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War (2002)
Worse than I expected from Balabanov
30 June 2011
Warning: Spoilers
I like some Balabanov's movies (Брат, Мне не больно). Can't bring myself to watch others (Брат 2). This one is somewhere in the middle. I like the depiction of life in the mountains. Small things, like Chechen kids always kicking passing prisoners, double-talk of Russian military officials, etc, made more impression on me than the main story line, which, I admit, I cannot buy. Come on: a geeky Russian private turning commando overnight? Seriously? Assuming this is no "Rambo", where everything goes, the expectation is that it has to be somewhat realistic, right? Then someone please explain to me, why Captain Medvedev did not make a call for air support immediately after the attack? How come nobody got hurt during the river escape (and I would not get into the whole premise of the river escape)? Depicting a Chechen commander, who does not understand that there is a difference in exchange rate between US Dollars and GB Pounds reminded me of the old Soviet war movies always depicting German soldiers with moronic expressions on their faces. What was the point of Margaret and Captain Medvedev's liaison? Acting (with exception of Ian Kelly, whom I just wanted to smack) is mostly good. Good camera work and soundtrack. Can't think of any woman who would like this movie, but some guys may.
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Marion Cotillard should've shared her Oscar with Nicole Sullivan
18 December 2008
luvcraft wrote:

"Marion Cotillard [...] portrays Piaf in her 20s as a goofy, over-the-top caricature strongly reminiscent of Nicole Sullivan's "Antonia" character from MadTV."

This is so true. I did not finish watching the movie because I simply could not stand Marion Cotillard's performance. And indeed, I had a feeling like I was looking at a MadTV character. I was interested in learning what Piaf did during the Nazi occupation, but I could not continue this torture (and based on the comments I read, I did not miss much). Why or why did Marion Cotillard get an Oscar?
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Genuine fake
7 April 2008
I got interested in this movie after watching Oscar nominations, getting recommendations from friends, and listening to an NPR interview with Viggo Mortensen. Well, the interview was much more interesting that this parody of a movie. I struggled through the first 30-40 minutes, and then could not bring myself to watching it to the end, so whatever I say here is based only on the first part.

The only good thing I can say: I liked Naomi Watt's performance; it seemed genuine. Everything else was so fake: fake villains (Russian, Turkish), fake accents, fake story... I mean this was a cartoonish performance. I guess it's what Western people assume Russian gangsters should look like, and the majority of Western viewers will probably buy this crap. Being Russian, I don't. No way. I understand that actors are not Russian, so it's a challenge, but some similar movies (OK, very few movies) manage to address the authenticity part much better (e.g. "Little Odessa" seemed more genuine to me). Viggo Mortensen does not look like Russian. He may be a good actor, but he cannot play a Russian (OK, his Russian is not the worst, but it's far from genuine). BTW, were Mashkov already booked? What about Mironov? Could Cronenberg give Menshikov a call?

Anyway, if you are familiar with Russian culture and value authenticity in movies, you will probably be disappointed; otherwise, give it a try: a lot of people seem to like it.
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Once (I) (2007)
My kind of musical
14 March 2008
Warning: Spoilers
There are many reasons for me not to like this film. I hate musicals, and while this is not a musical (in a strict sense), music plays a very important role in it. I do not care for Glen Hansard's singing voice; Markéta Irglová is OK, though. I have the impression that the whole movie was shot using a steadicam (many shoots made me feel like I was watching a documentary), and you can see that this is a really low-budget film.

After watching the first scene, I thought that I would probably not finish the movie, but the longer I watched it, the more I was drawn to the characters and the story. With the exception of continuous repetition of the "F" word, it is very innocent. Music is great (if you like this kind of music). Characters are very real (it's like you watch them living, not acting). Absolutely no clichés. I enjoyed subtleness of the movie and performances of other characters: the Girl's mom, the young guys who come to her flat to watch TV, the guy from the recording studio.

A few scenes almost made me cry: the one when Guy takes Girl for a bike ride and asks if she loves her husband (although, I do not speak Czech, I understood the answer), the other when Girl could't finish the song, and there were more. Very emotional. I'm surprised how much I care about the characters, even though I don't even know their names. After watching the movie for the first time, I replayed a few scenes (the one in which Girl sing "If you want me (satisfy me)" and the first performance in In the recording studio), something I normally do not do.

I suspect that this is not a movie for everyone. If you are more into special effects, typical Hollywood production, action movies, Star Wars, etc, I suspect you will not like it (and I may be wrong here), but if you like real stories, real people, good music, you may enjoy it.
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Piter FM (2006)
Easy to watch
19 July 2006
This is a very light-hearted movie. The plot and characters are rather predictable, but it leaves a good impression, at least it did for me. For some reason, probably because of the camera work and the story, I had an impression that I was watching a Russian version of "Amelie". I think I enjoyed the beautiful St. Petersburg's scenery and minor characters (like Vladimir Mashkov playing a strange man in a one-minute episode) than the main story. Some small episodes are quite funny. For example, a policeman stops than main hero (Maxim) to check documents and asks among other things: "Firearms? Illegal drugs?" "No, thanks," Maxim replies. This movie shows a different Russia from what you may be used to. Good movie to watch with a date.
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The Cuckoo (2002)
Unimpressive movie
6 January 2005
I am not sure why this movie received such a high praise. I was watching the film in Russian; the dubbed translation was awful (sounded very much like a cheap Brazilian soap opera) which could've made it worse than it is. I did not like acting. Well, the Finnish actors (main characters) were OK, but the Russian crew (soldiers, officers, main character) acted as if they were playing in a poorly directed high-school drama (maybe it is just an impression of a native Russian speaker). I am not a fan of action movies, but the pace of this one was too slow for me; given that I enjoyed such flicks as "The Winged Migration" and "In the Bedroom", this must tell something. The premise of the story is interesting: three people who do not understand each other's languages (and two of which are from the opposing armed forces) try to communicate with each other, but the dynamics of their interaction is so shallow. There is no character development. Some dialogs (monologues?) were funny, though, and the way the Russian character was addressed as Psholty (which loosely translates into "get lost") was hilarious, but other than that the movie was rather dreadful. What was the purpose of combining reality with folklore (Anne trying to bring the Finnish guy back to life)? Whatever the reason was, the episode was way too long. The scenery was beautiful, but other than that I was utterly disappointed.
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The Quickie (2001)
Bad story badly told
11 April 2003
I wanted to see this movie because I liked "Kavkazskij Plennik" ("Prisoner of the Mountains") and "Brat" ("Brother") with Sergey Bodrov, Jr. and "Vor" ("The Thief") with Vladimir Mashkov. Well, unlike the other movies, "The Quickie" was a total waste of time. The story that makes little sense, very uneven acting (Lesley Ann Warren was especially bad), really awful dialogs, poor cinematography, what else could go wrong? I find it amusing that in practically every American-made movie, when the same-language-speaking foreigners (Russians in this case) are left alone, they prefer to communicate with each other mostly in broken English (and when they happen to speak Russian, for some reason translators feel obligated to add a lot of "f**ks" in the sentences, which have no profanity, literal or non-literal). At the same time, native-English-speaking actors choose to speak in broken Russian. Why is that? Getting back to the story, most of the subplots of the movie (e.g. betting the house, inviting Latin American paramilitaries, etc) either make no sense or do nothing more than confusing the viewers. It is too bad that Bodrov, Mashkov, and Leigh (all good actors in my humble opinion) got themselves involved in this disaster.
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Living It Up (2000)
Waste of time
13 January 2003
Warning: Spoilers
Spoilers The first scenes of the movie look very promising: interesting situation, good character, cinematography... Up until the main character (Martin) is about to jump from the bridge. The rest of the movie is an insult to intelligence.

First of all, why would the Mafia give Martin $1 M (or whatever amount it was) in the first place? How did they expect him to pay back $1.5 M? What kind of agreement was it? Yes, I know that if he wouldn't pay they would have to kill him, but how did they expect him to pay? Do they just give away money to every stranger? This would be the stupidest (if there is such word) Mafia in the world. OK, since he didn't pay (anyone surprised?), why didn't they kill him immediately? Why didn't they go after Salva, since he introduced Martin to them? Why did Martin start asking for time extension? Was he really hoping to make this amount of money? Why do all characters behave so irrationally and make the worst possible choices? Why are all rich guys shown as perverts? Why does Salma Hayek behave like a brat in the beginning? I can go on, an on, and on. It just does not make sense. I was so irritated by this movie that I stopped the tape after watching for about an hour. I don't even care about the characters and the rest of the story.

3 out of 10.
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One of my favorites
6 January 2003
I watched this movie several times with a few of my friends (both Russian/Ukrainian and English-speaking), and almost everybody liked it. Every time I watch this film, it leaves a good (although, a bit sad) impression.

I think that the story is interesting. Maybe not very original, but not beaten to death either. When I watched it for the first time, I was mostly interested in what would happen to the characters, after which I concentrated more on details. I think that most actors were very good: it's like you watch people living, not acting. Dialogs were funny, although English translation did not do them justice (on the other hand, certain things you simply cannot translate: they only make sense in the cultural context).

While most characters in the movie are pretty much pathetic (and/or miserable), they are somehow likeable. Even Dima, who seems to never get bothered by any moral imperatives, shows a human side (e.g. when he lets a poor old lady not to pay the full price for whatever she was buying).

I also liked the sound, editing, just about everything that made this film. Unless you are a dedicated soap opera or professional wrestling fan, you may find it a treat, too. 9 out of 10.

P.S. It is surprising, but this movie is not well known in either Russia or Ukraine.
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The Terrorist (1998)
Noble cause, bad movie
26 December 2002
I am surprised that so many viewers liked this movie. Let me make myself clear: I find the subject matter very interesting. Trying to understand why people (especially, young people, and even more so young girls) become terrorists (or freedom fighters; the terminology is heavily dependent on your alliances) is quite noble. So I was really eager to see the movie, but unfortunately was disappointed beyond the normal expectations. What was good about it? Well, the actors were not too bad (especially, given the fact that they were mostly non-professionals). That's about it. What was bad? Let's start with the premise: a girl (freedom fighter/terrorist) becomes impregnated by a wounded "brother in arms" while they find themselves hiding from the government troops in a ditch (and the latter are still raiding the area, might I add). Are you kidding me? I admit, I've never been shot in a battle, so I cannot tell what a person would normally do under these circumstances, but my wild guess is that having sex with a comrade (while the enemy soldiers are searching around) would not be the first item on the list. Well, may be I am wrong here... Next, who was in charge of the soundtrack (and sound in general)? This was probably the worst movie sound, I've ever heard: the same bad composition played on a cheap synthesizer over and over, so by the middle of the movie, you have an urge to turn the sound off and just read the subtitles. Who was the director? Almost every scene (with exception of the scenes involving the old man, his goofy friend, and the paralyzed wife) looked exceptionally fake: fights, killings, pull-ups, etc. Anyways, this could've been a decent unprofessional movie, but for a professional motion picture (especially, given the amount of positive coverage), it falls quite short.
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Orphans (1998)
It may be dark, but not a comedy
6 December 2002
I read a few positive comments about this movie, so I decided to watch it. Since I really liked Peter Mullan in "My Name Is Joe", I expected "Orphans" to follow the same tradition, but after watching it for 40 minutes or so I was really disappointed, so I finally lost any interest and stopped the tape. I guess different people have different perceptions of humor, but if you - like me - are hoping for something in the mood of "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" or, in the worst case, "London Kills Me", do not waste your time: you will not find anything funny (unless you get amused by listenning to every single character repeating "f***ing" every other word). The only good comment I could make would be about the actors, but even they did not save this uninteresting film.
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