THE DEATH OF STALIN – REVIEW

THE DEATH OF STALIN – REVIEW – Veep Goes to the USSR.

The Death of Stalin is as black as Beluga caviar and as strong as vodka, as absurd as totalitarianism and yet much much funnier. Armando Iannucci brings together a hugely talented cast including Mr. Pink, Larry Sanders’ pal, the new Star Trek captain, one of the Fast Show fellas, a Monty Python and Simon Russell Beale as Beria. The latter is a famous Brit Shakespearean who has dedicated himself to the theater, at the cinema’s expense, it has to be said.

Following Stalin’s collapse the members of the Politburo, sharpen their knives and run about trying to make their own futures secure even as they dodge their comrades conspiracies and the purge to come. The backbiting and fighting is hilarious and some of the most ludicrous details are the bits which are actually the most historically accurate.

Iannucci made his name in British radio and then TV comedy before going stateside with In the Loop and Veep. But here he has hit it out of the park. In a world of Dirty Grandpas and crappy product placement disguised as comedy vehicles, this is one of the most original comedies of the last decade. There’s a wealth of comic detail and wonderfully realized performances from everyone including Andrea Riseborough and Rupert Friend as Stalin’s hilariously mad children. It’s pertinence to the current resident of the Kremlin can be seen in the fact that it has been banned in Russia. Iannucci’s talent should now be employed closer to home.

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QUANTUM OF SOLACE IS THE BEST BOND MOVIE EVER

HOLLYWOOD – Daniel Craig’s second outing as secret agent 007 Quantum of Solace has been widely reviled but is actually the best Bond movie ever.

I’m putting it on the line here. Everyone had high expectations for the follow up to Daniel Craig’s brilliant debut as James Bond Casino Royale. But when Quantum of Solace hit the screens in 2008 there was a sense of dismay as Bond went too Bourne, Marc Foster’s hyper kinetic direction and  a sense of general confusion marred what should have been a triumphant second chapter. Many blamed the script strike which had Daniel Craig and Mathieu Amalric  trying to put scenes together themselves in the absence of a finished draft, or over enthusiasm on the part of the producers to cash in on the success of the first film.

However, re-watching Quantum of Solace I have to say it is the best Bond movie ever.  My reasons? Okay, if you insist.

The idea of starting the film directly from the end of Casino Royale sets the stage for the whole Craig cycle of Bond films. Of all the Bonds, Craig is unique in creating a through line and giving his character some genuine depth and development. In fact, even in Quantum of Solace, we see Craig change and learn. The only problem with this is that almost every Craig Bond is an origin story. Except perhaps Spectre, but even… well SPOILERS.

The film starts at 90 MPH and continues in pretty much the same vein all the way through. I admit that the first time I saw the film I found it difficult to keep track but every repeated viewing is a revelation. The action sequences have no fat on them at all. The lean economy means that Foster’s version is the shortest Bond at only an hour and a half and there’s something truly admirable by the way it disposes of car, boat and airplane chases without lingering for a second or giving you multiple angles when one will do.The fights are suitably brutal and even Bond skipping out of a hotel is done with such careless elan as to deserve a round of applause.

The script. Okay, there was this whole thing about the writer’s strike, but I like the confusion, the murk is curiously fitting. And this is the Bond with the least quips, frankly a part of the whole franchise that reached its apotheosis with Goldfinger’s ‘shocking’ and has been on a law of diminishing returns ever since. With not much talking, the long winded exposition goes out of the window and instead we have a series of pithy summaries. M (Judi Dench) and Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) actually get some really interesting political scenes to play with and this is one of the more subtle Bond films when it comes to assessing the geopolitical role of the secret service in the pre-Snowden but post 9/11 world.

Olga Kurylenko is a great character and doesn’t sleep with Bond and the characters around Bond begin to form a consistently believable universe, including Matthias (Giancarlo Giannini) and Mr. White (Jesper Christensen). And although Skyfall was rightly praised for Roger Deakins’ cinematography, but Roberto Schaefer’s camera work is stunning. The scene at the Austrian Opera House is beautifully done, impressionistic almost with the soundtrack dropping out. All the locations are given a sumptuous treatment, with Haiti and Sienna captured marvelously, and never has the desert seemed so parched.

Okay I will admit that the exploding hotel is a problem and is where the film rather depressingly reverts to type. Something has to blow up towards the end, but a hotel seems a tad random and here we really feel the lack of ideas. However, that said almost all Bond films have disappointing finales where everything goes boom and the baddie gets his. Pyrotechnics taking over from any real sense of satisfactory conclusion. In fact it is the quiet coda in a snowy Russia which is the real conclusion of the film and a deeply satisfying one at that.

I recognize I’m swimming against the tide of Bond opinion here and will be happy to read any comments you might have below and respond to them, if I can.

For the review of SPECTRE CLICK HERE.

TO THE WONDER: REVIEW

TO THE WONDER: REVIEW – Matt Damon’s dumb ass friend and Iran hostage rescuer goes to France and meets old Bond girl. They monkey about on a train, then go back to America where Olga Kurylenko (for t’is she), plus sprog, can’t stop dancing.

Poor Affleck looks a mite confused because a. she’s hot but b. she won’t stop dancing. Later he looks even more confused because Rachel McAdams turns up and a. she’s hot but b. erm… I don’t know. Confused? Hmmm.
The cries – criticising the emperor’s new clothes – were loud when Tree of Life was released, but I for one, thought it was madcap fun (read that review HERE). Here though it’s not so much that the emperor is naked as we can see his internal organs and it ain’t pretty. Well, that said, it actually is pretty. But the Malick aesthetic has now become industry standard for car and jeans adverts and other than the look, there is very little to hold onto here.  The interminable voice over has now become grating. Sixth form poetry passing for stream of conciousness. Poor Ben looks confused.      Olga dances and doesn’t so much hug trees as suck twigs. Javier Bardem turns up, looking baffled to find himself a priest. He preaches a sermon about love being great, a few more shots of sunsets and cows, and we’re done. The film ultimately overdoses on reverence: – not just for nature, love, God etc. – but for Malick himself who seems in great need of an editor who doesn’t like Terrence Malick films.