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by Peter Sobczynski

"How Do You Say "Pearl Harbor" In Russian?"
1 stars

Produced in both 3-D and IMAX, the new Russian war epic "Stalingrad" is said to be the most financially successful film in its nation's history and if this is true, it suggests that Russians have a taste for low-grade cheese to go along with their well-known penchant for vodka.

Little more than a compendium of the most familiar of war movie cliches, the story offers up a look of World War II's notoriously bloody Battle of Stalingrad through the eyes of a group of five noble Russian soldiers and a lovely local waif who find themselves holed up in a bombed-out apartment complex just down the road from German headquarters. In between the bullets and the blood, we get to know the soldiers and Katya and even get to know one of the higher-ranking German officers (Thomas Kretschmann), who speaks of nobility even while carrying on an exceptionally rapey relationship with a local woman (Yana Studilina) who reminds him of his dead wife. Despite this, he is still the nicest Nazi on display, especially when compared to his monstrous superior and his virtually faceless underlings.

The idea of seeing the usual Hollywood blockbuster format as seen from the perspective of a different culture sounds interesting enough but even curiosity seekers will find themselves conceding that "Stalingrad" is just awful before they get too far into it. The action scenes are horribly staged (even Brian De Palma would weary of the overuse of slow-motion photography shown here) and feature the kind of cartoonish effects that one could forgive in a bit of Luc Besson-based lunacy but not in a putatively serious-minded war film, the acting is eminently forgettable and the screenplay is a mess of cliches that also features one of the most awkwardly conceived framing devices for a movie that I have ever seen in my life--if you were going to make a film about this particular subject, would you actually decide that the only way into the story is with a contemporary frame in which a Russian rescue worker tells a story to a group of German teens trapped in the wreckage of the Japanese tsunami? (This whole element seems to have been deployed simply to repurpose some of the existing production design--who can tell one bit of rubble from another, after all.)

The battle of Stalingrad is a fascinating subject and many interesting films have been made about it over the years ("Enemy at the Gates" is a good one if you can get beyond the oddball casting choices)--"Stalingrad" (why not "Stalingrad 3-D"?) is not one of them.

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originally posted: 02/28/14 14:07:10
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Palm Springs International Film Festival For more in the 2014 Palm Springs International Film Festival series, click here.

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  28-Feb-2014 (R)
  DVD: 13-May-2014


  DVD: 13-May-2014

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