The Legacy of All the President’s Men

Redford Woodward Bernstein

Back in April 2001 Robert Redford, Bob Woodward, and Carl Bernstein recognised the 35th anniversary of All the President’s Men at the LBJ Presidential Library.

The three sat down for a lengthy discussion (around 80 minutes) and shared numerous anecdotes about Watergate and the subsequent film, including:

  • How Redford first heard about the affair in 1972.
  • Why the differences between Woodward and Bernstein appealed to Redford.
  • The reason the film focused on just a part of the investigation.
  • The book actually came out before Nixon resigned.
  • Redford becoming ‘obsessed’ with the material.
  • How Jason Robards was eventually cast as editor Ben Bradlee after his initial reluctance.
  • The reaction of the journalist duo when they finally saw the film.

You can watch the full discussion here:

> Buy the Blu-ray or DVD from Amazon UK
> Find out more about the Watergate scandal at Wikipedia

The East

Brit Marling in The East

An intriguing thriller about the penetration of an eco-terrorist group provides a reminder that interesting ideas realised on a lower budget can be highly effective.

It also marks another auspicious development in the partnership between writer-director Zal Batmanglij and co-writer/star Brit Marling, whose previous collaboration – The Sound of My Voice (2011) – explored similar themes.

Whilst that film revolved around a cult, this one is set amongst a secretive organisation of eco-activists called ‘The East’, who stage disruptive events (or ‘jams’ as they call them) as payback for companies who dump toxic waste or other damaging environmental activity.

In a prologue we see a mysterious masked gang break in to the house of an oil executive and stage their own oil spill, as punishment for his company’s activity.

The focus then shifts to Sarah (Brit Marling), an eager operative working for a private intelligence firm as she has to convince her skeptical boss (Patricia Clarkson) to allow her to go deep undercover and penetrate The East.

After slowly gaining their trust, she finds a new home amongst the group who include a skeptical Izzy (Ellen Page), a medical student (Toby Kebbell) and the de facto leader Benji (Alexander Skarsgard). Slowly she begins to find out more about their philosophy and activities.

These early sequences are the most effective as they are genuinely unpredictable and intriguing: we see a highly unusual communal meal, the gripping infiltration of a drinks party and the ever-growing tension that Sarah might go native with the group she is investigating.

Although it shows its hand a little too early, the narrative is filled with satisfying twists and turns demonstrating again the screenwriting chemistry between Marling and Batmanglij, more than fulfilling the promise of their auspicious debut.

Marling’s performance demonstrates her undeniable screen presence that she established in both Sound of My Voice (2010) and Another Earth (2010) which may have been partly down to her own writing contributions, which mark her out amongst her contemporaries.

In some ways this is a reverse of Batmanglij’s first film in which Marling played the cult leader, whereas here she plays the outsider trying to get in to a cult-like organisation.

The political issues are blended in cleverly with the plot: in one sequence we see how tensions and ethical dilemmas run deep within the protagonist and also the wider group.

It is also executed with considerable technical panache: Roman Vasyanov’s widescreen visuals and the editing by Andrew Weisblum and Bill Pankow give the film an extra polish often absent in films on this kind of budget (reportedly around the $6m mark).

The icing on the cake is Halli Cauthery’s score (working from themes by Harry Gregson-Williams), which lends the film more layers of mood and tension.

Over the last few years studios have shied away from mid-budget films like this by making a few blockbusters and lame comedies. (Credit to Fox Searchlight for making this with Ridley Scott’s production company, Scott Free).

The film’s tagline “Spy on us. We’ll spy on you” is eerily prescient in light of the recent NSA revelations and it may well be that in years to come this is a film people will see as emblematic of the Occupy Wall Street era.

> Official site
> Reviews of The East at Metacritic

DVD: Mea Maxima Culpa – Silence in the House of God

Mea Maxima Culpa

A haunting and frequently shocking expose of child abuse in the Catholic Church, Alex Gibney’s latest film explores an insidious web of corruption and cover up.

Gibney has explored corruption in institutions before (e.g. Enron, the US military) and here he examines the story of four deaf men who were abused by priests in the 1960s before travelling higher up the church.

Interweaving it with other stories, a devastating portrait quickly emerges of a bankrupt institution that has not only shattered people’s lives, but actively sought to conceal wrongdoing at the highest levels.

Intriguingly, Pope Benedict XVI stood down in February around the UK theatrical release and in doing so he became the first Pope to resign in 600 years. Many have speculated that the abuse scandals (that this film partly explores) gave him a good reason to retire.

When he took over in 2005, he immediately had to deal with a situation that led to an explosion of abuse claims and law suits against the church and accusations that the Vatican was complicit in the cover up.

Although films such as Deliver Us From Evil (2006) have covered this subject by focusing on a single figure, Gibney’s film adopts an unusual approach in starting out with Father Lawrence Murphy abusing his pupils at the St John’s School for the Deaf in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

It then gradually follows the trail of abuse into the wider world, which included Tony Walsh, the notorious Irish priest who was also an Elvis personator, Father Marcial Maciel, who was ‘punished’ by being sent out to Florida, and on to the Vatican.

Perhaps worst of all is that the Church not only denied and covered-up many of the cases, it also delayed in punishing paedophile priests and even adopted the policy of posting them to other communities.

At one point there is the utterly surreal revelation that at one point the Vatican suggested putting all the offending priests on a dedicated island.

Despite the dark subject matter, this is an important historical work and has a interesting stylistic touch: whilst watching the deaf interviewees, we hear actors such as Chris Cooper and Ethan Hawke voice their words.

Although such a device may have sprung from necessity, it adds an extra layer to their testimony, literally giving them the voice they were denied as young boys.

There is also some remarkably powerful home video footage towards the end of the film as it comes full circle back to St John’s School for the Deaf.

An important document of a massive scandal, it is also a stark reminder of the emotional destruction wrought by a large, unaccountable institution.

> Buy the DVD at Amazon UK
> More on the film at the IMDb

Blu-ray: To the Wonder

Ben Affleck and Rachel Adams

Terrence Malick’s latest film premiered last Autumn to largely mixed reviews but whilst it is the most extreme film he has made in his trademark style, it has a refreshing boldness to it along with some beautiful sequences.

Malick’s work has frequently eschewed conventional notions of filmmaking with their sparse dialogue, dreamy visuals and obsession with nature.

This has been amplified since his return to Hollywood in 1998 after a self-imposed 20 year exile, where films such as The Thin Red Line (2005), The New World (2005) and The Tree of Life (2011) have gone even further than his earlier work Badlands (1973) and Days of Heaven (1978).

He has never been afraid to tackle big themes such as love, death, nature or even the creation of life itself.

In doing so he has also established certain stylistic flourishes: hushed interior monologues; shots of plants; and use of classical music.

With To the Wonder he has taken his trademark elements and turned them up to the nth degree, but whilst the end result falls short of his best films, it is by no means the unintentional work of self-parody that some have suggested.

The story centres on a man (Ben Affleck) torn between two women: Marina (Olga Kurylenko), a European he has met in Paris who comes back to the United States with him, and Jane (Rachel McAdams), the old lover he reconnects with from his hometown in Oklahoma.

In addition, there is a priest (Javier Bardem) struggling with his faith and lack of hope in the world.

They are the basic building blocks of the story but Malick does something much more radical with the narrative, stitching together what appears to be highly improvised sequences in which characters say little or no conventional dialogue.

If this was any other director then we could be in serious trouble, but with Malick he somehow manages to keep things interesting as the characters thoughts and actions wash over us in a kind of cinematic reverie.

It helps that he is one of the great visual stylists in the history of cinema and aided by his cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, puts some remarkable imagery on-screen.

As the characters walk around, often tracked by a seemingly ever-present Steadicam, we get to see them engage in a loose and fluid way that not only suits the narrative approach but after a while becomes hypnotic, seeming imitating the pace of everyday existence.

There is also Malick’s trademark use of magic hour, stunning use of natural light and interesting use of locations, which include Paris, Normandy and Bartlesville, Oklahoma.

Plenty of viewers will balk at the methods of To the Wonder but the sheer audacity of the execution is something to behold.

> Official site
> Buy the Blu-ray or DVD at Amazon UK
> Reviews of To the Wonder at Metacritic

World War Z

Brad Pitt in World War Z

The buzz surrounding this expensive zombie-apocalypse movie has been largely negative but it turns out to be agreeable genre fare, laced with some spectacular set-pieces.

Brad Pitt plays a UN troubleshooter who has to escort his family to safety after a virus turns Philadelphia (and the rest of the world) into bloodthirsty, rampaging zombies.

From there he is recruited to find the source of the disease and his journey takes him to South Korea, Israel and Wales, all the while avoiding infection himself.

Although this is essentially a big budget, apocalyptic disaster movie – reworking elements of 28 Weeks Later (2007), Contagion (2011) and Independence Day (1996) – Pitt has the screen presence to keep our attention hold as the film shifts rapidly around the world.

At times it moves too fast, but the action is competently handled and there are some interesting ideas laced amidst the chaos, notably the real world hotspots such as South Korea and Israel making their way into the mix.

Though those traces remain the novel upon which it was based was apparently much more political (exploring the issues from a global perspective and having the disease begin in China), which meant they were trimmed for the demands of the global marketplace.

Whilst this is a shame, the central set piece set in Israel is visually stunning: when crazed zombie hordes attack a walled Jerusalem, they resemble a biblical plague of insects.

The false safety the Israeli survivors feel perhaps reflects real world anxieties and the visual effects are blended in well with the live action.

Just before Pitt lands in Israel we see a nuclear explosion in the distance and when he lands his contact there seems to have too much faith in the city wall keeping the zombies out.

It is left up to the audience to decide what these images might mean by audiences can infer parallels with contemporary strife in the Holy Land.

The film’s final third has been the subject of much speculation, with reported rewrites and re-shoots ballooning the budget, but whatever the cost it just about works.

A scene involving a drinks machine is the only jarring moment in a tense climax in which Forster and his sound editors load on the tension.

The casting of relatively unknown actors in supporting roles (Mireille Enos as Pitt’s wife and Daniella Kertesz as an Israeli soldier) is also a nice touch for a film of this scale.

Ultimately it may not make a huge profit for Paramount and its multitude of producers, but for a summer blockbuster it is refreshing to see one not based on a comic book.

World War Z opens in the UK on June 21st

> Official site
> Reviews of World War Z at Metacritic