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Edited by Mark Morris.

I was hunting for something new to read in Waterstones and this caught my eye. I like a good horror anthology, plus I’d read some of the authors before.

There are nineteen stories in the book, and I’ll try and say a bit about each one, in particular shining a spotlight on the ones I really liked, and the ones I really didn’t!

As with most anthologies, the stories within this books pages are a mixed bag. This is both the strength of an anthology—if you didn’t like a story chances are you might like the next one—but also a weakness—it can be hard to keep your momentum going, especially if you get several rum tales in a row.

An added problem with any story, no matter its length, is that often some stories are great set-ups with weak endings, and sadly there was a lot of that in this book. This doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy those stories, it’s just a shame the endings didn’t live up to the central idea.

The collection opens with The Boggle Hole by Alison Littlwood, which is a fairly mild horror, a nice way to ease yourself in, though not one of the highlights of the book.

Next up is Shepherd’s Business by Stephen Gallagher, a well written story centred on a young doctor taking up a position on a remote Scottish island. I liked this, and the story ended up going somewhere I didn’t expect.

No Good Deed by Angela Slatter is an excellent tale of magic, poisoned brides and revenge from beyond the grave. Definitely one of the highlights, although I’d say it leaned more towards fantasy than horror.

The Family Car by Brady Golden has an interesting premise, a young woman whose family vanished in the family car years before suddenly finds herself stalked by the titular vehicle, but the ending let it down.

I adored the writing at work in Four Abstracts by Nina Allen. It gripped me from the off and I got really involved and engaged with the characters. The ending is a damp squib but there’s much to enjoy before you get there thankfully.

Sheltered in Place by Brian Keene is a sharp little tail with a wonderful twist in the tale.

The Fold in the Heart by Chaz Benchley is a romantic tale set around the Cornish coast. It’s ok but didn’t really grip me.

Departures by A.K. Benedict is an inventive tale where the newly dead wind up in limbo, which is an airport bar.

The Salter Collection by Brian Lillie is a delightfully creepy tale of demons and hidden messages on old wax cylinders. It ends a bit abruptly but has a nice atmosphere.

Speaking Still by Ramsey Campbell is a pretty stock tale of messages from the beyond the grave.

The Eyes are White and Quiet by Carole Johnstone is an interesting post-apocalyptic story, though it doesn’t get much time to breathe unfortunately.

The Embarrassment of Dead Grandmothers by Sarah Lotz is a darkly humorous story about a young man who takes his gran to the theatre, only to have her die in her seat, suffice to say that the young man doesn’t do what any normal person would do in this situation. It’s ok, but a bit throwaway.

Eumenides (The Benevolent Ladies) by Adam Nevill is a turgid tale of a man who goes on a date with a woman from work to a local deserted zoo. It goes exactly where you expect it to go and takes ages getting there.

Roundabout by Muriel Gray has an interesting central conceit—a monster living on a roundabout—but like the previous story it’s a bit of a slog to read.

After struggling with the previous two stories, The House of the Head by Josh Malerman was a welcome improvement. Yet again the ending is a bit of a let-down, but the story of a haunted dolls house is wonderfully creepy anyway.

Succulents by Conrad Williams is sadly another tale that didn’t connect with me. A father and his young son take a bike ride whilst on holiday in Spain and the tour guide makes the father partake of a strange fruit with strange results.

Dollies by Kathryn Ptacek is one of the highlights of the book, as a young girl grows up she names each of her dolls Elizabeth and in turn each of them “dies” of smallpox. Not an easy read but it’s well written and heads in an unsettling and unexpected direction.

When it comes to stories with weak endings, The Abduction Door by Christopher Golden is the reverse, I thought it was fairly average until the final few pages where it really comes alive and has a hell of a twist. Another highlight.

Rounding out the anthology is The Swan Dive by Stephen Laws, a grim and gory tale of a man who tries to commit suicide and finds himself led on a murderous tour of Newcastle by a demonic creature. It’s not the best the book has to offer, but is far from the worst and is a good way to finish the book.

All in all your typical anthology, a mixed bag and if you like horror you’re bound to find something to like here.

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The Hunter

Posted: December 7, 2017 in Free fiction, horror, science fiction
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Over time humanity grew and spread, like a field of bishop’s weed, quickly dispersing far beyond their point of origin. They covered the globe and then reached further, at first just tentatively into the solar system, but then they grew smarter, they grew bolder.

Some stayed behind, most went to the stars. It made his life harder, but however far they went he grew adept at locating them. He had long since learned to create copies of himself, corporeal shadows that ensured he could track millions of them at once across a thousand worlds.

His list grew year by year, but so did his guile. Whether you lived in a bunker on Mars, or sailed the crystalline seas of a world three hundred light years from Earth, he would find you.

At night you would secure your doors and sleep soundly, and whilst you dreamed he would enter your home, bypassing any alarm, any lock. He would stand by your bed and watch as your chest rose and fell, rose and fell.

And when you woke the proof of his visitation would be there at the end of your bed. A neat parcel, tied with a bow. Just what you’d wished for.

And one nebulous facet of Santa Claus would cross your name off his list.

Until next year…

 

Justice League

Posted: December 4, 2017 in Film reviews
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Directed by Zack Snyder. Starring Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa and Ray Fisher.

Ok first a little spoiler warning. I’m going to talk openly about one element of Justice League. I doubt it’s a big secret giving the publicity and casting information that’s out there, but if you really want to go into JL completely blind you might want to skip this review until after you’ve seen the film.

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“I’m pretty sure Captain America dropped that shield.”

In the aftermath of Superman’s death the world is in mourning, and humanity seems to have lost hope. Into this void an ancient force of evil named Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciarán Hinds) returns. Steppenwolf was defeated and exiled from Earth thousands of years ago, but now has returned to gather three Mother Boxes, powerful artefacts that, if combined, will give him the power to take over the world.

Sensing the oncoming storm Bruce Wayne (Affleck) and Diana Prince (Gadot) try to form a team of superheroes to defeat Steppenwolf, but this proves easier said than done. Arthur Curry (Momoa), also known as the Aquaman, has no interest in the world of men. Barry Allen (Miller), the Flash, is only interested in proving his imprisoned father’s innocence and the Cyborg Victor Stone (Fisher) is struggling to adapt to his new powers after being cybernetically rebuilt following a car accident.

As Bruce and Diana struggle to put a team together, Steppenwolf begins acquiring the Mother Boxes. With the world on the brink of destruction Bruce Wayne suggests a controversial course of action that involves the return of Earth’s greatest hero, but will he be the man he used to be, or will he prove as much of a threat as Steppenwolf?

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“Put the trident down, all I said was that I thought something smelt fishy.”

And DC’s attempt to catch up with Marvel continues as they provide the DC version of Avengers Assemble only, and let’s get this out of the way right off the bat, nowhere near as good. This film had a troubled shoot, and when Snyder had to stand down due to truly horrible personal circumstances, Joss Whedon (who, remember, wrote and directed both Avengers films) came on board to finish off post production work, which entailed him acting as uncredited director on the reshoots. He’d already been working on the script to such an extent that he’d got a writing credit, being bought in to provide a touch of levity to Snyder’s darker tale. Looking at the finished film it’s often very easy to see the bits Snyder did and the bits Whedon did, and it looks like substantial work was done to the film during post production. $25 million was spent on reshoots (going by Wikipedia the average for this kind of film might be $6-10 million) and infamously because Henry Cavill was already working on another film and had a moustache they had to digitally remove it!

When remains is a film that tonally is inconstant to say the least, and let’s be clear it isn’t a good film, and yet by the end I was kinda enjoying it and, though hard to say for sure, I’m sure a lot of this was down to Whedon. It’s far from the best DC film—Wonder Woman is clearly the best by a mile and Man of Steel is second; in my opinion somewhat underrated—but by the same token compared to the godawful mess that Suicide Squad was, or the turgid drudge of Batman Vs Superman its ok. Damning with faint praise there.

It isn’t helped by the need for Bruce and Diana to search out each hero initially. Yet again you see the shortcuts DC have to make and realise how much grunt work was done by those end credit scenes were Sam Jackson would rock up and talk to a hero about The Avengers. Marvel’s wider storyline grew organically, DC’s feels incredibly forced.

A lame villain with an army of CGI insects doesn’t help. Which is no disrespect to Hinds whose voicework is good, but Steppenwolf is just another generic ancient evil with a turgid backstory, much like Apocalypse in the last X-Men movie. He just never comes across as a threat. Oh for a Loki!

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Everyone agreed the heroes didn’t look quite as cool and imposing in the daylight

The turning point for the film comes with (spoiler!) Superman’s resurrection, though if you imagined he wouldn’t be back almost immediately, well I have a bridge I’d like to sell you). Cavill has his detractors but I think he’s a great Superman, especially when given the chance to be noble and, well, super, and the film noticeably lifts when he arrives. The initial confrontation post his resurrection is probably the best part of the film, and there’s a wonderful visual gag featuring Superman and Flash that’s almost worth the price of admission alone.

As Diana Gadot feels extremely comfortable now, this is her third outing as Wonder Woman and one can see her in the role for years to come. Affleck for me is a good Batman and a good Bruce Wayne, and possibly the only actor to feel comfortable in both roles. Which doesn’t mean he’s the best Bruce or the Best Bats, just maybe the best Bruce and Bats. Thankfully he isn’t required to be as sociopathic here as he was in BvsS, and he gets some drily humorous lines. As Aquaman Momoa pretty much just has to look imposing and channel his inner surfer dude, but he comes into his own a little towards the end. Given I thought Cyborg might be the weak link Fisher brings enough to the role that he felt as much a member of the team as anyone else. Rounding out the league is Miller as Flash and I’m a little torn. On the one hand he gives a funny, engaging performance, I just felt that he was the butt of everyone’s jokes a little too often. Less might be more next time out because he is very good.

Completing the cast are some great actors who get somewhat short-changed. JK Simmonds as Jim Gordon never really connects, and Jeremy Irons as Alfred doesn’t get nearly enough screen time. The real waste however is Amy Adams. She’s a fab actor but she’s required to do very little here aside from look sad or lovingly at Clark. It’s a real shame given she’s probably the best actor in the damn movie and she’s laden with terrible dialogue.

As I say it’s easy to see where Whedon’s hand is at work (it’s the parts where people sound vaguely like human beings…er, or at least Kryptonians.)

Variable in tone, with lousy villains with a paint by numbers plot, far too much CGI and way, WAY too much slow motion, and, after the good work of Wonder Woman a return to a more lascivious take on the Amazonian superhero—at times the camera seems to be permanently attached to Gadot’s bum, although to be fair we do get gratuitous shots of Cavill and Momoa with their shirts off so fair’s fair I suppose and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t like Wonder Woman’s posterior, we just didn’t need to see quite so much of it.

The action swings from terrible to quite good, and the dialogue is similarly all over the place. There is a nice bit where Bruce points out the curious contrast between himself and Clark which probably deserves to be in a better film.

But again, I have to stress that the Justice League themselves are all engaging, it’s just a shame they’re stuck in a film that’s required to do so much heavy lifting because DC continue to play catch up. Hopefully the groundwork laid here will lead to a more enjoyable Justice League 2, let’s just hope it’s Whedon rather than Snyder who’s at the reins.

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Ben got a little miffed when Gal kept asking for Matt Damon’s phone number…

Paddington 2

Posted: November 21, 2017 in Film reviews
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Directed by Paul King. Starring Ben Whishaw, Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Brendan Gleeson, Julie Walters and Hugh Grant.

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What could possibly go wrong?

Paddington has now settled into life with the Brown family, and has become popular with all his neighbours, with the notable exception of Mr Curry (a returning Peter Capaldi at his most grumpy). With his Aunt Lucy’s 100th birthday on the horizon Paddington sets his sights on buying her a present and he’s seen just the thing, a popup book of London. The trouble is it’s expensive, so Paddington takes a series of jobs to save up what he needs.

Unfortunately someone else has taken a shine to the book, an egotistical and once famous actor named Phoenix Buchannan (Grant). When the book is stolen all the evidence points to a bear with a love of marmalade sandwiches. Can Paddington clear his name, and will he be able to get Aunt Lucy the birthday present she deserves?

 

When Paddington burst onto the scene in 2014 it took everyone by surprise. When talk of a live action Paddington film first appeared it was met with unease, we’d all seen too many beloved characters given the big budget movie treatment and sink without a trace to imagine Paddington would be any different. But of course the film blew everyone away with it’s wonderful casting, amazing special effects and a perfectly pitched family friendly tone. It was no surprise there’d be a sequel, but you can’t catch lightning in a bottle twice, can you?

Well it turns out you can when it comes to small Peruvian bears with a taste for orange based preserves. In pretty much every way possible Paddington 2 is as good as Paddington was; that true rarity, a family film for all ages that doesn’t patronise a single member of its audience. This isn’t a film that throws in a few mature jokes for the adults, or dumbs down its plots for the little uns.

As before the living beating heart of the film is Paddington himself, a perfect combination of wonderful CGI and Ben Whishaw’s spot on characterisation. He plays Paddington like a child, only a child with an old soul, always seeing the good in people, always wanting to be kind, yet never remotely a fool. It’s a tough tightrope to walk but yet again the filmmakers manage it with ease.

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If you think there’s a lot of people crammed in here, wait till you see the opposite booth!

Whishaw aside the film is a veritable who’s who of British light entertainment in minor roles, and once again Bonneville is more than happy to play the ever so slightly bumbling straight man to Paddington, his family, and much of the supporting cast. Sally Hawkins plays Mrs Brown with steely resolve, as Paddington’s most vocal supporter. It is a shame the Brown kids and Julie Walters as Mrs Bird don’t get a little more to do, but they do get their moments at least.

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Yes it’s a role he was born to play!

Threatening to steal the show are two newcomers in Gleeson as Nuckles McGinty, a crotchety prison cook whose menu is a crime against cuisine, and Grant, hamming it up for all he’s worth as the washed up Buchannan. Grant in particular is marvellous, and in many respects a more engaging villain than Nicole Kidman was first time around, if only by virtue of not being quite so villainous. (oh and a tip for you, please PLEASE stay for the end credits!)

The script is razor sharp, and the humour works on every level, from clever homages (The Untouchables and even Casino Royale) to broad slapstick worthy of Buster Keaton, which is saying something given much of the slapstick is computer generated, but then it never feels like it because Paddington feels so real, you kinda forget he’s not really there.

There’s action aplenty, and set pieces that wouldn’t look out of place in a Bond film, but at the centre of it all is a heart of pure gold and a lovely message about kindness and acceptance, and if it doesn’t remotely tug at your heartstrings then you must have a heart of stone, certainly I shed a tear or two at the end.

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You don’t see many family friendly gritty prison dramas…

Oh and I almost forgot the wonderfully whimsical design of the film that blends live action with cartoons and a wonderful scene set entirely within a pop-up book. Setting aside everything the film does right, it looks bloody gorgeous into the bargain!

Beautiful to look at, action packed, laugh packed, with wonderful performances from all concerned and a strong central message about tolerance, Paddington 2 is the epitome of a film for all ages. Some may sneer at it faux multicultural and middle-class England where even hardened criminals are thoroughly nice chaps really, but you know what? with Brexit, Trump and all manner of other nastiness in the world, give me Paddington’s brand of niceness any day of the week.

Highly recommended! Now don’t tell me you hate it unless you want me to give you a very hard stare.

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Eventually Paddington realised he was naked!

How Not To Be a Boy

Posted: November 11, 2017 in Book reviews
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By Robert Webb

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Before he was a husband and father, before he danced for comic relief, before he found fame as one half of a somewhat successful double act with David Mitchell, before he went to Cambridge and became vice president of Footlights…before all of this Robert Webb was just a boy like any other boy.

Well maybe not like any other boy, because he didn’t always seem to think and act like all the other boys, but growing up in the 70s and 80s he was very clearly given certain rules to follow; don’t cry, love sport, play rough, drink beer, don’t talk about your feelings.

Now Robert wonders if these rules are any use, and explores what it means to be male in the 21st Century.

 

As a big fan of Mitchell and Webb, and having read David Mitchell’s autobiography, Back Story, there was no way I wasn’t going to read Robert Webb’s book, although calling it a straightforward autobiography does it something of a disservice. Oh, sure it’s autobiographical, but Robert has a point to make beyond just regaling us with his life story, and for me it resonated quite a bit.

I share a lot of common ground with Robert. Not so much now, what with him being star of stage and screen and me, well me not being a star of stage and screen. I never went to Cambridge and my parents didn’t divorce when I was a child and I certainly didn’t have to experience the trauma of losing my mum when I was a teenager.

But setting aside all of that there’s a lot of the book that felt very familiar. I’m two years older than Robert Webb and, like him, was a working-class boy, so when he talks about a childhood spent in the 1970s and 1980s this is the kind of childhood with which I was acquainted. He talks about the Television shows he watched and it was the same telly I watched; The A-Team, Buck Rogers, Doctor Who etc. But beyond this is how he was described as a sensitive child. A quiet child. God did I ever hear myself described in that fashion time and again, and though unlike Robert I do actually like football (watching it at least) I too recall standing on a football pitch trying to stay as far away from the action as possible and dreading the ball coming anywhere near me.

Anyone expecting a book chock full of celebrity tittle tattle may be somewhat disappointed. Robert does touch on this aspect of his life, and there’s a wonderful story featuring Carrie Fisher, but for the most part this isn’t really about Peep Show or That Mitchell and Webb Look, it’s about growing up, about how difficult it is to be a boy, and a man, and how expectations and the unwritten rules affect all of us, especially when it comes to sharing our feelings. It’s no surprise that men are more likely to kill themselves than women after all, but this also helps explain (but not excuse) what’s now referred to as toxic masculinity, because growing up if you didn’t drink lots of pints and shag lots of birds, well what was wrong with you? You weren’t a poofter, were you?

Robert’s prose is a little workmanlike at times, but on the whole its eminently readable. It’s also honest, brutally honest. This is a warts and all life story; he doesn’t hide from any of the things he’s done, many of which he clearly regrets and none of which he seems inclined to excuse himself for, even if at times you kinda think he had a bloody big excuse for being a dick.

This is a book to be enjoyed on several levels, both as a straightforward autobiography, but also as a meditation on masculinity. If, like me, you’re a bloke who grew up around the same era, then I think this will resonate for you too, but I think this is a book that anyone, irrespective of age or gender, can appreciate.

An enjoyable, often very funny, and sometimes very sad, tale of a man who, before he was famous, was just a boy, and a fairly rubbish boy at that, or at least a boy who felt rubbish because of society’s expectations about what a boy should be. Suffice to say I know the feeling, and it’s nice to know I wasn’t alone.

The Write Pace

Posted: November 6, 2017 in Regarding writing
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I love being on Twitter, but as a writer there’s good and bad to this. On the up side I’m now part of a bigger community of fellow writers, and people share a lot of good practice/good ideas. On the downside, not only do I have an appreciation of just how many other writers are out there (which is a sobering thought whenever I submit anything) but you also have to deal with people proclaiming they’ve “just written 1500 words”, or worse, the somewhat dispirited tweets that go along the lines of “Damn, I only wrote 2000 words today.”

If, like me, you might have only written 500 words today, it’s easy to be a little disheartened by these kinds of tweet sometimes. But I shouldn’t, and neither should you. Writing is like many other things, there’s no single right way to do it, there are in fact multiple right ways, and multiple wrong ways, and each of us needs to choose our own path.

There’s a school of thought that says you should write every day—and in fairness I always feel more relaxed if I write every day—and that the only way to succeed as a writer is to make it a habit, which is fine when you can write 1000 words every single day, but if you can’t keep to this kind of schedule for any reason, it’s easy to feel like a fraud or a failure.

It’s worth remembering that most people who write several thousand words a day will be people who have the time to write several thousand words a day. Now, maybe that’s because they’re a professional writer and it’s effectively their day job, maybe it’s because they have a lot of free time, or maybe it’s because they’re exceptionally well organised and are able to break their whole day down into regimented chunks, even though they have a thousand and one things to do.

But just because they can, it doesn’t mean you’re rubbish if you can’t. We all lead busy lives, and if you have a stressful job with long hours, or you have small children, or older relatives to care for, or even if you’re just not the most organised of people, it’s easy to think “I don’t have time to write”, easy to use lack of time as an excuse not to write. “Oh I couldn’t give it the time and attention it deserves, not like those people who write for hours at a time.”

Things writers are good at; procrastinating, feeling like imposters, and using any old excuse not to write.

So here’s the rub. Maybe you can’t write every day, maybe you can’t even write every other day, maybe you can only write for an hour on a Thursday evening because that’s when your husband/wife takes you three year old sextuplets swimming and you finally get some alone time. Let’s say during that hour you can write 1000 words. So there you go, 1000 words a week when some people are writing that (and more) in a single day.

Screw some people.

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Write 1000 words a week and you might have an award winning short story in a month.

Write 1000 words a week and in six months you might have written a novella.

Write 1000 words a week and in fourteen months you might have written a novel.

Sure, if your plan is to create something like Game of Thrones then at that rate it’s going to take you a long time to complete (but hey, you might still finish before George RR Martin does) but with dedication you can still finish it. You can run a marathon in three hours, or take nine hours, or a day, but at the end of the day you’ve still run a marathon. And actually writing is better than marathon running, because if you take a day to run a marathon you’ll never win a gold medal, but you can spend 10 years writing a novel and it can still end up a best seller/Booker prize winner!

Which doesn’t mean you don’t want to make writing a habit, you absolutely do, it just means that your particular habit doesn’t have to be the norm (whatever the norm is). If you can happily write for an hour a day, do so, if you can only spare 15 minutes during your lunch hour, that’s fine too, if you can only write at weekends so what? Whatever works for you is the right choice for you so long as you do one thing, and that’s actually write.

Set yourself targets by all mean, but make them realistic ones. If you can only write while you’re on your annual caravanning holiday to Skegness then don’t expect to finish your epic fantasy trilogy this side of 2050, although you never know, some crazy fools have been known to write an entire novel in just a few days; Stephen King wrote The Running Man during a rather frenzied week! That’s probably not recommended though.

The specifics of your writing pattern are not important, and certainly there’s nothing to be gained by comparing it to anyone else’s writing pattern, what’s important is that you have a pattern and as far as possible you stick to it.

Remember, whether you write 5000 words a day or 500 you’re still a writer. You only cease to be a writer when you write nothing.

The Death of Stalin.

Posted: November 4, 2017 in Film reviews
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Directed by Armando Iannucci. Starring Steve Buscemi, Simon Russell Beale, Jason Isaacs, Michael Palin, Andrea Riseborough, Jeffrey Tambor, Olga Kurylenko and Rupert Friend.

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“Ok, who farted?”

The year is 1953 and the Soviet Union is ruled with an iron fist by Joseph Stalin (Adrian Mcloughlin). Within this world even Stalin’s inner circle live in constant fear of saying the wrong thing and being arrested by the NKVD (the infamous secret police)

When Stalin unexpectedly dies the senior most members of the Presidium begin jockeying for power, trying to determine who will replace Stalin.  Georgy Malenkov (Tambor) takes initial charge, but the real battle is between Nikita Khrushchev (Buscemi) and Beria (Russell Beale) the feared head of the NKVD. For the victor ultimate power awaits, but for the loser a bullet may be the only prize…

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“Has anyone ever told you you’re kinda funny looking?”

The battle for power at the head of an evil regime notorious for the murder, rape and torture of millions, may not sound like the greatest premise for a comedy, but Iannucci’s film is genuinely laugh out loud funny at times and, based on a graphic novel of the same name, it provides a biting satire that is as chilling as it is hilarious.

Much of the humour arises out of how incompetent many of the conspirators are. These are not exactly Machiavellian geniuses, and yet their very ordinariness makes them all the more scary, and Iannucci provides a terrifying essay of the bureaucracy of evil, where even Khrushchev, one of the most powerful men in the country, is so paranoid of getting on Stalin’s bad side that he has his wife jot down which jokes Stalin found funny and which he didn’t during dinner, and for all the humour Iannucci never lets you forget the horrible things this regime is doing, and how the flick of a pen can find your name added to a list and make you the recipient of a late night knock at the door.

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No pithy comment because in truth there was nothing funny about Beria’s lists

This is an actors film and the casting is flawless. As Khrushchev Buscemi is superb, his innate likeability making you root for him in the ongoing power struggle, making you see him as the good guy, which is of course a fallacy, none of these men were good, but next to Beria of course, they’re all saints, and Russell Beale is also terrifyingly good as the head of the NKVD, a vicious sexual predator for whom no act is too heinous.

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Zhukov gets serious

Almost stealing the show however is Jason Isaacs as Marshall Zhukov, playing the blustering war hero with a broad Yorkshire accent and a chest full of medals that would pull most men to the floor (and is accurate because Zhukov really did have chest full of medals.) Zhukov is larger than life and Isaacs eats up every scene he’s in.

Tambor is astonishing as Malenkov, made up to resemble nothing short of an embalmed corpse, and its testament to his acting ability that he eventually makes Malenkov someone to pity, despite his bumbling arrogance. At the other end of the spectrum is Michael Palin as Molotov, such a party man that he happily denounced his own wife as a traitor.

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You’re playing for Stalin. No pressure!

Whilst primarily a film centred around male performances, there are two female characters, each of whom get to play a substantial role in the story. As concert pianist Maria Yudina, Olga Kurylenko is ironically the only main cast member with a Russian accent, with Iannucci deciding early on to let the actors use their natural accents. Kurylenko is very good as the nearest thing to a conscience the film has, and if there’s a problem with her it’s only insofar as she disappears for a large chunk of the middle of the film.

Andrea Riseborough plays Stalin’s daughter Svetlana as a somewhat schizophrenic character, at times extremely cognisant of her precarious situation, at others a spoiled child who thinks she can have whatever she wants, even a former lover back from the dead. She’s very good and Rupert Friend also shines as her brother Vasily, a pompous drunk who thinks Stalin’s death was part of a plot to send his father’s brain to America!

The set and costume designs are excellent, evoking a very different time and a very different place, but it’s the script and the performances where The Death of Stalin really hits home. The script walks a tightrope with a confident ease that will have you chuckling one moment, and wincing the next.

Whether you view it as a satirical deconstruction of the Soviet Union and a saltatory warning against cults of personality, or simply a surreal 20th Century set, Monty Pythonesque version of Game of Thrones, there’s a lot to like here, and best of all; in a world of sequels and prequels, reboots and franchises, The Death of Stalin is that rarest of beasts.

Original.

So go see it, unless you’d rather end up on a list of course?

The-Death-of-Stalin-e1508508819621

“I can see my house from up here!”