Gurrumul

GoMovieReviews Rating:

Rated: PGGurrumul

Written and Directed by: Paul Damien Williams

Produced by: Shannon Swan

Co-producers: Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu, Mark T Grose, Michael Hohnen

Score by: Michael Hohnen, Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu, Erkki Veltheim

Indigenous Liaisons: Susan Dhangal Gurruwiwi, Johnathon Yunupingu, Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu

Interviewees: Susan Dhangal Gurruwiwi, Michael Hohnen, Mark T Grose, Daisy Yunupingu (dec), Djuŋa Djuŋa Yunupingu, Terry Nyambi Yunupingu (dec), Erkki Veltheim, Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu.

On the 25th of July 2017, Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu passed away, aged 46.

In Yolngu lore the name, image and voice of the recently departed is retired from all public use.  A very rare exception has been made by Gumatj and Gälpu clan leaders for this film.

Three days before his death, Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu approved this film. It remains unchanged since this time.

All I could feel watching the life of Gurrumul was thankfulness.  To have a door opened into his world was an experience full of wonder; like a light was shone on a culture unseen or misunderstood.

Gurrumul is more than a documentary about music or a musician – the film gives insight into the Yolugu culture.

Growing up in the Galiwin’ku community on Elcho Island off the coast of Arnhem Land, Gurrumul became the highest selling Indigenous artist in history.  Gurrumul is a documentary about his rise to fame and how the meek was able to travel and reach out with his music to touch people around the world.

Gurrumul was born blind.  Living in a community filled with music and ceremony, Gurrumul embraced singing and the guitar (beautifully played even though held up-side-down), because it made him happy.

His family felt bad for him because they thought he could never travel far from home.  But never underestimate.

With the help of Michael Hohnen and Mark Grose and their record label, Skinnyfish Music, Gurrumul became a household name.  But it was more than the music that held Michael and Gurrumul together, they became close friends – they became brothers.

It was hard going for Skinnyfish Music, dealing with an artist who refused to speak, where English was his fourth language.  It wasn’t about the fame or the money – it was about keeping the stories of his life alive.  There had to be something to resonate, to have meaning, otherwise – what’s the point?

It’s so refreshing to see someone who values the land, the animals in it; family and keeping the knowledge of the world and why we’re in it, alive.

Gurrumul’s aunty speaks about death, about life – where does it start?  Where does it end?

Watching Michael try to explain to the media in interviews what the saltwater crocodile means to Gurrumul – that it isn’t an animal to represent his people – that he is the saltwater crocodile, was amusing and fascinating.

It’s such a gentle unfolding I didn’t realise how strong the rising of emotion in response to the purity of his voice, the calling in the telling of his story in song.  Even in a different language I could still feel the meaning.  I’m getting teary writing about it.  Not from sadness but the exposure to such honesty of feeling.

There’s a brilliance in showing Gurrumul within a world so different to his own: being away from family, not speaking about himself – always Michael speaking on his behalf – because the Indigenous don’t speak about ‘l’, it’s always, ‘we’.  So, to leave on his own to go solo was a huge step.  But his to take; his life to share.

To have the opportunity to experience the world of Gurrumul, to be allowed into his community; into the life of such a private man from such a secluded community was to have my eyes opened (including that saltwater croc second eyelid!).

And the warmth of Michael and the team who put the documentary together have shared of piece of themselves for others to also see and enjoy.

A truly rewarding experience.

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A Quiet Place

GoMovieReviews Rating:

Rated: MA Quiet Place

Directed by: John Krasinski

Produced by: Michael Bay, p.g.a. Andrew Form, p.g.a. Brad Fuller, p.g.a.

Story by: Bryan Woods & Scott Beck

Screenplay by: Bryan Woods & Scott Beck and John Krasinski

Starring: Emily Blunt, John Krasinski, Noah Jupe, Millicent Simmonds and Cade Woodward.

To put it lightly: A Quiet Place is a horrifically quiet family drama.

And I say drama as there’s two layers to this film: how the old familiar wound of guilt effects a family and the way aliens with supersonic hearing can tear any living creature into pieces, seemingly driven by a mission to exterminate.

The film is made simply, staying with Abbott family; husband, Lee (John Krasinski) and wife Evelyn (Emily Blunt) doing everything they can to protect their young children after the devastating arrival of aliens 89 days previous to the opening scene.

The only way to survive is to stay quiet.

The audience is shown again and again what happens when the creatures hear, so there’s this constant tension that doesn’t let go for the entire film.

An unpretentious film, with the focus on the Abbott family and their struggle to survive the everyday, I was on the edge the whole time, jumping in fright more than once (not usual for me), living the terror right alongside pregnant Evelyn (need I say more about trying to keep quiet while giving birth) and Lee and the kids, young kids brought up in a world of silent terror.

What really got me was how Lee and Evelyn tried to keep their family safe and happy – trying to be the best parents in the worst circumstances.  So there’s this emotional attachment because of the outstanding performances of Blunt, who continues to amaze, showing absolute terror but controlled through hard-won courage, and the drive shown by Krasinski as the husband and father to protect his family: heart breaking.

It’s not often I cry in a suspense horror, but this film had all the best of an edge-of-your-seat-scare-fest with a driving soundtrack (Marco Beltrami) and nasty killing, sharp-fanged monsters alongside the reality of a family trying to survive in the worst of circumstances.

The whole cast was just so believable, you could see the fear in their eyes.

And because the characters couldn’t make sound or speak, the music and facial expression to convey emotion was just so much more important – the quiet to the complete absence of sound when focussed on the eldest child, daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds), from her perspective of being deaf changed the whole feeling of the film, like the silence was used to draw you further in so when there was a clash or sudden scare, you could really feel it.

Superficially, a simple story; but the mechanics and thought put into the presentation of the film, the soundtrack, the drama of the family dynamic shown in the facial expressions and eyes of the cast pushed the suspense to maximum.

An impressive film from start to finish.

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Truth Or Dare

GoMovieReviews Rating:

Rated: MTruth Or Dare

Directed by: Jeff Wadlow

Screenplay by: Michael Reisz and Jillian Jacobs & Chris Roach & Jeff Wadlow

Story by: Michael Reisz

Produced by: Jason Blum

Starring: Lucy Hale, Tyler Posey, Violett Beane, Sam Lerner, Hayden Szeto, Landon Liboiron, Sophia Taylor Ali, Nolan Gerard.

Like the college students who thought it was a good idea to go to Mexico, party-on and pick up a stranger (Carter (Landon Liboiron)), to follow said stranger out to the middle of nowhere to an abandoned convent to play, Truth or Dare – I’m sure the premise of making a movie based on a deadly version of Truth or Dare seemed like a good idea.

But the story just did not hold up.

There was some shocking horror in the film – as one-by-one the group of friends who seemed like they’d be friends-for-eva were forced to play the game, or die: coupled-up Penelope (Sophia Taylor Ali) and Funk (Nolan Gerard) the beauty and the doctor (AKA the alcoholic and the drug dealer), Ronnie (Sam Lerner) the duffus who was the only genuinely funny one out of the them all; super cute lover-boy, Lucas (Tyler Posey) and girlfriend Markie (Violett Beane) forming a love triangle with best buddy and main character, Olivia (Lucy Hale), destined to be the beard of gay buddy Brad (Hayden Szeto): it’s a classic teen formula of kids on vacation that goes horrifically wrong; I hate to say it, reminding me of the Final Destination franchise.  The bad late ones.

The idea of a trickster demon, Callux, possessing the players making them play either Truth or Dare and digging under the belly to secrets and hidden humiliations of the kids should have been interesting, but I lost interest because the characters seemed soft: the lead-up to each character forced to take their turn weak because the dialogue didn’t stand up so the actions weren’t believable.

With new horror films pushing the boundaries of the genre, Truth Or Dare felt like a repeat of what’s been done before, even a backward step because previous releases like Scream or Final Destination felt fresh.

Sure, the idea of Truth or Dare was new, but there was too much going on to make the most of the idea – and the many complications of the many relationships felt superficial ‘til in the end, it was hard to believe any of it:

‘You’re such an idiot.’

‘What can I say, you do that to me.’

It was a push to get to the end.  And watching, you could feel the drifting.

Cut the whole story in half, spending more time on half the characters would have made a better film as there was good material and good ideas but truthfully, in the end, you couldn’t dare me to believe – wow, see how bad?!

I would have thought killing off annoying college students would have been more fun – it wasn’t.

Rampage

GoMovieReviews Rating:

Rated: MRampage

Directed by: Brad Peyton

Screenplay by: Ryan Engle and Carlton Cuse & Ryan J. Condal and Adam Sztykiel

Story by: Ryan Engle, based on the video game Rampage

Produced by: Beau Flynn, John Rickard, Brad Peyton and Hiram Garcia

Director of Photography: Jaron Presant

Music is Composed by: Andrew Lockington

VFX Supervisor: Colin Strause

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Naomie Harris, Malin Akerman, Jake Lacy, Joe Manganiello and Jeffrey Dean Morgan.

After an experiment in space goes wrong with the Subject destroying the spaceship and allowing canisters containing a genetically mixed pathogen to fall to the Earth – all hell breaks loose as animals’ breath-in the pathogen to exponentially grow into giant mutant monsters.

The focus of the story revolves around Primatologist Davis Okoy (Dwayne Johnson) who has a close relationship with an albino silverback gorilla named George.

So when George inhales the pathogen, it’s up to Okoy and genetic engineer, Dr. Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris) to save the once docile primate and find an antidote.

It’s a solid storyline written by Ryan Engle and based on the video game Rampage – with many of the crew from San Andreas (2015) collaborating again to create Rampage: the third film from Johnson, director Peyton and producer Flynn.

The music is also once again composed by Andrew Lockington, giving the same feel as San Andreas but instead of a disaster film we have a monster film with VFX supervisor Colin Strause returning to create the realistic monsters.

I have to say, as with all the action/adventure films, there’s always that added humour – the quips here a bit weak.

And alligators (one of the monsters) and crocodiles have two eyelids, not one as shown here.  I don’t know why I was particularly distracted by this oversight, probably because the effects were otherwise so realistic.

Seeing giant mutants tearing up a city is always fun to watch on the big screen – and the effects here were outstanding (except for that missing eyelid!).

And I couldn’t help but warm to George, the not-so-gentle giant.  A little like Primatologist Davis Okoy as the seeming gentle animal lover – who doesn’t get along with humans but loves animals because you always know where you stand and like George, he’s not always so gentle.

So, there were some good parts and some not-so-good making the film a little trashy, but good-trash.

As a side note, the humour in an action movie can make all the difference for me.  If there’s some surprising dark humour or a loveable funny character (George, here, I guess), it raises the film-going experience.

The action and effects were high quality here, I just felt the humour was a bit lazy.

Over-all, good fun on the big screen with Johnson firmly at the helm, this time his massive arms over-shadowed by his monster-friend George.

So you get the feel with muscled action, big crashes with explosions mixed with a bit of warmth and humanity: classic Johnson, but better than San Andreas because I like seeing giant mutant monsters tearing up a city.

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The Party

GoMovieReviews Rating:

Rated: MA15+The Party

Written and Directed by: Sally Potter

Produced by: Christopher Sheppard, Kurban Kassam

Cinematographer: Alexey Rodionov

Starring: Patricia Clarkson, Bruno Ganz, Cherry Jones, Emily Mortimer, Cillian Murphy, Kristin Scott Thomas and Timothy Spall.

The Party is a film filled with cynical wit as newly appointed Shadow Minister of Health, Janet (Kristin Scott Thomas) celebrates her new post by hosting a party.

Bill (Timothy Spall), husband and long-time supporter sits in a daze with a glass in hand as each guest arrives: best friend April (Patricia Clarkson) and her New Age partner, Gottfried (Bruno Ganz), lesbian couple Martha (Cherry Jones) and Jinny (Emily Mortimer), newly pregnant, and the handsome financier, Tom (Cillian Murphy) – all sitting on their own agenda as a constant barrage of political and social standpoints are thrown around the room building to their very own announcements.

A film of contrasts, and not just because the entirety is shot in black and white, but because of the contrast of ideals and personalities.  Even the music played on the turntable by Bill is a bizarre backdrop and soundtrack to the emotive tension in the lounge room; tragedy and trauma played out to the rumba and reggae creating the ridiculous and send-up to all the seriousness discussed from life expectancy related to economics and class rather than diet and exercise – a statistic Janet and husband Bill have always agreed upon – to the question of life after death.

The setting of the film is the house of Janet and Bill – there’s no hiding as each character is forced to face the crisis looming in each relationship: the dying academic, the cheating wife; each person intellectualising their emotion into a rational argument all to the sound of Bill’s insistence of playing record after record, his need for music a compulsion to express.

This is a film driven by dialogue, and the set was created and shot on stage like a play where each character slowly unravels as each reveals the next revelation – the story’s interest in the layers of rationale used as self-protection being pealed away to show the raw human hiding underneath; argument and ideals and political stances made as an adult only to show the child still hiding underneath.  Except for April.  Now a cynic.  Janet asks her best friend, ‘Have I been emotionally unavailable?’

Of which April replies, ‘It’s not a productive line of thought’.

There are so many subtle moments that got me giggling.  Small details like Bill sitting confused, a glass of red in one hand and the celebratory glass of champagne in the other.

It’s sad, it’s tragic.  And the understanding of what we cling to, to keep our ego’s intact, is examined and oh so very funny.

Writer and director Sally Potter (Orlando (1992)), states she wrote the script with an awareness of the absurdity of human suffering; the highlight for me April as she cuts through any emotion with her scathing, but not to be taken personally, remarks aimed at revealing the true and rational perspective with her unblinking eye, ‘You’re a first-rate lesbian and a second-rate thinker.’

To which Martha, Professor of Women’s Studies replies ‘April, Really.  I am a professor. Specializing in domestic labour gender differentiation in American utopianism.’

‘Exactly,’ says April.

Left with nothing unnecessary for the story to come full-circle in 71 minutes, The Party is a clever film that takes you into the claustrophobic world of relationships in crisis viewed through the lens of a political satire; the most selfless of the group the coke snorting soulless financier, Tom – now that’s cynical.

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Abracadabra

GoMovieReviews Rating:

Rated: 18+Abracadabra

Director/Writer: Pablo Berger

Produced by: Pablo Berger, Ignasi Estapé, Mercedes Gamero, Mikel Lejarza

Music by: Alfonso de Vilallonga

Cinematography by: Kiko de la Rica

Starring: Maribel Verdú, Priscilla Delgado, Antonio de la Torre, José Mota, Quim Gutiérrez, Joep Maria Pou, Javier Anton and Rocίo Calvo.

Language: Spanish with English subtitles.

If it was a choice between an egotistical, abusive and dismissive husband or a loving, appreciative but crazy murderer, who would you choose?

Abracadabra is kind of a love story, if you can call the choice between a chauvinist and a murderer romantic, mixed with weird humour and eye-brow raising moments of blood and drama and fantasy.

After Carmen (Maribel Verdú) with daughter, Toñi (Priscilla Delgado) finally drag husband and father, Carlos from watching the football to a wedding, they wonder why they bothered when he continues to listen to the football match with headphones shouting, Yes !!! right as the priest asks if anyone contends this most romantic and completely loved-up couple from marrying (their current feeling expressed in precious promises the complete opposite to Carmen and Carlos).

The wedding reception show-cases Pepe (José Mota), the mighty hypnotist, (and obsessed with the sequined, gorgeous but somewhat gaudy Carmen) daring an audience member to volunteer.  Carlos doesn’t like the way Pepe looks at his wife, so volunteers confident in his domination over the powers of the eye-lined hypnotist, Pepe.

While mocking the powers of Pepe an opportunistic ghost possesses Carlos changing him from macho-nasty to doe-eyed lovely, breakfast-in-bed included.

When Carmen and daughter Toñi realise it’s too good to be true, the last straw his greeting of Pepe with a kiss and hug, they consult the mighty Dr. Fumetti (Joep Maria Pou) to find the truth of who inhabits the body of Carlos.

And on the story goes, reaching into the bizarre with a flavour of comedy that held the film from falling into a complete mess of over-dramatisation.

It was those subtle details that were funny: the vibrant white of Dr. Fumetti’s teeth while posing as a dentist; the frothing and spitting of the real estate agent to re-enact blood spurting as a mother’s head was sawn off by the hand of her schizophrenic son… I love a bit of dark humour and there were many moments well executed (ha, ha!) by the cast.

If you don’t like funny-strange humour, then stay away.  The film was also melodramatic with emotion shown with that, hand to mouth, Oh! face, often.  But as the film plays out there was a bit of lead in the story.

An interesting movie experience into the unexpected and absurd, with the drama of weddings and unrequited love and madness that was surprising and silly, pushing the suspension of belief as the script skipped across disaster by keeping the underlying humour present in those unexpected and bizarre details.

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Pop Aye

GoMovieReviews Rating:

Rated: MPop Aye

Written & Directed by: Kirsten Tan

Produced by: Lai Weijie, Deng Li, Zhang Jianbin, Huang Wenhong

Onset Photographer: Lek Kiatsirikajor

Composer: Matthew James Kelly

Starring: Bong (as Popeye), Thaneth Warakulnukroh, Penpak Sirikul, Chaiwat Khumdee, Yukontorn Sukkijja, Narong Pongpab.

Foreign Language: Thai with English subtitles.

Winner Sundance World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award
Winner Rotterdam VPRO Big Screen Award
Winner Best International Feature Film Zurich Film Festival

Popeye is the name of an elephant, a street elephant, lost now found by Thana (Thaneth Warakulnukroh), an architect reaching middle-age and realising that everything he’s worked for is now broken – like his first building about to be destroyed to make way for a new design, a new building aptly named: Eternity.

Finding Popeye (named after the cartoon ‘sailor man’) on the streets of Bangkok, it feels like a chance, a new beginning; the broken Popeye the only Being in the world to understand what it is to be taken for granted.

Leaving his wife, Bo (Penpak Sirikul), job and city, Thana sets out on a journey, taking Popeye with him on the roads of Thailand to return the elephant to his childhood home, their home.

It’s the circle of life, suddenly finding the world different – changing, always moving forward and brutal in leaving the old and weak behind: like nature.  But in nature it’s a slow process.  In the city it’s not about watching the day pass, it’s about money – and it passes fast.

The film is a classic tale of a man having a midlife crisis but shown in the unique setting of Thailand with colourful trucks, ladyboys and the relationship a man can have with an elephant.

Writer and director (debut feature) Kirsten Tan is able to show the animals with real personality – the antics of Popeye as he makes a break for it to continue his own journey from a shopping carpark, shopping trolley being dragged behind; to confused dogs barking at a giant immovable adversary; to long-eared cows lost without their cowbell to announce their coming and going.

There’s a bitter-sweet tone to this film, watching Thana project his life-crisis onto his lost childhood pet, because life is bitter and sometimes sweet.

As Tan states: “Tonally, I believe that life is—and has always been—simultaneously tragic and comic. It only depends on the perspective and distance with which one is watching events unfold. In my films, this inadvertent mixing of tragedy and comedy is important, because that is the truth of life.”

Money is an important part of life, but so is that wondering about what happened to past loves, the yearning to return home – the acceptance of others.

Pop Aye is a quiet film to show the cruel and the kind and those on their own path and how each can connect or break apart shown in a timeline that shifts back and forth but always back to Thana and his struggles – the simple things have meaning like the offer of sandals to ease tired feet, the response to hesitation, ‘They’re old not dirty’.

The meeting of the fortune teller able stop time, to ‘feel a bit like a tree.’  And Thana wants to stop the world turning.  ‘But even trees have to die.’

Pop Aye’s a film to absorb and ponder – a journey to lift the soul; not a fast-paced entertainment.

And I can relate to reaching a crossroads and the wanting to wander ‘til it all makes sense; to be able to slow down time, just for a little bit.

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Ready Player One

GoMovieReviews Rating:

Rated: MReady Player One

Directed by: Steven Spielberg

Screenplay Written by: Zak Penn and Ernest Cline

Based on the Novel Written by: Ernest Cline

Produced by: Donald De Line, Kristie Macosko Krieger, Spielberg, and Dan Farah

Starring: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, Lena Waithe, T.J. Miller, Philip Zhao, Win Morisaki, Hannah John-Kamen, Simon Pegg and Mark Rylance.

Based on the dystopian world created in the novel written by Ernest Cline, Ready Player One opens in an overpopulated Columbus, Ohio, 2045.  A place where Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) wants to escape every chance he gets because he’s living in the Stacks… with his aunty and loser boyfriend… sleeping on top of the washing machine…

Wade thrives in the OASIS, a virtual universe where he feels alive, where as his avatar, Parzival, he has a chance to win the ultimate prize: control of OASIS.

When James Halliday (Mark Rylance), the brilliant and eccentric creator of OASIS dies, he leaves a parting gift to the world – the final game where any player can win.

Somewhere left in the game are three keys that when found lead to an Easter egg: whomever finds the egg first wins the game and control of OASIS, meaning half a trillion dollars and ultimately control of the world.

A high-stakes game that of course, has a villain: Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) head of operations of Innovative Online Industries, or IOI, and self-proclaimed colleague of everyone’s hero, Halliday.

To win the game is to win everything, and Sorrento plays to win with all the technology and army (AKA the Sixers) money can buy.  He’ll stop at nothing.  And against the young Wade Watts who’s all heart, it’s a David versus Goliath tale, set to an 80s soundtrack while featuring all the pop culture references associated with that time.

Ready Player One takes a new view of a classic ideal with Halliday, the old and awkward mentor that we love and admire; the want to be able to achieve anything as long as we work for it and want it bad enough; that love is there waiting for us if the time is right to take the leap; that with the help of friends (like the High Five) evil can be overcome…

Pretty cheesy stuff, and there’s a lot of those teen moments.  Yet, the struggles are hard-wired into our brain, so I couldn’t help but grin and cheer for the underdogs.

Add that action-adventure aspect with the riddles and search for keys in a computer game brought to life by three years of VFX work to get all the overwhelming detail right, you’ve got an entertaining film.

The highlight for me was the reference to Steven King’s, The Shining.  Most will find a reference to relate to; the 80s has something for everyone, but I found the scare-factor of The Shining and attention to the animation particularly impressive.  When inverted, into the ‘real world’, to laugh at the baddies getting their scare-on, it was brilliant: Stephen King, the ultimate equaliser.  There’s a reason I’m such a fan and hats-off to Spielberg for re-creating The Shining world so well.

But enough with the references ‘cause I’m grinning while I’m writing so I’ll end with: Ready Player One is a classic action adventure that felt unique by showing the past in a new light provoking a feel-good 4-star cheeky grin.

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The Death Of Stalin

GoMovieReviews Rating:

Rated: MA 15+The Death Of Stalin

Directed by: Armando Iannucci

Produced by: Yann Zenou, Laurent Zeitoun, Nicolas Duval Adassovski, Kevin Loader

Based on the comic books: THE DEATH OF STALIN by Fabien Nury and Thierry Robin

Original screenplay by: Fabien Nury

Written by: Armando Iannucci, David Schneider and Ian Martin

Additional material by: Peter Fellows

Starring: Steve Buscemi, Simon Russell Beale, Paddy Considine, Rupert Friend, Jason Isaacs, Olga Kurylenko, Michael Palin, Andrea Riseborough, Paul Chahidi, Dermot Crowley, Adrian Mcloughlin, Paul Whitehouse and Jeffrey Tambor.

The poster for, The Death Of Stalin warns: ‘A Comedy of Terrors’ –  I should have realised a film based on the days in the Soviet Union after Stalin’s death had senseless murder and mayhem.

I’m not saying there’s gratuitous blood and guts, but the ridiculous behaviour of those in power – Stalin’s Politburo including the security forces of the NKVD and The People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs – who rape and murder while patting each other on the back astounds and at times, tickles:

‘When I piss I always try to make eye contact with an officer,’ says Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor) to Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi) while peeing against a tree. ‘It ruins their day’.

The majority-rules-group-mentality spearheaded by the iron fist of Stalin unravels when he dies.  The fear felt by his people shown by the hesitation in speech, the inability to come to his aid when he strokes-out on the floor in his own ‘indignity’ because the soldiers are too scared to check what that thud on the floor actually means: What if nothing’s wrong?

So the soldiers wait until morning, safeguarding Stalin’s dying brain, waiting for the housekeeper to arrive with his morning tea.  All based on fact.

Writer-director, Armando Iannucci has created a dark satire that turns the facts into something so terrifying and ridiculous it’s funny.

Once Iannucci was on-board, the cast came together starring the likes of, Steve Buscemi, Michael Palin and Maria Yudina as the concert pianist, Olga Kurylenko: a solid cast working a dynamic script, much like the beloved communist dictum of a working machine focussing on the whole rather than its parts.

Although the decision was made to allow each actor their own native accent (rather than speak with a Russian inflection), it’s difficult to highlight any individual as they were all different yet essential in the ridiculousness of their nature: from the sad clown Malenkov who knows he’s way over his head as Stalin’s Number 2 (girdle included), to the sociopathic tub of evil genious, Beria (Simon Russell Beale), to Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi) who could make Stalin laugh; notes taken every night by his faithful wife, drunken quotes read in the morning to remember topics that worked to those that didn’t to CAAAAA: the sound of a throat being cut.

In other words, he’s on, The List.

The Death of Stalin is gallows humour with the back and forth of words spoken with a blank face changing the meaning so it was more about the way the words were spoken and how best not to get caught saying them.

I expected a laugh-out-loud comedy but the truth of evil doesn’t allow for that; it’s hard to let go of the terror.  Instead, there’s a quick brilliancy; a film of dialogue that could be played out on stage including gems like, ‘Can you ever trust a weak man?’

The film tickled with subtle comment by walking the fine line between the seriousness of committing mass murder against the humour terror brings when people are behaving at their evil worst.

With so many layers it’s a film I’d watch again.

12 Strong

GoMovieReviews Rating:

Rated: MA15+12 Strong

Directed by: Nicolai Fuglsig

Screenwriters: Ted Tally, Peter Craig

Produced by: Jerry Bruckheimer, Molly Smith, Trent Luckinbill, Thad Luckinbill.

Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Michael Shannon, Michael Peña, Navid Negahban, Trevante Rhodes, Geoff Stults, Thad Luckinbill, Rob Riggle, William Fichtner, Elsa Pataky.

12 Strong is a hero movie based on the true story of twelve soldiers, Green Berets known as ODA (Operational Detachment Alphas), volunteering to fight in Afghanistan after the twin towers attack on 9/11 (2001): the first soldiers to set foot on Afghani soil after the attack, a fact unknown at the time being an Army Special Forces team on a covert mission.

There’s some good action here, based on the 2009 bestseller written by Doug Stanton, Horse Soldiers: The Extraordinary Story of a Band of U.S. Soldiers Who Rode to Victory in Afghanistan. 

Unlike the majority of the patriotic, sickening over-dramatisation of Americans’ fighting in wars, 12 Strong focusses on the action in Afghanistan and the clash of cultures as Mark Nutsch, ODA-595 Special Forces Captain (re-named in the film as Captain Mitch Nelson (Chris Hemsworth)) leads a mission, Codenamed Task Force Dagger, to fight alongside the Northern Alliance: separate Afghani groups led by warlords who hate each other almost as much as they hate the Taliban. 

For any hope of gaining ground against the Taliban and Al Qaeda and to stop more attacks on American soil, team leader Captain Mitch Nelson must convince General Abdul Rashid Dostum (Navid Negahban), a fierce warrior and warlord, to join forces; the only motivation to fight together being a common enemy.

Willing to assist the Americans from the ground, the Americans support from the sky with bombs dropped on targets from coordinates given by Captain Nelson. 

Set in the extremes of the Afghanistan landscape, with dust and snow and steep rocky mountains, movement is restricted to horseback. 

There’s something poetic about horses in battle; whether it reminds of wars in the past or the majesty of the animal, I could only wonder at the skill required to ride while under enemy fire from missile launchers and T-72 tanks and to shoot a machine gun with bullets whizzing by the horses ear; to control an animal usually frightened by loud noise and to stay the course without bolting.

But unbelievably, as General Abdul Rashid Dostum (Navid Negahban) states, Afghani’ horses won’t scare: they know the bombs are American.

12 Strong is a fascinating story shot beautifully with Nicolai Fuglsig making his feature film debut as director, his past as a photojournalist showing his experience in capturing war on film.  Up close and showing the ‘killer eyes’ of his cast, the action is taken higher with views from horse back galloping through explosions and fire. 

It’s a film full of heroism with careful casting – Chris Hemsworth showing the humility and bravery of Captain Nelson.  And yes, there’s always a bit of drama in these war-hero films, with Captain Nelson stating he refuses to write a death letter to his wife, left at home, ‘I made her a promise I was coming home.  I’m not writing a letter to say I broke it.’

And I thought, Oh no, another cheesy, self-congratulatory, family-plucking-the-heart-strings, indulgence – however when the men got to Afghanistan, the film ramped up into an action-packed, suspenseful, yet thoughtful story.  And Michael Peña as the Green Beret, Sam Diller, added some needed humour, keeping it real for those who don’t like too much drama.

The real interest of the film was the insight of this previously unknown story, by entering the Belly of the Beast to see the complicated history and terrible crimes already inflicted on the innocent of Afghanistan making 12 Strong not only an action film, but also an engaging story.

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