Saturday, 26 October 2013

Drinking Buddies - The Future Of The Rom-Com?

As I took myself enthusiastically along my ten minute walk to work a week or so ago I was indulging in my usual morning podcast binge and halfway through the hosts of the movie review show mentioned amongst their usual weekly movie news roundup that Quentin Tarantino had released his top 10 movies of 2013. This intrigued me for two reasons, firstly I am a great admirer of his movies (specifically Jackie Brown and Pulp Fiction) and secondly, that despite all his film making genius QT seems unaware years have lasted twelve months since the inception of the Gregorian Calender in 1582.  The fact that Tarantino had released a list of favourite movies wasn’t much of a surprise because this is something he has done for a number of years but I always sit up and take notice when they are released. This year’s list includes the following movies:

  • ·        'Afternoon Delight' (Dir. Jill Soloway)
  • ·        'Before Midnight' (Richard Linklater)
  • ·        'Blue Jasmine' (Woody Allen)
  • ·        'The Conjuring' (James Wan)
  • ·        'Drinking Buddies' (Joe Swanberg)
  • ·        'Frances Ha' (Noah Baumbach)
  • ·        'Gravity' (Alfonso Cuarón)
  • ·        'Kick-Ass 2' (Jeff Wadlow)
  • ·        'The Lone Ranger' (Gore Verbinski)
  • ·        'This Is The End' (Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg).

Now in this list the majority of you will see a few movies that you already recognise such as Kick Ass 2, The Lone Ranger, This is the End, The Conjuring and the upcoming Gravity. Movies such as Blue Jasmine, Francis Ha and Before Midnight are perhaps on the radars of the more cine-literate amongst you but, two movies on this list  may be unfamiliar to the majority of you,  Afternoon Delight (which is still awaiting a release date in the UK) and Drinking Buddies (due for release November 1st). After doing some research (thank you it was the latter which sparked my interest and for multiple reasons. First and foremost, I had seen posters for the movie on the internet and knew the cast included actors who I have enjoyed watching previously such as Jake Johnson (from in-vogue sit-com The New Girl), Olivia Wilde (House M.D., who is also a producer of the movie), Anna Kendrick (Pitch Perfect) and Ron Livingston (Office Space) but secondly in a world where film spoilers are becoming increasingly difficult to avoid it was one I was able to approach without preconceived ideas.

The director, Joe Swanberg, doesn’t re-invent the wheel with his direction, which is solid but workman-like, however it is his script that is special being both engaging and heartfelt. The film is a mumblecore rom-com for the thirty-somethings of this current generation and as a man soon to turn 31 something I can really identify with. The film tells the story of Kate (Olivia Wilde) and Luke (Jake Johnson), two work colleagues at a Chicago brewery, and traces their relationships with each other and their respective partners. Kate is trying to play it cool with her music producer boyfriend Chris (Ron Livingston) and Luke is in the midst of marriage discussions with his girlfriend of six years Jill (Anna Kendrick). To complicate matters both Kate and Luke are unsure quite how deep their feelings for each other run. The actors give performances that feel genuine, they make mistakes and this vulnerability makes the characters likeable and sympathetic.

I genuinely want people to watch this movie so I will not tell you how it ends but I will say that it is an interesting study of a friendship between a guy and a girl. Understand that I am not naive to the point where I think men and women can’t just be friends but I think many of us at some stage have had relationships where the line between friendship and romance blurs. A few months ago I wrote an article where I discussed the glossy or “Hollywood” rom-com and movies which bucked this clichéd trend, Drinking Buddies, is helping to redefine the rom-com for this generation….either that or the director read my article (  

Breaking Bad - The Finale

Spoiler Warning: If you haven’t seen Felina, the final episode of Breaking Bad, and you care at all about protecting yourself from spoilers, read no further!!!

So, it’s all over, and we TV fans need to find a new show to obsess over. But, as the dust settles on Heisenberg’s last stand, one question looks likely to be debated at length: did Walter White get what he deserved?
Firstly, let me state for the record, that the following is not intended in anyway as a criticism of the quality of Breaking Bad, in general, or the final episode in particular, but rather as a philosophical discussion of Walt’s fate. I enjoyed Breaking Bad’s final episode. As a viewer it left me satisfied, and I thought that the resolution of each character’s story was well handled and emotionally logical. However, I didn’t think Walt got his just desserts. He managed to save his family – even if it was at the cost of losing it – and he went out on his own terms.
This season was the turning point in terms of our relationship with Walt. However bad he may previously have become, I don’t feel Walt completely lost the audiences sympathy until he decided to go back into the meth business after defeating Fring. In his battle with Fring he was fighting for his life – even if that fight was entirely of Walt’s making. In the first half of season 5 Walt is a hollow, ghoulish, terrifying presence. It says everything that the enemy in season 5 is the Aryan Brotherhood – the only people whom you would now root for Walt over are Nazis! For five years we have watched all Walt’s positive goals and attributes become sucked away, subsumed by his negative attributes; his ego, his greed, his yearning for power and influence, and most importantly his failure to realise that his life as a father and a teacher was significant and meaningful before his cancer diagnosis.
In the past couple of episodes it feels as though Walt’s original character had some what reasserted itself, as he was humbled by his defeat by the Aryan Brotherhood and the DEA, and forced to flee. It seemed to me – even as I watched it – that Walt’s story should have ended ten minutes before the end of episode 15: Walt, on the phone to his son, crying that “it can’t all have been for nothing”, as his son rejected his money and told him to “just die”. For Walt to see the error of his ways – too late – and to be left, alone, waiting to die and contemplating his sins, seemed a fitting way for his story to end.
A special mention here should be made to Jesse Pinkman, who seems, over the course of the story, to have suffered far more than Walt for far lesser crimes. Certainly, his ordeal at the hands of the Aryan Brotherhood seemed to outstrip anything that happened to Walt. It has often been commented that the ultimate story of the show is the story of the fight for Jesse’s soul. Jesse’s ultimate victory was not just his escape, but his rejection of Walt’s order for Jesse to shoot him. In that act, Jesse finally freed himself from Walt’s malign grip.
Ultimately the reason why I felt Walt got off too lightly is a compliment to the show as a whole. Walter White has often felt like a classic Shakespearean tragic character; a potentially great man doomed by his own character flaws. When Walt went to hide in the mountains, still clinging greedily to millions of dollars he had no use for, he had been brought low by his own hubris, ego, and propensity for violence whether necessary or not. That is a fitting fate for a tragic character. Walt’s return to Albuquerque in the final episode allowed him to snatch victory from defeat through his positive attributes – his resourcefulness and intelligence. This was in no way implausible (or, at least, no more implausible than any of his other ‘Macguyver’ moments over the course of the series), but because Walt’s character strengths triumphed over his weaknesses, it felt unjust.
Written by Andy Croucher

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Rich's Televisual Rambles - The Newsroom

I have sat down at this laptop numerous times and tried to write another article. I think on at least two or three different occasions I have begun articles and you might call me precious but I haven’t been satisfied with any of them. To write something that engages with its audience and sparks their imagination is one of the most difficult things you can attempt to do but also ultimately one of the most rewarding. It goes without saying that it is easy for something to be poorly written and so I think you have to respect people that write professionally. Now, I bet you’re all thinking “what’s the he getting at?” My point is this, usually only a couple of times in a generation are there writers who manage to be not only prolific but who manage to keep their output at a consistently high level.  Since it began last year I have been watching a series called The Newsroom written by Aaron Sorkin and he is one of those rare breed of writers. His body of work is extensive and includes diverse projects in both television and film. Amongst these are The West Wing, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (Which I’d also highly recommend), Moneyball, A Few Good Men and The Social Network but it is The Newsroom which I have found compelling viewing. It has just finished its second season airing on HBO in the US and from the moment I heard Thomas Newman’s opening theme (whose music has moved me to tears since I first watched The Shawshank Redemption), I knew I was about to watch something special.

The Newsroom tells the story of fictitious cable news channel ACN (Atlantis Cable News) and the follows the personal and professional lives of its staff. Although the show features an ensemble cast, the main focus of the show is that of the Network’s lead anchor and managing editor Will McAvoy (played by Jeff Daniels, yes that’s right Harry from Dumb and Dumber). McAvoy has just lost his executive producer, Don Keefer (Thomas Sadoski), to a rival show on his Network only for him to be subsequently replaced by McAvoy’s ex-girlfriend Mackenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer). To compound matters he also recently suffered a meltdown at a college political panel, declaring that “American is no longer the greatest country in the world” and launching into well-reasoned but emotional tirade at a college sophomore. It is this moment which begins McAvoy’s “mission to civilize” and to create, as Mackenzie McHale beautifully states, “A nightly newscast that informs debate worthy of a great nation” with the aim of “Reclaiming journalism as an honourable profession”

Joining McAvoy and McHale on their quest are the rest of News Night’s staff,  Jim Harper (John Gallagher Jr), a producer who followed McHale from her previous show after it was cancelled; Maggie Jordan (Alison Pill), a young and hungry associate producer whose relationship with Don Keefer is on the rocks; Neal Sampat (Dev Patel from Slumdog Millionaire and Skins), who writes McAvoy’s blog, researches news leads and administrates ACNs social media; Sloan Sabbith (Olivia Munn); economist and occasional co-anchor on News Night and president of ACN’s news division Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterston). 

One element in which this show really shines is the strength of its research and the way in which it weaves recent real life events, such as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and the death of Osama Bin Laden (spoilers?), into the fabric of the show lends a unique sense of realism to the show. Although you know how these stories are going to play out, the characters are experiencing these events for the first time and the viewer, for perhaps the first time in television, knows how these plots are going to play out before the characters do. As Sorkin has put it in interviews, these news events have “become a creative gift, for one thing the audience knows more than the characters” and although he has stated that the show is “not meant to be a documentary” which it most certainly isn’t the reactions have to feel genuine otherwise the show won’t work effectively. Fortunately for Sorkin he has assembled a cast who are more than capable of achieving this.
In the real world media companies are, just like any other corporation, affected by share-holders, profits and ratings. I’ve had many conversations with family and friends about the lack of impartiality in the media; this is counter-productive to the art of reporting news which requires by its very nature impartiality. In reality, no matter how we try to convince ourselves we can be neutral, our reaction and interpretation of situations will be heavily prejudiced by our opinions or feelings. There is something tremendously brave in The Newsroom’s mission statement, it’s something which is refreshing and the idealist in me one day hopes to see this reflected in the Fourth Estate.