DVD reviews
March 9, 2007

 

All reviews by Loey Lockerby

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan

When Sacha Baron Cohen commits to a character, he goes all the way, and then some. To play Borat Sagdiyev, an obnoxious Kazakh "journalist" traveling across America, Cohen endures annoyed cops, hostile rodeo crowds and the darkest regions of co-star Ken Davitian's obese body. But that's nothing compared to what the people he encounters have to deal with.

Borat is basically an elaborate practical joke on the "U.S. and A." Cohen (always in character) becomes the most racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-Semitic creep you could possibly imagine — then inflicts himself on unsuspecting citizens, just to see how they react. Some are kind and absurdly patient, while most show their true, hateful colors. Through it all, Cohen boldly pushes his luck as far as he can without getting strung up by angry mobs.

He also tests the audience's limits with stunts so outrageously offensive, you'll either walk out or laugh until you hurt yourself. I did the latter, as the escalating insanity simply became impossible to resist.

Brilliant as it is in many ways, Borat also has a nasty streak, giving most of its running time to the worst this country has to offer. Alongside other silly DVD extras is a batch of deleted scenes, most of which feature the decent people who tolerated Cohen's foolishness. They aren't as funny as the jerks, but their exclusion from the final cut shows just how skewed the movie's portrayal of America is (and let's not get started on what it does to poor Kazakhstan...). Borat doesn't need to be fair, though — it just needs to be funny. Thanks to Cohen's fearless dedication, it is. (R) Rating: 4


The Prestige

From the non-linear mystery of Memento to the hallucinatory climax of Batman Begins, director Christopher Nolan has developed a magician's skill for undermining the perceptions of his characters and his audience. It only makes sense, then, that Nolan's latest film would delve into a world composed entirely of illusion.

Set in late-Victorian London, The Prestige chronicles the rivalry between two popular stage magicians (Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale) who become obsessed with sabotaging each other's careers. Spying, theft, murder — nothing is too extreme in the pursuit of their questionable goals, and they enlist the help of everyone from a pretty assistant (Scarlett Johansson) to eccentric scientific genius Nikola Tesla (played by eccentric musical genius David Bowie). The narrative jumps back and forth, revealing pieces of the story's many puzzles without ever explaining too much. This can be frustrating, as it necessitates watching the movie multiple times, but at least it's worth the extra effort.

Nolan and his screenwriter brother, Jonathan (adapting Christopher Priest's novel) have crafted an intelligent, occasionally surreal tribute to the joys of messing with people's heads. Their delight in this activity is evident in the mini-docs that make up the DVD extras, which cover everything from set design to casting. They barely scratch the surface, however, lasting only about 20 minutes in total. That probably means Nolan has another trick up his sleeve — a multi-disc "special edition" that will pull back the curtain a little more. (PG-13). Rating: 4.


For Your Consideration

Directors often make several films with their favorite actors, and Christopher Guest has assembled a remarkable stock company to star in his improvised comedies. Over the years, they have skewered dog show devotees (Best in Show), small-town thespians (Waiting for Guffman) and aging folk singers (A Mighty Wind). In For Your Consideration, the satirical targets are Hollywood’s marginal (and marginally talented) hangers-on, who are willing to toil in obscurity for the sake of their art.

At least until they make a cheesy little movie that gets Oscar buzz. Suddenly, the stars of “Home for Purim” — Marilyn Hack (Catherine O’Hara), Victor Allen Miller (Harry Shearer) and Callie Webb (Parker Posey) — become fame-hungry lunatics, grasping for the glamorous life.

This delusional frenzy provides a perfect set-up for the sprawling cast, which includes most of guest's regulars (Jennifer Coolidge, Fred Willard, co-writer Eugene Levy) as well as newcomers like Ricky Gervais and Richard Kind. They are all obviously familiar with the showbiz loser crowd, and every character is scarily authentic.

What For Your Consideration lacks is any real affection for these people. In Guest’s other films, you find yourself rooting for the lovable goofs to succeed, but in this one, you’re unlikely to feel much beyond a mixture of pity and contempt. The last 15 minutes are especially mean-spirited, not to mention unnecessary.

The cast remains the film’s saving grace as a batch of deleted scenes provide some insight into their unique creativity. The commentary track by Guest and Levy has some good stories and anecdotes, but it’s surprisingly dry, given the material. It does, however, provide a chance to marvel at the performances and learn how they came about. That, in itself, makes For Your Consideration worth considering. (PG-13). Rating: 3.


Hollywoodland

This fictionalized account of Superman star George Reeves' 1959 death strives to be in a league with classic modern noirs like Chinatown and L.A. Confidential. It almost makes it.

Roger Birnbaum's script is set up in flashbacks as two-bit detective Louis Simo (Adrien Brody) investigates the unanswered questions surrounding the actors' demise, which was officially labeled a suicide. He never quite figures it all out (no one in the real world has, either), but he gets a hard look at the sordid corners of 1950s Hollywood. As he learns about Reeves' struggles, Louis begins to see just how closely his own dead-end life mirrors that of his "client."

The problem with Hollywoodland should be evident from that plot description: It's all about Louis Simo. This fictional character gets most of the attention, even though he can't compete with the real people whose world he observes. Brody is a terrific actor, but Louis is shoehorned into the story in ways that are too obviously artificial.

The movie comes to vivid life whenever director Allen Coulter focuses on Reeves, who is played with tremendous sensitivity by Ben Affleck (yes, that Ben Affleck). His journey from confident charmer to despondent has-been is riveting, and the other actors (especially Diane Lane as Reeves' married lover, Toni Mannix) give equally forceful performances.

Coulter's attention to detail makes the film especially appealing, as he carefully re-creates the final years of studio-system Hollywood. His commentary track and the short behind-the-scenes features show just how dedicated the cast and crew were to getting everything right. For the most part, they've succeeded. (R) Rating: 4.

Loey Lockerby can be contacted at lrl94@aol.com.


              
              
                 

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