Categories
Cinema Reviews Thoughts

The Way Back

An epic escape from a Russian gulag during World War II forms the backdrop for Peter Weir’s first film in seven years.

Loosely based on Slavomir Rawicz’s book “The Long Walk: The True Story of a Trek to Freedom” (more of which later), The Way Back begins with an soldier named Janusz (Jim Sturgess) being sent to a remote Siberian prison camp on trumped up charges of spying.

After enlisting the help of inmates to escape, including an ex-pat American (Ed Harris) and a tough gang member (Colin Farrell), the group venture on a massive trek across Asia where they meet an orphan (Saoirse Ronan), struggle to survive and attempt to reach the safety of India.

Weir shoots everything with convincing detail: the prison camp is believably hellish and the landscapes form a frequently stunning backdrop as the prisoners venture across sub-zero Russia, the Gobi Desert and the Himalayas on their way to India.

Visually, the film feels grittier than one might expect, with D.P. Russell Boyd appearing to use a lot of natural light and the splendour of the landscapes are frequently intercut with shots of blisters and the physical cost of the journey.

The performances all round are solid: Sturgess and Harris stand out as the two lynchpins of the group; Farrell is charmingly gruff; Ronan has presence and depth and Mark Strong is believably seductive as a prison camp veteran with his own agenda.

As a narrative experience, the initial tension of the prison break quickly becomes a fight for survival as the group struggle to eat, stay warm and avoid all manner of hardships involving the harsh landscape.

This means that it lacks conventional tension, but there is a certain pleasure in the gruelling sprawl of the story as they keep moving across a bewildering variety of landscapes and adverse weather conditions on their 4,000-mile trek.

Sequences that particularly stand out are the initial prison break in a blizzard, a lake infested with mosquitoes, a harsh desert which drives them to the brink and the latter stages which involve some famous Asian landmarks.

For the most part it is absorbing and features well drawn characters, even though it occasionally suffers from the problem of mixing English and native dialogue, which in the modern era diminishes the overall authenticity of the film.

The film hinges on the central character’s desire to get back home (hence the title) to see his wife, which we see in a recurring vision, and it is hard not to be moved by the climactic depiction of the personal set against the historical.

But although The Way Back is an undeniably powerful experience, there is a problem at the very heart of the adaptation which directly relates to the original book that inspired it.

Although Rawicz’s account was acclaimed for a number of years, in 2006 the BBC discovered records that essentially debunked his version of events, even though there is evidence to suggest that the journey may have been undertaken by other people.

Peter Weir was fully aware of the controversy surrounding the book when he made the film, hence certain key changes, and overall it demonstrates the taste, tact and intelligence that has informed his career.

But given the extraordinary nature of the journey there is something dispiriting about finding out the truth about Rawicz, even if the actual trek may have been done by someone else.

It remains a powerful and handsomely constructed piece of cinema but also suffers from the shady origins of its source material.

> Official site
> The Way Back at the IMDb
> BBC News story on the controversy surrounding the book and its road to the screen

Categories
Cinema Lists

The Best Films of 2010

As usual these are my favourite films of the year in alphabetical order (just click on each title for more information).

THE BEST FILMS OF 2010

Animal Kingdom (Dir. David Michôd): The outstanding debut feature from director David Michôd is a riveting depiction of a Melbourne crime family headed by a sinister matriarch.

Another Year (Dir. Mike Leigh): A moving, bitter-sweet drama about relationships, filled with great acting, is arguably the peak of Mike Leigh’s career.

Biutiful (Dir. Alejandro González Iñárritu): Searing exploration of life and death in a modern European city, featuring a tremendous central performance from Javier Bardem.

Black Swan (Dir. Darren Aronofsky): Swan Lake is retold with glorious intensity, channelling Polanski and Cronenberg whilst giving Natalie Portman the role of a lifetime.

Carlos (Dir. Olivier Assayas): Scintillating and immersive depiction of a 1970s terrorist with a tremendous performance by Edgar Ramirez.

Enter the Void (Dir. Gaspar Noé): Technically dazzling depiction of a dead drug dealer that also features what is possibly the greatest opening title sequence of all time.

Exit Through The Gift Shop (Dir. Banksy): An ingenious and hilarious hall of mirrors which is brilliantly executed and so much more than a ‘Banksy documentary’.

Inception (Dir. Christopher Nolan): The ingenious puzzles of Christopher Nolan’s early films were given the scale of his blockbusters in this hugely ambitious sci-fi actioner.

Inside Job (Dir. Charles Ferguson): Devastating documentary about the financial crisis which plays like a heist movie, only this time it is the banks robbing the people.

Tabloid (Dir. Errol Morris): The media feeding frenzy surrounding a bizarre 1970s sex scandal provided Errol Morris with the raw material for one of the most entertaining documentaries in years.

The Fighter (Dir. David O’Russell): A boxing story which follows a familiar path but remains energetic, inspirational and funny, with Christian Bale on career-best form.

The Kids Are Alright (Dir. Lisa Cholodenko): A perfectly pitched comedy-drama that explores modern family life with genuine heart and humour.

The King’s Speech (Dir. Tom Hooper): Wonderfully crafted period drama with two brilliant lead performances and a moving story filled with hilarious one liners.

The Social Network (Dir. David Fincher): The inside story of Facebook is a riveting tale of ambition and betrayal, which sees Fincher, Sorkin and a young cast firing on all cylinders.

Toy Story 3 (Dir. Lee Unkrich): The ground breaking animated series gets a worthy final chapter whilst maintaining Pixar’s impeccable standards of story and animation.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS

127 Hours (Dir. Danny Boyle)
Blue Valentine (Dir. Derek Cianfrance)
Catfish (Dir. Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost)
Four Lions (Dir. Chris Morris)
Let Me In (Dir. Matt Reeves)
Restrepo (Dir. Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger)
Somewhere (Dir. Sofia Coppola)
The American (Dir. Anton Corbijn)
The Ghost Writer (Dir. Roman Polanski)
The Illusionist (Dir. Sylvain Chomet)
Winter’s Bone (Dir. Debra Granik)

> Find out more about the films of 2010 at Wikipedia
> End of year lists at Metacritic
> The Best DVD and Blu-ray Releases of 2010

Categories
DVD & Blu-ray

UK DVD & Blu-ray Releases: Monday 6th September 2010

DVD & BLU-RAY PICKS

Kick-Ass (Universal): A post-modern superhero film based on the comic book by Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr. It is the story of teenager (Aaron Johnson) who decides to become a super-hero named Kick-Ass after purchasing a costume (even though he has no powers or training) and soon finds himself involved with a local gangster (Mark Strong); his son (Christopher Mintz-Plasse); and a highly trained father and daughter vigilante duo (Nicolas Cage and Chloe Moretz).

Directed by Matthew Vaughn, produced by Brad Pitt and written by Vaughn and Jane Goldman, the film was independently financed – at a budget of $28 million dollars – and gleefully subverts the superhero movie whilst also paying homage to it. It isn’t the awe-inspiring masterpiece that some would have you believe, but it is still a witty and interesting take on the comic-book genre.

The extras on the Blu-ray and DVD versions include:

  • Ass-Kicking Bonus View Mode (Blu-ray Disc Exclusive) – Synchronous with the feature film, this innovative multi-media presentation incorporates video and audio commentary, behind-the-scenes clips and illustrative graphics with Co-Writer/Producer/Director Matthew Vaughn, plus cast and crew providing an all-access perspective on Kick-Ass
  • “A New Kind of Superhero: The Making of Kick-Ass “ documentary (Blu-ray Disc Exclusive)
  • “It’s On! The Comic Book Origin of Kick-Ass” featurette
  • Audio Commentary with Writer-Director Matthew Vaughn
  • “The Art of Kick-Ass” gallery
  • Marketing Archive
  • BD Touch and Metamenu Remote
  • Lionsgate Live™ enabled, featuring extra content for Internet-connected players
  • Enhanced for D-Box™ Motion Control Systems
  • Standard Definition DVD Copy of the feature film
  • Standard Definition Digital Copy of the feature film
  • Audio Commentary with Writer-Director Matthew Vaughn
  • It’s On! The Comic Book Origin of Kick-Ass” featurette
  • “The Art of Kick-Ass” gallery
  • Marketing Archive

> Buy Kick-Ass on Blu-ray / DVD / Special Edition Combi Pack

Exit Through the Gift Shop (Revolver Entertainment): The debut film from enigmatic graffiti artist Banksy is a documentary (or is it?) which tells the story of Thierry Guetta, a French immigrant in Los Angeles who is obsessed with street art. It shows Guetta’s constant filming of his own life and his attempts to capture Banksy on camera. It also features other artists including Invader and Shepard Fairey (the man famous for the Barack Obama ‘Hope’ poster).

Narrated by Rhys Ifans, the music is by Geoff Barrow and although there has been a continuous debate about the nature of the film since it debuted at Sundance in January, it has got very strong reviews and is likely to increase the mystique of Banksy even further.

Extra features include: stickers, art prints, the movie, and ‘limited edition 2D glasses’.

> Buy Exit Through The Gift Shop on Blu-ray or DVD

ALSO OUT

After.Life (Anchor Bay Entertainment UK) [Blu-ray / DVD]
Bent (Park Circus) [Blu-ray / with DVD]
Black Lightning (Universal Pictures) [Blu-ray / DVD]
Doctor Who – The New Series: 5 – Volume 4 (2 Entertain) [Blu-ray / DVD]
Entourage: Season 6 (Warner Home Video) [Blu-ray / DVD]
The African Queen: Restoration Edition (ITV DVD) [Buy it on Blu-ray]
The Brit Indie Collection (4DVD) [Blu-ray / DVD]
The Last Song (Walt Disney) [Blu-ray / DVD]
The Official 2010 World Cup South Africa Review (2 Entertain) [Blu-ray / DVD]
True Inspiration Collection (4DVD) [Blu-ray / DVD]

> The DVD and Blu-ray releases for September 2010
> The Best DVD and Blu-ray releases for 2009