Movie Review: Sicko

Sicko graphicAn important and masterful critique of the U.S. health system, Sicko takes us from horror tales of our current system to a tour of countries with free national national health care systems, and conversations with their citizens. It is a masterful unmasking of the propaganda of the U.S. health industry and mainstream media.

Sicko graphic

Sicko by Michael Moore

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An important and masterful critique of the U.S. health system.

Sicko is a surprisingly good documentary, and I believe it will play a very important role in pushing forward a rethinking of health care in the United States.

I like Michael Moore’s films, even at their most propagandistic. But I recognize that political polemics tend to only galvanize the already committed, rather than persuade others less inclined. Sicko is different in this regard from past Moore films. It is a documentary which doesn’t preach, which puts Moore, the filmmaker, further in the background, and which approaches the horrors of the health and insurance industries from the point of view of their victims.

Those who like Moore soley for his on-camera antics will be disappointed, although there are a couple of good scenes that are fairly hilarious, such as when his “comandeered” boat approaches Guantanamo. This is the old Michael Moore, perhaps thrown in to placate the fans, but the film doesn’t need it.

Sicko takes us from horror tales of our current system to a tour of countries with free national national health care systems, and conversations with their citizens. It is a masterful unmasking of the propaganda of the U.S. health industry and mainstream media.

I urge everyone to see this film when it is released on June 29th. It will open a lot of eyes, and open a much needed debate in this country over our national health care scandal.

My rating: 5.0 stars
*****

Movie Review: Pan’s Labyrinth

This film is one of those incredible European fantasies which is so much more than a mere fantasy. Set in Spain at the end of World War II, it is a multi-layered political and moral parable which takes place both in the faerie-land realm of young Ofelia (Ivana Baquero), and the parallel world of Franco’s brutal fascism.

Pan’s Labyrinth (El Laberinto del Fauno)

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Perhaps one of the best films of all time.

Writer & Director: Guillermo del Toro
Actors: Maribel Verdú, Ivana Baquero, Sergi López, Ariadna Gil

This film is one of those incredible European fantasies which is so much more than a mere fantasy. Set in Spain at the end of World War II, it is a multi-layered political and moral parable which takes place both in the faerie-land realm of young Ofelia (Ivana Baquero), and the parallel world of Franco’s brutal fascism.

Eleven year old Ofelia’s mother has married the captain of a military outpost in the Spanish mountains. Capitan Vidál (Sergi López) is charged with “cleaning up” the partisans left over from the Spanish Civil War. As we are shown the grim face of this real-life history, we follow Ofelia into an underground labyrinth where she meets a mythical faun, who informs her that she is a princess, the daughter of the king of the Underworld. She is given three tasks to prove that she is worthy.

Ofelia’s first task is to recover a key which has been swallowed by a giant toad who lives in the rotted trunk of a huge fig tree. The symbolism here goes much deeper than a simple fairytale princess-to-be must retrieve the key to the kingdom. The toad, a sign for the bloated and corrupt nature of the fascist beast, is destroying the tree of life.

For the second task, Ofelia must use the key to retrieve a ceremonial knife. Passing a sumptious feast presided over by a terrible sleeping monster who eats children (and faeries), she is warned to not touch a bite, no matter how tempting. The final feat I won’t give away, but the metaphors are deep and reveal levels of truth about the real world in which we live.

Meanwhile, Mercedes (Meribel Verdú), a young woman who works in the garrison, is also put to the test. Her brother Pedro is a member of the Partisans, and with the help of the outpost’s doctor, she has been smuggling supplies and mail to the guerillas, hiding in the nearby hills. Mercedes is guilt-ridden because she believes she should be fighting with the Partisans, instead of working for the fascists.

Of course, like the Partisans who were either killed or forced into exile, this film does not have a happy finale. In the end, both Mercedes and Ofelia must face a choice. And that choice defines the major theme of this film. What is our moral imperative in the face of terrible evil, when innocent lives are being destroyed?

Technically, this film is masterful. The cinematography and 3D animation are superbly done. The mood is dark and menacingly crafted, and the monsters quite fantastic. The acting also is great. López, as Vidál, is convincingly sinister, and Mercedes is played very touchingly by Verdú. The script is well written and the editing tight.

The story by itself would make this a fine movie, but everything about it seems just about perfect. This is a movie you could see several times, and find new insights and appreciation in each viewing.

All ten of my thumbs up on this one.

My rating: 5.0 stars
*****

Mirrormask – a review

Yesterday, I decided to take the afternoon off and go to a matinee. After some internal debate, I settled on Mirrormask. Even though this film had poor critical reviews, I had heard that the visuals were stunning and the people who have actually seen the movie liked it much better than the critics.

I wasn’t disappointed at all in the visuals. The 3D work was totally gorgeous and extremely creative. I also think that this little film had a lot more to offer than the critics gave it credit for. True, the narrative is weak. But it is not about narrative, it’s more like a lyrical, surrealist poem of a young girls adolescent awakening. The young woman, Helena, is a child of the circus, and desires nothing more than to run away and join real life. She fights with her mother, but when her mother becomes gravely ill and ends up in the hospital, Helena retreats into a fantasy world. There she discovers that an anti-Helena has taken over her real life and is intent on destroying everything. That’s the narrative in a nutshell.

The movies light jazz soundtrack, at times adds to the surreal ambience, but at other times is distracting. The acting too, is uneven, and sometimes I wished that Helena would drop the sweet smile when it seemed entirely inappropriate. This gives the movie a kindy of silly gooiness that you sometimes see in French films. Although Mirrormask is an English production, it very much feels French, occasionally reminding me of City of Lost Children.

One last thing, I was the only one in the theater who was over 30. So, maybe my tastes are just weird. With the caveats, I highly recommend this movie. Just keep in mind you are not there for the story. It’s the art.