Review: Chuck Norris vs Communism

Director: Ilinca Calugareanu
Screenplay: Ilinca Calugareanu
Starring: Irina Margareta Nistor, Ana Maria Moldovan, Dan Chiorean
Country: UK, Romania, Germany
Running Time: 78 min
Year: 2015
BBFC Certificate: TBC

Chuck Norris vs Communism is the perfect companion piece to a documentary I reviewed only a few weeks ago, Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films. Whereas the latter revelled in poking fun at the low budget trashy output of Cannon Films in the 80’s, the documentary I’m reviewing here shows how some of those films and other similar titles from the era helped inspire a revolution.

Romania fell under Communist rule after WWII. In 1965 Nicolae Ceaușescu came to power and remained the party’s leader for almost 25 years, developing an autocratic control over the people. As Romania moved into the 1980’s, its foreign debt hit an incredible $10 billion and Ceaușescu pushed forward extreme austerity measures that shattered the economy and impoverished the population (the Conservatives in the UK should take note of that). In a desperate bid to keep the public on his side, he imposed a nationwide cult of personality – using propaganda and mass media to create an idealised, heroic depiction of himself.

Part of this process, alongside Ceaușescu’s general tight grip on the population, involved extreme censorship. The national television network was stripped down to just one channel, showing only two hours of content a day (all strictly positive towards the country and Ceaușescu). Films were practically banned, particularly those from outside Romania (I believe a few select titles which promoted the right values were allowed to be shown if they passed the strict censors). Whilst the rest of the world was enjoying the VHS boom, video players/recorders couldn’t be purchased in the country and the public were forbidden to enjoy the cascade of blockbusters coming out of Hollywood at the time.

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The Director’s Club: SAM FULLER

I recently made a guest appearance on the Director’s Club Podcast talking at length with Patrick Ripoll about the career, craft and overall style of the great Sam Fuller. Over the course of a few hours we also talk about Do The Right Thing, the short films of Kenneth Anger, the bawdy polish mind-melt film, The Saragossa Manuscript, and many more tangents and such.

Specific Fuller films covered at length are The Naked Kiss, Shock Corridor and Pick Up On South Street, but we touch upon many others with the exception being his film and TV westerns.

You can find the full podcast over at The Director’s Club.

Cinecast Episode 171 – Spiffed Up Stuffy Stuff

Waxing (on, and off) nostagic this week with glossy summer product. Two remakes from the heady cheese days of the 1980s dominated the multiplex last weekend: Will Smith Jr. in The Karate Kid and flying tanks in The A-Team. Contrary to what we say in the show it does not get very “spoilerific” at all; if you are over 30, these two films are more or less beyond that (your mileage may vary). Gamble has a quick take on the upcoming weekends behemoth Toy Story 3, from the perspective of someone (perhaps the only one) who didn’t like Toy Story 2. Kurt talks at length on The Duplass’ brother’s Cyrus which also opens this weekend in a few cities. Furthermore, in an ongoing behind-the-curve look at pop-cultural phenomenon LOST, Kurt continues to moan about the bad drama and stalling nature of the narrative, but does praise the heck out of the Season 2 closer and the Season 3 opener (there are *spoilers* ahoy in that conversation, be warned). Rounding out the show are DVD picks, a few other tangents – anyone up for Chinese cultural imperialism, or Communism vs. Fascism in 80s trash? How to parse TV awards shows? Ron Mann’s choice of having comic book authors read lengthy portions of their books on screen? Fashion Fan Boys? Oh, and another round of the piracy, file sharing, copyright debate ensues.

As always, please join the conversation by leaving your own thoughts in the comment section below and again, thanks for listening!

To download the show directly, paste the following URL into your favorite downloader:

ALTERNATIVE (no music track):

Full show notes are under the seats…
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Stiljagi: Russia’s Answer to Grease?

Stilijagi Movie Still

Earlier today, Kurt sent me an email saying “I want to see this.” Enclosed was a Screen Daily review for Stiljagi (will be known to us non-Russian speakers as Hipsters). The winner of four Nikas (Russia’s Oscars), the film was a hit at home and according to the review, should play well to international audiences. But will it really have cross over appeal? It certainly seems like it might.

Set in 1955, it’s the story of a group of young Russian rebels (referred to as “hipsters”) who copied American fashions, hairdos and slang to separate themselves from communist uniformity. This is anything but grey drab. It’s bright, it’s loud and the trailer certainly suggests a good time. Sadly, we may need to chalk this up to “movies we’ll never get to see.” It’s already on DVD in Russia, though the only release I’ve found lacks English subtitles, and to make matters worse, I can’t find any listings for upcoming festival release either. I just burst my own bubble. Still, the trailer is worth checking out.

4 Months Director’s New Film to Open Transilvania Film Fest

Tales from the Golden Age

It will be a very long time before I, or anyone else who saw it for that matter, forgets the images presented and the discomfort created by Cristian Mungiu’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (our review). Mungiu has been out of the spotlight since the release of the film but he’s been busy working and his new film is nearly ready for consumption.

With Tales from the Golden Age, Mungiu returns to Romania and the people living under the later part of the communist regime. It’s described as an “unconventional personal history” of the period told through urban myths from the perspective of ordinary people. A bit lighter fare, the film is also said to be “comedic and bizarre” and judging from this still, that certainly looks to be the case.

The synopsis reminds me a great deal of Corneliu Porumboiu’s 12:08 East of Bucharest, an earlier film which is lumped in with Mungiu’s breakthrough and Razvan Radulescu’s The Death of Mr. Lazarescu as the three films marking the rebirth of modern Romanian cinema. Porumboiu’s film looks at the fall of communism through the lens of various commoners living in a small town and their re-telling of the regime’s fall ten years later. Here as well, the filmmaker handles the tough subject by looking at the myths created by the people themselves and infusing the entire film with hysterics that will have you holding your gut with laughter. It’s one to look for on DVD if you haven’t already seen it.

As for Mungiu’s Tales from the Golden Age, the film will open the 2009 Transilvania International Film Festival where it will screen out of competition in the “Romanian Days” showcase section. We can expect some buzz to start building in the next few months (and year) but until then, look for it making an appearance at a near you during the ’09 festival season.