2015 marks Frank Sinatra’s 100th birthday. Over on Alcohol Professor, I’ve chosen to commemorate The Chairman of the Board’s centennial with The Chairman, The Poet, and The Dancer, looking at the history of Jilly’s Saloon, the joint Sinatra used as … Continue reading Alcohol Professor: The Chairman, The Poet, and The Dancer
One of the great joys of watching movies from countries and cultures with which I have maybe, at best, a passing familiarity is discovering their language of film — both in their mainstream as well as their fringes. There is … Continue reading Legend of Suram Fortress
The Devil used to have a lot more to do on Christmas Eve than he does these days, having been supplanted more or less in the Christmas time evil business by retail store owners and Black Friday stampedes. There was … Continue reading Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka
Russian author Aleksey Nikolayevich Tolstoy wrote the stories that served as the source material for two of the Soviet Union’s best-known science fiction adventures: the futurist fantasy Aelita, Queen of Mars and the Fantomas-inspired pulp thriller The Hyperboloid of Engineer … Continue reading Mad Science and Martian Maidens
My odyssey through the strange world of Russian fantasy films began in earnest many years ago, when I moved to a prominently Russian and Ukrainian neighborhood and started prowling around the DVD stores of Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. Up until then, I’d caught glimpses of this strange and wonderful looking avenue of cinema in the form of dubbed and edited American versions of the films, where Ilya Muromets became The Sword and the Dragon and Sadko became The Magic Voyage of Sinbad. These movies made regular rounds on broadcast television back when I was a kid, and I loved them without having any idea they were Russian fantasy films tailored by crafty American distributors to become nationless adventure spectacle. They were colorful, they were full of monsters, and they had lots of guys with swords running at each other. When I crept a little closer to old age, I decided I wanted to find the original versions of the films — much as I did with Eastern Bloc science fiction films — not just to see what had been changed, but also to see them in a better quality than I’d enjoyed on independent broadcast television with rabbit-ear antennae reception.
Studies of Russian cinema tend to be studies of Soviet cinema — classics from the glory days (such as they were) of the communist powerhouse. Russia has moved on, though, both cinematically and culturally (though Vladimir Putin would love if that wan’t the case), and modern Russian cinema is a very different beast than the cinema from which it has grown. And what could be more different from Soviet era cinema than being almost exactly like modern American cinema? Or maybe, if we don’t want to stick with the usual Cold War comparison, let’s say modern South Korean cinema. Oh wait…there’s a Cold War connection there too, isn’t there? Anyway, the point is, modern Russian cinema — at least the big budget version — is highly polished, very slick, slightly soulless, and if you replaced the Russian language with English, you’d be hard-pressed to tell that Apocalypse Code wasn’t a minor Hollywood blockbuster.
After the global success of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, to say nothing of the Harry Potter books and movies I hear were mildly popular for a brief period, most everyone assumed the world was ready for a glut of big-budget fantasy films full of heroic posing and dodgy CGI effects. While there were attempts — The Golden Compass, a few Chronicles of Narnia films, that lavish epic In the Name of the King from Dr. Uwe Boll and featuring King Burt Reynolds — most of those attempts fell flat on their face, and the cash-in trend died before it took off.