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Movie Review: Borat – Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan

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Borat follows the exploits of Kazakhstan reporter Borat Sagdiyev as he travels America to make a documentary. In tow, is producer Azamat Bagatov who tries to keep the project on budget. If the film isn’t a success, then they will both be executed, which is a likely scenario as Borat sidetracks the project when he wants to travel to California to meet and marry the typical American woman, Pamela Anderson.

The film is hysterical and one of the funniest comedies I have seen in years. I categorize it as Jackass Comedy. Just as the guys from Jackass are willing to sacrifice themselves for their “art,” Cohen and company sacrifice themselves for their comedy. After witnessing the rodeo sequence, the reports about almost nearly being attacked and needing an escort out of a Virginia rodeo for their safety are absolutely believable.

Unlike people like Tom Green, who act outrageous for its own sake, the true brilliance of Borat lies in its social commentary underneath. When he first arrives in New York, he pleasures himself outside a Victoria’s Secret window. It’s very crude, but what else is the purpose of scantily clad, gorgeous women other than to create arousal?

Much like the work of radio show personality Phil Hendrie, Borat pushes boundaries and deals in taboo areas to get people to let their guard down and reveal their true selves. Borat is anti-Semitic, misogynistic, and bigoted, but displays a naiveté that gains people’s trust. Even though they know they are on camera, it’s amazing to hear what comes out of the mouths of some of the participants when they feel they are with someone of a like mind. They have no problem revealing their animosity and hostility toward gays, women, and minorities.

That’s not to say the comedy is all highbrow material. There is plenty of juvenile, gross-out humor as well. The wildest scene in the movie, and the one that had the entire audience roaring with laughter for quite a while, is a fight Borat and Azmat get into. It has to seen to be believed and will leave a lasting impression.

The less you hear about Borat, the better the experience will be; so gather a bunch of friends and go see it before everyone is talking about it.

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About Gordon S. Miller

Gordon S. Miller is the artist formerly known as El Bicho, the nom de plume he used when he first began reviewing movies online for The Masked Movie Snobs in 2003. Before the year was out, he became that site's publisher. Over the years, he has also contributed to a number of other sites as a writer and editor, such as FilmRadar, Film School Rejects, High Def Digest, and Blogcritics. He is the Publisher of Cinema Sentries. Some of his random thoughts can be found at twitter.com/ElBicho_CS
  • http://fiveminutebreak.livejournal.com Erynn

    Best movie of the year. Most definitely.

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    certainly the funniest, Erynn. I would place it second behind A Scanner Darkly.

  • nugget

    this is comething I posted on another site. I hope you like!

    I should clutch this unique opportunity to tell you all exactly why you all thought this movie was funny. As pompous as I may seem, I understand and welcome any and all predictable sniveling remarks ranging from personal insults, general indifference, distorted summations, and based on an inevitable implied consensus of my laughable overreaction to such a trivial piece of entertainment, the common (and boring) banter which keeps the dismal .org alive to ensue after this post. Furthermore, I pray that no one posts after this out of sheer self-respect. (in other words, don’t let your brothas know I ruffled your feathers).

    Now that I’ve masterfully covered omnidirectional dissent, including your unavoidable feigned apathetic defense mechanisms, I should get to the point. I am a fan of Borat. Sacha Baron Cohen’s ability to slyly wring out a politically incorrect assertion from the oblivious politician/cowboy isn’t particularly impressive, however. What is impressive is the combination of his composure in character and downright audacity to venture into territory that makes any self-conscious person squirm. His success rests in his obsessive dedication to break an accepted social resolve that we ALL recognize to be tasteful and polite. Although this social decency cannot be characterized as virtuous, it is certainly a balanced methodology practiced merely to show respect for something or someone in case the truth rests beyond what we can see or understand.

    Let me reiterate that it is hardly noteworthy that someone could grub up a weaker minded person’s less than fair rhetoric…especially when presented in the context of a “lost in translation” cultural buffer. We routinely (in conversation) test the waters of peoples’ philosophy and understanding of abstracts through trial and error, primarily for the sake of self-defense. Anyways, if any of you were caught up in the mix inadvertantly and unknowingly, what dumbass, inconsiderate, or racist slur would role off your tamed tongue?? Oh that’s right I’m talking to objective internationalist thinkers. No skeletons in the closet here.

    As funny as Borat can be, he crossed the line. Of course you know. the dinner party and pentecostal church service. Perhaps you’re thinking that the dumb hicks deserve every grace of humiliation that’s thrown at them. I truly find it difficult to disagree with you. Growing up in the south and experiencing these “types” of people my entire life, the source of their rigid axioms is nearly impossible to expose. They are not pits of spiteful conspiring hatred, plotting to homogenize the West, however. Some of you would LIKE to think this because it justifies your insults and the down time you enjoy mutually fantasizing with your buddies about how utterly superior you are to Middle America and all of its chaotic superficial quirks. I admit I’ve taken part in this sort of elitist camaraderie. Pro Wrestling, Racing, drag racing, huntin’ n fishin’ yadda yadda. That’s what college students do, right? We wallow in our rampant idealism that sets us apart from the “lesser” blue collar crowd. It’s only natural to express our dominance. It is a means that promises comfort as an end.

    But as educated people, let’s actually fucking do what we were trained like dogs to do and THINK for a second. These people are simple people yes. By “simple” I mean that they depend more on the general postulates that reign in their hemisphere. They accept the regional rhetoric not because it’s close to their black hearts, but because it protects them from the 5% of the ones who decidedly ARE idiots. Most of these yokels are VERY nice and caring people. They have children. They like and trust most individuals upon meeting. Ironically, they are considerably warmer in disposition than ANY urban environment could offer. they get up every morning, work diligently, and believe with admirable conviction that they are doing the right thing. If they spout off a comment about Jews, niggers, or homos, 90% of the time they are paying lip service to the STATUS QUO. In the more rural areas, politically correct rhetoric holds less credibility than what you DO consistantly. People will do precisely what is is they feel they need to do to defend themselves. Defense is innate, and the superior intellectuals with more refined methods of defense (e.g. lying) view and take pleasure in this lack of sophistication by spreading more lunacy and mischaracterizing entire groups of people in the name of self-satisfaction and arrogance.

    Even more, many of you cultured citizens have a more vitriolic means of living your lives than the country bumpkins you love to mock. The prime difference, for better or worse, is that you are smarter than the average bear, for lack of a better metaphor. Your veiled fear (and in extreme cases it has morphed into envy and even spite) is timed, precise, and careful to not be perceived as what it truly is.

    I want as badly as the next guy to jump on the SouthPark bandwagon and piss on all things romantically and annoyingly sacred, but in this case i’m MORE than willing to be the intolerant square with folded arms and a disappointed stare. Blast away, but I sat through the whole movie. I laughed at every part. I smiled albeit uncomfortably during the Church service scene. As much as I understand the humor and relevance of this one-time gag, I still thought it was an offense that should be collectively scorned by any fair-minded person. did you see those fucking people??? They accepted a homeless, smelly Arab into their church, gave him a microphone, and probably would have let him speak for hours. They earnestly wanted him to repent and believed he could thrive in their community. No matter how delusional and pretentious you think they are, should that very public act of unguarded reception not be admired and its serious nature respected? Sadly, the answer to that from the majority of you I already know, understand, and see through.

  • STM

    Yep, well done Nugget old boy. You’ve excelled yourself this time.

    This is some of your best work ever: the Gettysburg Address on a f.cking Borat movie. Classic stuff. Good job you could just cut and paste it or your arms would be dropping off.

    What’ve you been smoking, and where can I get some?

    You’re right though, Cohen IS a hoot even though he does cross the line … My all-time favourite: The Ali G Interview with Buzz Aldrin, who just couldn’t work out what was ‘appening. The look on his face was priceless.

    Ali G: When you arrived on the moon, was the people who lived there very friendly, or was they scared of you?

    Aldrin: There was absolutely no thought of encountering any living beings whatsoever.

    Ali: Do you ever think man will walk on the sun?

    Aldrin: No. The sun is too hot. It is not a good place to go to.

    Ali: What happens if they went in winter when the sun is cold?

    Aldrin: The sun is not cold in the winter.

    Ah, one too many space trips for Buzz, do we think?

  • nugget

    you epitomize the preferred ignorance I describe.

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    nugget,

    You really should have written this as a post rather than burying it in the comments. It’s well written and deserves wider exposure even though I disagree with parts of it, and it appears to being making points no one raised in this thread.

    To other readers, there will be spoilers, so I suggest you skip this unless you want scenes ruined.

    It appears that part of the reason you take issue is that they deal with “your” people, who are mocked and/or exposed, depending on one’s viewpoint. You don’t like being the butt of a joke, no one does, but to make matters worse you have taken part in making fun of your own and now harbor some guilt.

    I saw city folk, especially New Yorkers mocked, yet your outrage is noticeably absent as it is in reference to Borat referring to most women as prostitutes. To me, having to witness two naked men wrestling is more offensive than the mere sight of a black woman, yet you wouldn’t know it from the film’s participants or your reaction.

    A lot of comedy comes from a place of superiority. This is not unique to Cohen. The humor of Groucho, Woody Allen, and Bill Murray, to name a few, derives from making fun and looking down on others. Isn’t that what Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh do as well? We enjoy it if the jokes are funny and our identification gives us a feeling of superiority as well. We get it; we’re part of the club. You should reflect on how this film made you feel the next time you are laughing at and looking down on someone else’s group, assuming you notice that you are doing it.

    You suffer from the same air of superiority that you castigate others for. You presume to tell everyone why they thought the film was funny. You presume all reactions to your post are going to be beneath you. You presume that anyone Borat dealt with is weaker-minded. Could it not be that they just have different values? You lash out with a lot of name-calling and insults, illustrating your own prejudices and responding to comments not made.

    I’m in my thirties, grew up in Southern California, and have traveled extensively around the country and the world, but I have yet to be any place where people sat around feeling superior to Middle America. Maybe I don’t get invited to the right parties, but I’ve never heard it come up. Could it be your view of what people on the coasts, or the elites, or whoever you are ascribing that behavior is the same type of stereotype you are railing against?

    Sorry, but you don’t get any brownie points from me for giving in to the status quo. It’s that lip service that allows others to cross over from words to deeds. Do you give a pass to the Germans who joined the Nazis because it was the status quo? Do you give a pass to the Iraqis who join militias and attack our troops because it’s the status quo? I’m not saying Southerners are as bad as those groups, but I am trying to understand where you draw the line when it comes to accepting unacceptable behavior.

    There’s a difference between being caught up in a moment that reveals an acceptance of bigoted thinking, say laughing at a racist joke, and admitting an outright hatred for a group. The cowboy’s desire to have all the gays hanged was not him just trying to fit in with Borat. He was telling Borat how to fit in, such as shaving his moustache so he wouldn’t look like a terrorist. It was a real moment.

    The dinner party, which took place on Secession Lane, started off very charming, and they were nice enough to deal with Borat’s ignorance especially when it came to bathroom issues. But where did that compassion go when the black prostitute showed up? They politely dealt with a bag of shit, and the preacher of all people couldn’t run fast enough out of the house when a black woman appeared. We see them explain how to wipe his ass after a shit, but they are unable to explain why it is inappropriate to hire a prostitute. Instead, they run a way like the house was on fire.

    You seem to want to say, “We’re not all like that,” but no one here is saying you are. The people in the film only represented themselves, yet your reply lumps everyone who enjoyed the film all together. I guess we should do as you say, and not as you do.

    Maybe this stems from the site you originally posted at, but who was laughing at the religious people? It was nice that they accepted Borat, who isn’t an Arab. I was laughing at him acting like a buffoon and making ridiculous statements. It’s great that they were accepting and willing to help him, but I don’t completely admire their unguarded reception as it sets them up to be taken advantage of as evidenced by the film.

    I agree with you it’s a pity more people aren’t as open-minded as they could be, but if you step back, you might notice the most closed-minded person to post here has been you.

  • nugget

    El Bicho: Nice spin.

    You don’t like being the butt of a joke, no one does, but to make matters worse you have taken part in making fun of your own and now harbor some guilt.

    I’m not the butt. I don’t go to rodeos or church.

    I saw city folk, especially New Yorkers mocked, yet your outrage is noticeably absent as it is in reference to Borat referring to most women as prostitutes.

    Please. Borat didn’t make half the effort to “expose” New Yorkers as he just annoyed them. ANYone would let a “fuck you” fly if he were approached so abruptly. What Borat did in the streets of New York is so far from analogous to his exploits in the South and you know it. So this whole “New Yorkers aren’t offended” carries zero weight as a viable and warranted criticism of my disgust.

    To me, having to witness two naked men wrestling is more offensive than the mere sight of a black woman, yet you wouldn’t know it from the film’s participants or your reaction.

    Who said anyone was offended by the “mere sight of a black woman”? Are you truly that deluded? Perhaps, call me crazy, they were more uncomfortable with the tiny detail that she was a PROSTITUTE. I dunno maybe you’re right. I’m sure a fat white prostitute would have been seated immediately at the head of the table, included in the dialogue, and mutually accepted all because she was white. Keep telling yourself that.

    A lot of comedy comes from a place of superiority. This is not unique to Cohen. The humor of Groucho, Woody Allen, and Bill Murray, to name a few, derives from making fun and looking down on others.

    really?

    Isn’t that what Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh do as well? We enjoy it if the jokes are funny and our identification gives us a feeling of superiority as well.

    uh, yea? What makes Coulter and Limbaugh different from your comedians? nothing. What are you trying to say? I think Coulter and Limbaugh are complete morons, but go ahead and bark up that tree. A phantom will come down eventually.

    You suffer from the same air of superiority that you castigate others for. You presume to tell everyone why they thought the film was funny. You presume all reactions to your post are going to be beneath you.

    I really should be yelling “don’t throw me in that briar patch! Oh please don’t throw me in that briar patch.” I already covered my elitism in the original post. Though I appreciate the rehash and welcome introspection, it is mildly relevant. Furthermore, I don’t plan on filming a motion picture that exhibits my blatant self-importance.

    Sorry, but you don’t get any brownie points from me for giving in to the status quo. It’s that lip service that allows others to cross over from words to deeds. Do you give a pass to the Germans who joined the Nazis because it was the status quo? Do you give a pass to the Iraqis who join militias and attack our troops because it’s the status quo? I’m not saying Southerners are as bad as those groups, but I am trying to understand where you draw the line when it comes to accepting unacceptable behavior.

    This is the only decent rebuttal and I am obliged to respond to this because I agree with you. My point is not to say that paying lip service should be an accepted societal norm, it’s just a method of explaining to those who, like you posed, might believe that people’s true characters are “exposed.” It’s not a matter of true colors. It’s a matter of sloppy syntax. It’s a matter of political correctness. It’s not a matter of laying out the ugly truth. The truth is so much more ridiculously complicated than what a person might say in an assumed bubble of security and a presumption of no consequences.

    you might notice the most closed-minded person to post here has been you.

    I understand the cheap shot, but you know that’s not true.

  • http://www.mondoirlando.com Duke De Mondo

    El Bicho, this was an excellent review, and the comments, particularly those ‘tween yourself and nugget, are spectacular. a remarklable thread.

    i saw this today, having hyped it up beyond sense in my head for the past three months. that it delivered and in no way dissapointed me is something of a marvel, considerin’ the ammount of slathering i’ve done over every half-minute clip appearing on youtube. i’ve been in love with the character since Da Ali G Show aired in the UK (Ali G had pretty much died by then, although that god-awful film still hadn’t appeared. it took goin’ off to the US and being granted the gift of obscurity again for the character to be gloriously reborn) Borat was easily the best thing in that series, and even in the US shows, which were of incredibly high standard, his were the most astounding segments.

    So yes, a great fan of Borat, and of Baron Cohen’s work in general (his Bruno character is another masterwork, and i hear his is to be the next motion picture, also)

    For a time i worried some about why i found Borat funny. it’s true that Ali G is less funny than the reactions to him by the folks he’s bantering with, so the notion that you might be laughin at some 21st century minstrel show doesn’t hold (and tellingly, when the character was left to stand on his own, as in that film, he fell on his arse). the same isn’t true of Borat. is he funny just because he’s got a funny accent? Becuase he’s a foriegner tryin to understand British (and, latterly, American) culture? there may well be some truth in that. but thankfully, it’s not the whole truth.

    the accent helps, of course, but Sacha Baron Cohen’s gift as a physical comedian is what makes Borat most compelling. the Wine Testing episode of the American series is a damn masterclass in physical comedy.

    the reason i’m musing all this out loud is on account of a review i read in Uncut Magazine this month which went along the lines of yes, Borat is hilarious, but don’t kid yourself about WHY you’re laughing.

    the point was that, rather than a satire of American mores, as some claim, it IS just a man with a funny accent saying funny things in broken english. i don’t think that’s altogether true.

    that, belatedly, brings me to nugget’s comment (i do apologise, i’m being very long-winded and round-about here)

    i did actually find the dinner scene particularly unpleasant, but i still laughed my arse off, just on account of it being sublimely uncomfortable stuff. but i can see Nugget’s point. it’s a easy, and apparently unjustified target Cohen hits upon in that sequence. it was brilliantly cringe-worthy stuff, but a touch unfair, i thought. the same can’t be said of the rodeo sequence, mind you. nor even the scene in the pentecostal church, which i didn’t feel was really under attack in any way. certainly there was no harm done to the unwitting supporting cast.

    the theatre at today’s screening was fairly quiet throughout that sequence. nobody found anything funny about it apart from Borat’s mad wailing and weeping. in fact, i came away thinkin they were a nice buncha folks. i don’t think that sequence was played for laughs at the expense of the parisioners.

    Uncut, and nugget’s comments, nailed it as pretty much a hymn to American hospitality, rodeo-sequence excepted. that it took the hooker at the door to finally tip the dinner-party folks over the edge is testament to an almost inhuman level of tolerance, not of any underlying bigotry or racism or misogyny.

    but it was also, rightly or wrongly, very very funny. i don’t know that it’s a matter of a sense of superiority concerning the American South, the scene was just as funny when it was played out in Borat’s UK segments three years ago. (i should point out here that, although i’ve never visited it, i am in LOVE with the idea of the american south) WHY is it funny? becuase it’s embaressing. whether or not that’s in any way ethical is something else entirely, and i don’t even know if it is. but i DID laugh.

    i dop apologise, i dunno if i made any point with any real clarity there. but El Bicho, again, great review and thread here.

  • http://www.mondoirlando.com Duke De Mondo

    oh, and nugget, regarding this;

    “They accepted a homeless, smelly Arab into their church, gave him a microphone, and probably would have let him speak for hours”

    they also knew there was a camera there. that’s worth considering. it’s worth considering how hopsitable any of them would’ve been, in fact, had they not know a lens was near-hand.

  • kiddodank

    nugget – use real english, put the thesaurus down, b/c being verbose impresses nobody but yourself.

  • http://bonamassablog.us Joan Hunt

    I was going to comment on your review, El Bicho, but was distracted by the dissertation from Nugget. Why isn’t Nugget reviewing movies and dissecting the human condition in article form here on BC? I’m sure the audience would be enormous.

  • Glenn Brown

    For all of the above, Reasoned response or emotional reaction, you decide. Why does it matter anyway. Has the human race joined some club that requires members to defend their personal point of view to one and all? Basically every man measures with his own stick and will not agree with or trust anyone elses. I am tired of media and entertainment reality intrusion on life in general. This film is no exception.