Three very good films reviewed: The Death of Stalin, Foxtrot and Unsane
There’s a wide range in the new movies this week, from very good to not much good at all. But there are a lot of them.
Here’s the list:
The Death of Stalin: 4 stars
Foxtrot: 4 ½
Sherlock Gnomes: 2 ½
Pacific Rim Uprising: 2
The Young Karl Marx: 3
Paradox: 1 ½
Paul, the Apostle of Christ: --
Midnight Sun: --
THE DEATH OF STALIN: It’s not as remote as you might think. There’s a new era of autocrats taking form around us and that makes this look-back feel absolutely contemporary. It deals with how they rule and more pointedly with the toadies that gather around them. It’s also extremely funny, full of zinging one-liners and sharp parody as those sidemen backstab their way to come out on top when the old man croaks with a heart attack one night back in 1953. The satire comes in a gleeful mixture of pure imagination, historical fact and well-known images, like the balcony appearances that Kremlin watchers used to analyze to determine the relative status of the leaders.
Inside the Kremlin a vacillating Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor) is the nominal successor but Nikita Krushchev (Steve Buscemi) and the murderous Beria (Simon Russell Beale), head of the NKVD police power, clash. “I have documents on all of you” Beria warns the other ministers. Michael Palin plays one of them. Their cabinet meetings are very funny, in a dry, mordant kind of way. That’s typical of the work of the director and co-writer Armando Iannucci. He’s well-known for his HBO show Veep and the 2009 film In the Loop a hilarious skewering of US-UK politics. This time his source is a French graphic novel but the humor is definitely British, smart and caustic, but occasionally a bit too buffoonish. They didn’t get the joke in Russia where the film was banned ahead of the Putin election. That’s an unintended endorsement, I’d say. (5th Avenue) 4 out of 5
FOXTROT: Israeli director Samuel Maoz must have really been traumatized by his military experience which he so harshly depicted in his 2009 film, Lebanon. He’s back with an even more gut-wrenching story that plays like a condemnation of his country’s policies. It’s all in the title which refers to both the call sign of a remote border crossing and the repetitive dance. As one character says, “No matter where you start, you always end up at the same place.” To Moaz that parallels the never-ending conflict in the region and how Israelis are trapped by history, persecution and especially the Holocaust. His film has won awards at festivals and Israel’s version of the academy awards but also scorn from his government.
He makes his points through one family’s grief and their son’s experiences as a border guard. In the very first scene, the mother (Sarah Adler) faints when a pair of soldiers arrives to say her son has been killed. The father (Lior Ashkenazi) is irate and suspects something is amiss when told he can’t see the body. He’s offered platitudes instead about how to deal with the loss, chief among them to drink lots of water. There’s a major twist, which I won’t detail, and then a long flashback sequence that shows the son and three other soldiers manning the border crossing. They’re bored and not sure why they’re there. Only an occasional camel or Arab car comes through. An accident is bound to happen and is covered up. The film’s third act takes us back to the parents and the effect the grief has on them. This is a superbly crafted film with highly emotional scenes and a clear point of view. Feel the daze the parents are in and the political statement the director is making. (VanCity Theatre) 4 ½ out of 5
UNSANE: Steven Soderbergh, who has apparently not retired from filmmaker after all, is back with a new one, after last year’s Logan Lucky. That one was a fun crime romp; this is nothing like it. This is a creepy psychological thriller that plays like a horror film. Claire Foy stars as a young woman who thinks she’s being stalked. She moves, takes out a restraining order, joins a self-help group and declares “I never feel safe.” Is she deluded? She goes to a mental facility for a diagnosis and agrees to a voluntary 24-hour commitment to find out. Then the horror begins.