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Gore Vidal in Nicholas Wrathall’s GORE VIDAL: UNITED STATES OF AMNESIA. © 2013 Amnesia LLC. A Sundance Selects Release.

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From left, Cécile de France, Romain Duris, Kelly Reilly and Audrey Tautou star in the French comedy “Chinese Puzzle.”

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Reviewed in brief: 'Gore Vidal,' 'Grand Seduction,' 'Chinese Puzzle'

  • Article by: COLIN COVERT
  • Star Tribune
  • June 12, 2014 - 1:59 PM

– THE UNITED STATES OF AMNESIA
⋆⋆½ out of four stars
Unrated: Profanity, documentary violence.
Theater: Lagoon.

 

Gore Vidal was a novelist, screenwriter, gadfly politician, playwright, wit, impassioned social commentator, film actor, bon vivant and arguably the most trenchant and prescient American essayist of the last half-century. He’s not well-served by this thin tribute film produced by his nephew, filmmaker Burr Steers. It is packed with events and references from so long ago that the context is lost and with it the importance of Vidal’s fearless contrarianism. His frankly homoerotic 1948 bestseller “The City and the Pillar” so dismayed the cultural gatekeepers at the New York Times that its chief book critic refused to review anything Vidal published for 20 years. The film doesn’t sufficiently ground the young author’s heresy in the historical moment, when homosexuality was relegated to the fringes of society.

Mixing archival footage with interviews conducted shortly before his death at age 86, the film is like an overstuffed suitcase. We get his early years of wealth and emotional deprivation, and his introduction to politics as an FDR-era page for his beloved grandfather, an isolationist U.S. senator. Vidal’s middle years are a whirl of celebrity hobnobbing and public feuds. The film’s late-in-life vignettes show him much diminished, a cantankerous museum piece literally wheeled out for public appearances. Asked at the film’s conclusion what he expects his legacy will be, he replies, “I couldn’t care less,” ornery to the last. Viewers who encounter him for the first time through this film will no doubt share the sentiment.

 

THE GRAND SEDUCTION
⋆⋆½ out of four stars
Rating: PG-13 for some suggestive material and drug references.
Theater: Lagoon.

 

The more this predictable, faux-endearing Canadian comedy works at being irresistible, the harder it is to enjoy. The setting is a Newfoundland coastal town called Tickle Head (are you laughing yet?). Fifty years ago it was a hardy harbor populated with virile fishermen. After they returned home, nets groaning with cod, every married mariner’s mattress was groaning, too. Cut to the present day, and the sailors’ feckless descendants lining up for a welfare check, as the government protects depleted waters from overfishing,

Brendan Gleeson leads the island town’s campaign to lure a “petrochemical byproducts repurposing facility” and its associated jobs. The first step, recruiting a doctor, is done when a friend of the town busts a young surgeon (Taylor Kitsch) traveling with cocaine and exerts some arm-twisting. The second hurdle is persuading him to stay. The scurrying and improvisation needed to maintain this wobbly facade is the source of the movie’s mild humor.

What we have here is whimsy inflated with a bicycle pump. This is why Canadian comedians emigrate to the States.

 

CHINESE PUZZLE
⋆⋆ out of four stars
Rating: R for sexual content, nudity and language. In English, Mandarin Chinese and subtitled French.
Theater: Lagoon.

 

A hectic, convoluted French comedy about a Parisian novelist and the three women in his life. Xavier (Romain Duris) gets a bad 40th birthday present when his wife, Wendy (Kelly Reilly, emphasizing their drift apart by speaking only English in reply to his French), takes their two children to live with her new lover in New York. Suddenly single, Xavier follows her, bunking with his affluent lesbian BFF Isabelle (Cecile de France) and her Chinese-American wife, Ju (Sandrine Holt). With his visa expiring, Xavier tries to wriggle through an immigration loophole by marrying a Chinese-American woman (Li Jun Li). His ex, Martine (AudreyTautou) shows up to negotiate a contract with a Chinese importer, and also hoping to reunite with Xavier. Meanwhile, Isabelle recruits Xavier as a sperm donor so she and Ju can have a child. You watch this empty, mechanical farce stupefied, wondering how it got made, and why.

 

© 2014 Star Tribune