A Completely Pointless Post Full of Movie Reviews

I’m sure nobody’s waiting for my take on the movies of this summer.  But I have one, and I’m going to give it to you whether you want it or not.  If you don’t want to read, go read something Kate or Melissa or one of the other Shakers wrote, which is probably better than my stuff anyhow.

Over the past week I’ve seen more movies than I’ve seen in the past year, due to the fact that I’m going through a stretch where I only have my daughter for two out of ten days — which happens about once a year, if that.

At any rate, I’ve gone to see SiCKO, Ratatouille, and Transformers since last Saturday, and surprisingly, I enjoyed all three.  Reviews (with spoilers aplenty!) after the break.

Transformers

Does Transformers make any sense?  Let’s put it this way: the third entity credited in the pre-film credits is Hasbro.  Of course it doesn’t make any sense.  If you think about the plot for more than a few seconds, you spot several huge, gaping holes that can’t be resolved by mere logic.  At least one of the subplots has no actual bearing on the story whatsoever.  And why the army special ops folks think that it’s a really good idea to bring the Allspark (don’t ask) into a major metropolitan city center for safekeeping as opposed to, you know, not a major metropolitan center, is a question just best not asked.  (The answer: for cinematography reasons.)

But none of that really matters, once you see Optimus Prime transforming from Peterbuilt Truck to a motherfucking robot, at which point you realize that the movie’s plot makes at least 100 times as much sense as any of the cartoons ever did, and while that’s not much, who cares?  It’s time for some kick-ass Autobot-on-Decepticon smackdowns.

The stars of the movie are clearly the robots.  Oh, Shia LeBeouf is fine as Sam, the Geeky Kid With a Heart of Gold Who Saves the Day, and Megan Fox is winning as Mikaela, the Love Interest Who Is More Than Just Beautiful, and John Turturro chews on scenery with reckless abandon as Simmons, the Secret Agent From The Secret Agency So Secret Even the Secretary of Defense Doesn’t Know It Exists.

And there are some nice moments in the film.  Oh, the camera lingers over Mikaela perhaps too long, to the delight of straight men and gay women everywhere, but her character does have at least a millimeter of depth, which is more than many films would have given her.  Indeed, in the midst of complaining about her love life, she notes that she’s just a sucker for men with ripped abs and big, strong arms, which may be the first time I’ve ever seen a film give a woman a line expressing lust about anything other than flowers.  And the relationship between Sam and Mikaela actually seems almost believable, which is more than you might expect.  While I don’t think much time was spent on any other characters, Sam and Mikaela seem like humans, and since they’re probably the most important characters in the story, that helps to ground the film.

That doesn’t mean all is peachy.  I still can’t tell you what the point of the signal cracker subplot was, other than to show that we’re hiring Aussie signal crackers at the Pentagon these days.  And the GMC co-branding of the film was excessive, although frankly fitting. 

But this movie isn’t about story, it’s about action, and it provides boatloads of it.  Truly, the visual effects are unbelievable, the CGI so good that you don’t have to suspend your disbelief.  When Scorponok attacks soldiers in Qatar or Bumblebee and Barricade get into a full-on rumble or Optimus Prime hides from Sam’s parents, there’s no sense that they’re cartoon characters.  They’re real.  In many ways, this is as transformative a film from a special effects standpoint as Star Wars IV or Jurassic Park.

And that’s what you go to the film for.  Yeah, it’s a big, dumb, fun film, but it is fun.  And for those of us who grew up watching the cartoon back in the day, the little moments, like when Megatron turns to ever-incompetent second banana Starscream and growls, “You’ve failed me yet again,” the nostalgia trip alone is worth the money.  My only real complaint (SPOLIER!) is that they chose Jazz to be the Autobot who buys it, meaning that even if you’re an Autobot, you’re not going to live through an action movie if you’re black.

Ratatouille

Let’s face it, Cars kinda sucked.  Oh, by the standards of, say, Barnyard and Happilly N’Ever After and Doogal it was fine.  But it simply doesn’t belong in the same discussion as films like Finding Nemo and The Incredibles.  And so I took my daughter to see Ratatouille with lowered expectations.  I figured she’d enjoy it what with the talking animals and all, but I wasn’t so sure I would.

Color me pleasantly surprised.  While I wouldn’t put Ratatouille at the same stratospheric level of Nemo, it probably lays somewhere around the Monsters, Inc. or Toy Story level for quality — and that’s a pretty high level of quality.

The film tells the story of Rémy, a rat who has the amazing skill of being a great chef.  Of course, rats are not known for their contributions to haute cuisine, and a great deal of anti-rat prejudice exists in restaurants worldwide. 

After being separated from his family, Rémy finds himself at Gusteau’s, the restaurant founded by his hero, the late chef Auguste Gusteau.  Gusteau appears to Rémy as a sort of spirit guide, urging him to take a look at the kitchen, and Rémy witnesses newly-hired garbage boy Alfredo Linguini accidentally knocking over a pot of soup and then trying to fix it by throwing in a hodgepodge of whatnot.

Horrified at the destruction Linguini has wrought, Rémy braves the kitchen to fix the soup.  Linguini catches him beneath a collander just as his work is done, and Linguini himself is caught by the mercinery Skinner (the head chef), and a bowl of soup is served up to a reviewer in the restaurant.

Of course, the soup is wonderful, and once Linguini figures out that it was Rémy that saved it, the two form a partnership, with Rémy providing the food expertise, and Linguini providing the looking like a human expertise.

Soon, Linguini’s star is rising, and so is Gusteau’s, which is suddenly experiencing a revival not seen since its namesake’s passing.  And Skinner finds out that Linguini is actually Gusteau’s long-lost son.  And Rémy finds his family, and is pressured to raid the kitchen to feed hungry rats.  And Linguini finds love with Collette, the meat and poultry chef at Gusteau’s.  All while the reviewer Anton Ego, whose bad review literally killed Gusteau, is irate that Gusteau’s is rising from the grave — and determined to put it back in the ground.

Telling you that Linguini finds love and success, Rémy finds his calling and reconciles with his family, and Ego and Skinner get theirs is one thing.  I won’t tell you how, though, even with a spoilers warning.  It’s too delicious and unexpected to reveal just how things resolve themselves.  Let’s just say that the first few times you think things have come to a head, they haven’t yet.  And the ending is actually note-perfect, and not quite the neat ending you’d expect, but a happy one nonetheless.

Ratatouille is helmed by Brad Bird, who also directed The Iron Giant and The Incredibles.  He’s a director of superlative talent, and it shows here.  One thing I found interesting was how the message of Ratatouille bookended that of The IncrediblesThe Incredibles said, in effect, that there are some people who are just more talented than others, and we shouldn’t hold them back.  Ratatouille builds on that message, by acknowledging that — and then cautioning us that those talented people can look like anyone, come from any background, and be the last person you’d think they’d be.  My only complaint is a perennial one with Pixar films: the dearth of female characters.  Although Collette, at least, got off a good and accurate speech about why there are so few female chefs.

SiCKO

I have something of a love-hate relationship with Michael Moore.  There’s no denying the man’s talent.  It’s just that he sometimes gets so blinkered in his focus that he goes off into the weeds.  This happened to some extent in Bowling for Columbine and Farenheit 9/11, but happily, it happens less in SiCKO than it often does in Moore’s films, and that makes for an actually engaging and enlightening film about the disaster that is America’s health care system.

Moore notes the uninsured briefly before moving onto the focus of his film, which is those that are insured.  It’s a smart move.  We hear about the uninsured often, and unless that’s the group you fit into, you tune it out.  But the truth is that we all have our run-ins with HMOs in our background, that we all know the failings of America’s health care system.  Moore focuses on the insane inequity in the private insurance business, and seems to be saying “Hey, you think there’s bureaucracy in Canada?  Let me introduce you to Kaiser Permanente.”

Moore’s travels abroad are increasingly infuriating, as he talks to a retired Tory in Canada who sees no sane reason to oppose national health care, and talks to a doctor in Britain who seems to be making out okay, and visits France, where health care is good, taxes are high, but the wealthy are still wealthy and the poor are better off.  (Indeed, if like me you watch SiCKO and Ratatouille in short order, you’ll find yourself a Francophile in short order.)  By the twentieth person who laughs when asked how much they’ll have to pay for health coverage, you’re pretty flippin’ furious that insured you is paying $150 a month in prescription drug fees.  Not that I’m bitter.

Moore stumbles, though, at the end, with his Cuba/Guantanamo coda, which doesn’t really illuminate so much as infuriate.  Communist countries do educate their people well and give them decent health care, while keeping them from speaking their minds or having three square meals a day.  Cuba’s got a relatively good health care system, as good as America’s by most measures, and one that’s open to everyone.  But while one can look at the Canadian, British, or French systems and see something similar being built in America, one still has to wonder if the friendly and helpful doctors in Cuba are as able to dispense medicine to actual Cubans, when the cameras aren’t rolling.

Still, if SiCKO occasionally oversteps the bounds of reality, that’s no greater sin than what the health care industry has been doing for forty years.  The truth is that socialized medicine has not destroyed Britain or Canada or France (sorry, Mark Steyn), and isn’t likely to anytime soon.  All three countries pay less for health care than we do, and get better care overall.

Does that mean any of those systems is perfect?  Of course not.  But given how imperfect the American health care system is, there’s really no place to go but up.

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20 Comments

Filed under 10_jeff_fecke

20 responses to “A Completely Pointless Post Full of Movie Reviews

  1. Zack

    I thought Transformers was pretty terrible, myself. The special effects were lovely, but we had a two hour and twenty minute movie that had roughly ten minutes worth of plot. And if that empty space had been taking up by fighting robots? It would’ve been awesome. But it wasn’t, mostly. It was taken up by talented actors made into shrill, unfunny versions of themselves, and a script that went out of its way to not only waste my time, but hurt my feelings while doing so.

    It’s funny you should mention Ratatouille (which I loved); I’ve heard a lot of “You need to turn your brain off!” comments on the web about Transformers (not here, elsewhere), and I think Remy’s reaction to his brother eating garbage is the perfect response. Watching something so clumsy, inept and badly tuned as Transformers is painful for me. Serious nails on a chalk board time. I can respect that people enjoyed it, but the idea that I willfully disliked this movie, that I went in with some sort of chip on my shoulder and I could’ve loved it if I’d just given the poor underdog hundred and seventy-five kajillion dollar flick a chance–I can’t respect that. Nothing makes me angrier than someone who can’t be bothered to tell to a good story, and the lengths to which this movie goes to avoid doing that…. Sigh.

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  3. …when Megatron turns to ever-incompetent second banana Starscream and growls, “You’ve failed me yet again”…

    This made me laugh out loud, Jeff. Wonderfully nostalgic. Thank you.

  4. Jay in Oregon

    (Spoilers ahead)

    And for those of us who grew up watching the cartoon back in the day, the little moments, like when Megatron turns to ever-incompetent second banana Starscream and growls, “You’ve failed me yet again,” the nostalgia trip alone is worth the money. My only real complaint (SPOLIER!) is that they chose Jazz to be the Autobot who buys it, meaning that even if you’re an Autobot, you’re not going to live through an action movie if you’re black.

    I would point out that Tyrese’s character, a plain ol’ human, made it though the whole movie. So there is some hope.

    My favorite bits of Transformers, in no particular order:

    1) Bumblebee trying to help jumpstart Sam’s love life in the beginning of the movie.
    2) Scorponok in Qatar. As you said, it looked and felt like they were really fighting a giant freakin’ robot scorpion.
    3) Frenzy (the portable stereo) sneaking off of Air Force One.
    4) The Bumblebee vs. Barricade car chase.
    5) The Autobots tiptoeing around Sam’s house cracked my shit up!
    6) Turturro’s character chewing the scenery.
    7) The mini-Transformer created from the Nokia cellphone, firing teeny machine guns and rockets at the human onlookers.
    8) Optimus Prime vs. Bonecrusher. Hell, yeah!
    9) The vending machine coming to life and lobbing cans of soda. (I noticed lots of Apple logos on the computers, and Microsoft’s XBox 360 becomes a killer robot. Coincidence?)
    10) They got Peter Cullen to reprise his role as Optimus Prime’s voice. ‘Nuff said.
    11)They used Hugo Weaving for Megatron instead of Frank Welker — the original voice actor — but it wasn’t obvious that it was Hugo Weaving (unlike his role as Elrond in LOTR, where I kept expecting him to say “Welcome to Rivendell, Missster Baggins”…)

    Questions/complaints:
    1) It seemed like Bumblebee was intentionally trying to hook up with Sam, but it’s never explained why. Did Bumblebee already figure out that Sam could lead them to the clue they needed?
    2) When the Transformers are in robot form, they are all largely grayish, so it makes following the fight scenes hard. And Starscream and Megatron’s heads are so similar it’s hard to keep track of who is speaking.
    3) Some odd continuity quirks; the Decepticon tank is listed everywhere else as “Brawl” — especially the toy, which my co-worker has on his desk — but the one time they use his name in the movie, he’s “Devastator”. Also, everywhere else in the movie, Sam’s ancestor is Archibald Witwicky, but in one newspaper clipping we see his name as Amundson Witwicky.

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  7. Thank you for pointing out the dearth of female characters in Pixar films. I especially had this problem with Cars. Only one female character whose whole purpose was to take care of everyone and serve as a romantic interest. This is the one issue where my almost always feminist boyfriend seems to get annoyed with me for complaining, since he’s an animator and it would be his dream to work for Pixar. While he’s enthralled with the animation, I’m usually steaming about how women only seem to get roles that are token or supporting in every single film they do. Then again, if/when they finally do get around to having a female lead, I worry about how she will be portrayed. I agree that Collette was a better-than-usual token female character in Ratatouille, and overall, I loved the movie, but Pixar still has a long way to go when it comes to women.

  8. Constant Comment

    …one still has to wonder if the friendly and helpful doctors in Cuba are as able to dispense medicine to actual Cubans, when the cameras aren’t rolling

    I haven’t seen the movie yet but somewhere I read or heard (NPR maybe?)that this question was answered by one of the 9/11 healthcare workers who had to stay behind to get continuing treatment. This was what she herself wondered. So, apparently, she snuck into other floors to witness this for herself and, according to this report, the treatment was the same –not just for her but others — long after the cameras left. [Just passing this along, because I can see where this segment might come in for the most criticism of Moore.]

  9. Em

    I liked Ratatouille quite a lot.

  10. Melissa McEwan

    If you don’t want to read, go read something Kate or Melissa or one of the other Shakers wrote, which is probably better than my stuff anyhow.

    LOL! FU. 😉

    I actually can’t wait to read this post…but I’m not gonna until I’ve seen the movies reviewed herein!

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  12. Hahaha! I saw Transformers at a free preview screening, and had the same thought about Jaz! It was better than I expected, but I wasn’t overwhelmed.

    I still need to Ratatouille. Sicko was moving and thought-provoking.

  13. "Fair and Balanced" Dave

    Thank you for pointing out the dearth of female characters in Pixar films.

    I thought “The Incredibles” was a good exception to this. IMO, Helen/Elastigirl was the strongest character in the film. The nostalgia that Bob/Mr. Incredible and Lucius/Frozone have for the “good old days” is like a bunch of former high school jocks who continue trying to relive their football glory days. It’s only when Bob/Mr. Incredible believes that his wife and children have been killed that he finally matures emotionally.

  14. JoshWatermanMN

    Megatron turns to ever-incompetent second banana Starscream and growls, “You’ve failed me yet again”…

    That is the giant robot version of “Brownie, you’re doing a heckuva job!”

  15. Zack

    I thought “The Incredibles” was a good exception to this. IMO, Helen/Elastigirl was the strongest character in the film.

    Helen’s a great character, but she’s defined entirely as a mother and wife; all her choices are based around protecting her kids or saving her husband, and we never really get a sense of her outside of that. I love Pixar’s films, but it’s sort of weird that they’ve never let a female take center stage; and the longer we wait for that to happen, the more obvious it becomes.

    Re: Starscream and Megatron, I missed Starscream’s old voice.

  16. Thorn

    Tracey said: Only one female character whose whole purpose was to take care of everyone and serve as a romantic interest.

    As someone whose kids are obsessed with Cars right now (I know, I’m a terrible mother, I’ll turn the kids over to the authorities right away – grin), I will point out there are actually a few more female characters in Cars. In addition to Sally, there’s Flo, who owns the “V-8 Cafe,” and “Lizzie”, who is the senile grandmother type. They’re secondary characters, to be sure, but they are there. Plus there are a couple teriary female characters in Cars as well.

    Which is more than I can say for Ratatouille, where Colette is the only female character we really meet, and I can only think of two other female characters who speak at all (the old lady at the beginning, and the reviewer who gets that fateful first bowl of Remy’s soup). Maybe my memory is faulty, and I’m happy to be proven wrong, but honestly I can’t recall a single other female character beyond those three – human or rat.

  17. Weetz

    I saw Transformers a couple days ago, and while I can fully appreciate the scenes some of the nostalgia (my boyfriend and I cracked up at the end, with the ‘more than meets the eye’ line) there was one little part that really bothered me (besides Jazz, which I pointed out at the time as well). Perhaps I’m being picky and over-sensitive, but this one little line has just completely ruined the movie for me.

    When John Turturro’s character has first “arrested” Sam and Mikaela, he starts talking about what is supposed to be her deeply troubling past of assisting her father with stealing cars. At the end of his rant, he says “Criminals are hot.” The way that was brought into him supposedly shaming her, and the fact that he was then in a position of authority over her made that particularly ominous for me. I was so uncomfortable with that line, and I just can’t get past it’s inclusion in the movie.

  18. Ginger Yellow

    “I love Pixar’s films, but it’s sort of weird that they’ve never let a female take center stage; and the longer we wait for that to happen, the more obvious it becomes. ”

    It’s not that weird when you think about it. Pixar’s stories are extremely conventional, structurally and thematically. They’re very, very well written, with better than average characterisation, but the actual stories fit firmly into Hollywood archetypes (as you’d expect from films produced by Disney). And Hollywood archetypes don’t have women centre stage. What is odd is that this is true even of Toy Story, which was co-written by Joss Whedon, who’s probably put more women centre stage than any male other writer.

  19. Erin M

    …when Megatron turns to ever-incompetent second banana Starscream and growls, “You’ve failed me yet again”…

    I’m with Phil. So nostalgic, I can hear the voice perfectly in my head. At least the cartoon voice, which I fear they didn’t get for the film.

  20. Questions/complaints:
    1) It seemed like Bumblebee was intentionally trying to hook up with Sam, but it’s never explained why. Did Bumblebee already figure out that Sam could lead them to the clue they needed?
    2) When the Transformers are in robot form, they are all largely grayish, so it makes following the fight scenes hard. And Starscream and Megatron’s heads are so similar it’s hard to keep track of who is speaking.
    3) Some odd continuity quirks; the Decepticon tank is listed everywhere else as “Brawl” — especially the toy, which my co-worker has on his desk — but the one time they use his name in the movie, he’s “Devastator”.

    1) I believe this was covered a bit in the movie, but fleshed out more in the four issue preview comics by IDW. I should go and check it out, but that may actually answer your question. (And I believe it is a “Yes”, btw.)

    2) Ditto. The only one that I could disguish was Bumblebee, but that was because I was looking for him. ::blush:: 🙂

    3) Damn! Hasbro answered the Brawl one at BotCon! I believe the name issue wasn’t caught until it was too late, but I’m not 100% sure. Michael Bay did use codenames for the characters, so that’s probably why we have that bit of confusion. It’ll probably get fixed for the DVD release.

    My Favorite Movie Moment:
    Bumblebee peeing on Agent Simmons (John Turturro). The jerk deserved it!

    Least Favorite:
    Sector 7 taking down Bumblebee. I was crying my eyes out when I had to sit through that scene. Gods, I wanted to scratch Simmons’ eyes out for that! I hope Turturro never goes to a BotCon; I’d have to tell him I hated his character’s guts.)

    Small Bone to Pick:
    Mark Ryan was okay for Bumblebee (he only had two lines) but not great. He sounded way too old for the character. Bay really should have gotten Dan Gilvezan back for Bumblebee and I hope he does for a sequel. That would be the icing on the oil cake.

    Re: Starscream and Megatron, I missed Starscream’s old voice.

    That would be Chris Latta, who died in 1993. A lot of Transfans miss him terribly.

    9) The vending machine coming to life and lobbing cans of soda.

    Dispensor! He was a hit with the Transfans at large. I saw the movie at BotCon, and tons of people want the Dew-Bot. Hasbro has said they might consider making him. (I really hope so!)

    PS: Optimus made an appearance at BotCon in truck and voice form. I got to see the rig that was Optimus Prime in the movie and saw Peter Cullen again. I’ve even got pics of me snuggling up to the big rig and saluting it. Gods, it was so cool.

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