over. Although the Disney marketing machine kept his image alive, it wasn't until the early 90s, when he starred in the television series Goof Troop that he gained new popularity. Goof Troop featured Goofy as a doofus single father raising his son Max and was part of a wave of Disney animated television series that aired on syndicated afternoon blocks. Goof Troop wasn't the best of these series, but did a pretty good job of taking Goofy's personality and putting it in a fatherly setting. This newly regained popularity culminated with the 1995 feature film A Goofy Movie, which is a pretty solid and sweet movie. 

Although he is not as popular as he once was, Goofy is still one of the most recognized cartoon characters around (again, thanks to Disney's powerful marketing) and I don't think he'll be forgotten anytime soon. He started in the short How to Hook Up Your Home Theater as recently as 2007 and in a web-short commercial for the Disney Parks called Checkin' in with Goofy in 2011. There is something that makes these characters stay in the popular mind-set beyond their marketing ubiquity, people do connect with them. Goofy is just that incompetent but inherently good guy. You know he is trying to do the right thing, even if he is completely inaptly fit for the task. 

Next Time: Well, the Canon is going to be back. I've decided that keeping a tight schedule when going about it is too hard for me, so the Disney Canon will go on irregularly from now on. I'm expecting to do one post a week, but I'll probably miss some and do two posts on others. 
Anyway, this is a long way to say I'll probably have something up about The Aristocats in the coming days. 

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Closed Balcony

There is going to be a lot written about great film critic Roger Ebert who died today at the age of 70. There was sure to be little originality in anything I could have written about him, but as someone who admired him and his career it felt wrong to not make at least a little tribute to him. 

Rest in peace, Roger Ebert. 

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Just Four Days...

... until Mad Men is back!

There's going to be a lot written about season six on the internet and I'm still looking of a somewhat original approach to blog about this amazing show. Hopefully I'll come up with something before sunday.