#54 - A One And A Two
1947 - 2007
WARNING: This week’s installment of Jahnke’s Electric Theatre reviews Sicko, the new film by Michael Moore. There is a 100% chance that politics will be mentioned and the none-too-well-hidden liberal agenda of your faithful reporter will once again be revealed. For those of you who dislike such things, there is a review of a nice cartoon further down the page.
NOW IN THEATRES
The A-Picture - Sicko
Whether or not you agree with his politics, Michael Moore deserves to be recognized as a great filmmaker. If he were untalented, his movies would go unnoticed like the vast majority of left-leaning documentaries that have turned up in the wake of Fahrenheit 9/11. And note that I did not say he’s a great documentarian. That’s a debate for another time, one largely dependent on how narrowly you define what a documentary should be. But the man knows how to make movies. He can be as controversial as Oliver Stone, as bitingly funny as Billy Wilder and yes, as manipulative as Steven Spielberg. For Sicko, Moore’s analysis of America’s broken-down health care system, he’s turned down some of his usual schtick. But he hasn’t jettisoned it completely and I, for one, am glad of that.
For the first hour or so, Moore is present only in voice-over, allowing those with insurance company horror stories to tell their own tales. We hear from people bankrupted after insurance companies drop them when they need them most, people who have lost loved ones after the companies won’t pay for treatments, and most damningly, from individuals who worked within the system and reveal what they were instructed to do. These scenes are both chilling and moving. Perhaps these stories are the exceptions to the rule and most folks never have a single problem with their insurance providers. I don’t believe they are but for the sake of argument, I’ll play along. But when the exceptions are this extreme and this damaging to those who have the misfortune to go through them, there shouldn’t be any exceptions.
From there, Moore involves himself on-camera, going to Canada, the UK and France to see socialized medicine at work. Now I’ve never lived in any of these countries, so I can’t say with authority that these systems are better than ours. And I have no doubt that they are in some ways imperfect. All systems created by human beings are. Certainly the people Moore talks to are a lot happier with their system than any of the Americans we see are. Selective interviewing? Probably. We know that Moore actually asked for health care horror stories in America. Who knows what would have happened if he’d done the same elsewhere. But the point isn’t how can we improve Canada’s health care system. The point is that other countries similar to ours have embraced this concept that for years has been demonized as not only impractical but detrimental.
To hammer this point home, Moore saves his most controversial stunt for the final act, taking a boatload of uninsured 9/11 rescue workers to Cuba where they receive medical attention in Castro’s state-run hospitals. It’s this sequence which has received the most criticism but I don’t really agree with it. For one thing, this is exactly the sort of thing Moore does best, an outrageous, semi-rhetorical stunt designed to drive home a point, much like asking congressmen on Capitol Hill if they’d be willing to sign their kids up for military service in Fahrenheit 9/11. Here, he’s not suggesting that Cuba is an island paradise where everything is bliss. But it is remarkable that these Americans are able to get faster, more affordable care here than they could back home. Perhaps to better illustrate his point, Moore should then have taken some Cubans back home to an American hospital to see what happens. Even with the cameras in tow, I’m sure they wouldn’t have been given much more than directions to the door.
Sicko is a persuasive, compassionate film that should be seen by as many people as possible. Unfortunately, those that dislike Moore hate him passionately and even if he made a movie called Kittens Are Soft, they’d probably accuse him of ignoring all the rough-furred cats out there to make his point. There are even people who might otherwise agree with him that dislike his films simply because they don’t like his style, his personality, even his voice. I hope they give him another shot and I hope people who disagree with his politics and opinions do too. Sicko shows an American health care system so fundamentally broken that it must be dismantled and rebuilt from the ground up. It’s a debate that must take place and I’m glad that Michael Moore is out there helping to fan the flames of that argument. (* * * ½)
The Other A-Picture - Ratatouille
As much as I’ve enjoyed most of Pixar’s films, I do not think they are infallible. A Bug’s Life didn’t make much impression on me and last summer’s Cars, colorful and energetic as it was, was too formulaic to round the bases. Director Brad Bird, on the other hand, might just be infallible. After The Iron Giant and The Incredibles, two of the finest animated films of the past twenty years, he’s returned with Ratatouille, a charming comedy about Remy the rat (subtly but enthusiastically voiced by comedian Patton Oswalt). Remy is blessed with highly developed senses of smell and taste and yearns to be a chef and not just a garbage-stealing rat. He finds himself in the kitchen of Gusteau’s, a once five-star restaurant in need of fresh blood after the death of its celebrity chef founder. Remy becomes one of the most celebrated chefs in Paris after he teams up with Linguini, a talentless busboy Remy is able to control like a marionette. Even in cartoon terms, the premise is fairly absurd but somehow it works. Ratatouille is a technical marvel with gorgeous Parisian cityscapes, tactile surfaces and computer-generated food that looks good enough to eat. The screenplay is often hilariously funny, obeying the rules it establishes for itself but still managing to make a kitchen staffed entirely by rats seem entirely plausible. Most impressive of all is the fluid character animation, dazzling in its sophisticated slapstick sequences and even more astonishing in smaller moments, resulting in some of the finest acting I’ve seen from animated characters. The Incredibles is a tough act to follow but Bird delivers. I’d understand if eventually he was lured into making a live-action film but given his track record so far, I hope he sticks with animation for a long time to come. (* * * ½)
NOW ON DVD
It took me awhile to catch up with this Japanese cult item but somehow I managed to avoid finding out a single thing about it other than its title. I’m not quite sure what I was expecting, so I can’t say if this met or exceeded my expectations. It’s certainly a wild, fun ride though, almost impossible to summarize. It has something to do with a battle between good and evil taking place in the Forest of Resurrection and the movie itself is what you might get if you tossed The Evil Dead and Highlander into a blender. Versus has pretty much everything you could ever want from a cult movie. Samurai! Yakuza! Martial arts! Zombies! Zombies with guns! It’s about half an hour too long and doesn’t make a whole heckuva lot of sense but if you’re looking for logic in a movie where people get punched through the chest, you take things far too seriously. (* * *)