Friday, August 12, 2011

Worth Mentioning - The Magnificent and the Great

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

This week, Jay features The Way Back and Cody doubles up on obscure strangeness.

Directed by Peter Weir
Starring  Ed Harris, Dragos Bucur, Jim Sturgess, Saoirse Ronan, Colin Farrell, and Alexandru Potocean

The Way Back is the story of Siberian gulag escapees who walk over 4000 miles to freedom in India during World War II. It's an incredibly beautiful film and uses an enormous amount of wide-angle establishing shots featuring some spectacular landscapes. This film has a very fitting formula that well represents the way the characters handle themselves throughout the movie. Each incident that pops up along the journey is treated as just another day on the trek, and it flows in a more natural way. The things that occur just happen, and then the group continue to move forward, showing an impeccable resolve to get where they are going.

The acting is very solid, with Ed Harris being my favorite, though every one of the main cast members are on the top of their game. Colin Farrell is in this film, though I didn't recognize him until about 30 minutes into it. He plays a very tough Russian inmate during the gulag scenes, and he does a great job at balancing the main group.

The cinematography here is simply amazing. The story moves from snow storms to barren deserts, and all of it looks breathtaking. It's obvious that the filmmakers put a lot of time into this one, and the amount of detail the audience witnesses is a very rewarding part of the journey. The detail isn't just in the locations but in the appearance of the characters as well. You really see the physical conditions affecting their bodies as the movie goes on.

I highly recommend this one.

Cody's picks:


An alarm clock rings, a fourteen-year-old girl named Wynne wakes up and gets ready for Catholic school while the film's soft, girly theme song plays. The camera cuts outside her window and pans over a nice little town. Dissolve to a small pond where a woman's dead body lies in the shallow water. The latest victim of the serial killer who's been terrorizing this little town.

This British thriller really creeped me out, which had very little to do with the killer angle. The source of my discomfort was our own sweet, innocent heroine Wynne, played by a teenage Jenny Agutter, and her deep infatuation with her thirty-two year old stepbrother. She dreams of someday marrying him and wants to lose her virginity to him. Sometimes she thinks back to moments with him as she was growing up, other times she fantasizes about him walking in on her while she's in the bath or giving her an inappropriate kiss or crawling into bed with her...

Crawling into bed with her and strangling her, because the two story elements are of course connected, with Wynne also suspecting that the object of her affection may be the killer. She finds a bloodstained sweater of his in the trash, he doesn't go where he says he's going, victims are found near the family's previous residence, in which his fiancee had a fatal accident years earlier... Wynne's blood brother also takes an interest in the murders, though he wonders why the killer doesn't rape his female victims, figuring it's a waste if rape isn't involved. Fully intending to run off with her stepbrother to protect him if he is the killer, Wynne does some snooping to figure out just what is going on, which will indeed end up putting her in danger.

It's an odd film and some elements did make me quite uncomfortable, but it's also a very good, well-made film.

Speaking of odd films that creep me out...


This one is about a magician named Markov who works at a carnival and doesn't get along with the alcoholic jerk who heads the carnival's tiger show. Markov seems to have a sort of telepathic connection to animals and whenever he visits the tigers, they act strangely afterward. The tiger trainer manages to get Markov fired, but then the owner finds out about the animal pal that Markov has kept hidden away from everybody - his highly intelligent chimpanzee Alex, who has the ability to speak. After he's convinced to add Alex to his act, the Markov the Magnificent and Alexander the Great magic show becomes the hit of the carnival and revives its business. In retaliation, the tiger trainer strikes a deal with a cruel doctor at an Anthropological Institute who wants to study Alex, his plans involving vivisection.

I DRV'd this movie off of Turner Classic Movies a while back during one of their Underground grindhouse nights and had no idea what to expect. With its cheap, dirty feel, odd musical score, and a chimp who talks with a rough voice that's just slightly more pleasant than the voice of possessed Regan in The Exorcist, I was unnerved throughout and anticipating something horrible would happen at any moment to cause it all to descend into horror territory.

Instead this is actually a G-rated drama that's meant to be for kids. Hopefully those who did see it as children weren't as disturbed by it as I was.

It's mainly just about carnival life, Markov's magic show (which in addition to Alex is enhanced with some telekinesis and Markov's ability to do the Bela Lugosi hypnotic stare), Markov getting over his wife's death and moving on to fall in love with his new assistant, and the blossoming of the carnival owner's daughter from a tomboy going by the nickname of Bud to a dress-wearing woman who goes by her real name, Ellen. For a while, the quality of the film and some of the acting made me think this might have actually even been made by real carnies, but it turned out to be from schlock master director Al Adamson.

The end credits promise a sequel that apparently never happened.

1 comment:

  1. Good reviews! Thought The Way Back was a hidden gem.