Comedy’s Core: The anticipatory laugh and how Borat Subsequent Film nails it

If we ever needed to have belly laughs, it’s the week before the election and “Borat Subsequent Film” delivers in spades. Just Sacha Baron Cohen’s word play (and to be fair, his 11 other collaborators who worked on the screenplay) alone, is commendable. I double dog dare you to check out Rudy Guillani’s Twitter response to his role in the film and then Sacha’s twitter video follow-up and NOT laugh….classic puns and double entendre!

While there’s many minor characters who are hysterically funny as straight men and women (and for any millennials reading: I mean that in the non-comedic sense, not sexual preference sense), Sacha’s only other main co-star is a Bulgarian actress names Maria Bakalova.

While I thought Maria fit the bill as believable foreigner, I didn’t think she was perfect for this role. She hammed it up a little too much which almost sounds impossible given the absurdity of the plot. My rationale is when you have one character who is the jester, I think the secondary character calls for more subtlety.

A minor flaw though in a perfect film. Sacha is the Groucho Marx of our time and God Bless him we need the humor now more than ever!

God’s Own Country, a must see

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Recently I was asked to co-host a program at our local Independent Theater Burns Court for the movie “Ammonite” which debuts November 13th.

As a dutiful life long learner, I looked into the writer/director Francis Lee. Lo and behold, was a movie on his filmography I’d been meaning to watch starring one of my favorite young actors, Josh O’Connor.

God’s Own Country, from 2017, is by far the best love story between two men that I’ve ever seen. Kudos to Francis Lee for his expert writing and direction. Thank God Sundance and the Chicago Film Fests honored this film. Where in the H-E-double pitchforks (going with the farming theme) were the Oscars or Independent Spirit Awards that year?….asleep at the tractor, I guess.

The harsh Scottish farming setting lends itself to the desperation and loneliness felt by Josh’s character. Romanian actor Alec Secareanu was also outstanding as his out of town gypsy co-worker.

The parents portrayed by Gemma Jones and Ian Hart (playing much older than his actual age and VERY believable) are an absolute duo of acting marvel, beaten down by the weather and farming life.

I was truly moved by this movie to the point where I felt the emotions resonating into the next day. Mark my words, Josh O’Connor SHOULD win an Oscar in his life time and if not, he should at least clink glasses with others who unfortunately have gone without (Willem Dafoe to name one).

And fun fact: Alec Secareanu and Gemma Jones are both cast again in Lee’s upcoming November release.

The Trial of the Chicago 7

Aaron Sorkin’s prolific and still relatively young. As I perused his filmography, here are my top five of his films:

1. Steve Jobs
2. Social Network
3. Moneyball
4. Molly’s Game
5. Tie: Charlie Wilson’s War and today’s specialty The Trial of the Chicago 7

Aaron’s forte is his snappy storytelling and The Trial of the Chicago 7 is right up there.

I appreciated the massive cast in The Trial of the Chicago 7, yet at the beginning of the film, it was difficult to not see them acting. Part of it was the semi mundane cinematography which I realize is tough to glamorize. Protests and courtrooms are not that picturesque.

What didn’t help was the make up and wigs. Again, I realize this was the late 60’s, but Sacha Baron Cohen’s wig looked like something he used on Borat and Rylance’s comb over looked fake as well. Like Rylance (maybe the equal in underappreciated as Willem Dafoe), Jeremy Strong portrayed Jerry Rubin with excellence, yet his wig also looked pasted on.

The most believable acting goes to Frank Langella, Eddie Redmayne and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II.

As a historical document of a very dark time in our past, this film is a 10. As far as a best picture Oscar award winner, a yes for screenplay winner but as for a film, yes to a nomination, but in total I wasn’t wowed.

On the Rocks, Conned this Rox

One of my top fifteen movies of all time is Lost in Translation, Sofia Coppola’s gorgeous ode to feeling misunderstood, captured perfectly by two different generations (Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson) who come together in a hotel bar.

So I went skipping to On the Rocks, Sofia’s newest using Bill Murray again, in a different self-aware cad role with the beautiful Rashida Jones as his Eyeore of a daughter.

If L.I.T. was about feeling misunderstood, On the Rocks is about feeling unappreciated. Rashida feels unappreciated by her husband, Marlon Wayans (pretty face, not an actor). Bill relates to the under appreciation having felt that ‘back in the day’ and consequently straying from Rashida’s mom.

Hence, Bill wants to help his daughter get ahead of the curve and find out if indeed Marlon is the cheater he (Bill) use to be.

Many missed opportunities: one being use Jenny Slate as more than just three funny cameos, two give Rashida’s character more pizzazz (I mean no wonder Marlon would be bored), three, the pivotal daughter-father showdown needed to be amped up to evoke emotion.

Fortunately for Sofia, Americans have been bludgeoned by Covid 19 and are so starved for movies that this looks good enough to rate an 87% on Rotten Tomatoes. In reality, however, this is a 72and a half (I’m averaging my film buddy Gus Mollasis’s 75 and my 70 here) at best.

And I thought the only “Gilda” was Radner

Ok, so maybe I’m not a film noir connoisseur. I had never heard of Gilda, but then again, I’m not a heterosexual male either. But wowee, Rita Hayworth certainly had pizzazz.

While the movie plot was pretty implausible (at least in 2020), I definitely felt the charisma between Glenn Ford (too boyish for me, give me Humphrey Bogart or Fred Mac Murray anyday) and Rita. Not to mention the sultry George Macready, who possessed a je ne sais quoi, and whose cheek scar was a real deal. Note to those afraid of Covid, his cheek scar happened due to a car crash where the closest doctor was a veterinarian AND he contracted Scarlet Fever since the vet hadn’t cleaned his animal utensils. hashtag: #wewillsurvivieaslongaspeoplestaycalm.

Glenn Ford, who I really didn’t know that well, won the Golden Globe for another oldie I’ll have to catch by Capra, “Pocketful of Miracles”.

Worth watching just to covet Rita’s lustrous locks, voice and body and for just a fun walk down memory lane.

With Regal closing, this may be are only ticket to ‘new’ films, films that are simply ‘new’ to us.

Dick Johnson is Dead, What a Way to Go!

Kirsten Johnson (writer and director AND daughter of Dickey J) originally made a splash with a doc called Cameraperson in 2016. I won’t pretend that I had ever heard of her before her recent and profound, “Dick Johnson is Dead”.

In Dick Johnson is Dead, Johnson walks her dad figuratively speaking through his Seventh Day Adventist beliefs about death and the afterlife as he meanders further into old age and dementia. While this may sound bleak, Kirsten makes it fun, by allowing her Dad to experience his hope for Heaven and biggest wishes.

This should definitely be in the running for the Oscar doc this year for three simple reasons: universal thematically, moving and unique.

Wildly inventive, this movie will make you seek out your own family with fresh eyes and patience. I only wish I had seen it Friday night, alas, most often, we’re lucky enough to live another day and improve.

And while I had thought it quite morbid, seeing Dick Johnson experience his funeral live (literally), I now understand my Grandma wanting to read her eulogy before the lights go out.