I wasn't expecting much. Really. I was prepared for the raping and gutting of the Greek mythology, and I got what I expected in spades. I was prepared for the total of lack of a consistent, comprehensible plot, and the movie didn't let me down. I was prepared for poor acting - check! I was prepared for all kinds of anachronisms - they were all there! The story of Hyperion trying to wreak his vengeance on the gods (thank you, IMDb reviewers, you helped me understand what the hell he was actually driving at with all this running around and butchery) and the story of Theseus achieving his hero's status are intertwined in a manner worthy of a five-year-old composing a story with nothing better to do; there are not many logical links between scenes and events and no smooth unfolding of a story in general. This is what makes it so excruciatingly boring. However, as I said, for all that I was prepared.
But I expected visuals, because I still remember the Cell, more than ten years since, and in that film, the visuals made up for the absence of a story, they were a story in themselves, and they evoked if not rational, then at least emotional response. In this film, I thought the visuals were boring, monotonous, and borderline ridiculous.
To top it off, the characters' sensibilities are thoroughly modern (Sybilla actually talks about changeable future! About free will! Ye gods!). Then suddenly, almost at the end of the film, Theseus says something that could only be said by an ancient. I will not say what it is for that would mean spoiling it for those who haven't yet wasted their time on this piece of boring entertainment, but this unexpected bit of authenticity doesn't even come near redeeming what has passed before.
The movie uses the Princess and the Pea story as a frame to introduce three more classical tales from Andersen. While the bedraggled princess keeps company to the King and the Queen, the Prince travels in search of a wife, and we have the story about the Princess and the Swineherd, The Princess and the Troll, and another one with a princess looking for the most sophisticated and talented suitor of all. Some endings to the stories are altered from Andersen's, though.
Although the cast includes some of the top Soviet actors (Freindlich, Smoktunovsky, Kalyagin, Kvasha), they play small parts, while the Prince himself is lacking any substantial charisma and cannot carry the film. The entire flick somehow feels awkward, it lacks momentum and doesn't draw you in as best fairytale films do.
For the soundtrack, they use Vivaldi's music, and it's a great idea. The music is probably one of the best elements in the film which says something about its quality. A tepid and mediocre retelling of four Andersen's stories.
This is the story of a girl, Martha, whose brother, Mai, possesses a unique gift, he can find buried treasures. But it makes him very ill, and Martha prefers to live in poverty rather than make her little brother suffer. However, not everybody is just as concerned about Mai's wellbeing, and one Christmas, Mai is kidnapped. Martha decides to search for her brother, and her story begins. On the way, she meets a genius inventor, Orlando, and they travel together meeting various people, and most of these encounters threaten disaster to Martha and Orlando.
This is, indeed, a dark fantasy. Yet it is extremely, breath-takingly poignant and poetic. It has a great score by Alfred Shnitke, and the music heightens the emotional impact of the film. I was a child when the film came out, and I was utterly captivated. Yes, it is scary, but the poignancy of the film far outweighed the scary bits for me. Even though it is essentially a fantasy film, the characters are more complex than in most "real life" dramas. They are sometimes likable, sometimes exasperating, and always human (that does not include the Plague who does make an unforgettable impression, not for the faint of heart for sure). An excellent film overall.
The advertising campaign for this series was something to behold in its own right, and it's about the only thing the people behind this film did right. Allegedly, it had decent budget which is nowhere in evidence. And M&M is the kind of film that requires special effects; in the film they are what you'd call bargain basement if you're feeling generous. Bortko followed the book faithfully enough but still removed some crucial scenes and added a ridiculous character played by Valentin Gaft made up to look like Beria. Bulgakov was never that direct. Also, Bortko shot most of the 1930s Moscow in sepia-like colors to contrast it with Woland's and Master's colorful scenes. I think it was a big mistake but it was unavoidable given that Bortko has no feel for the macabre and the bizarre. He has very a pedestrian imagination. Bulgakov's Moscow was devilish in its own right, and Bortko turned it into a bland depiction of a regular city. In the book, Woland came to the city that felt as if it belonged to him already. Here, he comes on a tour of a gray and uninteresting Moscow with nothing to distinguish it from any other city. Which shows that Bortko also has zero grasp of the philosophical and religious issues of the book.
I wasn't particularly annoyed by most of the casting excluding Margarita. Anna Kovalchuk is beautiful but she couldn't act to save her life. Bortko must be fond of casting people who look right without any regard for their acting abilities (he did the same casting Lidya Velezheva as Nastasya Filippovna in The Idiot). On the whole, 3 out of 10.
This movie is billed as the first Russian horror movie. Unfortunately, as far as I am concerned, "The Witch" (its Russian title) will take a place of dishonor in the gallery of horrible Russian movies. It is based on Nikolai Gogol's story "Viy" which is a classic in Russia. "Based" is the key word here since no familiarity with the story is required. Instead, the less you know about Gogol, the better.
It is a unique production because we are quite used to directors taking stories from other cultures and adapting them to their own culture. The spate of American remakes of foreign films is a prime example, but then again, Sturgess turned Kurosawa's Seven Samurai into The Magnificent Seven with splendid results, and Kurosawa transferred Shakespeare's Macbeth into Japan to make an incredibly powerful Throne in Blood, while King Lear became a riveting Ran. However, with "The Witch," we have Russians transplanting a Russian classical tale onto the American soil. The movie was shot in Estonia in English with the aim of dubbing it into English using American actors and have reasonably synchronous lip movements.
As a natural consequence, lost is the colorful Ukrainian background for the story, in comes a drab American small town seemingly lifted from some outdated horror book manual. Gone is the boozy seminarian Khoma Brutus, instead we have a boozy journalist who is about to win Pullitzer prize, and who at the same time writes about X-Files-like events and frequents Miss Boobs contests. (I never thought Pullitzer prize was given for that kind of writing, now I humbly stand corrected.) In a strange nod to Russianness, the journalist is named Ivan Berkhoff. They should've named him John Smith because it is impossible to get more hackneyed, clichéd and generic than this movie.
Berkhoff goes to a town named Castleville, gets stranded on a dirt road, staggers on until he finds a dilapidated house and is rather un-welcomed by an old crone. All that to the accompaniment of a radio announcement about the forces of evil being at their most powerful, and people better staying indoors and avoiding water. Need I mention that it's raining really hard? After a few supposedly frightening scenes which had me laughing, the story finds our journalist dressed as a priest, he's mistaken for a priest, and the local sheriff tells him his daughter who died after being brutally attacked wanted the new priest to pray for her for three nights. At this point, the action supposedly starts. Those who have time to kill are welcome to it.
What is wrong with this film? Everything, starting with the dialog and down to the prop department. The dialog which I heard in Russian was clearly originally written in English, and it was compiled exclusively from clichés and platitudes picked from American films. The actors just as clearly struggled with English because the timing of their speech was labored and unnatural, and the Russian dubbing followed suit. The acting is mostly atrocious, and not only because the actors find it often difficult to talk but because they don't have anything approaching a range of facial expressions. For the most part, they're just blank or you wish they were. The only exceptions being the sheriff played by Lembit Ulfsak, a fine Estonian actor, and Arnis Lizitis who plays a wheelchair bound resident of Castleville. Oh, and a rooster of course who's absolutely natural on camera! I know actors complain of being upstaged by dogs and cats but when Nikolaev is upstaged by a rooster it is a sad testimony to the general quality of acting in the film.
There wasn't a single scary moment in the entire film, and there wasn't a single original moment in the film either. Mind you, this comment's coming from somebody who's rather inexperienced with horror. The film is filled with standard moves used in horror movie since the genre's inception. At a critical moment, the camera lingers lovingly on a kerosene lamp. The lamp promptly goes out. It must have seen a few horror movies, too. An example of supreme idiocy comes at another moment, a character jumps out of a bathtub and runs at the camera. He's wearing something the looks like loincloth! It doesn't get any more idiotic than this!
Those in Russia who liked it claim it should've been advertised as a mystical thriller. I wasn't thrilled either. It was run-of-the-mill from start to finish. I particularly enjoyed the fact that the entire population of the little town behaved as if they knew exactly they lived in a horror movie, except they weren't quite sure whether it had zombies or not. Therefore, some of them acted zombie-like just in case.
The makers of the film say it's about finding faith. Such a fine collections of idiotic actions, stupidly contrived moments, and, yes, clichés, doesn't deserve to be about finding faith. The movie is so thoroughly and utterly fake it deserves only to be an exhibit in a wax figure museum.