Guilty Pleasure No. 31: Hail, Caesar! (dir by the Coen Brothers)


Sometimes, I wonder if I was the only filmgoer who actually enjoyed Hail, Caesar! when it was released in February.

Oh, don’t met wrong.  I know that I’m being a bit overdramatic when I say that.  It got some good reviews from the critics, though the praise was rather muted when compared to the reviews that traditionally greet the latest film from the Coen Brothers.  I know more than a few people who have agreed with me that Hail, Caesar! was an entertaining lark of a film.

But I know a lot more people who absolutely hated Hail, Caesar!  Of course, no film is going to please everyone and the Coen Brothers have always had a tendency to attempt to deliberately alienate their audience.  But what has always struck me is the fact that the people who disliked Hail, Caesar seem to really, really dislike it.  Talk to them and you get the feeling that they view Hail, Caesar as almost being some sort of a crime against both humanity and cinema.

Taking place in a stylized Hollywood in 1951, Hail, Caesar! tells the story of Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin).  Eddie is a shadowy figure.  As head of production at Capitol Pictures, Eddie’s job is to keep the “bad” behavior of the stars from getting out into the press.  (The press is represented by Tilda Swinton who, in a typical Coen Brothers twist, plays twin sisters who are rival gossip columnists.  If the thought of that makes you smile, you are potentially a part of the right audience for Hail Caesar.  If it makes you roll your eyes, you should probably avoid the film.)  Eddie is the most powerful man in Hollywood and he will do anything to protect the image of the American film industry.  He will lie.  He will cheat.  He will threaten.  He is so ruthless and so good at his job that even Lockheed Martin is trying to hire him away from Capitol.  And yet, at the same time, Eddie is also a family man and a Catholic who is so devout that he goes to confession on a nearly hourly basis.

(For all you non-Catholics out there, Pope Francis only goes to confession twice a month.)

Hail, Caesar! follows Eddie as he deals with a series of potential problems.  Temperamental director Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes) is upset because he’s been forced to cast Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich, giving the film’s best performance), a good-natured but inarticulate cowboy star, in his sophisticated comedy.  Synchronized swimmer DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansoon) is not only pregnant but unmarried as well!  (It’s the 50s, remember.)

However, the biggest crisis is that Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) has vanished from the set of his latest film. A mysterious group known as The Future has taken credit for kidnapping him.  It’s not really much of a spoiler to reveal that The Future is a cell of communist scriptwriters and they are determined to convert the rather dumb Baird to the struggle.  As opposed to most films about Hollywood in the 50s, the communist screenwriters are portrayed as being a bunch of self-righteous and rather cowardly nags, the majority of whom spend more time debating minutiae than actually trying to the overthrow capitalism.  In many ways, Hail, Caesar is the anti-Trumbo.

As you might guess from the plot description, there’s a lot going on in Hail, Caesar but none of it really adds up too much.  Nor is it supposed to.  We’re encouraged to laugh at these frantic characters, as opposed to sympathize with them.  Eddie Mannix and Hobie Doyle both emerge as heroes because they’re the only characters who remain calm and confident, regardless of what strangeness is happening onscreen.  Eddie may be ruthless, the film tells us, but at least he gets results.  Hobie may not be the smartest or most talented guy in Hollywood, we are told, but at least he doesn’t pretend to be anything other than who he is.

Hail, Caesar! is a bit of a lark, a celebration of style over substance.  As far as Coen Brother films go, Hail, Caesar has more in common with Burn After Reading than No Country For Old Men.  The film is largely an inside joke aimed at people who know the history of Hollywood, which is perhaps why some viewers reacted so negatively.  Inside jokes are fun when you’re in on the joke.  When you’re not in on it, though, they’re just annoying.

As for me, I thoroughly enjoyed Hail, Caesar!  It may not be the Coens at their best but it’s a lot of fun and it appealed me as both a history nerd and a lover of old movies.  The best parts of Hail, Caesar! are the scenes that parody the largely forgotten, big-budget studio productions of the 1950s.  This is the rare film that acknowledges that not every film made before the 1960s was a masterpiece.  The Coens love movies but that doesn’t keep them from getting a little bit snarky.  For example, check out this production number featuring Channing Tatum:

Is Hail, Caesar self-indulgent?

Yes.

Is it largely an inside joke?

Yes.

Did I absolutely adore it?

You better believe I did.

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Previous Guilty Pleasures

  1. Half-Baked
  2. Save The Last Dance
  3. Every Rose Has Its Thorns
  4. The Jeremy Kyle Show
  5. Invasion USA
  6. The Golden Child
  7. Final Destination 2
  8. Paparazzi
  9. The Principal
  10. The Substitute
  11. Terror In The Family
  12. Pandorum
  13. Lambada
  14. Fear
  15. Cocktail
  16. Keep Off The Grass
  17. Girls, Girls, Girls
  18. Class
  19. Tart
  20. King Kong vs. Godzilla
  21. Hawk the Slayer
  22. Battle Beyond the Stars
  23. Meridian
  24. Walk of Shame
  25. From Justin To Kelly
  26. Project Greenlight
  27. Sex Decoy: Love Stings
  28. Swimfan
  29. On the Line
  30. Wolfen

Shattered Politics #83: Milk (dir by Gus Van Sant)


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For the past three weeks, I have been in the process of reviewing, in chronological order, 94 films about politics and politicians.  It’s a little something that we call Shattered Politics.

And while I’ve had a lot of fun doing it, it does worry me a bit that I may have made the Shattered Lens into a far more cynical site to visit.  That’s largely because I don’t trust politicians or the government in general and, despite the fact that we started off with Abraham Lincoln and Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, the majority of the films that I’ve reviewed have reflected that fact.

So, in order to combat that cynicism, I’m going to recommend a film from 2008 that, despite being a biopic about a politician, is actually rather inspiring.  I am, of course, talking about the 2008 best picture nominee, Milk.

Milk tells the story of Harvey Milk who, in 1977, became the first openly gay man to be elected to a major public office.  Now, just consider that.  Up until 38 years ago, nobody who was openly gay had been elected to public office.  Nowadays, the idea of an out gay man or a lesbian running for public office is only shocking to a dwindling minority of homophobes.  Even down here Texas, which everyone up north always smugly assumes to be so intolerant, nobody is surprised when a gay or a lesbian not only runs for office but wins as well.  Sheriff Lupe Valdez has served as sheriff of Dallas Country for over ten years and, though she’s been controversial, none of that controversy has concerned her sexuality.  Meanwhile, Annise Parker has served three-terms as mayor of Houston, making Houston the biggest city in America to have an openly gay mayor.

However, before Lupe Valdez could be sheriff or Annise Parker could be mayor, Harvey Milk had to serve on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

Milk follows Harvey (Sean Penn, who won an Oscar for his performance) and his much younger boyfriend, Scott (James Franco) from the moment they first meet in New York to when they moved to San Francisco in 1970.  We see how Harvey first found fame as a neighborhood activist and how he challenged both the political and gay establishment of San Francisco in his campaigns for political office.  When he finally wins a seat on the Board of Supervisors, he does so at the cost of his relationship with Scott.  He enters into another relationship with the self-destructive Jack (Diego Luna), which ends tragically.

By winning office, Harvey becomes a spokesman for gays everywhere.  When a sinister state senator (Denis O’Hare) attempts to pass a bill that would forbid gays from teaching school, Harvey leads to opposition.  And, while Harvey’s career continues to rise, the career of another supervisor — Dan White (Josh Brolin) — plummets.

Elected at the same time as Harvey, Dan is an uptight former cop.  Though he and Harvey originally strike a somewhat awkward friendship (Harvey is the only supervisor to come to the christening of Dan’s child), Dan soon comes to resent Harvey.  (At one point, Harvey suggests that Dan might be closeted and Brolin’s tightly coiled performance certainly implies that Dan is repressing something.)  Eventually, Dan shoots and kills both the mayor (Victor Garber) and Harvey.

Though the film ends in violence and anger, it also ends with hope.  Though Harvey may be dead, the activists that he inspired are there to carry on.

Because the film was directed by a gay man, written by a gay man, and tells the story of a gay man, Milk is often dismissed, even by critics who liked it, as just being a gay film.  But, actually, it is a film that should inspire anyone who has ever felt like they’ve been pushed into the margins of our national culture.  By the film’s end, Harvey Milk has emerged as not just a gay hero but as a hero to anyone who has ever been told that their voice does not matter.  When Harvey says, repeatedly, “You’ve got to give them hope,” it’s hope for all of us.

For Your Consideration #7: Snowpiercer (dir by Bong Joon-ho)


It is perhaps a sign of the times that 2014 saw the release of several dystopian films.  Whether it was the Purge: Anarchy, Mockingjay, The Maze RunnerEdge of TomorrowDawn of the Planet of the Apes, or even Interstellar, all of these films shared a similarly bleak view of the future.  Filmmakers everywhere seemed to agree that humanity is basically doomed.

Unfortunately, with so many different and competing views of our sucky future, I fear that a lot of people may have missed one of the best of them.  When taken along with all of the usual Academy biases, I fear that means that Snowpiercer is pretty much out of the running for a best picture nomination.  It’s true that Snowpiercer did win best picture from the Boston Online Critics and there’s always an outside chance that Tilda Swinton could pick up a best supporting actress nomination.  But, for the most part, Snowpiercer has been overlooked.

And that’s a shame because Snowpiercer is one of the best of the year.

The premise of Snowpiercer is, in its way, brilliant.  After environmental scientists go a bit too far in their effort to battle global warming, the world suffers a second ice age.  (I have to admit that I enjoyed this development, just because heroic environmentalists are such a cliché.)  With the entire world frozen, what is left of humanity ends up on a massive train known as the Snowpiercer.  For the next twenty years, the Snowpiercer rushes up and down a track that spans the entire planet.

A new society forms on the Snowpiercer and, not surprisingly, it’s a lot like the old society.  The rich live up at the front of the train.  The poor live in the tail section.  All laws are set by the rarely seen Wilford (Ed Harris).  Wilford’s will is enforced by faceless soldiers and his blandly monstrous second-in-command, Mason (Tilda Swinton).

Twenty years later, the people in the tail section attempt their latest revolt.  This time, they’re being led by the charismatic Curtis (Chris Evans, proving that he’s capable of playing a lot more than just Capt. America).  Taking Mason hostage, Curtis leads his people through each car, slowly making their way to the front.  Along the way, they meet a lot a violent resistance and Curtis discovers that his rebellion was not quite as virtuous as he originally assumed…

Snowpiercer was one of the most imaginative science fiction films that I saw in 2014, a triumph of acting, direction, and design.  Each car has its own unique personality and look.  Perhaps the film’s best scene is when Curtis finds himself in the car that serves as the train’s school.  He and his grimy rebels listen as a perky and friendly teacher (Alison Pill) indoctrinates her students about the benevolence of Wilford.  It’s a surrealistic and tense scene, one that ends with burst of sudden and unexpected violence.

Perhaps what I most appreciated about Snowpiercer was that, despite all appearance to the contrary, it was ultimately a humanistic and optimistic film.  This is the rare action film where violence is not designed to look fun.  Though many character may not survive, the film never celebrates or cheapens their death.  Even the film’s most unsympathetic characters are still allowed moments of humanity.  This is a film that not only ends on a hint of hope but which earns that hope as well.

Snowpiercer is one of the best films of the year and it’s one that definitely deserves more consideration than it’s been given.

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6 More Films That You May Have Missed: Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, Goon, Headhunters, Jeff Who Lives At Home, The Philly Kid, and Safety Not Guaranteed


Hi there!  Continuing my effort to get caught up, here are six more films that I saw earlier this year but, for whatever reason, had not reviewed yet.

1) Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry (dir by Alison Klayman)

One of my favorite films of 2012 was this revealing documentary about the Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei.  Filmed over the course of two years, this film follows Ai as he uses the tools of social media to try to stand up to the oppressive Chinese government.  In the film’s strongest scenes, Ai reveals how the government attempted to cover up the massive destruction of the 2008 Sichuan Earthquake.  For his efforts to give identities to the victims of this natural disaster, Ai is beaten by the police and eventually imprisoned.

Ai WeiWei: Never Sorry is a film that should be seen by anyone who thinks that any greater good can be accomplished by sacrificing personal freedom.

2) Goon (dir by Michael Dowse)

Based on a true story, Goon tells the story of Doug Glatt (played, in a winning performance, by Seann William Scott), a Boston bouncer who joins a minor league hockey team.  Eventually, he gets called up to play in Canada and faces his idol (and new rival) Ross Rhea (played by Liev Schreiber) on the ice.  Along the way, he also romances a hockey groupie (Alison Pill) and befriends a burned out teammate (Marc-Andre Gondrin).

I have to thank Arleigh for suggesting that I see Goon because, otherwise, I probably wouldn’t have given this film a chance.  I don’t know much about sports in general and I know even less about hockey.  (Leonard is our resident hockey expert here at the Shattered Lens.)  However, Goon turned out to be a truly pleasant surprise, a sports film that even someone like me can enjoy.

While the film’s plot may be predictable, director Dowse and his cast tell the story well and they all manage to strike the perfect balance between humor, melodrama, and sentimentality.  Seann William Scott is usually not thought of as being a versatile actor but, on the basis of his performance here, he deserves to be reevaluated.  Williams makes Doug Glatt into a truly likable thug and he and Alison Pill make for a very cute and likable couple.  When you start watching Goon, you know where the journey is going to lead you but that doesn’t make the trip any less enjoyable.

3) Headhunters (dir by Morten Tyldum)

In 2012, one of the best thrillers to be released in America was this import from Norway.  Roger Brown (played by Askel Hennie) is Norway’s most successful corporate headhunter.  Along with having a beautiful wife, Roger also has a mistress and all the other material trappings of wealth.  Despite this, Roger is insecure over only being 5’6 and he deals with his insecurity by pursuing a second, secret career as an art thief.  When Roger discovers that Clas, his latest client, is having an affair with his wife, Roger breaks into Clas’s apartment and steals a valuable painting.  However, it turns out that Clas is not only a trained mercenary but he’s also a psychotic killer and soon, he’s pursuing Roger.

Headhunters is a truly exciting film, one that actually keeps the audience guessing with each twist and turn.  Best of all, the film features a truly memorable lead performance from Askel Hennie.  Playing the type of character who, in the past, would have been played by Klaus Kinski, Henie makes his sleazy character into an odd likable and compelling hero.

4) Jeff, Who Lives At Home (dir by Jay and Mark Duplass)

Jeff (Jason Segal) is a 30 year-old unemployed stoner who lives in his mother’s basement and who spends his day obsessing on the movie Signs and talking about his belief in Destiny.  One day, he gets a phone call from some one asking for “Kevin.”  Jeff reacts by finally leaving his mom’s basement and searching for this mysterious Kevin.  Meanwhile, Jeff’s brother (Ed Helms) is convinced that his wife (Judy Greer) is cheating on him and Jeff’s lonely mom (Susan Sarandon) spends her workday at work getting messages from a secret admirer.

Not much happens in Jeff, Who Lives At Home and the film dares you to get as annoyed with Jeff as everyone else in his family.  However, when taken on its own mellow terms, this is an enjoyable and occasionally even moving film.  It helps if you really like Jason Segal and seriously, who doesn’t?  Susan Sarandon gives a touching performance as well and the filmmakers make excellent use of Helms’ needy persona.

5) The Philly Kid (dir by Jason Connery)

Dillon (Wes Chatham) is a college wrestler who is wrongly convicted for the murder of a police officer.  After spending ten years in prison, Dillon is paroled and returns to his home in Baton Rouge.  Managed by his friend Jake (a manic Devon Sawa), Dillon becomes a cage fighter and ultimately finds himself fighting for his life against corrupt promoters and a crooked cop.

The Philly Kid is a pretty uneven film.  The plot will never surprise you and, halfway through the film, The Philly Kid descends into over-the-top melodrama.  However, both Chatham and Sawa give good performances and, as directed by Jason Connery, the film’s many fight scenes are vivid and exciting to watch.  The film was filmed in Baton Rouge and it makes good use of the Louisiana atmosphere.

The Philly Kid may ultimately just be a genre film but it’s a well-done genre film.

6) Safety Not Guaranteed (dir. by Colin Trevorrow)

Kenneth (Mark Duplass) is the type of person that we’ve all met at some point in our life.  He works as a clerk in a grocery store and spends his time talking about his dead girlfriend and how secret agents are watching his every move.  He also claims to have built a time machine and posts a classified ad where he asks for someone to volunteer to go back in time with him.  The ad is spotted by Jeff (Jake M. Johnson), a smarmy magazine writer in Seattle who travels to Kenneth’s hometown in order to investigate (and, it’s later revealed, track down an ex-girlfriend).  Accompanying the reporter is Darius (played by Aubrey Plaza), a disillusioned intern who has her own reasons for wishing that she could go back into past.  Following Jeff’s orders, Darius approaches and befriends Kenneth by claiming to be interested in his ad.  While the well-meaning but paranoid Kenneth trains her for their trip into past, Darius finds herself falling in love with him…

Safety Not Guaranteed is one of those low-key, sweet natured films that I simply can’t help but love.  The film views it’s damaged characters with a wry compassion and it wraps up its story with one of the best endings of 2012.  Aubrey Plaza is best known for being sarcastic on Parks and Recreation but, with this film, she shows that she’s capable of doing a lot more.

Review: The Newsroom S1:E4 – “I’ll Try to Fix You”


The key to Episode 4 of The Newsroom’s season really comes down to the last 10 to 15 minutes. The episode seems light and even and then by the end everyone is moving in a mad scramble to get the news out. Very nice to see that, honestly.

This episode, entitled “I’ll Try to Fix You” has the News Night 2.0 team closing out 2010 and celebrating the impending New Year. It’s more or less a lighthearted, fun episode. Mac approaches Will in his office, letting him know that her boyfriend Wade wants to speak with him on something. Wade informs Mac that he’s missing a major headline.

Neal appears to have this weird obsession over Bigfoot, which becomes a running theme in this episode. It’s cute in that it comes up a number of times here, very similar to the story about the Chicken in The Social Network. Maggie finds Jim still working to find any major stories they may have missed. After a little light flirting (well, it seemed that way), Don shows up and Maggie has to go. A lightly inebriated Don decides to set up Maggie’s roommate, Lisa, with Jim for New Year’s. In the middle of selling Jim, Lisa’s phone goes off with a Rod Stewart song. After what happened with the email fiasco, I found myself recalling that because sooner or later, that ringtone would need to come back into this episode. Maggie appears to have something of an issue with Lisa and Jim, but again, she’s with Don. I kind of wish she’d make up her mind already.

Wade tells Will that the House cut 80% of the DOJ budget, and the three go over whether this is a story to run with. When Wade leaves, Mac and Will have a slight argument over Wade. Mac’s a line in particular that made me laugh, “How do you introduce the Netflix queue of crazy divorced women with digitally remastered breasts you spend your nights with?”, which works in the argument between the two.

Will heads out to the party, and finds Sloan Sabbith. Eyeing the group, they have a short exchange on whether he should mingle and who he should mingle with. He heads out and speaks to Nina Howard and finds out she’s a Gossip Columnist. Rather than going with the New Year kiss, Will starts to lecture her on what she does, stating she “knows right from wrong” and that it’s “it’s a form of pollution.” The attempt to civilize Nina ends up with a drink in his face. Poor guy has no luck whatsoever.

Charlie and Will reconvene the following morning to find that he’s on Page Six of the New York Post. Will clears the air with Charlie on this and moves on to the morning meeting. Of the topics that weren’t discussed, they decide to run with both the notion that the Republicans believe that Obama is out to take away their guns or gun rights. The broadcast goes on to show that there really hasn’t been any kind of legislation to show that this is the current plan.

Maggie and Lisa have a brief discussion on Jim, and Maggie comes to Jim’s defense when Lisa points out that he’d think she’s dumb. Again, this is going to come to a head later on.

Mac, along with a woman named Carrie (played by Kathryn Hahn, who I haven’t seen since Step Brothers), head to his apartment. When she goes to change her clothes and informs him she has a joint in her purse, he discovers a pistol and they have words. I’m not sure if Hahn’s going to come back, but it would be interesting to have her come back as a foil to Mac.

As Will and Sloan go over the next broadcast, she beams and asks him how the night went. Will informs her that her friend was packing heat. Sloan tells him he has to stick with her because she’s a little obsessive. Olivia Munn has some great moments back and forth between Jeff Daniels in this episode, and so far her character still seems to be the only one without any romantic issues.

With Will’s chances in the dating scene spiraling downward and making headlines, Don proves how much of an ass he is by giving Maggie a news blip that causes her to call Jim. While she has Jim on the phone, Don calls Lisa, who’s phone rings in the background with the Rod Stewart song. I personally can’t wait for Don to get punched outright in the face. That will be the highlight of the season for me.

After being called in on Saturday, Will finds everyone in the office going over the particulars of the Bigfoot story. Will meets with Charlie and Mac over Will being in the newspapers when it comes to light that AWM (their parent company) has been flaming him the entire time. Charlie admits about the meeting with Leona and Mac blows up because the only way that the 3 Year no work clause could have taken effect would have been if it were changed in the contract. The contact that Will changed to allow him to fire Mac also allows AWM to keep him from working anywhere else.

Just when you think it’s going to keep going on, the story explodes into high gear with the iNews blip on the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. All hands are on deck as they race to get the story together and everyone prepped. It shines as easily the biggest highlight of the episode and smacked the complaining, “Not This relationship stuff again” sigh I had right off my face. During the broadcast, it comes out that CNN and NPR are going with the story that Giffords died that day. Ironically enough, CNN had the very same problem just a week or two ago, incorrectly reporting that the “Obamacare” Heath Reform vote didn’t pass before Justice Roberts’ vote came through.

When Reese shows up onto the floor and calls Will out to declare Giffords dead just as everyone else does, who shows up to actually save the day but Don of all people. Talk about jaw drop!! He’s the last person I would have expected to have come in to help this group. Will calls in Mac and Charlie to thank them in a cursing tirade, and gives Neal a chance on his Bigfoot story. With all of this done to Coldplay’s “Fix You”, it plays out so damn well that you may almost forget all of the other scenes you were watching beforehand. It’s a fantastic final few minutes that showcases what the Newsroom is about.

My only worry is that they’re moving so fast with these news reports that by the time the season is over, they could conceivably end up in the Present Time. How they’re going to come up with news after doing that is going to require a few rabbits and hats. Overall, a well done episode.

Review: The Newsroom S1:E3 – “The 112th Congress”


Though I’m a registered Democrat (which I did before realizing I could be Independent) and my family’s mostly Republican, Politics tend to make my eyes glaze over and a lot of it goes over my head. My reasoning is that no matter who you have in office, neither side has everything right and you’ll find corruption and/or underhanded deals no matter what side is chosen. It’s because of this that makes The Newsroom a little difficult for me to write about from a political standpoint, but on an entertainment standpoint, I’m having fun. This show is getting a little tighter with every episode.

This episode, titled “The 112th Congress”, opens with a statement taken from the 9/11 Commission back in 2004. Will makes an apology to the American viewing public on the way News Night has been, stating that they failed to give the right news – “A leader in an industry that miscalled election results, miscalled hyped up terror scares, ginned up controversy, and failed to report on tectonic shifts in our country”. Will stresses that they will be concentrating on giving the news, and opinions that also contrast his own. I liked the way this scene moved, jumping back and forth through the events of writing out the speech, getting everyone up for their morning meeting, cleaning it all up and providing it to Charlie before the actual broadcast. This is all while the speech is given. The opening editorial lays down the template to the News Night viewers on where it’s headed.

The following scene is a conference room with Charlie, Reese, another associate and Leona (Jane Fonda) in a debriefing meeting on the News Night changes. This takes place on November 3rd, 2010. The show moves to this location, the Bigwig Conference, a number of times as we go over the months since NN2.0’s inception. I have to admit I really liked the movement of the scenes back and forth here. Don approaches Jim and gives him a little flak on why he wasn’t in the loop on Will’s speech, given that his own show that comes afterward is also trying to be the one to move up to that treasured 8pm slot. Don also has something of an issue with Maggie on this as well, but it only lasts for a moment.

Reese goes on to mention that since the News Night change, Will’s lost about a good 7% of his audience. Though they’re doing what they feel is the right thing, it is costing them from a viewer’s standpoint. I liked how Leona really doesn’t speak up until the middle of the episode, her character just kind of taking in all of the information that’s given.

There’s a very interesting conversation between Will and Charlie, talking about the changes in the Tea Party’s progression. Granted, this all requires first level research for stronger opinions & statements to be formed, but from the way The Newsroom presents it (and my interpretation of it), the Tea Party kind of swooped in and changed the Republican landscape (or was at least trying to at the time) for their own pursuits. That Will, being a Republican himself, decides to make this the top story felt like it added to the “all the facts” angle the NN2.0 was shooting for. For the record, were he a Democrat, I’m pretty sure that they could have done the same thing for that party, using a story on gun control or something like that.

Getting back to the story, it’s revealed in the Bigwig conference that Will is treating his interview subjects like members in a courtroom and that at one point in his life, he was a prosecutor. I liked this, but the information seemed sudden to me, as if Sorkin and crew were in their writing room and the question came of “Well, how is Will so good at this?”, and they came up with the lawyer angle. Then again, to counter that, we learned 4 episodes into Mad Men that Don Draper’s name wasn’t his and his past wasn’t his either. I suppose it makes sense here too.

Mac meets one of Will’s new dates and overreacts a little with the compliments, inquiring on who she is. Turns out that the lady works for the New York Jets as a choreographer. Mac and Will move to Will’s office, where she berates him on his dating choice for the evening. There’s a bit of cute back and forth banter before she nearly storms out and Charlie catches her, telling them both the keep up what they’re doing with the Tea Party pressure. Will asks how the 44th floor (The Bigwig Conference) is handling this, and Charlie lies to him about it. Undoubtedly, this will end up being a problem later on in the season. The relationship angles still appear a little blurry. We learn that Maggie’s issues are attributed to Panic Attacks, which opens a nice scene between she and Jim on the terrace of the building. I already touched on the Sorkin Girls in the last episode. I’ll let it go here, but it does kind of show why she’s been the way she’s been. The problem here is that with the forward momentum the scene made, it takes two steps back in having her with Don still by the end of the episode. I’m not saying they should be in each other arms by now, but I wouldn’t mind seeing thing forward just a little more.

The story moves ahead to June 18, 2010, where Will goes after a senator regarding statements made on AIDS and it’s spread. The Bigwigs are not pleased at all on this. After the broadcast, Mac finds another date waiting for Will, who Will points out is an actual brain surgeon. That was actually worth a chuckle, indeed.

At the Bigwig Conference, Reese points out that there was a party every year he and his mother were invited to at Telluride that they didn’t receive an invite for this time around. Reese points out that Will’s broadcasts has cost them Koch Industries, which happens to be close to the Lansing’s (Reese and Leona).

Near the end of the Bigwig Meeting, Leona finally speaks up, letting Charlie know that Will needs to back off as the parent company, AWM has special interests with of the parties that Will has been attacking. Leona threatens to fire Will, which of course would be a problem due to a special clause in his contact that prevents him from working for 3 years. That was kind of cool, reminding me of what happened with Conan O’Brien when he left NBC. So now, the stakes are raised. Do they continue doing what they’ve planned and face being fired or revert back to the old format?

While I still have the same complaints as before (Sharpen up the girls, etc.), the episode ramped up things with some of the actual broadcasts that were done. The Bigwig Conference scenes were some of the strongest parts there, I felt. We’ll see where this all goes.

Review: The Newsroom S1:E2 – “News Night 2.0”


After seeing the second episode of The Newsroom, which is my first Aaron Sorkin show experience, I’ve learned four things:

1.) In the Sorkin Universe, guys may be asses, but girls seem to make all the huge mistakes.

2.) Everyone is just one moment away from emotionally exploding.

3.) The “Walk and Talk” gets things done.

4.) There are very few moments of silence.

Okay, here we are with the second episode for The Newsroom. This one appears to be tighter compared to the pilot episode and an overall improvement from that, though it still has it’s problems. The episode overall is about the construction of News Night 2.0, the revised version of the broadcast that will concentrate on giving the news and not letting the ratings control the content. It’s a great plan, but issues do arise. Charlie (Sam Waterston) has to warn one of Will’s colleagues, Reese (Chris Messina) about giving Will the numbers on the ratings. As Will is a big fan of the ratings, Charlie fears that this will sway him from following the new broadcast process. Reese explains that he’s not the bad guy, but is only giving Will what he wants. Despite the warning, he still speaks with Will in a later scene.

That I liked, the notion that Will is still laboring under the belief that he should shoot for the news that people want to hear versus the news they should. This episode was partially supposed to show how going against that process didn’t work out for him and should ground him going forward. In some ways, I think it succeeded. The News Night Team is trying something different, but in order for that to work, everyone has to be on board. By the end of the episode, you come to find out who’s with Mac on this, and who’s against it. I’m loving where the show is going on that front.

We now have our antagonists in Reese, who wants Will to keep the old format going and we have Don. Don is staying with the NewsNigh Team to make sure the transition goes well, but at the same time, is rooting for Will to fail because it puts his new show in that prized time slot. I’m under the impression that later on, we’ll see both of these individuals trying to sabotage things.

Here’s what worked for me:

The Introduction of both Reese and Sloan. Both Chris Messina and Olivia Munn had some good scenes in the episode. They both appeared to be even keeled for the most part. Reese’s “walk and talk” with Will was nice, though in doing a bit of research, I’ve discovered it’s bit of a Sorkin staple.  Olivia Munn’s character, Sloan Sabbith is introduced when Mackenzie hires her to perform the Financial News segment to start before Will’s broadcast. I’m hoping her character gets some more time in. Of course, I’ve been a fan of Olivia’s for years, so there’s some bias there, admittedly. It’s cool seeing how far she’s come. Sabbith also happens to be one of the only girls who hasn’t had some kind of serious emotional crash, yet (and that’s still questionable).

More pop and zip. Overall the episode moved very well. I didn’t get the feeling of slowdown from the pilot, with it’s empty areas and all the time spent trying to figure out who was what. It was basically, “What’s our show?”, “Who do we need to get it going?”, “Oh damn, we messed up!”, “The Broadcast”, “The Aftermath”. I wouldn’t mind seeing that template keep going. By the time we reached Will’s actual broadcast, I was all smiles. It’s quick, to the point and there’s just never a quiet moment. Everyone has something to say to fill in the space, all the time. I wish I could write the dialog in my fiction like that.

And then there’s the one glaring problem:

Women are Always the Source of the Issue in a World Where Men Seemingly Do No Wrong. During last year’s Oscars, Lisa Marie and I got into a debate over her hatred of Sorkin and my love for The Social Network. We agreed to disagree that he can do dialog and that he kinda, sorta, maybe has a problem with writing women. I was pretty sure I won that argument when Sorkin accepted his Oscar – I was rooting for him to win. This episode, however had me face palming myself, like a PR agent watching their star client mess up with everyone watching.

Again, where Sorkin excels in dialog and moving that forward, the girls get the short end of the stick. Every mistake and problem that occurs in this episode is the direct result of something a girl should have done or didn’t do or blew out of proportion. The flow moves in this pattern:

1.) Girl makes big mistake. As her Superior Male supervisor is going to blow up because of it, she loses her mind in a theatrical fashion. (Both Maggie and Mac do this to great effect, it’s like they haven’t had tea or something.).

2.) Girl gets verbally chewed out by Superior Male. This also seems to happen publicly where people can see it.

3.) Girl apologizes, kowtows and hopes the Male she works for doesn’t look bad because of her actions.

It may sound a little exaggerated, but it’s there. Now you may say, “Len, that’s not right. The girls are on equal footing with the guys. And you’re a guy, it shouldn’t matter, should it?” Perhaps it shouldn’t, but as someone who prefers seeing women in media that don’t complain about broken fingernails, The Newsroom still needs improvement on this level. I can’t claim to understand women in the slightest, but I’ve seen and have known tons of them that just aren’t this…submissive, for want of a better word. Case in point – It’s stated that Mackenzie McHale was a journalist in war-torn areas for a long time. Yet, in the Newsroom, she comes across as being particularly clumsy and high-strung. I would have expected a calmer person, kind of a like a Kathryn Bigelow. Could you imagine Mac, the way she is in the Newsroom, being as effective in a warlike environment? That bothered me a bit, honestly. If Sorkin could fix that one part, he’d be downright perfect. It has me wondering what the first show he doesn’t write will be like. That this has become the only problem for me says a lot for how much better the show’s done in these two episodes.

So basically, I’m loving where the show is going, but it needs to up the girl factor. I’m hoping Sloan may be that factor. For the next episode, I’ll try not to be issue like a dead horse, but if they keep giving me the ammo, I’m be tempted to fire off a round or two.

Film Review: Midnight in Paris (dir. by Woody Allen)


Woody Allen’s latest film, Midnight in Paris, has an appealing premise behind it. 

Gil (Owen Wilson) is a Hollywood screenwriter who has come to Paris with his shallow fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams) and her stuffy Republican parents (played by Kurt Fuller and Mimi Kennedy).  Disillusioned with American culture, Gil idealizes the Paris of the 1920s, the Paris that was home to Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and James Joyce.  However, Inez and her parents are far less impressed with Paris and, as quickly become clear, with Gil himself.  While Inez spends her time with self-important “intellectual” Paul (a bearded Michael Sheen), Gil takes to wandering the streets of Paris at night.

One night, as Gil wanders around Paris, a vintage car approaches out of the shadows and the two well-dressed passengers in the back seat invite Gil to join them.  Gil does so and discovers that he’s been transported back to 1920s Paris.  He meets everyone from Hemingway (Corey Stoll) to Salvador Dali (Adrien Brody) to F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston and Alison Pill).  At the end of the night, Gil finds himself transported back to modern-day Paris.  Soon, Gil finds himself sneaking out at midnight every night so he can escape to the past, where he eventually meets and starts to romance an idealistic model named Adrianna (Marion Cotillard).  While Gil finds himself torn between his modern life and the past that he loves, he also begins to discover that the inhabitants of the 20s feel the same way about their present as he does about his.

The premise of the film itself is likable and one that I think anyone can relate to.  Who doesn’t wish that they could go back in the past and live with all the amazing people who they’ve only read about?  Myself, there are many eras that I often fantasize about finding myself in.  1920s Paris is definitely one of them but I’ve also occasionally dreamed of being in 1950s New York, having a threesome with Kerouac and Cassady or maybe being in Paris during the early days of the French new wave, appearing in movies directed by Rollin, Truffaut and Godard.  Ever since I read Peter Biskind’s Easy Riders and Raging Bulls, there’s been a part of me that wishes so much I could have been out in Hollywood or New York in the 1970s, hanging out on the beach with directors like Martin Scorsese, William Freidkin, Jon Milius, and even Peter Bogdonavich.  (But especially Freidkin, his terrible charisma just radiates from the page.) 

Still, Allen is smart enough as a screenwriter to know that everyone tends to idealizes the past, even those who we now idealize in the present.  Perhaps my favorite part of the film came when Wilson, while in the 1920s, sees a character getting into a horse-drawn carriage so that she can go back to the time that she idealizes as fiercely as he idealizes the 20s.

Midnight in Paris has a lot to recommend it.  Cotillard, despite the fact that she’s played the same idealized French mystery woman about a thousand times, gives a likeable performance and Rachel McAdams is hilariously shallow.  Michael Sheen, as well, makes a perfect stand-in for every pompous, self-important jerk who has ever talked down to you.  On the basis of his cameo appearance here as Dali, Adrien Brody really needs to consider doing more comedy.  He’s a lot more appealing when he’s being funny than when he’s trying to be a leading man.

At the same time, I have to admit that I wanted to like Midnight in Paris more than I actually did.  I like Owen Wilson as both an actor and a writer but he’s a little bit miscast here and the end result is that he occasionally seems like he’s trying too hard.  You just never buy him and McAdams as a couple and, as such, there’s really not much at stake as far as his romance with Cotillard is concerned. 

As well, I found it hard not to be a little bit disappointed with the way Allen presented 1920s Paris.  Though they were all well-cast and acted, Hemingway, the Fitzgeralds, Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates), and all the rest just fell flat as actual characters.  Gil gets a chance to go into the past and essentially, he discovers that Hemingway was macho, the Fitzgeralds were neurotic and self-destructive, and that Dali didn’t make much sense.  Personally, I would be a bit let down if I got a chance to meet these icons and I discovered that essentially they just acted the exact same way that they acted in various PBS educational programs.

Despite this, Midnight in Paris is still a likable, frequently engaging comedy that works best as a tribute to a legendary and beautiful city that Allen (not to mention myself) obviously loves.  Flaws and all, this movie made me want to visit Paris once again (though Florence and Venice remains my favorite cities of all time) and, for that reason alone, it makes Midnight in Paris a film worth seeing.