Brian De Palma’s bizarre ‘Passion’ (2012)

In spite of striking aesthetics and a terrific performance by Rachel McAdams, Brian De Palma’s Passion becomes irrevocably silly and confusing. This remake of the French film Love Crime features Isabelle (Noomi Rapace), a young advertiser, who shows promise and grows closer to her beautiful boss Christine (McAdams). Christine is cutthroat and manipulative but also inviting to anyone she takes a shine to or needs. Though perhaps we are supposed to see her through Isabelle’s eyes, the “heroine” does not seem much nicer. Neither of them is satisfyingly developed as they vie for power in the advertising world and struggle over a mutual lover. While the first half of the movie is intriguing and elegant, the second half devolves into a melodramatic thriller which is more head-scratching than mind-bending. I have not seen the original film, but I recommend it in hopes that it surpasses the remake.

A tale of survival: The Way Back (2010)

A guard in a gulag announces, “It’s not our guns, or dogs, or wire that form your prison. Siberia is your prison… Nature is your jailer, and she is without mercy.” It is 1940, and a young Polish man Janusz (Jim Sturgess) who has been sent to a gulag meets the friendly Khabarov (Mark Strong), the hardened “Mr. Smith” (Ed Harris), and the violent Valka (Colin Farrell). Eventually, a group of prisoners escape, only to face their true captor, the harsh landscape.

Based on a dubious memoir by Sławomir Rawicz, The Way Back features stunning scenery and remarkable displays of human resilience. Thanks to Janusz’s survival skills, he leads the men through the forbidding tundra to Mongolia. From there, the prisoners must cross the Gobi Desert and venture into the Himalayas.

Director Peter Weir has an original touch, even with more straightforward works. The gulag is as stark and detailed as the nature scenes are gorgeous and haunting. Harris, as a tough old American, gives a particularly good performance, as do Strong and Sturgess, but the appearance of Saorsie Ronan as a young woman who joins them feels forced, perhaps to add sentiment.

Most of the actors speak with false accents, the potentially intriguing characters are not wholly rounded, and the movie is too long. Ultimately, the conclusion does not measure up to its powerful premise. The film remains believable because of its ostensible status as a true story, but the story might not be true at all. Still, for those who can stomach both tension and slowness, The Way Back, with its lovely soundtrack and striking setting, is not a bad film.


The 15-minute ‘World of Tomorrow’ (2015)

If you’re in the mood for an animated sci-fi short, you should watch Don Hertzfeldt’s World of Tomorrow, available on Netflix streaming and Vimeo. A little girl (Winona Mae., Hertzfeldt’s niece), referred to as Emily “Prime,” receives a message from her future clone (Julia Pott). The future Emily takes tiny Emily through her personal memories and explains how humans attempt to prolong their lives through cloning and digitally uploading their consciousnesses.

Future Emily describes her eerie world in a manner more akin to a robot than to a human, but she still feels and falls in love. Granted, it is mostly with the non-human–she loves a rock, a fuel-pump, and a strange alien–but her emotions are real. Because Hertzfeldt created the story around Winona Mae’s adorable, nonsensical ramblings, Emily Prime comes across as sweetly oblivious to and amazed by Future Emily’s divulgements. Animated with stick figures and rich colors, the Academy Award nominated World of Tomorrow is worth a look.