mad max, the sopranos, and moralizing monsters

One night a few days ago, around 2 am, half-asleep, I became convinced that it would be intellectually fruitful to contrast Mad Max: Fury Road with the Sopranos.

Now, fully awake, I’m not sure there’s any connection between the two except that I watched them both this past week. But by looking for excuses to compare them I found a rather good one – a parallel between two scenes that seem, on the face of it, somewhat unremarkable.

mad max and moral defeat

You can glean pretty much all you need to know about Mad Max’s dusty hell-future from the preview. In Mad Max: Fury Road, a scene that stuck in my mind – and the only one that I can link tenuously at all to anything regarding the Sopranos – arrives in the first 15 minutes, even before Mad Max gets on the road. It’s an early way to show you the the twisted moral universe of the movie’s prime villain, Immortan Joe. (He’s the frighteningly pale, long-haired hulk with the breathing mask which, strangely and confusingly, features its own set of gums and chompers.)

Joe might be described as half medical nightmare, half despot. He rules over a clan of withered peasants and psychotic warrior boys, whom he’s fed a makeshift religious mythos that he’s at the center of.

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this star trek time-travel episode makes you remember what they’re forgetting (which is memorable)

One the nice things about my minor obsession with time-travel movies is that there are so many of them to compare and so many manners of temporal discombobulation in fiction to consider. Almost any variant of time-travel can be found in some movie somewhere, so potential parallels abound, even among movies and shows whose only similarity is a questionable use of physics.

Which leads me to my comparison du jour, between last summer’s would-be blockbuster, Edge of Tomorrow, a Tom Cruise action vehicle, and the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Cause and Effect.”

The connections are obvious if you know both: Edge of Tomorrow is about Major William Cage (Tom Cruise), who experiences one day on repeat, ending each iteration with his death. Upon dying, he awakes at the beginning of that same day, except with the knowledge of every pass-through he’s done before. Similarly, “Cause and Effect” reiterates a single (roughly) 24-hour period, each time ending with the destruction of the Enterprise and everybody aboard.
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what how i met your mother gets wrong about the seinfeld formula

I haven’t been watching How I Met Your Mother this season, but the show is wrapping up its epic meet-cute and I wanted to see how that’s been going, so I watched the last couple of episodes the other night and realized I hadn’t really missed anything. This would have been surprising to 2008 Brandon, who binge-watched the first couple of seasons and loved every minute of it.

Since high school, I’ve had a soft spot for shows about dating in New York. It started with Seinfeld, though at the time the show didn’t seem as though it was really about dating in particular. Even so, it made an impression: On Seinfeld, dating was sure to produce reams of anecdotes to recount to your confidants after the fact. In that universe, reporting on your most recent romantic misadventures was a key component in your conversational portfolio, as you boiled your last date down to a glib summary or catchphrase, and your would-be amours were fodder for an unforgiving scoring system that honed in on every detail. A date might be going perfectly, but a bad case of “man hands” would be enough to sink it.

The show made dating seem like a blood sport, yes, but more importantly, there was the comforting ritual of recounting of the idiosyncrasies of last night’s date to your friends, who doubled as your cheering section and peanut gallery.
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is american hustle more like jerry maguire than goodfellas?

American Hustle’s opening shots are of Irving Rosenfeld, played by Christian Bale, putting together his hairdo. “Putting together” is indeed the right phrase, since it involves glue and hair not native to Bale’s scalp. Even just having read that description, you can probably see how hard it will be for director David O. Russell to now convince you that Rosenfeld is a schmuck you ought to care about or even like, but that’s what Russell does.

The comb-over is just the beginning of what makes Rosenfeld hard to relate to, not to mention virtually everyone else in the movie. Set in the late ‘70s (and based on the Abscam scandal), Hustle’s dated fashions and hairstyles come across as kitsch. For the females, there’s the blown-out hair and the plunging necklines. (On Facebook someone quipped, “I heard the original title was actually ‘Amy Adams’ Boobs.’”) As for Rosenfeld, besides his “elaborate” hair regimen, he covers his paunch with florid suits and waistcoats; his upper chest is either partially revealed or covered by a silky ascot. Basically, he looks like the poster child for aging-male self-deception.

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the walking dead as time travel, continuum, about-ness, and plot

Hey, quick blog-related note. I know that I promised a link to my Barefoot Contessa essay over at the Brattle Film Notes blog. It’s not up yet, but I’ll post on here as soon as it is. Here’s an essay on something else to tide you over until the arrival of that other piece, which I know you have been waiting to read with bated breath and suffering many sleepless nights over. Please, please, don’t do anything rash in the meantime, and thanks for reading.

Update: Here’s that link to the essay link, finally. But rest assured I will still allow you to read the essay below, as well.

Probably more than with any other show, my relationship to The Walking Dead could be described as an addiction. As I watched the third season this past week, I became aware of the almost existential dilemma it creates. On the one hand, I am gripped by the desire to see what happens next, with the visceral reaction that entails. On the other hand, by the time the plot has played out and the show ends, it occurs to me that what I was waiting for could be described as mere information — I wanted to find out who would live and who would die, and that’s about all.

Anyway, after some 12 hours watching season 3, I have had lots of time to cogitate on whether the show is about something more.

(This video is, err, not for the faint of heart:)

I mean, duh, the show is about the characters. But if you were to say that, I would want to reply, in my best/worst stoner voice, “No, man, but what is the show about?” The emphasis on “about” would be an attempt, maybe inarticulately, to explain that what I really want to know is how the show represents the world and what it’s like to look through its porthole view onto the universe. Which aspects of existence, besides the gut-clenching tension of watching people barely survive, does the show remind me to think about?
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prisoners, top of the lake, and the paradox of being almost sensationalized

I went to go see Prisoners on Friday based purely on the director’s pedigree. I never saw Denis Villeneuve’s Incendies, but it got great reviews, so I wanted to see what he’d do with a Hollywood movie, the kind whose plot would normally make me roll my eyes. I like to say my beef with Hollywood isn’t that it makes escapist, sensationalist entertainment, but that it makes it poorly, so whenever I see a lauded filmmaker take on Hollywood-type material, I’m rooting for the movie.

Before I go on, be warned that the rest of this essay spoils about as much of the movie as the trailer, which is to say about 40%:

Another reason to see Prisoners was that I found the mere name compelling. Think about it: As you can see from the trailer, the kidnapping of two little girls kicks off the plot, but then the father of one girl imprisons the prime suspect to get him to tell them where the girls are. The plural title here — Prisoners not Prisoner — draws a parallel between the little girls and Paul Dano’s creepy dude. When Dano becomes another prisoner, he loses his unadulterated menace and becomes something more complicated, and the title of the movie announces its interest in that complication.

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8 women and populaire: what we talk about when we talk about the ‘50s

It was a Frenchie weekend for me, more specifically, a Frenchie throwback weekend: First I saw 8 Women, Francois Ozon’s murder-mystery-musical from 2002, and Populaire, a romantic comedy released in France last year. Not only were they both French and set in the 1950s, but in both the costuming and decor were so colorful and stylish they bordered on cartoony. Characters from either movie, or at least their clothes, could have been transposed into the other.

Even though they have this much superficially in common, the movies use the 1950s to different ends. I’ll start by talking about Populaire, whose French ‘50s are a lot like the American ‘60s of That Thing You Do!, where the general public shows an enthusiasm for celebrities and fame that feels very dated to a guy born in 1980.

Like the pop-music act of That Thing You Do!, Populaire’s Rose Pamphyle is a starry-eyed small-town girl with innocent aspirations for worldly success. The big difference is that in the world of Populaire, the speed-typing champion of France is conferred the acclaim and attention normally reserved for movie stars. The pure joy and credulousness of popular interest — in That Thing You Do! as well as Populaire — seems perfectly right for the image I have of the 1950s, a decade that, for me, is characterized by vintage advertisements, the kind where the announcer seems blissfully unaware that the listener might be skeptical of what he has to sell. It was a time, I imagine, when the audience’s relationship to stars and glitz was much less troubled and ambiguous than it is today. With this in mind, the idea that speed-typing could hurl you into the limelight is, if not plausible, at least evocative of that period.

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