As we prepare for the final episode to this penultimate season of Mad Men, we are inclined to look back upon the year at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce (now Sterling Cooper & Partners). Where have these dozen episodes taken Don Draper, Peggy Olson, and the rest of the characters? And where are they headed? Here's a quick rundown with some reminders of this eventful year and predictions for the future:
When we caught up with Don... He was on top of the world! A compassionate, talented, beautiful wife with a budding career in show business. A slightly on-the-mend relationship with the mother of his children. A stable job at a thriving advertising firm. Things couldn't be better for Don!One season later... He has engaged in a tumultuous extramarital affair with a neighbor — one that he was caught in the act of exploring by his 13-year-old daughter — has been forced to merge his company with that of a rival whom he can't seem to help himself from trying to emotionally destroy, and is pretty much as miserable and corrosive as any man can possibly be.And from here, he'll... Continue to slide gradually down into a sea of self-loathing madness until the demons of his past overtake him entirely. Perhaps Sally will reveal the affair to Megan, or his efforts to uproot coworker/selected enemy Ted Chaough's psyche will blow up in his face. Or maybe that crazy lady will break into his apartment again and exact her wrath on the Draper clan. Or Dr. Rosen, the husband of Don's illicit ladyfriend. To be frank, the probable venues for Don's decimation are countless.
When we caught up with Peggy… She had finally spread her wings and flown free from the shackles of the misogynistic Sterling Cooper where she was bred. No longer within the destructive reach of Don Draper, she could explore her creativity and grow as a businesswoman in a new environment. And now that she was living with intellectual Abe in her very own apartment, things were looking up for Peggy in all departments.One season later… She's back at Sterling Cooper, suffering all of Don's self-effacing wallowing, has broken up with Abe (after stabbing him, no less), and begun exploring a romantic affair with a married man. Oh, and her apartment is filled with rats.And from here, she'll… Trigger to the destruction of the Chaough household and of lovable old Ted himself... perhaps literally. Nobody that ostensibly nice can survive a full season of Mad Men, can they?
When we caught up with Pete... He was a happily... er, steadily married man with a secret Manhattan apartment, recently augmented in professional standing at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce.One season later... He's separated, tending to the needs of his increasingly delusional mother, caught in the crosshairs with the maniacal Bob Benson... still pretty much the same douche, though.And from here, he'll... Throw himself out a window? We're all pretty much aligned with the theory that he's the guy in the opening credits, right?
When we caught up with Roger... He was a twice-divorced LSD aficionado rapidly descending the scale of human evolution.One season later... His mother died and he got punched in the gut. Otherwise, he seems to be doing pretty much the same.And from here, he'll... Break ground in therapy and become a mature adult, a doting father and grandfather, and the sort of man he's never realized he always wished he was. Either that, or he'll do more LSD and try to sleep with a bunch of younger women.
JOAN HARRIS (NEE HOLLOWAY)
When we caught up with Joan... She was an actual character on this show.One season later... She's shown up a couple of times. Once to get knocked down a few pegs in her pursuit of a new client, once to say something about chicken soup in a Jewish-American accent.And from here, she'll... Thrive as a Johnny Walker spokesperson, most prominently.
When we met Bob... He was a cheerful, generous, ambitious young buck signing onto the Sterling Cooper brand to learn from the best of the best and make a name for himself in the biz, golly gee.One season later... He's been revealed to be a Machiavellian liar and possible sociopath riddled with countless dark secrets, and a stalwart enemy to Pete Campbell.And from here, he'll... Die. If Ted Chaugh doesn't bite the dust before Season 7, Bob Benson sure as hell will. Or he'll take an axe to someone else at the SC&P staff... This guy's got "horror story" written all over him.
And how about Betty, Megan, and Sally? Ken Cosgrove and Harry Crane? Ginsberg, Stan, and the kid from Frasier? Only the writers know. And possibly Bert Cooper. Hey, he predicted Kennedy's election.
Follow Michael Arbeiter on Twitter @MichaelArbeiter.
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David Mitchell's novel Cloud Atlas consists of six stories set in various periods between 1850 and a time far into Earth's post-apocalyptic future. Each segment lives on its own the previous first person account picked up and read by a character in its successor creating connective tissue between each moment in time. The various stories remain intact for Tom Tykwer's (Run Lola Run) Lana Wachowski's and Andy Wachowski's (The Matrix) film adaptation which debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival. The massive change comes from the interweaving of the book's parts into one three-hour saga — a move that elevates the material and transforms Cloud Atlas in to a work of epic proportions.
Don't be turned off by the runtime — Cloud Atlas moves at lightning pace as it cuts back and forth between its various threads: an American notary sailing the Pacific; a budding musician tasked with transcribing the hummings of an accomplished 1930's composer; a '70s-era investigatory journalist who uncovers a nefarious plot tied to the local nuclear power plant; a book publisher in 2012 who goes on the run from gangsters only to be incarcerated in a nursing home; Sonmi~451 a clone in Neo Seoul who takes on the oppressive government that enslaves her; and a primitive human from the future who teams with one of the few remaining technologically-advanced Earthlings in order to survive. Dense but so was the unfamiliar world of The Matrix. Cloud Atlas has more moving parts than the Wachowskis' seminal sci-fi flick but with additional ambition to boot. Every second is a sight to behold.
The members of the directing trio are known for their visual prowess but Cloud Atlas is a movie about juxtaposition. The art of editing is normally a seamless one — unless someone is really into the craft the cutting of a film is rarely a post-viewing talking point — but Cloud Atlas turns the editor into one of the cast members an obvious player who ties the film together with brilliant cross-cutting and overlapping dialogue. Timothy Cavendish the elderly publisher could be musing on his need to escape and the film will wander to the events of Sonmi~451 or the tortured music apprentice Robert Frobisher also feeling the impulse to run. The details of each world seep into one another but the real joy comes from watching each carefully selected scene fall into place. You never feel lost in Cloud Atlas even when Tykwer and the Wachowskis have infused three action sequences — a gritty car chase in the '70s a kinetic chase through Neo Seoul and a foot race through the forests of future millennia — into one extended set piece. This is a unified film with distinct parts echoing the themes of human interconnectivity.
The biggest treat is watching Cloud Atlas' ensemble tackle the diverse array of characters sprinkled into the stories. No film in recent memory has afforded a cast this type of opportunity yet another form of juxtaposition that wows. Within a few seconds Tom Hanks will go from near-neanderthal to British gangster to wily 19th century doctor. Halle Berry Hugh Grant Jim Sturgess Jim Broadbent Ben Whishaw Hugo Weaving and Susan Sarandon play the same game taking on roles of different sexes races and the like. (Weaving as an evil nurse returning to his Priscilla Queen of the Desert cross-dressing roots is mind-blowing.) The cast's dedication to inhabiting their roles on every level helps us quickly understand the worlds. We know it's Halle Berry behind the fair skinned wife of the lunatic composer but she's never playing Halle Berry. Even when the actors are playing variations on themselves they're glowing with the film's overall epic feel. Jim Broadbent's wickedly funny modern segment a Tykwer creation that packs a particularly German sense of humor is on a smaller scale than the rest of the film but the actor never dials it down. Every story character and scene in Cloud Atlas commits to a style. That diversity keeps the swirling maelstrom of a movie in check.
Cloud Atlas poses big questions without losing track of its human element the characters at the heart of each story. A slower moment or two may have helped the Wachowskis' and Tykwer's film to hit a powerful emotional chord but the finished product still proves mainstream movies can ask questions while laying over explosive action scenes. This year there won't be a bigger movie in terms of scope in terms of ideas and in terms of heart than Cloud Atlas.
Real Steel – the new sci-fi sports flick from Night at the Museum director Shawn Levy – is set in the year 2020. Its vision of the future looks remarkably similar to the present save for the fact that the sport of boxing has been taken over by pugilistic robots. There are no robot butlers taxi drivers or senators – just boxers. Apparently technology in 2020 has advanced enough to allow for the creation of massive mechanized beings of astonishing dexterity but humanity has found no use for them beyond the boxing ring.
Hugh Jackman plays Charlie Kenton a has-been boxer turned small-time robot-fight promoter. A consummate hustler who’ll do anything for a buck Charlie’s fallen on hard times of late. Opportunity arrives in the diminutive guise of 11-year-old Max (Dakota Goyo) his estranged son who turns out to be something of an electronics wunderkind. Together they work to fashion Atom an obsolete ramshackle “sparring robot” left to rot in a junkyard into a contender.
Anyone who’s seen an underdog sports movie – or any movie for that matter – made in the last half-century can fairly easily ascertain how this one plays out. (The story borrows tropes from The Champ Rocky and Over the Top wholesale.) Atom proves surprisingly capable in the ring compensating for his inferior technology with grit perseverance and an ability to absorb massive amounts of punishment. Under the guidance of Charlie and Max he makes an improbable run through the ranks eventually earning a one-in-a-million shot at the World Robot Boxing championship.
Real Steel was executive-produced by Steven Spielberg; it bears his unmistakable imprint. Levy judiciously deploys Spielberg’s patented blockbuster mix of dazzling special effects and gooey sentiment wrapping it all in a highly polished if wholly synthetic package. Still Real Steel might have amounted to so much glossy hokum were it not for its champion Hugh Jackman. Other actors might eye such a project as an opportunity to coast for an easy paycheck but damned if Jackman isn’t completely invested. The film’s underdog storyline isn’t nearly as inspiring as watching its star so gamely devote himself to selling material that will strike anyone over the age of 12 as patently ludicrous. His efforts pay off handsomely: Real Steel is about as rousing and affecting as any film inspired by Rock’em Sock’em Robots can expect to be. (The filmmakers claim lineage to a short story-turned-Twilight Zone episode but who are they kidding?)
WHAT IT’S ABOUT?
When a strong-willed business woman is suddenly told she might lose her job and be deported to her native Canada she impulsively forces her ever-loyal executive assistant into a shotgun engagement in order to get a green card and stay in the country. The plan gets complicated when the mismatched twosome must go to meet his family in Alaska and convince everyone including a pesky government investigator that their impending marriage is the real thing.
WHO’S IN IT?
Sandra Bullock has never been more appealing in the kind of “tough boss” role normally associated with male actors. The Proposal turns the usual romantic comedy tables around giving Bullock lots to play with — and she certainly makes the most of it painting a hilarious picture of an attractive and surprisingly vulnerable business exec caught in a situation spiraling out of control. Ryan Reynolds’ sitcom expertise is put to good use in the role of her willingly unwilling assistant who must join her charade or risk losing his job. This is Reynolds’ best outing as a rom-com lead yet and he shows he could own the genre if provided the right material. Stealing the movie from both of them however is the irrepressible Betty White who plays Reynolds’ saucy Grammy. Once again the Golden Girls alum proves she has comic timing second to none.
Knowing the standard romantic comedy setup just isn’t going to cut it anymore director Anne Fletcher (Step Up 27 Dresses) turns The Proposal into more of a screwball farce letting the laughs fly without forcing them on us. She’s helped by two game lead players who really know their way around this well-worn genre and provide just the right balance to keep this merry soufflé from falling apart. The breathtaking remote locations (Massachusetts oddly enough substitutes for Alaska) don’t hurt.
No matter how inventive the script it’s pretty obvious where things are going to wind up in any romantic comedy. But The Proposal despite following the standard blueprint still manages to keep us guessing until the very end and that accounts for most of the fun.
A scene in which Bullock and Reynolds accidentally run into each other sans clothing is hilarious worthy of the best farceurs. A close second is a sequence involving a little dog a menacing eagle and a cell phone. Classic stuff.
BEST REASON TO PLOP DOWN 10 BUCKS?
After 60 — count ‘em 60 — years in show business with six Emmys and numerous TV series to show for it Betty White at age 87 still proves there can be second third and even fourth acts in life. She gives a movie star turn here that shows everyone how it’s done.
NETFLIX OR MULTIPLEX?
As an alternative to big summer action flicks and gross-out comedies The Proposal is definitely the date movie du jour.