We’re doubling up on Sacha Baron Cohen this week with reviews of Borat Subsequent Moviefilm and The Trial of the Chicago 7. One of these films could possibly land Cohen an Oscar nomination. The other features Donald Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani putting his hands down his pants. No spoiler alerts here. We’ll let you figure out which is which on your own. Until then, here are eight short reviews of new movies that hit streaming services and VOD platforms last week.
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
Fourteen years after actor and screenwriter Sacha Baron Cohen debuted his fictional Kazakh television journalist character Borat Sagdiyev on the big screen, Cohen returns for a sequel that is just as outlandish but not nearly as bold as the original. In the follow-up film, Borat returns to America with his daughter Tutar (Maria Bakalova) in hopes of giving her as a gift to U.S. Vice President Mike Pence. Along the way, Cohen and company manage to do what they do best and make gullible, real-life people look like morons and piss off their fair share of unsuspecting marks, including former New York City mayor and current Donald Trump lawyer and lapdog Rudy Giuliani, who is caught on video in an incredibly embarrassing situation. The sequel may not have as many laughs and will not deliver the same cultural impact as its predecessor, but Cohen has turned his brand of tomfoolery into an artform. Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is now streaming on Amazon Prime. 3 out of 5 stars (recommended)
On the Rocks
It will ultimately serve as a minor work in the canon of director and Oscar-winning screenwriter Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation), but On the Rocks has one thing going for it that her films have not had in the last 17 years – Bill Murray. Reuniting with Murray for the first time since his Oscar-worthy turn in Coppola’s 2003 dramedy Lost in Translation, their new partnership brings with it a beautiful outlook on loneliness and a message about family values. These themes occur despite the film never really finding an authentic way to make itself identifiable with viewers. Rashida Jones (Celeste and Jesse Forever) does a nice job playing a stressed-out wife and mother who thinks her husband Dean (Marlon Wayans) is having an affair, but even when that narrative isn’t as compelling as it should be, Murray and Jones paired together offers enough entertaining content to enjoy before you have to close out your tab. On the Rocks is now streaming on Apple TV+. 3 out of 5 stars (recommended)
Over the Moon
After winning an Oscar alongside late basketball superstar Kobe Bryant for their 2017 short animated film Dear Basketball, director Glen Keane finds himself calling all the shots for his first feature film, a lovely and heartwarming story about a young girl who builds a rocket to prove a fairytale that her late mother told her is real. Fei Fei (Cathy Ang) believes there is a goddess living on the moon longing for her lost love. So, she sets off to find her. Keane’s animation is an imaginative and colorful space adventure filled with touching family moments and a soundtrack of memorable songs that feel like they were written for the animated Disney classics of the 1990s. Watch for the bulbous, intergalactic frogs swimming through the cosmos to brighten your day. Over the Moon is now streaming on Netflix. 3 out of 5 stars (recommended)
As a reimagining of the classic 1940 film directed by Alfred Hitchcock, there’s no doubt that filmmaker Ben Wheatley’s version of Rebecca had a high bar to reach. It’s unfortunate, then, that despite its best efforts, which includes some glorious scenery and art direction, the new adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s 1938 novel of the same name is mostly stale. Armie Hammer (On the Basis of Sex) and Lily James (Cinderella) star as Maxim de Winter and his new bride, known only as Mrs. de Winter. When Maxim brings his second wife to his mansion Manderley, she is immediately thrust into the shadow of her husband’s first wife, Rebecca, who went missing at sea but still somehow overwhelms the house with her presence. Although not a conventional ghost story, Wheatley manages to capture the ominous atmosphere of the luxuriant property and create an eeriness for the first half of the picture. But Rebecca retreats into something that is dreary and dull and sorely lacking in creativity or emotion. Rebecca is now streaming on Netflix. 2.5 out of 5 stars (not recommended)
Totally Under Control
If you’ve been paying attention to what has been happening for the last eight months when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic, Oscar-winning filmmaker Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side) isn’t going to provide you with any new material to reference when explaining how the U.S. government botched its response to the virus from the very start. That said, however, Totally Under Control is such a well-packaged, strong investigative piece of journalism. When someone 100 years from now asks what happened in the U.S. back in 2020, Gibney’s documentary should be the first thing they unearth to get a solid explanation. More, of course, will be told in the coming months and years about how exactly the Trump administration failed the American people, but until then, Totally Under Control is a damning display of a country’s dereliction of duty. As an American, it’s nothing less than fucking infuriating. Totally Under Control is now streaming on VOD platforms. 3.5 out of 5 stars (recommended)
The Trial of the Chicago 7
Director and Oscar-winning screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network) steps behind the camera for only the second time in his career, and the results end up being quite an accomplishment. In The Trial of the Chicago 7, Sorkin, whose wordsmithing prowess can occasionally feel overwritten for some cinephiles, doesn’t let up in his telling of a 1969 trial that levied charges of conspiracy on seven, originally eight, men for participating in an anti-Vietnam protest during the 1968 Democratic National Convention. This is top-tier storytelling, and Sorkin presents the narrative with thrilling court-room drama, maddening realism and moments of levity that keep the film steadily paced and engaging throughout. As usual, Sorkin’s dialogue is biting, clever and always spoken by characters who seem to be trying to top whatever was the last thing they said. When you have one of the best ensemble casts of the year delivering the lines, including an Oscar-worthy turn by Sacha Baron Cohen, it all sounds like cinematic poetry. The Trial of the Chicago 7 is now streaming on Netflix. 4 out of 5 stars (highly recommended)
Journalist and first-time filmmaker Daniel Lombroso delves deep into the hateful world of the alt-right activist by profiling the lives of three of the movement’s most vocal supporters – Richard Spencer, Lauren Southern and Mike Cernovich. With what seems to be unrestricted access, Lombroso follows the three white nationalists across the country as they spew their vile opinions on everything from anti-immigration racism to their opposition of groups like Black Lives Matter. As a documentarian, Lombroso is able to reveal the deep-seated animosity each of these characters is driven by, but also shows how the things they espouse are consuming them in ways they wouldn’t want their devotees to bear witness. Spencer, Southern and Cernovich deserve no sympathy, and they get none in White Noise. All Lombroso has to do is turn on his cameras and mics and allow each of them to speak their mind and they dig their own graves. Kudos to Lombroso. It’s courageous filmmaking when you produce something so timely and critical to the greater good and actually do it from the belly of the beast. White Noise is now streaming on VOD platforms. 3.5 out of 5 stars (recommended)
A remake of the 1990 fantasy film starring Anjelica Huston, the updated version of The Witches, adapted from the book by Roald Dahl, is a big, black cauldron of lizard tails, monkey paws and newt eyeballs. In a word, it’s unsatisfying. Leading the cast is Oscar-winning actresses Ann Hathaway (Les Misérables) and Octavia Spencer (The Help). The latter plays a grandmother of an orphaned boy who is turned into a mouse by Hathaway’s Grand High Witch during a witches’ convention (coven-tion, perhaps?) at a fancy hotel. While Hathaway hams it up to her heart’s content, The Witches fails to make any of its computer-generated protagonists very charming. Plus, it’s not well-established what age group this movie is actually for. Little kids are bound to have nightmares when the witches’ mouths contort into something that looks like Pennywise from the It franchise, but it’s also too silly by half for tweens who might enjoy the darker side of Halloween cinema like Coraline, ParaNorman and Gremlins. The Witches is now streaming on HBO Max. 2 out of 5 stars (not recommended)
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