I won’t pretend to be familiar with the details of the Russian/Georgian war or anything that goes on in that region, but I’m pretty sure Renny Harlin’s 5 Days Of War is skewed in favour of special effects and kinetic commotion, as opposed to dutifully telling a story. It’s disjointed and has no idea which characters to focus on primarily and as such feels like a film out of time and space, cobbled together with loose strands and spare action sequences. Half the name actors are casted in throwaway roles too, which is disorienting. In a hectic prologue, Heather Graham plays the girlfriend of a war photographer (Rupert Friend), but she’s killed in a blast literally seconds after meeting her character, which seems arbitrary even to call her agent for a booking. The films sees Friend, a Georgian native (Emmanuelle Chriqui) and others stranded in a region on fire, torn apart by combat and cut off from communication. The details of this conflict are swept up in a near constant stream of action sequences, near misses and explosions, and much of the film is simply people running through bombed out villages in desperation. Croatian actor Rade Serbdzija (Boris The Blade from Snatch) makes good use of a Russian general role, somewhat of a villain but the film actually pauses later to give him a modicum of an ad, which he handles nicely. Val Kilmer and his Aslan mane of hair show up too in a sly, over advertised cameo as another photographer who helps them out briefly, and then disappears from the film. Elsewhere Andy Garcia laments the situation as the Russian president, grilled by the press about his actions, or lack thereof, in the struggle. In terms of story and narrative cohesion it’s all over the place. One aspect it handles well though is keeping the kinetic energy alive during the war scenes, they are extremely well shot and designed on a big scale to raise pulses. Average flick that could have done with a bit more structure and thought put into the script.
Moscow Zero is a chilly little subterranean ghost story, and a favourite for me. It god critically shredded by the few people who did see it, and quickly forgotten. I think this may be because of odd marketing,and the cultural rifts in different areas of both the world, and cinema. It was marketed in North America as a supernatural shocker starring Val Kilmer, which was a cheap shot to fans and in fact false advertising. Kilmer is in it, for maybe ten minutes, and is very good, but the story isn’t his. It’s also supernatural, but in a far more subtle, ambiguous and inaccessible way that the ADHD-ridden audiences over here just aren’t used to. In short, it’s very European, and they just seem to have a better handle on the intuition it takes to make an atmospheric chiller than anyone else, also seeming to be more connected with ghost lore and the spirit realm. The story concerns a priest named Father Owen (hollywood’s resident alien Vincent Gallo, playing it dead straight here). He has traveled to Moscow I hopes of finding his friend Professor Sergey (Rade Serbedzija), who has descended into ancient catacombs and endless tunnels below the surface of the city in hopes of finding a lost artifact hidden during wartime. He joins up with a group of guides and Moscow natives including the beautiful Lubya (Oksana Akinshina) and a tracker named Yuri (Joaquim De Almeida) to traverse the underside of the city and find his friend. There are long, eerie scenes of Sergey wandering around the dimly lit labyrinth, pursuing his scholarly goal and talking to himself as strange shadows and far away whispers follow him around, gradually letting the viewer know that he’s not alone. Owen and his team rendezvous with Tolstoy (Joss Ackland) the elderly leader of a tribe of tunnel dwellers who won’t go below a certain level of the catacombs, who provides a map. Then they go deeper. Kilmer plays Andrey, a Russian dude who runs a gang that are in control of opening and closing a deep fissure gate that is said to lead to a hell like place. He’s relaxed, in both demeanor and the Russian accent, but he’s clearly having fun in one of his more character type roles. The catacombs have a haunted feel to them, and indeed there are ghosts, but not presented in the way you might think. The way the human characters see them is quite different from how they see themselves, and how the audience sees them, which is a nice touch. The story keeps itself mysterious, right up until it’s puzzling, creepy conclusion, buy I prefer that open ended, almost experimental style over desperate attempts to scare us. It’s atmospheric, strange, unique, thick with ideas and altogether a bit of brilliance. Definitely an aquire taste, though.
Fascinating on a historical level, riveting when it comes to the sport being discussed, and compelling in a deeply humanistic fashion, Gabe Polsky’s terrific documentary Red Army examines the intense Cold War relationship between Russia and America, and the various hockey players that were caught up in an international saga of greed, hubris, and outright dictatorship. Literally kept as slaves by their country, Russian hockey players back in that time period were revered by all and had to adhere to an intense training schedule that kept them away from their families for long periods of time. All of their insane treatment is detailed in this sad and scary film that highlights just how difficult it would have been to be playing under the Russian coaching regime back in the 80’s. Red Army primarily focuses on legendary defenseman Slava Fetisov and how he and his various teammates navigated the politically charged waters of worldwide sport during a time of immense uncertainty and volatility. Fetisov is quite the character, and while he provides tons of amazing information and anecdotes, on more than one occasion someone should have reminded him that he was there to make a documentary, not just to have his ass kissed; there are NO off limits questions when you’re the front and center focus of someone’s film. That being said, the exciting hockey footage that Polsky intercuts with his intelligent question and answer sessions with some of the era’s biggest stars commands the audience’s attention, and this is easily one of those movies where if you’re not a fan of the milieu, you’ll still enjoy the film because of how well-crafted it is on a formal level, and how interesting it is as a history lesson. And for any hockey fan or past or current player (I was lucky enough to lace up for 15 years), this will be a fabulous way to spend 80 minutes. And if you’re of a certain age, the names and faces on display will bring back waves of emotion and nostalgia. I know it did for me. Mike Vernon POWER in there, too.