Wednesday, 26 August 2009

The week in film...

This week's The week in film comes a little late and I have cheated a little bit. I like to watch at least two or three films a week but depending on how busy I am with work, how many nights I go out dancing and whether or not we have friends over this can be more or less. This week the number was on the low side because S and I decided to give an 'American Series' a try. This term has now become official jargon for any of those slickly produced series that your friends and the media will tell you is the best thing since sliced bread/will change your life/really, really reflects real life/has an important message/it's refreshing to see something so different, or other similar rubbish. This week we tried Mad Men, supposedly a refreshingly honest depiction of how life really was in the sexist, chain-smoking, hard drinking world of 60s America.

But first I'll work my way through the films we watching this week, starting with

Lars and the Real Girl (2007) - Craig Gillespie

S won't mind me saying that this was her choice and from the beginning I wasn't completely convinced. The story, you can imagine, is straight from a typical gonzo American comedy - lonely man is embarassed by social contact and so sends off for a 'real life' doll which he tells everyone is his girlfriend. Rather than play this scenario for childish laughs though the director in stead opts for a more bitter-sweet comedy where the small community decided to play a long with (the obviously mentally ill) Lars. I won't spoil the ending for you but suffice to say there's not a twist to be seen.

I am perhaps being a little harsh, despite my own discomfort with cringe comedy, and this definitely has some cringe worthy moments, I did fins myself chuckling. The acting on the part of Ryan Gosling and Emily Mortimer was pretty amazing considering what they had to work with but I felt Paul Schneider, as Lar's brother, was almost as unrealistic as the doll. This isn't a bad film by any stretch of the imagination but it just feels a little uncomfortable in its own skin, but maybe that's the point and I missed it entirely.

The second film S and snuggled down to watch was:

Unforgiven (1992) - Clint Eastwood

I'm not a huge western fan but this is something a little different. No good guy vs. bad guy or right and wrong, just horses, guns, snarls and whores. Basically one evening, in some small western town, a whore is cut up by a drunken cowboy. The rest of the whores, appalled at the light punishment given by the sheriff, raise a bounty and news of this reaches Clint, a retired gunslinger and apparently the baddest man in the West, who decides to take Morgan Freeman, an old partner, along with him. The meet up with 'the Kid' and then the fun begins.

The common criticisms of the film, it's too long and there are too many superfluous characters did ring partly true to me, I thought the long recovery from illness by Clint's character as well as a brief interlude whilst Gene Hackman's sheriff gives Richard Harris' English Bob a lesson in manners and killing were more than was required from the film. What I think the film was searching for throughout was simplicity, the actions that take place in the film were done because they needed to be done, no analysis needed and so If I'm being picky I think these bits could be sacrificed and the film would lose nothing. That said the film doesn't feel like it drags and the action and dialogue remain crisp and to the point. It is an excellent film, I don't think it would make it into any of my lists (perhaps Westerns but then again the list isn't that long to begin with).

Lastly we come to Mad Men:

Mad Men (2007-Present)

This isn't a bad series, like most of these recent American Series (and here my mind goes blank but I'll add Weeds, True Blood and Six Feet under as a few that my mind refuse to shake) it's well produced and has that shiney gloss that American shows just can't seem to shake (and I include The Wire in this). In my household it's now fair to say we discuss series in terms of The Wire which is perhaps a little unfair - there hasn't been much to compare to the greatness of The Wire, before or since, and even then we like to skip over the rather iffy fifth series which for a lesser series would've been something of a deal breaker (even The Wire couldn't avoid doing the 'where are they now' montage at the end). We're now 3 episodes in with Mad Men and this is more than a fair chance to give any series out there.

It was S who, I think, accurately summed up the problem with Mad Men, the characters are singularly unsympathetic, they're so selfish and wrapped up in their own motives that you just don't care about them. The actress (whose name I can't even be bothered to look up) who plays, the main character, Don's wife is especially awful. If it comes out later in the series that she's on some kind of tranquiliser then it won't come as a surprise but I think it's just the fact that she's a very spaced-out and wooden actress.

Much was made of the characters' incessent smoking, drinking and un-PC attitudes which, apparently, were quite shocking in America. It gets rather tiresome after about 20 minutes of the first episode and the only light relief is during the meeting with the management from Lucky Strike when everyone starts coughing. Other than that occasion it's a cheap and tired tool and I very much hope it desists.

I'm not sure whether we will continue watching this, I doubt very much we'll have the time and there are certainly other shows and films that we'd much rather spend our time discovering.

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