The Death Of Stalin Review

 

It is a fact universally acknowledged that satire is best left to the adults, which is why the Britsh have always been the best at.

And of the finest satirist working at the moment is Armando Ianovhi creator of legendary shows like The Thick Of It and Veep. However, possibly feeling that satire set in the year 2017 is irrelevant following the election of Donald Trump and whatever the hell the Conservative Party conference was about Armando has turned his attention to 1953 and the death of Stalin, which leads to a power vacuum in the USSR and the frantic battle to replace him. But remember, in the great game you win or you die…

Now I’ve been looking forward to a really good film set in the USSR forever? Which is why I felt so let down by Child 44, a rather disappointing murder mystery, which exists seemingly to prove that even Tom Hardy (for once not covering his face) can make a dud. And, to be honest, a dark satire is really the only way to tackle what was going on in a land where even something as small as a joke could wind up with you recieving a knock on the door at 3am, before being stuffed into the back of a truck never to be seen again.

And this film doesn’t why away from that in the slightest. Pretty much every minnow we meet is either living in absolute terror of being shot for the slightest real or imagined slight or mistake, about to be shot for an imagined slight or mistake, or about to shoot someone for their own survival.

Hell, even the big fish know that the slightest wrong move could lead to their own knock on the door for a short trip to an unmarked grave.

And yet it is very, very, funny in all of it’s gleeful, glorious darkness. I laughed a lot at this film. More than at every other ‘comedy’ Hollywood has churned out this year.

And I’m not alone, In September 2017, a high-ranking Russian official with the culture ministry said the Russian authorities were considering a ban on the upcoming film, which, he alleged, could be part of a “western plot to destabilise Russia by causing rifts in society.” Other Russian Critics have lauded the film, claiming that the film is an “unfriendly act by the British intellectual class” and that it was very clear that the film was part of an “anti-Russian information war”. Because in the West, governments are regularly brought down by satire.

Hell, the pro-Kremlin newspaper Vzglyad recommended the film should not be screened in Russia, calling it “a nasty sendup by outsiders who know nothing of our history”. Pavel Pozhigailo, an adviser to Russia’s culture ministry, said the film was a “planned provocation” aimed at angering Communists in Russia and had the potential to “incite hatred”.

And here was me thinking the only entertainer that could collapse governments was David Hasselhoff.

Back to the disgusting piece of capitalist propaganda and we find an insanely talented cast including Steve Buscemi, Olga Kurylenko, Michael Palin, Simon Russell Beale, Paddy Considine, Andrea Riseborough, Adrian McLoughlin, Rupert Friend, Jason Isaacs, and Paul Whitehouse in the cast. Not one of whom even attempts a Russian accent, which I think is for the best. No-one needs to see a Python attempting a comedy accent, as the material is more than strong enough to stand on its own. Even if it is based off a French comic book.

The laughs come thick and fast, from the entire cast, with no weak links in the chain. And yet, despite all the.laughter, we can see the casual way that people are disposed of, almost as an afterthought if they are even deemed worthy of that. We see strong men manipulate the weak, smile at them and then stab them in the back.

The cast is fantastic, the plot solid and pretty much every like lands. I liked the way every character was introduced, even if none of them ever really develop and real backstory. I didn’t even want ten minutes shortened off the runtime for once. Perhaps a few less cahrechters would have been nice but if they were there in real life there’s nothing you can do.

I guess what I’m saying is….

My Score – See It Now

Now, if you’ll excuse me, a perfectly ordinary van has pulled up with a loudspeaker saying it has free pizza and wine for all film critics. There’s even a perfectly ordinary pizza man getting out to knock on my door.

How nice.

See you next time.

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Kingsman: The Golden Circle Review

The first Kingsman film told the tale of how someone from a council estate became a tuxedo-wearing super spy and was written in response to Casino Royale in which someone who’s a bit rough around the edges turns into a tuxedo wearing super spy but it didn’t go into enough detail for Mark Miller who created the franchise to detail James Bond’s true origins.

It was a love letter/parody to old school James Bond, particularly the Roger Moore and Sean Connery and I seriously enjoyed it, even if it did spend too long on its training regime and not enough on actually developing it’s world, character’s, style or tone.

But hey, that’s what first instalments are meant to do, right?

First film sets up the world, and from then on the training wheels are off and we get to see what The Kingsman can really do.

And speaking as a James Bond super fan, I haven’t seen a decent Bond parody since…. Hell, the first Austin Powers movie back in 1997. So, I had a beer, grabbed my popcorn sat back and….

Seriously missed the training wheels.

Because, well, I get that if you’re going to make an over the top cartoon version of James Bond, I realise that there’s going to be loads of over the top violence but maybe you could have told the CGI department that not to make their work really obvious or given them more than £20 to work with?

Seriously, if you don’t have the money for CGI then don’t do it CGI. Look into doing it with practical effects or models or stop motion or hell, even puppets because very few things spoil a film like bad CGI.

But on to the plot and it’s actually pretty simple. The world is being held hostage by a drugs kingpin who want all drugs legalised and a complete pardon for everything they’ve done. Yeah, the plots a carbon copy of On Her Majesties Secret Service except this time there’s no scene or stunt or moment where our main characters are in danger of so much as getting their suits wrinkled. Not only can none of the bad guys shoot straight but the hero’s have gadgets that shred the laws of physics and logic and serve only to paper over some of the many, many plot holes in this film.

And speaking of the plot, I should probably mention that as a gruff old traditionalist I like it when dead characters stay dead unless I’m watching a zombie film. And especially when that characters death was a fairly pivotal moment in the first film ad one of its most striking and long lasting moments.

And if you are going to bring back Colin Firth, maybe don’t spoil it so heavily in the trailers? And thanks again for taking what little tension there is out of the overlong, over-edited, slow-motion fight scenes because even if a character does get more than their suit wrinkled they can be back on their feet in three scenes teleporting around the world like nothing had ever happened.

Yes, teleporting, either that or this film takes place over about three weeks. Look, if I keep going on about all the things that annoyed me I’ll be here all day, so here are just a few.

Magic Mike barely gets a cameo, some halfwit told Jeff Bridges to shave so that he looks really badly de-aged via CGI. The film has no idea how to treat it’s female character’s so it sticks them behind a desk or a cooking counter, the villain was miscast and exudes as much menace as my friends three year old niece when she’s in a huff, there’s a high speed chase in London when the roads would be clogged to hell and the films tone shifts from over the top action cartoon to moments of serious romance about as smoothly as when my better half and I fight over the remote.

Even more annoyingly, given the hugely talented cast that’s been assembled here, no-body seems to have anything to do. Bridges is basically M and didn’t need to be in the film as much as he was, Firth is given a somewhat interesting character arc but the film doesn’t do anything with it. Eggsy goes back to square one in terms of his character, but at least Mark Strong gets a musical number?

Even more annoyingly, there’s a moment at Glastonbury that seemingly exists only to generate headlines and think pieces which I won’t discuss any more than to say it shocks and exists for shocks fate and could have been done about 15 different ways that would have been funny and inventive rather than the method that was used in the film.

And, worst off all is that taken as a whole, this doesn’t feel like a James Bond send up, rather than a film version of James Bond Jr. where Jr. has to prove himself to his Uncle James that he’s worthy of the name.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle is an overlong, tension free series of over-edited fight scenes followed by sometimes amusing dialogue when it’s not trying to suddenly try and give depth to it’s one dimensional cartoon character’s. The villain and her henchman are less interesting, menacing and memorable than those in the original film. I laughed, liked it slightly at the time but am finding it really hard to justify why I did so now.

Maybe this franchise should have just been a single film as the law of diminishing returns is a very harsh and uncompromising one. On the other hand, it did have a pulse, a pretty interesting if incredibly obvious message (and a distractingly optimistic message about US politics) but at the very least it easily provided the best use of Elton John in a film since The Lion King.

Deal with the tonal shifts, being in some more practical stunts, a bit of tension, give your insanely talented cast something to actually work with and this could have been as good as the first one.

But as is?

My Score- Skip It

Victoria  and Abdul review

Unlike, say Germany, the United Kingdom has never had to confront the utterly horrific abuses committed during the time of Empire. 

Primarily I think that this is because we can make films like Victoria and Abdul, which, bar the age difference, would make for a pretty good romantic comedy about a young servant and a lady of the upper crust falling in love in defiance of her families and societies expectations. As is, it’s the true story of how a young man from India became Queen Victoria’s teacher and close friend in the twilight of her reign.

And, at that it truly succeeds, showing off the British love of pomp and theatre and habit.of clutching our pearls at the first sign of change or disruption. And for the first half it succeeded in making me laugh and I was enjoying this glossy, made for my mum, piece of period fluff. But then you started noticing things and started getting a bit restless.

Abdul, played by Ali Fazal is pretty much the second coming. He’s always, polite, cheerful, knows exactly what to say and do and seems depressingly happy in being a servant to Queen Victoria, played by the only acceptable alternative to Dame Hellen Mirren- Dame Judi Dench. Who, is probably this in her sleep but is still putting on an amazing performance as a Queen who is apparently tolerant and ahead of her time and therefore despised for it.

Yeah, as a historically accurate  document this film is less than worthless. The British Raj, contrary to what this film would have you believe was not full of well meaning but bumbling idiots. 

But leaving aside the complete and total whitewashing of history, the fact that that the male lead is Indian Jesus and that Judi French is acting in her sleep but we are also asked to believe that she gave birth to Eddie Izzard who plays her son Bertie and comes as close as this film gets to a villain. But, he and everyone else plays the role of ‘permantly enraged Englishman’ and it all gets rather tiresome after a while.

This is a film that could definitely do with 20 minutes off of it’s runtime as it starts to overstate it’s welcome towards the end.

It is lovely to look at and nobody does anything wrong but a few teeth wouldn’t have gone amis. It has a few hints of resentment towards the English and what we actually did, but it’s just tame, sanitised and a slightly dull use of a very interesting and unique true story. 

My Score- If Nothing Else

Mother! Review

Mother is a gothic story in which a couples tranquil life is disturbed by a pair of unexpected guests who turn their lives upside down. Working on multiple levels and leaving each person with their own unique tale on what the film is supposed to mean.

Or…..

Mother is a deeply pretentious mess which people have convinced themselves is deeply meaningful because writer director Darren Aronosky (who also directed Black Swan) never got around to giving any of his characters names

And I know that the criticverse has taken a monastic vow of silence about the actual plot of the film but I promise you, the less you know going in, the better your experience will be.

What I will say though is that towards the end of the third act, this film contains one of the most graphic, brutal and revolting scenes I’ve seen in a film. It feels like something that the film has been building towards but hasn’t quite earned. It’s pace was too sedate, it’s setting too small to earn it. Because for about 95% of the film, the camera is aimed squarely at Laurences face.

And normally I wouldn’t mind a film where Laurences face takes up most of the screen for all of the runtime as she attempts to do up a huge mansion, support her poet husband (who is suffering from severe writer’s block) and deal with people who allegedly mistook then for a b and b, never quite get around to introducing themselves and don’t seem to want to go anywhere.

That and the house seems to be invading her mind, Making her doubt her own sanity and us question what is and isn’t real…

But,

Look, Laurence gives an amazing performance and she deserves the Oscar nomination she’s probably going to get for this and I get why there are no monologues or real backstories given to anyone but there is a difference to following someone in their story and just looking at their face for two hours 

And the takes are too short as well. A film like this needs long, sweeping takes, especially becuse the house (which we never leave) looks like one giant set. Instead, the camera cuts every few seconds and it quickly became annoying and distracting. 

It is effective in provoking reaction and several people were outside it discussing what it really meant. But several people walked out and I understood both reactions. This is a film that will feature on a lot of top and bottom ten lists at the end of the year.

With longer takes, a more intense third act that actually deserved it’s shocking finale this could have been the masterpiece it wants so badly to be.  As it is, it’s a flawed, pretentious work of art. 

My Score- See It 

Death Note Review

Having worked in retail for more years than I care to imagine, the chance to kill anyone whose name I know and face I can picture seems like a tempting idea. Although unlike the main character presented here, I would be less avenging angel and more old testament God.

I would differ in other, more subtle, ways as well. For example I would use an ancient mystical ability called ‘acting’ to convey my emotions, thoughts and feelings as opposed alternating between looking at all times like i’m about to burst into tears or screaming.

Another difference would be me asking why one of the major characters is never in shot. A case could be made that it’s to do with keeping an air of mystery and menace and that any character voiced by Willem Dafoe and has two glowing red eyes is inherently scary enough. But, then when you do get a clear look at Ryuk you realize that it could be because he looks about as realistic as a villain of the week in an early episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer.

As is, they both appear to have a similar budget. Although episodes of Buffy had much, much better, writing, plot, characters and played with cliches instead of embracing them.

Hell, even the original Buffy film didn’t feel as rushed or full of hackneyed characters.

But I hung in there, thinking that there might be some interesting ideas coming up, justice versus vengeance, do you have the right to play God and what happens if you make a mistake?

Instead, Sherlock Holmes tuns up, determined to track down the main character and I knew that whatever charms, or ideas or clever moments this film had were gone. Instead it was just a race to the bottom in a bid to see if this was bad as Dragonball Evolution which it isn’t (by a whisker).

Because this does have some nice shots and atmosphere but since I’ve never read the manga or seen the anime I don’t know if these are original shots and atmosphere or just copies. And how this got an 18 rating is beyond me. It plays out like a 12a film except maybe two or three times someone covers themselves in tomato ketchup and everyone pretends that they’ve dies in some horrific manner.

And if you can’t tell exactly whats going to happen and when, then i’m going to assume that you haven’t seen a lot of films.

It has themes that it doesn’t develop and tries to cram in a hell of a lot of lore into a single film. It’s not menacing, or scary or thought provoking in any way shape or form. It might turn into a minor cult classic but it’s not bad enough to develop that much of a following.

Recast the main character, calm down and develop your ideas and characters a bit more and this might have been salvageable.

As is?

My Score- Skip It 

Una Review

Making the leap from stage to screen makes sense in theory and certainly seems easier than adapting a novel to the screen.

After all, plays and films are of similar lengths and have similar three act structures attempting to tell the same stories as most independent films, typically small scale events about regular people that occur over a small amount of time. As opposed to a novel which can take place over decades and consist of vast locations with dozens of characters and plot-lines which can lead to films that are confused or confusing and tend to leave everyone unsatisfied.

Una started life as the stage play Blackbird written in 2005 by Scottish playwright David Harrower. It’s received critical praise from Seoul to Stockholm to Off-Broadway to the Edinburgh festival and it’s not because Una is a barrel of laughs with catchy song and dance routines.

Una is most defiantly not a barrel of laughs with catchy song and dance routines.

Instead it’s about two people reuniting after many, many years and about them discussing something horrific that happened between them several years ago. And if that sounds vague then that’s the way it has to be. I’m sorry, but this is one of those types of films.

It’s driven by two amazing and subtle performances from Rooney Mara and Ben Mendelsohn in a quiet, disturbing little film. It still shows its stage origins but not in the way that you would expect. Instead of monologues, the film appears to have gone slightly overboard on flashbacks when sometimes silence would have been better or even just to have them discuss the events in question.

Because this is a film that thrives in its small, quiet moments. Disturbing you with it’s moral ambiguity and refusal to allow you to make easy judgments about what happened and how it’s impacting both of them in different ways in the present day.

This is director Benedict Andrews first cinematic endeavor as previously he’s directed for Opera

Shin Godzilla

This far I’ve only ever experienced Godzilla from a Western standpoint. From a terrible 1978 Hannah Barbarea Cartoon to the 2014 film where Godzilla was always slightly off-camera to the 1998 Matthew Broderick vehicle which was so poorly handled that the original company bought the rights to the character, renamed him ‘Zilla and promptly had the proper Godzilla wipe the floor with him.

So the chance to watch the king of the monsters in his natural habitat of Japan being made by the company Toho which had produced 28 previous installments a well as two previous reboots. Which worked for me on another level.

Because, this is the first Japanese Godzilla movie to be a full reboot, meaning that it shows what would happen if Godzilla attacked for the first time in modern day, and there had been no previous records of him. Although Toho has “rebooted” Godzilla a few times each previous film acknowledged the original 1954 movie as canon and just ignored all previous sequels.

So, with my popcorn and coke in hand I settled back in my chair and….

Well, let me put it this way. Japanese films don’t have the same budget as Hollywood films. the 2014 version had a budget of roughly 160 million dollars, this… has a budget of 15. Now to put that in comparison, The Guardians had a budget of 5 million, the closest American production I can find is 10 Cloverfield Lane which was mostly set in a basement.

This is also, the only Japanese Godzilla movie in which the monster was realized completely through CGI, abandoning the traditional suitmation effects. However, according to effects supervisor Atsuki Sato, Godzilla’s skin was deliberately made to look like rubber as opposed to realistic animal skin, and his movements were performed via motion capture, adding a live performance element to the animation.

Well, that’s what they studio claims anyway, to my mind he started off as a sock puppet, then went through his Harryhausen faze before winding up looking like the sort of threat that a 1980’s disaster movie would have been proud to claim.

Seriously, at times I half expected one of the creatures googly eyes to fall off. But, as I’m always saying, a higher budget does not make for a better film. And besides, there was a lot that should have worked. As a straight reboot, the film was free to instead of tying Godzilla to nuclear weapons but to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster and the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami and many critics and journalists have noted similarities to those events. As Mark Schilling from The Japan Times stated, “The original Godzilla was conceived as a metaphor for nuclear devastation, most notably the then-recent Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. Anno’s beast, however, is also clearly inspired by the March 11, 2011, triple disaster, with Godzilla serving as an ambulatory tsunami, earthquake and nuclear reactor, leaving radioactive contamination in his wake”.

Which is a good idea, and it sort of works with shots of blue-jumpsuited government spokesmen convening emergency press conferences and shots  of a stunned man quietly regarding mountains of debris, something that could have been lifted straight out of television footage of the hardest-hit regions in the north of Japan.

The film also attempts to show the, the old guard with their overly complex and corpulent bureaucratic ways were simply unable to deal with a crisis in any kind of efficient or fluid way. This is shown repeatedly in Shin Godzilla, as the high-ranking members of the cabinet, comfortable in their positions of power, use the hierarchical nature of the system they reside within to protect their own positions, at the expense of the lives of their citizens. In the end, it’s left to your standard group of geeks and nerds to save the day before the USA starts dropping nuclear bombs.

And there are lots of human characters, this is a film has 328 credited actors with maybe enough personality for 32.8 of them. Of which maybe 30 would be some variation of ‘stuffy, panicking bureaucrat.’ Even the ‘committee of heroes’ didn’t do that much to distinguish themselves  beyond one of them wearing a nice pink scarf which I was pretty sure doubled up as a tea towel whenever the washing up needed doing.

Unfortunately, the tonal shift from 80’s disaster movie to what I think is supposed to be political intrigue handles about as well as channel hopping between Attack of the Killer Tomatoes and an episode of Yes Minister. There you are, happily watching Godzilla smash up what I think are supposed to be buildings, with the orchestra going full blast and then BLAM! Office scene, no music, no natural pause in the action, just a mid-scene cut to a bunch of random middle-aged people discussing what we’ve just seen and what Godzilla is up to now instead of showing us.

And the music is weird as well. It constantly sounded like it was about to break into the Thunderbirds theme. Not that I was complaining but I was then half daydreaming about Thunderbirds 2 and 4 turning up to help whilst Thunderbird 1 blasted the living daylights out of Godzilla, in a kind of puppets vs. man in suit battle royal.

Oh, what could have been.

As is, Shin Godzilla has some good ideas- tying Godzilla to more modern threats and bringing back the political themes that used to be prevalent in the series can only be applauded as opposed to the empty western versions I’ve sat through and I’m sure someone’s enjoying it – At the 40th Japan Academy Prize, the film won seven awards out of its 11 nominations, including Picture of the Year and Director of the Year. But I was left cold and pining for a vs battle that will never be.

Trim the run-time down from 119 minutes to about 90, put a man back in the rubber monster costume, merge your story-lines together with slightly more skill and give your characters actual personalities.

As for me?

I’m just going to sit here waiting for Pacific Rim 2: Rim Harder. 

My Score: Skip It