Mad Men loves to take characters from past seasons and bring them back around in surprising ways, just like they did with Freddy Rumsen helping Peggy get a new job and Paul Kinsey returning as a Star Trek-writing Hare Krishna this season. But still, every year, I wait by the TV hoping that they'll have to fire an art director so that Don will have to reach deep in his Rolodex and hire back Sal Romano, who he fired because of a Lucky Strike exec with a case of the hots for Sal.
Since that hasn't happened yet, we have to imagine what life is like now for Sal and a few other colorful characters who have gone MIA since their storylines dried up. When will we get them all back?
Sal Romano: After getting fired, Sal calls his wife Kitty from a pay phone in Central Park and tells her he is going to be home late. In the background, a big, strong man in a leather hat and jacket is stalking the phone booth. He has his eye on swarthy Sal and as soon as he hangs up the phone, Larry, the leather daddy, walks up to Sal and says, "What's wrong, stud?" rubbing his big, rough hand along Sal's arm. Sal tries to be aroused, to get what he came there for, but he just can't, breaking down in tears. Larry takes him to a diner nearby and Sal tells him everything, about his life, his job, his firing, Lee Garner Jr., everything. It's the first time he's ever gotten these things of his chest and he has Larry to thank for them. He shows his appreciation with a night of vigorous lovemaking.
In the morning he goes home and tells Kitty that he's been fired and that he's moving out of the house. After some confusion and tears and an expensive divorce, Sal moves into his own apartment in the West Village, right down the street from Julius, his favorite new hangout, and three blocks from Larry, who he has been seeing a lot of. He used his reel directing commercials to find a new gig quickly, not as art director, but in the television department of another ad agency. He's still not out at work, but his life is gayer and gayer. He never divorces Kitty and he never tells her about Larry, and he still sees her for lunch every Sunday, often with her crying and him apologizing. He'll never make it right, but finally he's living the life he wanted.
Rachel Menken: We know that she got married to Tilden Katz, but we never saw her give birth to her first son, which Tilden wanted to name after himself, but Rachel told him it was an awful name. How about something like Donald? And it worked. She has a baby named Don, who is growing up big and strong and handsome. She looks at him, not with lust, because that's creepy, but with longing. What if he were Don's? What if it all turned out differently? Oh, but it never could. It never could. She still runs Menken's Department Store, though it always bothered good old Tildey. When G. Fox & Co. make a bid to buy the store from the family for a huge amount of money, Tilden forces Rachel to take it so that she can devote all her time to raising Donald. They move to Westchester and she spends all of her days trying not to drive the station wagon to Ossining.
Suzanne Farrell: This teacher took a long time to get over Don leaving her and not taking her on vacation. She didn't want to love him, but she did. She continued living over her little sad garage, spurning the advances of all the eligible men (and ineligible men) in town. Eventually she was promoted to working at the high school teaching English to juniors and helping them find their way through The Grapes of Wrath. That's where she met her soulmate. Henry was strong and handsome and passionate and had a bright future ahead of him. He loved Suzanne so much and would visit her nearly every afternoon in her classroom pretending to need help when really he just wanted to sit with her and figure out her sadness. He wanted to find a way to cure it. She played coy at first and didn't appreciate his advances, but as the day wore on, she fell madly in love with him and eventually carried his baby. And then she served a few years in prison for sleeping with a student, but now she's out and raising the baby and everything is just fine.
Jimmy Barrett: After a rocky relationship with his wife following her affair with Don, Jimmy decided that it was time they get a divorce. He relentlessly pursued Ann-Margret, who wanted nothing to do with him. After a few bum appearances and some horrible shows in Vegas, Jimmy's career went into free-fall. He tried to get Bobbie to take him back and to be his manager once again, but she had moved on to another star, a ventriloquist act they both knew was going nowhere, but at least he wouldn't cheat on her. Jimmy started appearing on The Match Game and other game shows as his career got worse and so did his drinking. Then even those gigs dried up, but Jimmy never did. He died drunk and alone in a Motel somewhere in L.A. No one is sure where he's buried.
Dr. Faye Miller: Once her marriage failed and Don chose Megan over her, Faye had had enough of men (mad or otherwise) and enough of New York. She needed a new start, somewhere she could put her psychology degree to work. She hopped on a plane to Los Angeles and got herself a bungalow in Laurel Canyon and an office in Beverly Hills. Faye was always a sympathetic listener for her all-star clients and was known for her candor, discretion, and the hard line she took even with the most famous of psychologically disturbed celebrities. While she was professionally successful, she doesn't want another relationship. At night she sits on the patio over looking a small pool that she could skim a little bit more often. It's lined with hanging plants that she forgets to water until the leaves start to brown. Sometimes she's capable of bringing them back to life, but so often she just had to throw them out, their hooks swinging fallow until she bothers to get a replacement. She would sit out there, by the pool, on her metal furniture and just look out into the yard, dipping off toward the neighbors before falling into oblivion and she would think about how the sun is so different here, the slant of the light somehow reconfigured from how it was back east. She would take her hair out of it's bun and let it fall swinging to her shoulders as the breeze tickled its way through and onto her neck and the dry leaves dragged their rusty claws against the concrete. Follow Brian Moylan on Twitter @BrianJMoylan More: 'Mad Men' Recap: Harry's Krishna 'Mad Men''s Jessica Paré: Why Megan is Better Than Betty 'Mad Men' Preview Predictor: "You Can't Tell Anymore"
In a post-Harry Potter Avatar and Lord of the Rings world the descriptors "sci-fi" and "fantasy" conjure up particular imagery and ideas. The Hunger Games abolishes those expectations rooting its alternate universe in a familiar reality filled with human characters tangible environments and terrifying consequences. Computer graphics are a rarity in writer/director Gary Ross' slow-burn thriller wisely setting aside effects and big action to focus on star Jennifer Lawrence's character's emotional struggle as she embarks on the unthinkable: a 24-person death match on display for the entire nation's viewing pleasure. The final product is a gut-wrenching mature young adult fiction adaptation diffused by occasional meandering but with enough unexpected choices to keep audiences on their toes.
Panem a reconfigured post-apocalyptic America is sectioned off into 12 unique districts and ruled under an iron thumb by the oppressive leaders of The Capitol. To keep the districts producing their specific resources and prevent them from rebelling The Capitol created The Hunger Games an annual competition pitting two 18-or-under "tributes" from each district in a battle to the death. During the ritual tribute "Reaping " teenage Katniss (Lawrence) watches as her 12-year-old sister Primrose is chosen for battle—and quickly jumps to her aid becoming the first District 12 citizen to volunteer for the games. Joined by Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) a meek baker's son and the second tribute Effie the resident designer and Haymitch a former Hunger Games winner-turned-alcoholic-turned-mentor Katniss rides off to The Capitol to train and compete in the 74th Annual Hunger Games.
The greatest triumph of The Hunger Games is Ross' rich realization of the book's many worlds: District 12 is painted as a reminiscent Southern mining town haunting and vibrant; The Capitol is a utopian metropolis obsessed with design and flair; and The Hunger Games battleground is a sprawling forest peppered with Truman Show-esque additions that remind you it's all being controlled by overseers. The small-scale production value adds to the character-first approach and even when the story segues to larger arenas like a tickertape parade in The Capitol's grand Avenue of Tributes hall it's all about Katniss.
For fans the script hits every beat a nearly note-for-note interpretation of author Suzanne Collins' original novel—but those unfamiliar shouldn't worry about missing anything. Ross knows his way around a sharp screenplay (he's the writer of Big Pleasantville and Seabiscuit) and he's comfortable dropping us right into the action. His characters are equally as colorful as Panem Harrelson sticking out as the former tribute enlivened by the chance to coach winners. He's funny he's discreet he's shaded—a quality all the cast members share. As a director Ross employs a distinct often-grating perspective. His shaky cam style emphasizes the reality of the story but in fight scenarios—and even simple establishing shots of District 12's goings-on—the details are lost in motion blur.
But the dread of the scenario is enough to make Hunger Games an engrossing blockbuster. The lead-up to the actual competition is an uncomfortable and biting satire of reality television sports and everything that commands an audience in modern society. Katniss' brooding friend Gale tells her before she departs "What if nobody watched?" speculating that carnage might end if people could turn away. Unfortunately they can't—forcing Katniss and Peeta to become "stars" of the Hunger Games. The duo are pushed to gussy themselves up put on a show and play up their romance for better ratings. Lawrence channels her reserved Academy Award-nominated Winter's Bone character to inhabit Katniss' frustration with the system. She's great at hunting but she doesn't want to kill. She's compassionate and considerate but has no interest in bowing down to the system. She's a leader but she knows full well she's playing The Capitol's game. Even with 23 other contestants vying for the top spot—like American Idol with machetes complete with Ryan Seacrest stand-in Caesar Flickerman (the dazzling Stanley Tucci)—Katniss' greatest hurdle is internal. A brave move for a movie aimed at a young audience.
By the time the actual Games roll around (the movie clocks in at two and a half hours) there's a need to amp up the pace that never comes and The Hunger Games loses footing. Katniss' goal is to avoid the action hiding in trees and caves waiting patiently for the other tributes to off themselves—but the tactic isn't all that thrilling for those watching. Luckily Lawrence Hutcherson and the ensemble of young actors still deliver when they cross paths and particular beats pack all the punch an all-out deathwatch should. PG-13 be damned the film doesn't skimp on the bloodshed even when it comes to killing off children. The Hunger Games bites off a lot for the first film of a franchise and does so bravely and boldly. It may not make it to the end alive but it doesn't go down without a fight.
Director Alexander Payne's (Election Sideways) new film opens over sprawling landscape shots of Hawaii's scenic suburbia accompanied by George Clooney's character Matt King summing up his current predicament: "Paradise can go fuck itself." The reaction unfortunately is reasonable.
We pick up with King an ancestor of Hawaiian royalty in the middle of deliberations over a plot of land handed down through his family over generations. With every uncle aunt and cosign whispering opinions into his ear King is suddenly presented with an even greater problem: taking care of his two daughters. A boating accident leaves his wife in a coma forcing Matt to take a true parenting role with his young socially-troubled daughter Scottie (Amara Miller) and his rebellious teen Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) who was previously shipped off to boarding school. Matt awkwardly hunts for the emotional glue necessary for the mismatched bunch to become "a family " but matters are made even more complicated when Alex reveals that her mother was cheating on him before the accident. Murphy's Law is in full effect.
With The Descendants Payne continues to explore and discover the inherent humor in life's melancholic situations unfolding Matt's quest for understanding like a road movie across Hawaii's many islands. Simultaneously preparing for the end of his wife's death and searching for the identity of her lover Matt crosses paths with a number of perfectly cast side characters who act as mirrors to his best and worst qualities: his father-in-law Scott (Robert Foster) who belittles Matt for never taking care of his daughter; Hugh (Beau Bridges) an opportunistic cousin who pressures Matt to sell the land; Alexandra's dunce of a boyfriend Sid (Nick Krause) who always has the wrong thing to say; and Julie (Judy Greer) the wife of the adulterer in question. Colorful yet real Matt experiences a definitive moment with each of them yet the picture never feels sporadic or episodic.
Clooney and Woodley help gel these sequences together as they observe experience and butt heads as equals. Clooney's own magnetism stands in the way of making Matt a fully dimensional character but he shines when playing off his quick-witted daughter. His reactions are heartbreaking—but it's the moments when he has to put himself out there that never quite ring true. But the script by Nat Faxon Jim Rash and Payne gives Clooney plenty of opportunities to work his magic visualizing his struggle as opposed to vomiting it out like so many of today's talky dramas.
The Descendants is a tender cinematic experience an introspective and heartwarming film unafraid to convey its story with pleasing simplicity. Clooney stands out with a solid performance but like many of Payne's films it's the eclectic ensemble and muted backdrop that give the movie its real texture. The paradise of Descendants isn't all its cracked up to be but for movie-goers it's bliss.