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Films I Neglected To Review: And You Thought Flying United Was Bad
by Peter Sobczynski

Please enjoy short reviews of "7 Days in Entebbe," "The Death of Stalin" and "Our Blood is Wine."

In 1976, an Air France flight from Paris to Tel Aviv was taken over by pro-Palestine hijackers and diverted to Entebbe, Uganda, where the passengers were the ''guests'' of General Idi Amin in a dilapidated airport for a week until, after the failure of diplomatic solutions, an audacious plan was launched by the Israeli Defense Forces under the command of Shimon Peres to storm the airport and rescue the hostages. Still one of the most famous hijackings of all time, the incident was the subject of no fewer than three movies released within a year or so of the actual incident--the TV movies ''Victory at Entebbe'' (featuring Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Dreyfuss) and ''Raid on Entebbe'' (which had Peter Finch, Charles Bronson, James Woods and Yaphet Kotto in its cast) and the 1977 Israeli film ''Operation Thunderbolt'' (which featured Klaus Kinski and Sybil Danning, was directed by legendary Cannon Films co-head Menahem Golan and was actually nominated for the Oscar for Foreign Language Film)--and also turned up as a key element of the Idi Amin-related projects ''Amin--The Rise and Fall'' (1981) and ''The Last King of Scotland'' (2006). For a new version of the story to have any hope of succeeding, it needs to find an interesting new angle or approach that allows us to look at the familiar narrative in the new way and that is precisely where ''7 Days in Entebbe'' fails--it retells the story in a competent-but-plodding manner that never manages to catch fire at any point.

On paper, it seems like a good idea. Instead of giving viewers a version dominated by heavy action or all-star casts, it employs a more down-to-earth procedural approach along the lines of what Paul Greengrass utilized for ''United 93.'' For the directing gig, the produced brought on Jose Padilha, whose credits include the hostage drama documentary ''Bus 174'' and the acclaimed crime dramas ''Elite Squad'' and ''Elite Squad: The Enemy Within'' and the cast includes such reliable players as Daniel Bruh and Rosamund Pike as the two German hijackers and a nearly unrecognizable Eddie Marsan as Peres. And yet, it never jells into the kind of taut drama that should have resulted. Padilha handles the parallel dramatics between the hostages and captors in Uganda and the various factions in the Israeli government discussing the most politically expedient thing to do in a ho-hum manner, Bruhl and Pike do their best but struggle to overcome a script that gives them some really clunky scenes and dialogue to play (though they get off easy compared to Marsan, whose bizarro makeup job makes him look like a wax figure at times). In the most bewildering development, the script gives one of the soldiers taking part in the raid on Entebbe a girlfriend who is a member of an avant-garde dance troupe so that the action can stop at key moments in order to show us endless scenes of their rehearsals of a performance piece that will make some viewers wonder if a reel of ''Pina'' had gotten dropped into the mix by accident. Granted, this addition certainly separates ''7 Days in Entebbe'' from other films on the same subject--I daresay that most people going to see it will not be expecting quite so many scenes involving modern dance--but it fails to make it a more interesting one.

As we are not even fully through the first three months of the year, I would normally be loath to make any grand proclamations for the year ahead. That said, unless some miracle occurs--if Albert Brooks were to suddenly return with a new film or something else on that level--I seriously doubt that you will find a funnier movie in 2018 than ''The Death of Stalin,'' Armando Iannucci's screamingly funny adaptation of the graphic novel of the same name. Having already proven himself to be one of the modern masters of political satire through such creations as ''In the Loop'' and the long-running HBO series ''Veep,'' he know turns his sights to the USSR circa 1953 and how the death of tyrannical leader Josef Stalin (Adrian McLoughlin) kicked off a power struggle amongst rival toadies Georgy Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor) and Nikita Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi) while Lavrenti Beri (Simon Russell Beale) plays both sides off of each other as a way of ridding himself of all his enemies. Granted, there may not be anything remotely resembling a credible Russian accent to be had from anyone in the eclectic cast--which also includes Rupert Friend as Stalin's hotheaded idiot of a son, Andrea Riseborough as his perennially underestimated daughter, Olga Kurylenko as a classical pianist who inadvertently sets the whole story in motion, Michael Palin as functionary Vyacheslav Molotov and Jason Issacs as Field Marshal Zhukov, the military hero who is perhaps the only person involved who can say what they want without having to check themselves out of fear who might be listening--but the performances across the board are so good and funny that their absence will hardly be noticed. Like such classics of political satire as ''Duck Soup,'' ''Dr. Strangelove'' and ''Wag the Dog,'' the jokes fly fast and furious with an astounding success rate--if there is a clinker in the bunch, I do not immediately recall it--but there is a bite to the humor that notably keeps it both grounded and relevant. You may wonder how funny and cutting can ''The Death of Stalin'' truly be. The fact that the film is currently banned in Russia should answer that for you.

For whatever reason, I have never been much of a wine person--outside of the occasional social situation, I rarely drink the stuff and my sum total of knowledge on the subject is that if you drink red wine with fish, you are clearly an agent of SPECTRE (thank you, ''From Russia With Love''). Therefore, I suppose that I am not quite the ideal audience for ''Our Blood is Wine,'' an iPhone-shot documentary by Emily Railsback in which she and Chicago-based sommelier Jeremy Quinn travel to the Republic of Georgia to investigate the region's 8,000-year history of making distinct wines utilizing enormous clay pots called ''qvevri'' as part of a unique fermentation process and how some local vintners have been to reestablish those traditions in the wake of their independence in 1991 following 70 years of Soviet domination that, among other things, changed the winemaking process to favor mass production over the small batches of old. Some of this history is interesting enough but the basic problem with the film is that as Railsback and Quinn go through the area meeting winemakers going back to the old ways, the film never quite manages to find a way to make itself interesting to viewers who do not already go into it with a keen working knowledge on the subject in the manner of ''Mondovino,'' Jonathan Nossiter's absorbing documentary on the contemporary wine industry and how the tastes of one person can affect how it is produced throughout the world. True oenophiles may indeed find it fascinating to the point where they may begin contemplating booking a trip to the Republic of Georgia while those who are perfectly satisfied with a glass of ordinary merlot will be content to sample it for a bit before spitting it out and moving on.

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originally posted: 03/17/18 01:42:43
last updated: 03/24/18 03:45:21
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