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PostPosted: Fri Aug 11, 2017 2:38 pm 

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Death of Stalin


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PostPosted: Fri Aug 11, 2017 3:27 pm 
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ianungstad wrote:

mfunk aneurysm in 3...2...


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PostPosted: Fri Aug 11, 2017 4:30 pm 
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Didn't even recognize Buscemi, wow


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PostPosted: Sat Aug 12, 2017 4:12 pm 
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I'm most excited about Michael Palin being in there (apparently as Vyacheslav Molotov!), as everyone know that he can do scarily chummy bureaucratic figures after Brazil!

This did remind me to revisit Iannucci's Time Trumpet series, the series that satirised nostalgic documentaries full of celebrity talking heads.


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PostPosted: Sat Aug 12, 2017 4:23 pm 
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Zdravstvuyte, Jason Isaacs!


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PostPosted: Sun Mar 25, 2018 6:26 pm 
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It doesn't surprise me one bit to learn from the Veep thread that Iannucci has focused his creative energy over and over again on farcical political corruption and how bad behavior is justified, because frantic variations on those basic ideas easily form 90% of the exasperating material of this "satirical comedy." This was terribly unfunny, a comedy in the Italian Comedy mode of throwing a bunch of frustrated and mean-spirited characters at each other and mistaking the negativity they spew for wit. It's not even fun negativity, just self-satisfied and broad negativity delivered by actors who should know better than this material. Worse, this movie has nothing satirical to say about Stalin or his cronies beyond hitting the most obvious Soviet/political targets for mockery (Soviet propaganda was manipulative, politicians embarrass themselves to gain favor, etc). Neither the comedy nor the satire are presented with novelty, topicality, or intelligence, and even if they were, who cares enough in 2018 about taking down Stalin or Communism for the movie to be incisive? It's not that I have a problem with old-fashioned comedy, but, in both its material and its style, The Death Of Stalin feels so dated and toothless (for all its violent asides) that its bluster just adds up to nothing.

As a side note, when I first saw the trailer for this, I assumed that Jeffery Tambor was playing Lavrentiy Beria, given how much his character looked like Beria to me. Instead, Tambor plays Georgy Malenkov, while Simon Russel Beale (who looks like Malenkov or maybe even Gorbachev in this movie) is playing Beria. I'm sure that we've all seen many movies with miscast actors in them, but I can't remember the last time I saw a movie where two actors could and should have just switched roles.


Last edited by Mungo on Sun Mar 25, 2018 9:36 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Sun Mar 25, 2018 6:39 pm 
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This looked unspeakably awful to me too, but I long ago accepted that Iannucci and I have little common ground when it comes to humor


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PostPosted: Tue Mar 27, 2018 4:50 pm 
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Not terribly "cinematic" and definitely played fast and loose with historical facts. It had its moments, but not anything I'd ever need to see again.


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PostPosted: Tue Mar 27, 2018 5:09 pm 

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Truth is stranger than fiction. If you made an honest film about Lavrenty Beria, it would be a horror film. He would drive around Moscow and pick up teen girls (by force), rape them (and occasionally kill them and bury them in the basement or yard).

You thought Stalin was a monster? Beria was a monster like Hannibal Lecter. And then there is Blokhin, who evidently managed to do all the killing in the Katyn massacre by himself, assembly line fashion.


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PostPosted: Tue Mar 27, 2018 9:00 pm 
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This is an extremely funny and good movie. The use of violence reminded me a lot of the casual torture and explosions in Brazil - it's kind of like an episode of The Thick Of It, except people keep getting shot in the head. There are some overall structural problems, it could've been a little tighter and meaner (the turn from grimly funny bureaucracy humor to Kafkaesque power grab in the third act felt clumsy) but it's hard to complain about.


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PostPosted: Wed Mar 28, 2018 10:39 am 
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DarkImbecile wrote:
ianungstad wrote:

mfunk aneurysm in 3...2...

Just seeing this now (what a moderator I am) - what am I having an aneurysm about?


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PostPosted: Wed Mar 28, 2018 10:41 am 
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That the link is C+Ped rather than put into proper BBCode, I assume


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PostPosted: Wed Mar 28, 2018 10:44 am 
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OH. Yeah. It appears I already fixed it!


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PostPosted: Wed Mar 28, 2018 10:59 am 
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Yeah, that initial link was posted about a week after this, which was the latest of multiple mentions of the issue last summer. Anyway, glad to see you've mostly recovered, even if memory loss is still an issue.


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PostPosted: Mon Apr 02, 2018 7:14 pm 
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I liked this well enough while recognizing that it falls victim to some of the same inconsistencies that have shown up elsewhere with Armando Iannucci: for as much as I liked Buscemi, Palin, and Isaacs in their roles, I was less than enthused about Tambor and Kurylenko's more one-note characters and performances; as tense and propulsive as many scenes can be, there are points where the narrative sags under unnecessary complications; for every witheringly anachronistic one-liner, there is a middle-school-level profanity-laced barb that falls flat. That said, I thought this was largely entertaining - though sometimes more in the vein of horror than comedy - and worth seeing.

Iannucci's work has long been centered on the petty indignities, withering disdain, coincidental absurdities, and sociopathic self-interest that drives both the ambitions and downfalls of bureaucrats and politicians, so The Death of Stalin fits in well with Veep, In the Loop, and The Thick of It by taking the aforementioned motifs to their utmost extremes in the context of the twilight of Stalin's Great Terror. So while I understand the criticisms above and elsewhere about the difficulty of laughing at people panicking under the threat of imprisonment, torture, exile, and execution, what Iannucci emphasizes are that the insecurities and agendas that drive bickering about, say, funereal ornamentation, a choice of hairstyle, or which child is best used as a political prop are the same catalysts that initiate and enable the most destructive, murderous, evil behavior. The explicit and implicit social and political pressures that drive sons to send their fathers to a gulag or look the other way at the predations of a colleague are not dissimilar from those that lead to the initiation of an unnecessary war in the Middle East or the abandonment of good social policy in Iannucci's other projects; I think the satirical target here is the banality of evil, and in stripping down whatever ideological, bureaucratic, or personal rationalizations used in the continuation of inhuman behavior. Sure, we have daily reminders of the stupidity and venality of those who seek power and recognition, so mileage may vary on whether or not these targets are worthwhile or whether Iannucci hits them with enough wit or consistency, but for me it was a acidic take on an underexamined historical setting that justified its existence with just enough successfully dark humor and a really enjoyable performance from Buscemi at the head of the ensemble.


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PostPosted: Sat Apr 07, 2018 8:00 pm 
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Bit of a question before I post proper. Are all of Iannucci's works this...manufactured? No doubt there was indeed chaos after Stalin died but it's certainly been played up for comedic effect and that type of work appears to not work for some people in the thread? That's not a criticism as much as it is an inquiry. I've not seen anything he's done before other than this which is why I ask.

My father lived in the Soviet Union for a time in the eighties and he speaks of it sort of like a dream. People went about their lives as if nothing was wrong. Everything appeared orderly. The woman in charge of housing even told my father and his roommates that Russia did not have anyone with disabilities nor did that have "any homosexuals". It was a very clear constructed truth that he witnessed and I've heard about the types of men that were in this film all my life. I brought him with me today and he was in laughing fits for most of it (Until it becomes very much not funny.). I asked him why he thought it was funny and he told me that it's because it's the only way he felt you could portray these men in a comedy. To the absolute manufactured heights of absurdity. And that's really what the film is. It's a heavily ramped up version of events that were very much not funny at all. I can see why a lot of people might find that very grating and even insufferable but I didn't perhaps only because I've been told stories about these men all my life and not in a positive manner. I will say however that I don't think a focus on Beria in this current climate would have been a very good idea. The film heavily implies what kind of man he was until the end where things just get more crazy. Portraying him as trash is fitting enough for me because that's exactly what he was. Simon Russell Beale is great in the role though. I quite enjoyed the cast myself especially Buscemi who had to play it much straighter than everyone else.

I like the film a lot but I'm unsure how exactly I'd mesh with other Iannucci works because I'm quite familiar with the men this film portrayed. I'm not sure how this would work with characters that didn't exist at all.


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PostPosted: Sat Apr 07, 2018 10:10 pm 
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I'm fairly familiar with his work, but I actually was surprised the other way: I'd expected a totally ridiculous farcical parody of the events, not a fairly true-to-facts beat-by-beat version of the story. I'm generally of the opinion that his work on the Thick of It is superior to that of In the Loop is superior to that here, but really can't complain about any of it.


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PostPosted: Sun Apr 08, 2018 2:34 am 
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That's really along the line of my own thoughts about the film - the great accomplishment to me is that it plays as a farce, and a very funny one at that, even though nothing that happens is all that farcical on its own terms. The performances are obviously pitched more broadly than if it were a straight historical drama, but honestly the script itself would barely need to change in order to serve as the basis for something far more somber and serious. I can't think offhand of anything else I've seen quite like it.

Beyond that, I thought this was fascinating in the utter insularity of these characters' world and how that speaks to the nature of authoritarianism. It's not even that these characters are evil as such (aside from perhaps Beria), it's just that their self-involvement is so complete and all-consuming that there's not really any room for moral considerations. Zhukov possibly excepted, they have no identities outside of their standing relative to each other, and there's no evidence that any of them have any concept of a country that needs to be run other than the actual real world being essentially some vague, annoying background noise. Their response to every situation is to jostle with the others for positioning inside their closed-off group. Even Khrushchev's self-identification as the "reform" guy only serves as a marker to differentiate himself from the others in the group, as we see when he immediately resents one of the others suggesting reforms himself. And it's why, for example, Beria's able to pivot so quickly on matters of who lives and dies, because what does it matter? Actually killing people is mostly beside the point; the point is to have the power to have people killed.

And like I say, as an insight into the nature of authoritarianism, I think this hits pretty close to the mark. Acquiring and then staying in power is a 24/7 job in and of itself, there's no time to worry about things like running a country for the benefit of anyone other than yourself. Maintaining your position is both the means and the ends simultaneously. And if we crack open the mind of some power-hungry individual, we won't necessarily find a dark, evil malignancy; we'll just as likely find a vapid twit wondering if some offhand comment the night before is going to hurt their ascent in the ranks, or if an underling that didn't laugh hard enough at one of their jokes is secretly plotting to overthrow them.


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PostPosted: Mon Apr 09, 2018 6:03 am 

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The Australian distributors sat on this film for over six months before deigning to release it. It’s a splendid piece of work.

Criticism of its tone seem unjustified. Think Dr. Strangelove or Richard III for jet-black humorous studies of brutal political gamesmanship. Psychotic (or just terrified) players cut bloody swathes through civilisation itself in order to shore up their own position on shifting sands. The humour provides a way in to a world which is scarcely believable, except that it existed.

Buscemi, Tambor and perhaps most of all Russell Beale depict breathtakingly heartless and venal operators in a world familiar in screen form from Tarantino, McDonagh et al where wolves prey on each other to a temporary standstill. The depiction of 1953 Moscow is completely convincing and detailed, with a pastiche score recalling Prokofiev and Shostakovich.

A study of the wafer-thin ruling clique of the Soviet Union and its lumpen proletariat is a fascinating project for our current far more enlightened era.


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PostPosted: Mon Apr 09, 2018 6:13 am 
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Big Ben wrote:
Bit of a question before I post proper. Are all of Iannucci's works this...manufactured? No doubt there was indeed chaos after Stalin died but it's certainly been played up for comedic effect and that type of work appears to not work for some people in the thread? That's not a criticism as much as it is an inquiry. I've not seen anything he's done before other than this which is why I ask.

I'd say less "manufactured" if anything - there's nowhere near the tsunami of perfectly-crafted one-liners that you get in The Thick of It and In the Loop. Which is absolutely not a criticism: I think it would have been a major mistake to have gone down exactly the same route with material like this, and what unexpectedly impressed me was the way that Iannucci knew when not to play things for laughs.

(The Dr Strangelove comparison is very apt, as that's another comedy about something that should by rights be the least funny subject imaginable.)


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PostPosted: Mon Apr 09, 2018 7:16 pm 
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MichaelB wrote:
I'd say less "manufactured" if anything - there's nowhere near the tsunami of perfectly-crafted one-liners that you get in The Thick of It and In the Loop. Which is absolutely not a criticism: I think it would have been a major mistake to have gone down exactly the same route with material like this, and what unexpectedly impressed me was the way that Iannucci knew when not to play things for laughs.


Thank you firstly for the clarification about his other works Michael. Secondly the highlighted was a real strength of the film. It's decidedly not funny at certain points particularly with Beria and the women. For a film that has an entire sequence centered around a urine stain very early on you wouldn't guess the rest of the film would show much restraint. But it does.

The way violence is handled is interesting as well:
[Reveal] Spoiler:
The sequence where the citizens are being massacred is entirely bloodless. We know what's occurring but it's certainly restraint on Iannucci's part. Contrast that with the execution of Beria where we not only show him being shot in the head in full view but being lit on fire and disposed of.


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PostPosted: Mon Apr 09, 2018 7:38 pm 
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Did the Moscow "funeral massacre" really happen? (I couldn't find any reference to this in real world history).


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PostPosted: Mon Apr 09, 2018 8:29 pm 
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Michael Kerpan wrote:
Did the Moscow "funeral massacre" really happen? (I couldn't find any reference to this in real world history).


One of the most disconcerting things surrounding The Great Terror is that they're still not sure how many people died under Stalin. I've seen estimates all over the place and if the event described did occur I'm unsure we'd have an accurate number anyway. Even the records surrounding how Beria was taken in appear to be conflicting, which is downright ridiculous! The closest I can find is something in relation to any of this is an uprising in East Berlin but that's most certainly not in the Soviet Union proper. I'm going to venture and say it didn't happen but who knows?


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PostPosted: Tue Apr 10, 2018 10:16 am 
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Yes, there was an uprising in East Berlin -- months later -- and somehow Beria was blamed for this. But that was the closest analog I could find. Another historical oddity, Beria (for all his horrendous faults) was apparently one of the few Stalin associates who was not anti-semitic (and had lots of Jewish staff members) -- so the "doctors' plot" was not engineered by him but rather was apparently aimed at weakening him....


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