5 ideas about a movie: The Death of Stalin

Movie reviews

Hello!

I’m taking another break from the mainstream cinema, and reviewing a weird indie. This is The Death of Stalin.

IMDb summary: Follows the Soviet dictator’s last days and depicts the chaos of the regime after his death.

  1. Before going to see this film, I had some reservations because I knew that The Death of Stalin was a comedy and I didn’t think that anything relating to Stalin was a joking matter. That was probably because I was born and grew up in a region that directly suffered underneath his hand – Eastern Europe. He was responsible for the deaths of millions of people from that area, including a few hundred thousand people of my own nation. And while I’m not particularly patriotic and I don’t feel that loyal neither to my country nor to my nation, I do subscribe to the moral framework of the basic humanity.
  2. Nevertheless, I guess nowadays any story/event/concept is open for interpretation and reimagining. And this particular narrative has been reworked by quite a few creators. Produced for the international market, The Death of Stalin is a British made film, directed by a satirist Armando Iannucci (he created the TV show Veep), which’s script by the director himself, David Schneider, Ian Martin, and Peter Fellows, which was based on a French graphic novel by Fabien Nury and Thierry Robin, which was itself based on the historical events in the USSR. Also, not only is this film highly international, but its graphic novel roots technically make it into a comic book movie.
  3. My main worry about the film was its potential lack of ethics. I was worried that the movie would come across as making fun of the victims of the situation rather than its culprits. I’m glad to say that this was not the case. The Soviet politicians were the ones receiving all the satirized critique. They were portrayed as the walking real-life caricatures and that’s exactly who they were. The variety of accents that all of the actors employed sounded a bit strange, but I feel like they were employed deliberately, to have a stronger sense of a warped reality. One thing that annoyed me about the writing was the usage of the English swear words instead of the Russian ones. Again, this might have been a creative choice to enhance the cartoonishness of the film, but I think that the Russian swear words would have added some authenticity to the film and complimented the very accurate reproduction of the mise-en-scene (the red color palette and the tasteless pomposity).
  4. The Death of Stalin was also thematically rich and surprisingly contenporray. The film dealt with the ideas of the fake news, fabrication of truth and changing narratives – all of the things we should have left in the past but keep bringing into the future. The picture also did a good job of poking fun at the power struggle and the political plotting, showing these two developments in all their ridiculous glory. Lastly, while the movie was mostly focused on the irony/satire and the comedy of the situation, it also did not shy away from the terror/tragedy aspects of it and showed them quite explicitly.
  5. The Death of Stalin assembled a highly accomplished cast. Jeffrey Tambor (The Accountant), Steve BuscemiMichael PalinSimon Russell BealePaddy ConsidineAndrea Riseborough (Battle of the Sexes), Rupert Friend (Hitman: Agent 47), and Jason Isaacs (Star Trek: Discovery – really want to watch it), and the lone Eastern European actress in a film Olga Kurylenko (she is actually of both Russian and Ukranian ancestry but has a French citizenship).

In short, The Death of Stalin was an effective satirical reimagining that wasn’t that far from the truth.

Rate: 4.2/5

Trailer: The Death of Stalin trailer

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Movie review: Battle of the Sexes

Movie reviews

Good evening,

My BFI London Film Festival series of reviews (it opened with Breathe) continues with Battle of the Sexes – another potential awards contender for the year!

IMDb summary: The true story of the 1973 tennis match between World number one Billie Jean King and ex-champ and serial hustler Bobby Riggs.

As a side note, before the actual review begins, I just wanted to tell you about a different tennis movie that already came out this year and left me pleasantly surprised. It’s Borg vs. McEnroe and I suggest you check it out! Onto Battle of the Sexes!

Writing

Battle of the Sexes was written by Simon Beaufoy (who is known for writing such movies as Slumdog Millionaire127 HoursSalmon Fishing in the YemenThe Hunger Games: Catching Fire, and Everest) and the film’s script was inspired/based on real events.

Battle of the Sexes tackled/portrayed two big concepts – the LGBTQ+ identity and the feminism/women’s rights. Sadly, both of these thematical spheres are still highly controversial and not discussed enough (or if they are debated, then only really unproductively, with zero chances of reaching a consensus between the opposing sides). Some might say that both of these issues are more topical in today’s socio-political climate than they were in the 1970s.

The movie approached these topics head-on (feminism way more than the LGBTQ+ side) and had a strong overall message. Personally, I loved it, but then again, I am a woman, a feminist, and a liberal. The general audiences, full of individuals of different genders/ideologies/beliefs, might turn on this movie because of its strong message of social justice. There was one short scene in the movie, where Emma Stone’s character confronted a journalist and clearly declared that she was not fighting to be seen as better, she just wanted to be treated equally. I wanted that idea – one of equality – to be more overtly stated in the movie because I worry that a takeaway for some audience members might be the fact that women want to be on top, rather than by side with the other genders. It is a bummer that, for some, being pro-female ultimately translates into an anti-male stance and I would hate if the cinema-goers interpreted Battle of the Sexes in such a way.

Now, let’s discuss some aspects of the writing in more detail. I thought that the presentation of Steve Carell’s character was captivating: his personal background and problems very clearly affected his actions of the tennis court. The way his gambling addiction and his work – tennis – were combined was super interesting too. It was also fascinating to see how he embellished his toxic masculinity for the public eye. The whole commentary on tennis as an activity in the middle of the spectacle v sports dichotomy was brilliant. In addition, the conflicting position of Carell’s character’s wife, played by Elisabeth Shue, was just amazing to watch: she rooted for her husband because he was her love but she also seemed to be cheering for Billie Jean and her cause.

Lastly, Battle of the Sexes also toyed with the concept of the gentlemanliness/sexism line (where one ends and the other begins). It also showcased sport as the factor that triumphed any relationship in the character’s life. The picture also did a very good job of combining feminity with feminism (which are often presented as polar opposites, which they aren’t). Oh, and the jokes were good too!

Directing

Battle of the Sexes was directed by a duo of filmmakers – Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris – who are responsible for directing one of my all-time favorite pictures Little Miss Sunshine. They did a great job with this film and its nuances and layers. Battle of the Sexes was a great biographical drama, a good sports drama, and an amazing romantic drama. The extreme close-ups of the characters made the movie seem intimate, real, and raw. The 1970s setting was well-realized, from the retro logos to the colorful vintage tracksuits. The sequences of the actual tennis play were good too, the final one was especially intense. The body doubles were hardly noticeable, so props to the directors, the cinematographer, and the camera crew for cleverly shooting around them.

Acting

Emma Stone (Magic in the MoonlightIrrational Man) and Steve Carell (The Big Short, Cafe Society) played the two lead roles. Both of these actors had quite similar careers – they started in comedy and then tried to transition to more serious roles, with varying levels of success. For Stone, this performance is her follow-up to the Oscar win for La La Land and a strong contender for at least a nomination this year. For Carrel, the involvement in Battle of the Sexes might bring him another nomination too. Emma was extremely lovable in the role and exuded both strength and relatable vulnerability. Steve was really good too – he looked exactly like the real person and also made the guy into a somewhat likable human being, even if he was sprouting nonsense most of the time.

The supporting cast was also really good. I loved Sarah Silverman as the bossy manager, she was perfectly cast. Andrea Riseborough (Nocturnal Animals) was brilliant as Billie Jean’s lover, while Austin Stowell (Bridge of Spies) brought a lot of heart to his role of Billie’s husband. Finally, I loved to hate Bill Pullman (ID: Resurgence) in his role and adored Elisabeth Shue in hers!

In short, Battle of the Sexes was a great drama about equality, freedom, and fighting. Undoubtfully, it was well executed, but whether you will agree with its message, will entirely depend on who you are as a person.

Rate: 4.3/5

Trailer: Battle of the Sexes trailer

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