Sunday, May 26, 2013

MAD MEN 6.9--"The Better Half"

Look, I KNOW you all feel the darkness right now, but I want you to know we're going to get through this, and it'll be brilliant. Yes, it is once again time for another weekly installment of Witless Prattle's inexplicably popular Mad Men reviews, proof positive that, as always, the least likely is the most dangerous (or, y'know, something) Last week . . .man, last week was something wasn't it? Everyone shot full of meth, acting crazy as hell, tap-dancing for God knows what reason and even with all that going on, they found time to have a break-in at Don't apartment. Oh, and I finally twigged that the guy who plays Cutler was Perseus in the old Clash of the Titans movie. Perhaps I need a B12 shot as well. What sort of madness awaits us this week as we enter the home stretch for the season? Let's find out!


 "We're all a little out of context right now"

The theme for this episode is "duality," the ongoing conflict between Ted Chaough and Don Draper, and those trapped in between, and where one belongs at what point in time.

 Don is well aware that Peggy prefers Ted to him (how much, one imagines he doesn't know) and parades her through the room in an effort to force the issue. Peggy doesn't want to play this bullshit and tells him off for making it a contest and point out--not incorrectly--that if they just worked together and didn't make it a horse race they'd get a lot more done. But since Don has too much fun being a miserable asshole, the lesson slides off his back.

 Meanwhile Pete is feeling a bit all at sea, having burned his bridges, lost a shitload of business on account of being Pete Campbell and having a mom now mightily into her Crazy Cat Lady years and no good option on how to deal with that and having a window seat among the partners post-merger, consults a head-hunter, who is Duck Phillips, a man who, given the levels of dissipation we've seen him go through must be able to perpetually reincarnate himself. Duck accurately diagnoses his problem that his personality is toxic and priorities are like crazy paving, but like with Don, Pete's far too much of an asshole to take helpful advice like that on-board.

 He's not the only one. Roger, fresh off of failing at being a Cool Grandad with his grandson (apparently Don's advice about taking the kids to see Planet of the Apes is not something that's consistent across all lines. Then again, if you're taking parenting lessons from Don, you've already lost) tries to bond with Joan and their child in the most awkward way possible, doubly so because we drop in on the reality that Bob and Joan are a thing. Joan tries to handle it as diplomatically as possible and poor Roger looks crushed (and given how annoying Bob is, seeing him with Joan probably crushed a lot of people)

 Because one can never fight only ONE war on this show, Peggy finally has enough of Abe's liberal white guilt bullshit and says she's selling their west-80's place. It's good to see her finally stand up against that crap--I mean, he's been pulling since they met, giving her shit for working for THE MAN. And to his credit, Abe backs down in a moment of clarity.

 Then Peggy stabs him, on accident, and Abe breaks it off with her because working in advertising "means she's always the enemy." Peggy, to her credit, doesn't stab him again, because that kind of assholism should really be punishable by death.

 Meanwhile, Don goes to see Bobby at summer camp and runs into Betty, which I'm sure is a meaty story thread and not at all just an excuse to give Betty something to do. Mind you, she's already had a rather troubling moment earlier when one of Henry's buddies at the fundraiser offers her some coffee and sex (sand coffee) and Betty actually doesn't rule the idea out immediately. Henry is kind of a jerk about it, but it turns out he's just kinda turned on by the idea, and then, because this wasn't icky enough, Betty and Don knock boots because of course they do. Is Don on some kind of "have sex with every woman he used to have sex with as some sort of exit interview" process after Sylvia? It seems . . .and odd way to deal with a breakup.

 That said, for all the crap I give Betty and for all that I wonder why she's on the show at moments, the afterglow scene is actually pretty good, as she diagnoses Don's problem pretty succinctly--anyone who loves him, he really treats like shit. Even more amazing, Don readily admits that he has some kind of disconnect that means he can't do that (which reaches back to that scene about Bobby after they went to see Planet of the Apes) It all gets a rather poignant button when Don wakes up alone the next day and sees Betty having a grand old time with Henry. There doesn't seem to be a place for him in the past, present, or future, does there? 

 While this is going on, Megan gets the make put on her by Arlene, which Megan rebuffs in a rather assholish way and Arlene gets all catty about it. While I laud Megan for being the person with the most fidelity in this entire cast of characters, "letting her down easy" is not one of her virtues. Though it does lead to her having a heart-to-heart with Don about how he's been disconnected from her and Don admits to it. It's a neat parallel to Sylvia's dream two episodes ago about telling her husband she was back home. Whether Don means it for keeps or not remains to be seen--there's another month's worth of episodes for him to screw it up.

 Meanwhile, the fallout from the Abe breakup gives Peggy a perfect opportunity to formally hook up with ted, but Ted rebuffs it (again) and poor Peggy is left adrift between Don and Ted--repelled by the former's contempt and antagonism and the disinterest of another (and ironically, Don is in a similar position)

 While this wasn't an episode with everyone tap-dancing or otherwise tripping balls, it was quite incisive and elegantly tied up a whole lot of things. Plus Abe got stabbed--I've been waiting I dunno HOW many years for that. Even the whole Betty thing, which usually feels like just an excuse to keep her on the show served the story and really brought a lot of stuff out. It was quite good.

And that'll do it for this week. You know, after the dope-fueled mayhem of last week, me putting irrational stuff here in the teaser for next week doesn't seem that far out now. That said, join us next week when Don starts a commemorative spoon collection, Bobby regenerates into Colin Baker, and Joan lives a life of danger for the FBI. These three things and whatever other batshit nonsense I dream up is mostly probably guaranteed not to happen in next week episode, "A Sale of Two Titties"--err, I mean "A Tale of Two Cities." Be there. Aloha!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Mad Men 6.8--"The Crash"

Man lives in the sunlit world of what he believes to be reality. But . . .there is, unseen by most, an underworld, a place just as real but not as brightly lit . . . a DARKSIDE. Hello and welcome once again to Witless Prattle's inexplicably consistent, determinedly swift (even when my cable goes out, as it did last week) coverage for Mad Men. Last week was a somewhat grim episode that was so bleak Robert Kennedy's assassination seemed like an afterthought. Let's see if we get back to the rollicking thigh-slapping comedy that Mad Men is known for this week


 "Every time we get a car, this place turns into a whorehouse."

 Appropriate to the overall theme of the episode, we begin with some real Hunter Thompson shit, as Ken Cosgrove, driving an Impala, crashes because he's apparently picked up a group of authentic lunatics to ride around with. This is a bit of a microcosm of what is proving to be Firm Yet To Be Named's overall problem--while GM pays their bills, they're not running any of their work--they have to prepare stuff on a very rigorous schedule, but it's not getting out and has to go through such a torturous approval process that it seems to be bleeding FYTBN white.

 Not that Don is really doing terribly well. The whole business with Sylvia giving the old heave-ho has led to him contracting a case of mildly stalking her. It nearly blows everything wide open, and Don is absolutely furious when Sylvia tells him to knock it the hell off and he starts flashing back to when he had a real bad chest cold during his youth in the whorehouse and he was nursed back to health and also got his first lay (this has not been my experience recuperating when I was sick. That's . . .not something I feel like I missed out on). He's feeling bad.

 With the death of Gleason (the guy who'd been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer) and the creative drain Chevy's putting on everyone, really everyone is either sick or their energy flags. This leads Cutler to suggest everyone go up and get a B12 shot in the ass, which causes two things to happen--one, everyone gets a shot in the ass and two, the entire episode gets really effing crazy and almost defies my ability to review it, as just when I think that I may have some notion of what's going on, Culter and Stan are having a footrace, Cosgrove tap-dances for little adequately explored reason, and Stan is letting people throw pencils into his arm.

  Man, I can't wait for the 80's when everyone mellows out on calming, blissful cocaine.

    It was quite nice of the writers to reference The Prisoner episode "Free For All," wherein No. 6 is drugged to the point of insanity and the whole episode gets so crazy and baroque it makes terrifyingly little sense just to make it plain what we'd be up to tonight.

 Meanwhile, Don is getting crazier, Sally's reading Rosemary's Baby and stumbling upon someone breaking into the apartment Sally, proving she probably wasn't the right person to be invested with loco parentis after all (Megan had to go to a play and Don is still buzzed out of his mind) Bobby's not much help when he discovers the person breaking in, which . . .well, that's not the stupidest thing that happens this episode.

Do you know, I think I might actually be high right now writing this. I'm not sure anymore.

 That would be this: Don, meanwhile has been busy . . .coming up with the perfect way to woo Sylvia back, even though that wasn't what he got the shot for or what he was supposed to be working on, and everyone's so buzzed on the same shot they can't recognise how crackheaded his logic is. Peggy looks exasperated by all this and finally goes home. She has a point.

 Thankfully there is a kernel of insight to be gained by all this--in the wake of the flashback with Don and Amee the whore, we get a bit of insight into Don: namely that after his first sexual experience, Amee got kicked out and he got the shit thrashed out of him with a wooden spoon, and in the immortal words of Lana Kane "A WHOLE lot of shit just made sense."

 Man, this was a . . .confounding episode. It was never boring, I'll give it that. I guess after the "Roger takes LSD" episode they just decided "Hell with it, let's do the WHOLE EPISODE like that and see what people make of it." I can't say it was bad--lord knows it wasn't mediocre or boring.

 And that's it for this week. Join us next week When Betty decides to dye her hair pink and try out for Gerry Anderson's UFO, Harry Crane's sideburns join into a full and yet somehow infinitely more nasty beard, and Don can't stop rubbing hamburgers all over his naked body. All of these things guaranteed to never happen (unless the doctor hands out more B12 shots) but in the sickest imaginings of Mad Men reviewers looking for a way to button their reviews and tease for next week. Join us next time for "The Better Half!"

Monday, May 13, 2013

Meanwhile, Elsewhere in Kazekage's Web "Empire" . . .

It's that time again!

  GUNMETAL BLACK has just completed a new update!

 Included in this update is:

 4 new short stories in the "Stories" section:

 -"Downtown Train"

 -"Snakes and Arrows"

 -"Poison in Power"


 -10 new pics from me in the Gallery

 -14 new fanarts

 -1 new pic in the Mecha section.

 I'm making a positive effort to make sure updates come at a faster clip than they have been. I certainly hope you stop by and like what you see.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

MAD MEN 6.7--"Man With A Plan"

A city built upon delusions: New York. There, many ad execs who believe that angst is power, fight battles that happen entirely in a one (and occasionally two) hour block every Sunday night for about 13 weeks at a time. They are the Advertising Sentai: Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce Cutler Gleason Chaough and their story isn't over yet!

 Man, last week was pretty eventful, wasn't it? Fresh off burning Jaguar and alienating everyone then going after Chevrolet and merging his agency with Ted Chaough's just to get it. Of course, this is all in pursuit of advertising the Chevy Vega, so it's pretty much still a poisoned chalice, but as I said last week--Mad Men doesn't usually jump ahead like this until the end of the season, so let's see what the fallout is likely to be from last week!


 "It took 40 minutes to find out no one knows shit about margarine."

So in the wake of the SCDP/CGC merger, there are a lot of growing pains--even with two floors, moving two agencies together is causing no end of friction. Not that everyone's coming along for the ride--Bert Peterson gets fired yet again (and Roger takes a right sadistic pleasure in it--not the ONLY time I'll say this tonight) and everything's getting shuffled around.It's a troubled marriage already--cliques are being formed and new dynamics are causing some friction (Ted Chaough runs the creative side of things with a lighter touch than Don--getting them together to brainstorm about margarine, for God's sake.) Peggy's still not sure where she fits in--she doesn't seem to like the effect that Don's drunken brainstorming session has on Ted and there's a definite difference in approach between the two of them--Ted likes things rigorously systematized and Don likes for sudden bursts of innovation to happen.

 Their relationship--confounding and confusing, is a microcosm of what's going on as the merger keeps on--Ted feels like Don's sizing him up more than they're actually doing any work. It's not helped that Ted's tolerance for getting his drank is dwarfed by Don. Peggy gives Don shit for trying to turn Ted into another one of him and they fall into a not-encouraging, yet familiar pattern.

 On the plus side, Roger and Cutler are Accounts Bros now. They're getting along great.

 Oh, and Ted is a pilot. Given the title of the next episode, this is a worrying association.

 Meanwhile, Pete has discovered that it can always get worse. In the wake of losing Vicks thanks to being an utter dicknuts. This has the knock-on effect of marginalizing him at the office to the point where he can't even get a chair at a meeting. To add injury to insult, his mother's going senile and has apparently gone well down the path of getting into "crazy cat lady" territory. Pete handles this with the sensitivity you would think he would--he's an unbearable asshole to her and confounds her willingly. I suppose one could say it's an unpleasant reminder for him that his life is disconnecting around him and he no longer has any place within it, but I think it's more than he's a massive douche who is getting what he deserves. If you scorch the Earth in every direction it's a bit difficult to hang onto much of anything, seeing as how you've already burned it to the ground.

 Meanwhile Joan is sick, and it seems like it could be some serious shit--recurring pain, throwing up in her office. This led to some alarming speculation, but apparently it was just an ovarian cyst. The more important news was that Bob, the Phantom of Accounts, actually did something of import to the plot in ensuring she got to the hospital. Joan assumes it's because he was fretting over his job since the axe is swinging in all directions, but her mother's not so sure. In return for her yeoman work, Joan covertly saves Bob's job.

 Here's to new alliances, I guess.

 The Don and Sylvia thing also sees some motion this week in that she and Don embark on what could only be described as a continuing s/m relationship with Don laying down the law to her and holing her up in a hotel room. This isn't really news--hes been doing this kinda thing off and on as far back as Bobbie Barrett, but it's the first time he's been this overt about it. One wonders if this isn't an attempt to assume some control over some facet of his life given all the tumult with the merger.

 In any event, this doesn't work out all that well, as after a few days of being humiliated, Sylvia's Catholic guilt and shame reasserts itself and she breaks it off. Don looks astonished that this could be a thing that is happening to him ("why" is a question that strains the limits of human credibility) and puts up a brave front and tries to go back to Megan and pretend everything's great. He does somewhat less of a sterling job in that regard.

 And then Robert Kennedy gets shot and things get worse. So, the answer to the question I was pondering since last week is that the merger doesn't fix very much--it rattles some cages, causes the dynamic to wobble dramatically, and seems to lead to everyone simmering in their own resentments more than a bit. I wondered elsewhere if the notion of putting CGC and SCDP in the same boat was getting the ship righted or putting two sinking ships into a bigger sinking ship. It's not looking good so far.

  And that's it for this week! Join us next week when Harry Crane's sideburns take on a malevolent sentience, Pete tells the world that if he could have only one food the rest of his life it would be cherry-flavoured Pez, and Don develops a fetish for Belgian waffles. All this and so much more is absolutely guaranteed not to happen in the next thrilling episode of Mad Men, entitled, "The Crash."  With a title like that, it's sure to be the feel-good hit of the season!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

MAD MEN 6.6--"For Immediate Release"

 MAD MEN--A shadowy flight into the dangerous world of a man who does not exist. Don Draper, a sexy, inscrutable womanizer stricken with permanent ennui in a world of social and political upheaval. He also doesn't have a talking car (alas) and this this where my homage falls apart. Anyways--welcome once again to the halfway point of our coverage of Mad Men's penultimate season. Last week, we crossed a a major threshold into 1968 as our gang dealt with the fallout of the assassination of Martin Luther King (which, among other things, gave us another splendid moment of perfect assholery--seasoned with indirect racism-- by Harry Crane) Henry Francis explored the notion of running for state Senate, Don and Bobby fucked off from the main plot to take in Planet of the Apes, and Peggy contemplated buying an apartment. What awaits us this week? There's no time like the present to learn about the past!


 "It was mutually-assured destruction"

 The big news of the week is helpfully in the first scene--apparently Pete and Joan are scheming to take SCDP public, which would net them quite a huge amount of cash for their shares, but before that happens, they have to get Don on board (who's being kept in the dark, not unlike how they froze him out of the Jaguar thing) Pete, in his usual irritating douchebag way, is acting like his conquered the world already, even though it's far from a done deal and tries to use that confidence to get back in with Trudy on one of his rare visits home, in a way that allows him to be both creepy and an asshole. Plus, I have to look at Pete in his boxer shorts. Thanks for that, Mad Men.

 There's all sorts of stuff swirling around however, that could screw this IPO thing up--for one thing, there's an ominous meeting with Jaguar that is sure to involve the fallout from Don intentionally blowing up Herb the Jagoff's plan to get the ad money funneled his way. This comes to a head at a ghastly dinner with Ghastly herb and his ghastly wife (leavened only by Marie viciously tearing them down in French--at last, her passive-aggressive viciousness is actually used for good) Don, however, decides to be more overt and when Herb springs his next idea on him (planting one of his guys in on creative so they can better pivot SCDP's efforts in his direction) Don burns the whole thing down by telling Herb to shove it. Whole Herb does have a point that the customer is always right, Don can't see past the utter awfulness that was done to get Jaguar and has (one gets the impression) looking for an excuse to scorch the earth between them.

 This has the side effect of torpedoing the IPO and Don incurs he wrath if Pete (because he stole his thunder and ruined his Big Moment) and Joan, who speaks truth to Draper (as Peggy did) that he always thinks of himself first and everyone else . . .well, never, and  that his asshole grandstanding meant what she did, she did for nothing.

 But as the Chinese say, in crisis there is opportunity as well, and Roger has been diligently working to secure a new client, and that client is Chevrolet (which CGC is also trying for, but more on that later)  who has a new car they're trying to launch to compete with Ford's Mustang.  Being that it's more important than ever that they get it (and it's only going to get worse) Don manfully steps up to the plate to secure it.

 Then things get worse. Owing to seeing his father-in-law in the same whorehouse HE frequents, His father-in-law cuts Vick's Chemical out of SCDP, and when Pete goes to confront him, he utterly eviscerates Pete for being unworthy of his daughter and just a real shitheel. He's uh, not wrong. His father in law implores him to do the right thing, and Pete, being Pete, dimes out his father-in-law to Trudy because Pete wouldn't know the right thing if he woke up in bed with it.

Meanwhile, Abe's dream of living in a hip multicultural part of town is going as well as you'd expect one of Abe's ideas to go--people defaecate on the stairs up to their apartment and Abe is incapable of hammering a nail without causing himself injury. Peggy seems to be in a permanent state of quiet exasperation.Peggy's hallucinating getting all up ons Ted Chaough, which may or may not be the paint fumes, or the tipping point with Abe (who says 1968 is going to be hunky-dory for here on in, proving that left or right, NO ONE is really good at seeing the face of 1968 to come) Peggy liked Ted a lot because he's not Don, who she's worked for and liked it so much she moved over to CGC. Peggy will have a sudden attack of irony in a bit.

 OK, back to CGC and the Chevrolet thing. They're tying themselves in knots over it and we meet the other third of the Cutler, Gleason and Chaough partnership--Cutler, who's suffering from pancreatic cancer (I don;t know why you say "hello," I saw "goodbye") Cashing Cutler out will cripple their company if they don't have Chevy's car (having thrown Alfa Romeo overboard to get it) CGC and SCDP are very much in parallel positions--everything is balanced on a hair, and given that CGC and SCDP are both small agencies fighting it out with the big guys (see the Heinz thing earlier this season) More on that . . .right now.
 Thing is, when everything's balanced on a hair, and there's nothing left to lose, there are two choices. You blow everything up (as Pete did with his family, Dr. Rosen quitting his job, and Don did with Jaguar) or, seized with a crazy idea that just might work, you roll the hard six.

 Just as Don did at the end of Season 3, when he didn't want to work for McCann, he springs an idea at a despondent Ted Chaough. They're both tired of being small fry agencies, manipulated by the bigger agencies to get their creative so they can give it to larger firms.

 Don has an idea--why don't they merge?

 And they do. They get Chevrolet, they merge and two former rivals are now side by side and Peggy's back with Don, which may or may not be a good thing. Peggy's reaction to the news is utter shock, as you might imagine. Draper kept his word that he'd spend the rest of his life trying to hire her, and Peggy's attempt to get away from him has drawn her back in.

 There's hope and fear, because while they scored a big win and did something extraordinary . . .things are still uncertain and they're still hanging on the abyss . . .there's just some more company, and a lot more days in a very perilous year yet to come.

 There was a LOT to unpack in this episode. The notion of destruction--due to pride, or fear, or anger, or spite--the idea of tearing people apart and setting people against people on the one hand, the idea of making peace with your perpetual rivals to stave off imminent destruction on the other, and the idea of getting back in bed with the people you've been desperate to flee. I'm kinda shocked this didn't get held back for a season finale, so much heavy-gravity stuff happened. I now have no idea how things are gonna play out for the remaining seven episodes.

  And that's all for this week. Join us next week when Peggy makes a playhouse in a refrigerator box, Joan can't stop making Japanese lanterns, Roger is endlessly fascinated with a spinning button on a string, and Pete won't stop huffing mucilage. None of this arts and crafts mania straight from the World Book's "Make and Do" volume is likely to happen in our next thrilling episode, entitled: "Man with a Plan." It's sure to be a tasteful mix of the 60's, 70's, 80's and today!

Saturday, May 4, 2013

IRON MAN WEEK #9--Iron Man 3 (2013)

 The good news is it's much better than Iron Man 2, which was a muddled mess that pretended most of the first movie never happened. The plot's clearer and easier to follow, the action is actually pretty well-realized, and while I dreaded having three Iron Man comic refs in the movie that I utterly hate (Extremis! The Mandarin! The woefully stupid Iron Patriot!) it didn't grate on me too bad.

 The bad news is, it's not very good, and indeed, barely an Iron Man film.  Trying to build a movie around the importance of Tony Stark and Pepper's Potts' relationship is never going to work, because they have the phoniest love affair in a movie brimming with phony shit (I believed in the notion of the genetic whatever stuff they injected you with that let you grow back limbs and burn people or whatever more than any of their scenes together) and despite the movie trying mightily to sell me on how theirs is a True Love, I didn't buy it any more here than I did in the other movies they've been in.

 I'd be willing to let that slide if the movie moved along a little more briskly, but then there's that interlude in Tennessee with the cute kid, which stops the movie totally dead and it never quite gets its momentum back. The movie seems to want to have this come across as very emotional even if it's kidding it at every opportunity, but since it never commits one way or another, it feels more like they're just killing time.Plus, the kid is pretty much just a ball of "cute kid" cliches and never really becomes his own character.

 The villains are a mixed bag. I know a lot of people have whined about the twist with the Mandarin, but in all honesty, I loved that part--the Mandarin totally sucks and was used appropriately. The other two bad guys don't make much of an impression (mostly because the movie is too busy trying to set up a big third-act reveal to give them the requisite amount of character for it to be the SHOCKING SWERVE it's supposed to be) but I'm sure the brief for the third movie was "look, do whatever, just make sure it's not another guy in an Iron man-like suit again this time," and in that, it succeeded.

 The final battle with the multiple armour suits is OK in theory, but it never quite opens up and becomes as awesome as it should be and soon devolved into "Stark fights a guy, suit gets damaged, he hops into another suit, lather, rinse, repeat." The out of armour action sequences are actually pretty good and have some really clever bits in there, but the movie doesn't seem all that determined to apply the same sort of imagination to the armour combat sequences.

 So in all, it doesn't make the mistakes Iron Man 2 did, but makes a whole bunch of new ones instead, plus it's an Iron Man movie which is trying really hard to be something other than an Iron Man movie, so while it wasn't wrong footed enough for me to hate it, I can;t say I'm any any hurry to re-watch it again.