THE DEATH OF STALIN

The Fight For Leadership Begins

Director
Armando Iannucci

Starring
Steve Buscemi
Simon Russell Beale
Jeffrey Tambor
Jason Isaacs



1953, the Soviet Union is ruthlessly ruled by Joseph Stalin and his cronies. Anyone who falls out of favour or challenges the establishment is arrested, tortured and executed. For those at the top, there is an impression of luxury and frivolity but the truth of the matter is that the alliances are loose; no one is trusted and everyone operates under the constant fear of falling out of Stalin’s favour and appearing on a list that will seal their fate. Following a stroke, Stalin is left in a paralytic state while his closest officials run around to secure their own position. While the events closely mirror what we know about the genuine history of the event, this adaptation of the French graphic novel, La Mort De Staline, hilariously and crassly illustrates the scheming, conniving and treachery that was rife during the chaos.

In terms of absurdist caricatures negotiating deadly serious developments, a lot of Iannucci’s work feels reminiscent of Dr Strangelove; for that reason, I am a very big fan. I will openly admit this style of comedy is definitely not for everyone but with its mix of a historical setting, political underhandedness and foul-mouthed deliveries, it’s my absolute favourite type of comedic narrative. One of the film’s real achievements is establishing the tone of the comedy of fear. What is presented to us was a very real and horrifying existence that many had to endure, wherein family members turned on one another, few were trusted and seemingly no one was safe. To then take that level of paranoia and intense distrust and repurpose it into farce is simply wonderful. Nowhere is this better established than the opening sequence. To highlight Stalin’s vice-like grip on the nation, we witness a concerto played over the radio. The theatre director receives a phone call mid-performance from Stalin himself and told he wants a recording of the performance. Realising that the concert went out live and that no such recording exists, the director panics, detaining as many of the audience as possible before getting people off the streets and making everyone sit through the same piece again. While witnessing the absurdity of rearranging the concerto we are shown citizens being routinely and mercilessly rounded up for detention or execution.

What’s more, there is an (one would assume intentional) undercurrent reflection of modern politics. With everything that’s taken place in the shambolic government currently running this country (the UK) and similarly with others across the world, this tale of underhand dealings, betrayal and political mobilisation serves to satirise and ridicule what we are all currently at the mercy of, as both a highlight of the cyclical nature of vacuums of leadership and a warning from the past.

Aside from the keen writing and performances – which stand out as the backbone of this feature – The Death Of Stalin is also exceptionally well crafted. Unlike a lot of comedies, which thrive on brightly lit sets to ensure maximum control in case of improvised hilarity, this film is presented like a standard high-budget period drama. The locations are lavish and resplendent, the costumes are fitting for the period and reflect the character in question, all of the props feel period appropriate while being garnished with faux-Cyrillic Russian lettering and the cinematography that presents it all is rich, dynamic and beautiful. On top of that, the direction is masterfully handled and the editing is sharp and clean throughout.

But as stated, this film thrives because of the combination of the brilliant dialogue and uproarious performances. With a host of largely British acting talent, each character is simultaneously amusing and ridiculous. Buscemi is magnificent as the neurotic but politically savvy Khrushchev, Tambor plays the feeble and easily led Malenkov effortlessly, Michael Palin’s turn as the quixotic almost lackadaisical Molotov is greatly entertaining and all the lower-rung manipulators enter and exit with the weight of their station without over-emphasising their arrival or departure. As a few standouts, I particularly enjoyed Beale’s genuinely menacing portrayal of head of the NKVD Lavrentiy Beria; the level of historical detail on display is impressive without stifling the audience and his presence and manoeuvring are a joy to watch. In a very different performance, Jason Isaacs’ arrival is perfectly timed. Having spent so long with meticulous, cross-talking politicians, General Zhukov’s introduction and domination of events – with his no nonsense attitude and minimal tolerance for the machinations of politics – is a welcome change-up and serves as a nice reminder of the savagery and ruthlessness of senior military personnel who survived both the events of World War II and Stalin’s purges.

But as much as I adore this film, there is a glaring issue. Drawing from real events ensures a lack of closure and a void where a neat ending should exist, subsequently, much like In The Loop the film simply peters out rather than distinctly ending. Granted there are events which solidify a resolution but not enough to really deliver a satisfying conclusion for most audiences. As stated before, this ties into the other issue which is that this film is not for everyone. The comedy is particularly unique and in-line with a distinct style that doesn’t suit the bulk majority of cinemagoers but the fact this film doesn’t try to accommodate the mainstream pleases me. Rather than trying to spread itself thin in an attempt to be a tick-box exercise, The Death Of Stalin sets out to tell a story in its own fashion and doesn’t overly care for people getting lost in the process; for that, I highly commend it.


Release Date:
20th October 2017

The Scene To Look Out For:
Several real-life parallels are utilised as comic developments which serve to highlight the ludicrousness of how Stalin ran the Soviet Union. Thus something which should be common sense is only revelatory at the worst possible moment. Case in point, Stalin didn’t trust doctors so had the most talented or knowledgeable ones tortured, exiled or killed. Subsequently, when he needed medical assistance, there were very few options to draw on. This, amusingly, comes as a bit of a shock to the Politburo who fumble wildly trying to assemble doctors who are either beyond their prime, inexperienced or inept.

Notable Characters:
Rather than highlight one performance, I think it would be better to note that this cast works as an impressive ensemble. With pleasing chemistry and noteworthy individual portrayals, each actor shines in their own right but works superbly with their co-stars. This is evident fairly early on in a specific wonderful diatribe on the mad and incompetent scramble for power. Once Stalin’s unconscious body is discovered, each member of the Politburo arrives and proffers their sympathies at the calamity that has happened but it’s evident their lament is almost entirely for show. Each one arrives wailing and beating their chests while looking around “the boss'” office for anything that can assist their ascension. The best way this is illustrated is a very simple running gag involving the puddle of urine that Stalin is lying in. Every character runs to cradle the fallen leader but the second their knees reach the piss soaking into the rug, they hesitate, pull away and reassess how to approach him. It’s such a simple touch but it shows how in tune each actor is with those they are sharing screen time with.

Highlighted Quote:
“You’re not old! You’re not even a person; you’re a testicle! You’re mostly hair!!”

In A Few Words:
“A brilliantly witty and savage takedown of both a rather manic event in history and the contemporary political theatre”

Total Score:

5/5

Cinema City Film Quiz #200

[08 October 2017]


Winning Team:
Harryviva
Genre – An Aviva rep finds the Hulk and an alien in Paris, Texas

Runners Up:
Garmonbozia Walk With Me
Genre – The fear and sadness of living in a trailer park and never truly understanding any works of David Lynch
The Best Little Whorehouse In Paris, Texas
Genre – A whorehouse western; Harry Dean Stanton finds comfort in the bosom of Miss Parton
Escape From Paris, Texas: Back To The Old Freezerinos
Genre – Sci-fi romance
Dawn Of The Alien Christ In The Heat Of The Night
Genre – Harry Dean Stanton’s greatest hits in one movie!
Do Harrys Dean Of Electric Stantons?
Genre – A tech-punk film noir following one man’s journey to find the true Stanton among the replicants
Mother! Of Avengers
Genre – Erotic drama


ROUND I: Pre-Production
1. What is the name of Diane Keaton’s character in Annie Hall?
ANNIE HALL
2. Who played the title role in Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln?
DANIEL DAY LEWIS
3. How many uncles does Casper have in the film of the same name?
THREE
4. Who directed Good Night, And Good Luck?
GEORGE CLOONEY
5. What is Coyote Ugly in the film of the same name?
A BAR
6. Starsky & Hutch, starring Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson was released in which year?
2004
7. Who played the lead role in Oliver Stone’s Alexander?
COLIN FARRELL
8. In An American Tail, Fievel Mousekewitz emigrates to America from which country?
RUSSIA
9. What is the name of the film in which Adam Sandler plays Billy, a hotel industry heir who must gain a high school education in 24 weeks in order to earn his inheritance?
BILLY MADISON
10. Who directed 2006’s Marie Antoinette?
SOFIA COPPOLA


ROUND II: Filming [Harry Dean Stanton Special]
1. What is the name of the sole human survivor in Alien? Ripley? Gorman? Clemens?
RIPLEY
2. Who directed The Green Mile? Anthony Minghella? Mike Nichols? Frank Darabont?
FRANK DARABONT
3. Repo Man was released in which year? 1981? 1984? 1989?
1984
4. Who played the lead role in In The Heat Of The Night? Alan Arkin? George Segal? Sidney Poitier?
SIDNEY POITIER
5. Which member of the Avengers recruits Bruce Banner in the film of the same name? Natasha Romanoff? Clint Barton? Steve Rogers?
NATASHA ROMANOFF
6. Why does Dragline dub Luke “Cool Hand Luke” in the film of the same name? Playing a poker hand and winning with a bluff? Delivering a knockout blow in a boxing match? Fighting a rattlesnake barehanded?
PLAYING A POKER HAND AND WINNING WITH A BLUFF
7. Where does Andie work in Pretty In Pink? Record store? Dress shop? Burger diner?
RECORD STORE
8. The following quote is from which film, “These engines are the fastest in any tanks in the European Theatre of Operations, forwards or backwards. You see, we like to feel we can get out of trouble quicker than we got into it”? The Eagle Has Landed? Kelly’s Heroes? The Dirty Dozen?
KELLY’S HEROES
9. In The Last Temptation Of Christ, the voice of Satan is provided by Leo Marks. Rather than acting, Marks was predominantly known for his work in which cinematic field? Screenwriting? Cinematography? Stunt work?
SCREENWRITING (although he received his MBE for cryptography work during WWII)
10. Red Dawn was the first PG-13 rated cinematic release. True or False?
TRUE


ROUND III: Post-Production
1. Which four actors played the lead roles in 2000’s Space Cowboys, directed by Clint Eastwood? (one point per correct answer)
CLINT EASTWOOD / TOMMY LEE JONES / DONALD SUTHERLAND / JAMES GARNER
2. Who directed 2010’s Four Lions?
CHRIS MORRIS
3. What is the title of the sequel to GI Joe: The Rise Of Cobra?
GI JOE: RETALLIATION
4. What is the name of Stanley Kowalski’s wife (played by Kim Hunter) in A Streetcar Named Desire?
STELLA KOWALSKI
5. What did John Carpenter direct in between Halloween and Escape From new York?
THE FOG
6. What is the name of the AI that replaces JARVIS in Tony Stark’s suit in Avengers: Age Of Ultron?
FRIDAY
7. Of the five personifications of Riley’s basic emotions, in Inside Out, what colour is Fear?
PURPLE
8. The Frighteners was released in which year?
1996
9. What is the name of the drug in Dredd?
SLO-MO
10. How does Madeline (played by Meryl Streep) initially die in Robert Zemeckis’ Death Becomes Her?
PUSHED/FALLS DOWN THE STAIRS AND BREAKS HER NECK


ROUND IV: Promotion & Release
1. What is the name of the lead character in The Devil Wears Prada? Andy? Bobbie? Chrissie?
ANDY/ANDREA
2. What is the name of the first track that Eazy-E performs on in Straight Outta Compton? Straight Outta Compton? LA Is The Place? Boyz-N-The-Hood?
BOYZ-N-THE-HOOD
3. Which of the following origami sculptures did not appear in Blade Runner? Unicorn? Chicken? Rose? [bonus point for naming Gaff’s other sculpture]
ROSE [Stick Man]
4. Who directed 1945’s Brief Encounter? Alfred Hitchcock? David Lean? Carol Reed?
DAVID LEAN
5. In 10 Cloverfield Lane, Michelle makes a hazmat suit out of what? Rain Mac? Shower Curtain? Tent?
SHOWER CURTAIN
6. 1976’s All The President’s Men focuses on the events surrounding which presidency? Abraham Lincoln? Franklin Delano Roosevelt? Richard Nixon?
RICHARD NIXON
7. The following quote is from which film, “I bet your parents taught you that you mean something, that you’re here for a reason. My parents taught me a different lesson … they taught me the world only makes sense if you force it to”? The Fox And The Hound? Natural Born Killers? Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice?
BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE
8. Which of the following has not played Richard III on film? Ian McKellen? Kenneth Branagh? Laurence Olivier?
KENNETH BRANAGH
9. David Lean’s The Bridge On The River Kwai was released in which year? 1952? 1954? 1957?
1957
10. Upon receiving the Golden Globe for Best Actor In A Drama for About Schmidt, Jack Nicholson said, “I’m a little surprised, I thought we had made a comedy.” True or False?
TRUE


BOUNS IMAGE ROUND
Screenshots: Ghostbusters II / Driving Miss Daisy / Grosse Point Blank / Blues Brothers 2000
Poster: 1941
Actor: Dan Aykroyd


BLADE RUNNER 2049

30 Years Later

Director
Denis Villeneuve

Starring
Ryan Gosling
Ana De Armas
Sylvia Hoeks
Harrison Ford



Thirty years after the events in Blade Runner, the Earth has suffered a massive blackout and seemingly all digital data is erased. Lifting the world out of chaos is the Wallace company (Wallace being played by Jared Leto) who buyout the tarnished Tyrell replicant brand and start production anew, creating docile, obedient androids. This renaissance allows mankind to prosper once more and life continues with synthetic people immersed and integrated into everyday society. Older Nexus models, however, are still hunted down by a division of the LAPD called Blade Runners. The story follows one such cop, a replicant named K [Gosling] who, in uncovering a thirty year old skeleton, unearths a revelation that could upset the natural order.

Much like its predecessor, Blade Runner 2049 is visually breath-taking, an absolutely stunning and captivating feast for the senses that is designed to consume and overwhelm in its grandiosity and beautiful horror. Rife with plenty of noir nods, the story is methodically and masterfully paced, taking its time to unfold, allowing the actors, sets and developments to seemingly naturally speak for themselves rather than rushing to conclusions and reiterating developments with the zeal of flogging a dead horse. The whole thing is a truly hyper-stylistic dream, evocative of the works of Tarsem Singh. The majority of this lavishness comes down to the wonderful production design, which feels like a natural progression within the universe established by the original. Both high-tech and lo-fi this movie shows a world that we saw before which has moved on but retains its uniqueness and identity. The two most recent examples that I can think of are Star Wars: The Force Awakens and, oddly, Alien: Isolation. While a lot of sound work gives way to visuals, being the oft-neglected lesser sibling, this is far from the case here. Much like Villeneuve’s Sicario and Arrival the sound design is exceptionally powerful and the music is fittingly intense and tribal. But I’m not just praising it for being loud and ominous, it’s just as clever and wonderful in its subtlety; the use of Peter And The Wolf is particularly brilliant.

Blade Runner 2049 is very much carried on Gosling’s shoulders with a sea of interesting short supporting roles and is a sublime lesson in minimalist acting. As far as K’s case goes, the content is very straightforward but so much is offered with the slightest facial contortion. As for the aforementioned supporting roles, they are not only perfectly cast but perfectly managed. No one is over or underused; call-backs are rewarding but restrained and new characters serve a world-building purpose outside of just expositing. Ana De Armas is absolutely crushing as the innocent AI Joi, Robin Wright exudes control marvellously as the career cop who understands the benefits and necessities of replicants, Sylvia Hoeks’ Luv is a fascinating character who will no doubt be studied for years to come in her devotion and twisted emotional programming and the absurdity of Wallace plays perfectly into Leto’s hands, allowing him to be a weirdy-beardy while still having a grounded place as a megalomaniacal CEO. Having said all that I’m not entirely sure why Gaff became Colonel Sanders but I appreciated the cameo all the same. The most interesting addition is that, despite featuring so heavily in the trailer, Harrison Ford is merely a footnote, he features in all of four or five scenes and while he plays an integral role, the story doesn’t hinge on his presence to be a success. Which is a tricky thing to note as the narrative effectively does. I’ll expand on this conflict between logic and emotion later but the strange paradox between making something a necessity but not treating it as one is mind boggling.

Being a Blade Runner film, aside from hitting the right aesthetic notes, success is dependent upon thematic discussion points and Blade Runner 2049 is rife with complex issues that one could analyse for months. Picking up the mantle from the first film, shots of eyes and eye related devices are prevalent throughout but building on that, this film relishes in showing us the reverse, focusing on voyeuristically staring at the back of people’s heads. Whether in close up or tracking from a distance, the back of character’s heads seems to play equal importance to the focus on eyeballs. Another present theme is the inherent attitude to evolved slavery and racism; initially starting off by drawing an intense and impressive comparison between slavery and machines before showing us literal child slave labour highlighting the cyclical nature of abuse and how, even with an alternative, the vulnerable will always be exploited.

One of the other key themes which carries over from the original is the continuing discussion about the varying levels of AI and consciousness, the debate about what is real, what is experience and what does it mean to be alive? Reflecting our own times and technological progression, the film adds another layer to the argument in the form of Joi. Much in the way that replicants were created to assist mankind as an imitation, the machines (through Wallace’s company) then create a limited conscious entity, devoid of physical form. Taking an android being – in the form of K – and giving him an effectively less developed, innocent version of himself – Joi – to interact with and essentially teach, gives the narrative another clever opportunity to address the nature of existence and living; somewhat reminiscent of elements present in recent releases like Ex Machina and Her. On top of that they manage to do the “Whoopi kiss” from Ghost but it’s done so very well. I’m sure the technique is an extremely simple one but synching up performances like that is genuinely masterful from each level of the filmmaking process. Additionally, while holograms were present in the original, the inclusion of the Las Vegas holograms, performing on a loop for all eternity, illustrates the idea of immortality, the idea that like all legends you can be owned and preserved for all time; your form is merely a pattern which can be replicated and fitted to whatever the user desires. Again, very fitting considering how many actors are being de-aged and recreated with CGI in a fair amount of contemporary high-budget releases.

**Several spoiler-heavy plot points are addressed toward the end of the paragraph**
Despite everything, I should point out that this isn’t a perfect film; glorious sequel and beautiful storytelling but imperfect. Admittedly, my first gripe is a minimal one and it’s that the clues were well-presented so I figured out the ending early in the film. Secondly the narrative closure is negated for emotional closure. So coming back to what I said earlier – about the paradox between what is presented and what is required being somehow both present and absent – this movie ends perfectly yet there are so many unresolved issues; not too dissimilar to how Sicario closed. What happened to Wallace, does his story and quest for the next level of replicant just continue? Is there any fallout to the events that took place at the LAPD – again, which can be tracked back to Wallace? Who placed the incinerator memory in K? Was this an accident/intentional/a cry for help? Even if it was a case of merely drawing from personal experience and real life, why did Ana Stelline react in the way she did? Speaking of Ana, does she know what she is or of her significance? And then there’s Freysa’s replicant army, the disgruntled workforce poised to upset the balance and lead a revolution. What about them? As stated, the intensity of the emotional close gives us a satisfying conclusion to the extent that these other elements simply become inconsequential background static, irrelevant to the personal revelations. And while that’s all well and good it leaves an unpleasant lingering, like a tinnitus whine in the eardrum because as much as I can accept that we don’t need answers to appreciate what has unfolded at the end of this film, it leaves the door open for a lot of (potentially) very poorly handled sequels. But this remains to be seen.

Much like the original, Blade Runner 2049, with its slow narrative, bold visuals and complex themes, is not going to please everyone – but equally it doesn’t try to. Too many sequels forget what made the original good and try to cast a wider net to capture a bigger audience. Sticking to what works and furthering the natural evolution of the story should be the staple of any sequel but it’s a bit of a strange rarity. In doing so, this instalment is easily better than the original – largely as it didn’t need three attempts to get it right – but simultaneously while a sequel can improve upon a story no end, it cannot surpass what came before because it needs the original to exist; to use a technological comparison, any upgraded computer owes its existence to its progenitor. But to put all of that to one side for a second, striking a balance between mainstream developments and high art subtext, Blade Runner 2049 is a worthy companion which was more than worth the wait.


Release Date:
6th October 2017

The Scene To Look Out For:
**Spoilers throughout**
The entire film shifts in effectively two looks and it highlights how absolutely every element of this film is firing on all cylinders. Wanting to discern if an implanted memory in his head is real or not, K visits Dr Ana Stelline, who has an ability to craft the best memories. Owing to a fragile immune system, she lives in a dome and creates histories and backstories based on fabrication, designed to evoke an emotional response linked to a moral core. K allows Ana to see the memory and she ascertains it is real, triggering a violent emotional response from K. It’s maybe a few minutes long but absolutely everything at work in this film, from the nature of perception, cages, prisoners, slaves, reality, falsehoods, life, death, consciousness and experience, is present in this scene. The acting is patient and deceptive in its significance, highlighting the wealth that can be conveyed with such subtlety. I also particularly liked that the construction of memories bears a lot of similarities to the construction of film – the device Dr Stelline uses even looks like a sort of telephoto lens.

Notable Characters:
Several sections of the film deal with the idea of experiencing existence on a physical level. One of the most overt ways this is done is a character holding up their hand and watching as the world simply happens to and around them; rain, snow , bees, all manner of tactile items to define what is real. While Blade Runner toyed with the idea of perceptions of the world, it never really explored the inception of those perceptions. Enter Joi. Joi is such a beautifully naïve and emotional character who experiences the world with childlike wonder and innocence; an innocence which K, who is either programmed to be as cynical as humanity or has simply adopted it over time, both enjoys and very possibly envies. This can get irritating but De Armas portrays the character so spectacularly that she is this delightful, impossible being that is both diverse and unique.

Highlighted Quote:
“The world is built on a wall, it separates mankind. Tell the world there’s no wall and you get chaos. Or a slaughter”

In A Few Words:
“Simple in its nature, intricate in its execution, this is a prime example of one of the greatest sequels of all time”

Total Score:

5/5