‘All the President’s Men’
Warner Home Video
It only took four years for the Watergate scandal to be immortalized on movie screens, complete with two of the era’s biggest stars — Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman — playing the only somewhat good-looking Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. But the results were anything but a triumphant reminder of corruption semi-recently vanquished.
“All the President’s Men” may have jam-packed journalism schools with wannabe heroes, but it’s a warts-and-all study of professionalism taken to an absurd extreme. Woodward and Bernstein have no lives outside work, nor personality attributes beyond “driven.” They ignore vague (and sometimes not so vague) threats as they pursue the truth. And neither they nor we get to celebrate their victory, with the movie cutting out on a minor note. Not all Hollywood films of the 1970s have happy endings, but even the one that does doesn't revel in it.
As has been drilled into our heads, Hollywood was making stripped down films like this all the time during this period. Even for the era, Alan Pakula’s drama is stripped-down. It’s a dispassionate, just-the-facts-ma’am study of process that resembles Britain's “The Day of the Jackal” from three years earlier, and whose influence today is felt in “Zodiac” and “Zero Dark Thirty,” which also bury viewers under an avalanche of facts and dead ends. A new, feature-length retrospective documentary exploring the legacy and perhaps correcting some misconceptions about Watergate and Nixon is appended onto this splashy set.
‘As I Lay Dying’
Actor, director, screenwriter, author, student, teacher and painter James Franco has been made light of for doing a lot lately, although the problem is not that he’s become Robert Pollard-level prolific. It’s that he’s been making films of unfilmable novels. There’s no reason to turn William Faulkner’s landmark into a movie, as there’s no cinematic equivalent for the writer’s dense, streaming prose. (Ditto Cormac McCarthy’s “Child of God,” which he also made this year.) But good intentions count for something, and there’s evidence that Franco could one day blossom into a terrific filmmaker — maybe one who knows not to adapt Faulkner.
‘Man of Steel’
It took 25 years, but Superman appears to have been successfully relaunched, complete with Russell Crowe and Kevin Costner as his two dads. Too bad it devolves into noisy nonsense.
Hot couple Greta Gerwig and director Noah Baumbach had a nice indie hit with this acerbic, black-and-white portrait of a late twentysomething caught in arrested development.
F.W. Murnau’s triumph of German expressionism was in fact an unauthorized adaptation of “Dracula,” which amazingly survived almost being sued out of existence by Bram Stoker’s widow.