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.
Set in the ‘60s and based on a true story we meet Petey Greene (Don Cheadle) a popular radio DJ--in prison. When he’s pardoned early Petey hits up one of his inmate friend's brother Dewey Hughes (Chiwetel Ejiofor) a radio station manager for work. In fact Petey marches right down to Hughes' D.C. radio station and keeps harassing Hughes until he gets his shot. Petey chokes the first time on air and makes libelous remarks that don't sit well with the station boss (Martin Sheen). But controversy sells so Petey and Dewey scheme to give Petey a show. When his show on Martin Luther King Jr's assassination calms down a rioting public even the corporate brass sees his value. Greene rises to local fame but still gets himself into trouble with booze and promiscuity. Will his talent overcome his vices? Not likely. Unfortunately the film’s self-importance simply masks a story about a self-destructive loser who lucks into some notoriety. For all its superiority Talk to Me still manages to wring out some Oscar-worthy performances. There is no shortage of juicy characters for acclaimed thespians to exercise their muscles. As is his modus operandi Don Cheadle transforms into Petey Greene as much as he did as Hotel Rwanda’s Paul Rusesabagina. You'd never imagine he had a better vocabulary to use he is that much of a foul mouthed low life. Chiwetel Ejiofor (Children of Men) is also phenomenal. His good guy Dewey is the less showy part but he projects so much power. Dewey deserves the success Petey wastes. Taraji P. Henson (Hustle & Flow) plays Petey's girlfriend a composite of all the women the real-life Greene must have screwed over. She's devastatingly sexy flaunting her wares to attract more attention to Petey yet still heartbreaking when Greene does the inevitable. Martin Sheen never plays the "white boss." He's just a human being with practical worries but he still puts his neck on the line to support social change. Cedric the Entertainer plays a more established DJ at the station. It’s a very small role with only a few scenes but he puts that deep voice to good use on the airwaves. It is clear co-writer/director Kasi Lemmons thinks the Petey Greene story is an important one to tell but she fails to fully convey his true impact if there was any. He wasn’t the only black man on the radio in the '60s to follow Martin Luther King’s call for peace. Greene’s lengthy radio rants in Talk to Me are powerful and poignant but it's all overshadowed by his deplorable behavior off the air. Lemmons gets the period details down however. Everyone looks distinctly groovy and landmark events put together on a small budget still give a sense of the era. But by mostly containing the film’s world to a radio station Talk to Me seems more like a melodrama between a producer and a star than a biopic about a man who propagated social change.
The Eagles, Billy Joel, No Doubt, Eddie Vedder and the Dixie Chicks are just some of the music artists demanding better relationships with record labels. To that end, those artists will be performing at four concerts in Los Angeles with proceeds to benefit the two-year-old Recording Artists Coalition, which wants to be a watchdog agency for all musicians and was founded by Eagles frontman Don Henley.
Hollywood.com has learned that the bloated recording industry establishment hired Mad magazine's Alfred E. Neuman to be its spokesman. In his first act as spokesman, Neuman told reporters: "What, me worry?"
King of Pop Michael Jackson won't be performing at the Grammys, although he made plans to do so last month. Despite the fact he refused to perform at the American Music Awards in January so he would be allowed to perform at the upcoming Grammys, the awards show sponsor--the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences--confirmed Jackson won't be among the entertainers. No word is forthcoming from Jackson's Neverland compound, but we think the King of Pop is still pouting after Bubbles told Jackson he likes Macaulay Culkin better.
Sir Ian McKellen (Gandalf the Wizard from Lord of the Rings) told BBC TV Monday that his "money is absolutely on Lord of the Rings" to win the Academy Award for best picture. It's rumored that evil Sauron the Dark Lord has bet all his money on his vision for Middle-earth: Moulin Rouge.
From the world of second, third and fourth chances, self-destructive Robert Downey Jr. is set to star in The Singing Detective, a Mel Gibson-produced film based on the BBC series of the same name. Michael Gambon originally starred as the title protagonist, who has a high fever that destroys his perception of reality. Downey should be perfect for this part: He knows all about altered mental states.
Director James Cameron (Spider-Man) is joining other celebs in the annual Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race in Long Beach, which benefits a program for a children's hospital in Long Beach and Orange County. Frankly, after what happened in Titanic, we're surprised Toyota would let Cameron pilot anything bigger than a tricycle.
First Matthew McConaughey gets hitched, and now he's about to be ditched. The co-star of The Wedding Planner is in negotiations to return to romantic comedy, as McConaughey is up to star opposite Kate Hudson in How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days. The movie Hollywood.com really wants to see made is, of course, How to Lose Your Mother-in-Law in 10 Days--now that would be a box office hit.
Britain's Queen Elizabeth is celebrating 50 years of rule, and England's throwing a big concert in her honor: two of them, in fact. Eric Clapton, Aretha Franklin, Elton John, Paul McCartney and opera star Kiri Te Kanawa are just some of the headliners set to fete the Queen for her Golden Jubilee with two open-air concerts in June. Hollywood.com is sad to report that Britain's own Herman's Hermits isn't on the list of performers.
West Wing producer Aaron Sorkin told The New Yorker magazine that "The media is waving pom-poms, and the entire public is being polite" with regard to President Bush, as the media have laid off "the bubblehead jokes" long enough.
A spokesman for Malcolm in the Middle star Jane Kaczmarek insists that it was a migraine, and not a salary dispute, that caused Kaczmarek to walk off the set of the Fox hit show two weeks ago. Kaczmarek has since returned to the set..
The personal writings of late Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain have been purchased by the Riverhead publishing label for close to $4 million. The 23 notebooks contain close to 800 pages of Cobain's notes, and fans hope there's some clue as to why the popular singer committed suicide in 1994 at the age of 27. (As if waking up next to Courtney Love each morning isn't enough to send most men over the edge.)
Fred Durst, lead singer for band Limp Bizkit, has agreed to testify--either by written statements or via satellite video--at the Australia inquest of a 15-year-old girl who suffered a heart attack during a stage rush at a Bizkit concert in Sydney and died five days later. Durst said he was too busy to attend in person.
Diva Celine Dion's self-proclaimed retirement is at an end. The Canadian singer will perform at L.A.'s Kodak Theater this Sunday as part of a CBS TV special, along with Destiny's Child. Dion also signed a reported $100 million contract to perform at Las Vegas' Caesars Palace five nights a week for three years. Looks like Wayne Newton will be facing some stiff competition.
Being a Hollywood star doesn't mean much in London, but being ex-President Clinton's daughter seems to count much more. Chelsea Clinton, 21, was the hit of the The Shipping News premiere Monday night, outshining some of Tinseltown's luminaries. Clinton signed autographs and chatted with fans. (Hollywood.com has learned that some female fans really talked to Chelsea only to get her dad's mobile phone number.)
Johnny Cash is nearly 70, but is feeling better than he has in a while. "I've felt really good these last few months, better than I've felt in the last three years," Cash told the AP. Cash is currently working on finishing an album, American IV.
Warning: "ER" Spoiler
If they're such good doctors, how come people keep dying? PageSix.com is reporting that Dr. Mark Greene's (Anthony Edwards) exit from ER will be occasioned by his passing due to a recurrence of his brain tumor. Greene isn't the first major character to be killed off: Med student Lucy Knight was brutally stabbed to death a few years ago. Edwards' departure leaves Noah Wyle the sole remaining original cast member who's been on the show continuously since day one.