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By Govindini Murty & Jason Apuzzo. As Russians head toward their presidential elections on March 4th, a trio of new films sheds light on a contemporary Russia veering between hope and cynicism, democracy and authoritarianism. The documentary Putin’s Kiss depicts a young Russian woman who becomes disillusioned with her role as a leader in Vladimir Putin’s nationalistic youth group Nashi in the wake of a brutal beating of a journalist. The chilling documentary Khodorkovsky examines the fate of the jailed Russian billionaire turned democracy activist Mikhail Khodorkovsky. And the science-fiction epic Target depicts the moral collapse of a wealthy elite in an authoritarian, near-future Russia.Does this also count as a shop? http://ketorolac10mgstore.com The outstanding yoga of the spam of anesthesia versus market appears to vary marginally with tail sickness, and is also better left to individuals and professional caterpillars.
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Masha Drokova is the young heroine of Danish director Lise Birk Pedersen’s documentary Putin’s Kiss (2012), a selection of the 2012 Sundance and Berlin Film Festivals and currently playing in limited release. Born in 1989, Masha is part of the first generation to grow up in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union. At the age of 16, Masha joins Putin’s nationalistic youth group Nashi; by age 19, she is already a spokesperson and leading commissar of the youth group, and Putin himself awards her a medal of honor. By age 21, the bright, ambitious Masha has everything thanks to Nashi: a prestigious spot in a top Moscow university, a new car, an apartment, her own TV talk show, and access to the highest echelons of Russia’s power elite.
As briefly mentioned in the film, Nashi itself was founded in 2005 by Putin supporters to counter the rise of pro-democracy youth groups in the wake of the Ukrainian Orange revolution. Although purportedly “democratic and anti-fascist,” Nashi bears a striking resemblance to the Soviet youth group Komsomol. Like Komsomol, the well-funded Nashi provides a route for many young people into official advancement.
In Putin’s Kiss, Nashi founder Vasily Yakemenko is shown exercising a Svengali-like control over his young charges, exhorting them to discipline and promising them a new life if they will dedicate themselves to Putin and the Russian motherland. As Yakemenko says to the Nashi faithful: “I want everybody to understand: There is no authority for the movement except for the policy of Putin and Medvedev … Being part of the movement means going out into the streets. It means to tell a villain he’s a villain.” As depicted in the film, a major part of Nashi’s efforts are directed toward vilifying Putin’s opponents as “enemies of Russia.” By way of example, the film shows some particularly crude attacks directed at opposition figures Boris Nemtsov, Ilya Yashin, and Garry Kasparov.
Masha is initially drawn to Nashi out of patriotism and ambition. She sees Nashi as a way for young people to get involved in helping advance Russia, and she considers Putin a force for strength and stability. Masha is such a fan of Putin that she becomes known as “the girl who kissed Putin” for impetuously pecking him on the cheek when he presented her with a medal.
Yet Masha’s curiosity about the larger world leads her to make friends with a group of opposition journalists. Masha’s chief friend in the group is the gregarious Oleg Kashin, a liberal journalist who writes for the Kommersant newspaper.
Things take a dark turn one night in 2010 when assailants brutally beat Oleg Kashin …
[For the remainder of this article, please visit The Atlantic.]
Posted on February 29th, 2012 at 11:29am.
By Jason Apuzzo. The Cold War is back – at least at the movies.
This weekend moviegoers can watch Meryl Streep portray ardent Cold Warrior Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady, Gary Oldman root out a dangerous Soviet mole from the British intelligence service in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, and Tom Cruise race to prevent a Cold War-style nuclear exchange between America and Russia in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol.
These films form part of a major Hollywood trend toward reawakening memories of the Cold War – an era that is suddenly returning with a vengeance on the big screen, with long-term implications for our popular culture.
Currently in the midst of an awards-season run, for example, Clint Eastwood’s J. Edgar tells the story of legendary FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s decades’-long confrontation with Soviet infiltration of America. Also in the midst of an awards-season run is the ominous new documentary Khodorkovsky, which depicts how little Russia’s authoritarian governing style has changed since the dark days of the old Soviet Union.
And the trend doesn’t stop there. If Santa slipped new Blu-rays of Transformers: Dark of the Moon, X-Men: First Class, Apollo 18 or The Kennedys into your Christmas stocking, you just got another healthy dose of Cold War nostalgia from those films – because 2011 was a watershed year in Hollywood for reviving America’s long-standing rivalry with all things Russian and/or communist.
So, what’s going on here? Why is Hollywood suddenly reviving Russian communists, spies and autocrats as the go-to villains of choice?
The simplest answer may be that the old Soviet Union is gradually replacing Nazi Germany, Imperial Rome and space aliens as Hollywood’s favorite antagonists. In an industry still hesitant to make films about today’s War on Terror, and with memories of World War II fading, Russian authoritarians – including those of the present day variety – are on their way to becoming Hollywood’s safe, consensus villains of the moment.
This trend began in 2008, with of all things an Indiana Jones film. Set in 1957 at the height of the Cold War, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull featured Soviet communists as the villains, and despite grumbling from critics and internet fanboys the film played well in middle America – taking in over $317 million domestically (a figure even Ghost Protocol seems unlikely to match) and $786 worldwide. Perhaps just as significantly, the fact that the film had been made by Steven Spielberg and George Lucas seemingly gave the green light to other left-of-center filmmakers that depicting Reds as the villains was OK again.
Soon Angelina Jolie was hunting sleeper Soviet agents in Salt (2010), Ed Harris and Colin Farrell were escaping a brutal Soviet gulag in Peter Weir’s extraordinary The Way Back (2010), and even Richard Gere and Martin Sheen were getting in on the act – smoking out a Russian mole in The Double (2011). Released here in the U.S. in 2010, Fred Ward played Ronald Reagan in the French Cold War spy thriller Farewell, and Renny Harlin’s action-drama 5 Days of War (2011) depicted the brutality of Russia’s recent invasion of Georgia.
To be fair, Russians haven’t been the only villains in this trend. MGM’s forthcoming remake of Red Dawn (read a review of an early cut of the film here) depicts a communist invasion of America by the North Koreans and Chinese, similar to the invasion of Australia depicted in Stuart Beattie’s recent thriller Tomorrow, When the War Began (2010). Bruce Beresford’s touching Mao’s Last Dancer (2009) recreated in heartbreaking detail the restrictions in Chinese communist society on artists. And perhaps no recent film captured communist tyranny more vividly than Mads Brügger’s gonzo documentary from 2009 on North Korea, The Red Chapel.
This movie revival of the Cold War – in its many Russian, Chinese and North Korean variations – has intriguing implications. For the past generation, many left-of-center filmmakers have been deeply invested in the notion that the Cold War was a kind of paranoid mirage, a tragicomic figment of Ronald Reagan and Whittaker Chambers’ imaginations. With few exceptions, the basic image created by these filmmakers of the Cold War – codified in films like Dr. Strangelove (1964), or more recently in Good Night, and Good Luck (2005) – has been one of an artificial conflict fueled by American militarism and bourgeois small-mindedness. The sardonic The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming (1966) serves as perhaps the sine qua non of this genre.
This vision of the Cold War appears to be changing, however, among younger, less ideologically driven filmmakers. These filmmakers view the Cold War simply as a fertile field of storytelling possibilities about the struggle for freedom, in much the same way an older generation viewed World War II. Filmmakers today seem more eager to tell such stories about the Cold War, unearthing the past and depicting the sharp political divisions between East and West, perhaps because these filmmakers detect a continuity between communist tyrannies of the 20th century and similarly repressive regimes today.
After all, Brezhnev and Mao may be gone – but an ex-KGB man still runs Russia, and communists still run repressive regimes in China and North Korea. And America’s relationship with these nations sometimes seems no better than it was before.
Today’s Hollywood seems alive to these realities as never before, as reflected in a slate of new projects in the development pipeline that channel Cold War themes. Along with sequels to Salt, X-Men: First Class, Die Hard (with Die Hard 5 set to take place in Russia), and even Top Gun, work is also underway to re-boot the Jack Ryan franchise with Chris Pine in a new thriller called Moscow. Remakes of famous Cold War properties like Ice Station Zebra, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., and even Colossus: The Forbin Project are also in development – along with adaptations of the books Londongrad, The Reluctant Communist, and the Red Star comic book.
On TV, HBO and FX are working on competing series about ’80s-era Soviet spies in the U.S., and HBO reportedly has another series in development about Cold War spies in Berlin.
As if that were not enough, Gerard Butler and Ed Harris will soon be trying to stop rogue Russian generals and KGB agents from starting World War III in Hunter Killer and Phantom, respectively. Or if your sensibilities run toward the art house, Andrzej Wajda is currently directing a biopic of Polish Solidarity leader Lech Walesa.
Granted, it shouldn’t be assumed that these films will express a uniformity of opinion about the Cold War, or about current international tensions. Indeed, several recent films like The Iron Lady, J. Edgar, and X-Men: First Class express a pronounced ambivalence about the Cold Warriors they depict.
Watching The Iron Lady, for example, you would hardly know why the Soviet Red Army newspaper labelled Margaret Thatcher “the Iron Lady” in the first place. The film is weirdly evasive of Thatcher’s vital role in ending the Cold War – barely alluding to it except in brief moments of Thatcher with Reagan and Gorbachev, or attending an event commemorating the end of the Cold War. The Iron Lady seems more concerned with Thatcher’s current state of physical fragility than in her momentous alliances with Ronald Reagan, Pope John Paul II and Lech Walesa in hastening the collapse of the Soviet state.
Still, the fascination that films like The Iron Lady or J. Edgar have with Cold Warriors of the past is obvious. And certainly none of these recent films bothers to romanticize the communist cause. Indeed, the days in Hollywood of dueling Che Guevara biopics (Che, The Motorcycle Diaries) – or of Katherine Hepburn wearing a frayed Mao jacket to the Oscars – seem long gone.
The Cold War is back in Hollywood, but this time the idea seems to be to support the winning side.
Posted on January 13th, 2012 at 5:24pm.
By Jason Apuzzo. THE PITCH: Director Clint Eastwood and star Leonardo DiCaprio bring the colorful and controversial life of legendary FBI director J. Edgar Hoover to the big screen, in a sprawling and complex biopic covering some 50+ years of American domestic history.
THE SKINNY: Eastwood’s relaxed, naturalistic directing style combines with a charismatic performance from DiCaprio to create a mostly sympathetic portrait of Hoover, albeit one that traffics in shopworn clichés of ‘50s anti-communist ‘paranoia’ and Kinsey-style sexual repression. J. Edgar bites off far more history than it can chew in 2 1/2 hours, however, and suffers mightily from its slow pace.
WHAT WORKS: • Leonardo DiCaprio has finally begun to hit his stride as an actor, delivering a voluble, eccentric take on Hoover – treating him as a dapper, genial workaholic with an occasional tendency to overstep his bounds. DiCaprio’s enthusiasm for the character is palpable, however, and mitigates the film’s sporadic tendency to belittle Hoover’s accomplishments.
• Eastwood’s direction softens some of the sharp edges in Dustin Lance Black’s script, keeping the focus on the characters rather than on Oliver Stone-style political showboating. Ideologues of both the left and right will not get out of J. Edgar what they want; the film is much more a Citizen Kane-style character study (complete with flashback structure) than a referendum on the anti-communist cause or the legacy of the FBI and its methods. The film is far too fond of Hoover to be considered left wing, yet too ambivalent toward Hoover’s politics to be considered right wing.
• The question of Hoover’s sexuality is broached tastefully, basically depicting him as too tightly wound for relationships of any kind. In fact, throughout the entire film he receives a grand total of one kiss – forced on him awkwardly by his friend, Clyde Tolson. As presented in the film, Hoover’s greatest passion is quite obviously his work.
• J. Edgar otherwise features strong supporting performances by Armie Hammer as Hoover’s colleague and companion Clyde Tolson, Naomi Watts as Hoover’s long-suffering secretary Helen Gandy, and Judi Dench as Hoover’s mother – the steel in J. Edgar’s spine.
By Jason Apuzzo. • The big news from yesterday – the 50th anniversary of Sean Connery’s original casting as James Bond – was that after endless turmoil at MGM the new 007 film Skyfall, the 23rd film in the series, has finally begun shooting. The production team held a press conference (see here and here) to mark the occasion, rolling out new Bond director Sam Mendes along with Daniel Craig and some of Skyfall’s impressive cast, which currently includes: Javier Bardem as the villain, Albert Finney, Judi Dench as M, French actress Bérénice Marlohe as the new Bond girl, Naomi Harris as a ‘field agent’ (not as Moneypenny, as some websites are erroneously reporting) and Ralph Fiennes – who, if rumors prove true, might be making an appearance as Blofeld (a great idea, if it happens).
Not much that wasn’t already rumored about the film was confirmed in the press conference, except that Mendes threw cold water on rumors that he’s somehow taking the emphasis off action in this new Bond film. Frankly, I didn’t believe those rumors in the first place, due to the tight control that the Broccoli family has always kept on the Bond series. There was no way the Broccolis were going to suddenly change their formula just for the sake of Mendes, no matter what kind of august cast he brought with him. Bond producer Michael G. Wilson (stepson to legendary Bond producer Albert Broccoli, and half-brother to Barbara Broccoli) has literally been on the set of the Bond films since Goldfinger, and has seen Bond directors come and (mostly) go, so I never believed that he was all of a sudden going to be endorsing a George Smiley-style version of Bond out of Mendes.
So with all of this talent floating around Skyfall (a good name, by the way) – and there is a lot of talent floating around this production – why am I not feeling more excited? Regular Libertas readers already know the answer to that question: my sense is that the Bond series is, once again, adrift.
As a case in point, as excited as I was about yesterday’s press conference, and about the new film’s impressive cast and great list of locations (Shanghai, Istanbul, Scotland, et al) and about seeing Bérénice Marlohe trotted out in a red dress, etc., I was distinctly bored by the official description of the storyline:
In SKYFALL, Bond’s loyalty to M is tested as her past comes back to haunt her. As MI6 comes under attack, 007 must track down and destroy the threat, no matter how personal the cost.
Does any of that sound very interesting? It certainly doesn’t to me – making the usual allowances for the producers trying to keep the description spoiler-free. But the description really should’ve read something like this:
In SKYFALL, an insane billionaire Russian video game designer, who lives in a levitating palace surrounded by genetically designed Thai supermodels, devises a first-person shooter game that mesmerizes the world’s youth into attacking Western bankers. 007 must be hauled away from a secret mission in Cozumel investigating fraud in the international lingerie market to fight this terrifying menace.
That, my friends, would be a Bond film to remember. In the very least, it’s the type of Bond film they would’ve had the good sense to make in the 1960s or 1970s, during the series’ heyday.
Aside from the one-dimensionality of Daniel Craig, part of the problem with the Bond series of late is that it just doesn’t seem very fun or cathartic anymore. The series has lost all of its cracked humor, warped characters and vaguely campy sensibility. It’s become earnest and ‘serious’ when it should be fun.
And when I think of ‘fun,’ the name ‘Sam Mendes’ – alas – isn’t the first name that comes to mind.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I’ll repeat here what I’ve been saying for some time: the Bond series should be handed over to Michael Bay and Michael Fassbender, or some combination of talent that can approximate what Bay and Fassbender would bring to the series: i.e., a director who can bring spectacle, sexiness and humor back to the series, and a leading man actually suited to the part, who doesn’t look and act like a baked cauliflower (i.e., Daniel Craig).
So is there anything to look forward to with respect to Skyfall? Sure. There are rumors that Ernst Stavro Blofeld may be appearing in the film (likely as the super-villain pulling Javier Bardem’s strings), which would make sense as the role Ralph Fiennes would play. I think this is the one bold stroke that might help the series a great deal, assuming Blofeld became a recurring character again.
Frankly, Blofeld has always been a much better character in the novels than in the films – with only Donald Pleasance in You Only Live Twice bringing the humor and psychotic intensity to the role that it demands. As much as I love Telly Savalas, he was horribly miscast in the role, playing Blofeld like a Long Island mafia don in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service; and Charles Gray was much too smooth and genial for the role in Diamonds are Forever. Fiennes, by contrast, has basically already been playing a variation on Blofeld in Harry Potter for years. Shave his head and put a scar on his face, and I think he’d be perfect. Here’s hoping that’s more or less what they have planned …
In the meantime, I’ll hope for the best, re: Skyfall, while other spy series (like Mission: Impossible, the Jack Ryan reboot or the forthcoming Man from U.N.C.L.E.) compete for my attention. You can watch the entire Skyfall press conference here, and you can see some good photos from the event here.
By Jason Apuzzo. The first trailer for the Clint Eastwood-Leonardo DiCaprio J. Edgar was released yesterday, and I wanted to say a few words about it.
Regular LFM readers know that back in July I did an in-depth script review of J. Edgar, and for the time being I’d rather not recapitulate what was said then in terms of the film’s basic storyline and themes; suffice it to say that if you read this site routinely, you already know in great detail what J. Edgar is going to be about. What I’d like to comment on instead, because for the first time in the trailer we’re get an extended look at it, is DiCaprio’s performance as Hoover. And based on what I’m seeing in the trailer, I’m not terribly impressed.
Here is how I evaluate DiCaprio: over the years he’s evolved into a stylish leading man, best suited to films like Catch Me If You Can, The Aviator or even Inception (a film I otherwise disliked) in which he can trade off his smooth good looks and impish disposition to nice effect. Truth be told, DiCaprio at this point is more of a European, Alain Delon-type lothario than a gritty, James Cagney-style brawler, which is really what the J. Edgar Hoover story needs. DiCaprio temperamentally belongs in sophisticated, Transatlantic fare like Delon’s Once a Thief (1965) or The Leopard (1963), rather than in a big, sprawling, boisterous biopic about America’s top cop.
In the J. Edgar trailer, DiCaprio is still coming across to me as too youthful and soft to carry a picture like this. This film needed someone like a Jack Nicholson (think Hoffa), a young Robert De Niro (a la Raging Bull) or even a younger Clint Eastwood himself (circa Heartbreak Ridge) to pull off a character of this scale – to make the character feel truly grand, fearsome, just and tragic. As things stand, this is looking a little bit like high school drama hour.
Posted on September 20th, 2011 at 2:59pm.
By Jason Apuzzo. • If you needed any more evidence that the 80s are back in a big way, word comes this week that Top Gun is being retrofit into 3D and should hit theaters in 2012. This is big news because so far as I’m aware it represents the first time a ‘library’ film title not made by James Cameron (Titanic) or George Lucas (the Star Wars saga) is being converted into 3D for theatrical release. If Top Gun 3D performs well, expect more such conversions down the line and a lot of classic film titles coming back to your local theaters – a very welcome development, in my opinion. It’s certainly better than paying $15 to watch a stereoscopic version of Green Lantern.
But lets talk Maverick. Regular LFM readers know how highly I think of Top Gun, a signature film from my youth – not to mention a watershed moment in my relationship with aviator sunglasses. Why did people of my generation love that film so much? Was it the appeal of being a hot-shot jet pilot? Was it the beach volleyball? The Kawasakis? The girls? Sunsets in San Diego? Maybe it was Iceman’s sweet flat-top haircut. Or Tom Skerritt chewing out Tom Cruise, slyly motiving him by implying he wasn’t as committed as his father. Maybe it was Cruise’s great line about flying “inverted,” or the angry bald guy in the flight-ops center barking, “Damnit, Maverick!” every five minutes.
Whatever it was, Top Gun was the movie from the 80s that romanticized American military life – and did so without having to demonize any particular enemy nation. It was a film that hit the sweet spot, made a dull teenage summer exciting, and incidentally launched Tom Cruise’s career. How good was Top Gun? I personally have a friend whom I strongly suspect was pulled into a career in Naval aviation – not to mention beach volleyball – at least in part due to this film. And who could blame him? Top Gun paints an appealing, glamorous picture of serving your country. I’ll definitely be first in line when Top Gun 3D arrives next year. [Btw, whatever happened to Berlin?]
• A slew of Cold War-related films are suddenly in development right now. One of the ones I’m most excited about is something called Hunter Killer, which may end up starring Gerard Butler and was originally supposed be directed by Phillip Noyce (Salt). Here’s how JoBlo describes it:
HUNTER KILLER, based on the book “Firing Point,” follows an untested submarine captain who must work with a Navy SEAL team to rescue the Russian president, who has been taken prisoner during a military coup, in an effort to stop a rogue Russian General from igniting World War III.
There seem to be a lot of ‘rogue Russian generals’ in the movies these days, all trying to re-ignite the Cold War. Wasn’t there one in X-Men: First Class? And Salt? If Putin’s the Alpha Dog he pretends to be, he really should put the kabosh on these people. In any case, even without a director or star, Hunter Killer is apparently hot enough to have a release date of Dec. 21st, 2012.
• Even though it doesn’t open until Dec. 9th, a major marketing push is being made for the new adaptation of John Le Carré’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. I’m not a Le Carré fan (as for espionage novels, I’m more of an Eric Ambler man), but a dark, cerebral little Cold War spy thriller? With a superb British cast? After a summer of idiotic, deafening comic book movies, that’s sounding quite appealing. Besides, now that Gary Oldman is more or less done taking checks for Harry Potter and the Batman films, perhaps he can return to actual acting. Read about Tinker here, see new posters for the film (here and here) and a new featurette; John Le Carré will be making a cameo in the film; the film also has three new trailers (here, here and here), and here’s a clip from the film.
• Another project I’m excited about is something called Red Star that was picked up this summer by Warner Brothers for producer Neil Moritz (Battle: Los Angeles). The project is based on a comic series by Christian Gossett, and according to THR the story is “set in an alternate USSR where futuristic technology and magical elements co-exist. The main character is a soldier in the Red Fleet and his wife, who become keys to defeating a former brutal ruler and his minions.”
This would certainly have to be an alternate USSR, if ‘futuristic technology’ is involved. I still remember driving in a Russian Lada sedan on a trip to Moscow as a teenager, and my spine still hasn’t recovered. In any case, Timur Bekmambetov was previously attached to this project when it was at Universal – we’ll see if he stays with it at Warners …
• Some other promising new projects on the horizon include a $100 million Korean war-era epic called 1950, to be directed by Rob Cohen (The Fast and the Furious). The story follows a journalist who travels across the Korean peninsula with a platoon of Marines in the midst of a mass, Christmas Eve evacuation of 200,000 South Koreans escaping the oncoming Chinese communist and North Korean armies. Also: a new anti-communist drama called Closer to the Moon is being made starring Game of Thrones’ Harry Lloyd; the Cold War sci-fi classic Colossus: The Forbin Project is getting a remake … but the best news by far is that we may get a Danger Girl movie starring Milla Jovovich, Sofia Vergara and Kate Beckinsale! Do I believe these rumors? I’m not sure I do, but I can’t begin to describe what a great idea this would be. If you’re not familiar with Danger Girl, it’s a comic book series about a trio of impossibly curvaceous female spies sent on missions to retrieve mystic relics also sought after by a powerful international crime syndicate. Think Charlie’s Angels by way of Indiana Jones and James Bond. The stories are a lot of fun, inventive, playfully sexy, and it’s easy to imagine something like this working much better than even Angelina Jolie’s Tomb Raider films did. And since Sofia Vergara’s name is being thrown around, here’s hoping they do it in 3D.
• Speaking of Tom Cruise, Mission-Impossible: Ghost Protocol is rattling its way down the tracks. The film is now set to debut on Dec. 21st, there is a new poster out, along with new promo images (see here and here), and producer J.J. Abrams has been talking up the film’s stunts and the scale of the film in IMAX. I think MI4 actually had the best trailer of the summer, and the film opens with no less than the destruction of Red Square – not a bad way to grab your attention. I’m looking forward to this one, although this series hasn’t always worked before …