Online poster reads: "Gundyayev allows", referring to Russian Orthodox Church patriarch Kirill Gundyayev. The picture shows an Orthodox priest photoshopped next to his car and the accident he caused. Activist's website calls for people to print it out and post in public places
My most recent visit to Russia was overwhelmed by one particular notion - the country has become so materialistic that even Ayn Rand and Daniel Plainview (main character from There Will Be Blood) would've found the obsession with money to be too much. In other words, the core of the Russian society, the so-called ruling elite and middle class, has become spiritless and valueless to the point of increasing physical deaths and criminal activities. The only part of the society that still genuinely puts family values and honesty first is Russia's fast-growing Muslim population. In other words, imagine a version of The Walking Dead where "zombies" literally don't sleep, don't eat, don't drink, don't have compassion, and walk and work with only one goal - to make more money (rather than eat people). That picture describes today's Moscow (complete with FM-radio soundtrack broadcasting the lyrics that "any b..ch is just a matter of price...").
Some libertarians may argue that greed is good. However, while the libertarian "religion" is heavily advocated by Atlas, Reason, CATO, and other U.S.-based foundations, American libertarianism is from a country where people don't hide behind six-foot fences, don't drive 200 miles an hour killing school kids at a bus stop, don't display their wealth by spending 98% of their monthly income on clothes and cars they can't afford, and regularly go to church. The sheer fact that libertarian non-profits exist proves that someone in America spends money on donations and charitable giving. And even that in itself is drastically different from today's Russia, where people would easily spend $15 on a cup of tea and $20 on a tasteless desert on the go, but wouldn't give a dime to a charity that feeds orphans. In fact, Russia today has more orphans than it did during World War II, and people with the means to take the children in prefer to buy expensive dogs and provide them with fancy dog snacks and toys. Two days before I left Moscow, a drunk driver, travelling 130 miles an hour, lost control of his car and wiped out a bus stop with 14 children, killing seven on the spot. Under Russian laws his maximum sentence can be nine years in prison.
How did it happen and who is to blame? the Russian Orthodox Church and its corrupt ex-KGB, tobacco-billionaire leader are the ones to share the responsibility.
Mr. Trololo Dies at 77 -- Rest in Peace, Eduard Khil
Eduard Khil (Mr. Trololo) performing at a St. Petersburg dance-music festival in summer 2011
Forgotten for a long time, popular Soviet artist Eduard Khil, achieved the worldwide stardom as "Mr. Trololo" in 2010; he died last night in a St. Petersburg hospital at age 77. His 1976 vocalized song "I'm so Glad I'm Finally Coming Back Home" became a YouTube sensation, scoring millions of views within days. His new fame put him back on the stages of Moscow and St. Petersburg hottest dance clubs, where he performed remakes and remixes of his old hits. Last April, he suffered a stroke, and his newly-found world-wide fans started collecting donations for an advanced heart surgery. Unfortunately, Eduard never got a chance to use the generous gift. However, doctors who spent the last minutes of his life with Mr. Trololo, said that he died happy.
The best gift of his life was the last-minute international stardom. What a way to end a long career for a retired Soviet singer! He was just another Soviet musician, who faced the hardships of the Nineties with the rest of the nation, and left Russia for Paris, where he sang at restaurants to make the living. He was old, and returned home in 2000-s to quietly retire and live the last days of his life in his old Soviet-built apartment; just another "old man." The 2010 YouTube phenomenon could have been taken as a prank or as a prompt to get back on the stage. He took it as the latter, and, despite his age, reconquered the hearts of millions. Eduard Khil experienced what no other Soviet singer could have ever dreamed of - an international fame, spanning across the continents and generations. In the last days of his life, he smiled and entertained the young crowds, who fell in love with his sincere love for life, appreciation of all genres of music, and enjoyment of Internet humor. He even hoped to make it to the States with the Mr. Trololo Tour...
You lived a full life and will be remembered far beyond the Soviet Union and its old generations. Today, the whole world will smile, listening to your 1976 hit. Rest in peace, Mr. Trololo.
Russian Orthodox Church Abuses Its Power, Engages in Politics, Divides Russians
The elections in Russia are over, but the post-elections tensions are still high (if not higher) than during the February and March demonstrations. Now that Putin is officially the new president, society has clashed over the statements and direction of the Russian Orthodox Church. Russian society has actively split into haves and have-nots, liberals (anything but Putin) and conservatives (better Putin than unknown), and internationalists and nationalists. How did it happen?
Two events have emerged into the spotlight simultaneously. The Russian Orthodox Church and its Patriarch Kirill have been actively supportive of Putin and made statements during and after the elections that have reached far beyond church's business. As a response, on March 3rd, members of a controversial band, "Pussy Riot," stripped naked in Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Savior, making a statement that their behavior was equally inappropriate inside the church as is the church's behavior in public. They were arrested and are still being held in jail awaiting a closed trial. In another situation, there was no jail time for a much more serious offense. A United Russia member of parliament Alexey Zheludkov, while driving drunk in Saratov Oblast last week, hit and killed a 13-year-old boy on a bicycle. The MP is back home, stripped of his rights to international travel, and faces five years in prison as the highest measure of punishment. In addition to the aforementioned controversy and injustice, the public also had a chance to recall that Patriarch Kirill (legal name Vladimir Gundyaev, former KGB code name "Mikhailov") in fact is a billionaire who made his fortune in alcohol and tobacco imports in the Nineties using Orthodox Church's non-profit tax-exemptions status.
All of the above was placed into the internet and media "blender" and created the unforeseen headache recipe for the church and for the ruling party.
170,000 Celebrate Muslim Holiday Kurban Bayram in Moscow Streets
Today, more than 170,000 Muslims celebrated the important Muslim holiday Kurban Bayram. Russian nationalists were predicting an ethnic mayhem, terrorist explosions, and racial clashes. However, the celebrations were peaceful and joyful. In one of the Moscow's mosques along the festivities were attended by 80,000 people! Even though the Moscow police was prepared for extraordinary situations, the officers were impressed with the smooth flow of events. The successful and peaceful celebration, amid troubling nationalistic tensions in the Russian society, is an important statement that Russia's peaceful Muslims and Christian can coexist, just like they have for the past 500 years.
What Do Putin, Obama and Ben Affleck Have in Common?
Coincidentally, I used to work for a foundation that sponsored the Fanagoria archeological expedition, and my friend, just like Putin, retrieved a similar vase; it's now resting at our family's dacha (country home) in the Moscow suburbs. A photo of our vase is coming, after my family back in Russia takes it and sends it over to Seattle where I am currently.... -- YM
What do Putin, Obama and Ben Affleck have in common? They are celebrities, and nothing more! Everybody knows them, but no one is too sure what exactly any of them is doing. Karl Rove's article in The Wall Street Journal "Obama's No Good, Very Bad Week" nails all the necessary points in regards to the American president. Obama talks, blames, and smiles in his white unbuttoned shirt. That, apparently, is not enough to curb the worst financial crisis in world's modern history.
Ben Affleck? He is a celebrity and a handsome man. But no one can really remember his most recent hit movie. To help out Russia Blog readers who are his fans -- the movie is called The Company Men, and features another now-irrelevant star, Kevin Costner. With a production budget of $15 million, the movie grossed only $4.9 million worldwide. An "ouch" moment for the film's investors -- a feeling similar to that which the Chinese government is experiencing in relationship to Obama's White House economic program.
However, in our weekend stardom marathon, Vladimir Putin takes first place with his new action movies of diving underwater and retrieving ancient Greek artifacts. By a pure coincidence, I used to work for a foundation that sponsored archeological expedition in Fanagoria--a Russian town that is the location of an ancient Greek city. The Russian government under back-then President Putin didn't want to do anything with the expedition, leaving the sponsorship to Russian private businessmen, some of whom fell out of Putin's favor... But that's a different story. Today, when Putin is prime minister, the government donates about 50 rubles (one dollar and eighty cents) per day to the income of each of the scientists and archeologists working on the site. That is, not much. However, uncomfortable facts and unwritten rules of ethics do not prevent the prime minister from going on a lavish vacation to the site he never supported. Meanwhile, Russia's ruble--backed by piles of gold, diamonds, gas, oil, and zero innovation--is slipping alongside the "evil" dollar (the ruble has lost 10% of its value next to the struggling dollar in the past several weeks).
"My Perestroika" Tracks Classmates from Soviet Childhoods to Putin's Russia
An Era of Dramatic Historical Change Is Rendered in Vivid Detail, as Five Muscovites Recount Their Personal Stories and Old Ideals Shift to New Realities. Watch it on Tuesday, June 28, 2011, on PBS at 10 PM.
"'My Perestroika' gives you a privileged sense of learning the history of a place not from a book but from the people who lived it. . . . Astoundingly timely." -- Stephen Holden, The New York Times
The 1970s-era home movies featuring well-scrubbed, rosy-cheeked kids playing in the snow or at the beach would not be out of place in an American family. Even the 1977 parade of children through Red Square in uniforms that are evocative of American scouting outfits does not appear alien. It takes one child's resoundingly enthusiastic salute, thanking "Dear Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev . . . for the fact that we live in the Country of Happy Childhood!" to remind us that we are gazing into the looking-glass world of the last years of the Soviet Union.
And nobody knows more about that world -- and its sudden, spectacular crumbling -- than the generation of children pictured in the opening sequences of My Perestroika. "I simply was like everyone else," says Lyuba Meyerson, one of the women profiled in the film. "I was completely satisfied with my beautiful Soviet reality."
A rare account of the collapse of the Soviet Union as experienced by five members of the last generation of Soviet children, Robin Hessman's My Perestroika has its national broadcast premiere on Tuesday, June 28, 2011 at 10 p.m. on PBS as part of the 24th season of POV (Point of View). (Check local listings.) POV's regular season continues on Tuesdays through Sept. 27 and concludes with special broadcasts in 2011 and 2012. American television's longest-running independent documentary series, POV has won a Special Emmy for Excellence in Television Documentary Filmmaking, an IDA Award for Best Continuing Series and NALIP's 2011 Award for Corporate Commitment to Diversity.
Politics and news aside, Joshua Hammer has a great story on the pages of The New York Times about visiting St. Petersburg during the famous summer-time White Nights. Even though he does not cover the night club life and nearby palaces, such as Peterhof, and Catherine's Palace, his interesting, positive, and well-detailed story--complete with a slide show--can easily serve as a visitor's guide to the Russia's "second capital." If you don't have time or money to visit in person - don't miss this one!
April 12 - the 50th Anniversary of Yuri Gagarin's First Flight in Space, Release of New Film
Today, thousands of news agencies and millions (if not billions) of people around the planet are taking a moment to reflect on the number "50." It has been half a century since Russian-Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin conducted the first-ever manned flight to space in human history. Reports from Fox News, CNN, The Telegraph and thousands of other news agencies do not focus on Yuri's nationality or the Cold War which U.S. and Russia were fighting at the moment. Seems like today, 50 years later, Yuri Gagarin brought the entire planet together in awe of human race's scientific and technological achievement. Gagarin lived a legendary life and died as a hero in 1968 when a MiG 15 training jet he was piloting crashed. Years later, Gagarin continues to mesmerize and inspire.
A real-time recreation of Yuri Gagarin's pioneering first orbit was shot entirely in space from on board the International Space Station. The film combines this new footage with Gagarin's original mission audio, Soviet video archives, and a new musical score by composer Philip Sheppard. Enjoy the show, and for more information about the movie visit http://www.firstorbit.org
Do Americans Miss the Cold War? Gates Visits Russia, Shoots a Cannon, Laments the Good Old Days
During his visit to Russia, Chief of Pentagon Robert Gates fired the noon cannon at the Peter and Paul Fortress over St. Petersburg, a custom started by Peter the Great. CNN reports: "With the city laid out in front of him and the ice-covered river below, Gates practiced a couple of times and then counted down the final five seconds to the traditional midday firing. He was presented with the shell casing as a memento of the day."
While in Russia, Gates did not talk about Libya at all. In fact, he almost silently agreed with Putin's remarks against the coalition's military actions in the Middle East. However, he talked a lot about his past in the CIA, and lamented the Cold War. "In the days of the Cold War, it seemed the world was a lot simpler," Gates told Russian Navy officers. "There was the Soviet Union. There was us. Almost every problem of the world was defined by that relationship. Once the Cold War got over, the world got a lot more complicated."
Coincidentally, just a couple weeks ago I was hosted at a private movie party devoted to the Cold War. The party, which took place in a Nashville's finer neighborhood movie theater, featured liters of Jack Daniels, vodka, and the great old movie with Kirk Douglas "Seven Days in May" (1964). The American guests at the party mirrored Gates' recollections of the past: during the Cold Way the world was safer, the enemies were civilized and predictable, and--in fact--similar to each other (political agendas aside). Today, both Russia and the U.S. are facing the common enemy, the one who has no home, morals, or honor.
Meet the faces of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games! After an entertainment show on the major Russian TV network and the country-wide elections conducted via social networks, 8-800 phone calls, and text messages, not just one, but three finalists were chosen! Russia Blog visitors are the first English-language readers to find out who the Sochi 2014 Olympics mascots are.
Meet and congratulate: The Snow Leopard, The White Hare, and The Polar Bear!
The Snow Lepard gained 28% of the votes, The Polar Bear got 18%, and The White Rabbit - 16%. Russian Olympics committee decided to go with all three. The Skiing Dolphin almost made it into the finalists team, but fell short by a narrow margin. Maybe for the better - dolphins don't ski... See all the candidates in the extended post!
Medvedev Meets with Pope Benedict XVI and Silvio Berlusconi, Opens the Year of Russia in Italy and Year of Italy in Russia
Russia's Dmitry Medvedev and Pope Benedict XVI in Vatican
Last year was the year of Russian Culture and Language in France and Year of French Culture and Language in Russia. While such country-wide exchanges may seem cheesy on the other side of the Atlantic, the years of culture--in fact--offer great educational, cultural, and promotional vehicles for the countries involved. Aside from many artistic, musical, cinematographic, and theatrical events (some of which I was able to catch while in Moscow in 2010), greater endeavors take place. For example, for the first time since 1914, a Russian-operated train made its trip from downtown Moscow to the coast of France on September 23, 2010. Now this is a regular route, just like in the tsars' times.
Russians actively travel to Italy. In 2009, when walking the streets of Rome, I stumbled upon a Russian Embassy to Vatican, which is an entirely separate entity from the Russian Embassy to Italy. During his conversation with the Russian President, Pope Benedict XVI said he had wished he spoke Russian. When Medvedev gave the Pope an artistic enamel with the paintings of Kremlin as a gift and told the Pope about all the Orthodox cathedrals in the Kremlin proper, Pope Bededict XVI asked the Russian president "do you live there?" Medvedev responded, "no, just work." This is a good start for the cultural exchange: Russians can learn that they are represented in the Vatican, and Italians can learn that the Russian president lives in a private house and only travels to the Kremlin for work.
Train Moscow, Russia - Nice, France. For the First Time Since 1914
For the first time since the tsars' times, a Russian-operated train made its trip from downtown Moscow to the coast of France on September 23, 2010. The trip takes 52 hours, and connects two historically popular destinations. Just like 200 years ago, the Southern Coast of France is overrun with Russia's wealthy and travelers. The Russian Railroads commented that another reason for this route is the fact that the train makes stops at multiple resort destinations popular among common Russian tourists. The rail connection will become an alternative to air travel for passengers afraid of the planes or just romantics. On another note, year 2010 was celebrated as the Year of France in Russia, and the Year of Russia in France. The new railroad operation is a great outcome of the sentiment.
U2 is visiting Russia as part of its 360 World Tour. Bono, using the opportunity, got to visit with Dmitry Medvedev in the president's private residence in Sochi, where Winter Olympic Games 2014 will take place. As the result of the high-profile meetings, aside from an agreement to fight AIDS, Russian President Medvedev and Irish Singer Bono concluded that they both love Led Zeppelin.
Enjoy the photos of Bono's visit at Medvedev's dacha in Sochi in the extended post.
Russian Business Leader Saves Historic Landmark from Closure
Viktor Vekselberg and Arnold Shwarzenneger signed a historic document in front of Dmitry Medvedev to maintain and protect the U.S. Fort Ross national park
(San Francisco, CA, 22 June 2010) -- California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and corporate leader Victor Vekselberg, Chairman of Renova Group -- alongside Russian President Dmitry Medvedev -- sign a historic agreement to support and preserve California's Fort Ross State Park. The site was on the verge of closure given California's ongoing budgetary crisis. The Renova Group of Companies and State of California view their cooperation as fostering deeper cross-cultural relations between Russia and the United States and promoting enhanced understanding and connection between the peoples of the United States and Russia.
An early agricultural supplier to Alaska, Fort Ross was a thriving Russian settlement from 1812 to 1841. The Fort's Russian settlers were the first to introduce to the area shipbuilding and windmills, as well as advances in science, natural studies, agriculture, and conservation. At the forefront of multicultural sharing, Fort Ross was a place where Russians and local Native Americans shared peaceful relations and where innovation and respect for the land were valued highly.
Hearing of the impending closure, the Renova Group, headed by Victor Vekselberg, has committed substantial financial support to the park and will promote long-term solutions to budgetary and other issues through establishment of a public charitable foundation, the Renova Fort Ross Foundation.
If I correctly recall, when the Russian delegation marched into the opening ceremony of the recently completed Olympiad, Bob Costas said that some Russians predicted a Russian medal tally of anywhere between thirty and forty. Sports Illustratedprojected Russia finishing ninth among nations, with twenty two medals medals. Russia ended up sixth, with fifteen medals.
Stakes are High for the Russian Men's Olympic Ice Hockey Team
Russian ice hockey player Alexei Morozov was flag bearer for his country at the opening ceremony of the Vancouver Winter Olympics
As the home team, Canada's Olympians have an extra perk to do well in Vancouver. Canada is particularly interested in its highly regarded men's and women's ice hockey teams. In overall terms of viewing as a fan and active participation, ice hockey is considered the most popular sport in that country.
When compared to their Canadian rival, the talented Russian men's ice hockey team is arguably more under the gun to win the Olympic ice hockey tournament. Canada is projected to win more medals than Russia. With this in mind, Canada will likely have a greater number of other Olympic achievements to cherish than Russia.
"In recent years, Berlin became de facto the world capital of sexual minorities. Because there are friendly relations between the mayors of Moscow and Berlin, why not an agreement in which the representatives of sexual minorities in Moscow will hold their parade in Berlin with the support of the city?"
Jeff Megall (Hollywood super agent): Mr. Naylor is here to see if [in the movies] we can't get cigarettes into the hands of somebody other than the usual RAVs.
Nick Naylor (tobacco lobbyist): RAVs?
Jeff Megall: Russians, Arabs, and villains.
-- Thank You For Smoking (2006)
In the recent blockbuster 2012, all the Russians are depicted heroically -- and there is not a Borat or ex-KGB agent in sight (though not a single Arab is portrayed as a sympathetic character, but compromises were made). Of course, the most noble Russians end up dying the quickest, but ask any Slav and most would shrug and agree that such a tragedy is in line with historic reality.
Fedor Emelianenko Knocks Out the Undefeated Brett Rogers, Thanks Russian Orthodox for Their Prayers
On Saturday, November 7, Fedor Emelianenko proved one more time that he is the best fighter in the world by knocking out the undefeated Brett Rogers in the second round. For the first time in Russian history, the First Channel (main government TV station) showed an MMA fight, just 12 hours after CBS aired it live in America. As Fedor Emelianenko said in his post-fight interview, he was "more popular in America than in Russia;" his manager added "not anymore." Russians prefer box to the brutal and bloody Mixed Martial Arts, but Fedor's victory was impossible to ignore. When asked about the reasons of his victory, Fedor answered: "Millions of Russian Orthodox Christians prayed for me. It is their victory, not mine."
Brett Rogers, a Chicago native, was the underdog of the fight in his own hometown. Fedor Emelianenko was the celebrity and the favorite of the crowd that came to see the Strikeforce-M1 fight at the Chicago's Sears Centre Arena. My personal experience watching the fight was unique, as I watched the match at a bar in Nashville, TN. Dozens of American Southerners came to a local establishment to support... the Russian! Could one imagine just 20 years ago that a Southern crowd would be cheering to the images of a Russian beating the crap out of an American. Rocky, indeed, is an outdated material. Now, one can only hope that politicians in Moscow and Washington would catch up with the times...
After the fight, the first people from Fedor's camp who came out onto the mat were long-bearded Orthodox priests from Fedor's village. Fedor wrapped himself in a Russian flag and put a giant wooden cross on his neck. My American bartender poured me a free drink to celebrate Fedor's victory and asked where Fedor was from. I said "from the Russian version of East Tennessee." The fable-like Russian fighter is a loving father, strong believer, and the most dangerous heavyweight fighter in world history.
Read the ESPN coverage of the fight in the extended post.
Russian Champ Fedor Emelianenko Still Looking for a Fight
Fedor Emelianenko of Russia puts down Matt Lindland of the U.S. during a mixed-martial-arts match in St. Petersburg Vladimir Rodionov / EPA / Corbis (Photo Source: Time)
You wouldn't expect there to be a lot of people standing in line to fight someone who, as described in American news magazine Time "possesses an assassin's glare and a face-denting right jab." As of Friday, that queue got even shorter when it was announced that a scheduled August 1 fight between American Josh Barnett and Russian Fedor Emelianenko is canceled because of Barnett's positive steroid test early last week.
Fight organizers (M-1 Global and Affliction Entertainment) said there wasn't enough time to find someone else to fight the former Russian army soldier who holds a 30-1 mixed martial arts (MMA) record.
Affliction Entertainment on Friday canceled its Aug. 1 mixed martial arts card in Anaheim because it could not find a suitable replacement opponent to fight Russian heavyweight Fedor Emelianenko.
MMA, which began formally in the 1990s, has become a billion dollar global business, with the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) owning the promotion space. According to the Los Angeles Times, it "has 275 fighters under contract, its own reality television series and impressive revenue from events such as this month's UFC 100 in Las Vegas, which generated a live gate of $5.1 million and more than 1 million pay-per-view buys." As Time reported earlier this month, Dana White, UFC's president and "foul-mouthed ex-aerobics instructor" has said UFC will be "the biggest sport in the world in 10 years." White may end up being correct, but he might have to do it without the top fighter in the world.
Another Look at Mikhalkov and the "Denikinist State"
Nikita Mikhalkov and Anton Denikin
Whether rightly or wrongly, some opinions receive more sympathy than others. As is true with other matters, this observation pertains to the English language mass media coverage of the former Soviet Union. Russian actor, producer and director Nikita Mikhalkov's sympathetic views of Vladimir Putin, Serbia and Russia's pre-1917 past, do not serve to boost his popularity, among folks leaning towards English language mass media sentiment.
For clarity sake, Mikhalkov's thoughts on Russia's pre-1917 past are not a call for Russia to go back to an absolute monarchy, with no elections or parliament. Were that the case, he would not be in support of Putin. For whatever its political imperfections and similarities to prior periods in Russian history, post-Soviet Russia is not governed in a manner replicating the Russian Empire or Soviet Union. Mikhalkov seems to be a reasonable proponent of the view that pre-1917 Russia had positive aspects, which have been downplayed in some circles. By default, this opinion does not deny Russia's shortcomings within that period.
Fans grieve Jackson's death in downtown St Petersburg (image from NTV news report)
Today, undoubtedly, the biggest world news is the unexpected death of Michael Jackson, the only true King of Pop. It was night time in Moscow when the news reached Russia, and the sad event dominated the news reports around the country all day long since early morning. All Russian news channels, including the state-owned Rossiya and the First Channel, started their news reports with the details of Michael Jackson's passing, his career, his visits to Russia, and tribute of his fans around the world and in Russian cities. Many finished the news with a "no comment" music video tribute to the singer. Gazeta.ru wrote that "only a lazy paralyzed person didn't throw a rock at the idol in the last few years," however they agreed that his death brought out the true feeling about the star in Russia and around the globe: unreserved love and admiration.
Among many Russian leaders, the president of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov said "I deeply grieve with the musician's relatives, friends, and fans because of the untimely passing of the outstanding man, unmatchable singer Michael Jackson, whose death ends the entire epoch of the world music culture."
Michael Jackson was a household name in the countries of the former Soviet Union. During his visits to Moscow in 1993 and 1996, he was greeted as a head of state. Radio Free Europe writes that "his live concert in Moscow in 1993 sparked near-hysteria among scores of Russians hungry for a taste of Western culture." One of my brightest personal memories from the Nineties is attending Jackson's History Tour concert at the Dynamo stadium in Moscow in 1996. Today, hundreds of fans laid flowers and toys near the American Embassy in Moscow and in downtown St Petersburg to honor the idol. We all deeply grieve the untimely passing of the musician who influenced our lives and cultures.
Daniel Silva is a former CNN producer turned espionage thriller novelist. Silva's most recent novel, Moscow Rules, was released on July 22, 2008 and shot to the top of The New York Times bestseller list within a week. In Moscow Rules his recurring hero, art restorer and Mossad agent Gabriel Allon, battles a ruthless arms-dealing Russian oligarch and "the KGB".
Russian Movies on Georgia War: Olympus Inferno and War 08/08/08
The brief August 2008 war between Georgia and Russia continues to spawn films
Channel One, the same Russian TV network that produced the blockbusters Night Watch and Day Watch has made an action movie about the Georgia War, titled Olympus Inferno. The movie features two main characters, an American entomologist studying butterflies in South Ossetia (you can hear him yelling "What the hell is going on?" a lot in the trailer) and a Russian female journalist. The two characters must work together to get back to Russian lines after getting swept up in the August 8, 2008 Georgian offensive against the separatist enclave of South Ossetia.
The Admiral (ÐÐ´Ð¼Ð¸Ñ€Ð°Ð»ÑŠ) Reviewed: Random Video Clips with a Boring Narrative
A Russian battleship depicted in the historic drama Admiral
Watching the famous Russian movie Admiral had been my challenge for several months. Living in Seattle and then travelling across the U.S. didn't allow me to see the film in Russian movie theaters. Hearing the rumors about the amazing visual effects, I did not want to download a copy from the Internet and settle for watching it on my laptop. So finally, a few weeks ago, I set down with a friend in Moscow in front of a big plasma screen. We served ourselves cherry vareniki with sour cream, and I prepared to indulge myself in a historic visual journey through the Russian Revolution (beware -- spoilers).
The film titles start with a Soviet movie set where someone is filming something about the old Russia. Grandma's eyes are looking at an old photo of a beautiful lady. A viewer thinks right away "just like in Titanic, but the titles are in Russian". After the titles are over, the film indeed proves to be engaging and jaw-dropping. Admiral Kolchak (played by Konstantin Khabensky - ÐšÐ¾Ð½ÑÑ‚Ð°Ð½Ñ‚Ð¸Ð½ Ð¥Ð°Ð±ÐµÐ½ÑÐºÐ¸Ð¹) is guiding his ship in the Baltic Sea, dropping mines and watching out for a German frigate. Sure enough, the German vessel materializes out of the fog and the battle begins. If you watched the trailer, you basically saw the battle (and the movie).
Irony of Fate and S Novim Godom! (Ð˜Ñ€Ð¾Ð½Ð¸Ñ ÑÑƒÐ´ÑŒÐ±Ñ‹, Ð¸Ð»Ð¸ Ð¡ Ð»ÐµÐ³ÐºÐ¸Ð¼ Ð¿Ð°Ñ€Ð¾Ð¼!)
Irony of Fate with English subtitles, part 1 of 11 video clips
One of the most common Russian holiday traditions is to watch Irony of Fate, a romantic comedy produced in 1975 by the Soviet studio Mosfilm, with family and friends. The film has proven so popular over the years that director Timbur Bekmanbetov, producer of the blockbusters Night Watch and Wanted, released Irony of Fate 2 on January 1, 2008 starring his frequent collaborator, actor Konstantin Khabensky. The sequel, which brought back most of the original cast -- now thirty five years older -- proved to be a box office hit.
Click on the extended post to read more about the original film.
A film by director Pavel Lungin Ostrov (ÐžÑÑ‚Ñ€Ð¾Ð²), about a monk striving to overcome his painful past at an isolated monastery in northern Russia, became a modest hit at the Toronto International Film Festival after its release in 2006
Whereas some in the West view the revived Church as little more than an extension of a resurgent Russian State, the Moscow Patriarchate's view of the recent conflict between Russia and Georgia was that it was a tragic dispute between two Orthodox nations that have historically been friends. Many observers noticed when the Patriarch Elias II (also pronounced Elijah or Ilia) of Georgia was not only invited to Alexy's funeral in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior Cathedral, but delivered an impassioned homily during the service in memory of his friend.
The Sunday International Herald Tribune story profiles several small and medium-sized Orthodox magazines and periodicals and their editors, many of whom started their careers at Russia's top secular publications. It also touches on the touchy issue of whether many Russian celebrities and politicians are participating in public Orthodox rituals because it's become a fashionable thing to do or if the revival in religious faith and practice in Russia is heartfelt.
The couple, both natives of St. Petersburg, Russia, were married on January 12, 2000. Their only child, Ivan (Vanechka) was born in 2007. Anastasiya developed the brain tumor during her pregnancy and was treated at the Cedar Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles and the Burdenko Neurosurgical Institute in Moscow. Anastasiya's friends remember her as a young, energetic woman who loved life and her son. Anastasiya met Konstantin in 1999, when she interviewed the upstart actor for her radio show, and as Konstantin said, "it was love at first sight."
A former electrical engineering student and struggling street musician, Konstantin Khabensky is best known to American audiences for his role in the Angelina Jolie action-adventure movie Wanted. Russians know him best as the star of Admiral (Kolchak), The Irony of Fate 2 (Ironi Sudbi 2), Night Watch (Nochnoy Dozor), Day Watch (Dnevnoy Dozor) and other Russian blockbusters.
Russia Blog expresses our sincere condolences to Konstantin Khabensky and his family.
In August 1980, a new film was released in the Soviet Union, shattering any blockbuster records in the USSR and becoming an iconic feat of Soviet cinematography - "Pirati 20 VekaÂ» (ÐŸÐ¸Ñ€Ð°Ñ‚Ñ‹ XX Ð’ÐµÐºÐ°) -- (20th Century Pirates). This was the first domestically produced "boyevik" - an action thriller - and it became an instant and long-lasting success.
The film, almost three-decades old, has the feel of being "ripped off the headlines." Today's Russia is taking an active role in combat international piracy off the coast of Somalia. Its Navy is participating in protection, search and destroy missions, and along with its American and British counterparts, and has already enjoyed limited success.
Olga Kurylenko -- the James Bond Girl, a Ukrainian, and... a Birthday Girl!
Daniel Craig and Olga Kurylenko starring in the new Bond film Quantum of Solace
The new James Bond movie, Quantum of Solace, is facing a great opening weekend. The previous Bond film, Casino Royale, gained significant attention of the female audience, compliments of shirtless Daniel Craig coming out of the ocean. The new 007 film is guaranteed major success with the male audience, not only because of the numerous car chases and explosions, but mainly because of the Ukrainian model and actress Olga Kurylenko. Coincidentally, November 14 is Olga's 29th birthday! Even though the Communist Party of the Russian Federation condemned Olga and called her "a traitor," all she's betraying is her real identity. In the movie she is a Bolivian, not Ukrainian, and a fighter, not a model.
Olga Konstantinovna Kurylenko (ÐžÐ»ÑŒÐ³Ð° ÐšÐ¾ÑÑ‚ÑÐ½Ñ‚Ð¸Ð½Ñ–Ð²Ð½Ð° ÐšÑƒÑ€Ð¸Ð»ÐµÐ½ÐºÐ¾) was born on November 14, 1979, in Berdyansk, Ukraine, Soviet Union. Her mother, Marina Alyabysheva, divorced her father, Konstantin Kurylenko, soon after her birth. After the divorce, her mother struggled to survive as an art teacher. Young Olga Kurylenko was brought up by her mother and her grandmother, Raisa. During her youth, Olga had a humbling experience of living in poverty; she had no choice but to wear rags and had to darn the holes on her sweater. During the years in Ukraine she studied art, languages, did 7 years of musical school studying piano and went to a ballet studio until 13.
While the financial crisis continues around the globe and in Russia, we offer you a joke sent to us by Bohdanna Diduch, a reader from Ukraine. We hope it will help you relax from the financial headaches and enjoy the cultural references. -- The Editors
A lawyer and a Ukrainian are sitting next to each other on a long flight. The lawyer is thinking that Ukrainians are so dumb that he could get over on them easy...So the lawyer asks if the Ukrainian would like to play a fun game.
The Ukrainian is tired and just wants to take a nap, so he politely declines and tries to catch a few winks. The lawyer persists, and says that the game is a lot of fun. I ask you a question, and if you don't know the answer, you pay me only $5; you ask me one, and if I don't know the answer, I will pay you $500, he says. This catches the UkrainianÊ¼s attention and to keep the lawyer quiet, he agrees to play the game.
According toThe Hollywood Reporter, Fox International-distributed Russian film Kolchak (The Admiral) dominated the international box office in Russia and Ukraine with a take of $12.8 million from 1,088 screens; Russia was the key driver with $11.4 million. The only other movie that came close was the DreamWorks/Paramount thriller Eagle Eye ($10.7 million from 36 territories) -- thanks to 11 new openings and a screen count of 2,969.
The Admiral is Russia's most ambitious blockbuster to date with a price-tag of 20 million dollars, produced by the same team that had tremendous success with the fantasy horror films Night Watch and Day Watch. While the film's budget does not sound big to a U.S. audience, Russian filmmakers have proved once again that they can outpace Hollywood's production with a tenth of a Hollywood film's budget. Also, unlike Hollywood, most of Russia's blockbusters are historic novels put on film. The historical epic Admiral hit screens last week with a rousing call to national pride and a popular revision of the Bolshevik revolution, with the good guys clearly on the losing side.
The dedication of the admiral by the White Russian forces
Visit the extended post to read the film review and watch the trailer.
We entered the Moscow area around Klin (a town where Tchaikovsky once lived) and saw the road turn first into the Tverskaya shosse freeway, and then into the elegant Tverskaya ulitsa. This is where most of the name brand stores congregate in Moscow.
Russia, it seems, is full of odd traffic rules, and at each intersection the ways you can or cannot turn are different. As a result, we had to do a few circles and one u-turn to get to our hotel. Russian street maps, which are similarly confusing, diagram major intersections as to which way you must go into and out of them, without a lot of logic. It made me wonder if there is a Russian translation of the American phrase "You can't get there from here!" It is also nearly impossible to drive for any length of time without getting some kind of traffic ticket, which is paid in cash, on the spot. I suspect that the cash doesn't find its way into the public treasury. I'll self-drive in any EU country, but I'd throw a fit and be clapped in irons if I had to drive with any frequency in Russia.
Russia Observed St. Petersburg and Veliky Novgorod
Cathedral of the Holy Blood (Church of the Savior on Blood) - Photo by Charles Ganske
St. Petersburg is often called the "Venice of the North", but historically it is the Amsterdam of the North, since Peter the Great chose to model it after that city. But, like either Amsterdam or Venice, one can take a boat trip through the canals, at least in season, and one should.
A westerner notices that there is something intentionally non-Russian about many aspects of the city. The "cathedral" of Our Lady of Kazan doesn't look Orthodox at all. Instead, with its neoclassical dome and curved colonnades, it looks like an imitation of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. (The Russian word sobor is generally translated as "cathedral," but it does not mean "cathedral" in the Western sense of the seat of a bishop.) St. Isaac's Cathedral looks pretty classical too.
Beginning tomorrow, Russia Blog will post a series of writings and observations by Howard Ahmanson, his wife Roberta and his son, David on their recent trip to Russia and other countries of the former Soviet Union. The first installment covers the Ahmanson's visit to St Petersburg and its environs.
Life and Death in Londongrad: Eastern Promises Reviewed
Viggo Mortsensen plays Nikolai, a thief-in-law (zakon) in London
Just as movies about gangsters were going out of style in Russia, Eastern Promises came out in the West. Released one year ago today, David Cronenberg's crime drama about Russian mobsters in the United Kingdom grossed $51 million worldwide and won critical acclaim for the performance of its star, Viggo Mortensen, as a mob enforcer.
The film was also noteworthy among critics for its brutal scenes, including an opening sequence in which a rival mob boss is nearly decapitated in a barber shop, and for a knife fight in which a naked Nikolai (Mortensen) fights off knife-wielding Chechen attackers in a London banya, eventually carving them up with their own meat-cleavers.
The war in South Ossetia and Georgia, though appalling, resulted in fewer deaths and damage than originally reported. It is still not "over" and probably won't be for some time. Meanwhile, it definitely did serious damage to Russia's relationship with the West. In some ways, relations are worse than at any time since well before the collapse of the USSR--in other words, in roughly a quarter century.
We are going to say a lot more on this, and we are not inclined to be particularly laudatory to any of the players. The war has not made any country look good.
Meanwhile, before the war we wrote a report on Ten Reasons Americans Should Care About Russia. It follows, and, as you will see, it remains valid. Perhaps as tempers cool, people of good will can consider what is at stake; what there is to gain, and what there is to lose.
Russians, Happy Over Olympics, Look to Sochi, 2014
Russia's Natalia Paderina and Georgia's Nino Salukvadze hugged after winning Olympic silver and bronze medals, respectively, in the women's 10-meter air pistol competition.
The Beijing Olympics 2008 set a high standard for the next Olympics hosts, Canada (Vancouver 2010). Then comes Britain (London 2012), and Russia (Sochi 2014). Undoubtedly all will be daunted by the precedence of extravagance that China displayed, while there also will be new security concerns for future events. Not everyone will want to, or be able to, crack down on dissent the way the Chinese did, either. Just one thought: Sochi is only a few miles from the Georgia frontier and the Sochi winter games are only four years away.
While the Russian team didn't do well in the beginning of the 2008 games, lagging behind other nations at the eighth and sometimes 12th places in the total medal count, the country caught up towards the end and finished in a solid third place with 72 medals behind America (110 medals) and China (100 medals). Americans earned more medals than ever before, however China ended in the first spot with the most gold medals.
Overall, Russia's performance was admirable. Two and three decades ago many nations were united under one Soviet flag, representing a larger population and therefore more athletes to draw from. It's interesting to note that in 2008 Ukraine ended in 11th place with 27 medals, an impressive display for a relatively small nation, and Belarus surprised us with its 16th spot and 19 medals, ahead of such countries as Poland or Canada. Georgia came in 27th place with six medals, and Kazakhstan secured the 19th position with 13 medals. Those who followed the Olympics closely noticed that the former Soviet nations performed best in their historically strong areas. Kazakhstan, Ukraine, and Belarus did well in boxing, wrestling, weight-lifting, and other "manly" activities. Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia secured best spots in women's gymnastics. Overall, Russian women looked stronger and more confident in their disciplines than the men did.
Please visit the extended post to see the table of medals for the team of the Russian Federation.
A Driver for Very (Ð’Ð¾Ð´Ð¸Ñ‚ÐµÐ»ÑŒ Ð´Ð»Ñ Ð’ÐµÑ€Ñ‹) is a fine romantic drama from director Pavel Chukhraj. Set during the summertime on a secret Soviet naval base in the Crimea of the early 1960s, the movie uses the height of the Cold War and the Cuban Missile Crisis as the backdrop for its human drama. The heroes of this Russian movie are a Red Army general and a young soldier, and the villains are KGB agents.
The plot revolves around General Serov (Brogdan Stupka), who has a physically disabled and troubled daughter named Vera (Yelena Babenko). Vera walks with a noticeable limp but also drinks and smokes and wears glamorous clothes. When Viktor (Igor Petrenko), a young Red Army soldier, is recruited from the Kremlin Guards to work as the General's chaffeur, he is immediately attracted to Vera, in spite of the teasing advances of the General's pretty young maid Lida (Yekaterina Yudina, not so believable in this role).
Who would have imagined that barely after the guns stopped in South Ossetia, the principal conductor of the London Symphony, Valery Gergiev, who also is lead guest conductor of the New York Metropolitan Opera, would appear out of the smoke to lead a classical musical requiem for the war dead?
Gergiev, it seems, is a native of Ossetia, and his performance of Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony and Shostrakovich's Seventh Symphony was surely one of the few propaganda coups--and the classiest--that Russia has had in the current international crisis. One can note that the numbers of war dead are turning out to have been exaggerated in early reports, and one can hope that people will find a resonance in their hearts for all of them--on both sides. That might cause reasonable men of good will to seek real peace.
Russia Blog's editors wish our American readers around the world a Happy Independence Day!
A Special Invitation to Russia Blog readers in Moscow!
The American Chamber of Commerce in Russia (AmCham) and the Coca-Cola Company are sponsoring an Independence Day celebration at the historic Kuskovo Estate tomorrow, July 5, 2008. This event will feature live music, spectacular fireworks, a huge cake from the Moscow Radisson SAS hotel, raffle prizes and games for children.
IMPORTANT - Purchasing Tickets at the Gate
For those who did not purchase a ticket in advance, tickets are just $17 (400 rubles) at the gate for adults entering from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Kids under the age of 12 get in free. After 7 p.m. only advance ticket holders will be admitted to the grounds.
Click on the extended post to watch a video clip with American patriotic music
The Spanish team showed admirable professionalism and fully deserved to go on to the final against Germany. Nearly twenty unscheduled flights with fans left Moscow for Vienna this morning. Russia lost, but there are no bad feelings towards the squad or its Dutch coach. A young Russian team looked tired and overmatched, but it achieved something that no one could have dreamed of just two weeks ago, and the country is proud of its players for reaching the semi-finals of the European championship. Tonight fireworks can be heard in major Russian cities, but there were no riots by upset fans. Many Russian families went to bed around 2 a.m. Moscow time with the full understanding that today their team faced highly experienced professionals - and it will compete at the highest levels again very soon.
Heavy rain and thunderstorms made the game hard on both teams, but it did not interrupt the satellite broadcast (as it happened yesterday during the game between Germany and Turkey).
Congratulations to Spain - we can't wait to see the final between German and Spanish teams this coming Sunday. The game, as usual, will be broadcast at 2:30 PM EST, 11:30 AM PST.
A Russian band and fans marching through the streets of Vienna before the game. Russian fans preferred taking photos with local statues dressed in Spanish jerseys, while Spanish fans enjoyed taking photos with Russian girls. The spirit was high and interactions were warm and friendly.More photos in extended post.
Semi-Finals Euro 2008: Russia vs. Spain 2:30 PM EST, 11:30 AM PST
Russian Soccer team training in Vienna on Tuesday We stongly recommend this video from CNN about Russia's victories this year.
Don't miss this historic game! This is the first time that a Russian (not Soviet) team has made it to the European quarter-finals and then semi-finals. Previously, no Russian team made it past the qualifying round of the Euro soccer tournament. Now, after conquering the previously undefeated Dutch team, the Russian squad, led by a Dutch coach, will play Spain in Vienna. The Russian parliament may advise Russian vendors to avoid sales of alcohol the day of the game. Even though such suggestion is not a law, many businesses will most likely listen to it, because the profits to be made from alcohol sales cannot compare with the losses suffered from damage caused by rowdy fans. Last Saturday to Sunday night (June 21-22, 2008), Moscow became the scene of the largest Russian public demonstration since victory day in World War II. The spontaneous celebrations in the city streets were peaceful and continued until 8 a.m.
Dutchman Guus Hiddink, Russia's coach, celebrates victory over the Dutch team
This past Saturday, another example of Russia's global resurgence was exhibited on the soccer pitch in Basel, Switzerland, in a thrilling quarter-final match between Russia and a highly thought of Dutch squad, at the European 2008 men's soccer tournament ("Euro '08").
Open container? Yes. To the Russian soccer team!
Playing inspired soccer from the start, Russia had several scoring opportunities. After a scoreless first half, Roman Pavlyuchenko connected for Russia's first goal (so far, Pavlyuchernko is Russia's leading scorer in the tournament). Later on in the second half, the Dutch answered with a well executed header from Ruud Van Nistelrooy. After a 1-1 tie in regulation time, the two sides played to a scoreless first half of extra time. In the second half of extra time, Dmitri Torbinsky and Andrei Arshavin scored to ice the game for Russia.
Fans in Red Square, Moscow, celebrate Russia's victory
Holland-Russia Soccer Game to be Nationally Televised in the U.S.
Dutchman Guus Hiddink is the head coach of Russian men's national soccer team (photos by ESPN)
Throughout history, Russia has shown a willingness to utilize non-Russian know-how for greater advancement. As a case in point, Peter the Great studied shipbuilding in Holland and England, to enhance Russia's maritime status. In 2006, Dutchman Guus Hiddink was hired to coach the Russian men's national soccer team.
Prior to Hiddink's hiring, Russia's soccer program was in disarray. The quality level of a soccer coach has been known to greatly influence the level of a given program. Money was shelled out to Hiddink with that in mind. Hiddink has a good track record for improving the stature of the national soccer teams he has coached.
After a sluggish start in their first game of the men's European 2008 soccer tournament (a 4-1 loss to Spain), the Russian team won its games against Greece and Sweden. Russia now faces the daunting task of playing the highly regarded Dutch team in a quarter-final match.
A gang of black-clad horsemen gallop past a line of gallows, splattering tufts of snow against frozen corpses. They are the 'oprichniki', loyal henchmen of Russia's sixteenth century tsar, Ivan the Terrible. Severed dogs' heads dangle from their saddles, a warning to the motherland's internal enemies. The set belongs to a new film, "Ivan the Terrible and Metropolitan Philip," due out next year, which explores the relationship between the tyrant Ivan and his friend and fiercest critic, Philip. Standing near a white-walled monastery in Suzdal, a town 200 kilometers (120 miles) northeast of Moscow whose buildings resemble the capital in medieval times, director Pavel Lungin said he had a working budget of $17 million for "Ivan," high by Russian standards.
The large budget and professional crew, including a U.S. cameraman who works with director Clint Eastwood, are a sign of a revival in Russia's film industry, which is attracting large sums from the government and private investors. The government expects its production companies to make $900 million in profits in 2011, almost double last year's earnings. Their films are shown on the new screens popping up across the country, mostly to young audiences with more money to burn than their parents before them.
Twilight Watch (Ð¡ÑƒÐ¼ÐµÑ€ÐµÑ‡Ð½Ñ‹Ð¹ Ð´Ð¾Ð·Ð¾Ñ€) Filming Underway in Los Angeles?
Sergey Lukyanenko went from being a struggling child psychotherapist and sci-fi writer to an international celebrity with the success of his novels and screenplays
The Russian news media reported earlier this week that director Timur Bekmambetov was in Los Angeles to film Twilight Watch (Sumerechnyy Dozor), the third screen adaptation of fantasy writer Sergey Lukyanenko's epic Night Watchseries of novels. However, Russia Blog's LA correspondent, UCLA professor David MacFadyen, confirms via email that Bekmambetov is making frequent visits to southern California these days but the director has been coy with the local Russian press about his current projects.
UCLA's Professor Launches a Website on Russian Pop Music
David MacFadyen, Professor and Chair of the Department of Slavic Languages and Literature at the University of California, Los Angeles, has created the only English-language site dedicated to new music from Russia. The portal is called "Far from Moscow" (the name of a famous Soviet novel and film) and covers all kinds of genres -- all the way from Dima Bilan's soothing melodies to vile noise. The website covers not only Russian music, but also gives snapshots of the Russian recording industry, providing information about Russian record labels and music portals.
This project is unique for several reasons. First, a Brit, not a Russian, is writing about Russian music, thus he brings attention to nuances that might be overlooked by a common Russian reviewer. Second, the website is frequently updated; every day it adds video, audio, and quick sketches of the artists. And, third... the UCLA Department's Chair himself brings his life-long expertise in Russian language and the arts to this unique outlet. UCLA Professor David MacFadyen is an author of multiple books and dozens of reviews and publications on Russian culture.
Canada vs. Russia: Russia Takes Hockey World Title on May 18, 2008
Fans celebrating Russia's victory in the final of the World Hockey Championship on Manezh Square (Photo by AP)
Russia won World Hockey Championship for the first time since 1993 on May 18, 2008. The victory was overlooked by many in the United States due to local sports activities and also due to the fact that Russia has won too many competitions in May 2008; UEFA (soccer championship) on May 14, 2008, World Hockey Championship on May 18, 2008, and the Eurovision Music Contest on May 25, 2008.
"Ilya Kovalchuk's power-play goal in overtime for the 5-4 win in Quebec City, Canada, came just before midnight, but that didn't stop fans from holding an impromptu parade in the city center, where many had watched the final in bars..."
Please, visit the extended post to read the Moscow Times coverage of the event.
Avram Grant sympathised with John Terry after his missed penalty (Getty Images)
Click on the extended post to watch videos describing the match and results
In a battle of Great Britain's top two soccer clubs, on May 21, 2008, Manchester United beat Chelsea FC (the English team owned by Roman Abramovich, the richest man in Russia) in a Champions League final settled by penalty kicks in sudden death overtime.
The match was held at Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium (a riverside venue built for the 1980 Olympics near the Vorobey Hills). In spite of the media hype about whether or not rowdy English football fans would get along with native Muscovites, the game and subsequent celebrations largely took place without incident.
The title of the film (Cargo 200) is a reference to the zinc-lined coffins that brought the bodies of dead Soviet soldiers back from Afghanistan during the 1980s
One year ago, Alexei Balabanov's Gruz 200 was released in Russia to packed theaters and mixed reviews. While it did not prove to be a box office smash, considering its gruesome content, it enjoyed modest commercial success. The film's director, Alexei Balabanov, was previously known in Russia for Guy Ritchie-inspired shoot em' up crime flicks, such as Zhmurki whose ironic taglines, ("for those who survived the Nineties") reminded Russians of the chaos and humiliation their nation suffered in the years following the collapse of the Soviet Union. But suddenly, with the release of Gruz 200, even The Wall Street Journal, which has tended to be overwhelmingly negative in its reporting about Russia, stood up and took notice of Balabanov's scathing depiction of life under Soviet Communism.
AND THE WINNER IS...ZENIT ST. PETERSBURG Russian Club Beats Rangers, Takes UEFA Cup
Warming up for the final. Zenit puts one of four past Bayern Munich keeper and heralded German national team veteran, Oliver Kahn. The semi-final win gave Zenit a ticket to face Rangers.
For only the second time in history, football's UEFA Cup belongs to a Russian club.
Despite facing a sometimes stout Rangers' defense, Zenit St. Petersburg controlled all but spurts of a game that saw Zenit win 2-0 against Glasgow's (Scotland) Rangers. The game was played in Manchester, England, at the City of Manchester Stadium.
Rangers fans, who reports say filled two-thirds of the stadium, watched in agony as
Igor Denisov and Konstantin Zyryanov, with goals in the 72nd minute and injury-time, respectively, sealed the victory for Zenit. Rangers, despite their many successes, including winning this year's Scottish League Cup, haven't won the European prize in more than three decades. Zenit St. Petersburg won the Russian league title last year.
"Moscow Never Sleeps (Moscow I Love You)" by DJ Smash and Fast Food ÐœÐ¾ÑÐºÐ²Ð° Ð½Ð¸ÐºÐ¾Ð³Ð´Ð° Ð½Ðµ ÑÐ¿Ð¸Ñ‚ (Ð¯ Ð»ÑŽÐ±Ð»ÑŽ Ñ‚ÐµÐ±Ñ ÐœÐ¾ÑÐºÐ²Ð°) Moskva Ni Kagda Speet (Ya Lyublu Tibiya Moskva)
Now instead of having to wave Communist flags every year on May 1, young Russians can take advantage of their day off for other pursuits...like getting stuck in Moscow traffic at 3 a.m. with all the other club-goers looking for something to eat...
Video clip from a Russian Orthodox Church Easter service
Today is the day that Orthodox Christians around the world celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. From Russia Blog to all of our readers around the world, Happy Easter and best wishes for the spring and summer of 2008!
Click here to read the post "Easter in a Russian Town". For a recipe to make kuhlich, a traditional Russian Easter cake, click here (just don't scrimp on the powdered cane sugar, even if you've been told that it does not exist in Russia!).
This music video is by one of the most popular bands in Russia, Lyube. The song is about two childhood friends - one who grows up to become a businessman, and the other a Spetsnaz commando. This track is from Lyube's new album Rossiya (Russia). You can listen to a live recording of the title track here.
To The Point News reports on something that would have made Khrushchev take both shoes off and bang along with the Red Army Choir to "Sweet Home Alabama." Prepare yourself for this one - maybe with a Stoli martini or two.
Back in the days of the Soviet Union, the Soviet Red Army had an official choir composed of male soldiers and musicians. It still exists. The Red Army Choir performs throughout Russia to this day. Now consider the Finnish rock band called The Leningrad Cowboys. A little while ago, they held a concert in Russia, in which - to the screaming applause of Russkie teenagers - they got the Red Army Choir to join them on stage for a performance of "Sweet Home Alabama." In English. You couldn't make this stuff up.
We're talking seriously off the wall here. Better have that Stoli ready when you watch it:
Fyodor Bonarchuk's romantic comedy Zhara (Heat) was a smash hit at the Russian box office on New Year's Day 2007. On January 1, 2006, the action/horror film Dnevnoi Dozor (Day Watch) shattered all Russian box office records to date. This year, a modern day remake of the Soviet classic "The Irony of Fate" from Day Watch director Timur Bekmambetov is expected to be the big hit at movie theaters across across Russia and the rest of the CIS.
Click on the extended post to read more about this film.
Bettman's Bluff: The NHL and the Sochi 2014 Olympics
A few weeks ago there was an article in the Pittsburg Post Gazette about the National Hockey League and the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics. Gary Bettman, the commissioner of the NHL, was quoted as making some pretty tough statements about whether or not NHL players would be allowed to participate in the games - despite already having played in the past 3 Olympics and being scheduled to play in the next winter olympiad in Vancouver.
Here's my response:
Dear NHL International,
I recently read online (I live in Krasnodar, Russia) in the Pittsburg Post Gazette that Mr. Bettman is potentially questioning whether it's worth it for the NHL to participate in the 2014 Olympics here in Sochi.
On the face of it, Mr. Bettman may think that he is being a good negotiator and is applying leverage to the Russian league owners to sign the International Ice Hockey Federation transfer agreement as it is currently constituted.
However, I would say to Mr. Bettman to be careful. While many of you back in the U.S. and Canada may think that the NHL is the "only game in town" I would caution you to understand that the Russian Super League is not only becoming much better in terms of quality of play, but also in terms of economics for the players... (Click on the extended post to read more)
Even though Russians will not be celebrating Christmas until January 7, for Russia Blog's readers in the non-Orthodox world, here is a Christmas song from the early 20th century Russian film and music star Alexander Nikolayevich Vertinsky ( 21 March 1889 - 21 May 1957).
The International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) web site has interesting information about a popular winter sport. Below is a breakdown of the number of male ice hockey players in each of the leading ice hockey playing countries (the women's numbers are listed as well at the site).
Male Players Age 20 & Over
The USSR always lagged behind Canada in the number of people playing ice hockey. For connoisseurs of the sport, this makes perfect sense.
Russian expats wanting to decorate their sumptuous homes and build new art collections gathered in London yesterday for what is expected to be a record-breaking week of Russian art auctions.
Sotheby's kicked off last night with a sale of treasures from private collections across the world, rarely seen in public. The highlight was Natalia Goncharova's Bluebells (see next page), circa 1909, which went for Â£3m. The total take was Â£25.7m making it an historic night, according to Sotheby's head of Russian art, Jo Vickery. "It shows the Russian art market has come of age."
All London's major auction houses have sales this week: on Wednesday, Christie's is due to sell a newly discovered Faberge egg which could fetch as much as Â£9m.
RIP - Dainton Connell Manager of Pet Shop Boys Dies in a Car Crash in Moscow
MOSCOW - Friday, October 5, 2007, early morning -- Dainton Connell, manager of the famous British band the Pet Shop Boys, died in a car crash on the Moscow River Embankment (Embankment of Taras Shevchenko). Mr. Connell was in a car with Anton Antonov, owner of a famous elite "invitation-only" Moscow club "Roof of the World". Thursday night, Chris Lowe, member of the famous duo, was celebrating his birthday at the Sky Lounge Restaurant. Mr. Antonov and Mr. Lowe met several years ago in St. Petersburg and became very good friends.
After the birthday party, Mr. Antonov wanted to show his night club to Dainton Connell. Mr. Antonov's BMW 525 was going 100 miles an hour when he lost control of the car on a wet road, and the vehicle crashed into a tree. The impact was of such force that after the car took out the tree, the vehicle demolished a cast-iron railing and plunged into the river. Moscow Transportation officials were working near the site of the accident, and together with police, ambulance crew and a team of divers, they retrieved the car from the river relatively fast. However, it was too late -- the driver and the passenger were dead. The police records mention two victims: "a 20 y.o. Russian citizen from St. Petersburg and an Afro-American, approximately 40 y.o." update: According to the medical records, the deaths were instant and were caused by the first impact of the vehicle with the tree.
The Pet Shop Boys have sold more than 50 million records worldwide and are best known for their remake of the Soviet anthem "Go West" and other hits such as "West End Girls", "Always on My Mind", "It's a Sin", etc.
Russia Blog expresses deepest sympathy to the band's relatives, friends and fans.
"Thank you to everybody who has posted comment about my dad. It is with great regret and sadness that I Tiffany Connell the Bear's first born, thats what he called me. My family and I are devastated by the loss of such a terrific man. Daddy, I miss you so much, we all do love you see you in heaven." Tiffany.
Please, visit the extended post to watch band's music videos and read the band's reaction to the tragedy.
A Russia Today TV news clip about old Soviet bunkers under Moscow
Moscow has one of the largest subway systems in the world. This inspired Dmitriy Glukhovskiy's sci-fi novel (and the new computer game) about a group of survivors living in this subterranean world after a nuclear war destroys civilization. Think of it as Russia's answer to the cult-hit CBS television series Jericho.
Click on the extended post to watch a trailer of the new PC game Metro 2033: The Last Refuge.
"An informal winter music lesson featuring the outdoor church tower bells of Fyodorovsky Cathedral in the village of Tsarskoye Selo (Pushkin) Russia near St. Petersburg. The cathedral was originally built for Tsar Nicholas II. The great Russian poet Alexander Pushkin lived and studied here. Recorded in January 2001 by S. R. Schrier of Kalamazoo, Michigan USA with the assistance of Tatyana Sapogova of St. Petersburg."
You can see photos from Charles Ganske's visit to Tsarskoye Selo here.
Expats who've come into Moscow from Sheremetyevo airport will recognize some landmarks from where the city limits meet the Moscow region, such as the Mega and IKEA stores. There is also a snapshot of a newly married couple continuing the Russian tradition of touring World War II memorials and other historic monuments on their wedding day.
Click on the extended post to watch another video, depicting the St. Petersburg-Moscow leg of the Mercedes-Benz E320 team's drive from Paris to Beijing.
Sharapova, Bondarchuk, Sobchak Top Forbes List of Russian Celebrities
The Siberian-born and Florida-raised tennis star Maria Sharapova leads the Forbes list of Russian celebrities, followed by the pop music diva Alla Pugacheva, film director/producer Fyodor Bondarchuk (son of the legendary Soviet director Sergey Bondarchuk) and Russian "it girl" Kseniya Sobchak, who (perhaps unfairly) is frequently compared to Paris Hilton. Meanwhile, the girls- kissing-on-stage band gimmick t.A.T.u dropped down from their spot on last year's list.
Vogue TV recently covered Ralph Lauren personally opening two new stores in Moscow, including one location featuring 8,000 square feet of merchandise and the largest accessory department in the entire chain. A reception for the venerable fashion designer and his hundred person entourage was held at the American Ambassador's residence.
Moscow has yet to claim the top spot for IPOs worldwide (London still ranks first in this category), but it is making a strong push for becoming a global center of bling-bling and outrageous parties. Think of it as L.A., but with worse traffic jams, convenient access to skiing in the winter and even more expensive real estate.
Bad Russian Music Video of the Day: Russia's Entry into the 2007 Eurovision Contest
Most Americans have probably never heard of the annual Eurovision song contest - even though all of the lyrics are in English. Europe's combination of the Olympics and American Idol is a big yawner on this side of the Pond, drawing even fewer viewers than Italian or English Premier league football. Nonetheless, it's a big deal for a lot of Europeans - and some Israelis, since their singers have also taken part, and Russians too.
This year Russia's entry comes from Russian girl band trio Serebro - by the looks of it, brunette Russian versions of Britney Spears, right down to the Michael Jackson Thriller-inspired uniformed choreography.
Serebro: Song Number One Ð¡ÐµÑ€ÐµÐ±Ñ€Ð¾: Ð½Ð¾Ð²Ñ‹Ð¹ ÐºÐ»Ð¸Ð¿
Most Olympic theme songs aren't very memorable. This probably why the 1996 summer games (held in Atlanta) used the old standby Georgia On My Mind.
This music video features several current Russian pop stars and the former Soviet diva Alla Pugacheva.
"Sochi" was produced for Russia's bid to host the 2014 Winter Olympic games in the city of the same name. Sochi is the southernmost point in Russia, where the Black Sea riviera meets the Caucuses. Tucked between the coastline and the mountains, Sochi is reportedly the longest city in Europe, which is a good thing, because real estate there for isn't getting any cheaper.
You can read more about Russia's bid to host the 2014 Olympics over at the True Tales of Terra blog. If the Olympic committee voting for who will receive the 2014 games is really getting down to the wire between Sochi and Salzberg, let's hope theme songs aren't the tiebreaker...
Several songs from "Black Star" were featured in the soundtrack for Fedor Bondarchuk's recent hit romantic comedy Zhara
Timati/Ratmir: Moi Put (My Way) Ð¢Ð¸Ð¼Ð°Ñ‚Ð¸/Ð Ð°Ñ‚Ð¼Ð¸Ñ€: ÐœÐ¾Ð¹ ÐŸÑƒÑ‚ÑŒ
This music video is a tribute by Russian rap star Timati to a friend who was killed in a car wreck. The M's the rappers make with their fingers stands for Moscow. This video features the actress Anastasia Kochetkova, who played the photographer in the movie Zhara. Timati and several business partners recently opened a hip-hop night club in Moscow by the same name.
Click here to read Russia Blog's previous post about Timati. Click on the extended post to watch another music video from Timati's 2006 album, Black Star...
By Vladimir Kozlov Special to Russia Profile, June 2, 2007
According to most recent data, the television series Soldaty (Soldiers) broadcast on the Ren-TV channel, is among Russia's most popular television shows. The series, focusing on the day-to-day life of young conscripts in today's Russian military, attracts the attention of people from all walks of life, since military service is something of nearly universal concern in the country. With mandatory military service in place, thousands of teenage boys are following the episodes of "Soldiers" closely, trying to figure out what might await them, while parents and other relatives share their concerns following rumors of violence and hazing among conscripts.
However, like anything produced for entertainment, the series presents audiences with an embellished picture of what the contemporary Russian military is like, focusing on anecdotes and hardly touching on the most acute problems, such as corruption, criminality and physical abuse. Even the newscasts on state-owned channels show enough for viewers to understand that the military world painted in "Soldiers" is much softer and easier than what young Russians are likely to face once conscripted. Every year, hundreds of conscripts die in the armed forces while not involved in any military operations. This dark side of the domestic army is yet to be reflected in popular culture, since uncovering these issues remains the work of journalists rather than artists [Russia Blog - see this and this for evidence to the contrary - Russian pop culture is full of songs about the hardships and occasional cruelties of army life].
Still, the popularity of "Soldiers" is a clear sign that the military is once again claiming a large niche in film, literature and television...
You can read the rest of the article at Russia Profile. Click on the extended post to watch clips from other Russian movies and television shows with military themes.
In 2020, the Russians take Paris - a trailer for Tom Clancy's EndWar
The Russians, Tom Clancy's old reliable villains, are back. The American techno-thriller author has lent his name to several computer games, including the intricate new title from Ubisoft known as EndWar.
The video game's back scenario? In the next twenty years, America deploys a space weapons system to protect the U.S. and Europe from nuclear attack, while a sullen Russia stays out of the missile shield club. A few years later, the world's peak oil doomsayers are suddenly proven right and all of the world's major oil producers - except for Russia - are found to have massively inflated their reserves. The resulting collapse of the world economy puts a remilitarized Russia on a collision course with the America and Europe.
Naturally, the reasons why Russia's grown-up Nashi youth would rather level Paris than buy it are never quite explained. (On this point, a pessimistic Russian might ask: where will Russia find enough men to maintain a powerful army in twenty years? But the game designers seem to get around this question by having most of fighting take place between robots).
As one of the game's designers joked in an interview, the present war of words between the U.S. and Russia over missile defenses has given his marketing campaign plenty of free publicity.
Fyodor Bondarchuk Directing New Film - The Inhabited Island
Bondarchuk on the set of 9 Rota in 2005
Fyodor Bondarchuk (9 Rota, Zhara), the 40 year-old son of the famous Soviet director Sergey Bondarchuk (War and Peace), is producing a new big budget film called The Inhabited Island, due to be released in October 2008. The cast for Obitaemyy Ostrov (ÐžÐ±Ð¸Ñ‚Ð°ÐµÐ¼Ñ‹Ð¹ Ð¾ÑÑ‚Ñ€Ð¾Ð²) includes Andrei Merzlikin (Bumer, Bumer 2) and a cameo by Bondarchuk. You can watch the trailer here.
Dersu Uzala is a profound story of mutual respect and trust that develops between an Imperial Russian Army Captain Vladimir Arseniev (Yuri Solomin) and Dersu Uzala (Maksim Munzuk), his native guide in the wilderness of Russia's Far East. Legendary Japanese director Akira Kurosawa's reflection on man vs. nature and friendship won an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film.
The story opens in the Russian Far East village of Korfovskaya in 1910. Captain Vladimir Arseniev is returning to the place where his friend Dersu Uzala is buried. The film then flashes back to Arseniev's surveying expedition to the region in 1902, before the village was built. As the Russian soldiers cheerfully whistle through the forest, they come across a powerfully built Asian man, who gives his name as Dersu Uzala. Captain Arseniev asks Dersu to join their party as a guide. (WARNING: PLOT SPOILERS FOLLOW)
S Dnem Rozhdeniya, Lola! (Happy Birthday, Lola! ) Reviewed
A few months before she appeared in the role of Sasha Belov's long-suffering wife in the RTR TV miniseries Brigada, Ekaterina Guseva was in a bad Russian suspense movie called Happy Birthday, Lola! The movie is based on a popular Russian comic strip. Unfortunately, the on screen action is punctuated by cutaways to scenes from the comics. The jerky camera work at the beginning, and a soundtrack that makes Brigada's seem high quality in comparison, also detract from the storyline.
Day Watch (Dnevnoy Dozor) : U.S. Theatrical Release Set for June 1, 2007
The bad seed - Anton Gorodetsky's wayward son Yegor is back
For those of you who have been waiting for the sequel to Night Watch (Nochnoi Dozor) to finally make its U.S. debut, the wait is almost over. Fox Searchlight Pictures will release Day Watch (Dnevnoy Dozor) in theaters June 1, 2007.
If you're a fan who has not seen the Russian version of this movie and you want to avoid plot spoilers, then don't click here.
UPDATE: To find a screening of Day Watch in your part of the U.S., try the Landmark Theatres web site.
Click on the extended post to watch the English language trailer.
See the extended post for photos of a Russian Orthodox priest consecrating Easter cakes and eggs in the small town of Naro-Fominsk 45 miles outside of Moscow. In the extended post, you will also see photos of Russian leaders attending the Easter night service in Moscow, which was aired on national television.
Like many Americans who grew up in the twilight of the Cold War, my first memories of Sergei Eisenstein's film Alexander Nevsky come from the Tom Clancy novel Red Storm Rising. In Tom Clancy's vision of World War III set in the 1980s, the Soviet Union broadcasts the film to stir up the Russian people just before the Red Army tanks start rolling into West Germany.
While young Russians still learn about Prince Alexander Nevsky in school, many of them are probably familiar with this name because of Russia's own version of Arnold Schwarzenegger, the actor and star of popular action flicks like Moscow Heat. (Excerpt from Mr. Nevsky's Russia Today TV interview aired in January 2007, spoken in his best Ah-nuld accent: "I didn't want to play Russian bad guys in Hollywood. I wanted to play a Russian action hero. I say let the Polish and Czech actors play Russian bad guys in Hollywood movies.")
Today happens to be the 765th anniversary of the climactic battle on the frozen Lake Peipus depicted in the film. Two questions a modern viewer might ask are: has this example of historic propaganda from Josef Stalin's favorite director aged well? And does it present any themes relevant to post-Soviet Russia?
Paragraph 78, released in Russia on February 22, 2007, is part of the new trend of Russian films getting bigger, bolder, and more internationalized in terms of production and crew. Like Fyodor Bondarchuk's Afghan war drama 9 Rota, director Mikhail Khlebdorov's Paragraph 78 is a joint British-Russian production. UK musicians Ian Brown (former front man for the Manchester rock band the Stone Roses) and the Sneaker Pimps (whose single "Six Underground" was featured in the soundtrack to The Saint) provide their music for the film. Russian directors and producers, many of them veterans of international productions who have cut their teeth making music videos for Russia's biggest pop stars, now have a lot more money to play with to put their visions on the big screen.
Unlike its Hollywood sci-fi action film counterparts, which are often based on popular video games or comic books, Paragraph 78 is based on a science fiction novel by Ivan Okhlobystin (the Night Watch fantasy/horror trilogy is also based on a series of novels).
According to the St. Petersburg Times, the combined box office haul for Volkodav, Zhara and other Russian theatrical releases in January 2007 was $35 million; not bad in a country where the average wage (although vastly improved over previous years) is still about $550 per month.
Click on the extended post to watch the making of Paragraph 78 film trailer in Russian.
(WARNING: Some filmed violence and bad Russian language)
What happens when the director who brought you Brat and Brat 2 decides to mock the Russian gangster movie genre he created? The answer is Zhmurki (aka Dead Man's Bluff) directed by Aleksei Balabanov. The tagline of Zhmurki - "For those who survived the Nineties" - tells you what to expect.
Useless Factoid: Daughter of Russian Monarchist Wins Oscar
Dame Helen Mirren, recently awarded an Oscar for her potrayal of Queen Elizabeth II, "was born Ilyena Vasilievna [Lydia] Mironov...in Ilford, Essex, [United Kingdom] the second of three children of a father of Russian origin and an English mother. Mirren's paternal grandfather, a Russian nobleman, tsarist colonel and diplomat, was negotiating an arms deal in Britain and was stranded there, along with his family, during the Russian Revolution. Her father, Vasily Petrovich Mironov, called himself Basil and changed the family name to Mirren in the 1950s. He played the viola with the London Philharmonic before World War II and, after it, drove a cab and was a driving-test examiner...Her great-great-great-great-grandfather was field-marshal Mikhail Kamensky, one of the Russian heroes of the Napoleonic wars."
According to recent coverage, she does intend to visit "recently discovered relatives in Russia." But she probably won't be collecting her $9,200 from the Putin Administration any time soon as she declared in 1997 (after marrying her long-time partner):
I'm very proud of being childless. It's my contribution to world ecology.
On my recent trip to Moscow the first song I heard on the radio, right off the plane, was "V Klube" (In the Club) -- a new smash hit by 23-year old Russian rap-star Timati. Besides being featured prominently on the soundtrack of the current Russian blockbuster, Zhara, he has become popular among several demographics, especially with both teenagers and young professionals.
These days, Russian rap has become widely popular as it has departed from its old "chanson" (prison) ballads and dance pop origins. With both these popular post-Soviet formats the sound quality didn't matter and lyrics concentrated on the dangers of the army draft, hardships and nobility of imprisonment, racism, and teenage sex.
From Russia with Buckets of Blood - Volkodav (Wolfhound) Reviewed
Volkodav promises epic fantasy adventure but mainly delivers gore
Volkodav: Iz Roda Serykh Psov (Wolfhound from the Breed of Grey Dogs) has been touted as Russia's answer to the Lord of the Rings film trilogy. At $13 million, Volkodav is the most expensive film shot in Russia thus far. Volkodav is the first film in an epic fantasy series, and given its success at the Russian box office, it probably won't be the last. However, all the money spent on Volkodav's spectacular cinema photography and special effects cannot make up for an unoriginal plot or gratuitous violence.
In fairness to director and screenwriter Nikolai Lebedev, the novelVolkodav by Mariya Semyonova was not as good source material as J.R.R. Tolkien's beloved classic for a feature film. Nonetheless, fantasy and sci-fi fans who watched Conan the Barbarian will immediately recognize the plot of this movie as almost exactly the same.
A new novel about the fight for the Kremlin in 2008 -- no conscience, no ethics, just money and hate
A new would be bestseller which lays bare the dirty tricks of political PR Russian-style and explains how the media manipulates people, just hit bookshelves and naive minds in Moscow.
The author, Sergei Minaev, first made headlines in culture magazines last year after publishing his first book Dukhless (roughly translated, "soulless"). The novel sold over half a million copies and detailed the inside world of top businessmen in Russia.
Like Christopher Buckley's Thank You for Smoking which draws back the curtains of tobacco PR, Minaev penetrates the world of political PR in Russia and uses a mix of fictional characters and real life stories and events woven together to not only entertain, but to draw out interesting possibilities of events yet to come in Russia's future.
Moscow-based Russia Blog correspondent Timofey Chekhoyev has sent us some info about a Super Bowl party he attended at the Bleachers sports bar on February 4, 2007.
At least eighty NFL fans from all around the world paid 500 rubles ($19) for all the fries, chicken wings, hot dogs, and chili they could eat. Based on my recent personal experience dining out in downtown Moscow, that was a very good deal.
The party started at 11:30 p.m. Sunday night and the Super Bowl kicked off at 2:30 a.m. Moscow time. The crowd consisted mostly of Americans with a few Russians familiar with American football from their work and studies in the U.S. also in attendance. Fans rooting for the NFC Champion Chicago Bears slightly outnumbered fans representing the AFC Champion Indianapolis Colts, but in the end Peyton Manning and the Colts hoisted the Vince Lombardi Trophy as the 2006-2007 Super Bowl Champions.
Screening of '9th Company' 2006 Oscar Submission for Best Foreign Film
Join us for a screening of one of the films submitted for the 2006 Oscar for Best Foreign Film, 9th Company - a Russian blockbuster about the Soviet war in Afghanistan.
The event will be held Thursday, March 1st at Discovery Institute, located at 1511 Third Ave, Suite 808 in downtown Seattle from 4:30 to 7:00 p.m.The movie will start at 5 p.m. Popcorn and soda will be served. The event is free and open to the public. Suggested donation of $5 is appreciated.
Sasha Belov, Gangster Superstar - Brigada: Season 2 Reviewed
Cover of Brigada: Season 2 DVD
Brigada: Season 2 (episode 10) begins several months after Season 1, during the mid-1990s. Egged on by his new "business partner" the former MVD Detective Vladimir Yevgenivich (Andrei Panin), Sasha Belov is making a killing selling weapons to both sides in the First Chechen War. One morning Belov wakes up to a radio news story about teenage Russian conscripts getting slaughtered in Grozny with his wares.
Meanwhile, Cosmos (Dimitri Dyuzhev), tormented by guilt over the Brigade's blood money, has developed a nasty cocaine habit to kill the pain. One day, while Cosmos is driving around Moscow high on cocaine, a black cat crosses the path of his Mercedes sedan, and he wrecks his car. When Belov comes to visit Cosmos after he is released from the hospital, Cosmos reveals that he was the man who shot the Detective's cousin dead in 1989, triggering the four "brothers" life of crime. Cosmos also tells Belov that he doesn't trust Pychela (Pavel Maikov) anymore, because "he would sell his mother to a whorehouse just to make a buck."
Aleksandr Bukharov plays the valiant warrior Volkodav (Wolfhound)
According to the nashfilm.ru (our films) website, Fyodor Bondarchuk's romantic comedy Zhara and the warrior epic Volkodav have combined to earn over $30 million at the box office during the recent Russian winter holidays (December 31 through the Russian Orthodox "Old New Year" on January 14). In comparison to these Russian blockbusters, A Night at the Museum, currently the most popular American film in Russia, only made $9.2 million.
Apparently Russian filmgoers were more interested in watching graphic violence than beautiful young people in love this holiday season. Volkodav (which cost $12 million to make, the most expensive Russian film produced yet) earned $17.1 million from 652 movie theaters, while Zhara only made $13.5 million from 590 movie theaters.
Day Watch remains the all-time champion of the Russian box office, since it grossed over $20 million in the first ten days after its January 1, 2006 theatrical release.
UPDATE: Click here to read the Russia Blog review of Timati's new album Black Star.
While in Russia I had the chance to catch two movies in the theater, Zhara (Heat) and Volkodav (Wolfhound). Zhara was directed by Rezo Gigineishvili and produced by Fedor Bondarchuk, who directed Russia's submission to the U.S. Academy Awards for Best Foreign Film 9 Rota (9th Company). Bondarchuk used the same young cast from his 2005 Afghan war drama for a romantic comedy set in Moscow during a blazing hot summer. Coincidentally, this year Moscow has experienced one of the warmest winters on record.
It wouldn't have been a night at the movies in Moscow, of course, without ten cell phones ringing - and being answered - during the show. But there were plenty of cell phones ringing on the screen, so it seemed to blend in with the film's soundtrack of modern Moscow.
There is no "War on Christmas" in Russia, apparently. That would be so "Communist era"--and Western secular! To get a whiff of old fashioned antagonism toward Christian social customs you have come to the U.S. and visit the offices of the ACLU, Citizens United for Separation of Church and State and various purblind government offices. Our Discovery colleague from Russia, Yuri Mamchur, who heads the Real Russia Project, is in Moscow this week and says that his old public high school now sports a "huge Christmas crÃ¨che" in front of the building. No problem. No complaints.
Since Russia is predominantly and increasingly Orthodox, of course, the celebration of the birth of Jesus isn't emphasized there for another week and a half. Charles Ganske of Discovery Institute's Real Russia Project, meanwhile, has this fascinating look at the reported rise of Christian sentiment in Russia since the fall of Communism. It is interesting on several counts, one being that an Orthodox revival has not generated discernible antagonism toward other faiths, even though the governmental bureaucracy is suspicious of new, proselytizing faiths to the point of harassment in some cases.
Overall, Americans will see the new surveys on religion as hopeful signs of the revival of mediating institutions in Russia. Many also will add Russia to the list of nations--notably China and sub-saharan Africa--where Christianity is gaining active believers in large numbers. Everyone is free to speculate on the possible implications for the world's culture, politics and economy.
A New York Timessurvey of Russian newspapers this week picked up a report from Izvestia revealing changes in religious attitudes inside Russia. Alternatively, the polling data may reveal that Russians are more confident declaring their religious affiliation to pollsters today than they were shortly after the collapse of the officially atheistic Soviet Union.
RELIGIOSITY ON THE RISE IN RUSSIA: In 2006, 15 years after the fall of the atheist Soviet Union, 84 percent of Russian citizens said they believed in God, according to a study conducted by Izvestia and the polling agency, VTsIOM. A similar VTsIOM poll in the early 1990's found that 34 percent believed in God. Among respondents, 63 percent considered themselves Orthodox Christians, 6 percent were Muslims and 1 percent Catholics and Buddhists. Another 16 percent said they were atheist. The percentage of Russians who attend religious services has grown from 4 percent during perestroika to 10-12 percent today.
UPDATE: 12/26/06 - Click on the extended post to read the full Izvestia article.
Painting depicting Ivan the Terrible after he murdered his own son
Why Mao? Why Hitler? Why Stalin? Each of the last century's greatest mass murderers had a similar origin, and historians have often peered into the darkest history of each country from the Middle Ages to find precedents in an attempt to explain the 20th century descent into barbarism. One of these historians was Henri Troyat, born Lev Aslanovich Tarasov to an Armenian Jewish family in 1911. Like so many others drawn to Paris at the height of France's Third Republic, Henri Troyat was a refugee from the Bolshevik Revolution and the titanic upheaval in Eastern Europe that followed World War I. In Ivan IV, Troyat saw a forerunner to the absolute power that would be wielded in Russia by Stalin.
Troyat writes more as a historical storyteller than as a strict conventional historian. In particular, Troyat felt free to go beyond the written record and speculate about Ivan's internal thought process. Ivan IV (the Russian word, grozny, is better translated as "fearsome" or "dangerous" rather than "terrible") was born to Vasili III, the Grand Prince of Muscovy, at a time when Russia was just starting to emerge from its precarious position between European Christendom and the Islamic world.
Seeking God in the Land of Magog - Andrei Rublev Reviewed
The Criterion Collection's DVD version of Andrei Rublev - the Director's Cut
Andrei Rublev opens in the year 1400 with a monk clambering to the top of a church, desperate to fly away before an angry mob can destroy his balloon. Just as his comrades are overtaken by a howling pack of peasants, the monk sails up and away. Suddenly the camera pans over the misty, swampy Russian landscape and the people who wanted to destroy the fiendish innovation look like ants. This theme of the tension between creativity, power and popular will echoes throughout the film.
In the second scene titled, "The Jester", we are introduced to icon painter Andrei Rublev (Anatoli Solonitsyn), the uncompromising monk Kiril (Ivan Lapikov) and their apprentice Danil Chorny (Nikolai Grinko). The three set out in driving rain from the Troista monastery on a journey to Moscow. When they decide to take shelter from the elements in a village hovel with several other peasants, they witness the Jester (Rolan Bykov) entertaining the crowd with acrobatic routines. The most hilarious part of the Jester's act involves mocking the nobles by painting the bare face of a nobleman on his buttocks. The song and dance implies that a shaved boyar can hardly be distinguished from a woman, and will be thrown out by his wife. Shortly after mooning the crowd, we see the Jester step out shirtless into the rain - as if he knows that his punishment is drawing near. A few hours later several men on horseback arrive. The horsemen drag the Jester out of the hut, impale him on a post, and haul his body away. As the three monks depart the village, Kiril mutters that "G-d sent priests, but the devil sent jesters."
With all the talk lately of renewed tensions between Washington and Moscow, perhaps it's time for Americans to read about what the Cold War was like from someone who actually worked as a covert operative inside the Soviet Unon. Utah native Mike Ramsdell has done a great service to history by providing his first person account of what it was like to be a covert operative inside Russia as the Soviet Empire collapsed around him.
The author of A Train to Potevka is not someone either Russians or Americans would think of when the phrase "CIA agent" comes to mind. Rather than being recruited from an Ivy League or other Eastern U.S. school, Ramsdell attended the University of Utah, where he came to his Mormon faith as an adult. After attending college on an ROTC scholarship, Ramsdell served as a military intelligence officer in Germany in the early 1980s. During his time in Bavaria, Ramsdell befriends a Czech-born naturalized American officer named Yuri Novotny. When Ramsdell's friend Yuri gets caught stealing classified documents from a NATO base on his watch, he learns a traumatic lesson about the desperate decisions people were often forced into as a result of having relatives trapped behind the Iron Curtain and the human toll from the superpower conflict.
Ramsdell makes no bones about the Soviet Union being exactly what President Ronald Reagan said it was - an Evil Empire, based on the lie that there is no G-d. The economic, and more important, spiritual consequences of seventy years of scientific socialism are evident throughout the book. Yet the same spiritual sensibility that fuels Ramsdell's loathing of the materialist, "godless" Soviet system opens his heart to see the kindness and generosity of ordinary Russians, who were just struggling to survive. From the beginning of his assignment in Russia, Ramsdell understood that the deprivation in the Soviet Union was not just material but spiritual in nature.
The Redemption of Anton Gorodetsky Dnevnoy Dozor Reviewed
Day Watch DVD cover
There are few sequels that surpass the original, but Day Watch is easily better than Night Watch, the first installment in director Timur Bekmambetov's epic horror trilogy. As with Bumer 1 and 2, what starts as an action adventure veers unexpectedly into a love story. Bekmambetov, however, is determined to mess with your mind just enough to keep you off-balance.
The story begins a few years after the events of Night Watch, with our hero Anton Gorodetsky (Konstantin Khabensky) still patrolling the streets of Moscow at night on the lookout for evil vampires preying on mortals. When a pint sized vampire starts drinking the blood of babushkas, Anton gets a sickening but familiar feeling responding to a radio dispatch from Night Watch HQ (for all their supernatural powers, the Light Others cruise around Moscow in old Soviet utility trucks). Anton's partner, Svetlana (Mariya Poroshina, who played Phil's wife in Brigada) senses that there is something personal for him about this case. When Svetlana catches the vampire child "in the gloom" (the dark world that parallels our own) she rips off his ski mask to reveal -- Yegor, Anton's vengeful son. After siding with the forces of darkness at the end of Night Watch, the child has been tutored in the ways of evil by the vampire overlord Zavulon (Viktor Verzhbitsky).
Critics here will point out that Yegor is a sort of vampire version of Anakin Skywalker --the boy whose well-stoked childhood grudge turns him into Darth Vader. But what keeps Day Watch interesting (unlike Star Wars) is the question to the plot -- if you had the power to magically erase one regret in life, what would it be? In the movie, the device for changing history is called the Chalk of Fate, and it is the prize the 14th century Central Asian pillager Tamerlane seeks in the opening battle sequence of the film, only to find that he is not the master of his own life, much less of the world.
Click on the extended post to read spoilers and watch the trailer
Pyotr Buslov's Bumer: Film Vtoroy opens several years after the events of Bumer (pronounced "boo-mer") movie. Kostya (Vladimir Vdovichenkov) is doing hard time in a prison colony, serving a fifteen year sentence for murder and robbery. In prison he befriends Kolya (Aleksandr Golubyov) a younger prisoner, who closely guards a photograph of his beautiful sister Dashka (Svetlana Ustinova). On the outside, Dashka is hard at work pretending to be a teenage girl molested by local politicians in order to blackmail enough cash from their campaigns to bribe her brother out of jail.
The trouble begins when Dimon, now a wealthy businessman in Moscow, decides to bail his old friend out. The film opens wth the prison wardens discussing the pros and cons of releasing a convicted killer, weighing the value of an enormous bribe compared to the trouble they could get in for releasing a convicted cop-killer. Eventually they decide to take the bribe - and then they hire a hitman to kill Kostya as soon as he gets to Moscow.
9 Rota cost $9 million to make and grossed $22 million in Russia
Yesterday RIA Novosti reported that 9 Rota (9th Company) has been selected by Russia's national film committee as their entry in the category of Best Foreign Film for the 2006 U.S. Academy Awards. For 9 Rota director Fyodor Bondarchuk, this adds national prestige and international critical acclaim to the film's impressive box office and DVD success.
Russia Blog first wrote about "The Ninth Company" shortly before its release in late 2005, and now Wikipedia has added an entry on the film with background on the true story of the 345th Guards Airborne Regiment's service in Afghanistan and the Battle for Hill 3234.
You can read Russia Blog's March 2006 film review here (WARNING: Plot Spoilers). You can order a non-regionally coded DVD with English subtitles that will supposedly work in any DVD player from Amazon, though the film is not yet available for rent from Netflix.
Click on the extended post to watch the trailer and see photos from the movie production, shot on location in the Crimea, and the movie premier.
Against the odds, Madonna rocks Moscow By Nick Allen
Moscow -- She was to be kidnapped or crushed with her fans by a stadium roof, eternally damned by the church or forced to cancel by petty incompetence and greedy intrigue. But against all the odds, Madonna performed in Moscow Tuesday night to a roar of acclaim. Whether fired up by irritation at the problems, or coolly tapping a quarter of a century of performing excellence, the 48-year-old pop diva delivered a blistering show for some 50,000 people in the Russian capital's Luzhniki stadium. With the song I Feel Love she embarked on the set of her controversial Confessions tour.
In the preceeding weeks, the biggest music event of Moscow's year began to resemble a grotesque soap opera with an ever changing cast, as a succession of figures proclaimed that they were the real organizers.
President Putin speaking with the Metropol of Moscow behind him
MOSCOW -- Saturday marked the celebration of the 859th anniversary of the City of Moscow. More than two million people are expected to come into downtown for events including a laser light show, the unveiling of a statue honoring Moscow's best janitor, and the christening of a new fountain.
While the cooler weather this week will probably attract more people, Mayor Yuri Luzhkov is not leaving sunshine to chance - several aircraft have sprayed aerosols to insure clear skies over the city today. Given that this event also happens to come on the 2nd anniversary of the Beslan massacre, security will be very tight.
Moscow may be the most expensive city in the world, but today ordinary Muscovites get to see lots of beautiful young faces and new architecture representing the positive side of their city. Click on the extended post to read The Moscow Times story and see photographs from the city day parade.
A symbol of victory: Soviet T-34 tank on static display
Born into a culturally aware multi-ethnic family and neighborhood, I grew up in an environment where many words from different languages became part of the language in my household. Among them: tea was called "chai" (Russian) and the word understand was substituted with "kapish" (Italian). "Chochkas" (Yiddish) refers to fun and relatively inexpensive souvenirs and articles. I've a number of Russia related chochkas.
The Russian side of my family has roots in the Imperial Russian Army and United States Marine Corps. This background influenced the kind of toys I received as a child. Solido is probably the best maker of die-cast metal military vehicles. My family maintains a nice collection of these pieces. The T-34 replica is my most prized possession from that group. The real McKoysky is still revered by many Russians to this day for its legendary reliability on the battlefield, helping the Red Army crush Hitler's Wehrmacht.
Alexander Sukarov's beautiful film The Russian Ark provides an encouraging counterpoint to the recent deluge of disheartening news pouring out of Russia. When a Russian film director and a French aristocrat find themselves lost in the enormous Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, the viewer begins a journey through the annals of Russian history. By the end of that journey, the Russian and the Westerner have witnessed the unfolding drama of Russia's centuries-old dance with Europe and the viewer has been caught up in the intriguing question of Russian identity.
This film has won numerous accolades for its grandiose cinematography. Sukarov attempted the impossible - and succeeded - when he captured all 96 minutes of The Russian Ark in one shot. With some 2,000 actors and extras, three live orchestras, and a flowing dialogue, this was a Herculean task. The shoot was made even more difficult by the restrictions imposed to permit use of the historic, high-profile set. The State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg's repository of fine art from around the world, is one of Russia's most popular tourist attractions. The museum could only afford to turn its staterooms, corridors, and ballrooms over to Sukarov for just one precious day.
Today's news is that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is visiting Moscow, slapping the backs of Putin and LUKOil's Vagit Alekperov, signing oil contracts, and pledging to purchase $3 billion worth of Russian weapons. Chavez also used his Kremlin stage to taunt America, calling the U.S. a "stupid giant". Chavez basked in the welcome from the Kremlin, the friendliness of many ordinary Russians on the streets, and favorable coverage from the Russian media. Russia Blog will try to explain why Chavez' visit was such a success for the Venezuelan strongman.
First of all, Hugo Chavez is drunk on oil money, and he usually pays on time and with cash. For example, the last time Russia Blog wrote about relations between Russia and Venezuela, we noted that Chavez ordered 100,000 barrels from Lukoil to meet his obligations to Petroleos de Venezuela's subsidized customers in South America.
As we have written many times before, Russians will never turn away anyone who has cash, (even Saddam Hussein), but they could care less about the causes of nationalities that have no money (i.e. Palestinians). Until very recently, Russia had nothing to sell besides oil and gas and some very good weapons. Second, many Russians, just like many Americans inside the Beltway, are still stuck in a Cold War mentality, and Chavez' anti-American remarks sounded great to them. But the biggest non-monetary reason Chavez scored was that Russians have a soft spot for loud pugnacious guys with a mafia attitude, and Chavez delivered. Chavez acted like a middle-aged millionaire gangster from a Siberian town, swilling vodka in public, listening to loud Russian national music, dropping cash and bear hugging President Putin.
During any season of the year, Western tourists are amazed at the number of Russians on the beaches of Turkey, Egypt, Spain and Italy. In Egypt and Turkey you might have trouble communicating complicated thoughts in English, but you will never have a problem finding locals who understand Russian or billboard targeted exclusively at the Russian tourist crowd.
These observations paint a picture of rich Russians traveling abroad and spending tons of money as they go. Stories abound of Russians throwing hundred dollar bills left and right on their Mediterranean vacations. To find out if these rumors of prodigal Russians are representative of the general Russian population, RussiaBlog decided to take a closer look at who is traveling where and how much they are spending. The numbers we found challenged many generalizations about Russian tourists. It appears that only 1.4% of Russians will go abroad for their vacation this summer, and only 13% of Russian kids will be able to afford summer camps. The rest of the nation will stay close to home, working at their "dachas" where many families and elderly raise fruits and vegetables to get them through the rest of the year.
Driving from the 21st to the 15th Century - Bumer Reviewed
Pyotr Buslov's Bumer (the Russian equivalent of "beamer"), released in August 2003, opens with a BMW 750 sedan parked in a dimly lit alley in a Russian city. Two thieves, Kostya (Brigada's Vladimir Vdovichenkov) and Petya (Sergei Gorobchenko) easily steal the car, and drive it to a chop shop. When they arrive, they decide to keep the BMW and have their mechanic forge new plates and serial numbers for the engine. While driving from the chop shop, a cop pulls them over and takes them to the station, where they pay a $1,000 bribe and are released. After a hard night of stealing cars, Kostya goes home to his devoted wife Nastya (Anastasiya Sapozhnikova), who is sick of Kostya's criminal lifestyle, and wants to leave Russia for good.
Just when the couple are about to argue about emigrating again, Kostya's cellphone rings (this movie ringtone later became a pop hit song) with a frantic call from his brat Dimon (Andrei Merzlikin). Dimon had been driving all over the road in his white Mercedes when he nearly collided with a group of gangsters. These heavies forced him to pull over, beat him up, and stole his car. Dimon needs Kostya and the other "brothers" help to get his car back. Lyokha (Maksim Konovalov) and Petya track down the gang that stole their friend's car, and they barge into the gangsters' offices. When the gangsters start trading insults and threats, Lyokha pulls a pistol and shoots a man dead.
RussiaBlog has written before about copyright violations in Russia and the former Soviet Union. I have really strong feelings about this issue, because I produce my own music and have worked with the largest Ukrainian music business at the time in late 90s early 2000s.
Things are getting better with DVD's, because Russian companies simply dropped prices per copy so they would be able to compete with pirated versions. Licensed DVDs for new Russian releases can be purchased for $4-6 each. The same with Russian music, regular CDs go for $3-5. The only hope for musicians is daily live concerts. However, Western producers are getting ripped off again and again. Please read more about music business in Russia here, and in the meantime, enjoy the news story from MSNBC.com.
MOSCOW - A Russian Web site that lets visitors download albums for less than $1 is a smash hit with music fans -- but not with U.S. trade and music industry officials.
Pensioners from the Russian city of Sverdlovsk recently wrote a letter to the Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov about...a reality TV show. The reality show Dom 2 (House 2), like its MTV counterparts, is mostly about young slackers who pretty much do nothing. Russian pensioners, organized by a babushka named Rimma Alesandrovna Vrubel, think that the show is an immoral influence on Russian youth. Mrs. Vrubel has a 17 year old grandson who is due for his mandatory army service next year. The pensioners wrote to Ivanov asking him why the reality TV stars were not doing their duty.
This is the second complaint by elderly pensioners against the show, and today the Defense Ministry replied to the babushka, explaining the results of their investigation. Out of ten participants on the show, five Russian citizens are older than 27 year of age and therefore are no longer eligible for army service. One other participant is a citizen of Uzbekistan. The other four guys are the right age for the army service and the Defense Ministry will do its best to get these able-bodied young men drafted into the army. The pensioners are very satisfied with the Defense Ministry response. "They read our letters and care about the nation's opinion" -- said Mrs. Vrubel.
Russian Orthodox Protesters Call for Jihad on Dan Brown, Da Vinci Code
Today's Weird but True News from Russia
Orthodox priests join the protest
Moscow-- Hundreds of Russian Orthodox Christians took the streets today to oppose The Da Vinci Code and burn posters from the movie, in their best impersonation of the angry Muslims who torched Danish flags in response to the Mohammed cartoons. "That's how the heretic things are burned!" exclaimed one ecstatic spokesman for the demonstrators. While the posters were burning, Moscow cops stood aside. Officers had been briefed by their supervisors not to intervene in these "religious things, unless there's an open physical fight". Many Russian Muslims are also outraged by the film, because Jesus is esteemed as a prophet in the Koran, they view The Da Vinci Code's claim that Jesus slept with Mary Magdalene as an attack on their religion as well as Christianity.
The protestors were praying for the hearts and souls of moviegoers and shouting the slogan "Buy a movie ticket -- sell Jesus Christ!" A handful of young Russian girls who witnessed the protest decided that now they "must see that movie". The spokesman for the protesters added that, "We're burning the heretic posters, we'll burn the heretic books and we'd love to throw Dan Brown and the actors into the furnace as well, in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen!" Several hundred copies of Dan Brown's novel will be burned tomorrow at 2 pm, in Pushkinskaya Square in downtown Moscow. If you live in Moscow make sure to check out the movie and the protest!
Click on the extended post to read more outrageous and funny stories from Russia.
Last week saw the formal unification of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) and the Moscow-based ROC. Since the Soviet breakup, growing ties have emerged between diaspora Russians and Russia.
After the Russian Civil War (1917-1921), the politically exiled anti-Communist "White" Russians formed the ROCOR. The ROC which remained in Russia had to be subservient to Soviet rule in order to survive. Critics of that church have been quick to highlight this fact. It's also true that in pre-revolutionary Russia, the ROC was beholden to the existing government structure.
Whether during pre-Soviet, Soviet and post Soviet times, one can find plenty of negative commentary about the ROC. Much of the criticism comes from non-ROC sources. I'm glad to see some individuals making a sincere effort to provide a more even-handed perspective on the subject. To my knowledge, every major religious denomination has had political aspects ranging from the good to not so good. The many earnest followers of each respective faith should not be tarnished because of such actions.
Brigada, subtitled "Once Upon a Time in Russia" in the U.S. and "Law of the Lawless" in Europe, is probably the best-known Russian mafia mini-series. Brigada made actor Vladimir Vdovichenkov a star. Vdovichenkov went on to portray a heroic ex-con in the 2003 hit movie Bumer, and also in Bumer 2. With good English subtitles, Bumer and Bumer 2 could easily be shown on HBO.
Brigada on the other hand, was made for RTR TV in 2003, and Director Alexei Sidorov only had $200,000 to shoot the entire first season - or roughly what the producers of Fox's hit "24" spend on each episode. Unfortunately, this shoestring budget (by Western standards) means that cheesy background music and terrible English subtitles make it difficult for non-Russians to appreciate the quality of the acting or comprehend the storyline.
Popular Russian Folk Rockers to Perform at Seattle's Benaroya Hall
Seattle -- May 12, the Russian folk/rock band Lyube is performing at Benaroya Hall. Lyube has been the most popular Russian band for several years with their traditional melodies and poignant lyrics. RussiaBlog has written before about popular music in Russia, and how the hits are the songs with strong melodies and realistic words. Lyube has been the first or near the top of the charts every year since the late 1980s.
Like the most popular American country and rock ballads, Lyube's songs are compassionate stories about common Russians. Many of their songs are about the brutal Russian Army life and the war in Chechnya, talking about a single mother's son going into the army and dying for his troubled motherland. The album Zona Lyube was entirely devoted to Russians in prison -- their life stories, dreams and hopes. Combined with great instrumentals, background choir vocals and beautiful music -- this is concert will be a must see (and hear) for everyone interested in Russia.
Sadly, I have never seen Lyube performing live, and though they will be playing only a block away from my office, I will be in New York and will miss the show. Please click on the extended post to see photos of Lyube performing for Russian troops in Chechnya.
UPDATE1: Lyube tickets are now sold out according to Ticketmaster and the box office at Benaroya Hall. If you're like Charlie and still looking for tickets, try EBay or Craigslist. As of 3 p.m. PST May 9 there were no tickets being scalped online. Outside the Benaroya Hall website, there was no advertising in Seattle for this show, and it's still sold out. That's what I call a loyal fan base.
Moscow -- About 70 babushkas (old Russian ladies) and young nationalists gathered May 1 to protest a party at the gay club "Three Monkeys". Yesterday the same kind of protest took place in front of the club "Renaissance". Today the protestors were more aggressive; the babushkas were waving Orthodox icons, and the nationalists were yelling out fascist slogans. Special police units surrounded the protestors expecting violence through the night.
Enjoy the pictures from this amazing event here at RussiaBlog!
You may not be a tennis fan, but even if you are not you may recall so-called "Russian" Maria Sharpova's pledge not to be "another Kournikova" selling her body for soft porn profit while her game, and the game's reputation, goes into the tank. From the photos to follow you can see how reliable this Russian's word is...
Russian female tennis players had an impressive year in 2004. Five of the eight slots in grand slam event finals were filled by Russians, and three of the four slams were won by Russians. In addition to Wimbledon, Russia's Maria Sharapova also won the season-ending WTA Tour Championship title, making 2004 the best year by far for Russian tennis and Sharapova Russia's apparent golden girl.
My good friend asked me how to make a Russian Easter Cake, the kind that I've been eating my whole life at my grandma's house, the kind that is sold in every grocery store across Russia in the two weeks before Easter. I personally find it extremely complicated and tedious to make, but on the other hand I consider ham and cheese eggs to be a fancy treat...
Moscow -- Several downtown blocks were shut down last weekend by men in black suits carrying assault rifles. The crÃ¨me de la creme of Moscow, including Mayor Luzhkov and his wife came out. George Banson and Al Jerreau performed on a stage suspended inside the biggest concert hall in the city; fruits made of pure gold arranged on marble vases; Bentleys and a $10,000,000 penthouse for presents -- this is a snapshot of the biggest wedding Moscow has seen yet. There was a $5,000 bounty for capturing paparazzi, so no one could get close enough to take a decent picture.
The bride, Alsou Safina, is the daughter of the LUKOil founder Ralif Safin; she is also a pop star and "royalty". Russian and European newspapers have dubbed her "The Oil Princess". The groom, Yan Abramov, is a son of the "royal Armenian Jewish clan of Abramovs". I'll let the reader try to make sense of what this combination of words mean. The "Abramov Clan" is officially "involved in the Russian oil business". This also doesn't tell you much, but says everything you need to know at the same time.
Tycoon is my first foray into the post-Soviet Russian crime genre, and it proved to be disappointing. Of course, at Russia Blog, we don't like to describe the post-Soviet oligarchs as "tycoons" in the mold of Rockefeller or Carnegie, because unlike these historic capitalist figures, the oligarchs did not create new wealth, they only acquired existing state-run industries for themselves.
What may interest students of recent Russian history more than the movie is the English-subtitled DVD's extended interview with Tycoon's Franco-Russian director, Pavel Lungin. In this exchange, recorded in French (with English subtitles), Lungin describes how the obsession with money has hit post-Soviet Russia like "an A-bomb - with invisible rays" and that this condition has destroyed "what was the real strength of Russia...the special friendships that held an important place in our lives...now those friendships are dissolving like cubes of ice in a glass." Western critics looking for a Scorsese-inspired psychological picture instead saw a film about a close knit fraternity's rise to wealth and power with some themes borrowed from gangster and detective movies.
We've seen these faces before -- gathering in a rain swept railway station, holding their sweethearts for what could be the last time. We've seen each character in The 9th Company (9 Rota) in previous war movies -- the badass who grew up on the wrong side of the tracks, the naÃ¯ve artist, the jokester, the scrounger, the brutal drill sergeant, and the burned out company commander.
Once the 9th Company starts however, each character seems uniquely Russian. This is probably because the director, Fyodor Bondarchuk, is the son of the world-famous Sergey Bondarchuk, who directed War and Peace (Voyna i mir) in 1968 -- a Soviet spectacle that dwarfed anything Hollywood has ever attempted. War and Peace required 50,000 extras to depict the destruction of Napoleon's Grand Army.
To depict the fighting in Afghanistan in 1988-89, the then 37-year-old Bondarchuk's first feature film used thousands of Ukrainian Army extras, and millions of dollars worth of Soviet-built military hardware, including rocket launchers, attack helicopters, jets, tanks, and armored personnel carriers. The film was shot mostly in the mountainous regions of the Crimea in Ukraine and in Uzbekistan.
Night Watch is the first in an epic horror/fantasy film trilogy
After months of delays (see my first mention of Night Watchhere) part one of the epic Russian horror trilogy has finally been released outside of New York and LA. After grossing $16 million in Russia (four times what it cost to make), it is ridiculous that it took this long to get the film distributed widely in the U.S.
Thanks to M. Night Shyamalan reviving horror as a psychological genre in the 1990s, and The Exorcism of Emily Rose showing the box office potential for supernatural thrillers, I must admit some of the most promising young filmmakers in the world are now making these kind of movies. And what Night Watch deserves credit for is originality, both in the fantasy storyline and in the occasionally jerky camera work and clever use of special effects.
Click on the title to read Russia Blog's review of Day Watch, the next film in the trilogy. Click on the extended post to read more about Night Watch and view the film trailer.
Following up on the last Averko's Russia Report of February 19 which commented on the first week of the Turin Olympics - I can't help but make a correllation between subjective sports like figure skating and the soft science of "political science," which in my view should be referred to as political studies. Unlike the history and political studies fields, the hard sciences (like mathematics) are precision based with less room for debate.
NBC's figure skating commentators and ESPN (Lisa Salters) suggested that the American silver medal ice dancing team (Ben Agosto and Tanith Belbin) could have been legitimately awarded a gold medal (the day after the competition, the NBC commentators changed their tune in support of the judges' scoring). On the other hand, my sampling of European media hints that the bronze medal Ukrainian duo (Odessa natives Ruslan Goncharov and Yelena Grushina) could have reasonably been awarded the silver medal.
For decades, Russian and Soviet Union athletes represented a cold, intimidating delegation at the Olympics. But in Turin, there has been a turnabout.
Here, it is hip to be Russian.
The Russians' red-and-white uniforms and gear, with their distinctive paisley-like design that mimics a pattern on Russian coins, are big sellers, to Russians and non-Russians alike. The Russian spectators at the Olympic sites are wildly enthusiastic, with Russian flags waving and chants of "Russia! Russia!" echoing through the crowd, including Wednesday when the Russian hockey team upset the Canadians....
It's just as the American figure skater Johnny Weir preached from the moment these Olympics began: no one is cooler than the Russians. Weir, who finished fifth last week in the men's figure skating competition, showed up at the Russia House after midnight Tuesday, for his second consecutive night of partying with his favorite comrades.
This time, he wore a beaver-and-python jacket and True Religion jeans, blending in with the other men and women in fur and designer duds. In minutes, he had a leggy Russian woman in stilettos on each of his arms. The trio giggled as they skipped past the hors d'oeuvres. "These are friends of the lawyer of the richest man in Moscow," Weir said in passing, as the women tossed their long hair. "These Russians know how to have a good time."
Next Russia will play Finland. The reasons for Russia's success this year might seem rather odd to a reader unfamiliar with hockey. The National Hockey League season was cancelled this year, and the most of the Russian Olympic hockey team resides in Florida (no state income tax), and plays for NHL teams. Because the season was canceled, the Russians had more time to train together back in their motherland.
Sadly, the Americans are not doing that well this year, and when the Russian team beat the Americans 5-4, the Russian coach commented that he had advised his team to play half-throttle and not waste energy before the other games. The Cold War is dead, and so is the athletic rivalry between the US and Russia. It almost seems like the Cold War was beneficial for the conditioning of the Olympic players of our countries...Americans today only seem to take the gold in individual winter sports.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn's novel "The First Circle", now adapted for the screen, was the most highly watched TV drama in Russia last week. At the age of 87, Solzhenitsyn helped to write the screenplay and recorded commentary for the 7 1/2 hour long mini-series (see the BBC story here and the International Herald Tribune's story here).
Here at RussiaBlog it is nice to take a break from the latest headlines and often depressing news coming out of Russia to celebrate the great achievements of Russian arts and culture. We have created a new "Culture" category for posts on contemporary Russian film, music, social scene, and religion. And we invite submissions from our readers with expertise on these topics.
While Russian film making is not what it was during the lavishly subsidized Soviet era, one of the best known films of the post-Soviet era is East-West (1999), starring Oleg Menchikov as Alexei. The film is a joint French-Russian-Bulgarian production, and one of the things I enjoyed about it was recognizing the streets of Sofia and the golden domes of the Alexander Nevsky cathedral from my time there in August 2003.
Menchikov is best known to Western audiences for his role as the villanious NKVD officer Dimitri in Nikita Mikhalkov's Burnt by the Sun (1993). While his role in Burnt by the Sun required charm combined with a slow-burning malevolence, in East-West we get to see Menchikov at his best, as flawed hero who ultimately redeems himself by sacrificing his own future for his wife and child's freedom.
Dnevnoy Dozor ("Day Watch"), the sequel to Nochnoy Dozor ("Night Watch") made $20 million dollars in the Russian and Eastern European movie theaters in the first 10 days since its release - reports Gazeta.Ru. The third part of the movie will be made in Hollywood, since now the producers can afford to do it. The trailer for Night Watch is here.
As Russia Blog has written before -- January 6 is the Christmas Eve for the Russian Orthodox.
60% of the Russian population are planning to attend the services in the churches and cathedrals around the country. The service starts at 10 pm and goes on until the early morning. Not all of the Christians will make it to the end, I would guess that 70% of the worshipers will go home after the midnight service.
The Moscow subway will run every other minute and will continue serving the Muscovites until 2 am. Public transportation will be available until 3 am. All the services will start working again at 5:30 am.
All Russian government officials will be seen on TV at the cathedral of Christ the Savior in downtown Moscow. The government approach in Russia is different, and its marketing strategy is different from the one in the US. President Putin and the ministers are not afraid to upset small groups of Muslims and Jews, they would be viewed as rude and vulgar leaders if they were not seen tonight worshipping with the 60% of the nation. The actual number of people celebrating Christmas but not going to church is even higher.
Even during Soviet years, there was a difference between Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas. In my latest conversations with Russian friends, I'm having trouble explaining why The White House doesn't say Merry Christmas any more, if even the officially atheist Soviet Union did. My office building has posters downstairs saying "Peace on Earth", and "Happy Holidays". What's the reason for peace though? Is it a V-Day, or Veteran's Day, or anti-war demonstration day? The political correctness of the United States makes ex-Soviets laugh. The "appropriateness" of "anti-Christmas' is so overwhelming, that it looks almost made up. Why bother having a day off and even celebrating the "Peace on Earth Day", if you are not allowed to talk about the reason for the holiday?
in Russia and Ukraine, the few hour Christmas services are aired on all major TV channels, and are always attended by all major government officials, including the presidents and the mayors of the cities.
Eastern Orthodox Christmas is celebrated 13 days later than the rest of the world, which is resulted by the change of the calendar at the turn of the 16th,18th and 20th centuries. Happy Holidays happen on the 1st and 2nd of January, and Merry Christmas follows up on the 7th of January. However Russians love the federal holidays, and holidays in general, so they start out celebrating the so-called "Catholic" Christmas (the 25th of December), then they move on to the New Year's Eve, then sober up, do Christmas again (7th of January), and then the real fans of the holidays do the "Old New Year" which is also 13 days later, and comes on the 13th of January accordingly.
My friends at Discovery Institute like the music that I bring to work sometimes. I listen to it, but without really listening. Russian music is always cheap in the sound quality -- there are no fancy studios in Russia, and no facilities to record a big live performance or a quality pop/rock album. T.A.T.U., and other successful or rich acts always go to LA or London; their producers gave up long ago on recording in Russia. However, it is a supply-demand deal, Russians don't care about the sound quality, they care if a song has a catchy melody and lyrics. As a composer, I can always hear the lack of quality in the recording, though I almost never listen to the words.
One of my co-workers asked me what a particularly sad song was about. And so I paid attention to the words, though I haven't listened to it much since then. The song, Davai za Shi (Let's Drink to Life) by the very popular Russian band Lyube is about a soldier who is terribly wounded, and his comrades are promising him that everything will be ok, that they will all dance at his wedding, that he will hold his kids someday. However, the listener understands that they are just saying these things to comfort an 18 year old soldier who is bleeding to death. The chorus goes: "Let's drink to us, let's drink to the end, to the end of the war, to those who used to be with us." The whole song has melancholy rock instrumentation. So, there's some Russian rock'n'roll for you.
Nikita Mikhalkov won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language film in 1995 with his Burnt by the Sun, a drama of an aging "old comrade" Bolshevik whose family is destroyed by a envious young rival and Stalin's purges. Now he is working on a sequel and celebrating his 60th birthday.
Burnt by the Sun sadly is probably the only film about the Stalin era many Westerners have ever seen. And this isn't for lack of source material. Perhaps what made Burnt by the Sun stick out was the gorgeous cinematography, the idyllic shots of the Russian landscape and family, suddenly shattered by spams of violence.
Russiablog has previously commented on the current state of the Russian film industry. Perhaps with the benefit of the Internet, Western distribution agreements and cheaper digital production, Russian cinema might again touch viewers around the world.
If you still haven't seen this movie, and there's a night or a weekend that you don't have any plans for - go see it. I went to see it with a friend if mine from Ghana. Both of us found the movie to be slightly Hollywood-ish, but still very truthful and educational.
RIA Novosti reports some good news for the long suffering Russian film industry - total revenues from 2004 increased to $350 million, and market research suggests that audiences are getting older and more discriminating in their tastes, "older people who miss patriotic plots and home-made heroes have rejoined the audience". Implicit in the decline of the 13 to 25 year old male audience demographic will be a reduced emphasis on low brow sexuality and explosions in favor of quality drama.
Russian films have now claimed 15% of their domestic market, whetting director's appetites for foreign distribution possibilities. As previously noted here, the spooky Russian hit of 2004, Night Watch, is poised for release in the U.S. Night Watch proved so successful that it will be the first installment in a three part action/horror series (imagine the Matrix films with werewolves and vampires).
A prime candidate for a major distribution deal in the U.S. next year is the upcoming war drama The Ninth Platoon, about a group of Red Army soldiers fighting in Afghanistan in 1988-89.
"This movie will have a record start - 410 copies, and we have high hopes for it," said Vadim Ivanov. "But its marketing is quite difficult because it is a war drama. We don't know whether it makes sense to release such an expensive movie about a war which is still fresh in people's memories. This war affected many Russians who are now over the age of 35. But we hope for a broad audience, because young people can also identify with the main characters." Fyodor Bondarchyuk himself is a star of an entertainment channel that is popular with the younger generation, and other actors in the movie are also idols of the young.
Here's a great article about Russian women, written by a Russian and published in the Wall Street Journal. Great and honest insights on the new generation of Russian women:
The Other Russian Revolution
All across the country, a plethora of beautiful girls has sprung up.
BY EDVARD RADZINSKY
Tuesday, August 30, 2005 12:01 a.m. EDT
MOSCOW--For the greater part of the 20th century, Russia's population suffered from the nightmare of wars, repression and perpetual hunger. There was the famine of the Civil War, the famine of the years of collectivization, and the famine of the Second World War. It almost seems as if the relative prosperity of recent years has engendered a peculiar reaction of the flesh, something almost akin to gratitude. All across the country, a plethora of beautiful girls has sprung up.
Here’s an entertaining and slightly racist article from the British News Telegraph. Anyway, it delivers a different (not quite truthful) perspective:
After decades fighting the British for places on the sun lounger, the Germans have a new holiday enemy - armies of Russians competing for their favorite destinations.
Lured by all-inclusive deals offering flights and accommodation for as little as ï¿½140 a fortnight, millions are turning up at Turkish and Egyptian resorts once considered to be firmly in German hands.
In a number of unflattering articles in Germany, the average family from Moscow has been depicted as rough, nouveau riche peasants who steal the carpet from beneath their hotel beds, start camp fires beside hotel pools, and - worst of all - encourage their children to steal boiled eggs from the breakfast buffet.
"Their women look like tarts, the blokes are common as dirt - even worse than the English in Mallorca," one German tourist in Hurghada, on the Red Sea, told a German newspaper.
A doctor, Gregor Breivogel, staying at the same resort, said: "The Russians are the worst plague. They have no manners and they drink and bellow all day."
Equally galling was the admission by one German woman tourist holidaying in Kemer, on Turkey's Mediterranean coast, that in the battle for the lounger, Russians seem to have beaten the Germans at their own game. "I have to get to the beach early before the Russians snatch all the sunbeds," she said.
Her infuriated husband said: "Even if you put a towel and all your stuff on the sunbed, the Russians just clear it off. They have no respect for anything."
One magazine gave a detailed description of the average Russian male tourist, whom it said was built like a Soviet T34 tank. "He has arms like a wrestler and legs like the chimney on a Taiga cabin stove. He drinks in the morning, smokes everywhere and never says sorry," it said. The magazine added: "His wife, Olga, looks like a Red Army soldier drawn from a film about the Cold War."
The influx of Russian spending power has led to local boutiques that used to sell beachwear also stocking expensive furs and winter coats aimed at the rouble.
Germans are also dismayed that although they still triumph in tourist beauty contests, Ivans and Sergeis increasingly walk off with the prizes in the jet ski, paragliding and crazy golf events.
With up to 1.5 million Russians visiting Turkey last year and 500,000 going to Egypt, Germans are already outnumbered in most resorts.
The prospect of a further decline in Russo-German beach relations prompted Neckermann, one of Germany's largest tour operators, to call for the nationalities to be kept apart. Gunther Trï¿½ger, a spokesman for Neckermann, said: "There would be Russian hotels and hotels for other nationalities, especially at the middle and lower ends of the market."
Taking a break once a week from the current headlines is a tradition I'd like to start here at Russiablog.
Today I'd like to highlight an essay by David Gurevich. Gurevich is a Russian-born film critic and the producer of the Israeli documentary film Empty Rooms, about the largely Russian-Ukrainian born victims of a suicide bombing in a Tel Aviv night club. Gurevich has previously published essays in Details magazine, the New York Times Book Review, The Forward, and the conservative cultural journal the New Criterion.
My own experience with late Soviet and post-Soviet cinema is limited: I have watched the excellent World War II partizan drama Come and See (1985), and the indispensable Burnt by the Sun (1994). Fortunately Netflix has made it much easier no matter where you live to view foreign films on DVD, so I'll be catching up in the next few months.
Gurevich laments that Russian cinema has largely fallen victim to the general economic crisis in the country. Vanity projects starring gangsters' girlfriends still get made - a real-life source of dark comedy (Yuri informs me that previously tough guy Russian mobsters are going metrosexual, and were recently tripping in their designer tracksuits to pay thousands of dollars for Elton John tickets). As with Bollywood in the 1970s and 80s, the Mafia muscles in on productions, but unlike Bollywood, doesn't get any return on its investments besides ego.
As Gurevich notes, the total number of releases produced in Russia a year ago was only 24. Outside the wealthy enclaves of Moscow and St. Petersburg, ordinary people living on 300 dollars a month can't afford to go to the movies - even pirated DVDs are luxury items. Gurevich does note that the Russian equivalent of the Oscars are passed out at Planet Hollywood in Moscow, and that a new American-style cinema has recently opened.
UPDATE: Gurevich has another essay here, on the upcoming Night Watch, which has been showing up on movie posters with creepy/wolfish vampire figures haunting a silhoutted dusk Kremlin backdrop. Gurevich also notes the Russian equivalent of the WWII bomber crew in American movies of that era, and a few films focused on intelligentsia Muscovites with no concept of the lives of ordinary Russians in "flyover" country (sounds familiar, but the contrasts between Moscow and rural Russia are even more stark than between Manhattan and rural Mississippi).