The Heart of Me (2002)

Tuna and I already covered this, and generally hated it. Movie House Review. I am revisiting it to make film clips since it features two famous women uncovered in clear lighting.



Olivia Williams

Helena Bonham Carter




Borat (2006)

Full title: "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan"

I guess I spend too much damned time on the internet.

I must be one of Borat's biggest fans, yet gauged by the audience reaction, I enjoyed the film the least of anyone in the theater. Of course, like everyone else in the room, I laughed at everything I hadn't already seen. The problem is that I had already seen just about everything. In fact, I had even seen several deleted scenes on one internet site or another. About the only material which I had not seen in the film was the outrageous male nudity. (Which is shockingly explicit and gross.)

Borat is a fictional reporter from Kazakhstan who has been a recurring character on Sacha Baron Cohen's "Da Ali G Show." He is not a Kazakh (Russian: "Казахи"), a word which actually refers to a specific ethnic group, but rather a citizen of Kazakhstan of Russian ethnic origin, correctly referred to be the Russian neologism "казахстанец" (English: Kazakhstani), which was coined to describe all inhabitants of Kazakhstan, including non-Kazakhs. In the film, Borat is sent to the United States by Kazakhstan's ministry of information in order to learn about American culture and to show his people how the lessons of America's modernization can help Kazakhstan move into the future. His original mission was supposed to take place entirely in New York, interviewing various experts and recording their wisdom for his national TV network. He becomes distracted from the mission on his first night in New York when he sees a "Baywatch" rerun and falls in love with Pamela Anderson. From that point onward, his visit to America becomes a quest to cross the country and claim Pamela as his new bride in the traditional Kazakh manner, which basically consists of hauling her off forcibly in an ornately decorated potato sack.

His anti-semitism prevents him from flying to California, because he fears that Jews will repeat their 9-11 airline hijackings, so he takes his $700 travel budget and blows it all on a run-down former ice cream truck which still includes all the product banners and even the music function. He tries to buy a gun to protect himself from Jews, but is unable to meet the residency requirements, so he buys a bear instead. At this point Borat, his producer, his photographer and the bear embark on a cross-country journey to California, interacting with real people along the way.

Or do they?

We think we are watching a few minutes of scripted character development back in "Kazakhstan," followed by Cohen's improvisations inside that character. We think that the framing devices - the Pam Anderson plot and the scenes between Borat and his producer - are scripted, but that Borat's other interactions are with real people outside of the joke, being themselves,  and reacting genuinely to a man they truly believe to be from Kazakhstan.

But is that really what we are watching? Do we see real people reacting to Borat's outrageous behavior, or actors pretending to react to Borat's behavior?

That is the one real problem with the Borat movie. We never know how much of it consists of street theater in which Borat improvises scenes with real people and in so doing exposes their prejudices and foibles, and how much consists merely of staged and scripted scenes. It's my opinion that a high percentage of what we think to be real is actually staged. You will see why I came to that conclusion if you ask yourself, "Where did they place the camera?" Start with the driving lesson and ask yourself that question. How did they get the wide shots of both men in the front seat? In most recent movies the answer to that question is that they are in a special stationary car (usually with no windshield) and are being photographed by a camera on the hood. But if that is the case, it can't be a real driving lesson, can it? Are we supposed to believe that the driving instructor actually continued with the lesson after he thought children were in danger? In a later segment, did Borat actually lure the children to the ice cream truck with the music, then scare them by letting the bear roar through an open window? Were those genuine reactions when we saw the children running away from the truck in fright, or were those child actors told to act like they had just seen a bear in an ice cream truck?

Why do I care, if it is funny?

Well, I'll tell you why. Because many of the film's most ardent proponents have posited that it is not merely a silly gross-out comedy, but a piece of Swiftian satirical genius that uses Borat's prejudices to expose people's racism and other indefensible beliefs. If the film is exposing the racism of real people, that argument has some merit. It's a very different matter if it is merely exposing the racism of fictional characters played by actors delivering scripted lines. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think that latter one has already been done.

If you have not been living in a plastic bubble, you probably know about Cohen's ongoing feud with Kazakhstan. After the early film festival screenings, the government of Kazakhstan protested the way their culture is portrayed in this movie, and Cohen used that protest as fodder for more of his mockery. First he appeared as Borat and agreed with Kazakhstan's decision "to sue this Jew," going on to explain that recent reforms have made Kazakhstan just as modern and free as any other nation because "homosexuals no longer have to wear blue hats, and women can now ride inside of bus." The ever-humorless officials of Kazakhstan then countered with formal protests to George Bush, and a P.R. campaign to show the reality of their country, including a massive ad in the New York Times. This time Borat responded that the country's claims of equality for Jews and women were merely vicious lies and propaganda spread not by genuine Kazakh officials, but by evil impersonators sent out by Kazakhstan's mortal enemy, Uzbekistan!

The latest round in the sparring contest has featured Kazakhstan's refusal to let the film play in their theaters. Of course, that isn't because of the content. It's just that both Kazakh cinemas have Grumpy Old Men booked through 2008. They love that movie. "Is very hilarity," crowed the movie reviewer for the Almaty Times, now long deceased. He was never replaced, and is not likely to be as long as there are no other movies, so saving a salary is one more reason to stick with the status quo. And there's no reason why there should be any changes: all 25 seats are filled for each showing, and sometimes they even add some folding chairs when Janko is not using them for his poker club. Kazakhstan's foreign minister did say that Borat will probably be seen in their country eventually, about the same time it is shown on airliners, because a Delta stewardess always sneaks them an airline copy.

I have mixed feelings about Cohen's feud with Kazakhstan. On the one hand, I feel that he might have been better off if he had simply made up a fictitious country in Eastern Europe or Central Asia. If you weren't aware of it, none of his material actually has anything to do with Kazakhstan, other than the occasional mention of a real city or person, the use of their flag and coat of arms, or an occasional comedic exaggeration of something unusual in their culture. (For example, his claim that they drink fermented horse urine is based on the very real fact that the national drink is kumis, which is fermented mare's milk.) In fact, the "Kazakh village" scenes are actually filmed in a gypsy village in Romania; Borat's catch phrases are actually accented Polish; the discussions between Borat and his producer are in Yiddish and Hebrew; and the culture he affects is just plain bogus. He could change his origin to any obscure culture and the routine would work just as well. He could just as easily have claimed an origin from Estonia, Belarus, Uzbekistan, Herzegovina, Tajikistan or a couple dozen more places in the former Soviet Union or Soviet Bloc. You could probably add some other places like Lebanon and Nagorno-Karabakh to the list, and nobody would be the wiser. Kazahkstan just happened to draw the short straw.

If Cohen/Borat ever decides to build his satire on the real culture of Kazakhstan, he can certainly find plenty of fuel for that fire. After all, this is a country obsessed with horses, where the most famous national dish is not something familiar to Westerners, like kielbasa or goulash, but besbarmak, a sausage made of dough and horse meat. Indeed, horses not only seem to be the basis of their entire menu, but of all their recreational activity as well. Their traditional national game is not baseball or soccer, but kokpar, a horseback game similar to polo except that the two competing teams score not by depositing a ball in the goal, but by carrying a headless goat carcass there. You know that Borat is not really ridiculing Kazakhstan if he's ignoring those things!

Having noted that, we need to realize that an important element of Cohen's humor is derived from the ignorant attitudes of the real people he encounters in the USA and the UK. He constantly hammers away at the fact that he can say anything he likes about a real country - the ninth largest country in the world, a country with a successful space program, for heaven's sake - and nobody ever seems to know that he is completely wrong in every detail. That point would be lost if he came from a fictitious country. It is surprising that he never seems to get unmasked by the people he pranks. My family comes from Central Asia. My daughter's grandma still lives in Uzbekistan, and her great-aunt still lives in Kazakhstan. Anyone in our family would immediately spot Borat as an imposter and, of course, Polish speakers should immediate recognize the phrases he uses and pronounces almost but not quite correctly. It seems that someone in America would speak Polish or Kazakh or Russian to him and realize he's just winging it. But nobody ever does. (Or maybe those episodes are left on the cutting room floor.)

By the way, two funny things that you might miss if you're not paying close attention:

There is a point in the film where Borat and Azamat have a big fight and Azamat runs off with their bear. When they reunite, keep an eye on the contents of the refrigerator when Borat opens it.

Stay for the closing credits and listen to the male chorus sing a stirring rendition of the Kazakh national anthem. Try to make out all the words. The first verse is entirely about potassium, and the second is about how Kazakhstan has the cleanest prostitutes in the region, except for Turkmenistan!

Anyway, it is a very funny movie, although you'll laugh just as much at your own discomfort as at the situations. The nude fight between Borat and the obese Azamat might set the all-time cinema record for the greatest quantity of nervous laughter per minute. Whatever the reasons for your laughter, you should get a good chance to tickle your funny bone. I saw it in a regular suburban multiplex, and the very mainstream audience was laughing constantly, even the middle-aged ladies who looked like Republican conventioneers.  It's gross, and daring, and dumb and smart. Borat certainly leaves behind such contenders as Talladega Nights and Clerks 2, and establishes itself as the funniest movie of 2006. Unless you're stoned, of course. Then you should go with All the King's Men.





William Styron, Novelist, Dies at 81
  • "Mr. Styron’s early work, including “Lie Down in Darkness,” won him wide recognition as a distinctive voice of the South and an heir to William Faulkner. In subsequent fiction, like “The Confessions of Nat Turner” and “Sophie’s Choice,” he transcended his own immediate world and moved across historical and cultural lines."


Kazakh cinemas 'won't show Borat'


CNN interviews Borat


Weekend Box Office Results for November 3–5, 2006

  • The phenomenal Borat pulled in $31,511 per screen. The two biggest opening weekends of all time are Pirates of the Caribbean with $32,800 per screen, and Spider-Man with $31,800. No other wide release has ever gone above $30,000 per screen.
  • The other two wide releases finished #2 and #3. Flushed Away performed within the analyst's range of expectations, but Santa Clause was down a bit.
  • The Departed continued to be strong, dropping only 19% from last week, and passing $100m. It is now within a hair's breadth of The Aviator's total, and will thus become Scorsese's biggest hit in a day or two.
  • The Queen was a surprise top ten finisher, given that it was only on 350 screens. It bulled its way into tenth with nearly $8,000 per screen. That would have been the big story of most weeks, but this was Borat Week.
  • Overall, the weekend was about even with last year. (Down 3%) It had been expected to be much worse by analysts, but Borat saved the day. The weekend was about $14m higher than the average of the experts' predictions, and Borat accounted for all of that, with an extra $16m above expectations.



The speech accent archive


Miracle attributed to John Paul II.

  • Turns out the Sorvinos asked the Pope to intercede for Mira's Oscar for Mighty Aphrodite


Saddam sentenced to death by hanging, sponsors line up for televised event.


Actress Adrienne Shelly found dead in New York office at age 40


Funny Campaign Ads: "a sampling of some of the funnier campaign ads from recent weeks"


Borat is placed in charge of The Sun's Bizarre section for a day. Wawaweewa.



Movie Reviews:

Yellow asterisk: funny (maybe). White asterisk: expanded format. Blue asterisk: not mine. No asterisk: it probably sucks.





Macumba Sexual (1983)

Director Jess Franco says that he enjoys making three types of films:

  • First there is the horror genre, such as Vampire films.
  • Second is the sex film with minor horror elements.
  • The third category is what he calls his mysteries, but not in the same sense as we think of a mystery, as in a whodunit. Rather, he likes to make films where the audience is not quite sure what is going on. 

Macumba Sexual, or just Macumba as he prefers to call it, is the third variety.

Lina Romay and her husband are on vacation in the Canary Islands. They are both having erotic nightmares about a certain Princess Obongo, played by the famous transsexual Ajita Wilson. Romay's nightmare seems to be coming true when she gets a call from her boss, asking her to travel to another island and meet with the same Princess Obongo to clinch a real estate deal.

Unfortunately, Obongo works for the Macumba of death and darkness, and thinks Lina Romay is her successor. What, you don't know what a Macumba is, or anyone who works for one? Well, it's nothing like a macaca. A Macumba is one of the many polytheistic gods imported to the Canaries by immigrants from Africa.

The entire film is in sort of a waking dream state, and you are never positive what is going on, thus qualifying it as a mystery by Franco's definition. Franco himself plays the part of an idiot hotel manager, one of his favorite roles. He feels he has a real talent for playing the fool.

Macumba Sexual is a rare example of a Jess Franco film actually made under Spanish auspices.  After a few films in his homeland, he became tired of Spanish censorship and made films elsewhere, but things had changed enough in Spain by 1983 for Franco to consider rediscovering his roots. With this film, he was given a low budget but complete artistic freedom so, like it or not, you are seeing his vision untainted. It is now also released uncut for the first time. Severin uncovered a pristine print, interviewed Jess and Lena for the special features, and remastered an already good transfer into a crisp, saturated print of this film. It is especially welcomed because this film contains spectacular imagery. In fact, the beautiful visuals far outstrip the minimalist plot and in typical Franco fashion, the gorgeous images include plenty of nudity. We have full frontal and rear nudity from Lina Romay, Ajita Wilson and Lorna Green, as Ajita's slave.

Some, including me, consider this one of Jess's better films.

This is a strong C+, top cult material, again with kudos to Severin.





Lina Romay



Ajita Wilson



Lorna Green










Dann reports on MI3:

Events over the last couple of years have pretty much proven that Tom Cruise is at best a flaming dipwad with no regard for women, and a really mean spirit. Even his ex-employer thinks so, which is why they're his ex-employer. Still, he manages to make some pretty exciting movies, and 2006's Mission: Impossible III, while being maybe the worst of the three, is still full of action and fun to watch, with the possible exception of a totally boring and bland ending.

Ethan Hunt is retired from the field and now trains new IMF (Impossible Mission Force, but of course you knew that) agents, and is preparing to get married. He's called back into action to rescue one of his newest graduates, who has been captured by a super-bad international weapons/information dealer with no conscience. He gets the girl, but things do not turn out well.

Because of the outcome of the mission, he now embarks on a new mission to capture and bring back the bad guy. He succeeds, but the guy is snatched back, and also snatched is his new wife of two days. Now the stakes are higher.

Lots of excitement and action are the staple of the MI series, and this one offers plenty. The story isn't bad, but the ending is sure to disappoint. It's still worth watching, though.

Michelle Monaghan Maggie Q Keri Russell






A little "Hankster Light" for today.

We have "Caps & a Clip (zipped .wmv)" of Janet Tracy Keijser topless in a little lovemaking scene from another baaaaad movie "The Halfway House."







Notes and collages

Bree Turner in Deuce Bigelow


...when I was talking about this scene with a guy he told me that he used to work at a pool supply retailer where he deliberately cranked the AC above the cash register counter to get pokies from the female customers.... men can be such dogs...




Olivia Hussey in Romeo and Juliet (1968 Zeffirelli version)


In this visually lush film, Olivia Hussey as Juliet is the jewel: her beauty is staggering.







Morgan Fairchild in The Seduction. I think I wore out a VCR on this one back in 82 or 83.  Must have watched these scenes a hundred times.  So is the movie any good? Geez, I don't know. I never noticed.