Second Time Around (Film Thoughts: Borat Subsequent Film)

 I was an unwitting fan of Borat’s first film (has it really been fourteen years?) and I normally stay away from sophomoric crass humor. But then I liked he fact that Borat was ‘outing’ a lot of racists. I mean, in that time and age, it seemed like it would be an embarrassment to flaunt that you are a misogynist and racist. Cut to present day and these people have been emboldened by the President who is one of their own, one who brazenly says that there are good people in the KKK. So what do we make of the new Borat film, called ‘Borat Subsequent Film?’ Does the joke still work?

For the most part, yes. For me, when the gags work, they work splendidly. Some of my favorite bits were the ‘local’ bits – for example, when Borat and his daughter does a dance t a Georgian Debutante Party, and she spreads her legs and shows these uptight people a crotch full of blood. Sure, it’s totally disgusting but also a good F U to these folks. And when Borat daughter tries to go to a pastor to say she has a baby in her stomach (you have to see the film and see how the baby got there) and te pastor gives misguided counsel, it’s a testament to the hypocrisy of Conservative America.

But when the gags are overtly political – Borat in disguise performs a ‘Republican’ song at a State Fair – I just feel exhausted by the situation. Here are people who are openly displaying their biases, who do not care how they look, and let me tell you, they look foolish as a fool can be. When we end the film with the infamous bit with Rudy Giuliani, we are not surprised. I mean, we all can know that Giuiliani is a despicable human being, but do we really need to see visual evidence that he is?

Still, I can’t remember the last time I laughed out loud so much. As I said, when the jokes hit here, they are spot-on. You will probably scream and squirm with some of the antics, and either reaction should be entertaining. 

City Rocks (Film Thoughts: On The Rocks)

I only recently watched ‘Lost In Translation- – it was one of those movies that eluded me all these years for whatever reason, and I loved it – it still translated well after all these years, and I like its take on the symphony of solitude and loneliness. Maybe I should have waited before seeing Sofia Coppolla’s latest, ‘On The Rocks.’ I was underwhelmed by it, and now wonder if I should have waited for it to be marinated a bit. In a lot of ways, the film also wallows in melancholy and longing, but felt a little more unsuccessfully this time around.

For sure, I get that Coppolla employed a style that’s on the minimal side. But it took me a while to get in the groove of things, and I do appreciate its form, but a little more ‘story’ would have been nice. The film is of the ‘slice of life’ variety, but I felt the slice is on the thin side, and with a big hollow middle. Visually, the film is marvelous – a New York City you could dream of with a jazz score that’s right up my alley – Chet Baker, Bemelmann’s Bar, the city lit with night lights – it’s a world you will want to live in.  

The performances, though. Bill Murray is great here, and in most of the scenes he is on, steals the movie. He brings the energy to the film when it needs it the most, and his presence is never overbearing (where it sometimes can be)  I heard the filmmakers are making a play for him n ‘Supporting,’ but in my opinion his role here is more Lead. Rashida Jones shows her limitations here, and in some scenes where I want to see depth, I just see blank space.

I wish I liked it more. As I wrote earlier, maybe it need to simmer more for me to enjoy.

Bookings (Movie Thoughts: Sublet)

I have to say, I was quite taken by Israeli filmmaker Eytan Fox’s new film ‘Sublet.’ I found myself tearing up from it, really touched by it.

Part of it may be my sense of wanderlust. I used to do one big trip a year and obviously couldn’t do this year. The film is a great ‘trip,’ in a sense. John Benjamin Hickey plays a NYT travel journalist (‘The Intrepid Traveler’) who goes on a trip to Tel Aviv. And in the film, we get a real sense of Tel Aviv, and in that sense the film is such a traveler’s experience. You do feel like a tourist who finds a little more about yourself after a trip – and this is what most good travels do to you. I have been to Tel Aviv, and learned more about it from this film than my (admittedly brief) stay.

Hickey also plays someone more or less my age, and I can identify with a lot of the things he is going through, emotionally. He comes in coming from a little bit of heartbreak, and is a little lost. He finds an unlikely friendship with Tomer, who is renting the apartment he booked. They connect, and teh film sort of becomes a two-ships-in-the-night kind of thing. I was a little less impressed with this part of the film – I never got a real clear sense in what they connected at, for example. But Hickey and Niv Nissim (who plays Tomer) are quite good actors, and they have great chemistry together that you can’t help but get swept by them. And of course, the characters in the end learn a little bit more about themselves from each other. As I said, it was great to see a middle-aged gay man as the emotional core of the film. This film made me feel ‘seen,’ as the kids would say nowadays. And it made me long for those days when I can travel again, and maybe peel a layer of emotions within me.

The Summer They Fell In Love (Film Thoughts: Été 85/Summer of 85)

A lot of people have compared Francois Ozon’s ‘Summer of 85’ to ‘Call Me by Your Name’ so of course I would be in for that. This film is a young love story set in Northern France, with the sea as the background, so you would think it’s a sun-filled Summer romance kind of film, I mean, even the title suggests it. But we see from the start there is something darker there, as we find out something already has happened to one of the lovers, David, played by Benjamin Voisin and his lover, Alex, is being blamed for it.

As a love story, the film is very sweet but devastating. It I sweet and tender in it core, and you are swept away by David and Alex as they meet, and fall in love with each other. The actors have great chemistry, and look great together, and you fall in love with them too. But on film, the characters aren’t rally fleshed out well enough to give them depth, and the sudden shifts in tone (noir, thriller, comedy, drama) from one scene to the next felt jarring.

Still, I recommend it – all in all you will feel the passion of the actors as they fall in love, and everything and everyone looks beautiful here. 

Seven For Sure (Film Thoughts: The Trial of The Chicago 7)

Aaron Sorkin’s ‘The Trial of the Chicago 7’ is perfect for those who love Sorkin’s work. If you liked his ‘The West Wing’ on television, or his ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ on Broadway, then I am sure you will be salivating over this movie. It is based on the infamous trials of 1969 wherein a group of young men were charged with starting the riots during the Democratic convention in Chicago. It has all the elements of a great Sorkin piece: all-star cast, zippy dialogues, and his trademark theatrics.

Indeed, I myself was caught up with it. To say that the film isn’t entertaining would be a big lie. The movie moves zippily along, and the acting – all these actors seem to be aiming for something. All the performances are eye-catching, with each character being given their ‘moment,’ spotlight on. I especially liked Frank Langella as Judge Julius Hoffman, who plays an already cartoon character with humanity, resisting the urge to make it more outrageous. I grew hot and cold with Sacha Baron Cohen and Eddie Redmayne, playing Abbie Hoffman and Tom Hayden respectively. I especially thought the latter was a little unconvincing, and I am usually a Redmayne fan.

And just like Sorkin’s ‘A Few Good Men,’ the courtroom scenes are the film’s meat and potatoes, and they are done exactly how you think Sorkin would do it: that is, mesmerizing and over-the-top. I know he probably took a lot of artistic liberties in some of the dialogue, but I also know that a lot of what transpired were probably unbelievable already. The final scene in the courtroom made me tear up, but honestly I felt played after. I looked it up, and it didn’t really happened that way. But I’ll be darned if it wasn’t so effective people will always think it happened that way.

Young Brasilia (Movie Thoughts: Alice Junior)

I saw the Brazilian film ‘Alice Junior’ as part of Newfest, which is The New York Gay & Lesbian Film Festival, as part of the festival’s streaming choices. Directed by Gil Baroni, it’s a fun and hip movie about a young trans woman in a fish-out-of-water kind of film.

It stars Anna Clestino Mota, a real-life vlogger, as the titular character, who plays more or less a character same as her real life persona. Alice was a finalist in Brasil’s Next teen Top Model, and has a slew of followers online.

But when Alice’s father makes a decision to move them to a rural small town, her world is turned upside down. Imagine a city girl being moved to a farm in middle America, and you can kind of get the film’s set-up. You also probably won’t come to this film expecting deep narrative, but the wild ride it takes you is enjoyable enough. Mota is appealing and can hold your interest, even if the situations feel overly familiar. This is fun and sweet and mindless, and you need that sometimes.

Scammers (Film Thoughts: Kajillionaire)

To be honest, I haven’t really connected with any of Miranda July’s work. I think they are just a bit pretentious, or maybe I just don’t connect with them emotionally. I don’t even know if I understand them, and I blame that deficiency on me. So I went into ‘Kajillionaire’ with some trepidation (maybe even dread) even though I have heard from a couple of different people that it’s good. I have heard that the film is similar to Hirokazu Kore-eda’s ‘Shoplifters,’ a film I liked a lot so I was curious about that.

And sure, I liked this film, and for me it’s the most accessible of all I have seen from July. It’s about a family of scammers – played by Richard Kind, Debra Winger, and Rachel Evan Wood. I am very fond of the performances here and perhaps that’s why I warmed up to the film more, because to be honest there were some parts of the film I didn’t know if I understood – for example, what is up with the bubble forming in the walls of their place? And why does their place look like an office? And, why are the parents just scamming, like did they ever do anything else? Have they been doing it since they were younger?

I was able to understand more of the emotions because of the performances – Wood is excellent as the daughter caught in all the scams, and when she has all her realizations in the end, I found myself affected by her. And the ending, where we see that she may have finally found love (from anything) is pure joy. So, yes, I am willing to forgive some of the misgivings about the film I have.

Mothers and Child (Film Thoughts: True Mothers/Asa ga kuru)

Namo Kawase’s ‘True Mothers’ (Asa ga kuru) runs at almost two and a half hours, and yes, the story runs at a very slow pace. But it is such a powerful personal story that every minute savors. Kawase is a photographer spo each frame is beautifully set up (Hiroshima looks serenely perfect in here) and the story slowly cuts through your heart, and deep.

Satoko (Hiromi Nagasaku) cannot have a child because of her husband’s sperm is blocked, so they go through a non profit called Baby Baton to adopt a child through young mothers who cannot raise their babies.

Hikaru (Aju Makita) plays the fourteen year old teenager who gives birth to the child they adopt, and she is the heart of the piece. Hikaru goes throughg heartbreak after heartbreak and one day she shows up at the couple’s door step threatening to blackmail them about the child if they don’t pay her money. “Who are you,’ they reply. They met her when the baby was born and they can’t believe that tender young woman is the same one before their eyes.

There’ more to the story, of course, which is told through non-linear flashbacks. You get to know these characters fully, and they are certainly not one-dimensional. And you care for them, you want them to succeed, to capture their dreams. This is one of those films that caught me by surprise. It is such a simple story, but the emotions tied to it are complex. And all of it feels real.

Unglorious (Movie Thoughts: The Glorias)

A lot of ‘The Glorias’ seem like a good idea – Julie Taymor directing, Julianne Moore and Alicia Vikander sharing roles as adult Gloria Steinem, an all star supporting cast – but how come the movie falls flat? The film has a feel of a Wikipedia page, and Moore looks bored in the role. It’s a shame because Steinem is certainly an important figure in modern history, and surely there has to be more to her than this lifeless biopic?

The first half tracks better – we see her childhood and her relationship with her father, played by Timothy Hutton. Vikander is helped by a more interesting plot line, but when Moore comes in, the script goes nowhere, as Steinem just goes from one rally to another, without any interesting narrative to go with it. Taymor tries to keep things busy, with whimsical fantasy sequences that seem to come out of nowhere (and feels a bit out of context, top be honest) Bette Midler and Janelle Monae are both breaths of fresh air, having fun in their roles as Dorothy Pitman Hughes and Bella Abzug (Doesn’t Abzug remind you of AOC?) but their presence are brief to be truly meaningful. When you see the real Steinem towards the end in a 2017 rally appearance, you get a glimpse of the energy of what the film could have been.

Knowing When To Leave (Film Thoughts: French Exit)

My old workmates used to say that I am the Queen of French Exits. Whenever there was an after-work event – a party, a bar meet up – I would always make a grand entrance, make sure my presence is felt, and then slyly make an unannounced exit. I think I do that mostly when I don’t really want to attend something – it’s my way of ‘being there’ even if i really do not want to.

That’s just one reason why I was looking forward to seeing Azazel Jacobs’ ‘French Exit.’ Mainly, I wanted to see it because everyone has been talking about Michele Pfeiffer’s performance here. She plays Frances Price, a widow who learns from her financial advisor that her money has run out. She has spending it frivolously, and she realized she has no plan. So she sells everything and with her son, played by Lucas Hedges, takes a transatlantic cruise to Paris. She takes her cat with them, Little Frank, which embodies the spirit of her late husband.

This is one of those films that one would probably describes as ‘quirky.’ It is nowhere near a drama. It has elements of comedy, and farce, but the film never goes fully in any of those genres. It’s somewhat like a Wes Anderson film in tweeness, with elements of talky Noah Baumbach perhaps. Pfeiffer is indeed glorious, one of those caricature-ish New York City Upper East Side dames. Pfeiffer is smart enough not to play it like a cartoon, though, injecting a whole lot of humanity in her performance. Hedges is a good match for her, playing his character with a huge stroke of understatement.

I liked the film enough. I think I understood what the filmmakers were trying to achieve. What was lacking for me was connection to any of the characters. I knew what the characters were doing, but I couldn’t understand why.