la France’s universal health care: Moore in Sicko.
by Michael Moore
The man who brought you Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit
9/11 now presents Killing for Kaiser Permanente.
That’s an exaggeration, but not by much. In Michael Moore’s
new polemic, Sicko, he explores the American way of
death in the health-care industry, and his basic argument
is chilling: Insurance companies and the politicians who collude
with them are letting people die to reduce payouts, and thus
increase their profitability. One HMO refers to payments for
care as “medical losses.” The most appalling revelation is
that it’s doctors, and not just paper-pushers, who are financially
rewarded for turning down patients for life-saving procedures.
Moore interviews a former claims adjuster who specialized
in finding bureaucratic loopholes (such as the possibility
of a preexisting condition) for turning down claims. He
breezily refers to the man as a “hitman,” but after exposing
a few horror stories (out of hundreds of filmed hours’ worth),
it’s obvious that the title is justified.
And these are the people who have health insurance. Moore
begins with some examples of the almost 50 million Americans
who don’t, including a man who sliced off two fingertips with
a circular saw and then had to choose which fingertip he wanted
to have reattached, because he couldn’t afford both. The interviews
get more serious from there on. Much of the film compares
the advantages of socialized medicine in other countries,
including Canada (where the wait to see a doctor seems to
be about the same as in the States), England, and France.
Though it’s noticeable that Moore is presenting a one-sided
argument for universal health coverage, his lack of objectivity
serves the argument well in terms of getting across his point:
that there is no excuse for one of the wealthiest nations
on Earth to be ranked 37 in terms of the health of its citizens.
The prognosis is dire. The American health-care system is
so corrupt and inefficient at so many levels—even the indomitable
Hillary has been coerced into compliance—that solutions almost
stymie the imagination. Even so, Sicko keeps its sense
of humor, with Moore’s gentle indignation and sham naiveté
making him as entertaining a tour guide as ever. Yes, the
presence of his film crew (briefly revealed) obviously influences
the outcome of much of his on-the-spot reporting, especially
in the now-infamous concluding sequence, wherein Moore interviews
three 9/11 rescue workers who have been suffering without
relief from ailments contracted at the site, and then charters
a pleasure boat to take them to Cuba for free treatment, a
sequence that (successfully) unfolds like a comedy skit, and
concludes with a (contrived) emotional happy ending. Yet the
issues that Sicko exposes, and the information it dispenses,
are invaluable, and his heavy hand in wielding the truth may
be just what’s needed to help cure a pandemic of health-care
complacency whose cost is measured—on camera—in human lives.
in the Kitchen
by Brad Bird
There’s a scene in Ratatouille featuring a monologue by a
repentant restaurant critic, who, in essence, disavows the
very practice of criticism. In it, he contends that, generally
speaking, the worst piece of junk contributes more to the
world than the criticism proclaiming it so. The fact that
the critic, Anton Ego, is voiced by the magnificent Peter
O’Toole gives the speech weight bordering on Voice of God
The contrarian in me wants to proclaim Ratatouille
junk just on principle. But it’s not junk; and, besides, Ratatouille
is a Pixar production, so nobody would believe me, anyway.
It is, however, a departure from the previous Pixar films.
Ratatouille will still delight and impress fans of
digital animation; and even those filmgoers not instantly
agog at the technical stuff should be impressed at Brad Bird’s
fast-paced direction. The combination of quick camerawork,
dramatic score and colorful Parisian setting give the film
an appeal that may owe some debt to the films of Jeunet and
Caro. I imagine I won’t be the only audience member who is
reminded of Delicatessen.
Which is a pretty weird influence for what is nominally a
kids’ movie, n’est-ce pas?
is, of course, nowhere so dark as that film. The movie tells
the story of Remy (very well-voiced by the comedian Patton
Oswalt), a rat who renounces his species’ scavenging ways
in hopes of becoming a great chef: He doesn’t want to take,
he wants to make (if you are noticing some implication of
similarity between rat and critic here, keep it to yourself).
After an initial adventure separating him from his family
and landing him in a struggling Parisian restaurant, Remy
teams up with a bumbling human, Alfredo Linguini, to become
a celebrated—if clandestine—culinary phenomenon.
What’s unusual about this movie is the focus on the story
of the human. Adjust for one oddly talented rat, and the plot
of Ratatouille is straight romantic comedy. It’s interesting
to note that though Remy speaks, he cannot be understood by
any of the humans in the movie. (Compare Toy Story,
where, usually, the toys chose not to communicate directly
with the humans, though they could.) Essentially, Ratatouille
is a twist on the Cyrano (or Roxanne) story; and it could
easily have been accomplished without the rodent. How much
appeal this will have for tykes is questionable. For the record,
my own 5-year-old was ready to leave well before Alfredo and
his love interest had their inevitable “you lied to me” crisis.
Ego claims in his monologue that the one time a critic really
risks something, really contributes, is in his or her announcement
of the new. Well, then, ladies and gentlemen: May I present
the G-rated animated romantic comedy.
Was anyone waiting?