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The Thick Of It - S01 - 2005 - 7/10

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Political satire, probably copied numerous times.
Career bureaucrats and politicians, witless about their duties spend 30 minutes shirking responsibility, finger pointing, switching positions, pushing others under the bus.
Venom laced in every line.
Savagely funny, though not for all tastes (not mine, I confess) and probably uncomfortably close to real situations.
First season has only three episodes.

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Posted

War And Peace - 2016 - 5/10

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Lavishly filmed and lavishly praised mini-series of Tolstoy’s classic.
Once you get past the sumptuous visuals, the story itself is more peace than war.
Meaning the tale is dominated by angst dialogue, ennui, and characters full of doubts.
The stereotyped view of Russians.
Acted and directed with great seriousness throughout, to the point of being stilted.
This is Tolstoy, damnit!
All star cast still results in, to paraphrase George Harrison, a drag, a well known drag.

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Posted

Empire Of The Tsars: Romanov Russia - 2015 - 7/10

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Lucy Wolsey hosts three part documentary covering 300 years of the Romanov Dynasty.
Episodes focus on Peter The Great, Catherine The Great, and Nicholas The Not-So-Great.

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Wolsey is always enthusiastic and prepared, and seldom offers personal opinions or snarky comments.
As history, much of this will be old hat to buffs.
The chief draw is that she seems to have been allowed unrestricted access to many areas inside palaces or behind the scenes.

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Posted

Sex In Strange Places - 2015 - 5/10

Misleading title.  Sorry, no sex on the trampoline, hanging from the trapeze, or in hamster wheel.
Instead, our travelog takes us to Turkey, Brazil, and Russia.
Sex is the paid sort (prostitution), and we get the low end (refugees), transgenders, and the upper tier.
Presenter is over-eager, bright young thing.  By turns vacuous and idealistic.

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Part of me wonders if Miss Stacey’s clueless behaviour is a facade, a role she plays.
She whines throughout, and feels really, really bad for the way prostitutes are treated.
And yet, would she be so sympathetic if they set up shop in her same apartment?
(As someone who lived next to a drug dealer for two years, I would predict she would tire of midnight visitors pounding doors, gunfire, police raids, screaming, etc ...)
Many of her questions are refreshingly direct:  How much do you charge?  Do you pitch?  Receive?
Other times, ignores the obvious - such as clients who choose transgenders yet still declare they are 100% hetero.
E01 - Turkey, is a downer with refugees having to resort to sex to live.
E02 - Brazil, is Carnival and mostly trannies, broad jokes and more fun.
E03 - Russia, the high end.  Paradoxically, she is less sympathetic to successful call girls.

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This hardly is a documentary in the usual sense of the word.  More like home travel movies.
Just like the presenter is not exactly a professional.
There is a great exchange where she confronts a club owner, telling, “You know, some of your girls are unhappy."
“Are all your fellow journalists happy?”  he retorts.  “Is every doctor happy?  Every mailman?”

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Posted

Thank you, @Vultural , for this interesting topic smiley

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Posted

The Nazis - A Warning From History - 1997 - 8/10

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Superior eight part series, focusing less on WWII, more on internal party politics.
Early on, the party benefited from luck, and being in the right time, while opponents underestimated them.
Successes (economic and political) fed indoctrination.
Numerous interviewees, many still-proud party members, talk fairly directly.
Of course, viewers ought to be skeptical when subjects - any subjects - recount history.
Footage is uniformly crisp, with subtitles throughout - not always a given with WWII documentaries.
Most of the interviewees were in their 60s or older, and most are likely gone now.
Timely of BBC to capture memory before the moment slipped away.

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Posted

No Offence - S01 - 2015 - 6/10

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Police procedural set in Manchester.
There is an ongoing arc of a sexual predator targeting females with Downs Syndrome, as well as an individual one-off storyline each week.
Stereotypes in the roles (troubled detective, new insecure detective), but the boss lady is a force of nature.
Eight episodes, easy to take.
This is actually a very funny series, though the humour is gallows black.
Note - The Mancurian accent is pronounced.  Subs might be helpful.

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Posted

Luther S02 - 2011 - 6/10

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Season One was rapid fire paced, constantly inventive, with tour de force performances.
Season Two, while far above routine TV fare, was slower and felt like leftovers.
Missing was the dazzling dialogue that peppered the first season.
Not to mention the omission a very key character who barely appeared in S02.
Might be my own fault, holding elevated expectations.
Season One left the bar so high.

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Posted

Okkupert - 2015 - 7/10
AKA - Occupied

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Ten part Norwegian thriller set in the very near future (say a couple of years).
United States has withdrawn from NATO and grown isolationist.
The Mid-East is embroiled in civil wars.
After global warming disasters, Norway goes “green” and halts oil and gas production.
The European Union “requests” Russia to stabilize Norway, and ensure the oil flows.
Stabilization grows into occupation.  Citizens turn into rebels, appeasers, collaborators, profiteers.
Often changing positions due to the world of quicksand they are caught in.
Logic is not always to the forefront here.  Why does Russia care if Norway ceases oil production since that means more profits for Russia with less competition!
Engrossing story about a larger nation superseding the rights of its smaller neighbor.
Not surprisingly, Russia denounced this show.

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Posted

Europe - Them Or Us - 2016 - 7/10

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Almost out of date already. Two part documentary geared for then topical Brexit vote.
First part deals with the formation of the Common Market, and the UK’s reluctance to join.
UK does join, of course, and the second part details the EU, free migration, and mistakes made.
Presenter does a fine job trying to be fair, though as an outsider, I have no idea.
Curious souls may find this interesting as there is plenty of history, less shown on news shows.

On YouTube as of 2016 June

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Posted

Nighty Night - 2004 - 7/10

Mean spirited, blacker than 2:00 AM, venomous comedy.
When husband is informed he has cancer, he inquires about treatment.
Wife Jill, on the other hand, suggests books such as “Goodbye Everyone” or “Heaven, I Can’t Wait!”
She then proceeds to hurry him to the grave.
Meanwhile, new neighbors arrive in a doctor and his wife (with multiple sclerosis).
Jill immediately sets out to rupture the marriage so she can bag and mount the doctor.

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“I’m double jointed,”  she informs him.  “My hips go both ways.”
Jill is self-centered, toxic, wildly inappropriate, abusive - too many superlatives.
Everyone she encounters, she treats like bird scrapings.
Not remotely politically correct.  Funny as hell.

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Posted

Desperate Romantics - 2009 - 6/10

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Six part series narrates the rise of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.
Only four are in this:  Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Millais, William Holman Hunt, and Fred Stephens - err - Walters.
Rejected by the Royal Academy, they win favor from influential John Ruskin, and learn how to market.
Focus is on their inter-personal relationships and affairs with models.
Parents - There is copious nudity and rather enthusiastic bouncing.
This is a modernish account.  Characters are a blend of fiction and truth.
(I’m hardly an expert, but I have a dozen or so books on the PRB.)
High production values, some funny moments. with a great deal of brio.
Not dry.  More fun than Effie Gray, though best view with a skeptical eye.

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Posted

Canals - The Making Of A Nation - 2015 - 7/10

Another canal documentary.
Usually, these focus on the traveler, be they an experienced boat person or some pseudo celebrity who exclaims and gushes in feigned astonishment.
Other docs follow the hiker, traipsing the tow paths.
Those are more picture postcards.

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This one is more in depth.  Six 30' episodes follow the engineers who dreamed and designed them, geologists who learned to read the earth, financiers who floated stock shares, navvies (navigators) who provided the sheer muscle, and the boat people who worked the narrow boats.

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Recently restored canals are now flooded with daytrippers and the genteel.
The doc flashes a lens at a more troubling possibility - tenants who cannot afford a home.
Always uncertain is the future, though.

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Posted

O J: Made In America - 2016 - 8/10

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ALERT - This is the 5 part documentary - NOT the Hollywoodized mini-series, The People v. O.J. Simpson.

Outstanding documentary of the rise, fall, ultimately bizarre demise of charismatic O J Simpson.
From impoverished childhood, to college glory with USC Trojans, NFL achievements, forays into film.

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Then murders and subsequent trials.  Numerous details I knew nothing about (eg: wife #1, Marcus ...).
E04 is particularly good at displaying the defense team strategy and tag team approach.
E05 reveals the shadowy years between the civil trial and the Las Vegas lunacy.
Unresolved American issues of race, class, wealth are dispassionately exposed.
Well researched, thorough, extensive - often painful - interviews, balanced and seemingly fair.

One is left with the disquieting feeling of having witnessed
“privileged justice” followed years later with “payback justice.”
Neither casts the judicial system in an honorable light.

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Posted

Life In Squares - 2016 - 6/10

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Compact, three part series of the Vanessa and Virginia Stephen (Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf).
Begins in 1904 after their father dies, until 1941, Virginia’s death.
The Bloomsbury group is on display, as well as painters, lovers, relatives.
The two sisters, painter and writer, are portrayed by different actors for earlier and later versions of the characters.  As are several other characters.
That gets confusing.  The plot is a bit of a muddle, as well, more of observing relationships.
Perhaps this would be better for those knowledgeable about the Bloomsbury inner-workings.
I was adrift half the time.

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Posted

Dark Matter - 2015 - 5/10

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SciFi programmer that borrows from other, better, series.
Out in the galaxy, six shipmates wake from cryo-sleep, discovering their memories have been wiped.
Not to worry, the interstellar void has the internet.
Soon enough they discover they are wanted mercenaries!
Like all poorly written (are they bad or are they good) stereotypes, they squabble and try to bond.
The ship, the Raza, is spacious, with wide walkways, large quarters (with showers!).
Oh, and ducts, the kind one can crawl around in.  Everyone still uses handguns, too.  Really?
Appears the so-called creators swiped from Firefly, an altogether superior show.
Turkey for very non-demanding souls.  I’ll probably watch season two - spackle brain.

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Posted

Secret Agent - 2016 - 6/10

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Three part drama of anarchist activity in Victorian London.
Verloc has infiltrated a Russian terror cell.  He is in thrall to his paymasters, the Russian embassy, and he is also in the pocket of a British copper.
Fear of exposure and betrayal leave him in constant dread.  Business affairs are complicated, family likewise.
Factions push him into bombing as political statement.
Rather dour adaptation of little known Joseph Conrad novel.
Toby Jones excellent as the shifty, blame-everyone-else Verloc.
Ian Hart dominates, though, as the fanatical bomb-maker, the Professor.

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Posted

Houdini & Doyle - 2016 - 6/10

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Escape artist and Sherlock creator solve crimes along with a female Scotland Yard inspector.
Fun, but not remotely historically accurate.
Doyle and Houdini have ongoing disputes over spiritualism, some episodes are borderline absurd, and the parade of “guests" grows strange, indeed.
Fans of Murdoch Mysteries ought to enjoy as H & D strongly resembles that show.
Another plus, this seems to be a one-off.  If only more shows were thus.

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Posted

Black Mirror - 2011 - 6/10

Well done, if uncomfortable near future series.
This delves into the increasing muddle of networked humanity.
People valuing “virtual” over actual through phones, computers, social sites.
The most seen episode, “White Christmas” with Jon Hamm, follows online voyeurs to sexing.
One of the more unsettling possibilities is in “The Entire History Of You,” where individuals can record and replay daily incidents over and over.  They replay arguments, obsess over facial cues, have to surrender their recorders at security checks.
One that really stays with me is “The White Bear.”
A girl wakes up in an abandoned village.  Outside, she is soon stalked by a masked, shotgun shooting assassin.

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Wait!  The village is not abandoned.  The girl is soon circled by folks holding phones, capturing the moment.
No one, no one helps.  Part slasher - part conspiracy - totally original.

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Posted

Joanna Lumley's Trans-Siberian Adventure - 2016 - 7/10

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Several notches above the usual travel documentary.
Actress, model, funny-as-hell, Joanna Lumley travels from Hong Kong to Beijing, into Mongolia, into Siberia, across the steppes finally reaching Moscow.
By rail.  Old-fashioned train.  During winter, of all seasons.
Of course the scenery is gorgeous, and she is permitted access to homes or palaces denied to most.
The doc does a nice job capturing the boredom, the tedium, the ennui of traveling 6000 miles on a train.
It also showcases surprise tangles or setbacks, common to all travelers, yet rarely shown on documentaries.
Lumley is an increasingly rare “guest,”  learning phrases, respectful, willing to sample foreign food or customs.
Highly recommended to those who enjoy these type of shows.

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