Summer Movies: Part 4
The usual recap, from the last week or so...
Could one of the most consistently engaging, flat-out entertaining movies of the summer really be about health care? Despite an over-long ending—the too-self-congratulatory trip to Cuba (and did we really have to visit that firehouse?)—Michael Moore's latest documentary Sicko nonetheless puts the filmmaker's prodigious talents to excellent use. It's all here: Moore's superb storytelling skills, his sense of humor, the appropriate undercurrent of outrage, and, especially, his brilliant use of the feigned-naive question, asked only to elicit the desired response. In fact, so convincing is his portrait of a greedy, ineffective, and even malevolent U.S. healthcare system—especially as compared to how the rest of the world treats its unwell citizens—that even though neither I nor my family have any compelling health problems right now (well, my old-man eyes just keep getting worse and worse), I caught myself thinking, on more than a couple of occasions, "Ahhh... If only I could move to Canada, or Paris, or London... then all my problems would be solved."
I wish Ratatouille had been funnier. Like, the laugh-out-loud funny of Finding Nemo, or The Incredibles. And if you're hesitant about going because the concept of rats in the kitchen seems kind of... ummm... repulsive, well, then, I suggest you stay home. Because it's not just one rat who crawls around the food here. It's a colony. Dozens and dozens of very rat-looking rats, all squirming and swarming. Like rats. That said, there is much to savor in Pixar's latest: the animation is incredible, and Paris looks beautiful and romantic; there are plenty of genuinely amusing moments, and Bo and Co cracked up a lot more than I did; the portrait of the creative drive—both the inner urge and the process itself—is knowing and welcome; as others have said, the many scenes in the restaurant's kitchen will have you leaving the theater longing for lovingly-prepared meal; and the denouement (of the Anton Ego plotline) is so brilliantly, unexpectedly delivered, it has to be one of the most wonderful moments in recent moviegoing memory.
Christian Bale is excellent as the relentlessly can-do POW Dieter Dengler in Rescue Dawn, Werner Herzog's beautifully shot, tense and often truly discomforting (torture, leeches, eating maggots, etc.) escape film, based on Dengler's amazing true-life story: a Navy pilot on his first mission, he was shot down while on a secret (read: illegal) bombing mission over Laos in 1966, thrown into a Pathet Lao jungle prison along with two other Americans and three Thais, and organized an outlandish breakout plan. Despite a terrible, Top-Gun ending, this is the best thriller in theaters today.
What a waste. Evening has a great cast, led by Vanessa Redgrave, Toni Collette, Natasha Richardson and Meryl Streep; and a promising, majorly-weepie premise, from Susan Minot's novel of the same name: two sparring-but-friendly sisters stand vigil at their mother's deathbed, while Mom flashes back to the great love (-at-first-sight) of her life that ended in tragedy. But then, they blow it. Claire Danes is impossibly bland as mom-in-flashback, a supposed pseudo-bohemian who, in the 1950s, falls for the even more impossibly bland Patrick Wilson during her best friend's wedding on a Newport estate. Hugh Dancy is boring as the drunken bore. The director injects ghosts and other "magical" touches to no good end. The pacing is aways off a beat or two. The lighting is far too Hallmark-special. And, most unforgivable for this sort of thing, it barely even made me cry.
Tom and I got shut out of Transformers the other night (and a good thing, too: see below), so we decided to give Joshua a try. And while this almost art-house take on the ol' odd/possessed/sociopathic-child-killing-off-his-family genre does have its moments—there are definitely some good chills in the film's first half, and Sam Rockwell gives an impressive performance as the lovable Dad who can't believe his life is falling apart in such a horrible way (and, in fact, most of the cast is pretty convincing for a movie such as this)—we both agreed that the too-ambiguous, too-over-the-top final few acts rendered the overall experience ultimately unsatisfying.
It might have been a case of a movie not fitting my mood, but I just felt pummeled by Transformers. I thought it loud, un-fun, dumb, surprisingly goofy (and not in a good way), and near-infantile in its plotting and script ("Autobots: assemble!"). I had a hard time following the climactic showdown (wait... is that grayish, car-ish, robot a bad guy or a good guy?). The autobots are sort of cool in the beginning, and Shia Labouff does have some good lines, which he delivers well, and his sidekick/love-interest Megan Fox is gorgeous (though she reminded so much of Debbie that it just added to my misery), but, honestly, the only reason to see Transformers is for the teaser trailer for the JJ Abrams movie, not nearly as effective on the tiny screen, here.