Tag Archives: Russia

Movie Review: Frankenstein’s Army

by Dan Fields

Russian soldiers face horrifying Nazi experiments in Frankenstein's Army
© 2013 MPI Media Group

Mary Wolfenstein Shelley. Yes, That.

The “untold” war story is a fertile soil for any number of enterprising screenwriters, from the visionary to the hack… and everyone else in between, it seems. From the sublime heights of the The Dirty Dozen or Where Eagles Dare to the laughable dregs of Red Zone Cuba, fictional yarns about soldiers working behind the lines have always been easy to sell.

Near the end of the Second World War, a motley task force of Soviet infantry pushes into the scorched German countryside, drawn by an alleged distress signal from captured brethren. Wading through various scenes of battle carnage, they come at last upon a seemingly abandoned factory. Venturing inside, they soon encounter a series of walking, murderous abominations that bear faint human traces, but seem to straddle a line between mechanized warfare and the living dead. Somewhere in these dank, blood-caked corridors is a mad doctor (Karel Roden) sewing Nazi insignia on these horrors, who must be found and exposed.

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Movie Review: Anna Karenina

by Dan Fields
First published November 23, 2012 by the California Literary Review

Double Icing On Half A Cake

Joe Wright established himself practically overnight as a strong force in period drama based on popular books. He wowed with the relentlessly dour Atonement and then soared with a superb riff on Pride and Prejudice. Couple these efforts with the spunky, bizarro thriller Hanna and you should have no trouble seeing that Wright is a filmmaker both exuberant and offbeat.

His Anna Karenina, based on Leo Tolstoy’s monumentally acclaimed novel, is a parade of elegant design and intricate staging. It is not difficult to guess which Academy Award nominations its makers have in mind. By enclosing the cultural volatility of 19th-century cosmopolitan Russia in an ever-shifting magic lantern, those responsible get to show off and share some cutting insights on the artifice and deception required to sustain imperial high society.

Wright sets the epic tragedy of Anna, a fallen woman if ever there was one, almost entirely within a spacious theatre hall, with the main action unfolding on an impossibly marvelous series of collapsing and interlocking sets. The wings and backstage area become private places of intrigue and the catwalks above serve as sordid back alleys. There are trains and horse races and all the bustle of Moscow and St. Petersburg contained behind a single curtain. The complexity and perpetual motion of this living stage is nothing short of stunning.

The hard truth, impossible to dodge, is that this is not Tolstoy’s world. It is more like Hugo Cabret’s world, and from time to time it even flirts perilously with becoming Baz Luhrmann’s world. Tom Stoppard’s script, though consistently bright and entertaining, abridges the story painfully to fit the stylish construct. Anna Karenina may be the title character, but she need not be the sole focus of the plot. The supporting figures in her life lend important dramatic context to her abasement. Continue reading

Movie Review: Chernobyl Diaries

by Dan Fields
First published May 26, 2012 by the California Literary Review

Radioactive? Yes. Waste? Not so much.

Chernobyl Diaries is not great art. Chernobyl Diaries is not important cinema. It will probably win neither awards nor memorable acclaim. What it is, though, is a robust specimen of a very particular kind of movie. It is a midnight movie. It is a drive-in flick. It is a B-movie in the most favorable sense. It was made to be seen in as crowded and rowdy a theater as possible. It aspires to nothing more clever or edifying than exactly that. It has plenty of scares, weird atmosphere, and drawn-out suspense to fill its running time. At least once, your heart will pound in anticipation of something awful. And is that not precisely what you paid for? Continue reading

Movie Review: Transsiberian (2008)

Transsiberian has gathered good press since its Sundance premiere, and the praise is well-earned. This new project by Brad Anderson is a large-scale, high-impact story about how chance encounters can reveal the dark and secret sides of the human heart. This hard lesson revolves around Jessie (Emily Mortimer), a young wife and would-be photographer who finds that settling down has not banished the inner demons left over from her wilder days. Woody Harrelson puts in a superior performance as her amiable and unworldly husband. Known for his more eccentric characters, it is nice to see Harrelson flex some different muscles as a decent, guileless, and honest middle-American Joe. The two of them are traveling from Beijing to Moscow on the Trans-Siberian Railway, following a church trip to China. As we later learn, husband wishes to prove to wife he is game for an adventure, and also to indulge his passion for trainspotting.

Another notable appearance is by Ben Kingsley, as an eerily collected Russian federal agent. As we know, given good material he seldom disappoints, and though Anderson’s film does not allow him the dynamic range of, say, his hair-raising work in Sexy Beast, he makes the most of limited screen time.

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