Archive for the ‘Sacha Baron Cohen’ Category

Bruno: A Second Viewing

July 13, 2009

After seeing Bruno for the second time last night, I would like to take the opportunity to discuss some of the more delicate and more controversial parts of the movie, outside of a review setting. Is Bruno the character, along with Cohen’s other characters, helpful or harmful to homosexuals or their respective stereotype? How effective is the social commentary in these movies? What is the creator trying to say? I was planning on doing something like this, and this article at filmschoolrejects gave me the spark. It’s very well written, intelligent, and thought out, though I disagree with some of the major points. There might be some spoilers ahead, so if you haven’t seen the film you might want to steer clear for a bit.

It is important to note that, first and foremost, Sacha Baron Cohen is a comedian. That means he desires two things above all: to make us laugh, and get paid for it. Like all comedians, he has at his disposal a multitude of tools to succeed in his endeavors, only one of which is humorous social commentary. He also uses witty quips, situational comedy, and the shocking and vulgar gross out comedy. A giant, talking penis probably falls into that latter category. There are some that might claim otherwise, that the giant penis’s presence reflected our homophobia; that a male’s sexual organ on display is viewed as disgusting, yet we see breasts all the time.

Firstly, there’s a distinct difference between dicks and titties. Females, praise God, have that extra beautiful body part to cover up, of which there is no male equivalent. The only fair analogy for a penis is a vagina, which we rarely see in films, much less one that speaks before the camera zooms into it like the Millennium Falcon at light speed. If it HAD been gigantic female genitalia, audiences would have been just as horrified (I noticed three people walk out last night at this point. Score one for Bruno). Now I found this to be hysterical myself, but social commentary? I’ve pointed out that this is not an effective attack at homophobia, so the only target that remains is squeamishness at human body parts. This ALMOST works. Half of the world has penises, the other half will likely see one or fifty by the time they die, so why should we be so shocked by it? The answer: social norms.

“Exactly,” nudists say, “The only reason we fear the body is because we live in a society that forces clothes on us! The movie points out the fallacy (phallusy?) of the ‘social norm.'”

Does it? And if it does, should we blindly agree with that? What is so bad about social norms? (This will lead to a pretty good transition to another part of this essay, but I’ll let this simmer for a while). What is so bad about social norms? Why is society such a negative thing? Wearing clothes is a relatively harmless practice. Actually, it’s more than that. Clothes protect us from sun, keep us warm in winter, and support and cover those ‘delicate’ areas away from harm (where they damn well should be!) This comes at the consequence of us rarely seeing those special places, so when we do it’s either in a moment of surprise and shock or in the throws of passion (most prefer the latter). So is it really so bad that a flapping penis on a megaplex screen surprises us and might make us uncomfortable? I argue no. It’s a social norm, which Cohen likes to bring into question, but it’s a social norm of relative harmlessness.

Or it’s just a gigantic wiener, put there to make you laugh. Which it did.

But as promised this would be a good transition point, and so it is. Cohen questions, prods, and occasionally insults social norms and society at large (hence: social commentary). His particular favorite is Americanism in all it’s glory. This was particularly true in Borat, but was present in his new film as well. He likes to bring out the intolerant and the bigoted, and his victims of choice often reside in the South.

Now, the article I mentioned above states:

“Borat encouraged the American desire to assimilate foreign cultures, trying their patience with Borat’s lack of understanding while his pranked “victims” seemed never to be surprised at the fact that Borat was incapable of understanding even the most basic American customs while they remained completely oblivious to his inaccurately depicted Kasakh culture. Borat’s victims revealed troubling tendencies toward elitist nationalism and superiority embedded within the American psyche as they remained infinitely polite, sustaining a belief that the most generous thing they can do is assimilate Borat into American culture rather than the other way around.”

America has become an apologist nation. I’m not going to get into exactly what we have to apologize for and how much, but what we don’t, and should never, have to apologize for is our western way of thinking. I believe Western society has excelled for a reason, because it’s the best way that mankind has discovered to govern and live. Is it perfect? Nothing man does ever achieves perfection. But the ideals of the western world have flourished, and countries that have adopted them are starting to grow (read: India). There’s been a huge anti-western surge, and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t unnerve me a little. I read a quote in the Wall Street Journal recently, in an article pertaining to Cold War literature. It said, “The Cold War was won by insisting
the values of Western Civilization were non-negotiable. Is that still our stance today?”

To which I fear the answer is: no. People live in fear of being dubbed ‘intolerant,’ and characters like Bruno and Borat play off that to an audience. But as South Park taught me in the episode, “The Death Camp of Tolerance,” there’s a difference between tolerating and just blindly accepting. So is it homophobic to be shocked at two men in S+M chains walking down the street together? Am I really intolerant? Or does that trample the lines of social decency? In the aforementioned TV episode, Mr. Garrison goes on stage in a flamboyant, stereotypical gay outfit (much like Bruno), while riding a gay man named “Mr. Slave,” all in attempts to see how much slack people will give him. When the audience applauds him, declaring how brave he is for being himself, he gets irate. This is what Sacha Baron Cohen does very often.

So when people try to assimilate Borat into American culture (which was his ‘mission’ in the film), why is it elitist and bigoted to be “infinitely patient” as the above quote mentions? And even more important, is elitism always a negative characteristic? I took the dinner party scene (where the victims of the joke did show extreme patience and tolerance) as merely an hysterical prank. I didn’t see that as social commentary, indicative of white America’s gross negligence of another person’s society. And if it were, Borat is a sexist, antisemitic, dirty human being; must we show that tolerance? Must we equate all viewpoints and societies? What about cannibals, or the slave society of the old south? Borat can’t at one end call for tolerance of all cultures and then make fun of an entire culture himself. So again, it’s likely a ploy for laughs.

There has also been a lot of fuss over the character Bruno, and his completely stereotypical approach to homosexuality. He’s a walking caricature, make no mistake, created purely for comical reasons. Does this help or hurt the gay community?

Neither. The people who are in on the joke know he’s an exaggeration, the bigoted idiots who see him as everything they fear in homosexuality see their worries vindicated. It’s the gay man who dresses weirdly, and has such an insatiable libido that he hits on every man in sight, gay or straight, with ruthless abandon. Would I be mad if I woke up in the middle of a camping trip to a nude gay man claiming a bear ate all his clothes except for his condoms? Yeah, since I’m straight. Homophobia is not getting upset when somebody sexually harasses you, which Bruno does often in the film (again, it’s all for humor), homophobia is thinking that gay people are beneath you, that they are less human, that they are evil and dirty. We are over emphasizing what it means to be tolerant when we claim otherwise.

And this is why, I believe, Bruno failed for social commentary. A lot of the laughs in this film come from actions Cohen himself does, whether it’s scripted or not. Singing to the leaders of Israel and Palestine, mimicking a blow job to a ‘spirit’ in the room, are all funny things. But by and large the interviews in this movie are over before they started, and when he’s there he’s stealing all the attention. What I wanted to see Bruno do was take those that are legitimately backwards, from the blatant “God hates fags” groups to those that are more discreet, and bring some contradictions to light. I wanted him to find a Republican who says, “The government should stay out of my life,” and then proclaim, “but gays can’t get married.” I wanted him to press the recent development in Arkansas, where 400 orphans were taken from their homes and put back into orphanages or the foster system because their parents were gay. But instead he played the gay stereotype to the extreme, dressing his black baby in “Gayby” shirts and insinuating that he puts gerbils in unspeakable places.

This is why he missed the mark with social commentary; when it comes to comedy it was still hysterical. Borat struck gold with some of his victims, and showed that some of the sexism and bigotry the character possessed was present in self-proclaimed ‘free thinking’ areas. Bruno has less success. People will laugh at the man who says, “These lips are for praising Jesus,” but it’s not going to convince anyone, or even make anybody question, that homosexuality is not some terrible evil.

The man is still a genius, and there are instances of critiquing with bite in the film. And while I might not agree with all of his views, and I hate the fact that people generalize what they see in his film to the entire southern half of the United States, it’s important to know that these people are out there. But over-analyzing every sketch, or blindly accepting what he’s offering, is as dangerous a way of thinking as some of those that he exposes.


Review: Bruno

July 10, 2009

I determined last night that, were I under twenty-one, it would have been far easier for me to buy alcohol laced with cocaine than for somebody under seventeen to sneak into see Bruno, Sacha Baron Cohen’s follow up to the comedy hit Borat. I’ve been over seventeen for over four years now, and the employees at the theater checked my license when I bought the ticket, when I gave it to the ticket-tearing cineplex gatekeeper, and when I got to the entrance to the theater itself. There were more security checks here than there are at the airport. It was a great indication of the raunchy decadence I was about to witness with the hundreds of other people in that packed, noisy theater.

You might believe, as I did, that you have mentally primed yourself for such debauchery. But nothing could adequately prepare somebody for seeing this movie. Bruno is, quite simply, like nothing we’ve ever seen before. It does not simply push boundaries; it brings in a massive testicle wrecking ball to smash them, urinates and defecates all over the remains, then streaks away in glorified nudity to uncharted territory, boldly going where no man has dared go before. It’s the Star Trek of comedy, with more penises.

My sense of humor has been sensitized by humor like South Park, meaning I seldom dub something outlandishly distasteful. But if you sit through this movie without ever feelings uncomfortable, offended, or violated, please kick Hitler in the balls for me when you’re in hell. This film ventures further than Borat ever dared, and delivers fewer laughs and social commentary than its predecessor.

Cohen is, to be a sure, a comic mastermind, a living tour-de-force who does the unique and the daring. How he neither breaks character nor cracks a smile when doing these enactments is a testament to his talents. Whether he is holding it together with somebody he has completely befuddled or sticking to his shtick when threatened to get beaten into a little, gay, puddle of blood, it mystifies me how he accomplishes these acts (alive). He comes face to face with intolerant religious zealots, back-country rednecks, and even a fucking terrorist leader (whom he asks to kidnap him, and refers to Bin Laden as a “dirty old wizard”). He’s lucky he came out of this alive, much less with both hands non-sawed off. He truly risked his well-being for his art.

Though that art appears more forced and, well, scripted than it has in the past. It seems likely that, after Borat was so successful, he had to be much more meticulous in choosing his victims, who might be a little wary to accept this bizarre caricature at face value. That doesn’t stop him from getting some great interviews (including presidential candidate Ron Paul) but it does mean the line between scripted and improvisation is blurred, and that the interviews are quite short lived. This presents one of the major flaws in the film, you have a set-up and a finish, but no build-up. It’s like Cohen made it his mission to see how quickly he could get somebody in and out. It’s funny, but it’s hasty, and it leaves the film with a vacant feeling.

Don’t get me wrong, I laughed, sometimes hard. But many of these were from shock and appall, as I saw things on a big screen I never thought I would. Besides the gross-out gags, there’s a lot of uncomfortable chuckling, as “Bruno” tries to seduce Ron Paul, or brings his newly adopted black baby on a talk show with a T-shirt that reads “Gayby,” and is viciously attacked by the crowd. Then suddenly there’s a shot that will instantly remind those that have seen it of Meatspin (if you haven’t seen it, don’t look, I warned you) and you’re guffawing in flabbergasted disbelief that they’re showing this to mainstream audiences. There may be movies where I’ve laughed more frequently, but there are few where I’ve gone through so many different types of laughter, from the nervous giggle to the gross out guffaw, from the clever remark chuckle to the riotous knee slap.

But sometimes, rather than laugh, you must place your head in your hands and shudder for the person who is the unknowing butt of the joke. It is truly appalling what some people do and say in this film, and while I won’t claim it’s the norm it is important we know that these people do in fact exist, waste our precious oxygen, and subject the entire world to their backwards and flat out dangerous action. I’m not looking at homophobes so much here, but rather at the mothers who were willing to exploit there children in such ways as to make John and Kate look like regular, loving parents.

As for social commentary, it’s surprisingly lacking. He only interacts briefly with the “Christians” holding the “God hates fags” signs, though he does go to get cured by a spiritual healer. But it’s never quite as biting as its predecessor, and he pushes people to react in a bigoted manner more so than he had to in the past. Now I’m not saying that he didn’t interact with some truly intolerant people, but as I mentioned here, he does it in a manner that would incite most anybody. Perhaps less would have been more, where he wasn’t such a flamboyancy. I’ve heard people claim something to the extent of, “you can’t blame the match for the gas being flammable,” and up to a point that’s true. But he often brings more than a match, it’s more akin to an atomic flame thrower, and the sting would have been harsher had he not gone so far out of his way to start the controversies that he does.

It’s a nice, short film, which is indeed a relief. Though there is some funny stuff from the trailer missing, and the entire Janet Jackson scene is scrapped. I’m hoping for some extras on the DVD, because I’m sure there’s some great stuff he left out.

The plot is trivial and unimportant, as it should be. Nobody really cares why he gets into these scrapes, only that he does. It’s a funny film, and it has some really witty bits (here’s to Brad Pitt adopting the nickname Bradolf Pittler). But it’s intermingled with too much crass and the bits speed by too quickly for it to be as successful as its predecessor.


Hilarious Sacha Baron Cohen Interview

July 9, 2009

Sacha Baron Cohne’s new film Bruno comes out tonight at midnight. Slashfilm has posted a hilarious interview of him (as himself) with David Letterman. Watch all twelve minutes, it’s hilarious.

Sacha Baron Cohen Letterman Interview 7-7
by yardie4lifever2

This Week In Blockbusters: "Bruno," "I Love You Hayden Pa-" Errr… "Beth Cooper"

July 7, 2009

Is there nothing better than watching some idiot’s life get ruined as he spews intense bigotry and hatred towards a completely fictional character, gets caught on camera, and shown to audiences around the world? I declare to you that there is not. Somehow I take great solace in knowing that those frat stars from the Winnebago in Borat will never be able to go anywhere without somebody saying, “Hey, look, it’s those fucktards.” They can’t look at a woman now without getting a glare of revulsion, and any dreams of ‘pussy chasing,’ and perhaps, a ‘future in politics’ got crotch kicked by a Jew acting like an antisemitic Kazakhi reporter. Now, in Sacha Baron Cohen’s follow-up film, we’re introduced to a flambuoyantly homosexual Austrian fashion reporter named Bruno, as he trounces through America, makes people wildly uncomfortable by being completely socially inept, and lures hate speech from the ignorant; using himself as the perfect bait.

Early reviews are positive, many saying it’s funnier, filthier, and more controversial than Borat. Excellent, just what I wanted. There’s already been an uproar from the gay community dubbing the character as ‘offensive.’ I’d like to point out the hypocrisy here, since I know they weren’t complaining at all when he was portraying Kazakhstan as a shit-hole of a country, and it’s citizens as ignorant, backwards inbreds. Not only that, but the whole point of Bruno the character is to be pro-gay, and show some of the prejudice they come up against. Yeah he’s exaggerated, and yes he’s flabbergasting, but it’s all in good fun. Though I think if you’re a sensitive soul, you’re probably guaranteed to be offended by this film. You’re also a tight ass, so get over it.

There was a scene that featured some light jabs at Michael Jackson, but when he died (did you hear about it?) they rushed to get it edited out of the movie. Hopefully it will be in the deleted scenes.

One problem I have with this movie and its predecessor is the audience’s desire to extrapolate the views of those in the film to the masses. I caution against this; Cohen searches out the most bigoted and foolish and exploits them. And when they aren’t terrible people, Cohen pushes them until they appear to be so. For instance, in the rodeo scene in Borat, we’re supposed to laugh at the people booing him, assuming it’s racial intolerance and a redneck, hick-ish, conservative thing to do. But is it really unreasonable to boo somebody who does what he did to the National Anthem? Or at the dinner party, his hosts showed levels of extreme toleration, even when he brought his bag full of dookie to the table. But he continued to push until they appeared to be mean, white, racists. It’s an hilarious tactic, and I’m not saying we shouldn’t enjoy the comedy, but I don’t want this to be seen as a looking glass into the American soul.

Look forward to a scene involving then-presidential candidate Ron Paul, a scene where a very famous person immediately recognizes Cohen, and some extended shots of full-frontal male nudity.

And then wait for the DVD when we get to see the star get escorted out of a huge crowd, because somebody picked up on his antics.

All in all, Bruno sounds like an hysterically, satirically, disgustingly funny movie. Expect it to pass The Hangover as top-grossing comedy of the summer.

Excitement Buzz: 8.9/10

And the tamer, PG-13 competitor of the weekend is the teen comedy I Love You, Beth Cooper, starring Heroes poster girl Hayden Pannettiere and costarring some guy who doesn’t matter (for the record, his name is Paul Rust, and he actually looks like he might be pretty funny). In this high-school rom-com, Denis Cooverman (Rust) proclaims his love for his hot, popular classmate Beth Cooper (Pannettiere) during his valedictorian speech. She decides to show him a good time (and a little bit more… Look forward to the shower scene, though remember it’s still PG-13, and cry as you want the camera to pan just…a few…inches…south), all the while being chased by her older, meaner boyfriend.

I’m fairly certain Pannettierre has yet to not play a cheerleader, and her looks are definitely her strongest suit, but she’s still a fine enough actress for something like this. I’m not sure how she acts off screen (read: Lindsay Lohan), but she plays the hot, sassy girl like a pro. I wonder how she learned.

So is it box office suicide putting this movie up against Bruno, or is it brilliant? Expect highly inflated numbers, as every teen under seventeen buys tickets for this to sneak into the rated R movie (many people think Wild Wild West stole a lot of revenue from South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut) And after they’ve seen that, they might actually come back for this film as well. Double the ticket purchases, baby, money in Hayden’s pocket. She’ll use it to call me long distance, I’m sure.

Excitement buzz: 6.5/10

Twilight Wins The MTV Movie Awards, Confirming MTV’s Audience Are Now Dumb, Pubescent Children

June 1, 2009

The MTV Movie Awards were on last night. I didn’t watch. Why, you ask? Why would somebody who spends his time writing a movie blog not watch a movie awards show? Because based on the previews, it looked like an orgy of praise for Twilight. The two stars were promised to appear, there was promised a sneak peak at the sequel, and it was up for best picture. Surely, SURELY it couldn’t win over The Dark Knight or Slumdog Millionaire. MTV’s viewers aren’t complete fools, are they? Yup. They are. I should have expected it from the network that airs Parental Control.

Twilight took home best picture, as voted by the viewers. Music Television at its finest, folks. I don’t really understand this fad, and can’t wait for it to pass. It seems to be a void filler, now that Potter-mania is at its end. But at least the Harry Potter books were, y’know… Good. Twilight reads like a bad fanfic written by a pubescent girl, barely hiding its sexual undertones where ‘bite’ is a substitute for ‘ravage.’ Or, when a vampire says, “I want to suck your blood,” substitute ‘blood’ with ‘titties’ and you’ll discern the true meaning. Either way they’re shallow and cheesy, and the movie didn’t fare much better. CW worthy special effects, hollow acting from, well, everybody, lots of vampires hissing at each other. Thanks, but no thanks. “I’ve never wanted a human so badly,” Robert Pattison’s character Edward Cullen coos into his lover’s ear. Then he glitters in sunlight. That’s apparently what vampires do now. They shimmer like Tinker Bell just shot them with fairy dust. How radical.

But it mustered enough votes to win 5 golden popcorns, including best kiss. OMG, it was like, so great. The sequel has been released to the squeals of fangirls everywhere. This one has, get this, werewolves. Whoa, didn’t see that coming. I actually spoiled the end of the series for myself, since I’m not going to see the movies and wanted to see how Stephanie Meyer messed it up even worse than she did by starting it. And wow, it’s bad.

On the upside, Eminem got to sniff Sacha Baron Cohen’s “anoose” in a hilarious unscripted prank. See video embedded here.

Eminem is such a tool.