Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Nothing can curb these Mad Men

So it's the new television season and I am really not watching all that much. Two of the shows I was really looking forward to, Journeyman and Life have already lost me. As well, I have missed most episodes of returning favourites like How I Met Your Mother and Prison Break.

However, two of the shows I have watched regularly are the AMC series Mad Men and the new season of Curb Your Enthusiasm.

First, a word about Curb (as two of my work colleagues who love the show refer to it as). I have never enjoyed the show. I tried watching it in season's previously. I found it like an episode of Seinfeld, centering on the character of George Costanza. I enjoyed the improvisational style but the show never really grabbed me.

This season, I have been watching every episode...hoping, praying that I would see what everyone sees that is so funny. I realize the show is written by and stars Larry David. But the show feels like every plot from every Seinfeld episode thrown into a hat and bits from two or three different Seinfeld shows are mixed together to create a new show. On top of that, I don't find Larry David entertaining. I realize you are not supposed to like his character. I just don't care about his character...he does social unacceptable things that I don't believe any human would ever do. And the only reason he does these things is to make the show work. But for me, it doesn't.

However, Mad Men is a show I absolutely love. It takes place surrounding the employees of a Madison Avenue advertising agency called Sterling Cooper. The year is 1960, it is post war but pre-women's lib and pre-summer of love. Their is excessive drinking and smoking by all characters. Women and people of colour are treated as second class citizens.

So, aside from just the shock of seeing people say and do things that are so foreign these days...the show is an expertly written analysis of how people were handling a time when you could tell that everything was about to change. That the world was going to become a new place and you could either try and adapt to the times or stay the way you had always been.

I really wish I could talk more about the writing of the show but in doing so, I would give away some of the great twists and turns.

Below is a scene from the final episode. The show's main character, Don Draper (played by John Hamm) is pitching to the company Kodak on how they would try and advertise their new slide projecter machine. Draper, if you haven't watched the show, is one of the best in the business. He is well respected in his own company as well as by other. He has a beautiful wife and two kids but he seldom looks happy and has affairs. This sales pitch is so good, he almost sells himself on the importance of family and love.

This speech alone should be enough to garner Hamm an Emmy Award nomination. Emmy thoughts should also go to the January Jones who plays his wife Betty Draper. Jones has that look of a typical 60s housewife but behind her can see so much more. Blonde, beautiful but in denial of what is really going on.

Kudos to the creaters of Mad Men to include Robert Morse in the cast. If you don't know who Robert Morse is, he won a Tony Award in 1962 for his role in the musical How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. To have a TV show set in 1960 where he is the partner in an advertising firm is sheer brilliance.

The 13 episode first season has just concluded. All episodes are available on Demand as well as on I Tunes. The rumour regarding its second season is that it will not take place right after the events of the first season. Rather, two years later. The show is set to run over 5 seasons. The rumour being that each season will take place two years later so throughout the course of the show, the entire decade of the 60s is covered.

Here is an interview with series creator Matthew Weiner for more information about the show's first season.

Top 5 Best Picture Academy Award nominated films of the 60s
1. Midnight Cowboy (winner 1969)
2. The Graduate (lost to In The Heat of The Night, 1967)
3. In The Heat of The Night (winner, 1967)
4. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (lost to A Man For All Seasons, 1966)
5. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love The Bomb (lost to My Fair Lady, 1964)

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Tombstone hand and a graveyard mind

So, as you probably realize, I have been a little preoccupied with westerns lately. I watched Tombstone again this past weekend and was just blown away by the cast.

As everyone remembers, the most famous characters Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday are played by Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer respectively. But, do you remember that Earp's other two brothers Morgan and Virgil are played by Bill Paxton and Sam Elliott? That was probably the most inspired bit of casting I have ever seen.

But it is the casting of the smaller roles that fascinates me about Tombstone.

Powers Boothe as Curly Bill Brocius. One of the so-called leader of the "cowboys", recognized as one of the first groups of organized crime in the United States. Booth's performance is both frightening and funny. Rather ironic that Boothe would end up playing Cy Tolliver in the western HBO series Deadwood over 10 years later. As Curly Bill, Boothe gives probably the most frenetic performance of his career. His roles are usually limited to politicians, statesmen and other type leaders. He really gets to let loose in Tombstone.

Micheal Biehn as Johnny Ringo. If Brocius' battle was with Wyatt Earp, Ringo's battle was with Doc Holliday. Biehn plays Ringo with a quiet menace. Smart but still skilled with a gun. It is the juiciest role of Biehn's career. His only other noteworthy performaces were in James Cameron films' The Terminator and Aliens.

Dana Delaney as Josephine Marcus. Delaney, a lovely actress whose best known role was on the Vietnam War era drama China Beach. However, she is perfectly cast in Tombstone playing a stage actress who is ahead of her time when it comes to thoughts of sex and marriage. She seems a little out of sorts with the other female performances in the film but based on her character...she is perfectly cast.

Even the minor roles are interestingly cast as Micheal Rooker plays an ex-Cowboy who joins forces with the Earp's Sherman McMasters. Jason Priestley, yes THAT Jason Priestley, plays deputy sheriff Billy Breckinridge. He plays him as a short, fey intellectual type. Like Delaney, it seems like strange casting but it works. What is even more interesting is future Academy Award nominees Billy Bob Thornton and Thomas Haden Church have small, memorable roles.

Like all movies surrounding Wyatt Earp, the meatiest role is Doc Holliday. Smart, quick with a gun, with a thick southern accent all the while dying from is the Hamlet of the Western genre.

Top 5 actors to have played Doc Holliday
1. Kirk Douglas (The Gunfight At The OK Corrall)
2. Jason Robards (The Hour Of The Gun)
3. Dennis Quaid (Wyatt Earp)
4. Victor Mature (My Darling Clementine)
5. Cesar Romero (Frontier Marshall)
Some other interesting facts re: actors who have played Doc Holliday. Both Quaid brothers (Randy and Dennis) have played him. Two actors who played Batman have played him (Adam West and Val Kilmer).

I mention Dennis Quaid's performance as Holliday in the Kevin Costner film Wyatt Earp. That performance is about the best thing about that overly long film and really kickstarted the second half of Quaid's career which had stalled in the early 90s.

Costner himself, originally was going to star as Wyatt Earp in Tombstone. He had been working with original Tombstone director Kevin Jarre but they disagreed on the film's focus. Costner wanted more of a life story of Wyatt Earp while Jarre was more interested in an action film set in Tombstone. Costner went off to make the film Wyatt Earp while the studio signed Kurt Russell for Tombstone.

But the drama didn't stop there as Jarre was soon fired as director because he refused to cut down on the screenplay. Sylvester Stallone then suggested George P. Cosmatos who had directed Rambo: First Blood Part II. However, in the years since, it has become clear that it was actually Russell who finished directing the film and was giving Cosmatos a shot list for the next day's filming each night.

For more info on the drama of the filming of Tombstone, check out this article.

Even more interesting, if you want to read about all the inaccuracies in the film Tombstone, check out this article.


Sunday, October 07, 2007

Hail, hail...the conqeror

As I am sure I have written before, I am not a fan of the western genre. As a matter of fact, I prefer comedies that spoof Western cliches like Blazing Saddles and Support Your Local Sherriff more than actual great westerns.

This goes the same for classic westerns as it does for more modern ones. People talk about how great John Wayne classics such as She Wore A Yellow Ribbon, True Grit or Rio Bravo. I just don't get them as being "must sees".

Though if you want a must see John Wayne movie, consider the 1956 film The Conquerer. Are you sitting down, in this film, Wayne plays mongolian warrior Genghis Khan. Think about that for a second. Genghis Khan!!!! And this wasn't one of those he was contractually obligated to play this role, Wayne apparently read the script and lobbied for the starring role. Here is an excerpt from the film from youtube.

What's even funnier, this one reviewer says the casting of Wayne is not the worst part of the movie. Check out his review for more details. The legend of this film has become even larger due to the fact that it was filmed in St. George, Utah, downwind of the US government's nuclear testing facility. Even after the six week shoot, producer Howard Hughes had 60 tons of that sand taken to Hollywood so they could do re-shoots. By 1984, 91 members of the cast and crew had developed cancer with over half that number dying from that cancer including all the principal actors from the film.

Top 5 favourite classic westerns
1. Winchester '73
2. High Noon
3. The Searchers
4. Shane
5. The Man Who Shot Liberty Vallance
Ironically, the point of this blog entry was to talk about the 1993 western Tombstone. Unfortunately, I got sidetracked talking about John Wayne so Tombstone will have to wait until tomorrow.