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DID YOU READ

Has the Sacha Baron Cohen shtick jumped the shark?

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Has Sacha Baron Cohen finally exhausted the goodwill of audiences? When “The Ali G Show” made its debut on HBO in 2003 it was as if a meteor struck this planet from the comedic heavens above, alighting us all with the gift of laughter.

That was then, this is now. This week “The Dictator” was, quite frankly, smothered in box office competition by both “The Avengers” and “Battleship,” turning in a lackluster — but not entirely soul-destroying — third place performance in its debut. There could not possibly have been a better time to release such a movie. The Arab Spring is in full flower; dictators are universally reviled. Who among us doesn’t want to see a Quaddafi-ish autocratic ass-hat lampooned?

So — what went wrong? Putting things into proper perspective: bringing in $17.2 million in its first week is not the end of the world or Mr. Cohen’s career. Still, that number, while not fatal to a career trajectory, might just signal the end of Cohen’s pungent brand of reality-flavored satire. Aside from the disappointing, though again not fatal box office, the reviews were quite mixed (59% rating of top critics on Rotten Tomatoes).

What was most surprising, however, was the powerfully negative response from more established media resources, which, one would think, would be firmly Team Cohen. Isn’t Cohen the thinking person’s comedian? Foreign Policy’s Joshua E. Keating writes, in a post titled Is ‘The Dictator’ Racist: “Cohen clearly knows his politics (how many comedies include both extended masturbation jokes and references to Gazprom?), but it’s hard to get past the fact that most of the film’s comedy derives from a British actor playing a crude Arab stereotype.” And while, no, “The Dictator” is not racist, it is, at the very least, clichéd and even more than a little bit stale. And stale, in comedy, carries about it the stink of death. The film belongs in the same bargain bin as that seemingly endless stream of bad SNL skits turned into movies. Perhaps “The Dictator,” like the unburied and unsung “McGruber”, was best left to a five minute skit on the small screen.

Further, Sacha Baron Cohen did some of the more comedically prestigious rounds of the media gauntlet in advance of “The Dictator”’s release as … himself. Sacha being Sacha on the promotional tour is, quite frankly, pretty rare; it makes a statement. How better to garner media and blog buzz for a project than staging an elaborate satirical real time sketch. That has been, in the past, Sacha Baron Cohen’s modus operandi; he perfected the art of promoting his films. But in recent appearances on both Letterman and Howard Stern, two “smart” comedy shows, Cohen went on as himself and not in his gaudy General Aladeen get-up, signaling, perhaps, that the joke – to insiders, at least – no longer packs the same punch. You can’t really fake it to those in-the-know. As Chris Lee reported in The Daily Beast:

Out of respect for [Howard] Stern, who Baron Cohen says inspired him, the comedian spoke straightforwardly and un-ironically in his native British accent, absent the kinky weird beard associated with his Saddam Hussein–esque character, Admiral General Shabazz Aladeen, and spouting none of the faux despot’s characteristically sexist and racist gibberish. “I’ve never really done interviews as myself,” Cohen said. “This is like the third time in my life I’ve done an interview out of character.”

Is this a new beginning? “The Dictator” is also, stylistically if not thematically, an abrupt departure from Cohen’s comfort zone mixing reality with improv, a sort of Jackass-meets-Coltrane piece of satirical comedy that he appears to have invented. And while critics – including this one – found parts of “The Dictator” laugh out loud funny, the general consensus is that it is a thoroughly uneven movie. We are now jaded; the once brilliant comic invention has lost its charm, perhaps in the same way that M. Knight Shyamalan endings no longer fuck up our whole shit. We are all Shymalayan-ed out.

Finally, Sacha Baron Cohen’s next role will be in the Freddy Mercury biopic, which may mean ultimately that he is going the way of Jamie Foxx. The Jamie Foxx Path, which led the former stand-up comedian to an Oscar, provides a difficult route, an escape from the typecasting of comedy. Sacha Baron Cohen, an innovator, an independent voice, certainly deserves another chapter in his career. If there had been a Best Actor in a Comedy Oscar – as I have argued for in this blog – Cohen would have won it in 2007 for “Borat.” But it appears that the simpleton foreigner shtick has, abruptly, run its course. It was a good and lucrative run. That having been said, I cannot wait to see what he becomes in his next act.

What do you think of Sacha Baron Cohen? Let us know in the comments below, or on Twitter or Facebook.

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Final Countdown

The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at IFC.com

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Rev Up

Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…