Thursday, September 10, 2009

Genres & Judgements - Don Draper as Lucifer Incarnate, the Badassery of Commissioner Gordon, and Veronica Mars at the Skywalker Ranch

First up, the song of the week:

"All For U" by RJD2, Magnificent City (Instrumentals) (2006)
Recently introduced to me via my new-found obsession, Mad Men. RJD2's track "A Beautiful Mine" is the show's theme, and this song is off the same album. I've only delved into a bit of his instrumental stuff thus far. After "A Beautiful Mine," this is my favorite thus far.
While I speak of the devil -- Don Draper -- let us now move on to Mad Men itself.
The third season of the superb AMC drama is now in progress about an office at an advertising agency in the early 1960s. Our main character, Mr. Draper, and his series' cohorts drift through an seemingly endless supply of scotch, Lucky Strikes and tailored suits in between cutting deals in the boardroom and bedroom alike.
Encapsulating the show's run so far here is a bit of a fool's errand, but I'll probably want to talk about it in the future and need to get some of my thoughts out on the interweb.
Perhaps the odd thing about this show is that it doesn't concern itself with having a traditional villain. The conflicts are mostly interpersonal and you learn every character's motivation eventually, so casting blame to any one person in a given plotline is left to your own mind's eye. When taking a step back, it's Don Draper who should be the most detestable of the principle cast; however, he's anything but. I suppose you could compare him to Tony Soprano as the villain you love, but that's unfair to Draper. What makes him evil is his ability to manipulate virtually any situation to his favor, given time. It's a level of seduction I was first introduced in C.S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters -- subversive, masqueraded and, most importantly, effective. What's most confounding about him as a character is that I find myself reveling in every horrible deed he engages in, asking myself the next day "What would Don Draper do?" in daily situations.
Even given the level of complexity that is Don Draper, what really makes Mad Men so engaging is its execution of dynamic character study as expressed through innate subtlety. It's Betty indulging Roger's drunken requests at the dinner table. It's Peggy following Don's advice. It's Don fondling a patch of grass just long enough that it comes across with menace. All of this is handled by the entire creative team with such ease, it's worrisome that it won't be seen again for a long time in television (or at least until next Sunday).
I tackled another item that had been on my list for a long time, Batman: Year One (1987). Written by Frank Miller and illustrated by David Mazzucchelli, it's considered one of the greatest of all Batman tales. Elements of it were used in Batman Begins film from a few years back, though not as much as I was somehow led to believe.
Miller's work on Daredevil was my gateway into comics, so he'll always hold an important part in my fanboy psyche, but other than his Sin City work, I have almost always been more disappointed by his work that I was expecting (The Dark Knight Returns, Ronin, Give Me Liberty). I suppose a lot of this has to do with the passage of time and the continued ascension of comics as an artform and literary expression. Comics have come a long way since he first became huge.
Though it's technically about a still young Bruce Wayne becoming the Dark Knight, I found the Jim Gordon parts far more engaging. For me, his struggles as the lone good cop were more interesting than Bruce's transformation. There's some especially nice work done with your expectations going into the book with Barbara Gordon.
In the end, if you're a series Batman fan, you probably must read this. However, most of the best elements were cherry picked and placed in Batman Begins by Nolan and company.
I also watched Fanboys recently. If you're hardcore about Star Wars, you should probably check it out. It may have too much "inside" humor for the casual Lucas affixionado (do you know what Kashyyyk is? or are you at this guy's level? then you qualify), but has its moments for the rest of us, too.
Fanboys is okay. Try not to get too ramped up about seeing it, otherwise you'll be pretty underwhelmed, but there were some surprising (to me) cameos sprinkled throughout the movie. I apparently knew so little about it, I didn't realize the delectable Kristen Bell played a fairly significant role.
I suppose the real achievement with the movie is that it recaptures that insane excitement in 1998 for a new Star Wars flick. After what we got, it's a little hard to remember that sometimes.
And Now For the Ethical Dilemma of the Week:
Is It Ethical To Engineer Delicious Cows That Feel No Pain? [via Popular Science]
You said they're delicious?
Answer: Yes!
Coming Up Next Week:

  • This Mad Men entry went on a bit longer than I had anticipated and was dominated (fittingly so) by Don Draper, so I think I may talk about a different character from the show after each week's new episodes going forward.
  • After realizing that Batman: Dark Victory took place in the Batman: Year One universe and was a sequel to Loeb and Sale's own Batman: The Long Halloween, I've been backtracking so that I can review it properly. Expect Halloween and Dark Victory soon.
  • Still got The Yakuza in the Netflix pipeline. But now that the basement is unflooded and back in order, more movie and tv watching will commence.
  • Finally, I did finish Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan's new novel The Strain this week. I'm holding off until the season 2 finale of True Blood airs for my next G&J article to talk about it, however, because it will be vampire-centric.

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