A few DVDs this week, including Drive (see below), and for my Kung Fu Fridays shelf, Let the Bullets Fly, Exiled, and Running on Karma.
DVDs: Mad Men Season 4 features a new status quo that changes both the look and dynamics of the show in line with how the 1960s themselves are changing. In the wake of the Kennedy assassination, the decade must get its groove back, just as Don Draper must after the upheaval in his own life. In other words, the season is a dark descent until it finally upswings at the end. Not to say it's depressing. Peggy's story is one of feminine confidence and there's some outrageous comedy from Don's new secretary Mrs. Blankenship. It's a season in which the characters are denied things until they won't be denied no more. As with other seasons, the DVDs have one or usually two commentary tracks, but the documentary features aren't bad but ARE a little disappointing, being either padded with too many scenes from the show or having only the most marginal of relationships with the season. The history of divorce didn't need to be a three-parter, for example, and "How to Succeed in Business Draper Style" feels thin. The history of the Mustang is good, but doesn't really connect to the show, nor does the collection of campaign ads and speeches from the '64 Johnson-Goldwater election, but it's at least advertising-related.
The first half of Drive has a spare, artful sensibility that I find heartbreakingly beautiful, from the real-time police chase to the spartan romance and Driver's ambiguous, silent personality. It makes the second half all that much more uncomfortable, as sudden, gory violence and a relatively simple mob story take center stage. And yet, the contrast works within the context of the film's theme, as a man becomes a monster in order to become a hero. And what a cast! Ryan Gosling is joined by Carey Mulligan, Christian Hendricks, Albert Brooks, Ron Perlman... and each actor brings their own quirks to the characters. A tense, dream-like action film. The DVD includes a making of split into four featurettes from which Gosling and director Nicolas Winding Refn are conspicuously absent, but Refn finally shows up in a longer interview that answers most of your questions.
Not all classic samurai films were made by Akira Kurosawa, or so I found thanks to the Criterion Collection and Hideo Gosha's Three Outlaw Samurai (1964). On the surface, the story, not just the title, seems derivative: Grungy masterless samurai side with farmers in a conflict. The similarities to The Seven Samurai ends there, however, although Three Outlaw Samurai also has memorable black and white visuals. Gosha's film is at times surprisingly and strikingly brutal, not because it is gory, but because the actors seem to suffer the impacts we see on screen. I can easily believe the booklet's claim that Gosha frequently made his actresses cry. It's also a rather cynical chanbara film, cynical about honor and loyalty and the so-called samurai code. Deconstructed heroes seem a rather modern concept, doesn't it? The only extra is the film's trailer, which includes a couple of behind-the-scenes elements.
Comics: One of the few comics I trade-wait with any kind of fidelity is Brian Wood's DMZ. Volume 11: Free States Rising, is its penultimate, and could actually serve as a proper conclusion. Incorporating DMZ #60-66, it starts with a rare flashback to pre-Civil War America, then follows Matt to what could well be the end of the war, and ends with an epilogue featuring Zee that crosses back into the guts of the series where her story intersects Mattie's. Smart, shocking and relevant as ever, no more DMZ could ever have come out and I'd have been happy with it. Of course, it doesn't end there, and volume 12 will take us to the true end of DMZ, and deal with the reconstruction. Stay tuned.
Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
III.ii. Critical Reception - Kline '90