‘The Death of Stalin’: Murder and Violence Is Funny

By Olivia Norwood, Edited by Anthony Peyton

Russia in the 40’s and 50’s was a place of government corruption and utter tragedy. Most films about this Communist country consist of spies and executions including Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Bridge of Spies. But what if satire was added to something that is known to be tragic? That is exactly what Armando Iannucci’s film The Death of Stalin does so perfectly. It paints Russia and it’s most notorious leader as comical without glossing over the historical violence.

Surrounding the death of Joseph Stalin, the disorganized members of the Central Committee fight for the position to replace their beloved leader. Among them are an opposing Nikita Khruschev (Steve Buscemi), a mousy Georgy Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor), and the barbarous Lavrenti Beria (Simon Russell Beale). Once their leader passes, Khruschev strives to prove Beria’s guilt and crimes against humanity while Malenkov remains painfully neutral.

To understand why this film achieves the dark comedy aspect that it does, you have to look at the direction and cinematography that enhances the performances of its incredible actors. The men and women in the film also use an abundant amount of profanity to add more humor because what’s a comedy without “f*ck”.

There are many scenes of quick and dirty murder that flood the story. Police and soldiers shoot innocent people in broad daylight without remorse. But the execution and interrogation scenes makes the audience the most uncomfortable with their own judgement of what’s funny. You can see victims being pushed down stairs and distinctly hear soldiers shooting them all while Beria casually walks and talks through the halls of the secret jail. Its swift and happens without a flinch from its actors but with an uproar of awkward laughter from it’s audience.

Other scenes include the organized chaos that ensues when the Committee members find Stalin nearly dead, on the floor, and covered in his own urine while the clumsy middle aged men struggle to bring the heavy leader to his bed. With all of the doctors in the country either executed or jailed, they manage to pluck the former ones off of the street fearing for the safety of their lives.

Why is all of this funny? I might have an idea. Maybe the casualness of it all makes the chaos and violence seem more normal. We laugh when we see that the characters aren’t phased by the gruesome acts that are happening around them. But, it’s laughter caused by our own confusion of why it is funny.

Explaining why this film is amusing is a huge struggle but that is what comedy does best. It makes people question their own sick sense of humor. The Death of Stalin uses this to make audiences uneasy with their laughter and turn Russia’s history into a satire that puts the ‘dark’ in dark comedy.

My Rating: 87%

Acting: 3/4

Cinematography: 3.5/4

Story: 4/4

Enjoyability: 3.5/4



Must Love ‘Isle of Dogs’

By Olivia Norwood, Edited by Anthony Peyton

Since the release of Wes Anderson’s animated film Fantastic Mr. Fox, fans have waited for the day that the King of Indie would release another aesthetically stunning stop-motion flick. Well, that time has finally arrived and soon it will capture the hearts of hipsters and dog lovers alike.

Based in the fictional Japanese city of Megasaki, the 12 year old Atari Kobayashi (Koyu Rankin) makes the brave journey of searching for his dog after all canines are deported to the secluded “Trash Island” due to the threat of dog flu. While on the waste dump, he meets a group of Alpha dogs including the stray, Chief (Bryan Cranston), the lone wolf who bites when shown affection.

Despite being different species, the two characters are very much alike. Both are lost orphans who constantly seek belonging, either in people or pets. Atari found a home in his best friend, Spots (Liev Schreiber), when he lost his own. Chief, coming from nothing, found himself in a strong bond with the pack that provided him with purpose. At first distant, the two bond over their lonesomeness while Chief also overcomes his struggles with receiving kindness.

While Anderson’s style can come off as inauthentic to any type of behavior, it allows the film to eliminate what makes humans and animals different and brings them to the same level. The true message and heart rests in the connection between these two lonely characters when they’re both faced with the threat of losing security and friendship. This could happen between any two humans but Anderson further proves that cinematic stories like these can happen between anyone. It isn’t called “a man’s best friend” for nothing.

Between the splendid animation and witty dialogue, Isle of Dogs shines in its original storytelling while Anderson teaches us an important lesson about compassion and camaraderie: we all have the capacity to give and receive friendship even when we feel the most alone.

My Rating: 87.5%

Animation: 4/4

Cinematography: 3.5/4

Story: 3/4

Enjoyability: 3.5/4

Film Forecast Friday: March 30th

By Olivia Norwood and Anthony Peyton

On Friday, March 30th, we have….

  1. Ready Player One
  2. God’s Not Dead: Light in Darkness
  3. Tyler Perry’s Acrimony
  4. Caught
  5. Fourplay
  6. Gemini

Liv’s Prediction:

Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One will be the biggest film of the weekend, hands down! It’s a big Hollywood movie with special effects like you wouldn’t believe, so it will easily be superior to the rest.

The second biggest film would have to be Tyler Perry’s Acrimony. This is mostly because it’s Tyler Perry and stars Empire’s widely adored Taraji P. Henson. That is a recipe for a box office hit. As for the third installment of God’s Not Dead, I don’t expect much attendance for it. In fact, I think it will crash. It’s not highly anticipated nor does anyone really know about the series itself. Therefore, I don’t see it going anywhere.

As for the indies, only one seems to grasp any type of attention from an average moviegoer. That film is NEON’s Gemini starring the lovely Zoë Kravitz and daring Lola Kirke. The only reason I think that this thriller will do any numbers at the box office is because of the edge factor and that it came from NEON, the production company of Oscar snub I, Tonya. It’s also a story about two beautiful women where one of them could be a murderer. Thoroughbreds, much? I won’t even bother mentioning the other two, Caught and Fourplay, because it has no appeal and no one is anticipating them.

Just know that Ready Player One will dominate at the box office and God’s Not Dead will fall into oblivion like the rest of the films in its series.

Anthony’s Prediction:

Caught has the potential of becoming popular with indie film fans. It has an intriguing story and I am curious on how they’ll go about it. Box office wise… not a hit. This isn’t a major picture that’s going to be rewatched multiple times by the regular moviegoer, but it won’t be awful. As for Gemini, this will also be enjoyed by the indie moviegoer, as many NEON films are. It’ll probably be rated about as well as Caught, if not slightly higher as it has a younger target audience.

Tyler Perry’s Acrimony will be adored by women over the age of 30, as that is its target audience. It won’t fail at the box office but it certainly won’t be the biggest hit, either. However, it does deserve props for filming in a period of eight days. I have confidence that it will be a decent movie if Taraji P. Henson has anything to say about it.

Fourplay and God’s Not Dead: Light in Darkness will be the biggest crashes of the weekend. Fourplay in itself sounds like an already-been-done-before monotone story that won’t be of much interest to the moviegoer who wants to be intrigued by the film they are watching. God’s Not Dead: Light in Darkness has just run its course. This will be its third movie and, given that Christian viewers didn’t even love the first two that much anyway, is on an inevitable path to catastrophe.

The biggest movie of the weekend will be the highly anticipated Ready Player One based on a book of the same title by Ernest Cline. People who have read the book – and those who haven’t – are fascinated by the unique story that this movie is revolving around and, as a result, will be watched by a large audience. This will be the box office’s biggest hit for the weekend of March 30, and that is a fact.

‘Ready Player One’: Throwbacks, Action, (Slightly Mediocre) Acting, Oh My!

By Anthony Peyton, Edited by Olivia Norwood

Welcome to the significantly more intense and highly anticipated Wreck-it Ralph/Tron remix that is Ready Player One. A movie that can only be described by asking you to picture the Iron Giant – yes, the one from the 1999 movie – in an all out war against Godzilla.

Can you picture it? Good.

In Steven Spielberg’s newest movie based off of the highly acclaimed novel by Ernest Cline, we get to live in the world of Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) as he navigates through a crazy complicated Easter egg hunt – which somehow managed to involve King Kong jumping off a building attempting to destroy a DeLorean complete with a flux capacitor – that only took half of the movie to explain.

This was an Easter egg hunt for half a trillion dollars and the sole proprietorship of a video game world called the “Oasis”, given that it’s the only sane place for the majority of people in a post factory apocalypse world. It was created by a slightly senile man by the name of James Halliday (Mark Rylance) who does a good job of showing up at very odd but convenient times throughout the movie.

Sheridan stars alongside Olivia Cooke (Thoroughbreds), who plays Samantha Cook, a slightly self conscious in real life but confident in the Oasis girl, whom is also aiming to win the hunt.

As the first thirty-ish minutes of the movie comes and goes, it becomes pretty obvious that this is no one’s best performance. Cooke is unbearably monotone during certain points in the movie where a little emotion would’ve furthered the character. Sheridan’s performance equals that of X-Men, which may or may not be a good thing.

Take it as you will.

On top of the slightly mediocre acting, the camera angles and special effects towards the beginning of the film can be nauseating and rather jam-packed with the many references you want to scream at (it actually zooms in on Minecraft World before the camera does a 360 degree flip into a space fight). Fortunately, this didn’t manage to bring down the style of the production design and clearly thought out cinematography that was put into the film as a whole.

Aside from these aspects, the actual plot left something to be desired. As aforementioned, the description of the Easter egg hunt by James Halliday was very complex and took half of the movie to fully explain, although it did have a very interesting opening scene that described the  bare minimum of rules – or the lack of them – in the game.

The subplot of Ready Player One actually did better than most movies usually do. This one was very much the classic cliche love story, but it directly connected to the main plot that not many can successfully do nowadays and actually make it look good.

As an audience member, I was more connected to the actual story of the subplot rather than the main plotline. Now, if we are talking about special effects…. Then oh boy did that main storyline have some great effects. You tell me that seeing the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the entire character cast of Halo in the same scene isn’t absolutely iconic.

All in all, Ready Player One is simply a movie to enjoy. To see hundreds of fan-favorite characters from movies, video games, and TV shows all over the course of two hours might be a dream to someone, but trashy to another. This movie packed the references, but did it well. With special effects and the beautiful set, it becomes almost easy to look past the acting and the storyline.

My Rating: 84%

Acting: 2.9/4

Cinematography: 3.6/4

Story: 3.1/4

Enjoyability: 3.9/4

‘7 Days in Entebbe’ Will Keep You Waiting… and Waiting

By Olivia Norwood, Edited by Anthony Peyton

Ever wanted a history film about Israeli-Palestinian relations but didn’t want to sit through 5 hours of the entire history? Well, the new film ‘7 Days in Entebbe’ might be the film for you, but you also willing to sit through almost 2 hours of a single drawn out event that happens over the span of one week.

Based on real life events, ‘7 Days in Entebbe’ tracks the 1976 hijacking of an AirFrance plane en route to Paris from Tel Aviv. Widely known as a terrorist plot, it was in hopes for the Israeli government to release it’s terrorist prisoners by holding their Jewish residents hostage.

So far, it seems like the perfect film for the average history buff.

Well, even though it sounds interesting on paper, the film didn’t amount to any high expectation. The lack of action – until the very end – seemed to drag the pace and the audience with it. Most of the film consisted of Rosamund Pike and Daniel Brühl’s characters waiting around watching the hostages while acting superior and pretending they knew how to use a gun.

For Israeli-Palestinian history I would instead suggest watching the 2011 documentary ‘Promises’. It has much more emotional appeal and a completely unbiased look at the conflict.

Now, I don’t want to attack all aspects of the film considering one of its strengths was actually in its performances. I might be a little biased towards Brühl because I believe that he can do no wrong but the entire cast showed that a bad movie can still have good aspects to it – including acting.

It wasn’t superb, but it was enough to be appreciated.

Overall, ‘7 Days in Entebbe’ wasn’t the Israeli-Palestinian history flick that some were expecting. If you were hoping for a highly entertaining film with an important message – I would pick a different film. The only knowledge gained is that these two nations just need to work things out and find peace – as if we didn’t already know that.

My Rating: 56%

Acting: 3/4

Cinematography: 2/4

Story: 2/4

Enjoyability: 2/4

‘Bridge to Terabithia’: How One Death Changed Disney

For our first Time Warp Tuesday, where we cover older movies that have changed the film industry, we review ‘Bridge to Terabithia’.

By Anthony Peyton, Edited by Olivia Norwood

In February of 2007, Walt Disney Pictures released ‘Bridge to Terabithia’. This was quite different from most of the children’s movies that Disney had made at the time. It was, in fact, their first live action film where a lead character under the age of 18 dies.

In this one, 13 year old Leslie (AnnaSophia Robb) attempts to swing on a rope over a stream, falls, hits her head, and dies on impact. This only occurs in the story after persuading the audience to form a bond with Leslie, as she has an imagination one only wishes they could obtain. He further influences us to adore her as she gradually brings the main character, Jess (Josh Hutcherson), out of what seemed like a never ending but still growing depression.

This was all intentional from the mind of both director Gábor Csupó (‘The Rugrats’, ‘The Simpsons’) and Katherine Paterson (author of the book preceding the film) as they wanted to show – in a tragic way – how to open your mind to seeing the loss of Leslie as something much more.

Disney is no stranger to developing deaths that would later have meaning. There was ‘Bambi’, ‘The Brave Little Toaster’, and ‘The Lion King’.

Too soon Mufasa, too soon.

‘Bridge to Terabithia’ showed a side to Disney that it had never really touched. It was sensitive and they didn’t know how a child’s death would be received among critics. Fortunately for them, it did wonderful with a certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes and a score of 85%. As Jennie Punter of Globe and Mail stated, “It’s the sort of movie I admire more in retrospect than I did while watching it.”

Punter had a very valid point that not everyone sees. A friend of mine, after watching the film for the first time just a week ago, said as the credits begun rolling, “I didn’t like it. It was just sad. It was happy the entire way and then they killed her, which there was no reason for them to do.” I understood at first, but it was easy to recognize why the author wrote her death in the first place and why the director stuck true to it.

Death is always seen as a tragic event and that, of course, is true. In film, however, death can be a symbol of something much bigger. ‘Bridge to Terabithia’ successfully opened the imagination of children and teaching them to use it to help mourn after a loss. That isn’t a tragedy, that is called a victory.

How Comedy Got Its Groove Back With ‘Game Night’

By Olivia Norwood, Edited by Anthony Peyton

Production companies are constantly pushing out their yearly quota of comedy films so it’s become easier for the beloved genre to lose its quality. In 2018, comedy got its groove back with the well crafted and star studded ‘Game Night’.

Directed by Jonathan Goldstein and ‘Freaks and Geeks’ star John Francis Daley, the film follows three couples on their regular Friday game night. This, predictably, is disrupted when outsider Brooks (Kyle Chandler) decides to crash the party and fuel the ongoing game night competition with his brother Max (Jason Bateman). He inevitably creates trouble when his murder mystery game turns into his own kidnapping which leads the rest of the gang on a goose chase around the city to find him.

What this film does so well is bringing the audience on the many intricate and wild adventures that the characters go through while never becoming too complicated or messy. There are plot twists, tons of smart humor, and unique characters that we begin to love and root for as each one finds a unique solution to every new problem.

There’s the dorky couple (Bateman and Rachel McAdams), the bickering couple (Lamorne Morris and Kylie Bunbury), and the “opposites attract” couple (Billy Magnussen and Sharon Horgan) along with the creepy-but-means-well neighbor (Jesse Plemons). Each character has their own side issues going on that seem minute compared to the life threatening game of gangs, kidnapping, and murder that they are oblivious to.

How could any of this be seen as funny when they could potentially die? Well, it’s comedy. In the world of comedy we take nothing seriously. One character is shot in the arm and because of the great writing, directing, and performances, there is only abrupt laughter and the occasional crying from laughing too hard. This is what an audience goer wants to see in a comedy. Many films resort to lame jokes, farce humor, and an overdone story instead of the clever and comedic strategies of films such as ‘We’re The Millers’ and ‘Horrible Bosses’.

We’re looking at you, ‘Rough Night’.

With a number of other comedies on their way to the silver screen, ‘Game Night’ proves that they don’t have to stick to a certain formula and that it can be smart and interesting while being genuinely funny.

My Rating: 93.7%

Acting: 4/4

Cinematography: 3/4

Story: 4/4

Enjoyability: 4/4