Archive Page 2

12
Oct
09

Poor Sal

In case anyone’s forgotten how difficult life was for homosexuals before gay rights became an issue, last night’s Mad Men served as yet another reminder. Sure, the show generally exaggerates the whole early ’60s repressed/hedonistic milieu, but Sal’s plight is one plot thread that completely rings true. (And how great is Bryan Blatt as the tormented yet dignified Sal? His character’s panicky attempts to fit into the boys club at work have been some of the show’s most painful scenes.)

Lee and SalAnyway, after major client Lee Garner (Lucky Strike) makes a pass at Sal and is  rebuffed (Sal: “I’m married.” Lee: “So am I.”), Garner pretty much causes the art director to be fired from Sterling Cooper. I was hoping that Don, who knows Sal’s secret, would get all righteous and somehow save the day, but he has his own client troubles (Conrad Hilton) and is in no mood to put himself on the line. “You people,” he sneers, before shaking Sal’s hand and offering faint encouragement for future employment. Cold. But very 1963.

Was Conrad Hilton as awful as he’s portrayed in Mad Men?! Though it doesn’t Don and Connieexactly address the question, this Houston Chronicle piece details the show’s accuracy regarding the legendary hotelier. For Don, he is fast becoming a nightmare client: needy, demanding and power mad. On the one hand he tells Don, “You’re my angel; you’re more than a son to me because you didn’t have what they had and you understand.” But then he withholds praise for a well thought-out campaign because it didn’t deliver on one of his earlier requests (“I want a Hilton on the moon!”). There’s also his scary imperialistic talk about America dominating the rest of the world. So far, Don’s been kowtowing to the big man, but how long can that go on?

Also in this episode: Betty indulges in her crush on Henry Francis, but then backs out when it comes down to actually consummating the affair. Very school-girlish of her, but then she’s hardly a grown-up. Meanwhile, landmark civil rights moments are occurring, including Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech on the radio, which Don tries to turn off, undoubtedly a common reaction among a lot of white people back then. But still disheartening.

Later, Draper housekeeper Carla is listening to radio coverage of the funeral for the four girls killed in Birmingham. ”I hate to say this,” says Betty, ”but this has really made me wonder about civil rights. Maybe it’s not supposed to happen right now.”

As fascinating as this show is (and I remain enthralled), it is becoming more and more depressing.

(photos: AMC)

Advertisements
09
Oct
09

Not so gay divorcees

I really liked the challenge on Project Runway last night: the designers worked with divorced, or soon to be divorced, women (not models) who wanted their wedding dresses transformed into something wearable. There was lots of inspirational talk about moving on, reconstruction, etc. Unfortunately, the resulting garments included some truly awful looks:

Christopher's metallic garbage bag dress

Christopher's metallic garbage bag dress

Epperson's Oktoberfest dress

Epperson's Oktoberfest dress

Nicolas's pants ensemble

Nicolas's strange pants ensemble

pr6-ep8-logan

Logan's awkward top 'n pants

I was very happy that Gordana’s dress won, though her model looks a bit possessed in this photo:

pr6-ep8-gordana

Most puzzling thing: the judges just loved Irina’s dress, calling it “age appropriate.” Really? What age might that be?! Though obviously very well made, it looked more than a little tacky to me. Especially those silly sleeves. And that sash:

pr6-ep8-irina

Sadly, Epperson was eliminated despite having done strong work in past challenges, which is not supposed to count, but we all know that it does. His exit was very dignified and gracious, unsurprisingly. Classy guy.

08
Oct
09

Happy with Glee

Glee may be messy, bi-polar, and sometimes unfocused. But it’s also grandly entertaining and is therefore one of the most worthwhile things on TV. Especially if you have a soft spot for singin’, dancin’ and razor-sharp humor.  Last night, for instance:

1) Great dialogue in general, but especially from Sue (Jane Lynch) when she’s writing in her journal: “Here I am, about to turn 30, and I’ve sacrificed everything, only to be Shanghaied by the bi-curious machinations of a cabal of doughy misshapen teens.” Perfect delivery.

2) Terrific performances from the boys and girls of the Glee Club, who perform competing mash-ups, while high on pseudoephedrine. The guys doing “It’s My Life”/”Confessions Pt. 2” were particularly good, though I worried that the hopped-up Finn (Cory Monteith) was going to have a heart attack. Especially liked Mike Chang’s incredible little rubber-limbed solo. He’s played by the ultra-talented Harry Shum Jr., who’s been in the Step Up movies, among other things. Found a clip of him freestyling:

3) Honestly good acting from Matthew Morrison (Will), Lea Michele (Rachel), Jayma Mays (Emma), Jessalyn Gillsig (Terri), and just about the entire cast.

Finn (Monteith)

Their characters actually make me feel feelings, which is very odd for television. Not to mention that I’m developing a little crush on Finn, which is worrisome considering my advanced age. But there’s something about a big, cute, clueless jock that gets me every time.

07
Oct
09

More cake, please

I’m sorry to say I’ve managed to miss a couple of weeks of Cake Boss, but did catch a couple tonight. Nice to be back in the shop with Buddy e famiglia. The first episode, which must have originally aired last spring, featured Easter preparations at Carlo’s, including the traditional braided bread with hard-boiled eggs, a foodstuff that is crucial to my family’s celebration of the holiday. Interesting thing: Buddy’s eggshells are all white, rather than colored, like every egg-baked-into-bread I’ve ever seen. Hmmm.

As usual, there’s a lot of hectic running around and good-natured sibling bickering.  Mary will not stop complaining loudly and bitterly about some top-heavy cupcakes, causing Buddy to bellow repeatedly, “Go downstairs, Mary!” just to shut her up. Easter’s one of the busiest times of the year, but not all employees were working fast enough for Buddy. “I wanna see lightening bolts coming out of your butt!,” he exhorts the troops. They take it in stride.

Easter cakeThe big cake du jour, for the Hoboken Family Alliance Easter Egg Hunt, features a standing bunny that wobbles precariously, loses half its icing in the fridge, and has a nightmare-scary face (sorry, Buddy!). Despite all this, the cake makes it to the Hunt in one piece and is a big hit with the kids. Buddy also has to make three family birthday cakes; my favorite is a flowerpot with tulips (and edible dirt!) for Mama. Other scenes: Poor Lil’ Frankie (who else?) is forced to dress as the Easter Bunny and stand outside the shop giving out samples, and notorious non-cook Grace makes Easter dinner for the first time — for 30 people! — and is overwhelmed. But of course it all works out in the end with a little help from Buddy who pronounces the food “not horrible.”

In the second episode, a customer who orders a spectacular birthday cake every  year wants to outdo himself with a Tiki-themed cake that spews fire. Not a problem for Buddy, who creates a cake with torches, Hawaiian flowers and a big Tiki mask atop a volcano that spews fire (actually, a professional fire-breather standing behind it does). Of course it’s a huge hit at the guy’s party and, amazingly, nobody gets hurt.

Mauro mid-Tiki

Mauro mid-Tiki

Buddy also has to make a jewelry-themed cake for his sister-in-law’s shower; decorator Daniella (who studied sculpture and has a BFA; yes, these people are artists!) creates a delicate figurine wearing edible jewelry; it’s really lovely. Also in this episode: Buddy bets Mauro, who is accused of having a puss, that he (Buddy) can decorate a cake blindfolded. Naturally Mauro loses and must go upstairs dressed in a grass skirt and coconut-shell bra (over his t-shirt) greeting people in his gruff deadpan: “Aloha. Alright.” I so want to be part of this family!

(photos: TLC)

05
Oct
09

When in Rome

Last night’s episode of Mad Men mostly took place outside the Sterling Cooper offices with emphasis on Betty and Pete (separately), which probably annoyed some people, but was fine with me.

Betty’s Junior League save-the-local-reservoir campaign gets a big assist when her admirer Henry, who works in the governor’s office, testifies on behalf of the ladies at a hearing. After he manfully takes the floor, forcing the committee to take the plea seriously, you could practically see the cartoon hearts popping out of Betty’s eyes.

betty-don-italyLater in the parking lot, he kisses her through her car window, finally breaking the sexual tension.  Aside from one very uncharacteristic one-night stand, Betty’s been faithful to her husband, so we can’t really condemn her for this transgression. Especially since Don himself has gotten it on with at least 67 women on the past three seasons. Anyway, Betty, whose sexual confidence has gotten a boost, then accompanies Don on a short business trip to Rome. Not only does she speak the language, but she gets her hair done up in a fabulous towering ‘do and even seems to be wearing eyeliner! It’s a tremendous look and she draws the attention of two local lotharios while waiting for Don in a restaurant. She feels so good she doesn’t even discourage them in that prim, tight-lipped way we’ve come to expect. Don arrives and the couple indulges in some flirtatious role-playing before Conrad Hilton joins them. He, of course, is bowled over by Betts; it no doubt just adds to his admiration for Don. Later Don and Betty have amazing vacation sex in their hotel room, as she continues to channel Monica Vitti.

Meanwhile, Pete’s wife is away and he’s home alone napping on the couch and generally at loose ends. Even though we know what a remorseless creep he is, we’re teased by a scene in which he comes to the aid of his neighbor’s cute German au pair who has ruined a dress belonging to her vacationing boss. Pete replaces the dress at Bonwit Teller, where the new manager of the department happens to be ex-SC employee Joan, who’s clearly embarrassed to be found working in retail. Come back to the agency, Joan!  Anyway, when Pete brings the new dress to au pair Gudrun she, citing a boyfriend, doesn’t let him in the apartment. After a few drinks, Pete returns next door, waking Gudrun and insisting that he see the dress on her since he’s taken such pains to help. He basically forces himself on her, which is exactly what we’ve come to expect from him. Eeew.

Later, Pete almost breaks down upon his wife’s return; she suspects that’s he’s been up to something bad. He doesn’t confess, but pleads, “I don’t want you to go away anymore without me.” “Good,” she says.  “I won’t.”

Back in Ossining, Betty has a talk with daughter Sally, who is continuing to show violent tendencies and who also kissed a neighbor boy in her parents’ absence. ‘You don’t kiss boys, boys kiss you,” instructs Betty, which is exactly what I grew up believing. She then talks wistfully about first kisses and you know she’s thinking of Henry and the car window. Though she’s happy to see baby Gene, she’s soon back to her snappish self in the kitchen: “I hate this place. I hate our friends. I hate this town.” Suburban Westchester ain’t Rome, baby.

(photo: AMC)

02
Oct
09

Brand this

A little intro rant:

Have I ever mentioned how sick I am of rampant, obvious marketing ploys in TV, film, mass media and life itself? Must everything, including the air that we breathe, now be a big, fat “brand”? (“Going forward, let’s work on positioning oxygen as a trend-setting product.”) It’s out of control and the fact that marketers are the most valued employees in many fields is a sad, sad commentary on our society. End of rant.

In related news: Is it me or was the shilling for Macy’s on Project Runway last night particularly shameless? Yeah, we get it: the “world’s largest department store” sponsors the show, but isn’t it

bad ruffles

bad ruffles

enough have a “Macy’s Wall of Accessories” prominently featured in every show?  I guess not because last night there was a Macy’s Challenge spearheaded by a slick, overly perky Macy’s marketing executive.  When she and Tim G. (who must feel a twinge of something whenever he’s forced to spout the requisite marketing babble) were explaining the challenge’s particulars to the designers, it sounded as if they were reading straight from ad copy: “The best thing about the INC brand is that it’s only available at Macy’s!” Stupid, nonsensical ad copy.  I miss Bluefly.

The competition: two-person teams each design a pair of looks for Macy’s INC line, using the color blue. The winner gets to create a holiday outfit that will be sold at select Macy’s stores and online. The designers seemed delighted. Really? Is that a dream come true for any aspiring designer? It is, apparently, for Christopher who says that he would love to have one of his garments seen by so many people. Fair enough.

teal pumpkin

teal pumpkin

The other thing that was notable about this episode was the harshness of the judges’ criticisms. Good to have Michael K. back, but boy, was he mean to Christopher and Epperson regarding their designs, which weren’t great, but weren’t that tragic either. Their striped shirt dress was fine. And the shiny tunic that resembled a “teal pumpkin,” according to Michael, looked very much like something INC would sell.  It was obvious that C & E  were shocked to be in the bottom two.  Heidi jumped right on board the nasty train, especially when it came to addressing the two designers up for elimination: the perennially clueless Louise (whose absurdly ruffled dresses almost deserved the judges’ vitriol) and poor Christopher, who kept bursting into tears. Thankfully the latter was spared.  Jesus, if I want this kind of humiliation, I’ll watch Megan Wants a Millionaire. Oh no, I can’t because one of the contestants killed himself. (Alright, it had nothing to do with the show).

winning look

winning look

Though Carol Hannah and Shirin’s black-and-teal outfits were practically off the INC racks, it was Irina and Gordana’s floaty striped dress and filmy blue blouse that came out on top, with team captain Irina the winner. It was not the most inspiring episode of the season.

Cruelty has been a staple of reality shows since ancient times (Christians Vs. Lions was a big hit), but Project Runway is generally pretty feel-good, or at least not feel-awful. I hope the producers aren’t trying to make it more exciting by upping the humiliation factor. That’s not even a good marketing ploy.

28
Sep
09

Chick Flicks

Two chick-ish flicks in two days:

First, September Issue, the documentary about the creation of the Sept. 2007 issue wintour-coddingtonof Vogue, starring the empress/dragon lady of the fashion world, Anna Wintour. It’s always interesting to get a glimpse of a workplace so different from one’s own, yet all offices are the same in some ways. Different: enormous amounts of money spent on photo shoots, a decent-size staff, closets full of sample products. The same: simmering resentments, desperately trying and failing to please the boss, lots of work for nothing, Starbucks.

Like everyone, I believed every word I read in The Devil Wears Prada, and so couldn’t help comparing the actual Vogue offices to the fictional version; naturally I found the real thing lacking. Firstly, Wintour is somewhat soft-spoken, has a sense of humor, and — though obviously feared and catered to — comes off as an actual person. Albeit an actual person with an enormous sense of entitlement. Also, the people who work for her, while certainly stylish (in Andre Leon Talley’s case, dramatically so), clearly aren’t expected to be as pulled together  as Anna herself. Why, there’s messy hair; pale, unmade-up faces; wrinkles! I think I even spotted an assistant wearing flats…

I’d read that Vogue’s longtime creative director Grace Coddington was initially hesitant  to be filmed for the movie. Good thing she eventually acquiesced because she’s the heart and soul of the thing: a wry, earthy, ultra-talented woman who’s managed to develop a smooth working relationship with Wintour. Nice that her work has been validated in such a public way.

Bright StarNext flick: Bright Star, Jane Campion’s gorgeously atmospheric account of the romance between poet John Keats and Fanny Brawne, who were neighbors in early 19th century Hampstead. Abbie Cornish is wonderful as the witty, headstrong Fanny (I remember seeing her in little-known indie film Somersault and marveling at this beautiful, unmannered young actress). She’s like a Jane Austen heroine gone a bit bohemian. As Keats, Ben Whishaw does the starving young poet thing well, though I kept flashing back to his tortured character in Perfume, a movie I strongly disliked, to say the least. Then there’s the poetry itself, sprinkled liberally throughout the movie, a reminder of how transcendent Keats’ words really were.

And the clothes! The Regency era was the best-dressed period of the 19th century, hands-down. And Fanny, a seamstress and clotheshorse, puts together some amazing outfits for herself, involving diaphanous fabrics, detailed pleating and voluminous sleeves. I want to watch this movie with a Tim Gunn commentary.

Of course the story is a tragic one, as John and Fanny’s romance is doomed by 1) his lack of money and 2) his contraction of consumption (tuberculosis), like several artists of his era. Back then, coughing up blood was practically mandatory for romantic poets and composers. What better way to show off one’s delicate nature and tenuous grasp of earthly things.

Anyway, not a total sob-fest of a movie, but quite moving.