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Piraty XX veka (1980)
A far superior groin-kicking film than Home Alone
The Pirates of the XX Century is a romantic action-adventure thriller, which explores eternal themes of naval folklore: kung-fu and male bonding. According to many film critics of the time, it was the first but sadly not the last attempt of Soviet movie makers to convincingly portray complex philosophical dilemmas associated with kicking other human beings into the facial and reproductive areas. It does however manage to rate far above similarly themed American masterpieces, such as Rambo, Delta Force and Home Alone. The plot of the film focuses on a Soviet merchant marine vessel, which is attempting for the purposes of world peace to transport a cargo of narcotics into the Motherland. It is implied that the drugs are to be used by the Soviet government for noble and humane causes, such as perhaps to keep dissident scientists in prison "clinics" on their best behavior. However complications soon arise. This happens to the great surprise of Soviet viewers, who were fully expecting the vessel to complete its journey safely and uneventfully and end the film with a rousing speech at the local Party committee in the port of their destination. It is not to be so. The vessel is attacked by capitalist bandits who appear to have skills in forbidden and inhumane "karate" fighting and have facial features similar to those of the natives of Tajikistan. The Soviet audience is left to guess about what these "pirates" goals might be. They may or may not have something to do with the narcotics. This, however, becomes completely secondary when the vessel's radioman is dispatched by means of an axe, providing for a full-year's worth of arguments among Soviet schoolchildren on whether the actor was actually killed in that scene. (Red liquid was clearly visible in the shot, covering the unfortunate radio specialist's face.) The conflict of two completely different social systems and schools of judo follows. For some, completely unexplained, reason this happens near an island whose entire population consists solely of photogenic women of vaguely Uzbek appearance. As the suspiciously Tajik-looking "pirates" seize the vessel, a series of talks between them and the crew commences, though the purposes of this lengthy exchange are never quite clear. Apparently, the Soviet captain is trying to either appeal to the "pirates" better nature or to blackmail them with something. The Uzbek women, meanwhile, tell the crew the sad story of their occupation and enslavement by the "pirates". The crew listens in between short and purposeless skirmishes with the enemy, as more high kicks and grunts are displayed to the overwhelmed viewers. Eventually, perhaps growing tired of the strange script, the Soviet captain tries to escape, leaving the vessel and its precious cargo in the capitalist hands. This does not end successfully however as the "pirates" chase the crew's lifeboat down. Seeing that all the possible options have been exhausted, the captain decides on the last desperate measure: he orders a curly-haired engineer named Seryozha to take off his shirt and beat everyone up. Which Seryozha, right after chastely kissing a bespectacled female accountant on the cheek, duly does, utilizing the best of the Soviet SAMBO combat technique. Unsurprisingly, it also involves a fair amount of kicking. As all the "pirates" are lying around dying of shame, the film concludes with a happy ending. Except for the Uzbek women, whose fate remains a mystery. The moral however is quite clear: do not trust the evil Tajiks.
Odinochnoye plavanye (1985)
This is not Russian "Rambo". "Rambo" is American "Odinochnoye Plavanye"
This film should be required viewing for the members of that super secret American Guild Of Bad Action Moviemaking Involving Evil Russians as a lesson on how bad action movies should be made. Solo Voyage, although understanadbly lacking in special effects and high-budget eye candy (the shapely Veronika Izotova as Caroline Harrison doesn't count, as she clearly wasn't high-budget), puts to shame the high-priced American garbage like Rambo, Iron Eagle, the Delta Force and other psuedo-patriotic military nonsense. This Russian pseudo-patriotic military nonsense is, indeed, the best film in its rather forgiving genre that I have seen in many, many years. Of course, the main quality of this film is its gorgeous, amazingly convincing portrayal of Americans. To fully understand how well Solo Voyage portrays US citizens one must view all those innumerable American films with The Stereotypical Evil/Good (cirlce the correct answer) Russian Character. If you know ANYTHING about Russians (not from the movies!), please do watch Rambo and its ilk before you see the Solo Voyage. The "typical" Russian military man, according to an American film, will be between the ages of 31 and 58, bald (or sporting a crew-cut), moustachioed (or sporting a wild Czar Nicholas-style beard), constantly drinking gallons of vodka and answering to that common Russian name of Alexander Streptokokkoff, Alexei Carbohydratski or Gregor Samsa (with apologies to the Ivan Drago/Danko clan of the Siberian wilderness). I won't even mention his accent (he will have an accent, since for the convenience of the American viewing public he must speak English), which boils down to rolling his R's in a way that would make a drunken Mexican green with envy. Now look at the Americans from the Solo Voyage. I challenge you to find any flaw in them, other than bad acting, of course. Their English is perfect, their manners are genuine, their names are typical (Harrison, Robinson, Crowder), their clothes are correct (down to the University of Iowa Hawkeyes logo on a baseball cap), their evilness is believable. So believable in fact, it makes me want to pick up an AK-47 and defend the world from imperialists right now! At first I thought that the director was able to cast some American or English actors, but I was amazed to find out that all the American characters were played by Russians and Lithuanians. Actually, the least believable characters in this movie, as ironic as it is, are the Russian soldiers, mostly due to the wooden performance by the cast. Now, I strongly suspect that there are many more Russians in America than there are Americans in Russia. This is why it's so hard to understand why this 1985 Soviet film portrays Americans so accurately, while its US counterparts could never come up with a Russian character more realistic that a Superman-comic villain.
D'Artanyan i tri mushketyora (1979)
Not great, but I am still looking for a better musketeer movie
I am not a huge fan of musical comedies, musical action films or musical romances, and this movie is all of it in one. One should expect the characters to break into a song at any time during the movie as it is basically a filmed operette, loosely wrapped around the famous novel by Alexandre Dumas. Think 'The King and I' in Russian. Nothing unusual, however, for many Russian movies of the time. Songs were probably the only and the best sound effect available to Soviet directors back then.
However, in this particular movie everything fits in pretty nicely. Boyarsky's good looks (I dare anyone to find a better D'Artagnan in any film), Tabakov's silliness as Louis XIII, even Terekhova's acting as Milady. Credit is due to Yungvald-Khilkevich for putting it all together. The songs, written just for the movie, fit perfectly into the plot, and have become Russian classics, instantly recognized by anyone even now, 20 years later (pun intended).
The action sequences are quite good, the cinematography is beautiful, Porthos is lovable, Constance is a knockout. What else do you want from a musketeer movie?
A Russian classic
The film is based on the diaries of Commissioner Furmanov, Chapayev's right-hand man and one of the heroes of the film. It tells the story of Vassiliy Ivanovich Chapayev, a Red Army hero during the Russian Civil War (1918-1922). The illiterate chief of a gang of marauding cavalry men is portrayed as a noble protector of the common folk and a brave soldier, a menace to the evil White Army. Interestingly enough, this 1930s war epic is mostly famous not for its Communist propaganda (nothing else can really be expected from Soviet movies of that period) or its realistic portrayal of the Civil War battles, but for a countless number of jokes and anecdotes about the movie heroes. In that sense Chapayev has become a huge part of the Russian street folklore and one of the most famous Soviet movies ever made. Vassiliy Ivanovich, Petka, Anka (the last two's romance is an interesting subplot in the film) and even the stoic Furmanov are laughed at by millions and millions of Russians for God knows how long now. As for the movie itself, it is far from a comedy although there are some light-hearted moments, mainly dealing with Chapayev's illiteracy and Petka's flirt with Anka. It may not be 100% true to history or to Furmanov's accounts (for example, the real-life Petka died a much more gruesome death than his movie counterpart) but it is an interesting look at the Civil War and one of its most legendary figures.
Just plain silly
So, the Russians sent a woman as part of their special force? GOOD ONE! This had me down on the floor laughing. Obviously, the lead character needed some prize for his troubles and it couldn't just be some Arabic village girl, so I understand. But it's just TOO funny! The rest of this movie is so easily forgettable, it's not worth discussing.
Red Heat (1988)
The only thing that is worth than a Stereotypical Hollywood Bad Russian is a Stereotypical Hollywood Good Russian, in my eyes. Now, why couldn't Arnold be a good Austrian cop on a manhunt for one of those evil Austrian or Bavarian mafioso? That, at least, would've been so much more believable. I mean the guy looks as much like a Russian cop as... Geez, I don't know... I guess, as much as Dolph Lundgren a Russian boxer. Maybe it works for silly American action fans who are ready to believe that anything big and with a vaguely European accent could be classified as a tough russki, bringing the message of Perestroika and cooperation to his American comrades. Baloney! Damn, at least they shouldn't have made Arnie try to speak Russian. The guy has enough trouble learning English, for crying out loud! And what is up with him coming to America wearing a full militia uniform, like he is on a Militia Day parade on the Red Square? And what is up with a militia man coming to America at all, even to hunt down a drug lord? Aren't such things usually done by KGB agents? And what is up with all the "russki" stereotypes? It is truly one of the stupidest pieces of garbage I've ever seen, right next to Rambo III and Delta Force 3.
Rambo III (1988)
Forget the action, this just plain stinks
I think that if one sets out to do an action movie, just an action movie and nothing else, one must not stick his uneducated nose into politics, racial relations, foreign affairs or anything else that requires half a brain.
If Stallone fought crazy aliens on a far away planet or, say, very very bad and cartoonish villains (Joker, maybe, or Cat Woman, or something), this could be called just an action movie. But enter the evil, evil Russians with inhuman faces, bear-like physique and complete military incompetence (letting themselves being defeated by one, relatively unintellegent human being) and this turns into a propaganda film worthy of Nazi Germany. I don't want to discuss this piece of garbage any further, except for asking one question: If the Russians could so easily be defeated by one John Rambo (the entire blasted army, all of them, right down to private Pupkin, leutenant Popkin and major Ivanenko), why did Jimmy Carter boycott the Olympics?
Rocky IV (1985)
Now, let's see if I got this right...
Ok... So... The Russians in the mid-80s have suddenly discovered professional boxing! Wonderful! They didn't just discover it, mind you, they've also become quite crazy about it, willing to train an inhuman man-machine to become the world champion and to cheer for it wildly. Terrific! And then the members of Politburo (ALL OF THEM) go to watch a professional boxing match between their beloved machine and an American hero. Absolutely fantastic! Now, what planet is the movie set on again?
Brilliantovaya ruka (1969)
non-Russians need not bother
This movie was never intended for foreign audiences. It is simply way too Russian (or too Soviet, actually) to be funny for anyone not familiar with the realities of local life. Most of the real comedy comes from Mironov and Papanov, who play hilarious villains on the track to recover stolen jewels, mistakenly put into Nikulin's arm cast. Russian-speaking audiences will enjoy Papanov's one-of-a-kind "Ukrainian" accent, but the jokes are too ethnic for anyone else to understand. Nikulin (a circus clown turned great comic actor) isn't particularly believable in an unfamiliar role of a good guy (his characters usually also were drunken and hilarious crooks), but turns in an adequate performance. Mironov is at his usual fast-talking, silly self, and Papanov is a riot. Mordyukova steals several scenes in a small role of a house superintendant, a towering woman with a thunderous voice. Overall, a terrific Soviet comedy, the kind they simply don't make anymore.
Silly but enjoyable
Not the best of Gaidai's creations, but still pretty good. Demyanenko was never much of an actor but he has exactly the kind of goodhearted-idiot look about himself to make his Shurik one of the favorite characters in Russian cinematography. Nikulin, Morgunov and Vitsin are back as the Keystone Kops-like trio of bumbling villains and they are quite funny, as always. Secondary characters of this musical comedy set in the Caucasus mountains are the exotic and colorful locals who are hysterical with their offbeat drinking toasts and fancy manner of speech. Once again, non-Russians won't get most of the ethnic humor (which is the best part of the movie - those toasts have become real classics), but the rest is just slapstick comedy, quite old by now, but I guess it was OK for the 60's. Very good music, especially Nina's "Polar Bears" song.