The Death of Stalin (UK/USA, 2017. Dir: Armando Ianucci): Wondering what would be of Armando Ianucci after leaving Veep? Look no further. The brain behind The Thick of It and On the Loop, is back to mercilessly mock a new institution, in this case, the Communist Party leadership and their power squabble following the passing of Comrade Joseph Stalin.
The best positioned to replace the mustached genocidal maniac is Lavrently Beria (Simon Russell Beale), chief of the secret police apparatus. Beria’s callous behavior rubs the rest of the Stalin administration the wrong way and soon a team of rivals targets him, although inner struggles make the task more difficult than it should.
While the plot sounds serious and the body count is considerable, Ianucci’s scalpel-sharp dialogue and some brilliant slapstick makes The Death of Stalin the funniest film of the festival by a mile. Actors not known for generating laughs like Steve Buscemi and Jason Isaacs demonstrate killer comic timing, supported by experts in the field Jeffrey Tambor and Michael Palin. Everything about this movie works, particularly depicting the dictator’s inner circle as a frat house. Hilarious and unsettling. Four dogs. Distribution: Presumably theatrical.
Professor Marston and the Wonder Women (USA, 2017. Dir: Angela Robinson): This is the year of Wonder Woman: Never mind the two DC Comics film with the Amazonian at the forefront, here comes a biopic about her creator and the two women who inspired him.
William and Elizabeth Marston (Luke Evans and Rebecca Hall) are a couple of academics focused on the female mind. Rational to the extreme, their relationship is tested when William becomes infatuated with Olive (Bella Heathcote, The Neon Demon), his teaching assistant. Olive is not your average college student. Her open mind and sweet disposition soon turns her into a component of the Marston family. As they explore the limits of their polyamorous bond, the idea of a powerful woman with superpowers and a taste for bondage begins to take shape.
Professor Marston is an effective feminist film that benefits from strong turns by Evans, Hall and Heathcote. That said, it tends to state the obvious, as everybody feels the need to verbalize their feelings at all times. Regardless, it’s worth your time. Three dogs. Distribution: Opens October 13th.
Pyewacket (Canada, 2017. Dir: Adam MacDonald): Pyewacket is the kind of movie that makes you wonder why would Telefilm support this (shades of the unwatchable Teen Lust). Reportedly a horror flick, Pyewacket is at heart a film student short stretched into 90 minutes. And that’s the least of its problems.
A goth teen who dabbles in witchcraft (Nicole Muñoz, in a less than stellar turn) gets mad at her grieving mother (Laurie Holden, The Walking Dead) and conjures a demon to get her killed. Eventually (and much later than you would think), the daughter-of-the-year comes back to her senses, but undoing the spell may be more difficult than expected.
I don’t know what I found more annoying: The cliché dialogue (teen angst has never been this flat), the across-the-board terrible acting (Laurie Holden excepted, despite her character’s inconsistency), the belief inexplicable sudden noises are scary per se, or the hilariously silly conclusion. Pyewacket is a step back for Backwoods director Adam MacDonald. One dog. Distribution: Presumably theatrical.