Best of enemies

American politics is so complicated compared to Canadian politics. And much more fun. Take the 1968 U.S. Democratic and Republican conventions, and ABC’s decision to broadcast a series of debates with William F. Buckley Jr. and Gore Vidal. Buckley is today considered one of most important figures of American conservatism of the time. He held views that now are considered racist, but were at the time the norm. equally controversial, Gore Vidal was a gay novelist (although he couldn’t stand labels like gay, homosexual, heterosexual or bisexual), author and essayist who was Buckley’s polar opposite. They hated being in the same room. So much so that it became the political TV event to watch, and put third-place ABC News finally on the map. The most memorable moment happened during the Democratic conventions as they discussed the violent mishandling of protestors by the Chicago police. On-air Vidal called Buckley a “crypto-Nazi”. And Buckley said “Now listen, you queer. Stop calling me a crypto-Nazi or I’ll sock you in your goddamn face and you’ll stay plastered.” That type of things were just not said on American TV in 1968. Buckley regretted having said it until the day he died. Best of enemies is so much fun to watch. It is the perfect film for a political junkie like me. Both Buckley and Vidal wrote newspaper articles about the debates, and it is voiced in the film by Kelsey Grammer (a Republican himself) as Buckley and John Lithgow reading Vidal. Great fun!

Quote: When Buckley died on 27 February 2008 at 82, Gore Vidal said “I thought hell is bound to be a livelier place, as he joins, forever, those whom he served in life, applauding their prejudices and fanning their hatred.” Gore Vidal died on 31 July 2012 at 86.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Best of enemies

Directed by:
Robert Gordon
Morgan Neville

Screenplay by:
Robert Gordon
Morgan Neville

87 min.

Rated14A

 

The kindergarten teacher

The kindergarten teacher has such a weird atmosphere that I tought I was watching some absurdist drama where nothing makes sence. No. It’s not that good. Just weird and boring. Sarit Larry plays Nira, a kindergarten teacher. One day 5-year-old Yoav (cute blond boy Avi Shnaidman), start reciting a poem he wrote. Nira thinks the boy is a genius, spends too much time with him compared to her other pupils and signs him up for a poetry reading. Although Larry is to be noted for her intense performance, The kindergarten teacher is so uneventful and slow, that I found myself falling asleep. And I thought it was pretentious. If I had one word for it: underwhelming.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

The kindergarten teacher

Directed by:
Nadav Lapid

Screenplay by:
Nadav Lapid

Starring:
Sarit Larry
Avi Shnaidman
Lior Raz

119 min.

Rated 14A

In Hebrew with English subtitles

 

Meru

Husband and wife directing team Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin’s 2015 documentary Meru is about three crazy, passionate guys attempting to climb what seems to us, mere mortals, the most dangerous mountain. Meru Peak is a mountain in the Indian Himalayas and what Conrad Anker, Jimmy Chin and Renan Ozturk were trying to climb is called “Shark’s Fin” route. They made a first attempt in 2008, but it failed when a snow storm hit their tent. Even though they almost reached the peak, they made a decision to go back because they would not have had enough food left to come back. Jimmy Chin, an award-winning photographer and documentary filmmaker, filmed and took photos of their adventures with Renan Ozturk’s help. The beauty of those images and the challenge of filming as they are climbing makes it a unforgetable movie experience. A more emotional side is shown as their wives and their family are also interviewed. Going to back to Meru Peak proved harder. Renan Ozturk was in a terrible accident that left him with cranial and spinal fractures. But against all odds, and to our amazement, Ozturk recovered and climbed the mountain in 2011. Crazy, passionate and beautiful.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Meru

Directed by
Jimmy Chin and
Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi

Screenplay by
Jimmy Chin and
Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi

87 min.

Rated 14

 

The second mother (Que horas ela volta?)

The second mother‘s central character, Val (Regina Casé), is a Brazilian woman who has left her village and found work as a domestic in São Paulo for a well–to–do family. To Barbara (Karine Teles) and her husband Carlos (Lourenço Mutarelli), Val is now part of the family since she started working there thirteen years ago. To their teenage son, Fabinho (Michel Joelsas), Val is his second mother and even more. Some nights Fabinho goes in Val’s room and sleeps with her. She holds him as if he was a small infant. It is not sexual by any means. In order to make a living Val left her daughter, Jessica (Camila Márdila), with Jéssica’s grandfather, and mother and daughter have not seen each other for years. Now, Jessica wants come to São Paulo to study and Val asks Barbara if Jessica can come and stay in Val’s room. Val has a good relationship with her employers. Barbara is considerate and kind toward Val. Barbara accepts. When Jessica gets there she is unhappy with the size of Val’s room. Eventually, to Val’s horror, the familly let Jessica stay in the guest room. Val gets along well with Barbara, but there are boundaries Val would never cross. Jessica has no such concept. It gets worse when Carlos (not Fabinho) seems to be falling in love with Jessica. The second mother is not a melodrama, but a character study. All members of this small ensemble cast are perfect. Anna Muylaert rewrote the screeplay four times before filming started with veteran actress Regina Casé attached to the project. Val’s commitment to serve others is played with nonjudgmental abandon by Casé. The second mother is a small worthy  film.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

The second mother (Que horas ela volta?)

Directed by:
Anna Muylaert

Screenplay by:
Anna Muylaert

Starring:
Regina Casé
Camila Márdila
Michel Joelsas
Karine Teles
Lourenço Mutarelli

112 min.

In Portuguese with English subtitles

 

What we did on our holiday

Oh! Those darn scene-stealing child-actors. In What we did on our holiday they are sooooo cute! And they are good actors. For instance, 5-year-old Harriet Turnbull who plays Jess McLeod, is able to have nonsensical conversations about the pet rocks and bricks she plans to bring to the Scottish highlands for her granddad’s birthday party. She calls them her friends. Her parents are Doug and Abi McLeod (David Tennant and Rosamund Pike). Also going to Scotland are quiet and sensitive 11-year-old Lottie (Emilia Jones) and, another cutie, 6-year-old Mickey (Bobby Smallridge). Mickey talks all the time, has got an opinion about everything and thinks there are still vikings in Scotland. If you can turn your attention towards the adults for a few minutes during the film there is actually a thin plot. Doug and Abi are separated and seeking a divorce because of Doug’s infidelity. They are constantly fighting. This puts a stress on the kids, especially Jess who reacts by stealing things, like the house keys. Their divorce is to be kept a secret from the family. His brother Gavin (an annoying Ben Miller) is an angry, competitive control freak (and yes, annoying). Gavin’s wife, Margaret, spends an inordinate amount of time in the kitchen hiding her mental illness, while their teenage son, Kenneth (Lewis Davie), keeps taking abuse and insults from an angry Gavin. And then there is granddad Gordon (Billy Connolly). Doug and Gavin’s father is a cliché: The old, sage, grandfatherly Scottish man with a brogue and endless streams of platitudes. Gordon is dying of cancer, hence the birthday party. As with all grandparents, Gordon loves his grandkids. Connolly is very good even if the character is a bit of a bore. What we did on our holiday has a few moments of laugh out loud comedy. But is a complete failure when it deals with pathos and drama. It’s a British sitcom film, and not a very good one, inspired by a British sitcom. It could have been worse. Without 5-year-old Harriet Turnbull and 6-year-old Bobby Smallridge it would have been a disaster. Sooooo cute I’m telling you, and sooooo funny!

Rémi-Serge Gratton

What we did on our holiday

Directed by:
Andy Hamilton
Guy Jenkin

Screenplay by:
Andy Hamilton
Guy Jenkin
inspired by the
BBC sitcom Outnumbered

Starring:
Rosamund Pike
David Tennant
Billy Connolly
Emilia Jones
Bobby Smallridge
Harriet Turnbull
Ben Miller

95 min.

RatedParental Guidance

 

Learning to drive

If Learning to drive does not make a star out of Patricia Clarkson, I don’t know what film is going to. Actually both Clarkson and Ben Kingsley performances make the material seem much better than it is. As it is, the screenplay could be the basis of a so-so sitcom. Wendy Shields (Clarkson) sees her life coming apart when her husband Ted (Jake Weber) leaves her for a younger woman. The screaming and blaming scene happens in a New York taxi cab. The taxi driver is Darwan Singh Tur (Kingsley), an Indian Sikh, who offers his services as a driving instructor. Wendy has never learn how to drive, and can’t even leave New York to get away from her depressing life and to visit her daughter Tasha (Meryl Streep’s daughter Grace Gummer) in Vermont. Darwan is a patient, soft-spoken teacher who shows her to look around and judge situations calmly, a lesson that helps her in her own messy life. Darwan’s life as a refugee is not the easiest. There is an impending arranged marriage with Jasleen (a delicate and exquisite turn by Sarita Choudhury) makes Darwan nervous. He picks her up at the airport, and we see the difficulties of marrying someone you have never met. Through it all, Wendy and Darwan become friends. As I said earlier, Clarkson and Kingsley and Choudhury make the whole thing work. The corny clichés of a film or a book with “lessons in life” (Remember Oprah’s book club? Ugh! Barf bag!) is sometime so annoying. Here I enjoyed the performances and Isabel Coixet’s direction.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Learning to drive

Directed by:
Isabel Coixet

Screenplay by:
Sarah Kernochan
based on a New Yorker
article by Katha Pollitt

Starring:
Patricia Clarkson
Ben Kingsley
Sarita Choudhury
Grace Gummer
Jake Weber

90 min.

Rated14A