Netflix Review – The Death of Stalin: A Dark Comedy About a Darker Time

An amazing cast manages to make light of one of the most monstrous periods in world history.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free because it’s history)

It’s 1953, the Cold War is on, and the USSR is run by Joseph Stalin (Adrian McLoughlin). Everyone is afraid for their lives, and for good reason, as Stalin’s Interior Ministry Head Lavrentiy Beria (Simon Russell Beale) constantly has hundreds or thousands of people abducted or brutally executed for crimes both real and imagined. When Stalin suddenly passes away from a stroke, Beria starts to scheme to seize control, as does Nikita Khruschev (Steve Buscemi). They both try to gain support from the various members of the Council of Ministers, including the incompetent Georgy Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor) and the Party loyalist Vyacheslav Molotov (Michael Palin), the head of the military Georgy Zhukov (Jason Isaacs), as well as Stalin’s children Vasily (Rupert Friend) and Svetlana (Andrea Riseborough). If you’ve paid attention in history class, you can probably guess who won. If you didn’t, then this movie counts towards college credit.*

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He’s not delayin’, he’s just Stalin.

END SUMMARY

Comedy is tragedy plus time, supposedly. This film mostly relies on the theory that a massive tragedy, with enough time, will inherently become somewhat funny. Surprisingly, it actually seems to work. The movie doesn’t have traditional jokes or gags, instead just relying on the absurd performances of the cast and the crazy (and probably real) things that the characters do in the name of trying to fill the power vacuum left by Stalin. Part of why it works is that life in the USSR was kind of inherently insane, with everyone doing literally everything that Stalin or his close allies want, regardless of the feasibility. One (true) thing depicted during the film, for example, was the time that Stalin asked for a recording of a concert which had not been recorded, leading to a replaying of the concert.

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I mean, it’s also pretty funny when monsters die. 

The performances are pretty much all amazing, particularly at managing to make their characters seem funnier, and therefore less harmful, than their real-life counterparts. The exception is Beale’s Beria, who is too cruel and threatening to ever seem particularly funny. However, some of the scenes that involve his police force, the NKVD, manage to be darkly comical in a slapstick sort of way. The other characters are all pretty funny if only for their constant disconnects from reality that comes from living in a dictatorship. It helps that at no point during the movie does anyone attempt to use any accent other than their own, regardless of the fact that they’re playing Soviet leaders. Having Steve Buscemi say things like “I’m the peacemaker and I’ll f*ck over anyone who gets in my way” works so much better with his natural Brooklyn accent than a phony Russian one. 

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Also they have funny hats. 

Honestly, if you didn’t see this movie while it was in theaters, you should really check it out now that it’s on Netflix. I think it’s both funny and perpetually relevant. 

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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*Only at DeVry.

45) Development Arrested (Arrested Development)

Arrested Development, the story of a family going through trying times, is the comedian’s comedy. Jokes come at you at every angle. Some are sight gags, some are puns, some are jokes on pop culture, some are jokes on absurdly obscure references, some are all of them at once. Often, a punchline won’t be delivered to a joke for several episodes. This is why the show did terribly when it was on television, honestly. It takes at least 3 viewings per episode to get even the majority of the jokes. Sometimes you will overhear a fact or piece of pop-culture trivia in real life, and suddenly get a joke on Arrested Development. Fox never understood this. Netflix did, and let us all be glad Netflix paid to continue the show and hope they allow for the other scripted movie and additional season the team is looking for.

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This is a huge handful of foreshadowing. 

SUMMARY

“Development Arrested” was the original finale of Arrested Development. In the episode before that, most of the plotlines in the show had been wrapped up, allowing the Bluth family to go back to normal-ish. Michael Bluth (Jason Bateman), the main character (of the first 3 seasons), has finally gotten the charges against his father dismissed, and the family business is starting to turn around (Jim Cramer moves it from “Don’t Buy” to “Risky”). If this was a normal show, we might have just seen a wrap-up and a send-off (the show even teases it by having the episode start in a mirror of the scene at the start of the series), but Arrested Development refused to go out like that. After all, they had some jokes they’d set up in Season 1 that still had punchlines waiting to drop.

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First episode to last episode, the Banner gags continued.

At the beginning of the series, the SEC showed up on their boats (yes, they have boats) to arrest George Bluth (Jeffrey Tambor), the Bluth patriarch, on charges of both embezzlement and treason. As it turns out, George’s charges were largely fraudulent, as he had been working for the U.S. government to spy on Saddam Hussein (who we didn’t actually catch, just his impersonator). However, the embezzlement charges had some merit… it just happens that they picked the wrong Bluth. It turns out that Lucille (Jessica Walter), George’s wife, and the mother of the family, was the one actually behind most of the shady business deals. She is ratted out by her adopted Korean son Annyong (Hello in Korean)(Justin Lee) who reveals his true name as Hal-loh (get it?). He had been a mole on the Bluth family for his entire run on the show, in order to get revenge on behalf of his Grandfather, whom Lucille had ruined by deporting to Korea. Believe me when I say, all of these twists were hinted at a full season, or more, in advance. The show ends with Michael running away from his family, Lucille stealing the ship The Queen Mary, powered by male strippers, and running from the SEC. The epilogue shows the series being pitched to Ron Howard (the narrator of the series), who suggests they make a movie out of it.

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He’s a mole, and his shirt has a mole on it, and he has a mole on his cheek, and you get it.

END SUMMARY

It was a sad ending, because the show really hadn’t dropped at all in quality, it just wasn’t meant for television (especially with Fox’s complete lack of faith in shows that take time to build an audience *cough* Firefly, Family Guy, John Doe, The Adventures of Brisco County Jr, Futurama *cough*).  Hopefully Netflix will allow it to keep going now that they’ve revived it, because the last season, while not having any particularly mind-blowing episodes, was the epitome of what Arrested Development was about – A show that requires an investment, but has a huge humor ROI.

PREVIOUS – 46: South Park

NEXT – 44: The X-Files

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.