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Total Recall (2012)
Why I call it an unoriginal film: the idea has already been turned into a film 20 years ago (by a completely superior film-making team mind-you). The setting is borrowed from Blade Runner. The androids are borrowed from Star Wars. The main characters are pretty Hollywood actors (especially Kate Beckinsale). Hollywood memes like multiculturalism and the security state are perpetuated.
I watched the theatrical cut and even that felt overly long. They could have trimmed 10-20 minutes off the film but the film-makers probably thought they were creating a science fiction classic that people would want to watch over and over again. The more appropriate attitude would be to present the idea and get the film out of the way rather than make the audience sit through unnecessary scenes. I think some "bad" films are saved by not overstaying their welcome.
Despite all this going against it the film is done in a fairly competent fashion and has the benefit of Bryan Cranston playing a minor role. Despite low suspension of belief throughout (in my experience), it doesn't get to the stage where it starts to suck. It just has a lot of unnecessary scenes and CGI animation.
If you're like me and only want to see good films then give this a miss, or get the original version. If it happens to be showing then there are worse films, although prepare for the long running time.
The Way (2010)
Decent travel film
The Way follows a grieving father along a Spain-France border walking trail that seems to be well known among the backpacking community.
It is probably a travel documentary foremost with character development and travel stories included to put some meat on the bones of the basic concept. It is a pretty good concept in my opinion and works well on the big screen. I had not been to the cinema in around 6 years so this was a good re-introduction. Plus I avoided the crowds of The Avengers which has been released in Australia at the same time as The Way.
The Sheens prominence in the film interested me, I remember enjoying Men at Work which as it turns out is also directed by Emilio Estevez. Martin Sheen doesn't have a huge number of lead performances to his name so I enjoyed him having the lead role here. I think the directing might be a bit on the amateur side as my disbelief was not suspended on a number of occasions, most notably where James Nesbitt's character is introduced. The character itself, until towards the end comes across as being right out of a movie rather than a real person although I don't know who is to blame for that (the writer, actor or director?). Sheen's character did not look sleep deprived despite having consecutive nights of very little sleep which detracted from the realism.
The film has some minor flaws but the scenery alone is enough to make the film worth watching. I imagine that the film was probably more fun to make that it is to watch and I think this carries through with the actors. Altogether a successful film from the Estevezes/Sheens and I hope they do more while Martin is still in good physical and mental shape (he will be 72 in a few months at the time of writing).
Frozen River (2008)
Worth watching for Homicide: Life on the Street fans
I admit I only watched this because I heard that Melissa Leo (who played Detective Howard in Homicide) had won some sort of recognition for putting in a good performance. It sounded like a good film on that basis and I wasn't disappointed.
Frozen River offers a slice of life across the other side of the world (for me), it was appropriate watching it in the middle of a heatwave as others in the northern hemisphere (in certain regions) are experiencing these sorts of conditions at this time of year.
It ticks all the right boxes of being interesting the whole way through, being well casted and acted. Detective Howard was more of a peripheral character on Homicide so it was good to see what Leo could do with a lead role. Upham is a good supporting actor and doesn't ruin suspension of disbelief due to crappy acting or anything (same for the child actors).
The Native American aspect gives the film a unique flavour so in fact it is appealing from a number of different angles. It's fairly safe to watch with a general audience (no swearing that I can recall), some shots are fired and that's about as extreme as it gets.
John Safran's Race Relations (2009)
John Safran gets personal
John cut his teeth on short "video essays" made for the ABC and briefly channel 7. These have usually used black humour to get a point across. I became a fan of his after seeing the "Not the Sunscreen Song" video and thought that John Safran's Music Jamboree was an interesting insight into some aspects of the Australian music industry . John Safran versus god explored his main interest apart from music which was religion, having spent 12 or so years attending private Jewish school(s) in Melbourne.
His radio show on JJJ tends to have various guests with a slant toward religious themes. Speaking in Tongues on SBS was basically a televised version of the radio show which perhaps was a sign that Safran had run out of interests to explore. Since Speaking in Tongues Safran tried to break into the American market but without much success. Last year Safran took 6 months off from the radio show and John Safran's Race Relations on ABC is the result. There was of course a sneak preview in the newspapers after he got into trouble in the Philippines (what exactly happened has not been revealed to my knowledge).
The main theme of Race Relations seems to be his personal life as he roped what must be everyone he knows into the show in some way (parents, friends, ex-girlfriends). How he got as many people as he did to co-operate with his stunts and experiments must be a trade secret. I listened to the commentary for a couple of episodes but they struggled to find interesting things to talk about. After listening to the radio show for a couple of years I began to suspect that there was no real intellectual underpinning to Safran's comic persona, he's not widely read and probably doesn't spend a lot of time thinking about deeper issues. I think even Scottish-American TV host Craig Ferguson has more intellectual credentials than Safran.
John has picked a number of interesting places to visit but the things he does there mostly tend to miss the mark in terms of exploring the subject matter or be drawn out. At home he tends to take things too far. It's not all bad as there is enough interesting or funny material to get through the series but having fast-forward capability is advised as there is a lot of unnecessarily awkward moments thrown in. He casts aside his dignity and possibly burned some bridges so there might be something here for people who enjoy watching car wrecks.
Overall he has explored music, religion and now his personal life with a little race relations thrown in and he should probably change tack as I doubt he'd have anything interesting to film for a future 6-part series. Maybe he could go back to hosting a Speaking in Tongues type series as there's an endless amount of content there.
Chernobyl Heart (2003)
A full-on look at the young victims of the Chernobyl disaster
The Chernobyl reactor itself is seen briefly, and from a distance, to give you an idea of what this documentary is about. Some senior citizens living in the area are interviewed, and the rest of the time is spent in orphanages and hospitals in nearby Belarus, as radiation seems to take the greatest toll on growing or developing bodies. In line with another HBO documentary I've seen, Hacking Democracy, Chernobyl Heart does not have the production values of a HBO television series.
If you are easily disturbed by seeing deformities from radiation then it might be better to give this a miss, but even so it shows the disaster that has befallen Belarus (of which Chernobyl borders), which does not have enough funding of its healthcare system to handle all the victims. "Chernobyl Heart" is the name for a hole in the heart condition and the crew visit an American surgeon who repairs this condition with a $300 heart valve patch which Belarus can only afford a limited number of.
The timing is a little strange as W. was released while Bush was still in office, meaning that the story is unfinished and lacks the perspective a decade or two might give. Given Stone's age this is an acceptable oversight. Josh Brolin has certainly arrived as an actor with this role, however no actor no matter how good cannot capture every aspect of a real life person. Overall the casting could have been given a little more attention to help with believability, although I thought that James Cromwell was good enough as Bush Snr. despite lacking his soft-spoken nature.
The structure of the film highlights the contrast between Bush's life before and after getting into office as President. The cryptic dream sequences could refer to Bush wishing to have made different career choices or how he feels things are going (or both).
To me it seems apparent that Stone wanted to make a film that would attract as little criticism from Republicans as possible, and by pulling his punches he has (to my knowledge), but the film lacks any punch as it were.
It gets good marks in terms of entertainment, it is definitely not a waste of time in my opinion to sit down and watch this film.
Tropic Thunder (2008)
An actor's movie
This film was probably a lot more fun to make than it is to watch (for people not immersed in Hollywood culture anyway). Numerous actors get to ham it up, quite well on most occasions but the film serves as nothing more than an excuse for actors to commit the craziest stuff they can think of (and get away with) to film. Robert Downey Jr. playing a black character right out of the 70's? Ben Stiller playing a range of roles from a "full" retard to Charlie Sheen in Platoon? Tom Cruise playing an obnoxiously aggressive bald fat guy? It's all here but the question is, is it fun to watch? For me the answer was moderately so, so overall this collection of acting had little substance and made for an unsubstantial viewing experience. I've seen much less enjoyable comedies but from the IMDb rating and the cast, I couldn't help feeling that there should have been more in store. I will give it credit for being watchable, not sinking to any real lows and not running out of ideas 3/4 of the way through which gives it enough points to bring it up to an average comedy. Perhaps for me this is a lesson in having heightened expectations.
True Stories (1986)
Byrne's debut feature
I view this as Byrne's first feature film, except that he never made another (he stated in a recent AV Club interview that he would like to make another but isn't inclined to spend 5 years to get the ball rolling).
Byrne reminded me eerily of myself in how he interacts with people, I've read that he thinks he might have had Apsergers but I am certain it is social anxiety, however he didn't let it get in the way of the direction of this film.
I'm sure Byrne could have made a lot more commentary about society but as this is sort of in the "experimental" bin, it's padded with musical numbers (which might technically define it as a musical), a mock fashion show, a pageant (as the town is celebrating its sesquicentennial) and a local talent show performed on an outdoor stage fit for a rock band, climaxing with John Goodman performing "People Like Us".
As it's probably Byrne's natural inclination to observe the world around him and find out what makes it tick, I think a fully-fledged Byrne film could have potentially been much more meaty (for lack of a better term), however he is primarily a musician so it's understandable that he did not become a writer-director after the making of this film. And I'm guessing that this film only exists because of the success Byrne and the Talking Heads were enjoying at the time.
Overall it stands as a one-off, strangely dated curiosity but it is light weight, mostly enjoyable and is the only place to see David Byrne outside of a music video or interview.
The World's Fastest Indian (2005)
Inspired by real events.
After the comments that were circulating on the internet a year or so ago (inaccuracies etc.) I passed on this title, but after learning that The Bank Job was directed by Roger Donaldson I decided that The World's Fastest Indian was worth checking out.
I have to hand it to Donaldson he does know how to put an entertaining film together, and in the case of this film the less you know about it before seeing it the better. I was surprised to learn that it was a low budget film but from the cast, 60's setting and cinematography you wouldn't know it. There was no denouement though which was a mistake in my opinion (Donaldson says this was to avoid sentimentality but it seems more like he had to keep the film under 2 hours), it's the only departure from the otherwise fine storytelling on display throughout.
Regarding Anthony Hopkins' portrayal of Burt Munro, I saw the 1971 documentary on the DVD and apart from a lack of physical similarity, he portrays Munro as borderline autistic whereas the real Munro came across as a tinkerer, someone with callouses on his hands who spent all of his time doing practical tasks (like a farmer, say).
I think what I will take away from the film will be the sequences shot on the Bonneville Salt Flats (the mountainous setting looks great) and Munro's achievement in building an extremely fast machine on a New Zealand pensioner's salary. It is deflating somewhat to learn that Munro was a frequent traveller to the USA (he visited ten times) and only started competing there when a local time trial held on a public road in Christchurch was discontinued.
Like I said the less you know about the film beforehand the better and even if it is loosely based on real events it's still a good film starring the dependable Anthony Hopkins.
Long Way Down (2007)
Charlie, Ewan and Co.'s second motorbike adventure.
The first adventure seemed to be an actor's version of travelling around the world. But the cameras and support team did allow us to be in on their great adventure to pretty much unseen (to non-locals) parts of the world.
Long Way Down re-unites the old team, now all good friends for a trip to another adventurous part of the world, Africa. Race to Dakar could be viewed almost as a scouting trip for this journey.
To begin with Charley and Ewan say that they don't want to do a three and a half-month journey again but curiously their second journey seems to be 3 months long. Their schedule is more compressed and less free-ranging, and they have been allotted less episodes to tell their story in (one less episode makes a noticeable difference). And affecting it even further is the unusual addition of a fourth rider, Ewan's wife, for 10 days of the journey, who up until a few months before the starting date had never ridden a motorbike.
The presentation is identical to Long Way Round due to being made by the same people, and the journey starts off fairly similar in the European leg (a more adventurous route along the Balkan peninsula was abandoned in the planning stages). Also they have again chosen to use large, heavy BMW motorbikes, but presumably due to the X5's fragility in Race to Dakar, the support vehicles are two Nissan Patrols.
The series starts to get interesting when they reach Libya where US citizens are not allowed. Minus two of the crew, Charlie and Ewan are shown around some Roman ruins that rival those in Rome. Until more equatorial latitudes are reached, Charlie and Ewan essentially complain about the tight schedule and not being able to enjoy the experience. They relax as the scenery turns green and they reach areas with more infrastructure, and essentially have a blast the rest of the way except for the frequent border crossings. By the time the scenery turns brown (but not desert) again they are trying to savour the last of their experience. However most of what we see only seems like scratching the surface, if the story was a little more in-depth it may have captured the feeling of adventure than the first journey had. As it is it only seems like an extended highlights reel and unfortunately in a few places has a home movie feel to it as it is essentially a gathering of friends and family.
Overall I think it's a good look at another less well-known part of the world, Africa, but it seems a little flat and forgettable in comparison. It is still (mostly) compelling viewing and makes me want to explore Africa myself.
An Inconvenient Truth (2006)
I expected this to be a documentary version of his slideshow, but it is a slideshow presentation that was filmed, mixed in with some autobiographical content that really belongs in a separate film. Gore's presentation is on the whole highly polished and quite informative, even just to frame knowledge you may already have in a new way. I didn't treat everything he said as gospel, but one internet poster's complaint about the scales he used appeared to be incorrect. For example, the parts per million graph if displayed in full shows a small change, but what we do with scales is change them to something meaningful (as anyone who's done high school maths will know). Running through my mind as I watched this is that it's not change that's the problem, it the rate of change that's the problem. If the sea level noticeably rises and rainfall rates change over the course of one lifetime, this is very disruptive.
As a government insider Gore has a unique perspective, for example on the US's fuel economy targets, which lag behind even some developing nations, and formerly classified Naval data on the Artctic ice sheet thickness. He's also picked a great selection of quotes that are quite cutting in regard to the oil industry and global warming deniers.
The presentation ended on quite a manipulative note though, attempting to inspire us to make change rather than letting the previous 50 minutes speak for themselves. I think a documentary like this by a former politician requires fact checking to be viewed comfortably (just did a little). Despite Gore's bias, at worst he's close to the mark. It's got me thinking about the subject again and I hope the human race pumps less carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and burns less undisturbed wilderness before even the most ardent global warming denier accepts the accumulating evidence.
Super Gran (1985)
Hang about, look out for Supergran
Just adding to the international flavour of the comments, this show used to be on the ABC if I recall correct during afternoons in the late 80's. Silly, barely watchable but memorable, I still remember the catchy theme tune (sung by Billy Conolly, who'd've thought?). I remember watching some episodes but preferred cartoons such as The Real Ghostbusters or The Bugs Bunny Show at the time.
I have very little to add as I didn't watch the show much, but ten lines of text are required. Metal Mickey was another UK show where I remember the theme but hardly remember anything of the actual show itself.
Birds of a Feather (1989)
Decent 90's British sitcom
Don't ask me why I am writing a review of this but it was a part of my childhood/adolescence and I saw some repeats in the past few years which allowed me to re-evaluate the series. Despite the main characters being women it was a show anyone could watch, and it gave a glimpse of a suburb called "Chigwell" in a wealthy part of London. The setting was flexible enough to allow for a wide variety of story lines, with a central theme of two dependent women becoming increasingly independent as time goes by. But with a significant leg-up of having a large rent-free house in a good neighbourhood and two hundred grand hidden in a spare tyre. Their husbands play supporting characters and inject a slight amount of social commentary on adjusting to prison life.
Birds of a Feather was easily one of the better British sitcoms from the 90's and offered painless, cringe-free watching (as opposed to eg. Keeping Up Appearances). Even if it became predictable as time went on the quality was fairly high overall (if memory serves correct) and it's a reminder of earlier, happier days for me.
American Splendor (2003)
Great addition to the comics
When browsing the graphic novels section of my local library (some good adult fiction gems to be dug up there) I came across "American Spendour", a cross-promotional collection with Paul Giamatti on the front. I read it, kept an eye out for the movie and wished Harvey Pekar had written more (I was under the impression it was a complete collection of his works).
The movie starts off in familiar territory and Paul Giamatti wouldn't win a Harvey Pekar lookalike contest, but is a good actor nonetheless. I feel that the world I saw glimpses of in the comics was extended quite well, with Harvey himself (and others) chiming in from time to time which is excellent to tie the movie with the reality it portrays.
Harvey's life seems to serve as a typical upbeat movie story as well, he started off (where events pick up) being an average vital-ingredient-missing Joe and ended up in a stable relationship, enough money from a movie made about his life to retire, and an adopted child. And he's left his mark. Luck was involved though as he met the right people at the right time and was able to capitalise on an opportunity (even if it was just a non-paying means of expression mostly), if Robert Crumb lived to the next city over Pekar might still be a divorcée and looking for a way to make his mark.
The casting of the film was very good, the actors seemed to portray quite accurately the real-life people (that we saw). Overall it's a very entertaining 1hr40mins and I'm surprised how few reviewers have read the comics eg. I visited the Wicker Man page and I could not find a review by someone who hadn't seen original.
Good collection of footage.
I have always been fascinated by the subject of atomic weapons (how they work etc.) and this documentary was a good opportunity to see some decent footage. There is a lot of footage that is displayed in a linear fashion from detonating 100 tons of TNT in the 40's, to a propaganda film that may show the first successful Chinese test from the 60's (date was not given).
This documentary appears to give the best sense of what the US military themselves saw, however there are few cuts that go for longer than 10 seconds, which can be annoying for the slower detonations.
Watching moving pictures of detonations on DVD on a large TV screen gave a sense of how against nature setting off these things (especially the ones in the megaton range) are. The first few tests conducted were fascinating in a cool way to see science demonstrated, and the raw effects of a new technology. It was interesting to see in detail how the air reacts to a fission reaction being set off, and how nearby objects were affected. But the rest have the fascination of seeing the after-effects of an oil spill, it seems the US military was given license to build and test as many as they liked (and I'm sure the person who gave the Soviets the research was well-intentioned but the Soviets were just as eager to set off large quantities of these just for the hell of it). The ones in the pacific (not too far from Australia I might add) were the most egregious, one of these being constructed and set off is something that should never occur. I still can't believe the US was allowed to launch nukes into space and set them off just to see what happens. Unfortunately I myself am not safely tucked far away from the sites of nuclear explosions, tests were conducted several hundred kilometres north of where I live by the British (how nice of them).
In all I'd think that about 15 tests would need to be conducted (by the US) to determine all scenarios and types of nuclear weapons but an astonishing 331 were conducted. A military with these things is like giving a kid a bazooka to play with rather than a slingshot. I think the level of nervousness of the personnel showed in one of the pacific tests is reflective of the nature that these things shouldn't be set off. Like an adult version of a kid constructing a chlorine bomb (or a custom-made firecracker for countries where fireworks are legal) and wondering what havoc will be created when it goes off.
Unfortunately the "fun" didn't end after the footage shown in this film, France was detonating nukes underground in Muroroa Atoll (near Australia) in the mid nineties, and more recently Pakistan and India have been polluting their lands with tests.
The thing that started it all, Hitler developing nuclear weapons seems a little bit like Hussein and WMD, no evidence was uncovered of a German nuclear program. The Manhattan project and having working nuclear weapons by the mid 40's was completely unnecessary, it is yet another product of American paranoia (I wonder what historical reasons are behind their paranoid streak).
Children of Men (2006)
Visually appealing dystopian fiction
I don't normally review a film right after seeing it, but the hodgepodge of reviews and "helpful" votes seemed to warrant my two cents. Children of Men has a few big-name actors, with the solid Clive Owen, Michael Caine playing a hippie (testament to his acting ability that he is convincing) and Julianne Moore (I guess this had American funding so they couldn't have an all-British cast).
The cinematography is good throughout, and British nature and urban environments make for a good backdrop (in my opinion). However a lot of the time I couldn't shake the feeling that I was watching staged set pieces, I wasn't sucked into the the film. The directing in general seemed a bit ham-fisted, like it was someone directing their first feature. The premise is interesting but I'm not sure if much was done with the concept (I guess we can attribute this to the writer of the novel the movie was based on). I'm not sure what the story is supposed to be about really, the plot seemed to be a way to highlight various aspects of this dystopian society. Again, the dramatic sequences lacked that "real" feeling, like seeing a film set filmed through a home movie camera for behind the scenes featurettes.
I think the film has a lot to offer and would be worth a repeat viewing (most films I cannot say the same for). It may be slightly overrated on IMDb, but then again Finding Nemo didn't grab me and that's still in the top 150.
PKD-inspired Nicholas Cage film
Having read the short story (The Golden Man) several years ago I was surprised to learn that a film was being made of it. As details emerged it appeared to be only loosely based on the general concept but I was interested nonetheless as I always seem to enjoy Nicholas Cage's films.
Next borrows the concepts of 2-minute precognition and someone with such an ability being pursued but that's it. The writers made their lives easier by cheating a fair bit as he can see hours into the future by being in the presence of an attractive young woman, and can project his presence in one case (the car park rooftop). The film can still be enjoyable by overlooking these but it is indicative of the overall level of the film. It is slightly b-movieish with an old-school car interior scene but the moments of disbelief no longer suspended weren't numerous enough to ruin my enjoyment of the film.
Next gets a thumbs up from me but as a slightly quirky Nicholas Cage film than a science fiction film.
Beyond 2000 (1985)
Beyond Productions killed goose that laid the golden eggs.
Beyond 2000 was easily my favourite TV show of the late 80's, it had a very cool intro sequence but most importantly great reporting of science and technology developments worldwide from a team of talented reporters. I had a chance to re-watch most of them several years ago when channel seven screened these at late night (otherwise the memories would be too faded), it still held up well and it was interesting to see how developments had panned out down the track 15 years later.
Watching them in a compressed timeframe, it was clear what happened to Beyond 2000: the show's budget got cut further and further until it was just a few reporters without a studio stuck doing Australian-only stories that had to be stretched out to fill an hour. Little wonder why the show lost viewers and got cancelled. It was unsuccessfully revived at least twice in the 90's in a low-budget format, with only two presenters. Beyond's penny pinching was again evident with Beyond Tomorrow, the heralded return of prime-time science/tech news reporting, to Mystbusters' watchers disbelief they filled in the last segment of each show with a re-edited Mythbusters segment.
Unfortunately I never seem to get around to regularly watching Beyond 2000's true successor, Catalyst on the ABC (Beyond 2000 was originally an ABC show).
Hot Fuzz (2007)
Have the right expectations.
Shaun of the Dead parodied Zombie films (although I had not seen Romero's films) and by all appearances Hot Fuzz was a parody of the cop/action genre. The films starts off this way but I felt like the writers had nowhere near enough jokes to fill a movie so they had to invent a story. The lead character moves to a boring town (for a policeman) which doesn't seem like the most interesting way to start a police/action story. The small country town setting could have come straight out of Heartbeat and only Simon Pegg's presence throughout keeps the film from descending into amateurism.
Timothy Dalton in a very enthusiastic performance is revealed to be the town villain but a Scream-like plot is introduced before he can be hauled away. This extends the film another half an hour but it left me wondering what the film was supposed to be about.
I think watching Shaun of the Dead may have given me false expectations of this movie and I think if I knew that it was something more akin to The Parole Officer than National Lampoon's Loaded Weapon I could have enjoyed it more.
I found Hot Fuzz entertaining but I felt they could have done a lot more with the opportunity and that it's probably best suited to the domestic British audience.
Plutocracy in action
I became a follower of Michael Moore's work when I saw the Awful Truth series circa 2000. And have seen/read everything except Canadian Bacon and the soldier's letters collection. To be honest he was probably at his creative peak in the mid-90's but his more recent films are still entertaining and informative about aspects of American society.
The Awful Truth introduced me to the approach American insurance companies take to healthcare, with a guy who was denied coverage for a kidney transplant. He was basically waiting for death to arrive at any moment until Moore successfully pressured the company into covering the procedure. I have also seen current affairs stories which told of how people were accumulating hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt after being treated by "county" hospitals that are required to treat people regardless of their insurance status. The medical system is improperly funded which results in huge fees to cover the gap.
Sicko gives us some good stories of people who have fallen victim to the U.S. healthcare system. What became apparent to me was that the insurance companies were having their cake and eating it too by being paid for the insurance, then not giving payments. This goes against the whole principal of insurance but apparently they are free to twist the rules as they see fit due to political lobbying and contributions. People don't fall through the cracks, "a crack is created and they are swept towards it". But like the downsizing corporations, they are simply following the guidelines they are issued. It is top-down corruption from the U.S. plutocracy: Nixon signed into effect the current system under the guise of a new era of healthcare while at the same time universal healthcare was associated with paving the path towards communism (and what a trumped-up threat that was).
Moore presents a first-person perspective of universal healthcare as experienced in Canada, Britan and France. This is where Sicko becomes a bit weak as an informed viewer will be aware that he is only presenting the best face of these systems. I wouldn't expect him to travel to Australia where State/Federal divisions in tax revenue distribution has resulted in crumbling infrastructure and staffing levels in public hospitals. Or poorer, more isolated parts of the countries he visits. But the point that Moore is trying to make is that universal healthcare can work, and (speaking from my own experience) even when it is underfunded it is still a far more humane approach to healthcare.
As an attempt at humour Moore tries to get some people some treatment at Guantanamo bay, which has better healthcare than US citizens can expect probably because it would look strange to the international community to treat them the same as the average uninsured US citizen. They didn't even get close, they were kilometers away from a watchtower and scurried when they heard a siren. The real purpose of the trip was apparently to get treatment at a Cuban hospital but again they don't pick a random hospital, they apparently received treatment at the best hospital in the country. But it was slightly amusing to see citizens of the richest country in the world weeping with gratitude for treatment they were generously being given by a poor country.
Ironically the U.S. may get universal healthcare in the near future as the major Presidential candidates from the Democrat party have policies to introduce it. Speaking of politics, how the Republican party has received wide support after introducing the current system and actively defeating an effort to introduce universal heathcare in the early 90's is beyond me. Maybe the populace has been prevented from being "educated, healthy and confident".
Constructing Australia (2007)
Three wonders of industrial Australia
From watching numerous historical documentaries on the expanding USA I was keen to see something on Australia that featured similar production values. Constructing Australia did not disappoint, although I watched the episodes in chronological order, I see no reason why they weren't in that order in the first place.
Coming from Adelaide it was great to see how important a national role it played in its early days, before it hit the ceiling of economic and geographic limitations (no goldrushes, not much farmland) that led to its present relative unimportance.
What I liked about the three documentaries were that they told a human story. Rather than dry facts about the achievements, the psychology of the people who brought them about is given some attention. The actors that portray the historical figures were well chosen and perform convincingly. Wendy Hughes' narration is good but a little too forceful in the last two episodes (Pipeline and Sydney Harbour Bridge).
Australia may not have the masses of the Americas and tides of history but it shows that a small population with few resources can accomplish great engineering works that push the limit of what is possible.
Company Business (1991)
Believable, rough-around-the-edges spy film.
The only reason I didn't instantly dismiss this film was because it was written and directed by Nicholas Meyer (who wrote and directed the only good Star Trek films). Gene Hackman as the lead actor lent it credibility as well, although I recall him doing B-grade films during this period, eg. Narrow Margin. The "all star" cast of supporting actors came as a pleasant surprise.
What I liked bout the film is that the story seemed "real", the characters were inspired by the real world rather than the world of movie-writing. Hackman's character ekes out a living doing petty Industrial Espionage (and not very successfully from the look of it). The bad guys aren't two-dimensional, they're doing what they believe is best. Neither side stays one step ahead, they simply wing it.
The European setting gives the film a little extra character eg. seeing one of those Trabants (with their horrible 2-stroke engine) in action. The film is rough around the edges however, with some shots given significance for no reason, and some important plot elements that if you blink, you'll miss. If I had watched this in the cinema I would have been confused by the whole thing.
I think David Mamet could take a few lessons from this film (his characters in "Heist" seem to possess a telepathic level of anticipation). Company Business is nowhere near as polished as Meyer's Star Trek films but it is enjoyable if you're willing to rewind when it stops making sense.
The 10:30 Slot (1999)
Doomed from the start
I'm not sure the reasons why the two reviewers below found the show so enjoyable, but I had not seen "Recovery" so this was my introduction to a Dylan Lewis-hosted variety program.
Something was wrong across the board, morale was extremely low from the first episode. Lewis was never in a positive or confident frame of mind and to quote Sampson himself on his attitude toward the show, "my talents are wasted here".
The guests were interesting and redeemed the show somewhat, but I think the fact that they were only there for a five-minute interview kept the negative atmosphere from sinking in. Along with The Big News and The Late Report, The 10:30 Slot was another bad chapter in Australian late-night variety for me, I can't even watch Sideshow (which uses the same set) because of the associations with this show.
Mr. Show with Bob and David (1995)
Hmm a sketch show on HBO...
After stumbling upon a rave review of this show by accident at Amazon.com, I kept it in mind in subsequent years. I now have seen all four seasons thanks to broadband internet (albeit at reduced quality).
Mr. Show is inventive and original but I found it wasn't quite as funny as the reviews claimed. Partly this is due to the humour being very late 90's and U.S. based; for example, if two infomercials, one called "Amazing Discoveries" and another (one or two) featuring an enthusiastic British presenter weren't on Australian late night TV in the late 90's, a sketch parodying these two would have gone completely over my head. Probably something like 50% of the show's humour refers to things only observant U.S. TV watchers of the late 90's would be aware of. But nonetheless Mr. Show did have some quite funny or memorable moments in each episode, amongst a lot more weird or chin-scratching ones.
The show kept me coming back for more, although it's probably not best to watch all the episodes in a short space of time. The performances are good all around, one notable feature being the commitment of all the cast members to the material. The tangential nature of the sketches keeps them from being drawn out or overstaying their welcome, and provides a more interesting way of going from sketch to sketch compared to other sketch shows (after reading other reviews I am now aware this was borrowed from Monty Python).
I think Mr. Show's strongest point is it has material that would never be seen on regular network television and despite being aimed at a narrow audience, is well worth watching.
Best of class
Sacha Baron Cohen has maintained a moderately obscure profile on Australian TV but Da Ali G Show ran long enough that a reasonable percentage of people would be familiar with his work. I was never really a "convert" but it usually managed to not be cringeworthy enough for 10 minutes or so of viewing. Borat was one of the characters that made me warm to the show, as I wasn't familiar with the aspect of UK culture that Ali G was parodying, and the German guy was too over the top. Cohen's interviewees seemed to be in on the joke most of the time but I'm sure this wasn't the case in the early episodes.
After a few year's absence, a movie-length feature has been given to Borat, to be unleashed across the Atlantic on an unsuspecting populace. There's something about the Americans and the way they react that makes them such an entertaining target for obnoxious behaviour. When Tom Green (and Jackass) went to Japan I couldn't help but feel they were an undeserving target, given their politeness and large amounts of patience. The American culture is built on assertiveness and unmitigated self-expression, resulting in some fairly eye-opening reactions.
From New York to Los Angeles Borat charts a range of U.S. attitudes and behaviour. What comes as a surprise is how in a few instances Borat's behaviour is the least outlandish. Luckily violence is not threatened (that we see) but you could still say Americans seem to be practiced in dealing with trouble makers. Generally any American production I see on TV is undiluted (maybe with a Brit thrown in for good measure) but Borat provides a good yardstick for American behaviour, especially when he gets picked up by a group of students on an alcohol-fueled road trip.
As painful as Borat can be at times (a remote control can alleviate this) it's the most purposeful and sophisticated Jackass-style comedy you're ever likely to see.