“Her personal life was intertwined with the Bolshevik revolution,” intones the narrator of this no-frills doc on Nadezhda Alliluyev, who was 16 when she married the 39-year-old future despot in 1919. Best known for 1982’s cult classic Liquid Sky, Slava Tsukerman combines archival footage, interviews with scholars and relatives, and plummy voice-over to dutifully recap the short life of his subject.
Nadezhda met her husband-to-be as a child when her revolutionary father offered Stalin refuge upon his escape from prison in 1908; a few years later Nadezhda’s mother had an affair with Stalin—described by one descendant as “a ladies’ man.” The teenage bride, who had been Lenin’s favorite stenographer, would spend her remaining years producing two children and watching her spouse transform into (in the words of one family friend) “a humanlike beast.” Talking heads provide contradictory evidence as to whether Nadezhda killed herself or was murdered (perhaps by Stalin himself) in 1932. Others take the notion that the personal is political to the extreme: “Perhaps if another woman, with less spiritual demands, had been close to Stalin, things would have been different,” suggests the dictator’s grandson, referring to the barbarity that would ravage the Soviet Union. Yet Tsukerman is not interested in disproving or discounting theories, but merely assembling them. MELISSA ANDERSON
Directed by Jeff Byrd
New Line, in release
It’s almost inconceivable that the irony of King’s Ransom‘s tagline—”Big Man, Big Plan, Big Mistake”—has escaped those responsible for this radically offensive assemblage of vile stereotypes, puerile humor, and Jay Mohr. Then again, little in this film suggests “director” Jeff Byrd and writer Wayne Conley possess any facility—or familiarity—with irony or any other comedic device. The lightest fare offered by this prototype for heavy-handed hackwork are the buoyant breasts and buttocks Byrd so expertly frames whenever his audience grows tired of giving Anthony Anderson its rapt attention. Which is often.
Anderson—shockingly funny in ancillary roles in Harold & Kumar . . . and Me, Myself & Irene—has chosen the wrong project as a star vehicle, here playing a wealthy, egotistical businessman seeking to save his fortune from his gold-digging, soon-to-be-ex-wife’s grasp by planning his own kidnapping. He underwhelms expectations at nearly every opportunity, resorting to clumsy physicality when shrill bellowing fails to work. Charlie Murphy’s hilarious gay gangsta, relegated to the filmic down low, provides a modicum of depth in an otherwise supremely shallow effort. PETER L’OFFICIAL