The original Borat came out in 2006 and was a dangerously hilarious pisstake of, well, pretty much everything in American culture. Sacha Baron Cohen’s guileless journalist from Kazakhstan character, originally made famous on Da Ali G Show, immediately became an international pop culture icon, and was quoted endlessly by everyone, especially that one dickhead at the office who never knew when to shut up. You don’t even have a wife, Trevor, give it a bone! Anyway, now Borat has returned in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (or Borat 2 as we’ll be calling it henceforth) and the result is both funny, awkward and at times shocking.
Borat Sagdiyev (Sacha Baron Cohen) has fallen on hard times and harder labour. The release of the original Borat has made Kazakhstan a laughing stock on the world stage and the government is not pleased. To make amends, and avoid further incarceration or death, Borat is sent to America with the gift of a talented monkey and a dream to redeem the good name of Kazakhstan. However, America’s divided states are a very different place these days, and Borat must navigate the powder keg-filled minefield that is the US in 2020.
First things first, Borat 2 is similar to its predecessor in that it’s a series of loosely linked skits, some filmed with actors, others with unsuspecting citizens, that sketch out an amiable comedic parabola that leads up to a typically outrageous ending. The biggest addition this time is Borat’s daughter, Tutar (Maria Bakalova), who is so utterly committed to her role that she feels like a natural, and hilarious, addition. Borat and Tutar lob around, getting into mischief, that includes (but is not limited to) commissioning an anti-Semitic cake to be made, crashing a Republican convention, singing a wildly racist country and western song at an anti-lockdown rally and – in what is easily the film’s funniest moment – attending the Macon debutante ball and performing a father-daughter dance that… just… honestly, you have to see it to believe it.
Borat 2 is also much more overtly political than the previous flick, tapping the vein of Cohen’s real life anger at Facebook, Trump and the open racism that seems to have infected so much of the discourse of late. While laudable, this does at times slow the flow of hilarity, making Borat 2 a less consistent jape-cannon, although when it hits it hits hard. A gag towards the end, involving a certain glowering Republican lickspittle, is so beautifully-realised and savage it’s almost hard to believe what you’re watching.
Borat 2 is a frequently hilarious, often shocking, occasionally grim slice of absurd comedy with a strong political subtext. It’s an angrier film for an angrier time, but also contains some of the biggest bellylaughs you’re likely to encounter in this hell year. Well worth a watch, but we suggest you do so with friends, a stiff drink (or three) and a pillow to occasionally hide behind.
New Zealand comedies, at their best, mine everyday social awkwardness for golden cringe material; breaking down the kind of wincing-in-between-giggles conversation that most mainstream cinema merely glances at. It’s a methodology that seems of great interest to studio Piki Films, who are in the middle of a capital run between Taika Waititi’s Hunt For The Wilderpeople and Jojo Rabbit, as well as The Breaker Upperers. And their latest feature fits in that lane, if not going even further with that intent.
Rose Matafeo’s expectant mother is a turbine that runs on raw nervous energy, and Matthew Lewis as the pappy-to-be is continuously attempting to keep his world, and relationship, stable and failing miserably. They work well together, but there’s a constant rift between them that keeps things from being too cute. Especially when they work off fellow Piki Films alumni, like Rachel House’s school principal and Breaker Upperers’ Madeleine Sami as a nurse.
In its Apatowian use of childbirth as the breaking point for the parents to finally become adults, Sophie Henderson’s scripting covers a lot of bases in that shaky transition. Specifically, the anticipation (a gender reveal party where everything from the food to the ice cubes are baby-themed), how it can throw a monkey wrench in whatever stability may exist in a relationship (Matafeo and Lewis rave-dancing while holding a night-light), and how it might not even change all that much for the people involved.
It all lands on sturdy ground, but unlike the bulk of the more recent NZ cinematic crop, this film might go a bit too far when it comes to the cringe at its core. And the reason why can be summed up in one word: preggophile. On paper, it fits in with the larger spectrum of how having children changes relationships between people, but on-screen, it makes for the wrong kind of uncomfortable viewing, and an addition that almost overrides everything else through sheer ‘dafuq?!’
But even with that in mind, this is still decent stuff. Its approach to the subject matter is refreshing, even if the narrative isn’t as well-formed as it could have been; the acting is solid from the major players to the supporting cast, and as distracting as some aspects can get, it’s still really damn funny. They’re some of the uneasiest laughs of the year, but they’re still here in abundance.
Malin Akerman gets her mojo back after joining an underground fight club!! Supporting cast includes Alec Baldwin, Bella Thorne, Kevin Connolly, Dulce Sloan and WWE's Kevin Nash. From Aussie actor turned director Paul Leyden. Looks fun!
A fortune teller with gnarled hands reads Grandma Wong’s fortune. Spotting an auspicious sign that she excitedly interprets as “carps jumping over a dragon gate,” the soothsayer (Wai Ching Ho) tells her client to keep an eye out for the dragon gate as that is a clear indication that her fortune is coming. Grandma Wong (an extraordinary performance from Tsai Chin) puffs on her cigarette with a sceptical scowl.
Set in present-day New York City’s Chinatown, we are immersed in the life of our main protagonist, gaining glimpses of Grandma Wong’s daily activities—morning prayer at the home-shrine of her late husband, exercising at the local Y, shopping for fruit and veg at her neighbourhood market, celebrating her birthday with her son and his family, and so on.
Recently widowed, Grandma Wong is pushing 80 and determined to live life as an independent woman, despite the concern of her family. After her local fortune teller’s exciting forecast, Grandma Wong makes a beeline for the casino to cash in on her predicted fortune. She lands on the wrong side of luck – or does she? Suddenly, she attracts the focus of local Red Dragon gangsters. She seeks protection from members of a rival gang named Zhongliang, and purchases the services of a discount bodyguard; Big Pong (an endearing performance from the hulking Taiwanese actor Hsiao-Yuan Ha). Invariably, Grandma Wong finds herself in the middle of a Chinatown gang war.
Big Pong proves more than just her bodyguard. In fact, we get more of a new best friend / grandson vibe than anything menacing. Throughout this charming comedy, the characters are colourful without being reduced to broad caricatures. Grandma Wong’s rivals, in particular, are goofy and not too menacing – and certainly no match for our wily and quick thinking grandma who, at one point, defeats an attack with hair spray. She’s no-nonsense and practical.
This delightful story is co-scripted by Angela Cheng, and filmmaker Sasie Sealy presents a central character whose recalcitrance is immediately relatable and somehow endearing, at least for anyone who can recall a time when they felt grumpy all day long no matter what happened. As the picaresque story unfolds, this dark comedy fluidly switches from English to Mandarin (also Cantonese, at times) as effortlessly as the family’s three generations bilingually converse. The cinematography by Eduardo Enrique Mayén is gorgeous without being too glossy and the movie is sensitively filmed, almost like a silent film with minimal dialogue, mostly relying on non-verbal cues and music. The cartoony comedy violence does turn quite dark in the third act, ultimately providing a satisfying outcome.
Well-worth seeing, Lucky Grandma is the feature debut of TV director Sasie Sealy (whose student film was rewarded with the Student Visionary award at Tribeca Film Fest in 2008).
With a little over a month until the US election, Prime Video has launched the trailer for Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, sequel to 2006's Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, based on a characted first introduced on The Ali G Show.