Monday, November 20, 2006

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

Okay, I've been a bit negligent. It's been over a week since I saw Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan and I'm just now getting around to writing about the experience. Better late.

The movie follows Borat Sagdiyev, the alter ego of Sacha Baron Cohen, on a trip across the United States as he searches for knowledge to bring back to the people of his homeland, Kazakhstan. Along the way, he encounters a variety of people, most of whom I suspect have no idea they're talking to someone in character. That character, Borat, is kind and friendly, albeit naive, ignorant, sexist, homophobic, anti-Semitic and (as we find out) quite hairy. You may choose to avert your eyes during one scene where you're afforded the opportunity to compare the full-body hairiness of Borat and his producer, Azamat.

I've struggled with this movie quite a bit. I laughed quite a bit when I saw it. Some parts were very, very funny. Some parts were extremely uncomfortable. Some were both. Cohen manages to point out the ignorance, bigotry, etc. in many of the unwitting participants of the film. I don't know if I feel sorry for too many of them, and yet there is some part of me that has a hard time being too thrilled about laughing at their expense.

Without spoiling too much, a few funny quotes from the movie: "May George Bush drink the blood of every man, woman and child in Iraq!" (to the somewhat uncomfortable applause of rodeo spectators). "We should go back to New York. At least there are no Jews there." (apparently, their research is lacking) and "Although Kazakhstan a glorious country, it have problem, too: economic, social and Jew." (It should be noted that Sacha Baron Cohen is a Jew himself.)

Moving on... perhaps I fell prey to the "high expectations" syndrome, but I don't think this movie is worthy of the intense accolades it's received. Some reviewer said it was "possibly the funniest movie ever made". Funny, yes. Funniest ever? Far from it. If you're looking for some cheap laughs, and perhaps a few smart jokes here and there, here's your movie. It might be a nice break from all the Oscar contenders you'll see in the next couple months. My imdb rating: 7.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Review: The Departed

I heard a lot of hype about Martin Scorsese's latest film The Departed. The film's cast is littered with legendary and hot-list names including Matt Damon, Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Wahlberg, Alec Baldwin, Martin Sheen, and Jack Nicholson. The screenplay is based on a Hong Kong crime drama called Infernal Affairs. It was a perfect set-up for disappointment. But...

The 150-minute movie starts fast, and never slows down. The plot is intricately woven and I'm sure that I might come close to grasping all the twists and turns if I saw it again; particularly minus the record popcorn-eating binge, frequent bathroom breaks, and hilarious "trip up the stairs -- SPLASH -- my pop!" moment of the guys behind and to the right of us; also, minus the people who decided this would be a pleasant movie to which they could bring a 2-year old (perhaps they match the film's f-bomb pace at home, but I can only assume that the film's level of violence is unmatched, even at daycare).

The acting was superb, capped off by the best performance I've seen from Jack Nicholson in years. Scorsese kept him in line, drawing out Jack's famous nuttiness in controlled fashion. I keep not wanting to like Leonardo DiCaprio, probably some sort of deranged payback for Titanic and having botched so many relationships with international runway models; but he was terrific. I really don't think there was a bad performance in the whole thing.

Assuming they didn't stray too far from the original movie, we owe a big thanks from those guys in Hong Kong for reminding us how to make a crime drama (Note to self: rent original for comparison). I can't gush enough. My imdb rating: 9.