TV and Movies Archive

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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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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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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

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S1E4, I’ll Try to Fix You – Proper Balancing For the Win

In my last Newsroom post, I discussed my opinions on the fact that the show seems to be very indecisive in terms of focusing on relationship/love triangle stories or focusing on news/media stories. All three prior episodes included both story types, but none of them seemed to balance them out too well. After having watched episode four, I can safely say that this is the first episode to balance the themes properly–to a certain extent!

“I’ll Try to Fix You” finally achieves the balance between romantic relationship and media studies that I’ve been wanting from the show. The story really centers around McAvoy and his newfound coworker relationship with MacKenzie. It’s horribly clear that McAvoy still has serious feelings for her, and I think it’s even more clear that things will EVENTUALLY work out between the two–somehow. However that’s not where this episode shines.

Where it really succeeds is in McAvoy’s “Mission to Civilize.” Will spends almost three-quarters of the episode meeting/dating new women–each woman brings with her a new set of radical problems. One is a take-down gossip reporter who makes the misery of others her life goal; another is a gossiper and physically attractive airhead; another is a far left Southern gal who has held one too many grudges. As Will spends time with each of these women, we not only learn more about his character and what he stands for, but we experience (through his eyes) multiple problems with the way the media affects and changes people. For example, shows like The Real Housewives of New Jersey seem to only piss Will off because of how irrelevant they are to life–when people keep mentioning the show and how Will continually mispronounces the title, he asks: “Who gives a shit anyway?”

One of the situations that arises from McAvoy's encounter with a gun-toting gal from the south. Also known as "Annie Oakley."

One of the situations that arises from McAvoy’s encounter with a gun-toting gal from the south. Also known as “Annie Oakley.” This comes back to bite Will on the butt rather quickly.

 

The dramatic highpoint of the episode is when things take a turn for the worse: Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford is shot in the head in Tuscon, Arizona. As soon as notice of this event surfaces in the newsroom, all relationship squablles hault. Even after McAvoy learns that the “people on the 44th floor” might be trying to take him down because of his recent attacks on the Tea Party (whose elite members and leaders have business with the president and owner of the network), this shooting is priority. To be more specific, Gifford’s life is the priority–at least in the case of ACN. Even though three other networks call Gifford deceased prematurely on live air, ACN holds back–and they’re ultimately right for doing so.

One of the gatekeepers of the show, the network owner’s son, ran into the broadcast room infuriated at the fact that McAvoy hadn’t called Gifford’s death yet. In a shocking moment of realization, it was Don, the true A’hole of the office, that said that the status of Gifford’s life is judged by a medical doctor, not by a network.

While Don’s bravery against the gatekeepers of the network (maybe I should say TEMPORARY bravery) was quite admirable, his ongoing relationship with Maggie is not. As I mentioned in my last episode review, the love triangle between Jim, Don and Maggie reminds re tremendously of Jim, Roy and Pam from The Office, and it holds in this episode. I feel that their relationship and the direction it’s moving in is extremely predictable. Again, like I stated last time, something is going to happen that separates one pair and unites the other. As TV reviewer Rae Alexandra (for SF Weekly) so eloquently puts it, “Drop this douche already!”

Personally, I feel that Mr. Sorkin and the show writers are finally getting to understand the direction the show SHOULD be going in to make it the best possible experience for everyone. Even Dan Rather agrees with this statement–in his review of episode four, Rather says, “Especially in this latest episode, the script is tight and meaty, the dialogue is crisp and the narrative moves along at a good pace.” Like me, Rather feels that the episodes are getting consecutively better as the writers and directors determine the direction action should move in through each week’s hour-long story. If the episodes continue to move in a direction that either balances the two worlds of romantic relationships and media/politics or just focuses on a new, individual matter every different time, I think the show will be better for it. 4/5.

 

References:

The Newsroom Episode Four Review, Dan Rather

Sexual Tension in The Newsroom Episode Four, Rae Alexandra

 

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S1E3, The 112th Congress – Choose One or the Other, Please

After watching episode three of The Newsroom, The 112th Congress, I think I’m starting to realize one of the maim problems with the show: it has two sides that it’s not always able to balance. There’s a political, mass media side that focuses on presenting information to the public, and there’s an emotional, romantic relationship side that focuses on office relationships between characters.

On the positive side, I think that when the show focuses on the political, mass media side, it does a fantastic job of presenting how the media works in the United States and who is really in power. On the negative side, I think that the office relationships are fairly stale and predictable. This episode is a particularly good example of my opinions/arguments.

In episode three, the story revolves around McAvoy and MacKenzie beginning to really start giving honest, legitimate news to the people, regardless of ‘what’s hot’ or popular at the time. With the congressional district elections approaching rapidly, the team decides to focus on the Tea Party movement and figuring out what they really know about politics and the government. McAvoy shows his snarky, sadistic side by really starting to get inside the heads of political leaders and candidates of the Tea Party while MacKenzie focuses on pushing McAvoy to focus on the news and not what makes a good story.

On the political, mass media side, we not only see a battle between who knows more about the government and the way politics works (this kind of conflict really occurs between McAvoy and the representatives of the Tea Party movement that he chooses to interview, such as Sharron Angle and Spokeswomen Gloria Hansen), but we see a conflict between the media and the government. As Dan Rather says in a review of episode three, the episode “reveals the danger of big business being in bed with big government, whether the government is led by Republicans or Democrats.” As McAvoy starts getting more and more aggressive in an effort to bring the true, honest story to the people, the gatekeepers of News Night (the owner of the corporation and her son) threaten to fire him. Since the owner “has business” in front of the congress and people that McAvoy is attacking, she’s not happy at all.

The owner of the cable company that McAvoy's show airs on starts to play serious role as one of the gatekeepers--she decides what messages will be shown.

The owner of the cable company that McAvoy’s show airs on starts to play serious role as one of the gatekeepers–she decides what messages will be shown.

 

On the relationship side, things really start heating up (both aggressively and sexually) between McAvoy and MacKenzie as well as between Don and Maggie. McAvoy and MacKenzie’s relationship (both past and present) develops as it’s made clear that Will is still deeply hurt by how MacKenzie cheated on him. It’s not too clear whether or not the two are going to make up and reunite as the show goes on, and this kind of mystery is good for an on-screen relationship. As a member of the audience, you really start to wonder how things are going to play out between the two.

The relationship between Don and Maggie is where I begin to draw the line in terms of a well written and paced on-screen relationship. As Win Rosenfeld states in a review of the third episode, there’s an “obligatory love triangle” going on between Don, Maggie and Jim. This triangle is very over the top and very cliche, at least in my opinion. I’ve seen this kind of triangle on countless other narrative television shows (LOST, 24, The Office, etc.), and it’s really not bringing anything new to the table. Two people are in a semi-abusive (more emotionally and sociologically abusive than physically) relationship and one other character (could be male or female) sees the problem and tries his or her best to help one of the two people in the relationship. It’s blatantly clear that Dom and Maggie will eventually break up (or something will happen that will cause the two to break up) and Maggie and Jim will get together. Just like Jim fought to get and keep Pam from Roy in the first few seasons of The Office, it’s clear that that’s how this show’s love triangle will flow. The only difference is that we’re in a newsroom, not a paper company.

I truly enjoy watching the side of the show that focuses on the media and how it interacts with the government and political leaders, especially when network gatekeepers get involved. There’s clear tension there and a lot of potential for powerful messages in future episodes. However when it comes to the relationship aspect of the show, I become much less interested. Minus the hint of mystery and unclarity in McAvoy and MacKenzie’s relationship, the rest seems overdone and often overplayed. I feel that if the show places more of a focus on either one of these aspects in future episodes (maybe even in some kind of weekly pattern), it will be much better for it. 3.5/5.

 

References:

The 112th Congress Review, Dan Rather

Backstage Newsroom Episode Three Review, Win Rosenfeld

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“Discrimination Down to a Science” – Gattaca Review

In our Spring 2013 Mass Media class, we all watched the film Gattaca after taking our first exam. We were asked not to do any research about the film, but I will admit that the only thing I ‘Googled’ about it was its release date. The reason for that is because this film reminded me tremendously of other recent science fiction films that involve apocalyptic futures like Surrogates, i, Robot, Equilibrium and The Matrix. However, it turns out that Gattaca release in 1997, years before all of these other films.

Regardless of release date, the story of films like the ones mentioned above revolves around a future where some new type of being has been introduced into the world, and those beings are giving normal humans a serious run for their money. Whether it be the robots, machines or genetically superior bio-organisms, these beings pose one of two serious threats to average human beings: extinction or slavery.

Gattaca is no exception to this sic-fi formula. The film is set in a future where discrimination has been down packed to a science–quite literally. In this future, science has progressed extremely rapidly, bounding past problems like genetic cloning, disease control, etc. There have also been numerous technological progressions as well, such as human transportation/space flight to all of the planets in our galaxy and immediate identification through blood, urine, saliva and visual fluid scans. Unfortunately, with these advancements came new ways to hate people–meaning genetic racism (or “genilism,” as the film calls it) and new forms of segregation.

All of these things combined (technological, scientific and social pushes forward) have created a society that is divided into several rigid classes, with the best of the best (custom ordered and built humans) on the top and normal-birth humans on the bottom. Vincent Anton is one of those normal-birth humans, and the entire story of the film revolves around his life and dream of being one of the elite few granted permission to rocket off the planet and explore the universe.

Vincent Anton roaming through the discriminative hallways at Gattaca.

Vincent Anton roaming through the discriminative hallways at Gattaca.

 

Without going too far into detail, the part of Vincent’s life that the movie focuses on is his becoming a “borrowed ladder.” Borrowed ladders are members of society that assume the identity of another person through taking their blood, urine, eyes (through contact lenses) and even skin and hair particles to fake the rest of society into believing that they are the person they’re saying they are. Vincent assumes the persona of Jerome, a man who was built perfectly, but ended up in a wheelchair after a car accident. Because he’s in the wheelchair, he feels that society doesn’t want him, so he offers up his identity to someone who might be able to make something of himself.

After a murder takes place at the Gattaca building (the place where the upper echelon members of society prepare to fly to space), the majority of the film’s best moments involve extremely tense situations. The whole time watching, audience members like me didn’t want Vincent or Jerome to be discovered. We wanted them to succeed, to achieve their goals. (Even though Jerome wouldn’t really be physically doing anything, he’d be living through Vincent’s actions.) So when Vincent was asked to give blood through the vein or wasn’t home when his doppelganger, Jerome was visited by a police detective, everyone was on the edges of their seats. It was really exhilarating to be put in the life of an outcast turned celebrity, while at the same time a fugitive.

Another aspect of the film that I like revolves around the way everyone acts. Just like in i, Robot and the films mentioned before, it seems that people in the future all walk and talk like robots and machines. They all have clear purposes and goals, and not conforming to the rest of society makes them stand out tremendously. In Gattaca, everyone who isn’t a borrowed ladder is living a life where all they do is deceive themselves on how messed up and disorganized the segregated society really is.

There's always that one character that stands out from the rest. In the case of i, Robot, Detective Spooner is very different from the "human robot" counterparts of society.

There’s always that one character that stands out from the rest. In the case of i, Robot, Detective Spooner is very different from the “human robot” counterparts of society.

 

I also really enjoyed the fact that Vincent needs glasses to see (since he was born naturally, he couldn’t be altered to have no visual acuity problems). It’s very ironic that the character who needs glasses to see is actually the one who sees society and the people who make it up the best. That, and it gave the filmmakers the chance to experiment with some extremely disorienting and nerve-wracking footage during a scene where Vincent needs to cross a busy street to regroup with his love interest while he doesn’t have his contacts on (he had to shed them at a police checkpoint).

Before the movie ended, I knew that there were only three real ways to make it happen: One, Vincent somehow achieves his goal (happy ending), Two, Vincent is somehow not allowed to achieve his goal or determines that he never will make it “upstairs” (sad ending), and Three, what happens to Vincent after the film ends is left for the audience members to decide. It’s safe to say that I was correct in that assessment, seeing as one of those three general outlines is how the film actually ends.

The way that Gattaca ties together so many aspects of a future society is very intriguing, and really makes viewers think about the way society is moving. Who knows how things will be in 50 to 100 years? Will robots or machines have taken over and developed/advanced past the intellectuality of human beings (the Matrix, i,Robot or Surrogates paths), or will society have developed a new breed of super humans that begin segregating themselves to the point of one class having total control and authority over everyone and everything else (the Gattaca, EquilibriumAoen Flux or Ultraviolet paths)? I guess we’ll all have to wait and see how things play out in the future.

 

 

*** SEMI-SPOLIER BELOW ***

 

 

By the way, why does that incinerator have a start switch on the inside!? I mean seriously, the people who designed the device thought there was a time and place where that might be a good, safe idea?

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Louie – Mr. C.K., The ‘King of Slow Comedy’

Pregnancy is never fun. Especially when you’re giving birth to a fart–no one wants to give birth to a fart.

Louie C.K. makes this pretty clear in the episode of Louie entitled (appropriately enough) “Pregnancy.” While trying hard to be a single parent, good father, professional chef, funny comedian and kind family member, Louie’s sister comes to visit him in his tiny New York City apartment. After a series of “hello’s” and “how are you’s,” night falls. As everyone is sleeping, a piercing scream rings out through the apartment–Louie’s sister is having the baby. As Louie freaks out over what to do, his two neighbors from across the hall come over to offer their help. After one neighbor stays to watch Louie’s daughters and the other neighbor helps Louie load his sister into an unmarked taxi, Louie’s sister is rushed to the hospital. Then, just as Louie’s sister is about to rushed into an operating room, an ultra loud fart is let out. Louie’s sister was giving birth to a fart that night, nothing more.

A still from the opening sequence of Louie.

A still from the opening sequence of Louie.

This is the comedy style of Louis C.K.’s new show, Louie. It’s something that’s built up over the span of the entire half-hour episode, then pays off right around the ending. Along the way there’s hilarious acting and narrative scenes intertwined with funny jokes performed live by Louis C.K. at various comedy clubs around the city, sure, but the main joke and payoff is what everyone enjoys the most. This is the style of “slow comedy” that Mark Shafeek talks about in his article (SplitSider Article).

I personally saw the pregnancy fart joke coming from the start, but the slow comedy style still worked fantastically. It’s safe to say that building up a main joke throughout a full episode of a television show and then bringing it to a conclusion near the end has been done before, but Louie seems to have perfected it. By incorporating real events that take place in Louis C.K.’s real life in the real New York City, this television show appeals to many people. Unlike other comedy shows that focus on fictional narratives to carry the stories and jokes (a good example being The Office), Louie balances unscripted reality with scripted hilarity.

Jonathan Valania of The Huffington Post believes that Louis C.K. is “the perfect comic [for this] Age of Lessness that we’re in.” (HuffPost Article) Since our country is not only in a poor economical state, but a poor state of pride and respect (the psyches of most Americans are mentally exhausted and depressed after all of the bad that’s been going on in the country lately), it’s a good thing to know that Louie is around. While watching this episode, I felt an odd sense of feeling alright–no matter how bad the overall situation got, everything would be alright in the end. Louie’s personality is one that calms and soothes (chatting with his sister, talking about life), but it can prove to be dark and perverse when it wants to (cursing his daughters out during comedy sketches, giving the middle finger to family members behind their backs).