Director: Armando Iannucci
Starring: Steve Buscemi, Simon Russell Beale, Jeffrey Tambor, Michael Palin, Jason Isaacs, Andrea Riseborough, Rupert Friend, Adrian McLoughlin, Olga Kurylenko, Dermot Crowley, Paul Whitehouse, Paul Chahidi, Paddy Considine
It has been said that comedy is tragedy plus time. With The Death of Stalin, Armando Iannucci, the creator of Veep and The Thick of It, really puts that idea to the test by bringing his brand of acerbic political satire to the darkness of Stalin’s Soviet Union.
In the years after the Great Terror, the Soviet citizenry and politicians alike live in a constant state of fear of their leader, Josef Stalin (Adrian McLoughlin). But on the evening of 28th February, 1953, the dictator suffers a stroke and collapses alone in his office. The guards outside the door hear him fall but are too terrified to risk interrupting. When his body is discovered the next morning the Council of Ministers convene, but the fear and paranoia remains so strong that none are willing to be the first to acknowledge he has died lest it be interpreted as wishful thinking, nor make any decisive plans lest it be seen as opportunism. Continue reading
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Starring: Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Lea Seydoux, Ben Wishaw, John C. Reilly, Olivia Colman
There are original films and there are original films. And then there is Yorgos Lanthimos’ provocative and unusual The Lobster. This Irish-UK-Greek-French-Dutch co-production (indicative of the difficulty in financing such a peculiar, uncommercial story) is the fifth film from the Oscar nominated Greek writer-director, and his first in English.
The story takes place in a hotel in an undisclosed European location (shot in the picturesque County Kerry of Southwest Ireland). Recently divorced, David (Colin Farrell) is checking in. But this is no ordinary hotel. It is a hotel for single people. The manager (Olivia Colman) outlines the nature of his stay. He has 45 days. If in that time he meets someone and they take a liking to one another, they are permitted to reenter society as a couple. If by the end of his 45 days he is still single he will be transformed into an animal of his choosing. Continue reading
Director: Bobcat Goldthwait
Starring: Joel Murray, Tara Lynn Barr
The fifth film from comedian turned writer/director Bobcat Goldthwait, God Bless America is the blackest of black comedies. It is also a really strong piece of satire, commenting on the downward spiral of American culture. Goldthwait laments a society which has come to celebrate the loudest, the meanest, the dumbest and the shallowest.
Joel Murray – Bill Murray’s brother (he must hate that every reviewer feels that it is necessary to mention his more famous brother) – plays Frank. Frank’s life is going down the toilet. He is divorced, with a young daughter who doesn’t want to see him. He is diagnosed with a brain tumour. He has grown tired of an American civilisation that is no longer interested in being civilised. Not only does the world around him celebrate cruelty and bigotry, kindness and generosity are treated with suspicion. When he tries to make a nice gesture by sending a bunch of flowers to a woman from work who he thinks looks like she could use some cheering up, he is fired for sexual harassment. It all becomes too much to bear for Joel, and he decides to take his own life. But before going through with it, he comes to the realisation that perhaps the world would be better served if rather than killing himself he killed those who deserved to die. So, joined by an equally disenfranchised teenage girl named Roxy, he travels around the country knocking off reality TV stars, shock jocks and spoilt brats.
What makes Goldthwait’s satirical observations about the state of American culture so effective is that they aren’t exaggerated. They simply don’t need to be. We recognised the degrading reality television programs, the hate-mongering political commentators, the bigoted and intolerant religious conservatives and the general lack of common courtesy in the day to day interactions. When Joel and Roxy rattle off a list of all the groups of people and traits that irritate them you can’t help but nod in agreement (and occasionally sheepishly recognise they are talking about you). Goldthwait doesn’t need to hyperbolise. He doesn’t need to fabricate something that isn’t there. He just puts what we have become used to up in front of our eyes and forces us to acknowledge it.
However, despite the validity of his observations, it could be argued that the execution – pardon the pun – of the satire is slightly flawed. Is the intolerance of our protagonists any different to the intolerance of those they can’t tolerate? The idea that some people deserve to die, even if presented ironically like in this film, is always going to raise problems. Is Joel and Roxy’s course of action, a killing spree that is here presented as a solution, only representative of another troubling aspect of American culture? This question raises another point, and what I think is the number one issue facing Goldthwait’s film.
Sometimes the reception of a movie is impacted by events well beyond the control of its makers, and that is definitely the case here. While God Bless America is a very clever film, and very justified in its social commentary, you can’t help but feel conflicted while watching it. In light of recent events, now more than ever it is difficult to laugh at the idea of Americans shooting each other. Being the kind of film that it is, God Bless America was never destined to be a popular success – it slandered the very audience it would have to have pandered to if it wanted to succeed at the box office – but even within its niche of the market the way it is received will be influenced.
Rating – ★★★★
Review by Duncan McLean