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: Hardcore Henry

Movie reviews

Hello!

I’m continuing my series of reviews of the 2016 films that I’ve missed and, this time, I’m giving you my thoughts on Hardcore Henry!

IDMb summary: Henry is resurrected from death with no memory, and he must save his wife from a telekinetic warlord with a plan to bio-engineer soldiers.

Throughout the years, Hollywood has adapted/used a lot of video game narratives (the latest example being the Warcraft film). However, Hardcore Henry is the first (as far as I know) feature film adaptation of the video game cinematography. Hardcore Henry was also made by two opposing countries – Russia and the US. I guess the foreign financial and creative influences on Hollywood come from more than just China.

Writing and Directing

The film was written and directed by a Russian filmmaker Ilya Naishuller. While he did manage to create a visually interesting and exciting product, plot-wise it was kinda boring.

The story and the characters

The film had a lot of exposition and a lack of information. The viewers were never told anything useful and I, personally, felt lost in the story. Henry was basically going from point A to B just because – like on a video game type of a mission. The narrative was confusing for Henry and for the viewer alike. The film also had a very stereotypical Russian aura/feeling. It was set in Russia and featured a lot of stereotypically Russian characters in the background – I don’t know why a Russian filmmaker would use these stereotypes to represent his country and Russian cinema to the world, but, then again, some Russian people are weirdly proud of their negative stereotype.

My favorite line in the film was spoken by the villain and it involved the subversion on US favorite pastime. The saying that in Russia, a lot of bats but no baseballs are sold was spot-on and really funny.

The film had a lot of weird characters. To begin with, Henry had a limited amount/no backstory. His metal arm (and leg) kinda reminded me of Marvel’s Winter Soldier. The fact that he needed re-charging was an interesting idea. The villain of the movie – Akan – was super weird. He had unexplained telekinesis powers and wanted an army of the super soldier just because. Another weirdo – Jimmy – felt like a caricature – his clones/multiple personalities seemed really strange and borderline stupid and the explanation didn’t satisfy me either. That musical number felt out of place and didn’t make much sense as well. Lastly, the wife reveal was not that great – I didn’t care enough about the characters to feel surprised or betrayed.

The visuals and the action

Hardcore Henry is really unique in that it was shot entirely from Henry’s POV (except for a single scene with the kids at the beginning that is repeated a few times). This type of cinematography is, of course, very reminiscent of video game gameplay. It also has similarities with the found footage films and their cinematography. While it was really cool to see a film shot entirely from a single perspective, it was also kinda disorientating. It worked at times – at the beginning, when Henry was waking up with no sound and disorientating visuals, the viewers felt like he/she was waking up in the film’s world as well. Nevertheless, an hour into the film, POV cinematography stopped being interesting and felt like a gimmick – nausea inducing gimmick.

The fact that the film only had  a single perspective, also meant that its frame was narrow and limited – if Henry was not looking at stuff, the viewers could not see it either. I also felt that the film was unnecessarily graphic, in its usage of both sexual and violent content.

A few positive things on the topic of directing: the opening red slow-mo visuals did look nice. The upbeat music during the fights was also fun. The last fight’s song – Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now – was an appropriate and funky choice. Lastly, this whole film was shot with GoPros. The modern technologies continue to amaze me – the video quality of even the simplest contemporary cameras is unbelievable.

Acting

  • The cinematographers Sergey Valyaev and Andrei Dementiev, and the director Ilya Naishuller all played Henry. I would like to praise all of them for acting without showing their face – Hollywood actors would never do that (except Tom HardyBane, Mad Max) – they would like their face to be fully on-screen.
  • Sharlto Copley as Jimmy had a too over-the-top performance and made this parody of a character even more annoying.
  • Danila Kozlovsky as Akan was also too much like a cartoon character. He also kinda looked like Viserys from Game of Thrones S1. I have seen only one other film starring KozlovskyThe Vampire Academy – that picture was not great but better than the trailers advertised.
  • Haley Bennett as Estelle acted like a damsel in distress – a living prop. The only interesting scenes with her was the science stuff when Henry woke up.

In short, Hardcore Henry had style but lacked substance. If that is not a problem for you, you might enjoy the movie, but I wanted something more.

Rate: 2.7/5

Trailer: Hardcore Henry trailer

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Eurovision 2016!

Music

Hello, my dear readers!

Once a year, the whole of Europe and Australia (and even the US for the first time) turns on their TVs and witnesses one of the most bizarre international events – the Eurovision Song Contest! Eurovision is supposedly a musical contest and yet it has always been extremely political and biased. This year was no exception! Actually, 2016’s show might be the most political Eurovision ever.

To begin with, let’s focus on the bright side and talk about the positive aspects of the event. The 61st edition of the contest was held in Stockholm, Sweden thanks to Måns Zelmerlöw, who won in 2015 with the song Heroes. This wasn’t the first time that Sweden won the contest (it was actually the 6th – previous wins in  1974 (ABBA), 1984, 1991, 1999 and 2012 (Loreen)), so the Scandinavian country was/is an experienced host nation and I think that they did a fabulous job. The event was hosted by Zelmerlöw and the fan-favorite Petra Mede and they actually were pretty funny and worked well together. Of course, there were plenty of awkward and uncomfortable moments, but that’s just part of the Eurovision’s charm.

A few stand-out moments from the hosts and the guests of the show were: the dance/acting performance The Grey People in support of the refugees during the 1st Semi-Final, the dance performance Man v Machine during the 2nd Semi-Final, the satirical, tongue-in-cheek performance by Petra and Mans and the appearance of/interval act by Justin Timberlake during the grand final.

The actual songs were pretty good as well. This was probably the most even playing field I have ever seen in all my 12 years of watching the Eurovision. There was no clear winner before the show or even during the voting.

My favorite songs came from the following countries: Belgium, Hungary, Italy, Israel, Bulgaria, United Kingdom, Sweden, Germany, Australia, Latvia, Austria, and Russia (I feel ashamed to mention that last one). Ukraine was not one of my favorites – the song was not of my style or taste – but I appreciated it and was happy that they won.

I also did not hate my native country’s – Lithuania’s – song. We did pretty well this year, finishing in 9th place. That’s the 2nd best result for my country. This was the first year that I actually was able to vote for my native land as I no longer live there.

Now,  about the politics and the voting. This year, the jury’s and public’s votes were announced separately and this decision made for an even more intense watching experience. Stand out moments from the announcement of the votes:

  1. Australia took and early lead and won the jury’s votes. Everyone was expecting it to win and then Ukraine shockingly dethroned it.
  2. The juries were more biased than their respective nations. The professionals voted for their neighboring countries much more than the public did. I would have expected the public to be more biased, while the juries should have been way more objective.
  3. Ukraine and Russia were the last two countries to receive the public’s votes. Russia was the fan-favorite and could have won but it did not receive enough points. So, Ukraine had the best payback ever for the current political situation in Crimea. It gave Russia some hope and then crushed it completely. When you find out that a)Ukraine’s singer is of Crimean Tatar descent; b)her song was about the deportation of the Crimean Tatars during the 1940s by the Soviet Union and c) the song features Crimean Tatar’s language and cultural vocal styles, this revenge win is even more iconic. Layers upon layers of politics. 
  4. Germany’s jury gave 12 points to Israel. I guess the blame for WW2 is still on Germany’s jury’s minds.
  5. Poland received 7 points from the jury and 200+ points from the viewers. This was probably the biggest divide that the professionals and the public had ever had. I have a theory on why the viewers liked Poland’s performer – he looks like Weird Al Yankovic – internet-famous American parodist and singer.

All in all, I had a lovely time watching this year’s Eurovision. The show had enough pleasant surprises and a few listenable songs. Have you watched the show? Who were your favorites?

My posts on/about 2015‘s Eurovision here and 2014‘s Eurovision here.

eurovision-2016

 

Eurovision 2015

Music

Hello!

Some of you may know that I live in Europe, so this post shouldn’t come as a shocker, although, now you can live in Australia and be a part of Europe. Anyway, I am a huge Eurovision fan, I have always watched it as a kid, but I remember 2005 being the year that peaked my interest the most and that interest never diminished. You want proof – read last year’s coverage of Eurovision 2014.

To begin with, I believe that Eurovision allowed me to get to know so many artists that I wouldn’t have know otherwise,. I listen to pretty much only US and UK musicians, so Eurovision broadens my musical taste and cultural perspective.

This years contest, to my mind, was the best of the decade song wise. I have never had so many favorites. So, my top 7 songs were from:

  1. Sweden 
  2. Belgium
  3. Estonia
  4. Latvia
  5. Russia
  6. Denmark (they weren’t in the final)
  7. Australia

Other countries which had good songs were Romania, Georgia, The Netherlands, Greece, Belarus, Hungary, Austria, Norway, Israel, Azerbaijan, Cyprus, Poland. – I warned you, I had a lot of favorites:) This year also had a variety of different types of songs: some were really fun and happy while others spoke about serious issues.

The inclusion of Australia, in honor of this being the 60th Eurovision and because of the fact that Eurovision is very popular in Australia, was a very nice touch.

The winner was Sweden and that’s one of a few times when my favorite song wins. The last time this happened was in 2012 when Loreen won -also from Sweden.

My own country finished in the 18th place, despite quite an extensive media coverage on my country’s representatives. The 3 kisses didn’t help and they just sparked a lot of fights in the comment section of a variety of articles. However, our song This Time was definitely the best entry we ever had. I was really happy that other Baltic States did so well – Latvia and Estonia finished in 6th and 7th place respectively.

Austria  did a great job as a host country.The stage looked unbelievably great. I am just sad that they didn’t got any points and finished in the last place together with Germany. The motto Building Bridges was also a cool one.

Eurovision being a political contest as much as it is a musical contest, the voting didn’t surprise but infuriated me. When are we going to stop voting for our neighbors and when are we actually going to vote for the songs and not for the countries? With all the developments with Russia and Ukraine, I am shocked that Russia did so well. The song definitely deserved the 2nd place, but I have no idea how it got it.

To sum up, Eurovision Song Contest 2015 was a fairly good one. Nothing really surprised me, except the quality of the songs. I got a chance to add some new songs to my playlist, refreshing it before summer starts. Rate 4/5

Have a great week!

Outdoor music-opera festival+#OOTD

Uncategorized

Hello everybody!

On July 5th, I and my parents had some nice family time at music festival. But is not your traditional Coachella type festival – it was an opera and classical music festival. Sounds boring? Well, actually it wasn’t boring at all.

I enjoyed this event particularly because I like classical music. I love contemporary pop music too, but I don’t cringe like so many youngsters do when they hear classical tones. 

This was 13th international outdoor opera festival.(Operetta festival – http://www.operetta.lt/?lang=en). The location were it was held was also really special – a historical Kaunas Castle. Around 120 artists (singers, dancers, musicians, actors) came from 6 countries (Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, Estonia, US and Lithuania) and entertained huge crowds of people (around 5000) two evenings in a row. I was so excited to hear my favorite songs from West Side Story and Sound of Music musicals come to life once again. 

Bellow I put a little video together with parts of performances from the festival.

Since it’s a fashion blog let’s speak about what I was wearing. I put on my favorite long skirt and tribal print sleeveless collar shirt. I think that this shirt is perfect for festival fashion because it has this hippy vibe, but a long skirt keeps the whole outfit classical and appropriate for opera. Shoes: floral black and light brown sling-backs. Accessories: my favorite sunglasses and rings from H&M.Also, a coin necklace from Berlin. You can practically find all these things in my favorites/must-haves post. (Posting it tomorrow).

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You will find more photos from the event in the gallery bellow:

Eurovision 2014

Uncategorized

As you may know, I live in Europe. This means, that last night I was by my TV, watching Eurovision Song Contest 2014.

Some facts:
1. It took 700 workers and 500 volunteers to organize this event
2. This year it was held in Copenhagen – Denmark won last year with a song “Only Teardrops”
3. 2014 Eurovision motto: #JoinUs
4. 3 hosts
5. 26 countries
6. Broadcasted in 45 countries (in countries outside Europe as well as inside)
*The thing I like the most about Eurovision performances is these little creative intro-videos that present the singer. This year these videos showed artists making their national flag using weird material: sticky notes, lasers, dominos, puzzles, Rubik’s cubes, food, glass and paint and many more.

Surprises and interesting stuff:
*This was a year of sparkly dresses and facial hair. Every girl performing wore a sparkly silver or gold dress. The winner was a woman with a beard and the last place went to contestants from France: they were singing about wanting to have a mustache. All jokes aside, I hope that people voted for Conchita Wurst (song “Rise like a Phoenix”) because they believe in equality, not because they wanted to make fun of her.
*Ukraine – I was surprised, that given the things that are happening right now in that country, they were attending the song contest.
*Germany’s representative was literally a Pink’s twin.
*Russia was singing about the world showing some love. So why don’t you show some love to Ukraine and just leave them ALONE?
*I hated Poland’s performance. I know it was meant as a joke, but still. Too much boobs and vulgarity for my taste.

My TOP 10:
1. Greece – Freaky Fortune feat.Riskykidd – “Rise up”. I loved their modern, club music number that made me want to dance.
2. Norway – the ballad “Silence Storm” was breathtaking and too good for Eurovision.
3. UK – “Children of the Universe” – nice song with a powerful message.
4. Hungary – “Running” – song about violence in a family, another strong message.
5. Denmark – the lead vocalist looked like a Bruno Mars wannabe but I still enjoyed their “Cliché Love Song”.
6. Belarus – “Cheesecake”. Weird name for a catchy song.
7. France “Moustache” – another catchy and silly song. The artist was like a mixture of Jedward and LMFAO on crack.
8. Switerzland – “Hunter of stars”- a little bit of whistle action.
9. Malta – “Coming Home” – threw some country in a mix.
10. Finland – “Something Better”

My country didn’t participate in a final but was part of the second semi-final. Overall I would rate this Eurovision 3.5/5. Not too interesting but not too bad.

My personal winners: Greece

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