Tag Archives: soviet union

Child 44 – Review

28 Apr

There are a handful of times throughout history that I just would never want to be a part of, and Stalinist Russia could very easily be in the top 10. It was a time where no one was safe, no matter what age, sex, or creed, and everything that you said or did could potentially be used against you. These ideas are explored to great length in the film Child 44, a 205 film based off of a novel by Tom Rob Smith. I was initially intrigued by this movie after looking at the premise and the fact that it starred Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, and Noomi Rapace. To make things more interesting, I had to see how such a star studded historical drama could be such a major box office flop.

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After raising the Soviet flag on the Reichstag in Berlin in 1945, Leo Demidov (Tom Hardy) quickly became a hero and symbol of his country. Jump to 1953 and Demidov has found himself a beautiful wife, Raisa (Noomi Rapace), and has the position of Captain in the Russian intelligence agency, the MGB. After a child is found murdered by the train tracks, the government tries to cover it up and deny that there is a child murderer walking the streets. As Demidov continues his investigation, he and his wife are exiled to a small town where Leo is stripped of his rank and finds a low level job under General Neserov (Gary Oldman). After a lot of effort and more murdered children are discovered, Demidov convinces Nesterov that this is a serious problem, which leads to them both continuing the investigation behind the government’s back, a mission that could easily put them in front of a firing squad.

Something that Child 44 does better than anything else is create a sort of realism that really had to happen if they were going to create a movie that takes place in the early 1950s in the Soviet Union. The costume and set design made it feel like I was taking a glimpse at history. The black trains with the red star were so ominous and powerful looking and very memorable to look at. Of course all of this realism would be for nothing if the performances weren’t grounded in this sense of reality. Hardy, Rapace, and Oldman all give great performances and are reason enough to see this movie. One scene in particular involved a fight on a train, which was bone crunchingly real that it really stands out.

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I love murder mysteries of every shape and size. There’s a sense of danger and time that weave their way through the best mysteries. The hero is always racing against time to find the killer before anyone else gets hurt, which makes for some very exciting storytelling. A murder mystery that takes place in the middle of Stalin’s reign of terror just adds a whole new variable to the equation which makes for some even more intensity and suspense. Like I said before, no one was safe in this period of time and you had to be careful with whatever you said and whoever you talked to. Child 44 creates this overwhelming sense of paranoia with all of the twists and reveals. I’ve never quite seen a mystery like this before and that is definitely a compliment.

So far, everything I’ve said about this movie is pretty good. It would seem that I have no problem with it. This, however, is simply not the case. I felt like I was tripping over the pacing of this movie, which is something I don’t think I’ve ever said before… Interesting. Anyway, the layout of this movie is really, really weird. The first 45 minutes to an hour is just set up, then after that the movie picks up a lot of speed only to be jolted to a halt and then go from 0 to 60 in 5 seconds. It made for some awkward moments. The first cut of this movie was over 5 hours long, which makes a lot of sense because there is an absurd amount crammed into this movie which clocks in at a little under two and a half hours. This is one of those instances where this should’ve been a mini series.

The most important part of film is being able to coherently tell a story in the best possible way, and this is where Child 44 really slips and falls on its sickle. The story, itself, is very intriguing and full of paranoia and great performances. It’s also a beautifully shot film that prides itself on the realism that it creates. Unfortunately, the pacing and amount of information jammed into its run time makes it sort of an awkward viewing experience. This movie receives a lot of unwarranted negativity. I actually quite enjoyed this movie and would recommend it, but just be sure you’re ready for pacing from hell.

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Stalker – Review

29 Jun

When people think about classic science fiction film from the seventies and eighties, their answers are usually something like Blade RunnerAlien, or Star Wars. But what is that little gem silently sitting behind all of these loud, special effects laden sci fis? That, my friends, is Stalker, a highly philosophical, slow moving, and strangely peaceful science fiction film that forces major viewer introspection.

In the not too distant future, an area in Soviet Russia called the Zone is blocked off by police and military after people have been mysteriously disappearing after entering. The origins of the Zone are unknown with possible solutions being a meteorite or invisible aliens. There is a room in the Zone that if you enter it, your inner most wish will be granted. Now, a person who can successfully navigate the Zone, a Stalker (Alexander Kaidanovsky), must take a Professor (Nikolai Grinko) and a Writer (Anatoly Solonitsyn) to the room, but he soon learns that these two aren’t his run of the mill customers.

The philosophies of Stalker are both personal and mysterious. By the end of the movie, Tarkovsky has not given his audience a clear answer with an ending that might be one of the most baffling of all time. I sat for a long time thinking about what all of this could mean and what Tarkovsky was trying to say. There’s religious symbolism, governmental criticism, and interpersonal relationship theories that all clash into some sort of amorphous conclusion.

That being said, this is a very difficult movie. This is a film that you and your friends can talk about for hours after seeing it and still begin to realize more and more of what it was about. Is the story meant to be taken literally or figuratively. The characters and dialogue are some of the deepest that I’ve ever seen and I could easily relate to them, but at the same time, I had trouble understanding them. That begs the question: If I can relate to these characters on a personal level, but can’t understand them, what does that say about me? Like I said before, the viewer is forced to examine themselves after watching Stalker, but they may not like what they find.

I’ve already mentioned the pacing, but I think that it is one of the most key aspects to this movie’s success. To some, Stalker will be way too slow and will bore them easily. Others will find it to be a very relaxing pace and perfectly appropriate for this kind of movie. What’s the rush? The main plot is an attempt to traverse a barren, foreign landscape. Why not take the time to appreciate it. Underneath the surface is the philosophy, which, like the landscape, must be appreciated slowly and deliberately.

The scenery of the Zone is almost like another character. Each scene has a completely different feeling, but always lingers a sense of uneasiness. Andrei Tarkovsky does a great job making the normal feel supernatural. There are no fancy tricks or effects here. The most fancy effect in the whole movie is the transitioning between sepia and color. Everything else was simply crafted through technique, mood, and set design. This just goes to show that not every sic fi movie has to have the budget of Transformers to look cool. In fact, I’d make the argument that Stalker is exponentially cooler than ANYTHING Michael Bay has ever released…ever.

I can easily put Stalker on my list of favorite movies (which will be coming eventually). The pacing and philosophy are matched perfectly with the scenery and the characters. Not only that, but the story was absolutely captivating. Be warned before going into this movie: it is incredibly slow. That being said, the pacing should not stop you from losing yourself in the Zone.