The Death of Stalin


Stalin has the literal last laugh.

(2017) Comedy/Satire (IFC) Steve Buscemi, Simon Russell Beale, Michael Palin, Jeffrey Tambor, Olga Kurylenko, Jason Isaacs, Paddy Considine, Paul Chahidi, Adrian McLoughlin, Andrea Riseborough, Rupert Friend, Richard Brake, Dermot Crowley, Sylvestra Le Touzel, Paul Whitehouse, Cara Horgan, Karl Johnson, Diana Quick, Jonathan Aris, Dave Wong, Eva Sayer. Directed by Armando Iannucci

 

While history is often written by the victorious and comes from that point of view, there are some things that transcend opinion. For one, tyrants like Hitler and in this particular case, Josef Stalin of the Soviet Union, were homicidal monsters who are to be reviled rather than revered. That doesn’t mean they aren’t good for a laugh or two

Stalin (McLoughlin) barely makes an appearance in the film; he has his life-ending cerebral hemorrhage about 20 minutes into the film, but his presence hangs over the entire proceeding as a power struggle develops between secret police chief Lavrenti Beria (Beale) and the politically canny Nikita Khrushchev (Buscemi). The rest of the central committee, including the spine-challenged Georgy Malenkov (Tambor) and the flip-flopping Vyacheslav Molotov (Palin) are busy scrambling to make sure they don’t get caught in the fallout that is sure to come once one of their number assumes control of the Soviet Union.

While the movie compresses a period of about three years into a few days (the final denouement which is shown here to take place shortly after the funeral actually occurred three years after Stalin was laid to rest), the historical facts as we can come by them seem to be pretty accurate. That the movie is based on a French graphic novel makes that a bit astounding but in this era of fake news and bald-faced lies that come from our own politicians, not surprising.

Buscemi has always been something of an underrated comic performer but this might be his best role yet. He plays Khrushchev as paranoid and somewhat high-strung, relating funny stories from the siege of Stalingrad including one of sticking a private’s finger in warm water in order to cause him to wet himself which turns out to be somewhat ironic since Stalin himself would shortly do exactly that (which is historically accurate; the hemorrhage caused him to lose control of his bladder).

Iannucci has created such spot-on satires as the HBO series Veep and the seminal British show The Thick of It but while those tend to be somewhat harder edged than Stalin he manages to concoct a story that is both timely and of a specific time simultaneously. We here in the West understand that being near the top of the political heap in the old Soviet Union was inherently dangerous to life and limb and we pat ourselves on the back to say “it was never like that here” but then we look at the current White House and its revolving door and wonder if it wasn’t a lot more similar than we think.

There are some moments of wonderful nonsense, such as when Beria and Khrushchev (neither one of whom are particularly athletic) racing through the woods of Stalin’ s dacha in order to be the first to greet his daughter Svetlana (Riseborough), or when war hero Grand Marshall Zhukov (Isaacs), then in charge of the Red Army, arrives at the Kremlin dripping with medals and roaring “What does it take for a soldier to get lubricated around here?”

Not everyone will find this funny. The Russians have banned this movie, claiming that it was insulting to Russian history which I suppose it is – if the Russians did a satire on the death of President Kennedy I suppose we wouldn’t be laughing much either. But then again, Putin has a lot more in common with Stalin than Trump has with JFK and I don’t doubt that those who are Trump supporters may find this to be a thinly veiled dig at their hero. I don’t think it is in particular, but parallels can certainly be glimpsed.

Da Queen found the film to be a bit long-winded and she has a point. I also have to point out that I was laughing out loud hysterically the first time I saw it but the second time I saw it with Da Queen it wasn’t quite as funny. That may mean that it won’t lend itself to repeated viewings although comedies rarely do. However, the first viewing really got me into the somewhat anarchic and zany world that Iannucci created and while it may not have been too laugh-inspiring at the time, at least today we can look back on it and see the humor – not so much in the situation but in how we react to it.

REASONS TO GO: Much of it is hysterically funny. Buscemi is at the top of his game. The dialogue is wickedly funny. Those who love Monty Python are going to enjoy this.
REASONS TO STAY: The subject matter may make laughter a somewhat uncomfortable reaction. It’s a little bit on the long side.
FAMILY VALUES: There is consistent profanity, adult themes, violence (some of it graphic), sexual references and intimations of rape.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film was banned in Russia, two days before it was due to be released.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/24/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 96% positive reviews. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Monty Python’s Life of Brian
FINAL RATING: 8.5/10
NEXT:
La Familia

New Releases for the Week of March 23, 2018


PACIFIC RIM: UPRISING

(Universal/Legendary) John Boyega, Scott Eastwood, Burn Gorman, Cailee Spaeny, Charlie Day, Tian Jing, Max Zhang, Adria Arjona, Rinko Kikuchi. Directed by Steven S. DeKnight

The son of heroic Stacker Pentecost from the first film unites with survivors of the original Kaiju attack to take on a new peril from the gigantic enigmatic creatures. This time they are bigger and badder than ever and they mean to wipe out everything that isn’t Kaiju. Only a few good men (and women) can stop the threat.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, video featurettes and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard, 3D, DBOX, DBOX-3D, Dolby Atmos, IMAX, IMAX 3D, RPX, RPX-3D, XD, XD-3D
Genre: Science Fiction
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and some language)

The Death of Stalin

(IFC) Steve Buscemi, Simon Russell Beale, Michael Palin, Jeffrey Tambor. In 1953, the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin died suddenly, leaving a power vacuum at the top. Commissars and politicians scrambled amidst the chaos to avoid being shot and to grab what power they could in the brave new world. Armando Iannucci, mastermind behind such powerful satires as Veep and In the Loop takes an irreverent look at this pivotal moment in Russian history based on the graphic novel of the same name.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy/Satire
Now Playing: Enzian Theater

Rating: R (for language throughout, violence and some sexual references)

Getting Grace

(Hannover House) Daniel Roebuck, Madelyn Dundon, Dana Ashbrook, Duane Whitaker. A teenage girl who is dying of cancer is curious as to what will happen to her body once she’s passed on. To find out more about it, she befriends the local funeral home director, a shy and retiring man who has spent his life with the dead to the point where he’s forgotten how to live. These two wildly different personalities may just be what they each needed in this film co-written and directed by Roebuck.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: Regal Oviedo Marketplace, Regal Pointe Orlando

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements and some suggestive material)

Midnight Sun

(Open Road) Bella Thorne, Patrick Schwarzenegger, Rob Riggle, Quinn Shephard. A young teenage girl, stricken by a disease that makes her violently allergic to sunlight, lives in a world of perpetual darkness until she meets a sweet young teen boy who falls in love with her – and she with him. This is apparent teenage girl with a serious illness week at the movies.

See the trailer, clips and interviews here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Teen Romance
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for some teen partying and sensuality)

Paul, Apostle of Christ

(Columbia) James Faulkner, Jim Caviezel, Olivier Martinez, Joanne Whalley. Paul, the apostle of Christ, awaits his death sentence in a dank Roman prison. As he recalls the events of his life – the years of persecuting those who followed Jesus, his conversion to the cause, the letters that unbeknownst to him would inspire billions over more than two millennia – he wonders if his life has been a worthwhile one. I’m guessing the answer will be “yes.”

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biblical Biography
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for some violent content and disturbing images)

Sherlock Gnomes

(MGM/Paramount) Starring the voices of James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Johnny Depp, Chiwetel Ejiofor. When their fellow garden ornaments start disappearing mysteriously, Gnomeo and Juliet recruit renowned detective Sherlock Gnomes to investigate the mystery and return the missing to their home. This isn’t going to be easy but with music by Elton John you can’t really go wrong now can you.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard, 3D
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG (for some rude and suggestive humor)

Unsane

(Bleecker Street) Claire Foy, Joshua Leonard, Amy Irving, Jay Pharoah. A young woman goes to a mental health clinic to talk about the stalking incident that haunts her. When she is tricked into signing papers that result in her being committed to the hospital against her will, she discovers to her horror that her stalker is working there as a nurse – or is he just a part of her delusion?

See the trailer, clips and a video featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Thriller
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for disturbing behavior, violence, language and sex references)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

MLA
My Perfect You
Rajaratham
Shifting Gears

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

Claire’s Camera
Followers
Foxtrot
Hichki
I Kill Giants
Itzhak
The Last Suit
Loveless
MLA
Needhi Naadhi Oke Katha
On the Beach at Night Alone
Rajaratham
Souvenir

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

Hichki
Isle of Dogs
Itzhak
Poomaram
Rajaratham
Shifting Gears

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

None

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

The Death of Stalin
Isle of Dogs
Pacific Rim: Uprising
Sherlock Gnomes
Unsane

Pick of the Litter – March 2018


BLOCKBUSTER OF THE MONTH

Ready Player One

(Warner Brothers) Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Mark Rylance, Simon Pegg. By the year 2045 the world has fallen into an epic malaise. There isn’t much hope, there isn’t much happiness – except in the Oasis, a virtual world that belongs to the most profitable corporation in the world. When the recently deceased founder of the company initiates a contest that will give gamers the opportunity to inherit control of the company and of the Oasis, it initiates a scramble to find the hidden Easter Egg and win the Oasis. However, there are forces at work that will stop at nothing to get that prize. Directed by none other than Steven Spielberg, the film is based on the pop culture masterpiece by Ernest Cline. March 29

INDEPENDENT PICKS

Foxtrot

(Sony Classics) Lior Ashkenazy, Sarah Adler, Yonathan Shiray, Shira Haas. At a desolate army outpost in the Israeli wilderness, tragedy strikes as it often will there. The family left behind of a young soldier stationed there must come to terms with their grief and loss in the wake of these events. This was Israel’s official submission for the 2018 Foreign Language Academy Award. March 2

Submission

(Great Point Media) Stanley Tucci, Kyra Sedgwick, Addison Timlin, Janeane Garofalo. A professor of writing at a university struggles with his own writer’s block and that creeping feeling that his best work and happiest days are behind him. He takes an interest in one of his students whose work is sensual and erotic, and who apparently has a major crush on him. However, he discovers that the attention comes at a terrible price. March 2

The Vanishing of Sidney Hall

(A24) Logan Lerman, Elle Fanning, Kyle Chandler, Michelle Monaghan. A gifted young writer creates a book that becomes a national phenomenon – and a national controversy – and then he disappears completely from view. A detective with murky motives goes on the trail of the missing author, digging up unsavory secrets about his past in the process. March 2

The Death of Stalin

(IFC) Steve Buscemi, Rupert Friend, Andrea Riseborough, Michael Palin. When the dictator Joseph Stalin died in 1953, the Soviet Union was plunged into chaos as various factions fought for control. Master satirist Armando Iannucci (In the Loop) turns these events into a wicked comedy that is both irreverent and perhaps, a look at what modern politics have devolved into.  March 9

Itzhak

(Greenwich) Itzhak Perlman, Toby Perlman, Alan Alda, Billy Joel. One of the greatest violinists to have ever lived certainly wasn’t  a sure bet for greatness when he started out. A polio victim, he fought to be taken seriously as a musician when teachers and others only saw his crutches. He rose nonetheless to become one of the greatest musicians of our time and a man whose passion for life is as infectious as his violin playing. March 9

The Forgiven

(Saban) Forest Whitaker, Eric Bana, Jeff Gum, Morné Visser. After the end of apartheid in South Africa, Archbishop Desmond Tutu meets with a brutal murderer in a notorious prison; one seeking answers in a murder forgotten by the authorities, the other seeking redemption. Based on actual events, this story was a powderkeg of controversy in the early years of Nelson Mandela’s presidency; veteran director Roland Joffe was behind the camera for this one. March 9

Maineland

(Abramorama) Miao Wang. There has been an enormous wave of affluent children sent by their parents from mainland China to study at private schools in the United States. Some of the expectations of the kids, buoyed by American movies, are not terribly reasonable but the reality of their Chinese schooling sends them to a country far away from their home with great hopes nevertheless. March 16

Back to Burgundy

(Music Box) Pio Marmaï, Ana Girardot, François Civil, Jean-Marc Roulot. Master director Cédric Klapisch returns with this heartwarming tale of a young prodigal son, who left his family vineyard in Burgundy to see the world, returning when his father falls ill. Reuniting with his sister and brother, the three must rebuild their relationship and their trust in one another if they are to weather this crisis. March 23

Getting Grace

(Hannover House) Daniel Roebuck, Madelyn Dundon, Marsha Dietlein, Dana Ashbrook. A teenage girl who is in the final stages of terminal cancer befriends a socially awkward funeral director in an effort to find out what will happen to her after she dies. Her zest for life and unconventional attitude give him the courage to be himself. Roebuck, who plays the funeral director, also directed the film. March 23

Beauty and the Dogs

(Oscilloscope Laboratories) Mariam Al Ferjani, Ghanem Zrelli, Noomen Hamda, Mohamed Akkari. A film based on actual events, this follows the fight for justice by a young Tunisian woman who undergoes a terrifying ordeal after leaving a student party with a mysterious young man. Her battle will be uphill since the law favors the side of those who torment her. March 23

Caught

(Cinedigm/Great Point) Mickey Sumner, Cian Barry, April Pearson, Ruben Crow. A couple, both journalists, living in the idyllic English countryside, go out for a walk on the nearby moors and snap some pictures of apparent military activity there. Not too long afterwards, a strange couple dressed similarly show up at their door asking what seem to be polite questions at first but as the questions grow more bizarre and personal, they soon realize this isn’t an ordinary man and woman and the two journalists will have the scoop of the century – if they live to file it. March 30

The China Hustle

(Magnolia) Jed Rothstein, Alex Gibney. Wall Street is at it again. Chinese companies, based in America, have been attractive to investors since the Chinese economic boom of the last decade. Hoping to make up their losses from the 2008 recession, there has been heavy investment in these 500 or so companies. The trouble is that they are paper companies – they don’t actually produce anything. Fraud is being perpetrated on a massive scale and the government knows about it. As one of the financial experts says grimly, “Hold on to your wallets.” March 30