American Sniper (2014)

I didn’t expect to be as moved as I was. I didn’t know the history of the main character, Chris Kyle, so I didn’t know how his story ended, so I was as surprised as I would have been with any other movie. It lingered with me longer than I expected.

What we’re seeing is not just one character here but a model of manhood in America. The guy can shoot, he can ride rodeo, he can fight, he can survive Navy Seal training, he holds back a woman’s hair when she pukes, he serves on the ground with Marines where he thinks he might be more useful, he uses m’am and sir, he’s a model of manhood. As an American guy I felt it – he’s what you do.

Some stuff played out how I expected, for example, you see a scene start and the way it’s played, who says what, you know who’s getting killed. Other stuff didn’t. I was pretty shocked by a traumatic scene involving a family. Kids are used a lot in this. Kids in danger, kids being coerced for good or ill, kids as a reason to do good or to be responsible. That can be a cheap shot, it’s a reliable source of emotion. But, one scene in the middle that is set up perfectly near the beginning has such high stakes I found myself literally talking to the screen (“don’t go in there”, more or less).
In some of it I knew I was being coerced. I was aware. I went along with it.

Bradley Cooper, who looks an awful lot like the guy as he’s shown in the pictures at the end, pulls off the humble/amazing/leader/gentlemen/troubled guy thing really well.
A couple of things it tries to straddle I don’t know if it totally nails. The PTSD is not played down, but it’s dealt with in a way that doesn’t diminish from his sense of duty. I got the sense that HE could make it in combat, though he could get really scarred, but that others couldn’t, it would be too much for them. Their weakness is alluded to, and there’s a practicality in that in terms of who you’d want in your squad, but in the end, everyone who fights ends up in trouble in their head. I plan on reading the book, I’m curious about how his brother turns out, because he’s a main character early on and then gradually used only to make points about Clark, so maybe he doesn’t do as well.

I did really feel like I got a sense of place. I felt like I knew their house. The domestic drama wasn’t as strong – Cooper, in his role as husband, is better at being stony and then saying something positive, but I read an article today about how this is pretty accurate for how some vets and their wives feel in conversations with vets.

I don’t know about the racist thing. It makes some specific points about good/bad within the Bad Guys (“savages”) and puts a couple of Iraqi people at risk to show their bravery, and it humanizes a critical ‘enemy’ character just long enough, but overall it’s not about making a fair statement about the Iraqi people. It has to demonize them to a certain degree or we wouldn’t empathize – so yes, probably racist.

Again, though, I was inspired after the shock wore off. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I’ve been thinking about it for a while and about Kyle as a role model. That surprised me, I can be pretty cynical, but this hit the right buttons.

I like music, music I like.

When I was living at home at my parents house when I was going to college I was heading to a blind date. It was early on a Saturday night, still sunny. Summer, late 90’s. I was driving my parents’ minivan. It didn’t have a tape-player, or the tape-player was broken, I was listening to the radio. I heard someone new. About a block from the blind date’s apartment I turned the minivan around, drove the ten minutes back home, ran inside and put a blank tape in my stereo and hit record, then went back to the van and drove then 10 minutes back to the blind date’s place. I ended up getting about 4 songs, but I did get the band/songwriter name: Ani Difranco. I apologized to the blind date when I got to her apartment, explaining I’d just heard some great new music and I had to record it. That was not my wife it didn’t go very far. The music is the key to the story here.

As far as I can remember these were the songs on the setlist. The song that caught my attention the most was probably the acoustic version of Out of Range. Ani plays guitar really really well, sings well and writes personal poetry, basically. There’s some profanity/sexuality in these songs.

It looks like Ani Difranco has put out 8 albums since the last one I listened to carefully, To the Teeth (1999), which my brother gave me for Christmas one year. Probably 1999. I haven’t kept up with her. I really like some of her stuff and am meh about a lot of it. I’ve really only followed a few bands over their careers. I’ve a fair-weather friend when it comes to music.

Here’s who I follow.

The Trashcan Sinatras

Sometimes Trash Can Sinatras (early) and sometimes Trashcan Sinatras (later) (worth mentioning because of the different when searching, Spotify has both, separately). My entrypoint was “Only Tongue Can Tell” (which got airplay on KJQ) then the local library had “I’ve seen Everything”. They make catchy alt-pop, maybe. Smart lyrics. They’ve mellowed as they’ve aged but instead of getting mushy they’ve gotten sentimental, and their songs are just as strong. As a gift my wife got me a T-shirt and tickets to see the band in New York, which was a weird show because the monitors kept them from hearing any of the requests they asked the audience for, but it was great. Honestly part of what kept me searching for them was that no one, absolutely no one I talked to knew the band. So I had that going for me.

The Shins

James Mercer, apparently, he ditched most of the band for his latest album, which kind of ticked me off, even though it’s still a great album. Entry point was Know Your Onion! which I downloaded somewhere as a single and didn’t get the full album, Oh Inverted World, until a year later.  They have four albums. All are strong. They got a lot of attention when one of their songs, New Slang, was on the Zach Braff movie Garden State, not just on the soundtrack but a song that the Natalie Portman character tells him to listen to in a hospital waiting room, and it was in a McDonlads commercial, which some people got mad about, but any exposure of good stuff is good, right?

Rogue Wave

Rogue Wave I really follow on and off. I really liked Out of the Shadow and Descended Like Vultures. Their later albums are good but don’t hit me as hard. They’re basically two guys, Zach Rogue and Pat Spurgeon.

Mad Men S1E4 – New Amsterdam (aka Sympathy for the Devil)

pete's door Trudy giving the lookHelen and Betty talk around vlcsnap-00046

Why is this episode of Mad Men called New Amsterdam? As near as I can tell, it’s about the surrender of Pete to Trudy. According to my Extensive, Extensive Research it looks like a guy named Peter Stuyvesant was in charge of a Dutch settlement in New Amsterdam. The English came in 1664 and demanded surrender. Stuyvesant threw a tantrum and then gave in. The new governor, Richard Nicholls, “tactfully, shrewdly and to the general satisfaction of the colony’s people” (see here) took over and renamed it New York City. Bert mentions that Pete’s mom was a Dykeman – who were part of the Dutch colony. Trudy tells a story to the realtor about a fight between his greatx4 aunt brawling with a Brit.

So – Pete Campbell, Peter Stuyvesant. Shrewd, bloodless takeover – Trudy handling Pete. Pete’s only valuable because of his name. That’s gotta suck.

Two threads involving women:

  • Trudy Campbell – Pete’s wife – Alison Brie of Community fame – is very smart and knows how to get exactly what she wants. Pete admits as much in the car on the way home from his soul sale at dinner with her parents. She’s a standout among women – throughout the series, though she’s never really cuddly, she never caves in. I’m continually impressed with Allison Brie. When they’re looking around the downtown apartment they can’t afford he says, “I know you’re not good at math, but…” Yeah. She’s pretty good at math, buddy. (Pete +1)
  • Betty Stepfords it up – she didn’t see Helen Bishop’s husband pounding on Helen’s door, nor was she busy with making dinner, nor do she and her cronies wonder why she got divorced, not is Don cheating on her, nor is it weird that Stalker Boy asks her for a LOCK OF HAIR that he curls up in his little paws as he trots off to the bed. This last bit she does because she’s flattered like she’s used to (‘Gee, you’re pretty, lady’) and she doesn’t mention it to Helen when she comes home because, again, Stepford (‘Yeah, your kid walked in on me in the bathroom and then asked for a piece of my hair. He’s probably up there carving a picture of me into the wall with a hunting knife’). She’s 12 emotionally. This is moderated, a little, by her sitting on a shrink’s couch, casting pity for Helen, who actually pities Betty for being naive.

Our Misoginy Comes with a Side Order of Hypocrisy

  • Client from Bethlehem Steel, who is holy except when he uses escorts when he’s in town, doesn’t like big cities, and PRODUCES STEEL and doesn’t like big cities.
  • Betty Draper. “Bathrooms are private. Except when I’m snooping.” Plus everything else she says. She’s strongly contrasted with Helen Bishop, who’s house is ‘dim’, kid is watching TV with no reading at bedtime, a philandering ex-husband making a scene on the porch. Helen always tells the truth.

Keep Don Pete Sympathetic

As I’ve pointed out I find Pete pretty unlikeable. As the camera zooms in on Pete’s door, we realize it’s about him. In this episode we find out, maybe, why:

  1. His new wife works him over ninja-like to get what she wants. (Pete +1)
  2. He’s a creative at heart, apparently, shoehorned into sales, leading to the episode’s best line (below). He knows enough about himself to know why (Pete +1.5 – .5 for the ‘sure, it had already been invented, but I arrived at the idea independently’ which so clearly expresses that feeling)
  3. His dad’s cold, who doesn’t think Pete works because he’s always schmoozing. As it turns out, looking at #2, Pete doesn’t think he’s always working either. This is driven home as he introduces two escorts to his Upstanding Wholesome Client who wanted the redhead he had last time. His dad is right in the end, his name does save him.
  4. His wife convinces her parents to help with the downpayment, and then he’s literally in debt to his father in law. “I’m making an investment in you”, his father-in-law tells him. (Pete +1)
  5. As he finds out that one of his new neighbors is a friend of his in-laws, the ball, chain, and anchor all cinch around his ankle. (Pete +1)
  6. He almost gets fired. Then he owes Don. (Pete +1)

Total – Pete +5. That should last a couple of episodes.

Don’s DameDon and Rachel

Still Rachel Menken. She’s mourning in black when they awkwardly meet in the hall. He tries to get her to commit without his committing. She sees through it.

Don’s Dark Past

Don bitesWe don’t know who Don is. We learn, eventually, as Don learns to accept it. In this episode this comes up as Don tries to fire Pete and can’t, which emphasizes (probably re-emphasizes) that he’ll always be limited in some way because he grew up poor, even though his work is solid. Bert has an old photo with Roger on his lap. The club. Roger’s great speech about why he drinks is oblivious to his never having to worry about making it day to day, and where he makes it a generational thing, it might be a class thing, which is why Don kicks him in the shin. He has a mean face he puts on when he bites people.

Memable Line

And then I get to this place, and you people tell me I'm good with people. Which is strange, because I'd never heard that before.