Capsule Reviews: ‘Guantanamo,’ ‘DaVinci,’ ‘Money’

Every so often I watch things that don’t really lend themselves to full, in-depth analysis (or as close as I ever get to that), so I thought I’d use the blog to offer occasional capsule reviews. Besides, I’ve always enjoyed economy, which for me was best exemplified by the album reviews in Playboy. All-time favorite was of a David Bowie album that said simply — and I might have the numbers wrong, but this is the gist of it — “Of Bowie’s 548 albums, this one is the 37th best.”

So for your upcoming viewing (and hopefully reading) pleasure, here are reviews of a few upcoming programs — and no, despite the potentially dirty-sounding titles of the first two, they are not airing on Cinemax:

Explorer: Inside Guantanamo (National Geographic Channel, Sunday April 5, 9 p.m.) — Produced with the cooperation of military officials, this two-hour documentary is based on three weeks spent inside the controversial detention center, which President Obama has committed to close. Yet Explorer’s look inside is little more than a primer on how the facility operates, while providing an even-handed account of the issues surrounding it.

Mostly, the special makes Guantanamo look like pretty much any prison, while capturing the media savvy of the detainees (one is urged to amend his taunts when they realize there’s a camera crew there) and quoting experts to lay out the case of why Gitmo has become such a lightning rod.

Not bad, but if you’ve been paying attention to the story, hardly indispensable, either.

Doing DaVinci (Discovery Channel, Monday April 13, 10 p.m.) — Another one of those Discovery shows aimed at guys that like watching other guys build crap and blow stuff up. In this case, they take concepts from Leonardo da Vinci’s sketchbooks — like, in the premiere, an armored tank — and cobble them together, trying to see if they would actually work.

Da Vinci was certainly an ahead-of-his-time genius, but unless you really get off on watching gearheads wearing safety goggles, I’d wait for the Cinemax version.

Black Money (PBS’ “Frontline,” Tuesday April 7, 9 p.m.) — Investigative journalist Lowell Bergman (of “The FLNBlackMoneyBergman
Insider,” for those who need a movie reference as inspiration) examines the rampant use of bribery as an international business tactic. Among those exposed as having shady dealings are Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia, otherwise known as “Bandar Bush” because of his close ties to the Bush family. The highlight is the gift of a military aircraft “painted in the colors of the Dallas Cowboys.” It’s a sharp, smart expose of a rather arcane topic, but it all feeds back into the current theme of corporate malfeasance, especially when interacting with corrupt regimes. An hour later, all I could think of was that old adage about lying down with dogs and getting up with fleas.

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