Drama, Modern TV

Mad Men (2007-2015) Chronicling The Decade Of Change

Photo0137I love this series! It is a great favourite and it is a series that I never wanted to end when it was on. This series sucks you in and doesn’t let you go. I never wanted to be let go! This is one I will never get tired of watching again, again and again. It has so much to offer and is one of the best written and acted series in TV history.

This is one of the classiest looking series that has ever been made. Exquisite period detail,  beautiful costumes and sets manage to recreate a bygone era. You can practically smell the fresh flowers on the dining room and restaurant tables, taste the alcohol and smell the cigarette smoke.

It has well written and well developed characters whose lives we witness being changed and affected by the decade of change. We share these peoples good times and bad. We laugh and cry with them, are shocked and traumatised with them, and by the end feel like we know these people and have gone through their change with them.

For seven seasons this series let us witness the huge amount of change that America (and in many cases)that the world saw during the 1960’s.  The series starts in 1960, and ends in the early 70’s. We begin with men and women living a certain way, and doing certain things only because that’s what their parents did before them and it is expected that they follow in mum and dads footsteps. What the people growing up in the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s wanted was irrelevant, they did what was expected by their elders and by society at large. 

As Mad Men goes on we see unhappy people stuck in jobs that grind them down, we see people wearing public masks to hide their mounting unhappiness with their lives, and when the 60’s arrive we see all this begin to change. We see racism thankfully start to become a thing of the past thanks to the Civil Rights Movement, and we see black people finally get to become equal to white people. We see the characters react to real life events unfolding on the news, such as the horrific assassinations that shocked the country (and indeed the world)of the Kennedy brothers and Martin Luther King. We see the changing fashions and music. We see peoples attitudes to sex and marriage change. We see the peace and hippie movement begin. We see women finally being equal to men and not being expected to be stuck in the kitchen or having babies.

I’ve always found it interesting to see how advertisers come up with the ideas for their various ad campaigns. This series lets us follow these characters and shows us how that creative process works, and it’s one of my favourite parts of the series watching the ideas unfold on screen.

I also like how in a way the series is itself one big advertisement for different ways of life. It presents to us the seemingly perfect and idyllic early 1960’s, where although there is racism, sexism and other unpleasantness, everything is the best it could be, from service in restaurants, to the quality of products, to peoples manners, to the care people took in their jobs and in maintaining their homes, and how everyone was supposedly happy and content. It also shows us the later part of the decade when the shackles came off and people started living for themselves, life wasn’t as restrictive, men and women (of all colours)were treated as equals and it seemed that anything was possible for a time.

Photo0138

We see our characters begin to change and grow as individuals. Some start off as likeable and then become less so, for some the opposite is true. For most of the series Don always gave off the impression that advertising was his life, as the series went on he became less enthusiastic about it and started to care more about his personal life and in just living. Joan and Peggy both shatter the glass ceiling and rise through the ranks of their company, both these women also find happiness in being career women. Roger learns to take life slow and appreciate every moment, he also embraces the hippie/free love movement and gets what these kids are all about. Betty finally starts to follow her heart and focus on what she wants to do. Pete starts off as arrogant and quite unpleasant, and by the series end is one of the most likeable characters, he has grown, matured and changed his ways.

Mad Men was created by Matthew Weiner. The series title is a phrase that advertisers used to describe themselves during the 50’s. The series follows a group of Madison Avenue advertisers from the fictional firm of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce.

Don Draper (Jon Hamm) is the Creative Director for the firm and one of the firms partners. He is a successful, handsome, smooth man who always makes you think he is control. He could sell ice to Eskimos and cigarettes to non smokers. His whole life is a façade though, as we later learn he is not who we think he is at all. He is a womaniser despite being married and having a perfect family. He sleeps with many women and cares about them all.

Don is married to the beautiful Betty (January Jones), Betty is a former model and looks like Grace Kelly. As the series goes on we see that Betty is a woman wearing a happy mask to the rest of the world, she is deeply unhappy and wants more than just being a mum and wife.

Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss) is an ambitious woman desperate to prove herself equal to her male colleagues. Peggy first joins the company as Don’s secretary, but soon joins the creative team and later rises higher through the ranks. She and Don become very close friends and the deep bond between them isn’t really definable. At times you think they might get together romantically, at other times they are like brother and sister. I would call them soulmates. Scenes between them are my favourites from the whole series.

Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser)is a young account man who has lots of ambition and lots of resentment and rage bubbling up inside of him. As the series goes on I think he is the character who undergoes the most change and he becomes one of the most likeable characters from the whole series. Pete has a crush on Peggy which is complicated when he gets married.

Sal Romano(Bryan Batt)is the art director for the firm. Like Don, Sal is hiding a big secret. Sal is homosexual and cannot for one second afford to let that secret slip. This brings him much heartbreak and pain as the series goes on.

Joan Holloway (Christina Hendricks)is the firms office manager and later becomes a partner. A former secretary, Joan knows how to keep the office running like clockwork, she has a knack for resolving disputes and unpleasantness. Joan is not a gal to get on the wrong side of. Joan is a very beautiful and sexy woman who is clever too, many men focus only her physical qualities and underestimate her mind (I assure you they regret that).

Roger Serling (John Slattery)is one of two senior partners of the firm. He is a witty man who has some of the funniest lines of the entire series. Roger is a WW2 Navy veteran who drinks and smokes to excess. He also cheats on his wife. Roger doesn’t just treat his women as one night stands though, he really does care for them and offers help and friendship even when they are no longer involved. He has been in a long term affair with Joan, and she is the woman he should be with, they just can’t seem to make that commitment.

Lane Pryce( Jared Harris, the son of Richard Harris) is possibly the most tragic character in the entire series. A Brit who becomes a partner at the firm when it’s taken over by the company he worked with. Lane comes to love his colleagues and warms to American life.

Lane develops a crush on Joan and he always tries to look after her. Living in America affords him the personal freedom he was denied in the UK. He has a controlling and cruel father (seen in a chilling guest appearance played by W. Morgan Sheppard)and is slowly breaking free of control to be his own man.  When he gets into debt in season 5, tragedy and heartbreak lie around the corner for him and for us.

Megan Draper (Jessica Pare)is a secretary who is an aspiring actress. Megan becomes Don’s second wife after he and Betty divorce. Megan is outgoing, stylish and a very modern woman. Megan loves Don but won’t be the stay at home wife that Betty was to him.

Harry Crane (Rich Sommer) is the head of the firms media and TV department. He was ahead of his colleagues in recognising how big TV was going to become. He starts off as a very likeable character, but by the end was one who I disliked very much.  He became full of himself and selfish.

Ken Cosgrove (Aaron Staton)is a likeable character throughout the entire series. Ken is a good guy and is respectful of people, he doesn’t really join in that much with the office banter and opinions of many of his male colleagues. Ken is an aspiring author and it’s later revealed that he has had some short stories published.

Stan Rizzo (J.R Ferguson) is the art director in the later part of the series. He is a very relaxed and fun loving guy. He is in love with Peggy.

Bert Cooper (Robert Morse)is the head of the firm. He is best friends with Roger and has a thing about people having to be in his office in bare feet. He is eccentric but takes a keen interest in the day to day running of his firm. When he makes rare appearances at meetings or shares feedback it is time to pay attention.

Photo0139

Other characters include Paul Kinsey (Michael Gladis)an opinionated liberal who can be both likeable and unlikeable.

Sally Draper (Kiernan Shipka)is Don and Betty’s eldest child, she is forever at odds with her mum, but as the series goes on finds newfound respect for her.

Henry Francis (Christopher Stanley)is a political adviser who later marries Betty, he is a good man and loves her very much.

Freddy Rumsen (Joel Murray)is a copywriter who is struggling against his alcoholism, as the series goes on he is fired from the company but has regular appearances throughout the series. Freddy is close friends with Peggy and Don.

Glen Bishop ( Martin Weiner, the son of the series creator) a seriously weird kid who has a major crush on Betty and Sally. He is quite freaky, but in season 7 he has changed to someone quite different.

Duck Phillips (Mark Moses)is a recovering alcoholic who clashes with Don, falls for Peggy and is not someone to be trusted.

Michael Ginsberg ( Ben Feldman)is a copywriter who struggles socially and is later shown to be suffering from severe psychotic problems, if you go back and watch the series you will pick up little hints in Feldman’s performance that show us all is not quite right with Ginsberg.

Photo0140I love the whole series, but my favourite seasons are 4,1,3 and 5. My favourite characters are Joan, Don, Roger, Peggy, Lane, Betty, Sal, Megan and Pete.

My favourite of Don’s women? Rachel Menken(Maggie Siff)they love each other so much and she is so lonely, such a shame how their time together ended. I also love Anna Draper (Melinda Page Hamilton)she is really the only one who knew the real Don, and she accepted him completely.

My favourite moments? Roger’s LSD trip. Peggy comforting Don in The Suitcase. The famous carousel photo pitch delivered by Don. Betty and Don’s date night when in Rome for the Hilton hotel campaign. Joan’s speech about Vietnam to the man who was sexually harassing her in the office. Betty in her nightgown casually shooting at pigeons. Don and Joan’s conversation at the bar in the episode Christmas Waltz. Megan and Don’s argument at the Howard Johnson restaurant which leads to her running away. Betty and Don’s final phone call.

The following ten episodes are my favourites from the entire series.

The Suitcase. The Wheel. The Milk and Honey Route. The Grown-Ups. Hands and Knees. Christmas Waltz. At The Codfish Ball. Souvenir. Commissions and Fees. Far Away Places.

A series with so much to offer, featuring powerful performances and well developed characters. This also has a fantastic soundtrack comprising of classic 60’s songs and instrumentals. Never seen this before? Make a dinner reservation with Don Draper immediately.

Be sure to buy the Blu-ray boxset to see the series looking its best on screen. There are many interesting extras in that set to enjoy too.

I’d love to get your thoughts on this series and its characters. Please leave your comments below.

 

Comedy, Drama, Romance

The Apartment (1960)

This review contains spoilers. So if you haven’t watched this film, please don’t read on any further.

 

I love this film. I love the performances, the story, the characters, and most of all, I love the bittersweet blend of laughter, cynicism and tragedy that the film depicts. This is Billy Wilder at his best. What’s not to love?

There is a great story out there about just what it was that inspired Billy Wilder to make this film.

The story goes that he was intrigued by the man in Brief Encounter who lets his friend Alec (Trevor Howard)use his apartment to bring Laura (Celia Johnson) back to. Billy was completely fascinated by this man giving his home out so this couple could basically get together for sex. He wanted to know more about that man, and more about what would make someone do that. Thus The Apartment was born in Billy’s mind.

Photo0135

A perfect mix of cynicism, comedy, tragedy and romance; The Apartment focuses on the best and worst of humanity. The film is all about men and women using others and being used, and in some cases continuing to allow themselves to be used. It looks at why people use others, and why some let themselves be walked over (they have no choice, they like the control their actions give them, they want the outcome their actions will deliver etc).

At the time this film was set, stories like this one(maybe not loaning out your home)were commonplace. Bosses slept with their secretaries, women were judged on their looks, and some men thought women were only around so that they could have sex with them. Drinking, lying and cheating were as common as drawing breath. Billy’s film captures all of that perfectly, he holds up a reflection of life to us that would have been very familiar to many in the audience of the 1960’s.

The film also shows us that there is goodness in such a world, even if you sometimes have to dig a little deeper to find it.

C.C Baxter (Jack Lemmon) is a clerk at an insurance company in New York. Baxter wishes more than anything to climb that corporate ladder, and he will do whatever it takes to get up it quick. Baxter lends his apartment out to senior male staff at his company so they that they can go there and be with their mistresses. Due to his seedy service, Baxter is soon promoted in the company and is feeling very pleased with life indeed.

When Baxter lends the apartment to the boss of the company, Mr. Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray)it suddenly dawns on him just what he has been doing and he hates himself for it. Why the change of heart? Because Sheldrake’s mistress is the fragile elevator girl,  Fran Kubelik(Shirley MacLaine). Baxter likes Fran very much, and when he sees how badly Sheldrake uses her something inside of him snaps.

When Fran attempts suicide in his apartment, Baxter must choose between his career and own selfishness, or looking after Fran and being a good guy.

There are two key sequences in the film which signal Baxter’s self revulsion and see him begin to become a decent guy. The first is the famous mirror sequence. He sees Fran’s broken hand mirror, and when he tells her it’s broken, she says ” I know. I like it like that. It makes me look the way I feel.”

When she says those words, the look on Baxter’s face speaks volumes, he looks like he’s just been punched in the stomach. He sees the pain he is helping to inflict by allowing these men to take the secretaries and other women to his apartment to use for sex. Baxter has never thought about what happens to these women afterwards, but when he sees Fran’s state of mind it dawns on him what the reality is. Straight after those words the phone rings and it’s Sheldrake asking him if he’s remembered to stock up some food and drink in the apartment. When Baxter answers him it is with a tone of revulsion and hatred. Slowly he is beginning to change to a decent man.

The second is when Baxter comes home to find Fran unconscious after taking an overdose. She has finally figured out that Sheldrake won’t leave his wife for her. At that moment we see he is torn apart with worry and fear. With the help of his neighbour Doctor Dreyfuss (Jack Kruschen), Baxter helps save Fran’s life and nurse her back to health.

Jack Lemmon is at his best here as the selfish man, always happy to oblige his bosses who suddenly develops a conscience. If anyone other than Jack had played this role, I’m really not sure how well the film would have turned out. One moment we hate Baxter with a passion, the next we’re laughing at or with him, the next he’s breaking our hearts and ours are breaking for him. That is all because of how Jack plays the role, the looks on his face (particularly the scenes of self loathing later in the film when what he’s been doing finally reaches home to him.) As the film goes on Jack conveys to us how his experiences and realisations are making him more aware and less self centred.

Shirley MacLaine makes your heart break as the mistreated Fran. Shirley lets us see the inner pain this woman carries around with her, but which she doesn’t show to the world (until the famous mirror sequence.) From the way Shirley plays the character, I believe Fran knows the men she goes with are heels, but for some reason she can’t stop herself from going with them. Fran loves Sheldrake and it really damages her when she realises she is just the latest in a long line of meaningless conquests to him. Shirley’s performance is all in her eyes, we see how weary and depressed she is, and we see the brave face she puts on each day pretending all is well in her life.

Fred MacMurray is cast wonderfully well against type here, as the sleazy, hardhearted boss who treats women as objects for his pleasure only. He doesn’t care about their feelings, but he can make them believe he does. MacMurray is loathsome here and it is only the second time in his entire career he was cast in such a role.  The first against type performance was also for Billy Wilder, in the Noir classic, Double Indemnity. On the strength of his performance in both films it is very strange to me that he never again got roles like this. He proves what a talented dramatic actor he was. There was much more to MacMurray than comic performances. He conveys to us that his character is selfish and will never change. Remorse? That’s a word this guy doesn’t even know exists.

Jack Kruschen is hysterical as the bemused neighbour of Baxter’s who thinks his neighbour is some sort of playboy. Why does he think that? Because of the different women coming in and out of his apartment all the time. Kruschen knows that this man is a good guy really (a Mensch)and his belief in this is proved right at the end. Jack is very good in the scenes where he is treating Fran, making you believe he knows what he is doing as a Doctor.

Edie Adams steals every scene she is in as Sheldrake’s secretary, Miss Olsen. She tells Fran that Sheldrake won’t care about her and is just using her. Miss Olsen used to be his lady and has never gotten over her time with him. Edie shows us this woman’s pain and depression and her despair at seeing what she went through happening to someone else. Like Shirley’s performance, Edie’s is another that is all in the eyes. Keep an eye on her when she is in a scene.

I like how the film shows how messy relationships are, and that heartbreak and disappointment is sadly more commonplace than lasting happiness. The film shows us that happiness is possible though. Live in the moment, value every shared moment of joy, don’t hurt one another, be there for each other through the good and bad, and really work at building trust and a bond, then you will know happiness. At the end of the film we see Baxter redeemed, and are left feeling more positive having seen some good people and good actions in this world.

I have to mention the famous ending to the film. Many take the ending to be a romantic one. I actually have a different view. It is clear that these two love each other very much, and Baxter admits as much in the final lines. I actually think that these two are soulmates and are that special person that the other needs in their life. I don’t think romance is on the cards for them though.

I think they are and will remain the best of friends. They will always be there for one another and will support and help each other. A bond of friendship is love too, and I believe friendships are as meaningful and deep as any romance can be. When Fran says “shut up and deal”, I think she is saying lets just take things as they are. Maybe we will progress to romance, maybe we will just stay as friends, but for now lets just stay as we are and enjoy this moment. Somewhat similar to the ending of Now Voyager “don’t let’s ask for the moon. We have the stars.”  Basically, they have everything they want and need right there, they don’t need to be romantic in order to love each other. So what that they don’t kiss? They are happy, and we know they will always be there for each other. That’s a happy ending if ever I saw one. It always leaves me with a smile on my face.

The film won five Oscars, including one for best picture. Sadly no awards were given to any of the actors.

My favourite scenes are the following. Baxter trying to watch Grand Hotel, only to grow more and more annoyed by the adverts that keep playing on the TV (if he watched TV today he’d throw the set away I’m sure.) 🙂  The mirror discussion. The sequence involving the woman who looks like Marilyn Monroe. The entire final part of the film. Miss Olsen speaking to Fran.

I have to say as well, that I always get a real laugh from the scenes where Baxter is waiting outside his own building! Because his apartment is in use! How much of a pushover do you have to be to actually stop yourself from being able to go into your own home?

What are your thoughts on this film? Please leave your comments below.