The Death of Stalin

Josef Stalin was a dude who a lot of people respected, a lot of people feared, and lot of people hated. But at least he got the trains running on time in Italy, right?

Wait, that was Mussolini? And Mussolini was in Italy?

Stalin was in goddamn Russia? Oh, well, fuck, close enough. Communists are communists, am I right?

Either way, The Death of Stalin is a satirical look at his death, and the power vacuum that existed in the Soviet Union after the fact. A topic you (like me) probably know next to nothing about, and after you see a film like this, will assume you know a lot that is probably not true.

He peed his pants. That is smelly.

In 1953, in the Soviet Union, everything was nice and grand. People are alive, until they are not. People are living their lives normally, until their not. Josef Stalin (Adrian McLoughlin) is a generous man who rules with an iron fist, sure, but hey, its a hard job being in the top. He has a big cabinet of faithful advisers, from Georgy Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor), Nikita Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi), Vyacheslav Molotov (Michael Palin), and Lavrenti Beria (Simon Russell Beale).

He also has death/torture lists, that are frequently updated. You know, traitors and such. The army runs out, grabs them, imprisons them or kills them just because Stalin heard a whiff of untrustworthy behavior. Not too fun to be caught up in that.

And then? Well, then Stalin just had to go and die. And now, we have a group of men who all want to be leaders, while also want to be sure Stalin is dead before they take over the power vacuum. This cabinet of individuals has to try and work together to make sure their country doesn’t fall apart, and that they don’t backstab each other before the best man actually gets the job.

Also, while dealing with the religious fanatics, the normal people, the army, the special army, the prisons, and lists, and ugh, the family of Stalin.

Also starring Andrea Riseborough, Jason Isaacs, Olga Kurylenko, Paddy Considine, Paul Chahidi, Paul Whitehouse, and Rupert Friend.

If they all stand around the casket, then the only one that can backstab them is Zombie Stalin.

The Death of Stalin is a strange movie to come out, one that is really hard to describe. Because it is weird. It is sort of Monty Python-esque, sort of silly, while still maintaining a very strong and serious vibe. I am laughing out loud in the theater due to how absurd the whole thing feels and how awkward the characters are.

It is quite obvious that there is no way the events are accurate as shown in this movie. It is very wonky and similar to maybe the Three Stooges, with a bit less slapstick. At the same time, it still felt realistic and natural for these men to be freaking out and being awkward, given the situation they are in. They know everyone of them is ruthless. They have been living in a ruthless time. They are used to a period where people would die for saying the wrong thing, and when you want to be on top, you might end up saying the wrong thing.

Overall, this is not the sort of film that everyone would love. A bit bizarre, a bit funny, while also maintaining a lot of deadpanning and dry humor. And somehow, still, piss humor.

This film has definitely intrigued me about this moment in history and it has wanted me to learn more!

3 out of 4.

Battle of the Sexes

The phrase “battle of the sexes” always feels cringey nowadays, and it has for years. There was a board game with that name recently, and it is just one that is based on poor stereotypes and no one should really ever want to play. And yeah, that is the point of the phrase. To talk about the differences between the most common genders and fuel masculine and feminine behaviors.

But the movie Battle of the Sexes is beyond all of that. First of all, the title is given due to the real event that announcers decided to call it at the time. So they are just highlighting history here, not their fault.

And second, it is a sports film that is also about gender equality and sameness, not stereotypical differences. This is the clincher here, this is why I want to see the movie.

Maybe the actors involved was another important factor, but don’t tell them. They have big egos.

In the early 1970’s, Billy Jean King (Emma Stone) was on top of the female tennis players world. She was the first female player to ever each $100,000 in a year from prizes, and people really made a big deal about it. Things were on the up and up for the women’s movement too! Except when it came time to sign a new contract with her fellow ladies for the main American tournament. The prize support for the women’s players was significantly lower than the men players, despite sharing the same arenas, drawing the same crowds and all of that. So they decided to just up and leave. They started the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), had Virginia Slim cigarettes as their sponsor, and now had funding to play for real money!

This pissed off a lot of people. But King and a lot of her fellow players were riding high. King also started a relationship with her hairdressed (Andrea Riseborough) while on tour with a husband (Austin Stowell) at home!

This story is also about Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell), an older retired tennis pro who used to be number 1. He is a bit of a dick and likes to parade around like a fool to earn money. And he is a gambler. At the lowest points of his life, he decides to challenge Margarat Court (Jessica McNamee) to a tennis match, really playing up the male chauvinist angle. It seems like he is around just to ruin the modern women’s rights movement! The prize amount gets even bigger when he is finally able to challenge King, and it becomes one of the biggest spectacles of the decade, where apparently the question would be settled by the end of who is greater, man or woman.

Also starring Sarah Silverman, Natalie Morales, Bill Pullman, Alan Cumming, Elisabeth Shue, Eric Christian Olsen, Fred Armisen, Martha MacIsaac, and John C. McGinley.

Courting in this film holds two different definitions.

Battle of the Sexes is one of those movie trailers you will see and you just know you will have a good time during the film. It is a period piece, so we get to see people we recognize fondly looking, from our current standards, ridiculous. Always a plus.

Stone and Carell have been in films together before, namely Crazy, Stupid, Love, where they played daughter and father, and now they get to play pseudo rivals! Because the reality of this situation is they are not, at all, in any way, real rivals. They would never play each other in a tournament, they both were not at their primes at the same time, they only played the one game together. But their lives are now forever entwined in history due to this moment, this festival, this, well, publicity stunt.

Because in all reality, it seems like it was just all about the money. King may have had other reasons for agreeing to the game (women’s rights in sports and all), but all the people pulling the strings from behind the scenes just wanted to get rich. The events of this film are almost unbelievable, this is a time when reality if it was written as a screenplay would be lauded as ridiculous. But hey, what’s the point of life if not to get really ridiculous every once in awhile?

I like that this story told much more than the game. A lot of the film is NOT tennis, but about tennis players. Finding out about King’s husband and other relationships felt realistic and sad. Riggs himself was in a sad state in his life and he wasn’t even a bad guy, he just played it up for publicity. And in all honesty, I didn’t know who won going into the movie, so I am glad I never looked it up. It is interesting that the game was held in Houston though, in the now defunct Astrodome.

That last sentence is meant to appeal to the locals.

3 out of 4


I believe I told my wife that I wanted to watch Mindhorn on Netflix for a review. Her response was something similar to “What the fuck is Mindhorn?”

And of course I gave her the netflix description of it, and she said “That sounds fucking stupid.” Yes, yes it does. And that is of course why I watched it.

Also the title is powerful. Mindhorn. Mind. Horn. Mindh. Orn.


I am now in your brain, learning your secrets.

Mindhorn is a British television show about Detective Mindhorn, played by actor Richard Thorncroft (Julian Barratt). He has some telepathic powers, and he solves crime. It is the hottest TV show around. It is on the cover of magazines, everyone talks about it, and it is getting a spin-off led by one of its minor characters played by Peter Eastman (Steve Coogan).

And now? It is 25 years later, Thorncroft is living in poverty, doing commercials, no one caring about Mindhorn anymore. It lasted three seasons and was cancelled and Thorncroft was a dick, so he left all his friends behind to try for something better. And shit, the spinoff lasted over 10 seasons and is what everyone cares about now.

But things will change. Because on the Isle of Man, where the series was filmed, a MURDER has occurred. By a “lunatic” Paul Melly (Russell Tovey), who will only speak to Detective Mindhorn. He thinks that Mindhorn is real and will only deal with the character. So Thorncroft is brought in, to act and help deal with the boy. But Thorncroft needs money and fame, so he will make this last as long as it needs to be to get people saying his name again.

Also starring Richard McCabe, David Schofield, Simon Farnaby, Kenneth Branagh, Jessica Barden, Andrea Riseborough, Essie Davis, and Nicholas Farrell.

If this movie was in 3D, this would be an intense, frightening scene. Because of the shots, not the weed wacker.

Mindhorn takes an interesting premise, makes it British, adds some comedy, and still doesn’t fully deliver an amazing movie.

It had amusing moments, it had interesting characters (a lot of the side characters were brimming with personality), but I feel it was also plagued with pacing issues and not being strong on the humor. It is adequately bizarre (not extremely bizarre), even a bit zany, just not incredibly humorous. That is one of my biggest issues.

As for pacing issues, at times it feels clunky. It is easy for mystery-esque movies to lead you all over the place with only tiny details mattering by the end, but this one isn’t even a real mystery. The police believe they know who the killer is right away, and when things inevitably change, we have a new obvious killer, and the majority of the film is just trying to get the proof. So not really a mystery, despite set up like one.

It makes the film just so hard to define. That isn’t a negative, given some of my favorite movies this year have hard to define genres. But when it comes out like a mystery and is instead just a slightly eccentric comedy, you just find yourself wanting a lot more in the film.

2 out of 4.

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

I really wanted to do some clever parody of Spoonman to start this review, but those lyrics kind of suck. Didn’t give me a lot to work with, outside of obviously changing Spoonman to Birdman.

But let’s talk about this great title. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue Of Ignorance) is the full title and so we should say it every time in public as such. Such a provocative title on its own right, and given that some of the people in here play strange fake versions of themselves, it gets even crazier.

And the movie itself is very pseudo-meta. In the quickest description, it is about a man going through a midlife crisis, who used to play a very famous super hero, but stopped and hasn’t had great work since then. That person is looking for a comeback into the public fame and risking it all to succeed. Michael Keaton of course used to play Batman, and after Multiplicity, well, who cares? And now he is in a very similar situation. Awesome. I am stoked.

And Norton plays a great actor who others can’t stand and is hard to work with. Hey!

To reiterate, Riggan (Keaton) used to be a hot commodity. He played BIRDMAN, the best super hero, people loved him. But then he stopped. He didn’t want to do it anymore.

Now look at him, middle aged, divorced, and putting on a play. A play?? Yes. On Broadway, an adaption of a a short story that he is writing, directing, and starring in. Why? Hard to say, could be the crisis, could be because he likes the author, could be anything. But it is happening and soon. But at the same time, his life is falling apart. His relationship with his daughter (Emma Stone) is strained. He is putting all of his wealth into this production. His lead performers are either bad or egotistical. He might have gotten someone pregnant. He has to deal with critics with a vendetta. And bad things just seem to keep happening!

Did I mention mid-life crisis? Because Riggan is also having trouble, when he is alone, perceiving his own reality. He almost sees reality in a different light than everyone else. They just couldn’t understand.

Also featuring Zach Galifianakis as his lawyer, Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough, and Edward Norton as his actors, and Amy Ryan as his ex-wife.

Also starring that guy, played by some Harvey or something like that.

One of the coolest things a director can do is have a few “really long shots” in their film, where the camera never leaves the scene, where there are not cuts, just a lot of dialogue and a lot of acting. The Master had an intense one of those, Before Midnight had a few, Tarantino does it a lot. It is awesome and shows a lot of great acting during these sorts of scenes.

I don’t know a lot about the director, Alejandro González Iñárritu, except that I have reviewed only one of his films, Biutiful, but I am convinced that this man is a genius. The ENTIRE FILM is made up of incredibly long scenes. I’d say the camera must have only cut away under ten times the whole film, which is about two hours long. That is incredible.

And just so we are clear, this is not a movie with only a handful of locations where the camera is just watching a few people talking for 10-15 minutes at a time. No. People walk and people move from room to room of this tiny Broadway theater, from main stage to dressing room, to balcony, to the streets below. So the entire film is so meticulously planned that the whole thing is like a Rube Goldberg machine. Actors have to come into rooms at the right time, also props, sight gags, everything has to fit in correctly. Given that this is a comedy, timing is key for half of the laughs, so it was an incredible feat. It is almost as if they tried to convey this movie as if it was a play, where real acting had to occur.

Speaking of real acting, there were so much incredible talent in this film, but Keaton and Stone knock it out of the park. Obviously Keaton will get most of the fame, and rightfully so, most likely earning a Best Acting nomination nod for his work here. But I want to make sure that people know that Stone was also fantastic and had a monologue or two to convey intense emotions through.

The film had a great plot, it kept me guessing, and shit, even the soundtrack of “mostly just drums” worked really fucking well. Go see Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue Of Ignorance) and then maybe go see it again.

4 out of 4.


Disconnect was one of the many films to come out in the spring of 2013 to theaters, but never to my area. It is such a shame, really. However, this one was never given an advance V.O.D. treatment either, so I didn’t have it on the backburner for months stewing either. Nope, this review is coming out the first week I could literally get my hands on it. Boo yah.

I also literally got wet during this scene.

Technology. I love it. Some other people love it. Some people avoid it at all costs.

In today’s world, we are all really connected in some way or another. Social media has made connecting with someone incredibly easy, expanding social circles to sizes never before seen, even if they are structurally weaker than before.

This is all gibberish now. Disconnect tells three or so stories about technology, the dangers of too much information, and how the littlest thing can affect another human being without realizing it. How people looking for human contact might find themselves too hooked up to really meet they’re goal.

We have Kyle (Max Thieriot), an internet webcam model, potentially part of a large child smuggling operation, and the news reporter (Andrea Riseborough) who wants to bring light to his situation and rise further in her own work place.

We have Jason (Colin Ford), who with his friends, like to make practical jokes. They target another guy in they’re grade, Ben (Jonah Bobo), because he looked at them weird. What transpires eventually brings their families together in ways they would have never imagined, or liked in the first place. Jason Bateman and Hope Davis play Ben’s parents, and Haley Ramm his older sister, while Frank Grillo plays Jason’s dad, a detective.

Finally, we have Cindy (Paula Patton) and Derek Hull (Alexander Skarsgard). They lost their baby boy about a year ago, and they have been grieving ever sense. Cindy has turned to an online grief group, because her husband has become incredibly distant, while Derek has turned to online gambling. But when their identity gets stolen in the process by one of the sides, they have to finally work together and learn a lot about their other half. Michael Nyqvist pops up here, as the identity taker in question.

This is Jason Bateman discovering Rule 34.

You can probably guess a lot of the ways these plot lines unfold, from my brief descriptions. That is what I thought too. And sure, the obvious stuff does happen. But I was constantly surprised with where they took this movie, from conflict to conflict. With how they connected their various stories. With the range of emotions displayed by everyone in the cast, there will be someone you can relate too.

Shit, I was surprised that the “random sister role” by Haley Ramm ended up being really good as well. Her major scenes came completely out of nowhere, and she kicked ass with very little to work with.

All of the plot lines are not equally powerful. The webcam one is clearly the worse of the three. I think they spend less time with it as well. Early on I liked it, but I think it was a bit more dragged out than the other stories. Despite that, the “climactic ending”, which had very well done cinematography, brought out the best of every plot line. Yes, even the weakest one. Well done, making me care and all.

This is definitely a movie that will stay with you for some quite some time, so when you watch it, I suggest you put full effort into watching it. A lot of “text” appears on the screen throughout, because internet yo, so you will have to pay attention. The movie may feel a bit preachy, but even this guy here, who loves all of this technology shit, could still enjoy the hell out of it.

4 out of 4.


Not going to lie. I was not at all interested in seeing Oblivion this week. Unfortunately I have taken to following other reviewers, although I hate knowing what other people think of a movie before I see it. But they all hated it. I disliked the preview. Everything looked pretty darn obvious to me from them. I also disliked just how many previews I had to see of it, without ever changing. I also disliked that the main characters name was Jack, but I will get into that later. But finally the title. When I first heard about it, I assumed it was some movie about the video game. Nope. Future and aliens.

That’s a lot of bad things to go against movie. You unfortunately have a biased, uphill battle to climb!

Thankfully they put quite a bit of money into the graphics department. Oooh, my eyes are happy.

It is about 60 years in the future. An alien race called scavengers came down and fucked up all of our shit. Turns out humans are stubborn and won’t just let our stuff get messed up, even if they took out our moon (causing earthquakes and tidal waves), so we nuked the fuck out of them. Hooray! We won! Small packs of scavengers roam the landscape, but they totally lost overall. Too bad the Earth is basically a barren wasteland at this point. Areas of high radiation, lot of dead. So the humans evacuated, and GTFO first to a big space station in the sky, then on ships en route to Titan, a moon of Saturn.

Only two people are left on the world, Jack (Tom Cruise) and Victoria (Andrea Riseborough). Jack is a tech guy, repairing drones that cover their perimeter and protect them from scavengers. Once the plants suck up the last of the sea water (which can be used for energy later?), they can return to the space station, and head off to Titan in two weeks! Woo!

Too bad those fucking scavengers keep messing up their shit and make their last two weeks hell. Not to mention an old space ship crash lands on Earth, with the drones attacking the human survivors, including a woman (Olga Kurylenko) who has been haunting his dreams! What in the hell is going on!?

Also featuring Morgan Freeman and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as mysterious humans, and Melissa Leo as their space communications rep.

Freeman Is So in this movie
The internet is making wild claims that Morgan is barely in this movie, only 15 minutes max. Psha, I clocked him in at about 19.

Well, fuck me. I found Oblivion entertaining.

Yep, despite the negativity and the huge climb, I walked out happy, nay, excited. I had to quickly talk about it with others who saw it, about the ending, the twists and turns.

You see, it is pretty dang obvious from the trailer that certain things will happen. They are obvious twists in the movie that won’t come to be a surprise at all. That is what I thought the film would give me, and I was ready to be bored. But you know what Oblivion did? Sure, it might have had those “twists”. But the twists came in unexpected ways and then layered on more turns that I was not expecting after that.

Too many twists can ruin a movie, because then you just get tired of it all, and refuse to pay attention until the end. Like Trespass. The barren Earth they created is also hauntingly gorgeous, just like the CGI as well. I generally don’t like Tom Cruise as much when he is in his serious action roles, like this, but I didn’t mind this one.

The acting was okay, the plot overall could have been better, and I might have disliked the last scene in the end, but overall, pretty interesting.

If I actually went in with an open mind, it might have been a 2, but this is what exceeding expectations does to ratings!

3 out of 4.