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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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 

Dunkirk Review

 ‘With Dunkirk, Nolan has finally hit the heights of Kubrick’ proclaimed The Guardian. Which caused me to raise an eyebrow in surprise. Because yes, Nolan can frame a shot and use music like a master as well as juggle multiple character arcs, motives and timelines like no one else working in cinema today.

But last I checked, he didn’t spend two days and 127 takes getting the perfect take of a highly complicated scene in which someone gets up, walks across a room opens a door and then closes it again. And, i’m pretty sure that Kubricks characters actually talked like human being with lives and dreams and actually did things like romance and had what we humans call ‘a sense of humor.’

Yeah, the one thing that’s holding me back from joining every other critic in worshiping at the altar of Nolan is the fact that his characters don’t talk to each other, they make speeches and spout exposition dialogue but they don’t talk.

Happily though, Nolan had gotten around this eternal sticking point by making Dunkirk an almost silent movie. To my mind he could have made it completely silent and the film wouldn’t have suffered in any way, shape or form. Would I have missed any of Tom Hardy (naturally with half his face covered) 10 lines? Nope.

But back to Dunkirk,  which until the Fall of Singapore in 1942  was widely viewed as the worst defeat in British military history. And it’s a relatively simple story. 400’000 British troops are trapped on a beach at Dunkirk like fish in a barrel until they are rescued by a flotilla of more than 850 fishing boats, allegedly summoned by Sir Francis Drakes drum which according to legend it can be heard to beat at times when England is at war or significant national events take place. (Insert Brexit joke here) the boats worked for a solid week to carry troops back to safety in England.

It’s a very simple story, told from three points of view with three different timelines. The army story (starring Harry Styles who’s actually kind of awesome) is set over a week on the beaches of Dunkirk. Mark Rylance is sailing towards Dunkirk on his small boat to save as many soldiers as he can over the course of a day and Tom Hardy is flying a Spitfire with seemingly unlimited ammunition trying to provide what cover he can with an ever dwindling amount of fuel.

And if it seems like if forgotten a few nationalities, I haven’t. Their simply not in the film the Germans are never seen because the troops on the beach wouldn’t have seen them and well, Le Monde critic Jacques Mandelbaum has accused the director of being “witheringly impolite” and “indifferent” toward the role the French played in the evacuation of Allied troops, writing: “No one can deny a director’s right to focus his point of view on what he sees fit, as long as it does not deny the reality of which it claims to represent.

“Where in the film are the 120,000 French soldiers who were also evacuated from Dunkirk? Where are the 40,000 who sacrificed themselves to defend the city against a superior enemy in weaponry and numbers?”

Finally, he asks “where is Dunkirk itself?”, Nolan having chosen to set the film almost entirely on the beaches and ocean.

But even leaving that aside, this is a seriously tense film with the soundtrack seemingly consisting of a clock endlessly ticking away, ratcheting up the tension as the ever un-seen Germans strike, and strike and strike again.

But this is a tense masterpiece telling a story that hasn’t been on the big screen since 1958 and whilst I would say this is a good telling of the tale, I was more affecting by the single 5 minute tracking shot in Downton Abbey style Rom-com Atonement than I was by this 106 minute 150 million dollar film. That show showed officers shooting horses, and destroying jeeps troops trying to scrape some enjoyment out of a hopeless situation, people getting drunk and a few preparing for the hopeless last siege. None of which was in Dunkirk. 

It’s too clean, held back by it’s 12a rating when a 15 would have allowed for a greater examination of the human cost at Dunkirk. This film is three short stories dancing together which is fine, it works and has some tense moments. And I get why the characters are pretty interchangeable and mostly nameless and it does work on so many levels but it’s just missing that certain something.

I would have scrapped the air force storyline- it’s pretty pointless anyway and kept the focus on the land and sea, made the film a 15 and really shown what it was like at Dunkirk. Instead, this feels somewhat sanitized.

This is not a bad film, Nolan doesn’t make bad films. Disappointing ones every now and then *coughTheDarkKnightRisescugh* but never bad. And this is a good film that captures a lot of the tension and desperation of 400’000 men who are less than 30 miles from safety but may as well be a million.

With stirring performances, Nolan’s eternal dedication to practical effects and some amazing performances Dunkirk is the best war film I’ve seen since Fury.

But Kubrick levels of good?

Not yet.

My Score- See It