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From The Small And Big Screens: Mad Men In Black

By Chauncey Telese

Chauncey_ReportHello, everyone as always I hope all is well and you had a happy Memorial Day. If you’re a fan of “Community,” that may not be the case because, while they avoided the darkest timeline (cancellation), NBC pulled an Evil Abed and caused some havoc. Creator and showrunner Dan Harmon got fired from his position and now the show is saddled with the Friday death slot and new people (who apparently ran “Just Shoot Me” and helped on “Happy Endings”) to carry on Harmon’s vision.

Can they do it? Who’s to say? I hope this doesn’t mark the final nail in the coffin for a show that has overcome so much adversity. If it does, then at least Harmon’s last three episodes showed off the things “Community” does best.


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Now that the Lakers have officially been eliminated (and I’ve replayed the “F--- You Thunder” song from “Ted”) , I can finally focus on the Kings. Also, here is my prediction for who wins the NBA Finals. I have the Spurs over the Heat in a finale that will make me want to gouge my eyes out because I HATE both teams with a passion.

“House” aired its series finale last night and I was mostly underwhelmed. It’s a bummer because the first three seasons of the show were awesome and went a long way towards making the procedural less procedural. Hugh Laurie was incredible in the role (ditto Robert Sean Leonard) and I will miss the characters, but not the show.

I had a chance to ride the new Transformers ride at Universal Studios and it was a-mah-zing. The 3D isn’t jarring at all, the screen is chock full of details so it demands repeat riding, and unlike the Revenge of the Mummy ride, this does not rip off a Disneyland ride. My next task is to visit the new Cars land and finally ride the new Star Tours (its embarrassing that I haven’t yet) as well as check out the World of Color Show.

At Cannes 2012 (oh yeah, we’re upping the classiness of this column for a paragraph), PT Anderson debuted the first footage from his highly anticipated film “The Master.” While it didn’t show any of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Lancaster Dodd, it did show Joaquin Phoenix being at his creepiest (which is always welcome). They also showed a seven-minute montage of Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained” and while that is not online I have read the universally positive comments that praise the combination of funny and violent. We’ll talk more Cannes next week when I review “Moonrise Kingdom”.

On to today’s business: first we’ll cover “Mad Men” and then “Men in Black III”.

“Mad Men: Christmas Waltz”

One of the primary themes of “Mad Men” over the course of its run has been the idea that even when we get what we want, it won’t make us any happier. “Signal 30” went a long way towards showing how empty Pete Campbell’s life seems to him, “Lady Lazarus”, and “At the Codfish Ball” were examples of how the rest of the firm, mainly Megan, Don, and Peggy, are all struggling to fill various voids, and in this week’s “Christmas Waltz” we see how sometimes we need a friend to steer us in the right direction.

Harry Crane has been more or less of a buffoon the last year or so which (in some cases, deservedly so) and he’s been content name-dropping and trying to make his position sound cooler then it really is. This week, Harry gets an episode to show that he’s capable of being the catalyst of change and being a good friend. Paul Kinsey made his triumphant return to the show after he was simply left behind at the end of season three. I’ve always wondered what happened to him and it turns out he had hit rock bottom, flamed out at various agencies, and finally found himself in the Hare Krishna movement. Paul gets Harry to take part in a Krishna ceremony and there Harry meets the love of Paul’s life, Mother Lakshmi. Harry assumes Paul is seeking money or a job but it turns out Paul has an even stranger request.

Paul wants Harry to float a spec script he wrote for “Star Trek” to NBC because he thinks he can have a career in TV and make money so he and Lakshmi can live together on a farm. Harry so badly wants to help Paul, but the spec he wrote was dreadful (it involves a tribe called the “Negrons” who, believe it or not, are white). He goes to Peggy who besides wanting to read the script simply out of roadkill theory, urges him to level with Paul. Before Harry can figure it out, he’s visited by Lakshmi. She successfully seduces Harry by placating his ego and tells him that she and Paul have an open relationship. He caves (predictably) and they hook up in his office. Before she leaves, she flips the script and uses this tryst to blackmail him into staying away from Paul because she doesn’t want Paul corrupted. Harry figures out a plan to not only make Paul happy but also to get him away from her. In one of Harry’s few moments of brilliance, he tells Paul that while NBC legally can’t contact him, they want him to continue writing because he has a future. He also tells him that he’d need to go to LA because that’s where it happens. Paul beams and takes the five hundred dollar investment in order to embark on his dreams. He then tells Harry that “Everyone has promised to help me. You’re the only one who has.” Harry doesn’t feel right to have lied to Paul but, unfortunately that was the best case scenario. He’s sure that Paul will probably fail and still be miserable (then again there were a plethora of awful shows he could end up working for) but he’s better off having something to shoot for then to constantly wallow in his self pity and desire to be liked.

Don’s needed a nudge or two in the right direction for a season and a half now. Bert Cooper tried to tell him to get his head back in the game but since Bert hasn’t been invested in the company since it started, his warning has fallen on deaf ears. This week however, Pete announces in the men’s room (or as they call it, Bert’s office) that the head of accounts at Jaguar (who they jokingly refer to as Bazooka Joe) has been fired and now the firm is back in the running for the account. Don isn’t really thrilled (prompting Pete to ask if it’s because he’ll have to stay past 5:30) and Roger is too drunk (it’s Pearl Harbor Day) to care. Pete urges the partners to drive the car and do their research (he can’t because he hasn’t learned to drive a stick). Don decides to take Megan out on a test drive but they have a fight after she takes him to the experimental play “America Hurrah.” He is offended at the anti-advertising theme of the play and Megan tries to remind him that he pokes fun at it all the time but Don feels that he’s allowed to because he works in it (similar to how Jeff Winger feels about Greendale). Don’s malaise seems to continue at work until he is given two different but equally effective shots in the arm.

The first shot comes from Joan. She hasn’t been used much this season ever since she did America a favor and told her husband to return to Vietnam and never come back. After Joan tells a drunken Roger to stop giving her money to raise their kid (I’m surprised they would both acknowledge this and that Joan’s husband still hasn’t done the math) she is called to the reception area because she is told that she has a visitor. She explodes when that visitor turns out to be a process server that presents her with divorce papers (the fact that he has the stones to do that is mind-boggling). Joan lashes out at the receptionist (featuring her chucking a model airplane at her and screaming “There’s an airplane here to see you”). Don witnesses this and decides to take action. Instead of taking Megan to test drive the Jaguar he takes Joan. Don and Joan’s chemistry is perfect, moreso than even Don and Megan. They play the couple perfectly (even Joan going so far as to say that they have four kids together, which is sort of true) and Don writes the salesman a check for more then the car is worth so they can test drive it all day.

They go to a bar and she unloads about getting served with papers (which she threw out the window, apparently) and Don tells her that was the best thing for her because now she can move on. Joan laments about no longer getting flowers delivered to her (Don never gave her flowers because she scared the s*** out of him) and that starting over would be difficult since she has a kid. She also tells Don that she is attracted to him but despite the fact that they are both drunk they collectively shut down any kind of shenanigans (Joan laughs at the fact that no one will believe her when she says that nothing happened) and Don leads her to try and rebound with some guy at a bar. They discuss how Don is happy (and thus the car does nothing for him) but then get into a discussion about wants and needs. Don gives her money for cab fare just in case her rendezvous doesn’t work out and he drives the Jag home (the amount of control he had on the road is incredible considering how much scotch he had). The next day he feels amazing having helped out a friend and she gets flowers from him the next day (though the name on the card reads Aly Kahn).

Before that can occur though, Don comes home to an angry Megan. She had a nice dinner prepared for him and he staggers in drunk without calling. Don tries to sweet talk his way out of it (much like he did with Betty) but she’s not buying it. After chucking spaghetti at the wall she reminds him that he used to love his work long before he loved her. Whether or not this sank in remains to be seen, but the next day we get some vintage Don. At the Christmas meeting, Lane tries to tell the staff that the partners would forgo their bonuses so the staff can have them (Roger breaks it down for them). Pete announces that they are in the running for Jaguar and Don makes a stirring speech about how they need to stay every weekend until the end of the year and how they will swim the English Channel so they can drown in champagne. Not Don’s best speech but it rallied the staff and it seems that Don has his mojo back to a degree (or he just needed to talk himself into being there all the time).

Harry, Joan, Don, and Megan were all catalysts or recipients of change and showed how having someone in life can make all the difference. Lane Pryce won’t allow himself that luxury. In the beginning of the episode he is given a short window to send $8,000 to settle some unresolved tax issue in England. He lies to a creditor and gets a $50,000 loan and forges a check to send to resolve his debts. He tries to cover his tracks by insisting they send out bonuses (and claims they had a $50,000 surplus) early. That storyline is probably going to be around a lot longer so I’ll forgive the hasty nature to which it was carried out. It’s curious that Lane would go to such measures to pull this off considering he could’ve asked Don. As evidenced by last year’s Christmas episode they get along really well and have no problem keeping each other’s secrets. I’m not sure why Lane didn’t go to him or anyone else for that matter, perhaps because Lane either doesn’t want to incite a panic or he’s too damn proud.

“Men in Black III”: An Unnecessary but Ultimately Enjoyable Sequel.

Before we begin, I would like to just make my feelings about “Men in Black” perfectly clear. The first “Men in Black” came out when I was 8 and since then it’s been one of my favorite movies EVER. To me, it’s perfect because it seamlessly immerses you into its world and treats aliens like they are no big deal. The humor and action are perfectly balanced and has a surprising amount of heart. It’s one of the few movies I can quote line for line and will watch on TV even though I own it. It also represents Will Smith at his apex, when he can still do Will Smith things and do the song for the movie. He would never be as electrifying in a blockbuster again. I know that sounds crazy but think about it, from 1999 on he would do Will Smith things in a slew of other movies that never quite worked (IMDB it, I’ll wait). When “Wild Wild West” (he passed up playing Neo in “The Matrix” to star in this) bombed and he went back to the well (he also did “Ali” during this time but that wasn’t a big enough hit to convince him to take risks) and that’s where we got “Men in Black II”. This was one of the biggest sequel letdowns that had nothing to do with “Star Wars”. It reeked of studio notes (like way too much Frank the Pug and the Worm guys), a nonsensical casting choice with Laura Flynn Boyle as the villain (was she supposed to be a star at one point or did someone owe Jack Nicholson a favor?), and they couldn’t replicate the magic of the first one because K spent most of the movie as a zombie. I realize sequels often feel off-kilter because you don’t have the same discovery as the first time, but c’mon. This is all to say that I was anticipating the third installment to be a disaster.

The writing was on the wall, Will Smith hadn’t had a movie come out since the disaster that was “Seven Pounds” (the worst PSA for don’t text and drive ever) and he hadn’t done a blockbuster since “Hancock” which was half of a good movie. I heard about the production issues that the movie had. They wanted to shoot to take advantage of a tax break despite not having a second or third act, Will Smith wanted to be more involved in the writing process, Rip Torn went to jail for robbing a bank, and shooting was delayed by six weeks, causing the budget to balloon. I never bought the time travel gimmick (and still don’t, but we’ll get there) and even though Brolin did an amazing job as Young K (and he does) I still thought this was doomed to fail. I’m happy to report that despite all of the mounting evidence, this movie was a lot more fun then I expected. It isn’t nearly as good as the first one but it isn’t the cluster-f that the second one was.

In the third installment, we start in an alien prison where feared alien assassin Boris the Animal (played by an unrecognizable yet awesome Jemaine Clement). He goes to Earth to take vengeance on K, the man who imprisoned him and cut off his arm. Meanwhile, K and J are up to their usual back and forth banter while stopping aliens from overstepping their bounds and neurolyzing the citizens who have no business knowing about it. J is wondering why K is a curmudgeon all the time (because they forgot about the woman K left to be an agent and who apparently left him in the second one). K tries to shield J from something (and if you pay just a little bit attention you can pretty much figure out what it is). Before K can spill his guts, he disappears from existence and J is the only one who knows he didn’t die in 1969. J travels back to 1969 to stop K from being killed. He meets Young K and finds that while he is his usual serious self he’s more fun then J thought. Young K hooked up with O (she is played by Emma Thompson in 2012 and she runs MIB because as Butch Coolidge once said “Zed is dead baby Zed’s dead”).

Young K and J outrun both 1969 Boris and 2012 Boris while meeting up with Andy Warhol (Bill Hader) and Griffin (Michael Stuhlbarg), an alien being that can see five different outcomes all at once. They need to make sure Young K gets an alien device into space (and implement the moon launch) so that Boris’s race doesn’t later invade and wipe out Earth. If that sounds too complicated for an MIB movie, it is. Not as bad as the second one’s Light of Zartha but I never really bought the lead up to the time travel. The visuals and chemistry between Smith and Brolin keep the movie from being boring but it seems that they forgot where they came from.

Jones is barely in the movie (a major crime if you ask me) and while I did appreciate the emotions expressed at the end, it wasn’t consistent with the first one (seriously, the moment where J is asked to Neurolyze K is a short and sweet moment that carries so much weight) Also, the first one had a simple but powerful message that stated that while we think we’re these superior beings we’re just a small part of a vast universe (remember the whole Arkylian Galaxy existing in a marble) and this one doesn’t have that. Still though, I suggest you check it out because it does have enough humor, Rick Baker creature work, and Danny Elfman score to satisfy you for an hour and a half. If nothing else, see it so that it makes enough money to make Will Smith not regret passing up the lead role in “Django Unchained”.

Thank You for reading and stay tuned as next week I visit the “Moonrise Kingdom”, check out “Snow White and the Huntsman”, and of course more “Mad Men.”