The Death of Stalin

stalin

What is the difference, if any, between laughing at the absurd death of a dictator who killed around 60 million people, and laughing at one who killed anywhere from 9 to 50 million people? The numbers are impossible to verify, the suffering is impossible to quantify, but yet one is decidedly easier to laugh at than the other. From The Great Dictator (1940), through springtime to Tarantino’s Basterds (2009), I have had little self-reflection about separating laughter and sorrow at the events. In fact countless comedies are set within the horrific events of WW2, one even inside a concentration camp.

There are not as many mainstream comedies set in Stalin’s Russia, despite the fact that many non-Russian film-makers love to interpret Russian life, music and literature for their own audiences. We have countless western versions of War & Peace, to name just one. What makes one dictator more meme-friendly than another? Not a question I can answer here, but it’s an interesting thought that The Death of Stalin (2018) put in my head. There is no Stalinesque equivalent of Hitler reacting to his xbox account getting suspended. There is no Stalin singing “I’m so ronry” in puppet form. Yet, you have to admit he has the numbers too, as Eddie Izzard once noted.

You may feel all of these examples are in poor taste, and shouldn’t be laughed at. But I have, without much thought as to why I felt that’s ok. So this review of The Death of Stalin (2018) is going to be part review and part me figuring out why it’s uncomfortable even as I roll with laughter.

Spoilers below.

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Star Wars: The Last Jedi

jediWe waited until Boxing Day to see The Last Jedi, but long before that I had heard – or rather felt – disturbing rumours. I’ve yet to read other reviews, so I am still not quite sure what people are all up in arms about. This review might not touch on any of the so-called “issues” people had with the film. I can see that some might find a few things hard to swallow, but this review has a lot of stuff to talk about, so I’ll save the in-depth discussion of Luke for another time. Let’s get into it.

SPOILERS DOWN BELOW

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Blade Runner 2049

bladerunnerCan the Uncanny Valley ever be overcome? The line between a computer simulation or robot, and a real person seems like a great chasm today, but once we get closer and closer, will the line blur, or will we become hyper-sensitive to the minute differences? Will we ever need to have a debate over a “grown” human’s rights? Are they the same as a robot? A fleshy version of Commander Data? Can an automaton have a soul if it passes an emotional Turing Test? Is it different if it bleeds? Do tests even really mean anything when we’re looking for a soul? We could sit here and have ourselves a podcast’s worth of questions, but let’s talk about the movie instead. Is it a good movie?

Blade Runner officer “K” (Ryan Gosling) goes out to a protein farm outside Los Angeles and “retires” one of the old replicant models. The replicant was hiding a secret so powerful it might “end the world” as officer K’s superior, Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright) explains it. It is up to K to unravel the mystery.

This review contains SPOILERS

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Beauty and the Beast Review

beautyI’m tempted to bastardise Dickens for my own amusement, so here it goes: all Disney-haters hate Disney in the same way, all Disney-lovers love Disney each in their own way. We all have our favourites, we all prefer one technique over another, some languages over others. I can swallow Hakuna Matata in Norwegian, but don’t you dare show me The Little Mermaid in my native tongue. I love Sleeping Beauty for its art, Tangled for its feel-goodness, The Hunchback of Notre Dame for its score, and Hercules for James Woods alone.

The new live-action Disney classics are very difficult to review without these childhood emotions colouring everything. It is therefore much easier to simply lay all those biases out, and see the movie as it is: an adaptation, from animation to live-action. In my humble opinion, I think Beauty and the Beast (2017) improves on the original in many ways.

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Dr. Strange review

strangeA photographic memory, a complicated personality, 177A Blecker street, and Benedict Cumberbatch. Which genius literary hero am I speaking of? It’s Dr. Steven Strange, the charming, flirtatious, magical doctor, played, as the universe dictates, by the equally charming Mr. Cumberbatch.

Marvel continues to stretch their opening logo-time with each success, showing off the status of their brand. They have every reason to gloat, and Dr. Strange does nothing to change that. But, does it enhance the brand? Does it lie in that good second-tier Marvel shelf, along with Ant-Man and Thor, or does it stretch up to that top shelf to be remembered among the Guardians, Winter Soldier and Thor (I’m conflicted, ok?). Read below to get my take on the shelving of Dr. Strange.

SPOILERS BELOW

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Captain America: Civil War

teamsvscivilwarposterAfter the belly flop of Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice, I wasn’t feeling very confident in comic book movies. There were a few reasons to maintain my optimism. In my ranking of favourite comic book movies, I think Marvel holds at least five top spots. Avengers: Age of Ultron wasn’t anything to jump for joy about, but it kept the pace up, and introduced new interesting characters. Still, I was feeling more than a little apprehensive. Would Marvel’s incredible franchise finally crumble? Would my interest finally exhaust itself? No, and hell no, are the short answers.

The story of Civil War unfolds organically. The Avengers are under metaphorical fire from the international community after several civilians were killed and injured during an incident in Lagos. The US government, along with 116 other countries, want to put the Avengers under the control of the UN through the “Sokovia Accords”. Lines are drawn between those who sign the agreement, and those who want to remain independent. At the same time, Bucky, aka the Winter Soldier, is being targeted.

The review contains some spoilers

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Hardcore Henry

hardcorehenry_posterWhile I’m a great fan of the British tv-comedy Peep Show, I’ve never been overly enthusiastic about its format. It took quite a few episodes before I could overlook the perspective filming, the constant staring into the camera from the actors, and the sometimes awkward and nauseating camera movements. Hardcore Henry is basically the last few minutes of the film Doom (2005) as a whole movie. I wasn’t convinced I could avoid throwing up, but the trailer did get me into the theater because this one I had to see.
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