The Thick of It

If, like me you love political satire, love VEEP and In the Loop, watch The Thick of It on hulu.com

It’s directed and devised by Armando Iannucci, who created VEEP and In the Loop. It’s a smart send up of the finagling and incompetence that rears its ugly head daily in the Ministry of Social Affairs.

Strong adult language and deft, sophisticated barbs so beware.

The Queen of Versailles

I haven’t seen Keeping of with the Kardasians or The Real Housewives of Anywhere, but I imagine that The Queen of Versailles is one or two steps above them. American, opulent and way overstated, The Queen of Versailles is an anti-Downton Abbey.

This Sundance award winner documents the riches to rags story of the Siegels a nouveau riche  couple with 8 children building the biggest house in America. Mr. Siegel made his fortune in the time share business and got caught in the banking scandal of 2008. For most of the film, we see how this couple deals with the downward spiral.

Their goal is to keep the time share dynasty afloat and to stay one step ahead of the bankers, whom David Siegel sees as Shylocks and Jackie compares to vultures. Apparently, they’re blind to the irony. David’s fortune was also built on overselling to customers whose desires outstrip their ability to afford. Still since David really is anguished and is working hard to fix his problem concerned that his 7 children with Jackie will have to actually go to college and train for eventual careers. (I do admit that I was smirking as I wrote that last sentence.)

The family seems to be living in a fog and  always has been. Real conversations between them are few and far between. They talk towards each other and deflect a lot of what is said. Everyone ignores the real problems, just as they ignore the dog droppings that are in room after room of their garish mansion.

Enthroned, David and Jackie Siegel

The most genuine people are Jackie, Victoria, age 14, David’s middle aged son from his first marriage and David. Victoria’s endearing when she goes to bat for her mom, telling her dad that he ought to snap out of his funk for a few minutes for dinner since she and her mother went to the trouble of making it. The subtext is clear. You need to consider us more than the finances and the Shrek movie you’re watching in your man cave.

Interestingly, everyone’s more honest and authentic (as much as these folks can be) when they talk to the documentary maker. Victoria sees that her mom was a trophy wife in this May December relationship. She doesn’t put down either parent for that, but calls it as she sees it.

Jackie has charm and generosity that carry the film. I liked her in spite of myself. Yes, she goes way overboard; yes those boobs must be fake; yes, she needs to get with it and start saving and get her life together, but she’s likable and funny. She gives her high school friend whose suburban track house is in foreclosure $5000. Her comments could win Emmy’s if they came out of the mouths of sitcom characters.

Typically, I’d have nothing but contempt for these sorts of people, but they are just so hopeless and a few are funny, that I sort of like them. This may be wrong-headed, but I blame the system more than the people in this film.

So Watch Sunset Boulevard or Sabrina

Billy Wilder

Billy Wilder (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

From the Writer’s Almanac:

It’s the birthday of the man who once gave the order, “Shoot a few scenes out of focus. I want to win the foreign film award.” That was screenwriter, director, and producer Billy Wilder, born Samuel Wilder in Sucha, Austria (now Poland) (1906). His mother nicknamed him “Billy” because she was fascinated with Buffalo Bill. He first got into writing as a journalist, doing all kinds of interviews and stories, and was soon writing scenarios for silent films. He came to the United States in the 1930s, dated American women to improve his English, and got a job writing scripts for Fox Film Corporation. He first became a director, he said, to keep other people from messing with his scripts. He once said, “A director must be a policeman, a midwife, a psychoanalyst, a sycophant, and a bastard.” He worked his way up the ladder and ended up producing and directing many classics of Hollywood’s Golden AgeDouble Indemnity (1944), The Seven Year Itch (1955), Some Like it Hot (1959), and The Apartment (1960), to name just a few.

Billy Wilder, who said, “An actor entering through the door, you’ve got nothing. But if he enters through the window, you’ve got a situation.”

Lil’ Bush

I just saw my first episode of the hillarious Lil’ Bush, a cartoon satire of the Bush administration on Comedy Central on Wednesdays at 9:30 Central Time. I laughed out loud during the two short pieces tonight. The first was about Lil’ George’s friendship with Lil’ Tony which worries his parents and the second was about how Lil’ George hires illegal aliens to do his chores at home after he gets punished.

Next week there’s a mini-marathon, which should be worth checking out. Satire is really what keeps me going till January 2009 when we get someone new.

Thank You for Smoking

I learned in 1982, when I saw and read The World According to Garp, that, as a rule, if I saw the movie before I read the book, I liked them both but if I reversed the order, I was invariably disappointed by the movie.

So far the only exception that comes to mind isBrokeback Mountain but that was a short story. The key seems to be that whichever version has more detail should be experienced after that which has less detail.

The rule certainly held true with Thank You for Smoking. After reading the book, the movie was quite disappointing in its omissions. Rather than enjoying the movie for itself, I was left puzzling over the process of deciding what to include and what to omit.

That being said, in an effort to focus solely on the movie, let me point out that it was nominated for 15 awards, including two Golden Globes, and that it won six of those 15 (altho neither of the GG’s). For those who place stock in such awards, this is an indication that while the movie suffers in comparison to the novel, when considered on its own, it merits a viewing.

The plot outline from IMDB:

Tobacco industry lobbyist Nick Naylor has a seemingly impossible task: promoting cigarette smoking in a time when the health hazards of the activity have become too plain to ignore. Nick, however, revels in his job, using argument and twisted logic to place, as often as not, his clients in the positions of either altruistic do-gooders or victims. Nick’s son Joey needs to understand and respect his dad’s philosophy, and Nick works hard to respond to that need without compromising his lack of values. When a beautiful news reporter betrays Nick’s sexually-achieved trust, his world seems in danger of collapsing. But there’s always one more coffin nail in Nick’s pack. Written byJim Beaver {jumblejim@prodigy.net}

By Bridget

In the Loop

I’m so glad Bridget suggested we seeIn the Loop, a British satire based on the hypothetical (wink, wink, nod, nod) premise that through deceit, ineptitude, stupidity and egotistical ambition the Brits were pulled into a war in the Middle East with (or by) their friends across the Atlantic. It’s an incredibly funny film with loads of profanity, probably the most inventive swearing I’ve ever heard. The dialog is brilliant and I’m sure I didn’t get all the jokes which come at you a mile a minute. The characters reveal all the many faces of how to protect a fragile career in politics, which they probably should just let tank to salvage any scintilla of dignity, sanity or ethics.

Simon Foster is the British Minister of International Development and more or less living proof that the Peter Principle is alive and well. In a radio interview he states that he believes a war in the Middle East is “unforeseeable,” which is exactly what the Prime Minister’s Pit Bull, Malcolm Tucker, did not want said. He then goes on to a meeting that the new junior communications officer set up. He’s only supposed to sit there, but no one tells him he’s only filler in the room. Of course, he says something and of course, it makes things worse.

To salvage the situation a Washington fact finding trip is planned, but that just leads to more trouble and comedy as we see how the Americans can botch and twist things up just as well as the Brits. The more Tucker and Foster try to fix the situation the more political disaster and belligerent tongue lashings ensue.

The movie contains so many hilarious lines that you have to hear in context. Something like “difficult, difficult lemony difficult” needs context to be appreciated. I loved that women like Foster’s advisor stood up to Tucker when he verbally attacked them while still maintaining intelligence and poise no less. The whole cast is strong including the junior staffers. If there was an award for the lamest excuse to give your girlfriend to explain an infidelity, it’s in this film and it’s hysterical.

Michael Moore’s Sicko

Last night I went to Michael Moore’s lastest documentary, Sicko! which takes aim at healthcare and the insurance business in the US. Like all his movies he uses humor to make his point with ironic pairings of music and images and his folksy interview style. It’s clear that Moore thinks the US should overhaul it’s healthcare system so that all people are covered, and covered better. I agree.

While begins with a few cases involving people who weren’t insured and who had disasterous health problems, most of the movie deals with the problems faced by people who have some insurance. The majority of the cases seemed to be people who obtained their own policies. Companies would do almost everything to deny them coverage. It was heartbreaking.

He also presents people who work or worked for insurance companies who described how the companies encouraged denials and rewarded anyone who helped them make money. It was heartbreaking. One shortcoming was a scene when a medical director testified in the early ’90s against her employer who rewarded her for denying claims. A more recent case would have been more powerful and convincing.

The best part of the film was how Moore addressed people’s fears about a national health care system. He went to Canada, Britain, France and Cuba (he can’t resist irony of that sort) and asked people about their experiences. Again and again, they assured him that they did not have to wait forever and that they could choose their doctors. Their taxes were higher but this didn’t mean middle class people lived lives of deprivation.

It’s a good movie to spark discussion. I don’t know why Americans are so content with the current system. I’ve always had good doctors, whom I like, but I do know people who are trapped in jobs because they have pre-existing conditions like diabetes. A friend was fired on trumped up charges from Mark Shale in the late ’80s because she had MS and it was costing the company too much. She had no options. No one wanted to hire her. She got some special coverage through the state of Illinois. She later moved South and I’m not sure how she dealt with her employment and insurance problems.

Whether we model a new system after another country (Japan has national care and the taxes are very low, but you do pay something for medicine and treatment) or find something new, I hope we do something. I wish people would start caring and discussing this more. It’s a complicated problem and there are so many stakeholders and special interests, but the US should be able to meet the needs of its citizens better.

People Like Us

The BBC’s People Like Us is dry humor at its best. Each episode features the off-camera narrator who follows and interviews a person who works in a field like law, education, real estate or law enforcement. As he meets with their colleagues and clients, he inadvertently discovers the foibles and nonsense that’s part of the organization.

The narrator himself is often skewered as his subjects comment and question his competence and knowledge. Everyone reveals more than they should about their jobs and personal lives. The show captures the tone of the serious public television documentary while poking fun at its techniques and tone. If you like dead pan humor, you’ll find this amusing.