Ice on Fire


The sun is setting on our window of opportunity to reverse climate change.

(2019) Documentary (HBO) Leonardo DiCaprio (narrator), Jennifer Frances Morse, Patricia Lang, Pieter Tang, Thom Hartmann, David Yacopian, Michael Mann, Jim White, Peter Wadhams, Janine Benyus, Ottmar Edenholer, Brigitte Knopf, Jürgen Meinholt, Pavel Serov, Jan Wurzbager, Christof Gebald, Daniel Nocera, James Murray, Neil Kermode, Ietef Vita. Directed by Leila Conners

 

Climate change exists; despite the denials of politicians, the petroleum and natural gas industries and others with a vested interest in the status quo, climate change is fact. Climate change documentaries also exist, and have been growing rapidly in number and more strident in tone.

This new HBO documentary which debuted on the cable giant this week pulls no punches. Narrated by actor and environmental activist DiCaprio, the move globe-hops from Norway to California to Colorado to Iceland and all over the world, examining the effects of the polar ice caps melting and how dire the situation has truly become. Many climate scientists have been stunned at how quickly the dominos have begun to fall and several tipping points have already been reached – and exceeded.

Conners gives the film over to those self-same scientists who explain the science of how greenhouse gasses have affected the planet. These scientists are not meant to be entertaining and their explanations can be dry and hard to fathom particularly since so much information is being downloaded into our brains here. But unlike other documentaries, this film isn’t a doom and gloom downer in which only the consequences of our inaction are decried. Conners and DiCaprio take great pains to show solutions that are already underway. The hopeful news is that we have the technology right now to turn around and even reverse climate changes by cleaning up our atmospheres and healing our oceans.

We are shown the Harvard researcher who has created the “artificial leaf,” a means of using photosynthesis to remove carbon from the atmosphere and the Connecticut fisherman who has helped nurture a new kelp bed near the Thimble Islands, bringing life back to overfished waters. We are also shown machines in Iceland that use geothermal energy to power a carbon capture machine that converts the carbon into rocks which are then buried; other carbon capture machines route them into greenhouses where it is used to grow food which we then consume. There’s also the researcher seeding the ocean with microscopic particles of iron which makes the ocean less acidic, becoming a magnet for microbial life which reasserts the oceanic food chain.

The film over-relies on graphics to help make their points. It’s not that graphics aren’t useful but over the course of the movie they become distracting, whether they are showing how CO2 particles are trapped by carbon capture machines, or show graphs of the release of methane into the atmosphere over time.

Also, I suspect this movie will end up preaching to the choir and little more. Unlike Wonders of the Sea which had an iconic Republican associated with it and thus might attract some who ordinarily wouldn’t have been drawn to a documentary of that nature, Leonardo DiCaprio is regarded as a leftie Hollywood snowflake who is not to be trusted. The dry scientific commentary and doom and gloom prognostications early on are also certain to get people to change channels before they can get to the meat of the movie.

There is little doubt that our planet is in grave peril and saving it needs to be a priority. While the United States continues to behave as if short term profit is more important (one could say “trumps”) than long-term survival, other nations are beginning to take the bull by the horns. We are still a long way away from being out of the woods but we can get there if we have the will. We could be the generation that saves the planet – or we can be the generation that through our inaction renders it lifeless. The choice is ours.

REASONS TO SEE: The film ends on a hopeful note. There is a lot of good information here.
REASONS TO AVOID: The graphics are overused and distracting. Mind-numbing in its presentation.
FAMILY VALUES: Children might find this overwhelming.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film made its debut at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.
BEYOND THE THEATER: HBO Go
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/15/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 88% positive reviews: Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Chasing Ice
FINAL RATING: 5.5/10
NEXT:
Back to the Fatherland

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Bleed Out


Steve Burrows faces an overwhelming situation.

(2018) Documentary (HBO) Stephen Burrows, Judie Burrows, Beth Burrows, Cindy Knueppel, Lynn Laufenberg, Mark Bauer, Susan Darmstadter, Ted Payne, Mike End, Marty Markery, Cindy Payne, Mary Ellis, Charles Harper, Margo Burrows, Catherine Scoon. Directed by Stephen Burrows

 

It is no secret that the American health care system is badly broken. Just how broken may come as a surprise to those who are only aware of statistics. Sometimes, getting to the heart of a problem requires us to look at it from the perspective of a single incident.

Steve Burrows in 2008 had a good career going. A comedian, he also wrote and directed comedy features (Chump Change) as well as acted in them (Spy Hard). He had a close-knit family including his mom Judie, a retired schoolteacher in Wisconsin who traveled the globe in her golden years, as independent and free-spirited a woman as Steve had ever known.

Then he got the call from his sister; his mom had fallen and broken her hip. Surgery was required. Fortunately it would be an old family friend – Mark Bauer – who would be doing the operation. Things seemed to be well in hand, but then they weren’t. The surgery took much longer than expected. While in recovery they were unable to rouse Judie, so she was sent to an intensive care unit. During the night, her blood pressure fell to near-fatal levels.

That’s when the bottom fell out of Steve’s life. First of all, it turned out that Judie was on Plavix, an anti-platelet drug used to reduce the risk of stroke and heart attacks; it is recommended that patients on Plavix discontinue the use of it at least five days before surgery. Bauer knew that but assured the family that he had performed surgery without the buffer period without any ill effects. In any case, Judie was in serious pain and he wanted to get the surgery done as quickly as possible.

Also, the ICU that Judie was in had no doctors assigned to it. In what can only be deemed a cost-cutting move, the ICU was monitored remotely by a physician in a building near the Milwaukee airport. To make matters worse, it is possible that the camera in Judie’s room had never been turned on. In any case, it was evident that Judie had slipped into a coma. She had lost more than half of her blood during the operation; either at that point or when her blood pressure dropped in the supposedly monitored ICU her brain didn’t get enough oxygen and became damaged. Judie would never be the same person again.

Nobody would take responsibility. The surgeon blamed the anesthesiologist who blamed the hospital who blamed the surgeon. Everyone was pointing a finger. Steve was urged to sue, especially by his Uncle Ted (Payne) whom Steve trusted because his Uncle Ted was a doctor. The advice sent Steve and his family into a quagmire of legal issues, laws stacked against the patient and in favor of insurance companies and hospitals, and against health care professionals who lied through their teeth during sworn depositions.

Judie’s savings, which were to get her through retirement, were blown through in a matter of months. Soon Judie was broke and in need of constant care; Steve and his wife took the brunt of responsibility to see to Judie’s medical needs and steer the lawsuit, although few lawyers wanted to touch it – medical malpractice lawsuits in Wisconsin have been rendered pointless mainly because they are expensive to prosecute and laws putting a cap on how much patients can win makes lawsuits impractical; the plaintiff could win the lawsuit but receive nothing and in fact owe the lawyers a considerable sum afterward. Still, Steve persisted in trying, even though it was impacting his own finances and career.

If you look at Steve’s iMDB page you’ll notice that between 2008 and 2018 there is almost nothing. Yes, he did do some advertising work but for the most part his life was focused on taking care of his mom. His agent ended up dropping him and until this documentary came out, his career was essentially over. Relationships within his family, who watched this saga drag on for a decade, became frayed and in some cases unraveled completely.

Burrows shows the incident from all sides whenever possible, interviewing the various participants as well as experts in the medical insurance business. We get a fairly comprehensive view although his intent – and rightly so – is to give his mom a voice. She is the one who has been most devastated by all of this. Steve has had his own suffering; as he suffers setback after setback, listens to his own mother sob that she wants to die, getting no help from any corner, his sense of humor begins to ebb and the weight of the world is clearly on his shoulders. I don’t know what I would do in his shoes but there would be a lot of tears and yelling.

This is a sobering and depressing film that is nonetheless essential viewing. We often talk about the state of the healthcare system but here it is in al it’s ignominy. People like Judie Burrows, through no fault of their own, are left holding the bag physically and financially, their lives altered in meaningful ways, their future grim. For all the political talk about why single payer healthcare won’t work here, it remains a fact that had Judie resided just a few hundred miles north, she wouldn’t have been bankrupted because she’d have been living in Canada.

Medical errors are the third largest cause of death in the United States to the tune of a quarter of million deaths annually. Think of it as three fully occupied 747s crashing every day. Certainly there’d be more of a hue and cry if that were going on but partly because we tend to hold doctors in such high esteem – and honestly, most are deserving of it – we seem to be willing to allow them to dodge accountability when, as human beings, they mess up.

I don’t think it’s possible to watch this movie without feeling angry – not so much at the doctors, although there is some to spare for the doctor who falsified records and lied about it – but at the insurance companies, the for-profit hospitals and the politicians who protect their interests at the expense of the patients. If you ever wondered if your local representative is looking out for you, this is a movie that will put in stark focus that they are not.

REASONS TO GO: The story is absolutely flabbergasting. Burrows lays out the various facets of the film very succinctly, covering all sorts of different dimensions. Burrows is a likable on-camera presence.
REASONS TO STAY: This cautionary tale may hit a little too close to home for some.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity and plenty of adult themes.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Steve Burrows got his start as a member of Chicago’s famed Second City improv troupe.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: HBO Go
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/28/18: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Bleeding Edge
FINAL RATING: 8.5/10
NEXT:
Dede

Queen of the World


God save the Queen.

(2018) Documentary (HBO) Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Charles, Sarah Lancashire (narrator), Prince William, Prince Harry, Robin Onslow, Sophie Wessex, Meghan Markle, Mark Flanagan, Tony Johnstone-Burt, Anthony Morrow, Claudine Jeffery, Korede Bolade, Princess Ann, Justin Trudeau, Johnathan Fraser, Jock Slater, Patricia Scotland, Euphemia Sydney-Davies, Natalia Zagorska-Thomas. Directed by Matt Hill

 

For most of us, Elizabeth II has been the Queen of England our entire lives. She has reigned more than 60 years, ascending the throne in 1952 and becoming the longest reigning British monarch in history.

This documentary was filmed during a tumultuous year in which Prince Harry wed American actress Meghan Markle who is partially of African descent, a possibility never even considered even twenty years ago. It also highlights one of the Queen’s chief causes; the Commonwealth, made up of former English colonies and territories, a strictly voluntary association. In fact the filmmakers go to great length to explain that on Markle’s wedding gown are stitched native wildflowers of every Commonwealth country. There are currently 53 member nations; when Elizabeth founded it there were only seven.

As part of the Commonweath’s mission, young people from around the Commonwealth are invited to work at Buckingham Palace; a fashion show during London fashion week is also sponsored by the Commonwealth featuring up and coming designers from Commonwealth nations. We see both programs in action, focusing on Jamaican workers in the Palace.

There are some candid interviews with members of the Royal Family including Markle as well as Prince Charles, Princess Ann (his younger sister) and Prince Harry, who advises the young interns not to panic when encountering the Queen in the hallways. We observe her interacting with the Jamaicans and she seems kind and gentle with them. It’s as close as we come to getting any insight to the Queen herself.

It is unsurprising that she never directly addresses the camera or consents to an interview; the Queen has notoriously not done interviews and kept her private life very private. It is clear however that the world is changing and while the Queen takes very seriously her role as the face of the British monarchy, she at least acknowledges tacitly that changes will need to be made if the monarchy is to remain relevant in the 21st century. She is grandmotherly (she reminds me very much of my own grandmother) and remains popular with her subjects. She is much less aloof than she once was.

While the film is a bit of a puff piece – I can’t imagine the filmmakers would have been granted the kind of access that they received had they intended to be critical in any sort of way. Still one can’t help wish that a documentary about the Queen would have had much more of the Queen in it. To the good, some of the footage “behind the scenes” is actually quite informative and entertaining.

This will definitely appeal to anglophiles and monarchists alike. Elizabeth, at 92 years of age, remains a vital public figure and while her public appearances and travels have been cut down severely in recent years (there’s a lengthy piece on the royal yacht Britannia which she used extensively in her travels from early in her reign until recently) she still remains largely the face of the British monarchy and in many ways, the face of Britain itself. I don’t know if she ever actually said “Keep calm and carry on” which launched a thousand memes, but if she didn’t she certainly should have.

The film is currently airing on HBO in the United States and ITV in the UK. It is listed in iMDB as a mini-series but to my knowledge this one hour feature is the only one scheduled to air in the United States.

REASONS TO GO: At times this is a fascinating “backstage” look at the Royal Family. The interviews tend to humanize the Royal Family quite a bit – but not so much the Queen herself.
REASONS TO STAY: The narration tends to drone on a bit.
FAMILY VALUES: This is suitable for family viewing although most children will be terribly bored.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Filming began shortly before the Queen made her 2016 annual Christmas address and concluded just after the 2017 address.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/3/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 38% positive reviews. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Crown
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
Molly (2018)