Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

I missed The Death of Stalin in theaters. Shame, shame, shame on me: It’s one of this year’s funniest—and strangest—movies.

Director and co-writer Armando Iannucci puts together an incredible cast to tell the story of the last days of Stalin (Adrian McLoughlin), and the chaos that ensued when he died. Ingeniously, Iannucci opts to have his British and American cast members keep their regular accents, giving the movie a sort of crazy, Monty Python-like vibe (It reminded me of the Pythons talking with their British accents in Life of Brian.) Having Michael Palin in the cast as Vyacheslav Molotov certainly helps that vibe.

Steve Buscemi deserves to be a legitimate Oscar contender as Nikita Khrushchev, depicting the soon-to-be Soviet leader as a chest-bumping nut fond of dirty jokes and saying “fuck” a lot. It comes off as if Khrushchev is the son of Buscemi’s Boardwalk Empire character, Nucky Thompson, or the great grandad of Mr. Pink from Reservoir Dogs. With his performance, he’s doing what Buscemi usually does, and the effect is hilarious. The same goes for Jeffrey Tambor as Georgy Malenkov, depicted here basically as George Bluth on an insecure day.

Through all the farcical lunacy, Iannucci somehow manages to give his film a dark depth that feels, at times, quite historically accurate. It’s definitely one of the more unique movies you will see this year … or any year.

The Death of Stalin is available via online sources including iTunes and

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

The Accountant is a ridiculous, implausible thriller, in some ways even more ridiculous than the recent, somewhat weak film The Girl on the Train.

So why did I end up liking it?

I don’t know. Maybe it was because I was super-high on weed and mescaline, and I got an extra check in the mail from an employer goof-up that gave me all the money I needed to buy a new couch and lots of snacks.

No, wait … I don’t do drugs, and I only dreamt that I got that check. My couch still sucks ass. Instead, I liked The Accountant because it has a fantastic Ben Affleck, and the movie sort of plays out like a deranged Batman pic—with calculator action!

Affleck plays Christian Wolff, a high-functioning autistic man who has managed to harness his extreme intelligence with numbers and physical tics—into the strangest of professions. By day, he’s an accountant who, for example, helps a farm owner find tax loopholes to save a few thousand bucks. By night, he’s some sort of accountant ninja who can take out a room full of mob guys with a dinner knife and some Batman-style forearm blasts to the face.

Yes, Christian takes jobs fixing the books for dirty folks the world over, and while he does have a modest, sparsely decorated home, he also has a mobile man cave (or, should I say … Batcave!) that keeps all the spoils of his riches (like money, gold, Jackson Pollock paintings and, yes, collectors’ items like Batman comic books).

During one job, he is tasked with finding missing money for a prosthetics company led by John Lithgow, and he takes a liking to fellow accountant Dana (the invaluable Anna Kendrick). They conspire to find the missing money … something that, of course, some people don’t want to see happen. Christian and Dana find themselves in loads of trouble, which eventually leads to shootouts and more Batman-style forearms to the face.

Director Gavin O’Connor balances out all of the craziness and outrageous turns of events to deliver a film that, despite a few sleepy parts, is thoroughly entertaining. Affleck is good here, basically playing a dude with repressed rage and childhood trauma issues, minus a cowl.

Kendrick offers up a capable “WTF is going on?!” performance in her fifth movie this year. (She’s busy.) The rest of the supporting cast includes an excellent Jon Bernthal a bad guy much worse than Affleck’s kind-of-bad guy. (Bernthal is essentially this movie’s Joker.) J.K. Simmons and Cynthia Addai-Robinson are good as two Treasury Department agents who combine to create the movie’s Commissioner Gordon. And Jeffrey Tambor plays a father figure who rooms with Christian and amounts to this film’s Uncle Ben. Oh, wait … wrong superhero.

Maybe I’m the only one who sees this movie as Batman doing taxes. Maybe that makes me some sort of amateurish idiot who likes movies that are actually kind of lame, just because they play out in a weird way in his overreaching mind. But then again, maybe I am not alone.

Maybe The Accountant will have a sequel in which Christian battles with an even stronger, out-of-town accountant whose mother has the same name as his mother, and who mopes a lot because his dad, the guy from Field of Dreams, died in a tornado accident. Oh, god, please … no.

The Accountant is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

I have never attended a high school reunion, for my high school is very far away, and quite frankly, there are a few too many douchebag classmates I fear may have become super-duper douchebags over the years. Sorry, but I just can’t share a punch bowl with some of those tools. I mean, one of those shitheads put my winter coat in the boys’ locker room toilet. That’s hard to get over!

I have, however, seen many high school reunion movies, and The D Train is one of the better ones. It strays from the formula in quite a few ways while also having fun with some of the clichés. It possesses a completely original twist, and the film has a refreshing pitch from all involved, especially stars Jack Black and James Marsden.

Dan Landsman (Black) is the self-proclaimed chairman of his school’s reunion committee. (Hey, he has the password to the Facebook page!) He takes the gig very seriously, much to the chagrin of his co-members, which include his School of Rock co-star Mike White. Dan wasn’t very popular during his high school days, and those same classmates aren’t all that crazy about him now. When the group finishes an evening of phone calls to alumni, they go out for beers—and forget to invite Dan.

One night, after a typically humdrum evening with his wife, Stacey (the always fun Kathryn Hahn), Dan spies a commercial for Banana Boat sunscreen that has a familiar face in it: It’s Oliver Lawless (Marsden), the coolest kid from his high school—and he has apparently made the big time out in Los Angeles.

Dan makes it his mission to get Oliver to attend the reunion. After all, everybody would want to attend, because, hey, the national Banana Boat spokesman is going to be in the house! Oliver’s attendance will make Dan a hero, and he’ll finally get that dose of high school popularity that has been eluding him. He concocts a scheme to fly to Los Angeles on his workplace’s dime, which results in his boss (Jeffrey Tambor, in fine form) unwelcomingly going with him. (This brings us the added bonus of a mini road comedy with Black and Tambor!)

In Los Angeles, Dan meets up with Oliver, and they have a wild night on the town. We’ll just say that some things happen and leave it at that. Oliver agrees to attend the reunion—but Dan no longer thinks that’s the best of ideas.

The movie is just fine leading up to the L.A. trip, but it really takes off afterward. Black is hilarious as a man dealing with some emotional situations. He’s an adult now, and he will no longer be shunned like that stumbling kid was in his high school halls. He’s going to take a stand—and Oliver is going to pay. Of course, Oliver has a few tricks of his own up his sleeve. His ability to put a high school geek in his place hasn’t waned over the years, and both men take things to an unavoidable climax at the reunion. They provide the material for one major Facebook scandal.

Marsden hasn’t been this great since he played the Prince in Enchanted. His Oliver has selfish, dickish qualities, but there seems to be good heart lurking beneath all that sunscreen. He and Black make for a great screen pairing; their every moment onscreen provides combustible goodness. Much credit goes to writer-directors Andrew Mogel and Jarrad Paul for making the characters seem very real, no matter how outlandish the situations become.

This film is taking a beating, and that mystifies me. It’s funny; it’s original; and it has a killer cameo from Dermot Mulroney. It also features Black and Marsden at the top of their games. When this comes out on video, it will make for a helluva double feature with Grosse Pointe Blank.

The D Train is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews