Friday, June 29, 2012

The Newsroom

Got a chance to see writer Aaron Sorkin's new show on HBO last Sunday night. If you've read any of my previous posts about Sorkin you would know that I have a soft spot for the guy and his work. One of my favorite shows still is the West Wing and some of my favorite flicks that he wrote; A Few Good Men, Moneyball, The American President, Charlie Wilson's War & Social Network are all pretty fantastic. Now I realize that not everyone loves the guy. Many Conservatives think he's an arrogant Liberal shill who thinks he's smarter than he is. Many critics get annoyed that he writes similar characters and for the most part all his characters speak with the same voice, the sharp, intelligent rat-a-tat dialogue. All of which are in evidence with this new show. In fact his opening sequence pretty much copies from his previous failed show Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. In that show actor Judd Hirsch's character, who is running an SNL like show, disrupts the program he is producing, comes on air and voices his Howard Beale complaint about the deterioration of Art and our lobotomized culture. In the Newsroom main character Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) is considered to be the Jay Leno of news anchors he supposedly never takes a political position and it's apparent why people watch him. While on a panel with other talking heads he's asked a question as to why the U.S. is the greatest country in the world and he has his moment of clarity. It sounds like a rant but he is obviously pointing out the harsh truth about the path our country has been taking over the last 40 years or so. So after watching both you can see the similarities but the after part is very different, Hirsch's character is fired and Daniel's character merely loses most of his staff and has to re-invent himself. The similarities with Studio 60 didn't bother me so much but for the first time I was a little annoyed with the pacing and some of the dialogue. I really liked the cast but the first half hour was a lot of speechifying and a lot of these characters felt re-used, I thought I saw a bit of Sam Seaborn a possible Donna Moss and this is probably the first time where I really noticed they were all speaking with Sorkin's voice.

Where the show really started to cook was after the new producer arrived, Mackenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer) and we got to the crux of the show which will be to report on real news not made up news. They started with the oil spill in the Gulf from 2010 as they try to build the narrative with as much facts as possible. I really thought it was great to see part of the process and to see the info trickle out as the disaster unfolds and the team gets to work. This is where Sorkin excels at his craft it's one of the things that made West Wing so damn interesting was that behind the curtain look. Yes there are speeches and a rosy colored view about politics but you also got to see the process of a democracy in action. Where the West Wing tried to pay homage to our fore fathers Washington, Franklin and Adams. The Newsroom intends to do with Cronkite and Murrow.

I'm going to keep watching this show and see where they are going to go with it. I really do like the overall arc of the pilot and I hope that the real news portion continues. They do have an outstanding cast and I hope that they give these characters a little more time to build. At the moment the character I like the least is McAvoy and that is a problem, hopefully he'll grow on me I have faith in Sorkin on that.  I also hope that he tones down the speeches a bit I felt they went a little overboard in the pilot and it takes you out of the narrative if everyone is just doing that. In the West Wing most of the time the big speeches came at the end of the episode mostly from the President which always, to me, made a lot of sense. If everyone is doing it no one is actually having a conversation and it's going to get dull fast.

So if you get HBO and you want something smart, entertaining and the potential to be a strong narrative about news culture then check out the Newsroom on HBO on Sunday nights at 10 pm.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted

I took the little guy to see Madagascar 3 this past weekend, we had a couple choices I would have preferred to see Brave but Tamar really wanted to see that with us so we went with choice number 2. I had previously shown him the trailers and every time he would fall into a convulsive laughter every time he heard Chris Rock's Zebra belt out his "Afro Circus" song.  The trailer was cute but for me a little grating especially when you have a 4 year old child without an off switch regarding the aforementioned song. Still I always enjoy taking him to see a movie on the big screen especially watching his eyes get big with anticipation when the film starts. Nothing better than that.

Unfortunately I'm not as familiar with the series except that I remember in the first one a group of animals escape from the Central Park Zoo and find themselves in Africa with intentions to return to the Big Apple. Never saw the second one but I'm assuming that is what they tried to do and were left stranded. So for this third one the Alex the Lion (Ben Stiller), Marty the Zebra (Chris Rock), Melman the Giraffe (David Schwimmer) and Gloria the Hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) want to track the techno friendly Penguins to France so they can all go home. Once they hit Europe they find themselves being hunted by a doggedly obsessive Animal Control Officer Captain DuBois (Frances McDormand). The chase leads the group to the train yards where the group joins a troupe of Circus animals in order to get out of the country. You've got a tough Russian knife throwing Tiger named Vitaly (Bryan Cranston), a trapeeze artist cheetah, Gia (Jessica Chastain) as well as a juggling goofy sea lion named Stephano (Martin Short). The hijinks are perfect for the little guys between 2 and 5. This isn't like the Pixar films that has a little something for everybody although there are a few scattered quips here and there to give the older folks a chuckle. It's a cute little sequel and the little guy seemed to enjoy it quite a bit.

Dreamworks Animation seems to be getting better and better the landscapes and character renderings looked great.  I haven't really been a big fan of their style of animation they use but I can appreciate the end result. I didn't see it in 3D but I personally don't think it's necessary, especially with kids under the age of 5, they'll never be able to keep the glasses on the whole time. The pacing and jokes are fairly consistent with some of the more amusing parts lying with Sacha Baron Cohen's Julien (The Lemur) and his infatuation with a giant bike riding Bear. There is also that pesky "Afro Circus" song that makes it's way into not just one but at least three scenes that will cause your child to break out into song over and over and over again until you find yourself wanting to locate Chris Rock and--discuss the impact of this song on your children. And trust me it doesn't go away after an hour it can go on for a while so be prepared for that. But it's a cute flick for the whole family so if you find yourself stuck inside on a rainy day with nothing to do take the kids to see Madagascar, just be prepared to be serenaded all day, if you can deal with that then by all means take'em out to the movies.

My Grade: 2 1/2 buckets


Thursday, June 07, 2012

Snow White and the Huntsman

This is the second Snow White movie to be released this year. They are both pretty different and frankly I'm not going to get into the similarities given that the other one is a Relativity title. Suffice it to say that the Relativity title Mirror Mirror was really a kids movie and this one was darker and more akin to Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones.  Personally I think the trailers for Snow White and the Huntsman were damn effective especially for capitalizing on the Game of Thrones. It seems to do tough/gritty/magic with an effortlessness that seemed to elude the Clash and Wrath of the Titans flicks. But when the movie opened the reviews started to come in and it seemed like whatever hype that came out of the trailers the critics seem to be calling bullshit. The opening weekend was actually pretty successful, they opened to a solid 56 million, unseating Men in Black 3. According to Nikki Finke Hollywood can breathe a sigh of relief because this movie exceeded expectations, yippie! I guess it means we can expect more films over the next two years or so at least, thanks Nikki, I feel so much better about the future of my industry.

Like all of the fairy tale versions from before an evil Queen named Ravenna (Charlize Theron) seduces the nice King of the land and plots to take over his throne and imprison his daughter Snow White (Kristen Stewart) until she can solidify her power. Snow White escapes and the Queen sends out a Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) to bring her back so she may devour her heart and apparently stay young forever.

Let me start off by saying I generally enjoyed the movie, it was beautifully filmed and the effects were pretty great. The performances were solid especially Hemsworth and Theron, it was appropriately dark and gritty and it was not silly in the least, so now you are thinking, ok so when is he getting to the but in his review--The pacing, oh the pacing, they totally botched the flow of this flick. This thing was all over the place and it didn't always feel like the Director knew where he wanted to go. He established plot threads and either dismissed them early or kept them dangling along until the end where they drop off altogether. The romance, or lack thereof,  between Snow and her childhood friend William (Sam Claflin) was poorly executed. They wanted to establish some kind of relationship between the two but there is no development at all between them and when they are reunited as adults it felt forced, especially when the Huntsman comes into the mix in a very odd love triangle. It felt in the beginning as if the Huntsman would act as a father figure or mentor to Snow but near the end of the film it seems to change and all of a sudden she seems to be into him romantically. I know the aren't related or anything but since the setup implied a father/daughter type relationship between them when she started giving him googly eyes it started to feel a little uncomfortable. And the way it ends leaves it even more ambiguous about what's going on with the three of them which frankly was a little annoying. But in the films defense I later heard that they are working on a sequel that I assume will clear up this love triangle business. Which leads me to kind of complain about Kristen Stewart, this girl was completely miscast in this film. The girl seems to have trouble smiling and she's playing a character that is described as a happy cheerful creature who is incapable of hatred. Really, this dour girl who can't seem to walk straight without hunching over who looks deeply depressed at almost all times except when she was dancing with one of the dwarfs. It's not her fault, really, Universal should have known better then to cast her but she just looks out of place then entire film especially when she has to shine in front of scene stealers like Chris Hemsworth and Charlize Theron and of course those dwarves, especially Ian McShane, Ray Winstone & Nick Frost.

Charlize was truly fantastic as she chewed every bit of scenery she could get her hands on. She really took it to the next level and you were always just waiting to see how far she was going to push it. I could tell that the director, Rupert Sanders, came from commercials cause that scene where the Queen is coming out of the milk looked just like one of those Dove commercials. Personally, I wish the guy had stayed there. He wasn't ready for a movie of this magnitude in my opinion. He did a great job with the visuals but he seemed to be lost at sea when it came to the pacing of the film and the direction of the actors. Overall it was a fun Summer blockbuster, it looks great and takes some interesting twists from the original Snow White story, unfortunately there isn't much character to work but until Prometheus and Spidey there aren't too many new options.

Grade: 3 Buckets