Film Review – “The Death of Stalin”

Starring:  Steve Buscemi, Simon Russell Beale, Jeffrey Tambor, Michael Palin, Andrea Risebourough, Rupert Friend and Jason Isaacs
Directed by:  Armando Iannucci
Rated:  R
Running time:  106 mins.

Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars

In the Soviet loop. Armando Iannucci brings his breakneck quips and futile power plays to Stalin’s final days in The Death of Stalin, a darkly hilarious take on a moment in history handled by a collection of top notch actors.

In 1953 Stalin (Adrian McLoughlin) sits atop a well oiled oppression machine. He doles out hit lists to his gulags on a daily basis and even among his closest confidants he wields terrifying power. Steve Buscemi’s sycophantic Khrushchev takes personal notes on what jokes bombed in his company so as not to repeat his mistakes. Inconveniently Khrushchev and company find their leader face down and on death’s door in a puddle of his own piss. With no official recourse for succession, the jockeying for power—and chewing of the considerable scenery—begins.

Filling out this Stalin’s cabinet with Buscemi is a dream team lineup of Simon Russell Beale, Michael Palin (my favorite Python!), Jeffrey Tambor and Jason Isaacs. To Iannucci’s credit none of the actors in this film are asked to adopt any sort of Russian or even any shared accent which only adds to the air of chaos in the party and likely is what frees up these actors to stay absolutely focused on the script’s fast and fierce comic timing. Additionally just when you’re getting the rhythm of this first set of yes-men, Andrea Riseborough and Rupert Friend are imported in as Stalin’s wayward offspring to inject even more manic energy into the proceedings. Friend in particular is a revelation as Vasily, a bellowing drunkard who arrives landing insults with surgical precision and more often than not, departs by being wrestled physically from the frame.

I had some hesitation going into this film being pretty much unaware of the specifics of this moment in history and wondered whether that would impact my experience however this turned out not to be the case. The themes of absolute power corrupting absolutely and the pettiness of men are always ripe for political farce especially from the likes of the man behind “Veep” and this spectacular cast.

Film Review: “The Accountant”

Starring: Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick and J.K. Simmons
Directed by: Gavin O’Connor
Rated: R
Running time: 2 hrs 8 mins
Warner Bros

Our Score: 4 out of 5 Stars

Christian Wolff seems like a normal child. Until you spend time with him. Currently he is sitting at a table, feverishly putting a puzzle together. Suddenly he panics – he only has 999 of the 1000 pieces. When the missing piece is found Chris completes the puzzle. As he inserts the final piece we see that he has completed the puzzle upside down – the image is face-down. All we see is the blank cardboard back. “Is this normal,” Chris’ father asks the man Chris has been brought to meet. His reply: “Define normal.”

A well-crafted thriller, “The Accountant” picks up 20-years after the puzzle incident with young Christian Wolff (Affleck) now a successful C.P.A. With his dented thermos, brought-from-home sandwich and pocket protector, he could be the nerdy guy next door. Except Christian has a secret. One that Ray King (Simmons), head of the US Treasury Department’s Crime Enforcement Division has been trying to solve for years. King enlists the help of Marybeth Medina (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) to discover why Wolff seems to be involved with some very high profile (read: non-law abiding) customers. Meanwhile, Wolff has been also asked to solve a problem. When a corporate accountant for a major robotics company suspects that someone is stealing from the company she asks Christian to take a look at the books, which may or may not have been cooked for years.

Smartly directed, with a nice twist in the story, “The Accountant” rests squarely on the shoulders of Ben Affleck. I love the fact that he is a mathematical savant, giving the audience a chance to wonder what could have happened to Will Hunting had he not followed Skylar to California. Affleck gives Wolff a quiet coolness, never raising his voice or getting agitated. Kendrick’s role is really secondary. She is here to attract Christian to the main plot line of the film, the going-ons at the robotics company. Affleck is aided by several great character actors, including John Lithgow, Jon Bernthal and Jeffrey Tambor. Director O’Connor, who helmed the underrated MMA film “Warrior,” keeps the film moving with strong pacing that never misses a beat.