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Tag Archive: Watergate


Review by C.J. Bunce

When the worst of us does its best to silence the rest of us, you get a story like 1971’s Pentagon Papers bombshell.  When a voluminous, decades-in-the-making, confidential government report that demonstrated unconstitutional behavior by a succession of presidents from Truman through Johnson is leaked to the press, The New York Times first reported on it, and the Nixon administration sought and was granted an injunction preventing the Times from publishing further articles on the subject.  Director Steven Spielberg focuses his new expertly crafted biopic The Post on The Washington Post as it decided whether to publish excerpts of the Pentagon Papers in the face of the Times injunction, primarily through the eyes of newspaper owner Katherine Graham, played by Meryl Streep, and managing editor Ben Bradlee, played by Tom Hanks. For the average moviegoer, Spielberg takes a rather mundane footnote in American history and makes it completely engaging and entertaining.  Carefully re-creating the early 1970s more than 45 years later with everything from the annoying mishandling of coins as you tried to make a payphone call, to the rotary phones we all used, to the weekly ritual of the family newspaper strewn across the living room, to costume designer Ann Roth’s hand-sewn vintage wardrobe re-creations, eyeglasses, jewelry, and hairdos of the era, to old technology and random items on shelves (that might prompt you to think it’s time to get a new iced tea pitcher), to the thankfully bygone days of women sitting in one room at a party and the men in another, to board rooms completely devoid of women (although today there is still rarely more than one or two), Spielberg makes the best use of the film medium, sharing a timely and important story for a new generation of moviegoers.

Filmed in the same 1970s noir style as Alan J. Pakula’s All the President’s Men (and using a newsroom set that is almost as accurate as that film’s 1975 California movie set version of the real thing), The Post might as well be a prequel.  It’s almost as good, lacking some of the more heart-pounding, real-life thrills of Watergate, like the mysterious informant Deep Throat, the uncertainty of whether someone in the government was going to think The Washington Post’s press coverage was worth killing over, and the perceived nature of the stakes (the executive branch vs. the Fourth Estate).  To his credit Spielberg had the more difficult task of re-creating an era and a newsroom in 2017, when Redford was filming his movie only three years after the events took place (and Spielberg is also certain to illustrate the stakes to both the players and the nation of this earlier event).  From the opening scene Spielberg traverses familiar territory, opening with an embedded government wonk in a warzone in Vietnam, as believable as his earliest team-up with Hanks, in Saving Private Ryan.  Seamlessly composer John Williams rejoins his long partnership with Spielberg in this scene, offering one of his best scores in years, alternating within the film an intensity that rivals his Raider of the Lost Ark compositions with the contemplative import of the moment realized in his Schindler’s List soundtrack.

Yesterday is today, as scene after scene attests to the same corporate deal making, the same roadshow investors, the same IPO efforts, the same boardroom antics, the same misogyny, the same shuffling of blame, and the same indifference to the public good permeates the nation and the news.   Convincingly selling us on the gravity of the story is the best ensemble cast put together in the past year.  Streep plays a surprisingly layered Katherine Graham, a socialite who would become the first woman Fortune 500 CEO and first woman to helm a major newspaper, best known for her role in the Pentagon Papers and Watergate.  Streep never ceases to amaze as she creates yet another character as believable and authentic as any of her past award-winning performances.  The Tom Hanks that won best actor Oscars for Philadelphia and Forrest Gump is also back, playing the strident editor Bradlee for all it’s worth, complete with the editor’s accent, brusque language and bravado, equal to Jason Robards’ Oscar-winning take on the same man in All the President’s Men.  The rest of the cast is a virtual Who’s Who of the current top genre actor scene.

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Forty-five years later it’s become clear that confidential informant Deep Throat’s role in the Watergate scandal that resulted in the 1974 resignation of President Richard Nixon was far less than the legend that had been built over the years.  Despite the top journalism by Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein–it was really good ol’ fashioned dogged reporting and investigation that brought the White House down–it is their own account, as documented in their book All the Presidents’ Men that in fact created the mythos of the secret crusader that revealed all.  For 30 years the mystery of what Washington insider was really the pseudonymous Deep Throat was one of the biggest mysteries of modern political history, the history of journalism, and the history of modern America.  Who was the secret informant?  Many around during Watergate would never find out, including Nixon, although he had speculated it was FBI Director Mark Felt.  The world knew that Woodward and Bernstein knew the answer.  It was all the exciting stuff of a paperback suspense thriller, until Felt admitted in 2005 that he was, indeed, the informant.

Yes, the title violates the “don’t make it so damned long” rule of titling a great movie, but since we’ve known the secret persona of Mark Felt for twelve years, it’s really been only a matter of time until we’d get to see Watergate from a new angle.  Mark Felt:  The Man Who Brought Down the White House, from Sony Pictures Classics, looks like an interesting enough thriller, but can it possibly have what made the four-time Oscar winner All the Presidents’ Men such a benchmark in the history of film?  All the President’s Men was exciting despite the audience knowing the ending.  Now the audience even knows the key secret of the story, so it will be up to a compelling story for this new account to succeed, and a great cast.

Director Peter Landesman has assembled an impressive cast.  Liam Neeson (Schindler’s List, Taken, Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, Batman Begins, The Chronicles of Narnia) plays Felt.  Diane Lane (The Outsiders, Judge Dredd, Man of Steel) plays his wife.  Michael C. Hall (Dexter, Paycheck) is White House counsel to Nixon, John Dean.  Julian Morris (New Girl, 24, Valkyrie) is Bob Woodward.  Tom Sizemore (Twin Peaks, Striking Distance, China Beach) plays an FBI agent, and CIA agents are played by Bruce Greenwood (Star Trek, Super 8, Thirteen Days, Knots Landing) and Eddie Marsan (Atomic Blonde, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Morrell, The World’s End, Sherlock Holmes, V for Vendetta).  Noah Wyle (Donnie Darko, The Librarians, A Few Good Men) plays Department of Justice official Stan Pottinger.  Pat Gray, acting FBI Director at the time of the break-in at Democratic National Headquarters at the Watergate Hotel complex, is played by notable genre tough guy actor Martin Csokas (The Lord of the Rings, The Equalizer, The Amazing Spider-man 2, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Alice in Wonderland, Aeon Flux, Timeline, Xena: Warrior Princess).  Also look for Josh Lucas (Hulk, A Beautiful Mind) and Kate Walsh (The Drew Carey Show, Scary Movie 5).

Here is a preview for Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Whether or not you’d call yourself a fan of Watchmen, the graphic novel or film adaptation, or whether you’re interested in the new DC Comics’ prequel series, if you’ve seen anything about Edward Blake, the Comedian, you can tell he is a pretty complex character.  World War II hero, vigilante-turned-paramilitary agent, and sociopath.  In the parallel universe of Watchmen, we’re led to believe Blake was the sole gunman on the grassy knoll.  His character made to look like Burt Reynolds and his name a play on Blake Edwards, director of the Pink Panther comedies, the Comedian wore the famous smiley face as a badge, a symbol that has become synonymous with the Watchmen.  It was also the Comedian whose death sets off the mystery plot behind Alan Moore’s graphic novel, the question:  Who is killing all these superheroes?  Blake never appears in real-time in Watchmen, only in flashbacks, and ultimately we never get to know much about his motivations or the causes of his apparent psychotic state.  He’s billed as a hero, yet as he saves victims from the villain, he traumatizes the victims.  He alone saves the hostages in Iran, yet the hostages do not appear as joyous with the result as in our timeline.  He sometimes seems to know what is right and search out and be a superhero, yet something always gets in the way, he alters his own course heading, and everyone ultimately would be better off without him.

So writer Brian Azzarello and artist J.G. Jones have their shot here at expanding on the Comedian via his backstory in Before Watchmen–Comedian #1.  In Issue #1 we don’t yet have a clear picture of this character–maybe it’s too soon–but at least there is something minimally sympathetic about the guy who one day goes completely off the edge of the rational.  It is not he who is the schemer.  The evil mastermind in this issue is actually quite brilliant–it’s none other than the one and only Jackie Kennedy, angry at a husband wasting time with the other woman.  I’m curious whether older readers have the same reactions to this storyline as younger readers.  At one time the Kennedys were the American royal family, and JFK’s death the single worst event in the history of the nation.  To make the First Lady the person who instigates the murder of Marilyn Monroe?  Definitely some shocking stuff fleshed out here.

Blake begins his story, then, as a rube, maybe like Joaquin Phoenix in To Die For.  He maintains his respect for the Kennedy brothers, yet who really is pulling the strings?  The story begins with a not so friendly game of pickup football.  Jones’s art is not photo-real but he does enough to let you know Blake is a key element in the ultimate 1960s inner sanctum.  He is a superhero CIA assassin of sorts.  His missions?  To take out those who would make those in power look bad.  In Watchmen, this meant killing Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein before they dug their heels in to report on the ramifications of the Watergate break-in.  With all the oddities that have been said over the years about Watergate bit player G. Gordon Liddy, Edward Blake appears to be cut from the same cloth.  As Blake is about to erase another target, he learns of the events in Dallas of November 1963.  Which poses the question–Does Azzarello plan to alter or explain Alan Moore’s background on the Comedian?  As the Comedian sits on the bed of Marilyn Monroe after apparently drugging her to look like an overdose, he takes note of his surroundings.  Can this character ever be redeemable?  Is he any worse or better than someone like Hannibal Lecter?  Can someone like Nite Owl step in and at least try to fix him?  Does anyone ever try, or is he just another typical, hopeless villain?  More than any other single issue DC Comics has published this past year, Comedian #1 certainly has intrigue, and will leave readers coming back for more.

Unfortunately the actual hero of the Watchmen story doesn’t get as exciting a debut in Before Watchmen–Nite Owl #1.  Legendary writer J. Michael Straczynski and popular artists Andy and Joe Kubert don’t do much to particularly evoke the early 1960s, where Nite Owl’s origin begins as a kid named Daniel Dreiberg.  Danny’s beginning is that of a slightly more bleak backgrounded Peter Parker.  He has an abusive father, and upon his death he is taken under the wing of the former Nite Owl, Hollis Mason, now ready to retire.  The training and mentoring is skipped over in this Issue #1, and Nite Owl becomes a member of the Crimebusters with the Comedian, Rorschach, Dr. Manhattan, Ozymandias, and Silk Spectre.  The single thing I think readers want to know about his past is just not there.  Hopefully the creators will come back to this in later issues of this mini-series.

How does a kid who would break into the original Nite Owl’s headquarters to learn his secrets become the conscientious superhero he later becomes–and remains–after the Keene Act’s ban on superheroes?  Character building and development is left aside here where readers could use an explanatory, novel, origin story.  Nite Owl doesn’t bring a lot of uniqueness as superheroes are concerned.  As influenced by Ted Kord’s Blue Beetle or Batman…  either he remains sort of bland as created by Moore, or Straczynski and team Kubert could really expand his story into new dimensions.  With a powerhouse creative team like these guys, I’m just left wishing for something more.

One place that could have been an opening for some creative freedom is the buddy relationship of Nite Owl and Rorschach.  We get to see a glimpse of that toward the end of this first issue, but perhaps an entire issue showing us why Nite Owl and Rorschach make the best team-up is worth pursuing.

The first four issues of Before Watchmen have certainly been interesting, with first issues of Azzarello’s Rorschach, Straczynski’s Dr. Manhattan, and Len Wein’s Ozymandias remaining to be published over the next few weeks.  With artists Adam Hughes, Lee Bermejo, and Jae Lee drawing those series, we’ve got a lot more to look forward to.