“ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN” (1976) Review

 

“ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN” (1976) Review

Last May and June marked the fortieth anniversary of a well-known historical event – namely the Watergate burlaries. The ensuing scandal were investigated by two Washington Post reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. The pair’s investigations were eventually chronicled in a best-selling book and later, a 1976 movie based upon the book. 

As many know, five men were arrested by the police for breaking and entering the Democratic National Committee office at the Watergate Hotel during the early hours of June 17, 1972. At least two other break-ins had occurred. But the arrests of Bernard Barker, Vergilio Gonzales, Eugenio Martínez, Frank Sturgis, and James McCord caught the attention ofPost reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. Their investigations – along with those from Time Magazine and The New York Times – of a series of crimes committed on behalf of the Nixon Administration led to the resignation ofPresident Richard Nixon in August 1974 and a best-selling book that chronicled Woodward and Bernstein’s Watergate investigations.

Robert Redford bought the rights to Woodward and Bernstein’s book for $450,000 with the notion to adapt it into a film, with him serving as producer. Redford had no intention of acting in “ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN”. But someone at Warner Brothers agreed to release the film only if he co-starred in it. Redford agreed to portray Bob Woodward. He also brought aboard Alan J. Pakula as the film’s director and William Goldman as screenwriter. Redford, Pakula and producer Walter Coblenz hired Dustin Hoffman to portray Carl Bernstein. When Post executive editor Ben Bradlee realized that the film was going to be made with or without his approval; he, Woodward and Bernstein made a great effort to serve as the film’s technical advisers. Bradlee hoped that the movie would have a positive impact upon the public’s view on journalism.

After viewing “ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN” (for the umpteenth time), it occurred to me Bradlee’s hope may have come true. At least for a while. The movie was very effective in conveying the dogged investigation that Woodward and Bernstein underwent to uncover the Watergate scandal. Mind you, “ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN” only chronicled Woodward and Bernstein’s investigation from the arrest of the men involved, to their discovery of Nixon Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman‘s involvement, and finally to January 20, 1973; the day of Nixon’s second inauguration. In other words, it covered only the first seven months of the scandal, unlike Woodward and Bernstein’s book. And the phrase – “Follow the money” – had been invented for the movie. It was never featured in the book.

But who cares about these minor differences? “ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN” still managed to be a superb look into both the investigative process for journalists (something that today’s journalists need to study). It also provided great character studies of both Woodward and Bernstein, their interaction as a team, and also those whom they worked for at theWashington Post – especially Ben Bradlee, Harry M. Rosenfeld, and Howard Simmons. One of the more positive aspects of Woodward and Bernstein’s investigation in the movie dealt with the journalists’ handling of the various people they interviewed. I really found it fascinating – especially the scenes that featured the team’s interactions with Judy Hoback , Hugh Sloan Jr.Donald Segretti and W. Mark Felt aka “Deep Throat”.

Even though Pakula and Goldman went through a great deal on focusing upon the movie’s portrayals of the characters – major and minor, it never eluded the fact that Woodward and Bernstein’s investigation was all about the Watergate break-in and the Nixon Administration. What I found amazing about the movie’s plotting was that it did not focus on Nixon and his men right away. To emphasize the pair’s dogged investigation – especially from their point of view – the movie slowly but firmly widened the spotlight from that final break-in in June 1972 to the array of tricks, plots and crimes that members of the Nixon Administration planned to ensure the President’s re-election in November.

David Shire’s score for “ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN” struck me as subtle and very fitting for the movie’s themes of subterfuge, paranoia and secrets, while I was watching the film. But I have to be honest . . . it did not strike me as particularly memorable. On the other hand, I was more than impressed by Gordon Willis’ photography. I enjoyed his use of shadows, especially in the scenes that featured Woodward’s meetings with “Deep Throat”. I also enjoyed his use of deep focus photography. I found them very effective in the Washington Post scenes. More than anything, I enjoyed how Willis gave the movie, especially the exterior shots of Washington D.C. a natural look that was the hallmark of 1970s cinema.

But I cannot talk about “ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN” without discussing the movie’s performances. I tried to think of one performance that seemed out of step or simply bad. And I realized that I could not. The movie featured some truly outstanding performances. One, “ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN” featured cameo performances from those who were known at the time or future stars. First-rate performances came from the likes of Polly Holliday, Ned Beatty, Penny Fuller, Carl Franklin, Valerie Curtin, John McMartin, Lindsay Crouse, Allyn Ann McLerie and Meredith Baxter. But there were supporting performances that I found exceptional. Stephen Collins gave a wonderfully subtle performance as Hugh Sloan Jr., the Republican aide who was disgusted by the illegal activities of the Nixon Administration. Martin Balsam was great as Post editor Howard Simmons, one of those who had nurtured the careers of younger journalists like Woodward and Bernstein. And I especially enjoyed Jack Warden’s colorful portrayal of Harry Rosenfeld, the Post editor that oversaw the Watergate coverage. Jane Alexander received a Best Supporting Actress nomination for her performance as Judy Hoback, a bookeeper for CRP. She deserved the attention, thanks to her ability to convey Hoback’s jittery personality in such a subtle manner. And Jason Robards won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his spot-on portrayal of Ben Bradlee. I thought his portrayal of Bradlee would be all over the map. Much to my delight, he managed to keep it tight and entertaining at the same time.

Aside from director Alan J. Pakula, the two men who really held this movie together like glue were Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman. They were superb as Woodward and Bernstein. It seemed a pity that neither was nominated for a Best Actor Academy Award. Then again, if that had happened, their nominations would have guaranteed the victory of a third party. If I had my way, I would have allowed them to share the award. Both Redford and Hoffman were like a well-oiled team. The actors not only delved into the individual personalities of their characters, but also made it easy for moviegoers to see how two such men disparate men became such an effective journalistic team. They made one of the best on-screen acting team I have ever seen . . . period. And it is a pity that people rarely acknowledge this.

I am not saying that “ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN” is a flawless film. There is no such thing as a movie that is flawless in my eyes. However, the only flaws that come to mind is that the movie only covered the first seven months of Woodward and Bernstein’s investigation and it utilized a phrase that was never used in real life or featured in the 1974 book. Otherwise, I feel that “ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN” is one of the best movies to be released in the 1970s. And to this day, I find it hard to believe that of all movies, it turned out to be “ROCKY” that beat it for the Best Picture Oscar.

“TERMINATOR SALVATION” (2009) Review

Below is my review of the fourth installment of the TERMINATOR franchise – “TERMINATOR SALVATION”:

”TERMINATOR SALVATION”  (2009) Review

For some particular reason, I have never been in the habit of anticipating a movie from the ”TERMINATOR” franchise. I never saw ”THE TERMINATOR” (1984) or ”TERMINATOR 2: JUDGEMENT DAY” (1991) in the theaters. Not that I really cared, since I never did make the effort to go see either movie. I had to be dragged to the theater to see ”TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF THE MACHINES” (2003). And as for the latest installment in the franchise, ”TERMINATOR SALVATION” – again, I had to be dragged to the theater. Yet, every time I have seen any of these films, I end up enjoying them. Or being intrigued by them – including this latest film.

Directed by McG, who was responsible for the two ”CHARLIE’S ANGELS” movies and “WE ARE MARSHALL”, ”TERMINATOR SALVATION” told the struggles of Resistance leader John Connor during the war between humanity and Skynet – the artificial intelligence system that became self aware and revolted against its human creators – in the year 2018. For the first time, a movie in the ”TERMINATOR” franchise did not feature the time travel of one or two of its characters. The movie not only revealed how John Connor first met his father – the teenaged and future time traveler, Kyle Reese, it also focused on how a death row inmate named Marcus Wright had signed over his body to Cyberdyne Systems and ended up being used as a model for the T-800 Model 101 Terminator and to lure Connor to Skynet. The movie starred Christian Bale as John Connor; Sam Worthington as Marcus Wright; Moon Bloodgood as Blair Williams, a Resistance pilot who falls for Marcus; Anton Yelchin as the teenaged Kyle Reese; Byrce Howard Dallas as Kate Brewster Connor, John’s wife; Common as Barnes, Connor’s second-in-command; Jadagrace Berry as Star, Kyle’s nine year-old mute companion; Helena Bonham-Carter as Dr. Dr. Serena Kogan, the cancer-ridden Cyberdyne scientist who had convinced Marcus to donate his body before Judgment Day; and Linda Hamilton as the voice of Sarah Connor.

As far as I know, the movie has received mixed reviews from both the critics and moviegoers. How do I feel about ”TERMINATOR SALVATION”? Well . . . it was not perfect. First of all, singer-turned-actor Common seemed incapable of acting worth a damn in this film. Which I found surprising, considering how impressed I had been by his performances in movies like ”SMOKIN ACES” (2007) and ”STREET KINGS” (2008). It could be that McG might be one of those directors incapable of handling actors with little experience. Another problem I had with the movie was Conrad Buff’s editing. In fact, I have been complaining about the editing in a good number of movie during this past year. I am beginning to wonder if the new and cheap editing style created by Christopher Rouse for the last two ”BOURNE” movies seemed to be getting very popular in the movie industry, these day. And, quite frankly, I found Jane Alexander’s presence in the film as another Resistance leader named Virginia to be a complete waste of time. Aside from a few lines in the movie, she barely said a word. Another problem I had centered around John Connor’s inability to remember that two previous T-800 Terminators had saved his life in the past. Instead, the only thing remembered from his first meeting with Marcus Wright was that the latter reminded him of the cyborg who tried to kill his mother, Sarah, in 1984. I had posted this complaint on one of the movie’s blogs and was told that it was possible that fifteen years of fighting machines may have eroded John’s memories. Hmmm . . . perhaps. However, I am still slightly uneasy about it.

One last complaint – namely the ending. Many fans have been complaining that the filmmakers did not stick with the original ending that called for John Connor to die and for his command to have his skin grafted upon Marcus Wright’s body in order to continue the Resistance. But when the ending was leaked on the Internet, the screenwriters created a new ending. First of all, I thank God for the person who had leaked the original ending, because I hate it. If that had been the ending shown in the theaters, I would have been tempted to throw my shoe at the movie screen. Yes, I hate it that much. Now, I like the new ending. I like it a hell of a lot more than the original ending. But . . . I feel that director McG or screenwriters John Brancato and Michael Ferris had rushed it a bit. I feel that it could have been better paced.

Okay. Despite my complaints, I discovered that I liked the movie . . . a lot. Like I did the three previous ”TERMINATOR” movies. Brancato and Ferris’ screenplay for this new installment is quite different from the three previous ones in which no one character had traveled back in time to protect a member of the Connor family. For once, Arnold “the Govenator” Schwarzenegger did not appear in the movie as a major character. And ”TERMINATOR SALVATION” revealed an interesting twist from the last two films in which a cyborg was used to form close ties with John Connor in order to arrange for his death, instead of to protect him. Another interesting thing about the story is that the aim of Skynet was not to kill John Connor before he could become a Resistance leader. Instead, it seemed determine to kill him, while he fought with the Resistance. And it also targeted Kyle Reese in order to lure Connor to Skynet and kill Kyle before his future trip back through time. However, I did notice that Skynet had targeted both son and father, before the son could become ”the top” leader of the Resistance. And when you think about it, with the character of Marcus Wright, Skynet had damn near pulled a con job on both Connor and the Resistance. The reason I found this interesting is that Skynet’s future dealings with John Connor, Sarah Connor and Kate Brewster Connor will never be this subtle again.

Another major virtue of ”TERMINATOR SALVATION” turned out to be its cast – with the exception of one or two. I have already made my complaints about Common and Jane Alexander, so I will sing the praises of the rest of the cast. Helena Bonham-Carter made a brief and memorable appearance as Dr. Serena Kogan, the Cyberdyne scientist who convinced Marcus to donate his body, following his execution in 2003. For the past two to three years, a good number of child actors have caught my attention with some pretty damn good performances – like Dakota Blue Richards in ”THE GOLDEN COMPASS”, Paulie Litt from “SPEED RACER”, Jaden Smith in ”THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL” and Brandon Walters in ”AUSTRALIA”. The fifth child who has managed to recently catch my eye turned out to be Jadagrace Berry, who portrayed the nine year-old mute/Resistance fighter, Star. I found it amazing that a nine year-old girl who had not only made her film debut, but managed to remain silent throughout the film, gave one of the best performances in the movie. And she did it with good old fashioned screen acting . . . by using her eyes, expressions and body language. Anton Yelchin is no longer the child actor he used to be when I first saw him in the 2002 miniseries, ”TAKEN”, but he is still a first-rate performer with a strong screen presence. Actor Michael Biehn had made the role of Kyle Reese memorable in the franchise’s first movie in 1984. And Yelchin proved that he could be just as memorable as Biehn, as the teenaged Kyle. Both Bryce Dallas Howard and Moon Bloodgood portrayed the two female leads in the movie – Kate Brewster Connor (wife of John) and Blair Williams (Resistance pilot who ends up falling in love with Marcus Wright). And both women gave first-rate performances and managed to stand out on their own, despite being surrounded in heavily male-dominated film. Howard – who had taken over the role first created by Claire Danes – had a very memorable moment in the film when her character first realized that Marcus was not as human as he had professed to be.

The director of the first two “TERMINATOR” movies, James Cameron, had recommended Australian actor Sam Worthington to director McG for the pivotal role of Marcus Wright, the death row inmate whose body ended up being used as a prototype by Cyberdyne and later used by Skynet to lure John Connor to his doom. Not only was Worthington was memorable, he almost ended up stealing the picture. He effectively portrayed Marcus as a tough and ruthless who was haunted by his past, fell in love and was determined to maintain his individuality despite what Cyberdyne and Skynet had done to him. The reason I had stated that Worthington had ”almost” stolen the film was due to Christian Bale’s presence in the film as future Resistance leader, John Connor. Like he has been in nearly every film he has appeared in, Bale was an intense performer with a strong screen presence. Hell, he was like this nearly twenty-two years ago in the 1987 film, ”EMPIRE OF THE SUN”. There were scenes in which Bale loudly and clearly expressed Connor’s emotions – whether it was anger, fear or concern. Only a very few actors and actresses can get away with openly expressing their characters’ emotions without being hammy. And consummate actor that he is, Bale happens to be one of them. Frankly, I really do not see the need to compare or choose on whether Bale or Worthington was the better actor. Both gave superb performances and both . . . performed with each other so well that I found myself wishing they had more scenes together.

Despite my dissatisfaction with the editing, there were other areas in the technical department where ”TERMINATION SALVATION” shone. Martin Laing’s production designs and Troy Sizemore’s art direction beautifully created an apocalyptic Southern California set some nine to ten years in the future. And Shane Hurlbut projected their work with some exciting photography. Aside from the franchise’s familiar theme that first appeared at the beginning of the end credits, I did not find Danny Elfman’s score that memorable.

Despite some of the movie’s flaws, I ended up enjoying ”TERMINATION SALVATION” very much – much to my utter surprise, thanks to McG’s direction, Brancato and Ferris’ screenplay, and the excellent cast led memorably by Christian Bale and Sam Worthington.