Mad Men is not long for this world. To add insult to injury, it will be an entire year before you get to see the end of the final season. But if you're a fan of the mega-hit about 1960s advertisers, you are bound to have seen promos for AMC’s new series Halt and Catch Fire. This recent addition to the network seems like the perfect fit to fill the void. It follows the bad boys of the early 1980s computer industry. It offers the same blend of businessmen with mysterious motives, dark self-destructive tendencies, and nostalgia, all without feeling like a cheap carbon copy. Plus, the cast is pretty awesome.
Lee Pace: The New Don Draper
Pace plays Joe MacMillan, a former IBM employee with a secret. He comes to Texas with a mission and a bunch of ideas. He’s the driving force behind a plan to reverse engineer an IBM computer. Pace was memorable as the lovable pie-maker in Pushing Daisies. He’s also been a part of quite a few recent franchises including Twilight, The Hobbit films, as well as the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy. His enigmatic character is sexy, smart, and has that same dark Draper vibe.
More Depressed than Pete Campbell
Scoot McNairy plays Gordon Clarke, a family man whose wife is doing better in the computing game than he is. The couple is licking their wounds after trying to build their own machine. Like Mad Men’s Pete Campbell, Gordon is struggling to make his mark in the industry while providing for his family. However, the 1980s brings the added pressure of having a wife as a potential competitor. He's an ambitious idealist and a depressive pushover. McNairy is nearly unrecognizable with his geek makeover. He's recently starred in Non-Stop and Argo.
Post-Modern Punky Peggy Olsen
Mackenzie Davis plays androgynous engineering prodigy Cameron Howe. She and Joe have a will they/won’t they chemistry. Like Peggy, she butts heads with Joe and challenges his authority, and in true punk style, all authority. She’s a fish out of water at the Cardiff Electric but she is everyone’s only hope. She also seamlessly enters the "boy's club." She played Chelsea, Miles Teller's love interest in That Awkward Moment.
The nice thing about the series is it isn’t just a re-skinned version of Mad Men. It definitely has the potential to provide the same tune-in appeal with a completely new take on the pretty dry world of computers. And yet, given its impact on our society the computer was a major source of contention, innovation, and success. The series also has elements of the heist film genre. Joe is either a major mastermind or completely insane. He seems to have elaborate plans or no sense of self-preservation. There is also a lot of elements inherent to the 1980s that can be explored over the course of the series, including the hardcore push of capitalism, the rise in cocaine use, and the rampant bed-hopping before the AIDS crisis. Either way, the show looks primed to deliver something very special. You can catch the first episode early on the AMC Tumblr Page.
The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.
Gillian Anderson is Lily Bart a woman of shaky means for who parties are business and the pursuit of marriage has become a constant vocation. She falls in love with Lawrence Seldon (Eric Stoltz) but quickly realizes she can't seriously consider him since he actually works for a living. Still her efforts to marry for money instead of love are so half-hearted that she sabotages her chances with a wealthy prig and continues her flirting gambling cigarette-smoking ways. This in turn puts her out of favor with her rich aunt and a tragic demise waits in the wings. Bribery extortion and character assassination rear their scandalous heads as the wrong men make improper plays for the desirable Lily. Intriguing as it may sound revealing letters that have been tossed into a fire are all that smolders in this film.
Leaving the realm of supernatural phenomenon ("X-Files") for the spookier world of Victorian society Gillian Anderson plays the ever so wronged but resolutely brave Lily. Anderson's self-righteousness and wretched desperation fail to endear her leaving her tragic long-suffering Lily somewhat remote. But it's Stoltz's opaque inert Lawrence who truly irritates. A once-likeable actor he has begun to play all his roles with a tad too much smugness. Sincere but utterly passive the character is annoyingly subdued. Laura Linney is refreshingly vital as the dangerous Bertha. Dan Aykroyd fails to impress as a villain in sheep's clothes and Eleanor Bron is a caricature of a stern sour aunt.
After seeing one too many Merchant Ivory films one might tire of the convention in which a woman of meager means falls for a poor working man while searching for a rich husband. And for those who haven't seen any you just might tire of it midway through Terence Davies' languid dour drama. Davies ("The Neon Bible " "Distant Voices Still Lives") doesn't do for Wharton what Martin Scorsese did in "Age of Innocence " namely bring her words to lively engaging life.