Random Thoughts on Captain America: Civil War

Captain America: Civil War is the best Avengers movie Marvel Studios has made. That was an easy conclusion to arrive to. It’s quite possibly the best or, at the very least, one of the three best movies from the studio. After seeing the movie last night, that seemed like a reasonable opinion, but I wanted to sleep on it in order to give my movierection (a medical term) a chance to settle down. After reflecting a bit on Captain America: Civil War, I can totally understand the argument that it’s the best Marvel Studios film to date and also accept the opinion that it’s not. Let’s keep the examination going, with the RPadTV binary not-a-review of Captain America: Civil War.

[Turn on your spoiler shields!]

It’s An Avengers Movie, Not a Cap Movie (Good): Although he’s the titular character in Captain America: Civil War, this is very much an ensemble movie. Sure, Cap and Iron Man are at the forefront, but many characters get a chance to shine. Some help drive the plot forward (The Winter Soldier, Black Panther), while others are comedic scene stealers (Ant-Man, Spider-Man). Whatever the case may be, this is definitely an Avengers film…and the best one ever, at that.

Scarlet Witch Still Sucks (Bad): I’ve been high on Elizabeth Olsen for years, but was puzzled by her portrayal of the Scarlet Witch in The Avengers: Age of Ultron. Once you get past her hotness, I’m not sure what she does for the movie. Speaking with a bad accent and doing funny things with her fingers doesn’t add much to the film. That said, these are very minor criticisms of Captain America: Civil War. That’s how good the movie is — you have to actively look for flaws and it’s difficult to find anything significant.

Tony Stark is a Dick (Good): Similar to his heel turn in the Civil War comics, Iron Man is pretty much a dick in the movie. His emotions are manipulated (perhaps too easily), leading to irrational thoughts and actions. I suppose your political leanings come into play on whether you’re #TeamCap or #TeamIronMan, but to me, Tony is clearly the villain in Captain America: Civil War.

Captain America Civil War
Avengers, Disassemble!

Wonderfully Diverse Comedy (Good): I loved the humor in this movie. It’s frequent and diverse, without getting in the way of a serious conflict. Ant-Man’s bits were wonderful. Spider-Man will win the hearts of millions. I even enjoyed the deadpan rapport between Falcon and Winter Soldier. For me, this is what separates Captain America: Civil War from Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Many cite the latter as Marvel Studios’ best, but I prefer Civil War. I won’t argue with anyone that thinks The Winter Soldier is Better, because that’s an understandable opinion, but I’ll watch Civil War exponentially more in the future, simply because the comedy balances the drama. Also, the jokes about Marisa Tomei’s age and beauty were excellent…though I’m still not sure the world is ready for Hot Aunt May.

Lack of Anger Management (Bad): While I understand that they needed to be Cap’s antagonists, it was somewhat disappointing to see Iron Man and Black Panther suffer from ridiculous mad-ons. The former is supposed to be one of the smartest people in the world, while the latter is supposed to be one of the noblest Avengers. For most of the movie, both gave into their anger and went full Sith. Much of the conflict would have been avoided if everyone — those two in particular — calmed down and applied some rational thought to the situation. Of course, the movie would have been much shorter….

The New Guys (Good): Although he was irrationally angry for much of the film, Black Panther was pretty frickin’ cool. His fight scenes were dynamic and his costume looked great. Ant-Man (new in The Avengers movie sense) was pretty awesome on several levels. I mentioned his comedic bits before, but I love the way the movies portray his shrinking powers and it was brilliant to see him as Giant Man for a bit. Spider-Man lived up to his comic-book adjectives — amazing and spectacular. Spidey’s CG was fantastic and it was fun having an innocent character around for a heavy conflict.

You're either #TeamCap or a communist traitor
You’re either #TeamCap or a communist traitor

Second Comings (Good): Winter Soldier and Falcon have grown into their characters nicely. I’m a huge mark for the comics version of Winter Soldier and Bucky Cap. Sebastian Stan was very good in that role. Falcon, who’s pretty lame in the comics, was great in the movie. Anthony Mackie did an admirable job as the Avenger’s birdman. His new tech made him look cool and he brought a confidence to the role that makes him much more than Captain America’s token African-American friend. That said, I will always see him as Papa Doc from 8-Mile. It would have been awesome if the Civil War conflict came down to a freestyle rap battle between Falcon and Vision.

Wanton Violence (Good): In previous Avengers movies, the good guys spent most of their time beating up aliens and robots. You never really felt the weight of the violence. Seeing Captain America and Iron Man bloodied, bruised, and battered hit much closer to home. The violence was borderline shocking, especially because former friends and allies were truly taking it to each other.

Best Action Ever (Good): Marvel Studios has really upped the ante on its action sequences. Whether it’s visceral melee combat, thrilling chase scenes, or fanboy-squeal inducing super-power sequences, Captain America: Civil War has raised the bar for Marvel action. I enjoyed every bit of action in the movie and will certainly pay to see it again.

Masterful Pacing (Good): I was shocked to see that the runtime of Captain America: Civil War is 146 minutes. The directors and writers did an incredible job of weaving action and comedy into a dramatic conflict, allowing the film to move at a zippy pace. While I loved Captain America: The Winter Soldier, that movie feels like it’s 136 minutes.

Captain America Civil War Spider-Man
Spidey-Cap?

Bottom Line: As I was leaving the movie, I said to my excellent friend Paul, “It’s hard to think of anything wrong with that movie.” While I understand that abandoning logic was necessary for the hero vs. hero conflict, the worst thing I can say about Captain America: Civil War is that Scarlet Witch’s accent and finger motions were silly. For me, it’s definitely in my top three Marvel Studios films, along with Guardians of the Galaxy and Captain America: The Winter Soldier. There’s a good chance that it’ll end up being my favorite (I need to see it a few more times). Its combination of amazing action, excellent comedy, and a weighty conflict completely worked for me.

For another take on Captain America: Civil War, check out this PaulSemel.com review.

Random Thoughts on Deadpool (Movie Review)

Deadpool’s journey from pulp to cinema took many twists and turns. People were worried that a big movie studio wouldn’t let Marvel’s “Merc With a Mouth” be true to the comics. Some were worried that the Deadpool movie couldn’t possibly live up to the outstanding marketing campaign that preceded it. I’m incredibly happy to tell you that the movie is all that and then some. The movie is true to one of Marvel’s most unique characters and Fox’s best comic-book movie to date.

Now let’s break it down using the hallowed RPadTV binary system. Naturally, turn on your spoiler shields!

Ryan Reynolds Redeemed (Good): It’s no secret that I hated the Green Lantern movie — like physically, palpably hated that piece of sh*t. I was a Ryan Reynolds fan going into Green Lantern and wanted to kick the crap out of him after watching that craptastic failure of a film. He ruined one of my favorite characters in comics and I was deathly afraid that he was going to do it again, but…

Deadpool was so enjoyable that after the movie was over, I thought to myself, “You’re forgiven, Ryan Reynolds. It’s all good.” It took a remarkable effort (maximum effort!) and a great performance to redeem him, but Reynolds did it (to my delightful amazement).

Best. Opening. Credits. Ever. (Good): I can’t even spoil this one for you. It was too good. It even had little Easter eggs, like Rob L’s cup of coffee.

Deadpool Movie Review 2

Perfect Tone (Good): As expected, there were some changes from the source material, but the tone of the movie and the character were spot on. The combination of Reynolds’ performance, sharp writing, crude language, and ridiculous action made the movie feel like the real Deadpool. Of course it wasn’t as literal as The Watchmen, but Deadpool is still among the most faithful movie adaptations of a comic book.

Daario Nawhatshisface (Bad): One of the movie’s few weaknesses was Ajax. The movie version of the villain was totally “generic British baddie.” Actor Ed Skrein had a few fun moments, but his performance was otherwise flat. Also, I couldn’t stop seeing him as Daario Naharis v1 from Game of Thrones. I’m pretty sure all Game of Thrones fans that see Deadpool will recognize him. Those summer teeth are unforgettable.

Angel Dust (Bad): While Gina Carano made for a menacing villainess, I was bummed that this role was a budgetary amalgam. Originally, the cast of baddies was larger. For monetary reasons, the characters of Garrison Kane, Sluggo, and Wyre were mashed into Angel Dust. I’m particularly fond of the Kane character, so it was a bummer that he didn’t make the cut. While Carano had some nice fight scenes, her acting is…pretty much what you’d expect from an ex-MMA fighter.

Fourth Wall Follies (Good): One of the most entertaining aspects of Deadpool (the comics character) is his penchant for breaking down the fourth wall. Deadpool (the movie character) does this too and he does it well. It would have been easy to lean too heavily on this device, but I think the writers kept it on the right side of the line between entertaining and overzealous. The fourth-wall humor and constant pop-culture references are two of the reasons the Deadpool character is unique and they had to be part of the movie. Witty words delivered sharply by Reynolds made it work.

Deadpool Negasonic Teenage Warhead

Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Good): Okay, the movie version of the character is nothing like the comics version, but it totally worked. Brianna Hildebrand had a small role in the film, but she maximized her screen time. She was great as an angsty teen mutant with energy-based powers. Plus, it’s just fun to say and type Negasonic Teenage Warhead.

Negasonic Teenage Warhead, Negasonic Teenage Warhead, Negasonic Teenage Warhead — see?!?

Surprisingly Heartfelt (Good): One aspect of the movie that I wasn’t expecting was effective romance. Ryan Reynolds and Morena Baccarin had great onscreen chemistry, making the romance between Deadpool and Vanessa believable. The movie had a shocking amount of romantic charm, making it one of the few comic-book movies that works for a Valentine’s Day date (provided you’re dating or married to a cool chick).

Ultra Violence (Good): Like the comics, the Deadpool movie has a zany type of violence. Fierce gunplay, acrobatic swordsmanship, and physical comedy were blended together marvelously. There was a nice contrast between Deadpool’s dynamic fight scenes and Colossus’ power moves. The brief “fight” between Deadpool and Colossus was frickin’ hilarious.

Music Sweet Music (Good): You have to give it up for a movie that effectively uses Juice Newton, Salt-N-Pepa, Neil Sedaka, Chicago, and Wham! in the same soundtrack.

Bring On the Director’s Cut (Good): I’m looking forward to watching a longer edit of the movie. As it is, the pace of the theatrical release is just about perfect for a mainstream audience. As a lifelong comics nerd, I want more — especially more scenes with Weasel and Blind Al. I love both of those characters and the talent playing them in movie is fantastic.

Bottom Line: Deadpool exceeded my expectations. I was expecting a movie packed with raucous action and lewd humor. While the movie did have those elements, it also had deeper characterization than I was expecting, as well as smarter writing. Deadpool has been one of my favorite Marvel characters for decades and I’m thrilled that Fox did him justice on the big screen. Again, I’m comfortable saying that this is Fox’s best comic-book movie to date. More importantly, I’m happy to say that Deadpool makes up for the travesty that was Green Lantern. Thank you, Ryan Reynolds, for championing this movie and delivering a fantastic performance.

Random Thoughts on Lucifer S1E1

As a huge fan of The Sandman: Season of Mists, I was curious about the Lucifer television series. In the comics, Lucifer Morningstar is the lord of hell and has grown tired of ruling the damned for 10,000,000,000 years. He absconds his throne, throwing the world of gods in disarray. His adventures continue in his own comic, which blends supernatural adventures with a core theme — predestination vs. free will. The first episode of the Lucifer television series touches on this theme, but adds a new dimension that could be possibly doom the series.

Here are some random thoughts on Lucifer season one episode one, brought to you in battle-tested RPadTV binary system.

Lucifer s1e1

Charming Cast (Good): Tom Ellis is absolutely delightful as Lucifer Morningstar. He’s charming, witty, and hilarious. As you’d expected from a devilish character, he’s dashingly obnoxious. He’s kind of a dick, but you can’t help but like him.

The rapport between Ellis and Lauren German (playing LAPD detective Chloe Decker) is excellent. They play off of each other well, in a way that you’d expect established characters in a third season of a TV show to work with each other. Their vibe is so strong in the pilot and I’m looking forward to seeing it burgeon.

LAPD What?!? (Bad): From what I’ve read, the former lord of hell will be spending a bulk of the season…assisting LAPD investigations. This seems idiotic and takes away from the character’s central theme. What made the books so enjoyable is the dichotomy of Lucifer’s life; running a club in Los Angeles and dealing with gods from different pantheons is a stark contrast.

My fear is that the LAPD angle will make the show seem too much like NYPD: Satan or CSI: Fallen Angel. If the show winds up being a procedural then that would be a big fail. At its best, the comics examine how much free will beings (human and otherwise) really have vs. everything being part of God’s plan. That’s what I want the focus of the show to be (set in the ridiculous backdrop of the ridiculous city of Los Angeles).

Lucifer s1e1

Great Cinematography (Good, duh): The visuals of Lucifer surprised me. My expectations for a Fox television show are low and I was impressed by Lucifer’s feel. The show favors an oversaturated color palette, giving Los Angeles a dreamy look. In some ways, the gratuitous portrayal of Los Angeles reminded me of how the city was used in Entourage, but in a more artful and less heavy-handed fashion.

Angel (Good): The angel Amenadiel was introduced early in the show, trying to get Lucifer back to his station in hell. I want more of this and less of the LAPD nonsense. Amenadiel is a proud angel and clearly hates Lucifer. He also seems annoyed with being tasked with getting a guy to do his damn job. Hell not having a ruler has enormous repercussions for the universe and God isn’t too happy about it. Since the protagonist of the show is supernatural, I want to see him in supernatural adventures dealing with angels, God, and gods. Hopefully Amenadiel play a bigger role in future episodes.

Angels (Bad): The downer is that Amenadiel looks like he’ll be an amalgam of the various angels used in The Sandman and Lucifer comics. Instead of having multiple angels, the Lucifer television show seems to have one serving all of their roles. I’d rather see Amenadiel, Michael, Gabriel, Duma, and Remiel on the show separately than one Swiss Army Knife angel. Though I suppose the angel mash was necessary in order for Lucifer to romp around with an LAPD detective. *sigh*

Lucifer Amenadiel

Mazikeen (Bad): In the comics, Mazikeen first appears as a frail and deformed demon that’s completely devoted to Lucifer. She develops into a strong and powerful character with enough moxie to call Lucifer out on his crap. In the television show, Mazikeen already has the attitude and is tired of Lucifer simply being a nightclub owner. I’m bummed that the show won’t show this character’s interesting development.

Bottom Line: I went into Lucifer episode one with a lot of apprehension. The LAPD angle is infuriatingly stupid and I don’t see any way that it will work out. Despite that, I enjoyed the pilot. Tom Ellis and Lauren German were great. The imagery was surprisingly strong. While I don’t have high hopes for the series in the long run, I’m going to give it a few more episodes.

Random Thoughts on Star Wars: The Force Awakens

There’s so much that I want to say about Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Thankfully, this website lets me share my (silly) stream of consciousness with the world. Today’s “not a review” uses the tried and true RPadTV binary system for lots of random thoughts on the latest chapter in the Star Wars saga. Here’s the short version — I loved it and will happily pay money to see it again in theaters…several times.

Like most nerds, I love the original Star Wars trilogy. That said, I probably enjoyed the prequels more than most (don’t get me wrong, Jar Jar and Ani suck). I also greatly enjoyed director JJ Abrams’ two Star Trek movies. Going into The Force Awakens, I had high but reasonably tempered expectations. I’m happy to say that my expectations were exceeded. The Force Awakens is a phenomenally fun movie. Now kindly turn on your spoiler shields and lock your S-foils in attack position for some random thoughts on Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

The Force Awakens Review b

Mark Out Moments (Good): The Force Awakens had four moments that overwhelmed my heart and had me holding back tears of joy.

  • The first time the Millennium Falcon is shown
  • Seeing the new X-wing fighters
  • The first time R2D2 is shown
  • Rey using the force to grab a lightsaber

 

These scenes dazzled me and had me believing in movie magic again. In the immortal words of Sergio from Get Him to the Greek, they left me feeling “like an eight-year old who just discovered his first boner.” While I’ve marked out at the movies before, I don’t recall ever feeling so high from a film. It almost makes you feel bad for younger people that didn’t grow up with the original Star Wars movies, since they won’t have those nostalgia-fueled mark-out moments.

A New Scoundrel (Good): Resistance pilot Poe Dameron stole the show early on. He’s one of the best pilots in the galaxy and has a roguish charm. When he’s captured by The First Order and brought face to face with baddie Kylo Ren, Poe quips in the face of danger. He’s supposed to be terrified, but playfully says, “Are you talking first? Or am I? Who’s supposed to talk first?” It’s a nice eff you to Kylo Ren and peril in general. For the rest of the movie, Poe is pretty much the good guy male moviegoers want to be.

The Force Awakens Review c

Finn Grow on You (Good): Initially, Finn comes off as flat and uninteresting. Part of the problem is that he was paired with Poe in the earliest portion of the movie (Poe will always be “the cool one”). Over the course of The Force Awakens, Finn grows on you and then you realize that he’s a fantastic perspective character. Yes, he does heroic things, but he also has moments of freak-out cowardice, lies about his identity, and overstates his importance. He behaves in a wonderfully realistic way that’s layered, nuanced, and easy to relate to. While he starts off flat (perhaps intentionally), John Boyega’s multifaceted importance and comic timing were impressive.

Rey Kicks Ass (Good): When protagonist Rey first appeared I said, “Look, it’s less-attractive Keira Knightley.” (Partially because of her bone structure, but more for her accent) As The Force Awakens went on, she became more-talented Keira Knightley, which ultimately made her more-attractive Keira Knightley.

Rey is one of the coolest and most kick-ass female characters in sci-fi. She’s capable on several levels, equally adept at scavenging for valuable goods, jury rigging the Millennium Falcon, and fighting with a lightsaber. While there are more and more powerful female characters in mainstream movies all the time, Rey might be the most important, simply because Star Wars is huge. Daisy Ridley did a wonderful job bringing a new heroine to life. Her progression from desert scavenger to force heroine was enjoyable and mysterious. I kind of wish that I had a daughter that idolized her.

The Force Awakens Review d

No Jar Jars (Good): The Force Awakens didn’t have any annoying aliens that got way too much screen time, annoying kids that somehow grow up to be menacing villains, and wooden young adults that (also) grow up to be menacing villains. The Jar Jar factor was probably my biggest fear going into the movie. I’m grateful that The Force Awakens didn’t have any Jar Jars or Anis.

Too Much Imitation (Possibly Bad): The biggest potential issue with The Force Awakens is that it, perhaps, is too beholden to the original trilogy. It contains many similarities and hits many of the same beats as A New Hope. Here are some examples — droid with important info gets stuck on crappy desert planet, protagonist in bland clothing finds said droid, good guys look for help at an intergalactic dive bar, bad guys build enormous spherical weapon, good guys attempt to blow up said weapon by attacking minuscule design flaw, main baddy wears a mask that gives him a menacing voice, baddy’s boss is fond of video chat, one of the X-wing pilots is overweight, mentor character dies, etc.

Some fans will feel that these instances are flattering imitation and a respectful homage to the first Star Wars film. Others will feel that they’re unoriginal and prevent The Force Awakens from being truly fresh. Personally, I enjoyed all of these moments. History has a tendency to repeat itself, even in a galaxy far away. That said, I understand if some moviegoers feel that The Force Awakens has too many similarities to A New Hope. (I will also classify those people as heartless killjoys.)

Greg Grunberg is the New Jek Porkins: I love that Greg Grunberg is in this film. I need a bestie like JJ Abrams, so that I can get roles in all of his work. More importantly, I love that Grunberg’s Snap Wexley is an overweight X-wing pilot. I am positive that Wexley’s real last name is Porkins and that he changed it to escape the sizable shadow of his heroic father.

Spoilers (Good): Disney was pretty tight with advanced screenings and did an amazing job containing press leaks. With the way today’s Internet and social media work, it’s shocking that the company was able to control information as well as it did. I was genuinely surprised about Kylo Ren’s parentage. While it was telegraphed in the movie, I’m amazed that Han Solo’s death wasn’t plastered all over the Internet weeks before the release of The Force Awakens.

Kylo Ren Temper Tantrums (Good): There were two scenes where Kylo Ren threw fits and lightsaber-ed the crap out of everything around him. Compared to how cool and controlled previous Star Wars villains were, it was fun watching him lose his sh*t. I loved it when Kylo Ren was throwing a tantrum offscreen and two stormtroopers were shown turning around. I bet their conversation went something like this:

Stormtrooper 1: “Oh crap. Wannabe sith is having another one of his bitch fits.”
Stormtrooper 2: “Yeah, let’s head to the canteen while the IT department cleans up his mess.”
Stormtropper 1: “I hope they have the penne with peas again.” (Eddie Izzard reference ftw!)

Lightsaber Duels (Good): The fight between Rey and Kylo Ren might be my favorite lightsaber fight to date. The ones from the original trilogy were fairly basic. The ones from the prequels had moments of brilliant choreography, but were overdone and had too many instances of people swinging at lightsabers instead of bodies. (Watch me execute this dynamic CG flip and swing my lightsaber ever so fiercely at your lightsaber!) The lightsaber showdown in The Force Awakens was more interesting than the original duels and more realistic than the prequel fights.

Harrison Ford Has Fun (Good): I wasn’t expecting so much Han Solo in the movie, but am grateful for all of his scenes. Old Han Solo is damaged and brittle, but still the scoundrel that everyone loved from the original movies. I couldn’t help thinking about the last time Harrison Ford reprised an old role. Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull felt laborious, as if playing the character was a burden for Ford. In The Force Awakens, he appears to be genuinely enjoying himself and having fun with the Han Solo character. While his sarcasm is toned down, he awesomely busts out a few old-school Solo-isms every now and then.

C-3PO’s Entrance (Good): This was just about perfect. Han and Leia are having an emotional moment when 3PO interrupts and kills it. Bwahahahahahahaha!!!

General Hux (Good): While he wasn’t quite the new Tarkin, Hux was a nice addition to The Force Awakens. He’s a manipulative and competitive sociopath. His dynamic with Kylo Ren was fun. Domhnall Gleeson did a great job at making this character such an unlikable dick. You can’t wait to see him eventually get blown up or sliced with a lightsaber. As a sci-fi/fantasy nerd, I love that an actor from the Harry Potter franchise is playing a part in the new Star Wars movies.

Bottom Line: Anyway, those are some assorted thoughts on Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I have many more floating around in my head, but I want to hear what you thought of the film. Please leave a comment below with your opinions and observations on Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I hope we have an awesomely nerdy discussion!

Addendum (Updated Dec-18 2:11PM)

Kylo Samberg (Bad?): Adam Driver is funny looking. With his big nose and poofy hair, he had me thinking about another funny-looking actor — Andy Samberg. Whenever Kylo Ren was onscreen, 11 percent of my brain thought about him unmasking to reveal Andy Samberg’s dopey face.

More Keira (Good): My buddy Paul brought up an interesting point about Daisy Ridley’s resemblance to Keira Knightley. Perhaps it was intentional. Knightley did play one of Queen Amidala’s handmaidens/decoys/pieces of cannon fodder in The Phantom Menace. The resemblance between Natalie Portman and Keira Knightley even confused their respective mothers during the filming of the prequels. Having a young actress with similar looks would make sense if Rey turns out to be part of the Skywalker bloodline.

Random Thoughts on Fantastic Four

The best thing that I can say about the Fantastic Four 2015 reboot is…that it was better than Green Lantern. That movie was traumatically horrid. Fantastic Four isn’t quite that bad, but it felt incomplete — as if the studio released a rough cut of the movie or an entire act was missing. It’s certainly not a good movie (superhero or otherwise), but I was surprised by how unfinished it felt. It doesn’t have a grand climax or a profound sense of resolution. Instead you’re left with a feeling of, “That’s it?” Whether it’s in a bedroom or in a movie theater, you don’t want that feeling.

In the grand RPadTV tradition, here’s a binary breakdown of the 2015 Fantastic Four movie.

Flaccid Four (Bad): Someone involved in the making of this superhero movie doesn’t like superhero movies. Fantastic Four lacks the standard superhero movie devices of epic battles, a stentorian soundtrack, and cool special effects. The movie’s finale was such a letdown. When the Fantastic Four finally fought Dr. Doom, the buildup was slow…and then suddenly the fight was over. Whether it was the director, the editor, or the studio, the people involved with this movie took the Fantastic Four and made them a fantastic bore.

Dr. Doom (Bad): Why, why, why can’t a movie portray Dr. Doom properly?!? It’s confounding. He’s one of the best villains in the Marvel Universe! Comics Doom is an awesome combination of science and sorcery. While much of the world fears him, the people that he rules love him. Many of his actions are driven by mommy issues (i.e. love). He’s arrogant and capable, with just enough vulnerability to make him sympathetic. In the last two Fantastic Four movies, Doom was an evil businessman. In this one, he’s an angry tech geek. In all three films, he lacked the confidence, competence, and heart that make Doom such a brilliant character in the comics.

Kate Mara Fantastic Four

Kate Mara (Good): On the plus side, Kate Mara was the best part of the movie (visually). She wasn’t great as Sue Storm/The Invisible Woman, but she did an adequate job and will satisfy those that felt Jessica Alba was too dopey in the last two Fantastic Four movies. I am, of course, biased when it comes to Kate Mara. She’s alluring and she comes from a wealthy family. It’s fun watching her on a big screen while you dream about her making you a kept man.

Michael B. Jordan (Bad): When Jordan was announced as Johnny Storm/The Human Torch, some fans were livid that an African-American actor was cast as a white-bread character. What they should really be mad about is that he completely sucked in the movie. Jordan was easily the worst lead in the Fantastic Four. While the rest of the cast did a reasonable job of movie-level acting, Jordan brought his WB-level game to the film. He was so bad that I have high hopes of him replacing Paul Walker as my favorite crappy actor. If Jordan adds a bit of charm to his inept acting then he has a good chance of getting there.

Michael B Jordan Human Torch

Franklin Storm Rocked (Good): The best actor in the movie wasn’t one of the four main protagonists or the sole villain. He was a supporting character — Reg E. Cathey’s Dr. Franklin Storm. His performance was easily the best in the movie — dude has a wicked voice that adds gravitas to his scenes.

Oyster Bay Why?!? (Bad): For reasons that seem random, the movie’s version of Reed Richards and Benjamin Grimm grew up in Oyster Bay. My personal problem with this is that there’s a cutaway scene in Oyster Bay where the Manhattan skyline is shown. I lived in Oyster Bay for a few years. Unless you have a really tall house and a very powerful telescope, you cannot see Manhattan from Oyster Bay. The scene reminded me of Jackie Chan’s Rumble in the Bronx, when a cutaway of the Statue of Liberty was shown. Similar to how you can’t see the Statue of Liberty from the Bronx, you simply can’t see Manhattan from Oyster Bay.

The bigger issue pertains to Ben Grimm’s character. In the comics, he grew up on the Lower East Side on Yancy Street. His older brother was killed in a gang fight. Grimm’s rough big-city upbringing is a huge part of his identity and The Thing’s rocky exterior is a metaphor for his tough shell that covers a soft heart. Going deeper, comics Thing has several personal elements from his creator, Jack Kirby. “The King” grew up on the Lower East Side on Delancey Street and had an older brother that died when he was young. The movie’s change in locales makes no sense geographically and is insulting to the character’s creator.

Thing Yancy Street

Not the Least Bit Fantastic: Honestly, Fantastic Four isn’t as bad as some people are making it out to be. It felt like it was a little more than halfway to being a decent superhero movie. Whether it was the directing, editing, or studio meddling, something went terribly wrong and the end product was poor. Again, it’s not nearly as wretched as Green Lantern (an admittedly low bar) and has a few moments that were superior to anything from the last two FF films. At the end of the day, Fox bungled Marvel’s first family of superheroes. The movie definitely isn’t worth seeing in theaters and certainly not worthy of a Blu-ray purchase. When it gets in cable rotation then perhaps you can justify watching it out of curiosity, but there are better superhero films to spend your time with.

7 Days in Hell Review: A Love Letter to Tennis and Sports Documentaries

7 Days is Hell is a wonderfully absurd and surprisingly raunchy made-for-TV short film currently playing on HBO. Starring Andy Samberg and Kit Harington as a pair of polar opposite tennis players, the movie is a mockumentary that skewers so many things — tennis, sports documentaries, Sweden, sports moms, British talkshows, the Queen of England, and more. Although 7 Days in Hell parodies a wide variety of topics, director Jake Szymanski does an admirable job of keeping the movie focused. If you’re a fan of tennis or sports documentaries (think HBO Sports numerous documentaries and ESPN’s 30 for 30 series) and don’t mind smutty humor then you should definitely give 7 Days in Hell a shot.

Andy Samberg does most of the heavy lifting in 7 Days in Hell as Aaron Williams. The adopted brother of tennis legends Serena and Venus Williams, Aaron is a physical pastiche of Andre Agassi, but with the personality of John McEnroe…with the lewdness cranked up to 11. Samberg does a fantastic job of playing a character that’s brash and obnoxious, but charming and vulnerable enough that you don’t hate him.

On the other side of the net is Kit Harington’s Charles Poole. Trained to be a tennis superstar since he was a child, Poole has a terror of a sports mom and few redeeming qualities outside of his athleticism. While Samberg owns many of the scenes in 7 Days in Hell, Harington was pleasantly subtle as Poole. Best known as the heroic Jon Snow on HBO’s Game of Thrones, Harington plays a character that’s wonderfully dim and vacant — the perfect contrast to the over-the-top Williams.

In order to make 7 Days in Hell feel like an authentic sports documentary, there are several cameos from athletes, analysts, and newscasters. Serena Williams, John McEnroe, Chris Evert, Soledad O’Brien, and Jim Lampley help make the movie seem like a real HBO sports production. Fred Armisen and Will Forte help make fun of the overly serious tone of many sports documentaries as a pair of fictitious tennis historians. Rounding out the cast are a bunch of characters playing themselves in a tongue-in-cheeks manner, including magician David Copperfield and movie star Dolph Lundgren. Without spoiling anything, their involvement in 7 Days in Hell is most excellent.

As a fan of the game of tennis and someone that has watched dozens of sports documentaries, I had a feeling that I’d enjoy 7 Days in Hell. The movie was different from what I was expecting. It’s far more crass and sexual than I thought it would be, but the real surprise was how deftly the director managed the short film’s tone. I was very, very impressed by how seamlessly 7 Days in Hell alternated between crass humor and witty satire. Juggling the two contrasting forms of comedy into a congruous experience is difficult and director Jake Szymanski handled things excellently.

While I love the pomp and circumstance of Wimbledon, 7 Days of Hell is a refreshing take on a sport that many view as stuffy and elitist. While the over-the-top humor will appeal to many viewers, the real joy of the film will be had by those that know tennis and sports documentaries. That said, the mockingly serious take on an absurd situation featuring two absurd characters is so good, that there’s a chance 7 Days in Hell will be enjoyed by people that don’t like sports at all. With a runtime of 43 minutes, I recommend giving the movie a shot. If you like it, I recommend watching it again because there’s a lot of subtle and background humor that you’ll probably miss the first time around.

If you’ve watched 7 Days in Hell, I’d love to hear your thoughts on it. Please share your musings in the comments section. Now excuse me, as I’m about to give the movie a third viewing.

Random Thoughts on Pixar’s Inside Out

Pixar’s latest summer spectacular, Inside Out, is a very good movie, but not among the company’s best. Like previous Pete Docter Pixar films, Inside Out is quite clever and full of heart. It’s a simultaneously cute and heady story of what goes on inside a young girl’s head as she deals with stress of moving from suburban Minnesota to San Francisco. Moviegoers get to watch anthropomorphic versions of the girl’s emotions — Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Anger, and Fear — working together in her head. Naturally, things get fouled up, the emotions go through struggles, and everyone reaches a new understanding during the denouement.

First off, I’m going to admit that I probably enjoyed the movie more than many people will, simply because I’m a huge Pete Docter fan. I loved his work in Monsters Inc. and Up. Docter co-wrote and co-directed Inside Out. Secondly, I’m rooting for the movie to do well because Ronaldo Del Carmen is the other co-director; I have to support the work of my fellow Filipino-Americans. Thirdly, since the movie takes place in San Francisco, some of the scenes touched a place in my heart, bringing up fond memories of a city I lived in for many years. With all of that in mind, Inside Out is at the top of Pixar’s second echelon of movies for me. However, I completely understand anyone that rates it as middle of the pack.

Like most good Pixar movies, Inside Out is enjoyable for children and adults. It has plenty of visual gags and slapstick humor for youngsters, but also has several smartly written scenes. After the screening, my friend Paul said that this is one of the smartest Pixar movies to date and I totally agree. Emotions can be complex and intricate, and Inside Out had lots of fun playing with how human brains function. From cherished childhood memories to jingles that get stuck in your head, Inside Out handles the brain in a very clever way.

In a recent Google Hangout, a few of you RPadholics said that Inside Out was Pixar’s version of Herman’s Head. While several of the concepts are similar, the Pixar movie is much smarter and emotionally deeper than the Fox sitcom. Frankly, comparing Inside Out to Herman’s Head is more than a little bit insulting to Pixar. I mean…it’s Fox.

Anyway, the main conflict of the movie has Joy and Sadness getting separated from the other emotions. The pair go on a journey through other parts of the girl’s head, desperately trying to get back to headquarters so that they can restore emotional balance. The main problem I had with Inside Out is that the journey seems too long. There isn’t a single part of the quest that I disliked or would have cut entirely, but the whole thing could have felt tighter.

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The actors and actresses that play the emotions are the best parts of Inside Out. Amy Poehler and Phyllis Smith are perfect as Joy and Sadness, respectively. Mindy Kaling is great as Disgust and Bill Hader is lots of fun as Fear. My favorite was Anger, played by Lewis Black; let’s face it, the guy lives to play angry. An honorable mention goes to Richard Kind as Bing Bong, the girl’s imaginary friend. A forgotten remnant of the girl’s childhood, Bing Bong has a scene that will leave many moviegoers in tears.

The way the various internal characters work with and against each other is a fun take on emotions. While neuroscientists will probably disagree with Pixar’s take on how the human brain functions, it makes for an entertaining plot device. Personally, I believe that emotions are complex chemical reactions that happen in your brain; I don’t believe that there’s anything spiritual or magical about them. However, I’m also a man with borderline ridiculous emotions, so anthropomorphic characters playing around in heads is a plausible (enough) explanation. For some people, the plot device of Inside Out will be a fun exercise in examining the sometimes inexplicable intricacies of emotions.

With a runtime of 94 minutes, Inside Out isn’t very long, but it feels like a loose 94 minutes. The movie is an entertaining and emotional ride, but there are several parts of the film that feel close to going off the rails. Better editing and tighter writing would have made the journey smoother. Nonetheless, Inside Out is a very good Pixar movie that’s shy of being among the greats. Keep in mind that my opinion is in the context of the high bar Pixar has set.

As an added bonus, Inside Out viewers also get to watch the delightfully charming and exquisitely animated “Lava” short movie. As a fan of ukulele-based music, I loved it. It’s a shame that Hawaiian legend Iz passed away. A singing island with a sweet voice was meant to be played by an island of a man with a sweet voice.

If you’ve seen Inside Out, let’s compare notes (please!). Kindly share your thoughts on Pixar’s latest movie in the comments section. For another take on the movie, be sure to check out this fine review on PaulSemel.com.

Random Thoughts on Avengers Age of Ultron

Avengers Age of Ultron is sure to delight most fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The movie has everything that made the first Avengers movie incredibly popular — fantastic special effects, awesome action sequences, and snappy Joss Whedon dialogue. As a lifelong comics nerd, my usual pet peeve with comic book movies is deviating greatly from the source material. To my surprise, I really liked the major changes made for the movie.

While I greatly enjoyed Avengers Age of Ultron and will definitely see it in theaters again, there were a few things about it that bugged me. Below is the customary RPadTV binary breakdown of the film. As always, I’d love to hear what you have to say about the movie, so after you’ve seen it, kindly share your thoughts in the comments section. Now turn on your spoiler shields and let’s get avenging!

Ultron Owns (Good): I’m a big fan of the comics version of Ultron. Since the movie version is very different, I was worried about this incarnation of the robotic bad-ass. The original was created by Hank Pym (Ant-Man, Goliath, Yellow Jacket, etc.) and based on his brain patterns. The movie version was created by Tony Stark and based on his personality. That made for a highly entertaining baddie. Whereas comics Ultron is a megalomaniac that’s hellbent on wiping out organic life, the movie version is like a warped version of Tony Stark with the “sardonic dick” dial turned to 11. Like the original, movie Ultron is powerful, ruthless, and brilliant. Unlike the original, movie Ultron is hilarious and witty. Despite the fact that movie Ultron wants to destroy humanity, you kind of want to have a drink with him (yes, I know he can’t actually enjoy liquor, but still….).

Some of the early reviews of Avengers Age of Ultron criticized the movie’s villain, saying that Ultron wasn’t nearly as good as Tom Hiddleston’s Loki. I could not disagree more. Even though he was very different from the comics version, I thoroughly enjoyed the Ultron character. James Spader had fun material to work with and he rocked it.

Incredible Action (Good): This aspect of Avengers Age of Ultron was completely expected, but enjoyable nonetheless. I loved the blend of CG special effects and melee choreography. The effects — there are just so many cool ones to choose from. As for combat, there were a few Captain America scenes that made me utter a Keanu Reeves, “Whoa.”

Black Widow and Hulk (Bad): While the first Avengers movie was very Iron Man heavy, Avengers Age of Ultron was far more of an ensemble effort. The movie gave more characters time to shine than the original did. Unfortunately, it also gave us plot lines like the romance between Black Widow and Hulk. This bit did absolutely nothing for me. It felt forced and unnatural; going into the movie, I couldn’t imagine these characters having a romantic relationship and the actors/script did nothing to change that. This plot was a waste of time — a poor excuse to give Scarlett Johansson more screen time.

Hawkeye Surprises (Good): To my surprise, Hawkeye had a lot of screen time and great material to work with. As one of the “normal” humans on the team, Hawkeye’s mortality and fragility help make him more interesting and easier to identify with. I enjoyed how Avengers Age of Ultron played on the fact that he’s just a guy with a bow that’s hanging out with Norse gods, gamma irradiated powerhouses, and dude’s with billion-dollar self-defense suits. Showing that Hawkeye has a normal family life in addition to his insane Avengers life, was a fun touch.

Captain America’s Mighty Magnets (Bad): I hated Cap’s magnetized gauntlets, even though they make his unbelievable shield-throwing somewhat more believable. This is a total fanboy complain and I’m well aware of this, but I love Cap’s ability to ricochet his shield at impossible angles, hitting multiple targets, always having it return to his arm. While magnetized gauntlets that help the shield return to his arm makes sense, I preferred Cap’s shield-throwing being one of his inexplicable abilities.

Whedon Witticisms (Good and Bad): Some of the early reviews of Avengers Age of Ultron said that Whedon’s dialogue seems tired and dated. I respect that opinion, but disagree with it. As a fan of dense and witty dialogue, I very much enjoyed the movie’s script. While some called the snappy dialogue tired, I found it familiar and entertaining.

Quicksilver (Bad): Seconds after Quicksilver was introduced I thought, “Wow. Kick-Ass got a crappy costume and an even crappier accent.” Although I enjoyed how Quicksilver’s storyline ended in Avengers Age of Ultron, I thought he was mostly lame until his resolution.

Elizabeth Olsen big

Scarlett Witch (Good): Sure, the movie version of Scarlett Witch basically had Phoenix’s powers — a combination of telepathic and telekinetic abilities. Given how vague and ridiculous her “hex” powers in the comics are, I understand the change, even though her powers were awfully convenient in several scenes. All that said, Elizabeth “Lizzie” Chase Olsen is beautiful and I’ve been ready for ascent for nearly two years. She made the Scarlett Witch how in Avengers Age of Ultron.

Vision (Good): I enjoyed the movie version of Vision. He was cool, calm, and collected character. His power’s special effects were fun to see. Vision had one of the most enjoyable “Wow!” moments of the movie when he handed Thor his hammer. A more subtle moment (that totally got me) was when he checked out Thor’s cape, admired it, and grew himself a cape. Out of all the new heroes introduced in Avengers Age of Ultron, Vision was my favorite. I’ve enjoyed Paul Bettany’s acting and the character’s special effects were slick.

Bottom Line: Aside from the banal and insipid romance between Black Widow and Hulk, I only had minor complaints about Avengers Age of Ultron. I very much enjoyed the movie, will see it again in theaters, and watch it dozens of times after it’s available digitally. It has everything I want from a summer movie — great action, snappy dialogue, and fantastic special effects. While I understand why some people won’t enjoy Avengers Age of Ultron, I think those people enjoy killing fun. If you’re any kind of comics nerd, go see this movie now!

For another take on Avengers Age of Ultron, check out the PaulSemel.com review.

Random Thoughts on The Newsroom Season 3, Episode 3

The third episode of The Newsroom season three (“Main Justice”) was clearly the worst one this year and one of the worst in the show’s history. It had several unbelievably ridiculous situations and an unpalatable dose of Aaron Sorkin’s disdain for newness. That said, it was also the sexiest episode in the show’s history, with a beautiful new addition to the cast and a scorching steam room scene. Here are some random thoughts on The Newsroom s3e3.

Anything Goes — The episode starts off with Atlantis Cable News producer Gary Cooper singing “Anything Goes” as he strolls into the office on a Saturday. After Gary turns the corner and sees the FBI raiding the office, “Anything Goes” quickly becomes, “What the f@ck is going on?!?”

I’ve always liked the Gary Cooper character and always been disappointed that he’s a background player. That’s true for this episode too, but the audience learns more about Gary this episode. He has a nice voice, he knows show tunes, and — thanks to a wonderfully awkward meeting with the new human resources VP — he’s the office lothario. Gary Cooper is cool.

News Night vs. the FBI — One of the most unbelievable scenes in The Newsroom’s entire run, the News Night gang engages the FBI in a game of chicken. Unhappy with the FBI’s search, ACN president Charlie Skinner pretends to call the Los Angeles studio with the intention of breaking in with a live report on the search of the New York office. The rest of the team follows his lead in an absurdly perfect way and the FBI falls for the ruse. I don’t believe for a second that a newsroom team could outsmart FBI agents through impressive improv skills. Come on now.

ACN For Sale — On the Atlantis World Media level, CEO Leona Lansing and president Reese Lansing go to Charlie’s office with the unfortunate news that they have to sell off ACN in order to retain control of AWM. Leona looks genuinely disappointed and touches Charlie’s hand in a subtle, but meaningful way. The guy the Lansings intend to sell to, Silicon Valley millionaire Lucas Pruitt, has all sorts of ridiculous “new media” ideas for the network. He’s also an unlikable prick. It’s another example of Aaron Sorkin’s disdain for the modern world. While I agree that a lot of modern reporting is wretched, the writing here is way too preachy. It’s the “good and pure” old-fashioned way of reporting the news vs. the “crap and tainted” way that new media does it. Like I mentioned in my last recap, modern media has introduced many excellent things along with a lot of trash. Writing about a “people stalking Danny Glover channel” is preposterous and I can’t believe that a Silicon Valley millionaire would propose such a preposterous idea.

Slumdog Millionaire’s Venezuelan Vacation — The audience learns that Neal Sampat is hiding out in Venezuela (no extradition!) by way of Cuba by way of Calgary. His situation has gone from bad to worse. The News Night superpowers and their awesome lawyer have been summoned to Washington for a source shakedown. News Night anchor Will McAvoy believes that his star status will protect him from the worst. Unfortunately, he’s served a subpoena at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. The law is coming down hard on Neal and the News Night staff. Apparently the government doesn’t like journalists assisting in espionage and (accidentally) coercing sources to uncover classified government documents.

The Source is…Hot — At the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, the source of the leaked documents revealed herself. She’s played by the lovely Clea DuVall. I’ve always been a fan of her and I was thrilled to see her on the show. She stole my heart in But I’m a Cheerleader and now she steals classified government documents in The Newsroom. Clea has come full circle (not really). While seeing sexy Clea DuVall was fantastic, she wasn’t the sexiest part of this episode. That distinction goes to the…

Sexy Cougar Steam RoomNews Night executive producer McKenzie MacHale had a clandestine meeting with her longtime friend, FBI special agent Molly Levy. The scene was…hot. Watching two beautiful cougars discussing serious matters in a steam room while wearing nothing but towels leaves a lot to the imagination. I can see the fan fiction now. “Special agent Levy searched Mac, caressing her in a commanding and sensual way that made sure that Mac knew that she must have her now.” Hold on. I’m going to go watch that scene again.

Jim Harper, Doormat — Senior producer Jim Harper had a lot more screen time this episode, but spent most of it getting his ass kicked by the women in his life. Associate producer Maggie Jordan treated him like dirt (more on that later) at the office, while his girlfriend Hallie Shea (Meryl Streep’s daughter) treated him like dirt at home.

The argument between Jim and Hallie touched a nerve with me. Hallie received a job offer from a website that awards its writers bonuses for traffic. That’s a common thing these days, but Jim was shocked by the practice. On one hand, it fits into Sorkin’s “I hate the Internet!” ramblings. On the other hand, traffic bonuses are responsible for millions of crappy articles. I hate the practice for lowering the standards for Internet writing and introducing the clickbait phenomenon, but I’ve also accepted that that’s how the Internet works these days.

New Competent Maggie — Oh Maggie…what have you become? Once the awkwardly charming girl in the office, Maggie has become a confident and successful woman. She has also become completely unlikable (at work, anyway). She’s belligerent, insubordinate, and violent in the office. I hate the message that sends. It’s as if you have to be an a-hole in order to be successful. While that’s true in many cases, there are plenty of nice people that have accomplished great things. Hopefully it doesn’t get to the point where the audience is thinking, “I wish you died in Uganda, Maggie!!!” With two episodes left, there might not be enough time to redeem her.

Human Resources Hates Love — The aforementioned new VP of human resources has it out for interoffice romance. While Will is too big of a star to go after, the HR guy takes aim at 10PM executive producer Don Keefer and his sometime replacement anchor Sloan Sabbith (played by the dreadful Olivia Munn, but you already knew that). This storyline seems like filler. It feels so unimportant with the FBI raiding the office and the team reporting on the end of the world. Speaking of which…

This is the End — The Environmental Protection Agency admin that Maggie met last episode was a guest on the Friday edition of News Night. On the show, he looked and sounded like an utterly defeated man that had given up all hope. He “shared” his hopelessness with News Night’s viewers, saying that the environment has been damaged beyond hope and that there are people alive today that will die because of what humans have done to the planet. While Don and Sloan dating is unimportant compared to the FBI vs. News Night, perhaps none of it matters if the world is coming to an end.

That would be funny if he was an intentionally crappy guest just to get back at Maggie. Then again, maybe it wouldn’t be. It would annoy the hell out of me if Maggie gets depressed over the dramatically dire story she produced and jumps lovingly into Jim’s waiting arms. Ugh.

Random Thoughts on The Newsroom Season 3, Episode 2

The second episode of The Newsroom season three had more of what fans love and what critics hate about Aaron Sorkin’s show. It also had an ending that felt incongruous with the rest of the episode. The show had a pair of triumphant returns (Leona! Rebecca!), a pair of lovely new additions, and an ending that felt like The Fugitive. Here are some random thoughts on The Newsroom s3e2.

Return of the Awesome Old Ladies — Leona Lansing (Jane Fonda) and Rebecca Halladay (Marcia Gay Harden) are two of the best characters in The Newsroom. As the CEO of Atlantis World Media (AWM) and the company’s legal counsel, respectively, they’re a pair of powerful women that are proud of their power. Fonda and Harden deliver their lines sharply, but in different ways. Fonda’s Lansing is an in-your-face tigress, while Harden delivers Halladay’s lines softly, but the impact is just as hard. They’re immensely entertaining characters and it’s wonderful to have them in the mix again.

A Douche on the Side of the Angels — For me, the show’s MVP continues to be Reese Lansing. Aaron Sorkin writes a lot of great lines for a lot of characters in every episode, but so far Chris Messina has been doing the best job of owning scenes. As the president of AWM, Reese is dealing with a hostile takeover from his half-siblings, Randy and Blair. The incredibly sexy Kat Dennings is a fantastic antagonist as Blair, while Christopher Nicholas Smith plays a delightfully vapid Randy Lansing. While Dennings is easier to pay attention to due to her gorgeous looks and harsh lines, I was impressed with Smith’s portrayal of a slow trust-fund kid. He reminded me of several people I’ve met in Los Angeles.

Getting back to Reese Lansing, Messina has crushed the first two episodes of The Newsroom. Other actors on the show have had lines written for them that are on par with Messina’s, but nobody has been as consistent with their delivery.

Don and Sloan Get Testy — On the romantic front, an unfortunate situation with insider trading has gotten Don and Sloan to label their relationship. There’s some great banter between the two, starting with buffet trickery and ending with an awesome “I love you” test. The chemistry between these two characters is great and I have to give it up to Olivia Munn. She might be a wretched human being, but she’s highly entertaining in The Newsroom. Between the seriousness of the AWM hostile takeover and Neal’s accidental espionage, Don and Sloan provide a fun and frivolous distraction from the weighty issues.

Scenes From a Train — Heading back from her television debut in Boston, producer Maggie Jordan in on a train heading back to New York. I’m not sure why 10PM anchor Elliot Hirsch isn’t with her, but I’m guessing he stayed behind with his family in Boston or talent was entitled to a more advanced form of transportation. Whatever the case, Maggie makes the most out of her AmTrak ride. She overhears a rep from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) expressing his (off-the-record) disgust with the Obama administration, confronts the EPA agent over his comments, feels guilty about slouching in a chair to spy on the EPA guy’s conversation, decides not to do anything with the info she overheard, and is rewarded by the EPA guy with an exclusive story. Oh yeah, she also catches the eye of a strapping young Fordham Law professor.

On paper, Maggie’s AmTrak adventure is way to preachy and unrealistic. She got the information fair and square, and I can’t imagine a producer just dropping it. The Newsroom’s pundits will point to this situation as another naive and dreamy Sorkin parable that shows that people will be rewarded for doing the right thing. She snagged an exclusive and a handsome man by being a just person! While I understand people hating this storyline, Alison Pill was really cute in it.

[Side Note: The handsome Fordham Law professor was played by Jimmi Simpson. He and Thomas Sadoski acted together in the Jason Biggs’ classic Loser.]

Superflous Jim — Atlantis Cable News senior producer is still a background player after two episodes. This time around, he was featured in a superfluous storyline with his girlfriend Hallie Shea (Meryl Streep’s daughter!). For reasons that defy logic, Hallie sends out a tweet on the ACN account — the kind of tweet that would never be typed by an experienced reporter. Naturally, the tweet gets picked up by every Internet outlet imaginable and Hallie gets fired. Aside from Sorkin reinforcing his disdain for Twitter and the Internet in general, these scenes were useless filler.

Sexy Thick Mary McCormack — Early in the episode, ACN executive producer MacKenzie McHale goes shooting with her FBI agent friend Molly Levy. Mac isn’t really there to sharpen her skills as a marksman. Instead, she asks Agent Levy how much trouble Neal Sampat is really in and if he will get nailed for espionage. Levy says that Neal will probably get slapped with a contempt charge and likely spend 10 days in jail. Happenstance being what it is, Agent Levy just happens to be in charge of the FBI raid on ACN. That was way too convenient.

When I first saw Agent Levy, she looked familiar to me. Then I figured it out — she played Howard Stern’s wife in Private Parts! Actress Mary McCormack has gotten quite a bit thicker since Private Parts, but I found her to be very sexy. Her face is still beautiful, I like the idea of a hot FBI agent having her way with me, and chicks with guns are hot.

Slumdog Fugitive — Neal Sampat spent most of this episode in a conference room, reviewing his legal situation with Rebecca and, eventually, most of the ACN senior staff. He adamantly wants to report on the leaked documents he received and is prepared to deal with the consequences. The Newsroom hero and News Night anchor Will McAvoy doesn’t want to see one of his charges go to jail. After several rounds of intense debate, Will notices that Neal’s expression has changed. Neal appears content, which Will immediately picks up on and knows that the FBI will hit the office shortly. The two have a very cute big brother/little brother moment…

…and then the episode got weird. Instead of the comedic drama that usually fills The Newsroom, the episode jarringly shifts to a spy thriller. Will makes creative use of menus to send secret messages. Neal destroys his phone and goes on the run. While the drama definitely hit a new level, Neal becoming “The Fugitive” felt strange. Oh well, let’s see where it ends up next week.