January 26, 2011

Good news for people who love good movies

James L. Brooks’ peek behind the scenes of a small-screen news program is his most hilarious and home-hitting contribution to the big screen

Also this week: Enter the Void, RED, Shock Corridor, Naked Kiss

Broadcast News (Criterion) Over the last decade, the cinematic oeuvre of James L. Brooks didn’t exactly set the world on fire. (Spanglish, anyone?) While his pair of ’90s flicks (As Good As It Gets and I'll Do Anything) fared slightly better, nothing beats Brooks’ ’80s output. Both American classics in their own right, Terms of Endearments and, especially, Broadcast News should hold a spot on any film buff’s shelf. 

In the latter, Holly Hunter stars as a plucky news producer and love bait for her brilliant, but cynical, reporter (Albert Brooks at his zenith) and charismatic, but uninformed, anchorman (William Hurt). The love triangle that follows represents just a fragment of the social and professional turbulence that occurs in and out of the newsroom.  

Almost 25 years later, Broadcast News doesn’t feel the least bit dated in its depiction of the blurred line between news and entertainment. The downfall of highbrow journalism is particularly prevalent in today’s online age, where ideas are reduced to status updates. 

Brooks essentially knocks everything out of the park. There’s a slight air of ’80s kitsch, but that takes a backseat to the story’s timeless substance. The film also contains plenty of style, as described by composer Bill Conti in a lengthy documentary covering Brooks’ television and film career. Conti refers to a sequence in which someone has to rush a tape across the office in order for the program’s live broadcast to remain seamless. Calling it one of the medium’s best chase sequences is a stretch, but it does illustrate how thrilling action doesn’t have to come with exploding set pieces.    

Aside from this terrific extra, the DVD and snazzy-looking Blu-ray boasts a new director and editor’s commentary, a revealing interview with the inspiration behind Hunter’s character (CBS news producer Susan Zirinsky) and several deleted scenes – best of which is an alternate ending with an entirely different outcome.  

Also Available
Love him or hate him, France’s leading shit-disturber Gaspar Noé has crafted some truly memorable sequences over the course of just three features. All of his films include ugly dialogue and even nastier scenarios, but they stand as some of the greatest sensory freak shows of our time. Enter the Void (eOne) takes this sensibility to new heights (literally—the camera is often airborne). At nearly three hours, it’s a challenge to sit through—aesthetically, intellectually and emotionally. Some call it nonsense. I call it next level. Extras: lean featurettes, deleted scenes. 

A liberal adaptation of D.C.’s graphic novel series, RED (eOne) dulls down the edginess and cranks up the goofiness. For the most part it works—thanks to a ridiculously abundant cast that includes the seasoned likes of Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, Richard Dreyfuss, Brian Cox and Ernest Borgnine. Trailblazing this is not, but it’s way less expendable than The Expendables. Extras: commentary, featurettes, deleted scenes. 

Thanks to these much-needed re-issues, two of Sam Fuller’s pulpiest potboilers—Shock Corridor and The Naked Kiss (Criterion)—now stand as two of the tastiest Criterion releases to date. Whether in standard or high-def, Stanley Cortez’s elegant black-and-white cinematography looks downright revelatory compared to the films’ late-’90s Criterion releases. Even better are the extras, which include rare documentaries and interviews, not to mention outstanding cover and booklet art, courtesy of Daniel Clowes.