Saturday, September 09, 2006

Saturday morning

We're into the swing of things now. There's nothing but movies. I've got a few party invites, but I don't know if I've got the time for them.

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan

Directed by
Larry Charles

Sacha Baron Cohen is in deep trouble in the heart of Central Asia. The reason he isn't yet in trouble anywhere else is that the Kazakh people don't yet have an equal rights committee like the Poles currently do. However they do have an army, and if he ever sets foot in Alma Ata he's going to get lynched.

You see, what Cohen and partner in crime Larry Charles have done is one long ethnic joke, victimizing the Kazakhs and their culture while pretending to make fun of the Americans and theirs. Yeah, it's racist, yeah it's offensive, but this is the funniest movie of the year and no one is going to be able to say otherwise unless they speak Kazakhstani.

This film is the equivalent of a Saturday Night Live sketch extension film. In Baron Cohen's “Da Ali G Show” Borat Sagdiyev (SB-C) is a foreign correspondent from you-know-where and asks astoundingly stupid questions [like Ali G] to genuine politicians and religious leaders, who are generally clueless as to what is really going on. So except for a couple of scenes, that's what our hero and his producer Azamat Bagatov (Ken Davitian) do across this great land of North America.

Borat and Azmat have been sent to the good ol' USA to do a documentary on what makes America great. But before that we get to look at what makes Kazakhstan great, like the “running of the Jew” festival and the fact that our hero's sister is the number four prostitute in the entire country. It's horrible, but you just can't stop yourself from laughing.

Once they get there, they do the usual shtick from the TV show, but that doesn't make for more than fifteen minutes, so SBC concocts a plot where he falls in love with Pamela Anderson(Herself) and takes a trip through the heart of the American south where he hobnobs with the locals. It gets funnier and funnier. You feel ashamed of yourself for falling on the floor with tears in your eyes gulping for air as you gaffauh your lungs out through your windpipe.

The best, or possibly worst thing in the film is the fight scene between Borat and Azmat where the two wrestle butt naked all the way from their hotel room to the lobby, with computerized censor marks over their dicks in such a way as it actually looks like you can see them and they're a couple of feet long swinging like elephant trunks. It's gross, yet brilliant at the same time. If you don't have a weak stomach, you have to see this thing. The guiltiest pleasure of the year.

Stranger than Fiction

Directed by
Marc Forster

Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) is an auditor for the IRS. He leads an extremely humdrum life, doing things with mathematical precision, that is until he discovers his has a narrator. How he does this is by hearing a voice in his head describing exactly what he's doing. This doesn't happen all the time, only sometimes. This is merely annoying until the narrator, novelist Kay Eiffel (Emma Thompson) says the words “unbeknownst to Harold Crick…he's going to die.”

This is something of a wake-up call.

So he tries a number of doctors, the last of whom is a professor of literature by the name of Jules Hilbert (Dustin Hoffman), who has agreed to help him on his quest to at least silence his narrator by finding out what kind of literature our hero is trapped inside of.

One key is Ana Pascal (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a baker and auditee who Harold has begun to fall in love with. Is he in a romantic comedy, in which he's going to marry her, or is it a tragedy in which he's going to die, and speaking of that…

Kay has writer's block. She's had it for years, and her publisher has sent their writer's block specialist, Penny Escher (Queen Latifah) to help her kill off poor Harold, who gets more desperate by the day.

This is where Jim Carrey's career began to sputter. He did a film called “The Majestic” in which he decided to do something a little more serious after getting stiffed by the Oscar® people for two absolutely brilliant performances. Will Ferrell is trying to be taken seriously here, and gives a good, but not great performance. The comedy is in the situation and not character. Any actor with a modicum of talent can do such stuff, there's no scenery chewing or a quirky character with lots of emoting to do. Harold is just a normal guy doing normal things, in other words, boring. It's Hoffman and Thompson who have the fun parts, and both manage to overwhelm both Ferrell and Queen Latifah, who is also famous for broad roles, and is remarkably understated. She's capable of being a straight man, and so is Ferrell, that's why it works.

Everyone can handle sitcom and they do. It's worth a bargain matinee.


Directed by
Alejandro González Iñárritu

Guns don't kill people, people kill people. People with guns that is.
Two moronic shepherds in Morocco are given a powerful rifle by their father in order to protect the goats from jackels. This is actually a completely legitimate use for the thing, but the kids are stupid, and after a bit of arguing about how powerful it is, one of them decides to shoot at a passing bus, severely wounding an American tourist named

Susan(Cate Blanchett), who is with her husband Richard (Brad Pitt), to recover over the demise of their youngest child from crib death.
They have two other kids, Debbie(Elle Fanning) and Mike(Nathan Gamble), who's being taken care of by the illegal Mexican housekeeper Amelia (Adriana Barraza). But there's a problem. Amelia's son is getting married on this particular day, and somehow Amelia has neglected to make plans as to what to do with the kids.

When she can't find anyone for the afternoon, she and her nephew
Santiago(Gael Garcia Bernal) finally conclude that they have to take the kids to Mexico, which if they had the right papers would have been a wonderful idea.

Meanwhile, in distant Japan, a deaf teenager named Chieko (Rinko Kikuchi) is having problems with her father Yasujiro(Koji Yakusho), which have nothing to do with anything much, the usual teenaged girl stuff. What does this have to do with the shooting of Susan clear on the other side of the Old World?

This is as much a polemic as a drama, three groups of interconnected people, and how a single rifle can cause so much havoc that it effects, in a small way, much of the world. It's also about how western people, even if they're completely innocent are evil even, this includes the westernized Japanese.

Six degrees of separation.

The Moroccan segment is anti-western because the Western tourists are all a bunch of selfish pricks, and the American embassy makes things worse, while the locals are all wonderful and nice.

González seems to want us to sympathize with the shooters, who after all just made an innocent mistake and that the shooting, while unfortunate, wasn't that big a deal. They shouldn't have been hunted down by those evil fascist cops, right? Other, INNOCENT people might get hurt, right?

The same with the Mexican segment, the kids have a wonderful time, it's only the American border guards who ruin things. The Japanese segment is the most problematic, it's about sexual awakening, pure and simple, Cheiko really doesn't really need to be deaf in order to get the point across, that kids are alienated and horny. This is a universal theme, which has been done much better elsewhere.

The acting is terrific, especially Barraza, who manages to carry the entire segment by herself. The Moroccan kids are really good too, It's a bit long, and in the end doesn't really work all that well. This is one of those overrated things that's going to get a lot of undeserved praise. Still, it ain't all that bad, but that doesn't mean it's worth twenty bucks for a pair of movie tickets.

The Caiman (Italy)

Written and Directed
by Nanni Moretti

Silvio Burlusconi was the most influential Italian politician in recent Italian history. The reason was that he was an alleged crook and the only way he could avoid the jail is to be elected prime minister. This he was for the second longest time for anyone to hold the job since the fall of Mussolini. One of the reasons he managed this trick is because he owned the media. That's right, OWNED the media, Imagine Rupert Murdoch being President while still owning all those newspapers and TV stations.

Auteur Nanni Moretti is not a Burlusconi fan by any means. He and others of the left in the media wanted to do a decent satire, but with the Prime Minister now in control of 90% of the private and all the public TV and radio stations, it was impossible to get financing for a full frontal attack. So Moretti decided to do a slightly oblique approach.

Bruno Bonomo(Silvio Orlando) is a failure. The once-upon-a-time film producer is on his last legs. He hasn't produced a film in years and that last one, which starred his future wife Paola(Margherita Buy) was the biggest flop of the year. So he married her and had a couple of kids. He loves his kids, but his wife no longer loves him, and divorce is in the air. When we first meet him, he's at a screening of the abovementioned, now ten years old, film. Just before the film starts, a woman holding a baby gives him a script for a film called “The Caiman”.

The next day, the director of his latest project quits on the day before he was to have an interview with the public TV network RAI to fund the project. Completely depressed, he thumbs through the screenplay, and we see it, as the Caiman (Elio De Capitani) starts his career by getting a trunk of money from God himself fall through his ceiling. He uses this to get himself a TV network and then take over Italy's media.

Intrigued, Bruno decides to pitch the project to RAI instead of the other project, which just fell through, and when that falls through, the other finacial venues, which mostly include his old pal Jerzy Sturovski(Jerzy Stuhr), but only if famed actor Marco Pulici(Michele Placido) takes the part, which he eventually does, for a while

Novice Writer/Director Teresa(Jasmine Trinca), a lesbian mother of one, is thrilled of course, and soon we're in a three ring circus, one is Bruno's family life, then there's his professional life, and finally there's the Caiman, itself. Going back and forth brings in an air of dizziness to the proceedings, as Bruno begins to get his second wind as a filmmaker as his family life falls apart. Finally the whole thing falls apart, and then we have what must be a fantasy sequence of sort, in which Moretti himself takes the role of the Caiman and we get a chilling ending. Fortunately, Burlusconi lost the election, which took place after the film was made. What's interesting is that this may have worked even without making any mention of Burlusconi…

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