Local cinemas this week

The Death Of Stalin

At least none of the all-star cast in Armando Iannucci’s latest scabrous political comedy had to adopt a stilted Russian accent. How on earth would they have got through all the lightening-fast quips, lacerating invective and fantastically inventive swearing that Iannucci has made his trade-mark style (The Thick of It, Veep) if they’d had to fake one? So Stalin himself (before he collapses in a puddle of his own urine early on) sounds like East End hood, Krushchev (Steve Buscemi) a gloomily neurotic New Jersey deli owner and Zuchov (Jason Isaacs) a boastful Yorkshire rugger bugger. Meanwhile nominal Stalin successor Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor) speaks like a quietly-spoken Californian Jewish transsexual (what else?), only constipated. This isn’t Iannucci’s best work, the verbal slapstick isn’t as sharp as usual, nor the delivery as dizzyingly exhilarating; possibly he was constrained by the source material (Thierry Robin’s graphic novel) and having to remain historically accurate. Which he does, more or less (yes, for once “based on true events” is terrifyingly accurate). But even sub-par Iannucci is better that just about any other comic writing around and besides, he’s proven many times over his ability to wittily reveal the vanity of power-grabs and the ways weak, grasping personalities expose their real selves via politics. If you like watching people bickering, toadying, backstabbing, then toadying some more and don’t want to sit through a local inner west council meeting, then The Death Of Stalin could well be the perfect way to spend 107 minutes. It sure is one hell of a lot funnier. MA15+ from Mar 29 at Palace Norton St, Palace Central and Dendy Newtown★★★★

Two Hollywood movies for teens. Or are they?

While gay characters have long been mandatory in all mainstream comedies (usually as the supportive friend who gives relationship advice) nowadays Hollywood has to be way more inclusive. Their casting quota checklists also dictate the whole range of LGBTIQs as well as non-cis-males, women (or anyone who identifies as a woman), persons of colour, people marginalised by white-supremacy and others of minority ethno-cultural background. Scriptwriters then have to scramble to invent plausible families and scenarios that somehow brings this diverse lot together. Weird blended families featuring lots of adoptions are common.

And sometime the strain shows.  Amongst the trio of teenage girls from the affluent high school in Blockers who are all determined to lose their virginity on Prom night, two are mixed race (including Australian Geraldine Viswanathan, second left above) and one is a questioning lesbian (wasn’t someone who was transitioning available?). Meanwhile the entire cast of Love, Simon, (and certainly its ultra polite script) seems to have been vetted by a year’s worth of Safe Schools committees to remove the possibility that anyone, anywhere might possibly be excluded or triggered. It too is set in a wealthy high school in an exclusive suburb (the sort that was once all-white in Hollywood and in the real world still is), and its diverse best buddies – two white (including another Australian Katherine Langford, far right below), two black – but not too black – are so self-censoring and respectful they say things like “F-off” to each other. (No, not what you’re thinking, just the “f”). Now who does that?

Both these movies are well-intentioned and intermittently amusing. The Blockers girls are great supportive role models for each other – intelligent, capable and sensible (less so their parents), and their boyfriends are so #MeToo considerate they may as well be neuts. Gay Simon’s school buddies are all lovely, his parents fantastically accepting and yes, it’s great the entire school (and its principal) is so nice and sweet about his coming out… The fact that these two scenarios bear little relationship to any place on planet Earth is not the point – Hollywood has always invented fantasies. But who are they making these films for? Their nominal target audience all have access to Netflix and HBO, and have already shown a preference for way edgier (13 Reasons Why, Riverdale) and more realistically tougher material. If it wasn’t for the one gross-out scene where one of Blockers’ idiot dads has a keg of beer pumped up his arse (yes, this is what passes for comedy in Hollywood) the movie could be shown in primary schools. Actually, only a 9-year old would find that funny.
Blockers MA15+ at Palace Norton St, Broadway and Rhodes from Mar 29 ★★
Love, Simon M at Palace Norton St and Dendy Newtown from Mar 29 ★★★

Also opening this week

More dry wit from Finland’s Aki Kaurismäki in The Other Side Of Hope and previews for the latest brilliant animation from Ardman, Early Man. Plus in a busy time for cinema lovers, Spielberg’s  Ready Player One, Disney’s A Wrinkle In Time (both unpreviewed) and just in time for Easter, Paul, Apostle of Christ.

Reviews – Russell Edwards