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Review: The Death of Stalin

If you saw In the Loop, you know what you’re in for in Armando Iannucci’s latest political satire — dark, hilarious, and sometimes creepy. As the title announces, the film is about the death of the ruthless dictator in 1953, though that only takes up a few minutes at the beginning. What it’s really about is the political wrangling that begins before he’s even left this world. There are three men vying to be the new Soviet leader: Stalin’s second-in-command, the idiot Georgy Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor), the ambitious Party chief Nikita Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi), and the truly sick secret police chief Lavrenti Beria (Simon Russell Beale). Malenkov didn’t have a chance, but Khrushchev and Beria would stop at nothing. The film is adapted from a comic book telling of the story, and everything that happens has a darkly absurd quality. And even though it’s based in reality, I’m sure the actual men were never as hilarious as they appear in this telling.

Oblivion

Tom Cruise plays quintessential Tom Cruise (aka a heroic guy named Jack) in this epic post-Armageddon sci-fi fantasy flick about a drone repairman who goes rogue in an effort to save humankind. You go, Jack! There’s more to the plot, of course, but good luck trying to figure it out. Perhaps it should have been called “Oblivious”. The movie is a bit like Top Gun meets Independence Day – set in the future. Cruise plays a pilot, and aliens are out to destroy the Earth. Oblivion is quite loud, with an overabundance of musical crescendos. But it’s also visually impressive, with lots of sweeping vistas of raw devastation and pristine beauty. Put it all together and you’ve got an engaging yet perplexing movie.