Currently Watching : Criterion Blu-Ray THE CRANES ARE FLYING (1957) by Mikhail Kalatozov

Letyat zhuravli (1957)

“I believe in poetic cinema. Poetic cinema is the cinema created in especially vivid form… by great masters like Eisenstein, Pudovkin, and Dovzhenko. In my own work I strive to affect a viewer’s consciousness and soul by means of poetic cinema.”
-Kalatozov in a 1961 interview. Available on the Criterion Blu-ray

Tatyana Samoylova in Letyat zhuravli (1957)

Tatyana Samoylova in Letyat zhuravli (1957)

THE CRANES ARE FLYING (1957)-Three things period Russian films do just about better than anyone else, is tragedy and beauty and grandeur, and Director Mikhail Kalatozov’s THE CRANES ARE FLYING is overflowing with all three. You get the deep focus cinematography immortalized by Orson Welles married to a balletic, spiraling, intimate ground breaking, “you are there” camera movement, that is uniquely Russian. what kalatozov himself would call— poetic cinema.Letyat zhuravli (1957)

Almost 7 decades later and without any need for CGI, and 20 years before the invention of the Stedicam – the cinematography in this film (by the equally acclaimed Sergei Urusevesky) remains— both unbelievable and sublime. It is a film that draws you in from frame one, and holds you and the characters like a lover— deeply, afraid to be parted.Aleksandr Shvorin in Letyat zhuravli (1957)

All in all, a transfixing and haunting viewing experience, greatest of which is the beauty of Tatyana Samoylova, whose beauty captured here for all time, is so great –- and her performance so affecting—- that at times looking at her – is like looking at the sun.

One of the great Russian beauties, she becomes the mythical Helen – whom all young men seek to impress with war; and ‘changed by the war’ young men; seek only to hold in peace. THE CRANES ARE FLYING is up there with I AM CUBA/SOY CUBA (another Kalatozov cinematic achievement, with this time a stunning Cuban beauty) as a milestone of Russian cinematography, and by extension a milestone of world cinematography; up there with Welles CITIZEN KANE and Lean’s GREAT EXPECTATIONS. There is no putting this movie on, and not being captivated by it.

THE CRANES ARE FLYING is another masterpiece lovingly provided by the Criterion Blu-ray label. I am on a hunt now to see the other available Kalatozov directed films, as well as Tatyana starring films. Kalatozov,while IMDB lists 20 directing credits for him, most of those appear to be documentaries or shorts or state sponsored work. It really appears he only has 6 or 7 feature films to his name, all coming toward the end of his career, especially once he found a kindred spirit in his cinematographer, Urusevesky.  So I look forward to adding THE FIRST ECHELON, LETTER NEVER SENT and RED TENT to the list of Kalatozov films to add to my collection. Grade: It is a simple enough story, but the visuals just make it, cinema undeniable— A+.Aleksey Batalov in Letyat zhuravli (1957)

Click the image below to get the best price on the feature rich Blu-ray, and you also earn a few very appreciated pennies for this blog! A win-win!

Letyat zhuravli (1957)

Currently Watching VOD / On-Demand: 1970s THE CONFORMIST courtesy of Netflix Streaming


A 45 year old movie, it may be hard to put it’s acclaim into perspective, if you don’t give credence to its age.

In 1970 when this film came out, its visuals alone and sumptuous use of the camera… was unequaled, ground breaking even. This slightly surrealist and absurdist tale of mores in a time where lunacy was sanity, and sanity lunacy, directed by the great Bernardo Bertolucci, still has its dna in so much that has come to be European cinema and transcendent cinema.

Let’s put it this way, every film Danish director Lars Von Trier has tried in the 21st century (the bulk of his 17 film output), to my mind has been his inferior take on the themes of the CONFORMIST. Lars Von Trier movies of the 21st century being very much Bertolucci movies done by someone with none of Bertolucci’s talent or vision. The only exception to this being Lars Von Trier’s first movie, and in my opinion only really great movie 1984’s ELEMENT OF CRIME; which like THE CONFORMIST is a flawed but must see film.


I don’t think THE CONFORMIST itself necessarily holds up, I don’t think it was ever a masterpiece, there’s is something to cold in it, to fully engage, too rambling, and unfocused, but there is much in the film, in its construction that was and remains… masterful.


Definitely a film deserving of watching and I think owning in the highest quality possibly, to fully enjoy its visuals and camera-work. Grade: For fans of surrealism and beautiful cinematography, it is a must own. All others may be content with catching it on Netflix.




The Fifth Horseman is Fear
Facets video
1964 / B&W
2:35 anamorphic 16:9
100 min.
…a páty jezdec je Strach
Street Date July 25, 2006

Starring Miroslav Machácek
Cinematography Jan Kalis
Production Designer Milan Nejedla
Film Editor Miroslav Hájek
Written by Zbynek Brynych, Ota Koval, Ester Krumbachová from a book by Hana Belohradska
Produced by Studio Barrandov
Directed by Zbynek Brynych


THE FIFTH HORSEMAN IS FEAR- To go by reviews on IMDB and AMAZON as well as various critics sites this Czech film is supposed to be a masterpiece. The recently departed Roger Ebert who I agreed with in some things called it.. “a near perfect film.”

Having watched it I have to say… not so much.

While I understand its historic significance in being an early filmic examination of life under an oppressive regime, I found its execution falling far short of its acclaim.

And as someone who is a fan of classic cinema and consider films such as THE THIRD MAN, and ODD MAN OUT and THE CRANES ARE FLYING, historically significant and brilliant films, THE FIFTH HORSEMAN IS FEAR is not a brilliant film. It has moments of interesting cinematography that unfortunately gets lost in the unfinished bones of a movie, a movie that is more exercise and experiment than finished film. I found THE FIFTH HORSEMAN IS FEAR tedious rather than engaging; and the screeching and overwrought performances and dialogue, felt false and empty.

I respect the film’s courage for trying to say something of import, given the perilous nature of when and where the film was made, but I have to say I don’t think the film says it well. Not today, and not even upon its release.

A film that by all means view if you can see it for free, but not something that I think you will be particularly enriched or intrigued by in the viewing. GRADE: If you can see it for free… fine, otherwise avoid. ** out of ****.


RATING MOVIES 101: How to determine which IMDB reviews to give weight to?

How to determine which IMDB reviews to give weight to?

Some quick, easy guidelines.

1- if someone just has one review, ie just jumped onto IMDB to bash or gush over one movie, toss their opinion out. They are either a plant, marketing shells or friends of the film/filmmaker, or they are a 1 hit wonder, without enough of a history to give weight to their opinion. Dropping off these reviews, helps immensely.

2- people who don’t know how to grade. ie Every film they don’t like is a 1. If these people had to be graded by the way they grade on IMDB, they would never have graduated any school. It’s a 10 point scale guys, which means 7/10 is a film that just passes, ie a C. You can dislike TITANIC all you want, but any way you grade it, that’s a competently made movie. You bring a movie like that to great directors like John Ford or Fritz Lang, it at least gets a passing grade of 7/10. And more than likely if those directors were available to grade it, they would give it a 10/10.

Unless you find a film morally reprehensible, really offensive, or incompetent, rating it severely under a 5 to 7, perhaps not called for. So just lookout for people who can’t grade, and discount their opinions.

3- look at the quality of their reviews. Is it well written or is it moronic? Do they come off as a drunk frat boy, or does their review sound well thought out.

4- And finally, See if you can find in their reviews, movies you’ve seen, and if you agree with more of their reviews than you disagree (I would say 7 out of 10), then that’s a reviewer you want to put some stock in.

With these 4 steps it will help you with navigating worthwhile IMDB reviews from useless ones. It’s helped me. 🙂 .

The Cinema of Hollywood— Black Faces, White Messages

I, as a rule, avoid stupid people.

Because they are vexations of the spirit, and in the truest sense of the word… wastes of time.

But every so often, I feel that a positive discussion can be distilled, or needs to be made, out of one person’s negative.

Someone posted on line for “flicks where there are NO BLACK PEOPLE?”

On the surface it’s the kind of ignorant discourse that has become common place in the increasingly unmoderated world of YOUTUBE and CRAIGSLIST and IMDB and insert other online site here. Increasingly companies shirk their responsibilty to moderate discourse under the guise of liberty, when in truth it’s about being a haven for hate, confusion, and disconnect, and the antithesis of communication. It’s about sites creating an uncivil experience.

But I thought such moronic statements, occasionally warrant an answer, not for the moron who posted it, but for those stumbling honestly on it, and who may take away only the fool’s foolishness, I wanted to give the other side of the story.


One moronic topic deserves another.


We need more films with characters and directors of color, and preferably more than the stupid tokenism prevalent in “Hollywood” films. Cause trust me I hate the token, shoe-horned in, poorly written single Black character in a film otherwise filled with pale faces more than anything. I mean what was that damn RESIDENT EVIL movie. Don’t bring the Black character in the film or show… just to be the sum of your stereotypes.

I mean I really fucking hate that.

And I hate the Black actors who are in the films to do nothing more than reinforce white messages. Be walking stereotypes. It’s one of the reasons I hated SIN CITY (beyond it being just a god-awful movie) or the otherwise excellent DAY AND NIGHT that was ruined for me in the last 5 minutes with an inexplicable introduction of one of the most annoying characters in all cinema.

So the search should be for movies without poorly written Black characters. And it’s a search, that I back up with dollars. As a rule films with strong characters of color, multiple characters of color, smartly written, get my attention and my dollars. And those without… do not.

One of the reasons HANCOCK (that was marketed to be a failure) was one of the highest grossing movies of its year. Making over 300 million, just shy of IRON MAN, and the blockbuster that was DARK KNIGHT, was the same reason most critics hated it, and most people of color loved it, it was a film with an unconventional 2nd half where the character of color, transcended the box that hollywood designs for them… of crook, fool, or comedy relief, and got to be a hero, while also being a quite brilliant and forlorn love story.

That’s the cinema, I like paying for. And it’s the cinema I want to see more of. The cinema… of transcending. And more than that it’s a cinema, our youth desperately needs more of.

We do not rise above our dreams. And mass media, movies, music, tv, teaches youths of color, to dream very poorly indeed. To be sidekicks in their own lives at best.

And it’s the reason I LOVE movies like CITY OF GOD (or the equally brilliant TV series CITY OF MEN), CAPUCCINO, And we need more of them.

Thing is there are brilliant films and filmmakers (SOUNDS OF SAND, LIFTED, EL BENNY, THE DISCIPLE, THE ASSASSIN, ALGENY, DARSALAM, BLACK DYNAMITE etc), but they don’t get picked up for distribution, and our cinemas instead get flooded with the 8 million copies of moronic comedies, or the same old, tired, boring, and ultimately eurocentric tripe.

And we are all… diminished, by the lack of diversity and dumbing down of American culture. Our cinema and our songs. There’s a reason films and music are stuck in the 80s, regurgitating and recycling it. It’s because the new has always come from the ground up. The culture of those on top, always dependent on the culture of those on the bottom. You get no country music, no rock and roll, without negro spirituals, and blues, and jazz.

And today our inner city youth our devoid (devoided) of culture. And mainstream America has nothing to copy, so we get stuck in this loop, of listening to the good old days, or remaking the good old movies.

We become a cannibal nation, eating its own tale.

Because people in positions to give us the new, are afraid. And they crush innovations, new voices and new dreams… not realizing, that ultimately the dreams they crush, of that young filmmaker or actor or musician of color… is everyone’s dreams. They have always been, these people of color, the engines of our tomorrow.

All our tomorrows.

So the search must ever be, for more visions, and more visionaries… of color.