Category Archives: films

The Argument Against Mocking Stalin

The film, “The  Death of Stalin” is still stoking controversy and that should not be a huge surprise. After all, we are talking about a comedy about the death of one of the most brutal dictators in history. What of the grim realities for those who suffered during that time.?

And yet, consider the back story (from Richard Overy’s review)

Stalin’s personal physician, Vladimir Vinogradov, was put in shackles on Stalin’s orders after the dictator allegedly found in the doctor’s notes a recommendation that his patient should give up work. It has never been entirely clear if Stalin himself believed the plot really existed, but it never mattered. His brutal authority was maintained on the Hobbesian principle that no one was secure in the Soviet state. “I trust no one,” he is supposed to have said, “not even myself.” One consequence of this final spasm of violence was the difficulty in finding a doctor who could treat the dictator in his dying hours.

Apparently, none was found. At least not in time. Ooops!

It is pathetic, and that is the point of the satire. The pathetic aspects of those who pretend to be above it all deserve attention. And yet, the laughter that the satire provokes has a certain bitter taste as so many could not enjoy the joke.


Turning an Imposter into a Knight

I did not think that “A Knight’s Tale” would have a lasting effect on me. After all, it is a somewhat schmaultzy romance/adventure sort of thing. But it has.  Part of the reason is its light hearted spirit. A comedy set in the middle ages?

In this snippet, William is trying to realize his dream of becoming a knight (even though he was born to a poor thatcher). He has persuaded his fellow two minions to help him master the skills that are needed to compete in knightly tournaments. The music mix fits perfectly. Enjoy!

And What About the San Sebastian Film Festival?

My friend Eneko just reminded me! I have not posted on this year’s Zinemaldia! Oops!

From the Guggenheim Bilbao website

Once again this year, Donostia/San Sebastian is gathering top actors and filmmakers for its star-studded International Film Festival, unfolding from September 22 to 30. For about ten days, celebrities come to the city. In addition to the recipients of the Donostia Award (Agnès Varda, Monica Bellucci, and Ricardo Darín) and the newly-established Jaeger-LeCoultre Latin Cinema Award (Paz Vega), a long list of stars have already confirmed attendance.

Here is a fun image

Image result for zinemaldia

Films: The Kingsman is Back!

And Gwylam Mumford has a review for the Guardian. This sentence sums things up rather well

… if you’ve ever hoped to witness Elton John spitting out four-letter words like a Gatling gun, all while wearing a remarkable feathered suit, then this might be the gonzo spy caper for you.

Elton John in a demonstrably silly spy action film? Yes. And this is the type of thing that has made the Kingsman film franchise work. It is over the top even by Bond standards.

Check out the review (link above). Or just check out the trailer. Enjoy!

Films: the Man in the Grey Flannel Suit

This film came out in 1956 and if you want to step back in time to revisit the 1950’s, this is your vehicle. Whoah!

Gregory Peck is trying to cope with (1) very ugly war memories, (2) a not so simple family life with three kids and a demanding wife, and not much money (3) how to make it in the private sector. These are all serious concerns and this film takes them very seriously. Did I mention that this is a serious film?

But that is not what makes this such a quintessential 50’s film The storyline does. It is about how to do the right thing – the morally right thing, even in the face of temptations and difficulties. And succeeding at that is the big triumph – the climax. Even if it means saying “nyet” to a high paying job, and if means being honest about  a past indiscretion and taking responsibility for it. That is the way to go. Upstanding. Correct. Honorable. The fifties.

Gregory Peck plays this role very well. Come to think of it, he carries the film.  You might contrast this with the 1954 Billy Wilder film Sabrina, starring Humphrey Bogart and Audrey Hepburn,. Sabrina, btw, is a much, much better film. But Bogart plays a similar character — the upright guy trying to figure out how to do the right thing. In Bogart’s case, however the right thing is to let go and fall in love fall in love with Audrey Hepburn — which is not very hard to do. Gregory Peck already played that role in William Wyler’s film Roman Holiday back in 1953 (one of my all time favorites). Even here, where the story is about letting it all hang out for a few days, Hepburn and Peck do the right hing in the end. The fifties.

In all three films, you get the sense that searching for how to live well within the constraints of doing the right thing is the main challenge. The war is over, and it is time to try to put things back together again. In another ten years or so, in the mid to late sixties, things would start going kooky. But kooky was the opposite of what folks wanted in the mid fifties.