Screen

O'Brien, Tom

SCREEN HALLS OF MIRRORS 'NEWS,"VIETNAM,' & 'WALKER' Broadcast News and Good Morning Vietnam both mirror our media mania. The latter con-cerns a radio disc jockey (Robin Williams) who gains...

...Written, produced, and directed by James Brooks (Terms of Endearment), the film neatly fuses romance, studio soap opera, and social satire...
...Is Walker a moron...
...Ollie North in a time warp...
...Moreover, since Hurt tries to improve on his job, and since his ethical "lapses" are trivial, the final connection between the truth in love and truth in news seems forced...
...Its exclusive style, its gratuitous anti-Americanism (cf...
...The ends justify the means," Walker says...
...The screenplay is both fun and biting...
...The result is not perpetual surprise but tedium...
...Baby Boom) she also wants to "have it all"- love, money, career.baby...
...Director Brooks allows the love triangle to go on too long...
...An added problem is Williams, who, with his arch-vulgar shtick, seems forced and monotonous after fifteen minutes...
...I don't remember," Walkershrugs...
...Hunter catches two sides of womanhood better than any actress this year...
...I confess I walked out after about two-thirds of the film...
...Director Brooks also shapes the best comic performance in some time by Jack Nicolson as the main network anchor in the New York studio...
...It could be an epigraph-for American policy in Vietnam, perhaps for Central America...
...once, chewing out an underling for failing to provide a tape during a special, she screams imprecations over the studio phone, prompting a stunned executive producer to say, "I didn't know she was this good...
...He never explains why Walker's soldiers follow him, or believe in him-even if, in the film's worst scene, he plays the piano during a battle, then shoots a mercenary who complains...
...like many career women on film these days (cf...
...Walker is the most pretentious film released in 1987...
...The fourth Vietnam film in a year, its originality lies in director Barry Levinson's attempt to mix humor with the war's tragedy...
...To be fair, sex is the only thing Cox intermittently handles well...
...The best line in the film is a perfectly phrased, brief, all-American term of endearment...
...Albert Brooks (Lost in America) plays a bright but rumpled-looking news reporter at a network's Washington bureau...
...Arranging a meeting, Albert Brooks tells Hunter, "I'll meet you at the place near the thing we went to that night...
...The film has faults but survives them...
...Not mudbath but bloodbath is really Cox's forte...
...They both value depth, integrity, accuracy, and professionalism in news reporting...
...Cox's film will no doubt speak to the converted...
...What are the ends...
...A foreshadowing of Conrad's Mr...
...Cox, prototype of the eternal sophomore, would probably gleefully shout "All the above!'' and call us bourgeois for being confused...
...Walker's whole content is easily paraphrased: "Hey, man, burn the flag again...
...Marlee Matlin (the deaf actress from Children of a Lesser God) dominates the second ten minutes of the movie, and projects her usual powerful eros...
...Director Alex Cox (Repo Man, Sid and Nancy, Straight to Hell) obviously intends a parallel to current events...
...Cox does provide a moment of genuine political black humor as Walker and one of his aides discuss his use of terror as they walk on a Pacific beach...
...he also stacks the deck too patly in the ugly duckling's favor...
...His operating principle is anything goes...
...Walker splices together The Wild Bunch and The Three Stooges...
...at some point, a viewer can reasonably expect to get slimed...
...So she blows comically hot and cold, and Brooks tries his awkward best to get in the way...
...But Broadcast News, on the other hand, is genuinely witty...
...Hunter sustains the film...
...Could be...
...Yet even to incoherence there is an art, and unlike a genuinely imaginative surrealist (for example, Bill Forsyth of the current Housekeeping and the recent Local Hero) there is no texture to Cox's inconsistency, no il-logic, so to speak...
...There is nothing intriguing about a close-up view of a director taking a mudbath in unpredictability...
...that' ll really show the fascists.'' TOM O'BRIEN...
...You may wind up sympathizing with the army censors...
...A refugee from a skit on "Saturday Night Live...
...besides an Oscar nomination, she should get gymnastic credits...
...Director Brooks also knows the insides of journalism, both good and bad...
...The mix doesn't work as well as in his bittersweet Baltimore movies, Tin Men and Diner...
...Inside, however, Hunter carries wounds: guilt over her compulsions, a desire for some domestic normalcy fused with career...
...When Hurt, kissing her at night in front of the Jefferson Memorial, says "I'd like to know what's it like to be inside all that energy,'' the line is not just a sexy come-on, but a compliment...
...It's just that the style suffers-to paraphrase Lenin's one bon mot-from left-wing surrealism and other infantile disorders...
...she regards him as a real but Platonic good friend, confidant, and ally in network battles...
...She also manages to wear a strangely beautiful but awkward dress for about a half an hour...
...Walker is potentially interesting: it concerns an American adventurer, who, with the backing of railroad mogul Cornelius Vanderbilt in the 1850s, invaded Nicaragua with a mercenary army and promises of freedom...
...Her role here requires her to project both brains and fire...
...A hypocritical puritan...
...A young woman assistant producer zaps her with the praise,"Except for socially, you're my role model...
...But-to paraphrase Ronald Reagan's winning retort to Carter's plea for coherence in a presidential debate-there I go again...
...he must have only ten lines, but because of their held-in quality and the match between verbal understatement and his shrewd, ever active, radar-like eyes, the lines come across as far more convincingly egomaniacal than in most of Nicolson's blowhard performances...
...He loves the brilliant, sexy producer (the ever feisty Holly Hunter...
...Still, Hunter's dynamic acting and the delights of the dialogue carry the movie over its rough spots...
...Here his natural wildness is badly matched with that of the director, who shows no restraint in style or content...
...Their elitism belies any claim to democratic beliefs...
...Cox's deliberate anachronisms (characters reading Newsr week as they drive a Mercedes around nineteenth-century Central America) are only the most extravagant example of his consciously outlandish style...
...But-hey, man-why ask for explanations when coherence is obviously such a right-wing value...
...They also both despise the vacuity of the handsome anchorman (William Hurt...
...there, you see, I buried the lead.'' Reporters are shown discussing problems of journalistic ethics, all of which they solve immediately with pat answers, the kind they learned by rote in some ethics course at J-school...
...This is wry without the ham...
...it defines the edge between the natural and overly witty...
...The middle of the film is a broken record of gruesome verbal and physical violence that demeans the actors-among them, the fine Rene Auberjonois as Walker's aide and Ed Harris in the lead...
...Kurtz...
...The plot has holes even the South Vietnamese army could invade...
...But that's the common defect of this kind of left-wing film...
...A puppet of Vanderbilt...
...She's a self-propelled torpedo (recall her non-negotiable demand for a baby, even by kidnapping, in Raising Arizona: "Go right in there and git me a toddler...
...Artists of this stripe are really infected with hatred of people...
...Alas, Hunter unfortunately gets a crush on him...
...I just couldn't take it anymore, and doubt the rest would have altered my view...
...Nothing like wrestling with a moral dilemma," Brooks comments...
...Brooks has the wit to keep Nicolson under wraps most of the time...
...memorable is the network special where Hunter struts her stuff...
...they both hate the triumph of schlock "happy" stories and the pretty faces reading them...
...Harris has a fondness for political roles (The Right Stuff, Alamo Bay, Under Fire), and often brings to them a sense of someone quietly unhinged...
...Still, the movie is worth comment for its pseudo-artistic archness in mixing absurdist comedy and history...
...He aptly uses the specific language of the media to punctuate the romance: "I'm in love with you," Albert Brooks yells at Hunter after a long speech...
...Why trust those who claim their art might improve the human community when their style won't concede an inch to the consciousness of the communities we now have...
...Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket) will alienate anyone undecided, or, indeed, drive them to conservative conclusions...
...The verbal texture has to be rich for it to work so well...
...The latter con-cerns a radio disc jockey (Robin Williams) who gains popularity and loses position when he plays rock music and tries to read real news on Armed Forces radio in Saigon, 1968...
...As with Cry Freedom, I have no quarrel with this film's political point...
...Since no one has ever accused left-wing expressionists of lacking imagination, let me be the first: artists like Cox cannot even conceive of trying to make sense to people who don't see it wholly their way...
...To express this, Brooks simply gives her wailing soliloquies, rendered with such comic melancholy you want both to laugh and hug her...
...A morally blind ''freedom fighter...
...Note how dramatically forced are Cox's attempts to prove his sexual liberation, including repulsive scenes with sheep or the gratuitous tour of the fleshy fun in Vanderbilt's railroad car...
...what Broadcast News provides is a drop of something rarer, freedom about the press...
...There are lines with such a precise quality that you know James Brooks heard or thought of them long ago, then saved them up for occasions like these...
...We have freedom of the press...
...Yet the result isn't forced...
...Cox never explains to what degree (or why) Walker is sincere about his own ideas...
...the aide asks...

Vol. 115 • January 1988 • No. 2


 
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