Tag Archives: socialism

Movie Review – The Death Of Stalin (2017)

Grab your glasnost, 3.5 comrades.  It’s time for some perestroika.

BQB here with a review of the comedic farce, The Death of Stalin.

At the outset, you wouldn’t a movie about the death of one of the most prolific mass murderers in history would be the stuff of comedy gold.  Ironically, you’d be wrong.  As the film takes you by the hand and introduces you to the ultra-paranoid society of 1950s Russia, you immediately find a time when the tiniest slip-up, be it a poorly chosen word, an unavoidable mistake or even the wrong look on your face can land you and your family imprisoned in a gulag if you’re lucky, or lined up against a wall and shot if you’re not.

I know.  It still doesn’t sound funny, does it?  Well, there is plenty of horror mixed in, but the humor comes from the political wrangling of Stalin’s boot licking lackeys in the wake of their fearless leader’s demise.  All sat idly by and supported the executions of millions of their countrymen, but now, they’re so desperate to save their own skins that they’ll say or do anything, literally anything…no matter how foolish it makes them look, or how obviously contrary to the obvious truth it may be.

Early on in the film, we’re given a primer on life for the average Russian under Stalin.  A symphony’s performance concludes, and musicians and audience members alike begin to retire for the evening.  Suddenly, a technician for the local radio station covering the event receives a telephone call.  Stalin himself wants a copy of the recording of the performance to listen to.

Problem?  There isn’t one.  The performance was just broadcast live.  In any other world, the tech’s head wouldn’t be in danger.  He’d simply apologize and promise to do better, making a note to be sure to record all future performances.

But failure isn’t an option here.  Ergo, the technician, fearful for his own life, turns from mild-mannered man to furious beast, locking the symphony hall doors and barking orders at audience members and musicians alike, demanding they all return to their places and do it again.

Once the situation is explained to all in attendance, they comply.  Impoverished peasants are brought in to replace audience members who already left.  You wouldn’t think fewer audience members would be a big deal but the tech sweats every last detail, fearful that fewer bodies will throw the acoustics off.  Meanwhile, the conductor has already left, so an alternate maestro is rousted out of bed and left to conduct the re-do in his bath robe.

Ultimately, hundreds of people all come together to remake the evening’s performance, all fearful that a refusal to play their part will learn to their imminent deaths.

This is life under Stalin.  It isn’t just a matter of shut your mouth and tow the Communist Party line, although even that to someone from a free society would seem unbearable.  No, it’s worse than that.  Stalin’s grip is so ironclad that the slightest, most unintended offense is enough to bring about your doom.

When Stalin falls terminally ill, the race is on for his inner circle of toadies and yes men to save their hides as well as their political careers.  They must walk a delicate tight rope in which they outdo each other in being the loudest to proclaim their love of Stalin, all the while trying to implement reforms that will keep the people from revolting amidst a power vacuum.  If you’re impressed by the reforms, don’t be.  People will still be imprisoned and shot, just fewer and not as at random.

Ultimately, it’s a battle royale between Lavrenti Beria (Simon Russell Beale) the head of the Russian Secret Police and the man who carries out Stalin’s executions and Communist party secretary Nikita Khruschev (Steve Buscemi.)

Beria is a sadist, a cold and calculating killer whose psychopathic ways are fully sanctioned by the state, giving him an air of heroism when at any time he’d probably be more suited for a straight jacket in a mental hospital.  On a regular basis, he delivers lists of people who Stalin wants killed to his forces, including intricate orders of how these so-called enemies are to die.  When you hear, “Shoot her first but make sure he sees it,” you, the viewer, realize you’re not watching a government at work but rather, a glorified Mafia organization.

Beria’s resume is so gruesome that you wonder why you haven’t heard of him.  On top of the murders, he’s also a serial rapist.  He openly boasts of the scores of wives who have sex with him in the hopes that doing so will get their husbands released from prison.  Spoiler alert: it doesn’t.  On top of that, he’s a pedophile, ordering his men to scoop up young girls to be used as his playthings.

He is a schemer and his struggle for power is humorous.  His idea of reform is to strike Stalin’s kill lists and replace them with kill lists of his own.

Meanwhile, Buscemi plays Khruschev like a washed up old stand up comic.  Each evening, Nikita goes home and dictates the day’s doings to his wife, who writes down every joke and comment he made to Stalin, along with Stalin’s reaction.  In the morning, his wife reads back the list, and Nikita commits to memory the topics that got a positive reaction and a negative one, thus reinforcing to the secretary what he needs to say and not say in order to keep his head on his shoulders another day.

As Beria and Nikita try to one up each other, they each vye for the hearts and minds of Stalin’s crew of degenerates.  These include Jeffrey Tambor as Malenkov, Stalin’s heir apparent who obviously isn’t suited for the job.  Tambor plays the part as a nervous man with a perpetually unsettled stomach, one who is weak and indecisive, changing his mind regularly on which man he’ll support based on who is currently pulling ahead in the battle of wits.

Molotov, another henchman, becomes a crucial power player.  Stalin’s death allows Beria to save him from a kill list but Nikita lobbies him extensively.  Despite having been placed on a kill list, Molotov still speaks highly of Stalin and even openly curses his beloved yet long imprisoned wife as a traitor, not because he believes any of this but because he wants to stay alive.

In the end, you find yourself rooting for Nikita as the least shitty apple in a bunch of truly shitty apples.  My main criticism is that as shitty as Beria is, you might lose sight amidst the hi-jinx that Nikita and company all stood by and were happy to let him do his evil deeds as long as it suited them, only to then distance themselves from the madness when it equally suited them.

STATUS:  Shelf-worthy.  If you watch it and still think socialism is a good idea, get your head examined.

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Daily Discussion with BQB – Jim Carrey Drives Me Nuts

I love Jim Carrey.

I was a comedy nerd even when I was a kid and it was fun to see Jim’s unlikely success in the 1990s, an underdog story come to life.

In the pre-Internet days, your shot at becoming a major comedic actor was either get a gig on SNL or forget it.  Jim was turned down for SNL but managed to get on Fox’s In Living Color.  Fans of the show knew him as the white guy on In Living Color for a few years until he had a bunch of big movie roles right in a row – Ace Ventura, Pet Detective, The Mask, Batman (as the Riddler), Dumb and Dumber, the Truman Show.

Prior to all that, he grew up living poor in a van.  So it was cool to see him make it.  Made it seem like anyone can make it.

But sometimes it makes me sad when celebs do politics. He was on the Bill Maher show recently. I guess he has these strong opinions and he has a right to them, but here’s how I feel when I hear them:

JIM: We need to stop being afraid of the word, “socialism” we need to embrace it.

ME: Others who embraced the word socialism = the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and the National Socialist Party of Germany (Nazis.)  More recently, it’s led to Venezuelans hunting zoo animals for zebra meat, but sure, let’s give it another try!

JIM:  We need to embrace socialism.

ME: You first, buddy.  Take your millions you made from talking out of your butt as Ace and cut a check to any one of many charities that help the poor.  How many poor kids could you send to college if you cash out your savings? And do you need that big mansion?  How many poor people can you take in?  How many refugees can we put you down for?

JIM:  We need to embrace socialism.

ME: Hey, you know what socialist countries aren’t known for? Paying millions of dollars to a man so he can talk through his butt cheeks in Ace Ventura.  In America, someone says, “Hey we can sell movies of a guy talking out of his butt!” In a socialist country, there is no job for a butt talker.  You just get to dig ditches for 12 hours and then wait in the toilet paper line for another 12 hours.  But hey you could entertain everyone else in line with your zany comedy, until you offend one of the commisars and get hauled off to the gulag because free speech?  Not really approved of in socialism.

ME AGAIN:  I get it.  People worry about the poor.  It’s a good thing to do.  Not knocking it.  And he’s right when he says that if you get sick, you shouldn’t lose your house.  And he was very poor once so he knows a thing or two about poverty…this isn’t the way though.  Socialism has never worked anywhere it has tried and it just depresses me that people still think it will work.  It’s like being that gambler who has been losing all night who by morning has liquidated the kids’ college fund, his 401k and sold his house but is still like “One more lucky roll!”

So I don’t know.  That’s it.  Jimbo has been driving me crazy lately.  Socialism is the “23” of economic systems.  The studios wouldn’t let Jim do another 23, but they’d let him do a thousand more sequels to Dumb and Dumber.  Stick with the hits.  Stick with what works.  Stick with capitalism.  Stop trying to do the same thing that’s failed a hundred times and see if it works again.

Maybe this is just what celebs do as they get older, hoping to stay relevant.  Alysa Milano is on that bandwagon too.  I spent most of the 1990s either laughing at Jim Carrey or rubbing one out to Alysa Milano and now they want to turn America into a socialist craphole.  Very sad.  Very depressing.

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Daily Discussion with BQB – My Concerns About Socialism and Communism

Gather around, 3.5 readers.

Either you’re all getting too young or I’m getting too old.

I’m a tail end Gen-Xer, which means I’m old enough to have watched Rocky IV in the movie theater and see all of America’s anti-Communism fears take the form of Ivan Drago, the killing machine boxer whose Soviet government was willing to expend untold amounts of government resources on whilst Russian peasants were starving.

OK.  I know Drago wasn’t real but the analogy, i.e. that the Soviets would gladly let scores of their own toil away and live on scraps just to fund the Soviet ambition for world conquest was some scary shit.

I mean, I was a kid so I didn’t worry that much about it but looking back, yeah, the adults were a little scared by it.

I’m also young enough that I never saw the 1950s, where US kids underwent drills in schools where they’d hide under their desks, as if that was somehow going to protect from a nuclear blast.

I’m also young enough I didn’t live through the fear in the 1960s when Castro’s Cuba allowed Russia to place nuclear missiles in Cuba that could have reached US shore easily.

And I’m old enough that I was a teenager in the 1990s, a time when the U.S. and Russia enjoyed a post-Cold War peace that made it seem like the world was on the right path.

In other words, I’m not old enough to remember the worst of Communism, but just old enough to have known adults who lived through those hard times.

Read some history books.  Stories of how Soviet Russia killed millions of its own people.  China did so as well.  I recall one book about how it was common in 1950s China for the Army to go into villages, find that the villagers hadn’t met their farm production quotas, and kill villagers as a warning.  Either that, or sometimes they’d lie to their superiors, tell them the villages have enough food (they didn’t want to admit to their bosses they had failed) and villagers would starve when it would have been easy to have had food sent to them.  So many people died, just over fears of communicating failure to a hostile government that didn’t take failure well.

Want to know how old I am?  When I was a kid, if you didn’t eat your dinner, an old ass elderly person would inevitably say, like clockwork, “What a shame to waste that food, there are starving children in China who would love to have that.”

Then I’d inevitably say well take my dinner and put it in a box and mail it to the starving Chinese kids, you wrinkly old fuck.  OK I wouldn’t say that but still.  See how clueless all you young people are?  You never met an old person who told you that your failure to eat your whole dinner was causing a Chinese kid’s death by starvation.

It scares me when I see so many young people who are all into socialism, which I don’t like on its own and also I don’t like because it’s just a stone’s throw away from communism.  Whenever I see a young person in a Che Guevara shirt watching a superhero movie on his stupid iphone, it’s hard for me to not tell this kid how dumb he is.

Think about it.  Smart phones.  Movies.  TV.  Internet.  All born out of America.  Freedom of speech makes us an entertainment capitol, while capitalism makes all of these inventions possible.

You like all those Marvel superhero movies?  Cool.  Do you think Chris Evans is going to stand around for 14 hours a day in a blue spandex suit that rides up his ass, pretending to yell at CGI monsters if a hefty fee isn’t going into his bank account?  Do you think he’ll do it for the same box of rationed government cheese that everyone else would get in a Commie world?

Does Steve Jobs spend his whole life, ignoring and being shitty to his family, in the hopes of being memorialized for all time as a computer genius if all he gets is a few rolls of toilet paper?  I think not.

Apple computers didn’t start in Russia.  Marvel Comics didn’t start in Russia.  You might point out that a lot of the products you love are manufactured overseas but OK, they didn’t get to you without an underlying profit motive.

This is the way humans are.   Since our prehistoric days, humans have been naturally selfish and self-centered.  Cavemen would build piles of rocks and only give you a rock if you traded them a twig.  There weren’t any cavemen giving out rocks for free.  And if you wanted the primo cavewoman pussy, you had to have yourself a fat ass pile of the best rocks.

There weren’t any cavemen tribes who were sharing the rocks.  You think that a caveman is going to push himself to get 50 rocks when the guy who brings back 1 rock gets the same rock portion?  Screw that.

Communism failed and led to so many deaths because the government had to force people to go against their own instincts – work hard for Jack and don’t complain or its the gulag for you.

Is Capitalism perfect?  No.  I get it.  We all don’t start with the same advantages.  A bad turn of luck can weigh you down forever, keep you from getting a great job and so on.  But I don’t think a better economic system has been invented yet and socialism and communism aren’t it.

So, end of speech.  Sorry I got political.  It concerns me that, “Please don’t become a socialist or a communist” is considered political now.  When I was a kid, not being a communist was just like, not wanted the sky to turn purple.  Just an obvious thing no one wanted, but alas, the old get older and the young never hear about any of the bad shit and are duped into thinking good shit so…this little fart in the wind of a post is my part in keeping communism at bay and asking you youngsters to read some damn history books.

Thank you.  Wow.  This could have been an Uncle Hardass column.

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