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Catherine the Great (1995)
Miscast and inaccurate
Although fairly interesting to watch, Katharina is very historically inaccurate and biased, which is partly due to the horrible miscasting. Just to name a few: 1. Catherine Zeta-Jones as Empress Catherine II: a actress who is young, beautiful, dark in complexion and extremely attractive is certainly a poor choice to play a pale, plain middle-aged nimphomaniac. No one would ever address the real Catherine II as "you pretty thing", as Pugachev did in the film! 2. Jeanne Moreau as Empress Elizabeth: a 70-year old playing a 40-year old (I think this is self-explanatory) 3. Omar Sharif as Count Razumovsky: a 65-year old with a typically mediterranean appearance as a 45-year-old Ukrainian... 4. Rhys-Meyers as Pugachev... Don't know where to start... Apart from the fact that the actor is once again much older that his character, Rhys-Meyers is a BAD choice to play a violent, charismatic, almost demonic, and at the same time very folkish, Emelian Pugachev. Rhys-Meyers just doesn't look like an escaped convict-mass-murdered-highway robber-impostor or any of what real-life Pugachev was. Apart from that, a particularly striking misportrayal is the execution of Pugachev. The filmmakers have it take place in the summer in front of a crowd of about 5, while in reality it took place in the middle of winter on the Red Square in Moscow in front of a crowd of perhaps a 100,000, and was an extremely dramatic event, one the biggest public spectacles in Russia's history. So much for the fillmakers... Also, the story of Catherine's marriage to Peter III is portarayed in a highly prejudiced manner, drawing an all-too-clear line between the supposedly "good guys" (namely Catherine, Orlov, and the bunch) an the "horrible monster" Peter III. The story was not nearly so black-and-white in reality. Apart from that, the film makes fairly decent viewing. Balancing the two, I give it a 6/10
Great actors, great script, great film
"Shapka" is one of the last great Soviet films. It is perhaps the last Russian-language films to boast a truly star-studded cast, including the glorified veterans such as Yevstigneev, Vesnik, Yefremov, Tabakov, Djigarkhanian, Nevinny, Vladimirov, as well as the brilliant Ilyin (then only a newcomer). The acting is superb (it is probably Ilyin's best work), the script is funny and sad at the same time. The film is perfectly paced, very dynamic, and never boring. Besides the high entertainment value, "Shapka" is also philosophical. Despite being set in the 1970's Soviet Union, the story is universally applicable. It is a tale of a conformist, a self-less drone who stubbornly believes in the fairness of the system which ultimately betrays him and destroys him, morally and physically. Overall, an excellent film.
Banditskiy Peterburg: Baron (2000)
An overrated mediocrity
The much-praised "Banditskij Peterburg" is yet another unoriginal suspense series produced in Russia. The plot is recognizable, and characters lack depth. There is an all-too-visible line separating the antagonists from the protagonists. The ending is also fairly predictable. And, unlike "Menty", an earlier series, "Banditskij Peterburg" completely lacks interesting dialogue or characters. The acting is much weaker, as well, especially the Corleone figure of the Antibiotic, who fails dismally to portray a cruel, deceitful, and, moreover, all-powerful mafia kingpin. Also ridiculous is Lavrov as a thief (a man who always played Communist party bosses in films!). The cameos by two of Russia's greatest actors, Basilashvili and Jigarkhanian, are tasteless and pathetic. Jigarkhanian looks totally rdiculous and unconvincing as a mafia kingpin, even more ridiculous than the antibiotic. Also, the authors clearly went beyond good taste with unnecessary nude scenes. Plot holes are abundant, as well. At any rate, if you are really after a good Russian crime TV series, see "Menty" or "Ubojnaya Sila". "Banditskij Peterburg" is a waste of time compared to these.
Uboynaya sila (2000)
Great TV series!
"Ubojnaya sila", which can be loosely translated as "killer force" is a funny and intelligent new Russian TV series, a brilliant addition to the famous "Menty". The new cast is great, especially the funny man Fedortsev (as lieutenant Rogov) and the dialogue is witty and original. Somewhat less serious than the "Menty", it nevertheless makes a suspenseful viewing, and the element of slapstick is very tasteful and perfectly realistic. Other excellent cast members include Habenski as the ironical captain Plakhov, as well as Lavrov and Sadalski in their brilliant cameos. Overall, a funny, intelligent, and entertaining TV series. I give it a 10.