Better Call In "SiCKO"

 C&L Film of the Month/June SiCKO : Written, produced and directed by Michael Moore---Scheduled for national release Friday June 29th Film Revi

sicko.jpg C&L Film of the Month/June

SiCKO : Written, produced and directed by Michael Moore---Scheduled for national release Friday June 29th

Film Review

By Mark Groubert

“Why is it that I’m considered controversial? What have I done? I made a movie about people in my hometown that suffered as a result of GM pulling out. I made another movie because a bunch of kids were killed at Columbine High School and I didn’t want that to happen again. And I made a movie because, early on I took a guess and told the American people from the stage of the Oscars that we were being lied to about weapons of mass destruction and I got booed. These days, I got a lot of Republicans stopping me on the street and apologizing to me. They now see I was trying to warn them the Emperor has no clothes. At this point, I’m very squarely in the middle of the mainstream majority.”

Michael Moore

America June 2007

SiCKO will make you sick – to your stomach.

To the bottom of your soul.

It is partisan proof, critic proof and bullet proof.

It is simply the truth.

And the truth, like the message in this, the fifth documentary by Michael Moore, is getting increasingly hard to swallow. SiCKO is indeed his bitterest cinematic pill to date. Watching people being given the medical equivalent of a death sentence by a bottom line driven bureaucracy may not fall under the heading of filmed entertainment.

But neither does Night and Fog.

We open on the carpenter who must choose between replacing two severed fingers: A middle finger for $60,000 or his ring finger for $12,000. Being financially strapped with no health insurance and as Moore points out “a romantic,” the patient ops for the discounted ring finger to be replaced.

We learn of the girl, unconscious in a car wreck, who was denied reimbursement benefits because she didn’t call to request permission for an ambulance, as her HMO requires.


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We see a young man casually stitching up a huge gash in his own leg with thread to avoid another enormous medical bill.

But this is not just a film of individual horror stories.

Moore does not focus on the fifty million Americans who do not have any health insurance.

Instead he focuses on the millions who do.

With rare audio recordings from the infamous Nixon tapes, we actually hear President Nixon and chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman nefariously discuss the creation of private group health insurance. Haldeman tells Nixon he has been approached with the idea by Henry J. Kaiser, the powerful California industrialist, who, by the way is the same Kaiser who had mass-produced automobiles and later ship hulls for the government during WWII. (And ran Kaiser aluminum.) Kaiser had apparently come up with the idea of a profit driven, assembly-line health care treatment for humans.

How Fordian.

With Kaiser Permanente, Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs) are born.

SiCKO however, is really a film about comparative health care systems. As we visit systems around the world, the story is told in Moore’s humorous, guess-who’s-coming-to-dinner-in-your-face style. Canada, Great Britain, France and Cuba are all destinations on Moore’s health insurance walkabout. His search for a cash register in a London pharmacy is particularly amusing as the “cashier” he finally finds is there to simply reimburse Brits for transit to the hospital.

Moore’s sojourn to France is him at his best. Wining and dining with American expatriates, Moore, by playing his fun loving, know-nothing American schlub in Paris, allows the audience to learn (along with him) the benefits of health care and indeed, life in France. Free nannies, doctors who make house calls, child care for a buck, all add up to put France, home of the Freedom Fries, in the Number One slot among all nations in providing medical coverage.

Well, we Americans must be up there too. At least in the top ten. Twenty? We should be so lucky.

This from the World Health Organization (WHO) world health report in 2000:

The U.S. health system spends a higher portion of its gross domestic product than any other country but ranks 37 out of 191 countries according to its performance, the report finds. The United Kingdom, which spends just six percent of GDP on health services, ranks 18th. Several small countries – San Marino, Andorra, Malta and Singapore are rated close behind second- placed Italy.

Try chanting “We’re Number Thirty-seven!” a few times and see how it sounds.

Concerning health care in foreign countries Moore remarked recently, “It was depressing because, as Americans, we kept thinking: we come from the richest country on earth, so why don’t we have free health care, too?”

{Moore’s quote, while well intentioned, may be off base. It depends who the “we” are. While indeed, we are still the richest nation on earth, 1% of our citizens (3 million people) now control nearly 50% of the nations’ wealth. The other 50% of the wealth is divided among 99% of the American public or 297 million folks.}

Overall, not as uproariously funny as previous Moore works, SiCKO does have some topnotch gonzo moments. Memorably, his “sea assault” on Guantanamo Bay with a boat load of 9/11 EMS workers and other health care victims. Like an old episode of TV Nation, Moore uses a bullhorn from the boat to announce his presence to the guard tower looming ominously above the prison camp. Supposedly filled with the world’s most dangerous terrorists, we see news clips relating to how the enemy combatants have the best health care in the world. With cameras rolling, Moore demands equal treatment for the heroes of 9/11. Fortunately he finds it, but not at the internationally condemned US prison hospital at Guantanamo Bay, but at a hospital in Havana just up the road.

In one of the most poignant moments of the film, an American woman with respiratory problems attempts to purchase a small breath device in a Cuban pharmacy. She has bankrupted herself in the States paying $120 per device twice a month. When told each is only 5 cents in this pharmacy, she is emotionally crushed – and so are we as an audience.

Yet, the viewer can only remain downbeat for so long, as Moore’s physical presence alone is enough to cheer you up. When he finally makes his presence on screen, which is over an hour into the film, you feel as if you are back in comfortable comedic hands.

It seems that, America loves big fat jolly men – in the movies, at least. They kinda make us feel, well, at home. Like that crazy uncle we all have. Or the brother-in-law who still lives like a college freshman.

Michael Moore, in cinematic terms, has become America’s new Bluto.

When John Belushi acted like that lovable, ignorant fat slob as a member of Delta House, we the audience, could still see the intelligence behind his eyes.

That’s why we loved him.

He was everyman.

He was the average dumb ass, overweight, good-natured American.

He was us.

And that’s why we love Michael Moore. He is the John Belushi of non-fiction cinema. The Fatty Arbuckle of American documentary film, if you will.

C’mon, isn’t he really John Candy in Stripes?

As his character Duey "Ox" Oxberger uttered, "You might have noticed that I've got a slight weight problem. I went to this doctor. He told me I swallow a lot of aggression... along with a lot of pizzas. Well, I didn't have the money for a weight loss program. Then I thought to myself, join the army... it's free. I'm going to walk out of here a lean mean fighting machine!"

Moore “sells” his films to the viewer by allowing us to see things through a schlub’s eyes. The Chaplinesque eyes of a loser. The pout of an Oliver Hardy. The grimace of a Lou Costello. The sympathy for a stooge named Curly.

We have natural empathy for Moore. It is the secret of his success. A good part of that derives from his humpty-dumpty, non-threatening, baseball hat wearing appearance. (Ever see Buster Keaton without his hat, folks?)

Don’t believe it? Take a look at The Last Party, for instance. It’s a progressive documentary where a good looking, suave Robert Downey, Jr. does some straight forward interviewing at the National Democratic Convention. There is no emotional resonance. We are distanced. Cinema 101.

Sure, Americans love to know things. We love to know sports scores. We love to know the weather. We love to know a lot of things. It’s who tells us and how, that is the question. That, my friends, we are picky about.

Just ask Katie Couric.

It is our strength and our weakness.

That is why we pick presidents who we would rather have a beer with (Bush) than one who will give us the straight truth (Carter). The secret to Clinton’s success by the way, was that he could give you the truth while having a beer with you.

Moore suggests that part of our problem is that Americans are completely ignorant of the world around them. “Overall, it reminded me about the importance of getting out of the house. About 80% of Americans don’t have a passport, so most of us don’t get to see the whole world and what’s going on. Ignorance is never a healthy thing – you can’t make the best decisions without having all the information.”

Democrats send their recently graduated daughters to Europe hoping for the best and fearing the worst.

Republicans keep their daughters home denouncing Jacques and Giovanni as godless, disease ridden commies.

Americans live in fear of the messenger, not the message. Whether it’s Mr. Haney, the snake oil salesman from Green Acres or Willy Loman from Death of A Salesman, we don’t like the huckster. Even if he can help us. The saying, we will cut off our nose, to spite our face is quintessentially American.

Sy Syms, the clothing store chain in New York, used to run television ads with the closing line, “The educated consumer is our best customer.” But when it comes to capitalism, the uneducated consumer is the best customer. (If one doubts that, just check how long it took consumer groups to get simple nutrition information on the back of canned foods.)

Sometimes we as Americans must be reminded that, as it is says beneath the statue of Emile Faber, founder of the fictional Faber College in National Lampoon’s Animal House – “Knowledge Is Good.”

Near the end of SiCKO Moore asks, “Who are we?”

Indeed, who are we?

What do we stand for as Americans?

We are clearly at the edge of the abyss as a nation and as a people.

Everyone senses it.

Most fear it.

Few talk about it.

Are we collectively John Belushi or John Kerry? Are we Al Bundy or Al Gore?

Are we George Bush or George Soros?

Whomever we are as a people we had better reach a consensus soon because brothers and sisters, we are dying in the streets of Compton as well as in the streets of Baghdad.

This battle for universal health care isn’t over. As Bluto said, “Nothing is over until we decide it is!”

Was it over when Bush bombed N. Korea? Hell no!

Forget it, he’s rolling,

And Michael Moore is rolling into a theatre near you this weekend with his best film to date. Regardless of your affiliation, whether you’re bi-partisan, bi-sexual or especially bi-polar, this is your kind of film. After the picture, stick your bandaged head out the window and yell, ‘I’m sick and tired and I ‘m not gonna take it anymore.’

“Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.

“A majority of Los Angeles County supervisors said Friday that they are ready to vote next week to begin the process of closing Martin Luther King, Jr.- Harbor Hospital.”

LA Times Front Page 6/23/07

Reviewer’s Note:

Here are the two (here and here) most recent David Hiller-inspired hatchet jobs on Michael Moore by the L.A. Times. (For those unaware, Hiller, a close friend of Donald Rumsfeld, is the former Reagan Administration Justice Department official who has recently taken over as publisher of the L.A. Times) These articles followed one another within 24 hours. Even before a review of the actual film has appeared. The latter article by Times staffer Gina Piccalo concerning an anti-Michael Moore documentary is particularly slanderous and vicious. Please note her email address at end of the piece. C&L readers might want to let her know how they feel about her article.

A screenwriter/producer/journalist based in Hollywood, California, Mark Groubert is the Senior Film and Book Reviewer for CrooksandLiars.com. As a filmmaker he has produced numerous documentaries for HBO. Groubert is also the former editor of National Lampoon Magazine, MTV Magazine and The Weekly World News. In addition, he has written for the L.A. Weekly, L.A. CityBeat, Penthouse, High Times and other publications. He is currently at work on his memoirs.

About Mark Groubert

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