Entropy demands the end of all things, even for Mad Men

It all comes to an end, tomorrow night.

It all comes to an end, tomorrow night.

By Mohamad El Masri

Mad Men, arguably one of the finest literary and cinematic achievements the last six decades of post-modernism has wrought, comes to an end tomorrow night. The series finale brings with it melancholy more than anticipation. Creator Matthew Weiner has never been one for plot driven histrionics. The series must remain true to itself, melodrama would only betray the symphony of character development it has orchestrated over seven immaculate seasons. Its core theme has coloured every current that runs through its story: Times change but people are essentially unchanging. Particularly Don Draper.

The finale is best understood in the context of last week’s penultimate episode, which brought thematic closure to many of the threads launched in the pilot eight years ago. The show has used advertising as a metaphor for the lie we collectively construct that tells us things are going to get better. That the next great moment in your life is just around the corner. That things are everlasting. Advertising manifests the meaning we inject into the meaningless. But if Mad Men’s character arcs have taught us anything is that the truth has a cleansing quality, like cauterizing a wound with fire. The real story, the honest one, is about the slow, meandering and inevitable decay of all things.

Entropy defines the journey of existence for everything inanimate, living, emotional and detached. Everything breaks.

In last week’s episode Pete uses Colgate to treat his daughter’s bee stings, certainly not as advertised. Years of smoking have caught up with Betty, leaving her with terminal lung cancer. Not only is her body broken, so is the lie Don Draper’s creative genius has been spinning about cigarettes from the very beginning. Betty’s husband Henry, the epitome of North-East blue-blood baby boomer manhood, has to be consoled by a resolute Sally, a woman coming into her own at the dawn of second-wave feminism. Don’s brand new Cadillac breaks down in Kansas. Again, not as advertised. He checks into a motel where he’s surprised to find a man working as a maid. He’s also surprised to find the maid is a con man, not unlike him. The motel’s typewriter is broken. Don’s TV blows a fuze. That wasn’t in the pamphlet. The Coke dispenser is out of order. Looks like no one will be giving anyone a Coke anytime soon. Finally, Don discovers that the supposedly idyllic small town middle-American existence he’s been shilling to clients and in beer commercials for the last fifteen years is actually a sad, fractured, decaying, violent and archaic way of life that rejects him outright.

Every pretty picture Don Draper has painted has been lie. About American life. About the ’toasted’ qualities of Lucky Strike tobacco. About a million products and services that “meet our needs” and presume to bring order and linearity to chaos and nature. The entire industrialized, consumer-driven modern age has bene defined by the vain effort to bring linear control into our violent and short lives, a relatively new (and absurd) idea that is less than a century old. Straight lines, fine edges, linear relationships, don’t really exist in nature. They are conceptual at best, sense-makers that help us understand cause and effect.

The tragedy isn’t just that everything breaks. That the universe is slowly but surely ushering us out the backdoor. It’s also the inevitability baked into it all. That everything is in the process of breaking, from before conception.

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And…we’re back!

We were on the HoC love train before it was too cool for school. Proud to be early adopters. Stay tuned because LITHOC has a slew of amazing new content coming your way for both Season 1 & 2. More deep dives. More high fives. It’s coming your way.

We’ll also be jumping into the deep end with True Detective analysis as well.

– MM

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THR: ‘Continuum’ Creator Simon Barry, Stephen Hegyes Launch Genre Production Company

The below is fantastic news from The Hollywood Reporter (http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/continuum-creator-simon-barry-stephen-657360)

The Vancouver-based Reality Distortion Field will develop original sci-fi, horror and fantasy film and TV content for a global fanboy audience.

TORONTO — Former Brightlight Pictures partner Stephen Hegyes has pacted with Continuumcreator and showrunner Simon Barry to launch a genre film and TV producer, Reality Distortion Field. The Vancouver-based production shingle will develop original content for a global fanboy audience.
Barry lived and worked in Los Angeles for 15 years before finding success with Continuum, his first foray into the Canadian TV market, which also landed on Syfy stateside. Now he will work with Hegyes to tap Canadian and American creative talents to generate genre fare for the North American and international markets.
“The goal is to move forward on projects I’ve developed but also find creative talent in the sci-fi and horror genres, and fantasy, and become a brand that’s associated with quality entertainment,” Barry told The Hollywood Reporter.
While working in Los Angeles before moving to his current base in Vancouver, Barry sold a slew of feature film and TV projects to major studios and networks, including the action thriller The Art of Warand the micro-budgeted independent Hamlet.
Reality Distortion Field is looking to build on momentum in the scripted drama field with Continuum, the Rachel Nichols time-travel cop drama now in its third season, including on Showcase in Canada.
“Simon is someone who knows how to deliver smart, commercial TV. Everything he had put together on the slate, it has the potential to travel internationally,” Hegyes said.
The new venture is eyeing film and TV series with layered mysteries, mythologies, expansive worlds and sociopolitical themes.
As Barry steers the creative, Hegyes will head up production and financing, bringing his expertise in producing more than 30 features and more than 100 hours of scripted TV for the international market.
While at Brightlight Pictures, which he left last year, Hegyes carved out a track record structuring movie and TV projects as international co-productions or co-ventures. His movie credits include White Noise, starring Michael Keaton, and Kari Skogland‘s Fifty Dead Men Walking, which starred Jim Sturgess and Ben Kingsley.
Hegyes most recently completed Mr. Hockey, a movie for the CBC about hockey legend Gordie Howe.
Reality Distortion Field will be a pure genre content player, based out of Vancouver and Los Angeles, with projects shot overseas or in Toronto and Montreal to tap Canadian tax credits.
Barry is represented by Resolution and Jackoway Tyerman Wertheimer.
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Bringing Down The House: Disruptive Branding & Films

As-seen-on-tv

In Bringing Down The House we explore television and film industry trends.

The marketing push behind films like Gravity, Blue Is The Warmest Colour and 12 Years A Slave show a growing trend. In an industry now dominated by franchises, remakes, sequels and blockbusters previously contained to the 2-3 month summer. In order for substantial dramatic fair to break through the clutter, they must rely increasingly on what the branding/advertising world calls ‘disruptive branding’ or ‘disruption marketing’.

At its essence, what this means is that to connect with audiences and combat the massive marketing dollars of multi-studio, multi-distributor projects — those projects with huge economies of scale — is to create a disruptive and transcendent sales proposition. Consumer product lines — like computers, TVs or automobiles — usually disrupt the market with innovative technological or service oriented product re-designs. Or even more disruptive, a completely new product — like the iPod or the iPad — which invents a whole new product category. It seems though that in order for films to compete they have to do this every single time out. There’s a marginal utility to these ‘upgrades’, and also a marginal impact — because unlike the seemingly infinite quantum leaps of technology, film is ultimately about one core transition: Captured images delivered to a captive (or passive) audience on a projected medium (cinema, TV, iPhone, computer). No matter how fancy things get, that’s ultimately all that’s required to deliver story — the rest is sales.

In Gravity, it’s the groundbreaking visuals and thrilling camera work as well as a visceral perspective on space that’s never been experienced on-screen. In Blue Is the Warmest Colour it’s the perceived ‘controversy’ in prolonged, exploitive sex scenes between two young women. In 12 Years A Slave, it’s the brutal, non-romantic and explicit violence in an under-explored slavery epic.

Let me be clear: I’m talking strictly what sells these films and what rewards them wide distribution. This is what it takes to sell movie tickets — no amount of naiveté can distract from the core aim of recouping investments made. And studios, big and small, rely on what they can to create word of mouth — whether it’s sex, VFX or sociopolitical narratives. Not a revelation, but it seems that the ante has been upped on these selling points to unreasonable and untenable levels.

As a comparative point of reference  — Blue Jasmine could barely be found when it was released in late summer. In some cities it played in older, smaller theatres and stayed there for weeks before finally building enough word of mouth and critical clout to migrate into the multiplexes. Depressing considering it came from one of the masters of filmmaking — one whose remaining filmography is a rapidly becoming a perishable asset.

A great story, formidable direction, critical praise and reliable performances were enough. In the past, every decade or so a JAWS, Star wars, Terminator, Jurassic Park or Matrix would change the rules of their respective genres, push the industry forward and pull all of filmmaking along with it (major studio and independent projects alike). Now each film hoping for success, even during the ‘prestige picture’ fall film season has to have an ‘iPhone’ moment or risk going unnoticed. Case in point 2013 award-season hopefuls like Monuments Men, Grace of Monaco, The Immigrant and Foxcatcher have all been pushed back from their Fall 2013 releases into the moribund Spring 2014 schedule. Spring time has been a notorious no-man’s land for passion projects that go forgotten by the end of the year (save a few exceptions — Erin Brockovich anyone?). Even Martin Scorsese (Scorcese!) had to consider pushing back Wolf On Wall Street. It’s a sad state of affairs when mythic filmmakers have to ponder if their latest and greatest can stand out. The counter is that it’s a good sign — more critically acclaimed prestige films released in the early months of January and February maybe be good. I might only slightly agree with this, but one gets a sense its a symptom of decay and not positive sign of recovery.

The real reason might be that these moves are pragmatic decisions, as producers are now facing increasing amounts of pressure to bring to the table that one transcendent ‘product innovation’ that earlier (or subsequent) films in its class didn’t. As release day looms closer and closer and the competition — like Gravity and 12 Years A Slave or Dallas Buyers Club — seem busy redefining how to compete and dominate the discussion, the usual suspects seem to be cornered into strategic retreats. Monuments Men producers Clooney and Heslov, for their part, are pinning the blame on a condensed post-production schedule (which on face value may be true). I’d say they are hedging their bets and relying on the success and casting clout of August: Osage County. Who can blame them. Meryl Streep is as sure a bet as any that some things will never change.

Now even the smallest film needs to have that disruptive quality and while that may seem like a good thing — it’s instead leading to ‘innovation fatigue’ (again, Apple is a great example) where innovative product offerings are becoming increasingly incremental. A great example are some of the horror franchises — like SAW or Paranormal Activity — both invented their product categories. Did they push us forward? That depends. Did Gravity give us the next great leap forward like Jurassic Park did? Maybe. An honest assessment seems to be that they only brought with them incremental steps. Just an evolution in an existing product. Like a thinner iPad with retina display. Or an iPhone with a slightly larger screen, or a camera with more megapixels.

Here’s an exercise: Watch JAWS again. Tell me it doesn’t play like an independent character piece. Seriously. The next great leap forward for films is actually one that I’d like to see taken in the opposite direction: Backwards. Back to simple stories, smaller stories, essential non-superfilous casting (one of the redeeming qualities of Gravity), bigger ideas and even bigger stakes. Where we don’t have to scour the theatre listings, obscure film festivals or direct-to-iTunes releases to experience them. In other words, film needs to do what television has done. Think big and go small.

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Renovating The House

When Living In The House of Cards launched in February of this year, it was partly in devotion to a groundbreaking, complex and grown-up TV format produced and delivered to audiences in ways that hadn’t been before. Although the groundswell building towards this ‘revolution’ was long in the making, House of Cards signalled the formal evolution of ‘television’ from a pure medium of content delivery, to content and format itself. In other words, TV was still TV, but no longer on TV.

This blog was also launched in part thanks to a deep and abiding love for cinema, on television or otherwise. Also for a wish to create a space where we could share in contemplation over deeper, more layered elements of the cinematic art form — its politics, culture, economics, race, class and gender. How did these things seep into and influence our interpretation of the work executed by the best in their field and at their craft? And, above all, why?

Going forward Living In The House of Cards will use the same analytical and intellectual approaches we’ve taken in our singular break downs of HoC to the broader world of television, film and the business of it all. This means other shows, more writers and a greater variety of insight. Our mandate has never been to offer up episodic recaps or straight on reviews — because those are available in many other places and in better ways . Rather, our intent is to pontificate, philosophize, wax poetic and dig deep into the most prolific and influential of modern art forms: cinema.

All in good fun and with a wink, of course.

Stay tuned.

LITHOC

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12 Years A Slave: The Innovative Nature of Hate

12-years-a-slave

I wouldn’t describe 12 Years A Slave as an ‘enjoyable’ film. The intent, as it should have been, was to make an essential piece of art that was viscerally honest about slavery and the nature of people and power of all races and classes. It’s a film to be experienced more than ‘watched’ — one that puts into shallow relief broader contemporary issues and policy considerations having to do with race, voting, immigration and citizenship rights. For these reasons, and many others, do yourself a favour and watch this film.

Steve McQueen approaches the film in a workmanlike fashion. Gone are the flourishes and innovations from Hunger and Shame. That is instead replaced by patience and starkness focused almost entirely on performance and content. The supporting performances are mannered and affected in ways that pulled me out from time to time — especially Brad Pitt and Paul Giamatti. There are moments of unnecessary pandering and on the nose or clunky dialogue. The structure of the script, incorporating flashbacks within flashbacks was also misguided. Many of the characters verged on cliche and several beats we’ve seen executed better in less ambitious films. This film would have made a great play.

Not enough can be said about the magnetic performances of Chiwetel Ejiofor (pronounced Chew-i-tel Ej-i-o-for), Michael Fassbender, and Lupita Nyong’o. Fassbender in particular cemented himself as a revelation — he is terrifying and reprehensible in this film but you won’t be able to take your eyes off him. He deserves Best Actor consideration. As for Nyong’o, give her the supporting Oscar now.

I wouldn’t say this the best picture I’ve seen this year (or one of my favourites), or the best set of performances I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing, or even the best of McQueen’s work at that. It wasn’t the experience I had looked forward to on an emotional level — but maybe that’s precisely the point.

There is no room in this story for selfish audience catharsis. It is a sledgehammer — uncompromising, unrelenting and crystal clear in its admonition and tragedy, serving as a necessary reminder to the horrors of genocide, the evil inside all people (even the righteous) and the raw and shocking politics of legislated elimination.

It’s also a reminder of the oppressive nature of language and re-affirms my anxiety about the N-word, and other derogatory ethnic or racial epithets, being used so loosely by those who shouldn’t be using them in inappropriate contexts. It seems we have taken so many steps backwards.

It’s incredibly difficult to watch, as it should be. You’ll come out of it with your own personal reaction and set of feelings. For my part, I didn’t feel too keen on discussing it after I left the theatre. I was pretty shell-shocked from the cleansing and intoxicating nature of the truths reiterated in this film. It confirms my long-standing and relentless feelings of shame and pessimism for humanity — for our capabilities in such awfulness. Our capacity for evil is so banal, efficient, systematic and absurdly innovative. I’ll be thinking about this film for a long time.

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SHOWTIME’s Masters of Sex: Best of the Fall Slate

SHOWTIME's Masters of Sex stars Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan as Masters and Johnson.

SHOWTIME’s Masters of Sex stars Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan as Masters and Johnson.

SHOWTIME’s Masters of Sex is a fascinating new show based on the true story of Masters & Johnson. Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan deliver two characters audiences can invest in. One troubled and the other naive. The supporting cast is a little week and could use some rounding out, but that will come with time.

Tons of potential coming out of the first two episodes. They set the right tone, style and narrative framework. The pilot is beautifully crafted and directed pilot by John Madden. It’s well written and subtle — save a few dialogue clinks and clanks. Surprisingly restrained, disciplined and non-exploitative (or marginally so). Emotionally resonant. It takes a socio-politically salient POV right off the bat as well, signalling a show responsible to its period, setting and the context in which it’s telling its story. I hope it plans to be braver with issues of race and gender, but also with academia. In other words, I hope it addresses America’s emergence along side the assault on reason that dominates the contemporary debate about gender, sex and the medical community. It will be interesting to see where they go from here and if it can be sustained, as well as how serialized it will be.

Masters of Sex does a few things in refreshing ways: It’s not an anti-hero story and does not use the Sopranos/Mad Men/Breaking Bad formula of good guy gone bad. There is a warmth and humour that paints the darker and more melodramatic beats. It’s intelligent in the sense that it paces itself before rolling out its larger ensemble cast — a precaution most shows don’t take, to their detriment (I’m talking to you Agents of Shield). On a more complex narrative note:The stakes etched into the background are existentially high, while remaining intimate, ‘small’ (for lack of a better term – not to be confused with insignificant) and personal in the immediate foreground of the characters & story telling. Most of the shows we love tend towards the opposite but here it works. We’re not lost to the implications or the impact that Masters and Johnson will have on American society and indeed the world.

This is the first show in the slate of fall shows that I can confidential have personal interest in (as opposed to the others — like the campy Marvel’s Agents of Shield,  Hostages (or as I like to call it: Nana’s Low Winter Sun) or The Black List — which I watch purely for research & work). There is a chance SHOWTIME has a prestige hit in the making with Masters of Sex. Let’s hope so because with Breaking Bad gone, Mad Men on its way out, Luther taking year long hiatuses between four to six episode seasons, House of Cards taking a over a year between seasons (and likely not coming back for a third) and Homeland going all Twilight on us, it’s getting real rough out there.

And don’t let the title of MoS fool you. It’s about politics, power, class, race, history, gender, science, marriage and friendships. What else?

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