Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Sicko - Reaction

Michael Moore's entertaining, interesting, and surprisingly non-hysterical documentary about problems with the U.S.'s health care system, what caused them, and how other countries have solved similar problems. I like how he generally stayed off camera (especially in the first half), only narrating. His personality and cynicism comes through in this film, but they're not as overwhelming as in some of his others.

The movie takes a personal approach to its subject, interviewing many real people as it alternates between horror stories and tales of amazingly great health care systems. This approach, however, means that this isn't policy journalism because the evidence Moore compiles is anecdotal, however damning of the current system it may be.

The film advocates for publicly funded, universal, standardized health care--in some sense, universal humanitarianism.

The special features, mostly additional scenes and interviews, are like appendices.

Some reviewers complain his portraits of other countries are too rosy. I disagree; he's more focusing on what we do wrong than exploring other countries' systems in detail. He's showing that other countries don't have some of the same problems. Regardless of what hidden, different problems other countries have, it's clear their citizens take pride in their systems.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Wordplay - Reaction

A decent documentary about crossword solvers and the crossword championship. It does a good job showing the camaraderie these quirky, brainy characters have with each other. I most enjoyed the interviews with famous people (Clinton, Jon Stewart, etc.). I also liked seeing how crosswords are created. On the other hand, I found the sections giving background on the various contestants got a little slow/tedious at times. I'm not sure the film (despite the competitive nature of the subject matter) would interest people not into puzzles. (Richard Roeper warns that the film has a "heavy nerd factor.")

I liked the special features (factoids, snippets, colorful blurbs, puzzle profiles, music video) more than the movie itself.

If I bought DVDs, I'd be tempted to buy this one, simply because I think I know many people who would enjoy the contents. This is an odd thing to say since I've definitely seen better movies per se, but I think the topic and contents of this DVD are something special and distinctive.

Incidentally, the movie uses ingenuous/inventive graphics to show crosswords on the screen as contestants solve them.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Pursuit of Happyness - Reaction

A good movie with a literary feel. Based on a true story about a San Francisco man trying to simultaneously be a father and work himself out of poverty. At its heart is a father-son story displayed through the series of obstacles that the father overcomes, often demonstrating morals/life lessons, while seeking to convey a sense of normalcy to his son. These events usually turn out in good ways, or at least we focus on these events as watchers of the movie. The movie is paced like true life: these things, they happen. This pacing can take some time to get used to. It's revealing that the director, regarding a scene 50 minutes into the film, said that particular scene is the most important scene in the movie. After that scene, the movie takes off.

The acting is good! Will Smith played the protagonist and Will Smith's real son played his son in the movie. The son was said by the director to be the best kid for the job. I believe it. Chris Gardner, the man who wrote the book/lived the life on which the movie was based, said, "the kid has more talent in his big toe than Will has in his whole body."

At its core, the movie is about the American dream, about the pursuit of happiness. It's also about fatherhood/paternal love. It's interesting to note what the movie's not about. Although the main character is black and attempting to get a job in an all-white firm, the movie doesn't comment on race at all. Furthermore, although it deals with poverty, the poor, and homelessness, it doesn't really make a statement about them. Some may consider the movie to be making a statement about capitalism; I'm not sure.

The commentary revealed neat facts about how the movie was produced.

  • They hired real homeless people to play homeless people!
  • Will Smith solved the Rubik's Cube himself. (He taught himself to do them quickly.)
  • The director obsessed about making the film and sets look like the 1980s. Frankly, I didn't notice or care.
The DVD includes many special features for those interested in the true story. I also heard more of the true story in a KQED interview. There are dark, R-rated aspects of the story, aspects omitted in this PG-13 version of the tale and never mentioned in the special features of the disc. Obviously, for even more details, read the book.

Addendum: While reading others' reviews of this movie, I came up with a list of words that I think generally apply but aren't so perfect that I wanted to use them in my reaction essay: tense, heart-wrenching, intense, moving, tender, slow, heartful, heartfelt, and earnest.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Bananas - Reaction

An early Woody Allen movie: meaning a pure comedy with no attempt at philosophical depth. It's a wacky, random film with a strange plot. Dense with gags, I found it funny, in an absurd way; it made for easy watching.

Like other Allen films, his self-obsession clearly comes across.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Street Fight - Reaction

A compelling documentary, which should induce anger or outrage in any viewer, about the 2002 electoral race in Newark between the underdog, a Stanford- and Yale-educated Rhodes scholar, and the mayor, head of the political machine and doer of mean, underhanded, sometimes criminal tricks. The mayoral battle shows examples of corrupt power and racial politics (despite that both candidates are African-American). The sleazy mayor resorts to negative ads, to outright lies, and even to criminal activity. If my description of the candidates seems one-sided, it's because the maker of the documentary clearly has a perspective. But then, that's pretty natural because one side provided access and the other did not.

Although the documentary is about a dirty campaign in the microcosm of local Newark politics, the themes aren't limited to Newark. Indeed, it feels like an election that could've taken place in any third-world country. It touches on first amendment issues: freedom of the press (e.g., denying access of the documentary maker to the mayor's public events) and freedom of speech (e.g., selective police prosecution of people who erect signs supporting the underdog). Furthermore, the simple fact that the documentary only covers intangibles about the candidates, not issues, makes a statement about politics.

This is the director/producer's first full-length movie. He paid for it out of his own pocket. I'm glad he made it.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

My Best Friend (Mon Meilleur Ami) - Reaction


A lovely, sensitive, sweet French comedy-drama about an antiques dealer who needs to find a true friend, not a contact or business associate. Given the setting and the way unexpected twists appear, the clearly contrived premise may even stray into sit-com territory. Nevertheless, the result is a good, rewarding film that may be called a romantic-comedy--just one about male friendship rather than romance--or better yet a "buddy movie." The great acting is a nice bonus.

Although my description may make the film sound light, it's actually pregnant with sentimental humanist themes about the difficulty of making new friends and about the meaning of friendship. Or, if you're thinking a little darker, it could be about using gifts to compensate for social alienation. That is, should you buy your friends? Regardless of how you read it, the director has made "cannily crafted entertainment" (Andrew O'Hehir, that combines "sympathy for his characters with a quick wit, a dark undertow and a love of human peculiarity" (Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times).