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|Mongol: The Rise of Genghis Khan
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Award-winning Russian filmmaker Sergei Bodrov illuminates the life and legend of Genghis Khan in his stunning historical epic, MONGOL. Based on leading scholarly accounts, MONGOL delves into the dramatic and harrowing early years of the ruler who was born as Temudgin in 1162. As it follows Temudgin from his perilous childhood to the battle that sealed his destiny, the film paints a multidimensional portrait of the future conqueror, revealing him not as the evil brute of hoary stereotype, but as an inspiring, fearless and visionary leader. MONGOL shows us the making of an extraordinary man, and the foundation on which so much of his greatness rested: his relationship with his wife, Borte, his lifelong love and most trusted advisor.]]>
First entry in a proposed trilogy, Mongol vividly captures the beauty and brutality of ancient Mongolia. Beginning in 1172 and ending in 1206, Sergei Bodrov's Oscar-nominated epic presents future conqueror Ghengis Khan as more lover--and fighter--than diplomat. Against his father Esegui's wishes, nine-year-old Temudjin chooses his own bride, whom he marries in the years to come. Hopes for the future, however, turns to thoughts of vengeance when the clan forsakes the boy upon Esegui's death. While Temudjin (now played by Zatoichi’s Tadanobu Asano, a quietly commanding presence) makes his way in a cruel world, turncoat Targutai (Amadu Mamadakov) becomes the new khan. When an opposing clan kidnaps Temudjin’s wife, Börte (Khulan Chuluun), he eventually retrieves her, but betrays blood brother Jamukha (Sun Honglei, Seven Swords) in the process, leading to further enslavement and more Kurasawa-style slicing and dicing. Throughout his travails, Temudjin comes to believe that Mongols must unite to share the same language, culture, and set of values. Sustained by his faith in the god Tengri and the devotion of Börte, Temudjin sets out to wrest control of Mongolia from Jamukha and his women and children-killing hordes. Except for an over-reliance on CGI during the climactic battle sequence, Mongol equals the scope and grandeur of historical predecessors, like Braveheart and Hero. If much of the cast is Chinese and Japanese, Bodrov, who directed Prisoner of the Mountains, conjures up authenticity through detailed costumes, Mongolian dialogue, and remote Central Asian locations. --Kathleen C. Fennessy
|The Miracle Maker - The Story of Jesus
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Brand: Lions Gate
Voices of Ralph Fiennes, William Hurt, Miranda Richardson. A family searching for help for their sickly daughter cross paths with the one man who can help them: a carpenter named Jesus. This inspiring tale of Jesus Christ features 3-D computer animation the whole family will love! 2000/color/87 min/NR.
|War and Peace
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Tolstoy's epic masterpiece paints a portrait of Russia and her people, caught up in the irresistible tides of history during the Napoleonic Era.
Like Tolstoy's novel, this epic-length War and Peace is rough going, but worth the effort. Winner of the 1969 Academy Award® for Best Foreign Language Film and widely considered the most faithful adaptation of Tolstoy's classic, Sergei Bondarchuk's massive Soviet-Italian coproduction was seven years in the making, at a record-setting cost of $100 million. Bondarchuk himself plays the central role of Pierre Bezukhov, buffeted by fate during Russia's tumultuous Napoleonic Wars, serving as pawn and philosopher through some of the most astonishing set pieces ever filmed. Bondarchuk is a problematic director: interior monologues provide awkward counterpoint to intimate dramas, weaving together the many classes and characters whose lives are permanently affected by war. Infusions of '60s-styled imagery clash with the film's period detail; it's an anomalous experiment that doesn't really work. Undeniably, however, the epic battle scenes remain breathtakingly unique; to experience the sheer scale of this film is to realize that such cinematic extravagance will never be seen again. --Jeff Shannon
|The Cranes are Flying (The Criterion Collection)
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Veronica and Boris are blissfully in love, until the eruption of World War II tears them apart. Boris is sent to the front lines...and then communication stops. Meanwhile, Veronica tries to ward off spiritual numbness while Boris' draft-dodging cousin makes increasingly forceful overtures. Winner of the Palme d'Or at the 1958 Cannes Film Festival, The Cranes are Flying is a superbly crafted drama, bolstered by stunning cinematography and impassioned performances.
Mikhail Kalatozov's luscious portrait of love and loss during World War II stars almond-eyed beauty Tatyana Samojlova and handsome Aleksei Batalov as moony-eyed young lovers whose innocent romance is shattered by war. When the idealistic boy volunteers for service, his draft-dodging cousin steals the despondent girl by brute force, yet she never gives up on her true love, even when he's reported dead. Kalatozov's patriotic paean to fallen soldiers and home-front heroes is an undeniably sentimental melodrama suffused with lush images and lyrical sequences, a kind of cinematic poetry unseen in Soviet cinema since the experimentation and optimism of the silent days. Produced during the "thaw" following Stalin's repressive reign, it won the Palme d'Or prize at the 1958 Cannes Film Festival and set Kalatozov on the road to more ambitious expressions of Soviet idealism in the modern world, culminating in his masterpiece, I Am Cuba. --Sean Axmaker
|Andrei Rublev (The Criterion Collection)
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The 15th-century Russian icon painter renounces his art after taking part in a peasant uprising. Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky.
At last, the complete version of Andrei Tarkovski's 1966 masterpiece about the great 15th century Russian icon painter (a film suppressed by the Soviet Union and unseen until 1971) is available. It's a complex and demanding narrative about the responsibility of the artist to participate in history rather than documenting it from a safe distance. A landmark in Russian cinema, Andrei Rublev is a beautifully lyrical black-and-white film about harmony and soulful expression. As the late filmmaker says in a supplementary interview, each generation must experience life for itself; it cannot simply absorb what has preceded it. In fact, a whole host of supplements accompanies the film in this Criterion Collection release. Stick with it; it's worth the effort. --Bill Desowitz
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Declared "luminously beautiful" by the New York Times, Andrey Zvyagintsev's The Return is a stunning mixture of visionary allegory, urgent suspense and road movie momentum. Zvyagintsev's equal skill with lush visuals, lucid storytelling and breathtaking realism easily netted The Return the prestigious Golden Lion and the Best First Feature Film Award at the Venice International Film Festival. Within the emotional vacuum of a fatherless childhood, young brothers Andrei (Vladimir Garin) and Ivan (Ivan Dobronravov) have grown closer than most siblings. But when they least expect it, the father the boys have never known returns. Under the cool midnight sun of a coastal Russian summer, Andrei and Ivan eagerly hop into a car for a week long fishing trip with a complete stranger they desperately need to believe is their father. but as they travel deeper into the Russian wilderness, their journey devolves from vacation to boot camp to father-sons love triangle and ultimately to a test of wills that pushes to the brink of violence. As it dawns on the boys that the man who could be their father might be trying to abandon, exploit or kill them, The Return's Jungian landscape gives way to fervid Freudian rage, shocking loss and bittersweet redemption. Harried as one of the most auspicious film debuts since Badlands or The 400 Blows, The Return is both a gorgeous contemporary thriller and an astute updating of vanguard Soviet filmmaking. Disturbing, tender, transcendent, The Return's skillful marriage of psychological complexity to mythic imagery effortlessly evokes the watershed films of Andrei Tarkovsky and Roman Polanski.
|The Rape of Europa
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The Rape of Europa tells the epic story of the systematic theft, deliberate destruction and miraculous survival of Europe's art treasures during the Third Reich and World War II. Joan Allen narrates this breathtaking chronicle about the battle over the very survival of centuries of Western culture.
|Eisenstein: The Sound Years (Ivan the Terrible Parts 1 & 2 / Alexander Nevsky) (The Criterion Collection)
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Sergei Eisenstein, long regarded as a pioneer of film art, changed cinematic strategies halfway through his career. Upon returning from Hollywood and Mexico in the late 1930s, he left behind the densely edited style of celebrated silents like Battleship Potemkin and October, turning instead to historical sources, contradictory audiovisuals, and theatrical sets for his grandiose yet subversive sound-era work. This trio of rousing action epics reveals a deeply unsettling portrait of the Soviet Union under Stalin, and provided battle-scene blueprints for filmmaking giants from Laurence Olivier in Henry V to Akira Kurosawa in Seven Samurai.
A biography of the first czar of Russia was the final movie project of the great Sergei Eisenstein's life. It would be his undoing, as Stalin was not pleased with part II of this epic. But Ivan the Terrible, Part I still stands as a magnificent, rich, and strange achievement. This is a "composed" film to make Hitchcock look slapdash; every frame is arranged with the eye of a painter or choreographer, the mise-en-scène so deliberately artificial that even the actors' bodies become elements of style. (They complained about contorting themselves to fit Eisenstein's designs.) If you don't believe movies can be art, this could be (and has been) dismissed as ludicrous. But Eisenstein's command of light and shadow becomes its own justification, as the fascinating court intrigue plays out in a series of dynamic, eye-filling scenes. This is not a political theorist, but a director drunk on pure cinema.
Part II continues with the struggle for power and the use of secret police, a controversial segment that caused the film to be banned by Stalin in 1946 (the film was not released until 1958). The predominantly black-and-white film features a banquet dance sequence in color. Obviously the two parts must be viewed as a whole to be fully appreciated. Many film historians consider this period in Eisenstein's career less interesting than his silent period because of a sentimental return to archaic forms (characteristic of Soviet society in the '30s and '40s). Perhaps it was just part of his maturity.
Alexander Nevsky (1939), Eisenstein's landmark tale of Russia thwarting the German invasion of the 13th century, was wildly popular and quite intentional, given the prevailing Nazi geopolitical advancement and destruction at the time. It can still be viewed as a masterful use of imagery and music, with the Battle on the Ice sequence as the obvious highlight. Unfortunately, the rest of the film pales in comparison. A great score by Prokofiev was effectively integrated by the Russian filmmaker, but stands on its own merit as well.
|Dmitri Hvorostovsky - Russian Songs from the War Years
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VAI DVD 4318. Moscow Chamber Orch/Orbelian. 2003 concert, Color, Stereo, 59 min.
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Danila (Sergei Bodrov, Jr.) returns from army service to a St. Petersburg transformed into a casual culture high on music and consumerism. The chaotic atmosphere, carefully depicted by Balabanov's moody camerawork, easily invites the smug, belligerent Danila into a world of crime. Soon the youth is accompanying his brother Viktor, contract killer for the Russian underworld, on violent escapades where wads of cash and a well-gripped gun are the ultimate symbols of power. Bodrov's cynical, brutal performance, reminiscent of tough-guy roles from countless Hollywood mob movies, further conveys the sense that 1990's St. Petersburg is not a far cry from the blood-strewn Chicago of the late 1920s. And like Bogart and Cagney, Bodrov makes his morally challenged hero strangely likeable.
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