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Capsule Movie Reviews Vol.2020.11

Published by marco on

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These are my notes to remember what I watched and kinda what I thought about it. I’ve recently transferred my reviews to IMDb and made the list of around 1600 ratings publicly available. I’ve included the individual ratings with my notes for each movie. These ratings are not absolutely comparable to each other—I rate the film on how well it suited me for the genre and my mood and. let’s be honest, level of intoxication. YMMV. Also, I make no attempt to avoid spoilers.

The Americans S06 (2018) — 10/10

We start season 6 with Elizabeth on the raw edge of exhaustion: overworked, smoking all the time, and starting to spiral into making bad decisions. Philip is out of the business and running what looks like a flourishing travel agency. Page is being brought up as an asset/agent. She makes a mistake, getting spotted by a young naval officer who they make sure to portray as so unnecessarily boorish that it’s Ok when Elizabeth later knifes him in the carotid to keep him quiet. This would be the first of many cold-blooded murders for Elizabeth in this final season.

Arkady Ivanovich is back in Moscow, running a special division that is trying to maneuver against the KGB and help Gorbachev push Glasnost/Perestroika into existence. He recruits Oleg Burov out of retirement, convincing him to leave Moscow and his wife and child to go back to Washington DC. He’s there to try to help Russia and the world by making sure that the missile-treaty summit is a success.

Oleg uses sneaky tradecraft to contact Philip and try to get his help, essentially appealing to his devotion to Russia to get him to come out of retirement, but this time reporting to Oleg and Arkady instead of the KGB, which can no longer be trusted to do the right thing. The KGB is correct in thinking that the US will not honor any deals, but incorrect in thinking things can continue as they are.

Elizabeth has been given an even-more-than-usually secret mission to get US weapons technology, but its high-risk and potentially destructive. She is therefore opposed to Oleg/Arkady—and now, Philip.

You can basically look up most of the main storyline on Wikipedia: SDI/Star Wars, Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, Reagan’s dementia, Gorbachev’s fight with his deep state. This is the backdrop against which we find out how the Jennings’s story ends.

After leaving a trail of a dozen corpses, Elizabeth eventually sees that Philip and Oleg are right. With so many “incidents” and the increased security for the summit, the FBI’s noose is finally tightening around the Jennings family. In a meeting with Father André, Philip is nearly caught, getting away by the skin of his teeth. He never returns to the house, instead calling Elizabeth to give her the code phrase to get the go bag … and get out of Dodge.

Oleg is picked up by the FBI and kept in solitary confinement. His family must give him up for lost. Oleg tells Stan the truth, hoping that Stan will do the right thing and rescue the summit from any American or Russian subterfuge.

Stan is no longer really in doubt about Philip and Elizabeth—he knows they’re on the run. He leaves an official stakeout of the travel agency to stake out Paige’s apartment instead. Jackpot. He follows the three into the garage and confronts them in one of the best scenes I’ve seen in a long time. He lets them go. Philip tells him that Renee might be an agent, but they were never able to ascertain it. Stan is severely conflicted, but has to let them go.

But the Americans wasn’t done: they’re on the run with a reluctant Paige, having left Henry in America, the only place and culture he knows. They flee north to the Canadian border, switching from a car to the train, where they are now disguised and traveling under new identities.

At the border, both Philip and Elizabeth pass inspection—the patrol is searching for them, but can’t identify them through their as-always impeccable makeup (applied in a service-station bathroom lit by a bare bulb illuminating a cracked mirror). Paige gets off the train before it leaves the station, choosing to go back to Washington and Henry. We see Philip hurry through the train—to sit by Elizabeth, who finally loses some control and is silently crying for the loss of her other child.

Stan returns to pretend to help find them, but he knows they’re in the wind for good. He goes to Henry instead, to break the news that his parents are gone. Stan watches Renee sleep, wondering.

Philip and Elizabeth cross the border into the Soviet Union, eventually meeting Arkady, who drives them the rest of the way to Moscow. They stop by the side of the road to look over the city and wonder what the rest of their lives will be like. The end. Happily, the end is given more than enough time and silence to properly honor the gravity of the story.

I, Tonya (2017) — 8/10

This is a docu-drama based on the life of Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie). There are disagreements about how accurate the story is. In a way, it doesn’t matter. This is the story of a someone who grew up poor in Portland, as her mother LaVona’s (Allison Janney) fifth daughter with her fourth husband. We never hear anything about the other kids. LaVona doesn’t give the impression that she’s a “stay in touch” kind of mother. She’s a chain-smoking waitress who devotes her entire disposable income to Tonya’s skating, but has only “tough love”—at best—to “encourage” her to succeed. She says that Tonya “skates better mad”.

Tonya skates well and is physically gifted, becoming the first American woman to perform a triple axel at a very young age. She never finished high school and has anger issues, most of which can be traced back to her upbringing, which was tough. She and her mother both took beatings before they left Tonya’s father.

She would repeat this pattern with her first boyfriend/lover/husband Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan), who’s a walking poster child for domestic abuse. Neither of them is very clever—everyone in the movie makes terrible life decisions. But the environment encourages these decisions. It’s incredible that Tonya makes it out of there in any way at all. Most people don’t.

So a drastically undereducated young woman with anger issues, an abusive husband, and a huge chip on her shoulder against a snobbish world that will never accept her no matter how good she is at her sport, shows up to nationals and then the Olympics.

The “incident” happens in the middle of the film. Jeff’s shockingly deluded and mentally incapacitated friend Shawn (Paul Walter Hauser) convinces him to throw Nancy Kerrigan off of her game by sending her threatening mails. To convince them of his plan’s efficacy, he fakes death threats against Tonya first. Jeff wants to seal the deal for Tonya; she seems neither convinced nor particularly opposed. She doesn’t really care what those idiots do.

Instead of sending threatening letters, Shawn hires two goons to attack Kerrigan. They give her a deep bruise, but fail to incapacitate her. The FBI becomes involved and zeroes in on Jeff and Shawn. Tonya eventually learns what happened, but fails to turn them in immediately, instead waiting several days. For this, she is fined a large amount of money and is banned from skating for life.

The way the story is told, you can just feel the whole skating world smugly smirking after the judgment, secure in the knowledge that the class divisions are once again secure. The skating world—at least in the U.S.—is one in which money and the status it brings is a nearly essential component. If you don’t have money and status, then the climb is much steeper and harder—as with nearly everything else.

The whole crime is stupid and useless and unnecessary. It ruined Tonya’s life very early—even though she had very little to do with it. Her greatest mistake was not being able to escape being a product of her environment, of having married young and stupidly to a man who adored her, but didn’t know how to support her. She wasn’t exactly a prize, but she had raw talent, which made her a diamond in the rough that her environment should have nurtured rather than trying to break her.

The film ends with Tonya’s judgment and then a look at her subsequent career as a boxer. It’s an interesting movie about class struggle, the evils of gross inequality, and the smugness, arrogance, and mean-heartedness of the moneyed classes. I saw other reviews describing it as a “dark comedy” and “hilarious”. There was nothing funny about this movie unless you were laughing at the characters, which you could only do if you lacked empathy with them. Which you could only do if you don’t know anyone from that side of the tracks.

If you grew up in those circumstances—or know people who did—then you’ll immediately recognize the truth of the story—even if the details are fudged in this particular instance. You’ll recognize Jeff and Tonya and Shawn and LaVona in people you knew or still know. Hell, you’ll see them in family members or maybe even yourself. Their poverty and how they have to deal with it—how they have to expend nearly all of their energy treading water—is not funny, it’s tragic. The awkward critical reactions show how out-of-touch most urban/city movie reviewers are from the part of America that this movie was about.

Community S01-06 (2009–2015) — 9/10

This is the story of Greendale Community College. It focuses on seven students—Jeff Winger (Joel McHale), Britta Perry (Gillian Jacobs), Abed Nadir (Danny Pudi), Troy Barnes (Donald Glover), Annie Edison (Alison Brie), Pierce Hawthorne (Chevy Chase), and Shirley Bennett (Yvette Nicole Brown)—who form a study group for their introductory Spanish class.

Their Spanish teacher is Ben Chang (Ken Jeong). The dean is Craig Pelton (Jim Rash). In season two, they take Anthropology instead, taught by Ian Duncan (John Oliver). There are other recurring characters, but those are the main ones. Chang has been disgraced as a teacher and is now a student.

The writing is excellent, the repartee witty. The stories are convoluted and very meta, treating the show as a show about a show sometimes, mostly through the device of Abed’s inability to deal with real life without filtering it through the tropes of TV. The actors are all quite good, but I especially like Pudi, Glover, Rash, and Brie. Chase and Jeong also do a great job.

John Goodman is the vice-dean, in charge of the Air Conditioner Repair Academy, which has a tremendous amount of power and wants to recruit Troy away from Greendale, Abed, and the plumbers. He has some great lines, like when he tells Abed (in an effort to undermine his friendship with Troy, who’s building a blanket fort in opposition to Abed’s pillow fort),

“Don’t corrupt the host to satisfy the parasites.”

…meaning that Abed shouldn’t compromise the purity of his vision to help Troy and Greendale get a world record at building blanket forts.

One great trope running through the seasons is paintball, which appears in the best episodes. The whole show is very meta and Abed is pretty much the best character (Danny Pudi is really very good). Frankie (Paget Brewster) in season six actually does a great job—especially considering she appeared in what was going to be the last season. The writing worked well here, too. Chang’s episode as Mr. Miyagi was very good. The episode dedicated to Garrett’s wedding was also quite good.

This was my second viewing of the series, though only the first time I’d seen season 6, which, surprisingly, had its moments. I thought it was better than season 5, actually. The show was always about the characters and it did a decent job of continuing on, in its own way, when people began to leave: Troy, Shirley, Pierce.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017) — 9/10

We start the film with Mildred, who drives by some broken-down billboards on a little-used road outside her hometown of Ebbing, Missouri. She decides then and there to purchase ad-space for her daughter, who’d been raped and killed seven months before. The three billboards say “Raped While Dying”, “And Still No Arrests?”, and “How Come, Chief Willoughby?”

Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) takes umbrage, but not nearly to the degree that one of his officers Dixon (Sam Rockwell) does. Willoughby tells Mildred he has pancreatic cancer, hoping to guilt her into taking down the billboards, but she doesn’t see the two as connected at all. Her son Robbie is annoyed with her. Her ex-husband Charlie (John Hawkes), a sinewy man who used to beat her, is also not thrilled with her that she’s dragging their daughter’s death back into the public eye with such crass language, evoking such raw images.

While Willoughby tries to convince Mildred to take the signs down, Dixon visits Red Welby (Caleb Landry Jones), the nearly incomprehensible owner of the advertising company renting her the billboard space to threaten him, then has Mildred’s co-worker Denise (Amanda Warren) arrested for minor drug charges. Mildred has words with her dentist and ends up drilling a hole in his thumb with his own drill because she thought he was going to ruin her mouth as retaliation for her billboards. Willoughby has her brought in, but ends up coughing blood on her during questioning—and she comforts him.

Willoughby leaves the hospital against doctor’s orders, has a perfect day with his (very young) wife Anne (Abbie Cornish) and their kids before going out to the barn and shooting himself in the head. We hear the letters that Willoughby left for several people—including Mildred, in which he reveals that he was the one who’d paid the next month’s rent for the billboards.

Dixon takes Bill’s death terribly, marching across the street to severely pistol-whip Welby before throwing him out a window. The new police chief Abercrombie (Clarke Peters) is right outside. He follows Dixon back inside and fires him. Curiously, no-one thinks that Dixon’s assault is worthy of charges. No-one even tried to stop Dixon’s assault on Welby.

That night, someone burns down the billboards. Mildred and Robbie manage to save part of one, but it’s a lost cause. Mildred retaliates by fire-bombing the police station with Molotov Cocktails. She tried to get Dixon out of there by calling him, but he didn’t pick up the phone, so she did it anyway. Dixon is severely burned, but has a change of heart after reading Bill’s overly generous last letter to him. Dixon saves Mildred’s daughter’s file. James (Peter Dinklage) comes along to tell the police that he and Mildred had hooked up, to give her an alibi. She agrees to go on a date with him.

A young man shows up to give Mildred the “backup” copies of the billboards and they put them back up. James helps. On the date, Charlie shows up with his 19-year-old girlfriend Penelope (Samara Weaving) and he admits that he burned down the billboards. Mildred is a disappointing and mean date, but that’s hardly a surprise.

Dixon is in a bar, drinking himself into a stupor, when he overhears a man bragging about having raped a girl in the right time frame. He provokes a fight in which he’s roundly defeated, but he manages to get a DNA sample. It turns out that the man was out of the country at the time. He decides to follow the man to Idaho (where his truck is from) to exact revenge—because he knows that the man did something horrendous. He invites Mildred along and she agrees.

The next morning, Mildred and Dixon take off together, on their mission. She admits that she’s the one who firebombed the police station, to which Dixon replies “who the hell else would it have been?” (great line). They each admit they don’t know if they can go through with their mission of vengeance and agree to decide on the way.

Battlestar Galactica S04 (2007–2008) — 7/10

The final season really turns up the volume on making every character mostly, if not nearly unbearably, detestable. Whatever acting chops Kara Thrace (Katee Sackhoff) had exhibited in the first two seasons are now long gone, as the plot transforms her into a lunatic messiah, returned from a supposed mission to “Earth” and convinced that she.can hear the song that would lead them all back there.

Admiral Adama and President Roslin are now officially a couple, though the ethical ramifications don’t seem to interest them anymore. Roslin is also a nearly power-mad messiah—a completely understandable reaction, but not executed in a very interesting manner—and veers hard toward dictatorship.

Chief Galen Tyrol (Aaron Douglas), Colonel Tigh, and the other “final four” Cylons are outed as the humans team up with Cylon Six and half of the other Cylons caught up in their own civil war.

They finally find Earth about halfway through the season, but it is (A) a wasteland with lingering radiation from a 2000-year-old attack and (B) was populated by Cylons, not Humans. The 13th colony was Cylon, not Human; the planet they’d settled on was a replica, not the original Earth.

President Roslin (Mary McDonnell) gives up completely and retreats to isolation, giving up her treatments for her resurgent cancer. Admiral Adama (Edward James Olmos) sinks into alcohol and self-pity, having lost his once-vaunted moral center but still thinking he should lead the fleet and always reserving the right to just take over the colonies completely, should the elected government fail to live up to his expectations (he always know best).

The fleet, along with their Cylon allies, leave “Earth” to find another, more-habitable planet. The Cylons offer drastically improved technology in exchange for full membership in the Fleet and the Colonies as protected against Cavil and the other half of the remaining Cylons.

Gaeta (Alessandro Juliani) turns out to be more complex than originally thought, coping with a leg he lost in an attempted mutiny on crazy Starbuck’s Earth-finding mission. He starts throwing shade everywhere, whenever he’s not on the nod from morphine. It’s debatable whether he causes more unrest or whether a newly religious Doctor Baltar (James Callis) does (Baltar gets some of the best lines),

“It’s like the distant chaos of an orchestra tuning up, and then somebody waves a magic wand. And all of those notes start to slide into place. A grotesque, screeching cacophony becomes a single melody.”

With the failure to find Earth, President Roslin has abdicated. Adama is still on-board with the alliance with the Cylons but the rest of the colonies are against him. This, of course, doesn’t matter because—see above—he’s always right. So he has Vice President Zarek arrested after the Thylium ship “mutinies” (it can’t mutiny from a fleet to which it doesn’t belong), in order to get him to give up the location.

With Gaeta’s help, Zarek escapes and they trigger the revolution. Gaeta buys time with deception at the comms in the CIC while the civilians start to take over Galactica. It didn’t seem possible, but Starbuck gets even more poorly written, getting star status as an unstoppable Rambo who teams up with Apollo, whom she rescued with no resistance from the resistance. She leads a charmed life, apparently.

This has truly sunk to new lows and I’m actively cheering on both the resistance and the Cylons in my opposition to the military—and humanity. The episodes leading up to this point have made a pretty strong point that humanity is not worth saving and dying out in the wastes of space is a fitting end. But I was pretty sure I would always end up here.

The coup continues, with Gaeta slowly realizing that his partner Zarek is a good deal more ruthless than he thought they would need to be. President Roslin is back in the game—seemingly not suffering at all from cancer because … reasons—which means we have to endure her self-indulgent, overemotional and scene-chewing speeches. Adama does his own share of emoting and snarling as he’s dragged into a court-martial. I really like Edward James Olmos, but the writing he’s given is god-awful. It reads like fan-fiction written by ex-Marines.

The only point of light here is that they get the lawyer Romo Lampkin (Mark Sheppard) back out of retirement, who’s actually quite good. Gaeta, Zarek, and even Baltar are decent. Apollo stays the same level of horrible, so he starts to look pretty good. Starbuck is just annoyingly ridiculously written, but I believe I’ve already noted that above. It’s just quite grating. It’s just lazy writing, with one deus-ex after another—but maybe I’d feel differently if I liked the characters that I’m supposed to like.

I’m on E14 of 22 and seriously considering giving up so close to the end. Yeah, it’s that bad. I keep dropping my rating with each episode (on IMDb, everything is rated at 9+, which means that I’m in the minority again). The missiles still have vapor trails. The Cylons are capable of upgrading everyone’s FTL drives, but it took them days to override a signal-jam.

Two-person ships have giant windows on them, leave vapor trails from their “rockets”, course through space like fighter jets, but they also have FTL drives and FTL communications. In the BattleStar, they’re constantly picking up phones on cords to talk to each other, but communications between star systems is instantaneous. In the very beginning of season 1, the reason given was that the BattleStar was built with deliberately primitive technology so that it couldn’t be manipulated by the Cylons. Now that they’re working with Cylons, there doesn’t seem to be any reason not to upgrade the phones as well as the FTL drives, no?

The personalities continue to get worse as mankind and the remaining Cylons veer toward the end of their story—or at least this cycle of it. You see, the various clues scattered around point to a long, long history wherein humans invent robots that eventually evolve closer and closer to humans—until they are nearly indistinguishable, at which point they forget they’re robots and just think they’re biological beings.

In keeping with the inconsistent approach to story and canon, the current range of Cylons are aware of their electronic origins, seem to be made solely of flesh and blood, but are still stronger and faster and more indestructible than the ostensibly “normal” humans that comprise the remains of the colonies. If the story holds, then these people are also descended from some cycle of robots, right? At least from somewhere in the dim, distant past?

Or are Adama and Co. lucky enough to be part of the original generation of humans and we’re actually only witnessing the first few—and overlapping—iterations of what everyone is calling an “endless cycle”? It’s not quite clear, but there seems to be a very definite biological distinction between the humans and the Cylons that they all take for granted instead of taking a second to wonder whether there is any salient difference.

Adama and Co. take the BattleStar Galactica on one Hail Mary of an attack on the colony base ship to retrieve Hera—a human/Cylon hybrid, born of a sexual pairing, which suggests genetic compatibility—who is supposedly the “future” of both the Cylon and Human race. So they risk the whole fleet and what remains of the colonies for a hare-brained and wildly unlikely interpretation of events, with more than quasi-religious overtones.

This is about par for the course for this band of idiots—and about what could be expected from humans on the best of days and certainly not unlikely from humans in the extreme situation in which they’ve found themselves (trapped for nearly a year on starships with no real home, dwindling supplies, and increased factional strife). They’re all pretty much loony tunes and retreat to atavistic answers due to an utter inability to cope with their reality in any rational way.

They regress to pretending that nothing’s changed and expend tremendous resources and energy on petty political infighting and interpersonal jihads. This is actually pretty realistic writing, in one sense, in that I wouldn’t expect anything else of the obviously damaged, egocentric, small-minded, and peevishly unenlightened crew members. There aren’t too many shining lights in this group and of those, not one has a chance of making a difference.

Unsurprisingly, the humans renege on an agreement with Caleb (the leader of the other Cylon faction). The “five” original Cylons (whatever that means in this mythology) had agreed to upload their knowledge of resurrection—which Caleb’s faction had lost when humans had destroyed their last remaining resurrection ship. This betrayal is not surprising—but the other Cylons had killed billions of humans in their attack on the colonies. However, a deal’s a deal—and humans went back on their word. This caused zero consternation in Adama, who had long since capitulated any pretense of fairness or justice.

So they rescue Hera and get the BattleStar back, but in shambles, ready to lead the final landing on a planet that looks very much like Earth 150,000 years ago. They land and decide to send all of their ships into the sun, to prevent themselves from having enough technology to start the whole cycle again. Pretty much everyone’s on the planet, including Six and Baltar, who have survived the intervening 150,000 years to see the cycle about to begin again with the discovery of advanced robotics.

It took me a year to watch the whole thing (during indoor workouts) and it had its ups and downs.

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (2020) — 8/10

Borat Sagdiyev is pulled out of the work camp to which he’s been committed since returning to Kazakhstan after the first Borat film. He is offered the opportunity to redeem himself by delivering Johnny the Monkey to Trump as a gift. He cannot get close to Trump because of an unfortunate incident in the first film where he defecated in front of his hotel. Instead, the premier agrees that Borat can redeem himself by delivering the monkey to Mike Pence instead.

The plan fails nearly immediately, when Borat’s daughter Tutar (Maria Bakalova) sneaks into the monkey’s crate, surviving on its delicious meat. With the monkey gone, Borat must pivot again. He strongly suspects that Mike Pence is rarely seen with women because he’s so sexually potent, so Borat decides to make a gift of Tutar to Pence.

Tutar needs a little cleaning up, so Borat gets her a makeover as well as taking her to a debutante ball. Borat disguises himself as Trump, carrying Tutar over his shoulder in the middle of a conference where Pence is giving a speech. As he’s dragged out, he yells “You’re fired!” at Pence.

With that plan dead in the water, they need to pivot again. Borat decides to give Tutar to America’s Mayor, but she needs more work. Borat knows that Giuliani likes big-breasted women, so he brings Tutar to a clinic for breast-enlargement. This doesn’t present a problem to anyone involved, even when they learn that she’s only 15 and talks like an utter child about her body, even when Borat pays with cash in single-dollar bills.

Borat leaves Tutar with a babysitter, who’s a bit taken aback that Borat tells her to treat Tutar like a dog. She manages to counsel Tutar that her father is lying to her about life. Tutar has a fight with Borat, even telling him that the Holocaust was a lie, citing the Facebook page.

Borat goes to a synagogue dressed as a Jewish caricature, trying to get himself killed. He is treated kindly by two old women there and is reassured to learn that the Holocaust actually did happen. He leaves there to tell Tutar, but finds a world closed down by COVID-19.

He ends up holing up with two guys he meets in a parking lot. They tell him about Q-Anon and he tells them about his beliefs. They try to convince him that he believes in conspiracy theories—that he has to be more careful what he puts in his mind. When Borat sees that Tutar has become a news correspondent, he travels with his two friends to a rally in Olympia, Washington to find her. He ends up leading the crowd in a nearly hopelessly racist and awful song that his two friends had written for him.

Tutar, fearing for her father’s life, arranges an interview with Rudy, who at first seems to be just trying to make the interview work for the young girl, but man is he deliberately ignoring a lot of warning signs. On the other hand, Cohen also uses every trick in the book, filmmaker-wise, to tell the story he wants to tell (see below).

When she happily slugs a shot of whiskey with him—despite her having told him she’s 15—then inviting him to the bedroom, he positively scampers after her, with a lot of inappropriate touching before Borat bursts in to yell that “she’s only 15; she’s too old for you!”. Giuliani finally realizes that something is amiss and storms out. They flee the scene, seeming to share genuine laughter at what they’d gotten away with.

The two head back to Kazakhstan where, instead of meeting a grim fate, Borat learns that he’d been deliberately infected with COVID-19 before he’d left (he thought it was a health-boosting dose of “gypsy tears”) and that he’d functioned as patient zero for the U.S. Borat records the admission and gets his premier arrested, leading to a freer and better Kazakhstan where Tutar is a reporter alongside him.

It’s a happy ending and there are actually a few heartwarming moments between Tutar and Borat. Bakalova as Tutar is just as stone-cold as Cohen, pulling zero punches. Her work is amazing and she seems like a complete natural. I enjoyed her rapport with Cohen much more than his burly producer from the first film.

Some of it’s uneven, but what shines through is just what big, brass balls Cohen and Bakalova have. They push it right to the edge of violence and their targets are just so unsuspecting for so long. I’ve read that the only person who was in on the joke during filming was the kindly older lady in the synagogue, who he’d worried would be too offended by his comments if she was completely unprepared.

But the guy in the Kinkos who chirpily faxes and reads responses that clearly discuss underage sex-traffic, the two guys who host him at their home, the plastic surgeon, his secretary, the people at the debutante ball, the women at the conference where Tutar speaks, Giuliani and his entourage—all of these people seem to be completely fooled. Or, if not completely fooled, willing to humor a madman or madwoman without comment or reproof.

You could explain some of it with a general ignorance mixed with a good-heartedness in some cases (e.g. the babysitter). But others seem only too happy to agree with Borat and Tutar, no matter how reprehensible their views. His views are right in their wheelhouse, so what’s the problem?

The review by Matt Zoller Seitz (RogerEbert.com) obviously saw a bit more in some of the jokes—but movies, are like that: you bring a lot with you when you watch. For example, Seitz saw this film as more-than-vaguely “feminist”, although I think that’s quite a bit of a stretch.

“The subtext of a lot of the jokes is that the exploitation of women and girls, some below the legal age of consent, is an ingrained perk of being a financially comfortable adult man in the United States, as well as in countries that Americans like to paint as inferior.”

Another critic I like wrote We’re Sorry to Report That the New Borat Movie Isn’t Funny by Eileen Jones (Jacobin), in which she wrote that the film,

“[…] is earning praise for its “fresh, fierce” feminism — for advocating, in the end, that women should, in fact, be taught to read and drive and perhaps not to aspire to live in a cage. Presumably, we are led to believe there’s a significant force in America saying otherwise.”

Seitz thought the Giuliani scene was more incriminating, interpreting Giuliani’s normal facial expression—he was my mayor for 8 years in NYC; he always looks like that—as a “leer”.

“What’s beyond dispute is that Giuliani’s behavior is the maraschino cherry atop the movie’s slime cake of male entitlement. His leer could be the film’s logo.”

He goes on to condemn America along with it,

“The movie’s scripted fiction mirrors the reality that the star captures when interacting with nonprofessionals: there is no agreed-upon morality, ethical code, or national fellowship in America. There is only greed, tribal loyalty, and power dynamics. Maybe that’s all there ever was. This is a dark, dark movie, invigorating in its bleakness.”

Again, it seems like Seitz is lacking any form of empathy for many of the American “characters”, probably not knowing anyone anything like that personally. None of them are likely to be sipping kombucha in an upscale coffee shop.

I thought that the Half in the Bag: Borat 2 and The Haunting of Bly Manor by RedLetterMedia (YouTube) review was quite insightful as far as editing technique went: they pointed out how easy it is to manipulate even sophisticated viewers by inserting scenes that look like they were shot live or by inserting audio when faces are turned away (e.g. the Giuliani scene, which still does not look good, was heavily manipulated using these techniques). It’s how Cohen makes it look like people were just chirpily accepting horrific things he was saying or showing them—the actual content on the screen, for example, was not the same for that person as what was shown in the movie to us, the audience.

Borat even goes so far as to speak fluent Hebrew in all of his conversations with Tutar, who responded in Bulgarian. The villagers in Kazakhstan spoke Romanian because that’s where it was filmed. If you don’t know any of these languages and have no ear for anything similar, you’d be hard-pressed to notice that none of the actors can actually understand one another. Borat threw in a smattering of very Russic-sounding words sometimes, too.

This movie is madcap and Sasha Baron Cohen continues to prove that he’s found an amazing way of getting the darker bits of American culture to reveal themselves unwittingly. Recommended.

Dark S01-03 (2017–2020) — 9/10

The story takes place in the fictional town of Winden, in Germany. In 1986 and 2019, it has a nuclear power plant. In 1953, the plant is about to be born. In 1920, we meet more of the progenitors of the people in later years. In 1887, the first machine is built. In 2053, the world has more or less been ended for decades.

The plot is very convoluted and involves many of the townsfolk at various stages of their lives and in various incarnations. There is time travel—lots of it. There are knots in the family tree.

We start off in 2019, meeting teenagers Jonas, Magnus, Martha, and Fransiska as well as Martha and Magnus’s younger brother Michel. The three M-named kids belong to Katharina and Ulrich, who were teenagers in school with Hannah and Michael, Jonas’s mother and father. Ulrich’s brother Mads disappeared—the first to do so. They also went to school with Regina Tiedemann, daughter of Claudia Tiedemann, daughter of Egon Tiedemann, a police officer in 1953 and 1986. In 2019, Regina and her husband Aleksander (not his original name) run the power plant and their son Bartosz is also friends with Jonas. Franziska is Charlotte and Peter’s daughter, sister to Elisabeth, who’s deaf. Their grandfather is Helge.

That’s the season one family tree, before we learn from Ulrich traveling back in time via a tunnel under the power plant through a spooky cave that Michael is actually his son Michel and that his daughter Martha is actually dating her own nephew. Elisabeth turns out to be her own grandmother. Bartosz also turns out to be his own great-grandfather. Knots in the family tree.

“Jeder Wissenschaftler würde sagen, nein. Das verbietet der kausale Determinismus. Aber es liegt in der Natur des Menschen zu glauben, dass sein Leben eine Rolle spielt. Dass sein Handeln etwas verändert. Mein Leben lang habe ich geträumt durch die Zeit zu reisen, zu sehen, was war and was irgendwann sein wird.

“Die Träume verändern sich. Andere Dinge werden wichtig. Mein Platz ist nicht im Gestern und nicht im Morgen. Sondern hier. Und jetzt.”

S01E08, ~20:00 by H.G. Tannhaus

They are all trying to change something in this time loop. They are all, to some degree, aware that there is something gravely wrong. Jonas ends up knowing the most, taking the role of Adam. Martha takes the role of Eve. With their closeness in bloodline, their eventual child is a time-traveling mutant, bent on killing and “cleaning”. Claudia is opposed to him, also deeply aware of time travel. There is a time machine that no-one has invented and that everyone has, that appeared out of the loop.

“Der Mensch ist ein eigenartiges Geschöpf. All sein Handeln ist motiviert aus Verlangen, sein Charakter geschmiedet aus Schmerz. So sehr er auch versucht, den Schmerz zu verdrängen, das Verlangen zu unterdrücken, so wenig kann er sich doch freimachen von der ewigen Knechtschaft seiner Gefühle.

“Denn solange den Sturm in ihm tobt kann er keinen Frieden finden. Nicht im Leben, nicht im Tod. Und so wird er Tag für Tag alles tun, was nötig ist. Der Schmerz sein Schiff, das Verlangen sein Kompass. Wozu der Mensch doch fähig ist.”

S02E07, ~0:30 by Adam

The time loop grew like a tumor from a rip in space-time created by inventor H.G. Tannhaus, who was trying to bring back his son and grandchild, who’d died in a car accident. The two worlds and the knots of time grew from this initial attempt, a mistake, a bubble of quantum foam in which all of the characters above appeared, flotsam on the sea of time. Do they matter more or less than the people in the real timelines? No-one can really say.

“[to Eve] Das Leben ist ein Labyrinth. Und mache irren bis zu ihrem Ende darin herum, auf der Suche nach einem Ausweg. Dabei gibt es nur einen Weg, und der führt immer tiefer hinein. Erst, wenn man die Mitte erreicht hat, wird man verstehen. Der Tod ist etwas unbegreifliches. Aber man kann sich mit ihm versöhnen. Alles was wir getan haben wird am Ende vergessen sein.

“Wir sind schuld an diesem niemals endenden Deja-vü. Und wir sind diejenigen, die es beenden müssen. Wir sind der Fehler. Du und ich. Unsere beide Schicksale sind in ewiger Verdammnis miteinander verbunden. Durch beide Welten. Alles ist Ursache und Wirkung. Jeder Schmerz verleitet uns zum Handeln. Formt unser Wollen.”

S03E08, ~38:30 by Adam

The people in these two worlds are determined to eradicate it and travel to Tannhaus’s world and timeline to prevent the accident in the first place, succeeding and folding the rip back over their dimensions, healing the rift and eliminating themselves, remaining only as a vague half-memory, a deja vu for Hannah, who decides to name her soon-to-be-born child Jonas.

 The painting to the left is featured prominently above Adam’s mantel. It is The Fall of the Damned by Peter Paul Rubens and was painted in 1620.

There are large parts of this show that are definitely worth a 10. The acting is, for the most part, top-notch. The story is intricate and interesting and largely airtight (especially for a time-travel story).

There were some rocky moments and some more drawn-out bits, but overall, it was a masterpiece and I’m glad it exists and glad that people are making such convoluted stories that dare to do something new.

There are two main things I didn’t like: (1) I can’t stand Martha’s whiny face and acting and (2) almost all of the music is just crap, including the credits music—“for neither ever nor never…”—which everyone else won’t stop oohing and aahing over. I listened to it a few times, but the refrain is just so inane that this was one of the rare shows where I skip the intro.

The sound effects other than the music were excellent. No complaints. I was entertained and forced to think. I’ve only scratched the surface of the various nuances of the story- and world-lines. Read the detailed Wikipedia entry for more information.

But the story is very, very interesting and the acting is excellent. Even if the end of season 2 and the beginning of season 3 slump somewhat and get a bit muddled and even repetitive, I think they turn things around in the last couple of shows and make what we in German call a Punktlandung.

We watched it in the original German.

Klepper Episodes 1-8 (2019) — 8/10

Jordan Klepper hosts several episodes, mostly centered on American political topics.

  1. In the first show, he talks with a group of veterans who have started a professional-wrestling league—and then plays the role of the “heel” in the final scene.
  2. In Louisiana, he meets up with environmental activists L’eau La Vie and finds out the real story is more nuanced: the companies aren’t bringing the jobs they promised and local townspeople don’t care about the environment more than jobs.
  3. In the third episode, he spends time with kids attending Freedom U, an underground university for immigrants—because they’re not allowed to attend school otherwise. He gets arrested at a protest action.
  4. Next up, he meets up with groups of immigrant veterans who fought for America, but who’ve not been granted a path to citizenship and have been deported instead.
  5. The next show is an interview with Deb Haaland, the first Native American woman elected to Congress. Jordan travels to various states, meeting other Native Americans engaged in politics.
  6. Jordan and Kobi Libii meet up with two second-amendment-rights groups in Texas: Jordan meets an overprivileged group that wants even more constitutional protection than they already has—which is a lot. Kobi’s group is called Guerilla Mainframe and is a black militant group that shows up to rallies armed to the teeth.
  7. Jordan investigates the NASA Space Program and what it would mean to go to Mars or back to the moon. He interviews an older astronaut, who’s a bit cynical and a super-young girl who’s … somewhat implausible (she claims to speak eight languages at 18).
  8. Finally, Jordan goes to Compton to interview people who were deep in “the game” “back in the day” and are barred from taking part in the newly legalized marijuana industry. The reality of legalization looks a lot like the rest of corporate America: unequal and unfair.
Kevin Hart: Zero F**ks Given (2020) — 8/10
Kevin Hart performs in a standup club in his palatial home. He’s already had COVID-19. He’s actually quite a bit funnier than in his arena shows. He talks about sex after 40, group chats with his mail friends, and, of course, COVID. As a comedian who’s been canceled—for saying something stupid about preventing his son from being gay—he had a bit to say about cancel culture, as well. He has a long story about going to Seinfeld’s house for brick-oven pizza, highlighting the difference between black and white comedy—and their fans. I enjoyed it the most of any of his recent specials.
The Stand (1994) — 6/10

This is the six-hour mini-series originally aired on American TV. The script was adapted by Stephen King himself. Of course, he had to neuter a lot of his more salacious and interesting content in order to get it on prime time.

That said, though, the movie follows the basic plot of the book pretty well. It’s not a subtle story, really: a man-made virus takes out most of humanity within a few weeks. General Starkey (Ed Harris) takes his own life once he sees what he’s responsible for. Kathy Bates and Jeff Goldblum also have uncredited roles, but only in the first of four episodes.

The remaining people are neatly divided into two groups: the good people—Stu Redman (Gary Sinise), Frannie (Molly Ringwald), Glen Bateman (Ray Walston), Judge Farris (Ossie Davis), Larry (Adam Storke), Nick Andros (Robe Low), Tom Cullen (Bill Fagerbakke), among others—who gravitate to Mother Abigail Freemantel (Ruby Dee) and the bad people—Nadine (Laura San Giacomo), Lloyd (Miguel Ferrer), Trashcan Man (Matt Frewer), Rat Man (Rick Aviles), among others—who gravitate to Randall Flagg (Jamey Sheridan).

The good people head to Colorado while the bad ones gather in Vegas. The Lord is on the side of the good, but they must agree to suffer in order to prevail—putting their trust in the Lord. In the end, Trashcan Man’s singlemindedness for “boom boom” (explosives of any kind) torpedoes (literally a nuclear one) Flagg’s plans of conquest and leaves the world free of evil for the puritanical and quasi-benevolent dictatorship in Colorado.

The first show is pretty great, actually, and the second one is also pretty good, but the third and fourth drag on interminably. It just all gets so maudlin and weepy and … boring. Molly Ringwald is terribly wooden and Gary Sinise is ultimately wasted as a featureless straight-arrow of a character. Miguel Ferrer is good, as always—and Matt Frewer as Trashcan Man is the standout best. Fagerbakke’s Tom Cullen— M.O.O.N: That spells moon—is also very good.