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Posts Tagged ‘Jeffrey Tambor’

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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Ben Affleck

Ben Affleck

“THE ACCOUNTANT”  My rating: C+

128 minutes | MPAA rating: R

A killer with autism.

How has it taken Hollywood this long to glom onto such an awesome concept?

Consider: An efficient, ruthless assassin whose Asperger-ish condition guarantees that he won’t empathize with his targets no matter how much they beg. A stoic largely immune to crippling emotions like guilt, fear and panic. A wrecking machine who can pass for civil but at heart cannot create lasting attachments. An obsessive who, once he’s started a job, is driven to finish it.

I’d pay to see that movie.

Unfortunately, that movie isn’t “The Accountant.”

Oh, Ben Affleck’s latest makes noises like it’s heading that direction before deteriorating into silliness and mayhem. But the pieces never add up.

Affleck plays Christian Wolff, a CPA with an office in a south Chicago strip mall and a roster of mom-and-pop clients. But that’s only his cover.

In reality Christian is a mathematical savant and emotional cipher whose clients include drug cartels, mobsters, international arms dealers and other nasty folk. Whenever these crooks suspect that someone has been pilfering cash or cooking the books, they call in Christian to do a little forensic sleuthing.

With a mind like a mainframe computer, he always finds the culprit — who usually ends up in a landfill.

It’s dangerous work but pays well. In a rented storage facility Christian keeps an Airstream trailer packed with cash, weapons and authentic Renoir and Pollack canvases (which he has accepted from grateful clients in lieu of cash).

And as flashbacks reveal, he’s also deadly, having been trained by his military father in martial arts, ordnance, sniping and other skills that might be useful for a kid who is always being bullied.

The plot is set in motion when Christian is called in to audit a robotics firm where a lowly bean counter (Anna Kendrick) has stumbled across a bookkeeping anomaly. What our man finds puts both Christian and his gal pal in the crosshairs of an international criminal conspiracy. (more…)

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James Marsden, Jack Black

James Marsden, Jack Black

“THE D TRAIN” My rating: B-  

97 minutes | MPAA rating: R

The D Train” begins in familiar, comforting territory.

Jack Black plays an overgrown manchild attempting to relive — and retroactively improve — his outsider adolescence by planning his 20th high school class reunion.

Black’s Dan Landsman is so desperate to be cool and in charge that he’s painful to behold. At the same time, Dan‘s reunion mania leaves little time for him to appreciate the genuinely positive things in his life — the Missus (Kathryn Hahn), their 14-year-old son (Russell Posner), and his good-guy boss (Jeffrey Tambor).

(In fact, Dan is such a miserable sad sack that I found it hard to laugh, even when the frustrated character explodes in furious karate kicks like the ursine warrior Black depicts in the animated “Kung-Fu Panda” franchise).

Dan concocts a scheme to boost reunion attendance by enticing Oliver Lawless (James Marsden), once the school’s dominant BMOC, to return. Oliver is now an LA actor with a national TV ad peddling suntan lotion.

This will require a trip to California to corner Oliver in his natural environment. So that his employer will cover his air fare, Dan lies  that he’s tracked down a big business prospect in Hollywood.

It soon becomes evident to everyone but the starstruck, uber-square Dan that Oliver is a drug-scarfing, bed-hopping bottom feeder who has gotten all the mileage he can out of his hunky good looks. Still, the failed actor is more than happy to engage in a drunken carouse paid for by this this barely-remembered figure from his high school days.

For Dan it’s a chance to get up close to the classmate who previously wouldn’t have given him the time of day.

Then  “The D Train” drops a plot development that is guaranteed to raise eyebrows, appall some viewers and turn the movie inside out. If you want to read the spoiler — and there’s no way to not mention it in a thorough discussion of the film — continue.

(more…)

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