Looking Back Twenty Years – The American President (1995)

This is 2015 and it is time for an addition to my blog. – I am inaugurating a new feature. I’m calling it Looking Back Twenty Years. What I will do with this feature is that I will review a film from 20 years ago, on a monthly basis. So, for the rest of this year, you can look forward to a once-a-month review, of a 1995 film. I won’t be paying the strictest attention to the exact release dates – for now we will call it films from 1995, and leave it at that.

I thought of this film a few days ago, when Barack Obama gave his State of the Union Address to the nation. Then today, I was out to the post office and for some food shopping when I tuned in the On Point news show on NPR. The topic was about how Anti-Austerity Gains Steam in Europe and the just sworn in new Prime Minister of Greece, Alexis Tsipras. Mr. Tsipras garnered only about 36% of the vote, which said another way – the election resulted in a man winning the office despite that 64% of the country did not vote for him. As Frank Underwood told us last year on House of Cards – democracy is over-rated.

But I am neither a global economist nor a political commentator. I mentioned those recent events merely to show how I arrived at the decision to watch the 1995 film, The American President which starred Michael Douglas and Annette Bening as the leads, with Michael J. Fox, David Paymer, Richard Dreyfuss, Anna Deavere Smith, Samantha Mathis, and Martin Sheen as the main support characters.

Let’s set it up for you – Michael Douglas plays an incumbent President of the United States called Andrew Shepherd. He’s a single parent as his beloved wife had died before his Presidential election. It is late in his second year, and his 3rd State of the Union Address is a little more than two months away.

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The Newsroom Ends Its Run

If you don’t have a way to push the story forward, then take the easy way out, and circle back to the beginning,

Of course, using that as my lead would be not quite correct. The Newsroom brought down the curtain for the final time tonight, and strangely enough, Aaron Sorkin waited until the last 10 minutes or so to push the story ahead into the future.

The actual length of this, the final episode, was about 65 minutes or so. I guess they found the extra time that they had saved in the earlier episodes this season. Aside from the fact that Charlie Skinner died at the end of the previous episode, this episode ended on a series of definite upticks.

And that means that I am not going to take Sorkin out behind the shed for a good old-fashioned critical ‘whipping’. In short I’m saying that I rather enjoyed this last episode called What Kind of a Day Has It Been. Basically everyone and all the dangling couples, lovers, jobs , and uncertainty has been wrapped up in many ‘happy endings’, and kudos to Sorkin for doing so.

In fact he ended this show with Will McAvoy speaking the words that were the title of the very first episode of The Newsroom which aired on June 24, 2012. Do you remember them?

We Just Decided To.

But getting there wasn’t easy. To borrow from A Tale of Two CitiesIt was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Meaning that The Newsroom , which totaled 25 episodes, provided a kind of television that could be called exhilarating. It was also at times, silly, or exasperating, or pedantic as we watched as McAvoy spoke to us from his Sorkin pulpit. Or Sorkin wrote some maddening stuff for the female characters. Or at worst – who really cares if Maggie Jordan and Jim Harper ever find their way.

I loved Charley Skinner. He gave new meaning to the words cantankerous as well as curmudgeonly. When he was hopping mad, he was something that could be called beautiful. I loved Mackenzie – even with her less than stellar computer skills. After all, despite all that she was good for News Night, and even better for Will McAvoy. On top of that, she even ‘solved’ the Genoa issue.

Don began as the bad guy and ended up as someone to admire, even with his stance on the Princeton rape case last week. I never figured him for some one for Sloan to go for. As for Sloan, she was funny, brilliant, and sometimes a bit shrill – but always lovable. I’ll never forget the first time she made Charlie Skinner hopping mad – and I mean that literally. That was when she had a conversation, on the air, in Japanese, which got her suspended. The second time she really riled up Charlie – he died.

So both Don and Sloan had these strong feelings of guilt. But the reality was that Charlie’s fires had gone out seven weeks before. He wasn’t supporting Pruitt’s measures as much as he was simply living through them – getting deeper and deeper into a state of depression.

As the episode opened we saw those TPC limousines arriving for the Skinner funeral at a beautiful suburban church. The church choir was singing, the church was packed, and everyone was present except for Mackenzie who was outside the church on her cell phone. She was getting some important news, which she would pass on to Will as they sat in the pew, but not to us. At least not directly. When she told Will who had called her – we all got the message – including Will.

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Contempt: The Newsroom Episode 4 Season 3


While Sam Waterston as Charlie Skinner didn’t have quite the same ferociousness as Jack Nicholson’s Colonel Nathan R. Jessup, in the classic A Few Good Men, the moment was almost a perfect match. And why not – both were penned by Aaron Sorkin. ‘You messed with the wrong marine’ never came out of Charlie’s mouth, but nonetheless, he had to be restrained from ripping the eyes out of Lucas Pruitt’s head. It was a terrific moment during The Newsroom’s 4th Episode, in this the final season.

This episode was like a roller coaster with its scenes of exhilarating verbal histrionics including rapid-fire exchanges of exquisite excitement, which were followed by moments of utter triviality and boorish behavior.

And yes, as to the boorish – I mean you Jim Harper, you judgemental prick.

I remember, and doesn’t it seem so long ago,  when Will McAvoy used to work as the news anchor on ACN’s News Night who knocked over one straw man after another. Will has performed that task, delivering the news, only once this season, and that was on Opening Night. Since then Will’s only moment in the newsroom’s broadcast studio was when he had a lengthy chat with Neal Sampat. Last night Will was reduced to saying “No sir” to the DOJ’s guy in a Grand Jury room, then in a judge’s chambers, or in a court room. There was a slight variation later, near the very end of the episode, when Will said ‘I do’… but that’s getting ahead of ourselves.

The title of the episode was Contempt, which fit perfectly because, to the surprise of no one, in contempt was where Will McAvoy was deemed to be; an inevitable destination for one who uttered ‘No Sir’ that many times.

So following his City Hall wedding to Mackenzie, an ad hoc hitching (so Mack wouldn’t have to testify against Will in the future) executed without a single glitch, an agida free affair unlike any other wedding that came before or will follow after,

Will was manacled and led away by US Marshals. Instead of heading off to the Honeymoon Suite at one of New York’s swankiest hotels, he was marched off to The Tombs, the NYC jail, just a few blocks away.

Yes, as the episode ended, Will would soon be changing into an orange prison jump suit discarding his black Armani wedding suit. Will we ever have Will back in the anchor spot?

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The Newsroom Season Three Begins, as Does the Countdown

Hello, I must be going, I cannot stay,
I came to say, I must be going.
I’m glad I came, but just the same,
I must be going.

So said Groucho Marx as Captain Jeffrey T. Spaulding in the film Animal Crackers. Of course Spaulding was a world renown hunter and adventurer. And always on the look out for bigger game. Like Margaret Dumont for example. But he was a man on the move.

As is Aaron Sorkin. Via multiple sources, it has been widely mentioned that Sorkin has confirmed his statements from last May, that he will be stepping away from writing for television. Of course he tosses in the oft said, never say never, as a qualifier. He says he might be back someday…if a new and good idea can be found.

In the mean time he’ll be at the keyboard for his screenplay for Jobs. There’s also talk of his theatrical play, A Few Good Men, being mounted as a theatrical production revival. So Sorkin has a lot on his plate and doesn’t really need the bashing he’s going to take for his Season 3 of The Newsroom, which returned on HBO earlier tonight.

Tonight’s episode was called Boston, and it tied in the real life tragedy of the bombings at the Boston Marathon on April 15th, 2013 with the ACN coverage of the story. Sorkin has stated that it is easier and better to tie his fictional stories to real news events instead of having to use made up news. While I am understanding his reasoning, it didn’t work all that well for me tonight.

I mean we are well versed in what happened at the Marathon and the aftermath, so I felt it difficult to build up any enthusiasm for the dramatic rushing about, and then sitting on the sidelines while they waited for confirmations before going on the air. Margaret Jordan and Elliot Hirsch went up to Boston and the rest of the News Night crew stayed home.

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The Newsroom: Sn 02 Episode 08 – Election Night Part 1 – Recap and Commentary


Because Boardwalk Empire ran a tad long, The Newsroom began promptly at 10:01. By 10:35 I was feeling a bit more than simply antsy waiting for something worthwhile to occur. What I got from Mr. Aaron Sorkin in the first 35 minutes was a whole bunch of people talking rapidly, about stuff I really didn’t care about. Or so it seemed.

But appearances can be deceiving. As it turned out, the episode wasn’t nearly as scattershot as I originally peceived. In fact it was tightly woven. Some stitches were wrong and stood out as mistakes, but the overall episode really worked when it chose to. But it didn’t choose to often enough. Read on.

The episode title was Election Night Part 1, and the opening was Jim Harper and Hallie Shea communicating via laptops. Harper wanted what he was about to tell Hallie to be ‘off-the-record’ and he insisted that Hallie speak those three little words before he would spill his guts about the resignations at the top of the news division that were turned away by Leona, and the mass resignations by staff that were planned but still hadn’t happened.

While the internal combustion of a cable network news show was big news – I still wasn’t happy about seeing Hallie on Jim’s laptop rather than in a full size version.

Back In Will’s office – Charlie called Will Father Flanagan, a reference to Fr Flanagan and to the film Boys Town (1938) and ‘never ending optimism’. Will wanted to feel good, and had appointed himself the bearer of glad tidings, or said another way, he had put himself in charge of boosting office morale. However, in the aftermath of the Genoa thing, 48 hours ago on the show, but two weeks ago for we viewers, Charlie still wanted to fall on his sword (with Will), or have Will fire MacKenzie. No go said Will. Charlie replied that he’s not firing anyone either, and he needs to be fired himself.

Lady lawyer Rebecca Halliday was also at this meeting. She was dressed to the nines, or as she put it, her outfit could be called liquid sex (as it was that hot) and she was headed upstairs for Reese Lansing’s Election Night soiree. But before then, she had some news to discuss with Don Keefer.

Next there was a makeup room chat with Elliot, Sloan and Taylor who has been asked to appear on the election night coverage. Elliot and Sloan got into a tiff because Elliot had told Sloan something which I shall refer to as Dakota Batts, and Sloan said there’s no way she won’t talk about that race all night. Elliot said, I am. Sloan – I called it. Elliot: What do you mean? I just told it to you. Sloan countered with, Yeah, but I called it…!

Really? On prime time? Sloan and Elliot just resurrected something from Seinfeld. And Taylor settled it by saying, Yeah, I’ve always understood that you had to call it.


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The Newsroom: Sn 02 Episode 05 – News Night With Will McAvoy – Recap

As Shania Twain once sang, That don’t impress me much…

Last night’s The Newsroom Episode 5 entitled News Night With Will McAvoy gets a split decision from me. Sorkin initially donned his juggler costume and asked us to watch him juggle various story lines. It was really a bit too much to handle. The first 38-39 minutes of the show were scatter-shot, depressing, and static. The final 21 minutes were simply excellent.

You’ve heard the expression ‘as dull and as boring as watching paint dry‘, well, we got a double dose of that with Jim Harper and Maggie Jordan watching the progress of a download, as well as Sloan Sabbith and Don Keefer sitting on the floor of his darkened office.

Of course there was more to it than that. Jordan was still reeling from her experiences in Africa and the passage of two months had only deepened her depression. She now included drinking to excess and casual sex as part of her normal routine to make her interior demons go away.

Jim Harper is also back at the ACN studio – his misadventures, miss-steps, and misguided interactions on the Romney campaign trail were now a part of history. Or not? The shadow of Hallie Shea still loomed ominously despite her blond glow.. Even Maggie Jordan knew many of the details including the hand-off of the interview

So Harper and Jordan now had to bear the brunt of the added weight of their separate personal lives AND their proximity in the workplace. To say that the situation was awkward would only be partially right. If instead you described it as awkward raised to the nth degree you’d really have it right.

Sloan’s problem was that she and a now former beau had booked a weekend at an elegant hotel. Sloan had bought this fellow a new camera, a good one, and during that weekend, Sloan had freely posed for photos. You know – just for fun, and just for us, is how she described it. Only it didn’t quite stay in the realm of private activities between two consenting adults.

Sloan and this fellow broke up the next day. And shortly thereafter, this fellow uploaded the photos to one of the Ex G/F sites. And shortly after that Sloan was called in for a meeting with Charlie Skinner and Reese Lansing. After initially denying and using the classic Photoshop defense, Sloan confessed. Yes, it is me, and yes, there are more picture than the ones on the website.

Reese: Sloan, you know you are a trending topic…?

This was an awful thing to hear because it meant that Sloan’s private moments, in Reese’s eyes, might have some value as a ratings booster. Pow!

Sloan Sabbith in the morose phase

Sloan Sabbith in the morose phase

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The Newsroom: Episode 10 – The Greater Fool – Recap

Ten weeks, ten episodes, and the sand has ran out of the hourglass, meaning the HBO’s TV series The Newsroom, had run out of time. Season One came to a close. Overall I thoroughly enjoyed the season. This episode was called The Greater Fool, and it should have been terrific, in fact some of it was terrific, albeit with some heavy blemishes. The same could be said about the overall series too.

Rather than doing only a straight linear recap, I’ll close my series of posts about The Newsroom with a different kind of ‘End of the Season’ recap by using Random Thoughts about things in this episode and some overview of the series in general.

The episode was built using a flashback/flash forward structure. It began with McAvoy doing a broadcast on August 8th, 2011. His topic – and it took him a while to get to it because he first told us what stories would not be the number one news story of the day. But he did get to it, and ‘tonight’s top story is about Dorothy Cooper‘, But just after introducing the topic – we flashed back to eight days prior.

Will hadn’t shown up for work, and so Mackenzie and Lonny the bodyguard arrived at his apartment to find out why. It took them a few minutes to discover Will unconscious, and bloody, on the bathroom floor. As it turns out, Will had mixed antidepressant drugs and bourbon, which impacted a bleeding ulcer. Not good. Cue flash forward to the news broadcast.

Will: Dorothy Cooper is a 96-year-old resident of Chattanooga, Tennessee, and has been voting for the last 75 years. This year she’s been told she can’t. There it is. With Cooper being the sub topic, the main topic is new voter registration laws in a number of states requiring a government issued photo ID. Will used a film clip of Texas Governor Rick Perry, and then showed us some stats (about voter fraud) which yielded a number that was .0004% of the number of voters. New laws were enacted in 33 states to protect against voter fraud. In 32 of the 33 states, the bills were introduced by state legislatures that had a Republic majority, and signed in to law by Republic governors. The concept?

If you can’t get people to vote FOR you, then reduce the number of people who would likely vote AGAINST you. Time to flashback again, this time to 7 days prior. Continue reading

The Newsroom: Episode 8 – The Blackout: – Part 1 – Tragedy Porn – Recap

I thought The Newsroom: Episode 8 called The Blackout Part I: Tragedy Porn was a nice recovery from the previous episode which I categorized as the weakest of the season. This one was like a highlight reel. Not only was it mostly all good, but it improved by subtraction as well. We didn’t have to deal with the Maggie/Jim/Lisa/Don follies this week.

From the jump, as Will interviews the writer Brian Brenner (played by Paul Schneider) to the closing blackout which was followed by Bob Dylan singing Saved as the closing credits rolled by, this episode was just superb.

Will wants to get the story out there. That News Night and Will himself have changed. Now he’s no longer a ratings whore. He wants the story of how he and Mackenzie McHale have changed the face of the news at ACN to be told. He’s willing to give Brenner full access for a few days to hang around, to talk to whoever he wants – all off the record. If Will likes the vibe – they’ll go forward and do the story

Brenner: You’re asking me to audition.
Will: Yeah.
Brenner: Why would I do that?
Will: I can think of some reasons… four years ago you were on the masthead of Newsweek Magazine turning out 10 cover stories a year, and spending Sunday mornings on TV. Now you have a blog.

Paul Schneider as Brian Brenner

Will: The Sunday Times Magazine, Vanity Fair, GQ, The New Republic, the Atlantic Monthly – everyone’s offered a cover, and I get to pick the writer. I’m going with New York Magazine, and you.
Are you okay with the audition?

Brenner: That’s fine with me (the limitations that Will has just handed down) but that’s the last time you will tell me what I will or will not report. I’m not your stenographer.
Will: Do we have a deal?

Next Will, Mackenzie, and Charlie Skinner have been summoned to take a meeting with Reese Lansing (the Ratings Guy). Turns out the that viewers have left the News Night show in droves. They’ve lost a half a million viewers because they haven’t been covering the Casey Anthony and Anthony Weiner stories. Reese is livid.

Reese to Mackenzie; You have a ratings obligation…

Reese: You have a ratings obligation.
Mackenzie: No, you have a ratings obligation. You’re in business with the advertisers. I’m in business with the viewers.
Reese: You just lost their business.

Unfortunately, The News Night folks cannot refute that. Reese tells them – That’s it. Use the facts as you see fit.

Back in Charlie’s office – Charlie directs Mackenzie to begin coverage of the Casey Anthony trial. Mack protests strongly. She hates it – equating it to being – ‘just this side of a snuff film‘. Charlie hates it too. But he has to be the pragmatist. Since they’ve lost half their viewers in five days; that much of decline is unprecedented, so they have no choice. Mack thinks Will will take the same stance as she has.

Will is just about to agree to cover the Casey Anthony story. This will leave Mackenzie isolated, so she’ll have to sign on for Casey Anthony and Anthony Weiner coverage even though she doesn’t like it.

But Will wants something to happen. He wants to ‘fundamentally change the way we interview candidates for the job of President. I want the debates’, and he wants News Night to have it. But without viewers and ratings – they have no shot.

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The Newsroom: Episode 7 – 5/1 – Recap

Okay, so I didn’t quite remember exactly what happened on 5/1 which was the title of The Newsroom’s 7th Episode. The date referenced was May 1st, 2011. The Episode begins with a party at Will McAvoy’s apartment, where Charlie Skinner gets a mysterious phone call from the 2011 version of Deep Throat. The caller tells Charlie that he will get a phone call at 9:00 PM from the White House Press Secretary.

When Charlie presses him for more info, the caller simply says that he’s told Charlie all he could at the time, and that he’s only establishing his credibility. This was a pretty decent hook, as I said above I didn’t recall what that date referenced.

Meanwhile, the party continued. Will had wolfed down two pot-laced cookies brought to the party by Kaylee who is Neal’s girl friend. This on top of taking his vicodin. More on the party doings – charades, drinking games, Kaylee playing Guitar Hero blindfolded, a duet with Will and Jim, and Charlie nervously checking his watch.

Then a lengthy session with Jim and Maggie, which was interrupted when Lisa called, then back to Jim and Maggie. This was nearly four minutes of Maggie hectoring Jim. Why? Because Lisa told Jim she loved him last night – and Jim isn’t on the same page.

Why does Sorkin love these two so much? You know, Fox Mulder and Dana Scully danced this same dance for the better part of 9 seasons on The X-Files, but they at least did solve some cases. Quick quiz – can you recall any work that Jim Harper and Maggie Jordan did over the last few episodes?

Just then Charlie gets his phone call. The President of the United States will go on the air at 10:30 to make a statement that will be about matters of National Security. Amid a lot of uninformed guesses – Charlie says, ‘I think they got Bin Laden. But before Will, Charlie, Mackenzie, Jim, Maggie, and even Lisa, and everyone else leaves the party (4 per taxi were Mackenzie’s instructions) to rush back to the office, Sorkin takes a few moments to demonstrate that Will is under the influence of the pot-laced cookies.

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