7 moments that made me cynical about my Western life


1. Seeing how differently violence is perceived in the world when it happens to a Western country

After the recent Paris tragedy, many expressed their feelings by adding the French flag to their profile shots and shared nostalgic pictures from their last trip to the Eiffel Tower or enjoying a croissant at a café on the Champs-Élysées. It’s a Western country. Familiar. We understand it. But the media doesn’t support that same wave of solidarity for the bombings in Beirut a week earlier, or an explosion in Turkey a month prior. We don’t understand the issues of non-Western countries in the same way. Visiting other countries, like Colombia, has opened my eyes to issues such as drug war violence in the 80s and 90s. You can’t get the nuances of a situation through the media.

2. Realizing how Western work life is slowly killing us

I was an unwilling participant in an overworked, stressed, and unhappy society in North America. I worked 12+ hour days. I arrived home tired, stressed, weary. Visiting Latin countries like Mexico or Argentina, businesses and shops close at least 2-3 hours in the afternoon for a siesta. At first, this seemed absurd and unproductive to me. I couldn’t get any shopping done during that time, a materialistic habit from my Western upbringing. In reality, siestas allow people to rest, recharge after lunch, and to take a break from the hottest hours of the day. The Spanish Society of Primary Care Physicians (SEMERGEN) have proven a short sleep after lunch reduces stress, increases alertness and memory, and improves cardiovascular functioning.

3. Getting quality, lower-cost, and better healthcare

I assumed that our technology and health care was more advanced than other countries. In my travels, I’ve been a patient in clinics in Panama City, Vietnam, and Indonesia. I never waited in line for longer than 20 minutes. These clinics were modern, well-equipped medical facilities significantly better than at home. In Panama, I had routine medical tests, and within hours received test results via email. The doctor scheduled a free follow-up visit to explain the tests in detail, instead of rushing through his diagnosis to get to his next patient. For this incredible service, I paid a medical bill 1/3 of the cost of any clinic at home in Canada.

4. Learning to deal with impatience in slower paced cultures

In many countries, life operates at a much slower place. In Laos I was impatient waiting for dinner in restaurants, late bus arrivals, and long lines to see sights like the Pak Ou Caves in Luang Prabang. Getting frustrated with the pace is a complete waste of energy. Not only will impatience and complaining speed up the situation, but it also positions foreigners as annoying and disrespectful to the country we are visiting. I want to leave a place knowing I left a good impression of my country and I am perceived as a decent global citizen.

5. Meeting happy people who have very little possessions

Traveling around the world helped me internalize that happiness is completely unrelated to what you own in life. In Myanmar, a country that has gone through political turmoil, violence, and poverty, I met children playing outside with a handmade ball and stick, laughing and having fun. After staying in a basic village with a family, I witnessed them attending calmly to their daily chores, visiting with their village neighbors, and dressed simply with sparse items in their homes. When I asked a local woman what makes life good, she answered in her words, “My family, my community and appreciating what I have, not what I do not have.”

6. Finding safety and being OK in places I thought were dangerous

In the Western world, our fears are perpetuated by negative news stories in the media. In the past, I have been afraid to experience new things for fear of getting hurt or in danger from what I hear on the news. My best travel experiences have been visiting countries marked with warnings in my government travel advisories, including Myanmar, Laos, Colombia, and Turkey. Often issues are isolated, no different than in our home country. I use common sense for my own safety, and ask for local information. If I had left my decisions to what I see in the news, I would have never experienced travel to these incredible countries.

7. Discovering delicious, quality food at a fraction of the price

My favorite and most memorable meals include a steak dinner I cut with a butter knife, free of tenderizer and BBQ sauce, with a complex glass of Malbec wine. It was a meal served in a cozy family restaurant in Buenos Aires for $8(USD). I’ve savored fresh Pad Thai served from a roadside food cart in Bangkok for $2.00(USD). In the West, we justify quality with white tablecloths, star-rated restaurants, and an attentive sommelier, for a price tag equivalent to a short haul flight.


Sageuk (Historical)

1. Gu Family Book

Korean Drama - 2013, 24 episodes

Gu Family Book had a great story, OST, and cast. This was one of the first dramas I was SUPER into. I'd grab some food and binge several episodes. I wasn't a fan of the ending. - u/life-finds-a-way

2. Empress Ki

Korean Drama - 2013, 51 episodes

Empress Ki - Not historically accurate but you fall in love with the wise and badass female protagonist. Some funny scenes in the beginning but mainly series kdrama . I dont usually binge on long kdramas but it felt fast pace for a series period drama compared to Queen Seonduk. It took me about 6 eps to get into it but man it is rare to see a strong female protagonist in a kdrama imo. - u/properintroduction

Empress Ki is also a popular one that has a LOT of, well, everything. Action, love triangles, betrayal, politics, comedy, deaths, etc. Ji Chang Wook had his best acting moments here, and anyone who says otherwise can fight me, no cap. Ha Ji Won also shines with her badassery as usual. I guess the only downside is that it heavily relies on its creative license, meaning yes it's inspired by the real Empress Ki, but a lot of what they show about her is distorted/fake. Got a lot of flak for that in Korea, but just as a drama, its good. - u/jaceydarling

3. Sungkyunkwan Scandal

Korean Drama - 2010, 20 episodes

Sungkyunkwan Scandal: A fantasy historical about a girl cross-dressing to attend the Sungkyunkwan school, which was the school for the best and brightest of the aristocrat class preparing for their government careers. She forms an extraordinary friendship with three guys, each immensely different in personality but all exceedingly smart and courageous. There are hijinks, crushes, and lots of guts from these youngsters who fight for justice and help take down corruption. This drama is a good intro historical to watch because it basically dresses up a modern rom-com in historical clothing. - u/myweithisway

Sungkyunkwan Scandal is a nice historical. Romance and sort of coming-of-age. Real good core cast, bit of mystery and mischief, and fun times. - u/life-finds-a-way

4. Warrior Baek Dong Soo

Korean Drama - 2011, 29 episodes

Warrior Baek Dong Soo based on the person who first created the martial arts guide in Joseon. - u/Enter_Text_Here

Warrior Baek Dong Soo - Great story of two friends who take completely different paths and how those choices impact their relationship. Has a bit of a longer lead in with child actors to set up the background, but it sets up each characters choices later in the drama. - u/Kordiana

5. Moon Embracing the Sun

Korean Drama - 2012, 20 episodes

The Moon Embracing the Sun is a good one to start with bc it's not as tragic as all the other ones are lmao. Also the story/music gives a fairy tale vibe. Also, the only drama where you can see Kim Yoo Jung, Yeo Jin Goo, and Kim So Hyun act all in one screen as the main characters, just i c o n i c and a classic. - u/jaceydarling

6. Iljimae

Korean Drama - 2008, 20 episodes

Iljimae: Iljimae is a folklore hero who battled corruption to help the poor, essentially a Robin Hood figure. This drama version is mostly focused on action and comedy and light on gravitas. Some of the props/setups was truly hilarious to see. Might be worth it for a Lee Joon Ki fan to check out for giggles but not a really great drama overall. - u/myweithisway

Iljimae - Great revenge action historical. - u/Kordiana

7. The Return of Iljimae

Korean Drama - 2009, 24 episodes

Return of Iljimae is not a sequel, and received a lot of praise. It has an interesting back story. - u/Nottoolatetolearn

Return of Iljimae: Another drama portraying the story of Iljimae, this drama is more of a traditional sageuk even though it has a bit of fantasy at the very beginning and at the very end to anchor the story. It basically portrays the growth of a young man from his very unfortunate beginnings into a folk hero. There's quite a bit of tragedy in the story and the overall drama has a somber tone. During its initial airing, it earned a lot of praise for its sweeping cinematography, which was not as common back then. A decade on, this drama will likely feel dated for new viewers in terms of both the story and visuals. - u/myweithisway

8. Dong Yi

Korean Drama - 2010, 60 episodes

Dong Yi is best for me. - u/kfan345

Dong Yi - follows life story of a peasant girl who rises to a high position in the court. Comparable to Jewel in the Palace ( with the same ML). Also has a young Lee Kwang Soo in a humorous role. May be slow, tame compared to more modern Historicals, but well worth it! - u/LcLou02

9. Jewel in the Palace

Korean Drama - 2003, 54 episodes

Jewel in the Palace - Based on a probably true story of the first royal female physician. It's number 10 on the highest-ranked drama list for public tv. This is an excellent drama that really provides a lot of background on the workings of Palace life.

Personally it's my favorite historical and it would be a very easy first drama but it can be very heavy at times. - u/Sephdar

Jewel in the Palace is a historical unlike any other I’ve seen. It’s what got me into historicals and was my first ever kdrama too. It’s a beast at 54 episodes (not as much as DongYi’s 80something though) but the character development is so good. The female lead is very intelligent and a great refreshing character when you look at how others are portrayed. Slow burn but it makes the journey worth it. - u/dianapharah

10. Queen Seon Duk

Korean Drama - 2009, 62 episodes

Queen Seon Duk: Based loosely off real historical figures, the drama depicts an epic fight between two opposing sides, each led by a strong female. At the time of airing, it captured the attention of the general public and its villain became a byword for evil. In fact, the villain had a piece of music that was played whenever she was being evil and you can still hear this music being played on variety shows when they are cueing an evil person. If you're fan of melodramas, this is a good drama to satisfy those cravings since it's basically a melodrama wearing historical clothing. - u/myweithisway

Queen Seon Duk, another based on a real person and events. Girl power drama, and the villian. It's so good. Don't be scared by the episode count. It's worth it. - u/Sephdar

11. The Princess's Man

Korean Drama - 2011, 24 episodes

Princess' Man - a Romeo and Juliette type drama involving a Princess in Joseon and the son a Nobleman who is her father's enemy. - u/Enter_Text_Here

If you're into angst, Princess' Man is the angstiest drama PERIOD. So good, and the chemistry is off the charts. One of my all time favs. - u/jaceydarling

12. Heaven's Order

Korean Drama - 2013, 20 episodes

Mandate of Heaven/The Fugitive of Joseon

One of my favorite and underrated dramas of 2013!

Quick summary: Set during the reign of King Injong, the protagonist is a royal physician desperate to cure his ailing daughter. He becomes a fugitive when he gets entangled in an assassination plot to poison the crown prince, and fights to save both his daughter's life and his own

The main leads were ok. Not that I didn't like them (I did) but they were pretty boring and stagnant throughout the show compared to others. The supporting cast really shined (especially the Woo-young/Jung-hwan couple was amazing and had a crackling chemistry. As Dramabeans put it "It's like if the prosecutor from City Hunter got together with City Hunter's sister). There was a diverse and full cast with a lot of different personalities which made the world seem real, if that makes sense

One thing that I loved was that it was consistent. No random, wtf twists, no wild swings, just a fun story that it wanted to tell. I know some people prefer it the other way but it was really nice not constantly yelling at my screen and just enjoying the show.

Rang is the cutest thing ever. Trust me.

13. Secret Investigation Record

Korean Drama - 2010, 12 episodes

Joseon X-Files - It's a Sci-Fi sageuk. Supernatural/paranormal, but not in a really hokey way. Shot beautifully, and the writing is pretty tight. No romance, but no disasters. Very cerebral once you hit the middle, and it continues until the end. - u/life-finds-a-way

14. The Bridal Mask

Korean Drama - 2012, 28 episodes

Bridal Mask - set in Japanese occupied Korea. It's pretty intense in some parts, but it is really interesting. Great character development with both main male leads. - u/Kordiana

15. Chuno

Korean Drama - 2010, 24 episodes

Chuno is probably the best action sageuk I've seen. I really like the cinematography in this bc it's not like the typical historical dramas nowadays where everything is visually aesthetic and all fluffy. This one is more gritty, but it fits the drama bc its about slave hunters. - u/jaceydarling

16. Jejoongwon

Korean Drama - 2010, 36 episodes

Jejoongwon revolves around the first Western medicine hospital in Korea. The main setting is the hospital and the characters are diverse (Western doctors, an incredibly smart FL, a ML who rejects his class in society to learn medicine). - u/serendipitious333

I'm not big on historical dramas, but I loved Jejoongwon. - u/Aksalon

17. Gunman In Joseon

Korean Drama - 2014, 22 episodes

Joseon Gunman - It’s historical, but bridges the period of modernization in Korean History. - u/roseweldrmr

18. Secret Door

Korean Drama - 2014, 24 episodes

I enjoyed Secret Door a lot.

I knew enough about Crown Prince Sado before watching the drama, and I was very interested in seeing how everything would be treated. The drama was initially marketed as "just how did Sado die?"

The writers hit the ground running and never really looked back. There are usual sageuk tropes: political scheming, King and Prince fights, etc. But there are enough smaller story arcs that fade out when another appears to keep things interesting.

Also, you can read up on Crown Prince Sado before or after the drama. Lee Je-hoon did such a great job with the role, you'll feel a host of conflicting emotions in the best way possible.

There's an unfortunate loss of momentum around the halfway mark or so. It's with a supporting character. I feel that's a product of the writers changing things due to a live shoot system. Something happened. But that's honestly negligible in the grand scheme of things. - u/life-finds-a-way

19. The Three Musketeers

Korean Drama - 2014, 12 episodes

The Three Musketeers is now one of my favorite dramas.

I watch the BBC series, so I wanted to see what Korea was going to do with it. It was a faithful enough historical adaptation for sure. It also had some key "goddamnit" dramatic elements, and that kept things grounded.

The cast was great. Always some intentionally funny and even some unintentionally funny moments. This was supposed to be a three season venture, but it looks like they're stopping at the first. Which is fine. Enough of the story had been told and enough had been set up for us to know how the story carries out. That is, unless you don't know the novel or movies or show. - u/life-finds-a-way

20. Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo

Korean Drama - 2016, 20 episodes

Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo: A time travel drama based loosely off the original Chinese work, Moon Lovers depicts an epic love story. Filled with characters good and bad engaged in an intense fight for power, the drama suffers a bit from trying to do too much without having enough time. The cinematography of this drama may be a deal-breaker for some viewers since it can be very distracting. (My favorite part about this drama is arguably the fantastic behind the scenes content that came out of it.) - u/myweithisway

Moon Lovers is a perfect gateway sageuk drama for anyone who has ever been intimidated by this genre. It has piece of everything a good sageuk has in pretty packaging and with engaging story. - u/Egg-Mont

Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo - One of sageuk drama that stand the most for me. I rarely watch Sageuk, but this one won over me easily. It has a bit of time-travelling, strong character development, sweet romance,amazing ost. - u/dxfaa

21. Hwarang

Korean Drama - 2016, 20 episodes

Hwarang - Very cute and fun drama about young scholar-warriors who are assembled to protect the interests of the throne. It's got a lot of bromance, and there's a lot about the nature of friendship, family, and what makes a king. - u/eroverton

Hwarang - A cute, fun drama with so much eye-candy it almost hurts haha. Romance was there, but it's the bromance that keeps you watching :) - u/UkEuropeEarth

Hwarang - although it has its flaws I enjoyed watching it - u/iluvbiology

22. Love in the Moonlight

Korean Drama - 2016, 18 episodes

A girl pretending to be a guy gets on the bad side of some bad guys and ends up being "castrated" and sent to live as a palace eunuch. She falls in love with the crown prince, but their relationship is kinda complicated. This one is loads of fun and piles of cute. - u/eroverton

Moonlight Drawn by Clouds - does not feel historical. Female lead entered the palace as eunich. Prince fell in love with her. Very cliche but an easy watch. - u/onioncube79

23. Six Flying Dragons

Korean Drama - 2015, 50 episodes

Six Flying Dragons: Arguably the best sageuk to come out after 2000, it portrays the founding of the Joseon Dynasty. It has all the elements that you want in an epic historical drama: fantastic action, sweeping cinematography, a stirring OST, and career defining acting. On top of all this, the drama is anchored to an epic story that explores topics ranging from human desires, to political systems, to justice and morality, to love. Truly worth watching for its take on humanity regardless of whether you like the sageuk genre or not. This is the sageuk by which I personally measure all other sageuks. - u/myweithisway

Six Flying Dragons is the prequel to Tree with Deep Roots. SFD is action, political intrigue, drama, love stories, and history all in one. One of my all-time favorites! - u/life-finds-a-way

This was great! Loads of action, twists, 'omg' moments and even a tiny touch of romance. - u/eroverton

I have watched it and I absolutely fell in love. The character arc of the male lead (Yi Bang Won, played by Yoo Ah In) was stunningly portrayed. From a reckless boy to a wise leader, the journey was amazing. The other characters' stories were developed quite well too. No one was freeloading in the drama and each character played an important piece. The political portion of the drama was compelling because of the well-versed dialogues accompanied with some historical significance. - u/jamthedrestoyer


My experience as a solo backpacker in India

My experience as a solo backpacker in India

I never planned to quit my job, It just happened. It was, as if, something was beckoning me to give up on my mundane existence and to experience something more fascinating in the outer world which I realised was welcoming me with wide open arms. After eight years in the corporate sector I quit in 2013.

In fact I didn’t even have the required savings but I still went ahead with my decision to quit. I believed in my dreams and took a leap of faith. I decided to travel solo and discover myself and India.

My first independent travel was to Coorg in 2011.

Solo travelling

As they say ‘That a man who goes alone can start today, but he who travels with another must wait till that other is ready.”

I was tired of accommodating other people’s change in itinerary, or last minute cancellations in travel plans. Also I felt the need to jump into solo traveling because I wanted to spread out my wings.

After I quit I have only been travelling. I believe one of the main reasons why we opt to travel solo is to challenge ourselves, to see how far we can expand, to try something different which is out of our comfort zone.

Because I am happy at Dhankar Monastery in Spiti

My nomadic life has taken me to the Northern, Western and Southern parts of India covering about 20 States and 2 union territories in a short span of 18 months. I have been to remote places like Zanskar Valley in Ladakh and have even roamed the streets of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar solo.

Invariably, there are only a few destinations which top the list for going solo and are actually preferred by travellers. For example a traveller might show interest in going solo to Lahaul-Spiti, Kinnaur or Leh because these are destinations known for solo backpackers. But very few would actually opt to go to states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.

Today, I feel proud that I am managing to explore every street of India on my own, and creating a wealth of wonderful memories in the process. Woman can travel solo and when it comes to travel in India, it’s a land of many hidden jewels with beautiful hearts.

Almost 95 percent of my travels so far have been self-funded. Currently I am working as a freelance PR consultant and a travel writer. My earnings allow me to travel with ease.

Solo travel is an opportunity to explore your personality, just as you would explore the world, away from all the stress and hustle of daily life. It’s a chance for you to break-free from a monotonous routine, and introspect on your thoughts, dreams, strengths and limitations. How about exploring on feet, how about staying with the locals, how about getting a chance to form new friendships, how about travelling in shared taxis. Doesn’t it sounding exciting?

Memorable Moments

I was fortunate enough to get a chance to experience the life of Kung-Fu Nuns (Nuns who are trained in Kung-Fu) not once but twice. I met them during my solo backpacking trip to Ladakh and Nepal. Living with them, I realised that their smiling faces and calm demeanour mask a roaring sea of immense energy and strength.

With Kung Fu Nuns

I trekked in the remotest part of India covering the most stunning monastery called Phuktal Gompa in Zanskar Valley. As I was trekking, I realised how humbled mankind is and despite living in extreme conditions they are always happy to serve you with a smile. I spent a day with the Kids in Druk White Lotus School, Ladakh, and could feel the brimming energies in them and eyes full of dreams. I survived accidents which made me value life even more. I travelled on the world’s most treacherous roads, gone rural, practiced Yoga with Yogis and interacted with army personnel who live in extreme conditions to keep us safe.

Travel has made me realise that life is not about living in luxury. Life is only about being happy.

My nomadic life has given me terrific moments to keep for my entire life, which has built me into a strong yet compassionate person by heart. Today, I am grateful for even the smallest thing I have in my life.

Travel has helped me to open up my mind and accepts things the way they are. When you see people living in extreme conditions and still courageous enough to survive, you tend to stop making excuses for your own life.

The turning point

With to be Ranchos at Druk White Lotus School, Ladakh

As far as I remember, I always loved travelling but I never thought that it would become my passion one day. It was my trip to Ladakh which changed things for me. I don’t know what but something stuck my mind that made me realise that the world is a better place and it needs to be explored in the best way. There is beauty, magnificence, splendour and all I want today is- to be a part of it.

When you set out to travel, make sure you are well versed with the place before you venture out on your solo trip. Do the required research, read blogs, find out people who have been to the place before, talk to them. Getting to know the place beforehand is an absolute must.

My journey as a solo woman traveller was not an easy one. I faced many challenges to keep my passion alive and I would be lying if I say that I am not facing them now! Coming from a traditional family background, where travelling solo is unheard of, I got through many hurdles to keep my dream alive. Yes this did bother me a lot initially but I also understand that when you try to seek something different yet worthwhile, there will be resentments and people pulling you down. It’s normal to be misunderstood. There were times when I fought, rebelled, struggled but I never gave up.

I think while we decide to go solo, the biggest challenge or the things which come in our mind is loneliness, security and of course managing the budget. But then, this is why you travel solo. To open yourself to the world, to test your wings and learning to live a new dimension of life with limited means. It changes your priority and attitude towards life. If I can handle all this, you can too.

Guest Author Swati Jain is a solo taveller who works as a freelance PR consultant and has recently started her travel blog too.


Where to Buy Stanley Tucci’s Glasses in 'Searching for Italy'

Netflix has birthed several odd couples through its original programming: Grace and Frankie, AJ and the Queen, the canceled-before-its-time Tuca and Bertie. But they didn’t have to work too hard to bring together its most naturally funny. As their shared surname would suggest, Jack and Michael Whitehall are a son and father combo who have had more than 30 years to hone their mismatched buddy act. Thankfully, the latest addition to their alternative travelog series proves that their rapport remains as strong as ever.

Michael, an old-fashioned, curmudgeonly showbiz agent who once represented Dame Judi Dench, hasn’t always been the perfect foil for his eldest child: a stand-up comedian whose persona curiously flits between laddish manchild and camp toff. The couple first worked together on 2013’s Backchat, a youth-oriented BBC talk show whose humor derived from Michael’s complete ignorance of their celebrity guests.

On this occasion, Michael’s belligerence came off as contrived, an embarrassing dad routine stretched to breaking point. However, when the pair joined forces again four years later outside the confines of a half-hour studio format, they managed to prove they weren’t just a one-trick pony.

Sure, Jack Whitehall: Travels with My Father still contains plenty of moments that are blatantly staged for comic effect. See Michael randomly chatting up a Thai ladyboy in the apparent belief that she’s a tour guide during the first series jaunt across South East Asia, for example. Or his beloved Luk Thep doll called Winston – arguably the real star of the show – being stripped on suspicion of drug-smuggling at the Transylvanian border by an overzealous guard in Season 2.

Yet the difference here is that the majority of set-ups are genuinely funny. We all know what the reaction will be when the traditional Las Vegas magic show Michael’s expecting to watch turns out to be Magic Mike Live! But that doesn’t make his horrifying slow realization any less satisfying. Likewise his visible disdain for the Full Moon Parties of Phuket, the naked yoga sessions of California and the beer-biking tours of Budapest. Few have mastered the withering look so effectively.

The joke, however, isn’t always on Mr. Whitehall Sr. Jack is just as willing to make a fool of himself, particularly during their third series trip to the American West. Here, he competes on the indie wrestling circuit as a union jack-wearing squaddie named Tommy Tank before hopelessly failing to impress his Compton taxi driver by confusing Dr. Dre with Will Smith.

But alongside all the goofiness, there’s a poignancy to Travels with My Father which makes it stand out from the bizarre recent wave of British stand-ups taking a parent on a televised vacation. A sobering trip to a Khmer Rouge execution cave where a staggering 10,000 Cambodians were killed puts all the wisecracking entirely to one side. It’s here where Michael’s ambition to show Jack “that there is more to life than telling jokes about his penis,” is truly realized.

The duo aren’t afraid to get a little deep when they wrap each series up, either. In fact, on the final night of their South East Asia tour, both come close to tears while reflecting on how much they’ve enjoyed each other’s company. You keep waiting for a punchline, but one never comes.

There’s also a particularly moving moment as the pair bring their American journey to a close. Forever dressed in a three-piece suit, even on a beach in the height of summer, World War II obsessive Michael is a good half-century older than his comedic son. And their acknowledgement that they might not get to share such experiences for much longer brings a surprising lump to the throat.

Luckily, the ever-bantering twosome have had the opportunity to prolong their unlikely sideline as TV travel guides, with a fourth series set hitting Netflix this week. This time around, Australia is the destination as the pair get to grips with emu farming, camel riding and an aging biker gang more interested in eating fudge than raising hell.

A family wedding provides the emotional crux here, with Michael spending much of the trip testing out wildly inappropriate childhood stories and drawn-out dad jokes on his captive audience – we later see one such zinger making it into his father of the bride speech much to Jack’s dismay. But there’s also a lovely scene in which, overlooking the awe-inspiring Uluru skyline, the seasoned grump lets his guard down and reveals his true feelings about the soon-to-be newlyweds.

Joining the pair in Sydney, Jack’s mother Hillary (and Michael’s long-suffering wife) also gets a touching heart-to-heart with her son about his lack of a plus one, too, albeit immediately after he’s just performed on stage as a drag artist named Jackie Whitehole.

Of course, there’s still a whole host of insults (“I’ll be surprised if there’s a living soul that knows who the f*** he is in Australia,” Michael remarks about Jack’s concurrent tour) and unashamed daftness (Jack chasing wine connoisseur Michael around their SUV while pleading with him to try some of the warm boxed kind) on display. And with Australia and England sharing a love-to-hate rivalry, the latter doesn’t miss the chance to dig out a few old stereotypes, too (“most Australians were descended from convicts”). The humor hasn’t got any more sophisticated across four seasons, that’s for sure.

Yet by balancing their pure silliness with a sweetness you wouldn’t have expected in the wake of their earlier output, the Whitehalls have hit upon a formula which best plays on their generational divide. With South America, Africa and Western Asia all still to cover, there’s still plenty of mileage left in it, too.

Jon O’Brien (@jonobrien81) is a freelance entertainment and sports writer from the North West of England. His work has appeared in the likes of Esquire, Billboard, Paste, i-D, The Guardian, Vinyl Me Please and Allmusic.


User Reviews (162)

When it comes right down to it, what you `think' you want isn't necessarily what you `really' want, nor is it likely to be anything you need. But finding the answer is up to the individual, a prospect that's explored in the satirical `Sullivan's Travels,' directed by Preston Sturges. Movie director John L. Sullivan (Joel McCrea) has made a career of churning out one successful comedy after another, yet he remains unfulfilled. He longs to do a `serious' film, one with meaning, a drama that will leave his mark on the industry and the world. And he has a property that he thinks is perfect, a screenplay entitled `O Brother, Where Art Thou?' The studio he works for, however, balks at the idea, Sullivan's comedies are not only good, they're a cash cow for the studio, so why fool with success?

Sullivan is adamant, though, and determined to make his film he strikes a bargain with the studio and gets the green light. But once he's given the go-ahead, he wants to do it right-- and he realizes that to make a truly meaningful film, he must first experience himself the hardships of life he will be examining in `O Brother.' So with only a dime in his pockets, he sets out on the road to find out what `life' is really all about. And before it's over, he will get all he's looking for and more, in an odyssey that will be unforgettable for Sullivan, and for the audience, as well.

Filled with pathos and poignancy, Sturges' film is an insightful sojourn across the territory of the human condition. It'll make you laugh and it'll make you cry, as along with Sullivan you come face to face with some hard truths about reality. And Sullivan's eventual epiphany regarding his personal wants and needs may be your own, as well, because this is a film with a definite message that is honest and undeniable. A lesson in life delivered subtly and sensitively by Sturges, who makes it entertaining and thought provoking at the same time. It's refreshing, in fact, t discover a film that delivers such an impact without having to resort to any kind of sensationalism, relying instead on the inherent humanity of the story, which Sturges conveys masterfully. With exceptions, of course, it's a sensibility few of today's directors seem to possess. Some notable exceptions would be Ang Lee with `The Ice Storm,' Kenneth Lonergan's `You Can Count On Me' and Tom DiCillo's `Box of Moonlight.' All are films that, like `Sullivan,' are journeys of discovery, profound in sentiment without being overly sentimental. There are more, to be sure, but they seem too few and far between.

One of the elements that makes this film so engaging is its colorful cast of characters, and the actors it employs to bring it to life, beginning with it's star, McCrea, who hits his stride as Sullivan with facility. He credibly reflects Sullivan's ideals and principles with a look, as well as an attitude, that makes it work quite naturally. You can believe this is a man with, perhaps not a naive, but certainly a rather guarded perception of life in the real world. Which is not to say he lacks insight or wisdom, it's merely one of the basic truths this film points out-- that people live within parameters of their own design, established through personal experience and frame of reference. And that's the John Sullivan McCrea presents here, with a portrayal that is honest and incisive.

Veronica Lake was one of the hottest actresses around in 1942 when this film was made, and as the girl who becomes a part of Sullivan's journey, she lends considerable charm and a bit of mystique to the film. It's a fairly straightforward role that benefits from her sparkle and personality, a notable performance that adds a touch of humor and some class to the proceedings, without being particularly exceptional. But watching her, it's easy to understand the attention she received, especially after draping her long blond hair across her eye, peek-a-boo style-- which started a craze that swept the country, while creating an indelible image that ultimately defined her career.

The supporting cast includes Robert Warwick (Mr. Lebrand), William Demarest (Mr. Jones), Franklin Pangborn (Mr. Casalsis), Porter Hall (Mr. Hadrian), Byron Foulger (Mr. Valdelle), Margaret Hayes (Secretary), Robert Greig (Sullivan's Butler) and Eric Blore (Sullivan's Valet). Call it a lesson in life, or a lesson about human nature, however you see it, `Sullivan's Travels' is an experience you're going to remember. Entertaining, enjoyable and enlightening, it's an uplifting appreciation of the way things are, and not necessarily the way you `think' they should be. It's a film that celebrates the comfort to be found in finding your own niche and realizing the importance of whatever it is that you contribute to your world and those around you. It leaves you with a sense of purpose and the understanding that the grass is not always greener on the other side. And it makes your own grass look pretty good in the bargain. It's the magic of the movies. I rate this one 10/10.

Sullivan's Travels is a twofer for me, it's my favorite Preston Sturges film and my favorite Joel McCrea one. It's an anti-message film, loaded with humor, with a most sublime message indeed.

Joel McCrea plays director John Sullivan who's tired of making silly comedies and musicals for his studio. He wants to make films of social significance with a message about the troubles in today's world.

Problem is that he doesn't know anything about poverty and unemployment, he's a rich kid who's been to boarding school. So off he sets, several times it turns out, to discover how the other half lives.

That last time he sets out is a bit unplanned and through a combination of circumstances he winds up on a prison chain gang in some southern state. He learns some really profound lessons from that experience.

But that's the serious side of Sullivan's Travels. Before that the film has some really gut splitting funny moments like McCrea learning about the speed of a whippet tank, being accused of stealing his own car. But my favorite is when he falls in the clutches of spinsters Elmira Sessions and Esther Howard. McCrea sets out to learn about poverty and deprivation and the two sisters see him as the answer to some poverty and deprivation they've been suffering for some time. Maybe the chain gang didn't look so bad.

Veronica Lake in her memoirs said that one of the films she enjoyed most was Sullivan's Travels where she plays an disillusioned Hollywood hopeful who befriends the tramp McCrea without knowing who he really is. The following year Lake would be paired with Alan Ladd who was closer to her height. She said McCrea was a kind and decent man and wonderful to work with. The disparity of their height was the source of some amusement and some problems for Preston Sturges. Lake was a tiny thing, it was why she was teamed with Alan Ladd, and McCrea was well over six feet tall. Check the shots of them together, very rarely will you see them standing side by side.

Sturges used a lot of his regular company of players. My two favorites in the supporting cast are Robert Grieg and Edward Blore who are McCrea's butler and valet. Both turn out to be wise men in their warnings to their boss about this folly he is undertaking.

It's been said that Sullivan's Travels is supposed to be the anti-Frank Capra film about messages. I'm not sure Capra saw it that way. If you look at the portion of the film when Sullivan falls into this unfamiliar universe of the chain gang, it's very similar to what George Bailey was experiencing in that parallel universe he was sent to in It's A Wonderful Life. I think Sturges and Capra would find a lot of common ground in the messages of It's A Wonderful Life and Sullivan's Travels.

Sturges' most daringly double-edged film, laced with bitter ironies. It is also arguably the most audacious film in Hollywood's (mainstream) history, audacious because it takes the kinds of risks that can so easily fall flat on their face, and right until the final image, as Sturges becomes increasingly ambitious and multi-layered, you wonder how long he can keep it up without getting ridiculous. It never does, but the film is so full of contradictions, tensions, suppressions, clanging lurches in tone - 'Travels' is ostensibly a comedy, and one of Hollywood's best, but the last twenty minutes are truly painful to watch, harrowing and not at all funny.

The overriding source of tension, of course, is the film itself, the plot, and the emotions that are supposed to be elicited. It is very difficult, and frequently impossible to gauge the tone of any one scene. Sometimes this is straightforward, as when information is deliberately withheld from the audience, it is asked to make a judgement, and then shown to be wrong, as in the scenes where the studio moguls claim a background of deprivation (which is historically plausible). This kind of comedy is familiar enough.

But what about the later montage of Sullivan and the Girl experiencing the 'reality' of poverty - are these scenes supposed to be genuine representation of poverty? Are they part of a wider satire on pious films like 'Grapes of Wrath', which dubiously aestheticise poverty - there are a lot of Expressionistic flourishes in this sequence? Are they a kind of abstract purgatory through which Sullivan finds spiritual understanding?

There is a big difference between the representation of poverty in this sequence and the one where Sullivan is attacked and sent to prison. But is one more 'authentic' than the other - the second one bravely rejects the view of 'noble' poverty, shows how it dehumanises people, turns them instinctual and brutal, but it also provides a neat moral, which suggests that if you do somebody wrong, you will be (horribly) punished for it. This realism, therefore, is as contrived as the first. Is this Sturges' point, that the good intentions of realism are always tainted by ideological assumptions, patronising good-will, or motives of elevation. This sense of artifice, of a film comprised of varying self-reflexive modes rather than a plausible narrative, runs through 'Travels', with characters talking about the film they're in as a plot - in direst danger, Sullivan acknowledges the need for a helluva twist which duly arrives, filmed in silent slapstick with barely concealed Sturges contempt (and did his friends seem terribly put out by his death?).

This would seem to uphold 'Travels'' ostensible theme, its celebration of comedy as a sugar with which to sweeten the harshness of reality. This is a very cynical view of comedy, and a highly manipulative, conservative one - distract an unhappy populace from the injustice of their lives. The best comedies - from 'Sherlock Jr' and 'Modern Times' to 'Playtime' and 'The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie' have always been about real life, encouraging their viewers to think harder about the society they live in, much more effectively than so-called naturalism.

'Travels' is no exception. It might be a celebration of comedy, but this is comedy a million miles from 'Ants in your Pants'. What other 40s film still manages to show the brutality of poverty, of the prison system, of race relations, the fate of young women in sexually voracious Hollywood (the Girl's ease with her body in the swimming pool scene speaks volumes), however we choose to read them? When Sullivan's determination at the end to continue making populist comedies is endorsed by the ringing laughter of the world's meek and suffering, the disjunction is grotesque. This is a man, on an airplane, completely removed from reality, surrounded by wealthy toadies. Those happy laughs could so easily be contemptuous guffaws, because what Sullivan wants to do, and Sturges hasn't, is hide the inequalities of capitalism, the system on which Hollywood thrives, and the flaws in which they would be only too happy to cover up with inanity. But to even suggest this is to fall into the 'Capra' trap mocked at the beginning.

This difficulty is what makes 'Travels' such a stunningly modern film - its shifts from sophisticated verbal wit to elaborate slapstick to blatant Carry On-like innuendo (the matronly sister dusting the bedpost after seeing a sweating, shirtless Sullivan work) to tragedy to hallucination and dream to satire foreshadows Melville and the New Wave, while the privileged rich man who cannot escape Hollywood would transmute into the guests who can't leave the house, or can't get dinner in later Bunuel films, or the film that begins with an end. The opening sequence takes off 'Citizen Kane'. The deadpan genderplay is quietly gobsmacking, and Veronica Lake as a (gorgeous) tramp would be alluded to by Jeanne Moreau in 'Jules et JIm'. But the joys are all Sturges', as he democratises comedy (see again that swimming pool sequence), I love in particular those glorious supporting actors: my favourite being the immortal Eric Blore and Robert Greig as Sullivan's servants.


Gulliver's Travels

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Top critical review

I should have read the reviews before I purchased this "Widescreen Special Edition". I incorrectly assumed that the movie was originally filmed in genuine widescreen and that the version I happened to see on TV years ago was cropped down to full screen 4:3. I thought I'd get the genuine widescreen version by purchasing this disk.

In actuality, the movie was originally filmed in full screen 4:3 and to make this "Special Widescreen Edition", the remastering company cropped out--deleted--a portion of the frame to give the appearance of widescreen. Even this new "widescreen" version isn't a genuine widescreen but rather an odd letterboxed frame. On modern TVs, it'll likely project on the screen surrounded by black bars on all 4 sides rather than using up the available screen real estate (perhaps an aspect ratio flag isn't set properly on the DVD?). On my LG TV, I had to use the TV's "zoom" function to fill up the available screen area with the image. The actual frame size, once I took out the letterboxing, is 720x388 or 16:10. a weird aspect ratio somewhere between 4:3 full screen and modern 16:9 HDTV widescreen.

In the attached frame captures, the picture on the left shows the original 4:3 frame content. The frame on the right shows the new "widescreen" frame content. You can see that a significant portion of the bottom of the frame is cropped out.

In my opinion, rather than enhancing the film, removing frame content actually detracts from the film. literally. I recommend purchasing the original 4:3 version.

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From the United States

I should have read the reviews before I purchased this "Widescreen Special Edition". I incorrectly assumed that the movie was originally filmed in genuine widescreen and that the version I happened to see on TV years ago was cropped down to full screen 4:3. I thought I'd get the genuine widescreen version by purchasing this disk.

In actuality, the movie was originally filmed in full screen 4:3 and to make this "Special Widescreen Edition", the remastering company cropped out--deleted--a portion of the frame to give the appearance of widescreen. Even this new "widescreen" version isn't a genuine widescreen but rather an odd letterboxed frame. On modern TVs, it'll likely project on the screen surrounded by black bars on all 4 sides rather than using up the available screen real estate (perhaps an aspect ratio flag isn't set properly on the DVD?). On my LG TV, I had to use the TV's "zoom" function to fill up the available screen area with the image. The actual frame size, once I took out the letterboxing, is 720x388 or 16:10. a weird aspect ratio somewhere between 4:3 full screen and modern 16:9 HDTV widescreen.

In the attached frame captures, the picture on the left shows the original 4:3 frame content. The frame on the right shows the new "widescreen" frame content. You can see that a significant portion of the bottom of the frame is cropped out.

In my opinion, rather than enhancing the film, removing frame content actually detracts from the film. literally. I recommend purchasing the original 4:3 version.

I should have read the reviews before I purchased this "Widescreen Special Edition". I incorrectly assumed that the movie was originally filmed in genuine widescreen and that the version I happened to see on TV years ago was cropped down to full screen 4:3. I thought I'd get the genuine widescreen version by purchasing this disk.

In actuality, the movie was originally filmed in full screen 4:3 and to make this "Special Widescreen Edition", the remastering company cropped out--deleted--a portion of the frame to give the appearance of widescreen. Even this new "widescreen" version isn't a genuine widescreen but rather an odd letterboxed frame. On modern TVs, it'll likely project on the screen surrounded by black bars on all 4 sides rather than using up the available screen real estate (perhaps an aspect ratio flag isn't set properly on the DVD?). On my LG TV, I had to use the TV's "zoom" function to fill up the available screen area with the image. The actual frame size, once I took out the letterboxing, is 720x388 or 16:10. a weird aspect ratio somewhere between 4:3 full screen and modern 16:9 HDTV widescreen.

In the attached frame captures, the picture on the left shows the original 4:3 frame content. The frame on the right shows the new "widescreen" frame content. You can see that a significant portion of the bottom of the frame is cropped out.

In my opinion, rather than enhancing the film, removing frame content actually detracts from the film. literally. I recommend purchasing the original 4:3 version.

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This is about the best film adaptation of the original novel that was written by Jonathan Swift, an Irish writer and clergyman in the early 1700s. The novel was meant to be a clever parody mixture of travelers' tales, the court of George I, King of England, and the petty differences of religion that lead to wars.

The story centers on Lemuel Gulliver, a medical doctor and a ship's captain. As the plot progresses he is left alone on various mystical locations. Each place has its own unique characteristics this makes the adventure quite intriguing as the story progresses.

The Movie is broken down into two 'Books':

[1] Adventure at rival countries of Lilliput and Blefuscu. Here Gulliver is about 12 times the size of everyone else at that location.
[2] Adventure at Brobdingnag : Here Gulliver is one twelfth the size of everyone there.

[1] The Flying Island - Laputa - satire on the Royal Society
[2] Empress Muodi's Estate
[3] Glubbdubdrib - the magician's dwelling - ancients versus moderns theme
[4] Struldburgs - immortals with blindness
[5] Houyhnhnms / Yahoos - deals with the inherent corrupt nature of mankind

The film features some very exotic locations including three palaces in Portugal, as well as fanciful building structures in England and a marble banquet hall on an estate in rural East Anglia.

The acting is superb and the cast features well known actors. It is truly a mind bending experience as to try to unravel the real message that Mr Swift was trying to convey. This is definitely a collector's item.

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Johnathan Swift's beloved satire has amused readers for over 250 years, and shows no signs of waning. So many people have loved (or at least read) it, that it presents difficult target for movie-makers. No matter how they render it, they're sure to violate someone's image of the story. Despite a very few flaws, this version works remarkably well.

For one thing, it presents a reasonably complete telling of Lemuel Gulliver's story. I haven't read the original lately, but this seems to cover the entire tale, not just famous favorites like the visit to Lilliput. It also covers some of the moments that other versions skip, like putting out the Lilliputian palace fire. A parody of academic research holds up well, too, and might be even more relevant today than when Swift poked fun at the Royal Society's experimenters. Competent special effects make it easy to suspend disbelief for the film's duration.

Perhaps it's unfair, but the high points of this recreation work so well that the few low points seem even lower by contrast. The visit to Brobdingnag retains its political bite, buthis made-for-TV movie had to cut a few "adult" moments from Swift's version. The Struldbrugs really suffered at this director's hands, though. Perhaps there was some political correctness issue in toning their senility down, but that passage lost nearly all the impact of the original.

The good outweighs the bad, however, and the good includes some remarkable star power, including Omar Sharif, Peter O'Toole, and John Gielgud in brief but significant roles. The storytelling format works too, as flashbacks of story bubble up through Gulliver's damaged mind. This two-disc set is sure to brighten many rainy afternoons, as long as your younger viewers aren't skittish sorts.

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The film is told by way of flash backs. Gulliver (Ted Danson) finds himself ashore in England after a harrowing nine year absence from home. Unfortunately, once back at home in England, he suffers from periodic flashbacks wherein he provides narratives about his adventures in Lilliput, Brobdingnag, on a flying island, and elsewhere. Also unfortunately, even his wife (Mary Steenbergen, wife in real life too) does not believe the contents of his flash-back narratives. For example, towards the end of the movie she is asked if she believes her husband. Instead of saying "no," she avoids the question by replying, "I believe in him."

Everybody will be able to enjoy the brightly colored pomp and fanfares found in the various kingdoms that are encountered during Gulliver's travels. The special effects are almost as good as those found in the early Star Wars movies. Unlike most adventure movies, the movie under review has a high degree of character development. The credentials of the actors, e.g., Peter O'Toole, speak for themselves. Excellent "character actors" are also found, such as the rustic wheat farmer who discovers Gulliver and displays him in a one-man circus. In addition to the special effects, the presence of a boy character (Gulliver's son) and a girl character (wheat farmer's daughter) enhance the attraction of the film for kids.

What the movie is really "about" is not tiny villagers, flying islands, or talking horses. What the movie is really about is certain bizarre aspects of the social order, found at the time of Swift's writing. For example, one goal of the Gulliver story was to protest the practice of selling (as opposed to voting) government positions. Therefore, it might be to the advantage of any viewer, or parent, to become familiar with the social/political customs prevalent at the time. A suitable book (which actually covers France, not England), is The French Revolution and Human Rights by Lynn Hunt (1996). As with the Gulliver movie, this book explains the existance of formalized upper and lower classes, and the practice of selling government positions.

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But this Hallmark TV production was so exceptional, I felt five was the least this sucker deserved.

This was the first of an extended series of high-toned TV movies produced by Robert Halmi Sr. for NBC and ABC that had production values previously unseen on television. In art direction and general feel, this production of the Jonathan Swift classic resembled "Amadeus" more than it resembled "The Winds Of War" or "Mother, Can I Sleep With Danger?".

And considering the choice for the titular lead, comic actor and former model Ted Danson, it could have been a real disaster. It wasn't! The man acquits himself nicely as the somewhat incredulous Lemuel Gulliver, the hero of a satirical tale told by the very cynical Jonathan Swift, Britain's answer to Voltaire. (Actually, Voltaire was a good deal younger than Swift and "Gulliver's Travels" was written 32-33 years before "Candide", allegedly, but they _were_ contemporaries, and had even met!)

The story features very fanciful alllusions to pettiness, classic paranoia of the delusions of grandeur variety, pomposity, a favorite target of Swift's, and superciliousness. There's the tiny Lilliputians, their opposites, the Brondignagians, the equine Houiynihms, (who, I seem to remember, were supposed to resemble giraffes as well,) and many other fantastic characters, all rendered beautifully in this, the first of a distinguished list of first rate classical adaptations shown on NBC in the late 90s.

The cast list is unbelievable. people who had NEVER been on TV before, like Peter O'Toole, Omar Sharif, James Fox, Isabelle Huppert, Geraldine Chaplin (hello!), Shashi Kapoor and John Gielgud were sprinkled all through it. The sets are incredible and acting superb. If either this or the later "The Odyssey" had been released as feature films, they would have garnered significant praise for production values and acting, as well as fidelity to their sources, (despite some serious key scene omissions,) and probably would have generated respectable box office.

Special effects, cinematography and scene direction made this a good bellwether for a raft of films unlike any TV had ever seen since the fifties, when top quality productions of plays by well known playwrights peppered prime time schedules.

The general take on the story treats the main character, Lemuel Gulliver, as someone just about everybody, including his wife, for a while, thinks is certifiably insane, as he keeps rambling on about the fantastic lands and people he has supposedly seen. Most of the "real world" story, in fact, takes place in either an asylum, where he has been committed, or a courtroom, where his case is being heard.

It's obvious to the viewer, too, that Lemuel has dreamt all of this, because these places couldn't possibly exist. However, a real curve ball is thrown in the end when a truly diminutive sheep is found and provided as evidence that at least proves Lilliput existed.

Mary Steenbergen went on after this, ( a lot of the actors were recycled in future productions of this type by Halmi,) to portray the wife of Noah in a gawd-awful NBC production of "Noah's Ark", a production that mated the story of Lot and Sodom & Gomorah, (sans Abraham,) with the story of the flood. There was a ridiculous dream sequence inserted in this disaster that showed that Halmi's production crew was getting a WEE bit too satisfied with itself as Steenbergen, especially, spoke bubbleheaded lines that seemed WAY out of place for the setting of the story.

She should have stuck with 18th century satires! :-)


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