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Borat

dir: Larry Charles
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The full title of the movie is Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. Perhaps the title should more clearly represent what the film is: an affront to human dignity. So, had I the power to change the title, it would be something more like: Borat: People are Pigs.

I know why Sacha Baron Cohen puts himself in these horrific situations: because it has lead to fame and fortune, whether as Borat or Ali G or in the other roles he is starting to get in Hollywood. But that doesn’t make watching him put himself into increasingly dangerous situations to provoke laughs down the track any easier to handle.

If this is a comedy, and mind you, I said ‘if’, it is generally the comedy of discomfort, where watching people do or say awful things makes us cringe and hopefully laugh uncontrollably. But in many ways this movie is little different from the MTV Jackass series and movies where Johnnie Knoxville and his crew of mental defectives cause themselves and each other extreme amounts of pain for our amusement. The difference is that in the Jackass films, the participants are volunteering to drink horse semen or jump head first into sewerage.

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Little Miss Sunshine

dir: Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris
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Even though it looks like just another American film about just another dysfunctional American family, Little Miss Sunshine has more going for it than that. At the very least, it manages to provoke a few more chuckles than the average film of this type usually does.

True, there’s no shortage of movies, both mainstream and art-house, that try to outdo and out-quirk each other with crazy families and their crazy adventures on the road to getting to their version of a happy ending. The lazy message always is, no matter how wacky and insane members of your family are, they’re still your family. So, you know, appreciate them for who they are.

Well, this film boasts a quirky collection of characters, and has the same predictable message regarding the thickness of blood versus water. But it ends up being a lot more fun that usual, even if it doesn’t have anything new to say about anything.

Olive (Abigail Breslin) is a cute little awkward girl who somehow makes it to the finals of a beauty pageant for cute little girls. For various unimportant reasons, her entire family has to accompany her on a cross-country trip in an old Volkswagen Kombi van as they try to get to Los Angeles for the competition.

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Nacho Libre

dir: Jared Hess
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No-one probably found the bizarre success of Napoleon Dynamite more surprising than the guy who made it. Jared Hess made a strange little film clearly set in the 80s, but updated with a bundle of modernisms to make it contemporary, and watched it become a cultish hit.

Seeing as Hess and his wife / writing partner are Mormons, if you ever wondered what a flick made by observant Mormons would look like, look no further than Napoleon Dynamite and this here current monstrosity stinking up our cinemas.

Now that I’ve used the word ‘Mormon’, I can’t get a scene from The Simpsons out of my head, where a lawyer at a Senate hearing yells at Homer ‘You, sir, are a moron,’ to which Homer, of course replies, ‘Mormon? But I’m from Earth!’

If you’re not looking for it, it could strike you as strange that Napoleon Dynamite, his first flick, contains no swearing, violence, sex or nudity, despite being set in a milieu that would seem to demand each and every one of those elements (the contemporary American high school genre).

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Thank You for Smoking

dir: Jason Reitman
[img_assist|nid=881|title=And thank you for the cocaine|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=400|height=463]
Maybe it says more about me than the film, but it took me a while to realise this flick was meant to be a satirical comedy, and that it wasn’t a documentary.

Okay, so I’m bullshitting, but most of the material here is less of an outright parody than it is a fairly accurate (in spirit) depiction of the manner in which most of modern society is dependent upon people selling out at every level. Taken further, moral compromise and capitulation is a necessary part of getting by in the modern era.

Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart) is a master of the dark arts of spin. He lives and breathes arguments and loves nothing more than verbally demolishing adversaries with his well-chosen words and rapid-fire delivery. He talks, talks and talks for most of the movie’s 92 minute running time.

And what does he say? He’s a lobbyist for Big Tobacco, the conglomeration of tobacco companies desperately trying to retain their place in a country where they’re under attack in the media, in the courts, and by the government, all for the sensitive, innocuous crime of selling a product which causes hundreds of thousands of deaths per year.

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Tristram Shandy: a Cock and Bull Story

dir: Michael Winterbottom
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Tristram Shandy: a Cock and Bull Story, is not really an adaptation of the novel by Laurence Sterne. Like Adaptation, which is not an adaptation of Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief, but a film about not being able to adapt The Orchid Thief, Tristam Shandy is more about people pretending to put on an adaptation of the novel rather than actually doing so. Whether budget constraints or the experimental desires of the director have resulted in this outcome, anyone wanting or expecting a faithful version will be sorely disappointed.

But it is a faithful adaptation of the spirit of the anarchic novel, which features the same kinds of digressions, blurrings of protagonist, author and story, and overall absurdly mundane madness.

Most of all, the flick is about Steven Coogan. And not about the ‘real’ Steve Coogan, but the character of Steve Coogan that he tends to play for shits and giggles, as the phrase goes. It’s a persona, it has to be. Coogan has gotten so much goddamn mileage from playing his smarmy character that if it’s really how he is, someone surely would have killed him by now.

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40 Year Old Virgin, The

dir: Judd Apatow
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It’s rare that I venture forth to the cinema in order to catch a comedy. They’re rarely funny and usually so disposable that I forget I’m watching them whilst I’m watching them. It’s always scary when you have to check your ticket to remind yourself what you’re watching. Ah, senility, my friend, you make everything old new again.

It’s far easier to catch them on DVD or cable, with little loss to my time, brain cells or threadbare wallet. In this instance there was clearly something different going on. I went out of my way to see this instead of the myriad other stuff on display at any of Melbourne’s fine theatres. There was a different thought process involved.

Judd Apatow is the name that made me think this might be worth watching. Apatow is one of those hellishly talented people who makes some great stuff for television but keeps getting shafted by the networks. His show Freaks and Geeks was a fresh and highly enjoyable entry into the high school kids tv genre. It wasn’t Degrassi High, but it also wasn’t Rich White Teenagers With Problems, part of the legacy Beverly Hills 90210 has left in its murderous wake.

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Aristocrats, The

dir: Paul Provenza
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Many (bad) comedies and films in general are often accused of being one joke movies stretched out painfully for an hour and a half more than they should be. Many of Jim Carrey’s movies fall into this category (the one joke being on the audience for paying to watch him twitch, flail and fulminate). The Passion of the Christ fits the bill. The Ahnuld – De Vito flick Twins falls into this category (They’re so different!) Anything arising from a television sketch show is emblematic of this plague upon all our houses when it defecates itself onto our silver screens.

Well, in The Aristocrats, we have instead a movie about one joke, and the myriad permutations and combinations thereof. And even though the flick is about this one joke, it is nothing like the aforementioned craptacular extravaganzas referred to earlier.

I guess you could call it a documentary, but that makes it sound like a studied, plotted course taken to reveal the origins and mysteries surrounding a legendary joke dating back to the vaudeville era. Which it approximates, but mostly it’s a bunch of talking heads either talking about the joke or telling their version of the joke.

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Team America: World Police

dir: Trey Parker
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It's a new world, which looks remarkably like the 'old' world as
portrayed in movies circa the 1980s. The entire globe is defined (as
in European, Egyptian and Korean cities) in terms of distances and
directions from the US. The soundtrack is the power chord laden
empty-headed nonsense as typified in glorious fashion by the title
song 'America? Fuck Yeah!'; a song so good Van Halen are kicking
themselves that they never recorded it. And the jingoistic action is
over the top, constantly explosive and cheesy / ridiculous in the
extreme. In short, this is an 80s action film parody chock full of the
requisite cliches of the era, except with puppets.

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Shaun of the Dead

dir: Edgar Wright
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Shaun of the Dead is a pretty goddamn funny movie. I say this as someone who sees a whole bunch of films at the cinema, but would laugh out loud about once, if not twice as a member of the audience over the course of a year. It's not the kind of laughter that leaves you sore and moaning in pain afterwards from the splitting of sides or the rupturing of organs from the bellowing belly laughs, but it's close enough. This is a well-made and decidedly British entry into the zombie genre, one which is a whole lot more fun than the 150 of so other zombie films that have come out in the last year or so.

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Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, The

dir: Wes Anderson
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Whilst watching one of Anderson’s films, you really have to wonder who he thinks the audience is for the magic that he serves up. Tis clearly not a guy aiming to pack out the multiplexes and get Armageddon or Passion of the Christ’s Comeback Special-kind of ticket sales. I wonder if he even really cares about the audiences that watch his films, because thus far the only audience I can figure out that he aims his movies at is himself.

Which is a good thing, at least theoretically. So many movies are pumped out that are purely a product, a unit almost identical to the previous unit with slight variations to give the illusion of choice. It’s rare in the course of a given year to see a genuinely individual film: one that is recognisable as the work of a person with a singular vision. Of the six hundred or so films that are released each year, in the end it’s these ones that you remember the most, whether they’re good or bad.

This hardly means that people should sell their firstborns and their puppies to get the required fundage in order to be able to buy multiple tickets to The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. I find it hard to believe that there could really be a lot of people out there that would find a film like this that enjoyable.

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