Borat! Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006) dir. Larry Charles – Very Nice!

Borat is often dismissed as a movie with crude, politically incorrect humour made solely for shock value; and while yes, it does tick all the above boxes, I feel like you’d be missing what made Borat from a ‘Jackass’ film (although there is definitely a place for films like that and they are a guilty pleasure of mine). Just as Matt Stone and Trey Parker were about to make a living off turning their crude animation, South Park, into a political satire machine, Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat was already turning heads in a similar manner, if many realised it or not.

There’s more to this movie than the infamous man-kini.

Borat follows the titular character, a Kazakhstani television personality who travels to America to learn its culture. As we watch Borat publically defecate, streak and offend his way throughout his travels, Borat meets with a variety of people with differing socio-political viewpoints. Borat himself is very politically incorrect, having very questionable opinions on women, homesexuals and Jews; it is where the character gets many of his criticisms. Much of the comedy comes from Borat interacting with American and observing how they react to his extreme viewpoints. It is also where it’s most profound statements on Americans are found.

Sacha’s Borat has an almost child-like quality to him.

By playing a buffoon, Sacha Baron Cohen essentially levels those with a similar viewpoint to Borat’s standards. He can bring out the worst of people by just going along with the absurd things they. He has the ability to make fun of the person right in front of him without him realising that they are being made fun of. This possibly causes an unwanted effect in that many will laugh along because they agree with the statements being said, just like the subject Borat is interviewing.

‘Take them and hang them; that’s what we’re trying to get done.” Jeez.

I think there is something to be said about his portrayal of a Kazakhstani. Borat does paint a bad picture of the people and culture of Kazakhstan. Borat is nonetheless an endearing character and I think it says something that Borat’s ignorance is build out of his child-like innocence while the many Americans we see who agree with his viewpoints often have their ignorance built from something much more sinister. It’s especially notable when Bobby Rowe, a manager of a rodeo show, talks about homosexuals and Muslims in a very negative light, with Borat passively accepting his viewpoint; not unlike how information is given to children. It is interesting, then, how his more open-minded subjects seem much more like normal people. His interview with the women and the comedian and particularly the Jews, director Larry Charles makes a distinct point to show off their ‘good’ side, for a lack of a better term.

The nicest people in Borat’s journey turn out to be Borat’s worst nightmare.

Whether you agree with the underlying messages or not, there is no denying that Borat Is a very clever film. It’s mockumentary format is creative, one of the few to blend real life with fictional characters. It does its job well to portray the extremes of America and it is hilarious. It feels almost important over a decade later with the climate we’re currently in. I bet Borat would have a lot to say about America today.

The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water (2015) dir. Paul Tibbitt, Mike Mitchell – Out of Water, But Not Out of Its Depth

The original 2004 Spongebob Squarepants Movie will always have a ‘man-sized’ place in my heart; so when I heard that there were talks of a new Spongebob movie, I could not contain my excitement.

Then I saw the trailers.

‘Oh no’, I exclaimed, ‘They’re ugly!’

For years, I had avoided the film, expecting it to be a mostly-live action romp with those ghastly hero character designs. When I finally watched the film, it became a surprising homage to animation, new and old.

Plankton finally gets his time to shine.

Tibbitt and Mitchell employ many different visual styles ranging from their traditional style all the way to stop motion and CGI, backed up by a zany time travel plot that is used incredibly well to show off the strengths of each individual style. This allows them to explore and give tributes to many different genres too, including the superhero movie, science fiction, post-apocalyptic and even content from the online era; seen in cameos and a completely out-of-nowhere song made by NicePeter and EpicLloyd of Epic Rap Battles of History. The film is a visual treat to behold, particularly in their own tried-and-true animation style. You can really tell they put their budget into making Bikini Bottom the prettiest it has ever looked.

Sponge Out Of Water effectively blends many different types of animation.

And the film’s retrospective nature doesn’t just feature in the visuals alone. This marks the first Spongebob project original creator Stephen Hillenburg has worked on since 2002, whose comedic tone is distinctly different to Tibbit, who took over after Hillenburg left. Sponge Out Of Water at many times feels very early 2000s Spongebob, with its use of grotesque imagery and how it plays with death for laughs (honestly, remember the guy that drowned because of bubble buddy?).

Hillenburg seems to love destroying Bikini Bottom in his movies.

There are improvements to be made. 2004s Spongebob Movie was also an memorable musical and in general the television show uses music exceptionally well. The soundtrack here leaves a lot to be desired. It’s attempt at music is generally half-hearted and lacks the staying power of the musical numbers of the 2004 film. Pharrell Williams-lead N.E.R.D. features prominently on the soundtrack, particularly when Spongebob (Tom Kenny) and Plankton (Mr. Lawrence) time travel and it feels incredibly out of place. This also goes for NicePeter and EpicLloyd’s feature with an out-of-the-blue rap battle between Bubbles the Space Dolphin (Matt Berry) and some pigeons. It stops the story dead on its tracks to deliver a musical number that left me very confused and laughing (not in a good way) at how absurd the concept was.

The rap battle was a joke that outstays it’s welcome.

Additionally, for the majority of the time, the action generally stays in Bikini Bottom, making the whole film feel more like an extended episode than it does a film, especially coming after the original Spongebob Squarepants Movie. You don’t really go on a journey with Spongebob and Plankton like you did with Spongebob and Patrick (Bill Fagerbakke). You don’t ride on the back of a speeding David Hasselhoff in Sponge Out Of Water; you don’t learn what it is to be a ‘man’ in Sponge Out Of Water. It doesn’t really take itself up any notches from what the television show has done.

The original Spongebob character designs translate exceptionally well as 3D models.

Nonetheless, I came into this film with very low standards. The trailers do not do the film justice and while it’s not as magical as the original Spongebob Movie was, Sponge Out Of Water stands on its very own unique merits. It is a visually beautiful and funny film that I enjoyed watching despite its slight downfalls.

Red Dead Redemption: The Man From Blackwater (2010) dir. John Hillcoat – The Good, The Bad and The Uncanny

Red Dead Redemption is a video game developed by Rockstar games released in late spring of 2010. Red Dead Redemption: The Man From Blackwater is also a short film directed by John Hillcoat (of 2012s Lawless and 2009s The Road) created within the engine of the aforementioned video game. The practice of creating content from a video game engine is known as ‘machinima’.

Machinima is a relatively new medium, one that hasn’t yet burst into the mainstream, if it ever will; and there are a handful of reasons as to why that is. What’s curious about this film is that it premiered in the US on the FOX television channel; also home to popular television shows like The Simpsons. Admittedly airing at midnight, I can only imagine the culture shock for those channel surfing to see what essentially was an extended video game cutscene screening on their television set. The Man From Blackwater is the perfect encapsulation of what makes this genre so jarring when taking an outsider’s perspective.

The Man From Blackwater captures the style of Red Dead Redemption, but not much of the substance.

Red Dead Redemption (the video game) is renowned for its take on the spaghetti western genre. It’s atmosphere and story is awe-inspiring; not just for a video game, but for any form of media. The last scene where the protagonist John Marston (Rob Wiethoff) meets his fate and is betrayed by the marshals he has been working for since the beginning of the story stays as one of the most powerful in my memory. The Man From Blackwater does not show that scene. The Man From Blackwater is a very distilled 30-minute take on the 18+ hour story and instead tells a condensed version of a subplot from early in the game.

John Marston takes a bullet to the abdomen and keeps walking because ‘video game’.

The film is comprised of cutscenes from the game, albeit sometimes from different angles, patched together with shots of John Marston (et al) riding horseback to the next cutscene. Throughout the film, therefore, we jump from the refined animations of a cutscene to the more approximated, less precise animation of gameplay and this causes more problems than just the dissonance alone.

The flash-cutting in this scene is jarring to say the least.

John Hillcoat and the editor Barry Alexander Brown tries their best to hide the clash of styles but sacrifices the pace and tone to achieve consistency in the animation. This is most apparent in the scene where John helps Nigel West Dickens (Don Creech) peddle his elixirs to a group of men. The two times John is asked to shoot; once at a skull and once at a hat; is where the game would give you control. In a film, this is where time is stretched to add some dramatic tension. Hillcoat faces a dilemma. Either play with time but expose the weaker animation or cut the scene so the gameplay animation is seen as little as possible. Hillcoat chooses the latter but there is no real answer here.

The cliff-hanger ending results in a film that feels more like a 30-minute advertisement.

More than any genre of media, machinima is a medium built out of limitations. That scene is a catalyst to why this form of animation has much less emotional power than more traditional forms. You can’t take a scene seriously when half the time, the characters look like they’re walking on jelly legs. That’s not to say machinima is a platform that is dead on arrival; in fact the longest running web series on the internet, Rooster Teeth’s Red vs. Blue, will be on its 15th year as of 2018 and is responsible for the birth of one of the most dominant media companies to come from the internet. Unlike The Man From Blackwater, Red vs. Blue more embraces the limitations of it’s platform. In a very similar manner to the crude animation of Comedy Central’s South Park, Red vs. Blue takes the simple animation and compliments it with humour. In fact, the least enjoyable parts of that show are when it introduced more drama and motion capture animation.

Red vs. Blue, created in the ‘Halo’ series of games, is an example of Machinima done right.

There’s a place for machinima, but I don’t necessarily think television and the world of Red Dead Redemption is the best home for the platform.

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) dir. Stanley Kubrick – It’s Good To Meet Again

Old films tend to feel dated to me. Thanks to my desensitised millennial eyes, I accept that the cinematic language in films before the 70s don’t resonate with me as well as they would an older person. Dr. Strangelove is an exception to this fact and has hit every nerve that interests me about film. It has an impressive characteristic of feeling like a contemporary film. When it comes to pacing and writing, this film holds up incredibly well. This could be since it seems to allude to many postmodern sensibilities; I would argue myself that it is very much a postmodern film and also one of the first.

I should note there had been works in the past that used humour and satire as a catalyst for commentary towards the fears and anxieties of the people at the time, Charlie Chaplin in particular was experienced in the idea of using his comedy in such a way. Modern Times commented on the fears of the proletariat while The Great Dictator criticised the Nazi Regime. Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove adapts this idea with what was to be postmodern ideologies.

The cheerful march music that plays in the background of the plane scenes juxtaposes the serious intent of the passengers on board.

With heft-loads of irony, Kubrick explored with the idea of story structure, omniscience, cinematography and pacing to create what he called a ‘nightmare comedy.’ I make particular note of this term as Kubrick has been able to introduce a distinctly surrealist atmosphere to an otherwise grounded narrative. The film is very Kafkaesque, there’s a, for a lack of a better term, ethereal aspect to this film. An ‘unrealness’ that transcends the whole film not dissimilar to Plato’s World of the Forms. If I was to make an assumption, Kubrick knew this philosophy well, but instead of the perfect realm implied by Plato, it is ours. It is an effective way of almost incorporating our world into the narrative. An awareness that this is just a film, that these people are caricatures of humans.

Dr. Strangelove lives up to its name.

We see George C. Scott’s exaggerated performance as Buck Turgidson as an unrealistic portrayal of a hardened General working directly for the President. Instead we see a promiscuous attention-seeking man-child. We are offered omniscience in the plot through cross-cutting, particularly when the paratroopers decide to change course outside the knowledge of those in the war room. Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden), a paranoid man who ends up showing weakness particularly when he chooses to end his life, is viewed from a low angle; while those in the war room, who literally have the fate of world resting on their hands, are viewed from a high angle. Those in the war room bicker about how they’re ‘fine’ rather than discussing how to resolve this world-ending problem. Peter Sellers portrays of three distinctly different characters, breaking suspension of disbelief for those who spot it.

Dr. Strangelove will both scare you and make you laugh, often at the same time.

Finally, we are not offered any new equilibrium or peaceful resolution at the end of the film, cutting off mid-conversation after Dr. Strangelove diverts from said conversation by standing up. Dr. Strangelove’s obsession for mutually assured destruction has won and is literally standing tall at the end of the film (let’s just forget about tweets involving big buttons for a little while). We’ll Meet Again plays juxtaposed to shots of the destruction of the world. A break of the fourth wall, a cynical implication of the plausibility of such an event happening in our world, but nonetheless had me singing Vera Lynn for several days after viewing.

Suicide Squad (2016) dir. David Ayer – Far from a Dead Shot

Well, at least the graphics were pretty.

I love hero flicks. They are trashy, they are loud, they are bombastic and whenever the next instalment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe comes out, you bet my butt will be at the local cinema drinking in the action, ammo and abs. So you won’t be surprised when I say that I went to see Suicide Squad. Of course, I heard all the drama involving different cuts of the film, I read the reviews; but surely it can’t be that bad. I’ll go into it thinking it’s an ‘Incredible Hulk’ or ‘Thor: The Dark World’ situation. Not spectacular, but a hero flick is a hero flick.

Suicide Squad gave me headaches. Suicide Squad is worse than The Incredible Hulk. Suicide Squad is worse than Thor: The Dark World. Suicide Squad is the worst superhero film, nay; Suicide Squad is the worst film I have ever gone to see in a movie theatre.

Suicide Squad is everything that’s wrong with the DCEU. Not to say that Marvel isn’t all innocent (Rest in peace, Edgar Wright’s Ant-Man) but the constant meddling of creative thought, the lack of heart and the complacency to settle is sharply apparent in Warner Bros.’ answer to the MCU. It’s what killed off Sony’s Andrew Garfield-lead Spider-verse and it seems that the folks at Warner Bros. don’t want to look to past mistakes. Everything in Suicide Squad is unimaginative, the black blob monsters, the flat humour, the too-dark-to-see grading, the inconsistent soundtrack. This was made so clinically, to appeal to the broadest audience possible, it has made a Frankenstein’s monster of a movie.

‘Who the hell are they?’ Too right, Deadshot.

It takes about 30 minutes to get through just introducing the too-many characters that comprise the Suicide Squad, 50 minutes to get past all the introductory exposition. The Suicide Squad line up comprises of, Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Deadshot (Will Smith), El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), Katana (Karen Fukuhara), Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) and Slipknot (Adam Beach), barely.  It took four years for the original 2012 Avengers to come together and they were a team of six. You end up with only half of these characters being fleshed out in any way, shape or form; and you’re left with character highlights like Slipknot being an idiot and getting his head blown off; or when Killer Croc did his goofy crocodile crawl into the subway. This problem is augmented by the fact that they are pitted against Enchantress (Cara Delevingne), a foe with another complicated backstory and powers that could destroy the world. You’re left thinking why they didn’t call any of the soon-to-be Justice League to solve this problem, but instead a group of untrained hooligans you can’t trust?

Slipknot; gone, definitely forgotten.

When you eventually get to see the action, you will not. It seems as if Ayer had forgotten that he left the ND filters two notches too low and the darkness of the blob monsters only exacerbate things. This is particularly noticeable when El Diablo’s fire powers consume the whole frame and you’re still left thinking whether you left your sunglasses on when you entered the theatre. It’s a shame because many shots in the film are nonetheless framed beautifully, but it was very hard to see them.

Also, the CGI is not convincing at all.

The film’s saving grace is the cast, especially considering the amateurish writing. Will Smith’s performance of a father is particularly convincing although many of the main cast have opportunities to show off their acting chops in this film.

Well, except for this extreme cheeseball moment.

The premise is brilliant and Warner had some brilliant characters and cast to work with. I even liked the idea of Jared Leto’s Joker being a gangster, despite the execution being botched. The world voted with their wallets to see a film like this and the world left their theatres severely disappointed. On the bright side, we at least now have a great example on how not to make a superhero ensemble film and Warner Bros. will learn from their mistakes.

Never mind.