Five Reasons Why I Love Mad Men

1. It’s set in the 60’s.

After the 40’s, the 60’s is my other favorite period in American history that I enjoy watching on screen.  I’ve always found these two eras really fascinating, for some reason.  Probably to do with the fact that most men wore fedoras during that time…mmm men in fedoras ❤ No, seriously what I find so intriguing about the 40’s is that contrast of the glitz and glamour versus the corruption and crime that was so rampant in that period.  What I love about the 60’s though is that while it’s clear that there has been a marked improvement from 2 decades ago and the future of America appears to be looking up, there are (still) quite prevalent tensions that surround issues particularly those relating to race, gender, politics and sexuality that affect how society acts, reacts and functions on the whole.  These issues are interwoven seamlessly into the episodes; the show has been commended for how accurately they have depicted that era.  But yeah in many ways I see the 40’s and the 60’s as yes, very different and distinctive eras but in many ways also very similar.  But hey, that’s an entire blog entry on it’s own!

2. The stellar cast.

Don Draper (played by Jon Hamm) is respectable and brilliant in his professional life but a selfish, cheating womanizer in his personal life.  Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) is a slimy, self-praising only-out-for-himself tool.  Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss) is a naive and conservative but ambitious young lady.  And of course, my favorite character, Ken Cosgrove, the easy-going class clown who has a surprising flair for writing.  (he is played by Aaron Staton, who I MUST mention was Cole Phelps in my favorite game L.A. Noire!)  Every character in the office has a distinct personality and quirks that make them who they are; they all bring something to the table which somehow just complement one another perfectly.  It makes for a very interesting group dynamic, one that is so irresistable to watch; I find when I’m watching each episode I feel so comfortable with these people, almost like they were my colleagues too.  This is, of course, largely due to the fantastic actors that perfectly embody these characters.

3. The excellent writing.

You could have the best cast of actors who are all at the top of their game but it would be meaningless if the story was written poorly.  A significant part of Mad Men‘s success I believe is because it  is written so well.  Not just the narrative but the script is also well written and true to the period.  You wouldn’t think a story set in 1960’s NYC about a bunch of boozey ad men would be interesting but it is.  There is just something about it that hooks you and sucks you in.  It is clear that the overall narrative arc has been well thought out.  Each episode flows smoothly into the next and the different sub-plots and new characters make their appearances at the opportune time.  The pacing of what happens when and to whom is flawless – you never feel like the season is dragging; each episode is there for a reason, and how they build up to each season finale is executed perfectly.

4.  It is about the in’s and out’s of Advertisng.

Albeit it’s about advertising “back in the day” but sometimes it’s good to see how things were before because then we can be proud of where we are today.  Advertising has definitely come a long way since then although I have to say there are some real bad ad campaigns out there today!  In a way you can can say Mad Men is something like watching my “what could have been”.  Some of you may know that I actually have a degree in advertising.  I never pursued it and so watching Mad Men kind of gives me a glimpse of me in an “alternate universe”.  Often when I’m watching the show I catch myself thinking, “this would have been me if I had gone into advertising”.  Well, except with the absence of drinking every 5 minutes and everyone smoking every 3 minutes!  I may not have gone down that road but I still genuinely do have some level of interest in the field.  It’s really interesting watching the different ideas and campaigns that the characters come up with.

5.  It is a window into the past.

I may not live in America (well apart from when I was two) and I may not be a history geek but there are certain things of the past that do intrigue me.  As mentioned at the beginning of this post I do have a strange affinity for 1940’s and 1960’s America.  I am easily amused and sometimes the seemingly insignificant things catch my eye.  Many things on the show amuse me.  The secretaries in the office using a typewriter and a dictaphone.  The art directors drawing all the artwork for the ads by hand.  During meetings with clients sometimes the OHP (overhead projector) or slide projector is used for presentations.  When the office received a photocopying machine everyone was so excited.  *chuckle*  Such simpler times back then aye?!  We take for granted so much these days.  I can’t get over too how everyone seemed to smoke back then – and often!! – and how much everyone drank what looked like all the time!!  How they ever got any work done back then is beyond me.  What was really ludicrous was even people you’d think wouldn’t/shouldn’t smoke did (doctor and priest) and even more unbelievable, being pregnant didn’t stop you from smoking and drinking either.  Crazy.

So yeah, I absolutely adore Mad Men.  Okay it’s more than that – I am obsessed with the show!!  I watch a LOT of TV but Mad Men has become my all time favorite TV series.  Thank you, Matthew Weiner (show creator) for making this brilliant, brilliant series!!  Was sooo chuffed when they won Outstanding Drama at the Emmys – they’ve taken this title since the show started and I’m confident their winning streak will carry on.  They’ve only just started shooting again – they’ve been renewed for 3 more seasons, YAY!! – so it’s going to be a bit of a wait before season five begins, sadl.  It’s all good though, I’m just going back and re-watching all of them – never gets old!

I will end this post with some wise words from Don Draper himself: “Advertsing is based on happiness.  We make the lie, we invent want.”

For those who have never watched Mad Men, hopefully this post has peaked your interest!!  There is a reason why this show has won Oustanding Drama four years in a row!

Review: Drive

I was lucky enough to attend a VERY advanced screening of Drive this week.  It was pretty early in the morning so it was one of those “this better be worth it” moments but boy am I glad I dragged myself out of bed for it.

Drive is easily one of the best films I’ve seen this year which is saying something as I’ve not watched a whole lot this year and the films I have seen have been good ones.

Based on a novel, the premise is straightforward enough – a Hollywood stuntman who moonlights as a getaway driver becomes unwittingly involved in a heist that goes badly wrong in a bid to help out a neighbor.  He is played brilliantly by Ryan Gosling who up until recently I hadn’t really paid attention to especially since he kind of dropped off the radar for a bit post-The Notebook fame.  After watching his performance in this film though, he is definitely one to look out for.  You certainly see a completely different side to his acting abilities here, as he plays a much darker character.

Although simple in premise and linear in storytelling style, visually the film is “exciting” because it is executed with so much thought and skill.  Everything just made sense and had it’s purpose; pacing was definitely a key element that drove the film and I felt Nicolas Winding Refn, the director nailed it.  One of my favorite scenes was the opening sequence where you follow Gosling’s character like an invisible passenger on a routine job in the getaway car.  Very cat-and-mouse-esque – the build up throughout the sequence was excellent, so much nail-biting tension!!  Just like the robbers in the backseat, you are taken along on this ride and as he is feverishly trying to evade the police you are kept at the edge of your seat; will he escape, will he get caught?  I thought the cuts between the interior and exterior of the car were well timed and added to the intensity and the suspense of the “chase”.

Gosling’s character – who is unnamed – doesn’t speak much throughout the film.  You get the impression that he is more of a spectator in life.  He only speaks when spoken to and you get this sense that he is a troubled person with a tainted past.  This requires a lot of restraint in an actor’s performance which I felt Gosling did remarkably.  In my opinion, the mark of a really good actor is someone who is able to still bring forward their character’s story and personality even with the absence of dialogue.  There are many scenes in this film where he doesn’t say much, or anything, but you still know exactly what is going on, or what he is feeling, because Gosling manages to skillfully convey so much through subtle nuances in his face and body language.   I remember this scene between him and the neighbor (played by Carey Mulligan) – it was dead silent between the two of them for a good 30+ seconds and although it looked deceivingly like the pair were not putting in any effort acting-wise, they managed to perfectly create that awkward tense silence between two strangers just getting to know each other.  The shot was taken over Mulligan’s shoulder so you don’t see her face, just Gosling’s; the expression he had on his face was priceless; very subtle but completely relatable to anyone who has ever been in this situation before (Lord knows I have!) – so awkward but so perfect for that exact moment in the film.

Christina Hendricks of Mad Men fame makes a guest appearance in the film – a nice touch.  If you’re used to seeing her as the sexy and always-well-put-together Joan Holloway, you are in for a surprise as she plays a VERY different character in this film.

I don’t really want to say much more because I feel I will not do it justice.  All I will say to conclude is this: Drive is a rather ugly story but told beautifully.  Not beautiful visually but beautiful cinematically.  It’s edgy, disturbing and entertaining all in one.  Ryan Gosling plays a very interesting “more than meets the eye” character – an unlikely hero –  narrative pull aside, I feel Gosling’s character is a significant factor to what makes the film so intriguing.  If you appreciate a good suspense thriller and can stomach a good amount of violence, you need to see this film when it opens in cinemas in November.

Whimsical Banana rates Drive:  5/5 tasty bananas!