Category Archives: Reviews

The Newsroom (Season 1, Episode 3)

My fears from my earlier review about whether “The Newsroom” could prevent itself from entering into an episodic formula were put to rest in this episode, and much like Will McAvoy’s character at the end of the last episode, I am in.

First things first, what I liked about this episode which relieved doubts I had about the direction of the show was the fact that at the beginning of the episode, they pretty much drop a grenade, or as close to a grenade as you would get in a show about the news without actually doing so. They then go about the rest of the episode dealing with the aftermath of that grenade, and the path that is beset by that bomb that blew up on live TV (The figurative one, not the actual one).

Will McAvoy, fueled by Mackenzie McHale, locks in on anhilliating the Tea Party Movement in this episode. He enters a mode we have gotten glimpses of but not truely seen in earlier episodes where his passion for truth is only matched by his disgust of misinformation, and as such, he employs his wits and intellectual fortitude to disclose plain hard facts.

I appreciated Sam Waterston’s performance in this episode a lot. Playing Charlie Skinner, Will and Mackenzies boss so to speak, Charlie must serve as a bridge between News Night and AWM. Putting himself in a sore position, Charlie must decide how far he can take this new approach to the news, which is alienating AWM from its corporate funders and supporting politicians. Wielding little power, Charlie is given an ultimatum.

The show sets up what seems to be the primary conflict of the season, 3 episodes in. If this show was supposed to run just a single season, I would say it is late to do so, but I expect it to be around for more than that. Season 2 filming is currently being scheduled, which means there is a long battle ahead to ensure News Night remains the independant news it is attempting to be, and I am excited to follow their quest.

Also, just to add more to this recounting of an episode I think was one of the most stylized and individual from the three I’ve seen so far, I really liked the interplay between Alison Pill’s character Maggie Jordan and John Gallagher Jr’s character Jim Harper. From earlier episodes, it seems they will be the heart of the show, much like how Donna and Josh were in “The West Wing”. I look forward to seeing their romance unfold.

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The Newsroom (Season 1, Episode 2)

Coming off a strong pilot, some shows fall into a trap of attempting to recreate the magic of its premier in the process ignoring story development. Others begin their development in ways that steer too far away from the pilot that it leaves the viewer questioning whether the pilot was in fact as strong as it seemed. “The Newsroom” balances between these two potentials disastrous outcomes, and succeeds in retaining its audience, including myself in this case, for future episodes by allowing them to invest in the show’s characters in a more substantial way than most other shows.

This episode looks to provide history to some of our characters. By attempting to draw parallels between some of the major characters in the show, I felt it stepped off the gas, falling into cliché story arches that shows which put on the façade of being innovative tend to do. Its kind of a shame because the stories Aaron Sorkin, the creator of the show, attempts to stitch together in some way are independently very interesting stories. To cheapen it by tying everything together at the end of the episode makes me wonder whether this will be a running theme for the rest of the series.

Battlestar Galactica and The West Wing fell into similar traps, while a show like The Wire could have done so as well, but managed to avoid that fate. For example, in The West Wing, every episode would introduce a conflict, and the characters, as they had been developed over time, managed to address the conflict by the end of the episode allowing the show to move onto new issues in the next episode.

Mackenzie does in this episode explain that the news team would not be covering the topic they covered in the first episode to the same degree, claiming that they were trying to push the news as the immediate objective rather than fluffy pieces with political and ideological spin, and they do cover new topics in this episode, however there is more to this show than the news, and I hope they dive more into a serialized story rather than the episodic style.

To me, serialized stories which are rich in plot and complex characters is what separates decent but mediocre shows from masterpieces. The Wire is a masterpiece, and “Battlestar Galactica” could have been a masterpiece if not for a lot of episodes which fell into the trap of segments being dedicated to a formulaic “problem of the week”. I believe “Friday Night Lights” was a great example of approaching the serialized element while maintaining some semblance of pace and digestibility  If “The Newsroom” can carve out a niche of its own, and do so in a way that allows its characters to develop with the story rather than through stunted stories spanning no more than a week, it will live up to its potential. I have high expectations for this show, but I am fairly sure it will be able to deliver it.


The Last Samurai

This is a very personal film. I believe when I first watched it, it’s power and message stuck with me for many years, perhaps shaping the person I am today, and having had the chance to revisit it recently I can see why.

It is a beautifully made film, elegant music played to captivating imagery.  Directed and co-written by Edward Zwick, starring Tom Cruise as Nathan Algren and Ken Watanabe as Katsumoto, the leader of the last samurai clan, the film attempts to capture the legacy of samurai in Japan as they were annihilated by an evolving world with new-found pressures. Politics and history aside, the film’s goal to me is to represent the fact that in changing times, one mustn’t forget their tradition and heritage, and as is said in the film, service, discipline, and compassion.

Watanabe and Cruise take this film to another level. Ken Watanabe, who is perhaps today’s most recognizable Japanese actor, delivers a powerhouse performance. As leader, Katsumoto must both serve to preserve the legacy and tradition of the Samurai, but also fulfil his duty in service to the Emperor of Japan. Cruise’s Algren embarks on a personal journey to find his place in the world that seemingly has only one purpose for him, which is to kill.

As a teenager watching this movie on my computer, I was floored by a world I knew nothing about, but wanted to explore. The film draws clear parallels between genocide waged on Native Americans for North America and extermination of rebel Samurai troops deemed to be a threat to the unification of Japan and modernization of its forces. I think this parallel being drawn brought me much closer to understanding the history of our world, both the beautiful and the cruel. I learned about honour and discipline, and what it means to have strength and resolution.

Looking back after so many years seeing a movie like this and understanding its impact on the way I have lived my life, I wonder how many other films have done the same, and not just for me, but for others like me.

If you have not seen this movie yet, you should try to get to it as soon as you can. You will not be disappointed if you do. If you have already seen it, watch it again because with these kinds of movies, A.) They are just magic, and B.) You might learn something about yourself if you treat it as a chance to reflect.


The Newsroom (Season 1, Episode 1)

From Aaron Sorkin, Emmy and Oscar winning acclaimed television and film writer of “The West Wing“, “The Social Network“, and “Moneyball” comes his latest work, “The Newsroom“. The show on HBO is a drama set in as one might assume a newsroom. Starring amongst others Jeff Daniels (Will McAvoy), Emily Mortimer (Mackenzie MacHale), Alison Pill (Maggie Jordan), John Gallagher Jr (Jim Harper), the cast comes together in the fast paced drama providing a glimpse into the the daily dealings of AWN’s 8PM to 9PM news show from both sides of the camera.

Jeff Daniels stars as Will McAvoy, a headline news anchor famously known as the Leno of news appreciated for his tendency to not be a “bothersome reporter”. During the introductory scene of the pilot, McAvoy is lured into abandoning his charming on-screen persona, and his world built begins to crumble slowly soon after. We meet him again 3 weeks later after a tailspin vacation, where his news floor is no longer the one he once held domain over. McAvoy must now deal with those changes.

Pilots are meant to do three things.

First, a pilot is meant to introduce the premise, or idea behind the show. This show is about a veteran news anchor attempting to reassert himself in the profession which wants to spit him out, but the one person to give him a chance forces him to deal with his emotional baggage preventing him from that resolution. It’s an interesting premise, and one that is likely to be dynamic as more episodes unfold and the story becomes more clear.

Second, the pilot is meant to introduce its characters, or at the very least, layout potential arches that may be on the near horizon. There are many characters introduced in the pilot. Some are more important than others naturally. The show’s strength, being an Aaron Sorkin drama, lies in its ability to develop characters to a point where their personalities can naturally exude banter where otherwise they may not. This was one of the reasons “The West Wing” was so popular, and why “The Social Network” worked as well as it did. “The Newsroom” works towards developing Daniels’ and Mortimer’s characters well. Will McAvoy is the best written character in the earlier arts of the show, however Emily Mortimer begins to steal scenes left right and centre soon after.

To balance Daniels’ strong portrayal as Will McAvoy, we are introduced to Mackenzie MacHale, played by Emily Mortimer, who may best be known for her role in “Lars and the Real Girl” alongside Ryan Gosling. Together, their combined moxie adds energy to the show, reminiscent of other character’s in Sorkin written pieces, namely, Josh Lyman (played by the admirable Bradley Whitford)  in “The West Wing” and Mark Zuckerberg (played by Jesse Eisenberg for which he received an Academy Award nomination for outstanding performance as an actor in a lead role) in “The Social Network”. Its this fact that the pilot feels as successful as it does. By meeting strength with strength, MacHale and McAvoy can sustain their force over future episodes, rather than have their dialogue fall flat like it did in early seasons of “The West Wing” or in “The Social Network” where Zuckerberg didn’t really have somebody as strong to challenge him, and though entertaining to watch, felt unfair.

The third purpose of a pilot is to get the viewer to the point where they want to see what happens next. The pilot accomplishes its purpose for this writer. I am eagerly looking forward to the next episode because it seems like it will revitalize public opinion on news media much as “The West Wing” did for American politics. I hope the themes covered in future episodes prove to be just as resilient to time as “The West Wing” was and continues to be.

If you’re looking to start a show, join McAvoy, MacHale, and myself on this journey, an ongoing conversation on what will hopefully be a fine show for many years to come.


The Fountain(2006)

The Fountain“, directed by Darren Aronofsky, captures the essence of story-telling in a very profound way. Starring Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz as the main protagonists in this seemingly non-linear story, the film unfolds in a very strange and potentially inaccessible way for audiences. “The Fountain” features a salad bowl of ideas and themes that most film-makers might/should stay away from for fear of loosing focus on a core message. It also pushes against the traditional style of story telling, letting the audience become a participant in the examination of the film’s message. What I think really works with “The Fountain” are two things. Firstly, Darren Aronofsky manages to hold onto all the different strings that are inherent in a story of such magnitude and weave those strings together to become a taut rope from which the viewer can follow only after sitting through the entire movie. And secondly, the place where the story takes you is different each time you view it because of the variety of themes that emerge within the story over the course of the film. Darren Aronofsky, with “The Fountain”, has created a very sophisticated and intricate bridge that takes you somewhere different everytime you cross it.

I feel these things work because of a variety of reasons. First things first, the acting was fabulous. I cannot express how heartfelt Hugh Jackman’s and Rachel Weisz’s performances were in this movie. The emotion their characters exude pour through the screen and hold onto you until you can’t help but connect with them. I was really impressed by Jackman in this movie, and knowing a little bit more about the production of the movie learning about the challenges that Aronofsky had to go through to get the picture made, I can’t see another actor in his role (Brad Pitt was supposed to play Jackman’s character). It, to me, has become his defining character, perhaps equivalent in emotional outpouring and as close to achieving a connection with what could be considered a soul as Stallone in “Rocky” or Rourke in “The Wrestler“. This by no means is an action movie, despite elements that might be considered action, nor is this of the science fiction genre despite those elements present in the movie as well. It fits into its own class of movies, and carves out a place in movie lore for itself and a few other films that transcend traditional genres.

The essence of story telling is the ability for a story to capture and hold onto an audience in a very real and tangible way,yet allow that viewer to  make up their own mind on the overarching messages within the story. “The Fountain” does this in spades, and I think deserves to be watched by anyone self-identifying as someone who enjoys stories, but brings with them an open mind and the patience to make up their mind after the end credits cease to roll. It is definitely not as accessible as most of the other movies I mention on this blog, but should they go into a viewing of the movie with the right mindset, they will feel compelled to watch this one over and over again.

This is a must watch. Stop reading and rent/buy/borrow this to get started on your own personal voyage through it, and then watch it again, and again, and again, and learn more and more about yourself in the process.


Shame(2011)

I have been meaning to watch this movie for a very long time and only recently got to it. Starring Michael Fassbender, who is quickly becoming one of my favourite actors in the business right now, this is a film about the emotional pressures an addiction can have on the human psyche. Also starring Carey Mulligan as his sister, the film chronicles a very short period in the life of Brandon Sullivan (Fassbender’s character) as he grapples sexual addiction and potentially post-traumatic stresses from past sexual abuse. What is really neat about this film is that there is no explicit message saying addiction, whether it is sexual or another intoxicant, is inherently bad, it presents it within a greater story of the life of a single man. His life and lifestyle is neither good nor bad, it just is. Its a bold way to showcase sexual addiction, and one that many film-makers may shy away from because to do it right would alienate a large audience of movie-goers.

I am not here to talk about the story of the movie though. You can go ahead and watch “Shame” because the story is fantastic, and one that really holds onto you and doesn’t let go until the very bitter end. I would rather talk about the style and significance of it.

This movie was shot beautifully. The lighting was perfect, and camera work really something unbelievable. It felt like I was both watching this man’s life from a distance as well as from his living room. I felt I knew him because of the closeness and candidness of the way it was filmed. Often when watching a movie, there are moments that lose your attention. You check your phone for new messages or you look down at your drink to make sure you don’t knock it over when reaching out for it. This was a movie where I was fully captivated from beginning to end, and it was because looking away felt like I was disappointing it, letting it down by not paying attention (perhaps similar to getting caught fooling around in a class by your favourite professor), a shame of some sort.

It takes more than camera work to achieve this. It takes vision. The director provides that vision, clarity and refinement that allows a movie to grow a voice and speak to the viewer. This movie turned me onto Steve McQueen and some of his other work. I am blown away by his talent. Judging by his previous work, he is due to become a giant in film-making because of his ability to manage the different moving parts of his films with such tenacity that it becomes a single organism with a distinct voice. It happened in “Hunger” (also starring Michael Fassbender), it has happened in “Shame”, and I am sure it will happen in “Twelve Years a Slave”, starring Brad Pitt, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Giamatti, as well as Michael Fassbender again. The McQueen-Fassbender combination is quickly becoming a go to of the likes of Scorsese-De Niro and Cronenberg-Mortensen.

McQueen is an emerging force, and someone who is shaking thinks up and not looking back. His filmography so far, as listed on IMDB, is unbelievable. The films he currently has to his name are all highly recommended, and I look forward to him carving out a place in the pantheon of elite directors very soon if not already so.

I recommend watching “Shame”, but I want to extend the recommendation to all of Steve McQueen’s other movies as well. Enjoy. I know you will.


Prometheus (2012)

I’m not sure how best to describe how I am feeling right now after sitting through this marathon of movie going experience. It is the first time in a very long time that I have written on this blog, however after watching the film by Ridley Scott, I feel compelled to do so. There is a lot that works really well in this movie. The story it is trying to tell is so grand, and the universe it aims to create is one rich with mythology and intrigue that you can’t help but be captivated by the world presented from the opening frame (similar in some ways to the chills I got from the opening frame of Avatar). What brings this movie down from the stars however is the fact that in creating such a story, failing to treat the many aspects of the story adequately prevent any aspect of the story to achieve greatness. The failure of “Prometheus” is that the piece of pie it decided to bite off, one rivalling other great science fiction films from yesteryear, was too big to chew, and it ends up spitting a lot of the story out in an incoherent way, leaving a bitter-sweet taste in the movie-goer’s mouth (pardon for the extended metaphor).

There are moments of greatness in the movie. Seeing David (Michael Fassbender’s character) meander through the titular spaceship, as the titular spaceship meanders through space, is fun and brings one back to other great science fiction moments in history (read 2001 A Space Odyssey or Moon). Noomi Rapace’s Elizabeth Shaw is reminiscent of Ellen Ripley, the lead protagonist of the other great Alien movies (the original and the original sequel), and perhaps the singular reason why those movies were as fantastic as they were. She brings with her this real-world identity thrust into the outrageously dangerous. The moments shared between Noomi Rapace’s and Michael Fassbender’s characters are the best in the movie. The movie, unlike other Alien movies does not focus exclusively on the aliens, but rather on the human (and cyborgian) elements that make up characters. Other characters are not treated with the same level of detail, despite the fact that many of them are supposed to play large parts in the story’s ultimate significant messages.

The significance of the story becomes many things at that point. It becomes a story about the quest to find one’s maker, the search for life, redemption, answers, and reasons why. Near the end of the film, the story adds elements including the meaning of mortality, the nature of human existence, and circle of life. The movie is true in a way, there is no true archetype that humans actually fall into, and attempting to capture or sway the variables that make up human existence into easily recognizable buckets is foolhardy. The movie however is a movie, and to forget that it is trying to tell a story within a limited time period means never really telling any story to completion, or even making progress on any arch at all.

This is a movie that could have benefited along this one issue from two very different angles. The movie could have been more refined in its story-telling, choosing certain areas to focus on, and personally, it could have blown any one of those stories out of the water if it had attempted to do so. The second option that could have been undertaken, to maintain the level of depth and richness that this kind of story so deserves, is to make it a true epic, and not feel confined to a 2.5 hour limit. The story is there, there just wasn’t enough time to tell it.

I can say that at the end of the movie, I did enjoy it, and would recommend it to see in theatres. I saw it in AVX (essentially IMAX 3D). It was definitely a well-filmed movie. I would however implore people to suspend their high expectations if they have them while going into the movie. I had knew that I would have high expectations for the movie had I watched the trailers and viral videos that were released in the marketing of the movie, so I decided to forego those, and jump straight into the film without any outside influences to generate hype. Internally generated hype is a lot easier to suspend than hype that is drilled into you through images and media with the intent of selling you the movie. Instead, I would suggest going into the theatre with an open mind, clear head, and you will be pleasantly surprised by a highly enjoyable drama with elements of science fiction, horror, and just a tad of comedy (Idris Elba steals his scenes).

Highly recommended, just not for the reasons why you think it is highly recommended.