Sometimes I feel like all this writing about movies — coming up with reasons to dismiss movies I dislike, articulating elements I think could have been handled better and enumerating the problems in script, casting and execution — has turned me into a curmudgeonly freak who’s incapable of enjoying a great Hollywood entertainment on its own terms. And then I see something like Ratatouille, which plasters a dumb smile on my face for the majority of two hours and runs over and over in my head for weeks and months. Look, critics don’t really enjoy sitting through dross, even if it means they get to exercise their fickle fingers for a few minutes by typing a clever slag on the new popular blockbuster or critics’ (the wrong critics) darling and slapping a C-, or a D, or even an F at the bottom of the review. Those reviews can be fun to read. But they’d destroy the soul if there weren’t reviews of movies like Ratatouille to go along with them. A-freaking-plus, man.
Sicko (Weinstein Co.)
Of all Michael Moore’s qualities, the most underrated may be his skill
as a storyteller. For better and worse, his strategy has always
involved forcing his political arguments to fit a strong narrative
structure. In those terms, Sicko, his documentary about the American
health-care system, is a doozy. This film’s stories are heartbreaking;
many of its characters are already dead — victims, Moore argues, of
for-profit HMOs that seek to deny as many insurance claims as possible.
He gathers anecdotal evidence about universal, government-paid health
care in Canada, France, the U.K., and even Cuba — where he’s able to
secure no-questions-asked care for a group of ailing 9/11 rescue
workers. Moore once again skirts anything resembling real debate,
failing to engage with dissenting views on more than a superficial
level, but his questions are effectively pointed. If universal health
care is the boondoggle its opponents claim, why is Moore able to find
so many happy testimonials from non-U.S. citizens? And what are the
moral implications of a system that refuses care to people who are
desperately in need? Impressively, Moore maintains a sense of humor,
keeping Sicko from becoming pointlessly shrill or completely maudlin
— instead, it’s absorbing, occasionally infuriating, and thoroughly
Chuck Jones Collection (Lionsgate)
I’m always wary of nostalgia trips, but, gosh, do I have fond but fuzzy memories of these non-Warner Bros. Chuck Jones animations that used to air occasionally on local television stations on Saturday and Sunday afternoons back in the mid-1970s. Per Lionsgate:
The collection includes three Rudyard Kipling classics – “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi,” “Mowgli’s Brother” and “The White Seal.” plus three Cricket stories – “Yankee Doodle Cricket,” “A Cricket in Times Square” and “A Very Merry Cricket.”
Also a featurette: “Heart and Soul: The Timeless Art of Chuck Jones.” I am, I admit, a Chuck Jones fanboy. But I certainly don’t believe Jones can do no wrong; I have an old laserdisc boxed set of the Tom & Jerry shorts he directed in the mid 1960s, and it’s a pretty dry sit. So I’m on the fence about this, but at $14.98 it’s pretty cheap — and I sure wouldn’t mind receiving it as a Christmas present.
Buy it from Amazon.com: Chuck Jones Collection
Pixar Short Films Collection Vol. 1 (Disney)
Wha? Does he not love the Pixar? I do. I do love the Pixar. But I’m driven positively mental by the knowledge that somebody, somewhere within the Pixar (or is it Disney?) hierarchy — doubtless intent on protecting the children — decided that it was necessary to go back to the source files for animated short “Knick Knack” and perform a digital breast reduction on bosomy sunbather and mermaid characters. That’s right. (You can see a quick comparison here.) This person or persons found the idea of big knockers so offensive, or potentially harmful, that they had the characters remodeled for the short’s re-release in front of Finding Nemo, and it’s this bowdlerized version that survives today. (OK, maybe it was as simple as pointing a cursor at the two sets of boobs and hitting the “delete” key, I don’t know. Still took some deliberate effort. I’d love to read those memos.) The alteration not only robs the film of one of its wittiest moments — I’ve seen this with an audience, and when the first shot of the bathing beauty hits the screen, those gigantic breasts just kill — but it removes a nuance of characterization, the non-verbal expression of the film’s snowman character as a working-class type with an inveterate, non-ironic appreciation of big, ridiculous tits. In fact, I’d go so far as to say this small-minded act of revisionism, with its innate reactionary disapproval of the female body, is honestly offensive to me. (Ownership of an uncensored version of “Knick Knack” is just one on a long list of minor pleasures afforded by maintaining a sizable laserdisc collection well into the era of DVD.) I’ve never been more disappointed in Pixar. If this short were made in France, you can bet the sunbather and the mermaid would both be topless, like God intended. And the kids would love it. You know why? Not because it’s sexy. Because it’s funny.