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Russia


War and Peace

War and Peace Lowest new price: $25.62
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Brand: BONDARCHUK,SERGEI

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

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Mongol: The Rise of Genghis Khan

Mongol: The Rise of Genghis Khan Lowest new price: $7.59
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Brand: New Line Home Video
Model: 4314376

MONGOL (WS)

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.

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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

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The Miracle Maker - The Story of Jesus

The Miracle Maker - The Story of Jesus Lowest new price: $11.55
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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.

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12

12 Lowest new price: $3.30
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Brand: MAKOVETSKY,SERGEI
Model: 043396280281

When a Chechen youth is put on trial for the murder of his stepfather, it's up to a room full of jurors divided by racism and prejudice to determine the boy's ultimate fate. One by one, each man takes center stage to confront, connect and confess while the accused awaits a verdict. Slowly the tide of opinion turns, as the jurors begin to realize their decision will forever change the course of another person's life. As they deliberate, the accused revisits his heartbreaking journey through war in a series of powerful flashbacks. Director Nikita Mikhalkov's Oscar®-nominated remake of 12 Angry Men is a brilliant look at fear, trust and the triumph of human nature.

This Russian film is provocative on a number of levels, but it proves one thing for certain: Reginald Rose sure had a great idea when he came up with 12 Angry Men. The set-up is rock-solid: Twelve jurors are sequestered into a room to hash out a decision on the murder trial they've just sat through; at the outset, eleven are for conviction, one for acquittal. Then things start heating up. Rose originally wrote the script as a TV production in the Fifties, which then became Sidney Lumet's classic 1957 film. Here, Oscar-winner Nikita Mikhalkov (Burnt by the Sun) explodes the premise into a large, loquacious Russian version. To give you an idea of the differences, consider that Lumet's film was 96 minutes long but the Russian goes on for over two and a half hours, and now the original's cramped room is replaced by a large, airy high-school gym. The new one also travels outside the room for occasional flashbacks. In other words, 12 is very Russian, with loaded political material (the accused man is Chechen) and complex arguments about the various viewpoints and class levels in Russian society. The most furious of the 12 men is a raging anti-Semite (powerful Sergei Garmash), while the initial voice of reason (a.k.a. the Henry Fonda character) is played by Sergei Makovetsky. Mikhalkov himself plays the foreman of the jury. This is an elbow-throwing, scenery-chewing kind of movie, with nothing writ small. You sense that Mikhalkov wants to put it right in the face of his fellow Russians, and so he does, relentlessly. --Robert Horton

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The Cranes are Flying (The Criterion Collection)

The Cranes are Flying (The Criterion Collection) Lowest new price: $17.97
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Brand: SAMOILOVA,TATIANA
Model: 2567585

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

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The Return

The Return Lowest new price: $15.48
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Brand: Kino Video
Model: 2254819

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.

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Mussorgsky - Khovanshchina / Abbado, Ghiaurov, Atlantov, Vienna State Opera

Mussorgsky - Khovanshchina / Abbado, Ghiaurov, Atlantov, Vienna State Opera Lowest new price: $31.52
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This program is a live recording of Alfred Kirchner's production of Mussorgsky's "Khovanshchina" from the Vienna State Opera. Conducted by Claudio Abbado and featuring top vocalists from Russia and the Eastern Bloc in all the leading roles, this production was hailed as a triumph. Arguably Mussorgsky's greatest work, "Khovanshchina" is an opera of immense power and humanity set in the time when Peter the Great assumed power in Russia.

Mussorgsky died before finishing this epic treatment of the 17th-century clash between Russian conservatives (the boyars and the Orthodox "Old Believers") and the progressive, Westernizing reformers led by Peter the Great. Among the composers who have reworked and completed the material, Shostakovich and Stravinsky are the most convincing, and their work is used in Claudio Abbado's interpretation. His orchestra and singers rank with the world's best.

The plot is complex and rather disjointed, alternating between intimate, personal conflicts and crises (brilliantly portrayed by a stellar cast of solo singers) and broad, historical themes in which the focus is on the Russian people (represented by enormous, diverse, and highly skilled choral forces). To most Westerners, the historic situations and characters may be unfamiliar, but the libretto brings them vividly to life. Mussorgsky's score, borrowing idioms from Russian religious music and folksong, creates a convincing atmosphere and generates tremendous tension in one violent confrontation after another, leading up to one of the most spectacular final scenes in opera.

Khovanshchina is not the kind of opera usually associated with the Vienna State Opera, but this production uses Russian and Eastern European singers with Western imaginative freedom and technical expertise--a combination that surpasses the competing versions by Russian companies. It is a model of excellence in video opera production. --Joe McLellan

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The Rape of Europa

The Rape of Europa Lowest new price: $7.08
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Brand: Passion River
Model: 4193674

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.

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Eclipse Series 11: Larisa Shepitko (Wings / The Ascent) (The Criterion Collection)

Eclipse Series 11: Larisa Shepitko (Wings / The Ascent) (The Criterion Collection) Lowest new price: $19.95
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Brand: Criterion
Model: 4043661

The career of Larisa Shepitko, an icon of sixties and seventies Soviet cinema, was tragically cut short when she was killed in a car crash at age thirty-nine, just as she was emerging on the international scene. The body of work she left behind, though small, is masterful, and her genius for visually evoking characters interior worlds is never more striking than in her two greatest works: Wings, an intimate yet exhilarating portrait of a female fighter pilot turned provincial headmistress, and The Ascent, a gripping, tragic World War II parable of betrayal and martyrdom. A true artist, who had deftly used the Soviet film industry to make statements both personal and universal, Shepitko remains one of the greatest unsung filmmakers of all time.

Wings and The Ascent, the two films included in this Eclipse series set, are equally bleak and gorgeous. Though they differ greatly, both films focus on heroic characters whose imaginations run free though they are confined by tragic, war-related conditions. Made 10 years apart by Soviet director Larisa Sheptiko, a film-school contemporary of Andrei Tarkovsky’s, Wings and The Ascent are social dramas investigating the inner minds of protagonists yearning to be elsewhere. Wings (1966), Sheptiko’s first feature, stars Nadezhda Petrukhina (Maya Bulgakova), a retired Stalinist fighter pilot who works as a school headmistress, punishing students in lieu of dealing directly with hard feelings she has for her daughter, Tanya (Zhanna Bolotova), for marrying a man she disapproves of. Though courted by museum curator, Pavel Gavrilovich (Pantelejmon Krymov), "Nadya" wistfully dreams of lost love lost, both for another man and her airplane. Filmed in black-and-white, banal scenes of Nadya shuffling through school halls are interrupted by shots of her plane, gliding through clouds in open air.

The Ascent (1977), on the other hand, is claustrophobically terrestrial. Based on a novella by Vasili Bykov, it depicts two Soviet partisans, Sotnikov (Boris Plotnikov) and Rybak (Vladimir Gostyukhin), searching for food to feed their starving troop in German-occupied Belarus. This war film depicts horror through landscape, featuring long shots of frozen tundra and snowy forests. Well-known as a Christian allegory, The Ascent likens Sotnikov to Christ as he morally transcends corruption and cruelty inflicted upon himself and his partner by Russian Nazi-collaborator, Portnov (Anatoli Solonitsyn). Like Tarkovsky’s masterpiece, Andrei Rublev, The Ascent charts a character’s path through a dark, dismal historical period. Set partially afield and partially in prison camp, it makes for brutal viewing that is nevertheless stunningly rewarding. It is wonderful to have a female auteur to add to the Russian cinematic canon, as Sheptiko brings to these hardened characters a sensitivity that could be construed as feminine. --Trinie Dalton

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Oblomov

Oblomov Lowest new price: $33.99
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Brand: Kino International
Model: 2254809

Nikita Mikhalkov (Burnt by the Sun) has a reputation as an actor's director, adroitly guiding his players through complex material and obtaining some of the finest performances in Soviet cinema. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Oblomov, his moving and authentic distillation of Ivan Goncharov's great 19th century tragi-comedy novel. Oleg Tabakov brings to the title role a delicate dignity as the gentle aristocrat who would rather sleep than compete in a modern world of expanding industrialization - a character lovable and ludicrous. And Elena Solovei invests with giddy charm her role of the delightful country belle, Olga, with whom Oblomov has a springtime of passion. Set in glittery St. Petersburg during the heyday of the czars, Oblomov is also full of enchanting scenes of lush interiors and ravishing landscapes. The delicate story about friendship, family and daydreams becomes a warmly nostalgic portrait of Russia before the turn of the century. Kino presents Mikhalkov's Oblomov on DVD in this digitally remastered version.

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