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hte-trasme

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385 reviews in total 
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Chapayev (1934)
Was it revolutionary?, 2 May 2014
6/10

In the Soviet Union in 1934, this was a film about a popular war hero from a war that took place fewer than twenty years before. So I admit that, watching it in another country 2014 there may be quite a lot of context I'm missing. This is not a life of Chapev, whom everyone is presumed to know well, but a series of episodes from his career.

They are not all uninteresting or dull episodes, but the fact that it is so episodic rather than following a more complete story worked against it with me in this case.

It's inescapably hero-worship, and, commendably given that it is hero- worship, it does not try to portray its hero as immaculate. Chapaev is proud, short-tempered, and ignorant of politics and history. But this played against his advantages only serves to make him more of a hero.

It easy to see why this film became very popular -- it's good-humored, politically-correct for its political context, and appeals to existing conceptions of a popular hero. The battle scenes are staged on a big scale and are very impressive (though the ending seems quite abrupt). Taken out of its immediate context, though, it doesn't stand alone as well as a self-contained film for other audiences. But it remains a fascinating piece of history.

Seems to go quicker than a marathon, 30 April 2014
8/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Not long ago I enjoyed Afonya, a previous film by director Georgiy Daneliya, and I couldn't help but notice that Autumn Marathon works by performing a similar trick in a very different way: it takes for its main character a man who should be considered quite bad by all measures of reason, but makes us like him, and sympathize with him for the situations he's clearly responsible for getting himself into.

But here it's not from indifferent charm that we feel for him, but as a embodiment of a very human quality of wanting to satisfy those who ask things of us. He's having an affair, and can make neither his wife nor his lover happy because he wants to please them both -- but that's only a part of a nonstop torment he causes himself including taking on translation work he doesn't have time for to help his boss, then not finishing it because he was helping a colleague, who end up taking his commissions. It's a fine tragic flaw in that it's easy for anyone to find some sympathy even if they are not personally a two-timer.

The titles call it a "sad comedy," and that's an appropriate phrase -- it borrows the structure and design of a comedy without having to worry about being funny every moment. So it satisfies in many of the same ways and, with a cast of good supporting characters, often is quite funny.

The well-orchestrated ending is great, and almost existential -- and appropriately simultaneously the funniest and saddest part.

Quite temping, 28 April 2014
8/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I haven't yet read the book that this was based on, but I quite liked the confidently eccentric and thoughtful film that it spawned. It takes a fantastical concept - of a group of immortals forced to forcefully consider admitting another when he finds out about them, and lets it unravel itself in a thought-provoking, involving fashion with strong acting all around.

It's interesting that the title refers to a temptation, since the band of immortals mainly starts by threatening and bullying our hero into joining them, which only results in stubborn resistance. He's not so much tempted with immortality as told he'll be murdered if he doesn't take it. By the time the result to temping him -- with a chance at literary greatness or simply with sex, they have already lost him and shown that, though immortal, they are also quite powerless -- and thus wield less less and less power over him.

Though our protagonist is named, it's appropriate that he should be B in the title, allowing him to act in an every-man capacity -- bewildered and then indignant at the events around him.

In some ways it's a film of two parts, with a prologue that centers around a man (along with the audience) largely trying to straighten out what exactly is going on in the strange events around him. This eventually satisfyingly resolves itself into the long, tense, overnight scene full of well-written dialogue in his apartment as everything is revealed. It's the simplicity of this major parts that allows a focus on character and though amid an out-of-the-ordinary premise.

One quibble I have is with the repeated practice of showing the immortals as if they appear in the costumes of centuries before; this seems unnecessary, and takes us farther from what could have been a nice level of ambiguity about how believable their claims are.

There's a strong implied theme here about humanity -- about how maybe it doesn't really deserve immortality. The main immortal insists he's outlived any kindness he may have had, and his potential new recruit boggles at how these people can live while Pushkin is still dead.

In all quite recommended for those who like like the "new wave science fiction" combination of a fantastical concept with thought-out a view of how it might play out, formidable acting, and strong, theatrical dialogue. It's inspired me to seek out the work of the Strugatsky brother in text form as well, to see how they compare.

Hamlet (1964)
1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Nothing rotten here, 27 April 2014
8/10

Cinematographically, this looks fantastic. That might be the most immediately striking thing about this grand Soviet adaptation of Shakespeare's play. The wide sweeping shots the castle, this cliffs, and and the story sea at this Estonian Elsinore as they are swarmed by medieval courtesans and armies is incredibly impressive. The scenes with the ghost of Old Hamlet may be some of the most simultaneously grand and spooky I have seen.

Though in some senses (such as costuming) a traditional Hamlet, this film, perhaps somewhat by virtue of being an adaptation in translation, has a outsider viewpoint that allows to to take liberties with sequence and setting while maintain a feeling of fealty. And this lends itself to the broad-scoped cinematic feel. We first see Hamlet upon his return to Denamrk, we follow him on the ship and on the way back. What changes there are only help suit the material to them medium of film.

Innokentiy Smoktunovskiy is a very good Hamlet and worth of the role. His baseline is quiet and solemn glumness (even for a Hamlet), which makes it the more impressive and disturbing when in his passion or "madness" he is furious or energetic and glib. He is complimented by a great Claudius and a fascinating performance by Anastasiya Vertinskaya as Ophelia, who makes scenes almost difficult to watch with how earnestly she plays having been driven mad.

The film is blessed to have music by the great composer Dmitri Shostakovich, who demonstrates a subtle and masterful hand with film scoring by writing music that doe snot intrude on the film but greatly enhances that mood and really seems to fit the windswept crags of the setting. The translation is by Boris Pasternak, who from while I can incompletely understand seems to eschew completely literalness for a more terse poetry of his own -- a debatable choice but perhaps best for the purposes of film.

In all certainly a huge achievement that can stand among the best of the many screen versions of Hamlet.

Not deadly, 26 April 2014
5/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This short starts with a very simple premise and uses it to build suspense quickly. An innocent-bystander driver is trapped in a static traffic jam with an armed mafioso. It's a very effective concept since the small, confined space builds tension and urgency (so the mob boss' arbitrary time frame of an hour seems a step away from the reality, and unnecessary).

Probably unnecessary too it the second mafioso, who just becomes inconvenient when we need a reason for the boss to get rid of him for most of the film. There are a lot of little touches that help make it a tense sequence, though, and the confinement gives the opportunity for some good moments of philosophizing between the two unlikely car-mates.

But when the twist comes most of the way through, the just isn't enough running time to contextualize it and make it effective for me. A brief flashback tries to do that, but there's not enough to work with, and the "should-have-seen it-coming" impact just doesn't have time to develop. My the time Maxim's Girl arrives she has almost literally nothing to do, and just highlights this.

Without (presumably, since this seems to have been a film-school piece) the luxury of choosing a longer running time to develop the plot that swoops in, I think the filmmaker should have kept it simpler to avoid such major elements being crammed into the last couple of minutes. But it's still certainly worth a look.

There is space for it, 25 April 2014
7/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

As others have pointed out, there is a strong strain of Cold War space race ideology underlying this Soviet science fiction film but if it's propaganda, it's not thoughtless propaganda (with the possible exception of the trite and extraneous song), and it doesn't interfere.

We have, in fact, a story of heroic space explorers on Venus who only barely find out about their humanoid parallels and never get to meet them, which is somewhat refreshing in itself. And the Soviet version of the solution to the Cold War usually seemed to end with the US conquered ideologically and happy to join the USSR in international brotherhood, which is somewhat more pleasant than US versions which usually had the USSR crushed mightily underfoot. Thus the American on this future expedition.

It's also based on a novel that I haven't had the chance to read by a Soviet science fiction writer who was also well-known as a UFO expert, and he makes sure to include the characters spouting some didactic obscurantism about ancient astronauts to each other, which is a strange diversion.

And it's done with a sense of humor, which is important. The robot John provides some laughs maybe not as might be expected but rather by doing things like playing big band music on Venus for the astronauts and quibbling over whether he has "masters," and the spirit of wit and fun that this film is made with are a big advantage.

It's the absorbing atmosphere that really makes it interesting, though - - there is a great buildup of tension combined with a kind of dry inventive surrealism to the strange things that the explorers run into on Venus which makes it very easy to keep watching. Creating suspense from the precariousness of humans just trying to survive in outer space is a wiser move than the common trap of trying to shock with outlandish aliens.

There's are some very good character moments too, especially in the scene around Masha's indecision about whether to go look for the party (and the actress who plays her is great to watch).

Not a perfect piece by any means, but very interesting and entertaining, and it has many of the hallmarks of excellent science fiction.

Devil's work?, 25 April 2014
6/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I ran across this short Soviet adaptation of an American humorous fantasy short story by Arthur Porges on the Internet and without a lot of context. It seems to have been made by a state studio specializing in scientific educational films, and so, appropriately, it uses this lighthearted tale of a professor challenging the devil to solve Fermat's Last Theorem as much for entertainment as for an opportunity to educate the audience on what exactly Fermat's Last Theorem was.

To that end, we get a didactic little scene added where the professor explains it to the devil, and a bit where he dictates part of a paper about it to his wife (really in order to educate the audience).

Other than that, though, it's a pretty nice adaptation of the source material, ans while there are a few material changes, they are either to make it work better as a film version (we don;t really need to see him sign in blood), or in the spirit of the original. There are a few nice added bits of humor, such as the devil asking if putting him a question like Fermat's Last Theorem is really the ethical thing to do, and "squaring" a number by drawing a box around it. His disappearing out a moving car near the end is a nice visual touch.

Appearance-wise, the devil is given the appearance of a young radical in contrast to the predictably neat professor, with a beard, longish hair, leather jacket, and scarf -- which is an interesting cultural commentary through fashion.

According to Wikipedia, a British mathematician named Andrew Wiles finally published a proof of the theorem in 1995, twenty-three years after this film was made. So it took more than the allotted 24 hours, but someone finally "beat the devil."

Not a great call, 20 April 2014
3/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

A lot of the other reviews here express a lot of hope for the Russian- language version of this film, an English-dubbed version re-edited by Roger Corman not having apparently been very good. Roger Corman did ruin some good things in his time, but in this case I think having watched the Russian-language version that what he had to work with wasn't much good in the first place.

First off, this film definitely has a state-sponsored message to get across. There were many Soviet films that were just there for art and entertainment, and there were message-delivering films that still managed to do it in some style. This is neither. We have here an imagined version of how the space race will go, with friendly, reasonable cooperative Soviets getting spurned by opportunistic, business-minded Americans more concerned with winning than with safety. Eventually the Americans are won over to the Soviet way, and we end with an exhortation to the younger generation to continue the conquest of space.

This is interesting as a historical curio, though, and that's it. The acting is wooden. Some impressive space visuals don't make up for the fact that there is almost no plot to keep events moving across the short running time, and the characters are so flay that they are almost undifferentiated. It's basically a feature-length promo for the Soviet space program, and it's definitely filmed that way.

"Idiot" (2003)
2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Princely achievement, 20 April 2014
9/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The makers of this TV-serial adaption of Dostoevsky's novel really did a fantastic job, and succeeded, I think, in certain ways that are usually beyond the scope of an adaptation in the first place. As a rule, I usually try if I can to see a film adaptation of a work of literature as a separate work of art from its source. Film and writing are very different media, and things will usually work well in one medium that will not in another.

Importantly, a novel is usually read over several sittings, and a film usually can't encapsulate the totality of it in the length of one movie. Here, director Viktor Bortko really takes advantage of the fact that he is working with a ten-part series one one novel and trusts Dostoevsky as much as he can within those confines. I'd read the book more than a year before, and watching this I really felt as if I were experiencing all the absorption and intense emotional scenes of that once again.

Bortko allows himself to "park," so to speak at many key places of the novel and to allow complex passionate scenes to play out, such that nothing ever drags, the viewer is drawn in, and the characters can truly breathe and become real. In other fiction characters are sometimes criticized for being "unrealistic," but in my view part of what made Dostoevsky such a unique genius was the he could create characters who felt absolutely real but -- like, as we are reminded, our own selves -- act in illogical, contradictory, and self-defeating way. Here we have a chance to see that rather than be told it, and the characters to deliver the ecstatic hear-bearing speeches that Dostoevsky was also so prone to with full intensity and impact.

For that to work, of course, he had to have been -- and was -- blessed with an extraordinary cast. That's so down to even the very small roles, and would be too many to mention. But Mironov as the central role of Knyaz Myshkin is almost unspeakably good and if anything carries the production he does, bringing just the right combination of seemingly- contradictory moral forcefulness, spiritual strength, complete innocence, deep confusion, and joy and sadness at life. Lydia Velezheva and Olga Budina are equally but very differently mesmerizing as the two women who tear him apart -- both terribly attracted by but unable to practically deal with his absolutely unheard-of absolute honesty.

While the focus is on characters and scenes, all the stops have clearly been pulled out on historical accuracy (as far as I could see) and all elements of the production look excellent as well, from the costumes to the appropriately grotty or lavish apartments. Bortko's directs wisely, telling a lot visually when it isn't told verbally, such as with the isolation of Myshkin and Nastastya at the concert near the end, or the disturbing pieta of he and Rogozhin even nearer. Just a success on all levels.

Afonya (1975)
1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Plumb full of quality, 6 April 2014
9/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This is the second film I've seen of Daneliya; I sought it out after I saw Kin-Dza-Dza. This film is fantastic too, in very very different ways, but it seems to have a similar sentiment of humorous cynicism covering a serious hope at a center for human kindness. This makes for a tone that's both tragic and comic, and a film that's sincere but not doe-eyed.

As a the one-name title might suggest, this is not a plot-heavy film but a character piece about Afonya, a hero who seems to be making himself into a nobody. He gives the impression of a man doing everything wrong in his life -- demanding apprentices at work only to dismiss them immediately, insulting his boss, leaving a house to flood because he doesn't want to do overtime, causing his girlfriend to leave him by bringing home drunk strangers only to chase women who are uninterested in him and ignore the one who is.

And as he gets everything wrong for himself, he does it in a very funny way. And destructive as his actions may be, they are shown us in a tone perfect to make him seem likable and a bit pitiable rather than despicable. And slowly, with an imperceptible transition, we realize that he's not just getting everything wrong in his life, but that he;s just extremely depressed and indifferent.

Things get as sad as they can for our hero -- as he comes home to the aunt who raised him to find that he she is dead and realizes his own callousness at never writing him -- before they end with one bright glint of home.

Very fine and sensitive writing, acting, and directing to achieve the counterpoint of tone here -- the film is both very funny and very sad, the hero is both terrible and very likable. Very simple in its way but no small achievement.


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