If Rocky 4 Happened For Real (Tony Yacenda, 2015)

Is everyone having a great holiday season? Let’s make sure!

Today is Boxing Day and what better way to observe it than with this hilarious reconsideration of Rocky Balboa’s triumphant Christmas Day victory over Ivan Drago, a boxing match for which the Italian Stallion gave up his championship in order to defeat the man who killed Apollo Creed. Who could have expected that this unsanctioned bout would become a landmark victory for democracy and a turning point in the Cold War. MMC!’s admiration for the ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary series is no secret and this CollegeHumor parody is a pitch perfect pastiche of that sports program’s house style. All the high points are here – the James Brown performance, the robot, the whiffing swings, the lack of defence, and the inexplicable reversal of allegiances – and Max Kellerman’s appearance here is inspired, placing him right in his pugilistic wheelhouse. Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky IV (1985) got a new cut back in November as Rocky IV: Rocky x Drago that adjusted the aspect ratio, excised the exploding gloves intro, Paulie’s birthday, and the robot, recontextualized the events of Rocky III, diminished the role of Brigitte Nielsen and Hugo Boss, and made sundry other edits. I guess Rocky was right: Everyone (including Rocky IV itself) can change.

I Remember You (Ali Khamraev, 1985)

Like Fellini’s Amarcord, whose title it recalls, I Remember You is a semi-autobiographical meditation on the past. Kim, a veterinarian, leaves Samarkand at the request of his seriously ill mother and heads on a voyage across Russia in search of the grave of his father who died during the war. Reflecting Ali Khamraev’s own personal history – his Ukrainian mother and Tajik father, his father’s death during World War II, his own subsequent voyage with his brother to find the grave – this poetic journey into the subconscious memory is rendered in images of extraordinary intensity and beauty and one of Khamraev’s true masterpieces.

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Triptych (Ali Khamraev, 1980)

Ali Khamraev’s sleek, stylish film, a modernist political melodrama that earned prizes abroad but official disapproval at home, interconnects the stories of three women struggling with traditional social constraints in post-World War II Uzbekistan. One is an illiterate but very determined young woman committed to building a house even though local custom does not permit it without the approval of her absent husband. Another is a school teacher seeking to bring progressive ideas to a village long subjugated by strict old-fashioned practices. The last is an elderly woman who was kidnapped by a poor peasant in her youth and forced into marriage. A dreamy and impressionistic remembrance set in a hardscrabble world, Khamraev’s Triptych is an underseen achievement in international art house cinema.

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The Bodyguard (Ali Khamraev, 1979)

When a Red Army detachment captures Sultan Nazar, the leader of a Basmachi contingent opposing Soviet forces, a decision is made to urgently escort the prisoner to the neighboring Bukhara province. The difficult mission is entrusted to Mirzo, an experienced mountain trapper and conscientious revolutionary whose expertise is essential to traversing the precarious paths and steep mountain ridges along the way. Mirzo, his brother Kova, the Sultan, his daughter Zaranghis, and his slave Saifulla set off on this journey, pursued doggedly along the way by Fattobek, the ruthless new head of the Basmachis, a cadre of loyal fighters, and his prophetic wife, Aibash. Recalling the Western psychodramas of Anthony Mann, The Bodyguard is yet another of Ali Khamraev’s harshly beautiful and action-packed Easterns.

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The Seventh Bullet (Ali Khamraev, 1972)

The Seventh Bullet is set after the Russian Civil War as Soviet power established itself in Central Asia and as opposing Basmachi rebels cross the border bringing death and destruction to peaceful villages. Local militia leader Maksumov struggles in his campaign against Basmachi warlord Khairulla who has captured most of his men and won them to his side. With little other option, Maksumov gives himself up in hopes of being reunited with his men and winning them back to the Revolution. Ali Khamraev’s take on the Red Western was an international hit, featuring rollicking action, reassuring heroism, and an unstoppable performance by its star, Suymenkul Chokmorov.

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