When an influential and forward-thinking writer locks horns with a conservative author, things get a little intense. Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley, Jr. made headlines when they were enlisted to debate the Republican and Democratic presidential ideals in 1968 for ABC, and subsequently found themselves in a controversial feud as they became more and more incensed by each other's opinions. With threats of violence and insulting jargon leaving a shocking mark on the legendary televised argument, it became a landmark moment in political media and, indeed, continued - albeit indirectly - with later publications and lawsuits from both parties. While there used to be an element of poise and dignity with political conversation, from this moment, things heated up considerably when it came to fighting about the government.
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Not only is this documentary a superbly well-assembled biography of the notorious author-commentator, but it's also a bracingly clear-eyed look at the America most people don't want to admit exists. The late Gore Vidal was a thorn in society, using his snappy intelligence to speak the truth even if it left him persona non grata. But when asked about his legacy, he famously replied, "I couldn't care less."
This echoes in his main message that America is resolutely ignoring its own history. "We miraculously forget everything," he said. "The lessons we should be learning we will have forgotten in no time at all." But history was his passion, as he wrote novels, plays, films and essays about the USA's evolution from a republic to an empire. No one wanted to hear this, even as he astutely noted how the nation essentially turned into a military monolith after WWII, and then became even more driven after 9/11, waging war without provocation or respect for any other country while using the Patriot Act to remove fundamental rights of habeas corpus and due process at home.
Filmmaker Wrathall packs the film with interview footage, allowing Vidal to narrate his own story and deliver his own lacerating comments (there's also narration from his literary executor Parini). And the screen is littered with Vidal's pithy, eerily astute remarks about politics ("Our form of democracy is bribery on the highest scale") and life in general ("Love is a fan club with only two fans"). This is all set within the framework of Vidal's life story. Descended from a long line of authors, politicians and innovators, he was raised to be a deep, free thinker. So it's no wonder that he took on society's "basic values", which he knew were false notions of what is natural.
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J.D. Salinger - known to his friends as Jerry - is the mysterious author of the most famous adolescent book in the last century, 'The Catcher In The Rye'. Little has ever been known about the talented Jewish author; he preferred to keep his private life out of the public eye, stopped taking interviews 30 years before his death and hated being photographed by the media. In 1965, he had stopped publishing stories altogether and few people knew exactly what had happened to him. Few people also knew about his troubling experiences in the army during World War II and there were rumours that he had suffered a nervous breakdown and worked on his writing alone in an isolated cabin. It was no wonder, in some respects, that he wanted to stay out of the limelight as much as possible, after three young boys used the novel to justify cold-blooded murders. Now, some of the most sought after details of his Salinger's personal life are revealed, from his relationships to his emotional struggles.
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Henry Carter (Spacey) is a celebrity psychiatrist unable to rebound after a terrible personal tragedy. Anaesthetising himself with alcohol and drugs, he wonders if the fact that he can't help himself indicates that he's useless to his patients too. He's also annoyed that his family keeps trying to help him, from an intervention to a pro bono assignment to treat a troubled teen (Palmer), who has had a similar experience. The fact is that he just has patients, not friends, and the only person he can talk to is his dealer (Plemons).
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First off, Republicans should not be scared of this film. Jarecki and editor Nancy Kennedy aren't looking to throw darts at one party or another. Instead, the focus of the film is to see how the need for American democracy has become an excuse to further American imperialism. Angry liberals like Gore Vidal and ex-CIA man Chalmers Johnson are given equal floor with Richard Perle and other members of the Project for the New American Century. Unlike Michael Moore's powerful but unquestionably biased Fahrenheit 9/11, Jarecki doesn't film the neoconservatives with a subversive tone. The film is based solely on facts and the interviewee's mixed bag of opinions. The only reason you could call Why We Fight anti-conservative is because it's questioning the history of the U.S.'s military thinking; the current government just happens to be conservative.
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Everything goes well for awhile, and just as Vincent is about to realize his dream of going up as part of a space mission, the web starts to untangle. Here's where the problems of Gattaca start: you see, as a mystery, it really isn't much of one. The investigation into the murder of the mission director who may have known Vincent's secret is never very focused, and Alan Arkin's Columbo-type flatfoot seems to uncannily know where to go at every turn. By the time the investigation is over, the whole thing has felt like a put-on to waste an hour of screen time.
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In Kinsey, writer/director Bill Condon (Gods and Monsters) makes all this into a divertingly fresh story about a scientific crusader who was just too honest and inquisitive for his own good. But rather than taking a straightforward biographical approach, Condon fortunately makes the film a character study of Kinsey himself, wisely placing star Liam Neeson front and center. The film opens in black and white, Neeson quizzing his researchers on how best to interview a subject for the study. He's forthright, strong-willed and oddly provocative - you'd give up your life story to this guy in about ten seconds.
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The object at the center of the controversy that would rage through the '70s and into the '80s was a porno shot on the cheap in Florida for less than $25,000. It starred a 19-year-old Linda Lovelace, an actress of sorts who had a talent for fellatio which impressed the filmmakers to no end, and Harry Reems, who was originally just the production assistant, but filled in when the male star turned out not to be up to the challenge. An almost unbelievably silly piece of work (even its director, the affable Gerard Damiano, later admits it wasn't a very good film), Deep Throat achieved notoriety both for the famous act by Lovelace (included uncut in the documentary, the sole reason for its NC-17 rating) and for the fact that it was the rare porno at the time which didn't pretend to be showing sex for "educational" purposes but as an end in and of itself.
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Writer-director Bill Condon has a talent for hitting just the right tone in his work. Whether he's paying stylistic homage to "Bride of Frankenstein" creator James Whale in "Gods and Monsters" or writing a screenplay for "Chicago" that re-envisioned the Broadway musical as a wannabe showgirl's uniquely cinematic daydream, Condon always finds a way to seamlessly marry the crux of his story to the strengths of his medium.
In "Kinsey," he legitimizes and revitalizes a rather tiresome narrative gimmick -- on-camera interviews with the characters. For a biopic about legendary sex researcher Alfred Kinsey, there could be no more apropos structure for the story. Kinsey himself interviewed thousands of Americans about their bedroom predilections in the 1940s and '50s to compile his groundbreaking, rather comprehensive and certainly controversial studies on the subject. So Condon opens the film in kind -- with a simple, head-on, black-and-white image of the bluntly matter-of-fact and obliviously awkward Professor Kinsey (Liam Neeson) being quizzed about his own background and sexual experience.
Composing the film around Kinsey's answers, Condon cues flashbacks of an upbringing under the fire-and-brimstone hand of a preacher father (John Lithgow), introduces the equally clinical-yet-passionate student who becomes his wife (Laura Linney), touches on the man's own pseudo-scientific dalliances and their promiscuous effect on his marriage, and sets the stage for the studies that helped launch the sexual revolution.
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Snarky, 17-year-old, silver-spoon-raised Igby Slocumb has been booted out of every prestigious (and not-so-prestigious) prep school on the East Coast -- and one military academy too. A bored, intelligent, resourceful and willful screw-up, he's almost proud of this record, even though he'd be the first to admit it's a cry for attention.
With a blue-blooded, pill-popping, self-absorbed mother (the hilariously dry Susan Sarandon) dying of breast cancer at home; a materialistically hollow, young Republican brother (a perfectly cast Ryan Phillippe) shining at Columbia University; and an asylum-committed, schizophrenic father (Bill Pullman) who haunts all his childhood memories, Igby (Kieran Culkin) seems to be the only Slocumb sagacious enough to emerge a better person from his sad yet comically dysfunctional family.
So despite the title of this tart black comedy -- "Igby Goes Down" -- its young hero is determined to stay on his feet. He's grown a sardonic, wry sense of humor (if not a tough skin) and become an expert at running away from home. Now, having escaped the limousine taking him to yet another upscale boarding school, he's on the loose in Manhattan, having resolved to get by on his own (or at least with the help of his mother's American Express card), even if he's not entirely sure what that entails.
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