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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Sacha Baron Cohen

'The Dictator' offers iron-fisted, ham-handed laughs, critics say

May 16, 2012 |  3:21 pm

"The Dictator"

In "The Dictator," Sacha Baron Cohen combines his knack for absurd characters with the long-standing comedic tradition of skewering despotism on the big screen (see also: Charlie Chaplin's "The Great Dictator," the Marx Brothers' "Duck Soup," Woody Allen's "Bananas"). Critics mostly agree that "The Dictator," which stars Baron Cohen as the iron-fisted ruler of a fictional North African country, is funny and vulgar, but whether the combination truly works depends on whom you ask.

The Times' Betsy Sharkey says "The Dictator" is "by turns hysterical, heretical, guilty, innocent, silly, sophisticated, teasing and tedious." She adds that in the wake of the Arab Spring, "the satire should feel especially relevant, but there is so much silliness it's hard to take anything here that seriously." Baron Cohen's physical comedy creates some laughs, as does his chemistry with co-star Ben Kingsley, but Anna Faris, playing against type as a crunchy New York hippie, "is the film's standout." In the end, however, Sharkey says it may be time for Baron Cohen to try something new, as "it's hard not to think that this particular joke has gone on too long."

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Cannes 2012: Festival turns 65 with a lineup heavy on U.S. titles

May 16, 2012 |  5:00 am

Cannes Film Festival

If all film festivals are balancing acts, it stands to reason that the annual extravaganza at Cannes, likely the world's most celebrated cinematic event, has more to balance than most. Especially this year.

Opening Wednesday night with Wes Anderson's oddly endearing “Moonrise Kingdom,” Cannes is celebrating its 65th anniversary this year and marking that milestone by embracing all kinds of opposites: old and young, dramatic and documentary, commercial and politically committed, avant-garde and classic, even American and not.

The U.S. presence seems especially strong, starting with the official poster, an Otto Bettmann photo of a luminous Marilyn Monroe blowing out a birthday cake candle. An 80- by 40-foot version looms impossibly large on an outside wall of the Palais des Festivals, while the building's inside walls feature photos of other Hollywood luminaries, including Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth, Clark Gable and Judy Garland, even Marlene Dietrich and Ernst Lubitsch, having a go at birthday cakes of their own.

Cheat Sheet: Cannes Film Festival 2012

On one level, American films are thick in the main competition, with a roster that includes new movies by Lee Daniels, who is following his Oscar-winning drama “Precious” with “The Paperboy,” and Jeff Nichols, whose “Mud” comes after the acclaimed apocalyptic meditation “Take Shelter.”

But some of the most eagerly anticipated American films — Walter Salles' take on Jack Kerouac's legendary “On the Road,” Andrew Dominik's Brad Pitt-starring “Killing Them Softly” (based on George V. Higgins' “Cogan's Trade”) and John Hillcoat's Prohibition era “Lawless” — were all directed by filmmakers who hail from other countries.

Speaking of elsewhere, new films are also on offer from such stalwarts as France's Jacques Audiard (“Rust & Bone”), Italy's Matteo Garrone (“Reality,” following up on “Gomorrah”), Britain's Ken Loach (“The Angels' Share”) and Austria's Michael Haneke (the Isabelle Huppert-starring “Amour”).

The honor of being the oldest director in the competition goes to 89-year-old Alain Resnais, here with the puckishly titled “You Haven't Seen Anything Yet.” Considerably younger, with films in the Un Certain Regard section, are debuting Americans Adam Leon, whose “Gimme the Loot” took the grand jury prize at this year's South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas, and Benh Zeitlin, whose “Beasts of the Southern Wild” did the same at Sundance in January.

Straddling the young-old divide in a personal way are Canadian director David Cronenberg, in competition with the Robert Pattinson-starring “Cosmopolis” from the Don DeLillo novel, and his son Brandon, in Un Certain Regard with the thriller “Antiviral.”

Though the world's artier directors are always to be found at the festival, Cannes is also determined to embroil itself in the commercial side of things, which it does by scheduling the animated adventure “Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted” in an out-of-competition slot.

Then there are the numerous billboards for features that dot the city's streets and the fronts of hotels. Most noticeable this year is the way names that were considered edgy once upon a time have now become commercial enough to merit major-league spending.

Billboards could be seen not only for Quentin Tarantino's “Django Unchained” but also for Harmony Korine's “Spring Breakers.” And who should look right at home in the prime real estate of the entrance to the Carlton Hotel but Sacha Baron Cohen in full Admiral General Aladeen regalia for his satirical comedy “The Dictator.” Thus pass the bad boys of the world.

Perhaps even more startling, however, is the recent announcement from Canada's Alliance Films that it would charge Canadian journalists for interview access to the stars of some of the company's films.

If this is starting to sound all too frivolous, Cannes has political antidotes all ready to go. There will be a special screening of “The Oath of Tobruk,” Bernard-Henri Levy's doc about the fall of Moammar Kadafi, with “four key figures of the Libyan revolution” in attendance.

Closer to home is “The Central Park Five,” a quietly devastating documentary co-directed by Ken Burns, his daughter Sarah Burns and her husband, David McMahon, that examines how and why five innocent teenagers ended up being convicted of and imprisoned for the savage rape of a jogger in New York's Central Park in a case that became an international media sensation.

If you view film as a refuge from the cares of the real world, Cannes is ready for you as well. The ever-expanding Cannes Classics section features an impressive variety of restorations, including Alfred Hitchcock's silent “The Ring,” a 4-hour, 13-minute reconstruction of Sergio Leone's “Once Upon a Time in America” and Andrei Konchalovsky's aptly named “Runaway Train.”

Also, there are master class lectures by director Philip Kaufman (here with HBO's “Hemingway & Gellhorn” starring Nicole Kidman and Clive Owen) and 97-year-old Norman Lloyd, who has seen a lot (he co-founded the Mercury Theater with Welles) and remembers it all.


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— Kenneth Turan

Photo: A giant canvas of the official poster of the 65th Cannes Film Festival featuring Marilyn Monroe. Credit: Stephane Reix / EPA.

Anna Faris knows 'Dictator' star only as 'Supreme Leader'

May 1, 2012 |  6:00 am

Anna Faris is named Comedy Star of the Year at CinemaCon
Sacha Baron Cohen made headlines when he surprised theater owners at CinemaCon in Las Vegas last week, storming into Caesar's Palace dressed as Gen. Adm. Aladeen and ragging on Hollywood executives and studios.

Anna Faris, the actor's costar in "The Dictator" — about the ruler of the fictional Republic of Wadiya — said she was just as taken aback as the crowd by his antics. Cohen didn't inform her about the publicity stunt in Las Vegas — nor the one he pulled with Ryan Seacrest at the Academy Awards earlier this year — because Faris says she barely talks to the actor out of character.

"In fact, when my husband [Chris Pratt] and I went to the Oscars, I saw [Sacha] ahead of me and I was like, 'Honey, we just have to avoid him.' I just knew that he was going to be up to something," the actress recalled last week at CinemaCon, where she was named comedy star of the year.

Working on set with Cohen, Faris said, was often bizarre because the actor would only be addressed as "Supreme Leader."

"You definitely know when he's on set. It's like, 'Oh, OK, he's here now,'" she said. "He's incredibly kind, but he was in character most of the time. ... It is really weird."

In the film, Faris plays the owner of a Brooklyn co-op who helps guide the general when he is stranded in New York City. It was an unglamorous role for the actress, who grew out her armpit hair and donned a short, brown wig for the part.

"It was a fun, liberating look — it has an androgynous feel," she explained. "She just doesn't really have any concern for wardrobe or fashion. I loved it. For an actress, it was like, 'Oh, OK, so I can have the doughnuts at craft service.' "


Sacha Baron Cohen targets Ryan Seacrest

CinemaCon: 'The Dictator' rips Jeffrey Katzenberg, Rich Ross

Sacha Baron Cohen follows Oscars stunt with new Paramount deal

— Amy Kaufman


Photo: Anna Faris is named comedy star of the year at CinemaCon 2012. Credit: Chris Pizzello / Associated Press.

CinemaCon: 'The Dictator' rips Jeffrey Katzenberg, Rich Ross

April 23, 2012 | 11:13 pm

CinemaCon isn't big on surprises. The four-day convention held by the National Assn. of Theatre Owners in Las Vegas is typically pretty predictable: Distribution executives shill their studios' upcoming movies, while exhibitors offer up polite enthusiasm in response to new trailers and footage.

That all changed Monday night, when Sacha Baron Cohen shocked the audience as he strolled into the Caesar's Palace Coliseum during Paramount Pictures' opening night presentation. Dressed as Gen. Adm. Aladeen, the fictional Middle Eastern ruler he plays in the upcoming film "The Dictator," he walked into the auditorium flanked by two soldiers carrying faux guns and two attractive women outfitted in army fatigues.

"How much for your daughter?" he jokingly asked one member of the crowd as he approached the stage.

Referring to CinemaCon as "Cinnabon," he asserted his love for the movies he'd seen in the so-called Republic of Wadiya, his empire: "When Harry Killed Sally," "14-Year-Old Virgin" and the "family comedy 'Planet of the Rapes.' "

But it was his jabs at Hollywood that elicited the biggest gasps from the room. Among his targets? DreamWorks Animation chief Jeffrey Katzenberg and recently departed Walt Disney Studios chairman Rich Ross.

For Katzenberg, who had just finished his presentation promoting "Madagascar 3" and "Rise of the Guardians," Cohen had this to say: "I thought I was the only dictator speaking tonight. So imagine my surprise when I found out that Jeffrey Katzenberg was speaking. He rules with an iron fist."

He then began threatening the exhibitors to put "The Dictator" in their theaters, or else he said he might detonate imaginary bombs underneath their seats.

"Is that chewing gum underneath your seat? Certainly they are not plastic explosives," he teased. "Trust me, there are bigger bombs than 'John Carter.' Just shoot the executive behind that. Oh -- wait, you did," he said, referring to Ross' recent departure from Disney.

But perhaps the harshest zinger was aimed at Steven Spielberg's DreamWorks. To urge CinemaCon attendees to see a screening of "The Dictator" later Monday evening, Cohen promised free Rolexes, blood diamonds, and young girls -- "or boys, if you are from DreamWorks."

And Ryan Seacrest thought he had it bad.


Sacha Baron Cohen targets Ryan Seacrest

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Sacha Baron Cohen follows Oscars stunt with new Paramount deal

--Amy Kaufman in Las Vegas


Photo: Sacha Baron Cohen attends the 2012 Oscars dressed as "The Dictator." Credit: Matt Sayles / Associated Press

'The Dictator' moves off 'Dark Shadows' release date

April 9, 2012 |  3:13 pm

The Dictator moved off of Dark Shadows date
It turns out that even "The Dictator" is fearful of the power of Johnny Depp.

To avoid sharing a release date with Depp's "Dark Shadows," Paramount Pictures has decided to release the comedy about a dictator from a fictional Middle Eastern country on May 16 -- five days later than originally planned.

Paramount decided upon the last-minute move because the studio felt both the film starring Sacha Baron Cohen and "Dark Shadows" were comedies that would have to fight for the same audience. The Depp movie, produced by Warner Bros. and directed by Tim Burton, follows a vampire who is transported from the 1700s to the 1970s. A recent trailer for the picture revealed the film may have a lighter bent than previously imagined, featuring Depp's out-of-place character becoming acquainted with '70s staples like television and the Carpenters' hit single "Top of the World."

Now, "The Dictator" will play on a weekend against Universal Pictures' action film "Battleship" -- which is hoping to attract both genders and all ages -- and Lionsgate's female-centric "What to Expect When You're Expecting." Though  the movie about pregnancy is also a comedy, Paramount believes that it will appeal to young women and that "The Dictator" will do best with young men.

"The Dictator" was initially scheduled for release  May 11, and "Dark Shadows" later moved to the date. As my colleague Patrick Goldstein recently noted, Warner Bros. is "the most aggressive studio when it comes to jumping onto other studio dates." The studio is planning to release a number of its upcoming films on the same date as other studio blockbusters, including "Hangover 3," which will hit theaters on the same day as Universal’s “Fast & Furious 6.”


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-- Amy Kaufman


Photo: Sacha Baron Cohen and Megan Fox star in "The Dictator." Credit: Paramount Pictures

Oscars 2012: Sacha Baron Cohen not barred — yet

February 22, 2012 |  4:52 pm

Sacha Baron Cohen in "Hugo"

Sacha Baron Cohen, the master of buffoon antics, seems to do a good job of stirring up publicity for his upcoming film "The Dictator," using the Oscars as a peg.

Not that "The Dictator" is a likely nominee for the 2013 awards. But Cohen, who did appear in this year's best picture nominee "Hugo," had been expected to attend the show Sunday as part of that film's contingent.

Word started going around Tuesday, though, that Cohen would walk the red carpet disguised as General Aladeen, his character from "The Dictator."

While red-carpet reporters are always keen to ask stars about their upcoming projects, the academy frowns on the idea of promoting future movies during the Oscars; for instance, presenters of awards are never introduced as "star of the upcoming film.... "

Academy of Motion Pictures President Tom Sherak told The Times that he called Paramount Pictures, the studio distributing "The Dictator" (as well as "Hugo"), and told them "it's a bad thing to do" because it would make a mockery of the red carpet.

Paramount representatives declined to comment on the matter. But sources suggested that the studio may be claiming it is unable to control the star of its big summer release, in which Cohen plays a political strongman working to ensure that democracy never comes to his oppressed nation.

Reports circulated Wednesday afternoon that the academy had pulled Cohen's tickets for the Oscars, but an academy spokeswoman said no decision on the matter had been made and they were trying to learn more about Cohen's intentions.


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— Nicole Sperling and John Horn

Photo: Asa Butterfield plays Hugo Cabret and Sacha Baron Cohen portrays the station inspector in the movie "Hugo."  Credit: Jaap Buitendijk / Paramount Pictures

Week in review: 'The Help's' SAG win; movies at Super Bowl [video]

February 3, 2012 |  5:30 pm

It's a season of contests and between last weekend and this one we've had some big ones. First the SAG Awards showed us that maybe there is something else to think about besides "The Artist" winning it all. And this weekend, of course, the biggest game on television becomes a contest for best advertisement. The studios aren't content to miss out on this possible record-breaking audience with many of them pulling out all the stops to show off their summertime wares.

L.A. Times reporters Steve Zeitchik and Nicole Sperling discuss the latest machinations in awards land and who will win the eyeballs at this weekend's Super Bowl.


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Super Bowl ads: 'The Dictator' evokes 'Borat'

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Super Bowl ads: 'The Dictator' evokes 'Borat'

February 1, 2012 |  5:38 pm


You have to admire Sacha Baron Cohen’s (and Paramount’s) gumption — it’s not many Super Bowl ads that start with images of dead dictators (Kadafi and Kim Jong Il) before going on to tease a wide-release movie ("The Dictator," due May 11).

The rest of the 30-second piece from the creative team behind "Borat" is amusing, though it doesn’t tell you all that much about the film. Baron Cohen is again speaking in some mash-up accent, he’s again a fish out of water, he again makes jokes about American media (he bought NBC) and celebrities (the Kardashians). Unlike other Super Bowl ads, there’s no extended spot to parse online. Still, there's ample entertainment just in contemplating how Baron Cohen's establishment-baiting will play alongside ads for tub-thumping military pics like “Act of Valor” and “G.I. Joe—Retaliation."


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-- Steven Zeitchik


Nothing says Thanksgiving like Bruno [poll]

November 21, 2011 |  4:18 pm

Sacha Baron Cohen
When you count your blessings over the Thanksgiving holiday, being grateful for Sacha Baron Cohen may not be at the top your--or anyone else's--list. But a close examination of next week's family movies shows that the star of "Brüno" and "Borat" has direct ties to all three of the PG-rated titles opening Wednesday.

The most obvious case is "Hugo," director Martin Scorsese's adaptation of "The Invention of Hugo Cabret." The "Raging Bull" director cast Cohen as the story's station inspector, and even gave the character a bit of a love story.

"Arthur Christmas," a new holiday story looking at the real inner workings of the North Pole, was written by Peter Baynham, a screenwriter on "Brüno" and "Borat."

Finally, "The Muppets," an update on the legendary puppets, was directed by James Bobin, who directed numerous episodes of Cohen's "Da Ali G. Show."

--John Horn

Photo of Sacha Baron Cohen in "Brüno." Credit: Universal Pictures




Sacha Baron Cohen's 'The Dictator:' It doesn't look like 'Borat'

June 9, 2011 | 11:43 am

"The Dictator" involves several of the main players from "Borat" (star-writer Sacha Baron Cohen, director Larry Charles) and also tells of the foibles of the foreign-born. But fans are hoping — and studio Paramount seems keen to impress — that the May movie, which has Baron Cohen playing both a deposed foreign dictator and a goat herder, is a lot more than a "Borat" retread.

Baronco Several new images suggest that, visually at least, "The Dictator" has put some distance between itself and the 2006 hit. Earlier this week came a paparazzi photo of Baron Cohen, clad in a patriotic jumpsuit, on a New York set, which at least made clear that the film has a  set, with little of the on-the-road gonzo tactics of "Borat."

Now Paramount has put out the first official image for the film — that's it to the left — and it shows a character who has much more in common with a Middle Eastern despot than the deluded Eastern European peasant from "Borat." Note the Kadafi-like epaulets, which raises the question of how much the film will echo the real-world dictators thrown to the fore of the news cycle in the recent Arab Spring.

(The film is putatively based on a novel written by Saddam Hussein, who makes a somewhat less sensitive target.)

No doubt the finished film will include accents and cringe-worthy moments and other elements that characterized "Borat." But "The Dictator" may not want to distance itself too much — "Borat" was kinda beloved.

A 'Borat reunion on Sacha Baron Cohen's  'The Dictator'

— Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Sacha Baron Cohen in "The Dictator." Credit: Paramount Pictures.


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