Matthew Weiner

Millennium Entertainment

If Matthew Weiner‘s name wasn’t on Are You Here, you never would’ve guessed this movie came from the mind behind Mad Men. The focus, power, subtlety and charms of his AMC drama are nowhere to be found in his feature directorial debut. The staggering drop in quality is disappointing, but worse than that, even on its own terms, Are You Here is a notable misfire. Are We Here is about two seemingly different friends, Steve (Owen Wilson) and Ben (Zach Galifianakis), and how the death of Ben’s father challenges and enriches their friendship and those around them. Ben — who is considered a failure by his family — inherits most of his father’s money, which he was left to clean up his act. This delights the selfish and greedy Steve, while disappointing Ben’s sister, Terri (Amy Poehler). She had plans for her father’s shop, land and money. Since Ben is slightly unstable, she tries to fight in court that he’s not responsible enough to handle more than two million dollars. There’s more to this story, though: Steve is hovering around Ben to make sure he gets the land; Terri can’t have children; Steve is annoyed by a tree is blocking his view of a girl undressing across his apartment; and, perhaps the most sloppily handled portion of the film, Steve falls for Ben’s dad’s much younger wife, Angela (Laura Ramsey). There’s literally about five to ten minutes spent on that expendable tree subplot, by the way. It doesn’t tell us anything we don’t already know about Steve, it adds […]

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The Knick

In the seven years since it debuted, there have been several constants in the reaction to Mad Men: the critics have loved it, everyone has nursed a crush on Jon Hamm, and viewers have asked where the black people are. The time span covered by the period drama, from early 1960 until (presumably) the end of 1969, was one of extraordinary shifts in race relations in America. This was the height of the Civil Rights movement, after all. But that’s only happening in the background noise on Mad Men. This is entirely intentional on the part of creator Matthew Weiner and his writing staff, who have made it one facet of the isolated world of Madison Avenue advertising movers and shakers in which the show dwells. It’s debatable whether that’s a justifiable excuse (I can see points both in and against its favor), but even accepting it, there are still times where it’s just odd to be viewing the ’60s through an almost entirely white lens (most notably in the episode that addressed the death of Martin Luther King Jr.). In any case, it might be easier to swallow had the myriad shows produced in the hopes of mimicking Mad Men‘s success not followed its lead on this front. The period piece genre, which gains traction each year, is one of the most lily-white milieus on American television, and that’s even by the standards of the already overwhelmingly white prestige drama herd. Pan Am, Vegas, Magic City, Halt and Catch Fire, Turn – all of them have little-to-no diversity […]

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Are You Here Trailer

While Tina Fey, Jason Bateman, Dax Shepard and crew are dealing with their own family dysfunction and trying not to stare at Jane Fonda’s chest in Shawn Levy’s This is Where I Leave You, the three comedians who didn’t get to join in the festivities have joined forces for a familial drama of their own. Owen Wilson, Zach Galifianakis and Amy Poehler are taking bitter sibling politics to a whole new place, guided by the man who kind of knows how to do messed up families better than most — Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner. The first trailer for Are You Here (formerly titled You Are Here) is supposedly for a comedy, but doesn’t offer up as many laughs so much as it thrusts its comedians in a terrible, bleak reality. We meet Ben Baker (Galifianakis) as he desperately attempts to break past security and bust into a local news studio; it’s where his friend, local sleazy weatherman Steve Dallas (Wilson) works, and he’s in need of someone to share his sorrow with when he finds out his father has died. The duo takes a trip to the funeral, where they meet up with Baker’s uptight sister (Poehler) — who has really perfected her suburban princess ice stare. Of course, at the reading of their father’s will, the siblings find out that dearly departed dad left his entire estate to Ben, the family screw-up; the rest of the film will see Ben duke it out in court with his sis while leaning on […]

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Mad Men Best Things Bert

Don Draper is losing his mind. This is not a new theory, but after last Sunday’s season finale (for this half of Mad Men’s final season) it looks like it is becoming a fact. A season that has had Don fighting to keep everything – his job, his marriage, his family – finally allows our battered protagonist to end things on a high note with Don back on top at SC&P, letting go of a marriage that seemed only to weigh him down, and building an honest relationship with his kids (well, Sally at least). But then the true cracks start to show.

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Mad Men Season 7 Time Zones

Accutron: It’s not a time piece. It’s a conversation piece. The first Accutron hit the markets long before Freddy Rumsen was pitching it in such surprisingly elegant language. Actually, it had been selling for about ten years, debuting in October of 1960 (just around the time Mad Men‘s first season was drawing to a close). Watches of the time, and for several centuries previously, were built around a “balance wheel,” a little pendulum that shifts back and forth and keeps the watch’s hands moving. Watchmaking company Bulova did away with the balance wheel for their Accutron watch, inserting a fancy electric tuning fork and cementing Accutron as the first electronic watch in history. Those tiny metal forks also made the Accutron the most accurate wristwatch ever made, and a “horological revolution” (thanks, Wikipedia!). At least until 1969, when Astron debuted the quartz-powered Astron and Joel Murray, as Rumsen, sat down to do his best Don Draper impression in the offices of Sterling Cooper & Partners (technically, this episode was set in January of ’69 and the Astron didn’t come out until December, but who’s to say Bulova didn’t have a little insider knowledge about the competition?). But at the time of Rumsen’s pitch, the Accutron was the cutting edge, and hearing such a sharp pitch about such a sharp watch sounds so very peculiar from a character best known for peeing his pants and collapsing into a sad, drunken heap. Scott Hornbacher, the director of last night’s episode, knows this. […]

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Mad Men Season 7 Promo Peggy and Don

Some TV shows adhere to our thoughts, like glue, tape or that brand of putty known for extreme silliness. These are shows where half the cast might be killed off during a formal wedding feast or where the protagonist’s Great Big Secret is discovered by his brother-in-law while on the can. Mad Men is not one of those shows. It’s something slower, more prone to introspection and a slow simmering burn than graphic violence and CGI dragons. It’s no slight against Mad Men. It’s just a way of saying that a series that opened its sixth season with two hours of Dante’s Inferno allegory is not built for the same kind of cliffhanger anticipation that dragon shows are. Add in the ten(ish)-month gap between the last new episode of Mad Men and today, and you may be a little rusty on the comings and goings of Sterling Cooper & Partners (you may also have forgotten that the series’ ad firm is now called Sterling Cooper & Partners, which has been the case ever since Don Draper and Ted Chaough got drunk and decided to smoosh their two firms together). No worries, that’s why we’re all here: for a quick look back at the old Mad Men and one last look ahead at this year’s shiny new Mad Mens.

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Mad Men

It is a great and terrible irony that a show about ad executives has such awful tag lines. AMC just dropped a thirty-second tease of the upcoming last-ish season of Mad Men, a tease that’s mysterious, tantalizing, and also riddled with really, really un-Mad Men-like puns. In bright, saturated colors and hypnotic slow-mo, all the major Sterling Cooper & Partners players stand around an airport and do various things reminiscent of air travel. Pete buys his ticket. Betty stands by a small army’s worth of luggage and huffs impatiently. Roger ogles a passing woman (as is required at all times by John Slattery‘s contract). And as Don Draper gazes out at this new world around him, wherever that world may be, a brief piece of text appears on screen: “It’s All Up in the Air.” You know. Like an airplane. And as the audience reels from such furious punnage, the teaser winds up and delivers the knockout blow:

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Mad Men 6

While the sixth season of Mad Men wrapped up with a big, messy, chocolate-colored bow last Sunday, speculation about what we can expect from the final season of the best television series (on air now, and perhaps ever) has really only just begun. Though it’s become standard practice for Mad Men fans to theorize about creator Matthew Weiner fitting dramatic events on his show around actual historical events from the corresponding time periods (of note, the sixth season finale took place in November of 1968), that’s rarely panned out in a big way. Sure, this season included plenty of fallout from events like the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, more than enough discussions about the election of President Nixon, and even a bevy of references to cultural hot buttons like Rosemary’s Baby and Planet of the Apes, but it never placed its characters exactly inside them. Sure, Peggy’s boyfriend Abe zipped off to do some news photography post-MLK assassination and everyone sure was sad about America’s inability to hold on to good leaders, but none of our characters were ever really there. And, despite some truly brilliant theorizing, Megan Draper (Jessica Pare) didn’t end up “being” Sharon Tate in any way, shape, or form. Basically, Mad Men watchers love to create large-scale scenarios that involve their favorite (and, more often, their least favorite) characters within the actual confines of history, while Weiner and company continue to dance around (and even firmly reject) such scenarios. Will the […]

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As a period drama, Mad Men has sustained a notable gap between the dispositions of its audience and of its characters. We approach the show from the privilege of hindsight, knowing the major events that the characters will encounter before they encounter them. When Roger Sterling announces his daughter’s wedding date to be late November, 1963 during the third season, for instance, we know that the assassination of the US President will put a considerable damper on the that event, even though we might not know precisely how that will play out. But if we suspend our disbelief to the extent that we buy into the fantasy that these characters exist (at least, in Matt Weiner’s 1960s), the show’s characters also have an advantage over us: that of present experience, of living history not qua history, but as an inevitable component of the ongoing present. “History” becomes a series of moments deeply entangled with the circumstances of characters’ personal lives, and these moments can be experienced directly or peripherally – a history not understood, in short, through the distilling practices of a textbook, but through the disorientation of immediacy. Whether dealing with the death of John F. Kennedy, the University of Texas shooter, or less canonized events like the 1962 plane crash in Jamaica Bay, Mad Men has walked the difficult tightrope of re-framing annals of America’s past in terms of the characters’ perpetual present, and “history” as recounted by the show can be as forceful as an interpersonal crisis […]

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This week Mad Men ended a season that mainly focused on the increasingly degenerate Don Draper. He’s become a hopeless alcoholic. He barely phones it in at work, a place where he used to shine brightest of all. He is cheating on his wife with his neighbor, whom he sometimes makes his submissive. His daughter caught them mid-coitus. He purposely shamed his co-workers in a meeting. The list likely could go on for some time, so get comfortable. Though in this finale, “In Care Of,” written and directed by Matthew Weiner and co-written by Carly Wray, Don gets some much-needed comeuppance – and it’s pretty brutal. Don’s tale is hardly the only sad story in this episode, as Peggy, Ted, Pete, and Roger all meet somewhat sad fates by this season’s end. While there have certainly much better Mad Men finales – and much better Mad Men seasons, for that matter – this one was successful in tying up the ongoing plot lines, as well as putting forth some truly memorable scenes and some brilliant performances.

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Mad Men PR

With just one episode left in this year’s remarkable Mad Men season, AMC has cheerily released an “official” press release announcing the latest merger for the ad men, including a look at the new firm’s new logo and adorable comments from all of its partners. The memo was shared on Mad Men’s Facebook page after last night’s show (and subsequently shared by every person you know on social media), and while it’s certainly fun to gaze at, it’s even more fun to use as the jumping off point for some Mad Men activities (and, we’ll admit it now, to delve ever-deeper into the finely-tuned historical elements of the ever-accurate show). Let’s have some fun.

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Bob Benson

Bob Benson didn’t need to have a bombshell of a secret. In fact, history dictated that Bob Benson wasn’t going to have a bombshell of a secret. And yet, the Mad Men newcomer, played by James Wolk, raised suspicion from the moment he waltzed onto (the wrong floor, inevitably) of SCD&P (now just the offensive-to-everyone SC&P) in the series’ sixth season. Benson, a new accounts man, could have easily been regulated to a background bit – after all, even perennial accounts man Ken Cosgrove hasn’t gotten much play this season, save for his spectacular tap dancing sequence during the season’s drug-fueled “The Crash” – but the handsome Wolk has popped up in no less than eight episodes of the show’s latest season, and he’s been inscrutable at every turn. Wolk is also not some fresh face that comes without baggage – if you’re familiar with his work on such ambitious shows as the ill-fated Lone Star or the underappreciated Political Animals, you are also familiar with his panache for playing characters with major secrets comes part and parcel with seeing him on television. Wolk isn’t the guy you cast for some small part, he’s the guy you look to for some steadily building, multi-faceted character work. The Bob Benson conspiracy theories have run the gamut (he’s a government spy! he’s a mole from another ad agency! he’s an undercover journalist! he’s just a total lunatic!), and while the real truth (or whatever “real truth” that Mad Men is willing to […]

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This week’s Mad Men is called “Favors.” Which thematically, makes a lot of sense, as Bob does a favor for Pete via Manolo the male nurse, Peggy asks a late night favor of Stan, Don does a huge solid for Sylvia and the list goes on. But so much more happens. Being Mad Men, these favors are not exactly selfless ones. Though this episode in particular, written by Semi Chellas and Matthew Weiner and directed by Jennifer Getzinger, did a lot to propel the show toward its season finale in two weeks. While there were a few drawbacks, it was a very dynamic Mad Men installment, boasting two brilliant standout scenes, amazing performances, and some show-changing events that up the stakes for the finale.

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Our boys at SCDP and CGC are allegedly operating as one entity, they even came up with an “equally offensive” new name of Sterling Cooper & Partners, though it’s hard to believe that either of the halves will ever function as a whole, as proved by this week’s episode, aptly titled “A Tale of Two Cities,” written by Janet Leahy and Matthew Weiner and directed by John Slattery. Separate forces divide and try to concur as they make meetings to reel in new accounts. But every man is for himself, naturally, and their motivations aren’t necessarily for the good of the firm as a whole. Maintaining the momentum of last week’s brilliant episode, this one perhaps equals it in overall quality and explores office politics versus more personal relationships. And parallelled with the office unrest are the riots at the Democratic National Convention. Don and Roger head to Los Angeles with Harry with the hopes to seal the deal with Carnation. While Don is uncharacteristically prepping on the plane, Roger tells him to stop, saying, “Our biggest challenge? Not getting syphilis.” So we know Roger’s main motivation for the trip. Don, however, is making an effort to be good where Megan is concerned, though that doesn’t stop him from making out with some actress at a hash party later.

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In the wise words of the J. Geils Band, “love stinks.” Love is different to different people. Some hold onto another person out of a matter of convenience. Some for lust. Some for nostalgia. Some probably don’t even know what “love” is really supposed to be – well, that’s probably most of us. And those at SCDP/CGC are no better off. This week’s exceptional Mad Men, ‘The Better Half,” written by Erin Levy and Matthew Weiner and directed by Phil Abraham, examines the relationships of some of the characters, past and present. Between Don, Betty, Peggy, Ted, Roger, and Joan, feelings for old flames are stirred up and idealized or new options come into the mix, but are any of these feelings well-founded? Probably not. “The Better Half” provides a great balance of characters’ stories, some excellent writing (as usual), and such a striking examination of the interpersonal relationships on the show. This hour-long episode covers an impressive amount of ground and was one of the best of the season so far.

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We all get burned out from time to time, but it seems that when ad men get burned out, things really go awry. Especially when there may or may not be steroids or some weird “stimulant” involved. This week’s Mad Men, “The Crash,” is a surreal, fever dream of an episode. Nightmarish events occur, but you won’t find any dream sequences here. Written by Jason Grote and Matthew Weiner and directed by Michael Uppendahl, this episode throws its viewers down the same drugged up rabbit hole as the characters. And while it features some of those questionable Dick Whitman whorehouse flashbacks, it’s a very strong one in terms of the overall immersive effect of Uppendahl’s direction and the dark aura that it leaves behind. Chevy has put a lot of deadlines upon the yet-to-be-named super agency, and they need to work all weekend to come up with a slew of new ideas for the campaign. Don isn’t feeling well, Ken got into a car accident test driving with the powers-that-be at Chevy, and many are saddened by Frank Gleeson’s passing, so Jim Cutler reasons that it’s a good idea to get a doctor to come to the office to inject any ailing parties with a stimulant which is supposed to keep them creative for over twenty-four hours.

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Don Draper’s devolution into being completely unlikable is nearing completion. He’s been the perpetrator of selfish office politics, continued his adulterous streak, and now he veered into some really cringe-worthy sadomasochistic stuff with Sylvia. This week’s Mad Men, “Man With A Plan,” written by Matthew Weiner and Semi Chellas and directed by Roger Sterling himself, John Slattery, did indeed serve as a heavy critique on Don’s morals, putting him up against his CGC equivalent, Ted Chaough, and how they compare as creative leaders. We also got a healthy dose of Joan, which is always encouraged, as Joan had to discern whether or not a certain kindness was the product of someone trying to get ahead. And some comic moments with Pete and his ailing mother, though this storyline is a tarnished retread of one from the past. Oh yes, and the RFK assassination officially happened.

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This week, SDCP and CGC assemble to nab that Chevy account that both are vying for. Separate, their agencies are too small and Don fears that Chevy will rip off their creative output and go with a larger agency instead. So, Don and Ted decide last minute (over drinks, of course) to present to Chevy together and worry about all the merger stuff later – our creative leaders swap out Old Fashioneds for shwarma, no doubt. This is all pretty exciting, but perhaps feels a bit contrived. Nevertheless, this week’s Mad Men, entitled “For Immediate Release” (written by Matthew Weiner and directed by Jennifer Getzinger) successfully deals with the blurring together of personal feelings with business politics and how that gray area comes with mostly negative results. The merger, as we learn by the end of the episode, pretty much destroys a lucrative opportunity headed up by Bert, Pete, and Joan – they brought in a banker to evaluate the company for an IPO, and he deemed the company to be worth $11 per share, meaning that the partners stand to be filthy rich (Joan’s portion alone would be worth over $1 million). Don, however, was never alerted about the IPO possibility, so he’s indignant about not being in the loop, while Pete is indignant that Don is so blasé about firing the worst guy ever (Herb from Jaguar, clearly) in an explosive dinner. Don’s move obviously lowers the price of their potential stock and poses the question: what exactly did Joan sacrifice so […]

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This week’s Mad Men, entitled “The Flood,” brings us to that pivotal point in history when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, viewing how the tragic event brought out the best and the worst in people. Some used the event to their gain or resented it for putting a stop to the normal routine. For others, it made them appreciate the important things in life, like family and friends. Written by showrunner Matthew Weiner and Tom Smuts and directed by Chris Manley, this week’s installment was hardly perfect – it had a few unusually cheesy moments – but it was thought-provoking and featured a powerhouse performance from Jon Hamm. The title of the episode comes from Ginsberg’s father saying, “In the flood, the animals went two-by-two,” as he sets his son up on a surprise dinner date with a comely teacher, eventually passing off MLK Jr.’s assassination as a good time to play matchmaker. The date goes pretty well – though Ginsberg is apparently a virgin – and the girl admits that she is also just going along for the matchmaking ride. While Ginsberg’s father helps to enunciate the episode’s theme – the quest to find companionship in a scary, uncertain wolrd – the Ginsberg home life is somewhat corny and melodramatic. Ginsberg sews for his father on a sewing machine! They bicker about dinner! And matchmaking! This tale of a Jewish émigré and his son holed up in a small apartment reads like something out of The Jazz Singer, […]

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I am female. And because of that, I am quite happy that I didn’t have to experience the 1960s firsthand. Really glad, in fact. This week’s episode of Mad Men, “The Collaborators,” written by Matthew Weiner and Jonathan Igla and directed by none other than Don Draper himself, Jon Hamm, offers quite a powerful meditation on the rather hideous manner in which women were treated. Not since last season’s “The Other Woman,” in which Joan is offered as collateral for Jaguar rep Herb has a Mad Men episode created such a palpable unease as you watch female characters get pigeonholed as whores, belittled in the workplace, or deal with their tricky nature of their own bodies. “The Other Woman,” however, was a far superior episode. This one suffered from the heavy-handedness in which nascent director Hamm employed the use of flashback. Several times, he cut from scenes between Don and Sylvia to a tween Dick Whitman arriving with his pregnant mother to her sister’s brothel. These flashback scenes were problematic for many reasons – chiefly because they drove home the thread of “women as unfair sex object” way too hard. While it’s usually a good thing to get the rare glimpse into the man-that-became-Don-Draper, these scenes are largely unneeded. We get the point. Also, in terms of Hamm’s direction in these scenes… it’s obvious. The young bumpkin Dick Whitman looks not unlike Alfred E. Newman. The prostitutes act like stock characters from an old time-y movie, and all other characters look like they stepped out from an […]

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published: 12.19.2014
A-
published: 12.18.2014
C-
published: 12.17.2014
B+


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