I don’t do a lot of TV recaps, because like the heathen that I am, I tend to watch the new episodes in a lovely bundle, at my own convenience. I also do not normally posses the elusive “writing bug,” but it has bitten me now, and I am grateful.
Despite all of its flaws, and there are many of them, I can’t hate The Newsroom because I realize that it’s much more than its sense of self-importance, or the intellectual hockey, or how he uses girls for the LOL effect.¹ And though it tends to make its characters unrealistically stupid or out-of-touch for the sake of comedy, it does hit the nail on the head sometimes. Which is to say, it pinpoints focuses our attention on important issues, even though they are from the past, and shows us how great news—the real, gritty kind—can be. Also, some of the characters are quite intriguing and enjoyable to watch.
There are a number of basic spoilers here, but I urge you to still watch it because it a beautiful thing to see onscreen.
In this week’s episode, “Bullies,” Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) visits a psychiatrist for some help with insomnia, which he suspects is the cause of his flubbed lines and his calling himself some other person’s name on-air. (A recap detailing all Idiotic Incidents in episode 6, courtesy of SF Weekly.) He gets there with his incredibly witty bodyguard, assigned by the network’s insurance company after he received a death threat, only to find that the shrink he was paying for four years has died two years ago. His practice taken over by his 29-year-old son. Will is reluctant, but relents, as they try to get to the bottom of his lack of sleep.
Whew. There is a flashback of the last few days, and it’s a heartbreaking reveal. Will hates it when people are scared of him, and we find out why. As a victim of child abuse and domestic violence, he is “hard-wired” to hate bullies and in turn, hates to be thought of as one. And yet, his lack of sleep seems to point out that he has been stomping around like a big bully, too.
Without giving too much away, he rails on Sutton Wall, Rick Santorum’s campaign adviser, who is openly gay and black. Will asserts at the irony of this as Santorum is notoriously anti-gay and latches onto Wall like a Rottweiler. Wall is possibly inspired by Robert Traynham, who is an openly gay, black former aide of Santorum, and his brush with Chris Matthews. The fictional Wall thundered:
“I am more than one thing! How dare you reduce me to the color of my skin or my sexual orientation. There are people who look just like me, thousands and thousands who died for the freedom to define their own lives for themselves. How dare you presume to decide what I think is important.
I am not defined by my blackness. I am not defined by my gayness. And if that doesn’t fit your narrow expectation of who I’m supposed to be, I don’t give a damn, because I am not defined by you, either.”
Another stellar subplot involves Sloan Sabbith (Olivia Munn), whom we have seen just a little of in the past few episodes. In “Bullies,” she shines. Replacing Elliot as the host for his night show, she makes a colossal mistake on-air with a Japanese rep of TEPCO, as she forces him to reveal to the public what he had privately shared with her, off the record, as Will had unwisely advised. She even breaks into Japanese during the broadcast, causing Don Keefer (Thomas Sadoski) and Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterston) to blow their respective gaskets. Sloan’s altercation with Charlie is one of the more thrilling moments of the show, with a distraught Sloan ending it outstandingly with “Don’t call me girl, sir.”
She is suspended with pay, and further upset when she learns that the rep she had spoken to, who was a good friend, had resigned from his post in shame, apologizing to his family and his country, in typical Japanese fashion. Despite being suspended, Sloan feels responsible for her friend’s resignation and asks how she could fix everything.
Charlie finds a way out: Sloan will apologize on air for mixing up the Japanese when she attempted to bypass the translator and speak to the rep directly on air. It is an error that is easy to make for someone with subpar Japanese, but a hard mistake to admit to when your Japanese is fluent and excellent, as Sloan’s is. It’s a moving moment when she realizes that she would have to deny all her achievements—of which she was shown to be most proud, in the earlier episodes—and admit to spreading “incorrect” information to save the TEPCO rep’s job and the network’s reputation.
I look forward to a new episode of The Newsroom every week, because although there are some sentimental moments that are so distracting that they pull you out of the whole situation, I know that Sorkin will deliver stories of the fall and triumphs of the human spirit. I know that he has made these stories out of love and yearning for what America could possibly be.
More of this, please.
¹ For all his brilliance, Sorkin does not know seem to know how to write great women characters, or that he keeps them there for (unnecessary) comic relief. These are Peabody-wielding, PhD-swinging HBICs, and you mean to tell me that they can’t send a private email from a Blackberry without broadcasting it to the whole company. Or that they take “You’re expanding” as a dig at their weight gain? No.
When Maggie (Allison Pill) mistakes Georgia the country for Georgia the state, it’s a little endearing, but thinking that LOL means “lots of love” is a little hard to believe. Sure, she was just an intern mistakenly promoted to Will’s assistant, and then promoted as an assistant producer, but I’d like to think that she’s smarter than that.
I have a ton to say about HBO series, Girls, the seeming T.V. underdog turned sensation. What is it about this show that has drawn the attention of so many people, even those that are outside of its apparent demographic. I’ve seen a lot of people talk about Girls, heard them talk about it, and I have always wanted to talk about it myself.
The first thing people ask you about Girls is if you like it. There is an extreme polarizing reaction to the show—dividing camps between people who love it and people who absolutely despise it. Rarely have people fallen on the exact, thin divisive line of “it’s okay,” and people who do say this often lean towards one reaction.
The second thing people ask other people about Girls is, “So which one are you?” That’s probably the hardest thing to answer accurately, because they are all awful and freely picking one to embody yourself is a hard and unattractive decision. They are awful, though, in the way that you get, in the way that you can maybe sympathize with. What I see when I see the Girls girls are the worst versions of ourselves, the parts that we try to hide or deny, amplifed and glaring on your T.V. screen for half an hour each week.
We get to know the self-absorbed best friends and roommates: shrill, uptight Marnie and perennially unemployed Hannah (played by Lena Dunham, the twenty-six-year-old female creator of the show—but that’s another story) who recurring character, Elijah, said that were cut from the same selfish cloth. Marnie is fickle and juvenile, though she likes to think of herself as grown up. Hannah seems to have very little self-worth, and likes to pretend she knows what she’s doing when what she really is is lost.
There’s well-traveled, liberated, reformed wild child Jessa who gets by as a good looking nanny with very little to lose. Then, there’s Jessa’s cousin: sheltered, inexperienced Shoshanna, who dubbed her virgin self a Samantha Jones. (Shoshanna is actually not that mean. She is very, very endearing, and I think I would want to be her the most.) These people seem to be oblivious to their own flaws, which is what I find a little hard to believe. But, people do have their own blind spots; it’s just so hard for me to believe that theirs can be as glaring and obvious as they are.
There’s very little that’s aspirational about the Girls characters, but I think that’s why I like them so much. A lot of people have been put off by this plain Jane, awkward version of the New Yorkian stories that HBO seems to make every once in a while, but I like it because it makes you uncomfortable in a way that’s not horrific, but just earnest and real—shame and secrets shoved right up there in your face.
I love it because it gets to the meat of things, even though the truth is often awkward and strange and horrible, instead of beating around the bush for oh, I don’t know, seven seasons. Do I like the “ugly people sex”? Of course not, but it’s a part of the show and it works because it exposes everything, much like how every ugly thing about these people are exposed, too.
Another thing that I really like about Girls, as a show, is that they make no excuses for the awfulness of their characters. It really doesn’t care if you end up liking them or hating them for what they do. What happens is that you develop some empathy or compassion for some of them, because you’ve been there, too. Maybe not in exactly the same situations, but maybe steeped in the same feelings. I find that, as we see more episodes of Girls, their characters enough space and enough layers to be believable as people.
I saw episode 7, “Welcome to Bushwick a.ka. The Crackcident,” last night. I have never been to a warehouse party in Bushwick, but I roared with laughter and I felt for them. Maybe because I’ve done things that I’m not proud of. Maybe also because I have felt as betrayed, as wounded, as discarded, and as embarrassed as they have. Not in the same exact way—I have never faceplanted the pavement falling off the front wheel of a bicycle—but in a way that’s enough.
Plus, it was way funny.
Girls is more than just “Sex and the City for ugly people,” and it’s hardly the voice of our generation. What it is is a damn good show where we see lost twenty-somethings, in their complexity and depth, unafraid to show the ugly, broken bits that a lot of us would love to hide instead. It’s too early to tell what kind of people they are, but each week, another layer is uncovered. Right now, it’s about horrible people-in a real sense, not in a Joffrey Baratheon sense–that you end up rooting for because, sometimes, you can actually see them (secretly) as you.
March closed with a screenwriting workshop, led by Aaron Rahsaan Thomas, who’s now a supervising producer for CSI:NY. I’ve never watched an episode of CSI:NY and I tend to shy away from programs like that (which are called procedurals) because I tend to favor character-driven shows. The real reason why we even went to that two-day workshop was because Aaron Thomas was a staff writer for Friday Night Lights, even writing two episodes during his stint.
It’s been almost a week since we left that workshop and I don’t even have notes or a vague idea for a story. It’s kind of depressing. Watching behind-the-scenes footage and extras on DVDs made me really want to be a part of something so completely collaborative, like television. In particular, the footage from the LOST DVDs that featured the writer’s room and a big binder of notes they kept for six season’s worth of continuity. It seemed like such a great thing to be a part of, especially someone like me, a big fan of television.
Aaron talked about the structure of a procedural—an episodic series divided into twenty-two or so 40-minute, goal-oriented episodes—and we sort of got to write the teaser (the segment at the beginning, before the credits, where the main premise of the episode is revealed) and Act One (the first seven-or-so-minute chunk before a commercial break) collectively.
It was hard to get a general concensus, because everyone had their own ideas that they seemed to fixate on. I kind of just quietly sniggered and sighed, being in the midst of a lot of professional writers and such who already worked for local networks. It seemed unnecessary to speak just so I could complain about ideas instead of being constructive. Anyway, most of what they threw around and played with were not my cup of tea. I already saw the disparity between the shows that are locally produced (telenovelas, the kind of humor they liked, etc.) and the shows that I enjoyed, and it made me sad that it didn’t seem like they intersected at all.
Because a really big part of me wants to work in television, but it doesn’t seem like local television has room for the shows that I want to make.
I am moved by series that center on coming-of-age, especially those that confront issues in a raw and honest way. I love it when shows speak to me through the characters, genuinely and believably. I love the brutality of feelings, the tragicomedy of high school, the overwhelming weight of things that matter now.
To tell you the truth, I have no idea what I used to be really sad about when I had been growing up. But we get hurt as we grow older, and we heal. We forget, or we think we forget.
These shows that I love so much, they’re reminders of the things that had mattered in the moment, and how intensely they felt to us at the time. I think I want to create stories that allows people to look back on—or experience at once!—these growing pains. To take those hurts and feelings of weightlessness, and preserve them in stories people can look back on, alone, together or apart. To remember, and maybe to forget. To detach or reacquaint ourselves with the very things that first taught us how to feel.
I digress, because I sought out to write about the workshop and how different it is where he is from (Los Angeles) and how it works here in Manila. But, I ended up talking about feelings and growing up, and that’s what I would love to write about. That, or something else wholly consuming, a web of stories, characters, and relationships that you grow and fall in love with.
I’m not interested in pushing the drama to ridiculous points to rake in ratings, and maybe that’s where I would falter if I worked here. I’m interested in making stories and using television as a way to share them with people. Sadly, it feels as though there is little room in the Philippines—maybe the world—for this kind of creating and collaboration.
I want to have a voice, but I’m not exactly sure where to start.
The Hunger Games (2012)
Director: Gary Ross
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth
There isn’t much to say about the film adaptation of the first of Suzanne Collins’ dystopian trilogy, The Hunger Games. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that it was a brilliant piece of cinema, but I believe that it held its own. While the story moved along fairly well, there was too much pre-game and too little of the Games itself, something that had bugged me when I was reading the novels. This had been true for the film as well.
For those not in the know, the story occurs in Panem, the post-apocaplyptic incarnation of America. After the rebellion of the 13 Districts of Panem against their government, the Capitol has decreed a “treaty of peace,” ordering the remaining 12 Districts to offer up Tributes, a male and female between the ages of 12 and 18, to fight to the death in the middle of an arena. These games are televised, much like today’s reality shows, and are played up. People are horrifyingly eating it all up, placing bets on the Tributes, picking the strongest contenders to sponsor. The Games are intended to be a reminder of the Capitol’s power over its people, but is paraded as a display of honor, courage, and sacrifice.
It was an odd sensation—feeling like you were just watching something unfold before your eyes. There was very little that was engaging or moved me to care. Though it mostly felt like it hit one note, it had a few really beautiful moments filled with pathos and emotion. These moments were obvious ones—The Reaping, the first moment of the game around the Cornucopia, Rue’s death, District 11′s riot—but everything in Panem is tinged with hopelessness, anyway. There was just a bleakness that made everything overcast, but there was barely any sense of urgency that sometimes, you kind of forget how awful everything has been set up to be.
At some point, President Snow tells Seneca Crane that nobody roots for the underdog. A little spark of hope for the citizens of Panem—this story’s underdogs—comes in the form of Katniss Everdeen, the female Tribute from District 12, and you can’t help but root for her, too.
Jennifer Lawrence is flawless at her portrayal of Katniss. She is serious, focused, able and compassionate. While the rest of the actors were passable at being their characters, Lawrence practically carried the weight and tone of the whole movie. She is so perfect for this role, I have trouble picturing her as anybody else.
The cinematography was stunning, as were the transitions and editing. Aside from Lawrence’s brilliant performance, those visual elements stood out the most. The cuts and framing of the shots—swift, refreshing and distinctive—certainly left an impression on me. I appreciate the effort that was made to set this movie apart from the typical teenage franchise. It’s so easy and tempting to just be uninspired and unoriginal, especially when you have a best-selling series to adapt, since everybody already likes it. But they really set the bar high up. It was a really unexpected but welcome visual treat.
As a reader of the books, I was rooting for Katniss and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), and yet their chemistry in the movie was so laughably absent that I kind of want her to end up with Gale (Liam Hemsworth) instead. The other “complaints” are really just nitpicks, such as: How come they’re so clean when they’ve been roughing it out in the wild—and deliberately wounding each other!—for days? Weren’t they supposed to see the other tributes’ eyes in the dog mutant things? How come she found water and food so quickly? How come this is not the Peeta I have come to know and love?
On that note, I was one of the Hutcherson!Peeta advocates, since I loved him in The Kids Are Alright, but I was honestly underwhelmed. I don’t know if it has to do with the screenplay or the direction, but I was definitely less endeared by Peeta when I watched him than when I read about him.
All in all, it was a really good production, but I don’t know if it is, in the end, a satisfying story. Lately, I’ve been obsessing over CBS’s long-running reality show, Survivor. While it had a lot of similar elements with The Hunger Games, it got me to thinking about how ruthless people are willing to be when the prize in the end is literally outlasting everyone. It’s such a horrifying thought, but it doesn’t seem to truly translate in the film, save for a few brief moments where the scenes are so obvious that you can’t help but remember that the players in the game are actual people.
But after all that’s been said (by me, lol), I still am anticipating the release of the other films. I’m hoping they pull the others off, because the first film has a lot of great potential for something truly epic for the trilogy.
I rarely ever write about television anymore—or any form of popular culture, for that matter—and I don’t necessarily engage in fandom as much either, but I’ve been faithfully watching something kind of vapid with my sister. This week, Pretty Little Liars‘ second season came to a close. And now you know why I have been painfully carrying this obsession. And now I am going to take a break and write about this dumb show that I love watching so much.
Or, There Will Be Mild Spoilers
I have really, really mixed feelings about this movie.
I think that it’s probably why it has taken me so long to write this review. I watched Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part One) on Thursday night. It is currently Sunday, and I still haven’t gathered my wits about me to write a ‘real’ review for it. As a fan, I think I’m predisposed to love it automatically. But let me quote the teen classic (LOL) 10 Things I Hate About You to illustrate what I felt when I was watching the film, “I know you can be overwhelmed, and you can be underwhelmed, but can you ever just be whelmed?”
The past few days, I am usually in that place where even though I am not super satisfied with the film—but this just might be because they left out this one part that I held dear and found really crucial to the story so I just might be resentful—I also want to maul and attack everybody who says that they found it dull, boring, and dragging. Much like this dude.
My Harry Potter film reviews always seem to turn into a long list of all the parts left out from the movie, so I’m going to try and not do that this time around. I think that because this series really, honestly means so much to me is why I am so protective of how it is being portrayed and adapted. And when people write it off, I get defensive because I truly feel like I am being personally attacked, even though I obviously am not. (My issues, not yours, don’t worry. I’m trying to get past~ this.)
Yes, it was a very beautiful movie, both visually and score-wise. The shots were beautifully composed, and it gives us a change of scenery, and also a change of overall mood. The tone of the film is set by the Minister of Magic, Rufus Scrimgeour’s speech, preparing us for what is to come. The film’s aesthetics really matched the content—most of it was dark and dreary, ominous and at times, kind of hopeless—and coupled with the excellent score, the scenes were made whole. I think, though, that they succeeded so well in upping the excitement of the fast-paced parts, and highlighting the hopelessness of the the dreary parts, which is why when the parts filled with action were punctuated with those bleak and tragic times, there was such a big shift that it was a bit confusing to deal with. Which is why some people found it boring and dragging. Everybody stepped up their acting, especially the Trio, with performances that have into something really commendable.
One of my favorite parts of the film was something that wasn’t in the books, but encapsulated just why I loved Harry and Hermione’s friendship. It was when they were dancing to a song by Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, inside a tent in the middle of nowhere, after being abandoned by Ron. I am definitely not a Harry/Hermione shipper and, even though people might read this scene that way, I feel like it was really such a great depiction of their sibling-like relationship. The song choice was also perfect, speaking about living with circumstances that they could not help.
The Harry Potter franchise is largely about friendship and bravery, the weight of our choices, the complexity of a person’s character, the presence of good and evil in each person. And following that vein, I think the Deathly Hallows worked pretty well, but I also feel like this is also where it failed. A friend of mine said that what she loved about the series is that everything, everyone is so grand, and I agree with her. You see how even the slightest gesture affects the greater outcome, how a person’s decision to be good or bad can weigh so much more. To borrow a line from the Great Sirius Black, “We’ve all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That’s who we really are.”
To display that complexity, and reduce it from a book that is a few hundred pages long is a really hard thing to do. They obviously tried to condense it to fit as much as they could in such a short amount of time, but I really feel like a lot of the tension and moral dilemmas and character layers were glossed over and lost. Speaking of moral dilemmas, I loved what they did with the Malfoys. I really have got to hand it to Draco, and obviously, Tom Felton. It was one of the better performances in the film, for me, and I’ve always loved how they got into Draco’s character. Such a great source of tension—you can really see the fight going on in his head.