Write On

Breathless comic Will Ferrell plays it mostly straight in Marc Forster’s enchanting modern-day fable Stranger Than Fiction, a brilliantly realised story of an ordinary man caught up in an inexplicable fantasy. Ferrell plays Harold Crick, a quiet, isolated US government tax inspector who wakes up one morning hearing a mysterious voice in his head. The female voice, clipped and plummy, isn’t talking to him, it’s talking about him, describing his mundane actions and predictable moods in a precise narration, like a voice over in a movie. Harold, who shows worrying signs of obsessive compulsion, an odd world-view beautifully explained by the director with on-screen graphics showing Harold’s continuously compiled internal calculations, is naturally perturbed at the intrusion, especially when the voice tells him, in a matter of fact way, that he is about to die.

Just at the point where Harold believes himself to be going mad, he seeks advice from a psychiatrist, (played with a squint of suspicion by Linda Hunt), who listens patiently to his ravings and refers him on to a professor of literature, Dr Jules Hilbert (Dustin Hoffman), a man as spontaneous and emotional and strung out on caffeine as Harold is ordered and subdued. Hilbert also listens, while slurping constantly from his coffee mug, explaining to Harold that whatever story he believes himself to be a part of can only be resolved through one of a number of standard literary archetypes. Patient questioning comes up with a handul of names of authors who could be transcribing his life, eventually leading the duo to one writer, Kay Eiffel (Emma Thompson), simply because all of her published novels end in the death of the main character.

It’s a good deduction, Eiffel is indeed the writer, a fact confirmed when Harold hears her speaking on an old television show, but she has problems of her own. She hasn’t published anything in a decade, and is terminally blocked, writing and rewriting the last couple of chapters of Harold’s life without being able to find a way to conclude her story satisfactorily. To that end, her publishers have sent her an assistant (played with restraint by Queen Latifah), a no-nonsense woman who quickly takes the neurotic, chain-smoking, suicidal author in hand and attaches her to a routine. Meanwhile, something extraordinary has happened to Harold. His apartment has been destroyed in an accident, forcing him to move in with his only friend Dave (played by Tony Hale from Arrested Development). While dealing with this spur of disorder, he goes to meet a woman who has misfiled her tax return, and falls in love with her. Ana, a free-spirited, heavily tattooed baker (played with a heartbreaking sincerity by Maggie Gyllenhaal) initially despises this government enforcer, rifling through her papers in an effort to prosecute her, but gradually softens, until a point where the two stand before one another, mutually smitten, and suddenly alive again. But the voice is telling Harold his time is running out, with his life being taken from him just at the point where it has become worth living.

Zach Helm’s script, his debut, appears at first to follow the trendy, labyrinthine path of Charlie Kaufmann, but the film most closely matches The Truman Show in uncovering the individual decisions that these characters make in order to fulfil a destiny they are secretly terrified of. Director Marc Foster tells the story beautifully and intelligently, adopting a low-key mood and having his talented cast unquestioningly accept the magic that has come into their lives. Crucially, he never attempts to explain it all, adding immeasurably to the satisfaction, even as his characters arrange a compromise ending to the story we are watching. The acting performances are flawless, funny and touching and deliberate. The picture looks terrific, and boasts an outstanding, delicately used soundtrack.

Roots, Bloody Roots

Guillermo Del Toro’s extraordinary grown-up fairytale Pan's Labyrinth arrives on a wave of expectation, having wowed the crowd into a half-hour standing ovation at Cannes, in the process garnering the best reviews of the Mexican directors career, and it doesn’t disappoint. It is a hugely rewarding film; a rich, dark, meaty stew perfect for a long winter’s night. The story, written by del Toro, opens in Northern Spain in 1944, where we meet a young girl, Ofelia (Ivana Baquero), travelling with her pregnant mother Carmen (Ariadna Gil) from the city to the mountain headquarters of Captain Vidal (Sergi López), a Franco Nationalist on a mission to eradicate the local Republican resistance. Ofelia’s mother, recently widowed, has recently married the sadistic Captain, who has demanded she travel to the hilltop camp so his son can be born in his father’s house. Ofelia has brought her only possessions, illustrated books of fairy tales, although she has been told she is getting too old for them.

Soon, the young girl meets a strange, clicking insect, who transforms into a mute fairy, which in turn guides her to a lost labyrinth, an underground maze, where she is greeted by an ancient faun (played by del Toro’s regular collaborator Doug Jones). The seemingly benign faun introduces himself as the guardian of a gateway to a fantasy world and explains that Ofelia is a reincarnation the daughter of the king of the fairies, an almost-forgotten princess of a world hidden just out of sight of what she knows as reality. Ofelia, who in her heart has always suspected as much, listens intently as the faun gives her a series of tasks to perform, in order to prove herself worthy, open the doors to the lost kingdom and fulfil her destiny. With her mother is confined to bed, suffering from the long journey and the lack of adequate care, Ofelia is taken into the care of the good-hearted, brave housekeeper Mercedes (Maribel Verdú), a sister of the leader of the resistance committed to supplying the rebels with food and medicine from the army supply store. With the woods closing in around her, the lonely young girl is trapped; between childhood and adolescence, war and peace, between her dying mother and her raging adoptive father, between a sinister world of fantasy and a far more dangerous reality.

Del Toro expertly creates this dual universe; a magical fugue state of crumbling, ancient stone etched with arcane symbols, in harsh shadows and creaking wood peopled with fantastical creatures from the subconscious, and also his real, concrete world of infinite sadism, blind ideology and practical cruelty. His fluid control over both is exemplary. His lead actress, thirteen year old Banquero, gives a brilliant performance as the resourceful Ofelia, manifesting a child’s fears and uncertainties through little more than widened eyes and shortened breath. Beside her, Sergi López gives a startlingly monstrous performance as the wicked, ruthless fascist, a cunning, all-powerful executioner. This is a horror fantasy, as brutal and occasionally terrifying as the genre demands, but it is also a delicate allegory for Spain itself and the decades of totalitarian rule imposed on her people. Death is everywhere and hope is fleeting. There are moments in the film where redemption seems inevitable, with del Toro determined to whisk it away again before it can take root, just as he did in this film’s companion project, the little seen Devil’s Backbone. The film, photographed by Guillermo Navarro, looks astonishing with indelible creature effects and a finely crafted, all-pervading sense of unease, half-remembered mythologies and the true horror buried in the heart of even the sweetest fairy stories.

Robert Altman RIP

Robert Altman, one of America's finest directors and a wilful, cantankerous son of a bitch, died yesterday in LA. He was 81. Like Hitchcock and Scorsese, he had been nominated for the Best Director Oscar a total of five times (the last being for Gosford Park in 2001), but never won it.

Having had a heart transplant a decade ago, a fact he kept to himself, the academy gave him the honorary statuette last year, paying tribute to the genius behind M*A*S*H, McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Nashville, Short Cuts and The Player, just in time as it turned out.

Altman started out in industrials before Alfred Hitchcock gave him a start directing episodes of his television series in the 1950s and went on to direct innumerable television shows and about 40 features, some of them the finest American film of the past forty years and some of them, it has to be said, the worst. His latest, A Prairie Home Companion, is awaiting an Irish release. One of the first films I watched with properly adult eyes was Short Cuts, while a student in Limerick in 1993. It had a profound effect on me; being cynical and funny and strange and sad.

A true maverick, Altman was always good for a quote. I like this: "This business is run by accountants who, as long as a film makes $40 billion, don't give a shit if it kills the whole goddamn industry. Everything can also be shown so quickly in the home now - which means that the people who go to movie theaters are teenagers who just want to get out of the house. The audience has changed and the content has changed to suit that audience."

Bang on.

I had just cracked the spine on the copy of Altman On Altman I bought earlier this year in LA. Might leave it back on the shelf for a while, now.

Further Reading:
Eddie Copeland has a touching tribute
As does Dennis Cozzalio at Sergio Leone & The Infield Fly Rule
Keith Uhlich bows his head at The House Next Door
The Guardian's obituary

Busted Flush

Meet the new Bond, same as the old Bond. Blonde British actor Daniel Craig might be the current incarnation of Ian Fleming’s super spy, with the filmmakers set on re-inventing the suave agent for a new generation but in Casino Royale, the much-heralded changes are mostly cosmetic. The 40 year old franchise is again produced by the Broccoli family, directed by Goldeneye’s Martin Campbell and written by veteran Bond team Neil Purvis and Robert Wade. With the success of Matt Damon’s Bourne films, Bond was forced to contemporise, but the more they change, the more things stay the same.

After a short, violent, black and white sequence that explains how Bond earned his ‘double 0’ licence to kill, there follows some jarringly awful opening credits, an over-designed extravaganza relayed in silhouette, based on the four symbols from a deck of cards and a whirling roulette wheel. It is an ominous shambles, further undermined by a terribly bland stadium rock tune from Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell. The film then quickly switches to Bond’s first proper assignment, spying on terrorist suspects in Madagascar, and a hyper-kinetic, dizzying, chase scene through a building site inspired by the urban sport of ‘free-running’.

Bond’s mission soon leads him to the Bahamas, where he discovers the evil Le Chiffre (Danish star Mads Mikkelsen), who has put in place a plan to fund a series of terrorist attacks by staging a high-stakes poker game at the titular Casino Royale in Montenegro. With his handler M (Judi Dench) unconvinced by Bond’s methods, the $10million he is given to infiltrate the game comes accompanied by a minder from the Treasury, the beautiful Vesper Lynd (Eva Green). Bond soon allies himself with Mathis (Giancarlo Giannini), MI6’s local field agent, and Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) who is representing the interests of the CIA. These occasional asides do not distract from the long periods of boredom around the poker table. It would take some remarkable reinvention to make a poker game cinematically exciting again and it simply doesn’t happen here.

Craig is the first Bond since Connery to look like a killer. When Brosnan threw a punch, it was followed with a quip or a wave of his hanky. When Craig throws one it is followed with his forehead. I wasn’t fully convinced by the usually charismatic actor, but this is not all his fault. Casino Royale wants it both ways – to be tougher, more vital and more ‘realistic’ and at the same time sustain the fantasy of international intrigue, swooning beauties, luxury cars and the ultimate dream, death without consequence. The more the filmmakers try to ground the franchise, the further it sails away on the breeze. Bond shows his newfound nerve-endings in a brutal scene where Le Chiffre batters his scrotum with a knotted rope while the spy is tied to a chair. Rather than spend the remainder of the running time strapped to a packet of frozen peas, I was astonished to see the same man, in the next scene, saunter along the sands of Lake Garda without so much as a wince. A lot of blood, and a lot of it Craig’s, is spilled to remind us of the new Bond’s gritty humanity, but the story itself and its shiny presentation are so unnatural and mishandled they only go to remind us that we are watching a fiction.

Craig gives us a lot of piercing stares, his tiny blue eyes peering away at something in the distance as the camera holds his round head in close-up. I have no idea what he is looking at, his credibility disappearing over the horizon, perhaps. Where once there was Andress or Berry emerging from the surf, we now get Craig resplendent, a bulldog in speedos, squat and flexed and tilted forward as if constantly in motion. His action sequences are well executed, if a little repetitive, but the character’s newfound vulnerability, his determination to soul-search, leaves Craig looking occasionally unsure of himself.

There are deviations from the long-established Bond canon, most of them welcome. Green is not a typical giggling sex-object, she is smart and educated and very capable. The over-elaborate digital effects work the series had descended into – invisible cars, surfing tsunamis - have been dropped with what remains, for the most part, being utilised in an almost subtle manner. Q does not appear (and indeed no special attention is paid to the gadgets), replaced by an on-call team of boffins, none of them named Moneypenny, communicating with a tiny microchip buried in Bonds arm. As before, however, big-ticket brand names are showcased throughout; luxury cars, watches, couture clothing, with more attainable products, like mobile phones, laptops and family saloons benefiting from mini advertisement breaks all to themselves. Bond might have changed his face for a lumpier model, lost seven inches in height, gained seven in breadth and grown a pair, but his is still a licence to make a killing.

Rather than stand alone as a film, Casino Royale is an episode of a long-running serial, chopped up even further into bite sized chunks, a compendium of action scenes assembled around an immediately recognisable character. Scenes appear out of nowhere, and disappear back again just as quickly, without any impact on the overall momentum of the story. A final grand spectacle set in a crumbling Venetian villa rattles through the duplicities in double-quick time, leaving us with a conclusion of sorts. Having lost track of the thin story during the doldrums of the poker game, I wasn’t overly concerned, but there followed another ending, then another and then another. Then the new Bond stared out again for what felt like a solid minute and finally we heard John Barry’s theme, wrapping up this curiously back-to-front film. That’s not to deny that each of these endings, and indeed most of the work that preceded them, was efficiently presented, technically impressive and occasionally gripping, but they are not connected to one another with any strength. It’s very messy, and so long, at two hours and twenty minutes, that it’s eternal nature becomes an abstraction, another element of the whole phenomenon that doesn’t work.

Ride The Tiger

Things fall apart for Liam O’Leary, a millionaire property developer when he meets his doppelganger while stuck in a traffic jam, a sinister exact double that insidiously takes over his life in John Boorman’s snapshot of modern life in Ireland, The Tiger's Tale. Obsessed with finding out who this man is, and what he wants, O’Leary’s personal and professional lives quickly spiral out of control, as the double moves into Gleeson’s bank account, opulent mansion, boardroom and his wife’s (played by Kim Cattrall) bed. Now the Pauper to the impostor’s Prince, homeless and broke, O’Leary takes a journey of self discovery in an effort to patch up his fractured sense of identity.

Much of Tiger’s Tale is related with the heaviest of touches from Boorman, crashing and clanging through slow-moving panoramas of orgiastic debauchery and decadence. A lengthy scene through a nightclub, a stumble along the choked streets of Temple Bar and a visit to a hospital are all presented as the seventh circles of Hell through the unbroken steadicam of Seamus Deasy. O’Leary’s opulent home and free-spending lifestyle meets with nagging disapproval from his politically charged son, played by Gleeson’s own son Briain, manifested as short, undergraduate speeches about socialism and the exploitation of workers. Further clumsiness arrives when the impostor joins the unawares Jane in the marital bed, her initial vehement struggle against his attentions turning to coos of orgasmic delight. Boorman alone knows why this scene is played as it is, but it’s effect is to leave a very bad taste, further undermining Catrall, who up to that point had done little more than flick her hair and wobble her accent. Another clanger comes later, when a suspected “barbiturate” overdose by the already floundering junior Gleeson brings the family to the ground zero of A&E.

There is no doubting Boorman and Gleeson’s sincere anger; they are clearly pointing the finger at the lop-sided, selfish society we have created from a decade of prosperity, with an enormous gap between the haves and the have nots, our dilapidated services and our choked infrastructure. Boorman, who has lived here since the 1970s, and is in his seventies himself, is absolutely correct in a lot of what he is saying; the trouble is his argument is so inarticulately expressed and clumsily played. Continuing his long-running collaboration with the director, Brendan Gleeson plays both the boorish millionaire and the Geordie impostor with the same wide-eyed gusto, steadily racking up the hysterics even as the script collapses beneath him. The actor is at his best in the quiet moments, sipping tea at dusk at a farmhouse table or ducking beneath the breakers while swimming in the sea. The rest of the time he seems uncomfortable and uncertain, not helped by the broadest of supporting performances from Sinead Cusack as the troubled older sister and Cathy Belton and Sean McGinley as O’Leary’s loyal staff.

I Started Something

In Starter For Ten, working-class Essex-boy Brian Jackson (James McAvoy), has always been obsessed with trivia, growing up watching University Challenge on TV throughout the 70s and early 80s. When he passes his exams and gets accepted to Bristol, he leaves behind his widowed mother (Catherine Tate), and best friend Spencer (Dominic Cooper). At a fresher’s week party Brian meets the beret-wearing, right on Rebecca (Rebecca Hall, who also features in The Prestige). Just as something might happen between them, his head is turned by the snooty, stunning blonde Alice (Alice Eve), who is also his team-mate on the Bristol University Challenge squad. The story plays out against the background of the tricky TV quiz, as young Brian works out his priorities, romantic and academic, learning life lessons along the way.

Starter for Ten is scripted by David Nicholls from his own comic novel, once recommended by the Richard & Judy book club. That might tell you more than you need to know about the by-the-numbers plotting of the rites-of-passage story, easy meat for the mid-afternoon crowd, with the added nostalgia of Doc Martens, black leggings and fingerless gloves underlined by an eclectic greatest hits soundtrack. Debut director Tom Vaughan initially takes the traditional approach to his British romantic comedy, establishing new surroundings and exciting changes that lead to initially embarrassing romantic situations, betrayal of friendship and an epiphany of some sort, preferably during a rainstorm. Flipping a few of these standards on their heads in the last act might be clever, but the overall effects are negligible when capped with a last-minute realisation of the true love that was there, all along, under the hero’s nose, over his wry grin.

The airy tone, nuggets of droll observation and rising talent McAvoy’s earnest performance go some of the way towards making up for these deficits, but not completely. The film is never less than perfectly amiable and chugs along at a fair pace, but finds it difficult to sustain much in the way of enthusiasm. Highlights of the sideline performances are The League of Gentlemen’s Mark Gatiss’ uncanny impression of pre-Paxman presenter Bamber Gascoigne; an inquisitive, bubble-permed squirrel, and the delightfully named Benedict Cumberbatch as the pompous idiot team captain.

Repent in Dust and Ashes

Brian Kirk’s gloomy Northern Irish gothic Middletown is the story of a squat, fogbound village, marooned in what might be the 1960s, visited by an avenging angel. Fifteen years before, young Gabriel Hunter (Tyrone McKenna) is told he has been called by God for a higher purpose in life. After a spell on the African Missions, Gabriel, now played by Matthew MacFadyen, comes back to Middletown to take over the local church, with his father Bill (Gerard McSorley), brother Jim (Daniel Mays) and his wife Caroline (Eva Birthistle) waiting at a dinner in his honour.

It doesn’t take long for the zealous young minister – the film doesn’t specify a denomination, although he is clearly Protestant - to discover that things in town have changed in his absence. The people have neglected the church and taken to drinking, gambling and cockfighting, mostly in the local pub, run by the heavily-pregnant, turquoise mini-skirted Caroline. With a name derived from the archangel of God and a nod to Charles Laughton’s The Night of the Hunter, Gabriel wastes no time in explaining to his congregation that they are hypocrites and sinners who must change their ways or face damnation. Bible-thumper or not, he’s right. Middletown is a nasty place, sharp-tongued and violent, peopled with sleeveens and ignoramuses that, for the most part, deserve what’s coming to them.

Director Kirk builds an atmosphere of steeply arched gothic, angling his camera from the rafters of the pokey church or shadowed under the low lintel of the pub door. There is an insistent sense of physical discomfort throughout the film; from the mildewed, cramped interiors to the itch of the wet woollen costumes and the straight backs demanded by hard wooden pews. There is no succour for the infirm either; corrective eye-patches, crutches and unchecked aches and twinges go to remind the parishioners that their deliverance will not come from science.

Daragh Carville’s screenplay begins as a drama about the chasm that exists between the ideals of a fundamentalist church and the reality of life as people live it, but ultimately wanders back to more familiar genre territory. Without some element of a personal history or any sense of humanity (even a simple mark like the ‘Love’ and ‘Hate’ etched on Robert Mitchum’s lumpy knuckles), Gabriel’s mission loses its spiritual dimension and becomes a procedural psychotic rampage. There are hints at a greater darkness, like a scene where the minister furiously scrubs his bare chest with wire-wool, but this territory isn’t explored in detail. There’s no mistaking Macfadyen’s blank-eyed conviction, whatever its source, but in the clunky melodramas that follow, he is a one-dimensional zealot, a stiff, lifeless cipher.

Better is Daniel Mays performance as the craven second-born son Jim, who can’t afford to get his house built and is smuggling diesel for spare cash. A graduate of the reflexive, freewheeling films of Mike Leigh and Ken Loach, Mays has a mobile face, quick and expressive. Eva Birthistle gives another rich performance as the independent, quick-to-anger Caroline, a woman who fights for her rights to make her own decisions but allows the men of the village to hold weekly cockfights in her cellar to sell more beer. Of the rest of the cast, Richard Dormer as Skinner, a grotesque butcher and Sorcha Cusack as Caroline’s protective mother give sturdy support. A mournful Mick Lally as the retiring former minister drops out understandably early but Bronagh Gallagher is lost in the background of a handful of crowd scenes, an oddly silent, anonymous presence.

I Like!

For those seven of you who don’t know, Borat Sagdiyev is the creation of British comedian Sascha Baron Cohen who, like his other alter-ego Ali G, makes the transition from small screen to big in the extravagantly, extraordinarily titled Cultural Learnings of America For Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, but for those of you who remember In Da House, this time with considerably more comic effect.

Opening with a quick introduction to life in his impoverished village in impoverished Kazakhstan, proudly displaying his VCR and cassette player in the rundown shack he shares with a cow, Borat makes some quick introductions to his over-friendly sister, the fourth best prostitute in the country and his terrifying wife, who despises him, before announcing that the Ministry of Culture are to send him to make a documentary about the US and A. Enough of a storyline to satisfy our need for a consecutive narrative and sustain a stream of gags kicks in once Borat arrives in America, figures out the television in his hotel room and happens upon a rerun of Baywatch. The camera holds on his face, a picture of wonder, as Pamela Anderson bounces across the screen in slow-motion. Abandoning all other committments (the government, his journalistic integrity, the education of his nation), right there and then, Borat instead buys an ice-cream van and starts out on a road-trip, across the country to LA to find and marry the buxom babe with his flapping producer Azamat (Ken Davitian) and a huge brown bear in tow.

At the first stop on the road-trip, at a rodeo in Virginia, through a monumental lapse in somebody's concentration, Borat is allowed to address the crowd for a few minutes on the topic of the war in Iraq, before then singing the Star Spangled Banner, the traditional kickstart to public events in the US. The crowd clap politely while the heavily accented Borat endorses their “war of terror” and cheer when he wishes “George Bush drink the blood of every man, woman and child in Iraq”. The booing starts when, instead of the familiar lyrics, he sings a song about Kazakhstan potassium production over the lilting air. It goes on for a few minutes. In the background, startled by the unfamiliar noise, a flag-toting cowgirl falls from her horse in surprise in a brilliantly poetic accidental moment, and the scene ends. So it goes, scene after scene of hilarious inappropriateness, with barely a dull moment. He crashes around an antiques store, causing a couple of hundred dollars of damage. He shits in a bag and brings it to a swanky Southern society dinner table. He hatches a romantic plan that however deranged, is not beyond most men's daydreams. The Pamela Anderson scenes, most obviously, are scripted, but other than that there is a fair bit of predestined material. The best of it, however, and that is still most of it, is improvised. Although you and I are in on the joke, the people Borat meets along the way have no reason not to believe he is exactly as he says, a foreign documentary maker, making a real film. In a way, he is. Borat’s apparent innocence, his air of professional earnestness and initial willingness to learn and adapt make him irresistible to those willing to rise to the bait. Although coming for the most part from a sincere place, the well-meaning default setting of the typical American, some of the people he meets are dangerously easily prompted into agreeing with Borat’s racist, bigoted opinions. Some try to explain how things are different in the West. Some, probably the smart ones, just run screaming.

In the expert hands of Curb Your Enthusiasm director Larry Charles, Borat covers all the comedy bases in a rapid-fire 80-odd minutes, although most of his job involved pointing the camera and keeping it in focus. It's the Borat show, and this is sublime physical work – his walk is astonishing, his jumping idiot’s face and flapping hands are all-revealing. As carefully assembled as Chaplin’s Tramp, he creates an immediate effect in his rank polyester suit, square shoes, bushy head and broad moustache. His blathering, seemingly stream-of-consciousness dialogue is always hilarious and always beautifully timed. Baron Cohen’s ability to remain in character under the greatest duress and come up with the killer gag time and again is extraordinary to see. Busy outraging a panel of distinguished New York feminists with his stone-age beliefs, in a delicious aside, he asks one of them to “smile, baby”. Her jaw hangs open in astonishment, and yours will too.

To further pile on the embarrassment there are a few no-holds-barred gross-out scenes. He has Western bathroom etiquette explained to him in detail by a Southern Belle and wrestles his despoiling producer naked through a crowded hotel lobby in a riotous scene, done in a single unbroken take. On the issue of anti-Semetism, Baron Cohen is Jewish, so is perfectly entitled to mine this seam for humour in the same way as, say, Tommy Tiernan casts his yellow eye on the Irish. Anyway, it's not about Borat, really. Under the cover of his broken English and equally fractured grin, spitting out his enthusiastic catchphrases and requesting high-fives, the nub of it is that these people can believe for a moment any of Borat’s excitable, offensive ramblings; that ‘in my country’ women are kept in cages, people drink fermented horse urine and there is a man with 182 teeth in his head. No matter how outrageous and offensive Borat is, there is an American willing to match him. It's funny all the way through, but the kicker is that Borat's bottomless ignorance is being used to expose shades of the same bigotry and racism in those people he meets along the way. I would hate to think what dark corners he'd find if Borat walked the streets of Ireland asking the plain people of Ireland about knackers or immigrants, or table manners for that matter, but Baron Cohen choses his own targets. He gives America the rope, but they hang themselves.

UPDATE: Joe Queenan is a fucking idiot.
FURTHER UPDATE: Except for the opening paragraphs about Life Is Beautiful. He's bang on there, even if I don't really see the connection.