Written by Stanley Weiser
Directed by Oliver Stone
In 2002, President George W. Bush and his administration were seeking strong reasons to invade Iraq. Surrounded by people like Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, and Condoleeza Rice, the President wants to avenge his father in a certain way, seeing the conclusion of Desert Storm as an anti-climax against Sadaam Hussein. Through flashbacks, we follow Bush from his fraternity days at Yale through his constant disappointments to his father, the development of his relationship with Laura, and finally his aspirations to seek higher office in Texas. All of this leads to the beginning of the Iraq War and realization of the military action’s failure and subsequent fallout.
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The Exception (2017)
Written by Simon Burke
Directed by David Leveaux
Captain Stefan Brandt, a member of Hitler’s Third Reich, is assigned to protect the exiled Kaiser Wilhelm II at his country home in the Netherlands. Once there he finds a former monarch who is hesitant to throw his support behind the Fuhrer. The Gestapo shows up to check out a rumored English spy among the villagers, and Brandt seems rather uninterested in this side hunt. Instead, he becomes enamored with Mieke, a young maid in the Kaiser’s staff. Things suddenly become even more complicated when word comes that SS Commander Heinrich Himmler is coming to secure the Kaiser’s loyalty. Brandt finds himself torn between his duty to Germany, his admiration of the Kaiser, and his love for Mieke.
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The Death of Stalin (2017)
Written by Armando Iannucci, David Schneider, Ian Martin, Peter Fellows, and Fabien Nury
Directed by Armando Iannucci
In 1953 Moscow, General Secretary Josef Stalin is riding high. He is in the midst of The Great Terror, a purging of intellectuals and dissidents he suspects of being disloyal not just to the Communist Party but to himself. Aiding him in these exploits is head of the NKVD Lavrentiy Beria, Deputy General Secretary Georgy Malenkov, local Moscow party leader Nikita Khrushchev, and Foreign Secretary Vyacheslav Molotov. One night while listening to a performance of Mozart on Radio Moscow while writing up a new list of citizens to be abducted and tortured, Stalin phones the station and demands a recording of the performance. When he receives the pressing later that night a note inside from the pianist rails against him as the cause of her family’s deaths. He has a sudden aneurysm and is found on death’s doorstep the next morning. What ensues in the backstage machinations of his corrupt cabinet of officials. They jockey and scheme, all trying to be the one person who comes out on top during this power vacuum.
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The Post (2018)
Written by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer
Directed by Steven Spielberg
In 1971, portions of a U.S. government commissioned classified report on their involvement in Indochina were sent to the New York Times. The Times was the first outlet to publish an article on the content which led to the Nixon White House slapping them with an injunction. Meanwhile, another portion of the document was dropped on a desk in the newsroom of the Washington Post. Editor-in-Chief Ben Bradlee sees this as the Post’s moment to move from a local D.C. paper to a national force in the news. Owner Katharine Graham is hesitant when she finds out, being told this could damage the legacy of her family. The Post has just gone public on Wall Street, and the board of directors fears massive damage financially. Graham is also a lifelong friend of people who will be implicated in flawed U.S. foreign policy like Lyndon Johnson and Robert McNamara. She must make a decision about what to do next and deal with the repercussions that result.
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After a month long sabbatical, save for Twin Peaks updates, Pop Cult’s engines will start firing up again. To start out, our book club selection will be Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff. It was recently announced that HBO will be adapting the book into a series to be helmed by director Jordan Peele (Get Out, Key and Peele). The book is described as:
“Chicago, 1954. When his father Montrose goes missing, 22-year-old Army veteran Atticus Turner embarks on a road trip to New England to find him, accompanied by his Uncle George—publisher of The Safe Negro Travel Guide—and his childhood friend Letitia. On their journey to the manor of Mr. Braithwhite—heir to the estate that owned one of Atticus’s ancestors—they encounter both mundane terrors of white America and malevolent spirits that seem straight out of the weird tales George devours […]
A chimerical blend of magic, power, hope, and freedom that stretches across time, touching diverse members of two black families, Lovecraft Country is a devastating kaleidoscopic portrait of racism—the terrifying specter that continues to haunt us today.”
Join us to read this interesting examination of the racist elements within the worlds of Lovecraft and America.
Quest for Fire (1981, dir. Jean-Jacques Annaud)
Set approximately 80,000 years ago in the Paleolithic Era, Quest for Fire tells the story of the Ulam Tribe, early Homo Sapiens who struggle to master control of fire and improve their lives. Their camp is invaded by more primitive ape-like Wagabu and the Ulam’s flame is extinguished. Naoh (Everett McGill) is charged with finding fire somewhere in the world and bringing it back home. He’s accompanied by Amoukar (Ron Perlman wearing disturbingly little makeup to play primitive man) and Gaw (Nameer Al-Kadi). They cross treacherous mountains, confront ferocious saber-toothed tigers, combat the cannibalistic Kzamm tribe, and eventually encounter a group of humans who are progressing towards an advanced future.
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By the final dizzying moments of The Childhood of a Leader, I was completely overwhelmed in a satisfying way. The film takes place in the temporary rural home of an American diplomat stationed in the French countryside at the close of World War I. His wife and child, Prescott, waste away the days with French lessons, performances at the local church, and malaise. Prescott has a series of tantrums with the film structuring this three fits as its chapters, with an epilogue that brings everything together decades later.
The film is the directorial debut of longtime child and indie actor, Brady Corbet. It is very apparent that Corbet’s work under directors like Michael Haneke and Olivier Assayas has been a masterclass in filmmaking. This is one of the strongest debut films I’ve ever seen. The cinematography is astounding, the performances are subtle but carry much weight, and every single aspect of the film is crafted with care. Add to this the nerve shattering score by veteran composer Scott Walker and you have a film that brings together a number of genres but defies to be defined by any of them. This is a horror film set in an alternate history of our world…or is it the mix of the real and the deluded visions of a troubled young boy?
It’s hard to pin down The Childhood of a Leader. The film keeps itself enigmatic to encourage the viewer to explore and think about what’s happening on screen. The two ways I saw to read the film during this viewing were as the literal story of a young boy at the center of world history who would rise to power one day. There’s also the idea that we’re dealing metaphor. The American Father, The French Mother, The English Reporter. All three seem oblivious to this ranting, tantrum-ing, seething child until it’s too late. With each tantrum, he increases his hostility and potential to do harm to those around him.
From the opening moments of the film to its conclusion, there is an unsettling tension building. Walker’s score for the film plays a major role in building that, but its juxtaposition to the dim visuals on screen following Prescott from behind as he runs through the woods, roams the empty halls of his house or wanders naked into the middle of his father’s meeting with important policy makers is what keeps the film at the edge. We never descend into complete horror until the final moments, but every second up to that point is fraught with terror. Highly recommended and with much potential to reveal more with subsequent viewings.