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The Times May Have Changed, But Borat Sure Hasn’t

21 Oct

Sup.

Think back to the time in the earlier part of this century when Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat Sagdiyev character wasn’t a household name. Sure, he’d appeared on Cohen’s Da Ali G Show. But with the release of Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan in 2006, the world saw a whole lot more of Borat’s bumbling, racist, Anti-Semitic journalist, and those not already in the know became much more familiar with Cohen’s immersive style of guerrilla comedy.

At the time, that movie held up a mirror, and its revelations were still a bit of a shock — that ordinary Americans, particularly those in Red States and those with conservative beliefs, can be a clueless, bigoted, misogynistic lot. Back then, it was actually funny. Very funny.

Fast-forward 14 years. Now we’re in the middle of a pandemic, our culture is politically charged, and our President* creates chaos on the daily, using his bully pulpit to enable hate groups and amplify conspiracy theories. Now we see misogyny, Anti-Semitism, and racism on full display, and ignorance is often encouraged or given a free pass. The things Borat discovered all those years ago have gone mainstream. In short: Reality just isn’t funny anymore. 

So here comes our favorite Kazakh journalist, back with another cinematic adventure, the full title of which is Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan — but let’s just call it Borat 2, okay? Can he make things any better? Ha!

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From Fly on the Wall to Instagram Activist

14 Sep

The Way I See It posterAfter the last week and a half of news — heck, the last four years of news — the arrival of the new film The Way I See It serves as a welcome reminder of how things used to be.

Not that we needed it, of course. But Dawn Porter’s documentary provides a bright and enjoyable look back at the Barack Obama presidency through the eyes of former Official White House Photographer Pete Souza. Like Souza’s active Instagram account, in which he trolls the current president* by sharing photos from his predecessor’s term, the film celebrates what we had and makes viewers long for a simpler time when our leader was a more noble sort of person. Continue reading

One of Those Infinite Time-Loop Situations You Might Have Heard About

13 Jul

Palm Springs movieFor more than four months now, it’s felt like we’re always waking up on the same day. We repeat the same routine, hear the same news, participate in the same Zoom hangouts, walk the same deserted routes, wait on the same lines to get into the same stores, and not much about our lives changes. Every day, it’s the same thing. Over and over again.

All of which makes Palm Springs the perfect movie for these unusual times we’re living in. Continue reading

Life, Loss, and a Few Laughs on Staten Island

8 Jun

King of Staten Island bannerWell, hasn’t this been an unusual year for the movies.

In mid-March, when the world suddenly shut down, the best movie I’d seen so far was probably The Way Back, starring Ben Affleck as an alcoholic basketball coach. And while I don’t say that to dismiss it (the film is legit good, and Affleck delivers an impressive performance), it’s hardly the kind of film that would be remembered later in the year if things were normal.

With most major releases now delayed till whenever, a few that were intended for the big screen have gone direct-to-digital. Fair to say none have been particularly memorable or must-see, and nearly all have been right at home on the small(er) screen. (Unlike, say, the new Bond or Wonder Woman flicks would have been.)

Which brings us to Judd Apatow’s latest, The King of Staten Island, starring Pete Davidson of Saturday Night Live, and Marissa Tomei, moving New York City boroughs from Queens, where she plays Aunt May in the MCU Spider-man movies. Continue reading

No Matter How You Saw Them, These Movies from 2019 Were Worth Remembering

30 Dec

2019 top moviesWhen we look back at the year in movies 2019, chances are good we’re going to see it as a transitional year. Or, if you prefer, an inflection point.

It certainly was a big year, financially: When all is said and done, movie ticket sales in the United States and Canada will total roughly $11.45 billion for the year, according to Comscore. And yet, as significant a number as that is, it’s actually down 4 percent from last year — the largest drop in five years.

Where did that 4 percent go? Streaming, probably.

With Disney taking eight of the top 10 spots in the list of highest-grossing films of 2019 domestically, and 58 features earning the distinction of being “franchise films,” those looking for something different or original often had to look for it on Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, Amazon Prime — or even CNN.

Indeed, when looking at the most memorable films of the year, they weren’t necessarily those with the highest box-office totals, the ones that monopolized theater screens for much of the year. They were films that, often, were just under the radar or could be easily enjoyed in the comfort of your own home, not a movie theater. Continue reading

Let the Memory of the Cats Movie Not Live Again

18 Dec

Cats movie posterFull disclosure: I’m not a fan of Cats the musical. I’ve seen a lot of Broadway shows over the years, and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s feline songfest is one show I really didn’t like. I even enjoyed Starlight Express more. Yes, I like the roller-skating show more than I like Cats. If you know anything about Starlight Express, you know that’s really saying something.

But even with that in mind, I wasn’t prepared for just how much I didn’t like Cats the movie. We all knew going into it, based on the trailers, that this wasn’t going to be a good movie. But holy hell, is it bad. Jennifer Hudson is pretty much the only redeeming thing about it. Continue reading

Wrapping Up a Decade at the Movies with 20 Favorite Films

10 Dec

Favorite movies of the decadeJust in case you haven’t heard, we’re now at the end of another decade. Which means it’s time to take stock not just of the year that’s closing, but the nine previous years, too, and what the major highlights and trends were.

Any decade recap in my world has to include a top-movies list. It’s a bit of a herculean task, to be sure, given that, by my math, I saw an average of 71 movies every year of this decade. (My single-year high was 85, a total I reached twice.) If all goes according to plan, I’ll close out the 2010s having seen 715 films.

That’s right: Seven hundred and fifteen films. It’s crazy, I know.

So yes, that creates a bit of a challenge when it comes to narrowing down the list to just a few “favorites.” Continue reading

In Theaters or Streaming, These Netflix Movies Are Well Worth Seeing

25 Nov

Marriage Story and Two PopesI have long been a proponent of seeing movies in a movie theater.

In spite of the possible frustrations — people talking and/or using their cell phones, overpriced food and drink — the communal experience of watching a movie, with good projection on a big screen, and loud, sharp sound can’t be beat. It is far superior to watching something in the comfort of your own home, where there are more distractions and it’s generally a much less immersive experience.

All of that has made the last month or so a bit confusing for me, because some of the best movies I’ve seen — indeed, some of the best movies of the year — have come from Netflix, which, not surprisingly, is prioritizing not the in-theater experience, but the at-home streaming one. Each of Netflix’s big releases this year is receiving just a limited theatrical release (to qualify for awards, natch) before being more widely shared with the public on the streaming platform.

Why would a filmmaker choose to make a movie for a company that does this? Creative freedom is generally the answer. I mean, were he working for a more traditional studio, Martin Scorsese would probably never have been able to make a three-and-a-half-hour epic like The Irishman the way he wanted to make it. Likewise, Alfonso Cuarón was able to be indulgent in his own ways with Roma, one of my favorite movies of 2018 (and a multiple Oscar winner). So obviously, there’s a tradeoff.

Films are supposed to be seen in a theater, on a big screen. I’ll never believe otherwise. But Netflix isn’t making it easy to see their films that way. So, should you make an exception for two of the company’s newest releases — which, admittedly, I did see in a theater? (And should I be okay with it?) Yes. Here’s why. Continue reading

It’s Mister Rogers I Like. The Movie? Not As Much.

20 Nov

beautiful day in the neighborhood posterAt the recent screening when I saw A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, I was unlucky enough to sit next to a couple of chatty millennials, who spent nearly the entire movie making comments to each other and being a bit of a distraction.

On the one hand, it kinda sucked; those two definitely affected my movie-going experience.

But on the other hand, I really couldn’t blame them.

After all, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood went off the air on August 31, 2001, just before my seatmates were probably old enough to watch and appreciate it. Mister Rogers himself passed away less than two years later, on February 27, 2003. So I chose to attribute these twentysomethings’ lack of engagement in what was going on on-screen to the fact that Mister Rogers hadn’t had the same effect on their lives that he had on mine — and on the lives of so many other people around my age and older, who grew up with him and his daily TV show. Because of this, I suspect my seat mates were just less invested in the movie than I was.

As a result, rather than be angry about the distraction, I found myself feeling sorry for these kids. Continue reading

Who Deserves a Spot in the Winner’s Circle: Charlie or Ferrari?

15 Nov Ford v Ferrari

It’s mid November, which means there’s now an overabundance of options at the movie theater (and streaming on Netflix).

Because time is tight and you likely don’t have as much of it as I do to see every movie, let’s take a look at two new releases. One of them is definitely worth seeing, but I’m going to start with the one that isn’t. Continue reading