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Josh Reviews Borat Subsequent Moviefilm!

October 26th, 2020
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I was surprised and delighted when news broke, only a few weeks ago, that Sacha Baron Cohen had secretly filmed a Borat sequel!  In an age of internet spoilers and movie studios who spend months to years hyping their upcoming films, that any movie could be created in secret — let alone a sequel to a hit film like the original Borat — is very exciting.  And just like that, the Borat sequel (full title: Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan) is available on Amazon!

The Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is terrific.  It’s hilarious and terrifying in equal measure, which is precisely what was intended.  It doesn’t have the shocking impact of that first Borat film — how could it?  Once we’ve seen that transgressive character and how Mr. Cohen used him to expose bigotry and close-mindedness, it’s hard to duplicate the power that first viewing had.  Also, while laughing to the Borat sequel at home is fun, watching the film any home can’t compare to the electric experience of watching that first film in a theater, and hearing and feeling everyone’s shocked reactions when, say, Borat and his “producer” Azamat (Ken Davitian) wrestled nude in public.

I’d never expected a Borat sequel would be possible, precisely because of the impact that first film made.  Borat was now a widely-known character, so how could Mr. Cohen use him any more?  The new film addresses this, with several early sequences showing people recognizing Mr. Cohen as Borat.  Somehow, though, Mr. Cohen was able to find people who were, apparently, unfamiliar with the character.  Additionally, he and his team utilized a strategy of often having Borat in other disguises.  There’s a certain meta humor to be found in Mr. Cohen playing Borat playing another character.  And there’s no question that was an effective tactic in being able to get people to talk to Mr. Cohen in an unsuspecting way.  The downside is that it makes Borat Subsequent Moviefilm feel a little more episodic, a little more like an assembly of different sketches, than that first film did.  But careful editing and the clever assembly of scenes that stitch together the large prank sequences makes it all work in a pleasingly cohesive way.  (Director Jason Woliner has done a great job, stepping into the shoes of original Borat director Larry Charles.)

Mr. Cohen’s pranks on famous public figures such as Mike Pence and Rudy Giuliani have made headlines, and there’s no question that those sequences in the film are showstoppers.  (Mr. Cohen crashed Mr. Pence’s speech at CPAC in February 2020, dressed up as Trump with a blonde woman thrown over … [continued]

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The Trial of the Chicago 7, written & directed by Aaron Sorkin (mastermind behind Sports Night & The West Wing, writer of such terrific films as A Few Good Men, The Social Network, Steve Jobs, Moneyball, and Charlie Wilson’s War, and the writer/director of the underrated Molly’s Game) tells the story of the seven men (really eight, counting Bobby Seale, the co-founder of the Black Panthers) who were put on trial by the U.S. government following the violence between the Chicago Police and the anti-war and counter-culture protests at the 1968 Democratic National Convention.  The film is a story about members of our government using their political power to try to destroy their enemies.  It’s about how our criminal justice system can be twisted by bad-faith actors to be used as a weapon against against our citizenry.  And it’s about men and women protesting what they see as the wrongs of our society and being met by anger and violence from the police.  In short, this is not only a critical history lesson that’s important for every American — it’s also a film that is very much about what is happening in the United States of America today in 2020.

The Trial of the Chicago 7 is phenomenal.  It’s riveting.  It’s funny and it’s horrifying.  It’s a film that will make you angry — it’s designed to do so — but it’s not a depressing slog.  Mr. Sorkin’s skill with dialogue ensures that almost every single scene is so brilliantly written that you’ll be dazzled by the word-play.  His skill with structure ensures that he is able to dramatize a trial that went on for month after long month is presented in such a way that, when watching the film unfold, you’re carried along with the drama of the story.  The film that is jam-packed with characters and plot points, but Aaron Sorkin’s stills as a writer and director ensures that none of this ever becomes overwhelming or confusing or, worst of all, boring.  (The film’s opening sequence, which introduces us to a wealth of characters and backstory in a mile-a-minute series of walk-and-talk scenes that somehow manage to be clear, concise, and fun, is magnificent, and gave me confidence that I was in good hands with this film.)

The cast is absolutely extraordinary.  One of the film’s greatest strengths is how well we’re allowed to get to know all eight defendants in the trial, how they’re each well-developed as distinct and interesting characters.  (OK, six of the eight.  We don’t spend too much time with Lee Weiner, played by Noah Robbins (Zach on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt) or John Froines, played by Daniel … [continued]

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Let’s start with the most important agenda item: VOTE.  If you don’t want to listen to me, please listen to these naked celebrities:

I mentioned a few weeks ago that news leaked out that Sacha Baron Cohen had secretly filmed a Borat sequel.  Well, now there’s a trailer, a title, and it’ll be streaming on Amazon Prime Video in just a few weeks: on October 23rd!  Buckle up:

Here’s a trailer for Marvel 616, a documentary series coming soon to Disney+.  The series will explore the Marvel comics, its history, its obscure characters, creators, cosplayers, and more.  I love the very geeky title (a deep dive reference to what is sometimes used as the official designation of the Marvel universe, number 616 among the multiverse of different alternate universes found in the comics — the designation was first found in Captain Britain comics in the UK written by Dave Thorpe and subsequently Alan Moore, and I believe it was brought into the mainstream Marvel universe by long-time X-Men writer Chris Claremont) and I’m curious to see what they’ve put together:

Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future, Contact, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?)’s new film, an adaptation of Roald Dahl’s The Witches (with a screenplay co-written by Guillermo del Toro!!) has just been announced as coming to HBO Max, bypassing a theatrical release.  And it’s coming out Oct. 22nd!  Wow!  Here’s a trailer:

It’s been a while since I’ve truly loved a new film by Mr. Zemeckis, but back in the day he directed some of my favorite movies of all time.  I’m curious to see what he’s done with The Witches.  I’d love for this to be great!

Here’s a trailer for The Show, a film whose script was written by comic book genius Alan Moore (Watchmen, V For Vendetta, From Hell, and too many other masterpieces to mention).  Who knows if this film will actually be any good, but I’m certainly intrigued by this super-bizarre trailer:

Aaron Sorkin has a terrific idea for a sequel to The Social Network.  I doubt this will ever actually happen… but wow, I would LOVE to see that film!

In a good news/bad news situation, Denis Villeneuve’s Dune has apparently been pushed back almost an entire year.  It was supposed to come out this December; now it’s reportedly being held until October 2022.  I hate having to wait another year for this film that I am desperate to see.  But I personally wasn’t planning to go see any movie in the theater this December, and I’d hate to see the film be released and tank at the box office because people aren’t ready to go back to the movies.  Oh … [continued]

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Josh Reviews The Spy

Netflix’s six-episode mini-series The Spy tells the true story of Eli Cohen, an Israeli spy in Syria in the 1950’s.  This was one of my favorite series of 2019, but I realized I’d never finished & posted my full review — time to remedy that!

I watched all six episodes of The Spy with my stomach tightly clenched.  The series is a wonderful exercise in sustained tension.  I found it so intense and gripping to watch that I had almost a physical reaction watching the episodes.  I was literally perched on the edge of my seat, with my whole body tense.  This was a very intense experience.  As a result, it was almost a relief when the series arrived at its conclusion.  But that only illustrates how well-crafted this series was.

This is an incredible true story.  Eli Cohen, an Israeli who was born in Egypt, volunteers to serve his country in an extremely dangerous manner: creating a completely false life for himself in Syria.  All six episodes of The Spy were directed and co-written by Gideon Raff.  Max Perry has the other half of that co-writing credit.  (Mr. Raff created the Israeli series Prisoners of War, which was adapted by Showtime and became Homeland.)  The Spy is based on the book L’espion qui venait d’Israël (The Spy Who Came From Israel), written by Uri Dan and Yeshayahu Ben Porat.  Eli Cohen’s story was previously depicted in the 1987 film The Impossible Spy.  (My father says it’s a good movie, so I’ll have to check it out!)

The series is very well-paced.  I’m pleased that the show was structured in a way that allowed us to spend time with Eli before he ever begins working for the Mossad (Israel’s national intelligence agency).  We see what drives him to undertake this extraordinarily dangerous mission, one for which he proved to be uniquely well-suited.  This is so critical for our investment in the character.  Once Eli begins his undercover mission, I loved the way the show filled out the details of how Eli slowly built his cover and created a complete second life for himself.  I loved all the little details of his spycraft.

Sacha Baron Cohen is fantastic in the lead role.  I’ve always been impressed with Mr. Cohen’s ability to vanish into a character.  Usually that’s in service of a comedy, though I’ve enjoyed, for example, his supporting role in Martin Scorsese’s Hugo.  That was a drama, though Mr. Cohen still scored several big laughs.  Here, he plays things completely straight as Eli Cohen.  And he’s phenomenal; completely convincing as this character, and compelling to watch go on this journey.

The Americans’ Noah Emmerich … [continued]

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Josh Reviews The Dictator

In his new film The Dictator, Sacha Baron Cohen plays Admiral General Aladeen, the deranged dictator of the made-up country of Wadiya.  Aladeen has unparalleled levels of wealth and power, but a power-striggle with his trusted uncle and advisor Tamir (Sir Ben Kingsley) leaves him stranded like a homeless bum on the streets of New York.  He’s befriended by a hippie named Zoey (Anna Faris).  Will she be able to help him regain his throne?  Does she want to?

It’s hard to imagine Sacha Baron Cohen being able to continue making films like Borat or Bruno indefinitely.  He’s too well known now, I think, to be able to take people by surprise and get honest reactions from them in the same way.  But I’ve never been that worried about seeing Mr. Baron Cohen move into more scripted fare.  Two of my very favorite performances of his came in scripted movies:  Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby and Hugo.

With his new film The Dictator being a more traditionally-scripted comedy, I was eager to see how Mr. Cohen did as the star of this more conventionally-made film.  (Though I wonder how scripted the movie truly was.  Seeing as how the script is credited to three of the key creative minds behind the plotted-but-not-scripted Curb Your Enthusiasm, Alec Berg, David Mandel, and Jeff Schaffer, I’d imagine the script for The Dictator left a lot of room for improvisation.)

However, despite the involvement of those three very funny writers (who also worked on Seinfeld) and another Seinfeld vet, director Larry Charles (who also directed Borat and Bruno as well as Religulous),  The Dictator never succeeds quite as much as I had hoped.

It is very funny at times, no doubt.  There are some absolutely laugh-out-loud moments.  The sequence in which Aladeen (Sacha Baron Cohen)and his partner Nadal (Jason Mantzoukas) take a helicopter tour of New York City and absolutely freak out the midwestern couple with them is a riot.  And I adored the scenes late in the film when we see how Aladeen has used his skills as a fascist dictator to remodel Zoey’s hippie grocery into a far more efficient store.  (I really laughed when you first hear one of the employees refer to him as “Supreme Grocer.”)

My favorite moment in the movie is hard to describe on paper.  OK, it takes place in Kathryn Hahn’s uterus.  I will say no more!

But the film is all over the place.  I usually admire films that are ferocious about pursuing jokes.  There definitely are some great movies that don’t really concern themselves with plot, but rather focus on just moving from the funniest possible line or moment to the next.  … [continued]

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Click here for part one of my Top 15 Movies of 2011 list, numbers fifteen through eleven, and here for part two, featuring numbers ten through six. Buckle up, now, as it’s time for the home stretch, the best of the best (at least in my humble opinion) of 2011!

5.  Young Adult Juno writer and director Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman re-team for a deliciously dark comedy about a twisted, pretty-much irredeemably terrible young woman named Mavis Gary (a magnificent Charlize Theron) who returns to the small hometown she left years before, in an attempt to win back her old jock boyfriend (Patrick Wilson). He’s married with a young baby, but so what?  During her week back in town, Mavis bumps into another high school classmate, the nerdy, disabled Matt (Patton Oswalt). The two strike up a weird sort-of friendship, and the way the arc of that pairing avoids any of the typical movie cliche ways that those sorts of relationships usually unfold on-screen is only one way in which this movie is unremittingly awesome.  The running gag about the way Mavis wakes up each morning, the terrific chemistry between Ms. Theron and Mr. Oswalt, and that pitch-perfect ending are just a few others.  A phenomenal film.  (Click here for my full review.)

4.   The Adventures of TintinShould anyone be surprised that the team-up of cinematic titans Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson produced gold?  This deliriously joyful, madcap adventure is non-stop pulpy fun from start-to-finish.  The film just zips on by, one incredible sequence after another, with Mr. Spielberg showing us once again how he is an absolute master at staging an action scene and assembling a crowd-pleasing adventure film.  The animation is gorgeous, the voice-work is impeccable (highlighted by another brilliant performance by the great Andy Serkis — I also praised his work in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, when I wrote about that film earlier on this list), and when the closing credits ran I couldn’t believe the film was over already.  This one is going to get a lot of play in my household in the coming years, of that I have no doubt.  I can’t wait for the sequel, in which Mr. Spielberg and Mr. Jackson will apparently switch roles (so that Mr. Spielberg will produce the film and Mr. Jackson will direct).  (Click here for my full review.)

3.  BridesmaidsKirsten Wiig and co-writer Annie Mumolo, working with brilliant comedy director Paul Feig (creator of Freaks of Geeks), producer Judd Apatow, and a tremendous cast of women, hit every note exactly perfectly in this comedic home-run.  The film is … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Hugo (3-D)

Martin Scorsese isn’t exactly the first name I think of when I think about family-friendly adventure films, but with Hugo, the master proves once and again his incredible control of the medium of film, no matter the genre.  Hugo is a breathtaking work of genius, and I found myself enraptured by the film’s propulsive energy and the exuberant love for film and, indeed, for all works of art, that pores out of every frame of the movie.

The Hugo in Hugo (adapted from from The Invention of Hugo Cabret, which was written and illustrated by Brian Selznick) is a young boy living in the walls of a Paris train-station in the 1930’s.  His parents are dead, and the uncle who adopted him is a drunkard who eventually abandoned him.  But not before teaching young Hugo how to mind all of the clocks in the station, a task which Hugo has secretly continued to do.  All the while he has scrounged tools and supplies to work on repairing a broken automata (an elaborate wind-up figure), which he and his father were working on together before his father’s death.  When Hugo is caught, mid-theft, by the crochety old man who runs a small toy booth in the station, Hugo agrees to work for him to repay what he has stolen.  He is quickly befriended by the intelligent, well-read young girl, Isabelle, in the man’s care.  The bond between Hugo and Isabelle grows as they start to realize that the old man, whom she refers to as Papa Georges, hides secrets of his own, including a possible connection to Hugo’s automata.

In my first paragraph I described Hugo as a family-friendly film, but don’t take that to mean that the film is childish or simplistic.  Quite the contrary, I found Hugo to be richly layered and nuanced.  There is fun adventure to be had as the tale unfolds, but also great sadness and melancholy.  (If you’re looking for something to compare it to, in tone, I would direct you to Pixar’s Up.)

Right from the opening frames, the film is gorgeous.  Mr. Scorsese uses visual effects with extraordinary aplomb.  The opening shots juxtapose the gorgeous city-scape of 1930’s Paris with the complex gears and inner mechanisms of a clock, and the sequence is thrilling and clever.  The environment of the city, and of the city-within-the-city that the train station represents, is brought to fully-realized, teeming life.  I don’t know where the beautiful costumes and sets end and the computer-generated effects begin, and that’s just the way I like it.  Every frame of the film is packed with fascinating imagery — if my eye ever wandered from the main action, there was always … [continued]