CONTROVERSIAL CLASSICS VOL. 2: THE POWER OF MEDIA (1975-1976). Three 70s classics, each still as topical as ever, offer different stances on the media, painting it as good (All the President's Men), bad (Dog Day Afternoon) and downright ugly (Network). All three movies are served up in two-disc editions, and they're available individually or as a box set.
Dog Day Afternoon (1975) is director Sidney Lumet's corrosive comedy-drama (based on a true story) on how a simple bank robbery explodes into a three-ring media circus. Sonny (Al Pacino, rarely better) and Sal (excellent John Cazale) are two low-level hoods whose attempt to rip off a bank backfires when the police quickly arrive on the scene and pin them down. Sensing that these two sad sacks won't hurt them, the hostages bond with their captors; meanwhile, the cops, the FBI agents and the TV reporters all jockey for the best position to follow the action inside the bank. Frank Pierson's screenplay earned a well-deserved Oscar. DVD extras include audio commentary by Lumet and a lengthy making-of documentary.
All the President's Men (1976) depicts the American media during arguably its finest hour of glory, when two of its brash reporters, Washington Post journalists Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman), stuck to their guns despite testy opposition and eventually blew open the Watergate scandal that toppled a presidency. This superb motion picture, expertly mounted by director Alan J. Pakula, has long been acknowledged as a classic political thriller, but watching it in today's climate, at a point when a timid and ineffectual media is only too willing to serve as the complacent whipping boy for an insidious administration, reveals its newfound value as a time capsule piece as well. In a strong year for films, this managed to capture four Academy Awards: Best Supporting Actor (Jason Robards as Post editor Ben Bradlee), Best Adapted Screenplay (William Goldman), Best Art Direction & Set Decoration and Best Sound. DVD extras include audio commentary by Redford, a making-of special, a piece on Woodward and Bernstein, and a look at the real (and recently revealed) Deep Throat.
One generation's satire is another's reality, meaning that the outrageous antics on view in Network (1976) would hardly be out of place in a TV land that houses Bill Reilly, Howard Stern and Fear Factor. This blistering black comedy about the ruthlessness of network TV casts Peter Finch as a broken-down news anchor whose revelation that he will kill himself on the air lifts his station from fourth to first place in the ratings. Faye Dunaway has one of her last great roles as an all-work-no-play programmer, while William Holden is excellent as Finch's boss and the only person with a modicum of decency. Like All the President's Men, this earned four Oscars in the '76 race: Best Actor (Finch, winning posthumously), Best Actress (Dunaway), Best Supporting Actress (Beatrice Straight in a minor role as Holden's wife) and Best Original Screenplay (Paddy Chayefsky). For the record, Rocky was the film that beat both President's Men and Network for the Best Picture Oscar -- the boxing flick still holds up, though not as well as this pair. DVD extras include audio commentary by Lumet, a making-of documentary, and TCM host Robert Osborne's interview with Lumet.
Dog Day Afternoon: ***1/2
All the President's Men: ****
LADY AND THE TRAMP (1955). Ranking the Disney animated features is an exercise in futility along the lines of ranking Beatles singles or ranking James Bond flicks: Each person has his or her own personal favorite, and woe be to the foolish mortal who tries to convince them otherwise. For me, it's "Eleanor Rigby," Goldfinger and Lady and the Tramp -- and that's my final answer. In the case of the Disney flick, it transcends being merely one of the greatest animated movies ever made -- it's accomplished enough to rest alongside live-action features as one of the best love stories ever filmed. Taking the notion of "puppy love" to another level, this adds another variation to the "wrong side of the tracks" theme, as the incorrigible mutt Tramp woos the prim and proper (and hopelessly naïve) Lady. The candlelit dinner sequence, with "Bella Notte" playing in the background and our canine protagonists struggling with that long strand of spaghetti, is as romantic a movie scene as any since Rick said farewell to Ilsa at the Casablanca airport. This 50th Anniversary Edition arrives in a two-disc DVD set featuring a restored print (the picture and sound quality is spectacular) and plenty of extras: deleted scenes, storyboards from a planned 1943 version of the film, a virtual board game on Disney dog trivia, and a feature on dog breeds hosted by Best In Show scene-stealer Fred Willard.
THE THING ABOUT MY FOLKS (2005) The T. Paul Reiser, whose post-Mad About You career has seen him keeping busy as a writer and producer for television, popped up in multiplexes (however briefly) as the author and co-star of this moderately appealing comedy-drama about strained family relationships. In the sort of paternal role played more than once by the likes of Paul Newman and Jack Lemmon, Peter Falk headlines as Sam Kleinman, who's stunned when his wife (Olympia Dukakis) of nearly 50 years leaves him a note stating that she's walked out on him. As Sam tries to figure out what triggered the unexpected abandonment, he embarks on a road trip with his son Ben (Reiser), and it's during their time together that the two men are finally able to develop a deep respect and appreciation for each other. It's great to see the 78-year-old Falk back in action, and Reiser generously gives the older actor the lion's share of the best lines (too bad he also gives him at least three flatulence scenes). Indeed, it's the light-hearted banter that boosts the film, since the dramatic quandary caused by Sam's marital discord is never fully explored and leads to an awkward closing act. The only extras on the DVD are theatrical trailers.