Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
**** Angrier, funnier and smarter than the original, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan brings back Sacha Baron Cohen’s fictional Kazakh journalist Borat Sagdiyev to prank real-life American bigots. Ordered to woo the Trump administration with a gift, Borat embarks on a quest to make Mike Pence marry his daughter Tutar (Maria Bakalova). The plot isn’t the point—it’s an opportunity for Baron Cohen and Bakalova to stage witty assaults on anti-Semitism, misogyny and racism (no one bothers to stop Borat from walking into the Conservative Political Action Conference dressed as a Klansman). Baron Cohen is just as dementedly entertaining as he was in the original Borat, but Bakalova relentlessly upstages him. Just when you think nothing can top the scene in which Tutar has her period and performs a fertility dance at a debutante ball in Georgia, Bakalova pulls off the film’s brashest stunt—an encounter with Rudy Giuliani that gleefully lays bare the sadism and sexism of Trump’s legal lapdog. That sequence is the film’s climax, but still to come is a twist that attempts the seemingly impossible: to make COVID-19 funny. It’s a great gag and a great testament to Baron Cohen’s apparent belief that the world will only end when human beings lose their lust for inappropriate laughs. R. BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON. Amazon Prime.
On the Rocks
**** When your second film is a universe of compassion, wit and wonderment, it’s not easy for the rest of your career to keep up. Yet On the Rocks is one of the most intelligent and moving films that writer-director Sofia Coppola has made since her transcendent Tokyo odyssey Lost in Translation. It’s the kind of movie that gets you guessing about what a great director is up to, then surprises and pleases you when she doesn’t go where you imagined. On the Rocks stars Rashida Jones as Laura, a writer who suspects that her husband, Dean (Marlon Wayans), is cheating on her. Since Laura’s father, Felix (Bill Murray), is eager for an excuse to spy on his son-in-law, the two embark on a shambling investigation of Dean, which culminates in a surreal sojourn in Mexico. Murray suavely sells the contradictions of Felix, a decrepit playboy who defends his daughter’s honor but delights in demeaning women. Felix can be a mesmerizingly phony charmer, but On the Rocks is about Laura awakening to the emptiness behind his incandescence—an awakening that sets the stage for her spiritual rebirth. That journey may not match the visual and emotional heights of Lost in Translation, but On the Rocks triumphs on its own terms by telling the story of a woman who, scene by scene, gradually claims the movie as her own. R. BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON. Apple TV+.
** Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca is one of the most sensual novels ever written. Published in 1938, it’s the story of a nameless heroine who marries Maxim de Winter, lord of a forbidding English estate known as Manderley. There’s nothing explicitly paranormal about the novel, but Manderley is figuratively haunted by Maxim’s late wife, Rebecca. Her desires endure through the vindictive housekeeper Mrs. Danvers, and her unmistakably erotic rivalry with Maxim’s new bride infuses the novel with transgressive force. Director Ben Wheatley’s new adaptation of Rebecca is barely transgressive at all, but it offers a few pleasures. Lily James radiates both vulnerability and strength as the protagonist, and Wheatley (whose films include the 2016 shootout flick Free Fire) unleashes some clever visions of terror, including a crowd of partygoers endlessly chanting “Rebecca!” What’s missing is du Maurier’s mastery of subtle menace. The heroine’s romance with Maxim (Armie Hammer) is summed up in a dopey sequence that plays like a PG-13 Fifty Shades of Grey, and Wheatley serves up an artificially perky finish in lieu of du Maurier’s devastating final sentences. The clash between the heroine and the memory of Rebecca was rich with romantic triumph and despair in the novel, but Wheatley settles for the weakest form of romance: niceness. PG-13. BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON. Netflix.