152: The Dictator

Sacha Baron Cohen became a household name when he burst onto the global comedic scene with Borat, a brilliant piece of social commentary. It was one of my favorite movies of 2006. He tried to replicate this same formula with Brüno, a look at the fashion industry that was rife with vulgarities and incredibly unfunny comedy. I never even finished watching Brüno, I thought it was that bad. I hoped Cohen would be able to rectify the Brüno debacle with The Dictator, but regrettably it is nothing short of a disappointment.

This time around Cohen dresses himself up as a dictator from a smaller Arabic country modeled after every single stereotype there is to be found based on that region. He has a long beard, shoots people at will and even manages to change certain words in their language, which of course makes no sense at all, but that is besides the point.

Dictator Aladeen (Cohen) is troubled. He is troubled because it seems like democracy is about to be introduced in his country. He flies off to New York to plead his case in front of the United Nations, but once there he is kidnapped and replaced by one of his doubles. Stripped of everything he owns he must find a way to stop democracy from winning. That’s when he meets Zoey (Anna Faris), the ‘manager’ of a coop in Brooklyn, who is under the impression that Saladeen, or Efawadh, is a dissident who is fighting against the Saladeen regime.

There is potential here for some great comedy and don’t get me wrong, there are some really great scenes (the helicopter scene is hilarious), but for the most part Cohen and his writing partners choose to take the easy way out by resorting to gross-out humor and easy puns. It becomes tedious to watch so much comedic potential be wasted on material like this. Faris, especially, deserves a lot better than this.

When I watched Borat for the first time I was amused, repulsed, intrigued and ashamed all at the same time. It was an intelligent criticism of culture and society in general. I hoped The Dictator could shed some comedic light on the issues the world has with the Middle Eastern region (and vice versa of course). Cohen unfortunately went for the low hanging fruit and wasn’t willing to dig a little deeper to find the real comedic gold.

> IMDb


126: Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

What if you had to eat sardines for the rest of your life? You would start to invent some machine to change your fate, right? And Flint Lockwood happens to be an inventor who has been thinking up stuff his whole life. Shoes with laces that don’t come undone, the remoteless television, ratbirds and now the Flint Lockwood Diatonic Super Mutating Dynamic Food Replicator or FLDSMDFR, for short. This contraption is capable of creating anything that is considered food. From hamburger to steaks, from ice cream to spaghetti with meatballs. Exactly the thing a sardine-ridden island needs, right?

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is as quirky as the premise make it seem. This is an animated movie without boundaries and I love it. Cloudy is like nothing I had seen before. At first it was a little unsettling. The characters are very cartoony, the colors are so bright it almost hurts your eyes and the story is so out there you really need to rewire your brain to make sense of it. Once you have done that you can let the wacky nature of Cloudy wash over you. Phil Lord and Chris Miller based their screenplay on a children’s book of the same name by Judi Barrett, but did not adopt its visual style. They went with a very different look, a look I actually prefer over the book.

I have now seen Cloudy numerous times, because my kids love it so much. While other movies have the tendency to become annoying after twenty or so viewings, Cloudy doesn’t seem to do that. With every viewing (mostly from the corner of my eye while doing other stuff) I discover new jokes, visual details, and other brilliant bits that escaped me on all those earlier viewings. It is a virtual smörgåsbord of hidden references and snappy dialogue. It is not often that a movie can stay surprising for such a long time.

While being incredibly funny Cloudy is also a great morality tale for the youngsters (and old folk) out there. It teaches them to respect and admire that which you have over what you desire. Flint is so occupied with creating this brilliant new future for his community that he starts to neglect his relationship with his father, whose business almost goes belly up due to Flint’s inventions. And it teaches kids that being yourself is always better than presenting yourself as something you are not, as Anna Faris’ Sam finds out. There is a beautiful layer of wise truths to be found underneath all that happens in Cloudy. I heartily recommend Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs to anyone who hasn’t seen it and to anyone who has seen it I say, go revisit it. You will not be disappointed.

> IMDb