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Published: Thursday, 2/23/2006

Power of the Media : Terrible title, classic movies

BY CHRISTOPHER BORRELLI
BLADE STAFF WRITER
All the President s Men is part of a half dozen once-provocative studio productions that are collected under the title Controversial Classics, Vol. 2: The Power of the Media ($59.98). 
All the President s Men is part of a half dozen once-provocative studio productions that are collected under the title Controversial Classics, Vol. 2: The Power of the Media ($59.98).
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Something stinks.

The sequel to Controversial Classics, the best-selling DVD set from Warner Bros. that collected a half dozen once-provocative studio productions, is titled Controversial Classics, Vol. 2: The Power of the Media ($59.98).

What stinks has nothing to do with what sits between its cardboard sleeves new two-disc editions of All the President s Men, Dog Day Afternoon, and Network (also available for $26.98 each), and further proof the Golden Age of 70s filmmaking remains urgent.

What stinks is the title.

The Power of the Media ?

If anything, these films two from the great Sidney Lumet, All the President s Men from the late Alan J. Pakula are prescient warnings of the failure of the media.

The reliance on confidential sources (as indispensable as they are) in All the President s Men points a direct path to the Judith Miller-Bush White House fiasco that embroiled the New York Times and raised questions about the misuse of high-powered access.

When Al Pacino takes a bank hostage, and then becomes a television event, Dog Day Afternoon reminds us there was a time when wall-to-wall news coverage of relatively minor events seemed remarkable.

Network where to begin?

What was science fiction in 1976 someone has breached the impregnable wall between the news business and show business, for shame! is quaint these days. Pathetic, but quaint.

Funny then: What keeps Network so funny and vital in an age when celebrity gossip is not only front-page news but reported first and refuted later, is what appeared to be Network s biggest gaffe in 76. Faye Dunaway s shrieking banshee performance and Peter Finch s inspired delirium were feverish 30 years ago but dead-on satires today. As Howard Beale, the Mad Prophet of the Air Waves, Finch (who won a posthumous Oscar for the role) shows us precisely where the Age of Talk Radio and Sean Hannity began. And if there isn t a Faye Dunaway in every newsroom in America right now, ready to sell credibility and taste down the tubes for a buck there will be.

One reason Network hits so hard even today is because its blows are so precise.

Domino (New Line, $27.98), new on video this week, stars Keira Knightley as real-life Domino Harvey, the daughter of actor Lawrence Harvey and a bounty hunter and finally a media sensation. Yet the picture, directed with a ferret s attention span by Tony Scott, fires off in so many directions, its indictment of our celebrity culture barely registers.

On the other hand, the classic Midnight Cowboy (Sony, $29.95), in a new two-disc special edition, and Nicolas Cage s underrated The Weather Man (Paramount, $29.95), also new on video, make their media jabs hurt longer because they fly so unexpectedly. Jon Voight s Joe Buck was a Brokeback cowboy before his time, arriving in New York to work as a hustler for rich Park Avenue women, and dressed every inch like the mythic media image of the lonesome cowboy. The reality, personified by Dustin Hoffman s Ratso Rizzo, is cruel. (And the film went on to win the 1969 Oscar for Best Picture.)

As for the Weather Man, Cage plays a Chicago forecaster as proof that the image is the person and the person is the image. When he goofs on the weather, strangers inevitably pelt him with food. He s not a human being, he s a celebrity, and the realization leads to a rather doleful, pessimistic picture about coming to terms with who you are.

But the pessimism is subversive: He s happier by the end but we, the media consumers, are sadder. We need, the film says, to get a life. Our life. Not TV s life.

Or as Jason Robards says as Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee in All the President s Men, Nothing s riding on this, except the First Amendment to the Constitution, freedom of the press, maybe the future of the country. He also mentions that the public probably couldn t care less.

To which Finch would say:

All I know is first, you ve got to get mad! You ve got to say I m a human being! My life has value! And I m as mad as hell, and I m not going to take it any more!

GOLD DIGGER: The problem with superheroes is they just cost so much to pull out of mothballs. Licensing issues are only the beginning. There are questions of authenticity, the problem of finding actors willing to swallow their vanity and work behind a mask. And then there s the special effects that pull it off.

Marvel has a solution, so obvious you wonder why it took Pixar to prove it could work: Make an animated superhero feature. And though it s not quite The Incredibles, Ultimate Avengers: The Movie (Lions Gate, $19.98), new this week on DVD, comes relatively close to capturing the spirit of the ultra self-serious aura of modern Marvel. It s the story of how Captain America, Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, and others band together and wind up battling their own. The first in a series of direct-to-DVD films from Marvel and Lions Gate intended to keep the Marvel name out there between big live-action productions, what Ultimate Avengers lacks are the fingerprints of, well, a filmmaker. And the singular voice of an artist.

The animation is respectable, the heroes are there, but let s just say they should hold out for the wide screen no matter how long it takes.

Iron Man remains big.

It s the picture that got small.

CONDEMN THIS PROPERTY: Chris Columbus s numbing and threadbare adaptation of the Tony-winning Rent (Sony, $28.95), to borrow a phrase, convulses for what feels like 525,600 minutes. If you turned out for the stage show three and four and nine times, you ll probably devote a few nights to the DVD. The rest of us will find it hard to discover anything in this generic, dated shout factory they can t find in the best episode of American Idol. But what I resent is that Columbus is so dutiful, he can t bear to make it insanely bad. At least the Phantom of the Opera movie felt deeply nuts.

Get a job, boheme!

Contact Christopher Borrelli at: cborrelli@theblade.com or 419-724-6117.



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