POLITFLIX 17: MOTHER RUSSIA
Dave and James look back at Russia on Film in a post Cold War climate from Star Trek to James Bond; also taking in Crimson Tide, Air Force One, The Peacemaker and Bad Company.
Greetings, Comrades! Glasnost! Perestroika! Sokovia! Or, as we say in Mother Russia: Привет и Добро пожаловать в Politflix, эпизод 17. Privet i Dobro pozhalovat’ v Politflix, epizod 17.
On a serious note? Well, it’s fair to say we in the UK have enjoyed better relations with Russia than our current and frankly frightening situation. The attack on Salisbury and its aftermath offered a chilling reminder of the knife edge on which our post Cold War relationships were perched, perpetually and precariously.
Meanwhile, in the good old U-S-of A? Fair to say that some think entire elections could be shaped by the will of Mr Putin. Thankfully, as always, one can escape the darkness with a good old fashioned blast of Hollywood hope and hype. And, for the last twenty years or so, many a blockbuster has been prepping us to face a post Communist Russia.
So: sit back, put feet up, pour yourself a nice glass of ‘wodka’, click link below, yes and LISTEN! POLITFLIX. 17. It’s a long one but fun and fast (skip to 1:00 for the Russia retrospective after the initial news chat).
ПРАВДА / PRAVDA..;)
Post Script Show Notes:
Dave Bond is Host at Do You Expect us to Talk?
James Murphy is Commander of the Ship at Movie Viral. Not been to Russia. At least not recently. But does enjoy a good bowl of Borscht. No confirmed ties to any Russian syndicates but is open to offers from female KGB/ ‘Red Sparrow’ style agents who are also trained Gymnasts/Contortionists/Ballet Dancers/Opera singers/hackers/Oligarch empire heiresses/all of the above. Just kidding. Already dated loads of those. Sorta 😉
Well, you heard the podcast, I take it? And you know the news about our recent diplomatic setback with Russia. I have some personally very fond memories of teaching Russians a few years back. Lovely, talented, hard working classes.
I had one student time me on a run. ‘Are you sure I ran it in that time?’. Him: ‘RUSSIAN TIME IS ALWAYS ACCURATE, MR JAMES’. Could have come straight from a Bond film. Another charming student was baffled by my knowledge of their national cuisine but copped eventually that ‘Borscht’ was in fact not on the school menu.
In short? I do hope that in time, Russia and Britain can make up. Economically? We could use the cash, post Brexit. Militarily? We need all the allies we can get in a world still threatened by terrorism. But onscreen? You simply cannot beat a good old Russian baddie..
Hollywood LOVES a good national villain template. It enables scripts to be fast tracked into production in a kind of factory floor meets wartime propaganda fashion.
Hence, when the Cold War ended, writers panicked. They tried substituting Communist villainy with Colombian Drug Lords, IRA and /or Arab Terrorists (nb: renegade factions, just to avoid causing offence) and of course the good old fashioned British, sneering Boo Hiss panto villain with just a hint of nasty Nazi.
And yet? They just could not escape Russia. There was something promising about a post Cold War collaboration with our old enemies: a new energy and optimism. At the same time, an irresistible allure in revisiting old school action atmospherics (snow, Kremlin, Red Army Choirs, chases across Moscow etc).
And so it was: from the early to mid 90s all the way to the present, we have been treated to a treasury of renegade Russian menaces onscreen. The results are of course, mixed. But it has been a generally fascinating formula and commercially very sensible.
You get all the best ingredients, just from Russia! Instant relevance for a big menace; an empire for the hero to face off against; an impossible barrier for love /peace /limitless McGuffins to break through. And some easily marketed star vehicles: ‘It’s such and such a movie star versus the Russian Mafia/stolen Russian nukes’. Etc.
And here are just a few of the examples, cited in the podcast:
STAR TREK 6: THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY (1991): Two empires powered down in 1991. The Soviet Union was one. The other? And perhaps even more importantly? Star Trek, the original cast/ iteration. This is a farewell film to a beloved series but also a self contained murder mystery thriller in space. In a daring and clever, satirical move, the film’s politics (a kind of Glasnost with the Klingons) echo the kind of dilemmas faced by the USA and USSR as the Cold War ended and a new era dawned.
Bond films usually evade direct political comment, with very occasional exception. But they depend on some reference to the zeitgeist in each era. Hence, we got James Bond vs the Russian Mafia for GoldenEye. Or at least, that’s how it was pitched in summary form on the film’s announcement. Truth is it’s far more a case of ‘James Bond vs the cynics who thought he couldn’t make a post Cold War comeback’. But comeback, he did! There had been a 6 year gap.
The last Bond film had been 1989’s Licence to Kill, starring Timothy Dalton: an excellent thriller, just not a typical series entry. Pierce Brosnan was the new 007 for GoldenEye and had lots to prove in making Bond feel somehow relevant and modern yet also escapist and comforting.
Cue a kind of greatest hits of James Bond, with Pierce’s take very much a merger of Connery and Moore with occasional hints of Dalton /Lazenby. So yes, he and the filmmakers played it safe. But they played to win too and win they did!
The movie did great business and refreshed the franchise for another decade. GoldenEye is critical in the Bond series’ history and Pierce does a great job of reintroducing the character, ably directed by Martin Campbell, who would return to reboot Bond again in the excellent Casino Royale (2006: Daniel Craig’s debut in the part).
CRIMSON TIDE (1995):
Literate yet still ‘popcorn’ blockbuster thriller. Starring Gene Hackman and Denzel Washington, the film had been passed around a few other potential actors, from Al Pacino and Sean Connery to Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer. Directed by Tony Scott, one can see all his visual trademarks with light and editing.
It’s one of Hans Zimmer’s definitive scores, too and featured on many a trailer in subsequent years. Quentin Tarantino did a polish on the script and one can tell where, with pop culture jokes and references to Star Trek and submarine thrillers as well as the Kirby Silver Surfer.
Jason Robards cameos, as does James Gandolfini. A joy to watch, with a substantial and memorable dialogue throughout, between Hackman’s warlike, no nonsense submarine captain and Denzel as the more calm and considerate, philosophical second in command. The film functions as a Submarine thriller, war film, ethical debate and summer blockbuster action film.
THE PEACEMAKER (1997):
Pitched as ‘Crimson Tide, on the ground’, this saw George Clooney at the beginnings of his career as a leading man ‘film star’. Clooney is both convincing and compelling as a bomb disposal officer come field agent, very much a military counterpart to his excellent work as Dr Doug Ross on ER (which he was still making at the time). Nicole Kidman co-stars, in a precursor warm up to her earthier, grittier, later work. Also featuring Randall Batinkoff and Michael Boatman
Mimi Leder directs and her choreography of action is outstanding, notably the nuke heist on a train at the start and a helicopter chase midway through. One of the first films for the ~(then) newly launched Dreamworks Pictures. Based on a real life account of some dangerous near misses in nuclear weapons based espionage: One Point Safe (a great read).
AIR FORCE ONE (1997):
Harrison Ford stars a fictional American President who decides that Russian based terrorist factions need to ‘be afraid’. Lovely though his interventionist policy might seem on paper?
He ends up being hijacked on his own titular plane by a team of Russian, ultra nationalist baddies, whose leader is played by Gary Oldman. Far fetched on one hand yet somehow very credible and convincing; at once a boys’ own escapist adventure and genuinely political thriller.
I tend to think on Air Force One as a kind of unofficial Jack Ryan film. Harrison Ford had played Ryan in Patriot Games (1992) and Clear and Present Danger (1994) and having sworn off action for the umpteenth time, was sworn into this hit movie when Kevin Costner dropped out. ‘GET OFF MY PLANE’!.
BAD COMPANY (2002):
Curiosity star vehicle for Chris Rock, playing the brother of a deceased master spy. He has a week to undergo full CIA training in all manner of crafts from combat to fine dining, under the watchful eye of mentor, Anthony Hopkins.
It’s a fairly derivative and forgettable piece, with Joel Schumacher very much on Director for Hire duties. But it moves at a brisk pace, has some genuine thrills and stakes and looks and sounds beautiful, c/o some great location work, lighting and score beats. Worth a look, though by no means unmissable. An awkward fusion of post 9/11 fear to quasi Cold War era nostalgia. Very much of its time.
SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY (2018) is on general release. Its box office performance has been a disappointment and yet to call the film a ‘flop’ seems spectacularly unfair. It opened against the hilarious and charming DEADPOOL 2 and in the aftermath of a triumphant AVENGERS:INFINITY WAR and a still divisive STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI.
This Solo film is unspectacular but it is adequate entertainment and Alden Ehenreich, though by no means a patch on Harrison Ford, does capture the Han Solo character and with a charming aplomb of his own. Donald Glover also great as a young Lando: maybe not quite as smooth or cool as Billy Dee Williams but a more than accomplished tribute act.
If you see it? You will perhaps not be ‘wowed’ but it is an entertaining and worthwhile watch from Director Ron Howard and the to my mind excellent and lovely though sadly much maligned Producer, Kathleen Kennedy.
DEADPOOL 2 (2018) defies ANY attempt at a serious review. Sorry. But it is hilarious, fast, fun and even moving in places. It lacks the novelty of the first film and trades on some now tired tropes in consequence. But you will laugh. A LOT. And go out smiling and curious about a part 3, having also been treated to some first rate action. One thing though: Ryan Reynolds NEEDS to move on from Green Lantern. We get it, Ryan. That film flopped. No need to go on about it? 😉
GODFATHER 4 was a mooted yet abandoned chapter in the Corleone family saga onscreen. Director Francis Coppola and Mario Puza had written a treatment, which would have returned to Godfather 2’s half prequel/half sequel style. We’d have seen the glory days and rise of Vito /Sonny, juxtaposed with the decline and fall of Vincent Mancini/Corleone as a kind of cross between Gotti and Escobar.
Leonardo DiCaprio (Leeeeeoooo!) and Andy Garcia were ready to play the leads. But Puzo died and Coppola simply ceased development of the film. Paramount Pictures remain interested in some form of continuation /reboot for the beloved series and non canonical /unofficial continuation novels and video games are available, meantime. Coppola’s notebook on writing the original film is a MUST read.
STILL UNTITLED JAMES BOND 25 (2019) is now officially confirmed as a Danny Boyle film. Daniel Craig returns as James Bond. It will be amazing. The end. Meantime, if you need to feed your Bond habit /pangs etc? Feel free to read Anthony Horowitz’s prequel novel, ‘Forever and a Day’.
John Campea has a daily film show on YouTube.
World Class Bullshitters are arguably at the opposite end of the podcast spectrum but funny and prolific.
JAMES BOND RADIO: a fun, accessible, loving tribute to all things 007, from 2 unusually cool blokes.
Now Playing Podcast is a masterclass in film retrospective series.
Red Letter Media: always good for a laugh and genuine cinematic insight.
Kelly Marie Tran is sadly no longer on instagram but Rian Johnson can be found on twitter.
Thank you for Listening /Reading/Sharing.
WE WILL RETURN IN POLITFLIX OF THE PINK PANTHER!