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Posts Tagged ‘Jason Isaacs’

Steve Buscemi as Nikita Khrushchev, Jason Isaacs as Zhukov

“THE DEATH OF STALIN” My rating: B+

 107 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Cold War-bred baby boomers may be perplexed to discover that Nikita Khrushchev  — the Soviet bigwig who infamously pounded his shoe on a desk at the United Nations and proclaimed that “We will bury you” — is the hero of “The Death of Stalin.”

Just goes to show: History makes for strange bedfellows.

Make no mistake: Khrushchev, played here by a balding, pudgied-up Steve Buscemi, is presented as a hustling, scheming political climber.  But compared to the forces he’s battling, he’s one of the angels.

Unfolding over several days in 1953, “The Death of Stalin” is history retold as a black comedy.  It was written and directed by Armando Iannucci, the Scottish filmmaker who in 2009 gave us the brilliant sendup of Bush-era idiocy, “In the Loop.”

If anything, “…Stalin” surpasses that effort with its toxic/weirdly entertaining mix of terror, paranoia and manic broken-glass satire.

Iannucci and his co-writers (David Schneider, Ian Martin, Peter Fellows) waste no time in laying out the miseries of Stalin-era USSR.  In a brilliantly edited opening sequence, we hopscotch around Moscow on a chilly March  night.

At Radio Moscow an official (Paddy Considine) freaks out when he gets a phone call from Stalin asking for a recording of that night’s live Mozart concerto. Problem is, the program wasn’t recorded.  The doors are barred, the nervous audience members told to return to their seats (“Don’t worry, nobody’s going to get killed”) and a guest conductor is snatched from his apartment in his pajamas to replace the original maestro, who has knocked himself unconscious by taking a header into a fire extinguisher.

The Radio Moscow man knows that people have been shot for less than failing to produce a recording for the glorious leader.

Meanwhile in the Kremlin, Stalin (Adrian McLoughlin) is busy hobnobbing with his security chief Beria (Simon Russell Beale), whittling down a list of “enemies” to be arrested and disposed of that very night.

“Cracks me up, this one,” Stalin chortles, pointing to one of the names.

Nearby, Communist Party leaders like Khrushchev, Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor) and Molotov (Michael Palin) trade vodka shots are behaving like boorish frat boys, recycling war stories and trying not to piss off Stalin. (After each meeting with the head honcho, Khrushchev goes over every comment so as to avoid in the future any topics that Stalin finds distasteful.)

The next day Stalin is found lying on the floor, barely alive, the victim of a stroke.

His cohorts are paralyzed by indecision. They can’t even agree on whether to call in medical assistance: “All the best doctors are in the gulag…or dead.” (more…)

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Bryan Cranston

Bryan Cranston

“THE INFILTRATOR” My rating: B 

125 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Bryan Cranston became a household name on cable’s “Breaking Bad” by playing a decent family man seduced by the the money, violence and power of the drug trade.

In “The Infiltrator” he works an interesting variation on that setup. Here he’s a real-life lawman who goes deep undercover to undermine Pablo Escobar’s Columbian cocaine syndicate.

Director Brad Furman’s film (the screenplay is by his mother, Ellen Brown Furman) is a sort of police procedural enriched by intriguing psychological conflicts.

Set in the mid-1980s in Florida, “The Infiltrator” centers on Robert Mazur, a federal agent who comes to believe that seizing cocaine shipments is a losing strategy since there’s always more coming through the pipeline. A far more promising approach, Mazur believes, is to follow the money. The heads of the cartel can afford to lose drugs; they deeply resent losing their cash.

With the approval of his bosses (among them Amy Ryan and Jason Isaacs), Mazur creates an alter ego, shady businessman Bob Musella, who dresses well, lives big and has created a plan for laundering millions in the cartel’s ill-gotten gains. He begins by befriending the hard-drinking, whore-running street-level drug chieftains and rung by rung works his way up to the biggest movers in the Escobar cartel.

This is all very tricky, and Bob eventually finds it a challenge to separate the venal but charming Musella from his real life with a astonishingly understanding wife (Juliet Aubrey) and two kids. It must mess with your mind going from a coke-fuelled party in a topless joint to a cozy nest in the ‘burbs.

So that he won’t have to betray his wife by sleeping with a hooker (a gift from one of his new drug buddies), Bob claims to be engaged. A fellow agent, Kathy (Diane Kruger), must then step up to portray his trophy fiance. She’s a knockout, and you’ve got to wonder if under the pressure of their shared deception the two agents might not slip into a relationship of a more than professional nature.

(more…)

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