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Russkiy kovcheg (2002)
Ark de Triomphe
Russian Ark is Aleksandr Sokurov's homage to the Russian State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg. The film is renowned for being the first feature length narrative film to be shot in one take, and from start to finish Sokurov glides us through 33 different stately rooms as we encounter historical figures from the last 200+ years.
The viewer is accompanied on this waltz, (or perhaps more fittingly, this mazurka for its lively East European tempo) by a 19th Century French Aristocrat who acts as both guide and critic of Tsarist Russia. The pacing of the movie and snippets of information divulged mean you don't have to be a Russian scholar to appreciate the film.
In one sense, the film is a triumph. Sokurov has created a very stylised, interesting and enjoyable movie in one single fluid take, and watching the film you understand what an achievement this is. The direction is visually hypnotising and the co-ordination of the cast and crew mesmerising. But, Sokurov seems to have delivered Cinema as Art rather than Cinema as Entertainment, and i couldn't help feel constantly reminded that i was merely a viewer rather than a participant in this film, perhaps a Russian coldness that made it difficult to become involved and engrossed in the film. Sokurov has certainly achieved something by shooting a film in one take, but, like a book with no punctuation the effect can be quite tiring and you find yourself trying to create commas and full-stops just to give yourself chance to breathe
JCVD shows his acting muscles
2008 what a strange year...Global meltdown, Castro steps down, Obama steps up and the man from Brussels finally shows his acting muscles. The Oscar's might have been as predictable as Robert Mugabe being re-elected in Zimbabwe but who would have guessed the Karate Kid from the Lowlands would have starred in one of the best movies of the late Noughties. JCVD, as you probably guessed, stars Jean-Claude Van Damme as Jean- Claude Van Damme. This isn't a documentary, this is a Kaufman-esquire story (Charlie rather than Andy) of a washed-up actor making the same tired movies that he was making 20 years ago, battling custody, growing tax problems and in need of credibility. The Muscles returns to his homeland, a national hero, in need of redemption, but more importantly in need of cash. What starts as a simple wire transfer at a Post Office evolves into a hostage situation on a dog-day afternoon in sleepy Belgium. 10 years ago this would have been the shortest Van Damme film ever made, 4 round-house kicks and the movie is over, but, sadly that was then. These days Jean-Claude is the suspect not the victim. The director Mabrouk El Mechri weaves the tale from one perspective to the next until we finally reach the truth and some non truths. The direction is quite neatly done and the soundtrack is OK, but what stands out is Van Damme. He is no longer playing a John Rambo-style hero, this is an Obama-era hero - self deprecating, comical and accepting responsibility for mistakes he has made and crimes he has not even committed. The film feels refreshing, the end of the 2000s has seen change. Who would have imagined Mickey Rourke would have regained credibility, Heath Ledger would have died and JCVD would finally become respectable. So what next for JCVD... Broadway? the West End? No! In fact its Universal Soldier III co-starring Dolph Lundgren. It looks like some things just never change.
First Blood (1982)
High Noon for the Reagan Era
To his Mum he's John, to his Dad simply J, but to the rest of us, this one man fighting machine is known only as... Rambo. Based on David Morrell's Novel, and directed by Ted Kotcheff, First Blood sees Rambo back from Vietnam and searching; searching for answers. Rambo has become a vagabond, a Green Beret in a country that doesn't care and doesn't want him there.
First Blood is Kotcheff's Reaganite response to High Noon, just as Rio Bravo was for Howard Hawks, only this time we have moved forward 30 years and small town America isn't like it use to be. Brian Dennehy stars as the Sheriff Will Teasle, hell bent on keeping the peace, being Gary Cooper. But this is post Vietnam, Reagan era film making, the establishment can no longer be Gary Cooper, the Establishment turned into Lee Van Cleef. Rambo is the one man army, he doesn't want to kill, he doesn't want to be pushed around, he just wants to eat. But the Sheriff and his establishment soon find out what happens when you stop a wild animal from eating and this is where Rambo replaces small town America for Small town Vietnam. After some one-sided scuffles we realise the Establishment can't handle the starving beast, the beast who seeks peace. So an unwanted visitor arrives, promises to help, knows Rambo inside out, taught him everything he knows, can put the beast back on the straight -and-narrow, in comes Colonel Samuel Trautman; but in classic fashion they don't want to listen to Uncle Sam, small town Vietnam can handle their own problems and small town Vietnam want to handle their own problems. The small town forgot it was Uncle Sam who created Rambo and its Uncle Sam who must stop Rambo.
First Blood is action, it's gung ho, it's sentimental and at times it's absurd but it is Rambo at his best. Before Afghanistan and Burma, before the pen was truly replaced by the sword and Rambo became invincible, First Blood is a great tonic to these heady times. Sit back, enjoy and watch Uncle Sam control his beast.