The 405 Film Awards

An article I contributed to.

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The Way Back Review

The Way Back follows seven Gulag escapees and a Polish woman as they trek from Siberia to India to escape communist oppression. It is a film of human beings getting swallowed up by nature, with no way to beat it except to struggle on.

And my goodness does nature look beautiful. An easy mistake to make with a film like this is to assume that you can just point a camera at the natural world, and create instant cinematography. This is not the case, and Director of Photography. Russell Boyd must be commended for capturing the wonder and danger of planet Earth. Kudos must go to the location manager for finding such incredible spots across the continents. For a film about walking, there are plenty of little moments that keep it alive. Be it a deer stuck in mud, eating snakes, or snow masks made of hastily cut wood, what could be so monotonous is always fascinating.

And yet what is strange about the film is despite the subject matter, it isn’t actually that harrowing. There is the odd image of rotten teeth and septic feet that are wince inducing, but it never quite gets as awful as it could be. The start is horrific, and after the first few nights in the Gulag I was expecting something much stronger. Instead the journey is arduous, but seemingly bearable for most of its participants.  Some of the moments by the lake are actually rather pleasant, and it’s only when things get to the desert that their trek really gets nasty.  There iso doubt these people suffer, but perhaps they get swallowed a little too much by the landscape; their pain becomes a little oblivious.

This would ruin the film utterly, were it not for the strength of the actors, who are fantastic across the board.  Jim Sturgess provides a solid role as Janusz, and is an actor to keep your eye on for the future. Ed Harris as strange American Mister Smith has grown into a grizzled old man that we always knew we would. Colin Farrell as the psychotic Russian prisoner Valka is wonderful, both terrifying and vulnerable at the same time. The others are a little mix and match, but all have at least one great scene.  You really care about the characters, and the fact they don’t go through the blender as much as potentially possible isn’t boring but a relief.

If judged as a gripping movie about the Russian Gulags, or the horror of war, then after the first twenty minutes you might be solely disappointed. Strangely, The Way Back celebrates beauty and friendship, not suffering, and despite lacking realism, is a wonderful piece of fiction.

8/10

A Serbian Film Review

Now it has been out for a while, A Serbian Film has not really lived up the controversy, and seems to have fallen by the wayside. The plot follows a retired porn star named Milos as he gets involved in one last production, with dire consequences.  This film is disgusting, and extremely violent. But I refuse to accept it is shocking. Much like the other big “gross out” film of the year, The Human Caterpillar it is simply all too ridiculous to actually have a real emotional impact. The fact that the BBFC have decided to cut over four minutes from it has only added to the needless controversy. Again, I’m being honest when I find it confusing to imagine what has been cut- there is nothing we haven’t seen before.

The most surprising aspect of A Serbian Film is how well made it is. The cinematography and direction are good, and Srdjan Todorovic as Milos gives a passionate, if over exuberant performance as Milos. There are a couple of nice moments, and some really creepy scenes.  But anyone with a good interest in horror can list of dozens of much more interesting titles. This certainly is not a new Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Salo.

There really isn’t a great deal to say about the movie, which considering its supposed films is a big disappointment.  Overall, if you are a gorehound you will check this out, and not be disappointed. But wait till DVD at most. This is not a classic of the genre, and certainly not cinema’s zenith of controversy and shock.

5/10

Of Gods And Men Review

The plot of Of Gods and Men didn’t exactly enthrall me on the way to the screening. It follows a group of French Monks in Algeria, whose peaceful existence is shattered when Islamic extremists threaten their lives.

I was expecting a rather slow look at the meaning of faith, and long discussions on religion. Instead, the film look at the monks as humans, and the perfectly normal reactions that death can bring. They don’t want to leaves their friends just as much as they don’t want to abandon their God, and the long scenes of their simple life go from banal to nostalgic to upsetting as the danger increases.

What a lot of reviews have missed out on in parts Of Gods and Men is absolutely chilling. We do see the consequences of staying behind and facing the extremists, and the first meeting between the two groups is incredibly tense.  A lot has been made of the  “Swan Lake” meal scene. For me the most moving part was when an army helicopter hovered near the monastery during prayers. The men hug each other, and continue their songs, despite the rattling on the machine utterly dominating the soundtrack.  For a film where not a lot happens for large periods of time, there is absolutely no filler.

So although the plot may sound difficult, this is beautifully simple filmmaking that does have momentum. It is not just another art house film, and although challenging, is never boring. I am of a totally secular nature, but this story delves deep into the heart of humanity, and touches themes that affect us all.

9/10

The 405- Film VS Book #7: Fight Club

One of my favourites but which way round?

Trailer- Lotus Flower

Here is a link to my latest short film Lotus Flower, which I produced. Will try to get a video on the blog soon!

 

Film VS Book #6: American Psycho

Here is the latest one!