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

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).


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.


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

DVD & Blu-ray

DVD & Blu-ray Releases: Monday 22nd November 2010


Toy Story 3 (Walt Disney Studios Home Ent.): The third film in the Toy Story series sees Andy leaving for college and donating his beloved toys – including Woody (Tom Hanks) and Buzz (Tim Allen) – to a daycare centre, where they soon realise things aren’t what they seem.

Directed by Lee Unkrich, it was a richly deserved critical and commercial triumph for Pixar, which managed maintain the high standards of the first two films and concluded the trilogy with wit, invention and technical brilliance. [Read full review] [Blu-ray / DVD]

Peeping Tom (Optimum Home Entertainment): The 1960 film about a disturbed photographer (Karl Heinz Boehm) has been digitally restored for a 50th anniversary release.

It scandalised audiences of the day and all but ended the career of director Michael Powell, but after being championed by the likes of Martin Scorsese, its reputation grew again and it is now considered one of the most important British films of its era. [Read full review] [Blu-ray / DVD]

Metropolis: Reconstructed and Restored (Eureka): Fritz Lang’s classic 1927 silent film about a sprawling, futuristic city, whose society is divided into two classes of poor workers who work underground and the rich bosses who live high above them in skyscrapers.

It has been restored in a newly reconstructed version, after 25 minutes of lost footage were found in 2008 and comes with a documentary highlighting the restoration process. [Read the full review] [Blu-ray / DVD]


Apocalypse (Kaleidoscope Home Ent.) [Blu-ray / DVD]
Coco and Igor (Soda Pictures) [Blu-ray / DVD]
Heartbreaker (Revolver Entertainment) [Blu-ray / DVD]
Nativity! (Entertainment One) [Blu-ray / DVD]
Open Season (Sony Pictures Home Ent.) [Blu-ray / DVD]
Toy Story 1-3 (Walt Disney Studios Home Ent.) [Blu-ray]

DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

Blu-ray: Toy Story 3

The third film in the Toy Story series sees Andy leaving for college and donating his beloved toys – including Woody (Tom Hanks) and Buzz (Tim Allen) – to a daycare centre, where they soon realise things aren’t what they seem.

Directed by Lee Unkrich, it was a richly deserved critical and commercial triumph for Pixar, which managed maintain the high standards of the first two films and concluded the trilogy with wit, emotion and technical brilliance.

Continuing to explore the comedic conceit of toys who come alive whilst humans aren’t looking, this film reaches into more reflective territory as characters age and start to consider mortality.

The fact that it can convincingly do this whilst laying on lots of layered gags about new toys is part of the genius of Pixar, who have become so skilled at this kind of film making that a generation of viewers probably doesn’t realise how lucky they have been to witness these films first time around.

As with previous films transferred to Blu-ray, the digital source material helps make for a highly impressive transfer, as good as those of Cars, Ratatouille, Wall-E and Up.

The colours are especially vibrant and the world of Sunnyside Daycare has been rendered with marvellous attention to detail.

Given that this is the most successful film of the year, we could expect a decent presentation from Disney and the overall image quality is absolutely pristine.

The extra features on the Blu-ray include the following:

Disc 1 – Blu-ray:

  • “Day & Night” Theatrical Short
  • Buzz Lightyear Mission Logs: The Science Of Adventure

Disc 2 – Blu-ray:

  • Toy Story Trivia Dash – Interactive Game
  • Cine-Explore With Director Lee Unkrich & Producer Darla Anderson
  • Beginnings: Setting A Story In Motion
  • Bonnie’s Playtime – A Story Roundtable With Director Lee Unkrich
  • Roundin’ Up A Western Opening
  • Beyond The Toy Box: An Alternative Commentary Track
  • Paths To Pixar: Editorial
  • 3 Studio Stories

Disc 3 – DVD:

  • “Day & Night” Theatrical Short
  • Buzz Lightyear Mission Logs: The Science Of Adventure
  • The Gang’s All Here – A Look At Returning Voice Talent
  • 3 Studio Stories

Toy Story 3D is out now on DVD and Blu-ray from Walt Disney Home Entertainment

> Buy Toy Story 3 on Blu-ray or DVD from Amazon UK
> Find out more about the Toy Story series at Wikipedia


Toy Story 3 vs Inception Mashup

This trailer mashup of Toy Story 3 and Inception by Mike Eisenberg of Screenrant is ingenious.


UK Cinema Releases: Friday 23rd July 2010



Toy Story 3 (Walt Disney): The third installment of the hugely successful Pixar franchise sees the toys (voiced by a cast including Tom Hanks, Tim Allen and Joan Cusack) confronted with a problem. Their owner Andy is no longer a child and when he goes off to college, they are supposed to be put in to the attic. But a misunderstanding sees them end up somewhere else.

With new characters voiced by Ned Beatty, Whoopi Goldberg and Michael Keaton this sequel has been in the works for a long time. The delay was mainly down to the friction between former Disney chief Michael Eisner and Pixar but when these problems were resolved with the new regime under Bob Eiger – which saw the 2006 merger of the two companies – the film was back on track.

Directed by Lee Unkrich, co-director of Toy Story 2, Monsters Inc and Finding Nemo, this looks set to be another huge success for Pixar. Like the previous Toy Story films it has managed to combine critical plaudits with an inbuilt appeal to audiences of all ages. [Nationwide / U]

Splice (Optimum Releasing): This sci-fi horror concerns two scientists (Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley) in the near future who experiment with human DNA for a large corporation, only to slowly realise that they have made a mistake.

Directed by Vincenzo Natali, still best known for the 1997 film Cube, it got a proper wide release in the US from Warner Bros last month, despite being filmed on a lower-than-normal budget. The visual effects are solid but the major problem is that it is too derivative, especially of David Cronenberg’s The Fly, and doesn’t really add anything to the crowded horror sub-genre which depicts science gone wrong. [Vue West End & Nationwide / 15]

The Rebound (Paramount/Momentum): A romantic comedy about a recent divorcee (Catherine Zeta-Jones) who starts a relationship with a younger man (Justin Bartha) she has employed as a home help.

Directed by Bart Freundlich, this seems like token summer counter-programming for female audiences who don’t fancy seeing the big summer blockbusters. [Empire Leicester Square & Nationwide / 15]



Baaria (E1 Entertainment): Director Giuseppe Tornatore (best know as the director of Cinema Paradiso) returns with a film about his childhood growing up in Sicily. [Odeon Covent Garden & Key Cities / 15]

City Island (Anchor Bay Films): A low budget US indie about a dysfunctional family in the Bronx, headed up by a prison guard father (Andy Garcia) who secretly yearns to be an actor. Julianna Margulies and Emily Mortimer co-star and Raymond De Felitta directs. [Key Cities / 12A]

Ivul (Artificial Eye): A semi-autobiographical film from director Andrew Kotting about a young man (Jean-Luc Bideau) coming of age in a manor house in France with a Franco-Russian father. Jacob Auzanneau and Aurélia Petit co-star. [Curzon Renoir & Selected Key Cities / 15]

Jasper, Penguin Explorer (Soda Pictures): Directed by Eckart Fingberg and Kay Delventhal, this German animated film is about a penguin (voiced by Rick Adams) who thinks another world exists beyond the ice caps of the South Pole.

Khatta Meetha (Eros): A Bollywood remake of the 1989 Malayalam film, Vellanakalude Nadu, starring Akshay Kumar as a construction contractor. [C’Worlds Feltham, Shaftesbury Ave., Wood Green, Vue Acton & Key Cities]

My Night With Maud (bfi Distribution): A reissue of Eric Rohmer’s 1969 film about the relationship between a Catholic and a Marxist and a freethinker named Maud. [BFI Southbank, Curzon Soho & Key Cities / PG]

DVD and Blu-ray releases for this week including The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and Tokyo Story
Get local cinema showtimes for your area via Google Movies

Amusing Animation Behind The Scenes

Lee Unkrich editing Toy Story 3 at 36,000 feet

Toy Story 3 director Lee Unkrich recently tweeted that he was editing the new Pixar film at 36,000 feet.

He then posted the following picture to prove it.

Tech savvy readers might like to note that he appears to be using Avid Media Composer on a MacBook Pro.

[Via Matt]


Trailer: Toy Story 3

The trailer for Toy Story 3 which is out on June 18th, 2009

If this has been taken down check out the official trailer at Apple