“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.

“MAD MEN”: Wasted Partnership

 

“MAD MEN”: WASTED PARTNERSHIP

Looking back on Season Two of AMC’s “MAD MEN”, it occurred to me that the rivalry between the series protagonist, Don Draper aka Dick Whitman (Jon Hamm) and a supporting character named Herman “Duck” Phillips (Mark Moses), seemed like a complete waste of time . . . story wise. Do not worry. I am not criticizing the writing of Matt Weiner and his staff. At least on this subject. Instead, I am criticizing the behavior of two male characters, who I believe had the potential to be a winning advertising team.

Following senior partner Roger Sterling’s (John Slattery) second heart attack in the Season One episode (1.11) “Indian Summer”, one of the Sterling-Cooper’s clients had advised Bert Cooper (Robert Morse), the firm’s other senior partner, to make Creative Director Don Draper a junior partner. Which Cooper did at the end of the episode. He also told Don that as one of the partners, he should be the one to find someone to replace Roger as the Director of Account Services. In the following episode, (1.12) “Nixon vs. Kennedy”, Don hired Herman “Duck” Phillips.

In the Season One finale, (1.13) “The Wheel”, Duck seemed appreciative of how Don’s creative skills landed Kodak as a client for the firm. Yet, the early Season Two episodes clearly made it obvious that storm clouds were hovering on the horizon for the pair. In the Season Two premiere (2.01) “For Those Who Think Young”, Duck informed Roger that he believed younger copywriters with a bead on the youth of the early 1960s, should handle their new Martinson Coffee account, instead of veteran copywriter Freddy Rumsen (Joel Murray). Don dismissed the idea, claiming that a bunch of twenty year-olds lacked the experience and knowledge on how to sell products. But Roger forced Don to go along with Duck’s plans and hire the latter’s protégées – Smith “Smitty” (Patrick Cavanaugh) and Kurt (Edin Gali). Pete Campbell’s (Vincent Kartheiser) father perished in the famous American Airlines Flight 1 crash on March 1, 1962 in the second episode of the season, (2.01) “Flight 1”. And when Duck convinced Roger that Sterling Cooper should dump the regional Mohawk Airlines as a client and use Pete’s personal plight to win the bigger American Airlines (who sought to change advertising agencies following the disaster) as a new client. Naturally, Roger and Cooper dismissed Don’s protests and went ahead with Duck’s idea.

In the end, both men lost and won their arguments. Instead of gaining American Airlines as a new client, Sterling Cooper ended up with no client altogether. In (2.04) “Three Sundays”, Duck informed the Sterling Cooper staff that their efforts to present American Airlines with a new campaign had been for nothing, when the airline fired Duck’s contact. Many fans saw this as an example that not only had Don been right about not dropping Mohawk, they also seemed to view Duck as someone who was no longer competent at his job. However, three episodes later in (2.07) “The Gold Violin”, Duck proved to be right about hiring the much younger Smith and Kurt as copywriters for the Martinson Coffee account. Their efforts led to a new client for the Sterling Cooper agency.

But despite the success and failures of both men, Don and Duck continued to duke it out over the heart and soul of Sterling Cooper. Only once, in (2.08) “A Night to Remember”, did both men seemed capable of working seamlessly as a partnership, when their efforts led to Sterling Cooper landing the Heineken Beer account. But this ability to work as a pair failed to last very long. One, both men seemed adamant that their particular expertise in the advertising business – whether it was Creative or Accounts – only mattered. Two, Don received most of the praise from Cooper and Roger for the success of the Martinson Coffee account in “The Gold Violin”. Granted, Don tried to give some of the praise to Duck (who mainly deserved it), but he really did not try hard enough. And finally, Duck became so resentful of his failure to acquire a partnership in the firm that he maneuvered a takeover of Sterling Cooper by the old British advertising firm that he used to work for. The main conflicts between Don and Duck seemed to be twofold – Don’s preference to take the nostalgia route over the future in his advertising campaigns (unless forced to) over Duck’s willingness to look into the future of advertising (television ad spots and younger employees, for example); and each man’s belief that their respective expertise in the advertising field is the only one that matters.

Most viewers seemed to view Don as the hero of the conflict between the two men and label Duck as the villain. This preference for Don even extended to his belief that Creative was the backbone of the advertising industry. Personally . . . I disagree. Not only do I disagree with Don and many of the viewers, I would probably disagree with Duck’s view that advertising needed to solely rely upon images – especially television spots. Frankly, I am surprised that no one had ever considered that both Don and Duck’s views on the future of advertising are equally important. Don and other copywriters might create the message or jingo to attract the public. But it is Duck’s (and Pete’s) job to not only snag the client, but provide the client with the opportunity to sell his/her wares. Even if that means using television spots – definitely the wave of the future in the early 1960s.

But many fans seemed to be blinded by their own preference for Don over Duck. And both characters seemed to believe that their ideas of what the advertising business should be were the only ways. The problem with both Don and Duck was that business wise, they needed each other. Look at how well they had worked together in mid-Season Two over the Martinson Coffee and Heineken accounts. Duck needed Don’s creative talent. Don needed Duck’s business acumen and ability to foresee the future in advertising. Unfortunately, both remained stupidly resentful of each other.

In the end, Don’s career managed to survive, despite the failures of two marriage and the near failure of his career, due to personal problems, heavy drinking and shirking. Duck, a former alcoholic who resumed his old habit in later years, was simply plagued with bad luck. Sterling Cooper’s British owners fired him after he had indulged in a brief temper tantrum. He worked at an advertising firm called Grey for a few years, before being reduced to a corporate recruiter. Copywriter Peggy Olson and Accounts executive Pete Campbell learned to maintain a balance between Creatives and Accounts whenever they worked on an account together. Yet, every now and then, I find myself wondering what would have happened if Don and Duck had managed to achieve the same.

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.

Top Ten Favorite Movies Set in the 1890s

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Below is my current list of favorite movies set in the 1890s:

TOP TEN FAVORITE MOVIES SET IN THE 1890s

1 - Sherlock Holmes-Game of Shadows

1. “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows” (2011) – Guy Ritchie directed this excellent sequel to his 2009 hit, in which Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson confront their most dangerous adversary, Professor James Moriarty. Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law starred.

2 - Hello Dolly

2. “Hello Dolly!” (1969) – Barbra Streisand and Walter Matthau starred in this entertaining adaptation of David Merrick’s 1964 play about a New York City matchmaker hired to find a wife for a wealthy Yonkers businessman. Gene Kelly directed.

3 - King Solomon Mines

3. “King Solomon’s Mines” (1950) – Stewart Granger, Deborah Kerr and Richard Carlson starred in this satisfying Oscar nominated adaptation of H. Rider Haggard’s 1885 novel about the search for a missing fortune hunter in late 19th century East Africa. Compton Bennett and Andrew Marton directed.

4 - Sherlock Holmes

4. “Sherlock Holmes” (2009) – Guy Ritchie directed this 2009 hit about Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson’s investigation of a series of murders connected to occult rituals. Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law starred.

5 - Hidalgo

5. “Hidalgo” (2004) – Viggo Mortensen and Omar Sharif starred in Disney’s fictionalized, but entertaining account of long-distance rider Frank Hopkins’ participation in the Middle Eastern race “Ocean of Fire”. Joe Johnston directed.

6. “The Seven Per-Cent Solution” (1976) – Nicol Williamson, Robert Duvall and Alan Arkin starred in this very entertaining adaptation of Nicolas Meyer’s 1974 novel about Sherlock Holmes’ recovery from a cocaine addiction under Sigmund Freud’s supervision and his investigation of one of Freud’s kidnapped patients. Meyer directed the film.

Harvey Girls screenshot

7. “The Harvey Girls” (1946) – Judy Garland starred in this dazzling musical about the famous Harvey House waitresses of the late 19th century. Directed by George Sidney, the movie co-starred John Hodiak, Ray Bolger and Angela Landsbury.

6 - The Jungle Book

8. “Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book” (1994) – Stephen Sommers directed this colorful adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s 1894 collection of short stories about a human boy raised by animals in India’s jungles. Jason Scott Lee, Cary Elwes and Lena Headey starred.

7 - The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

9. “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” (2003) – Sean Connery starred in this adaptation of Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s first volume of his 1999-2000 comic book series about 19th century fictional characters who team up to investigate a series of terrorist attacks that threaten to lead Europe into a world war. Stephen Norrington directed.

8 - The Prestige

10. “The Prestige” (2006) – Christopher Nolan directed this fascinating adaptation of Christopher Priest’s 1995 novel about rival magicians in late Victorian England. Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman and Michael Caine starred.

10 - The Four Feathers 1939

Honorable Mention: “The Four Feathers” (1939) – Alexander Korda produced and Zoltan Korda directed this colorful adaptation of A.E.W. Mason’s 1902 novel about a recently resigned British officer accused of cowardice. John Clements, June Duprez and Ralph Richardson starred.

“THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.” (2015) Review

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“THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.” (2015) Review

The year 2015 seemed to be a big year for cinematic spies. At least three movies have been released about the world of espionage. And one is scheduled to be released some three months from now. One of the movies that was already released was Guy Ritchie’s big screen adaptation of the NBC 1964-1968 television series called “THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.”.

The television series from the 1960s began with its two main characters – Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin – already working for the international intelligence agency called U.N.C.L.E. (United Network Command for Law and Enforcement). Ritchie’s film is basically an origin story and tells how Napoleon and Illya first became partners in the espionage business. Set in 1963, “THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.” begins in East Berlin, where professional thief-turned-C.I.A. Agent Napoleon Solo is tasked with retrieving a young woman named Gaby Teller and escorting her to West Berlin. Gaby is the daughter of an alleged Nazi scientist-turned-U.S. collaborator, who has disappeared a year or two ago from the United States. Tasked with stopping Napoleon from achieving his goal is a highly skilled K.G.B. agent named Illya Kuryakin.

Although Napoleon’s mission is a success, he is ordered by his C.I.A. handler Saunders to work with Illya and Gaby to investigate a shipping company owned by Alexander and Victoria Vinciguerra, a wealthy couple of Nazi sympathizers. Due to the couple’s intent to create their own private nuclear weapon, the C.I.A. and K.G.B. have decided to make this operation a joint effort. Gaby becomes essential to the mission, since her uncle Rudi works for the Vinciguerras.

Mixed reviews greeted “THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.” when it first hit the theaters. Well, according to Wikipedia, the movie achieved mixed reviews. Judging from box office results, the movie barely made a profit. It seemed a pity that not many moviegoers were willing to take a chance on this film. Then again, I am not that surprised. Warner Brothers Studios barely made any effort to publicize this movie. And this was a mistake in my eyes. Today’s generation of young moviegoers are not familiar with the 1960s television series. In fact, the series had not been seen on the television screen since TNT Channel aired a handful of episodes back in 1996. The studio could have stepped up its game in publicizing the film. They could have also used re-released box sets of the old series at a reasonable price as tie-ins. And some moviegoers old enough to remember Norman Felton’s series, complained that the movie was not an exact replica. I have nothing to say about that. Well, I do. But that will come later.

“THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.” is not perfect. Actually, what movie is? And I do have one or two minor complaints and a major one. Okay, minor complaints. I was not that impressed by Daniel Pemberton’s score for the movie’s second half. I found it overbearing to the point that it nearly distracted me from the plot. My second complaint revolved around James Herbert’s editing. Well, I was impressed with his editing in most of the film . . . especially the car chase in East Berlin and the sequence featuring Napoleon and Illya’s break-in of the Vinciguerras’s shipyard. But I was not impressed by Herbert’s editing in the final action sequence featuring Napoleon and Illya’s attempt to rescue Gaby from a fleeing Alexander Vinciguerra. I found it slightly confusing and thought it had too many close ups. In fact, the sequence reminded me – in a negative way – of Paul Greengrass’ direction of the second and third “BOURNE” movies.

However, my main beef with “THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.” proved to be Joanna Johnston’s costume designs. The movie is supposed to be set in 1963. The costumes DID NOT reflect the fashions of that year. I kid you not. The following image is an example of women’s fashion in 1963:

Look at the images of Alicia Vikander and Elizabeth Debecki:

I cannot deny that Joanna Johnston’s designs are both original and gorgeous to look at. But . . . they are not a reflection of the movie’s 1963 setting. Judging from Vikander and Debecki’s costumes, I would say that the movie was actually set some time between 1968 and 1970 or 1971. And in the end, the movie’s costumes only reminded me of the costume mistakes featured in the 2011 movie, “X-MEN: FIRST-CLASS”.

I certainly had no problem with the movie’s plot written by Guy Ritchie and Lionel Wigram. In fact, I rather enjoyed it. I have always wondered how Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin first met and started working for U.N.C.L.E. The television series never revealed this history, considering it began with the pair already working for the agency. And Rictchie and Wigram’s plot more than satisfied my curiosity. They made some changes from the television series. One, Napoleon became a former thief whom the C.I.A. blackmailed into working for them in exchange for avoiding prison. In some ways, this newly imagined Napoleon Solo reminded me of the Alexander Mundy character from the 1968-1970 television series, “IT TAKES A THIEF”. The Illya Kuryakin character underwent a few changes as well. He remained a somewhat stoic and uber professional agent, with a penchant for the occasional sardonic humor. But Ritchie and Wigram gave him a fearsome temper that was usually triggered by anything relating to his father, who had been dishonored by a scandal during World War II.

Ritchie and Wigram’s script not only utilized a bit of “IT TAKES A THIEF”, but also some characters from the TV version of “THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.” It seemed obvious to me that the Victoria and Alexander Vinciguerra were based on the Gervaise Ravel and Harold Bufferton characters that were portrayed by Anne Francis and John Van Dreelan in two Season One episodes. And fighting neo-Nazis is a theme that has permeated many spy movies and television shows throughout the years. Especially neo-Nazis with nuclear weapons. In fact, I just saw a Season One episode of the 60s’ series called (1.05) “The Deadly Games Affair” in which a former Nazi who tried to kick start a crazy plot to bring back the former glory of Hitler’s party. For “THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.”, I thought Ritchie and Wigram created an interesting twist on theme, by incorporating the Swinging Sixties scene in Europe . . . especially through characters like Victoria Vinciguerra and Gaby’s Uncle Rudi. As for the movie’s dialogue . . . well, I just adored it. I especially adored the interaction between Napoleon and Illya – especially in one scene in which they argued over the right wardrobe for Gaby to wear during their mission.

Speaking of performances, I tried to recall a performance that seemed . . . well, off kilter or just plain bad. Perhaps other critics came across such performances. I did not. Armie Hammer had an interesting task in his portrayal of K.G.B. agent Illya Kuryakin. He had the difficult task of conveying many aspects of Illya’s personality – his no-nonsense attitude, ruthlessness, emotional streak and barely controllable temper. And he did it . . . with great skill. I cannot recall if David McCallum ever had to deal with such an array of personality traits and blend them so seamlessly. Henry Cavill made an extremely charming Napoleon Solo. More importantly, he did an excellent job in conveying the character’s talent for manipulation and judge of character. I realize that his Napoleon Solo seemed more like an adaptation of the Alexander Mundy character. But watching his performance made me realize how much he reminded me of Robert Vaughn’s performance in the NBC series. Alicia Vikander, who portrayed Gaby Teller, proved to be such a surprise for me. One must understand that I have never seen “A ROYAL AFFAIR”. And I honestly do not recall her performance in “THE FIFTH ESTATE”. But I was very impressed by her performance as East German defector Gaby Teller, who turned out to be vital to Napoleon and Illya’s mission. Vikander connected very well with both of her leading men, especially Hammer. And she did a great job in conveying Gaby’s intelligence, toughness and strong will.

Hugh Grant pretty much took me by surprise with his performance as Alexander Waverly, the head of U.N.C.L.E. He was charming and witty, as usual. Of course, as usual. He is Hugh Grant. But he was also effective and projected a strong presence as U.N.C.L.E.’s pragmatic leader, who is ruthless enough to make some tough choices. When I first saw Elizabeth Debicki in “THE GREAT GATSBY”, I was very impressed by her performance. I was even more impressed by her portrayal of the villainous Victoria Vinciguerra. She conveyed a great deal of charm, style and wit in her performance. I also thought Debicki made a scary villain. Hell, she was one of the scariest villains of the Summer 2015 season. I was surprised to see Sylvester Groth, who played Gaby’s Fascist uncle. The last time I saw him, he portrayed Nazi Joseph Goebbels in 2009’s “INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS”. And he was funnier. He was a bit more scary as Gaby’s snobbish, yet sadistic Uncle Rudi. But he was also very funny . . . especially in his last scene in the movie. The movie also featured Jared Harris, whose take on a C.I.A. station chief seemed more like a spoof on American authority figures, along with solid performances from Luca Calvani, Simona Caparrini and Christian Berkel (who also appeared in “INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS”.

“THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.” had a few flaws. This is to be expected for just about any movie. And yes, I realize that it is not an exact replica of the NBC 1964-1968 series. Mind you, I could care less, for I believe originality is more important than repetition. And that is what I liked about “THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.” Director Guy Ritchie and co-writer Lionel Wigram took an old television series and put their own original spin on it. And they were ably supported by a first-rate cast led by Armie Hammer and Henry Cavill.

Ranking of Movies Seen During Summer 2015

Usually I would list my ten favorite summer movies of any particular year. However, I only watched ten new releases during the summer of 2015. Due to the limited number, I decided to rank the films that I saw:

 

 

RANKING OF MOVIES SEEN DURING SUMMER 2015

1. “Jurassic World” – In the fourth movie for the JURASSIC PARK franchise, a new dinosaur created for the Jurassic World theme park goes amok and creates havoc. Directed by Colin Trevorrow, the movie starred Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard.

 

 

2. “Ant-Man” – Convicted thief Scott Lang is recruited to become Ant-Man for a heist in this new entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Directed by Peyton Reed, Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lily and Michael Douglas starred.

 

 

3. “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” – Guy Ritchie directed this adaptation of the 1964-1968 television series about agents for the C.I.A. and KGB working together to fight neo-Nazis in the early 1960s. Armie Hammer, Henry Cavill and Alicia Vikander starred.

 

 

4. “Tomorrowland” – Brad Bird directed this imaginative tale about a a former boy-genius inventor and a scientifically inclined adolescent girl’s search for a special realm where ingenuity is encouraged. George Clooney, Britt Robertson and Hugh Laurie starred.

 

 

5. “The Avengers: Age of Ultron” – Earth’s Mightiest Heroes are forced to prevent an artificial intelligence created by Tony Stark and Bruce Banner from destroying mankind. Joss Whedon wrote and directed this second AVENGERS film.

 

 

6. “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” – Tom Cruise starred in this fifth entry in the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE” film franchise about Ethan Hunt’s efforts to find and destroy a rogue intelligence organization engaged in terrorist activities.

 

 

7. “Mr. Holmes” – Ian McKellen starred in this adaptation of Mitch Cullin’s 2005 novel about the aging Sherlock Holmes’ efforts to recall his last case. Directed by Bill Condon, Laura Linney and Milo Parker co-starred.

 

 

8. “Fantastic Four” – Josh Trank directed this reboot of the Marvel comics series about four young people whose physical form is altered after they teleport to an alternate and dangerous universe. Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Bell starred.

 

 

9. “Entourage” – Doug Ellin wrote and directed this fluffy continuation of the 2004-2011 HBO series about a movie star and his group of friends dealing with a new project. Kevin Connolly, Adrian Grenier, Kevin Dillon, Jerry Ferrara and Jeremy Piven starred.

 

 

10. “Terminator: Genisys” – Alan Taylor directed this fifth movie in the TERMINATOR franchise, an unexpected turn of events creates a fractured timeline when Resistance fighter Kyle Reese goes back to 1984 in order to prevent the death of leader John Connor’s mother. Arnold Schwartzenegger, Emilia Clarke, Jai Courtney and Jason Clarke starred.

“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.

“MAD MEN” Season Three Quibbles

Although I consider Season Two of AMC-TV’s “MAD MEN” slightly better, I ended up enjoying Season Three very much. It also brought about some drastic changes into the lives of the characters. But I am not here to discuss what I had liked about Season Three. I am here to discuss the quibbles I had with this latest season. Some of the problems I had with Season Three had to do with creator Matthew Weiner’s story. And some of the problems I had were with the fans. Perhaps I will start with the fans.

 

”MAD MEN” Season Three Quibbles

Fan Reactions

Betty Draper – I get the feeling that many fans of ”MAD MEN” have this great desire to brand certain characters as the villain or villainess of the season. Both Herman “Duck” Phillips and Bobbie Barrett were castigated by many fans as the “bad guys” of Season Two, despite the fact that they were no better or worse than the rest of the major characters. This season, it became Betty Draper’s turn to attract the fans’ ire. For an entire season, I came across comments and articles that branded Betty as a cold wife and an even colder and abusive mother. The fans dumped their shit on poor Betty’s head so much that they managed to ignore the fallible of other characters – especially Don’s lack of parental skills. Every time Betty scolded her children, the fans labeled her as abusive, cold or the worst mother in television history. I do not believe that Betty is a wonderful mother. Then again, she is not a terrible mother. She is not very demonstrative or warm. But compare to Don, she is usually there for her children.

The only two times she was not available happened when her father, Gene Hofstadt died in (3.04) “The Arrangement”. Dealing with her father’s death and a grieving daughter screaming in her face that she did not care caused Betty to order said daughter to her room. Fans dumped a lot of shit on Betty for that act. Yet, at the same time, many of them failed to notice that Don seemed more concerned about Betty than Sally. In the season finale, (3.13) “Shut the Door. Have a Seat”, she left New York with baby Eugene and new beau, Henry Francis, to get a quickie divorce in Reno, Nevada. Fans castigated her for leaving Sally and Bobby behind in New York with the Drapers’ maid, Carla. And yet . . . no one speculated on why Don was not keeping an eye on the kids, during her absence. So much shit has been dished out about Betty that I found myself coming to her defense in two essays. Two. And Betty is not even my favorite character.

 

Peggy Olson’s Romance With Duck Phillips – I never understood the reaction to this romance. Then again, I never understood the fans’ aversion to Duck Phillips. In (3.05) “The Fog, Duck Phillips had approached Peggy Olson and Pete Campbell in an attempt to recruit them for the agency he worked for – Grey’s. Pete, who had not forgiven Peggy for her revelations about their son, left before Duck could begin his recruitment speech. Peggy heard the speech, but rejected Duck’s offer out of some misplaced (in my opinion) loyalty toward Don and Sterling Cooper. When Don had chewed her out for asking him to work on the Hilton account, Peggy arrived at the hotel suite that Duck was working at to return a gift . . . and began an affair with him. The reaction to this affair was unbelievable. Critics like Matt Maul began spouting this view of Peggy as this naïve woman being sexually and emotionally exploited by Duck. All because most of the fans disapproved of Duck abandoning his lousy dog into the streets of Manhattan in last year’s (2.06) “Maidenform”. The ironic thing is that Peggy and Duck’s relationship did not bring about any personal catastrophe for Peggy. She simply had a healthy, sexual relationship with an older man with no strings attached. And for some reason, many fans could not deal with this. Especially when the man in question was Duck Phillips.

 

The Adulation of Joan Harris née Holloway – By the end of Season Three, I found myself wondering if I had developed a dislike or even hatred of former Office Manager, Joan Harris. Why? I have noticed that in the eyes of many fans, Joan cannot do any wrong. And I found this attitude annoying. It was bad enough when fans defended or excused her racist remark to Paul Kinsey’s ex-girlfriend, Sheila White, last season. Sometime between Greg Harris’ rape of her in (2.12) “The Mountain King” and the Season Three premiere, (3.01) “Out of Town”, Joan married him. She married the fiancé who had raped her. On a certain level, I understood why Joan did it. She internalized this belief that being married to a successful professional with kids and a house in the suburbs was an ideal life. She had internalized this belief to the point that she upped and married her rapist, instead of dumping his ass and search for another potential husband. And instead of criticizing Joan for this incredibly stupid act, many fans came to her rescue and created all sorts of excuses for her action. One of the Lipp sisters on the ”Basket of Kisses” site even accused this woman of stating that it was Joan’s fault that Greg had raped her. That was one of the most stupid accusations I have ever come across. In (3.11) “The Gypsy and the Hobo”, Greg whined about his failed job interview for a position as a psychiatrist. In a fit of anger, Joan took a vase and slammed it against his head. And many fans cheered. That is correct. Fans cheered over an act of domestic violence. Why? Because they disliked Greg for raping Joan, last season. Which is understandable. I also disliked Greg. But these same fans believed that because Greg had raped Joan last season, she had every time to bash him over the head in a fit of temper. What can I say? I would have cheered if Joan had been defending herself. But self-defense did not seemed to be Joan’s aim. Instead, she committed an act of mindless violence to express her anger and frustration at her loser husband. Yet, her act garnered cheers, much to my disgust. Every time Joan’s name was mentioned, a slew of complimentary adjectives followed. By the time the season ended, the woman seemed to be on a damn pedestal. Yep, I do believe I am in danger of developing a deep dislike toward Joan. And it is not even her fault.

 

Don Draper . . . Father of the Year – Pardon me, while I take some time out to control my laughter over this. I am going to make this short. I agree that Don is a warmer parent than Betty. He knows how to be friends with their kids. And I had applauded his decision to take that dead German soldier’s helmet away from his son, who had received it from Granpa Gene Hofstadt. But that is the best I can say about Don as a father. Being a warm parent only tells me that he knows how to be a pal to his kids. But I still believe that he is a lousy parent. Why? He is hardly there for Betty and his kids. A heavily drugged Betty had complained about Don’s unreliability, as she was about to give birth in ”The Fog”. And in the season finale, Sally pointed out that Don was rarely at home with his family. This was certainly the case during his affair with Sally’s teacher, Suzanne Farrell. Following Gene Hofstadt’s death, Don consoled a grieving Betty and failed to show any concern for a grieving Sally, until the last moment – while she was asleep. And when Carla had confronted both Betty and Don about Sally’s infraction against Bobby in (3.08) “The Souvenir”, Don sneaked away in an effort to avoid responsibility in dealing with his daughter. I believe that Betty Draper is a mediocre parent. As for her warm and friendly husband, he is a lousy one.

 

Season Three Story

Suzanne Farrell – I understand that Matt Weiner wanted the fans to believe that Don had fallen in love with Sally’s schoolteacher. And although I managed to accept this by (3.10) “The Color Blue”, I thought the storyline surrounding the Don/Suzanne romance was one of the worst to be featured on the show. I had a problem with it on two major counts:

a) Actress Abigail Spencer (who portrayed Miss Farrell) had NO chemistry with Jon Hamm. Many fans have claimed that Hamm is one of those actors who can create chemistry with just about anyone. I think that his interactions with Ms. Spencer had disproved this theory.

b) The Don/Abigail romance ended with a whimper in ”The Gypsy and the Hobo”. Don and Abigail had plans for a trip to Connecticut, while Betty and the kids were out of town. But when his family returned unexpectedly and Betty confronted Don about his false identity and the items found in his study, Don left Abigail sitting in his car and waiting for hours. She eventually slinked away back to her little home. The following morning, Don informed her that their affair was over . . . for the moment. A rather lame ending to a rather disappointing affair.

 

The British Invasion – Nothing really came from Putnam, Powell, and Lowe’s purchase of Sterling Cooper. Well . . . Lane Pryce, the parent company’s financial officer for Sterling Cooper, was responsible for the dismissal of several staff members by the time ”Out of Town” aired. In that particular episode, he fired someone named Burt Peterson, who had succeeded Duck Phillips as Head of Accounts. At PP&L’s orders, he set Pete Campbell and Ken Cosgrove against each other for the position of Head of Accounts. Sterling Cooper nearly ended up with Guy Kendricks, a PP&L executive, to helm Sterling Cooper in (3.06) “Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency”. But Kendricks’ encounter with Lois Sadler at the wheel of a John Deere lawnmower severed his foot and his budding career as an ad man. In ”The Color Blue”, Lane Pryce learned that PP&L planned to sell Sterling Cooper and revealed the news in ”Shut the Door. Have a Seat”. This led to Pryce, Bert Cooper, Roger Sterling and Don Draper raiding some of Sterling Cooper’s talent to form their own agency. And that is it. Weiner failed to develop a steady storyline regarding PP&L’s ownership of Sterling Cooper and the so-called British Invasion ended without any real drama between the season premiere and the finale.

 

Gene Hofstad and Sally Draper – I understand that Sally had been devastated by the death of her maternal grandfather, Gene Hofstadt. But I found myself unable to empathize wholeheartedly with her. Perhaps that was due to my belief that Weiner and his writers had failed to engage in any prolonged exploration of their relationship (which was only covered in two episodes) before the old man’s death.

 

Betty Draper’s Pregnancy and Gene Draper’s Birth – According to Matt Weiner, he had decided to set Season Three nearly six months after the end of Season Two because he wanted to depict the effect of Betty’s pregnancy and young Eugene’s birth upon the Draper family. I hate to say this, but he failed. Baby Eugene was barely focused upon, following his birth.

 

Carla – I am certain that many fans of the show are relieved that Matt Weiner has allowed the role of Carla, the Drapers’ maid to have a bigger role, this season. And so am I. But . . . once again, Weiner proved himself incapable of creating an interesting and complex African-American character. What is my beef? Many fans have praised Carla for being “dignified and sympathetic”. Unfortunately, these traits simply made her another Hollywood stereotype – the dignified black servant. In other words, Carla is boring.

There are no imperfections in Carla’s character at all. In fact, there seemed to be nothing wrong with Carla. I realize that as a servant, she has to maintain a facade in front of her employers, but . . . good grief! If the secretaries and minor employees can show their warts when their bosses are not around, why not Carla? Why not allow her to interact in a more interesting way with other servants in the Drapers’ Ossing neighborhood? Why dump her with a stereotype that has been around since the 1950s?

 

Peggy Olson and Duck Phillips’ Affair – I can only wonder if Weiner plans to explore Peggy and Duck’s affair in Season Four. He certainly failed to do so in Season Three. Fans had been prophesying disaster for Peggy ever since it started in”Seven Twenty-Three”. Instead, nothing really came of it. No real disaster struck in regard to Peggy and Duck’s affair.  Instead, she simply grew tired of him in Season Four and reacted badly to her rejection . . . by getting drunk.  That is all.  It seemed a shame that in the end, this story arc was created . . . for nothing.

“LINCOLN” (2012) Review

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“LINCOLN” (2012) Review

When I first heard of Steven Spielberg’s decision to make a biographical film about the 16th president of the United States, I ended up harboring a good deal of assumptions about the movie. I heard Spielberg had planned to focus on Abraham Lincoln’s last year in office and assumed the movie would be set between the spring of 1864 and April 1865. I had assumed the movie would be about Lincoln’s various problems with his military generals and other politicians. I thought it would be a more focused similarity to the 1998 miniseries of the same name.

In the end, “LINCOLN” proved to be something quite different. Partly based on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s 2005 biography of Lincoln and his Cabinet members, “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln”, the movie mainly focused on Lincoln’s efforts in January 1865 to have slavery abolished in the country, by getting the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution passed by the House of Representatives. According to Tony Kutchner’s screenplay, Lincoln expected the Civil War to end within a month. He felt concerned that his 1863 Emancipation Proclamation may be discarded by the courts at the war’s conclusion and the 13th Amendment defeated by the returning slave states. To ensure that the 13th Amendment is added to the Constitution, Lincoln wanted it passed by the end of January in order to remove any possibility of those slaves who had already been freed, being re-enslaved. To reach his goal, Lincoln needed Republican party founder Francis Blair to garner support from the more conservative Republicans and support from Democratic congressmen, who would ordinarily vote against such an amendment. In order to acquire Blair’s support, Lincoln was forced to consider a peace conference with three political representatives from the Confederacy. And his Secretary of State, William Seward, recruits three lobbyists – William N. Bilbo, Colonel Robert Latham and Richard Schell – to convince lame duck Democratic congressmen to support the amendment.

I am surprised that the movie went through a great deal in crediting Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book as a major source for the movie. Very surprised. I own a copy of the book and know for a fact that only four-and-a-half pages are devoted to the Thirteenth Amendment and five-and-half pages are devoted to the Peace Conference with Confederate political leaders. If so little came from Goodwin’s book, where did Tony Kutchner receive most of his historical information for the movie? And if he did use other historical sources, why did Spielberg failed to credit other historical sources for the movie?

I recall watching the trailer for “LINCOLN” and found myself slightly repelled by it. As someone who had to endure a great deal of pompous and self-righteous dialogue in a good number of historical dramas, I noticed that the trailer seemed to be full it. Fortunately, the movie was only tainted by a few scenes featuring pompous dialogue. One of those scenes turned out to be Lincoln’s meeting with four Union soldiers – two blacks and two whites. Of the four soldiers, only the first black soldier – portrayed by Colman Domingo – managed to engage in a relaxed conversation with the President. The two white soldiers behaved like ardent fanboys in Lincoln’s presence and one of them – portrayed by actor Luke Haas – ended up reciting the Gettysburg Address. The scene ended with the other black soldier – portrayed by British actor David Oyelowo – also reciting the speech. Not only did I find this slightly pompous, but also choked with Spielberg’s brand of sentimentality, something I have never really cared for. Following Lincoln’s death, Spielberg and Kutchner ended the movie with a flashback of the President reciting his second inaugural address. I cannot say how the pair should have ended the movie. But I wish they had not done with a speech. All it did was urge me to leave the movie theater as soon as possible. Janusz Kamiński is a first-rate cinematographer, but I can honestly say that I found his photography in “LINCOLN” not particularly impressive. In fact, I found it rather drab. Drab colors in a costume picture is not something I usually look forward to.

The movie also featured a few historical inaccuracies. Usually, I have nothing against this if it works for the story. The problem is that the inaccuracies in “LINCOLN” did not serve the story. I found them unnecessary. Lincoln’s meeting with the four Union soldiers allowed Oyelowo’s character to expressed his displeasure at the U.S. Army’s lack of black officers and the indignity of pay lower than white soldiers. The problem with this rant is that before January 1865, the U.S. Army had at least 100 to 200 black officers. And Congress had granted equal pay and benefits to black troops by June 1864. Thirty-three year-old actor Lee Pace portrayed Democratic New York Congressman Fernando Wood, an ardent opponent of abolition. In reality, Wood was at least 52 years old in January 1865. Another scene featured a White House reception that featured a meeting between First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln and some of the Radical Republicans like Pennsylvania Congressman Thaddeus Stevens and Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner. Kutchner had Mary face Senator Sumner with a warm greeting, before she deliberately cut him off to face Congressman Stevens. The movie made it clear that the First Lady disliked the Radical Republicans, whom she viewed as personal enemies of her husband. Yet, the manner in which she disregarded Senator Sumner was completely misleading . . . especially since the senator and the First Lady had been close friends since the early months of Lincoln’s presidency. In reality, Mary Lincoln’s political views were more radical than her husband’s. But due to her background as the daughter of a Kentucky slaveowner, most of the Radical Republicans viewed her as soft on abolition and a possible Confederate sympathizer.

Thankfully, the good in “LINCOLN” outweighed the bad. More than outweighed the bad. Recalling my original assumption that “LINCOLN” would turn out to be some pretentious film weighed down by boring dialogue and speeches, I can happily say that the movie’s look at American politics during the Civil War proved to be a great deal more lively. Yes, the movie did feature a few pretentious scenes. However, “LINCOLN” turned out to be a tightly woven tale about the 16th President’s efforts to get the Thirteenth Amendment passed by the end of January 1865. In many ways, the movie’s plot reminded me of the 2007 film, “AMAZING GRACE”, which featured William Wilberforce’s effort to abolish Britain’s slave trade during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Unlike the 2007, “LINCOLN” proved to be more tightly focused and featured a more earthy and sometimes humorous look at American politics at play. One of the movie’s successes proved to be its focus on the efforts of the three lobbyists, whom I ended up dubbing the “Three Musketeers”, to recruit lame duck Democrats to vote for passage of the amendment. In fact these scenes featuring James Spader, John Hawkes and Tim Blake Nelson proved to be among the funniest in the film. The movie also featured the tribulations Lincoln experienced with his immediate family – namely the volatile behavior of First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln and his oldest son Robert Lincoln’s determination to join the Army – during this difficult period in which his attention toward the amendment’s passage. More importantly, the movie on a political situation rarely mentioned in movies about Lincoln – namely the political conflicts that nearly divided the Republican Party during the Civil War. Not only did Lincoln find himself at odds with leading Democrats such as Fernando Wood of New York and George Pendleton of Ohio; but also with Radical Republicans such as Thaddeus Stevens who distrusted Lincoln’s moderate stance on abolition and even his fellow conservative Republicans like Frances and Montgomery Blair, whose push for reconciliation with the Confederates threatened the amendment.

Now one might say that is a lot for a 150 minutes film about the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment. And they would be right. But for some reason, it worked, thanks to Spielberg’s direction and Kutchner’s screenplay. One, for a movie with a running time between two to three hours, I found it well paced. Not once did the pacing dragged to a halt or put me to sleep. “LINCOLN” also attracted a good number of criticism from certain circles. Some have pointed out that the film seemed to claim that Lincoln kick started the campaign for the amendment. The movie never really made this claim. Historians know that the Republican controlled U.S. Senate had already passed the amendment back in April 1864. But the Republicans did not control the House of Representatives and it took another nine-and-a-half months to get the House to pass it. For reasons that still baffle many historians, Lincoln suddenly became interested in getting the amendment passed before his second inauguration – something that would have been unnecessary if he had waited for a Republican controlled Congress two months later.

Many had complained about the film’s oversimplification of African-Americans’ roles in the abolition of slavery. I would have agreed if the film’s focus on abolition had been a little more broad and had began during the war’s first year; or if it had been about the role of blacks in the abolition of slavery during the war. Actually, I am still looking forward to a Hollywood production on Frederick Douglass, but something tells me I will be holding my breath. But with the movie mainly focused on the final passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, I suspect this would not have been possible. Some claimed that the African-American merely hung around and waited for the amendment’s passage. I would have agreed if it were not for Lincoln’s encounter with the Union soldiers at the beginning of the film; Lincoln valet William Slade’s day-to-day dealings with the First Family, and the film’s focus on Elizabeth Keckley’s attention to the political wrangling surrounding the amendment. One scene focused on Mrs. Keckley’s conversation with Lincoln on the consequences of the amendment and another featured a tense moment in which she walked out on the proceedings after Thaddeus Stevens was forced to refute his earlier claims about equality between the races in order to win further Democratic support.

Aside from my complaints about the movie’s drab photography, I can honestly say that from a visual point of view,“LINCOLN” did an excellent job in re-creating Washington D.C. during the last year of the Civil War. Production designer Rick Carter really had his work cut out and as far as I am concerned, he did a superb job. He was ably assisted by the art direction team of Curt Beech, David Crank and Leslie McDonald, who still helped to make 1865 Washington D.C. rather colorful, despite the drab photography; along with Jim Erickson and Peter T. Frank’s set decorations. And I found Joanna Johnston’s costumes absolutely exquisite. The scene featuring the Lincolns’ reception at the White House was a perfect opportunity to admire Johnston’s re-creation of mid 19th century fashion. I can honestly say that I did not find John Williams’ score for the movie particularly memorable. But I cannot deny that it blended very well with the story and not a note seemed out of place.

“LINCOLN” not only featured a very large cast, but also a great number of first-rate performances. It would take me forever to point out the good performances one-by one, so I will focus on those that really caught my attention. The man of the hour is Daniel Day-Lewis, who has deservedly won accolades for his portrayal of the 16th President. I could go into rapture over his performance, but what is the point? It is easy to see that Abraham Lincoln could be viewed as one of his best roles and that he is a shoe-in for an Oscar nod. If Day-Lewis is the man of the hour, then I can honestly say that Sally Field came out of this film as “the woman of the hour. She did a beautiful job in recapturing not only Mary Todd Lincoln’s volatile nature, but political shrewdness. Like Day-Lewis, she seemed to be a shoe-in for an Oscar nod. Congressman Thaddeus Stevens has been featured as a character in at least three Hollywood productions. In pro-conservative movies like 1915’s “BIRTH OF A NATION” (upon which the Austin Stoneman character is based) and the 1942 movie on Andrew Johnson called “TENNESSEE JOHNSON”, he has been portrayed as a villain. But in “LINCOLN”, he is portrayed as a fierce and courageous abolitionist by the always wonderful Tommy Lee Jones. The actor did a superb job in capturing the Pennsylvania congressman’s well-known sarcastic wit and determination to end slavery in the U.S. for all time. I would be very surprised if he does not early an Oscar nod for Best Supporting Actor.

But there were other first-rate performances that also caught my attention. David Strathairn did an excellent and subtle job in capturing the politically savy Secretary of State William H. Seward. Joseph Gordon-Levitt managed to impress me for the third time this year, in his tense and emotional portrayal of the oldest Lincoln sibling, Robert Lincoln, who resented his father’s cool behavior toward him and his mother’s determination to keep him out of the Army. Hal Holbrook, who portrayed Lincoln in two television productions) gave a colorful performance as Lincoln crony, Francis Blair. Gloria Reuben gave a subtle performance as Mrs. Lincoln’s dressmaker and companion, Elizabeth Keckley, who displayed an intense interest in the amendment’s passage. James Spader, John Hawkes and Tim Blake Nelson gave hilarious performances as the three lobbyists hired by Lincoln and Seward to recruit support of the amendment from lame duck Democrats. Stephen Henderson was deliciously sarcastic as Lincoln’s long suffering valet, William Slade. Lee Pace gave a surprisingly effective performance as long-time abolition opponent, Fernando Wood. And I was also impressed by Jackie Earle Haley’s cool portrayal of Alexander Stephens, Vice-President of the Confederacy.

As I had stated earlier, I was not really prepared to enjoy “LINCOLN”, despite its Civil War setting. To be honest, the last Spielberg movie I had really enjoyed was 2005’s “MUNICH”. And after the 2011 movie, “WAR HORSE”, I wondered if he had lost his touch. I am happy to say that with “LINCOLN”, he has not. Spielberg could have easily laden this film with over-the-top sentimentality and pretentious rhetoric. Thankfully, his portrayal of pre-20th century American politics proved to be not only exciting, but also colorful. And he had great support from a first-rate production team, Tony Kutchner’s superb screenplay, and excellent performances from a cast led by Daniel Day-Lewis. The Civil War had not been this interesting in quite a while.

List of Favorite Movies and Television Miniseries About Slavery

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With the recent releases of Steven Spielberg’s new movie, “LINCOLN” and Quentin Tarrantino’s latest film, “DJANGO UNCHAINED”, I found myself thinking about movies I have seen about slavery – especially slavery practiced in the United States. Below is a list of my favorite movies on the subject in chronological order: 

 

LIST OF FAVORITE MOVIES AND TELEVISION MINISERIES ABOUT SLAVERY

13-Skin Game

“Skin Game” (1971) – James Garner and Lou Gossett Jr. co-starred in this unusual comedy about two antebellum drifter who pull the “skin game” – a con that involves one of them selling the other as a slave for money before the pair can escape and pull the same con in another town. Paul Bogart directed.

 

9-Mandingo

“Mandingo” (1975) – Reviled by many critics as melodramatic sleaze, this 1975 adaptation of Kyle Onstott’s 1957 novel revealed one of the most uncompromising peeks into slave breeding in the American South, two decades before the Civil War. Directed by Richard Fleischer, the movie starred James Mason, Perry King, Brenda Sykes, Susan George and Ken Norton.

 

2-Roots

“Roots” (1977) – David Wolper produced this television miniseries adaptation of Alex Haley’s 1976 about his mother’s family history as American slaves during a century long period between the mid-18th century and the end of the Civil War. LeVar Burton, Leslie Uggams, Ben Vereen, Georg Sanford Brown and Lou Gossett Jr. starred.

 

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“A Woman Called Moses” (1978) – Cicely Tyson starred in this two-part miniseries about the life and career of Harriet Tubman, the former slave and abolitionist, who was the most successful conductor of the Underground Railroad during the last decade before the Civil War. Based on Marcy Heidish’s book, the miniseries was directed by Paul Wendkos.

 

3-Half Slave Half Free Solomon Northup Odyssey

“Half-Slave, Half-Free: Solomon Northup’s Odyssey” (1984) – Avery Brooks starred in this television adaptation of free born Solomon Northup’s 1853 autobiography about his twelve years as a slave in antebellum Louisiana. Gordon Parks directed.

 

4-North and South

“North and South” (1985) – David Wolper produced this television adaptation of John Jakes’ 1982 novel about the experiences of two American families and the growing discord over slavery during the twenty years before the American Civil War. Patrick Swayze and James Read starred.

 

6-Race to Freedom - The Underground Railroad

“Race to Freedom: The Story of the Underground Railroad” (1994) – Actor Tim Reid produced this television movie about four North Carolina slaves’ escape to Canada, following the passage of the Compromise of 1850. Janet Bailey and Courtney B. Vance starred.

 

10-The Journey of August King

“The Journey of August King” (1996) – Jason Patric and Thandie Newton starred in this adaptation of John Ehle’s 1971 novel about an early 19th century North Carolina farmer who finds himself helping a female slave escape from her master and slave catchers. John Duigan directed.

 

8-A Respectable Trade

“A Respectable Trade” (1998) – Emma Fielding, Ariyon Bakare and Warren Clarke starred in this television adaptation of Philippa Gregory’s 1992 novel about the forbidden love affair between an African born slave and the wife of his English master in 18th century Bristol. Suri Krishnamma directed.

 

11-Mansfield Park 1999

“Mansfield Park” (1999) – Slavery is heavily emphasized in Patricia Rozema’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1814 novel about a young English woman’s stay with her rich relatives during the first decade of the 19th century. Frances O’Connor and Jonny Lee Miller starred.

 

7-Human Trafficking

“Human Trafficking” (2005) – Mira Sorvino starred in this miniseries about the experiences of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent investigating the modern day sex slave trafficking business. Donald Sutherland and Robert Caryle co-starred.

 

5-Amazing Grace

“Amazing Grace” (2007) – Michael Apted directed this account of William Wilberforce’s campaign against the slave trade throughout the British Empire in Parliament. Ioan Gruffudd, Benedict Cumberbatch, Romola Garai Rufus Sewell and Albert Finney starred.

 

12-Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter

“Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” (2012) – History and the supernatural merged in this interesting adaptation of Seth Grahame-Smith’s 2010 novel about the 16th president’s activities as a vampire hunter. Benjamin Walker, Dominic Cooper, Anthony Mackie and Mary Elizabeth Winstead starred.

 

1-Lincoln

“Lincoln” (2012) – Daniel Day-Lewis portrayed the 16th president in Steven Spielberg’s fascinating account of Lincoln’s efforts to end U.S. slavery, by having Congress pass the 13th Amendment of the Constitution. Sally Field, David Strathairn and Tommy Lee Jones co-starred.

 

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“Django Unchained” (2012) – Quentin Tarantino directed this take on Spaghetti Westerns about a slave-turned-bounty hunter and his mentor, who sets out to rescue his wife from a brutal Mississippi plantation owner. Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo Di Caprio, Kerry Washington and Samuel L. Jackson starred.