x The Death of Stalin (2018)
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Armando Iannucci
Steve Buscemi, Jason Isaacs, Jeffrey Tambor
Writing Credits:
Armando Iannucci, David Schneider, Ian Martin

When the Soviet dictator dies, chaos ensues.

Box Office:
Opening Weekend
$184,805 on 4 screens.
Domestic Gross

Rated R.

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1/16X9
English Dolby 5.1
English Descriptive Audio
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 107 min.
Price: $22.98
Release Date: 6/19/2018

• “Dictators, Murderers and Comrades… Oh My!” Featurette
• Deleted Scenes


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The Death of Stalin (2018)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 5, 2018)

Based on its title, one would expect 2018’s The Death of Stalin to provide a documentary or a serious drama. Instead, it brings us a comedic farce with shadows of today’s political climate.

In the Soviet Union, leader Joseph Stalin (Adrian McLoughlin) rules with an iron hand. However, in 1953, he collapses and dies.

This sets off a massive power struggle, one that doesn’t go smoothly. A mix of competitors vie to take over as Soviet premier, and this battle threatens to leave the realm without real structure.

Going into Death, I had heard that it acts as a commentary on life with Trump – which it does, to a certain degree. However, don’t expect the film to provide direct, obvious correlation.

Instead, Death uses the age of Trump more as an undercurrent to show the fissures that form in government when the truth can’t be trusted. Allegiances and “facts” change rapidly, all intended to suit the power structure, a concept that seems frighteningly real in the US circa 2018.

Overall, though, Death functions more as a dark political satire – very dark, in this case. Director/co-writer Armando Iannucci comes from HBO’s Veep and maintains some of that series’ feel for glib mockery, but Death takes on a much more violent tone.

Which makes sense given the context. Whatever sins may occur under US presidents, nothing compares to the mass brutality under Stalin, and Death ensures we sense the off-handed cruelty that pervaded that era.

Iannucci starts the film in a broadly comedic manner that smacks of Monty Python, but the tale gets grimmer as it goes. Not that it lacks evil from the beginning, as we see examples such as the casual determination of killings early in the movie, but the stakes grow even higher along the way and the humor feels less snarky.

In this way, Death reminds me a lot of 1985’s Brazil. Both focus on bureaucracies and the ways they lean toward dehumanization, and both go down uglier paths as they proceed. Is it a coincidence that Michael Palin shows up in both? Probably not.

While not as good as Brazil, Death nonetheless does well for itself. It maintains enough humor to make its point but it doesn’t milk the cruelty for inappropriate laughs. This winds up as effective – and depressing – political satire.

The DVD Grades: Picture C+/ Audio B-/ Bonus C-

The Death of Stalin appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The picture never excelled, but it was acceptable for SD-DVD.

Sharpness was usually fine. Wider shots tended to be a bit soft, but those instances weren’t extreme, and much of the flick offered decent to good clarity.

Shimmering and jaggies were minor and edge haloes seemed non-problematic. Print flaws were non-existent, as I detected no specks, marks or other blemishes.

The film’s palette opted for a clear amber tint, with some teal as well. Within that design range, the colors seemed passable if bland.

Blacks tended to be somewhat inky, but shadows showed reasonable smoothness. Nothing here did much to impress, but this was a watchable presentation.

Don’t expect fireworks from the film’s Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, as we got a mix heavy on dialogue. Outside of a few scenes that featured violent elements, speech dominated.

Effects remained minimal and didn’t add much to the production. Music worked better and used the speakers well.

Audio quality was positive. Speech seemed natural and concise, and the score demonstrated pretty good clarity.

Effects did little to tax my system but they were clear and accurate enough. Overall, this ended up as a passable mix.

In terms of extras, we get a featurette called Dictators, Murderers and Comrades… Oh My! that runs 11 minutes, five seconds. It includes comments from writer David Schneider, writer/director Armando Iannucci, and actors Steve Buscemi, Simon Russell Beale, Paul Chahidi, Paul Whitehouse, Dermot Crowley, Michael Palin, Olga Kurylenko, Andrea Riseborough and Jason Isaacs.

“Comrades” looks at story and characters, cast and performances, the film’s tone and Iannucci’s impact. We get a few decent tidbits but not a lot of substance emerges here.

36 Deleted Scenes fill 11 minutes, four seconds. As one can infer from the fact the average running time clocks in under 18 seconds, these tend toward brief snippets.

A couple of longer segments emerge, but almost all of them simply provide added lines of humorous dialogue. Though they’re entertaining to see, few would add much to the film.

Dark and incisive, The Death of Stalin provides a biting political satire. Though set 65 years ago, it maintains a sharp connection to modern events and becomes a vivid black comedy. The DVD offers mediocre picture and audio with minor supplements. While this turns into a lackluster release, the movie comes with a kick.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4 Stars Number of Votes: 2
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