The Couch Potato Report

There is some great stuff in here this week, and there is also some stuff to avoid at all costs!!

The Couch Potato Report – June 15th, 2013

The first seasons of two amazing television series are inside this week’s Couch Potato Report, along with a gorgeous Cleopatra.

At this time of year the days are longer, temperatures are warmer, and – most days – there is plenty of sunshine.

My friends, Summer is almost here!! Now, since Summer does have a few rainy nights, sometimes more than a few, no matter where you live, let me suggest two shows that I consider exceptional AND tremendous for your absolute viewing pleasure.

In all honesty, I could even sit and watch these on a Sunny day and not worry that I was wasting a nice day, they are that good.

I’ll start with Aaron Sorkin’s THE NEWSROOM…since I work in a newsroom.

Sorkin is the Emmy and Academy award winning writer who has given us THE WEST WING, THE SOCIAL NETWORK, A FEW GOOD MEN, SPORTS NIGHT and MONEYBALL, just to name a few.

This show takes us behind-the-scenes of a nightly news show that airs weeknight on the fictional Atlantis Cable News channel. We see how stories come together, how the people work to get them on the air, and how those people work together…and sometimes can’t work together.

THE NEWSROOM features a great ensemble cast including Jeff Daniels, Emily Mortimer, Alison Pill, Dev Patel, Olivia Munn, Jane Fonda and Sam Waterston.

The show mixes real life news stories from the not too distant past – including the oil spill along the Gulf Coast, the killing of Osama Bin Laden – and shows how they get on the air, dramatically. This is not a documentary, and at times you may wonder why the people who work in this newsroom bring all of their personal baggage to work with them…and constantly air it out in front of everyone else…but during the ten episodes in THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON, the main thing you will see is tremendous actors performing scenes with some amazing Aaron Sorkin dialogue.

THE NEWSROOM is a tremendous show full of real people, in real and sometimes very uncomfortable situations, and I highly recommend it!

This is entertainment at its finest and I can not wait for SEASON TWO!!

There is no first title this week on The Couch Potato Report, and then a second one, and a third, with the quality going down a little with each one. This week there is 1a and 1 b, both of these first two releases are equal in terms of quality, writing, performance and how worthy of your time they are.

And HOUSE OF CARDS is very, very worthy of your time!

This exceptional show is a political drama set in present day Washington, D.C.

Oscar winner Kevin Spacey plays a very ruthless and brilliant politician who – after getting passed over for appointment to Secretary of State – decides to exact his revenge on those who betrayed him, using whatever means are at his disposal, including the press.

Unlike other shows such as this, Spacey’s main confident and advisor is his wife, played by Robin Wright. No matter how dirty his hands get, and they occasionally get very, very dirty, no matter what happens her tells her just about everything.

The supporting cast of HOUSE OF CARDS all bring something unique to their roles and that is why the thirteen episodes in THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON are so entertaining. This show has great stories to tell, that are told using some amazing – and believable – twists and turns, and it is all driven by Spacey’s amazing – soon to be Emmy winning performance.

I highly recommend HOUSE OF CARDS, and don’t feel that you have to save it for a rainy Summer night, it is available on disc and Netflix right now for you to watch…and enjoy!

As I have said before on The Couch Potato Report, and on Saskatchewan Weekend, Facebook, Twitter, in conversations, and at almost any time the subject comes up, the months of January, February and March are dumping grounds for the movie studios.

Good films rarely come out during the first three months of the year, it is where they dump stuff that can’t compete with the bigger action films of the Summer Movie Season, and can’t compete with the prestige films that come out late in the year for Awards Season.

And as it goes, what comes out in theatres, eventually makes it way to the home viewing formats…so here now are three films that might interest you…but you should stay away from.

The biggest of the three is Sam Raimi’s prequel to THE WIZARD OF OZ, OZ: THE GREAT AND POWERFUL.

James Franco from 127 HOURS and PINEAPPLE EXPRESS stars here as a small-time magician who is swept away by a storm to an enchanted land. Once there, he is forced into a power struggle between three powerful – and beautiful – witches, played by Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams.

OZ: THE GREAT AND POWERFUL is based on L. Frank Baum’s novels, and it pays homage to the classic 1939 film, and the storytelling angle of it is based in beautiful words and fiction, but the film just doesn’t come together.

It was all shot on stages using green screens, so it all looks horribly fake, I know it is supposed to be set in a magical world, but we have to be able to believe in what we are seeing, and since it looks as bad as it does you won’t, and you won’t care.

Plus, Franco is horribly miscast. He doesn’t have the personality or talent to make you care about him. You wish the residents of Oz well, but you won’t care what happens either way.

I respect what director Sam Raimi tried to do, and I love the source material, but OZ: THE GREAT AND POWERFUL is a failure. A noble failure, but a failure nonetheless.

Less a failure is the interesting concept film HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS. The idea here is that after the two children save their lives by outwitting the cannibalistic witch who has trapped them, they grow up to become professional witch hunters.

Jeremy Renner from THE AVENGERS and Gemma Arterton of QUANTUM OF SOLACE play the siblings.

Of the films the studios dumped on us this year, the one I minded the least was this one. The actors in HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS are well cast, especially Gemma who is a young actress I am a huge fan of, and I like the story…so I went in with very low expectations and found it to offer some good cheesy fun.

HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS is never great, but I liked it…a little bit…once again proving my belief that if you like an actor, you can like their film.

And that is definitely true with SNITCH as well.

If you love Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, don’t miss it. Otherwise…miss it.

Inspired by true events, SNITCH features Mr. Johnson as a regular Joe father who goes undercover to try and help the authorities arrest a drug dealer, after his son gets arrested for drug possession and won’t snitch on who gave him the drugs.

If the father gets the information, his son’s sentence will be shortened, and this is one Father who will do anything for his boy.

SNITCH is not an awful film, but Dwayne Johnson is miscast in the film. He is a big, huge strong guy and so it isn’t hard to believe that he would be capable of helping put his kid this way.

A smaller, less muscular actor would have been more believable and so – as it is – this is for fans of The Rock only. Otherwise – and I hate to be a snitch – but the film just isn’t worthy of your time.

So just skip it.

Finally this week is the stunning beauty of both the late great Elizabeth Taylor and the film she made fifty years ago…CLEOPATRA.

This historical epic depicts the triumphs and tragedy of the Egyptian queen, Cleopatra and it has now been released in High Definition on a 50th ANNIVERSARY blu-ray, that looks and sounds terrific!!

There was an immense amount of drama surrounding this film when it was originally released, including Liz Taylor almost dying and having an affair with co-star Richard Burton, and all of that is covered in the wide array of old and new Bonus Materials that come with the film, including this story about Taylor’s reaction after seeing the film.

CLEOPATRA is not the greatest epic of its day, it has always been a bit slow for that to be true and it isn’t always that compelling, but it remains an epic as they don’t make ‘em like this anymore. And now, this new 50th ANNIVERSARY edition, is the definitive way to see a film that – at 251 minutes – continues to be both bloated and beautiful.

The 50th ANNIVERSARY EDITION of the Hollywood classic slash cautionary tale CLEOPATRA, the not awful, but never great dramatic action film SNITCH; the cheesy fun flick HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS; the not interesting noble failure OZ: THE GREAT AND POWERFUL; the exceptional COMPLETE FIRST SEASON of Kevin Spacey’s HOUSE OF CARDS and the tremendous COMPLETE FIRST SEASON of Aaron Sorkin’s THE NEWSROOM are all available now, either on disc or on demand.

Coming up inside the next Couch Potato Report

The CBC biography JACK – the Jack Layton story, Steve McQueen’s THE GREAT ESCAPE turns 50 and debuts on blu-ray; MOVIE 43 features a cast that includes Hugh Jackman, Kate Winslet, Naomi Watts, Liev Schreiber, Uma Thurman and Halle Berry, but is almost unwatchable; and I’ll also review one of the biggest flops of 2013 – JACK THE GIANT SLAYER.

I’ll have more on those, and some other releases, in seven days.

For now, that’s this week’s COUCH POTATO REPORT.

Enjoy the movies and I’ll see you back here again next time on The Couch!