‘The Death of Stalin’ is brilliant satire

Visit The Boston Globe Share on Twitter Share on Facebook Comment on this Scroll to top of page Ty Burr Globe staff  March 14, 2018 The greatest political satires — of which Armando Iannucci’s “The Death of Stalin” is instantly one — understand that tragedy and farce are indistinguishable under a dictatorship. Totalitarianism bends the laws of physics so that words are weaponized into their opposites and paranoia is an accepted norm; life becomes so horrible that one has to laugh and so laughable that one has to cry. And there’s this, too: Ridicule is what a tyrant fears most, because it means his people are no longer afraid.Set in Moscow in March of 1953, “The Death of Stalin” is about that particular title event, but it has been cast and is played as if it were British music-hall comedy or Hollywood screwball — it’s equal parts Monty Python and Preston Sturges. When I tell you that bug-eyed Steve Buscemi plays Nikita Krushchev, that ex-Python Michael Palin plays Vyacheslav Molotov — he of the namesake flaming cocktail — and that Jeffrey Tambor (recently of “Transparent”) plays Stalin’s designated successor Georgy Malenkov, you may expect the silliest of knockdown romps. And that’s what you get. Except that this movie bleeds and bleeds hard, and the blood that runs is innocent.After five seasons as creator of TV’s “Veep” and as the director of the lethal 2009 political comedy “In the Loop,” Iannucci has proved himself a past master at locating the ludicrous in the halls of power. “The Death of Stalin” just brings the outrage closer to the surface, which has the odd effect of making the comedy more desperately funny. The film opens with a Radio Moscow classical concert that has to be played twice in its entirety just so Stalin (Adrian McLoughlin) can have a keepsake recording; this would be a marvelous bit Continue Reading

Cannes festival opens with genre-bending French drama sheltered from ‘brutal’ critics

By Robin Pomeroy CANNES, France (Reuters) - A movie starring two of France's best known actresses opened the Cannes film festival on Wednesday, with its director expressing hope it would not be torn apart by the event's famously hostile pack of critics. It is a genre mix of spying, passion and humor that one review said was a "thrilling", "freewheeling" watch. Marion Cotillard and Charlotte Gainsbourg star with Mathieu Amalric - the villain in the 2008 James Bond movie "Quantum of Solace" - in "Ismael's Ghosts", about a filmmaker whose wife disappeared 20 years ago. Opening the festival is a prestigious spot, but means the film is "hors-concours" - outside the competition, something award-winning director Arnaud Desplechin said was a relief. "You feel a bit more protected than when you are in competition and it's also a huge honor," Desplechin told a news conference after the media screening and ahead of the official premiere later on Wednesday. "I think it’s less perilous than when you are in competition, when often the French press can be more divided, more brutal." At a festival where the critics are not afraid to boo a film they dislike, "Ismael's Ghosts", which moves from spy thriller to melodrama and verges on farce, seemed to be well received. IndieWire called it "a wild hodgepodge of genres that often risk collapsing on top of each other. "At its best, the movie is a freewheeling gambit, hurtling in multiple directions at once, and it’s thrilling to watch Desplechin try juggle them all." Hollywood Reporter said it had "a narrative that is not necessarily fully comprehensible ... but which takes great pleasure in playing with all of the writer-director’s obsessions, themes and styles". "For Desplechin aficionados ... this might just be the cinematic equivalent of Christmas morning."If the movie is, as co-star Louis Garrel suggested, autobiographical, it would seem that the life of a French Continue Reading

‘Skyfall’ star Daniel Craig: Getting the thrill out of playing James Bond is the biggest surprise after six years

James Bond was introduced to the movies 50 years ago – and returns triumphantly this Friday with “Skyfall” -- but Daniel Craig, the man who revitalized the franchise, sounds stirred, if not quite shaken, that he’s around after three movies. “I didn’t expect it to be here, really. I didn’t know how it was going to pan out,” Craig tells the Daily News. “There was a time, during the hiatus [after 2008’s “Quantum of Solace,” when legal issues kept the series momentarily frozen], that you didn’t know what was going to happen. There was even an idea of, well okay, that’s it then, it’s gone now. Someone else will do it eventually. “But just getting the thrill out of this that I do is the biggest surprise after six years. ‘Skyfall’ is a Bond adventure I’d love to see. It’s got all the elements I love about the movies, and I think everybody else does, too.” Craig – a quick-speaking, intense but wry 44-year old who prowls menacingly even when getting up to retrieve a soda in the middle of an interview – is being nonchalant, of course. Not only is “Skyfall” on track to be one of the best-received Bond films of the past 40 years, but the English actor is a crucial part of the franchise’s renewed success. “Skyfall” pits Bond against evil, grudge-holding former MI6 agent Silva (Javier Bardem), who blames M (Judi Dench) for his being tortured by enemy forces. The young quartermaster Q (Ben Whishaw) provides 007 with a tracking device and a custom-made Walther PPK, while the sexy operative Eve (Naomie Harris) provides Bond with sturdy, and occasionally sensual, backup. In order to protect M, Bond brings his boss to Skyfall, the sprawling, abandoned Scottish estate he grew up on, where his Continue Reading

Fall Movie Preview: The return of James Bond, the long-awaited ‘Lincoln,’ the ‘Twilight’ finale, and the rest of the season’s big-screen offerings

LAWLESS (Aug. 29) A literary adaptation tackling historical events, as performed by multiple Oscar nominees sporting accents. Yes, it’s the first awards contender of the season. Perhaps most notably, John Hillcoat’s take on Matt Bondurant’s moonshine epic represents Shia LaBeouf’s most concerted effort to be taken seriously as an actor. He plays one of three bootlegging brothers running illegal liquor during Prohibition. The Bottom Line: With a cast including Gary Oldman, Guy Pearce, Tom Hardy, Jessica Chastain and Mia Wasikowska, this is more Roederer than rotgut. THE WORDS (Sept. 7) Bradley Cooper goes from People magazine’s Sexiest Man to Broadway’s Elephant Man to a plagiarizing man in this thriller. Jeremy Irons is the wronged writer whose words Cooper steals; Olivia Wilde is the woman in the middle. The Bottom Line: Directors Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal co-wrote “Tron: Legacy.” Good thing Cooper’s character didn’t steal from a screenwriting program, he’d be fighting Mario now. THE COLD LIGHT OF DAY (Sept. 7) Mabrouk El Mechri, who made the witty Jean-Claude Van Damme mockumentary “JCVD,” turns his attentions to old-school action. The new Superman, Henry Cavill, plays an American who agrees to a relaxing family vacation in Spain — where his entire family is kidnapped. The Bottom Line: Bruce Willis and Sigourney Weaver as (perhaps double) agents? We’re in.   ARTHOUSES HEAT UP AS TEMPERATURES GO DOWN AEROSMITH, NO DOUBT, KANYE AND TAYLOR SWIFT HEADLINE FALL RELEASES FALL TV SEASON SEES RETURN OF KATIE COURIC, GOODBYE TO MAJOR SHOWS A GALAXY OF STARS BRIGHTEN BROADWAY SEASON FINDING NEMO 3-D (Sept. 14) Pixar’s lost-fish tale — a huge hit when it came out in 2003 — returns to theaters. Albert Brooks’ sweetly plaintive voice work may still make this hard for parents, but Ellen DeGeneres’ loopy Dore keeps Continue Reading

Gal Gadot: Wonder Woman isn’t here for a love story

Gal Gadot graces the cover of Glamour's March issue, but she wants you to know that she is less beauty queen, more Amazonian princess.The Israeli actress revealed the unlikely path that led her to inhabiting the Wonder Woman role in the upcoming Batman v. Superman, and how she's dealing with the mantle of playing one of the most iconic feminist characters.Gadot, who initially wanted to be a lawyer before she caught the acting bug, was approached to compete in Miss Israel at 18, and before she knew it, she was competing in the Miss Universe pageant. However, the pageant life wasn't for her, and she went on to serve two years in the Israeli army, after which she went on to pursue her dream of studying law. It was then that a casting agent saw her modeling pictures and contacted her for an audition for Quantum of Solace.After Fast and Furious, she went "through this weird career phase, going back and forth from Tel Aviv to Los Angeles for auditions." On the verge of quitting, she got a call from Zack Snyder who asked her, "Have you ever heard of Wonder Woman?"Gadot took the role of playing Wonder Woman seriously. The superhero is a strong woman, but that doesn't mean she can't have feminine characteristics like compassion or empathy.As for Wonder Woman's title as a role model for woman? Gadot is already finding that she's become one for her daughter, Alma.Batman v. Superman hits theaters March 25. Continue Reading

Latest Bond installment offers little solace for 007 junkies

At the conclusion of 2006's "Casino Royale," Daniel Craig finally introduces himself as "Bond, James Bond" to a baddie he's cornered. Capping off "Quantum of Solace" we see, at last, a tuxedo-clad Craig walking inside a circle and firing his gun into the iconic 007 gun barrel. In between those moments is a new Bond film stuck between the cliches of its 46-year-old franchise and the grab-the-throat rawness of its current relaunch. The result isn't bland, but it's not exactly Bond either. PHOTOS: THE STARS COME OUT FOR 'QUANTUM OF SOLACE' NEW YORK CITY AND LONDON PREMIERES Moviegoers may find the title - from a short story by Bond creator Ian Fleming, essentially meaning "a measure of comfort" - the first bloated thing about this 22nd official 007 adventure, yet "Solace" also suffers from slice-and-dice editing similar to the "Bourne" movies and an overly familiar plot. If "Casino Royale" was "Dr. No" on steroids, this is "License to Kill" on Ritalin. The movie picks up one hour after the last film, with a vengeful Bond taking the mysterious Mr. White to an interrogation with M (Judi Dench). Just before a chase across rooftops - the movie's best set piece - MI6 learns about QUANTUM, an organization headed by beady-eyed environmentalist Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric). Like many a Bond villain, Greene's a businessman who's really out to blackmail the world! Bond hopscotches the globe to find out who set up his dead love Vesper Lynd, and unearths QUANTUM's secret with the aid of Greene's sexy castoff Camille (Olga Kurylenko). ALL BOND ALL THE TIME: LICENSE TO THRILL Director Marc Forster ("Monster's Ball," "Finding Neverland") tries to make up for his lack of action-film experience with jittery fight scenes that are ultimately more confusing than exciting. If there were worries Forster might make Bond mushy, the lack of quieter moments - which gave "Royale" its heart - kills that concern. The use of Bond lore is a different problem altogether. Continue Reading

Pileup & a wreck: Beyonce and Amy Winehouse have stuff in common?

Who knew that Beyoncè and Amy Winehouse had anything in common? But they 'do -their hair! The "Cadillac Records" star rocked a sexy beehive - the same style that Winehouse brought back into fashion - at the Kennedy Center Honors in Washington, D.C. And that's not all the two have in common: They've both got serious rocks (albeit a slightly different kind). They were both rumored to have been offered the chance to record the "Quantum of Solace" theme song. Alicia Keys and Jack White sang in tandem instead. Both ladies were fashion muses: Amy for Karl Lagerfeld, Beyonce for her and her mother, Tina's, House of Deréon collection. Both girls are Virgos, which means they're creative, fussy and unfeeling entertainers. Join the Conversation: Continue Reading

The Q factor: How the science behind James Bond’s gadgets was reinvented

Q has been downsized. James Bond is back to drinking martinis. The Bond Girls are still filing into his bed room. But those cars tricked out with ejector seats and machine gun headlights seem to have taken a back seat in the franchise's gritty update. While Q's gadgets may have looked cool, count Marc Forster, the director of "Quantum of Solace," as one of the critics who had become shaken, but not stirred by the scientific implausibility of many of Bond's gizmos. "I just felt like that we have so many gadgets in our lives already and gadgets these days remind me more of the comic super heroes," said Forster by phone from Spain. "I thought the gadgets took quite a bit of screen time away." PHOTOS: BEST OF THE BOND GADGETSSo Forster went to those gadgets in our lives already for inspiration: When James Bond (Daniel Craig) wants to track a villain's movements he tricks him into calling a phone number that triggers a trace of the cellular phone by a global positioning satellite. The bad guy's location is then beamed right into 007's PDA. Sound fantastical? No more than any $150 GPS unit available to drivers right now. To give the traditionally stodgy MI-6 offices a sleek makeover, the filmmakers took the concept of an iPhone one step further for "Quantum of Solace." M (Judi Dench) was given a "smart table" computer, which uses a touch display screen similar to the popular Apple phone to allow users to slide images around by moving their hands across the screen. "That is entirely possible," said Dr. Steven Low, professor of computer science and industrial engineering at California Institute of Technology. "It's not a stretch from the iPhone. The same server can drive a small screen, can drive a whole table. The screen is just much bigger." The technology behind filming the scene may be more impressive than an actual smart table computer. In reality, the computer "was just a clear table and there were white spots where there [the actors] hand movements Continue Reading

Fall movie preview

After letting superheroes run (or ruin) the world and hoping against hope that we'll laugh (not cry) at the latest man-child goofball comedy, fall flicks add a level of sanity to Hollywood's release schedule. Plus, Oliver Stone gets back to presidential muckraking with "W.," starring Josh Brolin as our current commander-in-chief. CLICK FOR A FALL FILM PHOTO GALLERY. There's also Anne Hathaway getting sorta serious ("Rachel Getting Married"); Sanaa Lathan finding herself with family issues ("Tyler Perry's The Family That Preys"); fightin' man Spike Lee's first war drama ("Miracle at St. Anna"), and Kevin Smith making a comedy about two broke roommates making a porno (titled, not inappropriately, "Zack and Miri Make a Porno"). There are returns (the animals of "Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa," Daniel Craig as James Bond), reunions (Richard Gere and Diane Lane in "Nights in Rodanthe," the Coen brothers and George Clooney in "Burn After Reading") and revisits ("High School Musical 3: Senior Year"). And, as with every Halloween, there will be revulsion in the form of another "Saw" movie. So ignore that lingering humidity - just wrap a warm blanket around you, and imagine you're in front of a cozy fire planning your autumn viewing. But remember that all release dates are subject to change. SEPT. 5 Bangkok Dangerous: Nicolas Cage is a hit man who faces off against his former crime boss in this remake of a Hong Kong thriller. The star has become so over-the-top that 98% of the time it feels like the buff new Nic Cage has completely devoured that skinny dweeb who won our hearts in the '80s. Don't look for that missing 2% here. - Joe Neumaier SEPT. 12 Burn After Reading: The Coen brothers return to lighter high jinks after their long-deserved Oscar win for "No Country for Old Men." George Clooney(always fun when working for these boys), Brad Pitt and Frances McDormand get caught up in a classified-material scam involving a CIA agent (John Malkovich). Continue Reading

Not a Bond fan? Take solace in these classic movies

If "Quantum of Solace" is sold out and you've already seen "Slumdog Millionaire," consider this your lucky day. Now you get to look elsewhere for movie night, and you happen to be in the right place. There are classics - not to mention would-be classics and should-be classics - playing all over town this weekend.Your first stop ought to be Anthology Film Archives (anthologyfilmarchives.org), for their retrospective on director Arthur Penn. The obvious choice is "Bonnie and Clyde," which is always worth watching on the big screen. But this is also a rare opportunity to catch a young Arlo Guthrie upending the establishment in "Alice's Restaurant"; Marlon Brando, Jane Fonda and Angie Dickinson facing the escape of prisoner Robert Redford in "The Chase"; and a 121-year-old Dustin Hoffman recalling his unusual life in "Little Big Man." Next, head uptown to the Walter Reade Theater for Lincoln Center's tribute to film critic Manny Farber (filmlinc.org). This weekend brings bootleggers Humphrey Bogart and James Cagney in Raoul Walsh's thriller "The Roaring Twenties," and Spencer Tracy and Joan Bennett in the city-set romance "Me and My Gal." And be sure to buy tickets early for Monday's screening of "Mean Streets," which is bound to sell out in advance. Another option for Monday is the Academy Theater's screening of "Rashomon" (oscars.org), a film whose multiple-viewpoint structure has been used in countless movies since Akira Kurosawa made this 1950 landmark. But if a crime drama set in feudal Japan isn't quite your speed, we'd also be happy to recommend Saturday night at the Chelsea Clearview (clearviewcinemas.com): After all, everybody should see the camptastic "Valley of the Dolls" at least once. As for contemporary classics, look to MoMA's new program, "The Contenders" (moma.org). According to the museum's curators, "WALL-E" and "Iron Man" are likely to appear on Academy Award ballots in the near future; if you missed them the first time around, you can judge their Continue Reading