#318. James L. Brooks

Some people have the ability to bring out the greatness in others. Or, at least, they have the capacity to see the greatness in others and guide it into the spotlight. I would like to think that a producer has this ability, mostly due to the success of James L. Brooks. As the winner of several Emmy Awards, he clearly knows how to produce a television show, many of which have become a part of the popular culture fabric of our society (The Simpsons, for one). Regarding his films, he has only directed six of them, but they have been a little more hit-or-miss. When the right elements come together, his films are certainly successful, both critically and financially. Perhaps this is due to his ability to get to the humanity of a story and its characters. This week’s two films examine the successful directing of James L. Brooks.

Broadcast NewsBroadcast News
Year: 1987
Rating: R
Length: 133 minutes / 2.22 hours

With as much television experience as Brooks has, it is no wonder that he eventually decided to direct a film about it. The behind-the-scenes of the newsroom could only come from an intimate knowledge of the industry, of which James L. Brooks certainly has. Broadcast News (1987) was only one of a handful of Best Picture Oscar nominees he directed. Each time he made an Oscar-worthy film, it is interesting to note that he also obtained nominations for Best Writing as well. As Good as It Gets (1997) earned this distinction alongside Broadcast News and Terms of Endearment (1984). Of course, as a producer of films, he was also in the running for a Best Picture Oscar with Jerry Maguire (1996), a film he did not direct or write, but did produce. Unfortunately, most of these films left him without any Oscars for his effort.

Jane Craig (Holly Hunter) has boundless ambition when it comes to her job as a television producer. Her best friend, Aaron Altman (Albert Brooks), secretly has a crush on her but is unable to confess his feelings. Meanwhile, a promotion moved Tom Grunick (William Hurt) from sports to the main anchor chair, despite his only skill being a photogenic personality. Jane learns Tom is also attracted to her, but Aaron tries to warn her about him while at the same time finally confessing his own feelings. It turns out Tom has broken a few ethical rules during a heartfelt interview that he obtained from a woman who was sexually assaulted. In the end, all three of them have to disband and live their lives elsewhere when the network goes under. While each of them found their own individual success, they still managed to maintain their friendship through it all.

Terms of EndearmentTerms of Endearment
Year: 1983
Rating: R
Length: 132 minutes / 2.2 hours

Brooks’ breakout film was none other than the aforementioned Terms of Endearment. I’d hate to draw correlations to his work and the work of M. Night Shyamalan, but he seemed to peak with his first two films. Terms of Endearment won Brooks his only three Oscars for Best Picture, Best Writing, and Best Director, the latter of which was also his only nomination in that category. Lately, his films have not been quite successful at all. I’ll Do Anything (1994), Spanglish (2004), and How Do You Know? (2010) are all largely considered much weaker than his Best Picture-nominated work. Since he only seems to direct two films every decade, we probably can’t expect anything from him soon, but when he does return to the director’s chair, I certainly hope he can earn another Oscar for his work.

The mother-daughter relationship is perhaps one of the tightest relationships any two people can ever have. Aurora Greenway (Shirley MacLaine) and her daughter, Emma Greenway-Horton (Debra Winger), have both wanted to find love in their lives. When Emma is married to Flap Horton (Jeff Daniels), Aurora’s mothering nature fails to show how much she cares about Emma and instead strains their relationship. As Emma starts her own journey into motherhood, Aurora finds love with her next-door neighbor, Garrett Breedlove (Jack Nicholson), a retired astronaut. While Emma’s marriage is threatened by an affair held between Flap and one of his students, a cancer diagnosis for Emma forces the family together. Flap and Aurora do their best to put their differences behind them to support Emma in her final months.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 of the best by James L. Brooks

Bacon #: 2 (Modern Romance / Jane Hallaren -> Hero at Large / Kevin Bacon)



#317. Local News

Even with the proliferation of different news sites across the internet, when it comes to the news of a local area, there are only a few options to keep yourself up-to-date. There are still websites for local news, but either the newspaper or the local television network usually runs them. Because there are limited sources for local news, any competition for readers and viewers can be fierce. The competition does not just exist between different sources; it can be between individuals trying to advance their careers in the local news racket. Some are content with becoming the best in their region, but others are looking for that larger gig on the national scale. Some people just want to deliver the news, but many are committed to getting ahead. This week’s two films highlight individuals involved with local television news.

Year: 2014
Rating: R
Length: 117 minutes / 1.95 hours

When it comes to television news, the images are key. Most of the time, a local station will have some cameramen who will go out and help a reporter perform their report. However, there are often situations where a local camera crew cannot get to a scene in time to record it or the reactions of the public on the scene. In these cases, freelance video journalists can make some money selling the footage to local news stations for being in the right place at the right time. From storm chases to car crashes, these individuals will put themselves in or near dangerous situations to get the best footage. Consequently, the perception of these individuals is usually linked to profiting off the suffering of others. Their desire to get paid will often force them to decide which lines to cross and how far to go to obtain the best video.

When Louis “Lou” Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) learns about “stringers,” he immediately becomes enticed with the prospect of being a freelance video-journalist. In one of his first successful collects, he manages to tie in a human element to his footage, despite trespassing to get it. His tactic works, and he starts making repeated, successful sales of his footage to a local news station for exclusive rights. Unfortunately, he now has run afoul of the man who introduced him to this career, Joe Loder (Bill Paxton). The competition is fierce, but Lou’s loose morals eventually give him the edge he needs to dominate over Joe. In a stroke of luck, Lou runs across a homicide and robbery in progress and decides it is a prime opportunity to catch video of the immediate aftermath of a crime, as well as the eventual capture of the criminals. This decision proves to be the most dangerous one he’s made yet.

Broadcast NewsBroadcast News
Year: 1987
Rating: R
Length: 133 minutes / 2.22 hours

How “local” does local news have to be? Is it for a single city? A whole state? An entire nation? When we consider “national” news, it rarely involves events that affect us personally. Most national news usually has to do with what the government is doing and how it might trickle down into the local markets. So, one would then assume that any news about the government in Washington D.C. would be considered “local” to those who live and work there. As the hub for the nation’s decision-makers, Washington D.C. needs to have local news that helps to keep these representatives accountable. The Washington Post is usually the best source of governmental accountability available to the public. Could the local television news stations provide a similar service? Do the major networks have the monopoly on this information? Can these local stations provide an invaluable service?

Moving from local to national news is a big deal, especially when you work in Washington D.C. Tom Grunick (William Hurt) has just moved up into an anchor position at the local news station after years as a sports anchor. He knows he’s not quite qualified for the job, other than having the “looks” for it. While he has an attraction to the producer, Jane Craig (Holly Hunter), he shares that trait with her best friend, Aaron Altman (Albert Brooks). Aaron is a great writer but lacks the skills to be an on-camera reporter, despite his desire to do so. Through this love triangle, all three of them have their successes and failures in the news industry. Unfortunately, when the network downsizes, they each have to go their separate ways, resulting in none of them being able to pursue a relationship past a tight friendship.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 stories at 11

#166. Romantic Comedies

Let’s just be honest here: dating is awkward. Not only are there innumerable opportunities to miscommunicate, but when you’re getting to know someone, one wrong word might trigger an embarrassing situation. It’s these embarrassing and awkward situations which are often used in Romantic Comedies. Even if this genre is formulaic, occasionally a few films fit into the category, but don’t end quite the way you’d expect. Most guys can’t stand Romantic Comedies, but at least they’re a little more tolerable than just a straight Romance film because of the humor involved. After all, they still have to be a comedy if they’re to be considered a Romantic Comedy. Besides, men and women are so different, the comedy practically writes itself. This week’s two films are some excellent examples of Romantic Comedies.

Annie HallAnnie Hall
Year: 1977
Rating: PG
Length: 93 minutes / 1.55 hours

Woody Allen has been a staple name in the realm of comedies that it’s no wonder that he’d be associated with one of the best romantic comedies of all time. In terms of awards, the quality of the film speaks for itself. Not only did it win four Oscars in 1978, which included Best Actress for Diane Keaton, Best Director and Best Writing for Woody Allen and the Best Picture Oscar, but it has placed at #35 on the American Film Institute’s (AFI) top 100 films of all time (#31 originally). Since most of the films Woody Allen directed were nominated for Original Screenplay Oscars, the key to a successful Romantic Comedy seems to be in the writing. If you can’t rely on action or explosions to entertain, you really need to make sure the script is solid if you want to get any laughs out of the awkward situations involved with dating.

Annie Hall is about finding love in New York City (where most of Woody Allen’s films are placed), and is perhaps Allen’s best film. Allen portrays writer Alvy Singer, who just can’t get over the relationship he had with aspiring actress, Annie Hall (Diane Keaton). Through some useful techniques, like breaking the fourth wall, the audience gets to see inside the heads of the characters. Even though they attempt to reconcile a few times, the relationship just doesn’t seem to be working. While most Romantic Comedies end with the couple getting back together, getting together in the first place, or getting married, Annie Hall doesn’t end quite in this way. Similarly, a few of the films by James L. Brooks (e.g. Terms of Endearment (1983), Broadcast News (1987)) had similar, non-traditional endings for the Romantic Comedies that they are.

Bringing Up BabyBringing Up Baby
Year: 1938
Rating: G
Length: 102 minutes / 1.7 hours

Have you ever wondered if you’re marrying the wrong person? One of the most common themes found in Romantic Comedies is the introduction of another person into mix of a romance between two people. The “love triangle” is often formed when some driving force brings the third party into the equation, at which point the original relationship is now in jeopardy. While it can be very cliché, most of the initial relationships in these situations are never solid to begin with. Whether it’s a cold and heartless woman, or a neglectful and distant man, the audience is practically screaming at the main character that they shouldn’t go through with the wedding and should instead marry the new, third person. Because this “love triangle” theme is so common, it’s no wonder that it is often seen in some of the earliest Romantic Comedies.

The driving force in Bringing up Baby is the titular “Baby”: a Brazilian leopard. David Huxley (Cary Grant) is set to be married to Alice Swallow (Virginia Walker), but just so happens to run across Susan Vance (Katharine Hepburn) on the eve of his wedding. Because of a miscommunication, Susan gets David to come to her country home in Connecticut to bring up Baby, mistakenly taking him for a zoologist, instead of his actual profession of paleontology. Of course, the mistaken identities continue as another leopard escapes from the circus, thus allowing Susan and David to think that this new leopard is Baby, when in fact it is a very dangerous animal. Hilarity ensues, but Alice now doesn’t want anything to do with David because of his interactions with Susan. Fortunately, Susan has a few connections that David needs to finish his paleontology project. Oh, and they love each other too.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 comedic couplings