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.
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.
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 Incredibles. The 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.
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.