Willem Dafoe Is Vincent Van Gogh In The Brand New Trailer For ‘At Eternity’s Gate’

“Julian Schnabel’s At Eternity’s Gate is a journey inside the world and mind of a person who, despite skepticism, ridicule and illness, created some of the world’s most beloved and stunning works of art. This is not a forensic biography, but rather scenes based on Vincent van Gogh’s (Academy Award® Nominee Willem Dafoe) letters, common agreement about events in his life that present as facts, hearsay, and moments that are just plain invented.”

Directed by: Julian Schnabel

Cast: Willem Dafoe, Rupert Friend, Oscar Isaac, Mads Mikkelsen, Mathieu Amalric

Release Date: 10th November 2018 (US – UK Date TBA)

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The Death of Stalin

Year: 2017
Director: Armando Iannucci
Starring: Steve Buscemi, Jeffrey Tambor, Simon Russell Beale, Michael Palin, Paul Whitehouse, Andrea Riseborough, Rupert Friend, Paul Whitehouse, Jason Isaacs

Written by Rhys Bowen Jones

Armando Iannucci is arguably the world’s most famous Italian Scot. After finding success with British political send-up ‘The Thick of It’ and American political send-up ‘Veep’, Iannucci found himself a niche as a singular voice in political satire, combining the typically awful people found in politics with jet black, profanity laden humour. His latest effort, his second directorial venture into film after 2009’s ‘In The Loop,’ chronicles the remarkable true story of, you guessed it, the death of Stalin. What follows is much of what you’d expect from an Iannucci creation, but it doesn’t have that sharpness for which he was so renowned.

‘The Death of Stalin’ follows Stalin’s various aides (First Secretary, Secretary of Defence, Chief of the Secret Police etc.) as they scramble around attempting to contain the rather large issue of Stalin suddenly dying, as well as figuring out who succeeds Stalin, what happens next for Russia on a global scale, and organising Stalin’s state funeral.

It’s important to know heading into this film that I don’t think it’s wholly necessary that you should be well-versed in Russian politics to understand it. Most key details are explained thoroughly enough, but it does expect you to follow along. Any Iannucci project is full of people who talk very quickly, so it’s our responsibility to keep up. Iannucci does, however, have a knack for throwing 20 lines of complicated political talk and injecting it with a blunt insult or a swear word to draw our attention back in in case anyone was wavering. It’s fascinating to see it at work in this setting, particularly because every single Russian character in the film has a British accent.

That realisation is jarring. It takes you a few minutes to adjust. You have people like Paddy Considine and Paul Whitehouse talking to people named Vyacheslav and Malenkov and Khruschev in a London accent. It’s peculiar initially, but it makes sense for what we’re watching. The complexities of what is happening can be hard to follow, particularly if everyone was speaking in a strong Russian accent. Allowing the actors to use their own accents makes them stand out to us, the general audience, and helps us separate each character from each other. As you can see from the cast list above, the ensemble here is huge. Every character has agency in the film too, every character has a part to play in the grand story of the film and of Russia as a whole. That works hugely in the film’s favour, and benefits many of the comedic moments of the film.

Of which, there are, indeed, many. The opening scene is classic Iannucci, where a famous orchestra has finished their performance. Paddy Considine working the sound gets a phone call from Stalin himself asking for a recording of the performance. Considine, of course, realises they didn’t record it. He then must scramble around getting the orchestra back together, filling the quickly empty audience with random people form the street, and then having to find a replacement conductor after the initial conductor knocks himself out on a fire bucket. Meanwhile, the Soviet Secret Police are out executing and arresting various targets for crimes against the country. It’s a wonderful, ridiculous, shocking opening sequence that is played mostly for laughs, while establishing the darkness and cruelty at hand.

This opening sequence is ‘The Death of Stalin’ in a nutshell. Funny scenes, great one-liners, physical comedy truncated by realisations of how insane the Soviet Union was in 1953. It had a dictatorial air about it similar to that of Hitler in Nazi Germany, any mistake that could be considered as anti-Russia saw you killed. Iannucci balances this masterfully and he is the perfect writer to tackle such a heavy subject matter. There is a fascinating period drama here that lasts three hours and doesn’t flinch on any of the more tragic or nasty details. As such, Iannucci makes it consumable to us with his unique style. The act of Stalin’s aides literally carrying his body from his office to his bedroom is not funny, but the way it is staged is. That’s what makes so much of ‘The Death of Stalin’ work.

On top of the clever script and the humour, the performances here are genuinely fantastic. The whole ensemble is fully on board with the idea and are dedicated to getting it right. Jason Isaacs is a stand-out as the no nonsense, sarcastic Minister of Defence in a strong Birmingham accent. Jeffrey Tambor channels George Bluth as Malenkov, Stalin’s second in command, a bumbling buffoon who has many of the film’s best lines.

However, Steve Buscemi’s Khruschev and Simon Russell Beale’s Beria are the two stars of the film. The two characters are butting heads through the whole film. While Khrushchev generally has an air of exasperation about him as he becomes dumbfounded at some of the choices the others make, Beria has far more sinister intentions. Beale’s performance, in particular, is terrific. He can make a joke about someone’s stutter in one sentence, before casually sentencing another death two lines later without batting an eye. Beale completely dominates the film and takes the brunt of the heavy lifting on a plot front, and he nails it. Beale’s performance may well end up as one of my favourite male performances of the year.

Sadly though, the film has its drawbacks. It suffers from an issue that so much of modern comedy does. Iannucci doesn’t do anything particularly interesting on the directorial front. He merely points the camera at his characters and has them deliver their lines. ‘The Thick of It’ had a more chaotic feel to them, hand held camera for much of it almost like a documentary, and the chaos from the camera added to the insanity of the story. I truly believe ‘The Death of Stalin’ would have benefited from such an approach, just to add something extra to the film. To put it bluntly, it’s not very interesting to look at.

My second issue lies with the actual humour. When the film is funny, it’s very funny. I do want to watch it again so I can note some of the best lines down. But, there are sections of the film where there aren’t many jokes to speak of, and it gets bogged down in the complicated plot. Of course, it’s a complicated story, so this can be expected, but Iannucci always managed to inject some life into this conversations in ‘Veep’ and ‘The Thick of It’, more off-handed insults, more ridiculous analogies to explain it to someone, more off-the-cuff. It may seem like I am comparing this to his old work a lot, but I feel it’s necessary; it worked so well there, why not make it work here?

My general feelings towards ‘The Death of Stalin’ are far more positive than negative. Writing this, I have felt myself become more positive about it than I initially thought I was. I just think it was lacking that extra special something Iannucci usually has. It was almost there, just not quite. Still, I never thought I’d find myself laughing so hard at a funeral scene in any film, and yet, here we are.

Rhys’ Rating: 7.1/10

First Trailer For ‘The Death Of Stalin’ Has Arrived!

“The internal political landscape of 1950’s Soviet Russia takes on darkly comic form in a new film by Emmy award-winning and Oscar-nominated writer/director Armando Iannucci. In the days following Stalin’s collapse, his core team of ministers tussle for control; some want positive change in the Soviet Union, others have more sinister motives. Their one common trait? They’re all just desperately trying to remain alive.”

Director: Armando Iannucci

Cast: Jason Isaacs, Steve Buscemi, Rupert Friend, Jeffrey Tambor, Paddy Considine, Michael Palin, Andrea Riseborough
Release Date: 20th October 2017

Watch This Space: August 10 – 16

Welcome to your weekly go-to-guide – WatchThisSpace – where we give you recommendations of films to watch in the cinema, on the television and those brilliant films hiding at the back of your DVD collection.

IN THE CINEMA

Guy Ritchie makes his directing return this week with ‘The Man From U.N.C.L.E’, and it certainly looks like it will be a successful return. Action-comedy is a genre that’s difficult to get right, but with Henry Cavill, Alicia Vikander, Armie Hammer and Hugh Grant involved, it looks like this latest effort could be a hit. Expect laughs and thrills in equal measure. 

Audiences in America have been able to enjoy ‘Trainwreck’ for a while now, and we brought UK readers an exclusive review a few weeks back. Now the time has come for audiences here to see Amy Schumer’s big break on the silver screen, in what could be the comedy film of the summer.

Finally, we issue a public warning NOT to waste your time and money on another Adam Sandler led pile of crap. There can be no doubt that ‘Pixels’ is just another in a long line of flops from the moronic actor in his hunt for the next inflated pay cheque.

ON TELEVISION

Wednesday 21:00 GMT: Tune in to ITV2 to see the cult comedy ‘21 Jump Street’. The sequel may only have been slightly better than average, but the original will have you laughing out loud. 

Thursday 21:00 GMT: See how the ‘Alien’ franchise came to pass with modern prequel ‘Prometheus’ on Film4. You don’t need to have seen any of the original ‘Alien’ films in order to enjoy this, so we recommend this as your weekly dose of mind-boggling Sci-Fi, directed by Ridley Scott. If you like this film, you’ll be pleased to know that a second film has been announced.  

Friday 21:00 GMT: Our second recommended comedy of the week comes in the form of ‘Bridesmaids’ on Film4. We said that ’21 Jump Street’ is funny, but this is on a whole different level. One of our favourite comedies here at JumpCut UK, ‘Bridesmaids’ is utterly brilliant and well worth staying in on a Friday night for. 

Saturday 18:15 GMT: Our family film for the weekend is slightly more action-driven than normal, but it’s still a great film to sit down and enjoy together. ‘Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade’ is the third film in the iconic Indiana Jones series (don’t worry, you don’t have to have seen the others). Indiana Jones is as good as film characters get, and that is official after he came top in Empire magazine’s list. Sit back and enjoy on BBC 1

Sunday 21:00 GMT: The 9pm Sunday slot has some fantastic films vying for our attention this week. ‘Minority Report’ and ‘Casino Royale’ are on BBC3 and ITV2 respectively, but we’re going to recommend that you watch the Oscar-winning, war drama ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ on Channel4. The film follows the search for Osama Bin Laden, and is as dark as you would expect. This is the film that catapulted Jessica Chastain to Hollywood stardom and it’s easy to see why.

DIG IT OUT

This is our favourite part of the WatchThisSpace section. We delve into our own DVD collection and pick out some amazing films, that may not instantly spring to mind when you’re stuck for inspiration to make your movie night a success. Maybe you’ve never seen a film that we pick – or even heard of them for that matter – but you’re gonna have to trust us on this one, and Dig It Out.

Adventureland: It was a mixed week for Fox Studios last week, after the disastrous reaction to the ‘Fantastic Four’ reboot, but luckily the release of a ‘Deadpool’ trailer managed to salvage some street-cred. Ryan Reynolds may be best known for his infamous ‘Green Lantern’ role, but let’s not hold that against him, because it looks like he’s going to smash it this time around. He’s also pretty great in a supporting role in the underrated, comedy-drama ‘Adventureland’.

American Hustle: Jennifer Lawrence turns 24 on Saturday, and we can’t believe the catalogue of great acting roles she has already put together in such a short space of time. Amongst J-Law’s array of fantastic performances, the one which most stands out has to be her portrayal of the unpredictable, volatile Rosalyn Rosenfeld in ‘American Hustle’. With an all-star cast, top director and a multitude of Academy Award nominations, this film gives a perfect balance of crime and comedy.

Starred Up: You may have missed it, but last week also saw the release of the global trailer for upcoming action film ‘Hitman Agent 47’. Rupert Friend takes the lead role in this video game adaptation, and whilst we aren’t exactly sold on this one, we really enjoyed Friend’s role in prison drama ‘Starred Up’. Gritty as hell, with an equal serving of tense action scenes and poignant, emotional moments, this Brit flick is one of our favourite films from 2014. With rising star Jack O’Connell taking centre stage, and a strong supporting cast, it’s hard to pick fault with this choice.

Gone Girl: We literally cannot avoid talk of Batfleck lately – not that we would want to – and last week was no different. Rumour has it, a select few from the upper echelons of the Warner Bros. society were treated to a work-in-progress screening of ‘Batman v Superman’. Ben Affleck’s performance has been heralded as “the definitive Batman” by these big-wigs, but for now we recommend taking a look at him in action in last year’s dark and twisted ‘Gone Girl’; a film not to be missed, most notably for the stunning performance of Rosamund Pike.

This week’s WatchThisSpace was compiled by Jakob Lewis Barnes and Nick Deal