Best of Enemies @ The Ross

William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal

William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal

If you want an education on how to throw daggers at your enemy without serving jail time, then Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville’s film Best of Enemies is the documentary for you! Three networks: ABC NBC CBS – all fighting for ratings in the 1960s with ABC lagging behind. The Flying Nun could not save it. Batman could not rescue it. Not even the good old Doc Marcus Welby could bring it to health. And tell me just how could ABC compete with the likes of the vocal drones of Walter Cronkite on CBS or the powerhouse of the broadcast buddy team Chet Huntley and David Brinkley on NBC? Hmmm! What’s a station to do! Well, you put together two of the most incorrigible personalities in journalism: Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley! I don’t believe the devil would have wanted to contend with these two! Buckley is dubbed by Lee Edwards as “the Saint Paul of the Conservative Movement” and whom Vidal would call a “crypto-nazi” on national television; and, there’s Vidal whom Buckley claimed to be the devil incarnate.

ABC knew it hit gold when executives put these two privileged prep school graduates together in front of a camera AND during a most tumultuous time in our nation’s history: the civil rights movement with its eye on racial issues and poverty, the Vietnam war, identity politics–oh! It was something. They hated each other; you could see it in their eyes!

Filmmakers Gordon and Neville excel in piecing together the archival footage of this moment in broadcast journalism, and they are quite attentive to the biographical sketches of each man to give the context for their appeal. Best of Enemies is a good, solid documentary. Watch and Learn!

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Best of Enemies plays through October 29 at the Ross Media Arts Center in Lincoln.

Also showing at The Ross through the 29th is the post-cultural revolution Chinese film Coming Home, and the Austrian horror film Goodnight Mommy.

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Meru @ The Ross

Screen Shot 2015-11-05 at 9.17.11 PM

Alrighty then, yet another movie on the joys and the perils of mountain climbing. But here’s some scuttlebutt: Conrad Anker, one of the subjects of the documentary Meru, found George Mallory’s body on Mount Everest in 1999! Meru, affectionately known as the Shark’s Fin or the anti-Everest is without any sherpas or anyone to facilitate the trek. You had better foster an unwavering trust in your teammates or risk being totally alone in negative 20 degree weather in an unforgiving natural environment. Anti-Everest. Anker, along with his fellow alpinists, Jimmy Chin, and Renan Ozturk, almost reached the top of that mountain in 2008 only to have to descend because that sun was going to set and their ability to camp would be compromised. Imagine that! You could touch the tip of your destination after taking the risk, going through the peril, beating any insecurity, mustering up the courage to trust your teammates, and finally, finally with only 100 meters to go … sigh … The three return home, nurse their wounded pride, and find ways to work the everyday ordinary. Well. Here comes that ego and in snow shoes and in the night: “let’s try it again,” it whispers, “you could be the first to reach the top of that mountain!” So, Anker, Chin, and Ozturk go back onto that ice and snow.

Meru is an engaging story! It really is because Anker, Chin, and Ozturk mark out the sheer love and passion for mountain climbing. Their narration is awe-inspiring as their courage shines through their talk of their efforts worked a team on that mountain. Of interest to audiences is how these mountain climbers make peace with failure but smile at the inevitability of the chance to reach for success—one more time!

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Tangerine @ The Ross

Alexandra (Mya Taylor) and Sin Dee Rella (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez)

Alexandra (Mya Taylor) and Sin Dee Rella (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez)

Sometimes it is best to listen to your friend’s whole story before you divulge information that only you know. Failure to wait the story’s end can instigate all kinds of trouble and, before you know it, you are all up in someone else’s drama you have no business being in. Trust!

Sin-Dee Rella (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) meets with her best friend Alexandra (Mya Taylor), after her release from a six-week jail sentence. After hearing from Alexandra that her boyfriend has cheated on her, Sin-Dee Rella decides to go on a sidewalk trip through the seedier side of Los Angeles in search of her competition in Sean Baker’s independent film Tangerine. Alexandra decides to leave Sin-Dee on her own because her girlfriend will not keep her promise to side-step the drama.

Tangerine is filled with rough and wild misadventures commenced by these uber-confident transgender prostitutes. They are loud; they cuss like sailors; and, without apology, they use their bodies for both pleasure and for payment. One customer refuses to pay Alexandra for her services, and she promptly tells him, “oh, don’t forget, I got one of those, too” and thus begins the street fight in front two policemen.

Tangerine is hilarious. Its action is brutal. Its story is raw. The transgender characters are wide open and vulnerable but fierce. The absence of slick editing and filming brings a welcomed realistic quality to this film, and the glossy world of Hollywood does not intervene in the film’s production. Well, there is a reason for that: Baker shot the film exclusively on iPhone 5s. Baker says in an interview, “the iPhone actually helped us out in a weird way with this because we weren’t able to use telephoto lenses so we always said that we wanted to step away from the observational way of approaching these characters and instead participate in the day with them.”

What is fantastic about Tangerine is its parallel story of the city of Los Angeles. Most films set in Los Angeles feature the automobile filled with people cosseted by tinted windows and made anonymous and beautiful by sunglasses. In the film, Baker’s lens follows pedestrians who are walking and walking and walking to and from places and people. There are scenes of people waiting for — get this — a cab or a bus that may or may not arrive on time. These scenes give the audience Baker’s “observational way” of approaching his characters.

Dinah (Mickey O'Hagan) experiences Sin Dee's wrath

Dinah (Mickey O’Hagan) experiences Sin Dee’s wrath

Yet, for all of its fun, danger, and laughs, I am upset that Baker features transgender characters as prostitutes—an all too familiar and overplayed stereotype of that culture. Even more troubling is the attack on Sin-Dee’s nemesis: a prostitute named Dinah (Micky O’Hagan), who is punched and slapped as she is being dragged like a rag doll by Sin Dee through the street and onto the bus. That scene, my friends, is not funny, especially, when it is enacted by a man in a wig.

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