Day 274 & Day 275 – The Death of Stalin & Once Upon a Time in the West

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Movie Title: The Death of Stalin

First Watch / Repeat Viewing

Running Time: 1 hr. 47 min.

Rated: R

Who did I watch with?: J.R. and Stephie

Where did I watch it?: Home

Review:

The Death of Stalin was a movie that I immediately assumed I would love, but definitely had some reservations about. My chief concern was the portrayal of the characters. I read Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 of Stephen Kotkin’s magnificent biography of Joseph Stalin and I am eagerly awaiting the third and final volume. One of my biggest takeaways from reading the books was that not only was Stalin a malignant person, but so were all of those around him that enabled him to conduct his reign of terror. Among his circle none were worse than Lavrentiy Beria the head of the secret police and Nikita Khruschchev whom became Stalin’s most trusted advisors. These characters are also featured prominently in the movie.

Mercifully, all the characters get the lambasting they deserve all while lending a dark humor to the events that had taken place in the Soviet Union. The year is 1953. Stalin is aging and one day in his dacha he collapses from a cerebral hemorrhage. Within a few days Stalin is dead. The power struggle began immediately. Director Armando Iannucci turned that rat race into a lampooning of the Soviet Union and a hysterical situational comedy in the vein of Arrested Development. The movie also remains historically accurate despite its hilarious situations. Jeffrey Tambor, Steve Buscemi, and Jason Isaacs are phenomenal in their roles.

Verdict:

The Death of Stalin is a great black comedy with some hysterical moments. See it.

Tomorrow’s Movie: Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)

 

Movie Title: Once Upon a Time in the West

First Watch / Repeat Viewing

Running Time: 2 hr. 44 min.

Rated: PG-13

Who did I watch with?: Flying Solo

Where did I watch it?: Home

Review:

Once Upon a Time in the West is a stunning directorial performance by Sergio Leone while being his second best western (the best being The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.)

Once Upon a Time in the West features four interconnected stories. Jill McBain (Claudia Cardinale) is a stunning beauty from New Orleans that is meeting her husband outside of Flagstaff, Arizona at their ranch. Upon her arrival, she discovers that the entire population of Sweet Water ranch was slaughtered. Her husband and step children are all dead. She becomes listless, but wants revenge. Cheyenne (Jason Robards) a notorious outlaw is framed for the murders. He is a tough man, but wants to clear his name. A posse is sent out to put him to the gallows. A harmonica playing gunslinger played by Charles Bronson teams up with Cheyenne to see to it that justice is served. He is also out for revenge against Frank and his gang. Frank wronged Harmonica at some point in the past.

These characters all know who did it. Harmonica knows Frank faked the evidence. Cheyenne knows he didn’t do it and that Frank is working for the railroad. Jill wants to avenge her family. Frank is played by Henry Fonda. Henry Fonda is deliciously evil as Frank. It is an unexpected role for Fonda who usually plays good guys. In his opening scene he guns down a child in cold blood. It is a beautifully shot movie with incredible scenery on top of the performances with a soundtrack by Ennio Morricone that is reminiscent of his score for The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.

Verdict:

Once Upon a Time in the West is a great revenge story with great performances and a great soundtrack. See it.

Tomorrow’s Movie: War Horse (2011)

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