Wednesday, March 21, 2018

The Death of Stalin and Short Takes on Annihilation

            Hilarious History, Strange Sci-Fi
                                Reviews by Ken Burke
              The Death of Stalin (Armando Iannucci, 2017)
“Executive Summary” (no spoilers): This film is a purposefully-absurd-revisionist-look at the aftermath of the death of Joseph Stalin, leader of the Soviet Union (by virtue of his position as General Secretary of that conglomeration’s Central Committee of the Communist Party from 1922 to 1952, Premier of the government from 1941 until his sudden demise in 1953 [the film doesn’t explain such details as best I noted, so I’m just trying to give you a bit more context]) with a focus on the internal manipulations of other U.S.S.R. leaders to take over after Stalin's unexpected departure, the chief rivalry being between Lavrentiy Beria and Nikita Khrushchev as various plots or alliances come and go in rapid fashion.  Given that the essential events and resulting outcome of this internal struggle are all matters of historical fact—even though the specific scenes of this film are surely exaggerated for laughs—there’s not much I can keep from you below in terms of spoilers but I’ll try to be circumspect where I can.  This film’s not playing in very many theaters yet but’s already being streamed in much of the world by Netflix so it should soon be universally available through that mode of delivery.  I think The Death of Stalin’s hilarious (even if you don’t know much about the details of the actual occurrences) because it’s so representative of secretive power struggles in all forms of politics, although for some audiences it may play too much like a Monty Python skit (Michael Palin's character seems to be functioning at times as the Minister of Silly Talks) extended into an almost-2-hour-length that could have been even more compressed for maximum impact (it probably needed to be filled out, though, to fully please aficionados of this bygone-era).

Here’s the trailer:  (Use the full screen button in the image’s lower right to enlarge it; activate that same button on the full screen’s lower right or your “esc” keyboard key to return to normal size.)

If you can abide plot spoilers read on, but as this blog’s intended for those who’ve seen the film—or want to save some bucks—to help any of you who’d like to learn more details yet avoid important plot-reveals I’ll identify such give-away sentences/sentence-clusters thusly: 
⇒The first and last words will be noted with arrows and red.⇐ OK, now continue on if you prefer.

What Happens: In the 1953 Soviet Union we’re immediately told (though opening subtitles for the benefit of those too young to know about the U.S.S.R., the West’s long-standing-opponent during the days of the post-WW II Cold War) of the cruel reign of that consolidated-empire’s Communist Party General Secretary Joseph Stalin (Adrian McLoughlin).  As an example of the fear this dictator instilled in his people (with ongoing lists of “enemies of the state” who were taken away under trumped-up [so to speak, given the U.S.A.'s wanna-be-modern-parallel]-charges either to prison, the dreadful gulag labor camps, or execution) the beginning scene is a Radio Moscow broadcast of a Mozart recital to which, at its conclusion, Stalin directly calls chief engineer Andreyev (Paddy Considine) in his control booth demanding the recording be immediately sent to his countryside dacha.  Only trouble is, there’s no recording so the engineer frantically stops the musicians and as many of the audience as possible from leaving, rounds up more listeners from the streets to give a fuller sense of acoustics and applause, bribes pianist Maria Yudina (Olga Kurylenko) to stay even though she hates Stalin for executing members of her family, then has to hurriedly bring in another conductor (in robe and pajamas) when the previous one dies in a weird accident (certain aspects of this film resemble the insanity of Monty Python skits and not just because former-Python Michael Palin’s in the cast as Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov—he of crude gasoline [or other flammable liquid]-in-a-bottle-firebomb-fame).  After the orchestral piece is quickly recorded (Yudina secretly slips a defamatory note to Stalin into the record's sleeve), then delivered to the maniacal dictator, he reads the note followed by a severe cerebral hemorrhage (one might hope the boldness of the insult could cause such a reaction yet unlikely because he laughs at it [actual history speculates the seizure was from poor diet and stressful lifestyle]), leaving him essentially paralyzed on the floor in a pool of his own urine where he spends the night with the irony of his door guards terrified to go in without being summoned for fear of being condemned to death.

 When Stalin’s almost-expired-body’s found the next morning he’s moved to a bed where he’s not likely to get proper medical attention because all the decent doctors in or around Moscow have already been killed or sent away so most of the focus is on the treachery of other members of the tiny ruling Presidium (formerly, then again later called the Politburo) of the Central Committee trying to assert themselves as Stalin’s natural successor.  While the leadership role technically goes to Deputy General Secretary Georgy Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor), it’s clear the true power within the group is held by NKVD (Secret Police) head Lavrentiy Beria (Simon Russell Beale) who’s the 1st to arrive, finds then stashes Yudina’s note (saved for later coercion if needed), destroys some of Stalin’s files (among them a hit list including Molotov, a tactic to buy his support), and essentially guides Malenkov through the transition, even though it’s clear that Moscow Party Head Nikita Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi) is quietly wrangling for the position, building allegiances with other members of the group as well as with Field Marshall Georgy Zhukov (Jason Isaacs).  In an attempt to sideline Khrushchev, Beria gives him the unenviable task of arranging Stalin’s funeral, after which he closes access to Moscow in order to better control the actions of thousands of Stalin loyalists while putting his NKVD forces in place as peacekeepers rather than Zhukov’s Red Army; he also has Molotov’s wife, Polina Molotova (Diana Quick) released from prison, plays up to Stalin’s daughter, Svetlana (Andrea Riseborough)—as do the other Presidium members—while trying to keep a lid on Stalin’s irrational son, Vasily (Rupert Friend).  Beria also implements reforms that Khrushchev planned to take credit for, including a halt to the “enemies” repression and inviting clergy from the Russian Orthodox Church to Stalin’s funeral, with threats to the other Presidium members not to take any action against him due to the damaging information he has on all of them.

 ⇒Nevertheless, through some further behind-the-scenes-plotting, Khrushchev allows trains to bring hoards of mourners back into Moscow (setting up fatal conflicts with the NKVD entry guards, as 1,500 are killed, putting Beria in a tight spot with public opinion), Zhukov’s soldiers take command from the NKVD; Beria’s arrested for treason as the rest of the Politburo unites against him, followed by a fast conviction and execution then his body’s burnt; Svetlana’s sent off to Vienna with a promise Vasily will be cared for; by 1956 Khrushchev’s in sole command but final subtitles note he’ll be ousted in 1964 by Leonid Brezhnev (as the secret-power-wrangling-game goes on).⇐

So What? I wish our frequent viewing companion, Jim Graham, had been free to join my wife, Nina, and me to see The Death of Stalin because he knows considerably more about both history and Russia (especially Russian history) than I do so he could probably have enjoyed it even more than we did as well as filling us in on how much of this was just intentional farce vs. what farcical truths were merely mildly exaggerated (unless any of it—beyond the clear fact that Stalin died in 1953—was truly literal rather than made even funnier than reality through creative license).  Certainly, I have no doubt there was internal jostling within the Presidium’s members to replace Stalin as the all-encompassing-commander of the U.S.S.R. (just as such political jockeying undoubtedly goes on at every level of any government, no matter what the ruling system may be—as shown by the WikiLeaked Democratic emails confirming how that party’s brass skewed their 2016 nomination to Hillary Clinton rather than Bernie Sanders, with no need for help from the Russians to accomplish it although such plotting was exposed via Russian involvement in getting this dirt to WikiLeaks just as Russians have also been exposed in their further efforts to then undermine Clinton in favor of Trump); as to whether anyone outside that dysfunctional-Soviet-Presidium would find their actual actions to be as funny as what this film depicts I have no idea, but even the cruel realities of the time—such as executions of "enemies" suddenly cut short by Beria’s new leniency policy—take on a quick punch of sardonic humor when we see the dead bodies juxtaposed with the just-now-allowed-to-stay-alive-ones, the obvious implication being only the split-second-timing of the order’s arrival determined who’d survive made funny by the matter-of-fact-attitude of the executioner who simply takes the directive, casually walks away leaving the line of relieved prisoners intact (implying commands from the Soviet hierarchy of the time were so capricious the only useful reaction would be a “whatever” shrug)—I’ve often tried to get clear the meaning of “being at the wrong place at the right time,” which I guess this could be an example of?

 While there’s an ongoing tone of absurdity in this film (despite the historical foundation of its primary events), The Death of Stalin isn’t always a laugh-a-minute kind of comedy because many of the situations require some serious set-up before the humorous payoffs can be produced, so it’s not just one bit of effective silliness after another (as in, for example, Some Like It Hot [Billy Wilder, 1959]—although that movie contains a gangster mass execution scene setting the rest of the plot in motion—or Annie Hall [Woody Allen, 1977]—although even this one has the potential for sadness when the primary romantic pair endures a final breakup but at least they remain friends with the script continuing to offer jokes until the very end).  Despite director Iannucci’s Italian name (both parents are of Italian heritage, although like her son, his mother was born in Glasgow) he’s Scottish with a long career in BBC radio and TV comedy (as well as the more-commercial [TV] Channel 4; he’s probably best associated in the U.S. with creating HBO’s satire, Veep, which continues Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ string of Emmy wins), so the overall tone of the humor is often of the understated-British-type, delivered more with nuance than extreme fabrication, although the concept of the scramble for power to run the Soviet Union, retaining carefully-chosen-aspects of Stalin’s absolute rule back in the 1950s, certainly doesn’t need any explanation for us to see the parallels with the scramble of current Russian President/quasi-dictator Vladimir Putin to resurrect the former impact of both the Russian empire and the U.S.S.R. at a time when the ongoing economic problems of his country require Putin and his henchmen to do everything possible to disrupt the functioning of more stable, prosperous nations.Still, even those with a limited knowledge of Soviet/Russian affairs or (dubious, in my leftist opinion) lack of concern about current Russian meddling in recent/upcoming U.S. elections can easily find the humor in The Death of Stalin even at just the level of the crude nature of political maneuvering in any system of government along with the levels that some power-brokers will stoop to in order to consolidate/elevate their own influence no matter the cost to others.

*In fact, The Death of Stalin’s been banned in Russia; here's a short video (2:15) that speculates this action was taken both because of the mockery of the Soviet past (which seems to be gaining a sense of nostalgia there) and quiet concerns about what will become of Russia once current strongman Putin’s someday no longer in power (but, like Stalin, it will probably take his death for that change in authority to happen; I don’t see him casually retiring after his next 6-year-term's up).

Bottom Line Final Comments: This film’s already been a rousing critical success with 96% positive reviews by those surveyed at Rotten Tomatoes along with an unusually high 88% average score from the normally-less-generous-folks canvassed by Metacritic (more details in my Related Links section way down below)—and I must thank my local-guru-reviewer, Mick LaSalle, of the San Francisco Chronicle (although I can't imagine he ever reads this blog) for giving it top honors because without his enthusiastic support of a film I wasn’t even aware of until last Friday I doubt I’d have paid much attention to it, likely figuring it was yet another one of the many documentaries that play in my area (also, giving LaSalle some kudos here partially balances my dismissal of his wretched opinion of Annihilation, soon-to-be-noted not-so-much-farther-below).  By comparison, domestic (U.S.-Canada) audiences haven’t had much of a chance to even see it yet, in release for 2 weeks but just now expanding from 4 to 32 theaters with a so-far-measly box-office-take of about $801 thousand (yet, its per-screen-average is an enormous $16.8 thousand so in the few places it’s playing it’s doing quite well, hopefully with more exposure and success soon to come).  In addition to LaSalle’s enthusiasm (“This hardly seems the subject for comedy, but in practice, that very thing presents an ideal comic opportunity, both because of the sheer perversity of these brutal figures and the bizarreness of looking at them in a comedy context. […] we appreciate the stakes and take seriously that the characters are at risk and that people are getting murdered.”), Nina had another reason to watch a story focused on Khrushchev because she’s long had a routine about herself that her initial appearance as a bald, chubby baby resulted from her mother somehow going to Russia in early 1950 for a quick fling with this later-to-be-Soviet-leader, with the in-joke of naming her after Nikita’s unassuming wife, also called Nina (she's played briefly in the film by Sylvestra Le Touzel), although I can testify (even from seeing my Nina K’s [for Kindblad, rather than Khrushchev] high-school pictures) that wasn’t how she looked for very long.

 I’ll speculate it's very likely the best enjoyment of the hilarious subject matter to be found in The Death of Stalin comes with some knowledge of the actual power struggle among members of that Presidium, but you can’t expect such insight from the majority of viewers (including myself, beyond a general sense of how these inner-circle-power-conflicts operate, dating back at least to the cruel "back-stabbing"-death of Julius Caesar [as Shakespeare put it, “Et tu, Brute {Brutus}?”]) so I’ll just say the combination of the most outrageous bits (especially the depiction of Vasily Stalin as a character resembling the ex-Nazi playwright Franz Liebkind [Kenneth Mars], wacky author of  Springtime for Hitler:  A Gay Romp with
Adolf and Eva at Berchtesgaden, the play-within-the-film of The Producers [Mel Brooks, 1967]), the more subtle humor (especially when it's focused on several feisty exchanges between Beria and Khrushchev, including some testy second-hand-remarks while standing in line at Stalin’s funeral), and even just thimplications of reality-made-silly (Vasily and the Presidium members lined up on a balcony to speak to the funeral mourners, reminding me of the cover of the Firesign Theatre album How Can You Be in Two Places at Once When You’re Not Anywhere at All [1969] with an “All Hail Marx and Lennon” poster behind the dignitaries, praising Groucho and Beatle John rather than Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin) all add up to an enjoyable satirical distraction from our current reality of collusion investigations involving Russians and the Trump campaign organization, even though the actual accents of the British actors in this film (no one attempts to sound Russian here, another useful comic device working well without calling obvious attention to itself) were a little hard for my aging ears to follow at times.

 However, in searching about for my usual tactic of a Musical Metaphor to wrap up this review I had an easy choice of combining another famous Brit with a parody structure, Paul McCartney on lead vocals of “Back in the U.S.S.R.” (from 1968's The Beatles, also called the “White Album”) playing off both Chuck Berry’s “Back in the U.S.A.” and the general harmony/tempo structures of the Beach Boys, especially “California Girls.”  I couldn’t find a free version of The Beatles’ original so I’ll give you 3 McCartney solo versions instead: a 1989 re-recording, an ironic performance of the song from a 2003 concert in Moscow's Red Square after the fall of Communism (from a much longer video so all the credits appear at the end), and, even more ironic in contemporary context, a 2008 concert in Kiev, Ukraine, a country Putin’s put a lot of energy into bringing back under Russian control.  Maybe if we in the West don’t get left behind in the Putin/Trump attempted march to rule by oligarchy we’ll realize “how lucky [we] are” that the days of the Soviet Union haven’t fully re-emerged on either side of the Atlantic no matter how “Well the Ukraine girls really knock [us] out.” 
(always aspiring toward) SHORT TAKES (despite the lengthy reality)
(please note that a few spoilers also appear here)

                                                         Annihilation (Alex Garland)
A cellular biologist is grieving the 1-year-disappearnce of her military husband when he mysteriously reappears but with no memory of where he’s been; he has a seizure, then government agents kidnap both of them to mysterious Area X where territory’s increasingly engulfed by a strange energy field (“the shimmer”) no one except the husband’s ever returned from.

Here’s the trailer:

       Before reading any further, I’ll ask you to refer to the plot spoilers warning far above.

 Due to a good number of other logistical considerations lately I’ve had to limit my available time for new offerings at local moviehouses so the few choices have been determined by either strong interests or easy access.  Thus, I hadn’t cared much about Annihilation, given the scathing review by Mick LaSalle (yeah, him again): “It fails to motivate the central characters [… leaving] audiences plenty of time to think—about their taxes, about what to eat when the movie is over, etc.—because it’s so uninvolving […] ‘Annihilation’ really isn’t worth seeing.  Still, if you meet someone who has seen it, have them tell you the good parts.”  Well, thanks to curious-and-generally-open-to-new-considerations-Nina, who—like me—was fascinated by what we’d seen of this story in the trailers, we sought out some further commentary by those who had seen Annihilation, finding it has a lot of supporters (RT offers 87% positive reviews, MC’s average score is 79%) such as James Berardinelli (of ReelViews, a guy whose opinion I’ve come to trust over the years) who gave it 3½ of 4 stars (compared to how RT views LaSalle’s decision as 1 of 4), saying: Annihilation makes you think. […] Although Garland’s unwillingness to compromise may limits his audience, it has resulted in a film whose ideas and philosophy demand thought and dissection and are not easily dismissed or forgotten.”  After having experienced this film, I much more agree with Berardinelli than LaSalle, especially where the ambiguous ending’s concerned.  In brief, the premise is Kane (Oscar Isaac), a Special Forces soldier, went on a secret mission a year ago but didn’t return leaving wife Lena (Natalie Portman), a cellular biology professor (ex-Army herself) at Johns Hopkins U., in a general state of depression which shifts into panic when Kane suddenly shows up, can’t tell her much of anything about where he’s been, has a seizure, but as she’s rushing him to a hospital they’re taken by government agents to a quarantine lab at Area X (somewhere on the southern U.S. coast), just outside “the shimmer,” an energy field expanding beyond its initial appearance at a lighthouse 3 years ago into the nearby state park, but no one—except Kane—who’s entered it has ever returned.

 Actually, all of the above narrative (along with most of what follows) is told in flashback with the present time (frequently intercut with past episodes including Lena both happily with Kane, then distant from him by having an affair with an also-married-colleague) being Lena under interrogation about what she experienced within the shimmer (she says she has little recall of it), due to the frantic concern of these government agents trying to understand the nature of this phenomenon which they’ve so far been able to keep secret from the public.  As we follow Lena’s events, she joins a small team of 4 women going into the shimmer, led by psychologist Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), the only other one of the group who knows Kane is Lena’s husband.  Once inside this altered environment (bounded by a translucent, easily-entered “wall”) our explorers experience a cutoff of outside communication, some memory loss, inaccurate perceptions of time (Lena’s in there for 4 months, thought it was just a few days), strange versions of local flora and fauna (including a big alligator with a shark-like 2nd row of teeth and a gruesome creature they call a bear [looks more like a wolf to me] which kills 2 of the group).  Eventually they find an abandoned Army post where a left-behind-flash-drive shows them video of Kane cutting open another soldier’s gut to reveal his intestines moving around like an eel (then they find his body parts overgrown with a huge, mysterious plant); as they move further toward the lighthouse (their ultimate destination) another woman of the expedition, somehow infected by this environment (she’s a physicist who speculates the shimmer’s like a prism not only refracting light but also the DNA of anything within its territory, creating all these strange mutations) turns into a human-shaped-plant, joining others in a "garden."

 ⇒With just the 2 of them now left alone, Ventress sets out on her own to the lighthouse so when Lena finally arrives she finds a charred human skeleton and a video camera with footage showing Kane in desperation setting himself on fire with a white phosphorus grenade plus a quick glimpse of his double (which we have to assume is who returned from this altered existence, not her actual husband).  Lena then finds Ventress, dying of cancer, who tells her this has all been brought about by some alien presence in the process of absorbing/transforming our planet; she then explodes into a mass of energy (oxymoron, I know, yet about the only way to describe it) which pulls in a few drops of Lena’s blood then transforms into her humanoid duplicate, mimicking every movement.⇐

 ⇒Lena manages to trick her doppelgänger into holding another grenade which Lena activates before running out of the lighthouse.  The resulting explosion burns up the double with a resulting fire that also destroys the building along with the alien cave within it (sort of a huge womb) as all of the transformed, crystalline plants around there crumble into dust, the entire shimmer existence destroyed.  Back in the present in Area X “Kane” suddenly recovers, Lena embraces him knowing it’s actually the double of her husband, but her eyes have the same strange glow as his leaving us to assume she still has some of that alien transformation, with no indication what’s to come for humanity with these strange creatures now among us.*⇐  (This film’s based on a novel of the same title [2014] by Jeff VanderMeer, the 1st of his Southern Reach Trilogy; a summary of those stories reveals that the larger construct of Area X isn’t destroyed in the books but continues to grow and consume other characters.)  I find Annihilation to be more about mood and atmosphere (with some intense scenes to increase your heart rate [although maybe not as much as mine when the ticket-seller said “Are you sure you want to do that?” after I requested “Two seniors for Annihilation,” making me wonder briefly if I were back in The Death of Stalin territory]) than explanation, giving you good reason to contemplate what you’ve seen (wondering how esteemed critic LaSalle concluded these investigators had no motivation for probing into the interior of "the shimmer") as well as wonder what comes next for all of us from Lena and “Kane” (if the other books of this trilogy are also adapted they’ll only be vague inspiration because there is no Kane double in them).  Unlike LaSalle, I’ll encourage you to consider seeing Annihilation with its disturbing underlying theme as stated by Ventress: “Almost all of us self-destruct.”  But if you decide to do so hurry up because it’s been out a month already, isn’t getting much push from Paramount, its theater coverage has dropped to 1,087 domestic venues, its domestic box-office is only about $29.6 million (vs. a $40 million budget) so I doubt it’ll be around very much longer (although it’s being streamed outside the U.S., Canada, and China by Netflix so it’ll likely be available online in all countries sometime soon). 

*If you’d like more detail on this story you can consult this video (7:34) which posits “the shimmer” as a tumor invading Earth’s biology but you might also be interested in hearing from a few of the film's actors (Portman, Isaac, Leigh) on their interpretations of this plot, although they don’t reveal much, so the enigmatic Crosby, Stills & Nash song "Helplessly Hoping" (from their debut 1969 self-named-album; this performance, joined by Neil Young, is one I attended in Oakland, 1988), used in the film’s soundtrack, might offer just as much “interpretation” as anything else you'll find.

 I also had doubts I'd be able to find an additional song appropriate for a true Musical Metaphor here but I finally settled on a couple of choices that speak to the increasingly odd, disturbing situations the characters encounter before the shimmer’s impact is vanquished: First, to verify what a “long, strange trip” (but, no, I didn’t use that Grateful Dead tune appropriate as it might be in this circumstance) Lena faces in an environment familiar yet disorienting here’s the famous introduction to those equally-unnerving-episodes of TV’s The Twilight Zone (original series 1959-1964, revivals in 1985-1989, 2002-2003, a 3rd set to debut soon) at, but given it’s only a 29-second-video I thought you should have something else to finish off this posting so I’ve also included the Electric Light Orchestra’s “Strange Magic” (from their 1975 Face the Music album), which you'll find at (a live 2001 performance) in reference to Annihilation’s weird world where the characters are “never gonna be the same again [… as they’ve] seen the way it’s got to end” (even if we likely never will).  OK, that’s all from me this time so feel free to do your own “shimmer” to “celebrate” (if you must, along with Trump's recent questionable congratulatory phone call) Putin’s “strange magic” re-election to yet another run as Russia’s president (even if his voters had to be pushed out to the polls to guarantee both a large turnout and a hefty winning margin) as he competes for the title of Greatest Dictator ever (don’t be surprised if he becomes U.S. President as well in 2020 rather than working through surrogate Trump; hell, if you going to hack our election system you might as well include a surprise-write-in-candidate’s victory).  If only what I’m joking about were just a political satire like The Death of Stalin instead of an increasingly-scary-alternate-reality, at least where Russian interference in the West (and the Mideast) is concerned.  Maybe we’ll collectively find a different sort of “shimmer” to alter such outcomes as dissent continues to grow toward these dangerous autocratic activitiesbeginning with a “blue tide” in U.S. elections next fall?  (Assuming Putin hasn’t already determined our outcome in the same way he's managed his own.)  Stay tuned.
Related Links Which You Might Find Interesting:
We encourage you to visit the summary of Two Guys reviews for our past posts.*  Overall notations for this blog—including Internet formatting craziness beyond our control—may be found at our Two Guys in the Dark homepage If you’d like to Like us on Facebook please visit our Facebook page. We appreciate your support whenever and however you can offer it!

*A Google software glitch causes every Two Guys posting prior to August 26, 2016 to have an inaccurate (dead) link to this Summary page; from then forward, though, this link is accurate.

AND … at least until the Oscars for 2017’s releases have been awarded on Sunday, March 4, 2018 we’re also going to include reminders in each posting of very informative links where you can get updated tallies of which 2017 films have been nominated for and/or received various awards and which ones made various individual critic’s Top 10 lists.  You may find the diversity among the various awards competitions and the various critics hard to reconcile at times—not to mention the often-significant-gap between critics’ choices and competitive-award-winners (which pales when compared to the even-more-noticeable-gap between specific award winners and big box-office-grosses you might want to monitor here)—but as that less-than-enthusiastic-patron-of-the-arts, Plato, noted in The Symposium (385-380 BC)—roughly translated, depending on how accurate you wish the actual quote to be—“Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder,” so your choices for success are as valid as any of these others, especially if you offer some rationale for your decisions (unlike many of the awards voters who simply fill out ballots, sometimes for films they’ve never seen).

To save you a little time scrolling through the “various awards” list above, here are the Golden Globe nominees and winners for films and TV from 2017 along with the Oscar nominees and winners for 2017 films.

Here’s more information about The Death of Stalin: (33:34 video interview statements by actors Steve Buscemi, Simon Russell Beale, Michael Palin, Jason Isaacs, Olga Kurylenko, Paul Whitehouse, Andrea Riseborough, Paul Chahidi, Dermot Crowley,  director Armando Iannucci, co-screenplay writer David Schneider [with Iannucci, Ian Martin, Peter Fellows], production designer Christina Casali, costume designer Suzie Harman, and piano soloist for the musical score Christopher Willis [audio’s a bit low throughout])

Here’s more information about Annihilation: (as official sites go, this one’s pathetic; it even offer a link to another official site which turns out to just be at Facebook—you get the idea Paramount’s not that interested in promoting this movie?) (30:28 interview with writer-director Alex Garland, which also includes commentaries on other films he’s written or directed)

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If you’d rather contact Ken directly rather than leaving a comment here please use my new email at if you truly have too much time on your hands you might want to explore some even-longer-and-more-obtuse-than-my-film-reviews—if that even seems possible—academic articles about various cinematic topics at my website,, which could really give you something to talk to me about.)

By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile. Ken

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.  But wherever the rest of my body may be my heart’s always with my longtime-companion, lover, and wife, Nina Kindblad, so here’s our favorite shared song—Neil Young’s "Harvest Moon"
—from the performance we saw at the Desert Trip concerts in Indio, CA on October 15, 2016 (as a full moon was rising over the stadium) because “I’m still in love with you,” my dearest, a never-changing-reality even as the moon waxes and wanes over the months/years to come.


Finally, for the data-oriented among you, Google stats say over the past month (which they seem to measure from right now back 30 days) the total unique hits at this site were 80,223 (A new all-time high!  And quite notably so; thanks again to all of you marvelous worldwide readers); below is a snapshot of where and by what means those responses have come from within the previous week:


  1. I found Annihilation to be a worthwhile diversion while still largely derivative of predecessors such as the original 1956 Invasion of the Body Snatchers. It never quite surprises the audience but is still propelled by the strength of the actors. At least while they are still in the film and don't disappear as if victims of a bad edit.

    But a more interesting aspect of this film combined with the reigning blockbuster Black Panther was the reaction of my barely making it white yard guy who rarely misses any sci-fi at the local New Braunfels cineplex. He's a Trump supporter who probably has never paid income taxes or health care premiums but benefits from a relative's Social Security and the local emergency room. He was really disappointed by Panther (clearly not white enough for him) and did not see Annihilation because of its female leads. Makes me want to find some hard working illegals. Of course, his political talking points are all fantasy as well. It may be time for Michael Moore and Alec Baldwin to team up with a modern day The Candidate (who wins when he wants to lose) meets All the President's Men (where journalists do their jobs). As long as it isn't a real life Dr. Strangelove documentary first.

  2. Hi rj, Thanks for your comments, all of which I enjoyed immensely. Ken