Tag Archives: Sacha Baron Cohen

High Five!

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

by George Wolf, because Hope Madden can’t watch Borat’s pranks without leaving the room

You may have already seen a headline or two about Rudy Giuliani’s run-in with Sacha Baron Cohen as Borat.

When it happened this past July, Giuliani called the cops, and then boasted that Cohen didn’t “get him.” But now that Subsequent Moviefilm is here, we see Giuliani still lives in a world unhindered by reality, and Cohen still has a knack for finding cringeworthy humor in the most unseemly situations.

Much as changed in Borat’s world – and ours – since his 2006 adventure brought shame to his native Kazakhstan, and earned him a life sentence of hard labor. But now, with the American president’s fondness for dictatorships, Borat has a chance for redemption.

He must return to America, and get Kazakhstan on the short list for Trump’s “strongman club” by bribing Vice President Pence with a valuable offering.

The gift? Borat’s 15 year-old daughter Tutar- also known as “Sandra Jessica Parker Sagdiyev” (Bulgarian actress Maria Bakalova, nearly Cohen’s equal for stone faced boundary-pushing.)

Borat’s special delivery during Pence’s CPAC speech (beautifully synched to a COVID-19 reassurance of being “ready for anything!”) is rebuffed, so Giuliani becomes the next logical target.

And that road to Rudy is filled with Cohen’s fearless hijinx, again skewering the breeding grounds for bigotry, ignorance, misogyny, anti-semitism, QAnon, Karens and..what else ya got?

Pervy ex-mayors of NYC!

But Borat is pranking a meaner America this time. There are no layers to peel away anymore, the ugliness is out and proud. From a bakery to a pregnancy center to a Tea Party rally, the often hilarious audacity is tempered by the sadness of realizing we no longer need Borat to expose this underbelly.

So Cohen and director Jason Wolinar (a TV vet helming his first feature) make a smart and subtle pivot. Segments with Tutar’s “babysitter,” and another featuring two elderly Jewish ladies in a synagogue (one of which the film is dedicated to) mix the bracing humor with moments of touching sweetness. Cohen’s not going soft, just pausing to remind us there is hope.

Early on, Borat has to run from random Americans excited to see him on the street. It’s a refreshing acknowledgment that we’ve seen this schtick before. Yes, it’s still shockingly brazen and often laugh out loud funny, but the thrill of discovery is naturally gone.

But whether he’s Cohen posing as Borat or Borat posing as Cliff Safari (or John Chevrolet, take your pick), the comedy and the tragedy are nearly impossible to ignore, even if you want to.

Right, Rudy?

The Whole World Is Watching

The Trial of the Chicago 7

by Hope Madden

Oscar winning, much beloved and frequently frustrating writer Aaron Sorkin first ducked behind the camera for the clever if overwritten 2017 indulgence Molly’s Game.

A courtroom drama (very Sorkin) about celebrity tabloid fodder (less Sorkin-like), the film seemed an odd match for the filmmaker. He’s found a much more comfortable focus in his follow up, the tale of eight defendants, their counsel, prosecution, and a corrupt establishment: The Trial of the Chicago 7.

Chicago 7 artfully and urgently recreates the scene of the federal court hearing against eight defendants alleged to have conspired to incite the infamous riot at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.

The film rings with historical significance as well as disheartening immediacy. It is another courtroom drama, this one benefitting from surprising restraint, as well as Sorkin’s deep well of passion for the subjects of legal processes and liberalism. Like Ave DuVernay’s 2014 masterpiece Selma, Sorkin’s new film details the past to show us the present.

He’s assembled a remarkable ensemble, each actor leaving an impression though none gets an abundance of screen time. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II is a blistering Bobby Seale while Frank Langella is infuriatingly believable as Judge Julius Hoffman. Eddie Redmayne, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Mark Rylance are all also excellent, as you might expect.

Jeremy Strong and Sacha Baron Cohen share a comfortable, enjoyable chemistry as Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman, respectively. Both appear in the film, as they did in life, as the wise-cracking comic relief in the room, but Cohen’s turn is thoughtful, wise, and slightly tragic. He’s obviously a talent, but this may be the first time we’ve seen the magnitude of his acting prowess.

An alarmingly relevant look at the power of due process, free speech, and justice, Chicago 7 is catapulted by more than the self-righteousness that sometimes weights down Sorkin’s writing. This is outrage, even anger, as well as an urgent optimism about the possibilities in human nature and democracy.

If I may quote my own review of Molly’s Game and my take on Sorkin as a filmmaker:

His are dialogue-driven character pieces where brilliant people throw intellectual and moral challenges at one another while the audience wonders whether the damaged protagonist’s moral compass can still find true north.

Still the case. But with Chicago 7, Sorkin’s struck a balance. He’s found a story and convened a cast that demand and receive his very best, because The Trial of the Chicago 7 is a story about today, this minute.

It’s No Tea Party

Alice Through the Looking Glass

by Hope Madden

One billion dollars. That’s global money, keep in mind, but still, who’d have thought Tim Burton’s utterly banal and forgettable 2010 acid trip Alice in Wonderland had made so very much money? Too much – and not just because the film had no genuine merit, but because that kind of sum necessitates a sequel, however wildly and wholly unnecessary – even unwanted – that kind of muchness must be.

And so, back to Underland we go, accompanying an adult(ish) Alice who returns from a stint as sea captain to find Victorian England just as restrictive as it had been when she was a child escaping into her imagination. And so, to her imagination she returns.

Director James Bobin (The Muppets) has the unenviable task of following Burton into the rabbit hole – not unenviable because he may suffer by comparison, but because his options are somewhat limited based on the film’s predecessor. Expect garishly overdone visuals that offset weekly drawn characters.

Familial tensions are at the heart of the tale, penned by Linda Woolverton and based on some of Lewis Carroll’s most dreamlike and incongruous storytelling. Too bad Woolverton and Disney insisted on hemming Carroll’s wild imagination inside such a tediously structured framework.

The Hatter is depressed to the point of death and Alice has to go back in time to save him. Basically. But you can’t change the past – a lesson she’d allegedly learned in her first fantastic voyage, but I guess it didn’t stick. So, let’s learn it again, with the help of Time himself, as played by Sacha Baron Cohen with a Schwarzenegger-esque accent.

Aside from that new face, the same forgettably wacky group returns to the future/past. The talented Mia Wasikowska struggles to find life inside the bland Alice while Helena Bonham Carter pointlessly chews scenery.

An underused Anne Hathaway brightens certain scenes, and Johnny Depp – reliable as ever inside a fright wig and exaggerated make up – does bring a wistful humanity to the otherworldly events.

But imagination and tiresome capitalism butt heads from the opening sequence, and without the foundation of compelling characters or the requirement of engaging storytelling, Through the Looking Glass proves to be a pointless, though colorful, bore.