There's probably still someone somewhere that would fall for one of Sacha Baron Cohen's weird and wooly scenarios but let's face the facts: the days when Ali G. could snag an interview with Pat Buchanan or Gore Vidal are long gone. 2009's Bruno definitely let some steam out of Borat's tires not to mention the ensuing lawsuits. But it's refreshing to see Cohen and his Borat/Bruno cohort director Larry Charles flex their muscles in the fictional universe of The Dictator a vehicle that doesn't skimp on their signature cringe-worthy humor.
The world of The Dictator gives them the leeway to create crazy spectacles — at one point Cohen's General Aladeen rides down Fifth Avenue on a camel surrounded by a giant motorcade. Having a plot helps too; although part of the genius of Sacha Baron Cohen's schtick is how the viewer is made culpable by proxy by our amusement and horror at how he tricks and torments people who aren't in on the joke The Dictator continues the self-reflexive satirical bite. We're certainly not off the hook. Aladeen says and does truly outrageous things but they're also exaggerations of the world we live in. It might be a stretch to call Sacha Baron Cohen the British Lenny Bruce or George Carlin in a face merkin but rest assured that no topic is off limits. If you are offended by jokes about abortion rape feminists body hair race religion politics STDs war crimes ethnic cleansing necrophilia and/or bestiality don't even bother. However if you like the kind of comedy that makes you hide your face in your hands feeling like each laugh is being pried from you against your will you're in business.
Cohen eats up the screen as both General Aladeen and his incredibly dumb body double; the latter prefers the intimate company of one of his goats to a human while the former is a fairly stupid ruthless dictator whose own people are so disloyal to him that they actually ignore his commands to execute people. (He really likes to execute people.) When he arrives in New York City to attend a summit at the UN his uncle Tamir (Ben Kingsley) has the two switched so he can easily manipulate the "General" into signing a treaty to make Wadiya a democracy and reap the financial benefits. Aladeen finds refuge with Zoe a hairy-pitted activist who thinks he's a political dissident and is excited to be able to give him a safe haven in her touchy-feely Brooklyn grocery co-op. Instead of being typecast as another blonde dummy Anna Faris is finally given room to play as the wide-eyed naïf who takes Aladeen's very serious statements as jokes or simple miscommunications. She's a great foil to Baron Cohen who is easily half a foot taller than she is and has a wolfish grin. Their banter is often the most politically incorrect of the bunch but also the funniest.
Alas the plot. It's a bare bones situation to get a very broad character from A to B. Aladeen is obviously an outlandish mishmash of modern dictators; he spouts racist misogynist rhetoric endlessly and after a while...yeah we get it. However like all of Sacha Baron Cohen's humor The Dictator also takes a direct shot at Western countries (specifically the United States) which would be all fine and dandy if he didn't wedge an expository speech in about it as well. The problem with making a traditional narrative movie is that with some exceptions you've got to play within the guidelines. The Dictator isn't trying to do anything fancy; all it needs a few big beats and a neat ending to wrap it all up. It doesn't quite manage to tie it all together in a way that makes The Dictator more than an hour and a half or so of laughing and cringing.
Besides Faris and Kingsley there are a number of cameos by a very wide variety of comics and actors. Megan Fox plays herself Kevin Corrigan appears as a creepy dude who works at the co-op John C. Reilly is a racist security guard and Fred Armisen runs an anti-Aladeen café in New York's Little Wadiya district. The very funny Jason Mantzoukas has a large role as Nadal the former head of rocket science who was supposedly executed for not making Aladeen's nuclear warhead pointy. It's a good ensemble and hopefully Sacha Baron Cohen's next feature-length film will build on The Dictator's weaknesses.
The Wackness winner of Sundance Film Festival's Audience Award compares favorably with some of the best teen angst movies of the past. It could have been just another stoner slack-fest but instead finds much to say and should resonate with not only those who also came of age in the ‘90s but anyone who ever crossed that frightening threshold. Set in the summer of 1994 when N.A.S Notorious B.I.G. and Outkast ruled the airwaves Luke Shapiro (Josh Peck) is spending his last summer peddling marijuana out of an ice cart and trading it for free therapy sessions with his aging pot-smoking psychiatrist Dr. Squires (Ben Kingsley) who seems to be trying desperately to hang onto his own youth. Although the advice (“you need to get laid”) he hands out probably wouldn’t pass muster in most medical circles the two strike up an unusual relationship. Luke takes his first tentative steps into manhood courtesy of his shrink’s stepdaughter Stephanie (Olivia Thirlby) while Squires must deal with a fading marriage to his much-younger wife (Famke Janssen). Peck--best known for Nickelodeon’s bubblegum sitcom Drake and Josh--exhibits great promise with his low-key simple performance as a messed-up pot-dealing teenager on the verge of adulthood. He could have played this as a straight stoner but instead is remarkably three dimensional offering a portrait of a young man in transition. He’s a guy whose problems with his parents friends and girls are just the tip of the iceberg in his own coming-of-age drama. As the other half of this very odd couple Kingsley seems to be relishing his role as an aging hippie therapist whose lifelong obsession with pot has clearly rattled his brain. Squires own confusion leads him to a hilarious “romantic” encounter with a dreadlocked little tramp played amusingly by Mary-Kate Olsen who is probably STILL talking about her make-out scene with the Oscar-winning actor. Also along for Luke’s quirky ride into manhood is Thirlby who showed great promise in Juno and confirms it here as a very confident young woman who deflowers the awkward Luke in a wonderfully understated bedroom scene. Janssen has little to do but look lovely while Talia Balsam and David Wohl are in for some brief moments as Luke’s difficult parents. And look for nice bits from Jane Adams as a new wave keyboard player Disturbia’s Aaron Yoo and Method Man as Luke’s supplier. It’s probably no coincidence young writer/director Jonathan Levine graduated from high school in 1994--the same year he has set for The Wackness. Clearly he knows the era and particularly the music which plays such a key role in setting the mood of this picture. Levine has passion for the hip hop sounds of the era and has effortlessly incorporated them directly into his storyline. Where The Wackness really departs from your average slacker epic however is in its seriousness of tone. At its core the film is not unlike classic teen movies such as Risky Business and Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Levine creates flawed almost tragic figures we can identify with in one way or another. That’s what holds this somewhat meandering tale together so well. We come to like these characters and wish them well as their lives are hovering at a crossroads. Levine’s filmmaking style is slightly awkward and the movie is unattractively lit but with The Wackness Levine captures a moment in time with great skill and heart.
Misery loves the Savages--always has. Ever since they were kids Wendy (Laura Linney) and Jon Savage (Philip Seymour Hoffman) have been plagued by the blasé blues. Even though they went their separate ways the siblings have remained somewhat close geographically--she lives in Manhattan he in Buffalo--and in their discontentment. But what made them this way in the first place their father (Philip Bosco) is about to reunite them. After losing his mind to dementia and his longtime girlfriend (Rosemary Murphy) to well death the old man officially needs to be looked after and that’s where Jon and Wendy reluctantly come in. Despite having not seen their estranged father in ages they fly out to his Arizona senior-citizen-friendly community immediately upon word of his downfall. What they didn’t plan on however is staying more than a couple days. Ultimately they take him back to Buffalo and place him in a nursing home about which Wendy constantly feels guilty. Now forced to live together and look in the metaphorical mirror the siblings Savage learn about self-discovery mortality each other and how to revive a decades-old rivalry as though it had never gone away. Given the way Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman constantly one-up each other in The Savages you’d think there was a real sibling rivalry at play. Of course it’s merely two of today’s very best actors giving par-for-the-course flawless performances. In so doing they create something beyond chemistry: a relationship so fractured and imperfectly perfect that it could only exist between an aging brother and sister. Whether the scene calls for fireworks or subtlety solo or together Linney and Hoffman are always up to the task. Linney is especially wide-ranging as Wendy still fights her midlife crisis. The veteran actress is often heartbreaking because Wendy is often heartbroken even when she tries to convince herself otherwise but Linney still manages to leave the window of hope cracked open--for us and her character. She truly encompasses everything in this her best performance to date. Hoffman is slightly more of a supporting player here but no less impactful. The Oscar winner is apathetic through much of the film but his terse outbursts of anger and/or sadness are stark reminders of his awe-inspiring range as an actor. Perhaps the most savage Savage is the patriarch played with grace by longtime actor Bosco. But instead of vilifying Lenny or making him worthy of all your pity Bosco makes him a rollercoaster of emotion as per Lenny's dementia. It’s been nine years since writer-director Tamara Jenkins’ last--and only other--feature-length film the twisted coming-of-age tale Slums of Beverly Hills which has given her plenty of time to think grow older and think about growing older. She philosophizes aloud in The Savages a movie that addresses everything you don’t want to but with a sardonic edge to it; in fact maybe this is as much a coping mechanism for her as it is an artistic endeavor. While the movie is primarily about the title siblings it essentially explores the human condition under their guise. But Jenkins does so in a way that is never preachy never obnoxious never sappy and always astutely observed. It’s her naturalistic approach to moviemaking that will turn what is ultimately a sharp dramedy into too much of a downer to please casual moviegoers looking for lighthearted fare in wintertime--this is NOT Little Miss Sunshine--but those who go in looking for a drama will be moved occasionally to laughter. Because The Savages is that rare deep movie: heavy on symbolism and meaning light on pretense and contrivance.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences handed out 21 awards tonight for scientific and technical achievements.
Actress Charlize Theron hosted the black tie gala at the Regent Beverly Wilshire hotel.
Scientific and Technical Awards are presented by the academy for ``devices, methods, formulas, discoveries or inventions of special and outstanding value to the arts and sciences of motion pictures.''
Seven Scientific and Engineering Awards were presented in the form of plaques, and 14 Technical Achievement Awards were given out as certificates. Its board of directors chose the winners based on recommendations from the
Scientific and Technical Awards Committee.
Achievements receiving the scientific and technical awards needn't have been invented during the current year, said Awards Administration Director Richard Miller. They are considered ``only if they have proved their exceptional merit through successful use,'' he said.
An Oscar statuette was presented to Edmund M. Di Giulio, who the academy calls one of the film industry's ``foremost engineering minds.'' De Giulio was the Gordon E. Sawyer Award recipient. The award, established
in 1981, is ``presented to an individual in the motion picture industry whose technological contributions have brought credit to the industry.''
Perhaps best known for his part in the engineering and development of the Steadicam, Di Giulio has been active on various Academy subcommittees. He chaired the Academy's Scientific and Technical Awards Committee for five
An Award of Commendation went to Rune Ericson, who was honored for ``his groundbreaking efforts on and dedication to the development of the Kodak Super 16mm film format for motion pictures.'' According to the academy, the Swedish director of photography has worked for more than 30 years to improve the Super 16mm, which has been used for more than 500 feature films shot throughout the world since the 1970s.
The system gives the camera extreme mobility, allowing cuts in production costs and shooting time without corrupting the quality of the image, according to AMPAS. The 16mm film format has also played a significant part in furthering the mainstream success of low-budget films. By extending the width of the 16mm frame, more of the frame height can be used, which allows low-budget films to be produced in a technically compatible version for widescreen theatrical release.
Here are the Scientific and Engineering Award recipients:
John Eargle, Don Keele and Mark Engebretson for the concept, design and engineering of the modern constant-directivity, direct radiator style motion picture loudspeaker systems;
Iain Neil won for the concept and optical design and Al Saiki for the mechanical design of the Panavision Primo Macro Zoom Lens, a compact, wide-angle, macro focus lens;
Peter Kuran for the invention, and Sean Coughlin, Joseph A. Olivier and William Conner for the engineering and development, of the RCI-Color Film Restoration Process, which restores color to faded color negatives;
Franz Kraus, Johannes Steurer and Wolfgang Riedel for the design and development of the ARRILASER Film Recorder, which demonstrates a high level of engineering resulting in a compact, user-friendly, low-maintenance device while at the same time maintaining outstanding speed, exposure ratings and image quality;
Makoto Tsukada, Shoji Kaneko and the Technical Staff of Imagica Corp., and Daijiro Fujie of Nikon Corp., for the Imagica 65/35 Multi-Format Optical Printer, a liquid-gate optical printer that offers ease of set-up and change-
over to various formats from 35mm to 65mm;
Steve Gerlach, Gregory Farrell and Christian Lurin for the design, engineering and implementation of the Kodak Panchromatic Sound Recording Film, which allows all four soundtrack systems to be exposed on a single negative
with relative ease, facilitating more economic distribution of motion pictures; and
Paul Constantine and Peter M. Constantine for the design and development of the CELCO Digital Film Recorder products.
Here are the Technical Achievement Awards winners:
Pete Romano for the design and development of the Remote AquaCam, an underwater camera housing system for use in motion pictures;
Jordan Klein for his pioneering efforts in the development and application of underwater camera housings for motion pictures;
Lance Williams for his pioneering influence in the field of computer-generated animation and effects for motion pictures;
Bernard Werner and William Gelow for the engineering and design of filtered line arrays and screen spreading compensation as applied to motion picture loudspeaker systems;
Tomlinson Holman for the research and systems integration resulting in the improvement of motion picture loudspeaker systems;
Geoff Jackson and Roger Woodburn for their DMS 120S Camera Motor;
Thomas Major Barron for the overall concept and design; Charles Smith for the structural engineering; and Gordon Seitz for the mechanical engineering of the Bulldog Motion Control Camera Crane;
John Anderson, Jim Hourihan, Cary Phillips and Sebastian Marino for the development of the ILM Creature Dynamics System;
Dr. Steve Sullivan and Eric Schafer for the development of the ILM Motion and Structure Recovery System;
Carl Ludwig and John Constantine Jr. for their contributions to CELCO Digital Film Recorder products;
Bill Spitzak, Paul Van Camp, Jonathan Egstad and Price Pethel for their pioneering effort on the NUKE-2D Compositing Software;
Dr. Uwe Sassenberg and Rolf Schneider for the development of ``3D Equalizer,'' an advanced and robust camera and object match-moving system;
Garland Stern for the concept and implementation of the Cel Paint Software System; and
Mic Rodgers and Matt Sweeney for the concept, design and realization of the ``Mic Rig,'' a self-contained, low bed picture car carrier and camera platform.