Quickfire round: Borat Subsequent Movie Film

What is America like in 2020? Actually, no, don’t answer that. I want to be able to sleep tonight. Instead, let Borat answer it for you, as he presents his latest documentary, journalling his delivery of prodigious bribe to American regime for make benefit once glorious nation of Kazakhstan.

One of the most uncomfortable scenes I have ever watched.

I have never actually seen the original Borat movie. I admire Sacha Baron Cohen’s skill as a comedian and writer, but I do find some of his character’s presentation a little unnecessarily exaggerated. So when I watched this film, I had to filter out the subtle humour (some of which is particularly excellent) from the more in-your-face absurdity shown by Borat (and his daughter). This requires filtering out about half of the film, which means I can’t really give it more than half-marks.

Borat, apparently ridiculed in his home nation of Kazakhstan due to the events of the first film, is sent back to the US by his glorious leader to provide a tainted gift to a US Vice President Mike Pence (a porn star monkey, if you must know). The plan is somewhat ruined when, in place of the monkey, his daughter shows up instead.

I should explain that this film is a sort of mix between reality and acting. It reminds me of Nathan For You (review coming… eventually), whereby an exaggerated character engages with real-world people who are slightly more willing to accept the character’s absurdity by the mere fact that the cameras are rolling and they signed a release form. So, we see Borat interact with a cross-section of American society, from plastic surgeons and bakery owners, to babysitters and extreme Trump supporters. Oh, and yes, Rudy Giuliani, who doesn’t come out of the movie looking particularly good.

Okay, so – what do you want me to say? Was the film any good? Well, like I said, I can only give it half marks. It was funny and it was cringey and some of the stuff he did was quite impressive. But it was also obscene and cringey and some of the stuff he did was unnecessary. I watched it because it’s current and I can talk to people about it. I certainly wouldn’t watch it for fun.

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Quickfire round: Enola Holmes

Put simply, this film delivered. A necessarily witty, intelligent, and stereotype-busting Enola Holmes, portrayed excellently by Millie Bobby Brown, investigates the disappearance of her mother, all while trying to outrun her two brothers (including, yes, that Sherlock Holmes).

Enola escapes to London dressed as a boy – the costume department did a great job.

Holmes spent much of her life being home-schooled by her mother, who taught her all manner of skills and knowledge which, if you were of the prevailing attitude of the time, girls ought not to know. Then, one day, her mother just disappears. Enola’s two brothers, Sherlock and Mycroft, return to the family home to investigate their mother’s disappearance. Mycroft, who in this adaptation is really a bit of a dick, disapproves of Enola’s education and arranges for her to be sent to a finishing school. The thought of attending such a place pushes Enola over the edge and she runs away in the middle of the night – taking clues of her mother’s whereabouts with her. Enola knows a lot of things – but does she know how to cope in the real world?

I can’t help but see this film as a box-ticking exercise. That’s actually a good thing – let me tell you the boxes it ticks. There’s a strong female lead. The costume design is on point. There’s a slight twist I didn’t see coming. The cinematography is good. There is humour. There is action. The mix of action and humour and violence and education is perfect for the target audience.

It could easily become a franchise.

But what the film doesn’t do is over-deliver. The mystery of her mother’s disappearance fizzles out and isn’t executed to its fullest extent. There could do with being a bit more mystery. I never gasped, I rarely laughed out loud, and I didn’t come away thinking ‘you know what, that was brilliant!’

It’s just a good film. Know that you won’t be disappointed if you watch it, and you won’t be missing out much if you don’t.

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Quickfire round: American Murder: The Family Next Door

Despite its forgettable title (is it American Family: The Murder Nextdoor? Or America Nextdoor: The Family Murder? Neither!) this documentary uses incredible original footage to tell the chilling story of how, and why, Shannan Watts and her two children were cruelly murdered.

One person in this photo escaped death. Can you guess who it was?

I’ll start off by saying that this documentary shows how far we’ve come with technology in our society that it is able to tell the story in such a coherent manner with absolutely no voice-over and only first-hand footage (from police body cams and interview rooms, neighbours, news crews, text messages, and Shannan herself).

This method of telling the story makes it all the more terrifying. We start out with police body cam footage – after Shannan’s friend and colleague called the police, concerned for her whereabouts as she wasn’t responding to texts. The footage – otherwise entirely routine – immediately captures a scene of confusion and mystery as Shannan – and her two young children – are nowhere to be seen. Her phone is there and switched off, but the children’s blankets are gone. Her husband, Chris Watts, raced back from work at a remote oil well, and seems distracted as he speaks to officers about the last time he saw his wife alive and who – or where – she could have gone to.

Incredibly, the documentary also features Shannan herself. She was a prolific Facebook user, recording and posting footage of family moments almost daily. What a juxtaposition these happy videos of her and her husband are to the text messages she was exchanging with her friends and colleagues shortly before her death – telling a story of how her husband had become distant and uninterested in her.

I think I know what makes the documentary so gripping. The Facebook videos and text messages are all pre-death, of course. And the police footage is post-death. We therefore see the story unravel from two perspectives – Shannan’s, as she hurtles towards her murder, and the police, as they piece everything together. Everything is revealed in sync with each other – the text messages become more surreal and desperate as the police interviews become more dramatic and revealing. It’s great storytelling, if incredibly tragic.

If you like true crime, you absolutely don’t want to miss this.

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Quickfire Round: The Social Dilemma

I’m glad this documentary exists, as it’s made a lot of people wake up to the fact that massive social media companies like Facebook are hardly being generous by giving free access to their platform. Alas, corny acting prevents it reaching its full potential.

Haters gonna hate.

First, the good bits: this film presents first-hand accounts of how social media companies are engineering their platforms to maximise user engagement, putting the health and safety of their billions of users on the back burner as they compete to sell advertising spots. We hear about techniques such as A/B testing – tiny tweaks to the user experience, like moving the location of a button, are rolled out to a random selection of users to see whether it increased or decreased engagement.

Little nuggets of inside information and analysis like that are welcome – another example is Facebook’s photo tagging feature. Ever had an email like, ‘Emily tagged you in a photo on Facebook’? Notice how they don’t show you the photo in the email – you have to go onto the platform to see it. And while you’re there, you might as well check your notifications, and your news feed, and the latest group posts… you get the idea.

Okay, now the not-so-good. Firstly, the show entertains a little too much conspiracy for my liking. In some painfully acted live action scenes, we see ‘the algorithm’ represented by three Facebook engineers in a lab, watching their target’s life and deciding when to ping their phone to drag them into the platform and view an ad that they just sold for 3 cents. The thing is, Facebook does run instant auctions for advertisers to bid on an impression on a user’s Facebook feed. What they don’t do is literally spy on your actual life and ping you at the exact time it most benefits them. They just don’t.

The rest of the acted scenes are also pretty bad. I understand what they were trying to do with the part showing the teenage boy getting increasingly radicalised by far-right propaganda, enough to attend a rally and get arrested, but it didn’t hit deep enough and it just felt so weak as to be worthless.

Thankfully the takeaway from the film is something I can agree with: social media wasn’t invented to be evil, but evil it has become. Delete Facebook, the worst offender by far. If you need to, create a plain shell account to stay in touch with those who can’t be persuaded off the platform.

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Quickfire round: Love Guaranteed

This film was rubbish. A shallow, childish, and ultimately very weird film about a man who sues a dating website for failing to find love. I mean, it sounds interesting, right? But it wasn’t good.

Susan striking the classic ‘objection!’ pose, in what is one of the more exciting parts of the movie

The trailer looked so impressive. Man shows up in lawyer’s office, asking for help to take advantage of a clause in a mega corp dating agency’s terms that guarantees love, as long as you’ve been on 1,000 dates. This guy did that, somehow. (breakfast, lunch, and dinner, he says).

Alright! David v Goliath! A kickass lawyer! 1,000 dates? Sign me up!

And then you press play and you get this sort of clown music going on in the background. The lawyer rolls up to her office in a battered old car, the handle of which falls off as she shuts it. She shoves it in her bag.

Oh no, it’s one of those Rom Coms. The ones where all the characters must be dosed up on LSD because all of their actions are slightly exaggerated and eccentric. This is the sort of thing you see in kid’s movies except that kids don’t really understand the concept of suing a company so I have no idea why they did it this way.

Anyway, yeah, she’s a great lawyer but she’s too nice because she does everything pro bono and so can’t afford to look after herself. Her client is supposed to be a nice, even charming, guy (no prizes for guessing he’s the plot’s love interest) but when someone walks into your office and says he’s been on 1,000 dates, would you ever – ever – think of them as charming?

I will save you all 90 minutes of your time. For the curious, and this is something I saw coming after about 20 minutes, the case goes to trial and he confesses his love for his lawyer, which means, technically, that he did find love through Love Guaranteed after all. The case is withdrawn. But then… the company pays them the damages anyway (either way they were destined for charity) and wants to make them the ‘new face’ of the company???

???

That’s it. That’s the review.

363w.