Newsroom: Changing the News One Shouting Match at a Time

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So, last Sunday was the series premiere of the new HBO show Newsroom. I realize how late this review actually is, but this is the first free moment I had all week so just deal with it. I’ve been waiting, with excitement, for this show to premiere since commercials first started popping up for it, and I have to say, it did not disappoint. I really liked it, maybe even loved, but I’m not ready to make that commitment yet.

CASTING

Let’s start with the pros for the show, and the first pro has to go to the casting. Jeff Daniels did a great job as Will McAvoy. He was able to portray a character that has a versatile personality, ranging from mild witticisms to loud outbursts. And even when he’s blatantly wrong about a situation, you still kind of feel for the guy. It did take some time for me to stop thinking of Daniels as he was in Arachnophobia though; many a time I was just waiting for a spider to jump out of a corner of the newsroom and bite someone, followed by John Goodman storming in and burning the fucker. Obviously that didn’t happen.

Then we have the lovely Emily Mortimer playing Mackenzie Machale, a spirited woman who has spent the better part of the last three years covering various warzones in the middle east. She’s obnoxious, whiny, overly nosey, broke Will McAvoy’s heart, and was just hired as his new Executive Producer, without McAvoy’s knowledge or approval. This leads to an inevitable brouhaha as the two characters are forced to resolve their differences, temporarily at least, so they could get through the show (till the end of the week at least as McAvoy plans to fire her first chance he gets). Again, Mortimor does a great job with her character, giving her wit, earnestness, and a commanding presence when the fate of the show calls upon it.

For the most part I have the same  compliments to say about the rest of the cast, they all did a fairly good, if not great job, with their characters. My one gray area at the moment (Olivia Munn comes on next week and she has yet to prove her competence at anything, so we’ll see if she joins the gray area or not) is Sam Waterston as Charlie Skinner. Charlie is a pretty straightforward character; overall a nice guy, who is often drunk, and who enjoys speaking more bluntly than most about a situation. Now when it comes to the pleasantness and the frankness, Waterston does a decent job of showing us what his character is like, and what he really cares about at the end of the day (wanting to watch some real news). My issue with him, are the odd outbursts of shouting that seem to break the image of the character, and are just not delivered that well. For instance, in this scene Charlie is just explaining to McAvoy that he hired a new EP without McAvoy’s approval, this causes McAvoy to jump up and go to his agent’s office to see why he didn’t have approval in his contract. Right before McAvoy leaves, we get an outburst from Charlie about how three years ago was the last time that McAvoy was a nice guy. As you watch, you’ll see why I have an issue with the outburst. First, it comes out of nowhere, and second, it’s delivered in this odd monotonous yell, which I guess was supposed to make us think that Charlie wasn’t being serious about the insult, but it could have been delivered so much better than it was.

THE STORY

The next pro for this show has to be the story. I’m not so much talking about the plot, or even the minor subplots; nothing has been developed enough yet for me to really sink my teeth into. What I really mean is that it’s just really interesting to see the newsroom in action, developing a story, and producing the news show. We see how breaking news causes the show to have to throw out their rundown and start from fresh. How the team perfectly guides McAvoy through his show without any real script to work off of. Sure we have the usual subplots of exes forced to work together, and an Office-style Jim/Pam/Roy situation developing, but at the end of the day, what really wires me up for this show, is seeing the actual backstage work of the show in action.

It not all sunshine and daisies though, there are a couple of issues I do have with the show. So, here come the cons.

THE MESSAGE

My issue isn’t with the entire message of the show; I do agree that the way the news is given to us lately is in need of an extreme make over. The biggest hit the the world of news ever took was the invention of the 24 hour news network. For the most part, there isn’t 24 hours worth of news to deliver, so what do these networks fill their time with? News opinion shows. Opinion shows that range from objectivism to extreme partisanship and, surprise surprise, most americans prefer the partisanship to objectivism.  McAvoy says at one point that Americans nowadays don’t just pick the news they want to watch, they pick the facts they want to believe. Someone who watches MSNBC will probably have completely different facts and talking points than someone who watches Fox News. So to this extent, I do both appreciate and agree with the message.

The message that irked me was the one we get from McAvoy’s little monologue at the beginning of the show. It starts off fine, first we get some characterization for McAvoy, he doesn’t want to show partisanship, he doesn’t want to stir conflict, and most importantly, he’s a Jets fan (J-E-T-S JETS JETS JETS). Then he finally gets provoked into saying that he doesn’t think the US is the greatest country ever. And for the most part he’s right. He throws out a dozen statistics explaining his position and with those statistics it’s hard to argue that we are in fact the greatest at anything. Then he gets to part two of his speech, “we sure damn used to be…”And to this, all I can say is bullshit. Pure. Fucking. Bullshit. he says we used to fight for moral reasons, for what? For WWII we didn’t join the war effort to save anyone from concentration camps. For both the Korean War and the Vietnam War, we didn’t fight because of the human suffering, we fought because we disagreed with a political viewpoint and did everything we could to stop it from spreading. America even rejected jewish immigrants in the years and months leading up to WWII. He says we used to pass laws and strike down laws for moral reasons. Sure sometimes  we did, it took for fucking ever to desegregate the US. It took for fucking ever to give women the right to vote, and we still see issues today that have remnants of both those things. And what about blacklisting? What about mccarthyism? Don’t tell me that we used to be any stronger, or any more moral than we are today, because it’s just not true. He ends it with “we used to not get scared so easily.” I can only assume he’s referring to the post-9/11 world where we have passed laws that sometimes sound even more frightening than the horror that was brought to this nation. But, at least we’re responding to a direct attack on us. He, on the other hand, is referring to a time where people were so scared, not of an act against the US, but of a political ideology that was vastly different from the US, that they villainized anyone and everyone who sympathized with that ideology. Sure this eventually led to military threats like the Bay of Pigs, but it started because we reacted in an extreme manner to a country that decided to follow communism over capitalism. And when we fought with them, it wasn’t to protect the people that they were forcing into their system, it was out of fear that communism might take over, and we couldn’t have that.

We then have the resurgence of this conversation when McAvoy is talking to Mackenzie and she says that he forgot to say that America is the only country since its inception to always want to better itself. Again, bullshit. In every generation, and in every country, there will always be people who want change (for better or worse) and those who want the status quo (for better or worse) so to say something this ridiculous is obviously for literary effect, no proper thinking person can take a sentence like that seriously.

THE WRITING

My final issue has to do with the writing. Again, it’s not the entirety of the writing, just an issue that has prevailed in Sorkin’s writing since forever. Now, I give all the credit to Sorkin for being a great script writer, and he is and I love his work for the most part. But, what grinds my gears sometimes, is how everyone is so fucking witty all the time. Sometimes to the point where an earnest, human moment just turns into two people flailing witticisms at each other. Sometimes it’s entertaining, it is. But sometimes it’s unnecessary and unbelievable. Take Maggie Jordan (Allison PIll) for instance. She’s supposed to be insecure insecure in her personal and professional life, and clumsy in general. Yet, she still finds a way to toss out a witty remark. It’s just one of those things that pull you out of the reality of the show and reminds that it is in fact just a show.

Overall the show is definitely something that should be watched and I highly recommend it, especially if you need to fill up that 10PM time slot on Sunday. For those who didn’t see the first episode, HBO posted the entire premiere on Youtube, here.

Yojimbo Outguns A Fistful of Dollars

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Before I get going, I need to make it clear that I love both these movies. So please, hold off on the fanboy attacks…unless you think I’m wrong, then attack away. For the most part, there is not much difference between the two films; both feature a traveler who comes into a town with divided power and uses his superb fighting skills to free the town from the two governing bodies. In terms of quality they’re pretty on par as well. Sure I might lean towards Clint Eastwood over Toshiro Mifune, and I probably lean towards Kurosawa over Sergio Leone in terms of directing. The one issue I have that makes me choose Yojimbo over A Fistful of Dollars (AFFD) is the midfilm introduction of, what I’ll call, the X factor.

The X factor here is the appearance of the protagonists rival, who carries a weapon of superior technology. In Yojimbo, the samurai’s sword and skills become moot when one of the rival families brings in a new, gun toting, gang member. His gun, being a ranged weapon, makes the samurai obsolete.

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This is where the problem arises in AFFD. They’ve already introduced firearms to the situation, so what X factor can be introduced to rival, and make obsolete, Clint Eastwood’s Stranger? Do you introduce someone with a faster draw? A quicker aim? an explosives expert? No, instead we get Ramon Rojo, a guy with a winchester rifle.

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…A rifle? Really? Were they a rare find in Mexico? I doubt it. In the last scene of the movie there are at least 3 people blasting rifles at each other, and herein lies my problem. The technology that Ramon brings to the table doesn’t make the Stranger’s skills nor his weapon really that obsolete. In fact, I’m fairly sure it’s a conscious choice of the Stranger to carry his .45 instead of a rifle. He just walked into a town with two gang families, both of whom smuggle weapons into the US, AND HE GAINS TRUST WITH BOTH FAMILIES! Could he really not have gotten a rifle if he really wanted one? He was able to do whatever the fuck else he had to do while in town, what’s really the big deal here. Sure the rifle has range on the pistol but there wasn’t a single gunfight where they actually used range as an advantage.

AFFD tries to amp up the issue with the little bit of dialogue it has between the characters where they discuss gun preference. First, we’re given a glimpse of the rifle’s power as Ramon blasts a dozen holes into a suit of armor. Impressive I guess, but what’s the difference? No one’s wearing bulletproof armor anyway, well not till the end, and at that point the rifle was just as useless as any other gun would have been. Then we get the little talk at the party:

Ramon “When you want to kill a man, you must shoot for his heart, and the winchester is the best weapon.”
Stranger “That’s very nice, but I’ll stick with my .45.”
Ramon “When a man with a .45 meets a man with a rifle, the man with the pistol will be a dead man.”

So we get three things here. First, there’s admission that the Stranger simply prefers his .45 to a rifle, so not having a rifle is his own fault if nothing else (he uses rifles in the subsequent films). Next, we get foreshadowing of the final battle. And finally, we get artificial amping up of X factor issue.

This argument, however, can’t be used to de-legitimize the X factor in Yojimbo for two reasons. First, firearms were actually hard to come by at the time, so it may in fact have been unlikely for the Samurai to acquire one and even the playing field. Second, we’re dealing with a Samurai here, honor bound to rely on his sword and to use his martial arts skills. And even if he got one, there’ no way he would have had enough time to learn to use it well enough to beat someone who was already practicing with the gun (as bad as he was with it).

And here’s my second problem with the situation, Ramon Rojo is introduced in the movie taking out a squad of the Mexican army; not with his rifle, but with a fucking gatling gun. A weapon that would ACTUALLY have been the game changer the movie would have needed to legitimize the X factor. How was that not used to just rain fire down on both the Stranger and the rival family in the town? The movie’s cop out argument is that the gatling gun was left at the scene to make it look like the American troops and the Mexican troops took each other out in a gun fight. But that doesn’t even make sense, if he alone could take out the entire Mexican squad with the gatling gun, then surely the American troops could have done the same. Each soldier has their own gun, so surely no one would be the wiser if the gatling gun was taken from the scene (did they have ballistics reports back then?).

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The gatling gun would have made actual sense when picking an obstacle the Stranger must overcome in regard to weapons technology. There would have been a real issue here if the Rojo family just mounted that fucker on the roof of their home and sprayed the field; the Stranger’s metal plate wouldn’t have been much of an issue at that point. But doing this would have probably required deviation in the script from the Yojimbo script, and god forbid the writers put anything original into the script (not that Yojimbo wasn’t a rip off of Red Harvest). And that’s my issue with AFFD and the one reason I prefer Yojimbo; we could have gotten gatling gun hell fire slaughter scenes, and instead we get to guys playing their own  version of whose is bigger. Gatling gun hell fire, that’s all I’m saying, so I’ll leave you with this. And for funsies, what should have been said, and then done, to the script writers.

A Culinary Bright Light in the Wasteland of Sheepshead Bay

As I mentioned in a previous post, I moved to Midwood, Brooklyn a few years ago. Except for a rare few places, it’s mostly a desolate wasteland for food lovers, and it gets worse as you travel farther south into the Sheepshead Bay area. Once there you basically have three options as 90% of eateries will fall into these three categories: 1) Russian food, 2) mediocre seafood, or 3) Russian seafood. The 10% that fall out of this category are either too expensive, owned by Russians, or both (as a first generation american from Russian immigrants I can safely say there’s no escape when you get that far south in Brooklyn). And yet, the other day, I finally found a little spot that somewhat redeems the area. A little sandwich shop, a month old, half a block from the Sheepshead Bay train station named Randazzo’s Sandwich Spot.

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On the outside it doesn’t look like much (a good sign for my love of hole in the walls) and if you just look in while walking by you’ll probably confuse it for another average pizza joint that litter the city.

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But once inside, things take a sharp turn for the better. I’m not a creative person, especially when it comes to thinking of food to make for myself. So it always irks me a bit when a deli doesn’t offer an interesting menu of sandwiches, since I’ll probably just walk out with a roast beef and turkey with russian dressing or a pastrami with mustard on rye (oh Katz’s how I love thee…sorry, had a moment there). And that’s the first way this little spot impressed me, the menu was substantive and fun; they gave real options to choose from that I wouldn’t think of myself, because let’s face it, if I can do it myself why am I there at all. My brother and I promptly ordered two sandwiches and shared to get the most of the experience.

The one I went for was the Soprano: spicy cappicollo, prosciutto, fresh mozz, basil, tomato, oregano, black pepper, oil.

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At the first bite, there’s only one thought that comes to your mind: freshness. Everything in the sandwich tastes unbelievably fresh and delicious, the meat is perfectly sliced and there’s a perfect amount in it, the bread is soft and delicious. It was light, fun, and that fresh mozz, mouthwateringly good. And it was so refreshing too, which having just come from the gym (which I reluctantly just joined and hate. Also made this the perfect lunch as I got to gain back the very few calories i lost and add some on top of that.) and the day as hot as it was, made the sandwich all the better. Then you notice the flavor depth of the sandwich, as you eat you taste all the ingredients perfectly and it’s salty and cheesy and meaty and delicious, and then out of nowhere you finally taste a small kick from the cappicollo, and it’s like you’re biting into the sandwich for the first time all over again.

Then came my brother’s selection, the diablo: spicy sopressata, spicy capicoolo (using the word spicy instead of hot to avoid the confusion of whether the sandwich is heated or not), pepperoni, spicy peppers, pepper jack cheese, and spicy mustard.

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First, it gets all the same compliments that the Soprano got, tasted great and everything was fresh. To add to this, the spice of the meats was perfect, though the mustard may have been a tad overpowering. You could really taste each meat individually as chewed and it made you never want to stop chewing. And once again, the cheese was phenomenal, fresh and brilliantly made. The one downside had more to do with external factors, but with the day as hot as it was already, and having just come from the gym, eating something spicy may not have been the smartest decision on my brother’s part. Otherwise, both sandwiches were simply fantastic.

Now for a couple criticisms. First, the name. As much as I love this little place, is “Randazzo’s” really the name you want to go with? It was a good think I ate before I found out the actual name or I might not have taken it as seriously (figured out what the name was when as I picked up a menu mid-eating). Problem being, they’re only a moth old, they can’t exactly start changing names now…or maybe they can, what the fuck do I know? My second issue was inconsistency with the aesthetic they were trying to create. They were promoting themselves as fun and original. While eating there, a customer and the owner/manager got into a conversation about another, more popular deli, to which the owner/manager said the place is good but overpriced and too plain, too ordinary. He said that’s where Randazzo’s would be different. And it’s true, the menu selection is interesting and the prices are pretty decent. But, then you look at their fridge for beverage selection and it’s the same old soda schlock: pepsi, coke, etc. If you want to be original why not be original, why not get some boylan’s. I would have loved to chow down on my sandwich with some black cherry soda from boylan’s. And take it a step forward, get the minimum license you need to sell beer, beer and a sandwich is a staple lunch and you already have one of the best american breweries in your borough, Brooklyn Brewery. It would have been great to have my sandwich accompanied with some Brooklyn Pennant Ale. But oh well, no use crying over milk that isn’t even there to be spilt. My final complaint is the little blurb they have on the front of their take out menu. Mostly it’s fine except that the first sentence says “for over 80 years, our family has been in Sheepshead Bay, providing this neighborhood with the highest quality foods and customer satisfaction.” But they only opened a month ago. So, what’s the deal? Did they own another place before? Were they just giving out food to the neighborhood for 80 years before they decided to open up shop? I don’t know, and I didn’t read it until I got home so I didn’t get a chance to ask. It’s not a big deal, but it irks me a bit.

Overall the place was still great, of course I only ate two sandwiches so I’ll have to make several more trips to increase the sample size, you know, FOR SCIENCE! I’ve used enough adjectives already to explain how much I enjoyed this place, so I’ll throw it over to Homer Simpson to give a more audio/visual explanation of how much I liked this place: Homer’s review.