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S1E9, The Blackout Part Two – The Great Debates

McAvoy and MacKenzie’s relationship is slowly leading towards either a total make-up or complete disintegration, Don is finally getting the message about how Maggie feels for Jim, Neal and Sloan have worked their way into upper-level journalist ranks, and Terry Crews is still a recurring character (every now and then, at least).

Now that I’ve gotten the story-related plot point of The Newsroom’s ninth episode out of the way, I can focus on what I’m really interested in: the “new debate format” suggested by McAvoy and the rest of the News Night team.

The mock debate scene from The Newsroom's ninth episode.

The mock debate scene from The Newsroom’s ninth episode.

 

A few months back, sometime before I started my Mass Media class with Professor Dunphy, a friend of mine shared the mock debate scene from this episode on Facebook. At the time, I had no idea who any of the characters were, why they were all pretending to be the potential Republican presidential candidates, or what The Newsroom even was. Now, months later, I know all about the show and its characters. Despite this newfound knowledge, I didn’t feel any different watching the scene a second time around.

This is something that really stand out to me. If we’re not supposed to be looking at the characters or anything onscreen, it’s pretty clear that Sorkin wants us to look deeper, at something beyond the composition of the shot.

To me, this debate format is amazing and horrifying at the same time. As I get older, I pay more attention to the way politicians speak and how the questions they’re asked by the media differ greatly compared to the questions the average everyday person has. Most of the time, the questions asked by the media (radio and television news shows, talk shows, etc.) are somewhat vauge and can be answered in a very broad way. Especially when it comes to presidential elections, Q&A sessions and debates become very long-winded and very repetitive very quickly. The people asking the questions don’t get to the point, nor do they speak like human beings. They spit the questions out as if they’re coming from a robot, almost never sounding natural.

McAvoy, MacKenzie and the rest of the team have devised a formula that breaks all of these habits. Not only does McAvoy get straight to the point and not waste a single breath by beating around the bush, but he stops the candidates when they don’t answer the questions, constantly switches between various subject matter and topics to keep everyone on their toes, and even confronts some candidates on a personal, real, human level (asking about sexual and racial stereotyping scandals, for example).

In the episode, the representative from the Republican National Committee isn’t please at all by what McAvoy is offering, but his boyhood friend working alongside the representative does see the positive points about this new debate format. For one thing, McAvoy and his friend agree that if the candidates are going to be running for the position of the president of the United States they should be able to answer questions in this manner. What they’ll have to do in office will no doubt be much more urgent and serious than being completely honest with the American public. Even more on honesty, McAvoy’s debate style doesn’t allow for any freedom to beat around the bush or to be untruthful–the candidates are stopped when they’re not answering the question asked by the moderator and called out when they’re stating incorrect information (again, by the moderator, not by themselves).

I did find it interesting that most other reviews of this episode didn’t feel that the mock debates worked very well in bringing anything new to the table. Since the Republican pre-primaries (and the entire presidential election process) has obviously already passed, it’s pretty clear that the Republicans “still ended up seeing through all those guys and nominating the one who, judging from the lack of abuse he’s taken on The Newsroom, seems to be the one Sorkin views as least evil.” (Newsroom Episode Nine Recap)

I don’t think it’s clear if the kind of debate method presented in episode nine of The Newsroom could ever work. It brings a lot to the table, but also takes some away. By giving the moderator complete control over the pacing, topics and subjects of the deabtes with no limitations or off-limits questions, it seems that stings step backwards just as much as they step forwards. There needs to be some form of order in the court while maintaing the ability to stay on topic and on point (cut the fat).

Because this new debate style is presented in such an interesting way that leaves the audience really comparing and contrasting our real-life system to a fictional system, this episode gets a 5/5 (and yes, that rating is completely disregarding the silly emotional/relationship side of the episode–mainly because I’m rather sick of it now). Here’s hoping McAvoy finds a way to get his pants on in the Season One finale!

Did I forget to mention that? There was a silly recurring joke all episode about Will's "pants problem." It reminded me of Ted Striker's "drinking problem" from Airplane.

Did I forget to mention that? There was a silly recurring joke all episode about Will’s “pants problem.” It reminded me of Ted Striker’s “drinking problem” from Airplane.

 

Reference:

The Newsroom Episode Nine Recap, Jeff Bercovici

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Ordinary People In Extraordinary Situations – The Insider Review

Imagine a well-written, fully-arced show like The Newsroom (the parts that focus on the conflict between legitimate investigative journalism and station bureaucracy, at least) with a focus placed on investigative journalism in corporate America, and you’ve got The Insider.

Released in 1999, The Insider “tells the true story of a man who decided to tell the world what the seven major tobacco companies knew (and concealed) about the dangers of their product.” (Rotten Tomatoes) The film was nominated for seven Oscars ranging from Best Director to Best Editing, and went on to win not only many more awards, but the praise of film critics from across the nation.

 

At the most basic level, the film’s story revolves around Jeffrey Wigand (played by Russell Crowe), a research scientist at Brown and Williamson who was fired in March 1993 due to the fact that he ‘did his job too well.’ (Anatomy Of A Decision Timeline) To retaliate against the tobacco industry and fight for what he believed was right in the terms of American public health, Wigand decided to blow the whistle with the help of Lowell Bergman (played by Al Pacino), a producer of CBS’ news show 60 Minutes. As threats against his family were made by Brown and Williamson (the film states that in the real life story, it was never discovered who sparked the harassment and mafe the threats), Wigand hoped that the threats would stop and he would gain safety, approval and support in the court of public appeal by whistle blowing.

Unfortunately for Wigand, things didn’t go as planned. As he pursued exposing companies like Brown and Williamson, the threats only became more serious, his wife left him due to the stress and constant fear of being “silenced,” and reporters began to dig further and further into his past. All of these things on top of one another created a very intense, dark and stressful situation for Wigand, and the feelings his character was experiencing spilled off onto the audience. Through the constant use of high-pitched musical scores, dark shots with heavy shadow compositions and close-ups on Wigand and Bergman’s faces, The Insider masterfully conveys the feeling of what it’s like to be an insider–someone with information that everyone wants to know, even though they don’t know that they want it.

Shot composition is one of the main things that stood out to me during the more macabre scenes like this one.

Shot composition is one of the main things that stood out to me during the more macabre scenes in the film, ones like this one (where Wigand calls Bergman in a fit of paranoia and fear).

 

On the opposite side of the spectrum, the film also conveys what it’s like to be an investigative journalist in the midst of a real, savage, sometimes unfair world. The film’s opening scene is where this side of the storytelling really shines: the audience gets to experience a military humvee ride in the desert through the eyes of a prisoner with a cloth bag over his/her head. It’s revealed that Bergman is the man under the bag, and he’s being transported to the location of an terrorist/sheik who may or may not agree to do an interview with Mike Wallace (the main face behind 60 Minutes, a reporter who has worked on the show for over 50 years). After ironically telling the sheik that the interview would help to give him a face while his face as covered, Bergman is told that the interview will happen in two days.

After the interview with Wallace takes place in a following scene, the main story (involving Wigand and the big tobacco companies) really begins. After such a shift in story, I was really left wondering why such a scene would be placed right at the beginning of the movie. At that point, I though that the film was going to be more about terrorism and negotiations with Islamic fundamentalists than nicotine and corporate greed. So this clear clash between stories and worlds really draws attention to itself.

As I researched what other critics and reviewers had to say about this part of the film, the words of Andy Markowitz, a film critic for the Baltimore City Paper, stood out: “The opening scenes of The Insider are all about how brave, resourceful, and idealistic Lowell Bergman is.” Markowitz sees the entire film as a commentary on the status of investigative reporters in the context of the world of The Insider. I immediately found myself agree with him because as I worked my way further and further into the film’s stories, the lives of the characters and the desires of each and every party, I also drew the conclusion that this film is meant to focus more on the journalism aspect rather than the big business, tobacco aspect.

Bergman's job of reporting the news and uncovering the truth constantly clashed with his desire to keep Wigand and his family alive and safe.

Bergman’s job of reporting the news and uncovering the truth constantly clashed with his desire to keep Wigand and his family alive and safe.

 

Even after the opening scene where Bergman and Wallace drive right into the heart of evil and danger by interviewing terrorists on their soil, many scenes further their “no-bullcrap, we’re here to do our job and nothing less” policies. When Wigand begins to think that informing the public about what’s really going on behind their backs might not actually win them over or make them care, he questions Bergman’s loyalty. Bergman, in a very assertive manner, tells Wigand that he’s “been out in the world, giving [his] word and backing it up with action.”

Even Wallace questions whose side Bergman is on later in the film, which leads to the supressing of Wigand’s interview and the tobacco story by CBS News. In real life, Wallace and Don Hewitt (the executive producer of the show) sided with CBS News on the choice not to air the original Wigand interview due to potential legal issues/lawsuits that Brown and Williamson might have raised against them. In an interview with the real Lowell Bergman on PBS’ Frontline, it was addressed that Wallace and Hewitt both “called the film an inaccurate record of events and an unfair characterization of their respective positions on the decision not to air the Wigand interview.” (A Talk With Lowell Bergman) Because of statements like this coming from the real life people, it’s hard to tell which opinions and beliefs were real and which were dramatized for effect in The Insider.

Regardless of the true personal beliefs of each person involved in the decision, the interview was only aired after the news of CBS declaring not to air Wigand’s interview was leaked to The New York Times. The fact that it had to come to the court of public opinion for CBS to allow the interview to be aired is ironic to say the least. The people that fought so hard to provide information to the public so they could in turn fight against an organization who was denying that information to them in the first place were chained back by another organization denying the public that information. As Bergman said in the film, “the more truth [Wigand] tells, the worse it gets.”

Looking back at this film after having researched and analyzed it, I can understand why it was so highly praised and meant so much for investigative journalism. It accurately depicts the vigorous, powerful and moving hunt for the truth that true journalists must go through constantly, especially when it comes to stories that could fundamentally change the way some of the nation’s largest industries work.

Stepping even further back and viewing the film for Markowitz’s point of view, that it’s an exploration of the bravery, resourcefulness and idealism of investigative journalists in the rapidly expanding (approaching, at the time of the film’s release) 21st century, The Insider stands out as a film that inspects human nature in one of the greatest legal cases in our country’s history. It tries to analyze why some people believe what they do, how they change over time, how others betray them and for what reasons, and why journalism is such a necessary part of this modern society we all live in. The film takes occasional liberties in modifying the story and creating a few fictional emotional responses and decisions, but it explores each and every character, their motives, their fears, their idiosyncrasies, their level of power and their place in society masterfully.

When “ordinary people are under extraordinary pressure,” it’s never clear what’s going to happen next. I give The Insider a 10/10.

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References:

Rotten Tomatoes, Film Review Aggregator

Anatomy Of A Decision Timeline, PBS Frontline

Baltimore City Paper The Insider Review, Andy Markowitz

 A Talk With Lowell Bergman, PBS Frontline

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S1E8, The Blackout Part One – Comic Timing

As I continue the watch The Newsroom, I’m starting to realize that even though McAvoy, MacKenzie, Jim, Sloan and the rest of the News Night team are trying to do amazing things for the worlds of live news broadcasting and television, they’re just characters. They’re part of a show that’s beginning to focus more on staying alive through what’s popular rather than telling a serious, innovative, new story. Don’t get me wrong, the show has done quite a bit of honest storytelling in the past, but as I watch it more and more I realize how much The Newsroom is really changing.

Episode eight strays away from the theme of each episode focusing in on one single major news event. Rather, it focuses on a bunch of little events, both serious and silly, factual and fictional. From Congressman Wiener and his scandalous Twitter photos to the very serious upcoming debates for presidential hopefuls, the News Night crew navigates through it all.

The reason everyone is starting to focus on the silly news is because ratings dropped tremendously after the show chose not to cover the Casey Anthony story. McAvoy and Skinner know that they’ll have to get ratings back up in order to One, not get fired and booted from the air completely and Two, to have the number of viewers needed to be a host of the upcoming debates for presidential candidates. These two factoids are all the team needs to hear to get working on stories that really don’t deserve much attention at all.

A very unhappy trio dealing with the sad fact that they'll have to deal with what they hate to get what they want.

A very unhappy trio dealing with the sad fact that they’ll have to deal with what they hate to get what they want.

 

This change in interest definitely makes sense in the real world, but I don’t seem to understand how so many viewers would have navigated away from McAvoy for such a news story. Jack Mirkinson of The Huffington Post posits the question, “If Will has been airing very high-minded shows for a year and his ratings have held up, why would they suddenly crater because of the trial? Surely the people who watched him would have learned to turn to him because he was offering an alternative.” (Huffington Post Newsroom Episode Eight Review) This is exactly how I felt when I heard the news about viewers switching channels (and I don’t believe that the fact that the Casey Anthony story was nationwide, “hot news,” because true fans of McAvoy would trust in him to filter out the garbage and focus on the serious).

As the episode goes on, viewers are introduced to another sub-plot involving a whistle blower from the NSA. The man who told Skinner about the infamous email regarding Osama Bin Laden’s death last episode shows up in person to discuss the information he has to share and under what conditions he’ll do so. It felt like watching a political crime drama film when this scene was on, which I thought was a little out of place for the show. Adding in mystery and cliffhangers for future episodes is fine, but throwing in a whole other genre of storytelling just seemed quite jarring.

The main scene that stood out to me was the one that Scott Ryan focuses on in his review of the episode on The Red Room Podcast: “The scene that should be watched and rewatched was when Don picked apart a Nancy Grace newscast. Showing you bit by bit how they manipulate the viewer, mostly women viewers.” (The Red Room Podcast Review) It’s an extremely interesting experience to see things from the producers point of view, specifically a producer from a show that manipulates viewers. It’s also quite sad to know that so many people, too many, are focused with drawing in viewers to sell products better and have higher ratings than conducting honest television shows and being truthful.

Since we’re left on a cliff hanger at the end of the episode, right after God responds to the prayers of the entire News Night team and causes a blackout (it’s implied that way, haha), not too much is tied up. Besides the conflict in interest between puff pieces / slander stories and serious, legitimate news, Sorkin also does his best to continue to add to the emotional, romantic aspect of the show by introducing MacKenzie’s other ex-boyfriend into the picture (the one she cheated on McAvoy with). As anyone can imagine, this opens up tons of awkward possibilities for character development. So far, all the audience knows is that McAvoy selected MacKenzie’s other ex for a reason, but even he’s not completely sure what that reason is yet.

MacKenzie caught in the middle of ex-boyfriend number one and ex-boyfriend number two. Awkward...

MacKenzie caught in the middle of ex-boyfriend number one and ex-boyfriend number two. Awkward…

 

In the second part of this episode, I hope to see McAvoy and MacKenize figure out a way to stand up for what they both know each other believes in while ensuring the return of their viewers. It’s a tough situation that has no easy resolution, but to have McAvoy cave into the crap that he’s been fighting the whole season so easily just won’t work. Maybe the laid-back McAvoy in this episode will be countered by a hyped-up, steadfast McAvoy in the next! This one gets a 3/5, since it’s only half of the full story (the rest of which I’m excited for).

References:

The Red Room Podcast Episode Eight Review, Scott Ryan 

The Huffington Post Episode Eight Review, Jack Mirkinson

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“It’s Called ‘Shining'” – Room 237 Review

The Shining is one of my all-time favorite horror films. Ever since my parents cruelly had me watch it as a young child (maybe around the age of seven or so–and yes, they covered my eyes during scenes featuring nudity), I’ve been terrified by it. The desolate hotel setting, barren snowy landscape, echoing hallways and corridors, drab ’70s and ’80s art and furniture, and the fact that the main protagonist shared my age (at the time of my first viewing) and my name all make me shiver. Hearing Jack Nicholson running through the Overlook Hotel hallways while shouting “DANNY” over and over again startles me to this day.

After hearing about and going to see Room 237, a documentary film based on the theories and analyses of The Shining, I learned that what I originally thought to be a pure horror film may very well be something else entirely. Multiple film critics, professors and historians spend the entire length of the documentary pitching their theories on why The Shining is really about the British colonists slaughter of the Native Americans, Adolf Hitler and his rise to power alongside the Nazi army, mythological creatures and fantasy in reality, and my favorite, the faking of the moon landing in the 1970s.

Danny having fun in the Overlook.

Danny having fun in the Overlook.

 

The Shining was based off of the novel of the same name written by Stephen King, but the screenplay was re-written and directed by Stanley Kubrick in 1980. Since there already existed a laundry list of films directed by Kubrick like 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange and Dr. Strangelove that really made people analyze and discuss the filmmaking process behind the movies, people began to analyze and discuss The Shining. The main problem with this was that there was no feasible way that anyone could verify or fact-check a lot of their theories due to the fact the movie was really only available to see in theaters. With the advent of the VHS tape and home video players around the time of the film’s release, people were finally able to re-watch and comb through every little bit of the film.

Over three decades later, Rodney Ascher began researching and consulting various film critics, theorists, college film professors, filmmakers and just about everyone else who theorized about The Shining at one point or another. After writing, producing, editing and releasing Room 237 in 2012, Ascher went on to win awards for Best Director and Best Editor, and the editing is where the film really shines.

Writer, director and editor Rodney Ascher did some serious research on The Shining and spoke to some serious followers of the film.

Writer, director and editor Rodney Ascher did some serious research on The Shining and spoke to some serious followers of the film.

 

When I went to see this at Lincoln Center, I was very surprised that the film didn’t make use of the traditional setup of a “talking heads” documentary. Instead, Ascher made it so that each interviewee has his or her own introduction, but their faces are never seen on-screen. Without those introductions, it would have been a little hard to put a face to the name. For the most part though, this style really works, and I found myself focused on The Shining and Stanley Kubrick, not the people who were talking about the two–and I think that was one of the main points of the film.

Another thing that struck me about the film’s editing was its constant use of other films and television shows. Whenever the interviewees would discuss how they came to watch and become a diehard fan of The Shining as well as discuss their theories on the film, various clips from other forms of media were played to further what they were saying. For example, when the first interviewee discusses how he first saw The Shining in a movie theater in France, clips of Tom Cruise walking down a street and passing a theater from Kubrick’s last film, Eyes Wide Shut, are played. Another example could be the multiple times during the film that WWII combat footage is used, as well as the infamous “fake moon landing footage.” Bringing this outside material into the film adds another level of storytelling and helps to keep viewers inside the documentary experience.

Sound also plays a large role in the documentary. On top of analyzing the sound that’s provided to viewers in Kubrick’s film, Room 237 uses sound bytes of scratching record players, Native American chants, Nazi armies and UFO sound effects to really sell the theories. While we’re in the Overlook Hotel listening to one person describe his/her theory, we’re also hearing sounds pertaining to that theory. Subconsciously, this really helps to sell the theory and make viewers believe that it’s what Kubrick originally intended. In an interview with The Verge media review website, Ascher says that “[the] idea was to try to present each of [the interviewees] ideas as persuasively as possible. And that’s an interesting challenge… trying to make the audience of 237 watch The Shining through the eyes of these other people.”

 

This effect was also achieved with the trailer, only in the opposite way. The trailer recreates the original trailer for The Shining in its entirety, only with a VHS player and a remote replacing the Overlook Hotel elevator doors and a lounge chair. In the background, Kubrick’s original music selection is heard, but this time we get a somewhat happier feeling (more lighthearted than horrified, since we know this is a documentary ABOUT the film and not the film itself). The trailer was also the first thing related to the film that made it clear to me how much immense attention to detail would be paid in this documentary.

 

A lot of film critics and websites have been giving this film low to medium ratings with the same common complaint that the people featured in the film (as well as their theories) are ridiculous, silly, self-enthralled and obnoxious. Although I do agree with this statement to a certain extent, I think that all of them are missing the point that the documentary is self aware. It and the people featured in it know that everything it documents is all silly conjecture. Obviously Stanley Kubrick is dead, so there’s no way to know what’s really right or wrong, what’s really intentional or unintentional. One of the interviewees even says that everything in the documentary could be completely false, but that doesn’t change the fact that everything they’re discussing is there.

Whether or not it was intentional, Danny really does wear an Apollo 11 sweater, the chair behind Jack really does disappear mysteriously, and there are an awful lot of Calumet baking soda cans placed about in the background of shots.

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S1E7, 5/1 – We Got Him

The Newsroom only gets more and more powerful and moving as the first season progresses, tackling extremely controversial and important issues and events in the United States (while balancing relationships and character development for the audience to experience in the mix). In episode seven, the News Night team struggles to figure out what the president is going to announce after it’s announced that he’ll be making an announcement.

Yes, that last sentence was a fun sentence to write, but episode seven of The Newsroom ends up focusing on something that’s far from funny: the death of Osama Bin Laden.

After McAvoy and Jim have a ridiculously corny sing-along at a party to celebrate the one-year anniversary of “news night 2.0,” the mood is broken up by an email sent to the entire news team about President Obama preparing to make an announcement to the US. Just like in past episodes, every single person stops what they’re doing and shifts into high gear to try and figure out what the announcement will be so they can report about it before the president actually announces it.

I mean, come on now. This is just silly, even for McAvoy's randomness!

I mean, come on now. This is just silly, even for McAvoy’s randomness.

 

Minus a sub-plot about an outside contact with some government organization getting in touch with Skinner and proving his worthiness by making him aware of the president’s intention to make an announcement, the majority of the episode focuses on what news is trust worthy and when to report what is believed to be true. Through a series of other stories being reported about Bin Laden being killed, the team pretty much assumes that that’s what has happened. However, due to the fact that Charlie once reported incorrect information when he was a reporter  and human deaths were a result of that incorrect information, he refuses to allow ACN to air the news until a confirmation is given from inside the government.

As this is going on, Sloan, Don and Elliot, the reporter who was injured in during the Egyptian riots of a previous episode, are trapped on a plane that isn’t able to attach to a bay to unload passengers. As they receive word of what’s going on via smartphone emails and phone calls, they struggle harder and harder to find a way off the plane without causing a serious panic. The parts of the episode where these three try and negotiate with the stewardess are hands-down the funniest and most interesting. Not only does this sub-plot tackle the fact that there are reasons to a lot of these seemingly-ridiculous bureaucratic processes and rules (Don falling down after standing up on the plane), but it also explores the fact that a lot of people don’t understand that there are honest, hard-working, American faces and bodies behind the rigid workplace facades most people have.

In that sense, Don is taken aback when the pilot is called out of the cockpit to address his disorderliness. Don can only have respect for a man who serves the US in multiple senses, and he takes great pleasure in delivering the news that Osama Bin Laden was killed by American forces earlier that night (at that point in the episode, it was just about confirmed with multiple news networks reporting on it).

A similar occurrence takes place in the news room when two police officers who were escorting Terry Crews’ character to McAvoy’s office (to make sure that he really was with a personal security agency) are addressed as more than just semi-steriotypial, brute cops. McAvoy whispers to Crews the news about Bin Laden, and in turn tells him that he should be the one to tell the police.

Charlie discusses the pros and cons of announcing that Osama Bin Laden was killed before the president actually announced it.

Charlie discusses the pros and cons of announcing that Osama Bin Laden was killed before the president actually announced it.

 

I find it strange that the death of someone (more so the fact that he was shot and killed by American soldiers) can bring such a large amount of people together. Usually deaths tend to have a semi-negative effect on people, but since this is Osama Bin Laden, the man who decimated hundreds of American citizens in an attack on our own soil, it has a reverse effect.

In Matt Richenthal’s review of episode seven on the TVFanatic website, he argues that this episode is one of those episodes that’s either loved or hated. “From the perspective of a television critic, and not a native New Yorker reflecting on everything associated with that date, it all felt unbelievably cheap.” Richenthal feels that the emotional story tactics in this specific episode of The Newsroom really don’t have much to do with the show at all. If viewers feel emotional about Don informing pilots about Bin Laden’s death or Crews doing the same for NYC police officers, they feel it because of the fact that it’s all stemmed from the very real and tragic events of 9/11, not the show’s writing or story arc.

It is interesting to think of things that way, because although I enjoyed watching the episode, it didn’t really stem from anything in the episode. As I really think about why I felt the way I did after finished “5/1,” it was because of the true events that took place on 9/11 and 5/1, when Bin Laden was announced as an EKIA. The episode was a platform to convey those emotions, and for that reason along, I give Sorkin and the show credit.

The Hollywood Reporter stated that many real-world reporters didn’t like this episode for a lot of the technicalities that should’ve have been minor plot points, but were milked for cheap laughs and emotional moments (i.e., Will getting high and being allowed to go on air). “[The death of Bin Laden is] an incredibly charged subject for most Americans. And yet somehow the show’s final minutes are resoundingly flat.” This is very true in that the show got less and less creative as the episode neared its conclusion. Maybe Aaron Sorkin would argue that a story didn’t need to be created–it was supposed to be about the real events and paying tribute to the way people felt and acted on that night. However I do feel that there could have been more creative ways to go about telling the story than getting McAvoy high and having another relationship/love-quadway sub-plot, and for this main reason of lack of creativity during a potentially ultra-serious and emotionally deep episode, I’m giving it a 3/5. I kind of love it and kind of hate it at the same time.

 

References:

Getting High, Reaching a Low, Matt Richenthal

Hollywood Reporter Bin Laden Episode Review, THR Staff

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Environmental Racism in Southern Brooklyn and Queens

“Environmental racism refers to any environmental policy, practice or directive that differentially affects or disadvantages individuals, groups or communities based on race or color.” – Robert Bullard, 1

For the past three and a half years, the City of New York has been very busy facilitating the reconstruction of various bridges and ramps along the Belt Parkway (which runs from southern Queens to northeastern Brooklyn). According to NYC Department of Transportation, “reconstruction of these bridges and their approach roadways is necessary to eliminate substandard conditions and bring them into compliance with current state and federal standards.” (NYC DOT, 2) This involves widening lanes and safety shoulders as well as improving barriers and entrance/exit ramps.

Besides the aforementioned technicalities, this project is also geared towards beautifying the areas where it is being implemented. The previous structures were constructed in 1939, so an update is needed not only on the law/building standard side, but the aesthetics side as well.

A NYC DOT map of the specific bridges and ramps being renovated and reconstructed.

A NYC DOT map of the specific bridges and ramps being renovated and reconstructed.

 

Right next to the Fresh Creek Basin bridge lies the Michael R. Bloomberg Landfill, which takes up an expansive size of over 650,000 square feet. Some of that landfill space lies under it’s neighbor, the Gateway Center Mall. (Kessler) This shopping center began construction in 2000 and was well known (and still is today) for creating a buffer of sorts between a dump turned landfill on the coast of Jamaica Bay and the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Starrett City and Lindenwood.

Starrett City is mainly comprised of low-income African American and Latino families who reside in apartment complexes and community housing spaces. With a landfill within walking distance of this neighborhood, serious health concerns and environmental questions arise. According to Bullard, “a growing body of evidence reveals that people of colour and low-income persons have borne greater environmental health risks than the society at large in their neighborhoods, workplaces and playgrounds.” (Bullard, 7) Due to that statement, it would most likely be crystal clear to him that a landfill right next to a neighborhood like Starrett City could have potential long term side effects.

I believe that this kind of layout for a neighborhood and surrounding structures is a form of environmental racism. Even though Gateway Center has been largely successful in drawing in business and creating a new are of Brooklyn, an old landfill lies right across the parkway. Beautification and renovation projects like the reconstruction of bridges in the area and the planting of trees and various flora across the hills formed by the landfill can only do so much to hide what’s really there.

A view of the landfill right off the Erskine Street exit on the Belt Parkway.

A view of the landfill right off the Erskine Street exit on the Belt Parkway.

A better view of the landfill from the parking lot of Gateway Center Mall, right across the Belt Parkway.

A better view of the landfill from the parking lot of Gateway Center Mall, right across the Belt Parkway.

The Starrett City apartment buildings are clearly visible from the parking lot of Gateway Center Mall.

The Starrett City apartment buildings are clearly visible from the parking lot of Gateway Center Mall.

Bullard goes on to say that environmental protection and safety are things that are (or should be) mandated by the EPA. Through grassroots movements across the country (in regards to general welfare and specific threats from trash, air/water/noise pollution and nuclear waste), environmental protection has been “redefined as a basic right.” (Bullard, 17). Even still, some neighborhoods and communities are favored over others. The landfill right off of the side of the Belt Parkway is an example of an area that exists around a lower and middle class neighborhood off the coast of a federal nature and wildlife preserve. It obviously presents various health concerns and issues, however highway reconstruction and various beautification projects are in effect to try and make the area a healthier and safe place to be.

References (Links):

Dismantling Environmental Racism in the USA, Robert Bullard

Reconstruction of Seven Bridges on the Belt Parkway, NYC DOT 

Gateway Center Rises Over an Old NYC Dump, Lee Kessler

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S1E6, Bullies – Two Words: Terry Crews

Episode six was a real game changer for The Newsroom–things are getting seriously cereal now (that’s a South Park reference for those of you who don’t know). “Bullies” stepped away from focusing on relationships (although that’s still the prevalent secondary theme of the show) and began to discuss live television reporting and the many stresses that come with it in a very real and serious sense. PLUS, Terry Crews is in it. Terry freaking Crews.

I told you! That's the always attractive Olivia Munn poking Terry Crew's rock-solid pectorals. I wouldn't lie.

I told you. That’s the always attractive Olivia Munn poking Terry Crew’s rock-solid pectorals. I wouldn’t lie.

 

Getting back to business, the story in this episode really centers on McAvoy as a leader and coach, something we established he’s seen as to the rest of the newsroom during the previous episode. However, now the audience learns more about the negative side of his “coaching,” and why he acts the way he does plus why he feels the way he feels (about himself and his own actions as well as the actions of others). The episode cleverly reveals things about McAvoy in a reverse fashion, having the action start off with McAvoy being shouted at and questioned by MacKenzie.

We learn that McAvoy is having some on-air problems and stumbles because After being placed in the protection of Terry Crews (I’m not using his character’s name because he’s just that awesome) due to a death threat that he received online, McAvoy visits his psychiatrist to discuss why it is that he can’t get sleep anymore. McAvoy says that all he really wanted was a sleeping pill prescription, but he ends up getting much more than he though he would.

The big new chunks of information that we get include: One, McAvoy and his mother and siblings were abused by a drunken father earlier in life, leading to a lot of the social trust issues he has today, Two, Sloan Sabbith really looks up to McAvoy as a judge, mentor and coach because of the way she interpreted what he said about not allowing people to lie on her airtime (she stated Off The Record information from a friend in Japan about a nuclear reactor pressure level), Three, McAvoy was going to ask MacKenzie to marry him right before she cheated, and Four, Don is FINALLY catching on to Maggie and Jim’s relationship.

When Will sits down in his shrink's office, he doesn't realize just how much he's going to learn about himself--even if there is no immediate change in character or personality.

When Will sits down in his shrink’s office, he doesn’t realize just how much he’s going to learn about himself–even if there is no immediate change in character or personality.

 

McAvoy’s character is developing alongside the rest of the people in the newsroom, and this is a pretty important step in his life. What McAvoy refers to as “something stupid” in this episode (scaring a college girl at a debate a few months earlier) was a pretty huge deal for him at the time, so it’s clear that his opinions and beliefs do change as time goes on. Despite this fact, he never forgets, much like how MacKenzie hasn’t forgotten about how she betrayed McAvoy (and her own future with him in the process) and how Sabbith hasn’t forgotten McAvoy’s words about not lying on this network.

When Skinner and McAvoy come up with a way for Sabbith to save her job  and the honor of the Japanese man she betrayed at the end of the episode, she questions whether or not she should lie on air. After clearly remembering what McAvoy said to the entire team just a little while back, how could she? McAvoy tells her that he wants her to lie so she can stay on the team, and this goes back to what I was saying earlier. These characters aren’t forgetting past and present events, but they’re changing emotionally and socially as they move into the future. These kinds of changes (a rekindling of the romantic relationship between McAvoy and MacKenzie, Sabbith gaining some social skills and helping Don with his relationships problems, etc) are the things that are really making the show what it is right now.

In a Backstage episode recap, the staff remarks that one of the keynote scenes of “Bullies” is “a truly powerful scene, and another example of how ‘The Newsroom’ works best when the cameras in front of the cameras are rolling.” (Backstage Episode Six Recap) The scene they’re referring to involves McAvoy acting on out his instincts to stop people from being bullies for no reason whatsoever (clearly acquired during his time with his abusive father). He argues with a homosexual African American spokesperson for Rick Santorum’s campaign platform about how Mr. Santorum doesn’t believe “his kind” could be successful in a teaching position, for example. The spokesperson eventually cannot put up with McAvoy’s bullying (who doesn’t really know he’s being more of a bully then anyone else at the time) and shuts him down verbally.

This is the kind of camera angle you want to see on The Newsroom. The tension and stress of live television reporting and interviewing.

This is the kind of camera angle you want to see on The Newsroom. The tension and stress of live television reporting and interviewing.

 

Backstage is right in saying that this kind of action is what works best in The Newsroom. Focusing on things that other shows don’t or can’t, things like news reporting, live television journalism and the political side of television networks and stations makes is stand out in a much more prominent way than if it were focusing on the lovey-dovey relationship side of everything. Granted, the audience needs something to be able to connect to, and relationship issues between characters is a very easy way to achieve this. It just helps so greatly to be able to balance the two out in harmony, and this is what I’ve been a heavy supporter of in my past episode reviews.

The final thing that the show is doing a much better job at conveying is how the outside world views McAvoy and the rest of the newsroom. Prior to this episode, we’ve only seen a few characters interact with people outside of the office (the main example being the first time we say McAvoy’s face when he was at a college debate/presentation). The audience has very limited amounts of time to connect with how the fictional audience in the world of The Newsroom reacts to things, so bringing in the internet commentators in this episode was a great way to bridge the gap. Jeff Bercovici says it best in his review of episode six when he writes, “anonymous Internet commenters [are] crawling all over the News Night Web site, agreeing with the angry mosque lady, saying bigoted things about the gay black guy, and threatening to shoot Will… Get off my lawn, Internet commenters!” Regardless of how you feel for the people we’re introduced to (people like Lollypop Lollypop), you have to love that we see their opinions and realities in The Newsroom. 5/5.

 

References:

Newsroom Episode Six Recap, Backstage

Newsroom Recap – Slam Dunk, Jeff Bercovici

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Mr. Plinkett Reviews Titanic: The Worst/Best Film of All Time?

It’s clear to me that “Mr. Plinkett” is much more knowledgeable than he lets on–since this is the first time I’ve ever seen one of his reviews, I really have no background information to base my opinion of him. He sounds like a fairly large, sloth-like creature, but that’s no knock on his opinions and insights on film. He clearly knows exactly how to review a movie, especially one like Titanic.

Mr. Plinkett himself! Well, a caricature at least...

Mr. Plinkett himself! Well, a caricature at least…

 

Mr. Plinkett starts his review by very clearing discussing and breaking down the two types of movie that Titanic is: a slow-moving, sappy, over-the-top love story, and an action-packed, historically accurate and complete recreation of a major event in history. This is exactly what I’ve always thought of Titanic, so I immediately connected with his opinion.

As the review went on, he talked more and more about what exactly makes the movie so good and so bad at the same time. Some of the main things that make the movie so good include: 1) it’s a “masterpiece of special effects filmmaking made in the golden age of special effects in film,” 2) the characters and central stories are extremely simple and make it very easy for the audience to connect with, and 3) James Cameron did do a fantastic job of giving the film his all (accurate historical recreations, employing multiple styles of filmmaking, ranging from miniature sets and CGI to live stunts and massive set building.

 

 

Personally, I’ve always thought that Titanic WAS a masterpiece of filmmaking techniques and methods–it knows how to tell a story and does it well. Now that doesn’t mean that I think it’s a masterpiece of spoken or visual storytelling, because I don’t. That’s where I’ve always had problems with the film, and Mr. Plinkett agrees.

One of the main things that makes the movie so bad is the fact that for the most part, the characters are assholes and idiots. Our main hero and heroine, Jack and Rose, are often found acting like jackasses all over the ship and disturbing other people. They also have some terribly-written dialogue in certain areas of the script, which really kills whatever action is going on at those times. There’s also a plethora of extremely cliche acting and character developments, like the infamous scene where Jack and Rose sail together on the front of the ship. All in all, this particular scene serves as a poster shot, and it’s already been done and seen in countless films before it.

Jack and Rose's famous "king of the world" on the front of the Titanic.

Jack and Rose’s famous “king of the world” on the front of the Titanic. It makes me sick…

 

On top of that, Mr. Plinkett argues that part of the reason the film is so bad is because it makes people like him (reviewers and critics of the film) realize just how average we all are. Maybe the reason that so, so many people lined up to see Titanic is because of its simplicity. Since the majority of movie-goers are average, working citizens, it’s most likely that the simplicity of the story and the desensitization of the event made and make it so appealing to us.

Another film and television show reviewer that really hits this point of simple stories and trying to appeal to the masses with non-complicated, easy to understand stories is the Nostalgia Critic. The NC is well known for ripping into films that either don’t know how to tell or story, or have a story but tell it very poorly, oddly, or downright horribly. A film that the NC reviewed which followed in the footsteps of Titanic’s success was Pearl Harbor.

In the NC’s review, he focuses on discussing how Director Michael Bay tried to take Titanic and spin in in the direction of another great American tragedy: the bombing of Pearl Harbor. He figured that by using the same method of telling a very simple love triangle story in the middle of a disaster would automatically make it a blockbuster hit–fortunately for all of our sakes, he was wrong.

 

The NC tears into the movie in the same way that Mr. Plinkett did to Titanic, talking about how Pearl Harbor is an example of lighting not being able to strike twice in the same place. Also, there’s a realization that factual accuracy is seriously important for a film, something that James Cameron got right. With Michael Bay, he was factually incorrect (most people actually find it quite offensive as well) when he portrayed the Japanese bombers firing on the hospitals at Pearl Harbor, something that never happened in real life. This was one of the main selling points for critics in terms of what was wrong with the film (as well as an unoriginal love story and mediocre action sequences).

Both Mr. Plinkett and the NC make it clear that with films like the Titanic or Pearl Harbor, there is no true formula for success. Some movies fail, and others succeed–it seems that Titanic was the first to really win over the hearts of people all over the world with a simple tale and amazing action sequences.

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Shock Radio A.M.F.M.99.LifeF76Rock!@#$%^&*

The spoken word is a very powerful thing. That probably goes without saying (and is also probably a cliche way to begin a short blog post about shock radio), but I think that people often forget just how powerful it really is. It can command, objectify, transport, alter, move, kill, spark–just about everything that can happen in this natural world can be caused or begun by words.

In a clip from Talk Radio, Barry Champlain does something that isn’t very far from what most radio show hosts do today. He speaks directly to the audience (sometimes including himself in the congregation, sometimes not) and tells them what he thinks of them. Not only that, but Barry flat out tells them to go to hell–after all, his audience is made of “voyeuristic, perverted, hate-filled, prideful, sad little swine.” There’s no doubt that what he says is filled with his own self-pity, self-hate and disgust, but there is some insight amongst it all.

 

In a different clip from Pump Up The Volume, Mark Hunter also speaks directly to his radio audience in an extremely straightforward and blatantly offensive manner. Again, this is something that’s certainly both shocking and refreshing to listeners, but there’s serious insight amongst all that is said.

 

The insight that I’m referring to lies with the fact that “we create the experience.” That’s something that a teacher in my high school told me. He was and is, in my opinion, a crazy but amazing man, who doesn’t deal with whiny, fake, selfish people and things. He said “we create the experience” because we choose, every day, how to live our lives and how to react to things. We choose out words and our actions, and we choose how to interact with others.

Barry Champlain and Mark Hunter are definitely whiners, in a sense. However, they’re choosing to create a very real and non-invisible environment for themselves. By addressing the audience directly and saying flat-out how they feel about themselves and everyone they’ve encountered in their lives, they’re showing everyone that they’ve nothing to hide. Barry talks about how disgraceful the people of the world are for delving deeper and deeper into a social abyss of sorts; Mark talks about how if you don’t feel disturbed all of the time (living in the world that we’re all living in), then there’s something wrong with you. Both men are creating a very serious, shocking experience through words over radio.

I enjoy and appreciate what both are doing. They’re basically telling people to look at themselves and either make a choice: go higher or go lower. We’re already low enough, in a sense, so why not go higher? Why not try to start improving thing (our lives, our personalities, our mannerisms, etc.) and create better experiences for ourselves? I see no valid reason as to why anyone should go lower, so I’m definitely a believer of the more positive side of what can be found in what Barry and Mark are saying.

When an event comes along like the shooting at the Tennessee Unitarian Universalist Church, an event caused by words (and shock words at that), it makes people really think about the power of words. Especially when those words directly involve popular political and social movements, which many people take extremely seriously.

 

I believe that Bill Moyers, among other things, speaks about what my high school teacher has always been speaking about: creating experiences. The terrible thing that the man who entered TUUC caused to happen was a strong and direct example of someone creating a very bad, negative, powerfully misguided and mislead experience. What that man chose to do may have stemmed from political beliefs, but it ultimately involves personal feelings and experiences. No matter who or what the man was or believed in (liberal, conservative, republican, democrat, devout church-goer, atheist), he chose to create a very specific experience and drag himself lower down than he already was–after the action, he ended up in jail facing major criminal charges. If he had only bettered himself and chose a different path–created a different experience–he wouldn’t be in jail and there wouldn’t be blood on his hands.

Radio talk shows, among other things, are very powerful ways to convey messages through spoken word, since they involve nothing BUT spoken word. There are no images or sound effects or background music tracks–only words and opinions. Harry, Mark and Bill, in my opinion, all seem to believe (in their own unique ways, of course) that this spoken word causes people to do different things, act different ways, create different experiences. And this is very much the truth and reality.

 

For the record, the way the clip from Talk Radio was shot is absolutely amazing. A continuous, full outward 360-degree camera tracking shot was a perfect way to get across the feelings Barry had inside of him–being watched from all sides, feeling judged, but also feeling like a judge himself.

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S1E5, Amen – ADRIAAANNN!!!

If you’ve been following my Newsroom episode review posts, then you’ll know I’m a big advocate of hoping this show will master how to properly balance the two different types of stories contained in each episode: the romantic relationship love triangle stories and the stressful newsroom media coverage stories. In episode five, “Amen,” I believe it’s pretty darn clear that these two things are really starting to get heavily developed while remaining perfectly balance (minus the annoying Jim, Maggie and Don love triangle that I find continuously more annoying and predictable with every minute of their screen time).

In episode five, themes of teamwork and bravery are very prevalent. The story revolves around the “Egypt’s Berlin Wall Moment,” or the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak (Colby Hall Article). With a sense of liberation from the tyranny of President Mubarak, the Egyptian people started riots and all-around craziness in Tahrir Square, Cairo. McAvoy, MacKenzie and the rest of the team back home were reporting on the event as they learned their main reporter overseas had been grabbed the mobs rioting in the square and beaten with a rock. The main reason this happened was because of Don’s pugnacious nature to get a better story than the other networks–basically to make more money and boost ratings, which seem to be the main goals of Don’s character.

As the beaten reporter is flown back to the States, the news team finds a new overseas reporter in Amen, or Khalid. Khalid has connections with Neal, who covered the London Underground bombings, so a successful relationship and overseas connection is established between the good folk of the newsroom and Khalid–so much so that McAvoy later wires a quarter of a million dollars to the Egyptian army (who now holds the power in Egyptian government) to release him from holding.

MacKenzie and Neal video chat with Khalid, the news team's newfound reporter on the ground in Egypt.

MacKenzie and Neal video chat with Khalid, the news team’s new found reporter on the ground in Egypt.

As this story develops throughout the episode, we also learn that MacKenzie still has strong and clear feelings for McAvoy, and vice versa. Not only does McAvoy say that any man who’d betray and leave MacKenzie would be mad (this happens after a minor plot twist involving MacKenzie finding out that her new boyfriend was only using her for the purposes of advancing his career goals in an upcoming election), but MacKenzie organizes a reenactment of Will’s favorite scene from the film Rudy. Just like the end of Rudy where the Notre Dame football team players line up and place their jerseys down on the coach’s desk because they want Rudy to play, MacKenzie has everyone in the office line up outside of McAvoy’s room and place small checks on his desk to help pay for the freeing of Khalid. This is definitely one of the most special, moving moments I’ve see on The Newsroom so far, and it led to the biggest emotional and physical connection between McAvoy and MacKenzie as well!

“Amen” really stands out to me because of that clear connection it makes with Rudy, an amazing sports tale (it’s very similar to Rocky, if you haven’t seen it). Treating McAvoy like the chief and coach of the newsroom is a serious honor, especially after all the events and problems that everyone has had to deal with in the past four episodes (dating issues, gun violence, the near-assassination of a congresswoman, the verbal and emotional assault of college students and far right and far left party members alike, etc.). Like Mat Richenthal says in his review of episode five from the TV Fanatic website, “The football analogy works perfectly here: if past episodes focused a bit too much on Will and his mission, this installment allowed various members to run, pass block, kick field goals, haul in fly patterns… you get the idea.” This episode had the entire office working as one single unit–a solid team–and that’s what makes it really stand out.

Previous episodes have worked towards the same idea of having people band together to accomplish tasks (like how every member of the team had to work together to figure out whether or not Congresswoman Gifford was actually assassinated or not), but incorporating an outside movie like Rudy (or Rocky or any of the other movies that really sparked the rest of the cliche motivation sports film genre) helped to make it shine. Everyone worked together when a story need to be completed and aired, the professional end, and everyone worked together when a life was in danger and needed rescuing (especially since the network executives were refusing to help in any way), the emotional, personal end. 4/5.

 

References:

Egypt’s Berlin Wall Moment: Embattled President Hosni Mubarak Steps Down, Colby Hall

 A Player’s Coach – The Newsroom Episode 5 Review, Matt Richenthal