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Archive for Monday, July 18, 2011

‘Mann’ chronicles toxic behavior

July 18, 2011

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Like the best mysteries, the documentary “Mann v. Ford” (8 p.m., HBO) not only presents evidence of a heinous crime but opens a curtain on a very particular corner of the world. Located some 40 miles from Manhattan, Upper Ringwood, N.J., could be a thousand miles away. It’s forested and isolated, and its population, known as the “Ramapough Mountain People” to some and as “The Jackson Whites” to others, has lived among themselves for hundreds of years. Like many clannish mountain people, they have been met with suspicion and prejudice by outsiders.

In the 1960s, the Ford Motor Co. opened a car plant in nearby Mahwah, N.J., and began dumping paint and industrial solvents in the nearby abandoned mines. People began to get sick and cancer became epidemic. As one Ramapough explains it, “There are no elders here.”

“Mann” interviews lawyers and journalists out to prove that Ford deliberately ignored the plight of the Ramapough because they were so isolated and powerless, and that later efforts by the Environmental Protection Agency to clean up the toxic mess were hampered by corporate interference.

Don’t go looking for Ford commercials on HBO anytime soon. Of course, HBO is a commercial-free network. And perhaps that is what has allowed it to air a series of provocative documentaries, from “Gasland,” to “Hot Coffee” to “Mann v. Ford” that show a pattern of predatory corporate behavior.

• Poppy Montgomery stars in the made-for-cable biography “Magic Beyond Words: The J.K. Rowling Story” (7 p.m., Lifetime), a profile of the author of the “Harry Potter” series.

On a very basic level, this is a perfect subject for a Lifetime movie. As a young girl, Rowling feels like an outsider. Nobody thinks like she does or reads the books that she likes, and she worries about fitting in. Then, by following her dream and singular vision, she conquers the world.

But first we must go beyond the boring bits. Which is most of this movie. “Magic” is not the first film to prove that there are few interesting ways to show a person thinking or a writer writing. Or an unpublished author awaiting her agent’s call. And it doesn’t help that the story’s structure is almost laughably cliche. You can see the flashbacks coming a mile away. Even the flashbacks within the flashbacks!

Tonight’s other highlights

• Gordon Ramsay’s “Hell’s Kitchen” (7 p.m., Fox) returns. Not to be mistaken for Ramsay’s “MasterChef” (8 p.m., Fox).

• Businesswomen are profiled on “Women With Vision” (7 p.m., Hallmark).

• Holly vanishes on “Eureka” (7 p.m., Syfy).

• Charity begets murder on “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” (8 p.m., NBC).

• “Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations” (8 p.m., Travel) visits Macau.

• Witnesses suffer dementia on “Warehouse 13” (8 p.m., Syfy).

• Office reorganization woes on “The Closer” (8 p.m., TNT).

• A mother tips the scales at 456 pounds on “Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition” (9 p.m., ABC).

• Rosen questions the government’s agenda on “Alphas” (9 p.m., Syfy).

•  “Unsung” (9 p.m., TV One) profiles Sylvester.

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