Don Draper 007 – You Only Live Twice

When it comes to combining music with television or cinema, I invariably remember movies or shows for those moments. When it’s done well, it’s exhilarating. Martin Scorcese, my sources tell me, championed using popular songs instead of original scores back in the early 1970s, as far back as Mean Streets. Quentin Tarantino, Sofia Coppola, Guy Ritchie and Wes Anderson come to mind for directors who do this in a very entertaining way today.

As far as television, Mad Men did a tremendous job. They turned me on to a lot of music and the song was always dead on with the visuals too. (Check out Mad Men’s playlist on Spotify) This particular scene gave me chills the first time I saw it because serial philanderer Don had been loyal to his new wife Megan for a little while and then she wanted to become an actress and take on a role that meant other actors would kiss her on set and Don… flipped. He was first jealous, then angry, and then enraged. Ultimately, the next day he relents with the “If this is what you want…”.

This scene picks up with Don leaving Megan to her fantasies. He literally walks away from her, becoming more distant with each step, until the camera’s angle changes dramatically and he steps into a bar and walks toward the bar counter for his Old Fashioned. I love the James Bond You Only Live Twice theme playing, the fact that it’s being sung by Frank Sinatra’s daughter adding yet one more layer of Cool, the order of his drink (Shoutout to Shaken, not stirred!), the suit and finally the look he gives the girl – when she asks him her question. Also, as always, amazing use of shadows, smoke and silhouette. Are you alone? 

Regarding Jon Hamm’s Don Draper performance specifically, I am repeatedly astounded by how good he is. When people ask me how I can say that this is my favorite acting performance in a television show, I look at them like:   <==

It’s strange thinking/writing about Mad Men in the past tense. What a great show that was. When it was at it’s best, for me, it was better than everything else.

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Robin Williams Forever

I was loading my dirty clothes into a washer in the laundromat on the corner of 2nd Avenue and 95th Street one year ago today when I heard a brunette woman folding shirts a few feet to my left tell someone on the other end of her cell phone: “Yeah, he killed himself.” I couldn’t believe anybody could talk about someone they knew’s suicide in such a casual way. I was disgusted.

I walked outside the hot laundromat to the slightly less hot street to kill some time. I checked Twitter and realized that she had been talking about Robin Williams. I was surprised by how sad I felt suddenly.

I dragged my feet around the grey Manhattan evening and just kept thinking about his movies and how much they had meant to me. How he was the celebrity I always hoped to bump into in New York. How I had daydreamed of meeting him on the subway and how he would be insane and nice and just keep talking a mile a minute. He was such a tour de force.

My mom made me watch Dead Poet’s Society when I was 9. Hook when I was 11. Mrs Doubtfire soon after and I thought this guy is THE MAN. He’s invincible! Not that he was bulletproof, he wasn’t, but he gave zero f*cks. That was true invincibility. That was something the toughest guys couldn’t pull off. And Robin never started giving a f*ck even long after he wasn’t considered “cool” anymore. He still went at it with gusto. Full-tilt Williams. He just did not have a dim switch.

I saw so many of his flicks later on when I was a teenager and I was equally blown away by Good Morning Vietnam, The Fisher King, Awakenings, Death to Smoochy and Good Will Hunting among others.

A few days after Robin passed away, I started re-watching his movies. I noticed I never felt sad about his death for even one second while watching them. I think that’s unusual and incredible considering the circumstances. It’s probably because he is such a happy, alive, lovable, exuberant, squirrely bastard on screen that it’s just impossible to not be in the moment and feel awesome while watching his high wire act.

I found a 1984 movie called Moscow on the Hudson in my local library this past winter. When you need a joke loving, jazz playing, saxophone carrying, circus employed, happy-go-lucky, bearded Russian to defect to America in a Manhattan department store, you call Robin. So good. We never had a friend like him before.

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The Dot And The Line

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Made me remember this story I recently came across, this romance between some characters I hadn’t thought about since I was a little kid. They became more relatable after this video, which incidentally Steven Spielberg told me about over Skype. He said it was called the “Citizen Kane of animation”, basically it’s very influential and kind of a huge accomplishment.

This is a love triangle between a girl and two dudes: a dot, a line… and a squiggle. It’s also less than 10% as long as the usual romantic comedy. Sure, there’s no Sandra Bullock but it’s cool, it’s whimsical, it’s wonderfully narrated (by an Englishman, obviously going to be good) and it struck me as a condensed version of the many romantic comedies to come years later.  What’s awesome is how many jokes they managed to stuff into this short video- Puns galore as well as visual gags and great musical accompaniment. Keep in mind this was made in 1965, I’m impressed at how well all the ideas and jokes connect 50 years later. Awesome work.

This IS a great cast: Line is a convincing everyman and Dot has the screen presence required to pull off straddling the line (no pun intended!) of the mercurial love interest. Squiggle’s trademark “grimy guitar” musical effects crack me up too. Combined with his slothful ways, that guy is bad news! 

If there’s a lesson here – it’s in Line’s tenacity. When Dot rejected him because he was too straight, Line simply decides to gym up. He’s in there pushing himself and when he comes back Line is slingin’ straight fire! Angles? Squiggles?…Um, How about roller-coasters and cathedrals the people at Six Flags and Romans couldn’t even imagine, respectively.

Line just kept upping his game. That is the lesson.

This V-Day, here’s to the dots, lines AND the squiggles – and we’ve tried all of the roles on by now- keep upping your game. DO YOU. Here’s hoping that even if you don’t live happily ever after, at least it’s reasonably so.

Also, Spielberg just snapchatted me saying that this is his favorite actually:

If you have a problem, take it up with him @MinorityReportSS

A Whole New Feeling

This eerie gray introduction scene to The Hudsucker Proxy captures New Year’s Eve so perfectly. I love every shot of the buildings in 1958/1959 New York, every written word is amazing and pin perfect AND the narrator’s voice is so good:

Come midnight it’s gonna be 1959. A whole nuther feeling. The new year. The future. Yeah, ole daddy Earth fixin to start one more trip round the sun, everybody hoping this ride-around be a little more giddy, a little more gay…”

I Suppose You Think You Raised Hell.

Miller’s Crossing. (1990)

I could argue it is my favorite Coens movie, and also my favorite gangster movie, along with Goodfellas (also released in 1990). Miller’s Crossing is very different from any other gangster film because of the trademark wit and clever wordplay that was so often the signature of the early Coens stuff. It’s on full display here with a firecracker cast ripping amazing one-liners in perfect time like they’re jazz drummers, and with the regularity and punch of the Tommy guns Leo’s gang favors.

This zany, brilliant, criminally underrated gangster movie is incredible in it’s scope and authenticity depicting the criminal underworld of 1930s America. The set design and costume design sing, it’s hard to fathom this was before the advent of green screen special effects, some of the backdrops and shots are so gorgeous.

“You are the Pan.”

I first saw Hook at the cinemas in December of 1991, it was a stunning movie to see at that age when you’re still not one hundred percent certain that the Peter Pan story is fictional. The world’s a big place! It could happen, right? Hey, I’ve never been to London! Maybe Wendy’s window is magical!? Maybe everything in London is magical? That’s where Mary Poppins is from, right? I need to go to London.” And so on.

Sweeping, epic, romantic, I had never seen anything of that scope before. For the next six months, I told whoever was forced to sit next to me on the school bus that Hook was ROBBED by Dances With Wolves for Best Picture that year. NOT EVEN A NOMINATION? WHAT A JOKE THE ACADEMY IS, RIGHT? RIGHT?”

Although it was my first exposure to him, it firmly placed newcomer (to me) Robin Williams in the Siddharth Chander’s Childhood Hall-of-Fame (cemented 3 years later by Aladdin) alongside such luminaries as Optimus Prime, The Ultimate Warrior, Eddie Murphy, MacGyver, Axl Rose and Balki from Perfect Strangers. Steven Spielberg would direct the acclaimed Schindler’s List a few years later and it seemed every review stated things like “Finally! Spielberg makes his classic!” The now slightly older me was confused by this because my review of the black and white snoozer simply read: “Ain’t no Hook.” Literally and metaphorically, I might add. How could people enjoy watching Nazis being Nazis more than the Lost Boys having a food fight? You can have Auschwitz, I’m staying in Neverland my man.

One word: RUFIO.

He is the MVP of this thing and just so you know where I stand – I would have sided with Rufio over Pan any day of the week. Rufio was younger, more dynamic, more charismatic, had *MUCH* better hair, funkier clothes and in my opinion crowed at the sky better than Pan who looked like a down on his luck lawyer in his tattered 3-piece suit and spectacles. YOU are the “substitute chemistry teacher”, Pan.

Still, it definitely never got any better than when Rufio elected to be the bigger person, embrace Pan’s return and go all WATCH THE THRONE on Captain Hook and his ship of fools. Rufio sold it completely and although I was not happy that my Asian brethren was unfairly usurped by some middle-aged upper-class yuppie, I was all in for the team because, as second bananas go, Rufio was the best since Goose in Top Gun.

This scene gets me every damn time.

The moment when Pan and Rufio start crowing and doing that thing with their fingers in front of their mouths – I humbly suggest we put that GIF in a time capsule for future generations.

Peter Dinklage

'The Station Agent', a Dinklage tour de force.

” When I was younger, definitely, I let it get to me. As an adolescent, I was bitter and angry and I definitely put up these walls. But the older you get, you realize you just have to have a sense of humour. You just know that it’s not your problem. It’s theirs.”