Tag Archives: Dustin Hoffman

All the President’s Men (1976)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: They take down Nixon.

In the early morning hours of June 17, 1972 five men are found burglarizing the Democratic Headquarters at the Watergate Office complex in Washington D.C. The next day a young Washington Post reporter by the name of Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) is assigned to cover the case. Initially it was considered only a minor story, but as he digs further into the details he finds wider connections including links that lead directly to the White House. Together with Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman),who is another reporter, the two men continue to research and end up battling one roadblock after another in their quest the uncover the truth.

If there is one area where this film really scores in it’s in the way that a journalist’s job gets portrayed. In fact many colleges show this film to their student who are majoring in the field in order to given them a realistic perspective of what the profession actually involves. For me I found it quite enlightening particularly the first hour. The many people and steps that a reporter has to go through just to get one solid lead is interesting as is the protocol system determining which story gets the front page and which don’t.

The layout of the newsroom was also fascinating as it all seemed very authentic and like they were working in an actual one. To my absolute shock I found out later that it had all been constructed on a film set, but so meticulously done that you couldn’t tell the difference. Initially several scenes were filmed in the real office using actual employees in the background, but the knowledge of being on camera made some behave in ways that they normally wouldn’t and this ultimately forced the filmmakers to decide to recreate it on a soundstage and use actors as the office crew.

The performances by the two leads are good, but neither of them resembles their real-life counterparts. Both Redford and Hoffman were already pushing 40 at the time and looking it while Woodward and Bernstein were still in their 20’s when this story occurred so the line that the Jack Warden’s character makes about these two being ‘young and hungry’ and looking for a good story to build their careers on doesn’t make as much sense.

The characters aren’t well fleshed out either. No time is spent on what these guys were like when not ardently following up leads, which is absolutely all we see them doing.  The original screenplay, which was written by Woodward and Bernstein, had a subplot involving the two trying to score with women, which would’ve helped add a comical touch and parts of that should’ve been kept in.

The second half lags as there are too many leads and names that get bantered about that don’t have faces connected to them making it seem like information overload that doesn’t help the viewer get as emotionally involved as they should. Having cutaways showing Nixon and/or is aides becoming increasingly more paranoid as the reporters closed in on them could’ve added that much needed extra dimension.

There is a stunning bird’s-eye shot of the inside of the Library of Congress, which is amazing and the fact that many of the scenes get filmed at the actual sites where the real-life instances occurred is both impressive and commendable. I also enjoyed the wide-array of recognizable faces that show up in bit parts including Valerie Curtain as a frightened source and Polly Holliday as an evasive secretary. They even cast Frank Wills the real-life security guard who broke the case wide open playing himself in the film’s opening scene, which is cool even though for me the film’s second half fails to be as entertaining as the first, which prevents it from being a classic.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: April 4, 1976

Runtime: 2Hours 19Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Alan J. Pakula

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

Ishtar (1987)

ishtar

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Songwriters travel to Morocco.

Clarke (Dustin Hoffman) and Lyle (Warren Beatty) are losers-at-life that now in their middle-age years are convinced that they have talent as songwriters even though this opinion is shared by no one else. They manage to get themselves a talent agent (Jack Weston) who tells them that the only place he can get their act booked is at a club in Morocco. The two, desperate for any attention they can get, decide to take him up on the offer, but once they arrive they become swept up in international intrigue with the Emir of Ishtar and the CIA.

This film was a notorious flop in its day not only with its cost overruns, production delays and box office receipts, but with its behind-the-scenes discord between star Beatty and writer/director Elaine May. It seemed that critics and film goers alike considered it a bomb, but I came into this thing with an open mind. May has written some great scripts in the past and is known for her impeccably dry humor. I was convinced that in this day-and-age of broad comedy and over-the-top farces American audiences were simply not geared to pick up on the subtleties of the humor.

Unfortunately five minutes in it becomes painfully clear this thing is every bit as bad as its reputation states. The humor relies too heavily on the two main characters spending what seems like hours on end sitting around trying to come up with bad lyrics for their already dumb sounding songs and then singing them in an off-key, tone deaf kind of way. This may elicit a mild grin for a minute or so, but after spending the first twenty minutes on it, it gets really annoying. Even at the end as the two crawl on the desert floor they continue to work on these same lyrics, which by that time has become as dried up as the desert itself.

The insane, almost incoherent plotline is another issue. It’s like two diametrically different stories clashed precariously into one with only the thinnest of threads holding it together. What starts out as a sardonically amusing look at two middle-aged men chasing an elusive dream suddenly becomes the second reel of Raiders of the Lost Ark without warning. The wild array of loosely structured coincidences that the two go through as they reluctantly find themselves more and more inadvertently involved with the intrigue around them is so flimsily plotted and poorly thought out that it’s not even worth the effort to describe other than to say it makes little sense, is unexciting and most of all not funny.

The main characters are a turn off as well and not comically engaging as intended. The idea that two men hitting 50 would suddenly decide to chuck their relationships and jobs to chase after a songwriter career despite not getting any positive feedback from anyone else to convince them that they even possessed the ability to do it and which usually doesn’t pay well anyways seems weird and bordering on mental illness. Having the characters in their early 20’s and just starting out and willing to take any remote venue they could in order to get their first ‘big break’ would’ve worked better, or portrayed these middle-aged men as once being famous and now desperate for a comeback, or even has-been CIA agents caught up in one last case of intrigue. Just about any other scenario would’ve made more sense than the one that ultimately gets used.

Hoffman is a great actor, but his efforts here are wasted on the weak material. Beatty does well playing a dimwit and the scene where he ‘beats up’ on Adjani who he thinks is a boy is probably the only funny moment in the film. Isabelle Adjani though, who was dating Beatty at the time, is miscast in a role that doesn’t convey her talents and seems almost degrading especially the scene where she lifts up her dress at a crowded terminal and exposes her breasts in effort to prove to Hoffman that she is really a female.

This movie is in some way so amazingly bad that I was almost convinced that it was intentional and if that was the case then at least in that area it can be considered a success.

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My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: May 15, 1987

Runtime: 1Hour 47Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Elaine May

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video

Who is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me? (1971)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Paranoid songwriter self-destructs.

Georgie Soloway (Dustin Hoffman) is a successful songwriter who has written dozens of chart topping songs for different bands and yet feels alone and guilt ridden. He lives in his swanky Manhattan penthouse feeling paranoid after a man by the name of Harry Kellerman starts calling his friends and saying malicious things about him, which risks jeopardizing his career and reputation. He tells his problems to his psychiatrist (Jack Warden) while also searching for Kellerman, but makes no headway.

Story-wise the film is a misfire as Herb Gardner’s script has no discernable plot and a main character that doesn’t grow or evolve. Even if taken as a collection of vignettes it doesn’t work and it becomes more like a pointless one-man soliloquy instead. The final revelation of the mysterious Kellerman is not all that surprising or worth sitting through. Why the filmmakers thought viewers would be interested in watching a man essentially self-destruct for two hours is a mystery and it is as boring as it sounds. Besides it is hard for the average person to feel sorry for someone who seems to have it all and loaded with money and thus makes the character’s problems and issues seem quite minute and his perpetual whining overly monotonous.

The only thing that saves it is Ulu Grosbard’s creative direction. I enjoyed some of the surreal elements particularly those done during his sessions with his psychiatrist as well as a scene showing Georgie running through a long lighted tunnel that seems to have no end. The final segment done on a single-jet airplane is captivating especially as it flies through the clouds and watching two skiers’ glide through the snow from a bird’s-eye perspective has an equally mesmerizing effect. I also loved the way the film captures the New York skyline during a visual taken from the plane as it swoops over the city and a scene done in the early morning hours in downtown Manhattan without seemingly a single car driving on the street gives off a strangely unique feeling.

Barbara Harris, who doesn’t come on until the second half, is a scene stealer as an insecure actress who bombs at her audition, but then refuses to leave the stage. It was good enough to get her nominated for the Academy Award that year, but she lost out to Cloris Leachman and as much as I love Cloris Barb really should have won it as she is the one thing the enlivens this otherwise flat film and had her character been in it more this would have been a far better movie. David Burns, who died from a sudden heart attack while performing in a play three months before this film’s release, is touching as Georgie’s father.

Grosbard and Hoffman teamed up again seven years later for Straight Time, which is far superior and more worth your time to watch.

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My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: June 15, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 48Minutes

Rated R

Director: Ulu Grosbard

Studio: National General Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD