I'm not ashamed to admit it. I'm a fanboy of epic proportions when it comes to the films of Woody Allen. The man is a cinema god. What I am ashamed to admit is that it took me some time to sit down to the works of this wonderfully neurotic New Yorker. I was in my early 20's before I got my first taste of Allen's unique film stylings, and I was instantly hooked.
There's something about Woody (Step aside, Mary). While he has been known to make colossal blunders (see: 'Anything Else'), the man has a truly unique sense of humor, and he can spins tales of relationship woes and deceit quite beautifully. His ability to write lightning quick dialogue is second to none, while some of the yarns he comes up with leave me wondering how any one mind could devise something so peculiar, dark, hilarious, or all of the above.
When journalist Joe Strombel (Ian McShane) dies, his spirit stumbles upon what could be the scoop of the century. Unfortunately, corpses can't file news stories. His only chance to share this scoop with the world is to focus his energy and try to find a fellow journalist who can do the necessary research for him. Strombel believes Peter Lyman (Hugh Jackman), a wealthy socialite, is the Tarot Card Killer who has been having a ball murdering short haired brunettes. Tragically, instead of connecting with a veteran writer, Strombel happens upon a journalism student named Sondra Pranski (Scarlett Johansson) while she is on stage taking part in a magic routine put on by the great Splendini/Sidney Waterman (Allen).
Pranski faces the arduous task of making a name for herself, but she does so ironically by calling herself Jade Spence, with Waterman suddenly posing as her father in this ruse. As she tries to uncover the truth about Lyman, she finds herself falling for the object of her investigation, and the lines begin to blur. Soon the bodies are adding up, and the Tarot Card Killer is on the loose, but did Pronski and Waterman finger the right man for the crime?
While 'Scoop' is nowhere near the best of Allen's work, (That title belongs to his dark comic gem 'Match Point') that doesn't mean the film is all bad, not by any means. I've honestly found enjoyment in each of my viewings of the film, with the clever one-liners and Allen's random, bizarre observations stealing the show each time. I even get a kick out of ScarJo's Pranski occasionally using a very Allen-esque rambling speech pattern, further selling the gag where she pretends to be his daughter. She pulls it off quite well, really, in just her second collaboration with the aging comic vet.
What doesn't sell well, however, is the chemistry between Jackman and Johansson. Here we have an actress giving a role her all, while her leading man seems to be daydreaming about slashing people with claws, or hunting down Dracula, but never showing a real interest in the part at hand.
While I have always found 'Scoop' to be a light, enjoyable film, it remains nowhere near as spectacular as some of Allen's other recent works. Long time fans of the Woody Allen style of comedy will find something familiar here, in a mixture of his post-New York style with his classic neurosis. Newcomers may find themselves scratching their heads, wondering what they just saw.
The Disc: Vital Stats
'Scoop' arrives on Blu-ray from TFI Video in France in one of those fandangled steelbooks. As of the posting of this review, there are no other countries or regions where this disc has been released. It is widely reported that it is Region B locked. However, my Playstation 3 loaded and played the disc without any error whatsoever, while a supposed PS3 workaround has been reported if a screen pops up stating the title is Region incompatible. Since there are no known workarounds on other players, this title is a risky import for most.
Presented in an AVC-MPEG4 encode in 1080P in the natural 1.85:1 ratio, 'Scoop' looks absolutely phenomenal, with a few minor issues that prevent it from basking in the rarefied air of the five star video rating.
From start to finish, 'Scoop' boasts an absolutely beautiful black level that is crisp, deep, just flat out gorgeous, while shadow delineation is strong, with detail not getting lost in the shadows or in darker sequences. The entire film has a superb three dimensional feel, with foreground and background alike sporting exceptional fine detail (never are the backgrounds a blur or mush of colors). Skin tones are natural, hair strands are defined, the stitching in clothing is sharp, sky shots are sharp, noise is minimal, and colors are for the most part quite beautiful, particularly in the clothing of random extras. A late shot on a private lake is a breath stealer if ever there were one! Edge enhancement and DNR are nowhere to be found, either, a big plus.
There are a few minor flaws, as mentioned above, that prevent 'Scoop' from drawing a perfect score. Solid reds (always a video challenge), such as the one in the backdrop of Splendini's stage) don't replicate well, and sometimes band awfully, drawing the eye away from the actual characters on screen, and while the scenes this happens in are short, it's a bit jarring. There were also a few moments where aliasing was evident. Still, I can't help but say I was utterly amazed at how superb the video looks. The upgrade to high def on this title is quite noticeable, and well worth the price.
The audio portion of 'Scoop' is where some will cry foul. There are two choices for how this film will sound: uncompressed mono in English, or uncompressed mono in French (which is the disc's default track). So what if you spent a few thousand dollars on a fancy high end set of speakers and a top of the line receiver? So what if you expect films to rock the house with the low end, and make the ears of every neighbor within a mile bleed with the high end, or that you want to feel like you're in the middle of a freeway? None of that matters. The only thing that does matter is quite simple: what the director wanted his film to sound like.
Woody Allen films aren't known for their room filling sound design, and if that's the way Allen wants the films that he both writes and directs to be, then to criticize such a belief is about as stupid as telling Mohammed Ali his swing wasn't as powerful as it could be, or that Leonardo Da Vinci got it all wrong. The man has done enough for cinema that he can do things his way, and who are we to say that he is wrong for it?
Anyways...gripe all you want, but whether this film were spread out unnaturally to fill your room or not, it wouldn't sound any better than it does here. Dialogue is clear every step of the way, no matter how rapid fire the words can get; even Splendini's rambling diatribes that border on mumbling are perfectly coherent, and that's saying something. The score mixes beautifully with both atmospheric effects and dialogue, with each sound coming across clearly. The very first scene of the film is a perfect example of such, as Strombel talks with his co-passengers on Death's barge, the boat itself creating some light moans, all sounding intelligible through the classical music interlude. Ambiance is a bit under accentuated in this mix, while the bass level that comes from the center channel is also rarely used, though the brief moments that include a bit of a lower roar do sound quite nice, nowhere near as strong or solid as a subwoofer could produce, but still respectable. In other words, it sounds perfectly fine the way it is.
Lastly, and possibly most importantly, to view the film in the original and natural language of the film, one must also see the forced French subtitles, an aggravating choice, indeed. However, the subtitle lines are quite thin compared to many other releases, so the print is actually quite easy to ignore once you get into the film. Sure, I would have preferred to be able to turn that shit off (when listening to the French track, the subtitles are optional. Way to go, TFI, for not adding a simple toggle button in the menu to make life that much easier.
Another Allen constant, there are no extras to be found on this release. Since the man famously won't even watch his own films once he finishes them, the thought of him wanting to sit down for two hours to record a commentary is as unlikely as anything ever could be. There are a few trailers prior to the menu, including 'Ca$h,' 'Les Randonneurs a Saint-Tropez,' and '3:10 to Yuma,' however, only 'Yuma' has any English in it.
Call me biased, but I just can't get enough Woody Allen, and with every passing year, I grow a little sadder at the thought of a cinematic world without this comedic legend (Editor's Note: Allen is 73 and in good health. His mother lived to be 95 and his father passed the 100 year mark, so lets keep our fingers crossed that Mr. Konigsberg is around and making films for a long time to come! Either way, we should not be taking him for granted!). 'Scoop' may not be one of his greatest works, but it isn't one of his worst, either. This Blu-ray sports dazzling video qualities, audio that will drive many high def enthusiasts bonkers, the Allen staple lack of extras, and a bizarre region coding situation. Due to the forced subtitles, though, this one is hard to recommend to anyone but the most diehard of fans.