This week we begin in 1968:

DVDs and streaming for Nov. 10 by Boo Allen

This week, we begin in 1968:


Best of Enemies (****)

Few documentaries are as fun, funny, informative, and just plain entertaining as this juicy work from writer-directors Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville. And the reason the film deserves such accolades can be laid at the feet of its two main subjects, conservative wit, writer and pundit William F. Buckley Jr., and his liberal counterpart Gore Vidal. Gordon and Neville have centered their film around the ten so-called debates the two men had on ABC-TV during 1968’s two political conventions. At the time, ABC ranked last in news coverage and hired the men as more or less a stunt. And it worked. The on-screen interchanges between the two grow progressively barbed so that by the end, Vidal infamously calls Buckley, and all Republicans, greedy, crypto-Nazi, and Buckley replies by casting a sexuality slur on Vidal before warning him that he will punch him out. The exchanges did not end there but gained their own lives, as the two men answered questions about them until their deaths. It is widely argued the debates led to the current state of shouting TV “debates.” The brief clips from each 1968 encounter are complemented with plenty of convention footage along with expert testimony from interviewees Christopher Hitchens, Andrew Sullivan, Dick Cavett, James Wolcott, Brooke Gladstone, William’s brother Reid Buckley, and others.

Not rated, 89 minutes.

Extras: ten additional interviews and a seven minute interview with directors Neville and Gordon.



The Gift (**1/2)

Actor Joel Edgerton co-stars and makes his feature film directing debut in this overly familiar psychological drama based on his own script. Married couple Simon and Robyn (Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall, respectively) have just moved from Chicago to Simon’s hometown Los Angeles. They accidentally meet Simon’s high school classmate Gordon (Edgerton), known in school as “Gordo the weirdo.” Gordo begins dropping by to visit the couple, bringing them gifts that only make them feel uncomfortable. At that point, director Edgerton succeeds in drawing a portrait of hovering menace, an exercise forgivable for its meticulousness because this technique customarily suggests a big ending lies ahead. The second half does deliver new information painting Simon in a different perspective so that the anticipated, yet disappointing, climax dutifully arrives but by then all emotion has been spent elsewhere. Still, it’s a competent directing debut, one that conjures up the proper emotions even when the script slackens.

Rated R, 89 minutes.

Extras: commentary with Edgerton, an alternate ending, four deleted scenes, and brief featurettes on Jason Bateman and “Karma for Bullies.”



Ann Vickers (***), Sweet Adeline (**1/2), Never a Dull Moment (**1/2)

On Demand Warner Archives releases three unrated titles starring Irene Dunn. The vivacious Dunn began her long career with a string of strong, young woman roles, such as her turn in the 1933 Ann Vickers (76 minutes). Based on an early novel from Nobel Laureate Sinclair Lewis, Ann Vickers is a dedicated social worker who spends the night with a soldier (Bruce Cabot—King Kong) about to leave for World War I. She finds herself pregnant and goes to Havana for an abortion, all acts which would soon be banned on-screen by the upcoming 1934 Production Code. Ann then works at a women’s prison, leaves to write a sensationalistic best seller, becomes head of a women’s reformatory, and then eventually falls for a corrupt judge (Walter Huston, father of director John Huston and grandfather of actors Angeli and Danny Huston). Through it all, future black-listed director John Cromwell (father of actor James Cromwell) accentuates the independence and intelligence of Lewis’ then infamous character. Dunn again plays the title character and also sings several numbers in director Mervyn Leroy’s Sweet Adeline (1934, 87 minutes), a 1929 Jerome Kern-Oscar Hammerstein II musical. While not up to the team’s iconic “Showboat,” the musical stars Dunn as a turn-of-last century Hoboken beer garden singer in love with composer and song-plugger Sid (Donald Woods). His newest work is due to open on Broadway with her in the lead role, but they argue and separate and she takes up with the show’s backer, Major Jim (Louis Calhern), an army recruiter for the Spanish-American war. The war also provides a silly sub-plot involving an opening night accident for Adeline, which, of course, eventually leads to the reconciliation of the two feuding youngsters. With notable character actors Ned Sparks, Hugh Herbert, Winifred Shaw. Years later, Dunn still registered her casual superiority in Never a Dull Moment (1950, 89 minutes) by playing Kay, a Park Avenue socialite and musical composer who weds rancher and rodeo rider Chris (Fred MacMurray) in a whirlwind romance. They return to Chris’ rustic home, and the immediate fish-out-of-water scenario sees Dunn learning to ride horses, feed pigs, carry water, cook, and become mother to Chris’s two young daughters (Gigi Perreau and 12 year-old Natalie Wood, already the veteran of a dozen movies). A subplot plays out about a water rights feud with a neighbor, played by William Demarest, who co-starred for seven years with MacMurray in TV’s “My Three Sons.”



Toy Story That Time Forget (***)

A familiar voice cast enlivens this animated tale starring both old and new personages from the “Toy Story” franchise. The action takes place during a post-Christmas lull and features Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), Trixie (Kristen Schaal), Reptillus Maximus (Kevin McKidd), Rex (Wallace Shawn), Mr. Pricklepants (Timothy Dalton), Mr. Potato Head (Don Rickles), Jessie (Joan Cusack) and others. It’s Trixie the triceratops who brings everyone together to calm the chaos in this enjoyable confection.

Rated TV-G, 22 minutes.

Extras: commentary, an 11 minute “making of” featurette, a segment on the feature’s crew traveling to Comic-Con, two Karaoke features, and a 2D animated opening for a fictional TV series.



Also on DVD and streaming: Far From Men, Montana, Self/Less, Trainwreck.