INDIE FLICKS: THE DEATH OF STALIN
Despite its somber title, The Death of Stalin (R) is the year's funniest movie so far, delivered by director/co-writer Armando Iannucci with the politically profane snarl he brought to HBO's Veep and In the Loop. The subject is Stalin, the vibe is certainly Marx — Groucho, not Karl.
The titular demise in 1953 sets off a Kremlin power struggle between Nikita Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi) and secret police chief Lavrenti Beria (Simon Russell Beale) behind the bumbling back of deputy premier Georgy Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor). Stalin's reign of terror leads to venomous desperation, sight-gag executions and too many deliciously snide asides to recall.
Based on a French comic book, The Death of Stalin has a historical spin so screwball that British accents and Buscemi's Brookynese are the least of its accuracy issues. Iannucci and three co-writers weave a tale of fearful oppression and petty cloakroom intrigue, a satire of Pythonesque proportions underlined by Michael Palin delighting as Vyacheslav Molotov (like the cocktail).
Buscemi's Khruschev isn't that far from his Mr. Pink, which is half the humor in his performance. Tambor is comically on key yet his alleged sexual misbehavior gets in the way; nobody that bad should be so good. Best of show honors are shared by Beale and Jason Isaacs as preening Red Army field marshal Zhukov.
The Death of Stalin is explicit content music to the ears of comedy buffs, a torrent of gutter wordsmithery unleashed by a bawdy ensemble. Kind of like Veep with a hammer and sickle, smart, tart and daftly topical. A- (Veterans 24 in Tampa; Sundial 19 in St. Petersburg; Cinebistro at Hyde Park)
READY PLAYER ONE
Steven Spielberg makes an overdue return to popcorn movie-making with Ready Player One (PG-13), a fantasy barreling through virtual reality.
Tye Sheridan stars as Wade Watts, a VR game fanatic playing OASIS under the avatar Parzival with others worldwide. When the game's inventor (Oscar winner Mark Rylance) dies, he bequeaths the game and its fortunes to whomever finds the "Easter egg" he left inside the game.
Olivia Cooke and Ben Mendelsohn co-star but the main attractions are those '80s pop culture references peppering Ernest Cline's novel and stoking Spielberg's nostalgic creativity. Think Who Framed Roger Rabbit with more than just cartoon touchstones.
Read a review at tampabay.com/movies.
TYLER PERRY'S ACRIMONY
Hell hath no fury like Taraji P. Henson, right, scorned. She brings that Empire fire to Tyler Perry's Acrimony (R), getting Glenn Close to killing a man who did her wrong. Henson plays Melinda, staying loyal to a straying husband (Lyriq Bent) until she snaps. She begins stalking him and his mistress; the flip side of Fatal Attraction. Henson going off might be fun, but as always Perry doesn't offer screenings to many critics. Just those admiring his work, so not many.
GOD'S NOT DEAD: A LIGHT IN DARKNESS
After dropping $60 million into the box office collection plate, worshipers of 2014's God's Not Dead prayed for a sequel. In A Light in Darkness (PG), Pastor Dave (David A.R. White) suffers his church burned to the ground on a university campus. That's enough reason for the godless administration to force the congregation off campus, while at the same time Pastor Dave is rehashing old beefs with his estranged brother (John Corbett). Pray for us all.
In theaters: our Top 5
Current movies recommended by the Tampa Bay Times:
1 Isle of Dogs: Go fetch Wes Anderson's all-star animated treat. (Tampa Theatre) Read a review.
2 The Death of Stalin: Funniest political satire in years? Da.
3 Black Panther: Marvel's latest superhero is a cultural game changer.
4 Annihilation: Alex Garland's sci-fi bio-puzzle starring Natalie Portman.
5 Unsane: Steven Soderbergh makes a lurid thriller on a cellphone.
(Dates subject to change)
April 6: A Quiet Place; Blockers; The Miracle Season; You Were Never Really Here; Chappaquiddick; Finding Your Feet
April 11: Beirut
April 13: Overboard; Truth or Dare
April 20: Rampage; Super Troopers 2; Dolphins; Duck Duck Goose
April 27: Lean on Pete; Animal Crackers; Traffik