Broadcast News (1987)

broadcast

Starring: Holly Hunter, William Hurt, Albert Brooks, Robert Prosky, Joan Cusack, Jack Nicholson

Director: James L. Brooks

Summary: A news producer is caught between a committed journalist and a flashy anchor

Other Nominations: Actor (Hurt), Actress (Hunter), Supporting Actor (Brooks), Original Screenplay, Film Editing, Cinematography

I liked this a lot more than I thought I would. There’s a speech Hunter makes a conference near the beginning of the film that sets the table for the crux of the movie quite effectively: “We’re being increasingly influenced by the star system. The network anchormen are so powerful, they comprise our last, best hope. Our profession is in danger. The current group is clearly qualified, tied still to our best traditions, but who follows these men? We are being pressured to take a loyalty oath to profit and economy.” Network covered this exact issue in stronger fashion a decade before Broadcast News, but the movie still had its pulse on a problem that has grown into a crisis, and there’s no conceivable point of return here. The movie knows it, and celebrates those who try and fight the good fight even if they know it’s ultimately going to a losing battle.

What makes the movie really stand out for me is how strong the characters and performances are. Hunter and Brooks (who is extremely underrated in general as both a live action and voice actor) are your standouts here, playing the two pillars of integrity in a changing media landscape, and are the characters the audience will want to see succeed, but the writing and actors give them a lot of nuance and personality. Hunter’s role is one that a decade later would probably get played by Julia Roberts, and would be way less interesting. Hurt plays his role perfectly and knows he isn’t supposed to upstage the other two and again is better written than you would expect him to be-in a different movie he would simply be the guy you don’t want Hunter to end up with as he represents flash and lack of substance in news. Instead, he is that, but he also acknowledges his shortcomings and tries to improve himself and is the “nicer” guy compared to the sometimes acerbic Brooks. The final result of the love triangle is unexpected and I’m not sure if I like the conclusion or not, but the movie getting me invested enough in it for me to care is a very good sign indeed. Broadcast News is well-written, well-acted and is grounded enough in reality to not sugarcoat the future of media in spite of it trying to be a palatable movie for general audiences, which has allowed to to age well 30 years later.
Rating: A-

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Fatal Attraction (1987)

fatal

Starring: Michael Douglas, Glenn Close, Anne Archer

Director: Adrian Lyne

Summary: A married man’s weekend fling comes back to haunt him when she begins to stalk him and his family

Other Nominations: Director, Actress (Close), Supporting Actress (Archer), Adapted Screenplay, Film Editing

A sleazy thriller is really not the kind of movie that you would expect to get nominated for four of the five major Oscar categories. First for the good: Close is believable all across the spectrum, as someone who can outwardly to have no mental issues in most situations and as someone who has a severe personality disorder that both escalates and de-escalates emotionally in realistic fashion. Her performance is excellent even if her character has no definable personality beyond her mental disorder. Purely as a thriller, it’s very effective, building great tension throughout that simmers, then boils and finally explodes over the course of the film. It’s never dull and will definitely hold your interest for its runtime.

However, the movie has a fundamental problem: how it treats Douglas’ character. Douglas is our main protagonist and we’re supposed to sympathize with him after he 1) has an affair when there were no marital problems whatsoever and he has a child, he did it just because he could, 2) took up Close’s offer of spending a second day together and making it more than just a simple one night stand, 3) got her pregnant (and breaks into her apartment in an effort to confirm it), 4) feels little remorse for any of his actions and 5) hides all this from his wife until he’s forced to. He’s pretty reprehensible, yet the movie doesn’t paint him in all that negative of a light and in fact feels like a movie about how horrible of a situation this is for him. To show just how important it is that the story’s being told from Douglas’ point of view, imagine if this story was told from the perspective of Douglas’ wife instead: she has what she thinks is a stable and loving marriage, then her home gets been broken into and the lives of her and her child have been put into grave danger because her husband cheated on her out of nowhere one weekend and now that woman is out to get her and her loved ones; it’s an identical plot, yet in this version, Douglas’ character would be the co-villain. I will give it credit though, the ending does help to redeem it a bit, but it’s too little, too late in my opinion.

This is a hard movie for me to rate, because it works really well as a thriller and Close gives a great performance, yet there are some major under-the-surface problems. Regardless, I’m still shocked at the critical accolades it received for a number of reasons.

Rating: C+

Hope and Glory (1987)

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Starring: Sebastian Rice-Edwards, Sarah Miles, Sammi Davis, David Hayman

Director: John Boorman

Summary: A young boy grows up in World War II London during the Blitz

Other Nominations: Director, Original Screenplay, Art Direction, Cinematography

This is one of the most forgotten Best Picture nominees of the 80s, and I can personally see why. The movie is from the perspective of a grade-schooler growing up in WWII-era Britain, and he’s basically a blank slate that observes the world around him. The problem with that is that there needs to be someone we care about, it can’t just be informative about what it was like growing up then: the kid’s mother and older sister are especially annoying and unlikeable, then you have comedy relief Grandpa, and…no one else who sticks out. The performances being generally mediocre doesn’t help much here either.

The other big problem is that the tone is all over the place from scene to scene and even within scenes, although it’s very sentimental at its core. For instance, the following three scenes happen right after one another: we’re at a department store where one woman admits she’s been cheating on her husband (played mostly serious), while our main character boy walks in on girls undressing played for light effect; we then have a scene with a family dinner where everyone is together and listens to Churchill’s speech (played serious), then interrupted by the older sister’s boyfriend making faces in the window, then Grandpa drunkenly talks about breasts of women he loved when he was younger; after that, we have a scene of that boyfriend proposing to the Older sister while saying he’s shipping out tomorrow (100% serious). The Golden Globes defined it as a Comedy, but that feels misleading, as the comedy isn’t funny or all that charming nor is there any black comedy, and it’s more serious than not in the first hour and 20 minutes. Did not enjoy this one.

Rating: D+

*The Last Emperor (1987)*

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Starring: John Lone, Joan Chen, Ying Ruocheng, Wu Tao, Tiger Tsou, Peter O’Toole

Director: Bernardo Bertolucci

Summary: China’s final emperor, Puyi, becomes a pawn of imperial forces, the invading Japanese and the Communist government

Other Nominations: Director*, Adapted Screenplay*, Film Editing*, Original Score*, Sound*, Art Direction*, Cinematography*, Costume Design*

This still holds up as one of the better Best Picture winners of the decade. Visually, the movie is quite stunning-it makes great use of color to create moods, the costumes are terrific, and most of all the location shooting stands out as something special (in addition to being the first feature film to be shot in the Forbidden City, they also shot at the palace in Manchuria where Puyi was a puppet emperor). The screenplay is good. I liked the framing story that allows it to jump around to a lot different periods of time without feeling disjointed, and it gives Puyi a solid character arc from arrogant youngster to humbled man. I also liked that it cared enough to have all the Chinese and Japanese characters actually played by Chinese and Japanese actors respectively, whereas a lot of movies would have just settled for “Asian.”

The one complaint I would have is from its screenplay though, First, it does a fair amount of “show” which is good, but it does a lot of “tell”, driving home every point as thoroughly as possible for the audience through direct dialogue. This is a shame, because the visuals and acting already do a good enough job of getting everything across for the audience and we don’t need to kill all subtlety and subtext. Second, while it can’t cover everything in the character’s real life story, it totally cuts everything between 1959 & 1966, a time when some pretty significant things happened with him and you could do a lot with storywise.

Rating: B+

Moonstruck (1987)

moonstruck

Starring: Cher, Nicolas Cage, Olympia Dukakis, Vincent Gardenia, Danny Aiello, John Mahoney

Director: Norman Jewison

Summary: When she tries to make peace with her new family, an engaged woman falls for her fiance’s brother

Other Nominations: Director, Actress (Cher)*, Supporting Actor (Gardenia), Supporting Actress (Dukakis)*, Original Screenplay*

Good rom-com. I can see why Cher was nominated even if I would have picked Holly Hunter from Broadcast News for Best Actress and Gardenia and especially Dukakis (who was terrific) were worthy of their nominations. I would also would say Mahoney (later famous as the dad on Frasier) was very good. Cage while fine, is a relative weak link in the cast and the low, growly voice he puts on is distracting.

It has charm and solid humor throughout, and the tone is light enough that the wackier parts (like how Cher and Cage fall in love) feel alright, while still allowing for some genuinely emotional moments every once in awhile. Nothing exceptional (and I certainly wouldn’t have given it Best Original Screenplay), but consistently entertaining without many glaring issues.

Rating: B

1987 in Review

One Notable Film from 1987

The films I’m picking for this feature show a lot about my tastes in film (or at least the kind of movies I tend to actively seek out and watch) and today is no different, as we’re going to be talking about a movie that combines sci-fi, action and sharp satire-it’s Paul Verhoeven’s Robocop.

Verhoeven has made a number of stinkers in his career (Hollow Man and Showgirls being the most notable), but when he’s on his game, few have done better at making action movies that engage you beyond just the action. Robocop fits right in with the hyper-violent, over the top 80s action movie aesthetic paved by Rambo: First Blood Part II and Commando, yet pushes beyond what those movies would dare to do, to the point where it becomes a source of black humor (with Boddicker running over the toxic waste guy and the famous “somebody wanna call a goddamn paramedic?!” line being the best examples). The effects and the Robocop costume still hold up really well (even stop-motion ED-209, whose jerky movements emphasize how inelegant and clumsy a solution to crime it is). Basil Poledouris (Conan the Barbarian)’s score is excellent and the theme is one of my favorites ever (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O_AkU8wJ1ZA). Even the acting is way above average for an 80s action movie, with Peter Weller expressing an incredible range of emotion just through his mouth, the only part of him we see for most of the movie.

Besides all that though, what really sets the movie apart from 99% of action movies is how strong its themes are. First is the battle between humanity and technology, with Alex/Robocop trying to figure out exactly what he is as a thing with a human brain and face in a Robot body and in the end regains the humanity he lost. Second is the increasing corporatization of America, something this film satirizes with brutal effectiveness and gets the general attitude most corporations have about…well, humanity at large to a T. Lots of movies in the 80s-90s had this theme, but were extraordinarily uncreative and blunt about it; what makes Robocop different is how they presented this message in a way that was still really entertaining, typified by the commercials that pop-up every once in awhile that both serve as comic relief and do an incredible job of world building. Robocop’s themes are more relevant than ever and the movie is still one of my favorites of both the action and sci-fi genres.

Other Notables from 1987

Withnail and I

Lethal Weapon

Good Morning, Vietnam

Wall Street

Dirty Dancing

Evil Dead II

Full Metal Jacket

Predator

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

The Princess Bride

Raising Arizona

Spaceballs

The Untouchables

1987 Nominees in Review

Broadcast News: A-

The Last Emperor: B+ (Won Best Picture)

Moonstruck: B

Fatal Attraction: C+

Hope and Glory: D+

The Last Emperor is exactly the kind of movie that wins tons of Oscars (big historical epic with lavish costumes and sets and big drama), so it winning Best Picture isn’t a surprise and I don’t have any issue with it winning over another film that I thought was slightly superior. Moonstruck was solid, but the other two nominees were very weak, with Hope and Glory being my least favorite nominee in quite some time.

For 1988, we have: William Hurt’s fourth straight year starring in a Best Picture nominee (the last actor to do so); This movie needed to be rushed into production and out to theaters because there were somehow two big budget adaptations of a 1782 French novel coming out within a year of each other; Most of the extras playing KKK members were actually KKK members; The only film to win both the Academy Award for Best Picture and the Golden Bear from the Berlin International Film Festival; and Melanie Griffith was so wasted on cocaine and alcohol that her lines in a key scene were unintelligible, production had to be shut down, and she was fined $75,000-she still ended up getting nominated for Best Actress.

But first, in celebration of 1987 being the 60th Oscars ceremony, we have another “Best of” list

Best of 1977-1987

Top 10 Best Nominees of 1978-1987

  1. Apocalypse Now (1979)
  2. Amadeus (1984)
  3. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
  4. All That Jazz (1979)
  5. Ordinary People (1980)
  6. E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial (1982)
  7. Platoon (1986)
  8. Broadcast News (1987)
  9. The Killing Fields (1984)
  10. The Deer Hunter (1978)

Ranking the Best Picture Winners of 1978-1987

  1. Amadeus (1984)
  2. Ordinary People (1980)
  3. Platoon (1986)
  4. The Deer Hunter (1978)
  5. The Last Emperor (1987)
  6. Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)
  7. Gandhi (1982)
  8. Terms of Endearment (1983)
  9. Out of Africa (1985)
  10. Chariots of Fire (1981)

Best Actor/Actress/Director

Actor: Robert De Niro (The Deer Hunter, Raging Bull, The Mission); Runner-Up: Dustin Hoffman (Kramer vs. Kramer, Tootsie)

Actress: Sissy Spacek (Coal Miner’s Daughter, Missing); Runner-Up: Sally Field (Norma Rae, Places in the Heart)

Director: Steven Spielberg (Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial, The Color Purple), James L. Brooks (Terms of Endearment, Broadcast News), Norman Jewison (A Soldier’s Story, Moonstruck)