Friday, March 30, 2012

Flicky Friday (ft. Natalie Portman rap)

Recently, I had a conversation about the SNL Short starring Natalie Portman as a version of herself who steals, lies, abuses drugs, abuses alcohol, abuses men, swears and unapologetically raps about it.  "If you haven't seen it, you should.  I'm sure it's on my blog," I told this person. 

But I lied to this person, because I looked around and the only time I've mentioned Natalie Portman is in my review of her totally disturbing and gender-divided movie Black Swan.  So, to make good on my broad promises, and because Natalie Portman was in my dream last night about climbing Mount Rushmore (true story, y'all), I bring you the not-to-be-missed video as today's Flicky Friday.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Mad Men Mondays: "A Little Kiss"

Warning: This review contains (many) spoilers about Mad Men Season 5's Premiere Episode, "A Little Kiss."  I believe that these spoilers don't destroy the viewing enjoyment of the episode at all (they're all revealed moments in), but Matthew Wiener would want me to warn you.  And I do what Matthew Wiener tells me to do.

I worried that my expectations might be too high for the two-hour premiere of "Mad Men" Season 5 on Sunday night.  The long hiatus (nearly 18 months) from television, the strength of Season 4 (which featured "Mad Men's" best episode ever), and creator Matthew Wiener's speculation-building strict "no spoilers" mandate made the possibilities limitless.  Major plot questions hovered in the long, quiet space between seasons: would Megan and Don marry? Would Joan have her baby? Would main-client Lucky Strike's departure sink the agency? And there were broader environmental loose ends, too: how would Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce handle the burgeoning Civil-and-Women's Rights movements? Would they remain perched in their misogynistic and antiquated tower while the avante-garde and the egalitarian bloomed and raged outside their walls?  Can Don Draper -- what with his philandering, meandering sexual mores -- thrive in the awesomeness of the '60s, or will he cling to his other, more boot-strappy, Great-Depression-y values and remain unmoved?

"30 Rock:" the '60s were awesome!

I'll be the first to say that I found the premiere at once anti-climactic and deliciously satisfying.  It was slow and burdened by the need to explain all that had happened during the time lapse, but still maintained it's trademark insight and integrity. (As Vulture put it, "[Weiner] deliver[ed] an episode that would play like a tedious info-dump -- practically a second pilot, or stealth reboot -- if the information weren't conveyed with such relaxed confidence and wit.")  It may be just that "Mad Men" is such good television that it can never really let you down; even the less-dramatic episodes are full of tender character development, sharp dialogue, and beautifully composed scenes.  The show still feels like not a word is wasted, and that each moment is carefully (it's hard to write anything about "Mad Men" without returning to that word: "careful") plucked from the lifetimes of each character and zoomed in on for a reason.

The episode itself brought many important revelations:  the year is 1966 (there hadn't been a critical consensus even on that -- Eric Ditzian for MTV speculated that for the little Matthew Wiener had revealed, Season 5 could very well have opened on an aging, portly 1986 Don Draper) and protests are raging in the streets.  Don and a posher, more stylish, Natalie-Wood-looking Megan are married and are living somewhat unhappily in an uber-modern in-town apartment.  And Joan had Sterling's baby and is (apparently successfully) passing him off as her husband's. 
"Hey girl" - Lane Pryce

SCDP has withstood the loss of Lucky Strike, largely thanks to ever-douchey Pete Campbell, whose professional success does not relieve any of us of the urge to punch him in his stupid dough-face.  Pete cements his unchanged nature in the episode's opening minutes by bemoaning that his wife, Trudy ("Community's" Alison Brie, in a lovely little cross-television casting choice), hasn't lost her baby weight quickly enough for his tastes, and spends the remainder of the episode lobbying for a bigger office.  (The office is probably deserved, to be fair, but Pete is still a spine-shivering tool about it.)

If not shocking (no plans changed from what we learned at the end of Season 4), the episode was ground-work laying.  Peggy is more brilliant and under-appreciated than ever (Don egregiously undermines her work in front of a client) and is still our biggest window into the '60s counter-culture via her beatnik boyfriend Abe.  Joan is eager to return to SDCP because she is desperate to be needed and suckled by someone other than her infant.  Lane Pryce is toeing an ever-creepier line, attempting to initiate some unsuccessful phone-sex with a women whose bikini-clad picture he finds in the back of a taxi cab.  Sterling is still charming and useless, much to the chagrin of the useful and un-charming Pete.  And Don Draper is getting old.

"Zou Bisou Bisou"
The central plot-line of the episode is Don Draper's 40th birthday (Dick Whitman turned 40 months before, we learn, but Don celebrates his pseudonym's birthday for understandable, government-document related reasons).  In a demonstration of both her youth and complete misunderstanding of her new husband, Megan throws an inappropriate surprise party (despite Peggy's blunt warning against it) full of co-workers, where she croons a cringe-worthy French song in a mini-dress and embarrasses Don so utterly that it remains to see if their relationship will recover. (Shagging on the shag rug at the episode's end doesn't a marriage mend.)  Everyone in the audience (ours and theirs) is left with the same thought: Betty would never have done that.  Even Dr. Faye (whom Don cruelly dumped for the more maternal Megan at last season's end) had the maturity, restraint, and pure social sensitivity to make that performance unimaginable.  At the end, Don is old, inflexible, and just as alone as always.

Recap being capped, I'm bringing you a delightful little treat for those of you who love "Mad Men" and love FX's "Archer." The latter is an animated sitcom about a ridiculous, selfish, alcoholic womanizing...spy (you thought I was going to say "ad agent," didn't you?) named Sterling Archer, and it's sincerely one of the funniest, raunchiest, wittiest shows on television.  Luckily for me, someone else noticed the similarities between scotch-swilling Sterling Archer and scotch-swirling Don Draper and created a tumbler called: Sterling Archer Draper Pryce.  They take scenes from "Mad Men" and caption them with quotes from "Archer."  I know, I know: your work day is officially shot.  Sorry, guys.  Click the link, and step into the DAAAAAAAAAAAAAAANGER ZONE, you Mancys!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

U SUCK @ GRAMMER "I" Versus "Me" Edition

That's right: U SUCK @ GRAMMER is back!  It's been a while since we've explored some common grammar pitfalls on the blog.  First there was the biweekly edition, then the affect/effect edition, but today I bring you a grammar oversight that's even more common and therefore more horrible. (And once again, many thanks to my friend Ashley who helped edit and lovingly scold me into grammar goodness.) So today's edition is: 

U SUCK @ GRAMMER*: "I" versus "me"

John Hamm recently gave an interview to The Huffington Post on the upcoming fifth season of "Mad Men" (premiering March 25th on AMC!).  He discussed his longtime girlfriend, Jennifer Westfeldt, and her new movie, Friends with Kids.  On the benefits of "Mad Men's" year-and-a-half long hiatus from television, Jon Hamm had this to say:
"I was able to make Friends with Kids, which was exciting and a significant portion of our life for Jen and I."
Hamm, a.k.a. Don Draper, a.k.a. television's most perfectly nuanced character, a man whom heretofore I thought could do no wrong, just made a major grammar blunder in a national publication.  And it's an all-too-typical mistake: using the more formal-and-correct-sounding "I" where "me" is actually correct.

"I did what now?"
This particular gaffe is very close to my heart because I, like most over-educated, slightly pretentious people, made this mistake for years.  Even while I made good grammar a priority and a prerequisite, and even while the idea of using "went" instead of "gone" or using "was" in the subjunctive instead of "were" absolutely grated on my articulate sensibilities, I still fell into the trap of saying "I" instead of "me" when describing an event I attended with someone else. (The New York Times even accused President Obama of consistently making this error in his speeches.) This is because, I assume, it was forcefully hammered into us in school that it is proper to speak with yourself last, in the "I" form.

But that's not the rule, and once I started to become aware of the misuses of the formal "I" when describing an activity performed by multiple people, I began to slowly go insane.  The misuse is not so egregious that it immediately jumps out at you in a sentence, but if you start paying attention, you'll notice how widely abused this grammar mistake is.  So here's a quick tutorial and reminder so that I can begin to regain tiny, tiny kernels of my sanity when I read the descriptions on your Facebook photos.

The chicken IS the bread!!!!!!
(As a disclaimer, this post is not even MEANT to tackle the people who would ever DARE to put themselves first in a two-person sentence.  If you would ever say "ME AND JOE went to go get a KFC Double Down," then a) you don't deserve to put the wonder that is the KFC Double Down in your terrible mouth, and b) seriously? You're [ostensibly] an adult with a job and you can't follow the simple rule to put yourself LAST at ALL times NO EXCEPTIONS?  I bet you're one of those employees who can't follow the directions to wash his hands in the lavatory, either.  My God, I hope you don't work at KFC.)

But for those of you who get the basics but have fallen into a trap of defaulting to "Joe and I did whatever thing we did" no matter what the context, here's a quick reminder.  Whenever more than one person is doing the activity, the rule is simple:
  1. Always put the others first and yourself last. 
  2. Refer to yourself as you would if there were no others. 
That means, if you were talking about yourself alone, and you would be the subject of the sentence, continue to use "I."  But if you would be the object of the sentence, you're still the object even if someone else's proper name is included in your description.  An example serves us best:
  1. I am going to get shitfaced on St. Patrick's Day.
  2. Ashley and I are going to get shitfaced on St. Patrick's Day. 
  1. It was so nice of that Leprechaun to buy shots for me! 
  2. It was so nice of that Leprechaun to buy shots for Ashley and me! 
  3. NOT: It was so nice of that Leprechaun to buy shots for Ashley and I!
Do you see? Just pretend the other person wasn't there, like I did after my second Leprechaun shot and I couldn't find Ashley anymore.  Just to make sure, here are some more CORRECT examples:
  1. What was in those shots that Ashley and I took?  
  2. Those shots did not make Ashley and me feel very well. 
  3. Can someone get Ashley and me a cab to go home?
  4. You guys were right to not take those Leprechaun shots like Ashley and I did! 
It's simple!  So keep your speech strong, and stay away from Leprechaun shots -- no telling what's in those.  And for grammar's sake, on this year's March 17th, please don't forget that Saint Patrick's Day is possessive.

Until next time, 
The Strunk and White Girls

*Grammar is intentionally spelled incorrectly as "grammer" in the title to parody ironically incorrect use of the word. Don't be a douchenozzle and try to point out that we spelled it wrong. 

Friday, March 2, 2012

Reasonableness and the GOP

You know why people hate politics? Because politicians are forced, at least in our current political climate, to cling to principles (sometimes abstract, often extremist, entirely unyielding) over pragmatism, realism, and results.

Jon Stewart's Rally to Restore Sanity
Take the series of articles I wrote last year on obesity as a personal example.   I consider myself a lowercase libertarian -- socially liberal, fiscally conservative.  At the philosophical core, I believe private enterprise and free markets genuinely, sincerely provide better, quicker, cheaper, more effective, more efficient goods and services than the government is capable of providing.  I am generally a supporter of a small (not absent) government, less red tape, fewer sweeping legislative prohibitions, more laissez-faire permissiveness, and smart, small taxes.  But I'm also a supporter of reasonableness, moderation, restraint, and sanity.

In one of these articles, I suggested replacing existing school lunch programs with smarter food -- non-pizza vegetables* -- to avoid the well-documented public health costs of obesity and obesity-related diseases.  But I was absolutely lambasted for that idea -- angry commenters told me I was a "Statist" who was giving libertarians a bad name, and that "no libertarian would ever support a government program."  It got me thinking: these people, these commenters, clung so hard to my self-definition as a libertarian and whether my views fit in with that party's established belief rubric that they never considered whether my argument was reasonable, or even whether it ultimately achieved the goals libertarians espouse (saving money, lower income taxes).  They didn't consider whether my argument made sense, was feasible, was productive, would work -- only that it wasn't part of the "Libertarian" agenda.

Rally to Restore Sanity
And that's exactly what conservative Republicans are doing to their best-hope candidates. G.O.P. party members are more concerned with whether their candidate is "conservative enough" than whether he is capable of winning a general election, working with Congress, accomplishing tangible goals, arming himself with viable ideas to create jobs.  Hard Right-wingers have attacked every candidate with even a modicum of moderation on social issues as "not conservative enough," a brand that has brought the death of many candidates and certainly the death of any hope of an open-minded debate where different options, ideas and strategies are discussed and allowed.  The party core seems to be less concerned with actually finding a workable plan for jobs/healthcare/education/globalism, and more concerned with never straying from the tiny, purist conservative box of canned value statements.

Rally to Restore Sanity
This is why Mitt Romney can't get a shoe-hold on this election for more than a few states at a time.  Despite a dangerously bad economy poised on an unsteady (and therefore, perhaps temporary) upswing, the far Right can't seem to refocus from the fetal to the fiscal.  I have written about this issue before, but surprisingly my blog doesn't have the readership of Rick Santorum's people.  So I'll say it again: even if its just now, just once, just this year, forget about the gays getting married or women having abortions or taking condoms away from at-risk teenagers as a voting platform and fix the goddamn economy. 

Conservatives, you are being greedy, but more importantly, you are being unwise.  Rick Santorum is never going to win the general election, and then where are you?  I ask: is four years of Obama better than four years of Mitt Romney to you?  And, if I am severely underestimating the voting power of the evangelical Democrats who will swing over to a Santorum nomination and Santorum does indeed get elected, think of where we are: when we elect extreme, polarized politicians we end up in exactly the legislative stalemate we've suffered for the last four years.  Are you really going to overturn Roe v. Wade?  Is that a priority with our unemployment rate?  And how are you going to stop the growing tidal wave of state-by-state pro-gay marriage laws, absent a sweeping federal prohibition that goes against everything states' rights conservatism stands for?

Rally to Restore Sanity
So, let it go.  Teach your morals in your churches and your homes, but don't sabotage a smart businessman capable of affecting real change and growth in our economy because of what he may or may not think about a woman's right to choose.  At some point, compromise and reasonableness have to triumph over strict partisan ideologies or we're all, as one of my obesity blog commenters said, "putting philosophy before pragmatism."

* Technically, the tomato paste on pizza was able to be disproportionately classified as having more vegetable content, clarifies the Washington Post.

If you like these signs, Buzzfeed has the 100 Best Signs from the Rally to Restore Sanity here.