Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Welcome to the Mad Men Movie Club
The third season of Mad Men premiered on Sunday,starting up lively discussions both on and off line about the who,what and why of the folks at Sterling Cooper. The where we already know;within the early half of the sixties,just on the cusp of some very major social changes but still clinging to the rigid formalities from the WWII era:
Many reasons have been cited by critics and fans alike for the show's success and while good acting and writing are major league components here,I do believe that many of us would agree that there are three crucial lures that draw viewers in:
1)Vivid recreation of the time period,from clothes,cars and logos to the manners and the mores,Mad Men is like a live action museum that showcases the last days of old school Madison Avenue New York in all it's glory.
2) Actors who look in sync with that era. That may seem to be superficial,but in truth,some folks just have too much of a modern day appearance to be believable for period pieces;think Demi Moore in The Scarlet Letter,Al Pacino in Revolution or Kevin Costner as Robin Hood.
3) Secrets and lies;in the tell-all-and-then-some world we live in today,it's become a real novelty item. There's nothing like a dose of good old fashioned repression and social scorn to make those hidden passions simmer up to the surface and threaten to boil over at a moment's notice. Hell to live thru,but heavenly ingredients for cooking up compelling drama.
With Mad Men mania starting up again,a good number of fans want to keep that mindset going by seeking out books and other pop culture touchstones directly or indirectly connected to the series. Since I'm a MM fangirl myself(Peggy is my favorite character),my contribution to that quest is a list of cinematic suggestions that not only match up to all three of my talking points but are easily rentable and excellent movies to boot.
First up is the 2002 film Far From Heaven,starring Julianne Moore and Dennis Quad as the seemingly perfect suburban couple of the fifties.
However,since this is Director Todd Haynes' tribute to Douglas Sirk melodramas,there's a heap of troubles on their doorstep and in their lives,with hubby being a somewhat closeted gay and the little woman striking up a too close for comfort friendship with a charming new neighbor of the African American persuasion. A beautifully bold take on the times and Moore is picture perfect,inside and out:
One of my favorite Anthony Minghella films,The Talented Mr. Ripley does real justice to the dark noir energy of the original Patricia Highsmith novel while giving the material a healthy dose of empathy and pathos.
Matt Damon and Jude Law play off each other very well as the desperate social climber with an eerie talent for mimicry and the spoiled rich son of a shipping magnate who coasts thru life on charm and connections. The rest of the cast is spot on but the interplay between Law and Damon is crucial to the identity theft mystery that glues the plot together:
Also from 2002,The Hours does a hop,skip and a jump through time as the impact of the novel Mrs. Dalloway is felt by it's troubled author,an emotionally and sexually frustrated housewife in the fifties and a distraught twentieth century woman trying to lift the spirits of a dying friend.
Yet all of them have their own dark moments and inner torments to contend with and each of the actresses gives their all to their part of the story puzzle. Meryl Streep and Nicole Kidman are amazing but Julianne Moore(who seems born to play women of the 1950s)is the most luminescent belle of this gloriously gloomy ball:
One of the understated literary masters of suburban angst was Richard Yates,who sadly enough did not live to see his most acclaimed novel Revolutionary Road come to life on screen.
A marvelous trio of artists(Leo DiCaprio,Kate Winslet and director Sam Mendes)clicked together in harmony to make this portrait of a disappointed marriage in miniature become as large scale in emotion as an IMAX screening. In a weird way,it was oddly appropriate for former period film lovers Winslet and DiCaprio to reunite here as a once hopeful couple on the fast track to their train wreck of a relationship:
At this point,some of you might be saying "Well,okay,those other movies make sense but Age of Innocence? Even if it qualifies to your set of standards,isn't this going way too far back in time to be relevant here?" Actually no,and here's why: Edith Wharton is the great grandmother of chronicling social sins amongst the upper classes of New York. Without her,many of these other films that I've mentioned wouldn't exist.
And,yes,there is a 1934 version but the 1993 Martin Scorsese crafted film trumps it handily,in my humble opinion. The opulent settings mirror the operatic inner torment of the characters to a T and kudos to Scorsese for using a narrator at the most opportune segments of the story. It's also the first film that really gave Winona Ryder a chance to showcase her skills in an adult role:
With any luck,one or all of these movies will either be a great discovery or a golden opportunity for some prime reviewing. If you're in need of an excuse to hang out with friends,pick out a double feature for the perfect dinner and a movie night. There's bound to be something suitable for all taste buds but pass on the awkward conversation appetizers if you can:
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