By Lynn Venhaus
The highly anticipated sequel to 2006’s “Borat” is similarly equal parts offensive, outrageous and hilarious.

The original mockumentary was so shocking and different that it earned an Oscar nomination for screenplay and a Golden Globe for Sacha Baron Cohen as Best Actor in a Comedy.

This time, however, we’re in on the joke. The film’s original title: “Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to the American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan” has been finessed.This is a follow-up centering on the real-life adventures of a fictional Kazakh television journalist. But this time it is more political as he travels across the South, first starting in Texas.

Baron Cohen is recognized during his antics in character, so he dons wigs and fat suits to play rednecks and American dads — and even puts on a “McDonald Trump” costume to disrupt a Mike Pence speaking engagement at CPAC.

With eight screenwriters — including Baron Cohen and some familiar names going way back to his “Da Ali G Show” days, the episodic journey is scattershot. Even at 95 minutes, director Jason Woliner’s style is choppy and uneven.

The intrepid reporter Borat, trying to redeem his honor in his country of Kazahkstan, picks too easy targets in devout Christian, flag-flying MAGA hat-wearing country, where people think the coronavirus is a hoax, they bring guns to picnics and they give this foreigner the side eye.

Always shedding light on anti-Semitism, Borat has a cake decorated with “Jews will not replace us.” That is his satirical way of taking on bigotry.

In the credits, Baron Cohen honors Holocaust Survivor Judith Dim Evans (1932 – 2020), who is in the synogogue scene but died shortly before the film’s release. “I feel obligated to be a good person and to bring good to the world. We owe the dead,” he quotes her saying.

As a “gotcha” journalism parody, the film skewers sacred cows and excesses in American life. The crude and lewd content is designed to make us squirm.

As with the other film, I’m uncomfortable when he is making fun of ordinary people who aren’t in on the joke, but I’m OK when people who deserve it get their comeuppance. And this time, there are some regular folk who can barely contain their smile at being part of a Borat film, so we know they are willing participants.

Baron Cohen is fearless, and he loves to stir things up. The jaw-dropping scene where daughter Tutar (aka Sandra Jessica Parker Sagdeyev), poses as a reporter for a conservative TV show, “Patriot Reports.” is now the much-talked about “shirt-tucking” incident with Trump attorney Rudy Guiliani.

I can’t unsee what I saw, and Guiliani shamelessly flirts with Tutar (Bulgarian actress Maria Bakalova) during the interview, and then when she asked “Shall we have a drink in the bedroom?”, he follows her into the room. Borat, dressed in skimpy under-garments, saves the day.

That is only a fraction of the film, but it’s the one making headlines during this election cycle.

Baron Cohen, whose versatility as a supporting performer is obvious — Thenardier in “Les Miserables,” Pirelli in “Sweeney Todd” and recently, Abbie Hoffman in “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” delights in being as silly as possible in his own character creations. 

Actually, the movie becomes a female empowerment statement near the end, and Bakalova and Baron Cohen work well together as daughter and father duo.

In a bizarre year, the fact that Baron Cohen can’t make up stuff that is more absurd than reality really says something.

“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” is a comedy directed by Jason Woliner and written by Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Dan Swimer, Peter Baynham, Erica Rivinoja,Dan Mazer, Jena Friedman, Lee Kern . It stars Sacha Baron Cohen, Maria Bakalova and others as themselves.
Rated R for pervasive strong crude and sexual content, graphic nudity and language, run-time is 1 hr. 36 min. Lynn’s Grade: B

By Lynn Venhaus

A civics lesson for the ages, writer-director Aaron Sorkin’s riveting account of “The Trial of the Chicago 7” is a potent examination of injustice during a politically charged time of civil disobedience. Through the lens of a riveting courtroom drama, the film is an acting showcase and one of the best films of the year.

And because the maestro is Sorkin, the film is also a discourse on cultural revolution and political theater, all while working in the confines of a true story. Because it is not a documentary, some of the timeline jumps around and incidents are embellished, but trial transcripts are used, along with archival footage, to create an authentic portrait.

In August 1968, several activist groups opposed to the Vietnam War converged at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago – the Students for a Democratic Society led by Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne) and Rennie Davis (Alex Sharp), the Youth International Party (Yippies) led by radical revolutionaries Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen) and Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong) and the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam (MOBE), led by older conscientious objector David Dellinger (John Carroll Lynch).  Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), leader of the Black Panthers, is also present but not connected with the others. They, along with eventually acquitted Lee Weiner (Noah Robbins) and John Froines (Danny Flaherty), are the Chicago 8. Seal’s case would later be declared a mistrial, thus leaving seven.

Demonstrators violently clashed with police in and around Grant Park, which was captured on live television and the reason for a courtroom circus the next year after Nixon was elected President. Using a new law, the eight are charged with conspiracy to cross state lines to incite a riot. 

The infamous 1969 trial, orchestrated by Nixon’s Department of Justice, is presided over by Judge Julius Hoffman (Frank Langella). The legal eagles are civil rights attorney William Kunstler (Mark Rylance) and Ben Weinglass (Leonard Shenkman) for the defense and Justice Department prosecutors Richard Schultz (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Thomas Foran (J.C. MacKenzie).

The Trial of the Chicago 7. Mark Rylance as William Kunstler, Eddie Redmayne as Tom Hayden in The Trial of the Chicago 7. Cr. Niko Tavernise/NETFLIX © 2020

The casting is impeccable. Sorkin’s breakthrough was the play “A Few Good Men” in 1989, later a movie. Known for “The West Wing,” he won an Oscar for best adapted screenplay for “The Social Network.” With his fast-paced dialogue and customary insightful monologues, Sorkin’s original screenplay now vaults to leading awards contender. It is a marvel of nuance and first amendment passion, focusing on change – how people make it happen.

Sorkin immerses us in the atmosphere of the ’60s volatile times, as dissent grew throughout the country. Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated in April, followed by the killing of presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Bobby Kennedy two months later. More anti-war activists took to the streets when the conflict in Southeast Asia escalated. But “the Establishment” attacked free speech and peaceful protests, fearing anarchy and widespread unrest.

His dialogue, nimbly spoken by this extraordinary ensemble, astutely advances character development and shows the duality of law – when it works in a courtroom, and when it doesn’t. With such a large cast, Sorkin has managed to bring out the distinct personalities of the iconoclast rebels.

Sorkin has shrewdly opted to concentrate only on the present with the major defendants, providing little backstory to their rise as movement leaders. While everyone snugly fits their roles, stand-outs are Eddie Redmayne as fervent Tom Hayden, convinced working inside the system is the right conduit for progress, and Sacha Baron Cohen as the mouthy disrupter Abbie Hoffman, who mastered media for his own purposes. Their different approaches lead to confrontations but ultimately, they are on the same page.

As the clearly biased tyrannical judge, Frank Langella is chilling as a man who thinks he does not discriminate but his cruelty to Seale suggests otherwise. Mark Rylance, Oscar winner for the 2015 “The Bridge of Spies” and three-time Tony Award winner, will likely score nominations for his remarkable portrayal of impassioned lawyer William Kunstler.

Abdul-Mateen II, who won an Emmy for HBO’s “Watchman,” is powerful in his silence as Seale and bears the brunt of the injustice during the trial. Seale, who co-founded the Black Panthers in 1966, was just in Chicago to give a speech and did not know the other guys.

Alex Sharp excels as the dedicated Rennie Davis, who is less flashy than the other counterculture activists but whose involvement is significant nonetheless. Sharp won a Tony Award for “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” in 2105.

Sorkin had only directed once before, 2017’s “Molly’s Game,” an uneven but interesting account of a true story. For this legal drama, he keeps the courtroom scenes taut and the street scenes intense and chaotic.

Sorkin gets terrific assistance from cinematographer Phedon Papamichael, who shot last year’s “Ford v. Ferrari,” and editor Alan Baumgarten, known for other Sorkin films and “American Hustle.” Composer Daniel Pemberton scores the action with the right tempo without using popular protest music from the times.

As an important acknowledgement of this case in America’s evolution, “The Trial of the Chicago 7” conveys precious civil liberties. And demonstrates what makes compelling stories – Americans speaking out, what inspires revolution and why civil discourse matters.

Sasha Baron Cohen and Jeremy Strong as Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin

“The Trial of the Chicago 7” is a courtroom drama based on real events, directed and written by Aaron Sorkin. It starts Eddie Redmayne, Frank Langella, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jeremy Strong, John Carroll Lynch, Alex Sharp, Michael Keaton, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, J.C. MacKenzie and Ben Schenkman. Rated: R for language throughout, some violence, bloody images and drug us, The runtime is 2 hr. 10 min. Lynn’s Grade: A
Available in select theatres Oct. 9 and on Netflix Oct. 16.