Weekend Roundup and The Way Back review

Happy Tuesday everyone!

Hope everyone’s had a lovely weekend. I definitely enjoyed my 3-day weekend though it sure went by real fast. I took a much-needed break from my computer which including blogging and reading other people’s blogs, though I had planned on seeing more movies but only managed to see two of them. One of them is a repeat as one of my good friends hadn’t seen THOR and since we quite enjoyed it the first time around, we saw it again but in 2D (which looks just as good as the 3D one). I still like it the second time around, and I absolutely LOVE the music. In fact the soundtrack is playing right as I’m writing this. After seeing the post-credit scene, I’m excited (mostly out of sheer curiosity) to see The Avengers! Check out this fan-art poster already circulating online, I think it’s a pretty decent Photoshop job.

The other movie I saw was The Way Back. I posted the poster and trailer last year and remember being really intrigued by the story, which was inspired by real events. I’ll get to my short review in a moment but first let me just make a couple of announcements. My good pal and fellow cinephile Paula G. has joined FC as a regular contributor! Please extend your warm welcome to Paula and visit her own page on FC to find out a bit more about her. As always, you can visit each FC contributor’s page by clicking the Contributors tab at the top of the homepage. I’m so excited to have her on board as she’ll introduce a new blog series as well as reviews of various movies.

The second announcement is that the highly addictive and fun Anomalous Material’s Hollywood Fantasy Draft has begun, this time in its third installment! Last week, I spent a few hours drafting my cast for my next movie pitch along with other fine movie bloggers, click on the link to see which actors/directors we’ve selected for our fantasy movie. Look for my dream cast post this week ahead of the actual pitch itself that will go up next Monday, June 6.

Now, on to the review…

THE WAY BACK(2010)

This Peter Weir film is inspired by real events, loosely based on The Long Walk written by a Polish POW in the Soviet Gulag (labor prison camp). The film tells the story of about a half dozen men who escaped the Siberian prison in 1941.

But the escape itself was just the beginning, the much more grueling task is ahead of them as they’d have to find a refuge in a land that’s not yet conquered by the Communist regime. That means covering 4000 miles of treacherous trek that includes the Gobi desert and the Himalayas mountain on foot! If you’re doing a marathon or triathlon this Summer, you might want to watch this film for inspiration… whatever journey you think seem impossible to conquer will undoubtedly pale in comparison to even half of what these people had to go through. Check out the map of their journey from Google map. Seems too good to be true, isn’t it? Well, again it’s said it’s inspired by true events, so we don’t really know what the actual length of the walk really happened.

The time in the prison itself felt rather fast, perhaps even a bit rushed. Presumably because the filmmaker would rather focus on the harrowing journey, which naturally is the heart of the film. The small band of escapees are led by a mild-mannered Polish man Janusz  (Jim Sturgess) who was accused of spying, his own wife turned him in by way of torture. In the camp, he met an American transportation engineer Mr. Smith (Ed Harris) and a tough Russian criminal (Colin Farrell), among others, who later became part of the seven-band of people who made the prison escape. Australian director Peter Weir always aimed for realism in his films, so the film looks appropriately gritty and somber. The actors speak using the accent of their characters’ nationalities, supported by subtitles, which I think is an effective way to get the audience absorbed in the environment.

The acting is really good all around, British young talent Sturgess is quite compelling as the kind-hearted Janusz, whilst Colin Farrell stole scenes in the relatively small screen time he’s in as the brutish Russian criminal who isn’t exactly a people person. It’s quite problematic when you’ve got a small band who must stick together to survive, but he later proves to be a loyal man and actually pretty funny as well, I grow fond of his character as the film progresses. Ed Harris is someone you can always rely on to provide screen gravitas in anything he’s in, and he’s perfectly cast as the weary and cynical Mr. Smith. Speaking of reliability, 17-year-old Saiorse Ronan once again impresses as a runaway girl Irena, who joins the group midway through the journey. In fact, it’s Irena who lets us in on the back story of each escapee, providing us some of the most memorable and heart-wrenching scenes. The other lesser-known actors are pretty good as well, especially Zoran, the Yugoslav accountant who provides the much-needed comic relief.

Another strength of the film is the cinematography by Russell Boyd, whose attention to detail to the overwhelmingly beautiful yet harsh scenery adds so much to the film. National Geographic Society is one of the film’s sponsors, so I guess that’s to be expected. This movie is impressive in many levels, but in the end, I didn’t find it as engaging as the previous Peter Weir’s film I saw, Master and Commander (view trailer). Don’t get me wrong, I’d still give this one high marks, I’m just surprised I wasn’t as emotionally-invested in the characters as I thought I would considering what they had gone through. Nonetheless, it’s a worthy survival tale that paints a convincing narration about human endurance.

4 out of 5 reels

Any thoughts about the movies I mentioned above?  What movie(s) did you get to see this weekend?

FlixChatter Review: THOR

Summer blockbuster season has finally arrived with a thunderous bang. I can tell you right off the bat that Kenneth Branagh has set the bar for a highly entertaining superhero flick, not bad for a director known mostly for his Shakespearean works.

The gist of the story is this: A young warrior is stripped off his power (that is his powerful hammer Mjolnir) by his father for his disobedience and arrogance, and is banished from his home in Asgard to earth as punishment. Right away we’re introduced to three storm-chasing scientists on that fateful night when Thor falls to earth. Then the film swiftly gives us the rundown on the cosmic realm of Asgard, with Anthony Hopkins’ narration as the battle-weary and wise chief Odin, and the relationship of his people with the neighboring enemy, The Frost Giants. It’s a spectacular establishing scenes by Branagh, within a few minutes I’m already invested in their world and wanting for more. Though it may seem cheesy in the trailer, the world of Asgard with its shiny, pipe-organ-like skyscrapers look majestic and impressive in 3D.

The day Thor is about to be crowned king, a security breach prompts a reckless decision by the hotheaded warrior that inevitably re-ignites an ancient war, something Odin’s been trying to prevent. Thor’s impudent confrontation with his father lands him in a far away land we call earth, so the intro comes full circle when the team of scientists find him laying in the middle of the desert, all disheveled and discombobulated (perhaps the fact that he runs forcefully into an oncoming van might have something to do with it).

Total Film’s feature article on the film puts it amusingly enough, “Thor is part RSC (Royal Shakespeare Company), all OMG…” 😀 What a fitting description. Branagh puts his Bard-training to good use — the complicated relationship between Thor and his father and brother Loki, as well as the people on earth, are handled well. He also infuse witty dialog and draw compelling performances from his actors, whilst still delivering satisfying special effects for fans of the superhero genre. All the fight scenes involving the all-powerful Mjolnir are super cool and get people like me to revel in its inherent geekiness.

Branagh decided not to set Thor in ancient Vikings realm, instead opting to inject the comical fish-out-of-water scenarios during his temporary banishment to earth. Not to mention the kind of shenanigans the hammer-stuck-in-a-rock brings about to the sleepy town, which perfectly calls for a gleeful cameo from Stan Lee. It’s a pleasant surprise how well the Shakespearean tone in Asgard actually meshes well with the um, grounded scenes and dialog of the earthly creatures. My favorite part is when he smashes his coffee cup in a small town café while shouting, ‘Bring me another!’ The one-liners from Kat Dennings are a hoot, it doesn’t feel jarring or annoying. Even the usually-serious Stellan Skarsgård drew riotous laughter in much of his scenes.

I was skeptical of Chris Hemsworth in the lead role, having been disappointed by the relative-newcomer leading men in Clash of the Titans and TRON: Legacy. But I’m glad to say Hemsworth doesn’t disappoints here, not only is he more expressive than both Sam Worthington and Garrett Hendlund combined, he’s also got charisma in spades (apart from that shirtless scene, mind you). He’s also got a pretty credible chemistry with Natalie Portman, the workaholic scientist who practically goes ga-ga over Thor the minute she lays eyes on him.

The rest of the performances are great as well. Hopkins’s gravitas as the wise king is to be expected, but it’s Tom Hiddleston who’s the revelation here by infusing the conflicted Loki with the right amount of sinister undercurrent and dejection. He’s not your typical power-hungry villain, in fact, at times I can’t help feeling sorry for his predicament. Idris Elba is also memorable as Hemdall, the loyal guardian of the Bifrost bridge that connects Asgard with the other realms, including earth. If I have to nitpick however, Rene Russo is hugely underused here, and the two out of the four friends of Thor practically weren’t given anything to do.

I also have to mention Patrick Doyle’s affecting music. The classically-trained composer has worked with Branagh before on Henry V and Hamlet and his soundtrack of Sense & Sensibility is one of my all-time favorites. I really enjoyed the glorious-sounding music, definitely worth buying I’d say.

Lesson learned, never judge a movie by its trailers. I felt the same way about Iron Man 2 trailer but ended up really enjoying the film. Alas, the opposite was true for Clash of the Titans. The ending is so satisfying and naturally set up for a sequel. It doesn’t seem forced at all, in fact, Branagh gives us much to look forward to. Alas, I missed the post-credit scene at the theater, but my hubby found it afterward on YouTube. Let’s just say I’m now mildly curious about The Avengers as well.

4 out of 5 reels

If you’ve seen THOR, what do you think of the film? For those who haven’t seen it yet, are you looking forward to it?