The Death of Stalin
I am Not a Witch Brawl in Cell Block 99
Cert: 15A; Now showing
The final days of Stalin’s dictatorship is not an obvious setting from which to mine comedy gold but Armando Iannucci has not got where he is by being conventional. The Scottish satirist made a name for himself with the brilliant current affairs spoof The Day Today (which, of course, paved the way for both Brass Eye and the Alan Partridge character).
What all these elements have in common is an acidic aftertaste to the humour, and The Death of Stalin — penned by Iannucci and regular co-writers David Schneider and Ian Martin — is no different. We’re in the Kremlin, where everyone from unscrupulous secret police chief Beria (Simon Russell Beale) to a local orchestral producer (Paddy Considine) are jumping through hoops lest Comrade Stalin should find ill-favour with them and add them to the considerable purges taking place. When he pops his clogs, it throws his cabinet into a tizzy. Power-plays get nudged about by Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi) and Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor) while deference must still be feigned to their glorious leader, especially with his unhinged son and daughter (Rupert Friend and Andrea Riseborough) about.
That cast is bolstered by Jason Isaacs (pictured right), Michael Palin, Paul Whitehouse and our own Dermot Crowley.
Unashamedly British humour prances about the ruthless corridors of Soviet power and the effect is fresh and priceless.
Think Blackadder but, well, redder.
Cert: 12A; Now showing, IFI
Tourists get off a bus in Zambia and are shown a witch camp, a group of mostly older women attached to huge spools of ribbon. The spools are an invention of Welsh-zambian writer-director Rungano Nyoni. The witch camps are not.
Women accused of witchcraft, whether through genuine superstition or simple malice, can be despatched to these camps where they are essentially used as slave labour. It is this aspect rather than superstition that Rungano Nyoni focuses on in her fascinating and occasionally surrealistic satire.
From the tourists the film switches straight to the incredible face of Shula (Maggie Mulubwa) an eight-year-old orphan who is accused of being a witch. A sceptical police officer nonetheless calls in local government official Mr Banda (Henry B.J. Phiri) who takes Shula to a witch camp, attaches her to her ribbon and offers her the choice to cut it and become a goat or stay and be a witch.
The older women take her under their wing while Banda tries out different ways to make Shula into a money spinner.
It’s very local but the satire applies globally — the need to exclude, the need to belong and the need to exploit. It is beautifully shot by David Gallego, and the director throws every trick at the film. Some work better than others but it feels brave and original and energetic. The characters are very one-dimensional and the narrative is a bit too jumpy but while not for everyone it is accessible and surprisingly light. Cert: Club; Now showing, Light House There is more than one clue in the title to S Craig Zahler’s follow up to Bone Tomahawk. It takes a little while to get to the actual Brawl in Cell Block 99 but the road, as the title is homage to, is pure 1970s exploitation movie. It’s a slow, steady build to graphic violence run all the way through with a fantastic turn from Vince Vaughn.
The film opens with Bradley (Vaughn) losing his job. He has a crucifix tattooed on his head, God pop playing in his car, his rage is clear but under control. There are troubles in his marriage to Lauren (Jennifer Carpenter).
Eighteen months later their lives are turned around but, in a somewhat contrived plot mechanism, Bradley ends up in prison and the brawl in cell block 99 (under the command of Don Johnson) gets closer. Vaughn really inhabits what is a well-developed role and it’s great to see. At well over two hours the film is too long and the violence, is intense, sound effects really adding to its impact. Fans of personal mission movies should appreciate this worthy addition to the canon.