“MAD MEN” Observations: (3.09) “Wee Small Hours”

After my recent viewing of the Season Three ”MAD MEN” episode called (3.09) “Wee Small Hours”, I came up with the following observations:

“MAD MEN” OBSERVATIONS: (3.09) “Wee Small Hours”

*I think that from the moment Lee Garner Jr. tried and failed to seduce Sal Romano, the latter was screwed no matter what. Even if Harry Crane had immediately informed Roger or Don about Garner’s demand; or if Sal had acted professionally and told not only Don, but Roger on what happened, he was screwed. The client came first. Especially clients like Lee Garner and Conrad Hilton, who were too powerful to ignore. As I recall that back in Season One, even Don had to apologize to Rachel Menken for his outburst, despite the fact that she had yet to become an official client. Even worse, I doubt that Roger Sterling, Bert Cooper or the firm’s British owners would have been tolerant of Sal’s sexual orientation.

*I have read a few posts on Betty’s aborted affair with Henry Francis. I find it interesting that so many were disappointed that she did not go ahead with the affair. In fact, they had harshly criticized her . . . which I found rather odd. Even more interesting was that some of the fans were demanding to know what she really wanted. Henry also seemed to be wondering. Judging from her disappointment with her marriage to Don and the belief that Henry simply wanted an affair, I suspected that what Betty really wanted was a meaningful relationship with someone. That would explain the letters she had exchanged with Henry, her anger at Don for keeping her in the dark about his contract problems, and her tears following the dinner with the Barretts in Season Two of (2.03) “The Benefactor”. And when she visited Henry’s office, she began to suspect that she was never going to receive one from him, anymore than she was ever going to receive one from Don.

*Despite Betty’s remark about civil rights, Carla was one lucky woman. At least in Season Three. She could have easily found herself in the same situation as Sal by the episode’s end. All Betty had to do was fire her and lie to Don about her reasons for firing Carla. Unless she feared that Carla would retaliate by telling Don about Betty’s meeting with Henry Francis. That is the only reason I could find why Carla remained employed.

*I also find it interesting that fans and the media lobbied criticisms at Betty for her remark about the Civil Rights Movement. I found it interesting and a little hypocritical. One, of course Betty would make such a remark. She was a white female from a privileged background. She was also a conservative, although a moderate one. She had called Carla “girl” when referring to the latter during a phone call with Henry. What did those fans expect? Yet, many fans made excuse after excuse for Joan’s unnecessary and racist remarks to Sheila White back in Season Two’s (2.02) “Flight”.

*After this last viewing, it seemed to me that Peggy look slightly smug after Connie Hilton made it clear that he disapproved of Don’s presentation. Mind you, I was not that impressed by it, either. It seemed a bit too simple and infantile for my tastes. And it failed to invoke the glamour of travel, while maintaining the message of American values. Well . . . at least to me.

*How many times did Don assume an aggressive stand when a client failed to be impressed by his work? Why did he do this? Was this Don’s way of intimidating a client into accepting his work? I still recall him pulling this stunt with Rachel Menken back in Season One’s (3.08) “The Hobo Code”, which angered her in the process. He also pulled this stunt with the client from Belle Jolie and succeeded. Then he tried it with Conrad Hilton and failed. The fans ended up expressing anger at Hilton. I found myself feeling slightly sympathetic toward him. After all, he was the client. If he did not like Don’s presentation, he did not like it. Don’s slight temper tantrum seemed a bit uncalled for.

*Pete hacking up a storm after taking a puff on a Lucky Strikes cigarette struck me as hysterical. So did the scene in which Betty threw the money box at Henry.

*Despite the British ownership of Sterling Cooper, it seemed obvious that Roger was still a force at the firm. But considering how the British regard him, I wonder how long this would have lasted if he, Don, Lane Pryce and Bert Cooper had not created their own firm at the end of Season Three.

*Don and Suzanne – to this day, I failed to see the chemistry. In fact, Miss Farrell seemed like a second-rate version of Rachel Mencken, but with a less stable personality. I realize that Don also wanted a meaningful relationship in his life . . . but Suzanne Farrell? Someone who had recently been his daughter’s teacher? What made Don’s affair with Suzanne even more troubling was that he seemed to be using her as some kind of drug. He had suffered rejection from a man he was beginning to view as a parent figure and turned to Suzanne for comfort.

*When I first saw this episode, I wondered if it would mean the end of Sal Romano on ”MAD MEN”. Sadly, I was right. It was.

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Five Favorite “MAD MEN” Season Three (2009) Episodes

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Below is a list of my top five (5) favorite episodes from Season Three (2009) of “MAD MEN”. Created by Matthew Weiner, the series stars Jon Hamm:

FIVE FAVORITE “MAD MEN” SEASON THREE (2009) Episodes

1 - 3.11 The Gypsy and the Hobo

1. (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.

2 - 3.12 The Grown Ups

2. (3.12) “The Grown Ups” – The assassination of President John Kennedy serves as the backdrop of the wedding for Roger’s daughter and the final breakup of the Draper marriage.

3 - 3.07 Seven Twenty-Three

3. (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.

4 - 3.06 Guy Walks into an Advertising Agency

4. (3.06) “Guy Walks into an Advertising Agency” – A visit by the British owners of the Sterling Cooper agency and an account involving a motorized lawn motor results in mishap and bloodshed.

5 - 3.09 Wee Small Hours

5. (3.09) “Wee Small Hours” – An executive from Sterling Cooper’s client, Lucky Strikes, demands that the agency fire art director Sal Romano after the latter rejects the executive’s sexual advances. Betty grows closer to Henry Francis and Don begins an affair with Sally’s teacher, Suzanne Farrell.

“MAD MEN”: “Wanted or Not – An ‘Emancipated’ Divorcee”

I wrote this article not long after the end of Season Three of “MAD MEN”:
“MAD MEN”: “Wanted or Not – An ‘Emancipated’ Divorcee”

One of the events of the Season Three finale of ”MAD MEN”(3.13) “Shut the Door. Have a Seat” turned out to be Betty Draper’s decision to file a divorce from the series’ main protagonist, Don Draper. Acting as Betty’s main supporter throughout this upheaval was her almost paramour Henry Francis.

Betty had first met the aide to New York’s Republican governor, Nelson Rockefeller, in the third episode, (3.03) “My Old Kentucky Home”. In the episode, Henry he had asked to touched her belly, while she was still pregnant with young Eugene. Betty gave him permission and a silent spark of attraction ignited between the two. They met for the second time in (3.07) “Seven Twenty-Three”, when Betty was asked by her colleagues in her local Junior League to seek his help in preventing the installation of a huge water tank that will drain the scenic local reservoir and mar the landscape. Henry managed to briefly come to her aid in the following episode, (3.08) “Souvenirs”. By the ninth episode, (3.09) “Wee Small Hours”, the pair was ready to have an affair. Until Betty realized that she did not want to engage in a tawdry affair that involved sex in hotel rooms or behind the closed doors of Henry’s office. When they had met at the wedding reception for Roger Sterling’s daughter, Margaret, in (3.12) “The Grown Ups”; it was apparent that the two had remained attracted with one another.

When Betty finally decided to seek a divorce from Don in the season finale, many noticed that Henry was by her side when she visited a divorce lawyer and when she flew to Reno, Nevada for a divorce. The hostility toward Henry’s presence was strong amongst the fans. It was not long before assumptions about the relationship between Betty and Henry appeared on various blogs and message boards about ”MAD MEN”. Many fans insulted Henry with a variety of names. Others insulted Betty. Fans expressed belief that Henry would end up treating her as a trophy wife, just as Don had during the past decade. More importantly, many accused Betty of being nothing more than a spoiled Daddy’s girl who turned to Henry, because she needed a ”father figure” to dictate her life. The fact that Henry had been seen at her side during a meeting with a divorce lawyer, and during the flight to Reno seemed to be solid evidence to them. And Henry’s advice that Betty dismiss any divorce settlement from Don in order to keep him out her life was another piece of evidence in their eyes. But I wonder. Do any of these fans really know what Betty wants? Or were they merely expressing their disappointment that she had failed to follow a path that they had desired? Is their hostility based upon their disappointment that she did not become a single divorcee like Helen Bishop . . . or that she had failed to reconcile with Don and try to repair their heavily damaged marriage?

I find it interesting that fans had heaped a great deal of disappointment and hostility upon Betty for failing to become the epitome of the new “independent” woman. No one had complained when Joan Hollway had married her doctor fiancé, Greg Harris, after he had raped her in (2.12) “The Mountain King”. Nor did they bash Joan’s character when she finally left Sterling Cooper to become a wife only in (3.06) “Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency” The ironic thing is that Joan had expressed a desire for a life with kids and a husband in the suburbs since the series began. She wanted to be a pampered housewife adored by her husband. Instead, she ended up with Greg Harris, who turned out to be a less than talented surgeon. Worse, he was incapable of kick starting a career in psychiatry after failing a job interview. Now, Joan is now forced to become a career woman, again. In (2.11) “The Gypsy and the Hobo”, Greg had decided to continue his career in surgery . . . as a U.S. Army officer. And there is a chance that he might end up in Vietnam. Although Joan expressed relief that she managed to find a permanent job again, with the newly formed Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce Agency, I cannot help but wonder how she feels about her failure to become a suburban housewife of a successful careerist. Perhaps deep down, Joan had always wanted to remain a career woman. But she had allowed society to dictate her wants, just as Betty has. What will the future bring for Joan? Will she still desire the life that Betty had with Don? Or will she finally wise up and realize that that living the Suburban Dream was never really for her . . . with any man?

And what about Betty? It seemed unrealistic to expect her to become the “liberated” woman so soon after her breakup with Don. Considering Betty’s upper class background and non-conformist personality, I do not see that happening this soon in the series. After all, Season Three has just ended. Personally, I suspect that Betty might still be too scared to consider a life independent of men, or have a man in her life and at the same time, create her own lifestyle. Perhaps it will take the Women’s Movement in the 1970s for Betty to become that woman. Perhaps she will end up as another Betty Ford, an activist who managed to have a lasting marriage with a Republican politician. Then again, I do not even know if Betty will ever become the type of “liberated” woman that many seem to demand that she become. But I refuse to make any assumption on how Betty’s life will turn out. That would take a great deal of arrogance or hope on my part.

And I believe there is nothing wrong with wanting another man in one’s life. Of all the divorced or separated female characters on the show managed to move on with new men in their lives. Helen Bishop’s new paramour ended up creating resentment within her son, Glen. Mona Sterling had already found someone new by (3.02) “Love Among the Ruins”. Last season’s (2.06) “Maidenform” revealed that Duck Phillips’ ex-wife was about to remarry.

That Betty would hook up with Henry Francis does not seem all that surprising, considering their history in Season Three. The question remains on whether Henry will prove to be another Don Draper who ends up treating her as a trophy wife. Some fans seem to assume that will happen. Frankly, I have no idea. In some ways, Henry seems a lot like Don. In other ways, he seems different from Don. In the end, I believe that only Matt Weiner knows how this relationship will turn out.

“MAD MEN”: “The Times They Are A-Changin'”

“There’s a battle outside; And it is ragin’
It’ll soon shake your windows And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’.” – “The Times They Are A-Changin”
(recorded by Bob Dylan on October 24, 1963)

“MAD MEN”: “The Times They Are A-Changin'”

Not long after I had watched the Season Three episode of “MAD MEN” called (3.12) “The Grown Ups”, I walked into a pizza eatery and heard a song being played on the jukebox. To my surprise, it was an old Bob Dylan song called “The Times They Are A-Changin'”. I could not help but feel that it could have been an appropriate song for this particular episode.

Although series creator Matthew Weiner had claimed he wanted to avoid airing an episode about President John F. Kennedy’s assassination on November 22, 1963; I never saw how he could avoid the topic in the first place. Not only was the Kennedy assassination one of the major events of the 1960s, but one in this country’s history. And one of the series’ major themes is supposed to be the changing social mores of 1960s America.

The interesting thing about ”The Grown Ups” – at least for me – was how certain characters reacted to the assassination. Someone on one of the ”MAD MEN” websites had brought up a comment that the series lead character, Don Draper aka Dick Whitman, had made about a funeral in which he had participated in the Season One episode, (1.10) “The Long Weekend”:

”I remember the first time I was a pallbearer. I’d seen dead bodies before. I must have been fifteen. My aunt. I remember thinking, ‘They’re letting me carry the box, they’re letting me be this close to it, they’re not hiding anything from me now.’ And then I looked over and I saw all the old people waiting together by the grave and I remember thinking I, I just moved up a notch.”

Judging from the above comments, Don seemed to view his participation in this funeral as a sign that the adults in his life considered him mature enough to accept death and the changes it brings in the lives of many. His comments also made me wonder how the characters and the title of last Sunday’s episode. Who exactly were ”the grownups”? Were they characters like Don, Roger Sterling, Mona Sterling, Peggy Olson and Joan Harris; who seemed the least shaken by Kennedy’s assassination? Or were they characters like Pete and Trudy Campbell, Betty Draper, Jane Sterling and Bert Cooper, who not only seemed profoundly shaken by Kennedy’s death, but aware that the event might be a sign of the social upheavals to come?

JFK’s assassination seemed to have a very interesting impact upon many of the series’ characters. For Pete Campbell, the assassination encouraged both him and Trudy to realize that he was wasting his time at Sterling Cooper. Earlier in the episode, Lane Pryce had informed him that Ken Cosgrove had won the battle for the position of Sterling Cooper’s Head of Accounts. Although he managed to keep his disappointment in check in front of the Englishman, Pete allowed his feelings to finally pour out in front of Trudy. When he informed that he plans to take up Duck Phillips’ offer for a position at Grey’s, Trudy informed him to hold back on that decision and remain at Sterling Cooper. Then came the assassination. Both of the Campbells were not only shocked by the event, Pete saw it as a sign that society was about to change. In his odd way, Pete has had a talent for realizing that the world is changing. He was the one who saw Kennedy as a potential head of state. And he was the one who was willing to view African-Americans as consumers to be targeted – a concept that that the old-fashioned Sterling Cooper executives had frowned upon. When he and Trudy learned that the Sterlings planned to go ahead with Margaret Sterling’s wedding on the following day, the couple found the whole thing distasteful and decided not to attend the wedding. More importantly, Trudy encouraged Pete to go ahead and consider leaving the firm. Perhaps they had both finally realize that Pete could no longer pretend that nothing has changed.

I believe that other ”MAD MEN” characters were aware of the possible impact of John Kennedy’s assassination. But whereas some wanted to pretend that nothing will really change, others seemed certain that changes are in the air. During Margaret Sterling wedding reception, her stepmother Jane Sterling and Bert Cooper seemed pivoted to the hotel kitchen’s television set during the media’s coverage of the assassination and its immediate aftermath. Cooper seemed to have become increasingly aware of the changes that were affecting the country. I believe it had began with the sale of Sterling Cooper to the Putnam Powell and Lowe, a British firm in the Season Two finale, (2.13) “Mediations on an Emergency”. It continued with him facing the death of a former colleague and Sterling Cooper’s 40th anniversary in (3.10) “The Color Blue”. While watching him remain glued to the television set during the wedding reception, I wonder if the assassination might prove to be the last straw for Bert Cooper. And how will he react in the months and years to come? Will he wither away, longing for the days when he was younger and social values were different? Or being the pragmatic man he has shown to be in the past, will he learn to go with the flow?

Many fans have commented that Jane Sterling, nee Siegal, is too young for Roger Sterling. Perhaps. However, I find this sentiment rather interesting, considering that many viewers have been fans of the Roger Sterling/Joan Holloway affair . . . and Joan is at least two decades younger than Roger. But Jane was barely 20 years old when she first met Roger in (2.05) “The New Girl” and 21 years old, this season. As she had pointed out, she was not old enough to vote for Kennedy back in 1960. So far, she has been portrayed as a young and immature trophy wife for Roger. And he seemed to treat her more as a child than his spouse, as his reaction to her attempt to befriend Margaret proved. But like Cooper, Jane’s attention became glued to the hotel kitchen’s television. Many fans accused her of using the assassination news to ignore Margaret’s reception. I disagree. I believe that Jane was not watching the news just to ignore the wedding celebrations. The assassination had made an impact upon her, just as it has obviously made an impact upon Bert Cooper. Once more, Roger treated her as a child and tried to pull her away and shield her from the media coverage . . . just as Don tried to do the same to Betty, Sally and Bobby. Jane refused to allow Roger to pull her away. The assassination bothered her and she was being honest about it. I am not saying that Jane is a fully mature character. After all, she is only 21 years old. But considering her reaction to Roger trying to pull her away from one of the hotel’s TVs, I suspect that sooner or later, Roger will no longer have a child bride on his hands. And I cannot help but wonder how long Jane will remain with him.

Duck Phillips had an interesting reaction to the assassination. After calling Peggy Olson for an assignation at a hotel room, he heard the news of the events in Dallas on the television. Duck expressed silent shock before ripping the television’s extension cord from the wall. Then Peggy appeared. Many fans saw this as a sign of Duck using Peggy for his own nefarious means. When their affair had first started in (3.07) “Seven Twenty-Three”, fans were claiming that Duck was using Peggy to get even with Don for his termination from Sterling Cooper last season. Considering that Peggy has not left Sterling Cooper, fans are now claiming that Duck is using Peggy as some kind of addiction. Frankly, I no longer care. I am getting tired of these bigoted remarks about Duck. I realize that he is not perfect. But he is no more or less flawed than the other characters. I also get the feeling that fans have not forgiven him for abandoning his dog in (2.06) “Maidenform” and continue to view him as some kind of slimy villain. As for his actions regarding the hotel room’s television, I believe that the assassination had upset him so much that he tried to turn away from it and continue his assignation with Peggy. But even after they had sex, he realized that he could not run away from it. Duck told Peggy what he had done and turned the TV back on. The interesting result to all of this is that he – quite rightly – thought about his kids and wanted to check on them. On the other hand, I found Peggy’s reaction to the assassination rather interesting. She seemed a little put out by her family’s reaction to the news and went to the office to hide from the media coverage by working. This reminded me of her reaction to Marilyn Monroe’s death. I wonder if Peggy is slowly becoming a Don Draper. If not, good. But if she is, I cannot view this as a good thing.

For the Drapers, I think the assassination made Betty realize that the world is changing and that it was useless to pretend otherwise. Don tried to shield his family from the bad news and pretend that everything was going to be okay. Even Joan Harris had pointed this out to Roger Sterling during a telephone conversation that the world will continue, despite traumatic events like the assassination. And in a way, both Don and Joan were right. Life will continue. But the two characters also failed to see the long term affect that the assassination would have on American society. Betty seemed to feel that life as she had known it will change. Which would explain why she had no qualms about Sally and Bobby watching the news about JFK’s death. As she had pointed out to Don, what was the purpose of trying to shield them from the news. And I think the assassination made her confront that she no longer has a marriage. Or perhaps she never had one.

I have always suspected that Don and Betty never really loved each other when they first got married. Both had married each the other for superficial reasons. Betty tried to maintain the marriage by pretending to be the perfect housewife and making attempts to emotionally connect with Don. She also fooled herself into believing that a third child might finally improve their marriage. Don simply tried to maintain the status quo as successful professional man and suburban husband/father. Whenever things went wrong with Betty – her discovery of his communications with her psychiatrist, her discovery of his affair with Bobbie Barrett, her kicking him out of the house and finally her discovery of his identity as Dick Whitman – Don tried to be the perfect husband/father and pretend that all is right with the world. I found myself recalling his comment in (2.08) “A Night to Remember”, when he told Betty that he doesn’t want to lose “this”, following her confrontation about Bobbie Barrett. There is a good chance that he might be in love with Suzanne Farrell. But I suspect that he harbored doubts that she could be the perfect social wife that he feels Betty can be. But the assassination and other events of the year, like her discovery of Don’s true identity may have finally made Betty realize that her marriage is a lie. I suspect that Don’s attempts to placate her over the assassination may have been the last straw. Even Sally had failed to buy Don’s reassurances that everything is going to be all right, by a strange look she had given him. I feel that Betty is tired of living the lie. I feel that she is tired of being a“housecat”. Her dream in (3.05) “The Fog” made me wonder if she would ever start to reject that role. I think her confession to Don that she no longer loved him made me suspect that she has had enough. When will Don realize that he has only loved the idea of Betty and not the woman, herself?

I might as well say it. I believe that ”The Grown Ups”, like the previous episode, (3.11) “The Gypsy and the Hobo”, is one of the best episodes from the first three seasons of ”MAD MEN”. Some believed that showing the assassination on the series was pointless. They suspected Weiner would allow Don and Betty’s marriage as it did in the past and everything else would continue without any true change. Weiner proved them wrong. Because in the end, ”The Grown Ups” and other episodes from late Season Three proved to be the catalyst for more changes when the series moved deeper into the 1960s.

“ZERO DARK THIRTY” (2012) Review

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“ZERO DARK THIRTY” (2012) Review

Following the release of her 2009 movie, “THE HURT LOCKER”, director hit Oscar gold when the movie won Best Picture and she picked up a Best Director statuette. Three years later, Bigelow returned to the setting of the Middle East in this historical drama about the operation of the C.I.A. for the manhunt of Osama bin Laden, the leader of al-Quaeda whom the U.S. government held responsible for the terrorist attacks on this country in September 2001. 

The movie begins two years after the September 11 attacks with the arrival of a C.I.A. agent named “Maya” to the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan. Although she had been gathering information on al-Queda for two years, Maya becomes familiar with interrogation methods used by fellow agent Dan on several Islamic detainees, including one named Anmar. Maya evolves into a hardened, yet overzealous veteran. Over the next several years, Dan transfers to the C.I.A. headquarters in Langley, Virginia; Maya and her friend and fellow agent Jessica survive the 2008 bombing of the Islamabad Mariott Hotel; and Jessica is killed during a suicide bomber’s attack on Camp Chapman, Afghanistan in 2009. Although Maya is eventually reassigned to Langley following a personal attack on her outside her home, she continues the search for bin Laden. The efforts of Maya, Dan and two other agents named Hakim and Larry eventually leads the Agency to bin Laden’s location in a suburban compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. The movie ends with an attack on the compound on May 2, 2011 authorized by President Barack Obama.

“ZERO DARK THIRTY” has acquired a good deal of acclaim and accolades since its release. Conservative critics of the Obama Administration accused Bigelow and her fellow producers of plans to release the movie before the 2012 Presidential election as a boost for the President’s re-election campaign. GOP Congressional leaders also accused the Obama Administration of providing Bigelow and her team access to classified information during their research for the film. More liberal critics accused the director of using the movie’s torture scenes as justification for U.S. intelligence use of torture on his prisoners. Bigelow and Columbia scheduled the movie’s release date to December 2012 for a limited release to theater and January 2013 for a wide release. It has been proven that Bigelow and her team never received any classified information from the Obama Administration. As for the accusation that Bigelow is pro-torture . . . I believe it depends upon the individual moviegoer’s point of view.

How do I feel about “ZERO DARK THIRTY”? Generally, I believe it is an excellent movie that benefited from a talented director and cast. Bigelow did an excellent job in capturing the tense, yet meticulous methods that the C.I.A. used to track down bin Laden. Bigelow’s direction and Mark Boal’s screenplay pretty much did solid work in giving the movie a documentary style aura in this historical drama. The character of Maya is supposed to be based on an actual C.I.A. agent who had worked on the bin Laden manhunt. Thanks to Bigelow, Boal and a superb and award-winning performance by Jessica Chastain, audiences saw the gradual development of Maya’s character from C.I.A. newbie to hardened intelligence agent and negotiator, and finally to a woman obsessed with the capture of the man she not only held responsible for the September 11 attacks, but also for the death of the close friend who was killed at the Camp Chapman attack.

“ZERO DARK THIRTY” also featured some top-notch performances from the rest of the cast. Jason Clarke, who had previously worked with Chastain in “LAWLESS”, gave an excellent performance as Dan, the intense and ruthless C.I.A. agent who initiated Maya into the brutal world of intelligence interrogations. Kyle Chandler handed in another top-notch and complex performance as former C.I.A. Islamabad Station Chief, Joseph Bradley, who seemed to be at turns both impressed and exasperated by Maya’s obsession with the bin Laden hunt. I was surprised to see Jennifer Ehle in this movie. Then again, I have been seeing her in a great deal of American productions, lately. In “ZERO DARK THIRTY”, she gave a first-rate as Maya’s friend and colleague, Jessica. The movie also boasted some solid work from the likes of Mark Strong, Joel Edgerton, Harold Perrineau, Édgar Ramírez, Fares Fares, Stephen Dillane (who did possess a shaky American accent) and James Gandolfino.

I am perplexed about one thing about the cast. Could someone explain why Joel Edgerton was billed over Kyle Chandler, Jennifer Ehle and Mark Strong? All three had bigger roles than Edgerton. I realized that the latter portrayed one of the U.S. Navy SEALs that conducted the raid on bin Laden’s compound. But I do not see this as a reason for him to receive billing over Chandler, Ehle and Strong. Another problem I have with “ZERO DARK THIRTY” is that the movie struck me as a bit schizophrenic in its style. The movie’s first hour – which featured Maya and Dan’s interrogations of Ammar and other detainees and some detailed investigations struck me as rather dry. I would have fallen asleep within an hour if it were not for the torture scenes. And honestly? I find that rather disturbing. The movie’s second half seemed to shift in tone with the Islamabad Marriott Hotel and Camp Chapman bombings. The major characters – especially Maya – became more emotional. The second half also featured verbal conflict between Maya and Bradley, and also an attempt on her life. Once the Navy SEALs raided bin Laden’s compound, the movie’s tone shifted back to its dry and documentary style.

Speaking of both the torture and bin Laden compound raid sequences, both seemed to stretch out a bit too long. I understand that the C.I.A. used torture to gather information for their manhunt. Honestly, I am not surprised. I did not believe that the scandal over the Guantanamo Bay detention camp would end such interrogation methods. Personally, I find them repulsive. But I doubt that the C.I.A. or the U.S. government would care less about my feelings. But the torture scenes struck me as too long. I could have dealt with a minor on-screen torture scene. But I think Bigelow stretched it too far. I could also say the same about the SEALs’ raid on the bin Laden compound. I realize that Bigelow was trying to milk the suspense for all it was worth. I am sorry, but I found it difficult to accept the idea that the SEALs were in so much danger. I was not that impressed by the Camp Chapman sequence. I never knew about the attack until I saw this movie. But I pretty much guessed what was about to happen in this sequence at least five minutes before the actual attack. How disappointing.

I have noticed that the media has been consistently labeling Quentin Tarantino’s new movie, “DJANGO UNCHAINED”, has been labeled by the media as a “revenge tale”. I find this ironic, considering that the movie’s protagonist seemed more interested in saving a loved one than revenge. On the other hand, “ZERO DARK THIRTY” practically reeks of revenge. Some movie critics have noted this, but the movie has not really acquired a reputation as a “revenge tale”. I find this odd. Very odd.

I understand that “ZERO DARK THIRTY” earned both Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations. On one level, I believe the movie earned those nominations. Thanks to Kathryn Bigelow’s direction and Mark Boal, it is basically a well made movie that featured some top-notch performances from a cast led by Jessica Chastain. Unfortunately, I cannot say that I loved the flim. I barely liked it. It strikes me as a bit too cold for my tastes.

“ARGO” (2012) Review

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“ARGO” (2012) Review

Ben Affleck must be at a lucky point in his career. His third directorial effort had recently been released in theaters and became a commercial and critical hit . . . like his two previous films. The movie also won several awards, including the top prize – the Academy Awards Best Picture of 2012.  And Affleck never struck me as the type who would direct and star in a film about the CIA rescuing American diplomats from the Middle East, let alone co-produce it. But he did and the result is the movie, “ARGO”

“ARGO” began in early November 1979, when Iranian militants stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, Iran and took most of the civilian and military staff hostage in retaliation for American offering refuge for the deposed Shah of Iran. At least six staff diplomats managed to get out of the embassy and seek refuge at the home of Canada’s ambassador, Ken Taylor. With the six diplomats’ situation kept secret, the C.I.A. assigns one of their operatives, one Tony Mendez, to find a way to get the diplomats out of Iran before they could be discovered. After dismissing several proposals, Mendez creates a cover story that the escapees are Canadian filmmakers, scouting “exotic” locations in Iran for a science-fiction film.

Mendez and his C.I.A. supervisor Jack O’Donnell, contact John Chambers, a Hollywood make-up artist who has previously crafted disguises for the C.I.A., in addition to his work in the “PLANET OF THE APES” film series. Chambers puts them in touch with a film producer named Lester Siegel. Mendez, Chambers and Siegel set up a fake film studio and successfully establish the pretense of developing Argo, a“science fantasy” in the style of “STAR WARS” in order to lend credibility to the cover story. Meanwhile, the escapees grow frantic inside the ambassador’s residence. Shredded documentation from the American embassy is being reassembled, providing the militants with evidence that there are embassy personnel unaccounted for.

I am going to cut to the chase. I enjoyed “ARGO” very much. What am I saying? I really enjoyed this movie. So far, it is one of the better ones I have seen this year. Once again, Affleck knocked it out of the ballpark with a first-rate thriller that gave audiences a peek into the efforts of the C.I.A. to save those six diplomats who managed to get captured by the militants. Affleck, along with screenwriter Chris Terrio, did an excellent job in setting up the entire story from beginning to end.

One of the movie’s gem scenes featured the actual storming of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran on November 4, 1979. It is quite obvious that Affleck, along with cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto, used a hand-held camera style to film this particular sequence. And although I am not a fan of this particular style, I must say that it suited this particular sequence very well, projecting an effective sense of chaos and panic.“ARGO” featured other memorable scenes, including Mendez’s efforts to recruit both Chambers and Siegel for his mission, a tense encounter between Taylor’s Iranian maid and intelligence officers looking for the diplomats, the humor-filled setup of the Argo Operation in Hollywood, frustrating moments in which Chief of Staff Hamilton Jordan came close to shutting down Mendez’s operation, the final escape from Iran by air and a nail-biting sequence in which the same group hit the streets of Tehran for a “location scouting mission” in order to maintain their cover.

There is so much about this movie that I enjoyed that it would take an essay for me to explain in great detail. I do not have the patience for such a project, but I do have to comment on the movie’s technical aspects. Not only did Rodrigo Prieto did an excellent job in re-creating the violence and confusion of the American embassy takeover, he also captured the muted glamour and insanity of Hollywood with vivid color. I could see that a great deal of his work benefited from some outstanding editing from William Goldenberg. In fact, I really have to hand it to Sharon Seymour and her production designing team for their re-creation of the 1979-1980 period in American and Iranian history. Seymour and her team were ably assisted by Peter Borck
and Deniz Göktürk’s art direction, along with Jacqueline West’s realistic looking costume designs.

But “ARGO” would have never worked by Affleck’s outstanding direction and the talented actors and actresses that were part of the cast. Not only was I impressed by Affleck’s direction, but also his subtle performance as C.I.A. operative Tony Mendez, who did not need guns and fighting skills to accomplish his task – merely brains and nerves of steel. John Goodman was marvelous as the witty and slightly cynical make-up artist, John Chambers. He also had great chemistry with both Affleck and Alan Arkin, who portrayed the sardonic and prickly Hollywood producer, Lester Siegel. I was not that kind to Bryan Cranston in my review of “TOTAL RECALL”. But it was great to see his magic again, in his fiery and funny portrayal of Mendez’s C.I.A. supervisor, Jack O’Donnell.

“ARGO” also featured some wonderful supporting performances as well. Kyle Chandler made two brief, but very memorable appearances and President Jimmy Carter’s foul-mouthed Chief of Staff, Hamilton “Ham” Jordan. It is a pity that his role was not longer. I was also impressed by those who portrayed the besieged diplomats – the always entertaining Tate Donovan, Clea DuVall, Christopher Denham and Kerry Bishé. Scoot McNairy and Rory Cochrane were especially memorable as a paranoid Joe Stafford and the hilariously sarcastic Lee Schatz. Victor Garber gave solid support as Ken Taylor, the Canadian ambassador who gave the diplomats refuge. And Sheila Vand was marvelous in the tense scenes that featured the Taylors’ Iranian housekeeper, Sahar. The movie also featured solid performances from the likes of Zeljko Ivanek, Richard Kind, Titus Welliver, Bob Gunton and Philip Baker Hall.

Naturally, “ARGO” is not a perfect movie. Not all of it is historically accurate. This was very obvious in one shot that featured a dilapidated HOLLYWOOD sign that overlooks the Los Angeles Basin. The sign was restored to its former glory in November 1978, 14 to 15 months before Tony Mendez’s arrival in Southern California. And I found Mendez and the diplomats’ encounter with the Iranian airport security guards and escape from the country somewhat contrived and manipulative.

Flawed or not, I cannot deny that I found “ARGO” to be one of the most satisfying movies of the year. I enjoyed it that much, thanks to a first-rate script by Chris Terrio, superb direction by Affleck and an excellent cast that included John Goodman, Bryan Cranston and Alan Arkin. In the end, “ARGO” strikes me as another triumph for Affleck and his two co-producers, George Clooney and Grant Heslov.

Observations of “MAD MEN”: (3.07) “Seven Twenty-Three”

I usually do not write article about an entire episode of ”MAD MEN”. Why, I do not know. But after watching the latest episode, (3.07) “Seven Twenty-Three”, I found myself compelled to post several observations about it. 

Observations of ”MAD MEN”: (3.07) “Seven Twenty-Three”

In ”Seven Twenty-Three”, famous hotelier Conrad Hilton, whom Don Draper had first met in ”(3.03) “My Old Kentucky Home”, paid a visit to Don’s office and revealed his intent to hire Sterling Cooper to handle the promotion of his New York hotels. This piece of good news turned sour when Lane Pryce, Roger Sterling and Bert Cooper revealed that Hilton’s attorneys refused to go ahead with the deal unless Don sign an official contract with his employers. Naturally, Don was reluctant to sign a contract. He had been living under an assumed name for the past thirteen years, when he switched identities with his Army commanding officer (the real Don Draper). Nor did he want to be bound or obliged to anyone without having the power and opportunity to walk away whenever the opportunity might arise. After Don had a confrontation with Betty over his refusal to sign a contract, he left the house to go joyriding in the countryside. There, he picked up a young couple, who claimed they were on their way to get married at Niagara Falls. As it turned out, they were a pair of scam artists who fed Don some pills, took him to a cheap motel, knocked him out and stole his money.

The episode also featured a subplot for Betty Draper. After joining the Tarrytown chapter of Junior League, she received a request to find someone with political ties to prevent the construction of a giant water tank that they feared would ruin the scenic view. Betty contacted Henry Francis, one of Governor Nelson Rockefeller’s aides, whom she had first met in ”My Old Kentucky Home”. The two met at a local bakery in Ossing for drinks and pastries. And although Francis hinted that he might not be able to help the Junior League prevent the water tank’s construction, he made it obvious that he was just as attracted to Betty, as she was to him. Francis had also pointed out a chaise lounge that Betty later purchased for her living room. A chaise lounge that her decorator obviously disliked. By the way, the scene featuring Betty’s telephone call with Henry Francis nearly had me rolling in the aisles. Although I have no children, I have experienced a similar situation in which someone had hung up the telephone before I could pick up the extension. Very frustrating.

Peggy Olson’s storyline in this episode began in (3.05) “The Fog”, in which she was contacted by former Sterling Cooper employee, Duck Phillips. In that episode, he had tried to recruit both Peggy and Pete to the agency he now works for – Gray. Peggy had contemplated his offer, but refused. When Peggy asked Don for a raise in the same episode, the latter refused her request. In Seven Twenty-Three”, Duck continued his wooing of Peggy and Pete with gifts. When Pete pointed out that Duck’s wooing might be an attempt for the older man to get back at Don for snowballing him in the Season Two finale, (2.13) “Mediations in an Emergency”, Peggy became determined to return the gift. Which she did after leaving work. However, her visit to Duck’s hotel suite also led to an evening of some very enjoyable sex for them both.

*Betty Draper

Betty’s story arc did not provide any jaw dropping moments for me. But I did notice a few things. One, she must be seriously attracted to Henry Francis. I found it interesting that not only did she remember him from Roger’s Kentucky Derby garden party, she also seemed to be in a slight state of heat around him. This especially seemed obvious when Henry shielded her eyes from the sun during an eclipse. But more importantly, she went ahead and purchased the Victorian chaise lounge that Henry had earlier pointed out to her when they passed an antique store. Many saw the chaise lounge as an example of Betty’s desire to be some “helpless damsel in distress” that occasionally fainted. I found that image hard to accept. Despite the ladylike persona that Betty tends to project, she never struck me as that kind of woman. However, I had noticed how she caressed her body in a suggestive manner – especially in the very spot where Henry had touched her, when she was still pregnant with Eugene. I also noticed that Betty has become more assertive in her attitude toward Don. After all, audiences had first received a whiff of this trait back in (2.04) “Three Sundays”, when she ordered Don to take Sally to work with him during Bobby’s small medical emergency. Yet, Betty’s assertiveness has become increasingly obvious this past season. This was certainly apparent in her refusal to cave in to Don’s disapproval over their new son’s name in (3.06) “Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency”; and in their confrontation over Don’s refusal to sign a contract with Sterling Cooper. I had always suspected that underneath the girlish and shallow exterior lurked a formidable woman. I wonder how Betty would react if she ever discovered the truth about his fake identity.

*Peggy Olson

Peggy may think that she knows a lot about Don Draper. But I rather doubt it. The worst she knows is that he is an adulterer, thanks to her rescue of both him and Bobbie Barrett in Season Two’s (2.05) “The New Girl”. In ”Seven Twenty-Three”, she discovered that he can be incredibly cruel. Season Three has not been particularly kind to Peggy. Following her revelation about their child, Pete Campbell has become hostile toward her. And despite being the first copywriter to acquire a private office following Freddie Rumsen’s departure, Peggy has not been receiving the respect she believes that she deserves. Don had ignored her misgivings about the Patio commercial in (3.02) “Love Among the Ruins”. In (3.05) “The Fog”, Peggy asked for a raise after discovering that she was the firm’s least paid copywriter and Don rejected her request. And when she asked to work on the Hilton account, Don (who was already in a foul mood after learning that Sterling Cooper wants him to sign a contract) rejected her request in the cruelest means possible. He accused Peggy of using his coattails to rise up in Sterling Cooper’s Creative ranks. His accusation and manner left Peggy shocked and speechless.

When Peggy appeared at Duck’s hotel room to return his gift, I doubt that she had any intention of having sex with him. Did Duck plan to sexually seduce Peggy? I do not know. And since I have no idea of Duck’s intention, I am not going to pretend that I do or speculate. I do have to wonder if the prevalent negative attitude toward Duck has led many fans to believe that he had intended to seduce her. I do recall Peggy complimenting Duck’s turtleneck sweater when they first met in ”The Fog”. I also noticed something else. Once Peggy and Duck were in bed together, they seemed turned on by each other.

A good number of viewers have expressed disgust at Peggy’s sexual tryst with Duck. These viewers have claimed their age difference. But Joan Harris and Roger Sterling were (and still are) nearly twenty years apart in age during their affair. Even back then, Joan was slightly older and more experienced during her affair with Roger. But Peggy is not some blushing virgin. She was already sexually experienced and had given birth to Pete’s son in (1.13) “The Wheel”. She even managed to seduce some college kid in ”Love Among the Ruins” as a test of her sexuality. Yet, not only are many fans expressing disgust at her tryst with Duck; they are labeling her as some sexually naïve woman who found herself seduced and manipulated by an older man. I must be honest. I found that perception of Peggy a little insulting. Peggy may be young and probably upset over Don’s outburst; but as I had stated earlier, she was not that naïve. I suspect that Peggy had simply used Duck’s offer of great sex to derive some kind of pleasure following her disastrous meeting with Don. Many fans have also been predicting disastrous consequences from Peggy and Duck’s tryst. Perhaps she might experience a fallout from the affair. Perhaps not. But a nagging part of me fear that Peggy might end up paying the consequences for failing to accept Duck’s offer of a position at Gray’s.

*Don Draper

I never understood this need to divide the series’ main character into two personas. There is only one Dick Whitman, after all. He is both the rural-born offspring of a dead prostitute and a crude farmer . . . and the brilliant creative advertising executive. The reason why Dick (or should I say Don) can emotionally connect with some people and barely at all with others might be due to the fact that he had assumed another man’s name by fraudulent means. It is not surprising that he has only been willing to reveal some of his true nature to those he believe he may never see again . . . or in the case of Rachel Mencken, someone with whom he thought he could connect. It is also natural that Don had never bothered to sign an official contract with Sterling Cooper. No contract had allowed him to be a free agent even though he has decided to remain at Sterling Cooper. It also meant that Don would be able to bolt without any legal redress, if needed. Well, Don’s years as a free agent at Sterling Cooper ended in ”Seven Twenty-Three”.

The odd thing is that Don’s encounter with another self-made man who had risen from poverty had led him to being finally bound to a contract. It led to a final breach (so far) with Roger Sterling. It damaged his close relationship with Peggy. It made him realize (for the second or third time) that his wife might be a lot more formidable than he had probably imagined. Don’s argument with Betty led him to commit one of his more destructive maneuvers when things got rough . . . he took off. Unlike his trip to California last season, Don did not go very far. Instead, he picked up a hitchhiking couple claiming to be on their way to Niagara Falls in order to elope. But instead of eloping, they fed Don some pills and later clocked and robbed him inside a cheap motel. As his dad, Archie Whitman, had indicated in his hallucination, Don has become slightly soft. This seemed even more apparent when Bert Cooper blackmailed him into finally signing a contract. When Cooper had dismissed Pete Campbell’s exposure of Don as a fraud in Season One’s (1.12) “Nixon vs. Kennedy”, I bet Don never thought the old man would eventually use those allegations against him. And yet . . . while signing that contract, Don demanded that Roger Sterling stay away from him. How interesting. Roger tried to use Betty to coerce him into signing the contract. Cooper sunk even lower and used Don’s secrets to blackmail him and succeed. Perhaps Don realized that Roger (given his questionable standing in the firm with the British owners) made an easier target for his wrath than two powerful men like Conrad Hilton and Bert Cooper. If so, it does not say very much about Don.

Some believe that Don’s new contract is a sign of his eventual downfall. I cannot say that I agree with this. In fact, I have no idea what this contract will symbolize for Don. Every time he has faced a personal crisis in the past – Pete Campbell and Bert Cooper’s discovery of his secret in Season One, and his estrangement from Betty and Duck’s takeover plans – Don has managed to survive or come on top.  By the finale, his marriage to Betty finally ended.  But not everything bad happened to Don by the end of Season Three.  His professional career, on the other hand, embarked on a new path.