I’m slow on the pickup again, but 36 hours ago the L.A. Times ran two Borat stories, and portions of each are worth quoting because they lay bare what Borat‘s star-cowriter-producer Sacha Baron Cohen is essentially up to, which is a cunning mockery of America’s rural cluelessness.
The piece by Mark Olsen and John Horn quotes Talladega Nights director Adam McKay as follows: “I don’t want to speak for my movies; you could say my movies are just completely silly and dumb, but in the case of Idiocracy and Borat, without a doubt there is a really subversive and sophisticated assault on American culture.
“It’s one thing to mess stuff up and break stuff, but [Borat] is really pointing out the ideology of America. It’s one thing to break stuff and damage people’s possessions, but when you start aiming at the ideology of America, that’s dangerous comedy.”
The article/rant piece by Carina Chocano points out that Borat — i.e., Cohen playing a Kazakhstan culture reporter — hangs out with “normal people” — i.e., non-actors who aren’t in on the joke — and gets them to happily reveal their prejudices.
“Shopping for a house, in one TV episode, Borat asks a real estate agent about a windowless room with a metal door for his mentally disabled brother, whether he may bury his wife in the yard if she dies, and whether black people will move into the neighborhood. At the wine tasting, he asks if the black waiter is a slave, to which the ‘commander’ of the Knights of the Vine society in Jackson, Miss., replies that there was ‘a law that was passed that they could no longer be used as slaves — which is a good thing for them.’ (‘Oh, good for him, not so good for you!’ Borat yelps, picking up an undercurrent that may not have even been evident to them.)
“And he does all of it with a wide-eyed, kiss-you-on-the-cheek, ‘America is No. 1’ insouciance that lowers everybody’s guard — which must be it, because, otherwise, what’s going on? Why is it that Borat can boast to a recruiter at a financial services company that he can ‘hold down a large woman for three hours’ or patiently explain to a career counselor how his last job consisted of masturbating camels, and both men will nod patiently, never so much as cracking a smile or doing a double take, unflappably respectful of their ‘cultural differences’ until the end.
“Are they media-coached to the point of catatonia? So secure in their cultural superiority and so clueless about the world around them that they actually believe that this nice, besuited television reporter from Central Asia has never seen a toilet before? Are they dead?
“This, I think, is where the genius and horror of Borat’s explorations really lie: The joke is not on the U.S. or Kazakhstan or even the fake Kazakhstan of Cohen’s imagination. The joke is on petrified, inward-looking nationalism of all stripes. What’s funny is a jingoism so blinkered it can’t see the joke in a fake Kazakh singing the fake Kazakh national anthem to the tune of the American one. (Or the irony, for that matter, in the malaprop: ‘I support your war of terror!’)”
I never think about Vaugniston except when I’m at the check-out counter at Pavillions, but I’m wondering if anyone else is feeling vaguely let down to read that apparently they haven’t broken up after all. I don’t give a shit but I thought it was over. I think it would be fairly cool, frankly, if every celebrity couple except Brangelina were to all break up at the same time. (I have a soft spot for Pitt and Jolie; it has something to do with that tabloid story about Jolie making sounds “like an animal being killed” when she was apparently getting down with Pitt in that African hotel bungalow.)
But now here’s this BBC News story sayings they’re still happening — the exact phrase is “the couple [is saying] they remain together” — and that Vaughn is suing a couple of London tabs plus the New York Post for running a story that he kissed some hottie, blah, blah. I’m just saying I didn’t realize how sick I was of Vaughniston until they came back.
Six days ago — October 10 — I didn’t post anything about the Movies.com 1st Annual Readers Poll Awards, partly because the results seemed so obvious and insipid and indicative of a lazy, low-rent reader mentality. 30,000 fans participated in the poll, and…and…and I can’t write about this. I just can’t. The site itself is lively, punchy, well-designed. Let’s just leave it that.
I ran across a sloppily-written item that briefly piqued my interest because it ties into Emilio Estevez’s Bobby (Weinstein Co., 11.17). L.A.-based culture journalist Dianne Bates Kenney (of Bates Rates News) tells about having met a commercial photographer named Eric Saarinen several years ago and hearing a fascinating story about footage he captured of the shooting of Robert F. Kennedy at the Ambassador Hotel on June 4,1968. At first the story gets you, then it drives you mad because of the details she ignores.
According to Saarinen, Kenney writes, he “and a friend were filming Kennedy and followed him after he exited the [Ambassador ballroom] podium. They captured Kennedy as he fell after being shot as well as the scramble of the people around him. They went back to the campus, made a copy of the film and locked the original in one of their lockers.
“Then, Saarinen said, both students, overwhelmed by what they had witnessed, ‘sat on the street corner and proceeded to get very drunk.’ They were approached by a strange man and while under the influence, told him what they had just seen and filmed. They assured him that the original film was safely locked in a locker. The next day, when they went to the locker, the film was gone.”
Okay…so what happened to the copy Saarinen said they made? The original, the story suggests, was stolen by the “strange man” (strange in what way? was he oddly dressed?) who somehow knew which locker the original film was stored in. Did Saarinen and his friend tell this total stranger how to find it? They must have been awfully damn stupid on top of being dead drunk. In any case, the story clearly states that a copy was made, so where is it? And has this story ever been passed along to anyone before, and was the whereabouts of the copy ever investigated?
A Judd Apatow fanboy who was profoundly impressed by The 40 year-Old Virgin and actually believes this film plays on the same level as classic Woody Allen pics — in short, a not-very-worldly GenX monkey who probably has a beefy physique and wears cutoffs and cross-trainer shoes with no socks and plays video games with his 33 year-old buddies — is gushing about Apatow’s new comedy, Knocked Up (Universal, 8.17).
Virgin convinced me that one cannot say “beware of Judd Apatow!” often enough. I listened to him earlier this year at a Santa Barbara Film Festival panel and I think I know what his game is. Apatow was a very hip comedy writer in the ’90s. Now he’s a 40ish maintainer with expenses to cover.
There’s only one graph in this review that’s half-intriguing: “If you’re looking for a movie with wall-to-wall tear-faced laughter, you can’t do any better than Borat and Idiocracy this year. But Knocked Up is the better film.” He’s saying it has more emotional depth than the other two, and maybe even a trace of a soul. But keep in mind the apparent cultural vistas of the guy writing this.
The author adds that “its the sort of film that comes along and makes you realize that the Oscars is such a broken system, because they would never pull a stick out of their ass to nominate a movie like Knocked Up, a movie that has a two-minute conversation about Julianne Moore’s pubic hair no sooner than the opening credits finish up.” In other words, the conversationalists are talking about Moore’s exposed bush in that marital argument scene with Matthew Modine from Robert Altman‘s Short Cuts. Okay….and the ahead-of-the-curve factor in this scene is what exactly?
The Dallas movie, praise the wisdom of the gods, is quite obviously cursed. The planned November shoot, which followed a previous start date, has been postponed and all the actors except John Travolta have been let go to save money. (Travolta, who is so not Chili-in-Get Shorty these days since he gained the weight back and started wearing that tennis-ball haircut, will play J.R. Ewing if and when this thing ever makes it to the screen.) The budget contraction happened because somebody at New Regency got worried about the commercial potential of an adaptation of an musty ’80s TV series, although you’d think the Devil Wears Prada audience would show up if it were half-decent. But it can’t be because the gods are foursquare against it. The obviously humane thing would be to jettison the fetus before it develops any further, but some people are tenacious no matter what.
Two observations about Oliver Stone‘s Jawbreaker, his Paramount project about this country’s response to the 9/11 attacks with the invasion of Afghanistan and hunt for 9/11 maestro Osama Bin Laden. One, the source material and choice of screenwriter indicates the film will be more critical of the Clinton team’s anti-terrorist efforts than that of the post-9/11 Bushies, which is surprising given Stone’s lefty leanings. And two, Jawbreaker sounds a lot like the “fascinating procedural” about a hunt for terrorists that Stone spoke of five years ago during a public discussion at Alice Tully Hall .
As Variety‘s Michael Fleming reported, the Jawbreaker screenwriter is Cyrus Nowrasteh, whose teleplay for the ABC miniseries The Path to 9/11 was said to contain unfair allegations that tarred the Clinton adminstration’s handling of the Mideast terrorist threat in the mid to late ’90s.
Plus the script is based “in part” on a memoir of the same name by Gary Bernsten, a senior CIA operative during the invasion who coordinated various efforts to put an end to the Taliban in Afghanistan. Fleming writes that Bernsten’s book is about how he felt “stymied by bureaucrats in President Bill Clinton‘s administration who prevented operatives from engaging a growingly malicious Al Qaeda and Bin Laden presence.
“While Bernsten describes how he and his cohorts were stunningly told to stand down when they had Bin Laden cornered in Tora Bora, he writes approvingly of President George W. Bush‘s handling of the invasion.”
Fleming quotes Stone as saying that “Gary might be a defender of the administration, but he certainly had very clear criticisms of bureaucratic snafus in Afghanistan.'”
Jawbreaker was foreshadowed by something Stone said during a panel discussion on Saturday, 10.6.01, at Alice Tully Hall called “Making Movies That Matter: The Role of Film in the National Debate.”
What politically-challenging movie would Stone like to make, he was asked, if he had his way?
“I’d like to do a movie on terrorism,” Stone said to the audience listening to the discussion. “It would be like The Battle of Algiers in which you’d just go in and show how it works. And it would be a hunt — people looking for them [the terrorists] while they’re about to do this. And perhaps it’s an old formula, but if it were done realistically without the search for the hero, which is often required, if could be a fascinating procedural.
“If it’s well done and real and accurate, you would see the Arab side, you’d see the American side…people will respond and they will go.”
“Warner Bros. had their chance the first time around, and they blew it. It’s a factory job, that’s what it is, and I know the way it’s done. I’ve had too many friends work on those movies. I know the way it works, and that’s not the way I work. Alfonso Cuaron‘s [The Prisoner of Azkaban] is really good, but the first two I thought were just shite. They missed the whole point of it; they missed the magic of it. Alfonso did something much closer to what I would’ve done.” — Tideland director Terry Gilliam, a guy everyone loves for what he dreams about and stands for, speaking to MTV Movies‘ Larry Carroll about the Harry Potter films.
Jamie Stuart‘s fifth and final New York Film Festival video report delivers a slight diss to Pan’s Labyrinth director-writer Guillermo del Toro by implying he’s long-winded (and thus boring, which Guillermo never is), and gives a pass to Sofia Coppola and Marie-Antoinette by saying that the Austrian queen’s idle distractions in Versailles serve as a metaphor for the human condition in general and denial in particular. Stuart is a talented filmmaker, but to end his NYFF with a Coppola-Kirsten Dunst bendover…shattering. Unless he meant it as a put-on.
Annette Bening, thrice nominated for acting Oscars, is “almost certain to get another shot at the gold for her performance as a narcissistic, mentally ill mother in Running with Scissors (Columbia, 10.27), according to Newsweek‘s Sean Smith. “Her character, Deirdre, gives up teenage Augusten (Joseph Cross) for adoption to her quack psychiatrist (Brian Cox), while she dreams of becoming the next Anne Sexton. At turns hilarious, vicious, gorgeous, hideous, imperious and pathetic — often in a single scene — Deirdre is the kind of flashy role that allows an actress to chew serious scenery, but Bening doesn’t do it for a second.”