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last update 17.Jun.15
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Best of Enemies
4/5   MUST must see SEE
dir-scr-prd Robert Gordon, Morgan Neville
with Gore Vidal, William F Buckley Jr, John Lithgow, Kelsey Grammer, Frank Rich, Dick Cavett, Christopher Hitchens, Matt Tyrnauer, Reid Buckley, Linda Bridges, William Sheehan, Brooke Gladstone, Ginia Bellafante
buckley and vidal
release UK 24.Jul.15,
US 31.Jul.15
15/US 1h27

See also:
Best of Enemies A lively doc about one of the last great intellectual rivalries in American pop culture, this film centres on the 1968 televised debates between Gore Vidal and William F Buckley Jr. Bolstered with a remarkable wealth of archival footage and firsthand memories, it's a snappy, often brutally funny film that feels frighteningly relevant today.

The 1968 party conventions came at a pivotal point in American history, amid assassinations, race riots and political divisiveness far more severe than had ever been seen before. With their ratings failing, ABC News decided to pit two polarised pundits against each other: Vidal and Buckley reviled each other's opinions but had a begrudging respect that fuelled 10 outrageous debates held at the Republican Convention in Miami and the now-iconic Democratic Convention in Chicago. Essentially, Vidal and Buckley represented the two duelling American ideologies that have now evolved into warring factions within the nation.

They also of course forever changed the news media, which soon adopted more point/counterpoint discussions, leading to talk radio anarchy and TV networks unafraid to preach from their own end of the spectrum. But in 1968 this was something new and utterly riveting, as two fiercely educated voices got down and dirty to tear each other to pieces, usually (but not always) deploying gentlemanly intellect and biting wit.

Filmmakers Gordon and Neville include a wide range of interviewees who knew Vidal and Buckley, are part of the media, or who can explain the ramifications of the debates. As a result, the film takes a remarkably multi-faceted look at this point in history, touching on issues of race and sexuality as well as warfare, poverty and other hot potato issues. There are also dramatised readings from Vidal's and Buckley's memoirs (voiced by Lithgow and Grammer, respectively) that offer personal insight into what the two men were thinking at the time.

All of this material is edited at a brisk pace, with visual flourishes and a driving sense of narrative momentum that raises the stakes as the days pass by. It's a strikingly lucid exploration of these two complex men and the messy time they were living in, as well as a moment in history that would later give rise to Nixon and Reagan, plus the protest movements about inequality that are still gathering pace today. And it's this aspect of the film that makes it essential viewing right now.

15 themes, language, nudity
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Lord Montagu
dir Luke Korem
scr Luke Korem, Bradley Jackson
prd Russell Wayne Groves, Luke Korem
with Lord Edward Montagu, Oliver Tobias, Lady Belinda Montagu, Fiona Montagu, Ralph Montagu, Mary Montagu, Jonathan Montagu, Anne Chichester, Mary Clare Horn, Robin Pleydell-Bouverie, Prince Michael of Kent, Jackie Stewart
Edward and Fiona release US/UK 17.Jun.15
13/UK 1h20
Lord Montagu This documentary's rather earnest tone is livened up by a haughty attitude and witty observations as it recounts the remarkably twisty story of Edward, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu. The film is reveals a man who fell spectacularly and then reinvented himself as a leader. Refusing to do as expected, this aristocrat has had an impact on everything from Britain's sexuality laws to automotive history to the nation's heritage.

Edward was only 2 when he assumed his title in 1929, responsible for more than 10,000 acres on the southern English coast. Raised with a fierce sense of duty, he refused to abandon his role after the devastation of Nazi bombings and the economic destruction of stately homes that followed. Then in 1954, he was targeted by police looking for high-profile gay men, spending a year in prison at age 28 for "consensual homosexual offences". This scandal was too much for the establishment, which rejected him. But Edward reinvented himself, emerging as a champion for history and the aristocracy.

Most famous is the way he avoided bankruptcy by opening Beaulieu to visitors and creating an automobile museum in 1959 that became one of Britain's top tourist attractions. He also married his neighbour Belinda and had two children, then when that marriage broke down due to his rock-star business antics, he married Fiona and had another son. Meanwhile, his work to rescue landmark British homes and gardens resulted in him being named the first chairman of English Heritage.

Having suffered a stroke, the now 88-year-old Edward looks on as Tobias reads from his autobiography to narrate the film, which tells his story at a fast pace, mixing in home movies, stills and lots of interviews. There are also clips from the 2007 film A Very British Sex Scandal, which dramatised his arrest and imprisonment, a case that eventually led to the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Britain.

Even if it's dry and gentle, this film is a terrific portrait of popular public figure who simply doesn't care what people say about him. Shunned for his open bisexuality and for commercialising his home, he still became a leading light. Sometimes, the choir of posh interviewees makes the film feel like a creepy ode to the glory days of class system, as if Edward's resilience is due to his good breeding. But the range of details about his lasting impact is a much stronger testament to his tenacity.

12 themes
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Red Army
dir-scr-prd Gabe Polsky
with Slava Fetisov, Alexei Kasatonov, Igor Larionov, Vladimir Krutov, Vladislav Tretiak, Scotty Bowman, Felix Nechepore, Lada Fetisov, Vladimir Pozner, Lawrence Martin, Anatoli Karpov, Tatiana Tarasova
the russian five
release US 23.Jan.15,
UK 19.Jun.15
14/US 1h16

Red Army Lively and entertaining, this documentary about the Soviet Union's mighty hockey team has a terrific central character in Slava Fetisov: cocky and aware of his own importance, but also willing to reveal doubts and failures. But the film also has lot to say about both the Cold War and professional sport. As well as the lies that persist in maintaining fear between Russia and the USA.

Slava was only 10 when he joined the Red Army, the Soviet Union's hockey machine, training for 11 months of the year so they could dominate the sport. Indeed, they were unstoppable, with a core group of five members (Fetisov, Kasatonov, Larionov, Krutov and Sergei Makarov) who played an orchestral style of game no one could resist. But a change of coach from the inventive, fatherly Anatoli Tarasov to the harsh, controlling Viktor Tikhonov resulted in them losing their only Olympic gold medal in 25 years (at Lake Placid 1980).

After this, talk turned to defecting and playing for big cash in the NHL, but even there it wasn't plain sailing until five Russians joined the Detroit Red Wings (naturally!) and led the team to two consecutive Stanley Cups. Fetisov narrates his story with an engagingly dry wit, unafraid to say exactly what he thought at the time (and to keep filmmaker Polsky in line). His stories of Soviet training are harrowing, but he smirks as he remembers standing up to officials over various political issues.

Polsky assembles the film with a snappy pace that combines game footage, archival film, home movies and interviews with key players and journalists, plus Fetisov's wife Lada, whose perspective adds yet another layer to the story. All of this is edited together with plenty of humour, constantly eliciting bursts of laughter with a clever use of irony and contrast. But what makes the film so fascinating is its unblinking honesty about a secret world no one has ever spoken about before.

The Soviet sports network was fiercely focussed, as sportsmen had to give up their families and private lives for their team. So it's fascinating to see Fetisov talk about how he never even considered defecting to America out of loyalty for his home country, and yet he stood up to high-ranking political leaders to get the right to work abroad. And since his story offers striking insight into the absurdity of the entire Cold War concept, it gives the film an important kick.

PG themes, language, some violence
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The Yes Men Are Revolting
dir-prd Laura Nix, Jacques Servin, Igor Vamos
with Mike Bonanno, Andy Bichlbaum, Tito Ybarra, Mike Mathieu, Leonid Vlassov, Al Gore, Bruce McKibben, Gitz Crazyboy, Kodili Chandia, Eric Wohlschlegel, Laurel Whitney, Sean Devlin
bonanno and bichlbaum release US 12.Jun.15,
UK Jun.15 sdf
15/Netherlands 1h31

See also
THE YES MEN (2004)
The Yes Men Are Revolting This snappy film catches up with the notorious pranksters who take on government inaction and corporate greed. Their stunts continually fool the news media, pointing out hypocrisy in both reporting and in politics. So even if this documentary has a tendency to drift into irrelevant sideroads, it's packed with pungent material.

With climate change the most urgent problem facing humanity, the Yes Men (Vamos and Servin, aka Bonanno and Bichlbaum) set out to get someone to notice, creating an elaborate prank at the Climate Change Summit in Copenhagen. With a team of actors and organisers, they impersonate officials with the goal of shaming them into taking action. But politicians are clearly more interested in helping giant corporations make even bigger profits. After the failed summit, Obama says that "jobs and growth" are more important than fixing the planet so mankind has a future.

The filmmaking echoes the Yes Men's raucous sense of humour as they dress in suits to impersonate powerful people making official statements. They have a hilariously mischievous camaraderie, coming up with crazy ideas and egging each other on. But even as they enter each action with high hopes, nothing ever changes. And the film digs deep into the more darkly personal aspects of their lives, as they struggle to maintain relationships. This extends to a rather stretched-out sequence about their firsthand experiences during Hurricane Sandy.

Made by the Yes Men themselves, the film carefully details how our planet's ecosystem is at a tipping point and action is required now to keep it from spiralling out of control and collapsing. Every expert knows this, and yet the fossil fuel industry is so powerful that no one is taking action. And their blatant misinformation is propagated by groups like America's Republican Party and Fox News. Directly because of this, half a million people are dying annually, mainly in poor countries that can't afford to adapt.

The film cleverly integrates these facts with Bonanno and Bichlbaum's personal issues, following them to brilliantly conceived actions as they work with activists in Uganda, take on Shell Oil in Seattle and Amsterdam, and Homeland Security in Washington ("We're hypocrites because we have kids but still fly around the world in airplanes"). And in the end they find solidarity in the Arab Spring and Occupy protests, movements much bigger than they are that are fighting for the same things. But the fact is that if we let corporate greed win, humans are doomed. Period.

12 themes, language
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