Critics' Picks

What you need to see, read, do this week: Madonna's sex-positive film, a book of wacky head shots, and the "Mad Men" season finale.

Published October 25, 2008 8:00PM (EDT)

"Mad Men" season finale
As the second excellent season of AMC's "Mad Men" (10 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 26) comes to a close (sniff!), several big questions loom in the air. Will Peggy really get to keep the huge office? Will Joan go ahead and marry that nasty chauvinist and be trapped in a '50s-style hell of her own choosing? But most important, will Don Draper ever return to his wife and children, or will he stay in San Pedro with the other Mrs. Draper (the widow of the man whose identity he assumed)? And even if Don does return, will Betty have him back, and will his job ever be the same? No matter how many of these plotlines get resolved, you can count on creator Matthew Weiner to offer us one hell of a heartbreaking final episode. -- Heather Havrilesky

"Holy Headshot! A Celebration of America's Undiscovered Talent," by Patrick Borelli and Douglas Gorenstein
"Holy Headshot!" is the answer to one of life's great unasked questions: Just where the hell does the entertainment industry find all the crazy-looking people they need to fill bit parts and slots as extras? Surprisingly, that answer's actually pretty interesting, or at least good for a few laughs. The book is a collection of head shots and résumés sent in by would-be stars, ranging from the eccentric to the downright odd. One man poses for his head shot -- actually a full-body shot -- naked save for a trophy covering his most sensitive areas. One woman sends out a photo montage that includes an image depicting her as a missing child on a milk carton. And then there's Yenz Von Tilborg, a buccaneer-type whose résumé includes the phrase "I am born in Denmark." (The philosophical implications of that one are staggering.) All told, it's a fascinating cross section of the part of America most of us, save a few lucky casting directors, never get to see. The only problem, as with so much of hipster comedy -- the book's foreword is by David Cross, after all -- is that the people in this book are real people with real dreams, and we're laughing at them, not with them. If and when your conscience gets wind of that, the humor can drain away pretty quickly. -- Alex Koppelman

Madonna's "Filth and Wisdom"
Madonna's directorial debut, "Filth and Wisdom," may be disorganized, unsubtle and perhaps too nostalgic for a life of bohemian struggling that the Material Mom left behind decades ago, but it perfectly mimics punk-influenced midnight movies you might have seen on the USA Network in the mid-'80s. The story of three roommates trying to make it in the arts -- a pill-popping activist who works in a pharmacy (Vicky McClure), a dancer-turned-stripper (Holly Weston) and a Russian who dresses up to dominate schlubby dudes, played by the frontman of gypsy-punk band Gogol Bordello, Eugene Hutz -- has slapdash energy to spare, amusingly uneven acting and a cringey scene in which a poet tries to destroy his library that seems straight out of a Duran Duran video, circa 1983. But while the movie's technical skills might not be in the right place, its heart and its values -- trashy fun, music and the freedom to play with sexuality, if not actual sex -- certainly are. You'd think a tycoon like Madonna would throw gobs of money at a slick, softcore thriller and make a mint, not attempt a New Wave pastiche. If nothing else, "Filth and Wisdom" serves as a reminder of how infrequently a ridiculous yet heartfelt sex-positive film by a woman director gets any attention. It's like she has to be famous beforehand. Yeah, like Sofia Coppola. -- James Hannaham

Advanced Style fashion blog
Most people who love fashion already know about Scott Schuman's inspired and inspirational man-on-the-street blog the Sartorialist. But the site does tend to feature a lot of leggy 20-year-olds, and face it -- they look good in pretty much anything. For a different perspective, check out Advanced Style, a blog devoted to the je ne sais quoi of those of, as the French would say (in actual French, of course), a certain age. Bloggers Ari S. Cohen and Briana Rognlin roam the streets of New York with their cameras, capturing a range of looks on a variety of body types, from the chic simplicity of a purple turtleneck adorned with a sculptural necklace, to wild getups that would do Pippi Longstocking proud, to grandpa cardigans worn, quite dashingly, by actual grandpas. (And almost every one of these ensembles is accompanied by what your own mother or grandmother always told you is the best accessory: A smile.) You might also notice that some of these stylish ladies and gents are wearing good-quality garments or shoes that might be 20 or 30 years old -- a reminder that it's more economical, and more environmentally sound, to save up and buy one good thing you'll love forever, instead of picking up two dozen cheap things at H&M or Target. Do as I say, not as I do. -- Stephanie Zacharek

Lenka's "The Show"
With lyrics like "Life is a maze and love is a riddle," I can't say that Lenka's new single, "The Show," from her self-titled album, materially advances the human condition, but I do know it's an infusion of pure pop pleasure. Like Feist's "1234," it builds a childlike chord progression into a street symphony of piano, horns and sunny vocals, and it offers just enough tartness (including a backup chorus beefing "I want my money back") to cut the sugar. The song's been featured on "Ugly Betty," but the charmingly off-kilter music video is a better showcase for Lenka herself, who comes across as a more tuneful Björk, as well as the most fetching Australian pixie since Natalie Imbruglia. -- Louis Bayard

"Marco Ferreri Collection" on DVD
If anything, Italian director Marco Ferreri's films are too rich, rather like the feast concocted by three friends who want to eat themselves to death in "La Grande Bouffe," his biggest hit. Suspended somewhere between male-chauvinist clod and genuine poetic visionary, Ferreri was very much a man of the 1960s and '70s -- a product of the sexual revolution, the Cold War and the explosion of postwar European art cinema. Once as famous as Fellini, he had been nearly forgotten outside Italy by the time of his death in 1997. I won't promise you'll love every film in the eight-film, 850-minute "Marco Ferreri Collection" (new on DVD from Koch Lorber); his genius was much too erratic for that. But give the guy half a chance and he'll seduce you with his emotional generosity and sheer outrageous spectacle, along with his all-star casts. A film that re-creates Custer's Last Stand in modern-day Manhattan, starring Marcello Mastroianni and Catherine Deneuve? Check. (That would be "Don't Touch the White Woman.") Another Manhattan tale, in which two impoverished foreigners -- Mastroianni and Gérard Depardieu -- adopt King Kong's orphaned son? (That's "Bye Bye Monkey.") Ben Gazzara playing Charles Bukowski, long before Mickey Rourke tried it? ("Tales of Ordinary Madness.") Are Ferreri's movies a time capsule from a crazier, more self-indulgent cinematic era, steeped in quasi-existential theory and Freudian sexual imagery? You bet your ass they are, and the movies today could stand a bit more of that. -- Andrew O'Hehir

James Hynes' Halloween reading recommendations
Come late October, I'm in the mood for some spooky reading, but I much prefer the psychological creeps instilled by the best ghost stories to serial-killer gore. In my opinion, the greatest ghost story ever written is Shirley Jackson's short novel, "The Haunting of Hill House" (1999 film version = bad; 1963 film version = a masterpiece). A cozier recent alternative is John Harwood's excellent "The Ghost Writer." For shorter and lesser-known scary fare, I'm hot on the trail of the stories novelist James Hynes recommends in his most recent list of Halloween reading (which comes with a link to the previous list he compiled for lit blogger Maud Newton). -- Laura Miller


What's on your list to read, watch, do this week? Share your recommendations with other readers.


Catch up on recent Salon Critics' Picks.

By Salon Staff

MORE FROM Salon Staff

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Our Picks