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Her Composition (2015)
Intriguing concept, powerfully acted, with some flaws.
This was interesting and artful. I'm glad I watched it, but it could have been better in several ways.
Composer Malorie, struggling with writer's block and financial difficulties, prostitutes herself to several men and a woman. More than just paying the bills, these experiences raise her awareness of the colors, sounds, textures, and people of New York City, unblocking the creative process and allowing her to find her own musical voice.
Portions of this movie are so beautifully filmed that we can easily believe that these other sensations can remove her mental block. A difficulty arises for the next step, though: it's quite likely impossible to show on objective film how subjective experiences are synthesized into a creation, and in Her Composition, this process just doesn't get us there. Like Malorie's professor, I wanted to see intermediate progress that was, if not wholly rational, at least more substantive. When insight occurs such that 95 percent of the work gets done in 5 percent of the time, it's hard to believe. Maybe that's how creativity operates, I don't know, but I felt left out of the experience at this point.
Other parts of the movie are not so beautifully filmed, with excess use of too-close closeups, out-of-focus views, and random subject matter. These strongly detracted, particularly in the early minutes before we'd had a chance to develop some empathy for the main character. And, at least as packaged for streaming on VUDU, the dialog was occasionally drowned out by background. Initially, Malorie's voice was so wispy it seemed forced, but this improved later in the film (I doubt this was scripted.)
On the plus side, the acting was excellent all around. Also, Her Composition is one of those uncommon films where copious nudity and sexual activity make sense in terms of plot and theme. Watching this, my sense of immersion in the action was never interrupted by phony attempts at modesty. And in terms of what was asked of the cast, there was greater gender parity than is typical.
Some clarity of the plot set-up would have helped. Malorie gets her list of high-rolling johns (and a jane) from an NGO that is setting up a sting to assist the FBI. It wasn't clear what crime other than prostitution was going on, why an NGO was involved, nor why only the clients were targeted and not the women, and especially, why it was a federal matter rather than local. I was left guessing, which was unnecessary as about three more lines of dialog might have explained it all. Perhaps, with New Jersey and Connecticut close, the johns were the ones running the show, and operating across state lines? Trafficking minors or the unwilling seems an unlikely explanation in the world of high-price ($1,500/hr) call girls. This uncertainty was distracting.
Overall, though, this was 90 minutes that will keep your attention and engage your senses.
Gud taler ud (2017)
Vignette of a Dislikeable Man
Despite references to the family patriarch as "God", this isn't a fantasy story. Word of God is set very much in the real world. It's a vignette rather than a plot-driven story, a tale of a cranky man and how his wife and three sons deal with him while trying to maintain their dignity and sanity.
The youngest son narrates the tale. He, his brothers, and his mother are all sympathetic characters, relatively normal people, though each has their own beliefs, quirks, and problems. The failure of my-way-or-the-highway Dad to show respect or even empathy for those who disagree drives the story. He could have been portrayed as an easy person to hate, but even with his limitations, it's obvious he is still trying to do good. To that extent, this film succeeds.
Vignettes are usually less than totally satisfying, lacking resolutions commensurate with their conflicts. But this story, despite its interesting situation and fine production, feels emptier than most, because the resolution is largely driven not by action but by happenstance. Since Word of God is an autobiographical piece, I can't argue with what it shows, but the result seems to lack impact or message.
NB: Who in their right mind makes onion soup without removing the skins?
Reality informs fantasy. And vice-versa.
Maniac is a sadly sweet tale, the story of a psychiatric patient and those who try to help him recover from a state of chronic delusion. Despite his condition, Espen interacts with the real world in a way that is mostly functional, causing the occasional faux-pas or impropriety but without horrible outcomes. This isn't "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest", and it's set in modern times, so the care he receives is gentle, not horrifying electroshock or lobotomy. Modeled as a comedy, this film is unlikely to strongly disturb most viewers.
The real world of the hospital is dull but not grim. In Espen's world, by contrast, he is a soldier, a spy, a lover, a man of international commerce and intrigue; life for him is far more entertaining and satisfying. What makes Maniac fascinating is not simply the numerous fantasy vignettes, but the bi-directional disparity between subjectivity and objectivity. We see how reality informs Espen's fantasy, of course, but equally instructive is how the hospital staff perceive the real-world expression of his internality: these loving, caring, competent folks have no clue what is actually going on inside his head. Watching their attempts to help, you'll be both amused and saddened.
I wasn't thrilled with the ending, but it works, and it's probably realistic. Maniac is an excellent mini-series, well worth your time.
Rabbit Fever (2006)
Cute concept, with more than a few chuckles.
This mockumentary of turmoil caused by the "world's best" vibrator, the Rabbit, had us laughing out loud a few times. We chuckled more, and we were usually grinning at the overall story.
As the narrator follows the stories of a half-dozen women, their partners, friends, and families, we see a wide variety of perspectives toward sex toys presented as "serious" drama, only occasionally veering into more obvious satire. Some lives are improved, some complicated, and some frazzled by the women's attempts to fight their addiction to the multi-pronged device.
It's a fun film. And it has a coherent narrative. It could have felt fragmented due to the number of stories being followed, but a fair amount of synergy ties it all together.
If you watch it, don't miss the final scene at the end of the credits!
EarthZoo Sign: "Please Don't Spotlight the Introvert!"
We laughed, we cried, and wow, we cringed a lot at the uncomfortable social situations that introvert Toon was continually dragged through by folks who feel impelled to "help" him. Whether this excellent series was intended to satirize Dutch culture I don't know, but it seems to play and apply just as well to the instant celebrity absurdity here in the U.S., and probably anywhere.
In the first season, Toon's fame is inadvertent, as a video of his (unsolicited) birthday party goes viral. In season two, skill and effort as an on-the-couch gamer keep him in the public eye. Throughout it all, he makes some effort to avoid the spotlight, but he lacks the social skill and gusto to interrupt a whirlwind that wouldn't stop even if he tried. He ends up taking, as (relationship: it's complicated) Nina points out, "the path of least resistance." And so he's carried along on a painful journey, winning our empathy even as we wince at his inability to grab folks by the scruff of the neck and scream, "F Off!"
Some have complained that the character Toon doesn't show much development. They're missing the point of the whole darn show: he's mostly content with who he is and how he lives, and he shouldn't have to "progress" for the satisfaction of the majority who think everyone should fit the same mold! He does eventually develop some agency to keep true to himself, but Toon will always be Toon. And the world is better, that he can be.
Well worth watching!
El árbol de la sangre (2018)
Intriguing but Annoying
This is very well acted, filmed, and produced, but disruptively structured, with a plot weakness and too much left unsaid. And call me a naïve idealist, but I was unhappy that the ending leaves Justice imperfectly satisfied. Or rather, that the main characters seem to have no problem with the final status quo.
And so, "The Tree of Blood" is difficult to rate. I wanted to know, what was the big secret of Rebeca's and Marc's relationship? Getting there was an interesting pain in the rear. Interesting, because a great deal is going on; the film is full of intrigue, action, love, lust, and betrayal; the main characters win our sympathy. A pain because of shifts back and forth in time, the necessarily large number of inter-related characters to track, and the short shrift given to a few details.
The setting shifts repeatedly between past and present, and in several scenes, characters of the present are shown standing in the action of the past, watching but not interacting. This disrupts the flow, yes, but not horribly so. Where the structure fails is that it falsely implies that Rebeca's and Marc's storytelling - the wrapper around the events of the past - are a fact-finding mission. You realize in the end that she had all the facts before they began, and only one key event was unknown to him.
The presence of Russian and Ukrainian mafias in Basque Country, and especially why they should happen to conflict with the other characters, was unclear. Perhaps - although I doubt it - events such as these are so taken for granted in Spain that they literally need no introduction. The rest of us could have used some clarity.
As symbology, the tree itself fell flat.
Julio Medem also directed "Sex and Lucia", which had a somewhat less convoluted plot structure and which worked much better in the end. And his "Room in Rome" was almost purely linear, but still spellbinding. "The Tree of Blood" just doesn't quite measure up to those works.
Cold War (2017)
Interesting but erratic.
Like philosophies, relationships are most meaningfully tested at the extremes. When newly cohabiting Jon and Maggie catch truly miserable cases of the flu, their love is tested so thoroughly it nearly kills them.
The beginning is so very realistic that it feels slow. You keep hoping that the potential for either comedy or drama will be realized. And about half-way in, it is. Détente ends and the cold war begins; at this point the film becomes worth watching. It's not a spoiler to say that the war heats up later.
Cold War is well acted, and you develop an empathy with both Jon and Maggie. The film has quite a few funny moments, both ha-ha funny and ironic. The down-side: the overall feel of the film is one of strict realism, but some of the events are too far-fetched, and the two secondary characters are just a little too odd. These incongruities of style repeatedly disrupted my immersion in the story, reminding me that I was watching from outside.
I liked it enough that it wasn't a complete waste of time, but there are plenty of better films you can watch.
Mildly Interesting, Limited Production Values
I'm glad I didn't watch this 2009 Slow TV production first. If I had, I might never have tried the much superior "The Telemark Canal" (2012). A fixed camera view out the front of the train is what you get. That's all you get, for 7 hours and 15 minutes. There's no narration, no history, no identification of places or facilities other than names of stations and tunnels. There are no views out the side windows, which would have added variety and better looks at the scenery, though much would have been obscured by flanking tree rows or stone slopes.
Within those limitations, it's an okay production. The scenery is mostly rural or suburban. If you like looking at architecture, topography, and foliage (and I do) this show provides a lot of very brief views of those things. It's interesting to see the onset of snow cover as you traverse the center of the country, and the reversion to fall color as you get closer to Oslo. With the speed of the train and the camera resolution, the little wildlife seen is unidentifiable, and you may be left guessing "cow or horse?" as fields roll by.
It's filmed 100% in real-time. That includes passage through dozens of tunnels, some several miles long, during which time you see essentially nothing. They could have turned the train's lights on for this televised trip, but no, they didn't until nearly dusk, so any detail inside remains a mystery. You only learn what this train might look like by the few passing in the other direction on sidetracks. About half-way through, the camera tilts slightly and stays that way: not much, just enough to throw the horizon off perceptibly if you're paying attention.
We watched it to the end, just to see what's there, in many sessions of 5 to 50 minutes each. This train moves a lot faster than the riverboat in "The Telemark Canal", but the televised production,"Train Ride Bergen to Oslo," moves a lot slower!
Beating Hearts (2010)
Shocking and Disgusting. Well Made. Lacks Clarity.
In a scant ten minutes, director Matthew Garrett has packed enough realism to horrify almost any viewer. The action is explicit, violent, and bloody. The perpetrators are not whom you might expect.
All technical elements are excellent. And the resolution is believable.
But I'm so irked I could scream at the story's lack of clarity in several regards! A younger character's motivation is only very mildly hinted at. Is it driven by an existing and very disgusting relationship, or is this just wishful thinking by the character? To what extent do religious teachings - suggested by the line "I'll see you soon" - play a role in the motivation? Was an older character's penultimate decision planned all along, or did it arise from fear, or a change of heart? And what will happen with the smallest character?
Each viewer will have to answer those questions for him or herself. To me, that does not represent the best writing and directing. A comment to directors everywhere: Clarity and closure are not crimes, nor do they diminish the quality of your art.
The Grass Is Always Greener
"Horseface" is a bizarre short flick, just as depressing and depraved and amusing as the tangentially themed, feature-length "Men & Chicken," which came along a few years later. But "Horseface" is much more pungent because events are not presented as discovered history: they're happening now.
The squalor of the rural farmstead stuns the viewer immediately, raising one's emotional shields, making bearable the subsequent tale of two women reacting differently to a man's attention. You gradually learn what's going on, and you cringe. Outstanding acting and cinematography combine with spot-on costuming and make-up to create a world that completely suspends disbelief.
Unfortunately, part of the story is not as clear as it should be in such a short production: why an off-screen act of apparent violence occurs, whether it's routine, and whether it merely addresses setting and mood or drives some unrequited plot line must be guessed at, and that's distracting. Then the long term consequences of the overall situation are revealed in a genre-switching scene that gets short shrift. A sad final scene ties things together, but (at least as viewed online) the dialog is not recorded clearly. Maybe that's just as well.
I was left wanting a more explicit rationalization of events. That aside, "Horseface" presents the viewer an imaginative take on a train-wreck of human relations. It's worth watching.
Le petit bonhomme vert (2013)
Just what you'd expect from Monsieur Cacti!
"Little Green Man" (Le petit bonhomme vert) is believably acted, nicely filmed, and most importantly, both mildly humorous and somewhat original. Apparently we guys are the same all over!
Mishka is a girl dealing with a problem no thirteen-year-old should have to face. Watching her struggle, with no support from anyone, not even someone to talk with, is heart-rending.
Filmed in Canada with age-appropriate actress Matia Jackett as the lead, "Mishka" shows us excellent acting throughout. The result is a hyper-realistic stark contrast between Mishka's horrible situation and the happy, normal lives of her friends. The uneasy mood is enhanced by restrained dialog between main characters, and the technical production of this short movie is excellent, on a par with any feature-length film.
About the ending, I'll only say that it is believable, but could have used some explanation or foreshadowing.
"Mishka" is not even slightly enjoyable, in the usual sense of the word, but it's highly worthwhile.
La Holandesa (2017)
A Portrait of Pain
2017 was a rough year for characters portrayed by Rifka Lodeizen, though she fares better here than in "Verdwijnen." In "Messi and Maud" (La Holandesa), Maud has to face the fact that she will never have children, despite years of trying.
This film does one thing very well, and that is to show her sadness and emotional pain. Maud's frustration comes through clearly; we can weep for her. But contrary to Smarthouse Films' claimed storyline, we don't get an "epic adventure." She is joined by Messi, an inadequately parented boy, and they travel together much of the length of Chile. The landscape is interesting, and there are a few cute moments, but not a great deal happens.
More importantly, though, Maud does not seem to travel "down a road of discovery." She shuts her partner (husband?) out of her life and hardly communicates with him. She gets some experience at caring for and worrying about a child. And her feelings are somewhat clear from her actions, which almost get out of control. But we never learn her thoughts. There are just two lines of dialog that express what she may have learned about herself, and that was totally inadequate. Toward the end of the film, I wondered if the director was trying to show us Maud's frustration at her situation by making the viewer equally frustrated at how little she communicated with anyone, including us.
By comparison, Lodeizen's other 2017 lead role in "Verwijnen", aka "Disappearance", leaves the viewer far more satisfied. I blame the writer and director for "Messi and Maud"s shortcomings in that regard. Receiving no closure, we end up seeing "only" a portrait of pain, strong enough to arouse tremendous empathy. We're left hoping that Maud eventually will find happiness. More dialogue -- or even monologue -- would have made this a much better film.
A pesar de todo (2019)
As Bland As Flan
"Feel Good" movies don't have to be unbelievable, predictable, and simplistic. But this one is. It's boring. I rarely say that watching even a bad movie was a waste of my time, because even bad movies often have some redeeming feature of interest. This one doesn't; watching it was a waste of time. To make it worthwhile it should have been an hour longer.
Four thirty-ish sisters return to their parents' home in Spain for their mother's funeral. They learn that "Dad" is not their biological father, and are made to jump through hoops to learn which men are, so their Mother's will can be read. Well, no: they're made to casually stroll through one very broad hoop set at ground level with a smooth transition - no trouble at all.
Netflix Media Center's plot description says "discovering more about themselves, their mother, and their lives." Very little discovery takes place. We get only trivial insight into the four sisters' characters as the story starts. We gradually learn only token tidbits about each woman's relationship with Mom. And we learn absolutely nothing about the role played in their lives by the man they had been calling Dad, nor of his relationship with Mom. Who the biological fathers are is telegraphed early and loudly, as are the "insights" the daughters learn about themselves. All that remains is to map Dad A to Daughter 3, and so on, and the film progresses to the inevitable and obvious happy ending.
The trivial plot is carried forth by one-dimensional, stereotyped characters. A couple of the actresses apparently realize they're producing junk and seem not to even try to make it real. Netflix's technical production is excellent, of course. There are a couple of heart-warming moments. But wow, this is fluff. This storyline, to be meaningful, needs more texture and density and much more complexity at both a high and a low level.
Voy a explotar (2008)
Or, Why We Need Gun Control; Lamenting Corruption
Any empathy that a viewer might develop for these two alienated youths quickly dissolves: Roman is just another teen idiot with easy access to guns, and being the son of a wealthy politician, he's uncontrolled and knows no boundaries. Maru thinks Roman's alienation from society gives them a common bond, and they link up when she is emotionally vulnerable, feeling as-yet-unrequited sexual urges. Why either of them is disaffected is never explained. And that seems an intentional and satisfyingly realistic directorial choice, to show unthinking teens making bad choices with no plan, no hope, and no future. Things go poorly, as you might expect.
Both lead characters are well acted; their understated approaches suit the mood and the personas. The supporting cast of "responsible" adults receives much less screen time. The camera work is mostly fine. Too-close close-ups and hand-held views, all so unnecessary and annoying, are short and infrequent. Perhaps one day those fads will go the way of bell-bottoms and mullets or their Mexican equivalents.
The scenario, the characters, and the result of I'm Gonna Explode could play out in any one of many nations. I inferred a particular message, as indicated by my title above; others may experience it differently. It's worth watching once.
Virginia Minnesota (2018)
Almost a Gem
This could have been a masterpiece, and despite one major structural flaw, it's still a powerfully moving, beautiful film.
Being familiar with the locations, I found the North Shore vibe believable, and I thought the portrayal of folks mostly rang true, although one law officer had apparently been indoctrinated a little too deeply with our somewhat aspirational "Minnesota Nice". Other than that, the acting was superb, particularly from leads Aurora Perrineau and Rachel Hendrix. (This is definitely not, by the way, a fantasy story. The only fantasy is recounted in some tall-tale legends.) I chuckled and laughed out loud several times at the comic relief provided by Mister the Robot; kudos to writer Daniel Stine.
We learn that a group of women must return to the now-closed home for delinquents where they lived in their youth, for the reading of a will. The struggle of one woman to convince another to cooperate sets up a road trip that allows the pair to come to grips with an event that had torn them apart in those early days. Or rather, that's what it should have done. Instead, this wonderfully acted and filmed story became more of a slice of life, a mere vignette, for nearly its entire length because the writer/director failed to adequately build up to the climactic confrontation.
Although we learn a lot about Lyle's and Addison's history, the real reason for their estrangement is referenced so vaguely and peripherally that near the very end, when they finally talk about it, there has been no opportunity for tension to build. And the resolution boggles the mind, comprised of the briefest conversation followed by... not mentioning it again, and yet all is well between them. Unbelievable!
I cried anyway. Yep, it's a tearjerker ending. All in all, this film could have been better, but it's well worth watching!
What Really Matters?
"Disappearance" is elegantly simple but intense, and fortunately for a review without spoilers, the film's emotional content is its most significant. This is a film about family, and the need to share one's love and one's fears with the people that matter the most. Sharing isn't easy for Roos (Rifka Lodeizen), because it means loading her burden onto a mother who resents the choices they each made earlier in life, and onto a half-brother so young he doesn't deserve to bear the load. Life isn't fair that way. Finding the courage to begin the necessary conversations, knowing the pain they will cause, doesn't come easily to Roos. When she does open up, we might be tempted to criticize her timing, but under the circumstances I wager few of us would do better.
At times symbolism supplants narration, usually to good effect. A scene with a fish reveals how completely Roos has turned her thoughts to the well-being of others. The moose incident may remind Roos that she still has some choices to make, or alternatively, it may merely create what she feels is the right setting for a conversation with her mother.
What really matters, we are shown, is sharing our love of life's beauty with others, and letting their love into our life as well. Roos builds that sharing bond with her brother in the ethereal beauty of an ice cave and with a pragmatic and odd conversation in a sauna that should remind him of the importance of human interaction. Rebuilding the bond with her mother is more challenging; only when their relationship is stripped to its core does the elder woman allow her daughter back into her heart. Then Roos is finally able to control her own destiny.
"Disappearance" isn't easy to watch, but it is so very worthwhile.
Bienvenue chez les Rozes (2003)
O Henri Wouldn't Dare Ransom the Rozes
This is a rare gem that gradually rotates the viewers' perspective of the characters 180 degrees, leaving us fascinated, slightly repulsed, and thoroughly amused. I was actually grinning when it ended, a rare response to a dark comedy.
Two convicts have escaped while being transported back to prison, and find refuge with the Rozes, who seem completely at ease with the situation. We gradually discover why this is so. I've been bored, or at best left unimpressed, by so many French films that set out to satirize middle class family values. Perhaps fortuitously, Welcome to the Roses succeeds where the others have failed. I think it's because the Rozes are not merely placeholders in the plot symbolizing Everyman, nor are they initially presented as individuals so flawed that the film must teach them a lesson. Instead, they're affable, even lovable. We all want the Rozes as neighbors. Be careful what you wish for!
Monsieur and Madame Roze, Andre Wilms and Carole Bouquet, take a plot that could have devolved into incredulity and make us believe that what we see is their normality. So too does Clemence Poesy, who as daughter Magali presents a striking figure in this film. The younger escapee Gilbert (Lorant Deutsch) surely wins the Strongest Moral Fiber of the Year Award. And Jean Dujardin (MG) eventually wins our empathy, convincing us that bad luck, more so than bad judgement, has brought him to this cuckoo's nest.
It's just kooky enough, and just serious enough, and we're left with hopes that Justice will prevail. Enjoy!
La región salvaje (2016)
What We Have Here Is a Failure to Communicate
The Untamed wasn't terrible. It's a science-fantasy or space opera story: an alien falls to Earth and radiates sexual satisfaction, affecting man, woman, and beast. I generally like this type of story, and it was well acted for the most part, with good production values.
But the plot seemed to drag quite often. I think the reason is, we don't get much communication from the women or the man most directly affected: How is penetration of multiple orifices by this non-verbal, non-human, definitely not cuddly beast superior to or substantially different from penetration (presumably of multiple orifices) by those folks' not-very-verbal, not very communicative, not-sticking-around-to-cuddle human partners? This is not at all clear. Neither is it clear how some people were injured, nor why, knowing the risks, some people continued to rendezvous with the alien.
Normally we would say, "Show, don't tell." But doing that would have turned the film into pure porn. Okay, why not tell us, using the usual stratagem of one character sharing their experience and their feelings with another character, so we get to overhear it? We see how the situation creates peripheral, real-word problems for the characters, but that just wasn't enough - for me - to build empathy. It left me cold, and the rather cavalier, nonchalant attitude expressed in the final scenes did nothing to build any redeeming affection for the characters.
It's okay, but the writers and director let us down, because it could have been a lot better.
Room for Rent (2017)
Nice Twist. Well acted.
As slacker redemption movies go, this is better than many. This slacker is 30-something; he squandered a $3 million lottery prize, and lives with his parents. They take in a not-quite-right boarder. You wonder, half-way through, just how dark it will go.
Most characters are played in such a realistically low-key way that the "threat" character needn't go over-the-top to seem menacing. The plot moves smoothly. A couple of red herrings make the final plot twist satisfying. It's not "War and Peace", but it's believable and enjoyable light entertainment, a notch above the usual slapstick archetype of this genre.
Amy Schumer: Growing (2019)
Male Reviewer says, "Rivals Seinfeld's and Ferguson's Best."
After somewhat of a letdown in "Leather Special", Schumer hit a home run with "Growing." I laughed nearly the whole time. So did my wife of 40+ years, who was frequently nodding her head at the truths underlying the humor.
The set was about an even mix of the personal and the big picture, with mostly smooth segues. Pregnancy becomes less of a Hallmark movie in Schumer's telling, but not quite a gore-fest; she's not shy about expressing her fears and doubts. Societal truths are sometimes painful, but Schumer made her points about modern sexism - so much better than in the 70s, but still with so far to go - in ways that made listeners go "aha!" She was at her most vulnerable - and yet still hilarious - when talking about her mildly autistic husband, and why they get along so well. I'll look forward to news reports of women taking her advice on how to respond to d*ck pics. ROFLMAO!
We're 5 seasons (of 15) into the 1980s-90s TV stand-up series "Evening at the Improv", where so many of today's older comics got their start. The blatant sexism, racism, and homophobia of the era are obvious, of course, but so too is the overall lower quality of the performances compared to today. Even Jerry was rough starting out. In "Growing," by comparison, we see a star at the pinnacle of the art, powerful and polished but still setting the gold standard for keeping it real in her vulgar, letting it all hang out way. Amy Schumer is every bit as good as my other favorites, matching the very best of Seinfeld, Craig Ferguson, Jack Whitehall, and Jeff Dunham.
With 10 stars, this joins about 3 percent of my 900+ ratings, which are public on here... "I am not a Robot," lol.
Nature's Weirdest Events (2012)
Good Content Marred by Over-dramatization, Horrible Graphics, Felony Mug Shots
This show introduced us to a lot of new neat creatures and events not covered in other nature shows. It could have easily been an 8-star program, rather than 6. But some bad production choices were Really Irritating! The narrator's speech impediment forced us to use captioning, but kudos to him for sticking with it. Sadly, there were several other off-putting "features."
1 Often, events were introduced in an overly dramatic way that wasn't supported by the rest of the segment. It's okay, if people were scared or mystified, to show that. But often, subject matter was merely unfamiliar, and yet the program tried to present "solving" it as a matter of life and death, when it wasn't.
2 I hate the introductory graphics! I've noticed this sort of Olde-Fashioned Arte on a couple of other UK shows... but they're the horrid exception. The maps are pathetic. Also, the intro is too long, the tell-them-what-you're-going-to-say and then tell-them-what-you-said approach wastes time, and the soundtrack is just weird.
3 And at the top of the crap-list: WHY are the eyewitnesses and the science experts introduced through what could pass as felons' mug shots, complete with jump-scare type changes in distance??? Why prohibit any of them from smiling??? This is a show that could induce the joy of learning; to couple it with grimness is a mismatch! Why present these shots without dialog, when the show could progress as the folks are introduced??? This was terrible production!
The show is informative. But it's not "nicely done!"
The Coca-Cola Kid (1985)
Nasty Little Fact Ruins My Perfectly Good Theory
This tale of an American marketing guru sent to improve Coke's sales in Australia was mildly enjoyable. It's certainly not the worst film ever made, but the main character, played by Eric Roberts, is more than slightly over the top, to the point of being obnoxious, in fact, pretty unlikeable. Still, with some mild intrigue and a blooming romance, the movie will hold your attention just to find out what happens.
As to the nasty little fact ruining a good theory: I'd previously held that directors, especially Europeans, invariable fail when they attempt to address economic and social concepts via sex and violence. It's a theory supported by several of Jodorowsky's films, and by this director, Dusan Makavajev's, epic failures "W.R. Mysteries of the Organism" and "Sweet Movie." These films support their moderately valid theses in ways as insubstantial and juvenile as the old Chi-com propaganda comic books that attempted to rationalize the downfall of the Gang of Four.
But with "The Coca Cola Kid", Makavajev succeeds -- with less violence, and a lot less sex -- most likely because he addresses only one slice of the theoretical pie, and because he delivers a more coherent, standard narrative flow. He directed but didn't write it, of course. This dramatization of global corporate dominance was filmed while WalMart was only in the early stages of eradicating mom and pop, and while Google, Amazon, and Facebook were just leftists' vague nightmares. Any system, economic or otherwise, that lacks negative feedback will veer out of control, and the Kid personifies the attitude that lets it happen.
As often happens on Amazon Video, this R-rated film is censored; most of the shower scene with Terri and her daughter -- and the accompanying dialog -- has been deleted.
It's a film worth seeing once.
C'est quoi cette famille?! (2016)
Blended Family: Puree Until Smooth
I watched this a second time. With a million movies I haven't seen yet, and more produced each year than there are hours to watch them, seeing this again was still worth it.
Seven children ranging from toddler to sub-adult, the result of multiple marriages, repeated divorce, and interlocking (but not incestuous) remarriage, are bouncing between the homes of several sets of parents, stepparents, and grandma each week. Worse, they're being jerked around by the adults, who constantly change the schedules for work or personal reasons, or sometimes just forget. Enough is enough! The kids hatch a scheme to shift the balance of power. The ensuing struggles become a learning experience for everyone. Some romances bloom, and others are tested. More than a few funny moments keep things light.
It's so strange, and amazingly satisfying, to see a realistic, un-bowdlerized portrayal of multiple generations interacting in meaningful ways, without stereotyping or demonizing either the old, the young, or those in between. The little kids act like little kids. The teens and tweens take tentative steps toward maturity. And the adults do things that adults do -- and the children are aware of, react to, and comment on all of it, which is why something of this high quality is produced in France, not here in the U.S.
In many places, We Are Family would be recognized as a fine family comedy, suitable and fun for all ages. (And some of the international ratings reflect that judgement.) Netflix rates it here as TV-MA. What a depressing commentary on our values when this is considered less suitable for kids than any hyper-violent, PG-13, Marvel superhero movie or Fast & Furious flic. I weep for our nation.
But then I remember how excellent this was, and hope springs eternal. Change will come.
Embarrassing Bodies (2008)
Providing Help and Hope to those Who Need It
Although I can hardly bear to watch some of the surgeries, I think Embarassing Bodies is by far the best medical show on TV, providing help and hope to a wide variety of people who haven't found it elsewhere.
Patients fall largely into two categories. The first are those whose general practitioners have not yet referred them to the right specialists (or, sometimes, to any). Since insurance isn't usually a barrier in the U.K., I chalk that up to the inevitable range of competencies of doctors.
The larger group are people who have been too embarrassed to seek help, until they can no longer tolerate their situation. We do see efforts to help folks with rotted teeth, bad odors, fungus-ridden feet, or odd scars, but a lot of segments deal with the "private" parts. And no wonder the patients haven't sought treatment, since so many of us, both here in the U.S. and those in Britain, were trained to be embarrassed and ashamed to talk or even think about breasts, genitals, and the rear end -- anything remotely sexual or excretory.
The three "host" doctors occasionally treat cases or offer advice, but more often refer patients to specialists. Surgeries, when needed, are shown in full gory detail. The doctors also travel the nation, using wild visual aids to educate people - especially teens and 20-somethings - about counterproductive habits from binge drinking to tanning to unprotected sex. In my mind, they do a tremendous service, and televising helps get the word out.
Some of the conditions treated are life-threatening, but many are not: giant facial scars, massive rolls of flesh on persons who have lost 150 pounds (11 stone) or more, odors, and yes, the grossly asymmetrical labia. But all these folks are suffering, from the one whose boobs are sagging to the man missing half a face. They're suffering emotionally or mentally, as well as physically.
Surely by now we can strive for parity between mental health and physical health. Each person's sense of self is bothered, in a way that I imagine is not qualitatively different from the dysphoria felt by transsexuals. And similarly, all these folks deserve our sympathy and our help, and Drs. Dawn, Christian, and Pixie should be damned proud to be part of it.
The show is very, very gory. It's also very educational, especially to those of us raised like mushrooms and kept in the dark. And it's fascinating. Well done!