Review: RUSALKA (2007)

SYNOPSIS: The fanciful tale of an introverted little girl who grows up believing she has the power to make wishes come true. She must reconcile this belief with reality when, as a young woman, she journeys to Moscow and grapples with love, modernity and materialism. (IMDb)

REVIEW: Ignore the crappy, disembodied voice saying cheesy crap in the trailer (or just don’t even watch it).  A retelling/re-imagining of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, the similarities were obvious and abundant, but the story is contemporary and independent from it’s source material.  Be warned if you’ve never read the deeply touching short story: Disney has misled you, big time.  Unaware of the film’s plot before watching , the new, colorfully grimy approach threw me for a loop until landing on the soft nuances of Mariya Shalaeva‘s wonderful acting in the lead role, Alisa Titova.  Not the prettiest girl in the room (I think she’s a dish, but I like odd), her smile felt like genuine movie magic, her understated performance and innocently stoic enthusiasm, holy inspiration.  Also in lead roles, Irina Skrinichenko‘s Rita and Yevgeni Tsyganov‘s Sasha, who delivered exactly what was asked of them with little deviation.  A slight obliviousness was necessary, and they both nailed the dramatic irony with a 22oz framing hammer.  Overall, casting director Olga Troyan knew exactly what had to be done, impressively.  Art direction by Ulyana Ryabova was pretty great, but…

…the style she chose was destined to be compared to LE FABUEUX DESTIN D’AMÉLIE POULAIN, and rightfully so.  There was enough difference here for me but it didn’t show in Oleg Kirichenko‘s cinematography.  The shots looked good but felt loose, like they were missing screws in their camera rig, or like he was afraid to take up the foreground appropriately.  That can also fall on writer/director Anna Melikyan, who was stellar, all else considered.  Another small fault I found was the amount of focus given to young Alisa’s mother.  Her story was essential for inspirations and basic exposition, but felt contrived in it’s presentation and dragged like a slew of cats in a pillow case.

THE SCORE: Another example of my appreciation of a film not being reflected in it’s overall score, I can say with all confidence that anything that scores a 8.5 or above here is worth watching, no matter your interest level in film.  Taking one of my personal favorite stories of all time and giving it relevance in the here and now is impressive, but consider that you’re gaining two levels of culture by viewing and you should be telling your friends to watch it by next weekend. Or don’t, because your friends suck. What? They do.

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Review: HIGH SCHOOL (1968)

Shot by documentary film maker Frederick Wiseman at Northeast High School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the aptly titled HIGH SCHOOL transcends standard fare by inadvertently offering a daring (editing provides a themed narrative) look into the flaws and pitfalls of government schools, also known as public schools, through a time portal of crisply preserved sound and video quality.  Chosen in 1991 for preservation by the National Film Registry, the film, which was indubitably controversial upon it’s release, is perhaps even more so today in light of the US education system being so hotly contested state-to-state, nationally. Certainly student behavior was superior decades ago, but do we really want schools to go back to the way they used to be, or are we not seeing the real, objective challenges for everyone involved mouthing their opinions?  A beautiful piece of work as inspired as it is a slice of life, some viewers may be left wanting more (an established, not implied, context for starters), but to deny the power and poise here would be elementary.

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