Spoiler-Free Reviews of Trending Movies (OCT 2020): “Borat 2,” “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” & “Rebecca”

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (Amazon Prime)

Yes, Rudy is in this mock documentary (and doesn’t come off as so innocent)! Of course, y’all can see and judge if you’re curious. This is NOT the type of humor for sensitive viewers, as some of it is quite gross, vulgar, and cringe-y. This time, Borat (Sacha Baron Cohen) is joined by his wide-eyed teen daughter, Tutar (24 y.o. Bulgarian actress Maria Bakalova), who may be interested in becoming a journo also. Bakalova may be the breakout star here, as she can go toe-to-toe w/ the British comedian/filmmaker! Look out for a touching scene involving Borat and two elderly Jewish women. There is also a Black woman (babysitter) who gives Tutar some good advice. If you’re already a left-of-center (liberal) individual, you may be LOL-ing at the politically-charged stuff. I almost couldn’t believe that Cohen snuck into CPAC (which took place in FEB 2020 in DC)!

The Trial of the Chicago 7 (Netflix)

In Chicago 1968, the Democratic convention was met w/ protests from activists like the moderate Students for a Democratic Society led by Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne) and the militant Yippies led by Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen) and Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong from Succession), which led to violent confrontations w/ police. Seven of the accused ringleaders are arraigned on charges like conspiracy by the hostile Nixon administration, incl. Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II- a rising star in Hollywood) of the Black Panthers (who wasn’t involved in the incident). What follows is an unfair trial presided by Judge Hoffman (veteran actor Frank Langella) and prosecuted by a reluctant, but duty-bound Richard Schultz (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Two of the defense lawyers are William Kunstler (Mark Rylance- a British theater star) from the ACLU and Leonard Weinglass (character actor Ben Shenkman), an expert on constitutional law.

I saw this last week; I’m a big fan of Aaron Sorkin’s writing (though haven’t seen all of his shows). Sorkin was approached by Spielberg several years ago re: writing this film- WOW! If you’re into US history, costumes, legal drama, and politics- you’ll enjoy the movie. Otherwise, it could come off as a bit boring; the directing style Sorkin uses is simple/straightforward. I liked the humor (which was mainly provided by Baron Cohen and Strong) and I learned some new things, too. I enjoyed seeing the subtle acting from Gordon-Levitt (now almost 40- whoa), Rylance, and Shenkman (who you may know from Angels in America).

Rebecca (Netflix)

Here was the (short) review I shared via Twitter last FRI night: Not sexy, not suspenseful, not one bit scary- just cliched, colorful, & clueless! Fans on my Alfred Hitchcock Facebook group were (mostly) reluctant to watch this version, though it’s not a remake. This is an adaptation of the novel (which I didn’t read); I suspect it’s not totally faithful. Though it delves into class issues, there is very little age gap between the leads. Viewers looking for the LGBTQ element to be explored further (w/ Mrs. Danvers) will be disappointed. The director (Ben Wheatley) doesn’t do much w/ light and shadow- a missed opportunity!

I don’t love or hate Lily James, but I don’t think this role suited her. The same goes for Armie Hammer (tall/conventionally handsome); he acts wooden, lacks mystery, and has no romantic chemistry w/ James. His accent is way off- it’s more Mid-Atlantic than British. I haven’t seen much of his acting, but I thought he’d be a LOT better than this! I did enjoy seeing Ann Dowd (The Handmaid’s Tale) and the (still gorgeous) Kristin Scott Thomas. What we have is a movie where the costumes and scenery overtake the people in the story. The supporting actors did well w/ what they were given, esp. the prosecutor (in the third act). The ending scene looks like it belongs in a different movie- MANY viewers were confused!

“Moon Over Parador” (1988) starring Richard Dreyfuss, Raul Julia, & Sonia Braga

A sort of annoying and also kind of charming actor, Jack Noah (Richard Dreyfuss), is shooting a film on location in the (fictional) country of Parador when its seemingly benevolent dictator, Alphonse Simms, suddenly dies. The dictator’s right-hand man, Roberto Strausman (Puerto Rican actor Raul Julia), makes Jack an offer he can’t refuse-impersonate Simms… or die! Jack’s acting skills fool the masses, but not the palace staff; they play along to keep their jobs. Simms’ mistress/nightclub dancer, Madonna Mendez (Brazilian actress Sonia Braga), decides to help Jack play his role convincingly.

Jack: [after being asked to be the dead dictator’s imposter] Why couldn’t you get Bobby DeNiro or Dustin Hoffman?

Roberto: Not available! I would have given my right arm to work with Bobby DeNiro and Dustin Hoffman!

Jack: [under his breath] They always say that about DeNiro and Hoffman.

The plot of this comedy was re-used for the movie Dave (1993) starring Kevin Kline and Sigourney Weaver. In the age of Trump (often called a wanna be dictator), it’s not far-fetched to see a leader w/ dark makeup, who makes appearances at beauty pageants, and avoids questions from the press. However, this dictator cares for the regular people! Dreyfuss played dual roles of both Jack and the double of Pres. Alphonse Simms; the real Simms was played by his brother Lorin. When Jack is applying make-up to look like Simms in the meat locker, Dreyfuss’ brother is playing the part of the corpse. This movie received two Golden Globe Award noms in 1989- Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role for Braga and Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role for Julia. Even w/ big hair and wild/revealing outfits, Braga’s soulful characterization shines through. Julia (sporting blonde hair) creates a sadistic/power-hungry villain w/ a maniacal laugh… and a brain (he went to Harvard).

The country’s name of Parador is a mash-up of Paraguay (PARA) and Ecuador (DOR). The 14 families that control Parador refer to the 14 families that (in reality) controlled El Salvador in the early 1970s. Ralph (Jonathan Winters) tells a long story re: an English pirate who founded the country of Parador (to explain why Simms has an Anglo-Saxon name). The real reason is that the film was shot in Brazil, and director Paul Mazursky needed a shot of a crowd of extras chanting the dictator’s name. When the crowd is chanting “Simms,” they are actually saying “Sim” (“yes” in Portuguese). There are scenes from Carnivale; people of all ages w/ various skin tones dance and party.

Moon Over Parador pokes fun at government and show business, which is filled w/ many neurotic/egotistical actors. It contains many references to pop culture, incl. A Streetcar Named Desire, Casablanca, Dynasty, and Hollywood Squares. Jack is dressed like Don Johnson during his Miami Vice years (complete w/ a blonde mullet wig) when filming the movie in the first act; a young Dana Delaney plays his leading lady. During a scene where Jack has to address the crowd as Simms, he ad-libs and uses lines from The Impossible Dream from Man of La Mancha. Only Roberto (a theater buff) gets this reference, which is a call-back to Julia’s leading role (Don Quixote) in the Broadway musical. Fans of SVU- look out for Dann Florek (one of Jack’s NYC actor pals). The earlier national anthem (O Parador) is sung to the tune of O Christmas Tree. After Jack changes the song, Sammy Davis Jr. (wow) sings it to the tune of Besame Mucho. Dick Cavett (playing himself) interviews Simms and Madonna in the third act of the film.

[1] …this movie is funny, yet has a serious side as well… the main character, who at the start of the movie is a struggling actor and somewhat of a buffoon, evolves too and by the end of the movie commands respect.

[2] Paul Mazursky’s film is under-rated in my opinion; maybe because the film never takes itself seriously.

…quite clever issues are brought out, as Noah begins to enjoy his role and tries to bring in social reforms.

[3] Is it appropriate to turn the tense situation in Latin America into comedy? Well, “Moon Over Parador” does a good job with it. No matter what they do in this movie, they pull it off.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

“Sullivan’s Travels” (1941) starring Joel McCrea & Veronica Lake

In Preston Sturges’ highly influential film, John Sullivan (Joel McCrea) is a wealthy/naive/30-ish director of comedies who wants to make a serious pictured focused of the troubles of the poor. Despite the protests of his producers, Sullivan sets off on a journey, wearing a tramp’s (homeless man’s) clothes and carrying only a dime! Along the way, he meets a beautiful/spirited/failed actress- Veronica Lake (only 19 y.o.)- and gets more hard knocks than he bargained for. In 2007, the AFI ranked Sullivan’s Travels as the #61 Greatest Movie of All Time. This film was selected into the National Film Registry in 1990 for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” Jerry Seinfeld said for what it’s about, Sullivan’s Travels is his favorite movie.

Sullivan: I’m going out on the road to find out what it’s like to be poor and needy and then I’m going to make a picture about it.

Burrows (his butler): If you’ll permit me to say so, sir, the subject is not an interesting one. The poor know all about poverty and only the morbid rich would find the topic glamorous.

Sturges may’ve got the idea for this movie from stories he heard from actor John Garfield, who lived as a hobo, riding trains and hitchhiking cross-country for a brief time in the 1930s. In his autobiography,  Sturges explained that wrote the film as a reaction to the “preaching” he found in other comedy films “which seemed to have abandoned the fun in favour of the message.” Film buffs will notice how Sturges pokes fun at The Grapes of Wrath and mentions (directors) Frank Capra and Ernst Lubitsch.

Sullivan: …I’m going to find out how it feels to be in trouble. Without friends, without credit, without checkbook, without name. Alone.

The Girl: And I’ll go with you.

Sullivan: How can I be alone if you’re with me?

Sturges wrote the film w/  McCrea in mind, which pleasantly surprised the actor. He credited the director w/ instilling confidence and treating him as if he were a bigger star than Clark Gable. Sullivan plans to make O Brother, Where Art Thou? (a title borrowed by Joel and Ethan Coen for their 2000 film). The author of the book Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? is “Sinclair Beckstein,” an mash-up of Upton Sinclair, Sinclair Lewis, and John Steinbeck. Directors Peter Bogdanovich and Stephen Spielberg have spoken re: how this film influences their work.

Policeman: How does the girl fit into the picture?

Sullivan: There’s always a girl in the picture. What’s the matter, don’t you go to the movies?

Barbara Stanwyck was Sturges’ first choice for The Girl; studio execs suggested Ida Lupino, Lucille Ball, Frances Farmer and Ruby Keeler. Lake was pregnant during the making of this movie (6-8 mos)! The only people (in the production) who knew were the costume designer Edith Head and Sturges’s then-wife, Louise. Head designed costumes to hide the condition. Lake was afraid that she wouldn’t be allowed to make the film if her advanced state of pregnancy was known (b/c of the physical demands of the role). The Girl has some clever lines which may make modern viewers think of the #MeToo movement!

Filled with pathos and poignancy, Sturges’ film is an insightful sojourn across the territory of the human condition. It’ll make you laugh and it’ll make you cry, as along with Sullivan you come face to face with some hard truths about reality.

Some very enjoyable references to socially conscious movie-making, to Ernst Lubitsch in particular, make this particularly fun with some knowledge of the period and the films mentioned, albeit not necessary. And almost worth seeing alone for Veronica Lake’s memorable performance as a failed starlet.

Sturges’ most daringly double-edged film, laced with bitter ironies. It is also arguably the most audacious film in Hollywood’s (mainstream) history, audacious because it takes the kinds of risks that can so easily fall flat on their face, and right until the final image, as Sturges becomes increasingly ambitious and multi-layered, you wonder how long he can keep it up without getting ridiculous. It never does…

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

Hitchcock’s Black Comedy: “The Trouble with Harry” (1955) starring John Forsythe, Shirley MacLaine, Edmund Gwenn, Mildred Natwick, & Jerry Mathers

Well, I wasn’t tall or thin or ethereal, so he wasn’t going to grab at me. So, I became his eating buddy. I gained about 15 lbs. during filming, and the studio got concerned. -Shirley MacLaine on her experience w/ Hitchcock

There is a dead man in a meadow in the hills above a small Vermont town. Capt. Wiles (Edmund Gwenn), comes across the body, and believes he accidentally shot him dead while hunting rabbits. Capt. Wiles wants to hide the body instead of going to the authorities. Capt. Wiles sees several other people stumble across Harry, most of whom don’t seem to know him or notice that he’s dead! A middle-aged woman, Miss Gravely (Mildred Natwick), sees Capt. Wiles moving the body; she vows to keep it secret. A young single mother, Jennifer Rogers (Shirley MacLaine- her first movie after working as a chorus girl), does know Harry and seems happy that he’s dead. Her son, Arnie (Jerry Mathers), saw the body first. This is a time when 6 or 7 y.o. kids played alone outdoors! Later, struggling artist Sam Marlowe (John Forsythe- long before Dynasty) comes along and starts sketching near the body; Capt. Wiles confides in him.

Capt. Wiles: [after Dr. Greenbow trips over the body] Couldn’t have had more people here if I’d sold tickets.

This movie was Sir Alfred Hitchcock’s experiment to see how audiences would react to a movie w/o famous stars. He thought that sometimes big names hindered the flow and style of the story. He also wanted to test how American audiences would react to a subtle brand of humor than usual. Although a perverse sense of humor permeates all of his movies, this was only Sir Alfred Hitchcock’s second outright comedy. American audiences of the ’50s were perhaps uncomfortable w/ black comedy, so this was a box-office failure upon initial release. It ran for a long time in England, France, and Italy.

I just saw this movie for the first time after reading a few rave reviews on a Facebook group. Fans esp. seemed to like the scenery; though filming was done on location in New England, most of the scenes set in the forest were shot on a Paramount soundstage. The musical score is playful, funny, and quirky, adding much to the story. Lyn Murray, who worked on To Catch a Thief (1955), suggested Bernard Herrmann for this film. Thus began a long professional relationship between two innovative creatives; Herrmann composed the music for seven of Hitch’s movies.

[1] Part of the joke is that “nothing happens.” Hitchcock’s “anti-Hitchcock” film defies expectations for action, shock, mayhem, suspense, spectacular climaxes on national monuments, etc. Instead, it’s a New England cross-stitch of lovingly detailed writing, acting, photography, directing and editing.

[2] No Hitchcock film divides viewers more than this one. Some consider the film a masterpiece of understated black comedy; others deem it a plot less, pointless time-waster. …I’d say The Trouble With Harry is a great film that was probably a good two decades ahead of its time. The performances are wonderfully outrageous, especially the elders (Gwenn and Natwick) who give perceptive comic turns that actors nowadays just don’t seem to have the range to do. Forsythe and MacLaine are delightful too

[3] A light film for Hitchcock, but it does contain the transference of guilt theme, and the guilt bounces all over our main players. A small gem of a film that often gets overlooked, watch this one and you’ll be charmed by the trouble that Harry causes.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

For Rom Com Fans: “The Lady Eve” (1941) starring Barbara Stanwyck & Henry Fonda

[1] Practically everyone in the film has (at least) two names: Jean/Eve, Charlie/Hopsie, Muggsy/Murgatroyd/Ambrose, Harry/Colonel Harrington, Pearlie/Sir Alfred and so on. This suggests, quite rightly, that people are complicated complex beings, and that appearances often have nothing to do with reality.

Fonda …it must really take quite a lot of true acting ability to execute the pratfalls that he does without making Charlie such a wimp that you can’t imagine Jean still wanting him at the very end.

[2] …it’s all about sexual gamesmanship, and its tone is both matter-of-fact and dizzyingly playful at the same time.

…a boudoir farce, a slapstick clinic, a cynical dialogue comedy AND a love story of great, soulful heart.

[3] This may have been Henry Fonda’s best comedy part. …Fonda does so well in the part because he plays it absolutely straight. No tongue in cheek, no winks at the audience, Fonda plays it straight and sincere.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

Col. Harrington: Don’t be vulgar, Jean. Let us be crooked, but never common.

This screwball comedy was written/directed by Preston Sturges, who wrote for theater/movies, then got into directing after age 40. He wrote the screenplay for Remember the Night (1940) starring Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray. Returning from a year in Amazon forest studying snakes (his passion), the heir to an ale fortune, Charles Pike (Henry Fonda), meets Jean Harrington (Barbara Stanwyck) aboard a ship. Charles (shy/nerdy) is putty in the hands of Jean (who exudes confidence/charm). His street-tough bodyguard, Muggsy (William Demarest), is suspicious of the young woman. Charles and Jean fall in love, but he breaks up w/ her after learning that Jean and her father, Col. Harrington (veteran character actor Charles Coburn), are con-artists!

Jean: You see, Hopsie, you don’t know very much about girls. The best ones aren’t as good as you probably think they are and the bad ones aren’t as bad. Not nearly as bad.

Some time later, the Harringtons run into a friend who goes by the name Sir Alfred McGlennon Keith (Eric Blore). His latest con involves cheating millionaires at cards in a uber-rich town in Connecticut, where the Pikes happen to live. Eve gets an idea: taking on the persona of an Englishwoman (Lady Eve Sidwich) who could be Sir Alfred’s niece, and seeking revenge on Charles.

Jean: He isn’t backwards. He’s a scientist.

Sir Alfred: Oh, is that what it is? I knew he was… peculiar.

There are many laughs (thanks to the snappy dialogue and physical comedy); the romance is done very well, too! The opening credits feature a grinning cartoon snake, reminding us of Satan in the Garden or Eden. Even before Charles climbs aboard the ship, Jean drops an apple (representing knowledge) which hits his head. The single ladies checking him out make Charles very uncomfortable, but Jean trips him to get his attention. Everything about Jean- her perfume, high heels, looks, and sparking wit- have a strong effect on Charles. The chemistry between Fonda (who plays his role totally seriously) and Stanwyck (who is good in every role) is electric!