Newsroom – Aaron Sorkin

“I’m on a mission to civilize” Will McAvoy news anchor

Just a short word after seeing four episodes of HBO’s Newsroom. I know I’m playing catch up rather heavily, seeing as Stateside season two is already over, but I can’t help myself.

So what’s all the fuss about?

“Newsroom” is an HBO drama series wherein TV news anchor Will McAvoy, an emotionally damaged man, refinds, perhaps even redefines himself through the catharsis of caring about the news again. Will is portrayed rather brilliantly by Jeff Daniels, now very far removed from his “Dumb & Dumber” days.

Episode 1 starts with Will pressing the verbal self destruct button in a rant about the bankruptcy of the USA at a college get together. The general verbosity of the show is thus preshadowed. Creator Aaron Sorkin, for those who didn’t know this, loves speeches and dialogue in general. It’s not subtle but he does have a real knack for it.

The show follows actual news events and reconstructs the atmosphere of a newsroom very well, something I can attest to having worked in a newsroom, albeit one glued together with chewing gum, love and ambition rather than advertising millions.

The Bad

This is a show with a strong romantic streak, full of references to an idealized golden era of broadcast journalism. These references are more often than not contained in longwinded speeches in which it is often unclear who the character is actually lecturing. It is at these moment that I feel the show loses momentum, brilliant as the monologues may be. As a budding screenwriter one is often taught to let dialogue come from within the characters rather than using them as mouthpieces of the writer’s opinion. Dare I even say: Aaron Sorkin take note? That would be brash….

However, so far, to me, this is the show’s only major flaw, and although significant, it is not a fatal one.

The Good

This is one daring show, as it is unashamedly intellectual. For those who have not followed current affairs, or the general political debate of the last – say – five years in the USA, the show will make little sense and be incredibly hard to follow. Wow, an actual TV series aimed at the upper percentile of viewers. The very storyline of the show mirrors that aim. The fictional news broadcasters set out to no longer pander to ratings but to restore the news to what it once was: bringing genuine information to the public. Or in the words of Will: “I am on a mission to civilize”.

As mentioned above the newsroom atmosphere is executed well, and that is in no part down to the strong ensemble cast.  Special mention goes out to veteran Sam Waterston, who does a great job as TV exec Charlie Skinner, the embodiment of “better days of television” who oversees the resurrection of Will McAvoy and with him, real news.

What has really hooked me though, is the way each and every character has believable goals and ambitions and the fact that the human interactions are the true motor of the show, hiding mere plot elements very well. It is a show about people and I guess that’s what I really like.

But before this short review turns into an outright outpour of superlatives, let me say that after that opening rant in episode 1 it took me until the latter half of episode four to really get on board with this show. But now I’m on, I’m loathe to leave.

So, bring on the news!

 

 

Cornwall Film Festival chooses Pinto

The Cornwall Film Festival chose The Pinto Edition to feature in their “Films without borders” short film competition. CFF 8 through 11th november: http://cornwallfilmfestival.com/

And, as it turns out The Pinto Edition has been doing quite a bit of road tripping. It was shown at the Cinema Bioscoop festival in Lissabon, Portugal earlier this month. And, at various small festivals and gatherings in and around Berlin, as part of the 48 hour film project promotions over there. Finally it was selected by the Dutch filmfestival in Utrecht for their online competition.

Victor didn’t sit still and collected memento’s and slapped them on the back of the camper van.

 

The Pinto Edition – a short film

When Henk and Ingrid strike a great deal on a camper van, little do they know that they’re getting much more than they bargained for.

Triple award winning at the 48h film fest, with five further nominations. Since then: nominated by VERS! (Holland’s young filmmaker platform) as one 10 best short films of 2012. Cornwall Film Festival Official selection 2012, Fargo Film Festival Official Selection 2013.

Moonrise Kingdom – review

Yes, I know it’s been out forever. But somehow I hadn’t gotten round to it yet. And now I’m really glad I did.

Moonrise Kingdom is Wes Anderson’s unashamed ode to true love. Set in the ’60s, it tells the tale of two twelve year olds who elope one fine summer on a fictional island. This leads to a search and rescue mission that involves a fun range of typical Wes Anderson characters on the island. To set the timing, a storm is brewing. So much for the plot.

I always enjoy Anderson’s eye for whacky detail, oddball characters and generally lavish set designs. However, I feel that all the visual splendor sometimes gets in the way of genuine emotional involvement. Often in his work I feel that I am looking at something rather than living it.

Going back to what I consider his masterpiece, “The Royal Tenenbaums” is notable in achieving a genuine sense of involvement. It may have taken a while but I truly believe Anderson has succeeded again in Moonrise Kingdom. It took me a while to start feeling it, but as soon as I did – around the quite realistic and gritty midpoint – I was sold.

The casting is quite excellent, kudos go out to the two young stars, who are believable at every weird turn. Special mention has to go out to Bruce Willis, who plays a great role in a understated, haunted manner.

In the end the film rings true and the feeling and story rise above the pleasing aesthetics  Recommended for all romantics and those in need of a cure from cynicism.

Meek’s Cutoff – review

“We’re not lost, we’re just finding our way” Stephen Meek

 

Finally I get round to visiting the movie theatre, I could explain why it’s been six weeks but that’s for another day. Just know that if I were to tell you, you’d accept my reasons.

I have wanted to see Meek’s Cutoff ever since it came out ages ago. Well, it finally hit Europe, and I dropped into the glorious EYE Film institute here in sunny Amsterdam to have a look.

Director Kelly Richardt has a very personal approach to filmmaking. I really enjoyed the curious minimalist charm of “Wendy and Lucy” – one of her previous films with the excellent Michelle Williams. Just a small brag here: I remember way back in the Dawson’s Creek days I predicted – to hoots of derision – that ms Williams would be a real star someday, forget Katy Holmes et al. Time has proven me right, thank the stars. She puts in another stellar performance in this slow paced, off beat western adventure.

A group of settlers with dreams of a fortune out west is lost in the great nothing. Their guide Stephen Meek is a braggard who quite clearly has no clue. We join the group in the middle of nowhere and follow a slice of their adventure. Core to this is their kidnap of a mysterious Indian who they force to guide them to water, much to the chagrin of Meek who would rather kill the man.

For those seeking an adventure complete with resolution – be it good or bad – look elsewhere. This is observation at its finest. Miss Reichardt has a real eye for scenery and using imagery to portray emotions and thoughts. No over-obvious explanations here.

Very little really happens in the film, which to some could make it boring. I did enjoy the film up to the very end, although I did check my watch a few times. And I have to admit I shared some of the dismay of the crowd when the end credits just suddenly appeared. To say more would be to spoil matters.

Special mention here for the beautiful score, all the great performances, and the use of light and dark. The passage of time is really well done by having night scenes with very minimal lights slam into daytime scenes with full desert light. I often had to literally shield my eyes from the glaring sun. The stuff of a proper movie indeed.

All in all, an interesting film which left me slightly unsatisfied in the end. For those who want to know more about the ending, here’s a post by someone who went through the trouble to translate what the mysterious Indian fellow said:

http://tinyurl.com/coj487f

On the Road

Cars and roads can take you from one place to another, which is nice.

I saw this star vehicle in the glorious EYE film institute on the north bank of the IJ river in Amsterdam. This new film museum is a true must see location for any film buff visiting the city. However if you are pondering whether to catch this cinematic rendition of Jack Kerouac’s masterpiece, the answer is simple: don’t. Just find a nice spot on EYE’s huge terrace and read the book instead. It will take you just about as much time (this is a loooong movie) and offer a much more satisfying experience.

The film never even comes close to capturing the spirit of the novel, it is neither romantic nor wild, has no sense of beat nor freedom. What the exact problem is, is beyond my scope of caring. Sometimes it’s interesting to ponder where a film misses the mark, in this case not. Perhaps it’s the casting: was “On the Road” really all about a bunch of seemingly spoiled brats just moving from place to place and trying to look moody? “Twilight” meets a 1947 Hudson?

Methinks that American cinema is in serious danger of losing it completely by bowing the the call for exclusively “beautiful people”. Exception is the lead Sam Riley. He can’t carry a film like this though. Who could?

My advice: keep driving, nothing to see here.

Festen retro review

I’ll keep it short, as do these brilliant Danes. Festen aka “A Celebration” is a cinematic masterpiece. I just watched it again, 14 years after catching it in an Amsterdam cinema.

For those of you who have been hiding under a blanket of Hollywood super hero fodder, “Festen” is a character study of a fictional Danish family with some nasty secrets. The story focuses on the 60th birthday of the pater familias Helge. Son Christian, whose twin sister has recently committed suicide, has something rather different planned than a happy birthday.

Supposedly the main attraction of the film is the infamous dinner speech scene, in which Christian breaks a long silence. And to be fair, it is that visceral yet underplayed moment that I remembered most all those years after first seeing it. Ye,t on revisiting the film, I was amazed at the attention to detail, keen observation of character in the film that builds to that very moment. Indeed the groundworks laid before the great reveal carry the film forward after that moment. The greatest “trick” the film has up its sleeve is the acute observation on the sheer amount of time it takes for the truth of Christian’s speech to sink in with the revelers.

The acting is naturalistic brilliance, the film is film in an intentionally ugly, hand held style that just adds to its voyeuristic appeal. In its time much was made of the fact that the movie was shot according to self imposed “Dogma ’95” rules. Since then, Festen director Vinterberg, Lars von Trier the other Dogma founding members have admitted that Dogma was more of a gimmick that an actual serious idea.

A true masterpiece in every sense of the word. If you haven’t seen it yet, please do: it will open your eyes to European film forever.

Prometheus review

Ok me hearties, strap into your safety harness and prepare for take off!

Prometheus – I have been awaiting it for a long time and finally I’ve seen it. In 3D, which to be honest didn’t really blow me away. But the rest of the film kept me very thoroughly entertained and intrigued for its entire running time. A propos running time, this one came in at around the two and a half hour mark, which didn’t feel too long at all.

For those who have been locked in a stasis chamber: Prometheus is the prequel to the original Alien series and deals with the original mission of a human craft to the home world of our supposed ancestors, the “Engineers”. Those travelling there all have their motives for doing so, motives that obviously will lead to conflict. The story unfolds well, a bit slowly at first, but as it’s sci fi I’m always willing to have some ground rules explained.

The tension builds gradually and does ask for both patience and some willingness to suspend disbelief. Especially the way the entire crew seems comprised of ill disciplined misfits that go into a weird abandoned strucure willy nilly begs some serious script questions. But hey, it just gets better from there, so quit complaining!

To divulge more about the story line would bring us close to spoiler territory so I’ll just say that in general a couple of major plot points were still up for discussion as the audience left the cinema, which goes a long way in explaining the mediocre reviews the film has enjoyed so far. But I just assume these queries will be handled in the inevitable sequel; to me at least they didn’t spoil this picture at all.

Some special mentions:

First special mention goes to the unsung heroes of such films, the art directors/set designers. It was all really great, a total immersion into a sci fi world, with plenty of nods to the original Alien series. A fine mix of hi and lo tech and good believable costume and special effects.

Then Michael Fassbender, proving once again that he is head and shoulders above the rest of his crop. A brilliant, mysterious role as the cyborg/android David 8 – with a chilling own agenda, or not? For me the star of the picture, and perhaps even the actual lead?

Finally kudos to both Charlize Theron and Idris Elba both providing really strong support. I found Guy Pearce strangely off, and am still wondering about Noomi Rapace who took care of the actual lead role. No Sigourney Weaver here alas.

All in all, I could go on gushing for 400 further words, but instead I’ll just say: go see the thing. Even the missus loved it, which is saying a lot considering what she asked me during the opening titles: “So this is the prequel to Star Trek, right?”