Akira Kurosawa's SCANDAL (1950) on Criterion/Eclipse DVD
for the first time. Two celebrities are photographed in a compromising (though manufactured by photographers) situation, and their legal and personal struggle to clear their names against the magazine that printed a false story lands them in court. Though tame by today's standards there's a feral intensity to the way Kurosawa condemns tabloid journalism (which flourished in Japan after the American occupation) that would be better appreciated if the director hadn't loaded this movie with enough melodrama to make Douglas Sirk blush. It doesn't help that the magazine publisher (Eitarô Ozawa's Hori) is such a scumbag he becomes a cartoon character. I never thought Takashi Shimura could portray a more pathetic loser than his character in "Ikiru," but for "Scandal" he plays an even bigger and more pathetic loser (an attorney taking bribes to throw the case against his client) with a dying daugher (Yôko Katsuragi ) around Christmas time. I admit that I got teary-eyed when Toshirô Mifune brought down a Christmas tree to the Hiruta household, but then Kurosawa has to stage a Japanese rendition of "Auld Lang Syne" that's so over the top it works as both comic relief and for dramatic effect. For a 'B' side title (to Kurosawa's 'A' side work like "Throne of Blood" and "Rashomon") the tune in "Scandal" ain't bad, it's just not cooking as intensely or feels (to me) as well-prepared as many other Kurosawa-Mifune cinematic dishes.
Rewatched THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE (1962) on DVD
with the John Frankenheimer commentary track on. Lengthy pauses make this practically a rewatch of the movie (not a bad thing since we get to see Lansbury become a hell of a villain). The few times Frankenheimer has something to say he's so direct and to the point he just shuts up after speaking. The story of why Sinatra's close-up with the deck of Red Queens is out of focus was interesting, and how the filmmakers came up with the interrogation/exposition scene about the brainwashing of the military team even more. Shame that, through most of this commentary, we're not learning anything we didn't already know from just watching the movie.
Rewatched Kubrick's DR. STRANGELOVE (1963) on Blu-ray
with the Trivia Facts pop-up track on. I wasn't expecting the triva to be mostly about real-life Cold War military facts; there was hardly anything related to the production of the movie or Kubrick. Guess that's what the documentaries/featurettes are for, but the movie itself (and its great cast of actors/characters, especially Sellers and Hayden) still kicks ass and ends with one hell of a (multiple) bang.James L. Brooks' BROADCAST NEWS (1987) on Blu-ray
. I saw this a lifetime ago (VHS rental in the early 90's) and remember not being very impressed because it didn't feel to me like the movie taught me anything meaningful about the TV business. I realize now that "Broadcast News" is the "Bull Durham" of TV newsroom media: just because it's happening in the background while the leads go through their relationship/professional troubles doesn't mean they don't love their work and appreciate it, it's just so common to them they rarely stop to think about it until their business has changed for the worse. While some of Brooks' wacky humor sneaks into "Broadcast News" (Cusack's famous videotape run, Marc Shaiman/Glen Roven's news theme demonstration, etc.) the movie is actually pretty serious and heartfelt about the emotions its trio of leads feel for each other as well as their work. James Brooks has written (and the actors bring to life) such competent professionals that we're asked to take for granted they're smart in and outside of work. Tom Grunick's drama-free rise to network anchorman isn't as amusing as Peter Finch ranting, but within the movie's context (Tom being honest about his shortcomings) it's what the movie needed to project how far news standards had fallen at the time without coming across as preachy. William Hurt and Albert Brooks are great (Lois Chiles is also very good) but for the life of me I couldn't bring myself to like Holly Hunter. Her Jane Craig comes off as an uptight nervous wreck in her private life that only a colleague like A. Brooks' Aaron (or a doofus like Hurt's anchorman) would find likable by virtue of her professional competence. Nicholson (who makes for a surprisingly believable network news anchor in his few scenes), the Cusacks (yes, John is in it for like half-a-second toward the end), Robert Prosky, Stephen Mendillo (as Tom's father in two key scenes), and Amy Brooks (her deleted scene is a winner, even Brooks laughs out loud rewatching it) provide great supporting work. There's no satisfying ending to "Broadcast News" (the one in the final version and two additional one's unearthed by this Criterion release are OK but leaves one wanting more/better) but that didn't bother me since getting to spend time in James L. Brooks' pre-"I'll Fly Away" mindset is such a cozy and fun place to be.
Bill Conti tries hard (and mostly fails) to emulate the score from J. Brooks' "Terms of Endearment." Whatever film stock Michael Ballhauss was using back in the 1980's really brings out the grain because, even with a 4K transfer (per Criterion's manual), this movie looks older than '87. It's detailed enough to get by and reflects how the negative actually looks (I shudder to think about the Fox people that DNR'd the "Predator" Blu-ray getting a hold of this) but this is not a show-off movie. The alternate ending and 20 minutes worth of deleted scenes (most of them pretty damn good and well-acted) is why I pay retail prices for Criterion titles and feel I get my money's worth. There's an entire subplot involving a gay whistleblower named Buddy that becomes William Hurt's source/friend; Tom goes from naive to gentle to stone-cold (the handshake!), all for being nice to a gay guy that needed a friend. A lot of these Buddy scenes would end up, reshaped and re-written, into the Greg Kinnear character from "As Good As It Gets." Brooks claims in the deleted scenes commentary that Buddy's scenes were removed for time and other tone reasons, but I just don't see Buddy's homosexuality going so well on a Hollywood mainstream movie in Reagan's America. It's a neat peek into the editing process shaping a movie out of its filmmakers' intial intent.BACKYARD WEDDING (2011) on the Hallmark Channel HD
for the first time. I only watched this because (a) I love Alicia Witt (why isn't Det. Falacci on a plane to Los Angeles to help the struggling "Law & Order" spinoff?) and (b) "Alex Mack's" Larisa Oleynik has a small part as the bride-to-be's best girl. I wasn't expecting much from a made-for-cable TV movie in which the girl is engaged to marry the guy that is clearly wrong for her (Ryan Bittle, playing the Cary Elwes-esque part to a tee) while the next-door-neighbor whom she's known all her life (Teddy Sears) bumbles his way into her heart. Then I realized that, when he had nothing or nobody else to cut two, director Braford May kept cutting to either Larisa's face reacting to someone/something (no dialogue, no context; just random shots of the woman looking at stuff) or the same establishing dolly shots of the house with the big backyard where 90% of the movie takes place. Frances Fisher and Markie Post bring some spunk to their matriarchal roles but "Backyard Wedding" is as forgettable as the channel number that Hallmark Channel is at on your local cable/satellite provider.