Monday, July 30, 2007

Ingmar, where are you now that we need you?

Ingmar Bergman died. He was 89.

It was Bergman's work that really showed me the true power that cinema has. No matter which film of his I saw, whether it was Wild Strawberries, Winter Light, or Fanny & Alexander, they always stuck with me. The man was a total genius and a true auteur in every sense of the word.

The BBC article about it can be seen here.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Review: SiCKO

As anyone who's looked at the mainstream cable news or read a political blog lately knows, Michael Moore's new documentary, SiCKO , just recently came out. Before the film even made it’s debut, people on both sides of the political fence were lobbing attacks at each other over the issue that SiCKO raises: The American Healthcare system is fundamentally fucked.

As far as this documentary goes, it's pretty standard Michael Moore fare. Moore takes a huge issue, puts a human face on it to show how Corporate America is failing the common man, and then pulls a few pranks to show how totally screwed up the whole situation really is.

Moore starts out showing a man without health insurance literally stitch his own knee wound shut because he can't afford the medical cost of an ER visit. The sad thing is that this isn't as grim as the film gets. Moore spends about five minutes on two people without insurance and then informs us that SiCKO isn't about them. In fact, SiCKO is about those who do have insurance and how the insurance companies have failed them.

After Moore presents some of the tragedies that a corrupt system has caused, he then proceeds to show us the medical systems of Canada, England, and France. In each case, the country provides universal healthcare coverage paid for by taxes. Moore then tackles the myths that our government has propagated about “socialized medicine” for years such as people being turned away, operation quotas, lack of doctors, etc. In each case, he shows that the myth is only a myth.

Finally, Moore ends the film with his set-piece: taking ill 9/11 rescue workers to Guatanamo Bay and demanding that they be provided “with the same healthcare that Al-Quaeda gets. No more, no less.” Of course, no help comes, so Moore gets them treated at no out-of-pocket expense in that most hated country, Cuba.

What strikes me most about the film isn't the film itself (although I was movedto tears of rage at how horrible our own system is when we could have a system that provides for all) but the polemic that has erupted over it. This is not a political issue, or at least, it shouldn't be. This is a humanity issue.

We're all very dependent on each other, despite what our rugged-individualist culture may want to preach. As such, we have to take care of each other if we want to continue as a species. People shouldn't have to choose which severed fingers to save based on their savings. People shouldn't be forced into poverty because of a cancer that developed. People shouldn't let a disease go untreated because they have to pay their mortgages. Even more so, the trust and money that people put into the healthcare providers should pay off when the unfortunate happens and they desperately need that care. Maybe, I'm just a goddamned pinko, but I think that the health of people is more important than the second homes of these millionaire HMO CEOs who profit off of denying treatment to those ailing.

All in all, I hope that this film helps turn the tide toward America adopting universal healthcare coverage for all. Unfortunately, Moore has been so demonized by the right-wing media that his film will most likely be another case of preaching to the converted, but let's hope that we can one day soon walk into a hospital without fearing bankruptcy.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Review: Transformers

On the 4th of July, I saw Michael Bay's newest recruitment ad for the USMC, Transformers. After the soul-crushing experience of watching this god-awful dreck, all I really wanted was those two and half hours of my life back.

Let's just get the requisite plot summary out of the way before I try to relate why I feel like a part of me died inside. Marines in the Qatar (a monarchy that punishes dissenters) encounter a giant robot that can transform into a helicopter. In the USA, a nerdy teen, Sam (Shia LaBouf), is special and unique enough to warrant soon becoming friends with more giant robots that can transform into vehicles. Complications ensue and giant robots battle each other while Marines shoot at said robots and Sam gets enough character to overcome his nerdiness, get the girl (Megan Fox), and attain the honorary rank of soldier from Josh Duhamel. The end credits roll while you feel cheated and Hasbro's shareholders masturbate with enthusiasm.

That being said, this long cartoon just didn't do it for me. One thing that could've helped would have been if someone told Bay that he isn't funny. Then maybe I wouldn't have had to endure one crappy gag after another. Here's a classic from the movie: a little girl clutching the requisite stuffed animal watches a 30-foot tall robot step out of the family pool. She says to the towering mechanoid, "Are you the Tooth Fairy?" Are you effing kidding? Sadly, this is the best joke in a whole movie whose jokes are so old and tired that they make Vaudeville humor seem cutting-edge.

As one might expect in a summer action flick, none of the characters are even worth caring about. I didn't care about Captain Lennox (Duhamel) and the fact that his wife and baby were back in the states, nor did I care about Sam and his lame attempts to impress the shallow-teen-hottie-who-isn't-shallow-and-holy-crap!-she-can-fix-cars love interest. I also snoozed through the boring scenes with Jon Voigt as the Secretary of Defense and the computer nerds deciphering alien signals. No one in the film was a three-dimensional character.

Most disturbing in this piece of propaganda is that the Autobots speak English while the Decepticons speak their native language. After a couple of scenes of Marines admonishing their Latino team member to "speak English" it becomes apparent that only true Americans speak English. The Decepticons become almost like foreign terrorists as they infiltrate military bases and even Airforce One. (The Latino Marine dies in battle.)

I could go on about stupid plot choices, hokey sloganeering, etc. but I want to get to the heart of this: this film offers nothing to say. Call me crazy, but I want more to a movie than just spectacle. A film should teach me something.

While discussing this with a friend of mine, he told me that it was a dumb, escapist summer action flick and that I shouldn't go in expecting some arthouse-quality film. To quote, "I wanted to see giant robots fighting and that's what I got." That being said, I can only retort that the "it's a dumb flick" excuse isn't good enough. In the past, we got great films like Hostel 2, Grindhouse, Night Watch, Spider-Man, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, etc. that all were spectacle-heavy, but had something genuine to say and share with us.

The problem is that we keep buying into the tease of the specatacle that the film offers, but never hold the filmmakers accountable for the lack of substance. Unfortunately, this movie will make a ton of cash and Hollywood will keep pumping out shit like this.

I wish I had gone to see Ratatouille instead. I'm going to have to go see Herzog's The Great Escape now. I have to feed my soul with good stuff.