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‘The Best of Enemies’ is a must-watch this political season

Date: 12/22/2015

Two new acclaimed documentaries have made it from their limited theatrical run to Netflix, and a few words on the new “Star Wars” film are featured in this week’s film review column.

On Netflix: The Best of Enemies

Political junkies as well students of popular culture will revel in this look back at a key moment in how the television networks chose to cover political conventions.

When I was a kid, the phrase “gavel to gavel coverage” was the standard way for the networks to describe how they were going to broadcast the two political conventions and the process to select presidential and vice presidential candidates.

In 1968, third-place ABC had an idea: why not cover only part of the convention and allow two well-known pundits to talk about what was happening. In this case the execs chose William F. Buckley Jr., the leader of the conservative movement in the United States, broadcaster and editor, and Gore Vidal, the acclaimed novelist and liberal.

Both men had been unsuccessful candidates and both men were seasoned debaters. Also both men had little respect for one another.

The result was a kind of television that had never been seen before. Broadcast live each night, the two men discussed not only the issues, but also the goals of a conservative and liberal viewpoint. They also exchanged barb, which ultimately resulted in Vidal called Buckley a “crypto-Nazi,” and Buckley responding that he was going to punch Vidal and called him a “queer.”

Directors and writers Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville do an excellent job in providing insight into the lives and careers of both men before and after the debates.

The most powerful revelation was how ABC’s coverage influenced the two networks that consistently beat it in ratings. After 1968 there was no more “gavel to gavel” coverage.

The debates between the two men provided a prototype for the use of punditry in news programs, as well.

This is a smart sharp documentary that doesn’t take political sides. It should be required watching this political season.

On Netflix: The Wolfpack

Director Crystal Moselle accidently encountered members of the Angulo family in New York City and discovered an intriguing, and for me disturbing, story.

The seven children of the Angulo family were essentially not allowed to leave their housing authority apartment and their view of the outside world was tempered not just by the home schooling provided by their mother, but by movies.

They loved the films so much they would copy down the dialogue, create costumes and enact their favorite films, sometimes video recording them.

Through interviews with the family, Moselle paints a pretty frightening world. The father wants to create some sort of commune or cult with him as the center. The mother has her doubts and the kids are slowly rebelling. Dad doesn’t work as well and the only apparent income is through welfare.

All I could see out of this film was domestic abuse. The father apparently likes to slap his wife around. The kids feel that they are in prison.

Frankly I found this film to be grueling to view. Although the ending is hopeful in that the six teenaged boys seem to be in more control of their lives, one can only wonder what damage has been done. The director doesn’t give us much information about the young daughter.

I can only hope that state and local officials took notice.

In Theaters: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

No spoilers here, folks. If you’re a “Star Wars” fan I can only say that director J.J. Abrams has returned to the spirit and storyline of the first three films in a glorious manner.

Abrams understands the kind of narrative and characters the initial trilogy created and gives us new characters that fit perfectly within the “Star Wars” universe.

He doesn’t rely on computer generated animation and goes old school in special effect and makeup very often, not only another nod to the past, but important in creating the grit and texture of the first three films.

I greatly enjoyed it and I believe if you had written the series off thanks to the first three prequel films, you should give this new film a chance to restore your faith in The Force.