Monthly Archives: January 2015

Film Review: Red Army

Film Review: Red Army

Gabe Polsky’s Red Army isn’t your usual sports documentary. It’s a human-interest story that happens to be about hockey players. You’ll get caught up in it even if you’ve never thought about hockey in your life.

The film tells the story of Soviet-Russian hockey, from the 1950s through the turbulent 1990s. It features archival footage that shows young boys waiting in line for seven or eight hours just to try out. Those who are accepted train for eleven months of the year under Coach Anatoly Tarasov.Red Army 3 Guys

One of these young men- and the film’s spark plug- is defenseman Slava Fetisov. His story is a rough parallel to that of Soviet hockey during the 1980s. Fetisov begins training under Tarasov when he is just ten years old.

Some of the archival footage in Red Army just has to be seen. There are shots of young boys, in full pads and on skates, doing somersaults. Players learn to skate while carrying another player on their shoulders. They work with dancers from the Bolshoi to learn agility. Chess players like Garry Kasparov teach them strategy.

The players adore Tarasov. He’s a visionary who completely changes the way everyone thinks about hockey. But something goes wrong between Tarasov and his bosses. In the middle 1970s, Tarasov is fired and replaced by Viktor Tikhonov.Red Army Green

Tikhonov proves to be extremely unpopular. The players consider him a dictator. A joke among them goes as follows: “Need a heart transplant? Ask for Viktor’s- it’s never been used.”

Fetisov continues to excel. He becomes part of the Green Unit, along with Alexi Kastonov, Sergei Makarov, Igor Larionov, and Vladimir Krutov. It is widely considered to be unstoppable.

The one big exception occurs at the 1980 Olympics, when an underdog U.S. team upsets them. In the U.S., this is known as the Miracle on Ice. Red Army has a scene of Fetisov watching this game. He still tears up, even after all this time.Red Arny Fetisov Now

By 1984, the Soviets are back on top with a gold medal for hockey. Fetisov, along with several of his teammates, gets offers to play for teams in the United States. The government is adamant that such offers be refused, and a standoff is born.

What happens from there is a little tough to comprehend. Suffice it to say, the Soviet government doesn’t make it easy for Fetisov to hold his ground. After the treatment he gets, you’d think he’d leave and never go back.

Fetisov played for the NHL from 1989 to 1998, and he was part of the Detroit Red Wings teams that won back-to-back Stanley Cups. Following his retirement as a player, he served as the Minister of Sport for Russian from 2002-2008. As of this writing, he’s a member of the upper house of the Federal Assembly of Russia.

This is just one of the stories Polsky reveals over the course of the film. The details about life under the old Soviet system are compelling and whet your appetite for more. Let’s hope Polsky has a sequel in the works.

Theme: Mixing Sports & Politics

Related Posts: Film Appreciation: The Iran Job  http://www.thinkingcinema.com/film-appreciation-the-iran-job/

Mixing Sports & Politics: List for Week Ending Feb. 1, 2015  http://www.thinkingcinema.com/mixing-sports-politics-list-for-week-ending-feb-1-2015/

Film Appreciation: The Iran Job

Film Appreciation: The Iran Job

Some films are an acquired taste, and some you can enjoy right from the start. For me, Till Schauder’s The Iran Job is very much in the second category. It’s the story of Kevin Sheppard, a professional basketball player from the U.S. Virgin Islands. He’s taken a job for the A.S. Shiraz team in theContinue Reading

Mixing Sports & Politics: List for Week Ending Feb. 1, 2015

Mixing Sports & Politics: List for Week Ending Feb. 1, 2015

Just a game? Not in these films. Suiting up is making a political statement, and taking the field is like declaring war. These folks are serious. Don’t even think about setting up an office pool! As always, this isn’t an all-inclusive list. Reader suggestions welcome! Red Army (2014) (Reviewed in Thinking Cinema 1/30/15)   http://www.thinkingcinema.com/film-review-red-army/ The IranContinue Reading

Uneven Odds: List for Week Ending Jan. 25, 2015

Uneven Odds: List for Week Ending Jan. 25, 2015

This week’s theme deals with films where one individual takes on a system, even though winning is unlikely. Sir Thomas More takes on Henry VIII. Michael Corleone tries to keep from being involved in his family’s business. These tend to be larger-than-life stories, because these are larger-than-life struggles. As always, reader contributions to this listContinue Reading

Film Appreciation: Chinatown

Film Appreciation: Chinatown

  How Do I Love Chinatown? Let Me Count The Ways…. A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned Sullivan’s Travels as a film I watch every so often. There’s always something new to learn from it. Chinatown is like that, but even more so. Here are the four big reasons I love this film. 1.Continue Reading

Film Review: Leviathan

Film Review: Leviathan

  A film shows us a lot beyond the story it tells. It’s a window into the society that exists when it is made. Some would call this an obvious point. Certainly, it’s easy to miss if you only watch current films about your own society. Foreign films, especially good ones, can be like aContinue Reading

Film Appreciation: Lust For Life

Film Appreciation: Lust For Life

  Many of us feel drawn to Vincent van Gogh. His work is celebrated as great art. Images from his paintings show up on everything from t-shirts to cupcakes. This is one instance where people don’t separate the artist from the art. Of course, we know it wasn’t this way for him during his lifetime.Continue Reading

Film Review: Mr. Turner

Mike Leigh’s astonishing new film, Mr. Turner, is less a biopic than a character study of a real character. First seen in middle age, he’s a gruff old cuss who’s rude to men and worse to women. Turner (Timothy Spall) has one redeeming quality, and it’s gigantic. The man puts images of light on canvasContinue Reading

Growth Spurts: List For Week Ending Jan. 11, 2015

  This group of films deals with stars who feel they’ve outgrown their image. A comedian who wants to do drama. An action-adventure director who decides to work toward eliminating violence from cinema. An auteur simply thinks no one understands what drove him in the first place. Top Five (2014) (Reviewed in Thinking Cinema 1/8/15)Continue Reading