TV Review: The Dropout 1.8 “Lizzy” (dir by Erica Watson)


(Below, you will find spoilers for the final episode of The Dropout.  I would recommend not reading this post until you’ve watched the episode.)

After all the drama and the deception, The Dropout ended the only way that it could, with Theranos in ruins, Sunny out of Elizabeth’s life, and Elizabeth still unable to comprehend why everyone got upset with her in the first place.  While George Schultz tries to come to terms with his mistakes and Erika Cheung worries about whether or not she’s ruined her future career by coming out as a whistleblower, Elizabeth tries to do damage control by forcing Sunny out of Theranos and then going on television for a cringey interview that pretty much seals her fate.  Both David Boies and Linda Tanner (Michaela Watkins, who became the unexpected heart of this episode) tell Elizabeth that it’s important that she come across as being contrite and sincerely “devastated” by Sunny’s actions.  Elizabeth, however, can’t do it.  As she explains to her mother, Elizabeth has been locking away her emotions for so long that she no longer knows how to express or even feel them.

The end of the episode finds Elizabeth finally pursuing the life that she would have led if she hadn’t dropped out of Stanford, started Theranos, and gotten involved with Sunny.  She’s dating a younger man.  She’s going to Burning Man.  She owns a dog.  She’s ditched the turtleneck.  She’s let her hair down.  She’s speaking in her real voice.  She’s going by “Lizzie.”  She’s reverted back to being the somewhat flakey child of privilege that she was at the start of the miniseries.  Even while Linda Tanner confronts her with the number of lives that she and Theranos destroyed, Elizabeth doesn’t break her stride.  Elizabeth has decided that she’s moved on, even if no one else can.  It’s only when she’s alone that she briefly allow her composure to crack, just long enough to scream into the void.

Of course, the final title card informs us that it doesn’t matter how much Elizabeth wants to be Lizzie, the girl who goes to Burning Man with her boyfriend.  Having been convicted of defrauding her investors, Elizabeth Holmes is currently awaiting her sentencing.  She could end up spending the next twenty years in prison.  And, just as Phyllis Gardner predicted in the previous episode, Elizabeth has made it difficult for other female entrepreneurs to find success in Silicon Valley.

As the episode came to a close, with Elizabeth walking through the now empty offices of Theranos with her dog and an increasingly agitated Linda, I found myself thinking about how those offices progressed through the series.  Theranos went from a shabby office building in the worst part of town to being the epitome of Silicon Valley chic.  In the early episodes, the cluttered Theranos offices and labs were disorganized but there was also a very sincere earnestness to them.  Men like Ian Gibbons actually believed in what they were doing.  By the fourth episode, Theranos transformed into a secretive place that was fueled by paranoia.  With each subsequent episode, the offices became a bit less individualistic and bit more joyless.  In the final episode, the offices were dark and deserted, as empty as Elizabeth and Sunny’s promises.  Looking at those offices, it was hard not to mourn the lost idealism of those early days.  Sunny may have never shared that idealism.  The miniseries suggests that Elizabeth lost her idealism as soon as she finally started to get the positive publicity that she craved.  But the people who were there at the beginning believed in Theranos and its stated mission.  Even Elizabeth’s early investors were taking a chance because they thought she could make the world a better place.  In the end, Elizabeth and Sunny betrayed all of them.  As I said at the start of this review, The Dropout ended the only way that it could, with an empty office, a lot of broken hearts, and Elizabeth Holmes convinced that the world had somehow failed her.  Viewers may never fully understand what was going on in Elizabeth Holmes’s mind but they’ll never forget her or the story of Theranos.

The Dropout was a good miniseries, probably the best that we’ll see this year.  This is a miniseries that better be remembered come Emmy time.  Amanda Seyfried seems to be a lock to at least get a nomination.  Naveen Andrews deserves consideration as well.  The supporting cast provides an embarrassment of riches.  Sam Waterston, Dylan Minnette, Kurtwood Smith, Michaela Watkins, William H. Macy, the great Stephen Fry, Camryn Mi-Young Kim, Kate Burton, Anne Archer, and Laurie Metcalf, all of them are award-worthy.  Give them the Emmy campaign that they deserve, Hulu!

TV Review: The Dropout 1.5 “Flower of Life” (dir by Francesca Gregorini)


Who was Elizabeth Holmes?

Was she an idealist who got in over her head and ended up cutting corners with the best of intentions?

Was she a con artist who simply lied for the money?

Was she the abused and manipulated partner in a crime that masterminded by Sunny Balwani?

Or was she a sociopath who was simply incapable of feeling any empathy for the people that she manipulated and, in some cases, destroyed?

That’s the question that’s been at the heart of the first five episodes of The Dropout.  It’s also a question that the show’s version of Elizabeth Holmes (played, brilliantly, by Amanda Seyfried) is struggling with.  One gets the feeling that she herself doesn’t full understand what’s going on inside of her head.  For the first half of the episode 5, Holmes is an almost sympathetic character.  Still desperate for Sunny’s approval and seemingly convinced that Theranos can come up with some magic spell that will actually make the Edison work, Elizabeth comes across as being more self-delusional than malicious.  For the first half of the episode, it’s like we’re watching the socially awkward but earnest Elizabeth who we first met at the beginning of the series.  At her uncle’s funeral, she asks her mother if she ever had any hobbies when she was younger and her mom can only list several competitive activities that Elizabeth took part in.  But, as becomes clear, Elizabeth never did anything just for fun or just for enjoyment.  Instead, everything the she’s always done has been a part of an obsessive need to not only prove her own abilities but to also prove that she’s superior to other people.

Perhaps this strange mix of a grandiose self-image and gnawing insecurity is why she simply cannot bring herself to settle the lawsuit that’s been brought against her by Richard Fuisz (William H. Macy).  Instead, with the help of her newest mentor, George Shultz (Sam Waterston), Elizabeth brings in David Boies (Kurtwood Smith).  Boies is one of the leading lawyers in the United States.  Before getting involved with Theranos, Boies tried to put Al Gore in the White House.  After his involvement with Theranos, Boies tried to keep Harvey Weinstein out of jail.  Boies failed on both accounts but he was far more successful when it came to battling Fuisz’s lawsuit.  One of the key scenes in the episode comes when Schultz mentions that he and Boies are on different sides politically but that they’re willing to come together to protect Theranos.  It doesn’t matter that Schultz is a Republican and Boies is a Democrat.  What matters is that they’re both a member of the elite and Theranos, with its prestigious board of directors, is now a part of the elite as well.  Richard Fuisz, with his terrible haircut and his excitable manner, is far too gauche to be allowed to defeat Theranos.

Indeed, Elizabeth spends most of this episode worrying about the lawsuit and also what might happen if Ian Gibbons (Stephen Fry) is called to testify.  Gibbons’s name is on all of Theranos’s patents, along with Elizabeth’s.  Gibbons is perhaps the one person who can testify that Elizabeth had nothing to do with designing any of Theranos’s equipment.  When we first see Theranos’s legal team pressuring Ian to sign a statement saying that, as an alcoholic, he can’t testify, we’re left to wonder whether the team is working at the direction of Sunny, Boies, or Elizabeth.  When Ian points out that signing such a statement will end his career, no one seems to care.  Ian Gibbons goes home, plays with his dogs, listens to his favorite opera, says goodnight to his wife, and then kills himself.

Elizabeth’s reaction to Ian’s death tells us all we need to know about her and it pretty much erases whatever sympathy we may have had for her.  She’s a bit like a robot, trying to generate the “right” emotions but not quite sure the proper way to do it.  When told that Ian is dead and that the lawsuit is apparently dead as well, Elizabeth focuses on the finger puppets that she wants to stock in the Theranos Wellness Centers.  The puppets are for children to wear after getting their finger pricked but they’re also a part of Elizabeth’s fantasy world, a world where Theranos will be fine and she’ll be as famous and beloved as Steve Jobs.  And if that means that the Edison had to be built with technology with Sunny stole from another company, so be it.

The episode ends with Brendan (Bashir Salahuddin) quitting the company and George Schultz’s nephew, Tyler (Dylan Minnette), starting his first day.  Using her fake voice, Elizabeth gives a speech to her cult-like employees.  She talks about her uncle’s death and how it effected her and we know that it’s all a lie but Elizabeth sells it.  The only disconcerting note comes from Sunny, who can’t stop himself from casually threatening to fire anyone who doesn’t share Elizabeth’s version.  They’re a team.  Elizabeth knows how to sell Theranos.  Sunny knows how to terrify anyone who asks too many questions.

This was the first episode of the series to not be directed by Michael Showalter.  Instead, it was directed by Francesca Gregorini and there are a few scenes where you really do miss Showalter’s ability to balance the absurd with the dramatic.  That said, this episode worked due to the performances of not only Seyfriend and Naveen Andrews but also William H. Macy, Kurtwood Smith, and especially Stephen Fry.  Fry especially broke my heart, even though I knew enough about the real story of Theranos that I already knew that Gibbons was going to take his own life.  Still, Fry plays the role with such a wounded dignity that you are left with no doubt that Gibbons was the last of the true believers.  He gave his life for Theranos and, in the end, Theranos gave him nothing in return.

The episode ends with Richard calling Phyllis Gardner (Laurie Metcalf), who was last seen telling a very young Elizabeth that there was no way to make the idea behind Theranos a reality.  Phyllis tells Richard that Elizabeth is a fraud.  And I have to admit that, as a viewer who had just spent 50 minutes with Elizabeth Holes and Sunny Balwani and David Boies, it was nice to hear someone come straight out and say it.

Next week, Tyler Schultz starts working at Theranos and he discovers that everything is not as it seems!  It’s the beginning of the end for Theranos and I’m looking forward to watching it all come down.

Film Review: Three (dir by James Salter)


Coming to us from 1969, Three is a film about three of the most boring people on Earth taking a vacation together.

Bert (Robie Porter) and Taylor (Sam Waterston, in his 20s but looking like he’s in his early 40s) are two American college students who are taking a trip through the Mediterranean.  We really don’t learn much about Bert and Taylor, beyond the fact that they’re close friends and they go to college together.  Though they visit several historical sites, they don’t really seem to get much out of it.  Though they both appear to be wealthy, they still make it a point to drive an old car.  It’s one of those affectations of poverty in which a certain type of rich person has always enjoyed indulging.

Anyway, Bert and Taylor wander around for a while and basically act like a bunch of stereotypical American tourists.  “Do you speak English?” they ask far too many people.  They drink too much at night.  They stare at every young woman who walks by.  They spend some time lying in a field and talking about life.  Unfortunately, since neither one of them has much depth, it’s kind of a boring conversation.  Bert, it appears, is a bit more experienced with the “ways of the world” that Taylor.  Taylor’s an idealist.  Yawn.

Eventually, Taylor meets an English tourist named Marty (Charlotte Rampling) and, despite the fact that she could obviously do better, she decides to travel around with Taylor and Bert.  Both Bert and Taylor find Marty to be attractive but they decide that all of three of them will just be friends, with no romance and no commitment.

Of course, it doesn’t really work out that way.  Taylor quickly falls in love with Marty but Marty is more attracted to Bert.  Bert, meanwhile, is kind of a jerk who picks up a French girl even after it’s obvious that Marty has feelings for him.  There’s an odd close-up of Bert blowing cigarette smoke on the French girl’s hands.  I’m not really sure why the shot was included in the film, beyond the fact that Three was made in 1969 and filmmakers in the late 60s were bizarrely obsessed with unnecessary close-ups.

Anyway, Three is an oddly lethargic story.  Sometimes, I enjoy films where nothing happens but with this one, it didn’t really feel as if either Taylor, Bert, or Marty had earned the right to suffer from ennui.  Instead, they just seemed like three shallow people who bumped into each other on vacation.  Films like this are only interesting if the characters are interesting but these three seem like they’re all destined to end up working in real estate and boring everyone with stories about the trip they took overseas during their senior year of college.  To be honest, the story is really only interesting if you assume that Taylor and Bert are actually in love with each other and that their obsession with Marty is their way of dealing with their own suppressed feelings for one another.  That’s pretty obviously the subtext of the story, though Three is too much of a product of its time to openly admit it.

It is somewhat interesting to see Sam Waterston playing a character who isn’t in his 60s but again, Waterston is one of those actors who comes across as if he was born middle-aged and that’s certainly the case in Three.  For the most part, Three is a pretty forgettable film, though the Mediterranean scenery is certainly nice.

Film Review: Cover Me, Babe (dir by Noel Black)


 

I don’t know if I’ve ever come across a non-horror film that featured a more off-putting lead character than Tony, the protagonist of 1970’s Cover Me, Babe.

A film student, Tony (Robert Forster, even in 1970, who was too old for the role) aspires to make avant-garde films.  Everyone in the film continually raves about how talented Tony is.  The footage that we see, however, tends to suggest that Tony is a pretentious phony.  The film opens with footage of a student film that Tony shot, one that involves his girlfriend, Melisse (Sondra Locke) sunbathing in the desert and getting groped by a hand that apparently lives under the sand.  It was so self-consciously arty that I assumed that it meant to be satirical and that we were supposed to laugh along as Tony assured everyone that it was a masterpiece.  And, to be honest, I’m still not sure that Cover Me, Babe wasn’t meant to be a satire on film school pretension.  I mean, that explanation makes about as much sense any other.  (Hilariously enough, Tony’s film had the same visual style as the film-within-a-film around which the storyline of Orson Welles’s The Other Side of the Wind revolved.  At least in the case of Welles, we know that his intent was satirical.)

Tony is not only pretentious but he’s also a bit of a prick.  He treats Melisse terribly and he manipulates everyone around him.  He wanders around the city with his camera, filming random people and then editing the footage together into films that feel like third-rate Godard.  He answers every criticism with a slight smirk, the type of expression that will leave you dreaming of the moment that someone finally takes a swing at him.  Tony’s arrogant and he treats everyone like crap but, for whatever reason, everyone puts up with him because …. well, because otherwise there wouldn’t be a movie.  Of course, eventually, everyone does get sick of Tony because otherwise, the movie would never end.

A Hollywood agent (Jeff Corey) calls up Tony and offers to get him work in Hollywood.  Tony is rude to the guy on the phone.  Tony meets a big time producer who could get Tony work.  Tony’s rude to him.  Guess who doesn’t get a job?  Tony has to get money to develop his latest film from one of his professors so he’s rude to the professor.  Guess who doesn’t get any money?  Tony cheats on his loyal girlfriend.  Tony’s cameraman (played by a youngish Sam Waterston) walks out when Tony tries to film two people having sex.  By the end of the movie, no one wants anything to do with Tony.  Tony goes for a run on the beach.  He appears to be alienated and disgruntled.  We’re supposed to care, I guess.

The problem with making a movie about an arrogant artist who alienates everyone around him is that you have to make the audience believe that the artist is talented enough to justify his arrogant behavior.  For instance, if you’re going to make a movie about a painter who is prone to paranoid delusions and obsessive behavior, that painter has to be Vincent Van Gogh.  He can’t just be the the guy who paints a picture of two lion cubs and then tries to sell it at the local art festival.  You have to believe that the artist is a once-in-a-lifetime talent because otherwise, you’re just like, “Who cares?”  The problem with Cover Me, Babe is that you never really believe that Tony is worth all of the trouble.  The film certainly seems to believe that he’s worth it but ultimately, he just comes across as being a jerk who manipulates and mistreats everyone around him.

That said, from my own personal experience, a lot of film students are jerks who treat everyone them like crap.  So, in this case, I think you can make the argument that Cover Me, Babe works well as a documentary.  The fact of the matter is that not every film student is going to grow up to be the next Scorsese or Tarantino or Linklater.  Some of them are going to turn out to be like Tony, running along the beach and wondering why no one agrees with him about George Stevens being a less interesting director in the 50s than he was in the 30s.  As a docudrama about the worst people that you’re likely to meet while hanging out on campus, Cover Me, Babe is certainly effective.  Otherwise, the film is a pretentious mess that’s done in by its unlikable protagonist.  Everyone in the film says that Tony has what it takes to be an important director but, if I had to guess, I imagine he probably ended up shooting second unit footage for Henry Jaglom before eventually retiring from the industry and opening up his own vegan restaurant in Vermont.  That’s just my guess.

The poster has little to do with the film.

A Movie A Day #166: Warning Sign (1985, directed by Hal Barwood)


The world might end, again.

There is a laboratory in the middle of the desert.  While everyone thinks that the lab is developing pesticides, it is actually a secret government facility where the scientists have developed a chemical that will turn anyone exposed to it into a homicidal maniac.  While the scientists are celebrating the success of their project, Dr. Tom Schmidt (G.W. Bailey — yes, Captain Harris from the Police Academy movies) steps on a vial and releases the chemical.  The lab locks down and the army (led by Yaphet Kotto) arrives.  The government wants to let the scientists kill each other off but a pregnant security guard (Kathleen Quinlan) is also trapped in the lab and her husband, the county sheriff (Sam Waterston), is determined to get her out.

Warning Sign was blandly directed by Hal Barwood, a longtime associate of both George Lucas and Steven Spielberg.  (Barwood wrote the script for Spielberg’s The Sugarland Express and designed the title sequence for Lucas’s THX 1138.)  Barwood tried to take a very Spielbergian approach to Warning Sign, a mistake because successfully imitating Spielberg is easier said than done.  Replace the shark with germs and the ocean with a lab on lock down and Warning Sign is  like Jaws, without any of the suspense or humor.  Sam Waterston’s germaphobic sheriff feels like a knock off of Roy Scheider’s aquaphobic police chief while Jeffrey DeMunn, as an alcoholic scientist, stands in for both Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw.    With the violence and the gore kept to a minimum, this is one of the most tasteful zombie films ever made.  Just compare it to George Romero’s The Crazies (or even the remake) to see how needlessly safe Warning Sign is.

44 Days of Paranoia #30: Nixon (dir by Oliver Stone)


For our latest entry in the 44 Days of Paranoia, we take a look at Oliver Stone’s 1995 presidential biopic, Nixon.

Nixon tells the life story of our 37th President, Richard Nixon.  The only President to ever resign in order to avoid being impeached, Nixon remains a controversial figure to this day.  As portrayed in this film, Nixon (played by Anthony Hopkins) was an insecure, friendless child who was dominated by his ultra religious mother (Mary Steenburgen) and who lived in the shadow of his charismatic older brother (Tony Goldwyn).  After he graduated college, Nixon married Pat (Joan Allen), entered politics, made a name for himself as an anti-communist, and eventually ended up winning the U.S. presidency.  The film tells us that, regardless of his success, Nixon remained a paranoid and desperately lonely man who eventually allowed the sycophants on his staff (including James Woods) to break the law in an attempt to destroy enemies both real and imagined.  Along the way, Nixon deals with a shady businessman (Larry Hagman), who expects to be rewarded for supporting Nixon’s political career, and has an odd confrontation with a young anti-war protester who has figured out that Nixon doesn’t have half the power that everyone assumes he does.

Considering that his last few films have been W., Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, and SavagesI think it’s understandable that I’m often stunned to discover that, at one point in the distant past, Oliver Stone actually was a worthwhile director.  JFK, for instance, is effective propaganda.  Nixon, which feels a lot like an unofficial sequel to JFK, is a much messier film than JFK but — as opposed to something like Savages — it’s still watchable and occasionally even thought-provoking.  Thanks to Hopkins’ performance and, it must be admitted, Stone’s surprisingly even-handed approach to the character, Nixon challenges our assumptions about one of the most infamous and villified figures in American history.  It forces us to decide for ourselves whether Nixon was a monster or a victim of circumstances that spiraled out of his control.  If you need proof of the effectiveness of the film’s approach, just compare Stone’s work on Nixon with his work on his next Presidential biography, the far less effective W.

(I should admit, however, that I’m a political history nerd and therefore, this film was specifically designed to appeal to me.  For me, half the fun of Nixon was being able to go, “Oh, that’s supposed to be Nelson Rockefeller!”)

If I had to compare the experience of watching Nixon to anything, I would compare it to taking 10 capsules of Dexedrine and then staying up for five days straight without eating.  The film zooms from scene-to-scene, switching film stocks almost at random while jumping in and out of time, and not worrying too much about establishing any sort of narrative consistency.  Surprisingly nuanced domestic scenes between Anthony Hopkins and Joan Allen are followed by over-the-top scenes where Bob Hoskins lustily stares at a White House guard or Sam Waterston’s eyes briefly turn completely black as he discusses the existence of evil.  When Nixon gives his acceptance speech to the Republican Convention, the Republican delegates are briefly replaced by images of a world on fire.  Familiar actors wander through the film, most of them only popping up for a scene or two and then vanishing.  The end result is a film that both engages and exhausts the viewer, a hallucinatory journey through Stone’s version of American history.

Nixon is a mess but it’s a fascinating mess.

Other Entries In The 44 Days of Paranoia 

  1. Clonus
  2. Executive Action
  3. Winter Kills
  4. Interview With The Assassin
  5. The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald
  6. JFK
  7. Beyond The Doors
  8. Three Days of the Condor
  9. They Saved Hitler’s Brain
  10. The Intruder
  11. Police, Adjective
  12. Burn After Reading
  13. Quiz Show
  14. Flying Blind
  15. God Told Me To
  16. Wag the Dog
  17. Cheaters
  18. Scream and Scream Again
  19. Capricorn One
  20. Seven Days In May
  21. Broken City
  22. Suddenly
  23. Pickup on South Street
  24. The Informer
  25. Chinatown
  26. Compliance
  27. The Lives of Others
  28. The Departed
  29. A Face In The Crowd

44 Days of Paranoia #19: Capricorn One (dir by Peter Hyams)


Last night, the temperature plunged here in Texas.  When I woke up this morning, I was confronted with a world that was literally frozen.  Needless to say, nobody in Dallas went to work today.  Instead, we all sat in our houses and tried to keep ourselves entertained.  I kept myself occupied by watching a film that was initially released way back in 1978 and which takes place in my home state.

The name of that film was Capricorn One and it’s the latest entry in the 44 Days of Paranoia.

Capricorn One begins with three astronauts preparing to take the fist manned space flight to Mars.  James Brolin is the stoic leader.  Sam Waterston is the guy who has a joke for every occasion.  And O.J. Simpson is … well, O.J. really doesn’t have much of a personality.  He’s pretty much just along for the ride.

However, it turns out that there really isn’t going to be a ride.  Just as the countdown begins, the astronauts are ordered to leave the capsule.  They are then transported to secret base in the Texas desert.  It’s here that they have a meeting with the Head of NASA, who is played by Hal Holbrook.  (It’s simply not a 70s conspiracy film if Hal Holbrook isn’t somehow involved).  Holbrook proceeds to deliver a stirring monologue where he talks about how he and Brolin have always dreamed of sending a manned flight to Mars.  However, as Holbrook explains, the life support system on the crew’s ship was faulty.  If Holbrook had allowed them to be launched, they would have died as soon as they left the Earth’s atmosphere.  However, if the mission had been canceled then there was a chance that the President would use that cancellation as an excuse to cut NASA’s funding.

So, as Holbrook explains, an empty spaceship has been launched into space.  As far as the American public is concerned, the three astronauts are currently on their way to Mars.  Now, in order to save the space program, they are going to have to fake the mission.  In a studio, a fake alien landscape has been set up and it’s from that studio that Brolin, Waterston, and Simpson will pretend to explore Mars.

Brolin, Waterston, and Simpson reluctantly agree to cooperate with the plan.  However, after doing the first fake broadcast, Brolin starts to have second thoughts.  Realizing that he can’t trust the three astronauts to keep a secret, Holbrook announces that the capsule’s heat shields failed during re-entry and that the crew of Capricorn One is now dead.  Now, all he has to do is have the three of them killed for real.

Meanwhile, a NASA technician (Robert Walden) stumbles onto evidence of the deception.  He subsequently vanishes but not before he tells reporter Elliott Gould about his suspicions.  While the three astronauts try to escape from Holbrook’s agents, Gould tries to find out what really happened to Capricorn One.

It’s probably half-an-hour too long, the plot is full of holes (the least of which being why Holbrook waited until after he had announced the fake deaths to order the real deaths), and director Peter Hyams allows a few scenes to run on and on while others seem to end with a jarring abruptness.  However, for the most part, Capricorn One is a well-acted and solidly entertaining film.  However, there are two things that make Capricorn One especially memorable.

First off, Capricorn One features one of the most exciting action sequences that I have  ever seen.  It occurs while Gould is investigating Walden’s disappearance.  After visiting Walden’s apartment and discovering that it’s inhabited by a woman who claims to have never heard of his friend, Gould is driving away when he discovers that his brakes have been disabled.  The car then starts to accelerate and Gould finds himself desperately trying to regain control as the car careens through the streets of Houston.  The scene is shot almost entirely from Gould’s point-of-view and, for five minutes, we watch as everything from other cars to unlucky pedestrians come hurtling towards the car.  For those few minutes, when the viewer and Gould become one, Capricorn One is not only exciting but it feels genuinely dangerous as well.

Secondly, Capricorn One features some of the oddest dialogue imaginable.  Peter Hyams not only directed the film but he also wrote the screenplay as well.  Watching the film, one gets the feelings that Hyams was so in love with his dialogue and with all of his quirky characters that he simply could not bring himself to cut anything or anyone.  As a result, the film is full of lengthy monologues.  When the characters speak to each other, they don’t have conversations as much as they trade quips.  Characters like Gould’s ex-wife (played by Karen Black) and his editor (David Doyle) show up for a scene or two, deliver monologues that are only tangibly related to the film’s plot, and then vanish.  Sam Waterston ends up telling the world’s longest joke while he climbs a mountain in the desert.  Towards the end of the film, Telly Savalas (who was in my favorite Mario Bava film, Lisa and the Devil) shows up as a foul-tempered crop duster and engages in a long argument with Gould who, despite being a reporter, never bothers to question why Savalas would have a crop dusting business in the middle of the desert.

But here’s the thing — it works.  As odd as some of the dialogue may be and as superfluous as some of the action is to the overall plot, it still all works to the film’s benefit.  The constant quirkiness works to keep the audience off-balance and to give Capricorn One its own unique rhythm.

Capricorn One — see it now before Michael Bay remakes it.

Other Entries In The 44 Days of Paranoia 

  1. Clonus
  2. Executive Action
  3. Winter Kills
  4. Interview With The Assassin
  5. The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald
  6. JFK
  7. Beyond The Doors
  8. Three Days of the Condor
  9. They Saved Hitler’s Brain
  10. The Intruder
  11. Police, Adjective
  12. Burn After Reading
  13. Quiz Show
  14. Flying Blind
  15. God Told Me To
  16. Wag the Dog
  17. Cheaters
  18. Scream and Scream Again

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.