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!

“Samson and Delilah” (1949) starring Hedy Lamarr, Victor Mature, George Sanders, & Angela Lansbury

Samson: You came to this house as wedding guests. Fire and death are your gifts to my bride. For all that I do against you now, I shall be blameless. I’ll give you back fire for fire, and death for death!

Samson (Victor Mature) plans to marry Semadar (Angela Lansbury), though the Danites (his tribe) are ruled by the Philistines (her tribe). Also, the Danites believe in one god, while the Philistines worship many gods. Samson jumps over the wall of her house to spend time w/ Semadar, interrupting Ahtur (Henry Wilcoxon), the prince who called to court. Semadar’s younger sister, Delilah (Hedy Lamarr), is secretly in love w/ Samson; he doesn’t pay her much attention. Samson asks the local ruler, The Saran of Gaza (George Sanders), for Semadar’s hand in marriage after defeating a warrior in a test of strength. At their wedding banquet, Semadar betrays Samson, and a violent brawl breaks out among the men. Semadar is killed, as is her father; their house and lands are burned! Delilah vows revenge on Samson; she’ll find out why he’s so strong, then betray him to The Saran.

Prince Ahtur: This Samson has some unknown power, some secret that gives him superhuman strength. No man can stand against him.

Delilah: Perhaps he’ll fall before a woman. Even Samson’s strength must have a weakness. There isn’t a man in the world who would not share his secrets with some woman.

Victor Mature won the role of Samson over Burt Lancaster, who was dealing with a back injury and also considered too young. According to Scott Eyman’s biography of Cecil B. DeMille, the real reason that Lancaster did not get the role of Samson was due to his politics; Lancaster was liberal while DeMille was a conservative (as was Mature). Wilcoxon, Robert Ryan, and Robert Mitchum were also considered for Samson. Mature refused to wrestle a tame Hollywood lion; a stuntman is intercut w/ close-ups of the actor wrestling w/ fur.

Her performance was definitely the main asset of the film, one for which she deserved an Academy Award nomination. -Christopher Young, Hedy Lamarr’s biographer

Though cast as the older sister, Lansbury (23 y.o.) was 10 yrs younger than Lamarr (33 y.o.)- who hailed from Austria and was Jewish. Other candidates for the role of Delilah were Jean Simmons, Lana Turner, and Rita Hayworth. Yvonne De Carlo (who later starred in DeMille’s The Ten Commandments) also wanted to play Delilah. Lamarr wears 10 costumes (designed by Edith Head); the peacock gown and cape included 2,000 peacock feathers. Before the scene where Samson kisses Delilah, much discussion took place as to whether a man would kiss a woman w/ his eyes closed or open. Mature commented “a fellow would be a chump to close his eyes” when kissing Lamarr. In the final shot, Mature closed, opened, and then closed his eyes again.

Samson: Your arms were quicksand. Your kiss was death. The name Delilah will be an everlasting curse on the lips of men.

Samson and Delilah was the top-grossing movie of 1949 ($28M). DeMille wanted to shoot the background scenes in Israel, but couldn’t b/c of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. He decided to send a camera crew to North Africa for 2 mos; they brought back footage shot in Morocco and Algeria, as well as props. Despite this Biblical account of their battle against the Philistines, the oppressed people were never referred to as “Israelites”, “Hebrews”, or “Jewish” people. This omission (or avoidance) occurred in an era when studio chiefs were very sensitive to the fact that Hollywood was generally considered to be “run by Jews.” This movie was in post-production when Sunset Blvd. (1950) was being shot at Paramount. In the scene where Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) visits a soundstage to meet w/ DeMille, the set of Delilah’s tent was reassembled to show the director/producer at work. 

I find the American public fairly true to corn. It grows all across the great Midwest. It’s on the ground and in the hearts of the people. I’m very proud to say you’ll find a good deal of it my pictures. -Cecille B. DeMille, commenting on the “corny” reputation of this movie

[1] Victor Mature, a fine physical specimen of the male physique, seems to fit perfectly into the role of the brooding and oft-troubled Samson. George Sanders is superb as the Saran of Gaza. The absolute star of the show is the movie’s other lead actor, Hedy Lamarr… sets the screen on fire as the sensual and wicked Delilah…

[2] Acting honors in this go to George Sanders as the Saran of Gaza, Philistine ruler and sophisticated cad. This was the height of Sanders career, he received a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for All About Eve the same year. I think the Saran and Addison DeWitt would have understood each other very well.

[3] Hedy Lamarr took the title role of Delilah and made it her own… She was full and sparkling as the Philistine temptress, the central figure of Samson’s last love story…

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

Hitchcock’s Ticket to Hollywood: “The Lady Vanishes” (1938) starring Margaret Lockwood, Michael Redgrave, Paul Lukas, & Dame May Whitty

Iris Henderson [talking to her girlfriends]: I’ve no regrets. I’ve been everywhere and done everything. I’ve eaten caviar at Cannes, sausage rolls at the dogs. I’ve played baccarat at Biarritz and darts with the rural dean. What is there left for me but marriage?

This film was a hit in his native England; it helped Sir Alfred Hitchcock get a 7 yr. contract w/ David O. Selznick. Orson Welles loved it so much that he saw it 11 times! Hitchcock was inspired by a legend of an Englishwoman who went w/ her daughter to the Palace Hotel in Paris in the 1880s for the Great Exposition: “The woman was taken sick and they sent the girl across Paris to get some medicine in a horse-vehicle, so it took about four hours. When she came back she asked, ‘How’s my mother?’ ‘What mother?’ ‘My mother. She’s here, she’s in her room. Room 22.’ They go up there. Different room, different wallpaper, everything. And the payoff of the whole story is, so the legend goes, that the woman had Bubonic plague and they dared not let anybody know she died, otherwise all of Paris would have emptied.” The urban legend, known as the Vanishing Hotel Room, was also explored in Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1955) in S1, E5, “Into Thin Air,” starring Hitchcock’s daughter Patricia (who has a supporting role in Strangers on a Train).

Miss Froy: I never think you should judge any country by its politics. After all, we English are quite honest by nature, aren’t we?

Passengers on train out of a fictional Central European country (Mandrika) are delayed due to an avalanche. They get up close and personal w/ each other while staying at an overcrowded inn one night. Once the train departs the next morning, it seems an elderly English governess, Miss Froy (Dame May Whitty) may or may not be on it. Iris Henderson (Margaret Lockwood), a wealthy playgirl who was vacationing w/ gal pals before getting married, is certain that Miss Froy was on the train. They sat in the same compartment and had tea together in the dining car, but the passengers/staff who could corroborate Iris’ story say they never saw the lady! Iris could have possible concussion, as brain surgeon Dr. Hartz (Paul Lukas) declares; she was hit over the head before boarding the train. A young ethno-musicologist, Gilbert (Michael Redgrave in his first movie), is willing to listen to Iris and help her search for Miss Froy.

Gilbert: My father always taught me, never desert a lady in trouble. He even carried that as far as marrying Mother.

Vivien Leigh screen-tested for the role of Iris. The cricket-obsessed pals, Charters and Caldicott (played by Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne), were such popular characters that they were paired up in 10 more movies, incl. Night Train to Munich (1940) which also starred Lockwood. The censors wouldn’t allow the villains to be identified as Germans, though the plot has references to the political situation leading up to WWII. The Brits end up working together to fight off the foreigners, aside from the lawyer, Mr. Todhunter (Cecil Parker), who raises the white flag of surrender. At first, it seems like a short, light, and breezy film. On second look, we note how two women are at the focus of the story; they’re both strong-willed, confident, and capable (when life gets tough).

[1] Many regard this as the best of Hitchcock’s early work, and it is easy to see why: the film demonstrates his growing talent for building suspense from an unlikely mix of the commonplace and the incredible.

[2] Michael Redgrave and Margaret Lockwood simply sparkle as the main couple who of course initially can’t stand each other. Once on the train, the ensuring mystery and sleuthing are riveting,and full of fantastic little details… The shootout is excellently staged and still quite exciting. The laughs are constant…

[3] I think my analysis of Hitch would be his championing the moral fiber of everyman. I think that is why Hitchcock films still stand today as some of the best ever made.

[4] The scene in the hotel showing Caldicott and Charters sharing a bed (and a pair of pajamas) never would have gotten by the American censors. The relationship between the Todhunters as well, was quite obvious and rare for the American cinema of the day.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

“Star Trek: DS9” – S3, E11 & 12 (“Past Tense: Parts I & II”)

Part I: The Defiant has arrived at Earth and Cmdr. Benjamin Sisko (Avery Brooks), Dr. Julian Bashir (Alexander Siddig) and Lt. Jadzia Dax (Terry Farrell) are beamed to the surface, where they will address the Starfleet Symposium in San Fran on the situation on the other side of the wormhole (the Gamma Quadrant). But they never arrive! Chief Miles O’Brien (Colm Meaney) has no clue what happened; it was a transporter accident (very common in the ST universe). Meanwhile, the three find themselves in San Fran, but the time is 2024. Bashir and Sisko are arrested and put the Sanctuary District (a ghetto where homeless, jobless, and mentally ill people live). Sisko notices this is a few days before a major riot breaks out (a pivotal moment in history). Lee (Tina Lifford), a woman working at the processing center, gives them ration cards (for food) and explains how things work. Dax is assisted by Chris Brynner, a wealthy businessman, who helps her get an ID and hotel room (assuming she was mugged).

Part II: Sisko has taken the place of the revolutionary Gabriel Bell to ensure the hostages at the processing center stay safe. He needs to keep the trigger-happy B.C. (Frank Military) and security guard Vin (Dick Miller) calm and away from each other. Bashir fears for the captain’s life, as the original Bell died in the riots. When their new friend, Webb (Bill Smitrovich), manages to reach the processing center, Sisko asks him to find some stable men to guard the hostages. Dax decides to take action, frustrated w/ just watching the news on the riots. On the Defiant, Major Kira (Nana Visitor) and Chief O’Brien decide that their only option is to go back into the past, though Odo (Rene Auberjonois) looks a bit worried. (This ep as directed by Jonathan Frakes, who played Riker on TNG.)

Sisko: By the early 2020s, there was a place like this in every major city in the United States.

Bashir: Why are these people in here? Are they criminals?

Sisko: No, people with criminal records weren’t allowed in the Sanctuary Districts.

Bashir: Then what did they do to deserve this?

Sisko: Nothing. Just people, without jobs or places to live.

Bashir: Ah, so they get put in here?

Sisko: Welcome to the 21st century, Doctor.

Bashir [after a day at Sanctuary]: Causing people to suffer because you hate them… is terrible. But causing people to suffer because you have forgotten how to care… that’s really hard to understand.

This is the first Star Trek production to feature scenes set in the 21st Century. Ira Steven Behr’s inspiration to create the Bell Riots was the 1971 riot in New York’s Attica Prison (where inmates demanded better living conditions). While this ep was being shot in LA, the city was deciding whether they should set up a separate area for the homeless. This is the kind of story that Roddenberry would’ve approved of, as it tackles current social problems under the guise of sci-fi. If you (or a friend) are new to Trek, these might be up your alley.

Chris: Don’t worry, your friends are fine. That’s the whole point of the Sanctuary, to give people in trouble food and a place to stay.

Dax: If that’s all it’s for, then why is there a wall around it?

On the Women at Warp podcast (May 8, 2016), they discussed these eps in depth. Sisko and Bashir (both men of color) are quickly taken away and arrested; Dax (who landed in a different area) and is a beautiful white woman was the one who got rescued. Though Dax is not human (she is a Trill w/ hundreds of years of knowledge), she easily explains that her markings are tattoos. Later on, we see her at a party w/ Chris’ upper class friends; one couple is annoyed that protests in Europe led them to cancel their vacation. Dax knows just how to charm Chris and uses her privilege to help her friends. Sisko decides that Webb (an even-tempered white man w/ a family) should be the public face of the riot; this is a clever move. While police surround the area, Webb gets on the call w/ Det. Preston (Deborah Van Valkenburgh) and states the demands of the Sanctuary residents. Bashir, young and coming from a sheltered background, learns much from Sisko and experiencing hardship. Kira and O’Brien provide a sprinkling of humor in the dark story by hopping through time periods.

“Star Trek”: Season 3, Episode 15 (“Let That Be Your Last Battlefield”)

Chekov: There was persecution on Earth once. I remember reading about it in my history class.

Sulu: Yes, but it happened way back in the twentieth century. There’s no such primitive thinking today.

This is one of those eps that I’m sure many non-Trekkers (or Trekkies) have read of/heard about. On the way to a mission, The Enterprise comes across a shuttlecraft stolen from Starbase 4 by Lokai (Lou Antonio- part of the chain gang in Cool Hand Luke), a humanoid who is half black and half white. Soon his pursuer, Commissioner Bele (Frank Gorshin- best known as The Riddler on the ’60s Batman series), arrives onboard (from an invisible ship- one of the biggest budget cuts in TOS). Bele demands that Lokai be turned over for transport to Cheron (their home planet) where Lokai has been convicted as a terrorist.

Spock: [referring to Bele and Lokai] Fascinating. Two irrevocably hostile humanoids.

Scotty: Disgusting is what I call ’em.

Mr. Spock: That description is not scientifically accurate.

Scotty: Mr. Spock, the word “disgusting” describes exactly what I feel about those two.

Kirk: That’s enough for today. Those two are beginning to affect you.

Bele regards Lokai as of an inferior race and claims that Lokai’s people were destroying their civilization. Lokai contends that Bele’s people enslaved his people, but then we learn that Lokai’s people engaged in mass destruction. Bele believes he is right (pursuing justice). Their hate for each other puts our heroes in danger; Kirk tries to convince them to stop fighting. Both men have superpowers and this pursuit has lasted 50,000 years!

Spock: Change is the essential process of all existence

The screenplay was based on a story by Lee Cronin (the pseudonym of Gene L. Coon). He had left Paramount and was under contract with Universal, so he was not supposed to be working for Paramount. The original story didn’t depict the aliens w/ bi-colored skin; one was a devil w/ a tail and the other was an angel. Director Jud Taylor came up w/ the idea of bi-colored skin shortly before filming. The plot was a (obvious/heavy-handed to critics and modern viewers) indictment of the discrimination/prejudice in the late ’60s. MLK, Jr. had been assassinated less than a year earlier. This was a few years after the Watts Riots (LA) and the events dramatized in popular movies: Ghosts of MississippiMalcolm X, and Mississippi Burning.

[1] This episode does have the marvelous self-destruct sequence initiated by Kirk, in which Spock & Scotty join in to voice the self-destruct codes. This sequence manages to squeeze out every bit of suspense possible for such a televised few minutes…

[2] There are a few good lines such as the scene where Spock tells Bele that his planet was once a violent world which the Vulcans eventually resolved through logic and cool reasoning. 

[3] All theories are suggested by Spock, incl. nature vs. nurture. Their hated has outlasted the population of their planet. The only writing flaw is their hatred spans thousands of years. Nobody lives than long, except the “Q” maybe! The stock footage used for the burning of the planet looks suspiciously like the burning of Atlanta from GWTW, don’t you think?

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews