1. Best of Enemies
“I’ll sock you in your goddamn face, and you’ll stay plastered” imagine this being said on TV. It’s not so hard now but there was a time when this kind of thing was unthinkable. Best of Enemies traces political TV punditry back to its root before it was stupid, before it was uncool, all the way back into the 1960s.
Almost 50 years ago now conservative godfather, National Review founder William F. Buckley Jr. and fiction author, public intellectual and pop culture figure Gore Vidal engaged in 10 debates that almost resulted in them coming to blows. This documentary is part media history retrospective, part biography and part debate film providing what felt like equal time to each topic. If you are someone who was ignorant of the material like me going in you should know these prolific television debates put on by flagging network ABC institutionalized the bankability of opinion and for good reason. The strength of the film is the two debaters who are now deceased. I left the theater just wanting to watch the raw footage from the debates. Imagine the person you know that is most charming of all people you know, now imagine the person you know that is most passionate about politics and society. Ok? Now combine those two people. Essentially Buckley and Vidal are fire and water, really charming, passionate and smart fire and water. If you love starting fires, or putting them out, you’ll love this film.
Conservatives and liberals alike will find the portrayal to be workable even if not satisfactory (everyone wants to think they win these things). Fans of Vidal might want the film to substantiate his ‘crypto-nazi’ claim about Buckley and fans of Buckley might want the film to justify some of his language especially in his final outburst that the film posits generally lost him the debate. The film lets viewers make up their own mind most of the time though which is one of its strengths. One hole I wish was plumbed a little deeper was Vidal’s life after the debates. The film makes out as if this debate was where his life peaked. It alludes to a tragic time out of the public eye as his popularity waned until his death. At the same time I think the film reaches a little bit far with how they assert that the confrontation that the film boils to was somehow Buckley’s greatest regret.
There’s a lot to think about and pick apart with this film. I’m glad I caught it on what I believe was its last day in theaters locally. You can pre-order the DVD which comes out in November.
Image Credit Magnolia Pictures: http://www.magpictures.com/stevejobsthemaninthemachine/
2. Steve Jobs: Man in the Machine
There was an Ashton Kutcher biopic called Jobs which gave the bear minimum outline of Steve Jobs’ life. Leaving the theater I could probably sketch the framework of his Wikipedia entry. Unfortunately though the film didn’t move past what we for sure know about Jobs, his life’s bullet points. While some consideration for your subject is necessary and commendable, the film filled in no gaps and succeeded largely on their biggest risk which was casting Kutcher but even he was not enough. Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine similarly offers information about the man. It never inspires the feeling that Jobs eked out of its central performance and as a lackluster compensatory offering gives us a half hour about stock option law that could be cut.
Where The Man in the Machine stands out though is in how unvarnished the portrayal of Jobs is. This film will give you the clear impression that Jobs was a capitalist jerk who kept a spiritual advisor for some reason that never impacted him on a deeper moral level that was visible to the outside world. He embodied a money crazed and absurd self-assurant pride, taking credit for the work of others while cutting them out of the profits. The film peaks early with a scene of a former co-worker of Jobs, for only a couple years, crying and breaking down. You get the sense that like those fans who wept at his death, this man still had not gotten over whatever magnetic culty stockholm syndrome that Jobs emanated. These details though, this texture, this extra text in the Wikipedia outline is only valuable if you haven’t been keeping up with the news around apple. People who read a lot of The Verge or Engadget probably won’t learn anything. This is an excellent primer for anyone else.
Now playing at the Downer.
Conrad Anker, Jimmy Chin and Renan Ozturk are writing their own legends in Meru a beautiful mountain climbing documentary about how these men attempted to take the incredibly hard sheer mountain that the film is named after. The mountain looks incredible. The film lays out the stakes in a way that is cinematic but never feels cheap.
While the landscape, the weather, the snow and ice and the majesty of nature are the key and central attraction in a film like this, a surprising amount of crossover from the personal lives of the climbers finds its way into the film. Romance, trauma and broken promises show up. These were some things I didn’t expect but welcomed. Without them, and the willingness of the climbers to tell the stories of their own lives, this film would probably just be a nice slide show or something ripped from GoPro’s YouTube channel. Instead I found myself attached to each of the climbers.
It’s horrible to say this, the movie is about real live people and I don’t want to treat them like characters but it will make your experience better in the theater, go in blind as to who if anyone lives/dies in the course of the film. I found the film to be tense but not exploitative with the danger involved in this kind of activity. If you are looking for a half and half human interest adventure documentary this is the one for you.
Now playing at the Oriental.