03 April 2009

Cargo 200

Cargo 200: This is the kind of movie the Cohen Bros probably think they make, but don’t. Set in the decaying Soviet Union of 1984, it’s a bleak, perverse, morbid thriller cut with some very bitter and black humor. It wallows in the Soviet man’s mire, both on the individual and state level.

The difference between Cargo 200 and the trash the Coen Bros deface the screen with is honesty. The Coen Bros create comic book characters, place them in conflicts beyond their abilities, and then sneer at them. The characters in Cargo 200 are among the ugliest and most deranged (and, in one case, intellectually fraudulent) you will see this side of a torture porn flick. The script tosses the characters together by accident, bad luck and a desire for liquor, which then provokes orgies of drunkeness, violence and bizarre *romance.* But the filmmakers retain a humane objectivity in regard to their characters that is lacking in the Coens. The characters in Cargo 200 may be garbage. . .but they are human garbage:

Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth He yet find fault? For who hath resisted His will? Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to Him that formed it, Why hast Thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?

These characters (whether one views them as symbolic of all depraved mankind, or, as the filmmakers do, as products of the corrupt Soviet state) are what they are. They can be nothing else. To mock them, as the Coens would do, would be as dishonest as mocking a retarded person.

I’ll not reveal plot details, as that would spoil the demented fun for any who might be tempted to watch this thing. Instead, I’ll present the movie’s Grand Guignol Gallery of characters:

Zhurov: Soviet police captain. He *falls in love,* but, being impotent, must find a surrogate stud. Makes Harvey Keitel’s *Bad Lieutenant* look like a boy scout.

Zhurov’s mother: Crazy alcoholic hag spends all her time drinking in front of a beat-up old television. There’s a great scene where she is watching a negro song-and-dance man on the tv, and then squeals in delight “darky!”

Alexei: Farmer/bootlegger/alcoholic John the Baptist, preparing the way for the return of Christianity to Russia.

Tonya: Alexei’s hard-as-nails wife. Proverbs 31. . .with a shotgun.

Sunka: Alexei’s and Tonya’s filthy-on-the-outisde-but-clean-on-the-inside Vietnamese laborer.

Artem: Communist Party lackey/propagandist, Professor of *Scientific Atheism* at Leningrad University. . .sold his soul for extra rations of sausage.

Valera & Angelika: The Generation Perestroika kids. . .soft, whiny, already contaminated by the West. The future will be different. . .but probably not any better.

These are the main characters, and they interact in a depressing environment of alcoholism, shit cars with lawnmower engines, shabby, crumbling apartment houses, primitive farms, rusting industrial wastelands, scarred landscapes and polluted skies. Toss in the soundtrack of insanely catchy-but-bad Soviet ‘80s pop music and you have a truly memorable freakshow of Mother Russia at the cross-roads.

Oh, yeah, the title, Cargo 200, is the term for the dead soldiers being returned from Afghanistan. . .and one of these corpses has quite a homecoming!

A masterpiece from the Soviet sewer. . .


  1. I really enjoy these reviews.

    I've spent way too much cash going to see shit films. Now, it usually takes a good review or two by a perceptive critic before I even CONSIDER a trip to the movies (or renting one at Blockbuster).

    It might sound ridiculous - basing cinematic choices on write-ups - but there are a few individuals out there with decent batting averages. Why waste two hours of existence on crapola?

  2. I've been meaning to see this for a while, but just did. In the spirit of the original, I won't reveal any of the gory details; but, I gotta comment on this:

    Farmer/bootlegger/alcoholic John the Baptist, preparing the way for the return of Christianity to Russia.

    I saw this guy as what Trotsky might describe as the end stage of the perverted workers' state. He represents what Soviet society might have evolved into had it not been put out of its misery in the 1990s.

    I'll write more on my blog about this tonight, and won't link here per your request, but wanted to let you know how much I appreciated the review.

  3. My most trusted source for reviews is Variety. Not only do I agree with Variety about 90% of the time, but their staff write the reviews in such a way that I can tell if I would like the movie, even if their review is negative.

  4. You might find this interesting, from this article. I remember you writing something very similar years ago about the reasons for Muhammad Alis condition.


    "When it comes to his longtime foil, Frazier is sympathetic to the suffering Parkinson’s disease has caused Ali. But as a Christian, Frazier said, he isn’t surprised by it, either.

    “I’m sorry that he is the way he is, but I didn’t have too much to do with it. It was the good man above,” Frazier said. “Maybe I did have a little to do with it, but God judges, you know what I’m saying? We don’t have the power to judge that the man has above.”

    Frazier believes that Ali’s arrogant boasts of “I am the greatest!” were “a slap in the Lord’s face,” and that he did the same to his family when he changed his name from Cassius Clay to reflect his Muslim beliefs."

  5. That was a good article.

    Yeah, what Smokin' Joe said was pretty close to what I said. You know, I think I wrote that for your zine, didn't I?

    Man, I do not have any of that old stuff, anymore. It's been lost in various moves, throw out by my embarrassed wife, etc., etc.

    You still got copies of your old zines? There was a lot of good stuff in them. . .yours and Paul Miodus and DVH's were about the only good ones.

  6. You wrote that in TJMT about Ali lighting the flame at the Olympics if I remember right.

    I kept all the old zines I had that were worthwhile. No doubt at least 95% of what people were putting out was crap, but there was more than 3 or 4 zines that were worth reading. I can't believe you dont even have copies of what you did. I'll copy all your old stuff and send it to some day.

  7. I am not real fantastic with English but I come up this real leisurely to interpret.

  8. hey buddy,this is one of the best posts that I�ve ever seen; you may include some more ideas in the same theme. I�m still waiting for some interesting thoughts from your side in your next post.