I manage, with the same measure of denial that forced down Don Draper's marauding self-hatred for the better part of his adult life, to forget again and again that he and Peggy are no longer on very good terms. So it all but guts me entirely to watch her face his return to Sterling Cooper & Partners with a vicious affirmation that she hasn't missed him a bit. Sure, she's in denial, too, blaming everyone else for her stunted personal and professional successes, as if Shirley in fact robbed Peggy of her reception of Valentine's Day flowers, or Ginsberg of her well-deserved CLIO nomination. Don tops the list, representing to Peggy the architect who designed a glass ceiling so firmly unbreakable, never hesitating to tapdance atop in a gallant display of everything availed to those in the penthouse suite.
But Don has fallen quite a few stories from his skyline view, desperate for everything from his L.A.-based wife's sustained belief that he's still gainfully employed to after-work visits from his ad hoc assistant Dawn Chambers. He swells in fierce agitation when both of these systems shatter this week, ostensibly losing that veneer of validity in the eyes of two more former secretaries: Dawn's priorities lie with her actual boss now (to think!) and Megan is up-ended by the revelation that he's been lying about his professional leave in order to keep from moving out to California to be with her. Adding to a list already occupied by Peggy, Allison, and let's count Ida Blankenship (whose Mad Men Wiki page is written with quite the comically sardonic tone, by the way), and we've got a pretty poor track record for Don re: the long line of mistresses/daughter figures he kept at his front desk. With the last pieces of his old life lost after the shifts in his relationships with Dawn and Megan, Don has no other choice but to move on... back to his old life, that is.
And so we're treated to a sequence as surreal as Roger's LSD trips, as viscerally disconcerting as anything involving Glen Bishop: Don's trip back to the office. Passing over an an offer at a rival firm that would have beckoned him as a royal ambassador, Don instead shows up unannounced at Roger's apartment, barking rhetorical questions about friendship and loyalty. Roger, seizing the opportunity to reupholster his shrinking office team, tells Don to show up the next morning... something that, upon arrival, Don realizes nobody else in power has been briefed on.
Don's morning at SC&P shows us more of Dick Whitman than we've seen since his wartime flashbacks: the fear that Don works so hard to not only hide but divide from is expertly executed in a scene that feels nauseatingly eternal... in a good way. Even as Don collects encounters, both soothing and innocuously awkward, with the gaggle of creatives whose admiration he still holds tight, we see the battlefield terror sneak back into him — a resentful Peggy isn't the only party unnerved by his return: obsessively pragmatic Bert Cooper and Senior Partner Harry Hamlin are thinking business; Joan knows that her all too delicate grasp of power would disintegrate with a reversal of latitudes that Don's return would bring; Lou Avery is just mad as a nag in heat, confound it! And with all this bad blood, and the board's insistence on a league of belittling professional conditions, you'd think the very same Don who, at the head of the ep, was so obsessed with his image as to berate his old secretary for making him feel like a second priority and lie to his wife for months about his job, would opt out of the deal. But desperate, defeated, and longing for the only place he's ever known to be a home, Don ushers in this new chapter: "Okay."
Intercutting scenes of Don's stimulating professional ascension/degradation is a far weaker storyline, if only for that we've seen it so many times before: Betty Draper, making her first appearance in Season 7, rehashing the same old Betty Draper story. Prompted by her scorn of an impressive working mother, old fashioned Betty accompanies Bobby on a field trip to a local farm, spending her time boosting her own self-image with vacant conversations about the Wolfman and Dracula, sips of fresh-from-the-cow milk, and quips about the revealing dress of the farmer's daughter. But one foul-up by doe-eyed Bobby (who trades her sandwich away because he "didn't know she was going to eat" — that should tell us something about Betty's post-weight loss dietary habits) is enough to remind Betty that she really can't stand her kids. Having seen the same territory tread with January Jones' character since Season 1, in which she treats everyone in her life to a cold hostility and victimizies herself all the while, we should expect this final season to treat us to something knew, or at least conclusive. But her misanthropy is in its usual form, her self-pity is operating at normal speeds... her trip to the farm gives us nothing new in the Betty department.
Thankfully, we have gold in the Don department this week, especially in his reunion with Peggy's in the penultimate scene of episode. She waits the duration of "Field Trip" to catch the anxious Don alone in the break room in order to deliver her unforgiving salutation, which bites like the dickens: "I can't say that we've missed you." But in terrific form, the unsolicited jab finds itself sandwiched between two instances of much greater mutual favor for the longtime colleagues. With Don's barely shielded pain, we rush immediately back to his soft-eyed kissing of her hand at the close of Season 5, the moment he was forced to acknowledge that his daytime daughter figure was graduating beyond his hold. The second moment illicited by Ms. Olson's harsh proclamation is one that we haven't seen yet: the ultimate reunion — be it charged by a newly leveled playing field for the pair, a joint derision of the powers that be, a refurbished drive to make something of value of themselves, or just your plain old realization that they might be all each other has — of Don and Peggy, and their good graces. In her insistence in assuring Don just how little he means to her, Peggy shows us just how much he does. And in the childlike wince he can't work hard enough to mask, he returns that favor. So now it's only a matter of time.
Episode grade: B+, with bonus points for Bobby Draper's proud proclamation: "We were having a conversation!"
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Every year, people all over the entertainment world pull together their lists of the best performances, actors, directors, film, and shows of the year, making special note of all of the newcomers who managed to breakthrough into the mainstream with exceptional projects in 2013. However, when we were running through out lists of the best breakout actors of the year, we happened to notice that many of our new favorite television characters bore some strong resemblances to some of our favorite characters from classic sitcoms.
With that in mind, we've picked 10 of our favorite breakout television stars of 2013 and cast them in roles from our favorite shows of yesteryear.
Joe Lo Truglio as Barney Fife from The Andy Griffith ShowAs the weird, bumbling, food-obsessed Det. Charles Boyle, Joe Lo Truglio has been stealing scenes week after week on Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and we think he could continue to put all of that strange ineptness to use as Barney Fife, the nervous, incompetent deputy to Andy Griffith's Sheriff Andy Taylor. Lo Truglio's proven that he excels at making life more complicated for others, and he would be able to portray the perfect mix of heart and humor.
James Wolk as Wally Cleaver from Leave It to BeaverJames Wolk specializes in characters that are charming, popular and intelligent, which makes him the perfect pick to play the Beaver's charismatic older brother. Sure, he's a lot older than Wally was on the show, but it's hard to think of an actor who would be better at portraying a character described by all of the girls as "the most," because as Zach on The Crazy Ones, Wolk is the most charming, funny and attractive actor on TV right now.
Tatiana Maslany as One of Charlie's AngelsIt's not quite a sitcom, but Charlie's Angels had the right combination of action and comedy that would make it the perfect vehicle for Orphan Black's Tatiana Maslany. On the show, she's proven that she can handle whatever twists and turns come her way, as well as being able to hold her own in a fight, but Maslany is also funny and charming enough to handle the show's more humorous moments with ease. Plus, with Maslany at the forefront, this would finally be a Charlie's Angels reboot worth watching.
Andre Braugher as Lou Grant from The Mary Tyler Moore ShowAndre Braugher's been a well-respected television actor for a long time now, but as Captain Ray Holt on Brooklyn Nine-Nine, he proved that he can handle comedy just as well — if not better — than he does drama. We think he'd be perfect to take on the role of Lou Grant, Mary Richards' tough but loving boss on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. He's already got plenty of experience keeping a group of goofballs in line, and it would finally give him the chance to break out and play something other than a cop for a change.
Malin Ackerman as Samantha from BewitchedJust try and put the terrible Nicole Kidman and Will Ferrell film out of your mind for a second, and instead picture Malin Akerman as the loveable witch struggling to balance her magical powers and her role as a normal housewife. Ackerman's honed her comedy chops on the new sitcom Trophy Wife, and her perky-yet-sarcatsic demeanor makes her the perfect choice to take on Samantha. Plus, she's proven that she's great with phsyical comedy, which will come in handy when it's time for her to wiggle her nose.
Nicole Beharie as Agent 99 on Get SmartA beautiful, intelligent, highly skilled agent tasked with balancing both her bumbling, confused sidekick and a top secret mission? It may sound like Nicole Beharie's Sleepy Hollow character Abbie Mills, but it's actually Agent 99 from the sitcom Get Smart, which proves that Beharie would be the ideal choice for the role. She's got the looks, smarts, and comedic chops to take on the slapstick spy comedy, but also has plenty of experience with the more action-intensive elements. On top of all that, she's a compelling actress, who would be able to give the character enough depth to keep her from being a complete caricature. Just add Tom Mison as Maxwell Smart, and you've got yourself a show.
Albert Tsai as Dennis from Dennis the MenaceAt only nine years old, Albert Tsai has become one of the biggest breakout stars of the year through his role as the quirky, hilarious Bert, one of Kate's stepsons on Trophy Wife. When it comes time for Tsai to properly break out, say into feature films or a reboot of a classic sitcom, we think there would be no better vehicle for him than as everyone's favorite troublemaker Dennis the Menace. He's got enough charm to keep Dennis loveable, despite his antics, but would also be able to give the character a much needed dose of weirdness.
Corey Stoll as Fred from I Love LucyAs Rep. Peter Russo on Netflix's House of Cards, Corey Stoll did most of the show's heavy emotional lifting. If he's looking for some lighter fare, we think he'd do a great job as Fred Mertz, the stingy husband of Lucy's best pal Ethel. Since Fred fought in World War I and lived through the Great Depression, it gives Stoll enough gravitas to ground the character, while also giving him plenty of screwball plots and slapstick comedy to keep things light and up-beat — plus, no Kevin Spacey around to manipulate all of his actions. It's a win-win.
Rebel Wilson in Her Own Version of The Carol Burnett ShowRebel Wilson's show Super Fun Night may not have done as well as many were expecting, but she's still had a pretty stellar year. We think that the best way for her to capitalize on that would be her own Carol Burnett-inspired variety show. She's already got plenty of experience writing sketches, and even created and starred in several sketch shows and comedies in Australia. And since she showcased her musical talents in last year's Pitch Perfect, she's become the ideal candidate to bring back the variety show format to a younger generation.
Michael Ealy as Lionel from The JeffersonsThough his new sci-fi drama Almost Human has only just begun airing, Michael Ealy has become one of the most popular new television stars, due to the perfect combination of good looks, charm and talent. We think all of those qualities would serve him well as Lionel Jefferson, the smart, kind, wise-cracking son of George and Louise. Ealy's already proven that he has enough charm to take on the part, but Lionel's complicated relationship with his father and his wife, Jenny, would give him plenty of opportunities to showcase his acting talent. With Ealy on board, there's no doubt that Lionel would become much more than just a funny supporting character.
You expect a bit of schmaltz from a movie about the making of Mary Poppins. But schmaltz doesn't entail a sentiment lathered so thickly that it's feels like an anti-depressant commercial, or material so broad that it's insulting to believe that audiences above the age of five can relate to the emotionality onscreen. Saving Mr. Banks takes for granted that its viewers are fans of traditional Disney, seeming to confuse Disney fans for Disney characters, and insinuating that we bear the intellectual sophistication thereof.
The real victim, of course, is the character of P.L. Travers (Emma Roberts, charming as she can be with this material), who incurs a fraction of a storyline about overcoming (or learning to live with?) her latent childhood traumas. As a young girl in Australia (as we learn in intermittent flashbacks — by and large the dullest part of the movie, but such a hefty piece of it), young Travers adored her merry, whimsical alcoholic father (Colin Farrell, playing a character that feels as grounded in reality as Dick Van Dyke's penguin-trotting screever Bert), enchanting in his Neverland mannerisms while her chronically depressed mother watched the family crumble into squalor.
Forty-odd years later, the themes of Travers' childhood inform (sometimes directly, right down to presciently repeated phrases) her resistence to allow her novel Mary Poppins to take form as a Disney movie. In the absence of a reason for why she might have a sudden change of heart about a feeling to which she has apparently held so strongly for two decades, Travers opts to fly out to California to meet Walt Disney (Tom Hanks, wading through the script without any of the energy we know he has in his back pocket) and discuss the adaptation process.
When it's not insisting upon clunky "melting the ice queen" devices — like nuzzling Travers up to an oversized stuffed Mickey Mouse to show that, hey, she's starting to like this place! — the stubborn author's time in the Disney writer's room is the best part of the movie. Working with (or against) an increasingly agitated creative team made up of Bradley Whitford, Jason Schwartzman, and B.J. Novak, Travers protests minor details about setting and character, driving her colleagues mad in the process. It is to the credit of the comic talents of Whitford and Schwartzman (who play reserved agitation well beside Novak's outright hostility — he's doing mid-series Ryan in this movie, FYI) that these scenes offer a scoop of charm. But Travers' gradual defrosting poses a consistent problem, as it is experienced over the slow reveal of her disjointed backstories in a fashion that suggests the two are connected... but we have no reason to believe that they are.
The implications of the characters' stories — depression, child abuse, alcoholism, handicaps, and PTSD — are big, and worthy of monumental material. But the characters are so thin that the assignment of such issues to them does a disservice to the emotionality and pain inherent therein. A good story might have been found in the making of Mary Poppins, and in the life and work of P.L. Travers. Unfortunately, Saving Mr. Banks is too compelled to turn that arc into a Disney cartoon. And much like Travers herself, we simply cannot abide that.
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There's an allure to imperfection. With his latest drama Lawless director John Hillcoat taps directly into the side of human nature that draws us to it. Hillcoat finds it in Prohibition history a time when the regulations of alcohol consumption were subverted by most of the population; He finds it in the rural landscapes of Virginia: dingy raw and mesmerizing. And most importantly he finds it in his main character Jack Bondurant (Shia LaBeouf) the scrappy third brother of a moonshining family who is desperate to prove his worth. Jack forcefully injects himself into the family business only to discover there's an underbelly to the underbelly. Lawless is a beautiful film that's violent as hell striking in a way only unfiltered Americana could be.
Acting as the driver for his two outlaw brothers Forrest (Tom Hardy) and Howard (Jason Clarke) isn't enough for Jack. He's enticed by the power of the gangster figure and entranced by what moonshine money can buy. So like any fledgling entrepreneur Jack takes matters into his own hands. Recruiting crippled family friend/distillery mastermind Cricket (Dane DeHaan) the young whippersnapper sets out to brew his own batch sell it to top dog Floyd Banner and make the family rich. The plan works — but it puts the Bondurant boys in over their heads with a new threat: the corrupt law enforcers of Chicago.
Unlike many stories of crime life Lawless isn't about escalation. The movie drifts back and forth leisurely popping in moments like the beats of a great TV episode. One second the Bondurants could be talking shop with their female shopkeep Maggie Beauford (Jessica Chastain). The next Forrest is beating the bloody pulp out of a cop blackmailing their operation. The plot isn't thick; Hillcoat and screenwriter Nick Cave preferring to bask in the landscapes the quiet moments the haunting terror that comes with a life on the other side of the tracks. A feature film doesn't offer enough time for Lawless to build — it recalls cinema-level TV currently playing on outlets like HBO and AMC that have truly spoiled us — but what the duo accomplish is engrossing.
Accompanying the glowing visuals and Cave's knockout workout on the music side (a toe-tapping mix of spirituals bluegrass and the writer/musician's spine-tingling violin) are muted performances from some of Hollywood's rising stars. Despite LaBeouf's off-screen antics he lights up Lawless and nails the in-deep whippersnapper. His playful relationship with a local religious girl (Mia Wasikowska) solidifies him as a leading man but like everything in the movie you want more. Tom Hardy is one of the few performers who can "uurrr" and "mmmnerm" his way through a scene and come out on top. His greatest sparring partner isn't a hulking thug but Chastain who brings out the heart of the impenetrable beast. The real gem of Lawless is Guy Pearce as the Bondurant trio's biggest threat. Shaved eyebrows pristine city clothes and a temper like a rabid wolverine Pearce's Charlie Rakes is the most frightening villain of 2012. He viciously chews up every moment he's on screen. That's even before he starts drawing blood.
Lawless is the perfect movie for the late August haze — not quite the Oscary prestige picture or the summertime shoot-'em-up. It's drama that has its moonshine and swigs it too. Just don't drink too much.
Theatrics slapstick and cheer are cinematic qualities you rarely find outside the realm of animation. Disney perfected it with their pantheon of cartoon classics mixing music humor spectacle and light-hearted drama that swept up children while still capturing the imaginations and hearts of their parents. But these days even reinterpretations of fairy tales get the gritty make-over leaving little room for silliness and unfiltered glee. Emerging through that dark cloud is Mirror Mirror a film that achieves every bit of imagination crafted by its two-dimensional predecessors and then some. Under the eye of master visualist Tarsem Singh (The Fall Immortals) Mirror Mirror's heightened realism imbues it with the power to pull off anything — and the movie never skimps on the anything.
Like its animated counterparts Mirror Mirror stays faithful to its source material but twists it just enough to feel unique. When Snow White (Lily Collins) was a little girl her father the King ventured into a nearby dark forest to do battle with an evil creature and was never seen or heard from again. The kingdom was inherited by The Queen (Julia Roberts) Snow's evil stepmother and the fair-skinned beauty lived locked up in the castle until her 18th birthday. Grown up and tired of her wicked parental substitute White sneaks out of the castle to the village for the first time. There she witnesses the economic horrors The Queen has imposed upon the people of her land all to fuel her expensive beautification. Along the way Snow also meets Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer) who is suffering from his own money troubles — mainly being robbed by a band of stilt-wearing dwarves. When the Queen catches wind of the secret excursion she casts Snow out of the castle to be murdered by her assistant Brighton (Nathan Lane).
Fairy tales take flack for rejecting the idea of women being capable but even with its flighty presentation and dedication to the old school Disney method Mirror Mirror empowers its Snow White in a genuine way thanks to Collins' snappy charming performance. After being set free by Brighton Snow crosses paths with the thieving dwarves and quickly takes a role on their pilfering team (which she helps turn in to a Robin Hooding business). Tarsem wisely mines a spectrum of personalities out of the seven dwarves instead of simply playing them for one note comedy. Sure there's plenty of slapstick and pun humor (purposefully and wonderfully corny) but each member of the septet stands out as a warm compassionate companion to Snow even in the fantasy world.
Mirror Mirror is richly designed and executed in true Tarsem-fashion with breathtaking costumes (everything from ball gowns to the dwarf expando-stilts to ridiculous pirate ship hats with working canons) whimsical sets and a pitch-perfect score by Disney-mainstay Alan Menken. The world is a storybook and even its monsters look like illustrations rather than photo-real creations. But what makes it all click is the actors. Collins holds her own against the legendary Julia Roberts who relishes in the fun she's having playing someone despicable. She delivers every word with playful bite and her rapport with Lane is off-the-wall fun. Armie Hammer riffs on his own Prince Charming physique as Alcott. The only real misgiving of the film is the undercooked relationship between him and Snow. We know they'll get together but the journey's half the fun and Mirror Mirror serves that portion undercooked.
Children will swoon for Mirror Mirror but there's plenty here for adults — dialogue peppered with sharp wisecracks and a visual style ripped from an elegant tapestry. The movie wears its heart on its sleeve and rarely do we get a picture where both the heart and the sleeve feel truly magical.