The Death of Stalin (2018)

death of stalin

Okay, so I’ve never really watched the show Survivor, but the catchphrase is embedded in my brain from years of commercials: “Outwit, outlast, outplay.” If one were to devise a similar catchphrase for the historical comedy film The Death of Stalin, it would probably be “Out-scheme, out-mourn, outlive”. . . .

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Rustler’s Rhapsody (1985)

Ruslter's Rhapsody

It’s that time of year where entertainment is Santa, Christmas, and snow, non-stop. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but if you, like me, need a break from all that, perhaps 1980s cult classic comedy Rustler’s Rhapsody will do the trick!

Rex O’Herlihan (Tom Berenger, Platoon, Gettysburg) is a singing cowboy, one of the good guys. You can tell because he has a fancy wardrobe and follows a code of honor that involves only shooting the bad guy in the hand. This plays well in the singing cowboy movies he was designed for but is substantially less useful when he’s dropped into the real world. . . .

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I, Tonya (2017)

I Tonya

During her career as a figure skater, Tonya Harding attracted attention for her impressive athleticism, as well as for her blue collar background and tumultuous life off the ice. But her career ended when her personal life collided with her professional career, and her main rival, Nancy Kerrigan, was assaulted by Harding’s ex-husband’s associates. Last year’s Tonya Harding biopic, I, Tonya, purports to deliver up a black comedy about her life.

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Dawson City: Frozen Time (2016)

Dawson City

Dawson City is a remote outpost, deep in the rugged Yukon and not far from the Arctic Circle. Nevertheless, it was a veritable boomtown in the late 1800s and early 1900s after gold was found there. At its peak, tens of thousands moved to Dawson City in the hopes of striking it rich. As with most boomtowns, though, the town’s fortunes waned, and it now has a population of only about 1,000. Dawson City might have just been a footnote in Gold Rush history if it were not for the treasure trove of silent films found there in the 1970s, long forgotten.

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Movie Review: Loving Vincent (2017)

Loving Vincent

Armand Roulin is the neer-do-well son of the postmaster in 19th century Arles, France. His father tasks him with delivering the final letter of a late friend to surviving relatives, a task Armand resents because he never much cared for that friend, Vincent van Gogh. In Roulin’s eyes, Vincent was little more than a shiftless painter, who caused his father and the town much grief before he committed suicide after moving away.

Even more irritatingly for Armand is that he is having trouble finding anyone to give the letter. Vincent’s beloved brother Theo is nowhere to be found. However, as Armand spends more and more energy trying to track down a surviving relation, he finds himself more and more intrigued by the mysteries surrounding the life and death of Vincent van Gogh.

My friend Craig recommended this film to me, and I’m so glad he did! It was a lovely, visually-stunning movie. (Thanks for the great recommendation, Craig!)

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Movie Double Feature: Dracula (1931)/Near Dark (1987)

So, here’s a confession that will surprise nobody who knows me: I rarely like the hero in a story.

Ever since I was a child, I vastly preferred villains in books, movies, and television. And I don’t mean anti-heroes who you’re supposed to like or squishy villains who feel bad about themselves. No, the badder, the better.

Compared to the hero, good villains–by which I mean really bad villains–almost always have more memorable lines and better clothes. They always seem to be enjoying themselves way more than the hero ever does and usually have a great sense of humor (okay, a dark sense of humor but still a sense of humor) and usually are smarter or at least seem to display more ambition and basic organizational skills than the hero.

This love for villains started early. When I was 5 or 6, my favorite television show was Skeleton Warriors. I watched it faithfully every Saturday morning to see the adventures of Skeletor and, well, his skeleton warriors. I was so disheartened to never find anyone who knew what I was talking about anytime I talked to someone my age about cartoons.

It was only years later when I was in my mid-20s that I realized I had been watching He-Man and had somehow convinced myself that the show was actually about the bad guy. I still think rather fondly about Skeletor and his pet Panthor, but for the life of me, I cannot remember a single thing about He-Man himself. I don’t think I noticed him as a child, either. He wasn’t on my radar because he had nothing on Skeletor!

I have changed little as an adult in that regard. And since it is Halloween, I thought I’d pay tribute to some of my favorite vampiric villains in cinema.

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Silence (2016)

Silence

A long weekend is coming up for most of us! What better way to spend part of it than indulging in a little big screen time from the comfort of your couch? Here’s one film I would say is a must-see that you might have missed. . . .

In the midst of intense persecution of Japanese Christians in the 17th century, Portuguese Jesuits Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Garupe (Adam Driver) insist on traveling to the country to find their mentor Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson). Reports have surfaced that he has apostatized, and they refuse to believe it. Despite the danger, they enter the country and quickly find themselves in a world of concealed faith, persecution, and difficult moral dilemmas.

I was intrigued by this movie when it was first announced for several reasons. One is that it was a Martin Scorsese film, and as I mentioned earlier this year, I enjoy his work. I was also intrigued that this movie seemed different from many of his recent efforts. Beyond the specific historical time period–not commonly covered in popular culture–it also didn’t feature many of the actors who frequently pop up in his movies. Some of the themes in the movie–guilt, sin, salvation–are recurring in his work, but still, it seemed like a change from business as usual, and I was intrigued.

And I’m happy to say I wasn’t disappointed! Though the basic premise sounds like a rescue mission, that’s really not what ensues. It’s hard to explain the rest of the movie without providing spoilers, but I appreciated how ultimately complex it was. The movie isn’t very interested in demonizing one side or the other and is instead more focused on probing different characters’ responses to their situation.

I appreciated that, and I thought the actors did a great job of conveying that. In fact, one of the best performances in the film for me was that of Yōsuke Kubozuka as Kichijiro, the priests’ nervous, potentially shady guide. His character was one that could easily have fallen into well-worn tropes, but the movie avoided that and was all the better for it.

The movie has an offbeat sense of pace, too. It isn’t action-packed, but it also isn’t boring. It’s a long movie–over 2.5 hours–but I found it absorbing throughout. As a given in any film about persecution, there was violence, and it was disturbing, but it wasn’t as graphic as I was expecting. That in no way made it less disturbing, but I did find that surprising, especially given how spectacularly violent so many of Scorsese’s other movies are.

In a way, this movie probably felt the least like a Scorsese film of all the ones I have seen, but I don’t think that’s a problem. There are some really interesting camera angles at times and a dark sense of humor pervading several scenes and some other touches that I think of as being quintessentially Scorsese. The book is based on a novel by Shūsaku Endō, which I would like to read and haven’t had time for, and I suspect the fact that it is an adaptation is one reason for its differences with the rest of his work.

The film is not without its flaws, though I found them pretty minimal. I thought the cast did a great job, but I did find some of their attempts at Portuguese accents uneven. Their efforts ranged from “generically foreign” to “Irish and not even trying,” but I didn’t find it as distracting as I usually do, which I consider a testament to the overall quality of the movie. I also thought that there was a touch too much narration, usually one of my favorite parts of a Scorsese movie, but I assume that was excerpts straight from the book.

Overall, I thought this was an excellent movie. If you like historical drama or thought-provoking drama, this one is well worth watching. As always, follow this link to our online library catalog to place a hold or learn more about the movie.

Recommended if you enjoyed The Mission.

Have you watched this movie? Have you read the book? How do you feel about movie accents? Tell us in the comments!