Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Website of Screen Jam
by Jon Weisman
Though it's hardly the second coming of comedy, Borat has sufficient laughs to justify some of the buzz.
The movie soars when Borat puts himself completely at the mercy of a potentially hostile environment and truly reacts to his surroundings. In contrast, the set-up jokes, along the lines of his sister being the No. 4 prostitute in all of Kazakhstan, often fall flat without a good topper. At the start of the movie, I was worried about how little I was laughing, but the deeper Borat got into alien territory, the funnier he got. (It definitely helped when I was caught off guard by some stuff, as opposed to the clips I have seen time and again in promotion of the film.)
I'm not sure that the film is all that profound, since for every boor that Sacha Baron Cohen presents to us, one can assume that there are plenty of normal people he's not showing. I'm not shocked to find that there are racists and homophobes in the U.S. But the way Borat occasionally gets them to confront their prejudices is, well, entertaining, and again, Borat's ad-libs do approach genius from time to time.
And the wrestling sequence ... well, yeah, that worked.
But there's this storyline in some of the press that Borat has somehow reinvented audaciousness, and I think that's going a little far. Cohen is carrying the audaciousness banner, no doubt, but is what he's doing more nervy than what The Colbert Report, The Daily Show and some others are doing, night after night after night?
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Sunday night, I saw a more serious kind of foreign film, Z odzysku (Retrieval), a Polish picture that won an award at the Cannes Film Festival and that will be the official Polish entry for the Oscars. It's a well-done film, with an opening scene that resonated in my head long after the plot had moved on from it.
The pacing is patient, and for the first half hour I did wonder whether the story of a young man trying to figure out his life amid unsavory options would pay off in the end. It does.
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As a former James Bond diehard, who read all of Ian Fleming's novels and saw every film growing up before turning sour on the whole enterprise, I have to say that the trailer for Casino Royale really enticed me.
By the way, have you ever read Moonraker? The film was one of the worst in the Bond series, but the bridge game in the book was spellbinding - and I don't even play bridge.