How to Change the World ***
The early days of Greenpeace in the early 1970s get an engaging, wry treatment in this documentary largely compiled from a rich trove of archival footage by director Jerry Rothwell, and centered around the writings of journalist/activist/Greenpeace co-founder Bob Hunter (read, compellingly, by Barry Pepper). It leans too heavily, for coherence purposes, on present-day talking head interviews with the surviving members of the movement, which is a shame given how impressionistic and compelling the strictly archival footage/narration passages are. Still, it’s an enlightening, humanizing look at a movement that has—due to ardent political opposition from parties whose bottom lines are affected by ecological activism—long since become something of a media shibboleth. (The organization itself is also shown as not always working to its own benefit, highlighting the differences between activism and organizing, not to mention destructive internal schisms.) The harsh realities behind slogans like “Save the Whales” make for compelling drama, especially in the primary source footage. While How To Change The World
is ultimately an informative two hours, it would have done just as well without all the interstitial (and frequently redundant) “normal documentary stuff,” which ends up hindering and literalizing. (Danny Bowes)
Best of Enemies ***1/2
I’d gladly have watched a documentary that consisted of nothing but the lively, sometimes ferocious, often personal “debates” between William F. Buckley, Jr. and Gore Vidal during the 1968 Republican and Democratic National Conventions. But directors Morgan Neville (Twenty Feet from Stardom
) and Robert Gordon provide some wonderfully effective context as well: how ABC News, mired in last place, took a chance on an idea beyond straight news coverage of the conventions; the long history of both philosophical and personal antagonism between Buckley and Vidal; and the parallels in their life stories that made their battles perhaps all the more compelling. Still, the centerpiece moments come in the footage of the arguments themselves, and the filmmakers often wisely stay out of the way to show two masters of language at work attempting to eviscerate one another. Neville and Gordon do occasionally bang a bit too strenuously on the notion that this was the watershed moment that turned American political discourse into polarized shouting matches, but it’s too colorful and entertaining a portrait of that moment—and the fascinating personalities who created it—for it to matter much. (Scott Renshaw)
Wild Tales ***
Anthology films are always a tricky business, almost impossible to get perfect because there’s no way for any given segment not to feel disappointing relative to a better one. But writer/director Damián Szifrón does a pretty decent job in this sextet of shorts—just nominated for a Foreign Language Film Oscar—with a darkly comic sensibility, most of them revolving around vengeance and/or rough justice with a few moral twists and turns. That focus places the tone somewhere between Twilight Zone
and Tales from the Crypt
, kicking off with the terrific pre-credits prologue, and including an effectively brutal segment about a case of road rage gone over-the-top. It’s a shame that Szifrón doesn’t have the same degree of control over the pacing of other segments, including one featuring Ricardo Darín as an engineer losing his patience with bureaucracy that builds to a too-obvious payoff, and the over-long finale set at a wedding reception gone haywire. There are plenty of satisfying moments throughout, enough that perhaps it’s better to think about how this would play as a weekly series: Even the weaker ones are good enough that you’d probably keep watching. (SR)
The Summer of Sangailé **1/2
Sumptuous, imaginative images burst off the screen in Alanté Kavaité's drama about the coming-of-age affair between two Lithuanian teen girls: airplane-obsessed but vertigo-plagued Sangailé (Julija Steponaityé) and artsy Austé (Aiste Dirzute). The lovers' limbs tangle into a figure where the divisions vanish, with a mirrored mobile casting fractured light on them; the girls and their friends take a magic-hour swim in a glowing lake. Some of the compositions are so gorgeous that it makes it all the more dispiriting that the story is so stupid. Kavaité plays around with Sangailé's wounded psychology—she's a self-cutter living in the shadow of her ex-ballerina mother's judgment—without exploring the relationships that really would have illuminated anything, and the bursts of conflict between the two girls, while perhaps honest to adolescent emotionalism, still feel manufactured rather than organic. But mostly, there's the sense that all the meaningful glances and gloriously photographed lesbian sex is building toward character growth that has nothing whatsoever to do with the central relationship. It's a swirl of glorious style that pretends it's about something more than glorious style.
The Bronze *1/2
There's a thing that screenwriters often do with anti-heroic characters, making them just abrasive and horrible enough to be “did he/she say that?” funny, but not so abrasive and horrible that they can't convincingly be redeemed by the end. The Bronze
somehow manages to fail at both of those things. It's a nice idea to spin the real-life Kerri Strug story into the tale of Hope Ann Greggory (Melissa Rauch, who also co-wrote the script), who won a 2004 gymnastics bronze medal while soldiering on after an ankle injury; 12 years later, she's bitter and pathetic, living off her celebrity in her Ohio hometown and wondering if her opportunity to coach up-and-coming gymnast Maggie (Haley Lu Richardson) is actually a chance to sabotage someone whose talents may surpass her own. Rauch throws herself into playing the helium-voiced terror, but there's never a second when the character feels like anything more than a collection of acidic punch lines, almost none of which are actually worth a laugh. And by the time we're expected to believe that she's learning some important life lessons—from an improbable romance with a geeky colleague, among other things—she has been established as over-the-top wretched beyond hope of salvation. A set piece involving the way two gymnasts would have sex provides a rare hint of the wild romp this could have been if there'd been any reason to care about Hope Ann Greggory at all.